GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING A NOVEL BY TRACY CHEVALIER This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incide. Chevalier, Tracy - Girl with a Pearl Earring. Read more · The Girl With the Pearl Earring · Read more Pearl of China: a novel · Read more. Girl With A Pearl Earring. p. 1 / Embed or link this publication. Description. a book based on the creation of the famous painting by Vermeer.
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PDF | Insight Text Guides Girl With a Pearl Earring is designed to help This comprehensive study guide to Tracy Chevalier's novel contains. Girl With a Pearl Earring. View PDF. book | Fiction | UK & Comm → HarperCollins. US → Plume. One of the best-loved paintings in the world is a mystery. Fax: 03 email: [email protected] . Girl with a Pearl Earring tells the story of the young woman depicted in the.
I set a piece of carrot back in its place. The man was watching me, his eyes grey like the sea. He had a long, angular face, and his expression was steady, in con-. He had no beard or moustache, and I was glad, for it gave him a clean appearance. He wore a black cloak over his shoulders, a white shirt, and a fine lace collar.
His hat pressed into hair the red of brick washed by rain. I was surprised by the question but knew enough to hide it. For the soup. There were five slices: I had used a knife edge to shape each slice, and placed a carrot disc in the center.
The man tapped his finger on the table. I could not say why I had laid out the vegetables as I did. I simply set them as I felt they should be, but I was too frightened to say so to a gentleman. Why is that? I looked at my mother, who nodded slightly.
I did not want him to think I was idle. From the corner of my eye I saw a movement. My sister,. I did not often lie. I looked down. The man turned his head slightly and Agnes disappeared.
He dropped the pieces of carrot and cabbage into their slices. The cabbage shred fell partly into the onions. I wanted to reach over and tease it into place. I did not, but he knew that I wanted to.
He was testing me. Though she was annoyed with his attention to me, it was me she frowned at. The man glanced once more at what was to be the soup, then nodded at me and followed the women. When my mother returned I was sitting by the vegetable wheel. I waited for her to speak. She was hunching her shoulders as if against a winter chill, though it was summer and the kitchen was hot.
If you do well, you will be paid eight stuivers a day. You will live with them. They have agreed to that. The pie slices I had made so carefully were ruined. He was sitting at the front of the attic by the window, where the light touched his face. It was the closest he came now to seeing.
Father had been a tile painter, his fingers still stained blue from painting cupids, maids, soldiers, ships, children, fish, flowers, animals onto white tiles, glazing them, firing them, selling them. One day the kiln exploded, taking his eyes and his trade. He was the lucky one—two other men died. I sat next to him and held his hand.
I could not think of anything to say that would not sound reproachful. I would like to have done better for you. He will treat you well. Do you know him? It was a view of Delft, from the Rotterdam and Schiedam Gates. Her work had worn her so that she looked older than her twenty-eight years.
Inside were thirty-two stalls—there had been thirty-two butchers in Delft for generations. Sawdust on the floor soaked up blood and clung to shoes and hems of dresses. There was a tang of blood in the air that always made me shiver, though at one time I had gone there every week and ought to have grown used to the smell.
Still, I was pleased to be in a familiar place. I smiled at him, relieved to see a face I knew. It was the first time I had smiled all day. It was strange to meet so many new people and see so many new things in one morning, and to do so apart from all the familiar things that made up my life. Before, if I met someone new I was always surrounded by family and neighbors.
If I went to a new place I was with Frans or my mother or father and felt no threat. The new was woven in with the old, like the darning in a sock.
Frans told me not long after he began his apprenticeship that he had almost run away, not from the hard work, but because he could not face the strangeness day after day. What kept him there was knowing that our father had spent all his savings on the apprentice fee, and would have sent him right back if he had come home.
Besides, he would find much more strangeness out in the world if he went elsewhere. They had stopped at a stall farther along. The butcher there was a handsome man, with graying blond curls and bright blue eyes. Our butcher always wore a clean apron when he was selling, changing it whenever he got blood on it. Pieter put the chops and tongue into the pail I carried, winked at me and turned to serve the next customer.
