The Persistence of Dreams
It is 1636: five years after a West Virginia town from the year 2000 arrived in Germany in a flash of light and altered the course of history. Now, down-time master artist Daniel Block is troubled. No mention or proof of his name or life work, of which he has long been proud, made it through the Ring of Fire; it’s as if he never existed. What can a talented and proud artist like him do, to make sure this new world remembers him long after he’s gone?
Daniel develops a plan to make himself one of the greatest artists the world has ever known, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to see his dreams fulfilled. Even if it means risking himself, his wife, and his children.
Intent on changing his own history, Daniel journeys to Grantville to learn about these Americans and their wild and outrageous art forms. But while there, he runs afoul of the up-timers’ strange attitudes—and the law. What follows upends seventeenth century art, threatens the emperor, and changes Daniel and his family forever.
Grantville, May 1636
Daniel Block stretched his aching back, then tilted his canvas to capture more of the fading light of the evening. The reddish hue changed the colors on his palette, giving Fraulein Barnes’s pale arms and shoulders an orange tint that he found most intriguing. Painting outdoors had much to offer, though he worried the colors of his final work would be off. But then, the painting would seem odd to down-timers anyway. Even many of these up-time folk seemed tied to tradition when it came to art. Perhaps, he thought, my coming to Grantville will help change—
Daniel jumped, turning to see Warner Barnes waving a thick hand as he entered the yard from the back door. “Ach, scheisse,” Daniel hissed. He spun, wide-eyed, looking for the canvas drape he used to cover paintings between sessions, only to remember laughing earlier as his five-year-old, Benjamin, had wrapped the cloth around his shoulders like a cape and swooped through the yard, shouting, “I’m Superman, Superman! Fly like the birds!” while his young friend Stefan Weiss cheered him on. It had been so utterly charming, but now— “Scheisse.”
The painting wasn’t ready.
Barnes, sweat beading on his pale forehead, stumbled to a halt a few feet away from the painting, his mouth gaping and his face going a sickly-white. “That—that—that,” he said, raising his hand to point, “That is not—you didn’t. Dear God in heaven, man, I trusted you. A master painter, Clyde said, and you—you—bastard!” Warner kicked at Daniel’s easel, knocking the painting face-first onto the ground, stomping on the back of the canvas, howling in rage. “You have violated her—violated my daughter!”
Daniel gaped in horror, frozen, thinking only of the still-wet paint smearing in the dirt—all his work, all his hopes and dreams . . .
“Please, Herr Barnes,” Daniel said, holding up his paint-stained hands, “let me explain. I wanted to portray your daughter similar to the way Picasso would have in his later work, you see, showing multiple viewpoints of her at once. But, you know, I’m no Picasso.” He shrugged. “At least not yet. I realized that trying to create a painting that bold too soon would be a disservice to you and your daughter. So, I thought I’d throw in a little of the current tradition, coupled with a touch of Surrealism, and—”
“I don’t give a damn what you thought you’d do,” Barnes said, a thick vein pulsing across his reddening forehead. “I paid you good money to paint a proper portrait of my little girl. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let this trash see the light of day—and I will see to it that you never paint another of this town’s decent young ladies. You filthy, disgusting, sorry son of a—” Barnes stepped forward, arm raised and fist clenched, ready to take a turn at pummeling the artist himself.
Daniel—finally recognizing the danger—armed himself with a nearby folding chair.
Barnes knocked the chair away, grabbed Daniel’s sweater, and drew his fist back to deliver a crushing blow.
Stefan’s mother, Nina Weiss—housekeeper and companion of Daniel’s host, Ella Lou Rice—came barreling through the rear door, shouting, “Nein, nein, you must not, Herr Barnes!” Her small, thin body radiated outrage. “There will be no fighting here! Frau Rice is sleeping and is not well today. You must stop, I beg you!”
Both men halted in place as Nina rushed up to them.
She took hold of Barnes’ raised arm and pulled it down, patting it soothingly. “You do not wish to cause trouble for Frau Rice, surely. Do you want to wake her when she is not well? Her son Herr Rice would be most upset.” She turned him, pulling him gently by the arm, and he went with her, a bewildered look on his face.
“But I—but he—that painting!”
“Ja, ja, Herr Barnes. You do not like it,” she said, nodding her head sympathetically. “I said as much to Herr Block myself yesterday, but he is most taken with these new up-time art forms. Very modern, very advanced. We do not understand them, I think, you and I.” She patted his arm.
“We’re not finished here, Block,” Barnes said as Nina led him into the house and out of sight. “Not finished at all!”
Stunned, Daniel turned to survey the wreckage of his work. He did not fully understand these “modern” art styles himself, he acknowledged, as he turned the painting onto its back. He grimaced at the smears of green paint that ran across Mikayla Barnes’s distorted profile, marred her bare, round breasts and belly, and dotted the pale background. Her cobalt hair, which had flown upward, transforming into undulating birds, was dotted with dirt and gravel. Worst of all was a nearly foot-long rip separating her bare legs from the purple boulder upon which she was draped.
He had envisioned a sort of Picasso-esque Andromeda, with the saturated, golden palette of Gaugin’s Tahiti paintings. Fraulein Barnes lay sprawled on the rocks, chained, waiting to be freed from her bonds by a transformed, heroic sea monster. It had been unlike anything he could have imagined before his studies at the Grantville library. It was to be the first step in a grand project to make a mark—a lasting one, this time—on the art world. But it was gone now. Destroyed.
Worst of all, Barnes could very well be right. Maybe it was a desecration—of both his own talents and Fraulein Barnes. Maybe he was a fool to experiment with art movements that had been—would be—hundreds of years in the making. Even Daniel’s wife Sofia had urged him to start more slowly: experiment with light, she said, or study the anatomy books. Learn to paint those magnificent horses that George Stubbs would bring to life in 130 years—or even explore the blends of Realism and Impressionism of Manet and Renoir. But Daniel had rejected that out of hand as too easy—too likely to leave him, as now, out of the history books altogether. No, he must do something bold, something dramatic, something . . .
But now? He did not know what to do.
He sank into the folding chair that stood nearby, dropped his head into his hands, and wallowed in deepest misery for several minutes.
Nina soon bustled out of the house again, tsking and scolding. “Up, up!” she said. “It will be dark before long, and you must put your things away.”
Obediently, woodenly, Daniel stood and worked with Nina to gather his jars of paint and his brushes. They must all be cleaned, the jars properly sealed, his sketches put away, and so on. His materials were expensive and difficult to find at times. He must not waste them.
After a moment, Nina said coolly, nodding at the enraged Barnes as he disappeared down the street, “That one will cause trouble.”
Daniel grunted. He had no doubt of that.
“I called Herr Rice. He will come.”
Daniel stopped, startled. “But surely he won’t want to get involved in all this . . .”
“Come, come,” Nina said, ignoring his question. “Clean your brushes. Do you wish to save the canvas?”
Daniel shrugged, and Nina picked it up and carried it to the shed where gardening equipment was kept. He let her go. He could move it from there later or burn it. Or maybe study it some more to see where he went wrong. If he had gone wrong.
