Inspired by the following Decamot items:
script, artisan, building site, bully, Women’s March, paddle steamer, palm, poster, ribbon, Shanghai
Annie felt more alive than she ever had before. This was the first time she felt she had thought for herself and acted independently. No longer a child. She had read up on the Women's Social and Political Union, and had followed their progress in the paper and on Pathé News. She knew that she was doing the right thing. Knew that it was important.
She also felt slightly trepidatious: This was the first time she'd disobeyed her father.
"Those women are anarchists," he'd warned her. "They have no respect for private property or the rule of law. I forbid you to join them in London."
But here she was. On the Women's March. Dressed in her Sunday best: Heavy jacket with fur-lined collar; long white skirt down to her kid-leather ankle boots; large white boater with a long feather tucked rakishly in the band; and a broad ribbon sash bearing the legend "Suffragist" worn over her left shoulder and tied at the waist under her right arm. Marching proudly, head held high. Fighting for the rights of women. What could be more important than that? She might even catch sight of the Pankhursts in person!
She was surprised by how many people (not all supportive) had come out on this rainy April day to watch their progress through the streets of London to Westminster. At several places the crowd lined the pavement two or three deep, and it was not altogether clear whether the police presence was there to protect them or to control them. But she knew she would be safe as long has she stuck to the script and abided by the four cardinal rules of The March:
1) Never break ranks.
2) Never enter into discussion with hecklers.
3) Never get separated from the other marchers.
4) Always defend your sisters.
"Come join us. March today, vote tomorrow," she called out loudly with her fellow marchers.
A woman's voice in the crowd stopped her in her tracks.
"What would I be doin' wiv the bleedin' vote?"
As Annie watched, the woman ripped a "Votes for Women" poster from a nearby lamppost. She screwed it up and threw it on the ground. Annie walked over to the heckler, breaking the first cardinal rule of The March.
"But it's your duty as a woman to ..." Annie began, breaking the second cardinal rule.
"My duty as a woman is to keep these buggers alive," the woman interrupted coarsely. She pushed forward three small children under the age of ten. They were poorly dressed in ill-fitting, hand-me-down clothes. One had a pair of shoes several sizes too large. All three looked underfed and grubby. And stank. Annie involuntarily took a step backwards.
"'Ow old are ya?" demanded the woman.
"Twenty-three," Annie replied indignantly.
"Twenee-free! And you aint done a day's work in ya life."
"But we're working hard to improve the lot of the working woman, from the lowliest cleaner to the most skilled artisan," said Annie as if reciting from a text book.
"You wouldn't know 'ard work if it walked into one of ya fancy tea shops and slapped you across the face." The woman leaned in close as she spoke. Annie could smell her bad-breath and tried not to retch.
"I think you're being frightfully unfair, we're ... " Annie began.
The woman spat in Annie’s face and walked away, dragging her three children behind her. Annie was shaken. She felt humiliated and ashamed. She wiped the woman's spit off her face with the back of her white cotton gloved hand and felt close to tears. She reached down and retrieved the poster that the woman had dropped. As she stood back up and looked around, Annie realised she'd broken the third cardinal rule of The March. Her fellow marchers had already gone round the corner and were now out of sight.
She lifted her skirt a little at the knees, and was about to break into a run to catch them up, when from behind, two strong hands clamped her arms to her sides and prevented her from moving.
"Unhand me you bully," Annie cried out, struggling to get away.
One hand released her left arm and clamped itself over her mouth instead. A man's voice whispered urgently into her ear: "Shh, don't make a sound. And get rid of this." Annie felt the man tugging at her coat. She was too terrified to scream. She felt herself being pushed forward. He hurried her to the corner of the street, but prevented her from turning or moving further.
"Look," he said pointing to an angry looking mob. "You've been shanghaied. They've been hiding in that building site away from the police, waiting to ambush The March." The Women's March was surrounded by a baying mob. As they watched, several placards were pulled out of the marchers' hands. An expensive woman’s hat was snatched off the wearer and tossed in the air. More followed.
"Why would they do that?"
"They’re not yet ready for your message," he said quietly.
The man released Annie's other arm and pulled the sash he'd been tugging at earlier from her shoulder, scrunched it up in the palm of his hand and slipped it into the pocket of his overcoat. He took the screwed up poster that she was still holding and slipped it into the other pocket of his overcoat. She moved away from him and towards the mob. He grabbed her arm again and dragged her back.
"What do you think you're doing?" he demanded.
"I've got to defend my sisters."
"Are you mad? You'd be foolish to re-join them now. That would be like riding the Niagara Rapids in a Mississippi paddle steamer. You wouldn’t last five minutes.”
"But I've got to do something."
"I've got a much better idea. Somewhere you can be of much more use."
He started to frogmarch her in the opposite direction.
"Where are you taking me?"
Without another word, he hurried down a narrow side road holding her close and pushing her in front of him. He made several left turns and right turns. At one point he lifted her up a small flight stairs. There were few lights on these streets, and Annie started to panic. She struggled against him the whole time, until finally he stopped.
"There," he said, now sounding desperately out of breath.
She looked up to see that they were standing outside a door, over which hung a sign lit up in blue bearing a single word: Police.
They both hurried through the door, Annie first, the man following. The door slammed shut behind them. He leant against the wall just inside the door; she hurried up to the front desk where a policeman stood and looked up suddenly, surprised by their arrival.
"I need to report a crime. This is an emergency," Annie shouted.
Hearing the commotion, two additional policemen hurried in from an interior room. Their attention was caught first by a distraught looking, well-dressed woman at the desk, and then by a dishevelled man leaning against the wall wheezing. The both leapt to the same incorrect conclusion. They hurried over to the man.
"So what do we have here then?" asked the first policeman to reach the wheezing man. As one policeman held the man, the other policeman started to empty out his pockets.
"Keys, lots of them. Train ticket. Wallet. Oh and what do we have here?"
The policeman removed the Suffragist sash from one coat pocket and the balled up poster from the other. Annie watched silently, too shocked to say anything.
"Accosting this young lady were you? I'll show you." The policeman raised his truncheon rammed it into the man's stomach. The man bent double, winded, and grabbed hold of his abdomen in agony.
"No don't!" Annie screamed.
"Miss?" said the policeman with truncheon, looking over at Annie.
"Don't hurt him," she gabbled. "He's ..., he's," Annie looked the man in the face for the first. time Her voice faltered.
"Do you know this man, Miss?"
"I, er… . No, but I... I... I...," she stammered. She tried to compose herself. “There’s a riot outside; you’ve got to help them,” she said desperately.
The policemen all turned to look at her, confused expressions on their faces.
"The Women’s March," she added. "It’s being mobbed. You must help them."
"What about this man, Miss?" asked the policeman by the desk.
She hurried over to him, crouched down in front of him. She held his face in her hands.
"I think he may have just saved my life."