Rosemary Hayward Hayward

Rosemary Hayward is a British transplant to California where she has spent the last twenty years helping Americans do their taxes, growing from parenthood to grandparenthood and learning to write fiction. In 2017 she self-published Margaret Leaving, the story of Jenny North's search for her step-mother, who inexplicably walks out on her family one day, never to return. She has also had short stories published online: Aunt Mary in Pif Magazine, The Schröndinger Cat in Stickman Review and Grandma in Alyss.
Now, retired from doing anybody's taxes except her own, she can do every day what she loves best: writing fiction that plays with the way the past lives in the present, using a lifetime steeped in reading literature and history, and being creative ways that would not be appropriate when dealing with the taxman. And, even better than making up stories, sharing them with other people.
She has recently completed the manuscript of Crocus Fields, the stories of three women from the same family, each of them facing problems particular to women of their era. Harriet, in the 1900s, campaigns to get the vote; Shirley, in the 1970s, loses her chance to become a barrister when she becomes a single parent; Cassandra, present day, faces up to childlessness after failed fertility treatment. The women's stories are linked by a family house, a family trust fund, a mysterious trunk and crocuses.

When the middle daughter of a Nottingham lace owner’s family becomes a suffragette, she endures prison and force feeding before questioning a cause that becomes increasingly violent and a world that seems set to destroy everything she loves.
BURNING NOTTINGHAM CASTLE
My Submission

Burning Nottingham Castle

Book Two of the Loxley Hall Books

Harriet

May 1905

Harriet put two rashers of bacon and one slice of toast on her plate, glanced into the mirror above the sideboard and tucked a stray strand of hair into place. She replaced the cover on the bacon platter and looked back in the mirror, past her own reflection to her three sisters. Chestnut hair, she thought, was the perfect colour for the pompadour hairstyles and pale cotton morning bodices favoured by herself, Eleanor and Emma. Gwen, of course, was different, with a striped blouse, hair as black as a gypsy’s and skin as swarthy; her looks just like Father's. Father claimed to have Moorish blood.

She watched him through the mirror, pushing her teeth into her lip as he laid his hand on the pile of letters that had arrived in the morning post. He would hand the letters round at any moment. He was probably only waiting for her to sit down. She knew Will’s letter was there because she’d slipped downstairs to check the post on the hall table, going barefoot, so as not to alert Mother. Will had kept his promise to ask Mr. Yoxall last week. She had been planning  with Will for months. Now it was only a matter of Father’s permission.

“Harriet, take more food. That’s not enough to feed a mouse.”

“Yes, Mother.”

Harriet picked up three more plate covers and clattered them down so they chimed out, I am eating, Mother, before slipping a poached egg from its rest and onto her plate. The food smelt damp, salty and warm.

By the time she sat down, the envelope with the House of Commons postmark was next to her place and Harriet was obliged to take the cup of tea her mother proffered with both hands to prevent it spilling. She opened the envelope carefully with a knife and made a point of drinking before reading. Her brother’s communication, as Mr. Yoxall’s secretary, was brief and exactly as she had hoped, an invitation from the Member of Parliament for Nottingham West to his constituent Harriet Loxley to attend the Ladies’ Gallery of the House of Commons on Friday, May 12th, 1905.

She handed the letter to her father, who would read it aloud. This was customary. Father read aloud any letters that required decisions. Mother commented. Everyone else supposedly had an opinion to offer, except everyone else was so attuned to Father’s desires, as moderated by Mother, that the assembled table was always in complete accord with his opinion.

Harriet glanced around the table. This morning’s assembly consisted of Mother, her four sisters and Eleanor’s two sons, young Wesley and Bobby. Eleanor must have waived her privilege of breakfast in bed, as she usually did on the mornings that her husband had to get to the Lace Market early. The vicarage, although substantial, was not large enough for all the extended family. Harriet’s older brother, Robert, was also not at the table, since he lodged with Uncle George. With so few male exemplars at breakfast, Eleanor liked to keep a close watch on Wesley and Bobbie.

