From Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons

Kitty Marshall: Suffragette bodyguard

In the Suffrajitsu graphic novel, Kitty Marshall is portrayed as the youngest member of the Amazon bodyguard team.  In real life, she was one of the very few members of Mrs. Pankhurst’s undercover security team whose activities were recorded for posterity …

From Jujitsu Suffragettes, by Emelyne Godfrey, BBC History Magazine Nov. 2012.

Kitty Marshall as visualised by artist Yasmin Liang in Book 1 of  the graphic novel "Mrs. Pankhurst's Amazons".
Kitty Marshall as visualised by artist Yasmin Liang.

Katherine Willoughby Marshall, a member of Emmeline’s bodyguard team, later recalled:

“Our orders were that as the clock struck nine we were to jump out and attack the seven policemen and detectives, who had been placed in front of the house where Mrs Pankhurst was a prisoner. Behind our taxi was also another lot of bodyguards, and as the clock struck nine, out rushed the bodyguards who had remained at the house. The blue car was directly in front of the front door, and all of us fell on some policeman or detective. I chose a big man with a large mackintosh cape. I knocked his helmet over his eyes and brandished my Indian club about his head. Out came Mrs. Pankhurst and into the blue car, which was driven away by a smart woman driver, hell for leather…

The bodyguard (and) I got into the waiting taxi and away it went with orders to drive as quickly as possible to Piccadilly Circus. The taxi driver was very interested and wanted to know what it was all about, so I told him that we had helped Mrs. Pankhurst to escape. He said he had never seen anything like it and was very intrigued to have been in the rescue.”

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Neal Stephenson foreshadows “Suffrajitsu”

An excerpt from an interview by Douglas Wolk for the io9 website on May 30, 2012:

I ask Stephenson about the cane-fighting subgroup that drew Greg and Erik Bear into the project, and he’s off into explanatory mode again. (I’m not complaining. I could listen to Neal Stephenson explain stuff all day.) “It’s an interesting thing,” Stephenson says, “because from a distance 19th-century martial arts looks kind of dorky — it looks like Monty Python. It ties into everything we believe about the Victorians: that they were out of touch with their bodies, that they didn’t really understand medicine very well, and that they were uncomfortable with physical activities. But once you get into it, you find that these people really knew what they were doing in terms of physical culture, in terms of self-defense. Victorians were really serious about staying fit.

Part of what makes this an interesting story is how, in the 19th century, jiujitsu was adopted by women. This guy Barton-Wright brought jiujitsu to London. He came back from Japan and created a club called the Bartitsu Club. He taught the mixed martial art of jiujitsu, bare-knuckle fighting, savate, stick fighting and a few other things. He brought in a couple of teachers from Japan, and would take them around the music halls—have them challenge huge, burly guys and throw them around. This had an unintentional side effect that suffragettes would see these performances, and decide they wanted to learn self-defense: ‘I want to defeat a man!’ Jiujitsu as a ‘husband-tamer’!

We want to do a side-story quest thing about the jiujitsu suffragettes. The image that we’re all dying to get into a full-page spread in a comic book is this lineup of Edwardian women with the flowered hats and the long skirts and the bustles, and they’re all walking eight abreast down a London street, swaggering toward the camera and approaching a bunch of bobbies… if we could get that image in some medium, that would be a good thing.”

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The extraordinary Toupie Lowther

May “Toupie” Lowther (1874-1944) was a woman of many parts. Born into a very wealthy family, she was educated in France and returned to England as a fluent French speaker, an excellent singer, skilled composer and all-around athlete who quickly made names for herself in both competitive tennis and foil fencing.

If Miss Toupee (sic) Lowther had not devoted most of her leisure to sport — sport of a strenuous, masculine type — one could almost picture her leading a public movement in favour of “Woman’s Rights.” For she is essentially a lady of strong personality, destined to command, and her knowledge of men and women is so wide, her disregard of petty restrictions so pronounced, that apparently nothing would stop her if she once made up her mind publicly to support a policy of emancipation.

In the latter connection, her father, Captain William Francis Lowther, once challenged Captain Alfred Hutton, who was perhaps the most prominent and influential fencing master in England, to bout with his daughter. Although nothing came of the challenge, which may well have been issued partly in fun, a commentator noted that:

As all the world knows, (Toupie) is one of the most brilliant lady fencers in Europe. Coming from a stock of vigorous patriots who have fought their country’s battles at the point of the sword, she was early trained in the use of the rapier and the sword-stick, and, possessed of a lithe and hardy frame, it is small wonder that, at the age of eight she could engage in a fencing-bout with her elders with all the confidence of an expert. Fencing is not an art for namby-pamby girls or, indeed, for any girl who does not command more than the average amount of spirit and pluck, and Miss Lowther is, above all, a woman of indomitable nerve.

