Hello readers! It is the beginning of a new week and time for another artist’s collaboration. This time, I had the honour of collaborating with the incredibly talented embroidery artist Clare aka ‘Crimson Pins.’ I discovered Clare on Instagram and fell in love with her gothic style embroideries. There is such amazing attention to detail and every piece is truly a work of art (of particular note are her stunning jewelled skeleton pieces which always sell out almost as soon as they are listed). Clare lives in the South of England, stitching whenever she can. She started stitching around 3 years ago, having tried her hand to many other crafts. Whilst she would normally get bored and move on from a hobby, something about embroidery really held her interest. She has no formal training and learned everything from online tutorials and websites, along with simple trial and error. She loves to create gothic, macabre pieces or pay tribute to her favourite TV shows, movies and games. You can purchase her stunning embroideries here on her Etsy shop and if you love her work as much as I do, you will want to follow her Instagram to see all the shops updates and product releases. I was really inspired by Clare’s dark and vintage style, so naturally I wrote a dark and vintage story. So sit back, relax and enjoy this Victorian tale of murder and revenge and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to keep up to date with all my latest posts. Happy Reading…
Dark Deeds and Cameos
Evelyn Hardcastle stared at her reflection hard, half expecting it to move independently of her. She barely recognised the face that stared back. It was hardened and stoic. There were none of the soft smiles or laughter lines anymore, none of the cheer and optimism. Those things had died along with Albert. Albert. Instinctively, she clutched the cameo brooch on her lace collar, a gift from Albert on their one-year anniversary. Once it was a reminder of life and love, but now it was her symbol of heart break. She had had it altered at the jewellers to include a locket on the rear of the cameo. The world saw the delicate shell brooch, the features of the woman on it watching them back. But behind this she stored a lock of Albert’s auburn hair, a little piece of him she carried everywhere. A reminder of what she had lost as well as what she had to do. She checked herself once more before leaving. Despite everything, she still looked well enough. Her delicate features seemed almost emphasised and highlighted by the veil of sadness which now hung over them and her determination to carry out her plan made her walk with a tall and confident stance.
She had chosen a red velvet dress for this momentous occasion. It cinched her small waist in and the bustle at the back exaggerated every curve of her body. She had always thought red a very garish colour in the past, something worn by the type of women desperate for the gaze of men, but tonight, that’s exactly what she needed. She had to make sure she stood out and caught the eye of Lord Walter Smith, the man who had murdered her husband.
It had been almost six months since that tragic day but the pain and sorrow had not dulled even a little. They say that the burden of grief diminishes with time, but Evelyn was not experiencing that. If anything, she felt the pain of his loss more forcefully with each passing day and change of season. And there was something else, something new…Rage. A deep seeded, violent rage which bubbled and boiled just beneath her skin threatening to burst forth in swathes of blood red acid at the slightest touch. Her husband had been a good man, a moral man. When he saw that putrid little monster abuse and beat that poor maid to within an inch of her life, he had intervened. He had threatened to tell the authorities, he didn’t care about the cad’s station or title. But Lord Walter was not the type of man to allow someone to besmirch and tarnish his fine name, particularly a lowly writer such as Albert. Within a week, Albert had been stabbed to death, his blood flowing between the cobbles of London’s streets. The Police had said it was a robbery gone wrong, but Evelyn knew better. Hell, the Police Sergeant had barely been able to look her in the eye as he spoke such blatant mistruths. She had fallen, weeping and wailing, barely able to process what was happening. It felt like she had been falling ever since.
She placed the black and red lace hat on her hair and for a finishing touch, painted her lips rouge to match her dress. Now she really was a blossoming rose, a woman who would grab the attention of a man like Lord Walter. The bar would be full of women, some hunting for a husband, others for a customer. She was hunting for something else entirely.
