11 – PRISONER

11 – PRISONER

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
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THE LIFE AND LOVES OF ANNIE GRABLE - 11

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The magistrate was a leery old man with a grey moustache and eyes that looked as if they might be ninety percent strong liquor, and he listened to the brief explanation made by a policeman. The girl, he was told, had been dismissed for being a harlot by the noblest family in the county and in revenge had gone to steal the Davidson’s silver and been caught in the act, whereupon she had seized a blade and thrust it deep into the flesh of the Captain’s handsome wife. The evidence, he said, spoke for itself.

You’re sure of this?” asked the magistrate.

As sure as eggs is eggs, m’lord,” replied the policeman, whereupon the magistrate took a nip out of a small silver flask concealed under a huge overhanging sleeve and remanded her to the assizes. “We can’t have this,” he said, “and the case is clear as clear.”

What does that mean?” she asked the policeman as she was led away.

You’ll go before the judge who’ll don his black cap and sentence you to the noose,” replied the policeman almost cheerfully. He was a man who both took a serious view of life and as a contrast really liked his job.

She was put in a cell. She could hear her mother, voice filled with a really odd mixture of the love she’d never really shown and anger, demanding to be allowed to see her, and eventually she was given reluctant permission to spend a few minutes with Annie.

I’ll get them to see sense,” she declared after Annie had explained how she couldn’t explain. “Your father, God bless his soul, didn’t die at the Somme so that they could treat his daughter like this!”

And then she had to go, impolitely called the policeman all sorts of names under her breath as if he and he alone was responsible for Annie’s predicament.

The thrush was replaced by a blackbird. Maybe, she thought, that half blind cat has had its way at last, and if it has, poor thrush. Is my garden free of thrushes and now a sanctuary for blackbirds? Anyway, whatever the reason the blackbird gave her a most severe look as its head bobbed around and its eyes held hers for a fractured second.

Mother, bless her, was fantastic back then,” Annie told the blackbird, “she stuck up for me even though the only real knowledge she had that I hadn’t killed Gertrude is she knew me and that I couldn’t possibly do any such thing, because it wasn’t in me. She knew me better than I thought she did. I might have sneaked out at night, when she was in bed, but I hadn’t, and she knew that like she knew the sun rises every morning, because come cloud or clear skies it’s certain that the sun’s there somewhere, For her that was evidence enough and she set out like a warrior determined to find out who really did kill the poor woman.”

The blackbird cocked its head, and winked.

Then I was taken to jail,” she whispered, still ashamed though with no reason for shame, “Me, who barely knew there was such a thing as murder being accused of killing a woman that I actually respected after working at her silver and dusting for the best part of a year. Why, I’d even dreamed that she might have made a perfect mother for me, beautiful, floating about her big house like, I thought, a princess and a real mother. Yet it was my actually real mother who I’d always simply called plain Mother and I suppose sort of loved when I wasn’t disliking her sullen moods, who rallied to me when I most needed someone rallying to me. Gertrude couldn’t, of course, and that was the direst of things, because in a way I loved Gertrude in the way people can love close friends.

That week in the remand prison almost broke me. Other women in there despised me for my youth, for my naivety and mostly for my insistence on my innocence.

Everyone reckons they’re innocent in here, whether they are nor not, croaked one wrinkled old woman who was, believe it or not, in prison for prostitution, though back then I only had the vaguest notion as to what prostitution might be. I was still so blindingly innocent of the flesh that I still hadn’t worked out how the little boy who told me when I’d been five that one game he played was to see how high up a wall he could send his urine actually managed it!

The week, and thank goodness it was only a week, passed, and while I spent most of the time either weeping or moping, my mother was hard at work.

oo0oo

Muriel Stoker went to see the mourning Captain Davidson as soon as she returned from the magistrate’s court. She knew he’d be bereft and most likely despise her and the sight of her, but her own unhappiness and the future well being of her daughter were more important to her. It might be assumed that she was nervous, afraid even, but she wasn’t. Seeing her daughter accused of the plainly impossible had fired her up, so when she arrived at the big house it wasn’t to go to the kitchen but, uninvited, climb the staircase to his artist’s studio where he was sitting in his rather tatty armchair away from any paints, looking more distraught than she thought any man was capable of looking.

He looked up when he heard her approaching him.

Oh Muriel,” he said, despondently, “this is such a wretched mess.”

It was the first time he’d ever called her Muriel. She wasn’t even aware that he knew her Christian name.

My Annie didn’t do it and yet she’d been blamed for it and put in jail for it,” said Muriel when she’d recovered from the shock of being addressed by a man as important as the Captain surely was as Muriel.

I wouldn’t have thought she did either,” replied Ralf Davidson, surprising her. “I told them, but they didn’t believe me. Instead, that fat policemen looked at me as if to say that if your lass was innocent then it must have been me that struck the blow! As if I’d steal my own silver or kill my own wife!”

I’m going to search out who did!” declared Muriel, “I’m going to search out every scumbag in Goosedown until I come upon the one who did it, then I’m going to march him to the police station and get my Annie out.”

You are?” asked Ralf, and he slowly stood up, balancing on his good leg while he tried to massage a little life back into his bad leg.

I most certainly am!” declared Muriel. “And if I don’t then you know what they’ll do when she’s up before the judge at the assizes, don’t you? They’ll hang her, that’s what they’ll do, no real questions asked, and as I told the idiot in a uniform at the jail, my man, her father, didn’t die in France so they could do that to his daughter! I mean, they haven’t even investigated, sir, they haven’t found the silver they say she stole, they haven’t done anything properly...”

They say they found a silver tankard at your house and that’s evidence that she stole my silver,” said Ralf, slowly, “and I told them I didn’t own a silver tankard, that it wasn’t mine, but they said I obviously owned so much silver that I might never have noticed a silver tankard in such a crowd of riches.”

It’s not silver but silver plate and it was my Bert’s, and it’s got his name inscribed on it, he got it for his twenty-first just before he went to war,” moaned Muriel, “his parents gave it to him… and Annie always cleans it.”

I want to help you,” said Ralf, out of the blue, “I need to do something other than weep for a lost love, I want to avenge it!”

Sir, that’s … very good of you. Very good indeed,” she stammered, “and I think I know a few places where I can start. There’s pubs and places where crooks secretly sell their ill-gotten gains, though me, being a woman, can hardly go on my own into a pub.”

Then it’s just as well we’re together,” said Ralf, suddenly emboldened, “we’ll go round and round until we find the blaggard, and when we have I’ll make quite sure they string him up! But before we do anything like that, I can’t walk far but I have got a car. The trouble is, I can’t drive it, not with only one good leg. I don’t suppose you drive, do you?”

She shook her head. “But I can learn,” she said, boldly, “I can learn just about anything!”

oo0oo

The blackbird broke into song. Maybe for its mate who was out and about in a world where men were locked away in their homes, a bird enjoying a new freedom in the empty skies. But Annie listened and marvelled and remembered that other blackbird long ago, and the joyous song that spoke to her of a freedom that must come as she lay on a hard bed in the prison cell, waiting for a trial that would either set her free or condemn her to hang one cold and brittle dawn.

© Peter Rogerson 11.05.20



© 2020 Peter Rogerson


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Added on May 11, 2020
Last Updated on May 11, 2020
Tags: accused, arrested, silver, tankard, silver plate


Author

Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom



About
I am 76 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..

Writing



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