Today, pleasure boats line the King’s Staith in summer time, but in the 16th this was the main landing place for cargo vessels. The keelboats that plied up and down the Ouse to Hull tied up at the staith under Ouse Bridge to unload the barrels and bales of goods imported from the Low Countries, and replace them with sacks of wool and grain, bales of cloth and other commodities that were were traded by York’s merchants in Hull and beyond.
Goods were transported by river to and from the King’s Staith until well into the 19th century when the railway shifted the focus of the city’s trade.
The King’s Staith features twice in The Edge of Dark, when Jane escapes to London with baby Geoffrey, and here, as Roz stops on Ouse Bridge and looks down at the river, just as Jane once did.
She wouldn’t think about anything, Roz decided. She would just walk and enjoy the sunshine. But familiarity nagged at her as she glanced up at the lantern tower of All Saints Pavement or studied the rise of Ousegate before it dipped down towards the river. This was the way she walked to Holmwood House every day, but she had never looked at the church properly before, never wondered why it should look both strange and familiar at the same time. And the street was the same as always, a little more crowded, perhaps, with Saturday shoppers, but no different to the day before. So there was no reason to suddenly feel this disquieting sense of déjà vu.
Perhaps she had come here as a small child, Roz thought. She had read somewhere that the brain processed and retained every experience, filing the unimportant ones away to avoid overloading the mind, but that none were ever truly forgotten. Who was to say that she hadn’t been brought to Ousegate in a pushchair one day? Or hanging on to her mother’s hand, perhaps, with her half-sisters beside her, and Mikey, scuffing along behind them, none of them knowing how soon or how terribly the family would be destroyed. She might have seen the church then, seen the rise of the road, Roz reasoned. That would explain this uncanny sense that she had been here before.
On Ouse Bridge, she stopped to peer down at the river. Sunlight was flashing on the water, exploding in tiny, flickering bursts of light, like paparazzi bulbs flashing, so bright that it hurt Roz’s eyes to look at them straight on. A buzz of laughter and chatter rose from the crowd outside the pub on King’s Staith, enjoying the unexpected warmth. Pleasure boats were tied up against the quay, and Roz frowned a little, watching them. There was something odd about those boats, something distorted in the scene that set memory rising, unfurling, almost there, but just out of reach. The boats. The river. Something missing. Something wrong. If only she could remember …
She started. ‘Oh … Annis.’ She rubbed her forehead. ‘What was I saying?’
‘You were talking about them keelboats.’ Annis regarded her closely. ‘You sickening for something, Mistress?’
‘No, no … at least …’
She did feel a bit strange, Jane realised. It was as if there was something tugging at her mind, something that she was trying to remember. For a moment when she had gazed down at the staith, something had stirred at the back of her mind, but before she could remember, she was distracted by the glitter on the water, by a subtle shift in the air, so that it seemed that the river changed before her eyes and the boats clustered by the staith had wavered and vanished. But then Annis had touched her arm, and everything snapped back to normal.
‘I’m just worried about my sister,’ she improvised, and it was true enough. She had met Eliza Dawson from St Andrewgate in the market, and Eliza had shaken her head over Juliana’s antics. Jane should speak to their father, she had said. Juliana would lose her reputation else.
Jane couldn’t imagine her father listening to her. Juliana was his pet still, and he would brook no criticism of her, but Jane fretted that without her restraining influence, Juliana’s wildness was increasing. Her temper, always erratic, swung wildly from dazzling good humour to the black depths of misery. Jane didn’t understand how hard things were for her, she complained. How dull it was to live on her own with their father. She needed excitement, she needed attention, she needed rich clothes and jewels and dancing. It was all right for Jane, with her big house and her handsome husband.
Then Jane would think of the house in Micklegate, where her husband barely bothered to conceal his contempt for her and his mother watched her with a face like flint. If Juliana only knew how little Jane’s lot was to be envied, Jane through wryly, but there was no point in trying to explain, and no point in complaining. She was married and there nothing she could do but endure. But Jane was always glad to get out of the house like this morning and to escape to the market with Annis. There was a wrongness in the air in the Micklegate house, a sly chill that coiled up from the floorboards. Jane shivered at the thought of it.
Perhaps Annis was right and she wasn’t well. ‘Perhaps,’ she said.
‘Or perhaps it’s summat else,’ said Annis with a grin.
Jane looked at her blankly. ‘Something else?’
‘My last mistress, God rest her soul, her wits would allus go a-wandering when there was a bairn on the way.’
‘Oh.’ Hot colour rose up Jane’s throat. ‘No,’ she said sadly. ‘It’s not that. I don’t think so.’
Excerpt from The Edge of Dark © Pamela Hartshorne 2014.