My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp north, without declining west?
Whatever dies, was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.
- John Donne, "The Good-Morrow"
The woman awoke with a startled gasp, swallowing lungsful of air as she tried to regain her breathing. She was dying. She had been dreaming she was dying. Slowly she brought her hands to the level of her eyes and stared at them, glad to find barely a wrinkle there.
She thought she could still pick out the smell of sea breeze from the sharp antiseptic that began to overpower her senses, but soon that minimal recollection wafted away when the door drew open to reveal a nurse in her evening rounds.
“Sorry to wake you, Ms. Priestly.”
At her glare, the woman timidly corrected her mistake.
“M-miranda. Just going to take her vitals.”
Miranda wordlessly watched as the nurse proceeded to the bedside to check the monitor. She saw the woman dart eyes nervously towards her direction, and squeaked when she received a haughty eyebrow in reply.
“Well?” she demanded.
“Stable, ma'am– I mean, Miranda,” the nurse grimaced, “It's all waiting at this point.”
Irked at the gentled tone, she waved the woman off. “That's all.”
When the door clicked shut, Miranda finally got up from her uncomfortable cot to stretch. Her lips pursed at the wrinkles she found on her Bill Blass suit. Of course, a sweater would have been more suitable, but she could hardly dress down among strangers. Besides, between rushing from the office to dropping by then getting home to her children, there is always barely enough time to get changed.
Upon arrival from Paris, and orchestrating this transfer, she stayed away for nearly a week before finally giving up and gravitating to Presbyterian for a covert visit.
The first night had been precipitated by a disappointing morning and afternoon, and she had just fired a third second assistant in so many days.
The latest blonde had the audacity to snipe that she'd rather be in a coma than be made to follow any more of Miranda's whims, and well… the editor was only too glad to grant her her wish – for who would not want to be in a coma, if jobless in any decent part of the globe?
Nigel had been there to witness the firing, and she thought he would be quick to reprimand her for the extremes of the blacklisting, but the man only stared at her before turning around to exit her office. Not before leaving a painful reminder though.
“She is at Presbyterian. But you already know that.”
Miranda glared at his retreating back and swiveled her chair to stare at the windows.
Of course, only a near death experience would be quick to mend any broken bridges. There was no time to be petulant. And the shock aided Nigel along in easily untangling the intricacies of Miranda’s scheming. Jacqueline with James Holt was a death knell to an already dwindling talent. And although the means with which she made that known was roundabout, he was glad to have escaped by the skin of his teeth.
Not Miranda herself, however. Nor Andréa. For they both spent days in Paris in confinement – the former with multiple gashes in the body, which she now hid in her couture, and the latter with a brain injury.
A coup contrecoup injury to be exact. The doctors in Paris spoke of microvasculature and damaging visual systems – and the thought of those doleful brown eyes being unable to see anymore? Well, Miranda had heard enough, and it was easy to decide that only the best specialists were necessary.
When Miranda heard from Emily and Serena that the girl had just been moved from intensive care, there were no excuses anymore for her staying away. She dismissed Roy that evening, as well as her one enduring assistant, and after obtaining The Book, made her way to the hospital without anyone's knowledge.
An early call to the administrator expedited her entry, despite the late hour, and she soon found herself in Andréa's presence. During that first night, Miranda’s first instinct was to stay rooted at the door as she took in the many purple bruises on the girl's face.
Of course, she has already seen a worse image back in Paris, but the peacefulness with which Andréa slept was fearsome somehow, and when a nurse walked in to check on the girl's progress, she hurriedly exited the room and left the premises.
Miranda could not piece together why she had been spooked. Andréa was alive after all. And now could breathe on her own. But the young woman was all alone and vulnerable. She immediately decided that it would not do. It would not do at all.
Inquiries were soon made about parents who only stayed for all of a week before going back to Cincinnati for their jobs. About an ex-boyfriend who already moved to Boston. About childhood friends recently estranged. There was the Runway contingent of course, who made it some of the time… but it was not enough. Especially for an angry Miranda who realized the hypocrisy of not visiting even once.
