“She’s going to marry him, El,” a tearful Eden sat heavily in a leather chair by the fire in Eleanor Stephens’s library. It had been two miserable days before she could arrange to see Eleanor and she had no one else in which to confide her distress at losing Gertrude. She buried her face in her hands with not a little melodrama.
“Take a breath, have a drink and look at me,” she said in the sort of tone a policeman might use to talk a suicide down from a building ledge.
Eden did as she was told, and Eleanor sat down in the chair opposite her, with a glass of her own.
“In all honesty, this is not so surprising, is it darling?” Eleanor asked, gentler now. “She has been indifferent to you all winter, has she not? And this boy—his family is quite rich, did you know that?”
In fact, Eleanor’s father had known old Mr. Brunswick. But anyone who read the paper—any paper in the country—knew who they were. They weren’t merely rich, they were exceedingly rich—richer even, than Eleanor’s family. They were descended from the original Dutch plunderers of Manhattan and were the only people of Eleanor’s acquaintance who had not visibly suffered in the nineties when everyone else was moping about the bank closings and market crashes and spending their summers in cheap Italian villas. Eleanor was quite certain that however many degrees the Brunswicks might take at Harvard, not one of them would ever work a day in his life for money. In fact, she was rather impressed that the bourgeois little Prescott girl had managed to snare the eldest Brunswick boy. She knew better than to suggest so aloud, however.
Eden turned her red-rimmed eyes bleakly on her friend. “Rich?” she said, shaking her head. “What difference does that make? She said she loved me.”
Eleanor’s cynical heart melted with pity at Eden’s words. She did not think it was possible anyone—least of all herself—had ever been so young as the grieving girl who sat before her.
“I’m sorry Eden, but that much money makes every imaginable difference. And…” Eleanor paused. She hated the thought of making Eden feel worse, but the girl needed to learn. “He’s a man,” she finished almost reluctantly.
Eden looked up at Eleanor, remembering Gertrude’s cruel words. “She said she pitied me because I was not a boy.”
“She can go to hell,” Eleanor spat without thinking. “She isn’t worth this display.”
Her words seemed only to cause Eden more distress. “El! Don’t say that. She wasn’t like this last year. She told me…” But the girl broke off, blinked hard and looked away.
“I’m sorry,” Eleanor sincerely apologized. “But drink that port, it’s fifty years old.”
Eden gulped down the sweet wine in a manner that did its venerable age no justice.
Eleanor stood and went to the humidor, withdrawing a cigar and lighting it. She walked to the chair and rested her hand gently on Eden’s shoulder. But at her touch, the girl crumpled again. “I know you think I’m a fool,” Eden said, wiping uselessly at the tears pouring down her face, “but Eleanor…”
“I think you’re a treasure, darling,” the older woman told her honestly, “but you’ve got to get better at this.” And she walked back to the table to pour them both another drink.
Eleanor nursed Eden’s broken heart for the better part of two weeks. The girl never cried again openly, but walked about in a grief-stricken stupor. Eleanor began to think that it might be a good idea to take Eden to Europe now, rather than waiting, as originally planned, until she finished her degree. She knew that in either case, convincing Eden’s parents to let Eleanor take her would be difficult. But she would do it. It was only the summer, after all. And Eleanor was certain that the old continent would have a recuperative effect on the miserable child.