“I must now ask that all the ladies leave.”
A score of women rose and departed. Most remained in their seats, notably those whose seats were located in the public gallery. The season had not yet begun. Near Christmas time, many of Fannie’s girls would return to their work as legitimate seamstresses, sewing dresses for the balls and dinner parties.
Lizzie Jackson liked to say that, in their line of work, ball season was year round.
The girl was in the public gallery. She had visited Newgate that morning and embraced Fannie, despite her aversion to touch for which she had not been paid.
“We will now be hearing a firsthand account of something unfit for a feminine audience.” Judge Sholto had a reputation as one of the least humorous magistrates in the Crown Court, a title not to be underestimated. “I would once again ask that all the ladies leave the room.”
“Am I to go as well?”
“Do you wish to have contempt added to your charges, Madam?” the judge asked Fannie, who had been called Madam throughout the whole of the trial, to her great amusement. “I would once again ask that all the ladies leave the room!”
A hush would have fallen over the courtroom, if such a thing were possible in the Old Bailey or London for that matter. One sound missing, however, was the rustling of skirts.
“My lord,” said the clerk. “All the ladies have left the room.”
After a long moment, Judge Sholto resumed his seat and said, “So I see. Then, we shall proceed. Madam, you have pled not guilty, despite testifying that you reside at 27 Fournier Street, a known house of ill repute.”
“Excuse me,” said Fannie. “The Dispensary has a very good reputation, indeed.”
Number 27 Fournier Street was a Georgian house, vestigial of the days when Whitechapel was a pleasant place to live. It had been leased by the London Dispensary in 1839, a charitable organization that provided free medical attention to the poor souls of the East End. Fannie had purchased freehold of the property from C.C. Ferdinand of Winkfield. She had found the sign amusing enough to keep, although she was often forced to remind patrons that her organization was not a charitable one.
“Number 27 Fournier Street is a medical dispensary, as is clearly stated in two-foot-high lettering on the side of the building.”
Judge Sholto’s mouth was twisted tighter than Lizzie Jackson’s hair.
“You have denied your right to legal counsel.”
A lawyer had visited Fannie at Newgate to offer his advice. “When the prosecutor begins his questioning, burst into tears, and I will bring you a handkerchief.” She had politely asked him to leave her cell.
“You have refused to call witnesses.”
Fannie did not look at the public gallery. Their work was legal under English law. Conducting it in her house was not. She could flog her wares, but heaven forbid she keep them warm.
The prosecutor had called many witnesses. Most of them were members of the Metropolitan Police. They had climbed into the witness box and kissed the book, looking as though they were prepared to marry it, if required.
The police had called on the Dispensary, but Fannie had been well-prepared. They had found nothing to suggest she was anything other than a proprietress of a medical charity. They had certainly found enough opium.
Not to mention enema nozzles, speculums, an unpatented prototype of Dr. Young’s Ideal Rectal Dilators, and, of course, the Manipulator.
“Pray tell, Madam, how do you intend to defend yourself?”
The attention of the court was fixated on Fannie. The public gallery was full to capacity, and more people lined the wall outside, awaiting news of the verdict. If the lawyers hadn’t been wearing wigs and gowns, they would not have been admitted.
At least she would have her privacy when she swung at Newgate. Public hangings had been outlawed in ‘68, which was something of a shame since the British Empire had a reputation to maintain as the progenitor of the spectator sport.
Fannie’s case had become something of a cause célèbre. A gentleman of moderate social prominence had arrived at her house requesting a “young woman.” Fannie had supplied him with Lizzie Jackson, who was twenty three years of age that March. The misunderstanding had been a deliberate one. She had been looking for an opportunity to break in her cudgel.
When the police attempted to disarm Fannie, they would have to break for tea. Her most recent purchase was a fan dagger, the gentler sex’s answer to the sword cane. There were those who paid close attention to the language of things such as flowers, handkerchiefs, and fans, but Fannie had always been something of a literalist.
The dagger had its uses, but Fannie’s first line of self-defense was always her ignorance of the time or the direction anywhere. Once she was secure in the knowledge that no man had any legitimate reason to speak to her, her second line of defense was the hatpin. She feared the Court would someday learn of its secondary use and begin regulating its length. She also favored the pistol, although she advocated their regulation. Unlike the hatpin, pistols were generally carried by men.
On this particular occasion, Fannie was grateful for the ease with which pistols were procured. When she withdrew a Deringer from her prison dress and shot Judge Sholto, only Lizzie Jackson appeared unsurprised.
“As I have always done,” said Fannie. “With a good offense.”