Text is from The Bishop of Hell and other stories, 1949.
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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
‘The Prince of Darkness is a Gentleman’
England, 1790. This is the most awful story that I know; I feel constrained to write down the facts as they ever abide with me, praying, as I do so, a merciful God to pardon my small share therein.
God have mercy on us all!
In the hope, vain though I feel it to be, that when I have written down this tale it may cease to haunt me, I here begin.
It was twenty years ago, and never since, day nor night, have I had any respite from the thought of this story, through which you can hear the drums of Hell beat loudly and yet which has an awful beauty.
God have mercy on us all!
Hector Greatrix was my friend, yet to say friend is to profane a noble word; rather was he my counsellor, companion, and prop in all things evil.
His reputation was hideous even among the rakehelly crowd who flattered and followed him; he went lengths from which others shrank, and his excesses, his impiety, his boldness terrified even those hardened in wicked ways.
And what added a deeper edge of horror to his conduct was that he had been an ordained clergyman.
Younger son of a younger son, his father had placed him in the Church in the hope of rapid preferment, for the Greatrix were a highly placed family and the great Earl of Culvers was the head of it; but the scandal of young Hector’s life was such that even in those days he was unfrocked. His intimates, in the clubs and gambling dens, called him, in bitter derision, Bishop of Hell.
I write of the year 1770, when this tale begins.
Hector Greatrix was then in the height of his fame and fashion. No-one could deny him certain splendour; he was literally in physical height head and shoulders above his companions, and mentally also; his wit, his invention, his daring knew no bounds, but all these qualities were turned to evil. He was at this time about thirty years of age, of a magnificent figure, so graceful that his strength was hardly noticeable, tawny haired and tawny eyed, with features as yet unblemished from his debaucheries, the most elegant of hands and feet, the most exquisite taste in dress, and the most engaging of manners. There was not one honourable man nor respected woman among his acquaintances and all his intimates were villains; I do not except myself.
There was, however, one exception. Colonel Bulkeley; his cousin on the female side, had helped him by his countenance and by money. Why, I never understood, because William Bulkeley was the most austere, upright, and punctilious of men, of great wealth, of exceptional position, and of the most distinguished career.
I think now, as I thought then, that it was quite impossible for Colonel Bulkeley to realise what Hector Greatrix really was, or the set to which he belonged. The villain could be most plausible, and his cousin must have believed him to be wild, unfortunate, and blameable, but in no way vile or dishonoured.
In sum, Colonel Bulkeley effectually played the mediator between Greatrix and the chief of the family, Lord Culvers, who, no anchorite himself, was not ill-disposed towards his handsome and seductive nephew; but then his lordship, who was much disabled by gout, seldom left Greatrix Park and knew little of London society, so that he was by no means aware of his nephew’s reputation.
I, as one of the most reputable of his disreputable friends, being, as I can truly say, more wild and young than vicious, was chosen to go with Hector to Greatrix Park when the old earl asked his company, and so I was able to see at close quarters how this charming knave pulled the wool over the eyes of his two kinsmen.
The end of the comedy was an allowance for Greatrix, a handsome subsidy from the earl most generously supplemented by a few hundreds more from the wealth of Colonel Bulkeley.
Greatrix was to study the law and live in chambers — suitable to his rank; he had no chance of accession to the family honours of the earl, whose heir, a dull, sickly youth enough, had lately married a blooming young woman of robust constitution, who had provided him with a couple of boys. So, Greatrix, thanks to Colonel Bulkeley, had done better than the most sanguine might have hoped. And he seemed more moved thereby than I had thought possible.
‘Bulkeley has done me a good turn,’ he swore, ‘and damme if I’ll ever do him a bad one.’
As for his allowance and the study of the law, he laughed at these things; what he really valued was the countenance of these two great, wealthy gentlemen.
‘This visit will help my credit in London,’ he declared. ‘It is good for a couple of years’ debt.’
‘And what when two years are up and your credit and the patience of your relatives are alike exhausted?’
‘Who am I,’ smiled Greatrix, ‘to think two years ahead?’
I think it was impossible for him to conceive of disaster or even common misfortune. His object gained, he was impatient to return to town; a woman with red hair was waiting for him. He had a curious and persistent passion for women with that bright shade of auburn, like burnt gold.
