From Flossie Le Mar

“Carried Away”: A Suffrajitsu story by Ray Dean

Carried Away cover smallWe’re pleased to be able to present this interview with Hawaii-based writer Ray Dean, whose short story Carried Away is now available via Amazon’s Kindle Worlds.

Inspired by the Suffrajitsu trilogy, Carried Away features several principal characters from the graphic novels, including Persephone Wright and Flossie Le Mar, as well as introducing a new protagonist, Tressa Boniface.  Tressa’s journey from timid maid to confident suffragette is marked by sometimes violent class and gender conflicts, new friendships and cases of mistaken identity,  weaving in and out of the world of haute couture fashion circa 1913:

As a proper Edwardian Englishman, Lord Arnold Smythe has no time at all for the radical women’s suffrage movement. He becomes infuriated when his wife, Lady Roslyn, shows an interest in the cause.

Meanwhile, young Tressa Boniface, a serving girl in the Smythe’s household, can’t see what all the fuss is about. Why should women not be the equals of men? Tressa’s curiosity and sense of natural justice inevitably send her to a suffragette rally, and then into physical danger.

Will Tressa’s new-found friendship with Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons – a secret society of female bodyguards – teach her the courage she’ll need to rise above her station?

 

Q: What was it that first attracted you to writing stories set in the Edwardian era of the Foreworld?

R.D.: My favorite Amendment to the US Constitution is XIX, Suffrage for Women. It was first introduced to Congress in 1878 and was approved in 1919. Add my love of Edwardian Era clothing and culture and a teen-age background in martial arts and dance … when I saw the opportunity to write for this exciting world, I had to do it!

Q: What were the greatest challenges in writing this story?

R.D.: I admit, my prior understanding was that Edwardian ladies were more sedate in nature. My primary memory of ‘falling in love’ with the Edwardian era was Jane Seymour playing the character of Elise McKenna in Somewhere in Time. Now, I had to educate myself on this ‘other side’ of female nature … the kick ass side!

Q:  So which resources did you use?

R.D:  The Suffrajitsu website has so much information!! And Tony Wolf is a great resource as well. He was so wonderful to help answer my questions and really helped me as we fine-tuned my story.

Q: What were the most interesting discoveries you made during your research?

R.D.: The barbaric way that women were treated in the guise of ‘protecting their femininity.’

Every story that I uncovered as I read book after book about the suffrage movement, spawned more ideas. I know I have more stories to tell. And I’m still soaking up more research as I go.

Q: In what ways would you say the themes of the Suffrajitsu series are relevant to us today?

R.D.: Bravery and courage. I’m a Western fan as well, and one of my favorite quotes is from John Wayne – “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.”

These women knew that the way wasn’t going to be easy. They were fighting not just the conception that they were the ‘weaker sex’ and that this kind of fight was ‘unwomanly.’ They faced men with clubs that weren’t afraid to use them and they risked so much to make a stand for what they wanted, what they felt was their right.

I have a kick-ass group of lady friends and I hope that we carry forward the same ideals as the Suffragettes and stand up when others would run for the hills. Courage, the real deep-in-your-heart, steel-in-your-spine courage, will never go out of style.

Q: Do you have any philosophies or advice you’d like to share with aspiring writers?

R.D.: Do it. Jump in and swim. (Okay, the ‘swim’ thing is an odd thing since I can barely keep my head above water …) But really, do it. Take yourself seriously or don’t expect other people to do that for you. Be kind to your fellow writers; we all struggle. We all need encouragement, so don’t pass along negative feelings. And be willing to ‘look’ at what you’re writing. Do what you need to do to better your skills. And WRITE … lots and lots of writing!

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers?

R.D.: I’m not a one genre woman. I’ve always been an avid reader with varied tastes and as I’ve developed my writing through short and longer fiction, I’ve found myself writing for a number of different genres. I’m also a book junkie. The annual Hawaii Library Book Sale is my crack. I love to find all sorts of great books. I haunt the history section  and the war books. I have entirely too many books and it’s not a joke when I say I use stacks of books for night stands beside my bed.

