Sampler: A Hundred Tiny Threads by Judith Barrow

When he returns from the Great War, his dream is still of Winifred and the life they might have had.

It’s 1911 and Winifred Duffy is a determined young woman eager for new experiences, for a life beyond the grocer’s shop counter ruled over by her domineering mother.

The scars of Bill Howarth’s troubled childhood linger. The only light in his life comes from a chance encounter with Winifred, the girl he determines to make his wife.

Meeting her friend Honora’s silver-tongued brother turns Winifred’s heart upside down. But Honora and Conal disappear, after a suffrage rally turns into a riot, and abandoned Winifred has nowhere to turn but home.

The Great War intervenes, sending Bill abroad to be hardened in a furnace of carnage and loss. When he returns his dream is still of Winifred and the life they might have had…

Back in Lancashire, worn down by work and the barbed comments of narrow-minded townsfolk, Winifred faces difficult choices in love and life.

Judith Barrow

Sampler: A Hundred Tiny Threads

Chapter 45 November

Winifred

The tall imposing woman who was trying to organise the crowd into some semblance of order was shouting above the noise.

‘Remember these words of Mrs Pethick­Lawrence, ladies: “wear white for purity in public as well as private life, green for hope and purple for dignity, for that self-reverence and self-respect which renders acquiescence to political subjection impossible.”’

But as they joined the crowds Winifred sensed the atmosphere was different from other marches, there was a tension, a pent-up anger amongst the women that resulted in a lack of order. There were no organized ranks, the people milled around as if unsure which way to go.

Standing on tiptoe, Winifred could just see the heads of the police on horseback, two large black police vans and, in the distance, on the steps of the Courthouse in the town square; the destination the parade would be making for. She stared around, hoping to see the organizers of the march, the women who had rallied them all at the meeting, but she saw none of them. Maybe they were at the front she thought, looking past the makeshift flags and wooden boards, with crudely written slogans, which were being waved alongside the large WSPU official banners.

The crush was getting worse. Shopkeepers on both sides of the road, previously watching with nervous curiosity, turned their backs and, chivvying their assistants in front of them, went back into their shops, closing the doors.

The new anthem, The March of the Women, rose and fell beneath the shouts and cries of those already being jostled and buffeted.

‘Stay up close,’ Conal bellowed.

Linking arms in an effort to stay together the seven of them formed a line. To Winifred’s right Honora was already singing, the exhilaration flushing her cheeks.

“Shout, shout, up with your song!

Cry with the wind for the dawn is breaking...”

Her voice broke every now and then as they were erratically pressed forward by the people behind them and the breath was knocked out of her.

Jolted each time, Winifred began to panic. Despite the cold, the air was filled with a mixture of cloying perfumes and sweat. Some of the women’s faces around her reflected her fear as the throng grew tighter.

Suddenly there were louder screams, the clatter of horses hooves, loud bells rang from somewhere and people were turning, running, scattering in all directions, pursued by the police randomly hitting out with their batons. Horrified Winifred heard her own scream rising from her lungs.

‘Move onto the pavement.’ Conal’s yell was almost lost in the cacophony of sounds

The splintering of glass and the loud shout of ‘votes for women’, from someone was the first indication of the stones being thrown through the shop windows. Their group battled to get to the pavement. It was a mistake, people were hitting at the windows with hammers, splintering the glass. Winifred cried out in pain when a fragment struck her ankle.

‘This way.’ Conal dragged her backwards.

She tried to hold on to Honora’s hand, clutching as tightly as she could but her grasp was loosened and there was a sudden pull on the fingers of her glove. ‘Hold on, Honora, hold on.’ The glove was torn from Winifred’s hand. ‘Honora!’ The last she heard from her friend was the shrill scream, the last she saw was the fear on the Irish girl’s face as she disappeared beneath the surrounding melee.

A horse thundered towards them, ploughing a furrow through falling women collapsing under blows and hooves. Winifred caught a glimpse of a woman clinging to one of the streetlamps, thrashing a riding-switch at the policeman’s legs.  Then the horse faltered, blood streaming from its neck, a broken shard of slate in a long cut.

Winifred looked up through the protective arms of Conal. Two women were on the roof of one of the shops. Leaning over the edge they threw broken slates down at the police.

‘Stop it, stop it,’ he yelled, bending his back further over Winifred to shielding her.

She heard his gasp of pain. ‘Conal?’

‘I’m fine.’ He was holding his ear, blood seeped through his fingers. ‘We need to get away,’ he bellowed above the uproar.

But suddenly the hooves of a horse were over her head. It reared up, eyes rolling. mouth pulled wide in the bit. Winifred saw the angry face of a policeman, whip held high above his head.

Then all she felt was the weight of Conal pinning her to the ground.

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