Letter 30 - Montparnasse

Miss Maitland Bristow
14 Bathurst Mews

28 February 1903

Dearest Maisie,

Thank you for your words of kindness and comfort. Forgive my lapse in writing you, Maisie, I know you must be distraught with confusion over Stuart's bizarre actions these past weeks. I have always thought fondly of Stuart; but I must admit, it is quite difficult to find much reason in his recent behaviour. Your curious encounter with Mr. Collins certainly brought out the worst in him. I imagine that Mr. Collins was a bit of a rival of sorts for Stuart back at Oxford. Don't mind me saying so, Maisie, but Stuart never was as dedicated in his studies as was Peter; he was always up to some mischief. Perhaps this Mr. Collins was no friend of his at all. Who can say what persuades these men to do what they do? Nevertheless, this does not excuse Stuart's discourteous behaviour towards you. I will say, however, that Stuart seems to have sufficiently redeemed himself.

As for me, dear Maisie, I am getting along a bit better now. 'Tis still difficult to think on the events of my disappearance, but much has transpired since we last corresponded, and I must relay every detail of it to you. Madame Fifi has been bringing me my meals whilst I read in my bed, until these last few days. I have managed to dress myself and attend my meals in the company of my uncle on most occasions as of late. Mr. Westley rarely says more than a brief, "Hello" with the attached, "How are you today, Adeline?" I suspect Mr. Westley has given Madame Fifi explicit instructions as to how to proceed with my health, as each day my regimen seems more and more to resemble the structure I had been used to before. My first inclinations have been to dispose of every remembrance of my recent tribulation and to move ahead, but that has proven much more difficult than it may seem. Some time after I had gone to bed this past Sunday evening, I found myself awakened by a cold draft in the air. I arose out of bed and ventured into the hall as a violent gust of wind came rushing round the eaves of the house, and the door of the guest room down the hall caught my eye as it seemed to move ever so slightly with the gale. I crept softly down the hallway and into the guest room and discovered an open window--the rain streaming inside, pooling on the floor. I hurried toward the beveled glass to close the latch, shielding my face from the cold rain. At that very moment, a memory of the man who had taken me flashed in my mind. I heard him ushering out some lewd women and could feel myself fall in a pile onto the wooden-planked floor. The thundering storm brought my mind back to the present, and I closed and latched the window and turned to go back to my room, intending to rekindle my fire. Before I had left the room, however, its familiarity had triggered an altogether different sort of memory. How could I have forgotten the hat box? I pulled the pretty hat box down from its spot on the shelf, and settled myself upon the bed. After lighting the tapered candle on the night stand, I removed the box's lid. The Christmas card from my mother was still on the top of the stack, but I cast it quickly aside and picked up the next letter to inspect it. It was addressed to my mother--from my father. What possible reason would my Uncle have for keeping a letter that belongs to my mother? I hurriedly opened the flap of the yellowed envelope and began to read. The letter was dated 2 June 1883:


You senseless, beauteous child. How you torment me. In your presence,
I am ignited. In your absence, I am left for want of unthinkable pleasures,
and am nothing more than fire and madness. What choice have I but to
want for you continually? I plead with you not to go through with this.

Walter Westley

It certainly is a strained love note ... I wonder what it is my father meant at the very end? My mother was obviously causing him a great deal of misery at the time. Seems rather odd to imagine him being put out; he has always been the cause of every affliction in our household. Pondering this, I then replaced the letters and the hat box and returned to my own bed. I felt disquieted, but not due to the letter I had read. The mysteries surrounding my family back in London would have to wait. I have long been reconciled to the fact that I am the daughter of the worst sort of man, so his part in my recent bad fortune does not trouble me overmuch. It is not knowing who is responsible for my recent deliverance that seems to tarry in my thoughts. I did not sleep well the remainder of the night, my thoughts and dreams dwelling on my unknown saviour.

By morning my unorganised musings seemed to have arranged themselves quite tidily into a recommendation for a singular course of action--I had come to a decision. Distressing as it was likely to be, I must press my memory for answers. When I had finished my breakfast, and closeted myself again in my room, I sorted through every bit of ugliness I could recall, in hopes of finding some new clue--and then it came to me Maisie: The Frenchman--the one who returned me to Mr. Westley--he said the man who instructed him to bring me home was not French, but a foreigner--he said this man wore a Homburg hat like our king--King Edward .... Eduard .... He came back. The very moment of my realisation, I ran to find Madame Fifi, and asked when to expect Mr. Rousseau for a French lesson, to which she replied, "He will be here in one hour." She looked rather baffled by my elation, as I hurried down the hallway to ready myself. I was already perched on my seat in the library, anxious for Mr. Rousseau to make his way inside the small, book-filled room, when at last he made his entrance, settling himself in his usual chair. I bombarded him at once, "Where is he? When did he return? Why has he not come for me--or at the least come to call--?" Mr. Rousseau raised his hand to silence me, "Who is it that you presume to--no!--you don't believe Steichen came back for you?" There was a long pause, and a look of disbelief upon Mr. Rousseau's face. I offered, "Well, I know we did not part on the most amicable of terms, but he did care for me, and how could I not forgive him after his service to me?" The look of utter disbelief did not fade from Mr. Rousseau. He slowly raised himself from his seat and said, "You mean to conclude that Eduard Steichen has returned to Paris, and that it was he who facilitated your rescue?" The idea sounded so childish coming from Mr. Rousseau. He gathered his books and said, "That is the most ludicrous of thoughts! Eduard was nothing more than a filthy artist who left you disgraced and shamed, and here you sit, like the naive girl that you are, dreaming he has come to make amends." He stopped his tirade. I had hidden my face in my hands--unable to bear his harsh words with any amount of dignity--and was sobbing, "Please, Vaughn, please help me find him ... " He pressed his lips together tightly and seemed to be exerting all his efforts in controlling himself. He drew in a long, deep breath and said, "There is a café in Montparnasse ... I will accompany you there this evening. Steichen could often be found there. But I must warn you, Adeline, you will not find him. He is not here." I, too, rose from my seat and replied, "Well then, if that is true, you should have no reason to be so agitated at the idea." After which Mr. Rousseau left, seeming to have quite forgotten my lesson. My heart is clouded by all that has transpired--I know this, Maisie. Eduard, at the least, feels some obligation to me. I know he is not infallible, but he has shown me more kindness and charity in his return, than any other man I have known, and I intend to return that love.