He shook his head angrily. Damn these new styles of art, and damn the art books that bore no trace of his existence. Elaine O’Meara, an up-time art teacher and historian who had helped him scour the town’s library and even her own book collection for a single mention of his work, had tried to tell him gently that the books brought through the Ring of Fire were far from thorough or complete, that other libraries up-time would have far more detailed histories—that he would, surely, be discussed in depth in some of those books. There might, perhaps, even be whole volumes dedicated to his work and his influence.
But, in his darkest (and more pragmatic) moments, he had to admit he thought it unlikely. Frau O’Meara’s expression as she said these things to him made it clear that even she doubted it was true. Surely, if she were correct, there would be at least some hint of his artistic influence on history, even if it were miniscule. The art style of the seventeenth century had come to be called “Baroque” by up-time historians, and there were plenty of famous Baroque painters mentioned in the smattering of art books that had come through the Ring of Fire: Peter Paul Rubens, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Johann Vermeer, and so many others, all known well enough to have at least a description alongside their most famous paintings inside thick illustrated books from one side of Grantville to the other. Why was there no mention of Daniel Block, an artist who had painted many portraits of the illustrious Gustavus Adolphus, as well as highly-regarded paintings of dozens of other prominent statesmen and their families?
Why had history forgotten me?
As Nina strode back toward the house, she gave Daniel a firm, reassuring nod. “Come when you are finished. I will make coffee—and there is cake, fresh from the oven.”
“I thank you, Frau Weiss,” he said.
He only wished he was the sort of man for whom a warm drink and a sweet pastry would ease his mind. His only real consolation, however, was the possibility that his greatest works had been consumed in a fire; that, at least, would be better than having to accept the fact that history had judged him lacking as an artist. It was not impossible. Many of his paintings—many of his greatest works—were at this moment in Mecklenburg. It was, in a sense, his only hope, however dreadful it was to contemplate. Well, that and the possibility that he could still produce works of greatness—the greatness he knew he was capable of, the greatness he would ascend to if he were permitted time and freedom to do it. He was not a young man anymore, true, but as Frau O’Meara had said to him during one of his darkest hours: one is never too old to dream a new dream.
His brushes clean, Daniel entered the house, momentarily surprised to hear a man’s voice coming from the foyer. He was first pleased and then uneasy when he realized it was Clyde Rice. Clyde, a tall, stout man, had a look of worry on his face that did nothing to ease Daniel’s mind.
“Daniel,” Clyde said, reaching his hand out for a firm shake. “Good to see you.”
The two men chatted briefly—about their families, local politics, the conflicts in the East, the Saxon uprising, Gustavus Adolphus’ current condition, etc. But Clyde soon raised the issue they both knew he was there to discuss. “Tell me, what happened with Warner Barnes?”
Daniel grimaced and related the afternoon’s events.
Clyde, who had obviously heard some of it already, nodded. When Daniel was finished, he said, “You think I could see it? This painting of yours?”
Daniel frowned. He felt reluctant to show it to Clyde. Was it possible that he really had done something wrong? Or was it just that he wasn’t prepared for yet another person to dislike the work he’d put so much effort into? He shrugged, looked at Nina, and raised his eyebrows.
“I will get it,” she said, moving swiftly toward the back door.
Once she was gone, Clyde said, “Daniel . . . is it true she posed nude for you?”
“Nude?” Daniel frowned. “No. I did not tell her what to wear or not to wear—she came out in a robe, which she took off. She had on a . . . beek? A . . .”
Clyde frowned, confused, so Daniel held his hands in front of his chest, cupped. “The cloth is here.”
“Oh,” Clyde said, “I see. A bikini.”
“Yes! That’s what she called it.”
“That didn’t seem strange to you?”
Daniel hesitated, unsure how to answer. “These . . . bikinis? They seem very strange, yes, but I don’t see how—”
Nina entered, carefully maneuvering through the door with the damaged canvas, and both men turned to her. She looked to Daniel, who nodded, then turned the painting to face Clyde.
“Oh dear lord,” Clyde said. “Daniel, what on earth were you thinking?”
Daniel launched into a discussion of his influences and the symbolism—similar to what he tried to convey to Herr Barnes earlier—as Clyde continued to gape at the portrait.
Finally, Clyde held up his hand and Daniel stopped in mid-sentence. “I can see, I suppose, where . . . but didn’t it seem, you know, inappropriate to paint her like that? Nude? And all . . . distorted?”
“Why would it be inappropriate?”
Clyde sighed deeply, then took the painting and slid it into the hall closet.
Daniel began. “I have done something wrong—something the up-timers find unacceptable?”
“Well, yes, we . . . you see, we aren’t much for nudity in general—not public nudity anyway—and especially not in our children.”
“Clyde, I know Herr Barnes is a friend of yours and you recommended me to him, and so I apologize for having offended him, but—”
Clyde held his hand up, and Daniel turned to see where he was staring so intently. One of the town’s few remaining squad cars was pulling up in front of the house.
Clyde shook his head. “Shit!”
“I don’t understand,” Daniel said. “What is wrong?”
Clyde huffed and headed toward the front door, opening it as Sergeant Marvin Tipton, Grantville’s head of investigations, was coming up the walk. Tipton had a slight paunch and was a little shorter than many other up-timers Daniel had met, but he wore his officer’s uniform well, and had a kind face below graying hair.
“Marv,” Clyde said, forcing a smile onto his face. “Haven’t seen you in a while. How’s Elsie?”
“Good, thanks,” Tipton said, shaking Clyde’s hand. “Mind if I come in?”
“Please.” Clyde waved Tipton inside.
Daniel stepped back to give them space—wanting to say something, to defend himself and his work—but figuring silence was the best policy at that moment.
“Care for a drink?” Clyde asked, shutting the screen door. He stopped next to Daniel. “I’ll bet Nina has a nice pitcher of iced tea in the fridge.”
Sergeant Tipton shook his head and put up his hand. “No, thanks, Clyde. I’m here on an official matter.”
“Oh? What can I do you for?”
The sergeant cleared his throat then looked Daniel square in the face. “I understand that Warner Barnes’ teenage daughter Mikayla was here with you, Mr. Block, posing nude for a portrait. Is that correct?”
Clyde and Daniel looked at each other. Daniel cleared his throat. “I painted a portrait of her, yes—”
“In the nude?” Tipton said.
Daniel shook his head. “No. She was not nude.”
“That’s a lie!” Warner Barnes bellowed from the door.
Tipton let out a growl. “Barnes, I told you I would—”
Barnes slapped open the screen door and joined them in the foyer. “She is naked in the painting,” Barnes said. “My little girl! How the hell do you paint someone in the nude when they’re not nude?”
Daniel threw up his hands. “Oh, for heaven’s sake. You obviously don’t understand a thing about art. I have been painting nudes since before I was your daughter’s age. I know what a nude woman looks like.”
“She’s not a woman—she’s a child!” Barnes bellowed, lunging toward Daniel with clenched fists.
Sergeant Tipton stepped between them, holding Barnes back. “Gentlemen, please. Let’s not go overboard here.” He nodded to Daniel. “Look, why don’t you fetch that painting, Mr. Block, and come on down to the station with me? We can sort the matter out better down there, I think.”
