A Tale From the End of
F Lewis and Gordon Lewis
The Optimum Pose
The Night Wind Wailing
Sixpence More The Richer
The Forest of Dark Wine
The Optimum Pose
by D.F.Lewis and Gordon Lewis
The painter erected the
easel whilst the subject of his inspiration wandered in
the background seeking the optimum pose.
“Stand there Isabel... near the lamp.”
“But isn’t the light all wrong? I thought you
wanted a subtle silhouette rather than a full frontal!”
The painter — a paunchy man with a goatee —
laughed out loud.
“I’m not a photographer. I’m an artist.
Things will shape up from my mind as much as from what I
Isabel — a rather tall woman in a dressing gown —
took an ungainly stance, leaning on the arm of a sofa.
“Is this OK?”
“I’m not sure… perhaps you “
The man pointed at the tassel of the dressing-gown, hinting
at what her next move should be.
Abruptly, there there was
a banging from above. The ceiling shook and the light fitment
twirled. This was an earthquake region, after all, but there
had not been anything quite as formidable as this particular
tremor within his years living at the foot of Attic Slope
— a meandering forest that
reared into the sky on one side of the valley.
Mrs Arkson — the cook and general domestic help —
rushed into the room without knocking.
“Mrs Arkson, I’ve told you never NEVER come
into my studio like that!”
“I’m sorry Mr Williams, but... I was scared…
the saucepans fell, didn’t you hear them.”
Jonathan Williams shrugged — still furious at the
The model, meanwhile, was standing by the window, staring
into the distance
“There are two people on horses coming,” she
said, as if nothing had happened. “One’s got
a big tall hat.”
“Isabel you had better change back into your outdoor
clothes,” said Jonathan Williams, as he simultaneously
hustled Mrs Arkson towards the kitchen. He absentmindedly
picked up an ornament that had fallen off the mantelpiece.
Luckily it was of a bronze statuette and not one of the
porcelain figurines dotted about the room, some of which
had been dislodged from the positions they had been in before
the earthquake tremor. Just as he was in the process of
straightening them there came the sound of loud knocking
at the front door followed by the insistant clamour of the
front door bell.
Jonathan hurried in response knowing that Mrs Arkson was
hard of hearing (or pretended to be deaf when it suited
her purpose). Opening the door he was confronted by a man
and woman in riding habit; the woman near to swooning was
being supported by the top-hatted man who was the first
“May we rest here a while, perhaps you’ll be
good enough to let me use your telephone. My wife and I
have become disorientated after our horses bolted during
that blasted earth tremor. They had been skittish before
it happened, seeming to know there was one coming. I am
Sir Malcolm Youngman and this is my wife the Lady Sarah.
She is still in shock I think after our experience and I
would deem it a great favour if she may rest here a while.”
Accepting that they were who he said they were, Jonathan
invited them into the drawing room.
“Would you like a drink, perhaps a brandy would help
settle her Ladyship’s nerves?”
“You are too kind” said Sir Malcolm but I do
agree it would be a great help, especially for my wife.”
“You may use the phone whilst I see to the drinks
if you care to.”
With that Isabel entered the room clad now in a smart tweed
suit. She was introduced to the unexpected callers and made
aware of why they were resting in the drawing room.
“We are the guests at Lord Arthur’s place, some
miles from here,” said Sir Malcolm. “I thought
it wise to let him know we are safe and comparatively well,
and that we will return to The Grange when we have regained
He then picked up the phone and proceeded to do just that
and was already seated when Jonathan entered with a tray
“I think brandies all round are called for, that tremor
upset us too, just as I was preparing to paint a portrait
“I thought I recognised you,” interjected Sir
Malcolm, “aren’t you Jonathan Williams the artist?”
“I have been addressed as such among other things,
and I like to think I do paint portraits passably well.”
“This is extraordinary,” replied Sir Malcolm.
