May 1, 2011|
Read an Excerpt
Cassandra Whitney is a New Woman, from her forward-thinking attitudes toward women and society, right down to her determination to take a lover—just as soon as she can find one who doesn’t dribble soup, or yell at her for her involvement with the suffrage movement.
Unfortunately, the only candidate she’s found worthy is the annoying, but sinfully attractive, Griffin St. John. It’s just too bad he appears to be central in a plot to destroy everything she’s worked for…
Note: This is a bit of an odd one in that it has been released as an e-book, as well as print-on-demand trade paperback, so it won’t be available in local bookstores.
â€śVotes for women!â€ť Above the jeering of the crowd, a suffragette waved her banner, her voice piercing the air high over the rumble of motorcars and rattle of carriages. â€śSupport the cause! Votes for women!â€ť
In one of those odd moments of silence that sometimes occur in a crowd, peace descended along my little stretch of the fence just long enough for the following to be heard with crystal clarity: â€śBloody, buggery hell!â€ť
Several heads swiveled in my direction. The suffragette nearest me stared, her eyes wide in shock. The steady stream of people passing us seemed to freeze for several seconds, the faces of the men and women headed inside the magnificent building behind me all reflecting the same astonishment.
There was nothing else to do. I turned and glared into the bushes, saying loudly, â€śMerciful heavens! What is the world coming to when people hide in shrubberies and yell out profanities?â€ť
The suffragette looked suspicious as the people once again moved past.
â€śIs there a problem, sister?â€ť she asked when I cleared my throat and shook the chain that was giving me so much grief.
â€śProblem? Me? Whatever gives you that idea?â€ť
She pursed her lips and gestured to her right. All along the massive, wrought iron fence that bounded the grounds of Wentworth House, women were arranged with their backs pressed firmly against the cold metal railing, chains holding them into place.
â€śItâ€™s just my chain,â€ť I told my neighbor, shaking it at her. â€śItâ€™s defective.â€ť
â€śYour chain is defective?â€ť
â€śYes. It refuses to cooperate, and if thereâ€™s anything I demand in a chain, itâ€™s cooperation. I donâ€™t suppose you have an extra one?â€ť
She gave me a look that by rights should have been accompanied by a thick clout upside the head. As it was I took a step or two back from her, relieved to see that her chain bound her firmly to the fence. â€śChains are not defective. Why did you volunteer for this protest if you have no intention of participating fully?â€ť
I ignored the rumbles of a particularly deep-voiced old gentlemen as he passed by, giving my chain a firm shake and making another attempt to wind it through the fence. â€śI am wholly devoted to the cause. But I fail to see how I am expected to make a stand when the equipment I am given simply will not function.â€ť
â€śAre there problems?â€ť One of the Womenâ€™s Suffrage Union officers moved down along the line, pausing when she got to me at the end of the fence.
â€śYes, there are problems,â€ť I muttered, catching my fingers painfully on the shrub that poked through the railing.
â€śShe claims her chain is defective,â€ť my tattle-tale neighbor said with irritating smugness.
I gave her a stern look. She returned it with narrowed eyes.
â€śDefective?â€ť the officer asked, looking puzzled. â€śIn what way?â€ť
â€śIt wonâ€™t go through the fence,â€ť I explained. â€śI think thereâ€™s something wrong with it.â€ť
â€śOr something wrong with you,â€ť my neighbor murmured. Beyond her, two women giggled.
I glared over her head to them. They quickly averted their gazes and stared out defiantly at the passing crowd.
â€śWellâ€¦do the best you can,â€ť the officer said, looking a bit peevish. I knew just how she felt. â€śWe were promised coverage by the newspapers tonight, and it is vital that we present a unified front.â€ť
â€śI think someone simply doesnâ€™t wish to ruin her fancy gown,â€ť my neighbor commented in a waspish voice.
â€śWhat you want to be wearing something like that to a protest?â€ť the woman beyond her asked, craning her head to look at me.
Irritated, I jerked my coat closed, cursing the fact that I had forgotten to have Annie repair the buttons Iâ€™d torn off earlier while practicing chaining myself to a tree in the park. â€śI really donâ€™t see that my choice of garment has anything to do with my devotion to the cause. One might just as well ask why sheâ€”â€ť I pointed to my irksome neighbor. â€śâ€”feels the need to cause dissention in the ranks.â€ť
â€śDissention! Me? Youâ€¦you…â€ť
I smiled and took a step toward her, just out of her reach. â€śA unified front, remember?â€ť
She sputtered some words that were unknown to me, and I made a mental note to add them to my repertoire of oaths and profanities before taking my chain once again with a firm hand.
