Greetings from the Devil’s own realm. Last week was a slack one for Edmund – no death, no blood, no destruction. Though he did have a strangely long sleep … Now, back into the fray, dear ones …
If you’ve just encountered The Devil and would like to read some more, see below for all previous instalments.
One, two, three, four, five, six , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven and twelve.
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 …
‘Tell me more about our Clock!’
Aunt Gloria jumped, knocking an inch of ash from the end of her cigarette, which dropped to her knee with a soft tap. She brushed the mess onto the carpet, then spent the next few seconds rubbing it into the pile with her stockinged toe and a further patch of grey into the weave of her skirt where it remained a dull shadow.
When she’d finished, she scowled at me, pencilled eyebrows drawing together, one – I now noticed – lower than the other, making her look at once cross and confused. ‘What on earth is the matter with you?’ she said.
‘You finally mentioned The Clock,’ I said, talking into my clasped hands.
I felt suddenly guilty for my outburst. The lowering sun was cutting through a pall of cigarette smoke as if the room was draped in muslin, but I hadn’t even noticed before as Gloria was a rather fine story teller. Her voice and expression changed as she became each character: a lisping European accent and drawn in cheeks for Slatina; a slow, cultured tone with a jutting jaw for Edmund. I had become quite captivated.
Gloria ground the lilac stub into the ashtray and I plucked another from the collapsing packet, slotting it into the holder for her. Once smoke was rolling between her lips again, she seemed to regain her good humour.
‘Where were we?’ she said, plucking an imaginary hair from her glossed lips.
‘Edmund introduced Slatina to Samuel Gordon.’
She tucked her feet under her bottom, leaning towards me excitedly. ‘I know! Isn’t Samuel just the worst?’ Her smile grew, her eyes turning soft and wistful. ‘I knew a chap like him when I was eighteen – not much older than you are now.’
‘I’m twelve,’ I reminded her.
She waved her hand dismissively. ‘Twelve, eighteen – age is of little concern in matters of the heart, Fiona. I learned more from that slick dewdropper in three weeks than I did over the following fifteen years.’
I didn’t know what a dewdropper was. And what exactly Gloria had learned from her chap, I didn’t want to know. Hurriedly, I said, ‘So, what about the ball? And Edmund? And what plan does Slatina have for all the Lords and Ladies? Is he a confidence trickster? A jewel thief?’
She smiled, revealing uneven teeth dull with nicotine and coffee stains. ‘Oh, my sweet. He’s much, much worse. You can’t imagine.’
At that age anything I couldn’t imagine both thrilled and frustrated me. ‘And what has our Clock got to do with any of it?’
She giggled, a low rattle vibrating through her chest. ‘We must have tea,’ she declared. ‘And a slice of your grandmother’s lardy cake – I’m famished, aren’t you?’
I jumped from the sofa, dashed from the room and along the hall to the kitchen where I bashed about filling the kettle, cutting slabs of fragrant cake, scooping black leaves into the pot, glimpsing Gran’s bent back, the to and fro of her hoe, through the narrow window. Within minutes I was back in the sitting room, pouring tea, handing Gloria her cake and a tiny fork.
She juggled plate, cake, fork and cigarette, before clamping the holder in her mouth and spearing the cake with the fork as if she was Neptune triumphing over a shark. ‘Well, aren’t you the perfect little house wife?’ she said, holder jiggling between her clenched teeth.
I waited impatiently as cake and tea were consumed and yet another cigarette lit. Finally, she began again.
‘Now, let’s see. Edmund has dressed for the ball, hasn’t he?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘In silk stockings and midnight blue breeches.’ I pulled my knees close to my chest. ‘And the Red Men have been preparing for the ball for days.’
‘Yes, yes, day and night – all through the night – like human machines under the instruction of the mysterious Moravian.’ Her voice dropped to an excited whisper. ‘Now it’s evening, the smoke from a thousand beeswax candles scents the air, mingling with wafts of cooking goose and quail, ham and roast beef. The musicians are already playing, soft sweet melodies haunting the stairs, drifting into every room.
‘The stage is set. But will the performance be comedy … or tragedy … ?’
The house was such a sight I cannot describe.
How many years had it been since the Hall was so bedecked in gilded, glittering mirrors, so hung with trails of the sweetest roses, honeysuckles and greens, the whole glowing like a diamond in the darkness, brighter than a lanthorn shining from the deepest pit?
I confess the sight of all that splendour made my lip quiver, filled my eye full to bursting with bitter sweet tears. How my father would have loved to see Moorfield returned to its former beauty. How my mother would have delighted in taking my hand for the first steps of a Pollonaise or a Quadrille. Sadly, both had known me at my most depraved. Both had died believing me the ruin of our family, the greatest shame of our line.
I descended the stairs to see a buzz of Red Men in the hallway below, a certain scurrying back and forth with canes and coats and hats which suggested the arrival of the first guests. My heart tripped. Would my former friends welcome me back into their society? Had they merely come to mock and berate my arrogance? I steadied my quivering nerve with the notion that I could sink no lower than I was previous to Slatina’s tap on the door that storm tossed night a few weeks earlier.
Immediately, I glimpsed that very man’s slight, bent frame, resplendent in a coat of burgundy velvet dizzied with gold braid. He was deep in conversation with a couple, the lady with her back turned me, the gentleman most elegant, his linen the brightest, softest white, his coat and breeches a smokey grey … With a thump in my chest I recognised the gentleman as Samuel Longmire Gordon. So changed was he from our last meeting, he might have been the saintly half to the other Gordon’s devil. Shaved, brushed and cleaned, he was every inch the noble sir.
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.
For those wondering at the appearance of Aunty Gloria and Fiona, see here.