SHADOW OF THE LION
An Alex Whitney Historical Romance
A NOTE TO THOSE STARING HARD AT THE BOOK
This book has its origins in my very first novel written over twenty years ago, and resembles its original form only in the sense that the basic storyline is the same. Around 2011, it was re-edited and published as Suffragette in the City. However, when revisiting the sequel with an eye to revising it, I felt this book wasn’t where it needed to be, so it underwent another round of heavy revisions, edits, and merciless pruning in the summer of 2021. I also changed the name of the heroine because I have always disliked her original name. Luckily, she likes her new name, too, and has happily embraced being an Alex.
If you’ve read Suffragette in the City, you can feel free to give this version a miss unless you’re dying to see what new material was added, what old material was removed, and just who is the brand new bestie of the renamed heroine.
Those of you who are new to the book can dive in secure knowing that the story is in its happy place.
“Votes for women!” 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. “Support the cause! Votes for women!”
In one of those odd quirks that sometimes occur in a raucous situation, a moment of silence descended, just long enough for the following to be heard with the clarity of a crystal bell: “Bloody, buggery hell!”
Several heads swiveled in my direction. The suffragette nearest me stared, her eyes wide. The steady stream of people passing froze 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, “Merciful heavens! What is the world coming to when people hide in shrubberies and yell out profanities?”
My suffragette neighbor looked suspicious as the people once again moved past us.
“Is there a problem?” she asked when I cleared my throat and shook the chain that was giving me so much grief.
“Problem? Me? Whatever gives you that idea?”
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 in place.
“It’s just my chain,” I told my neighbor, shaking it at her. “It’s defective.”
“Your chain is defective?” 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 back from her, relieved to see that her chain bound her firmly to the fence. “Chains are not defective. Why did you volunteer for this protest if you have no intention of participating fully?”
I ignored the murmurs of a particularly deep-voiced old gentleman as he passed by, giving my chain a firm shake and making another attempt to wind it through the fence. “Do not underestimate my devotion to the cause. I have been to Hel…er…Hades and back again just to stand here, at this moment, with this obstreperous chain.”
“Are there problems?” One of the Women’s Suffrage Union officers moved down along the line, pausing when she got to me at the end of the fence.
“Yes, there are problems,” I muttered, catching my fingers painfully on the shrub that poked through the railing.
“She claims her chain is defective,” my tattletale neighbor said with irritating smugness.
I gave her a stern look, which she returned with saintly indifference.
“Defective?” the officer asked, looking puzzled. “In what way?”
“It won’t go through the fence,” I explained. “I think there’s something wrong with it.”
“Or something wrong with you,” my neighbor muttered sotto voce, but not nearly sotto enough. Beyond her, two other suffragettes giggled.
I glared over her head at them. They quickly averted their gazes and stared out defiantly at the passing crowd.
“Well… do the best you can,” the officer said, looking a bit peevish. I knew just how she felt. “We were promised coverage by the press tonight, and it is vital that we present a unified front.”
“I think someone simply doesn’t wish to ruin her fancy gown,” my neighbor commented in what I could only call a waspish voice.
“What you want to be wearing something like that to a protest?” 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 I’d torn off earlier while I’d practiced chaining myself to a tree in the park. “I really don’t see that my choice of garment has anything to do with my devotion to the cause.”
“Ignore the crowds, sisters, and stand tall!” the officer cried as she faced the line of women. “Remember, you are fighting for a glorious purpose!”
“It’ll all be for naught if we don’t show solidarity,” 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.
“I am doing the best I can! But how I am expected to work with a defective chain is beyond me—” A shove at my back had me spinning around to confront my assailant. “Sir!”
“I’d apologize for bumping into you if you were a decent woman, but it’s clear you’re not.” The rotund, top-hatted gentleman who had plowed into me scornfully considered the women on the fence before returning his attention to me. “Simply appalling! Such displays are most unwomanly! Ought to be stopped! Interfering besoms!”
I jerked my coat closed again. “You leave my bosom out of this!”
The man snorted and clutched the arm of a thin, pinched-faced woman, escorting her down the sidewalk to the gate. Because of the crush of carriages and motorcars inside the short drive, many people had opted to disembark from their vehicles down the block and walk the rest of the way 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.
“Oh, this is ridiculous,” I snapped, so frustrated I could scream. “I’ll just stand here and pretend I’m chained to the fence.”
“I knew you’d give up. You’re afraid of getting your pretty frock dirty,” my neighbor crowed.
