The entire room went suddenly deadly quiet as everybody turned to stare at me. The voters, the officials, even a fellow in the corner who looked like he had just come in to warm himself up a bit - they all stared at me with open mouths.
What was the matter with them?
Then I realized. Oh, blast! I curtsied! I didn’t bow, I curtsied!
They needed to call a second police officer to ‘restrain the madwoman in the polling station’ as the government official put it to the messenger boy who was sent to the police. The boy was obviously impressed with my performance, because he returned not with one, but with three additional Bobbies, truncheons in hand.
Now don't get me wrong, I didn’t try to strangle anybody. Far from it. I simply had decided that since I was discovered anyway, I might as well use the opportunity and set up an impromptu demonstration for women’s rights in the polling station. The government officials in charge of the place didn’t seem to take kindly to the idea.
Thus it was that at 9:30 am on 22 August 1839 I was dragged out of an inconsequential polling station in the middle of London, with the firm assistance of four protectors of the people. Two of the officers held my arms, while another two marched ahead to warn any passers-by of the dangerous madwoman.
‘Chauvinists!’ I yelled. ‘Oppressors of womanhood!’
One of the Bobbies winced, covering his ears.
‘Can we gag her?’ he asked his sergeant.
‘No, lad, that’s against regulations,’ the older man grunted.
‘What about a straitjacket?’
‘We ain’t got one of those, more’s the pity.’
Digging my heels into the ground, I continued to express my opinion of the oppressors of womanhood in no uncertain terms. To my considerable satisfaction they had a great deal of trouble moving me five inches, let alone down the steps from the doors of the polling station.
We had just reached the last porch step when out of the bank on the opposite side of the misty street stepped a figure I remembered all too well: Rikkard Ambrose, his classical features as hard as ever, his black cloak wrapped tightly around him. When he caught sight of me being dragged away, he stopped in his tracks.
‘Officer!’ In three long strides he was in front of us. His face was just as unmoving as before, but there was a steely glint in his dark eyes. ‘Officer, what are you doing with this young man, may I ask?’
The sergeant turned, and paled as he saw the visage of the much younger man. He took one hand off my arm to salute. My, my. Mr Rikkard Ambrose had to be someone of importance to elicit that kind of reaction from one of London’s stoic defenders of the law.
I tried to use the opportunity to wrestle free, but immediately the sergeant stopped saluting and clapped his hand around my arm again.
‘Good morning, Mr Ambrose, Sir!’ he said, trying to stand at attention while not loosening his grip on yours truly. ‘Um… Sir, if I may ask, what young man are you speaking of?’
With a sharp jerk of his hand, Mr Ambrose pointed at me.
‘That one, of course. Are you blind? What are you doing with him?’
‘Not him, Sir.’ Reaching up, the sergeant gripped my top hat and pulled it off, so my chestnut bob cut was freed and tumbled downwards. ‘Her. That’s a girl, Mr Ambrose, Sir.’
The expression on the face of Mr Rikkard Ambrose at that moment was quite possibly the funniest thing I had ever seen in my life. His stone face slackened and he gaped at me like he hadn’t seen a single female before in his entire life.
‘Something wrong, Sir?’ the sergeant inquired, dutifully. When no answer was forthcoming from the stupefied Mr Ambrose, the sergeant shrugged, and made an awkward little bow. ‘Well, if you’d excuse us, Sir, we have to take this one,’ he nodded at me like he would at a rabid horse, ‘away to where she belongs. Maybe a night in the cells will teach her not to do what’s only for men.’
‘Aye,’ one of the constables chuckled. ‘Women voting? Who ever heard of something like that? Next thing we know they’ll want decent jobs!’
His colleagues laughed at his joke and started dragging me to a police coach standing not twenty yards away.
In that moment, I made a decision.
I turned my head around to look back. Mr Rikkard Ambrose still stood there, pale and unmoving as a block of ice. Even though he was already a dozen yards away, and the Bobbies dragged me further and further, I could see his stone face very clearly. I could see his dark eyes starting to burn with cold anger. A grin spreading across my face, I yelled:
‘Looking forward to seeing you at work on Monday, Sir!’
By the next morning I didn’t feel quite so cocky anymore. That might have had something to do with spending the night in a prison cell, or with the fact that I had made a total mess of my plan, or with the fact that I hadn’t been able to get myself calmed down enough to sleep until midnight.
And when I finally did fall asleep on the hard, uneven bunk bed in the prison cell, I dreamed of a dozen Bobbies, reinforced by a whole platoon of Ancient Greek statues, chasing me through the dark streets of London all night, shouting: ‘Stop her! Stop the feminist! She has to be at work on Monday! At nine sharp! Catch her!’ I’m not sure which was more disturbing, the horrifying chase or the fact that the stone statues on my tail looked suspiciously like Mr Rikkard Ambrose.
I awoke sometime around three am, my heart hammering so fast I knew I would never be able to go to sleep again.
Instead, I surveyed the luxurious hotel suite the nice policemen had put me in for the night: six square feet of the best of what London’s police stations had to offer. The walls of my temporary home were decorated in an intricate pattern of mould and graffiti. The panorama window - about two square feet covered with a beautiful set of iron bars - offered a spectacular view over the gutter of one of London’s finest dingy alleyways. The door, of course, was designed to fit the standards of the window and was similarly crafted from highly decorative iron bars. The bed, as my back could attest, was also made to fit the highest standards, and was able to reduce your back muscles to a tangle of aching knots within five minutes. All in all, it was a breath-taking place with a charming atmosphere. The previous tenant had even left me a little present in the form of a puddle of well-matured goo in the corner. It emitted the most delicious, stomach-turning odour and completed the whole ambience to misery in perfection. The pale light of the moon which filtered in through the small window didn’t make the scene any cheerier.