Gwendolyn Davies-Drake had a matronly figure, and calm demeanour which gave her the impression of being older than her years. She was in fact closer to thirty than she was to fifty.
She was born in the valleys of the west, where her father scraped out a living in the mines. Life was largely hand to mouth, so when a “hiring agent” came to the village, her parents reluctantly agreed to send her “into service” in the capital. She was a mere girl of only thirteen at the time.
She was put to work in the laundries on the estate of Lord Westland, where she learned the skills necessary, though she despised the long hours, steamy air, and heavy loads.
It was when she was fifteen that she met Godfrey, a gardener on the estate. He made her feel special and she soon fell head over heels in love, despite the fact that he was 8 years her senior. Their liaisons were generally innocent, but soon came to the attention of the housekeeper, who had them both summarily sacked for “the impropriety.”
They wed almost immediately, and tried to find work where they could. Godfrey soon began “to make ends meet” through some petty crime, which led to his capture and hanging when she was still just sixteen.
Her time in the laundries had taught her a useful trade, and despite the lack of a good reference she found occasional work in some homes of the middling sort. It was in one of these that she again fell in love, this time with the second son of the master. Though the union was discouraged, Dawid insisted upon it, and his parents relented. Their time together was again short, however, as the Black Dunes War led to his conscription. He died after only three weeks on the front, which led to her abandonment by her in-laws, though his valour did leave her a meagre pension as his widow.
Ever able to land on her feet, Gwendolyn used her funds to set up her own small laundry. Business was modest, but it provided a roof over her head, and ample soup for her belly. It was when she was nineteen, that one of her regular customers – Archie (and sometimes Henry) Drake began to woo her. He was charismatic and handsome, though he remained somewhat mysterious. She once again entered into matrimony, and with his “funds” built up the business through both his “connections” and by clever advertising. With her skills and his drive, the enterprise began to boom.
The secret of the success, however, was far more shady. Drake had an agenda, and soon won her cooperation in maximising profits. His “associates” provided him with base metal buttons with gilt plate, and ribbons of “witches satin,” which were then exchanged for the precious metals and silks of the garments of their well to do clients, a deception that was never discovered. Gwendolyn had learned from the mistakes of her first husband, so seldom played the same “mark” twice. The gold and silver also never remained on the premises for long, but were quickly fenced through Drake’s brother, “a legitimate” pawn-broker.
She became quite adept at counterfeiting fine clothing, and purloining items left in pockets, that had not been declared on the work ticket. Life was comfortable and she began to become accustomed to some of the finer things. Then she suffered yet another bereavement.
When she was twenty-three, Drake held one too many queens in his hand at the tavern. His slight of hand was not near quick enough to evade the notice of the Ranger sitting opposite, nor were his reflexes a match for the Ranger’s sword hand.
“Life goes on,” so they say, and Gwendolyn took over the entire operation herself, becoming known in the “Community of the Alleys” as “The Washer Woman.” She then came up with some embellishments of her own. She would plant items into some garments, then seek redress for theft from the unwitting customer who had them in their possession. These were invariably settled amicably without the intervention of the magistrates.
Soon her wash house became the centre of many aspects of the “Alleys'” activities, and Gwendolyn emerged as the “go to” point for the “laundering” of ill gotten gains.
The Sisters Tales are presented in the correct order on the “Themed Fiction” page of my blog.