Silence is Golden – Robert Thier

The bailiff stared at me down his long, hooked nose. It wasn’t particularly difficult to stare down at me, because he was sitting high up on the bench behind the massive judge’s table, whereas I – well, I was sitting in the dock. ‘Why is he staring at me like that?’ I whispered to my friend Eve. ‘Perhaps because you’re staring at him, Lilly,’ she whispered back. ‘I want him to stop.’ ‘Well, then maybe you should stop first.’ ‘Ha! In your dreams! I won’t be the first one to give up!’ And I intensified my glare. Eve sighed, leaned back and fished two knitting needles out of her bag. They were accompanied by what looked like a cross between a spider web and a patchwork quilt, but was probably supposed to be a sock. Her fingers started to move faster than my eyes could follow, and the clicking of needles echoed through the courtroom. On my other side, my friend Flora sat, her lips trembling, trying not to cry. And next to her, on her other side, sat my best friend Patsy, who was busy throwing Flora thunderous looks, threatening death and damnation if she let as much as one tear slip. Patsy was of the firm opinion that a girl should always behave with strength and dignity – particularly when she had just been dragged into court by a bunch of chauvinistic bastards! I, on the other hand, was of the opinion that Flora badly needed a hug. The dock didn’t really allow enough room for that, so I leaned over and patted her on the shoulder. ‘Don’t worry.

We’ll be all right. You’ll see.’ Glancing up, she gazed at me with moist, fearful eyes. A tiny smile lifted one corner of her lips. She might have actually believed me except, at that very moment, from somewhere at the back of the stately room, the sound of an opening door reached our ears. The bailiff rapped his knuckles on the table to call for attention. ‘The court is now in session. His Lordship, Justice of the Peace Winston Montgomery Murgatroyd presiding. All rise for his Lordship, Justice of the Peace Winston Montgomery Murgatroyd.’ Flora shot to her feet.

I remained sitting. Patsy remained sitting. Eve kept knitting and remained sitting. ‘All rise for Justice of the Peace Winston Montgomery Murgatroyd,’ the bailiff repeated, his voice a little louder. Patsy waved him off. ‘We heard you the first time.’ ‘If you do not rise, Miss,’ the bailiff said, stiffly, ‘you shall be held in contempt of court!’ ‘Goodness! Now you’ve really frightened me.’ ‘Patsy!’ Flora plead-hissed. ‘Please!’ Patsy gave Flora a long, hard look. Then she exchanged one with me.

I shrugged and nodded. Rolling her eyes, Patsy pushed her considerable bulk into a standing position. I followed, and so did Eve, after making sure her monster-sock was safely tucked away. Footsteps sounded through the room. A tall, portly figure in black appeared behind the massive judge’s table and settled into the big chair. He picked up the gavel, and it smacked down once, hard, on the wood. ‘You may be seated,’ announced a voice that was about as dry – and as friendly – as old bones in a graveyard. We all sat down again. Except Flora, who remained respectfully standing just to be on the safe side and had to be tugged down into her seat by Patsy. The bailiff cleared his throat.

‘The case before the Court is the matter of the Crown versus Miss Eve Sanders, Miss Flora Milton, Miss Patsy Cusack, and Miss Lillian Linton.’ ‘Did I hear correctly, Winslet?’ The figure behind the judge’s table sat up straight and stared down at us accusingly. It had an even longer and more hooked nose than the bailiff. ‘Ladies? We have unmarried young ladies in the dock?’ ‘I’m afraid so, my Lord.’ ‘Good God! What is the world coming to?’ ‘I would not know, my Lord.’ Magistrate Hooknose sent us another stare and in his bone-dry voice asked, ‘What, pray, are they accused of?’ The bailiff cleared his throat again. ‘The accused are charged with wilfully, deliberately, and with malice aforethought on 9 February 1840 to have-’ Abruptly, his eyes went wide and he cut off, staring down at the documents in front of him. Quickly, he showed them to the court clerk next to him – who dropped the glasses he was just polishing and nearly fell off his chair. ‘Well?’ the magistrate demanded impatiently. ‘Of what are they accused?’ The bailiff whispered to the court clerk.

