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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Devil of Dunmoor

by Christy Carlyle

[Due to a family emergency, Christy was unable to write a new Valentine's story for today. We decided to re-post her most popular story to date, The Devil of Dunmoor. Enjoy!]

“You cannae go there, lass! Not on All Hallow’s Eve of all nights.” Adelaide Morton heard the old woman’s voice tremble with fear as she spoke and the meager glow cast by the single candle made her familiar face appear drawn and eerie. Addy ignored the shiver that skittered across her skin and gave Senga a reassuring smile. She reached out to offer some comfort, but the cook grasped her hand with all the force her aged body could muster.

            “They say the devil lives there. The Evil One himself.” Senga’s voice was high and desperate as it echoed off the cold stone walls of the kitchen. Some hidden chink in the stones admitted a breeze to rustle the copper pots hanging from hooks above the oven. One pot scraped a grating path along the stone wall and Addy searched the darkness for the source of the noise. A gust of wind rapped at the window and they both jumped.

            Addy stood and turned toward the still warm oven, chafing her hands above the heat. She couldn’t allow superstitious fears to deter her. “Those are rumors, Senga. Legend. Superstition. I have been up to the stones before. Further than the stones. To the house itself.”

            Senga raised her hands to her mouth. “No, lass. You never.”  
          “How do you think I healed him?” Adelaide had known Senga all of her life and yearned to tell her the truth. But it wasn’t her truth to tell. It was his secret and for what he gave her, she would pay him anything. Silence was the least of what she would give.
          Addy could let Senga think that she met the devil at the ancient stone circle and made a deal for the health of her brother. She could even allow her to believe that Lucifer himself had lured her into his decrepit manor house that lay on the crag beyond. What she could not do was breach his trust.
There was no doubt Senga was trustworthy. The woman had been more than a family cook. Unlike the parade of nannies and governesses, she had been a constant. Whether Addy had needed a late night cup of warm milk to chase away bad dreams or a sympathetic ear to listen to her woes, Senga had been there where her mother could not be. Addy had killed her own mother in childbirth. That was never how her father put it, of course, but his coldness towards her often made her wonder if that is how he felt about the whole dreadful matter.
Addy knew his old grief was compounded when her father had lost his second wife the previous autumn. Caroline had lived long enough to mother her own child, but only for five years. Now William, Addy’s little brother, lay weak and feverish in his bedroom above. He had been sick so many times in his short life that Addy had lost count. But this illness was different. It clung on with vicious tenacity, imprisoning him in a cycle of coughing and fever that racked his small body. He had shown such signs once before and Addy had found the answer. Now she had to seek out that answer again. She would see him again. The thought quickened her breath and stoked a heat in her chest. She grasped her abandoned cup of tepid tea and gulped down the liquid that Senga brewed dark enough to choke a weak man.
      “I must go now. There is no time to dither. With this storm, you know he will worsen. I cannot allow that. I cannot lose him.” The thought of laying that precious little body in the earth next to his mother, next to her mother...no. Addy felt the hot sting of a tear at the corner of her eye and swiped it away before Senga could see.
     “You’re a reckless girl, Adelaide Mary Morton.” Senga stood and crossed her arms across her chest as if she would stand sentry at the kitchen door and deny Addy the right to cross the threshold.    
      “I’ll not allow you to go.”

      Addy pulled her father’s tattered old overcoat from a hook near the oven and collected the scarf that she’d perched near the fire to absorb a bit of its warmth. She tied her bonnet quickly and approached Senga. She had intended to give her a peck on the cheek and head off to meet the devil, but the woman’s tired eyes held her fast.
“My dear, I am hardly a child anymore and I know what I am about. I told you, I have been there before and yet stand before you all in one piece. I will be fine, but Willy may die if I do not go.”
“There is evil in those stones. And God only knows what dwells in the house beyond. In the village, they say that bodies go missing from their graves...”
“Nonsense. They buried Mr. Cuthburt in the spring and I am certain he is still in the ground." Addy softened her tone. "You put flowers at his stone just last week.” Senga had been sweet on old man Cuthburt and it was clear the shopkeeper was smitten too, but he had been a quiet, shy sort. And he’d waited too long.
Addy put her hand on the door latch and looked back to give Senga one last smile before heading out into the blustery autumn night.
“Wait!” Senga rushed at her in the gloom and thrust an object into her hand. It appeared to be some kind of root, though dessicated and washed clean. “‘Tis a talisman. Henbane. I pray it will protect you. Now, get on with you, lass. I will wait up for your return.”
There was no use arguing with her. Addy had learned that lesson well. She leaned in to kiss the tissue-soft skin of Senga’s wrinkled cheek and heard her whisper, “God speed, my girl.”        
           Halfway to the stone circle, Addy acknowledged to herself that Senga was right. She was reckless and a fool to boot. Making one’s way across the moor was difficult enough on such a stormy night, but the darkness and rain only added to the trial. She had rushed off without lighting a lantern and though the moon was full, fierce winds chased clouds across the sky, obscuring its glow.

