The next day, Shae was showing Lucy how to make some simple stitches on a sampler when the butler, Mr. Canton, announced that Beatrice Matheson and Neva Langley were here to visit her. After telling Lucy to go ahead and visit Cook in the kitchen for her tea, Shae asked Mr. Canton to bring the guests into the parlor for tea. The atmosphere was awkward as the three women greeted each other. All of them were aware of the animosity between each other. Shae knew that they were just there to gain information from her, in order to gossip about her.
“Do have a seat and get comfortable,” Shae invited.
“Thank you, Mrs. Matheson,” Neva said, sitting down on the settee.
Beatrice followed suit and sat next to her. Shea sat in the chair across from them.
“It was kind of you to come and visit.”
“Oh, it is seemly to do so,” replied Neva.
Maggie came in with the tea tray. After dismissing her, Shae poured the tea for her guests and herself. They made small talk for two hours. Neva threw in many barely concealed barbs. Beatrice said little, letting her friend do the conversing. They stayed much longer than was proper for a visit. It was so long that Shae felt inclined to ask them to the evening meal. When Neva’s eyes sparkled in triumph, accompanied by a smirk, Shae knew for certain that the women had plotted out the afternoon accordingly so that would happen. Neva and Beatrice, of course, readily agreed.
By the time Mr. Canton announced that the evening meal was ready, Shae was exhausted from constantly thwarting Neva’s nosey questions and mean-spirited remarks. After hours of her patience tried by this, she guessed that Neva would be throwing herself at Mr. Matheson during the meal. She knew that would make him uncomfortable, and hated that it was likely.
The women made their way to the dining room. Neither Mr. Matheson nor Lucy had arrived yet. Shae seated Beatrice next to herself and Neva next to Lucy. Shae and Lucy would flank Mr. Matheson, who sat at the head of the table. Just as the women were seated, Lucy flounced into the room, but stopped short.
“What are they still doing here?” she asked grumpily.
“Lucy, that isn’t polite. Your cousin has come to visit, as well as her friend. Apologize, please,” Shae reprimanded.
Lucy scowled at her and looked like she might say more, but her father’s footsteps were coming down the hall. Apparently, her fear of his interaction was stronger than her dislike for the present company, so she mumbled an apology and sat in her seat. Of course, she scooted her chair slightly toward her father as she sat down. Shae couldn’t say she blamed her, so she didn’t remark on the action.
“I didn’t realize we had company,” Mr. Matheson said as he came into the room.
“I’m sorry,” Shae apologized. “I should have informed you, shouldn’t I have?”
“That is quite alright,” he said to Shae. And then bowing to their guests, “Cousin. Miss Langley.”
“Hello, Randolph,” Beatrice said quietly.
“Rand, how delightful to see you,” Neva gushed.
After a simple grace for the food, they began eating the roast beef, mashed potatoes, and carrots.
“Wife,” asked Mr. Matheson, “how was your day?”
“Very nice. In the morning, Lucy and I went out for a stroll. Then after lunch, I began teaching her some of the simplest embroidery stitches. While we were finishing that up, Miss Matheson and Miss Langley arrived for tea.”
Mr. Matheson’s fork paused on the way to his mouth.
“So you’ve been her awhile, Cousin?”
He knew that his guests had overstepped their bounds. Beatrice did also as she sheepishly murmured an affirmative. She looked down at her plate in embarrassment, but not Miss Langley. She was triumphantly sipping from her goblet. Shae changed the subject.
“Can you believe this weather, Mr. Matheson? I was just telling our guests this afternoon how erratic it keeps changing. There is snow one day, and then it all melts in a hurry a couple of days later—”
The shriek came from Neva who was looking with horror at her dress. The whole front was wet. After her initial surprise, she looked angrily at Lucy.
“You little brat! How could you?”
“I didn’t mean to! My button caught on a loop in the lace as I was taking a drink. I tried to get it out gently, but it came out quickly, which made my water spill all over the front of you. I’m sorry, Miss Langley.”
“A likely story. Your mother would have never tolerated such behavior from you.”
“Miss Langley, that is quite enough,” Mr. Matheson said quietly, “I ask that you accept my daughter’s apology.”
“Your daughter is not to blame. It is the woman you have married. She doesn’t take a firm enough hand to Lucy.”
“Mrs. Matheson is doing a fine job. I must ask you to desist this conversation.”