Colonel Bulkeley pressed us to stay a night with him on our way to town, and Greatrix, with an inner curse, for he wanted to be free of this formal, austere man, consented with a winning courtesy.
Moil Place was in Kent, quite near London, a commodious and elegant residence presided over by Mrs Bulkeley, who was some several years younger than her husband.
This type of woman was unknown to either Greatrix or myself. I have had no sisters and could not recall the character or the lineaments of my mother; Greatrix had two sisters, but they were town ladies of smirched reputation, and his mother had been a passionate, reckless, uncommon woman.
To both of us Mrs Bulkeley appeared flat, childish, almost imbecile, almost incredible. She had been married direct from a Clapham boarding school and had there received several tokens (as the doting husband let slip) for deportment and good conduct.
It was June, and she wore a muslin gown with a wide blue silk sash and a wide straw hat tied under the chin with another ribbon of the same hue. She lisped a little and her small face was clearly and definitely coloured like a china ornament; she was, in fact, like the puppets children dress up and play with; then, when she had gone into the house and was pouring tea behind the Bulkeley silver — pieces that looked larger than herself — she suddenly took off her hat and showed a head overflowing with auburn curls, long, glossy, almost vermilion, yet soft and like burnt gold, all knotted up on the crown of her head.
With this revelation of her hair you saw her beauty — the golden eyes with blonde lashes, the features of such an exquisite delicacy, the pearly shades on throat and neck, the delicious carmine of faint carnation.
I did not care to look at Greatrix, and yet I felt that I need not have suffered this embarrassment.
Colonel Bulkeley was the one man in the world for whom Greatrix had expressed any respect or consideration and the lady obviously adored her husband. I was both amused and surprised to observe the manifestations of sentimental affection between them. There was one child too, a little doll in white lace just out of the cradle; what fondness Colonel Bulkeley could spare from his wife was devoted to the infant.
I was cloyed and thankful when we had taken our seats for town. Greatrix, after the effort of the last few days, was in a surly mood. ‘I have never passed a couple of days so tiresome,’ he said.
And I, always minded to jeer at him when I could, replied: ‘You have never seen a woman so beyond your reach, Hector. She never looked at you, I do believe.’
He laughed indifferently. ‘Alicia Bulkeley is ready to the hand of any man who likes to reach out for her.’
What was yet good in me was shocked by this insult to our hostess, a woman who, commonplace and childish perhaps, had yet seemed to me to convey a sweet purity, a gentle fidelity, and an adoring affection beyond all reproach.
‘She is in love with her husband,’ I declared.
‘The more reason she can be in love with another —’tis your passionately attached wives who fall the easiest victims; that little creature is amorous as a lovebird. Take Bulkeley away for a month or so and she’d flutter into any arms held out —’
‘By God, Hector,’ I swore, ‘if you can’t believe in any nobility or decency, don’t defame those qualities. Your words stick in my throat. These people have exerted themselves in kindness towards you. Mrs Bulkeley is silly, maybe, but a gentlewoman deserving of respect.’
‘Since when have you turned Puritan?’ he asked coldly.
I was not affected by his sneers; I felt a certain definite repulsion against him, and from that day I saw less of him and applied myself with some diligence to my studies.
We each of us had rooms in Paper Buildings, and the more I heard of Hector Greatrix the more I withdrew myself from his companionship. Two of his boon fellows shot themselves; the daughter of his laundress was found hanged; a married woman of his acquaintance was taken out of a Hampstead pond one winter morning. His name was associated, secretly and sombrely, with all these tragedies.
Some rumours of these matters must have reached the earl in his lofty retirement, for I heard from the associates of Greatrix who still continued to be mine that there had been a summons to Greatrix Park, quarrels, and the employment once more of Colonel Bulkeley as Mediator.
I had seen little of the Bulkeleys; their severe and yet sentimental life, the chaste simplicity of their connubial bliss did not greatly attract me. I had been asked again to Moil Place and had needed all my fortitude to control my yawns. Mrs Bulkeley had now another infant at her breast and was more than ever infatuated with her husband.
Another six months and this idyllic family was rudely disturbed: Colonel Bulkeley’s regiment was ordered to India for three years and he was forced to leave abruptly his wife and children he so tenderly loved.
