Category Archives: 44 Chapter Forty-Four

Eden 44:5

Sophia and Eleanor both gasped when Eden pulled the muslin away from the picture.

“It’s stunning,” Eleanor told her.

“They’re going to say it’s the best thing you’ve done yet,” Sophia remarked quietly.

Eden frowned. “It isn’t,” she said. “The best thing I’ve done is the picture of my mother in the music room on Beacon Street.”

“Well, no one has seen that, darling,” Eleanor said.

But Eden was still frowning.

“What is it, Eden, aren’t you happy with it?” Sophia asked.

“I don’t care to have Gertrude Brunswick thought the best thing I’ve ever done.”

“It isn’t Gertrude, it’s your painting, darling,” Eleanor said.

Eden was looking at Sophia.

“I haven’t done it yet—the best thing I could do.”

Sophia still said nothing. But she left the studio and Eleanor looked after her, then at Eden, watching her cross the hall to the dining room where Lucy was setting out hot bowls of clam chowder.

Eden replaced the muslin and left the studio, making a bit more racket on the stairs than was really necessary as she made her way to her room. She didn’t come down for dinner.

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Eden 44:4

Mrs. Charles Brunswick was wearing a long glittering gown of silver-threaded chiffon over a deep blue satin dress and draped in a mink cape much out of season for a July morning. It was her husband’s choice, and her husband was paying for the portrait, which would hang prominently in the dining room. Gertrude held the hem of her gown carefully off the floor for fear of dust as she walked slowly around the perimeter of Eden’s studio investigating the paintings piled along the wall. She skimmed by the seascapes and still life but stopped to look closer at the portraits and scenes of children playing on the beach.

“This is nice,” Gertrude said, examining a picture of Vivienne Webb with her small granddaughter on her knee. “She looks a bit familiar, should I know her?”

Eden didn’t turn to see who Gertrude meant, but kept busy with her charcoal and paint, then in arranging the drape behind the couch where Gertrude would sit.

“Is this your cook?” Gertrude asked now, and Eden finally turned.

“Lucy, yes,” Eden smiled. It was her favorite of the paintings she’d done so far in the new studio. Lucy had sat before a butcher block, shelling peas into a copper bowl, humming to herself giving Eden a peaceful sense of home as she had worked. She could recall the tune every time she looked at the picture.

“What about Sophia Abington? You’ve one of her somewhere don’t you?” Gertrude asked.

“No,” Eden said.

“You haven’t painted her?”

“No.”Eden let go of the drapery behind the couch.  “Here,” she said. “Sit down and let me see where the light is going to fall.”

Gertrude sat where Eden directed her and Eden touched her here and there, turning her shoulder one way, tilting her chin another. Then she stepped to her canvas, took up a stick of charcoal and began to sketch.

“Is she not here with you?” Gertrude asked.

“Who?” Eden said.

“Miss Abington. I had thought you lived together. Perhaps Cathy was mistaken. Or I misunderstood,” Gertrude said.

“She works at a hospital in Boston. She comes to the cape when she can.” Eden did not want to talk about Sophia to Gertrude. “Lift your chin a bit?” she said.

“How many sittings do you suppose the picture will require?” Gertrude asked.

“I can’t say today,” Eden said.

“I hope it is enough to give us heaps of time to talk,” Gertrude said, and flashed a smile upon Eden.

Eden kept her eyes on the canvas. “Chin,” she reminded Gertrude.

Eden 44:3

“Eden! Eden, they’ve given it to us!” Sophia ran through the hall of the cottage and across the back porch where Eden was painting a group of children playing on the beach.

Eden turned in alarm, but saw the joy on Sophia’s face as she waved a letter in the air and raced into Eden’s arms.

“They’ve what? Who?” Eden asked.

Sophia“Harvard. They’ve given us the Boylston Prize!” Sophia pulled away from Eden, tears streaming down her face.

The letter was from Claire, but she had enclosed the announcement of the prize and Sophia handed it to Eden.

“I told you I would make them regret not taking me,” Sophia said with an enormous smile, wiping her tears with the heels of her hands.

“I’m sure they do, too,” Eden said, kissing Sophia’s cheek. “I won’t give this back. You’ll smear the ink with all your weeping!” She placed the letter in her breast pocket, took Sophia’s hand and walked back into the house.

