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Authors: Amanda McIntyre

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BOOK: The Master & the Muses
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“I promise you, after the child is born and you are strong again, we will go to visit your family and proudly show them their grandchild. How will they be able to refuse such a gift?”

I bowed my head and nodded, not allowing him to see the fresh tears welling in my eyes. I had hoped to hear how much he loved me, how we would get through these trying times together. But what I heard was him telling me to sit here and take care of myself while he went out gallivanting with his
brethren. I couldn't believe that my family had no more care for me than that, my mama especially. I had to find out for myself.

 

After an early breakfast the next day, Thomas left to go sketching with the brothers. I looked out of the window and saw Grace's carriage parked below, her driver munching on an apple. “Grace?”

I wandered into the studio and she met me at the kitchen door. She wiped her hands on a towel. “Yes?”

“I wonder if I might borrow your carriage and driver for a few hours. It's a lovely day and I've been cooped up inside far too long.”

She eyed me for a moment and shrugged. “Supper is around seven, as usual, provided the two of you return on time.” She said no more and asked no further questions as I had hoped.

An hour later, I could see the rooftop of our barn and the grove of apple trees where we used to pick apples at this time of year.

To my delight, Mama was hanging the washing on the clothesline. My sister Beth was working in the garden, and Rosalind sat on the steps with a bowl of beans in her lap. My heart squeezed at the familiar sight. I leaned out of the window as the carriage swayed, rolling over the uneven ground, and saw the look of joy on my mama's face.

“Helen?” she called, lifting up a sheet to walk beneath it.

The carriage had barely come to a stop, and I did not wait for the driver to open the door. “Mama!” I waved to her as I stepped from the carriage. My feet hit the ground and, like in the days of my youth, I picked up my skirts and began to run toward her, though with more of a waddle than a brisk gait. I spied a patch of bright yellow flowers, knowing that in a few weeks they'd be replaced with great, fat pumpkins. Plucking the pumpkins, preparing them for pies was a treasured memory I held dear. I wasn't paying heed to the tangled vines trailing across the path in front of me, and my foot snagged on one of them causing me to fall forward, unable to catch myself before I landed flat on my face. I lay still, fearing the worst, realizing that the baby had cushioned
my fall. Beth reached her arm under mine and I pushed to my knees. Rosalind grabbed my other arm and brought me to my feet.

“How far along are you?” Mama asked, concern filling her eyes.

“Four months, maybe five.”

“Let's get you inside to lie down for a bit.”

They helped me to my old bed and I lay flat on my back, my mother and two sisters fussing over me. “I'm sure I'll be fine. The doctor says that the womb is a strong, safe place.”

Mama looked down at me. “I've a mind to send for Gretchen Collins down the road. She's a good midwife—delivered all three of you, right here in this house.”

“Where's Papa?” I asked, ignoring her suggestion. She whispered something to Beth, who glanced at me and took off like a bolt from the room.

“I don't want to cause any trouble, Mama,” I stated. “I just needed to see you. I needed to know that you weren't angry at me for not coming here and letting you know about the baby.”

She sat on the edge of the bed and hugged me. “How could I be angry with you? I am so glad you are here. How long can you stay?”

“I can't stay long. I've borrowed the carriage from our housekeeper.”

“Your housekeeper?” She looked impressed.

“It's far too complicated. I just wanted to see you. I want you—and Beth and Rosalind—to come when the baby is born. We have plenty of room and we would welcome your help.”

“I'll have to wait and see, Helen. It's your father. He's a stubborn old German and I don't know if I can leave him here alone for too long.”

“He's still angry with me, then?” I asked.

“He'll come around. It's just going to take time.”

“Where is he?” I asked again. “I'm going to have to get back soon.”

“He's in the fields, but perhaps now is not the best time to see him, Helen. I think, though, that you ought to let Gretchen take a look at you.”

I swung my legs over the side of the bed. There was no pain, no spotting. I stood and felt no dizziness. “There, you see? Good as new.” I hid the queasy feeling in my stomach from her. There was no need to concern her. I would rest on the carriage ride back home.