It was guilt, she tried to tell herself when she came back the second night. For if she had not insisted on bringing Andréa to Paris this would not have happened. But truly, the girl was the best, and Miranda could hardly be blamed for a business decision.
Soon the nights became three… and then a week… and the guilt excuse became flimsier with time. She found herself dropping by for 30 minutes at a time… then it became hours when the twins were at their father's… then apparently tonight, she had even fallen asleep.
Miranda found a live sounding board, and she took the lack of retort as permission to pace around the room to vent. About the divorce, about the press (and this was easily the last hiding place they would find her in), about Irv, about the incompetence of her staff. Anything and everything.
She did not know what Andréa would have said to any of it, because the girl remained unconscious. But Miranda hoped that that compassionate gaze would have surfaced anyhow. If not, well, her defiance would be welcome too. Anything but this continued medically induced impassivity.
Earlier in the day, before the twins left for their father's, they presented Miranda with a pink portable stereo. “To bring to Andy,” Caroline said, for apparently, they have figured out where their mother had been disappearing to a few minutes after work.
“So Andy will know what we've been talking about,” Cassidy added.
Evidently, they have formed a club of sorts with her audacious former second assistant, and have been exchanging books and CDs under Miranda's nose. The Harry Potter manuscript catalyzed all that and a friendship burgeoned in its wake.
This of course, prompted the twins to want to visit the young woman. And they've apparently already done so with Roy under duress. Then they both tutted at their mother for her subterfuge. Feeling winded at the discovery, Miranda could hardly be pressed to scold her children for the impertinence.
Along with the stereo, they included the recording of a concert, which came with book. And they gave Miranda explicit instructions to have “Andy listen to both.”
“And I am supposed to read this to Andréa?” she asked, raising her eyebrow.
“Because you’re the best at reading stories, Mommy,” Cassidy said sweetly, hugging her waist.
“Yeah!” Caroline did the same for her other side, “Maybe Andy will get better if you do.”
She sighed, proud of the compassion that her daughters possessed, and held them closer with kisses to both their foreheads. They have yet to experience a loved one getting hurt this badly. And Miranda was glad they did not seem to be as traumatized as she feared.
So, that is why here she was now, plugging in the pink appliance dutifully. She placed the unmarked CD on the receptacle and clicked… and listened to a short introduction about the orchestra.
The piece they were playing was a concerto entitled “Un mois, Un durée de vie (A Month, A Lifetime)”, which was a previously obscure work by Mirabelle Gatreau, a socialite in Paris fashion circles. This suddenly piqued Miranda's interest and she drew out the book, which she found to be a biographical work about the woman.
She undid her blazer and draped it on the cot before dragging a chair to Andréa's bedside.
“I am reading this to you, Andréa,” Miranda said, peering at the sleeping woman through her reading glasses, “You can read Chabon when you awaken – yes, I know what you hide in your desk – but as it is, you are stuck with a socialite reading about the life of another socialite.”
She smirked to herself at her cleverness and turned to a page just as the opening bars of the first movement sounded.
Miranda startled. It sounded vaguely familiar. There were sharp sounds, sounding like a storm… Anger, she recognized an anger there. This was the music her children listened to? She raised her eyebrows.
“I suppose this is your influence,” she scowled at an unresponsive Andréa. It might as well have been Metal masquerading as Baroque.
But then the music became unpredictable… fleeting moments of lightheartedness… that dipped into harsh chords… then finally a sedate andante. Miranda had to marvel at the dynamics of what she was hearing. She began scanning the biography just as the music was building up.
“Hm… ’Lady Mirabelle Amelie Pelham was the second child and only daughter of Lord George Pelham, the 7th Earl of Edgecombe, and Lady Harriet Talbot Pelham, Countess of Edgecombe…’”
Miranda described the accompanying portrait to Andréa. Lady Mirabelle was a gorgeous young woman wearing an emerald gown. She had red hair, blue eyes not dissimilar to Miranda's, and was wearing passive look on her face.
