“I’m sure it’s wonderful, Eden. Not that I know anything about art.”
Gertrude Brunswick stood admiring herself in Eden’s studio.
“But Charles says you are the best portrait painter in the country and soon everyone will know it,” she continued. “He’s quite taken you up. He wants you to do him next, of course.”
Eden didn’t respond to any of Gertrude’s comments. “It will take some time to dry. Shall I ship it to New York for you then?” she said.
“I suppose that would be best. We’re leaving the cape in another two days,” Gertrude agreed. She smiled at Eden and changed her tone. “Walk with me a moment before I go?”
Eden just nodded and stepped into the hall, taking her hat from a peg by the back door. The two walked across the porch at the back of the house and down the sand-covered planks that led to the shore.
The walkway soon gave way to a pier that took them out over the water several yards and ended where a small rowboat was tied. There they stopped and looked out at the sun slowly setting across the gentle waves.
Eden reached into her pocket and lit a cigarette while Gertrude watched her silently.
“Eden.” Gertrude’s voice was an appeal.
Eden didn’t speak, but glanced at her over the match.
“I wonder if you’d like to come see me in New York sometime? It’s quite lonely when Charles is away—and he’s often away.” Here, she smiled slightly.
“Don’t your children keep you busy?” Eden asked, pretending not to understand Gertrude’s implication.
“They keep the nurses busy. I only see them at bedtime most days.” Gertrude laughed.
Eden thought of Minna—of Nate and the twins—and how hard her sister worked day and night.
“But never mind that. I would like so much to see you more often.” Gertrude’s tone was unmistakable now. “I’ve missed you—since I married.”
“You’ve missed me for four years?” Eden did nothing to keep an incredulous note from her voice. She tapped the ash of her cigarette against the handrail of the pier and looked over the water.
“Nearly five years,” Gertrude corrected. She was quiet for a minute. “No one else could ever love me like you loved me.”
“I’m sure Charles Brunswick loves you rather sufficiently, judging by how much he’s paid me to paint you,” Eden said, sounding to herself as cynical as Eleanor.
“Money isn’t love,” Gertrude said.
“Neither was my adolescent infatuation with you.” Eden threw the stub of her cigarette into the water.
“Don’t be cruel,” Gertrude said with a little frown. “I know I was unkind back then. But I was young and stupid.”
She reached out now and took Eden’s hand, holding it in both of hers.
“Please Eden. I know you love me.”
“You couldn’t be more mistaken,” Eden told her. “I love Sophia.” But she did not take her hand away.
“Sophia Abington?” Gertrude glanced back towards the cottage. “Really…isn’t it only that she is so devoted to you?”
Eden took her hand from Gertrude’s now. “We are devoted to each other.”
“Dowdy Sophia Abington…?”
“Dr. Sophia Abington,” Eden corrected.
“Do you think she’s watching us now?” Gertrude asked Eden.
“No,” Eden said simply.
“Why not?” Gertrude asked, returning to her coy tone.
“There’s nothing to watch, is there?” Eden said, wishing she had another cigarette.
Gertrude took both of Eden’s hands again and pulled her towards her. Their faces were inches apart. “Kiss me, then.” She tipped her face forward but rather than waiting for a response, bounced up on her toes and kissed Eden herself.
Eden pulled away. “That’s enough, Gertrude. I’ll see you to your carriage.”
Eden turned and stepped away, but Gertrude did not move.
“Eden!” she called. “If you love Sophia Abington so much, why have you never painted her?”
Eden stopped and looked at Gertrude, angry now.
But Gertrude was undaunted. “Why?”
Eden’s impatience with Gertrude mingled with irritation at Sophia. “She doesn’t want me to paint her.”
“Why wouldn’t she want you to paint her?” Gertrude asked.
Eden was quiet for a minute. “She has the idea that when I’ve painted her I’ll be finished with her.”
“Is it true?” Gertrude said. “Are you finished with me, now you’ve painted me?”
Eden leveled her gaze at the woman. “No,” she said. “I was finished with you a long time ago.”
Then she turned and walked back to the house, not caring whether anyone saw Gertrude to her carriage or not.