[I DO NOT write stuff like this! I just found it on my computer in a folder called “Writing”. Also, please don't read if you like finished stuff because I'm bad at finishing stuff and doing things that I said I would do. I WILL finish it though (not that I wrote it). I will be back doing stuff more in June, maybe. But don't trust anything I say. Thanks!]


Clarence Silverwhisper had painted 6069 portraits by the time he was thirty. Most of them featured public servants with mean eyebrows, but every now and then he was commissioned to paint a daughter or a wife or an Aunt Maree, and in such fortunate cases he found the female subject as refreshing as a cucumber sandwich with a glass of gin.

His newest client was a widow called Maxine Gullford—daughter of a parliamentarian known mainly for riding his horse off a cliff. The widow had four sons called Baneene, Pennycillin, Rabbitshire, and Bunsen, but they had been shipped off to boarding school a week prior to his arrival.

She was his first client on The Continent.

Their initial meeting was odd but pleasant. She wore a purple dress, purple shoes, and walked with a slight limp. She referred to a mystery illness as her curse and sipped a mixture of sherry and lemonade, which she called sherrinade. She offered him a glass too, but her brother Morgan—who seemed more like a possessive butler than anything else—said they were fresh out of sherry. Clarence pretended not to notice a half-full bottle on the drinks cabinet and accepted a glass of water instead.

“It was awfully good of you to come all the way from England just to paint me,” Maxine said.

Clarence laughed. She must have known he had come to this country for a much greater purpose—to paint an elusive creature known locally as a kongaroo. He had seen drawings of kongaroos in books, but they looked like a joke animal. He could scarcely wait to see one for himself.

Maxine sipped her sherrinade and reclined in a way that invited observation. “I hope I’m not a disappointment to you, Mr Silverwhisper. I’m sure you’ve painted countless fine ladies.”

“Not at all, dear.”

“Is my forehead the wrong size?”

“The wrong size?”

“I thought perhaps it’s the wrong size.”

Clarence offered his best reassuring smile. “You are simply stunning, Mrs Gullford—I’ve never been so eager to coat the tip of my paintbrush in purple paint.”

“Mrs?” Maxine adjusted the fabric of her frock. “My husband is dead, Mr Silverwhisper—dead as nightcaps.” Her smile was inviting. “Call me Axine.”


“It’s short for Maxine,” Morgan said in a raised voice, as if to remind everyone of his presence.

Clarence smiled with practised politeness. “Of course. How silly of me.”

Axine shrieked a laugh and sculled the last of her sherrinade. She offered to show Clarence around the house, but her limp made the task so difficult that the tour took almost three hours. Morgan lingered around like a bad smell, his eyes following Clarence from room to room.

After the tour, Axine settled on a lounge beneath a pair of arched windows. Clarence set up his easel, thinking that no matter how she sat or what expression she pulled, she looked as though she were born to be painted.

This should be easy.

“How would you like me?” She lay back on the lounge with a theatrical smile. “Reclining like a sunning mermaid?”

Clarence glanced around the living room, his eye catching a number of family portraits lining the walls. The Gullford family—he had learnt from one of his painter friends—had been influential in the area for many decades. With this in mind, he had expected his work with Maxine Gullford—or Axine, as she preferred—to be immortalised in the same standard fashion. But before he could instruct her to place her hands in her lap and turn forty-five degrees to the left, she was balancing a fruit bowl on her head and calling herself the Goddess of Grapes.

“Axine!” Morgan scowled with brotherly disapproval. “What would father say if he saw you behaving like this?”

“Father rode his horse off a cliff!” Axine snapped, almost dropping the bowl. Her eyes—suddenly full of mystery—sparkled on Clarence. “They say if you stand beneath the cliff at dusk, you can see the ghost of a man on the ghost of a horse.”

Clarence placed a fresh canvas on his easel. He said he would have to go and look one evening.

“Of course, my husband’s presence lingers too.” Axine placed the fruit bowl down, suddenly looking sensible. “I wonder what he’ll think of your painting.”

Clarence unpacked his paints through what he assumed was a respectful silence. The only presence he was concerned about was Morgan’s. He was relieved when a young man called Cousin Freddy came to take Axine’s brother-cum-butler hunting for the afternoon. She introduced Cousin Freddy from her mermaidesque position.

Freddy offered a hand. “Given up on the Motherland, have you?”

Clarence accepted the handshake. “It was too cold.”

“A painter?”

“So they say.”

Freddy examined the blank canvas with an appreciative hum. “You have a great talent.”

Clarence smiled at the compliment. “I haven’t actually started yet, but thank you—your feedback is encouraging!”

“You should come hunting with—”

“Don’t try to steal him away from me, Cousin Freddy—you are naughty!” Axine grabbed one of the cushions from beside her and hurled it across the room. “This is my English painter, and I won’t have him poached from right under my nose. He’s come all the way from England to paint me—haven’t you, Mr Silverwhisper?”

