Read The Blood List Online

Authors: Sarah Naughton

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #General

The Blood List (8 page)

BOOK: The Blood List
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So that was Abel’s bedtime reading. What a strange person his brother was.

Sitting on the bed in that dry, cold little room, Barnaby felt a fleeting pity. What did Abel have in his life that gave him pleasure? Not hunting nor fishing, good food nor fine clothes, not
friendship nor girls. There were no copies of the
on the shelf beside the crucifix, no plays, no poetry. Even the Bible was a plain, brown thing without
illuminations. Barnaby and Griff had spent a very educational afternoon poring over Father Nicholas’s copy of Ovid’s
that featured a graphic illustration of Leda
being ravaged by the swan. Abel had to make do with the frontispiece of his Bible, which showed a dour King James in a feathered hat.

And then he realised. If Abel did possess such a thing, he wouldn’t keep it on show for Juliet to stumble upon. After Griff had smuggled the priest’s book out of the church library
he had concealed it beneath his mattress. Barnaby leaned over and slid his hand under Abel’s.

At first he felt nothing. Just the strings of the bed and a few loose strands of hay. He pushed his hand deeper and this time his fingers came into contact with some papers.

He smiled.

Crouching down beside the bed, he carefully drew them out.

They were dog-eared from use, some were torn, others water-damaged. At first he thought they might be erotic etchings done by some clumsy local artist – the first featured a gang of
half-naked cavorting women – but then he read the title.

The Kingdom of Darknes

He looked more closely. Now he could make out the figure at the centre of the dancing women. Apart from the crescents of its slitted eyes it was entirely black; its bat-like
wings raised above its head, claws spreading from the bony wing tips.

A line of text beneath read:

Exodus 22.18. Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

He tossed it onto the table. The next pamphlet was entitled
Signs and Wonders from Heaven
, and the image beneath made him snigger. It was an etching of a human being
with the physical attributes of both a woman and a man, but with no arms or legs. A beatific smile lit its face. A chunk of text beneath read:

of a Monster borne in Ratliffe Highway, at the sign of the three Arrows, Mistress Bullock the Midwife
delivering thereof. Also shewing how a Cat kitned a Monster in Lombard Street in London. Also how the Divell came to Soffam to a Farmers house in the habit of a Gentle-woman. With divers other
strange remarkable passages.

He didn’t bother to open the pamphlet to discover these remarkable passages. Surely Abel didn’t believe this horse shit.

The next did not have an amusing illustration, only a pompous title in an almost unreadably elaborate font:



Barnaby tossed it with the others.

The one beneath was particularly comical. In the centre was a grinning devil, surrounded by women who were kissing various parts of his hairy anatomy, while a ferret and a toad mated nearby and
another woman suckled a fox. This apparently represented:

of the Confessions of eighteene Witches, who by confederacy with the Devill did not only cast away their soules
and bodies, but made spoyle and havock of their neighbours goods and so were executed the 17 day of August 1644.

The list of names beneath seemed very long. He was surprised to see a vicar heading the first column: A ‘Mr Lewes, parson of Branson’. He looked for him in the
picture and finally saw him, his black cassock pulled up to his waist while devils poked his backside with pitchforks.

An amusing idea came into Barnaby’s mind and he searched Abel’s drawers until he found a scrap of writing lead wrapped in string. Beside the grinning devil surrounded by women he
He gave the tortured priest buck teeth and a cloud of fart puffing out from his naked backside. Beside this figure he wrote:

After chuckling to himself for a few minutes he tucked the papers back under the mattress and let himself out of the room, feeling slightly giddy.

When Abel came down for dinner that evening his expression was thunderous.

The wine was poured. Henry threw back two glasses in quick succession then began talking to Frances about the latest shipment of textiles from Arabia. Soon there was an animated discussion
between them; now and again she gave a tinkling, almost girlish laugh. Barnaby smiled at the sight: it was rare to see his mother so animated, but then his eyes met his brother’s.

‘You are the devil,’ Abel breathed. Barnaby gave a quiet snort of laughter.

Abel’s gaze did not falter.

‘Even Satan doth transform himself into an angel of light.’
he hissed.

Barnaby made a face at him.

‘And the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.’

‘You’re off your head.’

He concentrated on eating but his brother’s stare seared the top of his head. His heart began to beat harder.

‘Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty. Thou hast corrupted thy—’
The sprout struck Abel on the nose, spattering his face with onion gravy.

‘Barnaby!’ his father bellowed.

His parents glared at him while Abel pressed his napkin to his eye and gave little whimpers of pain, which as far as Barnaby was concerned were entirely faked.

‘My eyeball is scalded!’ he wailed. Frances gave Henry a meaningful look before going to kneel down at Abel’s side.

Henry glared at Barnaby.

‘Father, I just couldn’t stand—’

‘ENOUGH!’ Henry shouted, banging the flat of his hand on the table so hard the crockery rang. Then he stood up and, to Barnaby’s horrified disbelief, undid his belt buckle.

‘Father, what are you . . . ?’

‘It’s time you learned that you cannot do exactly as you please, Barnaby.’

‘Father, please, I didn’t mean to hurt him . . .’

But Henry wrenched him out of his seat, dragging him through the kitchen, where Juliet stood staring in disbelief, and out to the stables.

The sun was just setting and even the deepest recesses of the yard were bathed in a honeyed glow, visible to anyone who was passing.

‘No, Father!’ Barnaby cried. ‘Not here!’

Henry was breathing hard. A vein the width of a finger had sprung out on his forehead, pulsing with blue blood. The tip of the belt dangling at his side flicked this way and that as his clenched
fist trembled.

‘Unfasten your breeches.’