That winter, to my surprise, I met Mrs Bulkeley in a London ballroom; it was only a few months since her husband had sailed and I imagined her consoling herself with her babies at Moil Place. When I spoke to her she seemed shy and confused; I learned that she had ‘moped’ in the country, that the doctor had ordered a change, and that these insufferable years of waiting would seem shorter amid the distractions of society. She was staying with a married brother at St. James’s, and I could not doubt that she was well protected both by her own heart, her position, her relatives, her children; yet when I saw her dancing with Hector Greatrix I did not care to watch.
Needless to follow the course of an experienced and heartless seducer; suffice it to say that Greatrix was soon talked of in connection with Mrs Bulkeley, and, unattainable as I believed her to be, I could not forbear an appeal to her pursuer.
I found him, by rare luck, in his chambers.
‘For God’s sake, Hector,’ I conjured him, ‘stop your attentions to Mrs Bulkeley; even though it is impossible for you to destroy her peace of mind, you may blight her reputation.’
‘What is this to me?’ he asked coldly. ‘Did I not tell you she would come at my whistle?’
I urged him to forbear. ‘Never before have you compromised a woman of her position. Consider what it will mean to you — the fury of your uncle and of her husband, the scandal that will put you out of society — out of England.’
‘And there,’ he interrupted, ‘I am likely to go in any case. I can keep the duns quiet no longer and my lord will be bled no more.’
I told him I hoped he would go before Mrs Bulkeley’s good name was smirched by his detestable attentions and I reminded him solemnly of his obligations towards Colonel Bulkeley. He had no answer for me, and soon after I observed with relief that Mr Lambert, Alicia Bulkeley’s brother, had taken alarm and that she was being kept from any opportunity of meeting Greatrix.
Yet what availed this?
Hector Greatrix, having spun his credit to the utmost and within a few hours of the Fleet Prison for debt, fled to the Continent and Alicia Bulkeley went with him.
Though I was never squeamish in these affairs, I will confess that this completely sickened me — the man was so vile, the woman so infantile, so pure, so attached to her husband.
The scandal was hideous. The earl cut Hector off with a curse; the Lamberts adopted the abandoned children; and as soon as they had news of Alicia, sent her a small allowance that was probably the main support of the wretched couple. This money was sent care of a bank in Genoa, but no-one knew where Mrs Bulkeley and her lover really were living.
Through the compassion of His Royal Highness, who had the chief command in India, Colonel Bulkeley was allowed to return to England on the receipt of the awful news and arrived in London something less than two years since he had sailed.
He immediately resigned his commission and returned with his children to Moil Place.
Declaring that he had no intention of following the fugitives, he said simply that if Greatrix ever returned to England one of the two would, in a few days, be dead; and Mr Lambert, with his next remittance, reported this message, advising his unfortunate sister and her paramour to keep clear of their native country for fear of further scandal and horror.
I avoided the possible chance of meeting Colonel Bulkeley. I had no desire to see this broken and outraged man, whose career, that had promised so splendidly, was broken in the middle and for whom life seemed to hold nothing but bitterness and humiliation. This, it might seem, should be the end of the story; it indeed appeared that nothing further could happen, either to the outcasts in their exile or to the betrayed husband, to alter the position of either or in any way bring them together again.
But who would have guessed at the turn Fate had in store?
Colonel Bulkeley had not been home much more than another two years when a severe epidemic of smallpox broke out in England; among the first victims were the wife and children of Lord Culvers; the son by his first marriage, always delicate, had lately died of a decline; and the old earl, then over seventy years of age, did not long endure the shock, but sank under the weight of his bereavement a few days after the funeral of his youngest child.
The estates and the money were both entailed, every portion of property having been strictly tied up by a preceding earl, and Hector Greatrix was now Earl of Culvers and one of the wealthiest noblemen in England.
Lord Culvers was summoned to London by his lawyers, and on the same day Colonel Bulkeley came up from Moil Place and took a house in Dover Street, Mayfair, not far from his lordship’s town mansion, Culver House.
Hector came as far as Paris and there stopped. He still had Mrs Bulkeley with him; not, as I supposed, from any remnants of affection, but because of her allowance, which was till now his sole means of support. I winced to think what Alicia Bulkeley must be like now.
There had never been any talk of a divorce, but now people began to ask why Colonel Bulkeley did not permit his wife to marry her lover; they were people who did not know Hector.
