Chapter 1: Spring 1907
I came to Paris in the spring of 1907. There was life, before that. In purely factual terms it started in Rennes in November 1882. But it wasn't until I came to Paris that life started to matter. I was twenty-five then, as we all seemed to be. My father had been sensing my restlessness as friends and his former students started to leave for Paris, as he himself had done in his youth. After a time he understood that I needed to go. And I went.
The highlight of the week for the Paris art crowd is Saturday night at the rue de Fleurus. Nominally the home of Signor Abbiati the real attraction seems to be his wife, Brigitte Abbiati, along with a great collection of contemporary art curated by her younger sister.
Marianne's old friend Claude has brought her along and acted as her inductee to the illustrious but bawdy gathering. The drawing room is packed and Marianne is buffeted by the tides of the crowd. There is electricity, which makes it the most opulent house Marianne has ever been in and several cuts above all the venues earlier in the week.
"Brigitte, this is my friend Marianne Bonheur, newly arrived in Paris and ripe for corruption."
"In good hands, then," Brigitte chides Claude and extends her hand. Marianne shakes it firmly. "A painter, like the rest of these reprobates?"
"Yes," she says.
"Excellent. Very good. But, Bonheur, you said?"
"Yes." She swallows. "My father is an artist."
"He painted Mother's portrait."
"How fascinating. Mother never leaves her room on a Saturday. Too scared she might enjoy herself. But you ought to meet her. I think she would like that. I will tell Héloïse. Enjoy!" and she sallies off into the room.
Claude manoeuvres Marianne on to more introductions and before long her head is swimming.
"And there is Héloïse in the corner." Marianne is directed to a woman stood in a doorway, fiercely observing everyone. "Our sphinx sitting in judgement. Héloïse sees all. She decides whose shows are patronised, what is bought, who is invited, and who is not allowed back." Clearly this is unnerving and she correctly suspects he says it precisely to unnerve her.
There is no introduction though. Perhaps he too is unnerved by this Héloïse. In the few glimpses that Marianne catches of her later, Héloïse remains alone.
Marianne isn't sure where the next few weeks go but the blank canvasses in her room say it's not on painting. The growing collection of wine bottles provide a hint she is ignoring. Paris is intoxicating. The opportunity is intoxicating. The freedom is intoxicating.
Currently however Marianne has become separated from her friends at the rue de Fleurus and there is little to be done about it in the throng of people. Instead she leaves the house and crosses the courtyard to the enormous studio. Inside is similarly packed but she can look at the art and not appear as someone who has misplaced her companions.
It is the first time she has entered and now enormously regrets that delay. There is a huge Cezanne, a few Matisses, many Picassos. Along with Gauguins, Manets, and a hundred other works by lesser known artists, many of whom are currently in the house somewhere. It is far from the family collection she had assumed. She steps closer, drawing alongside someone and it takes a moment before realising it is the stern, serious younger sister.
The response feels deeply disinterested. "And you are Marianne."
"Apparently the introduction is unnecessary." Marianne smiles but there is nothing in return. "I am sorry I have not made one already. There are... a lot of people."
"Yes," Héloïse says and it could almost be the end of the conversation from her tone.
Someone jostles past behind them and Héloïse frowns. Marianne is not going to give up that easily. Or, more to the point, let Héloïse give up that easily. She forges ahead. "My father painted your mother's portrait once."
"Yes, Brigitte told me. She said you ought to meet her. That I ought to make the arrangements."
"I would like that."
"Marianne! Found you at last!" Claude bursts upon them.
Héloïse turns and leaves with a curt nod.
"Next week, then," Marianne says to Héloïse's back.
Claude is laughing. "Damn, nearly caught. Come, we're stealing this champagne and heading out."
"I need to go home to change first."
In the event, Marianne sees Héloïse only a few days later. She is trying to clear her head and induce her brain to think about art rather than all the other distractions and delights Paris has to offer so she takes herself off to the Louvre to intimidate herself into working. Which as soon as she arrives becomes clear is entirely the wrong tactic. She is roaming the galleries almost afraid to stop and look when she comes upon Héloïse deep in contemplation.
Marianne debates approaching but eventually does, making sure to step heavily by way of introduction.
"Hello," Marianne says gently, trying not to cause alarm.
Of course Héloïse isn't alarmed, only appearing put out. At least she replies albeit with a quick, "Hello," in return and turns back to her study of the painting.
"What do you think?"
Marianne is so surprised she has to look over at Héloïse to make sure it was really she that spoke. "What do I think? Um, a bit romantic. For my tastes."
"I'm no art critic."
"I was told you curate your family's collection."
Héloïse shrugs and Marianne is not going to push the matter. Presently Héloïse moves on to the next painting and Marianne, for the lack of anything better to do, follows.
Marianne hasn't even looked yet. "Oh. Um. I think if I were going to storm the barricades I would be wearing more clothes." This is not exactly the kind of intellectualism she was gunning for.
"Liberty is often liberated of her clothes."
"Apart from her cap."
"Symbolism," Héloïse intones.
It's almost playful and Marianne laughs. It echoes around the mostly empty gallery. "Do you think it is silly?"
"What makes you think I find it silly?"
"Just, I suppose, your interests are so modern." And your tone dripping with sarcasm.
"Modernity relies on there being a past. Context. It cannot exist in isolation. Why are you here?"
"To torture myself."
"Ah yes, the tortured artist." Héloïse walks on. "Only you all seem to spend more time on the torture than the art."
"You may very well be right. I am, after all, here torturing myself rather than doing art. I think I was hoping for instruction."
"You should take inspiration rather than instruction. One day Picasso's work will be here. And people will talk about how old-fashioned it is. The future soon becomes the past."
Marianne isn't sure whether to be encouraged or disheartened.
Héloïse stops walking and looks at her. "Come tomorrow to the atelier. You can look at the work there. It might cheer you up. Inspire, even."
Marianne is barely late for her appointment. It takes half an hour to get there from her lodgings on the rue Cardinal Lemoine and she is barely out of breath when she arrives. Héloïse says nothing about either of these circumstances when she opens the door to allow entry.
Through the hall and out into the courtyard Marianne follows Héloïse into the studio.
Without the bustle of people the room is almost a museum. Its walls are even more full: filled from floor to ceiling including in some places dangling over the edges of windows. More are stacked on the floor. With all that space Héloïse deposits herself in an armchair and Marianne feels a nagging disappointment she is not getting a more personal tour. Héloïse is simply waiting this out.
"You chose all these?" She wheels round taking in a more general view.
"Most. Abbiati and Brigitte pick some."
"And it is bankrolled by your brother-in-law? I'm sorry, that's not a very polite question."
Héloïse shrugs. She is, Marianne has certainly noticed, not particularly concerned with being polite. "He has his fortune from business but this - this is to be truly rich."
It makes Marianne smile it is so passionately forthright but delivered without any such emotion.
She begins a more careful circuit. She is very aware that Héloïse is watching her.
On Saturday it had been hard to look past the obvious giants in the room. Now she can take her time with each and every piece. In appreciation of the work itself. But she tries to discern a pattern among them. Some subject matter or theme that might explain why Héloïse chose them. She cannot. She wants to ask but cannot do that either.
She finishes the route of the room. Héloïse is still sat in the armchair, still watching. "Well?"
"It is an extraordinary collection."
"Yes. I think so."
"Not just the works. The collection. The effort that went into this..."
Héloïse only looks at her. Then at her watch. "Are you staying for lunch?"
"Is it lunchtime already?"
"It is one o'clock."
They'd been here for two hours. Héloïse had just been sat there, perfectly patiently. It seemed so at odds with the impatient, fractious Héloïse she had previously seen.
"If you don't mind." She is, in fact, very hungry, having skipped breakfast due to both time and money constraints.
Héloïse simply leads Marianne from the room.
The dining room is a riot. The sideboard is full of platters and bowls and a small army of children dash shouting between it and the table with plates piled high with food supervised by the watchful but under-resourced governess and nanny. Brigitte is holding a small, wriggling specimen and struggling to eat with her other hand.
Abbiati arrives at the same time as Marianne and Héloïse. He takes one look at the scene and leaves the same way he came.
Héloïse gestures for Marianne to help herself which she does, though not as much as the children or as much as she is tempted to. When she turns back to the table Héloïse has relieved Brigitte of the littlest one and Brigitte is eating.
"So, Marianne, what did you think of Héloïse's little collection?"
"I was trying to tell her it is extraordinary," Marianne says, glancing at Héloïse who is resolutely focused on vigorously bouncing the baby.
"It is, isn't it?" Brigitte is enthused. "She has such an eye."
Now Héloïse looks up, at Brigitte. Who waves off the frown of displeasure. "We're not talking to you, dearest, we're talking about you."
Héloïse rolls her eyes.
"Have you met Mother yet?"
"No," Marianne says, pausing around a mouthful. She's contemplating a second plate. Maybe some in a napkin if she can manage it.
"Héloïse, I said you should organise that."
"You said I should organise it so that I should have to talk to Mother. I am resisting."
"Well for Marianne's sake then, if not your own. She will think us rude."
"If you insist. Here's your progeny back. Don't get too many crumbs on her," and she makes to stand up.
Brigitte hauls her back into place. "You know very well I don't mean now."
Héloïse smirks. "Fine. I will speak to Mother. If Marianne wants anything more to do with this ridiculous family."
Marianne, mouth full, eyes wide, only nods.
There is a knock on the door of Marguerite's sitting room. "Mother." It is Héloïse who enters. "Marianne is here. Marianne Bonheur."
"Yes, of course." It is just possible Marguerite has been drowsing.
Héloïse comes further in, followed by a tall, dark girl. Marguerite beckons to her. "Welcome, Marianne."
"It is good to meet you, Madame de Montfort. Thank you for inviting me."
Marguerite nods. Héloïse is loitering by the doorway, as is her habit. "Thank you, Héloïse."
"Would you like tea?" Héloïse asks as though she is some sort of maid.
"I will ring for Hélène if I do." It comes out harsher than Marguerite intends and Héloïse retreats. Marguerite notices Marianne watching her leave. Afraid to be left with this dragon.
Marguerite turns back to her guest but Marianne is already gazing up at the engagement portrait, having effortlessly picked it out of a crowd paintings of Marguerite and her family.
She thinks that probably Marianne doesn't approve. That it is outmoded and desperately old-fashioned to her.
"It is beautiful." But Marianne's eyes are wide and her tone reverent. "I love to see my father's work."
"I can see much of your father in you."
Marianne colours. "Can you?"
Marguerite nods. The dark hair, the eyes, the hands.
"I am very fond of him," the child says. Though this is unnecessary, Marguerite thinks.
He was an easy man to be fond of. She is sure he is a wonderful father. Indeed, he has set his daughter free. Given her a freedom unimaginable to many young women. A freedom Marguerite had longed for, many years ago. Perhaps the best they could do was bestow that freedom on their children. She has tried so hard to give that to Brigitte and Héloïse. But she is scared for them. Héloïse especially. More freedom means less protection.
Finally she gestures for Marianne to take a seat and sits also. "And what does your father do now?"
"He is mostly retired from professional painting. He likes to walk along the coast and paint watercolours."
That sounded nice. Nicer than the provocation that passed for art nowadays. That her children were obsessed with.
"My mother paints also, though not professionally," Marianne continues. Guileless, she doesn't understand how the mention of a mother shocks Marguerite almost as though she until then believed Marianne sprung fully formed from the earth.
"Lovely," Marguerite says. "Have you brothers and sisters?"
Marianne shakes her head. She appears the same age as Héloïse but her father was several years older than Marguerite. Perhaps there had been no time. Perhaps that is why Marianne is so full of her father. Undiluted.
"Seeing your daughters together makes me miss having a sibling all the more." Marianne says it all in a rush. She is nervous.
Marguerite raises an eyebrow.
"That companionship. Their loyalty to one another."
Ah, yes. Marguerite has suffered for that loyalty many times. She had wanted her girls to be close but sometimes it was decidedly inconvenient. Punishing one had generally meant punishing two, such was their solidarity.
But Marianne is astute. "Though I imagine that did not make your job easy."
"No, indeed." Marguerite remembers them as children. "They looked like angels and behaved like devils." It is an indiscretion but she feels comfortable with Marianne.
Marianne laughs. "I can only imagine. And now you have approximately a dozen grandchildren."
Now Marguerite laughs. "It certainly seems like that sometimes."
"It certainly sounds like that."
Marguerite laughs again and Marianne grins back. An extraordinary child.
As if summoned by this merriment the door opens and Héloïse comes in, frowning prodigiously.
"Don't scowl so, Héloïse," Marguerite instructs. "Marianne and I are enjoying ourselves."
Héloïse looks back and forth between them, uncomprehending. She has come to investigate and disapprove. Marguerite wishes her daughter were less serious but then, who taught her to be so?
Marianne rises from her chair and nods to Marguerite to take her leave. "It was lovely to meet you," she says and Marguerite believes her.
Marguerite stands and takes Marianne's hands. There is only the slightest flinch from the girl. "Remember me to your father," she says. "Perhaps if he ever visits you here in Paris he and your mother could dine with us. And please, come to speak with me again soon." She is aware of Héloïse's barely concealed incredulity.
"I will," Marianne smiles. Marguerite squeezes her hands and releases her.
The guest of honour the next Saturday is Picasso's newly completed portrait of Brigitte. Even amongst the circle at the rue de Fleurus it is looked on with a good deal of confusion. And amongst the wider community the talk is of how Picasso had managed to take the most beautiful woman in Paris and make this mangled portrait of her.
"I sat for him at least eighty or ninety times." Brigitte is regaling the crowd.
"That is a wild exaggeration," Héloïse says but no one takes much notice.
The man himself is doleful. Marianne only watches from the other side of the room, not daring to approach.
By this point she just about dares to approach Héloïse, who is talking with one of the few other women in the room. Héloïse makes way for her with either grace or well-concealed aggravation - Marianne's nerves make her suspect the latter. "Marianne, this is Sophie. Sophie, Marianne." This appears to be the conclusion of the introductions.
Luckily Sophie puts out her hand. "Sophie Nafisi. Have you heard of The Rogue? The arts magazine?"
"Yes, of course." She shakes Sophie's hand. "You work there?"
Héloïse glances at Marianne for a moment before returning her gaze to the room.
"I own it."
Marianne tries to make some sort of apology but Sophie moves on. "Héloïse's defence of the portrait is dazzling. I published it immediately."
"No," Héloïse says.
"You wrote about it?"
"Here..." Sophie is fishing in her satchel.
"No," Héloïse repeats, ineffectively. "How many do you have in there? It must weigh a tonne."
Marianne takes the magazine from Sophie and is shown the page.
"Don't read it now."
"She is embarrassed." Sophie nudges Héloïse.
"I am not. I only... Very well." Héloïse resigns herself.
But Marianne is already reading. When she looks up she realises Héloïse has been watching. She smiles. "I distinctly remember you telling me you weren't an art critic."
"I'm a critic of the idea women must only be - can only be - passive and beautiful."
"These are powerful words."
Praise slips off Héloïse like water off a duck's back. "I'm going to check on the wine." And she leaves.
"Good night, Sophie, I hope you have a good evening. Thank you, Héloïse, you too!" Sophie calls after her, raising her glass in the direction of Héloïse's retreat. "You'll get used to it," she tells Marianne.
"Will I?" In what sense, exactly, is what Marianne wants to know.
"When you've been around a bit longer."
"I get the distinct impression Héloïse doesn't want me around at all, never mind longer."
"That's what I mean. You'll get used to her."
"Have you known her long?"
"A few years. That's all you're getting from me though. You'll have to discover the rest yourself. It's more fun that way. And now if you'll excuse me I need to corner Pablo into giving me a quote." She barrels her way to the other side of the room without any difficulty even as Marianne, who is sure she is at least twice Sophie's size, is nearly knocked over by someone behind her.
"Good night to you too," Marianne mumbles after her.
She sips her wine and wanders with the flow of the crowd. Most of which is towards the portrait with a momentary pause before going past shaking their heads. Further along she spots Héloïse again, watching the crowd as much as she is looking at the picture.
Marianne sidles up to her. She can tell she is noticed. There's a slight downwards look as if Héloïse is identifying her by her shoes.
"What do you like about it? Your article doesn't say."
"It says what you think is significant about it. Not what you like. Or even if you do."
"Do you like it?"
"Yes. It provokes a response in me. If I did not know your sister it would make me want to know her. And even though I don't know her well I recognise something of her self in it."
Héloïse nods. She still hasn't taken her eyes off the picture and the crowd.
Until Marianne says, "Do you ever pose?"
Now Héloïse looks at her. The look is enough of an answer.
"You wrote very eloquently about the power there can be," Marianne offers as a defence for daring to wonder.
"Look at them." Héloïse indicates the group currently in front of the portrait with confusion all over their faces. "It baffles them. Brigitte is beautiful and a mother and this portrait shows none of that. So what else is there? I know what there is. There is a girl who was promenaded around balls the moment she became of marriageable age. There is a girl leered at on the street. There is a woman who loves to pose because it is on her terms. Not because of vanity. Because she can teach artists how to look. How to respect. To make it easier for every model after. Without her none of this would exist. And they reduce her to some object."
There's nothing Marianne can say to it. Héloïse looks away - away from the picture and the crowd and Marianne. She chews at her lip. Marianne is afraid she is about to disappear again.
Then, a saviour. Brigitte herself arrives, all good humour and laughter.
"Marianne! How did you enjoy your talk with Mother?"
"They were thick as thieves." It is as close to an accusation as possible from Héloïse.
"Good!" At least Brigitte seems pleased.
Héloïse is still pondering. "How did you manage to so thoroughly charm my mother?"
On reflection Marianne thinks most of the job had been completed a few decades before. "Perhaps I am just charming."
Marianne ignores this and turns to Brigitte. "We were just discussing your portrait."
"Yes! Isn't it wonderful?" Brigitte beams at it. "Poor Pablo is rather glum about the reception."
"If his subject is happy..."
"Precisely! But quickly, before you get Héloïse into a debate about who art is for I must leave you. Enjoy your evening, my darlings!"
Marianne looks at Héloïse. Who raises an eyebrow in a challenge. Or an offer. Marianne accepts.
It seemed, during those months, that I could not avoid meeting Héloïse de Montfort. Everywhere I turned there she was. At the salon, the museums, shops, and exhibitions. So that along with my weekly visits to the rue de Fleurus on Saturdays and the occasional arranged visit I ended up seeing her two or three times a week.
Héloïse de Montfort was a plain creature, too quiet and serious for the society she found herself in. A soft chin, faded eyes, hair neither as sunnily blonde as her sister's nor as luxuriously brown and thick as my own. My dark hair that sat above arresting eyebrows, eyes of mysterious depth, a fine nose and immaculate lips...
There is an exhibition being held at one of the new shops along the river specialising in the modern arts and though Marianne and her friends can barely afford food never mind paintings they all visit. It is research, they tell themselves. And there might be hors d'oeuvres.
Marianne is not surprised to see someone who certainly can afford to buy. She watches Héloïse being very intently shepherded around by the proprietor. She watches Héloïse growing increasingly infuriated by this. She's beginning to enjoy herself imagining how this might resolve when Héloïse turns her head in one sharp movement and looks straight at her.
Héloïse waves off her eager chaperone and approaches, negotiating other patrons, other freeloaders, tables, and easels.
"Do you have any recommendations?" Héloïse asks, as though they were already mid-conversation. "My friend over there recommends everything."
"I am not in a buying position."
"No, you are here for the hospitality and the torturing."
Marianne smiles. "That is precisely it."
"Do not torture yourself too much. There's no reason to think your work will not be bought and sold someday. Though I cannot properly judge, having never seen any."
"Would you like to see my work?"
"I see everyone's work, eventually." It seems to Marianne to be phrased expressly so that it does not provoke any hope in her. And indeed it hits its mark.
Yet she perseveres. "Come on Wednesday then. I... don't have a card."
Héloïse pulls her own out and Marianne scratches her address on the back in pencil.
"Very well," Héloïse says.
The landlady is knocking on the door and calling to Marianne. She swears she's only been asleep ten minutes. "Please," she appeals.
"Lady here to see you. I'll let her in?"
"Not today, thank you," Marianne mumbles, ready to roll over and go back to sleep again until she remembers that today is today and today is when she invited Héloïse.
The door is opening and she stumbles through her bedsheets to throw her whole weight behind it. "One moment!"
She hears Héloïse murmuring something to the landlady then footsteps on the stairs.
"In your own time," Héloïse prompts.
Marianne leaps into action.
Empty wine bottles, under the bed. Full wine bottles, under the bed. Scarves and jackets draped over paintings, under the bed. Trousers, under the bed. Skirt from the floor, on. Blouse out from under the bed, on. Hair in the mirror... nothing to be done about that.
Bottles and boxes were strewn about. The packing case she used as a settee suddenly seemed very silly. Apparently she had never emptied, cleaned and refilled a water jar since she moved here. They were perched on every even slightly level surface. She vaguely recalled the intention to tidy up as having occurred last night. Just before Claude sent word of where to meet. And then, as she got dressed to go, the intention not to stay out too long and to rise early to tidy. A ready image supplied itself: something based on Dante, the road to hell strewn with wine bottles and jars of brown-grey water.
Marianne opens the door triumphantly though Héloïse is less than impressed. "I am so sorry," Marianne says brightly. "Do come in."
Her room is large for bedroom but entirely too small as a bedroom-living-room-art-studio. This has proved little problem as Marianne is rarely in her room. Her extended welcome has taken her all over town. The restaurants, the bars, the homes and studios of other artists, the many and varied dens of iniquity.
Héloïse's eyes dart around the room and Marianne begins to fully comprehend what a terrible idea this was. A truly terrible idea. She distracts herself by working through a list of synonyms for 'terrible' to see if any others take her fancy.
Héloïse's lips are pursed and her brow is furrowed as she flips through the stack of canvasses. "No portraits?"
"Because of your father's legacy?"
The easiest answer to that question - the answer Héloïse is already assuming - is, "Yes." So that is what Marianne says and Héloïse is content with it.
Héloïse returns to her silent inspection. A few more canvasses and she still isn't saying anything. Marianne dares to glance. Héloïse gives no indication she knows Marianne is watching her. Presently she says, "Is this it?"
Marianne blinks. "What does that mean?"
"How long have you been here?"
"Nearly three months."
"I suppose I expected more."
"Quantity? You think output is some indicator?"
Héloïse is completely unconcerned with Marianne's outrage. "Just more."
"I thought you were no art critic."
Héloïse is amused. She thinks this is funny. There is a twitching in her lower lip, Marianne sees. "Indeed I am not."
"But you sit in judgement?"
"You think I am judging you?"
Marianne produces a frustrated affirmative gesture that has Héloïse raising her eyebrows. "And why do you never answer a question?"
"Do I not?"
The gesticulation Marianne has in mind now runs more along the lines of a strangulation. She resists.
"You charm my mother but you can't bring yourself to talk to Pablo. You understood what I wrote about portraits but you don't paint any yourself. You can look at a piece for hours but you are too afraid to work on your own for more than thirty minutes. Where is this complexity in your work?"
Marianne feels cold. "You don't know me. You don't understand me."
"I do understand you."
"You don't and you don't understand my work."
"What is there to understand here?"
"Just because it doesn't match up to your ideas of what art should be? We've left that behind. There are no rules. No conventions."
"There is still discipline and hard work." Héloïse toes a wine bottle out from its not very effective hiding place under the bed and allows it to roll gently into the room, damning Marianne excruciatingly slowly.
"It's experience," Marianne says when it finally stops moving. "It's what artists ought to do."
"That is not the only form of experience." Héloïse softens a fraction. "Pleasure and enjoyment is important. The risk is being crushed by it. We have lost too much promise to that."
"You're talking about genius. That's irrelevant here, as you said yourself."
"I did not."
Marianne is angry. She's not entirely sure who with. "I cannot paint like them."
"Good," Héloïse says with a vehemence so forceful it knocks Marianne back. "We already have them. We need you."
In her present state of hangover, with Héloïse there in her apartment for the first time, throwing concepts like this about, Marianne is overwhelmed. "Thank you for coming," she says stonily.
Héloïse nods like she expected nothing else - possibly she is used to crushing people on a daily basis. Marianne thinks that sounds plausible.
In the doorway, Héloïse stops and says, "We will see you on Saturday." It is not, in any sense, a question.
Marianne says nothing but she listens to Héloïse's footsteps all the way down the stairs and the sound of the front door. She turns back to her paintings, her betrayers. She flips through them. To comfort herself. Except now all she can see is what they lack. All she can see is what someone who lives among Cezannes and Matisses and Picassos must see. And yet who insists that is not what she wants. Marianne swings, knocks the lot from the easel and the others from where they lean against the wall. Grinds her foot into them lying helpless on the floor. Turns away and collapses onto the bed.
Marianne stews and is still stewing by evening when she was supposed to be meeting friends. She is tempted to go and harangue the lot of them, Claude in particular - that this is all his doing. It would be well justified, she thinks. Not entirely justified. No, she is intent on staying in her self pity. But why? She wasn't going to paint. She might never paint again. If she couldn't paint she could at least enjoy herself and live a little. She hauls her clothes out from under the bed.
Brigitte is taking the scenic route home along the Seine, as is her well-deserved right to any amount of peace and quiet she can find in the day. It's almost dinner but still bright as she walks along the river. The late May evening is warm with promises of a heady summer to come.
Couples walk together, children play their games, the booksellers begin to pack up, a youth lies on the grass with an arm flung over his face and cigarette dangling from his mouth. Except not. Brigitte approaches.
"Ah, Marianne." Brigitte peers down at her. "Are you beginning your evening or is this the end of a day that started earlier this week?"
This is clearly too much of a question and Marianne remains prostrate. "That would depend on what day it is," comes the muffled reply.
"Never a good sign," Brigitte observes.
Marianne manages to get her head all of four inches off the floor. "Please don't tell Héloïse." The poor thing.
"Where would I start? Anyway, it might work in your favour if I did." Brigitte laughs. A man walks past and looks at them - at her.
"She thinks I am a lightweight. That I don't take my art seriously."
"I cannot imagine why she might think that. Come, people give more credibility to one's arguments when one is vertical." She extends a hand to help. Marianne sways for a moment. "The river is that way. I've been vomited on enough today."
"I'm fine," Marianne lies, but is not sick.
"Héloïse is strict with you. That's because she likes you and believes in you."
"Does she?" Marianne is dusting her trousers off. Brigitte turns her around and knocks grass from the back of her jacket.
When Marianne faces her once more Brigitte looks her up and down. Yes, Héloïse liked her and it wasn't at all hard to understand why. Marianne was gentle - embarrassed right now in a charming dishevelled way - but clearly not immune to taking risks and making the most of life.
"I think you could be good for her. And she for you, if you will let her." She puts out her arm and lets Marianne escort her home. She allows Marianne an escape at the end of the street, with promises to see her tomorrow.
Marianne attempts to keep her distance on Saturday but a balance must be struck with not appearing intimidated. She allows herself to linger in Héloïse's peripheral vision but will not get any closer. This is the resolution. This does not hold.
Sophie seizes upon her and drags her over to where Héloïse and Brigitte are talking. "Found her! Héloïse said you had some insight on our subject matter."
Marianne allows herself a glance at Héloïse who looks only vaguely encouraging, which is more than vaguely unsettling.
"Marianne and I were talking about artistic conventions earlier this week."
Indeed they were and recovering from it has taken Marianne from then until this morning. If it could be said she is recovered now. Which she suspects she is not as she has something of a headache. Also, Brigitte is looking at her with far too much amusement.
"All the old ways are being torn up," Brigitte says. "Which is immensely liberating."
"But..." Héloïse turns to Marianne, prompting, because of course she knows the prevarication.
Which Marianne has been thinking about. Just a little, over the last days. "It's hard. To find a direction then. For my father, for instance, there is a correctness to art. A level of objectivity. That those rules and conventions have to be obeyed. There is a structure to work within."
"Embrace the limitations," bursts forth Sophie. "I want to be new but I still have to use the alphabet and there's nothing so conventional as having to use the same twenty-six letters as most everyone in the Latinised world."
"Art is different," comes the rebuttal from the unexpected source of Héloïse. "Words are a barrier to understanding. An abstract hurdle."
"That's your writer's block talking," Sophie accuses her.
Héloïse waves it off. "There are some rules and conventions so deeply ingrained in our culture we see them just as human nature."
"Such as?" Marianne asks.
"How we behave, how we dress..."
"How we dress, fascinating," Brigitte says and Marianne ignores her harder.
"And if we abandon the convention of entering a house by the door to come by the window instead?"
Héloïse smiles, as Marianne had intended. "The window is the convention of the lover," she points out and that is not what Marianne had intended at all.
"She's blushing," Sophie notes helpfully.
Héloïse takes mercy, "But yes, that is precisely what I mean," and Marianne is grateful. The conversation turns and Marianne gets very much behind discussing the upcoming shows and exhibitions. By the end of the evening it is not so much that she has forgiven Héloïse as she realises she was, of course, right.
Chapter 2: Summer 1907
Marianne arrives at the rue de Fleurus on business and is admitted into the hall where Héloïse enters carrying a small child in each arm not upright as one might expect but tucked underneath rather like a baguette or a dog and the children dangle there apparently quite content as Héloïse says hello and how was she, had she done much painting, and seen so-and-so.
Marianne indicates the children. "Are they quite all right?"
"We are fine," they protest, having been deposited on the floor. One sticks its tongue out at Marianne as they scamper away. She's still struggling to identify the various nieces and nephews so will be unable to hold a grudge against this particular one. They all look interchangeable and never stay still long enough to count.
"I'm sorry to disturb you. And them. I brought you these."
"Thank you." Héloïse accepts the pamphlets and journals and flicks through them quickly.
Marianne is sorry to lose them - she has been using them as a fan in this heat.
"Would you like to come up?"
"To my room. It is cooler there."
"Yes, of course."
Marianne, shocked into compliance, goes through the house, the courtyard, and the atelier. Héloïse stops at the stove and the sink, pointing Marianne to the secluded stairs at the rear of the building. Up those stairs - uncharted territory - is a small landing stacked with canvases and framed artworks. Through the door is a large room stacked also with canvases and framed artworks but dotted with signs of life: bed, table, sofa, dresser, desk. The walls are clad in bookcases alternating between books and yet more art and large windows that reach from the floor to the ceiling. All this time spent downstairs and she'd had no idea how Héloïse hovered above.
It's only moments before Héloïse follows, handing over a glass of water as wet on the outside as in.
Héloïse drops the papers onto a large desk brimming with journals, magazines, letters, and pamphlets. There is an impressively large typewriter and piles of books.
"It is exhausting keeping up with everything we have to say about one another," she says, indicating the desk.
"But someone has to?"
"Someone ought to. My contribution perhaps."
Marianne waves her arm around the room. "I think you are contributing a good deal."
"I cede ground by the depth of each frame. But there are pieces I cannot bear to sell, or that will not sell, yet we need more and more space downstairs to make way for the new." Héloïse looks around, apparently seeing the room as Marianne must. "It must look a state."
"You've seen my room."
"At least that is your own work. I will let these paintings edge me out of my own life. I cannot decide whether that is worthwhile or not." She phrases it as though it is a simply academic question.
"The light is beautiful in here." Marianne clutches at straws.
Héloïse moves to the window and rubs at the dusty pane with her sleeve. "Yes," she agrees half-heartedly.
Now Marianne stands dripping on the floorboards and is at a complete loss as to what to do. "May I?" she indicates the bookshelves. Héloïse nods and settles herself on the sofa.
"You have quite the library." Shelves of dark bound books give way to shelves of smaller paintings, then back to books, then to boxes of pamphlets, art, books. Marianne circumnavigates slowly.
"I enjoy books. I studied classics at university. And history."
The surprise turns Marianne round to face her. "I didn't know that." She had really rather been hoping she might be able to pin Héloïse down at some point. Except that this might turn out to be far more interesting.
"London. Kings." The simplicity of it suggests a prestige that needs no explanation. There are indeed a number of English titles and returning to her tour Marianne finds many of the classics in Latin and Greek.
"You didn't want to stay?" she asks eventually.
"My family is here," Héloïse says. As though it answers the question.
Marianne is drawing closer to Héloïse on the sofa and though she is nowhere near complete she ends her circuit there. She looks back over the room. "I like it," she pronounces, well aware that Héloïse needs no such approbation. "I think you could do with a warehouse or somesuch though. So that you don't get squeezed out." She tries to look at Héloïse as she says it but Héloïse does not co-operate.
Once she is sat Héloïse asks her about her work and Marianne obliges. Not that it is interesting but that she has indeed been working.
Héloïse listens intently. Then, "I told Brigitte I found your work very promising."
"You did?" Marianne isn't sure she has any more surprise left in her today.
"I had tried to tell you." The look on Héloïse's face is almost, almost, apologetic.
Marianne supposes she did. She has been trying to forget her own petulance. "Sometimes it feels like a provocation. The problem is reaching the edge of that promise."
"The fear of where it is? Better not to fully commit so as to be left in ignorance of one's limitations?" Héloïse appears almost disinterested, playing with the cuffs of her blouse.
Marianne looks at her. "You know the argument well."
"You think I don't have my own tortures?" She meets Marianne's eye. It's delivered in jest but Marianne knows there is more underneath that.
"Your mother?" Marianne almost whispers.
"My relationship with my mother is not a creative pursuit one might have talent in."
So, in addition to the sadness and the simmering anger, the frustrations of creative pursuit. To her shame, no, Marianne has never considered it. "Not art?"
Héloïse laughs. Before Marianne has recovered herself from this startling occurrence - head tipping back, throat exposed, hair bouncing, mirth in her eyes, the low rumbling sound - Héloïse continues.
"No indeed, there is no promise there and I am content with that." She looks almost as though she were enjoying herself. It feels almost as though they are enjoying themselves.
"Tell me." She is entranced but afraid to continue the speculation lest she cause offence.
Héloïse shakes her head. "Suffice it to say that I do understand."
And because she was indeed enjoying herself Marianne allowed it.
"Now, then, will you stay for lunch?"
Marianne sips her tea but Marguerite sees her eyes roaming the walls of the room looking at the portraits. Marguerite watches and sees Marianne's eyes light up.
Marguerite doesn't need to look to confirm. "Yes," she says quietly. She sees Marianne straining - the concentration in her eyes, the fidgeting of her fingers on the cup - so she stands and approaches the painting, allowing Marianne the opportunity to get up and follow her.
It is a portrait of Marguerite in all the purity and glory of motherhood. Her and her girls dressed in white.
"Brigitte learnt her posing early," Marianne says.
