Chapter 16 – The Portrait

“She was a scary lady, Daddy,” said Samuel solemnly.

“We’ll talk about it at home,” Alex said, and shook my hand. “See you next week, Malcolm, Caleb.”

We watched them go down the steps to Alex’s car, parked in the drive, and Caleb held my leg and looked up at me. “Willie put the painting away for a while,” I told him. “We’ll see what Uncle Noel has to say.”

I didn’t say anything about it to Emmanuel at supper, nor did he ask about playtime except to growl, “All your toys put up, boy?” and Caleb nodded.

“The boys are very good about that,” I said; I helped, of course, but they never whined or dragged their feet. Julia must have taught Samuel to pick up after himself from early on, and I suspected Grace had taught Caleb the same thing.

Emmanuel merely grunted, and that was all the conversation for that evening.

We didn’t expect Noel back until late, but still Caleb clung to me when it came time to give him to Mrs Bell. “It’s bedtime, peanut,” I said. “Uncle Noel will be home when you wake up in the morning.”

He lay his head on my shoulder. I patted his back and looked helplessly at Mrs. Bell.

“Come along, sugar,” she said. “Mr. Malcolm can’t read you your bedtime story if you’re not in bed.”

As strategies went, it was a fair one; Caleb pulled himself out of my arms reluctantly and took Mrs Bell’s hand, and kept his eyes on me until they were through the sitting room door.

I got to my feet and snapped off the radio. Part of me wanted to look at the painting again, to see if her expression changed in the lamplight; but looking after Caleb, I reminded myself, was more important than letting my own imagination run amok. Still, I was antsy for Noel to come home so I could talk to him about this latest development — so I could talk to Noel, period. 

It would have to wait. Fresh from his bath, Caleb listened to another chapter of Peter Pan and we said a bedtime prayer. I tucked him in and let Tumnus get comfortable in her usual nook beside him. I turned on his nightlight and sat on the edge of his bed.