“Hold on,” Clyde said, “you can’t come into my mother’s house and haul a guest out.”
Sergeant Tipton frowned. “If necessary, I can cuff him and take him out. But I’d rather not do that, out of respect for you and your mother. Just get the painting and let’s go to the station.”
They argued back and forth for several minutes. Even Nina joined in, arguing that Daniel was a good man who should be left in peace.
Daniel, meanwhile, kept eyeing the pistol Sergeant Tipton had in a holster at his side, worried that any minute it would be drawn. If he were anywhere but in Grantville, the man who came to arrest him would have put a quick halt to any argument with a pointed gun or a sword. His anger toward Barnes surged. If he were a younger, stronger man, Daniel would silence Barnes himself, as he had done a time or two in his past against those who had questioned his honor. The accusations flying out of Barnes’ mouth were false, disrespectful, and downright obscene. And I thought these up-timers were democratic and enlightened, he thought, as the arguing continued. They’re no better than anyone else . . .
“You will not take anyone, or anything, from my house!”
They stopped arguing, turned, and looked toward the frail but stern old woman who stood halfway down the stairs from the second floor. She wore a thin red robe over a flower-patterned nightgown. Her shoulders were bowed, her back slightly bent. Daniel could see that she was ill.
“Frau Rice,” Nina said, moving to help Ella Lou the rest of the way down the stairs. “You should be resting.”
“How can anyone rest with all this damned shouting?” the old woman said, letting Nina guide her into the fray. “What exactly is going on here?”
“You’ve allowed this hack to violate my daughter,” Barnes said, pointing a thick finger at Daniel. “In your own home!”
“That’s ridiculous! What are you talking about?” she said.
“He painted Mikayla in the nude, right here in this house!” He thrust his finger toward the rug beneath their feet. “I trusted you by leaving my daughter alone with him, and that painting of his? It’s pornography is what it is. And who knows what else happened while they were alone together?” He turned toward Sergeant Tipton. “I want my money back, and I want this damn pervert arrested!”
“Watch your accusations, Warner!” Ella Lou said. “I’ve known you since you were a little boy. You may think you’re a big, important man these days, but by God, in my house, you will show some respect.” Ell Lou stepped closer and hooked her arm through Daniel’s. “My guest, the artist Daniel Block, would never do anything to harm your daughter.”
Barnes spluttered for a moment, and Daniel watched him closely. He didn’t know Herr Barnes very well, but he knew that the man served in the SoTF Office of the President, and before that had worked in the USE State Department, and in the Department of Internal Affairs for the NUS/SoTF. He was important, at least in a small way. Clyde had once called him a simple pencil-pusher, but Barnes was also rich enough to have given Daniel a handsome and much-needed advance on the work. That was not a detail that Daniel could forget so readily.
“Well, get the painting, then,” Barnes said, snapping his fingers as if everyone around would jump at his order. “Get it, and I’ll prove it to you. Where’d you hide it, Block?”
Daniel was about to answer, but the sting of Frau Rice’s sharp nails digging into his arm silenced him. Frau Rice was a very nice lady once you got to know her, but when she grabbed your arm and gave you a sharp, friendly reminder to “shut the hell up,” you listened.
“Sergeant Tipton,” Ella Lou said, “I’m sorry, but you will not take Daniel or anything else from my home until you have produced a legal search warrant. Didn’t the laws of West Virginia come through the Ring of Fire?”
Tipton nodded grudgingly. “Yes, ma’am, they did, but I don’t require a warrant to take someone in for questioning.”
“Fair enough, but you need one to see the painting, and until you do, I see no reason for Daniel to go anywhere with you, at least not without an attorney present.”
Sergeant Tipton sighed. “Ma’am, I—”
“Sergeant, when you return with a warrant, we will be happy to oblige you. In the meantime, you should go.” Ella Lou smiled and looked at Barnes. “And please take this pompous twit with you, or I will press some charges of my own.”
Warner Barnes’ face ruffled as if it had feathers, but the sergeant nodded at Clyde, turned, and held the door for Barnes, who stomped out in a huff. Tipton walked back outside to the squad car with Barnes following, talking angrily to him. Tipton nodded twice, spoke briefly, and drove off, leaving Barnes staring after him.
Ella Lou held a wry smile on her face until Tipton drove off down the street.
Daniel allowed himself to breathe. “Thank you, Frau Rice. For a minute there, I thought they might—”
“That jackass,” Ella Lou said, still staring through the screen door.
The others peered out. Barnes was speaking to a woman across the street, pointing at the house. While they watched, two other people stopped to listen, turning to look at the house as well.
“Show me the painting,” Ella Lou snapped. She crossed the foyer and slammed the front door, turning to glare at Daniel and Clyde. “Now!”
Silently, Clyde pulled the painting from the hall closet and displayed it so that his mother could get the full view of it from the light coming through the front windows. She stared at it for a long moment in silence.
Daniel found himself smiling wistfully as he surveyed his work. What a waste of a fine painting. Despite Herr Barnes’ overreaction, Daniel felt that it was a terrific piece—probably his finest work. He had used the Impressionist broken color technique, leaving brush strokes unblended throughout the composition—strokes that defined the girl’s lips and the small dimples in her cheeks, the curvature of her hips and the gentle swell of her thighs. The whole effect was bold, new, and fresh, something the likes of which few in the world had ever seen, at least outside the confines of Grantville.
It was true that a lot of up-time books had been reproduced and knowledge disseminated throughout Europe since the arrival of these Americans. But high-quality, full-color images of the great works from Picasso, Renoir, Dali, Monet, and Cézanne had been seen only by a lucky few. Perhaps Rubens had seen these things; perhaps he would understand why Daniel had made the choices that he had made, the decision to paint the girl in this manner. But I will not apologize for my art. I will not—
“Daniel.” Frau Rice’s tone was calm but strained. She looked at him. “You will not wait for the police to return with a warrant. When the boys return from school, and Sofia returns from work, you will take this painting down to the station and explain yourself. I’m sure this can still be resolved without . . . without too much fuss.”
“But . . . I tell you truthfully, Frau Rice, the girl was never naked in your house. She was wearing a bikini, and I never, ever touched her. It was innocent.”
“Yes, I don’t doubt that. And yet,” she said, her voice rising, her breath short and agitated, “here she lies, naked. And I don’t care if you obscured her . . . her . . . I don’t care. There she is, naked. She’s just a child, Daniel. Underage. You will go and you will explain, and you will tell Warner Barnes that you’re sorry.”
“I will not apologize for my art.”
“You will apologize,” Ella Lou Rice said, stamping her foot. “You will . . . or are you no longer a guest in my home?”
All was silent. Daniel stood there, staring down at the old woman whose expression had turned from support to sincere disappointment. He looked at Nina then Clyde; both of them stood there, speechless, waiting for him to say the next word. What should he say? What choice did he have?
There were two options that lay before him. Do as Frau Rice bid and go to the police and apologize to Herr Barnes. Or, as soon as his son and wife returned, gather their things and leave, go to some other place and try to make a name for himself with all that he had learned in Grantville. To France, perhaps, where great artistic movements like Impressionism and Surrealism would, in time, rise and give the world such gifts as only God himself could inspire. Yes, leaving would be a good thing to do.
