Category Archives: 06 Chapter Six

Eden 6:6

pissarroIf Eden’s interest in Alice Vine was ambivalent, her love for Paris was not. Between the galleries hung with old masters and the cafes peopled with young hopeful artists, Eden had found a place filled with the thing that had begun to obsess her more even than Gertrude Prescott. Eden could almost feel herself breathing art.

Eleanor had friends here too, though most of them not nearly as rich as Wil Hyland and the London people to whom Eleanor was related. Many of them were writers like Eleanor, many of them were women in various states of love with one another. They all wore skirts in the streets, and thought Eleanor and Eden very bold for not doing so as well. But Eleanor said that Americans were expected to behave shockingly, and besides, unlike most of her friends, Eleanor easily fooled strangers into believing her a man. Parties in private homes were another matter, however, and as Wil Hyland’s ball in London had been, these were always full of women in men’s jackets and trousers, ties and waistcoats to take the arms of ladies in fashionable gowns. This no longer surprised Eden, rather, she began to feel a certain comfortable ease when entering such a scene.  It was almost the same feeling she got when she walked into her mother’s kitchen in Arizona—the feeling of being fully known and casually accepted.

Eden felt herself shifting in Paris. She became in a few weeks, part of a society larger than herself, rather than a singular oddity, alone in the world.

***

“Would you mind terribly if we stayed on here and left Rome for another time?” Eleanor asked Eden one evening at dinner in the hotel dining room.

“I love it here,” Eden said simply, without asking Eleanor why she wanted to change their plans.

Eleanor was glad for the self-absorption of youth. She didn’t feel like talking about why she had avoided Rome for the past decade, though her family had a large house in the city, with a full staff shuffling round the empty place at god knows what ridiculous expense.

The truth was, Eleanor had nursed her brother, and last surviving near relative, through his losing battle to tuberculosis in that house and buried him in the Protestant cemetery. Since, she had neither been able to bring herself to visit, nor to sell the place.  She had thought taking Eden there would make it possible to face. But she found that even after so many years, she would still rather not.

The girl smiled up at her now, smitten with Paris like a schoolgirl with a crush.  Eleanor was surprised to find herself filled with a warmth she had not felt since the days when her young brother himself would come to her, excited about some play he’d written, hopeful for her approval.

She smiled back, “good, then,” she told Eden. “We’ll stay until we sail next month.”

Eden 6:5

Eleanor“Merci,” Eleanor told the boy at the door of their hotel suite as she took the letters he’d brought up and handed him a coin.

Thumbing quickly through them, she gave one to Eden and frowned.  “You’ve had a letter from Alice Vine,” she said.

“Oh.” Eden took the letter, but did not open it.

Eleanor frowned again. “Is she planning a visit to Paris?” she asked, hoping Eden wouldn’t find her to be prying.

“No.”  Eden bit her bottom lip.  “I mean, I haven’t invited her.  In fact, I…” She looked at Eleanor.  “I don’t quite know what to do about her.”

“What do you feel ought to be done?” Eleanor asked carefully.

Eden looked up guiltily.  “She kissed me—or I kissed her—at Wil’s party… And in the cab… but I told her…” Eden passed the unopened letter from one hand to the other and back again as she stumbled through her words.  “I told her I didn’t think we ought to—to be kissing, I mean—since I had to go back to Boston.  And she said she didn’t care, she’d be marrying next year anyway.  I swear, I didn’t encourage her, but now she’s written me.”  Eden looked at Eleanor with open helplessness.  “What does she mean by it?

“Clearly, she wants to have a little fun with you.  The girl is every bit like her mother,” Eleanor told her.  “That woman has had Wil Hyland on and off her hook for years, now.”

“But if she means to marry…”

“Marriage has nothing to do with this,” Eleanor said, glancing at the letter in Eden’s hands.  “I know you don’t have much experience with it, but marriage among people like Alice Vine and her mother has very little to do with kisses stolen at parties.  It’s simply what such girls must do.  So they kiss us…and marry men.”  Eleanor softened her tone a bit and added, “much like your Miss Prescott, darling.”

Eden said nothing.

Eleanor finally gave her a little smile.  “The secret is, often enough, they come back—after they’ve lost count of their husbands’ mistresses, or after their children have gone off to school.  They come back for those kisses when their husbands aren’t watching them so closely anymore—which is usually sooner than they expect.”

Eden looked at the letter in her hands.  She looked at Eleanor.  “I want nothing to do with that,” she said quietly.  She laid the letter on a table, walked into her room and closed the door behind her.

Eleanor watched her go.  Then she stepped to the table, picked up the unopened letter and went out.

Eden 6:4

toureiffelThey had been in Paris for only three days, but already, Eleanor could see that Eden was meant for the place.

