The Tanner’s Daughter – Episode 25

Dorcas is watching Jane and Will Illustration: Mandy Dixon

The festive season passed quietly. Thoughts were of previous years, when Nicholas Hatton presided, carving the Christmas goose and raising a glass to all who feasted there.

For Jane this was bitter-sweet: her first as a wife with a handsome husband, but without the father she had loved devotedly.

“The Mummers will be performing the nativity,” she told Will on the day of Christmas Eve.

“Father and I never missed seeing them. You have to be there early to get a proper view.”

“It is held in the street?”

“Yes, at the market cross. Mother never cared for the Mummers. Father and I generally went to the afternoon showing.

“It was a rush to get back and prepare for the Christmas banquet at the Prentice.”

The Prentice was an imposing building of ornate timbering and decorative pargeting, with tall, barley-twist chimneys, mullioned windows and massive double doors of iron-studded oak.

Will longed to pass between those revered portals, but to date that particular privilege had been denied him.

Jane’s next words illustrated the reason why.

“We always sat with the Guild of Tanners for the feast. Father was one of the speakers, being a senior member.

“The banquet is followed by entertainments and dancing. The City Players provide the music for that.”

Jane’s eyes shone.

“I would have loved to dance, but Mother would not have approved.”

“Next year we shall be there together,” Will promised, “and you will have a new gown. We shall dance until we drop!”

Rash words, but Jane, aware of how deeply he felt about the attitude of the guilds towards him, did not debate the point.

In the kitchen, sitting down to their own festive fare of boiled beef and all the trimmings, Martha Renfrew, Perivale and Rolf toasted their late master in locally brewed cider.

As she served the meal, Martha was glad that Dorcas Blunt’s sour visage was not present at the table.

The housemaid had been granted leave to spend the day with her family.

For Will, the day dragged. Out of respect for his late friend and mentor, Nicholas Hatton, he suffered the hard looks of his mother-by-marriage and watched the merry-making of the town from a distance. He promised himself that next Yule, all would be different.

January brought snow. Will sent vessels of mulled ale to those at work in the bitter conditions of the tanning pits, which was much appreciated.

The temperature dropped even more; Chester folk woke one morning to eaves festooned with icicles and streets of solid snow.

The Dee froze, and citizens dug out their skates when the day’s work was done, donned their warmest garments and went to the river to test their skills on the ice.

Flaring torches were set up in the trees along the riverbank, street-corner vendors plied their trade and families gathered, watching the skaters and sampling hot meat pies, baked potatoes and roast chestnuts, all washed down with strong ale.

Will presented Jane with a fur-trimmed dress and cloak of emerald velvet secretly made by the best seamstress in town.

Slashed with crimson, the garb, with white skating boots and an ermine muff, toned with his doublet of green and crimson cape.

Then he took her skating.

Whirled around under the stars, with the musicians playing and Will holding her secure, Jane wanted the evening to last for ever.

Tired at last, they left the ice. Will bought chestnuts from a nearby vendor, which they ate standing by a brazier with the flames warming their cheeks.

“Happy?” Will smiled into his wife’s flushed face.

“Yes!” She glanced around. “See over there? The couple talking to a man with a beard and his lady?

“That is the vintner from Watergate Row, Gideon Winthrop, and his wife.

“The other two are the Rogersons, grain merchants from Huntingdon. Come, and let me introduce you.”

Will raised a brow.

“Friend or foe?”

Jane smiled and delivered a playful slap on the arm.

“Definitely the former. They are tradespeople much like ourselves.

“Gideon Winthrop was a friend of Father’s. It was their jest that Father’s favourite Rhenish was imported especially for him!

“Do come, Will. You will like them, I promise.”

Introductions were made and they left with an invitation to a dinner at the vintner’s house the following week, and another at the grain merchant’s in February.

Will’s social circle was growing and Jane resolved it would continue to do so.

To be continued…

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