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Photo Credit: puzzlemaster
“I put forward that The Orchard is a cornucopia of temptation.”
Imagine you are a child. Imagine gleaming glass windows, white pillars, rooms that flow into one another endlessly because there are no doors, only archways draped with red gauze. You find yourself surrounded by rows and rows of perfume bottles, overwhelmed by the scent of bergamot and lemon oil. You are drawn to a cobalt glass vial with a miniature crown of engraved silver. When no one is looking, you want to take the vial. Claim it as your own. As adults, we learn that these impulses are unnatural – but what if, for some of us, they aren’t?
The week before the trial, her solicitor, Mr Barrett, tells her that she will need a medical examination. It will form the basis of his defence. The doctor will examine her temperament and ask her questions about her menstrual history (if Mrs Hawkins will forgive him for bringing up such delicate matters, but unfortunately such matters will need to be discussed in court). And, of course, Mr Hawkins, as an upstanding member of the community, revered by everyone at the bank, will give a collaborating testimonial.
I will do anything I can to assist, Mrs Hawkins replies. You’re extremely kind, Mr Barrett, to resolve an old woman’s folly.
I will forward my fee to your husband, Mr Barrett replies.
Mr Barrett: How long have you been manager of The Orchard, Mr Clark?
Mr Clark: Since it’s opening, five years ago.
Mr Barrett: And is it accurate to say that, in those five years, The Orchard has achieved considerable financial success?
Mr Clark: Sales have increased annually, yes.
Mr Barrett: Why do you think that is?
Mr Clark: Because The Orchard offers a singular, luxury experience for the discerning shopper. Across our eight departments, we stock everything our customers need.
Mr Barrett: Do you know how many goods you stock?
Mr Clark: Not in total.
Mr Barrett: I do. In your accessories department alone, you stock 563 different articles. Buttery soft leather gloves, scarfs in the latest Parisian fashion, miles of jewellery polished to perfection. Most of these accessories are displayed in glass cabinets or on mannequins. If you ask one of the shop girls behind the counter you can handle the accessories, inspect them closer, try them on. How much do you pay your shop girls a week, Mr Clark?
Mr Clark: 10 shillings.
Mr Barrett: And how much in commission?
Mr Clark: It is commission, Mr Barrett, it depends on what they sell.
Mr Barrett: But there is no limit?
Mr Clark: No.
Mr Barrett: Say that one week the shop girl’s wages did not cover her cost of living, her rent, her food. She might well rely on that commission to make ends meet. She might feel inclined to pressurize her customers into purchasing goods.
Mr Clark: My staff are trained to guide customers through their purchase. That is all.
Mr Barrett: Nevertheless, your staff are extremely obliging. If you ask for a pair of earrings, they will recommend you a matching necklace. If you ask for a particular fan, they will show you every colour of fan first. Mr Clark, you say that The Orchard stocks everything your customers need. But do they – do any of us – need everything? I put it forward that The Orchard is a cornucopia of temptation. It is a store purposefully devised to lure anyone that passes through its doors into a trap – the trap of avarice.
Mr Clark: Am I right in believing that you are blaming the store for Mrs Hawkins’ crime?
Mr Barrett: I understand it was your wife’s birthday last month. Would you mind telling us what you brought her?
Mr Hawkins: A sapphire brooch. I ordered it especially from Italy. We went there on holiday two years ago. Milan. Extraordinary architecture. The weather was too hot for my tastes, but my wife adored the cuisine so we stayed an additional –
Mr Barrett: Thank you, Mr Hawkins. And thank you for disclosing your finances. It is evident, from the ample monthly allowance you give Mrs Hawkins and the presents you buy her, that you are a generous husband. Here, I would like to take the opportunity to remind the court of the articles that were found in Mrs Hawkins’ purse: two green ribbons and a bronze matchbox. Mr Hawkins, The Orchard alleges that your wife has stolen several more articles. They claim they suspected her of thieving for weeks, but only gained proof on the one occasion. Have you ever seen any of the other alleged stolen goods? The leather inkstand, the fur shawl, the ivory letter opener?
Mr Hawkins: No, nothing. And I had the housekeeper search the entire house twice.
Mr Barrett: Could you define this particular kind of mania for us?
Dr Gibbs: It is a malady of the mind. The patient is afflicted by an irresistible urge to steal. They do not plan to steal. The urge is spontaneous. And the items they steal are often of trifling value. They could easily afford to purchase the items and may not even have any use for them. Consequently, many patients either hoard the stolen items or discard them afterwards.
Mr Barrett: And how do patients tend to feel afterwards?
Dr Gibbs: I find they exhibit great feelings of shame and remorse.
Mr Barrett: Because they recognise that theft is a crime? A sin?
Dr Gibbs: Yes.
Mr Barrett: So, individuals who suffer from this mania might still be individuals of great morality and decency?
Dr Gibbs: I’m afraid I cannot comment on the state of my patients’ souls, Mr Barrett, only their minds.
Mr Barrett: Are there any notable characteristics that your patients share?
Dr Gibbs: We find that women are more susceptible, due to their weaker physiology. They have less self-restraint and are therefore easily overcome by their emotions. But the severity of the mania does depend on the individual woman.
Mr Barrett: I believe you performed a medical examination on Mrs Hawkins last week. The aim of the examination was to assess her present state of mind and also to ascertain her pre-disposition to the mania. Could you share your results with us?
Mrs Fallis: I have known Mrs Hawkins since I was a young woman. We met at finishing school. So yes, many years.
Mr Barrett: And would you say that you are still close companions?
Mrs Fallis: In many senses. We live two streets apart.
Mr Barrett: Where do you live, Mrs Fallis?
Mrs Fallis: The parsonage house on Bramble Street in the north of the city. My husband is a vicar.
Mr Barrett: Would you describe yourself as a pious woman, Mrs Fallis?
Mrs Fallis: Certainly.
Mr Barrett: Would you describe Mrs Hawkins as a pious woman?
Mrs Fallis: She comes to church every Sunday, with Mr Hawkins. And she’s a regular attendee at our women’s meetings.
Mr Barrett: Women’s meetings?
Mrs Fallis: There is no need to look so terrified. They are nothing like that, nothing incendiary. The ladies of the parish meet every Tuesday at my house whilst my husband runs his calls. We knit clothes for the poor, organise fetes to raise money for the missionaries, sew and mend the choir robes. It was Mrs Hawkins who came up with the idea of these meetings in the first place. She is a keen philanthropist.
Imagine you’re a woman waiting to be called to the box. You wanted to wear your favourite dress of pink silk brocade. You like the kiss of the lace collar against your neck. You like to trail your fingertips along the silver thread, the pattern of fruit and leaves as delicately ridged as new scars. You wanted to pair the dress with your cream taffeta mantle and your sapphire brooch, but your solicitor, Mr Barrett, advises you to wear something plain. Something that does not look new. Mr Barrett also advises that you inform the judge immediately if you feel faint. Everyone will understand if you need a rest from the questions.
You sit and wait. In your head, you try to go through all of the answers you have rehearsed with Mr. Barrett, but you cannot stop thinking about the cool weight of a cobalt glass vial in your hand. You cannot stop thinking about presenting the vial at Mrs. Fallis’ house on a Tuesday morning. I’ve got a charming little thing, you would say and there would be a whirl of anticipation in the air because every woman looks forward to the weekly auctions. You would hold up the cobalt glass vial like a tooth from a slain lion and watch all the women fight to outbid each other.
I am a postgrad student studying Creative Writing. I won the Staunch Short Story Prize in 2020.