City Of Dis­cov­er­ies

This was a far cry from the open coun­try, but Jen­net knew it was the only way for­ward . . .

The People's Friend - - This Week - by Anne Sten­house

JEN­NET MAR­SHALL drew her shawl around her rake-thin shoul­ders and braced her­self for the walk to Sooth’s Mill. She knew Wil­liam, her hus­band, was pre­tend­ing to sleep in the bed she’d left 20 min­utes ear­lier, but she sim­ply whis­pered a good­bye as she lifted the latch and slipped out on to the pas­sage­way.

He wasn’t the only man left be­hind by a work­ing wife in Dundee, but it was a thing he bit­terly re­sented.

She hugged the damp wall of their shared ten­e­ment stair­well and tried not to let her boots ping. Wil­liam had in­sisted on bang­ing nails into their soles and heels when she slipped and fell on the ice last week.

The boots did grip the cob­bles bet­ter, but they were noisy and some folk were still sleep­ing in this dark early-morn­ing hour.

She turned away from the mill and made her way off Hawkhill a wee bit. Get­ting up 10 min­utes ear­lier meant she could walk in a loop around streets where the houses had gar­dens, and pre­tend she was back in the coun­try­side.

In Jan­uary there was no green­ery or blos­som, but there were trees. She loved to walk be­low them where they stretched across the street, dream­ing about the sum­mer canopy to come.

It would be dif­fer­ent this year in the city. She sighed over their move from Carnoustie. There had been no choice when the hand­loom-weav­ing ended.

Women were at­trac­tive to employers be­cause they were cheap. Men like Wil­liam were more ex­pen­sive to em­ploy.

A pa­per­boy rushed out of one gar­den gate and dropped his bun­dle.

“Here,” Jen­net said. “I’ll help you.”

“Thanks, mis­sus. There’s a lot the day. Thae pub­lish­ers have brocht out a new ane and ev­ery­body wants a copy or three.” “Three!”

Jen­net and Wil­liam hadn’t a penny to spare for news, and how she missed her read­ing. She glanced at the num­ber on the gate: 59. Were they buy­ing three copies of the one pa­per?

“What’s it called?” she asked the lad.

“‘The Peo­ple’s Friend’,” he said and rushed away.

“‘The Peo­ple’s Friend’,” Jen­net mur­mured. “Aye, some of us peo­ple are in sair need of a friend.”

She’d lost time talk­ing to the lad and by the time she re­traced her steps, Hawkhill was thronged. A mass of women and chil­dren moved to­wards the bulk of the great mills.

Jen­net hardly knew any of her fel­low work­ers by name, but one or two faces were fa­mil­iar be­cause they were in the same sec­tion.

They worked un­der fore­man Drew Flem­ing, whose rough voice and

un­cer­tain tem­per kept them all in fear of their jobs, but who kept the over­seer sweet be­cause his out­comes were good.

Soon the press of folk was so great that Jen­net was caught on ei­ther side by two women. She recog­nised the older one by the green stripe run­ning through her blue shawl, and nod­ded when she spoke.

“Jen­net, isn’t it?” “Aye. You’re Meg­gie?” “That’s me, an’ this here is my sis­ter, Torie. Are you get­ting the hang of your loom, Jen­net?”

The mill gates ma­te­ri­alised out of the dark street. A few lamps cast a glow on the women’s heads, in their shawls and the odd man’s cap.

“We’ve seen that devil Flem­ing hang­ing o’er you.”

Jen­net suppressed a shiver. She’d thought the fore­man had been pay­ing her un­nec­es­sary at­ten­tion, but had hoped she’d imag­ined it.

Last week, he’d come up be­hind her and run his hands across her hair. When she jumped out of his way, he’d growled at her.

“Whit are you about, quine? I need to see that your hair is tightly held. Din­nae want any quine scalped on my shift.”

The man’s fam­ily had come from Aberdeen when the mills be­gan ex­pand­ing, and his ac­cent was all but im­pen­e­tra­ble to Jen­net.

Not so the lust­ful look in his eyes. She knew what that meant.

