Marguerite Dumas swept into the Barkley ranch house ahead of Heath. Molly, Jarrod's fiancée, skipped down the stairs. "You're here!" she said, grasping Marguerite's hands in hers. "Jarrod! They're here! I'm so glad you could come, Miss Dumas. I'm excited about this portrait. Thanks for picking her up, Heath."
Jarrod came out of the study. "So glad to meet you, Miss Dumas. You must be tired after your trip from San Diego. Would you like Molly to show you to your room?"
Marguerite pulled off her gloves, exposing her delicate coffee-colored hands. "I would like to freshen up a bit, but then I'd like to see what space I have to work in, and start some preliminary sketches, if you and Molly would be so kind."
"Of course," Molly said.
"Oh, Silas," Jarrod said, as the Barkley butler came into the foyer, "this is Miss Dumas, the painter we've hired for our wedding portrait. Her things are in the buckboard, would you see to them, please?"
Silas stared at Miss Dumas for a moment, then shook his head slightly as if clearing it. "Right away, Mr. Jarrod," he said, and went out the front door. Molly led Marguerite up the stairs.
Jarrod looked at Heath and raised an eyebrow. Heath nodded and went to help Silas with the baggage.
Molly led Marguerite up the stairs to her room. "Now, my room is right next to yours, but I'll only be here tonight and tomorrow night. I'm sorry I can only sit for you on weekends, but it can't be helped. I have to be back teaching on Monday."
Marguerite removed her hat. "Well, let's see how far we get this weekend, before we start worrying."
"All right," Molly said. "When you come down, we'll introduce you to everyone." She clasped Marguerite's hands again. "I'm so glad you could come," she said, then left, closing the door behind her.
Marguerite carried a sketch pad and a package of charcoal sticks down the stairs. "Let me introduce you," Molly said, leading her into the parlor. "This is Victoria, Jarrod's mother; his brother, Nick; and you've met Heath and Audra already."
Marguerite shook each hand in turn. "Mrs. Barkley. Miss Barkley. Mr. Barkley. Mr. Barkley."
"Just call us by our first names," Nick said. "Too many 'Mr. Barkleys' is too confusing."
Marguerite laughed. "All right, if you wish. May I take Jarrod and Molly off for some sketches? I'd also like to look over my work space."
"Of course," Jarrod said. He and Molly led Marguerite into the study. He flung open the veranda doors. "This room gets a good north light, and we can rearrange the furniture, or move it out of your way."
Marguerite looked around. "Good. I like it. When I start painting, I'm going to want some sheets to put down, but this is good for now. Let's turn that sofa around to face the light, and you two can sit there. I'll sit across from you and sketch."
They arranged the furniture and sat down. "So, tell me how you fell in love," Marguerite said.
"Is that necessary?" Jarrod asked.
"Not if all you want is a likeness," Marguerite said, "but if you want more, you have to give me more." She pointed to the portrait hanging over the mantel. "Is that your father? Is that a good likeness?"
"It looks like him," Jarrod said, "but you're right that it doesn't capture him. Father was quite a firecracker - I've always thought that portrait too stiff and stern."
"So, you see what I'm after. This is your wedding portrait. I need to get your love down in paint.”
"All right," Jarrod said, "although it was more like waking than falling."
"Oh, I fell," Molly said. "I'm still falling."
Jarrod looked at her and smiled. Marguerite began to sketch. They took turns telling their story as Marguerite tore off page after page of sketches, until the light failed.
"Oh, my," Molly said. "It's nearly dinner time. You must be famished, Marguerite, after your long journey."
"It's all right," Marguerite said. "We've done good work today." She gathered up the scattered sketches and moved toward the fireplace.
"What are you doing?" Molly said. "You're not burning those?"
"I don't need them, now," Marguerite said. "They were just to train my hand to express what my eye sees."
"May I have them?" Molly asked.
Marguerite shrugged. "If you like. You're paying for this, after all."
Molly took the pile and thumbed through them. "Oh, these are good! Aren't these good, Jarrod? It's going to be such a wonderful portrait."