It was not long before Mr. Rousseau had returned, right on the hour, at four o'clock. He seemed in a much more amiable mood and offered me his arm as we began our long walk to Montparnasse. Since he knew my days have mostly consisted of resting and bothering Andre for sweet crêpes, we talked of his recent lectures at La Sorbonne and of Mr. Rousseau's family in Brittany. It was a most enjoyable start to our evening, and I could not help but find Mr. Rousseau--or Vaughn--as he insists I call him, to be much more inviting than usual--perhaps even genteel. As pleasant as he was, my mind was still firm on finding Eduard, and giving him the chance to find himself forgiven. I did not wish to incite Mr. Rousseau's former mood of disapproval, but could not help inquiring, "Do you think we shall find Eduard out tonight?" Vaughn stopped walking and pulled out his pocket watch. After a moment he replied, "If he is in France, he will be there tonight. We will arrive precisely on time for l’heure verte. Even on the evenings he spent with you, Adeline, he still found time to saunter into Le Dôme Café for a drink with his rabble colleagues." Just before five o'clock, we arrived at the entrance to the Café. It was a cramped space, and the walls were cluttered with all manner of different paintings. The bistro was overflowing, mostly with men huddled around small, round tables, speaking quietly and ruminating on the topics of the artistry and expertise of various fellows. They were an altogether motley group, but with a most surprising fluidity and manner about them as they conversed one with another. Vaughn surveyed the room, and began to fret over his spectacles as he eyed two men in conversation towards the back. Sensing his unrest, I asked, "Do you know those men?" He glanced my way and replied, "Yes." I followed him to the back of the bar where the two men sat; one wore a mustache, the other was clean-shaven. They ceased speaking and watched us as we approached.

The man with the mustache spoke first, "Rousseau ... Have you come for lessons in art? Perhaps sculpting?" Vaughn was clearly uneasy. He retorted, "Van Hecke, when what you do can be immortalized in the halls of a museum in Paris, rather than the walls of this Café, then I shall visit your flat, and inquire with the rats where to find you." It became clear to me what it cost Vaughn to be here, and that he had only brought me at my behest. I felt rather sorry for subjecting Vaughn to this situation, and thought it best to have the question come from me, "Gentlemen, if you don't mind my inquiring, we are looking for Eduard Steichen." The man called Van Hecke glared at Vaughn, "Steichen? What would Steichen want with you?" Then Van Hecke turned to me and most reverently said, "And why would we want to direct this lovely creature into the arms of that American?" I could not help but smile, Maisie. The compliment left me without words, and I hoped Vaughn could come up with some clever response to garner Eduard's whereabouts from these bohemians. I suppose I should take care what I wish for, Maisie, for Vaughn had a clever response, indeed: "Sirs, allow me to introduce Adeline Westley, my wife." Maisie, I went numb. Vaughn continued, "Steichen owes me money." As I stood there dumbfounded, the man with the mustache replied, "Why would Steichen owe anything to you, Rousseau? And are you certain you want to find him? I suspect he might not be enthused about your recent ... acquisition." Vaughn was flushed red with chagrin. He grabbed me by the arm and led me out of the café without another word.

Suffice it to say, I have not spoken to Vaughn over the last few days. By the time I arrived back at the estate, I was erupting with fury over Vaughn's lie, and went straightaway to apprise my uncle. Mr. Westley was not persuaded to discontinue my lessons with Mr. Rousseau, however, he did concede to defer my lessons for two weeks time. This accomplished, I hastened to my room where I sat brooding. How very disappointed I am, Maisie, that all the men in my life, with the exception of Eduard, have turned out to be so subject to fallaciousness. They have all proven themselves so ... ordinary. As I sat there, disconsolate, I remembered Peter's letter. I do not know how much you speak with Peter these days, or if you are aware he has written me. I noticed a different address on the envelope, and I assume he no longer resides with your family in the mews. It was the most formal and unfeeling of missives I could imagine receiving, and was more painful than having received no word from him at all. I'm afraid I was not able to dismiss from my mind the many months he has remained silent. I penned a reply, but I daresay he will not write again. I am afraid the condition of my mood did not lend itself to a pleasant response.

I am all but consumed with returning to Montparnasse--alone--to set those men straight and to find my Eduard.


Adeline Westley

23 rue Saint Paul

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