The Virgin and The Bull
Genre: Noir Romance, Suspense Thriller
Suicide, rape, murder — Love is a serpent more subtle than any of the field.
Twenty-three year old Charles Macgregor had everything going for him, so why did he choose to take his own life? As the Sheriff-Depute of Edinburgh reads through his collected letters, he uncovers a breathtaking story of femmes fatales, jealous rivals, and love gone violently awry.
An artful and intellectual thriller told with a noir style, The Virgin and the Bull shocks and startles with tense plot, lurid sex and vivid characters amidst a seductive and scary vision of Old England and Scotland. The frisson is out of this world when the fiery anatomist Macgregor risks life and limb to fulfill his desperate desire for the dangerously beautiful Constance Fawkes, pitted against her mad father and the more-than-meets-the-eye “virgin” priest, Francis Exenchester.
“Erato did a superb job… the pace is right on point… highly intriguing… It blows your mind.” - T. Renee, author of Hearts On Fire.
Be taken to another ERA with ERATO.
Erato is a hispanic American author of historical fiction. Her stories are often set in the Georgian/Regency period, taking the characters past the traditional bonnets and balls into gritty cities, forced marriages and painful love affairs.
The name Erato belonged to one of the nine muses of Greek mythology: that who ruled love stories. No, it's not the same word as erOtic; literally Erato is "the Lovely," from Greek erastos "loved, beloved; lovely, charming." The author's own given name being that of a different muse, the name Erato was chosen as the nomme de plume that seemed especially fit for writing historical stories with a romantic theme, though she also writes historical novels without strong romantic elements. Her works are normally highly researched, subversive, and can tend toward humorous even when telling of tragedy.
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We reached the turnpike at Holloway a while past midnight. The road was dark and desolate as one might expect for such a late hour. We had the moon’s gray light to guide us only, for there are no street lamps out of London. We stopped to water the horses at the circular watering hole, and we took a while’s rest; after which we bound for the gates, at which we paid our toll and were let through to continue our flight from the tyranny of Fawkeses and Exenchesters. I cannot describe our delight at that moment! The joy we felt at that event, at our first great landmark passed and our one degree nearer to the sweet destiny that is planned — that joy was indescribable. In the moonlight, our bright, hopeful smiles were plain to see. We were lost in thoughts of our future bliss, dreaming of the bright days before us, and scarcely did we observe the empty countryside all around. The cold of the night seemed like an enchantment, the empty unpaved roads may as well have been strewn with roses and perfume to welcome us to our destination. We exchanged a bit of idle and hope-filled talk, but we did keep riding at a good pace in order that we not fall tardy to our intended timeframe. After a time our horses seemed to grow less enthused for the journey ahead, and we slowed a bit. I already had laid plans that we should change the horses out in Barnet, a town not too much distant from us, so I felt no distress at this. We were entering then the Finchley Common, a wooded area, very enclosed by trees and shrubbery. I have since learned that it is not a path which is generally considered safe to travel by night.
Evidently we were not so much alone on the path as I should have expected at the late hour. I believed I heard some whispers about us, but at the time I dismissed it as my own imaginings, or mishearings of some forest creature’s call. Constance, too, began to complain of hearing odd sounds, but there was no use in stopping to investigate their origin, even if we should have recognized their significance. Then, as if from thin air, two men on horseback appeared upon the road behind us.
At first, I thought they might be fellow travelers, connecting to the road from some obscure passage which had been overlooked by us in the darkness. They rode very fast, and I called out to Constance that we should move to the side, that they might pass us. She agreed, and we directed our horses as such. But alas! These two men of the road, rather than move along the open way, pulled their steeds to a halt before us, and drew forth pistols. We were told to stand and deliver, our property or our lives.
My heart sank. My optimism was now turned against me, for I had fallen into the trap of these highwaymen, and had directed Constance too to follow.
We were ordered to dismount our steeds and present our silver. Constance was so terrified at this that she screamed aloud. At this terrible sound, my heart raced and my whole body was cast into a burning desire to defend her, and myself. Henry: it was as if the world around me had slowed, like observing the hands of a watch left too long unwound. I have not found it necessary to physically fight since we were bairns staging rivalries with the laddies in the next neighborhood. I had no arms with me, and can scarcely shoot a gun even when I do possess one. I found myself to contemplate the situation — I am certain I could have not spent so much time in pondering as it felt I did. I considered, first, that what money we had was all that we had; to lose it would have required the termination of our journey and all our plans for the future, for we had only scarcely passed out of London, and would we be robbed at this moment, we could not hope to reach Gretna Green at all. That would obligate our return to Richmond, to Fawkes, to a life of being barred from one another’s company. Such an outcome could not be allowed — must never be!
