Thomas had his toys. Lucille understood this- or rather, if she did not understand it, then she accepted it. She had, after all, spent the past ten years traversing polite society with him in order to secure the funding he needed to finally make his playthings work the way he wanted them to. She had endured endless dances, socials, prying eyes, and- of course- wives - over the course of this quest, but she had never been concerned. Thomas loved his toys, but he loved her more.
So she was not concerned- at first- by his puppyish fascination with Edith Cushing. All she really was, whether the girl understood it or not, was a new and exciting toy. Thomas would tire of the novelty quickly enough. He had somehow managed to sustain his fascination with the machinery. despite the fact that he had never- would never- make it work properly, but none of his wives had ever managed to captivate him for the space of more than a few days. Even when the allotted time was up and he still seemed to follow at Edith’s heels like the loyal, insufferable dog she had adopted, Lucille was not worried. It was only the initial opposition that had made him more attached to his prize. Once he realized that they had won and he no longer needed to fear competition for Edith’s wealth, he would turn from her as well.
In the meantime, Lucille studied their newest prey.
She was not quite like the others. Their previous wives (Thomas’s previous wives in name, of course, but Lucille had picked them and Lucille had poisoned them; in this as in all things, they each had a share) had been drab, colourless little things. Even the ones whose lives promised whirlwind excitement, like the opera singer, had amounted to very little in the end. They had all made themselves sick with love over Thomas, which in turn had made it easy for Lucille to finish the job. And of course, this one clung to Thomas in the first flowering of her grief for her fallen father. But she also wore clothes that were butterfly-bright, explored the house with a candle in her hand, actually challenged Lucille over possession of the keys- none of this had happened before. She did not shrink when Lucille showed her the pornographic pictures in their library. She did not blanch in the face of Mother’s portrait. She did not even cringe over the crimson clay that seeped up through the floorboards. There was something in her that was sterner, stiffer than her appearance indicated- something that Lucille, for all her cabinet of corruptions, knew that she would find difficult to bend. So she began to study new avenues by which she might break this steely porcelain doll.
Edith was a romantic at heart, soft and foolish. Lucille was able to discern this almost immediately. Spine she may have, but there was no cunning to match it. Not when she had been half-witted enough to try and throw her arms around Lucille and call her sister. But there was her opening: Edith wanted to be her friend. Lucille may have frightened her with her early coldness- and she regretted that now, having recognized Edith’s soft heart as her pathway to victory- but it would be a simple enough process to reverse. Edith was a stranger in a strange land, alone and lost in a decaying house. She would be easy enough of a quarry for Lucille to catch. All she had to do was slip in the openings that Thomas had already left for her.
“Are you warm enough?” she asked, standing in the doorway of Edith’s room. She tried to smile, though she knew it was not the best of efforts. “The house can become very cold at night, especially in the winter.”
Edith was sitting up in bed, all but openly gaping at Lucille in surprise. “I’m very well, thank you,” she said, still unfailingly polite. “I’ve got the fire going.”
“I’ll bring you a hot brick for your feet,” Lucille said, and slipped away before Edith could protest. Of course, she had been warming the brick before she first went to Edith’s room. She returned with it moments later and tucked it between Edith’s sheets, being sure to brush one of her long fingers against Edith’s bare ankle as she did so. Edith shivered. Lucille was not sure if it was a matter of the cold draft, or the first real physical contact she had experienced since arriving at Allerdale Hall.
“Sweet dreams,” she said, and made sure to brush a kiss against Edith’s forehead before she left the room. Overkill, perhaps- but Lucille had never been prone to wasting time.
She repeated this exercise three nights in a row, each time being sure to kiss Edith goodnight as she left. On the third night, she paused to smile at Edith as she lingered in the doorway. “We must be sisters now,” she said, “and care for each other as sisters do.”
Edith smiled back, the uncertainty almost gone from her face. Lucille’s plan was working well. She closed the door behind her with a sigh of satisfaction, and turned around only to see Thomas leaning against the wall, arms crossed.
“What are you doing, Lucille?”
She reached to pull her nightrobe closed, feeling unaccountably as though her modesty had been offended. “Your job,” she said coldly.
Thomas narrowed his eyes. “She’s not going anywhere. Leave her be.”
“On the contrary, brother dear.” Lucille made sure to brush past him on her way down the hall. “She’s bound for Heaven, like all the others.”
Thomas reached out and seized her wrist as she passed. Lucille gasped, more out of shock at his boldness than anything else. When had Thomas ever dared lay hands on her like this? When had he assumed he could dictate to her how they carried out their plans? He’d been spending too much time around Edith Cushing; her spine was wearing off on him. She’d have to guard against this, in the future.
“Leave her be, Lucille,” he said, voice lowered to a growl. As he released her wrist, she caught a flash of illumination in his eyes- venom-green jealousy. He didn’t want to share this one.
Well, that was too bad. They shared everything, whether he liked it or not.
“Look to your own tasks, brother,” she said, “and I’ll look to mine.”