We went next to the fish stalls, just beside the Meat Hall. Seagulls hovered above the stalls, waiting for the fishheads and innards the fishmongers threw into the canal. Tanneke introduced me to their fishmonger—also different from ours. I was to alternate each day between meat and fish.
When we left I did not want to go back to the house, to Catharina and the children on the bench. I wanted to walk home. We had not eaten meat in months. They paid no attention to me. I helped Tanneke with dinner, turning the meat on the grill, fetching things for the table in the great hall, cutting the bread.
When the meal was ready the girls came in, Maertge joining Tanneke in the cooking kitchen while the others sat down in the great hall. I had just placed the tongue in the meat barrel in one of the storage rooms—Tanneke had left it out and the cat had almost got to it—when he appeared from outside, standing in the doorway at the end of the long hall, wearing his hat and cloak.
I stood still and he paused, the light behind him so that I could not see his face. I did not know if he was looking down the hallway at me.
After a moment he disappeared into the great hall. Tanneke and Maertge served while I looked after the baby in the Crucifixion room. When Tanneke was done she joined me and we ate and drank what the family did—chops, parsnips, bread, and mugs of beer. The bread was rye rather than the cheaper brown bread we had been eating, and the beer was not so watery either.
I did not wait on the family at that dinner and so I did not see him. From their tones it was clear they got on well. After dinner Tanneke and I cleared up, then mopped the floors of the kitchens and storage rooms.
The walls of each kitchen were tiled in white, and the fireplace in blue and white Delft tiles painted with birds in one section, ships in another, and soldiers in another. I studied them carefully, but none had been painted by my father. I spent most of the rest of the day ironing in the washing kitchen, occasionally stopping to build up the fire, fetch wood, or step into the courtyard to escape the heat. The girls played in and out of the house, sometimes coming in to watch me and poke at the fire, another time to tease Tanneke when they found her asleep next door in the cooking kitchen, Johannes crawling around her feet.
They were a little uneasy with me—perhaps they thought I might slap them. Cornelia scowled at me and did not stay long in the room, but Maertge and Lisbeth took the clothes I had ironed and put them away for me in the cupboard in the great hall. Their mother was asleep there. Once, though, I heard her in the hallway and when I looked up she was standing in the doorway, watching me. After a moment out of the corner of my eye I saw her nod and shuffle off.
He had a guest upstairs—I heard two male voices as they climbed up. Later when I heard them coming down I peeked around the door to watch them go out.
The man with him was plump and wore a long white feather in his hat. When it got dark we lit candles, and Tanneke and I had bread and cheese and beer with the children in the Crucifixion room while the others ate tongue in the great hall.
I was careful to sit with my back to the Crucifixion scene. I was so exhausted I could hardly think. At home I had worked just as hard but it was never so tiring as in a strange house where everything was new and I was always tense and serious.
At home I had been able to laugh with my mother or Agnes or Frans. Here there was no one to laugh with. I took a candle with me but was too tired to look around beyond finding a bed, pillow and blanket.
Leaving the trap door of the cellar open so that cool, fresh air could reach me, I took off my shoes, cap, apron and dress, prayed briefly, and lay down. I was about to blow out the candle when I noticed the painting hanging at the foot of my bed. I sat up, wide awake now. It was another picture of Christ on the Cross, smaller than the one upstairs but even more disturbing.
I Iay back gingerly, unable to take my eyes off it. I could not imagine sleeping in the room with the painting. I wanted to take it down but did not dare. Finally I blew out the candle—I could not afford to waste candles on my first day in the new house. I lay back again, my eyes fixed to the place where I knew the painting hung.
I slept badly that night, tired as I was. I woke often and looked for the painting. Though I could see nothing on the wall, every detail was fixed in my mind. Finally, when it was beginning to grow light, the painting appeared again and I was sure the Virgin Mary was looking down at me. When I got up in the morning I tried not to look at the painting, instead studying the contents of the cellar in the dim light that fell through the window in the storage room above me.
There was not much to see—several tapestrycovered chairs piled up, a few other broken chairs, a mirror, and two more paintings, both still lifes, leaning against the wall. Would anyone notice if I replaced the Crucifixion with a still life? Cornelia would. And she would tell her mother. I did not know what Catharina—or any of them—thought of my being Protestant. It was a curious feeling, having to be aware of it myself.
