Chapter Eighteen

I attend the masquerade

Two nights later I cleared my diary of liaisons, took delivery of a beautiful pink dress of the finest silks and taffeta, and arrayed my best wig with bows and flowers. I tried to remain calm, but inside I was all a-quiver. That morning I had suffered a bilious attack. I put it down to nerves. Mother Shadbolt eyed me curiously. I know what she feared. I denied it of course. I was not with child. I could not be. It would be my undoing. 

Daisy helped me into my dress and fluttered around like a small chick. It was her fervent wish that she would be invited to a masquerade one day. I promised her I would speak with Lord Appleby so that Daisy might attend the next ball, either that, or I would take her myself to one of Teresa Cornely’s famous masquerades in Soho Square.  

For his part, Lord Appleby had been most generous. He showered Mother Shadbolt with gifts: fine tea, lace, pretty baubles, and the most translucent of cups and saucers decorated with iridescent flowers and birds. She was less pleased with the gifts than she was with the accompanying purse of money. I wondered how much she had demanded for my time.

“You watch your step tonight girl,” she said. “The good name of this house rests on your shoulders.” She snapped her fingers and Priss came running. “Take notice. If you work hard this is what you will achieve. Kitty is a rising star.”

Priss leered at me and, when she thought Mother Shadbolt was not looking, tore a ribbon from the back of my dress. I whirled round and hissed. I had always been kind to her. I knew it was envy. I knew Priss had been brought up in a poorhouse and had begged for her living on the street, until Mother Shadbolt found her. Life had been hard for Priss, but still, we all lived under the same roof and we all had to obey the same rules of propriety. 

Mother Shadbolt fussed around, her nuns running hither and thither; greeting first one man, then another, serving supper, supping wine and gin, closing the shutters and curtains, attending to the fires, and plumping pillows, not to mention disporting themselves about the place like so many colourful butterflies.

Word came at seven o’clock that the carriage had arrived in Russell Street. Lord Appleby was at our door. I pushed Mother Shadbolt away and shut myself in my room with Daisy. I wanted a few moments alone with her. We held each other tight and I kissed her forehead. She was such a lovely young thing. I almost wished I was not going to the ball but instead, was spending the evening with this little one. We could occupy ourselves with dressing our hair and exchanging gossip. Not that we ever did this, there being no time for such pleasantries.

“It is a good thing that has happened,” I said. “You will get your turn. I will make sure of that.” 

“I know I will. You look so beautiful,” she replied. “Have a wonderful time, won’t you? Oh, and don’t forget your mask.” She handed me the decorated mask that lay atop the covers. 

I mused, “who knows? He may take me for his mistress. If that happens....”

“Then you would be gone from here,” said Daisy. “And I would miss you.”

“Silly girl. I would take you with me. I would find you a young beau and we would be free of this slavery.” I wiped a tear from Daisy’s cheek. “Do not cry my sweet. I will be back soon enough.”

The horses stamped on the cobbles outside. A shout came up that they could not wait much longer.

“Enough. I must go. I will return and tell you all about it,” I said. “Be good and take care of business.”

Daisy held my cloak out for me. I tied it tight under my chin. We kissed and I swept out of the room and down the stairs. I have never been as excited as I was then. I had been to many balls and masquerades in my time; almost always as one of a number of lascivious women brought in to entertain the guests, but now I would be on the arm of one man alone and he, a Lord. I felt confident and alive with excitement. 

Lord Appleby was waiting for me in the parlour. I curtsied as he kissed my hand. The other girls whispered to each other in the hall, but I paid them no mind and walked out into the frosty night air with my head held high. Lord Appleby’s Blackamore manservant, Lucius, opened the carriage door and dropped the step out so I might climb up. I thanked him, though I knew I should not have. One does not acknowledge the servants when in aristocratic company. As I settled into my seat, I shivered with the cold. 

“It is not far to Northumberland House. You will be warm soon enough,” said Lord Appleby. He sat opposite me. He banged on the roof of the carriage with his silver headed stick and the horses jolted in their harness and pulled away. 