This is in stark contrast to Héloïse. In the portrait, she looks perplexed. In reality, she had been terrified. She was only three.
Marianne is scanning the walls for more. There is only one other and Marguerite waits for it to be located. She sees it register on Marianne's face: a sudden intake of breath but then the pull of a frown. They move towards it together.
"What do you think of it?" Marguerite asks and she is testing Marianne.
"It's... how old is she here?"
"Sixteen. It was just after her father died."
Marianne makes an apologetic, sympathetic glance but thankfully doesn't say anything. Marguerite waits for more but Marianne is only looking - her eyes working their way across the portrait as if inspecting each individual brush stroke.
"What do you think of it?" Marianne is hesitating but Marguerite needs to know. "You can speak plainly. I will not be offended or tell the artist your thoughts."
"It is technically a very good portrait. But it's... it's not her, is it?"
Marguerite feels a rush of relief. The portrait is an imitation of an Héloïse who would not co-operate. The gentle smile she wears is entirely fabricated - she scowled her way through the single brief sitting that Marguerite had only secured with threats.
"This is the portrait of Brigitte from the same time." Marguerite indicates the painting next to it though she knows pointing this out to Marianne is unnecessary, that she would have been able to tell.
"The artist had skill," Marianne says, looking briefly at Brigitte's picture before her eyes go back to the shell of Héloïse in the other frame.
"He did his best. After their father died..." Marguerite breathes deep. Marianne turns to face her, give her full attention, under that gaze. "My main preoccupation was with them. Their grief. But also with a reminder of the fragility of life. Fear of losing them consumed me. It was not a good time, those months after, but I wanted - I needed - to immortalise them."
It is too much and Marguerite turns away. She has remembered too much, revealed too much. Marianne turns with her, puts her hand under Marguerite's arm as support and leads them back to their chairs.
"I am sorry to distress you," Marianne says quietly though Marguerite thinks it ought to be her apology as Marianne is clearly uncomfortable.
"You don't. It is good, sometimes, to remember these things. And with Héloïse... it is hard. I am glad she has you as a friend. Someone who understands her."
Marianne makes a frustrated laughing exhalation which Marguerite recognises. "I am not sure I do understand her." It is raw for the girl and Marguerite pities her.
"Héloïse is not an easy person. You do understand her. You looked at her portrait and you understood."
Marianne's eyes flicker back to it.
"I don't know if you speak of me or what she tells you." Marianne looks down at her hands at the words and Marguerite knows. "But I love my daughter very much."
Now Marianne looks up sharply at her. "There is no doubt."
There is. Héloïse doubts it. It is all too much - whatever Marguerite is trying to claw her way towards expressing is too foreign and buried and she can only talk around it in circles. But she is reassured by Marianne. For herself and for her daughter.
Marguerite smiles at her. "I hope to see you again soon."
"Of course," Marianne says.
As they stand Marguerite kisses Marianne lightly on each cheek and though she can feel the surprise she appreciates the warm smile in return. Marianne leaves and Marguerite sinks back into her chair under the watchful eyes of the room.
"Get some of your friends together," Héloïse had said. "Go down to the river and paint," Héloïse had said. When Héloïse had said it there was such an obvious simplicity to it.
Marianne looks at the sky, the river, the bridges, the buildings. Tries to find some intriguing interplay she can work with. Some reflection or suggestion. But it will not come. Everyone else seems to be feeling similarly - their artistic excursion has turned into more of a conciliatory discussion of the difficulties of creation. The torture.
Now she glances at the other papers. Some still on laps, others abandoned. A few scratches here and there. Nothing she can appropriate - be inspired by, rather. She turns and looks behind them on the off chance something fascinating is happening just out of view. It is not.
When she turns back Héloïse is there. "What progress?" she asks as she strolls along the line of bereft non-artists, craning her neck. Marianne flips her sketchbook up to her chest to hide the lack thereof but in the interests of transparency relents and shows Héloïse.
"Oh dear." The tone is a lot more sympathetic than Marianne had dared to hope for.
Ordinarily, Marianne thinks, she would abandon the endeavour but she is not going to now. Partly this is due to some brinkmanship with Héloïse. A need to prove something to her. But also to Marianne herself. "Will you sit with me?"
Héloïse does so and they arrange themselves on the grass. Héloïse looks out at the view and Marianne organises her papers once more. "What is it you are looking at?" Marianne asks her.
"The river. It's a lazy old thing."
"What makes you say that?" And as Héloïse tells her, Marianne sketches.
After Héloïse falls silent Marianne continues for a while. She holds the drawing out. "It's not very good."
"No," Héloïse agrees and Marianne tries very hard not to be perturbed. "But it is finished and that can be the harder thing sometimes."
So Marianne starts again. Héloïse wanders over to the tables of books and browses them, drawing Marianne's attention temporarily. Most of the others have drifted away to a cafe nearby but she is not even tempted. She completes her scene and scrutinises it. She is getting closer to something.
She starts again.
Héloïse returns and sits without saying anything. She clutches her spoils and begins to read.
Marianne draws the booksellers and the perusers and the river forms a glistening sky behind. Finally something coalesces that feels worth being here.
She looks at Héloïse who is still engrossed in her book. Héloïse reads about the world while Marianne sits and watches it go by. Until she isn't watching the world anymore. It has shrunk and shrunk to contain only the gentle dance of a curl of hair against Héloïse's jaw.
That summer was warm and there was plenty of opportunity to be outside. I painted many thoughtful scenes of the river and the life that passed by it.
There was to be a party for Guillaume and I convinced Héloïse de Montfort to accompany myself and my friends there. I found myself convincing Héloïse de Montfort to do many out-of-the-ordinary things during this time. It was at this party that Marie got extraordinarily drunk and the entire group was ejected from the restaurant.
Also at that time suddenly Paris seemed full of poets. Everywhere one went there were poets. One was tripping over them in the street. Easy to do as they tended to be on the diminutive side.
Saturday night and Marianne is looking for Héloïse as soon as she arrives at the rue de Fleurus. Héloïse scrutinised everyone. Marianne scrutinised Héloïse. There she is now, with that intent frown, standing in the doorway between the dining room and drawing room.
"You're late," she murmurs as Marianne approaches. "These locusts have cleared the food already. It's all these ravenous English poets."
In answer Marianne holds up two paint-stained hands. "I was busy." This is a good reason.
"And I want to hear all about that. But first, off with you to the kitchen. I told Hélène to save you a plate."
Later, Marianne finds Héloïse in the atelier, after having stopped to chat with various people, such that she has news when she finally arrives at her destination.
"It is Guillaume's birthday next week and there is to be a meal."
Héloïse only blinks. She knows Guillaume, his work hangs on these very walls. His poetry is responsible for the sudden influx of poets in the plural. It is the significance she is failing to grasp.
"Will you come?"
"Am I invited?"
"He is at your house every week. Of course you are invited."
She did not appear convinced.
"Lots of people will be there."
"That is not a persuasive argument with me."
She is right. Marianne changes tack. "Sophie will be there. And I will be there."
"And you think that is a persuasive argument with me?" But she is smiling. And had not said no.
The gathering was on a Friday night which meant Marianne was breaking none of the resolutions she had made: Fridays were for traversing the bars and restaurants, Saturdays were for the rue de Fleurus, and all other nights were for sensible bedtimes so that she could work hard the next day.
Because she could not be sure Héloïse would indeed come she went to the house in person in order to extract her even though it would mean adding an hour to her walk. Except that Héloïse got them a cab, which was the sort of thing Marianne had forgotten was a possibility.
As they arrive at the restaurant Marianne is gratified and intrigued by the delight with which Héloïse is received. Many people from Saturday nights said how pleased they were she had finally joined them. This was not the story Marianne had heard from Héloïse though she isn't sure why she is surprised anymore.
"How on earth did you manage it?" Sophie asks Marianne with a good deal of admiration but Marianne finds herself unable to reply that she had simply asked.
The meal is inedible, the wine cheap, the company therefore mostly drunk. Some of the poets start on a rendition which quickly turns into a fistfight.
Once the party is ejected from the restaurant - an occurrence so common to most of them it is almost assumed of any evening - they make their way up the hill to Guillaume's place. The hill claims some of the more worse-for-wear and at one point Marianne loses sight of Héloïse which is particularly alarming as until then Héloïse has been tailing her assiduously.
She stops to scan the street looking for Héloïse, or Sophie at a pinch, but sees neither. Bringing up the rear of the shambling procession is a happily singing Marie being supported and dragged to varying degrees by her boyfriend the birthday boy and - inexplicably but also inevitably - Héloïse. Who had known Marie for all of two hours, the duration of which Marie had been insensible with drink. Yet there she is, quiet and uncomplaining, doing what needs doing.
Once at their destination, their drunken charge is deposited on a sofa with Marianne's help and she secures herself and Héloïse a half-full bottle of wine.
They sit at the bottom of the stairs. It's cooler, quieter than the apartment. Marianne has to lean in a little whenever anyone wants to get past. But they are both pleasantly pliable and unconcerned thanks to the refreshments. Marianne kicks out her legs, crosses her ankles, rolls back her shoulders.
Héloïse is telling her about the earlier days of the rue de Fleurus parties. How Brigitte met Pablo and they became firm friends. How Héloïse and Abbiati bought the first paintings for the collection. How Saturdays started off as reasonably sedate dinner parties but the numbers swelled considerably. On account that 'someone has to keep you all fed and watered.'
"At first, particularly, though it does still happen now occasionally, people didn't know who I was. Which had many advantages. I don't look like I rub shoulders with bohemians and artists. There was one memorable occasion when a young man looked at me with some sort of horror or disgust and asked what I was doing there. To which I replied that I lived there. It was especially galling as I was, at the time, holding a bowl full of his vomit."
"I hope you put it back over his head."
"I am sorry to disappoint." A faraway look in her eye suggests she is retroactively doing so. "Do not imagine me jealous of Brigitte," she adds.
"The plain, serious, overlooked, younger sister."
"I prefer it. No one is looking at me."
"That's not true." Marianne says it so quietly she is surprised Héloïse notices.
But she is looking and she doesn't look away and she will prove this point to Héloïse even if it means having to be looked at in turn under that piercing scrutiny.
When someone barges past on the stairs Marianne is pushed closer, nudging up against Héloïse's shoulder, finally averting her eyes.
After another moment of silence, though now spent staring at the floor, Héloïse speaks. "I owe Brigitte everything. I am spoiled, I know. I have my own living arrangements and an allowance and many advantages. She fights my battles and I am permitted to come and go and do as I please."
"I had wondered. And some of the things you said when we looked at her portrait." Marianne has also wondered about some of the details of those living arrangements. Héloïse's very separate life above the atelier, how little supervision she seems to be under, her autonomy with the art, and in her own life. "My landlady is constantly on guard against young men in my quarters. It was hard to find rooms in fact. Some people would not rent to a single lady artist."
Héloïse looks interested in that concept. Until she says, "I can't believe they dare to discriminate when their offerings are so appalling." But she seems to realise the error quickly. "I am sorry. I'm aggrieved on your behalf with myself as much as your landlady."
"You can't feel guilty. Brigitte trusts you."
"It is not a matter of trust. My freedom is unconditional to her." Héloïse has a frown as her eyes flick to Marianne, to her twisting hands, back again. "Though it helps she knows there is no chance of young men in my quarters."
Whatever reaction Héloïse is looking for with such concern Marianne feels only concern in return.
This week at the rue de Fleurus... Marianne is having her entertainment watching three people who are not artists getting exercised on artistic grounds.
"It's getting to the point where it is taking The Establishment more effort to ignore than to engage with what is happening," says Héloïse darkly. "They hate all things modern and have this romantic view of the past."
Brigitte laughs. "Says someone who went to university to study the past."
"Studying is not romanticising. You simply have a romantic view of the future."
"Would you rather romanticise the future or the past?" Sophie challenges.
"We end up in the future," shrugs Sophie. "We might as well look forward."
"An indictment of modern society: Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents and everyone is writing a book."
"Too true!" Brigitte confirms.
"Everyone really is writing a book," Sophie complains.
"Cicero. Who lived nearly two thousand years ago."
"Fine, there's nothing new under the sun, enjoy your triumph," Brigitte surrenders and retreats with a genial wave.
"I suppose all we really have is now," Marianne says.
"Living for the moment," Sophie grins. "I will drink to that."
"Oh, so hedonism now?" But Héloïse is smiling, teasing. "You're being seduced by poetry. And poets."
It's not entirely clear who of Sophie or Marianne is being accused, albeit jokingly, and they both have reason to suspect themselves. But Marianne has had her fill of poets now. Kissing them had its charms, certainly, but you couldn't have a conversation with them. Not least because half of them were English, American, or German. And if they were French they would want to read their work to her and she wasn't having that. So she was going to let Sophie field this one.
"It's summertime, Héloïse! In Paris! Everyone is seduced."
That was true. There was something in the air.
Having spent the afternoon at the river they stop at a bookshop on their return which just as much a treat for Marianne as it is for Héloïse. Héloïse is meditative as she meanders around. Marianne has done three laps in the time it takes Héloïse to peruse one aisle. The tableaus she can make of Héloïse from these different vantage points, the way Héloïse is so engrossed Marianne can look as long as she wants -
"Stop that," Héloïse warns but there is a smile in her voice.
There's no point asking what, or issuing denials. "I'm working on a theory."
It is true. She has been trying to puzzle Héloïse out. Not in that very moment she was caught but in general. "You said before that you don't look like you rub shoulders with bohemians and artists. But I'm not sure that's not on purpose. To be outmoded. Out of time. Separate."
Héloïse glances over Marianne's shabby attire clearly wondering whether to take offence at pots calling kettles black. But at least Marianne looks as she is - a struggling artist.
"I'm not glamorous like Brigitte and she has long given up trying to make me. She says I dress like our English governess circa 1890. You can laugh, do not worry on my account."
So Marianne does.
"I rather liked our governess," Héloïse continues, wistfully. "Very well, I will give you that. Resolutely outmoded sister to quite the most fashionable woman in the city. What else do you believe you know about me?"
"Historian and classicist with very probably the world's greatest collection of modern art. Who fights convention while believing that in itself to be conventional and supports the new while believing nothing is. Surrounded by the future but thinking only of how that can be placed in the past - in the archives, in museums." Marianne looks at her through the shelving.
"You think you know it all."
"Am I wrong?" Marianne wanders from the aisle. "Correct me."
Héloïse follows. "It is hard to correct."
At the end of the row they meet and Héloïse looks at Marianne and Marianne feels deeply, discomfitingly, assessed. "It requires too much. I have been having the same argument with myself since I was sixteen and we have not concluded yet. Perhaps we never will. Perhaps that is the answer." She pauses. "Did you want anything?"
"Any books? You can add them to my account."
"Oh, no. Thank you." She hasn't so much as glanced at a book the whole time they have been in here.
Héloïse's armful of books is wrapped.
Marianne has not had breakfast and she suspects Héloïse knows this. She suspects Héloïse knows a lot of things. So she allows Héloïse to take her for lunch and in return she does not pursue her line of questioning. Apparently she is easily bought.
Brigitte arrives home with a filthy firstborn in tow and is about to march him straight upstairs except Marianne and Héloïse are in the hall blocking the way.
Said child goes running to his aunt who scoops him up as though he was a puppy, not the size of a young horse.
"Put him down, you don't know where he's been," says Brigitte.
Héloïse tips him unceremoniously back onto the floor.
"Upstairs!" she commands him. "You pair, into the drawing room for civilised conversation, not hanging around in the hall." She gestures to their guest and Héloïse follows behind. "Are you here for dinner?"
"Actually, I called round to say goodbye."
"Oh, of course. This place really does empty out by August. We leave for Milan next week. You're going back to your parents? Rennes, is it?"
"The coast," Marianne barely clarifies. "We moved there when my father retired."
Héloïse is looking sombre watching the conversation go back and forth, Brigitte notes.
"I do feel as though I have only just arrived but it might be good to go home for a while. Work with less distraction."
"Héloïse! Are you distracting poor Marianne?"
Poor Marianne indeed, she is horrified at the idea and looks over at Héloïse in a panic.
But Héloïse laughs and Marianne relaxes once more. As does Brigitte.
"Héloïse is only a good influence," Marianne says. Brigitte knew it would be so and she congratulates herself on her prescience.
"Are you submitting to the autumn salon?"
Héloïse perks up and watches Marianne carefully. Brigitte realises she has put Marianne on the spot again.
Marianne herself flushes and looks at the floor. "I would like to, obviously, but I'm not sure I'm ready."
"You should," Héloïse says quietly.
"And find the limits?"
Héloïse shakes her head. "Not the limits. Just the beginning."
Brigitte does not have a clue what they are talking about but it's all very gentle and she approves of it.
"Well, you let me know if there's anything we can do to help."
The pair of them look back to her, startled. Brigitte realises she is excess to requirements so she bids them farewell, leaving them to their own.
Chapter 3: Autumn 1907
The first Saturday in September takes its time and does not arrive until the last possible moment. Marianne has been back a few days and spent most of them arranging and rearranging the paintings and sketches she has brought from home. Something about the journey has interrupted her rhythm. She moves them around again to see if it helps. It doesn't but it feels like productivity so she allows herself to go out for lunch.
Her energy requires walking off and rather than going to the river - the site of the paintings and a provocation - she turns in the other direction and meanders through the Luxembourg Gardens. This just so happens to put her that much closer to the rue de Fleurus in anticipation of the evening. A happy coincidence.
Even more so when, as she sits stretched out on a bench, Héloïse sits down next to her.
"Hello." She can't hold back the smile that spreads across her face and finds she doesn't much want to. Let Héloïse see it.
Héloïse's smile is more restrained but still evident. "Were you on your way to the house?"
"No, I was just getting some fresh air."
"Only you are more or less at the end of my street."
"And where were you going?"
"I was walking in the park." Her smile is growing.
"Mm hm." Marianne will let her get away with this.
"How was your August?"
"Good. I worked on those sketches. Made a start on something. I think."
"Indolent." Which for other people might be the point of going away. "Still, these will be a busy few months."
"Before you go back to Milan?"
"For the winter. You will go too?"
"Yes." Neither the prospect of a winter on the Atlantic coast nor having to say goodbye in three months was a happy thought for Marianne right now. She determined to worry about them when the time came.
Héloïse is also quiet.
"But for now, would you like to walk a little?"
"Yes." Héloïse slaps her hands to her knees. "Then you can come over and stake first claim to the buffet."
Which sounds like an excellent plan.
The note inviting Marianne to dinner at the rue de Fleurus is formal and sounds rather more like a summons. Marianne reads it over and over and smiles a little more each time.
She has never been invited to dinner there before. Or anywhere. Stayed, after an afternoon that got too long or when Héloïse was concerned she would be going home to not much of a meal, but never invited.
There were always people having dinner at the house. Invited, stayed, turned up and invited themselves. All sorts of people from art, from business, from Paris, from France, from all over the world. Marianne trusted that Héloïse knew she had no formal dresses tucked away under her bed. The best she can do is something with no paint on. Well, no easily noticed paint anyway. Not if she rolls her sleeves up a bit.
To Marianne's relief, Héloïse looks much herself as she opens the door.
As the other guests mingle in the drawing room Marianne begins to feel increasingly out of place. "Why am I here?" she asks Héloïse in low tones.
"Yes, but why?"
"Eating dinner is one of those conventions we have." She relents under Marianne's look. "They will be talking politics."
It makes Marianne chuckle. "I cannot believe you don't have the most strident opinions about politics."
"Oh, I do. That's why Brigitte suggested you come."
"I am to keep an eye on you?"
"Distract me. It's that or eat with the children. Which is not the threat Brigitte imagines it is."
"So, again, why am I here if you would be perfectly happy eating in the nursery?"
"Because I would rather eat with you."
And that will do.
Héloïse is right. Everyone talks about the Russians and the English - talks loudly and aggressively though as far as Marianne can tell they are broadly in agreement and just enjoying arguing. Madame de Montfort has opinions punctuated by the rapping of her knife on the table. Abbiati's deep voice rumbles and everything stops when Brigitte speaks. The other guests give as good as they get.
Marianne would be quite happy just to listen. But not when there are other, more interesting and intriguing options. Once the meal is finished and the debate shows no sign of being, she finds Héloïse's eyes across the table and, as luck would have it, Héloïse's eyes are already on her. Marianne tips her head to the door and they slip away.
Out into the courtyard where it is calm and dark. Héloïse sighs and tips back her head. "That's better."
She would have rather liked to see some fire from Héloïse tonight but she is also enjoying this: Héloïse, relaxed, wandering through the small garden in the moonlight.
Marianne sits on one of the benches and Héloïse trails her hand through the tumbling plants against the walls. She watches very carefully, does not move her head, lets her eyes follow Héloïse as far as she can, until Héloïse passes behind her. But does not emerge the other side. Instead there is a light touch against her back as Héloïse moves to sit behind her. They lean back against one another. It's warm and perfectly balanced. Except that she has been thwarted. She can only feel for the movement of Héloïse's arms, feel her breath as it expands in her chest and around to her ribs. Intuit those things. So she closes her eyes. To feel rather than to see.
"That wasn't so bad," Marianne offers after a while.
"No. Thank you."
"I did nothing. I didn't need to distract you at all."
"This is the distraction. Politics makes me gloomy."
Marianne tips her head back. "I am glad, then."
"I surprise you?"
Yes, but also not. Marianne was no longer surprised by being surprised. Which is not to say that it is not always delightful to have Héloïse turn around and see a new side.
She has spent too long thinking and Héloïse has drawn her own conclusions. "You see, I enjoy your contradictions. It speaks to a depth of character. Containing multitudes. Whitman."
"You do like poetry."
"I like poets well enough." She pauses. "When they are the other side of the ocean."
Marianne's shoulders shake with her silent laughter and it doesn't matter that it's not aloud because Héloïse will be able to feel it.
"My own contradictions are more infuriating than interesting."
"I don't think so." She speaks quietly, trusting that Héloïse can feel the same way she is.
They sit in silence until noise from the house - the shutting of doors, calling of voices, guests leaving - alerts them to the existence of the rest of the world. Marianne shivers. The night has cooled around them and her arms are cold.
"You didn't bring a coat."
Marianne's coat is so threadbare as to hardly deserve the name so no, she hadn't bothered. It had seemed warm enough earlier. "The walk home will warm me up."
"Certainly not. I will get you a cab."
"I like the walk."
Héloïse stands and the cold rushes in to fill the void. "A compromise then. Come upstairs, let me find you something to wear."
So she sits on Héloïse's bed while Héloïse moves about - adds coal to the fire, lights a lamp. As Héloïse moves to the dresser Marianne rearranges herself to the head of the bed where she can lean a little. Now she is here in the growing warmth she realises how late it is. Héloïse starts tossing various items onto the bed and Marianne burrows under a shawl, tucking her feet up too. At some point Héloïse is saying her name but whatever she needs must be resolved because she stops and Marianne is only warm and comfortable.
Marianne's eyes pop open and she wonders guiltily if Héloïse has noticed. Except it is now light. She hauls herself up, not from under a shawl but blankets.
Héloïse reclines on the settee across the room. She is reading, her book propped up against her thighs. In her nightgown her calves are bare and her hair is loose. It is a revelation.
It seems unjust that she has managed to spend the night at Héloïse's side without even being aware of it. She entirely forgets she ought to be apologising for having fallen asleep in Héloïse's bed.
Héloïse notices her. "Good morning." There is a teasing tone to her voice.
"Morning," Marianne replies, her voice gruff and thick. She coughs.
Héloïse puts on a dressing gown and slippers. "I'm getting coffee. Would you like some?"
"Anything else, breakfast-related?"
Marianne shakes her head.
Héloïse, appearing still very much amused, leaves the room.
Marianne buries her face in a pillow.
When Héloïse returns she sits down on the edge of the bed and hands the cup and saucer over.
"You know, you are considerably less dazzling in the mornings."
"I am aware," Marianne says. "Which is why I am trying not to talk. Until I have had more coffee."
"I see." Héloïse purses her lips. Marianne thinks she is trying not to laugh.
Héloïse leaves the bed and goes behind the screen arranged around the corner. After a few minutes the other version of Héloïse comes out. Not ordinary, not usual, none of those labels apply. The Héloïse that Marianne is used to. That the rest of the world sees. That Marianne has now had a glimpse behind.
The scene is a lazy day by a lazy river.
Héloïse is stood back, considering. "I like it."
They are in Marianne's room, looking at a week's worth of work on the painting. Héloïse has brought a packing case with her. Ready to whisk the thing off though Marianne is not sure she is finished. She is not sure it will ever be good enough.
"What do you like about it?"
Marianne gets closer to a proper answer than she had expected. "It makes me want to be there."
Except, she was. She is.
They are not Héloïse, in the sense that they could be almost any female figure. But they are Héloïse in their own way. The different parts of her. Browsing for books. Sitting reading. Walking, long strides propelling her along.
There are other figures. Héloïse recognises Brigitte but not Marianne, lounging on the grass. Brigitte may well recognise the lot.
Héloïse leans in. Inspects the brushwork. Points to areas that Marianne, in her enthusiasm, had rushed over and deemed unimportant. Makes her go back to do them again. Makes every inch of the painting more than it has any right to be.
The doorbell rings as Héloïse is parading the children around the garden on her shoulders. One at a time - though Brigitte would not be enormously surprised if she could manage more.
"That will be Marianne!" Héloïse calls and heads towards the house but the door is liable to cause a decapitation.
Her passenger squawks and Brigitte yells, "Héloïse!" and Marianne is there a moment later and helps relieve Héloïse of her cargo.
"Just a little caution when handling my precious offspring, if you don't mind."
Héloïse looks suitably chastened but is soon pressed into service again. Brigitte beckons Marianne over.
"And how are you today, my dear?"
"Very well. I have been working."
"Excellent, excellent. I very much look forward to seeing the result at the salon."
Marianne laughs softly, shaking her head. "You and Héloïse..."
"The difference is I'm an irrepressible optimist and she most certainly is not so if you have to believe anyone she's a good start."
"Why?" Marianne's eyes are on Héloïse.
"I suppose it is easier for her, that way. But look - there is so much light too. She makes a far better aunt than I ever thought possible. The children adore her. I adore her. She is my rock. Ever since we were young."
"I can imagine."
Can she? No, she cannot. But that she thinks she might be able to is nice. That she wants to.
Brigitte follows Marianne's gaze. Héloïse is tossing one of the precious offspring in the air though by this point Brigitte thinks she may well be immune to concern.
Marianne is here and Marguerite startles herself with how pleased she is to see her. Not at the other end of the dinner table, engaged in some ridiculous discussion.
"Did you enjoy your time in Milan?" This is not a polite enquiry about her summer. There is something about the way Marianne asks these things.
"Very much. I have friends there, the society is pleasant. The children enjoy it. I am glad they have Milan and Paris both. To be... cosmopolitan. It is good for the young to travel."
"I have never left France. I made it to Paris at least."
Marguerite finds herself wanting to reassure. Encourage. Soothe. Mother. "You have time. More time than you think. I remember being your age."
"Not so very long ago."
Indeed not and it is nice to hear a young person acknowledge it. "You are already older than I was when I had Héloïse. Which, in so many ways, does not seem that long ago."
"What did you want, when you were my age?"
"I wanted to travel. We went to Italy after we were married."
"Yes, and other places. Part of why I enjoy Milan is, certainly, because it reminds me of being young. And happy."
"You were happy?" She says it as though she cares for Marguerite's happiness. Perhaps she does.
"After we were married, yes. While the girls were little. We didn't travel so much then. You won't believe me but as you get older what you want changes. At your age you crave adventure. Then at some point adventure gets tiring. But it is not the end of life. New desires, for comfort and security."
Marianne only sits quietly. And watches. Always watches.
"It is not age necessarily but longevity. My husband and I had nearly twenty years together. Those things we had both wanted at the start, well... One changes, as I said. Not always together." Earthly concerns creep in. Children become an all-encompassing occupation. Fortunes dwindle.
"Héloïse does not talk about her father."
"Héloïse and her father were not close. He doted on Brigitte and she on him. But he was away a lot as they got older. And Héloïse has never been gregarious. She was a very studious child."
"She is a very studious adult." Marianne allows Marguerite to move away from it.
"I suppose she is. Always with her head in a book. Other than when you are around."
"Oh, no, plenty when I am around too." Marianne laughs. "But she's extraordinary." She stops herself and there's a different little laugh as she shakes her head. Finally Marguerite is not the only one revealing too much.
Héloïse has come over not for a review but for the final packing and delivery of the painting. She is having another look though Marianne has made her promise not to find anything that needs fixing.
"I want to buy it." She says it fast, clumsily. "But not because I don't think it will sell to anyone else. I know it will sell. It's not pity. I need you to know that."
"If you want it it's yours."
"I want to buy it. Properly, for the collection, like all the others."
"I don't need your money," Marianne says gently.
"Why do you resist me? If I could just -"
"Because I am your friend."
Héloïse must have heard the slight hesitation there. "You are," she confirms, "yet you insist I treat you worse than a stranger," concluding with a short laugh of frustration. "If I had not known you I would have bought it and you would have a new coat for the winter and actually eat breakfast."
"Is that the concern?"
"There are several concerns," Héloïse says quickly and turns away. "We are buying Pablo's. And that is because no one else will have it."
"If you are buying Pablo's there can't be anything much left to buy mine."
"Don't worry about my accounts."
Marianne is touched, no matter how unnecessary the sentiment is. "You're half the reason it exists. Suggesting we go to the river." And so much more.
She scoffs almightily. "One sentence versus all the time you have spent on it? You sell yourself decidedly short."
Then she looks at it. She has realised, Marianne herself realises. Her brow creases and her eyes roam the canvas.
"So Brigitte, and," she points at the figure on the grass, "myself... And?" She points at the figure buying books.
"You," Marianne says quietly.
"And?" at the pedestrian.
Marianne says nothing, just looks guilty.
Héloïse hmms. "Which makes this you?" to the figure on the grass.
"No. They are abstracts. Characters."
"I see. So Brigitte and I are ourselves, but you are not yourself?"
"No, it's all -" Marianne sighs. She's not capable of debating her way through this. Better just to cut to the chase. "Are you angry?"
"Why should I be angry?"
"With my painting you?"
"I thought it was an abstraction?" But she has a wry smile and Marianne finally exhales. "It's barely a smudge. You were afraid of putting people in at all."
How did she know that? This was a question that could be applied to a great deal of Héloïse's knowledge though.
But on the question of the sale, Héloïse will not be given it any more than Marianne will sell it to her, so they remain at an impasse.
Marianne changes the subject. "Have you seen Pablo's new work?"
"Mm, Brigitte and I went to his studio yesterday. Sorry, had you wanted to come?"
"No, no. Why will no one buy it?"
"It is an incitement. Where - here -" She seizes upon a block of wood Marianne has been using to prop up various equipment. Marianne has to move fast to catch the pallet that was resting on it.
"A cube has a defined number of sides - or it is not a cube but something else - and this is so inherent but no matter how deeply you look you cannot see all the faces at once." She turns it around in her hands. "Pablo is interested in what he can see and wants it all there, all at once. Spreading it out, like a map."
"Which are you more interested in, what you can see or what you can't?"
Héloïse grins. "Now that is just the sort of provocation I need. I suppose, the rest."
The painting sits in a room far from the main attraction of the new Picasso that brings so many visitors to the salon. Marianne can hardly believe it is here at all. Jostling for space but here, on these walls.
Héloïse steps up next to her. Marianne glances over but she is looking at the painting. Marianne looks too, then Héloïse's gaze is on her.
"How does it feel?"
"I..." There weren't words.
"It looks very at home there. You have worked hard. You deserve this." She bumps her shoulder into Marianne.
"Thank you." But Héloïse is impervious to it, no matter how much emotion Marianne puts into saying it, and how much she has to hold back. "Now, I want to hear all your very considered opinions on everything else. What have you seen?"
"I came straight to find you. You'll see Pablo's piece. He's quite the belle of the ball. Some of our Saturday evening companions... the usual."
"You haven't been around? You don't need to stay. You must have many other people to congratulate." How many of these exhibits has Héloïse had a hand in? More than she would ever admit. From keeping people fed and watered, buying their previous work, writing about them, her visits, her talks, her insights. Just three Héloïses suddenly seems all too inadequate.
Héloïse only shrugs.
"Come on, then."
They manoeuvre themselves through the crowds. It is getting louder as the numbers swell.
Héloïse's voice is right in her ear. "Look at this," and her voice is awed. "The sheer impact. Walking into a library doesn't feel like this. This is the superiority of art."
Marianne begs to disagree. She has seen the look on Héloïse's face walking into a bookshop. Lighting up, just as it does now.
"If we displayed art sideways on shelves with just the frames showing..."
"Very well. I will concede that point." She stops walking and Marianne turns back to her. "Art - and music - don't rely on any conduit. They arrive straight here -" and she puts a hand on Marianne's chest, over her heart. It's so far from anything she expected Héloïse to do, anything Héloïse has ever done, that Marianne is caught offguard.
"Writing has to go through the head first." Héloïse's hand pulls from Marianne and moves up but stops, retracts, and she places a finger against her own temple. "Scraping the bottom of the barrel as far as communication is concerned."
Héloïse holds out her arm. Marianne is surprised but then, from the look on her face, Héloïse is too. They both look at it for a moment until Marianne slides her hand through Héloïse's elbow and is tucked firmly underneath.
Marianne is not going to let go, not for anything. No matter the obstructions that must be negotiated and Héloïse lets her lead the way through the rooms. They stop regularly, Héloïse consulting her programme and waving it around to illustrate some point or another.
Finally they arrive in the largest hall and there is the much talked of Picasso and the rest of the most important pieces of the show.
People come to speak with Héloïse and Marianne releases her, though reluctantly. She studies the paintings carefully. The composition, the technique, the magic that lies beneath all that.
Every so often she looks over to Héloïse who has been joined by Guillaume and the pair have spent over an hour in front of Pablo's work, getting in everyone's way but totally oblivious to it. Heads together and intent with discussion. Then Sophie gets drawn in. Then Pablo. All taking up space in front of a painting they know well and have already seen and preventing irritated visitors from looking.
Then, as is often the case with Brigitte, Marianne hears her coming first. The laugh and the cheery greetings rising over the chatter in the room. The crowd parts around her and then she appears.
"Darling! Well done you!" Brigitte wraps her in an embrace. "I just saw it - it looks spectacular. Héloïse told me it was. And it wasn't that I didn't believe her but I don't believe she is entirely objective. Just you watch, it will be the first of many." Marianne is just unsure enough to want that reassurance even from someone with Brigitte's excess of enthusiasm.