I had never before been outnumbered. I turned my back on the painting and climbed the ladder. She moved slowly, as if she were half asleep, but she made an effort to draw herself up when she saw me.
She led me up the stairs, climbing slowly, holding tightly to the rail to pull her bulk up. At the studio she searched among the keys, then unlocked and pushed open the door. The room was dark, the shutters closed—I could make out only a little from the cracks of light streaming in between them. It smelled like wood and freshcut hay mixed together. Catharina remained on the threshold. I did not dare enter before her.
Not the window on the left. Just the middle and far windows. And only the lower part of the middle window. I pulled open the lower window, then opened out the shutters. I did not look at the painting on the easel, not while Catharina was watching me from the doorway.
A table had been pushed up against the window on the right, with a chair set in the corner. I would have to stand on the chair, but did not want to do so in front of her. She made me nervous, waiting in the doorway for me to make a mistake. I considered what to do. It was the baby who saved me—he began wailing downstairs.
Catharina shifted from one hip to the other. As I hesitated she grew impatient and finally left to tend to Johannes. I quickly climbed up and stood carefully on the wooden frame of the chair, pulled open the upper window, leaned out and pushed the shutters open. Peeking down at the street below, I spied Tanneke scrubbing the tiles in front of the house. She did not see me, but a cat padding across the wet tiles behind her paused and looked up.
I opened the lower window and shutters and got down from the chair. Something moved in front of me and I froze. The movement stopped. It was me, reflected in a mirror that hung on the wall between the two windows. I gazed at myself. I stared, surprised, then stepped away. Now that I had a moment I surveyed the room.
It was a large, square space, not as long as the great hall downstairs. With the windows open it was bright and airy, with white-washed walls, and grey and white marble tiles on the floor, the darker tiles set in a pattern of square crosses. A row of Delft tiles painted with cupids lined the bottom of the walls to protect the whitewash from our mops. Though it was a big room, it held little furniture. There was the easel and chair set in front of the middle window, and the table placed in front of the window in the right corner.
Besides the chair I had stood on there was another by the table, of plain leather nailed on with brass studs and two lion heads carved into the tops of the posts. Against the far wall, behind the chair and easel, was a small cupboard, its drawers closed, several brushes and a knife with a diamond-shaped blade arranged on top next to clean palettes. Beside the cupboard was a desk on which were papers and books and prints. Two more lion-head chairs had been set against the wall near the doorway.
It was an orderly room, empty of the clutter of everyday life. It felt different from the rest of the house, almost as if it were in another house altogether. I took up my broom, bucket of water, and dustcloth and began to clean. I started in the corner where the scene of the painting had been set up, where I knew I must not move a thing. I kneeled on the chair to dust the window I had struggled to open, and the yellow curtain that hung to one side of it in the corner, touching it lightly so that I would not disturb its folds.
The panes of glass were dirty and needed scrubbing with warm water, but I was not sure if he wanted them clean. I would have to ask Catharina. I dusted the chairs, polishing the brass studs and lion heads. The table had not been cleaned properly in some time. Someone had wiped around the objects placed there—a powder-brush, a pewter bowl, a letter, a black ceramic pot, blue cloth heaped to one side and hanging over the edge—but they had to be moved for the table really to be cleaned.
As my mother had said, I would have to find a way to move things yet put them back exactly as if they had not been touched. The letter lay close to the corner of the table.
I laid my fingers against the edges and drew in my breath, then removed the letter, dusted, and replaced it all in one quick movement. I was not sure why I felt I had to do it quickly. I stood back from the table. The letter seemed to be in the right place, though only he would really know. Still, if this was to be my test, I had best get it done. From the letter I measured with my hand to the powder-brush, then placed my fingers at various points around one side of the brush.
I removed it, dusted, replaced it, and measured the space between it and the letter. I did the same with the bowl. This was how I cleaned without seeming to move anything. I measured each thing in relation to the objects around it and the space between them. The small things on the table were easy, the furniture harder—I used my feet, my knees, sometimes my shoulders and chin with the chairs.
