Category Archives: 27 Chapter Twenty-Seven

Eden 27:5

The sun stole through the curtains of the room and crept across the bed. Eleanor rolled into Bette’s naked arms and sighed.

“Beth.” She savored the name on her tongue.

Bette just stroked Eleanor’s hair sleepily.

“Why have we been hiding from each other all this time?” Eleanor said.

“It’s hardly simple…For one thing I have had the distinct impression you felt I would steal Eden away from you.”

“More the fool, I,” Eleanor said pulling away a bit and propping herself on an elbow. “She’s stolen herself away from us both quite capably on her own.”

Bette watched Eleanor’s face a moment. “What is she to you?”

Eleanor rose, pulled her dressing gown from a chair beside the bed and threw it over her shoulders. She walked to the window and pulled back the curtains. With her back still to Bette, she said at last, “She’s my heir.”

Bette sat up. “Your heir?”

“I’m leaving it all to her—the entire Stephens estate.” Eleanor still did not face Bette.

“That must put a strain on your relations with her.”

Eleanor turned now and walked to the mantel where she took a cigarette from a box and lit it.

“She doesn’t know,” she confessed, glancing at Bette.

Bette sat in stunned silence.

“For the very reason that I don’t want our relations strained in that way…” Eleanor went on, the smallest trace of defensiveness in her tone.

“But why Eden?” Bette asked.

“For a start, it will allow her to be a real artist—free her from crass careerism.” Eleanor gave a small wave of her cigarette. “If it were not for my money, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to write what I have written.”

Bette raised her eyebrows. “Am I a crass careerist, then?” she asked.

“You know that’s not what I meant at all,” Eleanor began, but Bette stopped her short.

“Not everyone needs an immorally vast fortune to have a satisfying life.” Bette reached to the bedside and found a cigarette of her own. “In fact, I’m not certain anyone does. You underestimate yourself.” She lit the cigarette. “You would have written what you needed to write—damn the critics, damn the censors—with or without your family’s money.”

Eleanor slumped moodily into a chair by the hearth.

“But Eden should know that you have done this. It isn’t fair not to tell her.”

“You don’t know her like I do. She would fight me like a bulldog over it.”

“Maybe not. But if you think she wouldn’t want it, why insist?”

“To whom else should I leave it? My cousins hardly need it and there isn’t anyone else.”

“Found a library,” Bette suggested.

“You’re joking, Beth. I could found a hundred libraries,” Eleanor said.

“So found a hundred libraries,” Bette countered.

“Let Eden found them. Let Sophia put a hundred girls through medical school…”

“Sophia?” Bette said.

“Damn.” Eleanor tossed her cigarette into the grate. “I forgot.”

Eleanor walked back to the bed. She sat beside Bette and pulled a hand softly across her collarbone and down to the swell of her breast.

“Last night was lovely—wasn’t it?” she asked quietly.

“It was,” Bette conceded. “But that has always been the easy part for us—for you—hasn’t it?”

“Perhaps,” Eleanor allowed. “That is no reason we shouldn’t do this again sometime, is it?”

“Mmm…” Bette was noncommittal. But she picked up Eleanor’s hand and kissed it before rising to dress.

Advertisements

Eden 27:4

EleanorEleanor lit a cigarette, took it from her lips and handed it to Bette. She lit another for herself, then went to pour drinks. “I didn’t know your sister had died,” she said, her back to Bette.

“Right before I came back to Paris,” Bette said. “Louise brought me here, actually. I think she feared I would waste away back home. Maybe I would have. Maybe she saved my life.” She laid her head into the cradle of the leather wingback and closed her eyes briefly.

Eleanor handed Bette the drink and stood by the fire with her own.

Beth“You know, Eleanor,” Bette continued quietly. “After Addie was gone, I spent a lot of time thinking about you. Maybe I understood a little.”

Eleanor didn’t look at Bette. She drank slowly and smoked slowly and stared across the room at the dark windows of the French garden doors.

She could feel Bette’s eyes on her, all the same, and after some moments of silence, she finally met them. “Stay.”

Bette said nothing.

“We can pretend we are only meeting now. Forget the past,” Eleanor suggested.

“You think if we were just meeting now, I would stay?” Bette said. “Because I wouldn’t.”

Eleanor’s cigarette was nearly gone. She tossed the smoldering stub into the cold grate. “Then forgive me the past and stay,” she said.

“Eleanor,” Bette said, “I forgave you years ago. Forgiveness is not the same as trust.”

fireplace

She rose and stepped to Eleanor’s side, took both her hands and pulled her close.