Clarence gave a nervous laugh, squirting a generous load of purple paint on to his palette. He said he had also come to paint the kangapoos.

Freddy snorted. “You mean kangaroos?”

“Isn’t that what I said?”

Freddy laughed and smacked Clarence on the back. “I tell you what, Mr Silverwhisper…”

“Call me Clarence.”

“Clarrie it is!” Freddy smacked him again. “Once you’ve finished painting Cousin Axine, I’ll take you out and we’ll find you more kangapoos than you can shake a stick at.”

Clarence agreed, and the two men left him to his work. Axine draped a bunch of grapes over her head like a fruity tiara and awaited his instruction. He guided her into a position that showed off her best features. A lump appeared in his throat when she crossed her legs, causing her skirt to reveal a few inches of ankle.

“I must say, Axine, you do have the most…artistic ankles.”

She flushed tomato red beneath his gaze. He told her they were the best ankles he had ever had the fortune of painting.

“What is your favourite part of the body to paint, Mr Silverwhisper?”

Clarence chewed the end of his brush as he thought. “If I’m to be quite frank, Ms Gullford—and I say this as an artist rather than as a man—nothing pleases me better than painting a thick, untamed mass of wiry black netherhairs of the female variety. It’s a rare privilege to paint such a subject, but if I had it my way, I would paint enough underfrock forests to give all the balding old codgers in parliament a toupée—and there’s no shortage of balding old codgers in parliament!”

Axine screeched a thrilled laugh. “Mr Silverwhisper, I find your honesty refreshing. I would be more than happy to contribute to at least one toupée!”

Clarence struggled not to look too delighted. “You would? I—”

“My only worry is that if I were to divest myself of this frock for the occasion, there’s a very slight possibility that Morgan and Cousin Freddy could return unexpectedly and cop something of an eyeful!”

“I suppose that’s plausible, though almost certainly it’s not worth thinking about for more than one second.” Clarence set down his impatient brush and peeked out the window. “We’ll hear them coming back down the garden path. If we close the curtains, that should give you enough time to make yourself decent before they have a chance to burst through the door unexpectedly.”

He drew the curtains while Axine ripped off several layers of sweat-drenched purple garments. She asked him once again how he would like her to pose.

Clarence hummed in thought. “Would it be at all possible for you to tip the fruit bowl upside down, do a handstand on top of it, and then part your legs in a splits formation?”

“Of course!”

Axine shifted into the required position within a matter of seconds, which was impressive considering her disability. Clarence hammered his determined paintbrush in a daub of black paint. She remained as still as a statue for about five hours.

The painting was almost finished when Morgan and Freddy’s voices skipped down the garden path. One of Axine’s legs was almost double the size of the other—perspective was a tricky thing—but there was no time to fix it. Axine tumbled to the ground and scrambled for her clothes as Clarence covered his creation.

Freddy burst through the door as she finished buttoning up her blouse, followed by an ever stern-looking Morgan. They had caught two kookaburras and a swan.

Freddy pointed at the concealed painting. “How’s the masterpiece coming along?”

“Oh, I’m afraid it’s not finished yet.”

“Give us a goosey.”

“I really couldn’t. The perspective is all wrong.”

That much was true.

Freddy and Morgan exchanged curious glances, but by some miracle didn’t insist or attempt to pull off the cover.

Clarence stowed the painting away in his room after a supper of roasted kookaburra, eager to prevent anyone from taking a sneaky-peaky in his absence. Once the door was locked behind him, he unveiled the painting and smiled at his handiwork.

“What a talent!”

Clarence turned towards an odd voice, expecting to find Morgan or Freddy behind him. A painting of a young man hung on the wall—he had noticed it during the tour. He met the man’s painted eyes with some discomfort. The brush strokes were fine and precise. His heart thumped as he leaned in close.


“Did she tell you how I died?”

The voice sounded far away. A vision flashed before Clarence’s eyes before he could respond—an axe buried in a man’s back. He recoiled, almost tripping as he stumbled backwards.

“Axine?” he whispered. “As in axe?”

The painting seemed to smile. “It’s rather a dark joke, all things considered.”

Clarence’s head shook, and yet somehow he knew the painting was telling the truth. He took the sheet he had used to cover his masterpiece and draped it over the late Mr Gullford, a shiver travelling down his spine.

“I can still see you,” the ghostly voice said.

Clarence trembled on the spot. “Look, I just came here to paint some kongaroos and earn a bit of money on the side.” He leaned in closer to the shrouded painting. “I don’t want any trouble.”

A long silence followed.

Clarence leaned in closer still, his face almost touching the sheet. “Are you still there? Hello? Mr Gullford?”

His hammering heart slowed down a little, along with his breathing. Embarrassed and confused, he cleared his throat and glanced around the empty room.

Perhaps he had imagined the whole thing.

End of Part 1