"It's been a good day's work," Jarrod agreed. "Now, let's go get ready for dinner, my love."
At dinner, Marguerite was seated between Jarrod and Heath, and both men could feel Silas stiffen every time he walked by her. If she was aware of it, she gave no sign, and indeed, his behavior was almost unnoticeable.
As they arose from the table, Jarrod met Heath's gaze. "Yeah," Heath muttered, "I'll go talk to him."
"Let me help you with those dishes," Heath said, walking into the kitchen. He took up a towel and began to dry.
"Now, Mr. Heath, how many times I have to tell you, you don't have to do that?" Silas said.
"How many times I have to tell you I don't mind? I kinda like it." He wiped a dish. "So, what's with you and Miss Dumas? Jarrod and I both noticed you almost fainted when you saw her.”
"Now, I ain't never fainted in my life," Silas said. "'Sides, couldn't hardly be anything 'tween her and me, could there? Just laid eyes on her today."
"Guess not," Heath said. "Sure seems like you've taken a dislike to her, though. Don't seem like you, Silas."
Silas bowed over the sink. "Best you not be asking so many questions, Mr. Heath."
Heath wiped his hands on the towel and laid one on Silas's shoulder. "Come on, Silas, you can tell me. You know her from somewhere, don't you?"
Silas turned his back on Heath. "I can't talk about it," he said.
"All right," Heath said, "but you know I'll help you anyway's I can, don't you? Whatever it is. She's likely to be here for weeks - do you really want to keep it to yourself that long?"
"I've kept it to myself for more'n twenty years, a few more weeks won't matter," Silas whispered, yet Heath heard.
"You knew her twenty years ago? She must have been what? Fifteen, sixteen? What could she have been to you?"
"She weren't nothing to me," Silas said. "Just a pretty little house slave who stole my son's heart."
"I didn't know you had a son," Heath said, gently.
"I don't. She talked him into escaping. I haven't seen him since."
Heath took a deep breath. "But he's not with her now," he said.
"No," Silas said, putting his hands to his face.
"Well, don't you think you should ask her what happened?" Heath said.
"Don't want to know the answer," Silas said.
Heath took Silas by the shoulders and turned him gently around. "Silas. What if he's alive? She might know where he is. And if he is dead, what's the difference between knowing it and believing it? It can't hurt any worse, can it?"
Silas shook his head. "Don't know. Don't think I can face her alone, though."
"You won't be alone. Do you mind if I tell Jarrod? He's worried about you, too."
Silas nodded. "Mr. Jarrod's a good man. He's a good talker, too. Maybe he can help."
"I'll go ask him now," Heath said.
Heath motioned to Jarrod, in the parlor with Nick and the women, to meet him in the foyer. "What is it?" Jarrod asked, voice low.
Heath put a hand on Jarrod's shoulder, leaned in so as not to be overheard. "Yes, Silas knows her. Twenty years ago she escaped from the plantation with his son."
Jarrod made a sharp intake of breath. "And where's the son now?"
"Well, that's the question. Silas wants us to help him ask it."
"Of course we'll help. Give me a few minutes to break it to Marguerite, then meet us in the study."
"All right, Big Brother," Heath said, and walked back to the kitchen.
Jarrod returned to the parlor and bowed to Marguerite. "Marguerite, may I have a word with you, please? In the study?"
"Is it about the portrait?" Molly asked. "Do you need me, too?"
"Not this time, love," Jarrod said. "Just Marguerite."
"Of course," Marguerite said, standing. Jarrod offered her his arm.
"But, what. . . ?" Molly said.
"Shh, Feather," Jarrod said. "Just trust me." He escorted Marguerite to the study.
Molly shook her head, puzzled. "Better get used to it, Molly," Victoria said. "It's not going to be the last time you hear him say that."
Jarrod sat Marguerite down in her chair, and pulled another one next to it. "Now, Marguerite," he said. "You've met our butler, Silas. Tell me, does he seem familiar to you at all?"
