01. Arrested for Good Manners

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The young man's reflection glared back at me out of the shop window, suspicion etched into his roundish face. He probably thought I was doubting whether he looked manly enough, and, to be honest, I was.

'Come on,' I muttered, morosely. 'Manliness, manliness... give me some manliness!'

I turned sideways, and he turned with me, thrusting his chest out at the exact same moment I did. It looked flat as a board, betraying not a hint of femininity, so that, at least, was going to be no problem.

Farther down though... My eyes wandered to the young man's behind, where my Uncle Bufford's old trousers bulged in a distinctly un-manly way. Yes. The young man's behind was definitely a bit too fa–


Not the f-word. Generous. That was the word. It was just a bit too generous.

'Hell's whiskers!'

I made an impolite gesture at the young man in the window, which he duly reciprocated. Who was he trying to fool? He was no man. He was a girl. Which meant that, as much as I would have liked to pretend otherwise, so was I.

'I don't like you,' I informed my reflection in no uncertain terms. It scowled at me, not at all pleased about being spoken to so disrespectfully.

'It's your own fault.' I scowled right back. 'If you were skinnier, and didn't have so much of this–' I pointed to my derrière, 'then you'd look a bit more convincing in this getup.'

Distastefully, I tugged at the tailcoat and trousers, which felt odd over the tight corset.

'If we get caught, it's your fault for looking so... so chubby! We're trying to look manly here. Couldn't you at least get hold of a false beard or a prominent, masculine jaw?'

A pedestrian walking by gave me an odd look.

I decided that if I wanted to appear more masculine, it was probably time to stop talking to my reflection in a shop window and be about my business.

Throwing a last, discontented look at the well upholstered, tanned young man in the shop window, I hurriedly stuffed my hair under the huge, heavy top hat that was part of my disguise from my uncle's wardrobe. My hair wasn't too long to be a man's, really, it only reached down to my shoulders. But not many young men had shoulder-length brown locks. Silently thanking my uncle for unknowingly providing such a monster of a hat, I turned to face my destination.

It was still some way away and concealed by the thick layer of mist that obscured most of London's streets at this time of day, but I knew exactly where I was going. I had spied out the place days ago, in preparation for my secret mission.

Secret, solitary, and illegal.

I started down the street again and felt my throat go dry. The stop in front of the shop window had been a temporary one, a last chance to confirm that I looked the part I was trying to play. It had granted me a short reprieve, but now the time had come.

Blast! What if they recognize me? If they realize I'm a girl? Panicked thoughts shot through my head like bees in a beehive rattled by a hungry bear. What if they grab me and... God only knows what they might do!

Calm down, Lilly, I told myself. You are on a mission for all womankind. If you should fall, hundreds will follow in your footsteps.

Which didn't exactly make me feel better, since that meant they would trample over my remains.

Suddenly, the mist before me parted, and there it was: the place I had come to infiltrate. The place I was forbidden, by law, to enter. White columns supported a wide, classical portico that overshadowed the steps leading up to the entrance. The door had two massive wings of oak, and a guard beside it. Over the door hung a dark red banner, proclaiming, in black letters the words 'POLLING STATION'.

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