How painful the blooming of the mind
when we leave childhood behind.
The hymnal song throbs against the vault
of my bonework cathedral, my flesh,
and I feel the quake of hunger along the fault
of my enshrouding bestial mesh.
I have seen those mushroom-minded men
in their chthonic, labyrinthine lairs,
their minds sprouting fungus, aglow, and lichen
as they clutch phantasms and mutter prayers.
The Eldritch Truth costs too high a price
and when I see them, I see not divine grace,
so I will choose not virtue, but so-called vice
and find sacred rapture in the beast’s embrace.
I feel the centipede coiled in my throat
chittering and twisting in want of blood,
my mouth a ravening vermilion moat
that beckons the onrushing flood.
Why would I wish to be other than I am?
Why be as them, as an entombed scion,
neutered and docile, a sacrificial lamb,
when I can hunt and feed, instead, like a lion?
Better a lycan-hearted beast beneath the moon
than a lichen-brained imbecile, however wise;
better to drink blood to slake a crescent rune
than sprout a Lumenwood’s cosmic eyes.
I am currently still writing and illustrating the Bloodborne short novella (?) and just wrote and illustrated these pieces to motivate myself toward the completion of the novella. My primary concern is consistency of quality in the illustrations and the prose, as well compatibility between the two methods of storytelling. I don’t know why I am sinking so much time into it when I still have other novels/short stories/poems to finish (and I am not even certain anybody except myself will care for it at all). Perhaps it is just a mania whose prognosis is terminal. Then again, all Art is something of a mania. It is obsession and possession. It is the irrational, futile scream into the abyss. On the other hand, very little of my work has ever been for anyone except myself. If anyone else happened to care about it, cheers; if not, I would still be compelled to pursue it. It is my one neurosis; well, it and my affection for foxes.
Disclaimer: This story is written from the perspective of a slave-owner heiress in the 1800’s. She is unapologetically racist, as they were back then, so if you have difficulties with divorcing what a character says and what a writer intends, do NOT read this. There is rife irony throughout this story. I honestly hate to put a disclaimer on it, but my fiancee has warned me that such things are not to be taken lightly, even in historical fiction, and so here is the warning.
Dear Dr. Lichtenstein,
I have entailed, as per your request, all relevant journal entries as provided by the patient’s wife. I thank you for your patience. Please note that any inconvenience endured during this protracted period of procurement was due in large part to Mrs. Rose’s inability to write of the night of the climactic episode. Due to the nature of the incident she has not been forthcoming until recently in recounting the event in detail or divulging her intimate entries. I hope this information serves you well in the patient’s treatment. Additionally, Mrs. Rose wishes to visit her husband in Switzerland whenever you deem it appropriate.
May 5, 1823
The most wonderful thing happened today. My beloved cousin Allan came to visit me at my little Summer chateau. I fancy it a chateau, even if it happens to be built in the heart of Virginia. Mon amour, how I missed you! Ever since childhood I had this preternatural sense that he and I were destined for matrimony. Mother dismissed my whimsies, of course, but father has always insisted that the family estate pass to “a Rose rather than to a local weed”. And Allan is the preferred candidate in my affections. No other campaign could sway my regards beyond him. He has, with the most effortless modesty, marched through the victory arch of my heart. Or so I fancy in my abundant joy.
Yet, there are deficiencies that darken what would otherwise be an auspicious prospect. I do not mean deficiencies in Allan, of course, for he is impeccable in his character and his upbringing, but rather deficiencies in circumstance. Of course, these deficiencies amount to nothing in my estimations of him. I have no need of bettering circumstances, the family estate being so prosperous in its cotton yields, but Allan perceives deficiencies in his own station which he wishes to improve before our courtship. It is his virtue of humility that is a vice to him, I believe. He would martyr himself to absolve himself of other people’s sins, I think. I do not mean to imply blasphemies, of course, only a saintliness in him that is akin to such a Passion as would render the world better in principle and pretense. It only reinforces my belief in him as my destined partner.
Yet, I do believe his virtue is taken to vice, at times, due to his overwrought Passion in regards to his virtues. Indeed, what a mercurial heart Allan sometimes suffers! Nor does he forswear the most rancorous moods when confronted by various trifles. It is his charm, I should say, but the offending agent in this matter was my house slave Betty whose dusting had unsettled “layers of Time” as Allan was steeped in his studies with a pencil and paper in hand. He nearly threw her to the floor for her thoughtlessness. I thought it all rather overwrought, but Betty escaped fairly unharmed, if a little frightened. But it is a matter of learning, I think. She will habituate to afford Allan’s moods with better jurisprudence in coming days, I think. I sincerely wish for coming days, too, and in plenitude. Having Allan around has markedly bettered my spirits since Daniel died only last year of that wretched disease. It has bettered my own well being, I am certain. Losing a brother is terrible, and while I do not expect Allan to offer himself as a substitute, nor attempt that premise of affection, having a young man in the house is comforting. I utterly adore him!
May 12, 1823
Allan has always been obsessed with details. It must owe to his instincts as an artist. When he saw the misplaced petunias among the Morning Glories— despite their moblike exuberance and abundance— I marveled at his eye, and shortly reprimanded Toby for his lax care in maintaining the garden. The Negro promised to replant them in better affirmation of their aesthetics, but Allan was not persuaded and lingered by, overseeing the Negro’s efforts. It is so good to have an honorable man at my side so willing to stand tall and right the wrongs around me. Father was quite pleased with Allan’s efforts as well. He tells me frequently that being a plantation owner is as much a matter of warfare as homesteading. I do believe it eases his mind to see that Allan will be as diligent in suppressing the more bestial elements always threatening to rebel against Order for the sake of Chaos. This is something those foolish Abolitionists do not understand. The animal must be overmastered lest civilization be trodden by the rabble. But the plantation presses on like a well-trained horse. It eases father’s mind, in his old age, to know that a man like Allan will be at the ready with the reins. And the riding crop, if need be.
I must recount but one image, however, from the whole wonderful day before I close this account. It was evening and we were soon to retire indoors for dinner. Allan and I stood upon the porch, beneath the eaves, watching the evening sun smoulder into dusk. Mother and father were away, preoccupied with other things, and those ebony personages were scattered about the sunlit fields like shadows to earn their keep. The whole world was holding its breath, I fancy to think, as it framed itself in gold, drawing a curtain about our lives together with the silken softness of velvets and blues. Allan then turned to me and took my hand, kissing it upon the cup of my palm. He then pressed it against his heart. So daring! So exhilarating! I could have lain myself down, will in hand, and written away my worldly possessions without a second thought, consigning my life to that moment’s intrepid ecstasy. He then asked me if I was happy in his continued presence, to which I replied without reserve or hesitation, and so he promised to stay as long as I would have him. I told him I would have him forever, if he so permitted me. It was then that our lips touched and the sun flared blindingly across the horizon one final time before settling in to shady peace of night.
We entered the house with our hearts still burning outside, traveling the earth in orbit of the sun like cherubim in attendance to Venus. Even as I sat down to eat I felt my heart racing in the upper spheres of the heavens. Allan sat across from me at the table, and yet the table itself was too great a distance from my beloved cousin. I fain think I should be shut within an acorn with him and still not be near enough. Father spoke of the going rates of cotton, as he was so often inclined to do, and mother pleased him by asking the same indulgent questions she always asked when he was speaking of his cotton, though she was as much an expert in the family business as himself.
I had wished to conclude this account with the triumph of my cousin’s daring act of love, but now that I write I find myself compelled to defend Allan in his behavior at the dinner table. It was not that he was rude or combative, even if his words were not the wisest in choice. He simply tired of hearing about cotton. He spoke tersely of the obsession of cotton in the Rose family line and said, in his direct manner, that he had no love for that occupation and instead desired pursuit in his artistic endeavors. Father was visibly agitated, but patiently spoke to Allan about the necessities for a comfortable life focused on family rather than the desires of a selfish life rooted in individual satisfactions. The two men exchanged subsequently thorny words, which pained me greatly, since they were the two most important men in my life. Mother, however, having a fair touch for pruning thorny flowers, gradually dulled the sharpness of the conversation and reconciled the two men as only a matriarch may. I was so grateful to her that I rose and embraced her as I once did when I was still yet a child. Allan apologized to father, then, and agreed, reluctantly, that tending to the plantation was the primary concern for a family such as theirs, and father, hoping to mend the broken bridge, confirmed his own assertion while also assuring Allan that he would have time to pursue his artistic endeavors if he is wise with his time. After dinner, Allan retired to bed early. Yet, I am certain I heard scratching and muttering from within his room last night as I passed his door. My poor cousin! I hope the later hours of the evening did not spoil its former joys! If only we could dwell within that sweet twilit hour for all time!
