“If I were to drown,” Henry began, dramatically holding his head high, “would you rescue me?”
Amelia glanced up from her sketchbook. Henry still stood dutifully with his back mostly to her, ankle-deep in the lake. Keeping her lips in a thoughtful frown with much effort, Amelia replied, flippantly, “No.”
Henry spun to face her with a start. His eyes were wide with indignation, but the twitch of his lips told that he was playing along with her teasing. “‘No?’ Is that all the answer you give?”
Turning her attention back to her drawing, Amelia made long strokes with her pencil and couldn’t help but smile. “Yes.”
“And what actions of mine have provoked this kind of response?”
Amelia met his gaze only briefly to condemn him with the words, “You have not been standing still for your portrait.”
Realising the offense he was currently committing, Henry moved back into position. “And that is an offense worthy of death?” he called back.
“You are not taking my work seriously,” Amelia retorted. “It is one of the worst crimes to be found guilty of.”
“Forgive me, then. How might I make amends for such a crime?” He cast his gaze over his shoulder at her.
Amelia pointed her pencil at him. “Stay still and let me finish.”
He obliged then, though a dramatic sigh heaved his shoulders. Amelia finished the rough sketch in a few minutes and lowered her sketchbook. She took a moment to admire his form as he gazed out onto the lake. His curls were tossed about by the wind, giving him an altogether wild look that was so contrary to his outward character, but somewhat managed to portray the man inside. Henry Wilson: refined gentleman, clergyman, and author to the world, but a child at heart to her. After over twenty years, in some ways it was like he had never changed.
Henry turned around and caught her staring. Amelia immediately looked down at her sketchbook, trying to cover her cheeks that were prickling with heat.
“Well?” he asked.
“You may relax while I finish.”
His feet squelched in the mud as he tromped up to her resting place. He sat on the dry sand beside her and tried to peek at the drawing, but Amelia held it to her chest and turned away from him.
“Not yet,” she admonished. “You must wait until I finish.”
Henry groaned. “It is always waiting. I would think that an artist as skilled as you would finish in an hour’s time.”
“Even Michaelangelo spent many years painting the Sistine Chapel.” She frowned at him. “Do not mock my skill because of your impatience.”
Henry looked up at the bright sky, shaking his head. “Alas, I have nothing to say to that. You have sunk my character entirely.”
Amelia leaned forward with a laugh. “You may earn back my regard if you remain silent and allow me to complete the portrait. If you wish, you can leave me and—”
“I, leave a young lady alone by the lake? Surely your opinion of me cannot be so low as that.”
Amelia began sketching again. “It is not as bad as the two of us being here alone, and yet you did not object when I asked you to come.”
“I could hardly refuse your plea to help you practice your sketches,” said Henry with a smile.
She looked into his eyes for a moment and chuckled, unable to resist furthering their private joke. “What will dear Mrs. Taylor say when she sees us walking down the lane together?”
Henry’s eyes lit up with mirth. They both knew very well that after growing up together, the neighbourhood had mostly ceased to question their frequent unchaperoned interactions with each other; they might as well have been brother and sister. Therefore, the “impropriety” of their outings remained an object of laughter.
Amelia’s heart warmed towards him at their shared amusement. She looked over the sketch and thought that it was not too terrible for her to show him, though she still had many improvements to make upon it. She turned the sketchbook to face him and bit her lip, waiting for his reaction.
Henry’s mouth dropped open. He grabbed the sketchbook from her hands and brought the page closer to his face. ”My dear Amelia, Michaelangelo pales in comparison to your work.”
She fidgeted and wrung her hands together, unsure how to accept the praise. “It can only be as handsome as the subject,” she said, and then immediately regretted her words as she blushed again.
Thankfully Henry must have not fully realised what she had said, for he continued to stare in awe at the paper and say, “No, then it would be a poor portrait indeed.” He tilted the sketch towards her and pointed at the depiction of the lake. “How brilliantly you have shown the calmness of the water, the serenity of the scene! You not only capture the objects themselves but the feelings as well.”
“I must thank you, then. It is you who have helped me practice.”
Henry continued to study the sketch, narrowing his gaze. “I am only trying now to discover what emotion you have sketched in me.”
Amelia couldn’t speak for fear of betraying her feelings. She waited for Henry’s judgment, hardly breathing. He glanced up at her, but then held her gaze. His eyebrows furrowed and his lips settled into a puzzled frown.
“Whatever is the matter?” he asked softly.
Amelia looked down at the sand. “Nothing.”
He set down the sketchbook and leaned toward her. “Have I said something to upset you?”
“No!” Amelia forced a laugh. “No, of course not.”
“Why then do you look troubled? Are you cold? Feeling ill?”
Amelia sighed silently. “I am perfectly fine, sir,” she said with finality, using the formal address in hopes he would retreat.
But instead, Henry hummed and leaned closer. “It looks to me as if you might be drowning.” His hand found hers and encompassed it in a warm grasp. “Will you allow me to rescue you?”
Amelia’s mouth was so dry that she couldn’t even swallow. The lake and the wind ceased to exist; the whole world was Henry.
“I’m not sure if you can,” she said, barely above a whisper. He was so close now that his curls tickled her forehead.
“Please allow me to try, my dearest Amelia.” He pressed her hand. Butterflies soared in Amelia’s stomach.
Amelia nodded and met his lips in a gentle kiss. She breathed in his breath as he looked at her in wonder.
“Can it be you feel the same way as I do?” he asked with a tremor of emotion in his voice. “If it is so, please tell me you will marry me.”
“Yes,” Amelia breathed, unsure how she found her voice. “Yes, of course, I will marry you!”
Henry grinned and laughed. “Then I will speak to your father no later than this very afternoon.” He quirked an eyebrow. “And dear Mrs. Taylor will certainly be surprised.”
Amelia laughed. “I’ve kept silent all this time, and I never thought—”
“You’ve kept silent? I have been in love with you since we climbed up your father’s maple tree to hide from the old housekeeper.”
Amelia shook her head, unable to keep from smiling. “I find that difficult to believe; we were so young then.”
“And yet, from that time on, I never imagined anyone else as my wife.” He looked over at the sketchbook and picked it up from the sand. “This will be the first picture we put up in our house, I think.”
“Oh, please no.” Amelia rubbed a hand over her face. “That would be an embarrassment I could not bear.”
“Then at least allow me to keep it.”
Amelia smirked and snatched the sketchbook back from him. “Only once I’ve finished it.”