14 Bathurst Mews
30 January 1903
Maisie, forgive my procrastination in writing you. I have inhabited the confines of my bedroom for more than a week now, and only within the last few days have I been able to piece things together. My memories of the recent past are vivid, but incomplete at best. I recall a time, a few days ago, perhaps, when the door to my bedroom was cracked open slightly and I overheard Mr. Westley consulting with Mr. Rousseau, "Get me the Chair of the department." I immediately recognised Vaughn's choppy voice: "Well, I shall check into it for you as soon as I return but ... " Mr. Westley interrupted him: "You will go now. And you will give the doctor my calling card, and tell him I expect to see him on the morrow." To which Mr. Rousseau replied, " ... of course." Shortly thereafter Madame Fifi came in with some tea and biscuits. "How do you feel?" she asked kindly. I felt weak, and winced in pain as I opened my mouth to answer. Madame Fifi stopped me, "I am foolish--please forgive me, ma cherie, do not answer, just rest." I placed my hand to my jaw--it was tender to the touch, and swollen. Madame Fifi left the tray on my bedside table before she left and instructed, "Rest now, the bruises will heal." Bruises? At once the memory of a handsome, older man reared up in my thoughts--I can place him now--he was the staggering, drunken man my father brought home back in London. Only here he was clean-shaven--not the bearded, liquored man I have etched in my mind. His voice was raspy and low, "You think that wise of you, bunter? Best to break you in now, love." He approached me, raising the backside of his hand--then the memory hastily vanished. I let out a gasp--then grimaced because of it. Slowly the memories came leaking back into my consciousness: I was in a small room, in what I can only imagine was a tawdry hotel. The man paced the width of the room, then approached me, his smooth, fluid hands brushing down the side of my face, "I'd fancy nothing more than to unrig you tonight--but seeing as how I'm a gentleman, I'll wait until the vicar makes it official tomorrow." Moving backward, he shut the door. I recall crying ... no, 'twas more screaming than crying. I do not seem to remember much more, Maisie. I must have fallen back into a deepened state of sleep after these jarring memories had begun to fade again, as I did not awake until the doctor arrived the following morning. Madame Fifi introduced him, "This is Docteur Laroche." The doctor smiled hesitantly, and went on to explain, "I understand your uncle was expecting Docteur Janet, but he is a very busy man, as you can well imagine." He fiddled with his bag, "I am a former student of his ... " I am quite certain my unwillingness to speak unless it was absolutely required of me made this fellow uneasy--unless it was the sight of me that so disturbed him. The doctor sat beside the bed and took out a tablet with which he began to write. He paused and asked, "Now tell me, Adeline, what do you remember?" I tried without great success to relay what I had remembered thus far. He sat for a few moments, quiet and pensive. "Would you object to some alternative form of calling up your memories?" I was hardly enthused to relive any more of whatever it was that happened to me, but I was tired, so I simply said, "I trust you will do what is best."
Dr. Laroche held up a small, silver lancet case just inches from the bridge of my nose, and asked me to expend all of my efforts in concentrating upon the object, without deviation. I did as he asked, but must have faded off to sleep again, for I do not recall what next he asked of me. When I awoke, Dr. Laroche praised me, "Very good, Adeline, I will report to Mr. Westley and the brigadier my findings, and I wish to you an expeditious recovery." With a quick glance back in my direction, the doctor left. I was left alone in my room and, as puzzled as I was about the mysterious events that had transpired a few nights past, I was not distressed. If I'm honest, I was quite the contrary. The doctor shuffled out, but I heard bits of his report to Mr. Westley as he tarried in the stairwell, "She suffers from dissociation amnesia. It will pass. As for her physical health, I read Dr. Patrie's report. All things considered, it is indeed extraordinary that, apart from the bruise on her face, she was not defiled." Brightening his tone, he mused, "She is an exceedingly attractive young lady ... " My uncle replied, "That is rather out of your field of expertise, Monsieur Laroche, is it not? You needn't trouble yourself with any future appointments in this household. Madame Fifi, show the man his way out." Madame Fifi quickly peered inside the room, closing the door. I slowly sat up in bed--it seemed it was the first time I had been awake in days. A large black object caught the corner of my eye, and I turned to find that Dr. Laroche had forgotten his bag. I bent down and found the doctor's tablet. It was scribbled with notes detailing the incident. I read them through, Maisie, and it did not take long for the truth of the transcription to be made clear to me. I had gone missing and fallen into the hands of my father's creditor, and somehow had come to be returned to my Uncle. I read from Laroche's notes:
Patient recalls a loud rapping at the door, whilst being held outside in the cold.
