Category Archives: 35 Chapter Thirty-Five

Eden 35:3

Beth“Eleanor.” Bette was standing in the doorway.

The tears burst all containment now and Bette crossed the room to sit beside Eleanor and fold her in her arms.

“Theo…” Eleanor choked as she trembled hard under Bette’s embrace.

Bette held her tight with one arm, stroking her short grey-brown hair with the other. At length, Eleanor pulled away and rose, opened the drawer in the bedside table and removed one of the handkerchiefs that indeed were there and dried her eyes.

“You would think it was yesterday, the way I carry on,” she finally said.

“Did you carry on then?” Bette asked quietly.

“Of course not,” Eleanor said, looking around the room for the mirror that hung above a dry basin on a washstand. She stepped to it, gave herself a frown and turned back to Bette. “I suppose I ought to have done, oughtn’t I?”

Bette gave a little shrug.

“It’s because you are here that I can now.”

Bette did not say, “I might have been here then,” but both of them knew she was not saying it. It was the sentence that naturally ought to come next.

Eleanor walked again to the bedside table, moved the pipe aside and picked up the Keats. “He was so morbid,” she declared with a forced smile, in a tone that was a touch too hard to be bright. “He said Keats would teach him how to properly live his death. I wanted to steal it and hide it from him when he was sleeping, but he was so weak, it seemed unfair. In the end I let him keep it.”

She opened the box. It was empty but for a small gleaming object. She took it out and held it in her palm. It was a ring, identical to the one she had given Eden, stamped with the family crest. It had been given Theodore upon turning twelve. Hers had been her father’s. Such things were not given girls, but after the old man’s death there had been no one to stop her taking it and Theo himself had encouraged her. She had forgotten that her brother had not been buried wearing it anymore than her father had. The rings had been in the family for so many generations, it was not considered proper form to bury them, and yet, Theodore being the last of her father’s family line, it might have been as well to let the ring sleep with him. She was glad it did not. She put it on her finger and sat again, beside Bette.

“I want him back now as much as I did the day he died. I can’t help it. I want him. Poor boy, poor bright, handsome boy, with all his life ahead…”

Bette put an arm around Eleanor, but did not pull her closer. “Poor sister,” she said, “all these years and all the ones to come, without him.”

Eleanor was quiet for a long moment. “Bette,” she said at last, without looking up.

Bette waited.

“You say you have forgiven me, but I still want to explain.”

Bette put her hands back in her lap.

“I wanted you then, too. I swear I did. It wasn’t because I didn’t care, because he made me forget you, that I told you not to come.”

“Why then?” Bette finally spoke.

“I was afraid you would make me happy. That you would make me forget him.

Eleanor turned to Bette now and faced her eyes.

“I didn’t feel it was right to be happy. I didn’t feel it was right even to try. I thought it best to go back to Boston and bury myself in the old house if I couldn’t bury myself here, with him.”

Bette was shaking her head.

“Believe me, Bette, please. It’s the truth.”

“I believe you,” Bette said. “But you were wrong to do it.”

“I know Bette. I wronged you terribly—I wronged myself,” Eleanor said.

“You wronged Theo.”

A line of confusion crossed Eleanor’s brow. “Theo?”

“He wanted you happy. He wanted us to be together.”

“I suppose I can see that he might have…” Eleanor began. But Bette cut her off.

“He did. He wrote to me—in Provence. He thanked me for freeing him from your constant worries. He told me that much as he had rather stay with the living and fall in love too, he could at least die in peace knowing his sister had found happiness and … I still have the letter, but I haven’t read it in years.”

Eleanor stared at Bette in disbelief. But she believed her. It was like Theo—just like him. Of course he had wanted her to be happy. Of course he had adored Bette. She threw her hands up in frustration. “Is the rest of my life to be a long unfurling of continuous evidence that I am history’s greatest fool?” she said.

Bette smiled and took one of Eleanor’s hands. “I rather think,” she said, “that the rest of your life could be a great unfurling of all that Theo hoped most for you. I think this very moment could be the threshold of a new life. I don’t mean that you should forget him—I mean that you should try to live for him, rather than bury yourself for him.”

