Snordwich Chronicles, 33: Jaclyn

Every day of his wife’s sickness, Lord Snordwich sends bottles of fine nectar down to the village, with the request that his tenants all pray for her recovery.

While Eda is up at the manor house, Jaclyn watches her children Gilbert and Kinborough. The boy has a quick temper, and his sister, the younger of the two, spends the first day crying for their mother, but Jaclyn learns how to calm them both with stories and songs.

On Monday morning, Eda returns with word that her ladyship’s fever has passed, and that she is now well enough to receive her childbed gifts from the village wives.

These are traditionally honey, symbolizing happiness, and eggs, symbolizing new life. Beatrice asks Jaclyn to run and buy some eggs from Goodman Fowler, and to spread the good news along the way. She goes first to the bakery to tell the baker’s wife and daughters.

Eventually, she reaches the Fowlers’ cottage.

On her way back, she sees her mother already waiting outside of the bakery with some of the other wives. She has changed into her best clothes, the dress and tunic she wore as nurse at Plumbob Hall.

Jaclyn begs them top allow Tephna and her to go with them.

Their mothers assent, but the girls must promise keep their eyes lowered and their lips sealed unless they are commanded to speak.

When they reach the manor house, the company are admitted at the gatehouse, and ushered past the buttery door, through the great hall, and up onto the dais. Jaclyn has eaten in the hall before, but never been so close to the rich tapestries that hang behind the high table.

The door at the rear of the dais is opened and the women are led up a stone flight of stairs to the great chamber itself, where Mistress Marian greets them. Beatrice is pleased to see her former charge looking so well.

Jaclyn thinks how different the life of this little gentlewoman who shared her mother’s milk must be from her own. She will no doubt marry some knight or lord, and live in a great house, and not spend her days up to her knees in dirt.

Beyond the threshold, her ladyship is sitting with her husband and attendants; behind them, a nurse holds the new baby in her arms. Their chamber as sumptuous as the hall below, with intricately carved woodwork and bright fabrics.

Seeing her guests, Lady Snordwich playfully shoos the men away: this is a women’s ritual, and no place for them. After the wives have presented their gifts, the nurse brings the infant forward to show them; it is a little girl, fair haired like her mother.

They and their families should come up to the house again tomorrow, her ladyship tells them: her lord husband plans to throw a great feast for the First Fruits to celebrate her recovery, with warm meat and good nectar for all comers.

Jaclyn thinks of the Feast of the First Fruits with mixed feelings. She enjoys the festivities, which will be even better this year if they are to sup to Plumbob Hall, but the day also marks the beginning of the harvest season, which she always dreads. She is not as strong as the other girls and boys, and finds the long days of hard work almost unbearable.

Back at home, the family retires early to bed.

By the morning, the grapes, limes and plums are ready to pick. The apples, pears and onions will be a few days yet.

The bulk of the first day’s harvest goes to the church, but the parson allows a a little of it to be baked into pies for the community.

After his sermon, the villagers carry their pies up the hill to the great house. Ralf receives these on his master’s behalf before hurrying back to the kitchen: he has too much work to do to stay and talk.

In the great hall, Lady Snordwich sits by her husband’s side, looking healthier than ever.

Tephna is starry-eyed as she eats her beef and cabbage stew. She loves this time of year—the autumn fruits, the many feasts, the mild weather, the way the village comes together.

Jaclyn knows the only thing that could make her friend happier would be to sit with Ralf, but the ushers of the hall have placed them with Kniborough and Oriel, and Ralf with his two brothers and the stable boy.

On the way home, Richard tells Jaclyn and Tephna that his brother seemed in good spirits. The kitchen is apparently struggling to keep up with the number of visitors come to wish her ladyship well, but Ralf never feels sad or worried when the trees are in fruit.

Jaclyn wishes she could feel that way. As she undresses for bed, her mother tries to cheer her by inventing a tale in which Jaclyn’s heroine Cecelia must help a farmer with his crops in exchange for information about her lost husband.

But such stories do not enchant Jaclyn as they once did. Cecelia must have been the daughter of a lord or knight, like Mistress Marian or Lady Snordwich herself. And her hardships did not last: she eventually retired with her husband to a life of happiness and comfort, and became the founder a noble line. Things like that don’t happen to the daughters of poor tenant farmers.

In the morning, Jaclyn’s mother rouses her well before dawn. It has been a hot, sticky night, and the girl feels too tired even to help take her parents’ harvest in, let alone spend the whole day crouching and sweating in his lordship’s fields.

When they have tended to their own crops, the Yates start to make their way up to the demesne. As they walk through the village, the other families join them. Tephna could not look more excited.

In previous years, Jaclyn looked after the smaller children while the others worked, but now that they are a little older she is required to join in with the others. Labouring under the hot sun is taxing, though it is even worse in the rain.

Jaclyn is at least glad to be among friends, and to have many suppers at the manor house ahead of her.

She manages to drag herself through the week, but on Saturday evening she collapses in exhaustion.

Henry carries his daughter home and puts her to bed.

His wife is also feeling unwell.

By Sunday morning, Jaclyn is a little more rested. She has the whole day to recover before the villagers must begin their work again on Monday. Her mother is feeling better too, and has some exiting news to share.

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