Please sit still.

I confess I’ve always taken pleasure in fine paintings. Given that I cannot draw to save my life, and have never had any skill in that direction, I suppose I can contemplate the work of the artist without jealousy. Or at least I am equally jealous of all accomplished painters, so I contend that this cancels out and means I am as unbiased an observer as you could ask for.

But I remember seeing a painting done by a friend of mine, Nemo Kettlethrong. Now by any standards, Nemo was good. But I feel that in one picture he excelled himself. At one point he went through a period of almost intense fussiness. Everything was flounced and tasselled. Admittedly fashion was heading in that way but Nemo was ahead of the field. Indeed he did one still life where the centrepiece was a teapot entirely overwhelmed by a tea cosy of immense complexity.

Then, overnight, his style changed, although the first thing we knew about it was when he painted the painting above. As you can see, the setting is almost stark. So obviously, whilst approving of the change, I was intrigued to know why the sudden shift in style. Unusually, Nemo was remarkably reticent on the topic. Finally I was forced to extreme measures. Later that evening, when we both happened to be at the same, remarkably dull party (I hasten to add that I was a mere guest and was forbidden to help enliven it) I poured my host’s wine into Nemo until he became more forthcoming.

Now in Port Naain, where Dilbrook curves around the northern end of the Commercial Quarter and before it reaches the sea, there are some particularly grand houses. It so happened that one of them was for sale and Nemo took the opportunity to wander round as ‘a potential purchaser.’ Now let us be honest, Nemo could no more purchase that house than I could pay off my creditors. I suspect the agent recognised this fact, but Nemo confessed he was considering from the point of view of the painter. Apparently the house was known for its classic lines and proportions. Thus and so, the gardeners were told to let him in and not worry if he took with him an easel and his paints.

Nemo wandered round for some time, perhaps hours. He admitted that the atmosphere within the house seeped into him. Obviously the furniture had been removed, so there was nothing to stand between him and the house. Thus it was something of a surprise to enter a room and find a young woman with a drawing pad.

Now Nemo freely admits that he does not know every artist within the city. Indeed there are a number of ladies who paint for their own amusement to a varying level of competence. Some are regarded as artists by the rest of the artistic community, even if they don’t seek the title. But Nemo was sure he would have met, or at least known of, a young lady artist as attractive as this one. He described her as illuminated from within, as if by a hidden fire.
Now personally I suspect he was getting carried away, I’ve noticed many artists have this same problem when trying to cope with attractive young ladies. But still his painting caught an intensity in her which I felt might explain much.

Indeed as he described their meeting, as he painted her, she painted him with great fire and determination. Eventually they parted, although Nemo, his mind working on the finishing of the painting doesn’t really remember exactly how. He woke up next morning, alone in his own bed, and immediately leapt out to finish the painting. When dry, he displayed it to us.

But what of the lady? Nemo might live in a dream, but several of us recognised her as Annata Thurswill. So obviously we were all agog to see her painting of him. Yet when we called at her family home we were met with her distressed parents. Annata had not been seen for some days. When people worked back and checked dates on their fingers, she hadn’t been seen since she and Nemo painted each other.

We sat in the Misanthropes and discussed the issue. Annata was well regarded. We felt genuine concern. But as we stared at Nemo’s painting we were taken by the fact that he had captured the essence of her. It was Lancet Foredecks who voiced our unspoken fear.
“Perhaps, Nemo, you have captured her too well?”
“What do you mean?” Nemo was too perplexed to even appear defensive.

“Well you know how somebody paints a painting and then disappears from this world, but is to be seen in the painting?”

Nemo shook his head. “These cases are diminishingly rare.”

Which was true, whilst most of us knew of one or two, they were probably the same one or two who everybody knew had somehow got their soul trapped in a picture.

It was Galway Bloon who spoke next. Two generations older than the rest of us, he was a fine painter, a little conservative, but for sheer ability and mastery of his craft he was head and shoulders above the others.

“Look at it, look at her face. Young Nemo is lucky, he could have ended up trapped in her painting.”

We all looked. Nemo asked, “But what is this all about?”

“Simple, lad. Look at that picture, will she ever look so beautiful?”

The obvious answer was ‘No.’
“So she gets you and her trapped in her painting, which means she stays forever beautiful and has you at her beck and call.”

“But she’ll be trapped in the picture as well,” Nemo protested.

“Free board and lodging, eternal youth, and you.”

It was Lancet who asked the obvious question. “So how do we get her out?”

“She’ll have to want to leave. Shouldn’t be too difficult as Nemo isn’t there. If he’d got himself trapped we’d have had no end of a job shifting them.”

“So, Galway,” Nemo asked, “What do I do?”

Galway pondered. “Make the painting too hot for her. Light a fire. Not a real one, but in the painting.”

So Nemo did that. Right there in the Misanthropes because none of us wanted to miss this.

First there was a glow, as if the flames were off to the right of the picture. The couple in the far building could be seen pointing towards the window.

Next there were flames, along the bottom edge of the picture. In the distance the couple were gesticulating vainly.

Next day, with Galway advising, Nemo continued to paint. As the flames burned higher, a ladder appeared with Old Trumpon, the Misanthrope’s odd job man trying to open the window. This took no little time, after all Nemo had to get the light right. The white dress looked almost orange in the light of the flames and the red cloak was starting to burn.

It was next morning, as we trooped in to the upper bar, that we were met by a somewhat confused Annata Thurswill who had awakened to find herself on the settle, with Old Trumpon mopping her brow with a cool damp cloth. We summoned a sedan chair and despatched her off to her worried parents. I quietly broke up the painting and fed it into the flames of the bar fire.

Nemo and Annata did meet at various dances over the next year or so, and did become quite friendly, but Nemo married a young lady who had a shop which sold artist’s supplies. As he said, “She may have stolen my heart, but she has not attempted to steal my soul.”



Should you want to know more of Port Naain and the life of Tallis Steelyard


As a reviewer commented, “Benor tackles various mysteries in this collection of stories. From a lady who wants to search for her missing husband (who doesn’t want to be found!) to vetting suitors for young ladies, he is ever helpful to the fairer sex. He also takes on sleeping in a haunted house. And, as they say, much more. Those of us who loves these tales of life in Port Naain feel we are putting on comfy slippers and a cardy to relax in the presence of favourite people. I loved it!”

18 thoughts on “Please sit still.

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