She’d thought about telling Wil­liam of her fears, but de­cided things were bad enough be­tween them.

“He does pay par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion, and he seems to think I need more su­per­vis­ing than oth­ers,” Jen­net said qui­etly.

“He would. Lis­ten, we’re be­hind you. Eh, Torie?”

“That’s right. Dinna let that man away with ony­thing. Dinna let ony man away with ony­thing.”

Jen­net looked at Torie.

The long day, with its clouds of fluff and nev­erceas­ing clat­ter, even­tu­ally ended. Jen­net tum­bled out of the mill with the other work­ers and into the dark of a Jan­uary evening.

She ached, her head thumped and two fin­gers were red and raw.

“Penny for the mar­malade, miss?”

Crouch­ing be­side a shop door was a waif so small and mal­nour­ished, Jen­net could not tell whether it was male or fe­male. “Please, miss, a penny.” The child was hold­ing a filthy bro­ken cup, in its mid­dle a spoon­ful of mar­malade or jam.

Rak­ing in her pocket, she found a far­thing and a penny. She held them out to the child.

“Thank ye, miss,” the tiny voice squeaked, and in a flash the child was gone.

“Did you give him money?” At her el­bow, Wil­liam’s deep tones were loud in her ears.

“Wil­liam, you star­tled me! Did you see the state that child was in?”

“We need all our pen­nies, Jen­net. There’s rent due.”

“It’ll be a sad day when we can­nae help a bairn with no shoes an’ only a bro­ken cup of ran­cid jam! What’s come over you?”

Jen­net knew she should have been calmer, but months of creep­ing around her hus­band’s bro­ken spirit, the noise of the mill and the hor­rid pres­ence of Drew Flem­ing were sud­denly too much for her. She was the one get­ting up at half past four to strug­gle into work, not Wil­liam! “They were my pen­nies.” “So you think be­cause ye earn the money, ye hold the purse-strings. Did I ever keep you short?”

Jen­net felt hot an­gry tears be­hind her eyes.

“No, you never did. An’ I’m no’ keep­ing you short, but we have no bairn of our own and that one will not be long for this world if nae­body helps him.”

Wil­liam lifted his arm and a woman, too smartly dressed to be a worker, stepped to­wards them out of the evening crowd.

Jen­net saw her fist clench tightly around a walk­ing stick which she waved with au­thor­ity.

She thinks Wil­liam is go­ing to hit me, Jen­net re­alised, and she’s go­ing to stop him!

She grabbed his arm. “Let’s get back.” What­ever else they’d faced, Wil­liam had never raised his hand against her.

His warm bulk lean­ing against her side brought its own com­fort and she tried to let the stress slide away.

“I tried the docks again the day, but that’s still as it was where work’s con­cerned. Thae men all know one an­other and an out­sider dis­nae get a look in.”

Jen­net’s heart ached for her man. He’d never been idle a day un­til last year when they learned there would be no more col­lec­tions of fin­ished cloth from their cot­tages. Most of the vil­lage men were made idle and the looms bro­ken up.

Wil­liam stopped walk­ing and Jen­net fol­lowed the line of his gaze.

Was that Drew Flem­ing? Surely the fore­man lived in the op­po­site di­rec­tion? He and his fam­ily were able to af­ford three rooms.

She knew be­cause he’d made a point of telling her when he asked if her own man was in work.

“That chap with the side-whiskers?” Wil­liam nod­ded to­wards the wynd the fig­ure had gone down.

“Aye, Drew Flem­ing. He’s the fore­man in my sec­tion.”

“Does he live out our way?”

“Naw, he lives across the other side.”

“Cu­ri­ous. I’ve seen him lurk­ing around afore.”

He let Flem­ing go as the ex­cite­ment of other work news over­took him.

“Lis­ten, I heard from that auld wi­fie on the ground floor, Mis­tress Wight­man, that Keiller’s have hud a huge de­liv­ery of them or­anges they use fur the mar­malade. There might be a por­ter­ing job go­ing.”