Eleanor watched her standing now, entranced, before a picture of a sad young woman in blue.  Eleanor had brought her to the rue Laffitte to explore the galleries and Eden had been drawn immediately to Ambroise Vollard’s. Eleanor had seen the Cezannes at M. Vollard’s in ‘95 and had bought the two small landscapes which were Eden’s favorites in her collection back in Boston.

This morning, the dealer had just hung his latest offerings. Improbably, he was featuring the works of a young Spaniard who had only lately come to Paris. Eleanor wasn’t sure that she cared for the grim pictures of unhappy people in blue and green, but the dreary tone seemed to resonate with Eden. Eleanor supposed it was the melodrama of youth. The Spaniard was just Eden’s age—not even quite twenty—in fact. But he was a prodige, Vollard insisted. And though Eleanor was inclined to doubt it, the dealer had been right about Cezanne, so perhaps there was something to this boy that Eleanor wasn’t seeing.

“I’m going to get a drink. Come to the café when you’re ready?” Eleanor told her young friend, nodding across the street and reaching for a cigarette in her breast pocket.

“I’ll go with you,” Eden said, and though her eyes left the picture only reluctantly, the two stepped across the street together.

“Deux vins blancs,” Eleanor told the waiter.  She drew out another cigarette and handed it to Eden.

Eden took the cigarette and leaned awkwardly over the table as Eleanor lit it for her. It was her third attempt to smoke in as many days.  She found that she liked it, but hated to admit it, having promised her mother she wouldn’t take the habit up.

“Mama would never forgive you if she knew you’d made me smoke,” Eden told Eleanor.

Eleanor raised an eyebrow, noting that Eden was not exactly hesitant to take the cigarette, but told the girl, “It will be our secret, then.  It’s not a crime, you know.  You’ll be twenty next week.  Do as you please.”

***

EdenBeing reminded of her birthday caused Eden a stab of guilt.  It would be the first year of their lives she had not spent the day with her twin sister, Minna.  And yet, she didn’t wish herself in Arizona now.  Not when she was on the rue Laffitte, with galleries on every side full of pictures not made fifty or one hundred or two hundred years ago, but made by living artists, just this summer, just this month—the paint barely dry—artists who were young and hopeful and walking around the streets like ordinary people, laughing, drinking, smoking…carrying canvases wrapped in brown paper in and out of store fronts.

Where had they come from?  How had they become what they were?

Eden 6:3

carriageThe next evening, very late, Eden and Alice climbed into a cab and sat side-by-side in the dark.  The play had been a silly one—a new comedy Alice said her friends had liked—and Eden had barely noticed the plot, so absorbed had she been in her own thoughts.

“Alice,” she said now.

“hmm?” Alice asked, waving her playbill before her like a fan.

“I apologize for my behavior at Miss Hyland’s ball. I had too much champagne and I treated you with less respect than you deserve.” Eden spoke stiffly, having rehearsed the words in her mind all evening.

But Alice gave a little laugh.  “You must be joking!”  She countered. “Do you mean that you’re sorry you kissed me?”

Eden was glad of the dark, for she was certain she must be red to the roots of her hair.

As she cast about for something to say, she felt Alice’s weight shift beside her as the girl turned to face her and placed her hand on Eden’s thigh. “I’m not sorry you kissed me,” and in spite of the rattle of the cab, they were kissing again.

Eden pulled away and caught her breath. The lace of the curtains at the windows made florid patterns of light on Alice’s face as they passed the flickering gas lamps outside.

“It’s only that I think we had better not,” Eden said. “I’m going to Paris next week and I’ll be back in Boston in another six, and I won’t be able to see you at all for a year at least after that.”

Alice laughed again. “What does next year have to do with whether or not you should kiss me tonight?”

“Well, I didn’t want to merely…” Eden stumbled.

Alice arched an eyebrow and smiled. “Next year, I’ll probably be married anyway. You had better kiss me while you still can!”

“Married? Is there someone…”

“Several someones—well, several possibilities, I suppose—each more boring than the next,” Alice said with a little sigh.

“Why marry, then?”

“What else should I do? I’ll be twenty-one in three months. The older a girl gets the fewer her options, you know.”

Eden didn’t want to know. Gertrude’s marriage to Charlie Brunswick had tarnished the ideal of love her parents had gilded for her. Now Alice threatened to smash it.

“Oh,” was all she said.

They were quiet for a while, but when the cab turned onto Bayswater Road, where Eleanor’s house waited, Alice spoke again. “Will you call on me before you leave for Paris? We might walk in the park, or ride, if you’d rather.”

“I don’t know. Eleanor has planned some things…” The cab pulled to a stop. “Goodnight Alice. Thank you for the play.” Eden kissed the girl’s hand chastely.  She heard, but did not watch the cab roll away as she turned to the front door.

