Monday, 25 July 2016

Chapter Ten

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

On with the tale...

The night had been a long one and by the time the carriage saw them safely back to the house of Mishael de Chastelaine, Mary was more than ready for rest and respite. Her worry for her mistress was diminished somewhat by the clear care the doctor was taking of her, but something nagged at her, a feeling she did not know the whole story, as she pulled the door closed on the pair in Alice's bedroom. 

There was little place for her, it felt, and she descended the stairs, finding herself coming to a somewhat lost halt at the bottom. She should remain, she knew, should put her mistress's honour and reputation above everything yet this was Doctor Robert Faulkner  the man entrusted with the health of the queen herself, to whom no scandal had ever attached itself, for whom the finest doors in Europe were opened without question. There was no question of compromise in his presence, and he was a devoted physician, she could see, retiring only to sleep and only then for the barest hours before he was once more at Alice's side. 

With a sigh Mary sat, just for a moment, she told herself, while she gathered her thoughts and decided what to do with herself. The noises of the household went on around her, bringing some comfort in their familiarity in any big home, ad she found herself thinking of jam tarts shared the night before. 

She would not be able to find that strange little pantry, Mary knew, let alone the barefooted footman who cared so little for his master that he wandered about undressed, stealing from the kitchens as though it were his right. She should not, she decided, even be thinking of it; a cup of tea and then she would do as the doctor had advised and take to her bed to sleep off the broken night that had gone before. 

With that she got once more to her feet, confident she could find the kitchen at least. The house, however, had other ideas and she found herself wandering once more, the sounds of the house petering out into a snow-blanketed silence as she trod the less grand corridors that should have been bustling with servants. It was at the moment that Mary was about to turn and give up that she heard the familiar whistle of the infernal footman, somewhere up ahead. She quickened her step, certain that she was only going to ask the way to the kitchen before leaving him to his own business, whatever that was. Rounding the corner though did not reveal him, and she paused, listening intently. 

"Boo." The word was a whisper, the hand with its missing finger tapping Mary's shoulder from behind. 

She yelped loudly, spinning round to confront the man who had scared her half out of her wits. "It is rude to sneak up on people!" 

"Tarts?" 

"Don't change the subject!" She glared at him, demanding, "What are you doing creeping about?" 

"I'm not creeping, I'm whistling!" The face, ludicrously handsome, the sort of face that one saw painted on ivory in a lady's boudoir, wore a look of comical hurt. 

"You are creeping," she insisted, "And I do not care for it, sir!" Mary peered at him, before adding, "And what is there to be whistling about?" 

"How's your lady?" 

"Resting," she admitted quietly, "The doctor is with her." 

The footman nodded his approval, those jet black eyes glittering when he admitted, "He and I know one another of old; he's a fine sort." 

"Who is he?" Mary found herself asking, curiosity getting the better of her, "Really? He has been most attentive...." 

"He's the man who Queen Charlotte calls on when she has a chill, whom the late queen of France had tend her nasty toenail..." he smiled brightly, "And who has saved more lives in more ways than he will ever admit." 

"My mistress seems to trust him," Mary admitted with a frown, "Which is unusual in itself...." 

He nodded, walking on ahead as he called, "Come on, you; apple pie and brandy?" 

"I was just..." she picked up her pace to catch up, "Going to find some tea..." 

The footman spun on his bare heel, walking backwards as he regarded her with something akin to confusion, "Tea? That doctor's influence is spreading!" 

"I relied on tea," she corrected firmly, "Long before that Doctor came on the scene! Brandy at this time of the morning is asking for trouble!” 

"Tea it shall be," he nodded, then bowed deeply. "I am the man who looks after the household." 

"Look after it?" she wondered at him having anything close to authority here, "I'm sure you do!" 

"Positively run the place," his eyes widened and he asked, "Have you seen the estate? The hellfire caves? You should explore." 

"It if's anything like this house out there," she gestured, "I'd never find my way back!" she frowned, struck, not for the first time, with the feeling that the house was not all it should be. 

"How can you say that," he paused suddenly beside a door, a door that Mary was sure she hadn't seen a moment before, "When here we are at the kitchen?" 

With those words, he opened the door onto a bustling kitchen alive with staff and noise, the scent of a feast wafting up to meet her. At the appearance of this rather unusual footman, those nearest the door gave cheery greetings and then he was leading the way into the room, calling for tea and cake as though he owned the house. She followed, more perplexed than ever, though it made sense, she supposed, that such an odd fellow would work for such a master as his was purported to be. 