â€śYou will behave,â€ť I told it as I jabbed it through the fence, ignoring the pain of the shrubâ€™s branches as it poked into my flesh.
â€śIgnore the crowds, sisters, and stand tall!â€ť the officer cried as she faced the line of women. â€śRemember, you are fighting for a glorious cause!â€ť
â€śItâ€™ll all be for naught if we donâ€™t show solidarity,â€ť the woman next to me said with a glint in her eyes that I felt was most unwarranted.
The heads of women all down the fence turned to look at me.
â€śI am doing the best I can! But how I am expected to work with a defective chain is beyond meâ€”â€ť A shove at my back had me spinning around to confront my assailant. â€śSir!â€ť
â€śIâ€™d apologize for bumping into you if you were a decent woman, but itâ€™s clear that youâ€™re not.â€ť The rotund, top-hatted gentleman who had plowed into me scornfully considered the women on the fence before returning his attention to me. â€śSimply appalling! Such displays are most unwomanly! Ought to be stopped! Interfering besoms!â€ť
I jerked my coat closed again. â€śYou leave my bosom out of this!â€ť
The man snorted and clutched the arm of a thin, pinched-faced woman, escorting her down the sidewalk to the gate. Due to the crush of carriages and motor cars inside the short drive, many people had opted to disembark from their vehicles down the block, and walk the rest of the way in to the charity ball. The change from light drizzle to rain had lessened their numbers, but a few brave souls ventured forth bearing large, glistening black umbrellas.
â€śOh, this is ridiculous,â€ť I snapped, so frustrated I could scream. â€śIâ€™ll just stand here and pretend Iâ€™m chained to the fence.â€ť
â€śI knew you would give up. Youâ€™re afraid of getting your pretty frock dirty.â€ť
â€śIf you keep using that nasty tone of voice, youâ€™ll be stuck with it forever,â€ť I answered with a sniff. â€śI assure you that it would take a lot more than a little rain to disconcert me. I do not frighten easily. I am all steadiness in the face of mice. I can watch animals copulate in the fields without the slightest hint of a blush. In fact, I find it all rather fascinating, and just as soon as I get myself set up properly, I shall emulate the animals and take a lover.â€ť
The womanâ€™s jaw sagged slightly.
â€śYes,â€ť I said, nodding, pleased that my dashing audacity had left her speechless. â€śI am a New Woman, you see. Such things do not bother me in the least. Any day now I will take up smoking cigarettes.â€ť
A motorcar hooted its annoyance at a stoppage in traffic, part of the steady stream of carriages and automobiles stopped outside of the gates to Wentworth House. Shiny dark umbrellas bobbed by, their everyday appearance in sharp contrast to the finery displayed below them. Although the night was dark and damp, the parade of ladies in brilliant colors, flashing jewels, and exotic perfumes was almost overwhelming to the senses. Midnight blues, pigeonâ€™s blood reds, and greens the color of the sea passed by. By contrast, our group was a somber gathering; I was clad in the sole exception to the dark dresses the suffrage workers wore. Each member had a swath of white across her bosom proclaiming Votes For Women. Pride filled me as I read the sashes. Pride that quickly crumbled to dust as I stared down at my sash-less coat.
â€śDamn. I forgot to get a sash. I donâ€™t supposeâ€¦â€ť
â€śNo!â€ť my neighbor snarled as I looked at hers.
â€śCharity begins at home,â€ť I reminded her, but to no avail. â€śFine. You keep your sash; Iâ€™ll do my part regardless.â€ť
â€śYouâ€™re not even chained,â€ť my unpleasant neighbor scoffed. â€śYou have no sash, and you arenâ€™t chained. No one will know youâ€™re with us. Why donâ€™t you just go home?â€ť
I took a deep, calming breath. â€śIf appearances are all that concern you, perhaps I will simply drape the chain over one shoulderâ€¦â€ť
â€śThere. This is the best I can do. How does it look?â€ť I turned to my testy neighbor, one cold, damp length of chain hanging over my shoulder, wrapped around to the opposite hip, hopefully giving the appearance of binding me to the fence.
It was another voice that answered.
â€śYou should be ashamed of yourself!â€ť A very bulky shape rose up before me, her spiteful face thrust into mine. â€śDonâ€™t you have any humility? What would your parents think of you now, Cassandra Jane Whitney? Making a fool of yourself in public!â€ť
I identified the face as belonging to Eloise McGregor, one of my late motherâ€™s oldest friends. She grabbed my arm and pulled me down the street a few yards.