May 15, 1823
What else am I to write of today but Allan’s proposal? So sweet! So unexpected! Yet, I have no doubt that he and father had devised such a plan from the start, before his arrival. There were expectations in our family, after all, and so we followed them as we should. But to be so blissfully happy to follow them! We are very fortunate cousins indeed.
The proposal took place, naturally, in the studio upstairs which we have provided for Allan, far from curious eyes or any ear ready to echo in rumor of our binding of souls. He asked that I sit for a portrait. I had certain misgivings concerning this, due to his previous attempts at such portraiture, yet I wished to indulge him. He then painted my face for some time, his brows knitted with utmost concentration. It seemed, too, that he suffered some frustration with the portrait and its progression, expressed as a slightly vexed sneer in the corner of his lips, yet that only further threw my mind off any pretense of a proposal. He proposed most graciously, producing the ring from his box of paints. I accepted, of course, and brimmed with joyful tears. Nor did I mind when he became snappish afterwards as I fidgeted with joy upon the stool while he tried to rectify a perceived error in the portrait. I thought the image a lovely work and refused him the impulse to destroy it, as he did all of the others had ever attempted of me. He took umbrage at my insistence, but I am too happy to be rendered downcast by his sometimes irritable moods. I know he loves me, unconditionally, and will settle well into our domestic arrangements as they proceed with delightfully unfurling measures.
May 16, 1823
Allan was not half so happy today as he should have been. Perhaps it was his pride. Wedding arrangements, regardless of modesty, have always consisted of costly demands, and Allan, having little fortune himself, has had to allow his betrothed to proffer the patronage to meet the expenses. But how can he not comprehend my devotion to him? What is wealth to me when I am possessed of abundance? Man is a creature governed by irrational laws, in my limited understanding of the mold, and grows livid at the frivolities that Woman would rather scoff than pillory herself within. Pride will sink the whole vessel, I fear, if it is allowed to overburden the enterprise. I tried to lift his spirits by speaking to him tenderly of our ensuing life together. I spoke of it in bubbly ambition and childish excitement. Perhaps I thought such enthusiasm would be infectious.
Nonetheless, Allan took to brooding in his studio while Mrs. Tenebaum accompanied me to town to procure the necessary festoons for the festivity and to aid me in writing the invitations. Allan made no list of recommended guests, being dispossessed of his family by the fickle tragedies of sea travel, nor had he friends to suggest, nor even any of his fellow artists to induce into attendance. To the contrary, he expressly forbid their welcome. Always and ever wanting to please him, I submitted myself to his surly demands, though it shaded an otherwise radiant day of hopeful plotting and whimsical planning.
The rest of the day was a whirl of delight. Never do I fail to enjoy perusing lace and flowers, and today I had reason to indulge more so than in mere trifling fancy. Perhaps I should marry Allan every week, if only for the excuse to rifle through the tailor shops and nursery gardens. In time it will be incumbent upon Allan to accompany me into town to we may have his new suit tailored properly. I know he will look so fetching in a new blue suit and white cravat! And myself, of course, shall radiate New England elegance in my lovely veil and gown! Oh, the joys of a wedding in Summer!
May 17, 1823
Allan was not pleased today. It is woefully and wholly my own fault. Hounding him as I did, however sweetly, threw him into a darker mood. Mother warned me. I only wished to take him to town for measurements. But I pressed my pleasure over his own and interrupted his studies while he had managed great strides in rendering a vase of flowers in perfect verisimilitude. But hence after my unthinking selfishness I had ruined his attentions and spoiled the whole piece. He has been silent and sullen since and I do not know how to make right so much wrong wrought. I despair to think of it, wondering if I have ruined the picturesqueness of our marriage scene alongside his beloved vase. The paint clashes in my mind most garishly and I cannot smooth it into finer form and shades. I shall go to bed at once to cry myself to sleep. Perhaps, come the morrow, he will open his heart again to me.
May 18, 1823
Seeking amends, I went to town today and bought five new paintbrushes and brought them home. They proved needless since Allan greeted me so happily as I entered the house that he seemed to have forgotten all about his former fury from last night. He told me, most excitedly, that he had managed to salvage the vase painting, escorting me eagerly upstairs to testify to his achievement. Coming into his study, it seemed the vase sat next to its identical double, and I was very elated on his behalf. It was a rather very good piece, much better than any other he had heretofore produced.
Yet, my mouth betrayed me at the behest of my eye, observing aloud that in his concentration on form he had mismatched the shadows beneath the vase. Summarily put, the candelabrum’s light struck the vase upon the left side, yet in rendering the shadow he had used natural light from a window to the right, and so the shadow stretched oddly to the left, defying Nature. Seeing the tight line of fury into which his mouth pressed itself, I rushed to assure him everything else was perfectly captured in deft strokes.
“You are right, of course,” he said quietly in such a tone that frightened me more than any outburst. “I must correct it now. Please, Madeline, see to your parents. I will be down when I have finished correcting this foolishness.”
I turned to leave, but then remembered the brushes. I fetched them out of my satchel and presented them to him with the dearest wish to brighten his silent fury. He received them with a softening of his otherwise rigid face.
“Thank you, dear cousin,” he said. “These will help me to tend the task.” He leaned forward and kissed my cheek.
Thrilled as to an effervescence in my heart, I immediately went downstairs to see to supper, lest I should spoil Allan’s newly lifted spirits.
It was not but an hour later, when Betty had nearly finished preparing supper under my dictation that there befell such a clamor from upstairs that I thought a thunderstorm had loosed its abrupt chaos upon the house in the broad light of day. Rushing upstairs, I found Allan raging in his studio like a mad man, smashing the vase and flowers, and his easel, and the painting he had labored over for so many arduous hours. Such curses that escaped his lips I had never heard in my life! He was a beast as he clawed the air and kicked and wrung his hair as if to tear is scalp free from his head. I was retreating, slowly, when he heard my tread and turned his full fury upon me.
“Where did you buy those charlatan brushes?!” he bellowed, his chest heaving with his hellfire passions.
“From Mr. Caple,” I said, clutching my hem in hand to steady my heart. “Is that not whom you normally purchase your brushes from?”
“He is a self-eating, double-dealing swine of a Jew!” Allan roared. Or some such epithet of zealous hatred. I do not entirely recall even part of the curses he heaped upon the quiet, abiding personality of Mr. Caple. “He has outwitted you in his devilish trade, dear cousin. He has sold you swill where was wanted wine!”
I attested my ignorance, wondering at his transformed demeanor.
“I do not understand, Allan,” I said.
He then bent down and stooped among the wreckage, his hand seeking the broken brushes bought new only today.
“See?” he demanded, holding a jagged shaft aloft. “The shafts break so easily! And, a greater devilry indeed, these accursed bristles molt into the paint, polluting the work and ruining the image! A hundred or more of them are strewn ruinously throughout the painting! Like splinters in my own flesh they riddle my work, buried deep in my perfect picture!”
He screamed again, kicked the canvas, and then strode past me, out into the hall.
“I must walk” he declared, “or I will go mad with grief!”
The servants fled at his descent downstairs. Father attempted to intercept him, with a calming word, but Allan evaded him. The front door opened and then slammed shut, shaking the house to its brickwork bones. Betty came upstairs and inquired to my well-being. Shaken as I was, I nonetheless helped Betty clean the mess as it sprawled atop the Indian rug that laid out, as if in Christlike sacrifice, to catch most of the wet paint and turpentine left in evidence of Allan’s tempest.