“My wife and I were thinking of having our portrait
painted in Hunting Pink riding habit. Could we see some
of your work whilst we are here? Perhaps we can make arrangements
to commission you to paint us sometime in the near future.”
“In the near future? Why not sooner, Sir Malcolm?
Why not now? Mrs Arkson can soon clear up the minor collateral
damage...” The Painter swung his arm
in a semi-circle as if to demonstrate how minor. “And
then you can sit for me. Both of you can sit, indeed. I
am always ready to oblige. And, of course, your dear wife...”
— the Painter turned with a smile towards the blonde
bombshell who had been introduced as Lady Sarah —
“would look exceedingly well in Hunting Pink, set
off by a rosette... ah yes.”
“Have you then, such costume at your beck and call,
Mr Williams?” boomed Sir Malcolm. “This natural
glitch, shall we call it, in earth’s tectonic plates
must mean we have time to spare on what was otherwise a
pressing matter for my wife and I. We have to be sure there
is no looting, no loose morals... waiting for such behaviour
to be quashed by the authorities might allow time to stay
Meanwhile, Isabel, the erstwhile sitter, was busy attending
to household duties alongside a now calmer Mrs Arkson —
who, no doubt, had quickly righted the saucepans before
returning to the domestic fray in the sitting-room (or drawing-room,
as the painter called it). Isabel was no slouch as far as
the main chance was concerned — and she had spotted
the glinting gems at Lady Sarah’s throat. But she
took care, also, to balance
Sir Malcolm’s chimney-hat upon the mahogany claw-stand…
as if this very act issued a stamp of approval to Sir Malcolm
and Lady Sarah sojourning, albeit temporarily, at the foot
of Attic Slope.
The phone suddenly sounded out an old-fashioned ring. This
proved, at least, that the lines had not been damaged during
the earth tremor. The painter waved it aside, but, in defiance,
Mrs Arkson hobbled over to answer it.
“Yes?” she croaked, holding the mouthpiece as
far from her mouth as viably possible. She listened for
a while — then, putting her hand over it, she turned
to the assembled company and made a simple annoucement.
“I cannot hear exactly what they’re saying —
but the gist of it is that the army have surrounded us!”
“The Army?” the painter asked dumbfounded.
Mrs Arkson returned her attention to the phone and again
took up a listening pose. Isabel had simultaneously scooted
over towards the nearest window and reported spirals of
smoke rising up beyond the ridge of Attic Slope. Sir Malcolm
and Lady Sarah appeared bewildered — either by the
antics set in motion by the telephone call or by the decided
lack of attention they were receiving, evidently, eager,
asthey were, to sport the clothes in which they were to
sit. The painter, however pulled himself together and hustled
his guests towards the nearestwardrobe, where a whole selection
of garb in Hunting Pink did hang.
There was obvious disappointment at what Sir Malcolm and
Lady Sarah saw in the wardrobe.
“They will not do at all,” they said, almost
in unison, “They’re a bit old fashioned don’t
you think?” said Lady Sarah pointedly. “We have
our own tailored outfits at home, I think we ought to wait
until we can get them before you start painting us,”
“It really was not our intention to pose for you at
this time, we have not discussed terms, and we really ought
to find out if we can return to Lord Arthur’s place;
they’ll be worried at our prolonged absence... Perhaps
your servant got it all wrong about us being surrounded
With that there came a knocking at the front door. Jonathan
hurried to see who was there knowing that Mrs Arkson would
only respond to the ring of the bell in the kitchen. He
was surprised to see a group of soldiers standing on the
forecourt. The officer in charge touched his steel helmet
in salute as he spoke.
“I hope the noise of our manoeuvres hasn’t upset
your household, Sir. They will soon be over, but I would
advise you to remain within the confines of your property
for the next hour or so as the exercise passes this way
to the final phase.”
“Thank you officer,” said Jonathan, “we
wondered what all the kerfuffle was all about, especially
coming so soon after the earth tremor we experienced,
I hope it didn’t affect your exercise...”
