As Branwell didn’t immediately answer, Una asked him, “Do you feel weakened, my dear?”
“I… I think I may benefit from some fresh air,” Branwell stammered.
Lucien looked at him scornfully. Una tossed her head and gave Lucien a sly smirk. Clearly this was the wrong answer.
“Weakened!” exclaimed Branwell with a disdainful laugh. He crossed the room in two steps, and clasped Una in a powerful embrace. He surprised himself — he was frequently so bashful with women that his suppressed admiration erupted in abstruse and angry words — but he did not surprise Una, who was accustomed to her master’s arbitrary moods. Lucien politely turned his back and tiptoed to the bureau, where he poured out three fresh glasses of Champagne.
Within minutes, Branwell found himself hustled into his own waiting carriage, and rolling rapidly through the glittering streets of Glass Town. In a few minutes more, he was secreted in an elegantly-appointed gentleman’s chamber, and a valet was combing perfumed oil into his moustaches and lacing him into a lavish Italian costume, for he was destined to appear at that night’s masquerade as Don Giovanni.
He said barely a word, and all was done for him. He accepted several glasses of port, and a warm glow suffused his mind. He felt handsome, self-willed, lustful, invincible. He was the Duke of Zamorna.
Zamorna ducked under the low scarred beam that crowned the doorway of the Black Bull Inn, and stepped down into an ill-lit and sooty room. A greasy barman stood in his stall, and Zamorna approached him, one hand in his pocket, where he felt a few small coins.
“Mr. Bronte, sir,” said the barman. “Can I be of assistance?”
“A glass of your best ale, my good man!”
Zamorna became aware of a stirring and murmuring around him. Apparently his entrance had created a sensation among the denizens of the public house.
As the barman pulled his draught, a young man approached Zamorna, whispering urgently, “Branwell, what are you doing here?”
“I am irrigating my parched palate, dear sir! Priming my sunken spirits! Whetting my flinty mood! And quaffing your health, mayhap?”
The young man laughed. “Very well, then, barkeep, another tankard!”
The two drinkers toasted one another, and sank into a familiar conversation. Zamorna discerned that wherever he was, or whoever he was supposed to be, this was a friend.
And so he asked, “Do you believe that people can move from one plane of reality to another?”
“Branwell, don’t you remember? You asked me that same question yesterday while we were walking on the moor. We discussed it quite at length, and you, I am quite sure, concluded that all reality exists merely as a subjectivity, and the truly powerful, truly masterful mind has the ability to control it.”
Strangely enough, Zamorna did recall a jesting conversation with Lucian along those lines, near dawn following a long night of revelry, as they sat before the fire consuming a collation of sherry, champagne, and quail with truffles.
“Yes… indeed I did… but I ponder it still.”
Zamorna never questioned the circumstance that everyone in the tavern seemed anxious to please him, laughingly eager to buy the next round. It was the manner in which he was treated among his soldiers, and he was accustomed to it. Little he suspected the coarse amusement derived by the villagers in aiding the debauchery of the son of their stern parson, whom they feared more than loved.
The more Zamorna drank, the less he worried about his strange position. Soothingly, if foundlessly, the idea instilled itself in his head that when he awoke in the morning, he would be back in his own downy couch at Wellesley House, Glass Town. Doubtless it was all a strange dream.
At length the drinkers would feign go home, and the inn emptied. Zamorna and his new boon companion, whose name, it appeared, was Luke, set off arm-in-arm up the steep cobbled road, roaring out an old battle song. Zamorna surmised that Luke belonged to the big, dark house from whence he himself had issued earlier in the evening.
Luke opened the house door with a latchkey and held it for Zamorna to enter, and then disappeared into the shadows, to sleep, it seemed, in some one of the outbuildings.
Zamorna entered a downstairs parlor where a single candle was burning. A woman sat quietly beside it, hands resting along the arms of an old carved chair. It was one of the sisters, the one with the searching gray eyes and mobile, skeptical mouth. She met his bleary glance with love, with reproach, with an uncanny knowingness and a deep, unsettled sorrow.