Letter 19 - Addie's Portrait

Miss Maitland Bristow
14 Bathurst Mews

5 December 1902

Dearest Maisie,

I am so envious of your journey out to the Carnival. How I wish I could have been there to join in the revelry! Your letters are wonderful and terrible all at once. I can just imagine the Carnival and the splendid costumes and more than anything I want to be there; to be a part of your story. Alas, here I am, still in Paris. With the Christmas season growing near, I do not know how well I shall fare in the coming months without you.

Well, I shall tell you of all my adventures as of late. Last Friday, I was at my regular appointment with Mr. Rousseau. I was already taken with my studies when Mr. Rousseau began rigorously tapping upon the desk. I turned my head to look at him, and he was staring straightforwardly at me, as he tapped. He had a look of stern intensity about his face and spoke, "I hear you have been keeping company with Mr. Steichen." The tapping persisted. Maisie, I did not know what to say to the man, "Yes, he has been a pleasing--friend." "Friend? Perhaps you are too quick to forget your other . . . friends." Before I had time to react, Madame Fifi entered, "Adeline, Mr. Steichen is here." I speedily left the tapping and the library. Eduard was waiting for me in the tea room. He was wearing a black lounge suit, black overcoat and a black Homburg hat that sat just so, so as to make his eyes only visible when he looked up at me. "Hello, Addie," he said. I smiled and took his arm. I never really have any inkling as to where we will go when I am with Eduard. We have been to the theatre, we have been to see the new Eiffel Tower, we have attended galas and art expositions. We walked out to the Champs Elysees and boarded the Metro. When we exited the station, we found ourselves walking in a very bourgeoisie neighbourhood. We were on the east side of the Place des Vosges--a spot I had not had the pleasure of seeing until then. We stopped in front of a charming end terrace house, when Eduard fetched a key from his coat pocket. "Is this your home, then?" I asked. "More a studio than a home--but yes--it has a bed. Please, come in." We walked into the foyer and I must admit, I felt entirely out of my realm. Scattered across the walls in every direction were paintings and photographs. Some were of the beautiful countryside, quite a few had only the image of a woman's bare back . . . I felt so unprepared to see such things. I hadn't in the slightest, any idea what to say. Clumsily I asked, "Are all of these yours then?" He said, "Yes, mostly. A few are gifts." We walked down the hall to an open room, which was indeed filled with all sorts of equipment. Stark, white canvases stood on easels around the room--some of them had the beginnings of faint, but still indiscernible images streaked across in oil paint. In one corner was a chaise, in the other, an unmade bed. There didn't seem to be anyone else in the house. The silence was awkward. Finally, Eduard said, "When I saw you this afternoon I knew today was the day to take your portrait." I immediately began to fidget and worry about how our travels had no doubt put my curls in disrepair. "You look angelic," he said, as he began to fiddle with his camera. My mind wandered back to the risque pictures in the hallway, and I stuttered, "Eduard, I know you h-have an eye for what is beautiful, but if you will recall, I am the lady who does not aspire to be k-kissed when greeted--I hardly . . ." He chuckled, "Addie, do not fret, this will be a fully-clothed photograph." I am quite sure I looked visibly relieved. The afternoon with Eduard was splendid. I doubt I shall ever forget it. Never have I been so spoilt or admired. I have enclosed for you one of the photographs Eduard took of me.

Maisie, there is something that has been troubling me. It is quite personal, really. I am a bit embarrassed to write it, honestly. However, I think it will do you well to understand my behaviour. Do you recall the small gathering your family had for you upon our graduating from Cheltenham? When Mother and I came over for the evening, we had the loveliest time. It was so enjoyable to see Mother in such high spirits--even if I knew once we returned home, she would no doubt return to her melancholy self. Much had been weighing heavily on my mind at the time. I am not certain you took notice, but at one point in the evening, I excused myself and went out to the balcony to have a moment to myself. I remember leaning against the iron, and staring out into the starry night wondering what the future would hold for me. Mother and Father were quarreling now, more than ever. Everything felt as if it were falling apart. I heard the doors to the balcony quietly open and close again, briefly letting the cheery noises from the inside out--it was Peter. He came and occupied the balcony just beside me, just as he had a hundred times before when we were younger; when you, Peter and I would observe the heavens, trying to pick out the constellations. Maisie, he just stood there and looked at me without deviation. I did not know how to explain the sorrowfulness in my countenance, but it seemed he did not need me to. It was as if the years we had spent growing up with one another had somehow given him the cleverness to discern all that plagued me. In a hushed tone he whispered, “Adeline . . . “ The softness in his voice seemed to mend me. I was caught unawares by my inclinations, and became all at once alive to the fact that we were no longer just children. As we stood there--so near--I never in all my life have found myself wanting anything as much as I did Peter Bristow. A rush of delirium swept through me and I quickly left the balcony to return to the celebration. Well, now it has been said. I know you question my good judgment in being taken with Peter. Maisie, I question my own judgment, as well. How could I consent to letting a few brief moments consume me so? What is more, I know Peter is all the things you describe him to be. Furthermore, Eduard is mine now--I know I mustn’t corrupt my affection for him. I want you to know that I resolve to put Peter out of my mind. I shan’t dwell on these foolish imaginations any longer.

I do hope your holiday is going well, and that you will find the time to write me soon. Despite my busy days and nights, there is always a loneliness here without you.


Adeline Westley

23 rue Saint Paul


CT said...

this letter made me have goosebumps!! keep them coming!

Michelle Walker said...

We're so glad you like them!!!