They sit waiting on a backless divan for the artist to arrive. The room is cold and silent and the thirteen-year-old girl swings her legs over the side of the divan
impatiently. The sixteen-year-old youth stares at the wall opposite where the door is, wondering just how long they'll be waiting. After a few minutes the youth moves forward and kisses his
"Don’t, Maurice, he may come at any moment."
"But he isn't here yet, Marie. Besides, you don't usually complain." Marie turns and gazes at her brother. She pulls a face at him and then gives him one of her warm smiles.
"But not here." Marie sighs. "How much longer is he going to be?”
"I think the man is obsessed with you, Marie. He rarely takes his eyes from you, except to sketch and paint." Maurice moves closer to his sister and places his hand over hers. She looks down at her brother's hand on hers and feels a slight tingle run through her body.
"He annoys me with his wants and orders. Wanting my hair this way or that way, and these cotton stockings make my skin itch." Marie wrinkles up her nose and blows out her cheeks. "And whatever he wears smells of paint and such horrible things."
"Such are artist types," Maurice informs, brushing his lips against Marie's white dress. He gazes at the white dress and lace collar and the dark-brown hair. "I’ll be glad when it's all done with, won't you, Marie?”
"Yes. What one puts up with for ones parents. All for vanity."
They sit a little longer, both watching the door opposite. Marie senses her brother's breath against her neck and thinks of the time in Paris some months earlier, when Maurice and she had sneaked out of the hotel without their parents noticing, and walked along arm in arm as if they were not brother and sister at all, but two young lovers, which pleased them and made them smile.
Maurice rises up from the divan and walks over to the French windows and stands staring out at the garden, while Marie watches him, wondering if he remembers or thinks about Paris. "If he doesn't come soon I'm going out on to the veranda," Maurice says, his hands behind his back, resting restlessly there.
"If a thought's worth thinking about, it's worth doing." Marie rises from the divan and goes over to where Maurice stands. She turns the handle and pushes open the doors and lets in a mild breeze. "Isn’t that better?” Maurice says it is and moves along side Marie as she goes out on to the veranda. He breathes in deeply to rid his nose and mind of the stuffy room and looks out over the garden and sees Forster amongst the roses. Marie turns and gazes at her brother who
seems momentarily elsewhere, and thinks of Florence where Maurice had crept into her hotel room which was adjacent to his, and had sat on the end of her bed wanting to talk to her, whispering so quietly that she could hear nothing but faint murmurings, which made her giggle, and so she made him come closer to her and when he came up beside her on the bed, she leaned towards him and kissed him. And the memory of it now makes her tingle and smile and wishes at that moment that life could go on forever and they not need to grow old or separate.
"Remember Florence?” Marie asks watching Maurice's features in the sun's light.
"Yes." Maurice smiles and looks at Marie. "For many reasons, but especially that night in your room."
"Did I shock you?”
"Took me by surprise more than anything."
"Are we not closer?” Marie walks away a little to the edge of the veranda.
"Infinitely more so." Maurice follows his sister to the veranda rail. He looks at her beside him as she looks over at Forster amongst the roses bobbing up and down. "I expect you'll marry someday and we won't be so close."
"I don't want to marry." The words leave her lips and seem to linger in the air about them as if they are too heavy to go far.
"Father will find you someone whom he decides will be best for you," Maurice says sadly, as if it were already inevitable, as if already planned.
"I don't care what Father decides, I don't want to marry." Marie looks at Maurice with her stern blue eyes. "Nothing he can say or do will make me marry." She sniffs as if to convince Maurice of her statement and her firmness over the matter.
"Mother may have her way of convincing you," Maurice says with a sigh, taking in his sister's stern eyes and set lips.
"Don’t you believe me, Maurice?”
"Yes, Marie, I do, but they have their ways. They join together and seem invincible."
"I’ll not marry, no matter what." Marie takes Maurice's hand and they walk along the veranda, down the steps and down the garden path beside the roses where Forster stands wiping his brow.
"I wish I was as confident about my future as you seem to be."
"It’s a matter of knowing what you want, Maurice. Once you know you pursue it with all your might and intelligence." They pause and look back at Forster who bobs down again and smile.
"I don't know what I want."
"Maybe not consciously yet, but you will."
"Yes. I shall help you find it." Marie moves them on again along the path.