“I assure you it would take a lot more than a little rain to disconcert me,” I answered with a sniff. “I am a New Woman, and New Women do not frighten easily. We smoke, although I haven’t yet started, and we wear trousers, although I have no real occasion to wear them, and of course, we take lovers.”
The woman’s jaw sagged slightly. I had a horrible feeling that I’d gone a bit too far in my determination to prove how New my Woman self was. “You don’t!”
“Well, no, I haven’t taken one. As yet,” I admitted. “But any day now I’ll get around to it. The New Woman takes all those things and more in her stride.”
A motorcar hooted its annoyance as part of the steady stream of carriages and automobiles stopped outside the gates to Wentworth House. Shiny dark umbrellas continued to bob 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, pigeon’s blood reds, and greens the color of the sea passed by. By contrast, our group was a somber gathering in browns, blacks, and dark grey…other than my copper-colored evening gown, which made me feel like a flame amongst the shadows. Unfortunately, I stood out in one other way: each member but me had a swath of white across her bosom, proclaiming Votes For Women.
Pride filled me as I read the sashes. At last, at long last, I was taking my place. I had found my people, and I was going to prove to them I was worthy of membership.
“Where’s your sash?” my neighbor asked in an acid tone.
“I was a little late, and didn’t get one. I don’t suppose—”
“No!” my neighbor almost snarled as I turned admittedly covetous eyes to hers.
“Charity begins at home,” I reminded her, but to no avail. “Fine. You keep your sash; I’ll do my part, regardless.”
“You’re not even chained,” she said with a sniff. “No one will know you’re with us. Why don’t you go home to your servants?”
I took a deep, calming breath, determined to fully take part despite her bitterness. “If appearances are all that concern you, perhaps I will simply drape the chain over one shoulder…there. This is the best I can do. Will that suffice?” I turned, one cold, damp length of chain hanging over my shoulder and down to the opposite hip, hopefully giving the appearance of binding me to the fence.
It was another voice that answered.
“You should be ashamed of yourself!” The bulky shape of a woman rose before me, her spiteful face thrust into mine. “Don’t you have any humility? What would your parents think of you now, Alexandra Whitney? Making a fool of yourself in public!”
I was so shocked to see Eloise McGregor, one of my late mother’s oldest friends, that she could grab my arm and drag me down the street a few yards before I pulled to a stop. “Eloise, what a surprise. I’m afraid I’m busy at the moment. Perhaps we can talk later?”
She jerked me down another few yards, puffing obnoxious peppermint-scented breath in my face as she blocked the entire sidewalk in order to chastise me. “What 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?”
A hasty glance down the fence confirmed my fear that the demonstration was proceeding without me. My neighbor chanted, “Votes for women!” with an obnoxious vigor, accompanied by frequent triumphant glances sent my way.
My lips tightened as I bit back a few choice oaths.
“It would disgrace your parents to see you here, as would all your family,” Eloise continued, snatching my chain off my shoulder and throwing it to the ground before taking my arm again. I winced at the strength of her grip. “Such folly! Such insolence! I shall be sure to inform your sister of your unwomanly conduct when she returns.”
I struggled to free myself from her grip, my temper—always prone to get me into trouble—rising with the frustration of the last few minutes. “Damnation! You’re bruising me!”
“Profanity! Blasphemer!” Eloise’s voice carried extremely well over the noise of the crowd. Several heads turned our way in what appeared to be hopeful interest. “Your presence here just goes to show how low into depravity you have sunk.”
Eloise was not a small woman, causing a small clutch of people to be bottlenecked behind her. As she berated me, a tall man with a pale woman on his arm scowled and tried to get Eloise’s attention, asking to pass. Dismay filled his companion’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. “You always were a headstrong, obstinate girl. No wonder your father kept you confined where you could not distress others!”
I glanced 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. A crowd made up of working folk also gathered and shouted suggestions to the constable, many of them offering in unpleasant terms to help “take care of the troublemakers.”
A deep male voice rumbled, “Madam, would you allow us to pass?”
“…goading your poor father into extreme actions in order to control you…” Eloise’s words were almost painfully shrill above the general cacophony.
“People wish to pass.” I tried to get my arm away from her again, but she held on like a limpet. One filled with iron determination.
The man behind her spoke louder. “You are blocking the pavement, madam. Please allow us by.”
“You may think nothing of such a disgusting show of your true character, but I will not allow you to taint your parents’ memory in this manner.” She pulled hard on my arm, jerking me forward.