 

More of Ray’s stories are available via Amazon.com …

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“The Isle of Dogs”: a Suffrajitsu novella by Michael Lussier

Isle of Dogs cover small

We’re very pleased to be able to bring you this interview with Michael Lussier, whose new Suffrajitsu-inspired novella The Isle of Dogs is now available via Kindle Worlds.

Isle of Dogs is a dark, hard-edged mystery/revenge drama that pits Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons against an insidious new enemy:

“London: July, 1913.

The body of a young socialite is pulled from the Thames, her suicide note hinting at blackmail, conspiracy and corruption in high places.

Meanwhile, a mysterious street gang is moving through the East End with military precision. leaving a trail of murder and mutilation in its wake.

Enter Persephone Wright and her outlaw band of Bartitsu-trained suffragette Amazons, who will stop at nothing to avenge a fallen comrade …”

Q: What was it that first attracted you to writing stories set in the Edwardian era?

M.L.: Style and personal taste have a lot to do with it.  I’ve always been a voracious reader, and there was something about Victorian and Edwardian literature that enchanted me when I was young.  I grew up reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, the Brontës,  Bram Stoker, G. K. Chesterton, Baroness Orczy, H. G. Wells, Arthur Machen, Kenneth Grahame, and Oscar Wilde.  I even enjoyed – god help me – that occult oddball Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

Q: And what was it about the Foreworld Saga?

M.L: I am particularly drawn to the Foreworld because there are still huge areas of Edwardian society that have rarely been explored outside of academia. Suffrajitsu is a breath of fresh air, in that regard.  It isn’t so much historical revisionism as it is a shadow history of people who were shoved to the margins because they were poor, foreign, queer or female.

2) Can you describe some of the challenges in writing The Isle of Dogs?

M.L.: The amount of research that needed to be done was staggering.

I never imagined that I would spend more than a couple hours of my life studying Burke’s Peerage or exploring the links between C. & E. Morton’s Bloater Fish Paste and the Millwall Athletic Football Club.   Poor naïve bastard: I sacrificed whole days and weekends to these subjects.

3) What were the most interesting discoveries you made during your research?

M.L.: My story concerns the activities of a revived Hellfire Club, so I spent quite a bit of time researching contemporary attitudes toward sexuality.

There is a misconception that the Victorians were essentially prim, high-minded eunuchs.   This isn’t even remotely true.

Q: So what were they?

M.L: Several popular music hall songs of that period that are far filthier than anything I’ve ever heard in a bar or machine shop.  I’m not talking ‘saucy’ or ‘bawdy’.  Eskimo Nell and Kafoozalum are vulgar, profane and ribald on a level that surpasses Lil’ Kim and Too $hort.

I also came across an obscure genre, which I call Erotic Biography.  Probably the best known examples are Walter’s My Secret Life and The Romance of Lust.  These are explicit memoirs which detail an anonymous gentleman’s sexual development and experiences over the course of many years and several volumes.   They portray Victorian upper-class sex as ravenous, male-oriented, compulsive and predatory.  Maids and serving girls were obliged to observe the droit du seigneur, prostitution was commonplace, pregnancies were disowned, any female age nine and above was considered fair game.  These stories are Dickensian in a really disconcerting way.

4) In what way(s) would you say the themes of the Suffrajitsu series are relevant to us today?

M.L.: Suffrajitsu is the intersection of many fascinating underground streams.  Feminism, ‘mixed martial arts’, drug addiction, homosexuality, violence against women, police intimidation and institutional intolerance.  These are issues and subjects that are still incredibly pertinent to 21st century readers.

Q: What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

M.L.: Read as much as you can, and study the techniques of your favorite authors.  Sit down and write every day.  Don’t worry about quality at first – no piece of writing is ever very good before the first revision.  Find an editor and listen very carefully to his/her advice.  Take your reader feedback with a grain of salt.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers?