But, would it? Who was to say that he and his family would receive a warm reception anywhere else? The styles and techniques that he was experimenting with would be just as strange and, perhaps, unwelcome in France right now as they were here in Germany. Leaving would, in effect, mean accepting defeat. And that would make the historians right to have discarded him on that ash heap of history, as the up-timers sometimes liked to say. What kind of message would it send to his son, who was happy and comfortable in his new life in Grantville, and who was beginning to show some artistic talent of his own?
I will not apologize for my art. And yet . . .
“Okay, Frau Rice,” he said finally, “I will go to the station. And I will try to make them understand.”
“And you will apologize?”
“Ja,” he said, sighing heavily. “Ja.”
Nina had helped Daniel wrap the painting in his drape and pin it securely to the stretchers. He’d considered taking his wife, Sofia, with him, but thought it might make him appear to need her protection—and he couldn’t stand the thought of her hearing some of the things Barnes was saying about him. So, at Ella Lou’s insistence, Clyde walked over with him. “For your protection,” Ella Lou said, and Daniel knew it was true. If she was sending Clyde along to make sure he really went, she’d have said so. Though Daniel wondered if she might still have her doubts.
They walked in silence for a few minutes before Clyde said, “You sure you don’t want me to call up a lawyer to go with you?”
“No,” Daniel said. “I can speak for myself. I will explain, and they will understand.”
Clyde replied with a doubtful, “Hmph.”
“You don’t think . . . is it possible I could be charged with a crime?”
“Aw, I don’t know.” Clyde kicked a small rock off the sidewalk, scowling at it.
“Your mother, she is very angry with me?”
“Even my wife . . . she has always supported me, but the painting is not to her liking either.”
“Well, it’s not what folks are used to.”
“What’s the use of a painting that looks like every other painting?”
Clyde shrugged and shook his head, and both men were silent for a long time. It was an uncomfortable silence that had Daniel looking around anxiously, wishing he were anywhere else. But there was really nothing more to talk about, and this was not the time or the place for casual conversation. So he kept silent until they reached the station.
Once they arrived, Clyde settled onto one of the chairs in the waiting room while Daniel announced himself to the watch sergeant.
Before Clyde was finished telling Daniel again to come get him if he thought he needed a lawyer, Sergeant Tipton entered the waiting room.
Tipton’s gaze turned immediately to the painting Daniel carried. “That it?”
“Yes. I will show it to you, and then I would like to explain.”
A few minutes later, Daniel stood in the back of an interview room with a handful of people clustered around the painting: Tipton, one of the down-time sergeants, another officer that Daniel didn’t recognize, and Vera Mae Markins, the department’s clerk. Their comments ranged from “What the hell?” to “That’s just disgusting,” to Vera Mae’s surprised, “I kinda like it.”
The others turned and stared at her. Vera Mae greeted them with a genial smile. “Well,” she said, “the colors are pretty. And the way the girl looks vulnerable but also . . . sort of powerful. You know?”
Daniel beamed at her. She was the first person to see even a hint of what he’d tried to portray.
The officer, whose nametag read “Schultz,” hissed and said, “It’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t even look like a real woman.” Schultz sneered at Daniel. “You have seen a woman before, haven’t you? A real one?”
“Thank you for the art critique, Schultz,” Tipton said, and herded them all out of the room. He sighed and turned back to the painting.
“What was the purpose of that?” Daniel said.
“I’m trying to understand what I’m looking at.”
Daniel started to explain his vision and his technique, but Tipton held his hand up. “Look, no offense, Block, but I want an assessment from . . . well, I guess from someone who isn’t you, but who knows something about art.”
“Oh, yes,” Daniel said. “Of course. You should speak with Elaine O’Meara. She has taught me much about the history of art from your time.”
“She’s seen this painting?”
“No. You see, it wasn’t finished.”
“Perfect,” Tipton said. “Have a seat, this won’t take long.”
Daniel waited while Tipton spoke to Elaine on the phone, and then with the watch sergeant, who’d stopped to inform him that Barnes was there. He told the sergeant to have Barnes bring his daughter in. “I think we ought to hear from everyone on this, don’t you?” he said to Daniel, clearly not expecting an answer. He offered Daniel some coffee and then said he’d be back shortly, leaving Daniel to wait in silence, staring at his torn, ruined painting.
He found himself questioning many of his choices—tints, brush strokes, the placement of the girl’s arm, the precise lines of the monster reaching up toward her. But still, he found that he believed in the painting. Believed that it was good—perhaps even great. It pained him more than he would have imagined that no one else could see what he saw in it.
Soon, Tipton was ushering Elaine into the room. Elaine seemed as genial as Vera Mae, but with a more studious expression on her face. She seemed to understand the magnitude of the situation. Her long, graying hair was pulled back in a ponytail, with the reading glasses on the bridge of her nose straight and ready for action. She came in bearing two heavy books that he recognized immediately. They were “coffee table books,” she called them, containing a huge number of colorful images of up-time art. He found himself staring at them as she set them on the table. Even after handling them for months, the books still enchanted him with the secrets and the beauty they held.
“Now, Block,” Tipton said, breaking Daniel free of his trance, “not a word.”
Daniel nodded and turned to watch Elaine as she examined the painting. She was silent for several minutes, and Daniel became ever more nervous. At least she wasn’t expressing horror or disgust, but if she didn’t like it . . .
Finally, she turned to Tipton. “Sergeant, what is it that you want from me?”
“Some kind of, ah, assessment of its artistic merits?”
She frowned. “I thought Warner was claiming some kind of inappropriate behavior. Which is absurd, I might add. Even if Daniel would try such a thing, which I can’t even imagine, Mikayla Barnes is a spitfire. She’d rip a man’s arm off if he tried anything she didn’t want.”
“Well, yes,” Tipton said, with a crooked smile. “But . . . to be frank, I think he’s just mad about the painting being so . . . unusual. And, well, there’s the nudity.”
Elaine rolled her eyes. “The nudity? I admit she’s on the young side by our standards, but nudes are extremely common in art—of our time as well as theirs. And this isn’t exactly Playboy.”
“Playboy?” Daniel said.
Tipton and Elaine exchanged smiles.
“Never mind,” Elaine said. “Here, let me . . .” She began flipping through the books, stopping now and then to show Tipton a picture of a painting. Picasso for the girl, Monet and Van Gogh for the brush strokes, Cézanne and Gaugin for some of the colors, and a few others she thought seemed similar. “You see what he’s done? All these different styles that won’t be developed for maybe two or three hundred years, some of them—he’s blended them together in this seamless way. And the result? Well,” she paused and looked apologetically at Daniel, “to be honest, I can’t stand Picasso, but setting that aside, it’s impossible to deny that the painting is quite magnificent. It represents an enormous and important development in art for this new timeline.” She reached out and very gently touched the frayed edges of the torn canvas. “Such a tragedy!”
Daniel felt an enormous wave of relief wash over him, and a joyful ache in his chest. His painting was truly good. Elaine would not lie about something like this; she genuinely believed it was good—no, better! ”Magnificent.” Worthy, perhaps, of note by history. If only it hadn’t been destroyed. But, perhaps now, there might be more. Much more.
