The Portrait: Part Two
The morning of the auction was a grey and windy one. It was held in the town square, beside the fountain, which served as the town’s hub. The wooden platforms, the rows of folding chairs, and the booths to store Mrs. Prynn’s gallery had been set up overnight.
Now it was morning, and a most melancholy one it was. Wind whistled in the ancient treetops, accompanied by howls of sorrow and anguish. Old Mrs. Prynn’s manor on the hill swayed, ready to collapse at any moment. The air was filled with the sounds of the creaks and groans of the wood. The house was completely empty, now; its walls stripped bare of its paintings and sculptures, its floors devoid of its rugs and carpets, and the windows bereft of their curtains and draperies. Each piece of artwork had been thoroughly cleaned prior to the auction. However, the art was not the only thing taken from the house. All of Mrs. Prynn’s wooden furniture had been extracted and burned. The old bed was a part of this.
The old wooden house was now hollow and completely abandoned.
It was three hours until noon that the citizens and eager buyers had gathered around the platforms and booths. Some sat in chairs, awaiting the auction in silence. Others spoke in circles and pairs, in whispers and sighs, of Mrs. Prynn and her extensive collection.
There was one in attendance who stuck out from the rest. She was an Aisha, reasonably tall in height, and incredibly refined in posture. Blue of color, she was dressed in a fashionable gown that was striped in mauve and deep grey. Her eyes were a penetrating green, which stood out clearly from her azure complexion. Shining brown curls cascaded down her neck, and were held by a pin atop her head, in a manner not unlike Lady Osiri of the Lost Desert.
“In the name of Fyora,” the blue Aisha snarled, “when is this auction going to begin? I don’t have all day to spend here. There are paintings to buy and portraits to refinish!”
“The auctioneer informed me that the auction should start momentarily, Madam,” a nearby green Quiggle, dressed in servant’s garb, responded.
“Good, Percival,” the Aisha said with a sneer. “Ah, this auction has begun to remind me of her – slow and dull.” With that, she gave a wicked laugh, as if it were the funniest joke that had ever been said. “I am certainly only here for the artwork. Certainly.”
“Yes, Madam Prenderghast, yes of course,” Percival replied.
Mrs. Prenderghast sighed as her mind’s eye drifted to her collection. So many portraits and paintings had she acquired! Her collection was a visual list of all Neopia’s most famous and classical painters; all of them found representation in her halls. Her chateau by the lake was as much a museum as it was her home. It was worth more than this entire town, Mrs. Prenderghast went so far as to reckon.
“Isabella always had the best pieces,” Mrs. Prenderghast muttered ruefully. “But now that the old bat is gone, I can finally lay my paws on what should have always been mine. My halls will swell with the bounties of her archaic old dump.”
“Indeed, Madam,” Percival replied.
There was a sudden cold hand upon her shoulder. “You will never see the truth of life,” whispered a foreign voice in her ear. “You will always value wealth above all other things, and in the end, you will find that it was not the point of it at all.”
The shocked Mrs. Prenderghast turned around to face a sandy-brown Kyrii, covered completely in a hooded brown hemp robe. The hood was large, and cast an impenetrable shadow across the figure’s face. An assortment of odd golden armlets shone upon its wrists, which clanged with every movement it made. Its voice was featureless, and the whisper in which it had spoken revealed no gender.
The offended Aisha recoiled from the Kyrii’s touch, and, still quite outraged, cried, “Percival! Get this vagabond away from me!”
Within moments the green Quiggle had shoved the cloaked Kyrii away. The Kyrii paused for a moment, and then shrugged, before trudging off down the street. As it did so, the jangling of its armlets faded into silence.
“When is this stupid auction going to begin?” Mrs. Prenderghast snarled. “I’m tired of waiting for it!”
“The auction of the estate of Mrs. Isabella Prynn is now in session,” a blue Scorchio announced from a podium atop the main platform. The pets that had been scattered around, talking in groups, turned to face him, and took their seats. Mrs. Prenderghast followed suit.
“In her lifetime, Mrs. Prynn came into the possession of a wide collection of pieces of art, many of which have been highly sought by other such collectors across Neopia.”
Mrs. Prenderghast nodded at this comment. She knew this all too well. How many times had she entreated that ornery old hag for The Scorchio and the Puppyblew by Arnold Franz, the only work of Franz she did not own? How many offers had she made for Fyora in Mourning by Thestia the Insightful, the Water Faerie’s greatest masterpiece? Finally, Mrs. Prynn could not refuse her!
“However, in accordance with her will, the auction will begin with this painting.”
