Category Archives: 39 Chapter Thirty-Nine

Eden 39:5

Sophia did not feel as if she were too good.

For the next fortnight, she found that every minute she was not preparing for her examinations, Dr. Bertrand was asking excitedly for her consultation on Eden’s case. She was in the very position she had weighed as easy on the dark riverbank. But though Eden herself had laid her a foundation with reams of lies—based artfully on the cases in Dr. Ellis’s book—Sophia found nothing easy about allowing Bertrand to believe she shared his views.

One moment, she found herself feeling a guilty relief at being once more in Bertrand’s full confidence. The next, she would imagine throwing his notes on the floor and telling him that whatever Eden might be, Sophia was, too. Sometimes the fantasy gripped her so hard that her heart raced as she bent over a working draft of Bertrand’s article, fearful of what she might do and the consequences it would produce.

At night, exhausted as she was, she lay sleepless on her bed in her own room alone, afraid almost to look at or speak to Eden, much as she longed to crawl into her arms and beg her to take away the awful feeling of betrayal that dogged her.

But in a few days more, Sophia came home from the hospital to find Eden gone.

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Eden 39:4

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Eden, what have you done?”

It was twelve o’clock on a Tuesday but Sophia was standing in the door of Eden’s studio. A model draped in classical folds of white linen lay on the prop couch, a goblet in her hand and a wreath on her head. Eden had been working all week on a commission from an English poet who wanted illustrations for his book.

The girl looked up at Sophia, not moving otherwise. But Eden dropped her brush in surprise.

Sophia stepped into the room and met the model’s eye. “Pardonez-moi,” she said, blushing as she spoke.

The girl smiled and looked at Eden who dismissed her with a nod. “Merci. Venez demain?”

“Oui,” said the model, hastily pulling together her things and stepping behind a screen to dress.

Eden eyed Sophia silently. But Sophia did not look up. She stepped idly around the airy room, pretending to investigate the props, the pictures laid against the wall, the view of the street from the windows—anything but Eden, until the model had gone.

But when she had, Sophia snapped her attention to Eden. “What have you done?” she said again.

Eden pointed to the little sofa recently vacated by the model and Sophia sat down. “Done?” Eden asked.

“Dr. Bertrand showed me some notes. He is preparing an article about your “case.” He is certain that Dr. Hall’s associate in London—yes, Dr. Hall is also involved—will want to publish it in his journal.”

Blood rose to Eden’s face. “You weren’t supposed to know. He promised me.” She ran a hand through her hair and sat heavily on the stool before her canvas.

Sophia“I was not supposed to know what? That you have decided to make a subject of yourself for his investigation? Why would you do it?”

“You know exactly why.” Eden met Sophia’s eye. Silence settled between them for a long moment.

“I never would have agreed to it if you had consulted me,” Sophia said at last.

Eden“That is why I didn’t consult you.” Eden stood and turned to the little table behind her and found a bottle and two glasses.  She poured an inch of amber liquid in each glass, immediately drained one herself, then took the other to Sophia.

Sophia accepted the glass but didn’t drink. “He says you are suffering from the delusion that I am in love with you. He finds my behavior towards you to be ‘wise from a medical perspective.’ It would shatter your nerves, he is certain, to face the truth. Now, he says, we must ‘treat’ you with a slow process of introducing you to the reality of your ‘condition.’”

Sophia finally sipped the liquid in her glass, grimaced and placed it at her feet. She put her face in her hands for a moment, then looked up again. Eden was still standing before her.

“He won’t get a chance to treat me. I’ll be gone,” Eden said.

“Gone?” Sophia looked up in concern.

“I’m going to leave Paris for a few weeks.” Eden knelt before Sophia on the dusty floor. “Listen,” she said, “I didn’t mean for you to know about any of this. But I’m leaving for a while. If I don’t tell you where, you can tell him you don’t know. Let him attribute it to my nerves—or my delusion—or whatever he’d like to call it. And when your examinations are over, and your degree is in your beautiful hands—” Eden took them and kissed them. “You can sail for Boston. The women’s hospital will have you, won’t they? Claire…”

“Eden—” Sophia’s eyes filled with tears.

“It isn’t your fault about Bertrand. Of course he fell in love with you. How could he resist?” Eden tried to smile. “I know I’ve caused you trouble with him and I thought that this way…”

“You thought by humiliating yourself you could restore me in Bertrand’s opinion? You thought I would want you to—”

“I never said I thought you wanted me to,” Eden stopped her. “Of course you wouldn’t want it. You’re too, too good and loyal.  But I won’t let you make such a sacrifice for no practical reason. I’ve barely told Bertrand a word of truth about my life. He doesn’t know the difference. And he swears I’ll be anonymous in the article.”

“You knew about the article?” Sophia said.

