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Chapter Forty

I take me a lover



I was glad to reach the safety of my home that evening. My meeting with Captain Somerville had given me much to think on, and I wanted only to eat and rest a while before the rigours of the night began. I therefore went straight to the kitchen and stole a plate of food from under the nose of our dear Deaf Tom. I then locked myself in my room and devoured the meal as if I had not eaten for a month. Replete, I undressed, washed as best I could in a bowl of cold water, and redressed in a confection of silk and lace. The mirror showed me a youthful face that needed only powder and beauty spot to complete the vision. I pinned up my hair, powdered it some, and gave to the air that I was the most beautiful of Mother Shadbolt’s nuns. It was a lie: Daisy was the prettiest of us, but a girl must bolster her ego when she can.

I had not bargained on seeing Lord Appleby that evening, but when I descended to the parlour, Mother Shadbolt told me he had arrived not an hour earlier. On hearing I had gone out to run an errand for her (I was grateful to her for the lie), took himself off to our scullery. I absented myself then from the melee of lustful gentlemen and cavorting sisters. I needed to ascertain if he intended to stay, and what he would have me do for the rest of the evening. I could not very well bed another with him in the house.

Imagine my shock when I found not one man, but three, with bowed heads and all in intimate conversation on the nature of electricity and the means to which it might be turned. I had expected Lord Appleby, but to find him with his brother, the dreaded Westman, and Lucius, stopped me in my tracks. I almost returned from whence I had come, save that Westman noticed my entrance, caught me by the arm and dragged me into the room.

“We have a willing victim,” he said. 

I could not imagine what he meant, and tried to pull away, but he held me fast.

“Sir, you are hurting my arm,” I said.

His eyes pierced my very soul, and I turned my head away so that I did not have to look at him. My heart beat hard in my chest. I was caught in that old confusion of like and dislike, trust and mistrust, fear and enticement. Why did he have this effect on me? 

“What would you have me do?” I asked, directing myself to Lord Appleby. He was stripped to his shirt sleeves in a most workman-like manner. The pieces of his invention were assembled upon the scullery table: the bell jar, the ribbons of metal, the gold assemblage, and the wheel. This, Lucius tested by turning the handle, which was itself attached to a spindle. 

“This is just the beginning,” said Lord Appleby. He had a maniacal look about him. “A larger version will follow. For now though, we must measure its ability to send participants into a sexual frenzy the like of which will set all of London abuzz.” He laughed. 

Like as not, he would end his days in Bedlam.

 “You wish to do what?” I said. 

Bozzy’s words came into my mind: a ‘Temple of Hymen’. Was this what he meant? Our house would become an electrical bagnio for those whose fetishes had outrun their normal course?

“It is really quite simple,” said Westman. “My brother wishes to create a place where the discerning amongst us will enjoy electrical titillation.”

It was as I thought. I pulled away. He held fast. I begged Lucius with my eyes, but he could do nothing, for he wound the handle and dared not release it until he was told to do so.

“Is it not exciting? To see the electricity jump? Here, it is stored in the Leyden jar. From there it traverses the metal ribbons. It is completely safe. Place your hand here, my dear,” said Lord Appleby. 

He thrust forward a cylindrical piece of the apparatus, which was attached to the equipment by the ribbons. I refused. Lord Appleby took my hand from his brother’s grasp and forced it down onto the cylinder. At once, I felt a tingle throughout the entirety of my arm such that I wished instantly to tear myself away.

“Ha. Imagine that feeling on certain parts of our body. We can try it now if you wish.” 

His eyes were aflame with passion, but not for love of me, but for his invention. Lucius ceased to wind and I was released from my torment.

“Keep winding man. Keep winding,” shouted Lord Appleby. Lucius started up once more.

“No,” I said. “I do not wish to be party to this devilry.” 

My hand and arm still tingled from the sensation of having been ‘electrified’ by the equipment laid out before me.

“Come now my dear. Electricity is wonderfully invigorating. Why even that Methodist minister, Wesley, uses it on his congregation of sinners. Keep it up Lucius. We must charge the jar. Next week we will begin work on the bed.”

“The bed?” 

I glanced at Westman. He had taken up a place by the window. A devil of a smile played on his lips. What kind of madness was this? I could cope with all manner of strange requests: from the man who wished to suck at my toes through my stockings, to those who wished me to beat them whilst they lay across my knee. Others would have me dress them in women’s clothes, or simply sit with me and do no more than curl my pubic hair around their little finger. All needs could be accommodated for the right price, but this… this saw devilry and fetish brought to a new height.

