Six months later
Daisy was in the art studio in the new house concentrating on the gallery’s account books when she was startled by a baby’s shrill cry. She sighed and laid down the pencil.
“I know that cry,” she said aloud with a beaming smile. She immediately went to the cradle and picked up her month-old son.
“Oh, my darling baby Ben, you are hungry and letting me know it,” she cooed to the baby, who stared up at her with his father’s big brown eyes. “You are not letting your mama get much work done today, are you?”
Because Ben stayed in the studio whenever she worked, Clifford gifted her with a rocking chair before Ben was born. With the baby in her arms, Daisy sat in the rocker, unbuttoned her dress, and put him at her breast. He fed as if starving while his mother watched him with awe.
“If you feed this much every day, you will be as tall and strong as your papa before you are one year old,” she whispered before kissing his fuzzy head softly.
She took the small hand lying on her chest into her own and remembered the joy on Will’s face when Lydia called him into the bedroom to meet his son. It wasn’t an easy birth for Daisy, but she insisted he be brought in immediately after the baby was born.
Lavinia, who was by Daisy’s side through her labor and delivery, reminded everyone that Benjamin Aaron Chastain was born on Valentine’s Day, the fourteenth of February. She was insistent that meant he was born to love well and be loved by all who met him. Daisy liked that idea, and apparently, Will did as well. Two days after Ben was born, Will gifted Daisy with a gold heart pendant necklace engraved with Ben’s initials on the front and W and M on the back.
“The initial is not for Margaret,” he had whispered in her ear as he fastened the necklace around her neck.
“I know,” she had answered.
Daisy’s memories dashed away as she realized Ben had stopped nursing. He was looking up at her with a serene expression.
The front door opened and closed. Daisy held the baby up and made a silly face for him. “Ooooo, your papa is home! Be prepared to be held and spoiled for the rest of the night.” She buttoned her dress and walked into the hallway to meet Will.
“Ah, there’s the little prince, and he’s awake,” greeted Will as he took his son from Daisy. “Your mama gets to see you with your eyes open, but it is rare for me.” Will held Ben in front of him. “He’s getting bigger every day.”
“Uh, William, do you remember me?” hinted Daisy.
“Why, yes, you are his mother, aren’t you?” replied Will with a teasing quizzical look, cradling Ben in his arms.
She poked his chest. “You are right about that, sir, and don’t you forget it! But let’s not forget that I am also your wife who deserves a hello and a welcome kiss.”
Will chuckled. “Hello, my love!” They kissed, briefly. “But I want to introduce him to Sonny while his eyes are open. We won’t be long.”
“Wait, it’s cool out there.” She ran to get an extra blanket and tossed it to him. “Please wrap it around him!”
She knew Ben would fall asleep in his father’s arms, and Will would hold him until supper while sitting in the parlor, so she decided to write an overdue letter to her mother. Daisy returned to the studio and the desk that Will retrieved from the workroom and brought to the new house when they moved in before Christmas. Once the dust was wiped away, Daisy was surprised that it was a sturdy mahogany rolltop desk, and once polished, it had a sheen that made it look like new.
Daisy took out a sheet and began her letter.
March 18, 1876
This is the first chance I have had to sit and write a letter since I wrote
you announcing Ben’s birth. I hope you will forgive my tardiness, but
you know what a new mother goes through.
Mama, I am so anxious for you to see Ben! He is a sweetheart and has
a good disposition as long as he is not hungry. Will dotes on him, and it is
lovely to watch them together.
I do artwork here in the home studio with the baby near me in the
cradle. Oh, my, I don’t think I mentioned in my last letter that we
have two rooms on the first floor of the new house instead of one.
Apparently, there was a small office behind the parlor that
the previous owner used for his logging mill business. When I
first looked at the house, I saw the door, but neither Will nor I
thought to open it because we thought it was a closet. That is
the room we will make ready for your visit. Don’t forget to send me
the details of your journey.