“That’s mair like, Wil­liam!” Jen­net said, and the ex­cite­ment drove Flem­ing from her thoughts, too. “The women were talk­ing about Keiller’s the day. It’s like the jobs are mair at some times of the year than oth­ers.”

“Aye, with the sea­sons,” Wil­liam said. “Mis­tress Wight­man sug­gested I go along the mor­row and speak to a Mr Cruik­shanks. She has a no­tion he’ll be the one to change my luck.”

“Oh, Wil­liam,” Jen­net said and squeezed his arm.

Hetty Wilson smiled as she saw her young cousin, Car­rie Smith, blink in the sun­shine when she came into the break­fast room. Jan­uary days took such a long time to ripen that Hetty of­ten had lamps burn­ing un­til af­ter ten o’clock.

Yet again Hetty thought how lucky she was that Car­rie had de­cided to sell up af­ter her par­ents’ deaths and take the big down­stairs room here as a pay­ing guest.

She en­joyed the younger woman’s sparky in­tel­li­gence, and it meant at least one room of her board­ing-house held some­one con­ge­nial.

She looked around for the morn­ing mail and spied a large pile of let­ters where Cook had left them on the end of the side­board.

It was an un­spo­ken rule of the house that the mail should not be dis­turbed un­til break­fast was eaten, so no-one lin­gered too long over that meal.

Hetty had only one guest at present, but with Car­rie’s in­creas­ing in­volve­ment in suf­frage busi­ness, the pile of let­ters did not di­min­ish.

Hetty crum­bled her toast and gave a small cough. Why did she find it so dif­fi­cult to talk about the house’s fi­nan­cial ar­range­ments?

Car­rie might be from one of the rich­est jute fam­i­lies in Dundee, but she did not flaunt her wealth.

Even so, Hetty was

still, af­ter 10 years of do­ing it, a lit­tle em­bar­rassed to be let­ting out rooms.

“I wanted to tell you, Car­rie, that I have been able to fill the two empty rooms on the top floor,” Hetty said, blush­ing.

“Good­ness, Hetty, will these new ten­ants be re­turn­ing high-seas ad­ven­tur­ers?”

“No, but they are both male. I was ap­proached by my late cousin Roberta’s hus­band, Mr Thomas Web­ster. He is bring­ing a friend to visit Dundee.”

Hetty choked a lit­tle on the sip of tea she’d taken.

“Care­ful, Hetty,” Car­rie said in con­cern.

“Mr Web­ster is of a Dundee fam­ily, although they are now liv­ing in Ed­in­burgh. He found it too painful to con­tinue here af­ter Roberta died. The fam­ily busi­ness is whal­ing.

“His friend is called Crom­bie, John Crom­bie. I don’t know what he does.” Hetty poured more tea.

She watched Car­rie push her plate away and rise.

The pile of mail was prov­ing ir­re­sistible. She would be ex­pect­ing let­ters from Ed­in­burgh, and of course there was al­ways the hope that one of their mu­tual cousin El­speth’s en­ter­tain­ing ac­counts of life in Aus­tralia would ar­rive.

“I would not take male guests, but times are hard and the ex­tra in­come must be seen as a bonus.” Hetty lifted her chin. “I hope you un­der­stand. Mr Web­ster is vir­tu­ally a rel­a­tive and Mr Crom­bie will only be here for two or three weeks at most. I be­lieve he has a pas­sage booked for his re­turn to New­found­land.”

“Why, Hetty,” Car­rie said calmly, “I un­der­stand the na­ture of busi­ness. You rent out rooms, and when there are no guests of the fe­male sex then you must make do with men.

“I re­mem­ber the Web­ster fam­ily from child­hood par­ties. Papa would have been glad to know a Web­ster was around and ac­tive in the city, be­cause he al­ways said that whale oil was an im­por­tant part of the pro­duc­tion process in mak­ing jute prof­itable.” Hetty smiled.

“You are so very knowl­edge­able about tech­ni­cal mat­ters. Well, it is 1869 and per­haps women need to recog­nise that their brains are as ca­pa­ble of un­der­stand­ing science as any man’s.”

Hetty oc­ca­sion­ally felt a lit­tle dis­grun­tled that the Good Lord had made her a woman and not a man.

