Category Archives: 26 Chapter Twenty-Six

Eden 26:6

“I’ve already booked passage. I’m going,” Eden insisted to a distraught Eleanor.

“So you’ve booked passage—it can be delayed. We will go back to Boston together in the spring. You needn’t go now, nor go alone—and you certainly needn’t run away to the middle of nowhere!”

Eden would hear nothing in opposition to her plan, but anticipating it, had already booked her boat and stood now, throwing clothes and paint tubes and brushes into a trunk with no care as to where they fell.

“It is not the middle of nowhere, Eleanor, it’s my home! It’s been too long since I’ve seen my family. I need to see them now. It’s where I belong—at least…I don’t belong in Paris.” She began this declaration with bluster but ended it less certainly.

“But you do belong in Paris! Paris loves you. Your career is beginning if you will only paint again. You can’t leave now.”

There was a long silence.

“Darling…” Eleanor tried again, calmer this time.

But Eden cut her off. “I’m not your darling,” she said coolly.

“Eden—” But Eden would not let her speak.

“I used to think you knew everything about the world and I knew nothing. But there are things you could never understand. It’s all so easy for you! You love no one. You owe nothing. You own so much. But you don’t own me, Eleanor, and for all your money you will never buy me!”

“Eden, don’t be cruel,” Eleanor told her in a breaking voice. “You know that is not…” but she stopped. It was useless to go on.

Eden immediately regretted her words. But she didn’t apologize. Instead she cast her eyes to the floor and finished more gently, “I’m going tomorrow.  I’ll write when I get there.”

And she closed the lid of her trunk and sat upon it as if afraid Eleanor might steal it to prevent her going.

Eleanor gave Eden a long, silent look. Then she retired to her own room without a word.

In the morning when Eleanor rose and went down for coffee, Eden was gone. The older woman walked out to the cold garden, sat down in her favorite chair, put her face in her hands and shook with grief.

Eden 26:5

Eden - Version 2November 1904

Darling Sophie,

I saw a girl on the street today who wore her hair like yours. For the briefest moment I thought you had come back. But when she turned to look at me I hated her. I am reduced to this—for all its artists and writers and women of culture, Paris is nothing to me but a place full of people who are not Sophia.

How did I live without you for twenty long years and only with you for three? I wake up full of bitterness that another day has come and still Sophia is gone. I do not know how I put one foot before the other through each long day. I barely remember what I do from hour to hour. I only mark time slowly passing until night will come and I can fall asleep and dream of my lost girl.

I cannot stay here anymore, Sophia. I know you have forbidden me to write, but I have already done it. Now I find I must risk displeasing you further. I sail next week and will be in Boston by the 30th. Please write to me at the Hotel Vendome and say I may come to your house in Cambridge. Say you will see me, if only for an hour in the parlor. 

You told me you would watch for news of my success. But I can only disappoint you. I am a failure at this life. If you will not have me, I will return to Arizona and work hard for my father. Perhaps I never should have left.

But whether or not I ever see you again, I swear I will always be

Your own boy,

Eden

Eden 26:4

BethBette looked around Eleanor’s parlor as Marie climbed the stairs to fetch Eden. Eleanor had promised to be out all afternoon so that Bette could visit alone.

Bette had not yet seen Eleanor’s house in Paris. It was a fine one to her eyes. The parlor ended in a tall pair of doors filled with glass panes that opened onto a surprisingly spacious garden. Bette imagined painting the scene from where she sat, doors slightly ajar, leaking light into the room.

She shook off the thought. It was too cold for such a picture. Perhaps in the spring…

Eden arrived in the doorway from the hall. “Bette—” She stepped across the room holding out a hand. “Will you have something? A drink? Some tea?”

“Just a cigarette, I think,” Bette told her, squeezing, then releasing her hand.

“I’m sorry I haven’t answered your letters.” Eden ran a hand through her hair, reminding Bette of someone she couldn’t quite recall.

“Never mind, Eden, but what is the matter?” Bette asked.  “You’re thin as a rail and you look like you haven’t slept in days—if you will pardon my honesty.”

“It’s nothing. I’ve just been tired.” Eden lit a cigarette and handed it to her guest, then lit another to smoke. Bette silently cursed herself for not asking Eden for tea and food. Maybe she would have eaten something too, in Bette’s company.

“Listen,” Bette sat down without being asked. “Eleanor came to see me. She told me about Sophia and asked me to talk to you.”

Eden scowled at the fire and slumped into a chair across from Bette’s. “It’s not her business to talk about it to everyone.”

“I don’t believe she has talked to ‘everyone.’ In fact, I am fairly certain she has talked to no one but me.”

“Why you?” Eden asked, suddenly curious. Eleanor had always seemed annoyed when Eden brought up Bette. Eden had finally stopped speaking of her to Eleanor. And at Liz’s parties, Eleanor always scanned the room for Bette, the better to avoid her, though Eden guessed Eleanor didn’t know she had noticed these things.

“She wanted me to talk to you,” Bette said.

Eden said nothing, but sat quite still now, waiting.

