THE FATE OF PRYDE
the second in the Trilogy of Remembrance
Mary E. Martin reading chapter 1
I looked up from my desk to see a stately Rolls-Royce Phantom—in a rich, royal blue—glide to a stop in front of my gallery in Kensington. I rose quickly in hopes that a potential client might emerge from such a beautiful work of art. When the car door opened, a liveried driver stepped out. After checking the address, he knocked. Seeing me through the glass, he waved in a friendly fashion. I opened the door.
“Sir? Are you Mr. James Helmsworth?”
I nodded my agreement. “A letter for Alexander Wainwright. I believe your gallery represents him?”
I smiled and took the envelope. “We most certainly do.”
Tipping his hat, the driver got behind the wheel of that exquisite automobile and drove off.
An unfamiliar, but elegant hand had addressed the milk-colored envelope to my attention. For a moment, I ran my finger along its edge—the very best vellum, indeed. Carefully, I slit it open and extracted the letter. I nearly gasped. The grace and energy of the crest on the letterhead sprang forth from the page.
It bore a strange but striking gold and green design, depicting a coiled and feathered snake devouring its tail. Oddly, I immediately envisioned eternal, ancient desert lands, perhaps existing only in dreams.
My hand trembled as I read. The letter was written in the same stylish script as the envelope and was signed, Jonathan Pryde. I had to find Alexander immediately. My heart pounding in my chest, I pocketed the letter, locked up my gallery and rushed out to hail a cab.
As I waited at the curb, a cold spring rain slashed down upon London. I turned up my collar but still, the drops dripped down my neck. At last, a cab pulled over. When I settled into the seat, I caught the grin on my face in the mirror.
For over twenty years, I have had the honor of representing Alexander Wainwright, Britain’s finest landscape artist. Last year, when Alex created an entirely new school of art, I became the faithful chronicler of his life and artistic career.
Now, sitting in the back of the cab, I was gripped by an intense sensation. Some might call it a premonition—that I was about to witness another upheaval in his artistic vision.
The driver twisted around and asked, “Where we going, mate?”
Lost in thought, I had not realized we still sat at the curb. I leaned forward and said to him, “Embankment, please. Number two seventy two.”
Then we were off—poking through the Kensington streets, dismal in the rain and traffic. I watched the stately, white-columned facades of the shops and residences parade past at funereal speed. After five minutes, I leaned forward and urged the driver to hurry. He shrugged nonchalantly and sped up for a block or two as best he could. After all, that letter in my pocket bore great news for Alexander.
When the cab swerved over to the curb at the Embankment, I broke from my reverie, paid the driver and got out. Traffic roared past. After dodging several bicycles, I stood safely on Alex’s front step and rang the bell. Alex answered immediately.
“Alex, it’s Jamie. I’ve got a letter to show you.”
There was a long pause. “Letter? I’m not expecting anything.”
“Listen, Alex. Something’s been delivered to me. You need to see it—about potential work.” There was another long pause as the rain continued to drip down my collar. “Damn it, Alex! I’m getting soaked out here.”
“All right, but Peter and I are working on a project. It’s not a lengthy matter is it?”
I gave a deep sigh. “No, of course not. Let me come up.” I knew Alex could be easily distracted by Peter.
The buzzer buzzed and the door creaked open. I climbed the three flights to his studio as quickly as I could and knocked on the door.
Alex opened up and stepped aside to let me in. Peter was hunched over his laptop by the window. Paper was scattered on the floor and the ashtray next to him was overflowing. Even in the smoky blue haze, the air seemed electrified as if in the aftermath of a violent thunderstorm. I supposed two great artists—Peter had won the Man Booker Prize for his latest novel last year— had been in discussion. Peter nodded at me grimly.
With a glance that begged forbearance, Alex said, “Peter’s trying to get his new novel going.”
In disgust, Peter shoved a pile of papers aside. “And it’s a complete bitch!” He covered his face with his hands. “A total Medusa! Can’t seem to find anywhere to begin.” He lit a cigarette and got up to pace.
Fortunately, I’d had considerable experience with brilliant artists and so, I simply made a few sympathetic but non-committal noises.