I received, unexpectedly, a summons from my lord to attend him in Paris; he had not too many reputable acquaintances then, and I had become a respectable enough citizen while he was sliding down to pandemonium. Therefore, I supposed, this dubious honour.
I went, as one will, partly out of curiosity, partly out of complacence, and partly out of a faint pity for Alicia Bulkeley.
He had, of course, handled plenty of money already, and upset as the city still was, I found them elegantly installed in a hôtel meublé that had only lately become national property.
Hector was sumptuous to behold and cordial enough in his wild way; he had changed for the worse — the first bloom of his beauty had gone, the first fineness of his manners; but he was handsome enough, God help him.
She was with him.
I learnt afterwards that she had had and lost in the feverish heat of Italy three children, and never had she been without another woman sharing her lover’s favours; often these lived under the same roof with her. She had known, I think, most of the humiliations possible to a refined woman who lives with a vile, brutal man; there could have been little of horror and squalor that she had not seen, nay, been in the midst of . . .
I could hardly keep curiosity from my eyes — this was the doll of Moil Place, with her lisp, her muslin, her babies.
She was, and this is perhaps the most horrible thing, much more beautiful, rich, opulent in line now, with a full bosom and flowing curves of thighs and shoulders, taller (she had been but eighteen), clever at dressing, clever of speech; gay, abandoned, and intolerably wretched. Her tone was one of bravado, but the look in her eyes was that of a whipped dog who creeps away from the lash.
As soon as we were alone she was down on her knees to me with a movement so passionately sudden that I could in no way prevent it — on her knees, Mrs Bulkeley of Moil Place!
‘Tell me,’ she implored, ‘will not William divorce me? Surely you have some message from him?’
I told her, none.
She began to weep. ‘If I were free Hector might marry me before he returned to England — that is my only hope.’
‘Surely, madam,’ said I in pity, ‘a vain one?’
But she was not yet free of the illusion women are so slow to lose — that they have always some power over a man who has once loved them or been their lover, and she cherished the desperate hope that her husband might set her free and she regain something of all she had lost under the name of Lady Culvers.
Never was there a more futile and piteous hope even in the brain of a foolish woman. I could not forbear saying to her, when I had induced her to rise from her knees: ‘Madam, has not your association with my lord shown you the manner of man he is?’
‘Indeed it has,’ she answered bitterly, ‘yet surely he could not, in these changed circumstances, abandon me —’
So she clung to the protection of that honour she had herself discarded, and a panic terror showed in her eyes as she added that she had now nothing with which to keep him — it had always been the money that had held him; the money the Lamberts sent, and, Heaven avert its face, other money, presents from Italian lovers of hers whom he had forced on her; she told me, with a wildness that made me fear for her reason, that she had paid for her last child’s funeral by such means.
‘And yet, madam,’ I shuddered, ‘you wish to continue your association with such a monster? Indeed, I wonder that you have not already left him, if only for the protection of another man.’
As she was silent, I added: ‘Is it possible that you love him?’
She replied: ‘No, I have never loved any but William and my dear, dear children.’
But I doubt if she knew what love was, and I think that for months she had known no emotion save fear.
Seeking to abate her misery I asked her what she could dread worse than had yet befallen her.
‘There’s Hell,’ she said.
‘I should think,’ I replied, ‘that Hell is where my lord is.’
But no; to her, still at heart a religious, respectable English gentlewoman, anything was preferable to the life of open shame before her if my lord forsook her; she thought, in her narrow, ignorant mind, that if she could marry her lover her fault would be condoned; and I knew that in the eyes of many it would be.
I advised her that she could go into retreat somewhere with the money that the Lamberts allowed her, but she shook her head with a feeble laugh; she knew, she said with a dreadful accent, her own weakness, and she saw herself, once cast off by my lord, sinking to the lowest depths of degradation, till she reached Bridewell or a foreign lazar house.
And I could see this too. I promised to speak to my lord, but naturally with little hope; but the next day when I saw him, sitting over his breakfast playing with his dogs, he gave me no opening, for he plunged into his own affairs.
‘Look ‘ee here, Jack,’ he said, ‘I was too drunk yesterday to talk business and when I came back from the opera you’d gone. But this is the matter I’ve sent for you for — has Bulkeley seen reason? As I’ve no news, I take it he has gone to his prayers and his pumpkins at Moil Place and will give no trouble.’
