The Portrait

by P.G. Glynn

About The Book

This haunting love story across time tells of Joseph Glenny, an artist who long ago lost the love of his life. After mourning her for many years, he is stunned to meet a girl who looks at him with his dead wife’s eyes. Is Jess who she seems – or can it conceivably be that Lara has found her way back to him? As Joseph tries to make sense of his feelings, Jess fights hers – especially after suddenly coming face-to-face with a portrait that takes her breath away.

Get Up To Speed

Jess Delgarne’s father, Benjamin, has left her a legacy which brings her to Cornwall and to events that soon have her questioning her whole belief-system.

When she meets Joseph Glenny she has a strong sense of recognition, as if she already knows him from long ago – although, logically, such knowledge is impossible.

Jess does her best to resist the deep feelings Joseph arouses in her, but even her dreams conspire to make her see that old beliefs need re-examining in the light of all that’s happening.

The Hook

Chapter 8

I was now in a very different environment, surrounded by seascapes and by paintings of St Ives in a variety of moods and climates. Some were of real scenes, some symbolic of an artist’s own interpretations. It was clear that the exhibits had come from a number of artists across an impressive range.

A small collection of pictures, displayed at the far end of the long gallery, attracted me then almost hypnotically.

These, in pastels, were hazy and dreamlike … showing me this whole coast from a perspective I recognised, for it linked into mine. Approaching them in a kind of trance, it was only as I drew closer that I saw a painting, half hidden among the others, that distinguished itself firstly by not being a sea- or landscape: for it was a portrait.

The girl portrayed was looking toward the artist and her sweet oval face with its delicate bone structure had the same haziness as the neighbouring seascapes, giving her an ethereal quality almost as if she lived only in his imagination. I knew that the artist must be a man for no woman could have created this image … unless in love with the sitter. Such love emanated from the picture that I felt almost like a trespasser just by witnessing it. Then I registered something else: something electrifying. Gazing into the girl’s eyes was just like gazing in a mirror into mine.

“Haunting, isn’t she?” said a voice from right beside me. “But then, she would


“How do you mean?” I queried, turning dazedly to see the man I had passed upon entry, seated at his big desk near the door.

Introducing himself now as George Trelawny, the gallery owner, he answered: “The artist painted this portrait of his wife, after she died.”

Christ! I finally noticed the signature in the bottom right-hand corner: Joseph Glenny.

More or less collecting my scattered wits I said: “He never mentioned being an artist.”

“You’ve met him, then?”

“Yes.” I could not bring myself to meet his gaze. For one thing, I was worried that he would look into my eyes and make connections I didn’t want made. For another, my head was whirling again. “Briefly.”

He smiled enigmatically. “That sounds like Joseph. He keeps himself very much to himself … and, specialising in seascapes, this is the only portrait he has ever painted.”

“I’d have thought, given the circumstances in which he painted it, he’d have wanted it on his own wall.”

“I agree – and that’s where it had always hung, until this morning.”

“This morning?” I echoed dully.

“Yes. I probably shouldn’t be divulging this, especially as you know him, but he was in a bit of a fraught state when he brought it in and I’ve been worried about him since.”

“Did he give a reason for bringing it?”

“To a degree. He said that as we’re old friends it was for safekeeping until such time as … as the past has been absorbed into the present. I’ve no idea what he might have meant, but I’ve learned over the years not to question Joseph.”

Chapter 9

Joseph asked me: “Can you even begin to imagine what it has been like, living without you and our child?”

I saw the sadness in his eyes and felt his pain as if it were mine. After a while it began to rain and he led me into a cave embellished with crystals that glistened both above and around us. Instead of hearing the rain as it fell I could hear the song of the sea echoing from the walls. I knew the song from long ago, when Joseph and I were first united, and it triggered tears for all the lost years … also for the child who never saw the light.

“I couldn’t, before, but now I can,” I told him, as he lifted me in his strong arms and kissed the tears from my cheeks. “I’m sorry.”

“What for?”

“For breaking my promise.”

“You didn’t do it intentionally. Tell me you didn’t.”

“It was unintentional. I would never choose to leave you. Surely you always knew that?”

He sighed. “I knew, but the knowledge wasn’t … constant. How could it have been, during the lonely days and even lonelier nights? Oh, my sweetheart, I’m glad it was me, not you, having to endure such depths of loneliness!”

“You endured the unendurable,” I agreed, smiling at him through my tears, “but now the long wait is over, so we must both just be happy, mustn’t we?”

Joseph did not speak. He lowered me gently on to the damp sand and, kneeling, kissed each of my fingertips before kissing my lips. I noticed now that he was naked, as I was, and that he was as young as he had once been. Where had the intervening years gone? They had receded, like the ocean did periodically. When the tide came back in they would return.

