February 15th, 1881:
God, Diary, how bright and lovely is the world with my Ethan in it, and how stupid I was for doubting it! I shall let no more worries between us.
The wedding was beautiful, and I barely had to plan a thing, just turn up and look pretty. Which, at the risk of sounding vainer than usual, I did a bang-up job of! People gasped when I walked down the aisle, and even Ethan looked more overcome than I have ever seen him. Cousin Eric gave me away and Amelia was my maid of honor, and they were both just bursting with joy at being asked. The ceremony was kept fairly small, just the family and a few close friends, but of course his father insisted on a huge reception. I do not think I have ever seen so many people in one place before, and I shook so many hands I can barely bend it this morning. I nearly had to write this with my teeth! Not to say that I minded, I simply adore big parties, but Ethan finds them draining after a while. Oh, I know, you would never think it, he is so sunny and charming and one-of-the-boys, but he has a real poet’s temperament under it all, and treasures his time alone – especially his time alone with me!. But Reginald (he insists we be on first-name terms, such a sweet old man, no matter what kind of bluster he puts on for business) was so excited to see his eldest son married and wanted to show it off to the world, so we figured it could not hurt to indulge him this once.
For my part, I quite enjoyed it, and the Cottons were all so kind to me. I was a little intimidated to meet the Dowager Duchess, but she pronounced me “perfectly suitable in every way,” which Ethan says is his grandmother’s way of kissing me square on the mouth. And before you ask, yes, George was on his best behavior, and he and Ethan did not squabble once during the whole affair. Thank Heaven for small miracles! Young Oliver did seem to have some trouble with all the noise and people – kept having to cover his ears, the poor thing, and mostly either clung to George or stood off in the corner mumbling to himself. But even he plucked up the courage to come offer me a hug and a “c-c-congratul-l-lations,” which was precious; he is usually very finicky about being touched. And of course my friends were all there, glowing with pride and green with envy all at once. “You must have us over to the Valley soon,” they told me. “How marvelous to be so young and already a lady of your own house!” They regretted that is so far off in the country, away from all the events of the season, but I am with Ethan on this issue. I have had so little time alone with my fiance – sorry, my husband!!! – in the last few months that I simply cannot wait to have him all to myself, for a little while at least. All in all, it was a simply glorious (if exhausting!) day.
But that’s not what you want to hear about, is it, you wicked thing? Well, you know a lady never talks about that sort of thing in detail, but suffice it to say it was…God, absolutely marvelous. There was some pain of course, as is natural, but he was very gentle and tender with me, and just the act of being his was so beautiful I would have borne it even if it tore me apart. Lord, he is everything a woman could want in the world, I do not know how I ever doubted it.
He knew I doubted it, by the way, yet he was not angry with me. If anything, he seemed a little amused. “Angel mine, did you go through my old trunk?” he asked when we got back to our room, wagging his finger at me with a bright smile.
I blushed. “Forgive me, my love, I was only trying to help pack for the honeymoon – take a little headache off you, you know, as a wife ought.”
“You are doing a wonderful job of it, to be sure,” he said, wrapping me in his arms and kissing me lightly up and down the edge of my jaw. He took my face in his broad, warm hands, running his fingers through my hair and pulling all the pins free as they traveled, his beautiful pale eyes full of concern. “But I wonder if haven’t given you a greater headache in the process. So is there something you wanted to ask me about? Something you have been worrying over lately? I will have no secrets in this marriage, Christina. You can always talk to me. You know that, do you not? You can trust me with everything in the world.”
“Oh, of course I know that, darling,” I said, “I was just…well, it is a little embarrassing. I could not think how to bring it up. Honestly, I am unsure if there is a proper way to bring up that, um…” My cheeks burned again as I fumbled for a word. “That genre.”
“I cannot blame you, my dear,” he said, taking my hands in his and squeezing them reassuringly. “If anything, I am the one who ought to be embarrassed, I should have gotten rid of that thing years ago.”
“So why do you have it?” I asked.