Tipton started to speak again, but was interrupted by a knock on the door. Mikayla Barnes was there, and her father was demanding to be heard. Tipton winced, but told the officer to send them in.
Mikayla stalked through the door, looking sulky and bored. Her light brown hair bounced on her shoulders, with long strands swaying across her dark eyes. Her father followed, his mouth opening for another round of shouting.
“You!” Tipton said, pointing at Barnes. “Quiet!”
“Quiet, or I’ll have you removed.”
Barnes closed his mouth, pressing his lips together furiously and folding his arms.
“Now, Mikayla, I’d like you to take a look at this painting,” Tipton said, pointing toward Daniel’s work.
Daniel grimaced, Elaine smirked, and Barnes started to speak.
“Quiet!” Tipton said, pointing once again at Barnes.
Mikayla moved closer to the painting and smiled. “Is this why daddy’s freaking out? I mean, I think it’s ugly, but . . . I guess it’s kind of cool.”
“Cool?” Tipton said.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s not what I was expecting.”
“You didn’t see it while he was painting it? Or give him any suggestions?”
She shook her head. “Daddy said he was a master artist, so, you know. I thought it would look like one of those paintings in the books they have at the library.”
“What were you expecting the painting to look like?”
She frowned, turned to Elaine, and started to speak before noticing the books, one of which lay open on the table. “Oh, hang on,” she said, and started flipping through pages. She stopped at last, turned the book toward Tipton, and said, “Sorta like this, I guess.”
Elaine moved over to look at the picture and her eyes widened. “Oh, my!” she said.
Daniel leaned forward. It was a painting by French Romantic artist Eugène Delacroix of a woman lounging on a bed that was hung with luxurious drapes. She wore silk stockings—and nothing more. He shrugged. “It’s beautiful, yes,” he said. “But a bit dull, don’t you think? A bit lifeless?” He looked up at Elaine, who was holding her hand over her mouth.
Tipton looked at Elaine. “Is he serious?”
“What?” Barnes said. “What is it?” He stepped away from the wall and looked at the book, before exploding. “What? What in hell? For Pete’s sake, Mikayla! What on earth has gotten into you?”
“It’s pretty!” she said, slouching into a pout.
“Actually—” Elaine started.
“You stay the hell out of it!” Barnes shouted.
“Now, that’s enough,” Tipton said, putting up his hands to silence them. “Look, Mikayla, I apologize for being indelicate, but I need to know right now. Did you pose in the nude for Mr. Block?”
Mikayla’s face twisted in disgust. “No, sir.”
“What were you wearing?”
She looked at her father, who stood there with his arms crossed and his face beet red.
Daniel looked at the man’s burning cheeks, wondering what pigment would do them justice on canvas. It reminded him of one of those up-time cartoon videos Benjamin and Stefan liked watching, where steam rolled out of a man’s ears.
“Answer him!” Barnes said.
“A bikini,” she whispered.
“For God’s sake, why?” her father asked.
Mikayla shrugged. “I don’t know. I found it in the dresser where mom keeps her old clothes. I guess it was hers when she was younger. I tried it on and . . . I mean, it was a little big on me, but it looked nice. And then I got to thinking about home, you know, about West Virginia, how I missed the pool at Grandma and Grandpa Furbee’s, where Carla and Brad and me and the rest of the kids used to swim. I got a little homesick, I guess, and then I decided that was what I wanted to wear for the sitting. To, like, remind me of home.”
Yes, exactly! Daniel wanted to say, but he kept silent. Couldn’t they understand what Mikayla was really saying? Couldn’t they see? These up-timers were smart in many, many ways, but so many of them lacked any sense of symbolism. When she had removed her robe and stood there in her bikini, he understood immediately what Mikayla was trying to say. He could see it in her eyes. She wasn’t trying to be lascivious or lewd or a “slut,” as the up-timers might say. No. The bikini represented that last bit of connection to the world that she had left behind, a life that had been ripped away from her. She would never say it out loud, probably didn’t know how to say it, but she felt vulnerable and . . . naked in this new world that she had been forced to live in. And Daniel had painted her that way. Couldn’t they see?
Tipton nodded. “And at any time, did you ever take the bikini off while you were there?”
“I don’t care whether my daughter was naked or not,” Barnes said. “I want this son of a bitch placed under—”
“Now, you stop right there!” Tipton said, stepping toward Barnes. “I’ve heard enough out of you. If you don’t like this painting, fine. You’ve destroyed it, so that’s done. As far as I can see, there’s been no crime committed here. Next time you want to commission a portrait, be a little more specific about what you’re looking for—from the artist and from your girl. Now, you go on home, and let this be an end to it.”
Barnes stood there, seemingly shocked that Tipton had the nerve to go against his wishes. Then he said, “But I paid him for a painting! I want my money back!”
Tipton shook his head. “It looks to me like Block did the work you paid him for, even if it wasn’t what you were expecting. Of course, you can always take him to court if you don’t mind seeing this painting displayed in public.”
Barnes shook his head vigorously. “Like hell!”
“Well, all right then.” Tipton opened the door and called for Schultz, asking him to escort the Barneses out.
Once Warner had stormed out, Mikayla flashed the others a sad, regretful smile and trailed after him. The door closed, and they were all quiet for a moment.
“Mrs. O’Meara,” Tipton said, “I thank you for your time, and I apologize for Barnes shouting at you like that.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I’ve been shouted at a time or two before.” She shook Tipton’s hand, patting it before releasing it. “Daniel? I’d like to talk to you about this some more, when you have time? We might want to have a chat about up-timers’ attitudes about nudity, for starters.”
“Of course,” Daniel said, noticing the smile she and Tipton exchanged as she left.
“Mr. Block,” Tipton said, when they were alone again, “let me ask you. Why not just do, you know, the usual kind of portrait?”
“Because in your timeline, there is no record that I ever existed. For a painter, there is nothing worse. It’s as if every brush stroke I ever made was condemned as mediocre. Uninteresting. Every portrait, lacking in power and life. I left no mark on your world. I cannot bear that thought.” He smiled toward the painting. “Now? Well, perhaps now, I won’t have to.”
“Can you fix it?”
“No. But I can paint others. Many others.”
Tipton smiled. “Have that conversation with Mrs. O’Meara first.”
“Yes, of course,” Daniel said.
Tipton helped Daniel cover the painting again and walked him to the reception area.
Clyde stood as they entered. “Is everything all right?”
Tipton said, “I consider this matter closed. Give your mother my regards. She’s one tough lady.”
Clyde smiled. “That she is.”
The pair walked back to the house through the darkness in silence, Clyde allowing Daniel his thoughts. So deep was his concentration that he was amazed when they reached the door to the house. “How on earth did we get here so quickly?”
Clyde chuckled. “Had to keep you from wandering in front of wagons twice.”
Daniel was about to explain the plans he’d made for his next painting when Clyde opened the door and they heard wailing.
It was Benjamin, his son.
Both men rushed into the living room, afraid of what they’d find.
Little Benjamin clung to his mother’s dress, sobbing. His little round face was red and lined with tears.
