Welcome back to The Devil of Moravia.Slatina wishes to meet the brightest and best of London society … but for now will have to content himself with the depraved Lord Samuel Longmire Gordon. To read the story in full, see here for previous instalments – one, two, three, four, five, six and seven.
Edmund. I have lately returned from the coast. Come this evening at eight. I have a rather good Lafite we might try.
There was no signature, however I recognised Samuel’s scratchy hand, his lack of social grace and manners.
Suddenly, Slatina was at my shoulder, lifting the note from my fingers. ‘You see, Lord Edmund, how we prise the door open? Soon we may step through.’ …
It was with a trembling heart that I reached the home of Lord Samuel Longmire Gordon that evening. I had endeavoured to persuade Slatina to remain in Belgravia, not knowing if the interview would progress well or badly. But the little man would brook no argument.
‘I am your constant companion, Lord Edmund,’ he said, his bony fingers nimbly pinning my cravat. ‘And will forever be in your shadow.’
This at least was true. Since the night of the storm – a mere seven nights before – Slatina had barely left my side during my waking hours, though often I hardly felt his presence, so softly did he walk, so rarely did he speak. It was indeed, as if he had become my shadow, a dark half of me from which I was never to be parted.
And so it was Slatina and myself stood side by side on Gordon’s doorstep. The evening was thankfully dry, the moon full bright, for which I was grateful, as the door was shielded from the kind glow of the streetlamp by a web-strung holly tree of gargantuan height and girth.
The door knocker was of a face, or rather a grotesque leering mask, which seemed to watch me from its gloomy perch. I grasped the brass ring that hung from its mouth and paused. Something unnerved me, making my courage fail. Perhaps it was the faint scent of rot about the place, the disturbing sight of a woman’s kerchief snagged on the holly tree, left to wave its greeting – or farewell – on the evening breeze, its owner who knew where.
Perhaps it was Slatina’s presence, the warm, meaty scent of him, his hand forever on my shoulder, resting in the small of my back. The sense that he was as a fox in human form, ready to pounce.
I believe I would never have entered that cursed place on my own accord, that I would be standing there still in the moonlight had it not been for Slatina, whose hand suddenly gripped my own, raised the knocker and let it drop with one – loud – bang.
We waited. My chest was tight, linen caught about my neck like a hangman’s noose. Something scurried over my boot, making me jump, stagger backwards. I made to leave, but Slatina blocked my path, gripped my elbow, pushed me onward. I opened my mouth, hoping to make excuses, to claim there was no one at home, that we should return another day … when the door creaked open.
At first I stood, bemused. I could see the hallway, the pale light shining from lamps along the walls. There was a smell of wine, gin, of a scented smoke that was alien to me. And another smell too of something of which no gentleman should be familiar, but sadly I knew all too well. The stink of low women.
Only as my mind grasped all of this did I realise the door had not opened itself. A child of no more than six years stood before me. I could not discern whether it was male or female, only that it wore a white powdered wig which was rather askew and a man’s coat of blue velvet which hung past its knees. Its feet were quite bare, toes curled and pink from the cold. It wore the most mournful expression in its large, brown eyes and a bruise coloured its cheekbone.
If I had thought to remove myself from that doorway, to flee back to Belgravia and sink into wine before a good fire, leaving all the unsettling scents and sounds behind me, now I could not. For though I know nothing of children, still I was aware Gordon had none and this poor child had surely come into his service through some foul deed or other. I could not turn my back on the creature. And even though I know the horrors that later befell that house and all through my intercession, still I would do the same today.
The little thing stood aside then, bowing unsteadily and Slatina was at my back, pressing me into the light which held less appeal to me then than the darkest, most filthy alleyway.
I stepped forward and in so doing, sealed all our fates together.