His eyes filled with horror. “Oh, you poor child,” he said, “no wonder you seemed so nervous when we left! You must have come up here expecting me to eat you alive!” He shook his head, his chin-length chestnut hair falling into his eyes. “No, no, no, it is nothing like that at all. I have no interest in such twisted things. The very thought sickens me. I would never do that to you, understand?”
I nodded, and he smiled in relief, sitting down on the edge of the bed and pulling me into his lap.
“Someone passed a copy around while I was at Eton,” he said, “and I must have tossed in my trunk on holiday and forgotten about it. It was something shocking and forbidden and, well, French, so we were all curious to have a look, but it was only a bad joke between boys. A relic of rebellion, that’s all, and one I would be happy to throw in the fire if you like. Do you still have it?”
“In my valise,” I admitted. “But do not burn it here. I should hate for some maid to find the cover in the ashes and start gossip.”
He threw his head back and laughed, calming me at once. I have always loved his laugh. It is so soft and musical, like a child’s. “If you are to be Lady Hallsbury one day, you must stop worrying about the muttering of maids,” he said, running a finger down the bridge of my nose affectionately. “But if it troubles you that much, I will wait until we get home.”
He wound my hair around his fingers until it rested in a knot at the nape of my neck. Pulling me against him by the hips, he bent my head to his and kissed me. Diary, I don’t think there has been such a deep and passionate kiss in all the history of the world. It was like we needed each other to breathe.
“You have no idea what you mean to me, Christina,” he murmured when we finally parted. “You are my whole life. I put you before air and water, before all the other cares of my soul, and it makes me so happy to know that you would do the same for me.”
“Yes,” I said. His hands traveled up my back, opening the buttons of my dress, and my breath caught on each one. “Yes I would. God, I would die for you, Ethan, I mean it. I love you with all my heart. With all of me.”
He put his lips to my throat, and I felt the faint scrape of his teeth on my skin as he laughed. His right hand dropped down between my thighs and I parted for him with a gasp.
“All of you?” he whispered.
The world went blurry. Pippa’s heartbeat roared in her ears like a freight train. “What?”
Her knees buckled, and Folley had to catch her to keep her from falling into the fire. Instantly she wanted to recoil, to strike Folley with both fists at the same time she wanted to embrace her. But she had no strength for any of this. Instead she lay draped over Folley’s shoulder like a scarecrow off its stand, gasping, “What? What?”
“I’m sorry, my pet, I had to,” Folley said, stroking Pippa’s hair with a shaky hand.
The flames leaped, almost mockingly, in the hearth.
“He died in the fire,” Pippa said, as much to them as to Folley. “You told me he died in the fire! You told me he fell!”
“He didn’t fall,” Folley said. Her face was twisted with hatred now, and she spoke through her teeth. “Not by accident anyway. Pippa, you have no idea -”
Shock gave way to rage, and Pippa pushed her aunt away so hard she nearly fell over.
“NO IDEA WHAT?” she screamed. “That my uncle married a murderess? That the woman who raised me killed the man who should have?”
A muscle jumped in Folley’s jaw, and for a moment Pippa thought she might strike her.
“You don’t know what he was!” she said. “We made sure you didn’t. We tried to make you forget him. You’re a good girl, you deserve a better father than that – that beast, that butcher, that -!”
She covered her face with her hands and sank onto the couch. When she finally raised her head she had the wild eyes of a beaten dog, caught between a whimper and a bite.
“Do you remember the Ripper killings?” she asked. “Have you ever seen what happened to those girls?”
She gave Pippa a meaningful look, but all this did was fill her with a strange sense of relief.
“Oh God,” the girl said, putting a hand to her chest and chuckling nervously. “Oh no, Folley, you’re just upset. You’re confusing things. The stress, it’s understandable, it’s making you hysterical -”
“Do I look like a hysteric to you?” Folley snapped, her voice as hard and cold as a bullet. “I spent my youth in a brothel without complaint. I buried two children without weeping. Hell, I’m amazed I can do it now, and you know why?”