The easel was yet unharmed, as were the tubes of paint. The canvas was torn asunder, and I looked upon it with a patient, scouring eye, meticulously noting its devastation. I could see no brush hairs, as Allan attested, in the yet wet paint, but the newest strokes had been feverishly applied in violently swiping swathes that worked to undo so many other layers of paint beneath them. The shadow of the vase had been corrected, but the vase itself had been seemingly destroyed by willful stroke. I could not account for it, and it upset me as much as Allan’s unnatural fit. I worried it might be a reaction to his prevalent diet, or perhaps from neglect of a proper diet. Mrs. Tenebaum attests to British doctors and their extensive knowledge on such matters and has told me that a simple “change of spices” can vastly affect one’s mind, either for the better or the worse. Being no expert, I wish I could consult a doctor now and improve Allan’s ailing temperament. If only our American doctors were as advanced as their British peers!
Mother and father sat with me for a while, consoling me. Father said Allan needed more sunshine, and purpose. He proposed taking my cousin under his tutelage in regard to the cotton harvest, but I begged him not to. Mother concurred with my counsel, saying that we had all imposed upon Allan’s nerves overmuch. He was “chilled to his soul upon the precipice of a new life”, mother said, and needed to climb down for a moment and get a good foothold again. A bird must fly when it is ready, or it will fall. I remembered these words of wisdom because they stung me so, affirming in my own heart my apprehensions. I feared I had pushed my dear cousin too quickly into matrimony.
Allan returned late that night, long after my nerves had frayed in concern over him. He was drunk and stumbled in after having drawn a bottle of whiskey he had purchased from God-knows-where. Mother and father had retired to bed— thank God!—so I had Toby and Betty help me direct Allan to the couch. As he lay there, delirious with drink, he asked my forgiveness, which I readily gave. Soon after, however, his blood rose and he commanded me to never again purchase brushes on his behalf, but that we together would visit Mr. Caple on the morrow and he would see that we were not thrifted again. He succumbed to his drink and fell asleep. I fretted over him the rest of the night, sitting in a chair by his side. Occasionally he stirred, and swatted at some unseen thing upon his face. He cursed an “apparition” and I feared he was hag-ridden. In time, however, he settled and was accosted no more.
May 26th 1823
The wedding was beautiful. Allan was handsome. All went as a fairytale. And our wedding night was strange, marvelous, beautiful. There was pain, of course, as my mother warned me, but there was such an awakening, too! My eyes see more clearly than ever before, and all they see is Allan. Gentle, loving, considerate Allan. I would give it to him all over again, whatever pain might come. I am his and he is mine. The world is made upon that promise, and unmade with the breaking of such vows.
May 29th 1823
What can I make of this strange turn in his mood? He seemed as euphoric in our union as I ever did. But now he broods and grumbles. He says he is haunted. I know not how or by whom. I have lived in the chateau for years and never witnessed evil spirits. Perhaps it is a consequence of our union. He has retreated again to his hermitage in his studio. Mother and father have left to return to their house, entrusting Allan and I to honor ourselves and themselves in our solitary habituation. Mother convinced father that perhaps we ought to live without overbearing accompaniment, as it might acclimate us more readily into marriage. But now I wish they had stayed so they might help me discover the answer to this riddle-some mood that has befallen the love of my life.
Occasionally I visit him in his studio, when he willingly opens the door to me. He draws and paints all day, nearly working himself to death for the sake of his aspirations. He does not attend to the Negroes. It is no matter to me, as I can compel them toward their duties on my own, but I long for his presence out of doors. Nor does he join me in bed, as he has since our marriage. I overheard him screaming in the night. He screamed in rage, and when I peered into his studio I found him pointing seemingly to his eyes.
“Can you not leave me be, apparition?! Damned specter! Unsightly intruder! You harry me in my higher calling! You haunt my diviner vision! How I wish to be done with you!”
When I inquired after him, he slowly turned about, looking at me with a most frightful look of apoplectic rage. He did not seem to recognize me, but saw me as an intruder and stranger. He then paled, and swooned. I went to him and steadied him in my arms. His skin was as a cold, wet slab of uncooked meat. I feared for his well being and begged that he come to bed with me. Breathing heavily, he set his paintbrushes aside as I led him to our bedchamber. He sleeps now, uneasily. I fear he has some illness. I will send Toby for the doctor in the morning.
June 2nd, 1823
Allan has made a complete recovery from his illness. Doctor Haycraft and I have attended him for the last few days. I feared the worst. But he gradually overcame the chill, and then the fever, and has grown stronger day by day. He sits up with me occasionally and I read to him. His appetite will return soon, I hope, and then we may once again attempt a child. Though I have slept every night by his side, it has been lonely with this febrile divide between us.
June 8th 1823
Allan surprised me today by not only walking about with vigor, but also asking me to accompany him on a flower hunting expedition. I eagerly acquiesced, aspiring to be of the utmost benefit to him and his recovery. The sun would do him good, I believed. Moreover, I thought of how delightful it would be to roam the wild countryside with my beloved husband. Yet, this great joy soon succumbed to distress as Allan rejected all of the flowers I had collected for him. Each flower was either too short, too wilting, too colorless, or too young in bud for him. But I have always prided myself on my eye for distinguishing flowers among a field! Being something of a proficient gardener, I presumed he would gladly accept each flower my discerning eye favored among the untamed multitude. But I suppose that was the root of my grave mistake, for he desired wild flowers for his vase, due to some clever pretense the work was intended to convey, and I was so much inclined of tastes toward domestication that I could not see the traits inherent in the wild breeds that exemplified his motif. In short, I had not the eye wanted, so the flowers I plucked went unwanted. Yet, I did not squander them. I retained each and every spurned specimen and returned home with them, granting them the salvation of my own choicest vase. They look rather nice in the parlor, next to the window and softening the stern gaze of father’s old cabinet clock.
Nor did I take umbrage at Allan’s fastidiousness. I consoled myself with the observation that he was no less merciless in his rejection of the flowers he had personally plucked from the full-bosomed fields.
“They are all wanting,” he lamented. “None are possessed of that transcendental quality I seek to translate and vivify upon the canvas!”
Having found no flowers worthy of his attention, he asked to use my hand-mirror. It is an heirloom that has been handed down through the centuries since the court of the king, to whom my distant ancestor was a loyal nobleman. Naturally, I let Allan use it, and indeed though it needful, for his appearance needed a good deal of reflection. Handsome though he always has been, he is yet a bit uncouth with his untrimmed beard and eyebrows. His hair, too, has grown overlong and could be advantaged with a scouring by scissors. Yet, he did not use it to groom himself. Rather, he simply stared at himself for a long moment, a contemptuous scowl upon his face. He turned his head to one side, staring balefully into the mirror, and then the other. I knew not why he should be so offended by his own face. I thought it the loveliest face I had ever known, as akin to the sun itself, for it brightened my life when it shone on me. But Allan studied it with scorn as his teacher. Simultaneously, his eyes seemed to be looking at something that was not in the mirror. It was almost as if he was staring at something along the peripheries. It was as if his eyes were staring sideways at his nose.
June 11th 1823
At times I fear I may be suffocating my dear Allan, as the climbing ivy does a young, beautiful oak. Today I interrupted his artistic studies three times to inquire after him, and each time he greeted me with less and less amicability and patience. Upon the third interruption I fret to think I saw a dark cloud descend over his expression, even as that expression concerted itself into a smile of affable mockery.
“My dear Madeline,” he said. “I will accomplish nothing today with your lovesick rendezvous. Give me time and we shall abscond properly. I promise you.”
I am as impulsive as a child sometimes! Yet, if there be any fault of this, it is Love’s, for being with him is as growing young once more. The Fountain of Youth lies not to the South, but inward wherein dwells the heart. Or so I fancy to think. I shall reprimand my inner child accordingly, otherwise I fear I may ruin Allan’s patience further. Love may endure anything, but a Man’s patience is ever whittling with winds, wishes, and worries.