But then, what means did I have to prevent it? I had no weapons, whereas it was evident that our tormentors were very suitably equipped for their chosen profession. Must I really be called to turn over all of my hard-won silver and abandon all my hopes and cherished dreams? Or was there any other way that I could preserve myself and bring Constance safely with me?
I raised my hands as if in peace, and called out to them: “I shall deliver. Allow me to dismount.” I looked to my Constance, frustrated that there was no means to communicate to her my intentions, without revealing them to the enemy as well. I put my leg over the saddle of my horse, as if I were prepared to dismount. Yet that is not the action I performed; rather, I leapt upwards with both feet upon the saddle of the horse, and jumped, then falling violently upon the beast of the first highwayman. This was, I perceived, my only hope for victory against these rogues — my wish was to beat the man senseless, and perhaps relieve him of his weapon. When I seized him, he was properly startled, and in his fright he fired his pistol without meaning to — fired at nothing, and hit nothing. His gun’s one and only bullet was spent. His horse became startled, though being an obedient beast and probably much accustomed to gunfire, it did not rear up or run, but it rather circled and shook itself, attempting to throw me from its back as I wrestled with its master. I was at risk of a fall, for certain; but with pure tenacity I held my opponent and prevented his striking me a single blow with hand or fist. Yet circumstance was rendering me unsure of my continued hold, for the saddle — plainly not meant to bear the weight of two struggling men — was beginning to slide sideways and would surely pull down one, or both of us, in a short time.
As we writhed, I heard Constance to call my name. I called back to her, scarcely aware of what I even said, but my full intention was upon overcoming the villain with whom I grappled. I instructed her to flee, and though she hesitated, she obeyed my command and sent her horse galloping off amidst the commotion. Constance has since revealed to me that the second highwayman had aimed his pistol for me, and she had been seeking to warn me when she called out; but her alarm was unneeded, as the horse upon which I was fixed was too busily spinning in circles, he such could not aim his weapon sure enough to find it worth his bullet.
I knew this not, at the time, and was only puzzled by my most evident challenge. My opponent had recognized the futility of his endeavors to knock or slap me, and thus begun to strike me about the head and face with his empty pistol, which with so much sturdy metal and wood in its construction, is no meager thing to be hit by. Yet I could do little else than to maintain my grip upon him, even as he painfully struck, and in short order my efforts were repaid when at last the horse succeeded in shaking the both of us together from its back. I was first to land upon the dirt, still a-cling to my enemy, and he tumbled after. I felt my very guts jostle from the force of the impact.
I was no longer obliged to reserve my hands to hold my opponent, and thus at last could I return his blows. I have observed from childhood that to hit a man in his face will often wet out his battle-lust, and thus I balled my fist and struck with all my might. I was not without effect: blood was sent spraying from the criminal’s mouth and nose. And yet this impact did nothing to hinder his urge to fight me. He struck me back every bit as viciously, and hit me on the forehead with his pistol so sharply that my world nearly went blacker than the night had already rendered it; yet I did not fall senseless, but rather I discovered myself so badly bleeding from a wound in my scalp that the gush of it was ever running into my eyes.
Without thought of it, I curled my legs inward and, by use of both feet, I struck out at the highwayman and pushed him away. I did not tarry further before I sought to seize this chance to raise myself from the dirt — but as I moved to stand I discovered I had become entangled in my large traveling cloak! The cloth which was trapped beneath my knee seized me by the shoulder and pulled me back to the ground.
Now, throughout all this, the second highwayman had been merely an observer to the skirmish, waiting with his gun aimed but making no other activity. I suppose, however, he must have now found me in a worthy condition to receive his bullet. I only knew, as I sought to disentangle myself from my bulky garments, that I heard the sound of a gunshot and felt a slight pull upon my clothes. I did not feel any wound to my person, and I realized a moment later that he had shot only my large cloak but missed the body within it. As terrifying as I ought to have found this brush with murder, I felt only relief and I dare say even a sense of rejoicing, for I was aware that, now, neither of my opponents bore loaded firearms. I disentangled myself from the cloak and ran with no hesitation back toward my own horse. Notwithstanding that, the fact remained that my primary opponent had not been removed from the activity entirely, and he pursued me. From behind he seized me, and forced me again to the dirt. I landed upon my face and was nearly knocked senseless at this painful impact. My tormentor was now sitting upon my back, and as I recovered myself he called out to his friend by name: “Noah! Your knife!”