Her eyes glowed with fury in the firelight – fury but, as Pippa noted uncomfortably, not madness. “Because Ethan Cotton took all the tears I had,” she said. “And I wasn’t the only one.”
Pippa searched her aunt’s face desperately for any signs of error, but in vain. Folley looked as certain of this as she did of her own name. Pippa’s legs grew weak again, and she barely managed to stumble to the couch in time to collapse.
A thousand questions crashed together in her head, too many to get the words out, but Folley seemed to understand instinctively. Squeezing Pippa’s knee, she stared into the fire until her stormy face went blank. She spoke stiffly and without passion, as if she were reading out of the newspaper.
“I was fourteen when he bought me, only’d been working about a year. I was surprised he picked me. Everybody was. He was obviously rich, and the few rich folk we got went for my sister, the pretty one. But I guess he figured he’d get it more trouble if she got hurt, and -” here she let out a bitter laugh – “he was right. Nobody ‘cept Lacey cared what happened to me, as long as he stayed away from my face and didn’t damage the merchandise too much.” She shrugged.
“Damage?” Pippa repeated, her mouth dry.
Folley was silent for a while, like clockwork caught on a chain.
“I had to do a lot of things back then,” she said at last, “things I’m not proud of, and didn’t like. But he was the worst. He…he would…”
The words got stuck again, and she shivered. “It’s not important. Sick stuff, that’s all. Liked hurting people, your dad, ‘specially people what couldn’t hurt him back. He kept showing up, week after week, year after year, and I couldn’t do shit about it. I was so scared of him, you have no idea.”
“Why didn’t you turn him in?”
“I didn’t know who he was. Didn’t even know what he looked like. He wore a mask,” she explained. “A big red leather one, covered his whole head. That’s what we called him after a while: Masque. He never gave anything else, not even an alias, he was dead careful. Always wore the mask, never got fully undressed, paid cash, put on a weird accent, the works.”
For the first time panic unfolded on her face, and she clasped Pippa’s hands in hers.
“If I knew who he was – if I knew about your mother – I would’ve done something, I swear. I’d have slit his throat, I’d have pushed him out a window, I dunno, but I’d have done something to keep him from going home to some other poor girl, to a poor little baby.”
She stroked Pippa’s cheek with curled fingers.
“He tricked me, see,” she said pleadingly. “Told me I was the only one. If I let him get it out of his system, nobody else had to get hurt. Y’know me, I’m a tough bird, I could take it…” She bit her lip. “But I was just a kid. A stupid, stupid kid. I didn’t know.”
It took all Pippa’s power not to be sick. “Did she know about you though?” she asked. Her balled fists were shaking in her lap and her teeth chattered as she talked, as if she was dying of cold. “About him?”
“I don’t know, pet, but he kept it all very quiet, so I doubt -”
But Pippa ignored the comfort and sprang to her feet, wringing her hands and pacing up and down the room.
“She must have known,” she muttered, “she must have at least suspected! You don’t live with Bluebeard for years without taking a look in the closet!” She froze. “So did he kill her too? Did he make her take the poison?”
There was an odd sort of hope in the question, a small but sense-making universe, but it broke as Folley shook her head.
“So she just gave up then!” Pippa wailed. “Left us all in the lurch. Left me! She left her baby alone with him, what sort of heartless – ?”
Folley slammed her palms down on the table, startling Pippa into silence. “That’s enough! I didn’t know your mother. I don’t know what he put her through. But I’m sure she loved you, and didn’t do what she did without reason.”
Pippa’s stomach refused to settle, but she folded her arms and changed the subject. “How did you get out? I can’t imagine he just let you walk away.”
Folley smirked bitterly. “No,” she said, “but he walked away for a while, which was lucky. Left the country, right after -”
“After my mother died,” Pippa finished, her blood running cold. “To grieve, he said.”
Folley spat on the floor. “To hide, more like. But at any rate, he was gone nearly two years, which was fine by me. Weren’t so fine when he came back, of course, but what could I do about that?” She shrugged, but Pippa sensed this was a genuine question.