"Wherever is my sister? I imagined I would find her with you."
"She was. We looked at the rest of the exhibition. Now she's..." And she points to the Picasso.
Brigitte looks over. "Has she been absolutely chewing your ear off?"
"I like it. I'm not very well-versed in art history. Not as much as I should be."
"You are of the now." Brigitte sounds so cheerful about it that Marianne is very much consoled. They watch the little group huddled in front of Pablo's painting. "Fascinating," Brigitte says and Marianne feels similarly.
Abruptly the group disbands. Sophie and Guillaume head off in one direction. Pablo returns to chat with others. The irritated visitors finally get a closer look. Héloïse is looking around and when she meets Marianne's eye she makes her way across the room.
"I'll take my leave then," Brigitte says, her eyes on Héloïse also. "Leave you two to your mischief." She looks back to Marianne. "Congratulations again. Enjoy your evening!" and she goes in the direction of Pablo with a little wave to Héloïse, who nods her head.
Marianne smiles as Héloïse reaches her. "What are you all up to?"
Héloïse is smiling too. There's a restless energy to her. "We're going to Sophie's office."
"An idea is afoot."
"Yes. Do you mind?"
"Why should I mind?"
"Your big night."
"You've been here with me all night as it is. Go!"
It's not too much longer before Marianne is walking home in a daze. Everyone else has gone carousing. But it is already closer to midnight and Marianne cherishes a secret hope that - but, no matter. As she draws up to her front door there is no Héloïse there.
Despite having told her landlady she would be back late the door is locked so wrath must be incurred in summoning the good madame to open it. She gives Marianne an unpleasant look.
"The young lady came by. Left you something."
Before the exhibition. Maybe on her way there. Marianne takes the stairs two at a time. Hanging on the door handle, a coat.
The autumn salon of 1907 saw the first exhibition of my work. The portrait of the Seine was an assured piece of great maturity. An evocation rather than a depiction that allowed the viewer freedom to roam within it.
Picasso's groundbreaking new work along with the work of Derain, Braque, and other collaborators was a defining moment, captured in an essay written and illustrated by Guillaume that named the new movement Cubism.
A painting of the Seine is often an inevitability for artists new to Paris. Almost a rite of passage. Part of a legacy passed down from the Impressionists and their forays en plein air...
Marianne has been helping Héloïse do some rearranging in the atelier.
The door opens and it is Brigitte in the middle of calling Marianne's name when she sees them. "Darling, look, I have just been at the exhibition. I saw your painting and I wanted to bring the news myself."
She holds out a small envelope. Héloïse comes closer. Marianne takes it slowly. Opens it even slower.
Héloïse looks blank for a moment. Then, "Good. Congratulations." She smiles. "I knew it would." She means it. There's nothing hiding there. Marianne would know.
Marianne looks at the note again. It's a victory. It feels empty.
"Stay for dinner. We'll have champagne and celebrate!" Brigitte is enthused.
"Yes, do." Héloïse reaches out, her hand onto Marianne's arm, and squeezes.
All Marianne can do is nod. Brigitte sweeps out. Héloïse squeezes again. "Are you all right?"
"Yes. It is just overwhelming. But I have new plans to be getting on with."
"Excellent. These things can have people suffering some sort of anti-climax."
That sounds about right. Now Marianne just wants to get back to work.
Héloïse has made purchases of her own and not just Pablo's definitive new piece. New pieces for the atelier walls mean some have come down.
"We need more space. Perhaps partition the room and we will have two sides of a new wall?"
"And lose the impact as you walk in?"
"No, never." She thinks, grins. "On the outside?"
"An open-air exhibit? Why not the ceiling?"
Héloïse looks up. "Do you think? It would need a different kind of frame."
"And when one fell on someone's head?"
"A noble sacrifice, for art. Perhaps I should just commission you to paint the ceiling instead."
Marianne looks at the paintings resting on the stairs waiting for Héloïse to take to her room. To edge her out. Perhaps they could go on the ceiling.
Héloïse tucks her arm under the frame and hoists the thing up, mounting the stairs with steady steps. Marianne - trying to help - picks up the next, which happens to be smaller, and almost loses her balance.
"It weighs a tonne!"
"You are used to them not being in frames," Héloïse says, holding her painting with one hand as she opens the door to her room and holds it for Marianne. "There's a joke about that: How do you know a painting is finished? Because it's in a frame."
"How does the artist know when to frame it?"
"That is beyond the remit of the joke."
Héloïse puts her painting down leaning against the desk and Marianne does likewise. Which affords her the opportunity to notice the magazine.
It is an American publication and it contains Héloïse's article. Which Marianne has read several times when Sophie published it. Where it drew international attention to Pablo and Cubism. The Americans had picked it up and actually paid real money for it.
She thumbs through and admires the look of the piece - of Héloïse's name there on the byline with Guillaume's.
Héloïse plucks it from her hands - all for filing it away immediately with the rest of her archive.
"You ought to frame it."
"What will you do with your spoils?"
Héloïse shrugs and puts the magazine into an envelope, labelling it.
"You could get a new typewriter. There are smaller ones now." She eyes Héloïse's hulking beast with concern. The keys need a good punch in order to work and it makes a terrible racket. "Don't spend it on the collection though. Héloïse, will you please spend it on yourself?" Héloïse has drifted away to pull a box from a shelf and does not appear to be listening. "You deserve it, you know."
"They were Guillaume's ideas."
They were not solely and, in any case, it was Héloïse who had formed their joint ideas into a potent argument. "Guillaume would have drawn it on a postcard and shown it only to his friends here. You made something of it." The pride cannot help but spill out.
"It needs to be understood." Héloïse is still the other side of the room.
"I worry," and Marianne is trying to be very diplomatic, "you are too busy attending to them and not to yourself."
"All these people have something to say about life and I should hate them to be prevented when there is something I can do." She turns now, the directness of it burning through her.
"And all the things you have to say about life?"
Héloïse's jaw goes hard. "That's not what I meant."
This is not going to scare Marianne off. She is determined.
"If you don't want to be seen as an art critic you should stop being so good at it." Marianne tries not to make it sound like a compliment. It's a fact, much as Héloïse might be annoyed by it. "What do you want?" She asks as gently as possible, tries to convey as much openness as possible.
Héloïse says nothing, which is not a surprise. It was all just words.
"Oh." And there it is. The realisation. "Writing."
Héloïse looks up slowly, betraying nothing.
"Not an art critic. Not that kind of writing. Your own kind."
"What makes you think that?"
"Because you talk about it with such derision. Because you make it sound like you hate it but you don't - you hate not doing it." It makes her feel so desperately sad.
"Now you know my secret," Héloïse says with a nettled edge to it.
"A tortured artist and a frustrated writer," Marianne smiles. "What a pair."
"A very promising artist who has already exhibited and sold work," Héloïse amends.
"You're impossible." She says it with impossible fondness.
"I know, and I am not sorry for it."
It is the very end of November and Marianne is at the train station heading home. Héloïse is there, in theory to wave Marianne off but they have been prevaricating for some time now.
"It won't seem so long," Marianne tells her, working hard to believe it herself.
"No, indeed. It is only three months."
She is trying to console the both of them but she does not know if this is necessary. She does not know if consolation is needed by Héloïse, though she hopes it is. To wish for sadness seems somehow perverse.
Héloïse fiddles with the collar of Marianne's coat. Her new coat. "Next year you must find better rooms."
"I will, don't worry."
"And make sure you -"
Marianne catches her hand. Is holding it. "I will." It is necessary. It is necessary that she puts an arm around Héloïse, draws her in, keeps her there for a moment.
Until Marianne pulls away and gets onto the train. She sits in the window, puts her hand to the glass. Héloïse on the platform. Not waving her off, but there.
Chapter 4: Winter 1907/8
I spent a wet winter on the coast where I experimented with various techniques and refined my views on the issue of portraiture. My absence was felt by my friends and I missed the energy of Paris. Despite that it was a productive and instructive time.
I hope you are settled at home. We finally made it to the house in Milan. The whole household more or less in one piece. The less is why one ought not transport fine china over such distances. The children are a hoot on the train. Wherever we went whole carriages emptied before us.
Now that we are here there is the usual calendar of events and I have even less enthusiasm for it than usual.
Which is just about all of my news, having arrived only today.
I am glad you arrived safely. With the exception of the china. I am already so settled it feels almost as if I have been here always. I understand why my father wanted to retire here. Nothing happens. Even in comparison to Rennes. Never mind in comparison to Paris. So I am at least a little bit jealous of your calendar of events. I want to hear all about it.
For my part my days are spent helping at home or walking on the beach or along the cliffs with my father.
Warm regards, Marianne
PS - 'Sincerely'? Am I a shop? Are you ordering books from me?
There are dinners, though far less loud than at home. There is art, at least. Plenty of it though not exactly my preferred kind. I am sure you are aware. There is music - but to go to the symphony I must be dressed up. There are pleasant gardens - in the summer. I find something to be dissatisfied about at every turn, as you see. A general discontent perhaps and I may yet enjoy myself.
Mother enjoys it here at least. My sister's mother-in-law is thrilled with the company and the children. Mother likes to visit the shops and I often accompany her. Largely this is at her insistence but it is something to do. I pick up books from the lending library in town. The library in the house here is warm and cosy but I have read everything in it that I care to.
I have never been to Bretagne and I confess that I was never interested in doing so. You make me curious though, about the cliffs and the sea. Are you painting?
Most cordially, Héloïse
If I wanted news only of your mother I would write to her. What books do you get from your library?
I have not done any painting since I returned. My hands are almost clean. I cannot imagine how I would though. There doesn't seem to be anything to paint. I had ideas before but I think I left them in Paris. Or perhaps I left them on the train and now they languish in the lost luggage section of a station somewhere.
Warm regards, Marianne
Please write to my mother, it would give me inordinate amounts of amusement if you did. I will not write to your parents but please do tell them they have a very talented daughter.
The lending library originates in London, most of its books are English. Henry James, George Eliot, Dickens. I am reading Flaubert again. I am sorry to hear you are not painting. Perhaps you need a break. Let the Atlantic winds blow your cobwebs away.
With amusement, Héloïse
I think it is more the opposite. I am becoming covered with cobwebs. I miss Paris.
My parents already know a great deal about you. I would hope this would not surprise you but it probably will. I gave them your message. It confirmed their general opinion of us both. Which is that they are ever proud of me and believe you to be far too indulgent.
Warm regards, Marianne
I come and go from Paris all the time and I assure you - it endures. As will you. Know, though, that even as I say that and even as almost everyone else has left Paris for the winter I would always rather be there. They say the climate in Milan is better over the winter than in Paris but I have never found it so. It is just grey. It just rains. Now, Milan in the summer - that is almost worth leaving Paris for.
It does not escape my notice how little room you give me to make a joke at my own expense. It is most vexing of you.
But what of London? You left Paris then. Until this last spring I had never lived anywhere else. I have barely been anywhere else. I would like to.
I joined my father today in taking our equipment to the cliffs and painting in watercolour. It probably sounds trite to you. The weather was not particularly good but it wasn't raining and Father enjoyed my company I think.
Warm regards, Marianne
London in the winter is more grey and dreary than Paris and Milan put together. London in the summer is still mostly grey and dreary. And, as Brigitte is fond of saying, all the most interesting people from London are in Paris anyway.
There was a dinner a few nights back with some of Abbiati's colleagues who have travelled the world and are from all over the world. Mostly they talked about home and how they missed it. Perhaps it is human nature to always want to be somewhere else.
Watercolours do not sound trite. I am glad you are painting and I think experimentation in forms and media is always beneficial. There are always things to be learned. You will always find something in these explorations to inform the main body of your work. Which is already so accomplished. You need only to find something to orient you, your own style. Your observations are so keen and you have the courage to really look at the world.
Also, imagine my surprise when I spied upon the tray an envelope in your handwriting addressed not to myself. It was cruel of you not to have sent mine and my mother's at the same time - for her to have correspondence from you and I not. If I believed you had a sly bone in your body I might have thought you had contrived it on purpose, deliberately to vex me and make me resent my mother's luck.
In vexation, Héloïse
My dear Marianne,
It was a surprise and delight to receive a letter from you. I am keeping well and very much enjoying my time in Milan, thank you, my dear. I hope you and your family are well also. Please pass along my warmest regards. Are you working on your art?
Sincerely, Marguerite de Montfort
I paint every day now. In one form or another. The landscapes when we can get out to the beach. Or the cliffs on the rare occasions we are not afraid we will be blown off.
Do you think it is human nature to be dissatisfied? I do not know. I would like to see more of my parents though ideally not for three months at a time. I would like them to come to Paris.
As always you are correct about experimentation. I know my scope could be broadened. It is a risk though. And I am not confident enough in my abilities to risk it. I am not as brave as I should be.
Warm regards, Marianne
I think you are enormously brave. Which is not to say you could not be more so. But that you are more so than you believe yourself. Know, at least, that I believe it. Here is a challenge for you, then. Be brave and send me your watercolours. I want to see them. I want to see what you see.
You would not recognise dissatisfaction like that. It is not in your nature therefore I suppose I cannot conclude it is human nature. You being the exception to so many rules.
Your parents ought to come to Paris but I fear a severe disconnect between the person you have led them to think I am and myself.
In anticipation, Héloïse
The weather is so appalling now that we go outside very little. I spend most of the day in my father's small studio. He wants me to pose for him.
I have plenty of dissatisfaction. With my art. The torture. As you know. Nor do I think you are the epitome of dissatisfaction. I have these images of you. The one that is always rushing about. And the one that is happy to sit in contemplative silence for hours.
You are joking about the watercolours though?
Warmest regards, Marianne
Am I in the habit of joking? Is this generally considered something I do? No. So kindly send some of these watercolours at the earliest convenience. I think you ought to sit for your father. I can't believe you have escaped that fate thus far. I like the idea of there being a portrait of you and I think it would be instructive to experience that side of the interaction. Of course, I say this as someone who does not pose and I am sure you will take my advice with several helpings of salt.
The two extremes of myself. Which do you prefer, I wonder? Like in your painting of the Seine. I miss that painting. I was too stubborn not to let you give it to me. The first exhibited Marianne Bonheur painting - a little piece of history! - and I let it go to someone else. A great loss to the collection. And to myself. It is good practice though. There will be so many others and I should not be so greedy as to want them all.
In all seriousness, Héloïse
The watercolour scenes should also be reaching you now or soon. I had to send them separately. You don't have to say anything about them. I might prefer it if you did not.
My father painted me often when I was a child. Some of his friends also. So there are plenty of portraits of me in existence. This aversion was a more recent development.
I am not trying to catch you in a contradiction. I am equally fond of both. As well as everything in between. There is plenty of history in your collection. But I am sorry too. I was stubborn not to have let you buy it. I knew exactly what you meant. I never suspected pity. I am sad that it won't be with you in the atelier. I did not realise how much I would care about where it was. But I broke off a little piece of myself and hung it on a wall and now I do not know where it is or who is looking at it and that is strange.
Warmest regards, Marianne
I like your landscapes very much. The way the sky and the sea look much the same. I can see you walking along the beach there, along the cliffs. A little figure marching through the paintings. I believe I can read in them your sense of the place. How it feels to be in that landscape.
We have photography, now, if all that is required is a pragmatic, truthful account. Art provides more than that. Or should. With portraiture, for instance. How it feels to look at a person. How it feels to be that person. What I liked so much about Pablo's portrait was that it was less about what Brigitte looked like and more about who she is. That must be hard for an artist. It requires a depth of knowledge, understanding, and empathy. Patience and kindness. Which is why I think you would be so wonderful at it.
I confess that I do not know how you artists do it. When I write about a picture it's far easier to be antithetical to the common opinion. If I were trying to be liked it would be too terrifying to say what I thought and felt. I already know that few will agree with me. Not that art needs to be liked but it needs to be appreciated, at least. It can be challenging, difficult, and even unlikeable, but important and appreciated at the same time. To at least one other person.
Finally, I doubt very much you know this because I doubt very much she has made her feelings clear - but your letters cheer my mother almost as much as they do me.
My dear Marianne,
Indeed the opera here is wonderful. Héloïse and yourself ought to go to the orchestra or opera when you return to Paris. I think Héloïse could be persuaded to appreciate music more. She is so much about art. Do you go much yourself? We will consult the programme for the new season on our return.
Sincerely, Marguerite de Montfort
You are correct. Your mother has never told me she enjoys my letters. But then neither have you. Even this last admission is barely one.
I always thought there was something a little macabre about portraits. Freezing a person in time. Denying them growth. I thought my father painted me because he wanted to pin me in place. Then I read your article about Brigitte's portrait again. I thought of our conversations. I thought of when I saw your portrait in your mother's room. She said she wanted to immortalise you. After your father died. Which I think isn't pinning you down. But about love and remembering and honouring. Capturing a moment. Like your collection. Like your archives.
I know we don't talk about your mother. I know we don't talk about your father. But we can. If you would like to.
In any case I think my original feelings were wrong. Or at least only one aspect of a much larger issue.
Warm regards, yours, Marianne
I enjoy your letters. I look forward to receiving them and to reading about your life. The few details you deign to give. I worry that a few sentences is hardly worth the postage for you but I would not be without them. There.
I often find myself thinking it is a shame you are not here. I should have asked you to come - I regret not - and if there were more time I would ask it now. I look at the architecture here, at the landscapes even in the winter and I imagine how you would paint them. I imagine the portraits you could make of them. Not the impressive palazzo and churches and squares. Anyone could paint them and make it lovely. Anyone with a modicum of talent, thus excepting myself. No, the farmhouses and the barns and the trees and the real beating heart of the place.
I can understand your father wanting to paint you. I do not believe it is the same motivation with my mother. She really does want to entrap me in a painting of a docile sixteen year old like some sort of Oscar Wilde story. It can console her as I get further and further from that image. Your father must be so proud of you and everything you have achieved. Perhaps his portraits of you are more about recording that growth. Charting your progress. And perhaps to keep a little of you with him as you shoot past into the future. Which is an instinct I can understand.
I enjoy your letters too.
There is something to be said for prose here too. That it can travel inside far more easily than a medium based on visuals. Capture the very real thoughts and feelings of a person. A portrait of that kind is just as valuable and instructive. Fictional or nonfictional.
I do understand why you don't like that portrait. It says nothing about how it feels to be you. Or how it feels to look at you. It is beautiful and you are so beautiful but also much more than that.
It is easier for me to talk when we are not in fact talking. So I will tell you what I have so far avoided.
One day my father was, as far as we knew, simply ill. The next day he was declared to be dying. Two weeks later he was gone.
If weeping could forestall death Brigitte would have managed it. If death could be avoided through obstinacy and denial my mother would have managed it. However, there was a good deal that needed to be managed, so I managed it.
I had the best times with my father during those two weeks. We talked more in one day than we had in all my sixteen years before it. By the end, I felt he knew me. Then he was gone and that part of me was gone with him. I have to keep two weeks of memories to last me a lifetime.
Which is all I have because it was only a day before the creditors were there and the house was being sold and the rest of the family were picking over everything. Mother fought for nothing. Whether it was grief or disinterest I do not know and she has never cared to explain in all the years since. It's shocking to see how easily a life can be reduced to nothing. Yet it happens all the time to so many people.
I exist in a near-permanent state of conflict with the past and the future. It is exhausting. You exist so much in the present moment that I can feel it too, anchoring me here.
Héloïse, darling, I won't try to placate you or try to make you feel better because I know it isn't possible. Thank you for sharing that with me.
You would be able to write something brilliant. Full of comfort and inspiration. I am sorry I cannot do that for you but please know that I feel it. And that I am always here for you.
With the greatest affection and all my love, Marianne
You are a comfort. You live in the now. You are the future. I admire that so much about you but I fear I will never be able to. I find the future fickle. It becomes the past too soon.
I fled to university and took refuge in the past. The past is impossible because we cannot live in it - we would drown, as my mother does - yet it lives in us always.
You asked me once why I did not stay in London. When I left I think I meant not to return. But while I was away Brigitte met Abbiati and my future was transformed. Everything I had feared and assumed was gone and in its place just the wasted time of anxiety. A lesson I had failed to learn. That I still fail to learn.
My dear Marianne,
A good journey to you, my dear, and I will look forward to seeing you once we are all returned. As to your concerns, Héloïse seems much her usual self. She is impatient to be back in Paris, as she always is.
Sincerely, Marguerite de Montfort
With pen to paper you are in your element here and I am outclassed. I would much rather we were sat about in your room talking about this in person. I cannot read your words as well as I can your hands or your face or your eyes. I cannot offer the comfort I want so much to. There is such a future for you. Know that I believe it.
Yours, with love, Marianne
And in a few days you will be back in Paris! Racing ahead of me as usual. How will you celebrate? Or, how have you celebrated, by the time you will be replying. I hope you enjoy yourself. I hope you still write though it is selfish of me to take up your time now you have so many other things to be doing. I hope you have found somewhere nice to live - I would say nicer but I believe anywhere would be. I hope it has the light and the space you need. I hope it will be the site of many more triumphs - though I need not hope for that, I know it will be. I hope it is not too far away. I hope I will be able to visit you there soon.
Paris is well. It endures as you said it would. More and more people are here but it is not them I wish most to see. I find myself recalling my arrival here last year. How different that was. How little I knew. How much things have changed. How much of that has been you and how little I can make you believe it.
I enjoyed my time at home. More than I thought I would when I first arrived. It was a productive and instructive time. But I am ready for this new year and everything to come.
Yours, always, Marianne
Chapter 5: Spring 1908
Marianne knows she must wait a respectable amount of time before calling on Héloïse. That the family will be in uproar, unpacking, re-establishing themselves after three months away, tired from travelling, children running amok. There will be much to do. She knows this. She knows it would be only appropriate to wait until the next day or until Héloïse sends word.
Knowing this she is at the rue de Fleurus as their cabs draw up. The only respectable amount is the distance she has waited down the street so that she can see the house clearly but not get in the way. She sees the children pour forth and the chests being lifted down. She sees Héloïse - Héloïse is there - alighting, looking up at the house. Then she looks up and down the street. The wrong way first, then towards Marianne. The sound of shrieking children, of Brigitte's calls about their luggage, all that, fades away as Héloïse approaches.
"You got here quickly."
Marianne shuffles and begins with an excuse, though of what she does not know.
But Héloïse continues. "It can't have been thirty minutes since I telegrammed you from the station."
Oh. "How was your journey?"
"Rewarding," Héloïse says, making no sense. But she is looking at Marianne in a way that makes no sense either.
The drizzle turns more insistent. Neither moves.
"Ladies!" Brigitte shouts down the street, "what on earth are you doing? Come inside!"
"We should go in." Héloïse gestures towards the house. As Marianne goes to step past she is stopped, Héloïse's hand wrapped around her arm.
"It is good to see you," she whispers, looking at her hand on Marianne.
Marianne ducks her head, trying to get Héloïse to look at her. When she does, with that worried frown, Marianne needs to put no effort into the reassuring smile that spreads over her face as she takes Héloïse in.
Seeing her again. Feeling her. All the intangible, inexplicable joys of simply being in her presence.
"It is so good to see you."
She takes Héloïse's arm and they walk to the house where they are swarmed by children some of whom are unrecognisably larger than when Marianne last saw them, where Marianne is greeted by Brigitte, where they dodge around trunks and cases being carried through the hall, where they cannot take their eyes off one another.
When Marianne arrives at the rue de Fleurus Héloïse is on the floor underneath a small mountain of children. She gets to her feet laughing with one still attached to her back and performs a pantomime of spinning around looking for him when he calls to her. She is flushed and a little out of breath by the time she makes it to Marianne in the doorway.
"They don't like me," Marianne says, sensing hostility. "I take their lovely aunt away."
"Their attention spans are short. They will forget me soon enough and move on."
And from the noises they leave behind the children apparently have moved on already and to outright war. Héloïse winces at the sound of something smashing but the strident tones of the governess can be heard.
Up above the atelier Marianne settles herself at the foot of the bed. Héloïse fetches something from the desk then comes to the bed too.
Several sheets of paper folded together are being twisted about in her hands. "I wrote something. It is not good but it is at least finished."
"Will you read it to me?"
"Certainly not." She tosses it over. "You can read it yourself."
Marianne takes the little booklet eagerly. The title is Pablo's name.
It is good. Marianne reads slowly, fascinated. It takes her a while and the whole time Héloïse's brow is furrowed, her hands empty but still twitching. Not fearful of criticism? No. Just to share this. To expose not her limits but her dreams.
"Héloïse... it's wonderful." Partly a biography, partly a description of his works, partly an interview, partly of this world they found themselves in. "It's a portrait. It's nothing less than a portrait."
"That is the intention. Attempted. I do not think it possible to do, in prose."
"It is possible. You have done it. Have you shown it to Sophie?"
"No, I wanted you to see it. It was your idea."
"Not this - I never imagined this. But I knew you could. I knew."
In excitement, she knocks her feet against Héloïse's where they meet in the middle of the bed. Héloïse laughs. "There is no celebration yet. Here," and now she aims a red pencil at Marianne, "please be so kind as to highlight any passages that you feel could be clearer, improved, or removed. I shall get you tea and a cake as payment."
"As a celebration," Marianne amends. "Of you showing me this."
Héloïse holds the enormous umbrella over them both as they sit by the river. "The island is longer now. The bridge used to sit right on the end. Before the locks were put in there were beaches on the Seine. In London the Thames is tidal and when it goes out the beaches are exposed. All the usual flotsam and jetsam but also everything from Roman remains to the not-so-occasional dead body."
"Lovely." Marianne adds a small expanse of shore to the river in the sketch. "Like this?"
"I suppose. I wasn't actually there, you know."
"I forget," Marianne smiles. She scratches a few lines onto the drawing. "Ah, but you are there."
Héloïse cranes over the page. "No, put my mother in the past, not me."
Marianne adds a hat, something to the hair, fills in the clothes.
"Goodness, is that all it takes to turn me into my mother? That is unspeakably unsettling."
There is no way Marianne can tell Héloïse of all the similarities she sees between her and her mother. So she changes the subject. "You draw something."
"I write, you draw. I thought that was the arrangement?"
"You mostly read."
"You mostly look. It's the same thing."
"Yes, you're right. Still." She slides a sheet of paper onto Héloïse's book. "Please? For me?"
"Only for you," Héloïse grumbles. "No looking until it is done."
Marianne does not look at the paper but she does look at Héloïse as she glances from her lap up to the view. The little squints, the wrinkle of her nose, the furrowed brow.
"Then there is the contradiction of the Pont Neuf," Héloïse picks up, though still working.
"The new bridge is the oldest? And the tower?"
Héloïse cranes around to catch a view of it from under the umbrella. "Mother refuses to even look in its general vicinity."
"Do you like it?"
"You know, I don't think I do. But I am pleased it is there. Glad it can be done. Do you?" She is not attempting a distraction and turns back to her drawing.
"I think so." Marianne is mostly very distracted. "Do you think they will make more?"
"For a thousand years the tallest buildings in the world were cathedrals. Before that, the pyramids. Now it is an office block in New York City. Not as tall as our tower but more useful. Though, what do we care for utility?"
Marianne is trying to be very patient and obedient. She starts a new sketch of the river, with towers and office blocks rising behind. She does not look at Héloïse's picture but she sees the brevity of the strokes, rapid-fire, then the pauses. Héloïse rotates the paper this way and that.
"Not at your picture. Just at you."
Héloïse gives Marianne an impressive glower.
"I'm interested in your technique."
"Oh, my 'technique', of course."
Marianne laughs. "Are you finished?"
"Great art takes time," Héloïse mutters, back to glancing up and down. "Why don't you read? Then we can achieve a complete swap."
"I'm perfectly happy as I am, thank you."
"Luckily for my modesty, then..." and she turns the paper towards Marianne. A paper full of words. Not drawings, words.
The letters of 'river' cut down the centre of the page. Not one large word, that would be too easy. Many, many, small rivers catching the sun and the shadows and the current. 'Bridge' slices across, the letters anchoring it to the land then floating above. 'Buildings' sit haphazardly on the far side, some horizontal, some vertical with the letters sideways or stacked on top of each other. In the sky a few fluffy 'clouds'. A 'pigeon'. In the foreground: 'Marianne'. Bent in half then concertinaed as she sits with her legs tucked up under her.
Marianne has to catch her breath. She also needs to say something. "Your perspective is very good."
"I see a lot of art."
"There is only one error."
Héloïse raises an eyebrow.
"May I?" She leans over, one shoulder tucked behind Héloïse. Close.
On the paper she writes 'Héloïse' along the inside of her own name, overlapping, just as they are now. Curves the 'umbrella' over them. The umbrella shielding them from the world.
"That was not an error," Héloïse murmurs.
"It is to me," Marianne says and tucks her chin into Héloïse's shoulder. They are so close their view of the world must almost be the same. Their perspective at least. Marianne still knows so little about what Héloïse sees and how she sees it.
Héloïse brings them even closer, tipping her head to rest against Marianne's.
At home that evening Marianne looks at her sketches. Arranges the past, the present, the future in their conventional order. Pushes them closer together. Makes them overlap. Goes to the easel.
Marianne is leaning in the doorway already smiling with the anticipation of seeing Héloïse. But the door opens only a little and the Héloïse in that crack looks small and unhappy.
Héloïse glances back over her shoulder. "Nothing." So stoic at all times other than when she really needs to be.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have stopped uninvited."
"You should -" Héloïse wants to explain but Marianne starts to back away.
"Is that Marianne?" Sophie's voice comes from the bedroom. "Let her in, Héloïse."
Héloïse stands to the side and Marianne enters.
"Marianne, don't suppose you brought any of your pictures with you? I need a good laugh." She is ashen, huddled in Héloïse's bed.
"Your humour is in as poor health as you," Marianne says as she approaches.
Behind her Héloïse closes the door and moves to the table, making tea.
Sophie pushes herself to sit up and rubs her face in the blanket. "I'm not ill."
Marianne perches on the edge of the bed next to her. "What happened?"
Héloïse brings two cups of tea and hands them to Sophie and Marianne. She sits at the other end of the bed without her own. Marianne makes a small gesture of handing the cup back to Héloïse, who shakes her head, while Sophie talks.
"I turned up here late last night in something of a state. Héloïse has been very good and never once said 'I told you so'."
"I do not deserve any credit for that - I thought it plenty of times."
"Anyway, it transpires he was engaged and left to go home and get married."
"A rat," Marianne pronounces. "He didn't... leave you with anything?"
"No, I have a..." Sophie stops and glances at Héloïse.
"Oh, don't worry about my delicate sensibilities. I'm actually very interested in the new contraceptive methods."
"Why... But of course you are. I should have expected nothing less." Sophie then looks to Marianne. "A cap. But listen, before Héloïse starts getting textbooks out or some such, is it lunchtime yet?"
Héloïse looks at her watch. "It can be, if you would like. Are you hungry?"
"No, I want a drink."
"Hmm," Héloïse says as she stands. "And I shan't waste my breath asking you," referring to Marianne. "Shan't be long."
When Héloïse returns with food and a bottle of wine and another cup they toast to the ill health of Sophie's former lover. Sophie appropriates the rest of the bottle and drinks directly from it. Marianne sees Héloïse bring the wastepaper bin closer.
They eat and play cards and listen to Sophie's complaints.
"Enough of me. I want to hear some of Marianne's tragic stories of heartbreak."
"Me? I don't think I..." Nothing in her past seemed worthy of being called heartbreak. Nothing approaching what Sophie had been through. Nothing approaching even the ache she had suffered over the winter.
"That's of little help to me. As much as Héloïse, who has never put herself in a position where she might be heartbroken."
"It is a little more complicated," Héloïse tries to say.
"Nonsense." Sophie points the bottle at Héloïse. "There are plenty of places you could go. Paris is an absolute cauldron of Sapphism."
"That is not appealing imagery," Héloïse retorts. "Spare me the literature salons."
"Is that a euphemism?" Marianne asks, genuinely unsure.
"It doesn't have to be - they are one and the same." More quietly, "Brigitte took me to Natalie's once."
Sophie's eyebrows rise. "How was it?"
"Well, I only went once, so." She shrugs as if despairing of herself.
Marianne parses it all carefully. Héloïse knows plenty. Knows the avenues open to her. This is a choice.
Sophie takes the opportunity to vomit into the conveniently placed wastepaper bin. Héloïse takes it away and Sophie groans. "God, I'm so tired."
"Lie down. We'll be here." Marianne arranges the blankets over her and Sophie is soon snoring.
Héloïse returns a while later and Marianne puts her finger to her lips. "She's asleep."
"I'm not surprised." Héloïse's voice is low and her step light. "She was up all night."
She does not answer.
Héloïse watches Sophie sleeping and Marianne watches Héloïse. Marianne slides her hand over Héloïse's and gives her a quick, reassuring squeeze. "Don't worry. She will be all right."
"Of course I worry." Héloïse's tone is brisk but her fingers wrap around Marianne's and cling to her. "I worry about so many things. You would tell me, let me help you if you ever needed anything? No matter what it was? No matter... how you thought I might feel about it?"
"Yes," Marianne answers automatically. Then, thinking about it, "Yes, I would tell you." There is more to it though, something else she needs Héloïse to know. "But there won't be. Not like that. There won't be any young men in my quarters. Or elsewhere."
The fire is dying down and Marianne stands to go to it - a convenient excuse to take her blushing self away from Héloïse's gaze - but Héloïse is still holding onto her and looks at her, shocked.
"The fire," Marianne only says, and is allowed to leave.
On her return she removes her shoes and sits against the footboard next to Héloïse.
The day has grown darker and the rain beats steadily against the window panes and roof. The gentle percussive lull is joined by the crackling fire with the occasional pop and shuffling of the coals.
Marianne is too close to Héloïse to look at her so looks instead at Héloïse's hands in her lap. They are still, only rising and falling gently with her breath.
Marianne turns her head only a fraction, as far as she dares and she feels her neck creaking with the restraint. Her own hands grip each other and she makes an effort to relax. She allows one arm to slip between her and Héloïse. Their shoulders touch. Marianne's hand inhabits the border between their legs.
"I never asked why you came today. Did you need something?"
Héloïse's hands unclasp. In fits and starts dragging across the folds of her skirt her hand is approaching. Through their arms pressed together Marianne can feel the tension, the stuttering movement. The back of their hands touch. Héloïse appears to be watching too. Studying this curious movement. As if it were not herself doing it.
Why had she come? She couldn't remember now. Had she needed something?