I did not know what to do with the blue cloth heaped messily on the table. I would not be able to get the folds exact if I moved the cloth. For now I left it alone, hoping that for a day or two he would not notice until I had found a way to clean it.
With the rest of the room I could be less careful. I dusted and swept and mopped—the floor, the walls, the windows, the furniture—with the satisfaction of tackling a room in need of a good cleaning.
In the far corner, opposite the table and window, a door led to a storeroom, filled with paintings and canvases, chairs, chests, dishes, bedpans, a coat rack and a row of books. I cleaned in there too, tidying the things away so that there was more order to the room.
All the while I had avoided cleaning around the easel. I did not know why, but I was nervous about seeing the painting that sat on it. At last, though, there was nothing left to do. I dusted the chair in front of the easel, then began to dust the easel itself, trying not to look at the painting. When I glimpsed the yellow satin, however, I had to stop.
I was still staring at the painting when Maria Thins spoke. She stood inside the doorway, slightly stooped, wearing a fine black dress and lace collar. Maria Thins laughed. A woman stood in front of a table, turned towards a mirror on the wall so that she was in profile.
She wore a mantle of rich yellow satin trimmed with white ermine, and a fashionable five-pointed red ribbon in her hair. A window lit her from the left, falling across her face and tracing the delicate curve of her forehead and nose. She was tying a string of pearls around her neck, holding the ribbons up, her hands suspended in the air. Entranced with herself in the mirror, she did not seem to be aware that anyone was looking at her. Behind her on a bright white wall was an old map, in the dark foreground the table with the letter on it, the powder-brush and the other things I had dusted around.
I wanted to wear the mantle and the pearls. I wanted to know the man who painted her like that. I thought of me looking at my reflection in the mirror earlier and was ashamed. Maria Thins seemed content to stand with me and contemplate the painting. It was odd to look at it with the setting just behind it. Already from my dusting I knew all of the objects on the table, and their relation to one another—the letter by the corner, the powder-brush lying casually next to the pewter bowl, the blue cloth bunched around the dark pot.
Everything seemed to be exactly the same, except cleaner and purer. It made a mockery of my own cleaning. Then I saw a difference. I drew in my breath. There was once a lute sitting on that chair as well. He makes plenty of changes.
Tell me, girl, do you think this painting is done? Her question must be a trick but I could not imagine any change that would make it better. Maria Thins snorted. He will change things. Well, then, go on, girl—go to your other tasks. It was like looking at a star in the night sky—if I looked at one directly I could barely see it, but if I looked from the corner of my eye it became much brighter.
I gathered my broom and bucket and cloth. When I left the room, Maria Thins was still standing in front of the painting. I filled the pots from the canal and set them on the fire, then went to find Tanneke.
She was in the room where the girls slept, helping Cornelia to dress while Maertge helped Aleydis and Lisbeth helped herself. Tanneke was not in good spirits, glancing at me only to ignore me as I tried to speak to her. Finally I stood directly in front of her so that she had to look at me.
What would you like today? We always go later in the day. I did not add that the best cuts were to be had early, even if the butcher or fishmonger promised to set aside things for the family.
She should know that. Tanneke turned away and opened a chest to search for something. I watched her broad back for a moment, the greyish brown dress pulled tight across it. She was jealous of me. I had cleaned the studio, where she was not allowed, where no one, it seemed, could go except me and Maria Thins. Painted me pouring milk. Everyone said it was his best painting.
The right words changed her mood in a moment. It was simply up to me to find the words. I turned to go before her mood could sour. I would use it as a reward for minding me.
I was also longing to walk in familiar streets on my own, not to have a constant reminder of my new life chattering at my side. I had not realized that I had been holding myself in tight all the time I was with the family. What, yesterday you were too grand for the likes of me?
And then I see after one day she is already too proud to speak to old friends! My father is ashamed. No one is blaming him. There is no need for you to be ashamed, my dear. Except of course that you are not downloading your meat from me.
So your downloading from Pieter has nothing to do with his handsome son? Off you go. When you see your mother next tell her to come and see me. I will set aside something for her.
