Thursday, 24 April 2014

To Catch a Demon

This is the first chapter of my new novel, which I hope to publish within the next couple of weeks.  It is called:  To Catch a Demon


 

CHAPTER ONE

 
"Charles Stuart is back in England!" Jasper shouted frantically, his voice bellowing up the stairs and making Diana shudder at the prospect of his presence.  "Quick.  We must leave at once."

"Leave?  To go where exactly?"

His face was crimson and sweaty from the unaccustomed exertion of dragging his bulk up the oak staircase at such a rapid pace.  His hair was wet along his receding hairline from the excessive perspiration to which he was prone.  His stomach hung over his grey flannel breeches and swayed as he moved, making Diana grimace with distaste.…

He called to the maid as he came through the door.

"He has sworn to capture and execute anyone who had anything to do with the old king's death.  That means us."

He strode to his chest and began to pull open the drawers, yanking out his belongings and discarding them onto the bed.

Diana shook her head and stared at him defiantly.  This was the moment for which she had waited ten years, the moment she could finally free herself of this man who had forced her into marriage, had imprisoned and abused her.

She had almost lost hope of ever seeing this day.  Even when Cromwell finally died and she had thought the monarchy must surely be restored then, but it was not to be.  The country had suffered two years of his son, Richard, before parliament finally invited the rightful King to return to his throne.

Now the words she had longed to hear for ten years had been uttered by the foul mouth of Jasper Philbert, arch traitor, sadist, sexual deviant, puritan and her lawful husband.  Charles Stuart is back in England.

"No," she answered.  "That means you."

"Me, you, what's the difference?  You are my wife."

The flustered maid arrived and gave a quick curtsey.

"Get Mistress Philbert's things packed.  We are leaving within the hour."

Diana watched as he left the bedchamber, then her eyes wandered around the familiar walls at the delicate plasterwork, at the beautiful mahogany furniture.  Was it possible that she could at last get her house back, that after all these years she could at last get her life back?

The maid began to open drawers and pack things into boxes.  She did not look up, did not raise her eyes to her mistress.  Jasper returned, still hurrying, with his valet keeping pace behind him.  The young man started to open the drawers in Jasper's chests and pack the contents into similar boxes, while Jasper scooped his things up from the bed where he had tossed them and packed them into a smaller box.

Diana made no move to help the maid.  She was busy planning the best way to escape, the best place to hide.

Finally, he straightened up and stared angrily at his wife.

"Why are you just standing there, Madam?"  Jasper demanded.  "I have booked passage on the Henrietta; it sails for the Americas in two hours time."

"I am not coming," Diana replied.

He stood with his hands on his hips, staring at her angrily.

"Of course you are coming," he declared.  "What else do you think you are going to do?  I realise you are not very bright, Madam, but even you must be able to work out that Charles Stuart will be reclaiming his throne and all my property along with it.  This house will be forfeit."

"This house is not your property," Diana retaliated. "It is mine."

He scoffed.

"It became mine when you became mine, make no mistake about that.  You will have nothing; you will be on the streets and you cannot earn a living there.  That is one skill you will never master."

She bit her lip.  He did not have the power to hurt her, he never had, but if she lacked the skill to earn a living on the streets, she knew who to blame.

"Come, hurry," he said urgently.  "This is no time for your histrionics."

"I told you.  I am not coming."

Her defiance enraged him and he took one long stride across the room to where she stood.  His hand reached out and grabbed her arm, his fingers digging into her flesh and pinching painfully, while his other hand rose high above her head to come down on her face with a hard slap which snapped her neck around.  The two servants looked up sharply, the woman blushed, then they continued with their tasks.  The scene was a familiar one and they had learned to ignore it.

"Now," Jasper said, his hand still firmly gripping Diana's upper arm. With his free hand he began to unfasten his leather belt. "Are you going to get yourself ready, or will a good thrashing make you move faster?"

He did not complete the task of unfastening his belt; he did not have time but it would not have been the first time he had beaten her with his belt.  He released his grip and shoved her against the wall, bouncing the back of her head against the solid oak panelling.  Diana's eyes moved to the embarrassed maidservant as she resisted the need to nurse her injured cheek or to hold her aching head.  She would not give him the satisfaction.  She finally made up her mind and made toward the door.