“But neither is my body the same as my heart,” she said. “I’ll stay if you promise to remember that tomorrow.”

Eleanor knew she would get no better offer from Bette tonight. She took it. “I promise,” she said and Bette let her kiss her and lead her slowly up the stairs.

Eden 27:3

carriageEleanor was at Bette’s door again, wearing evening clothes and carrying a top hat under her arm. Bette opened to her knock in a gown of ivory satin embroidered with red and gold that nearly took Eleanor’s breath away as she took Bette’s arm and walked her to a waiting cab.

“Is the hotel all right?” Eleanor asked as they settled in.

“The Continental?” Bette guessed. “Of course.”

The dining room of the Hotel Continental was full of expensive women and the men who paid their bills. Bracelets clinked against champagne glasses. A general murmur of the talk of many people in many languages filled the air.

The Maitre D’ seated them in a corner by a window that looked out upon the street and across to the Tuileries.

Eleanor ordered a bottle of wine before Bette had even sat down and soon the sommelier was pouring it for them.

“Eden will come back,” Bette told Eleanor after he had left and Eleanor had finished the first glass.

“How do you know that?” Eleanor asked skeptically.

“I know because I know her work. I know it won’t let her go. She can run for a while. But she will be back.”

“She’s stubborn,” Eleanor said.

“I know.”

“She has been on the edge of something ever since I’ve known her, Bette. It’s always been a close thing—whether she would choose this life, or run back to her people. Now she’s run.” Eleanor drained her second glass and reached for the bottle.

“Drinking like this won’t get Eden back here sooner,” Bette said levelly.

Eleanor frowned, chagrined at the reminder of what had happened the night before. “I would not be repaying your kindness by forcing you to repeat the whole production, would I?”

“That’s not my concern.”

“What is your concern? Why are you here with me, now, looking so…” Eleanor stopped.

“Why are you here? Why dinner at the Continental and not leave it at the violets?” Bette returned.

“You have influence on Eden,” Eleanor said, ignoring the question. “Have you written her?”

“No. And I won’t. Don’t bother to ask me to.” Bette sipped her own wine. “She doesn’t need a letter from me. She knows how I feel.”

“What did you tell her?” Eleanor asked. “The day after you talked to her she booked her passage.”

“I certainly didn’t tell her to leave,” Bette said with a trace of defensiveness.

Eleanor sat waiting.

“I told her that I had my heart broken once, and that I worked through it. I told her I have always worked my way through my difficulties. I told her to come to the studio and I would get her painting again.”

“That’s it? ‘Difficulties’?” Eleanor leaned back and crossed her arms.

“I didn’t say who or when.  And I told her about Adelaide.” Bette grew quieter.

“Adelaide?”

“My twin sister. I told her the day Addie died was the worst day of my life.”

Eleanor put her head in her hands now, elbows on the table.

“What, Eleanor?” Bette asked with concern.

“She has a twin sister,” Eleanor told her. “Myrna. In Arizona.”

“Oh,” Bette said quietly. “So she went home. Of course.”

The food arrived and they ate in almost grave silence. But when the orchestra came in and the ballroom adjacent to the dining room began to fill, Eleanor looked at Bette.

dance“May I make it up to you for stepping on your feet last Thursday?” she asked.

They danced.

It was after eleven before they stepped into another cab. As it crossed the river, Eleanor turned to Bette in the dark. “Come in for a drink?”

A streetlamp illuminated Bette’s face for a moment before the cab passed it and the shadow fell again. “All right,” she agreed in the darkness.

Eden 27:2

breakfast - Version 2Eleanor walked into the little breakfast room at eleven the next morning. Bette sat drinking coffee, a newspaper on her lap.

“God, Bette, I’m sorry,” Eleanor said woefully and sat down.

Bette lifted her eyes from the paper. “Nothing to apologize for.”

“Thank you, then.” The maid came and poured Eleanor a cup of strong coffee, and she took it up gratefully.

Bette went back to her paper.

After a few moments of weighing a question, Eleanor finally decided to ask it. “Bette—” Bette looked up again. “We have been avoiding each other for months. Why did you dance with me last night?”

Beth“You remember.” Bette said it with a trace of a smile. It was such a small trace, perhaps only Eleanor would have seen it.

“Of course.”

“Liz Vielle was looking at you last night as if she were a cat and you were a broken-winged bird,” Bette said. “If I had not brought you here, you would doubtless be waking up in her bed this morning. I thought perhaps you would rather make that decision with a clear head.”