He was now fondling my breasts and I was ready for him. The singing filled my ears and assaulted all my senses, for the sea was integral to our loving and its echoes were never-ending. We tuned to its rhythm, which held us together after Joseph’s entry and helped our bodies fuse into just one entity. Yes, we were one and yet the part of him that was within me created sensations that said there were two of us: two whose love lifted us beyond our flesh to this bliss formerly undreamed of.

Ecstatic, I wept: “Joseph … my beloved!”

I clung with all my strength to him and still was not strong enough. As dawn broke, so the song of the sea echoed off into infinity and Joseph left me. Instead of damp sand I had a mattress beneath my back, with just a ceiling replacing the crystals above. Yet I had not dreamed in the accepted sense, for this was no normal awakening. I seemed simply to be exchanging one reality for another … and my idyll with Joseph in the cave was surely more real than my current solitary state.

I now wanted with every fibre of my being to be with him and to forget that I had ever run away. Did I run – and was that only yesterday?

Time was so strange, added to which it was man-made. When man decided to measure time he didn’t consider its illusory qualities. Perhaps, in fact, it was pure illusion. With clocks and watches we were maybe on altogether the wrong track.

I smiled at myself. Philosophy before breakfast was not my forte. As I lay readjusting to being in bed instead of being with Joseph I drifted in my mind to St Ives and to the events that had led me to the gallery exhibiting Lara’s portrait. Looking back, it was hard to convince myself that yesterday had actually happened and that St Ives was a real place. In memory it seemed imaginary, as did my conversation with George Trelawny. Never before in my life had I experienced the kind of things I’d been experiencing since reaching Tremorna. So was Cornwall the enchanted land that Father had hinted at? I felt that nothing would surprise me any more.

As I set out for my walk I wondered when I would see Joseph again. Fresh from my dream and from being with him so intimately I also wondered how our next meeting would be. It seemed necessary to remind myself that on one level I barely knew him. Why, I still didn’t even know where his home was! So, however much I might want to, I could not seek him out. I needed to wait for Fate to deliver him back to me. Not of course that I believed in Fate …

It was a misty morning, almost as if the mist I’d perceived over Godrevy had spread overnight until it kissed my whole world. Now Tremorna had assumed yet another identity. Was there no end to the guises in which Nature dressed herself?

The mist was not heavy so I could see a fair distance in front of me and as the tide was out I headed for the beach. The sound of the sea was muted and there was an

exceptional stillness over everything as if time were held suspended. Or maybe, courtesy of my dream, I had strayed out of time into some other dimension.

Skirting a rocky promontory I stood awhile gazing into a rock-pool and marvelling at the life within: tiny fish, limpets and sea anemones. There was life in everything, I supposed – even in the rocks themselves and the sand on which I was walking. Why had I not noticed this before? Had I slept pending my arrival in Cornwall?

“Good morning!”

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I turned and there he was – a mythical being, almost, manifested from the mist. “Joseph!”

He opened his arms and I was then enclosed in them. I could hear his heartbeat – feel mine beating to the same tune. There was a tobacco scent on his clothes: the same as that when I opened Father’s wardrobe. I had a sense of Father in him, Lara in me and of our immortality. The degree of our closeness gave me a profound glow of homecoming. “Oh, my darling,” he whispered, over and over, “welcome home!”

We were both where we had been and soon, walking with our backs to the sea, we drifted into my dream.

The walls of our cave as he undressed me were singing just as they had sung and gleaming as if studded with crystals. I smelled the sea and heard its song, snug in the knowledge that it was never-ending – symbolic of Joseph’s love for me and mine for him. This imprint of us as we loved would linger on the wind and touch others who sought the wonders there for discovery. So touched, they would find at least a hint of our findings. They must, for such is the way of things.

Placing me tenderly on the damp sand, with Troy guardian of the cave’s entrance, Joseph kissed every inch of my skin. He did this with such awe and love that even had I so wished I could not hurry him. Besides, I was rediscovering the lover I had known both long ago and while dreaming. Our bodies were made to belong … to fit together as they were now fitting. As I finally felt him within, releasing all my suppressed longing, I clung to him begging the heavens never to part us again.

In the afterglow of our loving we walked awhile on the virginal sand and Joseph suddenly halted us in our tracks to look back. “See those?” he said, indicating our footprints. “Two sets. For far too many years there has been just one set. Now that there are two again, I feel … well blessed.”

“And I feel … serene,” I told him, noticing that the mist had cleared. “I’ve never felt so at peace with myself.”

At Joseph’s suggestion we climbed eventually onto the jagged headland, where we sat on the grass with our backs against a smooth rock warmed by the sun. Holding my hand securely in his, he said: “This is a favourite spot of mine. I often sit here, surveying the scene and thinking of you.”

“Of me, or of … her?”

“Lara?” His hold on my hand tightened so that I couldn’t run again. Not that I was thinking of running. “Let’s just say, for the moment, that my thoughts when I sit here are of love. The love I feel, the love I have felt: an emotion that at times is overwhelming. Its recipient doesn’t need a name just yet. But I need to know more about you, Jess, for although in one respect it seems to me I have absolute knowledge of all that you are, in another I know next to nothing. Where have you come from? Why did you come?”