M.L.: When I was young, there was a truism in advertising that declared the most coveted market demographic to be men between the ages of 18 and 49.  This is no longer true, although for the most part nobody in power wants to admit it just yet.

Women are emerging as a very powerful consumer block.  They represent 60% of the world’s population and 78% of gross domestic product.  I’ve seen reports that suggest that women will soon control two-thirds of the consumer wealth in the United States.   They are, for the most part, better educated and more media savvy than their male counterparts.

Additionally, young women are entering into fields that were once considered male-only; music, law, video gaming, martial arts, etc.

As the economic clout of women grows, so too will the visibility of their issues and interests.

Having spent so much time with Emmeline Pankhurst recently, I cannot help but wonder how she would seek to leverage this power in pursuit of equality in a country where the Violence Against Women Act can barely make it through Congress.

Bio

Michael Lussier has been a machinist, an orderly in a psychiatric hospital and (on one occasion only) a celebrity babysitter.  He is the author of Sherlock Holmes and Bartitsu, which can be found online here. As a general rule, Michael hates to talk about himself.

twitter: @Decervelage

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Meet the Amazons …

… the elite secret society of bodyguards sworn to protect the leaders of the radical women’s rights movement.

Persephone

Persephone Wright

Athletic, charismatic and a brilliant tactician, 27 year old “Persi” is the field leader of the Amazon team.  In daily life, she teaches the martial art of Bartitsu at her uncle Edward’s gymnasium in Shaftesbury Avenue.

Persi’s hedonistic, free-thinking lifestyle sometimes clashes with her disciplined drive to protect others at all costs.

Flossie

Flossie Le Mar

A rough-diamond adventuress from New Zealand, Flossie has a quick temper and a sarcastic wit.  She is, however, a passionate advocate of women’s rights, including the right of self-defence.

 

Toupie LowtherToupie

A skilled tennis player, singer, fencer and Bartitsu fighter, the aristocratic, cross-dressing lesbian Toupie Lowther is also one of England’s best “lady motorists”.  She serves as Mrs. Pankhurst’s chauffeur and getaway driver and is effectively the second-in-command of the Amazons.

Judith LeeJudith

Judith protests that she is not so much a detective as simply an inquisitive woman with some unusual talents; these happen to include martial arts training and lip-reading, which she employs in her daily work as a teacher of the deaf.  She is, however, “morally compelled” to investigate crimes and mysteries when they cross her path.

Miss SandersonMiss Sanderson

A silent woman of mystery – not even her Amazon teammates  know her first name.  Miss Sanderson is a mistress of the art of parasol fencing and is darkly rumoured to have worked as a “governess“.  She wears a tight-lipped, predatory grin in the heat of battle.

Katie “Sandwina” BrumbachMrs. Brumbach

At 6’2″ tall and 240 lbs., Mrs. Brumbach is a woman of notably feminine bearing when she’s not snapping iron chains and out-wrestling strongmen.  The only daughter of an Austrian circus family, she is fiercely loyal to her Amazon cohorts.

Kitty MarshallKitty

18 year old Kitty is the youngest member of the Amazon team.  She’s inclined to over-apologise and harbours a secret fear of ghosts, but she’s a quick-thinking and brave fighter for the cause of women’s freedom.

Kitty keeps her Amazon training and missions secret from her over-protective family.

 

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Secret histories and outlaw suffragettes: an interview with Tony Wolf, creator of “Suffrajitsu”

We’re pleased to be able to present this December, 2013 interview with Tony Wolf, the author of the upcoming graphic novel series Suffrajitsu.  Tony’s books will be part of the Foreworld Saga created by Neal Stephenson, Mark Teppo and others.

Both Bartitsu and the elite Bodyguard Society of the British Suffragettes play key roles in the Suffrajitsu trilogy, which will be published by Jet City Comics.

SOME LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD …

Tony Wolf headshot 2

Q – Tony, this is your first graphic novel, but not your first book – how did you come to be asked to write this series, and did your prior work have anything to do with it?