“It doesn’t matter. I only want to make him happy so he’ll support you until you finish your work here. I’ve been stupid. I never stopped to think about what it means for you to…be with me. You could marry anyone you wanted. You could have children, grandchildren. But you choose me. You choose me and people talk about you. Your parents…all I cared about was what they thought of me—never how you felt about what they thought.”

“I don’t care what they think,” Sophia said weakly.

Eden shook her head. “I’ve been so careless of you, darling. But no more. I won’t let Bertrand say a thing against you. I won’t have him thinking there’s something wrong with you as he’s sure there is with me. I won’t have you risking your medical career before it even begins.”

Sophia looked into Eden’s eyes. “I hate it,” she said.

“I’m sorry he told you,” Eden said. And she pulled Sophia into her arms. “You are too good,” she said again.

Eden 39:3

ellis“Mademoiselle Smith, what a pleasure to see you. You remember Dr. Hall.” Dr. Bertrand smiled and shook Eden’s hand, gesturing to the young English doctor Eden had met at the train station. She shook his hand too, then took the chair Bertrand offered in a corner of the room. The men sat down opposite her with small notebooks and pencils.

“May we begin with some questions about your family?” Dr. Hall asked.

She nodded.

Eden 39:2

Trousered knee bumping trousered knee, tie brushing tie, his hands in her short hair and hers in his, Michel’s kiss had been enchanted. It was as if the touch of his lips had transformed her at last into a real man. The taste of coffee and stale cigarettes, the rough worsted of his jacket had awakened her to the revelation that he loved her—as he had feebly tried to explain—not because she was any particular kind of woman, but because she was not one. She felt it in the kiss. To her friend she was an uncanny but marvelous reflection of himself.

She walked too quickly, she breathed too fast. Catching her own image in passing shop windows, she saw the handsome jeune homme Larousse loved. She saw the talented young man who might, with a few strokes of his paintbrush, bring the fashionable circles of Europe and America to his feet.

She was walking with her head high, a smile on her lips when she found herself turning down the rue Jacob and towards home. She had intended to go to the studio again, but her feet had taken her instead to Eleanor’s door.

She stood before it without moving to enter and looked up at the window that belonged to Sophia’s room. She wished Sophia would look down and see her there, see the change Larousse had wrought.

But would she see it?

Sophia - Version 2Putting herself in Sophia’s place, Eden doubted it. What had she lately been to Sophia but a petulant child? What kind of man treated a woman like Sophia with such carelessness? If she was what Larousse believed her to be, she never would have let the woman who loved her worry alone about Bertrand’s advances—or anything else. But she had reacted to Sophia’s trouble as if it were her own and Sophia to blame for it.

A man ought to treat a woman as rare as Sophia like a treasure. Her mother had never had luxury, but Joe Smith had never let her feel herself abandoned for a moment of their life together, Eden was certain. And Joe had put a roof over her mother’s head with his own hands not once, but twice. Sophia was no less deserving than Lillian of such devotion.

Eden knew how to build a house. She had helped raise a multitude of buildings for people and horses when she was growing up. In Arizona, a man built a house in tribute to the woman he would marry. To build a house was to civilize a plot of earth where his beloved could walk in comfort and safety. But Sophia didn’t need a house—Eleanor had a half dozen of them.

What Sophia needed—what Eden had asked her to give away—was her home.

Paris moved fast, and Eden’s career had moved at its pace. The galleries couldn’t keep her work on the walls, and Eleanor’s friends had begun to inquire about portraits. Eden loved Paris only a little less than she loved Sophia, but she knew she didn’t need it anymore. She could work as easily in London, in New York, even in Boston. And so she would.

She would give Sophia Boston.

But first, she had to solve the problem of Dr. Bertrand.

Eden 39:1

Eden had been sleeping in her studio for three days when, home to collect her letters, she was surprised by a rather formal note, written in careful English, from Larousse, inviting her to come for tea in his studio. She wondered who else would be there and why Larousse would be entertaining in what Decker had described as such a small and inconvenient room at the top of so many flights of stairs, in such an unimpressive little street near the art school.

She wondered again, as she ascended those dark stairs that afternoon. The walls were unpapered, and not recently painted. Water stains and cobwebs indicated that the housekeeper—if there was one—had no regular habits. A tiny skylight above the stairwell allowed but a trickle of sun into the dim hall. Eden wondered how anything as nice as Decker described could be awaiting her in Larousse’s room.

But when she arrived at the top floor and Larousse opened the door, she saw that Decker had been right. Two exposed walls filled with clean windows—Larousse must wash them himself, she supposed—and a ceiling with two generous skylights made the small space a painter’s heaven. A narrow bed, a small desk, and a steamer trunk turned on end to serve as a wardrobe, were all the furniture besides a stool before Larousse’s easel and a table strewn with brushes and tubes and jars.