Now that I have mentioned the new house, I will tell you I am so glad
Will saw how right it would be for our family! It is spacious, and the
room for Ben’s nursery has plenty of space to include a playroom.
Our good friends, Lavinia and Martin, have already added to the playroom.
They gifted Ben with a rocking horse painted with a red saddle, and Martin
included the most adorable tiny cowboy hat!
I am so blessed to tell you more good news. The gallery is doing very
well! James thinks we might need to expand soon, which I can hardly
believe after being open only four months. My paintings have sold for
very fair prices, and many people have asked if I would do portraits.
The last bit of news is that when our marshal, Seth, retired in February,
Will was appointed marshal by a unanimous vote of the town council.
Many citizens attended that meeting and also voiced their support
for him. He sold the tack shop to Clifford but will continue
his leatherworking business because he enjoys it. Even though
I still worry about his safety, I know he loves serving the public and is
happy in his work.
Please give Papa and the boys my love, and I am looking forward to
your time with us, and so is your grandson!
Your daughter, Daisy
Daisy folded and sealed the letter and would give it to Will to take to the post office. When she looked out the window, she saw it was twilight. Good heavens! I hope Will has brought the baby inside. She picked up the letter and hurried to the parlor. She breathed a sigh of relief to see him sitting in his favorite chair, holding Ben, who was gurgling and flailing his tiny arms. Will looked up at her standing there and smiled at the relief on her face she couldn’t hide.
“You didn’t think we were in the house, did you?”
Daisy sat on the settee across from them. “I admit I didn’t, but only because I did not hear the door open or your boots on the wooden floor. I guess I was lost in the letter I was writing Mama.”
Will looked down at his son and frowned. “How does he fall asleep so fast? He was bright-eyed and baby-talking a minute ago.”
Daisy went to get Ben. “He always falls asleep not long after he’s been fed. I’ll take him to his cradle while I make supper for us.”
“If that’s what you are doing next, I’ll continue to sit here and hold him while he sleeps. I do not get to see him as much as you do during the day.”
“I understand, but you must not make a habit of it, or he won’t get used to sleeping in the cradle,” said Daisy as she kissed her son on top of his head and her husband on the lips and started for the kitchen.
“I think that is an old wives’ tale,” insisted Will.
“Maybe, but let’s not test it,” sassed Daisy over her shoulder.
When supper was on the table, Daisy brought Ben’s cradle and placed it in the dining room. Will laid him gently in the cradle and covered him with the baby quilt Daisy and Lavinia had made.
“He sleeps so peacefully,” said Will, smiling down at Ben.
“Yes, until he is hungry or needs a diaper change. Sit down, Will, and eat before it gets cold.”
After supper, Daisy said they were fortunate that Ben let them eat their meal uninterrupted, and Will suggested a chess game after they finished the dishes.
“I would love to play chess with you,” enthused Daisy. “It seems like forever since we played a game. Ben has only been sleeping an hour, which gives us two more hours before he wakes up hungry.”
“Is tomorrow night our supper with Martin and Lavinia?”
“Yes. She’s coming in with Martin in the morning and will be with Ben and me all day. I have a drawing I need to finish, and she’s a big help with Ben while I work. She’s as enamored of him as we are.”
He rolled his eyes. “I’m sorry, Daisy, I forgot to mention that James came by my office today and asked me to tell you that an art dealer from San Francisco came into the gallery and asked James if he could meet both of you the day after tomorrow.”
Daisy’s surprised expression made Will chuckle. “Does James know why this dealer wants to meet with us?”
“If he does, he didn’t say anything to me. But he seemed very excited about it.”
“As am I. I have so many questions. Why us, our gallery? Has he seen our work somewhere? Who is he?” Her voice raised with each question, with the last question shy of a shout.
“Calm down, Daisy; you will wake Ben before we even start our game!”
“I know, I know. If he wakes up, I will apologize for his mama getting overly excited.”
