All the Devil's Greed

“By trying to convince himself I was a devil by nature, my father made me a devil by nurture.”

Mary-Ann Lansfield’s outbursts cause strange happenings in their house, prayers and church visits seem to stir unbearable pain inside her, and her hunger is so insatiable she’s forced to raid the pantry every night just to keep it at bay. It’s no wonder, really, that everyone believes she’s possessed by the Devil.

The more she’s hurt and berated by those around her, the wickeder Mary-Ann feels, and the more she longs for the freedom she’s been denied all her life- the freedom to live however, love whoever, and eat whatever she chooses. Even after everything she’s been told about the evil in the world, what she really wants is to become every inch the monster she’s feared to be.

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Author's note

Hello! I'd just like to stress that this book contains a lot of blood, guts, violence, abuse, and religious themes. My protagonist is extremely morally skewed and her opinions are most definitely not my own. I never killed anyone, honest! Never!
AA

6. Weakness

"Margaret is the most disagreeable of them all.” I lean against the railing, my chin in my hands.

“Who’s Margaret?” Catty asks.

“The new cook.”

“Oh. I- I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. I’m used to them all now.”

Father was true to his word. Practically as soon as Lula and Florrie had left, he started the hiring process for their replacements, and must have taken extra care to pick the most horrid person in every single category. I honestly believe that we only received any applicants at all because the public don’t know the truth about my father. He pays generously, but even if I were desperate I would not work for him for all the gold in England.

I smile, making light of the heavy, as is my custom with Catty. “I honestly believe she’s under instruction by my father.”

“Well, naturally. She’s his servant.”

I raise an eyebrow at her. “To be as horrible to me as possible, I mean.”

Catty laughs. I’m glad she finds it funny, because it makes me feel a little more absurd for finding it so infuriating. Margaret comments on my weight whenever I walk past, comparing me to various animals, quipping about my fitness to use chairs, fit through doors, blah blah blah. I think I’ve lost a little, even in the week the cupboards have been locked, but if she’s under my father’s instruction I know full well she won’t stop till I have nearly wasted away. If anything, she’s even crueller with my portions than he told her to be. I don’t want to have another outburst in front of Catty, but we’ve run out of easy things to talk about, and she’s the only one I can confide in.

“Can I share something with you?” I ask her.

She smiles, tucking her damp, clinging hair behind her ears. The sky is heavy with grey clouds, and rain is trickling down on us.

“Of course you can.”

I take a deep breath. “It was my fault. All the servants getting fired. It was my fault.”

She nervously licks her lips. “What do you mean?”

“I mean- not on purpose. But the night before my father fired them all I was down in the kitchen again.”

“I thought you’d stopped.”

I look up at her, and silently nod.

“I have now. But Florrie found me and helped me. And we… left the door open. That’s why Father flew into a rage. Because of me. Because of my… my p-problem.”

Catty shakes her head and slides her hand over mine on the railing. I look down, and don’t look back up again.

“It’s not your fault, Mary-Ann.” She says. “Your father has an uncontrollable temper.”

“But I provoked it.” I say. I like to provoke it. I want to do it again.

“You may have provoked it, but that doesn’t make it your fault. If your father only wanted to punish you, and punish you rationally, he would have only let go the cook. Instead, he fired everyone. And your housemaid too.”

I nod, sniffing. I miss Lula. She’s the only one Father hasn’t replaced yet- apparently, finding someone who wants to clean and fold laundry and run around the house is harder than finding ten who want to stay hidden down in the kitchen.

“And besides.” Catty says softly. She squeezes my hand. Her fingers are cold. “Every cloud has a silver lining. Something good may come of this yet.”

I look at her. “Like what?”

She doesn’t reply. Instead, she takes a breath.

“Do you want to come inside?” she asks, taking her hand off mine. For some reason, I want to pull it back. She asks me inside close on every week, and I always refuse.

“Yes, thank you.” I say. She looks surprised.

“I’m afraid you might get a little muddy. Should I bring out my platform shoes, so you won’t ruin your skirt?”

“No, it’s fine.” I grin as I push open the gate and step onto the front path.

“But that dress is so beautiful.”

