Keren excused Henry’s governess for a well-deserved break and settled onto the floor of the nursery to hear the latest tale her brother had crafted. His dark hair, which had a regrettable tendency to curl in the heat of summer, had sprouted unevenly from one side of his head, and she leaned over to smooth it down.
Henry, apparently, had been quite taken with Gryffyn Kimbrell’s mantelpiece and was relating a fantastical tale about a stone carver with magical abilities. She’d never been able to make sense of her brother’s odd starts, but she listened in amusement as his voice rose and fell with the excitement of his yarn. He’d always had a dramatic turn of mind, so Keren was not surprised when a copper dragon carved from the very cliffs above Copper Cove made an appearance.
“And the dragon breathed fire on the stone carver,” Henry said with a flourish, “scorching his hair as the dragon’s tail whipped at the man from behind. But the stone carver was armed and ready.” Henry spun and wielded a small tool as a sword, and Keren’s eyes narrowed.
“Henry,” she said. “What is that?” She pointed toward the tool clasped in his small hand.
He straightened from his fighting stance and frowned at her.
“Why, ’tis a chisel,” he said matter-of-factly. “Have you not been attending, Keri?”
“I can see that it’s a chisel,” she said with a wry twist to her lips. “But where did you find it?”
“In the drawing room. Beneath the couch.”
“In the—did you not think it odd that there was a chisel in the drawing room beneath the couch?”
“Well, yes, but—oh. Do you think Mr. Kimbrell has left it behind?”
“I think it very likely, Henry. He’s probably even this moment wondering what has become of his chisel.”
“Botheration. We should return it to him, I suppose.” Henry’s disappointment at losing his new toy was poorly concealed.
“We should,” she agreed with a sigh. “To be sure, he’ll be pleased to have it again. Collect your coat, Henry, then we’ll collect Miss Litton.”
Gryffyn stared at the tools arrayed across his worktable, but his favorite chisel wasn’t among them. He’d emptied his bag as well as the cabinets lining the walls of the workshop, but no chisel. He had others, to be sure, but none fit his hand as perfectly as the one he sought.
He settled his hands on his hips and considered the mess before him. His father would arrive soon, expecting to find their latest headstone ready to be delivered to the churchyard. He’d hoped to be finished by now so he could turn his thoughts back to his sketchbook. It lay open to his latest drawings for the Truro exhibition. He had a notion of what he wished to carve, but the lines, the energy of the piece, eluded him. It would take some time to capture his vision on the page before he could even begin to set his chisel to stone. He forcibly pulled his attention back to the pile of tools. He didn’t have time to be woolgathering about Truro, much as he longed to.
He sighed and picked up his second-best chisel then turned toward a slab of Cornish limestone. It was depressingly tiny. The vicar had commissioned a simple headstone: name and dates only, as that was all the parents could afford. It shouldn’t take him above a half hour to complete, and then he could return to his sketchbook.
He set his chisel at an angle and tapped the end with a mallet, and a satisfying sliver of limestone sheared away. He worked methodically to dress the stone, evening the edges until he was satisfied with the shape. Next, he reached for a smaller chisel to begin carving the dates. Year of birth: 1819. Year of death: 1819.
Such innocence surely deserved a more fitting period to the end of its sentence than a plain slab of stone. His throat thickened at the incomplete life that would soon be forgotten by all but two grieving parents. He eyed his sketchbook once more and released a slow exhale. Thirty minutes more wouldn’t hurt. He brushed an arm over his eyes then added an angel to the top of the headstone.
His father would grumble about the extra time spent, but he wasn’t a heartless man. Gryffyn had often caught him adding his own embellishments above and beyond that which had been commissioned. He’d begun to put the final details on the angel’s wings when he became aware of a shadow in the doorway. He brushed a calloused hand over the top of the stone, smoothing away a layer of dust, and looked up.
There, in the entry of his workshop, stood none other than Miss Moon. He couldn’t prevent his eyebrows from lifting, and he set his tools aside as she entered with her brother and another young lady.
“Miss Moon,” he said, “how can I assist you?” He was conscious of the dusty leather apron covering his shirt, his sleeves rolled high along his forearms and the dust covering his hands. He was in no condition to receive company. Then he reminded himself she’d come to his workshop, not his parlor, so this hardly amounted to a social call.