“’Married to Edouard Gatreau, of the Gatreau family, pioneers in the Lyonnaise silk industry'” she paused, “I expect you to know this Andréa, wasn't there an exhibit at the Smithsonian last month? Perhaps the Met could partner with the Costume Institute…” she was already typing a note on her phone. An idea was an idea after all.
The music had now crescendoed… which culminated in the pinging of a high note which to Miranda sounded questioning. Then silence. Then the second movement began, which opened with a gentle piano solo.
Miranda turned the page to reveal another print, this time Lady Mirabelle’s wedding portrait. Obviously, she was always easily drawn by the drapery on a painting, but this time, she hardly gave it a glance as her attention was captured by the face.
Confused, she turned to the previous page to look at the earlier portrait again for comparison. The closed expression of the first painting held a stark difference to how Lady Mirabelle’s countenance had opened up in second one. It was almost like…
Like she had fallen in love…?
“Well,” Miranda murmured, “If only one could be as happy with one's marriage as Lady Mirabelle.”
She stared at the blue eyes of the woman who seemed to be looking back at her from the page. It almost felt like Lady Mirabelle was trying to have a conversation with her. And Miranda suddenly wanted to see the actual portrait for herself.
This prompted her to scan the description for where it was displayed, and she was disappointed to find it was in a gallery in London. Maybe she could make time during Fashion Week next year. The description stated that the painting was gifted anonymously after Lady Mirabelle’s wedding with Monsieur Gatreau.
Art historians have been curious about the background because it did not seem to match the Cathédral Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon where the actual wedding was held. In the 20th century during an appraisal of the Gatreau estate, it was discovered that this was a painting of an “’A.S.’ See page 247.”
Sensing some intrigue here, Miranda noted the pagination before returning to the rest of the text to read to Andréa. Lady Mirabelle’s life was very interesting, and she added her own commentary as she thumbed through the book.
The marriage was arranged, following the sending of the first portrait– “I suppose that would be their version of a dating site," Miranda said – and what followed seemed to be a fortuitously blissful partnership.
There were two children, Adeline Henriette and Julien Alexandre. This was accompanied by another picture: Lady Mirabelle seated with a baby in her arms while holding the hand of young girl. The author drew attention to the necklace the subject was wearing, which held a moon-snail shell pendant, ‘see page 301.’
Lady Mirabelle was the envy of Paris circles for her gowns, which were easily made of the finest materials. A socialite she may have been, but she was not ostentatious about it.
“How is that even possible?” Miranda raised her eyebrow.
The woman was mostly only seen in gallery exhibitions and her daughter's concerts, but very rarely in parties.
And Miranda found that she respected that. “I understand how the air of mystery adds to the allure.”
Miranda paused to listen to the music which has now become very romantic. Blushing, she studiously avoided looking at Andréa, as she tried to focus on what she was hearing. The piano solo was now accompanied by sensual woodwinds… an oboe and a clarinet maybe. Almost sounding alike but still completely different. They were complementary to each other. Perhaps like two women? All of a sudden, the music felt alive to Miranda, and she did not even know why.
Shaking her head, she stood up to go to the lavatory to refresh herself. Why did the air feel suddenly heavy? Maybe she just needed more sleep. But no, she had a book to finish, and she felt like a dog with a bone. There was something about this Lady Mirabelle she needed to discover.
Once Miranda comported herself, she returned to Andrea’s bedside to continue reading to her. The second movement of the concerto had ended, and she was glad not to blush anymore as mournful music began.
Her embarrassment was transformed into trepidation at hearing this kind of music in the hospital. But Miranda did not skip through it for she realized that there were two stories being told in the room at that moment: of Lady Mirabelle and by Lady Mirabelle.
She skimmed the text regarding Lady Mirabelle's charitable work, her exceptional horse riding, and finally settled to read on the subject's contribution to fashion.
The woman was very practical and was one of the few who advocated pockets be sown into petticoats. She designed most of the gowns she wore, and there were a few in her wardrobe that survived.
“I think I have finally decided on a theme for next year's Gala.”