TW – I’ve written and edited quite a lot of historical non-fiction, mostly on esoteric Victorian-era martial arts topics – that’s been my major research interest over the past fifteen years or so.  The project most directly relevant to the graphic novel was a children’s history book called Edith Garrud – the Suffragette that knew Jujitsu, which I wrote in 2009.

I actually kind of moved sideways into scripting Suffrajitsu out of my participation in brainstorming for another Foreworld project.  I think it was in late 2011 that Neal (Stephenson) first mentioned the graphic novel deal with Amazon and asked me to contribute something on the theme of the Suffragette bodyguards.

Q – How did the writing process compare to your prior books/anthologies?

TW – It was a joy in that after so many years of antiquarian research into these themes, this was my first real opportunity to get creative with them.  There was this sense of a dam, not completely bursting, but definitely exploding at certain key points.

Q – Tell us what you can about the series in your own words.

TW – Well, the events of the first book are based very closely on historical reports of actual incidents, although it’s become a kind of “secret history” in that the Suffragette Bodyguards were almost completely forgotten after the First World War.

We’re introduced to the main characters and their situation as political radicals – outlaws, really – in 1914 London.  By that time, both in real history and in my story,  the battle for women’s rights had reached a boiling point.  The suffragettes’ protests and the government’s reprisals were becoming more and more extreme.  Persephone Wright is the leader of a secret society of women known as the Amazons, who are sworn to protect their leaders, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, from arrest and assault.

Q – And that really happened, correct?

TW – Persephone is a fictional character but yes, there really was a secret bodyguard society attached to the militant suffragette movement.

The Amazons are Bartitsu-trained bodyguards and insurgents, saboteurs –  the most radical of the radicals.  They’re all under constant threat of imprisonment and worse.

Something happens in the first book that is a major divergence from actual history and that’s what spins the story off into the alternate timeline of the Foreworld universe.

Q – Where did you get the inspiration for the storyline when it veers away from history?

TW – It was clear that it would take a dramatic event to move the story into the events of the second book … I can’t say much more than that!

Q – But I understand that both historical and fictional characters appear as principal figures?

TW – Yes indeed.  Many of the characters, like Edward Barton-Wright, are lightly fictionalised versions of their historical selves – as well as I “know” them from research – transposed into the Foreworld timeline.

The real Amazons were literally a secret society and even now we only know the names of a few of the actual women who were involved.   I took that as artistic licence to bring in several “ringers” from both fiction and history.  Judith Lee, for example, was the protagonist of Richard Marsh’s popular series of  “lady detective” short stories during the early 20th century.  Flossie le Mar, another member of my imaginary Amazons team, was a historically real person – she was a pioneer of women’s self defence in New Zealand – but she also had a sort of dime novel “alter ego” as the adventurous “Ju-jitsu Girl”, so it was a very easy decision to make her one of the Amazons.

Q – Are any of them purely invented and, if so, what purposes do those characters fulfill?

TW – The only major character that I entirely invented is Persephone Wright herself.  Even though she was partly inspired by several real suffragettes, including Gert Harding and Elizabeth Robins, I wanted the freedom of creating an original protagonist.

Persi actually surprised me several times – she’s much more of a Bohemian than I’d first imagined, and there’s a fascinating tension between her free-thinking inclinations and her disciplined drive to protect people at any cost.  She’s roughly half hippie and half samurai.  I think she’d often really rather be off partying at the Moulin Rouge or writing poetry in a Greenwich Village tea-room, but damn it, she has her duties.

Q – What do you hope will come out of the series?

TW – My dream scenario is that it will inspire readers to create their own stories set in the world of the Amazons; anything beyond that will be gravy.

Q – Do you have any trepidation about being a male author writing a graphic novel with mostly female protagonists?

TW – No, but I’m aware that some readers will have me under the microscope on that account.  My only agenda is that I think it’s amazing that a secret society of female bodyguards defied their government, putting their physical safety and freedom on the line over and over again, to secure the right to participate as equals in a democracy.  Their story was absolutely begging to be told in some medium or other and I’m honoured to have been given that chance.