"You? But you will have gone away by then and probably married."
"No, Maurice, I'll be with you, don't you worry," Marie says.
"Will you?” Maurice wonders if she will or if she's only saying it to make him seem happier.
"If I say so, it will be so." Marie's voice hardens. She stops Maurice and turns him round. "Understand?” Maurice nods and peers into his sister's stern blue eyes. She relents and smiles at him.
They wander between the avenue of birches hand in hand silent for a few minutes. Maurice thinks of Venice a few months before when Marie and he had wandered about St Mark's Square and then went into the Basilica away from Louise the maid, where away from viewing eyes, they embraced and kissed. And it comes back to him now, between
the birches, amongst the bird song, the closeness of Marie, the warmth of it, and the fear of it being lost, or taken away, and he draws her near him, and whispering says: "You will always be close won't you?”
Marie her thoughts disturbed turns towards Maurice. "You know I will. Why doubt it?”
"One always fears to lose what is dear to one."
"Trust me, Maurice." Marie squeezes her brother's hand.
They walk on between the birches until they reach the small lake and stand on the edge staring out over the water in silence once again. "I expect the artist is waiting for us, now," Maurice says anxiously, hoping they'll turn back, but knowing they probably won't.
"Let him wait,” Marie says. "He kept us waiting more than once."
"But then Father will get cross and want to know why we were out of the room." Maurice stares at the lake and the stillness of it.
"Father always gets cross, but then he mellows."
"With you perhaps, but not me."
"He senses your fear, Maurice, that's what it is." Marie takes hold of her brother's hand, draws it to her lips, and kisses it.
They return to the room fifteen minutes later and find the artist waiting. He is standing by the backless divan displeased.
"I thought you were to wait for me here?”
"We were, but got tired of waiting," Marie informs,” and so took a turn round the garden."
"I have other clients to see apart from you."
"Well we're here now," says Maurice," let's get on with it."
The artist sighs and goes over to his easel. He moves about restlessly, pointing to the divan, giving them directions, gesturing with his thin hands where he wants them and how. They settle and pose. Silence returns.
After an hour Marie sighs. "How much longer are we going to be here? I'm growing stiff and my limbs ache."
"You’ve no patience, that's the trouble."
"You’re too slow, that's the problem," Marie whispers. And looking up sees the artist staring at her over his easel. His bearded face and dark eyes unease her momentarily, but then she turns away and looks across the room towards the French windows. She wonders if he is still gazing at her and remembers Maurice saying about the artist being obsessed with her. She looks back again and sees that he is looking at his canvas now, and then looks round at Maurice who seems tense and ill at ease. "Are you to be much longer?” Marie says.
The artist says he is nearly finished for the day and asks her to keep still for a while longer, which makes Marie feel even stiffer and the ache comes more and more until her bones feel like those of an elderly lady.
"Thank goodness he's gone," Maurice says as they walk once more out in the garden.
"I thought he'd take forever." Marie frowns as she looks momentarily back at the house. The artist uneased her decidedly she recalls as they walk through the avenue of birches. The eyes, that bearded face, she muses, turning her eyes forward again, sensing Maurice beside her, dreading the thought of him returning to school again after the
"Such time wasted," Maurice says," time we could be spending doing what we want."
"Why do adults presume that our time is not as precious that theirs. We all have twenty four hours in a day." Marie sighs quietly and takes Maurice's hand in hers. They walk on for a few moments in silence towards the lake. Maurice moving his head glances a view of his sister's face, the softness of her hair, the paleness of her cheek, and knew that one day she would marry and grow older like their mother, and that beauty and innocence would be lost, and he separate from her and the intimacy of her, and it makes him for a moment feel suddenly cold, as if he'd fallen into freezing water.Only the warmth of her hand in his prevents him from fainting. He sways and looks out over the lake trying to balance himself.
"Suddenly cold," Maurice says. Marie turns to look at him and sees him swaying. "Hold me, Marie, hold me." She holds him tightly as if he was a tree in the wind. He relaxes and the storm passes and the warmth returns.
"The artist did complain and Father did get cross as I said," Maurice says as they escape from the house after dinner.
"But he mellowed afterwards as I said," Marie counters as they walk at the side of the house towards the summerhouse at the side path.
"Louise will be looking for you soon."
"Let her look," says Marie, gazing back at the house. "Are you feeling better now?”
