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Excerpt from The Parting Glass by Gina Marie Guadagnino, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Parting Glass

by Gina Marie Guadagnino

The Parting Glass by Gina Marie Guadagnino X
The Parting Glass by Gina Marie Guadagnino
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2019, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2020, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
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Print Excerpt

The Parting Glass

In some families, there are secrets on which the welfare, and perhaps the very existence of the persons concerned may depend.

—The Duties of a Lady's Maid

WASHINGTON SQUARE, 1837

It was Thursday again, and once more I was courting misery with both arms open wide.

"Thank you, Ballard, that will do," Miss Charlotte Walden said, and, bobbing a curtsy, I showed myself quickly from the room. The heavy oak door shut solidly, with a soft click following as the lock was engaged. The Argand lamps threw but dim illumination along the heavy carpet lining the hall, casting flickering shadows amongst the birds and flowers woven there. I made my way along the muffled corridor to the door that led into the servants' stair. On the landing was the door to my own narrow chamber. I pressed myself to this barrier, one ear flat against the wood. Through the door, I could only just make out the muffled scrape of the window opening in the room beyond. It was all so faint, in the faded light on the landing, almost dreamlike. I let my forehead rest against the door, my eyes closed. I strained for the sound of the bed, imagining its creak coming through the door as a whisper once, twice, again.

Quick footfalls broke my reverie, and I lurched from the door as Mrs. Harrison came up the stair. I froze, my ears still straining, but the heavy oak was my mistress's shield. One hand went up involuntarily to see my hair was straight, and I nodded to the imposing housekeeper.

"Miss Ballard. Is it not your night off?"

"Yes, Mrs. Harrison, mum."

"Is Miss Walden abed and all your duties discharged?" she asked, her face placid, her tone bland.

"Indeed they are, Mrs. Harrison."

"Then I see no cause for you to linger when you might very well go."

"Yes, thank you, mum."

Beneath Mrs. Harrison's critical eye, I hurried down the back stairs to the kitchen. I stopped on the landing to arrange my face into a mask of tranquillity before I faced Cook.

"Night off, Miss Ballard?" the big woman asked, as though she didn't already know the answer.

"Yes, Mrs. Freedman, mum."

"Bit of a snack for you then, child." She gestured at a small parcel with the knife she held. "Right then, off with you." Mrs. Freedman, brusque with everyone, always took the time to show me kindness in her own harsh way. She was under no obligation to feed me extra on my night off, but she often did it anyway, suspicious in that chronic way of cooks that I was not adequately fed unless she was doing the feeding. "All skin and bones, that one," I heard her mutter as she returned to her chopping. "See you bundle well, child," she said, raising her voice again. "It's turned snowy again."

I huddled into my wool mantle, tying my bonnet firmly under my chin. No mitts or gloves had I, but only Charlotte Walden's muff from four seasons ago, the fur patchy and worn near to the skin. Thus attired, I nodded farewell to Cook and slipped out the kitchen door. I made my way down the snowy cobbles to the gate at the end of the mews, should anyone be watching from the windows, then doubled back along the other side of the block and ducked inside the street door to our own carriage house. The horses nickered softly, cold air gusting down the row of stalls from the open door. Moonlight and streetlamps lit my way across the flagstones to the Waldens' coach, black and hulking. The door stuck a little as I opened it and crawled in to sit on the floor. I breathed in deeply the smells of the carriage house: sweet hay and oat mash, worn leather, brass polish, and the musky scent of horse. Such aromas as had clung to my father. I opened Cook's parcel to nibble at my portion of bread and cheese, listening to the wind rattle the shutters. Licking my fingers, brushing the crumbs from my skirt, I settled in to wait.

Excerpted from The Parting Glass by Gina Marie Guadagnino. Copyright © 2019 by Gina Marie Guadagnino. Excerpted by permission of Atria Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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