- Today we at Café Three Zero have a treat for you. Here, and only here, can you read the runners-up stories of our 2012 short story competition. Today we are showcasing the wonderful 2nd place entry by Jan Morris: Deeds Not Words. Feel free to email us with your thoughts.
Deeds Not Words
By Jan Morris
It was a drizzly February morning as Celia sipped her tea.
‘What news of the election, Father?’
Her question punctured the silence at the breakfast table and was followed by the tinkle of teacups and a rustle of The Times. James Mather peered over his spectacles.
‘I didn’t know you had an interest in politics, dear. I’m not sure it’s altogether seemly for a young lady.’
Albert sniggered across the table and Celia glared at her younger brother.
‘However, it looks like Mr Asquith will be back in Number 10, though I doubt his position has been strengthened by the election. Does that satisfy your curiosity?’ Her father smiled as he returned to his reading and Celia fought the heat rising to her cheeks.
‘Thank you, Father; I think it’s important to have an interest in the affairs of the day, that’s all.’ She added to maintain her dignity.
‘Celia, I thought that we might visit Mrs Doughty this afternoon. She has her niece from Bristol staying, I believe. She might be good company for you.’
Celia frowned. Once Mama had an idea in her head, she knew there would be no avoiding it.
‘Yes Mama… and I thought that I would walk over to see Miss Frinton later to see if she has recovered from her recent cold.’
‘Again? You’ve seen quite a bit of her recently. I do hope that you won’t catch her cold if it is so persistent. Perhaps you could just send her a note of condolence instead.’
‘Oh no, Mama, I’ll be fine and I know she so looks forward to my visits. She always says how much they perk her up.’
After her father had left for work, Celia slipped back into the dining room, took the newspaper, rolled it up and ran upstairs. She was still reading the reports when her mother called her to get ready for the visit to the dreaded Mrs Doughty. She spent a tedious afternoon listening to the elderly widow’s descriptions of her niece’s endless talents; Margaret’s simpering coyness in the face of this deluge of flattery; their plans for the season; and eventually, when all other topics had been exhausted, their grumbles about the weather. Celia glanced at the clock as the afternoon wore on. Even her mother’s patience had worn thin and at last they rose to take their leave.
As they started towards home, Celia took her opportunity.
‘Mother, I thought perhaps I could save a little time and go straight to Miss Frinton’s from here rather than return home. That way I should be back before it gets too dark.’
‘Are you sure it’s really necessary, Celia? Perhaps you could go later in the week?’
‘She’ll be expecting me, Mama. I’ll be as quick as I can.’
As soon as she was out of sight of her mother, Celia hitched her skirts above her ankles and broke into a run. Very unladylike, but she no longer cared. Flushed and breathless, she knocked on the door at Number Seven, KirktonGardens.
‘Come in Miss Celia. They’re all in the parlour.’
She could hear the excited hubbub before she opened the door.
‘Celia, at last! What news! We’re preparing a new pamphlet. Come and help.’
Emily Frinton took Celia’s arm and led her to the table where seven other women huddled round sheaves of paper. Celia knew most but not all of them. One of the older women with unruly hair was speaking in a loud and rather nasal voice.
‘I spoke with Christabel this morning and she believes that we need to strike while the iron is hot! We must use the momentum of the Liberal victory to get Asquith to follow through on the commitment to pass the Conciliation Bill. Christabel says that as he has less of a majority, he may try to put things off, so the sooner we press our demands the better. Deeds not Words – that is our motto!’
It wasn’t until Celia heard the clock strike seven that she realised the time. She made her excuses, embarrassed to leave while there was still so much to do – lists to write, plans to make, marches to organise.
She barely had time to change and brush her hair before the dinner gong struck. Her mother frowned as she took her place, the rest of the family waiting impatiently for her arrival. Conversation over dinner was a desultory affair, with Albert responding reluctantly to his father’s persistent questions about his studies and mother chipping in with dull snippets gleaned from the afternoon at Mrs Doughty’s.
‘Is Miss Frinton’s cold any better?’
Celia was caught off guard, her mind still on the plans for the march.
‘Yes Mother, much better.’ Immediately she regretted the answer. Emily’s health couldn’t last much longer as an alibi.
‘She believes that fresh air may benefit her convalescence, so we may plan a walk in the park later in the week.’ Celia smiled at her own cleverness in rescuing the situation.
‘Then perhaps it would be nice to have Margaret Doughty accompany you. She is such a pleasant young woman and I am sure you would all enjoy each other’s company.’
