Friday, January 02, 2009

Happy New Year - Toby 3


We had a wonderful New Eve and then a New Year's Day celebration that blew away any remeaining cobwebs. If I simple said we had barbequed sausages on the beach - most people would assume I was back in Dubai - but no. I was on a beach in Cornwall with the Eastly wind keeping hopping the whole time. great fun indeed :-)


London, 17th April 1846
Toby sat silently in the corner staring out of the carriage. The scenery passed in a blur. He should be interested in everything, but he couldn’t focus on anything in particular. His cousin and her husband sat on the other side and they kept looking at each other but not speaking. No one was.
Yesterday he had left the one place he loved. The sound of Mrs. Williams crying had not gone away. Toby longed to cry, but he knew that was not done. He let the rain outside shed the tears he for him. Toby didn’t want to be here. He belonged in Cornwall in Trevenen House by the sea. No one would listen to him. The visitors had arrived and everything had changed. In fact it had changed before they arrived.
Since his mother left, his father showed no happiness. Toby was six when she went to visit her maternal family in New York. He clung to her and begged to go with her, but his father held him back. He could still hear her voice.
“Talan, let him come with me.” She stared hard at Father then dropped her eyes.
“No, he’s too young to travel so far. You’ll be back in no time,” he said.
“My family would love to see him. Please.” His father’s hand tightened on his shoulders.
“No, Clarisse, he stays with me.”
He could see tears in her eyes as she went out to the waiting carriage. The last image of her was her soft brown hair tucked under her hat and her gloved hands waving to him from the carriage. Then she was gone.
Looking across at his cousin, he could see the same soft brown hair, but she was not as pretty as Mother. Her face was hard with a sour expression which Toby felt made her ugly. Cousin Meredith and her husband had made a big fuss of his thirteenth birthday and then spent Easter at Trevenen House. All the time there they were plotting and trying to convince Father that Toby needed to go; to get away from Trevenen House. It was not good for a young boy, they told his father - so many times that he eventually gave in. So now Toby sat with these two traitors and he was on his way to some school. He was to spend a term there and if he behaved he could go home to Trevenen House before he was sent to Eton. His father had gone there and so had his grandfathers. Now he must follow in their footsteps, but he didn’t want to.
The carriage stopped. Outside looked somehow familiar. He had been here before.
“Tobias, your father has arranged to have your portrait painted. You will spend today with the artist. Tomorrow we will take you to school.” Meredith’s clipped tones made everything she said sound horrid.
The carriage door opened and Toby walked hesitantly into the rain. Meredith’s shoes clicked as she bustled past him. Head bowed he followed. A man in a coloured waistcoat with his shirt tails hanging out greeted Toby. Meredith pulled Toby by the hand shoving him through the door.
“Hello, Tobias. We have met before, but I don’t suppose you’ll remember that.” The door went clunk behind him. “I’m Frederick Peters and I’m going to paint your portrait.” The man was thin and quietly spoken. Toby let out a big sigh; at least he did not have to spend the day with his cousins. This man had once been kind to him. He had the sketch of his mother in his trunk. Toby wondered whether the portrait had been finished and why it never made it home.
“Shall we have a cup of tea before we start?” asked Frederick.
“Yes, please.” Toby shrugged off his overcoat and looked for a place to hang it. Frederick took it and threw it over an old chair which filled the hallway. It was already piled high with things including a marble bust of someone without a nose. Toby’s hand reached out to touch the cold hard surface with jagged edges but he stopped, turned and followed Frederick.
After the darkness of the hallway, the room was filled with light even on this dank day. Toby recalled it vividly as the smells of the oil paints and thinners caught his nose. Standing in the corner were several easels and stacked against the walls were hundreds of canvases. He could see some had been used, but most faced inwards and he couldn’t tell if they were completed or ready for painting. The sound of the rain hitting the glass roof reminded him of the hours he spent by his window listening to the rain and wondering who was out at sea.
“Please sit down, Tobias.” Frederick waved his hand toward a leather sofa at the far end of the room. Toby sat among the coloured cushions looking at a sketch pad on the floor with a picture of a woman without clothes. He sat on the edge of the seat and turned his eyes to the window yet they were constantly dragged back to the image of her on what had to the sofa he was sitting on. Her face was turned away from the viewer as if she was lost in thought and a scarf ran from her arm extended above her head across her… He stopped there. He could feel his face glowing red.
