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“Painted Portrait”

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“R oo wrkg n m mth?” Mrs. Brumby said, moving her lips as little as possible, just in case.

“No, you can talk,” Brianna assured her, suppressing a smile. “Don’t move your hands, though.”

“Oh, of course!” The hand that had risen unconsciously to fiddle with her densely sculpted curls dropped like a stone into her lap, but then she giggled. “Must I have Heike feed me my elevenses? I hear her coming.”

Heike weighed about fourteen stone and could be heard coming for some considerable time before she appeared, the wooden heels of her shoes striking the bare floorboards of the hall with a measured tread like the thump of a bass drum.

“I have got to do that floor-cloth,” Bree said, not realizing that she’d spoken aloud until Angelina laughed.

“Oh, do,” she said. “I meant to tell you, Mr. Brumby says he prefers the pineapples, and could you possibly have it ready by Wednesday-week? He wants to have a great dinner for Colonel Campbell and his staff. In gratitude, you know, for his gallant defense of the city.” She hesitated, her little pink tongue darting out to touch her lips. “Do you think… er… I don’t wish to—to be—that is—”

Brianna made a hasty dab, a streak of pale pink catching the shine of light on the roundness of Angelina’s delicate forearm.

“It’s all right,” she said, barely attending. “Don’t move your fingers.”

“No, no!” Angelina said, twitching her fingers guiltily, then trying to remember how they’d been.

“That’s fine, don’t move!”

Angelina froze, and Bree managed the suggestion of shadow between the fingers while Heike clumped in. To her surprise, though, there was no sound of rattling tea-things, nor any hint of the cake she’d smelled baking this morning as she dressed.

“What is it, Heike?” Mrs. Brumby was sitting rigidly erect, and while she’d been given permission to talk, kept her eyes fixed on the vase of flowers Brianna had given her as a focus spot. “Where is our morning tea?”

“Ist ein Mann,” Heike informed her mistress portentously, dropping her voice as though to avoid being overheard.

“Someone at the door, you mean?” Angelina risked a curious glance at the studio door before jerking her eyes back into line. “What sort of man?”

Heike pursed her lips and nodded at Brianna.

“Ein Soldat. Er will sie sehen.”

“A soldier?” Angelina dropped her pose and looked at Brianna in astonishment. “And he wants to see Mrs. MacKenzie? You’re sure of that, Heike? You don’t think he might want Mr. Brumby?”

Heike was fond of her young mistress and refrained from rolling her eyes, instead merely nodding again at Bree.

“Her,” she said in English. “Er sagte, ‘die Lay-dee Pain-ter.’” She folded her hands under her apron and waited with patience for further instructions.

“Oh.” Angelina was clearly at a loss—and just as clearly had lost all sense of her pose.

“Shall I go and talk to him?” Bree inquired. She swished her brush in the turps and wrapped it in a bit of damp rag.

“Oh, no—bring him here, will you, Heike?” Angelina plainly wanted to know what this visitation was about. And, Bree thought with an internal smile, seeing Angelina poke hastily at her hair, be seen in the thrilling position of being painted.

The soldier in question proved to be a very young man in the uniform of the Continental Army. Angelina gasped at sight of him and dropped the glove she was holding in her left hand.

“Who are you, sir?” she demanded, sitting up as straight as she possibly could. “And how come you here, may I ask?”

“Your servant, ma’am,” the young man replied, “and yours, ma’am,” turning to Brianna. He withdrew a sealed note from the bosom of his coat and bowed to her. “If I may take the liberty of inquiring—are you Mrs. Roger MacKenzie?”

She felt as though she’d been dropped abruptly down a glacial abyss, freezing cold and ice-blind. Confused memories of yellow telegrams seen in war movies, the looming threat of the siege, and where was he?

Return to my webpage for GO TELL THE BEES THAT I HAVE GONE (Book Nine).

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