“He was very respectful of my mourning,” Edith said, voice slightly subdued. Lucille had heard that Americans were more frank than the English regarding matters of the body, but their reputation did not hold up under scrutiny. Edith was just as shy and reluctant to discuss her marital bed as all the others had been. This delayed Lucille’s plans, but not unduly so. It was a scruple she could easily bend.
“Thomas tells me you lost your mother at a young age.” When Edith nodded, she continued, “It is always a tragedy when a girl is forced to grow up without a mother. She has no one to instruct her as to her wifely duties.”
Edith cocked her head to the side. “You lost your own mother, did you not?”
Lucille’s smile began to feel even more like a grimace, and she turned away so that Edith would not see her bared teeth for what they were. “I did,” she said, tone light, “but I was older. Near fifteen years.” And I sank an axe into her skull, she did not add. “I had time with her. There must have been many things you never truly learned.”
Her hook being baited, she sat back to wait and see if Edith would take it. It was a clumsy sort of seduction, to be sure, but Edith was not a sophisticated sort of girl, and Lucille could not expect her to find her own way down this garden path. She needed guidance. A firm hand.
Edith took the bait. “Like what?”
Lucille tried to keep a smile of relief from her face. “Well,” she said, “for example, the art of seduction. There is a proper way for a woman to kiss her husband, but it is not taught in the schoolroom. It must be practiced to perfection, for the desired effect to take place.”
Edith leaned forward slightly, lips parting. “What must I do, then?”
Lucille took Edith’s face between her hands. Her skin was chilly- as always- and next to the round pinkness of Edith’s cheeks, her hands looked as though they were made of bone china. It occurred to her that a simple twist could end this charade right now- Edith would be gone, they would have what they wanted of her, and things would go back to the way they had been before. But she found that she had no desire to hasten the end of the game. She was having fun.
“You must do this,” Lucille whispered, her lips against Edith’s, and kissed her. It was a chaste kiss, of course- anything more ran the risk of frightening her away- but there was still a thrill in it, of closing her mouth over Edith’s and sucking the lively colour away, draining her dry and then letting her empty husk fall to the floor. In the asylum, she had known a girl who bit the heads from bats and smeared their blood across her lips until her chin dripped crimson. It had repulsed and enticed Lucille in equal measure: such a simple, effective measure to drain another creature’s life force. Cruder than poison, but cleaner than an axe. It was what had first made her contemplate the best methods of murder, how she wished to perfect her methods so that she would never face the interior of an asylum again. Edith was part of her insurance against such a fate.
But Edith did not do what she expected.
Instead of placidly allowing Lucille to kiss her, Edith took hold of Lucille’s arms- just above the elbow on either side- and kissed her back. She licked across Lucille’s lips and into her mouth, pressing her little tongue against Lucille’s teeth. Lucille experienced the sudden, vivid urge to bite down, and only barely managed to beat it back. She had never known this sort of energy in a lover- not even in Thomas, who was quiet and docile and did whatever he was told. She had never experienced a lover who took such initiative, even if they were both still standing and fully clothed. What other surprises did Edith have in store? Would she rip her corset off, tear the lace from Lucille’s throat and bare her to the world? Would she shed her skirt and petticoat and revel in wild nakedness? Would she fuck Lucille, here, in her own home?
The last thought caused her to let go of Edith’s face and take an ungraceful step backwards. She was, she discovered, out of breath. Edith stared at her, cheeks and mouth flushed brighter than ever. Lucille had sucked none of her vitality away; if anything, it was the other way around.
“My dear,” Lucille said, fighting to steady her voice, “you are a natural.”
Thomas still looked on her with suspicion, but it no longer hurt. He should look on her with suspicion; she had, after all, made every attempt to seduce his wife. Under other circumstances, he might throw her out of their home- but these were not other circumstances, and they were not other people. Thomas would not turn against her, she knew. No matter what she did to Edith, or what she had done to the others, or what she had made him watch her to do Mother- he belonged to her, just as much as Crimson Peak. Just as much as Edith Cushing.
Edith Cushing . . .
After that afternoon in the library, Lucille made no further attempts at seduction. She still brought the girl her tea every night, of course- she was not abandoning the plan entirely. But there would be no further talk of “practice,” no subtle brushes of her hand against Edith’s skin, no piercing gazes cast on Edith while she was clad only in her nightgown. Though she did not want to admit it, Lucille was rattled. Edith had turned the tables on her so quickly and efficiently that Lucille had not even realized what was happening until it was too late; she did not want to make the same mistake twice.
(What she did not realize then- what she would not realize until it was far too late- was that she had already made that mistake a hundred times over without realizing it, and would continue to do so until Edith finally delivered the killing blow. Lucille Sharpe was not in the habit of underestimating her enemies, but in order to calculate risks, she needed to understand who those enemies were. Edith had slipped past her unnoticed, and she had not even thought to realize it until she joined the ranks of the other ghosts who haunted Crimson Peak.
She was glad, at least, that her mother’s ghost did not remain- or if she did, the two did not meet. If her mother were to mock her for losing to this little slip of a girl from the colonies, Lucille would have been greatly tempted to murder her all over again, and in death she had no such opportunity to vent her frustrations.)