The Tanner’s Daughter – Episode 41

Jane receives bad news Illustration: Mandy Dixon

In the main parlour, Constance sat opposite Ann Lovett and studied the chessboard with deep concentration on her face.

When the door opened, both women looked up.

“Why, Jane, my dear,” Constance said. “It is not often we have your presence on a weekday morning. Will you sit here awhile?”

“Yes, perhaps I ought. Mother, there is something I must say.”

Ann Lovett stood up. Her sharp eyes missed nothing.

“This is a private matter, I think. I shall leave you.”

She left, closing the door quietly behind her.

Constance studied her daughter’s strained white face.

“Well, Jane, what is it?”

“Mother, forgive me, I should have told you this weeks ago. I am with child.

“It is to be born in the spring and – ah, Mother, there is more!”

Her voice rose on a wail of anguish and Constance moved to sit by her daughter, knocking the small table that held the chessboard in her haste.

The pieces scattered, some falling to the floor with a clatter.

Jane stared at them dumbly, then burst into such a torrent of weeping that a rare tenderness rose within Constance.

She pulled her daughter to her and held her, murmuring soothingly until the sobs lessened and Jane grew calmer.

Releasing her hold, Constance handed Jane a clean kerchief from her pocket to replace the sodden one her daughter was twisting in her hands.

“Dry your eyes and tell me all about it.”

“You will not like it,” Jane said on another gulping sob. “But here it is. One Sunday last November there was a caller. She claimed to be Will’s half-sister.

“She brought me details of his early life. Nothing of any great import. But as she was leaving, she told me something else.”

Jane paused.

“Mother, Will has a wife in Lancashire where he grew up. He was already wed when he married me!”

Constance gave a quick intake of breath.

“I knew it. I knew from the start there was more to him than met the eye!”

“Mother, please. I cannot take much more.”

“And I cannot countenance what this man has done!”

“Nor I. As God is my witness, I swear I knew nothing of this. I would never have become involved if I had.”

A silence fell. Beyond the window the snow whirled faster. In the room, the fire crackled and blazed.

Constance collected her shredded wits.

“What’s done is done. We must deal with matters as best we can. This, then, is the reason for Will’s desertion?

“I take it you confronted him with what this woman said and he denied it.”

“Of course Will denied it. I would not listen. I was too hurt, too bewildered by it all.

“I was going to tell him about the babe, but…”

“He does not know of your condition?”

“No. No-one knows except –”

“Margery Denny,” Constance supplied, feeling a knife-thrust of hurt.

To think that Jane had run to a servant with her troubles before approaching her own mother!

Had Constance failed Jane in some way? She had done her best but, ah, the pain of it.

A glance at her daughter’s agonised expression made her take stock.

“Jane, dear, I have known all along of your continued contact with Margery,” she said quietly.

“Margery is my friend, Mother. I would not have deserted her, nor she me.”

“I should never have let her go, Jane. I was too hasty and now I am paying for that haste.”

Constance fought a desire to share the problems she was undergoing with Margery’s replacement. Only a monster would add to Jane’s burden at this moment.

She drew a long breath.

“My dear, the babe is due in the spring, you say?”

Jane nodded.

“Late April, May. I am not sure.”

“A babe is a blessing and must be considered first.

“What we must do is clear. We proceed with what I have always claimed and sell the business.

“Once that is accomplished we shall be free to take ourselves right away from here. A place where we are not known.

“Ann shall come with us. Another pair of hands is always to the good and she can be trusted implicitly.

“We can put it about that you are widowed and…”

“Mother, no! I knew it would come to this. That is partly why I have kept everything to myself.

“I shall never sell Hatton’s. We have come so far since – since Will pulled us out of the mire.

“Don’t look like that, Mother! Nobody is all bad and Will worked tirelessly on Hatton’s behalf.”

“What else do you suggest? Jane, where are you going?”

Her daughter had pulled to her feet and Constance blinked in shock.

Now that she looked closer, Jane’s swelling belly and general fullness were clear.

Why had Constance not seen the signs earlier?

“There is nothing more to be said for now and I have matters to attend to in the office. I am sorry to have thrust this on you, Mother.

“I had hoped you had come to terms with my wish to carry on as Father decreed. Clearly I was mistaken.”

Jane took herself off, using the door at the far end of the room that led to the business quarters.

Constance sighed heavily. Seeing the scattering of chess pieces on the floor, she picked them up and placed them, one by one, back on the board.

Her gaze fell on the cabinet on which was displayed a pitcher of wine and a set of goblets.

Her late husband had always claimed that a sup of his favoured Rhenish helped him think matters through. Perhaps it would do the same for her.

She poured herself a measure. Strange, but as she sat sipping the rich red wine it was almost as if Nicholas were here, advising her.

For, all at once, Constance knew what must be done.

To be continued…

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