Girl with a Pearl Earring

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Book: Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier Read Free Book Online
Authors: Tracy Chevalier
Tags: prose_classic
not discover that it was full.
    When I returned a few minutes later only Pieter the father remained, leaning against the wall. “Thank you,” I said in a low voice as I filled his glass.
    He winked at me. “It was worth it just to hear you call me sir. I’ll never hear that again, will I?” He raised his glass in a mock toast and drank.

    After the feast winter descended on us, and the house became cold and flat. Besides a great deal of cleaning up, there was no longer something to look forward to. The girls, even Aleydis, became difficult, demanding attention, rarely helping. Maria Thins spent longer in her own rooms upstairs than she had before. Franciscus, who had remained quiet all the way through the feast, suffered from wind and began to cry almost constantly. He made a piercing sound that could be heard throughout the house—in the courtyard, in the studio, in the cellar. Given her nature, Catharina was surprisingly patient with the baby, but snapped at everyone else, even her husband.
    I had managed to put Agnes from my mind while preparing for the feast, but memories of her returned even more strongly than before. Now that I had time to think, I thought too much. I was like a dog licking its wounds to clean them but making them worse.
    Worst of all, he was angry with me. Since the night van Ruijven cornered me, perhaps even since Pieter the son smiled at me, he had become more distant. I seemed also to cross paths with him more often than before. Although he went out a great deal—in part to escape Franciscus’ crying—I always seemed to be coming in the front door as he was leaving, or coming down the stairs as he was going up, or sweeping the Crucifixion room when he was looking for Maria Thins there. One day on an errand for Catharina I even met him in Market Square. Each time he nodded politely, then stepped aside to let me pass without looking at me.
    I had offended him, but I did not know how.
    The studio had become cold and flat as well. Before it had felt busy and full of purpose—it was where paintings were being made. Now, though I quickly swept away any dust that settled, it was simply an empty room, waiting for nothing but dust. I did not want it to be a sad place. I wanted to take refuge there, as I had before.
    One morning Maria Thins came to open the door for me and found it already unlocked. We peered into the semidarkness. He was asleep at the table, his head on his arms, his back to the door. Maria Thins backed out. “Must have come up here because of the baby’s cries,” she muttered. I tried to look again but she was blocking the way. She shut the door softly. “Leave him be. You can clean there later.”
    The next morning in the studio I opened all the shutters and looked around the room for something I could do, something I could touch that would not offend him, something I could move that he would not notice. Everything was in its place—the table, the chairs, the desk covered with books and papers, the cupboard with the brushes and knife carefully arranged on top, the easel propped against the wall, the clean palettes next to it. The objects he had painted were packed away in the storeroom or back in use in the house.
    One of the bells of the New Church began to toll the hour. I went to the window to look out. By the time the bell had finished its sixth stroke I knew what I would do.
    I got some water heated on the fire, some soap and clean rags and brought them back to the studio, where I began cleaning the windows. I had to stand on the table to reach the top panes.
    I was washing the last window when I heard him enter the room. I turned to look at him over my left shoulder, my eyes wide. “Sir,” I began nervously. I was not sure how to explain my impulse to clean.
    “Stop.”
    I froze, horrified that I had gone against his wishes.
    “Don’t move.”
    He was staring at me as if a ghost had suddenly appeared in his studio.
    “I’m sorry, sir,” I said, dropping the rag

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