This is the first part of a fiction serial, in 1073 words.
Isiah Dakin was a righteous man, and respected in the town. When he decided to marry quite late in life, many were surprised. He spent a lot of time in the church, never took strong drink, and was respected as one of the foremost leather merchants in the county. But he had never shown interest in women before. His choice of bride was unexpected too. Clara Fernsby was the orphan daughter of Christian Fernsby, who had recently been killed fighting against the king in the service of the Earl of Essex. With her mother long dead, she had been forced to find a home with her elderly aunt, who did not welcome the burden of a young girl to provide for.
It wasn’t long before the elderly spinster was trying to marry Clara off. She was only sixteen, but her plain looks and dumpy figure failed to attract willing suitors. Aunt Elizabeth went to see Mister Dakin. She put it to him that it was his religious duty to marry and bring children into the world, and although Clara had no dowry, he was rich enough that it was of no consequence. She also sought the support of others in the church congregation, suggesting that it was not right for a man like Isiah to live alone with only a servant for company.
With his marital status becoming the talk of the town, Isiah finally crumbled, and agreed to marry the girl within the month. The date chosen was two days after his forty-ninth birthday.
The service was short and sombre. Clara looked terrified throughout, and Isiah was shuffling his feet uncomfortably. There were many in the congregation who later remarked that neither bride nor groom had so much as exchanged a glance during the ceremony. The spinster was relieved to be rid of her financial responsibilities to the girl, and to now be related to a wealthy gentleman of standing.
Clara was rarely seen in the town after that. Isiah would come to the church services, excusing his wife as being unwell, or over-tired. It wasn’t done to pry of course, but the town gossips were well-served by the Dakin’s servant, Goody Tuppy. She worked in the house from early in the morning, preparing cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry. By late afternoon, she would have left a meal for the evening, and started to make her way home. On the way, she liked nothing better than to stop and tell tales to her friends. And her latest news was that the mistress was with child.
It was not an easy confinement, according to Goody Tuppy. Mistress Clara never left her room, and the Master carried on as before, with little sign he had a wife to care for. The girl could keep no food down, and constantly complained about everything, with her mood turning foul, and her attitude toward the servant lacking in good manners. When she was almost due, Isiah left town to visit leather-skinners in London. He explained that he had to make advance bids for the best skins, and expected Tuppy to take care of Clara in his absence. She might well have complained, had he not handed her a fat velvet purse full of coins for her trouble.
The child was a boy, and Clara recovered quickly. When Isiah returned two weeks later, he named his son Matthew Isiah, and sent out to local craftswomen for the best baby clothes. He also hired a wet-nurse all the way from Great Dunmow, and gave her an attic room in his fine house on the edge of town. Goody Tuppy reported that Clara was a good mother, and delighted in her son.
As the years went by, the town talked much of Isiah’s virility. He and Clara produced two more sons and he paid for a family pew at the church, adding a generous donation too. Clara was seen more regularly, and the family now had a maid just to care for the children. Then sad news reached the town. The Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, had died. They met at the church to pray for the soul of the righteous man who had governed England. Not much later, Clara was with child again. Goody Tuppy spread the news that if it were to be a boy, it would be named Oliver. But it was a girl, so they settled on Olivia.
Young Mathew was growing fast. Isiah took him under his wing, training him from an early age in all the necessities required to take over his leather-trading business. According to Goody Tuppy, he paid little attention to Olivia, leaving her with Clara, or the maid. When the monarchy was restored under the new King, Charles II, the town feared the worst. Most were certain they would suffer for their support of Parliament. But the new reign ushered in an era of prosperity, which Isiah took full advantage of. He embarked on travels around the country, accompanied by Matthew. Together, they bought up struggling leather merchants, including saddlers needing investment now there was no war.
When they eventually returned home, Clara announced that she was once again expecting an infant. Instead of joyously welcoming the news, Isiah shut himself away in his room, and even ate his meals there. Each evening in the town square, Goody Tuppy would tell all, to anyone wanting to hear the latest news. Master Matthew had taken over the leather trading, despite his youth, and there was talk that Isiah might have a malady of the mind, or a dysfunction of the brain. When he failed to turn up at church for the fourth week running, tongues began to wag, and the Minister was urged to pay a call on the Manor House.
The wails from the Town Square quickly brought out a crowd. The Minister was on his knees, his vestments bloody, and shouting loudly. “Foul Murder! Summon the Magistrate and The Watch!” He could not be calmed, so the Magistrate rode out to the Dakin House, accompanied by two constables armed with pistols. He found the terrified younger boys cowering in the bushes outside with the maid holding her arms around them. In the dining room, they discovered the body of the pregnant Clara, her throat slashed open by a knife that was lying next to her on the floor. Isiah Dakin stood calmly, holding onto a chair.
“I could take no more humiliation, Sir. You see, I had never laid with her, not once”.