"Where are you going?"  He demanded

"Privy."

He frowned suspiciously and for one horrifying moment she thought he would insist of going with her, but at last he turned away and began to fill his pockets with his jewellery.  He would not want all those rings on display on a ship.

"Get on with it then!"  He shouted.  "If you make me miss the tide I shall see that you suffer for it."

If he missed the ship, he would be the one to suffer for it.  She would make quite sure that the returning king knew precisely who and where he was.

She hurried downstairs and outside toward the outhouse.  She opened the door and glanced back at the house, at the upstairs windows, to be sure no one was watching.  Once she was sure she was unobserved, she closed the door and sped along behind the outhouse to the barn, where she climbed the ladder to the hay loft and burrowed her way beneath the broken bales of hay.

She had no idea what was going to happen when her husband left; he would have no choice but to continue on to the Americas alone if he could not find her, but she would rather live on the streets than spend the rest of her life on the other side of the world with him.

She could have saved herself a lot of pain and humiliation over the last ten years if she had meekly obeyed his wishes, but she felt compelled to resist him at every opportunity.

The civil war had disrupted the lives of everyone, but none more so than Diana and her parents, Sir William and Lady Ferguson.  Diana had been betrothed as a child to Peter, the son of Sir Edward Spicer, and he, along with the Fergusons, supported the King.  They believed that everyone would support the rightful king and the war would be a mere skirmish when Cromwell learned that he had little support.  After all, whatever one's beliefs, to raise arms against the King was high treason and not many would have the stomach for that.

But eventually it became clear that many people no longer trusted their King.  His son, Charles fled to France, along with some of his loyal followers, among them Sir Edward and his family.  That was the last Diana saw of Peter and she was no longer certain if he were alive or dead.  They had not been able to correspond as both their fathers deemed it too dangerous.

She was only fifteen then but she loved Peter and had anticipated a happy life with him.  When he went to France, Diana thought it was the worst thing that could happen to her.  She knew better now.

She missed Peter so much and each night she would imagine that the King had returned, bringing Peter with him.  They would be married and make love and have babies and live happily ever after.

Then Jasper came and stifled her imaginings for good.

After the execution of the King, Diana and her family had kept to themselves, thankful for the remoteness of their small mansion.  It was out in the English countryside, many miles from the nearest town or village, and if they grew their own vegetables and raised their own livestock for meat, nobody would remember that they were there.

The civil war had been bitter and violent, and Diana's father had lost many  friends who had fought for the King and the royalist cause.  But inevitably the battle had been lost to Cromwell's new model army and since then until his death, he had ruled England as Lord Protector.  His laws were based on his puritan religion and England had become a dismal place with no inns, no theatres, no dancing or even bright colours for the ladies.  Everyone went about in black or grey, women were forced to cover their hair with dreary white caps, as showing long hair to the world was a sign of a loose woman.

Until then, uncovered, long hair had been a sign of a virgin;  now it was just the opposite.

Because of their remoteness, the Fergusons were able to dress in their normal flamboyant manner, with their satins and lace and bright colours, and there was no one to see or object.  They lived quietly with their small staff of servants and had thought to see out the protectorate quietly.  Diana had no hope of a marriage, as there was no one to make a match with her, but she did not want one anyway.  She loved Peter and still hoped one day to see him again, to hold him in her arms again.

Then Jasper Philbert and his small army of roundheads had come and realised that here was a house they had missed.  They could easily see that Diana's father was a royalist; they could tell by their clothing, by the bright colours and jewellery they wore.  But he was, like most parliamentarians, a hypocrite.  

Diana was just sixteen years old the day she saw them riding up to the house.  She called to her mother and father and they all ran to hide in the cellar, but they were too late.  Sir William could not run; he had a lame leg which would not bend and he walked with the aid of a stick.  One of Jasper's men had seen them.

They sat on the dirt floor among the racks of wine and huddled together, holding their breath in the hope they would not be heard, but the footsteps coming down the cellar steps toward them declared that to be a vain hope and sent shivers of fear tingling through their bodies. 

Diana sat holding her mother's hand tightly, their nails biting into each other's flesh, and she felt her mother's body trembling uncontrollably.

"Say nothing," her father ordered.  "Leave it to me."