Patient states that her uncle answered the door.
Patient claims a "ragged Frenchman, speaking mottled English" asked, ' Reward for the mademoiselle?'
Mr. Westley solicited the stranger for more information; the Frenchman answered, "Un homme--a man--in the alley near a deserted bâtiment told me where to find the girl."
Patient states, "The Frenchman transferred me into Mr. Westley's arms, as he received the reward that was offered for my safe return."
Patient also adds that her uncle questioned the Frenchman as to any descriptive details regarding the man who had come to her aide.
Patient states the Frenchman answered, " Je suis désolé--I do not know ... he did wear un chapeau--like your king ... comment est-ce qu'on dit ... un homburg?"
I tucked the papers back into the satchel and lay back down, calling on Madame Fifi to alert Doctor Laroche to his missing bag. I am left alone here to sort this all out--and I doubt very much I shall be successful. The very last thing I can recall before this ghastly turn of events is having tea in the parlour. Despite the fact that I have hardly moved from my bed, it has been a most arduous week. Julien and Vaughn sent notes to express their condolences, but I had Madame Fifi dispose of them straightaway. I am grown tired of weak-minded men, Maisie.
As for your theories, Maisie--I can concede that perhaps I was a tad hasty in condemning Mr. Westley--but you are not here. You do not feel the unrest that is mine every time I am in his presence. As for your thoughts that I may not truly belong to my mother: the idea is, well, unthinkable. She has not been very forthcoming concerning my uncle, it is true, and has seen fit to all but abandon me here in Paris, but I know my own mother. What does any of it matter, anyhow? Perchance Mr. Westley is my father--what of it? Who in this place cares enough about the truth to tell it? Even Stuart and Peter are keeping things, now ... indifferent Peter.
Forgive me for my brazen tongue, dear friend. It would seem my faith in love and the happy ending have diminished somewhat. It is not to say I am afraid--for I am not. I suppose that is the most tragic part of all this, the realisation that eventually I will have to make a choice. I will have to choose from amongst these feeble misters, and answer "yes" to marriage, and go on to make the best of things. My heart has been broken, and for the most inexplicable reason, I blame Peter most. Why, Maisie? Why has Peter remained silent these many months? Does he not understand it is he who has hurt me most of all? It does not matter. Perhaps this loathsome stranger will come for me again. And really, why should that be so terrible? My future with Julien or Vaughn would prove to be just as wretched and miserable, if for less despicable reasons. So, shall I close my eyes and draw straws for my fate, then? Merry women we shall surely be, Maisie--both of us in wedding white. Be happy that your Stuart is the choice of your heart. Do not let Peter quash that happiness. Peter is not aiming to protect you, Maisie. He hasn't the virtue to protect anyone.
I will be easily encouraged by your next writings.
23 rue Saint Paul
23 rue Saint Paul
9 January 1903
Your Christmas letter was like a serial! I know you were genuinely frightened, and I was so horrified for you, dearest, but at the same time it was quite a thrilling read. Now, don’t think me unfeeling, Addie. If I thought you were in any real danger I would currently be on a train to Paris to fetch you, not sitting here calmly writing you a letter. I do not blame you for fearing Mr. Westley, especially under the circumstances. André ought to be ashamed of himself—feeding you such nonsense. I’m sure you have already reached these conclusions, but permit me to point out that, for all his sinister suggestions, André has not a whit of evidence to substantiate a crime on Mr. Westley’s part. He was intoxicated, Addie, and is more than likely superstitious to boot. Think on it, Addie—would your mother have allowed Mr. Westley to murder his own child? If the “atrocity” she referred to was indeed murder, would she have failed to alert the authorities, and merely posted the beast a scathing Christmas card some months after the event? Surely not. And I am just as certain that Madame Fifette, whatever her weaknesses may be when it comes to her “Charles,” would not have comforted a cold-blooded child killer and recommended that he not “be so hard” on himself. The idea is ludicrous. If the child did indeed perish, and if Mr. Westley deserves any blame for the tragedy, I am sure it was something less than outright murder. In fact, Addie, I have given the matter a