Authors: Sian James
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Ingrid Walsh sat on a sofa staring at the fire. The sofa was sumptuously covered with antique shawls and hand-painted cushions, but wasn't at all comfortable. There was another sofa back to back with it, facing some work in progress and a table holding paints and brushes and various plastic containers. Her hostess sat comfortable and relaxed on a dark blue modern-looking chair.
âHow did you meet him?' Ingrid asked. âYour late husband?'
âI contacted him when I was in my last year at Brighton Art College. I'd been very impressed by his poem,
Do you know it? The girl staring at the seagull and the poet staring at the girl. That's the painting I did of it.'
Ingrid looked up at where Rosamund Gilchrist was pointing; a large canvas, two figures in grey on a greenish-grey background, grey-whites, egg-shell whites, whites with sunshine behind, no seagull visible, but certainly wing-curves and clamour; a feel of sea and wind.
âDid he like it?' she asked.
Rosamund seemed non-committal. âDo you?'
âVery much. It seems incredibly mature for a student's work. How old were you?'
âTwenty-one, I suppose. Almost twenty-two. What are you writing?'
âOnly what you've just told me. If you like I'll show you the article before it's published.'
âReally? No one else has ever done that.'
âYou've had a bad time from journalists?'
âNo, not really. The only things I've ever sold have been as a result of their soppy articles â
Poet's muse finds consolation in her painting.
They smiled at each other.
âDid you illustrate any other of his poems?'
âNo. For a while I didn't paint at all.'
âSimply a poet's muse?'
âSimply an art teacher. I needed to earn a living.'
âWhere did you teach?'
âLiverpool. St Bartholomew's Comprehensive in Toxteth.'
For a moment they were both struck by visions of that different world. Here, the wide green valley lay silent beneath them, the only sounds the bleating of sheep and lambs in the distance.
âHow long had Mr Gilchrist lived here?'
âHe bought it in the late Sixties. It was once the village school, of course. It closed during some reorganisation; there were only eleven pupils here in the last few years â too few to be viable, I suppose. He had several visits from the last headmistress when he first came. She's dead now. I never met her. Her name was Dorothy Mason. She used to bring him home-made wine.'
âIt's made a wonderful studio.'
âYes. I feel guilty having it all to myself. I've advertised â had one or two artists come to view, but they felt it was too remote.'
âYou must feel that too, don't you? From time to time?'
âNot really. We get bad weather up here, but I've got a van with four-wheel drive; I can generally get about.'
âIsn't it very lonely for your son?'
âHe has friends living quite near. My mother's moved to one of the new houses in the village, so he stays with her occasionally. I suppose he will start complaining, but he hasn't yet. He's only nine.'
âWill he go away to school?'
âNo, I'd be lonely without himÂ â¦ I expect I'll have to drive him into town on a Saturday night when he's a bit older, but I'm sure it won't be too much of a problem.'
Ingrid looked at the drawings of Rosamund's son which were pinned up haphazardly on the wall between the piano and the fireplace, none of them framed. âDo you sell any of these?' she asked, surprising herself by the question, realising that she'd very much like to own one.
âNo, I never have. This part of the studio is my sitting room. These are really my private things.'
âDoesn't it get very cold here in the winter?'
âDo you mean inside the house?'
âNot particularly. Anthony had two central-heating systems put in, oil and calor gas â he wasn't very robust. I don't usually bother with the log fire, that's just because you were coming.'
âIt looks lovely. All this was done before you moved in?'
âYears before. It's nice, isn't it? Those cupboards are the original ones, where all the schoolbooks were kept. The blackboard would have been where the piano is now. There was a piano here, but over on that wall. I wish he'd bought it. This one seems too new.'
âDo you play?'
âNot well. An old school piano would suit my playing.'
Ingrid couldn't think what else to ask. Her article was meant to be on Rosamund Gilchrist's paintings, but it was Rosamund herself who interested her. She'd speculated about her for years. All Anthony Gilchrist's obituaries had ended with two sentences summing up his third marriage.
âHe leaves a wife and six month-old son. He was seventy-five.'
She looked again at Rosamund. He had been seventy-five. Well, it happened. Artists were more attractive and perhaps more virile than ordinary men â look at Picasso, look at Casals. Anthony Gilchrist looked a pretty shrivelled-up specimen, though, tall and dignified, but stern. She'd often watched him on television, but never with a flicker of sexual interest. What had Rosamund seen in him? A good studio, perhaps, and an escape from teaching.
