Despite the general calm of the country air and the purposeful seclusion of her art studio, Sage Holdsworth was having a difficult time focusing on her latest composition. It wasn’t caused by the faint, tangy fragrance of the Hookah smoke which was wafting slowly upwards to the high wooden beams. Nor was the distraction coming from the plush, inviting pillows of the Chesterfield sofa where Lady Helena was seductively lying—as she was wont to do. Nor was it the dull throb of Sage’s lingering migraine. Amazingly, it wasn’t even the subject of the work itself that was causing the issue. No, the subject was more than fine, perfect and beautiful and distracting in its own way. The problem preventing her from continuing her painting was the soft, persistent whine coming from behind the heavy-oak door to the kitchen.
Sage put down her mahogany palette and sable brushes. They were extensions of her own hands and encrusted from heavy use, but still the finest that money could buy. Looking over at Lady Helena’s relaxed form, she was struck with a moment of envy. With generous curves and glowing skin that was delicate and firm, despite a life that would invite an onslaught of wrinkles from a normal woman. The woman’s right hand seemed to point to her revealing bust line, while her left hand was thrown casually above her beautiful and regal face. Her heavy–lidded lashes revealed fiery and mischievous eyes which were set above full, pink lips that were currently pursed in a slight smirk.
Sage shook off the feeling of inadequacy that came from comparing her own short, brown hair and plain face to that of her friend. She shot her an imploring look. “Helena, please, do something about the pup’s crying. I’m trying to concentrate.”
“Why should it be my job? It’s your silly sense of charity that took that ridiculous pup in.” Lady Helena sat up slowly and casually tossed back her long, obsidian-silk hair. “You must know that someday, that wolf cub will grow up into the beast that its mother was.”
Sage tried to ignore the flash of blood, as the image of the giant grey wolf rushed back into her mind. During one of her nightly gatherings in Epping Forest, she was astounded to come across the animal—which was thought to have been hunted to extinction in England well over two centuries ago. She was at a loss to explain what her eyes saw. Perhaps it had escaped from a zoo.
Sage timidly approached the wolf mother, already dead from starvation and caught in the fox trap that had cruelly ended the animal’s life. Somehow, the grey wolf pup had been spared and the tiny creature sat crying next to the motionless form of his mother. Perhaps the mother had continued to suckle the only mildly-injured wolf pup, even as she starved. It was a tragic loss, as the majestic animals no longer roamed the mighty forests and were even quite rare to see in captivity. Luckily, that evening she hadn’t been alone but had taken along Dorian Gray for the first time.
Upon seeing the animals, wonderful kind-hearted Dorian had forgotten all about his trepidation of tramping through the damp forest at night. He had reluctantly agreed
to help search for herbs that Sage needed for her paints. She would only allow paints that she mixed herself to touch her prized brushes and expensive canvases. The herbs were necessary to bring out the brilliant colors that distinguished her lifelike and compelling style. They gave the images a certain power—and they had other uses as well.
Her knowledge of herbs was of no help to the wolf mother. She was already gone as Dorian nonetheless, set his powerful arms to unhinging the fox trap. The hinge of the trap cracked and it broke, scoring a nasty gash across his hand—which he nobly ignored. Dorian had gently lifted the lifeless form of the mother free. He had insisted on digging a hole to bury the she-wolf beneath the soft forest floor himself. He had been so concerned for the small wolf pup and hugged it to his chest as the two walked through the trees and back to her studio. He patiently allowing the tiny animal to lick the blood that was freely flowing from the gash on his hand. At the sight of it he simply laughed merrily, amused at the apparent hunger the pup showed in response to the warm blood. Sage had almost warned him then, but instead seized on the adoring look in his endless blue eyes and offered to raise the pup herself. Turning it over to a zoo or conservatory seemed cruel. The animal could very well be the last of its kind and Sage hoped to one day release it back into the forest when it reached adulthood. She tenderly treated the uneven wounds that the jagged teeth of the fox trap had caused to the small grey paw. Sage dressed the injury with some dry bandages, staunching the surprisingly large flow of deep, red blood and treated it with an extract of coal tar. She would ensure that the wound healed properly and nurse the animal back
to full health. That way, Dorian could visit as often as he liked and the two of them could play with the little whelp together for hours on end—and that suited her just fine.
