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Cherubs and Monsters
The presence of an infant in any gathering offers all the substance for conversation one might require. In some instances, the child's behaviour might occasion a desire to leave the room, but it will still provide something to discuss, even if it is only the infant's volume of squalling. In other circumstances, the conversation might turn to which parent the child most resembles.
In the case of Jane's new nephew, their current visitor, Herr Scholes, appeared content to make faces at the infant upon his knee. The celebrated glamourist widened his eyes, rounded his mouth into a circle, and made the most ridiculous noise. The whole of his expression was at odds with his reputation as one of the great glamourists of the ages.
Young Tom giggled in response and waved his plump fists. Even under a lace cap, the richness of the infant's red curls was apparent.
"Oh, what a Rotschopf you are. Like one of Rubens's Cherubinen, eh?"
At that, Tom's gaze drifted from the elderly glamourist's face, as if he were watching something that attracted him. Every infant Jane had known stared as Tom did, seeming to fix upon random patterns in the air. Yet, if one switched one's vision to the ether, the object of the infant's fascination would be clear. Loose strands of natural glamour floated in front of Tom.
Jane glanced across the room to where her husband, Sir David Vincent, sat by the window, with a faint smile warming his features as he watched Herr Scholes play with their nephew. During the four months they had been in residence in Vienna, Vincent had taken the opportunity to refresh his acquaintance with his old mentor, Herr Scholes. Their time in the city had led to a softening in Vincent, who seemed to have shed layers of disquiet. His blue coat of superfine hung to advantage on his broad shoulders. Once the strong line of Vincent's jaw had seemed incapable of anything more than disdain. Now, he was captivated with Tom to the point of offering to watch the boy while Jane's sister and her husband made calls. Truly, Jane thought that Vincent might even be pleased that Tom's nanny had been taken with an ague.
"There." Vincent sat forward as Tom snatched at the empty air in front of Herr Scholes. "He is reaching for the glamour."
"Love, he simply has not yet learned to distinguish between the corporeal world and the ether."
"But he is forward for his age, is he not? To reach at only two months?"
Jane laughed at her husband. "Melody was reaching for glamour threads at least this young. Likely sooner, though it is hard to tell before they begin to acquire some coordination."
Herr Scholes wrinkled his nose at the little boy. "Lady Vincent, would you be so kind as to indulge us both with a little glamour? My hands are rather full."
When Jane had first met Herr Scholes, she had been too intimidated by his reputation to perform glamour in front of him without a great deal of persuasion. But he had been so generous with his attention that Jane soon lost her fear. Seeing him make faces at Melody's baby only endeared him to her further.
She let her gaze shift to view the ether and pulled forth a fold of glamour, twisting the ray of light into a simple red ball, which she bounced between her hands. It took so little effort that her heart barely sped at all. Tom's gaze followed the arc of the ball with lively curiosity. Jane bent the strands that created the illusory ball so that it came closer to the infant. He snatched at it as it swung by, frowning as his hand passed through it.
"Very good, my little man." Herr Scholes nodded with mock seriousness. "Now. Will you keep the ball moving, but alter the threads so that it is not in the visible spectrum? Let us see if he reaches for it then."
"Give me but a moment..." Jane let her own vision shift from the corporeal world into the second sight of the ether and loosened the strings of light that made up the red ball. She let them slacken into nether-red, the area of the spectrum below visible sight. In her own second sight, the strands of glamour glowed. They stretched out of the ether, wrapped around her hand and twisted into the shape of a ball. Her view of the corporeal world was little more than a dim, grey perception of the room.
Still, she could see Tom clearly enough to know that he, too, watched a ball that was no longer visible to normal sight.
"Ha!" Vincent clapped his hand upon his knee. "Surely this is exceptional."
"Yes. Yes. He is exceptional." She could not help but laugh at her husband.
"When he starts folding glamour, then we may call him exceptional. Until then, he is merely interested." Herr Scholes crossed his eyes for the boy. "And adorable! To give you better understanding, my daughter's second child was working glamour the week before he was delivered."
"Surely not." Jane was so astonished that her vision snapped back to the corporeal plane. "That cannot have been safe for the mother or child."
