There was not a speck of dust in the old house. The hall, in anticipation of Bette and Eleanor’s arrival had been ventilated and well lit. Fresh flowers filled the vases in every room. And yet something about Roman architecture always made Eleanor think of decay, however shining the marble floor, however glowing the brass banisters, however pressed and fresh the uniforms of the staff. Nevertheless they greeted her politely, begging of her in what room to deposit her luggage and inquiring whether she would dine at home and if so, at what hour.
She might have left the place last week rather than nearly twenty years ago. She might find Theo around any corner, an unlit, unfilled pipe in his teeth, a cheap edition of Childe Harold in his hand.
Bette’s presence beside her failed to entirely disrupt this little fantasy. After all, Bette had known him. She alone, of all Eleanor’s current acquaintances, had. He had been, yes, too young, but mostly too coddled and protected to have gone much into the society of people their father had insisted Eleanor know and be known by, much as she knew he would have preferred it be his son, not his daughter who survived him.
Bette interrupted her nostalgia. “Let’s not put the staff to any great task this evening, shan’t we? I saw a suitable bistro from the cab. It was just in the last street.”
Theo’s ghost fled and Eleanor looked at her companion. “I couldn’t eat, I think. If a bistro suits you, it suits me,” she said. Then, to the staff, in Italian, she gave the orders for the situation of their luggage, begged the kitchen maid for a pot of English tea and turned into the drawing room with Bette.