Eden 6:2

Eleanor“Why did you tell Eden that Alice was your niece?” Eleanor asked Wil while they watched couples of every description whirl around the dance floor.

“‘My former lover’s daughter’ failed to trip off my tongue in the moment, I fear,” Wil returned crisply. She tapped the ash from her cigarette into an urn holding a palm and added, “what would you have said?”

“You have a point, but you do realize I brought Eden here to recover from a heart break—not to have her heart broken again.” Eleanor frowned at her friend.

“Ah, but sometimes, a new one is just the thing, don’t you find?” Wil grinned and raised her cigarette to her lips. “It certainly worked for me after the girl’s mother married that ancient banker. I found myself the bored little wife of an MP and bounced right back to my old self.

“Yes, I see that you are your old self,” Eleanor said without smiling. “Does Alice’s mother know she’s here? Somehow I doubt the banker would approve of the company.”

“Of course she knows. There she is—” Wil nodded at the dance floor and Eleanor saw that indeed, Alice Vine’s newly remarried mother was waltzing with another guest in men’s evening clothes, though in the dim light Eleanor could not say if it was a man or a woman.

Eleanor raised an eyebrow at Wil.

“Her husband’s in Italy,” Wil said simply, and tossed what remained of her cigarette into the urn beside her.

Eden 6:1

Houses_Of_Parliament_Clock_Tower_(Big_Ben)Summer 1901

The ballroom of Wil Hyland’s house in London was lit with a dozen gleaming silver candelabras.  The ceiling was two stories high and the marble floor shone deeply, reflecting the light.  One hundred guests sounded more like two hundred, their heels clattering on the floor, their laughter echoing up the walls.

The room was full of women and a few men, though there were enough women dressed in gentlemen’s evening wear to make the balance between the sexes appear at first glance to be nearly equal.  Eden took a glass of champagne from a footman’s tray, hoping to calm her nerves as Eleanor talked animatedly with a woman she had told Eden was her cousin’s sister-in-law.

Eden felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to find Wil Hyland herself, standing there, smiling at her.  “Welcome, Eden, I’m so glad you made your way to London sooner rather than later.  So many of our friends are simply panting to meet you.”  And she looked over Eden’s shoulder and waved at someone.

Eden turned and saw a fair-haired young lady of about twenty years approaching through the crowd of guests.  She wore a sleeveless ball gown of ivory satin with gold embroidery and little clusters of pearls scattered about.  Daring earrings in gold and pearl dangled almost to her shoulders.  As she approached, Eden noticed that the people she passed moved to catch a glimpse of her, shifting to create an easier path for her through the room.  A few openly watched her as she went, to see where she was going and to whose bidding she was responding.

For this reason, several strange eyes were on Eden by the time the girl arrived at her side, smiling at Wil.

“Alice, this is Eden Smith, a friend of Eleanor Stephens’s from Boston,” Wil told the girl.

“Eden, this is Alice Vine, my—niece.”

Miss Vine gave Eden a hand wrapped in a long golden glove with tiny pearl buttons from wrist to elbow.

Eden took it.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Vine,” she said.

The girl turned a pair of blue eyes on Eden.  “And you, Miss Smith,” she replied.

“Please—Eden.”

Miss Vine squeezed Eden’s hand, “of course,” she said with a little smile, “and you must call me Alice.”

Three glasses of champagne and several waltzes later, Eden had entirely lost track of both Eleanor and Wil. Alice Vine had introduced her to several people, but she remembered none of their names. Meanwhile, the girl kept her engaged, asking all about Eden’s studies at Radcliffe, and her opinion of what she had seen of London so far in her visit.

Eden had seen very little of London, as yet, having spent most of her time at the National Gallery among the Elgin marbles and a day in Westminster Abbey. Eleanor had offered to take her to her country house in Kent, but then Wil had sent the invitation to her summer ball and they had stayed in town.

“Then you haven’t been to the theatre at all?” Alice asked Eden in as sympathetic a tone as if Eden had been telling the girl about the symptoms of a head cold.

“Not yet,” Eden said, noting that the champagne in Alice’s glass was just the color of her gloves and the embroidery on her gown. In the flickering candlelight, the liquid seemed almost to dance in the glass.

“Eden?” Alice was asking her now. Eden looked up. “Did you hear me?  I wonder if you’d like to see a play tomorrow evening?”

The girl’s eyes also caught the candlelight and flickered as Eden watched.

“I’m sorry—” Eden collected herself and smiled. “Yes, I’d love to.

 

Alice tilted her head slightly. “It’s so warm in here…Would you mind very much a little visit to the garden?”

feast-champagne-glassAnd the next thing Eden remembered when she tried to recall it later, was sitting on a garden bench with her arms around Alice Vine, kissing her in the summer moonlight and being kissed back with more ardor than Gertrude Prescott had shown her in two years’ of kisses combined.