The court clerk whispered back at the bailiff. Both of them threw a horrified look at Patsy, who cocked her head and gave them a cool smile. ‘Well?’ the magistrate’s voice didn’t sound quite so dry anymore. In fact, one could say it sounded almost alive. Almost. ‘I…’ Nervously, the bailiff glanced around. ‘I would not like to…in the open…you must forgive me, my Lord, it is just so shocking, I cannot-’ ‘What were they doing, man? Out with it!’ The bailiff took a deep breath. Resigning himself to his fate, he made a brave face, and sat up straight to do his duty, horrible as it might be. ‘Bicycling, my Lord.’ ‘Bicycling?” ‘Yes, my Lord.

’ ‘Females?’ ‘Yes, my Lord.’ ‘In public?’ ‘I’m afraid so, my Lord.’ The elderly court officer who stood at attention behind the magistrate cleared his throat. ‘Forgive my interruption, my Lord…but may I ask, what is this “bicycling”? It sounds extremely dodgy to me.’ ‘It is, Rogers.’ The magistrate gave a small shudder, as if someone had walked over his grave. ‘It involves movement through the use of a certain means of transportation commonly known as a “bicycle”, that seems to be abominably popular with young people these days. You may have heard of the contraption under its original name, “velocipede”.’ The court officer’s eyes went wide. ‘You don’t mean…?’ ‘Yes.

’ ‘They were moving around on…?’ ‘Indeed.’ ‘Using the pedals?’ ‘I assume so.’ ‘And with their unmentionables spread?’ The magistrate closed his eyes in pain. ‘Please, do not make me think about it.’ ‘Hey!’ Patsy called. ‘They’re called legs! We all have them, you know, not just us girls, if you haven’t noticed! You can call them by their real name!’ ‘Or poles, posts, props or shanks,’ I suggested. ‘Those are perfectly acceptable, too.’ The two men threw us scandalised looks. ‘Only listen to how they speak!’ ‘Deplorable, isn’t it?’ ‘When I was young, under old King George, things like this wouldn’t have been allowed to happen. Girls knew what proper behaviour was back then.

’ Patsy opened her mouth, probably to tell the two where they could stick their proper behaviour, but I grabbed her arm. ‘Keep your mouth shut, will you?’ I whispered. ‘For Flora’s sake.’ Patsy hesitated a moment, but then closed her mouth again, grumbling. ‘Where did this outrage occur?’ the magistrate demanded of the bailiff, nearly quivering with moral outrage. ‘In a back yard? A garden?’ The bailiff reddened, but bravely cleared his throat and answered, ‘No, my Lord. In Green Park.’ ‘In Green P-! You mean to tell me that these females bicycled in public?’ ‘Indeed they did, my Lord.’ ‘With children present?’ ‘It pains me to say so, but – yes, my Lord.’ ‘And they witnessed these females moving around on their bicycles, moving their unmentionables and sitting on saddles in a way that was totally…bifurcated?’ The bailiff nodded gravely.

‘Yes, my Lord.’ Slowly, the magistrate covered his face with his hand. ‘Good God!’ For a few moments, sombre silence reigned in the court room – except for the incessant clicketyclickety-click of Eve’s knitting needles. Finally, the magistrate lowered his hand. His gavel hit the wooden block, and in his driest, most graveyard-like voice, he proclaimed: ‘I will need some time to contemplate the sentence. This court is adjourned for five minutes. No, on second thought, ten minutes. These females should have some time to contemplate the gravity of their crime. Officer, stay here and watch the criminals. I would not put it past such perverse, corrupt creatures to try and escape the justice they deserve.

’ ‘Yes, my Lord! Of course, my Lord!’ A few moments later, the door closed behind the magistrate. Eve’s clickety-clickety-click carried on as if nothing had happened. I turned to Patsy and said, ‘So, you perverse, corrupt creature, you have to admit that I won the race to the duck pond.’ Patsy crossed her arms over her ample bosom. ‘I admit no such thing!’ ‘Eve? You were there, weren’t you?’ ‘Hm?’ Clickety-clickety-click. ‘There, at our bike race! You saw who won, didn’t you?’ ‘Mhm.’ Clickety-clickety click. Clickety-click-clack-click. ‘Well? Who won?’ ‘Hm-hm.’ Clickety-clackety-click-clack.

