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By Susan Squires
Copyright © 2002
All right reserved.
To Sarah Ashton, Lady Clevancy, chaos seemed to swirl in the
damp night like leaves in the wind. The last place she wanted
to be tonight was locked in a carriage with George and his
mother. She huddled into the musty squabs of red velvet as the
Beldon's lumbering barouche inched through the crush of
carriages converging on Carlton House. She shivered. It might
have been because of the chill in the spitting October air. Or
it might have been because her life was unraveling.
"I don't care what you say, Sarah," Lady Beldon remonstrated
for the hundredth time, pulling her lap rug more securely over
her knees. "These dreadful murders strike fear into one's
heart." The many ostrich feathers on her massive aubergine
turban shivered in dread.
Sarah didn't care about the murders. She had come to London
only to see Mr. Lestrom, her solicitor. She would have seen
him today but the coach had lost a wheel on their way into
London from Bath. The letter from Lestrom's son, its crumpled
pages now carefully refolded inside her reticule, must be a
mistake. How could there be a challenge to her ownership of
Clershing? She had just paid off the crushing debt her father
left when he died. Finally, she had almost escaped her genteel
penury. If she lost Clershing, what would she do? The house in
Laura Place would go as well with nothing to support it.
Cousin Amelia, her servants Addie and Jasco, they depended on
her. What would become of them? And her own future? A
governess, a housekeeper? She could never take orders from
some haughty, thoughtless creature. She would be sacked within
"George, how can you take your own mother into a metropolis
where I am like to be killed at any moment?" Lady Beldon poked
her second son's knee with one plump finger.
George Upcott did not even turn from looking out the window.
How could he be calm, Sarah wondered, when she thought she
might scream at any moment? "If you like," he said, "I shall
order John Coachman to turn round."
"But I cannot miss the Prince's ball," the dowager almost
wailed. "He's opening Carlton House for the first time since
the Nash renovations. People are begging for cards. If one
were not to go ... well, I hardly think one would be
considered fashionable at all."
George shrugged. "As you choose." He was a well-made man of
medium height, his hair a sandy blond, his eyes translucent
gray-blue. He was a handsome specimen. Everyone told Sarah so.
His lips were thin and straight like his nose, his complexion
rather wan since he spent most of his waking hours in a
laboratory. He was serious and single-minded, a promising man
of medicine. All Bath had expected him and Sarah to make a
match these three years and more. It should be natural to
confide her dilemma to him. It wasn't. He had never approved
of her managing her affairs herself, with only the aid of dear
Mr. Lestrom. If she lost Clershing, George would be sure it
was her fault. And if her penury was not even genteel? What
would George say then?
"I wouldn't miss being in London now for the world," George
remarked, unmindful of his mother's nerves. "I can't for the
life of me see how the blood is entirely drained from the
victims' bodies. Once the heart stops beating the blood ceases
"How can such crimes be committed in the most civilized city
in the world eighteen years into the nineteenth century?" Lady
The coach lurched to a stop. Horses snorted and stamped around
them. Coachmen shouted. A young woman shrieked with laughter.
Sarah heard the noise only dimly.
What kind of challenge to her ownership was it? Her
solicitor's letter gave few details. She had never heard of
this dreadful Julien Davinoff, who laid claim to her land. Her
thoughts stole to her grandfather's disastrous propensity for
gambling. Had he lost Clershing gaming? Surely a note of hand
so old could not be brought to a court of law. Well, she was
not giving up Clershing without a fight.
Sarah had no desire to go to the Prince's ball. She had tried
to stay home tonight, pleading that her head ached, but Lady
Beldon would have none of it. Sarah needed Lady Beldon's
chaperonage to stay in London while she conducted her
business. And Lady Beldon required an entourage at any social
occasion. So Sarah was going to Carlton House, whether she
would or no. She didn't even have the satisfaction of knowing
she looked well. She wore the only dress she owned fit for a
ball. The tiny puff sleeves and high waists that were the
height of fashion were not always kind to women with
voluptuous figures. The dress was rich looking, to be sure.
But the cream colored lace would have been better stark white
for her dark hair, her green eyes and pale, almost translucent
skin. She had to acknowledge that the cream color pulled the
freshness from the lavender satin and muddied it somehow.
George had helped her choose it. He insisted on the fabric.
The lace tucked modestly into the neck and cascading over the
hem was his suggestion, too. The deep rose silk George had so
disparaged rose to mind, with a daring Austrian neckline and a
black beaded fringe. George was probably right. It would have
"We'll never get there at this rate." Lady Beldon complained.
