Category Archives: 19 Chapter Nineteen

Eden 19:6

EdenEden did not answer Eleanor’s letters for a week. But when she found the fourth invitation to dinner in her pile of mail on an April morning, she sighed and wrote back, agreeing to come that evening.

“I do apologize for giving you such a shock,” Eleanor said as soon as the food was laid before her. “I was afraid it would take you months to agree to meet him and we don’t have months if we are to sail for Europe after you graduate.”

Eden bristled at Eleanor’s easy “we,” but she said nothing. Beneath her cooling anger, she knew that she didn’t want to go to Paris alone.

“Please try to understand that I had only your best interest at heart, darling.”

Eden began to soften. She believed Eleanor meant what she said. But she resented being left out of such a monumental decision about her own life. And she didn’t understand it.

“But why did I have to meet him in a skirt?” she asked at last.

“It was difficult enough for him to see you in a skirt. One thing at a time.”

“Difficult for him? One thing at a time? No more. I never want to see him again.” Eden was firm.

“I know how you feel about it. But there are many people you and he know in common. If you are to find yourself in his company again—even through no design of your own—it will best that you know who he is.”

Of course, Eleanor was right. Eden said nothing, but silently nodded an assent.

Eleanor reached into her breast pocket now and removed something. “This is for you,” she told Eden, handing her Henry Barrett’s bank draft. “Half of it is for your sister,” she added. “I’ll leave it to you to tell her where it came from.”

Eden looked at the figure on the check. “Eleanor, you can’t be serious!” she said in a low, shocked tone.

“Quite serious, Eden. It’s the least he could do, I assure you. I told you he’s as rich as a king.” Eleanor reached for her wine.

“I only wanted to know what he looked like…” Eden stared at the signature on the check. “I didn’t want this—I don’t care how rich he is. I told you, he’s nothing to me.”

“You’re something to him, though. And he knows it, whether he likes it or not.” Eleanor met Eden’s now and said gently, “take it. Put it in the bank and let it rot if you like, but take it. He owes it to your mother if nothing else.”

“My mother would not want it!” Eden said loudly to cover the tremble in her voice. “My mother would never stand for—”

“I know.” Eleanor interrupted her. “But take it anyway. It isn’t your doing, it’s mine. You asked him for nothing. Say it’s a gift from me.”

“One hundred thousand dollars?” Eden’s tone was incredulous. “A gift?”

Eleanor sighed. “Please.”

But Eden let the check fall to the table as she stood and walked out of the room.

EleanorEleanor returned the check to her pocket and waited a moment.

At length, she rose and found Eden in the smoking room, standing by the fireplace, running a hand through her hair.

“I can take care of it for you, Eden. You needn’t touch it just right away.”

“I don’t care what you do with it.” Eden lit a cigarette and gave Eleanor a look that made it plain the conversation was over.

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Eden 19:5

Eleanor“Well,” Henry Barrett told Eleanor, “have you had enough fun? May I go now?”

“Oh, I think we have much to discuss,” Eleanor contradicted him. “It’s just as well Eden has gone. I would rather she didn’t hear what I have to say to you.”

The man scowled. “Do you have the decency at least to say it in private, whatever it is?” He waved at the waiter again, signed for the drinks and without asking Eleanor to follow, rose and strode across the lobby of the hotel to the elevator.

Eleanor followed until she found herself in a large suite of rooms on the top floor.

Henry Barrett walked to a table now and took up one of many bottles, pouring himself another glass of whiskey. “Drink?” he offered Eleanor.

“Cigar,” she told him.

He frowned, but took one from the humidor on the table and handed it to her.

“Thank you.” She sat herself in a chair by the room’s small fire.

cigars“Now you’ve seen her, you must realize it’s obvious, Henry. She’s your daughter as sure as this is a cigar.” Eleanor lit it as he took the chair opposite.

“You’ve got no proof, even if I agreed with you—and I am not saying that I do,” Henry argued.

“Proof?” Eleanor narrowed her eyes for a moment.  “I do, but you aren’t going to like it,” she said frankly.

“Do you think I like any of this?” Henry huffed and finished the whiskey in his glass.

“Your wife was never with another man in her life, after she left you.”

The man frowned. “What nonsense. She didn’t leave me for a celibate friendship with a stable boy.”

“No,” Eleanor agreed. She pulled long on the cigar, blowing back the smoke slowly as she tapped the ash into a tray by her elbow. She looked into his eyes as she continued unblinkingly, “but that stable boy was a woman.”

At this, he rose from his chair and gripped its back so hard that his knuckles went white. “God damn it, Eleanor, what rot you talk!” he snapped.

brandy tray“I said you wouldn’t like it. But that does not mean it isn’t true,” she told him. “I’ve met Mr. Smith. And I swear to the truth what I have told you.” Now she rose and walked to the table with the bottles. “May I?” She didn’t wait for his answer as she poured herself a glass of his brandy.