Marianne's hand starts to turn. Her index finger scrapes across the back of Héloïse's. Once flat, offering up her open palm and intensely aware of how it could be filled. Her thumb slides underneath and into Héloïse's palm making a wide, slow journey across. Héloïse's fingers close around it for a moment then she rotates also. Trailing her fingers over Marianne's thumb.
Fingers curl in Marianne's palm. She closes her hand, grazing her fingertips over Héloïse's knuckles. Her thumb runs down inside Héloïse's palm again. Gently she nudges Héloïse's hand back, it turns obediently allowing Marianne to smooth her thumb over the lines on the palm. She slips her fingers between Héloïse's, a tangle. Héloïse strokes her thumb over each of Marianne's fingers in turn. Draws her hand back, twists, is palm to palm, spreads her fingers again as she slides them slowly between Marianne's own.
Héloïse's thumb rubs over a stubborn patch of paint on Marianne's knuckle. She is going to need to use that hand at some point in the future but how can she put it to work now she knows what it is truly capable of? Such dances as Marianne has never known. She will never be able to look at her hands in the same way again.
Héloïse's shoulders hitch as she tries to suppress a yawn. "Sorry," she mumbles. Marianne dares turn her head a little more and smiles. Héloïse's yawn is adorable. She yawns again, turning her head into Marianne's shoulder to stifle it, Marianne feeling the heat through her blouse. Héloïse remains there afterwards, nuzzles there, leaning her head against Marianne. Who now yawns herself. "Sorry," Héloïse says again, and shuffles closer.
After a while, Marianne feels Héloïse's breathing become deeper. The soft exhalations, little twitches in her arms. Marianne allows herself to close her eyes for a moment. She lets her head lower onto Héloïse's. Her hair smells of... well, of Héloïse. She closes her eyes again.
There is a new weekly routine at the rue de Fleurus. Each week one, sometimes two, smaller version of the prose portraits are written and given to their subjects. While Héloïse views them as some sort of practice everyone else is enchanted and caught up in suspense as to who will be graced next and jealousies when earlier or longer portraits are received by others.
This week, André. As usual, Héloïse promptly flees the scene as the recipient reads it to the enraptured room.
Marianne watches Héloïse go and stays to listen with the others. As André finishes the reading and jumps down from the table there is raucous applause.
"Wasn't it sensational?" Claude says. "Her best yet."
It is indeed a sensation. Somewhere between André's own voice, his own mannerisms, his own thoughts, and Héloïse's wry, observant, gently aloof commentary.
"Marianne!" Sophie is making her way through the crowd. "Have you seen Héloïse tonight?"
"When I got here. Then she did her disappearing act."
Sophie nods, clearly unsurprised. "Did she tell you the Americans bought that piece on Pablo?"
"She did not."
Sophie continues. "Not for the magazine. For a book. We'll do the French, they will do the English."
"That's wonderful. And how are you?"
"Working a lot. Heartbreak does wonders for my productivity."
Marianne squeezes Sophie's arm. "I'm going to find her. You take care."
Héloïse isn't in the garden so Marianne goes through the atelier and up the stairs, knocking gently on the door.
"Come in, Marianne."
"How did you know?"
"Sophie doesn't knock and no one else would come." She is sat on the settee reading.
Marianne moves towards her. "I heard someone is having a book published."
"A very small book," Héloïse clarifies. "Barely a step up from a pamphlet."
"Hush, you," and Marianne leans down, puts her arms around Héloïse's neck for a moment before sitting next to her.
Héloïse closes her book. "How goes the painting?"
"It's on the verge of being set fire to."
"I'm sorry. Tell me."
So Marianne told her about the fear she was at her limits and the frustrations of her inabilities and the torture of knowing what the thing could be but that she seemed unable to make it.
Héloïse just listened, which was all that Marianne really needed. She was talking herself round to sense.
"It is in there," Héloïse says finally, indicating somewhere around Marianne's torso. "You just need to believe it again. You need a dash of excitement. Get the blood pumping. Do you need a night out to blow off some steam?"
"What happened to hard work and discipline?"
"There has been a good deal of hard work and discipline. There cannot only be that. What would you like to do?"
Marianne senses an opportunity. "Your mother wants us to go to the orchestra."
Héloïse keeps a very straight face. "And you would like that? Truly?"
"I never do anything like that with my mother. I never know what to talk to her about."
"That's why you do things, to talk about them."
"But for yourself?"
"For you, then."
Marianne is thrilled, allows some of it to spill into her smile. "Now will you come back downstairs? They've finished the reading and I promise I won't let anyone give you compliments. I know how much you hate that."
"Strange because I am sure you are in fact the worst offender."
"Me?" and they bicker all the way back downstairs.
Marguerite's intention had been to entice Héloïse away from the monstrous art she spent all day engrossed in. It had not been that she would accompany Marianne and Héloïse to the symphony. Marianne had so innocently made the assumption and Marguerite found herself swept up in the enthusiasm.
Marianne wears one of Brigitte's more modest dresses. Certainly no gown. She looks very well in it, Marguerite reflects. Brigitte cannot be more than an inch off the girls and is far the better for style than Héloïse. Héloïse, defiantly plain as ever, keeps looking to Marianne also so perhaps this will inspire something in her.
This is a rare sighting of the younger de Montfort daughter. Marguerite introduces the girls to some acquaintances.
Brigitte, now, Brigitte spoke with everyone. A simple journey through the foyer and up the stairs to their box could take the best part of an hour for Brigitte.
The surprise, then, when Héloïse is approached by a pair of perfectly respectable gentlemen. Who have some query that they ask of her as an authority. How composed Héloïse's reply, her ease in introducing Marguerite and Marianne, her propriety, apparently, when called for. They are talking about this art, but still.
As they pass through the foyer other hats are doffed, greetings exchanged. It is an astonishment. "Art collectors, dealers, members of the academy," Marianne leans in to say. "Héloïse is well respected." Nothing remains hidden from Marianne.
Héloïse accepts an invitation to a gallery opening and looks back at Marguerite, chastened. She is trying, Marguerite realises. She is aware of Marguerite's distaste for her pasttime. She did not mean to bring it here.
Marianne, however, is proud, smiling.
In the box Marguerite is offered the seat closest to the orchestra. Marianne sits next to her, Héloïse last. Héloïse busies herself with the programme so Marguerite points out the various illustrious audience members to Marianne who has an artist's eye for people-watching. If she could only be persuaded to paint them.
The musicians arrive on the stage, the tuning produces a hum in the audience and a thrill in Marguerite. An anticipation.
She glances back to Marianne and Héloïse. Their chairs are too close, they are pressed into one another. She wants to say they can move them, they have the space. But they are speaking softly to one another so perhaps the proximity is better.
Marguerite turns back to the orchestra.
The lamps are being lit as Marianne leaves her building. She has been on her feet working at the canvas all day and can't quite bring the world into focus. She is hungry, her stomach is pained. It makes her feel alert.
She walks with the rhythm of the evening streets. A good pace - people have places they want to be and the sky is threatening. Marianne has somewhere important to be. Twenty-five minutes in total. Less now.
Into the Luxembourg Gardens and a finger starts conducting the orchestra. The sky is seething - there are patches of blue and clouds tinged orange with the sunset but others are massing dark grey. It's almost the most beautiful thing Marianne has ever seen. She gazes up at the trees, grazes her hands over the bark as she passes. A greeting. A thank you.
Her whole hand waves in the air now. She has worked hard. Her hands are all the colours of water in the sunshine. She has put her hands in the river. Drawn out treasures. This hand was in Héloïse's last night at the orchestra. This hand in Héloïse's a few weeks ago. Yet they look much as they ever did.
It's starting to rain. She didn't bring her coat. How had she ever taken that coat off? Hadn't she resolved to live in it forever?
Birds take off from a tree and wheel overhead. She wheels below, looking up at them and spinning around as they pass. She hops up onto a kerb. Fully committed to her orchestration now, her arms wave around.
The rain is cold. She will not be allowed home. She will have to stay. She will have to fall asleep to the sound of Héloïse breathing. She will have to see Héloïse tomorrow morning in her nightgown. Dishevelled hair. Be brought coffee.
The light is almost sinister, everything is sharp. Lightning, somewhere over the rooftops. The clouds flash. Everyone is hurrying and have cleared the place out. Marianne hurries through the gates from the park for an entirely different reason.
Here, the rue de Fleurus. Here, Héloïse.
Who is stood in the doorway looking up at the rain. That frown, that furrow in her brow. The most wonderful welcome. Looking at Marianne the way she does. Marianne, looking back.
Being ushered in, "Honestly..."
"I feel very alive."
"You feel very wet." Rubbing her hands over Marianne's soaking sleeves. Touching very lightly at Marianne's dripping hair. Smoothing it down. Her fingertips ever so loosely entwined. Stepping back. Turning away.
In Marianne's room they stand in front of the painting. The same room they first stood in together looking at Marianne's paintings. After all that, the effort of finding somewhere new had overwhelmed Marianne and she had ended up back here. Héloïse had fumed about it, no wonder it was vacant still, and so on. But Marianne finds she does not mind.
The bank of the river is exposed. The beach that used to exist. The Pont Neuf. New. Old. The past that lives in us rises up from the landscape. A tentative vision of the future as the skyline turns to towering office blocks.
"Is it to be populated? You are dragging your heels again?"
"I can't think how. It seems too much of a responsibility."
Héloïse points. On the left, "My mother and I."
"No. I won't consign you to the past."
There is only a tutting response.
Marianne takes Héloïse by the hand as though it were only a matter of dragging her into the present. Further. "I imagine the future to be bright and everyone will have soufflé."
"The true idyll," Héloïse mutters. "Though you mention food which makes me think you must be hungry."
"Yes, I suppose you are."
So they go around the corner to a cafe and when Marianne returns, alone, she finally adds them.
Madame de Montfort - but not - an older, elegant woman who has lost so much and fears losing more - is in the past, walking further back into the painting. On the very edge where the beach tapers and gives way to reality lingers Héloïse. One step away. In the centre, Marianne herself. Turned, waiting. No one inhabits the future because as much as they can look towards it there is no living in it.
Marianne sits on her bed, knees tucked up, looking at the picture. Days of this piece have been the best work she has ever done. It had felt like flying. Other days, like today, the hardest. It was too taxing. She looks at it now and is not even sure she likes it. Despite it being the best work she has ever done.
It sits on the easel for a few more days until she sympathises with it once more. Lets time reconcile her to the difficulty. Before it is packed away and sent off into the unknown.
Marianne is up and out the door early to find a newspaper. Not for decorating the floor with. The academy is publishing the programme for the spring salon today. She scans the listing while stood on the street. She scans it again. She reads it once more, slower, running her finger down each line. She cannot make her name appear.
"Marianne." It is, of course, Héloïse.
"I'm perfectly all right," she says.
Héloïse is appropriately sceptical. "You don't have to be."
"If I'm disappointed it's my own fault for getting my hopes up."
"I had hoped it would take more than one painting before hitting the limits though."
"No, these are their limits, not yours." Héloïse takes her by the shoulders. "It is a good painting. It is an excellent painting. It is better than those philistines deserve." Héloïse's hands slip to Marianne's back and she is pulled in for a hug. She puts her arms around Héloïse's waist, buries her head in Héloïse's shoulder.
"I confess I have already fired off one angry letter. It won't change their minds but it made me feel a good deal calmer."
Marianne laughs against Héloïse. It might not be a laugh. Héloïse's hands rub up and down her back. It may have been a sob.
"I don't mean to feel sorry for myself." She turns sideways a little so that she is not muffled. Héloïse's arms remain.
"Take the day to wallow all you like. What would you like to do? It doesn't have to include me, just because I am asking. Whatever you would most like to do."
"It would always include you."
"Well then, I shall be there. Whatever you like."
"The botanical gardens?"
"That sounds wonderful. Did you still want to come for dinner? Before I left I stopped in the kitchen to speak with Hélène. We are having duck."
"That's my favourite."
"Is that so? And soufflé for dessert."
"Oh, Héloïse... thank you."
So the day was spent gently, the next in more vigorous inspiration in the museums and galleries. And the next, in a plan.
After the ludicrous decision not to include my painting in the selection for the spring salon of 1908 Héloïse de Montfort determined to hold her own alternative salon. It was held at the rue de Fleurus the day before the opening night of the official exhibition and was a wild success.
My work, along with some preparatory sketches, was on display as well as several others who had been unjustly rejected. It was a celebratory evening in so many ways.
Brigitte has never doubted that Héloïse could, when suitably provoked, upend the entire Paris art establishment, take on probably decades if not a century of tradition near single-handedly, weaponising that frustration and anger into something so wonderfully productive and uplifting rather than turning it inwards to stew and write derisive articles alone in her room.
The provocation has been uncovered. The provocation is stood next to Héloïse right now, beaming at her.
"My darlings, just look at what you have achieved."
They both begin with the prevarications. Assuring her the other did far more of the work, is due far more of the praise.
Brigitte puts an arm around each of them and turns them around the room. The dining room and drawing room are beautiful galleries with dozens of artworks freshly framed and hung, piles of the booklet that Héloïse knocked together in a matter of a week, there is the catering that had to be organised, the guests comprising the more liberal of the great and good of artistic society some of whom she knew Héloïse had more or less bribed to get here.
"We couldn't have done it without your support," Marianne says.
"I have no doubt you could have. But you will always have my support in everything you do. Turning over the house for an extra day is the least of it. I am enormously proud of the pair of you."
She does mean the pair of them but she is looking at Héloïse as she says it. Marianne has the calm confidence of someone secure in her parents' affection. Héloïse needs it more. Héloïse needs it less than she used to. There have been such changes.
Brigitte leans and gives Héloïse a kiss on the cheek, Héloïse squirming like a child.
She turns and does the same to Marianne, murmurs, "Thank you."
It was well past two o'clock by the time the last of the visitors had left their makeshift exhibition. Marianne sways on her feet and Héloïse sends her up to bed in advance. She changes into her nightgown - having for the first time actually arranged to stay the night. The determination not to fall asleep before Héloïse arrives is helped by some residual adrenaline.
"I thought you might be asleep," Héloïse says gently as she enters, moving as quietly as if Marianne were.
"I wanted to see you."
Héloïse pauses. The lamplight gives her a glow. There always seems to be some sort of glow.
"Take the painting. Please."
Now Héloïse moves, saying nothing, to get changed. She gets into the bed and faces Marianne before she speaks. "And what will you take?"
"You already gave me a coat. Meals. Time. You already gave me this. You already gave me... so many things." Too many things to name.
"You have to think of your career. I know it seems mercenary, the art and the money. But one needs money. An element of security. Then your work needs to go to the right collectors and be seen by the right people. You have your future to think of."
"Where is that future safer than with you?"
Héloïse shakes her head in obvious frustration. "We'll talk about it in the morning. When you aren't half asleep. Maybe I ought to leave this until then as well, but there's something I need to say."
"What is it?"
"We're leaving for Milan in a few weeks. The beginning of June. For the whole summer." Héloïse is not looking at her and Marianne's heart sinks at the prospect of another three months apart. Tonight, when she had been so happy.
"Would you like to come with us?" Héloïse says it so offhandedly. As if it were as unremarkable as asking Marianne to stay for a cup of tea.
Marianne falters immediately. "I... I would like it very much..."
"Excellent. It is settled."
"But - Héloïse, there are several issues here - I cannot just let your family take me to Milan."
"You can if you want to. There are already ten of us going and goodness only knows how many people stopping for dinner so you are a small addition in the grand scheme of things." Héloïse laughs a little. "A small addition to the trip. Of far greater importance to me."
"Yes." Marianne cannot contain it. Right now, this is all she wants.
Chapter 6: Summer 1908
A quick interruption to thank everyone for the wonderful comments that are very much appreciated and to draw your attention to A Spring Storm, a lovely meta fic spinoff that you should absolutely read.
That summer I went with the family to Milan. Héloïse de Montfort had begun work on a book and was a decidedly awful host. Despite this I did a great deal of work, painting more than I had ever painted in my life. In the studio, the terrace and the garden, sites all over Milan.
The new atmosphere allowed for a new energy. A new boldness crept in. A new assertiveness. A confidence in my abilities and in the value of my work.
The journey is over fourteen hours and only a few have passed before Marianne is wriggling. Héloïse is curled in her seat reading. "Are you uncomfortable?"
"I'm fine," Marianne says because she is, because even though her back aches she is on her way to Milan with Héloïse and the sun is shining in golden through the dusty window and catching Héloïse's hair just so and the train is gently rocking and bumping them together and any one of those circumstances would be lovely. All of them is overwhelmingly so.
They lean against one another and share a book. Héloïse always reads faster so Marianne turns the page when she is ready, confident Héloïse is done. The book droops in Héloïse's hands, then jerks back again, then repeats a moment later. Marianne takes it from her. Héloïse's head begins the same motion. Marianne reaches up and guides Héloïse onto her shoulder.
Once at the house everyone disperses, exhausted, and Brigitte and the nanny still have to wrangle the overexcited children into bed.
Héloïse carries their bags up the stairs and branches off in the opposite direction from everyone else. "My room," she announces, kicking open the door.
It is very clearly Héloïse's room and has been for some time. Lived in and a good approximation of her room above the atelier though without the clamour of paintings. Marianne looks at the desk. Where the letters from the winter were written. Thinks of Héloïse hunched over and pouring out her heart.
"Your room," Héloïse points to an adjoining door. She drops her bag and goes through. "It used to be a dressing room. Hence the door. It does have its own to the hall. Do you mind?"
It's not even a small room. It's almost the same size though proportionately a lot more full of dresser. "No. It's very nice."
Héloïse puts Marianne's bag on the bed. "Is there anything you need?"
She shakes her head. Héloïse disappears back through the door.
When Marianne is changed she has a moment of doubt. Should she just get into bed here? They hadn't really said good night. Was Héloïse expecting her to go back? Had she been expecting to go back? Would it be possible for her to sleep here with Héloïse next door? Close enough to touch were it not for the wall between them.
She went to Héloïse.
"Is it all right if I -"
"Yes," Héloïse says so quickly it makes Marianne smile.
The idea of sleeping in that room does not trouble her again for the entire three months.
After dinner Brigitte finds Marianne loitering with intent by the drawing room. It's jarring that Héloïse is not at her side so accustomed as she is to seeing them together.
"Come in, my dear. Is everything quite all right?"
Marianne follows her in. "Yes, perfectly. I'm sorry, I don't mean to disturb you..."
"Not at all. The house is at your disposal."
"That's what I wanted to speak to you about. Thank you for your hospitality. For bringing me here. I'm sorry, I don't know how to say -"
Brigitte releases the poor girl from her agonies with a hand to her arm. "I am so pleased you could come. I love to have company, yours especially. I hope you will be able to do some good work here and enjoy Milan. But really you do us all a favour: I feared how immensely miserable Héloïse would have been all summer without you - nigh unbearable."
There is a flicker of surprise and then something Marianne wishes to say. Brigitte readies herself. Tries to arrange her face in encouragement and not untoward amounts of interest.
Marianne takes a breath. "I would have been miserable too."
"Well then, I am very glad I could spare you both. Did you want to sit down?"
It shakes something out of her. "I won't keep you."
"If there is anything you need you must let me know."
"There won't be but thank you. And if there is anything I can do for you, to help..."
"Some small amount of childcare might be required but honestly if they get too troublesome just throw them off the terrace or somesuch. They are perfectly used to it."
"I promise I don't know where she gets it from. I never threw her anywhere. Dropped her once or twice but she was too small to know, so no harm done."
Marianne laughs, gives her one of those shining smiles, and leaves. Brigitte leans back in her chair, content.
For the first weeks Marianne is plunged into Milan. Héloïse is positively animated as she whisks Marianne around the city on what she promises is only an initial tour. That they can return to anything that piques Marianne's interest.
They go to see The Last Supper. An imposing sight that Marianne had never believed she would ever see with her own eyes. Even Héloïse who had seen it several times before and affected a great disinterest in religious art was quiet.
The cathedral, the piazzas, the park and the fortress. Marianne felt as she had when she came to Paris - overawed - but not so overwhelmed. Always there is Héloïse watching her quietly, smiling when she smiles, ready to make Marianne take a break and sit for a while with a coffee.
Madame de Montfort takes them shopping for dresses more suited to evenings at the opera house. Brigitte takes them shopping for her own gowns while she and Héloïse tease each other relentlessly. She at least buys them an outfit or two they will actually wear.
They meet young men and the very occasional young woman on their Grand Tour. In Milan before going on to Venice, Florence, Rome, and then to Greece. Chasing antiquity, poetry, art. Running from responsibilities. Most had what Héloïse would call - with a derisive curl of the lip - "romantic" interests. The rich young English men who had missed their chance to cut a Byronic swathe across the continent by about a century.
Héloïse requisitions one of the downstairs rooms as Marianne's studio. They find an easel and go into Milan for more supplies. Marianne had brought some paints, her brushes, other essentials with her. Canvases pile up, papers, a few tables, a stool.
"What else do you need?"
Marianne looks about. It's a real studio. "Is there a spare settee somewhere?"
Héloïse's eyebrows go up. "Are you planning on taking naps?"
"It's for you."
There's one in the hall and they are in the process of manoeuvring it along the corridor when Brigitte walks past and they pause guiltily though she is entirely unconcerned. A side table piled with books, Héloïse installed, and the room is complete.
Marianne sends a constant stream of postcards home. "Héloïse and I..." they read. "Héloïse and I..."
The family swells once in Milan. Abbiati's mother, of whom Héloïse seems fond, is a calm presence who loves her wild grandchildren. There are Abbiati's sisters and brothers, their wives and husbands, and Héloïse runs Marianne through the family tree the first dinner everyone attends though this fails to bring much clarity. When aunts and uncles, other nebulous relations, and family friends are added the sheer quantity of people is as overwhelming as a Saturday night at the rue de Fleurus. They even talk a good deal about art. Though Marianne requires Héloïse's constant translation she finds herself increasingly comfortable.
"Practically fluent," Héloïse remarks with only the tiniest of smirks but Marianne doesn't have to be fluent to sense the liberties Héloïse takes with her polite demurrals about her exhibitions and successes.
There are many dinners elsewhere at which Marianne's attendance is always assumed which always slightly surprises her. She likes to watch Héloïse argue heartily in Italian which is somehow even more fierce than debates in French. But they laugh a lot which makes her think that like at the rue de Fleurus there is just passion. Héloïse's translations cannot keep up with the pace of conversation and quantity of participants.
Additional children have also appeared. Darker hair and on the smaller side these are cousins who are apparently just as used to their aunt-however-many-times-removed and just as enamoured with her rough-and-tumble style.
The children roam wild during the day and Héloïse is very much in demand. Marianne hides her sometimes, sending them off on a wild goose chase, too young to understand that wherever Marianne must be Héloïse cannot be far away.
They are an excellent source of amusement though. One day a desiccated frog is discovered in the garden and the jubilation and fascination - "You'd think they had discovered a lost da Vinci and deciphered the Rosetta Stone both," Héloïse says - draws their mother out of the house.
"All the culture they are exposed to!" Brigitte is in anguish. "The places I take them, the art they see, and they have never been so enraptured." She shakes her head and Héloïse promises a trip to the National Museum of Natural History on their return to Paris. They are not impressed by the 'history' or 'museum' element but Héloïse assures them it is full of dead things so they are reconciled. Marianne secures herself an invitation too.
Marianne wakes for no particular reason. It's only that Héloïse isn't there. She waits for a while tracing the creases in the sheets beside her but Héloïse does not reappear. She feels around on the bedside table for Héloïse's watch but the fact she can't see it holds little promise for being able to read it. As she sits however she notices a crack of yellow light under the door of the other room, intruding artificially into the grey.
At the door she can hear scratches and going through she sees Héloïse sat on the bed hunched over paper with a lamp on the table. "Héloïse," she says softly but gets a startled jump and wide eyes anyway. "I'm sorry to disturb you. I just wanted to... I didn't know where you were."
"I couldn't sleep," Héloïse says but she doesn't look entirely awake either.
"Do you need anything?"
"No, I don't think so. Thank you."
So Marianne returns. She doesn't know how long it is or even if she's slept or not but here's Héloïse fighting through sheets to get back into bed. Marianne is awake enough to assist with folding Héloïse into the covers. "How are you so cold?" she mumbles as she rubs Héloïse's hands in her own, holds them to her chest, and falls asleep.
In the morning Héloïse is already sat at the desk scribbling. She turns as Marianne sits. "Good morning."
"Mm," Marianne says. "Did you sleep any better?"
"Not especially," Héloïse replies, hands fidgeting in her lap.
"That's no good," and she comes to Héloïse, puts her hand on Héloïse's shoulder and leans over. But Héloïse retracts - sweeps up the paper to her chest, pulls away.
"I'm sorry," Héloïse says immediately as Marianne stumbles back.
"No, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have just looked."
"I overreacted." But nor does she relinquish her work. "Come, let's get some coffee and breakfast into you." She leaves the papers face down, Marianne can't help but notice.
That night Héloïse is fidgetting. Turning from side to side, sighing.
Marianne rolls to face her. "You want to write."
"I can't sleep for thinking of it."
Marianne knows the feeling. "Write then."
Héloïse shuffles herself towards the foot of the bed and Marianne has to curl up to let her pass. But she picks her things off the desk and makes towards the door.
"You can write in here."
"I don't want to disturb you."
"You are very much disturbing me now," Marianne yawns. "Stay." She can't explain that the light and the rustling of the paper and the scratch of the pen is actually a comfort and certainly much nicer than the complete absence of Héloïse.
In the coming weeks there are days when there are more crumpled sheets on the floor by Héloïse's feet than there are completed on the desk. When the sum total of Marianne's progress is an aching back from standing at the canvas unmoving so long. Though these days feel disastrous, feel as though the whole endeavour ought to be called off, feel as though there will never be any real or good painting or writing again they go for a walk, go to dinner, lie in bed talking themselves to sleep, get up in the morning, and start again. And somehow there is a moment that makes it all worthwhile.
Marianne is very conscious of the fact her work is in full view. Every mistake can be seen. Every wrong turn. The whole process is open and on show.
Héloïse gives away nothing. Marianne knows when it goes well or when it goes poorly. She has Héloïse's behaviour to go on, at least. Héloïse exposes much, but also nothing. Marianne's soul is on display. And yet Marianne is happy this way. Happy for Héloïse to see her stumble and fall and start again. Happy for Héloïse to see her do this in the open and unashamed.
Marianne sits on the terrace and Héloïse is up to goodness-knows-what in the garden.
"Simon! No! Into the fountain with you."
Marianne's attention is drawn just in time to see Héloïse lift him and - with a swinging movement that is almost graceful and most certainly practiced - toss him into the fountain. There is a splash, a head popping up, a delighted laugh, and a demand for another go.
This draws a good deal of attention and soon there is a queue. Marianne is drafted in to help.
The largest, the latest in a long line of Roberto Abbiatis, requires both Marianne and Héloïse to take a half each. Héloïse can manage Simon on her own but Marianne cannot so he is spreadeagled too. All the others can go in two at a time.
Two of the girls present themselves and Marianne has to squint. Not identical, but close enough. "Oh," she says.
"The twins?" Héloïse asks with amusement. "Does that clear up some confusion?"
"A little," Marianne confesses. And into the fountain they go.
Everyone has several turns apart from the smallest, who Héloïse will not allow to be pitched into the water but it is content being thrown in the air instead. At one point to a height that Marianne is not sure is any safer and makes her feel a little queasy.
It is an enervating way to spend an hour in that heat so in return the flying children have to fetch them drinks while they sit on the edge of the fountain dangling in their feet - a game the children get bored of far more quickly than Marianne and Héloïse had got tired of theirs.
The breeze does little more than move Héloïse's hair around but that is all Marianne can ask from the universe at this moment.
Héloïse has a strange, faraway look.
"What is it?"
Héloïse looks over and tips her head in consideration. "Nothing."
"You just looked..."
"I was thinking how happy I am."
Marianne feels lightheaded. "I am too."
She flicks her foot towards Héloïse, kicking water up at her. Naturally Héloïse retorts. But their feet make contact, Marianne's underneath Héloïse's, and they are all breathlessness until being called to change for dinner.
Later, after returning to the bedroom from her bath, Héloïse by now in bed, Marianne rubs her sore shoulders.
"Between the weight of those children and dragging all those paintings about it is no wonder you keep so well." Marianne is a mixture of complaint and admiration as she gets into bed.
"An escape plan," Héloïse mumbles, her eyes already closed. "Should I ever need to run away I can join the circus and lift dumbbells."
Marianne lies on her side, props herself up on an elbow, looks at her. Héloïse raises her hand and it falters in the air, alights on Marianne's face, feels its way to over her eyes.
"You think I need my eyes open to see you?" Her lips move against Héloïse's thumb as she speaks. So she stops.
Héloïse's hand slides away. A finger traces along Marianne's eyebrow, the thumb runs across Marianne's cheek.
Marianne cannot think of any excuse to touch Héloïse like that. The desperation of wanting to clouds the ability to come up with anything. She can only look.
"Don't go to sleep."
"I am already asleep."
If Héloïse opens her eyes now Marianne will - No. Let her be. She's perfect. This is perfect.
Her breath has settled.
Marianne rolls over to turn down the lamp. In the darkness Héloïse's arm slides over her side. Marianne slips her fingers through Héloïse's and an unconscious sigh burns the back of her neck.
"You're from Paris?"
Marianne has been humouring him. She ought to know by now that this does not work but she remains an optimist. Now she has absentmindedly answered too many questions and given him too much ammunition. His easel is propped up next to hers though there is plenty of room elsewhere. A small crowd of easels in a sunny spot looking toward the cathedral.
He continues. "There's a new style there, Cubism. It's a bit abstract for you, perhaps. Ladies prefer something with a little more delicacy."
Marianne looks down at her canvas with its thick, bright lines. "Mm hm," she says, preferring to concentrate on her work and happy to leave the kill to Héloïse who sits not far behind, ostensibly reading or working herself.
"Are you often in Paris?" Héloïse asks. It begins.
"I came through, spent a few days."
"Only, as Marianne said, we live there."
"But do you have the opportunity to see much art?" His tone assumes - what? Marianne isn't even sure what she could be doing other than seeing art.
Marianne laughs. "Sorry," she says to him. "Please go on," she says to Héloïse.
"Most days it's some five hundred pieces and that's just before breakfast."
He laughs, unsure.
"On your way to breakfast," Marianne clarifies.
"Every time I need to use the - but no, of course, we ladies never need to use any such facilities. Gentlemen are too delicate for that idea."
He turns to his canvas. "I suppose I ought to..." and bothers her no longer.
There is the time one such gentleman tries to take her palette - "Oh, I see what you are trying to achieve there, if I may just..." - and Héloïse is on her feet about to lift him off his.
Another: "There's a family in Paris quite well known for their art collection. I should introduce you to them." Marianne is almost certain she has never seen him at the rue de Fleurus. She turns to Héloïse who pulls a face and shakes her head.
"Impressive," Marianne mutters and concentrates back on her work. "You know them well?"
"Oh yes, very well."
"This is the Abbiatis?" she enquires, looking over the canvas.
Back to her palette. "I am a little acquainted with them myself." She glances at him. "I don't recall seeing you at the house on Saturdays. Are you there often?"
The backtracking begins. "Quite often, yes," he says, sounding less convincing.
"Well then you know Héloïse..." She gestures.
"Hello." Héloïse wiggles her fingers at him in a wave.
"I - I don't believe I've had the pleasure."
"It's not usually described as a pleasure," she says with such assuredness that Marianne just knows it has been used before.
"Perhaps I shall leave you ladies to it," he says, backing away.
"Good afternoon, then," Marianne says, still painting.
"Why must they do this?" Héloïse despairs once he is gone.
But when they are polite and even a little modest, when they treat Marianne as an equal and have a sincere interest, Héloïse invites them to dinner here in Milan and to the rue de Fleurus once everyone returns. Marianne enjoys talking to them then, fascinated by all these people converging from this shared love and dedication.
And Marianne's personal favourite, for its very favourable result, is a young man who tells her about Pedro Picasso, who will never amount to much. There is a little snort from behind. He does not notice. Marianne only smiles. As he packs up and makes to leave he shoots a glance over her shoulder to Héloïse. Marianne can only imagine what greets him as he colours dramatically.
Still, he puts out his hand. Marianne takes it but her hand is being twisted up and he is bending down. So she gives it a single firm shake, at this point almost hitting his nose, and releases. He is put out but gives a quick nod to Héloïse and leaves.
Marianne can't turn back to Héloïse immediately or she will laugh.
"They think I am your chaperone," Héloïse grumbles though there is more than a hint of amusement.
So Marianne does turn, does laugh. Looks at the book on Héloïse's lap that she has almost certainly not read a word of the whole afternoon. Héloïse closes it quickly.
Marianne takes a long, sliding stride towards Héloïse. Clips her heels together as she stops.
"If you are chaperoning me..." she makes a show of looking around the empty hall, "who is chaperoning you?"
A deep, flourishing bow. Héloïse is trying not to smile and the effect is just as delightful as if she were. Marianne puts out her hand and Héloïse's joins it.
Without giving herself time to think she bends and presses her lips to Héloïse's skin. Shockingly cool and soft. Resists, resists the sudden and burning temptation to turn to Héloïse's palm, to kiss her there - she is kissing Héloïse, she realises. Holds her breath to stifle the sound rising in her throat. Pulls back a fraction and looks up at Héloïse with a grin.
"Most amusing," Héloïse says. Eventually.
Héloïse collapses the easel and tips it over her shoulder. She picks up the folder of canvases under her other arm. Leaving Marianne only her case of paints to carry. Héloïse marches them back to the house never quite allowing Marianne to catch up. So she trails happily behind nursing her own secret smile.
That night in bed her arm is around Héloïse, whose fingers dance across her palm.
As the stacks of canvases mount one of Abbiati's sisters insists on commissioning Marianne to paint her house which prompts more and more requests.
"You don't have to," Héloïse says. "You're here to paint whatever you like. But if you do, make sure they pay you." Marianne does. She lets Héloïse negotiate the payment. It goes on paints and canvases but is mostly tucked away for the future.
What Marianne most wants to paint remains stubbornly impossible.
Héloïse sits in the window looking out over her shoulder so that the line of her cheek, the cut of her jaw, her exposed throat form this landscape that baffles Marianne with its perfection. The blue sky is the washed canvas and she straddles the frame, half in and half out of the picture. Climbing through, on her way out into the light.
Pose for me, Marianne longs to ask. She would paint Héloïse just like this. She would paint Héloïse in any moment. Always able to find something remarkable.