great deal of consideration, and I think I may have solved the mystery of the portrait, the Christmas card, and the estrangement of the two Mr. Westley’s. Do hear me out. If my theory proves true, the little girl in the portrait needn't have been murdered at all. In fact, she lives still. Have you never considered, Addie, that the little girl in the portrait might be you? That perhaps you are Mr. Westley’s daughter? I know it sounds far fetched, but think on it, Addie. What if, for reasons best known to himself, Mr. Westley refused to care for you as a child? Perhaps he wished for a boy … or perhaps his wife died in childbirth, and he could not find it in his heart to love the child he held responsible for her untimely death? I do not know, Addie, but it would certainly make sense that your mother (or rather, your aunt) might have taken pity on you--a tiny infant bereft of her mother and rejected by her father—and agreed to raise you as her own. Perhaps she was unable to have her own children. This would indeed account for the chastisement she directed at Mr. Westley in the Christmas card, and the estrangement between your father and uncle. If, indeed, the man you have called Father is truly your uncle, that would also shed light on his less than affectionate treatment of you. Perhaps he is jealous of the compassion and affection his wife has bestowed upon another man's child? Perhaps he resents the financial burden of your care (wretched man!) and blames you as well as his brother for this obligation? It all fits, Addie. The woman you call Mother would certainly be haunted by the idea of Mr. Westley's obsession with your portrait--indeed, I am rather troubled by it myself. It would also explain Mr. Westley's rather reserved affection for you, and his willingness to take you in when you arrived so suddenly on his proverbial doorstep. Upon meeting you he could not have helped but love you--you are quite irresistible--but surely the guilt and regret over his abandonment have been eating at him these eighteen years! His rejection of his own daughter is very likely the "terrible mistake" Madame Fifette was referring to. I could be wrong, of course. But it would be so romantic, don't you think, to find out you are heiress to a great estate? No amount of wealth could make you more lovable than you already are, Addie, but it could certainly make you more comfortable.
As for Julien Fortescue, I am quite uneducated when it comes to French men--but if they are anything like British men, I suspect he is fascinated with you. If Stuart is any guide, the more he bewilders and infuriates you the greater the likelihood he will eventually propose. A man like the young Mr. Fortescue could likely take his pick of Parisienne girls--and as much as the knowledge of that fact may gratify his ego, the reality of the matter must bore him to tears. How much more interesting, then, to pursue you--the one girl in Paris who continually rejects him?
I had intended to close and post your letter as soon as I had gotten back from a small errand for Mum, but, Addie—I’m so upset I can scarcely hold my pen. Mum has been out all day visiting friends in Marylebone, and she instructed me to go and fetch her Wedgwood teapot from the potter’s before 5 o’clock. I had told Peter I’d be back soon, gone out and collected the teapot, and returned home. As I entered the hall I froze where I stood. Stuart’s voice was emanating rather loudly from the sitting room, thick with sarcasm. I had obviously interrupted some argument, but the first bit I caught was, “ … the change of heart. I particularly liked the bit where you shouted at me in front of your parents, that was lovely, that was.” Then Peter’s voice rang hard and cold from the same room, “You’ve been sneaking around.” A brief silence was followed by a rather incredulous laugh from Stuart, and then, “I’ve been ‘sneaking around’ for simply ages, old boy, I don’t see why it should make any difference to you, of all people—”
“Because I didn’t know about it before, old boy. And because now you’ve got a wife to think of!”
“Oh, that’s rich, Peter. I suppose you’re reserving yourself for the occasional lucky ladybird that crosses your path, are you? How very altruistic of you.”
“This isn’t about me, Stuart. I love her …” there was a heavy pause and then, more quietly, “and you’re going to destroy her.”
“You’ve seen this, have you? You’re a prophet, then? The bloody Saint Trick Seer, I suppose—”
“Shut your filthy mouth!”
“—you’ve seen how it’ll all play out—”
The anger seemed to have been sapped from Peter’s voice when he spoke again: “I’ve seen enough to know the odds are not in your favor on this.”