One thing I tried hard to do, allowing that this is a work of alternate history fiction, was to portray the Amazons as fallible human beings.  For example, some of them have habits and attitudes that have become deeply unfashionable over the past century.  They’re also more-or-less outlaws and have that very specific ethical/political perspective of the end sometimes justifying the means; none of them are entirely “wholesome”.  Actually, none of them are “entirely” anything.  As far as I’m concerned, their foibles, ambiguities and unique perspectives make them worthwhile as characters.

Likewise, I’ve been careful to try to convey that it wasn’t just a simple matter of “righteous women versus oppressive men”.  Historically, many men energetically supported women’s suffrage – the newspapers nicknamed them “suffragents” – and many women were vehemently opposed to it, especially as the cause became more radical.

Q – Would you have been a suffragent?

TW – Absolutely!

Q – How has the process of working on Suffrajitsu been for you?

TW – It’s been an intensive, ground-up self-education in the nuts and bolts of scripting a graphic novel.  You’re constantly playing Tetris with the plot and dialogue to work everything in within strict boundaries – only so many words to a speech balloon, so many speech balloons or captions to a panel, panels to page and so-on. My editors and João Vieira, the artist, have been very patient with me as I’ve worked those things out.

Obviously, there’s a huge amount of sub-plot and back-story etc. that I simply couldn’t fit in.  We’re currently developing the Suffrajitsu.com website for the series, which will help with all of that and hopefully allow for some ongoing, active engagement with readers.  There will also be some free short stories to whet readers’ appetites for further Suffragette Amazon adventures.

Q – Do you have a favourite character or a favourite moment in the series?

TW – Oh, that’s hard … my inner 13-year-old has a real weakness for cool badasses so perhaps the mysterious Miss Sanderson is a favourite in that sense.  Similarly, (name of the villain redacted because spoilers) … the fact that he was actually a real person is somehow both appalling and deeply satisfying. If he hadn’t really existed, I would have had to invent him.

I do have a favourite moment, come to think of it, but that comes late in the third book.  I haven’t even seen the art for that sequence yet, so it’ll have to wait for a future interview!

Q – Finally, then, when will the stories be released?

TW – We don’t have definite dates yet, but the website will probably be officially launched in November and the first book is scheduled to be published during early 2015.  All of the stories will be issued first as individual e-books via Kindle, then later together with some bonus material as a printed collector’s edition.

Q – That’s something to look forward to!  Thanks for your time.

TW – Thank you!

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Flossie Le Mar, “the World’s Famous Ju-jitsu Girl”


Florence “Flossie” Le Mar was a pioneering advocate of jujitsu as feminist self defence.

Flossie and her husband, professional wrestler and showman Joe Gardiner, toured vaudeville theatres throughout New Zealand prior to the First World War. Their signature act showed audiences how a Lady might fell an aggressive Hooligan in any number of ways. According to a 1913 poem promoting the vaudeville act:

In ‘The Hooligan and Lady’, they are smart, clean, clever, straight.
No act in this world is better – fast, and strictly up-to-date.
This act[’s] a small-sized drama – constructed round Jitsu
A Japanese discovery, wherein they show to you,
How it’s possible for a lady, when molested by a cad,
Maybe tackled by a robber, in fact, any man that’s bad,
Can hold her own against him and quickly put him through,
When she knows the locks and holds – pertaining to the art Jitsu.

So clever is the lady that when the tough with pistol, knife
And bludgeon tries to rough her and mayhap take her life,
Like lightning-flash she meets him and quickly stays his hand,
By tumbling him hard earthwards – I tell you it is grand –
And proves to me and all here what women folk can do
When attacked, if they but study Miss Le Mar at Ju Jitsu.

These techniques were also explained and illustrated in Flossie’s book, The Life and Adventures of Miss Florence Le Mar, the World’s Famous Ju-Jitsu Girl, which is undoubtedly one of the rarest and strangest self defence manuals ever written.