One night towards the end of the summer they are at dinner and Héloïse, sitting opposite Marianne, is not listening to a word she is saying.
"Are you all right?" she asks as Héloïse stares up towards Brigitte at one end of the table. Marianne looks also but all seems well. At which point Brigitte notices and leaves the conversation - Marianne thinks they are arguing about their respective national wines - and sits in a vacated seat next to Héloïse.
"Why am I under scrutiny?"
"Why are you not drinking any wine?"
"I don't feel like any tonight."
"Or the past few weeks. Why have you not come on any walks?"
"I told you, it is too hot."
Marianne's head goes back and forth between them. Héloïse narrows her eyes. Brigitte is beginning to smile.
"Nor taken breakfast?"
"Fine, you are too clever. I was about to tell you. I barely realised myself."
Marianne looks back to Héloïse in time to see the biggest grin spread across her face.
"Congratulations," Marianne says, wondering if now would be a good time to ask how many that would make but concluding she is at least twelve months too late.
"Though we had just got a good roster for tennis," Héloïse complains.
"It'll be a while before they are playing tennis, Héloïse. Isn't there a sport for seven players? You can train them up. I draw the line at supplying a football team however."
Her patience is rewarded. Seven. Was that a lot? It seemed like a lot.
Brigitte turns to Marianne. "What was it she was complaining about last time? Something about boules teams."
Héloïse is smiling. "Marianne wasn't here last time."
"Was she not? Honestly?"
Marianne shakes her head.
"Almost exactly two years ago," Héloïse says. "You are too predictable."
Brigitte shrugs. "What can I say? He is irresistible in his summer linens. We forget ourselves."
Marianne laughs at Héloïse's horrified face.
"Darling, you brought it up!"
"And I immensely regret it." Héloïse puts her hands over her face. "Are you making an announcement?" she asks between her fingers.
"When we get home. Thankfully no one else is as observant as you." Brigitte takes Héloïse's hands off her face. "Are you ready to go again? I can't do this without you."
Brigitte stands and ruffles Héloïse's hair, which makes Marianne smile again.
Marguerite sits on the terrace. Twilight has come and there is a stillness after dinner. Brigitte has, unusually, gone directly to bed and Abbiati with her. There is no one to sit with in the drawing room so Marguerite finds herself out here.
A door opens below, from the level of the kitchens. There is whispering. Marguerite stands and goes to the balustrade. She looks down as Marianne leads Héloïse by the hand across the lawn. They pass to the flowerbeds and the topiary, shining in their pale dresses. Marguerite shrinks towards a pillar but remains to watch.
They stand close with their heads tilted looking up at the sky. Their hands tangle together. Their feet are bare. Shoulder to shoulder, their gazes drop to each other. It is longer that they hold this between them. More fascinating to one another than the cosmos.
It is Héloïse who breaks, moving behind. Marianne walks ahead and Héloïse stands to watch but there is something between them that will not let them get too far apart. They pull back together as though magnetised. Either Héloïse hurries to follow or Marianne returns a few steps and they make their way around the garden in this listing, giddy manner.
The occasional snatch of a voice makes its way up to Marguerite but no words. She is glad or she would have to go inside and leave them to their intimacies. She ought to now but only watches.
A low murmuring from Héloïse and Marianne laughs, leans in to Héloïse, who puts a hand to Marianne's shoulders and speaks close to her ear. Marianne laughs again, pushes at Héloïse in jest, and they spin apart, continuing this halting dance. But always turning back. Moving towards each other.
Marguerite supposes she has been watching this for a while even if she didn't know it. Do they themselves know it? No, Marguerite decides. If that connection had been made there would be more of it now. They are still in orbit around it. Everything is still possible for them. Suspended in the moments before. When there is no reckoning on the horizon. No impossible choices to make.
It is as glorious an evening as is imaginable. They are young and beautiful and impetuous and they can enjoy it in a way Marguerite cannot - in the way that Marguerite can only think of trouble and let sadness creep in through the cracks.
Marguerite retreats back to her seat. She sinks down. This difficult, wonderful daughter of hers always determined to come at life from the most challenging angle.
The sound of Héloïse's laughter - Héloïse's happiness - drifts up from the garden and something, somewhere, breaks.
All afternoon they have walked through Milan. Marianne has no idea where they are currently but very much trusts that Héloïse does. There is a park to one side and a courtyard to the other separated by this collonaded walkway that proves too much of a temptation to Marianne.
She swings around a column and propels herself across to the next. Héloïse walks far more sedately and sensibly along the correct route but she is amused.
Almost at the end now they pause and Marianne idles her way around the pillar. Héloïse leans on one opposite.
So Marianne pushes off and across. Takes up the other side. She hears Héloïse sigh. She creeps her hand around the cool marble until it meets Héloïse's, outstretched and ready.
Héloïse today is radiant and it's not Marianne being poetic. She is radiating energy and light and contentedness.
"Milan agrees with you."
Now, turned away, Héloïse says, "It's not Milan."
It is Milan. It is everything that has happened in Milan. So it's not Milan. It's...
Marianne has to see her. She has to look into her eyes. She has to know. She has to -
So she moves and as she turns Héloïse is there too, has moved too. They are so close. One pair of hands clasped together. Squeezing so that Marianne can feel her blood pumping. Héloïse's breath is on her face. Héloïse's eyes are all over her face. Marianne searches too.
Her other hand reaches for Héloïse but she is gone. Her hand finds only air. Marianne sways, unbalanced. Something rips out of her as Héloïse turns and walks away.
Marianne is looking through her supplies.
"Do you need anything?"
"Don't get up," Marianne rushes to say. Héloïse is curled up on the settee, paper spilling from her lap, inkwell precariously perched on her knee. Ink is smudged on her fingers and temple from where she has been pushing her hair back.
It took a matter of days for them to settle into this quiet ritual and in a few days it will be over. They don't go into Milan for the last week. There is some understanding that they want only to be here. Alone. Together.
The rectangle of sun arcs across the floor. Neither will realise it is lunchtime until one of the children, dispatched by Brigitte, brings them a tray. Before dinner they will walk arm in arm through the streets around the villa. Sometimes, if it is cool enough they will head up the hill a little way.
The last into bed turns down the lamp and slides under the sheet to find a place wrapped up in each other. Héloïse tends to lie on her back. To extend an arm and pull Marianne onto her shoulder. To put her hand to Marianne's hair. Marianne likes to curl around Héloïse's back to have hair tickle her nose. To have her arm mould around Héloïse's waist or hip and her hand against Héloïse's stomach. To curl her fingers in Héloïse's nightgown or have Héloïse's hand join hers.
By the morning they are in some new configuration as their bodies adjust around each other without needing to be told.
Marianne brings her bag into the bedroom. Héloïse is there, looking out the window. Marianne is certain she knows some of what Héloïse is feeling. Is feeling some of it herself.
For a moment Marianne hesitates - as if they haven't hugged each other, held each other a hundred times now - before taking two steps forward and putting her arms around Héloïse. She feels the tension ebb away. Feels Héloïse's hands rub along her arms.
"Thank you," is all Marianne can think to say, mumbling into Héloïse's neck.
Chapter 7: Autumn 1908
Restless, Marianne tosses from side to side. Knocks her lumpy pillow into a shape it loses moments later. Since her return to Paris she has not been sleeping well. If she can't sleep she might as well work. So she works until her body is so exhausted it doesn't need comfort to finally fall asleep with.
There are, if anything, too many ideas. Her mind is ablaze. She tries to tease out each one but there is no time to give each the attention it deserves. In any case, the excitement isn't about any one in particular. But layers. Multitudes.
They had meant to go out somewhere but it is raining and she is tired and that gives Marianne enough of an excuse to ask to stay in. To just be here with Héloïse is the respite she needs.
They sit at either end of the sofa. Marianne flicks through one of Héloïse's art catalogues looking for a little inspiration and trying to let her mind wander enough to compile all these ideas she has floating around in there.
She tips her head and looks over at Héloïse. "I don't suppose you still have those watercolours of the coast I sent you last winter?"
Héloïse looks absolutely nonplussed.
"No matter, I just -"
"No," Héloïse stops her. "Of course I have them. How could you think I would not?"
The intensity daunts Marianne. "They were just silly sketches."
Héloïse is searching Marianne's eyes with a frown and Marianne hates it. "Can you possibly believe that is how I see them?"
"No," Marianne says quietly, ashamed of herself now.
Héloïse stands and for a moment Marianne panics, thinking she means to leave. But she goes to a shelf of smaller paintings. Marianne cannot see clearly around her but she turns with a box and brings it to the desk. Marianne rises. When the lid comes off she sees watercolours.
"You got them framed?" Marianne lifts one out.
"I thought to display them but..."
"They are not to your taste."
"Actually I find they very much are. I didn't want them in the collection. I wanted them for myself. They were the only paintings of yours that I had. At the time."
Marianne's heart leaps remembering the spring painting that now hangs downstairs in the atelier and Héloïse has a small smile too.
There is more in the box and Marianne strains to see it. Too obviously - Héloïse notices and Marianne assumes it will be snatched away. Instead, it is pushed towards her. "So there can be no doubt," Héloïse says and takes a step back though she is watching Marianne intently.
Within: The other watercolours sent that winter. Unused postcards of places they have visited. The programme from the orchestra and others from the opera. The 'drawing' Héloïse had made with words that Marianne had so desperately searched for afterwards. A few drawings of the fountain and gardens in Milan she was sure she had discarded. A collection of tickets and receipts. A sheaf of letters in Marianne's hand. A sketch of booksellers by the Seine. A calling card with Marianne's address written on the back in pencil.
She looks at Héloïse. Who releases her lip from where she has been chewing it.
"Everything?" Marianne asks, dazed.
"Sadly not." Héloïse is looking at her with trepidation. It is a risk for her, Marianne understands this. An exposure. But she has undertaken it to prove something to Marianne - that she is valued.
"You don't need to file me away into your archives. I'm not going anywhere."
"There are so many ways a person can be lost." Héloïse's jaw is tense and her frown is pure anguish.
Marianne opens her arms. Brings Héloïse into them with no dissent. "Héloïse, darling, you are not going to lose me," she whispers by Héloïse's ear.
Marianne sits in front of her. All Marguerite can think, has thought for weeks, is that this girl holds Héloïse's happiness in her hands. And Marguerite is acutely aware of the dangers the world holds ready for them both.
Marianne is light and airy talking of Milan. "And a new grandchild! You must be thrilled."
"Yes. Brigitte enjoys motherhood."
"Luckily." Marianne smiles but Marguerite will not.
Instead, she holds herself firm. "Do you think of motherhood?"
The mood shifts. "No, I - I confess I do not."
"Not in - no."
Marguerite looks up at the walls and the generations that crowd the room. At her engagement portrait and the truths it held she had not understood at the time but soon did when she had daughters of her own. Whose futures were so precarious.
"Thinking always of this future is a burden a mother must carry, especially for her daughters. Héloïse can have her high-minded ideals about marriage but the fact remains that she must be reliant on a man in some form. On someone's husband if not her own."
Marianne is frowning, unsure.
"You see, one is not simply securing a husband for one's daughter. But a son-in-law for one's self. A brother-in-law for Héloïse. For a man to take on a whole family before he even has his own children is no small task."
Loyal to a fault, Héloïse was fond of Abiatti when Brigitte was fond of him and cool when Brigitte was not. Marguerite's loyalties ran only so far that he looked after her children.
Marianne is gathering herself to speak, flusters briefly but reaches some strength. "There are many ways, now, that women can make their way in the world independently."
Yes, and until that happens - if that happens - Héloïse is living in comfort funded by her brother-in-law. By a marriage Marguerite had helped construct.
Marguerite is almost certain too that Marianne is not financially independent. Few of the artists at Brigitte's dinners are - however much they liked to imply or pretend it were not so. The ones that are have a more desperate look and often drift away.
"And you, you receive an allowance from your father?"
"Yes." Marianne's shoulders have gone back. At least she is not going to protest. "For now. Along with money from the paintings. The intention is to support myself. And I will be able to, soon."
It is a hard profession and this fad for modernity even more so. Doomed. Who would ever commission a portrait of the kind this Pablo Picasso painted? Which museum or collector - other than her contrarian daughter - would ever buy their work? Héloïse might be singlehandedly trying to support this out of some kind of pique. But again. It was not Héloïse's money.
"With your paintings? One of which I believe Héloïse bought? For her strange little hobby."
"Héloïse has achieved something amazing with the collection. Something that will stand the test of time." Marianne elects to avoid most of the implication and Marguerite cannot blame her.
"The collection is not hers. It belongs to Abiatti. As does she, in a sense."
"Héloïse belongs to herself, only." It is a beautiful flare of love and loyalty.
"Women have ever been at the whim and mercy of men. It is inescapable, Marianne. Men are inescapable."
"I... I just do not accept that. Times change. We can change them." She believes it. It is the same passion as in Héloïse. Expressed differently. She and Héloïse come from the same place but there is a balance. An equality there. Marguerite had never believed such a thing possible.
And maybe, just maybe, Marianne is right. Maybe she and Héloïse are both right. Maybe they really can change the world.
"Yes, my dear. Perhaps you can." She stands and after a deep breath Marianne stands too. At the door Marguerite puts out her hand. There is only a very small flinch. "Your parents should come to Paris to see your painting if it goes to the show. I believe Brigitte has already suggested they should stay here. I agree."
There is a frown, a protestation coming.
"Yes," Marianne says finally, clearly perplexed.
Nothing Marguerite is able to say can clear up any confusion. She must think.
Marianne finds Héloïse in the drawing room reading to a few of the children. But at the sight of her Héloïse stands with a frown. One of the children tumbles from her lap and she pauses long enough to right them then moves to Marianne. Puts her hand to Marianne's arm. "What is wrong?"
"Nothing. I am only tired."
Héloïse looks at her - into her. "You are. But it's not -" She draws back. "My mother."
But Héloïse knows that is where she just was. She knows her mother has been even more distant of late.
The move through the door and along the hall is so fast she slips through Marianne's grasp. "Héloïse, wait."
"How dare she. What has she said to you?"
"You will not help." She takes hold of Héloïse's arm. "Please. I am tired. Can't we just go to your room?" It is the only appeal that will work. Not to convince Héloïse not to be angry. A postponement. For now. Until some of this has ebbed at least.
Héloïse looks ready to continue on up the stairs to her mother's room. But she has stilled. Marianne is shaken by both Madame de Montfort and Héloïse now. And Héloïse seems to see it.
"Do you need anything from the kitchen?"
"My room then."
What had Madame de Montfort said? It slips through Marianne's mind. A test she was unprepared for and had not realised was happening until it was too late. The things she should have said and the retorts she should have made. And yet, where was the slight? The invitation at the end of the conversation was as warm as could be. Her arm had been squeezed with a maternal, comforting gesture.
With an overwhelming tenderness Héloïse puts her arm around Marianne as they walk and Marianne sinks into her. Going up the stairs they separate but Héloïse holds Marianne's hand, holds open the door, and brings Marianne to the bed. She sits there while Héloïse scoops up the papers, art history books, and pamphlets that are scattered across.
"Is this for your book?"
"Oh, someone has said something foolish. For a change. I am writing a refutation."
There hasn't been any mention of the book for a while. For all that it was all-encompassing in Milan it seems to have disappeared back in Paris.
"You should stop doing the portraits to let yourself concentrate on the book. No one would mind. Not even me and I don't have one yet."
Héloïse is too deliberately impassive.
"You won't let this -" Marianne indicates the pamphlets in Héloïse's hand - "All us ungrateful artists - distract you from your writing, will you?"
Héloïse scowls. "The book is the distraction. Some vanity that I could strike out on my own. This is the work that needs to be done." She taps aggressively at the papers.
"No. This is pushing you out of your own life."
"My life -" She is about to say something vicious but stops herself and Marianne is glad because she cannot bear to hear it. Héloïse is tired too. Marianne can see it in the darkness under her eyes. Can feel it in the irritability.
Marianne puts out her hand and reaches for her but she moves away to the desk and puts the pamphlets and papers there with the great overflowing of other work.
"But in Milan -" In Milan you were happy. You shone.
"Things were different in Milan." Héloïse sighs and rubs at her face.
"Come and lie down too. You're tired."
"I am having difficulty sleeping."
Héloïse obeys. Comes to sit next to Marianne. Marianne shuffles into the bed and lies down. Héloïse sits, twisted, looking at her. Ever so slowly moves to lie down next to her. Marianne pulls Héloïse to her shoulder. Wraps Héloïse up in her arms, tucked under her chin, and holds her tightly.
There is an aching desire. Not to press herself wantonly to Héloïse. But this. To cradle her and comfort her. To reflect back even a fraction of that devotion so that she can feel supported and secure. Loved. The desire to abandon any constraint and tell Héloïse - in agonising detail that would make her squirm - how wonderful and precious she is. Adored.
They cannot sleep. Except like this.
The long, busy days - and almost every one of the nights - are filled with Héloïse. Héloïse who is as necessary as sleep or food to sustain Marianne.
Marianne goes to the atelier or Héloïse comes to her apartment and reads on the bed while she paints. There are dinners at the house and Saturday nights begin again as everyone returns to Paris. Parties and gallery openings and exhibitions where Marianne talks to her friends and very much enjoys their company but is intensely aware at every moment of precisely where Héloïse is and what she is doing. Slow walks around the museums arm in arm. Leaning against one another to stop and look. Their heads together.
They go with Sophie to cinema showings in music halls. News broadcasts narrated from the stage. Comedies with a piano accompaniment. Scenes of the countryside, of places far away.
Sophie is enraptured. It is the future, she says. Marianne and Héloïse fear for the end of their respective careers before they have even really begun. Marianne will find Héloïse's hand on her knee and Héloïse will lean forward, engrossed, enough that Marianne can slip an arm behind and around her. The lights come on abruptly to startle them even though they know each film is only minutes long and there is chatter and discussion and Sophie looking at them.
Héloïse continues to grill her in Italian. Gets her to translate menus, holds up items in shops, points in the park. Marianne struggles through describing paintings or her day. "You need to keep it up," Héloïse says, always encouraging.
For next time, Marianne's heart sings. Héloïse won't say it because Héloïse refuses to look that far ahead. But Marianne knows. She thinks about where else they can go. To Venice, to Rome, to Florence, to Naples.
Maybe one day Héloïse will take her to London. Maybe one day she will take Héloïse to Rennes. To show her where she grew up. Where she spent all that time waiting. Take her to her parents' house. Lie in Marianne's tiny bed together. Take her by the hand along the beach in the wind. Hold her and look out over the sea.
The desire for something so simple aches in her far more than it seems it should. But then, she is becoming accustomed to aching with desire.
She cannot allow herself to think that Héloïse feels it too. The very idea is enough to reduce her to only a keening desperation. The idea that somewhere, deeply hidden, Héloïse might be thinking of the Milan in the past and a Milan in the future. The idea that when Héloïse gazes at her there are desires there too. The idea that, when Héloïse holds her, Héloïse is also thinking of there being nothing between them, only their skin touching.
If she allows herself to think this she will burst into flames.
Héloïse says nothing about the shape of herself coming to life in the painting. Marianne had made no attempt to hide the sketches she started in Milan or this almost life-sized canvas here in her room.
Besides, there are far greater unspoken truths that lie between them and threaten to eclipse everything else.
The watercolours are a good enough reference for the sky back home. The constant presence of Héloïse - and Marianne's ability to close her eyes and conjure visions of Héloïse at will - covers that part.
The problem is... It's not good enough.
Marianne stands in front of the painting and she knows. Everything she put into it and it's not good enough. The gulf between where she stands now and what she envisages feels impossible. It fills her with dread. With grief. She can't get there. It would be foolish to try.
Take this, part of her says. It is a good painting. It is a more interesting painting than most. Be happy with this. Most people would.
But it's not good enough. Maybe the ambition can never be reached. But she can get closer. She can try harder. For Héloïse.
She starts again.
Marianne takes a day off from her own work to invest in the education of the future generation.
"You've got five," Brigitte confirms. "So five returned, please. The same ones, ideally."
"Shall I write you a receipt?" asks Héloïse.
Brigitte closes the door with a very cheerful, "Have fun!"
"We should have spent last night at your apartment. Given us a headstart."
Marianne can just imagine the uproar. "No, thank you."
It takes them an hour to walk to the National Museum of Natural History, as had been promised. Some quarter of which is spent walking in the wrong direction to retrieve stragglers.
"If - sorry, when - they misbehave the trick is to talk very loudly about telling their mother when we get home. That way it is clear we are not entirely at fault."
But they didn't misbehave, not really. They were excited and a little loud but Héloïse is only pleased by their enthusiasm and encourages it so Marianne takes her lead. There is plenty of terrifying taxidermy to be amused by, pictures of horrifying monsters of old, and skeletons abound. Marianne is sure she will be haunted by some of the fish but the children devour it all greedily. And their lunch.
"No climbing the dinosaurs!" Héloïse barks at the children. Then turns to Marianne. "The Roman emperor Augustus had a collection of fossils. They just thought they were mythical monsters or giants. Not too far off."
"Off the dinosaurs!" she hisses at them again. "They survive millions of years and these wretches destroy them in an afternoon, I cannot bear it. Come along!" She counts them in.
They walk back through the botanical gardens, where Héloïse had taken Marianne in the spring and it reminds her of all the work she still has to do. She hasn't thought about it all day. The children race around poking sticks into dung and just generally enjoying themselves.
Héloïse carries the littlest and Marianne holds onto the twins as they walk along the river stopping to listen to street musicians and watching jugglers. But little Francesco is soon asleep on Héloïse's shoulder and he's not all that little plus the twins are beginning to drag.
So everyone gets loaded into a cab and it is five minutes before all five are asleep. Marianne has two heads on her lap and looks across at Héloïse holding two with a third slumped up against her.
"Don't you fall asleep," Héloïse says quietly. "I won't be able to carry you into the house."
"I'm sure you could." Marianne smiles across at her. "That was nice."
Then there is little time for excursions. It is all work as the deadline for submission looms. Marianne is suffering from her restart and from the scope of the project and works far more than is healthy.
"Diminishing returns," Héloïse says from the bed. "Each hour you work you do less and less." And Héloïse would know. She is there for hours and hours of it. She visits their other Saturday night comrades too. Marianne could go as well but she is maintaining this singular vision and Héloïse never talks of anyone else's work, seeming to understand.
"Walk me home," Héloïse says rather than asks.
The walk helps and sleeping far away from the painting so it cannot tempt her in the night helps too. Sleeping in Héloïse's bed, in Héloïse's arms... that helps as well.
It is Héloïse sat in the window. It is Héloïse under the moonlight in the garden. It is Héloïse in the shade among the colonnades.
It is the distance she keeps. The reproach. It is how it feels to reach for her... and have her turn away.
The window is the frame. She paints it as intricately as she can. Inside it Héloïse is turned. A portrait as her father would. The hair, the ear, the muscles straining in her neck. The subject unseen and unseeing.
Outside the frame Héloïse's form gives way to the broad brush strokes. The evocation. The idea of her. In the folds of her dress and the shadows of the wall is the maelstrom sky of Bretagne in winter. The walls in the painting the exact shade and texture as in the atelier.
"It is an astonishing work of art." Héloïse delivers her verdict facing the painting. Telling the canvas, rather than Marianne.
"Do you like it?"
"Is this how it feels to look at me? Or how you think it feels to be me?"
Like yearning? Lingering always on the precipice? "Both."
"Then no. I do not like it at all." When she turns her eyes are shining.
Marianne feels it like a physical blow. "Why didn't you ever say?"
"What would you have done? I would not have had you stop. It deserves a life. To be seen. Whether I like it is neither here nor there."
"What don't you like about it?"
Héloïse shakes her head. Breathes deep. "You are leaving it late for framing."
"No frame," Marianne says quickly, firmly.
"How will people know it is finished?" Héloïse tries to joke but her eyes are still too sad.
"It's not. You're not. You have so much ahead of you." She won't trap Héloïse in this. She needs Héloïse not to be trapped in this.
Héloïse looks back at it. Nods. "I like it better now."
My parents spent a week in Paris culminating in the autumn salon. Their support and advice was invaluable during this time. My father's steadying presence and kindness made such a difference in my feelings about my work, the challenge of my ambitions, and the fears about my limits in all areas of life. That reassurance was to prove entirely essential in being able to take the next steps forward. It was a counsel I had sorely missed and was incredibly grateful for.
Marianne meets her parents at the train station. She wanted Héloïse with her but Héloïse would not come, said she ought to have the greeting alone and she had to help Brigitte with preparations. Marianne knew there was dissembling at work. That Héloïse was nervous. This delighted rather than concerned her as she knew there was no reason for Héloïse to be worried. That Héloïse would in fact get a lovely surprise when she saw how Marianne's parents liked her. Being able to prove Héloïse wrong about herself in this positive direction was one of Marianne's chief interests in life.
She surprises herself with the emotion of seeing her parents here and after such a long time. There is only a perfunctory hug on the platform before she ushers them into a cab and they set off for the rue de Fleurus.
Where Héloïse opens the door trying to pretend she is not there, squeezing herself between it and the wall. At Héloïse's insistence they had gone over and over these plans. That they should go directly into the drawing room for some time alone. But Marianne cannot help it. She is happy and when she is happy she wants Héloïse so she reaches out and gives her hand a little squeeze as Hélène takes her parents' bags.
"And you must be Héloïse!" her father says and - because he too has been well-briefed - puts out his hand for an obvious shake.
"It is good to meet you." Héloïse stammers through. "And you," to Marianne's mother. "I hope your journey went well. I will just -"
"Won't you join us?"
"No, please, go through, I will bring some tea."
Marianne shepherds her parents into the drawing room but turns back to Héloïse. "Come in, please."
"The plan is ruined," Héloïse says darkly. "I should have stayed in my room."
"Don't you dare. Promise you will come back?"
"You want me to?" The complete vulnerability in her is devastating to Marianne.
Héloïse nods and leaves and Marianne enters the drawing room into a huge three-person hug. She sits between her parents on a settee until Héloïse brings a tray of tea things and she jumps up to help. Between her excitement and Héloïse's nerves they do a poor job indeed but eventually everyone has tea that is primarily in the cup rather than the saucer.
Her parents, Édith and Édouard as she introduces them, unnecessarily, to Héloïse, are as charming as Marianne knew they would be. Enthusiastic and eager to hear Marianne's news, asking interested but not too difficult questions of Héloïse, receptive to all the plans Marianne lays before them.
At the appointed time Brigitte - actually able to stick to a plan - arrives to say hello and act as a proper host. Marianne's parents are then shown upstairs and left to change for dinner.
"What do you think?" Marianne asks Héloïse instantly.
"Of your parents?" Héloïse laughs. "I think they are wonderful. But then I knew they would be because -" She stops.
Marianne is content to fill in the blank along the lines of, because you already told me about them, and is about to start worrying she has just asked Héloïse's opinion of her parents as though it were a query of an art critic on a painting, when -
"Because you are."
Héloïse sits very primly the other side of the room from Marianne and Brigitte almost laughs. For being in the same room together it is the most distance she has seen between them in months. And she knows their instinct - when they believe themselves unseen - to be tantamount to in each others' lap.
Édouard pats his daughter's knee and gets up, heaving himself a little. He moves to sit next to Héloïse and Brigitte is fascinated though trying to glance back at the conversation happening around her as though she is interested. She knows one other person who will be just as intrigued so she heaves herself up, barely making any apologies, and takes the place next to Marianne.
"It is so lovely to meet your parents. I forget sometimes - with how much you are with us, how much you are a part of this family - that you have a family of your own."
Marianne laughs and Brigitte sees Héloïse glance over for a second.
"I feel very fortunate. I hope Héloïse will be able to feel that too."
"She's doing rather marvellously with your father."
"She is, isn't she?"
They both let themselves watch Héloïse and Édouard for a moment. They are intently discussing something or another.
"What are they talking about do you think? Art?"
"That's most of what both of them talk about in general, so probably." Marianne is still looking.
Brigitte checks around the room. Their mothers are also deep in conversation and everyone seems happy so she relaxes again.
"How are you?" Marianne asks with far more concern than is necessary.
"Oh, perfectly well. Héloïse hasn't been worrying, has she? I will be absolutely fine."
They settle into chat because if Brigitte has to relax, or indeed people-watch, Marianne is one of her very favourite people to do it with. So they discuss the opening night of the salon on Friday, who is painting what, who has fallen out with whom.
Until they notice the conversation over the room is ending. The pair of them, by now thick as thieves, stand and it draws Brigitte and Marianne's attention. Then - and Brigitte can hardly believe her eyes - Héloïse leans over and puts her arms around Édouard. Brigitte and Marianne look at one another.
Édouard pats Héloïse on the back, adjusts his glasses, and both head over to an entirely incredulous Brigitte and Marianne.
Héloïse is smiling and it instantly inspires Brigitte to do the same. Marianne too.
"I was telling your father about my story."
"What story?" Brigitte and Marianne ask in unison.
"The book," she replies. "Have I not mentioned that?"
The day before the salon and her mother, father, Héloïse, and Marianne tour the museums and galleries.
"Héloïse is not an art critic, but..." Marianne often begins her sentences, then supplying Héloïse's insight, because goodness knows she will not do it herself. At one they come across Héloïse's book on Pablo - as though Marianne does not scour the shelves for it everywhere - in the adjoining bookshop and her father buys it and has Héloïse sign it. Which mortifies Héloïse and delights Marianne.
Tonight her mother has gone with Madame de Montfort for tea and to play cards at a friend's house. The mothers are getting on famously. Marianne and Madame de Montfort have had many conversations since their strange one and not referenced it or anything so contentious again so it takes on a surreal quality in Marianne's mind, almost an anxiety dream from that strained period.
So they had a very relaxed supper just with Héloïse and Brigitte, who ushered Marianne and her father away after. They sit together in the drawing room well-fed and exhausted.
Marianne speaks. "It is so good to have you here."
"It is good to be back in Paris. And to see you. Your mother and I missed you in the summer."
"I know. I'm sorry. I should have come. I just..." A breath. A moment before she jumps. "Papa, I fell in love." She could cry with the sheer joy of it.
He nods. "I think we realised that. And I think..." he says very carefully, "I might be able to hazard a guess who with."
Of course he must know. As though she ever thought she could keep something like that hidden - as though she would ever want to.
"Héloïse," she says. Everything is vibrating. "I love Héloïse."
Her father smiles. "Your portrait of her..."
"Is it too much?"
"No, my darling, you must never be afraid of that. You can never put too much love into your art. It is only... when I see you together you seem so happy in one another's company. But the painting... it is not an especially happy one."
Marianne considers this. "It is all the hardest parts about loving her. There are far more wonderful parts. They would be harder to make art of. They are the fact I can make art."
"And does she love you?"
There is an inundation of images, of fleeting moments that coalesce into something deep and irrefutable. Marianne knows. "Yes," she breathes. "Yes. We haven't even - well, nothing has happened or been said. But already she has loved me more than I ever thought it possible to be loved. Only there are hard parts for her too."
"Now then, I am honour-bound to say there could be nothing hard about loving you. But the situation, perhaps?"
"Hoping, I think."
He pats her hand. "If it is as you say and as I see with my own eyes - that have seen a lot of people in all their guises - you will find your way through."
More specific advice might have been useful but Marianne is still shaken. Still thrumming with the revelation. And now nearly coming apart again as Héloïse leans in the doorway and says goodnight with a little smile. She lingers for just a moment. Eyes locked with Marianne who finds herself burning under Héloïse's gaze. At some point she will have to go up above the atelier and get into bed next to Héloïse and hold her and try not to ignite.
Her father looks between them and nods.
The whole party crowds around Marianne's painting that hangs in one of the larger halls of the exhibition. Marianne feels she is melting under the compliments. Brigitte leaves first - Marianne is only surprised she stays so long - with a kiss on each cheek and a little squeeze. Her father sees old friends and goes to catch up. Héloïse is much in demand.
So Marianne takes her mother around the exhibition. Consulting the programme to find friends and answering her mother's questions about her own work. A quick circuit completed and her mother joins her father. For a moment Marianne is alone but for such a brief moment that Héloïse must have been in waiting.
"What do you think?" she asks Héloïse out of habit as she appears at her elbow.
"It is a good selection," she summarises. "The spring salon is too conservative. The autumn committee have vision."
"Do you have acquisitions in mind?"
"Several. Do you have anything to sell?"
They have not spoken about this. Héloïse starts walking and Marianne knows exactly where she is going.
"I do not think you want my offering."
"I do. I do want it."
"You don't like it."
And here they are. In front of the painting. Shoulder to shoulder. It doesn't look quite right here in the great hall. It was not designed to be here. It is supposed to be in the atelier. That is where it belongs.
"I have been reconsidering. Examining it. Myself. It's not the painting I don't like. It's her."
"You don't like her?" Marianne looks sideways at Héloïse. Examines the reaction.
Héloïse is not even really looking at the figure in the painting. Averting her gaze off to the side. "She scares me."
"She doesn't scare me." Marianne turns back to the painting. "I love her."
Marianne isn't looking. She can't.
Next to her, there's a sharp breath. In silence, they look at the painting together. Between them, their hands join.
Héloïse goes with her to see her parents off at the station. Marianne keeps a tight grip on her but somehow Héloïse's comforting, "You'll see them soon," fails to make her feel any better.
That was early in the morning and Marianne spends the rest of Saturday doing nothing other than keeping herself as close as possible to Héloïse. Ideally within arm's reach. Arms which Héloïse seems more than happy to provide.
Until the guests start to arrive in the evening.
"Will you be all right?" Héloïse asks her gently. "I suspect you will be very popular."
"I'll be fine."
"Good. You should enjoy your triumph."
There are congratulations all round but yes, Marianne does field a lot of them. There are questions and invitations and much more attention than she feels capable of handling at the present moment.
Once the buffet is cleared away Marianne has more hope in her heart than she realises as eyes turn to Héloïse waiting for the bestowing of one of her little portraits. Héloïse apologises, holding her own under the attention. No more portraits.
There is a groan but then a round of applause. Marianne has to leave. She goes into the garden. It is good that Héloïse is moving on. Hadn't she herself suggested it? Still, she had been nurturing a hope.
Héloïse follows Marianne out. Marianne sighs and stretches. Héloïse walks slowly across the garden. Marianne watches her. Everything else fades away.
The air is thick with the scent of lavender and chrysanthemum though all the flowers look the same silver under the moonlight. Héloïse's green dress fades into the foliage and her pale skin shines. They could be back in the summer again. But they are here, now, and it is just as perfect.