Marguerite shook her head. "Noooooo? Should he?"
"Think back," Jarrod said. "Back before the War."
Marguerite frowned. "I've tried to forget as much of that part of my life as possible. But. . ." she blanched, "Oh, my Lord, Silas. Of course." Her hands flew to her cheeks. "Benjamin's father. And he's recognized me, hasn't he?"
Jarrod nodded. "He needs to talk to you - may he?"
"Of course," Marguerite said. "Where is he? I'll go to him."
There was a light rapping at the study door.
"Yes, Heath, bring him in. We're ready," Jarrod said.
Silas came in, looking older than his years. Marguerite stood. "Silas, forgive me for not knowing you. It's been so long, and I never expected to find you here."
Silas and Heath sat on the sofa across from her. "Tell me, Bitty," Silas said. "Tell me what happened to my boy. To my Benjamin."
Marguerite stiffened. "Don't call me that," she said. Then softened. "Please. I'm sorry, that's a slave name."
Jarrod took her hand. "Sit down, Marguerite. Tell us your story."
"I'm sorry, Silas," Marguerite said, "but I don't really know what happened to Benjamin. We got separated - we were being pursued, and he tried to draw the trackers off. I waited where we agreed, but he never came. I had a faint hope he'd got taken back to the plantation."
"And you went on alone?" Heath asked.
"I had no choice," Marguerite said.
"You're telling me he's dead," Silas said. "It's your fault. It's your fault my boy's dead."
"I have long believed it," Marguerite said.
"Silas," Jarrod said.
"Please, Mr. Barkley," Marguerite said. She knelt down next to Silas. "Yes, it is my fault. If Benjamin hadn't loved me, he might still be alive. I was about to be sold - we didn't want to be separated. That's why we ran away together."
A look of pain crossed Jarrod's face. "That doesn't make it your fault, Marguerite."
"I accept the responsibility," Marguerite said. "Silas, is there anything I can do for you?"
Silas wept openly. "I can never forgive you. You took my boy away from me, you got him killed." He stood up. "I'll never forgive you," he repeated and fled.
Jarrod stood. "My turn, I think." He followed Silas out.
Marguerite sat on the sofa. Heath paced over to the fireplace. "I suppose you expect me to cry," Marguerite said.
"No, ma'am, I don't expect it."
"Because I never cry."
"Don't blame you," Heath said. "Crying's mighty uncomfortable."
Marguerite looked down at her hands. "I'm glad he's here - with you, I mean. I can see how you love and respect him. He deserves that. He was kind to me, before."
There was a long drawn-out silence. Heath left Marguerite to her thoughts, as he was mired in his own.
Silas was wiping down the already clean kitchen table. "Silas," Jarrod said.
"Don't you come in here preaching at me, Mr. Jarrod," Silas said. "You ain't too handy at the forgiving, either."
Jarrod drew back as though he'd been slapped.
Silas sighed. "I'm sorry, I ain't got no cause to be snapping at you. You always been right good to me."
"No," Jarrod said. "I'm sorry. You're right, I was about to preach to you, and I have no right. So what are we going to do here, Silas? What's the right thing? It doesn't seem fair to dismiss Marguerite for something that happened twenty years ago. She's a fine artist, she deserves this chance. And Molly has her heart set on this portrait."
"Well, I'd do just about anything for Miss Molly," Silas said. "But I don't want to be around that woman."
"You don't have to. You don't have to serve meals and you can avoid her if that's what you want. Is that enough? Can you tolerate her in this house?"
"I guess I can put up with it for a few weeks," Silas sighed. "Don't ask no more of me, though."
"All right, Silas," Jarrod said, "I won't."
Jarrod rejoined the rest of the family in the parlor. "What is going on, Big Brother?" Nick asked.
"Sit down, Nick, and I'll tell you." Jarrod sat down and looked around his family circle. "It seems that Silas and Marguerite were slaves on the same plantation. Marguerite was in love with Silas's son, Benjamin, and when she escaped, she didn't go alone. She made it, Benjamin didn't." Audra gasped, Molly covered her face. "Silas just found out tonight that his son is dead. He blames Marguerite - we're all going to have to be very kind and patient with him."
