Home > Shadow of the Lion (An Alex Whitney Novel Book 1)

Shadow of the Lion (An Alex Whitney Novel Book 1)
Author: Katie MacAlister

 

 

ONE

 


“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.

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