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Gourds and marrows. In a chamber, three girls, sisters of a sort, are bending over a crate. And the villagers of March and the web-footed fen folk could see what the coming winter would be like. There is supper in the kitchen. Are you skilled at clipping beards? He curses her clumsiness.
Margarethe stands, her hand pressed against her ribs, heaving, trying to keep from weeping with rage. Ruth plays with the pretty toy that the girl named Clara has thrust in her hands. Iris looks in the window. The room is tall and airy, more stable than salon, an old storehouse for arms maybe. Iris peers. The room is in disarray. A table holds pots and mortars and grinding stones.
A kettle of nose-wrinkling oil gently steams on a low fire. Paintbrushes brandish themselves out of clay pots, unruly as autumn bracken. Against the wall lean freestanding panels of wood, like a series of doors, and one or two panels are propped on easels in the center of the room. Every surface is worked over with color, fields of fog cut with strokes of unapologetic brightness. Every color that Iris has ever known, from midnight blue to the sourest citron.
He seems irritated to be yelled at through his own window, which has been opened for air and light, not for prying eyes or beggars on the prowl. Iris leans farther to look. The consolation of gray, of green, the surprise of pink.
The redemption of cloudy white on four new panels yet to be touched by image. Iris ignores her mother. He walks over to the window and shakes his head. What does the gentleman need to be done? A woman can be told to do anything. Tell me to sweep, to scrub; I will. Tell me to air a mattress, to fetch water from the well. I will. Tell me to kill a chicken? Ruth hides her eyes, but Iris looks right back at him. Look at the present moment. He strokes his gingery mustaches and draws fingers down a beard that needs hot water and the attention of a razor.
His bald head is glazed from being in the sun without the black hat favored by prosperous burghers. His fingers are dyed with red and violet.
Gingerbeard has calipers, scales, tools in his eyes; he stares at Iris. He stares some sort of judgment at her. Iris drops her eyes at last, beaten by his attention. Iris winces. And looks some more. The older girl, can she wander about by herself? The flowers of late summer grow there in abundance.
She can collect them daily for my studio. The commonest weeds die within hours, and I need to look at them regularly. Is she capable of this? Minerals and powders are as nothing to me.
And the girls, they are called—? Then we chose to name the next daughter Iris, with the hope it might encourage her to grow in beauty like a flower. Surely not. She must sit without fidging, without speaking.
She must keep her mouth shut. The gesture is partly loving but partly a negotiation. And why not, Iris admits, when we can barely reach from one loaf to the next? Decide and answer me, for I have no more time for this right now. Tell me, yes or no. My name has no place in a world in which Lucas Cranach and Memling and the Florentines show their paintings!
Even in my own time I am anonymous, not quite known as the Master of the Dordrecht Altarpiece. Will you enter or no? The smells in the studio are slightly offensive.
She stops hearing the clucking of her mother and the hulking shuffle of her sister. Iris looks at the works once her eyes have become accustomed to the inside light. The panels are limned in red or black line. Some of them are worked with an olive or a sepia wash. Scraps of paper, scratched with silvery ink, are pinned to the edges of panels—sketches, she can see, of what the finished work might include.
The sketches are largely of people unclothed. Women and men alike. Margarethe sets her jaw and considers the situation. Figures who are naked in the sketches appear clothed in the finished works. Iris stares in distress at her mother. First we eat, then we refuse. Caution, daughter! In England few would sanction such blasphemy anymore.
Does all of this painted beauty serve any purpose? Not superstitious, I, but nor do I court the wrath of God any more than I need do. Do you paint imps, thwarties, stingdemons?
The kind that run with soundless howling at the heels of mobs, egging them on? Margarethe begins to arrange pots on the table in order of size. Be useful with pastry and broom and boiling water! Go to the marketplace and find a healthy fish for my dinner!
Get out of my way! It better do. Enough of this mooning about, these vaporish sighs! Keep Ruth under your fist. Do you hear me? Then Iris continues her inspection. As he scrubs a patch of green to apply a yellow glow upon it, he mutters to her, or to himself.