“I believe we may be of assistance to you, Mr. Kimbrell,” she said, and his brows climbed higher. She nudged her brother forward. “Henry has something of yours, I believe. We’ve come, along with Miss Litton, to see it returned to you safely.
Gryffyn wiped his hands on a rag and approached the boy, curious. Henry pulled his arm from behind his back to present Gryffyn with his own chisel.
“You found it,” Gryffyn said with relief.
“Yes,” Henry said. “It was under the couch.”
Of course. He’d left it at the Moon residence. He was normally more careful with his tools, but then he’d been distracted by Moon’s conversation about the Truro exhibition. He rubbed a thumb along the edge, relieved to feel the familiar weight and smooth metal beneath his touch.
He looked up to see Henry had approached the headstone he’d been carving. The boy ran a small finger along the edge of the angel’s wing and leaned over to peer at it more closely.
“How do you make it so lifelike?” he asked. “It’s as if the angel will fly from the stone.”
“And that is the secret,” Gryffyn said. “To imagine whatever creature you’re carving is a living thing trapped within. The skill of the stone carver is to release him from the stone. ’Tis a trick from the great sculptor, Michelangelo. You’ve studied him in your lessons?”
Henry nodded, and Gryffyn turned back to Miss Moon and Miss Litton. “Thank you for returning the chisel,” he said. “I was some anxious over its loss.”
Miss Moon looked about the workshop and the mess of tools he’d pulled from the drawers. “You’ve quite a number of other tools at hand, it would seem.”
“Aye,” he agreed, “but this was created specially to fit my hand. No other chisel will serve as well.”
He rolled the steel chisel between his fingers and realized he was drumbling—boring her to tears, most likely, with talk of chisels and Michelangelo. Indeed, her expression remained carefully neutral without even the hint of a flirtatious grin. He suspected she’d dimple quite prettily were he anyone else.
Henry moved to the open window to study a collection of small carvings that rested on the stone sill. He picked up a tiny marble fox and turned it slowly in his hands. It was one of dozens of such figures Gryffyn had sculpted over the years.
“Henry,” Miss Moon said gently. “You mustn’t touch Mr. Kimbrell’s things without his permission.”
Henry looked to Gryffyn. “May I hold the fox?”
“Aye,” he replied, “but lift it to the light.”
Henry’s brows dipped for a moment before he understood. Then, lifting the fox to the window, he smiled to see the edges glow as light passed through the thinner parts of the stone.
“Marble has a translucent quality,” Gryffyn explained. “’Tis why it’s so well suited for carving people.”
“Can you teach me to carve?” Henry asked as he set the fox back in the windowsill.
Gryffyn cleared his throat and forced the frown from his face. Given their regular commissions and now his Truro submission, he wouldn’t have a single moment to provide carving instruction, no matter how flattering the pupil’s interest. Miss Moon must have been as surprised by the question as Gryffyn, as she stepped forward and placed a staying hand on Henry’s shoulder.
“I’m certain Mr. Kimbrell doesn’t have time for carving lessons, Henry. Now we must hurry home so you and Miss Litton can resume your geography lessons.”
Henry frowned much as Gryffyn would have done were he faced with such tedium, but he turned obediently toward his sister and governess. Miss Moon, outlined by the sun much as Gryffyn’s fox had been, nodded at him politely and prepared to take their leave. “Good day, Mr. Kimbrell.”
It was then that Gryffyn’s artist’s eye took notice of her flowing lines: the soft lock of dark hair that escaped her bonnet to curl about one ear. The muslin skirts cascading over her trim form, folds draping softly in the morning light. A light breeze blew through the open window, and he could feel the movement of her hair and dress emerging beneath the chisel he still held. He frowned, eyes narrowed, and resisted the urge to lift the tress of hair at her cheek. Such an action, to be sure, would not be well received.
With effort, Gryffyn pulled his eyes back to hers. Recalling his manners, he said, “Thank you again for returning the chisel.” He opened his mouth to say something more—he wasn’t sure what, precisely—but she had already turned away.
Excerpt © 2022 by K. Lyn Smith.
Matching Miss Moon will be available in paperback and e-Book formats.