"Look at you." Marianne is awestruck. For once Héloïse does not flinch. She turns to hold Marianne's gaze, chin a little defiant. Brave. To let Marianne look at her. To leave Marianne giddy. "When are you going to let me paint your portrait?"
"As I recall, you already did. And to great success."
"Properly. To sit for me."
"Sit for you?" Tiny movements around her eyes and at the edges of her mouth show her amusement. "You spend so much time watching me you cannot possibly need it."
Marianne's breath comes harsh and stuttering. She takes a step forward. Softly, "And you know that because you are always looking back."
A great weight crushes down on Marianne's chest as Héloïse bites her lip and takes her own step forward. It feels so natural. As easy as falling.
Marianne takes another step. They are so close. Héloïse need only move once more and they could be together. They could be so many things.
Héloïse lingers. She turns her head and Marianne might shatter except that, no, Héloïse's fingers are threading through her own. Héloïse is turning away but Marianne is being taken with her.
She is clinging to Héloïse but the grip is firm. She runs her other hand up Héloïse's arm. An insurance against being left behind as well as a reassurance.
It's only a few paces until Héloïse tucks them against the wall, hidden amongst the leaves and the statues and the night. Héloïse is still perfectly luminous and Marianne carves her face into memory - the pull of the eyebrows, the tension in her lips, the eyelashes low and dark on her cheek. She is looking at Marianne too. A cataloguing.
Héloïse's hand moves to Marianne's jaw. Fingers move down Marianne's neck, back up to her lips that part and burn. She sways but Héloïse's arm is around her waist steadying her.
"I have thought of this endlessly," Héloïse breathes.
It shoots right through Marianne. Ripples across her skin.
Marianne can't bear it. She moves and Héloïse moves so they meet a fraction of a moment before anticipated and everything spins. It is nothing and everything Marianne has dreamed of. There was no way to anticipate the waves of emotion this would provoke. The burning impulse for more and more. To have Héloïse moving against her with need. To express months and months of longing.
Héloïse is still here and every moment she remains Marianne holds onto. She understands what it takes Héloïse to stay. To be so open and raw. To close your eyes and put yourself in front of another person with all your desires on show. Héloïse's hand firm on the back of her neck. A sign. That she, too, is not going anywhere.
Marianne cannot see. She can only feel. Feel for Héloïse's breath in her mouth. Feel for the yield and warmth of Héloïse's lips. Feel for the shiver rising along Héloïse's neck under her hands. Feel for the twist and turn of Héloïse's mouth moving across hers taking every angle and every possible approach to test them all. Feel her own hands grasping in Héloïse's hair and cupping Héloïse's jaw. Feel the push and the pull and the swaying against one another yet remaining perfectly balanced. Feel the heat and the burning they are creating.
Finally, Héloïse moves with one last searing, breathtaking push, her thumbs stroking across Marianne's cheeks, her mouth open and taking Marianne completely. When she retracts, breathless, still with her arm at Marianne's back, she rests their foreheads together. She is smiling - Marianne can as much feel it as see it. Marianne smiles too. A little laugh. A disbelieving, overwhelmed exhalation. And she seizes Héloïse's face in her hands. Kisses her forehead and her temples and her eyelids and her cheeks and, yes, her lips again but briefly, with all the tenderness she has. Which is oceans.
The rest of the world seeps in slowly. The shaft of light intermittently lights up the courtyard. Noise from the house spills out with it. People pass from the house to the atelier and back again. Héloïse's fingers are running through Marianne's hair so she is deeply unconcerned about the rest of the world and what it is doing. It can burn, as far as she cares.
One of the fragments of noise is Marianne's name. "Your adoring public," Héloïse murmurs. "Perhaps we should go back."
"Never." She sighs and presses her face to Héloïse's hand. "I suppose you are on duty."
"You make me sound like a constable. Although I have broken up fights before."
"I imagine you enjoyed that."
"I did rather." Héloïse grins and here she is. This radiant Héloïse who sat by a fountain and said she was happy. Who might be able to say that again.
The sounds of shouts leak in. The smash of glass.
"Go," Marianne tells her.
"You go upstairs."
"I won't fall asleep."
"Perhaps you ought to put your nightgown on. Just in case."
Upstairs and in her nightgown the idea of sleep seems impossible. Marianne can barely catch her breath. Her heart beats threateningly as she remembers. She sees it so clearly - even though it is only a construction in her mind of the sensation and the imagination. She settles into those moments. She floats there. Unmoored from reality for an indefinite amount of time. Until she feels, some instinct tells her, that Héloïse is here.
"I'm not asleep," she murmurs.
Marianne is hushed. There is a shuffle next to her. The press of lips against her forehead. She is folded into Héloïse's arms.
Héloïse writes an essay about Marianne's painting for Sophie's magazine and there is an offer to buy, which Héloïse insists on matching.
Which prompts much fussing over the perfect spot in the atelier for the picture to hang. Eventually it involves an almost total reshuffle of one wall with Héloïse up and down ladders carrying paintings and Marianne in fits of terror.
It was the last, best day of autumn and as December approaches the skies turn grey. The wind picks up. Marianne's cardigans go back on and Héloïse picks at the loose ends, unravelling her.
Chapter 8: Winter 1908/9
Marianne is woken by Héloïse sitting on the bed and setting out a tray. It's a very pleasant way to be woken up. A happily very common way of late.
Héloïse hands her coffee and asks, "What are your plans for today?"
"I have to pack up the apartment."
"It's your last day in Paris for months. You couldn't have done your packing before?"
"Well I've been -" Not busy, exactly. "Here."
Héloïse smiles. "I suppose you have. I'll come to help."
"You don't have to."
"No? Very well."
It wasn't supposed to be quite that easy.
Héloïse is moving on, however. "I wish you weren't staying in that horrid apartment."
"It's not so bad. Besides, where else would I go?" and of course she has no sooner said it - thinking about the interminable process of finding rooms and being interviewed by sceptical if not outright hostile landlords - than she realises. Héloïse has a pained look. "This room grows smaller by the day." There are paintings and boxes visible to her right now, as much as Héloïse is taking up nearly all her view. "There's barely space for you."
It wasn't even as if they needed much room. Ideally only as much space as their bodies pressed tightly together.
"I know." Héloïse is resigned. "You'll be back tonight?"
"Of course. I won't have any bedsheets, for a start."
"Ah, you are here for the amenities. I always knew."
This seems to amuse Héloïse but Marianne becomes unnerved by the capacity for self-deprecation. "I am here for this," and she leans. Her breath still catches. It still feels like the most extraordinary thing in the world. To kiss Héloïse.
"Except that now I ought not to be here." She changes - behind the screen - and tosses her nightgown next to Héloïse's.
"Good luck," Héloïse says with clear undertones of Marianne needing it.
Marianne walks back home through the park. She goes to her parents' tomorrow. The family will go to Milan for Christmas and return for Brigitte to have the baby. Make sure they were a true Parisian.
Her main concern currently is to get back to Héloïse as soon as possible. She has never cleaned so enthusiastically. Skips lunch. Packs up the belongings she can leave here in the basement. Just in case her landlady finds a short term lodger for the place. It seems unlikely.
Marianne gets a cab back, lets herself into the house, and leaves her baggage in the cloakroom.
The twins are in the hall. "We are jumping," Benedetta informs her.
"Look how far I can jump." Marguerite the Younger demonstrates.
"Lengthy," Marianne agrees but is not here to entertain children and hurries through the courtyard preparing to take the stairs to Héloïse's room two at a time when she is surprised in the atelier by Héloïse sitting there.
"Hello," she beams.
Marianne goes to her. Héloïse's arms are around her, pulling her down. So that she ends up sat in Héloïse's lap. So that she is struck all over again by this. "You're in a good mood."
"Well I am now. How was your day?"
"Productive I hope."
"Why are we down here?"
"For effect." She pats Marianne's leg. "Up."
They rise and Héloïse takes Marianne by the hand up the stairs into her room.
It is warm in here. It could be the candles. It is more likely the absolutely blazing fire. Blankets in front of the settee. Food. A lot of food.
Marianne turns to Héloïse. "It is a good effect."
"Excellent, I am pleased you like it."
Héloïse escorts her over, makes a show of preparing her a cushion, and proceeds to organise the food around them.
"How long have you been planning this?"
"Oh, weeks. Less candles in the initial plan, it must be said. Hors d'oeuvre? It is, I am afraid, mostly hors d'oeuvres of one variety or another. I went a little overboard."
"It's perfect." It's perfect how she can put an olive in Héloïse's mouth, wipe her chin with a handkerchief, be fed some of the great variety of hors d'oeuvres. Then lounge very decadently with a glass of wine, her legs folded over Héloïse's.
"Come here." Héloïse raises the arm between them, over Marianne's head. She slides obligingly into Héloïse's embrace, head resting on Héloïse's shoulder.
"What will you do in Milan?"
"The book. May I use your studio? That might help."
"Of course. I'm so glad you are working on the book again."
"I struggled with it for a while. But I think I understand it better now."
Marianne makes herself very agreeable, toying with the front of Héloïse's blouse. "May I read it?"
"I cannot bear for you to."
"Why?" she asks gently. "I love your writing."
"I fear you will not like this writing. I fear... well, a great many things. Most of which I have put into this story. Perhaps I ought not to have written it. Or, written it because I feel as if I had no choice, and then put a stake through it and set it on fire."
But Marianne is up for the challenge. "And what would you say if I hid all my paintings?"
"You see it is this exact argument that has landed me in this trouble. Truly, you are beyond a vexation and I adore you." Héloïse smiles as she presses her lips to Marianne's forehead then grows serious again. "Besides, my greatest fear is very specifically you reading it. There is too much of me in it. Which doesn't matter, for people who don't know me. But you know me too well and you would see how much of it is myself."
"But I love all of yourself," Marianne says quickly. Trying not to call too much attention to it but looking at her all the same. "I want to see all of you."
"Do you?" Héloïse rises up, takes ahold, kisses her, and it is burning. "I want you to see all of me."
And Marianne understands they are no longer talking about the book.
There are just flashes of Héloïse's neck, of her hands grasping at bedsheets, falling into her eyes under the frown of concentration.
But Héloïse was everywhere, was everything. The sound of her breath, her rumbling moans, her gentle mumbling. The touch of her fingertips, her hair in Marianne's face, Marianne pressing herself into Héloïse's shoulder. The smell just behind Héloïse's ear, of the sheets, that rose up from the heat between them. The taste of Héloïse's mouth, of her skin under Marianne's lips, burning on her tongue.
The movement of herself when even with her eyes closed she knew every part of Héloïse, knew where to reach and where to find her, the rise and fall. The sense of herself in Héloïse's arms, of being held and held together when she otherwise felt she was coming apart.
There is so, so much she had not known about Héloïse. So much she had not known about herself.
The first goodbye, the real one, must be done far in advance in Héloïse's room.
There are kisses and whispered promises. "And will you -"
"You don't know -"
"It doesn't matter. Yes."
Héloïse pulls her close and they stand wrapped up in each other for a long time.
Marianne sighs into her. "I never worry about the future so much as when I think about having to say goodbye to you."
Héloïse chokes a "Marianne..." and is reaching and Marianne is reaching and when they find one another their kiss is ragged and burning.
Thoughts of last night... but Marianne cannot think of last night. Not now, not when she has to tear herself away. Not if she is to manage that already seemingly impossible task.
Héloïse smiles a little. "You can't."
"Tell me to come back whenever you need. I'll come."
"I know you would."
"I'll come back when you return from Milan."
They have been over this. The plan they hashed out was a pretty miserable compromise of what they thought everyone else would want. Plus Marianne's guilt over not seeing her parents in the summer but also genuine desire to see them again.
While Marianne had never been made to feel anything less than completely welcome by Héloïse's extended family in Milan the idea of being there over Christmas was a very different prospect from a summer holiday. Héloïse had said it didn't matter but Marianne knew it did.
Then Héloïse had been concerned that on her return to Paris she would only be anxious and as the baby arrived tired and irritable to boot. Marianne felt this was all the more reason she ought to be here. She said she would stay out of the way here in Héloïse's room if necessary. Héloïse could look after Brigitte and she would look after Héloïse. Marianne would intend support but Héloïse said she would be concerned about her alone, bored, and so on. And Marianne, however close she felt to Brigitte and knew that Brigitte liked her, was not sure she was in a position to actually be of use on the front lines.
Still, Marianne refuses to set a date for her return. To leave it open allows her not to fixate on or rail against some future date but focus on the days for what they are.
So they whisper their goodbyes through tears, get cleaned up, and do it all over again until the sheer pressure of time forces them from the house.
The rest is torture. To sit in a cab, to walk through the station, to stand on the platform. Héloïse carries the bags onto the train. Hefts them up into the overhead racks. Stands again searching for appropriate words that don't exist.
Marianne puts a hand to her elbow as other passengers move around them. "We already said goodbye." She means it as a sort of encouragement. Not to worry. That it might be easier, in fact, to just go.
The first whistle sounds. Héloïse looks to the doors.
"You have to go."
The second whistle.
She backs towards the door and holds the handle. "I just wanted to say -"
A third long whistle and the train creaks into movement with one heavy lurch, then another. Héloïse looks out the window and Marianne takes hold of her, should she try to disembark.
"Well," says Héloïse, barely perturbed. She pays for a ticket to Le Mans where Marianne must change. They sit in silence for three hours. Though leaving Paris with Héloïse at her side certainly makes it easier.
At Le Mans Héloïse tries to help Marianne with her bags and Marianne correctly deduces this is an attempt to 'accidentally' join her on the next leg of the journey. Much good the last three hours did.
"Do not get on this train," Marianne instructs her firmly. However Héloïse is intent on disobedience and must be physically restrained. Marianne manages to get onboard and shut the door with Héloïse on the other side. But does not help her cause when she drags the window down, prompting Héloïse to get up onto the step.
"It's about the book."
But the station master is yelling at Héloïse to get down and waving his flag. Marianne puts her hand over Héloïse's white knuckles hanging onto the door.
"Tell me before you break your neck."
The conductor has his head out from the next carriage and is also yelling at Héloïse to get away. Marianne is prising Héloïse's fingers from the door and she finally relinquishes her grasp and hops back down.
The whistle sounds and the train groans with the effort of moving off. Marianne cannot take her eyes off Héloïse all small on the platform, who is looking between Marianne and the retreating train. She trots a few paces to catch up and Marianne fears she will make another attempt at jumping on so is ready to open the door to pull her up. But she just keeps pace and when she starts to fall behind as the train picks up steam, at the very last moment knowing there is nothing Marianne can do, she says, perfectly calmly, "It's about you."
Marianne waits for a letter - or, indeed, an Héloïse - to arrive to elaborate further on this point. It does not. Héloïse does not. There is a postcard to say she is in Milan. Another postcard that is more apology for not having written than it is writing itself, not really solving the problem. Marianne writes then, trying to be encouraging and gets a reply that is at least a real update and rather sweet in Héloïse's own sideways sort of manner but entirely avoids Marianne's gentle questioning. By which point it is well into January.
In the meantime Marianne sketches and draws and paints. She makes art out of everything she can and in every style she can.
Her mother is impressed with her output and commitment. Her father talks about her different techniques in great detail with her. Somewhere over her shoulder she can hear Héloïse's encouragement and incitement both. And in the back of her mind Madame de Montfort's caustic questioning.
My work in Bretagne that winter was to form the basis of a new series on the coast. Though there were several interruptions.
There have been so many letters that have been sent only into the fire. Letters where I say too much. Letters where I don't say enough. There's no poetry to be made of how I miss you and no poetry that could do justice to how much I love you.
I ended up here through a jumble of circumstances of which I can make no sense. Looking for a narrative that real life does not hold. Perhaps the story is an attempt to make a meaning out of it. It's a catharsis but also a torture. There is an ambition there that I am not sure can be reached. I rather suspect I have sabotaged myself. So that it will never be finished and I will never be able to move forward.
It always seemed to me there was enough pain in life without inviting it on oneself. As I did with my father when I could have stayed safely away. I tortured myself for a long time that it had not been entirely worthwhile. The heartbreak for the gain. Then of course I was exposed with Brigitte and the children and that seemed more than enough to risk. Until you.
You, Marianne. I can hardly write your name for shaking.
I spent months writing about how much I loved you. How you were changing my life. Transforming me. Everything you gave me that I could not begin to articulate to you because I was too afraid of everything else that might come slipping out.
The constant battle, then, between the inevitability of loving you and the possibility of losing you in any one of a thousand ways. Utterly incapable of ever thinking you might feel any fraction of how I felt about you. I'm still not sure I am capable of comprehending that. To hope for that was certainly too much to risk.
Yours always, Héloïse
Marianne reads it again and again and aches and aches. The address is the rue de Fleurus and though she has been able to imagine Héloïse in Milan this year and thinks often of Héloïse in their studio, the idea that Héloïse is back in Paris without her is a far greater distraction.
She is suffering a pang of such distraction, mooning around in the kitchen, when she is intercepted by her mother.
"Marianne, my love, why don't you go back to Paris?"
"No, it's fine, I was only thinking."
Her mother is appropriately sceptical. "You have your own life. Your father and I understand that. We don't expect you to be here half the year."
What her parents expect is a source of growing concern for Marianne. This time two years ago when the negotiations for her moving to Paris were in full swing she had entirely neglected to establish the rules for if she were to fall in love with the woman who is Paris' greatest modern art collector and most challenging not-art critic, among many other wonderful things.
"Can she come?"
"Héloïse is always welcome here. It would be nice. Papa and I will come to Paris more. We will all adjust. We always knew we would have to." There's a pause. "And I know that when things are so new it is hard to be apart."
"What was it like when you fell in love with Papa?"
"Well, he never painted me a beautiful portrait."
"I posed as a peasant woman or a maid plenty of times."
Marianne laughs for thinking of putting that to Héloïse. Who is still resolute in her refusal to pose at all. Much good it has done her for avoiding being painted.
Her mother looks at her and Marianne is being assessed. "Marianne, I love your father very much. And I love you even more. I have no regrets as to my life. But there were a lot of compromises. Some of which did not feel like they could be labelled as a compromise because they were so expected."
"Exactly. I did not get any credit for a compromise when I gave up my art for your father's."
"No, for you it is another matter entirely. Although, you have recognised it."
Marianne takes her mother's hand. Her mother squeezes.
"I imagine that when there are no conventions around a relationship it can be both harder and easier."
"Yes." Marianne has felt this. There is an instinctive understanding of what she wants with Héloïse but how that falls into place is something of a blur.
"You must only trust in your love. You must invent something for yourselves."
NEW ARRIVAL RECEIVED. ALL WELL. YOURS ALWAYS
Two days after the telegram - tucked away into Marianne's satchel with the letter and postcards, destined for the box, where she assumes her reply already sits - a package is waiting for Marianne when she gets home from a walk.
The first page only a handwritten, 'Trying to be brave, Héloïse'.
The rest, typed. Pages upon pages of it.
Marianne runs to her room, slams the door, jumps onto the bed, and, still in her coat, begins to read. She reads through lunch. All afternoon. She emerges toward evening wild-eyed, hungry, and able only to repeat to her parents that she must return to Paris immediately, immediately. She seizes bread and cheese from the kitchen and runs into the village to find someone who can take her into town for the last train of the day.
On the train Marianne starts reading again. Night falls and she takes a room in a station hotel but cannot sleep. Her fingers trace each word now, caressing them, trying to make sense of them.
Héloïse has bled onto the page. Her heart, raw.
And Héloïse had been correct that Marianne would be able to see it. The error was in, yet again, thinking it could daunt her.
She reads it again on the train from Rennes.
At the station the joy of being back in Paris relates only to her increasing proximity to Héloïse. She pushes through the crowds and waits impatiently to hail a cab before abandoning it for going too slowly.
Marianne bursts through the door to the house. Into the drawing room scattering children in surprise and Hélène is there frowning at her. Marianne - who is still catching her breath, has barely eaten, hardly slept, and not bathed, in two days - realises she certainly deserves frowning at.
"Héloïse?" she asks. As though there could be any other reason for her being there.
"Upstairs with Madame Brigitte. I'll go -"
But Marianne is gone already. It's not until she is outside Brigitte's room that she realises this is incredibly improper of her. Bursting into Héloïse's room is one thing. Still liable to cause a great deal of alarm and confusion. Into Brigitte's - newly delivered no less - is quite another. She composes herself. Smoothes down her skirt. It does not help.
She knocks, stands to the side. There are murmurs. Footsteps that must be Héloïse. They must and also she very much needs them to be.
The door opens and there she is. A look on her face that flashes through surprise, delight, consternation. Stays in consternation - she is afraid of Marianne's reaction.
And even with all this time to prepare Marianne has thought of nothing. Has forgotten to think of anything. Been concerned only about seeing Héloïse again and forgotten the agonies Héloïse must be have been going through.
All she can say is, "Héloïse..." and put up her arms to hold tightly around Héloïse's neck.
She is then propelled across the hall in Héloïse's arms. "Ever since I sent it I feel I have been holding my breath," Héloïse whispers.
Marianne is against the wall and pulls back. "I came the moment I finished it. It's... it's extraordinary. It's the bravest, most beautiful work of art I have ever seen."
Héloïse trembles just for a moment. "But do you like it?"
"I do. So much."
Marianne's hands are on Héloïse's face, thumbs slipping into her hair.
"Héloïse?" comes from the room behind.
Who on earth bothered to knock on a door in this house Brigitte did not know but now Héloïse has disappeared.
"Héloïse?" Brigitte calls
"It's Marianne," comes Héloïse's voice from the corridor. An edge to it. Quieter, "It's Marianne."
Well of course, why wouldn't it be Marianne? To Brigitte's tired mind that seems perfectly reasonable. "What are you doing out in the hall? Come in!"
Héloïse pulls Marianne in while she protests. "I'm sorry - I'm a mess - I've only just stepped off the train."
Marianne's satchel and coat are removed by Héloïse and Marianne herself is deposited in the chair by the bed while Héloïse pulls up another.
Marianne leans to gingerly put an arm around Brigitte in greeting. "How are you?" Trying to avoid the tiny little creature she holds.
"Good, thank you, dearest. As is he."
Marianne peers at him so carefully. As though he could break under her gaze. "That is the smallest person I have ever seen."
"I assure you, he felt very large at the time."
"Oh, the language," Héloïse says.
"That's enough from you, Héloïse. Allow me to preserve some of my mystique."
"Here, little one, say hello to your aunt Marianne." She tries to pass the lump over.
"No, I don't think -"
"He doesn't bite. Yet. So make the most of it."
Héloïse facilitates the transfer, positions Marianne's arms correctly, and puts him safely there.
"Hello," Marianne says very seriously. Brigitte finds this very endearing.
However her attention is diverted by Héloïse. Héloïse's hand is very clearly squeezing Marianne's knee as she leans in close. The other appears to be stroking Marianne's hair.
Héloïse has been alternately floating on the ceiling and in the deepest of doldrums since Marianne left. If she had known Marianne was coming there would surely have been a lot more ceiling based on previous experience. But in fact for the past few days she has been more overwrought than usual.
And yet now Héloïse gazes with such unrestrained devotion. The devotion is not news to Brigitte. The lack of restraint is much more interesting.
"Héloïse, be a dear and put him in his basket will you?"
As Héloïse takes him Marianne is twisting in her chair to watch. Her body rotating back around Héloïse's return.
"Marianne, not that I am not very pleased to see you, but is anything the matter? We weren't expecting you for weeks yet."
"No, I - I'm sorry to barge in. I needed to see Héloïse." She is reaching for Héloïse as she says it. A little break in her voice over the name. The smile that cannot be contained. Apparently restraint is not possible here either. It is the same. It has always been the same. Now it is discovered.
Brigitte looks at their hands. At their small smiles as they look at one another, eyes shining. She is not sure she has ever been happier about anything in her life. But catches the movement of Héloïse seeing this and pulling away. They both look guiltily at Brigitte and retract.
They move even further, blushing. Brigitte has been misunderstood.
"My darlings, you don't need to hide anything you feel from me."
There's a moment as it settles. Héloïse swallows. Marianne's hand is on hers again, gaze encouraging.
Patience cannot be said to be one of Brigitte's virtues but she is trying very hard. She remembers Héloïse looking this vulnerable before. Long ago. Just after Father. Crawling into Brigitte's bed late one night. An argument with Mother. Terrified about a future Brigitte would never let come to pass.
"Marianne and I have... come to an understanding."
Both sets of hands come together now.
"Brigitte, please!" Héloïse protests as Brigitte launches herself half out of bed and pulls them both into a hug.
She eventually lets them go and the pair of them share such a secret, tender smile that she is compelled to seize them again. This time while weeping.
Marianne needs a few days back at her parents'. To apologise for the dramatic departure. To collect her things. To take Héloïse.
Walk with her on the beach. Stand close, arms around, heads together, with Héloïse on the cliffs and tell her how often and for how long this has been dreamt of.
Chapter 9: Spring 1909
Marianne lets herself into the house and follows the general noise from the hall, passing into the drawing room.
"I sympathise. No, truly I do. It is the most terrible of indignities. And look, here is Marianne to witness your plight."
Héloïse is changing the baby and delivering him a lecture. "In some twenty years you will be trying to impress upon us a terribly important thought - and you will have such thoughts, I know you will - and we will look at you and remember having cleaned excrement from your armpits and be entirely incapable of taking you seriously."
Marianne, observing now the tremendous amount of excrement, begins to object to her inclusion in the cleaning but a cloth is pressed into her hand and she can only think about Héloïse's ready assumption that there is a future for them twenty years ahead. That Héloïse is thinking about the future at all.
She catches Héloïse's eye and smiles and Héloïse is smiling mischievously back when a beautifully curving arc of urine slices through the air until meeting the front of Héloïse's blouse. Héloïse pauses. "And if you think I will ever intercede against your mother on your behalf or give you money or any such favour you are sorely mistaken."
Marianne dabs at Héloïse but is ineffective due to the distraction of it. "You go and change. I will finish up here."
"Do you mind?"
"Not at all."
Héloïse pauses in the doorway. "Be on your guard."
"Gabriel," Marianne croons. "You wouldn't betray me, would you? No, you would never. You would never!" On his part Gabriel grunts and waves his fists haphazardly around.
Marianne gets the job done, after a fashion, washes her hands, and wonders briefly at what point exactly she has learnt how to change a nappy. She takes her achievement to the dining room and to his mother.
"Are you so thoroughly interchangeable now? I could have sworn it was Héloïse that took him away. Hello, little monster. Were you good to Aunt Marianne?"
"Good to me, less so to Héloïse. She had to go to change."
"It is a hazard," Brigitte acknowledges. "Thank you for your help. Children, no -" for Marianne has become immediately besieged, "Marianne did not in fact come to be your playmate -"
Except that Marianne is soon on her hands and knees growling after screaming children. She pivots after her prey and sees Héloïse leant against the door frame watching. She scrambles to her feet and brushes herself down to squeals of disapproval.
"How long have you been there?" She feels the embarrassment burning on her face.
"Long enough," Héloïse smirks. She reaches up and smoothes down Marianne's hair. She tucks some behind Marianne's ear and Marianne is intensely aware of a thumb grazing her cheek.
"Brigitte," Héloïse says absentmindedly, still staring at Marianne, "Marianne and I need to check on something in the atelier before lunch."
"Mm hm," Brigitte says. "I'm sure you do."
"Four," Héloïse notes of Marianne's new canvases. They are in the atelier. There was no room for four good-sized canvases and all their attendant paraphernalia in Marianne's room. Héloïse had very enthusiastically agreed to them being painted at the rue de Fleurus though there was no space in her room either.
"Yes, of course. Interesting. I was going to use Persephone."
"Why didn't you?"
"That's you, not her. There's no coming and going. Just the once. Anyway. You're going to have me up a ladder rearranging the collection again." Her head tilts and her gaze runs over the packed walls.
"Actually -" and Marianne is not entirely ready for this but is starting it nonetheless - "you can't buy these. I need someone other than you to buy my paintings."
"You don't want me to buy any?" She is frowning but doesn't seem angry. Just seeking clarity.
"You can have anything I paint. Just not buy them for the collection. If you buy them it's Abiatti buying them. Your brother-in-law whose house I basically live in and whose food I eat and who takes me on holiday and so on."
Héloïse takes a few steps. "None of that matters to us. My family is not like that. Our value is not determined by our income. I contribute plenty."
"Of course you do. You are indispensable to them. But me?"
"You are indispensable to me. Thus to them."
"That's just you being romantic." Marianne can't help but smile a little.
"Are you complaining about my being romantic? I can stop if you would prefer?" Héloïse teases for a moment. "It is though, I admit. I don't want you to feel you have to earn your place in this family. It is unconditional to me. But I understand."
"That I feel I have to contribute? And it's not just Abiatti. It's my father too. It's everything." Her open arms fail to sufficiently communicate the size of it.
Héloïse nods and Marianne thinks perhaps she does understand. "And I suppose you would object to my buying your paintings myself? With my own money?"
"Only because then between us there is half the income there could be." Too much. She tries to reel it back in. "I don't mean - no, I can't get it right." And gives up.
"You don't mean to refer to us as having joint finances?"
"I am overstepping."
"Really?" She can hardly breathe.
"You know I have felt guilty about it before. I did nothing about it. There was no necessity then. No future."
"The future? I want a future with you."
Marianne goes to her and holds her because she can't think of anything to say about the very concept, is undone by the tone of Héloïse's voice as she said it, and cannot bear the look on Héloïse's face. "I love you," she whispers fiercely.
"I love you," Héloïse replies, mumbling into her.
And Marianne wants to see her now. Pulls back, strokes the hair their hug has unsettled. She is afraid. Marianne can see it, feel it. Afraid of herself and of the future.
"We can have that future. We can." She remembers. "Mama said we have to invent something for ourselves."
All of a sudden Héloïse gets very far away.
"I did tell you Mama and Papa know."
"Yes, I just need to -" and she has drifted off to the table in search of pen and paper.
Marianne sighs. "Will you come back though?" Héloïse's habit of 'just writing one thing down quickly' often results in Marianne having to come find her hours later.
"I'm back, I'm back." Héloïse returns and gives a look of very exaggerated concentration.
It makes Marianne shake her head with a soft laugh.
"So, you want us to be independent of my family."
"And mine, too. Just, independent."
"Very well. I understand. In which case then there is something that has been taking up rather a lot of my attention to the detriment of other paying work. That ought to be made to earn its own way. If at all possible."
"You want to publish the book?"
"To try -" and no sooner than she said it Héloïse looks as though she might be changing her mind.
"Yes," Marianne says quickly, answering her own question on Héloïse's behalf. "Sophie and I will organise it."
"You wouldn't mind? It's your story as much as it is mine."
"No, of course not, darling, of course not. It ought to be seen. I want that for the story. For you."
Once the dishes and the children are cleared away after lunch Brigitte relaxes. Héloïse is walking up and down with Gabriel, who is annoyed about something. She puts him over her shoulder.
"Use a cloth, Héloïse. He'll be sick and then you'll have to change your blouse and Marianne will have to help and the pair of you will lose the whole afternoon."
Héloïse turns the same boiling red as Gabriel is currently. Marianne tosses her a teacloth. A few more turns about the room and all three have calmed down.
Brigitte is unrepentant. The opportunity to tease Héloïse is too delightful to pass up. As much as she had wished for Héloïse to find this, to find Marianne, it had never been with any confidence. Brigitte intends to enjoy it as much as they are.
"Don't you think he looks like Héloïse?" Brigitte remarks to Marianne, who tips her head in consideration.
Héloïse interrupts. "I always find it just slightly offensive to be likened to a baby. All squashed and angry."
"No, you're just long and angry. Not even angry anymore! Marianne, you have voided half my jokes about Héloïse. How very unhelpful of you."
She sees it surge through Marianne. Then the little smile.
Héloïse tries to sit down and everyone holds their breath to see if this will be allowed. Gabriel objects and Héloïse makes to rise again but Marianne takes him instead and continues to jiggle him around the room.
"It must be exhausting being so small," Marianne says. "He just wants to go to sleep."
"So do I." Brigitte yawns, feeling the afternoon coming on.
"Actually," Marianne continues. "He does look rather like Héloïse. Somewhere between the eyebrows."
"Precisely, yes," Brigitte adds.
"I'm sure you both think you are very funny." It only makes her frown more.
"I'll get you next time. A little Héloïse, all squashed and frowning."
"A little Héloïse?" This has drawn Marianne's attention.
"I wanted Gianna to be called Héloïse but I was not allowed." She frowns too, at Héloïse.
"Certainly not." Héloïse remains steadfast. "The poor child."
"Oh, yes, poor thing," Marianne teases now. "To be named for her exceptionally talented aunt. Horrifying."
"That's not even slightly what I meant and you know it," Héloïse grumbles.
"I have Marianne as an ally now, so we shall have to see. I fancy my chances."
Héloïse writes. The pages are typed up and Marianne is handed the red pencil. Sometimes Héloïse reads parts out loud, sometimes Marianne does.
There's an energy that feels as if Héloïse is always only a few days away from calling the whole thing off. If they do not do it now it might never get done.
Between the painting and the book and, well, Héloïse, Marianne is at the rue de Fleurus for a week at a time. When she returns to her room on the rue Cardinal Lemoine it is to reassure her landlady she is still alive, pay her rent, and for laundry purposes. Héloïse goes with her every time but dislikes staying over as it is too cold and she is very insistent on her resolution to never wear a nightgown again, going so far as to carry a blanket over with them.
Once, Marianne is obliged to borrow one of Héloïse's blouses, having run out of her own clothes. Brigitte laughs when she comes down to dinner in it. Thereafter her washing starts going in with Héloïse's.
Now Marianne has her red pencil, sat at one end of the bed. Héloïse is sat at the other, chewing on another red pencil.
The papers drop from Marianne's hands as she looks over at Héloïse. "You don't feel like that, do you? That you wasted time?"
Héloïse only nods.
"My love, no time with you was ever wasted. Every moment was perfect."
"I remember last spring when you were caught in that thunderstorm and you arrived all soaked through talking about how alive you felt and I looked at you and I knew I had never felt so alive either."
"I was so in love with you. I don't know if I knew. But that's what it was. It was perfect."
"When did you..." Héloïse's voice is hoarse.
"First want to kiss you?"
The look in Héloïse's eyes, the rise and fall of her chest, is all the answer Marianne needs. The papers have slid from her lap, forgotten.
"I... I know when I should."
She is feeling something of Héloïse's reaction herself. She gets up from the bed and stands in front of Héloïse. Reaches for her hand. Bends and presses her lips to the back of it. Slowly, slowly, turns it and kisses Héloïse's palm. There are tremors.
