I’m working on another Tallow-Wife collection story (as well as the last two stories for Lisa’s and my Twelfth Planet Press collection, which we’re pingponging back and forth). This is the opening to “What Shines Brightest Burns Most Fiercely”.
Mr Isambard Farringdale knew he was being followed by someone well-versed in the art of not being seen.
He’d had the sense of it for some days now; it had begun as a kind of low-level itch at the back of his neck and grown as time passed, creeping up over his scalp like a spider, and slithering down his thin spine until it lay like a loving snake he couldn’t shake. Yet every time he looked over his shoulder as he travelled the streets of Lodellan, either crowded or empty, there was nothing and no one to be seen. He thought to become cleverer, more cunning, slipping swiftly around corners then peeking out as if to catch any pursuer unawares, but it never worked. All he managed was to frighten several servant girls on their way to the Busynothings Markets, to startle a costermonger who was understanding, and an ironmonger who was not.
This evening, though, the gentleman in question has shrugged off his disquiet and attended at his favourite private club for an evening of entertainment few folk would enjoy or indeed countenance. Mr Farringdale knows full well that his pastimes would draw opprobrium at the very least from upstanding citizens and he is careful to ensure the truest nature of his pleasures is kept under wraps. The kind of people who shared his interests were equally circumspect; and the objects of their intense interest … well, they were given no opportunity to complain.
Puffed with indulgence and warmed by copious cups of mulled cherry wine and blackberry port, Mr Farringdale steps from the unprepossessing door which hides Madame Arkady’s House of Curiosities (although none but its clients know this name) and into the cobbled back street that runs off Half-moon Lane. He draws himself up to his full height, all five feet two, does his best to stride in a dignified manner towards the direction of his home. But the alcohol gets the better of him and the best he manages is a sort of strange listing canter, the heels of his buckled boots making a tap-tap-clack on the stones at his feet. He giggles. He giggles quite loudly and for quite some time, until the sense of being watched again begins to haunt him., and the spider-snake takes up residence on his skin once more. He does his best to sober up, quickens his step and trips more than he would like, until at last he is at his own door, fumbling the keys, forgetting to lift the latch so he panics, thinking himself shut out … then calms and does what needs doing.
Inside, he turns the lock with shaking fingers, shivers in the cold of his house. He allows no servants to live in so the hearths have not been set and lit in anticipation of his return. Mr Farringdale takes a deep breath and presses his forehead to the polished oak of the front door and waits for his heartbeat to slow, for his pulse to stop thrusting so against his skin; he swears he can see the thud and thump of it at his pale wrists where the veins are terribly blue.
The house is silent, so quiet. There is no noise at all. Nothing, no sound of drawn breath as a warning, nothing except the words, ‘Good evening, Isambard.’