Last week we left Edmund, fleeing from the home of rake and all round scoundrel, Samuel Gordon, leaving death and destruction behind. Surely, our hero’s fortunes can only improve …
Now, read on …
… He was quite dead, his eyes clouded and fixed. Perhaps it was through the shock of his mishandling or the pistol’s sudden report.
Whichever. He would not be the last innocent to fall through this unholy meeting …
For several days after our visit to Samuel, I retired to my chamber, unable to face Slatina or his servants. I could not bear to speak of that night, or my part in it. I was angry at Slatina for using my connections in such an offhand manner, blamed the mysterious foreigner for the horrors that had overcome the evening, railed against Gordon and his tawdry companions for staining me with their filth, exposing me to their pestilence.
I allowed myself to wallow in this delusion for full half a day before I could admit the truth – that it was my own greedy heart, my own desire for rehabilitation and my need to return to my previous social standing that had made me fall to the darkest place my soul had then yet reached. I was aware of Samuel’s reputation. I knew the murky depths in which he dwelt and if I had not seen his unspeakable acts with my own eyes, I had heard reliable report of them and knew the truth.
Samuel was a demon made flesh. A lost man, a body separated from its soul, destined – if the priests tell it true – to fester in Hell, suffering tortures of the Devil’s own construction.
And I had led Slatina to him. Willingly. Selfishly. Hoping for my own redemption whilst riding on the crooked back of one long cursed. How could I have believed any good would come from such a meeting?
For three days, I listened to the rhythms of the house, to the trails of Red Men who circulated through the halls and stairways, rooms and passageways of my home like blood through a recumbent body. From the loud tramp of footsteps, their numbers seemed to grow daily. I was constantly slipping into a disturbed slumber, merely to be wakened by the slam of a door or the tap-tap-tap of leather shoes on boards.
I imagined how they looked as they patrolled the house, a constant river of men, their scarlet coats turned crimson in the darkness, pale faces floating in haloes of candlelight. I confess the thought scared me a little, kept me shrunk in my chamber when I might have ventured forth. They were Slatina’s ghostly army – intruders in my ancestral home – and they were not mine to command.
On the fourth day I woke, the pulse of movement outside my door insistent. It echoed through the room, the sound rising and falling, beating like a silversmith’s hammer against my temples. Why were there so many servants in the house? And what could they possibly accomplish late in the evening and on into the haunted hours?
It was this thought that finally shook the melancholy from my shoulders and led me to rise from my bed. The sun was not yet full up, but still a slice of grey dawn light crept below my curtains onto the floor and this gave me courage, for I had conjured such spectres in my wild imaginings, if it had been one hour earlier, in my frousty bed I would have stayed.
Instead, and with an air of superior determination only the disgraced nobility can muster, I flung wide my chamber door and step out onto the landing, my robe flapping about me, my feet bare.
One Red Man passed and then another, each dipping his bewigged head in my direction before hurrying on his way. I attempted to speak to a slight Red Man – in truth more a Red Boy if his pimpled chin and downy lip were any guide – to ask the whereabouts of Slatina, but he shot me a worried look, ducked out of my reach when I attempted to restrain him and hopped along the hallway with his burden of gold embroidered damask.
After another attempt and then another, I finally reached the end of my – admittedly short – patience. I stood at the ballustrade and shouted for the pallid Moravian, calling him each foul, low name my tongue could bend itself around, calling his parentage into question, accusing him of every deviant, base and low act I could imagine and many I would rather not.
I believe no creature on this earth could move as quickly or as silently as Slatina. Before my last curse had fallen to silence he was beside me, his mouth bent to an amused smile, brow raised in question.
Taken aback, I struggled to find my words, by which time Slatina spoke again. ‘I trust you enjoyed your rest and are eagerly anticipating this evening’s ball?’
‘Ball?’ My mind raced.
‘Lord Samuel has proved most helpful in sending forth invitations.’
‘Of course,’ he said, brightly. ‘I paid him a visit four days since – Tuesday last – and together we drew a list. In one hour, Lord Edmund, you and I shall host the finest, most accomplished ball London has ever witnessed.’
He pointed to my grandfather clock, the only piece of furniture in the house which I could truly class as my own. The hands told me it was twenty eight minutes past six.
Dumb as an ox, my mind reeled to make sense of the conversation. What I had taken to be sunrise must have been the last pale fingers of daylight. What’s more, I had lost several days, having woken in the misapprehension it was Sunday, when if Slatina was to be believed, it was the following Saturday.
I felt bewildered and not a little frightened. However, there was no time to put my enfeebled senses to solving the mystery, as I had to wash and dress before the first visitors arrived.
As I slipped on my linen shirt, a pair of midnight blue satin breeches and silk stockings, the anxiety began to fall from me, comforted as I was by thoughts of candlelight and music, dancing and pleasant company.
But if I believed the worst of my distress was past, then I was mistaken. For little now lay ahead of me but blood, blood, blood.