‘No,’ I said, ‘Colonel Bulkeley came up to London as soon as he heard of your fortune, and has taken lodgings in Dover Street —’tis said that he keeps a watch posted by Culver House for your return.’
My lord’s face turned ashy.
‘What for?’ he cried.
‘That he may challenge you the moment that you set foot in England.’
My lord sprang up then; his rage was diabolic, there is no other word for this fury of a fiend outwitted at last; his oaths and blasphemies were detestable, atrocious, as he strode up and down with his dressing-gown flowing open and his locks, damp from last night’s debauch, seeming to rise on his head.
‘I never heard,’ I said, wincing, ‘that you were a coward, Hector, but it seems you are.’
‘Coward!’ he yelled. ‘When I eloped with Bulkeley’s wife I was a ruined man without a prospect in the world — did I think I’d ever want to return to England with the title and the money?’
He had been, in fact, exquisitely caught, but I could feel no spark of compassion for him.
‘You’ll have to meet the man,’ I told him, not looking at his distorted face.
‘I’ll not. Bulkeley is a damned good shot. Do you think I want to go out when I’ve suddenly got everything to my hand?’
I could guess that he did not; to him the position, the money, meant the opening of Paradise. He would, no doubt, have a good life — fine flatterers, fine women, all that wealth could buy in London would be his; nay, there would be plenty who would receive him in the finest society of the town and not scruple to offer him their daughters in honourable matrimony; the hounded exile would be the great lord and at last able to get full value for his rank, his beauty, his audacity, his fascination.
‘I stay in Paris,’ he cried. ‘People will come over to me here. I’ll cheat the man that way. Paris is as well as London if you have money.’
‘It were wiser, perhaps,’ I said with disgust. ‘But no-one will endure a man who is an avowed coward, my lord; you’ll have to keep the company you’ve been used to lately if you stay out of England. People will know why — they’re beginning to say already that you linger. I for one,’ and I rose, ‘would turn my back on you.’
‘Blast your impudence, Jack,’ he whispered. ‘What is this tone to me?’
‘You’re a peer of England. Culvers is a great name; it’ll cover much, but not cowardice.’
‘Damn that word. I don’t want to die — that’s reasonable.’
‘Yes; if I were you, my lord, I should not want to die.’
‘Bah, you’re thinking of my bishopric. Hell! As if I believed in Hell. There’s nothing, not even Hell, Jack — one goes out like a snuffed candle — just blackness, blackness, nothingness, nothingness.’
The look on his face as he said this was one of such awful despair that I thought this was a moment when he might be softened by his own terrors.
‘I can see one possible way out. Hector, if you were to let Colonel Bulkeley know that if he divorced his wife you would marry her — perhaps for her sake, he would forgo his revenge.’
He laughed in my face.
‘The woman’s been the harlot of half the rogues in Italy.’
I stopped him. ‘Don’t talk of that — even your corroded heart might blench there. Marry her, if you can, for your soul’s sake and hers.’
His hideous pride was greater than his fear.
‘A kept woman,’ he mocked. ‘My God, I’m Culvers now.’
‘Remember it,’ I recommended him. ‘What do you mean to do with this poor creature?’
Then, as if he remembered that she was the original cause of his present predicament, he began to curse her, using those abominable names he so freely applied to women, and as for what he meant to do with her, his project was what the miserable wretch had herself guessed — complete abandonment; and his view of her future was her view — the streets and the maison de Dieu.
I reminded him of her birth and upbringing, of her relatives, but he only redoubled his blasphemies.
‘Am I answerable if these Puritans breed women who run into the gutter?’
I left him; useless to contemplate a spectacle so frightful. And I avoided any further interview with Alicia Bulkeley. When I returned to London I observed the watcher set by Colonel Bulkeley near the shuttered gloom of Culver House.
In three months’ time my lord returned to London; whether urged thereto by the jeers of his enemies, the flatteries of his friends, or his own pride, or whether unable to endure his tantalus position, or whether his nerve broke at the suspense and the waiting, I know not, but he came to London. I had heard that he had hopes of approaching Bulkeley with offers of apology or even money; of seeking in some way an accommodation. This sounded ridiculous, but from his nature it was possible to conclude that he cherished some such plan. He arrived in London secretly, with a horrid stealth, and slipped into Culver House under cover of a November evening.
Yet the next morning Lord Mildmay called on him with a challenge from Colonel Bulkeley.