He seemed surprised to see me. They did not remark on it. He must have been the son, for though he was taller than his father, he had the same bright blue eyes. His blond hair was long and thick with curls, framing a face that made me think of apricots.
Only his bloody apron was displeasing to the eye. His eyes came to rest on me like a butterfly on a flower and I could not keep from blushing.
I repeated my request for mutton, keeping my eyes on his father.
Pieter rummaged through his meat and pulled out a joint for me, laying it on the counter. Two sets of eyes watched me. I sniffed the meat. Perhaps it needed to be. Father and son stared at me. I held the gaze of the father, trying to ignore the son. At last Pieter turned to his son. He disappeared, returning with another joint, which I could immediately see was superior. I nodded. I thanked him.
As I turned to go I caught the glance that passed between father and son. Even then I knew somehow what it meant, and what it would mean for me. Catharina was sitting on the bench when I got back, feeding Johannes.
I showed her the joint and she nodded. The rest of the day passed much as the first had, and as the days to follow would. Once I had cleaned the studio and gone to the fish stalls or the Meat Hall I began again on the laundry, one day sorting, soaking and working on stains, another day scrubbing, rinsing, boiling and wringing before hanging things to dry and be bleached in the noon sun, another day ironing and mending and folding. At some point I always stopped to help Tanneke with the midday meal.
Afterwards we cleaned up, and then I had a little time free to rest and sew on the bench out front, or back in the courtyard. After that I finished whatever I had been doing in the morning, then helped Tanneke with the late meal. The last thing we did was to mop the floors once more so that they would be fresh and clean for the morning.
I slept better then. While Catharina was unlocking the studio door on the second morning I asked her if I should clean the windows.
You see? She would not or could not come into the room to look at the painting. It seemed she never entered the studio. When Tanneke was in the right mood I would have to ask her why. Catharina went downstairs to ask him and called up to me to leave the windows. When I cleaned the studio I saw nothing to indicate that he had been there at all. Nothing had been moved, the palettes were clean, the painting itself appeared no different. But I could feel that he had been there. I had seen very little of him the first two days I was in the house on the Oude Langendijck.
I heard him sometimes, on the stairs, in the hallway, chuckling with his children, talking softly to Catharina. Hearing his voice made me feel as if I were walking along the edge of a canal and unsure of my steps. I did not know how he would treat me in his own house, whether or not he would pay attention to the vegetables I chopped in his kitchen. No gentleman had ever taken such an interest in me before. I came face to face with him my third day in the house. Just before dinner I went to find a plate that Lisbeth had left outside and almost ran into him as he carried Aleydis in his arms down the hallway.
I stepped back. He and Aleydis regarded me with the same grey eyes. He neither smiled nor did not smile at me. It was hard to meet his eyes. I thought of the woman looking at herself in the painting upstairs, of wearing pearls and yellow satin. She would have no trouble meeting the gaze of a gentleman.
When I managed to lift my eyes to his he was no longer looking at me. On my way back from the butcher a man and woman walked ahead of me on the Oude Langendijck. At our door he turned to her and bowed, then walked on. There was a long white feather in his hat—he must have been the visitor from a few days earlier. From the brief glimpse I caught of his profile I saw that he had a moustache, and a plump face to match his body.
He smiled as if he were about to pay a flattering but false compliment. The woman turned into the house before I could see her face but I did see the five-pointed red ribbon in her hair. I held back, waiting by the doorway until I heard her go up the stairs. Later I was putting away some clothes in the cupboard in the great hall when she came back down.
I stood up as she entered. She was carrying the yellow mantle in her arms. The ribbon was still in her hair. Family business.
I felt as if I were seeing her and yet not seeing her. It was a strange sensation. She was, as Maria Thins had said, not as beautiful as when the light struck her in the painting.
Yet she was beautiful, if only because I was remembering her so. She gazed at me with a puzzled look on her face, as if she ought to know me since I was staring at her with such familiarity. I managed to lower my eyes. She glanced at the pearls she had laid on top of the mantle. She did not look at me, but I knew she was thinking that maids were not to be trusted with pearls. After she had gone her face lingered like perfume. On Saturday Catharina and Maria Thins took Tanneke and Maertge with them to the market in the square, where they would download vegetables to last the week, staples and other things for the house.
