tagNonHumanWhat The Catalogue Doesn't Tell

What The Catalogue Doesn't Tell

by130260©

What the catalogue doesn't tell

(A companion story to Careful what you ask for)

Robert MacAllister studied the catalogue with meticulous interest, every now and then taking a sip from his glass of finest ruby port. It was to be the biggest sale of erotic art for years and he had his eye on several items. He had been an avid collector of erotica for many years. His wife, Amanda, now often joked that it was to compensate for the fact that he could no longer manage the real thing. But ribald humour was one of the things that had cemented their marriage for nearly 40 years and he would simply blow a large smoke ring from his huge cigar. His self-satisfied smile making it clear to everyone that, as far as he was concerned, nothing more needed to be said.

He was particularly interested in a group of three statues depicting naked Greek or Roman youths, one standing, one kneeling and one reclining. What had instantly attracted him to them was the fact that they all had anatomically correct erect phalluses. This had given him the idea of placing them on their plinth in a secluded wooded part of his estate in order to give guests a surprise when he showed them around his domain.

He had bought Courtfield Manor several years ago on his retirement from a successful career as a City financier that had culminated in his chairmanship of a leading merchant bank. He had bought the elegant Georgian mansion with its 1000 acres of prime Home Counties real estate on the strength of its somewhat salacious history. The builder of the house was a classic English aristocratic eccentric who was fascinated by pagan rituals and, so the stories said, would invite similarly minded friends to enact whatever orgiastic rites they could discover or invent. His desire to be able to indulge his hobby in the open air and in secret led him to create a wooded glade, complete with sacred lake and waterfall and a Doric temple and altar on a grassy mound, and surround it with a massive brick wall to keep out prying eyes. The wood had been planted with small clearings here and there, presumably to allow for more intimate assignations and activities, and Robert planned to place the group of statues in one of these clearings. He read the catalogue entry again,

"Lot 327. A group of three naked youths or young men in classical Greek or Roman style by Eduard Durand (1819-1871), a minor French artist painting in impressionist style and producing the occasional sculpture in classical style. The similarity between the figures suggests that they are studies of the same person, whose identity is not known. The artist spent most of his adult life a semi-recluse in a remote hamlet in the Vendee region. It is a mystery why he produced this work at the very end of his life, as it bears little relationship to any other surviving work of his, which are mostly rural landscapes and studies of local people."

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The news from Paris that filtered through to the tiny rural hamlet deep in the Vendee continued to go from bad to worse as the Prussian armies tightened their grip around the City and spread like a blue plague across Northern France. Louis Napoleon had fled, the latest victim to fall before Bismarck's boundless ambition. But even such epochal events, taking place as they were many miles and a different world away, were of virtually no consequence to the inhabitants of the hamlet and none at all to Eduard Durand.

He had come there, ironically in view of current events, soon after Louis Napoleon had come to power during the great revolutionary wave that had swept across Europe in that year. Ever since he had seen his first art exhibition in Paris as a youth he had been determined to become an artist and had steadfastly resisted all his father's attempts to make him follow the family profession and become a lawyer. In the end, he had been disinherited and had decided to leave Paris for good. His mother had continued to support him in secret in spite of the threat of her husband's ire if discovered, but she had died, again ironically, in the year that Louis Napoleon proclaimed the Second Empire. With her support gone, he had eked out a precarious living, managing to sell a picture every now and then and getting the occasional commission from the local worthies. For much of the time he survived on the charity of the villagers, who accepted him and his eccentricities without question or comment, at least in his presence, and left him undisturbed for the most part. In return he would quickly sketch a portrait of his benefactor in pencil or crayon on any odd scrap of paper he had to hand.

His favourite spot for landscape painting was along the open banks of the stream that ran through fields near the edge of the hamlet. The fields on the far bank led up to wooded hills and he delighted in capturing the scene over and over again as the light and the shadows and the seasons changed moment by moment and day by day and year by year. He was there in his accustomed spot, preparing a fresh canvas for the first brush strokes to sketch in the scene that only his mind's eye could see, when he saw the three youths for the first time. They sat by the waters' edge, each with a short fishing pole watching the line intently. They waved an enthusiastic greeting when they saw him and he raised his paintbrush in his customarily restrained response to any human contact.