Mortified by the scene she had dragged me into, I hissed, “Stop! I have a duty to perform, and by God, I will do it.”
Another policeman arrived, his whistle piercing the discord.
“Madam, please let us by!” The deep voice roared over the growing clamor. The man behind Eloise tried once again to move her aside, but she simply tightened her fingers on my arm, her nails digging painfully into my flesh.
“I will save you from the depths of degradation with which you are so intent upon besmirching yourself!” Eloise all but spat at me.
“Votes for women! Votes for women!” chanted the suffragettes.
Desperation gave me the strength to clutch the fence, annoyance making my voice harsh as I attempted to join the demonstration. “Votes for…dammit, Eloise!”
More constables arrived, their whistles so loud I could almost taste the shrillness. The noise was borderline deafening, an assault on the ears and the mind.
“We wish to pass, blast you!” the man bellowed.
A second man joined the first. “This is a public street, madam. I insist you move!”
Swearing to myself in aggravation, I used both hands to grip the fence.
“…always thinking of yourself and never of your sainted father…” Eloise snarled, the chaos around us taking half her words.
The bystanders were frenzied now, keyed up by the arrival of several policemen on horseback. To the left, a small cluster of partygoers was still blocked by Eloise, loudly expressing their desire to move by us. To the right, the demonstrators, all successfully chained to the fence, chanted and sang in unison, while beyond them, constables and citizens alike yelled abuse.
“My father was a monster, a demon placed on earth, and I did not survive his torments to allow you to ruin everything. This is my chance to belong!” Goaded past all bounds of sanity, I shouted over the noise to Eloise just as she heaved her ample bulk and pried me off the fence. At the same moment, the man she blocked gave her a shove, which sent me hurtling forward.
The force of my not-insubstantial weight thrown off balance had me careening onto him. We crashed to the pavement in an awkward display of petticoats, umbrellas, chain, and limbs.
I lay stunned for a moment, staring stupidly down into the diamond studs in the shirt beneath me. Before I could think to move, hands lifted me to my feet.
“Good heavens,” I gasped as soon as I could gather my breath. “I do apologize! Eloise—my late mother’s friend—was much stronger than I imagined. Are you injured?”
The man swore into his chest as he bent down to assess the damage. He was muddied and wet down the left side, and, I feared, extremely damp on the back. His top hat was ruined, and his white gloves were black with mud. Although my coat was without buttons, its heavy material and the fact that I fell on top of the gentleman left me relatively unaffected by the mishap.
“Just you wait and see, Alexandra Whitney!” Eloise screeched as the momentum of the crowd carried her forward, thankfully beyond reach of me. “You’ll come to a bad end!”
Two ladies and a short, bald gentleman had stopped near us, inquiring anxiously as to the muddied man’s state. One woman handed me a jeweled comb that had flown from my hair.
“Please forgive me,” I stammered as the man I’d been flung onto continued to examine his sodden garments. I dabbed at a dark spot of wetness with my handkerchief. “I am mortified. Let me help clean you off. I don’t think it’s too horrible—”
I patted a spot of dirt, but pulled away my handkerchief only to find I had left a long, diagonal smear across the snowy white expanse of his shirtfront.
The man looked first at his chest, then at me, his jaw tight, and his eyes glittering in a manner that made me feel as if my belly was filled with cold, wet gruel. Without thinking, I took a step back, my palms suddenly damp.
“Young woman, you have done quite enough damage for the night with your savage excuse for manners.” A balding man spoke in a voice that sounded like he was gargling acid. He was clearly in the company of the mud-splattered man, a suspicion that was confirmed when the former added, “Kindly stand away from my brother and allow us to pass.”
A sudden swelling of noise washed over us, the suffragettes’ collective enthusiasm rising over the bass rumble of the gathering crowd. I half turned to them, feeling I should make amends to the unintended victim of Eloise’s attack upon me, but also sick at heart at the thought that the demonstration was proceeding without me.
Once again, I was being left behind, isolated and excluded from the things I cared about.
The short man’s eyes widened at the vocal output of the protesters. He sputtered a few times, barking, “Why aren’t the police arresting those anarchists? What has this country come to when such displays are tolerated? Those harlots should be horsewhipped!”
