The fourth floor is usually quiet, with only the hum of machinery and the distant voices from the floors below. The men do not return to the fourth floor after their initial encounter with me. They desire something more familiar, more in keeping with their personal fantasies. More safe. So I wait, alone, and the silent servants tend to my needs. This evening will be different. I know it already. I can hear Madame's familiar step on the stair, and another, heavier step with her.
She enters first, the train of her evening gown sweeping the floor as she moves to the table and lights the lamp. The man lingers in the door, peering into the gloom. He wears pristine evening dress, and the lamplight picking out the gold links in his watch-chain and the gleam of the ruby on his left hand. The walls have already whispered his secrets to me: the second son of a Duke, one who was never expected to take the reins of power. One who came, all unexpected, into an inheritance that was never meant to be his. His older brother was dead of typhoid, gone without a son to succeed him, and so the younger son was now Earl Hathaway. It was no surprise to us that the late, lamented Reginald Warwick, Earl Hathaway had died without issue--he had also borne the collar and lock in this house, and had shown a definite preference for the third floor. It will be interesting to see what the new Lord Hathaway prefers. His name, the walls have told me, is Nigel.
"You can come in," Madame says. "She won't bite you." She laughs, and leaves the lamp to go to the far wall, and the switches there. She throws them, one at the time, and light floods the room.
I hear him gasp, and I know what he sees. The ceilings in this room are high, and although they try to hide it with draperies, you can still see the machines that tower overhead, disappearing into the shadows above the lights. The machines hum and churn, gears half the size of a man moving in the eternal dance that gives me life. Occasionally they release puffs of fragrant steam into the air, making the entire room warmer than would normally be considered comfortable. There is very little furniture in the room, most of it covered with drapery against dust and future need. And then there is me. Shining silver and chrome, gleaming brass and copper, I lie in wait, reclined on the wide couch as might a goddess whilst she awaited her worshipers.
"But ... it's clockwork!" he blurts out, stepping into the room. He looks around, expecting to see a living woman. But, of course, there is no one else in the room.
Madame sniffs slightly, "Of course she is. I did explain that to you, did I not?"
Lord Hathaway has the grace to look embarrassed, "You did, but ... the others all look ... alive. This one..." he gestures wildly.
"She was the first, created by my late husband," Madame says, walking over to my couch. She brushes her nails over my shoulder and continues, "The others came later, and I refined the forms to make them more ... approachable. Despite her form, the Succubus is the most complex of all the automatons."
"How can that be? It looks like a statue!" He takes a step toward the couch and points at me. "It is a statue!"
Madame runs her fingers over my gleaming silver skull, "Oh, this is just the focal point, Your Lordship. The Succubus encompasses this room."
He looks around, his eyes wide, "The whole room?"
"The whole of this floor, actually. As I said, she is very complex." Madame makes her way back to the wall and stands near the bell-rope. "Now, it is customary for the first appointment to be with the Succubus. Did your brother not tell you this?"
Lord Hathaway shakes his head. "All Reg told me was that I would not believe what I found here. He wouldn't say more." He swallows, looking nervously at the figure on the couch, and then back at Madame, "Is it safe?"
Madame laughs, "My dear sir, you'll be as safe here as in your own mother's arms, if that is your desire."
He looks at her sharply, "What does that mean?"
Madame just smiles, "You've seen what we offer. Surely it's no surprise to you that there are some who prefer an element of risk. Don't you agree?"
He does, although I doubt that any would see it but me. His breathing quickens, ever so slightly. The flush in his cheeks heightens, just a touch. He looks at me again, studying me, silent. After a long moment, he turns back to Madame, "What do I have to do?"
She draws from the reticule that hangs from her wrist one of the shining silver collars, the black lock dangling from the end. She smiles at my soon-to-be paramour, "Take off your clothes."