Eleanor looked around the room. “Will you tell Signora Marini to have them pack up this room and send it all to Boston? I don’t care about the rest of the house. It can go to the auctioneer.”

“I’ll tell her.” Bette rose and left Eleanor alone.

Eden 35:2

EleanorIt was three days before she opened the door of Theodore’s room or any part of the wing of the house that had become a private hospital in his last weeks of life. She had shown Bette the places she and her brother had frequented before he was too ill to go out; had taken her even, to his grave and laid a posy of violets there, dry-eyed as the day she had buried him.

Bette had been as serviceable a witness to these things as Eleanor could have ordered herself. In their little tours, she had asked only the questions Eleanor made it clear she would welcome answering. She made no scenes of melodramatic mourning at the graveside, following instead, Eleanor’s reverent but measured example.

Eleanor did not want to lose her equilibrium now. But three days was long enough to wait.

“I suppose I’d better go and see to his room this morning,” Eleanor told Bette across the small breakfast table on the piazza.

“His room?”

“His things are all there—or should be, supposing the staff has followed my orders, and I have no reason to believe they haven’t.”

“His things…” Bette mused quietly, not meeting Eleanor’s eye.

“They need going over. I have to decide what to do with them before the sale.”

She intended to sell the house and the majority of its contents at auction as soon as she could pack away what she wanted to keep and choose an agent.

“Shall I help you?” Bette asked.

Eleanor paused for just a moment. Her first instinct was to beg Bette to simply go and do it for her. But how could Bette decide what to keep and what to sell among such personal detritus?

“No, there’s no need,” she said, lighting a cigarette and finishing the strong little cup of coffee before her.

“You’re certain?” Bette had barely pressed.

Eleanor gave her a strained smile. “Certain,” she said.

But as she crossed the threshold of Theo’s room, she found herself needing, if not an arm to lean on, a reminder that her brother had last been here 18 years ago, rather than just days before. She had not even returned to the room after the burial, but had left it forever after the doctor had shaken his head and covered Theo’s face with the sheet.

In the morning light that filled the window and brightened the room, it seemed to Eleanor that her brother had stepped away for a moment and might return presently, to chide her for being there without his leave. She moved to the bed itself, put a hand on a post and found herself almost faint. She sat down to catch her breath and saw that beside the bed, on a little marble table, lay a copy of Keats, a well-chewed pipe upon its curling cover and a mahogany box inlaid with alabaster that she had given Theo for his eighteenth birthday. There was a little drawer in the table and she guessed it was likely to be full still of clean handkerchiefs with TWS stitched in the corners.

Her eyes welled with tears.

Eden 35:1

keats graveRome

There was not a speck of dust in the old house. The hall, in anticipation of Bette and Eleanor’s arrival had been ventilated and well lit. Fresh flowers filled the vases in every room. And yet something about Roman architecture always made Eleanor think of decay, however shining the marble floor, however glowing the brass banisters, however pressed and fresh the uniforms of the staff. Nevertheless they greeted her politely, begging of her in what room to deposit her luggage and inquiring whether she would dine at home and if so, at what hour.

She might have left the place last week rather than nearly twenty years ago. She might find Theo around any corner, an unlit, unfilled pipe in his teeth, a cheap edition of Childe Harold in his hand.

Bette’s presence beside her failed to entirely disrupt this little fantasy. After all, Bette had known him. She alone, of all Eleanor’s current acquaintances, had. He had been, yes, too young, but mostly too coddled and protected to have gone much into the society of people their father had insisted Eleanor know and be known by, much as she knew he would have preferred it be his son, not his daughter who survived him.

Bette interrupted her nostalgia. “Let’s not put the staff to any great task this evening, shan’t we? I saw a suitable bistro from the cab. It was just in the last street.”

Theo’s ghost fled and Eleanor looked at her companion. “I couldn’t eat, I think. If a bistro suits you, it suits me,” she said. Then, to the staff, in Italian, she gave the orders for the situation of their luggage, begged the kitchen maid for a pot of English tea and turned into the drawing room with Bette.