If you’ve established an intrepid treasure hunter in the first chapter and an unsettling “patron” in the second, what else do you really need? Well… something weird or uncanny is a good bet. But we pretty well have that infusing every single beat already. What’s the next move?
In chapter three of Seven Footsteps to Satan, A. Merritt goes ahead and unleashes the feminine foil:
Two of the loveliest brown eyes I had ever beheld looked up at me. They were deep and tender and pitying, and tears trembled on the long black lashes. Even in my consternation I took note of the delicate skin untouched by rouge, the curly, silken fine bobbed hair under the smart little hat —hair touched with warm bronze glints, the nose a bit uplifted and the exquisite mouth and elfinly pointed chin. Under other circumstances, exactly the girl I would have given much to meet; under the present circumstances, well—disconcerting.
Yeah, the only thing that could conceivably persuade an adventurer to settle down and live an honest life. And it’s right there! The stakes go up tremendously and the complications as well. Is she actively colluding with the bad guys? Or is she in trouble, being coerced in a similar fashion as our protagonist? No idea!
What does the hero do when it finally comes clear just how helplessly outmaneuvered he is at the moment…? Let’s see:
“Eve!” I exclaimed. “All this time I’ve been away from you—and you haven’t even kissed me!”
I lifted up her chin and—well, I kissed her. Kissed her properly and in no brotherly manner. I heard Walter cursing under his breath. How Consardine was taking it I could not tell. Indeed I did not care— Eve’s mouth was very sweet.
I kissed her again and again—to the chuckles of the hoods, the giggles of the girls, and horrified exclamations of the dignified old gentleman.
And the girl’s face, which at the first of my kisses had gone all rosy red, turned white. She did not resist, but between kisses I heard her whisper:
“You’ll pay for this! Oh, but you’ll pay for this!”
I laughed and released her. I did not care now. I was going to go with Dr. Consardine wherever he wanted to take me—as long as she went with me.
This book is on fire. The conflict. The stakes. The sense of dread. It’s just plain awesome.
Even better, to contrast the rugged masculinity of the hero here, you get something not seen in popular culture for decades now: unadulterated femininity.
And Merritt really does go all the way with this one:
A powerful car stood at the curb. Consardine gestured. Eve’s hand firmly clasped in mine, I entered, drawing her after me. Walter had gone ahead of us. Consardine followed. The chauffeur closed the door. I saw another liveried figure on the driver’s seat. The car started.
Consardine touched a lever and down came the curtains, closeting us in semi-darkness.
And as he did so the girl Eve wrenched her hand from mine, struck me a stinging blow across the lips and huddling down in her corner began silently to weep.
What a way to close out a chapter!
Let’s see here. Which is the more compelling character?
The sassy babe from Terminator Genisys rolling into the opening scene in an armored car and barking orders at the guy that thought he was traveling back in time to save humanity? Or this girl Eve here that is reduced to tears by the end of the second chapter.
I know which one I’d rather read about!
It’s definitely worth sticking around for the followup scene. Seriously, check out this repartee:
And as I looked at the lips I had kissed so ruthlessly, a quick rose tinted her face.
“Eve—this is Mr. Kirkham,” it was Consardine’s voice, faintly amused. “Miss Demerest and you have met, I think.”
“I think,” I answered, slowly, “that I am seeing Miss Demerest for the first time. I am hoping that she—will consider it so.”
It was as near to an apology as I could come. Would she take the proffered olive branch? Her eyes widened as though with reproachful surprise.
“To think,” mused Eve, mournfully, “that a man could so soon forget having kissed me! It seems hardly a compliment, does it, Dr. Consardine?”
“It seems,” said Consardine, truthfully, “impossible.”
“Ah, no,” sighed Eve. “No, Mr. Kirkham. I can’t think it is our first meeting. You have, you know, such a forceful way of impressing one with your personality. And a woman cannot forget kisses so easily.”
I flushed. That Eve was a consummate little actress she had given me plenty of convincing proof. But what did this bit of by-play mean? I could not believe that she was so bitterly offended by my actions in the Subway; she was too intelligent for that. Yet if she distrusted me, disliked me, how could I help her?
“My remark,” I said, “was prompted wholly by politeness. The truth is, Miss Demerest, that I consider those kisses generous payment for any inconveniences of my interesting journey here.”
“Well, then,” she said coldly, “you have made your trade and the slate is clean. And do not trouble to be polite with me, Mr. Kirkham. Just be yourself. You are much more amusing.”
This guy’s got his work cut out for him here. But it gets better. His rival for Eve’s affections is none other than Satan himself.
This is gonna be good!