Welcome! Indie Author Excerpts is a feature allowing indie authors the chance to showcase one of their books and allows readers to find their next favorite story. Each week, an indie author gets to promote a 1-2 page excerpt of their book here at The Bawdy Book Blog. This is a win-win for everyone! This feature was inspired in part by Indie Author Spotlight, a meme hosted by Beckie @ Bittersweet Enchantment and CYP @ A Bookalicious Story.
The following afternoon, despite the grey overcast of outside, the mansion was a hotbed of sweet, bitter, heady scents of rich and heavy foods thrust into the iron maw of the blazing oven, and a flurry of noises and actions, the maids and man-servants bustling to and fro on checkered stockinged feet and black boots, laying fresh white linen tablecloths, fine blue-embroidered napkins, candles placed upright in their holders, wax swept off the table, dirt brushed under rugs, hard, wooden floors mopped and swiped by raw, pale fingers of a child maid, all while his darling brutette sat stewing in her room. He hoped she was enjoying her fruits. The gutted swine, sprinkled with garlic and potatoes, onions and bread, was brought on a platter that had gone dingy with age, along with several other dishes, of both dessert and main course―sweet baked yams, tender duck, long-stewed beef with paprika-laced broth, the cool, sea-brine taste of crabs, the sharp flavor of ginger cookies, brittles, baby lamb, cooled cider, the thin, mature taste of black coffee, creams, milk, toffees, and more. There were teas with honey, with lemon, and cubes of fine grainy sugar, wine with the sour taste of rotted fruit, amber beer, and hot liquid chocolate to burn the tongue of impatient children. A splendid feast for the finest, Babineaux only wondered if his dear disaster would be able to appear fresh faced and washed up before the appointed time came.
Février bit her lip, gripping the edge of the porcelain tub tightly as she slid off the damp-edged rag wrapped around her frame, letting it crumple to the floor. The tile was slick, the maid’s gaze turned to the corner, her blond hair twisted into braids and an apron over her uniform; she held a washbrush and an emerald bar of carved soap in one hand, to scrub at her mistress. Waves of fragrant steam wafted off the tub’s scalding surface, and even the nostalgic scent of strawberries, that sent her reeling back to days of sticky jam on rye bread fed to her, was not enough to convince her to expose her tender, bare, white flesh to the water. Surely, she would be burned alive, just as cooked as the meats that were being served! With a dry swallow, she mustered up the courage to dip the first few toes in, agonizing at the heat but refusing to stop until her thigh was slid into the water, shuddering. Slowly, in this torturous method, she was fully submerged, with only her damp head exposed. Then the maid shuffled forward, her gaze far from glassy and flushed like a young schoolchild, taking her mistress’s arm by the elbow and rubbing down the limb until thick suds appeared on the honey-colored skin, the smell of salt and fruit mingling in the small, smothering room without any windows. Her skull was gently cupped, the maid’s fingers threading through straight, dark brown locks, sliding along the rims of her ears and the knobs of her spine, across the slope of her shoulders. Fevrier allowed her eyes to close and her posture to melt into a lazed, languishing position even as the tub’s unforgiving surface made a terrible bed, letting the maid’s clever, practiced fingers do the work of cleaning her. And at last, the water was drained, leaving her warmed skin feeling clammy and freezing until she bundled herself up tightly in a burgundy towel. Stripped and fresh, the corset was laced and squeezed shut across ribs and doughy, unmolded breasts, pressing the air from her lungs. Then came the bloomers, the white, unstained petticoats, the frilled dress with a stiff iron undercage. Her face was smeared with powders to make her lips glossy and wet, her eyes bright and seductive beneath dark lashes, her skin paper-pale, doll-like in unblemishment. The maid offered no words, and just as well. As soon as the woman left her to gather herself before making the descent into the festivities, Février snuck into the sewing kit, which her father had bought in vain hopes that she would stitch, knit, embroider, and learn the rest of the skills of a common housewife, and retrieved the pack of silver needles, sharp and tiny, deadly and undetected once snuck into the banquet. She gave a crooked smile at the thought of all the well-prepared foods and dishes being spoilt by scarlet drops of copper from punctured, open lips and gaping mouths, greedily sucking in whatever morsel they could without a second thought. Maybe, with a little fine-placed destruction and skewered tongues, father would notice her at last. The hope was a feverish one; her heart both burned and yearned for it.
