Excerpt from High Ground, copyright 2017 by Richard Authier Lee
Esther spent her day wandering rooms populated by her past. She walked through the sitting rooms and foyer, up the staircase to the library, past Father’s den and the scandalous marble bust of Mother carved by the handsome young Italian hired to sculpt Lion’s Gate.
Mother was young then. Young and foolish, she would later say. She was said to have sat in the music hall, naked to the waist for a dozen warm summer afternoons, curtains drawn to the street, doors open to the gardens to let in the warm air and sweet fragrances while the young man furiously hammered chisel to stone. It was a whim that nearly cost her marriage, yet one she never spoke of regretfully. The artist had left a likeness in the stone so beautiful that afterward, despite his anger, Father could not bear to have the bust destroyed.
And so the carving of the second lion was done in some haste; the first sleeping cat took three months, the second, wild-eyed and frightened, a mere three weeks, angrily pounded out in the garden tea house where the young man was banished to bed, board and work. He is a great artist, Mother protested, one who should not be treated with such disrespect. He will be known as a master. Would it have been so shameful to have disrobed to be painted by Goya?
Goya is dead, Father answered, repeating the remark to himself in quiet moments for almost a year afterward.