THE WONDROUS APOTHECARY
A Tale of art, passion, and liberation.
My seventh novel has just been published. It’s all about the protagonist of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Alexander Wainwright, and so, I am thinking of entitling it “The Wondrous Apothecary, the fourth in The Trilogy of Remembrance.” Alexander’s nemesis, Rinaldo, is front and centre in the story.
I like to put artwork on the covers of my novels. Perhaps this painting by Magritte captures that sense of ambiguity which is a major theme in The Wondrous Apothecary?
What is The Wondrous Apothecary About?
Follow the paths of two artists, Alexander Wainwright and Rinaldo, in a passionate, suspenseful tale of art, life, love, and liberation. For such different men in their art and personalities, the fundamental question is whether they can ever collaborate on an artistic project?
I had to think about the cover of the novel. Above you’ll see a painting by the Belgian artist, Rene Magritte. I was going to use it for the cover but then I came upon another painting by him and decided to use it instead.
First, Alexander, the landscape artist, will take you to the inspiring art of our ancestors buried deep in the Chauvet caves of France. He hopes to revive his creative spirit after the recent death of his beloved Daphne.
Rinaldo, the famous conceptual artist, has been remanded by the judge to a mental hospital on the rocky Isle of Wight. The question? Is he fit to stand trial on trumped-up criminal charges of arson and theft concerning an art gallery in London?
Arriving at the hospital, Rinaldo sees patients no one else can see. These poor souls are from decades back and cry out in pain and horror as they are led to the treatment rooms for electro-shock therapy. As Rinaldo’s fear of such treatment grows, Alexander becomes determined to free him. But the question remains. What is Rinaldo seeing? Visions? Apparitions? Or has he experienced a time slip?
Rinaldo is obsessed with collaborating with the renowned landscape artist, Alexander Wainwright. Although both of them are diametrically opposed in their art, personalities, and worldviews, the bond between them is as powerful as magnetism—absolute attraction and repulsion. And yet, the attraction is so elusive, it defies definition. Both of them wonder if they trust each other enough to form a shared vision and to collaborate.
Cast a suspicious eye about this mental hospital where medical experimentation was performed years ago and is perhaps secretly practised today. Can Alexander liberate Rinaldo from it?
At last, you’ll be taken to that point where two great artists collaborate and where the freedom of cutting-edge art and technology allow them to present their first magnificent creation to the world.
Here are the Prologue and first chapter of the novel. What I really like about posting a chapter on my blog is that I get to dress it up with images. Please keep scrolling down to the beginning of the first chapter of this tale of art, passion, and liberation.
I hope to get your reactions, especially if they’ll encourage me on to the next stage of publication.
Have I enticed you? Here are the Prologue and the first Chapter. If you enjoy the story, you might want to read the three novels of The Trilogy of Remembrance [The Drawing Lesson, The Fate of Pryde and Night Crossing] where our artist Alexander Wainwright appears. There you will also find The Osgoode Trilogy [Conduct in Question, Final Paradox and A Trial of One].
Please leave a comment. Love to hear from you!
The Wondrous Apothecary.
Security lights revealed starkly etched lines of frustration on the man’s face. Like a cat, he sprang up on the chain link fence across the alleyway and heaved himself upward.
The sudden barking and snarling below made him freeze. Then fierce growling drove him further upward but not fast enough. Teeth sank into his trousers but not the flesh. Crying out, he struggled and kicked himself free. Shivering, he looked over his shoulder to see the glimmering eye of an immense bull mastiff. From his sack he pulled out a small package which he tossed to the ground.
“Here!” he hissed. “Eat this. A gift from me—Rinaldo.”
Panting hard, the dog grasped the package between his teeth and retreated to a corner. Hunkering down, he tore at the parcel with his teeth. The man swung himself and his bag over the fence and then dropped down. Rising, he limped toward the back of the building. Now he was free to enter the art gallery.
The first door was securely bolted. The cellar windows could be easily broken but that would set off the alarms. At the back, a screen door stood open. The knob of the inner door came loose in his hand, but then it swung open.
Although it was a small, private gallery in Chelsea, art worth huge sums of money, lay within. Carefully, he ascended the back-cellar steps to the main floor. He would act quickly.
The gallery sold jewellery, artifacts, paintings and drawings. At least twenty oil paintings adorned the walls—some still life and some landscape. The art was not his style but that did not matter. He smirked. He had not come as a critic. He would make his own statement.
In the centre of the gallery, he unzipped his bag. From it he withdrew two tins of spray paint—one black and one red. Before him was a blank white wall. He set about his work.
