Monthly Archives: May 2013

Eden 22:2

Eleanor“Are you sure this is best, darling?” Eleanor asked over breakfast.

“It’s done. I’ve signed a lease for six months.” Eden poured herself a cup of tea and filled it with sugar. “Bette agrees with me.”

“Bette isn’t your instructor though,” Eleanor said carefully. “I saw M. Lefebvre at Durand’s last week and he said you’re undisciplined.” Eleanor frowned. “This is going to confirm his opinion.”

“M. Lefebvre is a dull old man who resents me because I am a woman and under eighty.” Eden stirred her tea but didn’t drink it. Instead, she picked up the end of a baguette, spread jam over it and popped it all into her mouth at once.

“I don’t think he resents you at all. And he isn’t eighty.” Eleanor sighed. “I doubt he is even seventy.”

“He wants me to do everything the way they did 100 years ago. No one really paints that way anymore. Not since Cezanne,” Eden protested.

“You are probably right, but that does not mean there is not something to be learned by studying the tradition first.”

“I will,” Eden assured her friend. “I’ll learn ‘the tradition’ in M. Lefebvre’s studio and I’ll paint my own way in mine.”

“What is your way?” Eleanor asked now.

Eden frowned. “I’m not certain yet. But it isn’t M. Lefebvre’s way. That I am sure of,” she answered. “Bette says I am just like her when she was my age. She says I need my own studio to find my real vision.”

Bette again. Eden had met her, of course, at one of Liz’s parties. Eleanor ought to have predicted that Eden would fall into an instant infatuation with the American painter who had come to the Academie Julian nearly twenty years ago, but had abandoned it almost right away to open a studio of her own.

She had been Beth Nourse from Cincinnati in the days when they were both nearly as young as Eden and had met one another by chance in Paris. She had shown such skill upon arrival that her own instructors—M. Lefebvre in fact, had been one—had encouraged her to leave the academy to do her own work. But Lefebvre had suggested no such thing to Eleanor regarding Eden, though he had said much more than she had admitted. In fact, he had smiled warmly at the mention of Eden’s name. He had called her prodigiously gifted…but undisciplined.

LuxembourgGardenNourseTo Eleanor’s relief, Eden didn’t go so far as to leave the academy. Instead, she began painting one way for Lefebvre and searching for another at her new studio in the rue d’Assas. And Eleanor wasn’t sure, but she guessed Eden was probably taking as much instruction from Bette as she was from anyone at the academy.

Advertisements

Eden 22:1

Eden - Version 2January

Dear Sophia,

I am so happy, sweetest girl! Today I took a studio so I can at last do some work of my own. I know you told me to follow my instructors and I have, darling, I swear it! But there is more I could do and I am sure I am ready now.

There is a woman here from Ohio—Elizabeth Nourse. She has been in Paris for many years and is an accomplished artist. She has seen my work and says she believes I might do better to leave the academie altogether and find a dealer.

Eleanor insists I stay at the academie until the year is out, but in the meantime I have engaged a model and will begin tomorrow working on a picture that has been in my mind for some years.

I wish you were here darling. I want to paint you. I want to paint you sitting before El’s little fire in the parlor, with the grey winter fog on the garden doors behind you. It’s cold, but beautiful. In the spring, I’d paint you sitting on the little marble bench under one of the wall fountains where the wisteria hangs down. And then I’d take you upstairs, darling, and make love to you and paint you sleeping afterwards with a splash of sunlight across your body.

Tell me you haven’t forgotten your boy. I miss you every moment. In my dreams, I never stop kissing you. Tell me when you have booked your passage to Paris.  It is an age until summer.

Your own devoted,

Eden

Eden 21:5

Eleanor“Did you hear about Miss Vine?” Wil Hyland asked Eleanor. They all sat before the fire in the small parlor, drinking brandy after dinner.

Wil had come to Paris to stay for a few weeks over the holidays. She had only arrived that afternoon and when Eden heard the name “Miss Vine” she was jolted out of the warm blur the fire and the brandy had put her in.

Eleanor didn’t speak but raised an eyebrow in interest.