“When I was not so much older than you are now—when I first came to Paris to attend the Academie—I met someone.” Bette stopped and smoked quietly for a moment.

“She was another American. She was in Paris for some business, but stayed on after it was finished, because—I believed at the time—she was in love with me.” Eden looked up at this. “But whatever I believed she felt, I knew I was in love with her.”

Bette looked back at Eden now, but when their eyes met, Eden turned away.  “She didn’t really love you?” Eden asked.

“Maybe she did. But not the way I hoped. And in a few months she had to choose between me and…something more important, I suppose. She left, telling me she’d come back, but she never did—not then, anyway—not for me. Instead she sent me a letter apologizing and…returning a ring I’d given her.”

Eden looked up now. “Eleanor wanted you to tell me this?”

“This is what I wanted to tell you.”

Eden stood and walked to a table in the corner that held a decanter of clear fluid.  “Gin?” she asked Bette now.

“No.”

Eden poured herself a drink but didn’t return to her chair. She stood by the glass doors, gazing into the grey garden.

“I thought at the time that the day I got that letter was the worst day of my life. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t by far. I worked my way through it. And I worked my way through the worse days too. And you can do the same. You can work your way through this, Eden. It’s the only way, really.”  Bette fell quiet and watched Eden watch herself in the reflecting window glass.

“What was the worst?” Eden asked.

When Bette didn’t answer her, she asked again. “What was the worst day of your life?”

Bette looked at the stub of the cigarette in her hand and pressed it out in a little marble tray on the table by her elbow. She sighed and looked up, “the day Adelaide died. That was the worst day—anyway, God forbid I should live to see a harder one.”

“Adelaide?” Eden asked.

“My sister—my twin,” Bette finished simply.

Eden’s eyes were riveted to Bette now. “Your twin sister. What happened?”

Bette just shook her head and took Eden’s hand. “Never mind,” she said, “I just don’t want to see you throw away your career over this thing with Sophia, darling. That is all I really came to say.”

Bette rose, reaching down as she did and taking Eden’s hand.

“You’ll come by this week? We will go to your studio and look over what you’ve been doing…”

“I haven’t been doing anything,” Eden said.

“You will. We’ll talk it over. We’ll get you painting.” Bette paused, waiting for Eden to agree. When she did not, Bette tried again. “Eleanor says there’s a great deal of interest already from people wanting portraits from you. You cannot ignore that. You must seize the moment.”

Eden still said nothing.

“You will come by this week.”

Eden was still silent.

Bette looked at her a moment longer, sighed and showed herself out.

Eden 26:3

Eden - Version 2October 1904

Precious Sophia,

You still do not write, and I grow more wretched with your silence every day. All around me I hear girls chattering in French and I feel like I am walking in a dream. I fear that nothing but the sound of your dear voice will wake me. I grow further and further from solid ground every day.

I am a little drunk tonight, I think. Perhaps I shouldn’t write in such a state. But I am drunk most days now. I forget why I should not be. You would be so cross and disappointed if you could see how miserable I have become. I deserve you less and less; I suppose this is all my own doing. I do not know how to change it. I want to go back somehow and begin again. Far enough back, darling, that you are lying in my arms, in that tiny room of yours, with the fire shining on your hair.

I have the picture I made of you that morning, do you remember? You wanted me to burn it, but I carry it with me everywhere. I sit up at night and gaze at it, uselessly willing it to turn from paper into your own dear flesh, sweetest girl.

What a dreadful letter this is. How could you love someone who would write such a letter? How could I ask you to? I am a fool Sophie, but your own fool. If it matters to you at all, I am still not painting. There is no reason to do anything anymore.

I am so sorry for this awful letter.

But my love is ever and only yours,

Eden

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.

Eden 26:1

Eden sat smoking and watching the rain falling in the back garden of the house on the Rue Jacob. The pencil drawing of Sophia she had done so long ago fluttered to the floor from her lap and she glanced down and retrieved it, pinning it back to the wall by her bed.

“Damn it, Sophie,” Eden muttered to herself. And she walked to the little desk in the corner of the room, drew out paper and pen and wrote.

September 1904

Dearest Sophia,

I have tried not to write, as you asked, but my heart is too full of things I feel I must tell you or die.

I do not eat. I do not sleep. I cannot paint at all. I wear your ring and mine together, imagining that you will walk through the door and tell me that this nightmare is over and you will have it back.

Darling, I will stop painting. I will leave France. I will do anything you ask if only you will come back to me. Tell me what to do. You say my genius has a greater claim on me than you do. But Sophia, don’t you know? You are my genius.

I know too well how little I deserve you, brilliant girl. You are far too good and wise for me. But I will change for you if you tell me how. I will learn any lesson you set me.

Please darling, send me one word—just the smallest, single word. Scrawl but, “yes,” on a scrap of paper and I will be on a steamer to Boston the very hour I read it.

I beg you dearest Sophie, my only girl. Please don’t let me die of this despair.

Yours and only yours forever,

Eden

She left the letter on the hall table for to post.