They were happy to do so, expected him to be able to talk his way out of their predicament, but it was not to be.

They looked up to see the bloated and ruddy face of Jasper Philbert as he leaned over the stair rail and peered at them with a satisfied grin.

"What have we here then?" He muttered.

They could see the men behind him, their little round helmets reflecting the light from the torches in the hallway above them, their swords held ready.

"This is my house," her father started to talk, but he was cut off.

Jasper made a swift movement of his head and the soldiers rushed down the rickety wooden stairs and grabbed him by the arms, dragging him behind them up the stairs.  Frequently he fell onto his face, as they had hold of his arms and he could not put out a hand to save himself.  With his stiff leg he had no hope of keeping up with them.

"What are you doing with my husband?"  Her mother cried in alarm.

"What do you think should be done with traitors, Madam?"

"He is no traitor!  You are the traitors!"

Jasper's fury showed clear in his expression and he hurried down the stairs and grabbed hold of Lady Ferguson. He pulled her roughly to her feet, forcing her out of Diana's grasp, not giving her time to put her feet firmly on the ground.  Diana clambered to her feet and lunged forward in an attempt to help her mother, but one of the soldiers grabbed her arms and held her back.  More soldiers held back the servants; they all watched helplessly as their leader pushed Lady Ferguson down on to the ground.  One of the soldiers knelt down at her head and held her down, while the leader unfastened his breeches, pushed up her skirts and forced himself into her, while she struggled in vain.  He made no attempt to cover her screams; he seemed to want everyone to hear.

Diana was crying and struggling with frustration, but when she closed her eyes against the awful sight, the soldier who held her pushed his sword to her throat and yelled in her ear.

"Open them!"  He cried out.  "You need to know what to expect."

Diana's heart was hammering as she held back tears, knowing that these barbarians would find them entertaining.  When the captain had finished, he got to his feet and yanked his victim up with him, then climbed the stairs to the ground floor, dragging the sobbing woman, who tripped over the stairs as he gave her no chance to walk at a pace she could manage.  

Diana yanked her arm forward, trying to free herself from the firm grip of the soldier who held her, wanting to follow her mother.  She had little doubt that this day would be the last for all of them and she wanted to be with her at the end.  But she was held fast.

"Stay put," he told her gruffly.  "The captain has not finished with you yet."

She knew then, she knew that this awful man would do to her the same as he had done to her mother.  Her knees almost gave way beneath her; she was a virgin and this was not how she had dreamed of parting with that treasure. She had always expected it to be Peter, to whom she would give herself willingly, Peter who would take her virginity in love.

She stood trembling, cursing herself for the weakness, as she watched the captain clambering down the stairs again.  There was no sound from the top, no sign of her mother or father.  He turned to the soldiers who remained.

"Take the servants upstairs," he ordered.  "Give them the choice."

Diana was unsure what he meant by that, but she knew she would not have to wait for long to learn the answer.

He grabbed her arm painfully and held fast to her while she struggled and he watched the soldiers take the servants up the stairs and leave them alone.  She turned defiant eyes on him, shuddered as he leered at her lasciviously.

"Well," she challenged him.  "Is this the wonderful puritans at work?  Persecuting innocent and helpless women?  Degrading us to make yourself feel like a big man?"

His eyes blazed with fury and he slapped her, hard across the face.  That was to be the first of many blows she would receive over the next ten years.

 

***

 

Diana hid beneath the hay in the barn, and tears began to drift down her cheeks as she remembered every ghastly detail of that day, of the last time she had seen her parents alive.  Jasper and his soldiers took them out and hanged them from a tree branch, and Diana awaited the same.  But he had worse in store for her.  After he had raped her on the cellar floor he had locked her in and left her, sobbing hysterically, from pain and bitter disappointment.  Her mother and father were a loving couple and had taught her that the marriage bed was a place of love.  She would never experience that love, not now.  It had been spoiled forever. 

The roundhead captain had gone out to watch her parents' hanging, and on his return he magnanimously told her that she would be spared because he was in need of a wife.

His theft of her virginity had been painful and she was bruised and bleeding and wondered if it would be like this every time.  She shuddered with disgust at his large belly and stinking breath and the idea of marriage to him made her want to jump from a high window.

