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A Study in Color

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Harold Hill had never been much for pink.

It wasn’t that he hated the color, it just didn’t hold much of a thrill for him. Pink was for cotton candy and debutante balls and Victorian spinsters’ bedrooms. In other words: for kids or for females who’d never actually been touched by a man.

He was a fella who preferred red. It was a far more adult shade: ruby lips parted and panting, crimson gowns with low necklines, vermillion boots on slim ankles peeping out from beneath the hem of a dress. There was a reason Hester’s letter was scarlet and not salmon!

Pink was all the same shade to Harold and he never gave it much thought. Not until he found himself scouring Old Miser Madison’s expansive gardens for a rose that precisely matched the shade of Marian’s brilliant silk dress.

He wasn’t sure where he’d gotten such a cockamamie notion. Maybe it was the fetching clusters of ribbon roses at her shoulders. Maybe it was the way her eyes were at such poignant odds with her thundercloud expression as she stood bleakly at the edge of the enthralled crowd surrounding him. Either way, he spent a good fifteen minutes marveling at the myriad of existing shades in that particular hue before he finally found just the right rose. Although his grand gesture proved ultimately fruitless – he’d felt a genuine, startling pang of regret that he’d only exacerbated Marian’s loneliness and pain – he developed a much greater respect for pink’s subtle complexities.

However, even after turning over a new leaf, Harold staunchly refused to incorporate pink when setting up the bedroom he planned to share most intimately with his dear little librarian for the rest of their days. But the color continued to surprise him with its enticements. When he finally got to undress Marian, his hands and mouth relished the rose-pink of her breasts, the shell-pink of her toes, and the deep-pink slickness between her thighs.



Marian Paroo wasn’t precisely frightened of red, but it was a color she largely eschewed.

Even if the librarian’s complexion wasn’t far better suited to pastels, red was too bold and worldly for a lady of her age and social position. River City had already deemed her a scarlet woman, and she wasn’t about to confirm their odious and unjustified prejudice in her sartorial choices. (She would consent to wearing red only on Christmas, but tempered with a sensible green.) When a womanizing fly-by-night salesman came to town and donned the brightest marching band jacket and feathered cap she’d ever seen, it only seemed to prove her assumption that red was primarily a color for predators and seducers.

But then Mama – of all people! – bought her a scarlet dress for her twenty-sixth birthday. When the librarian questioned if her mother had taken leave of her senses, let alone propriety, the matron had merely scoffed and said that at her age, it was about time she learned how to set a proper fire in a man.

Appalled, Marian had shoved the gown to the back of her armoire and thought nothing more of it. Not until the night Harold was sure to call on her at home and she found herself, for the first time in her life, desperately wanting to kindle that kind of flame. She had always adored pretty clothing and taken great pains to dress in ensembles that flattered both her coloring and her figure, but all of her gowns in pink, blue, and lavender suddenly seemed unbearably girlish.

So she took out that scarlet dress and slipped right into it. To her delight, it fit her beautifully. And from the way both Harold Hill and Charlie Cowell – the worldliest of worldly men – gaped at her as if they wanted to scoop her up into their arms right then and there, she knew it suited her perfectly.

But as fate would have it, this wasn’t the gown she wore when she actually kissed the man who brought so much color to her drab little world. She was safely back in pink when that wonderful moment finally came to be. Still, she had learned to appreciate red since that night, delighting in the way her kissable crimson lips – as Harold called them – contrasted against the pastels of her gowns.

Thrilled to leave her lonely spinsterhood behind, Marian embroidered the lingerie beneath her wedding gown with scarlet thread. And on the first Valentine’s Day after they were married, she gave Harold paper hearts in the most brilliant shade of vermillion she could find.

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The first time Harold looked into Marian Paroo’s eyes for longer than a fleeting moment was when she spotted him spying on her through the largest window of Madison Public Library.

He was expecting blue eyes. She wore a great deal of the color, as she was a gal who knew how to dress (which he very much appreciated, though he did find it an interesting, if predictable, gambit that a sadder but wiser girl who sang of white knights would cloak herself in such a feminine, virginal hue). And she was a blonde, after all.

Instead, there was a captivating swirl of gold, brown, and green flecks dancing in her irises: the most stunning shade of hazel he’d ever seen.

