The Tanner’s Daughter – Episode 11

Will makes an agreement with Jane's father Illustration: Mandy Dixon

“Has your father taken leave of his senses?” Constance asked that evening. “Entrusting this man to run the firm is sheer madness!”

Jane’s head ached. It had been a very long day, cooped up in the stuffy little office with her father and Will, and she was tired.

She had been expecting a reaction from her mother, but this outrage was beyond measure.

“Mother, let us be clear. Will is not ‘running the firm’. I shall be present and Father is always available if need be.”

“And when your poor father’s health deteriorates further?”

“Then I shall take his place at the helm.”

“Tsk! You know my opinion on that!”

“I can only repeat what I have said before. We women are more than capable of holding down a position of authority.

“Does not our Gracious Majesty do so? Closer to home, think of Mistress Rimmer and her boarding-house, Mistress Hives at the bakery…”

“Yes, yes, do not lecture me, Jane. Ah, me! Would that my boys had survived. None of this would have happened then.”

Jane knew how heavily the loss at birth of her four tiny brothers weighed on her mother and she gently touched her hand.

“Dear child, you are such a comfort to me at times.”

“And a bane at others,” Jane suggested.

Constance managed a small smile.

“That, too. But let me say one thing. Have a care about this stranger your father is putting his trust in.

“Men in the mould of Will Leche are driven by ambition. There is nothing wrong in that in itself. Just be aware that there is an element of ruthlessness in ambition. Have you thought what might be in it for him?”

“I… no.” Jane broke off.

The headache had worsened. Zig-zagging lights jigged before her eyes. She pressed her fingertips to her temple.

“Daughter, what ails you?”

“My head. One of my megrims.”

“There, what did I say? You are overwrought. This is all too much for you. We must have Margery make up a tisane.”

“I confess I am tired, but I shall not give up. Do I need to continue?”

“No,” Constance replied heavily. “You have said enough.”

Over the next weeks Will strove his hardest to fulfil his promise to Nicholas Hatton.

He fobbed off creditors, located a reasonably priced source of raw skins to replace the lost shipment from Ireland and drew in moneys owed to pay the new supplier.

On the shop floor, where theft and idleness abounded, he weeded out the worst offenders and appealed to the better sense of those that remained, promising an increase in wage once the firm was in profit again.

By the time summer arrived, bringing heat, swarms of flies and the ever-present threat of sickness to the city, Hatton’s of Chester looked to be turning a corner.

“It is a case of a new broom making good,” Jane said.

She and Margery were taking an evening stroll along the riverbank, taking advantage of the cooling breeze wafting off the Dee.

Jane plucked a stem of purple clover, pulling off petals and putting the honeyed sweetness to her lips.

“As Will says, it’s early days yet. But Hatton’s is more as it used to be. Staff are putting their backs into their work again.”

Margery smiled.

“He speaks of branching out at some point. He thinks we should specialise in glove making.”

“Hatton’s Gloves for the discerning lady and gent?”

“It is what Father had in mind. Poor, dear Father.

“What ails him, Margery? The apothecary has no notion of what is wrong. Can’t you concoct a cure?”

Distress had crept into Jane’s voice and Margery turned to her seriously.

“Mistress, there are some ailments that defy the most skilled crafters, and I do not rank myself among those.

“We must take what comes with dignity and grace, as the master is doing. Now, time we turned for home.”

To be continued…

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