I look down. She’s not wrong- this dress is new, bought for me by my father last week. It’s dark blue satin with long sleeves, ruffles about the hem, and, of course, a tight corset. Not as unbearably tight as it once might have been, but sickeningly tight nonetheless. It wasn’t intended as a gift, and so I won’t bother to treat it as such.

“Come on, then.” Catty grins as she darts across to the door and pulls it open for me. “Welcome, Ma’am,” she says in a mock posh voice.

I grin and walk in before her. I’m surprised by how bright their house is- it has large windows, and although the ceiling is low and the furniture seems ratty and old, and it smells just a little of the muck outside, it feels warm and welcoming.

“You’ve got a lovely house.” I say, honestly.

Catty looks sheepishly down at her feet. “No, we haven’t.”

“Yes, we have, Cat.” A man’s voice comes from the opposite corner of the room, making me jump. I turn to see an older man with a large white moustache sitting in an armchair close to the fire. He smiles at me.

“Mary-Ann, my father,” Catty says. “Father, this is Mary-Ann Lansfield.”

“Yes, I can see that, Cat.” He says. He doesn’t stand up, which I like. Then, I notice the walking cane propped between his legs and feel guilty for assuming he would.

“It’s lovely to meet you at last, my dear.” He says.

“Thank you. You too, Sir.” I forget to bow my head in greeting. Don’t think he minds. I just grin.

“Offer the lady a seat, Cat.”

“I was going to, Father.” Catty says.

“Oh, don’t worry about… all that.” I say, as Catty throws herself haphazardly onto one side of a sofa. I sit down next to her. “I’m no lady. Not really.”

“Cat tells me that, and yet I struggle to believe it.” He says, leaning forwards. His expression is quizzical. “What’s it like living in that big miserable old house?”

“Father!”

“I was just asking her, Cat.”

“But you-”

“Oh, it’s just as miserable as it looks.” I say with a grin. “Although the house isn’t old. It’s new.”

“Is it really?” He says, stunned. “Looks like it’s crumbling at the edges.”

“Father!”

I don’t drop my grin. “My father’s design.”

“Oh.” He pauses for a second. “Well, I beg your pardon.”

“Don’t.”

He laughs, surprised, and Catty sighs at my side.

“I suppose Cat has told you all about the new job, then.” He says to me.

New job? “No, Sir.” I say. I look at Catty. “You have a new job?”

“Oh.” I see Catty shooting an angry look at her father across the room before turning back to me. “Yes.”

“That’s good news!” I say. “I assume. Are you happy?”

“Y-yes.” She says, picking her words carefully. “Although I will have to move out of this house for it. Father is unhappy.”

 At her words, my body chills. Again.

She’s moving.

“Father is most certainly not unhappy!” Catty’s father says. “All that money you’ll be making!”

“But I’ll be moving, Father. Won’t you miss me?”

I’ll miss you. I want to say, but I stay quiet.

“A little, I suppose. Here and there.” Catty’s father says.

“Father.”

“Daughter.”

I tentatively interrupt them. “You… you’re moving?”

“Yes.” I see Catty looking over at her father again, nervous. “Although not too far away.”

“Will you still be in the village?”

“Oh, yes.” Catty says.

“Will I still see you?”

She grins. “Oh, I suppose you might, here and there.”

I try to relax. I’ve lost Florrie, I’ve lost Lula- I couldn’t have born the thought of losing Catty too. I’ll see her less, now she’s got a job. This has happened before- people have moved, promised they’d stay in touch, and then never spoken to me again. I suppose it’s natural. Everyone leaves me. I’m repellent.

But I must be happy for her. After all, this must be a great opportunity for her, and despite the fact she’s leaving me, she seems delighted about it. Is that a bad sign? No.

I stay for a few more minutes, idly talking to Catty and her father. Her father wants to know a lot of things about my life, which I give up willingly. He seems surprised by how open I am, but inwardly, I’m angry. I’m angry because I’m going to miss Catty, even though I’ll still see her from time to time. Apparently, the job is cleaning for a well-off family in town. Our free days may line up once in a blue moon. Eventually, I can stand the thoughts no longer and get up to leave.

“Well,” I say. “I must be going. It was a joy meeting you, Sir.” I bow my head to Catty’s father.