“How much are you worth, Henry? Twelve million? Fifteen? If she sued your nephew for it she wouldn’t win of course. But no one who can read—or talk—between Philadelphia and Rome would miss the story of how your pretty little wife ran off with another woman. It’s bad enough, isn’t it, that they all think she killed herself? How much worse would the truth be?”

“No one would ever believe it.”

“No one?” Eleanor returned to her chair and sipped her brandy slowly.

“What do you want Eleanor?” Mr. Barrett finally asked.

“How much is your reputation worth?” Eleanor boldly returned. “Surely fifty thousand wouldn’t be a hardship.”

“Fifty thousand?” Mr. Barrett gave Eleanor an incredulous look. “Who do you think you are, woman?”

Eleanor said nothing, but returned Henry’s gaze without flinching. Finally, the man skulked to a desk, opened a drawer and drew out a checkbook. But as he reached for a pen, Eleanor stopped him.

“She has a sister,” she said simply.

“What? You see? Her sister surely isn’t mine! It’s all a lie!” He threw the pen angrily on the desk.

“They’re twins,” Eleanor returned. “Her name is Myrna—for the stable boy’s mother, as I understand.”

IMG_2922He scowled again, but took up the pen, and in a trembling hand wrote in the checkbook. He tore away the draft and all but threw it at Eleanor. “Go, now, Miss Stephens,” he told her evenly. “I never want to see you or this girl—or her sister, if she really has one—again.”

“Thank you, Henry, I’ll do my best to see to it,” Eleanor said with a smile. And she placed the check in her breast pocket and showed herself out.

Eden 19:4

Eden opened a letter from Eleanor and read it as she climbed the stairs to her room.

Dear Eden,

There is someone I’d like you to meet. I have arranged for lunch on Tuesday. Let me know right away if you cannot be there and I will find another time. Otherwise I will expect you at the Vendome at noon in the ladies’ lounge. It would be best if you did not wear your trousers.

Yours,

Eleanor Stephens

vendomeTwo days later, Eden stood in the doorway of the ladies’ dining room at the Hotel Vendome nervously pulling at her sleeves. Her hand kept going to her neck and finding not her tie, but the brooch she wore when she wore her skirt. She frowned every time.

She didn’t see Eleanor in the dining room.

A waiter stopped and asked her if she would like a seat.

“I’m waiting for someone,” she said.

The waiter began to speak again, but before he could, Eden said “excuse me” and brushed past him.

Eleanor was standing at a table in the far corner of the room, her hand raised to Eden. She was wearing a straight, back gabardine skirt and a black straw hat.

Eden had never seen Eleanor in a skirt before. She frowned again and began to worry. Who could Eleanor intend to meet dressed this way?

“Eden.” Eleanor smiled and gestured for Eden to sit, dismissing the hovering waiter as she did.

“I don’t understand, why…” she began. But the other woman’s eyebrows shot up at the sight of someone behind Eden’s shoulder.

She raised a finger to Eden, and stood.

A tall, heavy, expensively dressed man of about sixty years appeared beside the table and shook Eleanor’s hand. He looked unhappy to be there, Eden thought, his mouth turned gravely down at the corners, his brow knit slightly as he put his hand on the back of a chair and Eleanor told him, “this is Eden Smith.”

Eden raised a hand. The man took it as if it were of doubtful cleanliness and gave it more of a jerk than a shake.

She examined him quickly. Portrait painting had given her a habit of rapidly discerning the key elements of a face. One glance at the man told her all she needed to know. The elements of his face were very much the elements of her own.

“Henry Barrett,” the man said, dropping her hand unceremoniously and pulling a chair back from the table.

Eden’s face drained of color and she feared she was not concealing her shock, as she looked at Eleanor whose own face, though riveted to Eden was cagily expressionless.

“Mr. Barrett is an old friend of my family’s,” Eleanor said now. “He is often in town on business, and I thought the two of you might like to meet.”

It sounded so simple; so meaninglessly social. Eden nodded, but did not speak.

For his part, Mr. Barrett looked over his shoulder for a waiter and ordered a whiskey.

There was a long silence. At last Eleanor prodded, “Mr. Barrett is something of a horseman. I’m sure he would be interested to hear about the Smith ranch.”

Eden looked at the glass of water before her on the table and wished it were something else. She swallowed hard and said without looking at Mr. Barrett, “It’s the Double S Ranch, and if he’s a horseman, he may have heard about it already. We breed the finest thoroughbreds in the country.”