She listens as she wanders and looks. He has a nice voice, rustly and gruff. I should pack up my trunks and remove myself to the Spanish Netherlands, where a healthy Roman Catholic faith still requires a supply of religious imagery. But no, though the Calvinists here tolerate the Papist presence, even turning a blind eye to the secret chapels, the market for sacred art has disappeared.
A hundred? Imagine this. Every eight miles found a clutch of houses with its own small church, and every church boasted a painting of the Holy Family. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The Gospels are peopled suddenly and forever by the images that artists deliver for you.
We did our work, and God reaped the reward in increased prayer. The true consequence of beauty—tell your mother! She sees Josephs and Marys, and Jesuses of all ages and humors.
Abandoned over and over again, because imperfect, because unworthy? The Master rails on, punctuating his pauses with caresses of his brush. In staggering honesty. The misshapen, the unholy aberrations. The GirlBoy of Rotterdam? I painted that cursed soul the year before it was stoned to death by the devout. I painted the Seven Stages of Plague, including the gray-green face of the unburied corpse. The hunchbacks, the split-skulls, Dame Handelaers with her horrible donkey jaw.
The other side of revelation! Through that door, should you want to see. All the proofs of our need for God. She wraps her thin arms around her thin chest, and asks herself again: Where have we come to? The Master turns back to his canvas. More witness to the weirdness of this world. She had asked if Ruth was a lost one, a changeling. Was Haarlem a haven for such goblin beasts? Iris had heard that from time to time a poor infant might be kidnapped from its cradle and replaced with a rotten, illish creature resembling it in looks alone.
Iris wants to ask the Master about the nature of changelings, and how to identify one, but he interrupts her thoughts, mumbling on. Where I can paint what I want, and keep food on the table as well? Home is hard to recollect already, usurped by that nightmare of torches, accusations, an escape in a flatboat over fields flooded with sea water, as the full moon blazed upon them like the eye of a vengeful judge. Her family had left home so quickly— who really knew if Jack Fisher was even given a Christian burial, or was he still drifting in the suck of the receding tides, a bloated corpse leaching his blood into the ruined crops?
Go for flowers.
Go with your enormous sister for flowers. Trot off and drag an armload of pretty weeds for me, so I can waste my time and feed myself. You look like a crone before your time. He tells her how to find the meadow. Iris helps Ruth put her wooden shoes back on, and she fits on her own pair. Then the girls clasp their hands and run. Past the brewery with its rich active smells, down a lane that leads through a city gate.
Out the gate, across a foul canal, up an embankment, through a mess of hedge, and then: A few cows are companionably lowing. Ruth is scared of cows, so Iris flies at them and windmills her arms about, and the cows amble away without taking offense. The sisters are alone for the first time since leaving their home in England. Before the death of Jack Fisher, Iris and Ruth had been no farther from March than the next village over, and that only once, for a fair.
What a disaster. Men had set down their bowls of ale and taunted Ruth with a stick, saying they were hungry for bacon, and how much would the pig fetch? Iris had snatched that very stick and gone at them, and caused blood to flow, though even with dripping nostrils and split lips the men had fallen against each other in mirth.
The hound and the pig! Nor had Iris told Margarethe or Jack exactly what had happened, for what would that mean? Just that Ruth would be kept closer to the hearth than ever. Without question Ruth is an idiot, but she is not a pig. Any cursed imp is left behind, surely, surely. But have they really arrived in Holland? Or did the boat go awry in the storm? Have they come instead to a place of bewitchment? The mysteries of this place!
Whatever could the Girl-Boy of Rotterdam have been? Or Dame Donkey-Jaw? Or what about the changeling child? Be commonsensical. Be good. What sorts does he want, do you think? Here, Ruth, can you use this knife without stabbing your thumb? If you pull them like that, the leaves are crumpled. All flowers are good ones, Ruth. Then she moves farther still. She sees an abandoned apple tree at the edge of the meadow. Iris tucks her dark skirt into the band of her apron strings and puts her precious shoes at an angle against the trunk.
She begins to climb. Because of fright, hunger, and nausea, she had had to keep her head down on the creaking floor. But here, on the edge, on the margin, an aging tree is a stepping-stone to a taller tree, and from there.
