Monthly Archives: July 2013

Eden 34:4

“Mademoiselle Smith!” Eden turned from talking to M. Durand-Ruel to see M. Lefebvre standing in the doorway of the gallery.

“Ah, oui!  I knew it was she! Even dans ses pantalons!” Lefebvre exclaimed. “They said you ran away for shame when it was discovered that M. Smith of “Aphrodite” was a woman in trousers. But I didn’t believe them. You are no coward, Mmlle Smith.”

He came into the gallery now, and Eden was grateful no one but herself and Durand were there at the moment. Lefebvre clapped Eden on the back as if she were, indeed a young man.

“M. Lefebvre…” she greeted him quietly, putting out a hand.

“When did you return to Paris? Why have you never come back to the studio at the Academie? I did not dismiss you…”  Lefebvre sounded amused in spite of his challenges.

“I went to see my family, Monsieur. I apologize. I had to leave in some haste. I have only been back for a few days.” Eden blushed slightly. She had not thought about the explanations that would be demanded of her upon her return to France. And Lefebvre had always been good to her. She felt guilty now for leaving his instruction so hastily. Thinking back over the last several months, they seemed far longer, as if she had been a child when last she had seen Lefebvre and now she was an adult.

But Lefebvre turned to Durand. “She is still selling well, then?”

“We have nothing left,” Durand told the old man. “The landscape you took was the last of it. I am now making her promise to bring me more soon.”

“Well, I suppose c’est vrai, you don’t need the Academie, anymore, Mme. Smith—if indeed you ever did. You have a great career ahead of you. I suspected as much when I met you.” Lefebvre smiled and clapped her on the back again.

But Eden had heard nothing since Durand had said “the landscape you took.” Had her teacher really bought one of her pictures?

“Thank you,” she said, not knowing how else to respond. “Merci.”

Eden 34:3

It felt to Eden as though she spent more time in the next several days with George St. John than she did with Sophia, who plunged herself immediately into studying for the medical school exams. She would hear nothing of taking breaks to walk in the gardens or sit in a café, insisting that no matter how well she had done in Boston, the work would be harder in French. Once she tried to play the old cabinet piano in Eleanor’s parlor. But she quickly declared it hopelessly out of tune and went back to her books.

So rather than taking George out to dance with Sophia, Eden and her friend wandered through the Luxembourg gardens or sat under Eleanor’s apple trees and smoked.

It wasn’t until she had been in Paris well over a week and George had taken the train back to Calais that Eden rose at dawn, walked alone to the rue d’Assas and opened the door to the studio she had not entered in months.

She scanned the room. Half-finished canvases lay propped against the walls. She glanced at the sofa in the corner and quickly away again. The midday light fell through the long windows in great swaths that revealed the drops of paint on the dark floorboards.

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Eden took the paint she had bought that morning out of its box and assembled a little group of bottles and jars on a table right under a beam of light. She painted them from four different perspectives. When the sun was gone she locked the studio and walked home in the dark to join Sophia for dinner.

Eden 34:2

Eden met George St. John in the lobby of Hotel Continental and they went into the dining room for lunch.

“It’s good to see you back, Eden, you’re looking well,” George said sincerely after they had ordered drinks. “I had almost given up on you last winter.”

Eden didn’t want to discuss last winter. “Have you been in Paris all summer?” she asked instead.

“I was in London for a few weeks, but I came back last month. I’ll be leaving soon again though.” George plucked at the cuffs of her sleeves.

“Don’t leave too soon. We just got here,” Eden said. “Sophia wants us all to have dinner this week. El’s gone to Rome and Bette’s away as well. We’re alone in the house for another fortnight.”

“Who is the all of us Sophia would have for dinner, then?” George asked.

“You and Sylvie, Sophie and I,” Eden clarified.

George took up the glass of whiskey the waiter had brought her and drank half of it at once. “Sylvie’s engaged.”

Eden was quiet for a moment. “I thought she was going to go to college,” she said at last.

