The Tanner’s Daughter – Episode 32

A stranger comes to Jane's door Illustration: Mandy Dixon

A little later, washed and freshly clad, their burns smeared with marigold salve from the stillroom, Will, Perivale and Rolf ate their fill of the lavish fare prepared by Martha for a very different event.

They took themselves off to spend what was left of the day in sleep.

Constance saw to Ann Lovett’s welfare herself.

“You will stay here as long as you wish, dear. Rest assured, we are only too pleased to have you.”

“So kind,” Ann Lovett replied. “But I cannot burden you indefinitely.

“I have lost everything! My home, and all that was in it, swallowed up by the fire. What am I to do?”

She began to weep and Jane, entering the room at that moment, regarded their guest with concern.

Now resting between sweet-smelling linen sheets in the big tester-bed, wearing a plain white night-robe of Constance’s and propped against soft feather bolsters, Ann Lovett’s figure seemed smaller than ever.

She fingered the crop of snowy curls that Constance had trimmed with her needlework shears and wept harder for the loss of her crowning glory.

“Ann, do not distress yourself so,” Constance implored. “It is often the least important thing that seems the worst at times like this.

“Your hair will grow again and you shall wear a cap until it does.”

The weeping continued.

Jane said she would prepare a decoction of an extra-calming nature and left the bedchamber.

Chamomile and valerian? Poppy juice? What would Margery do?

Never before had Jane wished to have taken more notice of Margery’s well-intended physic instructions than now.

As she hurried away she resolved to consult Margery on the basics of stillroom skills as soon as possible, and write them down for future reference.

The results of the fire were devastating. The old Northgate region no longer existed. The tolling of church bells for the souls of the lost could be heard all over the city.

Work went ahead to clear the debris and build afresh, this time of local stone and slate from the Welsh mines that could better withstand any future hazard.

Will received a letter of commendation for bravery from the city authorities.

Though gratified, he was dismayed at the town’s inadequacies.

“If there had been a better facility for dealing with fire, the losses might not have been so extreme.

“All I did was to organise lines of men passing pails of water, instead of groups running round in panic.”

“Will, you had the presence of mind to act. You also armed yourself with protection.”

“Blankets from our bed? Huh! Any fool knows not to plunge into a blaze without guarding himself first.”

“Lives were saved by your actions. Take credit where it is due.” Jane’s smile was wry. “You did not escape lightly, either.”

“A burn or two! I get better by the day, thanks to Margery’s stinking unguents and evil-tasting potions.

“I swear she doses me with the worst she can brew on purpose!”

There had been much clandestine to-ing and fro-ing at the lodging-house on Pepper Street for remedies to treat the injuries.

All three men were healing well, and Ann Lovett was recovered enough to leave her bed and sit in the main parlour.

Will rubbed his chin.

“You should have seen Margery, flitting like an angel of mercy amidst the injured, administering cures and reassurance. No fear for herself at all.

“If anyone deserves praise, it is she.”

Constance, overhearing, looked slightly abashed at Will’s praise of the servant she had dismissed in such unforgiveable haste.

“You also did well, son-by-marriage,” she said, giving a stiff nod of what Will took to be approval.

“Do I detect a less frosty look from your mama these days?” Will asked Jane some time later.

“There is a softening in attitude, it is true. Be patient, my love. It is just Mother’s way.

“Give her time and there is every chance she will come to love you as if you were her own flesh and blood.”

Jane paused.

“What of your own mother, Will? You never speak of her.

“Did you not know her? Were you a foundling?”

Will had been perusing the backlog of business papers on the office desk. He looked up, frowning.

“Me, a foundling? No, of course not. Fie, Jane! Forget these notions and look at this.”

He held out a missive emblazoned with the royal coat-of-arms.

“’Tis a response from the Mistress of the Royal Wardrobe. The Court ladies have expressed an interest in my new range of gloves. The Palace, Jane! It cannot get better than this.”

“Oh, Will!”

In the excitement of the moment all thoughts of Will’s parentage vanished.

“I must journey at once to London. Should my new range meet the approval of the highest order of the land, our future is secured!” Will told her.

To be continued…

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