The Tanner’s Daughter – Episode 05

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

His musing was interrupted by a gentle tap on the door, which opened to admit not one of his female attendants or Rolf, the yard boy, but a stooped male figure walking with the aid of an ebony cane.

He was Jane translated into more masculine lines. The light-red hair had faded here to silver.

The features were marked by lines of strain and suffering.

Not a well man, Will deduced. A neat moustache and small pointed beard announced the man’s age and status.

As with the rest of the house, he wore the plain garb of those who followed a strict code of faith.

“Master Leche? I trust I do not disturb. Nicholas Hatton, at your service.

“My daughter says you are sufficiently recovered to have a visitor.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Master Hatton,” Will said.

“And I yours.” Nicholas Hatton sketched a small bow.

“Do you mind if I sit? Standing troubles me nowadays, I fear.”

He brought a chair to the bedside and Will raised himself gingerly up against the bolsters, the better to converse with his host.

Nicholas Hatton drew a wheezy breath.

“Sir, I must convey my thanks for coming to my girl’s rescue.

“What would have happened had you not been there, I dread to think.”

“Nay, sir, any man worth his salt would have done the same. Doubtless the rogue was after money.”

“Aye, and would not have been disappointed. Jane carried the payment for an order from Ireland – a substantial sum.

“The boat had not arrived at port and Jane was returning home when the incident occurred.”

“Praise be she was not harmed,” Will said.

“Amen to that.”

There was a silence, into which fell the thrum of rain on the window.

“I take it the consignment is a business concern,” Will said, more to make conversation than anything else.

Anxiety crossed the man’s face.

“It is an investment I am relying upon crucially – but there, you will not wish to be burdened with this.”

“On the contrary,” Will said, to his own surprise. “It gives a fellow something to think about.

“I’ve had experience in commerce. Not in connection with the leather trade, I hasten to add. But clerical, certainly.”

“You are a clerk, sir?”

“Let us say I have a head for figures.”

“Then it’s our misfortune that you are not in better health, Master Leche. My clerk has not put in an appearance today.

“What ails the fellow I cannot imagine.

“My good wife is standing in for him temporarily and Jane is assisting her.”

Will moistened dry lips. His throat felt gritty, his brain fogged, but his interest was sparked.

“These are untreated skins you are expecting?”

Nicholas Hatton nodded.

“That is so. We have our own tanning pits on Love Street. Upwind of the town, you understand.”

Will nodded; the stink of the tanning process was notoriously noxious.

“From there the pelts go to the warehouse on Barker Street to continue the curing process,” Nicholas Hatton went on.

“The finished leather then comes to the workshop behind the shop premises, where it is made up into produce.

“We make everything from book jackets to clothing and household commodities. Hatton’s prides itself on quality wares.

“Unfortunately…” He broke off, frowning, and then he shrugged.

“Sir, I must be tiring you and I should return to my work. Is there aught you require? A sup of wine?”

“I’d not say no,” Will said.

“I shall send Rolf up with some. There’s a fine Rhenish in the cellar.

“More acceptable than one of Margery’s brews, methinks.”

Nicholas Hatton’s eyes took on a twinkle that made him look youthful.

“Oh, and I should tell you that the inn where your horse is stabled has been located and arrangements made to have the animal brought here, along with your saddlebags.

“We have adequate stabling for another beast, and a man to tend it.”

“Such an imposition –” Will began.

“Not at all. You shall stay here until you are well.

“You’ll find us a modest household. There’s Martha Renfrew, who cooks and serves as housekeeper.

“General maid Margery and the lad Rolf, of course, and Perivale, gardener-groom.”

“My thanks, sir, for everything.”

“Nonsense. The very least we can do.”

Nicholas stood up with difficulty, made a bow of farewell and left the room, leaning heavily on his stick.

Outside the door a paroxysm of coughing overtook him.

Concerned for the man, Will was about to ring the small brass bell at his bedside and summon help when the attack eased.

Will sank back into the bolsters, aware of the laboured progress of his host’s footsteps.

To be continued…

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