The Tanner’s Daughter – Episode 27

Dorcas is watching Jane and Will Illustration: Mandy Dixon

“What is this, mistress?”

Margery was contemplating the second package, frowning. Being beholden was not Margery’s way, and Jane’s offerings were generally treated with a mixture of gratitude and reproach.

Jane opened the parcel to reveal a full-length, thickly lined cloak of dark-blue woollen. It had a hood and deep pockets.

“I saw that your old cloak was threadbare. Margery, do not look at me like that.

“I would not see you shivering with cold when I am in a position to do something about it.

“My seamstress made this cloak up for me as a spare. I knew the colour would become you more, and I thought…”

She shrugged.

Margery fingered the garment’s softness. Then, flinging aside her reservations, she swept it around her shoulders, exclaiming in delight as the folds settled around her in a perfect fit.

“My thanks, mistress.”

“You are welcome, and how often must I ask you to call me by my name?”

“It would not be seemly. You are my mistress.”

“And will be again, I promise. Now, what else did I bring?

“Fat bacon, plum cake and some marchpane – I know how partial you are to it – and a wedge of pigeon pie.

“Oh, and a loaf of manchet. Better by far than the maslin you get from the market.”

“You are so generous.”

“Make sure you eat it yourself. No taking pity on a caller and giving it away.”

Margery laughed. She might have known her mistress was wise to the fact that these delicacies from the Eastgate larder did not always end up where they were intended.

“This is a generous basket. Are you sure it will not be missed?”

“Sure. Will often steals into the kitchen for a bite to eat. Martha Renfrew will assume he has been at his tricks again.”

Margery chuckled.

“Just as ever! Oh, you are going so soon?”

Jane was reaching for her cloak – not the emerald velvet, which would have drawn too much attention here, but a plainer garment of red-brown worsted.

“I must. There is correspondence awaiting my attention in the office.

“Oh, do you have any of the salve you made for Mother’s rheumatics?

“She never complains, but her movements are stiff and painful.”

Margery went to her shelf and selected a corked earthenware pot.

“Rosemary and camphor. Will madam not enquire the source?”

Jane placed some coins on the table in payment.

“You taught me some of your remedies. Mother will think I made it myself. Farewell. Have a care.”

“You, too, mistress.”

She accompanied Jane to the door, outside which her sturdy escort awaited.

Then she went to the window and glimpsed, through the flower-frosted glass, a cloaked-and-hooded figure follow Jane and her escort along the narrow street.

The mystery person kept her distance, but there was no doubt she had been watching the house.

Margery shivered. Who was the woman and what was her motive?

Margery had looked into the fire but the flames had revealed nothing – for now.

That night’s slumber was again denied her. Margery was pulling out the truckle bed from under the table in preparation for sleep when the footsteps sounded on the lodging-house staircase.

There was a knock on the door. Opening it, Margery saw a ragged urchin who looked terrified.

“G… goodwife Denny?” he stammered.

“I am she. What is your business, child?”

“Lizzie Croft sent me. She says to tell you me mam has laboured all day an’ there’s still no babe. Will you come, goodwife?”

Drained though she was, Margery found him a smile.

“Of course. Bide here a moment while I get my simples box.”

She fetched the item from the shelf, donned the new cloak and, snuffing out the taper, followed the lad down the creaking stair and out into the winter’s night.

Once in the bitter air, she drew the cloak more closely around her and pulled up the hood, glad of its enfolding warmth.

The lad moved swiftly along dark alleyways and across dim courts where the combination of frozen snow and filth made the going perilous underfoot.

Margery glanced over her shoulder. As she did so a figure flitted into the shadow of a tall building.

It was the woman she had seen earlier, following.

“Goodwife, I were bid make haste.”

The lad’s voice trembled and Margery steeled herself.

“Fie, child, would you have me slip on the ice and break a limb? I am coming as fast as I can.”

A burst of raucous laughter from a nearby tavern spoke of other dangers.

Margery focused on what lay ahead.

To be continued…

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