“Just give us a moment, Jamie, please?” Alex said.
“Of course.” I retreated to a far couch and extracted the letter.
Alex approached Peter cautiously. “So, your fundamental theme is mortality…”
Rumpling his fingers through his hair, Peter heaved a dramatic sigh. “I suppose…” Then, he sat down and began to peck at the keyboard, looking every bit the moody schoolboy.
Alex turned to me. “What have you brought me, Jamie?”
I handed him the letter, which he took to examine.
“Good Lord,” he whispered. “Peter? Come see this crest.”
Reluctantly, Peter came over. “What?”
“Look!” Alex waved the paper. “It’s a feathered serpent consuming its tail!”
Peter took the letter. “It’s a Quetzalcoatl!”
“A what?” Alex and I chorused.
“The Quetzalcoatl is a deity from Central America representing the harmonizing of opposites in the world. Feathers to represent the bird or spirit and the snake to represent the earth…so heaven and earth are unified…the totality.”
Alex and I gazed at Peter in amazement.
Then I said, “Alex, aren’t you going to read it? It’s an offer from Jonathan Pryde!”
“Who’s he?” Alex asked.
“Who is he?” Again, I was amazed. “Jonathan Pryde is the world’s foremost patron of the arts. His grants are legendary. Please read it.”
With a sigh, Alex sank into a stool. Peter crowded over his shoulder. Adjusting his reading glasses, Alex began to read aloud:
Dear Mr. Helmsworth.
I understand that you represent the great artist, Alexander Wainwright, whom I wish to contact. I have seen his most recent painting, “The River of Remembrance” and am struck, not only by his magical light, but his sensitivity to mythological forms of expression. I want to commission a number of stained glass windows, not only for my home in Vence, but also, perhaps, for some neighboring churches. I am convinced that he is the only living artist with the ability to create actual visions with light. Would you kindly let me know how to reach him or ask him to contact me directly?
With great respect,
Alex tossed the letter aside and threw up his hands. “I’ve never worked in stained glass. I don’t know the first thing about it.”
I knew I must be patient. Alex certainly did not lack confidence. He simply had
no business acumen. As his dealer, it was my job to convince him of the great opportunity.
“Listen Alex. This is a wonderful chance to make a connection with the financier for the arts. Who knows? If this project is not to your liking, perhaps you can introduce some other ideas.”
Alex retrieved the letter.
Peter returned to his laptop muttering, “Maybe he’d like to support a writer for a year or two.” He gave me a surreptitious wink.
Alex laughed. “Not bloody likely! If he’s as wealthy as Jamie says, I’ll be the one to make his acquaintance.”
Peter snickered and began pecking at his keyboard.
“Alex, would you like me to call him to set something up?”
“Yes, would you Jamie? I can meet with him really anytime.” Alex handed me back the letter. “I guess I’d better learn about stained glass.” He cocked his eyebrow and grinned. “Maybe pop around to St Paul’s and have a look at the windows.”
I patted Alex’s arm and gave a quick wave to Peter, who was tapping furiously on his keyboard. “Once I’ve reached Mr. Pryde, I’ll ring you, Alex.” Then I was back down the stairs and onto the Embankment in search of another cab.
I stopped up. The rain was only spattering. In fact, a few rays of sun, low in the
west, glinted on the Thames. Congestion was already building on Westminster Bridge. Since traffic would soon be impossible, I decided to stroll for a bit.
Every so often, if I relax, I can glimpse the world as Alex sees it—as if something mysterious lies behind it and holds together everything we take for granted in daily life. But today was not one of those days. My eyes swept over Tower Bridge, lights twinkling across the river. Even though it has been described as a monstrous and preposterous architectural sham, I still liked its evocation of past grandeur. Straight across the river, that enormous Ferris wheel, the London Eye, made its stately circle. But despite my efforts, the vista—tower and Ferris wheel and everything in between—stubbornly refused my attempts to see it anew as a unified whole!
