Shadows of the Viscount's Art

Submitted into Contest #239 in response to: Write a story about an artist whose work has magical properties.... view prompt

13 comments

Drama Fantasy Friendship

Lady Harcourt, like everybody else from Essex, knew nothing about Viscount Arundhel except for the fact that he was one of the richest men in all of Great Britain, as a consequence of his sculptures holding an unparalleled light which made them so very dear. For some unknown cause, all of his buyers detested the sculptor just as much as they adored his art, and over the years, he had been almost ostracised from society. Even so, the idea of him intrigued her to a fault, so greatly that she found herself sitting in his drawing room with her lady maid, whom she had brought along as a chaperone.

“I must confess, when I was told Lady Harcourt desires an audience with me, I reckoned it would be your mama.” His presence imbued the room. There was no hostility in his tone despite the choice of his words. 

“Mama is busy with Audrey’s wedding.” Clara bowed slightly.

He nodded in acknowledgment, “Are you perhaps looking for a sculpture for the wedding?” 

Ah yes! He would right away ask for the reason behind her visit. “Not quite. I was wondering if we could have a word?” 

“You and I, my lady?” Lord Arundhel appeared arrested. It didn’t seem he had many guests. Certainly not maidens like her. 

“Yes, my lord. I was hoping you could help me with one venture.” His eyebrows creased in confusion. 

“Are you carving something perhaps?” 

“I am not, but I would like to. With you.” Lady Harcourt most certainly knew it was a bold proposal.

He projected a powerful aura as he gazed at her pensively, “Why me? I suppose your father must have mentored you quite so when you were a girl.” 

The former Earl of Effingham had been an excellent sculptor before he lost his hand; it was common knowledge. It was not the Viscount's sculptures but everything else about him that intrigued her, if the truth were known. The interest was an outcome of the assumptions she made up in her head whenever there was a rumour afloat between the ton. “He indeed has, but since his death I ceased sculpting. And after all these years, I wish to sculpt Medusa. The cursed goddess.”

He tipped his head to the left, “Medusa was not a goddess, but a mortal.” 

“She was cursed for sins that couldn’t be.” 

“The curse, essentially, protected her from sinners.” 

“Nevertheless, she suffered.” 

“That was her fate.” He replied. 

“I daresay… isn’t that simply another name for tragedy?” Lady Harcourt knew she had his interest when his lips tipped up just a little. 

“Will it be all right if I write you my answer in a few days?” 

“Of course, my lord.” She gave him a cheeky smile.

Monday forenoon Clara received the letter, and while she had awaited his reply for a whole week, she was rather nervous to open it. Taking a deep breath, she gathered courage. 

The letter stated that Viscount Arundhel had set forth certain conditions, the foremost being his refusal to mentor her; he deemed their arrangement a one-time occurrence. Secondly, they would sculpt only at the Stansgate house, his second manor in Essex. And lastly, he had no desire to be named as the creator of the sculpture in conjunction with her.

Clara perceived his terms to be odd; however, she decided to abide by them since this one-time arrangement would meet her curiosity. She wrote back to him that afternoon conveying that she hoped they would start sculpting with utmost haste, as she could roam freely only till her mama was busy with Audrey's wedding preparation.

Viscount Arundhel had not had a lady over at one of his manors in a long time now. It was least genteel of him to be contingent about the location, but he was not a gentleman. At least the society did not deem him to be one. However, it appeared Lady Harcourt did not agree with the society. She was eccentric, with her Medusa notion and her valour. And somehow, it did not work on her. She was not manipulated by his sculptures. She did not despise him. Yet.

“By God, this orangery is quite magnificent.” A smile blossomed on Lady Harcourt’s face. 

“I do hope it is to your liking.” 

“It is.” They slowly got into a rhythm, working on the maquette before they committed to the sculpture. From his periphery, Ezra could discern the stolen glances Lady Harcourt was casting at him every so often. The air was charged with slight tension, as he himself could not stop stealing glances at her.

“I trust I do not offend you by asking this—why have you not married yet? You are thirty years in age, are you not?” Of all the queries, Ezra failed to foresee this one coming from Lady Harcourt. 

“Ma’am, I am twenty-nine years in age.” He corrected her.

 “And I shall not be offended by your curiosity, as we will make an acquaintance over the next few weeks. When my sculptures gained recognition eight years ago, the responsibilities that came with my position as a Viscount and sculpting alongside took all of my time. I discontinued attending balls, and people of the ton quit inviting me after a few years.” Ezra wished she would not dwell further on this topic.

