Category Archives: 22 Chapter Twenty-Two

Eden 22:5

outdoorbreakfast“She’s coming, El!” Eden called as Eleanor walked out to the garden for a late breakfast.

“She booked her passage?”

“In July. She’ll be here in time for the exhibition. Bette says I should put in the one I’m doing now for certain.”

“You’ve been at that one for a while.” Eleanor frowned. “Will it be finished?”

“By July? Of course.”

Eleanor looked at Eden carefully. The girl had not yet met her eye. “Any reason for it taking so long?”

Eden stirred sugar into her coffee. “I want it to be perfect, that’s all.”

Eleanor glanced at the letter Eden had tossed onto the breakfast table. “What else does Sophia say?”

“She’s working.” Eden’s jubilation faded visibly. “She works too hard.”

“I suppose it isn’t easy to be a medical student.”

“No.” Eden fingered the letter. “I just wish she’d come here to do it. It would be easier if we were together.”

“What would be easier?”

“Oh—everything,” Eden said with a sigh. And she rose and went back into the house.

Eden had left the letter on the table. Eleanor picked it up and read it. She didn’t see any sign of trouble in Sophia’s words. Yet clearly Eden was troubled by something. Eleanor frowned. It might be better if Eden left Sophia in the past. The girls had been a good match in college—both outsiders in their own way—but now… Eleanor’s hopes for Eden went well beyond Sophia’s little sphere of Boston reformers. And whatever Eden thought of her own future, Eleanor was certain that sooner or later the girl would realize how different her destiny was from Sophia’s. But the longer this realization took, the harder their parting would be.

Eleanor didn’t wish Sophia ill. But perhaps this Claire she so often mentioned in her letters was a better companion for a Quaker midwife than Eden would be in the grand scheme of things.

“Lady companions,” her mother had called such women in Eleanor’s childhood.  There were always a pair of them floating around the edges of the Stephens’ social circle. They were usually schoolteachers or nurses, though her own cook and housekeeper back on Beacon Hill fit the pattern well.

Eleanor appreciated the presence of these women in her life and there were always some of them among her dinner guests when she was in Boston. But though she found much to admire in them, and often contributed richly to the causes they championed, she did not envy these pairs of spinsters, knitting and reading improving literature aloud to one another through the long New England winters.

Eleanor fancied herself more of a winking troubadour, charming beautiful women wherever she found them. Some of them had spurned her in public but flirted in private…some had done just the opposite, in hopes of shocking their husbands. Some had loved her lavishly for a time, but it required all of them together to keep life from growing dull. The very idea of some plain-dressed old maid pledging eternal devotion to Eleanor bored her to tears.

EleanorAnd Eden was like Eleanor. Eleanor was certain of it, whether the stubborn girl would face it or not. She had only her own parents as examples of what women could be to each other.  But even Eden knew there was no disguising herself forever and “marrying” Sophia as her father and mother had done. Girls like Alice Vine were a trial to be sure, but with time, Eden would learn to handle them. And who better than Eleanor to help her along?

It was bound to come clear when Sophia arrived in Paris. Eden belonged in this world. Sophia belonged in another.

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Eden 22:4

Sophia - Version 2Dearest Boy,

I am sure you could not catch me these days sitting still long enough to paint me.  I am always rushing from lectures to laboratories to the bedsides of patients in the hospital and the bedsides of patients in their homes. The conditions some women must endure—all while preparing for childbirth and motherhood!—are shocking, Eden. The women’s hospital does all it can to treat the poor with modern medical care, and yet there is too much suffering and loss of life to be believed in the same city where so much progress has been made in other things. I feel myself, that though there are many noble doctors doing their best under trying circumstances, until we have many more women doing this work, the loss of women and children in birth and infancy will continue unchecked. Too many doctors believe it is nature, or—much worse—the divine will that so many suffer.

I hope I don’t bore you with these thoughts about work and worries. It is all I have to write about, busy with it as I am. But you must be doing such marvelous things. I fear I can’t really imagine it even with all the sketches and letters you send. It is like a fairy tale to me. I only hope you aren’t moving too fast. Are you quite certain it is right to have taken your own studio so soon? I am proud of you, of course. If your friend, Miss Nourse advises it, I suppose it must be best.  What does Eleanor think?

I must leave off writing now and go out to meet Claire about some research I’m planning. But to the constant refrain of your letters—yes—I have booked my passage for July and now whenever I close my eyes I see you meeting me at the train in Paris. It is a long time, darling, but it will pass quickly.

Your own,

Sophia

Eden 22:3

Caroline shrugged off her robe and stood naked before Eden in the little studio.

“Comme ca?” she asked, tilting a foot and raising an arm slightly.

Eden“Oh—” Eden hoped she wasn’t blushing. She had worked with nude models before of course, but never alone in her own studio. She took a careful breath and stepped to the girl, gently moving her arm and touching her chin to tilt her head slightly. “Like you’re dancing…voila,” she said in what she hoped was a business-like voice.

She returned to the canvas to begin her sketch, and found that her hand was shaking faintly. But after several minutes of work, she forgot her embarrassment, lost in the picture.

An hour later, she took Caroline for a drink at the café on the corner. Eden wasn’t sure what to say to the girl. They had barely exchanged a word while she had worked. At length, she began, “You are a good model. Do you like it?”

“Like?” the girl asked.