            A crack of thunder shook the sky and a streak of lightning illuminated her path for a moment. She was close. The stone circle rose up before her, just ahead. It glistened from the drizzling rain. She thought she could see a wan yellow light flickering inside Dunmoor Manor. Or what was left of it. The townsfolk referred to it as a ruin. Burned by fire, they said, and rightly so. From her earliest memories, Addy could recall nothing but fear and loathing spoken about Dunmoor Manor. The master had been mad, they said, and evil. Most told the tale that he had taken the lives of his own family and lost the plot as a result. His madness had turned him into a ghoul who lured fools and children to their doom. At least that was the story that governesses told their charges to scare them into good behavior. Miss Gimley had tried the tale on her a time or two. Hateful woman.
But Addy knew the real story of Dunmoor Manor. It was darker than anyone could imagine, but it was also a tale of survival. And there, in the darkness, on All Hallow’s Eve, she was approaching the extraordinary creature who had survived.
           Just as she reached the circle’s edge and saw the dark outline of the ruined manor ahead, Addy lost her footing and reached out for the nearest towering stone to steady her. Instead of touching slick rock, her hand encountered muscle and bone. She cried out and felt her feet skid on the muddy slope. Arms encircled her and she was yanked up against a wall of heat and rough, wet clothing.
         “Calm yourself, Miss Morton.” His voice was the deepest she had ever heard, impossibly deep and dark, with a rasp that rumbled through her. From the first moment she had met him, his voice had haunted her dreams. If the devil was a seducer, he would have a voice like the heir of Dunmoor. But Adelaide knew he was no devil.
         She also knew she should pull away from the man, but the heat emanating from his body was a delicious balm against the cold. She noticed that he had wrapped her in the folds of the cloak he wore, trapping the warmth between them. She opened her mouth to speak, but was pulled off her feet once again as he turned toward the manor and swept her along with him.
         “Mr. Hewitt, I can find my own feet. Thank you.” He released her immediately, opening his cloak and freeing her from his embrace. When she wobbled, he grasped her upper arm to steady her. “Thank you, sir.”
          He didn’t acknowledge her gratitude. “You’re soaked through, Miss Morton. We must get you inside.”
         It wasn’t difficult to follow his footsteps toward the broken manor house. He kept her close, never loosening his grip on her arm. The guiding contact was welcome to Addy in the darkness, and she pushed away the notion that his touch was welcome for any other reason.
         As she entered his room, the only of the manor’s chambers she had ever been allowed to see, he lit an oil lamp to shed some light on the crowded space. Books, papers, bottles, tubes, and bits of plants and trees covered every available surface. It was the laboratory from which he produced the medicine that had saved her brother before and she said a silent prayer that he could repeat the act.
He did not look at her as he moved to a mortar and pestle to grind away at the contents within. His deep voice sounded muffled in the crowded room. “Is it your brother again, Miss Morton? Is it William?”
         “Yes, sir. His coughing improved with the syrup you sent last time. But he has a fever now. It went away two days ago, but returned this morning with the rains.” She realized she was beginning to shiver, fear and anxiety for Willy draining the remaining warmth from her body.
          “Come.” He was looking at her, watching her, across the dim room and she saw him gesture toward an open flame that flickered from one of his strange tubed contraptions. It shot straight up in a long thin flame, and he turned a knob to make it reach higher. She crossed the space between them and stood at the table where the flame danced in shifting shades of blue and white. The air around it was warmer and as she watched it, he thrust a steaming cup under her nose. “Drink this.”
         She searched for a glimpse of his face in the flame's glow, but he stood just outside the circle of light. When she didn’t take the cup, he spoke again.
         “You trust me with your brother’s life, but not your own? Drink the tea. It is warm and you are cold. It will help.” Addy felt a blush rush up her cheeks at the memory of his cloak around her, his arms holding her close, and the indulgent heat of his body.