‘Oh, but… I’m not sure they would enjoy each other’s company Mama. Emily can be quite serious at times and Margaret seemed, well, less so. They just have different interests I think. I could walk with Margaret another day perhaps.’
‘Nonsense Celia! It will be your task to help them to find shared amusements. I rather think it would be good for Emily to be a little less serious. Some lighter topics may help her spirits after her ill health.’
‘You could always talk about politics and the “affairs of the day”.’ This jibe from Albert was met with a cold glare and Celia decided that the dinner table was not the best place to continue the discussion.
‘I’ll write a note to Margaret in the morning, Mama.’
‘Why not bring her along?’ asked Emily ‘It will be fun and she may be your first conversion, Celia. We have women from all walks of life in the movement. You can open her eyes to the opportunities in the world; enable her to see the light; establish a bond with her sisters, join us in fighting the good fight.’ Emily was getting carried away, her arm lifted towards the sky, her eyes on a distant happy horizon. They both spluttered and dissolved into giggles.
‘Seriously though, Emily. I’m going to have to find a way of sending her home before the march.’
‘Well, let’s finish these placards first. Johnson said he would help us nail them to the handles and keep them in the stables until Saturday. I believe he thinks we’re quite off our heads.’
Celia woke early on Saturday and peered out of the curtains. Dull and grey but dry at least. She said little at breakfast other than to agree at appropriate intervals as her mother listed the things to be done and not done while she was away at her cousin’s in Norfolk for a few days.
‘Yes, Mama, I’ll check that Mary takes extra care with the linen and remind cook not to put too much salt in the soup. And I’ll send your best wishes to Mrs Doughty.’
James and Albert Mather ignored these household details that made their lives go round and after breakfast James bade his wife farewell for her journey and disappeared into his study. Albert waited until his father was occupied before leaving his books and homework to sneak out to help Watts in the stables. Celia watched him go from her bedroom window. She envied him his studies; she would love to spend her days studying, perhaps planning an application to university, but her parents didn’t think it “seemly”. How she hated that term. Everything that she found interesting and enjoyable seemed to be “unseemly” and all the apparently acceptable pursuits for young ladies were downright tedious.
The house was quiet after her mother had gone and Celia scribbled a short note for her father saying that she had gone to help with the church flowers and wouldn’t be back until evening; Cook would organise cold ham for lunch. She glanced at her reflection in the hall mirror as she left. Her cheeks looked flushed and her eyes bright, but her grey coat and hat matched the serious set of her mouth. Closing the door quietly behind her, she hurried the few streets to Mrs Doughty’s house.
‘Are you ready Margaret? I think we should set off soon – I fear it may rain later.’
‘How is your mother, Celia?’
‘She sends her best wishes Mrs Doughty; she’s gone to visit her cousin in Norfolk and won’t be back until Monday.’
‘Do you think my brown hat or blue would look best with this coat, Aunt? Celia, what do you think?’
‘Brown’ snapped Celia.
‘Do you think so, dear? I think the blue looks prettier with your fair hair.’ Mrs Doughty cocked her head to one side to admire her niece.
‘Yes, you’re right, blue, definitely blue.’ Celia added as she rose and made for the door. Margaret stood, still with two hats in her hands.
‘Will you have tea with us after your walk, Celia?’
‘Oh, that’s very kind, I… I’m not sure. Father may expect me home. Let’s walk to work up our appetites first. So, it’s to be the blue hat, Margaret?’
Once inside Hyde Park, Celia took Margaret’s arm and headed briskly round the path towards the north side of the park. They were both of similar height, but Margaret had to add a periodic skip to her step to keep pace with Celia.
‘What will your brother study when he goes up to university?’ asked Margaret.
‘Law, I suppose. Like Father. Or perhaps Medicine. I think he’s quite keen on the idea of cutting up dead bodies. He thinks it would be more exciting than dusty old law books. One of his friends went up last year and he seems to spend most of his time punting on the river, so Albert thinks that sounds rather jolly. He hasn’t said that to Father, obviously. Either way, it’s more exciting than doing embroidery or going for walks in the park and waiting for life to happen.’
Margaret allowed her arm to drop from Celia’s and the smile faded from her pretty features. Celia slowed her pace and took Margaret’s hand.
‘I didn’t mean to be unkind, Margaret. It’s lovely to have your company today. It’s just that boys have all the luck and all the excitement in this world, don’t you think? Wouldn’t you love to have the chance to study or travel or do anything really?’
