Part II: The Girl in the Painting
The Girl in The Painting
Having explored the gardens, Robert gave Abby a grand tour of the Château. There were twenty nine rooms including the staff quarters in the west wing. Elaborate high ceilings with decorative coving ran through all the main rooms, many of which were empty. Enormous light fittings hung from the ceilings. All the walls were painted a dull yellow and every window was framed by heavy dark curtains. The entrance to each room was through a huge big door with elaborate gold handles. The seven bathrooms were almost identical. The only difference being the colour of the suite. The kitchen was huge. Abby could almost imagine the old days when the staff of the house would have congregated there. The cooks preparing elaborate meals; the service staff shining cutlery and the maids in their white hats and aprons. It was like something out of upstairs downstairs.
Abbey discovered Robert lived in the west wing. The rooms were tastefully decorated and more like a normal home. Robert planned to fill the main rooms with his paintings and open the Château to the public. His collection was almost ready. He had spent many years perfecting his art to ensure a breathtaking exhibit.
''I think you've seen just about everything.'' Robert said closing the door to one of the rooms in the west wing. ''Come on, I'll rustle up an omelet, you must be starving.'' Robert turned and walked down the hallway. Abby followed Robert into an modern open plan kitchen. Patio doors overlooked part of the garden. Robert was already opening a bottle of red wine. He poured a large glass, handed it to her and set about whisking eggs.
Abby swirled the wine in her glass and took a long sip. The wine was delicious. Walking over to the patio doors she stood and looked over the gardens were they'd walked earlier in the day. Dusk was well settled and shadows played on the lawns.
Ten minutes later Abby tucked into a tasty omelet. ''Aren't you eating?'' Abby questioned Robert eyeing him over her wine glass. He was watching her intently.
''No! I'm not hungry. I never have a good appetite when I'm in the middle of working.''
''Are you in the middle of working?'' Abby raised a perfect eyebrow.
''I've been studying you all day. That's how I begin. Next is the canvas.'' Robert smiled. Abby noticed his smile didn't reach is eyes, the way it did earlier. In fact Robert looked kind of tired; drawn even. ''Finish up. We have work to do.'' Robert said in a matter of fact tone.
''What, now? I thought we... er... well I thought we'd start tomorrow. You know, relax a little tonight.''
''Abby. I asked you to be my model. We start tonight. It's when I work best.'' Robert topped up her wine glass. ''Let's go.''
Abby wiped the back of her hand across her mouth. ''I'll just get my bag from the car,'' she said.
''You won't need it. I have a dress I want you to wear.'' Robert stood and walked out of the room. A sense of unease seeped through Abby's body. She couldn't put a finger on it exactly, but the atmosphere seemed changed. Perhaps it was simply Robert's artistic side coming out in preparation of a new masterpiece. Abby tried to shrug off the unwanted feeling and followed Robert back to the cold main rooms of the Château.
''Holy cow!'' Abby exclaimed as she looked around the grand hall. ''I see you kept the best for last.'' The huge room had wood paneled walls. The floor was polished mahogany. Giant candelabras with decorative crystal tear drops complete with candles hung from the ornate ceiling. Abbey gazed about the huge room; though the lighting was weak she could make out picture frames hanging on the walls. Handing her glass of wine to Robert she approached the first frame.
A painting of a young woman stared back at her. She wore a flowing low cut peach dress; lace adorned the neckline and sleeves; her hair was pulled back from her face in a loose knot; her eyes were a vibrant green and seemed to be watching her. Almost pleading. Abby drew back from the painting; she felt a sudden rush of heat fill her body. She continued along the wall: another painting; another young woman.
''The same dress.'' Abby pointed at the second painting.
''Yes.'' Robert answered.
Abbey walked the length of the great hall. The faces of young women stared at her from yellowing canvas. They all wore the same dress. Every woman had green eyes. They seemed so life like; there was something captivating about each woman. Abby felt unease flood back through her body. This didn't feel right. All these young women in the same gown. Their eyes.