I took three steps forward intending on rejoining the suffragettes, now disappearing from view as with each passing minute more bystanders came to harass them, but guilt nagged me into turning back to offer another apology to the man who was now trying to wipe mud off his leg. “I can’t begin to apologize enough. Or rather, I could, but it would take quite some time, and I suspect you’d find that almost as embarrassing as I would,” I murmured, flinching a little when he straightened up and the long smear of mud across the white of his shirtfront was still visible.
“Why would I find your apology embarrassing?” he looked up to ask. He had amber eyes, clear and warm, and highly disconcerting eyes.
So disconcerting that I spoke without thinking. “Because I would be effusive, and not at all coolly dismissive, as I should. I am a New Woman, you see. Falling on men is nothing to us. In fact, I am shortly to—” I bit back the information about my intention to engage a lover, feeling that there was a time and place for that detail. “—learn how to smoke cigarettes, and have a pair of trousers made.”
His lips twitched. I stared at his mouth, my breath caught in my throat. For some reason I was unable to understand, the instinctive fear that had arisen in the face of his anger melted away.
“At the same time?” he asked.
“Hmm?” I liked his lips. I liked his mouth. His eyes gave me a moment of unease, since they seemed to see right down to my soul, but even that wasn’t a wholly unpleasant sensation. My overactive sense of self-preservation rose, however, and recalled me to the moment. I might not fear the man, but it didn’t mean I could stand and ogle him. “Of course not. For one, I am a very poor seamstress, and for another , it would be awkward, and quite possibly a fire hazard. Although it might be possible. I shall have to think about that.”
His lips twitched again, delighting me. I had a shocking urge to run my thumb over his lower lip. “You do that. Are you all right?”
A shout arose to my right. I glanced over, my fear returned, but this time it was due to my failure to remain focused on my goal.
I nodded absently even as a thin, unpleasantly sharp woman in a dress that was a bilious shade of green brushed the man and said, “Come, Griffin, we’re late. You can repair the damage this creature did to you once you are inside.” She paused to toss a hateful stare at me before taking the arm of the sputtering bald man, the pair of them moving down the sidewalk with stately arrogance.
Griffin. What an interesting name. I eyed him, thinking that it suited him. No man with eyes like his, and such an expressive mouth, should be saddled with a common name. Another shout at the suffragettes had me lecturing myself. I must stay focused! I would not allow myself to be sidetracked, not when I was so close to achieving my heart’s goal.
The crowd was too large to allow me to get through to where my sisters in suffrage were bound. As I turned to move out into the street in order to get in from another angle, I noticed that the man named Griffin spoke a few words to the other woman with him, who cast me a curious glance before she followed the others.
“I apologize again,” I said as I hurried past Griffin, attempting to squeeze my way in through the now densely packed mob. “I hope I haven’t ruined your evening. I wish I could make Eloise apologize as well, but as you may have noticed, she’s quite deranged.”
He gazed at me for a moment, then unexpectedly tipped his head back and laughed. “As it happens, I didn’t particularly wish to attend this ball.” He handed me the bag and umbrella that was knocked from my hands earlier. Looking at it rather curiously, he picked up the chain in his ungloved hand. As I reached out to take it, a fawn-colored motorcar pulled up alongside him. The driver leaped out and opened the door.
“Will you be going inside?” Griffin nodded toward the ball. “Or can I offer you a ride somewhere else?”
I looked at the street children, passing citizens, partygoers, and now a sizable number of constables surrounded the women protestors. The noise was almost deafening. My heart sank at the knowledge that I had failed even so simple a task as joining the suffragettes. “Actually, I am with them. At least, I was supposed to be with them. My chain is defective, though.”
“I see. If it’s defective, then you won’t be wanting it back.” He held up the chain, making no move to return it to me, his gaze making me feel suddenly overly warm.
I fought the urge to fan myself. “Not particularly. I’ll admit that at this moment, I feel nothing but animosity for the beastly thing.” Why was his mouth holding such fascination for me? Was he married? And did he like tall women of overly abundant upper quarters and red hair?
“A just feeling, I suspect.” A frown creased his forehead as he considered me, his gaze bold as he considered me just as I was eyeing him. “Why would you want to be part of such a spectacle?”
“Hmm?” He had very broad shoulders, the sort of shoulders that made me, a tall woman who despite deprivations remained on the substantial size, feel almost petite in comparison. They were shoulders that shooed away the gloopy gruel sensation in the pit of my stomach, filling it instead with a pleasant glow of warmth.
“You appear distracted,” he said.