“Anyway, he made a mistake over there, showed his cards a little too quick to ol’ Pierce Darney. They were sorta ‘business partners’, I guess,” Folley said when Pippa looked bewildered. “Robbed houses together in Germany for a while. Pierce didn’t ever get a look under the mask either, but he figured they were of a similar set, y’know, couple of runaways out for a rush, no harm, no foul. Took him ages to realize what Masque was really like, and even longer to pluck up the courage to turn on him.”
“Masque killed somebody,” Folley said, “while they were robbing a house. I dunno all the details, but it ran Pierce right through. He might have some flexible ideas about property, but he don’t hurt people. Pretty sure Masque was the first person he ever raised a hand against.”
She chuckled a little in spite of herself. “Which is probably why he got beat into powder that round, but the gesture was still nice. Once he’d patched himself up he started chasing Masque around the continent, and eventually ended up on my doorstep. We had a thing for a while, and even though it didn’t pan out, he still bought me and Lacey our freedom.”
“How?” Pippa asked, knitting her brows. “I mean, I know he paid off the brothel, but Father wasn’t hurting for money, so what could he offer to make him go away?”
“Information,” Folley said. Her voice trembled. “Everything he had on him. He didn’t know who Masque was yet, but he was close, he’d found proof that just needed piecing together. He burned the lot for me.”
She wrung her left wrist as if snapping the neck of a bird. The way she watched the fire frightened Pippa.
“What happened that night?” she said at last. “During the fire?”
To her surprise Folley straightened, raising her chin and flicking her fingers through the smoke as if shaking hands with an old friend.
“It was Kelly that convinced us to do something. Masque was stalking me during the killings and the closer me and Oliver grew, the worse they got. Kelly broke me, though. Took her whole face off, the poor thing. We’d been trying to puzzle him out before, but after that…” She shuddered. “We knew we were running out of time, so we set the fastest trap we could think of and got engaged.”
“What? That’s why?”
“We wanted to get married anyway, of course,” Folley assured her. “I love your uncle. He’s very…very dear to me.” Tears reappeared in her eyes and it took her a minute to fight them down.
“We knew a sudden engagement would anger him though, hopefully enough to get sloppy and expose himself. So we put the announcement everywhere we could and waited. And hey, it worked. Got me a spike through the shoulder and nearly burned the house down, but it worked.”
A strange expression came over her face, a determination so intense it was almost deranged. “It was me what did it, understand? Not Oliver. I had the ax. I hit him. I pushed him out the window. It was all me. You have my full confession, and don’t you stray from it, no matter what happens.”
Her mouth twitched, and she sighed. “You give ’em my reasons too, of course,” she added, more shakily. “Maybe that’ll make a difference this time, I dunno, can’t hurt.”
Something cold and barbed settled in the pit of Pippa’s stomach. “What do you mean, ‘no matter what happens’? Folley, what are you going to do?”
“Nothing you need worry about yet, lovey, I promise,” she said, rubbing Pippa’s upper back in calming circles. “Look, tomorrow we’ll send in the lawyers and the press and kick up the biggest stink we can, and that’ll probably sort it out.”
She smiled, but her eyes were full of doubt, and she swallowed hard before continuing.
“But I won’t lie to you, there’s a chance it won’t. And if it doesn’t, I need all my ducks in a row, especially you. I need you on my side, pet. Even when it’s hard or scary or doesn’t make sense right away, I need you to trust me and -” here she let out a strange, watery laugh, and patted Pippa on the cheeks with both hands – “just this once, do what you’re told!”
“And what is that?” Pippa asked in alarm. “What exactly will you tell me to do?”
There was a knock at the door before Folley could answer.
“Madam?” came Walton’s deep, rumbling voice. “I am sorry to disturb you, but I took the liberty of sending a telegram to Messirs Burts and Cromwell. With any luck, I expect they shall be on their way shortly.”
“Thank you, Vaughn,” Folley said, getting up and opening the door. “Don’t bother Alice, I’ll get myself ready. I’ll be up to see the children as well, so tell Miss Baxter to let them stay up a little while longer. Could you please see to it that Pippa goes straight to bed, though? I imagine she could use some rest.”