Neva was livid. Her eyes were spitting icicles, as she looked between them all. For Lucy, there was cold disdain. Onto Shae, there was outright hatred. When glancing to her friend for support, she found Beatrice staring down into her hands. Looking at Mr. Matheson’s cold stare, she realized her slip-up and tried to look petulant.
“My apologies. This is not an excuse, but my mother has been ill and I’ve been so worried about her. It makes me emotional.”
The tears pooled in her eyes and her handkerchief made an entrance. Everyone at the table, nodded their acceptance of her apology.
“And dear Lucy,” Neva gushed, “I’m certain that you didn’t mean to spill your water on me. Such a darling girl. You look so much like your mother. I miss her so, you know. She was one of my dearest friends.”
Lucy wasn’t happy with Neva’s attentions, but said nothing. She merely shoved a bite of potatoes in her mouth. Everyone else followed suit and quietly began finishing the meal.
After dinner, their guests still stayed. Shae was certain that Neva would move in, if asked, but she remained the proper hostess and invited them to visit in the parlor. Lucy was sent to bed. Shae had never seen her more willing to go. At least that was one positive outcome from the evening.
Shae took a seat on the settee, while Mr. Matheson sat next to her. Beatrice sat on the chair, visibly uncomfortable, as her cousin’s staring at her made her know she had worn out her welcome. Neva walked about the room, looking at pictures on the wall. She stopped at one particular painting of tulips along a garden path.
“Claire did such a fine job on this painting, don’t you think, Rand?”
“Yes,” was all he replied.
“Do you paint, Mrs. Matheson?” Neva asked.
“Yes, I do, although I admit that it wasn’t my favorite thing to do.”
“Oh, me either,” she said, strolling over to the upright piano, running her fingers over the keys, “I was always better at singing and playing the piano.”
“You must play something for us, then,” Shae encouraged.
“Might I?” she said, sitting down and playing a few chords. “Do you have any sheet music, Matheson?”
“In the top drawer of the bureau right beside the piano.”
Neva sorted through the compositions, until she found one that she preferred.
“Would someone mind turning the pages for me?” she asked while looking directly at Shae’s husband.
After a bit of silence, Beatrice stood up, saying that she’d be happy to help. As it turned out, Neva was a decent pianist, and could sing as well. When she finished, she turned exultantly towards them.
“Do you play as well, Mrs. Matheson?”
“Wonderful,” Neva said. “Would you play for us? I would love to hear.”
“Well, I suppose that I could,” Shae agreed.
Walking over to the bureau, she picked out one of her favorite pieces. As she turned to look over at her husband, she saw that Neva had taken a seat by him. She looked very pleased with herself, as she smirked at Shae. Miss Langley obviously believed that she had won the game. She had not only showed off her talent to the group, but she had secured Shae’s seat by her husband. Shae didn’t care much for games, but she wasn’t about to be defeated. Looking at her husband, she smiled at him. From what she knew of him, he wasn’t happy with his close proximity to Neva, but he wasn’t showing it in his face. His fingers were twitching.
“Beatrice, are you helping me turn the pages too?”
“Yes, I can,” she replied, and then looked at the piece Shae had chosen, “Mrs. Matheson! That is an incredibly difficult piece!”
“Oh, it is one of my favorites. “The Minute Waltz”!”
Neva sat up straight on hearing that, a little of her confidence slipping. Mr. Matheson’s fingers stopped twitching.
“I’m sure that is far beyond your level of expertise,” Neva said condescendingly.
“Nonsense,” Shae replied. “I played it all the time at home. Father had a tutor brought in from Chicago so that I could expand my skills. I was told that I was his best student.”
Neva looked nervous. Beatrice looked bewildered. Shae remained calm, and played the piece beautifully. There was a little flub at one point when her page-turner took too long to turn the page, but Shae recovered beautifully. Right as she finished the last notes, her husband stood up and clapped heartily.
“Wonderfully done!” he complimented, coming over to her and squeezing her shoulder, “I cannot wait until you can teach Lucy. Miss Langely, Beatrice, wasn’t it gloriously done?”
Both of their guests seemed to have lost their tongues. Neva recovered enough to mention that it was time for them to return to Davies. As they were leaving, Neva bent down and whispered in Shae’s ear.
“You have won this round, but I will win in the end. I will destroy you, and show the whole community exactly who and what you are.”
And with that she spun around and flirtatiously batted her eyes at Mr. Matheson.
“It was good to see you, Rand,” she said, her hand lingering on his arm, “as always.”
And with that, they went out the door.
“Good riddance,” said Shae’s husband, after he was sure they were out of range to hear.
Shae couldn’t disagree.