Tales Within A Tale 3 – Miss Worthy

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Four months until Skin Like Silver is published in the UK. That’s plenty of time to introduce you to some of the characters. Not Tom Harper or Annabelle, not Billy Reed or Superintendent Kendall. Not even Ash. But some of the others who populate this book – there are over 60; I counted.

They’re relatively minor characters, but they all have their stories to tell. About once a fortnight until publication you’ll get to meet some of them. One of them could well be a killer. Or perhaps not. But when you read the book and come across them, you can smile and say ‘I know you.’

Read the first Tale within a Tale, about Patrick Martin, here and the second with Robert Carr here.

And, of course, you can read about Skin Like Silver here.

This time it’s Miss Martha Worthy, milliner.

‘I’m very sorry, Miss Bell, but that won’t be possible.’ She said it with a smile, trying to ease the harsh pill.

‘Well!’ The woman puffed out her cheeks and pushed her lips together to make a thin line. It made her look even less attractive, Miss Worthy thought. But the woman had to be told: no more credit. She’d paid nothing on her account in six months, then flounced in expecting gratitude for her custom. Maybe they’d do that elsewhere, but she couldn’t afford to. ‘I shall take my business elsewhere.’

‘You’re more than welcome to do that, of course.’ Another smile, just enough to show her teeth, and a slight nod of the head. ‘But before you leave, perhaps you’d care to settle your bill.’

‘Why should I?’ Miss Bell sniffed. ‘I came to buy a hat, not to be insulted.’

‘I’m sorry you feel that way,’ Miss Worthy told her. ‘I truly am. But perhaps you haven’t received the statements I’ve sent out every month? Have you perhaps changed your address?’

She meant it to sting and it worked. The woman’s face reddened and she drew herself up to her full height.

‘I don’t believe a tradesman should talk to me that way.’

‘Tradeswoman.’ She took pleasure in the correction. ‘This is my business. There is no Mr. Worthy, and hasn’t been since my father passed away. The success or failure of this milliner’s shop depends on me, no one else.’ She left the words to hang for a moment, then added. ‘And for my customers to pay their bills, of course.’

Miss Bell glowered for a moment, then abruptly turned on her heel, letting the door slam shut behind her. She’d never pay now, of course, but then the woman probably never had any intention of settling the account. Still, there was some satisfaction. Miss Worthy had talked to quite a few others in the business; dear Miss Bell might discover it a great deal harder to obtain any credit now.

It wasn’t easy to be a woman in business. But she’d made a small success of the milliner’s after learning the trade. Miss Worthy had a flair for design, a little family money to give her the cushion to start, and plenty of determination.

‘Miss Bell must have been spitting feathers.’ Effie Johnson laughed when she heard.

‘Especially when no one else will extend her credit. It’ll teach her a lesson,’ Miss Worthy said, sipping at the sherry. They were in her rooms above the shop, all the bustle of Briggate in the evening outside her window. ‘She’ll be back within a week and pay in full, you marks my words.’

‘You can be a hard women, Martha.’

‘I can be a businesswoman,’ Miss Worthy corrected her carefully.

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