By Roseanna Smith

Edith Rigby knew the grocer at the local corner store didn’t want to sell her cheese and milk that day. He never wanted to anymore. Entering his store, she heard every whisper from the other customers and clocked the way their eyebrows danced in disgust. The grocer looked her over with his nose scrunched up as though he had just come across a rotting pear. Edith knew, dressed in bloomers borrowed from Charlie, she no longer looked like the bride he saw all those years ago walk through the large arches of Lune Street Chapel Preston. 

Edith had married Charlie Rigby in a fashionable way. The dress, a rich ivory satin duchesse with a full court train trimmed with Mechlin lace, matched the lace veil pinned into her wheat-blonde curls. On that rare sunny English day, her blue eyes had glistened, the gold brooches pinned to her chest had shone, and her mother’s diamond necklace sparkled as it hung from her neck.

The grocer huffed as he tallied and wrapped Edith’s cheese and bread. He had no option but to serve her because of Charlie’s status and wealth. It niggled her, that money and status somehow equated to power. And even though she worked just as hard as Charlie, the power was not hers. 

‘Thank you, sir,’ Edith said collecting her change. 

Sitting at the exit, Edith saw the postcards that the women in her group had been getting mailed. With the grocer’s back turned rearranging potatoes on the barrels, she swiped a postcard and pushed it into her trouser pocket.

With her canvas tote bag loaded with groceries, Edith threw her cloak around her shoulders and mounted her bike. It wasn’t a particularly comfortable ride back to the house; the pebble stone roads, the tight alleys, the eggs tossed at her back. Though she enjoyed the wind in her hair, and seeing the uneasiness of the men and women when she cycled past. 

Edith’s servant, Anne, was standing in front of the Rigby’s red brick terrace in her white smock and beige apron when Edith approached. Despite the rain only spitting, Anne stood under a wide umbrella, her brown hair tucked underneath a bonnet that allowed her young face to glow.

‘What are you doing out here?’ Edith said. ‘Look at this rain.’

The servants waiting on her like a dog waits for their owner made Edith’s stomach turn with guilt. Rain was almost a guarantee in this city, so Edith had tried to implement a new rule that if it was raining, they were to stay indoors. 

The first day she arrived at the house from their honeymoon in Paris, the servants fussed over her leather club bag and took her by the hand, leading her into the front room. She didn’t want to watch them unpack her bags, so she sat there looking at the intricacies of wooden wall panelling and rocked back and forth in a leather chair. Edith quietly promised herself that from that day on, she would be useful. 

Edith dismounted and stepped up the small stairs carrying the bicycle that was two times bigger than she.

‘Let me help you Mrs Rigby,’ Anne said, reaching out to take the bicycle. 

‘Thank you, but I wouldn’t ride if I couldn’t carry it.’ 

Edith gave an exaggerated smile and nod to her neighbour Muriel, who looked through her front window with an air of displeasure.

Muriel, who thought of herself as a modern woman, failed to understand Edith disapproval of servants. Servants were an indication of class, power, and wealth. Why, Muriel thought, would Edith hide that.

Edith suspected that Muriel spent her days waiting for her to ride across the park or down the street, waiting to give a disapproving shake of her head, a ‘tsk tsk’ or an eye roll.

Shortly after Charlie and Edith moved into 28 Winckley Square, Muriel knocked on the door one afternoon. She had slowly opened the heavy, wooden front door, taken aback by the smell of cinnamon and apple. Muriel stood there, shoulders back, exquisitely dressed in a silk floral morning dress and hat that covered her blonde mane holding a pie complexly wrapped in a tartan tea towel.

‘Please do come in,’ Edith said, assuming they would sit out the back and enjoy the pie, maybe discuss town politics. 

When Edith went to peel the towel off the pie, Muriel had said, ‘maybe you should wait for Charles to come home.’ 

‘Of course, how very rude of me.’ Edith tried to readjust the tea towel.

She placed the pie on the kitchen counter and instead offered Muriel tea and a slice of carrot cake one of the servants had freshly baked. 

They went to have their tea in the afternoon sun-soaked back room.

‘Take a break love,’ Edith said to the servant. ‘Come and enjoy the warmth of the rays.’

Muriel’s face had pinched, her body froze, and she refused to say a word to the servant, which made for a very awkward afternoon.

Muriel never returned. This was a shame because when Edith sliced open the pie through the hatched pastry topping and took a mouthful, the buttery apples had melted on her tongue. 

Edith could feel Muriel’s eyes follow her when she entered the house, resting the muddy bike against the green leaf wallpaper. She removed her yolk-stained cloak and hung it on the coat rack. 

‘No use washing it Anne when it’s just going to happen again tomorrow.’

Anne stood in the doorway looking flustered. She took off her bonnet, flattened her short, brown bob and retied the snug apron around her small frame. She wanted to wipe off the mud that was sliding down the wallpaper or sweep the dirt that Edith had trudged into the entrance.