George finally looked exasperated. He leaned out the window
and called for the driver to take an alternate route. The
carriage swung into a side street and the going got better.
But shortly before Hyde Park Corner the carriage pulled up
again amidst the noise of a crowd.
George leaned his head out the window again. "Why are we
"The way is blocked by a mob, Sir," came the answering call.
"Well, push through," George ordered and sank back on the
cushions. "What could induce a crowd to gather? Everyone is
either locked indoors in terror or on their way to the ball."
"I don't know and I don't care," Lady Beldon declared. "Tell
him to hurry, George."
There was nothing to be done, however. The carriage crept into
the gathering. Those in the crowd craned their necks to look
ahead. The streets were wet and black. Bare branches clicked
in the wind. What could all these people be looking at?
As they came to the center of the knot of people, Sarah began
to dread what she might see. Two very official-looking men
stood in a pool of light cast by one of the new gas lamps. One
man held a notebook in which he was writing. The other
questioned a beautiful girl, wrapped only in a shawl of
Norwich silk over a diaphanous gown, in spite of the chill
night. She was red-haired, with wide lips and blue eyes. Sarah
was struck by a sly quality in her expression. One would never
forget that face. A few feet away a woman lay supine on the
Was this a murder? The woman on the cobblestones was very
still. Instinctively Sarah put her hand to her mouth.
"George," she whispered. But he must have come to the same
conclusion, for he leapt out of the carriage without a word to
his companions and elbowed his way through the crowd,
shouting, "I am a doctor, let me through."
"George, don't leave us," Lady Beldon cried. When she saw that
she was having no effect on him, she rapped her cane on the
inside of the roof and ordered the driver to pull ahead.
Sarah leaned out the window as the barouche pulled up to the
barricade. All thoughts of her own predicament seemed
instantly insignificant. She didn't want to know what had
happened here, yet she could not turn away. Lady Beldon sank
back into the cushions with a low moan. George pushed his way
through the barricades into the circle of light.
One of the constables, the younger and stockier of the two,
blocked George's path to the corpse with a broad shoulder.
"This 'ere investigation is official." Sarah strained to hear.
George pulled at his cravat. "Of course. But you must require
a physician's opinion."
"We know what we got 'ere. Same as the other twelve." George
was being dismissed. Sarah realized with a shock that this was
one of the murders they called the "Vampire killings."
"Are you a fool, man?" George protested. "I'm a specialist in
"What's that you say?" the stocky one asked, suspicious.
George mastered his impatience enough to snap his reply
without actually shouting. "Draining blood out of healthy
people into sick ones."
"Then," the thinner constable interrupted in more cultured
tones, "we could use your perspective, doctor." He held up a
hand against his cohort's protests. "My name is Chaldon, Sir,
and this is Barnett." He gestured an invitation toward the
body. "What do you make of it?"
George pushed past Barnett and knelt over the body. Sarah
could see a dark stain on the walk. The too-pale countenance
had already begun to sink in upon itself without the support
of filled capillaries, so the body had a shrunken look. Even
Sarah knew that its blood had been drained. Her mouth went
dry. She couldn't take her eyes off the dead girl's staring
eyes. George didn't seem perturbed at all. He turned her chin.
She wasn't stiff.
"Well, what do you think?" Chaldon asked. His voice almost
"I see no possibility that these two small puncture wounds
could account for this woman's death," George pronounced,
wiping his hands as he rose to his feet. "So much blood could
not be drained, even using my new invention. I call it a
syringe," he added.
The two constables exchanged disappointed glances.
"Is this how the other bodies were found?" George asked.
"Aye," Barnett answered. "'Cept one where the throat was just
ripped open, like by an animal, maybe. He bled to death more
natural-like." Sarah was shocked. This fellow thought bleeding
to death was natural.
"Can you think of no way someone could drain the blood?"
"Well," George rubbed his chin. "Perhaps if there were some
sort of pump connected to the syringe to create a greater
"You sound as if you have the beginnings of a theory, doctor,"
Chaldon encouraged. "May we prevail upon you to come down to
the magistrate's office in Bow Street tomorrow? We are quite
anxious to learn how these murders were accomplished." He
paused and looked down at the corpse. "If we know how it was
done, we are one step closer to catching this madman."