Whispers rippled through the crowd as this was spoken. Mrs. Prenderghast puzzled as to what the painting could be – she dearly hoped it was one she had her eye on. The thought of The Scorchio and the Puppyblew joining her collection of the works of Arnold Franz burst into her mind, and her eyes glowed with anticipation.
Two burly Skeiths, clutching a covered portrait, approached the middle of the platform, where an empty wooden easel sat. Gingerly, they set the painting down, and retreated. An Elephante then strode across the platform, and, standing in front of the covered painting, unveiled it.
The crowd gave a gasp in unison as the painting was revealed. It was of a young Aisha girl, pink in color. Her head was crowned with shining brown ringlets, and her dress was palest blue. Her lips and face bore absolutely no emotion; however, the pair of eyes that stared out from her face were strikingly impassioned. They burned as bright as liquid gold, and carried with them an emotion none could quite name, but all understood. Of course, it was the portrait that had hung above the old Aisha’s bed.
If anyone was most shocked, it was certainly Mrs. Prenderghast, who leapt from her seat, furious.
“What is this?” she shrieked. “This is no famous masterpiece! This is just some portrait she had done of her daughter! It is of no real value!”
Fellow collectors in the crowd voiced agreement with this sentiment. However, many of the townsfolk glared back at Mrs. Prenderghast with angry eyes, equally outraged by her coldness. The wealthy Aisha ignored them.
“It is in accordance with her will,” the auctioneer calmly replied. “That, of course, is most important.”
Mrs. Prenderghast sat back down in her seat, eyes burning, not satisfied by this answer but willing to deal with it.
“Will anyone buy the portrait of Elise? According to the will of Mrs. Prynn, the starting bid is approximately one hundred neopoints. Do I have any offers?”
The crowd was silent. It was a paltry sum, to be sure, but the few that held any interest in the painting were terrified of it.
“Do I have any offers, any at all?”
No one spoke a word.
“One hundred neopoints? Do I hear one hundred neopoints?”
“If it will move this auction along,” Mrs. Prenderghast suddenly snapped, bursting once again from her chair, “I will buy it for one hundred neopoints.”
“Sold, then,” the auctioneer said flatly. Whispers once again rippled through the crowd as the portrait was withdrawn from the easel.
Mrs. Prenderghast rolled her eyes. It was so very like Isabella to have an auction begin with such a painting. Elise was everything to her. Oh, how tragic it had been when the poor little Aisha fell ill and died. Mrs. Prenderghast rolled her eyes again. All Elise’s death had done was make Isabella even more reluctant to negotiate the pieces in her collection. That old crone never did sell any of the works she owned, Mrs. Prenderghast noted with disdain.
So enwrapped in the reverie of Isabella and her sickly daughter was Mrs. Prenderghast that she almost missed the auctioneer’s next words, the words which rocketed her back to full attention.
“That will be all,” he stated in his monotone voice. “The auction of the estate of Mrs. Prynn is closed.”
There was immediate uproar in the crowd, mostly from the affluent collectors who sat in the back rows of chairs. The reaction from the townsfolk who attended the auction was more one of surprise than anything else.
The moment Mrs. Prenderghast realized what was being said, rage burst from within her, overflowing, exiting her through the easiest route possible – her mouth.
“What? WHAT? What are you saying? The auction is not closed! There are still so many works to be sold! That old hag owned such a vast gallery! There is no way, no way it could be done already! Are you seriously attempting to get me to believe that the only thing that was to be sold at this auction was that priceless painting of her daughter?”
“Yes, that is precisely what I am trying to do,” the auctioneer commented, still quite calm. “In accordance with Mrs. Prynn’s will—”
“I don’t care about her will!” Mrs. Prenderghast screamed.
The auctioneer ignored her. “In accordance with Mrs. Prynn’s will,” he restated, and then began, “it is to be stated that it was only the painting of Elise that was to be auctioned. The entirety of her gallery is to be sold to a museum whose name it was not her wish to disclose, in order to pay off her debts.”
Mrs. Prenderghast, utterly horrified, sat back down in her seat. She felt numb. Percival was muttering something to her, but it fell upon deaf ears. Her hands trembled and her face paled. This was really happening.
Her collection of the works of Arnold Franz would never be finished. She could never claim to own the finest piece of artwork ever painted by Thestia the Insightful. So many pieces she had so envied of Isabella’s collection were gone, gone to some nameless institution she now fervently wished never existed.