In addition to jujitsu lessons, Flossie’s book offered a great deal of feminist polemic and a series of very tall tales describing her hair-raising adventures as the “World’s Famous Ju-Jitsu Girl”, taking on desperadoes including opium smugglers in Sydney, crooked gamblers in New York City and an English “lunatic” who believed he was a bear. In each story, Flossie the Jujitsu Girl defends the weak and innocent and punishes villains through her mastery of the martial arts.

Though not without charm, these short stories have the sharp corners and hard edges typical of early 20th century dime novels. They are also undeniably theatrical and, in combination with Flossie’s biography and her fierce feminism, inspired the production of a play, The Hooligan and the Lady, which was a hit at the 2011 New Zealand Fringe Festival.

Hooligan vs. Lady from Nick McHugh on Vimeo.

A fight scene/Edwardian-era self defence demonstration from The Hooligan and the Lady.

Flossie’s adventurous “Ju-Jitsu Girl” persona is also among the key characters in the upcoming graphic novel trilogy Suffrajitsu. In the story, Flossie Le Mar is a member of a secret society of radical suffragettes known as the Amazons, who protect the leaders of their movement from arrest and assault.

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Judith Lee – her new and wonderful detective feats – The Wrestler and the Diamond Ring

Judith Lee

I had lately returned to my London flat following a strenuous and morally stimulating adventure in Tuscany. Sifting through the inevitable accumulation of mail, I discovered a telegram dated just the previous day. It read:

DARLING JUDITH STOP FAR TOO LONG STOP URGENT THAT WE MEET AT EARLIEST CONVENIENCE STOP PERSI

followed by a telephone number.

“Persi” could only be my old school chum, Persephone Wright. The particulars were quickly arranged and so I set out for the Café Royal in Regent Street that very afternoon, most curious as to what might have become of Persi in the decade since we had last met.

She had never been precisely demure, but Persephone’s appearance and manner as she swept into the gilt-and-turquoise café was positively Bohemian, all gypsy shawls, art nouveau jewellery, dark honey hair and feline grace.

“Judith, dear”, she began as soon as we broke our embrace, “it’s smashing to see you! Now, I do hope you’ll be able to help – my friend Armand has just been arrested and things are in an awful state!”

This occasioned some raised eyebrows amongst the other café patrons and I ushered her into a booth post-haste.

“Well, I shall do what I can to help,” I began once we were settled, “but please understand that I am not so much a detective as simply an inquisitive woman with a few unusual talents.”

Chief amongst those talents, as my regular readers will be aware, is my ability to read lips, a skill I have honed since young childhood and which I currently employ in my occupation as a teacher of the deaf. It has occasionally happened that I am able to “overhear” by sight certain confidences of an illicit nature, which I have felt morally compelled to investigate; by these means have a number of frauds, thieves and even murderers been brought to justice.

Over our afternoon repast of milky mint tea and crumpets, Persephone informed me that her uncle Edward was the proprietor of the famous Bartitsu Club in Shaftesbury Avenue, where the cream of London society took their exercise and learned the noble arts of self defence. The unfortunate “Armand” was Armand Cherpillod, the Club’s professor of physical culture and wrestling. Persephone described him as a kind and stalwart but unworldly man, of humble rural stock, who had emigrated from Switzerland some years earlier, at her uncle’s invitation. Since then, she said, Armand had often, and rather successfully, represented the Bartitsu Club in wrestling challenges upon the Tivoli and Alhambra stages.

“And what has brought this great wrestler so low?” I inquired.

Persi lit an exotic cigarette, perhaps to soothe her nerves.

“He has been accused of theft,” she said somberly. “The police found stolen property in his flat – a precious diamond ring that apparently belongs to Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon, the wife of Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon, who was himself a student of Armand’s.”

“Lady Duff-Gordon – better known as Lucile? The fashion designer?” I asked.

“The very same.”

“But you believe that Armand is innocent?”

“Absolutely so. Armand says that he was, in fact, given this ring as a gift by another of his wrestling students, a woman named Marjorie. I strongly suspect that she is the true thief, or at least the villain’s accomplice.” Persephone’s deep blue eyes narrowed as she drew pensively on her cigarette.

