Charity, Lisette and Julia were at dinner. Charity and Lisette were having an animated discussion about the recent mayoral election. Though participation in the election was forbidden them, the subject nonetheless interested them. Politics was not a subject that interested Julia. She looked on, disinterested, watching the girls. The failures and disappointments that encumbered her life left her morose and dejected. She knew not where to turn, nor how to bring her life back to that vision that was always close to her heart; a well-ordered life that befit a woman of taste and refinement.
She sat there, disinterested, when she felt an ice cold draft of air caress first her cheek and then her arm. An ominous, murky shadow stole its way into the room. An apparition, a transformation, appeared before her eyes. So real that it left her aghast. As her eyes rested on Lisette, for a fleeting moment she saw not blue eyes, but yellow, not a smile, but a sneer that exposed unnaturally long incisors. It was then Julia knew. Came to her in a flash. In that fleeting moment, all was revealed.
The next day, at breakfast, Lisette reached out to pick up her coffee cup and Julia saw, not a hand, but a cloven hoof that vanished as quickly as it appeared. Julia knew what she must do. Knew where her duty lay. Later that day she called for her carriage and directed the driver to the British Embassy.
Julia walked into the embassy lobby and inquired for Sir John. In a short while Sir John came out to greet her, all smiles.
“Why Mrs. Armstead what a pleasure to have you call on me. Do come in. I’ll have my man bring us tea,” and he motioned to his man as he led Julia into his sitting room.
Julia had dressed with care for this visit, as she always did. This day she was wearing purple, long the color reserved for royalty. Now with William Perkin’s invention of synthetic dyes, purple reigned supreme. She was swathed in yards and yards of purple fabric trimmed with yards and yards of lace embellishments.
Sipping his tea, admiring Julia’s sartorial splendor, he asked, “And what, may I ask, brings you to me, Mrs. Armstead? You’re planning a trip to England? You are in need of some advice; a passport?”
“Why no, Sir John. Not a trip to England, though I’m sure such a trip might be a delightful interlude in my life. No. My visit is more personal.”
“Oh, I see. And what might that be?” “Well, I hardly know where to start Sir John, because I’ve come to speak to you on a rather a delicate subject. Your interest in Lisette, the servant girl, you see, has not gone unnoticed.”
“Yes. Our servant girl.”
‘Why I had no idea she was a servant girl. That’s not at all what she presented herself to be.”
“Well, of course not. You see she’s delusional. She has even been known to tell people the house on Moody Avenue is hers, and that we live there at her benevolence.”
“I say. My word. Why I am speechless, Mrs. Armstead. Speechless.”
Her eyes narrowed and her brow furrowed. “I thought it might be of interest to you. I thought you should know that Liisette is nothing more than a guttersnipe who wheedled her way into my brother’s life, casting a spell on him. She made him her slave. She is a contaminant.”
“She has a contagious disease? ”
“No. It’s not a disease. Worse. It’s a curse. She contaminates all who come in contact with her. Knowing how the English place such great store on their bloodline, breeding, family and ancestors, I felt it my duty to lay bare to you the facts. You know how important breeding is. Your family can no doubt be traced back several generations.”
“To Richard III who knighted the first Sir John in 1484 for bravery in defending the king.”
“Yes. For generations. While Lisette is a nobody. Came into being God knows how, for she is unable to trace her lineage. There is a dark side to the girl. And her dark side has been revealed to me. I am now able to understand that it was she who has been the contaminant in my family, causing my children to go astray.
“She is, Sir John,” and with those words she leaned forward to peer into his eyes, saying, “of the cloven hoof,” and then sat back in her chair to watch the effect her words would have on Sir John.”
His eyes grew wide with astonishment. His jaw dropped open as he stared at Julia. When he recovered himself he allowed a short chuckle to escape and with a grin answered, “Surely you jest, Mrs. Armstead.”
“No, indeed not. I do not jest. I only say what I know to be true. She is of the cloven hoof. I have seen it. It has been revealed to me. I have come to warn you against her, for she will surely contaminate your family even as she has mine.”
“You don’t say.”
“I would advise you to have nothing more to do with her.”
His head reeling with the improbability of what he had just heard, he answered in an almost inaudible tone, “Most assuredly, I will take what you say under consideration,” his eyes riveted on her face, trying to understand whatever might have driven her to such an implausible conclusion.
Once her venom had been spewed, she reverted to the deportment of the well-bred lady. The narrowed eyes and furrowed brow were replaced with a broad smile as she lifted her chin in a somewhat haughty manner. Sitting up, her back straight, she shook her head slightly as if having rid herself of something disagreeable. She drew in a long breath, pursed her lips and assumed again a friendly smile.
Much to Sir John’s consternation, with his mind in a confusion of thought, trying to assimilate all she had said, he was astonished to see his visitor do a complete about-face. Assuming a light-hearted air of sociability, she chatted in a most charming manner about the Morton’s Tuesday night musical, inquiring whether or not he would attend, and emphasizing that her daughter, Charity, would be in attendance with her that night. This was followed up with an inventory of her daughter’s exceptional qualities, her intelligence and talents, modestly suggesting that she was an exceptionally handsome woman whose impeccable manners and social graces would be an asset to the man she might marry.
Sir John responded to Julia with all the chivalry he could muster. After all, wasn’t his a knighted family? He smiled, nodded, laughed, as he responded to Julia’s light conversational banter, introducing a few anecdotes here and there, while wondering at her sanity.
The next day the improbability of what had transpired made him wonder about his own sanity. Had he been hallucinating? Civilization had long since repudiated those kinds of ancient, medieval bogey-men. Wasn’t this the Nineteenth Century? He put the whole thing down as a bad dream, pushing the uncomfortable confrontation from his mind.