“Indeed.” Eleanor lit a cigarette. “What led you to have such pity on me?”

“You aren’t yourself these days—since Eden left. Liz wasn’t being fair.”

“No.”

Eleanor tapped the ash off the end of her cigarette and finished her coffee. “I’ll go home now. Thank you. Again.” She held her hand out to the other woman, who didn’t rise, but took it and nodded silently.

That afternoon, a bunch of violets arrived at Bette’s door. The maid brought them in and handed Bette a note.

Eleanor - Version 2Dear Bette,

Please allow me to take you to dinner to show my gratitude for your kindness last night.  If you consent, I will collect you at eight tomorrow.

Yours,

EleanorIMG_3787

Eden 27:1

Two months later, Eleanor had still heard nothing from Eden.

It was her turn to get drunk. She was working hard at it now, at Liz Vielle’s New Year party, where she stood talking to the hostess over a glass of champagne.

“What has become of your young artist Eleanor?” Liz asked her. “Girls like that are what make my ballroom such a success.”

candleslitEleanor gave Liz a wry smile. “She’s gone to do whatever artists do when they grow bored with Paris.”

“And what is that?” Liz asked with some shock, though whether it was real or pretended, Eleanor wasn’t sure.

“I wouldn’t know,” Eleanor demurred. “I’m not an artist. I never grow bored with Paris.”

feast-champagne-glassLiz laughed and took Eleanor’s empty glass. She sat it and her own on a table nearly overflowing with others like them and took Eleanor’s hand. “Then you won’t object to dancing with me?” she asked and led Eleanor to the floor.

Bette Nourse stood in a corner, pretending to listen to a woman with a monocle tell a story about some comptess she had met at a wedding and had a scandalous moment with behind some topiaries. But Bette’s eyes were on Eleanor and Liz Vielle, waltzing and laughing across the room.

Beth“Excuse me,” Bette said, and stepped out of the little circle around the woman with the monocle.

She stood at the edge of the dance floor and waited for the waltz to end. When it did, she strode to Eleanor and took her hand. “Pardonez-moi, Liz, mais je vais dancer avec Eleanor maintenant.”

She smiled at Mme. Vielle and reached up to Eleanor’s shoulder. “All right?” she asked.

“Oh…yes,” Eleanor agreed with no little surprise. She put her hand on Bette’s waist, the music began again, and they danced.

“Things are spinning a bit more than they should, I think,” Eleanor confessed to Bette halfway through the waltz.

“How many glasses of champagne have you had?”

“I lost count after four.”

“Let’s get some fresh air,” Bette suggested and they found their way to the garden and sat for a few minutes, not speaking.

Bette lit a cigarette and handed it to Eleanor, then lit another for herself.

“I suppose I should get home,” Eleanor said, smoothing the legs of her trousers.

“Why don’t I see you there?” Bette suggested.

“It’s not so far. The air will revive me if I walk,” Eleanor objected. The ash at the end of her cigarette fell into her lap. She half stood to brush it away, lost her balance and sat down again, catching herself with the hand that held the cigarette, dropping it beneath the garden bench.

“I’m not sure you can walk,” Bette said as Eleanor reached below the bench in a vain attempt to retrieve the cigarette.

Eleanor sat up. “It’s me should be seeing you home—a lady alone at night,” she insisted.

“All right then, you see me home,” Bette agreed gently, and they left through the garden and headed to the rue d’Assas, arm-in-arm.

Bette opened her door with a key and turned to Eleanor, “Come in.”

Eleanor didn’t pause to object, but stumbled into the dark hallway and followed Bette slowly up the stairs.

Bette opened the door to a small room and lit a gas sconce on the wall.  “Louise’s room,” she said. “Sleep now. Go home in the morning.”  Her tone held neither warmth nor coolness.

“Louise’s room?” Eleanor looked wary.

“She’s in New York for the month. She won’t even know you were here,” Bette assured her.

“Louise has always hated me,” Eleanor said, sitting heavily on the bed anyway.  “Help with these cufflinks?” she added.

Bette sat beside her, unfastening her cufflinks and studs. “Louise doesn’t hate you,” she said gently.

“She thinks I’m a deviant,” Eleanor argued.

“You are a deviant,” Bette said.  “You’ve made a career of it, Eleanor.”

She stood and walked to the door. “Go to bed now. Let’s not say anything more tonight.” She put out the light.