However, she did. “I suppose, it would not take long for you to take a wife if you wished.”

“Unfortunately, you are mistaken. The ton could not detest me more. I do not reckon anyone would wish their daughter with me.” 

“I must say your beliefs are betraying you, my lord. You are quite wealthy, handsome, and a notable gentleman. These traits make for a great eligible bachelor.” 

“You are too kind, my lady.” He dipped his head to hide the smile framing his face. Over the years, it was the first compliment he had received as a man, and not as an artist. He relished it since he did not know till when this would last.

As days went by, her questions only increased. On some days they would converse about their families, on some days she would tell him tittle-tattle of the ton, and on some days she would quite daringly question him about the eight years he had been shunned from the society. The Viscount decided she was as inquisitive as she was lovely. He also decided that the manipulations of his artwork did not quite work upon her. It was a speculation. Nevertheless, it was a relatively satisfactory speculation.

Ezra Arundhel was aware that he had undoubtedly been lonely over the timeframe of eight years. Even so, he never went the extra mile to make a friend. Now, he had started looking forward to his sculpting sessions with Lady Harcourt. He did not suppose, he saw her in a romantic light. In truth, he did not know how one could distinguish friendship from romance. Moreover, he did not dare spook her by acting in a romantic light, in case she simply saw him as a mentor or an acquaintance or hopefully a friend.

On one lovely afternoon, when they had roughly completed building the armature, Lady Harcourt queried, “Why did you make it a condition that we would work only at the Stansgate House?” Ezra’s hand froze. 

There was a great deal, people did not know about him. He certainly had no desire to broach those matters. The reason behind working solely in the Stansgate house was one of them. At first, Ezra was astonished Lady Harcourt did not know of the relations between his house and hers. Later on, he decided it was truly for the best that she, and her family, were ignorant of it.

“You proclaimed your mama is busy with your sister’s wedding, so I assumed your house would be buzzing with preparations and it would be impolite to impose. Furthermore, it would not have seemed proper if you were to visit Arundhel Hall every once in a while.” He lied.

“Indeed, my mama is being beset by her duties.” 

“I can imagine.” 

“Could you perhaps further enlighten me, as to why you kept the other two terms?” 

Ezra did not answer; instead, he gazed at her sideways. 

“Well, I ought to know the reasons behind those terms considering that I willingly adhered to them.” She dramatically kept a hand on her bosom, signalling that understanding the reasons were of utmost importance to her.

“If you must.” Arundhel sighed; she was indeed a headstrong woman. 

“I deemed the first term paramount because I do not possess the luxury of time to be a mentor. As for the third one, I wish not to overshadow your efforts, which will most likely happen if you put my name beside yours as the creator.” 

“I suppose, it is understandable for you to feel so. Though you must know I have no desire to gain fame.” 

“During our last sessions, I have come to understand you are passionate about sculpting just as you are about engaging in conversations.”

“Oh dear, are you implying that I am chatty?” 

“Indeed, you are chatty. I shall blame it on your incessant need to know everything.” Ezra realised it after he had heard his words; what utter drivel he had mouthed. Her face shrivelled down into a frown. 

“Pardon me if I have indeed offended you over the course of these few weeks. I shall bid you a good day, sir.” She quickly took off her pinafore and immediately instructed her lady's maid to accompany her out of the house. Ezra had found himself at a loss for words. He simply watched her walk away.

Before exiting the orangery, Lady Harcourt swivelled, “I have long pondered, why does everyone despise you? I presumed you were a gentleman. Nevertheless, it appears I was mistaken.”

Alas, she had come to hate him! He loathed the fact that she had started to despise him.

Ten days had passed since her quarrel with Lord Arundhel, yet she found herself unsettled by his remarks. She missed sculpting, and her mama forbade her from sculpting till the wedding. Clara then decided it was about time she quit being so grim about the whole situation and did something to occupy her mind.

She wandered through the house, pondering what she could do that would be most agreeable according to her mama. A few cousins and other guests had arrived to stay, prior to the wedding. Clara perceived them as annoying. However, they did provide the latest gossip, rendering their stay entertaining. She was making merry, strolling unmindfully when she caught the authoritative tone of her brother's voice echoing from his study.