“Thoroughbreds? From Arizona?” Mr. Barrett looked at Eden now, incredulous.  “I get my horses in Virginia and Kentucky. It’s my understanding that the west breeds horses for the west—work horses and that sort of thing.” He snorted as if amused.

“Not my father’s horses,” Eden said. “We sell them all over the world.”

At the word “father,” Eden saw the man flinch. It was all but an open confession as to his identity and Eden realized at once that he knew who she was and why Eleanor had brought them together.

“Please excuse me a moment,” Eden said. She rose and tried to walk calmly to the washroom in the hotel lobby, but her heart was racing. She all but collapsed against the cold porcelain of the sink as the door shut behind her.

She threw water on her face and examined herself in the mirror. Could she ever look at herself again without seeing him? Why hadn’t El warned her? Perhaps she’d thought Eden wouldn’t come. And Eden had to admit, she might not have, had she known what Eleanor was planning. She certainly wouldn’t have agreed to meet the man in a skirt. Why had Eleanor made her do it?

She walked back to the table now, feeling stronger with growing anger. “I’m sorry, she told Eleanor, “I’m afraid I’ve got a sudden headache.” To Mr. Barrett, she said nothing. She turned away and made herself walk as calmly as she could to the lobby of the hotel and all the way back to Cambridge on foot.

Eden 19:3

EleanorIt was March before Eleanor was able to find out when Henry Barrett would next be in Boston. She had left Vivienne behind over the holidays. And now the woman seemed to be trying to make up for the long separation by seeing Eleanor to a nearly dangerous extent.

“It is a lucky thing Mr. Webb works so much out of town, Vivienne,” Eleanor told the woman one evening after dinner, “you’ve become rather incautious lately. But even if he is away, you know how people talk.”

“I don’t care what he hears,” Vivienne said rashly. “He’s a bore and a letch. It’s not as if I don’t know about his women in New York. He can’t fault me. It would be hypocritical.”

Eleanor raised an eyebrow. “Hypocrisy is a married man’s privilege, Vivienne. You know that as well as I. He could divorce you and leave you penniless.”

“He wouldn’t. It would be a scandal. There’s nothing he hates worse,” Vivienne sighed. “You remember when Henry Barrett’s little wife threw herself into the river? Edward barely survived the embarrassment. He wouldn’t even speak to Henry for months. As if it were Harry’s fault, poor thing.”

“How is Henry?” Eleanor asked.

“I’ll find out soon enough. He’s coming for Easter.”

Eleanor rose from the table. “Piano? Drinks by the fire?” she asked Vivienne.

“Maybe something else?” Vivienne smiled cat-like at Eleanor, who took her hand, and led her upstairs.

Eden 19:2

Eden spent the holidays at Eleanor’s house again. She painted a half-dozen dreary scenes of the winter garden through the dining room windows, and a portrait of Mrs. Williams knitting before the fire in her room.

Sophia came when she could, but even when she did, was preoccupied with her hopes about the medical school and spent most of her time lost in a pile of books and papers in the library. Eden asked once if she might paint Sophia at work, but the very suggestion nearly made the girl jump.

“I’m far too busy to sit for a portrait,” she said quickly.

“I can just hide in the corner of the library and paint as you work. I won’t even speak to you—I promise,” Eden tried.

“No, Eden.” Her tone was as sharp as Eden had ever heard it. She did not ask again.

Eden 19:1

It was a late October night and Eleanor was saying goodnight to her dinner guests as they scattered away variously to carriages and cabs. But Eden hung back though Eleanor’s landaulette sat waiting to take her home.

“El?” Eden began once the rest of the company was gone.

“What is it?”

“That man—Henry Barrett—I…” Eden drew on her gloves, avoiding Eleanor’s eyes.

“What about him?” Eleanor tried to keep the surprise from her voice. It had been a year since the subject had arisen between them; since Eden had made Eleanor promise to drop it.

“I wonder if I could maybe just see him—just get a look at him, that’s all–Sometime.” She examined the back of her glove.

Eleanor thought for just a moment. “He lives in Philadelphia, but he is in Boston often enough. I will find out what I can, and we’ll work something out,” she told Eden.

“Thanks, El.” Eden walked out to the waiting carriage.

She had not changed her mind about whether or not Henry Barrett meant anything to her, she told herself as the carriage rolled towards home. But the curiosity that she had always felt about him had slowly resurfaced as her anger at Eleanor had subsided.

She still did not want to meet him, but she thought that perhaps—if he was out there somewhere—it would be best to at least see what he looked like. What if she passed him on the street some day without even knowing it was him? The idea of it bothered her. It would be enough, Eden thought, for Eleanor to point him out to her in a crowded place, let her overhear the timbre of his voice. It was a small thing. But Eden wanted no more.