The Devil of Moravia : The pawing of flesh, the tearing of garments

Ballroom chandelier

Image : Pixabay

Edmund had rather a quiet week last week, as we returned to the twentieth century to reacquaint ourselves with Fiona and the terrifyingly bad influence that is Aunt Gloria. Now, let’s get back to Edmund. Strike up the violins and get your glad rags on, we’re going to a ball …

See here to catch up with the story so far – One, two, three, four, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve and thirteen.


 

As I was recoiling from this shock, the lady on his arm laughed, tipping her head to the side, showing her face to me.

I believed my heart would grind to a halt. I gripped the ballustrade, my knees quivering like hounds at the scent of a fox. For there was Frances Kindley, the 3rd Earl of Congresbury’s daughter.

The lady once engaged to be my wife.

I stood for a moment as one caught in a dream. How was it that Frances was here at Moorfield again, after all that had passed between us? How was it that this most decent, sweet and pure of creatures could be hanging from the arm of that most debased person, Samuel Gordon?

I hung back for a moment, caught in the buzz of the crowd, buffeted by guests and Red Men alike, a weed snatched by the flow of a river current as I watched the three of them talking and laughing together. How long was it since I had seen her? My heart told me it was an eternity, my head – or the tiny fraction of it still capable of logical thought – said no more than eleven months had elapsed between her breaking our engagement and that moment.

From the ballroom came the strains of a lively jig – the sort the lower classes danced in earnest and the nobility with a mocking swagger – and the people began to surge forward, carrying me with them, towards Slatina, Samuel … and Frances.

At first I fought the crowd, hoping to steal to the quiet of my room, regain my composure, fortify myself against the moment of our meeting. Then Samuel raised his head, turned in my direction. For a moment his eyes were blank, searching the crowd as one scans a featureless horizon. Then his gaze was sharp, his eyes narrowed, his lips twisted to that cruel, familiar smile and I knew that it was too late for escape, that he had seen me and that my fate was sealed.

‘Edmund,’ he cried, his voice so loud, many others turned to look at him.

I knew the scoundrel was watching me, watching Frances, waiting for that moment our eyes should meet, but I could see only her.

Did her shoulders tense at my name? Did the slightest shiver pass through her at the thought of my approach? If so then she was a stern mistress of herself, for as I drew closer and she turned to greet me, her face was as a Classical sculpture, the countenance of a Roman goddess – blank, cool, unfeeling.

‘Finally, our host has arrived,’ cried Samuel, his gaze dancing between Frances’s and my own. ‘I was beginning to believe you had found a caravan of gypsies, stolen off with a raven haired maid and fled North to produce a dozen black eyed bastards.’

Shocked at the man’s base words, I looked to Frances to offer an apology on his behalf – but the words stopped in my mouth. For she did not seem appalled or horrified, her maiden’s cheek did not flush with shame for him. In truth, his words had produced no more response in her than a faint glow of amusement in her sapphire eyes.

‘Do be quiet, Samuel,’ she said. ‘Such tiresome nonsense you speak.’

Could this be the same young woman who had bewitched me with her shy smile? Not a part of her had altered since the days when she was mine, from the curve of her neck to the copper tone of her hair, to her tinkling laugh. And yet there was a sharpness in her expression, a chink of flint in her eye which seemed at once out of place and familiar. It was with a horrid shock I realised whose expression she wore. For that cruel glint might have belonged to Samuel.

‘Come,’ she said, holding out her arm for him to take. ‘I am bored and wish to dance.’

Then she was gone, the pair swallowed by the throng of bodies as if they had stepped into the maw of some ceaselessly stirring monster. With them went all hope, all joy, all pleasure in the evening and my rallying fortunes. For if Frances Kindley was lost to Samuel and his ilk, then the world was indeed shorn of everything good and kind and worth striving for.

‘Come, Edmund, your guests.’ It was Slatina, taking my arm, steering me towards the ballroom, through the press of bodies.

I allowed myself to be led, timid as a lamb, through the hall, along the sparkling corridors under the gaze of what seemed to me a thousand eyes until we entered the ballroom. The colours dazzled – a rainbow in the ladies’ gowns, the flowers, the scarlet flashes that were the Red Men – the room alive with music, laughter, the stamp of feet, the chink of glass, the effect so great it left me dizzy.

And dizzy I remained for the entire evening, as the couples swirled and jigged about me, as the music soared and waned, as the air became thick with the scents of sweat and food and spilled wine. Faces flew past, ugly and contorted as stone gargoyles, each only differing from the next in the faint hints of their sex. As the hours wore on, something changed by degrees, until instead of my home I saw an awful fantasy.

A strange mania took hold of the company – polite conversation gave way to bestial laughter – the gentle touch of one partner to another became a tight grip, that sunk to grappling, to a pawing of flesh, the tear of garments. The night was filled with glassy eyes, glistening tongues and all the while I stood as if in a trance, unable to move, unable to speak.

Did I dream that night? Did I imagine first one couple falling to the floor in a crumple of satin, then another, the musicians playing on, craning redfaced as every couch, every chair – every corner – filled with tangled cloth and flesh, as the air became too hot to breathe, the sound of laughter fading below the music and other, more base sounds.