He’d never really had a particular type when it came to women, delighting in all manner of beauty. But for the first time in his life Harold realized, with a disconcerting mix of exhilaration and dread, that once he left River City, he was probably going to spend the rest of his life looking for a woman with such brilliant eyes but never again find one.



The first thing Marian noticed about Harold Hill was his dapper brown plaid Norfolk suit with matching bowtie. It was well-cut to his figure and accentuated the sinuous grace with which he moved.

Brown was a surprisingly down-to-earth hue for a fly-by-night salesman to wear. In her experience, nomadic peddlers of pie-in-the-sky nonsense favored eye-catching ensembles with garish color combinations. But then again, this one had a personality that made such bold clothing entirely superfluous. She supposed he used brown’s reassuring steadiness to put his marks at ease, and despised his cleverness.

It certainly didn’t help matters that he was also graced with the most gorgeous chestnut curls to complement his sartorial brilliance. And it was both terribly wrong and enormously unfair that she should tingle so much over the specks of amber sparkling in his warm brown eyes whenever he looked at her.

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When Harold first saw Marian in the new ivory band uniform he’d envisioned for her, he almost forgot how to breathe.

He’d originally commissioned this ensemble back in October for the Christmas concert, and he’d put a great deal of thought in how he wanted Marian to look, not only to highlight her beauty, but also to make it clear to every single onlooker – most particularly to nosy reporters who needed to learn to mind their manners a little more, especially when it came to flirting with other fellas’ gals – that she was every inch his partner, his co-leader of the boys’ band, and his Madame Curie of the music world. As charming as the librarian had looked marching next to him in her low-necked pink-and-white organdy in August, it wasn’t a formidable enough getup to inspire such surety, especially in a more cynical audience.

Although Harold had long imagined his dear little librarian in a fitted bandleader’s jacket, a skirt that flared out at the knee, and a matching feathered cap, he had a hell of a time choosing just the right color for her uniform. The shade not only had to flatter her, it also had to complement his uniform. Red was too predictable and on the nose. Green would make them into a tableau that was too Christmassy for year-round concerts. Blue would make them into a tableau that was too patriotic. White was not only easily dirtied, it was too cold in tone for his taste (he remembered how icy the librarian was in her crisp white blouses before she’d warmed to him, and he did not want that kind of reminder here). Purple was both striking and complementary, but it wasn’t quite right for the librarian – Marian looked best in pastels and pale shades, but these would be overshadowed by the brilliance of his red jacket.

Harold pondered this matter a great deal as he went about his business conducting band rehearsals, watching Marian play the piano after a long day, and indulging in games of pool to make amends with the mayor whose business he’d damaged. As the music professor contemplated piano keys and billiard balls, he had a sudden moment of clarity.

Marian’s uniform should be ivory. It was a versatile color that was both soft and stately, an elegant shade that exuded both warmth and gravitas. It would look stunning with the gold buttons and epaulets he had planned, along with the gold ribbon that would trim the collar, cuffs of her sleeves, and hem of her gown. Not only would it complement both her complexion and honey-blonde curls beautifully, it was the perfect symbol for a woman who had come down from her lofty tower to be with him, but was still a pillar of strength in her own right.

Harold burst into laughter upon realizing this epiphany. How could he have taken so long to figure out such a fitting solution? His favorite summer seersucker suit was the color – he called it white, but in truth it was more of an ivory or even a beige, depending on the light.

Shortly after Harold commissioned this uniform, he completely forgot about it, as his energy and attention were subsequently focused on telling Marian all about his past in earnest, figuring out how to order an engagement ring without tipping off the entirety of River City, and planning a Halloween masque and marriage proposal.

By the time the Christmas parade finally rolled around, Harold Hill was a happily married man and knew every inch of Marian’s body beneath that beautiful uniform. But seeing her in it still made his pulse pound and his heart race, and he looked forward to the end of the festivities, when he could take her home, undress her piece by piece, and demonstrate just how much she made his body, heart, and soul sing.



As dashing as Marian thought Harold looked in brown, he was absolutely devastating in green.