“Sofia?” Daniel said.
She shook her head. “Poor boy. His friend, Bethany Anne, isn’t allowed to play with him anymore.”
“He’s not hurt, though?” Clyde said.
“No, no, nothing like that. But Bethany‘s mother Stacey wouldn’t even let him in her yard. Yelled at him that his father was a—” she looked down at her son and mouthed the word, “pervert.”
Daniel growled. “That awful woman. What right does she have?”
Daniel turned angrily toward the door, but Clyde stopped him. “Noooo. No sir. There is nothing to be gained by that.”
“Yes, I know. And you may be completely right, but going over and yelling at her isn’t going to do anything but get the police on my mother’s doorstep for a second time in one day, and I know you don’t want that again.”
Daniel flushed, remembering how much trouble he had already brought—however unintentionally—to Frau Rice’s home. No, he did not want to risk that.
Instead, he sat beside his wife and child, rubbing Benjamin’s back and speaking soothingly to him. “It won’t matter,” he said. “You have many other friends. All your friends from church, and from the daycare.”
Gradually, as he and Sofia sat with him, Benjamin’s tears began to ease. After a time, Stefan came and asked Benjamin if he wanted to play with the wooden cars that they’d both received for Christmas, and the boys went into the next room.
Sofia and Daniel joined Clyde and Ella Lou in the kitchen, taking chairs at the table as Nina served small pieces of cake. Daniel tried to smile as he took a few bites. She was always ready with a treat in times of distress.
After their cookies were gone and each had a fresh cup of coffee, Ella Lou asked, “What happened at the station?”
Daniel explained in detail, and everyone expressed their relief.
“It’s over, then?” Sofia asked.
There was an awkward pause. “Well,” Clyde said, “that’s difficult to say.”
“But if the police say he’s innocent?”
Another awkward pause was interrupted by the boys joining them, looking for entertainment, and the topic was dropped for the time.
As Clyde was preparing to leave, the phone rang. Sofia went to answer it as Daniel and Clyde finished discussing his latest plans for opening a self-storage facility in Bamberg. When Sofia returned, the look on her face silenced both men.
Sofia shook her head. “The daycare said our Benjamin couldn’t come back. Some of the parents objected.”
“Oh, for God’s sake!” Daniel said. “This is madness!”
Ella Lou heard him, and came into the room trailed by the boys. “What is it now?”
Sofia explained and Ella Lou said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. That poor child.”
Clyde shook his head. “That fool Barnes must be burning up the phone lines, trying to make trouble.”
Daniel threw up his hands. “He’s telling everyone in town that I’m a monster. What am I to do?”
“Honestly?” Clyde said. “Not much.”
“That damn idiot,” Ella Lou said. “Only an act of God can explain why that man ever amounted to anything more than a junior supervisor at a widget factory.”
“Widget?” Daniel said.
Clyde shook his head.
It was something else that Daniel would let pass and never understand. But one thing he did understand was how upset Benjamin would be at this latest setback. “Perhaps,” Daniel said, “it really is time for us to go.”
Everyone fell silent, even Sofia. Daniel stood there listening to the muffled laughter of his son and Stefan as they played in a back room of the house.
“That’s ridiculous, Daniel,” Ella Lou said. “Don’t pay any attention to what Barnes says. This will all blow over.”
“This isn’t just about Barnes, Frau Rice,” Daniel said, shaking his head. “I never intended Grantville to be our permanent home.” He turned and smiled at his host. “I came here to learn up-time painting techniques, and I have. I’ve not learned everything, and I’m sure if I—if we—stayed, I could learn a lot more. But I’m not an up-timer. I was born in Stettin, in Pomerania. My life is not here.” He pointed to the window. “It’s out there somewhere. I’m in my fifties. To you up-timers, that’s nothing, middle-aged. But here . . . I need to get out there and take care of some things, do some things, before it’s too late.”
Clyde was about to speak, but Daniel continued. “Did you know that I have two other sons from a previous marriage? They’re in their twenties now. One lives in Magdeburg. Perhaps the other does as well, I do not know. But I’d like to see them again, to share with them what I have learned. And Benjamin needs to know who his brothers are. I understand that Gustavus Adolphus is in Magdeburg as well. Perhaps he’ll let me paint him again if he is well enough . . . using newer, more daring, techniques.”
The room was very quiet, and Sofia moved to her husband and gave him a hug. Daniel liked that. He always liked the smell of her dark hair when she was close, the radiance of her brown eyes, and the tender massage of her fingers on his neck. He appreciated her youthful softness, her casual, effortless displays of affection. Sofia had taught him so much about the value of a strong, loving relationship. He was learning more and more each day.
Tears welling in her eyes, Ella Lou Rice finally said, “So, when will you all be leaving, then?”
Daniel exchanged a look of understanding with his wife, then said, “By the end of the week.”
After he closed and locked his trunk, all of his clothing packed, Daniel stepped over to the window and twitched aside the curtain just enough to look out on the town. He would miss it—far more deeply than he’d expected when they first began talking of leaving. Most of all, he would miss Frau Rice. Or . . . perhaps he would most miss watching Stefan and Benjamin play in the yard.
He sighed and started to turn away, when he noticed Stacey Rowland Duvall, Bethany Anne’s mother, standing in her yard in a light-blue robe, staring toward the house. He glared at her, wishing Clyde hadn’t stopped him when he’d wanted to yell at her after she was cruel to his boy. It might well not have accomplished anything, but he would have felt better, at least.
And then he realized what she was staring at: the painting. That painting, sitting propped against the trash by the curb, still torn and warped, damp from the morning dew, awaiting collection. He’d studied it until he felt he could glean no more, before asking Nina to dispose of it. He’d expected it to be burned, forgetting how tenacious these up-timers were about saving everything, recycling everything.
The woman looked both ways, and across to the house. Apparently she saw no one, because she passed through her gate, crossed the street, and stopped before his ragged canvas. As she reached down to pick it up, he felt a brief impulse to run down and snatch it away from her, but he made himself wait and watch, curious to see her reaction.
She turned the painting around, propping it up to let the light fall on its surface, and simply stood there and stared at it. After a moment, she slid her right hand up, pressing it against her chest. It was a move Daniel had made himself, perhaps a half dozen times in his life: when he’d first set eyes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, on El Greco’s The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, on Titian’s Assunta, and on Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. It was a gesture that came of pure emotion, of being moved beyond words by an inspired work of art. Daniel found that his hand, too, was pressed to his chest, moved beyond words that his work had touched someone so deeply.
The woman reached down and picked up the painting, took it back across the street to her home, and closed the door. At last, his heart lightened, Daniel smiled. My first fan, he thought.
Many more to go.
He picked up his trunk and went out back to join the others, who were saying their goodbyes.
After hugs all around, Clyde slapped Daniel on the shoulder with his big, generous hand. “It’s not too late to change your mind, my friend. You could stay and we could open up that art gallery right here in Grantville that we talked about. Barnes will tire of his nonsense soon enough.”