There was relief all round when Jonathan took the news back
to the drawing room, and as Mrs Arkson came into the room
he spoke irritably to her.
“You must have had one of your deaf moments when you
answered the phone; you got the message all wrong; the army
is mainly on a training exercise. Be off with you and prepare
a light meal for our guests.” Then turning to the
two visitors he invited them to bide a while until everything
“You’ll have to stay a while now, perhaps we
can discuss terms about the portrait you want me to paint.
We could fix a date for later in the year.
Would you consider adopting a pose for me now; I could draw
a preliminary sketch while we wait for tea to be served.
It would give an idea of what attitude you would like to
The temporary pose was thus swiftly conducted by both Sir
Malcolm and Lady Sarah. Despite the need to remain frozen,
Sir Malcolm was continuously fidgeting, evidently concerned
that he was showing his ‘best side’ or he wasn’t
being sketched to the full effect of what he considered
to be his winsomeness. Lady Sarah, in turn, nervously fingered
the studs at her throat, darting glances to either side.
A watching Isabel decided Lady Sarah was acting like a frightened
rabbit, sufficiently attractive, however, once to have been
a bunny girl in the suspiciously salacious establishments
that were said to exist beyond the sedate realms of Attic
The ground, though, was hardly sedate, continuing, as it
did, to suffer a series of after-shocks. The Army fellows
seemed to be patrolling outside, taking part in mock salutes
and practice parades. The punctuating shouts of one of their
number was decidedly irritating to those currently billeted
— in strange tableau — within the painter’s
house. The painter himself continued to scribble vigorously
with his pencil, making overt shading manoeuvres with the
well-handled lead-point as well as more suspicious streaks
and strokes apparently trailing across the whole expanse
of his pad-top, skidding against the grain and against the
splintery knots in the recycled paper. He hardly seemed
to look up at the fidgetting poseurs... to check whether
what was emerging on the coarse drawing-surface bore any
resemblance to the actual reality it purported to imitate.
There followed some fitful discussion on the Philosophy
of Aesthetics before the guests eventually left, staggering
as they did, against the onset of further after-shocks —
acting as if they were on a wind-tossed ship. A groundswell
of applause filtered from the army fellows as the guests
departed on fresh horses (steeds supplied, indeed, by the
army authorities, as a token of good will).
Isabel waved to the couple from the front door.
“Don’t worry — I think the worst is over,”
she called, as she fiddled with the shiny splinter in the
palm of her hand which she had picked up off the carpet
near where the couple had been posing. She had spotted it
glinting within the pile, just as the couple made their
farewells. She did not think they had spotted her prising
it from between the tufts.
Isabel returned to where Jonathan was meticulously tidying
up his pencil-box. She then took one glance at his preliminary
efforts regarding the anticipated full-blooded portrait
of the just departed couple.
“You’ve left out the jewels,” she observed.
“Of course,” Jonathan said. “I saw you
staring at them and I thought they
would look much better on you.”
And he quickly snatched off the pad’s top sheet revealing
a second — more accomplished — sketch which
he had surreptitiously drawn, no doubt, under the cover
of seismic confusions which had earlier ensued. This second
drawing depicted a scantily clad Isabel, sporting Lady Sarah’s
sparkling paraphernalia — all evidently, executed
from imagination alone. At which point, Isabel opened her
hand, to reveal nothing... nothing except a fatal fleshy
The ground shuddered.
Mrs Arkson was the first (and last) to realise that pride
always came before a fall or, in this case, the worst after-shock
of all. At least, the war had been fought — not won,
not lost, but finished. She smiled. The optimum pose. The
ultimate one, too.
The claw-stand toppled over, squashing the forgotten chimney-hat.
Then the drawing in of night, hunting tremors through the
body of the earth.
© 2000 D.F.Lewis and Gordon