walked briskly down the narrow, cobble-stoned road wearing a broad grin and a jaunty stride that only successful, young men possess. He was handsome, solid financially - thanks to a modest family fortune - and a talented painter whose talents were being noticed widely. Indeed, his rapidly growing reputation had, just two months ago, led to his induction into the Royal Academy, the youngest inductee into that prestigious body in several decades.
Not surprisingly, Henry also possessed two other qualities: an arrogance that matched his remarkable accomplishments, and the ability to seemingly have any young woman of his choosing for a lover within days, or often even within hours, of first meeting her.
Ordinarily in his strides through the countryside Henry's mind was filled with lustful thoughts of women that he would like to bed, images of which often subtly appeared in his paintings. Today, though, he was thinking only of jumping his career to several notches higher. He had been summoned by Lord Harvey Cornell, with the promise of a commission. Lord Cornell was the wealthiest man for many miles around, and, more importantly, was one of the most generous patrons of painters in the whole country. Though he had never been to the Cornell country manor, Henry had heard stories of the numerous commissioned paintings that filled both the manor and the pocketbooks of many artists, young and old. Next to getting a commission from the king himself, a commission for Lord Cornell was as good as it gets.
A bit of mystery added to Henry's excitement. Typically, patrons told painters what they wanted prior to inviting them to their homes, or at least hinted at the likely request. Lord Cornell had done nothing of the sort. Instead, he had sent his manservant directly to Henry to deliver a sealed, written note requesting - or was it commanding - Henry's presence at a particular date and time in June, and indicating that a commission offer was to be expected. There was no hint of what that offer would be.
Henry turned over the possibilities in his mind, and came up with only one - a portrait of the Lord himself. That would be a plum prize indeed. Everyone in the community knew that Lady Cornell had died several years ago, leaving Lord Cornell with but one child, a young adult daughter, blind from birth, who rarely left the manor house, and almost never left the manor grounds. Henry had never seen her, but he had heard the rumors that she was a disfigured, mentally deficient woman who was more like an animal than a young, noble woman. Surely, no caring father would want to immortalize such a figure.
Ah...a portrait of the Lord himself. Life was good; Henry was on top and climbing higher