Had she been born her brother, as it were, she might have been run­ning a jam or jute factory her­self by now, and not hav­ing to worry about whether the sheets were fine enough for Mr Thomas Web­ster and Mr John Crom­bie.

“Yes, they are,” Car­rie replied mildly.

Hetty knew her cousin, too, chafed at be­ing fe­male from time to time, and cer­tainly there was lit­tle sign of mild­ness when she went af­ter the over­seer, Souter, about his treat­ment of the women and chil­dren in Sooth’s Mill. Car­rie might not be run­ning her fam­ily’s busi­ness, but she kept a close eye on it.

“That is one of the rea­sons I feel the suf­frage move­ment is so im­por­tant.”

Car­rie handed over three let­ters from the bun­dle, but the rest were for her.

“Thank you. I’ll go down to the kitchen and speak with Cook. She may have ideas about what the gen­tle­men should be of­fered for break­fast.”

Hetty left her cousin in the break­fast par­lour where, af­ter her el­derly maid, Ina, had cleared, she knew Car­rie would spread out her pa­pers, pam­phlets and cor­re­spon­dence and set to work.

El­speth Suther­land sat on the ve­ran­dah in a light gown and a wrap­per.

It was not yet six o’clock in the morn­ing, but the heat de­manded she have a huge os­trich-feather fan which she used to waft some cooler air around her from time to time.

Life as a colo­nial wife in Syd­ney was dif­fer­ent in so many ways from what she would have ex­pe­ri­enced as a wife in Dundee, had Harold not car­ried her off. She rel­ished it.

“I cer­tainly could not have ap­peared on any bal­cony corset-less and wear­ing a wrap­per,” she told the koala and its baby watch­ing her from the safety of a huge gum tree on Harold’s new prop­erty.

The an­i­mal’s un­blink­ing stare was a lit­tle un­nerv­ing.

“My dear, are you suf­fer­ing from heat-stroke, that you’re talk­ing to the koalas?” her hus­band asked as he brought a tray of pineap­ple juice through from the kitchen. “Once we start hav­ing any of my fam­ily to visit, you may not sit out here in only a wrap­per, ei­ther.”

“You are a cruel man, sir, but at least you don’t in­sist I wear a corset when your fam­ily visit.”

El­speth stretched her head up to meet Harold’s kiss.

“I can al­most for­give you as you’re bring­ing me this won­der­ful juice.”

“It is still hot,” Harold agreed. “Usu­ally by the mid­dle of Jan­uary, the ther­mome­ter is creep­ing down.”

El­speth sighed with plea­sure. She loved the view from their new house.

It opened out across the ex­panse of the Botanic Gar­dens where Harold spent his work­ing days, and was suf­fi­ciently dis­tant from the busy city streets to be a quiet haven of bur­geon­ing plant-life and a se­lec­tion of Aus­tralia’s odd fauna.

“Have you sent off some notes to your par­ents, my love? Only I know how your papa will fret if he can­not have sleep and . . .”

“I have sent him your rec­om­men­da­tions for which cab­ins to book for the jour­ney on to Syd­ney. Oh, Harold, just think, we have not seen them since we left them af­ter our mar­riage in Cal­cutta.”

She stood up and, drop­ping the fan, leaned over the ve­ran­dah rail­ing to study the koalas.

Harold came up be­hind her and en­cir­cled her with his arms. El­speth re­laxed into his lean strength and breathed slowly.

“Are you cry­ing, Mrs Suther­land? Yes, some­times I think our mar­riage was too sud­den, but what could I do when the next op­por­tu­nity might have been in five years’ time?”

El­speth sniffed. “These are tears of hap­pi­ness be­cause I’ll get to see my par­ents again within a few months.”

She squirmed round and gazed into his trou­bled eyes.

“Be­sides, if we hadn’t mar­ried, all those single ladies would have had too much op­por­tu­nity to se­cure your in­ter­est.”

El­speth knew her ar­rival in Syd­ney as Harold Suther­land’s bride had not met with the ap­proval of ev­ery­one in the com­mu­nity of Euro­pean aca­demics. Some women had taken the trou­ble to tell her so.

