What has happened to Frances and why does she feel such affinity to Edmund? Read on to find out more and see below to read previous instalments.
‘A hand grabbed my wrist, pulled me forward, the light blinding me. Again, hands were on me, tugging me this way and that. There was laughter, a hand on my back, then my shoulder – one on my throat. Something tugged at my skirts.
‘Had I been spared one terrible fate only to succumb to another?
‘The grip on my throat tightened, unforgiving as a noose. The little light I saw began to sparkle and dance, cut to pieces by my failing sight. I would wish to say I thought of our Saviour, of his kind hand resting upon me, gathering me home, but fear had gripped my callow heart and I could think only of how little breath remained me, how many moments were left of my existence. As the night fully dimmed, I believe I thought of my mother and father, my little brother, how they would mourn my loss, lay flowers on my grave in the coming years before they lay themselves in the earth.
‘Then the pain and fear fell away, cold took me and there was only chill darkness, a sweet sinking nothingness that I know I shall only feel again at the moment of my true passing.
‘Perhaps I died a moment then. Perhaps I had merely sunk into a faint. Whichever, the next moment I was aware, pain pierced my skull, my throat, my limbs, my chest. I tried to claw back the embrace of the cold, to drift back to that numb state my body and mind had crossed into. But someone was shaking me most hideously and though I beat at them with my fists I could not free myself from their iron grip.
‘I opened my eyes. Atop me was a beast, long matted hair falling over its foul, snarling face, its eyes burning red, the weight of it pushing me into the mud, that seemed to suck at my back, pulling me into the earth. My mind raced. I was on the brink of death and here it seemed, a demon had come to claim me. I began to fight, kicking, punching the creature, clawing at its eyes, but it was too heavy, its grip too assured. Still I fought and as it shifted its weight to one side I snatched my knee up sharply, hoping to dislodge it for good.
‘There was a cry, a deep groan and the beast rolled aside, falling to the ground beside me. I thought to scramble away, to run for home, but my skirts were trapped beneath the demon and as I struggled to pull them free, I heard a voice.
‘”By, Sam. Bested by an alley cat.”
‘And the voice fell to an amused, breathless chuckling. This threw me, made me pause in my efforts to escape, for I did not imagine a demon to be called Sam, or indeed for the soldiers of Satan to be capable of such thoroughly human laughter. Then I heard some movement, a lanthorn was taken up from behind me and its flickering light revealed the scene.
‘I was still in the physical realm, still in Vauxhall Gardens, for I could just make the shape of the pagoda against the pale glow of the half moon. The lamp light danced and flickered quite madly, coming closer until it shone above my head.
“Sam,” called that same voice. “Do you live, man?”
‘Then the demon beside me shifted, rolling over, the hair sliding aside to reveal a face twisted in pain, but altogether human.
“Aye, for now,” replied the face.
‘As the flame flickered on those sharp cheeks, those fox-like features, a memory came to me of a small boy dancing, taper in hand as a paper city blazed …
“You’re the child,” I gasped. “The child who burned Hamburgh.”
‘The man laughed at my horror, my ridiculous words. But dipped his head in a mocking imitation of good manners.
“Samuel Longmire Gordon,” he said. “And you are Frances Lucretia Kindley.”‘
Frances paused then, her agitated fingers dancing at her lips.
‘Perhaps it was at that moment I was lost. Sitting in the Vauxhall mud, staring into his eyes. His expression was one I had never witnessed before. It was as if he knew me utterly, could look inside my mind and see the deepest workings, divine every ignoble thought and silent curse and selfish deed and accept it all. Nay, not accept – welcome it. He welcomed every darkness in me, encouraged them to thrive.
‘And there was something more, something blacker still. I would shudder to speak of it to any other than you. For there was a hunger there too, Edmund, a desire for possession.’
Her hands were shaking as she reached for mine.
‘He meant to own me, to have complete power over every part of me and even in that moment …’ She shuddered. ‘Even then, I believe I should have been helpless to resist him.’
She shook her head. ‘Then the spell was broken by his companion, a man I later knew as Josias Candle, who took reached to pull him to his feet.
“Come,” he said, “The night falls deeper and there is little more sport to have here.”
‘That Candle was the one who had his hand about my throat I little doubt and what his plans were for me, I am loath to contemplate. Samuel had at least saved me from that fate, just as Candle himself saved me from the girl and her sharp boned accomplice. That these two men were dangerous there was no doubting also. That they prowled the gardens in search of sport of the most heinous kind I knew in my marrow and that in itself should have made me run for a constable.
‘Instead, I allowed Samuel to help me to my feet, to reclaim my cloak, to remove a little of the mud from my heels and skirt. He returned my necklace and bracelet too and it was only later I wondered at what happened to my attackers, where they had fallen. If they lie somewhere still, unmourned, unrecovered. I stood motionless as marble as Josias fetched a carriage to take me home, as Samuel pressed a shilling on the driver to pay for the journey.
‘That I permitted all of these things to pass shows a weakness in me, a thread of indecency I had not thought dwelt in my soul. But as Samuel handed me into the carriage, I found a defining proof that I belonged more in this devilish company than with the sweet, good society my parents dwell in. For Samuel snatched me to him, pressed his lips against my cheek …’
Her eyes were swollen with tears, brimming on her cheeks like a river breaking its banks after a heavy storm. She seemed so lost, so hopeless as she struggled to say the words.
‘… and I did not push him away.’
Suddenly there was a loud knock and without pause the door swung open. There stood Slatina, a thin smile curling on his lips.