"So," he spun to face her again, gesturing to an empty seat at the scrubbed pine table in the centre of the room, "What do you know of the devil?" 

"Very little," she resisted the urge to cross herself, the habit an old one that had never quite died, "And I am happy for it to remain that way!" 

"Do you believe," another gesture to the seat, even as his other hand raised to beckon over a lad who was already scurrying to bring the requested refreshments, "He is what they say he is?" 

"I've never," she realised it was somewhat of an untruth even as the words left her lips, "Given the matter much thought." 

"The chair," he frowned, "Won't eat you." 

Mary had not realised she had been hovering then, frowning again at herself as she sat. "I should hope not!" 

"So," he took his own seat, eyes still on her even as he poured the tea, "The vampires are here?" 

"They arrived just as we left," she remembered the strange party, "They have a child with them...." 

"And a landlord... the doctor's best friend; now that is a tale, but not one for me to tell."

"He's the one who took us to him," Mary recalled the man who had been so helpful, "I never thanked him...." 

"Do you know," the footman laughed, piling the plates with cake, "He had to squirrel three annoyed vampires away after they got hit by the snow? They all went to sleep in a barn and the poor soul had to run around making sure not a chink of sunlight could get in. He's lucky to still have his head!" 

"Some," she opined, watching with grudging approval, "Would have let the light in and be done with it!" 

"And rob the theatrical world of the continent's most dandified farceur?" 

"Some," Mary continued, "wouldn't much care given what he is!" 

The footman shrugged, telling her, "Then some need to learn to live and let live. There are plenty of humans would do you a lot more harm than a dandified vampire!" 

"I didn't," she pointed out, "Say that I was one of them." she met his gaze, remarking to herself again on his eyes, "I have no problem with vampires as long as they behave themselves."

"You are looking," he observed, taking a bite of cake, "At my eyes." 

"Would you rather," she found herself asking, "I looked at something else?” 

"Well, here I am in just shirt and breeches... I imagine to a ladies maid of your pedigree, I am virtually naked?" He smiled, eyes sparkling, "What a debauched household we are!" 

"You say that," she pointed out, "Like it is a good thing!" 

"Snow in July," a buxom lady commented as she bustled past, arms full of what appeared to be half a roast pig, "And naked chaps in the kitchen!" 

"What does your master think," she asked, curious, "At you wandering around like that? " 

"I am the man who looks after the household," the footman reminded Mary, "I have no master." 

"Wouldn't let him hear you say that...." 

"I don't care who hears me!" A bite of the cake and he added, "Not one bit!" 

She reached for her own slice, taking a bite as she decided, "Then that is one thing we have in common." "

"But you're always more dressed than I." 

"That," she shot back, "Does not take much." 

"No in between for this one," the cook wandered back, one hand now holding a fresh loaf as her free fingers ruffled the footman's hair affectionately, "Either in his linens or draped in silk like a proper macaroni!" 

Mary let that go, certain she couldn't imagine the man in anything less than a state of undress as she took another bite of cake. 

"They don't respect me," the man whispered playfully,  blinking his jet black eyes. "Do you see?" 

"Do you respect them either?" the question was, Mary found, a genuine one. 

"I would not be without any one of them," his own words seemed more serious in turn, "We are a family here." 

That did not fit with her experience of service, it being herself and her mistress against the many who would snoop and pry and spy if given half a chance. "That must be nice..." 

"And while you are here, you are part of our family!" 

"I have no family," she told him, surprised at her own bluntness. 

"You have your mistress," the footman piled another slice of cake onto her plate, "I think you and she are family to one another." 

"That is different---" 

"No," he shook his head, "I don't think so." 

Mary had no response to that, busying herself instead with the cake, taking another bite and chewing carefully as she thought again of the attentive doctor, the way her mistress seemed to trust him implicitly. Her companion was silent in turn, yet the bustle around them seemed almost companionable, Mary allowing herself to be lulled by it, by his talk of the companionship of servitude, of the family here. The footman's mischief did not seem cruel, after all, even if his manner was a little unusual, but this house seemed like a shrine to all things unusual. 

"What," she asked finally, "Do you make of this snow?" 

"Snowmen." He blinked. "Or snowballs!" 

"That wasn't what I--" The second slice of cake went down as well as the first, Mary deciding that a third would be an indulgence too far as she somewhat regretfully got to her feet. "I should let you get on...." 

"Come and find me," he smiled, standing to bow, "Should you ever wish for silly chatter, cake and tea. Or even brandy."

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