The phone rang. Charlotte could hear it all the way downstairs, and knew Mrs. Jackson would answer it and then call up the stairs if it was important. For the moment all that mattered was getting finishing touches done on the piece in front of her, and with that in mind, Charlotte stared at the canvas once more, concentrating.
The frame on her easel was a long affair, perfect for the seascape she was creating, and most of the oils were still glittering in the clear light coming through the back windows of the house. Charlotte shivered a little as she did a tiny touch up on one edge of a cresting wave, wishing it wasn't so chilly and wondering if there was any more coffee.
"Ma'am, it's Missus Winchester," Mrs. Jackson called up. "You busy?"
"No, I'll be right down. Thank you," Charlotte called back, setting aside the palette and hastily wiping her hands. She made it down the spiraling stairs a little quickly and fought a twinge of dizziness before picking up the receiver from the hall table phone. "Good morning Pamela."
"Good morning, Charlotte," came Pamela Winchester's clear voice. "Are we still on for lunch today?"
"Yes, of course," Charlotte assured her, feeling guilty at having forgotten the date. "Absolutely. Eh, where are we going again?"
"We are stopping at Phipps Street to lay a few flowers and then having lunch at the Boston Belle, dear. Are you sure you're all right?"
"I'm fine," Charlotte replied, looking at her reflection in the hall mirror. "Just lost track of time. When am I picking you up again?"
"In an hour." Now Pamela's voice was definitely amused. "Time enough for you to clean the paint off yourself."
"Is it that obvious?" Charlotte laughed gently, and her mother-in-law did too.
"Painting always makes you a little pre-occupied, dear; it's one of those wonderful things about you. I'll see you soon."
Charlotte shook her head as she hung up, amused.
The Phipps Street Burial Ground wasn't far, and Charlotte found a place to park the Nash fairly close to the front gate. She and Pamela climbed out into the chilly March air and gathered up the bouquets from the back seat.
"It's just a personal tradition," Pamela murmured to her softly. "But I do so like to make sure I visit once a year."
Charlotte nodded. Given her father's business she understood better than most people the comfort in remembering the dead and honoring family. She collected the remaining three bouquets and followed Pamela through the black iron gates and onto the pathway as her mother-in-law led the way. No one else was out but there were a few other flowers at various stones; bright spots against the green of the gently rolling lawn.
"First is Captain Daniel, who is over here," Pamela told her. "He's the one in the portrait you and Charles have. He gets the gladiolas I think. Win told me Captain Daniel was one of the founders of the Boston Yacht club, so for that alone he deserves a little remembrance, don't you think?"
The stone was weatherworn and chiseled with a flowery script that read: Daniel Ezra Winchester, b. 1792 Welcomed to the Harbor of God, d. 1875 Around the edges were curls done as ocean waves, and at the base of the stone was a carved anchor—altogether a beautiful piece of work. Approvingly Charlotte set the spray of gladiolas down and both women stood in silence looking at it for a moment.
"There." Pamela sighed. "I never met the man, obviously, but I used to say good morning to his portrait every day when I passed it in the front hall. Silly I suppose but one does things like that. Charles always liked the picture, and we gave it to him when he bought the house on Acorn Street, so now I greet the African violets in the hall but it's not quite the same."
Charlotte gave her a smile. "I'll see what I can do about greeting him myself then—good traditions should be kept."
She got a smile in return, and they moved on. There were carnations for Pamela's Uncle Edwin Abbot, ("Never married, taught Latin at Choate. Darling man."); and a pale bouquet for Norah Abbot Collins her mother, (Here all alone after Father was lost at the Battle of San Juan Hill thanks to that bully Roosevelt.") That left two bunches of flowers by the time they'd reached one of the far corners of the burying ground.
Charlotte watched as they approached two newer stones; one heartbreakingly small and carved with a woolly lamb next to the taller one. With a pang, she saw both last names were Winchester. Pamela turned to her, and for the first time her mother-in-law looked melancholy.
"This is Jane and Timothy; Win's first wife and son," she murmured, reaching for the bouquets. Stunned, Charlotte blinked, looking from the stones to Pamela, who was busy fiddling with the flowers. "I didn't think Charles had told you. Yes, Win was married previously. Jane was one of my dearest friends and they were a good match. I was her maid of honor, in fact."
"Oh," Charlotte managed, not sure what else to say. Pamela looked up, her eyes bright, and her mouth trembling a little.
"The Spanish Flu," she sighed. "It was horrible, taking so many good people after the Great War. Too many. Timothy was only six when he . . . and then just days later, Jane herself. Win was beside himself with grief. He blamed himself for going to France, for leaving them for so long. I couldn't stand by and watch him die by inches so when enough time had passed . . . I married him."
Charlotte cleared her throat trying to think of something to say. "He loves you."
"Yes. But it took a while," Pamela admitted. "At least on his side. I'm sure you've figured out that Winchesters are a little reserved when it comes to matters of the heart, but oh when they do love, it's a blessing."
She stooped to lay the white and pink roses at the base of the headstone, and even though Charlotte stepped back to give her some privacy, she still heard Pamela's words. "Jane my dear. We miss you so, even now. I brought you the pink this year; they look good against the clover. Win is well, darling. Rest easy."
Shifting, Charlotte held out the little bouquet of yellow rosebuds and Pamela laid it in front of the smaller stone. "Timothy. Your auntie Pamela misses you too, but I'm glad you're with your mama."
Charlotte blinked, trying not to cry but it was nearly impossible as she realized Pamela had clearly been doing this for years. Coming to lay flowers on the graves and speak softly to the last traces of loved ones all on her own. When Pamela looked up, Charlotte couldn't quite stop a sniffle.
"Oh darling," She found herself being hugged. "It's all right. Nearly thirty-four years, and I've quite made my peace with it all. Coming here keeps me . . . humble, I suppose. Aware that I do have a good life, all things considered."
"Yes but it's beautiful and sad at the same time," Charlotte blurted. "Poetic."
Pamela gave a little chuckle. "It's a duty, but one I enjoy. This is a peaceful place and one of the prettiest in Boston. When I come here in March there are blossoms just coming out, and birds, and that lovely sense of spring just around the corner. So while it's a little sad, I generally find a lot of joy in it too, my dear."
"Thank you," Charlotte nodded, pulling out her handkerchief and wiping her eyes. "For sharing it. For telling me."
"Thank you for hearing it," Pamela replied. "Not that it's a secret, precisely, but Win rarely speaks of Jane or Timothy, and neither Charles nor Honoria really know much about them. Sometimes I worry . . ." she hesitated, and then spoke on, in a rush, "I worry that Charles pushes himself hard because of the memory of Timothy. It's the only aspect of life he cannot be first in, you see, so he tries to make up for it in other ways."
They headed back the way they'd come, following the path.
Charlotte thought about it for a moment and nodded. "It's possible, although it's hard to tell. He tends to excel because he expects to most of the time and I'm not sure if that's a Winchester trait, or a Charles trait, to be honest."
Pamela laughed. "Probably both! He's very like Win at times and you'll find that a blessing and a curse if you haven't already. So onto the Boston Belle?"
"Yes, that wou . . ." Charlotte began, but went pale as a wave of nausea made her break into a cold sweat. She brought her handkerchief up again but not quickly enough, and the thin stream of vomit splattered out onto the pathway at her feet as she swayed.