Look one way, and beyond the lip of three or four more meadows is the broad gray ocean, crimped with white lines of water wanting to noise themselves against the dunes.
Then the light had been low, and the waves, close by, had pulled up weights of water, greasy, heavy, dark. Today the sky is hung with clouds random as sailing vessels, flat-bottomed and big-billowed, and the water seems smoothed, changed.
Look the other way, and she can peer above and beyond the leafy hedge, locate the mouth of the brown-blue Spaarne, and trace the river inland to the city walls. She can make out the buildings of Haarlem.
Their smart chimneys, their tall facades imitating steps-and-stairs. A small ribbed dome, open to the winds, is perched up top like an airy onion. Canals ring the town, joining to the Spaarne on north and south sides. Haarlem, or whatever world this might be, is a closed garden itself, of stone and glass and red roof tiles. Beyond, to the east, the occasional ouderkirk—as the Master told her—suggests a group of farmhouses, a crossroads, a ford.
Iris looks to see some giant in the distance, some dragon laying a clutch of eggs. She finds an unraveling of smoke. It could be a dragon. It could be anything. Ruth has forgotten her task already and sits chewing the stems of flowers. Iris has overlooked them. But now she sees a nameless variety of wild blossoms. Iris says to herself: I will bring Margarethe here for the benefits to be coaxed from seedling, stem, and leaf. Margarethe is a mistress of the simples, and she can treat any ailment with an infusion or a plaster.
And there is Margarethe, striding back from the market already, a big fish shining from underneath her arm. Iris thinks her mother looks—from this height—ridiculous, her legs whipping out and her shoulders hunched over. She looks relieved. All the secrets of the world are to be discovered and recorded! A flurry of swallows on their way south.
He wakes up as Schoonmaker and becomes, by grumpy effort, the Master. Mornings are full of muttered curses and swallowed blessings. Enthusiastically he washes himself, paying no attention to the modesty of maidens or widows. The Fishers have to huddle themselves in the kitchen yard until he calls for his laving water to be removed.
Then, a cambric shirt pulled over his head at least, he berates Margarethe for every annoying thing: Ruth plays with her windmill, the little thing grabbed from the beautiful girl in the house at the marketplace, until the Master roars for flowers. He stuffs them in a bucket and continues to paint the ones he already has, all the while quoting lines of Scripture, as if to punish himself by remembering what holy passion he is kept from because of the nonsense of flowers.
Iris loiters about the studio, trying to get up the courage to ask to see the paintings in the locked chamber of misfits. She is curious to see if he portrays imps and thwarties there. Here the Master paints flowers. She will. That would be safe, and even wonderful. But the tomorrow comes, and just as she is going to do it—she is, she is! Timidly, Iris swings open the top half of the sectioned door.
She sees nothing, but hears a knock on the bottom half. It growls at her: Iris is glad Ruth is in the meadow today. May she stay there safely until this creature leaves! The Master seems unimpressed. He rocks forward, using his arms to swing himself. Then he rests on two little stubs at the base of his pelvis. They are fitted over with leathery patches laced up by thongs that tie over his shoulders. I thought it was a monkey with an ailment. Are you still drawing the likes of me?
It wants removing, whether it knows it or not. When Ruth comes back, Iris tells her about the dwarf while Ruth sorts the flowers by height and lines them up on the windowsill for the Master to inspect.
They dry and blow away the next day. When the sun has moved to its proper place, the Master places Iris in a chair and composes her hands in her lap. He pulls the cap off her head. Tears start in her eyes. She is afraid he will undress her wholly. He misunderstands her concern.
She is supposed to focus on the marks, one after the other, while he keeps returning to his pad of paper and judging the cast of her eyes. Be what he wants, or we go hungry. Make-believe it. If she had something to throw at her mother, she would throw it. Iris shakes her head. He is stamping back and forth. There is the sound of a piece of paper being torn. I will fix your face on board without fail. My livelihood depends on it, and so does yours.