‘Well, I certainly wouldn’t want to cut up bodies, even if they were dead. Especially if they were dead! I’m not too sure about dusty law books either, but the travel sounds rather nice. I understand that Italy is the most wonderful place, Rome and Venice and Florence – they all sound so romantic and beautiful.’ They picked up their pace again, both smiling once more.
Celia was now in a quandary. She had planned to feign illness and part from Margaret, sending her home while she went on to join the march. But she now felt mean in playing such a trick. But could she trust Margaret to join the march? Would she be shocked? Would she tell her aunt? They walked on in companionable silence. Celia heard the church clock strike two.
‘Margaret, can you keep a secret?’ They paused and faced each other.
‘Of course Celia, dear, is something troubling you?’ Celia led them to a nearby bench. Margaret’s eyes opened wide as Celia told the story from the beginning – her friendship with Emily Frinton; their discussions with Emily’s friends and acquaintances with their radical opinions; the Women’s Social and Political Union; the secret meetings. Celia stopped short of declaring the plans for the march that afternoon, suddenly nervous that she had made a terrible error of judgement in sharing all this with Margaret.
‘I just think it’s all so important. Women must play a role in society and how can they do that if they don’t have the vote?’
‘My goodness, Celia, how brave of you! And how exciting to have met all of these women. Have you actually met Mrs Pankhurst? I think she must be quite terrifying.’
‘No, I haven’t met her, but some of the women in our group speak to her and her daughters regularly. They are all utterly passionate about the cause. We really feel that the world is changing, Margaret. By the time that we have daughters of our own, they will inherit a free and equal society. Imagine that!’
The clock struck half past two. Celia took a deep breath.
‘Margaret, there is one more secret to share, but you must swear not to tell.’
‘Of course, Celia. I swear.’
‘This afternoon, there is to be a rally and a march. There will be hundreds of women from the WSPU and from other suffrage groups and so on. I plan to join that march. Will you join me? If you prefer to go back to your aunt’s I do understand – though remember you swore not to tell.’
‘May I come with you Celia? It sounds so exciting and, as you said earlier, it means that we aren’t waiting for life to happen.’ Margaret was already on her feet brushing down her skirt and purposefully tugging her hat over her ears.
They hurried along the path and in a few minutes could see the crowd and hear the hubbub. Celia scanned the throng and grabbed Margaret’s hand.
‘Come on, there’s Emily.’
‘Celia, I was about to give up on you. Isn’t this marvellous? What a turnout! Here, I saved a banner for you.’
‘Margaret, this is Emily Frinton, the friend I told you about. Emily – Margaret Doughty. She was keen to join us when I explained about the movement.’ Celia looked at Margaret and saw her terror behind the smile. She felt a bit terrified herself.
‘Nice to meet you, Miss Frinton.’ Margaret whispered.
‘It is a bit noisy and frightening, isn’t it? But we’re all just women together. It will be a fun afternoon. Come on, the speeches are about to begin. Emily Davison is to give the opening speech.’
Arm in arm, the three young women pushed their way into the crowd, Emily calling hello to other acquaintances as they went. Celia trod on someone’s foot but there was no time for more than an “Excuse me” over her shoulder. A cheer from the crowd signalled the arrival of the speakers onto the platform.
It was a cold day and the speakers’ rallying words formed frosty clouds that floated across their heads. There were periodic shouts of “Hear, hear!” and “Well said Miss Davison” and loud cheers and applause in response to the cry of “Deeds Not Words”. A few men, hands in their pockets, had also gathered on the fringes of crowd and they jeered and whistled, laughing loudly at each other’s taunts to the women.
‘To Downing Street!’ The rallying call signalled the end of the speeches and the start of the march and there was much jostling as the crowd moved towards the park gate and out onto the road. Celia and Emily held banners in one hand and Margaret between them on their other arms and they smiled and shouted “Rights for Women” in unison with the rest of the marching throng.
The size of the crowd caused quite a stir in the traffic as some carriages stopped and others tried to weave through the mass of the banner waving women. The men who had stood jeering on the fringes of the rally ran alongside and their numbers grew as others emerged from public houses and decided that baiting the women would be good sport for a Saturday afternoon.
In Parliament Square, the leaders at the head of the march halted and waited for the stragglers who had fallen behind in the traffic and the jostling to catch up. Miss Davison’s high but strong voice rose again as the three girls held each other tight, waved their banners and echoed the chants of “Votes for Women” and “Deeds not Words”. This pause in their marching had allowed the police to form a deep cordon of navy blue, sparkling with silver buttons and badges, creating a solid barrier to further progress towards Downing Street. A senior police officer, chest puffed out and baton in his hand stepped forward and addressed Miss Davison and her immediate entourage.