"Oh, how awful," Audra said, tears streaming down her face. "Poor Silas. Poor Marguerite."
"I'll go talk to him," Victoria said, rising.
Jarrod took her hand. "No, Mother, Heath and I have both been at him. Just let him be for tonight."
"Does this mean Marguerite is leaving?" Molly asked.
"I'm not asking her to," Jarrod said. "Silas has agreed to let her finish the portrait."
"That's mighty big of him, under the circumstances," Nick said.
"I've told him he doesn't have to wait dinner, or be around her if he doesn't want to. It's difficult - I'm not sure what is the right thing to do," Jarrod said.
Molly took his hand. "You're exhausted, love. Sleep on it, that will help."
"All right, Feather. You're right. Good night, Mother," he kissed Victoria.
"Walk me to my room, Jarrod," Molly said.
Molly opened the door to her room and tugged Jarrod inside, closing the door.
"Why, Molly," Jarrod said, "how risqué."
Molly put her arms around Jarrod's waist. "Stop it," she said. "What else?"
"What else what?" Jarrod asked.
"What else happened? You're in pain, Jarrod. I can see it. Tell me."
Jarrod sighed. "You're getting to be as bad as Mother. All right. I had the gall to try to tell Silas he should forgive Marguerite, and he pointed out that I'm none too good at that myself."
"Beth," Molly said.
"This is different, though. Marguerite didn't set out to hurt anyone. She just wanted to be free. It's tragic, but it's not evil."
"She blames herself, she said so," Jarrod said.
"Just like you blame yourself for Beth."
Jarrod looked down at her. "I've never said that."
"You don't have to. So which is harder, forgiving Cass Hyatt, or forgiving yourself?"
Jarrod's eyes welled up. "Tell me what to do, Feather."
Molly hugged him tighter. "I don't know - how can I know? Isn't God supposed to be able to help with this kind of thing? I barely believe in Him, you know that." She hid her face in his chest. "I know you're the kindest, gentlest, best man I've ever met. You shouldn't have to suffer like this. You need to let go - you need to forgive yourself. If you can't, good man that you are, who can?"
There was a tap at the door. "I'm indisposed," Molly said.
"It's Marguerite. I need to speak to you or Jarrod, and I can't find him."
"Caught," Jarrod said. He took a moment to wipe his eyes, then opened the door. "Come in, Marguerite. What can we do for you?"
Marguerite swept in. "I have to go, don't I? I've already spent the advance you gave me, but I'll pay you back when I can."
"No," Molly said. "You don't have to go. I'd like you to stay and finish. Jarrod has talked to Silas - he's willing for you to stay that long."
"Well," Marguerite said, surprised. "That's more than I hoped for. I would like to finish, yes."
"Then it's settled," Molly said. "We'll all have to tread carefully, but we should be able to manage."
"Thank you," Marguerite said. "I really wanted this chance." She turned to go. "Good night." She closed the door behind her.
"And I should go, too," Jarrod said.
"No," Molly said. "If I can't help you, at least let me comfort you for awhile."
"Ah, Molly," Jarrod said. "Whatever did I do before I met you?"
At breakfast the next morning, Heath announced that he was going to Church with Silas. "Good idea," Victoria said.
"I suppose there is only one colored Church in Stockton?" Marguerite asked.
"Yes," Victoria said, "but you're welcome to come to Church with us."
"You're not serious," Marguerite said.
Molly smiled. "Oh, she's serious."
"Well," Marguerite said. "I do feel in the need of some grace. If you're sure it's all right."
"Of course," Victoria said. "And welcome."
Heath drove Silas to Church in the buggy. "You know, Silas," he said, "I been thinking. We ought to give Benjamin a funeral. Some kind of decent service anyway."
Silas did not answer right away, and Heath did not press him. Finally, Silas said, "Yes, Mr. Heath. I'd like that."