At which point an abrupt silence fell over the house, and I suddenly realized that the teapot was no longer in my hands, but was lying shattered in myriad pieces across the entryway. Stuart emerged from the sitting room with Peter close on his heels, and immediately began sweeping up the shards of china with his hands. My mind was reeling, but somehow I knew that sitting there watching him dispose of the mess wasn’t quite the thing to do, and I began clumsily helping him scrape the pieces into a pile. “What’s happened, Maisie, have you just come in?” Stuart asked. I can only imagine how I must have looked to him, shaking slightly and no doubt drained of colour. I merely pointed to the floor and said, rather unnecessarily, “Yes, I—I broke Mum’s teapot …” Peter silently carried the pieces to the bin while Stuart helped me to the settle in the kitchen. “Are you all right, then? Not harmed? You don’t look well.”
“No, I—it’s only I dropped the teapot … but what are you doing here, Stuart?”
“Yes, that … well I had a bit of gentleman’s business to discuss with Peter. I’m off now … shall I come round for dinner later?”
“Yes.” And he kissed me on the cheek, donned his coat, and disappeared into the street. I rounded on Peter, my confusion turning swiftly to anger. “What was all that about, then?”
“Gentleman’s business, like the man said,” Peter offered dismissively, picking up his Gazette.
“Is it … were you accusing him of what I think you were accusing him of?”
“Eavesdropping, were you?” Peter’s laugh was bitter indeed. “If you’re going to listen at doors you shouldn’t be surprised that you don’t like what you overhear. I suppose you heard everything, then?” I was becoming angrier by the minute. “‘Enough to know the odds are not in your favor on this.’” Peter smiled grimly. “Maisie, you don’t know anything.”
“Well then perhaps you could remedy that, Peter, as you seem to know quite enough to share around.”
“It’s none of your affair, Maisie. Go make the tea. And please tell Mum I won’t be back for dinner.” And with that he left me there in the kitchen, a small trickle of blood dripping from my finger onto the floor.
How could he, Addie? Why is he trying to ruin everything for Stuart and me? Peter knew I would be returning before tea, perhaps he wanted me to overhear, to turn me against Stuart? Or is he truly trying to protect me? Is it possible that Stuart is … not who I think he is? You’ve no idea what it cost me, Addie, just to set that last down in print. I feel horribly as if my writing down the wretched thought has made it more likely to be true. I can’t seem to find the will to do anything but fret. I know if I don’t do something soon I’ll go off my onion with fear and worry. It’s only, I’m all tied up in knots—I haven’t the faintest idea what to do. But I shall have to face Stuart soon, and I know this: I cannot pretend it never happened.
14 Bathurst Mews
Miss Maitland Bristow
Do not fret over me, Maisie, I am so very pleased with the announcement of your engagement to Stuart. Mr. Hill has always been one of my favourites when it comes to Peter's
I am not surprised to hear of Peter's rash behaviour towards you. It did not make much sense to me at first; but, then, hasn't Peter been making rather a pastime of causing you grief of late? I can hardly bear that Peter has not once written me since I left
As for Mr. Rousseau, he has been kind, indeed. I hardly think he has any intention aside from being my friend. I do not accuse Mr. Rousseau of any crime--except, perhaps, an unrealistic hope that the two of us should become an item someday. Poor Mr. Rousseau!
On a more pleasant note, Madame Fifi and the maid have begun to decorate the estate for the holiday. Mr. Westley gave me a little more than his usual in the way of an allowance, and I made an afternoon of shopping. The gas lamps hissed as I walked down the wintry avenue. I pulled my coat in tighter at the collar, and looked down so as to avoid the sight of a happy couple as they strolled by, arm-in-arm, laughing. Aside from being alone, the scene around me in out in the open air was quite enchanting. A crèche, complete with beautiful hand-painted santons, was displayed in each ice-frosted window fronting the row of shoppes. Parishioners stood at the steps of St. Augustin, collecting alms for the poor. I could not help but feel a bit happy despite all my efforts to remain otherwise. I made my way home and was welcomed to a setting quite different from the one I had left: the fireplace in the parlour is draped with evergreen boughs and red velvet ribbon. A small but perfect Christmas tree has been planted on a round mahogany table, and dressed with wooden trinkets, candles and fruit. The air is sweetly scented with orange and clove. Andre is busily cooking something divine in the kitchen. Christmas Eve is here.
I am posting this today. I doubt, however, that I will be able to keep myself from writing you again tomorrow. Merry Christmas to you, my cherished friend.