‘Come now ladies. You’ve said your piece. Time to go home.’ His booming voice in stark contrast to Emily Davison’s screeching response,
‘Never. Votes for Women!’
‘Enough! Go home ladies.’ The policeman raised his baton to underline his seriousness.
‘Home to your husbands… or can’t you find a husband? No-one will have you!’ The men on the sidelines jeered and taunted the women. One of the bigger beery-breathed men grabbed a placard from a middle aged woman and broke it across his knee to loud laughter and shouts of encouragement from his colleagues.
‘Shame on you!’ cried one brave soul as she struck the stocky man a blow to his shoulder with her banner to the great amusement of the surrounding louts. Reeling from the embarrassment more than the blow itself, he turned and grabbed her placard too, flailing kicks at her as they wrestled for possession. In that moment, other men and women leapt forward to protect their friends and colleagues and within no time it was pandemonium. Shrieks, cries and yells drowned the leaders’ attempts to refocus the group on their aim of marching on Downing Street. A stone was thrown from the midst of the crowd, knocking the leading policeman’s helmet askew. At that, the Bobbies too, broke ranks, whistles blowing, batons aloft.
Emily had dropped her placard, but Celia held tightly to hers as the three friends were pushed to and fro with the crowd.
‘We must get out. Make for the bridge!’ cried Emily, pulling the others towards the edge of the mob. In the melee, the three women were separated and Celia found herself on alone on WestminsterBridge, apart from horrified onlookers. After a few minutes, she saw Emily, hatless and dishevelled, running towards her.
‘Where’s Margaret?’ Emily asked. Celia shook her head, tears welling up.
‘She was behind me, but I lost her.’ They held each other and both looked back towards the Square. ‘I must go back and try to find her. You stay here, Emily… no, go home; you’ll be safer to go home.’ Emily looked as terrified as Celia felt.
‘No, let’s wait a few minutes together and see if she comes’ suggested Emily. Celia was glad of the excuse not to let go of Emily’s arm. Together they scanned the crowd surrounded by men and police. Suddenly, they saw a slight figure in a blue hat slipping between two policemen.
‘Margaret! Over here, Margaret!’ Celia and Emily called at the top of their voices. Margaret looked up and waved, but as she started to run, one of the policemen grabbed her shoulder and she fell to the ground. The policeman grabbed her arm and pulled her to her feet, but to their horror, he grasped Margaret’s other arm and led her away.
Celia and Emily sat in the Westminster Police Station, their faces white, their eyes red with tears. Eventually, they heard the sound of doors being unbolted and James Mather emerged, his face equally white but his eyes thunderously black. A dishevelled and weeping Margaret followed him through the door and Celia and Emily leapt to embrace her.
He signed some papers at the desk without a word and strode to the main door.
‘Celia, Miss Doughty, Miss Frinton.’ He held the door and the women trotted meekly to the waiting carriage. The journey was silent other than a few sniffles from Margaret. After leaving Emily at Number seven, KirktonGardens, they sped off towards Mrs Doughty’s residence. James Mather commanded Celia to remain in the carriage as he accompanied Margaret to the door. It was twenty five minutes before the door opened again and James Mather sat opposite his daughter, knocking the roof of the carriage.
Albert came into the hall expectantly as they arrived home, desperate to hear what was going on.
‘Go to your room, Albert.’ James Mather’s tone brooked no argument.
Celia followed her father into his study and stood staring at her scuffed boots while he vented his rage.
‘Shame on the family… disobedience… forbidden to go out… ruining your chances…’ It was this last comment about ruining her chances that finally brought Celia to raise her head and look directly at her father.
‘Chances!’ she hissed. ‘What chances have I? Chances to do my embroidery? Chances to take tea with suitable company, to take walks in the park? Where is the meaning in such a life? Father, you know that I was good with my lessons. Why can’t I go up to university; study; become a teacher perhaps?’
James Mather was utterly dumbstruck to hear such insolence from his daughter.
‘How dare you speak to me like that? Go to your room at once.’ Celia snatched the study door open to find Albert scuttling towards the stairs.
Celia’s heart had only just slowed when she heard a light knock. She turned to see Albert’s head round the edge of her bedroom door, his eyes opened wide, grinning from ear to ear.
‘Sis, is it really true? Are you a suffragette?’
Celia thought for a moment.
‘Yes, Albert. I am a suffragette.’