By the time the carriage set her outside the bar, the shot of whiskey she had drank in order to settle her nerves had kicked in. A warmth and hazy confidence now filling her up. She would no doubt need it in the hours to come. The street smelled of beer and piss and she could hear a fiddle playing from inside, its giddy tune bidding customers to come and sit a while. Not the type of place you would expect to find a Lord, more a worker’s bar, but then Lord Walter liked his alcohol and women to flow free and loose and this place was near the few brothels that still accepted his coin, the classier joints having got sick of his violent tendencies putting the girls out of action with each black eye or broken tooth. He ended up costing more than he brought and so they had barred him, much to his chagrin. But that was how Lord Walter lived. He had the title, but his money was squandered and frittered away on horses, booze and girls. He owed money to half the loan sharks in the city and if it wasn’t for his friends and family in high places, Evelyn had no doubt he would have had his own staged tragedy by now. But when your brother is in Westminster and your daddy owns half the city, you literally can get away with murder.
She made her way towards the bar eyeing the room as she moved. She could see that despite appearances, this bar had some very important patrons. There was James Richardson, the current Chief of Police, a Weasley little man with ratty features and tobacco stained fingers. There was Mark Edwards, the editor of the London Tribune, the city’s premier paper and his brother Doctor Peter Edwards, a well-respected teacher of anatomy who was currently getting a lesson of his own from a pretty young prostitute. There were even a couple of low-level politicians and an actor she recognised from a play she had seen the previous year. Albert had bought her the tickets for her birthday gift knowing she adored the theatre. As if by fate, at the very moment she thought of that night, of her lost love, she spied her target in a dark corner playing cards with a handful of rather ruthless looking gentleman. The second she laid eyes on him, she wanted to run towards him screaming, nails clawing, a broken bottle to the throat. But that would only end with a short drop and a tight noose. No, she would bide her time.
She sipped at her whiskey, watching him from across the room, trying to catch his eye. She hated this place. She hated the lude and obnoxious men who filled it, she hated the women who fawned over them. She hated the smell and the thick fog of pipe smoke that clawed at her throat and floated past her vision. She hated the cheap whiskey and the dull, yellow lights. But more than anything, she hated Lord Walter. She hated him with every fibre of her being, within her very soul. She imagined slashing at his throat, red pouring out like a tide and felt the weight of the dagger in her bag. Soon, soon.
Just then, he clocked her, a passing glance which seemed to draw itself towards her and settle there. He looked at her the way a starving dog looked at a bone. She felt bile rise in her stomach and for a moment she considered fleeing. As he downed the last of his wine, rubbing the red slobbers from his fat chin with the unbuttoned sleeve of his shirt whilst never taking his eyes of hers. He stumbled towards her, his glazed eyes holding hers, his swaying stomach overhanging his belt, his shirt untucked and stained. As he moved closer, time seemed to slow, the world around her melting away so only they still remained. She felt the hairs on her arms stand up and her stomach lurch, even her legs twitching, readying for flight. She thought about running, about taking this insane plan and boxing it away, somewhere deep inside where she would never find it again. She could get caught, arrested, hanged. She could be killed or raped or tortured. A dozen scenarios played inside her mind, none of them ending well and she almost abandoned the road on which she now stood in favour of something safer, something saner. But she was never going to run, she knew that deep down. The truth was, death was better than the half-life she lived now. No, she would finish what she started and damn the consequences, for her body and her soul.
He came up beside her, the stench of cheap wine filling her nostrils and causing the contents of her stomach to mix and churn. She had to swallow hard to prevent herself from vomiting, even more so when he laid a clammy hand upon her own. His dark eyes were glazed and foggy and could barely focus on her. This will be easier than I thought.
“A Beauty such as yourself shouldn’t be drinking alone. Bar keep, two whiskeys.”
It took all of her strength not to simply draw the dagger from her purse and plunge it into his throat then and there. She pictured the bar and its patrons painted in red, eyes wide with shock, the satisfaction of feeling flesh tear easily beneath a sharpened blade. No, that’s too quick for him.
She smiled at him, the way she knew he wanted her to smile. A smile that said she was interested, a smile that offered him the seat next to her and the promise of more to come.