“What of the news of your son Oliver, Lord Appleby?” I said. “I trust you will hold a memorial service for him?” 

I was mightily concerned that he had not mentioned Oliver’s name, nor shown particular remorse. It was as if our earlier conversation, and the discovery of information that the surgeon had imparted, had fallen on deaf ears. Whilst Lord Appleby made little response, the smile on his brother’s face was quick to wane.

“What of him?” Lord Appleby said, without looking up from his work.

“His murderer must be brought to justice, surely?” I said. 

Westman turned to stare out of the window at the yard beyond.

“I do not know what you mean,” said Lord Appleby. “I have told you before, he is on the continent with his mother.”

With my eyes, I once more implored Lucius to back me up, but he simply shook his head. He was no coward, but he could do nothing to assist me without causing himself much trouble.

“We have provided proof of his death. Lucius identified him by birthmarks the surgeon described. I do not understand. You cannot believe he is still alive?” I said. “We must find the murderer. It is unconscionable to do otherwise.”

“My dear. It is true I was somewhat perturbed by your claims, and by the news Lucius brought me, but it was at once trounced by a letter sent by Oliver himself, announcing his return to England.” Lord Appleby smiled broadly at me.

“There,” he said. “Is it not better to believe in the positive rather than the negative?” He waved the electrical ribbons. “I do not know who this poor victim was you found in the Church, but it was not Oliver.”

“When was the letter written?” I said.

“What?”

“When did he write to you? The date on the letter.”

“Oh, I do not know,” he said. “Some little while ago, I suppose. The post takes such a long time.”

“So it could have been written and sent before his death? He could have returned, and then been killed.”

“Oh, I don’t think so. That doesn’t sound like the sort of thing he would do. He would come home. He would make himself known. He is a rascal, but he knows enough to pay his respects to his father.”

I shook my head in amazement. The man was demented. That, or lying.

“We go to Tottenham in the morning,” he said, as if our conversation about Oliver had never happened. “I must return to Cavendish Square this evening, but rest assured, we will spend tomorrow night in delicious liaison. Oh, and Selina accompanies us. You need not worry. She has made friends with the lady of the house. All their time will be spent in discussing whatever it is that gentlewomen discuss. Save for some business with our host, I will be all yours.” 

Lord Appleby donned his jacket and straightened his periwig before pecking me on the cheek like any dear husband might. I could not believe it.

“Take care my dear, and do not touch anything here. It is dangerous.” 

With that, he ascended the stairs and was gone. I could do no more than wonder at his bizarre behaviour. I made to follow him, but Westman rushed past and stood in my way.

“I want to ask a favour of you,” he said.

“A favour?”

“Yes. My brother has to be made to understand the consequences of his actions. I have tried, but he has rejected my accusations.”

“You’ve told me this before,” I said. “You heard him. He does not believe Oliver is dead.”

I tried to push past him but still he prevented me from doing so.

“I know I spoke harshly to you in the lock-up. I know you think badly of me, but I am not such a bad a person, once you get to know me. You must believe me,” he said. 

“Sir, I think you a murderer… and if your brother is not involved then certainly, you have some hold over him, and I fear for his life.”

He jolted then, as if struck by lightning, or a bolt of the very same electricity that had so recently been introduced into my body.

“How can you say such a thing? You know nothing of us. Nothing.” 

He sneered at me. I took the opportunity, gathered my petticoats, and ran up the stairs. Mother Shadbolt stood at the top. I did not know how much she had heard. I knocked her aside and ran up the second flight of stairs to my room.

“If he’s gone,” shouted Mother Shadbolt, “then there’s work to do. You can’t go shutting yourself away like some petulant child.”

I collapsed on my bed in a fit of tears. Over the last few weeks, my energy had drained away with the worry of everything. My passions raged this way and that. I felt strong one minute and weak the next. I could not make out who had done what, or why. I was alone with my troubles. Was there no one I could trust, save for Captain Somerville, and he… well, he was a love-struck idiot. Daisy, perhaps, but she did not have the ability to see beyond these four walls and I would not want to burden her. Craddock then? Was he not my husband? A woman should be able to trust her husband. I buried my face in my pillow and sobbed.

