Extract from ‘That Scoundrel Emile Dubois’


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Not snowy, and not on the Famau Mountain, but Walpole’s house was very gothic…

 

Below, here’s an extract from my book.

They stopped talking as the snow smothered roofs of Plas Cyfeillgar came into view. Smoke rose from a couple of chimneys at the back of the house.

The snow muffled beat of their horses’ hooves seemed loud in the silence. They tethered and blanketed their mounts outside the gates. Émile brought out his watch.

“We are early. I want you to take no chances, Georges. It is different for me, but as I take it you want to stay human, make sure you have the – the poisonous stuff to hand. I wonder I have not smelt it upon you.”

Georges sneered. Émile stared at him. “What have you been about, mon ami, you look ill?”

Georges sniggered. “Your face has ever looked ill to me, Gilles Long Legs.”

“There is something to be said for turning into a monster, besides inhuman strength and seeing in the dark, namely the disappearance of my ridiculous freckles.”

They walked through the bitter gusts of whirling snowflakes by way of a shrubbery to the courtyard at the side of the house. They felt eyes on them as they tried an unpretentious side door. It was not locked, and opened easily. They gazed suspiciously about the flagged, bright passageway.

Émile made to go in, and then froze on the threshold. He shook his head, avoiding Georges’ eyes.

Georges spoke softly. “ Is it so bad a fate, mon ami, to lose the threat of the worm and the grave?”

The weedy boy from the pub came down the passage, his eyes darting nervously about. “Come in, Sir.” He beckoned, hand shaking.

“Thank you, boy. Now get you gone.” The boy rushed past them out of the house.

Georges followed Émile into a passageway scarcely warmer than outside.

The water from the snowflakes melting on their heads ran down their faces as they moved up the corridor, coming out into the main hallway. Émile pointed with his drawn knife to a passage leading off opposite. As they moved towards it, the shadowy figure of a man in naval uniform lunged at them, cutlass drawn. They jumped to confront it but it vanished, leaving them staring about, wide eyed.

“The Captain himself, as the boy said.” Émile muttered.

Georges swore under his breath. They went towards the door which Kenrick had indicated was his study. It too was invitingly unlocked. Émile flung it open and stood with his back to it, scanning the room for the enemy, while Georges sprang in.

The room seemed deserted. All was icy and orderly. There were book lined walls, locked chests, bureaux, and a great mahogany desk. The blind was half open, swaying in the draught from the wind howling in the bleak shrubbery outside.

A leather book was open on the desk, and on it laid a sealed envelope weighted with a small magnifying glass. A great mirror was propped against the desk, so as to show the ceiling, and two candles stood ready. Between them was a letter, addressed to, ‘Monsieur Dubois or Gilles’.

Shutting the door, they went over to the desk. Émile sliced through the letter’s seal with his blade.

‘Monsieur,

I expect an Unceremonious Call from a Ruffian such as yourself. I make no complaints of your Conduct; for sure you are in no position to make any. However, I think it probable you will set out to destroy me, and would be reluctant to do the same by you in Self-Defence when much could be gained through our Collaboration. Cast aside Human Prejudices must become irrelevant to you; credulous peasants place their faith in weeds and religious artefacts; you are not so deficient. You are fated to become as I and My Little Wife.

I refer you to the contents of this book. While I hazard you were not compos mentis when she made sport with it, yet I think the Procedure will be Familiar to you. Light the candles, use the glass, and wait upon events.

I shall be away a while, Conferring with a Fellow Inventor, but expect the man to prove a charlatan, though possessed of some insights. On my return, we must speak again.

Mistress Kenrick calls, thus I sign off. She will be the Belle of every assembly, as she was of the Lewis’ delightful Twelfth Night Ball which we both so enjoyed.

I remain Monsieur, Yours Faithfully,

Goronwy Kenrick.’

Georges gave up trying to read the note over Émile’s shoulder. “What does he mean by it? Seems plain he needs teaching manners more than I thought.”

Émile was staring down at the book’s thick, cloth like pages, upon which were the blurred outlines of half visible pictures. “He recommends me to try this. Shall I do so here and now, Georges? I wouldn’t do anything that might endanger Sophie and the others at home.”

Georges frowned. “If that book has to do with this time travelling, it may be a trap to suck you away for good.”

“True enough and all the better for ma pauvre Sophie. I need to light the candles. I note the fire has been laid.” He took up the flints by the grate and set to work.

The fire was soon burning brightly. Émile’s soaked greatcoat steamed as he came over with a taper and lit the candles on the desk. “Stand you over by the window, mon ami, and do not interfere as you have ere this.”

Georges lounged over to stand by the long windows against which the wind hurled gusts of snow. Despite that, it seemed safer and warmer outside, though inside the fire crackled and sparked.

The door sung open. They rushed over to it, but heard only a sighing of the wind somewhere higher up in the building.

Émile shut the door and lit the candles with a taper. He moved the glass over the barely visible outlines of the pictures. “Keep away, Georges.” The room seemed to darken in contrast to the swirling light illuminating the ceiling. The shapes were playing over the ceiling, moving down.

The Château des Oliviers appeared. Lord Ynyr sat rolling marbles in the sunny courtyard. Émile opposite distracted him with jokes, Bernard squatting between. The bright Provencal sun played over them.

The picture changed. Émile and Georges heard sounds of crackling even before the swirling forms coalesced, showing the night of the fire. Through the smoke they made out the blurred forms of Georges leading Charlotte, hunched with coughing, along the corridor. Bernard stumbled ahead. Émile appeared, dragging along the stout nurse and carrying Marguerite, while the ancient tapestries caught and fell in lashing flames.

The vision disappeared. The ceiling was blank, the room lit only by the candles burning on the desk and the fitful light from outside. Georges and Émile were holding each other, wild eyed and panting.

For a minute, neither of them spoke. Then Georges muttered, “The bastard!”

Émile said softly, “Remind me to kill him for that, Georges.”

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