She suspected her personal preference for the music professor in this particular shade was not entirely due to universal aesthetic principles, but primarily because she had such positive associations with him in the color. After all, he was wearing a dashing sage green suit-coat that life-altering day at the Candy Kitchen when she realized she was in love with him. And on their wedding night, after they’d made love for the first time, he donned an elegant forest green bathrobe over his lean, muscular frame that sent a jolt of pleasure to the pit of her stomach whenever she looked at him. She was the one who insisted he commission an emerald green marching band jacket for the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

The librarian’s own experience with green was somewhat less pleasing. As much as she loved the color, particularly in the bright emerald tone that Harold looked so delicious in (she was part-Irish), it was not always a hue that complemented her fair complexion. Still, she did her best to incorporate it where she could – a light green sash with her pink-and-white organdy at the ice cream social, a pale green lingerie frock trimmed with Valenciennes lace when she was pregnant with the twins, and a jade green silk gown to march next to Harold on St. Patrick’s Day. She also used green in her interior decorating, with her favorite results being the forest, emerald, and moss greens of her redone girlhood tower bedroom.

As ever, Harold noticed her fondness for him in this color, and made sure to incorporate a great deal of it in his wardrobe for her pleasure, especially after their wedding. One evening roughly three months into their marriage, as they rose from bed after a long, languid afternoon together, he draped his forest green robe over her naked shoulders and declared that she looked thoroughly delicious in it.

Of course, Marian had laughed and demurred at his flattery. But Harold insisted, pulling her close for a heated kiss and avowing that he’d love her even in chartreuse and baby blue.

Marian shuddered at such a ghastly combination and thanked Providence aloud that she had been blessed with a far better eye for aesthetics than that. When she saw Harold’s eyes twinkle with both agreement and amusement at her pronouncement, she was doubly grateful to have married a man who not only possessed a keen sense of style, but also understood her so completely.

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Harold Hill discovered he had a silver tongue at an early age. Not long after he learned how to properly string words together into sentences, he demonstrated a striking natural talent not only for speaking in pellucid prose, but also for determining what people most wanted to hear and telling it to them in language that was appealing on an instinctual level. After his high school class did a science experiment with mercury, a jealous rival disparagingly remarked that his tongue was similarly slick and bouncy, so everyone started calling him quicksilver. With the same canny audacity that would serve him well in winning over skeptical crowds later in life, he embraced this nickname as a point of pride and, in doing so, ultimately enhanced his popularity among his peers.

Once Harold graduated, he left the appellation behind in California along with his originally given birth name. But he kept his silver tongue and used it to further perfect his ability to entrance and inveigle, first as an honest salesman, then as an out-and-out charlatan. By the time Harold came to River City, he was an unstoppable juggernaut of flattery and deception.

But then the last person he ever would have expected – a small-town spinster pariah librarian – boldly and unapologetically pierced that silver cloud around him. So Harold handled her like he would any other female who posed a threat to his operations – he backed her into a corner and breathed on her glasses. However, even though she was affected as any gal ever was by his manifold charms, she still managed to maintain a surprisingly level head and pensive distance, to both his chagrin and admiration. It was somehow fitting that Marian Paroo had marched into his life wearing an elegant gray gown, silver’s drab but no-nonsense cousin. She was as eloquent in her fierce honesty as he was in his glib insincerity.

Still, Harold persevered in his pursuit of the most gorgeous and challenging woman he’d ever come across in his travels, telling himself all the while that he was doing it only to shut her up and to have a little fun. It wasn’t until he was standing on the footbridge in his best summer suit, waiting for Marian and staring at his reflection in the creek as he pantomimed leading a band that he realized while he may have fooled the librarian, he was also fooling himself. Silver tongues could be dangerous that way.

But silver didn’t always lie: the water was opaque and still, a shining mirror revealing a man who was indisputably eager for the lovers’ rendezvous that was to come, but with far more wistfulness than triumph in his expression. Marian would come to him – of this he had no doubt, despite her maidenly hesitancy on the pavilion – and he’d make love to her, but then what? Somehow, it was difficult to swallow the idea of going back to the empty and ephemeral existence he’d once gloried in. What if he could be the bandleader he’d convinced them he was, instead? He could stay in River City. He could stay with her for longer than just a fleeting evening.

Harold promptly muzzled such absurd thoughts and didn’t dare to contemplate them again until, against all sense or reason, he successfully conducted the boys’ band in a wavering but passable Minuet in G. And it was Marian’s unshakeable faith, after nearly everyone else had abandoned or turned against him, that had allowed him to achieve such a stunning feat.