23 rue Saint Paul
30 December 1902
I have never met Eduard, of course, but I had grown so fond of him—observing his many charms through the windows of your lively letters. I had conjured up countless happy images of your future with him, and these little fancies of mine had become quite real to me--so much so that reading your last letter was like a blow, and I can only begin to imagine the loss you are suffering. I must not make light of that loss, I know, but I must also say this: Eduard has proven his unworthiness, and you are the better to be rid of him. There. I hope I am not cruel in saying this, and that you will come to realize that it is quite true, although you may hate me for it as you read this. I feel quite distinctly disappointed in Eduard, and my only admiration for him that remains is for his preference for you, my dearest of friends! I wish I could be there to comfort you as I once did at Cheltenham. I love you so, Addie, and I know that your future will include a gentleman much wiser and more deserving of you than Eduard. I must also tell you that I am quite surprised at the development of your relationship with Mr. Rousseau. Surely you do not confide in him those things closest to your heart? Again, I have not met him, but I find myself doubting his good intentions. Have you forgotten that someone is reporting your personal confidences to your father? I do not wish to take from you the friend who is offering comfort during this difficult time--but be wary, Addie. I could not bear to see you betrayed a second time.
Stuart came to call the morning after I returned from Ambleside. I had not yet decided how to reply to his little note, and I was out in the park, gazing over the pond, attempting to calm my nerves and determine whether or not I was being played for a fool. I suppose Mum told him I had gone to the park, because that is where he found me. Addie, it wasn’t long before I was quite convinced of his sincerity. Fortunately, the park was rather empty due to the early hour, and there were no witnesses to his methods of persuasion. Dearest, it feels wrong for me to be so happy while you are suffering so, but Stuart has been so lovely. He has spent the last fortnight showing me around his favorite haunts in London, so many places I had never even visited before, and we have been enjoying ourselves thoroughly. We spent Christmas Eve with the Hills and Christmas day in the Mews. The only fly in our proverbial ointment has been Peter. He has been a bit surly ever since we announced our engagement to my family. I had asked Stuart to stay for dinner, and he was keen to ask for my hand as soon as Dad had returned from the stables. Dad was very formal (and rather dirty, Stuart not having given him the chance to wash up), but Mum was positively ecstatic. She embraced Stuart warmly, welcomed him to our family, and just stood there looking so overwhelmingly pleased that it was almost comical. Dinner was a pleasant affair, with Mum fussing over Stuart and Dad responding enthusiastically to Stuart’s queries about Master Loxley's newest acquisitions--two fine Morgan mares and a Thoroughbred stallion. Peter was somewhat quieter than usual, particularly in contrast with the way he and Stuart customarily banter with one another. We were nearly finished with our main course when Stuart glanced at me, then turned deliberately to Peter. "Where's the funeral, old man?" he said, "I realize, of course, that I am dismally unworthy of your sister, but let me assure you that I will spend the remainder of my days in valiant efforts to become so." So saying, he turned his full attention to me, and bestowed upon me such a look of adoration that I am sure I flushed scarlet and was quite unable to meet his gaze. Peter maintained a surly silence. Without removing his eyes from my face, he directed his next words to Peter: "Come now, old chap, surely you're not still nursing a grudge against me over the Ashes, no matter how spectacularly my dear cousin and his team defeated England?" Peter was, unaccountably, furious. "This goes much deeper than cricket, you self-satisfied josser," he spat at Stuart, standing up from the table. I was so astonished at this unexpected and passionate response that I was rendered temporarily speechless and was only able to gape at Peter. I thought I saw a brief flash of anger cross Stuart's face before he turned to stare at Peter with an expression of mild surprise. Mum was quite upset and ordered Peter to apologize, which he did, albeit rather sulkily. He excused himself shortly thereafter, shaking hands with Stuart quite civilly before he took his departure. After I had recovered from the shock, I began to feel rather angry with my brother. Addie, hasn't Peter refused to allow me to avoid Stuart whenever he could manage it? Admittedly, I at first believed this to be sadism on his part, since he seemed to find my stressful interactions with Stuart so humorous. But what about our sibling trip for Bonfire Night that turned out to be a rather more crowded event? Hadn't he invited Stuart to Bridgwater, and arranged for us to speak privately during Carnival? Hadn't he encouraged me to go with Stuart to Ambleside? What, after all, was he playing at? Not wishing to spoil the event any further, I kept these thoughts to myself. But I could not help the feeling of resentment toward Peter that was growing ever stronger as the evening progressed. Perhaps Peter is a sadist after all, and wished to encourage my affection for Stuart only to snatch my happiness away from me as soon as it was apparent that my association with Stuart was no longer vexing to me. This particular thought nearly pushed me over the edge, but I managed to hold myself together for Mum's sake, and finish out Stuart's visit pleasantly--at least on the surface. As Stuart bade me goodnight, he laid his cheek on mine and whispered softly, "It's no doubt difficult for someone as protective as your brother to commit his baby sister to the care of another. Peter will come round." And I suppose he is right. But I haven't forgiven Peter yet. His behaviour was not justified, whether it stemmed from a ridiculously childish desire to protect me or not. He's a grown man, and ought to be able to keep his temper in check.