This second villain, seemingly named Noah, dismounted his horse to present the dastardly tool. My primary opponent, in the meantime, amused himself by kicking me and stomping upon my back. I could hear an internal crack from within my body, and despite the pain my mind was compelled to a recollection of my anatomy lessons, as I wondered which of my rib bones had been just broken by the monster atop me. My breath began to ache. In my agony I flailed somewhat, and my hand — by utter chance — landed upon a sizable stone in the road, not so large that I could not lift it in one hand. I recalled our childhood fights in the streets, and that a well thrown rock had often done more damage than was intended. I was not oriented well enough to throw it at anybody but I grasped it and waited for my opportunity to utilize this new weapon.
When Noah arrived to his friend, to present him with the fatal instrument, my tormentor was obliged to turn away from me to receive it. This afforded me the chance I had sought — I turned upon my side (which was an agonizing thing to do, but knowing that the pain of death would be so much worse, I resolved to endure it) and with the stone in hand I lashed out and struck the first villain upon the knee with such force that he fell, and perhaps his joint was even put from the socket. He came down screaming — but he did not yet have the knife in his hand. It was still in the grasp of his companion in treachery, this Noah, who changed his course and now lunged himself at me.
As Noah was standing whilst I was upon the ground, this was a not inconsiderable distance through which he had to cut. I was thus granted time enough to move away by rolling, and Noah’s knife struck nothing but dirt.
Now the first villain, who was injured, but perhaps like me too desperate to be fully sensible of it, crawled to my side and locked me in his grip so I could not move away. As he clung to me he screamed, “You fool, is the money worth your life?”
Continuing the words of his friend, the other remarked, “It matters little, for we would have killed him all the same.”
I answered that the money was worth more, and with the stone in my hand I struck my prehensor again in the face, which caused him to release me from his grip. With one more swing of the stone he was rendered insensible, and fell down as if asleep.
I was able, this time, to rise to my feet. I was now filled with a painful fire that urged me on to battle, and I lunged directly for the wretched Noah, who had by this time retrieved his knife from the ground. He slashed at me — and, dear Henry, for all the times you have laughed at me for that I so sentimentally keep a copy of Fergusson in my breast pocket, I now owe my life to it. It ensured that nothing more than the leather cover was sliced, and my skin was not so much as even scratched. Bless that bard!
Noah and I were left face to face. Before he could again swing his blade, I struck with my stone, and bashed him across the face. Had I not been in such a fury, I might have thought it too horrible a deed — but I had been reduced to the animal, and I felt no mercy for my fellow man in this instance. By my blow, I had broken the zygomatic bone of his skull, and thereby his eye quite near fell from his face. He went to the ground in an agony of shrieks, dropping his knife and now making no more effort to retrieve it. Though he had received fewer injuries than any of us in the fight, his were perhaps the most debilitating. But I knew that I must not dwell over any of this — I turned immediately and ran (or near as I could manage resembling a run) for my horse. As I made this mad shamble, I began to consider my next course. Naturally, I knew I must find Constance — she was safely away someplace, but I knew not where. I knew that I must search for her, but as I plotted my course I was attacked with dream-visions of these two highwaymen mounting their own horses and coming in pursuit of me once more. To think that I could again lead Constance to danger was intolerable, and so — I saw the villains’ horses. As the criminals were left to licking their wounds, I took both mounts by the reigns; I led the animals beside my own. Once I was mounted, I led the two horses of the villains away with me, and abandoned those wicked men to this desolate road of which they had made such terror.
A ways up the path — nearer than I should have imagined — I discovered Constance. She had hid within view of everything, her horse concealed in some copse nearby. Our relief at reunion was rather tempered by the real fear for our situation, and with each of us leading a horse we proceeded the distance onward to the little village of Barnet.
April 28th, 1800.
To all my best friends and my dearest family — you could have never done more for me than all the goodness, favor and friendship which you have offered and provided unto me, your wretched relation who did so ill-deserve them! You must know that what has passed is, in no capacity, a mark against you. You cannot be blamed, and you could have offered no help that would have altered, in any way, the outcome of my unhappy condition. To the unfortunate man who shall find me, I offer my deepest apologies and regrets that it must be you. As I was a student of medicine, I know full well the horror that it is to look upon a dead man for the first time, and to see the human form with frightful lack of motion, heat and soul; but do not fear it; rather, take comfort, and know that one day this sad fate shall befall each and everyone that you have ever known. Be familiar with it now, and know what lies ahead for you, rather than to find yourself blindly leapt to the abyss of death — “And mind, for aw your mickle pride, sae will become o thee.”