June 15th 1823
I had long postponed confronting Allan with the Tenebaums’ invitation. Since his illness, and his mercurial moods, I feared he might not be of the capacity to attend a social gathering of such renowned personages. Yet, when I spoke to him of it, circumspectly at first and then directly, nudging into it with hesitant half-steps, he conceded to my wishes to attend abruptly, affording me no time to ease myself into joy. I was so overcome with gratitude that I kissed him a hundred times and then beckoned Betty to make ready an early dinner. Indeed, we would sup early and then retire to privacy where I would make my gratitude toward him much more evident in its fullness.
June 18th 1823
How the brightest days cast the darkest shadows, and the happiest balls the most dejected of men. Such was it at the Tenebaums’ gala. Allan was sullen for most of the event, his dark demeanor never changing once, even as we danced to a lovely waltz afforded by Manderly’s deft niece, Clarissa. True, Allan’s foot was light enough to keep pace with the rest of the dancers, but how sincerely I wished him to be lighter of heart! As the night wore on, and dancing bowed out to give the floor to idle gossip and debate, Allan grew restless. Several guests engaged us with the utmost amicability only to be dissuaded from further acquaintanceship by Allan’s gloomy reticence. While I attempted to compensate his recalcitrant aloofness, it proved mostly futile as many of the guests exchanged a few pleasant words and then retired elsewhere to escape Allan’s dreary gaze.
Toward the middle of the night, Mrs. Tenebaum directed the attentions of the guests toward a new acquisition for her parlor— an impeccable painting by the renowned painter, Samuel Cartwright, who happened to be in attendance at the event. She requested that he indulge them in discussion of the piece, which he did to a round of enthusiastic applause. Bowing, he thanked his hostess and began to discuss the methods whereby he was able to accurately capture the extensive detail of a field and forest landscape. As he spoke, smiling pleasantly, there arose an occasional giggle or guffaw from someone to the aft of the gathered audience. This inconsiderate individual interrupted Mr. Cartwright several times, causing the poor young man embarrassment and obvious offense. Yet I did not dare a backward glance in the offender’s direction, or else gratify his rude mischief. “Never pay a jester with laughter,” father always says, “if the joke is at cost to an innocent.” And Mr. Cartwright was an inborn innocent.
Toward the end of Mr. Cartwright’s speech Allan appeared at my side. I had not noticed his absence. When I inquired where he had gone he said to see that the preparations for our imminent departure were undertaken by Toby. We left shortly afterwards, though my heart still lingered in sympathy for Samuel Cartwright. He seemed a fine fellow, and a proficient painter. Allan, despite my best efforts, would not proffer his own opinion at to the young man’s talents.
June 20th 1823
The day was hot, and so I have excused Allan’s behavior on account of the weather. After all, it is said that while Woman cannot abide the cold, the reverse is true of Men. The heat seems to impart upon them an arid fury that does not abate except in seamless shadows and cooler winds.
I came upon him in his studio, pacing and raving in a restless state of agitation. When I inquired as to his affliction, he spoke indignantly of an apparition intruding upon his concentration, beggaring his attentions to the subject matter at hand.
“How it overlays haughtily upon the still life!” he roared. “Unwelcome scourge upon vision! Superimposition most conceited and vain, blighting clarity of detail and translation! To impede and impugn! It mocks me! Do not doubt it mocks me! Profligate ornament!”
I knew not what he meant. True, my ancestral home was old, and had overseen the deaths of many among my ancestral line, but I had never reason nor rumor to believe it haunted.
Before I could detain him to ease his rage, he stormed downstairs, raving wildly and making his hands as palsied talons that rent the air impotently. When I implored him to tell what aggrieved, he rancorously decried “involuntary interruptions” upon his vision, which he claimed ardently to be impeding his studies. I knew not what he meant and despaired to think my ignorance was somehow the cause, yet he refused to enlighten me when I pleaded that he inform me so I might remedy the interruptions. He stated, upon a tone so pitched it might have been a lunatic’s, that there was nothing to be done to cure it except the most radical of procedures. He would not unburden himself of more detail, and went for one of his late night walks while I wept, thinking myself the encumbering interruption, as I always feared I might be.
Later, when he returned from his walk, he was still rancorous and seething. I attempted to soothe him, but he in turn rounded upon me, wroth and relentless in his admonishments, accusing me of being a hysterical harpy perched upon his unmarked tombstone, waiting gleefully for his death in obscurity.
I was so overwhelmed that I nearly fainted. Betty helped me to the couch while Allan disappeared once again upstairs, locking himself in his studio.
June 27nd 1823
As a hermit he has become! He entertains no guests and often upbraids anyone who so much as sets foot upon the landing. He requires absolute silence and stillness of the whole household whenever he paints. Often I venture upon walks lest I upset him, taking Betty and Toby to escort me. How often I hear him cursing his own appetite and the need for sleep! He says that such needs distract him from his aspirations. Father has attempted to coax him down, but he nearly threw father to the floor the previous time this happened. It was an accident, of course. Allan became overly passionate and tripped over a rug, falling into father. That is what happened, of course.
The only times I have succeeded in drawing Allan away from his studio are with some other diversion of an aesthete’s predilection. An art exhibition in Richmond, for instance, piqued his interest briefly. He then dismissed the idea that any of the art would be worthy of such a long trip. He said only Europe possessed art worthy of recognition and no American artist had achieved imminence yet. He then swore that he would be the first. He then laughed, and his laughter frightened me. I had never heard him laugh so strangely before. He then set himself to disparage European artists, also.
“To think such masters squandered their hard-earned genius upon rendering fallen women as the Madonna and the Greek heroines of Beauty! Fallen women and mercenary hearts for hire! But I will pay homage to tales of yore with an adequate vestal embodiment. You, my love, shall be my Aphrodite and my Diana. I need only skills mastered, at last, to render eye to hand the visions of you that I would taunt the world with. Method and medium mastered…”
He then became quiet and would not talk until we lunched later that day.
July 3rd 1823
I told him this evening that I had arranged for a trip to Rome. This elicited fervent praise and he kissed me as he once did of old, before his melancholia gripped him in its vulture’s clutches. I have made my mind on the matter and wish for nothing but Allan’s happiness. Therefore, the trip to Europe is a fine thing in my valuation. The change of scenery— particularly, to be apart from that stifling studio of his—will be conducive to his recovery from this wild ailment of the spirits. Money is no obstacle, so I will see to it that it is a fine trip; one of which we shall think fondly long into our old age together. Mother and Father volunteered to accompany us, and I gladly accepted them along. This dark cloud will be obliterated by the bright torch of European civilization.
July 7th 1823
Allan suffered another fit today. He screamed at an unseen assailant, vowing to rid himself of the offender once and for all. I knew not what to do and sent Toby for Doctor Haycraft once again. Betty and I restrained Allan, for he attempted to harm himself with his hands, wrenching at his face. I am so frightened. I know not what affliction holds him—whether it is a disease or a demon—but I vow I will help him however I can. He is my one true love. His well-being is all that matters to me.
July 10th 1823
Doctor Haycraft has diagnosed Allan with a severe reaction to a bee sting. I did not know bee stings could cause such great harm to a man so as to overturn his mind. And to think we view them so gratefully for the honey they make for us! Doctor Haycraft reassured me that Allan will recover from the sting with all of his faculties intact. I pray that is true. My husband has been recovering since the return of his ailment, and the Doctor has seen him through the sickness twice now. I am eternally grateful to him. He assures me, also, that Allan should recover well before our trip to Europe, so long as we shield him from further bee assaults. Despite this wonderful diagnosis, Betty had to prove herself an uppity ignoramus by questioning the Doctor in front of us all. The audacity! The cheek! I was so furious I beat her myself, which is never a thing a woman ought to do. Yet, she apologized, as she should, and the Doctor assured me he took no offense from the stupidity of a Negro. “Might as well take offense from an animal,” he said. So true, I think. What do they know, being so uneducated and bestial as they are?