“I am sure he would understand and appreciate that,” gibed Will. “Marguerite, let’s sit down and begin the game. I can find out more tomorrow, or you can visit the gallery and ask James yourself while Lavinia is here to sit with Ben.”
Will picked up the cradle, and Daisy walked beside him into the parlor. “I will do that.” She lovingly gazed at her husband. “I have thought of something else I would do.”
“Go to the mercantile and buy something for Ben while you are out for the first time since he was born?
“Oh, that is an idea, but no.” Daisy’s eyes sparkled with mischief.
“Uh oh, dare I ask what else you have in mind?”
“I will win our game,” she said smugly.
“James, don’t tease me!”
“I wouldn’t, Daisy. He wants to discuss showing some of our work in his San Francisco gallery. Mr. Michaels has been visiting Portland and saw your Field of Color painting, the one sold at the festival last year, in the home of the woman who bought it. He said it reminded him of the paintings he saw at the Impressionist exhibition in Paris.”
Daisy plopped down on the chair in the gallery’s office. “I don’t know what to say!”
“Say you will be here tomorrow to speak with him. He did not realize we had the gallery until he asked the hotel where he could find Marguerite Chastain.” James grinned. “He thinks you are French.”
“He will indeed be surprised when he meets me, won’t he? But you were right when you suggested signing my work with a more romantic name would bring more attention. Will said Mr. Michaels wants to speak with both you and me. Please tell me he’s interested in your work, too.”
“That’s the amazing thing, Daisy! He liked my oil paintings but was more impressed with my photographs. He’s adding a photography exhibit in his gallery and wants some of my prints added to the exhibit!”
Daisy embraced James. “That is the best news, James. I am so happy we decided to show your brilliant photographs in the gallery.”
There was a big smile on James’ face when she released him. “You were the one who suggested it, and I thank you.”
“Well, I better get back to the house before Ben wakes. Did Mr. Michaels mention a time he would like to meet?”
“He suggested sometime in the morning, but I told him I would leave a message for him at his hotel after I spoke with you.”
Daisy thought for a moment. “Do you think he would mind meeting at my house? Ben sleeps longer in the afternoons.”
“I told him you are a new mother, so I don’t think he would mind at all.”
Daisy’s face lit up. “Invite Mr. Michaels for tea at three o’clock, and we will have our talk over Earl Grey tea and cucumber sandwiches. If he travels abroad, he will appreciate teatime.”
“I will leave him a message. By the way, how is Ben?”
“Ben is the best baby and very handsome, too. I know all mothers say that, but I would never exaggerate something so important.”
Daisy breezed out of the gallery and hurried to get home. She decided to turn that night’s supper with the Bells into a celebration.
When she walked into the house, Daisy heard a tinkling sound coming from the parlor. She laid her hat and gloves on the table in the foyer and entered the parlor to investigate.
Lavinia was on the settee holding Ben while talking to him and shaking a rattle.
“I am sorry I’m late. Has he been wailing his hungry cry?”
“He woke just minutes ago, and I have hypnotized him with this rattle. Little man is hungry, I’m sure, but he quieted when we started playing.” She stood to place the baby in his mother’s arms.
“Hello, my sweet! Did you think your mama had forsaken you?” Daisy kissed her son’s cheek. “I haven’t seen a rattle like that before.”
“Emily pointed it out to me in the store. The handle is coral which is supposed to be comforting when he starts to teethe.”
“That even makes it more useful.”
As a reminder to his mother, Ben began to whimper, and Daisy cooed to soothe him. “I will go to the studio to feed him and be back in a bit. After feeding, he has been staying awake for a while, so you can spoil him with more attention when we get back.”
Lavinia clapped her hands playfully. “Oh, goody, more playtime. I will be waiting impatiently.”
The rest of the day was spent with the friends talking and laughing as they prepared food for supper, often interrupted by Ben, who needed food or a diaper change. Daisy handled the feeding, and Lavinia swore she did not mind changing a diaper because it gave her more time with him.
