Category Archives: 40 Chapter Forty

Eden 40:4

Two days later Eden was making good progress on her portrait of Miss Strether, when a telegram arrived in the hand of a servant bringing tea. She opened the thin slip of blue and read:

Liverpool to Boston-stop-White Star 1 August-stop-state room first class-stop-expect ticket by post-stop-I stay on in Paris through winter-ES

Relief flooded her as she carefully folded the telegram and placed it back on the tray. She would soon be reunited with Sophia. But she was disappointed that Eleanor would not accompany them to Boston. She was already grieved to lose her near daily conversations with Bette and now she would have to get on without Eleanor too. She sighed and glanced across the room at Miss Strether posed on the dining room hearthrug before a cold grate, costumed in some vaguely but colorfully oriental drapery and a mass of jewels with which Wil had decked her.

The actress smiled caressingly, as if Eden might need her comfort—or as if she rather hoped Eden did. “No bad news I hope?”

“No—just business.” Eden immediately regretted her curt tone. “Shall we stop a moment for tea?”

Eden poured it and held out a cup to Miss Strether.

“What a gentleman you are,” the opulent woman cooed, unconsciously echoing Alice Chamberlain, and it came suddenly to Eden that it was not only for Sophia she longed, but for the earnest simplicity of Boston itself.

The ticket arrived on her breakfast tray the very morning after she had completed Miss Strether’s portrait.  She ignored the food and began packing her things. It was only the 10th of July, but she would return to London by the afternoon train. The sooner she could taker her leave of Windmoor the better.

Eden 40:3

EdenAs full of activity and frivolity as Wil had been keeping the place, Eden was lonely. She longed to write to Sophia, but couldn’t. She wrote a little to Eleanor, but it gave her no relief. Eleanor’s perspective was too much like Wil’s or George’s and Eden had enough of that. She wanted Sophia’s view of things. George had called her puritanical; Decker—who had once seemed so innocent himself—portrayed her as a naïve saint. But she was neither of these. She had ideals—certainly—but she was neither an angel nor a scold.

Windmoor simply wasn’t real. It was like a great playground full of oversized children in adults’ clothing. Wil and George worried about whether the rain would stop in time for a weekend hunting party, whether the ladies could be persuaded to play billiards, whether the champagne was chilled enough or the best cigars would last until the next box arrived from London. It was lovely in its way, but it wasn’t life. Eden could barely even paint it, after the first fortnight. It was all of one color and one light—however bright, it grew tiresome.

When the long artists’ weekend was over, the house emptied of everyone but Wil and her actress, George and Alice. To avoid awkward triangles, Eden took Sykes, the puppy, as her partner in the coupling that surrounded her.

She was out with him on a ramble one evening between tea and dinner, considering again a return to London. But Wil wanted her to paint Miss Strether. She had done George and Wil already—the pair of them, sitting opposite one another in the conservatory with tropical flowers over their shoulders and Sykes at George’s feet. She supposed she might as well do the actress. The girl was a little too typically pretty to make it an interesting picture in and of itself. But Eden could place her somewhere dramatic—against an old tapestry or on a carpet before the immense hearth in the dining room—Wil would like that, and Miss Strether would rise theatrically to the occasion.

Eden was thinking of it and watching for Sykes’s return with a stick she had tossed when she all but stumbled into Alice Chamberlain on the path.

“Oh!” Alice said. “I thought I was alone out here.  I supposed everyone was dressing.”

“Are we to dress tonight?” Eden frowned. She had hoped that they might be more informal now that the large party had scattered. As much delight as she took in her own evening clothes, the emptiness of the ritual—and the time it all took—was beginning to tire her.

“Oh—I think so—” Alice said as Sykes bounded up and muddied the hem of her dress in enthusiastic greeting. “I’ll have to now, anyway.”

And she stepped to Eden’s side and took her arm as if Eden had offered it, which she had not.

Eden could hardly rebuff the woman, and she walked on, Sykes reprimanded, and keeping obediently now to her opposite heel, as Alice chattered about the people who had left the morning before.

Eden wasn’t interested in gossip and she was not at her ease with the girl at her side, on a path sometimes too narrow, really, for two, and always a bit rougher than made for comfortably walking arm-in-arm.  She tried to match her gate to Alice’s and found it not unlike dancing.

Alice seemed to read her thoughts. “Do you remember when we waltzed at Wil’s ball that spring you came to London for the very first time?”

Eden remembered it wincingly. But she betrayed no embarrassment to Alice. “It was a grand party,” she said.

“You were grand—I could see it even then, though you were so shy and nervous. You wore your clothes as well as any man I’ve seen before or since. You weren’t just playing at it like so many of them at Wil’s and Liz’s parties.” Alice stopped and it forced Eden to stop too. Sykes glanced up at her, then wandered off into the underbrush, following a rabbit or a bird.

Eden was about to call the dog back when Alice said, “you are a real gentleman, Monsieur Smith.”