Iris pouts. But by now they both know the Master is not one to beat children. The next morning he is at work again, and Iris sits for him. He draws her face and hands and her shoulders. Something that should have been left behind in England? That thing I start from in my sleep? Close it! But, day after day, she sits respectably, clothed.
And glad for it now. The lowering sun is pushing dusty golden light at the canvas, and she feels brave. There is a shadow on the board; it is not Iris Fisher. It is a nameless girl, spiritless, while you are a spirited English-Dutch girl named Iris Fisher.
In a warning tone, from the other room, Margarethe: You speak in riddles to distract me. The Florentines are as likely to show us Io being turned into a cow, Daphne into a laurel tree, Zeus disguised as a bull out to rape Europa as they are to show us Madonna and Christ, Saint John and Saint Nicholas.
If the rich will buy Venus, then we paint the Mother of God and call her Venus. The more for me. A spiritual awakening in that old iron contraption of a heart?
Too hard to fathom. He frowns. Where are my flowers today? Iris leaves, though not fleeing. She leaves with dignity, carefully knocking over a pot of ground powder onto the stone floor. He curses her clumsiness. She is still sulking when she arrives in the meadow. The Master is a kind man in some ways, but he makes her angry. He is framing her on his board, but he is framing her in the room too, keeping her in a box, away from him. She might not be beautiful, but he is keeping her small.
And now that Iris has seen the legless dwarf, heard about the Girl-Boy of Rotterdam, who knows what bizarre villains lurk farther inland? It might not be an enchanted castle and a sugar-voice godmother. It might be major imps and minor demons, huge bumblebees with claws. Or even some fierce god disguised as a bull, to kidnap poor girls and do what bulls are well known to do. Ruth looks up from the late daisy heads she is shredding. Iris wheels about the meadow, laughing, thinking.
She lunges at the old apple tree and brings down a dead branch, and snaps the brittle limbs just so. Margarethe is out at the well or the market square, away somewhere.
Ruth obliges with a passionate moo. The pelt. Then Iris kneels behind her sister, right up against her, like that bull Zeus pressing against a cow.
She ties the ends of the sacking around her own waist to show that they are one two-headed creature, covered by the same hide. Silence in the studio as they cross the threshold. When the Girl-Stag crawls around the corner made by a painting propped against a stool, they see the Master has returned from the second studio.
He stares at them. The visitor is a younger man, with a tender beard beginning on his chin, and none of the stoutness that proves the success of greater men.
He perches on a stool, mopping a hunk of bread in a broth of milk and onions.
Iris is mortified but gamely keeps on. You worried me too. There is supper in the kitchen. Now look, this is our Caspar, feckless Caspar, returned from the Hague. Silly Caspar, unable to solicit a single commission on this trip, though he carried letters of testimony from patrons in all the courts of Europe.
She half gallops, antlers tilting, and disappears into the kitchen, scolding herself with moos. What fun to have a companion here! He will canter into a low lintel one day and brain himself, and we will all be relieved. He is bereft of any real talent, or Hals or van Schooten or my current rival, Bollongier, would have taken him in. Caspar is almost as useless as you girls. This should make you feel in good company. Caspar has a winning smile.
He seems used to the gloomy Master. He bites the corner of his mouth. His lip is glossy with new blond hairs. Despite herself, Iris has a sudden yen to stroke the early mustache with her finger, the way she likes to stroke the ears of the kitchen cat when it sits in the sunlight of the doorway. But now the Master makes no suggestion they should pack up and leave. He has grown used to them. Fair enough. Iris turns to go. Is Caspar here merely for a visit?
If so, will it be a long one? Girl or Stag? The best she has been able to wish for, most of her days, is to be unnoticeable. He incorporates any meadow flowers that Ruth brings. Sometimes Caspar hangs about in the shadows of the studio. From him Iris picks up the habit of watching how the Master works. How he pets a surface with the softest of splayed-bristled brushes.
Though it embarrasses Iris to think about it, from a corner Caspar occasionally attempts drawings of her too.
