The maddening fog

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

In Victorian London, hidden amidst the cloying fog of the city, two old friends share an evening together


“Close the door.” The artist said without looking away from the portrait, “The fog is getting in.”


A rich laugh rose from the other man, deep and smooth like velvet, and he shut the door with an audible click. There was no stand for his coat and hat, so he draped the former over the unvarnished banister and hung the latter upon a protruding nail, left thus for just that purpose.


“You have not left your studio for nigh on two days, Vernon,” He passed into the room and placed a hand briefly on his friend’s shoulder, “What do you know of the fog?”


“There is always a fog in London. I hardly need to venture outside to know that.” The artist gestured with one paint-blotted hand to the carefully constructed scene before him, “And it utterly ruins the light in here, distorting the colours with its toxic hues.”


Smiling fondly, the other man dropped into the wicker chair sat well out of the way of the painting’s scenery, and began to sift with mild interest through a pile of scattered sketches strewn about the low coffee table.


“These are rather good Vern.” He said, “You should work some up into paintings.”


“It would hardly be worth the cost in paint, Arthur.” Vern replied, working shades into the right hand corner of his canvas, furthest from the as-yet unpainted window, “Who would buy a painting ruddy men hauling dusty crates around?”


“I would. You capture movement beautifully.”


The artist flushed slightly, the smallest hint of a smile playing on his rose lips, but said nothing. In the silence thus created, only the distant incoherent roar of London and the flipping of leafs of paper in Arthur’s white hands could be heard, Vern almost silent as he stood back to examine his painting.


“Mind if I smoke?” Arthur asked at last, already lighting a gold-tipped cigarette.


“Try not to set anything on fire.” Vernon cautioned absently, then as an afterthought, “Unless it’s that atrocious painting of Hermes that you love so much.”


“Half painting.” Arthur corrected, “That you refuse to finish.”


“Because you’d insist on buying it.” Vernon leaned back in to deepen some of the shadows.


“Then why not sell it to me?”


“You know why.”


Arthur let out a dramatic sigh, dropping the papers back on the table flamboyantly.


“If you are so concerned that any might realise your unequaled capacity to capture true male beauty, then just do not sign it.”


“People would recognise my style. It would cause a scandal.”


“I don’t care.”


“Of course you don’t care, Art.” Vernon retorted angrily, “You could survive it.  I could not.  Any suggestion of unsavoury character, and no one would ever buy from me again! I’d lose all my patrons and end up destitute or worse!”


“I’d never let that happen, and you know it.” Arthur replied, smooth voice gaining an edge of irritation that killed any rejoiner the artist might have offered. Instead, the latter glared at the polished shoes of his friend for some seconds more before returning his attention to the portrait before him.


He stared at it and at the scene beyond.  There was something discordant between the two that had not existed moments before.  The colours all wrong, the shadows too rich in the paint and diffuse, creeping in reality.  Vernon bit the end of his paintbrush and made some attempts to mix a shade, only to give up with a sigh of frustration.


“This damned fog!” He cried, stabbing into the air towards the window, “Do you see how it destroys the lighting?! That globe ought be bronze!  By God, I swear it was these three hours past!”


“The fog again?” Arthur sighed and took a long drag from his cigarette, “I should have thought you like the fog. You paint it often enough.”


“I paint it because it is there. It is impossible to paint this city without it!” Cried the painter, angrily starting to dab paint over one side of the canvas.


“It is rather romantic, though. One can hardly tell what is happening a few paces away when it’s thick like today.” Arthur smiled dreamily, “Imagine all the romance and scandal that might be taking place right before your eyes.”


“There is enough romance and scandal at those clubs you insist on frequenting. Don’t look for it in the terrible fog as well.”


“Speaking of which, I really must be going, my dear Vern.” Arthur said, rising and heading over to the door to reclaim his hat and coat. The artist started and stared in alarm out of the window. The fog was so thick, it seemed to cloy around the house and even reach its cruel fingers through the edge of his old windows, clawing like some great beast trying to get in.


“Don’t!” Vernon cried, hearing the door open. His paintbrush dropped to the threadbare carpet as he rushed to shut the door. Standing between it and Arthur, he stared up at the man with wide, panicked eyes that seemed almost ethereally blue against their tear-pricked reddened edges.




“Stay here tonight!” The artist said quickly, glancing quickly at the edge of the door as if the fog might seek entry through it, “Don’t go out there. Please, Art. Stay here.” He implored.


Sighing and removing his hat to run a long-fingered hand through his dark curled hair, Arthur sighed deeply.


“I’m expected at the club.”


“To hell with your club!” Vernon’s cheeks were flushed and tears collected dangerously at the corners of his eyes.


“Jealousy is a strange countenance on you, my dear Vern.” Arthur said, stepping forward and resting his forehead against that of his friend.


“I’m not jealous of you. You know how I hate such places, and the people even more so.”


“I wasn’t suggesting you to be jealous of me.”


Vernon dropped his head against Arthur’s chest, “I know…You’ll stay?”

“If you give me a reason to.”


“You know my reason.”


“The maddening fog.” Arthur stepped back with raised eyebrows and a smirk on his lips, but did not argue the point.  He had learnt long ago the futility of such an exercise.  Instead, he waltzed airily back into the studio and slung his coat over the back of the chair. The artist followed mutely, with a single final glance back at the door.


“Do you have anymore of that rather pleasant cherry brandy?” Arthur asked as he lit another cigarette.


“Beside the canvases.” Vernon picked up his brush but made no move towards the canvas, “You’ve seen it too. The fog. Or in the least you’ve seen the result.”


“What happened to William had nothing to do with the fog.” Arthur stated nonchalantly as he poured out two glasses from the carafe. He walked back and pushed one into the artist’s hand, lingering there with their fingers touching to look the shorter man clearly in the eye.


“The maddening fog exists in solely your mind and your paintings.”


“How can you know that?”


Arthur leaned forward to place a kiss softly upon the artist’s hair before moving back to his seat and sipping contentedly from his glass.


“Is that the portrait of Lady Carlyle?” He asked at length.


“Yes.” Vernon replied, attempting to resume his work, even though the shadows were darker now and the light less white.


“She’s very fond of you, you know.”


“I know.”


“You ought to attend more of her dinners. She is always asking after you.”


“I saw her just yesterday for this portrait.” Vernon rejoined, starting on the reflections in the window with a pale yellow hue.


“That’s not the same thing.” Arthur lay his head back and watched the grey-blue smoke curl from his lips, “Sitting in front of a canvas is hardly social.”


“I have to work.”


“But social events are so dull without you, Vern!” Arthur complained dramatically, “Everyone is so boring and predictable.”


“You know what they say about us.”


“They’re only words, Vern. No one believes any of it. They just need something to gossip about.” He finished his brandy in one long gulp, “Most have already moved to talking about poor William, and next month there will be some new intrigue or other.”


“Words are not without their danger Art…This blasted fog!” Cried the painter, bringing his hands to his head and tarnishing the fair hair with deep purple, “Will it never go away?!”


Arthur stood and walked over, removing the wooden brush from Basil’s hand with a gentleness that no one outside of that house would have ever attributed to him.


“Come, Vern. No more of this.”


“I’m tired of it all, Art.” Vernon murmured, letting himself fall against the other’s chest, “I’m so very tired.”


Arthur just wrapped his long arms around the other and rested his chin on the fair hair, watching as the fine claws of fog crept in through the hinges of the door.

Submitted: September 09, 2018

© Copyright 2020 TheMissingMask. All rights reserved.

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