"And how do you tell a baby to stop working glamour? Hm? It never lasted long enough to be a concern, but was quite astonishing." He winked at Jane. "I should not be surprised if you experienced a similar spectacle some day."
Vincent cleared his throat. "Are you sure it was not a prank? Recall M. Chastain's flood?"
"Oh, that was clever. But no. This is a genuine, though rare, event. Your pranks, on the other hand, were far from rare."
It was unnecessary, but Jane was nevertheless grateful for Vincent's consideration. Her miscarriage was far enough in the past that remembrances of their childless state did not provoke the sharp pain it once had. Her nephew did much to soothe her, as did the reminder that with infants came a long list of messes that were kept in check by only the presence of a nanny. Still, it was awkward that everyone expected her and Vincent to have children by now. Three years they had been married, while Melody and Alastar had been wed little more than a year and had Tom to show for their time.
Jane let the glamour she was holding unravel back into the ether. "Did you say pranks? You must imagine my curiosity at my husband's exploits. Pray, do not keep me in suspense."
Herr Scholes gave a little chuckle. "Oh ho! Well should you pray. Your husband is one of the most devilish-"
Again, Vincent cleared his throat. "I suspect I shall regret this topic."
"I was only going to tell Lady Vincent about the fishpond."
"Ah-Um." Vincent's blush was most becoming.
Jane asked, all innocence, "Fishpond?"
Her husband shifted in his seat and rubbed his brown curls into an even more riotous mess. "I may have been caught while attempting a bit of subterfuge."
"Three times! I thought he would never learn. I had only three rules, and one of them was that my pupils must be in the house by midnight."
"You said it was so that your housekeeper did not need to wait up to let us in. I did not make her wait, did I?"
"Only because you were opening a window and stealing out of it. He left a ladder by the window, Lady Vincent, masked by a glamural, so he could come and go at his leisure. And I do need to give him credit: it was a very pretty illusion. This was before he had developed the Sphère Obscurcie, so he had needed to weave a glamural with all the details of the view that would have been visible if the ladder had not been present."
"It was not terribly complicated, being against a stucco wall."
"If it had not been so nicely done, I would have noticed it sooner. Now, the window was not so high, but there was a small ornamental fishpond next to the house, and he used the ladder to span it. The first time, I simply removed the ladder."
"I was practised at slipping out, so I slid my legs out the window, trusting the ladder was there, lost my balance, and landed in the pond."
"Woke the house with his swearing!"
"It was cold."
"You were embarrassed, and the anger came from that."
Vincent rubbed the back of his neck and gave a dry grimace. "Shall I hold Tom for you? Perhaps he needs changing." Her usually gruff husband appeared to be an embarrassed schoolboy. Given his height and the breadth of his shoulders, it was an incongruous expression, rather like one might expect from a chagrined bear. He adjusted the cuffs of his coat, a blush still high on his cheeks.
"Tom is perfectly content where he is." The glamourist tapped the infant's nose with his forefinger. "Are you not, my boy?"
Tom gurgled with delight, offering no escape for Vincent.
"The second time, he lifted part of the glamour that was masking the ladder and looked before stepping out. But..."
With a pained chuckle, Vincent took up the next section. "But he had placed a second glamour beneath the first to show a ladder there. It was not. Mind you, the illusion was brilliant. The support structure was woven so that it looked like drifting bits of natural glamour. We had not yet begun to study Wohlreich's treatise on opticks and the possible uses of poorfire threads as anchor points in glamurals. I had not known the etymology of poorfire until then, and find it quite fascinating. Did you know it was a corruption of 'porphyry,' after rocks the color of the shellfish blood that the ancient Greeks used to dye their gowns purple?"
"Oddly, I did. It was mentioned in A Girl's Primer on Glamour."
"Ah. The benefits of being encouraged to study the womanly arts. My own education was somewhat more autodidactic, until Herr Scholes."
"My dear ... I believe that you are using a discussion of craft to change the subject."
"And you will not let me?"
"Did you land in the pond again?"
"With as much swearing as before!" Herr Scholes laughed.