The light from a passing car illuminated his face and eyes, which contained an almost gleeful expression. Starting in the very centre, he sprayed the first word in black—DESTROY. Anyone watching would be impressed with his deep concentration. Next in red, he wrote in large, looping letters—COLLABORATE. Again, in black—CREATE. Crouching down, he retrieved from his sack a tin of gold spray paint. With it he wrote HOMO SAPIENS + DEATH? When he had finished, he packed up his bag and wiped his hands with a rag. Whistling a tuneless whistle, he prepared to leave.
An immense explosion blasted from the cellar steps. In a tremendous roar, flames shot up and engulfed the gallery almost instantly. The blast shook the entire building and flattened the man onto the floor.
After a moment, he shook his head and attempted to rise. For the very first time, he saw on the far wall of the gallery a very familiar painting. Surely it wasn’t that hateful, yet exquisite work of art— the Hay Wagon?”
A work filled with such dreary, commonplace objects was imbued with an enchanting, numinous light. The man was torn. Shall I let it burn? Or shall I save it? Sirens screamed down the road in Chelsea. Police cars growled to a stop at the front. Nowhere to hide! He jumped to his feet!
He leapt across the carpet now aflame. He lifted the painting from its stays and carried it as gently and protectively as if it were a child. Despite the searing pain on his shins, hands and wrists, he thrust the painting above his head and ran to the outer back door.
Within moments, Rinaldo was outside with the painting which he dumped behind some bushes. He rushed down the back lane to the end where he dropped down behind some shrubbery. The flames had reached the roof line and sparks flew onto neighbouring roof tops. The light danced across his face revealing his passion for fire. A perfect place to observe.
From a darkened corridor, Alexander Wainwright stepped into an antique elevator floating in space like a bejewelled time capsule. The doors clanged shut and the cage swayed slightly as it began its slow ascent. The artist removed his homburg hat and prepared himself to visit the display of his work. He, a landscape artist, stepped out onto the second floor of the National Gallery.
Alexander had begun the day with determination. Last night he had written down a plan. He would get dressed, go out for breakfast and visit the National Gallery to see his painting, the Deluge. And he would call Jamie.
When his work was shown, he usually came alone for a leisurely visit to take pleasure in the accomplishment. But today he hurried to see it—almost as if it were a task to accomplish.
The Deluge was different. While painting it, Alex had been tortured by nightmares of water, drowning, and floods. He had crept to the drawing board at three in the morning nearly bloodying his hands and the canvas with his worn down chalks and stubby brushes. He shook his head to clear the recollection.
Alex walked further down the hallway but stopped. Surprised, he cocked his head as if trying to catch some puzzling but indistinct sound. He smiled. It sounded like water babbling over rocks in a river but, in fact, it was the laughter of children from the next gallery. Outside the door, which stood ajar, he held his breath to listen.
A melodic voice, young but surprisingly strong said, “Miss Murray? I love the picture. It’s the light. It’s like seeing everything in the world all at once and everything’s glowing.”
Alexander entered the gallery and sat on a nearby bench. Clustered around his painting was a group of young school children about eight or nine years old.
His painting depicted a sailing ship sinking fast with only a few survivors heaped on the beach. Everything was caught and torn in wrenching swirls of blues, yellows, whites and greens and burned with the light of the sun. Somewhere, in the furious curls of waves, another ship was tossed beyond the horizon. A white horse, a dog and ill-clad human forms were strewn on the shore like abandoned creatures. Hunched and huddled, the people gathered about a fire with its flames flickering desperately for life. Only now did he see it. In that violent scene, some other being inhabited the work. And that unknown being was alive within every wave, sunbeam, pebble and cell in the human body.
A young woman, apparently the docent, stood before his painting asking questions. Smiling her encouragement, she said, “That’s a marvellous answer. Who else sees the light Jennie sees?”
The little girls seated on the floor in the first row, waved their arms excitedly as they called out, “I do! I do!”
Alex smiled to see a row of boys at the back poking one another and looking ready to die from boredom. Their teacher, Miss Pinter, a plain and stalwart sort, sat off to one side eyeing them with suspicion.
“Miss Pinter!” cried one of the girls, “He punched me!” She turned about and stuck out her tongue at a boy who had not moved. “Bruce did!”
Bruce, lost in a fog, came awake. Alexander cleared his throat loudly and stared at the girl.
Miss Pinter marched over to Bruce. Bruce was trouble. Bruce’s collar was not straight and his hair not combed. His fingernails were dirty and broken too. Last week, she had told him he looked like the wrath of God. Rarely did he say or do much of anything, but his sullen appearance made her wonder what he might be up to.
“Bruce!” She wagged her finger. “What do you see in the artist’s painting?”
Bruce wiped his nose on his sleeve and examined his fingers, resolutely trying to ignore her. “I dunno.”
Her voice was strident. “Stand up at the front beside the docent and give us your answer.”
Alex gritted his teeth. Why do they humiliate him so? Such clever cruelty!