I did not often travel by carriage. I took a sedan chair from time-to-time, but, for the most part, I had no need of transport. Everything I could wish for lay within spitting distance of my home in Covent Garden - everything that is, save my freedom. The thought of this gave me a momentary pang of sadness, but not five minutes later I saw the magnificent lamps affixed to the front of Northumberland House and my dismal thoughts were banished. We swept around the corner from The Strand into the courtyard. There were more lights here, illuminating the path. We came to a halt in the yard. I waited for Lucius to open the door and fold out the step. Rather than wait for Lord Appleby to take my hand, I allowed Lucius to help me descend to the icy path. Lord Appleby raised an eyebrow at this and leaned in to make a comment.

“He is not impervious to woman’s charms.”

Did I detect a note of jealousy? Before I had a chance to decide, one way or the other, Lord Appleby held out the bag containing my dance shoes.

“Thank you sir.” I took the bag and held up my mask to my face.

“You make a delightful nymph,” he said He raised his own mask and together we walked into the house of Sir Hugh Smithson and his wife, Elizabeth Seymour Percy; Lord and Lady Northumberland.

I cannot begin to describe the elegance of that house. It was a very old property with long aristocratic associations. Sadly, it fell into some disrepair. It was not until Lord Northumberland took occupation that work began to restore it to its former glory. His Lordship had recently built a new ballroom and sumptuous gallery, which overlooked the gardens and the River Thames beyond. We were shown into an anteroom where we changed our shoes and rid ourselves of our cloaks. 

The host and hostess greeted us and encouraged us to parade throughout the entire suite of painted and panelled rooms. Somewhere, music played; compositions I did not recognise, yet which transported me to another world. All around were beautifully attired in glittering costumes: the Harlequin and Columbina, Scaramouch and the Plague Doctor, the Nymph (of which I was one), the Hussar, the Jester, the Devil and Demons a-plenty. There were so many people, I feared being parted from Lord Appleby, in case I did not recognise him again. I took a glass of wine offered by a servant and drank it down too quickly, which caused me to belch out loud. Although faces turned to me, they turned away just as quickly.

We continued on our tour of the house. In one room the fire-eater, Robert Powell, held audience. I had met him once in Covent Garden. He could fill his mouth with red-hot charcoal and broil a slice of beef on his tongue, while another man blew the fire with bellows.  I thought him wonderful and clapped my hands in glee. I wanted to remain here, but Lord Appleby drew me deeper into the house. I protested, but he insisted and handed me another glass of wine. This one I drank more slowly. Nevertheless by the time we had reached the music room, my glass was empty once more.

I nodded and smiled at all I met. I ate dainty portions handed to me by Blackamore servants, some of whom seemed impossibly young and beautiful. I started to feel a little dizzy, but put it down to the atmosphere. It is not as if I cannot hold my drink. 

We passed through a dining hall, the table laden with food. There were overflowing bowls of fruit, pies, desserts, cakes and pastries, fountains of wine, and the smell of hashish in the air. Lord Appleby told me opium was to be had if I so desired. I smiled graciously and refused. I was intoxicated enough without that particular pleasure.

Faces loomed at me from the shadows. A troop of dwarves, with ribbons gaily coloured ribbons, danced round me. When I was entangled completely, they attempted to pull me away with them. I freed myself and ran after Lord Appleby. He guided me to the far end of the ballroom, where the curtains had been opened and the garden could be viewed all the way to the river. The clock struck twelve. The fireworks were lit on the barges out on the dark waters of the Thames. Shooting stars rose into the sky and cascaded like fiery rain. The music soared. I forgot I was a whore. I was a Lady, a goddess, a Princess, and yes, a mistress.

“Oh, but I cannot thank you enough,” I said to Lord Appleby.” My eyes filled with tears of joy. 

“It is little enough to see you happy. I only wish…”

I turned to him and took his hand. “What?” In that moment I wished most fervently that he would ask me to be his wife, though I knew it was impossible. Well, a girl can dream.

“I was going to say that I wish Polly could have seen this, but I realise it is not very respectful to you.”

Ah, so not marriage. I nodded stoically.

“Her loss is my gain and if you still have feelings for her, then that simply makes you a kind man.” 

“You know I cannot marry you?” said Lord Appleby.

I gave a nervous laugh. Perhaps he had read my mind.

“You would not even make me a mistress?”

