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A Talking Ancestral Portrait

30 Dec

The following is a scene I removed from a dark fantasy novel, The Vanquished and the Surviving, because it’s not necessary for the plot, and because I’m currently cutting down the word count in order to increase my chances of getting accepted by an agent and a publisher. The novel is set in a slightly different Regency England, one with a lot of ghosts and demons.

*

After dinner, Vincent wandered about the house, with the two cats following him. The galleries and hallways seemed to echo with the absence of Nathaniel. Passing down a corridor and admiring ancestral paintings suspended from chains on either wall, Vincent didn’t dare visit Nathaniel’s bedroom or laboratory. He stopped in front of the paneled door and imagined the laboratory unused, looking as it did last time Nathaniel used it, with glass tubes, bottles, and vials, and the mysterious jars of whatever Nathaniel collected for his experiments. Vincent imagined glass beakers full of blue and purple fluid…and the fluid suddenly bubbling, coming to life, as though an invisible Nathaniel were experimenting and inventing.

Vincent inhaled as he backed slowly from the door. He yawned and knew he should retire for the night. One of the cats rubbed its cheek against the door frame, and the other rubbed against Vincent’s trouser leg.

Entering a long gallery lined with portraits of ancestors, Vincent yawned so fiercely that his eyes watered. He picked up his pace and headed toward his bedroom, when the cats both arched their backs and ran down the hallway. Vincent thought he saw someone moving to his right. He turned to look directly at his companion…and found himself peering up at the portrait of his maternal great-grandfather. He blinked and stared at the portrait.

Great-grandfather Augustus wore, Vincent surmised, the latest fashions in the 1780s. His black hair was curled and only lightly powdered. He wore an extraordinary embroidered, green silk suit with knee breeches and gold-buckled shoes. The old fellow was quite a dandy in his time. The portrait blinked.

Vincent stepped a little closer to gaze at his ancestor. “Ah, forgive me for staring. Great-grandfather, I presume?”

The portrait was life-size. Great-grandfather Augustus grasped the bottom edge of the ornate gold frame and leaned forward. The cats hissed and ran away. Augustus lifted his heretofore hidden lower limbs over the frame and stepped out onto the wood floor. He grasped his hands behind his back and bowed. “Yes, I’m your grandfather, on your mother’s side of the family.”

Vincent bowed in return, more deeply. “Oh, yes, that’s right. I suppose I should have known that without your telling me, but you see my other great-grandfather is also in this gallery.” Vincent glanced at other portraits, but when his venerable ancestor began speaking again, he focused his attention on the ghost.

Great-grandfather looked somewhat translucent. “You can’t have known me well. Nathaniel was the elder boy—if he were here, he would remember me.”

Vincent sighed. “Please forgive me. Regrettably, I’ve forgotten.”

“No matter, dear child. You were only two twelvemonths old when we met. I can’t expect you to recall it.”

“If memories fade so easily in the short time I have lived, what must it be like if one lives a hundred years?”

“La, more than a hundred, dear boy! What must it be like if one has been a ghost for quite some time?”