“Her mother was in the very midst of planning her debut when she received a letter informing her that her daughter was taking the veil!”

Eden didn’t know what Wil meant, but Eleanor did.

“I thought the French had closed the convent?” she asked Wil.

“They have now. They were just about to and the girls were being sent home and Miss Vine was to go up to London and come out. But she joined another order of sisters—an uncloistered missionary group—and they are sending her to America in the spring.” Wil finished her brandy and reached into her coat for a cigarette.

“Alice Vine is a nun now?” Eden asked confused.

At this, Wil couldn’t contain herself. She exploded in a laugh. “Heavens no!” she declared. “I mean Emma, her sister—or rather, Soeur Jean-Joseph if her mother isn’t able to stop the thing.”

Eden blushed deeply and Wil hastily apologized. “I’m sorry, Eden, but the idea of Alice, a nun! You kissed her didn’t you? Did she seem monastic to you, then?”

Eden shot a frown Eleanor’s way. Eden certainly had never told Wil Hyland about kissing Alice Vine.

“I’m sorry,” Wil said again. “I suppose I oughn’t to know about that.” She glanced at Eleanor who still said nothing. “But Alice is no longer ‘Miss Vine’ anyway. She’s been Alice Chamberlain for more than a year, and already bored with her husband, from what her mother tells me.”

Eden wanted to change the subject. “But her sister was in a convent?” she asked.

“Alice and Emma were both educated at the Sacred Heart. Their father was with the British foreign service and they were both born in Paris,” Wil told Eden.  “I’m surprised you haven’t crossed paths with her before now. She’s in Paris more often than London I’d guess.”

“Eden’s been very busy settling in at the academie.” Eleanor spoke up at last.

“That’s no reason not to be seeing people,” Wil protested. “You’ve been invited to Liz’s party next week, haven’t you?” she asked Eleanor.

“Yes, of course. We’ll go. It’s the holidays after all.” And Eleanor smiled across the dim room at Eden.

And so Eden found herself in Madame Vielle’s ballroom a week later, where Alice Chamberlain asked Eden to dance.

“Where is your new husband?” Eden asked as they waltzed.

“He’s in London. He works constantly and refuses to take me anywhere. I slipped away for a few days. I’ve got to get back on Wednesday for Christmas with his sister and her children.” Alice sighed dramatically.

“I heard that your sister is going to America,” Eden said.

But Alice scowled. “Not if mother can stop her.”

“Why would she stop her? If it’s what she wants to do…”

feast-champagne-glass

“It’s preposterous! My sister, a nun? In the middle of some American desert?”  The music finished. “Let’s get some champagne.”

Eden brought Alice a glass, but lit a cigarette for herself instead. “The desert?” she asked now, though it was clear Alice had no interest in speaking further of her sister.

“It’s a school in some American territory near Mexico,” Alice said, sipping the champagne. “She wants to teach Indian children to read!”

“In the Arizona Territory?” Eden asked now.

“Arizona—yes that’s it,” Alice confirmed.

“St. Joseph’s school in Tucson?”

“Perhaps,” Alice said. “But how do you know about it?” She put down her glass and stared at Eden.

“My aunt teaches there. It isn’t just Indians. It’s for all the children in Tucson. And it’s not just teaching them to read. My cousin is going to Oberlin next fall, after she graduates in the spring.”

Eden did not mention that her cousin wasn’t really her cousin, or that Dora wasn’t really her aunt. She did not mention that Dora and Sis were Negros. She did not explain that her family were ranchers in the area.

But Alice didn’t ask anything further about Arizona or Eden’s connection to it.  “Oberlin?” she asked instead.

“College—to study philosophy and law.”

“Oh,” Alice returned. She sipped her champagne again and eyed Eden across the rim of her glass. “Shall we dance again?” she asked.

“I’ve got to find El—she wants to introduce me to someone,” Eden said apologetically. “But I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding a partner.” She smiled, kissed Alice’s hand and stepped away.

Eden 21:4

Sophia - Version 2Dearest Eden,

I cannot tell you how it lightens my heart to see a letter from you waiting when I return home in the evenings. Sometimes there are even two and then it is all I can do not to dance to my room to read them, tired as I am.