“You mean Miss Ste­wart and her friends,” Harold said with a chuckle. “Dar­ling El­speth, I hope they aren’t caus­ing you more dis­com­fort. There never was any real af­fec­tion be­tween me and Grizel Ste­wart.”

He lifted the heavy locks of blonde hair from the back of her neck and a wel­come breeze tick­led it.

“I was much sur­prised to be told by her brother that I’d bro­ken her heart; much sur­prised.”

El­speth gur­gled with amuse­ment de­spite think­ing she should be kinder to Miss Ste­wart’s in­jured feel­ings.

In the four months since she and Harold had ar­rived in the city, she’d come to see that her new hus­band was in­clined to speak as he found rather than dress things up in po­lite phrases and lit­tle white lies.

“And I, too, will be glad to see your par­ents again and get to know them bet­ter. I am sure my mother is look­ing for­ward to their visit. I should be back from the Blue Moun­tains by the time they ar­rive.”

“The Blue Moun­tains! When are we leav­ing?”

She was de­lighted.

One of the am­bi­tions of her life was to travel, and there was so much of Aus­tralia to see.

El­speth let ex­cite­ment deafen her ears to that “I”.

“You haven’t given me much warn­ing, Harold; I’ve been ac­cept­ing in­vi­ta­tions willy-nilly. I knew noth­ing of this Blue Moun­tains trip.”

“You don’t need to worry, my love. I have no in­ten­tion of tak­ing my bride up into the wilds. Ac­cept as many in­vi­ta­tions as you please.”

El­speth hid her dis­ap­point­ment as best she could. Out­right op­po­si­tion was not go­ing to move Harold one iota.

She would have to plan her strat­egy.

The big clock in the hall­way had just fin­ished strik­ing 11 when the door­bell jan­gled again.

Hetty dried her hands on her apron and strug­gled to loosen the strings. The trades­men had been and gone long be­fore this and be­sides, they pulled the kitchen bell.

Who could be call­ing this early? The min­is­ter?

She checked her neat bun in the hall mir­ror as she passed the par­lour door and sighed. Why was this per­son ring­ing the front door­bell?

Bat­tling through the cur­tain hang­ing be­hind the glass vestibule door and haul­ing away the bolt of draught ex­cluder, Hetty man­aged to open the door.

A young lad in the livery of the city’s premier hack­ney ser­vice stood there. He re­moved his hat and bowed.

“Lug­gage from Earl Grey Dock, ma’am.”

“Lug­gage!” Hetty said faintly as re­al­i­sa­tion dawned.

The new lodgers had al­ready stepped out of a sec­ond cab pulled up be­hind the first.

The horses snorted and stamped in the cold air, the boys bus­tled about un­load­ing trunks and cases and two tall, el­e­gantly dressed gen­tle­men watched from the flags.

Catch­ing sight of her, they came into the gar­den.

“Miss Wilson?” the older man said. “Thomas Web­ster. I know we have not met so very of­ten since I mar­ried Roberta, but I do see a fam­ily re­sem­blance.”

He re­moved his hat and made a small bow.

“The Wil­sons are thought to have small chins,” Hetty said, feel­ing in­stantly at ease with Thomas Web­ster. “And I think you must call me Hetty, sir, as we are fam­ily.”

“Only if you agree to call me Thomas and to ac­cept my apol­ogy. We are a day ahead of our pro­posed ar­rival as the boat we joined made ex­cel­lent pas­sage from Lon­don.

“It ar­rived in Leith quicker than ex­pected and the cap­tain de­cided to take ad­van­tage of a fine wind to come on.”

“And here we are,” the other man fin­ished in an ac­cent Hetty did not recog­nise.

She thought he sounded as if he might come from North Amer­ica, maybe Canada.

He was a cou­ple of inches taller and his com­plex­ion a cou­ple of shades darker than his com­pan­ion.

“John Crom­bie,” he added, hold­ing out a hand.

Hetty gripped it in hers and looked up into a pair of brown eyes that sparkled with amuse­ment.

