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.

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