Miranda studied the pictures. One, in particular, was a curious ivory busk which seemed to have been painted on, but sadly the drawings were poorly preserved. Only a carving at the back survived, which was an inscription reading, “A.S.”
Miranda’s eyebrows lifted. There definitely was a recurring theme here.
And then she finally made it to the chapter which will address her curiosity: the woman's art patronage. The Gatreau estate amassed hundreds of paintings. Some were inherited by Lady Mirabelle herself, some were her own acquisitions, and some by her children's thereafter. The collection was displayed in museums all over the world, for part of the woman's will decreed that “beauty is meant to be seen, and hoped lived in"
“I like this woman,” Miranda told Andréa.
Lady Mirabelle's most prized possessions were a series of 50 paintings with lovers for subjects, which she obtained following her husband's death. Most art historians believed it to be her way of mourning him. But in the recent years, other academicians began to doubt this proposition.
Following the series of appraisals in the early 90s, all 50 paintings were discovered to be inscribed with initials, just hidden beneath the frame. And again, they were all by an “A.S.”
There were some members of the Royal Academy in the same time period with the same initials, so everybody hurried to speculate as to this mysterious artist. There was an Andrew Stuart, for example, a Sir Anthony Saberton, and a Sir Alexander Safford – who was the most popular candidate, for didn't Lady Mirabelle name her son Julien Alexandre? But then again, her husband’s grandfather was also named Alexandre…
“Really, Andréa, gossip in the academe is not much different.”
It was only in the 2000s when someone realized that there was also another “A.S.” in the R.A. at the time. A Miss Adeline Sandford who was a very popular portraitist and genre painter. And was one of the few elected female members in the academy, alongside Angelica Kauffmann.
This time, nobody was in a hurry to point out that Lady Mirabelle's daughter was named Adeline Henriette. Miranda had to roll her eyes.
“I'll do my own research on the matter,” she murmured determinedly.
It was not apparent which candidate the author favored. This was a factual retelling after all. There were no surviving letters or diaries to corroborate the claims anyhow. But the writer did include the scan of a scribbled footnote on one of the music sheets that was only unearthed recently.
The last time I saw A.S. was at the Opéra. My beloved was crying. She did not see me.
“Well,” Miranda murmured. Glancing at her own A.S. who was still slumbering. How painful for a love to become obscure.
One day Miranda will be ready to dissect what she had been feeling for almost a year now, but it would definitely be expedited once Andréa woke up.
“You better–” she stopped herself before letting out a harsh exhale, and for the first time, since starting this ritual visit, she moved to clutch the young woman’s hand tightly.
“I am waiting, so you better,” she said imperiously.
Miranda kept her hold on Andréa as she paged to the last chapter regarding the woman's music. Lady Mirabelle was a late bloomer in the sense that she had only studied music theory upon coming to Lyon, which was an education encouraged by her husband. She apparently wrote many concertos until her later years, most of which were undiscovered until the late 90s.
Her earliest work was the music that just played, Un Mois, Un durée de vie, which to Miranda explained the curious dynamics. It is said to have been originally written as a piano solo, but with the expansion of her talent, Lady Mirabelle apparently began adding to it until she had completed a piece for an entire orchestra.
Records say that it was performed once at the Opéra in the 1800s, with her daughter, Adeline, as the accompanying soloist. People believe now that Lady Mirabelle could have been just as accomplished as Clara Schumann even, but she has been very selective with what work she shared, and that's that.
Regarding the moon snail shell necklace, Lady Mirabelle apparently had a fondness for it. For it was found that most of her surviving music sheets had drawings of the shell in place of the G clefs.
“Lady Mirabelle Gatreau lived a very full life until her 70s. She died in a cottage by the sea, surrounded by her children, near their family estate in Glenwood.”
When Miranda finished the book, she felt strangely discontented. There seemed to be more to this woman’s already colorful life that was still gray. Much like her own, at present, like she was waiting for a grander revelation still.
Morning had began to dawn, and the music had stopped playing for a while. As Miranda watched Andrea slept… as she felt a whisper of motion in the hand held in hers… she felt her soul slowly awaken.