Edith kicked off her sandals and emptied her pockets, pulling out the postcard. She focused on the front of the postcard, a baby boy crying, the flounce of the collar took up half the image. Her eyes were drawn to the boy’s exaggerated tears. She could hear his wails even though it was only a cartoon. She flipped over the postcard:

Mummy is a Suffragette

And I am no one’s pet

Oh! Why am I left all alone

To cry and suffer yet.

Edith hadn’t longed for a child. She didn’t have the feeling of butterflies or the ‘maternal force’ that she heard other women describe. She didn’t feel empty, hollow, or without. 

She would often spend time in Charlie’s office studying his medical books.

‘Eddy you should be the doctor you read these books enough,’ he would often joke. 

The real reason was that she was smarter than him, but he was a good man.

In his medical books, she would analyse diagrams and sketches of women, particularly pregnant women. She would feel her stomach and the opening of her vagina and wonder how the female body was made for giving birth. Some days, she did long for the want of carrying a child. She questioned why she didn’t have such desires. The women around her went into motherhood and pregnancy with such ease. Through her campaigning work, she came to believe that there must be women who felt the same. 

Motherhood still felt obscure to Edith. Even after they adopted Sandy ten years ago, she never felt natural as a mother. Edith could never determine whether the stares from other women were because she couldn’t birth a son herself, she was a terrible mother, or because of the time she spent rallying for change. 

Edith pressed the postcard into Anne’s hand.

‘Can you believe this?’

Anne looked at the postcard. If she hadn’t spent the last few months in the household, she may have sympathised with the cries of the baby. 

When Anne was a new servant to the Rigby household, she was stunned by how Edith conducted herself. She still wasn’t sure how she felt about Edith or the posters that she saw her craft each week. She was shocked at the hours Edith took to teach her son. 

What Anne didn’t know before she began working for Edith was that although the Rigby household looked like all the other wealthy houses, this house was quite unusual. From the outside, there was nothing special about the house. The red brick weathered the harsh winters. The heavy green door welcomed guests, many from high society. Inside, however, was a different story.

When Edith first moved into the house with Charlie, there was a noticeable void of conversation within the grand rooms. The servants moved around so quietly that Edith thought she was the only one living there when Charlie went off to work. Edith made it her mission for the house never to be quiet. For there to always be noise, discussion and debate. 

Each day, Sandy was let loose around the house to explore and read. The servants would often catch him climbing on the bookcases. Charlie would spend his nights talking discussing money and politics with his wife and son. The servants always joined the Rigby’s for dinner. They would eat off the plates they washed and sit on the lounges they cleaned. Edith often had female friends over, unaccompanied by their husbands, and they would smoke and drink the evening away.

Edith handed the groceries to Anne, who was perplexed because they didn’t need any more cheese.

Edith had gone out for the afternoon because she knew if she stayed home, her nerves about the evening’s plans would set in. She couldn’t be around people, or her agitation would get the better of her.

She had to act normal until it was time to leave. 

‘Anne, my head is feeling a little light I might retreat for the night. I know it’s early, but I just need some rest.’

Anne nodded. ‘Of course, Edith.’

‘I do apologise, but would you mind getting Sandy dinner and putting him to bed when it is time?’

Anne nodded again, she knew this was unusual, but she also knew not to overthink the Edith’s actions. Edith turned quickly on her heels and paced upstairs to her bedroom.

Edith lay in bed for several hours. She listened to the sounds of the house, the patters of the feet of the servants, the wrestling to get Sandy to bed until the house was still. Gazing up at the roof, still dressed in her bloomers and blouse that had pinned on the right chest a striped, purple, green and white badge, she traced every architrave with her finger, trying to distract herself. She thought about Charlie, lying in a bed in London thinking that this was a normal night. Edith had promised after the Corn Mill to keep him informed of her plans, but she didn’t want any more people involved than had to be. 

She thought back to the night when the plan had been conjured at the Preston Women’s Social and Political Union’s regular Sunday afternoon social. Edith had banned any talk of the movement on the Sabbath. 

‘We deserve a day off too, ladies,’ Edith said to the group. 

But that day was different. The woodiness of the Turkish cigarettes the women were smoking lingered in the room. The alcohol that Charlie had gifted the women on his way out was filling their stomachs and loosening their lips. Charlie never stayed at home during these meetups. He would take Sandy to the library or the park, so the conversations often turned to husband troubles. 

Edith was sitting on the rug, her long legs poked out underneath her auburn-gem-adorned dress. Her head began to feel lighter; she could feel the tobacco ease her head with every puff and the red wine flowing through her veins. 

Beth had been complaining about her husband, Robert. He didn’t like last night’s meal, so she told him he was lucky to have food on the table.

‘He’s too old to leave me now and he wants more children,’ Beth said.

The ladies had all laughed, and in doing so, Beth dropped her cigarette alighting the rug’s tassels, and starting a small fire. Beth had quickly thrown a nearby cushion on the flame, extinguishing it.

Edith was amazed at how quickly the flame had started and the damage it had caused. She saw potential. Beth caught the glint in her eyes. 

‘What is it, Eddy?’ 