Barnaby stared at him. His father’s stomach wobbled and his face was shiny with sweat. The muscles of his youth were drowned in fat and both his shoulders were so stiff with arthritis it
would be simple for Barnaby to snatch the belt from him and toss it over the gate.

‘Unfasten your breeches,’ Henry said again.

They stared at each other. His father’s faded blue eyes locked to Barnaby’s bright ones; the grey curls and the blond caught the glow of the sunset.

Henry swallowed, then he glanced over at the kitchen window.

If Barnaby chose he could humiliate his father now in front of the whole household, and anyone who happened to be passing: show him that the old order had changed, teach him a lesson he
wouldn’t forget. It wouldn’t take much – a kick to the old man’s behind to send him reeling into the pig dung, a backhanded slap that would sting but leave no mark. With
that he would assert his place in the household and no one would dare defy him again, including his foul brother.

Barnaby sensed faces at the window. Juliet was there, surely, and Abel wouldn’t resist such a spectacle, though perhaps their mother would not choose to watch.

Henry blinked rapidly and slapped the belt against his open palm.

The sun had dropped lower in the sky even in those past few minutes. It threw Barnaby’s shadow across the yard, broad and ten times his normal height, entirely covering his father.

He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, then he opened them and, in full view of the street and the faces at the window, he unfastened his breeches.

Barnaby lay awake listening to the sounds of the evening as it gave way to night. The streets became suddenly noisier as the inns threw out the last remaining customers. A
drunk passed beneath his window, singing a love song punctuated by hiccoughs. Somewhere nearby two cats yowled like demons.

Carefully he shifted his position, rolling onto his stomach, then up onto his other hip, shuffling round so that he could still see out of the window. The whole of his lower back, his buttocks
and the backs of his thighs throbbed. One or two of the lashes had broken the skin and the blood was now drying, so that every time he moved the scabs cracked and wept afresh.

He hadn’t cried. For some reason, though no-one had passed by and the household had seen him cry often enough times, that fact was important. His father, however, had sniffed noisily
throughout. It actually made matters worse since the tears had blinded him, and instead of striking his son’s well-padded parts he had lashed the small of Barnaby’s back and the muscles
of his thighs, which hurt considerably more.

During the assault, which had probably lasted no longer than a minute, Barnaby’s rage and humiliation and impotence had turned to a white-hot point of utter clarity. An idea had bloomed in
his brain like ink in water.

He would get rid of Abel.

He rolled over onto his stomach and breathed in the thyme-scented pillow. How much happier the household would be with his brother gone. His mother would be able to see Barnaby’s qualities
for what they were, without them being refracted through the twisted mirror of Abel’s jealousy. His father would not have to pretend impartiality any more, but could concentrate all his
affection on the son he had patently always preferred. Griff and his friends would feel comfortable visiting the house without that black crow looming over them, judging them for having a second
crumpet or laughing at a joke.

Eventually the throbbing of his injuries settled to a dull ache and finally he went to sleep with a smile on his face.

A New Maid

But the next day something happened that made Barnaby entirely forget his plan.

His mother hired a new servant.

This in itself was not anything unusual. They were a wealthy family with a reasonably large house and since their cook had died the previous spring it was high time Juliet had someone to share
the load. But it wasn’t a cook or laundrywoman who had been hired. It was another maid: a girl of fourteen with no particular skill and barely two years’ experience. Experience that had
been abruptly curtailed by her dismissal from her last position.

This bombshell was announced over breakfast.

‘Dismissed for what?’ Juliet asked tightly, frozen in the act of ladling porridge into her mistress’s bowl.

‘For stealing,’ Henry said, looking meaningfully at his wife.

‘Is that true, Mother?’ Abel said sharply.

‘It’s true that this was the reason given by the Slabber family,’ Frances began. Already Abel was opening his mouth, no doubt to deliver a pertinent passage from Isaiah about
the evils of stealing, but Frances raised her voice to speak over him.

‘But it is not the real reason.’

Abel frowned. ‘What are you saying, Mother?’

‘She is saying,’ Henry interrupted, ‘that our neighbours – highly respected upstanding members of our community who can trace their lineage back three hundred years
– are liars.’

For a moment there was silence.

‘Are you?’ Barnaby said eventually.

Frances hesitated, then nodded.

‘Mother!’ Abel gasped.

‘Well, they are,’ Frances said. ‘At least John Slabber himself is.’

‘Explain to the boys why you believe this to be the case, my dear,’ Henry said mildly.

Juliet had not moved a muscle, but stood behind her mistress’s chair with a face of thunder.

‘I believe it, because she told me so.’

‘You believed a serving wench,’ Abel began, ‘over a respected—’

‘. . . arrogant, lecherous bully,’ Frances interrupted. ‘From a long line of arrogant lecherous bullies.’

‘Your mother doesn’t know about his lechery first-hand, of course . . .’ Henry murmured to Barnaby, who sniggered until his mother flashed them a withering glance.

‘Only very rarely am I a bad judge of character,’ she went on, briefly catching her husband’s eye, ‘and in this case, after speaking to the girl’s family, I believe
her to have been the victim of an injustice.’

‘Yes, well, my dear, it’s hardly surprising that Farmer Waters stood up for his daughter now, is it?’

Farmer Waters . . .
Barnaby mused.

‘Why else would they have dismissed her?’ Juliet said. ‘If she didn’t steal, she must have been incompetent or lazy.’

Farmer Waters’ daughter . . .

Oh no.

‘That may be true, Juliet, but that wasn’t the reason she was dismissed. Naomi told me herself – and was clearly mortified to do so – that John Slabber had made
inappropriate advances toward her on several occasions. When she asked him to stop he struck her and when she went to his wife he accused her of stealing a side of beef. Few will believe her over
the Slabbers, so if we do not give her a second chance the girl’s prospects will be ruined.’

BOOK: The Blood List
11.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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