Lying on his daybed, tucked away in his pleasure alcove off the drawing room, Smirke shivered with delight as he listened to Madame Pêche show the young lady into the room and then close the door. Lady Harriet wasn’t sobbing or audibly gasping for air. His heart started pounding with anticipation as light steps hesitantly explored the room. He watched as she looked out the window to the street below as if she were assessing the distance. The door wasn’t locked. She was free to stay or leave as she wished. Smirke smiled as the veiled woman with both hands tucked into a large fur muff, jumped as she caught sight of the mirror facing away from the street reflecting his alcove. Smirke exhaled slowly as he forced himself to relax.
There was something unnerving about the faceless woman’s posture.
She appeared relaxed, almost confident. Smirke’s smile wobbled as he wondered if his virgin prize was still virgin. Lord Harley, his blackmailing henchman, might have stolen the lady’s virtue for himself. There was only one way to find out. Smirke propped himself up on his elbow, “Ah Lady Harriet…you chose well. Not only will you save your family’s reputation by giving me your virtue, but you will have the privilege of undressing me and seeing one of God’s true works of art! I give you my word as a gentleman that as soon as I get what I want I’ll pretend this never happened. I won’t ever ask you for a dance or even raise my hat in the street. Your infatuation with a married man will be completely forgotten at least by me. Harley may never forget, but then he married a shrew. Come here and let me remove those pretty rags. I’ve been waiting months to see your naked flesh draping my daybed.” Tearful noises suddenly erupted from under the veil causing Smirke to scowl in irritation. “There’s no need to cry woman, I won’t demand more than a few hours of your life. If you’re really unlucky you’ll take home a souvenir of our carnal encounter; a small bundle of despair with black eyes who’ll ensure that my promise to your father for revenge will be fulfilled. Your dear Papa shouldn’t have snubbed my offer of marriage while I was in the mood for a passably pretty wife. Just think Harriet, all this could have been yours for more than a day!” He waved an elegant hand over himself causing the veiled woman’s shoulder’s to shake. “Doubtless if you get with child your proud father will beat you and then send you off to some convent to rot, but today we needn’t think of the unpleasant future. Come here and admire me and I promise to make you weep with pleasure.”
Smirke smiled as Lady Harriet slowly walked over to the yellow sliding door trimmed in black partially screening his alcove from the drawing room and lightly kicked it all the way open with her foot. It wasn’t what he expected her to do, but she appeared to have stopped crying. He took a deep breath and forced himself to be patient as she gazed through her thick veil at the obscene works of art and the mirrors on the ceiling. Smirke leered as he patted the daybed beside him. “Come My Lady, don’t be shy. We both know you’re tired of being a virgin or you wouldn’t have been dallying with Harley. Come untie one of my ribbons and then I’ll untie one of yours.” The sound of the young lady clearing her throat had a negative aspect that made Smirke scowl. “Come here…blast your impudence what are you doing with those?” Smirke’s heart chilled with fear as the veiled woman pulled two small travelling pistols out of her dropped muff and pointed them at her host.
“Harriet had a pressing engagement.” It was a strange voice, low and harsh yet oddly feminine. “Do you enjoy singing Mr. Smirke?” Smirke sat upright, his eyes burning with fear and cursed his luck as he sniffed back unmanly tears. “I’m curious, do you know if your local parish choir is in need of a castrato?”
“How the devil should I…” Smirke gasped in horror as he suddenly cupped his hands around his most precious appendage as his lower lip visibly trembled. “I’ll give you money… I’ll give you whatever you ask, but please don’t unman me I beg you!”
“You don’t sing, you have no taste in art and you’re really unconvincing as a victim; perhaps you should try again before my finger slips.”
Tears gushed from Smirke’s eyes as he contemplated life without sexual pleasure, “I wouldn’t survive! It would be murder! Murder is a sin…” His broke into sobs as the veil appeared unmoved.
“You have a heart of marble and the soul of slug, but I’m feeling generous today Mr Smirke. I’ll let you choose; a bullet in your manhood or your shoulder. You have three minutes before I please myself.”
“Lady Harriet wouldn’t approve of my methods, but she’ll be vastly relieved to know that you’ll never bother her again because if you do, your nephew will inherit your Lincolnshire property a little sooner than you’d like.”
“How the blazes do you know about my will? And how the blazes did you learn about Lady Harriet’s visit?”
“Harriet required a Specialist in Unhappiness; I’d give you my card, but I have standards. I don’t do this for the money Mr Smirke, I simply like knowing things and then there’s the pleasure of hitting villains like you on the head. You have one minute.”
Snot dripped from his long elegant nose as Smirke sobbed, “Don’t do this! I have fifteen thousand in the bank. I don’t want to die!”
