Lady Dorothy Townshend, born Dorothy Walpole, died of smallpox in the spring of 1726, at the age of thirty-nine, a century before the invention of the doorbell. Imagine a world without doorbells.
Lady Dorothy Townshend began her living captivity in the spring of 1726—a persistently wet spring, as cold as you would expect for Norfolk, though she would feel only cold, not wet. Lady Dorothy Townshend began her living captivity, at the age of thirty-nine, in the interior rooms of her husband’s family home, a bright and rambling country manor built in the Italian style, his preferred residence. Lady Dorothy Townshend’s husband had chosen her, his second wife, for her patience.
Lady Dorothy Townshend’s husband had chosen her from behind a mask. It was the style in England then—masquerades in stark candlelight. Do you like what you see? she had asked him. Perhaps it was after midnight, mask lifted. He liked the question, and he made a point of seeing what he liked. She accepted her good fortune, to have been noticed by a Townshend, a Viscount, an important family with an important house. After all, she was twenty-five. It was time.
He called her Doe for the shape of her eyes, how easily he could make Doe jump. He called himself Turnip.
Turnip Townshend possessed a deep and abiding passion for the cultivation of turnips. He is remembered for his temper and for his affinity for turnips. Turnips for breakfast, turnips for dinner. What do we owe Turnip? Turnip did not invent turnips, but he did refine them.
Lady Dorothy Townshend is descending the foyer staircase. She does not look well. Her skin is rusted. Her skin is pulled gauze. No one has called her Doe in years. Turnips for breakfast, turnips for dinner—she stopped eating, when? She can recall the taste of blackberries, a mouth stuffed with blackberries and turnips. Where does the time go?
Lady Dorothy Townshend’s husband threw extravagant, weeks-long hunting parties, featuring twenty-course breakfasts with eggs eight ways, payn perdu, kidneys, neck of venison swimming in turnip sauce. She’ll always be with you, the hunters assured Turnip, and of course she was with him. He knew where to find her. He knew where he kept her. When was the last time Turnip danced with his wife? 1738, perhaps, the year he died, twelve years into Lady Dorothy Townshend’s captivity. She’ll always be with you, the hunters had assured him, but they were wrong—Turnip Townshend died in 1738 but Lady Dorothy Townshend is descending the stairs.
Lady Dorothy Townshend is descending the stairs; her skin is gauze, her skin is used light. She cannot see. Where did Turnip hide her watchful brown eyes, how did he store her patient beauty? And what has he done to her hands?
Lady Dorothy Townshend’s husband built his manor to be a family home. She bore him seven children. Children remember their mother, her scent of rose water, brandy, vinegar, but how quickly the children stopped asking for her, stopped using the word “mother.” A mother always knows.
Lady Dorothy Townshend never heard the chime of a doorbell while she lived, but she has known its resounding call in the centuries since. Turnip’s manor continues to be a family home, an important home, a home available for weddings and parties. Has she grown accustomed to the ringing, like a timer going off? Someone is here. Someone is here to see me. Is she resigned to her white-hot fury?
Lady Dorothy Townshend is descending the stairs, stairs available for weddings and parties, her shape imprinted on the door. When did she give up on escape? She was a lady—a wife, a daughter, a sister—a lady never need open a door. Patience is power, her mother had taught her. To be a lady is to be patient.
Christmas, 1835, a man chewing cloves at the top of the stairs. She meets him there, a body of cloves, and she holds his candle to her blackberry mouth. She has been patient. Do you like what you see? She smells the raw earth of him. This is new.
He tells the others over tea in the breakfast room: empty eye sockets, like looking upon the desert. He does not mention the smell of sour brandy, the festering rose that inhabits his nostrils.
How exhausting, a young lady in the party sighs, but she does not elaborate.
There’s a photograph of the grand staircase, for Country Life magazine, that you will recognize. The photo was intended to be a showcase for the house, a family home, a home available for weddings and parties. There goes the doorbell, like a timer out of time. Technology offers such pleasures! The men at the door ask for her, they must be asking for her, but they do not use her name. Someone is here. Lady Dorothy Townshend is descending the stairs, poised in her satin dressing gown, gossamer veil, poised as a rose without arms, browning in her white-hot fury, looking at a boy behind a camera look right through her. The flash bulb bursts and the film picks her up, The Lady of the House. Such pleasures. She likes what she sees, what they cannot help but see—the round of their eyes, her rictus mouth.
The doorbell rings and Lady Dorothy Townshend is descending the stairs. She can feel how much you want a wife, how much you want your mother, and the Brown Lady is descending to give you what you want. Do you like what you see?
Beyond the front door, a short avenue of limes runs away from the estate to a pond glazed in green. The marble hall enjoys pleasant sunlight in the afternoon and is perfect for weddings. If you like what you see, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for inquiries.
Powered by Froala Editor
Powered by Froala Editor