Mother was entitled to breakfast in bed too, although Harriet had never known her to avail herself of it. Mother was an early riser.

Her father read out the letter.

Harriet realized she was manoeuvering her bacon rasher around her plate and probably causing her mother to think she was going to leave it uneaten. She cut off a piece, put it in her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. The thick back-bacon was tender and juicy. She cut off another piece. Mother complained she was too thin and worried about her. It wasn’t fair to make Mother worry, and it wasn’t politic either, especially during the pause before Father offered his opinion on Mr. Yoxall’s invitation and on Will’s plans for getting her up to London on the train and having her lodge with his landlady.

Her father said, “I think it a jolly good idea for Harriet to go, do you not Mrs. Loxley?”

“Indeed, I do, Mr. Loxley.”

Harriet suddenly felt desperately fond of meaty bacon and considered getting up to get some more. She broke the yolk of her egg and watched it leach into her toast. She was hungry. She filled her mouth with soft buttery, eggy mush and was grateful it stopped her speaking. She could so easily spoil this.

Her father gave her a pointed look, “Only, Harriet dear, I do not wish you to travel unaccompanied. I will finance a trip for Emma and Gwendolyn to see you as far as your brother’s care. And you will all stay with your Aunt Loxley in town. Emma and Gwen, you can take those stricken expressions off your faces. I am not expecting you to spend your afternoon in the Ladies’ Gallery of the House of Commons. You may make an early start on Christmas in Bond Street."

Two small, blond heads snapped up from the absorbing task of dipping toast soldiers into soft golden-centred boiled eggs. Like a string of Chinese crackers going off in a quiet street, bright laughter flew across the breakfast table.

The Reverend Loxley harrumphed and said, "I’m sure Aunt Loxley would love to have you all for the weekend and your mother would welcome you taking some of the burden of Christmas from her, wouldn’t you my dear?”

Harriet smiled at Eleanor, enjoying her ill-concealed delight in the boy’s faces sparkling as if dusted with Yuletide glitter. Little Bobby’s eyes had become quite round, and he was only prevented from speaking by his mother’s stern glance. The Reverend and Mrs. Loxley might be liberal in their politics, but when it came to table manners children were expected to speak only when spoken to, a custom wholly supported by Eleanor.

Mrs. Loxley’s eyes crinkled at the corners and she patted her grandson on the head before sending her answer swooping down upon her husband at the opposite end of the table.

“May is a little too early for Christmas shopping, Robert, dear. I suggest the girls get some new dress patterns and fabrics for the summer. Perhaps their aunt could accompany them to Liberty’s.”

The Reverend Robert Loxley folded his napkin and said, “Capital,” and then, “Yoxall is an excellent fellow.”

Eleanor answered him, although Harriet thought the statement did not require an answer.

“Wesley says he is too much involved with the unions.”

“Ah, Wesley would say that. He has lace to sell. What’s more, he has my brother’s lace to sell. Wesley needs must support the owners. But I have a duty as a clergyman to speak for the poor. Working people need unions if their conditions are to improve.”

“The conditions at my uncle’s factory are very advanced, Father, and the women are not poor. They are working women with wages of their own.”

“I know. But the government has issued report after report about improvements needed in the lace industry. The women’s hours are too long and the rooms are too hot.”

“They are too hot because of the engines. You must have the engines.”

Mrs. Loxley’s soft voice cut into the exchange. “Yoxall is for the teachers’ union, I believe. And the teacher’s union wants to stop women teachers losing their positions when they marry.”

Eleanor gestured to her two boys that they might get down and play in the garden.

“Will you come and play cricket with us, Harry?” little Wesley whispered, as he passed her chair.

Eleanor’s gaze made her answer clear.

“After your arithmetic lesson,” Harriet said quietly. “And in the park.” She added, sure Mother was also staring appropriate responses into her mind. Last week she’d had to admit it was her ball that had broken the Drawing Room window, not one thrown by either of the boys.

“A married woman has other duties,” Eleanor said. “Family is more important than work.”