“Oh, Kitty.  I do not think…” He looked at me with some concern. If ever my hopes were dashed, this was that moment.

“You are a remarkable woman,” he said, eventually.

I could have cried out loud then, but I held back. I had learned at an early age that displaying too much unhappiness would turn people against me and I already battled the world because of my profession. I would not be branded as hysterical. I would not lower myself to that. Besides, it had been such a wonderful evening; I could not let my disappointment colour the experience.

“Would you care to dance?” said Lord Appleby. “It has been a long time since I tried the Cotillion. I fear I am out of practice.”

I inclined my head towards him. “I will guide you. You have nothing to fear.”

We stepped out onto the floor and he bowed formally to me as I curtsied to him and then we were transported by the music as if to the court of the French King. I dipped and turned. I stepped daintily and politely and Lord Appleby did the same by return. It was a display more than a dance and, as it progressed, I became more and more dizzy and disorientated. The candles snuffed out one by one. Hands reached out and tugged at my dress and my hair. Fingernails like claws raked my cheeks. I tripped and fell, hitting my head on the arm of a chair. When I opened my eyes I was spread-eagled on a table, my arms and legs held down by the most grotesque spirits I have ever seen. I fought, but could not free myself. I screamed, but no sound came. 

And then the Devil rose naked above me. He had the face of William Westman and the body of a red-skinned god. His member was erect; engorged, not with blood, but with fire. He snarled. His eyes bulged. His breath burned my cheeks. He plunged deep inside me and his inferno burned in my loins and my belly, my chest and my throat, and shot out of my mouth in great plumes of fire. His passion was ablaze as he rode me to the gates of hell. In an instant he was gone and I was overcome by a feeling of utter depravity. I crawled over the table, dishes upturned, fruit squashed beneath my hands. I gnashed my teeth and tore at my clothes. I wanted to rid myself of the woman all had known until now. Though I had always been a sensual human being, now I burned with a passion I knew would never be satiated. 

Suddenly, I saw sadness and delusion. Once more, hands reached out, but now they were the hands of ordinary men and women and not demons, not evil monsters, not the Devil. Hell was far away.

“You fainted. I fear your fall may have injured you. You must sit down,” said Lord Appleby.

“I’m… It was nothing. The heat of the room and the… the dancing.” 

I still felt the red-hot intensity of the Devil’s ardour on me, but I allowed Lord Appleby to take my arm and guide me to small side room, lit only by the glow of the fire. Here, I sat on a chair and fanned my face. It had all been a vision – a very terrible vision, brought on, I thought, by the copious amounts of alcohol I had drunk.

“Sit. I will bring you something to sip,” Lord Appleby said.

“Not wine. Nor spirit. Bring me some ratafee if you can find it. I will rest a while.”

He bowed to me and was gone. God, but I was afraid. Through the open door I saw naught but merriment. No dark spirits, no demons, no evil or demented beings. Just joy and laughter. So why my fear? Why my torment? I closed my eyes. I could not bring the recent fiendish thoughts to mind, though they held sway over my aching body.

Someone cleared their throat. I jolted alert. This was no dream and no spirit either, for a man stepped now from the shadows. At first, I could not tell who he was, but as he approached fear took hold of me and I shrank back into the chair. Although he remained in shadow, I thought I caught a glint of evil in his eyes. I knew him. It was Westman. I tried to get up - to run from the room, but found my limbs as lead. 

“There is no escape,” he said. 

“What do you want from me?” I replied. 

“It is not so much what I want from you, but what you want from me,” he said.

“You talk in riddles Sir. I want nothing from you.” I turned my face from him. He stepped forward into the light. 

“The child you bear is the Devils’ spawn,” he said.

“You cannot know that.” How could he know I was with child, when I had not even confirmed it for myself?

He smiled and for a moment I thought he would lean down and kiss me, but he did no such thing. Defiantly, I stared at him. 

“Your breasts ache and your belly turns and twists,” he said. He flicked his tongue over his lips. “The child will be difficult.”

“What do you mean by speaking to me like this?” 

Someone cleared their throat. Lord Appleby stood in the doorway. The mysterious William Westman turned from me and pushed past Lord Appleby. I could not be sure, but I thought they exchanged a glance.


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