''They all look so... so alive. Their eyes. Their eyes seem so real. It's... it's like their watching me. When you said portraits... I... I never thought they would be so... so real. I've never seen anything like it.'' Abby approached Robert.
He held a dress in his hands. The same peach dress. Holding it out to Abby he said. ''It's your turn now. You said you didn't want your zest for life to dissolve. I'll make sure the life within you always lives Abby. Always. I promise.''
Abby took the dress. It was beautiful. She gazed back at the many paintings adorning the walls. ''Did you know them all?'' She asked.
''Yes! I knew them all.'' Robert extended a hand, surveying the paintings. ''Every single one. I watched them just like I watched you.''
A strange feeling engulfed her being. She felt sick. Her heart was beating loudly in her hears. Her breathing heavy. For the first time in her life, Abby new the meaning of fear. A horrid tingling sensation, like tiny exploring insects crawling all over her skin inside and out rippled through her body.
The paintings were adorned by thick gold frames. Two frames hung empty. Abby pointed to the two empty frames. ''And these?'' she asked trying to keep her voice steady.
''Put the dress on Abbey. Now.''
''I don't want to... let's go back to the west wing. I'm feeling tired.''
''But you're a lover of art. And you hate your family and your miserable job; I'm doing you a favor Abbey.'' Robert's face convulsed with anger.
''I... I... got carried away; with you and the Château, everything. I don't want to do this. I... I've changed my mind. I don't want to model for you.''
''Put the dress on Abby, now!'' Robert grabbed her arm tightly and pulled her close. His other hand roughly grabbed a handful of her blond hair. She recoiled at the strong smell that seemed to ooze from his pores filling the room. An earthy smell; like dry wood slowly rotting. His beautiful face contorted with rage.
Abby took the dress; slowly she slipped off her clothes and stepped into the gown. It felt heavy and rough against her skin. The bodice was tight against her breast; she bound the lace ribbons around her slim waist. With every breath she felt weaker; as if her life was slowly been sucked from her veins. Robert watched her; his blue eyes danced madly in his head.
''Now; I will paint you; all of you. Everything about you Abbey will stay alive. Forever.'' Robert spoke softly, lovingly. Then his face clouded over.''Stand by the window.'' He ordered. Abby stood as she was told by the window. Thoughts of her friends drinking and laughing. Having fun at a party. The note she left; it never even said where she'd gone. How had this happened? Was it really that simple to seduce her; a handsome artist, a beautiful Château? What would her parents say? She gazed out at the beautiful gardens; her thoughts slowly ebbing away; drifting; like the lilac petals that danced in the breeze before landing on the cobbled pathways... forever melting into the ground...
The night arrived and settled quietly in the gardens surrounding the Chãteau. The blood red roses highlighted by a glowing full moon. Robert painted furiously well into the night; capturing another green eyed beauty to mount on his wall.
As the day dawned Robert's painting was finished. He was exhausted. Proudly he hung the painting along side the others. Standing back he gazed at the portrait. A beautiful young girl stared back at him. Her blonde hair nestled around her neck; her green eyes flared. She was truly vibrant and her zest for life was captured forever.
''I've given you the best view my love. I know how much you adore the garden.'' Robert spoke softly to the girl in the painting. ''You'll love it here.'' Robert raised a hand and gently touched the girls lips with a finger tip. ''I told you my darling, you'll never want to leave. He whispered tenderly, as a lover. ''And now my sweet you never will.''
Robert strode to the window. Carefully he scooped up the peach dress from the floor. He looked out the window: the roses were blooming and the sun flowers were radiant. He turned and looked at the portraits that adorned the walls. His collection was almost finished. He needed to rest a while. Painting always drained him. Holding the dress gently against his body he walked from the great hall. He closed the door behind him.
The portraits adorned by their ornate gold frames were left alone... their vibrant stares only for each other.
Only one remaining frame hung empty; waiting...
An extract from 'The Girl In The Painting'
© 2011 Gabriel Wilson