My mother studied me a moment, and then her eyes came alive with a thought. “Wait, there is something I want to give you.” She hurried to the chest in the corner of my bedroom. My father had made it for me on my ninth birthday. She handed me a small package wrapped in old paper. Inside was a worn blanket, a bonnet and a pair of tiny knit booties.

“These were yours. I thought that my granddaughter might be able to use them.” Unshed tears shimmered in her eyes. I hugged her tight, then my sister. “I will put them on her the first day. Tell Beth I'll see her soon.”

They walked me to the carriage and, while I hated not seeing my father, perhaps, in this case, Thomas was right.

“I'll see you soon.” The carriage jerked forward as it started down the lane, taking me from my old life back to my new one.

Chapter 8

THE DIRT ROAD BACK TO TOWN WAS ROUGHER
than it had seemed when we'd traveled it earlier. I bit my lip, fighting the nausea making my stomach roil. No doubt the stress of the fall, coupled with sneaking away to see my mother against Thomas's wishes, did not bode well for my nervous stomach. I leaned my head back against the seat and tried to rest to no avail. When I saw the outskirts of London, I sighed with relief, never more glad to see our familiar cobblestone street. I thanked the driver and trudged slowly up the stairs, bone weary and too tired to find Grace. I decided to lie down for a few moments, and later I would thank her for the use of her carriage.

With barely the strength to remove my hat and coat, I peeled back the bed linens and, fully clothed, crawled beneath the comforting quilt and drifted off to sleep.

 

I awoke feeling groggy and feverish. My stomach was still unsettled. I noted an uncomfortable cramping low in my belly, but put aside the niggling fear that it had anything to do with my mishap. I decided to make myself a cup of tea and wait for Thomas to come home.

I tossed off the covers, finding it easier to turn on my side and push myself upright as I swung my legs over the bed. A wave of nausea hit me quick and I thought I might lose my stomach. I waited, breathing slow, closing my eyes, willing the nausea to ease, and after a moment it faded away.

Bracing my hand on the nightstand, I stood and almost instantly felt a gush of something wet between my legs. I grabbed my skirts, tugging them over my knees, my thighs, knowing that it was far too early for the baby to be coming.

My heart stopped when I saw the bloodstained fabric of my drawers. Panic gripped my heart. I stumbled to the doorway. Was Grace still here? Had Thomas returned?

“Thomas!” The shadows of the dusky hallway teased my muddled thoughts. Was it evening or early morning? “Thomas!” I called again and heard no response. My head was light, as if the life was being sucked from my body. I sank to the floor, resting my cheek on the cool wood of the door frame.

My mind was a haze and I fought to discern the sounds around me. I heard a door slam shut and the sound of footsteps on the stairs, although they seemed far away, somewhere in a dream. “Thomas.” I moved my lips, but they felt strangely detached from my body. My head seemed too heavy for my neck and it flopped forward to my chest, where I saw a large, dark spot forming on my skirt. The thought crossed my mind that I was going to die.

“Helen? Oh, Jesus, Helen!”

I peered toward the voice, searching for a familiar face, but the image was watery. I recognized the faint scent of bay rum.
William.

I felt myself being lifted into his arms. “William,” I whispered. My body seemed to be floating in midair. I was disoriented, my eyes fluttered shut and I just wanted to sleep. I remembered telling Papa I was sorry and leaning my head on a solid shoulder. If I could rest for a few minutes, I would be fine.

“Stay with me, Helen.” William's voice grew distant. I wasn't able to answer him before the black sleep took me.

 

Twice now, I'd awakened in a hospital room. This time, however, both Thomas and William were there. Thomas sat at my side, his hands holding mine. William, off to the side, looked on.

My husband's face was drawn and dark circles rimmed his eyes, red from crying. He managed a smile and squeezed my hand, but he did not speak.

Instinctively, I moved my hand over my belly, expecting to feel the tight little ball that I'd come to accept as part of me. My eyes darted to Thomas then, and I could see him fighting with his emotions.

My heart felt as if someone squeezed it, strangling the life out of me. My thoughts searched for a reason, my eyes filling with unshed tears. I blinked and looked at William, who averted his eyes, placing his hand over his mouth.

Thomas spoke first. “We almost lost you, Helen. If William hadn't found you when he did—”

I looked again at William, his image swimming through my tears. “It was you.” He didn't look up, he simply nodded.