"Would you like me to talk to the preacher? I'll be happy to handle it, Silas."
"Thank you, Mr. Heath. Thank you kindly."
After Church and Sunday dinner, Marguerite asked Jarrod and Molly to meet her in the study wearing the clothes they wished to be painted in. Jarrod wore his evening clothes, Molly wore the dress she called her motley.
"Tell me about the dress," Marguerite said, sketching with pastels this day. "It obviously has a history."
"It's what I was wearing the night Jarrod asked if he could court me. I used to be a costumer for a theater company," Molly said. "I made it from leftovers."
"And the lace?"
"Oh, I crocheted that backstage between costume changes. It gave me something to do."
"So, you're an artist, too," Marguerite said.
"No, not really."
"Yes, you are," Jarrod said, looking in Molly's eyes. Marguerite sketched faster.
"Well, not anymore," Molly said. "My eyes are too weak."
"Have you ever painted?" Marguerite asked.
"My eyes would prevent that, too, wouldn't they?"
"Mr. Barkley," Marguerite said, "I notice you have several paintings by Claude Monet in your home."
"Yes, Mother loves his work. She picked them up on her trips to Paris," Jarrod said.
"Do you know why he paints like that?"
Jarrod shrugged. "No. Just his style, I thought."
"No," Marguerite said, "he has poor eyesight. He paints the world the way he sees it, yet other people find it beautiful."
"How do you know so much?" Molly asked.
"I've been to France. It's where I first got the inspiration to paint, myself."
"We're going to France on our honeymoon," Jarrod said. "Perhaps we should visit some galleries while we're there, Feather. If you get inspired, good. I hate to see you with all that talent bottled up."
"Why do you call her 'Feather?'" Marguerite asked.
"Ah," Jarrod said, "because she led a somewhat peripatetic life until we met. A feather on the wind, in her own words.”
"But now I'm home," Molly said. Marguerite chose another pastel and sketched.
Monday morning Heath found Marguerite laying a wood frame on the large piece of canvas she had laid out on the study floor. "I have to go into town," he said. "I was wondering if you wanted to come along."
"No, thank you, Heath," she said. "I need to get this canvas stretched."
"Would you like some help?"
"Two sets of hands would be better, but don't you have to go?"
"It can wait. I'd be happy to give you a hand."
"Thank you. If you'll hold it while I tack it, that would be a great help."
"Happy to oblige, Ma'am," Heath said.
They knelt and worked quietly for several minutes, pulling and tacking, before Heath said. "Do you mind if I ask you why you picked that name? It's pretty and all, but you ain't French."
"No, I don't mind," Marguerite said. "Do you know who Alexandre Dumas was?"
"Wrote 'The Three Musketeers,' right? That's Nick's favorite book. He thinks he's D'Artagnan, but I think he's really Porthos."
Marguerite smiled. "Well, Dumas is probably the world's most famous colored man, yet almost no one realizes he was colored."
"I sure didn't," Heath said. "So, a name to live up to? And why 'Marguerite?'"
"Oh, well," she said, "I thought it was pretty."
"I know what it's like to want a name," Heath said quietly.
Marguerite looked up. "What? 'Barkley' wasn't good enough for you?"
Heath met her eye. "I didn't know who my father was until about five years ago."
Marguerite sat back on her heels. "Really? I never would have guessed that. You fit here like you've never belonged anywhere else." She looked up at the portrait of Tom Barkley. "Victoria Barkley must be one hell of a woman."
Heath raised an eyebrow. "Yes, she is. She took me to her heart like I was her own."
"Well, then, I guess you are," Marguerite said, resuming her tacking.
Heath said nothing for awhile. "You know, you're very brave," he said at last.
"Why do you say that?"
"To go on as you did, all alone. It can't have been easy, a young girl like you were."
Marguerite stopped and stared at him. "Why the sympathy?" she asked. "I thought you were on Silas's side?"
"Ain't no sides here, ma'am. Just a world of hurt." He ducked his head. "We're having a service for Benjamin on Wednesday. Thought you'd like to come, maybe."