Héloïse's hand is on her neck. Pulling them together. Kissing her. "It is a good thing you did not," she mumbles as she makes her way down Marianne's neck.
Marianne cannot put a retort together at that moment. Only afterwards, given what proceeds, can she agree.
Eventually, Héloïse declares herself entirely fatigued with 'the thing' and Marianne and Sophie bear it away to Sophie's office and go through it once more before Sophie types it up all over again. And sends it away. Héloïse does not wish to be informed, she says, of when this happens or where it goes. But asks an awful lot of questions about it, for someone so determined not to know.
It is a Saturday evening and Marguerite is descending the stairs of the rue de Fleurus.
"Come down on Saturday evening," Marianne had said after their last conversation turned to Héloïse. "You will see how everyone looks to her, respects her."
Now she is holding onto Marianne's arm. She will hold it coming down the stairs as some sort of excuse though she is hardly feeble. And she will continue to hold Marianne's arm for some time.
Marguerite is reconciled to this but not what one might describe as happy.
The hall is already full of people - young men, primarily - arriving.
Héloïse is at the door, Marguerite startles to realise. Finding the words to greet everyone arriving. Being greeted warmly in return.
They turn into the drawing room, make a circuit of that and the dining room where the table groans with food.
Brigitte's friend Picasso and a few others she recognises from various dinner parties. They are solicitous and friendly, introducing other colleagues and Marianne provides further details. They stay to chat for a few minutes until Marianne provides for a graceful exit and they move on.
Several people stop to talk to Marianne herself. Apparently she too is a fixture. Asking after her work, complimenting a painting they have seen or an article they have read. Written often, though not always, by Héloïse.
Brigitte is surrounded by a small crowd, holding them rapt with her laughter. Abiatti sits in the drawing room with some distinguished-looking older gentlemen talking about their business and their art collections. One of their wives invites Marguerite to call on her later that week.
When Brigitte notices Marguerite's presence the delight on her face is almost cutting.
"Mother! How wonderful. Everyone, this is Madame de Montfort, my mother."
Brigitte's enthusiasm cannot entirely distract from the way her eyes track carefully from Marguerite, along her arm, to Marianne. The tip of her head and little smile at Marianne too. There is a far greater fondness there than Marguerite had realised.
It is certain that Brigitte knows a lot more than Marguerite does about Marianne's now almost-permanent place in their family. Almost certain that Héloïse confides in her. Very probable that she knows the depth of the attachment. Brigitte is more the matriarch this unconventional, energetic family needs.
Brigitte kisses her, squeezes Marianne's shoulder, and they move on.
And as for the other daughter, Héloïse is apparently everywhere.
"What is Héloïse working on now?" is asked at least a dozen times.
In reply Marianne smiles in a way Marguerite cannot recognise. Proud. Enigmatic. Just the slightest glance, the first few times, at Marguerite herself.
"I cannot say exactly. But it is spectacular," she assures them.
This is believed. "I loved her portraits," people reply. Or her article about this, her essay about that, her book on Picasso.
It is dizzying. Marguerite remembers all these being mentioned in passing before. But hadn't they been just little flights of fancy? Héloïse's odd little whims? Not, as these people were saying, inspiring new directions in their work, bringing them here to Paris, helping them meet new people and friends?
"This is Marie, who does wonderful sculptures..." And so they go on.
They emerge back into the hall where Héloïse is no longer.
Marguerite realises she will be taken through to the adjoining building, to the studio.
But Marianne pauses in the garden. "I thought you might need a moment," she says. "I certainly do."
Marguerite suspects this is not true but appreciates the offer and the layer of deception.
It has been years since she was in the atelier. The specifics are faded but she suspects there was a rather scathing exchange. Olive branches have been offered since by both Héloïse and Brigitte. All refused. Now, though, if Marianne takes her, Marguerite knows she will go.
Marianne does take her. After they have strolled around the garden they go to the atelier. Marianne holds open the door. Marguerite grips her.
The sight is overwhelming. Chaotic, almost. An anchor is necessary. "And which is your piece, my dear?"
"Here." Marianne carefully leads her to one side and it is immediately clear. No one else could have painted it and no one else would have been allowed. A new window in the atelier. Héloïse poised within it.
"It is... beautiful. You are very talented." Such reverence. Such love.
When Héloïse notices Marguerite's presence the look on her face is more akin to terror and even more cutting. She recovers herself, comes over to kiss Marguerite, murmuring, "It is so good to see you," then looks at Marianne. She reaches out and takes Marianne's hand, squeezing it quickly.
"Can I get you anything? Would you like a drink?"
Someone passes by, says hello, sinks into the crowd.
"No, I am perfectly satisfied."
"I thought it would be nice for your mother to experience all this," Marianne says. A rescue attempt.
"Is it?" Héloïse asks and it's almost combatant. Marguerite is shamed by how little she knows of her daughter now. But she knows this edge of nervousness.
"Yes," she says. She lets go of Marianne. She takes hold of Héloïse instead. "Show me your collection, my dear."
Marianne and Héloïse are packing up the Bretagne paintings. Héloïse keeps pausing to hold them up and look again. Despite having been there for almost every single second of their creation.
"They are so good. So alive."
"I am glad you like them as it is a little late now."
"I have told you every day that I like them. Apart from the corner of that one. I think the clouds are too ominous."
"Yes, you have mentioned it. And been overruled. They are not ominous. They are beautiful."
"You are the artist."
Marianne kisses her. "And you are not an art critic, so there we are."
Héloïse labels them all and takes them through to the hall where they stand together and watch the couriers grumble about having to take four.
"Do you think four was a mistake? I would not mind if they only select one. That would be understandable. And the others might be sold off the back of it."
Héloïse nods. "I would hope they would have all four. All four deserve it and I'm not sure how they would choose between. Too much of the effect would be lost. But I am glad you are so circumspect about it."
"It's not just my being egotistical any more. There's a larger purpose."
"Egotistical?" Héloïse almost chokes. "Fetch a microscope and I shall attempt to locate this ego of yours."
"Stop." Marianne leans and Héloïse slips an arm around her.
So Marianne's paintings go off for judgement and they both wait to be told whether their dreams are good enough.
For the week or so until the announcement Héloïse plans them all sorts of activities and Marianne regrets having not done any such thing for Héloïse. They take a number of the children out for the day and only lose two and only very briefly. They take themselves out for the day to the various gardens and museums they gravitate to again and again. They make the most of their free time.
Until they are at the spring salon looking at Marianne's work for the first time.
The noise, the light, the jostle of people and paintings, is having its usual overwhelming effect. Now in the main hall Marianne wishes perversely that she were back on the outskirts. Just her and Héloïse able to walk around the exhibition together without constant interruption. Even though the interruptions were always lovely.
Pablo is there absolutely raving about the paintings and invites Marianne to his atelier to talk to his students. Héloïse seizes the opportunity and asks him to provide the foreword to the pamphlet she is writing - which is news to Marianne, though, as usual, not exactly a surprise - and he agrees enthusiastically.
Héloïse disappears for a while as Marianne is being feted though she returns not long after looking jubilant.
"They've sold. All four gone to the same collector." Her arms go around Marianne and squeeze tightly.
"Do you know them?"
"Yes, although he is proving to have better taste than I ever expected. Well done, my darling."
If anything Marianne feels relief. That they have sold at all, that they've all gone together, that this is over.
"Can we leave?"
Héloïse hesitates for only a fraction of a moment. "Of course. Are you all right?"
"I am fine. I am -" More than fine. Alive. "Will you pose for me?"
There's no hesitation now. "Yes."
Back to Marianne's apartment where she sits Héloïse on the packing chest and stands behind the easel. Looks at Héloïse for a moment. With Héloïse looking back. Is unable to be that far away for even that long. In one breath they meet and in another they are in bed.
After, Marianne draws her. Tangled in bedsheets. Lazy, half-lidded eyes. Loose, mussed hair where Marianne's hands had been. Skin glowing where Marianne's mouth had been. Her foot rubs at Marianne's thigh as she watches.
Marianne draws this. As Héloïse had long known they would. This other version of Héloïse that only Marianne gets to see. Her very own Héloïse.
The paintings have been brought to Sophie's office before going to their permanent home. Héloïse fusses with their arrangement. She keeps checking with Marianne who can only smile at the exacting perfectionism.
Sophie shows her the two new presses. One of which was the result of the editing royalties from Héloïse's book on Pablo.
Marianne browses the framed covers on the wall. "You're doing so well."
"Strength to strength. Speaking of which... You and Héloïse..."
Marianne raises an eyebrow. "That was a terrible segue."
"I'm too impatient for segues. I need to know."
"You already know. I'm not sure what I am supposed to tell you."
Sophie grins. "You dark horse."
It makes Marianne smile. A little shrug.
"I'm happy for you. Moreso for her, in fairness."
"Yes." Marianne can only agree.
"This book though... It's wonderful. It's also..."
"Yes." She can only agree with that too. "How does it fare?"
Sophie pulls a face. "They all think it's brilliant. But no one will publish it. And hang them, I'll do it myself if I have to. It ought to be a proper publisher though, if possible. And when it does publish, that's only the beginning."
"We will look after her, Sophie. Thank you, for everything."
Sophie hugs her. "You are more than welcome. Come, talking of one genius, I hear there are some rather brilliant paintings being photographed."
The photographer sets up the camera and Marianne watches, fascinated. The paintings are photographed individually then all together. Before he begins to pack away Héloïse's voice comes from the back of the room.
"A photograph of Marianne, please."
Marianne swings round. "No, I don't think..."
"That's a good idea," Sophie says, starting to move the paintings away. "It can go in the article."
"No, I really -"
Héloïse is in front of her. "It doesn't have to go in the article. It should but that's a separate debate. Please, just have one."
"I wasn't prepared to be photographed." Either in how untidy she feels having been hauling paintings around or in her own mind.
"You are perfect." Héloïse tugs at Marianne's blouse, smoothes down her hair a little. "Perfect," she murmurs though Marianne knows exactly what she is imagining instead - how she is imagining Marianne instead - and it softens her to less resistance. The less resistance the sooner they can leave and be in Héloïse's bed.
Héloïse stands just behind the photographer's shoulder. Watching him work as well as watching Marianne. Marianne looks at her instead of into the gaping black hole of the camera. Sees herself for a moment as Héloïse sees her. As Héloïse always intended.
A few days later, "I was thinking about getting the collection photographed. Cataloguing it."
Marianne nods. "Your instincts to preservation."
"What if the atelier went up in flames? Think of what would be lost."
"If the place went up in flames?" Marianne waits for a while to see if Héloïse will realise. She will not. "You."
"And you, being as you are always here. In any case, I think it would be a project."
"A large project. How many pieces are there?"
"By this point close to a thousand and that is half the point. Even with all my notes and records it is a struggle to keep up. Photographs, a proper catalogue, that would help."
"A very large project."
"I thought - and you must stop me if you object - that we might stay here for the summer and do the cataloguing and work and so on." Héloïse is hesitant. "Would you mind?"
"Not going to Milan. I know you like it."
"I like being with you. And I understand. You need a different kind of holiday. A bit of space to yourself."
Héloïse nods. "And you will go to your parents'?"
"I thought two weeks in June. Will you come?"
"Is that an invitation?"
"Yes, then. I would like that very much."
And just like that, they had planned a summer. Together.
The sale of the Bretagne paintings marked a turning point in the life of any artist where occupation and preoccupation, art and business, comes together. Provides an element of security without which it can be hard to create. Provides for a future.
Chapter 10: Summer 1909
By day they roam the coast. Scenery entirely different from the winter is now full of colour and life. And the opportunities for picnics, for long kisses in secluded spots, to strip down to their undergarments and plunge into the sea.
In Rennes they visit the cathedral, walk down winding medieval streets, and past the far less medieval house Marianne grew up in.
In the evenings Marianne's parents tell stories she has heard a thousand times before. But now she gets to sit and watch Héloïse listen. Eyes darting back and forth and the small smiles, totally immersed. The first time Marianne feels a hand creep onto hers, under the table, she takes it, squeezes, and moves. She cannot deny she feels a lurch of daring as she puts their joined hands into view, on the tabletop. Nothing happens.
Héloïse asks about the Paris of thirty, forty years ago. About the art and the people. Her father tells those stories.
"Of course, I was never on the forefront of any great artistic movements," he smiles at Marianne.
"She is," Héloïse says quickly. "She will be."
Marianne wriggles in her seat. Héloïse holds faster. Marianne has more sympathy than ever for Héloïse's dislike of compliments.
"My work was work," he continues.
"As with my mother," Héloïse says and Marianne had not been sure this would ever be raised.
"Yes," he says simply.
"What was she like? Do you remember her?" But Héloïse is apparently throwing herself into it.
"Yes. A... brief moment, in the grand scheme of things." Her father looks at Héloïse and Marianne knows he will be gentle with her. "We artists often come into lives at very particular times. Bringing something outside of the situation then leaving quickly. Emotions can be running high. Your mother... had many dreams for her future. I cannot imagine how proud she must be of her daughters."
"My mother and I..." Héloïse starts to struggle and Marianne assumes there is the confession of their rift coming, that they do not get on, "are finding some connection." She looks at Marianne with a gaze so open and raw that Marianne crumples under it.
"I am glad," Marianne's mother says gently. "She talked of you so much last autumn."
Héloïse frowns. Tense and set in her face. But the, "Really?" is so heartbreakingly soft.
"We talk about you all the time," Marianne says too. "Right from the first moment."
Bewildered, Héloïse looks between them. "She barely talks to me about me."
"She has her own fears about losing you." Marianne would never have said it a year ago and even now has her concerns.
Héloïse just nods, swallows.
Marianne's father starts talking about his return from Paris to Rennes, about meeting her mother, and soon they are back embarrassing Marianne with tales of her childhood.
That night Marianne holds Héloïse and wipes the tears from her face. Presses kisses into her hair while cradling her as she sobs.
Marianne has two commissions after the success of the Bretagne paintings and completes them with as much care, but also speed, as possible. There is another piece consuming her imagination.
The size of the canvas is limited only by Marianne's ability to get it in and out of the rue de Fleurus. Taller than her and twice as wide as that.
"Gracious," Héloïse says as it arrives. "How large am I?"
Marianne has great plans. She has sketched and sketched but the blocking out on the vast canvas still causes a lot of nervousness.
To start, Héloïse as Marianne had first seen her. The stern, serious dealer of judgement leaning in the doorway. The Héloïse in front of her is doing a good impression of her previous self. But there is too much of a smile, too much relaxation in her shoulders, too much light in her eyes. Marianne tries to tone it down but is too happy to make Héloïse properly unhappy.
"What colour do you call your eyes?" she asks, trying and failing to mix something that feels right.
"But they are not."
"Not precisely but I cannot wax lyrical about my own eyes -" and as Marianne opens her mouth - "and you are not to either."
The disappointment. The small smile on her face means Héloïse knows Marianne would, can take some enjoyment from that. At least now Marianne doesn't have to try to be poetic and fail horribly.
"Yours on the other hand -" Héloïse begins.
"That's not allowed, if I cannot."
"It almost makes me reconsider."
"But I suppose you won't."
"No. I will write it down somewhere. All the compliments owed you."
"You have written me a great deal of compliments already."
"I'm sure I can find some more." She grins and Marianne abandons the painting for the time being. Gets Héloïse to join her on the other side of the canvas to discuss the multitudes.
A few days later, a letter. An offer to buy Héloïse's story. Héloïse pacing back and forth, torn, as though this was not a possibility she had ever truly expected. Marianne congratulating and comforting in turn. Until Sophie turns up with three bottles of wine, having received the same news and considerably closer to excited about it than Héloïse, though entirely understanding.
The reply is sent back, yes.
Brigitte is attempting to do some packing in the children's rooms. Never an easy task there has also been interruption after interruption. Except now the interruption is from Héloïse which is far less annoying. Marianne is there behind her.
"I don't suppose you are here to help?" This is taken as the instruction it is intended to be and they come in to fold and put away clothes Brigitte passes them from the dresser.
Héloïse's folding is particularly awful so Brigitte is not surprised when she finally says, "I have to tell you something about the story."
"You're not in it. In fact, quite specifically, I killed you."
"Also, there's a publisher interested. It's still possible nothing will come of it."
Marianne is tutting and trying to make an objection. To defend Héloïse's honour from the person who does the most damage to it. A demanding job. "It will," she says.
"Although if it does I think Mother is going to be exceptionally unhappy with me."
It's rather a lot for Brigitte to take in. "Excellent, well, I shall look forward to that, then."
Héloïse looks at her hopefully.
"Oh, so you are recruiting your dead sister to help smooth things over with your mother? I see."
Marianne laughs. Brigitte shoots her a look but can't help smile.
"It's the character. The story-version of you." Héloïse stumbles over the explanation.
"What's her name?"
"My alter ego?"
"She... doesn't have a name."
"You didn't even name me?"
"There are only three people with names in the whole book," Marianne attempts to mollify.
An eyebrow rises.
The executioner shuffles. "You're not angry with me?"
Brigitte melts at the sight of poor Héloïse. "Darling, of course not. I'm enormously proud of you. A book! My little sister, writing her own stories. I can't wait to read it."
Héloïse pulls a face.
"I am going to read it, Héloïse." Honestly.
"Very well, if you must. It's just... I thought about the worst things that could happen to a person. To me. Chief among which would be to not have you."
"That's very sweet. You have redeemed yourself." There's a lightness to her voice that ought not be there. Héloïse can scowl and Brigitte can touch an emotion with a feather and it is much the same thing.
"I mean it," Héloïse says, very solemn.
Brigitte puts her hands on Héloïse's shoulders. "I know you do." Pulls her in for a hug. Rubbing at her back. Smiles at Marianne over Héloïse's shoulder.
When Brigitte puts Héloïse back she is looking at the floor.
"I will miss you this summer. Both of you." She kisses each of them on the cheek. "You are released from your toils," and they leave while Brigitte wipes something from her eye.
Marguerite sits in the drawing room. Trying to project for herself a calmness in the face of the pandemonium around her. Brigitte rushes back and forth corralling children and luggage and shouting instructions to Héloïse about the house and Abiatti about the packing. The children are overexcited at the prospect of their summer and are untameable by their mother or nurse. Héloïse plucks one from the top of a pile of packing cases. Marianne is crouched by the stairs talking to the twins.
Her whole family is there in the hall and Marguerite sits here, alone.
But here is Marianne. Coming to sit on the chair next to Marguerite. Smiling and fond.
"I hope you have a not too unpleasant journey," she says. "Perhaps the children are tiring themselves out now and will sleep on the train."
"And enjoy yourself in Milan. I am sorry we will not be able to go to the opera."
There is a surprise on Marianne's face. Unnecessary. Of course Marianne will be there next summer. And after that and after that and after that.
"Héloïse, dar- Héloïse!" Marianne calls into the hall.
Obedience itself, Héloïse enters. She moves directly to Marianne's side until she diverts at the last moment, sitting on the other side of Marguerite.
"I was just wishing your mother goodbye."
Héloïse nods, swallows. Her eyes are on the floor.
Marguerite understands that she must make this move if there is to be anything more than a perfunctory farewell. "I hope you will have a lovely summer," she says. Héloïse's eyes raise, she nods.
There is more, though. "I understand why you are not coming to Milan."
"There is work to do here," Héloïse says.
"Yes." But. Also. Marguerite breathes. "You have to try being something other than an aunt, a sister." She looks from Héloïse to Marianne, back again. "You need some time for that."
It rocks Héloïse. Her hand moves to the arm of the chair. Marianne reacts in the corner of Marguerite's eye. As though she means to move to Héloïse but stops herself.
"I will always be an aunt, sister... daughter. As well as other things."
To hear Héloïse say "daughter" rocks Marguerite almost as much.
It is an addition, an expansion. As are these new sides to Héloïse. As is Marianne. Everyone is growing, moving. Finding new spaces inside themselves. It has been a long time since Marguerite threw the dust covers over those parts of her heart.
"Héloïse! Mother! Marianne! The cabs are here!" calls Brigitte from the hall.
All three of them seem to exhale finally. Marguerite rises. Héloïse is in front of her. Holding out her arms.
It is not the most tender of embraces. A little stiff. Unpracticed. But it is the best embrace they have had in over ten years.
They move into the hall and Héloïse starts shifting suitcases. Marianne drops kisses onto the heads of the children. Progress out the door is incremental.
"Darlings!" Brigitte is bidding farewell to Héloïse and Marianne. "I forbid you to be good." There is a flurry of kisses. "Héloïse, catch Francesco and throw him in the cab, if you please. Everyone else, are we all here? Well you shouldn't be. Out of the door! Now!"
Marianne helps Marguerite into the cab and steps back for Héloïse to deposit a writhing Francesco. Héloïse is peering into the windows counting people off.
"All accounted for," she declares and Abiatti gives the instruction to depart quickly before the situation can disintegrate.
The coaches rumble away and Marguerite looks back at Héloïse and Marianne stood waving in the doorway together.
The sheer size of the new painting of Héloïse de Montfort necessitated moving my work environment to the atelier at the rue de Fleurus. Which offered many new opportunities and a boost to my creative output as I completed two further paintings over the summer.
The erstwhile and long-suffering Hélène has taken the rest of the summer off without the bulk of the family being there. The one remaining day maid spends most of her time with the footman who works next door.
More and more Héloïses appear on Marianne's canvas. She arranges the model Héloïse into innumerable combinations.
Héloïse starts taking paintings down from the atelier walls. Arranging and grouping and consulting her catalogues, books, and journals.
The absolute commitment to the project is fascinating to Marianne.
"Posterity will want to know what happens here," Héloïse says.
"Do you really think so?" But of course she does. She always has. Has been saving them all for the future.
They go out for lunch and in the evenings they grill sausages on the atelier stove, bring home something cold, or Héloïse makes some sort of egg-varietal - fried or omelette or something unidentifiable depending on how distracting Marianne is being.
Rather than the Saturday salons they go out to restaurants or eat at other people's houses for a change. André has an actual house with a cook who makes an excellent soufflé and everyone agrees this is very civilised and a step up in society. A sure sign that their art can challenge the establishment - if they can afford cooks who make great soufflés.
Sophie is bound for New York City for the month of August and insists on a going-away party. A week of going-away parties, in fact. One of which she wants to be to Natalie's literary salon on the premise that such allies are about to become very useful for Héloïse. It is recognised as a flimsy premise but Marianne is enthusiastic about the idea also and the two of them manage to prevail upon Héloïse.
Marianne believes she can sweeten the deal so goes home and rummages under her bed. In dire need of a wash but unable to face explaining this to the maid at the rue de Fleurus she has to ask her landlady who, Marianne concludes, can hardly think her any odder than currently.
Back at the rue de Fleurus she changes into her suit behind the screen, takes a deep breath, and steps out.
Sophie lets out a low whistle. Héloïse says nothing.
"What do you think?" Marianne asks shyly.
"I can't believe you have been keeping this under your hat all this time," says Sophie, circling her.
Marianne looks at Héloïse, "Well?" and Sophie does the same.
"Héloïse has ceased to function," notes Sophie, prodding at her.
Héloïse's mouth opens and closes a few times. "Yes, I - I like it."
"It's to play with convention. Expectations," Marianne tries to explain.
"Arresting. It is a - a good effect." Héloïse glances nervously at Sophie as she speaks. "Ought we to be going?"
Natalie's salon is not so different from Brigitte and Héloïse's, Marianne realises, except that the gender disparity is almost reversed and there is a disappointingly lot less food. Many people seem to know Héloïse, by reputation at least, and Sophie too. Marianne is completely unknown which Héloïse tries valiantly to rectify while simultaneously apparently unable to look at her.
Rumours about the story abound already. Almost for the first time Marianne can see the story from an outside perspective rather than one of being embedded in it, and of Héloïse's personal struggle with it. The import of it to people far outside the two of them.
It appears to be good practice for Héloïse to talk about it. "I wrote a story about a woman much braver than I," she says, finally looking at Marianne. "Who loved without thinking it was about losing."
They do not stay much longer after that, though Sophie does. In the cab Héloïse's inhibitions are released and can barely be restrained long enough for them to get across the street and into the front door, never mind all the way upstairs to the bedroom.
For a few days the only business that can go on in the atelier is the photographing of the paintings. There is no room for anything else. Marianne's canvas goes face against the wall near the door. The photography area against another wall.
There is so much carrying of the things to and fro that each night they are aching and exhausted. Not to mention filthy with dust.
Finally Héloïse consults her enormous list twice and declares that all the paintings have been photographed.
This feels worthy of celebration. "Is he finished?"
"Not quite." Héloïse has a look of mischief about her. "There's one more photograph I want." Héloïse puts her arm out, slides down from Marianne's elbow and takes her hand. "Come on."
"Now? I am dusty and it wasn't that long ago -"
"You've never looked better," Héloïse teases. "In any case, it is in black and white, you shan't see any dust. Here..." She guides her over and Marianne, heaven help her, goes.
"This way, ladies," the photographer calls.
Marianne ignores him and turns to Héloïse. Who remains where she is. "Are you - are you having your photograph taken?"
"No," Héloïse says, though she is almost laughing as she turns her head. "We are."
They don't need to be told to hold still.
"Well, we'll see how it turns out," the photographer says, sounding disappointed. "I don't usually shoot people. Another?"
"No!" Héloïse says in a commanding tone. "Thank you ever so much. I will be along next week."
He starts packing up.
"It's for posterity," Héloïse says to a stunned Marianne.
They lie in bed. Some indeterminate point in the morning. Héloïse had been to the kitchen only in her dressing gown and brought coffee and reports of there being no other suitable breakfast food. Somehow Marianne thinks Brigitte would approve. They have been very sensible all summer. At some point they will commit the regrettable actions of leaving the bed, getting dressed, and going out into the world. At the same time, going to the market with Héloïse, planning their meals, carrying their shopping back here together, is its own form of perfect.
Currently however Marianne is embarking on a very important matter.
"Do it again."
"No," Héloïse laughs.
"Please do it again." A pleading little wriggle.
Héloïse sighs. Make a fist of the hand cradled in Marianne's own. Her forearm ripples.
Marianne nearly growls. "You missed your moment. You should have been chiselled from marble."
"The way they sculpted women? I would prefer not."
"I ought to learn. Discover an Héloïse in a block of marble."
"Apocryphal," Héloïse murmurs. "He almost certainly didn't say that."
"You don't need to find me in stone. I'm here." Her hand traverses Marianne's chest. Over her heart. Marianne presses it there. "Alive."
"Happy?" Marianne whispers the question she hasn't dared to ask.
After the photographing comes the restoration and Héloïse takes the opportunity for a reshuffle. This involves almost as much work as the whole endeavour has thus far. She constructs makeshift scaffolding out of chairs and planks and the ladder that barely deserves the name.
No sooner is a painting up than it is brought down again and rearranged. Great stacks are transported up the stairs to Héloïse's room. Some of which then have to be retrieved. Not enough for Marianne's liking.
"I'm trying to be more selective," Héloïse protests, entirely missing the point. "Besides," and she glances at the huge canvas, "someone is about to need a lot of space."
It's the wrong someone.
The painting continues to bloom. The Héloïses unfurl from one another. The flesh and blood Héloïse poses with good humour and it is the most enjoyable painting experience Marianne has ever had. Frustrations, sometimes, about a fold or a shadow, but for moments. Not for days.
After a week, Marianne goes with Héloïse to collect the photographs. The laboratory has a smell to it that she, even used to turps and oil paints, thinks would give her a headache. It is fascinating though and they wander around a little while they wait for the boxes to be brought through.
There are three sets of photographs and they are heavy. They hail a cab and manage to get the boxes onboard.
Héloïse is already flicking through.
"Can it not wait?" Marianne is afraid of a spillage.
Presently she is brandishing one of the photos. "It's perfect," she breathes and looks over at Marianne with shining eyes.
Marianne knows immediately which it is and holds out her hand. It is, it is the picture of the two of them. Héloïse grinning, Marianne smiling softly at her. They are indeed messy. Héloïse's hair is falling down, Marianne is sure she can detect grime on her blouse. It is not a bad look at all.
The photograph cuts them off around the elbow. Their arms are in an obvious incline towards one another - the fact they were holding hands is obvious to anyone who might consider it. Not a particularly good portrait, Marianne observes, if that's even what it is. It's also perfect.
Marianne soon realises that the photography itself was barely half the job. One set of prints is installed at the bank for safekeeping and Héloïse begins the great and extensive cataloguing.
Héloïse says she need not help but really what are the chances? They sit on the floor passing the photographs between them, making notes, writing the information out, labelling. Up on the desk sits their photograph. Together in one image. Framed, held together by it rather than separated. Not watching over them at all, having eyes only for itself.
Marianne paints and Héloïse clears a table to sit working on the photographs and the catalogue. It takes the two of them to carry the typewriter downstairs after Marianne assures Héloïse the noise of it will not bother her. It does but it is worthwhile to have Héloïse near.
"I have to go back, it's been weeks. My landlady will think I have absconded," Marianne laughs when Héloïse objects to her leaving one day. "You don't have to come."
Héloïse gives her a deeply sceptical look. "I need the exercise."
The streets are quiet but not empty. It's a twenty-minute walk on the rare occasions Marianne ever does it alone.
Now, though, they dawdle through the Luxembourg Gardens and she tips her head to look at the expanse of sky and emerging stars. Héloïse takes her arm to stop her from wandering off the path. "Isn't it lovely?" she says and Héloïse replies, "Yes," though she isn't looking at the sky at all, so Marianne laughs and Héloïse kisses her. It's dark and it's quiet and here they are. Holding tight to one another. There's the bench she had met Héloïse on nearly two years ago. The path Marianne had near-danced along last spring. And now, kissing under a tree.
Indeed Marianne's landlady makes herself known as Marianne and Héloïse's voices ring up the stairs. Marianne doesn't even have it in her to be embarrassed about demands for rent in front of Héloïse. She only invites the good madame up with them and Héloïse makes polite small talk as Marianne gathers the previous two weeks' rent and the next two as well for good measure.
"We should go somewhere tomorrow." Héloïse is perched on the edge of the trunk. "Do something. What would you like? I'm worried about you being cooped up. You need some creative stimulation."
"I have you."
"Mm. Your own private life drawing class. Not quite what I meant."
"But I do so love my life drawing classes."
"Stop." But Héloïse is amused.
"Fine. A walk along the river. I'll take you to lunch and we'll still have the afternoon at home for work."
Marianne hadn't even noticed. She notices now, home, and it aches. "Sorry, your house."
Héloïse shakes her head. "Is it home? I thought you wanted me to leave?"
It catches Marianne off balance. "Leave?"
"Independence." Héloïse shrugs and there's a flicker of concern on her face Marianne can't believe she hasn't seen already.
"Leave your family? Darling, no, I would never ask you to do that. I don't want to do that."
"No." She moves towards Héloïse, wraps her arms around Héloïse's shoulders and pulls her close. Murmurs into her hair, "I love our family. I love you."
By August even the mostly-absent day maid has gone. This has created more work for Héloïse, even with the majority of the house closed up. They take to eating in the kitchen. Coming to the kitchen reminds them there is a rest of the house with shutters that must be opened and closed, floors even occasionally swept.
Marianne is so wrapped up in the painting that Héloïse has to cajole her out for walks. Left to her own devices she would spend all day in the atelier - eaten with one hand and painted with the other - while Héloïse pottered around stopping by every so often to slip an arm around her and kiss her temple, cheek, neck.
They are in the kitchen now with Héloïse ladling their meal and discussing her newfound domestic duties.
"So... who is doing my laundry?"
Héloïse looks around the empty kitchen. "The same person as is making your meals."
"Héloïse!" She seizes a surprised Héloïse, kisses her.
"Eat your - soup first - I made -" but Héloïse then moans disgracefully. "Not in the kitchen!" she exclaims, pulling away. "Please, people cook food in here. Brigitte plans dinner parties at this table."
"There's a table in the atelier."
They race through the courtyard and are kissing again the moment they get in the atelier. Héloïse launches Marianne across the room so that she bumps against the table. Still kissing, Héloïse leans in and sweeps away the clutter. The same arm wraps around Marianne, hand firm against her back, the other under her thigh, lifting her up. Héloïse scrambles up after her, weight pushing her down but the hand on her neck cradling her gently.
The August nights are almost as hot as the days. Héloïse perches on the table with her shirt the only item of clothing and undone at that. Marianne has Héloïse's dressing gown tied by the arms about her waist. She sketches to the orange glow of the lamp. The door to the atelier is open for the little breeze. Hours and hours are spent like this.
Saying goodbye to Héloïse now is entirely different. First of all it's a week and not three months. Marianne is secure in what she leaves behind and will be returning to. There's nothing precarious, nothing unspoken, nothing to fear.
Héloïse had been the one to propose a short visit back to Bretagne at the end of August. Then, equally surprising to Marianne, proposed not accompanying her. A chance for her to spend some time with her parents. A change of scenery before the hectic schedule of the autumn starts up again.
"Are you sure you will be all right?"
"I'm going to stay in bed and read for a week. I shall be perfectly content."
"I can imagine."
They manoeuvre themselves into a nook between the carriages, kiss quickly.
"Now get off this train. Get off or I shall call the guard."
Héloïse pouts. Marianne kisses her.
"You think I would let a guard prevent me..." and Héloïse kisses her again.
Thinking of such things does nothing for Marianne's composure. Especially with how Héloïse speaks low into her ear and kisses her now. "Enough! Off!" But stops Héloïse as she turns. "I love you."
"I love you," Héloïse replies and gets off the train very appropriately and stands on the platform waving very enthusiastically.
Marianne has a lovely week at home with her parents. Its loveliness does not lessen the excitement with which she is leaning out of the train window as it pulls into the station in Paris. How she flies from the train into Héloïse's arms. She is lifted off the ground for a moment. When Héloïse replaces her there is a definite strain to avoid kissing one another immediately.
Héloïse takes Marianne's bag and her arm.
Outside the station Héloïse has a proposition regarding the cab. "Do you want to try one of the new motorised ones?"
"No, I certainly do not. I want to get -" she almost says home again - "back in one piece. Next time," she appeases.
This way she can draw the curtains and kiss Héloïse until they tumble out at the rue de Fleurus. Héloïse extracts an enormous key from her skirt and it reminds Marianne that the house is still empty.
Héloïse falls behind as they go through the courtyard. In the atelier something snags in Marianne's mind. "You didn't move any more paintings on your own, did you?"
"I tidied a bit," Héloïse says quietly. "You go up. I'm just going to make us some tea," and she hovers by the stove.
