Together We Stand – Episode 30

“You cannot possibly do such a thing!”

Gwendolyn glared as Andrew Banks, surrounded by a selection of fellow councillors, pushed their way into the tearooms.

“What pretext can you possibly find for closing respectable tearooms? Not to mention preventing respectable citizens from supporting their families.”

Andrew smiled, eyes narrowed in triumph.

“It is the safety of those very workers that is our concern, dear lady,” he said smoothly. “Not to mention the safety and honour of our wives and daughters.

“We are here as fathers and husbands, with our duty to protect our dependants from dangers they do not have the worldly experience to understand.”

“Worldly experience.” Gwendolyn snorted. “Don’t you ever say that to a woman who has given birth.”

Mr Banks turned pale with indignation at the mention of such matters.

“You, sir, are the one with no experience outside the comfortable confines of your home and club,” she continued. “I suggest you remain there and leave the workings of the world to those who work in it.”

“As I informed you, gentlemen, Mrs Humphries is quite impervious to reason.” The men behind Andrew Banks shuffled uneasily, but without protest. “The recent break-in puts not only the lives, but also the honour, of our womenfolk in peril.

“Until the police can get to the bottom of it and arrest the culprit, we have no choice but to keep the place closed.”

There was a mumbled, half-hearted agreement behind him. Gwendolyn’s eyes sharpened.

“And for how long do you propose this closure be, Mr Banks? Until the elections to the local council and the school board is over with?” she retorted.

A patch of red appeared on each of Mr Banks’s cheeks.

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Really? You mean to tell me that this sudden concern for my welfare doesn’t stem from having a bunch of troublesome women, not to mention their political activities, in your midst.”

She gave a meaningful glance round at Mr Banks’s companions, more than one of whom was showing signs of increasing embarrassment.

“Mr Banks takes you for fools, gentlemen,” she continued. “Has he really convinced you that if you remove the tearooms you can also remove your wives’ and daughters’ capacity for independent thought?

“Let me tell you, no woman worth her salt is going to be persuaded to meekly obey her husband or father in such matters, however little she might protest.”

“My dear lady.” Mr Banks smiled calmly. “This is a time for rationality, not for emotion. Besides, the decision has been taken and approved.

“The choice is yours. You can either leave the tearooms quietly, or we can send in the constabulary to remove you. I’m not sure that would be a very edifying scene for any of us.” He nodded as Madeleine arrived.

“Miss Gillingham, I trust you will be able to persuade Mrs Humphries here of the wisdom of conceding to the council’s decision. It is, after all, for your own safety. You will be able to return once the danger is past.”

“They are closing the tearooms?” Madeleine exclaimed as Banks swept away with all the dignity he could muster, jostling through the morning crowds like a group of penguins heading for the sea. “But they can’t!”

“Unfortunately they can.” Gwendolyn watched them go. “I should have known this would happen. Drat that intruder for handing them the excuse to protect us, and by doing so attempt to silence us.”

“You don’t think that could have been the idea?” Madeleine said, lowering her voice.

“A possibility, I suppose.” Gwendolyn grew thoughtful. “I wouldn’t put it past Andrew. Even as a young girl I knew he was a bully.

“He was a good catch, at the time, being the son of one of the wealthiest merchants in the town.

“I was lucky that my mother listened to me, and my father placed my happiness before his personal advancement.”

She gave a shudder.

“If it had not been so, I could have been tied to that creature for life.”

“I’m very glad you weren’t,” Madeleine said. “I can’t imagine you browbeaten and made into a man’s shadow. No woman should have to endure that.”

“No.” Gwendolyn sighed. “The world is changing, and the suffragists have won so many battles over the years, but sometimes it’s hard to be patient.”

Madeleine ground her teeth.

“There has to be something we can do!”

“I’ll do my best, my dear,” Gwendolyn replied, watching the retreating councillors.

“The trouble is, Andrew has considerable power, and I have none. He is determined to use his influence to ensure the tearooms, and Tanni’s photographic business, fail before they have even begun.”

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.