Is he laugh­ing at my dis­com­fi­ture, she thought, and straight­ened her spine.

Blush­ing is some­thing other misses do, she silently re­minded her­self. I am equal to any man.

“Well, good morn­ing to you, gen­tle­men. We aren’t quite ready for you, but come in mean­time.

“If the rooms are not aired to your sat­is­fac­tion, then oth­ers can be re­served at the tem­per­ance ho­tel in Re­form Street un­til to­mor­row.”

She turned back into the pas­sage­way, but not be­fore she caught the gleam of ad­mi­ra­tion in Thomas Web­ster’s eye. She’d sur­prised him and that sat­is­fied her hugely.

“Thank you, Hetty,” was all he said.

“A tem­per­ance ho­tel,” Mr Crom­bie mused as they moved down the pas­sage, “Surely in this land of such fine whisky, a tem­per­ance ho­tel is a strange thing?”

Hetty swung open the door of the front room.

“I think your lug­gage could be put in here,” she said, “but as the fire has not been lit yet, per­haps you would care to come into the break­fast par­lour.”

Within a very short time the cab­men had un­loaded all the port­man­teaux and cases.

It was dif­fi­cult to squeeze in and out of the room, but Hetty waited pa­tiently while Thomas dis­charged the bill.

She led the gen­tle­men along the short hall­way to the break­fast par­lour.

“Oh, good­ness!” Car­rie ex­claimed, look­ing up as the mess of her work and cor­re­spon­dence was dis­cov­ered all over the ta­ble.

Pa­pers and ref­er­ence books were strewn every­where. Hetty had for­got­ten she would still be work­ing in here.

“Car­rie, these gen­tle­men are my new guests. Mr Thomas Web­ster and Mr John Crom­bie.”

She stood to one side as Car­rie came for­ward to shake hands.

Did Mr Crom­bie hold on to Car­rie’s a lit­tle longer than was nec­es­sary for po­lite­ness, Hetty won­dered.

She no­ticed the shy up­ward glance the young woman gave him and was struck by how pretty a pale pink blush made her young cousin look.

Her light red hair was abun­dant and piled on top of her head in an un­tidy bun­dle, but with glasses slightly askew and an ink smudge on her cheek, she pre­sented an en­dear­ing pic­ture.

“I am a sea-far­ing man, Miss Smith,” Crom­bie was say­ing. “A whaler like Mr Web­ster here. But I work out of New­found­land.”

“New­found­land,” Car­rie said in a whis­per. “I think New­found­land must be a very ex­cit­ing place.”

Jen­net’s stom­ach was roil­ing with nerves as she made her way among the thick press of folk shuf­fling to­wards the mill the next morn­ing.

Af­ter the ex­cite­ment of Wil­liam’s news had died away, she’d lain awake puz­zling over why Drew Flem­ing had been lurk­ing in a close so near their house.

She was barely con­scious of the cold and the damp Jan­uary air hang­ing heav­ily over the city un­der a blan­ket of dark cloud and nearly im­pen­e­tra­ble fog. “Good morn­ing, Meg­gie.” In­side the mill, Jen­net and Torie turned to the woman’s voice with its air of au­thor­ity, as did Meg­gie.

Jen­net re­alised the speaker was the young woman who she had no­ticed in the crowded street last night.

“I’ve come in early to­day be­cause I heard from the school that two or three of the bairns have been miss­ing lessons,” the woman con­tin­ued.

“Aye, weel, ye’d need to ask their maws aboot that, Miss Smith,” Meg­gie said shortly, and car­ried on chang­ing her out­side boots for the thin­ner ones she car­ried in a cloth bag.

“Who is she?” Jen­net asked as she moved on.

“Miss Smith? She’s wan o’ the own­ers, or the own­ers’ fam­ily, but be­ing as how she’s a woman, she bus­ies her­self with our wel­fare,” Meg­gie said.

Pick­ing up the woman’s re­luc­tance to say more, Jen­net let it go. Be­sides, Meg­gie had other news.