“It was Mrs. Prynn’s will, as well, to state here at the closure of this auction, that it was never her intention to sell any of her works. She only sold them out of necessity to repay her debts. It was also her will to state that her fondest wishes go out to the one who bought the portrait of Elise.”
It suddenly dawned to Mrs. Prenderghast that this was Isabella’s last hurrah. This auction had been only done to taunt her. She never wished any of her collection to fall into her hands, and it didn’t. The only piece she had managed to buy off Isabella was one that had no value to a collector.
There was no doubt in Mrs. Prenderghast’s mind that Isabella had orchestrated this from the start. Undoubtedly, she knew Mrs. Prenderghast would attend the auction, eager to own those pieces she so fervently desired. She knew that, by having the portrait of Elise sold first for a cheap sum, Mrs. Prenderghast would buy it, quite ready to have the real auction begin. She knew that once her true intentions were revealed, the joke would be on her, Mrs. Prenderghast, her foe to the very end.
Mrs. Prenderghast departed the auction, finally quieted, with a single covered painting in her carriage.
“Well, that was quite unexpected,” Mrs. Lydia Green said to her husband, Albert, as they approached the front door of their home. “Mrs. Prenderghast, the awful woman, got what was coming for her.”
“I agree,” Mr. Green, a cloud Gelert, replied, opening the front door. “I found it quite annoying that all she did was complain the entire time. She just got her just desserts.”
“Well said, Father,” Arthur, their adolescent son, replied. The red Lupe stepped into the foyer, and, staring around, suddenly said, “Well, where is Nathan? He was on edge all morning about the auction; I half-expected him to leap on us the second we opened the door.”
“He’s probably off speaking to Quinton,” Mrs. Green replied, stepping inside. Mr. Green entered as well, and then shut the door. “They’ve spent so much time together of late. It’s rather odd. First he stops talking, and now I hardly see him any more. It’s like he doesn’t even live here.”
“What happened at the auction?” came a loud shout, followed by a series of urgent footfalls. Before anyone could so much as take another step, Nathan burst into the foyer, looking quite alarmed.
“Why the rush, son?” Mr. Green asked.
Nathan did not answer his father. “I’ve been hearing people talk about it all the way back to their houses – I’ve been sitting at the windowsill all morning. What happened?”
“Calm down, Nathan,” Arthur said with a demanding tone. Nathan ignored him.
“Please, just tell me—”
“It was rather peculiar, if you must know, honey,” Mrs. Green said. “Only one painting was sold, of her entire collection. It sent all the collectors that were there into an uproar.”
“What painting was it?”
“A very strange one, actually,” Arthur replied. “It was a portrait of her daughter – Elise, I think her name was – and it was very unsettling. It depicted—”
Nathan felt his blood run cold. It can’t be, he reasoned, but Arthur confirmed his fears.
“—a young Aisha with a particularly frightening gaze. I don’t see how anyone would have wanted that painting.”
“I thought it was rather touching,” Mrs. Green responded. “I don’t know why you thought it was so scary. It was just a portrait of her daughter.”
“It was scary,” Arthur replied, and left it at that. “Father, what did you think of it?”
“I thought—wait, Nathan, where are you going?”
Before Mr. Green could get a response, Nathan had darted out the door and down the pathway in the direction of Quinton Violet’s house.
Nathan almost threw himself against Quinton’s front door, and knocked it furiously. It was answered by Mrs. Violet, a yellow Krawk and a friend of his mother’s. She was still wearing the formalwear she had donned for the auction.
“Yes, Nathan?” she inquired, smiling down at Nathan, oblivious to his urgency.
“Is Quinton home?” Nathan asked, tapping his foot.
“Yes, do you want me to—” Mrs. Violet began, but her son had already dashed out the front door, staring wide-eyed at Nathan.
“I heard,” was all the Grundo said. He was trembling.
“The painting,” Nathan breathed. Quinton nodded, and the two stood in stunned silence.
“What are you two talking about?” Mrs. Violet asked, confused.
“Nothing,” Quinton responded.
“That’s all I came for,” Nathan said with a nod. “Thank you, Mrs. Violet. Goodbye, Quinton.”
With that, the Usul departed. Quinton retreated back into his home, leaving a flabbergasted Mrs. Violet to shut the door.
In the months to come, the two children would slowly recover. Nathan returned to his adventurous, outgoing old self; Quinton resumed devouring books at a breakneck pace and amazing the other children with his intellect. The two of them would eventually drift apart as they did so, no longer connected by anything more than a nightmarish memory.
For the rest of their days, neither would forget that night in the home of Mrs. Prynn.
To be continued...