âListen,' she said, âI've got something to tell you. I've come here on false pretences. I do intend to write an article on your paintings, I think they're really good, but there is something else.'
âI thought there might be,' Rosamund said gently. âNo one's been interested in my work since Anthony's death. So what are you after?'
Ingrid tensed. âI'm not
anything. I've just got something to tell you. My boyfriend works for one of the Sundays. And they've been offered a series of your late husband's poems and letters.'
There was only a second's delay. âWould that be from Erica Underhill?'
âThat's right. You know her?'
âI know about her. I've never met her.'
âThey're fairlyÂ â¦ well, pornographic apparently. I thought you should know about them.'
âSimply so thatÂ â¦ I mean, I simply wanted you to have time to prepare for the shock. It's bound to come as rather a shock, isn't it? At least now you'll have time to consider what to do about them. Perhaps you should get in touch with your solicitor or something. I didn't want you to get hurt.'
Rosamund stared at the fire and Ingrid studied the drawings of Rosamund's son and started to count them. There were twenty-two.
Rosamund got to her feet. âDid your boyfriend know you intended to warn me about the poems?'
âNo.' Ingrid started to count the drawings again.
âYou thought they'd shock me? Well, it was very good of you to warn me about them. That's all I can think of to say. And now you really needn't do anything about my paintings. You've done your good deed.'
Ingrid stood up and faced her. âI've been commissioned by
to write a four thousand-word article about them with five or six photographs. I'd like to examine them now. Will you tell me something about them, please?'
They walked to the far end of the long room. âWell, that's
hung up there in the place of honour. I've already told you about that. I didn't paint another for three or four years. Not until I finished teaching and came to live here. The others are mostly of these hills and this valley.'
âThis is lovely, this little one. Wonderful sky, wonderful colours. How can I possibly describe this? “Cool greens, warm purple and gold, the gentle hills of summer,”' Ingrid wrote in her small red notebook.
âI have read the poems, you know.'
âYou have? That's a relief. I needn't have mentioned it then. But I'm glad I did.'
âSo am I. He was obsessed by Erica Underhill for several years, but not to the extent that he'd send her the only copies.'
âWhere are yours?'
âIn the bank. He wanted them to stay there for twenty years after his death. Then I'm to release them for publication.'
âWhy the delay? Did he tell you?'
âHis second wife was still alive and I suppose he didn't want to upset her. I suppose he felt he'd given her enough grief.'
âIs she still alive?'
âAs far as I know. Yes, I'm sure she is or I'd have heard.'
âThere's a son, too?'
âYes. Alex Gilchrist. Also his wife, Selena, and two children. Teenagers now, I should think.'
âHas his son read the poems?'
âI shouldn't think so. They weren't very close. But I don't know.'
They moved towards another series of small paintings. âMy Cubist period,' Rosamund said. âMercifully short. You're welcome to note the influence of CÃ©zanne. This one should be called,
After CÃ©zanne. A Long Way After.
âIt's good. Don't knock it. People take you at your own valuationÂ â¦ Do you ever come up to London?'
âNo. Haven't been for three or four years.'
âDo you have a boyfriend?'
âNo. If you'd asked me a week or so ago, I might have said yes.'
âWhat happened? Your secrets are safe with me.'
âI thought you were a journalist. Oh, the usual thing. His wife found outÂ â¦ This one's called
Not even up to my usual mediocre standard, but I thought someone might buy it because of the association.'
âIs that where he proposed to you?'
âNo. Where I sometimes posed for him.'
âDid he paint?'
âNo. Just looked.'
âPoet's muse. Botticelli's
âBotticelli? That's a nice change. Pre-Raphaelite is the usual description.'
âNot at all. Those heavy women; all eyes and goitres. Not you at allÂ â¦ So, you used to take your clothes off and sit on this gate?'
âOr astride it. You're not writing that down, are you?'
âDefinitely not. And don't give anyone else that sort of detail, please, or you'll have a most unsuitable mob of journalists after you. “The five-bar gate leading to a sheep-run with the drop of the valley behind it, was one of her late husband's favourite views and called
in his honour.” Right?'
âRight. And these are the most recent. All painted in the last twelve months.'
âThese are different again, aren't they? Much darker. This one is almost a nightmare scene, isn't it? “A wickedly dark sky, a peeping moon, the gate swinging on its hinges.” Is it the same gate?'
âYes, the same gate. But I can't comment, really. I seem to be seeing the world differently now, that's allÂ â¦ You've written all that down, haven't you? I didn't mean you to.'