Together We Stand – Episode 04

“A photographic studio?” Gwendolyn Humphries sat down heavily on one of the chairs in the deserted expanse of the tearoom, ignoring the dust. “How extraordinary.”

“We are grateful to your uncle for leaving this building as a meeting place for the Llandudno suffrage movement,” Alma Matthews put in hastily. “But you must understand, Miss Gillingham, that we can’t possibly accept.”

Madeleine Gillingham sighed. Henry had been right that the suffrage ladies’ gratitude at Uncle Samuel’s generosity would not extend itself to welcoming the mention of a photographic studio foisted in their midst.

“My uncle would not have proposed such a thing if it weren’t a woman who would be running the studio. I’m sure families will find it reassuring to deal with a woman when they are seeking a portrait.”

Alma cleared her throat.

“If you’ll excuse me saying so, Miss Gillingham, there is prejudice enough against women meeting together without the company of their husbands to discuss serious issues.”

Gwendolyn nodded.

“My sister is right, Miss Gillingham. Last week the newspaper was discussing the laws permitting women to vote in council elections as if it heralded the end of civilisation and the arrival of the barbarian hordes at the gates.”

“‘Once voted on to such a position, would the dear ladies abandon their domestic sphere and start demanding a say in the government of the country itself?’” Alma quoted scornfully.

Madeleine could see their point.

“I believe my mother is worried that the presence of a photographic studio might be seen by some as cover for the kind of photographs certain gentlemen would pay large sums to collect,” came a new voice.

Madeleine jumped and fought down a blush at a man talking openly on such an indecent subject.

“For heaven’s sake, Evan,” Gwendolyn said, attempting to sound exasperated. “Don’t creep up on a young woman like that. No wonder none wish to marry you. Show Miss Gillingham some respect.”

Evan grinned.

“Of course, Mama,” he replied meekly. Under a mop of fair hair, blue eyes twinkled mischievously at Madeleine. “I was only attempting to support Miss Gillingham’s point.”

Madeleine scowled.

“The last thing I, or my brother, would wish to do would be to bring the tearooms into disrepute,” she replied primly.

“Evan, you have to see it is quite impossible,” Gwendolyn said.

“It’s a pity, as Mr Samuel obviously meant well, and a tearoom for people to meet without the temptation of drink would be of great benefit to the town,” Alma added regretfully.

“Mr Samuel was always generous with his donations to the cause of suffrage. He would not wish to bring harm to the movement.”

“You are quite right.” Evan’s face had become serious. His eyes searched Madeleine’s face with a scrutiny that was unnerving. “The young woman in question is Tanwen Phillips, I understand.”

Madeleine nodded.

“Mr Samuel must have had reasons,” he continued, “and the Phillipses are a respectable family.”

“The father was a drunk!” Alma exclaimed indignantly.

“Not a habitual drunk,” Evan replied, seeing the dismay on Madeleine’s face. “Mr Phillips married late,” he explained. “He and Mr Samuel had been in the war in the Crimea together when they were young men. Mr Phillips was in constant pain from his wounds.”

He turned to Alma.

“He only touched drink when the pain became too much. His death was as a result of the wounds he had gained fighting for his country, not from beer. He was a soldier to the last.”

Gwendolyn glanced from one to the other. Miss Gillingham had certainly made an impression on Evan; he was usually too absorbed in his work to pay attention to the young women who crossed his path, even those who found it necessary to cross his path several times a day.

Madeleine smiled and met Evan’s eyes.

“So you agree with the setting up of the photographic studio, Doctor Humphries?”

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.