Alain, a youth of 18 and his twin brothers Hercule and Artur, younger by two years, had come with their mother as refugees from the chaos of Paris, having secured safe passage out of the city thanks to the good offices of a distant cousin of hers serving on the staff of the Prussian commander-in-chief. They were staying in a ramshackle villa, with few of the comforts they were used to, which belonged to her aunt. It was a short walk from the stream and the boys came there each day to bathe and swim and frolic without a care for the circumstances that had brought them here. They soon became used to seeing Eduard sitting at his easel and Eduard accepted them as part of the changing landscape and began to incorporate them into his paintings and sketches. Their mother, in spite of their straitened circumstances and in the spirit of noblesse oblige, commissioned a painting of her and her sons, which brought him some much-needed income.

A few days after completing the portrait, Eduard was trying out a new viewpoint close to the water's edge. All was tranquil and he was fully absorbed in his task when suddenly a figure shot up from under the water.

"I'm so sorry I startled you Monsieur," exclaimed Alain when he had finished spluttering and rubbing his eyes clear.

"It was nothing," replied Eduard awkwardly as he retrieved his brush and replaced his hat, "You had to surface somewhere."

Having regained his composure he took a long look at Alain. The youth stood up to his waste in the shallows while water continued to run in rivulets down his shining skin from his abundant hair hanging in tight, dark ringlets around his intelligent and very attractive face. His body was tanned and muscular from plenty of outdoor exercise. As he continued to look at him, he couldn't help thinking that he was seeing the living embodiment of the classical statues he had studied in his youth. And Alain was altogether different from the half-starved specimens that Eduard had depicted during life-painting classes. Alain smiled at him and something in his smile touched something buried deep inside the older man.

"Why don't you come in for a bathe?" asked Alain in a manner that was subtly enticing, "The water is lovely and it's so good to feel fresh and clean."

Eduard demurred for a moment and then an idea came to him.

"I will bathe with you if afterwards you will let me draw you as you are now."

Alain thought this was a wonderful idea and while Eduard undressed he swam to the opposite bank and returned with the brick of soap he had washed himself with. Eduard's personal habits were erratic at best and he would often go for days at a time without a drop of water coming into contact with his skin. He had to admit that it did feel very pleasant as Alain lathered his scalp and his body several times over in between submerging himself. As the water and soap soaked and carried away the grime from his body in murky clouds until it ran clear again, he felt refreshed and energised. Then Alain playfully splashed water over his head and this prompted a vigorous bout of wrestling as they thrashed around in the stream trying to get a purchase on each other's wet and slippery bodies.

Laughing and gasping for breath they emerged from the water and shook themselves dry. Eduard noticed that Alain was erect.

"Can you keep yourself looking like that while I sketch you?" he said to the youth.

"Looking like what?" he replied, grinning and knowing full well what Eduard was talking about as he enjoyed the older man's awkward efforts to say what he really meant.

"With your 'thing' big and sticking up like that," explained Eduard, trying hard not to look at it too indiscreetly.

"Oh that," laughed Alain as he enjoyed his joke, "I can keep myself like this for as long as you want me to." He saw that Eduard was reaching for his clothes. He cocked his head enquiringly to one side and spoke with a smile that was gentle and winsome in its seeming innocence. "Do you really need to be clothed in order to draw me Eduard?"

Eduard found this appeal irresistible and, feeling like some kind of naked water sprite, sat cross-legged on the grassy bank with his sketchbook.

He sketched furiously as Alain lay, knelt and stood in a variety of poses occasionally rubbing and stroking himself to keep himself hard. After about half an hour he had filled his entire sketchbook with studies of the beautiful youth.

"Is there anything more you would like me to do for you now Eduard?" Alain looked at him again with that same winsome expression.

Eduard wavered for a moment.