“What’s your name my dear?”
She had always planned on using something simple, unmemorable such as Mary or Victoria, but in the moment the name suddenly appeared to her, long forgotten from her lessons in Greek mythology. Adriesta the Goddess of vengeance and daughter of the God of war Ares. It was perfect.
“How exotic. I am Lord Walter Smith.”
He emphasised the word Lord, a way to let her know his station, his importance. Whilst Evelyn understood than many women cared for such things, a man’s title or bank balance had never interested her. She looked for a man’s character, something Lord Walter sorely lacked.
She gave him her hand to kiss, trying not to wretch as he slobbered on her lace gloves. Yes, this will be easier than I thought.
Their conversation had not been a long one. Lord Walter was not a patient man and neither was Evelyn, she had plans after all. Within the hour she found herself in his carriage, him pawing at her like some dumb animal, his stinking breath on her neck, his weight pushing on her, pinning her against the carriage seats. She was relieved when the carriage stopped outside his London address. Barely managing to pry herself free, she stumbled outside and gave him a beckoning smile as she walked towards the front door, Lord Walter stumbling after her. As she led him up the stairs with mere glances, the discarding of a glove, the bite of her lip, she was reminded of a story her Mother had read to her as a child about the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Her body was her instrument and tonight, she was luring the biggest rat of all to his death.
They reached the bedroom, a large four post bed at the centre of a dark and dusty room. It appeared the high and mighty Lord could no longer afford staff, something which definitely worked in Evelyn’s favour. For a moment, she hesitated. This was her last opportunity to stop, to turn back before it was too late, but hate and grief has a way of lighting a fire within which burns at a heat hot enough to never be quenched by doubt or fear. And so, she led him to the bed. With one slight nudge, he fell backwards like a felled tree, the bed posts shaking as he did. He looked like a dog desperate for his owner to give him a treat, and so she would.
She pulled the pin from her hair, letting it fall around her shoulders and continued to smile that same smile, that coquettish, flirtatious smile which promised so many things to him. He has no idea. He lay on his back, wheezing, sweating as she walked towards him slowly, savouring what was to come. She raised her skirts and climbed on to the bed, straddling him. She could see the excitement on his face, mounting and growing along with him. Her bag already laid open, the dagger now within her garter belt and it was easy to slip it out without him noticing as she kissed his chest. He moaned.
She rose up, looming over him, staring down at his red sweaty face still smiling that same smile.
“Call me a different name tonight.”
“Haha, how wonderful. I love games. What would you like me to call you? Shall I choose a name?”
“No, I have one in mind. I think you should call me Evelyn. I think you should call me Mrs Evelyn Hardcastle.”
As she spoke her name aloud, the sweet and seductive smile began to twist and contort into a manic grimace. There was a moment of realisation which fell over Lord Walter’s face, but it came a second too late as the dagger was plunged to the hilt in the cavity where a heart should be. He sputtered and let out a pained groan, blood running free from the hole in his chest, his shirt going quickly from white to red. He sputtered, spitting droplets of blood on her face and tried to say something.
She thought of Albert, of him dying alone on some piss-soaked street corner. She thought of him begging, pleading and she showed Lord Walter exactly the same amount of mercy he had shown her beloved husband. She leaned, twisting the dagger. It ground against bone and she could feel his ribs cracking under her weight. The hole grew larger, a volcano of blood and death pouring forth. The red velvet of her dress grew wet and darkened as blood painted her body the same crimson as it painted his. There was a spasm, a twitch and shake beneath her and a wheeze before his body dropped and lay still. She could see from his glassy eyes that he was gone from this world. She imagined him somewhere filled with fire and pain and wondered if she would join him there some day, if this act, this bloodlust would stain her soul irreparably. She imagined Lady Macbeth, washing at the blood which was not there and understood for the first time that type of staining, that type of contamination.