I sighed. Apparently, I wasn’t going to get any answers from this quarter. Turning, I focused my gaze on Flora. ‘You were there, too! Who won?’ I knew who had won, of course. Patsy would just not admit it, because she’d rather swallow her parasol sideways than admit anyone had beaten her at anything. Flora knew that, too. And to judge by the colour of her face, she wasn’t all too fond of the idea of having to tell Patsy she had come in second place. ‘Um…well, Patsy, you know…. It’s not always about the winning…’ ‘Yes it is!’ Patsy contradicted her. Flora tried again.

‘I mean, you two weren’t serious, you were just having fun…’ ‘No, we weren’t!’ ‘Oh, um, I see. Well, in any case, I’m afraid that – mind you, the light wasn’t very good, and I wasn’t looking closely – from where I stood, it, um, looked like…like Lilly won.’ Patsy nailed her to the bench with the deadliest of deadly stares for a few moments. Flora quailed, but didn’t lower her eyes, which I thought was an enormous achievement. ‘Admit it!’ My grin was broad enough to split my face. ‘You lost!’ There was a long moment of silence, then: ‘Fine! Yes! I lost! But only because that policeman pulled me off my bicycle first.’ I conceded with a gracious nod. ‘I bet he wished he hadn’t when you landed on top of him.’ Patsy barked a laugh. ‘Oh yes, he did!’ We lapsed into silence again, but this time it was utterly companionable.

The clickety-clicketyclick of Eve’s knitting needles still sounded in the background, and to my satisfaction I noticed it was slowly driving the bailiff insane. ‘So,’ I mused. ‘What do you think I’ll get?’ ‘Hey, we didn’t agree on a prize for the winner! It was just for the fun of it.’ ‘I’m not talking about the race, stupid! I’m talking about my sentence!’ ‘Oh.’ ‘Do you think we’ll all get the same?’ ‘Impossible!’ Patsy declared. ‘I have a much more impressive record than you! No matter what you get, I’ll get at least twice as long.’ ‘Long?’ Flora’s eyes went wide. ‘What do you mean, long? Surely, you don’t mean….’ ‘Yes,’ Patsy confirmed with grim relish. ‘I do.

’ ‘No! Surely they’re just going to give us a fine.’ ‘Are you kidding?’ Patsy laughed. ‘They have to set an example against independent women like us, or their whole chauvinistic system will collapse! It’s chokey [1] for us, ladies. At least a week. Maybe even two.’ Flora nearly fell off the bench. Even Eve stopped knitting and looked up. ‘Two weeks? They’re going to throw us into jail for two weeks?’ ‘Oh God!’ Covering her mouth with both her hands, Flora did her best to try and vanish into thin air. When that didn’t work, she curled herself up into as small a ball as possible and hid her face behind her hands. ‘I don’t want to go to jail! It’ll be dirty in there, and cold! And they have rogues and thieves and cutthroats everywhere!’ ‘Are we really?’ Leaning forward, Eve grabbed Patsy and me, drawing us closer.

‘You two were listening to what the stuffy old tomcat with the gavel was saying! Are we really going to go to jail?’ ‘Don’t worry.’ Seeing the fear in Eve’s eyes, I patted her hand. ‘I’m sure they don’t put girls in the same cells as dangerous criminals.’ ‘I’m not worried about that.’ Eve waved away dismissively the idea of being stuck in a cell with a rapist or murderer. ‘Don’t you understand? If we get thrown into jail, we won’t be able to attend the Royal Wedding on Monday!’ I rolled my eyes. ‘Oh, of course. The Royal Wedding. How could I forget?’ It was a legitimate question, considering that Eve – and, in fact, most of the city of London – had been talking about nothing else for the last three months. ‘Wedding – bah!’ Patsy snorted.