"I don't know...that is...I'm not sure...but you see."

After what seemed to him an eternity of agonising indecision he made the fateful choice to sacrifice himself to his art. "No, I must go back to my work. I have to work when inspiration visits me." He stumbled around as he tried to put on his clothes as quickly as he could and then staggered and stumbled away, awkwardly carrying his easel, sketchpad and box of materials.

"Au revoir Monsieur," Alain called after him.

"What do you mean?" he replied as he stopped and turned his head.

"We are leaving for Martinique tomorrow to live with my uncle."

xxxxxxxxxx

His first idea was for a large painting of Alain showing him standing, kneeling and reclining. Then he decided to embark on what would be his ultimate artistic statement, a series of three life-sized statues in classical style in white marble on a marble plinth. It also became his consuming obsession. He virtually bankrupted himself to pay for the marble. He shut himself away for days at a time in the ramshackle hut that was his home and his studio. As he poured his life and his strength into his magnum opus and as the statues gradually emerged from the marble to embody his vision of youthful vitality, strength and beauty, so did his diminish. He no longer cared for himself. He hardly ate or drank or slept. His desire to capture and express his vision of Alain and the feelings that the youth had stirred in him that day drove him on. It was to be a monument to a love that had been lost at almost the very second of its realisation.

Finally the work was completed except for one significant detail. Emboldened by love, he had decided from the start to reproduce exactly what he had seen of Alain that day. But how was he to model the final detail to perfection? He removed his clothes and contemplated his own manhood, flaccid and grubby in his hand. What had Alain done to make his look so magnificent? He remembered, and a few gentle strokes produced the desired result. He might there and then have grasped the opportunity thereby presented in the spirit of carpe diem, but he had been fated in life to be supremely an observer, a recorder, an interpreter.

With dividers and a rule, he carefully measured his length and his circumference and the angle at which he stood proud. He noted the curve of the glans and the size and position of the opening. He traced the lines of the blood vessels and established the mass and the hang of his sack. He had considerable skill as a stone carver and after a few more days of meticulous and obsessive toil all three statues were displaying their manhood, fixed to their bodies by a skilfully executed plug and socket arrangement that left hardly any visible join.

He had poured almost all of himself into his monumental declaration of his love and the little that remained was crushed by the realisation, from which he could no longer hide now that his work was finally done, that his love was lost forever. The eyes of the standing statue seemed to draw him forward with the same winsome power of their inspiration. His hand trembled more and more with each tentative step closer to his creation until his fingers finally rested on the smooth marble pointing straight towards his eyes.

Feverishly he grasped it and slid his hand up and down the cold stone as his heart ached for the feel of warm vibrant flesh. He began to fumble with his trouser buttons with his free hand. His heart thudded and he began to hear a loud rushing noise inside his head as sweat beaded his brow. His fingers lost all co-ordination as they failed against the barrier of his trouser buttons. The first excruciating blow struck his heart.

His heart had never been strong and had had to struggle to cope with many years of casual neglect. But now the last few weeks of almost total deprivation were reaching their inevitable climax. The last things he knew were the pitiless eyes of the statue boring like white hot pokers into his own as a volcano erupted in his chest. He was dead before he hit the floor.

It was nearly a week before he was missed. The villagers were accustomed to him shutting himself away for days at a time. His neighbour, Jourdain the blacksmith, finally broke through the door and crossed himself as he beheld the scene. The blackened body of the creator in its mortal decay had become the ghastly antithesis of the pure white changeless beauty of his creation. The blacksmith, a proud giant of a man, trembled as he covered the body with the filthy and threadbare blanket from the dilapidated iron bed in the corner of the hut. Then he sweated in his anxiety as he enshrouded the statues in a tarpaulin and secured it around with a chain and padlock to obscure their corrupting influence before he sent word to the doctor. He was in the confessional box for much longer than usual on the following Sunday.