In his landscapes, Alex expresses the totality of everything in the universe. At the same time, within each leaf, each drop of water or human hair, he conveys a light or glow, which seems to come—how shall I put this—from another dimension. And each brushstroke contains every ounce of his own life and vitality. He is known as the artist with the numinous light. I gazed up at Big Ben and then along the river to Tower Bridge. Shivering again, I pulled my coat around me, and found a cab.
My relationship with Alex is far more than just business. For over twenty years, I have been his confidant and careful chronicler—the one entrusted to tell his story to the world. Although not actually present at all events, I have faithfully recorded them to the very best of my ability. Of course, Alex has given his account to me, and many others have contributed their perspectives. Blank spots in the story have invariably arisen and there, I have indulged my own creativity—such as it is—to convey the deep significance of all events. In accordance with my earlier premonition, Alexander Wainwright was, once again, seized by his vision and driven on a voyage of discovery of art, life and learning. And so, I begin the tale.
At dusk, several days later, Alexander and Peter walked toward Piccadilly Arcade.
“Who’s this Professor Callan we’re going to see?” Alex asked.
Peter made a wry face. “He was my philosophy professor at Oxford.”
“You’ve kept in touch over the years?”
Peter nodded. “He was a real mentor to me when I needed one.”
Alex chuckled. “Got you out of a few scrapes, did he?”
Peter grinned. “Only the academic kind. Nothing else.”
Both of them slowed their pace as they approached the arcade with its grand entrance composed of three Corinthian columns and topped with rounded arches. The broad, open steps invited one and all inward.
As they crossed the threshold, faux-gas lamps flickered on. Chandeliers, hanging in the passageway, suddenly lit up and glowed intensely in cheery greeting. Before them lay a dazzling black and white tiled corridor spread out like an endless checkerboard. Bow-shaped store fronts, framed in marble and brass, disappeared upward into dark, vaulted ceilings, but the chatter of crowds drew attention back down to the life streaming below.
A dream-like state crept over Alex. He removed his hat, which resembled a peaked hunter’s cap. He gaped upward and whispered in tones of reverence, “It’s almost like entering another world. Soft sounds…muted colors.”
Peter hunched into his heavy sweater as if seeking protection. “Feels like I’ve returned to the womb. Pretty soon, I’ll be claustrophobic.”
Alex continued to gawk. For him, the arcade was much more than a collection of shops connecting Piccadilly and Jermyn Street. It was a marvelous temple of art and commerce, steeped in history. London’s famed West End had started there almost four centuries ago.
His eyes glided lovingly over the colonnades, arches, filigreed latticework and ornate ceilings. With his dream-like state deepening, he could vividly imagine ladies in bustle dresses and men in elegant, bespoke-tailored suits and top hats, swirling out of the past and into the present. Right here in this arcade, politicians, poets and painters of centuries past mingled with their patrons—the wealthy aristocrats. All time had stopped and now stood as one.
Alex walked on and paused at the first shop—a tailor’s— where he surveyed bolts of the finest wools and silks spread upon the tables. Next door, displays of antique gold and silver trays and serving spoons were laid out among the china and crystal glassware.
Alex waved his arm to encompass the entire length and breadth of the arcade. “What would you call all this?”
“It’s a glimpse inside the creative mind of thousands of human beings. It makes me wonder what’s more important—the artist or the art they produce?
“Surely it’s the creative artist. The producer not the product. This is an interior landscape of the human mind straight from our imaginations. Shows what we really care about. ” Alex grinned and grasped his friend’s arm. “Someday I’ll paint it all.”
Peter said, “I thought you were going to do stained glass.” He glanced at his watch. “Say, we’re going to be late for the professor’s book launch.”
Alex, breaking from his reveries, quickened his stride. “Tell me more about Callan.”
“He’s a weird sort of chap—all sorts of contradictions.”
“First of all, he’s not at all what he appears to be.”
“Hmmm…Callan far more than most.” Stopping up, Peter frowned in thought, unaware of the crowds streaming past them. “At first, you think he’s dithery and kindly—an absent-minded professor. But he has a mind like a steel trap and he does not suffer fools gladly! It’s all a ruse.”
They were almost at the end of the arcade. Caught up in his talk, Peter waved his arm, nearly clipping a woman passing by.
“The man is a born and bred empiricist.”