‘It’s disgraceful! We have a woman at the head of the nation for the first time in how many hundred years, and what’s the first thing she does after ascending to the throne? She gets herself a man! Pathetic!’ She looked at me for confirmation. ‘Um, yes. Very pathetic,’ I assured her hurriedly. But to judge by the suspicious glare she shot me, I suppose she could tell my heart wasn’t really in it. To tell the truth, no matter how much I tried to ignore the Royal Wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, in some secret corner of my fiery feminist heart, I was looking forward to it. Maybe because Prince Albert was rumoured to be a specimen of that extremely rare species known as ‘nice men’. Or maybe it was because it hadn’t been he who had asked Victoria to marry him – no, it had been the other way around. She had gotten to decide, an idea which I found extremely appealing. I suppose there were certain advantages to being queen. ‘It’s not pathetic!’ For one moment, Eve looked affronted, but it only took seconds before her eyes started to glaze over and assumed a glamorous gleam.

‘It’s romantic! The most magnificently madly romantic thing there has ever been in the history of England and the Empire! Prince Albert is so dreamy! I saw a photograph of him in the Spectator, and he’s just the handsomest man who ever lived! Mr Darcy can’t hold a candle to him! And besides, Mr Darcy is only a fictional character and Prince Albert is real. He’s a handsome prince, and he’s real, and he’ll be married in three days!’ ‘And not to you,’ Patsy pointed out in a dry tone. Eve threw her a dagger-like look. ‘Thank you so much for reminding me.’ ‘You’re welcome.’ ‘Anyway, you see why we can’t go to prison for two weeks, don’t you, Patsy?’ ‘Oh, of course.’ ‘I mean, it’s a Royal Wedding, for Christ’s sake! How often in our lifetime will we be able to attend a royal wedding? We simply can’t go to prison! We can’t!’ ‘Absolutely not. I’m sure if we explain to the judge, he’ll let us off with a reprimand so we can go shout “God save the Queen” together with the rest of London.’ Eve gave Patsy a suspicious look. ‘Are you making fun of me?’ ‘Whatever gave you that idea?’ They started to bicker, and my attention started to wander.

But I kept a wary eye on them, and when Patsy reached for her parasol and Eve for her knitting needles (and not to knit with, this time) I felt it was time to intervene. ‘Hey, hey. Calm down, the two of you.’ ‘Cold-hearted materialist!’ Eve hissed. ‘Man-crazy fool!’ Patsy growled back. I figured neither of them meant me. ‘Relax,’ I told Eve. ‘It won’t matter if we’re in jail on Monday or not. We’d never be able to get good seats for the wedding anyhow.’ As I said it, I realized how true the words were.

And I was surprised to feel a twinge of disappointment at the fact. ‘I mean, it’s not going to be in some big church, but in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace. Crowds won’t fit in there. To get in, you’d have to be royalty, or obscenely rich and important.’ ‘True.’ Eve pulled a face. ‘Dang!’ ‘Psht!’ Flora, who had reappeared from behind her hands, held a finger to her lips. ‘Look! He’s back!’ We looked and saw his Lordship, Justice of the Peace Winston Montgomery Murgatroyd, enter the room, a grave expression on his face – so grave, you could practically read the letters on the headstone. Seating himself behind the judge’s desk, he took a deep, rattling breath, angled his wobbly chin into the most impressive pose and proclaimed, ‘I have thought long and hard on this matter. It is no easy decision to make.

Taking into account the accused’s young age, I considered leniency-’ Flora sat up straight, her wide, open eyes shining with hope. ‘-but with morals slipping everywhere in our society, such an outrageous exhibition of misconduct as we have witnessed today cannot go unpunished.’ The magistrate sent a dark look our way, and Flora withered. ‘Thus, I have decided on a suitably harsh punishment, which will hopefully deter these wicked individuals from breaking the cherished moral laws of the realm in the future.’ The gavel rose, and fell with a deafening thud. ‘For the grievous crimes of indecent exposure and disturbing the Queen’s peace, I hereby sentence you to a fine of five shillings each. May God have mercy on your souls.’ *~*~**~*~* ‘Thieves! Marauders!’ Patsy swung her fist at the courthouse, a moment before the door slammed shut into her face. ‘Five shillings! Can you believe it? Five shillings!’ ‘Well, now, Patsy,’ Flora dared to remark, ‘it is not that bad. Five shillings isn’t that much.