The little girl, Jennie, pursed her lips. Her friends tried to suppress their giggles. “Miss Pinter? Bruce wasn’t listening. He doesn’t know, but I think …”
With Miss Pinter standing over him, Bruce finally struggled to his feet and dragged himself to the front.
Alex could wait no longer. “Excuse me, but why are you treating this young man so shabbily?”
Only gurgles came from Miss Pinter’s mouth. She looked as if someone had kicked her in the stomach. At last she said, “And who are you sir?”
Alex smiled politely. “Alexander Wainwright, the painter of The Deluge.”
Suddenly, Bruce’s hand shot up. He announced, “He’s made the sun and the wind gang up together and fight the waves!” Bruce took a few jabs in the air. “And together they killed all the mean people. That’s why they’re lying dead on the beach.” Bruce’s chin jutted out and his eyes shone. “The warlords in the boats battled them to the death!”
The docent asked, “Bruce, why do you think the painter painted the picture?”
Bruce stared at his shoes and then shrugged. “It’s fun?”
The little girls giggled.
Bruce glanced at Alexander and then said. “He had to.”
The girls broke into gales of laughter. Bruce flushed.
Alex’s mouth dropped open in amazement. The boy had hit the nail on the head. So few see the violence of creation! From his own body, he had given the sun and wind extraordinary energy to wreak havoc and cause such devastation. He had not known how he did it. He had only known some force had compelled him to do so.
The girls’ laughter grew. Bruce’s face suddenly grew a deeper, nastier shade of crimson. Left standing beneath The Deluge, the little boy suddenly burst into tears. The shame was far too great for him to bear and he ran from the gallery out into the hallway.
When Alex found him, slumped on a bench, he held out his hand. “You’re a very brave young man, Bruce. Perhaps you’ll be an artist yourself one day.” He nodded toward the gallery. “You’ll see what they never can!”
At first, Bruce looked terrified. But then his shoulders began to relax as he basked in the warmth of Alex’s smile. “No, sir,” he managed to croak. “Are you really the painter?”
“Yes. I am.”
“How do you get to be a painter, mister?”
“You start looking carefully at the world and you pick up your brush and paint!” Alexander started down the hallway to the next galleries. Miss Pinter, the teacher, stood at the doorway ready to intervene. As Alex passed her, he simply smiled again and said, “Bruce has an instinctive appreciation of art. You must encourage not discourage him.” He could not comprehend the cruelty of small minds perched in such positions of authority.
He headed for the exit. Several years ago, his painting, had hung in the National Gallery after winning the Turner Prize. In it, an old man struggled to free a broken down wagon and scrawny horse from a creek. Alex always asked of his work—where is the human truth in this painting? He had laboured for days to express it. That was five years ago and now, The Hay Wagon, was up for private sale for a munificent sum. What was next? What could move him to the next stage beyond The Deluge and The Hay Wagon?
Unsure of his direction, Alexander stood on the top steps of the National Gallery. Without any better idea than returning to his studio on the Embankment, he walked down the steps. He wandered across Trafalgar Square flooded with the last of the lunchtime crowds. Flocks of pigeons dipped and dived about him and heavy banks of clouds gathered overhead.
His mind returned to Bruce, the little boy, who had grasped at a glance the painful labour and passion needed to create those waves of fury and sun. Out of the mouths of babes! Only the child who stood apart, the one scorned by his classmates, would ever be able to see. The privileges of the outsider! He stopped at the top of the staircase. Rinaldo, the conceptual artist, came to mind. Bruce might just be a budding Rinaldo—the interloper.
“Stop foolish man!” Alexander turned to see a wizen-faced old woman. She grabbed his sleeve. “In such tumultuous times, you must pay the strictest attention to the written words that come your way.” He could scarcely ignore a voice which somehow combined the screech of a crow with the rising of the lark’s sweet song.
“What on earth do you mean?” With a smile, he handed her some pocket change.
She nodded her head and, taking her to leave, said, “Sir, you must keep your eye peeled. It is right under your nose.”
Alex shrugged as he watched her skitter into the crowds, across the Square and thought no more about it.
Despite the atmosphere, he was suffused with an energy he had not felt in months. And yet that energy was like a strange wind sweeping over him–almost like a gentle explosion. How was it strange? He stopped for a moment and gazed up at the sky. That wind was somewhere between a loving caress and a warning. Nonetheless, he strode through the Square.
Then the wind came up and the rain poured down making the crowds scatter. Protecting himself with his case, he put his head down and began to march across the Square and down Whitehall toward his studio. By the time he reached the Churchill War Rooms and Museum, the rain had stopped and he slowed his pace. deluge 3
The museum—where he had visited many times before— was an underground rabbit warren of bunkers to house the British government and its command centre during the Second World War. Momentarily he thought of Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister, who led the country through the Blitz when Germany commenced its intense bombing campaign in September 1940. Every night for eight or nine months, the bombs fell upon the city.
