The Tanner’s Daughter – Episode 35

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

Martha Renfrew shovelled the maslin loaves into the bread oven and shut the door with a slam that made Perivale blink.

“Leave of absence! Since when has a housemaid been allowed such liberties?

“What is the world coming to, I wonder.”

Perivale took a swig of small ale and turned his attention to his pigeon pie and cabbage, indicating to Rolf to do the same.

It never did to interrupt Martha in full flow.

“Expecting me to see to the dusting, the beds and the fires, as well as me kitchen, not to mention the extra work involved wi’ Mistress Lovett still here, poor lady.

“An’ the butcher not come wi’ the chitterlings I wanted for tonight’s meal!”

In an act of sympathy Perivale grasped the pitcher of ale and poured Martha a cup, shunting it across the kitchen table to her place at the head.

“Ta,” she said, sitting herself down with a groan of relief.

“Pass me that pie, Rolf, lad. By, but tes ready for this I am.”

Food and the enjoyment of it was a serious matter among the lower orders.

For a while, the only sounds in the big, low-raftered kitchen were the crackling of the fire, the slow tock of the mantel clock and the dedicated chomping of every delicious mouthful as the servants consumed their meal.

Martha washed down her final piece of pie with a long swallow of ale, folded her beefy arms and continued her rant on the current situation in the house.

“Nothing is as it should be any more, what with Master Will away, a semi-invalid to run round after (an’ her so particular about what she can eat and what she cannot, poor lady), an’ that chit of a housemaid going off an’ leaving everything on my shoulders!

“Tes not right, I tell you.”

“I’ll see to the parlour and bedchamber fires if you want, Mistress Renfrew. I bring in the fuel as it is.

“Tes no odds to me to clear out the ashes and such while I’m about it,” Rolf put in.

About to deliver the lad a piece of her mind for interrupting, the meaning behind his words sunk in and Martha Renfrew gave him a nod instead.

“Thank ’ee very kindly, Rolf. ’Twill be a great help. Now, where was I? Oh, that was it.

“Seems to me there’s summat wrong with madam. She’s not herself.”

“Her could be grieving for the master still,” Rolf suggested.

Perivale prodded a troublesome tooth, wincing.

“Got any cloves in the stillroom?”

“That tooth still giving you gyp, is it? Needs to come out, if you ask me. And to answer your question: tes doubtful.

“That’s summat else that’s not the same any more – the stillroom.

“Bring back Margery Denny, that’s what I say. Miss Jane would agree.

“An’ that’s another thing. Miss Jane.”

“Mistress Leche,” Perivale reminded.

“Her’s Miss Jane to me. Allus will be.

“Her’s looking downright whey-faced these days. Sorta peaky.

“You two off, then?” Martha enquired as the men stood up with a scraping of chairs on the stone flags of the floor.

“Gotta get the winter greens in,” Perivale said. “C’mon, Rolf.”

Seconds later Martha was alone in her kitchen.

She pulled to her feet and began clearing away the dirty pots, her mind still on Miss Jane and what might be the reason for her distinct lack of bloom.

To be continued…

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