’ This earned her one of Patsy’s looks. You know, the ones that could make a sergeant major quake in his boots? ‘It’s the principle of the thing! We did nothing wrong, so we shouldn’t be punished if there were any justice in the world for women. Besides, five shillings might not be that much for you or me – our families are well off! But what about poor Lilly?’ ‘Her uncle has money, too.’ ‘But he’s as stingy as a Scotsman with a stick up his arse! For all intents and purposes, Lilly hasn’t got more money than a church mouse. And five shillings is five times what most people make in an entire month – if they have a job, which none of us do!’ ‘It’s all right,’ I began. ‘I can-’ ‘It’s simply not fair!’ Patsy continued, without paying particular attention to the fact that her best friend, i.e. me, had just tried to say something. ‘Men are allowed to earn money – why not we women? It’s all right if you’re rich, of course, but if you’re poor, like Lilly-’ ‘Hey, girls,’ I tried once more. ‘It’s no problem, I-’ ‘-then there’s simply nothing you can do! What do you think will happen when the bailiff comes knocking to collect the fine? Do you honestly think her uncle will pay? Oh no, it’s prison time for our friend! And all that just because of the tyrannical, thick-headed chauvinism of one small-minded London magistrate!’ I cleared my throat.

‘Patsy, I-’ ‘You’re right,’ Flora agreed, her eyes darting to me with warmth and kindness. I could practically feel her heart going out to me. ‘How thoughtless of me! We have to do something! We can’t have Lilly go to prison, with all those thieves and murderers and rakes and lechers!’ ‘Actually,’ Eve mused, ‘the last two don’t sound quite so bad. Don’t you think that, maybe-’ ‘Eve!’ ‘All right, all right!’ Sliding her hand into her handbag with a sigh, Eve held out a few coins. ‘Here’s my share.’ ‘I have mine, too, here, somewhere,’ Flora murmured, searching her pockets. ‘Where did I put my money again…’ ‘Girls! Girls, will you listen? Or no, don’t listen, just look!’ And with those words, I pulled a shiny golden sovereign [2] out of my pocket. My friends froze and stared. Patsy’s mouth actually fell open. ‘Where did you get that?’ she demanded.

‘From the same place I got this,’ I answered, pulling two more coins out to join the first. ‘Out of my pocket.’ The astonishment in Eve’s gaze slowly morphed into admiration. ‘Lilly – you didn’t rob a bank, did you?’ ‘No! Of course not!’ ‘Oh.’ Eve seemed slightly disappointed. But then she brightened again. ‘But you must have done something horrible to get your hands on that much money.’ A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth. ‘You have no idea.’ ‘How?’ Patsy demanded.

‘How did you get it? And…now that I think of it, how did you get the money for your bicycle? Eve, Flora and I could afford ours, but you? And don’t tell me your uncle has suddenly developed a generous and giving nature, because that I won’t believe!’ ‘No, he’s still the same stingy old sock as ever.’ ‘Then what?’ I winked. ‘Let’s just say…there’s another man in my life who slips me a bit of cash now and again.’ A round of scandalised gasps greeted my announcement. ‘Lilly, you…’ Flora began, her face terrified. ‘…you little vixen!’ Eve finished, a broad grin spreading over her features. ‘Tell us all! We want details, understood? Details! Who is he? Where is he? What is he? How rich is he? Is he ugly, pretty, tall, tiny, terrible, terrific, tolerable? Is he under sixty? Oh, please tell me he’s not some old geezer who – oh, of course he isn’t! This is you who we’re talking about! You wouldn’t give a nasty old bastard like that the time of day! Is he handsome? Please, tell me he’s handsome! And rich! And wonderful and kind and good and-’ ‘Sorry, girls.’ Hopping down from the stairs, I swung myself onto my pride and joy: my new, gleaming, girlishly gorgeous velocipede. ‘I’ve got places to be!’ ‘Stop!’ Patsy dashed forward, an indignant expression on her face. ‘You can’t leave us like this! We simply have to-’ The rest of her sentence was lost in the whirr of my bicycle wheels as I whizzed off towards Leadenhall Street.