A somewhat shocking thought crawled across my mind, and refused to vacate it. Men who were built such as he was—with nice shoulders, and a chest that made one feel downright diminutive, and sensitive, pleasing hands—those sorts of men usually had quite muscular derrieres. I wondered what Griffin’s looked like.
My fingers flexed in response.
“Are you?” he asked.
“Distracting,” I murmured, my gaze now on the length of his legs. They, too, looked sturdy. Manly. I particularly liked the way the material stretched across his thighs.
“What is it, exactly, that you find so distracting?” he asked, the conversational tone of voice at odds with the discord to my right.
I wrested my thoughts away from the mental image of just what his thighs would look like without his trousers, and blinked twice. It is a bad habit, but one that I find hard to break. “Your thighs, mostly, although I will admit that your shoulders and derriere were also in consideration.”
He stared at me for a few seconds before his lips twitched a third time.
My own curled into a smile that I feared made it all too clear just how charming I found him.
Until one word that had been rattling around in my mind finally came into focus.
“You are a very forward-speaking woman,” he mused in a fat voice, even as my outrage grew.
“I find that refreshing. Most women say only what they think will please a man—”
“That’s because most women are trodden upon by the men in their life until they cease to have any identity themselves,” I snapped. “I am not such a woman, despite a man’s best attempts to make me one. And I object to spectacle.”
His eyes widened for a moment, then narrowed on me. “And yet it à propos to the situation. Surely you should be inside waltzing with a suitor rather than chaining yourself to a fence in a manner that does nothing but amuse the general population.”
Those fascinating amber eyes flashed in the night, but they were no match for mine. My temper was the only thing that kept me alive, and I unleashed it now. “You are very opinionated on the subject for someone whose rights have never been denied. Also, you don’t know what it’s like to be a woman.”
Surprise flickered in his eyes. “What the hell does that have to do with anything?”
“You are a man,” I pointed out, waving toward his groin. I had the worst urge to walk around behind him to see if his wet trousers were plastered to his rear parts, but managed to squelch that desire and focus on what was important. “You do not understand at all what it is to be subjugated.”
“I assure you, madam, one does not need to be a woman to think,” he retorted.
“No, but it helps. As for your accusation, I don’t consider the pursuit of emancipation a spectacle. Quite the contrary; by chaining myself to the fence I can strike a blow for the rights of women everywhere. And I would do so if I wasn’t cursed with a chain that was clearly forged in hell.”
He eyed my low décolletage speculatively. “You certainly are dressed for the event.”
“Why is everyone obsessed with my gown? I had a dinner engagement! I could hardly dress in something suitable for political demonstrations, could I?” I clutched my coat tight across my bosom.
He crossed his arms, speculation dancing across his face. “Dinner with one of your trouser-wearing female friends?”
“I don’t have any trousers yet, nor do my friends, not that it’s any of your business. My dinner engagement was with a man I was considering for the position of…well, what I was considering him for doesn’t matter because he dribbled soup, and I draw the line at a man who dribbles soup.”
He glanced at my breasts, now hidden beneath my coat. “Given the amount of cleavage you were showing, I’m surprised soup is all he dribbled.”
“My dress is the very latest fashion!” I snapped. “And the amount of bosom I display isn’t any concern of yours.”
“Unless I find said bosom on top of me while lying in the mud,” he said quickly, a slow, heated smile curling his delectable lips.
My legs felt wobbly under the influence of that smile. I stiffened them. “I have apologized for the unfortunate accident. If you aren’t gracious enough to accept that apology, perhaps you will allow me to get on with my business.”
“By all means. Would you like me to round up a few men so you might consider them for the position of, I assume, your swain?”
“I don’t need your help to find a man!” Although the noise from the crowd still drowned out most other sounds, the heads of those nearest us swiveled in unison to look at me.
Griffin leaned back against his car. “Temper, Alexandra Whitney. First swearing and now bellowing like a stevedore—you wouldn’t want people to think your disposition is as fiery as your hair.”
Momentarily confused by his use of my name, I remembered Eloise’s mean, and regrettably public, comments earlier. “Alex,” I said without realizing it.
“Only my father—and Eloise—calls me Alexandra. I prefer Alex.” I was in the middle of formulating an exceedingly clever and biting retort when a great cheer from the crowd distracted me. Several police vans had arrived with reinforcements. Numerous constables emerged and swarmed along the protest line, shoving aside bystanders, and arguing with the bound women before trying to forcibly remove the chains. “Bloody hell!”