Eden hoped her face didn’t show the warmth she felt rising to it. “Well,” she said, “if we are to dress, I ought to…”

She made as if to walk on, but Alice held her in place. “Wait,” she whispered, her face only inches from Eden’s.

“Sykes!” a voice called. Eden and Alice turned in unison, rapidly unlinking their arms.

RheinwiesenThe dog bounded up again and behind him came George.

“Oh!” Alice said and rushed to George. “I was just asking Eden if she knew where you’d gone.”

George looked from Alice to Eden without smiling. Eden bent and greeted the dog. “Alice says we’re dressing for dinner,” she said. “I’d better go back.”

She rose and walked swiftly to the house, Sykes wagging along at her side.

Eden 40:2

Eden was laughing again, this time, at a caricature of Wil, drawn by Decker, who had, by some means, made the acquaintance of Mr. James and been staying in Rye for a fortnight. Wil, who, unlike Eleanor, had no qualms about introducing Eden to the great novelist, had included him in a long weekend party at which writers and artists made up the bulk of the guest list. The party had been, Eden supposed, the idea of one Miss Strether, an actress of whom Wil was obviously fond, as she was placed every evening at dinner in the position of hostess, opposite Wil as host.

Mr. James himself, for all his appearance of austerity had written a comical play mocking them one and all, and Miss Strether had both directed its performance and starred in it on Sunday evening in the music room. Decker had sat quietly smiling, a sketchbook on his lap, through the entire thing. Now Monday at breakfast, when the others were at lawn tennis or riding or angling or pairing up in secluded corners of the wood, he and Eden sat laughing over his results.

“If only they weren’t quite so scandalous,” Eden grinned. “You could sell them to a magazine in London.”

“Perhaps I could sell them to one in Paris, anyway,” Decker suggested.

But Eden thought not.  “No, you’re too good for nonsense. Really, you ought to go home and take up reporting. Can you write?”

Decker seemed to be considering it, when Eden flipped a page and frowned. “What’s this?” she said.

It was a picture of herself standing aloof, cigarette in hand, smoke ringing her head like a haloed saint. But beside her stood Alice Chamberlain, eyes begging for Eden’s attention. And at Alice’s feet sat George in evening clothes, plus a collar and leash, the end of which was held as lightly and absently as a fan in Alice’s gloved fingers.

Puppy Love, a caption in Decker’s careless scrawl read.

“Oh—” Decker looked up and blushed a little. “Sorry Eden, but it is funny.”

“It’s ridiculous. And wrong. This isn’t the way it is with George and me,” Eden insisted.

“No?” Decker said. “Perhaps my impression was mistaken. You three were sitting together at the play, and it looked…”

But a glare from Eden silenced him. He tore the page from the sketchbook and handed it to her.

“Thanks,” she said.

Eden 40:1

Smoking_in_black_and_whiteEden sat smoking and sketching in Wil Hyland’s country house garden. She had gone to London only to discover that George was with Wil at Windmoor—her estate in Kent—with at least twenty other people, and was planning an indefinite stay.

At dinner on the evening of her arrival, Eden had found herself seated next to Alice Chamberlain and her heart had skipped a beat. It was not that she had not seen Alice from time to time in Paris. There was no baby yet, and Alice had nothing to keep her in London but the husband whom she claimed worked from dawn until dinner—sometimes later—every day, and, she insisted, never missed her.

But frequently as Alice might have been in Paris, Eden had only ever seen her at Liz’s parties. And to these, Eden had gone less often. She almost never went to them without Sophia, who was rarely able to get away from her work for such things.

Now Alice’s husband was on an extended trip to India to handle some legal business for the government and Alice was settled in at Windmoor for the duration. The idea of sharing the confined space of Wil’s house, immense as it might be, with Alice—and without Sophie—had made Eden nervous enough to consider returning alone to London alone. But at the mention of this idea to George over breakfast on the first morning after her arrival, she had been sharply corrected.

“If you are afraid Alice has designs on you, mate, you should know that she is otherwise occupied just now,” George said.

“Occupied…?”

“Oh, smitten even—quite,” George insisted.

“With whom?” Eden asked.

George only smiled and colored behind her pince nez and her cigarette.

“You?” Eden frowned. “And you don’t mind that she’s married?”

“If she doesn’t mind it, why should I?” George said.

Eden just shook her head.

“You are a puritanical American to the bone, Eden Smith,” George accused.

“I don’t see anything in it for you in the end, that’s all,” Eden said.

Rheinwiesen“There is nothing in it for me in the end. I have no illusions about that. But it is not the future we are about. It is the present. And at present, we are far from the end, I assure you.” George tapped the ash from her cigarette and snapped her fingers at a spaniel in the corner of the garden, who came running at the signal.

The dog, really an adolescent puppy, George introduced to Eden as “Sykes,” a gift, only weeks before, from Alice Chamberlain herself.

He bounded rudely halfway into Eden’s lap, licking her face and wagging his tail. Eden shook her head again, but laughed.