Daniel smiled but shook his head. “I appreciate your offer, Clyde, but it’s not just about Barnes as I stated before. This is for the best, I think. I have come to realize just how much the Ring of Fire took away from all of you West Virginians—family, friends, your whole way of living. Sure, you and many like you have flourished, have really made a name and life for yourselves here. But ultimately, I think the Ring of Fire was not for you. It was for us, for down-timers like me, so that we may dream anew, discover new freedoms, and avoid the mistakes we once made. I’ve been given a second chance, Clyde, and I must take it.”
Clyde nodded and they shook hands. “I wish you and your family the best of luck, then. I’m sure I’ll see you in Magdeburg before the year is out.”
Clyde and Daniel stowed the last trunk in the wagon, and Daniel joined Sofia and Benjamin on the wagon’s broad seat. The boy was sad as he waved goodbye to Stefan. “Will there be other children for me to play with where we’re going, Daddy?” Benjamin asked.
Daniel reached over and ruffled the locks of Benjamin’s messy dark hair. “Well, of course!” he said, and guided the horses into the road. “And I hope you will finally have a chance to meet your oldest brother.”
Soon, Benjamin and Sofia were chatting animatedly about all the things they would do in their new home—and Daniel, as the horses pulled them along the road out of town, was already imagining new paintings, new styles, new combinations of color and light, even new tools and media. Perhaps there would be a new role for art now—art for everyone. Art that could change the world. And Daniel himself would be at the center of it all.
Magdeburg, June 1636
They arrived in Magdeburg several days later, after a blissfully uninteresting trip. Both the horses and the wagon had little trouble along the way, though a spoke on one of the wagon wheels cracked.
As part of their payment for the repair, Daniel drew a quick sketch of the wheelwright’s wife and children in charcoal. He opted to try his hand at Cubism once again, making their faces into tiny geometric shapes that looked like masks when he was finished. He thought he did a passable job, but when the wheelwright saw them, he just laughed, shook his head, and wouldn’t hear anything further on what Cubism was and what it represented. He accepted the drawing after Daniel signed it at the bottom and said, “Keep it anyway. Someday, it may be worth a lot of money.”
The wheelwright nodded and walked off laughing.
Magdeburg was the largest city that Daniel had been to in a long while, and it was quite a bustling town now that Gustavus Adolphus and the USE were in charge. It was indeed a “hot-bed” of activity, as the up-timers might say, and Daniel’s heart leapt for joy when they entered. What artistic wonders he would create in this place! All he needed now was a studio, commissions, and students.
But after several days of looking for the right space, there was nothing available—at least not anything that they could afford on the meager personal monies that they had, or the small loan that Clyde had given them. But the cost of the inn they were staying at was too high to allow them to continue looking for just the right place. So, they settled on an apartment with a small kitchen, a living room, a bedroom for him and Sofia, one room on a second floor for Benjamin, and another much smaller room (almost a closet) for storage and supplies. Daniel would have to use the living room for his painting activities, and the light in that room was inadequate. Daniel sighed at his misfortune, but Sofia took it in stride.
“Do not worry, my love,” she said, already unpacking the first box of kitchen ware. “It is only temporary. We will find a more suitable place in time.”
Daniel nodded. “I do hope you are right, but I am reluctant to announce my arrival publicly, and I cannot call for students until I have a studio.”
“Well, you are a court painter, and you did say that you wanted to try to have the king sit for you again. Take those letters of introduction and try to gain an audience with him. The king may remember you, but those around him may not. That’s why you brought the letters, remember?”
The letters! He had almost forgotten about them. He had tucked them into a large book, between two pages filled with Degas ballerinas. Of course!
He found them and read them again. Two very complimentary letters from Elaine O’Meara and the Rices. Daniel smiled. To his surprise, he missed his time with Ella Lou and Clyde already, even though it had only been a couple weeks. They were such nice people to have opened their home to him and his family. Such generosity was rare in the world, and as he clutched the letters and thought about them, he considered another family: his own.
“I may be able to gain an audience with Gustavus with these letters,” he said, waving them at Sofia, “but it’s a letter that I must write myself that worries me.”
Sofia stopped unpacking and looked at him. “You are really going to see him?”
Daniel nodded. “Of course. He is here and he is my son, and I have to try. I have a lot of fence-mending to do. I just hope he’s willing to speak with me.”
Sofia smiled and reached out her hand. Daniel took it and kissed it. Then she pulled it back quickly. “Okay, then. Get you out of my kitchen, and go to work. You have letters to deliver and to write. Hop to it!”
Sofia gave him a little wink, and Daniel got to work, amused at the up-time expression that she had used. He saluted her in American military fashion, like he had seen Grantville children use at play. “Yes, my love. Right away!”
He kissed her cheek, grabbed his hat, opened the door, and stepped out into the warm spring day of Magdeburg.
Tonight, he would write that letter to his son. But he would deliver his letters of introduction first… once he found where Rebecca Abrabanel lived.
Rebecca Abrabanel greeted Dr. James Nichols at her front door.
“James, please come in,” she said, standing aside to let him in.
Many down-timers referred to Dr. Nichols and his daughter Sharon as Moors. She herself had made that mistake when they had first met, but such artificial labels easily fade away with time. Rebecca knew that the more accurate term was African-American… at least to the up-timers. Of course, they couldn’t be called that anymore, since they were no longer Americans. In any case, James Nichols was, above all, a man, a doctor, and a retired Marine. That was all that mattered.
In a room on the floor above them, her children, Sepharad and Baruch, were playing with a new friend: five-year-old Benjamin Block. It sounded as if they were going to crash through the ceiling.
Nichols chuckled. “You have a full house today, it sounds like.”
Rebecca nodded. “The children have a new friend from Grantville. A young boy who likes superheroes. He is introducing them to the Man of Steel.”
She closed the door behind them and invited James to follow her into the front parlor. “In a way, that is why I have asked you here.”
“Oh? Is the boy ill?”
“No, but I am concerned about Gustavus Adolphus.”
“He is improving, every day. But . . .”
“Yes,” Rebecca said, nodding. “But by how much? Michael is worried. He tells me that the king is moody and restless.”
“He is that. It’s difficult for him to find time in the day to rest. People are pulling him in every direction, and of course he lets them. He can’t stay out of the game for long—always has to know what’s going on, always has to put himself into the fray, you know. It would be good for him to find some peace and quiet. But try telling him that.”
“Yes,” Rebecca said, “however, I think I may have a solution for you. Come.” Rebecca led James into the next room. “Allow me to introduce Daniel and Sofia Block.”
After they shook hands, Rebecca continued. “Daniel is an artist who has just arrived from Grantville with Sofia and their son Benjamin. . . . That is who you hear bouncing around upstairs. Daniel has been studying the history of up-time painting techniques with Elaine O’Meara. He has come to Magdeburg to open an art gallery and, in time, teach a new generation of artists some of those up-time techniques . . . to get a jump on history.” She smiled. “And as part of that plan, he came to me with letters of introduction and recommendation from Elaine, as well as Ella Lou and Clyde Rice, and we have come up with a plan that I think you would find agreeable. Daniel?”