My door opened. Arms enfolded me. A hand reached under my face to cup my chin, to caress my cheek and wipe away my tears. I kissed the palm and was thankful that someone cared enough to wish me well. My sobs abated. I could not see my saviour’s face, for my hair had come adrift and my eyes were still full of tears, yet I allowed him to turn me on the bed, to kiss my forehead, and each of my eyelids, my nose, my lips and neck. He tore at my bodice and ripped the pins asunder. I arched my back and felt his lips suckle my nipples through the soft fabric of my chemise. His strong hands slipped under my petticoats and ripped them from my body. He licked my navel and continued until he lapped at the gates of paradise itself. I did not care who this man was. I did not care if he had paid for my services, or if he came to me as a lover. I cared only that my desires - my wants, were satiated. 

Now he came upon me with renewed strength, parted my legs with his very being and entered me with thrusts that set me to gasping for air. I opened my eyes, the better to gaze on his countenance, and he fell on me before I had time to scream. His hand covered my mouth. His words hissed in my ear as he continued to work me hard.

“I mean you no harm,” he said.

I could do nothing to resist him. Nothing. 

“William Westman,” I hissed. 

He shuddered. He shuddered, and I held him fast. 

After he was spent, we fell into a deep slumber. No dreams came to me that night.

Perhaps I am fickle. In the first place, it is my job to entice and intrigue and yes, make love to men. Numerous men. That said, it does not mean I am in love with any one of them. No, not even those who are rich and would give me a home and a life free from vice. It is true, I thought I saw something more in Lord Appleby, but when I think back, it was naught but the excitement of the moment and the promise of something better. 

It is rare indeed that I wake in the arms of another without feeling as if I want to scour my flesh clean of their filthy residue. Always, I want them gone from me. Always, the early hours of the morning are precious and nothing and no one must sully that feeling. Yet I lay abed with this man – he whom I thought a murderer, whom I thought was the Devil Incarnate, and felt no revulsion. I lay curled next his naked body as he slept on, and wondered how I had allowed myself to fall for a man like this. 

Only once had this happened before, with an aristocrat who came to me for succour after the death of his true love. He never gave his heart to me, but instead, used me until he met and married an elderly rich widow, who rescued him from his self-inflicted penury. Oh, but I loved him, and I did not care that he was older than I and in poor health. I did not care that he had no prospects and that he thought himself washed up on the shores of poverty (though he would beg, borrow and steal money, when he needed it). ’Twas true, I hated how he used me, and how I felt powerless to refuse him, but I loved him and would have done anything for him. Anything. 

Thus, I found myself in a similar situation. Here was a man whom I thought had engineered my downfall. He had killed. He had threatened and drugged me. He continued to treat me as if I was nothing more than an amusement, and he came to me when I was at my most vulnerable and used me to his own satisfaction (though I must say, also to mine). Why was it then that I found myself drawn to him so? If it was not love, then what was it? Lust? I had that aplenty. It was not lust. I had no name for what I felt. I was in a new land and all was wondrously confused.

I turned to gaze at the chink of light, coming in through the shutters. The carriage would arrive soon. Lord Appleby must not find me abed with his brother. I tried to slip out from between the covers. My tormentor gripped my arm and held me fast. 

“Do you regret it?” he said.

“No,” I replied. “I am sure I have bedded other murderers.” I regretted my words as soon as they had left my lips. For now, the fire that burned in him was quite doused 

“Why do you not believe me when I tell you I did not kill that man? Nor my nephew. You should be wary of my brother, not me. He is the one that is unhinged. Can you not tell that?”

I sat on the edge of the bed and pulled my chemise over my head. 

“He has a title,” I said. 

“Is that what you want? A title? He won’t marry you. He can’t. And neither can you if rumours are to be believed.”

I shrugged. “I do what I have to in order to survive. It is nothing more than that.”

“And this?” he said. “Is this about survival?”

I turned to him. He propped himself on one arm. His hair fell in ringlets about his scarred face. His body was well made, his eyes piercing and bright. 

“You are a strange man,” I said. 

“You are a strange woman.”

I could say no more to him then. I had lost my way.

“He will be here soon,” said my lover, and he threw back the covers and hurried to dress. I watched him in silence, unsure of myself. I would never extract an admission of guilt from him. He had ceased to be the enemy. I did not know what I was going to tell Craddock or Sir John Fielding. 

“Do you come to Tottenham with us?” I asked.

“No.” He pulled on his boots.

“Then, when will I…” 

I did not finish the sentence. I did not want sit and wait with an aching heart for him to return. I did not want to be in love with him. I did not even know if this was love or simply an impossible infatuation. I need not have worried. He snatched up his tricorn and left me to my own devices. Half an hour later the carriage arrived to take me to Bruce Castle.

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