Salt of Judas
by Eric James Stone
Osbert Peale did not paint portraits when he sat on his stool beside the Avon. He
painted Tewkesbury Abbey or one of the footbridges over the river. Sometimes he
portrayed the boatmen on the water or passersby on land, but those people were
merely parts of the landscape. Only in his narrow rented room above the butcher's
did he paint portraits, and those he never showed to anyone for fear they would
Every portrait was of Her. He'd begun to paint Her portrait even before he
discovered that Her name was Amelia. He said that delightful name occasionally
to himself as he drew in charcoal the curve of Her neck or used the painting knife
to soften the glow of Her cheek. But in his mind She remained most often Her.
And though he often whispered -- to himself -- that he loved Her, he knew that a
wealthy landowner's daughter like Her would never love a humble artist like him.
As he sat beside the river, palette in one hand and knife in the other, creating
landscapes in oil, he always watched for Her, since She often strolled along the
footpath with Her companions. On occasion She would stop and look at his work
in progress, and Osbert would then find it difficult to breathe as he painted with
trembling hand. But except in his imagination She had never spoken to him, nor
he to Her. His love for Her was a secret he kept from all the world.
He was using the blending knife to darken the shadows of an overcast sky on his
canvas when a deep voice came from behind him.
"I understand you paint portraits."
Osbert turned his head to look up at the stranger. The man was bald as an egg, and
under the darkening sky his skin seemed Lead White with a touch of Ultramarine
Blue. He wore a red vest -- Cadmium Red darkened perhaps by Burnt Sienna --
over a white silk shirt, black breeches and white stockings. The buckles on his
shoes glinted gold even without direct sunlight. Although Osbert had been in
Tewkesbury less than a year, he thought he knew everyone of consequence in the
town. This man must be a wealthy traveler, perhaps brought here by the
convergence of the Avon and the Severn rivers.
"You are mistaken, sir. I am only a landscape painter."
The stranger nodded slowly. "Where do you buy your oils?"
"From Barber the apothecary. He has a shop on Church Street."
"From now on, you will buy them from me." The stranger spoke as if stating an
"But Barber has always--"
"Barber has sold his shop to me. I am the new apothecary."
"Oh." Osbert did not know what else to say. Barber had been a friendly fellow,
quite unlike this brusque man. But possibly the new apothecary would become
more amiable in time.
"Soon you will want to bring life to your portraits. Come to me then." The
apothecary turned and strode away.
"I don't paint portraits," Osbert called after him, but the bald head made no