You are so good to write so often. I do try to write whenever I can. You must understand, my love, I have never worked so hard in all my life. Sometimes I don’t sleep at all.

I try not to be bitter, but there are days when I cannot help but wonder what it would be like to be at Harvard. It would be no easier—I do know that—but even if it were harder I would not mind. I would welcome the opportunity to prove I could do it. As it is, I know I must do my best here.

I am grateful at least to have one friend. I wrote to you last month about Claire Rheardon. Since then, she has shown herself faithfully willing to indulge me in my moods. In return, I try to help her as much as I can in the chemistry class she despises. Tutoring her keeps me from finding it too dull.

I miss you so constantly that the ache in my heart has become a habit. Claire asks me sometimes, about my letters from Paris, for one will slip from my books now and then. I have told her little about you. It may sound strange, but I feel that to talk of you to Claire would almost put you further from me, somehow. I blush to write this, but I sometimes sleep with one of your letters in my hand, if only because I fall asleep reading your dear words over and over.

Be happy and well and do as they tell you, even if you find it a bore. Hard work will make you a great artist, Eden. I know it will. Kiss the name at the bottom of this letter, my only love, my own dear heart. I will kiss it too and it will be our kiss across the ocean.

I am nothing but your own,

Sophia

Eden 21:3

SophiaSophia smiled and held her hand out to the tall, slim girl who greeted her on the steps in front of the lecture hall.

“Sophia Abington,” she told the other student who had introduced herself as Claire Reardon.

“I know.” Claire smiled. “You’re famous.”

Sophia knit her eyebrows and glanced around. “Famous?” she asked.

“Everyone has heard about you. You’re the top girl from Radcliffe last year. The rumor is that Dr. James recommended you for the Harvard medical school.”

“He did—they didn’t accept me,” Sophia began, “but how did you know that?”

“The professors here have all been talking about you. Didn’t you know? It isn’t a bad thing. It’s only that everyone is a little afraid of you because of it.”

“Oh.” Sophia wasn’t sure what to say. She was disappointed to hear that people were afraid of her. She had enough trouble making friends as it was.

“I’m not, though!” Claire chirped. “—afraid of you, I mean. In fact, if you’re finished here for the day, would you like to go have tea somewhere?”

Sophia felt a warm rush of gratitude. She had intended to go right home and review the notes she’d taken in the lectures, but decided to go with Claire instead. Soon she found herself at a small table in the front window of a busy café full of other medical students. The floor was uncovered and a clatter of cups and saucers and spoons rang out over the loud voices and footfalls of patrons.

“Do you live near here?” Claire was asking her in a slightly raised voice as she stirred sugar into her cup. The back of her hand was freckled, like her nose and cheeks.

Sophia looked up. “No,” she said. “I still live in Cambridge in a boarding house there. The rent is so low. It would be foolish to move.”

She didn’t admit that living around the corner from Eden’s old house made her feel closer to her distant love.

“But that’s so far!” Claire chastised. “I wanted to take a house with another girl, but I’m stuck boarding myself. I couldn’t find anyone I liked who was willing to share.”

Sophia thought she heard a hint in Claire’s story, but pretended not to notice. “It’s not so far,” she argued. “I can walk home in half an hour, or take the streetcar. I don’t mind it. I know the other girls in the house. It’s better than having to meet all new ones.”

Claire changed the subject. “What are you dreading this term?” she asked now.  “I live in terror of chemistry. Why I need to know it to deliver babies I simply don’t see.”

“I don’t mind chemistry,” Sophia admitted. She rather liked chemistry, but didn’t want to say so after Claire’s confession.

“Of course. Sophia Abington probably doesn’t mind any of it.” And though they were the kind of words Sophia had heard all her life in mockery, Claire’s tone was admiring. “Maybe you’ll be willing to help me with it sometimes?” she asked with a little smile across the rim of her teacup.

teacup

“Maybe so,” Sophia said and looked down at her own empty cup. There was a brown ring stained into it two thirds of the way up. “I’d better get home now, though. I’ve got letters to answer.” She smiled and reached for money, but Claire put a hand out to stay her.