It seemed oddly wrong to respond that I had come from London, because I had come from farther than that: I had come to him from his past, bringing the past into the present. I shivered. Where had that thought originated? Then I remembered George

Trelawny and said: “Yesterday I met one of your friends.”

Joseph, looking surprised, said: “I’ve been so reclusive for so long that I didn’t know I had any left.”

“I was in St Ives at the time – admiring your work.”

“You were?”

“Yes. You’re incredibly talented. I love your seascapes … and never in a million years expected to come face to face with Lara’s portrait.”

He sighed, saying: “I took it to George to save you seeing it just yet on my wall.”

“That was thoughtful.”

“It had the wrong outcome, though.”

“Or the right one, depending on how we look at it!”

Joseph smiled. “I suppose there’s a right and a wrong way of looking at everything.”

“What did you mean when you told him to keep the portrait until the past has been absorbed into the present?”

“I wasn’t sure what I meant, except that it seemed to me some sort of absorption is necessary.” Now he frowned. “I’m rather shocked that George saw fit to tell you what I’d said.”

“He only did so out of concern for you. He was worried because you seemed fraught when you took the portrait in.”

Joseph relaxed a little. “So that showed, did it? I must admit to having been in a flat spin through fear of losing you. I hardly knew what I was doing.”

“I was in the same state. I spent the day wishing I hadn’t run away, while acknowledging deep down that I had had to run. Things had to settle a little, I think, before we could … ”

“ … make love?”

“’move on’ were the words I’d been going to use,” I told him, smiling into his eyes, “but I much prefer your interpretation.” After we had kissed lingeringly I said: “Getting back to your earlier questions … wherever I might have come from originally, I came to Tremorna from London and my reason for coming was that having inherited Father’s cottage I planned to take a quick look, then sell it.”

“So you hadn’t been here before – to visit him?”

“No. We weren’t close: quite the opposite.”

“These things happen in families. Do you have regrets, now that he’s dead?”

“I’m not sure yet. I didn’t think I did, but along with ‘Sea Echoes’ he has left me some letters. From the one I’ve read so far I’ve gathered the impression that it would have been good to know him better in his later years. He didn’t write like the man I thought I knew. Maybe I could have made friends with the man that he became latterly.”

“Maybe,” Joseph agreed, pensively. “I think Benjamin … regretted things. Once when we were exchanging pleasantries he mentioned his daughter … and his neglect of her.”

“Did he? So at least he hadn’t forgotten me altogether!”

“Was that how it appeared?”

“From when he left us, right up to his death – yes,” I responded vigorously.


“Mother and me.”

“How long ago did he leave?”

“I was five at the time.” I sighed, remembering too well how bereft I felt as he

stood with his suitcase in our hallway saying that he couldn’t stay … that there was someone named Julia who needed him more than we did. How could that be, I had asked God constantly while still believing in Him. Nobody could possibly love or need my daddy more than I did. “When he went it was as if my whole world ended.”

“It would have been,” Joseph said sympathetically. “How often have you seen him since then?”

“I could count the times on my fingers and still have digits left. In the end I far preferred not seeing him, or having anything to do with him. It seemed to me that he must be by far the most self-centred man I’d ever met. He had never even shown any interest in me on the rare occasions we were together.”

“Could it be that he didn’t know how to express his interest?”

“Conceivably. Except in the letter I’ve just read, Father wasn’t too clever at expressing himself. I suppose it’s natural to construe silence as indifference. Do you realise that this is the most I’ve ever told anybody about him? Usually, I’ve just tried to forget his existence.”

“An understandable reaction to the facts as you perceived them. Perceptions change, though, don’t they – along with events?” Then, after a big intake of breath, came the question: “How do you feel now, about selling ‘Sea Echoes’?”

Stroking his hand reassuringly I responded: “Guess!”

He smiled saying: “Thank heaven!” There was a lengthy pause before: “Something else is troubling me, Jess.”


“Your father and I … our births were closer together than yours and mine.”

When he said nothing else, I queried: “Is some comment needed from me?” In response to his emphatic nod I told him: “In my view counting years is a futile exercise, given the fickle nature of time. Why count something finite when we’ve stood at the door of the infinite? All right, so you’re a little older than I am. How can that signify for two who love as we do? Or am I wrong in assuming that you love me?”

“Wrong?” Joseph groaned, holding me close. “I love you too much, almost. My love for you goes far deeper than the oceans. Which is why I fear for you, being with a man from a different generation. I’m getting old, my love, whereas you … ”

“I’m ageing too, with every breath I take. But who gives a fig about actual age? I certainly don’t. It’s who we are inside that counts, not what’s happening on the surface.” As an afterthought I added, frowning: “Of course I don’t know precisely who I am.”

“You’re my beloved Jess,” Joseph said, “and at present we needn’t bother our heads with anything else.”

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