“Show some respect.” The whisper came from the next room over, vowels and consonants dissipating in the wide reaches of the entry hall. Miriam could barely distinguish the words as they floated up to the second floor landing.
She peeked over the heavy wooden banister. The marble floor of the foyer glistened from repeated polishing. Pale green damask curtains draped tall windows on either side of the stately front doors.
Miriam moved down the stairway, placing the soles of her slippers on a hand worked carpet that was beginning to show the threads beneath. A floorboard on the bottom step creaked underfoot and she paused, but the workmen must not have heard. They continued whispering arguments as they went about their task. She tiptoed across the foyer and took up a position next to the door to the drawing room where she could watch without being seen.
It was an impressive room, long and thin. The air smelled of polish and a trace of wood smoke. A carved marble fireplace covered the wall to the right. It was cold and empty now, but the makings of a fire had been laid in anticipation of a cool summer evening.
The lower portions of the walls were covered in white wainscoting, the top wallpapered in a pale rose pattern reminiscent of Versailles. But not much of the wallpaper could be seen. It was almost obscured by a multitude of portraits set frame to frame. They were of her in-laws, going back seven generations.
Four men stood on the far side of the room, regarding the artwork with a critical air. The painting of her husband had been given a prominent placing as befitted the current baron. Next to it, in an open space once occupied by the disapproving visage of her mother-in-law, they were installing her own likeness.
The artist had been kind. The portrayal certainly resembled her, but the waist was narrower than her own, the complexion flawless and her unremarkable hair had been given golden highlights. Above all, the eyes in the portrait held a commanding presence, one she knew she did not possess.
Two men held the frame to the wall while the leader of the crew stood back, squinting at the painting with his head to one side.
“A bit to the left, boys.” He pushed his brown cap to the back of his head as the two men holding the frame inched it sideways. “Up. No, too far. Down, down.” He paused. “There. What do you think, Will?”
A man holding a hand drill nodded his approval and began to secure the portrait to the wall.
There were moments when Miriam felt as if she were in a dream. She looked at her portrait next to that of her handsome, dark-haired husband. They were idealized, ethereal, the obvious heirs to the barons and baronesses whose portraits marched down the gallery.