He hides his work from Iris and the Master. One morning the Master has had enough of this coyness. Your two obsessions. So what you hope to accomplish by—this once—painting in the middle of the moral spectrum—? The abuses I put up with, from those who gobble at my own table and warm their backsides at my own hearth! Get out of my way.
Margarethe, hearing some of this from the kitchen, goes to the door and watches him stride down the lane. He walks briskly and with purpose, striking his blackthorn staff against the cobbles. Dogs retreat, children stand still, and the women of the lane mutely nod greetings, showing pious disapproval.
He gets bad-humored. I have to annoy him enough to keep him involved with the world. Otherwise he would latch the shutters and hide inside his paintings and never emerge. Iris is given a bowl of late summer peas to shell.
Margarethe rinses lentils. Ruth brings her toy. She squats in the ungainly position taken by small children at play or by folks relieving their bowels in a ditch.
He likes to publish his opinions. But he keeps apart, ashamed that his work is less well regarded than theirs. Is there a changeling child in Haarlem? But the rumor mongers would have it so. And the Master would swear it in court if it would get him a decent commission. Caspar laughs. Margarethe purses her lips. Iris is amazed. She hands her bowl to Ruth, who settles the windmill inside it, up to its little wooden neck in emerald peas. Caspar has Iris again by the faintest of touches.
Walking backward, he draws her into the studio. Sudden hollowness. Caspar pivots heavy panels from their careful angles, drying here, there; he finds the one he is looking for, and pushes it out into a waning shaft of sunlight that falls in one corner of the room.
Words fail him then. Iris puts her hands to her mouth. Margarethe has been unable to maintain her posture of superiority. Out of interest or a motherly tendency to chaperone, she has followed them into the chamber. Painfully plain. She must accept it like the rest of us. The colors are magic: The girl is a study in human ordinariness. Yes, it stops shy of grotesquerie; that would be Ruth, or worse.
But the eyes are flat, lacking in intelligence; the lips pursed, practicing resentment; the brows furrowed, the chin weak, the nose large. It is entirely Iris, or the Iris that she can guess at when she catches her own image in mirror or puddle or window glass. It is another Iris, a smaller one, secured on canvas thanks to ivory, olive, and smudged umber. Ruth comes in, pointing at the canvas with surprise. Even she sees the likeness. But you must not take it for gospel.
He has used the—the grammar of your features to spell out a sentence. Do you know what it says? Come, girls. It says only one thing. It says: Caspar, what good have you done us? Look at the painting of the Master. Look at the painting: You are a part of a small masterpiece. You will live forever. Iris runs from the room and stands on the other side of the open doorway, her sides heaving as if they will split.
You, for all your airs, are young enough to be almost entirely stupid. She has cut him. Iris, out of sight, knows it, because for once he is silenced. Margarethe mutters beneath her breath about the portrait of Iris with poking sprays of gold and amethyst flowers. Ruth is the one who lumbers out of the room, following the trail of muffled sobs, to comfort her sister by bringing along the pretty plaything, the windmill.
The next morning Schoonmaker is in fine form. He rouses the girls and Margarethe with a comical song, and Caspar stumbles from the bed, bleary-eyed and crazyhaired, groggy and grateful at once. Where are we, Padua, Rome, Marseilles? Yes, where are we? Where in the world, or out of it?
They can run races to warm up. Caspar blushes and ducks his head into a clean shirt, and stays there, like a turtle retracted in its shell. Are you skilled at clipping beards? My own blemished self will have to serve. What are you chattering about, Iris? She has thought the words out, and struggles to say them in an even voice. I already look the fool in my own eyes. He twists in his shirt comically. Caspar, come out of that shirt, you ass.
Iris, I have more to do today than to kiss away tears of hurt feelings. Off with you, girls, off, off! The Master has other matters on his mind. They hold hands and leave the noise of aggressive housecleaning behind them. Along the lane a crippled old dame comes poking with the aid of two sticks. Where is he? Immortality calls, so who am I to keep myself to myself? Tell me where to find him. The crone leers.