George shook her head. “Don’t tell me you thought she was serious about that. She was just flirting with you. Girls like Sylvie Babin don’t go to college. She had an offer—or her father did—from some rich Italian with a title and a villa. She’s in Venice now.”

“God George, I’m sorry,” Eden said quietly.

“I should have expected it, I suppose. What can I offer her to rival marriage into nobility…children, grandchildren…” George trailed off. “What kind of girl would give that up?”

Sophia would, Eden thought, but she said nothing. She suspected George did not consider Sophia Abington to be the sort of girl who would receive an offer from Italian nobility. And though George was probably right, Eden felt defensive. Sophia wouldn’t marry if she had an offer from the Prince of Wales, she wanted to say.

But George was looking miserable and Eden couldn’t be angry. “Listen, we’ll go out somewhere and take turns dancing with Sophie.” She smiled.

“Perhaps,” George said as their food arrived. She finished her whiskey in a second gulp and ordered another. Eden eyed her worriedly.

“What will you do in London when you go back?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll try to write something,” George said without much conviction.

“Why not stay in Paris and write something here?” Eden asked.

“I couldn’t bear it,” George said. She’s often in town, you know, shut up tight in the Faubourg. She’s being such a good girl, she won’t be found within a mile of me—returns my letters unopened. Liz won’t even have me at her fetes anymore.She used to say I was ‘an asset in her ballroom,’ but now I’m the villain who would steal Sylvie from her prince.”

“I’m sorry,” Eden said again. “If you go back to London, we’ll come see you as often as we can.”

“Never mind. Tell me about Sophia. She’s abandoned her plans to be a doctor? And come on your coattails to Paris after all?”

“She’s abandoned nothing,” Eden said. “She’s going to finish her training at the Ecole Medecine.”

“Her family doesn’t mind?” George asked now, remembering Eden’s explanation last year, for Sophia’s decision to study in Boston.

“They do…a little.”

“But…?” George prodded.

“But she’s come anyway,” Eden said quietly.

“I’m happy for you,” George said and finished her lunch.

Eden 34:1

ruejacobSophia was moving her clothes from her steamer trunk into a wardrobe in the corner of the vast bedroom room Eleanor had insisted she take in the house in Paris. But Eden was still not sure if it was enough.

“Are you sure you don’t mind living in Eleanor’s house?” Eden asked.  “I could get us our own place if you prefer.”

The question of money came up automatically in Sophia’s mind, but she did not voice it. “It would be wasteful to let all these rooms stand empty, don’t you think? If Eleanor really doesn’t mind.”

“She insists, you heard her. But if you want something else…”

“I don’t. There’s not a thing in the world I want,” Sophia said.

They worked together quietly for a moment.

“Maybe I’ll just call on Liz tomorrow afternoon and see who is in Paris. We could have dinner with George and Sylvie,” Eden suggested.

“That would be lovely.”

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Eden watched Sophia work for a long moment, changing her weight from foot to foot and running her hand through her hair. “Thank you,” she finally said.

Sophia looked up. “What for?”

“Thank you for coming.” Eden took Sophia in her arms. “Je t’aime,” she said, kissing her. “Je t’aime, je t’aime…si beaucoup.”

Eden 33:3

Dearest daughter,

I cannot take back the shock I felt at luncheon yesterday when you announced your plans to leave Boston. I cannot take back the first impression it gave me when Miss Smith explained her intention to support your medical education.

It is difficult for a young person to understand the grief of a parent who, even when proud of a child’s accomplishments, must lose a certain intimacy with that child and give way for the larger world. Perhaps you will never quite understand this, Sophia, if you have no children of your own. But however I grieve at the thought of your going so far from all you have held dear in your young life, know that I am proud of you as well.

When I imagined you a grown woman, I never imagined someone like Miss Smith as your friend, and I have spent many hours in worry for your well being, since learning of your devotion to her. But I see that you will not relent in your intention to stay by her side and I have no choice but to accept this.