“Tobias can you pull that small table out from under that rug beside you?” Toby jumped to his feet. His eyes fell on the Turkish rug folded on top of a small table. As Toby moved it he was surprised that the table could hold the weight as it was the flimsiest table he had ever seen. Gingerly he picked it up and placed it in front of the sofa. He hoped that the colour of his face had returned to normal, but he couldn’t stop thinking about the sketch.
“Now, Tobias, tell me something about yourself.” Toby watched Frederick’s long fingers grasp the teapot and pour. They were very elegant hands. His mother had had elegant hands.
“Well, sir, I am thirteen.”
“That is a start. What do you like to do?” asked Frederick.
Toby took a sip of tea. He wasn’t sure how to answer.
“Let’s make it simpler. What do you like? Chocolate? Cake? Running?”
“Oh, I like Mrs. Williams’ spice cake with cream.”
“Good. What else?” Toby’s mind raced to the Nare. He loved to stare at the sea and listen, but he could never tell that for no one would understand. The sea told him secrets.
“I’m not sure, sir.”
“I’m sure you have a dog. Do you love the dog?” Frederick waved his sandwich about as he spoke.
“We have many, sir, but none is mine. They are for the farm and for hunting,” said Toby.
“Do you hunt?”
“A bit.” Toby thought about the pheasants in the woods. He loved their colours darting among the trees.
“Not to your taste.”
“Oh, no, I quite like it.”
“Well, you live by the sea. Do you sail?” asked Frederick.
“Yes.” Toby smiled.
“Do you have your own boat?”
“Yes,” said Toby.
“What’s her name?”
“Elsbeth.”
“What colour is she?” asked Frederick.
“Blue, deep blue like the sea on a summer’s day.”
Frederick was smiling at him now. Toby smiled back.
“What do you like about sailing?”
Toby paused. What did he like about sailing most? Being near his mother, but he could never say that. He had tried to tell his father once and his father had slapped his face and walked away.
“I don’t know. Just being on the water I think.”
“Freedom?”
Toby had never thought about that. Yes, there had been freedom ever since he had his own little boat.
“Yes,” said Toby.
“Do you like the sea?” Frederick asked.
“Yes.”
“Good.”
“Sir, why good?” asked Toby.
Frederick smiled at him.
“Well, in order to paint you I need to know a bit about you. I have to try and capture what in truth is not to be captured. It is a fleeting thing, a glimpse into the soul. It is a moment when my brush transfers an image of a person to canvas. If I don’t know anything about the person then it is a hollow image. Do you understand?”
Toby nodded. He did understand.
“Sir, did you capture my mother or just get an image?”
Frederick paused as he was getting up. He then sat back down.
“So you do remember coming here before.”
“Yes, I still have the sketch you gave me.” Toby bit his lower lip but continued. “It’s all I have to remember her by.” Frederick reached out and put a hand on Toby’s shoulder.
“Tobias, come see. Tell me if I captured your mother.” Toby followed him to a corner of the room where a tall canvas was covered in an old cloth. Frederick pulled the cloth away and stood back watching Toby. Toby stood with his hand clenched in front of him. Tears welled in his eyes. There she was in all her warm beauty. He could almost touch her and feel her breath on his skin.

7 comments:

Un Peu Loufoque said...

Blimey that was a jolly good read!! Happy new year!

HelenMHunt said...

Wow that is so powerful. I hope you'll post more.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Just dropped in to say Happy New Year - will come back to read Toby's story when I have more time (at least, that is my intention... yes I know all about the road to hell...)

Flowerpot said...

how come you had sun when a few miles away we've had non stop grey clouds?!!! have a great new year Liz - will be back to read Toby dreckly. Ailing husband calls.....

Debs said...

Sausages on the beach, yum.

Love reading this excerpt. Can't wait to read the entire book.

Hope you have a wonderful 2009.

liz fenwick said...

Un Peu L - thanks :-)

Helen , you are kind and I will because I am finding it a very useful exercise. I have always felt good about Toby's bit of AR and by taking it out and letting it stand on its own I can see why and it is helping look at the main chunk of the story Judith and Tristan more clearly or at least i hope so!

Zinnia, I know that road so well:-)

FP, we have had plenty of sun but will confess these photos are a few days old.......

Debs, I think it will be a long time before all of AR sees the light of day but you never know!

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