The Tanner’s Daughter – Episode 37

Jane receives bad news Illustration: Mandy Dixon

There was a calculating glimmer in Alys Croft’s eyes.

“Well, mistress,” she began, “I dunno what our Will has said of his beginnings. Precious little, I would allow.

“We’re Lancashire folk, Pendle born and bred. As I’ve said, Will an’ me are half-brother and sister.

“’Twas the old story. Village maiden, local squire. Our mam were got in the family way and cast aside.

“His sire wed one of his own class and soon a son were born.

“He had all the advantages our Will did not – fine clothes, a stable full of horses and respect.

“Will got ridicule and rags on his back. He never got over the shame.”

“Why tell me all this?” Jane cut in. “It makes no difference to me. What earlier trials Will endured he has overcome.

“We are happy together. What you are saying is of no account.”

The woman’s lips twisted.

“Patience. What I am to say affects you deeply.”

Jane steeled herself.

“Our Will would observe his half-brother from a distance, riding his pony, training his dogs, learning how to wield a sword and how to shoot true with a bow.

“The injustice of it, all through an accident of birth, ate Will up. Our mam had got wed – Da kept the village alehouse. ’Twere not a bad match for a lass wi’ a byblow at her skirts.

“Childer came, all girls. Will were Mam’s favourite, being her firstborn and a lad. When he were old enough Da put him to work in the alehouse.

“Will hated it; wanted to get away. Us got up one day and found him gone.”

She gave a shrug.

“It did for Mam. Her didn’t last long after that.”

“And your sisters?” Jane asked.

“All wed. Our Florrie and her man took over the alehouse when Da passed on. I’m still at home, skivvying. Us never heard a word from Will.

“’Twere chance I found out where he bided. A traveller called at the Boar an’ I heard him talk of a William Leche in Chester. Leche were Mam’s maiden name.”

“So you came here to enlighten me. For what purpose, I wonder.”

“There’s summat else you should know. A great one for the lasses, were Will.

“They fell for him – who wouldn’t? He’d the looks and the charm.

“Most fell by the wayside. One were more cunning.”

“No!” Jane felt she knew what was coming next.

“Aye. Wed her and then deserted her, did Will. Thought nowt of it, but that’s our Will for you.

“Now, lady, I shall take my leave. Don’t you move. I can find my way out.”

She shot Jane a triumphant look and went.

Stunned, Jane stood listening to Alys’s footsteps retreat along the corridor.

The front door opened and closed with a decisive click. Then silence.

Jane sank on to the settle.

Will was already wed! He was a bigamist. That made her – dear Lord – what?

Loose woman. Harlot. Wronged. The words screamed at her.

Far worse was the fact that the child she carried would be born out of wedlock. A byblow; love child; born the wrong side of the blanket.

However gently worded, the meaning was the same. Her child was illegitimate.

“Like father, like son,” Jane whispered.

Oh, the shame of it! Her poor innocent child.

Too shocked to cry or even muster the power to get up, she just sat there in the darkening parlour while the fire burned low.

What should she do?

To be continued…

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