If Miss Smith keeps her word about supporting you at the medical college in Paris, I cannot but thank her in the humblest way, for doing something for my only child I could not do myself. I find that I must trust in the good judgment and faith your father and I have tried to pass onto you and believe in Miss Smith for your sake.

I will not pretend that this is what I would have chosen for you. I cannot say I do not hope that your life will lead you—for all happy reasons—back to Boston and the people who have loved you since your birth. But wherever life takes you, dearest child, may God go with you and bless you there.

Your mother,

Olivia Beales Abington

Eden 33:2

Sophia“What money?” Sophia asked immediately when they had taken leave of her parents and begun walking to the hotel where they were staying. “I know you’ve sold some pictures, but—”

“It isn’t from the pictures.”

“From your family then? How can I ask them to pay my way when my own family—”

“Not from my family.” Eden’s voice betrayed impatience.

Sophia suddenly stopped walking. Eden stopped too.

“I said I would go with you anywhere. I put no conditions on my promise,” Sophia said.

“Then come with me to Paris and take up your work there. Isn’t it better that way? I thought you would be pleased.”

Sophia eyed the pavement for a moment. She was pleased—more than she wanted to admit to herself. Wherever the money came from, it must Eden’s to spend—Eden wouldn’t lie about that. And didn’t Sophia deserve some kind of compensation? If she had to live abroad and learn the ways of a place and a people so alien to her own, wasn’t it only right that she should at least be allowed to pursue the one goal that had guided her life until now?

For the first time, Sophia’s heart really swelled at the thought of Paris. It was a beautiful city, after all. She was sure, like Eden, that she could pass the entrance exams—even in French—and the thought of taking her degree at such an esteemed institution tempted her to premature pride.

Eden

At last she lifted her head to meet Eden’s earnest eyes. “I am pleased. I only wish 

you had not surprised me in front of my parents.”

“I’m sorry. You’re right. It was foolish.” Eden reached for Sophia’s hand, placed it in the crook of her arm, and they walked on to the hotel.  

They did not speak of the source of the money again.

Eden 33:1

EdenEden looked from her soup to Sophia’s mother.

They had been in Boston for little more than a week, but their passage to Liverpool was already booked.

“Paris?” Mrs. Abington said with a worried frown.

“Yes, Mother,” Sophia said evenly.

But Mrs. Abington turned to her husband, in silent expectation.

Mr. Abington looked at Eden. “Your painting career demands your presence in France, I suppose?”

Eden put down her spoon. “Well, ‘demands’…”

“Yes,” Sophia cut in. “Eden’s work is already quite promising. It has been selling in Europe—all the painting she did in Arizona—and she needs to be in Paris.”

“Dear child,” Mr. Abington turned to his daughter. “However true that may be—however commendable Miss Smith’s work—your own ambitions require you to be in Boston, do they not?”

Sophia shifted her weight and took a breath. “I have decided not to…” Sophia lost her courage.

But Eden broke in. “She will continue her studies at the Ecole Medicine in Paris and take a medical degree there.”

Sophia turned to Eden in confusion, “You know I can’t afford that.”

“Never mind the expense, Sophie.” Eden spoke as if Sophia’s parents weren’t there. She nearly reached out to take Sophia’s hand before she remembered they were. She stopped herself and brought her own hands together instead, and nervously twisted the ring she had finally agreed to take from Eleanor.

“I have some money—enough for two to live on as well as to pay Sophia’s fees at the medical school. It is only on the condition that the Ecole Medicine accepts her as a student that we will stay on in Paris.” Eden smiled at Sophia.  “But I am certain they will.”

Mrs. Abington spoke at last. “You accept such dependence on Miss Smith, Sophia?”

Sophia looked at Eden. “I don’t know.”

Sophia

There was silence for a moment.

“Perhaps it would be best to talk of this again in a few days,” Mr. Abington announced. He picked up a fork and gave his attention to his meal, and the others quietly followed his example.