Better go turn yourself in at some convent already, and save yourself the trouble. Bless you, child, and stand aside. Midwife to the Changelings, thinks Iris. Iris wants to follow. To watch him reduced to a slug! I hate this madhouse. I hate him. Why would anyone want to see such a painting? Do you think the patron is coming to see that very painting? Take your fingers out of your mouth, you look a mess. Iris can hardly bring herself to sit there, because she feels she is imitating the painting: Probably turned away from the door with a wooden shoe planted in her smoky behind.
The Master is in no mood for diversions today. He wears a tall hat with a buckle so brightly polished that it gleams even from this distance, and he sports a cape with a more than generous cut. A lace collar settles on his shoulders like the sepals of a rose, cradling his ruddy countenance.
Next to him, thinks Iris with pleasure, the Master looks a bloody potato eater. Perhaps he knocks. How little she matters in this household!
Caspar ushers the guest inside, and the bottom half of the door swings closed, to keep stray cats and pigs and rude dwarves from wandering in.
If the cows come just yell at them. Iris leaves. She creeps up to the door. Iris crouches against the bottom half, her arms hugging her knees, listening. The front studio is just inside, and the Master is issuing his thoughts in a public voice. She listens and tries to sort out the occasion. Apparently, the visitor is looking at paintings; the Master and Caspar are setting one painting after another up in the best light. He paints the light of holiness itself.
Grace of God, one guesses. Now, Caspar, show Heer van den Meer the studies of flowers that he requested. Let my woman take that flask for you— Margarethe! Please—and here—are you comfortable, take the bench—here—Caspar, a little this way—just so.
Is she a composite from your wicked imagination? They are homely there. How does she come to sit for you? A commission from you would help me keep her fed. Not to put thoughts in your head, of course. Another silence. Is this painting dry enough to move in a cart? I like what I see. There are fortunes to be made, there is slow recovery from the endless wars with Spain to be achieved, there is a place for all of us in the good times ahead, but you must not grasp with such lack of dignity at things of the past.
Yes, bring the painting to my home, tomorrow if the weather be good. Do you mean to assess my skills by mounting subject and portrait on a stage side by side? But van den Meer only laughs. It may solve a domestic problem and keep my good dame happy.
In the meantime, I have little else to say. Here is coin to the amount we settled upon. Turn the picture to the wall now; no one should have to look on that longer than necessary. There is the sound of a canvas being shifted. Tomorrow, then.
Where is the Queen of the HairyChinned Gypsies when you need her? Better yet, turn me into an insensible chair with a broken rush seat, a nail on the hoof of a horse! Turn me into sad thick Ruth! Anything or anyone that is too dull to be able to think about herself. She twists as much as she dares, and Margarethe slaps her when enough has become enough.
Margarethe, as if ashamed, turns away to the low worktable by the kitchen window.
She approaches her daughter with disbelief. Do you have any idea how near we are to throwing ourselves on the mercies of the Church or the city fathers? To have had to go from house to house begging for work—for you, stupid witless thing, it is a game. For me, this is my life, a horrid thing. God plagues the mothers of the world with worry, from His own sweet Mary to the meanest fishwife of the harborside! Margarethe draws in her breath and narrows her eyes.
Be a help to your mother and your sister, and stand back, child, from considering your own foolish thoughts. I say, do you hear me? Out of habit, Iris searches for lice, and thinks about striking Ruth in the face, to punish her for being so slow of mind and useless.
Though she hates Ruth—she hates her—Iris will not see her big sister go hungry. Her mother, now—another story. How agreeable to see Margarethe pilloried in the stocks and whipped by virtuous citizens. Of whom Iris would be the first to volunteer. Around the corner of the house come the Master and Caspar, managing the offending canvas between them.
They have hired a cart from a neighbor. They fumble like bumpkins, misjudging the height of the step and the depth of the cart. Iris imagines finding a knife from the kitchen and rushing up to slash the canvas to ribbons. Eventually, the donkey braying in impatience, the cargo is safely covered with a cloth. The Master, Caspar, and Iris wave good-bye to Ruth, who puts her finger in her nose. All the way through the city streets Iris keeps close to Caspar. See how he prances! Into the Grotemarkt.
How orderly is this magical world through which ugly girls may trudge! Iris hears a ring, almost a musical tapping, like a clock striking. And is that an echo, off the magnificent facade of the Stadhuis?