“I hear Flem­ing is be­ing con­sid­ered for a pro­mo­tion,” she said as they un­wound their shawls and rubbed their fin­gers to bring a bit of life and cir­cu­la­tion into them be­fore start­ing up the looms.

Jen­net glanced at her new friend, star­tled.

“Pro­mo­tion? Does that mean he’ll have even more chance to make our lives a misery?”

She hauled off her boots and slipped her feet into wooden clogs be­fore check­ing care­fully that her hair was tied up and out of the way of any ma­chin­ery.

“It’s no’ guar­an­teed,

like,” Meg­gie said. “He micht be moved over to one of the other mills an’ re­placed here.”

Jen­net drew a deep breath. Dare she hope? Would the Guid Lord lis­ten to a prayer ask­ing that the devil might be suc­cess­ful in his pro­mo­tion?

She heard the clat­ter of the ma­chines burst­ing into life and took up her own po­si­tion.

“Guid o’ you to turn your at­ten­tion to the job at last,” Flem­ing said in her ear.

He was be­hind her, hid­den from most of the work­ers, but some would have seen him cross the floor and slide be­tween her loom and the next.

“I’m shair ye un­der­stand how im­por­tant it is that my workforce is on top of the out­turns.”

He paused and Jen­net won­dered if he awaited an an­swer.

She couldn’t think of one and kept si­lent.

“These airs an’ graces are no’ do­ing you any good in my e’en, quine. Think on. When I take the trou­ble to point out your faults an’ how you could im­prove, I’m do­ing you a favour.

“I ex­pect a bit of con­sid­er­a­tion in re­turn.”

“I’m sure I work as hard as I know how, Mr Flem­ing,” Jen­net said.

She shiv­ered as cold sweat trick­led down the back of her neck.

This was worse than any of his pre­vi­ous in­sin­u­a­tions.

“Aye, but I think ye could be a wee bit mair nice in your at­ten­tions to me. I did sug­gest ye micht like to bring your piece out to the back­yard, did I not?”

The back­yard was a dingy space fenced off from the main yards and fre­quented by the fore­men to smoke their pipes and some­times, Jen­net knew, to spend ten min­utes with one of the women.

She would not trust Flem­ing if they were out of sight of the oth­ers.

Jen­net shud­dered and a thread snapped.

Nerves made her fin­gers clumsy and Flem­ing had to grab her hand be­fore she lost a fin­ger in her haste to re­pair it.

Flem­ing hitched his trousers around his belt and sloped off.

Jen­net forced her­self to con­cen­trate. The risk of an in­jury was ever present and she could not af­ford to be laid off.

Twenty min­utes later one of the bairns ar­rived at her loom.

“The over­seer has telt me to tell you to gang to his of­fice, Jen­net Mar­shall.” “The over­seer?” Jen­net was breath­less. No­body was ever sent for by the over­seer for a good rea­son.

She let the loom fall si­lent and ti­died her skirts as best she could be­fore cross­ing the floor to the over­seer’s tiny of­fice.

She knocked on the glass and went in­side when he called.

“Jen­net Mar­shall?” “Yes, sir.”

Jen­net was aware of Flem­ing stand­ing to her left.

His breath­ing rasped into the cleaner air of the of­fice which was cut off from the sus­pen­sion of fluff on the factory floor.

“Mr Flem­ing tells me he’s no’ aw­fully pleased with your work,” the over­seer be­gan.

“Why, sir, that’s no’ fair. I maybe snapped a thread this morn­ing, but ony body does from time to time,” she burst out with­out think­ing what im­pres­sion she would give.

“Do you in­ter­rupt me, Mis­tress Mar­shall? Who is Jen­net Mar­shall to tell my ex­pe­ri­enced fore­man any­thing?

“Lis­ten to me, woman, there’s plenty can take your place.”

The door be­hind Jen­net crashed against the wall and Miss Smith burst in.

She crossed the floor and leaned for­ward with both hands on the over­seer’s desk.

Meg­gie’s words echoed in her head. One of the own­ers, but a woman. But what now?

And what would be­come of her and Wil­liam if she lost this job? To be con­tin­ued.

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