“We’ve seen nothing of Marjorie since Armand was arrested, and she’d never missed a class before. Of course, Uncle Edward is very concerned, not just for Armand’s well-being but also for the honour of the Bartitsu Club. A scandal might ruin him.”

“Well then,” I said, “we must find this woman as soon as we can. I assume that you have explained all of this to the police?”

At this, Persi frowned again.

“Of course, but I’m afraid there’s little that I, or any associate of the Bartitsu Club, can say to the police that would influence them for the better,” she said. “They are thoroughly suspicious of the lot of us, at the present time.”

“But why?”

Persi exhaled a thin stream of smoke and then, knowing my talent at lip reading, spoke silently, her lips and tongue forming the words:

“Judith, I understand that you support the fight for women’s suffrage?”

I nodded in assent.

“You should know that the Club is the headquarters of Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazon guards. The police are aware of that, though they’ve never been able to prove it; thus our dilemma.”

I understood at once. The Amazons were the subject of much newspaper speculation and street gossip; aside from serving as Mrs. Pankhurst’s personal bodyguards in sometimes violent affrays with the constabulary, they were rumoured to engage in no small amount of criminal activity to draw attention to their cause. I knew, however, that they took great pains to ensure that their protests by vandalism and arson caused no-one any physical harm. While I would not normally associate myself with lawbreakers, as far as I was concerned, the Amazons were serving the higher moral good.

“All right, then,” I said, “let’s pay a visit to your uncle’s Club.”

It was about a quarter to six o’clock when Persephone escorted me to the Bartitsu School of Arms in Soho, the two of us walking arm-in-arm and reminiscing about our girlhood escapades. We turned the slight left from Regent Street into Shaftesbury Avenue and five minutes later arrived at the Club, number 67. An ornate sign announcing the business name and that of its proprietor hung above the door.

Upon entering the spacious, high-ceilinged exercise hall of the Bartitsu Club, my predominant impression was of a curiously formal street brawl in progress. Most of the participants were women, and I wondered whether these were the mysterious Amazons themselves in training. Spread throughout the hall were about fifteen combatants, wearing dark blue exercise blouses and bloomer pants over their stockings, all swinging and jabbing, grappling and falling. One woman was shinnying her way up a thick rope that hung from the rafters, while others struck viciously at heavy leather punching bags. A group of four, attired in sabre fencing pads and helmets, appeared to be fencing with parasols!

The air was rent with occasional sharp cries (of focussed aggression, it seemed, rather than of fear or pain), the staccato smacks of fists and feet against the punching bags and the fearsome “thwap!” of bodies hurled to the mats. Altogether, it was quite a scene.

“This is Bartitsu,” Persephone confided. “My uncle’s invention and his pride and joy. It melds the best of European and Oriental antagonistics – boxing, wrestling, Monsieur Vigny’s art of self-defence with a walking stick or parasol, and Japanese jiujitsu.”

As a longtime physical culture enthusiast I had read of jiujitsu, whose principle was to employ an enemy’s weight and strength against himself, but this was my first experience of it in person. Persi pointed out the two young professors of the art, Tani-san and Uyenishi-san, and I was instantly reminded of the shway jao wrestlers who had served as my grandparents’ bodyguards in Hong Kong.  They were coaching several of the women in some impossibly acrobatic wrestling trick. I had but little time to take it in, however, for now Persephone was waving over a muscular fellow in grey leotards who, from his age (early fifties), demeanor (stern, moustachioed, vigorous) and eyes (blue, piercing) I judged correctly to be her uncle Edward.

“Thank you for coming, Miss Lee,” he said. “I do hope that you’ll be able to get to the bottom of this sorry business. Shall we retire to my office?” His accent possessed the eclectic intrigue of those who have travelled far, wide and long; it was impossible to say whether Scottish, Hindi, London English, French, German or even Japanese held sway. In any case, Mr. Barton-Wright’s voice was deep and commanding.

