The Marriage of Opposites

Page 116


Rachel eyed him, annoyed. “Excuse me,” she said. “You’re in the wrong place.”
“That’s what your son says about himself. He doesn’t belong here. Although it’s a beautiful island.”
Melbye towered over her. With his long, uneven, red-blond hair and loping gait, he brought to mind the monsters people said lived in the hills, one of the things that turned into a werewolf at midnight and ran through the streets. Only this fellow lived right in the center of town, in the Savan, where he didn’t belong.
“Did you ever wish to have another life?” Melbye said.
Rachel stiffened. She knew when she was being courted, for whatever purpose, and had no intention of discussing the intimate details of her life. “Sir, please do not address me. I have the kitchen to see to.”
Melbye came to lean against the stove. He wore his white suit, which he’d had pressed by a laundress for this evening’s dinner. Rachel shuddered when she realized he was not wearing shoes. This barefoot Dane had his nerve to come into her house in this manner, and he didn’t even know how rude he was. She was relieved to think he’d be gone soon enough. Still he leaned back as if this kitchen was his home. As if they’d wanted him here.
“Take my advice,” he suggested. “Let him go.”
Rachel laughed. He really was the most preposterous man. She would have a lot to talk to Rosalie about in the morning. Rosalie would surely be jealous that she had not seen this character for herself and hadn’t been there to give him a dressing-down, something she was quite good at.
“Sir,” Rachel said. “I will have to ask you to leave.”
“You know what it’s like to want more than you have. I can see it in you.” When she gave something away in her expression, Melbye nodded, pleased with himself. He theorized that an artist knew more about people in an instant than most people learned in a lifetime. “I can see it. And yet you tie him here, as you were tied here when you were young.”
Rachel turned to him then. He was a canny fellow, smarter than his friendly demeanor would have caused one to think. He thought he knew her, but he knew nothing. Could he imagine that she had stood on the Reverend’s doorstep in the pouring rain and screamed for him to open the door until her lungs nearly burst? She removed her apron and folded it neatly.
“Let me guess,” she said. “Your father pays your expenses.”
“My expenses are small.” He looked embarrassed all the same now that the topic had arisen, so they couldn’t have been as small as all that.
“I won’t do it,” Rachel said. “It will ruin him.”
Melbye disagreed. “It will save him.”
“You were a guest in my house. Now I am asking you to leave. Go to Venezuela. I think you should. Go tonight. You’ll be much better off if you do. I’ve heard you’re called the Red Friend. Well, if you’re any friend at all to my son, you’ll leave him be.”
Melbye’s brow was furrowed as he tried to figure out Madame Pizzarro, who was a puzzle to him. She may have looked mild, the mother of a flock of grown children, her features plain, her dress modest, wearing no jewelry but her gold wedding ring, but she was hardly a simple woman.
“Meaning you’ll do what if he accompanies me?” Melbye asked.
“I won’t do anything,” Rachel said. “It’s the authorities you might need to worry about.”
“SHE’S TALK AND NOTHING more,” Camille told Fritz when he walked his friend back toward the harbor after dinner.
Melbye shook his head. “She’s a force. Like a hurricane.”
“Maybe once. Now she wants everything just so. Everyone must follow the rules, including me. But that’s impossible. Wait for me and I promise, I’ll go with you.”
They shook hands on it, making a vow that they would both be in Caracas soon enough. That night Melbye was in bed with his robber-neighbor’s sister, Jenny Alek, a woman who had been modeling for him and bringing him dinner, often pork cooked with lime juice and pepper and rosemary. There was a rooster next door and it set up a racket in the middle of the night, so Melbye rose from his pallet on the floor. He peered out the door to see the gendarmes heading to his door. He pulled on his white suit, grabbed his boots, then jumped out the window with a few belongings under his arm, leaving Jenny alone in his bed. He didn’t know if Madame Pizzarro had sent them, or if Jenny’s family didn’t care for the nude sketches he’d made of her. Whatever the reason, his time on the island was over. He went directly to the harbor, barefoot, carrying his boots tied together over his shoulder, his easel under his arm. The next boat was to St. Croix, and he got on it. The weather had changed and rain was pouring down. Fritz’s mouth was set. He’d been right about his friend’s mother. She was fierce. A force he did not wish to encounter again.