It was difficult to keep them from running off to the market. I would have taken them there myself but I did not dare leave the house unattended.
Instead we watched the boats go up and down the canal, full on their way to the market with cabbages, pigs, flowers, wood, flour, strawberries, horseshoes. They were empty on the way back, the boatmen counting money or drinking. I taught the girls games I had played with Agnes and Frans, and they taught me games they had made up. They blew bubbles, played with their dolls, ran with their hoops while I sat on the bench with Johannes in my lap. Cornelia seemed to have forgotten about the slap.
She was cheerful and friendly, helpful with Johannes, obedient to me. Her light brown eyes were wide and innocent. I found myself warming to her sweetness, yet knowing I could not trust her. She could be the most interesting of the girls, but also the most changeable—the best and the worst at the same time. They were sorting through a collection of shells they had brought outside, dividing them into piles of different colors, when he came out of the house.
I squeezed the baby round his middle, feeling his ribs under my hands. He squealed and I buried my nose in his ear to hide my face. I could not see the expression on his face—the tilt of his head and the brim of his hat hid it. Lisbeth and Aleydis abandoned their shells. He shook his head and then I could see his bemused expression. I bounced the baby, feeling awkward. He looked as if he would say something, but instead he shook off the girls and strode down the Oude Langendijck. I woke very early on Sunday, for I was excited to go home.
I had to wait for Catharina to unlock the front door, but when I heard it swing open I came out to find Maria Thins with the key. Can you manage without her? You know whose pot to spoon from. Never mind, we can do with a bit of cleverness around here. When I turned into my street I thought how different it felt already after less than a week away.
The light seemed brighter and flatter, the canal wider.
The plane trees lining the canal stood perfectly still, like sentries waiting for me. Agnes was sitting on the bench in front of the house. Do you work hard? Are there any girls there? Is the house very grand? Where do you sleep? Do you eat off fine plates? Although it was not very much, I felt proud to hand over to my mother the few coins in my hand.
This was, after all, why I was working. My father came to sit outside with us and hear about my new life. I gave my hands to him to guide him over the front stoop. As he sat down on the bench he rubbed my palms with his thumb. Already you have the scars of hard work. It will get easier soon. Agnes and I will go into the country to pick some. Otherwise I told them everything. I passed on the message from our butcher to my mother. When I mentioned the new butchers, Pieter the father and son, she raised her eyebrows but said nothing.
Afterwards we went to services at our church, where I was surrounded by familiar faces and familiar words. Sitting between Agnes and my mother, I felt my back relaxing into the pew, and my face softening from the mask I had worn all week. I thought I might cry. Mother and Agnes would not let me help them with dinner when we came back home.
I sat with my father on the bench in the sun. He held his face up to the warmth and kept his head cocked that way all the time we talked. You hardly said a word about him. But you have been in his studio— you told us about the cleaning and the measurements, but nothing about the painting he is working on.
Describe it to me. I have little to think of now except for memories. It will give me pleasure to imagine a painting by a master, even if my mind creates only a poor imitation. Although my mother was a better cook than Tanneke, the brown bread was dry, the vegetable stew tasteless with no fat to flavor it. The room, too, was different—no marble tiles, no thick silk curtains, no tooled leather chairs.
Everything was simple and clean, without ornamentation. I loved it because I knew it, but I was aware now of its dullness.
At the end of the day it was hard saying good-bye to my parents—harder than when I had first left, because this time I knew what I was going back to. Agnes walked with me as far as Market Square. When we were alone, I asked her how she was. She had been lively all day but had now grown subdued.
We did manage to meet in the Meat Hall several times. I was always glad to see her—as long as I was alone. I began to find my place at the house on the Oude Langendijck. Catharina, Tanneke and Cornelia were all difficult at times, but usually I was left alone to my work. She had decided, for her own reasons, that I was a useful addition, and the others, even the children, followed her example. Perhaps she felt the clothes were cleaner and better bleached now that I had taken on the laundry. Or that the meat was more tender now that I chose it.