“You are being prejudiced Harcourt.” The second voice arrested her progress. Over the preceding weeks, she had grown accustomed to its timbre. It was that of Lord Arundhel.

“Whatever makes you think, I would act rationally when it comes to my sister?” Her brother questioned. 

“She proposed the arrangement!” 

“Then perhaps, you could have acted rationally at the time and denied her request.”

Clara inferred they were bickering on her account. Acting on impulse, she forced the doors ajar. “Whatsoever is going on here?” Her angry stare fell upon her brother, the Earl, who sat behind his desk. 

“You ought not to be a part of this conversation.” He declared. 

“Oh, I ought to be since this conversation is most certainly about me, and the arrangement Lord Arundhel and I had.” 

“Very well, I suppose you shall start by explaining how you dare to deceive your family.” Clara had not thought this far along. She had, in fact, deceived her family by informing them that she would be visiting her lady friend when, instead, she had visited Lord Arundhel. 

“I inferred that your family knew about our sculpting sessions, Lady Harcourt.” Lord Arundhel frowned at her. 

“I perceived my family would not agree to it.” Clara replied. 

“You perceived correctly, sister. If anyone got wind of this, it would be the scandal of the year. And you would most certainly end up as a spinster.” 

“If anything as such happens, I shall take Lady Harcourt as my wife.” Lord Arundhel did not look at her when he uttered such tomfoolery. 

“Oh you would, would you now, Arundhel?” Her brother glared at the viscount whilst Clara was left wordless. 

“I would, indeed, not let her suffer on my account.” 

It took her a minute to gather her wits. “I beseech you both, quit bickering!” 

They both paid heed. “Pardon me, Lord Arundhel, but I must ask the reason behind your visit?” 

Before Lord Arundhel could speak, the Earl answered bitterly. “He wished to encounter your presence.”

“I suppose, my dear brother, it was Lord Arundhel I was addressing. Would you be so kind as to allow us to converse without any interruptions?” The Earl nodded stiffly.

“I extend my sincerest apologies for the remarks I made during your last visit to Stansgate House. I did not speak in my right mind, and you need to understand, I harboured no intentions to offend you in any manner. In truth, I find your company truly delightful.” Clara discerned truthfulness in his eyes as he spoke.

“Allow me to speak candidly, my lord. I only probed because I thought we were nurturing a friendship.” She knew she was being rather gallant in her brother’s presence.

“You must understand that it is difficult for me to navigate in this area as I haven’t made much acquaintance with people in the last eight years.”

“And why is that, my lord?” They had never spoken about it. The reason why he was hated by the ton. Clara reckoned it was time they addressed it.

“You are very well aware that everybody hates me,” he stated, in a low voice.

“Why do you suppose so?”

“Clara, I do not…” Lord Harcourt interrupted, however Clara firmly said, “I beg you not to interrupt.”

“If you must know, I was cursed by your father,” Lord Arundhel clasped his hands behind his back. “I assume you have many questions you must ask me. Thus, I shall narrate the whole story of what transpired between me and your father.”

“This will occupy some time,” her brother remarked.

“You know?” Clara queried. “Indeed. It is my duty to know.”

Lord Arundhel cleared his throat to capture their attention. 

“Henry Harcourt took me under his wing when I was seventeen, mentoring me in the art of sculpting. All the knowledge I possess about art and carving was imparted by him. By the time I turned twenty, I had honed my skills to a considerable degree, especially in delicately carving sculptures. Henry appeared pleased with the intricacy of our creations, and I treasured his praise. However, his commendation was confined to the walls of his art room. Beyond that space, no one knew of my contributions. He presented the sculptures as if he alone had crafted them. Initially, I didn't dwell on this matter, but as time passed and the sculptures gained recognition, so did Henry. Consequently, I questioned him, asking why my name couldn't stand alongside his. I believed I deserved acknowledgement for my work. However, he didn't take kindly to my inquiry. Instead, he compelled me to work longer hours, insisting that I needed to prove myself worthy.”

Lord Arundhel paused, it seemed, in his mind, he had regressed in time. 

