The Tanner’s Daughter – Episode 39

Jane receives bad news Illustration: Mandy Dixon

On the Sunday Will arrived back from his travels. The rain had cleared, the sun shone and there was a nip in the air.

“Sweeting, I am home! Where are you? Ah, here you are! Jane, my love, how I have missed you.”

He dropped his leather satchel on the floor, flung his arms around Jane’s stiff, unyielding form and pressed a kiss on her lips.

It was not returned and he drew back, puzzled.

“Jane? You are well?”

“Well enough.”

No smile, no endearment.

Will tried again.

“I bring good news, Jane. It was a productive visit to the city. Very productive.”

He patted the breast pocket of his doublet.

“I have here an order for gloves from the Mistress of the Royal Wardrobe. The ladies of the court loved my new designs.

“Hear this, Jane. So did Elizabeth, our Queen! Ye gods, I was dancing on air when word came.

“This order will lift my gloving business far above others in the town and be a feather in the cap for Hatton’s. We can include ‘by appointment to Her Majesty the Queen’ in our trade name. What say you to that, my sweet Jane?”

Not a glimmer of response had crossed Jane’s face. Will saw her swallow hard.

“Sweeting, something is amiss. No interest, no kiss. What is it?”

“While you were gone,” she said in a low, tightly controlled voice, “I had a caller. Alys Croft.”

Will felt as if he had been punched in the stomach.

“Alys? The devil you did! What did she want?”

“She told me of your life in Pendle. Your begetting – the shame of it.

“No, let me finish. I heard about the alehouse, your mother’s marriage, your siblings.

“Will, the circumstances of your birth bothers me not one jot. You were an innocent victim.

“Neither does the lowly background matter to me. There are worse places than an alehouse for a lad to grow up in.

“What does matter is your personal status.”

Will stared at her blankly.

“What? Jane, explain. What do you mean?”

He wondered what poison his half-sister had spewed. Alys had always had a shrewish streak.

Small wonder no man had ever offered for her.

“Your wedded position, Will. You were not free to wed me, were you?

“Your sister told me you were already tied to another and you left her.

“There. I now know what should have been made clear from the start.”

Will felt a swell of red-hot rage spread over him.

“Lies! All lies! Wicked, trouble-making untruths.

“Jane, if I could get my hands on that sour-faced daughter of Satan…!”

“’Twill do no good to rant or call your sister names. Our marriage, such as it was, is over.

“You had best go, sir. You have caused enough trouble here. I want no more of it.”

Will stared at her. This was his Jane speaking.

He could not believe it: the cold disdain in her eyes, her voice, the way she held herself so straight and distant.

He made as if to approach her, to try to reason with her honestly and steadfastly.

But the shock of it was too great and his temper got the better of him.

He cast her one long look. Then, retrieving the bulging satchel from the floor, he hefted it on to his shoulder and stormed out.

The door shut with a slam that reverberated through the house and sent the mice in the wainscot fleeing for safety.

Martha Renfrew handed Perivale a pewter beaker of small ale. The kitchen was quiet, fragrant with the smell of baking bread.

A fire burned brightly in the black-iron range and the old servant drew closer, supping his drink.

The cook planted her hands on her ample hips.

“I tell you, Perivale, something is amiss. Master Will arrives back an’ takes off again as if the Hounds of Hades were after him – that door slamming fairly shook the house, so it did.”

Perivale took another slurp of ale.

“An’ Miss Jane…”

“Mistress Leche,” Perivale corrected.

“She’ll always be Miss Jane to me. Whey-faced, she is. Dunno what’s gone on between her and Master Will, but I don’t like it.”

“Lovers’ tiff? It happens.”

This from confirmed bachelor Perivale, wedded solely to his plants and the horses in the stable.

Martha Renfrew snorted.

“Lovers’ tiff? There’s more to it than that.

“An’ there’s the mistress looking like she’s swallowed vinegar; a bad sign, that. Strained, she is.

“If it weren’t for old Mistress Lovett I don’t know how she’d cope. ’Twas Fate brought the lady here, if you ask me.”

“I thought it were the fire on the Northgate.”

“Tsk! Anyhow, seems she’s here for good. Her cottage burned to cinders an’ her chattels with it. Nowhere else to go.”

Martha took a long breath.

“And as for that upstart Dorcas Blunt…”

Words failed her and Perivale came to the rescue by handing her his empty beaker in request of a refill.

To be continued…

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