I must post this before Stuart calls, and I haven’t even begun to ready myself—we are going to Covent Garden for the afternoon. But, Addie, I hope you know my thoughts are with you, and although you are surely suffering great pain, there is just as surely happiness in your future. I love you, dearest. Do write soon!
14 Bathurst Mews
14 Bathurst Mews
16 December 1902
I do not know the most fitting way to begin.
Eduard has been so entrenched in his work of late. Most days he is with Auguste Rodin, a new enthusiast of Eduard's work, and a famous sculptor in his own right. My days are, once more, increasingly spent with Monsieur Rousseau--who is eager as a school girl to know all the fine points of my relationship with Eduard. I was rather reserved at first, but have found myself welcoming Rousseau as a confidant. He seems genuinely engaged in our afternoon chats. You can only imagine my delight when Eduard walked in unannounced one afternoon and told me that Rodin was to hold a dinner party in his honor to help to further his career in photography. He explained that Rodin is helping to shape his image to the world, so that the masses will receive him as a respectable artist. The only seemingly odd part was that the party was to be held that very evening! Employing his usual charm, he extended an invitation to Rousseau, as well--who was visibly giddy to be welcomed back into Eduard's now more elite circle of friends. Eduard seemed very rushed and, bestowing a quick peck on my cheek, said he would be back at six o'clock. Monsieur Rousseau cut our lesson short and scurried off to get himself in order for the soiree. I was all too quickly alone in the library. Surely this friend of Eduard's had been planning his dinner party for some time. Why would Eduard wait until now to tell me? Perhaps Rodin planned it in the spirit of a surprise for Eduard.
Madame Fifi was quite put out at the prospect of sending me out in a gown I had already worn, but what choice did she have, really? Eduard came to fetch me, and did not have much to say: "Ah, the blue one." On our way to Rodin's country estate in Meudon, Eduard spoke of nothing but Rodin. I, in turn, inquired about Rodin's family; his wife, and children. Now, Maisie, this was a bit underhanded on my part. You see, Russeau still has many acquaintances in common with Eduard, and has told me on several occasions that Rodin has been with the mother of his son for many years--but has yet to marry her. He also said it is quite well-known that this elderly sculptor is known for his seductive nature and fascination with women. I was beginning to wonder just how much of an influence Rodin was having on Eduard. Eduard paused before answering my question, then, "Well, there is Rose, who is quite dedicated to Auguste. They've been together for years and years and they have a son together. There is also Camille, the young woman he is absolutely enamoured with in Paris." I knew I had to choose my next words carefully, "Poor Rose." Eduard replied nonchalantly, "Oh, Rose is very accustomed to the expressions of an artist, and his need to enliven his imaginations." There was a brief silence. He took my hand, "I am ever so happy to have you, Adeline."
Rodin himself greeted us at the door. He wore a long, dark beard and, like Eduard, took great care in his appearance. His home was simple and unadorned--not as I had pictured it. The table was set beautifully, and it was Rose who tended to all the guests. Rousseau arrived soon after, and was wholly pleased that the number of women at the table rather awkwardly overwhelmed the number of men. Once all the guests were seated, Rodin made the introductions. There was of course Rose, then myself, Eduard to my right. On Eduard’s other side was an utter beauty, Claire, then Genevieve, Marie, Monsieur Rousseau, Camille ... the names began to fade from my consciousness after Camille was named. She was young--about eighteen. Had Rodin actually brought his mistress into his own home? I was appalled and shocked and so many other things. I could hardly imagine the state Rose must have been in! I glanced to my left, at Rose. She was perfectly at ease. She laughed at all the right points in the conversation. She even poured Camille's soup--and did not intentionally spill it in her lap! To say I was disturbed at what I was experiencing is an understatement. I had to calm myself. I recounted the recent conversations Eduard and I had had about marriage, and children. I drew in a slow breath and reminded myself of Eduard's loyalty to me despite his growing notoriety. I smiled, and reached down to find Eduard’s hand beneath the table linens. I needed to feel his soft, warm hand in mine. Maisie, as I looked down I saw Claire's hand, placed neatly on Mr. Steichen's knee. I felt my gut wrench in pain. I became dizzy with embarrassment--I looked about the room--did everyone know but me? I felt faint. It was quite clear I was not enough to enliven Eduard's imaginations any further. I turned to Eduard and said softly, "I will not be your Rose." I quietly slid back my chair and walked to the end of the table to whisper in Rousseau's ear, "You will take me home immediately." He instantly got to his feet and together we walked out. Eduard stood and called, "Adeline!" On the way home, Rousseau was a kind friend, "Tell me every detail ..."