Once Harold no longer had to tarnish everything he touched with dishonesty in order to make a living, he found that he could polish his persuasive skills in service to something real and good. To his delight, Marian recognized this new leaf he’d turned over by presenting him with the most charming silver trumpet cufflinks after he’d led his first bona fide parade in August. In return, he gave her a silver bracelet, since she already had a gold one. And for their three-month wedding anniversary, he bought her the amethyst and silver eyeglass chain he’d spied her surreptitiously eying in the jewelry shop window – purple for a lady with the poise and grace of a queen, silver for the woman who was his dearest friend, confidante, and beloved.

Harold once spent a great deal of his unoccupied time gazing at sparse and desolate landscapes as the train sped endlessly over the tracks from California to Connecticut and back again. But here it was one full year after he’d arrived to town and he was sitting on the porch swing in his own front yard, gently caressing his wife’s rounded stomach and marveling at the whole new vistas of possibility on the horizon before them. Now that he had Marian staunchly by his side – he would never stop being amazed at how she both knew and loved him – the strands of silver in his hair no longer alarmed and dispirited him whenever he looked in the mirror.



As a librarian, Marian Paroo adhered to the maxim silence is golden. Especially when a certain fast-talking fly-by-night salesman came to town and disrupted her orderly library!

Harold Hill’s unabashed boisterousness was an affront to decency, and the golden pictures he painted of a boys’ band only added insult to injury. Of all the bamboozled River City-ziens, she alone knew – or was willing to fully acknowledge – that he was nothing but a despicable flimflam man peddling fool’s gold, and she told him he ought to go sell gold-painted watches and glass diamond rings at a carnival somewhere that wasn’t in River City, even as she shivered at the amber-gold flecks sparkling in his warm brown eyes.

But when the band instruments arrived on the Wells Fargo wagon, Marian saw the way Winthrop prattled with sheer joy, heedless of his lisp for the first time since Papa died, and she realized that there was something genuinely golden about this man, after all. Over the next several weeks and months as they got to know each other better, she saw the true quality of Harold’s soul. When he gave her a beautiful silver bracelet engraved with all the dates that meant something important to the two of them, she happily consigned Uncle Maddy’s gold bracelet with the encouraging but unromantic Benjamin Franklin quote to her jewelry box.

But even with his propensity toward silver when it came to both jewelry and speech, Harold demonstrated that he was more than capable of glorying in gold: the diamond solitaire he gave to her when he proposed had a gold band, and the first thing he did on their wedding night was bury his face in her unbound honey-blonde curls as they sat together in their parlor.

Then he led her upstairs to their bedroom. Marian wasn’t sure what she was expecting – certainly not the outmoded Victorian décor of her girlhood home! – but she never would have guessed he’d transform their boudoir into a luxurious Mediterranean-style villa. And she loved every bit of it, from the mahogany furniture to the rich jewel-toned fabrics to the wall covered in burnished gold-leaf paper. It was the most elegant and sumptuous room she’d ever resided in, wholly appropriate for a man and a woman who were passionately in love.

As Harold tenderly and carefully undressed her, his gold wedding ring gleamed in the soft lamplight, twinkling and winking at her as his marvelous hands moved everywhere over her body and brought her to lie on their bed. Marian had waited so long for this moment, and let her vision blur in a golden haze as his mouth covered hers and his clever fingers finally found their way to the place between her thighs that was aching for his touch. After giving her a seemingly interminable interval of the most exquisite and electrifying physical delight she had ever experienced, he rolled her beneath him to consummate their union in earnest. As she welcomed him, admittedly with some trepidation until he kissed her deeply and caressed her thigh, she was stunned at how little discomfort there was – those horrid books had made it sound like the wedding night was going to be excruciating – and how quickly the rather awkward feeling of being filled transformed into pleasure after she responded to his first tentative thrusts into her.

After some experimentation, they found just the right rhythm, and the gold-leaf wallpaper made the most entrancing corona behind Harold’s delicious – and now disheveled – chestnut curls as he both sweetly and avidly taught Marian the knowledge she’d been so desperate to learn ever since he’d first stepped in front of her on that warm July night.