As Eduard had no known living relatives, it fell to the local notary to dispose of his estate, such as it was. The sale of his few possessions and several paintings was sufficient to pay for a proper churchyard burial and avoid the final ignominy of an unmarked pauper's grave. On being shown the statues by Jourdain, he assured the blacksmith that he would see to there safe disposal and swore him to everlasting secrecy.

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"The statues were sold secretly by Ignace Flourauld, the local notary responsible for winding up the artist's estate, to the owner of a brothel in Bordeaux, which he had the habit of frequenting. It became a subject of notoriety and came to the attention of the 4th Marquis of Bedhampton, an infamous roué and libertine, who in 1875 bought it for 2000 francs and installed it in his private gallery at his estate in Berkshire. It has remained in the family until the present, in spite of being an object of considerable controversy and lurid speculation as to the activities for which is was employed. It is being sold to raise funds for much-needed restoration work in the east wing of Bedhampton manor."

In the event, Robert MacAllister's determination to own the statues was more than matched by the resources he could bring to bear in order to achieve his aim. Although his wallet was lighter by £65,000 he was happy. He had won and he loved to win. Winning was a habit in the MacAllister family and central to its creed. He and his younger brother David had both achieved a first in law at Cambridge. In fact getting a first at Cambridge was something of a family tradition. His son Miles and his nephews and niece, David's three sons and daughter, had all got firsts in their chosen fields. His daughter Judith had followed in Amanda's footsteps and moved forward triumphantly to a distinguished career as a ballerina and latterly a highly regarded teacher, choreographer and writer on dance. His niece Lorna had seemed set to step into Judith's pointe shoes but, just as a place in the corps of the Royal Ballet seemed to be within her grasp, she had abruptly changed tack and gone on to get her first at law at Cambridge.


So it was with great pleasure and satisfaction that Robert supervised the installation of the latest monument to the ongoing story of MacAllister family success in its allotted position within the Glade. He looked forward to the reactions and comments of his guests at his annual summer party a week hence.

The party was a great success and the sudden appearance of the statues in front of his guests as Robert led them in little groups into the leafily enclosed clearing prompted all manner of shrieks and guffaws of laughter and risqué comments. David and his wife Pamela, being both rather straight and serious-minded people, were predictable and pointed exceptions, while their daughter Lorna, normally more fun-minded like her uncle and aunt, studied the statues for a long time with a keen intensity, saying nothing.

**********

A few days later, Robert's quiet contemplation of the Sunday papers was disturbed as Amanda called to him from the drawing room phone.

"Lorna wants to spend the afternoon in the Glade."

"Who has she fallen out with this time?" he sighed. For Lorna, falling out with people was almost a way of life. She was small and, although 28, was so girlishly pretty that she looked more like a gauche teenager. But her sweet little girl appearance was wrapped around a formidable intellect, an iron determination to succeed in all she attempted, a voracious capacity for hard work and a heedless desire to have her own way as much as she could get away with. It was as if she was the ultimate expression of the MacAllister gene pool. She often used this dichotomy to her advantage in her career and her relationships. She was already a well-known expert on the legal aspects of international structured financing and well on the way to becoming one of the youngest partners in her law firm. She also had no trouble at all in attracting men.

But her career success was not matched with lasting success in her relationships. Her cute pretty girl exterior also disguised a tempestuously passionate nature that was completely at odds with her more cerebral and self-regulated parents and more than any of her boyfriends had been able to handle, apart from one. She seemed to take it in turns to fall out with her parents, each of her three brothers, her latest hapless beau and her best and longest-suffering friend from ballet school days, Caroline Knight. She was the quintessential control freak.

Whenever this happened she always turned to the only people she never fell out with, Robert and Amanda. They both loved her almost as a second daughter. Robert had an especially tender spot for her but was far too wise to be manipulated by her, which she respected. Amanda and Judy had often been a back-up mum and big sister for her in her difficult times. They had given her lots of help with her ballet during many sessions together in Amanda's studio, in a converted stable block, where she still gave tuition to promising dancers. They had been especially disappointed by her sudden decision to give up the chance of a career as a ballet dancer and become a lawyer, but had supported her as they always did.

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