The Tanner’s Daughter – Episode 30

Dorcas is watching Jane and Will Illustration: Mandy Dixon

To Will’s surprise, the Guild of Tanners did listen, as did the minor guilds.

As a result, the privy council granted 40 pounds annually and 200 trees from the royal forest to help build the new harbour at Little Neston.

Will was beside himself with joy at the success of his scheme, which took the best part of the summer to bring to fruition.

He praised Jane for her part in the negotiations.

Placing his hands on her waist, he twirled her around until she pleaded laughingly for mercy.

“Clever, clever wife! You swayed them with your beauty and sound talk.”

“Nay, I think not. I was just the go-between.”

“We shall call a truce, then, and declare it a joint effort. What say you to celebrating with a grand meal? A feast! Invite a few friends.”

“Oh, Will, do let us! When shall it be?”

“The end of August? Make it the twenty-ninth. ’Twill serve a dual purpose – it is my birth date.”

“It is? Why have you never said?

“I shall buy you a special gift and Martha shall prepare a feast to remember,” Jane declared, her eyes shining.

When the day arrived, it turned out very different from what was expected.

In the early hours of the morning of the 29th, citizens were roused by the town crier racing through the streets, clanging his handbell for all he was worth and bellowing his loudest.

“Fire! Fire in the Northgate! ’Ware fire!”

Constance, a shawl thrown hastily over her night-robe and grey plait of hair over one shoulder, met Jane and Will emerging frowsty-eyed and yawning from their own bedchamber.

“Jane, did you hear? The Northgate, he said. Mercy on us!

“’Tis where my dear friend Ann Lovatt bides!”

Constance wrung her hands in dismay while Jane looked from her mother to Will in sleepy confusion.

“I must get dressed,” Will said, coming swiftly to wakefulness.

“They’ll need help putting the fire out. What is the number of your friend’s house, madam?”

“Number ten. ’Tis an old place, all wattle and daub and timber. ’Twill burn to the ground in a trice! Ah, me!”

Her wailing and lamenting brought Martha Renfrew and Dorcas Blunt from their attic bedchambers to join the group on the first landing.

“The Northgate! Tes not far from here. Tes to be hoped it don’t spread,” Martha said, her eyes wide with fright.

“I could see the blaze from my window. The whole sky is lit up.” There was no mistaking the relish in Dorcas’s voice and Jane, her arm comfortingly around her mother, shot the maidservant a fierce look of reproof.

Will came out of the bedchamber fully dressed, a cluster of blankets from the bed for dousing the flames over his arm.

“I had best rouse Perivale and young Rolf. They may not have heard in their quarters over the stables. The more hands the better.”

“They may be short of buckets. Take ours from the yard,” Jane said.

“Have my kitchen pails as well,” Martha added.

Will was already leaping down the staircase.

When he opened the door they could hear the roar and crackle of distant flames and the shouts of those fighting the fire, and smell the stomach-churning reek of burning thatch and bone-dry timbers.

“God be with you, my love!” Jane cried fearfully.

The door slammed shut, and Will was gone.

To be continued…

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