Together We Stand – Episode 12

Tanni gazed around the large room at one side of the tearooms, despair gripping at her heart.

It was far larger than she remembered it, and once she had started moving the boxes and old pieces of wood from the floor, she realised just how much there was to do.

The paint was peeling, and where it remained, the white had darkened into a grubby yellow. The tall windows were blackened with soot on the outside and the remains of flies and spiders’ webs on the inside.

Miss Gillingham would return in a few days, but even with the two of them it was going to take weeks to get the studio clean and organised enough to bring in the equipment, let alone to welcome customers.

Still, moping wasn’t going to get the job done. Tanni squared her shoulders and reached for the next box.

“Oh, my goodness! Isn’t this wonderful!”

She turned as a young woman stepped through the door, gazing around at the vast space.

“Beautiful.” A second young woman appeared, followed by a third.

“It’s very dirty, I’m afraid,” Tanni said, glancing at the fine material of their skirts, brushing carelessly against boxes and the walls.

“What fun!” The first woman tore her eyes away from the space and smiled. “You must be Miss Phillips. I’m Laura St John and this is my sister, May. This is our cousin, Edith.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Tanni replied, shaking their hands shyly.

“We’ve come to help you,” May said brightly.

“If you want us to,” Edith added.

Tanni eyed them dubiously. There was not a speck of dirt or mending on them, while their hands looked as if they had never had to do a stroke of work in their lives.

“It’s worse in the cellar.”

“Good,” Laura said. “Then Mama will know I’m a perfectly hopeless case, and won’t try to marry me off to the first man she thinks can control me.”

“Laura and Edith are going to Oxford University after the summer,” May said proudly. “They can’t take degrees, of course, but they can study the subjects. When I’m old enough, I’m going to go, too.”

“Just don’t tell Mama until it’s too late,” Laura said. “You’re her only hope for getting a daughter safely married, May.”

Despite herself, Tanni giggled.

“If you are sure . . .”

“Completely,” Laura said. “Besides, you’ll be doing us a favour.”

“We’re escapees from the tearooms,” Edith confided.

“Mrs Humphries is ordering everyone about so,” May whispered. “It’s like being in the Army.”

“So we volunteered first, before anyone else could escape,” Laura finished. “Setting up a photographic studio sounded much more interesting.” She grinned. “I’m hopelessly nosy. I would so love to be a policeman and solve mysteries.”

“Except there aren’t any women policemen,” Edith objected.

Laura tossed her head.

“Once we get the vote, we’ll be able to do anything.” She slipped off her jacket and rolled up her sleeves. “Between us we’ll get this studio spick and span in a trice.”

They were as good as their word. After the first few minutes, Tanni had to admit they all worked as hard as any scullery maid.

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.