Mary cracked the door and saw a man in a seersucker suit of bright canary yellow with a polka dot bow tie in a darker yellow. “Yes?”
“Miss Divers? Stanley Sullivan.”
Mary opened the door wider. “Please, come in.”
Mr. Sullivan walked into the foyer. He was a lot younger than she had expected from their telephone conversation. His right hand, when he extended it to shake Mary’s, glittered with rings. More rings that most women wore, in her limited experience.
“Right this way.” Mary turned and walked the few steps to the Eakins painting. She hoped he would be able to appraise her painting in time for the August auction. She flipped on the lights above the picture and stopped back to give Mr. Sullivan room to examine the work. She wanted to gauge his initial reaction but had decided he might prefer his space.
The grandfather clock in the hallway chimed the half hour and Mary wondered if Jared had left by the back door while she was answering the front. Her conversation with him had come too close for comfort in several spots, especially his queries about her phobia. She had never told anyone, not even her therapist, what had happened that night nearly twenty years ago now. Her breath quickened at the thought.
It wouldn’t do to have an episode while Mr. Sullivan was here. He might not think her fit to sell the painting, and that would ruin her plan to surprise David. She breathed deeply and repeated several stanzas of the Grand Old Duke of York before her breathing returned to normal.
“Hmmm.” Mr. Sullivan removed a magnifying glass from his pocket and leaned closer to the painting, his Roman nose nearly touching the ornate heavy wooden frame. He shifted along the bottom of the picture, moving the magnifying glass along with him. He paused at the signature slashed across the table: Eakins 1893.
Mary bit her lip to keep from asking him what he found so interesting. She doubted Mr. Sullivan would appreciate her interrupting his study.
“Would you please tell me the history of this painting and how it came to be in your living room?”
“Certainly.” There had been two things Aunt Geraldine had loved: her garden and this painting. “My aunt loved to recount the story of how the famous artist had come to her grandparents house on the Mainline in old Philadelphia to paint their portrait.” She paused, uncertain as to how much detail he wanted.
Mr. Sullivan waved a hand at her. “Go on, please.”
“My aunt Geraldine’s family is originally from Philadelphia, an old Mainline family that has since scattered around the United States. The Abbots had been part of the upper echelon in Philly since the time of the Revolution. By the time Geraldine’s grandparents married, the family had seen some reversals of fortune, but not enough to mar their place in society.”
“These little stories of paintings makes them seem even more real, does it not?” He smiled.
She returned his smile and offered to make some tea before continuing. He accepted and she hurried into the kitchen to make the tea. Talking about the painting tugged at her heart and for a moment, she didn’t want to sell it. But if she didn’t sell it, David might not be able to go to Peru. It was only a painting after all, and her aunt had seemed to care more for the painting than for Mary anyway. Carrying the tray into the living room, the pair sat in the wingback chairs before the fireplace, each with a cup of tea and a scone on a plate.
“Delicious.” He took a sip and motioned with his scone to the painting. “Please continue with your story.”
Mary sat her teacup in its saucer on the coffee table and looked up at the family, forever happy in the brush strokes of Eakins’ work. “He was the artist du jour in those heady days of the late 1800s. Geraldine’s grandfather desperately wanted Eakins to paint their family portrait, but he had no luck in gaining an introduction to the artist.”
Mr. Sullivan interrupted to say, “During that time, Eakins was more interested in painting single subjects. It was rare for him to do group paintings.” He munched on his scone.
“In my limited reading about the artist, that was my impression, too.”
“What changed his mind about your family?”
Mary took a sip, while her gaze remained fixed on the little boy clutching a sailboat. “Alfred did, the little boy in the painting. He had been sailing his boat on the Schuylkill River one spring afternoon with his nurse when Eakins was painting a sculler. The sailboat went out too far and Alfred fell in the river trying to retrieve it. Eakins saw what happened and waded into the water to rescue Alfred.”
“Fascinating story.” Mr. Sullivan gestured to the group on canvas. “But how did the family convince him to paint them?”
Mary laughed. “Geraldine says it was her grandmother’s beauty that convinced Eakins.”
Mr. Sullivan finished his scone, his eyes on the picture. He brushed the crumbs onto his plate and carried his tea cup to the mantel. “It’s an extraordinarily lifelike painting, isn’t it? One almost expects them to rise and go about their day.”
Mary rose and joined him before the fireplace. “That’s always been the feeling I’ve had about it.” She traced the smiles of the mother and father with her eyes, hoping that one day she and David would be that happy.
He turned to her. “Are you sure you want to sell something with so much of your family’s history?”
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.