Empire House, 322 Leadenhall Street, to be exact. I hadn’t lied to my friends. I did indeed have a man who gave me money at regular intervals. A gorgeous, powerful, disgustingly chauvinistic man who looked like someone was pulling a tooth from his brain every time he had no choice but to hand me a pay cheque. I grinned. It’s time to go to work. Nice Surprise ‘You’re late, Mr Linton!’ The warm greeting of my dear employer immediately made me feel at home. His cold glare, and the arctic waves of disapproval radiating off of him completed the congenial working atmosphere. ‘Yes,’ I cheerfully agreed, dropped my briefcase on the desk and flopped into my chair. ‘One hour, fifteen minutes and….

’ Quickly, I slipped my hand into my pocket and pulled out my very own watch that I had purchased from my first pay cheque, ‘…thirty-two seconds.’ Letting the watch snap shut again, I stowed it away. ‘Admirable, how exactly you keep an eye on the time of day, Mr Linton.’ ‘Thank you, Sir.’ ‘It would be even more admirable, however,’ he added with a glare, stepping from the shadowy doorway of his office, where he had been standing, fully into mine, ‘if you would devote the same amount of attention to the time of day when you are supposed to appear for work. Punctually!’ I fought to ignore the shiver that went down my back as our eyes met. Mr Rikkard Ambrose was an overpowering personality under any circumstances, but if you had experienced those eyes of his looking into yours from only a few inches away, if you had felt those long, elegant fingers capturing your face while his lips captured other parts of you… Let me put it this way: it gave a whole new meaning to the word ‘powerful’. ‘Indeed it would, Sir.’ ‘Why exactly are you late, Mr Linton?’ ‘I got arrested.’ He stood there for a moment, his arms folded, his posture stiff as a stone statue.

His eyes narrowed infinitesimally, but other than that, he showed not the slightest sign of any emotion whatsoever. The temperature in the room dropped thirty degrees. ‘Ordinarily, this would surprise me, Mr Linton. But, coming from you, it does not. Why do you think that is?’ ‘Because you know I’m a little demon from hell?’ I suggested cheerfully, and pulled open a desk drawer. As expected, I found the correspondence of the day there, which Mr Stone from the lobby had left for me. Pulling it out, I started busily sorting through the envelopes. ‘A pertinent point, Mr Linton.’ ‘Thank you, Sir.’ ‘The time lost will be deducted from your wages.

’ ‘Of course it will, Sir.’ There was a pause. No, not a pause. A silence. A negative opposite of noise that seemed to stretch, tickle my ears and send a cold shiver through me. Nobody could say nothing like Mr Ambrose. There was a question in that silence. A question he wanted me to answer without having to actually waste his words on asking it. Ha! Fat chance. Opening one of the envelopes, I grinned, hiding my face behind the letter.

Not a word crossed my lips. Silence. More silence. And a pinch more silence, with a bit of reticence and stillness thrown in. Finally, he forced himself to say: ‘So…’ ‘Yes, Sir?’ ‘Why, Mr Linton?’ My grin widened, and I held the letter closer to my face, just in case the grin was so broad it peeked out at either end. ‘Why what, Sir?’ ‘Don’t play dumb with me! Why were you arrested?’ ‘Oh…’ I tugged at my ear thoughtfully. ‘I don’t remember, exactly…’ ‘Theft? Manslaughter?’ ‘My, my, you do think rather highly of me, don’t you, Mr Ambrose, Sir?’ ‘Answer the question, Mr Linton!’ ‘Well, as I said, I don’t remember exactly, but one of the accusations was disturbing the Queen’s peace, I believe.’

.

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