Rest was the last thing on Pippa’s mind, but she could tell by the look on Folley’s face that it would be pointless to argue.
“It’ll be alright,” Folley said, squeezing her hand as she passed. Whether that was for Pippa’s benefit or her own, however, the girl couldn’t say.
Her thoughts clawed at each other like wild beasts as she followed Walton up the stairs to her room. Every so often a phrase would free itself from the cyclone and ring out in her ears. You don’t know what he was…we must do what is best….reexamine your loyalties…under arrest for the murder…
The word beat against her skull like a drum. Murder. My father was a murderer. I am a murderer’s daughter. How many people knew, how many people died?
“Madam?” Walton said. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, thank you.”
“Are you quite sure? I know it has been a trying evening for you. I am terribly sorry you had to be present for such a scene, and if I had known – if I thought they would dare – ” He shook his head in disgust. “The nerve of those people, dragging the Duke of Hallsbury out of his own home like a common thief, and on such ridiculous charges, they had no right -”
“Speaking of rights,” Pippa said, “who does the staff answer to after my uncle? Me or Folley?”
Walton frowned. “I am afraid I do not quite follow you, madam.”
“I mean if I give you an instruction, and my aunt gives another, which do you follow?” she said.
“I am obliged to do as the Duke and Duchess of Hallsbury bid me.”
“Like how she bid you to send that telegram?” she said, and Walton went red. “Or all the other little decisions you lift out of her hands? She used to work for you, after all, so it is understandable that you’d want to take charge from time to time.”
“Madam!” Walton said. “I must protest!”
Pippa rolled her eyes. “Walton, don’t be dramatic,” she said. “I’m just saying that we both want what is best for the family. Even if it’s not exactly what they ask for. So again: If I ordered you to do something, and Folley ordered you to stop, who do you listen to?”
Walton scrutinized her for a long moment. “I suppose it would depend on the order,” he said at last.
“Say, an order forbidding her to contact Inspector Farrier directly,” Pippa said. “Or leave the house unattended. Or do anything that might put her liberty in jeopardy. Would that be manageable?”
The butler smirked. “Yes, madam, I should think so.”
“Excellent,” she said, opening the door to her bedroom and stepping inside. “Then please relay that to the rest of the staff. Good night.”
Closing the door with a soft click, Pippa sighed and tried to fight off the guilt chewing its way around her stomach. At least that’s a good sign, right? she thought as she climbed into bed and tried to close her eyes. Don’t evil people never feel bad about the things they do? Maybe it skipped me. Everybody always said we were nothing alike. Maybe I take after somebody else in the family.
Who else? said a nasty voice in the back of her mind. Your mother, who let Folley take her troubles for her? Dear old Grandfather, who probably paid for it, probably told the maids not to mind all the blood on his son’s clothes? Or even poor Uncle Oliver, the one who knew everything, the one who had every reason to hand him over, and yet never told a soul. Where do you fit in this fine family?
“Shut up,” she muttered, rolling over and pulling the covers over her head. “I’m not like them.”
But when she opened her eyes, she was staring at the small framed photograph that sat on her nightstand. Her parents on their wedding day. She had thought it such a sweet image before: her mother radiant in her long lace dress, flowers woven through her black curls, her father broad-shouldered and handsome as a marble statue. They were perfection personified, and though they stood stiff and unsmiling, their heads were tipped towards each other like swans.
She picked it up and sat up in bed, scanning her mother’s pretty, heart-shaped face for any signs of distress, but there was nothing there. Her father, however, had a strange emptiness in his large gray eyes, a vacancy unworthy of a man on his wedding day. Pippa squinted at the picture, and then raised her head to look into the vanity mirror on the other side of the room.
Two cold, gray eyes looked back at her.
She threw the picture at the mirror, but it went wide, knocking down a shelf of books instead. Shaking, she pulled her coverlet over her head, curled up in a ball, and began to cry.