Mrs. Eckhart is prompt, as always. She is elderly with only her daughter, a grandson and three nephews for company. A widow for sixteen months, she is still wearing the dark crape of mourning.
Julia, our maid ushers her into the drawing room, a fire-warmed space full of gold framed paintings, grand piano and walls of leather bound books. Julia draws back heavy curtains, admitting the outside world.
“Oh Ivy darling,” she says, extending a glove in my direction. “How I have missed you. And how charming you look in white cambric and lace. It accents the red of your hair and the green of your eyes. Have you found a new seamstress?”
“Thank you Mrs. Eckhart. Allow me.” I pull out the chair nearest the fire, inviting her to warm herself. “My seamstress remains the same as yours, although I’m sure you use her less since the loss of your husband.”
“On the contrary my dear. She is in steady employ. This crimped and stiff texture is not easily maintained, nor the dull looking silk gauze beneath. Only last week I was carried up the stairs to her flat for a final fitting, a tedious affair to be sure. But enough of clothes. Rumor has it, you’re off to the country this afternoon.”
Mrs. Eckhart positions her parasol against her chair, sitting heavily down, as if releasing the weight of the world. Long sleeves drag over china cups as she plucks her handkerchief from its cuff, wiping her troubled brow. Her grieving period will be finished in eight months, but she is the type to continue in subdued shades of grey, Alfred’s death giving her a spotlight of attention she has long craved.
“I hear dear,” she continues, “that you’ve bought an estate in a little hamlet in the north, one previously owned by the Viscount. I traveled that way years ago but must admit I am neither fond of sheep nor heather. I find the moors bleak in every season, preferring the bustle of London. Why ever have you decided to abandon us?”
“My hope is to paint, Mrs. Eckhart, and I believe that country air and exercise will provide added benefits. I’ve already engaged a fine teacher who lives near Scarborough tower, a Mr. Whidbey. His excellent reputation and references precede him. Of course, I’ll miss the society of London but will return in the fall, and be delighted to receive you at that time.”
A steaming basket of cranberry scones with freshly churned butter is placed on the table, and to each of us in turn. Sweet efficient Julia is pouring tea as Mrs. Eckhart continues to talk; a pastry crumb unknowingly adhered to the side of her mouth. I listen, stealing glances at the grandfather clock, not so subtly willing that her departure be as punctual as her arrival.