That same evening I was summoned to Culver House.
My lord sat with some of his old boon companions in one of the dismantled rooms (for his coming had been sudden and unexpected); the holland covers were yet over the great velvet and gilt chairs, muslin bags enveloped the candelabra, and where the bottles and glasses stood on the ornate table were rings in the dust; candles had been hastily stuck into tarnished sticks, and the only servants were the French rascals my lord had brought with him.
Rosy amorini and florid wreaths peeped from the shadows of the imposing walls, and the lordly pomp of this chill magnificence was a strange background for the men drinking by the huge fire on the marble hearth. Everyone was drunk but my lord, but he, this night, could find no oblivion in the wine cup; panic kept his head clear, and I could see by the ferocious anguish of his face that his thoughts were by no means dimmed.
He met me with bravado.
‘If I go to Hell tomorrow, I’ll pay you a visit to let you know what ’tis like.’
‘Is Bulkeley so infallible?’ asked one of his followers, and another, with tipsy malice: ‘He’s a damn good shot.’
‘He has on his side justice at least,’ I said coldly, for I had now come to detest my lord.
He looked at me in agony. ‘Say I’ve a chance,’ he muttered, and I smiled, always having believed him to be of an invincible courage.
For all that I thought his chance good enough; if Bulkeley was a fine marksman, so was my lord.
‘Why don’t you get to bed? What time is the meeting?’ I looked with contempt at his hideous company; not one of them had set foot in Culver House, or any mansion like it, before.
‘Seven o’clock tomorrow morning,’ said one Hilton, the soberest of the wretched band and my lord’s second.
It was now past midnight.
‘Why have you sent for me?’ I asked again.
He was pacing up and down the room in a very climax of terror and rage, while the drunken crew round the table condoled with and mocked him in a breath. He wore an almond-green velvet coat, overlaced, I recall, with silver — for that year the men’s clothes began to be very plain — and his hair was long and powdered in the old-fashioned style still favoured in Italy. I think that the beauty of his lineaments rendered his expression the more awful — the despair, the dread, the fury expressed in that pale visage were awful indeed to contemplate.
‘I will not go!’ he cried. ‘I’ll not stand up to be killed!’
He then asked me to make his will (I was by then a lawyer of some modest standing), for the Culver property was his to dispose of since he was the last male of his family. Yet when it came to asking his wishes he would not reply, and finally refused to consider the matter; and so I left him staring into the huge mirror with a glass of brandy in his hand and cursing the clock for marking the passing of the time.
I had not dared to ask him anything of Alicia Bulkeley, but as I was leaving I did demand particulars of the lady from one of the servants, a man I had seen in Paris.
She had been left in Paris, quieted, I gathered, by some lie as to my lord’s return. This affair and mainly the memory of my lord’s face so wrought on my mind that I could not sleep that night and went out early for news of the duel.
I got this from the creature Hilton, the second.
The meeting had taken place in Hyde Park; at the first shot my lord had fallen. ‘Killed?’ asked Colonel Bulkeley.
‘Sir,’ said the surgeon, bending over the writhing man, ‘death would have been more merciful — he is shot through the jaw.’
‘He is marked where I aimed to mark him,’ replied the implacable soldier coldly. ‘He will never kiss another man’s wife again; nor his own; nor even any drab from Whitefriars.’
With that remark he left the Park; his austere figure and his sombre countenance had never changed during the course of the encounter.
My lord was carried home in his carriage; he soon became unconscious, for the lower part of his face was shattered, half blown away, and, though he might well live, he would never be anything but a mask of terror.
Alicia Bulkeley, quieted for the moment by my lord’s lies, no sooner lost sight of him than she fell into a fierce panic and resolved to follow him by the next packet. With little more than the price of her journey in her pocket and accompanied by a huge negress, who was her last attendant, she landed at Dover twenty-four hours after my lord, and took the night coach to London.
Arriving there, the demented creature could think of no asylum but Culver House; and, as she could hardly believe that the man for whom she had sacrificed everything and with whom she had lived for years would refuse her shelter, she directed her steps to the stately mansion of my lord.
The valet who opened to her knew her and was for refusing admission, but the negress said cunningly (Mrs Bulkeley being past coherent speech) that my lord had sent for them; and the servant, not knowing if this might be so, reluctantly admitted them. The two shuddering and draggled women had just reached the great doors on the first landing when my lord came home.