“I beg your pardon?”
I glared at the irritating man opposite me. He was laughing at me, the rotter. Tears burned behind my eyes, tears of frustration and anger and fear. “My first demonstration for the rights of women, and I’ve missed it all.”
“Is that so great a tragedy?”
For a moment, I wanted nothing more than to sit down on the wet pavement and sob out my troubles. “You don’t understand.”
“No, I don’t. But I have a feeling that a New Woman like yourself will inform me just how I—who, as you so rightly point out, am not a woman—am wrong.”
An ache in my throat built as helplessness washed over me, and for a moment, I was once again a prisoner of my own emotions. I couldn’t answer the irritating man, so I simply shook my head, my internal struggle to absorb all my energy.
To my surprise, he did not continue to goad me, he simply gave me a little bow and said, “As you like,” before getting into the waiting motorcar.
Shame made me want to run. To have failed something I had wanted so badly was one thing, but to have that failure witnessed by another—and a man who viewed the cause as foolishness—was almost unbearable.
I wiped away wetness on my heated cheeks, but before I could dwell further on my failure, screams, jeers, yells, and a variety of expletives washed out into the damp night when several newly arrived constables rushed past me, roughly jostling the crowd in order to yank at the nearby protesters, and forcibly dragging my sisters in suffrage from their positions.
“Stop it,” I whispered to myself, hating the weakness that even now, some five months after my father’s death, still clung to me. I wrapped my arms around myself, trying desperately to force reason back into my mind. “Stop it, stop it, stop it.”
Feminine screams punctuated the rude cries from the onlookers.
“Stop it,” I yelled at last, and using my elbows, pushed my way in to strike the nearest constable on the head with my umbrella as he struggled with my unpleasant neighbor.
Without looking, he shoved me back into the crowd, which closed tightly around me. Crushed by the mass of people surrounding me, I could not move forward as the constable tried to squeeze the suffragette out of the chains that bound her.
“No, you don’t understand. I’m with them! Please allow me forward. I am one of them! I am part of this!” Struggling, I tried to force my way forward again, but they impeded me just as the crowd swelled backwards. I was flung up against a man behind me, to whom I apologized as I righted myself.
“No harm done, miss.” A gold tooth winked as he gave me an amiable smile. Then he touched his bowler and melted into the crowd.
A horrible noise rent the air. The crowd’s mood had changed abruptly from that content with simple jeers and verbal abuses to an active participation in removing the women from their chains. Horror crawled up my spine as two constables held my recent neighbor while a third man cut off the chains with a heavy bolt cutter. As they freed the woman, the constables seized her and dragged her off to the Black Mariah, much to the delight of the crowd. Cheers rose as, one by one, the constables swarmed the struggling women, cutting them from the fence.
“No!” I said, the word rife with the despair and defeat that bit into my heart with dagger-like claws. “I’m with them. I’m part of this.”
My chain lay glinting dully in the sodium lights, cast there by the annoying but extremely handsome Griffin, as abandoned and ignored as I was. A familiar sense of failure wrapped itself around me when I watched the last of the protesters bundled into the Black Marias.
The police quickly disbanded the crowd of bystanders, waved off the urchins, and broke up the groups of onlookers. In a short amount of time, there were no other protesters left. I stood alone, disheveled, and damp on a wet, empty pavement. A sudden gust of wind caused an object to flutter across my feet. I reached down to pick up a torn Votes For Women sash and stared at it.
Echoes of the past dripped down upon me as the rain started again, and before me, the image of my father rose, his face as hard as flint. You failed your cause, failed the others, and failed yourself. What man would want a woman so inept she couldn’t complete a simple task?
I flinched at the words, my shoulders slumping as I adopted the familiar submissive pose, the one I donned whenever I was too tired to fight.
Your actions this evening were contemptible, and open to ridicule from my friends and family. You are worse than I ever thought you were. You are nothing.
It was that last oft-repeated phrase that drove me out of the very downtrodden state I had decried to Griffin. “No,” I said, squaring my shoulders, and glaring defiantly into the night. I would not allow the specter of my father torment me. Not any longer. I snatched up the wet chain and shook it at the memory of him. “I am free of you, and I have chosen my path. Think about that while you roast in hell for an eternity.”
There was no answer on the wind, but a sudden chill that left me shivering. I looked about for a hansom cab, but none were in sight. With a mental sigh, I gathered up my accessories, chain included, and made my way home feeling stripped of pride, confidence, and purpose.