Every little part of this world must be pounded into place. They reach their destination. The so-called changeling child. Van den Meer must be a man of means. The broadshouldered home has a walled garden beside it. In plum-red brick interrupted by gray lateral stones, the house looms up two full stories, with a step gable pinching two abbreviated attics.
The building looks august and—what is it—cautious? Like a house of secrets, like a cage of smoke. As if unwilling to be seen by the approaching company?
Is it the obscure child? Why does everything hide its true face here? He hands the reins of the donkey to Caspar and walks up to the door, which is almost level with the cobbles. He knocks briskly. Oh, be knocked in transport, thinks Iris. Step right in. What is your name? She ducks her eyes to the steps and almost walks into the doorpost. When she tells her name, she mumbles, and the Master has to repeat it. I have no time to deal with you yet. Can you manage to sit quietly while a company of gentlemen talk?
Or do you need to run and play outside? Wellcarved and oiled chairs and cupboards stand against walls hung with patterned fabric. Upon a shelf sits a succession of silver bowls; another shelf boasts an abundance of mugs. In shadow or light, everything is patterned: In the center of the room stands a table draped with a rich carpet of a sort that Iris has never seen before. In lozenges, stripes, curlicues, cartouches.
Sage-green, cream, three shades of red, and that blue! Van den Meer points to a small chair in a corner, and there Iris sits. Caspar and some servants bring in the painting and prop it up on a sideboard. Iris tries to blur her eyes so that she can enjoy the splendor of the room without having to look at her portrait.
There are other paintings to see. One particularly, over a veneered hutch of some sort, shows a capable young woman in yellow and black silks.
The way the skirts billow reminds Iris of a bumblebee. A blond woman in silks and shiny ornaments belongs in this kind of a house, not an ugly girl with wildflowers. Van den Meer leaves the Master and Caspar alone for a few minutes. Iris can hear him barking instructions to the kitchen staff for refreshments to be served in an hour: Everything is to be well presented, and can there be a kitchen child to wave a fan above the fish, keep the flies and the cat away?
The kitchen child is gone, he is told, along with that worthless cook who has complained of the plague and left for Rotterdam. The guests arrive. A dozen bearded men, stout and prosperous, in ruffles, laces, and the freshest of stockings. Many of them sweep hats with billowing feathers into the air as they greet one another. Van den Meer takes each gentleman up to the Master, making introductions in tones both grave and merry. Each gentleman is promenaded before the painting of Ugly Girl with Wildflowers.
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is a novel by Gregory Maguire , retelling the tale of Cinderella through the eyes of one of her "ugly stepsisters. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister tells the story of Iris, the plain younger daughter of Margarethe Fisher, as she takes care of her mentally challenged older sister Ruth and her beautiful stepsister Clara.
Having fled from the Fens of Cambridgeshire , England to Haarlem , the Netherlands , upon her father's death, Iris is slightly at odds with the world and often contemplates the value of beauty and ugliness. While caring for her sisters and keeping the peace between Clara and Margarethe, Iris develops a painter 's eye and spends time studying under a local painter known as The Master, and his apprentice, Caspar. Margrethe makes Iris and Ruth go to the ball in the hopes of making the prince fall in love with Iris.
Iris secretly helps Clara get to the ball and the prince immediately falls in love with her. While at the ball, Ruth does the unthinkable out of jealousy and love of Clara and Master, burning down the Master's magnum opus, a painting of Clara. That night, the fairy tale of Cinderella and her pumpkin carriage is spun, and the next morning her prince comes to collect her.
At the end of the tale, the characters' eventual fates are revealed: Iris marries Caspar and paints at his side, sometimes under his name; Caspar "dutifully" cares for Ruth; and Clara eventually dies in New Amsterdam from a complaint of the heart. It was shot in Luxembourg and was first aired on March 10, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Dewey Decimal.
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. Iris is plain to look at. Painfully plain. Don't exaggerate her physical virtues, Caspar, it does no good in the end. She must accept it like the rest of us", says Margarethe.