“Ah, yes!” Alex laughed. “Unless we can see, smell, hear or touch it—right under our noses—it doesn’t exist.”
“Exactly! But that cuts out most of the universe and everything worth thinking about.” Peter said. Engaged in the conversation, he stopped up suddenly, blocking the way. A man behind cursed under his breath and pushed past him. Unaware, Peter continued. “Apparently, he’s taking on the believers in the occult.”
Alex’s eyebrows shot up. He tossed his head back and laughed. “This will be an interesting evening!”
Peter nodded vigorously. Neither man saw the young boy barreling headlong toward them.
In frustration, Alex shook his head. “Those kinds of philosophers are missing so much!”
The boy, dressed in torn jeans and a dirty black T-shirt, was only thirty feet away. Another man further back chased after him. The few other passers-by scattered. Alex and Peter did not notice them.
“It’s ridiculous! “ Peter laughed, still not seeing the boy, who was now within twenty feet.
The boy slammed straight into Peter and then—with an agonized cry—fell to the tiles. Neither Alex or Peter were hurt and they rushed to set the boy on his feet.
“What the hell!” said Peter as Alex tried to brush the boy off.
“Sorry mister! Din’t mean to…”
A man brushed against Peter and then said, “Sorry, sir.” He turned on the boy. “How can you be so damned careless running into people like that?”
The boy, his eyes bulging in his narrow face, shot off down the corridor.
“Kids!” the man said, and hurried off.
Without further pause, Alex and Peter headed for the far doors opening onto Jermyn Street. Within several blocks, they were at Folio Books.
A sign in the window read:
Book Launch for Professor Henry Callan:
An Empiricist’s Theory of the Occult
Commencing at 7pm.
Opening the door, they saw perhaps twenty-five people, sherry glasses in hand, crowded in the book shop’s aisles. The shelves sagged and tipped under the weight of books shoved onto them. Extra volumes were stacked in every conceivable space—even up to the window ledges. Near the till was set an old oak desk with several padded chairs behind it. In front, precarious looking plastic chairs were set in rows. A grandfather clock chimed in the corner striking eight o’clock.
“One of my favorite places,” breathed Peter. “Shall we get a drink?” Working their way to the bar Peter said, “I’ll introduce you to Callan. Despite what I said, he really is a genius!”
A hand rested on Peter’s sleeve. “Peter! How wonderful to see you here tonight!” The little man could not have been five feet tall. As if electrified, his wispy, white hair stuck straight up from his baby-pink skull.
“Professor Callan! I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.” Peter turned to Alex. “Please, I’d like to introduce my friend, Alexander Wainwright.”
Callan’s face glowed. “My dear Mr. Wainwright. I’m so pleased to meet you. Your paintings give me much solace.”
Alex murmured his thanks. “Tell us about your essays, professor.”
Professor Callan smiled sweetly, but then he winked solemnly and tugged Alex’s jacket sleeve. “Mr. Wainwright, your paintings make me think there just might be a beyond.”
A rather stout, florid man hovered expectantly nearby. For just an instant, Callan’s gaze sharpened, focusing hostility with laser-like intensity upon him. “Yes, Mr. Warburton?” Callan asked.
With his expression darkening, the large man grasped Callan’s shoulder. “I think it’s time to begin, professor.”
Alexander could not remember seeing a man literally shrink at the touch of another person. Indeed, the professor was a jumble of contrasts. First, he was soft spoken and demure. Next, he brimmed with intense dislike and contempt for Warburton. Alex wondered where the truth of his character might lie.
Callan turned around. “Certainly, Mr. Warburton. Where do you wish me to sit?”
Clearly, thought Alex, the man’s command was to be obeyed. Warburton called out to the store manager, who broke away from a pretty young woman and hurried to the table.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, “Folio Books is greatly honored to welcome…” The clerk briefly consulted his notes. “Professor Henry J. Callan to speak to us about his latest book—a collection of essays, I believe—entitled, An Empiricist’s Theory of the Occult. This is his fourth book on philosophy.” The clerk fumbled through his notes and after a pause said, “Please welcome our esteemed author.” The audience clapped politely and fell silent.