         “Thank you, sir.” The tea was warm and had a pleasing, unusual flavor. She imagined a hint of orange on her tongue, though she had not eaten the fruit for years.

         “Will you ever call me by my given name, Miss Morton?” She nearly dropped the cup. His voice was still deep but it held a hint of playfulness she had never heard, never expected, from him.

         “I will call you whatever you wish, sir. But I do not know your given name.”

         “Dorian. It was my father’s name and I have long wished for another, but I must claim it. No, I must reclaim it."
          "Yes. Dorian." The name, his name, felt foreign and exotic on her tongue. She wanted to repeat it again and again. Instead, she smiled at him. She had never smiled at him before.  

         "May I have the same privilege, Miss Morton? May I call you Adelaide?" She had no idea how he knew her name. She was certain she had never told him.

         "You have saved my brother. You may call me what you like."

         He turned from her and returned to the concoction he was grinding. Her words had angered him. She could read it in the stiffness of his stance and the ferocity with which he ground the powder.
He turned to her and held out a small bottle filled with the mixture from his mortar. "Mix a bit with water and give it to him morning and night for five days, even after the fever breaks."
She didn't move. The anger in his voice disturbed her and she was not certain what to say to calm him. She started with his name. "Dorian..."
         "I am no savior, Miss Morton. Nor am I a sorcerer. I am a doctor. I was trained to heal the sick. There is no magic here."

         "I know that, and I am most grateful for your skills." Addy reached into the deep pocket of her father's overcoat and pulled out a five pound note. "I brought you payment this time, though for Willy's sake we owe you more than we can ever repay."
         "I don't want your money, Adelaide." A surge of pleasure came when she heard her name on his lips again, but his words confused her. She had to give him something.

         "I have nothing else to offer." Her words seemed to clear the chill between them. He moved toward her and she finally saw him clearly in the light. She bit her lower lip to stifle the gasp she felt bubble up inside.

         He was an extraordinary-looking man. His black hair was too long, too wild, but the color of it was the dark of a bird’s wing, seemingly plain but shimmering blue in the light. But that blue was nothing to the shade of his eyes. They were the clearest blue, like a crisp, cloudless sky in early spring. Like the dancing flame nearby, they seemed to glow with a light of their own.

          "There is something I want." He towered over her now, and Addy felt her body sway toward his as if pulled by an invisible cord.

         "Anything." He crooked a raven black brow at that.
         "Come closer." She took a step, and her skirt brushed against his legs. “I want to kiss you, Adelaide.” Her lips tingled in anticipation at his words.

          Quietly, with a tremor in her voice, she accepted what she had only imagined. “Yes.”

          The first touch of his mouth on hers was the sweetest relief, a cure for her ills as surely as the medicine he offered. His lips were tender, hesitant, but when she slid her hand up to his neck, he grew bolder. He pressed into her, pulling her towards him with a hand at her back. Then, with a growl in the back of his throat, he pulled away, leaving her breathless. His breath came fast too, and he leaned his forehead against hers before he spoke.
         “I must see William. It is time I tended to him in person.” The mention of her brother brought his small face vividly to Addy’s mind, and she felt the press of guilt for the pleasure she took lingering in Dorian Hewitt’s company. He seemed to read her thoughts. “Yes, we should go now.”

         “Now? You will come tonight?”

         “I think I must. I should speak to your father immediately.”

          Addy looked into his eyes and prayed he could read the question in her heart. She could not ask, so she repeated his words. “You will speak to my father?”

         “I have waited for you all of my days, Adelaide. I cannot bear more waiting. Will you have me? Can you love the devil of Dunmoor?” Before she answered, Addy lifted his fine, strong hand, ignoring the scars, and placed a kiss inside his palm.
            “You are no devil. And I will have no other.”

1 comment:

  1. I adore your stories, Christy! Your characters are so real. This is a lovely twist on Beauty and the Beast. Bravo!