Suffice it to say, I am weary. Eduard has not once tried to contact me. There are rumors he is planning to return to America. I wish I had some brighter news for you in Ambleside. I wish that I could use my wit to help you to decode Stuart Hill's strange way of getting your attention. My mind is nothing short of useless; all I do is think of Eduard. I cannot sleep. Madame Fifi has said she will be calling on the doctor tomorrow. I will write again soon.
23 rue Saint Paul
23 rue Saint Paul
15 December 1902
I just arrived home this afternoon and found your letter waiting for me, a perfect welcome home gift. Darling, your portrait is exquisite! I think it nearly does you justice! Eduard has a finely honed eye for beauty, indeed. Peter caught me looking at it, Addie, and was quite keen to find out who had taken the photograph, although he feigned a casual interest. “That’s Miss Westley, is it?” he said, all too carefully averting his eyes. “Yes,” I said. I could tell he was frustrated with my ungenerous response, but he was quiet for several moments longer as I read your letter. Finally, he said, “I suppose it was commissioned by her uncle, then?” You know how I love to tease my brother, Addie. “I suppose,” was all I said. He was all but hopping up and down with frustration, I could tell by the vein popping out on his left temple. I stifled a giggle as I carefully left your portrait on the mantle and casually voiced my intention to go upstairs and unpack my things. I paused at the base of the stairs and peeked back into the sitting room to see if Peter had taken the bait. He had, of course, and was so busily engaged in examining the photograph that he didn’t seem to notice my spying on him at all. Addie, it could not have been easy for you to confide in me regarding your feelings for my brother. I did notice you leave during the graduation party, although I hadn’t the faintest idea that Peter, when he excused himself a moment later, had left to find you. I know I abuse him endlessly in my letters, but I do not blame him for loving you, nor you for wanting him. Still, it is a good thing you are taken, Addie. I would not wish my brother to attempt to court you and have his heart broken upon realizing at last that he is entirely incapable of handling such a fine creature as yourself, since he can’t even seem to handle your likeness with any sort of dignity.
But I must tell you about my last evening in Ambleside. Stuart asked me to walk with him to the High Sweden Bridge, and I obliged. It had become something of a nightly ritual during the holiday. We would walk the half mile to the bridge, all the while Stuart ragging me ceaselessly about my literary diversions, while I enjoyed his company under the pretext of defending the femininity of scholarly pursuits. I had been reading Coleridge, of course, and Stuart was pelting me with ridiculous questions, such as, “Perhaps you could illuminate me, Miss Bristow, as to why that old sea dog insisted upon wearing the dead bird around his neck.” As we arrived at the bridge and paused before going back to the cottage, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that it would likely be the last walk we would take together, certainly the last in Ambleside, and I had little hope that Stuart would continue the exercise once we had returned to London. Addie, the prospect of losing these little jaunts with Stuart was so disheartening that it frightened me. I had come to accept that Stuart was fond of me, but that acceptance only made me more aware of the fact that I wished for more than fondness from Stuart. It seemed to me as if the fortnight we had spent together was a lovely dream I was about to wake from. Snow had fallen earlier that morning and lay in soft swells of white in every direction across the fells. The sky was white, and snow had just started to float gently down upon us as we began our return trip. Stuart was gazing around at the peaceful countryside with a rather bemused expression on his face, so I was left to my thoughts. I was pondering all the way back to the farm, and so absorbed in my own bleak musings that it startled me when the steady crunch of Stuart’s footfalls in the snow stopped abruptly. A little afraid that he might have taken ill, I turned quickly to see him simply standing there, outlined against the surrounding white, looking at me. He spoke just as suddenly. “I lied to you that evening in Hyde Park, you know.” I knew perfectly well what night he was referring to—how could I forget?