He had regained consciousness, and though his pain was fearful he had no tongue to make lament with; he walked between Hilton and the surgeon, who were indeed not well able to carry so large a man, and so slowly came up the wide treads of the stairs to where Mrs Bulkeley, who had heard the steps, cowered against the door, her silk shawl, her fallen hair, her bonnet disarranged, her face like milk, her lips ashy.
As my lord came into view, with his jaw swathed in bloody bandages and his terrible eyes above them, she broke into shriek after shriek; my lord sprang forward with a strength that made nothing of those who held him, took the frail wretch in his quivering hands and hurled her down the stairs. The surgeon tried to catch her, but she was weak and her high heel caught in her dress; she fell to the bottom of the flight and lay in the hall.
Whimpering, the negress scuttled after her; Hilton, to please his patron, from whom he still hoped favours, said: ‘It’s Alicia Bulkeley, the cause of the whole damn business — turn her out,’ he added to the gibbering valet.
The surgeon, who was a fashionable man and fee’d by my lord, made no protest, and as the earl was led to his chamber, the servant and the negress picked up Mrs Bulkeley and carried her into the street. She stirred as they touched her and the black woman clamoured for pity, so that the valet consented to carry her to a pot-house nearby, where the landlady, after marking her rings and watch, took her in and let her lie in a back room, where the customers came and stared at her and the air was thick with the smell of smoke and beer.
She asked for her husband and a clergyman, but the negress was too ignorant to know what she meant; and so, about noon, she died, aged not quite twenty-three years.
It was a clear case of murder, but the landlady and her gossip, the slippered doctor, hushed the thing up, robbed her of her rings, watch, silk, and linen garments — and even the burnt gold hair that had first attracted my lord — and buried her in a pauper’s grave. The negress they turned into the street; and she, distracted with terror, crept back to Culver House and begged for scraps at the kitchen door. There, out of compassion, they gave her my name and where I was to be found, and I discovered her on my stairs when I came home that night and so learnt from her the manner of Alicia Bulkeley’s death. I sent the poor wretch to a friend who had a house of servants, and debated whether or not I should write these matters to Colonel Bulkeley.
I was not encouraged to do so by the remembrance of his face on the morning of the duel, and while I hesitated I had news of the death of my lord. This was practically suicide, because his life had never been in danger, but he tore off the bandages with a ruthless hand, turned his mutilated face to the wall and furiously died — the day of the burial of Alicia Bulkeley.
Would that this were the end and that I, who believed in neither Heaven nor Hell, could have here finished with Hector Greatrix, seventh Earl of Culvers. I went out that day to a gathering of people who knew nothing of my lord, and stayed late, endeavouring to forget. I drank and danced and gambled, and fled the gossips who must mouth over the Culvers’ scandal.
When I returned I found that the light on the stairs, commonly left there by my laundress, had gone out, so must fumble my way up in the dark and silence of the quiet building. When I reached my room I must fumble again in the dark for flint and tinder, feeling from one piece of furniture to another; it was cold, and through the tall window I could see the moon like an icicle in the dark sky. At last, when I had begun to be considerably oppressed by the dark. I found the tinderbox and struck a light.
As I set the flaming tinder to the candle I perceived that I was not alone in the room; someone was seated in the hooded chair that had its back towards me; a man. I could see the white hand hanging down, the skirt of a coat on which some bullion trimming gleamed. I concluded that a friend, minded to pay me a visit, had gone to sleep awaiting my return.
I approached, holding my light, and with I know not what feeling of unfathomable dread.
The figure turned as I neared.
It was my lord.
He wore the almond-green suit with the silver braiding in which I had seen him hold his ghastly vigil of terror and fury. God have mercy on us all!
His face was alight; where the visage should have been was a ripple of flames quivering upwards, and through this crimson veil of fire gleamed his infernal eyes with an expression of unutterable woe. The flames rose above his head, shaped into a peak; he wore a shining mitre glittering with lambent fires of green and blue like hellish jewels.
This fiend had been forced to keep his oath — to discover to another scoffer the truth of Hell.
My eyes could not long support this atrocious spectacle; as he raised his ashy hand in mock benediction, I fell senseless, seeing as I dropped the demoniacal mitre flare from his flaming brows to a man’s height above his tortured eyes.
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