“Mademoiselle Smith—Bienvenu!” Larousse declared, taking Eden gently by the shoulders. She smiled and let him kiss her on either cheek. There was no one else there.

Larousse pointed to the bed and offered her a seat, pulling up the stool beside her. He had made a pot of tea already—Eden wasn’t sure how, there was no fire in the grate—and it stood on a tray with milk and sugar, three croissants and a lump of sweating butter.

She took a cup, took a croissant and said, “Decker was right, it’s a beautiful studio. How did you manage to find it? Those stairs…”

“It was luck,” Larousse said. “Those stairs, as you say…they do not make one expect such light.” He glanced around. “And the rent is a pittance. Which is good since I have only a pittance to offer.”

They chatted for a moment, then Eden stood. “Can I look at what you’re doing?” she asked.

“Of course,” Larousse waved an arm but didn’t rise himself. She walked about the room, looking at his latest work, some propped against the walls, some hanging on them. The lovely things Decker had said Larousse possessed looked, to Eden, to amount to a few vases, a replica bust of some Classical origin and a smattering of other painters’ pictures. These were namely, a small watercolor by Picasso, two Matisse prints and one of Eden’s desert landscapes in oil. She stopped before it and blushed, not wanting to turn and let her friend see her face. Hanging here, in Larousse’s own workroom, there was something embarrassing about the picture. She felt opened to inspection in a way that public exhibitions, dealers, critics had never opened her. They were strangers—the crowds at the shows, the critics and gallery men. They didn’t know her. They saw only pictures. But what did Larousse see? What, moreover could he have seen that would prompt him to part with his meager sous to hang her work in his room?

“Ah, oui—it is one of yours. You have found me out,” Larousse said.

“You might have just asked—you ought not to have paid for it,” Eden said.

“Not to have paid? Non, non—I had to pay. It had to be an act of sacrifice.”

Eden turned to face him across the little room. “Sacrifice?” Confusion crossed her brow.

Larousse stood. “I had the idea,” he said, taking a step towards her, “that I could offer it to you—as a proof.”

Eden’s brow was still knit. “A proof of what?”

Larousse took a step. He was still more than an arm’s length away, but close enough to meet her eye. “A proof of…” he glanced out the window a moment, almost as if checking to see that no one was looking in on them. “A proof of love.”

Eden blinked as if the sun had struck her eyes. “Love for…” For her work, she supposed. He meant of course, that he admired her work.

“For you, Miss Smith,” Larousse finished for her, still looking bravely into her face.

He stepped closer yet and took her hand.

“For me?  Mais non, certainment tu ne…” Eden looked down at her hand in Larousse’s. He dropped it.

“Oui, pour tu,” was all he said.

“But Decker said Chloe—”

“Ah, Chloe. She likes to go around with me, but she and I have no understanding.”

“I didn’t think so.” Eden looked at him and lowered her voice. “In fact, I was sure that you… That you didn’t care for…marriage.”

“Marriage? I am not speaking now, of marriage, Miss Smith. I hope that does not offend you.”

“No, of course not. I only mean…” Eden took a breath and tried again. “I thought you didn’t care for women.”

They watched each other for a beat. Then Larousse turned, walked back to his stool and sat down. “I see,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” Eden didn’t move from her spot by the picture.

“You are not right, but you are not wrong either. Chloe is a pretty girl but before I met you I had only ever really loved…other men. But you are not like any woman I have ever known, Mademoiselle Smith. You are extraordinary. You are the most courageous person I have ever met and your work is…” He stopped and considered a moment. “You said that we would need the best of the old traditions as well as the new ideas to move into the new century. That is you exactly. You are the best of both.” He said it again, more slowly: “the best of both.”

“I have never loved a man,” Eden told him quietly. “But there is someone I love.”

He looked at the window again. “La petite medecin?”

Eden nodded.

“And the two of you have…an understanding?”

Eden nodded again, unconsciously twisting Sophia’s ring on her finger. Larousse looked at her hands.

“I see,” he said. “Please forgive me. I had a stupid idea, I suppose.”

“It isn’t stupid. But it isn’t…” Eden stepped to the bed and sat beside him. She picked up his hand. “If I could love a man…” she began.

He took his hand away. “Non,” he said. “You cannot. It is the very thing I find so…” He shook his head.

“I am sorry,” Eden said again. “I like you so much, Michel.”

She had never used his Christian name before. He smiled dimly. “I am as foolish as Giles says I am.”

“Non. Tu es un genie—it’s Decker who is right about you—you are wonderful. You are a thousand years ahead of us all, fast as it feels we are moving.” She searched his face with earnest kindness. His eyes were full of sad thought. A curiosity rose within her and, in spite of herself, she found she was pulling him to her and kissing him with real passion.

“Ah, you had better go, Eden,” he whispered a moment later. And he showed her down the dark stairs and out the front door.