Just as the professor was adjusting his glasses, a chirping, whistling noise came from down a darkened aisle. Another clerk at the back whispered curses and then appeared with a small, covered birdcage in hand.
“So sorry, ladies and gentlemen but our canary, Bernice, has taken it into her tiny head to complain. I’m sure she’ll settle in a moment.”
Chuckling, the group turned its attention back to the professor.
The professor began dryly. “It’s a topic of great relevance in our world today. Are we to be distracted from all the evident dangers right under our noses by mere speculation of things beyond our senses? I have divided the consideration of the matter into five separate essays…firstly…”
Tired that evening, Alex listened with half an ear. When the professor began to read a passage from his text, the canary suddenly began to cheep and twitter. Then it flapped and beat its wings frantically. When the clerk peeked under the cover of the cage, immediately, the canary settled and began to preen itself. When the cover was dropped back, the bird began to sing. Although the crowd was amused, Mr. Warburton continued to rock heel to toe in a disturbingly military fashion.
By the time the professor had finished his reading, one elderly gentleman in the audience had begun to snore lightly, causing Bernice to answer with a burst of song.
Warburton stepped forward. “Any questions for our guest?”
One tentative hand was raised. A lady stood up. “Professor, it’s rumored that the essays contain a secret code or statement. Is that true?”
Warburton coughed and shook his head. Henry Callan’s face was wreathed in nervous smiles.
“My dear lady, I think my publisher has spread that rumor with the intent of increasing sales.”
More chuckles came from the audience.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Warburton began. “If you would care to purchase a copy of Professor Callan’s book, I am sure he would be pleased to sign it.”
Everyone got up and headed for the display table. Warburton shadowed the professor as he took his seat.
Peter asked Warburton, “Are you from the publishers?”
The man shook his head.
The professor glanced nervously at Peter. “Forgive me, Peter. This is Fitzgerald Warburton. He’s not from the publishers. He’s in another line of work—research, I believe.”
Peter held out his hand to Warburton. “Peter Cummings. And I’d like to introduce my friend, Alexander Wainwright.”
Alex was amazed when he stepped forward to shake the man’s hand. Warburton’s face, which had been taciturn all evening, suddenly became friendly, even jovial.
“Alexander Wainwright? My word! How marvelous to meet you at last!”
He grasped Alex’s hand enthusiastically. “Actually, my friends call me Fizzy for short. I simply adore your paintings, particularly your most recent.” He examined the ceiling for a moment. “Yes, of course—The River of Remembrance.”
Surprised, Alex simply said, “Thank you…”
Momentarily, Fizzy Warburton seemed lost to recollection. But then he spoke enthusiastically. “Alexander, I expect we’ll be meeting in the very near future. I do look forward to that.”
Alex frowned. “Perhaps so…”
“Oh, do call me Fizzy, Alex!” Then the man, who had hovered over the professor most of the evening in such a menacing fashion, beamed. “Good night to you gentlemen.”
Alexander and Peter took their books and bade Henry Callan goodbye. Looking back, they caught Fizzy appraising the professor with undisguised hostility.
“What the hell is with that guy, Alex?” said Peter. “Looks like he’s going to march Henry off to jail.”
Alexander rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “The whole business with Fizzy is more than a little odd! Two scorpions in a bottle, I’d say.”
“What do you mean?”
Alex shrugged. “Your professor is certainly no shrinking violet. Something is going on there…”
Moments later, Peter and Alex stood outside Folio Books.
“Have time for a drink?” Peter asked. As he patted first one pocket and then another, panic sprouted within him. “God damn!” he whispered.
Alex turned back. “What’s wrong?”
Peter gaped at him. “My wallet! It’s gone!”
“What do you mean—gone?”
“Christ! I had it when we were leaving the pub after supper.”
“I know. I remember seeing you put it into your back pocket.”
Frozen in place, they stared at each other. The realization swept over them at the same moment.
“Fuck! That kid who ran into me…”
“The man who came up behind you…”
Both men sighed at the same moment.
“Damned little bugger!”
“You’d better cancel your cards.”
Angrily, Peter kicked at a beer can lying at the curb. “Shit…”
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