Overcome with an unfamiliar, shaky feeling, Alexander sank down on a nearby bench. At first, he did not notice the figure slumped on a bench across from him. Suddenly, it rose up and within a moment sat down beside him. The man raised his head and, for the first time, Alex could see his intense blue eyes underneath his peaked cap.
“Mister? Gotta match?”
Alex found a paper of matches in his pocket.
For the first time, Alex saw that the old man was missing one hand. He struck a match and lit it for him.
The old man drew heavily on the cigarette and began, “My name is Walter Crisp, sir.” He nodded at the Museum. “I like to come down here now and then because this is where I saw the bombs for the very first time.”
“Really?” Only then did Alex look more closely at the man. He must be at least eighty-five, he thought. “That must have been terribly frightening. You were a soldier?”
Walter Crisp began quietly. “No. I was too young to join up. I wasn’t much more than a little fella still in britches. But Johnny, my oldest brother, did.” The old man looked skyward. “He didn’t come back though…”
Suddenly, Crisp threw his arms up to the sky and, with a magnificent grin, cried out, “It was beautiful!” Alex drew back in surprise when the man reached for his shoulder. “It was splendid! The monstrous loveliness of bombs exploding!” Walter waggled his finger at Alex. “Now, even though I was just a little sprout, I understood in my heart what awe was—that you are very tiny and don’t count for a thing here or—anywhere. But everything surrounding you is so bloody overpowering and—sounds crazy, I know— that huge power you sense is alive. It’s secretly and silently watching us in plain sight and we only see it when we are in awe.”
The old man sat in silence for a moment and then suddenly clutched at his ears. “Bang, bang, bang came the bombs just like thousands of blackbirds dropping from the sky.” His eyes grew into saucers as he bounced himself up and down on the bench. Pointing frantically about him, he laughed. “The sound beat upon my ears like a thousand drums.” He grinned at Alex, “Never seen or heard anything like it. Imagine how splendid it was!”
At that moment, Alexander wished he could capture the old man’s expression and passion. But, sadly, he realized that Mr. Crisp’s mind had been greatly damaged from the explosions he had undoubtedly heard every day since 1940.
Grinning, Walter Crisp continued. “The bombs exploded and made poofing sounds. Huge umbrellas of pink and yellow smoke like a ceiling above us. Such excitement it was!”
Alex felt as if he had experienced a time slip back to 1940. The old man’s story was so vividly told, Alex felt as if he were seated beside the young Crisp witnessing exactly what he had seen.
The old man spoke in awe. “And then the sky turned orange with fire and black with smoke.” Silent for a moment, he concluded sadly, “And you wonder in your soul how humans could do this at all.” He laughed and slapped his knee. “Such a wonderfully wicked lot we all were. We poor, stupid boys—hungry for any change…for any adventure!”
He took another cigarette and Alex lit it for him. “Has any generation been so stupid since?” Reflectively, he puffed out clouds of smoke. “Why can’t we figure out how not to go to war?” His lips twisted downward for a moment. “Here we are seventy-five years later and we’re still no better than we were thousands of years ago. Maybe we blow things up just for fun and to see what’s underneath?”
Alexander frowned. “Underneath? What do you mean?”
Walter Crisp stood up and doffed his cap. “G’night sir.”
Crisp reminded him of the old man with the horse in his painting, The Hay Wagon. He had laboured to express his human truth in the stoop of his shoulder and back and the thinness of the horse’s coat. It was the oldest story told in the span of history of discarded souls abandoned at the side of the road. What was next?
As Crisp walked back toward Trafalgar Square, Alex could hear him chuckling.
“The monstrous loveliness of exploding bombs!” Then he began to hum an old wartime tune which Alex immediately knew. What were the words? We’ll meet again, don’t know where don’t know when…
After several moments, Alex stood up and continued his walk back to his studio on the Victoria Embankment. The tune continued playing in his head. But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day…
He had no idea what to do next. He could only think of the afternoon’s events and how they might fit together. Such questions gave him an intriguing sense of satisfaction.
Just in case you don’t know this song, “We’ll Meet Again”, by Vera Lynn, you might like to listen to it. I was born the day the Second World War ended in 1945. Fortunately, the war never touched me or my family in Canada in any significant way. But anytime I hear this song, tears come to my eyes. And yet I identify so strongly with Walter Crisp’s words. “Here we are seventy-five years later from the Blitz and we’re still no better than we were thousands of years ago. Maybe we blow things up just for fun and to see what’s underneath?”
This song will give you a sense of the world Walter Crisp grew up in. Listen to it while you type your comment.