Bit of a cheeky one this, as I have combined the latest instalment of The Devil with Stephanie at Word Adventures #tuesdayuseitinasentence, today’s word being UGLY. See here to join in and to read the other tales and to read Edmund’s story in full, see here for instalments one, two, three, four, five, six , seven and eight.
Last time we saw Edmund and the devilish Slatina, they were about to spend an evening with the disreputable Lord Samuel Longmire Gordon …
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 …
My senses were assaulted, the smells of dirty linen, dogs and cigars growing stronger the further we ventured into the house. The walls were lit with ugly candelabra made of a heavy, dark metal contorted into the figures of dryads and centaurs, each wearing a unique expression – here of terror, here pain, here some ecstatic mixture of the two. Our little guide walked on ahead, picking carefully over cracked and broken tiles, shards of glass or pot and even once a chamber pot half-filled with ordure.
I cannot convey the tempest of feelings that assailed me, the nausea that swelled in my revolted stomach at the stench of the place, at the thought that any man – any gentleman – would live in such a fashion. I was repelled.
And yet I confess – for what else is left to me now but frankness – there was a part of me, the dark, wretched part of me, that wished to know all that the house held, to slip into its wickedness and experience it for myself.
Now, along with the sights and smells – my own growing sense of shame – sounds besieged me. There was music – a fiddle playing drunkenly some coarse country tune – and laughter, men’s low voices pierced by the high laughter of women. A dog barked frantically before letting out a sharp yelp and falling silent.
Doors led off the hallway left and right, most closed, several ajar. I glimpsed through one a man alone in a narrow chamber, his back to me, his shaved head in his hands. Through another door I saw a tableau of two men and one woman – she in a state of déshabillé, her figure flickering in the light of a single candle. One man – broad, stocky, his wig on a stand on the table – approached her as the other looked on. I swiftly averted my eyes.
I was beginning to wonder the wisdom of our venture, how either Slatina or myself could improve our standing in society with associations of such a degraded nature, when the child stopped before a closed door.
‘Is your master within?’ I asked, my voice thin and strange in my ears.
The creature made not a move, nor a sound, merely stared at me, the shadows falling heavily on his thin face. As the child did not seem in any mood to speak or move more, and with my heart thumping like a drum in my chest, I turned the handle and swung wide the door.
In that walk along the hall I had imagined what I would see inside that chamber, what levels of vice, of sin. But what lay therein shocked me more than anything I had imagined.
There was a pianoforte, a couch and chairs of shimmering silver satin, the warm glow of a brisk fire in the hearth. A company comprising two ladies with fair hair, so alike I supposed them to be sisters and two gentlemen dressed in the finest London fashion. The scene was so convivial, so decent I could have stepped in upon any respectable gathering in society.
Seated in a high backed ormolu throne, one leg draped over the chair’s arm, a large glass in his hand, was Samuel. On his shoulder sat a monkey, a gold chain about its neck, a bunch of grapes in its paws. As I watched, it placed with the utmost tenderness a fruit inside Samuel’s open mouth which he crunched with relish, the pink juice dribbling from his lips.
With a wide, wolfish grin, Samuel called, ‘Come in. And introduce me to your dark companion.’