How much time passed I cannot be sure, but one moment the air was dense and oppressive, the next it seemed freer. Couples climbed to their feet with puzzled expressions, straightening their hair, smoothing their creased clothing, dabbing their faces clean. Suddenly, I could move my arms, my legs, breathe deeply once more. It was as if we were all freed from some spell. Some witchcraft.

Then with a clatter of hooves and a slam of doors the coaches arrived. Servants fetched cloaks and hats, the exhausted musicians cased their intruments. The evening was coming to an end, and I was trapped in a whirl of praise and gratitude.

‘… the finest ball the city has ever seen …’ ‘… we shall talk of its splendour for years to come …’

My anxiety waned and I began to enjoy the moment, the awful trance of an evening fading from my mind as a nightmare does in the warmth of the dawn.

A hand gripped my arm, its urgency undeniable. It was Slatina, face taut, a crease of concern between his eyes.

‘Edmund, you must come.’

Suddenly cross at the interruption, at the spoiling of my moment of triumph, I tried to shrug him off, but his grip persisted and something about his face made me pause.

‘What is it?’

‘There has been an accident.’

His voice dropped so I struggled to hear it above the clomp of feet.

‘A terrible accident.’

 

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25 thoughts on “The Devil of Moravia : The pawing of flesh, the tearing of garments

    1. Ooh, I like that comparison! 🙂 Yes, verging into the orgiastic there. Poor old Edmund hasn’t a clue what he’s got himself involved in … Thanks Chris

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  1. That’ll keep you warm! Lumme, I have often wondered what a Regency orgy would look like. Two little things dear authoress: in Frances’ line, the word ‘nonsense’ has no E. It is spelt ‘non’ not none. Mere typo. 🙂 And also the brilliant simile about ‘into the maw of ceaselessly stirring monster’ I think you missed out putting in ‘into the maw of SOME ceaselessly stirring monster.’ I would choose ‘some’ and not ‘a’ because it increases the sibiliant S sounds you already have there, which help to vividly embody that monster.

    I would cut the bit about ‘a weed snatched in the flow of a river current’ in the second para – it is pertinent and visual, but it is incongruous as a field of reference to the ‘buzz’ you set up just beforehand. If you still want a metaphor, to extend the sense of inhuman buzz, it might be good to reference wasps or bees or hornets: ‘…the buzz of the crowd. I was buffeted by guests and seemingly the only body without employment in this infernal, nocturnal hive.’

    As ever, good Lady I remain both your humble servant, grateful acolyte and general cheerleader. ~ P ~

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    1. Thanks for the heads up on the typos – always grateful for keen eyes spotting errors mine have missed. I do get what you mean about the ‘weed’ simile – always fun to choose something apt, something not too overused (though trying for actual originality is perhaps a wish too far!) Thanks P and yes, that will certainly keep you warm on a cold, chill night. I’ll stick with my electric blanket 🙂

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      1. As it was once dazzlingly said: “The French have sex. The English… have hot water bottles.” 😉 I tend to think river weeds ARE overused though! And don’t do yourself down, you’re very original. That dragon with a wing like a leather umbrella folding, was genius.

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      2. I don’t mind the odd cliche in Devil though – it was written a long time ago after all … 🙂 And thank you for the positive reinforcement. You’re a sweety. P.S I love my hot water bottle 😉

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  2. Do you know what? Please ignore that, it comes over as incredibly pompous and that was not my intention at all. Please delete everything additional to the typos was only a suggestion.

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  3. You certainly know how to leave a reader hanging, Lynn… I’ve just caught up on the story, so I was pretty hooked in when Slatina came up with his ‘terrible accident’.
    I mustn’t get so behind again…
    Your story is becoming deliciously sleazy 🙂

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      1. So it would seem…. Your mastery of the grammer and mannerisms from ye olde dayes are so good that I’m beginning to think you’re a time-traveller… or something more sinister… what century were you born in, and what evil deed did you carry out in order to be granted eternal youth?

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      2. Haha! The exchange rate for eternal youth is much better than it used to be – just the blood of a few local virgins and a forst born or two … Not bad all considering. I’d love to have a time machine, visit Tudor England or the Medieval period, though I’d make sure I was back in time to miss the next outbreak of plague or a Viking skirmish – I’m not stupid 🙂
        Thanks Jane

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  4. Oh goodness, I missed this when you first posted it. What an exciting episode — and what a great depiction of the debauchery that is nothing less than what I’d expect from one of Slatina’s events! Fabulous hook, too — makes me glad I can go read the next chapter immediately.

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  5. I’m behind on this Lynn, but catching up. During the ball, it reminded me very much of Pandamonium, in Milton’s Paradise Lost. I think the description fits the gathering well. Am going to read on and find out what went horribly wrong at the end.

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    1. Ah, thanks so much for reading, Amanda. There is a small but steady readership for it – understandably so as serials aren’t easy to keep up with – so thanks for taking the time to take a look 🙂

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