“Really?” He chuckles. I do too. “The same to you, my dear. Be sure to call in again some time.”

I’m not sure I ever will, but I smile and nod. Then, I turn to Catty.

“How long before I see you again?” I say.

“It shouldn’t be too long, I promise.”

There it is again- that silly smile. Why must she be so cryptic? And so happy when I’m so sad? I know I’m being selfish. I try to hold it down, but I end up grabbing her and wrapping her into a hug. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but when I feel her hugging me back, I desperately want to hold her tighter, tighter. I like the way the hug feels. I like the way she feels. I feel her father’s eyes on us as the embrace lasts, and lasts, and lasts, but I don’t care.

Eventually, I let Catty go. The smile is gone from her face when our eyes meet.

“We’ll see each other soon. I promise.” Catty says. She knows me well enough now to see that I’m upset, but I try my best to smile all the same.

 

 

I’m woken at the crack of dawn the following Tuesday by my father’s yelling. As I sit up in bed and groggily rub my eyes, I realise, for once, I don’t know the meaning of this- in the last two weeks, I’ve not raided the kitchen. I’ve not spoken back. I’ve even started to lose weight. Perhaps Margaret has told him something false about me- she does that from time to time.

“MARY-ANN!”

“Yes, Father, I’m coming.” I say feebly, wondering if I should try to get dressed before I go downstairs. This, I understand, would defeat the entire point of his endeavour. If I’m correct, and this is because the new housemaid is starting work today, he’ll want me to look as unkempt as possible. He thought it embarrassed me the first eight times he did it- one for each new member of kitchen staff. I sigh, ruffle up my hair to make it stand on end, and head for the door, hoping the pillow has carved temporary creases into my face.

“MARY-ANN!” Father bellows a second time once I’m at the bottom of the stairs, nearly causing me to trip. I realise at this point that I’ve forgotten to shout at him back, so that he knows I’m awake. But if I had, then he would scold me for shouting. “Come downstairs if you require my attention,” he always insists. And also, “Come downstairs when I require yours.”

I don’t care who this new housemaid is- since she’s gotten the job, I assume she’s either excessively rude or excessively quiet.

“Yes, Father.” I say blearily, walking into the kitchen to the sight of him standing with a brown-haired woman by the window. Even as he sneers at me, I widen my eyes in shock.

As it turns out, I was right about the new housemaid. She is excessively quiet. She hasn’t had a chance to speak yet, but I know this for sure, because I know her.

Catty is our new housemaid.

She grins at me widely as my father turns to face me, and I struggle to hold back a hysterical snort of laughter. This- this is the new job she told me about. Cleaning for a rich family in town… my family. She was playing a joke on me, and God, it’s funny. Even though it made me cry. Perhaps that makes it funnier. Now that Father is facing me, she starts to pull faces and mouth words behind his back. I turn my laugh into a yawn.

“Looking tired, and messy, as always.” Father says, shaking his head. “I told her to be awake, but she does not listen.”

“Indeed, Sir.” Catty raises an eyebrow as I struggle to suppress my grin. She shoots a slightly nervous look between my father and I, and my heart sinks a little from where before it was soaring. Now, at least, she knows. How awful he truly is. He’ll have already given her the talk on my food, my treatment- how she’s not to compliment me, speak to me, look me in the eye. She’ll want to know why I didn’t tell her before.

And I’ll have to pretend to my father I don’t know her.

“She has no respect, as you can see.”

My father’s words can’t hurt me today. I look sideways at Catty, feigning frustration for her prank, and she silently laughs.

“Say it, Mary-Ann.”

I look up at him. So does Catty.

“What?”

He growls a little. “You’ll say pardon.”

“Pardon?”

“Say it.”

“Say what?”

“That you have no respect.”

“I have no respect.” I say.

“Louder.”

“Louder?”

“Like you mean it.”

“I have…” I say, looking back at Catty and taking the opportunity of my father’s turned back to pull a face, feigning anger. She doesn’t laugh. “No respect.”

“What’s this?” my father says, turning back.

“What do you mean?” I say, as Catty looks at me, confused.

“Why the face?” He turns to look at Catty, then between the two of us. I drop my head, pleading with her silently to do the same. If she tells him we know one another that’s the end. “Is there something you want to tell me?”