Her other sporting enthusiasms included driving, motorcycling, weightlifting and jiujitsu, which she pursued with sufficient enthusiasm that one writer worried that it might interfere with her fencing.

With the outbreak of the First World War Toupie became one of the organisers of an all-women team of ambulance drivers who undertook many dangerous missions to transport wounded soldiers near the front lines of battle in Compiègne, France. For this service she was awarded the Croix de Guerre in 1918.

Toupie was a friend of writer Radclyffe Hall and her partner, sculptor Una Troubridge, until after the publication of Hall’s controversial novel The Well of Loneliness in 1928. The novel’s female protagonist, Stephen Gordon, was probably based to a large extent on Toupie Lowther, and this seems to have caused a rift in the friendship. It has been speculated that Toupie may have objected to having been publicly “outed” as a lesbian and transvestite via the Gordon character, although her sexual orientation seems to have been no secret among her family and friends.

For much more detail on Toupie’s life and adventures, please see the excellent biographical website Toupie Lowther – Her Life – A New Assessment.

Toupie Lowther is also a supporting character in the Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy, in which she serves as Suffragette leader Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst’s chauffeur/getaway driver and as a member of her personal bodyguard of women.

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The Amazons in pop-culture and in the media

Shoulder to shoulder

The stories of the Suffragette Amazons were all but forgotten throughout most of the 20th century, but the Women’s Liberation movement of the 1960s and ’70s sparked a revival of interest in their “secret history”. Notable amongst these were Antonia Raeburn’s The Militant Suffragettes (1973), the BBC TV mini-series Shoulder to Shoulder (1974) and Midge Mackenzie’s companion volume Shoulder to Shoulder: The Stirring History of the Militant Suffragettes (1975).

The advent of the Internet has seen an increasing number of Suffragette Amazon-related media projects, from books and websites to documentaries and graphic novels.

The following is a summary of media that deal specifically with the Amazons, or in which their principals play key roles:

1982

Writer/director Noel Burch directs The Year of the Bodyguard, a docudrama for Britain’s Channel 4 that deals with the social history and lore of Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons. Unfortunately, it has never been released on DVD and modern screenings are extremely rare. We are, however, pleased to be able to present this interview with Mr. Burch in which he reminisces about the production, together with this detailed, illustrated summary of the docudrama itself.

In this scene from The Year of the Bodyguard, a group of Suffragettes escaping from the police after a window-smashing protest take refuge inside Edith Garrud’s jujitsu school.  The scene is closely based on an anecdotal account of real-life events, as reported decades after the fact by Edith Garrud herself:

1998

With All Her Might cover

Gretchen Wilson’s With All Her Might (1998) is a biography of her great-aunt, Gertrude Harding, who was one of the principal organisers of the Suffragette Bodyguard society.

2000

The Perfect Daughter, part of Gillian Linscott’s series of novels about Suffragette detective Nell Bray, features a martial arts-oriented subplot and Edith Garrud appears as a supporting character.

2005-08

Compendia

Both volumes of the Bartitsu Compendium (2005/08), edited by Tony Wolf, feature collections of archival newspaper articles relating to Edith Garrud and the Bodyguard team’s martial arts training.

The Lady Cavaliers theatre company produces a short play, Mrs. Garrud’s Dojo, that offers a lighthearted look at early 20th century gender politics via “Suffrajitsu”.

2009

Tony and Kathrynne Wolf publish Edith Garrud – the Suffragette who knew Jujutsu to introduce the story of the Amazons to younger readers.

2011

The documentary Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes, co-produced and co-directed by Tony Wolf and featuring an interview with Emelyne Godfrey showcases the Jujitsuffragettes and features a re-enactment of their combat training.

The play The Hooligan and the Lady, a dramatised biography of feminist jiujitsu pioneer Florence “Flossie” Le Mar, was a hit at the 2011 New Zealand Fringe Festival.

2012

Emelyne Godfrey’s book Femininity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature and Society: From Dagger-Fans to Suffragettes devotes a full chapter to the Bodyguard, Edith Garrud and Edwardian jiujitsu.

Anne Bertram’s play The Good Fight, performed by Theatre Unbound, explores the social and political pressures that led the WSPU to create the Bodyguard team.

Click here to listen to reporter Julian Bedford’s interview with Tony Wolf for the BBC World Service radio programme, concerning the Suffragette Bodyguards.

