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Michael Cox

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MICHAEL COX

THE GLASS OF TIME

The Secret Life of Miss Esperanza Gorst

NARRATED BY HERSELF

W. W. Norton & Company

NEW YORK / LONDON

Copyright © 2008 by Michael Cox

All rights reserved

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.,
500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110

Production manager: Anna Oler

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Cox, Michael, 1948–
The glass of time: the secret life of Miss Esperanza Gorst /
narrated by Herself
Michael Cox.—1st ed.
p. cm.
ISBN: 978-0-393-07069-9
1. Great Britain—History—Victoria, 1837–1901—Fiction.
2. Identity (Psychology)—Fiction.
3. Lady’s maids—Fiction.
4. Secrets—Fiction. 5. Psychological fiction. I. Title.
PR6103.O976G55 2008
823'.92—dc22 2008023909

W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
500 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10110
[http://www.wwnorton.com] www.wwnorton.com

W. W. Norton & Company Ltd.
Castle House, 75/76 Wells Street, London W1T 3QT

For Dizzy–again

Dedicated also to the Memory of
Pat Riccioni
Melissa Allen
Chris Davenport

For Truth is like a lone bird singing,

On the edge of day and night—

The unseen herald, ever bringing

Certainty of Light.

P. VERNEY DUPORT
FROM
Merlin and Nimue
PRIVATELY PRINTED (1876), CANTO III

CONTENTS

Note on the Text
ACT ONE /
A House of Secrets
Prologue: My Lady and Her Sons
1. In My Lady’s Chamber
2. In Which a Friend is Made
3. The First Day Ends
4. Nightmares and Memories
5. A Walk with Mr Randolph
6. In Which Madame’s First Letter is Opened
7. In Memoriam P.R.D.
ACT TWO /
Secret Stirrings
8. Professor Slake is Buried
9. In Which Madame’s Second Letter is Opened
10. Dark House Lane
11. An Announcement in
The Times
12. Mrs Prout Remembers
13. In the House of Death
14. A Gift from Mr Thornhaugh
ACT THREE /
The Past Awakens
15. The Resurrection of Edwin Gorst
16. Miss Blantyre Meets Her Fate
17. In Which Lady Tansor Opens Her Heart
18. Thirty at Table, and What Followed
19. A Voice from the Past
20. In Which Mr Vyse Bares His Teeth
21. A Child is Born
22. In Which Madame’s Third Letter is Opened
ACT FOUR /
Duty and Desire
23. At North Lodge
24. Snow and Secrets
25. A Lingering Scent of Violets
26. The Old Man of Billiter Street
27. The Temptation of Mr Perseus
28. To the South
29. An Italian Spring
ACT FIVE /
Time’s Revenge
30. Mr Barley’s Black Box
31. A Fatal Correspondence
32. The Consequences of a Lie
33. In Which Certain Truths are Faced at Last
34. Retribution
35. The Last Sunrise
36. Aftermath
37. Inheritance
38. Envoi
Acknowledgements

NOTE ON THE TEXT

The manuscript of ‘The Glass of Time’ is held in the Houghton Library at Harvard. Although, like the supposedly confessional text published by the present editor in 2006 as
The Meaning of Night
, it purports to be a record of actual events connected with the ancient, and now defunct, Duport family, of Evenwood in Northamptonshire, it is firmly novelistic in character and should be read first and foremost as a work of fiction, or at least as highly fictionalized autobiography.
Consisting of 647 unlined folios of foolscap, tied with a faded black silk ribbon, the manuscript was first catalogued in 1936 as part of the private library of J. Gardner Friedmann of New York, who purchased it on a trip to London in May 1924. After Friedmann’s death in 1948, it found its way to Harvard, along with the rest of his extensive collection of nineteenth-century fiction.
As with its related literary predecessor,
The Meaning of Night
, I have supplied explanatory footnotes, where I have felt them to be necessary or helpful to the modern reader, and have silently amended a number of mechanical errors and inconsistencies.
J.J. ANTROBUS
Professor of Post-Authentic Victorian Fiction
University of Cambridge

ACT ONE

A HOUSE OF SECRETS

We twayne are one too many (quoth I) for men saie, Three maie keepe a counsell, if two be awaie.