“No, Father.”

“Or you?” He looks at Catty.

She looks into my eyes as I shake my head at her. No. I mouth. No. No.

“Yes! I mean, we…” She sees my face as my pleading grows more desperate. “Well, not… really.” She says slowly.

“Do you know my daughter?”

Say no. Say no. I shake my head more frantically.

“No, Sir.” I breathe a sigh of relief. “I have only seen her in town a few times.”

“Ah.” Father smiles nastily. “Was that before or after we starved the defiance from her?”

Catty breathes out shakily. “Af- after, I suppose.”

“Ever spoken to her?”

“No, Sir.”

“Good.” Father and Catty look at one another as I watch, my heart pounding. “Keep it that way.”

 

 

Throughout that day, I catch sight of Catty three times. Once, as I’m dressing, she knocks on the door, and unaware it’s her, I tell her to go away.

“How unladylike.” Her voice murmurs from the other side of the door, making me smile.

The second and third times are brief, at mealtimes, and because my father is in the room with us I daren’t speak to her or even catch her eye. I know I hurt her feelings by pretending not to know her, even though she must have understood why.

“Here you go, Miss Lansfield,” she says as she places my dinner in front of me. I look up, but she’s already gone. The simple line of dialogue seemed like an act of rebellion. I should try to find her after dinner, to apologise for pretending I didn’t know her. We need to work out a way to see each other- I’m sure she applied for the job with the expectation we would be closer than we were when she lived by the beach. But no. Her quarters may be directly above mine, but unless we meet behind my father’s back we may as well be living at opposite ends of the country.

I look down at my soup. It’s thin and green, and I fuss my spoon, not bothering to eat- I know Margaret has probably watered it down fivefold at least. I’m hungry- God, am I- but I won’t humour that woman by eating her food. I try to keep track of the conversation at the table, but there’s little point.

“Not eating, Mary-Ann?” My father asks.

I look up.

“Not eating?” He repeats when I make no reply. Mother looks from him to me with worry on her face. Not eating is so utterly unlike me that she probably thinks I’m ill. Her fretting over me was increased infinitely by the thing that happened in the bathroom that we don’t speak of.

I shake my head. “N-no, I suppose not.”

He smirks cruelly. “Why?”

“I- I’m not hungry.”

He splutters, deliberately. “Wh-what?”

“I’m not hungry.” I put my spoon down and watch as it slowly submerges before drowning with a plop.

I’ve tired of my eating habit. I’m currently conspiring to defy you in a different way.

My father guffaws.

“And the pigs have grown wings!” He declares. “The sky has turned green, and I’m the King of England!”

Nervously, my mother laughs too, though she’s still looking at me with worry. Father’s been different ever since he fired the servants- in fact, he’s been different ever since he installed the locks. He’s now smug and triumphant.

“I have lost a little, Father,” I say quietly.

He finishes laughing, wipes his eyes. “What?”

I repeat myself.

“Really?”

Yes.”

“Then why do I see no earthly difference, Mary-Ann?” He says.

“It takes time.” I say.

“And how much time do you need? Will you be ready by twenty-five?”

“Henry.”

“What, Alice? I’m just teasing her.”

“Yes, he’s just teasing me.” I say softly. I raise my voice. “May I please be excused?”

“Yes, why not? If you’re not going to stuff your face you may as well get out of my sight. As long as you’re not headed to the pantry.”

I try not to growl as I mutter my thanks and walk towards the door. As I push it open, Father begins to laugh again, and I briefly consider going to the pantry just because he warned me not to. Instead, I head straight towards the stairs, on a mission. Father used to make Lula change the linens on every single bed in the house every Tuesday, even the ones that hadn’t been slept in, and if Catty isn’t changing linens, she might be in one of these rooms cleaning. I check one spare bedroom, and then the other- they’re empty, though the linens look fresh. The third and fourth bedrooms are the same, as is mine. That only leaves my parents’ room- when I reach it, I see the door is closed.

I push it open, and Catty jumps back from the bed like a shot, clutching a pillow with the case half-on to her chest. She makes to stand to attention, but then relaxes.

“It’s me.” I say, closing the door behind me.

