Eden 26:2

BethEleanor rang the bell in front of Bette Nourse’s house in the rue d’Assas.

“Eleanor Stephens?” Bette said without concealing her surprise. “What brings you to my garret?”

Eleanor glanced around as she walked through the narrow hall to a comfortable parlor hung with Bette’s work and some of what Eleanor recognized to be Eden’s. “Hardly a garret, Beth,” she said, taking a seat by the fire at Bette’s gesture.

EleanorAt “Beth,” Miss Nourse raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Instead she took a cigarette from a box on the mantel, lit it, handed it to Eleanor then lit another for herself. She didn’t sit down.

“Won’t Louise mind?” Eleanor asked.

“She’s in Marseille with a friend,” Bette answered.

“Thank you, then.” Eleanor smoked for a moment. Bette betrayed no curiosity or impatience, but sat down and waited for Eleanor to speak.

“Have you spoken with Eden recently?” Eleanor asked her at last.

“No. In fact, I’ve sent her three unanswered letters in as many weeks,” Bette told her. “I thought maybe you’d waylaid them.” And she smiled in such a way, that it would have been hard for a stranger to tell whether or not she was joking.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Eleanor sighed.

She stood and stepped nearer the fire, leaning on the mantel and watching the flames.

“She sits in her room every day, all day,” she said. “She almost never comes out even to eat.  I send Marie up with her meals and she sends them back down, barely touched. I take her all the letters that come for her. I send up cards when people call. I sent George St. John up to her room and she wouldn’t open the door.”

“What happened?” Bette asked.

“Sophia.” Eleanor looked Bette in the eye, but said nothing further.

“Sophia left Paris, I know that much. She has studies in Boston. So?”

“They had a falling out. Sophia told her not to write… She returned a ring Eden had given her.” At this, Eleanor looked at her hands, twisting the ring on her own finger that held her family crest.

Bette was silent for an uncomfortable length of time before at last answering. “That’s no reason to stop working…I ought to know.”

Eleanor frowned, “Please—”

“Never mind. I just wish she had talked to me about it. I wish she would talk to me now. Why do you suppose she doesn’t?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know why she does anything any more.” Eleanor sat heavily in the chair again.

Bette sat too. “Eleanor,” she said carefully, “she isn’t your daughter, you know—or your brother.”

“Of course I know that,” Eleanor said.

“Do you?” Bette asked. But her tone was kind.

“I will tell her you want to see her, all right?”

“All right,” Bette said. “No subject off limits?”

“No,” Eleanor agreed. “But only if you really think…

“Of course,” the other woman answered before she could finish.

Eleanor rose. “Thank you,” she said, and found her way out.

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