"Even though I cost a good man his life?"
Heath nodded. "Everyone wants to be free. Benjamin died for a reason - he died brave. I always thought it was better to die brave than live a coward." He looked up at the portrait. "Guess I come by that honest."
Marguerite hammered in the last tack. She picked up the canvas and set it on the easel. "Thank you," she said, "for the help, and the invitation."
"My pleasure, Ma'am," Heath said.
Marguerite began spreading sheets over the floor and furniture.
"I didn't think you could paint without Jarrod and Molly here," Heath said.
"I need to get started," she said. "I've got enough sketches to be getting on with. But the Muse is calling and I really need to paint."
"Well, I'll leave you to it, then, after I help you spread these sheets."
"Thank you, Heath."
Marguerite came to the dinner table that night, dazed and with paint under her fingernails.
"Are you all right?" Jarrod asked her.
"Yes," she said, "just an artistic mania."
"You didn't eat lunch," Victoria said. "You mustn't skip meals."
"Did I?" Marguerite asked. "I don't remember."
"You've no need to rush," Jarrod said. "You have all the time you need."
"It's not like that," Marguerite said. "It's more like 'paint or die.' I only stopped now because it got dark."
"Well, eat your dinner," Jarrod said, "and Mother, you'd better make sure she stops for meals from now on. We don't want her becoming ill."
"I'm never ill," Marguerite said. She began eating mechanically, but it was obvious her mind was elsewhere.
Marguerite sat in the back of the church for the memorial, and Jarrod chose to sit with her. Silas and the rest of the Barkleys were at the front for the simple service - a few hymns, a few prayers, a few words of comfort from the preacher. Silas's face eased as the service progressed, and he did not avoid Marguerite's gaze as he left the church, but neither did he speak with her.
Jarrod drove Marguerite back to the ranch in the buggy while the rest of family went in the surrey. "That seemed to help Silas," he said. "I'm glad Heath thought of it. Did it help you, Marguerite?"
"I've had twenty-two years to mourn Benjamin's death, but - yes, I believe it did."
"Still mourning?" Jarrod asked.
"I've never forgiven myself. How could I?"
"Slavery was an abomination, Marguerite," Jarrod said. "How could you have not wanted to be free? Freedom is something a lot of people believe is worth dying for."
"I fought in the War, as did my brothers. Molly lost her husband and all her brothers to it. We've all made our sacrifices."
Marguerite sat silent, stony faced until they arrived at the ranch. "Thank you, Mr. Barkley," she said, alighting. "I need to get back to painting now. Aren't you coming in?"
"No," Jarrod said. "Molly's class should be over soon, I think I'll stop by the orphanage and see her."
He watched Marguerite until she entered the house, shook his head and flicked the reins.
The last of Molly's pupils were flying out the door as Jarrod entered the schoolroom. "Jarrod!" Molly said, picking up books. "What's wrong, love?"
"Would you care to take a little drive with me, Feather?" Jarrod asked.
Molly set her books down. "If you wish, dearest. Where to?"
"I thought maybe Spencer's Creek."
"Ah, yes, of course." She took his arm. "Let's go."
Jarrod spread out the rug on the grassy spot, sat, took Molly's hand and pulled her down next to him. "The water's running a lot faster than it did the last time we were here," Molly said.
"It's spring, that was summer," Jarrod said.
Molly shivered. "Should have brought a shawl."
Jarrod took off his jacket and draped it across her shoulders. "Better?"
"Yes, thank you."
Jarrod lay back, one arm behind his head. Molly lay beside him, her head on his shoulder. Jarrod wrapped his other arm around her.
"How was the memorial?" Molly asked.
"Good, I think," Jarrod said. "It seemed to ease Silas. I'm worried about Marguerite, though."
"She seems so walled off. Like she has her soul all sorted into little compartments. I don't seem to be able to get through to her. She blames herself too much."
"And you fear to see yourself in her."
Jarrod sighed. "Yes. Is that where I'm headed, Molly? Is that what too much guilt does to a person?"
