Talking to the jailers had accomplished nothing. All she could do was hope she was dragged in front of a magistrate soon, so she could convince him that while she had attended the protest against the current inequalities in the parliamentary system and the lack of fair representation, she’d had no involvement in the rotten fruit being thrown at Palace of Westminster guards. The tomato she’d thrown had been directed at someone else entirely. It was bad luck that her elbow had been knocked at just the wrong time.
And she had to hope she appeared credible enough to be released, because she had a meeting with the patent office in roughly eighteen hours. Years of work developing a tool that could change society was being held up by some clerk and his tangle of impenetrable paperwork.
It had taken two months to get this appointment and there was no guarantee she’d be able to get another soon.
She silently cursed herself for being fool enough to go to New Palace Yard. But when she’d heard exactly who was leading today’s protest, who would be speaking at it, she’d been unable to stop herself.
Charles Tucker had been responsible for inciting the riot in her village last year. He was responsible for that, and the boiler explosion, and the death of her friend. The bastard had cleared out before the watch arrived and avoided any form of consequence for the damage he’d done.
So she’d thrown a blasted vegetable, and here she was while he, presumably, was free. Yet another example of how iniquitous the world was.
She shook her head, trying to put aside the anger and concentrate on what mattered—the single focus of her past five years. The plan that got her up each morning and kept the fire inside her burning late into the night as she worked. She was going to change the world—shift the scales of disparity just a smidgen—and in the process, earn enough money to buy herself some independence. To purchase a home that no man could take from her. To earn a living that relied on nothing but her own hard work.
She would never again find herself without fire, food, and shelter because a man had let her down.
It was the thought of her matches—an invention that would make fire accessible to all—that filled her with a stubborn determination that settled in her stomach and straightened her spine. She’d come to London with the express purpose of finding a distributor for her matches. She needed to be in her laboratory, not in a cell.
Andrew, the sixteen-year-old footman she’d brought with her from Abingdale, had tagged along to the protest. He’d seemed like the best choice when leaving their small country village. She needed an escort around London—as ridiculous as that societal expectation was—and the wide-eyed country boy would not protest her choices. She had all the semblance of an escort without any of the hassle an actual chaperone might pose.
But now her freedom hinged on the scrawny lad’s ability to get out of the riot and send word to Ben that she’d been arrested. Surely, he’d manage that. He was innocent, not daft.
It would take three days to reach Abingdale to deliver the message and three days back. Worst case scenario, she’d be looking at seven days in prison.
She shivered. There was no way she was getting through seven days in here without revealing her sex to the rest of the inmates, and this was no place for a woman. It would be a gamble to even trust the guards.
The cold from the stone floor began to seep past the thick fabric of her coat and breeches. As the temperature dropped, her heartbeat quickened the way it always did when she got cold. She fell into deep steady breathing to ward off the shivers and began her usual mantra.
She was in Old Bailey, for goodness’ sakes. They wouldn’t let anyone freeze to death in here, would they? Next to her, her cellmate shifted. The sound of piss on bricks trickled off. The smell didn’t.