The last I remember, I was in the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square in London viewing an exhibition by the great painter, Cezanne, who at the turn of the twentieth century paved the way for such other greats as Picasso and Braque. Those artists carried the torch onward to cubism—the breaking down of our physical world into smaller and smaller little pieces or cubes.
Then suddenly I was standing in front of a massive chateau.
The heat of the noonday sun made my winter clothing stick to me most uncomfortably. I turned to look behind me to see a meadow stretching for miles down to the sea. Such beautiful fragrances wafted through the air that I thought I had landed in a garden of herbs and wildflowers. The air was filled with the sharpness basil, the sweetness of rosemary and and the smooth richness of thyme.
It was not just a matter of viewing Cezanne’s painting and feeling as if I were there. According to all my senses, I really was there. And so, I started to walk toward this magnificent chateau built in some bye-gone era. It was a steep climb but, despite my huffing and puffing, I arrived within twenty-five yards of the front gate. I stopped and waved at a man, paintbrush in hand, stationed at an easel near the main porch. He looked so very familiar—almost as if I had met him before in some other time and place. Who could he be?
This painter looked back at me as if every bit as surprised as I was.
“Bonjour, monsieur?” He spoke cautiously in a rather raspy voice. “D’où venez vous?”
My French is not particularly fluent but I believe he was asking something like “How the hell did you get here?” Which is a very sensible question to ask when someone just appears out of nowhere.
For me, as I have been travelling through Cyberspace, this is not an easy question to answer—because I’m not entirely sure. You see, I am first and foremost a fictional character a product of the mind of my creator Mary E. Martin author of The Osgoode Trilogy and The Remembrance Trilogy. But I am able to engage regular human beings as well as fictional characters anywhere in time and place. I seem to also have access to many famous people.
I replied, “I was just in the National Gallery, looking at some paintings by that great artist, Paul Cezanne—I’m sure you’ve heard of him—and suddenly I am here talking to you in front of this amazing chateau.”
“Je m’appelle Paul Cezanne,” he said flatly.
I was astounded. “You are? Are you painting Chateau Noir?” Cezanne painted at least six studies of this intriguing chateau, which has a dark and mysterious history.
“Oui. Would you like to see inside that residence?”
“Yes, very much. You have a key?”
Cezanne set down his paints and motioned me to follow him up the hill to the chateau. ”You will find it very strange inside, sir.” He looked at me closely. “By the way, are you Alexander Wainwright, Britain’s finest landscape painter?”
“Yes, but how did you know? You were dead more than fifty years before I was even born.”
Cezanne shrugged his shoulders. “I do not waste time trying to answer impossible questions. My mission is to paint.”
But then he turned to me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “Instead, I will tell you a story which you will never forget. Would you care to hear it while I show you around inside?”
Of course, I was intrigued and nodded eagerly.
“This chateau has a fascinating history. It was built by a very rich industrialist who made his money in manufacturing lampblack paint which is made from soot. So enamoured by the colour black, he painted the interior and everything in it in this lampblack paint. Mon Dieu! I am sure you can imagine the effect!”
By now, we had stepped inside the chateau. It was like entering a cave into which no light had ever penetrated. Although I stumbled, Cezanne crept about like a sure-footed cat. I stood still hoping my eyes would adjust. Cezanne was now somewhere ahead of me in what I assumed was the great hall.
“Many townspeople have seen lights coming on in the chateau at odd hours in the early morning—even when they know the place is empty. Also, many have heard howls and screams just before the lights die out.” He wiped his brow. “Wretched sounds from the pit of hell! Fire blazing in an eternal conflagration…you would not believe!”
So vivid was Cezanne’s description that immediately I pictured lava-like cauldrons threatening to engulf all civilization!
Cezanne lit a lamp which illuminated his face with a ghastly glow. “It is said,” he whispered close to my ear, “that this industrialist lured the youngest, most beautiful women to his lair and kept them in chains.” He tugged my sleeve. “The townspeople crept up to the windows and tried to look in, but of course no one could see a thing. The windows themselves were blackened with his soot. One night, a young man managed to force his way in to rescue the women.”
Cezanne paused and chewed his lip. Then he shook his head slowly. “That young man was never seen again! No evidence of his existence anywhere.” He set the lamp down on a table and motioned Alexander to take a seat. “When the people broke in the next morning, what did they find? Nothing! They found absolutely nothing which would suggest that any women had ever been in the chateau.” As they were searching the place, the industrialist appeared at the door.
Of course everyone was very frightened but the man did not seem to mind and after a few minutes, became very friendly.
But despite his jovial mood, the people remained suspicious. On the night, just after the man had left for Paris, it started again—the anguished cries, the groans and the shouts. This time the voice of a man was added to the din. Who else could it be other than the young man who had tried to rescue the women—and the women themselves?”
As he sat there in a meditative state, Cezanne began to pack tobacco into the bowl of his pipe. Then he grinned sheepishly. “But you know these country folk! Always imagining the occult. They tell elaborate stories just for entertainment.” He neither sounded nor looked convinced. “That is why I have painted so many pictures of Chateau Noir. As I work, I keep a sharp eye out for anything at all that might give credence to the story.” He shook his head. “In six years—not a thing!”
Both of us went out to the porch. I suddenly realized where I had seen the Chateau Noir before—other than Cezanne’s paintings themselves.
Interesting! On the cover of The Fate of Pryde is a reproduction of one of Cezanne’s paintings of the Chateau Noir. In that novel, I visited Jonathan Pryde at a chateau, which he owned, very much like Chateau Noir. The most astounding events [some which would herald the very best in the human spirit and some which were dredged up from a black abyss.] took place in Pryde’s residence, which you can read about. After meeting Pryde, I asked how could the very best and the very worst of mankind thrive at one moment in one human breast? You might well be interested in reading my story of the Fate of Pryde and let me know how such is possible. In the meantime take a look here to see his mansion.
The Fate of Pryde
These stories are developed from the novels of The Trilogy of Remembrance [The Drawing Lesson, The Fate of Pryde and Night Crossing] and are designed to entice you into that world and read them. Alexander Wainwright, Britain’s finest landscape painter and visionary artist, is the star. Think of them as delightful appetizers. Enjoy and respond!