Babineaux was pleased at the turn-out. Basil had shown, along with his family, along with Edgar Gourlay, Henrietta Hainsworth and her husband, and the Clapp families as well, tiny daughters in tow. They all seemed to enjoy dining and speaking in murmured tones; or at least, the adults did. The children, including both Clapp girls and Sansifer Gatsburg, had been banished to the children’s table―something the boy took as an insult, but woefully kept his mouth shut and duly obeyed with an unsavory glance. At the children’s table, a feast of less superb caliber and meager in quantity was laid, but the girl-children giggled anyway in delight at the pies, even if they were burnt, and the tough, rubber-textured meat, thinking it most splendid―even if Sansifer was sour, knowing what he was missing. One Clapp daughter was August, a bottle-blue eyed darling with brushed, loose blond hair that touched down to her waist, the kin of Allen. The other girl was Olive, August’s closest and most cherished companion, aged nine years and spawn of Felix, and also a dark child―in contrast to August’s summer coloring―with lush green eyes and wavy, thick, black hair tied into twin braids that reached down to her shapeless hips, freckles scattered across her face. Neither girl was related, even if they happened to share the same surname. They clasped hands and ate the main course with the salad fork, smearing dessert all over their faces, and every so often, the maid would come and gently wipe their dirty cheeks. Sansifer, only a few years shy of age, even considered by Babineaux to be a future husband for Février at one point, dined with appropriate elegance and without complaint, occasionally giving the two tots across from him a surly glance, to which they responded by pulling grotesque faces in an attempt to outdo each other in a more hideous impersonation of the boy, sticking fingers still padded with baby fat into sockets of the face, stretching lips and mouths wide, fluttering eyes wide open in mock terror. But his daughter, where was she? Without her, the antics of the children and the conversation of the adults all buzzed around him without meaning, the food tasting like ash. But wait―the creak of the door, and the room went silent, as if enchanted, a spotlight over his trouble-bloom, as she revealed herself at last, a queenly smile on her face, a gentle bearing in her soft steps, one arm tucked behind her back, holding up the bustle of her dress. And she was beautiful, and for once, it didn’t matter that her insides were rotted and curled like dead flowers, blackened by winter frost and the assault of blazing summer heat. Her fragrance was of spring. Her mouth was painted bright and red, thin brows made up to look dark and dramatic, teeth shined like pearls lost within, her movements slow, drowsy, like a marionette, working with gradual movements to break away from the strings, even if it means she would be slumped and paralyzed without them. He cleared his throat, he tasted salt and phlegm, sweeter and thicker than choking bile, and managed to rasp out in an audible volume, “My daughter, Février.” His voice was golden. Outside, thunder growled like beasts. The applause fell politely in scatterings, and his stench-blossom, guillotiness of civility, took careful, dainty steps down the stairs like a woman should. His joy sung in his blood, as Février didn’t lift up her skirt to indecent height, bunched around her milky thighs, and stomp down the stair way like some beast. The carpet was velvet, her movements silk. And, mercies of mercies, the angels must’ve been gracing her, or else the devil possessing her, for the girl actually smiled. She crossed the room on stilting heels, petting the hands of those who reached out, curtseying nicely, with practiced motions. She even paused at the children’s table―not to mingle saliva and half-eaten dessert, but to reach out and stroke the rounded heads of the two girls with a maternal, wistful fondness, and then, to catch the boy’s chin within her crocodile-jaw fingers, stroking his cheek with the briefest of touches, the pressure of a fluttering tissue, her smile curling, and growing just the littlest bit thinner at the dark maroon flush that overcame him before she was off. Magnificent―and oh, oh, let him never awaken from this strange dream, this loving fantasy, let it stay brewing in his insane old mind forever. Février slipped behind the curtains, prowling the banquet table, and for a barest instant―a flash of silver, perhaps some of the cutlery?―her smile dipped into poisoned honey, murderously sweet, but the next instant, it was as innocent as a puppy love in May as she settled into her seat at the children’s table. The Gatsburg spawn brushed her hand while passing the platter of hot cakes; she winced, recoiled―was his foul-tempered fawn back? But no, the next instant, she smiled gracefully, murmuring and lowering her head bashfully. The plate must’ve been too hot for her sensitive fingertips. He proposed a toast, dedicated to his kin, of course. He raised his crystal glass high, and all followed suit―except for the Clapp girls, who were too occupied with splashing buttermilk onto the laps of their dresses to pay much attention. Their fathers would have to scold them later. They drunk in Février’s name, the word resounding in hushed murmur, pride swelling in his breast. Plates were cleared away, and fresh linen was laid, and dessert was brought out―to the ecstatic squeals of the girl-children, who still had gobs of scarlet cherry cobbler smeared on their peppermint-bright cheeks. Belgian chocolate rivers spilled over finely whipped, brown-baked egg-white cookies, mint pudding, raspberry and vanilla cream cakes, towers of wafers of the three traditional flavors, butterscotch hard candies, apple pie sprinkled with a layer of powdery brown-sugar snow, hard biscottis promising decent crunch, and much more was presented, while strawberry pops were handed to the little ones. Février politely refused a slice of thickly-frosted vanilla cake―and again, a flash of silver. But, brushing it off, Babineaux smiled at his girl―who, instead of the usual furrowing of her brow, paid him no mind, a dastardly grin beginning to unfurl across her face, like an ominous omen. Across the table, Henrietta Hainsworth’s husband had helped himself to a sizable piece of the enormous pumpkin tart, brushing off the maids who fluttered around him like worried moths. Sinking his teeth into the sticky, warm dish, the man’s brown eyes suddenly shuttered wide open, his expression twisted into a cringe, teeth ground together between his stuffed cheeks, as if he had bitten into something unsavory―then he parted his mouth, stretching his upper lip fuzzed with dark, thick hair apart from his jaw with some effort, a strangled croak escaping as teeth clacked open like the doors of a gate. Immediately, streams of dark liquid began spilling from his mouth, venomously red, heavy droplets like a broken faucet, and from the way his wife dove for a handkerchief to plug her nose and catch her vomit, it must’ve stunk of copper. A scream, cracking with panic broke out, and the whole room erupted in noise―more howls of agony and cries of confusion and alarm as people tried to spit out food from their mouths, tried to force fingers down their throats to vomit up what they had swallowed as the maids pranced around in flurry and doctors were rung, trying to relay to them the proper address in shaking voices. But the only thing Babineaux could hear was the breathless laughter of his daughter, dark and victorious and full of mirth, without a pound of surprise in her voice.
About the Author
M.V. Darling has been writing since childhood, now an English major with two published books. Her favorite books are the Russian classics, specifically the works of Nabokov, but she is also an avid reader of Sarah Waters and Nancy Garden, who greatly influenced her. Her specialty genres are romance, historical, and tragedy.
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