Cess wakes up at cock crow, just before dawn. She sleeps beside her mother on a straw mattress (pallet) which is strung on ropes from a simple wooden frame. It is very uncomfortable as the sharp straw sticks through their worn linen sheet. They use a small log for a pillow. The only light is the pre-dawn greyness that glimmers faintly through the wooden shutters. The one-roomed cottage is very cold and it does not help that Cess has to wash her hands and face in cold water. If she has time, Cess combs out her hair (brushes are for clothes), plaits it, pins it up and covers it with a linen cap called a coif, if not, she leaves it from the day before and tucks up any stray hairs.
Cess pulls her clothes on over the same smock she has slept in, she will wear that smock day and night for at least a week. She and her mother have so few clothes that they can all be stored in a simple wooden box near the bed. One of Cess’s household chores is to make the herb bags they put in the chest to try and repel moths, fleas and lice. She collects and dries lavender, rosemary, mint, thyme, tansy and sweet woodruff and mixes them together before filling the linen bags she has sewn. Cess’s kirtle and bodice are of the cheapest wool lined with thick, scratchy linen and are very faded and patched. Sleeves would keep her warmer but she has none.
Cess kneels to be blessed by her mother before leaving to walk to the Montacute Estate. Her stomach is empty but she has swallowed a cupful of small beer which she or her mother have brewed that week. By law, labourers have to start work at 5 am, or at dawn from mid-March to mid-September, so Cess arrives at the poultry yards before the sun rises. She works for an hour and a half before breaking her fast (breakfast) with some dark bread and dripping provided by the Montacute kitchen. She is allowed half an hour to chew the stale crust before starting work again...
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Heiress of the Earl of Montacute