"Although not for the same reasons this time. Cold and wet, yes, but I was more angry that I had been tricked by glamour. It was an affront that my dignity disliked more than the dousing."
"And yet, that did not stop you from attempting to slip out again." Herr Scholes lifted a finger into the air. "The third time, he had hidden the ladder in his room, to safeguard against its removal."
"So I made it out the window and across the pond, thinking myself in the clear. Until my teacher threw a basin of water on me." Vincent shook his head, laughing now at the memory. "How did you know that I would be stepping out that particular night? I have never been able to satisfy myself as to that. It was weeks after the other attempts."
Herr Scholes winked. "I did not know. I was not there, in fact."
"But-but, I saw you. And let us not forget the basin of water." Vincent tilted his head, staring at the older man in disbelief. "Glamour? No-no, I was unequivocally wet, because I remember dripping on the floor and hanging my clothes to dry afterwards."
"A string stretched across the path emptied the basin. I heard the swearing-again. It awakened the household, and gave me time to step into an inverted Cruikshank's weave that I had woven earlier on my balcony. I then had a clear line of sight to your path. Had you crept out during the day, I would never have been able to get away with it, because the image does not have the detail to be plausible in daylight. But in the dark, to an angry young man, it no doubt looked very much like I was standing on the path."
Vincent's gaze went a little distant, as though he were looking into the ether or into memory. "Oh. That was beautifully done. And you did not speak, then. Simply pointed back to the house. When I had changed out of my wet things and you were waiting at my door, I thought you had followed me. Truly artful. I am embarrassed anew that I did not sort that out."
"I am pleased to see that being embarrassed no longer makes you angry."
Jane asked, "But why were you stealing out?"
Vincent's smile slipped a fraction. In the hesitation, she saw him consider avoiding the question. Then he gave a little shrug. "This was not long after I arrived. I had been free of my father's influence for just over a year and had trouble sleeping." For a moment the memory of his father's abuse haunted his face, then he cleared his expression, as if from habit. "Walks helped clear my head. That night, Herr Scholes advised me to use glamour as a release. It has proved to be more efficacious."
"I will tell you now, my intention that night had been to expel you. I thought you were off visiting a maid, and if you had dissembled in the slightest, I would have carried through with that intention, though it would have broken my heart." He shifted Tom to his other arm. "I had given you three chances only because I was not prepared to let go of my best pupil."
"You had better pupils. I was merely-"
"Mr. Vincent!" Herr Scholes glared at Jane's husband. She shrank back in her chair herself, even though his look was not turned upon her. "What have I told you, repeatedly, about undervaluing your work?"
The abashed look returned, and Jane could imagine her husband as a pupil of one and twenty. He knit his hands together, ducking his head. "I must not undervalue my work simply because I enjoy it. A working artist understands his worth and lives by it."
"Good. Though I suppose I should apologise for speaking to you as a pupil. I am still unused to calling you Sir David."
"To be honest, I would prefer to be Mr. Vincent still, but one does not say no when the Prince Regent wishes to confer a knighthood."
The door swept open, and Jane's sister entered with a smile. From the hall behind her, an unmistakable bustle announced that the rest of Jane's family had arrived back from their excursion. Melody spied their guest and gave a squeal of delight. "Herr Scholes! What a pleasure. Will you stay for dinner? Do say you will. And have they made you hold Tom!" Melody had retained a pleasing plumpness to her figure after the birth of Tom, though that was hardly surprising given the rich food in Vienna. Jane's own clothes were growing tight from the abundance ofknödel and strudel. Not that a little bit of plumpness would do anything to balance her overlong nose, but it might soften her sharp chin. On Melody, the fullness gave her a merry cheer that supported her already sunny disposition.
Herr Scholes relinquished Tom with a sigh. "Mrs. O'Brien. It is a pleasure to spend time with your son. My grandchildren are all too old to have much time for me."
Entering behind Melody, Alastar O'Brien crossed to shake the glamourist's hand. "It is very good of you, nevertheless. And allow me to repeat the invitation to dine. Cook has promised Erdäpfelknödel for dinner."