July 16th 1823
I was overjoyed today when Allan announced to me the need of a jaunt into town to purchase a new razor for the trip to Europe. I thought it only natural that he should want to shave, particularly since he had neglected his grooming for well over a month and looked utterly a wild man with his unruly whiskers and beard. I proposed we make a day of it and go visit the Tenebaums while in town. I was doubly overjoyed when he acquiesced, and seemed to do so in genuine earnest. Thus we took the carriage to town, the day being bright and generous with its summery warmth. Birdsong accompanied our lover’s chatter and it seemed a lovely life to live. Nor did town upset Allan’s normally sensitive sensibilities. Often he is aloof and reclusive, acutely suffering agitation in social settings. Yet, he seemed convivial as we were hailed by our various neighbors in town. Furthering my delight with his new turn of mood, Allan spoke quite amiably with Manderly Tenebaum whose acquaintanceship he so oftentimes resisted, and even resented. How transformed Allan was in his manner and tone! The whole of life was richer for it. It is as mother always says: “Heaven smiles upon those who smile upon it”, and Allan was smiling affably throughout this eventful day. How could the angels not smile in return?
That being said, he has yet to use his new razor. His smile shall be even more pleasing to Heaven once he has shorn his uncouth excess. So given to high spirits was he that night that he toiled in his studio well into the night. It seems I shall retire to bed long before he condescends to join me. But a productive man is a happy man, and a happy man makes a happy woman. And I am so, so happy!
September 21, 1825
The doctor wishes that I write what happened, in detail, so I might help the others better their understanding of Allan’s affliction. But to relive that day again is to die once more. For what was revelation but a death to my former self and the happiness therein inspirited? To have been so blinded by love for Allan so as to not intercede for love of him; to help him when the alarms sounded all around, everyday, as watchmen in throes of panic, and yet to be so deaf. It is a shame and guilt I shall harbor deep within me, unto the grave and perhaps ever after.
I woke upon the night of the incident to Allan’s shout. So drowsy was I that I cannot say with certainty that it was a shout of triumph or a shriek, for there seemed to have followed a laughter that serrated the edge of that bladed cry. I bethought him to have finally achieved the success he so desperately desired in his studies. Perhaps, I was fain to believe, he had completed a masterpiece at last and could reconcile himself with his previous failings.
I blame my naivete for what I presumed to be the Summer of our mutual bliss. I deceived myself into thinking it a chrysalis opening to a season of warmth everlasting, little seeing that the emergent butterfly was to unfurl its wings to the bitter winds of a cruel, icy season.
Taking up a candle, I walked out into the hall and down the corridor, toward his studio. The door was ajar, and candlelight split open the shadows of the hall with a sharp, yet wavering, blade. I opened the door further to peer in upon him. His back was to me, and he was holding my family’s heirloom mirror in one hand, and something else in the other. I interpreted him as if in preparation for a self-portrait. The canvas in front of him was barren of paint or graphite sketch and leaned baldly against the easel, its clean whiteness unsettling. His paint palette, in contrast, was a mess of what I presumed to be spilled paint. As I neared him I saw the paint glisten dully to the dim light of a candelabrum, the wicks of which were mostly extinguished as it stood upon a stool. In this fluttering illumination he seemed to study his features in the looking-glass. I saw his face in the mirror, partially marred by obscuring shadows. His eye caught mine and I think he smiled. But it was all wrong.
“To bleed for one’s mastery of Art is a needful thing,” he said.
In the mirror he looked so much like a…(illegible)…memento mori. Only, it was his face. I hoped it was a trick of shadow and light and glass, but then he turned toward me and…(the account ends in blotches of ink)
Disclaimer: This story is rife with sordid things meant for an adult mind…and likely a puerile mind, too. Manners are herein detailed, as well as etiquette, and many a Victorian pretense. And nudity. There is nudity, both textual and illustrated, though mostly for comedic effect. This is a short story concerning juxtaposition and contrasts between overt behavior and latent compulsion. Consequently, it is a story about Freudian suppression and the “return of the repressed”.
The rain fell heavy and the Thames breathed its fog in heady sighs through the glistening gaslight murk of London. Despite the dark, misty labyrinthine streets, her red dress and overtopping hat exploded with colorful distinction like a crimson carnation bountiful with bloom in a wet grotto. She was a walking fire embodied and emboldened by her own self-regard. The rain itself struck her umbrella but apologetically. Perhaps it knew better than to provoke the grudge of Jane Augusta Petticue. Most Londoners seemed to know such things.
Jane entered the restaurant with her hoopskirt swishing left and right, such was her haste to meet Sarah at the dining table. Brusquely, she shoved her small umbrella into the unprepared arms of the nearest waiter, ignoring the waiter’s protests and bounding buoyantly toward the usual corner of the restaurant where she and Sarah exchanged their fruitful gossip. Her demoness stood upon her shoulder; a small, impish pinkish creature with a large-lipped mouth, always puckered in relish of wry mischief. At that moment the demoness was wringing her taloned hands in excitement, eagerly eyeing Sarah as Jane navigated the other tables in the crowded restaurant— tables clustered with patrons and their own demons— and sat down in her habitual chair. Her cup of tea awaited her obediently, its steam swaying as if a cobra mesmerized by the piping of a flute.
Jane’s eyes, and the eyes of her demoness, glimmered with glee. A very fine, thin, and long silken thread laced the demoness’s neck, tying her to Jane. Diamonds gleamed there, studded like stars.
“You will never guess what mayhem I have accomplished today,” Jane said, sipping from her tea. She was an older woman, and graying, whereas Sarah, sitting across the table from her, was to her a protege—young, pretty, unmarried as Jane once was.
“Do tell me it was of the provincial sort,” Sarah said, eyes sparkling in near equal sheen to her idol’s. Her demoness was sitting upon the floor beside her chair, chained to the garter high upon her thigh. Her demoness was voluptuous and tempting, as if following the precedent that was herself, despite horns and naked disregard for convention; which is to say, a literal naked disregard for the convention of clothing. As men glanced toward Sarah, her demoness spread her legs in a most vulgar display while tugging at the lacy hem of Sarah’s petticoats as if to invite them in for a grand show. Several men looked away, talking amongst themselves at their table, yet their own demons sported priapic extravagances, standing in a circle around the table to compare and measure the most manly among the present competition.
“It is mayhem of the lordly sort,” Jane said, smiling broadly with deep satisfaction.
Sarah gasped in pleasant shock. “You do not mean Lord Clovenhill?”
“The very same,” Jane said, her smirk so taut it could hang a man in its noose. “It will come out soon enough, but for now there are only four individuals who are aware of his great misfortune. Him, myself, yourself, and the young lady Anna Lynn Maywell.”
Sarah’s eyes were agape. Even her demoness ceased spreading legs and sat up, listening intently.
“Have you spoiled that courtship through…bold means?” she asked. “I should have liked portion of such a delicious endeavor. Lord Clovenhill, for all of his stuffy and stiff bearing, is a handsome man, and I do not doubt, when coaxed sweetly enough, a beast abed.”
“No, it is not a carnal matter of drama,” Jane said, shaking her head and thinking her protege too hedonistic in some ways to be proficient at true sin. Her graying ringlets brushed against her demoness, who was too pleased with their accomplishments to notice.
“Then did you induce him to take liberties with Lady Maywell? Surely not. The innocent little creature keeps her demoness in a canary cage, feeding it on crackers, instead of vice, and teaching it choir songs. It is the cutest of things, for a demoness, and so…unfailingly harmless. Why, it is almost as small as your demoness, Jane.”
Jane nodded only once, but did not afford her own demoness an appraising glance, knowing the smile on her small face the selfsame smile upon her own.
“Nor is it in that particular area of interest,” Jane said, “though the broad topic is keen to the happenings I have devised and set into motion.”
Before she elaborated she raised a gloved hand, signaling a waiter hereto.
“A bit of crumb cake, please,” she said to the waiter. His demon’s head was bowed, but muttered discourtesies and insolence toward all of the patrons in the room. When the young man turned to inquire after Sarah’s wants, however, and upon seeing the bulging bosom heaving up and down within her bodice, his demon sprouted his own absurd priapism.
“And the young lady?” he said, blushing.
“Nothing so delicious yet, dear sir,” she crooned with a coy smile.
