59. The other speech

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Hundreds of people were looking up at me expectantly. The silence stretched.

What am I going to say? What in heaven's name am I going to say?

I opened my mouth.

And I closed it again.

And opened it again.

And closed it again.

I can't do this. I can't speak out against everything I believe in!

Then I heard a gasp from one of the expectant people. Instinctively, I looked in the direction of the noise, and with a nasty shock, saw who it was:  Patsy. And in her eyes I saw what she saw. All the other people might see a small young man with shoulder-long hair standing on the platform, opening and closing his mouth like a suffocating goldfish. But she saw her friend Lilly dressed in trousers and a baggy old tailcoat, standing amongst her worst enemies.

Our eyes met.

And suddenly, I had an Idea. Suddenly, I knew what I was going to say.

Swallowing hard, I raised my chin and stared down the crowd with strength and nobility shining out of my eyes — or at least that's what I hope it looked like.

"I think," I began, my voice not nearly as weak as I had feared it would be, "that it is time for us to overthink our antiquated prejudices. I think it is time that we grant women the rights that have too long been denied them. Political rights are rights of self-expression. Would you deny a woman the right to express her heart and her soul? To aid in the forming of the country which is as much hers as it is any man's? I stand here today to tell you: we need women's suffrage in Great Britain!"

There were cheers and claps from the women among the crowd. There were even a few claps and cheers from those men who were too slow to realize what I had actually been saying.

We need women's suffrage.

Not we don't need women's suffrage.

Out of the corners of my eyes I could see the happy smiles on the faces of Mr Cartwright and his cronies slowly dissolve. I saw Mr Ambrose, too. He, of course, had no happy smile to dissolve in the first place. But I noticed him stiffening, and a certain pallor creep over his features.

"Women and girls of Great Britain!" I shouted. "You are not alone! Even—" I had to work hard to supress smirk, "—among the hardest conservatives such as Mr Ambrose and myself, there are those who have been secretly convinced of the righteousness of your cause, and just too afraid to admit it!"

Turning my head slightly, I gave Mr Ambrose a small, meaningful smile. The eyes of every member of the audience followed the motion, mesmerized. His face... Oh my God, his face!

With difficulty, I managed to tear myself away from the sight and face the audience again.

"Do not give up! Eventually, the resistance shall crumble and the way shall be free to a Britain in which all people, men and women alike, are allowed to express their political opinion freely and without having to fear reprisals. Stand fast, and you will be victorious!"

In the midst of the crowd, I could see Patsy gesturing wildly to Flora and Eve, who had already started to retreat when Mr Ambrose had held his speech, terrified by his unforgiving glare. Now, they had turned around and come back to Patsy, who whispered excitedly to them. She kept pointing up at the podium, up at the speaker.

The two girls looked up at the speaker — and their eyes went wide. I smiled at them, and their mouths dropped open.

Mr Cartwright was now shaking his head in confusion, looking between me and Mr Ambrose. Other members of the assembled anti-suffragist organization had stuck their fingers in their ears and started cleaning them, as if they were sure that what they were hearing would change once they had gotten rid of residual earwax. Only the deaf old duke beside Mr Ambrose was looking just as cheerful as before, probably because he couldn't understand a word I was saying.

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