With tears in my eyes, I know it is most probably my family that shall ultimately take possession of this letter, and none but they shall take concern with it. I have loved you all. Never doubt that I have loved you, but familial love is not enough to sustain a soul that writhes in such unending torment as mine, all my dreams dead, all hope dispersed. Be not sad for my passing; be glad that I have ceased to suffer a torment which has been endured for too many months, and which it is evident shall never pass. If there is a Heaven, perhaps, in spite of this deed, I may still be admitted thereunto, for this sin has been committed only to prevent a greater misdeed; and in the name of preserving whatever good may come of this, I beg of you to never disclose my fate to the one named Constance Fawkes, or now that she is to be married, called Constance Exenchester. If it comes, ever, that she will ask what has become of me, tell her that I have gone away to India or Jamaica, or that you know not where I am, but that I am never expected to return. Do not mar the happiness in her life with any cause to fret herself for me. But if she should pry and insist to know my fate, or if she might catch a circulating rumor, or by some accident come to know of what has passed — in a word, if it cannot be helped, and the circumstance be such that denial of the truth could do nothing more than to concern her the worse, then and only then might you disclose the facts to her. That you might know those facts, both for your own comfort and for hers, I have collected here all the artifacts of my time with Constance; in particular my letters to her, which have been returned by her own hand. How I have suffered in my love for her! And she (though I do not blame her for this) has chosen another for her spouse, my prior claim to her notwithstanding. Perhaps I should not have done what was right. Perhaps I ought to have kept her, greedily, for myself, and compelled her to go forward with a match that would have shamed us both; but I, so confident in her love, did allow her to slip from my hands, and I shall never see her again. Now I have lost all; lost unspeakably.
I cannot go on with this writing, with these thoughts, or else I shall lose my resolve and merely spend another long, sad night wallowing in tears. Having shed such oceans of sorrow already, one might expect that my bodily humors would be so much disordered that a natural death could easily come to me; but then, that is a slow and painful process, and I would be at risk that some well-meaning surgeon might indeed chance upon my cure. Then to what good will I have prolonged my misery? The time is now. My victory shall be my success in this endeavor — the accomplishment of my escape. I bid you farewell, my loved ones. I pray that you shall forgive me, and I am sorry for what I did to Exenchester, and to Fawkes.
Your own, Charles Macgregor.
From the Sheriff-Depute of Edinburgh.
The letter, which you have just read, was found atop a stack of papers which had been carefully curated, even edited at times, by the late Mr. Macgregor. When discovered, it was rather soiled from the blood of its own author.
Mr. Macgregor was found dead in his house, in the Cowgate, discovered by his landlord, Mr. Richards. The blast of the bullet had rendered his corpse a most gruesome sight, such that would bring terror to the heart of even a skilled medical man as himself. He had shot himself through the skull, blown so thoroughly asunder that there was nothing left to call a face upon the body. A butcher’s boy had to be contracted to clean the room after the corpse was taken out, for not even the lowest housekeeper could be persuaded to suffer the blood, brains and skull that were strewn all over the floors and wall. Upon further examination, a second, recent gunshot wound was discovered, through the leftmost side of Macgregor’s hip. Two pistols, emptied of their charges, were in reach of the body; one of which was found in his hand.
In life, Charles Macgregor had been the sort of man who dressed ever in sad hues, and until a recent accident, he had been known as a very handsome youth. It is said that many a man would have been proud to possess such a face, and even his enemies are documented to have called him “the Scottish Adonis”; yet Macgregor was not previously known to have been caught into this trap of vanity, and he was perceived to be generally of a sensitive temperament, and much devoted to his studies. He had ice blue eyes and skin so fair it was described as being like that of a ghost, yet his colorless complexion was corrected by the vivid hue of his hair, which he wore a little longer than is the present fashion, but in a styling that suited him well. He stood a height of around five feet, ten inches. He was said to have always carried in his breast pocket an edition of Fergusson's Poems. This was found on his body, with a lock of woman’s hair pressed inside. At the time of his death, he was aged three and twenty years.