With a sigh, Sage dragged herself away from the easel and walked towards the kitchen. As the bulky door swung open, the wolf pup ran out and went tumbling in a ball of fluff. It was still unsure of itself in this new environment and adorably sniffed around before retreating to the protection her legs offered. Unable to help herself, Sage giggled and scooped him up while planting a kiss on the soft, furry head. In that moment her migraine cleared and she hugged the animal and whispered to him. “Being adorable is another thing you share with him. That and also being grey. So, that is what I will call you, little Dorian Grey.”
After finding a few bloody scraps of rabbit meat in the ice box, which the small wolf eagerly scarfed down, she changed the bandages on the injured paw. There was still a small amount of blood, slowly seeping out from the deep cuts on the tiny paw. She dabbed these and then re-bandaged the wound gingerly. Then she picked the small animal back up and exited the kitchen, depositing him in a shabby old dog bed by the roaring, red fireplace. This way he would be within eyesight but safely away from her antique easel. Hopefully the fresh meat and warmth from the hearth would soon sooth the trying animal to sleep and prevent him from getting into any more trouble.
As she returned to her paint-smattered palette and darkened brushes, she placed the bloody bandages near her materials. Her aesthetic gaze took in how much more vibrant the crisp colors were on the changed bandage. She fancied how much closer she could get the current mixture
on her palette to the color of Dorian’s lips, if she only mixed in a few drops of the red blood. On a whim, she swirled her brush in the bloody bandage, and mixed it with the colors on her palette, before using the brush to apply it to the canvas. She stubbornly ignored the nagging sensation at the back of her mind that attempted to disrupt her creativity with annoying warnings. As she finished applying the new paint mixture, she noticed Lady Helena was no longer spread out in her feline pose, but was now admiring the canvas with a seriousness and focus that she had rarely observed from the socialite.
Lady Helena leaned forward to inspect the canvas. “This is your finest work, Sage. Easily the best that I have ever seen. You really must exhibit this at Colnaghi’s gallery! Or, we can open a new one together, like I’ve been begging you to do for years now. Just imagine, our own darling gallery set along Dover Street or by the Berkeley Square gardens. I’ll front the money if that’s what it takes, art like this must be appreciated!”
Since they had first met, Lady Helena had been trying to convince Sage that the two should open up an art gallery and go into business together. Sage appreciated her friendship and that Lady Helena had taken her under her wing, but she couldn’t help but feel it was at least partly done because it was so fashionable to be friends with a well-known artist. She often felt paraded around like some trained monkey at the various social events organized by Lady Helena, but was too shy to risk losing her friendship by complaining about it. She didn’t mind having her work publicly praised by her friend, even if Lady Helena managed to somehow take credit for most of it. She always had been an overbearing person, as her husband knew well. Lady
Helena all but ran her husband’s flourishing trading company. She was the true mind behind the intricate business deals, the complicated purchase decisions, establishing trade routes, and managing contacts. Her husband was remanded to a figurehead, who merely signed the contracts that put in front of him and provided any financial backing that was needed. It allowed Lady Helena to be very free with her spending, including her famously generous support for the arts.
Sage scowled. “Not this one.” She formed her face into that stubborn look, which Lady Helena knew meant she might as well give up the argument now—for Sage would never change her mind.
“Are you sure? My dear, have you lost your mind entirely? This would elevate your fame to a level of international renown. I don’t understand you artist types, so quick to create a masterpiece, then you go and hide it away under a mattress. If you won’t display it, at least let me purchase it from you. Name your price, I’ll pay say…a considerable sum for it.”
“I can’t, this painting is not for sale or for display.”
Lady Helena sat down on the sofa and crossed her long, smooth legs slowly, fixing Sage with a momentarily brooding glare. It lasted only for a few seconds before she was laughing in glittering tones. “Why ever not?”
“You’ll tease me, but it’s just too important to me. I’ve put too much of who I am into it.”