“I'm sorry. I'm sorry I couldn't get you here fast enough,” he said, his voice cracking.

“No, William, it wasn't your fault. If I hadn't gone to see my mother—”

Thomas's startled gaze turned to mine. “What did you say?”

There was a bitter taste in my mouth and my chin quivered as I tried to force the truth from my lips. “I borrowed Grace's carriage and went to see my mother. I needed to see her.”

He bowed his head, resting his face on our hands. For a moment, I thought he was crying. William started for the door. “Wait, William, please stay.” I focused on Thomas. “I tripped. It was an accident. I thought I was fine. I thought if I rested I would feel better.”

“I asked you to wait.” His words were muffled, but his authoritative tone was clear.

“I needed to see her,” I insisted, feeling as if I had to defend my actions to him when what I needed was his understanding, his compassion for the loss I had suffered—that we had both suffered.

He looked up, anger infused in his steely eyes. “If you hadn't—”

“Thomas, stop. There is no one that can be blamed.” William placed his hand on his brother's shoulder. “Especially not Helen.”

Thomas jerked his shoulder away from William's grasp. I could see the torment in his eyes. He wanted to blame someone, something.

I yanked my hand from his and batted at his head, tired of his selfish behavior. “Don't you dare be rude to him, or to me. I lost this child, too, Thomas.”

Thomas pushed from the chair, toppling it over as he strode from the room.

“I'll go see to him, Helen,” William said, following his brother out the door.

For the first time, I'd seen Thomas at his most vulnerable, and I realized that he was not comfortable with any reality other than his own. However, I could not tell if his anger was due to his grief or simply because I had defied his wishes.

Exhausted, I purged my body of its pain, giving in to my heart-racking sobs.

 

Thomas was unusually quiet. For more than two weeks, since my release from the hospital, his schedule had been full of appointments and meetings with the brotherhood that kept him out late most evenings. When he didn't have a meeting, he went for long walks at night, sometimes not returning until after I was in bed.

Though I tried, he didn't want to talk about what had happened. It was as if he wanted to forget the episode entirely. We existed in the same house, on occasion sleeping beside each other but never touching. Other times, I would find him in his reading chair in the studio, a blanket pulled up beneath his chin, his hair
and clothing disheveled. While the doctor encouraged me and said that I should be able to carry my next child to term, under the present circumstances, I doubted there would ever be another child.

William put his next trip on hold, staying on at the studio and becoming an intermediary between Thomas and me. Moreover, with Thomas gone so much of the time, I'd come to rely on William's strength as a confidant and companion. I feared my despondency, more evident some days than others, was an awful burden for him to bear, but he didn't seem to mind. Perhaps more disconcerting was that I began to dwell more and more on the days before I met Thomas, remembering how captivated I had been with his brother. It was dangerous water to wade into, but I was desperately lonely.

 

“You are looking better, Helen.” William smiled. Admiration shone on his face as he took the teacup I offered. My hand trembled as our fingers met, tipping the cup precariously in my hand. William caught it and righted it without a word.

“The doctor says my stamina is improving,” I said, easing onto one of the dining-table chairs. Thomas preferred the table placed at the end of the studio, where there was plenty of room for the brothers to dine together on occasion.

“I saw Thomas going out for a walk as I came in. He seemed in good spirits.”

I didn't bother to hide my surprise. “Then you've apparently seen a different Thomas than the man I'm married to.” I had seen little of him in recent days and tried not to think about where he went at night or who might be giving him comfort. I did not like sounding like a haggard wife, but the truth was that I was growing restless, hoping to find a glimpse of the old Thomas who had swept me off my feet and into his bed.

“I confess I'm worried, William. He is not painting. He refuses to talk to me about anything. I don't know who is more the ghost around here—him or me.”

William looked at his cup. “Time heals wounds, Helen. He just needs more of it.”

“And what shall I do in the meantime? I carry around this guilt, remembering what he said to me in the hospital, the implication that if I had listened to him, this wouldn't have happened.”

“He was angry and hurting, Helen. He didn't mean what he said.”

“And I wasn't?” I challenged his loyalty to his brother.