She wasn’t sure how long she sat there in the dark, holding vigil over the bloody end of her plan. She felt a torrent of emotions. On one hand, she felt free. There had been so many months of tears, of anger and outrage bubbling and churning within her. She had hated, for the first time in her life, she had truly hated another human being and now, he was gone. Albert had justice, she had justice. But there was also a hollowness, a vast emptiness left by the void from that hate. What would she do now? She had no Albert nor did she have a Lord Walter. She was alone and directionless, a boat cut loose and untethered, drifting aimlessly through a vast and open ocean. What now?
Slowly, almost mechanically, she finished what she had started. It was easy to start the fire, the house was like tinder, waiting for a flame. She used his vast amount of cheap alcohol, dousing the floor, the curtains and bedding as well as his bloated, lifeless corpse and left through the alleyways as the flames began to take hold. She was over a mile away when the sirens sang. The dagger went into the Thames and her dress, her hat, her gloves went into the hearth, the ashes discarded as soon as they had cooled. All that she saved from her Adrestia mask was the brooch, which she washed a dozen times for good measure.
For a while, the papers were dominated with the mystery of Lord Walter’s death. The post mortem had revealed the large wound to his chest and ribs but there was a long list of suspects and no evidence to point at any in particular. After weeks past, the papers began to report on other things and Lord Walter became but a distant memory to the people of London, to everyone that is, except Evelyn.
She thought often about what she had done, even visiting church for the first time since Albert’s funeral. She asked for forgiveness but knew the request was a hollow one because after all, she did not regret what she had done, not really. That emptiness however, never left. Not until the museum benefit. Since Albert, she had lost interest in most of her previous friends or amusements, but the museum had been very dear to Albert and it was a place she visited regularly in order to feel close to him once more. The benefit was raising funds in order to expand the museum’s collection and so, on a cool and damp September evening she found herself amongst familiar faces.
Anna Windham had been someone she had considered a friend once, before grief tore her away from this world. Seeing her wondering from painting to painting moved something within Evelyn, something she suddenly realised she deeply missed. She realised just how lonely she was.
“Anna my dear, it’s so good to see you!”
Anna smiled and both embraced. Briefly, it was like nothing had changed. It was as if they had only seen each other for lunch the following day. But when Anna winced and flinched at Evelyn’s hug, tears filling her eyes, Evelyn suddenly realised that of course, both of them had changed. Just as she had sleepwalking through her own life, Anna’s had moved forward as well and Evelyn had missed much.
“What is it dear? Are you ok?”
A man stepped forward and clasped his hand around Anna’s arm with an unnecessarily tight grip. Anna flinched again. It was such a small movement, so fleeting, that most would have missed it, but Evelyn saw.
“Evelyn, this is my husband Charles Montague. Charles, this is Evelyn Hardcastle. We used to be friends.”
It was Evelyn’s turn to flinch now. Used to. How could she have let herself become so cut off? She had been so wrapped up in her own pain, she had simply forgotten those with whom she had cared so deeply in the past. People she had laughed with, respected, perhaps even loved a little in the way that one loves their family.
Charles sneered at her as he said the word, making it perfectly obvious he was anything but. He was a large man, with broad shoulders and a square jaw, which seemed to be constantly tense and clenched. He gripped Anna a little tighter, lifting her slightly. She winced again, but quickly put on a sad smile Evelyn had never seen her make before. She studied Anna then and for the first time noticed bruising under her shawl and scars which had not been there before.
“Anna dear, the Watson’s wanted to chat about luncheon next week.”
It was a demand, not a request. Anna smiled and excused herself from Evelyn. There was a brief promise to catch up before the brute practically dragged her away by the arm. It was painfully obvious what kind of husband Charles Montague was and it was a painful realisation for her. Guilt washed over her. I haven’t been there for you. I cut you off. I pushed you away and now, you are as adrift as me. And just like that, Evelyn Hardcastle found her purpose. She had got her justice, but many women hadn’t got theirs. This city was full of despicable, abusive men hiding behind their money, their titles and privilege as if these things gave them free reign to act as they pleased. Well she would become Adrestia again and once more she would do what needed to be done. After all, blood begets blood…