Chapter Four: The Odalisque

     Dear Reader I do not know . . . cannot conceal the roots of this . . . madness any longer.  For she haunts me.  The Odalisque is a riddle, a haunting riddle. I do not know the answer, but I fear it will be my end.
     Tonight as I wandered the halls restlessly, pacing the halls that do not go anywhere, the Odalisque turned to blood.  It was there, on the walls, that the blood began to colour the skin of Lynoria; and her eyes!  Her eyes began to veritably glow, gelid green in the portrait!
     It is all too horrible, but I fear my isolation has bred madness, and so now I wander, and I only wander the upper floors, or the garden, overgrown with myrtle and weeds.
     And I think of last night and how he smiled.  No, I do not think he knew . . . and yet . . . I long to find him.
     I asked the driver last night if he knew what had become of the composer and pianist Stephane G., and he said, well, not much did he say except that once (he was not obliged to say so for the sake of propriety, but . . .), he told me some interesting information about one of his brothers, a Leon, and where he could perhaps be found.
     “But it’s not place for a lady,” he added.
     But why? (The driver did not say more.) What was all this mystery?
     That night, before the grim apparition of Lynoria, I slept. I slept, but fitfully.  Lynoria . . . she rose from a grave of water, pointing her finger at me, pointing a bone-white finger at Stephane, who kneeled before her.  I screamed. He could not hear me.  I screamed his name aloud and he looked up, maybe once, but with blind eyes.
     I woke up cold and in tears. What could this mean?
     It was after this the Odalisque haunted my brain. I never forgot its image . . .
     That very same day I called for the ancient coach, asked the driver to take me into town. I needed air. I needed and wanted to escape. He nodded.
     “Such a beautiful young lady cooped up in a big house . . .” he smiled and bowed.
     I smiled faintly, and ordered him to take me out, anywhere, anywhere, be it just a few moments or hours on end.
     “Let us go,” I whispered.
     And so it was I began a new adventure. I learned to appreciate some semblance of life again, and began to wonder as well, if I should see Stephane again, among my travels.
     “Cylois,” I said, gently, “I want to ask you something, I must beg of you a favour, but it must remain unspoken of.”
     “Pardon, Miss Elvira.”
     “I would like you to drop me off at the next corner and come back at midnight . . .”
     “But Miss, that is so dangerous, a dangerous . . . such an unsafe location, I cannot let . . .”
     “It is my request. Let me out, please.”
     Hesitantly, he opened the carriage door and bowed reluctantly. Hesitantly, and quite puzzled, he whipped Ahab and Amar and left me standing there.
     I do not listen to warning bells.
     I took a few steps, slowly. One, then two . . . three . . . slow as a careful cat.  Like the black cat pictured on the poster of this old tavern — Chat Noir.  The House of the Black Cat.  A shiver ran through me.  A man there tipped his hat, but his smile was malicious, and he looked at me, ever – so – oddly.
     Smoky air seemed to hide most of the faces there, and, what faces they were.  Reclined, or on a scarlet chaise, the women glared at me between their seeming conversations; one turned and laughed openly while she patted an ugly little man on the head who walked with a cane.  A dark-skinned pianist, with great white eyes, played sensuously, a strange new music with a discordant beat.  He seemed not to see anything and only played, his eyes rolled up in their sockets.
     I looked around.
     There were women in gilded dresses like cages.  Like lost exotic birds.  I turned around as a man glanced at me wickedly.  He had sharp teeth and pale blue eyes, like the colour of faded topaz.  As he stared at me, I stumbled and looked away.  Nobody seemed to notice.  I made my way up a silver Rococo balustrade, to where a great curtain was.  Parting it, I heard murmurs behind the walls. A small black cat meowed and hissed at me.
     Some of the rooms were open.  It was very near improper of me, even in this place, but I looked.  A great beauty with locks of red hair glanced lazily at me while a handsome man sat next to her.  His eyes were closed and the fumes of some noxious toxin permeated the air, made me dizzy. Next room, twins with black hair, caressing a young man and kissing him.
     I moved on . . .