‘No, we shouldn’t talk about it,’ Edith said.

The alcohol had made Beth not care for the rules. The women were drunk, and it was getting harder to have an event where they wouldn’t plan or talk about the next movements of the group. The ladies’ lives were starting to depend on action. There were women locked in cells, their friends, their throats being stuffed with a tube and force-fed. 

‘Come on Eddy. Let it out,’ Beth said.

Edith couldn’t resist. The idea had been inspired.

‘Beth, you said Robert knew that Leverhulme would be attending dinner with the King soon?’


’So, the bungalow will be empty?’


Edith had devised a plan. A dangerous stunt.

Sitting up on her bed, Edith laughed as she recalled that night. She wondered who would take over the meetings when she would inevitably be placed in a cell. Before she could let her mind wander to what would happen to Sandy, she heard the rattle of the chauffeur on the pebble stone disturbing the still night.

Edith crept down the stairs; her bare feet felt cool against the floorboards. She left her sandals by the door so the servants wouldn’t get suspicious if they woke and saw her shoes missing. Under the cover of darkness, with the moon the only light, hopefully no one would see her leave.

Charlie’s chauffeur, John, knew not to open the door for Edith. He stayed inside the car.

‘Good evening, John. Oh, and Albert, good evening.’

Edith was relieved to see Albert sitting in the back. Albert was the Labour member whom Edith trusted; she knew he could get her the equipment she needed for tonight. She had been worried that he might have gotten cold feet.

‘Edith, before we drive are you sure?’ Albert said.


The drive out of the narrow back roads of Preston into the vast countryside to Rivington Pike was long and silent. 

When John went to turn onto the bungalow’s gravel driveway, Edith leaned forward and held John’s shoulder. 

‘Stop here John,’ Edith said.

The car halted.

‘Albert, the paraffin please,’ Edith said, arms outstretched. 

‘I’ll come with you, Eddy,’ Albert said.

‘No, I’ll do this myself.’

Albert’s eyebrows collapsed in on each other. Edith knew he was worried. She knew she couldn’t bring Albert. He had a wife and two kids who needed his support. And she wanted the headlines to be “WOMAN LIGHTS FIRE.”

Albert handed the paraffin and a pack of matches over with caution to Edith, then over-explained what had to be done.

Edith exited the car and scrambled through the thick bushes that marked the bungalow’s boundary. The sting of the thorns marking her arms did nothing to sway her. 

She stood back and admired the looming structure. Its Jacobean black and white contrast panelling stood proud against the mountainous backdrop. The bungalow’s incredibly beautiful, she thought. The parties held for men, the royalty housed, and the decisions made by men for men here were the reasons the bungalow had to go. 

While Edith crept over the manicured lawn, the distant flow of the river calmed her. She skirted around the rose garden, only later thinking she should have trampled them. 

She circled the bungalow twice to confirm it was indeed empty. She peeked through the arched glass windows; the room inside appeared like a gallery. Artworks of royalty and vistas decorated the walls. Velvet lounges lay in a scattered but clearly planned fashion. The decadence disturbed Edith, but she was also in awe of it.

Edith slowly poured the paraffin around the bungalow’s circumference. The pour was slow and delicate to ensure enough settled into the structure’s foundation. 

Edith only had one chance. 

She struck a match. 

The heat was immediate. The flames, quick. 

She had not imagined this engulfing inferno; in her mind, the flames started slowly, circling the bungalow, and the wooden structure would burn like a candle. This, though, was angry. Large, overwhelming red flames screaming with rage.

Edith ran away from the flames, stopping only when she could no longer feel the flickers of the embers on her shoulders, her silk blouse dotted with charred holes. She felt the acrid smoke start to fill her lungs, but she couldn’t leave. Not yet. She wanted to stay and watch. To witness the burn. She covered her face with the remnants of her blouse to stifle her coughs and gazed into the fire, proud. 

The flames did not quell. They did not calm. They engulfed the bungalow and everything inside. Edith’s skin started to turn as red as the fire. She felt the heat warm her blood. 

She heard the paintings crash to the ground, the wooden beams collapsing on themselves, and the crackles of the fire. When the sun rose in a few hours, there would be nothing left. No structure. The only remains would be charred. Edith hoped Lord Leverhulme would start listening when the ashes of the kings he admired lay on the tiles and swirled in the wind. 

Edith was determined to be connected to the fire. She took off her blouse, badge still intact, and hung it on the branch of a nearby garden bush. 

Only last week, Edith had planted a bomb in the Corn Mill. No one knew it was her. She was too swift. Too quiet. This time she wanted to, needed to get caught. Make it known that she would light fires and set off explosions. She would continue until someone listened. 

When the crackling of the fire eased, the smashing beams could no longer be heard, and the bungalow’s silhouette disappeared, Edith made her way back to the car. 

Whilst waiting for Edith’s return, John and Albert started to taste ash in the air and could see a beaming light in the distance. 

Edith emerged through the hedges, blood trickling down her arms, ash strewn across her face, and a smile that lit up the night.



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