The Tanner’s Daughter – Episode 34

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

Margery reached out a steadying hand.

“Mistress, calm yourself. This could be nothing more than fancies brought about by your condition. Breeding women are prone to such.”


“Yes.” Margery shrugged dismissively. “Let us make ourselves comfortable by the fireside and share our news.”

After Jane had gone, Margery sat on, pondering. She had deliberately made light of her mistress’s fears so as not to worry her.

But Will’s reaction to her query on his maternal background, and the matter of the disarranged writing desk, had clearly sown seeds of doubt over the man, and that was not good.

The sensation of being watched was worrying. Alarming.

Margery had drawn her own conclusions about the identity of the watchful figure outside the lodging-house.

It had taken a word with Jane’s escort – no easy task since the man was as tight as a clam – and one or two less usual methods best kept to herself, to label Dorcas Blunt as the culprit.

Whether Dorcas was responsible for her mistress’s problem was debatable, since any one of the Eastgate servants could be suspect here.

Margery did not like it.

The maid stood before her employer, her hands clasped loosely before her.

With madam’s elderly friend still resident and the two of them sitting reminiscing by the hour, it was no easy matter to be alone with her mistress.

Dorcas grasped the opportunity now.

“A word, please, madam.”

Constance looked up from the tapestry frame, where mythical beasts played in a woodland setting, and speared her needle into the canvas.

“Yes, Dorcas?”

“I need some leave of absence. A day or two.”

“Leave of absence? This is unusual. Why?”

“A family matter, madam. There has been word from my mother.

“An aunt who lives at a distance is ailing and calls for me.”

“She is of an attachment to you, this aunt?”

“I stayed with her at her cottage as a child and developed a fondness for her, and she for me.”

Dorcas cleared her throat.

“I might add, madam, that, given the extra duties I have performed for you, this request is not unreasonable.”

The threat in the housemaid’s voice was clear. Dorcas saw with satisfaction how her employer’s expression quavered.

Next moment, a lifetime’s experience of dealing with forward staff exerted itself.

“I shall need to think about this, Dorcas.

“Come and see me after supper.

“Mistress Lovett and I have a game of chess planned. Come then.”

“This is a private matter, madam,” Dorcas dared to say, and received a glower.

“Mistress Lovett and I have no secrets from each other. Go about your duties.”

“Yes, madam.” Dorcas curtseyed and fled.

She waited in an agony of suspense until evening, when she again presented herself to her mistress.

She was aware of Ann Lovett’s gimlet eyes on her as the mistress spoke.

“Yes, Dorcas? Oh, of course. The question of the leave of absence.

“On reflection, I daresay we shall manage without your services for the time stated. No longer, mind.”

“I shall need the fare for the stage, madam. And overnight lodgings, a housemaid’s wage being what it is.”

Lips tight, Constance reached for her purse and produced some coins.

“My thanks, madam.”

Dorcas pocketed the silver, delivered both ladies a curtsey and left the room.

She had not liked the way Mistress Lovett had watched her throughout the interview.

Old and frail she might be, but the woman’s bright brown eyes were sharp in her walnut face.

Then again, the slip of parchment bearing a place of residence, filched from the young master’s dressing-room, burned in Dorcas’s petticoat pocket.

If all went well, she had him baited and her future secured.

To be continued…

An error has occurred while loading your details. Please click the following link to try again - if the issue persists, please don't hesitate to contact us. Try again by refreshing the page.