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beyond the last star   a bird in hand

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[ Read more about author Keesa Renee DuPre ]

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Russka's skill as an artist has given her fame and the patronage of a wealthy art lover. But only the Creator can grant her heart's secret desire.

Russka's Last Painting

by Keesa Renee DuPre

Russka's Last Painting

By Keesa Renee DuPre

The late afternoon sunlight slanted through the open window, spilling onto Russka's lap as she stared at the unfinished picture. Count Grigov would be here within the hour, and his picture was far from ready. Russka sighed. She was an old woman; her arthritic hands could no longer grip the brush with the same ease and assurance she had once enjoyed. Moreover, moving was painful, and she was unable to stand before her easel for long periods of time. Her eyesight was still good, however, all praise be to the Creator, so she sat in the flood of warm sunlight and watched dappled shadows play over the face of the girl in the canvas.

The crunching of carriage wheels on the gravel drive announced the count's arrival. Russka knew she should rise and at least appear busy, if she wished to persuade the count to give her more time, but she was tired. Somehow she could no longer summon up the energy to care whether she kept the count's patronage or not. The count was a true art lover, and many of her best pieces had found a home with him. But this-this was her masterpiece. It was, beyond question, the finest picture she had ever painted. It was also likely to be her last, if she could finish it. On days like today, when her whole body ached, she doubted that she could. Not only did she not wish to spoil it by rushing, she wasn't sure she could bear the thought of parting with it once it was finished.

A knock on the door drew her from her reverie.

"Enter, and be at peace," she called. Her voice was weak, and it wavered. She had to repeat the blessing twice before the count heard her.

Count Grigov was a handsome man, tall, with broad shoulders and twinkling, boyish eyes. He dwarfed the little studio, and Russka with it.

"Welcome, Count Grigov," Russka said. "May the peace of the Creator be with you while you stay."

"And may He grant you health and joy, matushka," the count replied, using the title of respect with affection. "How are you, little mother?"

"Old, Count," Russka said, smiling up at him. "And stiff," she added, a frown replacing her smile. "Your painting isn't finished yet, I'm afraid."

"Do you need more time?" he asked. "My mother's birthday is not until next week." Russka shook her head.

"I am afraid you must look elsewhere for a painting, Count. A young hand could paint this picture in a week, but it will take me many times that for me to finish the one I've started."

"I should have given you more notice," he said. A frown creased his forehead. "It's my own fault. But I wanted one of your paintings, matushka. No one in Plovsk paints the way you do."

"I know of the niece of a friend; she's young, and doesn't have my experience, but she has talent, and I know you like to discover and develop new talent."

"I'll ask her, then," Grigov said, still disappointed.

"Her name is Maria Davana," Russka said gently, glad that she had remembered the girl's name. She had seen Maria's work before; the girl did have talent, and she could paint the count's painting for him. Grigov jotted the name down on the piece of scrap paper she handed him and tucked it into his pocket. He glanced over at the canvas.

"Is this the painting?" Lifelike sea-green eyes stared back at him from the unfinished face.


Copyright © by Keesa Renee DuPre . All rights reserved unless specified otherwise above.

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