The waiter hesitantly went to fetch the cake. Jane’s demon, taking umbrage at the waiter’s choice of distinguishing Sarah with the pretense “young” and not herself, whispered in Jane’s ear. Jane smiled, less pleasantly than before, and waited until the waiter returned with a plate of her cake, and a fork. She accepted it with a broad, beaming smile and inquired after his name.
“Jonathan, ma’am,” he said.
She nodded, once, dismissing Jonathan from the table, yet her small mouse-sized demoness glared balefully after him until he receded to the other side of the restaurant. Jane began to vengefully eat at the cake, cutting it spitefully with her fork and chewing as if relishing her own vexation.
“Why would you seek such ploys to undermine a pillar of London society?” Sarah asked, hoping to press Jane toward unforthcoming details. “Why, Lord Clovenhill is praised every day for his charities. There has yet to be a philanthropist in measure to him. And the legislation he has put forth in the House of Lords is famous for its social reforms. Truly, even I know of their commendable nature, though I find politics exceedingly tiresome and banal. Moreover, he is neither arrogant nor a boor. I have met him upon multiple occasions, in balls and soirees and such, and never had a disagreeable word with him. True, he is, as I have stated, stiff in his manner, but so are many young men of his rank. He is…”
Sarah fell to a sudden, embarrassed silence, noticing at last Jane’s icy smile of patience, which, like ice, could crack and dunk the unwary traveler at a moment’s glance. Jane set her fork down, next to the half-eaten cake, took a deep breath through her nose and exhaled.
“But that is the precise reason for my plot,” Jane said quietly. “He is praised for so many superficial services to society, and to the Crown, but I know his embosomed secret. I know what poison grows in the bloom of his heart.”
Sarah leaned forward, rapt. Her demoness stood beside her, leaning forward, too, their bosoms swelling against the edge of the table. “Do enlighten me, Jane.”
Jane glanced about the room, seeing that they were unattended by unwanted ear or eye from the overcrowded restaurant. There were too many conversations for eavesdroppers. Even the rain was speaking to itself as it splattered loudly against the windowpane, chatting away in inane elemental jabberwocky. When Jane was satisfied that the dining hall was too clamorous to overhear her, she spoke. Her eyes glittered like a wildfire happily betaken to woodland.
“Lord Clovenhill is beholden to a massive personage,” she said. “Indeed, his demon is positively gargantuan. It is the ugliest, foulest, most infernal creature I have ever seen. Jack the Ripper would give pause to witness it. It is so dangerous in its appetites that he has partitioned half of his countryside estate to imprison it.”
Sarah gawped in incredulity for the longest moment. The men at the nearest table grinned to one another, to see such an expression upon her visage, and their demons scrambled to satisfy themselves to the wanton image.
“But he seems such a fine gentleman!” Sarah remarked. “How does he retain servants in his manor if such a creature resides there?”
“They seem to not fear it,” Jane said with a lax shrug that made her demoness sway indifferently. “I suppose they are foolish enough to believe he can contain it forever, and I suppose they can somehow separate the man they know from the demon they should rightly fear. But I saw in it the truth. However strong the shackles placed upon it, it exists, and so the man is owed needful comeuppance.”
“And how did you manage such divine retribution?”
“By simply calling on him,” she said, her smile broadening again, “while in the company of Lady Maywell.”
Sarah gasped. “Surely you did not.”
“Surely I did. I could see it chafed Lord Clovenhill considerably, that breach of etiquette, but moreover I could see the fear behind his stoic mask while he hastily bid his servants to ‘prepare the house for guests’. As if any preparations could be made to spirit away his unsightly secret! My delight was devilish and deserved, especially when—in the Lord’s fleeting absence to see to a domestic matter—I led Lady Maywell to the secret he so feared in its discovery. The poor delicate girl was a crumpled pile of fright by the time Lord Clovenhill retrieved us. He attempted to console her, and chastise me, but the revelation proved beyond his powers of excuse or explanation. It was a triumphant hour, and my greatest pleasure. All of London knows he has long been courting Lady Maywell in the hopes of ascertaining the childish-minded girl as his bride. She has no fortune, but she has infinite prospects to resettle her to her advantage. After all, where wealth is wanting, beauty and obedience may suffice. Now she will assume the worthier bond of another attachment and all will be happier for it. Except Mr. Clovenhill, of course.”
“Pardon me, Jane,” Sarah said, “but they have been the talk of town of late. The men all wish to be Lord Clovenhill and the women all envy her natural, innocent charms. Nor is he bereft in endowments. She will not overcome the attachment easily. It was only a month ago that he startled the Wickfield Circle by holding Lady Maywell’s demoness in his hands, stroking it affectionately as no one ever has another’s demon. The darling little imp purred in his care. As a cat. No one has ever seen the like!”
“Yes,” Jane said irritably, “but had his demon been there I assure you he would have devoured her little imp, the Lady herself, and all among that presumptuous gathering. Forgive me, Sarah, but you are ignorant of his truer nature. You have never seen his demon. And I would not allow him the pleasure of parading about, lauded by everyone, while he hides his demon from the light of day.”
“But Jane, even you leash your creature,” Sarah observed. The scowl rewarding this observation was twofold— madam and demoness, both— and Sarah cringed, but yoked her tongue to truth. “I only mean to say that is it not commendable that he should take such precautions? Is that not what we all do?” She lifted the golden chain that bound her demon to her garter. “That his demon is so large and frightful, as you say, should he not be applauded for countering its potential transgressions with such elaborate means? Sometimes to acknowledge one’s foibles is as divine as not possessing them in the first, for you may remedy them with greater exercises of volition.”
“That it exists at all is proof enough of his wickedness,” Jane said, snorting in contempt. “But even so, I should have done as I have done were he not beholden to such a large demon. It passes the time, you know, in this widowed age. Errors and etiquette can only do so much to entertain me in my waning years. At times it requires a bit of mischief to embolden the flavors of life.” She reached down under her petticoat and produced a flask, the contents of which she poured into her tea. The aroma of liquor wafted across the table. “The milk of human kindness cannot spice my tea. It only dulls and dilutes, and produces in me a most awful stomachache.”
She set her teacup down on the saucer abruptly, porcelain biting on porcelain sharply, like teeth clamping shut upon bone. She lifted the plate upon which her half-eaten crumb cake sat.
“Excuse me, Sarah,” she said. “I must do something about this cake. It is…too sweet.”
Rising from the table, she walked the length of the restaurant, navigating the crowded tables with her hoopskirt. The other patrons in the restaurant naturally avoided her gaze, and inched their chairs away from her expansive garments. She came, briskly, to the manager of the restaurant. He was an older gentleman, his demon sitting upon his shoulders, one leg to either side of his head, in piggyback fashion, while its protuberant belly pressed down upon his nape, bowing his head forward under the unwieldy weight of its appetite.
“Sir,” Jane said.
“Mrs. Petticue,” the proprietor said, bowing lower while steadying himself with a hand on a window sill. He always stood next to the window, commanding a view of both his restaurant and the bustling London streets. “How is your evening seeing you?”
“Most inhospitably,” she said, tucking a curly tress behind her hair with the affectation of unrest. She set the cake down “Indeed, one of your waiters has been uncharitable in his service. When I asked him for a slice of cake he saw it a happy mischief to bring me but a small, worn morsel of which he had taken liberty to satisfy his own stomach. As you can well see, there is scarcely a mouthful left.”
The old man reddened instantly upon the charge, his eyes flaring spitefully as if to catch his white whiskers aflame.
“I see,” he said, in a tone belying his ire. “Do tell me the scoundrel’s name.”
“Jonathan,” she said.
The old man nodded once, then took the proffered plate of half-eaten cake from Mrs. Petticue. “I will have a fresher slice brought out to you, my dear, of more generous portions. And Jonathan will be brought out, as well. He shall be made to apologize.”
“Oh no, no!” Jane said, affecting a flight of swooning. “I cannot abide the sight of him, even were he groveling to me as Judas to Christ. He has already abused my good nature with his supercilious airs. When I asked him, begging his forgiveness, what happened to the cake he assumed a derisive tone and told me…” She affected to wipe away a tear. “…told me I was of figure not in want for cake.”
“This is an outrage!” the old gentleman said. “I shall have him flogged through the streets!”
