Chapter 1: The Man at the Museum
He was seventeen, the day it all began.
The day he met him .
At the local art museum with his class.
Erik had moved there a few months before so he had no real occasion to visit the museum like he would usually do. His arts teacher, Mr Lupin, had organised a trip as he thought art had to be enjoyed in person and not in poor projection on the school blackboard. That was how he and his class ended up spending the day at the Museum of Fine Arts.
Whether it was marble, brass, ivory, or wood. Polychromatic or monochromatic. It had been sculptures all morning long. While most boys had a lingering glance for the Venuses, their soft and round curves easy on the eye, Erik took some time to contemplate some more masculine statues, their chiseled faces and sharp cheekbones, defying time in their antique beauty. As if they were daring him to desire them. It was hardly a dare as Erik knew of his own inclinations and his own tastes. He had no occasion to act on them, but he definitely knew that when back at his previous school Magda asked him out, he would have been more interested by Samuel, her twin brother.
They had a quick lunch in the nearby park and went back to the Museum by one o’clock. And it had been all about paintings. Not necessarily famous paintings like Erik had seen through the years when he visited museums all over Europe with his parents each summer but paintings all the same. From a Saint-Sebastian lost in rapt ecstasy as arrows pierced his milky skin to the still lifes depicting lush arrays of food, exuberant flowers, bouquets of carnations and bowls of peaches, Erik loved paintings.
A solid hour before they were due home, they were allowed to roam freely in the large and ancient corridors of the Museum and they had to choose an art piece they could present in class if they felt inclined to do so.
Indeed, Mr Lupin insisted the kids explored and shaped their own tastes in art irregardless of his own. The man had been declared soon after the beginning of the term Erik’s favourite teacher.
Erik decided he would make the best of his visit here and would try to seek the paintings of that mysterious artist he had read about in the local little arts booklet his mother had ordered for him when she told him about their moving here. Edward Rochester, that was his name. At some point, he had been a very famous artist but now he was mostly forgotten.
Left to his own devices, the young man made his way to English paintings department after crossing several huge corridors and many rooms. Once it had been the pride of the Gallery, the famous Rochesters that had been saved from a fire a few decades ago, back in the 1950’s but now these paintings were mostly forgotten in the Xavier Wing where seldom any visitor went anymore.
Erik helloed the attendant and determinedly walked into the Rochester Room but as he was making his way to the Angel in the Morning Light , his eyes were caught by another painting.
He had the bluest eyes, the colour of forget-me-nots, the reddest lips, the smoothest skin and the velvet of his green suit, Erik swore, was shining. He looked young, older than Erik himself though, nineteen or barely more than twenty. The man had in hand a viridian green book with golden letters embossed on the side. Erik tried to decipher the text but finally decided it would be better to focus on the information plate first.
Viscount of Westchester in his Library,
English school, oil painting, first half of the 19th c.
Audioguide : ⑩
When he had planned to spend his hour observing the various paintings hung in the room, he ended up focusing on one only. He lost himself in the contemplation and would have almost forgot to go back to their teacher in due time if not for a man.
Grey eyes that twinkled with mischief. Black fitted jeans, white button down shirt with rolled sleeves. It looked like the some sort of uniform all the people working in the Museum were wearing but there was a bit of a twist that told Erik that Sirius Black (name read on the card hanging from the man’s lanyard) was something of a rebel.
It was only a few minutes later that he realised the man was calling his name and Erik snapped out of his reverie. Black was telling him Mr Lupin had sent for him and that they were to leave the Museum and that it would have been a shame to be locked-in that old place as they briskly walked back to the main hall where the kids where chattering and muttering something where Erik often recognised his name but he paid them no mind.
He could only think of the Viscount. Of his eyes. Of his lips. Of his lithe white hand.
Mr Lupin did look concerned but as soon as he saw Erik back to them he smiled with relief and muttered something to the visitor attendant who winked at him saucily. Erik was certain nobody else noticed the wink and the little blush that covered Mr Lupin's cheeks, all eager that they were to scamper out of the Museum.
The following week, at the end of the class, Erik asked Mr Lupin if he knew anything about Edward Rochester and the man in the painting but to no avail, the teacher knew no more than Erik did. But Erik was determined and he decided his A-Levels personal investigation would be on Rochester. The more he talked with Mr Lupin, the more he was convinced that it was the right thing to do.
Not finding immediate easy answers did not prevent Erik from dreaming about the Viscount. Sometimes, it would be a hand, sometime a kiss, a lavish and rich caress like velvet on his shivering skin. A pleasant tingle left in the wake of a ghost whispering his name, calling him from the abyss of time and loving him, leaving him panting in the wee hours.
Chapter 2: Once in Westchester Hall
Erik goes to the public library.