2013

 

The BBC documentary Everybody Was Kung-fu Fighting: A History of the Martial Arts in Great Britain (2013) showcases the Suffragette Amazons, featuring an excerpt from The Year of the Bodyguard and interviews with Emelyne Godfrey and Tony Wolf.

2014

Icon Films produces this mini-documentary on the life and times of jujitsuffragette trainer Edith Garrud, hosted by Honor Blackman and featuring an interview with Emelyne Godfrey.

2015

Suffrajitsu Book 1 cover

The graphic novel Suffrajitsu, written by Tony Wolf with art by João Vieira, is published via Amazon’s Jet City Comics imprint.

The mystery novel Move your Blooming Corpse, featuring Eliza Doolittle and Professor Henry Higgins as detectives in Edwardian London, also includes Edith Garrud and the suffragette Bodyguard team.

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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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Miss Sanderson and the womanly art of parasol self defence

Madame Vigny

Although the woman known as “Miss Sanderson” was a prominent fencer and self defence instructor in Edwardian London, regrettably little is known of her life – including her first name. At some point in the early 1900s she married Pierre Vigny, who had begun his own career in London as the chief instructor at the Bartitsu Club. Miss Sanderson, who continued to use what was presumably her maiden name for professional purposes, became Vigny’s assistant instructor when he opened his own school in Berner’s Street during 1903. By 1908 she was teaching her own unique system of women’s self defence, based on Vigny’s method but concentrating on the use of the umbrella and parasol.

Here follow some excerpts from newspaper reports on her exhibitions:

Then Miss Sanderson came to the attack, and the demonstration showed her to be as capable with the stick as the sword. She passed it from hand to hand so quickly that the eye could scarcely follow the movements, and all the while her blows fell thick and fast. Down slashes, upper cuts, side swings, jabs and thrusts followed in quick succession, and the thought arose, how would a ruffian come off if he attacked this accomplished lady, supposing she had either walking-stick, umbrella, or parasol at the time? In tests, she has faced more than one Hooligan, who was paid to attack her, and each time he has earned his money well.

The contest between the Professor and Madame (Vigny, i.e. Miss Sanderson), which mingled the English art of Fisticuffs with the French Savate, was also intensely interesting, as proving the quickness, endurance and hitting power which can be developed as readily by members of the fair sex, as by those of the male persuasion, provided only that they be suitably trained.

– J. St. A. Jewell, “The Gymnasiums of London: Part X. — Pierre Vigny’s” Health and Strength, May 1904, pages 173-177.

It is certain, after seeing Madame’s performance, that every lady would wish to study the art as, were she acquainted with it, and provided with a hooked umbrella, she could penetrate into the roughest districts, and yet feel sure that any assailant, however formidable, who ventured to molest her, would bitterly regret having done so.

– “Professor Pierre Vigny’s Sixth Great Annual Tournament,” Health and Strength, January 1906, pages 38-39.

The mysterious Miss Sanderson also appears in the Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy, in which she wields her parasol in defence of the leaders of the radical women’s rights movement.

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“Suffrajitsu” and the Foreworld Saga

In this interview featured on Amazon.com’s Kindle Daily Post blog, Foreworld author Mark Teppo drops a hint on the cryptic connection between Arthurian myth and Miss Persephone Wright, the protagonist of Suffrajitsu:

In our initial presentation of the Foreworld Saga, our focus has been on the heretofore neglected martial arts of the West. We have sought to bring to life the rich and varied fighting arts that are now being rediscovered and enthusiastically explored by numerous study groups around the world. But our underlying foundation of Foreworld has always been a crypto-pagan mythic structure. One that Percival glimpsed a portion of during his experience in the woods; one that lay underneath the life and death of Genghis Khan. And now, with Katabasis and Siege Perilous, the remaining two volumes of the Mongoliad Cycle, the mystery of the sprig and the cup come to the forefront. It all hinges on the knight for all seasons—the singular one born of every generation: Percival, the knight of the Grail.

It doesn’t end here, either. Next year, Suffrajitsu, a graphic serial written by Tony Wolf and drawn by João Vieira, will be released. It takes place in Victorian England and stars Mr. Bartitsu himself, Edward Barton-Wright, and his liberated niece Persephone Wright — “Persi” as she is known to her friends …

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“Suffrajitsu” at the Jet City Comics Expo

Visitors to the 2013 Jet City Comics exposition in Tacoma, WA got a sneak peek at some of the artwork for Suffrajitsu, the upcoming graphic novel trilogy written by Tony Wolf and illustrated by João Vieira.

Although a work of adventure fiction, Suffrajitsu is closely inspired by the historically real Bodyguard unit of the radical Suffragette movement; a secret society of female martial artists who defended their leaders, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, 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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