We set up an easel near the sea with Edwin looking very not traveller-like in white linen suit, wide-brimmed straw hat and camel polished shoes. He seems cheerful and excited to be teaching.
“Every pure and refined pleasure for which a person acquires a relish, is to that extent a safeguard against a low and debasing lifestyle. Horace Mann said that, and he was correct. In learning to paint my dear, you will save yourself from the possibility of a debased life.”
Romany children play near the water, while their mothers gather wood scrapes, jackets and shawls sheltering them from brisk ocean air. An invigorating wind billows in the giant sails of ships traveling near the harbor, but doesn’t dislodge the canvas. Edwin will not paint today, but instruct.
“The artistic and aesthetic experiences are inseparable. Since you have a strong visual sensitivity I believe you will make a good painter.”
He shows me how to hold the brush and palette, having already arranged colors for me to use. “Look, there are late blooming roses. Begin with those. Be the master of your brush, meticulous but bold.”
Edwin has prepared and textured the canvas, which awaits my first efforts. I make a mark, which is just a mark, nothing more than crude round circles where flowers should be. I enjoy the feel of the brush and the sight of vibrant hues on my palette, but fear I’ll make nothing of value. Edwin, sensing my thoughts, moves behind me, placing his hand over mine, lending his mastery. Miraculously, short confident strokes become petals, a recognizable image. He takes his hand away as I mimic his movements. I am encouraged, beaming at my beginner’s ability.
He chuckles; walking to the side of the canvas, then surprises me by obstructing my stroke.
“These hands bare scars but are not the hands of one who labors.”
He holds my hand prisoner, slowly caressing my skin, as if studying something out of view, then withdraws, walking quickly away. I continue to dab petals into being as he throws his hat to the ground, leaning heavily against the trunk of a hawthorne tree.
“Do you mean to tell me that you have absolutely no recollection of your former life at all, nothing?”
He picks up last weeks conversation like it was only seconds ago. I pause before answering, caught off guard.
“I feel something when you speak French, but it’s not a remembering, more a distant knowing. Yet there is one voice I hear that speaks with a lilt as I drift off to sleep, but that is more nightmare than memory.”
Edwin buttons his jacket against the wind, the moisture in the breeze curling his beard. “Discount nothing,” he demands. “All is of value at this juncture. Continue. What is it? What do you remember?”
I feel embarrassed and awkward, the moment unnerving. The dream recurs in the dim shadows of my mind and feels dangerous to speak of, as if words alone could bestow a power to harm me. We stand together in silence as he waits and I gather courage. I look away from him and begin.
“It’s a disembodied man’s voice I hear, accompanied by the smell of a recently oiled knife. I can almost feel his breath on my face as he chatters indifferently about cutting off my fingers.”
Edwin gasps. “Oh my dear, surely that is only a dream. I’m sorry I brought it up. I did not mean to distress you. Perhaps one day something will come of a pleasant nature. Until then, you are safe and can busy yourself by posing for me and establishing rudimentary skills.”
Edwin’s attention is drawn to a seagull playing in currents of ocean air.
“Such a shame no one had heard anything about an accident or missing woman when I went to Kent. But rest assured that I will continue my inquiries on your behalf. Perhaps there will be something printed in The Times. Until then, dear one, you are wise to stay with the gypsies and far from view.”
There is strangeness about Edwin but I’ve come to trust him, and am grateful for his efforts.
“How fortunate I am to have befriended you, Edwin. Thank you.”