I accompanied the two of them as they skirted the balletic violence of the hardwood exercise floor. En route, I was surprised to recognise several of the women trainees; there was Toupie Lowther, the champion fencer and lawn tennis player, and Esme Beringer, the famous West End actress. No-one could have failed to spot the giant known popularly as Sandwina, whose fame as a circus strongwoman and wrestler was widespread.

As we entered the spartan office, I decided to take time by the forelock.

“If I may ask, Mr. Barton-Wright, who would most stand to benefit from ruining Mr. Cherpillod’s good name and the reputation of your Club? Do you have any enemies?”

Mr. Barton-Wright did not quite scowl, but his magnificent moustache twitched meaningfully. “Enemies? Oh, I should say so. Certain members of London’s wrestling fraternity come to mind; men who have been bested by Cherpillod, Tani and Uyenishi in honest matches, but who do not care to lose under any circumstances.”

He strode to the bookshelf behind his desk and withdrew a large, leather-bound scrapbook, which he laid upon the desk and flipped open. Inside were pasted pages of newspaper reports detailing the victories of his champions at the Tivoli, the Alhambra, St. James’s Hall and many other famous venues.

“Take your pick, Miss Lee,” he rumbled. “At one time or another I’ve had hard words with Jack Carkeek, Joe Carroll, the Gruhn brothers, Tom Cannon, Klemsky the Russian … the list goes on and on. Some of it’s swank, but some’s on the level.”

“Swank?” I asked.

“Music hall showmanship,” Persephone explained. “Staged arguments and bits of business to keep the punters amused and coming back day after day.”

“I see. But of the real disputants, who would you be most inclined to suspect?”

“If I had to put money on it, Miss Lee, I think Klemsky here is the likeliest malefactor,” replied Mr. Barton-Wright, showing me a publicity photograph of a beefy, balding fellow with a long, narrow moustache, crouching in a wrestling pose.

“He is not really a Russian – that’s an example of swanking, you see. His real name is John Chance. In any case, he lost fairly to Uyenishi-san, though he later claimed that he’d been hypnotised – if you can believe that! – and then to Cherpillod at catch-as-catch-can. He was very sore about that match. I’ve not seen him since then, but we’ve had some vehement exchanges via public correspondence in Health and Strength magazine. I believe that he bears us a real grudge – against Armand, especially.”

Mr. Barton-Wright closed the scrapbook with a soft thump.

“Chance has recently opened his own physical culture school in West London, called the Hammersmith Athletic Club,” Persephone offered. “He has a, well, a checkered past.”

“And perhaps,” I mused, “he believes he had reason to cause this Marjorie woman to pass the stolen diamond ring on to Mr. Cherpillod, disguised as a gift from an admiring pupil.”

“That is precisely Armand’s account of things, though I’ll be dashed if I know how to prove it,” replied Mr. Barton-Wright. “Unfortunately, none of us here ever saw the ring and he did not mention the gift until after he was arrested.”

“Whyever not?” I exclaimed. “It seems an extravagant present from a wrestling student to her professor, surely worthy of some comment.”

“Armand is a genius at wrestling, but he is also the son of a poor Swiss farmer,” said Persephone. “He’s always been ill-at-ease with ‘airs and graces’ and was probably too embarrassed to speak of the gift, precisely for the fear that it would seem extravagant or as if he were big-noting.”

She absently took out her cigarette case, noted her uncle’s reproving glance and primly put it away again.

“Armand’s humility is one of his most endearing qualities, though it’s done him no favours in this case,” she finished.

Mr. Barton-Wright nodded, a grim set to his strong jaw. “So now the poor lad languishes in Wandsworth Prison awaiting trial,” he said, “and our Club’s reputation suffers by the day. If he’s found guilty of theft …”

“Well then, I shall do what I can to investigate,” I interjected, “but while my own reputation may be one of forthrightness, I’ll confess that I’m a little worried about bearding this particular lion in his den alone.”

I turned to Persephone. “Your Amazons, Persi; might they be up for a little freelance excursion?”

She simply smiled.

Continue to Part 2 …

 

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