“Let me treat you today,” she said. “You can pay another time.”

Sophia thanked her, took her hand again and left the place, taking a deep breath as soon as she was on the street. She blinked hard, tears she didn’t really understand coming suddenly to her eyes.

Eden 21:2

Eden - Version 2Dear Sophia,

Paris is as beautiful as I remembered! Our house is quite near the Jardin de Luxembourg and even nearer the river. The weather is fair enough to take breakfast in the back garden most mornings. We drink black, black coffee and listen to the birds and the water tumbling in the fountains on the wall. We almost forget we are in the middle of a city.

I have been three weeks at the academy now and have met a few other students. Most are French, but many of them are from other places. There are some other Americans, a few Germans, a Russian, an English girl and several Italians. We all speak French together in all of our different accents. I’ve told them I’m from Boston. They find me quite queer enough as I am without knowing I come from so far away as Arizona.

The instructors make us draw and draw. It is supposed to be important, but I sometimes think I will die of boredom. They will not let us touch a brush for twelve weeks, the more experienced students tell us. I wish you were here, so I could draw you, darling. I’d never get bored with that. For now, I enclose a few sketches of the house and garden so you can see for yourself where I am living.

I know you will be terribly busy now that your lectures and laboratories have begun, but write me as often as you can. I wear your letters out with folding and unfolding them to read over and over. Eleanor frowns when she sees me carrying them around like a child with a favorite doll. But she couldn’t fault me for reading new ones.

I must go now and dress for the studio this afternoon. It is just like Radcliffe. They will not let me wear my own clothes, but I must wear skirts. I suppose it is worth the trouble for the privilege of being here, but you know how I hate it.

I love you, sweetest girl. Please write to me every moment you can and tell me all that is in your heart. You know there is nothing but precious Sophia in mine.

Your own boy,

Eden

Eden 21:1

EdenEleanor took Eden to her summer cottage in Kent where Eden passed the weeks of weak English sun painting landscapes and making pencil drawings of the neighbors and servants. On one occasion, Eleanor received an invitation to tea at Lamb House in Rye, but she declined, telling Eden, “I’d rather Mr. James didn’t put you in a novel, darling. I’m certain he’d get you all wrong.”

So the summer slipped quietly by and soon Eleanor was writing to her friends in Paris, looking for a good house to rent. In short time, she agreed to take a furnished, staffed place in the Rue Jacob, on the recommendation of one Madame Vielle who had gone to school with Eleanor in Boston before she married a French diplomat who had died soon after his retirement to Paris.

The house was a stone’s throw from the Beaux Arts and though Eden would be attending studios at l’Academie Julian across the river, the atmosphere of young artists at work filled the neighborhood. Eden couldn’t stop smiling as Mme. Vielle delivered Eden and Eleanor to their new home.

ruejacob

The house itself was ordinary—perhaps even a bit small—by comparison to others on the street, but was distinguished by an unusually spacious back garden. In front, it was walled with grey stones that crept with ivy and sported not one but two fountains that made watery music and attracted all manner of city birds in the mornings. A gardener kept all of it trimmed in neat flowerbeds and three apple trees burdened with a late summer crop.

Eden had little to unpack, and chose the smallest of the house’s four rooms. It was at the back of the second floor and its single window overlooked the garden and into the neighboring ones as well. She looked at her trunk in the corner and decided to leave it for now. Instead, she drew a folded sheet of paper from the breast pocket of her jacket and opened it carefully. It was the drawing she had made of Sophia two years ago that Sophia had wanted to burn. Eden tacked it carefully to the wall with a whisper: “Don’t forget me, darling.”

800px-Paris1890s1

As she turned from the picture, the maid came to her open door and tapped on its frame. “Mademoiselle Smith? Mademoiselle Stephens voudrait savoir ce que vous voudriez pour diner.”

And all at once, Eden realized she was famished. She wanted to go out—to eat and eat, to drink good wine, to watch everyone and see everything in Paris. Now. “Je lui parlerai,” she told the maid. And she nearly ran down the stairs to find Eleanor.