It was a warm, late May afternoon when Petra Rutherford crossed Parliament Square and approached St. Stephen’s Porch at the Palace of Westminster. The police officer on duty in front of the great oak door regarded her with a suspicious frown.
“Can I help you, madam?”
Petra’s smile was bland. She was well aware that it was her purple, green and white silk scarf that drew the man’s frown. “I have an appointment to take tea on the Terrace with the Right Honorable Mr. Rutherford.” She handed the officer her engraved card.
He took it and silently opened the door for her. The Sergeant at Arms stepped forward instantly to take the card handed to him by the policeman. “If you would care to follow me, madam.”
Petra knew the way well enough but she also understood the rigid, frequently arcane rules and rituals that informed all activities in the Houses of Parliament. She followed the man through St. Stephen’s Hall and into the ornate Central Lobby situated halfway between the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
“If you’ll take a seat, Miss Rutherford, I will send a card messenger to inform the Honorable Member of your arrival.” He gestured to the padded benches around the hall.
“Thank you.” Petra glanced around the crowded lobby, looking for anyone she might know. It wouldn’t be unusual for a friend or acquaintance to be visiting a member of Parliament at teatime.
“Petra . . .” She turned at her brother’s voice. Jonathan hurried across the marble floor toward her. “I was waiting for you on the terrace.” His smile became a frown as he reached her. “Did you have to wear the scarf, Petra? It’s a red rag to a bull in here.”
“I did have to wear it, Joth, for that very reason. I’m sorry if it sullies the sanctity of these hallowed halls, but you support the cause so you should be proud to acknowledge your sister’s participation.”
He shook his head. “I don’t not support women’s suffrage, but I dislike drawing attention and making a fuss, and there’s someone I most particularly want you to meet and be nice to this afternoon.”
“Oh?” She looked at him curiously. “Someone I don’t know?”
“Well, I believe you did know him slightly, but a long time ago,” her brother said with a vaguely dismissive wave of his hand. “I want to persuade him to support a bill that I’m presenting to Parliament and I need reinforcements. Just offer your sweetest smile and be as charming as you possibly can.”
“You mean use my feminine wiles on him, flutter my eyelashes and blind him with flattery?” she asked, half laughing.
“I know better than to expect that from my sister, however helpful it would be. Just be pleasant and charming, I know you can do that much for all your radical inclinations,” Jonathan stated. “Let’s go for tea. I don’t want him to be waiting for us.” He offered his arm and Petra allowed him to escort her out of the hall and onto the long terrace overlooking the river.
“Your table is over here, Mr. Rutherford. Good afternoon, madam. How nice to see you again.” The rotund figure of the head waiter barreled up to them as soon as they stepped onto the terrace. His eyes flicked to Petra’s scarf and then turned aside, his smile of greeting fixed upon his round countenance.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Jackson.” Petra greeted him with a warm smile of her own as if she had not noticed that discreetly averted glance. She had known what she was doing, wearing the colors of the Women’s Social and Political Union so blatantly in this bastion of male power and privilege, but as she was not about to make a scene, her protest was silent and polite. It would still ruffle feathers, though.
She followed the waiter and her brother through the tables where conversation was low-voiced and whose occupants concentrated on the matter in hand, showing no interest in those around them. The table was set for three, she noticed, as she took her seat facing the Thames. Jonathan took the seat opposite leaving the one next to her free.
“So who is your mysterious guest, Joth?” she inquired, shaking out her napkin and laying it across her lap.
“He’s a member of the House of Lords . . .” He broke off as a waiter set a teapot, milk jug, a saucer of sliced lemons and a sugar bowl on the table, followed by a tray of smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches,