Walter shook out his umbrella in jerking movements. “What a day,” Louisa said, stepping back to let him into the hall. She noticed he was wearing galoshes; Christopher would find that funny. In ceremonial style, Walter carefully arranged all his wet things on and around the coat stand and removed his sketch book from a damp leather satchel.
“Have you explained everything to them?” he asked, smoothing down his tweed suit. “Of course,” Louisa said, determined to be pleasant. She’d forgotten how blatantly he skipped social niceties.
“And they will cooperate?”
“They’re good girls Walter, you needn’t worry,” Louisa replied, her gaze criss-crossing his unlovely face. He was so like their father today with his bristly hair and manner. An image of the old man flickered in her memory, seated in his study, tilting his head so she could reach his cheek for a goodnight kiss. The last child of his third wife, even she could sense he was weary of playing Daddy by then. So different, she imagined, to Walter’s home life twenty years earlier.
A thump sounded from the dining room followed by muffled giggling and shushing. “Shall we?” Louisa said reaching for the door handle. She had issued strict instructions to the girls to stay in the room until she entered. Christopher agreed that it was time they stopped charging to the front door like hooligans every time there was a caller.
Nora was standing by the mantelpiece holding the lustre jug, her cheeks glowing pink, while Peggy and Maude sat straight-backed at the table. “It’s not broken,” Nora said, holding out the jug. Louisa took it from her eldest and touched her cheek gently. “Come and say hello to your uncle Walter.”
The girls lined up and shook hands with the visitor, looking angelic in their Sunday pinafores. Louisa was pleased to see the children were in awe of him and she hoped the feeling would last, keeping their behaviour in check.
Louisa waited for Walter to take charge but he stood as if in a daze, holding the sketch book to his chest. “How would you like to begin?” Louisa asked when the pause grew uncomfortably long. “Or would you prefer some refreshment first?”
Walter’s lips were trembling. “Could you ask them to sit at the table again? Perhaps they could gather at the corner and study something together?” He was almost whispering. The girls looked at their mother. “Here take this,” she said, pressing the jug back into Nora’s hands. The children followed his directions and Walter pulled out a chair for himself, positioning it by the sideboard.
Louisa glared a final warning at the girls and turned to Walter with a smile. “There. Should I leave you now?” Walter hesitated. “She’s just like my Gloria,” he said, staring at Nora. Louise looked and in that instant saw the resemblance and understood the loss for the first time. She squeezed his shoulder and left the room.
Inspired by The Lustre Jug by Walter Osborne (1902)