The Tanner’s Daughter – Episode 01

The main characters with a backdrop of a town Illustration: Mandy Dixon

Enjoy our latest serial by Pamela Kavanagh, this time set in the 16th century. Episode one begins today, with a new instalment posted daily

Jane Hatton stepped out of her home on Eastgate Row, closed the door behind her and paused to take a look at the adjoining family shop.

Over the bow-fronted window, a faded boarding proclaimed this to be Hatton’s of Chester, Master Tanner and Provider of Supreme Leatherware, in tarnished gold lettering.

The whole frontage looked lacklustre and Jane frowned. All was not well with the family business, and she had no idea why.

She set off along the covered and elevated walkway, designed to give access to the town without chancing the general turmoil of the streets.

Today Jane had no choice. She was bound for the harbour to see if a consignment of skins had arrived on the Irish boat.

In her money-pouch was the balance of payment in gold sovereigns, to be handed in at the harbourmaster’s office, from whence it would be despatched to the trader in Ireland.

Half the cost on order, the rest to be submitted on shipment from Drogheda. Those were the terms.

She reached a flight of stone steps and descended to the Eastgate.

It was midday and the town was busy.

Scurrying pedestrians dodged the clattering horse traffic that vied for room with goods vehicles and foot-traders pushing handcarts over the uneven flagstones of the road.

Adding to the mêlée, an escapee sow and eight squealing piglets from someone’s back yard came out of a side street, startling the horses and causing havoc in a party of drovers herding cattle to the auction ground.

A street-boy was sweeping up debris by the undercroft to Hatton’s shop.

Jane tossed him a coin for his diligence before branching off for the Watergate.

Here, the rank city air was freshened by the March wind blowing in from the estuary and Jane breathed it in readily.

She cut a demure figure in her dove-grey kirtle over a simple farthingale and plain underskirt, her white linen and pointed stomacher partly concealed beneath a cloak of warm dark woollen.

The wind teased a strand of red-gold hair from the confines of her hood.

As Jane tucked it back, her eye on a procession of riders entering the city via the Dee Bridge, a horseman approached on a lively chestnut gelding.

Take heed of a man on a chestnut horse.

Her maidservant’s words came back to Jane vividly.

Margery Denny was not only skilled with herbs and possets, she was also gifted with flashes of the future – a dangerous bent in these uncompromising days of Queen Elizabeth.

Yet Jane was intrigued. She stole another glance at the horseman.

Very fine he looked, in his emerald slashed with tawny, his feathered cap and boots buffed to a fine shine.

A full saddle-roll and two bulging saddlebags proclaimed him a traveller, mayhap new to the town.

As he came closer he caught Jane’s curious gaze and doffed his cap in response, revealing curls.

He bowed from the saddle, passing with a careless smile and a splatter of mud from the capering hooves.

Her cheeks burned, since she was not given to encouraging the attention of bold young men. She pressed on.

Here, the upper storeys of the timbered and pargeted buildings had overhangs so great that in places the sky was almost blotted out.

Smoke from the many chimneys swirled downwards in the wind, to become trapped in the dim tunnel between the lines of shops and dwelling houses.

Soon Jane was passing through the timbered access of the Watergate.

Ahead, the ships strained, creaking, at their moorings and a forest of masts and spars stretched as far as the eye could see.

Shouts from the men unloading cargo merged with the screeching of gulls and the oily slap of water against the sea wall.

Jane found the harbourmaster berating a lad for taking an orange from one of the barrels that stood awaiting collection.

Jethro Taggart, bearded and bluff, gave the lad a cuff for his pains and turned to Jane.

“Mistress? Good morrow to you.”

“Good morrow, sir. Could you tell me if the Roisin has put into port?”

“The Irish vessel?” His eyes narrowed. “Nay, mistress, never a sign of her. But there, ’tis a choppy stretch of water, the Irish sea.

“Happen she’s delayed.”

Concerned, Jane took her leave. Much depended upon the agreement with the Drogheda merchant.

The consignment would provide work for the tannery and could be the boost needed to fill the dwindling coffers.

She hoped tomorrow would bring better news.

To be continued…

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