"It's not going to happen to you, Jarrod. We won't let it. But we need to look at it, even though it hurts. So - just exactly why do you feel guilty about Beth's death?"
"Because I should have prevented it. I knew Cass Hyatt was around, I knew he had a reason to hold a grudge. But Beth and I had just gotten married. I was too besotted to pay attention."
Molly thought for awhile. "Maybe you and Marguerite both cling to guilt because it keeps you from feeling helpless. You'd rather think you had the power to change things than admit you don't."
"Maybe you're right. Let me think about that." He held Molly quietly for so long she almost fell asleep. "All right, if you're right," he said, finally, "what do I do about it?"
"Bad things happen, Jarrod. You do your best to bring as much good into the world as you can, but you can't accept responsibility for everything. You're not God."
"No, I'm not God. And I haven't really asked Him for help with this either. I should have. But He seems to have sent me help anyway." He turned over on his side and kissed her. "Thank you, Molly, love."
"You're most welcome, sweetest." She returned his kiss. "It's a fine day for kissing by the water," she said.
"I agree," Jarrod smiled, and proceeded to prove it.
"It's done," Marguerite announced at dinner on Friday.
"It can't be done," Jarrod said.
"I don't. . . ," Marguerite shook her head. "I've never done anything like this before. I don't know if you'll like it. I'll start over if you don't - do something more traditional, but this painting, yes, it's done."
"Oh, let's go see it," Audra said.
"Tomorrow," Jarrod said. "When Molly's here. She should see it first, don't you think?"
"Oh, my," Molly said when Marguerite unveiled the portrait for her and Jarrod. "Do we really look like that?"
"That's the way I see you, my love," Jarrod said, "but I didn't know anyone else could." They gazed upon the painting for several long moments. "Let's call in the family." Jarrod flung open the study doors.
"Why, Molly," Audra said, "your dress looks like a sunrise. Or like water. I don't know why, but it makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time."
"How come they're looking at us, but it looks like they're looking at each other, too?" Nick asked.
"It's because you can see them in each other's eyes," Heath said.
Nick peered closer. "So you can. Ain't that nice?"
"I think we're not paying her enough," Molly said.
"I agree," Jarrod said. "A bonus is definitely in order."
"All right," Marguerite said.
"Look, Molly," Jarrod said, "a woman who doesn't argue with me about money."
Molly gave Jarrod a playful slap. "I'm getting better," she said.
"You know what this is?" Victoria said. "This is a masterpiece. Something completely original. It should be in a museum."
"I'm not parting with it," Molly said.
"No," Victoria said, "but I'm sure there's more where that came from."
"I hope so," Marguerite said, "but right now I just feel drained."
"We'll have to show it at the engagement party," Molly said. "You can stay until then, can't you, Marguerite? It's next week. You've worked so hard, you should stay here and rest awhile."
"Why don't I ask Paul Dugan to come down?" Victoria said.
"Who is that?" Marguerite asked.
"He owns a gallery in San Francisco," Victoria said. "I've done him several favors over the years - it looks like I'm about to do him one more."
"I had hoped that if I could do this well, it would open doors for me," Marguerite said. "So I will stay for the party, but I think I should move to the hotel, now that the painting's done.”
"All right," Victoria said. "If that's what you want."
"It's for the best," Marguerite said.
Heath sought out Silas that afternoon, after Marguerite had gone. "I want to show you something," he said.
"Why, of course, Mr. Heath," Silas said.
Heath led him to the study and stood him in front of the portrait. "Oh, my," Silas said. "I can't say I know anything about paintin', but that's fine."
"We're glad you let her stay, Silas. That was generous of you. Just thought you should see the result."
"It's like looking at Mr. Jarrod's and Miss Molly's insides. It would be indecent, if it weren't so. . .I can't find the word." He stood thoughtful for a long moment. "She can't be bad if she can see them like that, can she?" he whispered.
Heath cocked a small, crooked smile.
The portrait was displayed in a place of honor in the foyer. Paul Dugan was ecstatic. "Victoria, you have such a good eye," he said. "But I can't believe there's an artist of this caliber working in California and I never heard of him."