The Macgregors were a family of intellectuals from the city. Their financial condition saw that they were not altogether lacking in resources; but Charles was not born into the ranks of society which could have guaranteed his lifelong comfort out of nothing more than his name or family connections. Thus it fell to Charles to pursue a career. He had sought to better himself by attending university in England; he received a scholarship at the age of fourteen, and thrived. He subsequently believed himself to be destined for a career in the high sciences, in which he should find himself winning his income through patronage and patents. Certainly he was understood to possess the attention to detail and the depth of mind for such tasks, and nobody ever claimed that any lack of talent or intellect would hold him back. He was known to have been committed to his business, and demonstrated skill in his pursuit; and everybody that knew him expected greatness from this young man. Through means of much private effort, he had been able to secure for himself a position alongside a most prominent anatomist by the name of Samuel Fawkes, who dwelt without London. Charles Macgregor did little suspect that this should beget his downfall; at the time, he considered it only to be a great blessing. He went to the Fawkes home, where he lived alongside the family: Samuel Fawkes having also in his home a wife, his elderly mother, a young son, and a daughter of marriageable age who answered to the name of Constance. These letters are hereby collected and faithfully copied by myself, assistive to the Procurator Fiscal in his reaching a true ruling on the nature of Mr. Macgregor’s death, and to judge whether he was killed by his own hand, by some coercive action, or any other cause; for though the letter we found would appear to suggest he was felo de se, cases have been known in which a murderer did falsify such documents in order to disguise his own guilt; and the wound to the hip does raise some concern. Included in these papers are some very intimate details, regarding the lives of Macgregor and others; my motive in recopying the whole of them is to ensure that nothing shall be subject to destruction or loss at the request of any relative or acquaintance of the deceased, who might be disgraced by the revelations within. Only truth and justice are sought from this collection, and it is my hope that these words shall prove useful to our investigation of the affair. — H. A.
From Macgregor to Miss Fawkes, no date.
I was sent into the city today, by your kindly father, to procure some anatomy books at St. Paul’s Churchyard. I took the liberty to browse another bookshop, and procured for you this edition of the Vicar of Wakefield, which was one amongst the books that Werter mentioned. I hope you shall enjoy it.
From Miss Fawkes to Macgregor, no date.
You mistake me if you believe that I can accept such a present from a gentleman, who lives in this house as one employed by my father. I return your book, with thanks for the kindly intentions of your offer; but I admonish you, do not forget your station and the divide between us. I am,
From Macgregor to Miss Fawkes, no date.
Please excuse the folly of a young man, who, being proffered an uncustomary opportunity to grow familiar with you, has proved himself to presume too much. We breakfast and dine together each day, we share stories and conversations around the evening fire, all very much as might a pair of cousins, or even siblings, and it is evident that I have thus presumed too close a bond of friendship between the two of us, that there was no reason to expect. I am so sorry for any distress I may have unwittingly brought about. However, I too must admonish you, on this one point: that I am no employee of your father. We are partners in science and equals in our business, although through his seniority I do offer him a certain deference which, I can certainly understand if it is mistaken for servitude, but in fact is nothing else but respect for his superior accomplishments.
I am most sorry for the trouble I have caused. To show that I maintain no hard feelings towards you, and to prevent an accidental discovery of this message which might lead it to the hands of the servants or some member of the household who might find its contents without context to be alarming or, worse, reason for scandal, I include it once again within the book, which is your own to keep if you will desire it; or you may return it to me once more and I will not fault you for any ingratitude, it is your decision.
Your humble house-guest, Charles Macgregor.
From Miss Fawkes to Macgregor, no date.
Dear Mr. Macgregor,
I do beg your pardon if I have offended you by the implication that you are my father’s lesser, indeed, I ought to have known that an inferior would not be given such freedom with the rest of the family. I also will apologize if my words may have seemed too sharp before, for the present of the book is very much appreciated. I shall keep it with me, as a token of our amends. I do consider us to be friends, and look forward to our continued talks over breakfast, and our merry exchanges by the fireside with the rest of the family, for you are a very clever man and the cheer that you bring us all cannot be too much commended. The entire family thinks so highly of you, that I should be ashamed to cause you any fear that we could mistrust or dislike you. I look forward to only the happiest of times with you, during your stay with us, and pray that you find no fault in my previous caution. Please, do not hesitate to speak to me when we are about the house, for we ought not be strangers when we dwell together so closely; and I am not being courted by anybody at this time, so you need fear no infringement in that regard. Speak to me at leisure, or leave any further correspondence you wish at my door — for there is nothing we have to be ashamed for.
Sincerely, Miss Fawkes