Monday, 13 June 2016

Chapter Four

The Dead London Chronicles: Vol I, June 2016 is now available FREE at SmashwordsApple and Kobo!

On with the tale...

Out in the hall Alice clutched the flask to her chest, too late now to return it, panic rising as she heard the sound of her husband's voice in the distance. His tone was the one so rarely addressed to her, cheery, friendly, full of warmth and humour. This was the other Ted, the one he showed the public, his daughter, anybody but his wife. Could she make it to the stairs, or even the ballroom without attracting his attention? She hesitated, frozen with indecision, heart pounding afresh at the risk of discovery.

Other male voices accompanied his, loud, braying, bragging, discussing the business of the day and the hunt of tomorrow. They were a world from the soft Edinburgh burr of Robert Faulkner, her boy. Reaching a decision she bolted for the stairs, the flask clutched tightly in her hands as she made her escape.

"One never carps over a lost wager," she heard Ted laugh warmly, "I shall have made twice that in a day's business, after all!"

With her husband's voice ringing in her ears Alice took the stairs at an utterly destroyed undignified pace, not stopping until she was back in the room in which she had dressed, a lifetime ago it seemed now, before Robert Faulkner had re-entered her life. Her first move was to hide the flask, burying it deep in her trunk, wondering as she did so how she was going to get out of this predicament.

She prayed that he would be occupied with the other men tonight, that he would not come to her in a temper or worse, in a passion. Over their years of marriages Alice's had learnt that it was her place to receive both without complaint yet as she heard a heavy tread in the hallway outside the door of her room, she held her breath, waiting for it to pass. The steps did not pass though and there was a gentle knock at her door before it opened, admitting Theodore Brandenburg to the room.

The flask was hidden, she told herself, and no one had seen her in the library save for Robert Faulkner. "The Duchess insisted on watching Sophia--"

"Of course," he said placidly, closing the door and turning to greet her with a mild smile, "I would choose no other, my dear."

That smile, so reassuring on the face of any other, froze the blood in her veins, her gaze fixed on him as she took a careful step back, the smile on her own lips fixed and rigid.

"One looks at women like Lady Spencer, Lady Marlborough, those good wives," he went on, smile hardening, "And then one wonders what possessed me to take your hand, Lady Brandenburg, when there were so many more moral, less... troubled candidates. I will not have you embarrass my daughter, my girl, how dare you try show her up as you did?"

"She was dancing with someone quite inappropriate--" 

"If you had been doing your duty as a stepmother, she would not have had the opportunity to do so," Ted shook his head slowly, thin lips disappearing for a moment as his teeth worried away, "Miss Sophia is an innocent, she is prey to all manner of predators."

"Miss Sophia--" she caught herself a moment too late, ducking her head as she cursed her wayward tongue. "Of course. I am sorry." 

"That girl is all you are not and never will be!" His voice was rising in heat and volume at the slight to the child in whom he saw nothing but piety. "How dare you come to this house and make a fool of me?"

"I did not mean---"

"Tomorrow, I think we must call in my doctor as soon as we arrive home," the threat was implicit, the treatments for her nerves brutal and merciless, "You are subject to brain fevers once more, it seems; this time, I will ask him to attempt blistering... You have been too indulged."

"I only asked to speak with her," her voice was hushed, pleading, "It was not meant to happen the way it did, I swear it---"

"Perhaps," he lashed out a hand to seize her wrist, "We shall have him return to the weekly bleeding, to cool that temper."

"No--" she tried, and failed, to move out of the way in time, the cruel, hard fingers closing in, knowing just where to press to hurt. "No, please--"

"I have just agreed to some business in Ireland," Ted’s grip closed around her wrist and he pushed her back hard, Alice's back colliding fiercely with the carved edge of the mantle, "I will be gone a month or more; I believe it will be in your interests to have you confined during my absence, madam."

She bit back a cry, knowing from experience that to be quiet was the best course of action now, biting her lip hard as she focused on a point beyond his shoulder, concentrating on each breath, in and out.

"Do you know," he drew her close again, "Who is here tonight?"

He couldn't know, couldn't possibly, and she kept her expression frozen as she told him, "Lots of people -- too many to name...."

"The Prince of Wales," was his reply, "I have courted his money too long for you to shame me!"

"Then I shall stay up here," she decided hopefully, "Out of the way. So I don't ruin things for you." 

He was looking over her shoulder though, face twisted into a frown of disgust before he reached out and drew his fingers along the edge of the mantle where Alice's back had hit it. After a moment he brought his hand round to show blood on the pale fingertips and then he moved quickly, twisting her round to look at her gown. 

"Your dress is torn!" Ted's voice was furious. "You take no care-- can you not even stand without falling, woman?"

"I didn't--"

She was silenced when he threw her across the room as though she were a discarded newspaper, barely glancing to her when he called, "Have your maid mend that gown, madam, by the time the morning comes!"

She bit back the words that, even now after so many years, were too quick to spring to her tongue, focusing instead on pulling the breath into her lungs, glad at least that she was unable to cry. The door closed with a slam, Ted's voice as cheery as ever as he greeted his companions and went off about his business with the future king of England, every inch the soul of the party.

"Damn you," the words finally left her lips in a whisper, too late to do her further harm now, "Damn you to hell." 


***


Theodore Brandenburg paused in the hallway outside the room he shared with Alice, drawing in a long, deep breath as he forced down his anger at her behaviour, her foolishness, her... willfulness. These near fifteen years of marriage had been nothing but a carousel of lunacy and hysteria, vapours and starvation, of a wife who dangled her money over him like the sword of Damocles, the implicit threat that she might withdraw it unspoken but ever-present. Something must be done, and done soon, he decided, as he stalked along the hallway; a placed must be found for her.

"Brandenburg!" A voice accosted him then, snapping him out of his thoughts, "I know its snowing, but you're looking like someone has died!" 

"What's that?" He turned in place to greet Charles Derville, the heir to the Buckingham dukedom’s thin face showing a cool smile. 

“You look like," the man repeated, cheerful and, Ted thought, looking far too pleased with himself, “Someone just died."

"My wife..." Ted shook his head. "You know how they can be."

"No," came the laughed response, "No I don't. And I won't either, because my wife won't be like that, will she?"

“Sophia will make you a fine duchess,” This time there was no doubt in Ted’s words and he gestured to the staircase, “Let us share a drink and discuss business, your Grace; and daughters.”


Don't miss chapter five on 20th June 2016!

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