Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Golden Stairs

As a young man, I intended to become a church minister, but instead I idled hours away reading the poetry of Tennyson and the writings of John Ruskin. I was a dreamer; dreaming of lands no one can define or remember, and it was this awake-sleeping state that later informed my art. In tempered tones, I captured romantic dreams of something that never was and never will be; that's what a real picture is to me. My visions enticed me to draw them, but some of these were not an illusion, they happened, if not to me, then to people who confided in me. Now reader, the time has come for me to divulge such a story.
During a long vacation, a good friend of mine was once invited to stay at a Baron's manor, (he and my confidant shall remain nameless for the latter was notorious and the former does not deserve to have his reputation muddied), and felt pressed upon to accept for this unexpected hand of cordiality was actually a summons.
In the county of this Baron's residence, there were reports of drunkenness and beastly behaviour, and the Baron was known for his stormy nature. He served as the Lord Lieutenant of __shire, a office he held until his death, which commanded respect, but everyone whispered behind his back that 'the Baron is peculiar'. At times he shunned public intrusion, preferring to roam his estate in isolation, but when the moon was up, he openly requested invasion. Messengers on horses were dispatched to present cards to Lords, Dukes, and Counts; politicians and men carving names in their chosen professions, and of course surrounding gentry, but never to Ladies, Baronesses or Duchesses, unless you were hand-picked as a serving wrench or to provide some frivolity. This Baron was not a man to be refused, so wives, mothers and daughters were left in their sitting rooms, and any engagements already made were broken. The invite my friend received was for one such an occasion.
The moon had risen as he travelled there for the first night of this three night affair. The guests having arrived were led into a breathtaking hall, its walls adorned with canvasses and candles flickering in candelabras, and at its centre stood the Baron. A pale, lean man in tailored cloth with piercing grey eyes who carried an air of aloofness. As his staccato voice addressed them, a chill ran through the male assembly, but everything the Baron said was most hospitable: entreating them to sup, hunt, fish, and admire his collected works at their leisure. His only stipulation was that no man should enter the West Wing as these quarters were under restoration. Speech over, the men relaxed, but my friend now intrigued, left the others to their drunken revelling and stole away to the West Wing.

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones 1880
The roof was, in parts, open to the air so that warm moonlight fell through on a golden staircase. Hearing faint footsteps my friend, not wanting to be discovered, hid behind a pillar. To his astonishment, a group of maidens descended the spiral staircase; all barefoot, dressed in robes in tones of white and shades of gold and silver, and clutching wind and stringed instruments. They trooped past like spirits in an enchanted dream and vanished down a passage, and his attempt to follow was thwarted as the moon lost its light behind a cloud. The second night he determined he would do so, but the same occurred: he saw them tiptoe down the golden stairs and lost them in the passage. This time he resolved to wait, but fell asleep and did not witness their return. On the third night, the moon was bright, but still the maidens vanished when they entered the passage and did not reappear. My friend dismayed by this outcome said, “Wither they go, who they are, there is nothing to tell.” And this evoked the artist in me to capture the eighteen maidens for myself.