“Family is of course more important,” the Reverend Loxley waved his hand as if to encompass his own handsome family, seated at his well-appointed breakfast table. “How could I say otherwise? But what about a married woman who has no family. Or who is the main breadwinner with a sick or unemployed husband? Or what about a married woman who has other family who can help care for the small children? It makes little sense to discard the skills of these excellent women workers and teachers because they marry. We should leave that decision to them.”

Harriet said, “That is a very radical view, Father.”

“Well, perhaps you have put me in mind of a little radicalism, Harriet. Don’t imagine I don’t know the significance of May 12th. The women are getting the second reading of their bill, are they not? What will I do when all the women in this household can vote? I’ll not be able to get a word in edgeways.”

Harriet didn’t reply. It was always a good idea to let Father have the last word. She was not sure that she, or any of the women at the table, would be able to vote even if the rules for the men were extended to them. They owned no land. They lived in a vicarage, which only entitled the incumbent vicar to the franchise. Father, in other words. The rest of them would have to leave home and finance their own accommodation to meet the property qualifications, and what would be the point of that? 

On the afternoon of Friday May 12th, Will demonstrated that he was as concerned as her father that Harriet should be well-chaperoned. He gripped her arm after they got down from the Hansom and negotiated their way between the double-decker buses, barrow boys and darting pedestrians that filled Parliament Square. Her senses retreated before the clatter of iron clad wheels on stone and the whirl of colourful hats and parasols. The swampy aroma of sweating horse filled her nostrils and seemed to envelope the surrounds of Westminster Palace in a foetid steam. Only once she was within the calm of Palace Yard did she feel safe enough to look up at Barry’s celebrated carved turrets and sparkling bays of windows, only to find all their anticipated glory mired in soot. So many statues, so many angels, so much tracery of roses and thistles and shamrocks lay under that dirt. She experienced a strong desire to marshal an army of maids and set them cleaning.

Will was introducing her to Mr. Yoxall, and she turned her attention to thanking him for making her visit possible.

“And do you stand for women getting the vote, sir?”

“Yes, indeed. But you must appreciate this parliament serves to govern an empire. You will see this afternoon how many and varied are the bills brought before the House. One has to specialise and I specialise in education. I do not, unfortunately, have time for the affairs of the ladies.”

“And will you be in the chamber this afternoon?”

“No, I leave for Nottingham in an hour. Most distant members leave for constituency business on Friday.”

The brief and affable conversation filled her with a sense of doom. If Mother’s political hero would not attend the debate, what was the chance of Mother getting the vote?

Will did not leave her until she was in the care of Mrs. Alice Slack, the wife of that same Mr. Bamford Slack who had given his valuable opportunity to introduce a bill to the women. At first impression, Mrs. Slack was a woman about thirty years old, frighteningly slender, and with skin so pale it seemed the colour had been washed away. Her fair hair already bore hints of grey and there was a certain lilac tiredness about her, as if she had just risen from a sickbed where a long fever had laid her low. Harriet paid attention to the fine quality of her kid gloves and estimated the amount of fabric used in the sleeves of her bodice, noting where the tightening began for the forearm. She counted how many bands of lace there were on the front and neck. She imagined Emma and Gwen out and about in Bond Street, securing the latest patterns to make up at home. She didn’t think Mrs. Alice Slack sewed her own clothes. Mrs Slack was far too much above Harriet and her sisters.

Harriet said goodbye to Will and put up her hand to push open the door ahead of her, only to jerk it away again as the unnoticed policeman barked out a demand for her orders.

Mrs. Slack put her hand on Harriet’s arm, “He means your invitation.”

The weight of Alice Slack’s hand on Harriet’s arm felt like solidarity, a new solidarity in the women’s cause; a solidarity that gave Harriet the power to graciously show her paper to the stern policeman and walk past without looking back.