By the time Will and Martin got to the house, supper was on the table, Ben had been fed, and Lavinia and Daisy were on the parlor rug playing with him before a roaring fire.
“Good evening, ladies. May I have my son, please?” asked Will, placing a kiss on his wife’s cheek.
“Oh, no, not tonight, my friend,” Martin protested. “I have not seen this lad since the day after he was born. While he is awake, I want to hold him and get acquainted.” He smirked at Will. “You wouldn’t refuse a guest, would you, Will?”
“Five minutes, only five minutes,” Will complained.
“Grown men fighting over a baby! I can’t believe it!” teased Daisy. “But while you are holding our son, Martin, and my husband will stand by my side, I have an announcement to make.”
Will stood with his arm around his wife’s waist.
“James and I are meeting an art dealer tomorrow to discuss showing some of our work in his San Francisco gallery.”
“I thought it might be something like that,” said Will. “We are all so proud of you.” He pulled her closer to kiss her lips.
“Daisy, you deserve this,” Lavinia raved happily. She hugged her friend tightly to her.
“Congratulations, Daisy! You will be famous.” Martin caught Lavinia’s eye and nodded. He turned to Will. “I think my five minutes are up.”
“Finally,” said Will, gladly taking Ben and cuddling him close to his chest. “Your mama is going to be a famous artist, Ben. What do you say to that?”
At precisely that moment, Ben burped, which started the adults laughing.
Martin had joined Lavinia and raised his eyebrows in question. “You or me?”
“Me.” She folded her hands in front of her and smiled. “We have an announcement of our own.”
Daisy’s hand flew to her mouth, her eyes filling with tears. “Oh, Lavinia!”
“We are expecting a baby in October.”
Daisy rushed to embrace Lavinia. “Lavinia, is it safe for you?” Daisy asked in a whisper.
“We hope so. Doc Farley has strongly advised that I remain off my feet until then, though, and he thinks chances are better to carry the baby to full term that way.”
Martin stared cockeyed at Will. “I think we have finally left William Chastain speechless.”
“No, no. I apologize and am thrilled for you both. Congratulations! I was only thinking how exciting it would be to have a playmate for Ben.”
“I’ll be back in a minute,” said Daisy. “I have to check on something.”
She went into the icebox in the kitchen and pulled out a bottle of champagne. She placed it on a tray with four champagne glasses and returned to the parlor.
“Now we can celebrate both our good fortunes like high society!”
“Daisy, champagne? Where did you get that?” asked a stunned Lavinia.
Daisy smiled at Will. “There’s a story about my first taste of champagne, but Will bought the bottle and the glasses to toast our new house. Because it was my last month carrying Ben, we put off drinking it. And now we have two excellent reasons to toast. Martin, will you open and pour, please!”
“I have never opened a bottle of champagne, but I am more than willing to try.”
Martin managed to get the cork out with the proper pop, poured the pale gold liquid into the glasses, and handed a glass to everyone. Will took his glass while still holding Ben, who became mesmerized by the champagne bubbles.
Will raised his glass. “A toast . . . well, a toast to family, for that is what you are to us, Martin and Lavinia, and we look forward to welcoming our new addition.” His eyes found Daisy’s, and the expression on his face of the most profound love wasn’t lost on anyone. “And a toast to my Marguerite and her accomplishments, all of them. Her artistic talent, the gallery’s success, and this blessing I hold in my arms. Cheers!”
“Cheers!” sounded the chorus.
Over the rim of her champagne glass, Daisy spied the happiness shared by the Bells as they had their heads close together and were smiling. She observed Will drinking his champagne, holding their son, and laughing because he said Ben’s lips were smacking for a taste.
I wanted adventure when I left Houston; not even a year has passed. I certainly got adventure, but of a different kind than I expected, thought Daisy.
What she saw before her was the adventure she found in a heartfelt friendship, an adventure found in the bottomless love of a man for a woman, and the most priceless adventure of all . . . motherhood.
And the artist known as Marguerite Chastain was fulfilled.