George gave a gratified smile. "I shall place myself at the
"May I go?" The red-haired woman broke in upon their
contemplation of the body. Sarah had almost forgotten her. Now
all eyes turned her way. Her ruby lips were fascinating. Her
flaming hair gleamed.
"Well, mss, since you have seen his face and can identify our
murderer, it might be best for your own safety if you came
with us." To Sarah's surprise, the girl chuckled.
"I am enough safe. There are never two deaths in one night,
yes?" She had an accent. Continental. Germanic?
"Never been a witness before," Barnett rejoined.
"You saw the murder?" George asked. His gaze was rapt upon
her. "How was it done?"
"I cannot say," the woman replied as the fingers of the chill
breeze caressed her flaming ringlets. "I saw the man's face. I
heard the girl scream. But while the deed was done his back
was turned. His cape covered all. Me, I hid myself in the
shadows. But I have told all this."
This woman should be frightened, Sarah thought. Death had
barely passed her by tonight. You should want to take her hand
and soothe her, tell her she would be all right. Instead Sarah
shuddered when those cold blue eyes scanned the crowd.
"Even drew us a pitcher." Barnett waived a page of his
notebook. The drawing was a few lines merely, but evocative.
"Tall, well-made, dark 'air, dark eyes, 'igh cheekbones,
dressed in a evening cape," Barnett recited.
"With your kind description, we will set the Runners out to
comb the city and beyond. He cannot escape." Chaldon
apparently felt he needed to reassure the woman of the cold
eyes with lies. She hardly seemed to need reassurance. And
they were lies. Hundreds fit that description.
Barnett looked up from his notebook. "You sure that's all, are
"Really, gentlemen, no more. I will go home now."
And they let her go, in spite of the danger, in spite of their
questions. Sarah couldn't believe it. They all looked into her
eyes as though they had been turned to stone and watched the
only witness in a string of grisly murders walk into the night
Sarah put her hand to her forehead. The whole scene was like a
play revealed by the garish glow of the street lamps. The
emotions stirred here yet drifted in the wet air. George, the
officers and the beautiful woman were actors on a stage at the
denouement. The climax done, they played out their parts by
rote, flattened by the light, until the next play, the next
climax of emotion. The people who pushed and shoved for a
better view of the tragedy were a dim chorus, a mere surge of
humanity in the darkness between the lamps.
George came to himself. "I say, I hope you know where to find
"'Course we do." Barnett shook his head. "Bristol Court, off
Dean Street." He flipped through his notebook to read the
Chaldon snatched the notebook from him. "Did you say Bristol
Court?" They looked at each other for a long moment, as
surprise and then dismay crossed their faces in turn.
"What is it?" George cried.
Chaldon snapped the notebook shut and tossed it to Barnett in
disgust. "There is no such address off Dean Street."
George came back to the carriage looking smug. He swung into
the seat next to his mother and patted her hand. The coach
inched away. Still Sarah sat forward and craned to see the
constables standing over the body. She couldn't release her
awful fascination with the crime.
A countenance in the gloom at the edge of the crowd jerked
Sarah back from the face of humanity to the face of a man.
Tall, well-made, dark eyes, arched brows, high cheekbones,
with sensuous, curving lips and wild, black hair against pale
skin. A cape swirled about him. The evocative lines of the
red-haired woman's drawing flashed into Sarah's brain. Could
he be the man who had murdered here tonight? His eyes burned
as he surveyed the scene. They were hard, unforgiving. He had
seen everything, forgotten nothing, and he was angry. The
crowd shrank away from him. He seemed to float in his own
space. Sarah strained to see, leaning over to press her
breasts against the door of the coach. He was beautiful, she
thought, but like the forces of disorder, he lurked at the
edge of the tenuous circles of light, waiting to engulf them.
This man could kill, she was sure of it. She shuddered. Be
sensible. Your mood is coloring your thoughts. But she could
not look away from that face. Was it fear that wound its way
into her heart, or fascination? Before she could decide, his
cape swirled and he disappeared into the darkness.
Sarah stared after him, wondering if he had ever been there at
all. Foolish girl. There was nothing to connect this strange
man to the victim lying in the circle of light. The drawing
could have been anyone. Behind her George apologized for
leaving them. His mother revived and began to scold. It didn't
matter. What mattered was one face in the dark, barely
discerned. The face of anarchy, perhaps the face of evil,
infinitely repellent, infinitely attractive.
Excerpted from Sacrament
by Susan Squires
Copyright © 2002 by Susan Squires .
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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