     First, there was the plume of smoke, then the glow of a strange green and phosphorescent fluid in an elegant flacon.  He seemed to be laying down, but his head was covered in his hands.  I went in.  I closed the door.  Closed it tight behind me.  This man, reached to me with one arm — outstretched his hand.
     “I have been waiting for you.”
     I swallowed. But what did he mean?
     He took my hand and pulled me down.  He pulled me to him and I looked into eyes rimmed with a strange look, the sleepy, dazed and dark-rimmed gaze of the narcotic.  I blushed, felt a strange horror at this.  Did he even know who I was?  Darkness enveloped us, and I felt myself falling into a dream, but a dream like death. I felt myself in the grip of a fever now, but only fire, hot, like an iron, not pleasure, something unholy . . .
     The young man seemed to look right at me, and he crossed himself and backed away.
     “No, I do not want that sort of pain thank you,” he murmured, weakly hiding his face in his hands.
     “But, what, why — what are you doing here? And what is it you speak of? I came only to find your brother, sir, do you not recognise me?”
     I tried to conceal myself with my long hair now, suddenly feeling cold. Why did he move from me like that? He seemed frightened of something.  He laughed strangely in return.
     “The damnable one,” he laughed again softly.
     “I do not understand . . .”
     “Why did you come here Miss d’Ravnosil, to find him? Yes, I know who you are, but you look so like . . . so like her, you see? It caught me off guard.”
     “You mean . . .”
     “She!” he exclaimed, and seemed to fight with invisible demons with a sword.
     “She did this, you know — is that why you seek him? Do you wish to poison another with her malice?  She destroyed my brother, as she now destroys me.”
     I listened, completely unable to speak.
     “It was she who took his life! Destroyed his talents, his love, and ground them to the dust . . .”  As he said the word ‘love’ he looked at me.
     “She looks like you, but you are not her. You seek Stephane, do you not?”
     “What sir, do you mean to say that –”
     “Lynoria, Lynoria . . .”  He smiled, painfully.
     “I am so sorry you had to find me this way.  But you must know.  Since you were a child, Stephane loved you, but he knew he could never marry you.  I learned this myself when I asked your family on his behalf.  Musicians and composers, not suitable for the daughters of such an old family.  Nor poets.”
     He laughed and closed his eyes.
     “He then married a girl named Rosamundis; you may have heard of her.  A girl with fingers on white ivory, ivory teeth for biting,” he laughed, “and Rosamundis took a piece out of my brother, including whatever money he had, cleaned him right out and left.  But at the end he did not really love her anyway. She left my brother for one of the crazy sea men from the West Isles.  All these years, Stephane could not forget you, and yet, he also dreamt of her, Lynoria.  Since the days when he would visit your grand estate, he told me.”
      “As I have. She has a strong presence . . .” I began.
     “Leave!” he shouted, “Get away from that house!  The mirror across the spinet, Stephane told me he used to see her in that very mirror, but he only would come, to see you!  Look, read these!”
     He stumbled up now for something, gave me a book.
     “A journal.  It belongs to someone you have not heard of because she too destroyed him . . . a diary, by Paine, read it through.”
     “What is all this?”  I looked at the dusty tome.  “Who is this Paine?”
     He stopped, put a finger to his mouth . . . hushed me.
     “I can explain this to you.  Come, meet me tomorrow at the Inn by the Swallow’s Nest tomorrow afternoon.  I will tell you.”
     He whispered in my ear as to the details of the time to meet, and looked away, as if in pain.  I brushed his temple with my hand and thought that I heard music . . . music from one-thousand years ago it seemed, I heard my voice fall, falter . . .
     He took me by the hand.
     “Let us leave this place. It is not for you. I shall take you back home, for now.”
     I explained that a carriage would come but he escorted me to the spot where it would appear.
     I turned as I entered the carriage.  He never faded from view until we were far past the street corner.  The journal was tucked in my bodice.  I felt it there and touched it.  I glanced back at him.
     Leon Grevayne, brother of Stephen Grevayne.  What had become of both brothers, I wondered.  It was all too much for one night. I went to sleep but did not dream of her.


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