“Gradually, tensions escalated between us, and I grew increasingly agitated. It seemed only natural to desire recognition for my efforts. The more he attempted to suppress me, the more I pushed back. I vividly recall the day our artwork was to be presented before Her Majesty, the Queen. Henry assured me that my name was included, but I failed to anticipate his deceitful nature. He orchestrated a scheme to make me appear foolish in front of the Queen. I was consumed with rage at being manipulated in such a manner. That very night, I confronted him, challenging him to a duel. He scoffed at my challenge, boasting that I was no match for him. However, in the heat of the duel, Henry lost his right hand. And in sheer agony, he cursed me. He damned me to receive all the recognition this world has to offer for any sculpture made by me, however, I shall never be liked for more than that. An artist is all I could ever be. And so I have been.”

“How did people grow to despise you?” Clara asked in the most kindly manner.

“I conjecture that my art retains the power to emotionally manipulate people. Mostly against my cause. I have lost my family, my friends, everyone due to this curse. That is why I was jovial when you took an interest in me. You see, Lady Harcourt, I was fine in the darkness. I had made peace. You bewitched me because your light has made me step out from the shadows. I have come to this realisation that I wish you would not detest me.”

“Why do you reckon it does not work on her? The curse?” The Earl inquired.

“My speculation is since you are his descendants, his kin. Your family is not influenced by the art.”

“It must be because I have never despised you. I do apologise for my indignant response. Allow me to apologise for my father's mannerism as well. I am aware I am powerless to change the past. Even so, I do believe I can help you be someone other than just an artist. Perhaps, the most eligible bachelor?” She gave him a little smile, which he returned.

“Or perhaps, you can teach me how to sustain and cultivate our friendship?”

“Indeed!”

March 02, 2024 04:25

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

13 comments

Onkar Mehetre
18:26 Mar 02, 2024

Exploring the captivating world of 'Shadows of the Viscount's Art' is like stepping into a mesmerizing dance between mystery and elegance. The intricate storytelling and vivid descriptions create a tapestry that keeps readers eagerly turning pages, lost in the allure of the Viscount's shadowy secrets and the art that binds them together.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Aarav Mali
09:22 Mar 08, 2024

A lovely story with interesting characters that present so much depth.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Wendy M
22:30 Mar 05, 2024

What a charming story, well done.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Stella Aurelius
15:47 Mar 05, 2024

Stunning story here ! I love your attention to detail. Great job !

Reply

Show 0 replies
David Sweet
22:39 Mar 04, 2024

Fun story! I enjoyed it very much. It almost reminds me of a Beauty and the Beast type of tale. The plot is well done. It will be interesting tomsee where the relationship goes. I like the open-ended story.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Shrutika Yadav
08:08 Mar 03, 2024

Such a beautiful story😍many more to come and no doubt they will be much more interesting😊

Reply

Show 0 replies
SHREYAS HABADE
06:25 Mar 03, 2024

The enigmatic and veiled connection between Viscount Arundhel and Lady Harcourt captivated my attention, infusing the narrative with an allure that compelled me to delve deeper. With each turn of the page, the story became increasingly lucrative, weaving a tapestry of intrigue that held me in its grip. I found myself poised to witness Arundhel's redemption, determined to see him transcend the detest he had unjustly endured as a consequence of his sophisticated passion.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Yash Makesar
18:36 Mar 02, 2024

This story blew my mind.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Pranjal Mali
16:00 Mar 02, 2024

I love how you flesh out your characters.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Pranjal Mali
15:56 Mar 02, 2024

I look forward to reading more of your writing.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Jayesh Nikumbh
15:34 Mar 02, 2024

This narrative is truly captivating and rich with depth. The dynamic between Lady Harcourt and Viscount Arundhel is beautifully woven, with layers of mystery, vulnerability, and redemption. The revelation of Arundhel's curse adds an intriguing supernatural element to the story, while also exploring themes of identity, forgiveness, and the power of genuine connection. The dialogue flows seamlessly, revealing the characters' inner thoughts and emotions with authenticity. Overall, it's a compelling tale of friendship, understanding, and the tra...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Sajal Priya
06:20 Mar 02, 2024

This story beautifully weaves together themes of art, friendship, and redemption, capturing the reader's attention from start to finish. The characters are richly developed, and the intricacies of their relationships keep you engaged until the very end. The revelation of the curse adds a layer of mystery and depth, while the budding friendship between Lady Harcourt and Viscount Arundhel offers a glimmer of hope amidst the darkness.

Reply

Show 0 replies
S Mali
06:17 Mar 02, 2024

Really enjoyed this one👍🏻

Reply

Show 0 replies
RBE | We made a writing app for you (photo) | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.