--but I tossed my head as flippantly as I could and said, “Whatever do you mean, Stu? We’ve spent many evenings in the park, and I’m sure you wouldn’t stoop to lying, it’s so unbecoming.” I made to continue walking, but he stopped me with a hand on my shoulder, and turned me toward him. Addie, I thought for sure my heart would gallop right out of my chest. He rested one hand on my arm, and lifted the other to tilt my chin so that I had to lower my lashes to keep him from looking into my eyes. “Maisie,” he said softly, “I did lie to you. I never planned to rethink my intentions to propose to you.” And then he kissed me, Addie! Right there in the garden! I was so conflicted, I couldn’t decide whether to slap him or bury my face in his coat. It was so unexpected. At long last I raised my eyes to his, and then quickly looked away. The way he was looking at me, Addie, and the intensity in his eyes … my limbs seemed to melt out from under me and he caught me around the waist to keep me from falling. Someone called from the farmhouse just then, and I shook Stuart off and ran inside. It was the most extraordinary feeling–-as if my blood had turned to quicksilver in my veins. I went directly to bed, but was unable to sleep until the wee hours of the morning. The scene in the garden played over and over again in my over-excited consciousness, until at last I fell asleep and dreamed that Stuart and Peter were walking side by side out on the frozen expanse of Windermere, dressed alike in dark overcoats like Stuart’s, looking almost like twins, except that Stuart wore a hideously decayed albatross carcass like a mantle on his shoulders. It was an unsettling dream, and I awoke feeling very strange indeed, until the memory of Stuart’s kiss the night before came rushing back and filled me with warmth and an almost feverish sense of anticipation. Addie, I wanted so desperately to see him again, but at the same time I was afraid to set foot outside my room in case he might be waiting for me. I dawdled over my dressing and packing for as long as I reasonably could, then made my way down to the dining room in a state of nervousness so advanced that I nearly jumped out of my skin when Emily asked me what had taken me so long. I’m not sure what I replied, as I was altogether too engrossed in scanning the hall, the dining room, and the kitchen for signs of Stuart. I needn’t have bothered, however, as Miss Brown came in from the garden a few moments later and, upon seeing me standing in the hall with Emily, hurried straight over to me. “Young Master Hill wished me to convey his regrets that he could not say his farewells in person,” she said, “He left early this morning to help Master Hill attend to some last minute business in town. He left you this.” And she handed me a small, ivory-colored envelope. Disappointment and relief warred within me for a moment before I managed to pull myself together and slip the envelope into my jacket pocket, Emily eyeing it rather suspiciously before it disappeared from view. What with all the bustle of preparation for the journey home, I was unable to find a private moment to open Stuart’s note until we had boarded the train and were speeding steadily toward London. Emily was buried in the latest issue of The Lady, and I pretended to look at the passing landscape as I quietly extracted Stuart’s message. It read:
Dear Miss Bristow,
I am awaiting your answer.
Addie, how I wish for your advice! But I fear this cannot wait. I shall write soon.
14 Bathurst Mews
23 rue Saint Paul
2 December 1902
Having spent one full day with the Hills at Ambleside, I have undergone quite a change of perspective from my previous outlook for the holiday. As it turns out, Richard Hill is not in the least homely or unfortunate, and hasn't an ounce of trouble securing a dance partner for himself. In fact, he was so well supplied with female admirers for the gathering last night that I was obliged to take Stuart as my partner in the dances. I began to suspect one of two things. Either Stuart Hill is so well versed in the most effective ways to fluster me that he arranged things on purpose to befuddle me, or (and I knew I should hardly let myself hope) Stuart harbours a rather well-hidden affection for me. These two alternatives I pondered as I danced the forms, in and out of Stuart's capable arms. As we parted for the evening, he kissed my hand and held it for a moment longer than was strictly necessary before letting it slip from his. My inner conflict and confusion must have shown on my face, Addie, because he was smiling slightly as he said, "I tried to tell you at Carnival, I honestly did." After which he tapped one finger on the end of my nose and then turned to leave. I ask you, Addie, what was I supposed to make of that?
Nook End Farm