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Speaking Likeness

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Strange gazed at the portrait of Arabella, as he had done countless times since coming to the Peninsula. The miniature was her own work, and had the liveliness and skill of all her pieces. It was as close to a perfect likeness as any thing could be, yet to look at it, he found, made his wife seem farther away than ever. He missed the scent of her skin, the warmth of her body in his arms, the small sounds she made in her sleep. He did not let himself think too often of more intimate sensations: they would rouse him, but leave him lonelier than ever when his solitary passion had spent itself.

A speaking likeness, people said, but that was precisely what a portrait could not be. He needed to hear Arabella’s voice, and he could not. He needed not to think about the consolations that lay so close at hand, and which he longed for more with each passing day.

By now he had given up all hopes of a letter from her. In his wilder moments he imagined some malign agency must be intercepting their correspondence, preposterous as the idea seemed in the cold light of day. Yet what other explanation could there be? He would not believe that she had stopped loving him, and even if she had she might still have written. Other men’s wives wrote to them, as he knew only too well from reading their letters aloud to those who needed it: letters mundane and poorly written, dull and disappointing, giving unwelcome news, but still letters.

The portrait gazed at him without reproach, without understanding, without pity. When he first came to the Peninsula he had carried it next to his heart, but that time was gone and he could not call it back. He closed the miniature-case and stowed it carefully in his luggage. It would keep until he came back from the mission with Grant, and if he did not return –

“Merlin,” Grant called to him, “will you come?”

“Coming,” he said, and went out into the chill November air.