My many thanks to flightinflame, once again.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was a crisp Saturday morning, the yellowing leaves were shuddering in the breeze and by nine o’clock, Erik left the family home to go to the public library. He was the first person in, just after the librarians themselves and he made a beeline to the computer. It might have been his first time at that library but Erik was a regular user of them and not just because his mother had been a head university librarian for most of Erik's short life, so he knew what he was doing.
After fifteen minutes of intense looking into the catalogue, Erik wrote on a small piece of paper the list of the books he would search into that day and paper in hand, made his way to the counter.
- Contemporary Painters, Jon Rustin.
- The Great Men of Westchestershire, Edward Whitebeard
- Westchestershire in Art, Art in Westchestershire, William Easel
The lanky redhead librarian brought back the books the boy had requested and his colleague smiled smugly.
So you know, Mr Crowley aka Mr Lanky redhead librarian, had wanted them to get rid of these dusty old tomes a few months ago because no one would ask for them but Mr Fell had insisted so in the end and with little arguing, they kept the books. To be quite honest, even if Mr Fell had been strongly against the Shaw Commission and the books it had approved, they were part of History and had to be available. He was of a mind that censorship should not be fought with censorship. And someone did requested them.
Erik took them gladly and went into the seating area, dropped carefully the books on the table and took out his notepad. He opened the first page bore a huge menacingly red stamp « Approved by the Shaw Report » but Erik barely noticed it, all eager that he was to get new information. A quick look at the index and… there, squeezed between Joshua Reynold and Sartorius, was Edward Rochester.
Page 392, 393, and there 394!
In that book, articles consisted in several pages of biographical notice interspersed with paintings, facsimiles of letters and some explanation on the significance of the artists in art history. In Rustin’s opinion, not much was to be made out of Rochester, a minor decent painter. Erik decided to focus more on the letters, he could not stand the way the man shot down the artist in flames. Some were written by Rochester to a certain Lady W. and were highly formal, about the details and technicalities of the sitting sessions she would allow him for the realisation of her portrait. Another was about frescoes to be made at Westchester Hall, there Rustin insisted on how crude they were and how they showed no special talent. A few more letters were to be read but all were of the same kind. Orders and planning of sitting sessions. As if the man had been all work and no play. Something in Erik told him it could not be true.
The way a small smile tugged the Viscount’s lips in the painting he guessed it might have been due to the painter’s quipping while at work behind his easel, he looked... amused and pleased with mirthful eyes if it was possible to say that for a painting depicting a long-dead man he never met and would never met.
Erik kept reading the musty scented book and carried on till he he saw another letter, very short, congratulating Rochester on his engagement but he marked his page with his ruler and went to the counter. He disagreed so much with Rustin that because of Rustin’s opinion on the frescoes at Westchester Hall, they must be masterpieces of their own right.
— Sorry to disturb you, sirs, but does any of you know if Westchester Hall can be visited?
The lanky librarian barely rose his head from the book he was reading but his colleague smiled a bit sadly and asked him he had some time before him. A quick glance at his watch told him he had been here for a little more than an hour. He had time. He nodded and Mr Crowley made a snide comment about him needing a chair as Mr Fell was prone to rambling but Erik listened the librarian.
— It is a bit of a long story like dear Anthony here told you, I do think you’d better take a seat when he fixes us some tea. You do drink tea, right?
Erik nodded once again and Mr Crowley made his way to the break room, sighing dramatically. Mr Fell resumed as soon as dear Anthony got out and explained how the manor had been built at the turn of the 16th century and how the Xaviers acquired it at the end of the 17th century and made it one of the most beautiful estates of the time. Xavier, the name did ring a bell but Erik could not figure it out why… but he focused on the librarian.
At that moment, Mr Crowley came back with a tray of three steaming mugs and a little plate of biscuits and Mr Fell beamed at him, thanking him profusely but soon he resumed his expose after a sip of his scalding tea. He concluded that during WWII the manor, or rather what remained of it had been falling into decay and that by the mid-1950’s it had been completely demolished.
Erik’s heart sank into his chest. The librarian must have seen how he was affected by the situation as he appologised and offered Erik another biscuit, his colleague ever so softly rubbed his shoulder. The older men smiled mournfully as Erik muttered his thanks and went back to his table where the book was still waiting for him.
He quickly scanned the rest of the page, there Rustin spoke about Rochester’s engagement to a certain Jane but it had been very short-lived : a few months in, he and the woman tragically lost their lives in a fire engulfing the stables of his manor.
Rustin finished his dossier by inserting the necrology from the Westchester Gazette. The last line had been a final blow : no body had been recovered after the fire. Neither Rochester’s nor his fiancée's.
That it was. Black on white. In a book.
That was how Erik’s favourite painter had finished his life.
There was nothing more to be known about him.
Except if Erik asked his mum.
For those of you interested in history, Westchester Hall is based (minus the frescoes) on Ann Walker's Crow's Nest. More information to be found here : http://calderdalecompanion.co.uk/mmc214.html