“No, I shan’t have his bruises on my heart,” she said. “Just…just show him to the streets, if you could be so kind, and in the Christian fashion. I should like to forgive him, in time.”
The old man nodded fervently. “You are a dear sweet lady, Mrs. Petticue,” he said. “Such sweetness is rare in this world.”
“Indeed, sir,” she said. “As rare as cake, but not so easily crumbled when engaged.”
He escorted her back to her table, sending another waiter to fetch a larger piece of cake, untouched, and two waiters to fetch Jonathan. Jane sat and ate her new slice of cake silently, relishing the sweetness and the view as she watched the old gentleman reprimand a perplexed Jonathan by the door, shortly before shoving him beyond its threshold and out into the misty, cold, dark London street. Jane’s demoness waved goodbye, a serrated grin between her lips. Sarah, whose back was turned to the whole incident, asked Jane if the cake was truly so good as to have second servings.
“Absolutely, Sarah,” Jane said. “And a third serving, and a fourth, and endless until my time is done and my eyes, and mouth, close forever.”
A tremor abruptly shook the restaurant, rattling plates and teacups and constitutions. In the ensuing silence the patrons at the restaurant gawped toward one another for an explanation, only for another tremor to seize that fine establishment. After its echoing tremble, all visages were nervous, quivery, their demons jumping up and down like disquieted apes in a zoo. Only Jane sat still, and her demoness, too, a self-satisfied smile slowly spreading across her face and giving it dimples such as she had not donned since a young woman.
“No doubt lightning,” the proprietor of the restaurant said, chuckling nervously. His demon nearly tore his whiskers out at the roots in fear.
Another tremor and several patrons stood.
The proprietor raised his hands, trying to calm his patrons. “Just a disgruntled storm,” he tried to reassure them. Another tremor shook him and he steadied himself with a hand on a chair. “My, but they do seem to strike close, do they not?”
The tremors followed one another in rapid succession, drawing closer to the street. The rain had stopped and the windowpanes were rattling themselves dry in the quakes. A decisive concussion to the earth caused the lights in the restaurant to flicker, blinking ominously. Another tremor struck, stronger than the others, and rattled teacups and teeth alike, echoing through the restaurant and the patrons. A few patrons rushed to the door in a frantic crush of struggling bodies, shoving and scrambling out into the misty tumult of night. Others looked to one another, oscillating in indecision and the demands of properly comported etiquette.
“My word,” Sarah whispered. “What is that?”
Jane’s eyebrows arched as the corner of her mouth twisted with wry humor.
“Why, Jane, I do believe that is the true Mr. Clovenhill come to call.”
A roar, like that of a tempest’s gale, rent the uneasy silence, deafening the cries of panic as the patrons in the restaurant fled to the door, crushing together in a struggle to exit and flee down the street. Another tremor shook the clog loose at the door, and so the trickle of patrons became as a gush. Even the waiters and the proprietor joined the exodus. Only Jane and Sarah remained, Jane clutching her demoness in her lap as she watched through their corner’s window, seeing a river of people hastening helter-skelter down the street.
“Do not fret, Sarah,” Jane said calmly. “He would never condescend to visit this establishment. It is, as you know, beneath him.”
The gigantic demon stomped down the street, roaring and rattling the bones of London. It was only as it passed by the window that Sarah realized that there was a bewailing tone to the creature’s roar; as if it was in great pain.
“The poor creature is wounded,” Sarah remarked.
“Quite,” Jane said. “And perhaps it is a mortal wound, though I dare say I would rather it live on, enthralled to its suffering.”
As the demon stomped and moaned, buildings and streets crumbled around it. It was as if another terrible fire was destroying London.
“What devastation!” Sarah said, her face a paler shade than any French makeup could ever accomplish. “What mayhem!”
“Thank you, my dear,” Jane said quietly. “Being the busy socialite that I am, it is my greatest pleasure to introduce London to the true Lord of Philanthropy in his most esteemed form. Mark how destructive he is. Mark how self-conceited with his woes. What an utterly bestial personage. What catastrophe in his wake. What a monstrous demon with which to share a heart.”
But as Sarah looked from the clamorous devastation beyond the windowpane to the quiet satisfaction on Jane’s face—and the selfsame smile imprinted upon her imp—she marveled at how so much mischief and mayhem could be wrought by such a small, petty demon.
King Roswald was a ruler thought both fine and fair,
ruling with a gentle voice, wise laws, and firm hands.
He had guided his kingdom through turmoil with care
until it had become the happiest realm in the Northlands.
Roswald had three sons, all likewise full of virtue,
and they were good to their widower father and king,
and moreover were dedicated to their people, too,
seeing to their needs in every trifling thing.
But then came a day when Roswald was not himself
and his sons watched him with chagrined dismay
as their father nodded his head, as if to some unseen elf;
his usually keen mind simply drifting away.
Roswald’s eyes were puffy and wreathed in dark rings
as his bearded chin hung low upon his robed chest.
Soon he began to snore, and all three lordlings
became concerned with their father’s want of rest.
“Father,” said his eldest son, after court had ended,
“What is the matter? Are you yet well?”
His father only chuckled. “I am merely winded,”
he said, “but for reasons I cannot tell.”
This was passing strange to his sons
and so they pressed their reticent king,
insisting their father give further reasons
as to why he should believe such a thing.
“Alas, nay,” his father said with a sigh.
“It is not a proper thing to share among others.”
When they insisted again, the king gave reply,
“It is no matter to you, or any others.”
They tried to think no more of it that day,
concluding that it was likely an aberration
and that their father deserved his secrets, anyway,
since he was otherwise forthright when ruling their nation.
But the next morning the king nodded and slumped
upon his throne like a puppet unstrung of strings
or a straw-gutted scarecrow unceremoniously dumped
before the people who awaited his rulings.
They adjourned court early, the king thereafter retiring
to his lonely bedchamber, for much needed sleep.
Meanwhile, his sons met together, concerned and conspiring
to safeguard their father in his fortress keep.
“He needs rest,” the eldest, Ferdinand, said,
and his two younger brothers agreed.
“No one should bother him as he lay abed
or we will have them promptly pilloried.”
So they set guards at every level of the king’s tower—
two to a story, and ten at the bottom floor—
and the brothers themselves stayed up every hour
just outside their father’s bedchamber door.
It was in the witching hours that there stirred
noises from the other side of the door,
echoes abounding wherein there could be heard
high pitched laughter, thunderous hooves, and more.
“Something assails father!” the brothers cried,
pushing upon the door to shove it hence,
but the door was heavy, swinging slowly aside
to reveal a bedchamber fallen to silence.
The bedchamber was empty, the king gone,
and the only clues they had, had been the din
of a horse and a woman whose cackles echoed on
in the brothers’ heads, like an eerie song of sin.
“A witch has taken him!” said Adalbert, the youngest son.
“She used black magic to spirit him to her grotto.
We must rescue him ere she boil him in her cauldron!”
He then said, “Save one, save all!”, the family motto.
Knights were sent forth anon, and also squires,
and all who could look for their abducted king.
Hounds sniffed through woods, fields, and mires,
searching near every standing stone, cave, and fairy ring.
They searched all night and day for their lord,
from sunup to sundown, nary an eye idling
as the whole kingdom feared something untoward
had befallen their most beloved idol king.
But it was the maid, who, tidying the king’s room,
was startled unto fright as she began to sort his bed
and suddenly found a form laying in the evening gloom
with a slanted crown upon his disheveled head.
Her scream rallied the searchers to the tower
for it was a clarion call to wake the very dead,
and so it woke the king, too, who at that late hour
rose with a smile and a yawn and asked to be fed.
“It is not worth so much fuss,” he said lightly
as his sons berated him in a private interview.
“I just so happen to be given to walks, nightly,
and must have escaped notice passing through.”
“We did not see nor hear you open the door once!”
said Adalbert in dismay. “We were awake all night!”
“That is wholly true,” said Ferdinand, whose forbearance
was giving way to his youngest brother’s fright.