Or that he was happier with a clean studio. These first two things were true. The last, I did not know. When he and I finally spoke it was not about my cleaning. I was careful to deflect any praise for better housekeeping from myself. I did not want to make enemies.
If Maertge said her apron was whiter than before, I said it was because the summer sun was particularly strong now. I avoided Catharina when I could. Her mood was not improved by the baby she carried, which made her ungainly and nothing like the graceful lady of the house she felt herself to be. It was a hot summer too, and the baby was especially active.
It began to kick whenever she walked, or so she said. As she grew bigger she went about the house with a tired, pained look. She took to staying in bed later and later, so that Maria Thins took over her keys and unlocked the studio door for me in the morning. Tanneke and I began to do more and more of her work—looking after the girls, downloading things for the house, changing the baby. One day when Tanneke was in a good mood, I asked her why they did not take on more servants to make things easier.
Or a cook? It would take me years of work to be able to download something as fine as the yellow mantle that Catharina kept so carelessly folded in her cupboard. It did not seem possible that they could be short of money. She sounded disapproving. It stops you having them, you know, if you feed your own. Three paintings a year he does, usually. Sometimes only two. He would always paint at his own pace. Young mistress wants him to paint more, but my mistress says speed would ruin him.
Tanneke was fiercely loyal to her mistress. She had little patience with Catharina, however, and when she was in the right mood she advised me on how to handle her. She never checks, she never notices. She just orders us about because she feels she has to.
But we know who our real mistress is, and so does she. She was fickle in her moods, perhaps from being caught between Catharina and Maria Thins for so many years.
Despite her confident words about ignoring what Catharina said, Tanneke did not follow her own advice. And Maria Thins, for all her fairness, did not defend Tanneke from Catharina. I never once heard Maria Thins berate her daughter for anything, though Catharina needed it at times.
Perhaps her loyalty made up for her sloppiness about the house—corners unmopped, meat burned on the outside and raw on the inside, pots not scrubbed thoroughly. I could not imagine what she had done to his studio when she tried to clean it. Though Maria Thins rarely scolded Tanneke, they both knew she ought to, and this kept Tanneke uncertain and quick to defend herself. It became clear to me that in spite of her shrewd ways, Maria Thins was soft on the people closest to her.
Her judgment was not as sound as it appeared. Of the four girls, Cornelia was, as she had shown the first morning, the most unpredictable. Both Lisbeth and Aleydis were good, quiet girls, and Maertge was old enough to begin learning the ways of the house, which steadied her— though occasionally she would have a fit of temper and shout at me much like her mother. Cornelia did not shout, but she was at times ungovernable. She could be funny and playful one moment, then turn the next, like a purring cat who bites the hand stroking it.
While loyal to her sisters, she did not hesitate to make them cry by pinching them hard. I was wary of Cornelia, and could not be fond of her in the way I came to be of the others. I escaped from them all when I cleaned the studio.
Maria Thins unlocked the door for me and sometimes stayed a few minutes to check on the painting, as if it were a sick child she was nursing. Once she left, though, I had the room to myself. I looked around to see if anything had changed.
Nothing, however, changed in the corner he was painting. I was careful not to displace any of it, quickly adjusting to my way of measuring so that I was able to clean that area almost as quickly and confidently as the rest of the room. There seemed to be no changes to the painting, as hard as I looked for them.
Another day the shadow of the yellow curtain had grown bigger. I thought too that some of the fingers on her right hand had been moved. The satin mantle began to look so real I wanted to reach out and touch it. I had just been reaching over to stroke the fur collar when I had looked up to see Cornelia in the doorway, watching me.
One of the other girls would have asked me what I was doing, but Cornelia had just watched. That was worse than any questions. Maertge insisted on coming with me to the fish stalls one morning several weeks after I had begun working at the house. She loved to run through Market Square, looking at things, petting the horses, joining other children in their games, sampling smoked fish from various stalls. As I smiled I saw Agnes hovering near us, her eyes fixed on Maertge.
I still had not told Agnes there was a girl her age in the house—I thought it might upset her, that she would feel she was being replaced. Sometimes when I visited my family at home I felt awkward telling them anything. My new life was taking over the old.