“Tu l’aime?  Modeling?”

“Modeling is honest work. Many girls do not such honest work.” The girl stretched her arms over her head as if to relieve an hour’s stiffness. “Modeling is better.”

“Oh.” Eden colored. Sometimes her friends at the Beaux Arts would get drunk enough to forget that she wasn’t a man and tell stories about models they had known. Eden was sure at least half of this talk was boasting, but now that she had seen Caroline’s vulnerability in her own studio, a sense of protectiveness rose in her. How hard it must be for models to keep on the “honest” side of the thin social line that divided them from the girls men could purchase in the alleys of Paris at night.

But Eden didn’t have long to ponder Caroline’s flirtations with social propriety.  The girl had turned to her wineglass and was smiling at Eden over its rim.

“Vous avez une cigarette?” she asked.

Eden reached into her breast pocket and drew out her cigarette case. “Only one left.” She lit it. “You have it,” she said, handing it to the girl.

Smoking_in_black_and_whiteOh, non,” Caroline said with the hint of a pout. She took a long drag on the cigarette and handed it back to Eden. “We share it,” she said.

Eden leaned in to take the cigarette back.

Their faces were inches apart. “Vous est une femme,” Caroline said. Her voice was low, but Eden looked around quickly anyway before nodding faintly. She was a woman.

“Pourquoi ceci?” the girl asked, brushing the lapel of Eden’s jacket.

Eden shrugged.

“Vous est un homme…a l’interieur.” She smiled again.

Eden had never quite thought of it as being a man on the inside, but perhaps… “Je ne sais pas,” she said. She removed her hat, ran a hand through her hair and leaned back in her chair.

Caroline’s eyes narrowed, catlike and a grin crept over her lips. “C’est bon,” she said. “I like it.”

Eden 22:2

Eleanor“Are you sure this is best, darling?” Eleanor asked over breakfast.

“It’s done. I’ve signed a lease for six months.” Eden poured herself a cup of tea and filled it with sugar. “Bette agrees with me.”

“Bette isn’t your instructor though,” Eleanor said carefully. “I saw M. Lefebvre at Durand’s last week and he said you’re undisciplined.” Eleanor frowned. “This is going to confirm his opinion.”

“M. Lefebvre is a dull old man who resents me because I am a woman and under eighty.” Eden stirred her tea but didn’t drink it. Instead, she picked up the end of a baguette, spread jam over it and popped it all into her mouth at once.

“I don’t think he resents you at all. And he isn’t eighty.” Eleanor sighed. “I doubt he is even seventy.”

“He wants me to do everything the way they did 100 years ago. No one really paints that way anymore. Not since Cezanne,” Eden protested.

“You are probably right, but that does not mean there is not something to be learned by studying the tradition first.”

“I will,” Eden assured her friend. “I’ll learn ‘the tradition’ in M. Lefebvre’s studio and I’ll paint my own way in mine.”

“What is your way?” Eleanor asked now.

Eden frowned. “I’m not certain yet. But it isn’t M. Lefebvre’s way. That I am sure of,” she answered. “Bette says I am just like her when she was my age. She says I need my own studio to find my real vision.”

Bette again. Eden had met her, of course, at one of Liz’s parties. Eleanor ought to have predicted that Eden would fall into an instant infatuation with the American painter who had come to the Academie Julian nearly twenty years ago, but had abandoned it almost right away to open a studio of her own.

She had been Beth Nourse from Cincinnati in the days when they were both nearly as young as Eden and had met one another by chance in Paris. She had shown such skill upon arrival that her own instructors—M. Lefebvre in fact, had been one—had encouraged her to leave the academy to do her own work. But Lefebvre had suggested no such thing to Eleanor regarding Eden, though he had said much more than she had admitted. In fact, he had smiled warmly at the mention of Eden’s name. He had called her prodigiously gifted…but undisciplined.

LuxembourgGardenNourseTo Eleanor’s relief, Eden didn’t go so far as to leave the academy. Instead, she began painting one way for Lefebvre and searching for another at her new studio in the rue d’Assas. And Eleanor wasn’t sure, but she guessed Eden was probably taking as much instruction from Bette as she was from anyone at the academy.

Eden 22:1

Eden - Version 2January

Dear Sophia,

I am so happy, sweetest girl! Today I took a studio so I can at last do some work of my own. I know you told me to follow my instructors and I have, darling, I swear it! But there is more I could do and I am sure I am ready now.

There is a woman here from Ohio—Elizabeth Nourse. She has been in Paris for many years and is an accomplished artist. She has seen my work and says she believes I might do better to leave the academie altogether and find a dealer.

Eleanor insists I stay at the academie until the year is out, but in the meantime I have engaged a model and will begin tomorrow working on a picture that has been in my mind for some years.

I wish you were here darling. I want to paint you. I want to paint you sitting before El’s little fire in the parlor, with the grey winter fog on the garden doors behind you. It’s cold, but beautiful. In the spring, I’d paint you sitting on the little marble bench under one of the wall fountains where the wisteria hangs down. And then I’d take you upstairs, darling, and make love to you and paint you sleeping afterwards with a splash of sunlight across your body.

Tell me you haven’t forgotten your boy. I miss you every moment. In my dreams, I never stop kissing you. Tell me when you have booked your passage to Paris.  It is an age until summer.

Your own devoted,

Eden