The two brothers were distraught by their sire,
but Raginald, the middle son, was more like his mother
and, so, was wise in remembering lessons taught by her
before she had died giving birth to his younger brother.
“Truth,” he said, “is as the chimera in hiding.
To glimpse only one part is to misperceive the sum.”
He then bid his two brothers to the castle’s side wing
and up another tower, overlooking the atrium.
That night the brothers stood upon the tower,
watching the king’s balcony for any malfeasent.
Then, beneath the moon and at nearly the same hour
as yesterday’s abduction, they heard her descent.
It was a witch floating across the air,
laughing wildly as she straddled her broom
with a cackle that froze the blood, her hair
floating all around her in a silver bloom.
To the brothers’ surprise, their father beckoned
as she floated toward him, raising his arms
out to her as if in welcome, which they all reckoned
to be an effect of her spells,and so raised the alarms.
But they were powerless to stop her that night
and she again transformed their beloved father
into a horse, a stallion with a coat so pale white
that it shone like foam upon the tidal water.
She threw over him a bridle and mounted his back,
then took hold of his reins, kicking his flanks.
He neighed and reared and bolted— clackity clackity clack—
across the stone balcony and up the airy banks.
The witch and the king rode across the starlit night,
she laughing and he snorting, moving with such speed
that they soon twinkled, like a star, and passed from sight,
the three brothers feeling at a loss and in great need.
“Steel weapons will not do against a sorceress,”
Ferdinand said. “For they exist like dreaming mists
untouched by blade or arrow, their flesh more or less
invincible with the aid of their magical catalysts.”
So the brothers sought the help of wizards ,
stationing them around their father’s tower.
When the witch came, the wizards wove
into a spell of protection to repel the witch’s power.
The witch was undeterred, passing easily through
their barrier as if it was nought but clear air,
thereupon transforming King Roswald anew
into a stallion which she rode away from there.
Adalbert cried out. “Why torment our father so?!
He is a justly ruler who has done well by everyone!”
Ferdinand shook his head and said, “I do not know,
but we will need stronger aid to defeat this witch, anon.”
They sent a formal message to Midland
upon the midnight wings of their fastest raven,
seeking the help of the Apprentice, Edmund,
who was heir to the powers of the Allmaster, Avon.
Edmund arrived later that day,
opening a portal directly to the castle
and stepping through without pomp or display,
wanting neither hullabaloo or hassle.
Edmund had brown hair hardly fetching
and a rose-embroidered tunic that hung slackly.
He was not impressive, this young man retching
as he stepped through a portal that shimmered blackly.
More surprising than Edmund’s underwhelming presence
was the goblin girl that accompanied him from the South;
green like plant shoots, hair white like plant roots, a nose whence
like a long taproot hung over her sharp-toothed mouth.
The brothers greeted Edmund in hopeful gratitude,
promising riches and glory and so much more,
but he waved away such things with a friendly attitude,
saying aid was reward itself enough in this chore.
“Master Avon has always been proud of your line,”
Edmund said, “and particularly proud of your king.
If it saves this goodly kingdom, then the duty is mine
to save your father.” Forthwith, he began planning.
Edmund was shown to the king, the latter
being yet asleep from a long night of riding.
It seemed to Edmund that this magical matter
was strange for reasons that the king was hiding.
“I sense no magic worked upon him,” Edmund said.
He turned toward Tangleroot, motioning her to his side
to sense what she could from the Northland King in his bed.
The elf grinned. “He seems happy after his wild ride.”
Edmund nodded. “There is more to this than it seems.
And less to it, too. I cannot say the proportion, at this time,
but we will stay here and guard the king as he dreams
and catch this witch when she once again attempts her crime.”
“Some horses like the bit and the bridle,” Tangleroot said,
cackling loudly. Her impudence irritated the youngest son.
Adalbert clenched his fist as his face brightened red.
“If you would mock him, then I would ask you to have done!”
Tangleroot was unconcerned, as all goblins were
when threatened by a human of any standing or rank.
She grinned her sharp-toothed grin in answer,
thorns growing from her green skin; nose to toes, flank to flank.
“That is enough!” Edmund said, interceding in the spat.
“Tangleroot, please behave yourself, abide, surcease,
or a whole kingdom could be thrown to turmoil, and that
is not why we are here. Master Avon entrusted us. Please!”
Tangleroot only laughed harder, hugging her thorny self
while Adalbert’s scowl darkened like a thunderhead
at the impish behavior of the Unseelie elf.
“This is no way to speak of the Northland King,” he said.
Edmund frowned in thought, his brow lined
with confusion. “Why is it that he refused to tell
anyone of his curse?” he asked. Ferdinand opined,
“We thought it perchance an effect of the spell.”
That night Edmund and Tangleroot kept watch together
within the King’s tower, alongside the brothers three,
and it was a silent night, starry and bright, the weather
clear as the witch’s laughter once again rang wild and free.
King Roswald, hitherto reposed in his deep sleep,
suddenly rose from his bed, as if at command by
the Witch’s laugh as she approached his towering keep—
he welcomed her as she descended from the sky.
“Sweet Hepsiba!” the King called. “Beware!”
The Witch was undeterred, waving her hands
and flaring flames in a roaring circle to scare
the band of people trying to stop her commands.
But before the Witch could transform the King,
Edmund wove a spell of binding, encirling her brow
with laced hemlock-and-hawthorn, that red-and-white ring
stopping the flow of the All Ways through her somehow.
“Enough!” Roswald bellowed. “Let her go! Now!”
Dumbstruck though the guards were, they obeyed,
unbinding the witch from her chains and freeing her brow
from the circlet of holly, just as their King bade.
They then hurried away from her, fearing they, too,
would be transformed into animals for a night,
or, worse, cooked in her cauldron as a stew
to be served to her coven beneath the moonlight.
The Witch freed, King Roswald addressed his heirs,
about his relationship with Hepsiba, from the start.
He spoke to them with open and honest fatherly airs
so they knew he was speaking from the heart.
“She helps me forget who I must daily be,
what I must do, for a time,” he said with a sigh,
“helping free me from my shackles of duty
and giving me some respite, ere I die.”
“I have had nothing but power my entire life,” the King said,
“and while I have always borne it as my duty and birthright
I sometimes feel its keen weight upon my wearied head.”
He motioned for the witch and she joined him at his side.
“I met Hepsiba while out on a restive walk,
looking to escape from the discomfort of my throne.
I saw her picking herbs, and, so, I stopped to talk.”
His voice assumed a very light, pleasant tone.
“As it so happened, she was not my subject— not at all!
She was a sorceress who owed no one her loyalty,
and, so, being her own queen, she invited me into her hall
where she treated me as a guest, but not as royalty.”
“But the transformations!” Ferdinand exclaimed.
“Father, you cannot insist that you were not under her spell!”
His father shook his head. “The spell she cast cannot be named—
it is different than love, and lust; it is neither, but just as well.”
“What we do is our own concern,” he continued.
“I do not expect any of you to really understand,
but, in time, Ferdinand, you will when you have been imbued
with the powers, and the shackles, of this land.”
“Since your mother died, I have devoted myself to rule—
rule of the kingdom, of myself, of all that I can see,
and sometimes I have to indulge my inner fool
or die of this weight which I bear incessantly.
“And so my mistress Hepsiba takes my reins
and frees me by taking control as my bridle bride.
Nor does she care for power or other earthly gains,
only taking pleasure, together, in our nightly ride.”
“But father!” exclaimed Raginald, “this is humiliating!
We cannot abide it” His father fixed upon him a knowing stare,
neither dismissive nor sympathetic, for a while waiting
before speaking. “Humiliating to me or to you, my heir?”
“I feel no shame in the pact we have,” he explained.
“If you do, then that is your own problem to amend.
For in all other things I am a dutiful king, and greatly pained,
and ask for little but privacy until my eventual end.”
Tangleroot grinned sharply and nudged Edmund
who, realizing he was not needed in this situation,
opened a portal and left, the brothers still stunned
that their father should continue, despite his station.
As for King Roswald and Hepsibah, the bridle bride,
they carried on until their final days came, hot to trot
in this strange, but satisfying way, each night’s ride
something done without caring of what others thought.