“Oh.” She presses her lips- looks like there’s a tidal wave in her mouth she’s holding back. “M-Miss Lansfield.”

I blink. “Catty, there’s nobody else with me.”

“Does your father know you’re here?”

“What?” I say. “No.”

“Thank goodness. Please…” she trails off for a second, throwing a nervous glance at the door as it creaks. Nobody’s there. “Please… please leave.”

“What?” I cross the floor to reach her. “Catty, it’s me.”

“Yes, and you’ll get me in trouble!”

“I- I- I’m sorry.” I say. “I’m sorry about my father, Catty. I just… had to see you.”

She’s silent for a second. Then, she smiles at me nervously.

“Me… me too.” She says.

“I’m sorry. The last thing I want is to get you into trouble.”

“Mary-Ann, your father…” Catty says. “He’s a-”

“A monster.” I say. “I know.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I, um…” I struggle. “Because I- I didn’t… I didn’t think you needed to know. I didn’t realise you were planning to apply to work for him.”

She smiles. Then, looks wildly to her side as the door creaks again. Still, there’s nobody there.

“Why’d you do it?” I ask. “Why, Catty? Was it really just because of the money?”

“I need the money.” She says indifferently. “To send to my father, now that he can’t work.”

“Really?” I say. I know I’m digging too much, but I’m hoping for a particular answer. “Is that all? I know he pays well. But any other employer in town who pays less generously must make up for the money tenfold by treating you like a human being.”

“Yes.” She looks down at her feet. “I know. But I- I… wanted to see more of you.”

The words warm my chest.

“You are silly, Catty.” I say, even though I know I’m the silly one, interrupting her like this.

“Yes, I know.”

“But I am. I… Despite Father, I’m glad you’re here.” I say truthfully. “I’m so happy we’ll get to see more of each other.”

She stares at me. “But we won’t.”

“What?”

“We won’t. Now. You can’t keep interrupting me like this.”

“Why not?”

“Because your father may find us!” She insists. “What if he does?”

There’s a racket from downstairs- my father’s laughter, rumbling through the floorboards. They’re right below us- a few feet away, technically- and we’re together in their bedroom. If they hear our footsteps, or even our voices, we will be caught and my father will be so enraged he’ll likely tear the house down with his bare hands. A wrong whisper and everything is over.

Why does that thought fill me with energy?

Once the noise has died down, I look back at her.

“I have to see you, Catty.”

“Then catch me occasionally, Mary-Ann.”

I think about it, but for some reason, I cannot stand the thought of occasionally. “No.” I say. “Perhaps, after dark, we could-”

“After dark?” She says. “Are you insane?”

“Look.” I sigh. “We must figure something out, Catty. I know you’re afraid.” Of course you’re afraid. You’re always afraid.

“Of course I’m afraid! What if we’re caught together?”

“I’ll keep you safe.” I say. “I swear to you, Catty. I will keep you safe. Father will never find us out.”

She sighs. “Oh… okay.” She says eventually. “But you have to go now. We’ve been in here too long. What if your father comes up after dinner?”

“He won’t.” I say. “He’ll go to the study.”

“And your mother?”

“She’ll go to the drawing-room.” I say. I feel guilty for leaving her down there alone. I must go and sit with her, even if the evening is only spent talking about the same old things we always do.

“You still must go.” She says.

I sigh. “Okay. I will.”

“Thank you. When will I be able to talk to you again?”

“Soon. We’ll work something out.”

She smiles at me, and I’m seized by a sudden desire to step forwards and wrap her into another hug. I want to let it last longer than the one we had before. I want to hold her tighter than I did before. I want to hold her hand. I want to… I want to…

Catty beats me. She drops her pillow, closes the gap between us, and pulls me into her arms. The sensation that pulses through me is sharp and shocking, fiery and sour. I don’t know what to make of it, but I hug her back fiercely and she tightens her embrace, too. Don’t want to let her go. I do, eventually, but only after I have enjoyed the feeling of her face buried in my shoulder for long enough. She, surprised at my withdrawal, holds on for a little longer.

“We’re both fools.” She murmurs once we have separated, looking into my eyes. She’s still both a little too close and a little too far.

I already want to hold her again. Want to feel what I just felt, again.

I smile with her. “Yes. We are.”

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