JOHN HEYWOOD,
Dialogue of Proverbs
(1546)

PROLOGUE

My Lady and Her Sons

Observed by Miss Gorst, 8th November 1876

I
The View from the Gallery

I
WISH YOU,
first of all, to imagine that you are standing beside me, peeping over the rail of an arched and curtained gallery, set – like the stage of some aerial theatre – high above a long and imposing room.
From our vantage point, if we push our noses out just a very little way through the narrow gap in the curtains, we may see down to where the assembled company of fine ladies and gentlemen are sitting at table. The thick velvet curtains smell of time and dust, but do not mind them. We shall not be here long.
The room below us, decorated in crimson and gold, is richly furnished and, although grandly proportioned, deliciously warm, even on this chill November evening, from the heat thrown out from blazing piles of pine logs in the two great stone fire-places.
On every wall there are mirrors in gilded frames that give back endless reflections as you pass them. Above us, spanning the whole space, soars a panelled ceiling, curved like a barrel, on which – although you must take my word for it, being now lost to sight in shadow – are painted scenes depicting the marriage of Heracles and Hebe. (I had this information from Mr Pocock, the butler, and, as is my habit, wishing always to improve myself and extend my knowledge, wrote it down as soon as I could in one of the note-books I keep constantly about me.)
The fourteen persons at dinner tonight have come together to pay tribute to Lord Edward Duport, a Government man who lost a finger on this day in November 1605, during the attack on Holbeche House, to where several of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators had fled.
Just below us, on our left, is lumpish Miss Fanny Bristow, stupid but harmless; next to her sits Mr Maurice FitzMaurice, the proud new owner of the Red House at Ashby St John, who thinks he is such a fine fellow, though all the world knows better. (By the look on his face, he appears to have taken it very ill that he has been obliged to sit out his dinner in Miss Bristow’s simpering company. It serves him right, I say, for thinking so well of himself.)
Directly opposite is Sir Lionel Voysey, of Thorpe Laxton Hall, with his absurd wife, ugly and coarse; on her right you may see the smirking face of Dr Pordage, who always touches me slyly on the hand with a damp finger when I see him to the door, as if this betokened some secret understanding between us, which it most assuredly does
not
.
The Rector, Mr Thripp, and his captious wife, are sitting next to the doctor, in strained silence as usual. I believe Mrs Thripp harbours some deep and perpetual resentment against her husband, though what it is I cannot say. The remaining guests we can pass over, being of no consequence to my story.
We now come to the three members of this evening’s party in which I – and you – have a particular interest: the permanent residents of this great house.
First, of course, my Lady – the former Miss Emily Carteret, now the 26th Baroness Tansor.
Look at her. She sits at the head of the board, as a queen ought, in black and shimmering silver silk. Who can deny that she is beautiful still, or that her fifty-two years have been uncommonly kind to her? In the candlelight below us, fluttering shadows play delightfully across her pale skin (she never allows the gas to be lit: candlelight is so much more flattering).
She captivates and charms the men gathered in her Crimson-and-Gold Dining-Room. See how they ogle her when they think no one else is looking! Mr FitzMaurice, Dr Pordage, even red-faced Sir Lionel Voysey (always comically maladroit in her presence): they all fall under her spell like silly boys, and see her only as she wishes to be seen.
Naturally, her famously tragical past – a father murdered, and the great love of her life slain a month before their marriage – only increases her allure. Men, I think, are such fools, at least men such as these. If she has suffered, well, there is suffering enough in the world, and we shall each have our share before we are released.
Yet she has been richly compensated for her suffering, which is by no means the least of her attractions, especially to her bachelor admirers. Beautiful, romantically scarred by tragedy, the possessor of an immense fortune and an ancient title – and now a widow! Charlie Skinner, one of the junior footmen, who is sweet on me, told me that Mr FitzMaurice could hardly credit his good fortune on meeting his fair neighbour for the first time, and that he returned to the Red House in a perfect jitter of excitement. It was soon reported at his club that he had been heard hinting, to anyone who would listen, that his bachelor days were numbered.
