58. The Speech

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The word wasn't shouted. It wasn't even loud. It was simply spoken with such chilling precision, with such power behind it, that all went silent instantly. The crowd, the birds, the other speakers in the distance, even - I could hardly believe it - Patsy closed her mouth and stared up at Mr Rikkard Ambrose. When she took in his six foot six of poor, hard masculinity, she nearly dropped her sign and for a moment, 'VOTES FOR WOMEN NOW!' was upside-down.

Placing his hands on the balustrade, Mr Ambrose leaned forward, towering over the crowd.

"Milords, Ladies, Gentlemen." He gave a curt nod. "I do not pretend, to be as well-versed in scientific knowledge as our friend the professor here." With a derisive movement of his head, he gestured to his red-faced predecessor on the podium, who was backing away now, the remnants of his speech clutched against his chest. "I am no scientist. I am just a simple entrepreneur who has made it his business to own as large a portion of the world as possible."

Chuckles rose up from the crowd. They thought he was cracking a joke. I knew better.

"My name," he continued, cutting through the chuckles like a sword through silk, "is Mister Rikkard Ambrose."

The chuckles died abruptly. Eyes widened, mouths dropped open. Some people took a step backward. Aghast, I watched as he transformed the crowd. It was obvious he was far better known and his wealth far more legendary than I had imagined. They all knew of him. He had hardly had to say a word, and already he had them in his hands. A mountain of money combined with his magnetic and menacing presence was all that was needed.

"So far," he told his loyal audience when he was sure his words had taken their full effect, "I have met with not inconsiderable success in this venture to enlarge my power. And that is what I am going to talk to you about today, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen: success and power. Trust me, I am an expert on the subject."

He let his cold gaze wander across the crowd, at last fixing it on Patsy as if daring her to contradict this. She did not.

"I would be the last one to deny, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, that if women and men were equal, they deserved equal rights."

There were gasps from the crowd Patsy grinned.

Abruptly, he held up a single finger. "However..."

Her grin vanished.

"However, this is not the case. Women are weaker than men."

My hands, which had relaxed a little up to this point, formed fists again. They ached to find a target to practise, and the lean, black-clad men at the front of the podium looked deliciously tempting. His cold, gorgeous face downright seemed to be begging to be punched!

"Wonderful," that slug Cartwright murmured beside me. "See how he commands the audience? Simply wonderful! Did you know your employer was such an accomplished orator, Mr Linton?"

"No," I managed to get out between my grinding teeth. "Usually he's rather terse. This seems to be... a special occasion."

"I see. Well, if I should not get the opportunity, please do give him my thanks for exerting himself for our sake."

"I will, Mr Cartwright. And don't worry, I won't hold back my feelings on the subject."

"That's very kind of you."

"You may now justly ask - how do I know this?" Mr Ambrose called, pointing at the audience. He seemed to be reading the question out of their eyes. "How do I know of women's weakness? Have I scientific evidence?"

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