“It’s rather unpleasant being a victim, isn’t it Mr Smirke? Now you know how all the women who’ve invited onto that hideous daybed felt when they saw you naked. Frankly I’d rather do just about anything than see you au naturel, but there is an amusing aside to this gothic plot. If you’d pursued Lady Harriet like a normal lover she’d have run away with you out of desperation to get married. Thanks to your bumbling ineptitude I get the pleasure of giving you a little souvenir to remind you what will happen if I learn you’ve blackmailed one more woman into your yellow lair!” The room fell silent as both occupants froze to listen to the commotion coming up the stairs. Smirke tensed in hope of deliverance as an unseen man fell into the room evading the servants’ hands.
“Someone help me! This lunatic is threatening to kill me! Come back here and rescue me! Don’t close the door!” The footman and maids quickly followed his earlier order and closed the door to the drawing room without entering and ran back downstairs. “You good for nothing peasants; I order you to come back here and save me at once or you won’t have employment…I’ll be dead!”
“I’ll have shatishfaction…if it’sh the lasht thing I dooo… Bloody…” Smirke’s eyes widened. The madman dressed up as a woman was now pointing one of the pistols at the intruder who sounded like a drunken Lord St. Valentine. “Now Mish…don’t be rash…let me have the pishtolsh and everything will be jush dandy…”
“Sin Valentine, is that you? What the devil are you doing in my house; do something before he kills me!”
“I’ve come for shatishfaction…your shervant shlapped me! Dem…Mish, don’t be hashty…” Smirke saw his chance as the pistol waving lunatic appeared momentarily distracted by the drunken Lord. There was an escape route out one of the windows behind him, but there was no luck left for Smirke. He wasn’t even standing upright before the madman aimed for his right shoulder and pulled the trigger. Smirke crumpled in shock, screaming curses as oozing blood stained black silk. Painful blinding light compressed his nerves as a second shot roared in his ears, patronising his fear of being unmanned. Smirke slumped, an unconscious heap on his yellow daybed, his assailant calmly picked up the fallen muff and walked out of the room, leaving the two injured men lying in pools of blood.
The sensation of burning pain enflamed his shoulder and spread through his nerves to his brain dragging him back to his senses. Smirke’s eyes flickered open to see a deathly pale blonde man with a blood stained shirt glaring at him. His heart fell back into his chest as the door clicked shut to his left grounding his senses. He wasn’t staring at his corpse; it was the mirrored ceiling over his bed. He was alive and there was no pain in his groin. He reached down with his left hand and sobbed in relief; he was still a man.
I’ve sent for the docteur…are you confortable Monsieur?”
Distracted from his tears of relief Smirke sniffed back his disbelief as he turned his head at the annoying words and gasped at the pain. “I’ve been shot Woman; of course I’m not comfortable! I order you to sack those mindless peasants who ignored my cries for help and left me to be murdered!”
But non, you were transparent Monsieur; we were not to entrées whatever la raison!”
Never mind my transparency; did you stop that coward dressed as a woman?”
Did you even get a look at his face?”
Mais non, she was veiled, but she was very upset Monsieur. I could hear it in her voice. She said you’d been shot by the other gentleman and the footman let her out the front door.” Black furious eyes rolled back towards the ceiling causing Smirke to blanch at the sight of his blood.
Send for a doctor and Get me some laudanum.”
Shall I send for Madame Adderbury?”
No you will not send for my mother and if she comes calling I am not at home! You will not even hint that I am infirme comprends?”
But she loves you Monsieur! The last time she called she said, “…J’adore Jean Sebastian, il et mon méchant petit fil…”
Of course she loves me, she’s my Mamma! Now get me something to numb this pain before I sack you for gossiping. Just because you’re both French doesn’t mean you can dissect my character. I may not be as good as my older brothers, but I’m still half English and that’s still half better than you!”
Oui Monsieur.” Madam Pêche muttered something about guillotines under her breath as the door closed leaving Smirke to dread his mother learning how he’d acquired his latest bullet. He’d be a captive audience for a month long lecture spoken or implied by adoring black eyes on how he was a wicked man who’d end up in hell if he didn’t change his evil ways. At the same time the threat of suffering endless weeks alone pressed on his heart producing one of his least favourite sensations, loneliness. Glaring at his unpleasant reflection hovering above him, he started mentally listing cronies to summon when an unwanted thought broke his concentration, ‘Send for your ward.’ Black eyes lit up with horror and temptation in equal measure. The wench would likely worship him, but would he be tortured by an ugly or pretty lunatic? His luck had definitely run out. She was bound to be the ugliest woman ever born. The thought interrupted his mental rambling again, ‘Send for you ward.’
No! She’ll be ugly and my misery will be complete.” The words spat into the empty room and echoed off the glass ceiling. ‘Send for your ward!’ The words pierced his skull and sent a blast of ice down his spine. “I will not send for that lunatic and that’s final!” He was now shouting at an empty room; Smirke covered his face with his left arm to hide his tears of frustration. He was tired of paying whores to admire him. Their wooden theatrical declarations of wonder at his beauty in-between bored yawns could never satisfy the need to be adored. There had to be at least one tolerably pretty woman who’d think he was the most beautiful man who ever lived.Go to chapter 3