"I would rather hang like my parents," she protested.

He grinned with satisfaction.

"What would that get me?"  He replied.  "If I hang you, I will get nothing.  If I marry you I will get a ready vessel every time I want it and this house and estate.  It is time I retired and a lovely young wife is just what I need to settle down with."

 

***

 

He had stolen her life and her property, he had taken and sold whatever he wanted from the house and he had paid a minister to marry them, paid him with her money. The man ignored her protests and arguments; he had been well paid to do so, so much for being a man of God.  Once married, all her property legally belonged to Jasper. 

She would not flee, even should the opportunity present itself; it was her house, her lands and despite what the law said, one day she planned to get it all back.  The only way to do that was to kill him, but she never found the opportunity.  If she was going to do it, and she would have done so eagerly, she needed it to look as though it were an accident or natural causes.  She could find nothing that could be used as poison and he kept her under close supervision the whole time.  She was not even allowed to go to the nearest town without him or to buy from a travelling peddler. 

Once she had found what she thought were toadstools in the woods beside the house and she picked them eagerly. This would be ideal;  should anyone suspect poison it could pass for an accident, toadstools confused with mushrooms. She took them to the kitchen and prepared and cooked them, then she found a valuable brooch she had hidden away and bribed the cook to keep quiet about her involvement.  None of the servants cared for him at all and it would likely not trouble their consciences if he died as a result of their negligence.

She waited impatiently for signs that the poison was taking effect but instead of death came hallucinations; he seemed to think she was an angel come to punish him for his evil deeds.  If only!  But once he had recovered, the fear of that avenging angel soon disappeared.  That was as close as she had been able to get to finding anything with which to dispose of him.  She spent a lot of time searching the forest for more poisonous plants, but found nothing, not even a simple nightshade berry.  She supposed that her father had ordered all such plants dug out and destroyed when she was a child, lest she poison herself with them.

Each night he would force himself on her while she turned her face away and struggled to be free of his heavy body.  It took a long time before she realised that the struggling was firing his passions, that he enjoyed the resistance.  After that she just closed her eyes tightly and lie rigid; he hated that.  He even slapped her a few times to try to make her resist him, but she was determined not to react and her stillness made the sessions of abuse shorter.  Once he had forced his ugly organ into her mouth, but she bit down hard and drew blood.  He screamed and yanked her to her feet, grabbed his belt and beat her until she bled, but he never repeated the disgusting act.  It also kept him away from her until he had healed, so she thought it was worth it.

Each night when he had finished with her she would go into her little dressing room where she kept a large bowl and lots of hot water.  There she would douche herself and submerge herself in the bowl in the hope that his seed did not take.

She was unsure whether he wanted a son or not, but she had no intention of breeding one for him if she could avoid it.

Now she heard her name being called from outside in the grounds.  She had been in the barn for a good half hour and she could hear his harsh voice, yelling angrily.

"Diana!  Get yourself out here!"

She stayed where she was, longing to peer through the slats in the wooden walls but afraid of being seen or even heard.  He yelled again.

"I have no intention of missing the tide for you," he shouted.  "I shall be forced to go without you and you will be left to fend for yourself.  That is not as easy as a spoilt little slut like you might think."  Silence but for his footsteps crunching on the gravel.  "Get out here, you bitch!  Wait till I get my hands on you!  You will regret this, I promise you!"

She heard the carriage wheels, she heard Jasper's angry voice calling again but still she did not move;  her ears were filled with the drumming of her heartbeat as she held her breath and lie still.

"Very well!  Have it your own way.  Do not think that the King will pardon you;  he will assume you supported your husband, which is what a decent woman should do.  But we both know that you are no decent woman."

He was trying to anger her in the hope that she would give herself away to retaliate and she knew it.  It was very difficult for her to keep silent, when she really wanted to tell him what she thought.  That trait had left her with a lot of scars and caused her a lot of pain over the years, but he seemed to enjoy it.  It gave him an excuse to beat her, which he seemed to savour more than anything else.  She bit her lips to keep them silent and at last heard the carriage roll away.

She stayed still in the hay loft for another hour just in case it was some trick.  If he had had spoken the truth, he would have gone by now.  The Henrietta would not wait for him and he could not afford to be left behind.

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