â€śEloise, what a surprise to see you. Iâ€™m afraid Iâ€™m a bit busy at the moment. Perhaps we can talk later?â€ť
She jerked me down another few yards, ignoring my polite hint, puffing obnoxious peppermint-scented breath in my face as she blocked the entire sidewalk in order to chastise me. â€śWhat can you be thinking, girl? Have you no shame? No dignity? How can you stand there like a common trollop and make such a spectacle of yourself?â€ť
A hasty glance down the fence confirmed my fear that the demonstration was proceeding without me. My neighbor chanted â€śVotes for women!â€ť with a particularly obnoxious vigor, accompanied by frequent triumphant glances sent my way.
I ground my teeth.
â€śYour mother would be disgraced to see you here, as would all your family,â€ť Eloise continued, snatching my chain off my shoulder and throwing it to the ground before taking my arm again. I winched at the strength of her grip. â€śSuch folly! Such insolence! I shall be sure to inform your sister of your unwomanly conduct when she returns.â€ť
â€śDamnation! Youâ€™re bruising me!â€ť
â€śProfanity! Blasphemer!â€ť Eloiseâ€™s voice carried extremely well over the noise of the crowd. A number of heads turned our way in what appeared to be hopeful interest. â€śYour presence here just goes to show how low into depravity you have sunk.â€ť
Over her shoulder I could see a small clutch of people. As she berated me, a tall man with a pale woman on his arm scowled and tried to get Eloiseâ€™s attention, asking to pass. Dismay filled his companionâ€™s face as she glanced at the stream of muddy water that flowed down the nearest edge of the pavement. Although the rain had slowed again, the gutters gurgled with the recent downfall.
Eloise ignored the man and continued to harangue me. â€śYou always were a headstrong, obstinate girl. Obstinate and bad tempered! Youâ€™ll end up no better than you should, if you donâ€™t take care. When I think of the pain your sainted mother went through. . . .â€ť
I ignored Eloiseâ€™s rants and looked down the fence to where my sisters in suffrage attracted considerable attention, including that of the beat constable who was pleading with them to release themselves. The crowd shouted suggestions to the constable, many of them offering in unpleasant terms to help â€śtake care of the troublemakers.â€ť
â€śMadam, would you allow us to pass?â€ť
â€ś. . . let alone the fact that you never gave her a momentâ€™s comfort. . . .â€ť
â€śPeople wish to pass, Eloise. You really should go now.â€ť
A deep male voice rose over that of the surrounding cacophony. â€śYou are blocking the pavement, madam. Please allow us by.â€ť
â€śYou may think nothing of breaking your motherâ€™s heart, but I will not fail her, my dearest friend! You will come with me at once.â€ť She pulled hard on my arm, jerking me forward.
â€śI will not! Go away!â€ť I struggled back to the fence. â€śI may not be chained, but by god, I will do my duty!â€ť
Another policeman arrived, his whistle piercing the discord.
â€śMadam, please let us by!â€ť the deep voice roared over the growing clamor. I turned my head just enough to witness the tall man behind Eloise try gently to move her aside. She tightened her grip on my arm in response, her fingers digging painfully into my flesh.
â€śAs will I do my duty and save you from the depths of degradation with which you are so intent upon besmirching yourself!â€ť She pulled me toward her.
I clutched the fence in desperation.
â€śVotes for women! Votes for women!â€ť chanted the suffragettes.
More constables arrived, their whistles shrill over the calls of the crowd.
â€ś. . . sinful and degraded. . . .â€ť
â€śWe wish to pass, blast you!â€ť
â€śThis is ridiculousâ€”please go away!â€ť I yelled at Eloise. â€śLeave me be!â€ť
â€śâ€¦willful and proudâ€¦â€ť
â€śThis is a public street, madam! I insist you allow us to pass!â€ť
Snarling to myself in aggravation, I used both hands to grip the fence.
â€ś. . . nothing but grief, always thinking of yourself and never of your poor mother. . . .â€ť
The bystanders were frenzied now, keyed up by the arrival of several policemen on horseback. To the left, a small cluster of partygoers was backed up, still blocked by Eloise, loudly expressing their desire to move by us. To the right, the demonstrators, all successfully chained to the fence save me, chanted and sang in unison.
â€śI will not let you ruin my demonstration!â€ť I shouted over the noise to Eloise, just as she heaved her ample bulk and succeeded in prying me off the fence. At the same moment, the man behind her gave her a shove forward, sending me hurtling towards him, rather than her.
The force of my not-insubstantial weight thrown off balance and directly onto him resulted in our crashing to the pavement in an awkward display of petticoats, umbrellas, chain, and limbs.