Eden 44:2

Sophia lay in Eden’s arm sighing with the pleasant vertigo of approaching sleep, when Eden whispered into the dark. “Let me paint you, Sophie. Please let me paint you.”

Sophia said nothing, but she was awake now.

“Why not?” Eden sat up and lit a candle by the bed. She leaned over Sophia and traced the curl of a lock of hair that fell across her shoulder with the back of her hand.

“I’ve given you every particle of my body and soul, why do you need to paint me?” Sophia picked up Eden’s roving hand and kissed it.

“I look at you and see nothing but paintings—Sophia tossing a dressing gown over her shoulders; Sophia on the veranda with a book in her lap; Sophia in the music room, playing her etude… I close my eyes and I can feel the brush in my hand. I need to paint you. Please.”

“You have enough things to paint without me. Paint Gertrude Brunswick—her husband will pay you as much as I can earn in a year—more.” Sophia got up and pulled a dressing gown over her shoulders, much as Eden had imagined.  She walked to the mantle and poured a small glass of port for herself and another which she handed to Eden.

Eden didn’t know how to explain it to Sophia, but this growing need to paint her lover was nearly a madness. She felt it like she felt the physical desire for Sophia’s body when they were apart.

“It’s—it’s another way to touch you, Sophie—the only way I can reach…”

“Maybe I don’t want you to touch me that way,” Sophia admitted softly.

“But why not?” Eden’s expression was pained.

“I don’t want to be just another sitter—just another model—if you paint me…what’s left? You can toss me on the pile of your triumphs and be finished with me.”

“It’s not like that,” Eden said. “It wouldn’t be like that.”

“What would it be like?” Sophia asked, and sat in the chair by the fire, the wine, untouched, in her hand.

“It would be…” Eden reached to explain. “It would be the last thing—the only thing I ever needed to do. I could spend the rest of my life painting nothing but you.”

“Your public would find that rather dull, I imagine,” Sophia said, her eyes on the fire.

Eden ignored her. Instead she emptied her own glass and sat it on the mantel.  “Look at you now,” she whispered, “Sophia, by the fire, a glass of ruby liquid in her perfect hand…”

Eden walked to Sophia and knelt at her feet, laying her head in the girl’s lap.  “I would do anything, if you would only say yes.”

Sophia stroked Eden’s hair softly. But she said nothing.

Eden 44:1

Eleanor“Eden, you really must take this job,” Eleanor lectured over breakfast. They sat on the back veranda where they were sheltered from the direct morning sun, but could watch and hear and taste the sea on the air as they talked. “Once you have done it, everyone in New York will want you. London too, before long.”

A letter sat by Eden’s plate, the return address, an expensive Manhattan street. Eden knew it was from Charles Brunswick. He had already written her once last week. He wanted her to paint Gertrude.

“I’ve already done a half dozen pictures for people in New York. As for London, there’s Wil Hyland and George and…”

Eleanor raised an eyebrow. “The Brunswicks have a certain kind of influence, Eden. This will be the picture that establishes you as the fashionable choice for portraits. It’s an opportunity you should not ignore.”

Eden still did not touch the letter. “If you won’t read it, let me,” Eleanor said, holding out a hand.

Eden gave her the note and the older woman opened it, unfolded it and frowned.

“You had better read it yourself, after all,” she said. “It’s from his wife.”

Eden went white. “I don’t want to read it. I don’t want to paint her.”

Eleanor sighed. She dropped the letter on the table, rose and walked into the house.

Eden scowled after her for a moment. She finished the cold tea at the bottom of her cup and reached across the table for the letter.

Dear Eden,

Charles asked that I write you since he has had no response to his own letter. He was afraid you are so sought after that perhaps you’re too busy for his commission. He wants me to exhort you to give us a special favor for the sake of our old friendship.

Of course, I wouldn’t be so crass, but perhaps we could just consider it a chance to reacquaint ourselves. It has been too long, hasn’t it? And I do miss you. You could just paint as we talk, couldn’t you?

Charles is willing to pay $3,000 for a picture. Please let me know if that is enough or too little—really forgive me for mentioning it at all. It hardly seems to be the important thing.

The important thing is that I would love to see you again, Eden. The portrait can be our excuse, can it not?

Fondly,

teacup

Gertrude Prescott Brunswick

Eden crushed the letter in her hand and dropped it by her plate. She rose and left the rest of her breakfast uneaten.