"Thank you. I accept."
The next few moments were occupied with a procession of parental figures as Jane's parents and Mr. O'Brien's joined the merry gathering. Mrs. Ellsworth repeated the invitation to dinner and continued to press Herr Scholes to stay, as though he had not given his assent several times already. The conversation turned back to the health of Tom and the pleasures of having an infant in the house, though this latter became more dubious as the young man began to add his own contribution to the volume of noise.
While they were attempting to quiet the boy, Alastar escaped the small circle and went to Vincent. "There are some letters for you."
"Ah. Thank you." He took the small packet, clearly grateful for an excuse to avoid the bustle, and sat with them by the window for better light.
Herr Scholes smacked his forehead with the flat of his palm. "Letters! I was so taken with young Master O'Brien that I forgot I had a reason for calling. Have you given thought to what you will do when you return to England?"
Jane shook her head. "I am afraid not. We had originally thought to seek some new commissions, but with the state of the nation presently..."
"Princess Charlotte." Melody sighed in commiseration, making those necessary arrangements to attend to her son. "Such a tragedy."
The Prince Regent's daughter had died birthing her stillborn son the previous November, though news travelled so slowly that Jane and her family had not received word until recently. With all the resources the royal family had, and with excellent medical care, it did not seem possible that Princess Charlotte should come to such an end. Yet women died of childbirth so often, it should not have surprised Jane that even a member of the royal family could be felled.
The entire nation was in mourning. For the year after the death, the streets of London would be lined with crape-covered windows. Ladies would dye their wardrobes black, and gentlemen would wear a band of black upon their sleeve. Glamourists would be briefly employed to strip homes of glamour for the duration of the mourning period.
It was such a desolate tradition. When Christ had risen after the third day, he had let the disciples stick their fingers in his wounds, saying, "Let there be no illusions here." So, while in mourning, a house stood bare to the eye to remind the inhabitants of the one who was lost. Even here in Vienna, Jane and Vincent had pulled the glamour from the house as a gesture of respect for the death of the Prince Regent's heir and her son. As bare as a house in mourning ... which meant that there would be little work for glamourists in Britain in general and none at all for the Prince Regent's glamourist.
Herr Scholes cleared his throat. "Well, I had a letter from one of my pupils, who is starting a school for girls in London and has asked me to help her find glamourist teachers. She is one of Sir David's former pupils, so I naturally thought to ask if you and he might be interested."
"Possibly." It would be very agreeable to remain in one place for a while. Their tour of the continent had been extended rather longer than they had originally planned. Jane turned to get Vincent's opinion, more than a little surprised that he had not expressed some curiosity about the project.
He sat in the window in a state of shock, though not at Herr Scholes's news. His face was a blank mask, breath held, as he stared at one of the letters that Mr. O'Brien had brought in. From Jane's seat, she could make out a black border on the edge of the paper. That, with his rigid expression, could only mean that he had received word of a death.
"Hm?" He shook himself and looked up. "Forgive me. I was not quite listening. What were you saying?"
Melody, who was less acquainted with his moods, said, "Herr Scholes has a possible situation for you."
"That is very kind." He looked down at the letter again, folding it so the border no longer showed.
"It is a school for glamourists. In London! Is that not grand?"
"Speaking of learning glamour ... Herr Scholes, would you tell my sister about your grandson's first use of the art?" Jane tried to draw the group's attention away from Vincent. He was clearly discomfited-or, rather, it was clear to Jane that he was distressed. To another, he might appear merely distant or unconcerned. His agitation was marked by a layer of excessive calm spoilt only by a faint tremor in his hand as he turned the folded letter over and over.
He made a show of listening to Melody and Herr Scholes compare notes about infant glamour, but his gaze stared through them as if he were watching the ether. Jane tried to think of some errand that could offer her an excuse to take Vincent out of the room and find out what news he had received. She now rather wished they had not invited Herr Scholes to stay for dinner.
Before she could think of a ruse, Vincent stood and crossed the room to Jane. He leaned down, handing her the letter, and whispered, "My father is dead."
Copyright © 2015 by Mary Robinette Kowal