Maddie could see that Deacon had the right of it; neither the coach much less the crested carriage would have made it to within a mile of Middleton this morning. The road, lanes, and paths were filled with folk heading in the same direction. Maddie and the driver barely made it to the edge of town in the field wagon, but were able to give a dozen of the older walkers a ride in the bed of the cart.
Though the day was fine and fair, the air warm even at this early hour, she shivered and held herself close. So many people! There must be hundreds, even thousands, in Middleton alone. Women in simple white dresses and aprons and bonnets, just as she wore; men in their Sunday best. She'd never been alone among so many strangers, and none of her kind, or what she'd been brought up to think were her kind. She'd been so wrong.
As disconcerting as the scene was, her fears faded quickly. The people jostled her, sure, but only in their eagerness to get into the square to join their fellow marchers, who met them with smiles and hearty slaps on the back. They did not frown at her, a stranger, but did not jump to welcome her, either. At last, the hubbub resolved itself. Men were forming up into the sort of contingents she'd seen rehearsing on the hill. Older folk and younger lined the road, looking on, the smaller children running in and out of the columns, practicing for their own parade. The women were forming themselves up farther down the road. She pressed her hands down, smoothing her apron and settling the butterflies in her stomach, and hurried alongside the columns to join them. Though the roadway here was cobbled, it smelled of fresh-turned earth after rain.
After a half-hearted attempt to dissuade her, Deacon had agreed to store her things at the castle until she sorted out where she would be living next. It hurt to wrench herself away from them, from everything, in the dawn-dark of early morning. Maddie knew this track would take her, finally, to her true family, but this first step was not solid, more a footfall on a swaying bridge, with Kitty and her father on the far side.
A bugle blast at her shoulder made her jump. Mr. Bamford stood at the musician's side, waiting for his tune to quiet the crowd. As all faces turned expectantly toward him, Maddie saw Kitty, only a few yards away. Her sister waved her over.
"Cut it a bit fine, didn't you? Should have stayed the night like I said. We sang and talked till dawn." She held a slip of green cloth.
"That's your banner?"
Kitty unrolled it. Gold lettering on silk, Suffrage Universal on one side, Parliaments Annual on the other. "Made it ourselves, didn't we? My words is in the speech, the prockle."
"Our president, Mrs. Fildes, is to give it to Hunt on the hustings, and he'll read it out to the crowd. 'May our flag never be unfurled but in the cause of peace and reform. And may a female's curse pursue the coward who deserts the standard.' I suggested the curse bit."
"Will he really read it aloud?"
"He did at Blackburn, didn't he? And Mrs. Fildes is to stand up with him, and we might as well. To hold the banner."
Maddie's breath caught in her throat. Stand before all these people? Her gaze darted from head to head. Far too many to count. The bugle shocked her into attention again, and Bamford started to speak.
"We are here assembled to attend the most important meeting that has ever been held for Parliamentary Reform, and we will show the steadiness and seriousness befitting the occasion. In our Sunday best, in step with the music, we will cast shame on our opponents, on those who call us a mob, who call us a rabble, who say we don't deserve justice. They will see their error today. They will see in us a mirror of themselves, true patriots."
YOU ARE READING
March to Peterloo, from An Untitled LadyHistorical Fiction
Three chapters from An Untitled Lady, recounting the march in Manchester, England, on 16 August 1819 that was later nicknamed Peterloo. Find more about the book at nickypenttila.com