William studied me with his calm, clear blue eyes. “Helen—” he narrowed his gaze “—what you don't need is to keep tormenting yourself. What happened…happened. It was just fate.” He stared at his cup. “Somehow we find a way to move on.”

I considered his words, spoken while he traced the rim of his cup, lost in his private thoughts. In my twisted, selfish brain, I wondered if the loss he was referring to was not mine, but his. Was it possible he still harbored more than sisterly affection for me? The thought, however remote, sparked an adulterous curiosity in me. “Do you suppose then, that it was fate, William, that you instead of your brother found me?”

He sat back, ramrod straight against the chair. What a handsome man he was, with many physical similarities to Thomas but none of his attitude. I looked away briefly, afraid he would see my torrid thoughts.

“Helen, don't.” He shifted in his chair. “It's not the same.”

“Why shouldn't I be grateful that you were there, even as you are now here instead of him?” I left it unsaid that it should have been—should now be—Thomas offering me comfort. But he was far too busy in his quest to “set the academy on its ear!”

The muscle of William's square jaw ticked as he stared intently at the floor. His humility was part of his charm, as had been the case from the first day we met. I tried not to think of his unselfish kindness, how he held my hand when we walked in the park and how his eyes burned for me that fateful summer's day.

“I am not trying to make you feel uncomfortable,” I said quietly, though in truth my thoughts were driving me to distraction.

He cleared his throat, his eyes carefully watching me. The air between us crackled with awareness.

“Let's talk about something else.” He placed his cup on the table. “Have you considered going back to your writing, at least until my brother has you modeling again?”

I easily waved off his suggestion. “I'm not sure I'll ever model again for Thomas. I'm sure my appearance is not the stuff of a stunner any longer.” I shrugged, giving the impression I didn't care, although the uncertainty of my future weighed heavily on my mind. “I tried to do some writing after coming home, but I couldn't stay focused.”

He shrugged. “Perhaps you will pick it up again. It might be good therapy. I still carry the poem you gave me, you know.”

I stared at him wide-eyed, unable to believe that after all this time he would still have it. The thought made me smile—something I had not done in weeks. “You are a true friend, William.” I laid my hand on his forearm and he smiled stiffly, taking a sip of his tea, effectively moving my hand away without a word.

I found his reaction rather strange but chose to ignore it, instead changing the subject. “Well, then,” I asked with as much brightness as I could muster, “tell me about you. What have you been doing? Are you working on your designs?” I was grateful for his company, to be able to visit with someone. I think that I was so desperate for human contact that I might even have welcomed Grace's company, but she'd not been present since my return from the hospital.

“I've been back to Italy. I spent a few days in India. I've been studying patterns in ancient architecture and artwork,” he replied.

“That's wonderful, but the expense must be enormous. Forgive my curiosity, but however do you manage it?”

He shrugged. “It is a goodly sum. That much is true.” He took another sip of tea.

“I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry,” I said. “I'm certain that someone of your talent has a generous sponsor.”

He released a deep sigh. “He's never told you?”

“Who? Thomas? Never told me what?” I asked.

“Thomas funds my expeditions. Mostly from the sales of his earlier works. He set up a trust for me when I was younger. The idea being that after I achieve my success, I can take care of him in his old age.”

I had to chuckle. “That sounds like a plan Thomas would come up with.” I took a sip of my tea and shook my head in wonder. “I had no idea.”

“As I once told you when you and I first met, he is a generous man.”

I nodded. “Yes, I do remember and please do not misunderstand. I don't deny his generosity, William. Thomas is a good man—complicated—but truly a good man, as I believe you are. It's just that…well—” I flashed him a smile “—you're here and he isn't, and there is very little I can do about it.”

William's eyes bored into my soul, making me think things I shouldn't. I fiddled with my cup and we sat for a moment in tension-filled silence, cordially drinking our tea.

I pushed past the awkward silence in an effort to change the topic, shift it away from Thomas and my loneliness. “So tell me, what lovely lady has caught your eye these days?”

He responded with a halfhearted laugh. “I'm afraid there's no one. I'm gone so much of the time…” He stopped as if about to say more, and shrugged. “My work is enough,” he added as an afterthought.

BOOK: The Master & the Muses
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