They were directed to a cramped and stuffy waiting room, where orders were exchanged for white bone discs with numbers engraved. The very tightness of the place seemed to knit the assembled ladies together, and small groups started to compare their thoughts on the suffrage question. Harriet fancied that all their hopes would soon be in bloom, fertilised by the atmosphere of camaraderie, and all because of Mrs. Slack’s husband. Mrs. Slack had plenty to say about him. She clearly both admired and adored him. He was only recently elected for St. Albans, having fought an acrimonious bye-election on the platform of providing representation for the working poor. Harriet learned that St. Albans was a town near London, one they must have passed by on the train from the north. The town manufactured bricks, and the work was hard and dangerous. The workers were not nearly so well unionised, or well regarded, as were Nottingham lace makers.

Although Mr. Slack had won the place for a private bill, the bill proposed for a second reading that afternoon was not written by him. The Women’s Enfranchisement Bill was based on an earlier bill framed by the renowned lawyer and supporter of the poor, Richard Pankhurst. This incarnation of the bill had been put together by women suffragists, among whom, Alice said, were some new talents: Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst, of Manchester, the widow of that same Richard Pankhurst, and her daughter, Miss Sylvia Pankhurst, who had been running all over London for weeks stirring up support.

“And I’m going to take you to meet them, Harriet.”

When the door of the murky den graced with the title of Ladies’ Waiting Room was finally opened, Harriet, Mrs. Slack and all the other ladies trooped up three flights of stone stairs, through a swing door at the top and into a long bare corridor, where there was another inexplicable and unexplained pause in proceedings. Harriet stood twirling her folded parasol and considering what might lie beyond the many doors leading off the corridor. Since there were no signs saying what anything was, if they were bold enough to escape the eyes of the officials and venture to explore, they would become hopelessly lost and might end up being locked in the Houses of Parliament all night.

Alice Slack touched her elbow and whispered, “Stay still until I move.”

Harriet froze. If it was a rat or a mouse, she didn’t want to step back and get it caught in her skirt. She looked at the nearest official a few yards away. He turned to look along the corridor, away from her. Clearly he was not worried by any animal life behind her.

“Now!”

Alice Slack slipped them both through the nearby door.

Astonished and a little breathless, Harriet ran after her chaperone, now reinvented as partner in escapade.

After a bewildering sequence of staircases and corridors, she emerged into a wide space filled with a throng of ladies as colourful as butterflies. Alice kept hold of her arm and led her through the crowd, which was buzzing with excitement, and out into a large area lit by towering stained glass windows. Like a cathedral, Harriet thought, stopping to gaze around her and counting the walls to ensure octagon was the right description to give her aunt and sisters later.

“This is the Central Lobby,” Alice said. “A public space between the House of Lords and the House of Commons. This is where history is happening today, Harriet, and here are some people I want you to meet: Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst and Miss Sylvia Pankhurst, two of the founding members of The Women’s Social and Political Union.”

Mrs. Pankhurst was a slender woman of about forty years, dressed in a dark blue silk skirt and a matching short jacket. Harriet wondered if she was of foreign parentage. She had dark hair, and fairly dark skin, although not as dark as Father’s. Her well-cut suit looked as if it might have been made in France, and her eyes burned with a revolutionary conviction that could have been inherited from Jacobin ancestors. Sylvia, the daughter, shared her mother’s fine arched brow and long nose but not her charming high apple-cheeks and piercing violet-blue eyes. Harriet felt Miss Pankhurst’s eyes looked into her heart, searching for comradeship, while her mother’s eyes sought to grab her heart and bind it to her own.

Mrs. Pankhurst said, “Loxley is a good north-country name. Where are you from, Miss Loxley?”

When Harriet told her Nottingham, Mrs. Pankhurst started talking animatedly of the women workers in the Lace Market and asked her to describe what they did and what sort of women they were. Would they be women who would support the cause?

Harriet realized how mistaken her initial fancies regarding butterflies had been. Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter were far from being ephemeral visions of beauty with a few days to live. They were creatures of a much tougher kind and they were hungry for harsh political information.

Comments

jaidyngroth Sat, 25/09/2021 - 10:38

Congrats on being short-listed as well! Sending celebratory high-fives!

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