“Thank you, Rebecca,” Daniel said. “Dr. Nichols, let me explain a little about my past. In my youth, I used to travel Europe as a court painter, visiting royal families in Mecklenburg, Bamberg, Stettin, Luebeck. I was pretty good, too, I don’t mind saying. But when I visited Grantville recently with Sofia and Benjamin, I discovered that no trace of my existence came through the Ring of Fire. Nothing. Not even my name. It was a depressing revelation, that my body of work was so insignificant in history that it deserved no mention in the texts. Have you ever experienced something like that?”
James shook his head. “No, sir, I can’t say I have.”
“It’s not a feeling that I would wish upon an enemy. And so I’ve resolved to change history, Doctor. As Rebecca has said, I’ve studied up-time techniques, and I want to paint Gustavus Adolphus again. I’ve done so in the past, extensively, however I no longer have contacts within the king’s court. I came to Rebecca hoping she could present me to his majesty—but first, of course, I also wished to see if he was well enough to sit for me.”
“Yes,” Rebecca said, “and I thought this would be a good opportunity for the king to have a few hours a day, several days a week, perhaps—whatever is medically advisable—to sit in peace and quiet without the stress of dealing with his advisors and foreign dignitaries. Since Daniel has painted him before, the king may be more agreeable to it, and it would not seem so much like babysitting on our part.”
James chuckled and poured a cup of tea. He took a sip and said, “He will probably accuse us of that anyway, no matter what we do.”
“He may accuse if he wishes,” Rebecca said, “but we have his best interests at heart. And that, he cannot deny.”
James huffed. “Don’t bet on it.”
A rumble came from the stairs as the children barreled down and ran through the living room. Sepharad and Baruch were chasing Benjamin, who wore a red cape and shouted, “You can’t catch me. I’m Superman!”
They all laughed together, and when the children disappeared into the dining room, James said, “Gustavus thinks he is Superman, but I can assure you, Herr Block, he is not.”
“Then convince him that this is for his own good,” Rebecca said.
James crossed his arms and stroked his chin. After a long moment, he nodded. “I will try. Honestly, I think it’s a fantastic idea.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” Daniel said. “I’m in your debt.”
Emanuel Block engraved a child’s name on a small silver cup while his mentor and father-in-law, Peter Schwend, looked on.
I hope he does not see the tension in my shoulders, Emanuel thought, as he tried to hold the burin correctly, as Peter had instructed. Hold it too tightly and the work, the engraving, might be too deep. Hold it too loose . . . But it was difficult to focus today. All his concentration was on a crumpled letter in his pocket. He tightened his grip on the tool and squinted into the letter “L” that he was trying to finish. He placed his thumb in the appropriate place, pressed the burin’s tip into the silver, and moved it slowly.
“Ach, Scheiße!” Emanuel growled, as his wet palm slipped and the burin cut a gash across the silver cup. He hurled the tool at the wall, straightening as the burin clattered to the floor. He turned to his father-in-law, grimacing. “Why, Papa? Why now, after all this time?”
Peter sighed and shook his head. “I do not know, my son. But perhaps time has taught him to better appreciate his older children.”
Peter smiled, and Emanuel’s anger subsided a little. The mild, grey-haired and stooped old Pole had become like a father to him—far more so than the man whose name was signed on the letter in his pocket. The idea of that man coming back into his life now was, frankly, unthinkable.
“I want nothing to do with that . . . Abschaum,” Emanuel said, pulling the letter from his pocket. “My mother might well still be alive if he hadn’t been so busy trotting around, running errands for his noble friends in the hope that they’d hire him to paint pretty pictures. And then, if he’d been a decent man—a family man, like you—he would have cared for his sons, instead of pawning us off on his brother while he went off and romanced that bitch, Sofia.” He shook his head and removed the silver cup from the vise that had held it while he worked. “Schwiegervater, I’m sorry. I’m letting my emotions distract me from my work. I will fix this, and burn this damn letter, and that will be an end to it.”
Peter smiled and, stepping closer, touched Emanuel’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about the cup. I know you’ll have it done with your usual skill before Herr Adelson comes to collect it. As for Herr Block . . . I would ask you to reconsider.”
Emanuel frowned and opened his mouth to speak.
“Yes, yes, I know,” Peter said, holding his hand up to stop him. “But Herr Block is well-connected. You saw in his letter, he has already begun to seek an opportunity to paint the king himself. For my sake—for the sake of my wife and your mother-in-law, Anika—and most of all, for the sake of our dear Marija, I would ask you to try to make peace with him. It may prove . . . useful in the future.”
Emanuel hesitated only briefly before—however grudgingly—agreeing. He had always found it difficult to refuse any request from his father-in-law, especially where Anika was involved. She had been far kinder to him than he had even hoped.
“You do me proud,” Peter said. “You always have. My sweet Marija gave us a great gift when she became your wife, bless her soul.”
After a moment of silence passed, Peter returned to his work in the storeroom, and Emanuel took the cup to another bench, where he began to erase the damage his errant burin had done. He was only halfway finished when he saw movement outside and looked up.
A particularly heavy wagon rattled past the window, bearing what appeared to be large barrels of wine. He watched the muddy white horses strain in their harnesses for a moment, and had just started to turn back to his work when he caught sight of a tall, stout man standing across the street. Though the man’s face was in a dark shadow, Emanuel could tell instantly . . . it was his father, Daniel Block.
“Scheiße,” Emanuel whispered. “Why now? Why at all, old man?” But he remembered his promise, and the great debt he owed to Piotr and Anika Swędrzyński—Peter and Anika Schwend, as they were known in Magdeburg—who had treated him like their own son, both before and after the murder of their daughter, his precious wife.
The energetic, laughing Marija would more than likely have given him a son or daughter of his own by now, had that Swedish bastard Gustavus not betrayed the city by failing to protect Magdeburg five years ago, as he’d promised to do. And Emanuel would never have left his wife and child for extended periods of time just to seek fame and money. A real man took care of his family. A decent, honorable man worked hard and stayed at home to raise his children.
Emanuel watched Block cross the street carefully and walk toward him, marveling at how kind the years had been to this man, who so richly deserved suffering for all the pain he’d caused. Emanuel wished briefly for a runaway horse to come and trample Block under its metal-shod hooves, before he put down the silver cup and went to the door to greet the man who had once been his father.
He could tell from the look on Daniel’s sweaty face as he stepped inside that he did not recognize his own son. Emanuel struggled to conceal his fury as he spoke: “I received your letter. I was not expecting to see you so soon.”
“Ah!” Daniel said, and paused as he studied Emanuel’s face. “You are . . . tall. Taller than I expected.”
“Taller than you,” Emanuel said.
Daniel smiled awkwardly. “Yes. Well, I was hoping . . . Sofia and I would be pleased if you would join us for supper on Friday evening. It would give you a chance to meet your half-brother Benjamin, and you can tell us what you’ve been doing these past few years.”
Emanuel paused long enough to swallow the words that demanded to be spoken—damning his father, his new wife, and their child. “I will come,” Emanuel said, knowing how cold it sounded. How rude. So be it.
“Yes. Good. Well.” Daniel held his hand out stiffly and, after an uncomfortable pause, Emanuel took it.
Emanuel heaved a heavy sigh of relief when his father left the shop. Watching through the window, he saw Block do the same, and he felt, for just an instant, a sort of sympathy for the man.
It was a feeling that passed quickly.