03. Who He Really Is

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'Where have you been?' Ella demanded in a breathless voice, jumping up from the bed, where, judging from the dampness of her pillows, she had spent half the night crying in despair. 'Oh Lilly, I've been so worried!'

She definitely looked worried. Her normally cream-coloured face had taken on the hue of a freshly whitewashed wall, except for her large almond eyes, which were shining with suppressed anguish. With both hands, she held a handkerchief to her mouth as if to stifle a scream that was on the tip of her tongue. Glittering tears decorated her face like diamonds. I had to hand it to her: she looked like a perfect damsel in distress. And it hadn't even been she who had spent the night in prison. How did she do it?

'What has happened to you, Lilly? Were you abducted? Who were you with? Where were you? And... Why are you wearing Uncle Bufford's old striped trousers?' At the last question, she actually stopped crying. Apparently, my wearing striped trousers had a calming effect on her. I should try to do it more often.

'Don't worry,' I told her, patting her on the head. 'I'm perfectly fine.'

'Yes, but where were you?' she repeated the question with more force.

I shrugged. 'Out.'

'Where?'

'Somewhere in town.'

'You've been gone the whole night!'

'Have I?' I tried to sound surprised. It didn't sound very convincing, unfortunately. 'My, my, how time flies.'

'Why are you wearing Uncle Bufford's trousers?' she asked again. Apparently, this point was of extraordinary significance to her.

'Well, I...' Desperately I wracked my brain for some legitimate reason why a girl should be wandering through London dressed in trousers.

Instinctively, my eyes slid up and down Ella's figure. She was dressed in what was considered normal and decent for a young lady to wear: a pale cotton gown with wide, puffed sleeves and lace trimmings, and, of course, the crinoline, a structure for supporting enormous hoop skirts that was made out of the bones of whales. The poor sea creatures had to suffer to give the rear end of every lady within the British Empire preposterous dimensions. This was what was considered 'normal'.

Taking this into consideration, was there a legitimate reason why a woman would want to wear trousers?

Well, maybe because she actually had some brains...

'Why don't you answer, Lilly? What is the matter?'

But no, that wouldn't work as an argument with Ella. I bit my lip, trying desperately to think of something to say.

'Please,' she pleaded, clasping her hands together like a little child. 'Please tell me where you were!'

Darn it! How could I resist her? But I simply couldn't tell her what had really happened.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't that I didn't trust her. I loved her. I would have trusted her with my deepest, darkest secrets – if she hadn't been afraid of the dark, that is. If I told her that I went out, dressed in men's clothes, to illegally vote at a parliamentary election, was offered a job as a secretary, got caught by the police, then got thrown into jail and spent the night next door to three famous murderers, she would have nightmares for the next three years.

'I... I wanted to go out last night to visit Patsy,' I fibbed. 'And you know... it was so late, and the streets were so dark... I was afraid something might happen to me, a lone girl, in the dangerous city.' I affected a quite convincing shudder. 'And I had read in some book – I don't remember the title right now – of girls dressing up as men when they did not want to be harassed, so I thought why not do the same, and so I did. But then it was so terrible out in the dark streets, and Patsy said I could stay the night if I didn't want to return in the dark. I was afraid, so I stayed. Sorry for worrying you.'

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