The Tanner’s Daughter – Episode 20

Jane is reunited with Margery Illustration: Mandy Dixon

“A herbwife, you say?” the stallholder repeated in hushed tones, his eyes darting warily from left to right.

“Fie, sir, you would have me condemned for ill-dealings?”

Nobody wanted to be connected with the dark arts.

Especially not one who traded in the essences, roots and fixatives that were essential to those who dabbled in the craft.

Will, realising his error, was quick.

“Forgive me, a slip of the tongue. The lady I seek is said to be skilled in curing the toothache.

“’Twould sit ill on a fellow to lose a front tooth, but if I don’t soon get some relief it may come to that.”

He made a show of holding his hand to his mouth in pain, while surreptitiously slipping the man a coin.

“Now I think on’t, sir, there was someone – hair like a raven’s wing, eyes full of light?”

Will’s hopes leaped.

“That could be the one.”

“Try Pepper Street. Tes not the choicest part of the town. You’ll need to watch your back.”

“My thanks,” Will said, and took his leave.

He had to enquire the way to Pepper Street.

Directed through a confusion of dark alleyways and across courtyards where ragged children played and scrawny cats hunted for vermin in the gutters, Will kept a ready hand on the hilt of his dagger.

He came to his destination at last – a gloomy thoroughfare, made dimmer by the upper-storey overhang of timbered buildings.

He set off along it, hard put to keep his footing on the slime-coated cobblestones, an orange-and-clove pomander held at his nose against the stomach-churning stench from an open sewer that ran along the middle of the road.

It struck him that Jane, wiser than he to the hidden horrors of the city, had not been wrong in her concern for Margery’s safety.

A further enquiry, this time of a matron with a mewling babe in her arms, and costing him another coin, took him to a tall house of rotting, time-bleached timber, cracked walls and thatch that had seen better days.

The pristine Margery, here? Will was having doubts.

He pushed open the ill-fitting front door and entered the building, grimacing at the reek of the place.

With great caution he mounted the creaking wooden stairs to the first landing.

Crossing it, he rapped on the door the matron had indicated. It was opened immediately.

“Master Leche!” Margery gasped.

“Good morrow, Margery. May I come in?”

Without waiting for an answer Will pushed his way into the room, closing the door with purpose.

He gratefully breathed in air cleansed by the astringent odour of rafia-bound bundles of herbs and roots hanging from a rafter.

It looked as if Margery had been out combing the countryside beyond the city walls for hedgerow gleanings.

A pile of fresh greenery all but filled a small, rickety table, alongside a pestle and mortar and set of apothecary scales.

“How are you come here?” Margery asked abruptly.

Will produced his most winning smile.

“Faith, I’ve had better greetings! Not overjoyed to see me, then.”

“Should I be? And you can wipe that grin from your face. It might pay off with some but you should know that it does not wear with me!”

“Ah, well, it was worth a try.”

Will became serious.

“Margery, wench, what were you thinking of, vanishing with no trace?

“My lady wife frets for you sorely. Why no word?”

“’Twas my wish. I would not have her in trouble on my account. ”

“Trouble? Who would stoop to such?”

“My replacement, for one.”

“Dorcas?” Will made a gesture with his hand. “What harm can she do?

“A sourpuss, yes. Meddling, nay, surely not.”

“Never underestimate the workings of a twisted mind. There have been warnings in the flames.”

Will swallowed hard, his eyes sliding to the wood fire that burned sullenly in the small grate.

Jane, in the shadowed confines of their tester bed, the bed-hangings pulled closed against the night draughts, had whispered that Margery had Romany blood in her veins and was given to sudden strange glimpses into the future, along with other crafts.

Margery watched him steadily.

“Tell your bride that I am well and making my way selling physic cures and scented oils from my door.”

“She wants to see you, Margery.”

“Here? I think not.”

“Save us, woman! You owe Jane an explanation, at least. What if I see to it that she has an escort to guard her?”


“A trusted man, well-armed and not known to Madam, my mother-by-marriage, or anyone else in the household.”

“I don’t think…”

“See sense, Margery. Would you have Jane driven to distraction for worry over you?

“She will be here on the morrow. Early afternoon?

“It is usual for Jane to attend to any shopping at this hour, so if she is absent from the house no-one will suspect anything. Well?”

“Tell her to observe caution,” Margery said on a throbbing sigh that made Will wonder if he had done the right thing in coming here, after all.

To be continued…

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