"I can't really take credit for it - Molly found her painting miniatures in San Diego. It was she and Jarrod who recognized her potential."
"Her? I've never known a woman who could paint like that. Well, except for Mary Cassatt, although this has a certain wildness. . . ." He thought for a moment, then grinned. "Wouldn't I love to introduce another Mary Cassatt to the world. So, when do I meet her?"
Victoria motioned Marguerite over. "Paul Dugan, I'd like you to meet Miss Marguerite Dumas."
Paul stared for a long moment and Marguerite met his gaze defiantly. "Well," he said, "a colored Mary Cassatt. Yes," he grinned, "we'll turn the art world on its ear."
"I don't want to be known as a colored painter, Mr. Dugan," Marguerite said, "just a painter."
"May I speak to you a moment?" Victoria said, taking Marguerite by the arm and leading her to a quiet corner. "I appreciate your sentiments, my dear - it would be wonderful to live in a world where color didn't matter, but we don't. If we ever are to, it will be because of people like you. You have a chance to blaze a trail here - don't pass that up."
Marguerite thought for a moment. "You talk sense, Mrs. Barkley. You know, if I'm to set up as a portrait painter, I'll need some samples. May I paint you?"
"I'm flattered," Victoria said. "Now, let's go negotiate with Paul."
When the dancing began, the portrait was moved back to the study for safety. Heath found Marguerite there, staring at it. "Admiring your work?" he asked.
"Trying to remember how I did it," she said.
"I can tell you," Heath said. "That's not just their love up there, it's yours, too."
"Is it? Well, they're easy to love, aren't they? Such open, warm hearts. Does that mean I'm going to have to love all my subjects?"
"That's not quite what I meant, Ma'am," Heath said. "Anyways, you're moving to San Francisco to be an artist?"
"Yes, after I paint your mother."
"You know, we're often in San Francisco. Would you mind if I called on you?"
Marguerite turned to look at him. "There's nothing here for you, Heath."
Heath's eyes darkened. "Is it because I'm white?"
Marguerite sighed. "No. But I'm never getting married. By law, a man owns his wife and all her property. No one is ever going to own me again."
Heath gestured at the portrait. "Does that look like slavery to you? There's law, and then there's truth - even Jarrod would tell you that."
Marguerite shook her head. "I'll never be able to trust anyone that much, to give them that much power over me."
"Well, Marguerite, I think you deserve better'n you're allowing yourself, but I do respect your right to live as you please. I've never met a woman I respect more."
"Respect I can use."
"May I come see how you're getting on, then?" Heath asked. "I'd like to know you're doing well."
"Yes, Heath, I'd like that. Thank you."
Heath gave her hand a squeeze and went out the verandah doors. Marguerite turned back to the portrait, staring at it unseeing for several minutes.
"Is that how you use your freedom?" Silas said from the verandah.
"Yes, it is," she replied.
"Well, that's fine."
She turned around. "You say that like you mean it."
"I do," Silas said, stepping into the study, "and I forgive you."
Marguerite wiped her eyes. She looked down at her tear dampened fingers with some surprise. "I don't expect to be forgiven," she said.
"I didn't expect to, neither," Silas said, "I just did." He looked at the portrait. "You know, when I was a boy, I thought being a house servant was the best I could do. I had no idea there was more, but you and Benjamin did. Mr. Heath was right, you did a brave thing."
"Benjamin was the brave one. He saved me. Anything I make of myself is all because of him."
"I wish you two had gotten married, then you'd be my daughter. Don't have no other family left."
"We did. We jumped over the broomstick the night we left. It's as valid as any other slave marriage."
"Well, now, Marger. . .I can't get my mouth around that name of yours."
Marguerite laughed through her tears. "It's French for 'Daisy,' which was Benjamin's pet name for me."
"Daisy is better, yes," Silas said. "Well, Daisy, come. I'll make you some tea and we can talk," and with his arm around her, he led her out the door.