Alas for poor deluded Mr Maurice FitzMaurice! He is scarcely alone in his ambitions. She is far too great a prize, perhaps still one of the greatest prizes in England. His rivals are many and distinguished, his own hand as weak as can be; and yet he persists in entertaining the rosiest of hopes, without ever enjoying the least encouragement from the object of his desire.
The truth is that she will never marry again, and certainly not a prize fool like Mr Maurice FitzMaurice. Marriage would bring her no material advantage. Nor will she succumb to Love again, for her heart is shut fast against all further assault from that quarter. No man can ever displace the memory of her first and last love, whose terrible death has been the great affliction of her life, greater even than the murder of her father. Her late husband, Colonel Zaluski, could not do it – that at least is the common opinion. I never met the gentleman; but Sukie Prout (my great friend below stairs) says that the two of them rubbed along well enough, and that the colonel had a smiling, accommodating way about him that made you instantly like him. I must suppose, therefore, that his wife liked him too, and that this was enough for her.
The fruits of this unremarkable union are now sitting on either side of their mother: Mr Perseus Duport, the heir to her title and fortune, on her right hand, his younger brother, Mr Randolph Duport, on her left. But
they
are not at all unremarkable.
Mr Perseus – who has just raised a toast to gallant Lord Edward Duport – will shortly attain his majority, and is very like his mother in appearance: tall, deliberate in movement, watchful in attitude, and with the same fathomless eyes. His hair – as dark as those eyes – is worn long, so that it falls about his shoulders in a consciously romantic way, as befits the poet he aspires to be. He is very proud of his hair, a trait that he also gets from his mother. A most handsome young gentleman, undoubtedly, made more so by a carefully tended black beard, which gives him a dangerously heroic look, exactly like the portrait of the Turkish Corsair that hangs at the foot of the vestibule stairs, and for which, on first seeing it, I thought he must have sat, had it not been painted over twenty years since.
His younger brother, Mr Randolph Duport, is nearly twenty, and is no less striking than his brother, although very differently composed. He is shorter and stockier, stronger in limb, with warm brown eyes (Sukie says they are the spit of his late father’s), a rosy, outdoors colouring, and unruly brown hair. There is not the least resemblance to his mother; nor is there any discernible trace of her temperament in him, which makes people like him far more than Mr Perseus. Unlike his brother, he has none of Lady Tansor’s haughtiness and pride. He is, by contrast, a singularly unaffected and spontaneous soul, appearing to take things as they come, and (so goes the general opinion) hardly ever thinking of consequences, for which I am told he has often felt the sting of his mother’s displeasure. Yet, possessing the uncommon ability to acknowledge his faults, which Mr Perseus appears to lack, he is said never to complain, but promises to apply himself more soberly in the future to the art of properly considering matters.
Perhaps it is being the younger son that makes him so philosophical. Mr Perseus, on whom all his mother’s expectations rest, is ever mindful of his future responsibilities, when he becomes the head of this great family. He takes his privileged position as his mother’s future successor very seriously, to the extent that, following the death of his father, Colonel Zaluski, a year since, he insisted on giving up his studies at the University in order to assist Lady Tansor, who had formerly relied on her husband for such things, in overseeing the running of the estate, and to advise her – as he could – on the many other Duport interests.
Mr Randolph does not appear to resent the accident of his brother’s seniority, or the material benefits that this will bring when at last Mr Perseus comes into his inheritance. He claims that he would be rather alarmed than otherwise if, by some misfortune befalling his elder brother, he were to succeed in his place.
These three persons have become the principal and constant objects of my attention in this house, to which I have been sent for reasons that – at the time of which I am writing – have not been fully revealed to me. Thus I continue to wait, and watch, as I have been instructed to do.

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