"Yes. I don't know what came over me." Maurice knows, but says nothing to his sister, although he wants to tell her all.
"You must tell me things, Maurice. No secrets."
"No secrets?” Maurice gazes into Marie's stern blue eyes.
"No secrets between us. Utter honesty between us."
"Do we dare?” Maurice stares up at the moon in the evening sky.
"You know how I feel?”
"If it's how I feel, then, yes." Marie takes Maurice's soft hand.
"I dread going back to school and being away from you."
"I dread you going. I dread it more than death. "
"Why can't we be always together?”
"Someday we will, I promise," Marie says gently. They pause outside the summerhouse and stare back at the house for a few moments. Marie senses a need. Maurice opens the door and they enter stealthily.
"I am like the Moon," Maurice says. "My only light comes from you." They stand outside the summerhouse gazing up at the moon passing through grey clouds. Both feel elated as they gaze upwards.
"I am like the Sun am I?”
"Your light and warmth brighten my life."
"You and I are children of the Sun and Moon." Marie moves them on the path towards the house, which seems darkened against the sky. Only the few lights of the interior lightened the grass around.
"I don't want this day to end. I want us always to have this day."Maurice turns his head and looks at his sister beside him and wishes that time could forever repeat this day, this moment, now beside her, those moments in the summer-house, those in Paris, Florence and Venice. If only, he muses sadly, they would remain, remain always.
"We shall, Maurice, we shall." And at that moment she thinks of Florence and Maurice beside on the bed in the dark hotel room, and those moments in the summer-house, and wishes them forever to stay in her memory, not to be forgotten.
"Louise will be angry if she doesn't find you."
"Louise can be angry for all I care." Marie takes her brother's hand and they run quietly across the grass to the French windows, where furtively they enter the room where the artist and they were earlier that day. Marie closes the door behind them and they stand in the silence of the room staring into the darkness. Maurice can hear his sister breathing and the nearness of her. Marie searches for Maurice's hand in the blackness about her. She holds it against her cheek. The darkness enfolds them. Washes over them like a black sea.
Moonlight shines through the bedroom window upon the bed where Marie and Maurice lay, staring at the faint light on the ceiling.
"I thought you weren't going to come," Marie says, feeling her brother's warm body beside her and a sensation rise within her.
"I had to make sure Louise had gone before coming. Once I was sure she wouldn't return, I came." Maurice reaches along the bed for his sister's hand, and finding it, he holds it close against his leg.
"Are you happy, Maurice?” Marie asks softly.
"What does being happy mean, Marie?”
"Is being here with me what you want?”
"Yes. Only being with you makes me feel fulfilled." Maurice turns and gazes at his sister. "I fear some great upheaval is coming which will part us. I sense a terrible death." Marie looks into her brother's eyes and sees a fear there.
"Why think of death? You are too young to think of such a thing."
"Death has no respect for age or person," Maurice says sadly squeezing his sister's hand.
"Nothing will ever part us. Not even death."
"Now you're being romantic." Maurice takes in his sister's gaze and leans forward and kisses her lips.
"Not even death will part us," Marie repeats firmly. Maurice nods. Marie senses her brother's warmth and lays her head against his shoulder. He brushes his hand against her brow moving hair from her cheek. They kiss. They embrace. Shadows move silently about the room.
An elderly grandmother and her grand-daughter stand before the painting in a small room of a large house. "Are they related to us, Grandmother?" the young girl asks. The elderly woman nods.
"Yes, distantly. They were my cousins. Maurice and Marie. Their mother and my mother were sisters. "
"Did you know them well?”
"No. They were very singular." The grandmother stares at the portrait, at the faces she once knew. "No one knew them very much. Not even their parents."
"Were they close to each other?” The child asks, staring at the painting and the eyes of the children.
"Yes, I believe they were." The grandmother replies thoughtfully.
"What happened to them?”
"Maurice was killed in the Great War five years after this portrait was painted and his sister, Marie, was found drowned in the lake two days after her parents received the news of Maurice's death."
"How sad." The child stares at the painting intensely.
"They say it was an accident, her drowning, but many thought otherwise." The grandmother sighs deeply. They turn from the painting and walk out of the room. The woman closes the door gently behind her, giving one last glance towards the painting, and the girl with the stern blue eyes stares back at her coldly.
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