Marianne gives her a quick kiss and does as she is bid. The landing looks different too but Marianne is looking forward to getting settled and awaiting Héloïse so she thinks little of it.
She opens the door.
It's... it's Héloïse's room. Their room. But it is transformed.
Light streams in through the clear windows. Half of the shelves are empty. Some have been removed. The walls have been newly whitewashed - Marianne can still smell it. There's an easel, a table, a cupboard on one wall. Marianne's watercolours hanging above.
There are no other paintings. Nothing leans against a wall or the desk or the bed. No piles of frames waiting to trip her over. Just space. So much space. For her. For Héloïse.
"We'll talk to Brigitte. We'll pay rent. We can be independent. Just, will you come home? Please?"
Marianne turns. Héloïse is stood in the doorway trying to suppress the tremble in her lip.
It's been home for so long now, really. To not have to correct herself in her mind, or worry about slipping in front of Héloïse or anyone else, already starts to feel like a relief. To not have to trek over to the unnecessary pretence of her apartment every few weeks. Not have this distance, this disconnect, even in their minds.
"Yes," she says breathless with the incredulity of having to be asked but entirely understanding Héloïse's need. "You did all this?"
"For you." Héloïse comes to her, rethinks. "For us."
Chapter 11: Autumn 1909
Once everyone returns from Milan Héloïse announces she needs to speak with Abbiati and Brigitte. Marianne makes a successful argument that she ought to be there as well. Once there she really rather regrets the success of the argument.
In the drawing room Brigitte and Abbiati sit on a sofa with great seriousness as Marianne and Héloïse stand in front of them feeling like naughty children. Brigitte nods encouragingly.
Héloïse takes a breath. "I would like to ask that Marianne live with us."
"Doesn't she?" Abbiati asks.
"As part of the family." Héloïse looks at Marianne and though there is trepidation in her eyes she takes Marianne's hand.
"Isn't she?" Abbiati asks again, looking between them all. "Have I missed something?"
Brigitte pats at him, "Apparently not, my love," and then stands, approaches. "Marianne, you have been a part of this family for so long now I hardly remember what we were without you. My darlings, I am so very happy for you. You will have whatever you need."
"That's another part. That we have been thinking about for a while. About supporting ourselves and our independence."
Marianne sees - and recognises - the flicker on Brigitte's face. "We'd like to pay rent," she says quickly. "Take responsibility for our outgoings."
"We have our own incomes now. I have some royalties still and an advance on the book. More, hopefully. If anyone will ever publish me ever again, that is," Héloïse says with a frustrated little laugh, prompting Marianne to rub her thumb over the back of Héloïse's hand.
"You do know that is not necessary?" Brigitte says.
"It is necessary to us," Marianne says with a firm accompanying nod from Héloïse.
Brigitte looks at them and Marianne thinks it might be pride. "I understand."
Abbiati leans forward. "We can draw up papers. Make you both official tenants of the atelier."
"Yes," Brigitte enthusiastically agrees. "Whatever you need. To feel safe."
Because Brigitte knows Héloïse, Marianne is thinking. Knows what she fears the most.
"You want to it to be known."
Héloïse nods. Swallows. "That I love her."
It is the last of the poses. Héloïse in profile. As they had stood, shoulder to shoulder, so many times.
The very first time they had talked. All those times looking at paintings. At Marianne's own paintings. An incomplete recompense for the time and effort Héloïse has put into Marianne's work. How it has become more than Marianne ever dared to hope it could be. Inspiration. Provocation. Love, always.
Of all the Héloïses perhaps this is Marianne's favourite. At least, of the ones Héloïse will allow to be displayed publicly.
Héloïse sits in profile now. Across from Marianne. Looking intently at something. Marianne turns, tries to see what it is but there is so much on the wall opposite.
"What are you looking at?"
It breaks Héloïse's reverie and she looks at Marianne for a brief moment before remembering herself.
"Sorry. It is Pablo's painting of Brigitte."
Marianne looks again, locates it easily. "Didn't Brigitte want it in the house?"
"She did. No one else. I thought it ought to go in the entranceway. Abbiati said it would scare off the guests."
"Not you, thank goodness."
"I always liked it."
"You are making something so much more than it."
Marianne considers. "What if I can only paint well when you are in it?" All these portraits. Only ever Héloïse.
"Untrue," Héloïse counters. "The Bretagne paintings were spectacular."
Of course Héloïse cannot see how much she was in them too. How much she is in everything Marianne does.
"Though, I worry about that. That I might only be able to write you. Not that it would be unpleasant to only ever write about you. Actually, I've entirely talked myself around."
"I could write about you every day for the rest of my life. In fact, I intend to."
"Are you trying to curtail this session? Because you are in grave danger of my coming over there and kissing you."
Héloïse smirks. "An excellent outcome."
No, the work will prevail. It needs to be finished. "We finish first."
"Curse hard work and discipline." Then, "Perhaps I don't want it to be finished."
"Do you?" Héloïse's eyes flicker over to Marianne.
"There will be more." So many more.
Brigitte and Little Roberto appear at the atelier door. Roberto is holding a package.
"Look what just arrived." Brigitte is all intrigue. "Put it on the table, darling boy. Your aunt has been waiting for this."
Héloïse is unable to move. Marianne wipes her hands quickly.
Roberto is the only one excited. Packages like this are good things. Marianne feels a strange trepidation and from the looks of it so does Brigitte. Héloïse is closer to terror. Roberto steps back, looks at the adults, obviously decides it can't be that interesting, and leaves.
"Yes," Brigitte says about nothing in particular. "I'll leave you to it. But I want one of them in my hands by dinner at the latest."
Marianne knows Héloïse won't answer. "I'll bring it."
Now though she goes to Héloïse and must steer her over to the table. Picks up a knife for the string. Holds it out.
"You do it," Héloïse says. "My hands are shaking."
Marianne cuts it free. The paper settles. Five books in a neat pile. The covers embossed. A vaguely purple colour.
"They look so small," Héloïse says. Her hand is reaching. Marianne holds her breath to watch.
A painting being framed, a book being printed. But the book is unrecognisable now. Compared to the hasty scrawl of the handwritten pages and even the loose typed sheets Marianne had first read. Words she has gone over again and again. Felt in her heart. Now transformed.
Héloïse reaches and pulls Marianne closer. Her fingers tip up the cover. To the title page. Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Héloïse's name there.
"Oh, Héloïse..." It looks so impressive. So real.
Something has released inside of Héloïse. She smiles. Touches the words. Turns to Marianne holding out the book. "Your portrait. I am sorry it is so late."
"It is a little longer than everyone else's."
"A little. You still have to stand on the table and read it."
Marianne nudges at her. "As though you would let me." She flicks through the pages. "Will you sign it for me? The first published Héloïse de Montfort novel?"
"Wrote you a whole book and now you want more words!" Héloïse mutters while totally ignoring the request. She picks up the other copies. "I suppose any bookshops have the same delivery."
Having managed a few moments of levity, if not quite celebration, Héloïse is turning to trouble again.
Marianne tightens her arm around Héloïse's waist. It's not the reviews she worries about.
"It's entirely possible," she says with a calmness Marianne does not believe, "that I have killed two careers with one stone. The art critic and the author. Not to mention yours. Sophie's. Caused trouble for Brigitte. And Mother - Mother may actually never speak to me again."
"That's not going to happen. Darling, we won't let it. I won't let it." And she won't, she won't let Héloïse lose anything to this.
"I suppose we've got some time yet. It will be days before anyone reads it. A week." She lightens once more. "Imagine if it took three or four hours stood in front of a painting before you could see it properly."
"At least a book you can sit down with in your lap."
Héloïse shrugs. "You'll never convince me art is not the more perfect medium."
Marianne opens the book intending to flick through the pages to her favourite part. Lingers for a moment, as Héloïse had, on the title page.
Fire, but Marianne always imagines water. The river. The rain. The fountain.
Héloïse is there. Over her shoulder. Reads the title. A low voice. Then, "How it feels to look at you. How it feels to be you. Like burning."
And there it is now. Smouldering.
"Come." Marianne holds out her hand. "I think I know a way to quiet that magnificent brain of yours."
Marianne hands over a copy to Brigitte. She put her own under her pillow. To furtively turn to when Héloïse wasn't looking - or she would groan. Another goes to Sophie when she arrives, jubilant, and gets herself invited to dinner as no doubt intended.
Before dinner Héloïse talks with her mother for what seems, to an equally concerned as hopeful Marianne, to be an awfully long time. Héloïse clutches the book herself until right at the end handing it over.
After dinner Sophie coos over Brigitte's new gramophone.
"What was wrong with the old one?" Marianne enquires. She is sitting on a settee, drinking wine, next to Héloïse, whose hand is on Marianne's leg. She is, she takes a moment to appreciate, really very extraordinarily happy.
Brigitte is excited. "Ah, well, this uses a disc, rather than a cylinder."
Marianne is no clearer.
"Obliging one to buy a whole new set of music," Héloïse observes.
"I think we ought to stick with the orchestra," Marianne says to Madame de Montfort, who laughs.
"Marianne! I thought you were more progressive," Sophie chides, attempting to put one of these disks on.
"She is!" Héloïse objects.
Marianne strokes Héloïse's hand in thanks for her defence. Héloïse is pacified.
The music crackles into life. It does not sound all that different from the previous gramophone but Brigitte looks very pleased with herself, which pleases Marianne. And this is nice. Everyone sitting here together. "It's an entirely different experience," Marianne says. "Both of which are very enjoyable."
"It's the future," Sophie says cheerfully. "It's coming."
"We don't have to give up one for the other."
Héloïse joins in. "But people can be so stuck in their ways and then, all of a sudden: complete change. For five thousand years humanity was perfectly happy with a horse, an ox perhaps, and some variant of a cart. Now look at us. Last century, trains. This century, motor cars. If you want to talk about the future..."
"I have a terrible feeling..." Brigitte says.
"Héloïse!" Madame de Montfort exclaims.
"I am going to get a motor car," Héloïse declares.
"Marianne!" Both Madame de Montfort and Brigitte appeal.
That either of them think Marianne capable of intervening is sweet. But Marianne shrugs. In truth, she loves Héloïse's enthusiasm for this so much she would never try to stop her.
Sophie can be relied upon for support. "The little electric ones are nice. Light. Clean."
"Not capable of driving to the coast."
Brigitte interjects. "You are not intending to drive to Marianne's parents'?"
"Why not? Why not Milan?"
Brigitte does not dignify that with an answer, only laughs. Marianne pats at Héloïse consolingly.
Héloïse is listing off advantages. "... Not having to get a cab everywhere."
"No, instead you will be the chauffeur," Madame de Montfort puts in.
Marianne does feel this is a wasted opportunity as they have had some very pleasant cab rides that would be impossible were one or the other driving.
"The children will love it."
"Under no circumstances are you putting my children into a motor car," warns Brigitte.
"Next year! A new decade," Héloïse declares. Forging ahead into the future.
There's a knock at the door. "Héloïse?"
Marianne knows it's Brigitte. But it's not Brigitte as she has ever heard before. The book. Héloïse glances over and is clearly thinking the same thing.
"Come in," Marianne says, in lieu of Héloïse being able to. She rises from the sofa and goes to the door.
"Goodness," Brigitte says as she enters. "Doesn't it look different in here."
Marianne looks around too, smiles. The shelves are all full again. Now with Marianne's things. Their things mingling together in their room as though it had always been that way.
Packing up what had been left of her old room on the rue Cardinal Lemoine she had felt surprisingly emotional. Had kissed Héloïse damply to commemorate the memories they had made there. But there had been no doubt in her mind that their room above the atelier was indeed home.
Brigitte looks at Marianne's watercolours for a moment. Marianne glances over to Héloïse who is steeling herself by rearranging the papers on the desk. Brigitte looks too. She is waiting.
"I finished the book," she says when Héloïse finally stills.
Marianne looks between Brigitte and Héloïse for some sign as to what she ought to do with herself. Understandably neither are paying her any attention.
"What did you think?" Héloïse has stood. Her hands fidget but otherwise she looks only curious.
"Well, it's wonderful, obviously. I had no idea. That you could write like that."
"Neither did I." Héloïse's eyes dart to Marianne. "What did you think of the story?"
Brigitte purses her lips. "You're an absolute goose, did you know that?"
Héloïse cracks into a trembling smile. "Yes, actually."
Brigitte moves across the room. Her arms are open. She pulls Héloïse in. And Héloïse lets her. "I love you," Brigitte says.
"As if you could ever think - me or Marianne -" and the admonishments begin, which Héloïse takes cheerfully until Brigitte is crying and Héloïse is crying and Marianne edges out of the door.
She takes a seat in the atelier for a moment. Thinks about painting. Can't.
Having the sort of energy that would be best put to use throwing a small child around she goes into the house. Unfortunately it seems to be one of those rare moments they are all at their lessons. The house is quiet but she checks the drawing room anyway and thinks to head to the kitchen instead.
Except there is Madame de Montfort. The book in her lap.
With a smile and a nod Marianne tries to escape. It is unexpected. Madame de Montfort appears more before dinner now, lingers longer after, but is rarely around during the day. It is nice to see her out of her rooms but right now Marianne is anxious to go.
"Marianne." She is summoned back.
"Sit with me."
There are times that her conversations with Madame de Montfort are full of laughter. There are times when Marianne fears them immensely. She strongly suspects this one is inclined in the latter direction.
"I understand from Brigitte that you have given up your apartment."
"Yes." Marianne wants to leave it there. But Madame de Montfort says nothing. "Héloïse and I discussed it with Abbiati and Brigitte. That we will live here. Cover our own expenses." She feels compelled to add this.
Madame de Montfort nods slowly. "I am glad."
Her attention turns to the book in her hands. Which she raises, sighs over, then puts on the side table. "It was difficult for me to read."
"I can imagine," Marianne says with a good deal of very genuine sympathy.
"It is difficult to know others will read it. That Héloïse thought to publish it for the entire world to consume."
Marianne nods. "It has been difficult for Héloïse too. She has struggled with it. But I think artists have a duty to the truth. And Héloïse is an artist."
"The truth? Where is the truth in art of Brigitte with four sides to her head?"
"The truth that cannot always be seen."
"Héloïse is concerned with being seen, now?"
"Isn't that a good thing?"
Madame de Montfort's eyes drop but it does not feel like a victory to Marianne. Héloïse is so like her mother. And, loving Héloïse more than she can sensibly express, Marianne has a great deal of affection for Madame de Montfort too. She believes this is reciprocated and she has to believe that mother and daughter can bridge this gap.
"Regardless of my feelings as to publishing... I want you to know that I find the story extraordinarily affecting."
There's a relief, a pride, that runs through Marianne. A hope. "I think Héloïse would like to hear that."
Madame de Montfort looks away.
"Talk to her. She needs you. It takes courage, I know. But she wants to hear it."
"I have never been brave in that way. There have always been too many things left unsaid."
"No longer," Marianne resolves for her.
The next day the house is full as usual and the talk is mostly complaints as to the looming deadline for the autumn exhibition. Marianne watches Héloïse carefully but there is nothing to be concerned about. Plenty to see as Héloïse consoles people, promises to visit and see their work, offers a rallying few words.
The Saturday after, however, and the rue de Fleurus absolutely throngs. Everyone is talking about Héloïse's book. Sophie's review came out on the Monday, followed by several others during the week, and there has been plenty of time for people to read.
Héloïse flees to their room and it takes both Marianne and Brigitte over an hour to convince her to come downstairs. When she does there's a ten minute standing ovation that has Héloïse beside herself and needs both Marianne and Brigitte to pin her in place.
Afterwards they persuade Héloïse to stay, with Marianne, Brigitte, and Sophie close by.
"You couldn't have made it just a little happier?" someone asks.
"It is happy!" Sophie protests. "It is bursting with joy. It is also heartbreakingly sad." She takes a drink.
"Well, I had to imagine some things. For it to be at least a little fictional." Héloïse looks over at Marianne, a small smile.
Now everyone is looking at Héloïse. Just as Marianne had always known they should be. And Héloïse getting that much better with being looked at. The latter still needing a little work. But Marianne knows there will be more. So many more.
"Mother." Héloïse is surprised to see her. Surprised that Marguerite would be here. For her party. To share in this.
"Congratulations are in order, Héloïse."
She thinks it is some sort of a trick, Marguerite realises. She is braced. Her daughter. Ready to be hurt. By her mother.
Héloïse is glancing down, to her side. She is looking for Marianne. Who is, as ever, right there.
"Perhaps we should go outside?" Marianne offers. "Where it is quieter."
And because Marianne seems to have a way with the de Montfort women they both follow her out of the house and into the garden. It is quieter. It is cooler.
"I am sorry I have not talked to you sooner. I was..." and she looks at Marianne who looks back with great encouragement. "It took me a while to understand. Not the story. But the writing of it."
Héloïse nods. "I understand. It was my decision. Well, Marianne and I decided."
Of course they did. Decided together. Together to write about each other and paint each other and not to hide.
"Were you not afraid?"
"I was afraid of you." There it is. There's no malice in it. Possibly the most honesty she has had from Héloïse in years. Since Marguerite can remember.
"I was afraid for you." Then, as now. "All those years ago. I only wanted you to be safe."
"I know. It wasn't safety you were offering me. It was..." Héloïse's hands go to her hips. She turns her gaze to the floor. Marianne's hand is on her back.
"I am sorry. I didn't know. I... I didn't ask." Honesty. "I was afraid of you."
That draws attention. "I think I always knew," Marguerite continues, "that you could burn down the world." And maybe she will. Maybe she is, right now. She and Marianne changing the world. Just a little. But sometimes a little is enough. "And, my darlings, while you do you shall always have your mother by your side."
Héloïse is shuffling, unsure of herself.
"Héloïse, my difficult, wonderful child -" Héloïse smiles - "you loving and being loved was never what I was afraid of. It is the most wonderful gift. I had that gift myself and when I lost your father -" Héloïse frowns now, this is unexpected too - "I could not turn it into anything but bitterness and fear. Reading your book helped me to understand that."
Héloïse changing their world. Right now.
Marguerite puts up her hand to Héloïse's cheek, to the tears there.
"Now, Marianne, if you would excuse us. I need to talk to Héloïse about her father."
Marianne glances at Héloïse who gives some sort of a sign. She comes to Marguerite, puts arms around her neck, kisses her cheek. Does the same to Héloïse. Moves to the house. Pauses in the doorway for a moment and smiles.
Marguerite swells with fondness. Gratitude. And turns to Héloïse.
Over the next months Portrait became something of a sensation. It was published and promptly banned in the United Kingdom and subject to extended legal wrangling in the United States. All of which delighted Héloïse. This was seen very much as a mark of honour at the rue de Fleurus parties among all their friends and a small industry grew in publishing the book in English in Paris and sending it discreetly abroad.
Whatever might be said in the wider world did not make it past the family's circle of friends. Sophie brought them reviews, good and bad, but nothing else from the papers. If anything there was a frisson of notoriety that seemed to intrigue people. Marianne and Héloïse simply continued. And there was much to do.
Marianne sometimes goes shopping with Brigitte for the house. Brigitte apparently deciding Marianne had promise as an apprentice, having given up on Héloïse. She even went so far as helping organise dinner parties which felt terribly grown up.
There are more visits to Guillaume and Marie, or Pablo. André when in need of soufflé. Georges when in need of someone to help Héloïse lift the heaviest paintings. Héloïse advises the growing number of collectors of Cubism and the modern styles and picks selections for new shops. Marianne speaks to Pablo's young students, some barely eighteen and come to work in the atelier of the famous Picasso. Some clutch Héloïse's book on him and talk to her on Saturdays with a deep colour rising up from their collar and Marianne feels a great sympathy for them.
Sometimes they take a Saturday night away from the rue de Fleurus to go to Natalie's. There, some clutch Héloïse's other book and tell her their stories and Marianne bursts with pride. Marie joins them and the creative endeavours of art and literature begin to find common ground.
Héloïse is invited to London by an old university friend who has read the book and is eager for Héloïse to meet her friends, something of a burgeoning literary and artistic set themselves. And Héloïse's companion, as well, the letter specifies, making Héloïse laugh. Next spring, so now Marianne is being drilled in English as well as Italian for the summer.
It is a wet autumn though this poses no obstacle to taking the children to the Luxembourg Gardens. Not necessarily much further, having to get them back home soaked and muddy.
Roberto and Simon venture into the atelier to watch Marianne paint. The portrait is well ahead of schedule and Marianne had a commission besides. Little Marguerite and Benedetta like to be read to and regularly everyone forms a pile on the bed upstairs listening to Héloïse. This older quartet can be taken to the Louvre in short bursts where Marianne and Héloïse listen very attentively to their opinions. Often also the opinions of random passersby though Héloïse could be far less attentive with them.
Brigitte, Marianne and Héloïse have just returned from Pablo's. All the bright-eyed students swooning over Marianne and trying to impress Héloïse has amused Brigitte greatly.
Marianne and Héloïse are in some debate. Héloïse grumbling, Marianne placating.
Brigitte sits. "What are you pair muttering about?
"Pablo's young men." Héloïse throws herself onto the settee.
"The overwhelming number of them? Yes, I can imagine." She looks to Marianne. "But darling, you know what is to be done. Héloïse has already foreseen it."
Marianne remains standing. "I know. I think about it all the time. If Papa hadn't been an artist, if there hadn't been money to send me away I'd be - I can't even imagine. I don't want to imagine."
"So what is the difficulty? Why are we not advertising? Filling up the atelier this very moment?"
"Not now, surely?" Poor Marianne. "I'm not - I couldn't now."
"And whyever not? Pablo - and I say this as a dear friend - was not anointed. I'm not sure he's even a particularly good tutor. He simply decided he wanted acolytes and went about collecting them."
Marianne is considering this. She does not look convinced.
Héloïse knows, however. "Do it differently then. Do it as you would want it done."
"Just classes? For young women."
"There's no 'just' about it," Héloïse says at the same time Brigitte thinks it.
So she nods and adds, "You must have your confidence, Marianne. Your work has grown so bold. So accomplished. You have a right to assert that. All those other fools would have taken it at half your talent."
"Why, here, of course. In the atelier. Classes, so not all day. Plenty of time for you still to work."
"Brigitte will be your manager it would seem," Héloïse smiles.
"I am enthusiastic! I cannot help it."
"Thank you," Marianne says. "Perhaps we ought to see about the autumn salon selection."
Brigitte rolls her eyes. "If that painting does not get into the salon I shall eat it."
"I'd really rather you didn't," Héloïse objects. Though Brigitte suspects it is more for the painting's sake than her own.
"Next year." Brigitte says so firmly it is almost a threat. She cannot help it. Her belief in Marianne is second only to her belief in Héloïse. And in the pair of them, endless.
Héloïse unfurls across the canvas. A fern in the sunlight. Branching. Surprising. Turning. A map of her.
"Is she finished?"
"No." Marianne tips her head to consider. Héloïse's arm wraps around her waist. "She's still spinning off the canvas in every direction. Even though we can't see it. She's not finished. You're not, I'm not." Héloïse's head is on her shoulder. "We can't ever truly say it's the end. We never know what is final."
The painting will have to stop here however.
All the many Héloïses are packed up and sent away. Despite reassurances from many quarters Marianne is still nervous. She thinks perhaps she will always be nervous and that this is also perhaps a good thing. The Héloïses might not get selected. That had never been the point of painting them. She had painted it because it demanded to be painted. She had put so much into it and there was the security of knowing she didn't need the academy to tell her that was true. That it was good.
Marianne is so tired she is half undressed by the time she reaches the door to their room. She throws herself onto the bed.
Héloïse squeezes by her feet and removes her boots. "You deserve a break. Though I give it two days before you are painting again."
Marianne raises her head. "I do have an idea."
Héloïse laughs. "Of course you do." She removes the rest of Marianne's clothes.
"Perhaps. The beginnings of one. Something slightly less incendiary."
"I'd like to see you try. What's it about?"
"Paris." She is undressing, Marianne perfectly content to watch.
"So just a modest ambition, then."
Héloïse grins. "Says the woman with the largest painting at the salon."
Apparently Héloïse has no such hesitations as to the painting being selected. Her arms are open and Marianne settles in.
"I'm looking forward to seeing your parents tomorrow."
Marianne hums into Héloïse's chest. "I am too. Should we decide about the winter? So we can tell them our plans?"
"Bretagne until the middle of January, then over to Milan?" Héloïse proposes.
Marianne counters. "But the larger family is in Milan and Christmas is far more important there."
"Precisely my point. You really want to do Midnight Mass?"
"What about the children? You're telling me you don't want to see them getting their presents?"
"All they'll be getting is coal," Héloïse grumbles. Because Marianne has won. "Very well! Mid January to the coast and we'll take that cottage in the village. We can see your parents every day but I really am rather used to being in technically a separate building from everyone else and certainly not in the next door bedroom."
"I completely agree."
My expansive, innovative portrait of Héloïse de Montfort dominated the autumn salon. A groundbreaking vision that could no longer be ignored and that cemented my place among the new artists in the movement.
Héloïse de Montfort's novel enjoyed some success amongst Paris's artists, writers, and poets, most of whom were already regular visitors at the rue de Fleurus and thus obliged to read it.
"Are we all ready?" Brigitte asks and Marianne thinks, no, she is not ready at all.
But here she is with her family about her and they all look eagerly to her. She swallows. They are stood outside in the cold having reconvened from various cabs ready to go into the salon and it is not the time or the place for a speech. Which is just as well for she is not going to give a speech. She is only going to say -
"Thank you, everyone. Mama and Papa, I'm so glad you have come. Thank you for getting me here. I love you so much." Her parents smile at one another, at her.
"Marguerite, thank you for being here. It means so much that you would see the exhibition." Though Marguerite is more and more a presence on Saturdays, talks to Héloïse about the collection, to Marianne about her work.
"Roberto, Brigitte, thank you for making me a part of your family. For always supporting me." Brigitte waves her off then dabs at her eyes.
"Héloïse -" Her voice cracks. She can't. Héloïse knows. It doesn't need to be said aloud. No. She will. She will say it in front of everyone. "Héloïse, I love you. Thank you, for everything."
Héloïse is shaking her head fondly. Marianne pulls her closer. Leaves her arm wrapped around Héloïse's shoulder.
Apparently it was a speech.
Marianne's mother steps forward and puts a hand on her arm. "We are all so proud of you." She looks back to Marianne's father, to Marguerite. "Of both of you. Everything you have achieved."
Her father offers his arm to Marguerite. Who takes it. Then to her mother. Their parents walk into the salon together. Abbiati and Brigitte arm in arm behind.
Marianne takes a breath. Takes Héloïse's arm.
The Héloïses dominate the main room of the salon. Leaping from the wall, traversing the space. The astonished crowd milling in front of them. The great and the good of Paris and beyond. Artists Marianne has looked up to. Her family. Héloïse.
"How did we get here?" Marianne is awestruck. Looks across to Héloïse in her perfect profile gazing at the painting.
Héloïse turns, takes her hand. "Together."
Chapter 12: Autumn 1932
Héloïse de Montfort would often say that as a leading figure in 20th-century art I ought to write my autobiography. To which I would protest that I was not a writer and besides I really did have a good deal of work going on otherwise.
She said it so often and I replied it so often that once in vexation I said that being the writer she ought to write my autobiography. So she did and this is it.
Héloïse rolls the last page through the typewriter. Lays it with the others and taps them against the table to straighten them up. Very nice. With a happy hum she stands from the desk, picks up the papers, and moves to the door.
As she comes down the stairs Marianne is already turning from the easel to smile at her arrival.
Her heart still leaps. The smile still springs. Everything is still Marianne.
Héloïse cannot keep the glee from that smile. She cannot keep any emotion from Marianne at the best of times.
"What is it?" Marianne asks. Leans in to kiss her.
"I have finished writing your autobiography."
"Darling, well done you. Have you made it really very excessively flattering?"
"I promised you I would." Héloïse puts the pages on the table. "Whenever you are ready," she says with great nonchalance. Turns and heads back upstairs as though she does not know with absolute certainty that Marianne will start reading immediately.
Indeed it is barely half an hour before Marianne crashes into the room brandishing the manuscript. "Finished already?" Héloïse murmurs with amusement.
"I'm only a few years in and already appalled. Héloïse! You can't mean to do anything with it?"
"No? I thought you were very amusing."
"You think you are very amusing."
"Have you got to the part about my driving yet?"
Marianne's hand goes to her head. "What will people think of me?"
"You told me to write it." Héloïse is enjoying this all too much. Then, more seriously, "It ought to be written."
"I have some very serious edits in mind." Marianne sits down heavily.
"That can be negotiated." Héloïse pats her lap and Marianne lifts her feet up. She unlaces Marianne's boots. Slides them off. Marianne sighs.
Marianne flicks through the pages. "What did you say about your driving? You are a good driver. Very few fines. Though if you will keep sounding the horn at policemen you will keep getting them."
Héloïse will sound the horn at policemen whenever she pleases, thank you very much. "The fines are worth every penny. Although I suppose once one has sped down bumpy country lanes chased by shells with swearing soldiers in the back of a rickety van one can certainly manage to drive in Paris."
"I was mostly the one getting sworn at."
"You have a better bedside manner, I am better at cranking motors. A fair division of labour."
Her thumbs knead. Marianne's back arches.
"How busy we were," Marianne marvels after a moment.
"We were young."
"I hope you are not saying we are old now." Marianne pokes her as best she is able, which is not very as she is too relaxed.
"Quite decrepit." She pauses. Marianne wiggles her foot in protest. "You, of course, are just as perfect as you ever were." She resumes the massage and Marianne groans. "In any case, you are busy now. So busy you could not even write your own autobiography."
"A fair division of labour," Marianne says with her eyes closed. "You write, I paint, remember?"
"Don't paint any more today."
"Enjoy the fruits of those labours. The salon is tomorrow. The university commission can wait." It is true that there is some amount of tempting going on but Héloïse is unrepentant. "We can spend some time with the family."
Marianne lifts her head. "Who is here?"
"I have entirely forgotten." The comings and goings at the rue de Fleurus were constant and Héloïse had long given up trying to keep track. "I suppose we shall find out at dinner. They always turn up to dinner."
"And our daughter is where exactly?
Héloïse tuts. "I feel like that is the sort of thing we really ought to know."
"No explosions today?"
"No." Héloïse consults her watch. "Though it is only three o'clock so she has plenty of time yet."
"Is it only three? I am famished."
"Come into the house then."
Marianne puts her shoes back on with great reluctance. Downstairs they pause in front of the painting for a while for discussion. Across the garden with the scorch marks in the paving and into the house.
In the drawing room are her mother and Édith. "You sit," Héloïse says. "I shall bring us all some tea and cake."
Marianne smiles. "A celebration."
Héloïse kisses her, then, just off to the side of the door. Stumbling backwards, knocking into the bureau.
"Hello, girls," her mother calls from the drawing room.
Héloïse puts her head round the door. "Cake, anyone?"
Marianne smoothes down her hair and goes in. "Mama, Marguerite, how is your afternoon?" and Héloïse heads to the kitchen.
Through the hall filled with Marianne's paintings of the family and many photographs.
In the kitchen the new cook has complaints about the twisting glass tubes and beakers full of suspiciously coloured liquids proliferating on the table. Héloïse takes a moment to admire it but the cook is less enamoured so Héloïse promises it will be dismantled.
Tea and cake is retrieved and brought back to the drawing room.
"Mina is constructing a laboratory in the kitchen," Héloïse says cheerfully. "And the cook is threatening to resign."
Mina's grandmothers are well past the point of surprise or horror. This news earns a shrug from Édith and a roll of the eyes from Marguerite.
The front door can be heard and Héloïse is standing, opening her mouth ready for admonishment when, "Hello!" Benedetta sweeps into the room removing her headscarf, a flurry of kisses and greetings.
"Have you come up from Orléans just now?" Héloïse's mother asks.
"Three hours," she grins.
Marianne squints in that adorable way she has for calculating. "I'm not sure that is physically possible."
"It is when I drive. Though I do rather need a bath." She makes to leave. "Oh, Mina is siphoning petrol out of the car again, Aunt Héloïse."
Héloïse groans. "And from whom did she learn to do that, Benedetta?"
"Must have been Marguerite," Benedetta says with a shrug.
"Interesting, because Marguerite is a journalist and you build your own rally cars."
"Interesting, because I got interested in such things after all the hours sat on the side of the road watching you carrying out emergency repairs to the old Peugeot 125. So if we are assigning the ultimate blame here..." and she sallies past with a grin.
"Very well," Héloïse concedes, smiling too much at the memories of it to affect crossness.
"Do you remember that time we all had to come back from Versailles on a tractor?" Marianne is remembering too.
"I don't want to hear it!" her mother is crying.
Héloïse smirks. She also now has a tip-off but when she gets to the door and looks out into the street there is no sign.
"As long as there is some left," she says when she gets back in. "I have to fetch Brigitte from the station soon. After cake. She can wait."
Priorities thus set Héloïse has her cake, tea, some more cake, and then really must go.
At the station there is Brigitte, fresh from London, with a surprise in tow.
"Héloïse!" Héloïse cries. "I didn't think you could come." She hugs them both, takes various bags and commandeers a trolley for Brigitte's trunks.
"Héloïse packs like her aunt with that horrible carpet bag," Brigitte complains. "In fact, is that the very same horrible carpet bag?"
"It's not horrible," says Héloïse the younger. Entirely correctly.
"I took it to London with me for university so I gave it to Héloïse to do the same."
"That makes it well over thirty years old!"
"Anyway!" Little Héloïse interrupts. "Of course I came. Gianna and Simon and Aunt Marianne all exhibiting? How could I miss it."
"I'm so pleased. Marianne will be beside herself." They reach the car. "Now, there's a chance we might have to get out and push the final few streets but we shall keep our fingers crossed."
The family convenes around the dinner table. As many as possible coming from all corners for what has long been a staple in the family calendar: the salons each spring and autumn. Even Mina has been located and hosed down and made reasonably presentable motivated no doubt by all the fuss her cousins and aunt make of her.
Marianne is sat opposite Héloïse and so Héloïse can think of little else. Watches. Every little gesture so familiar and yet no less extraordinary. Currently Marianne is talking to Gianna, on the eve of her first show and suffering the nerves of it. Marianne being, of course, so gentle and understanding. Héloïse can only remember Marianne's first show. Half a lifetime ago.
After dinner everyone spreads out across the dining and drawing rooms. Young Héloïse is regaling her grandmother with her exploits in London. Marguerite has been reporting from Spain and she and Benedetta are hatching plans for the remainder of their evening tearing up the town. Simon and Gianna are having their trepidation consoled now by Édith. Mina and Gabriel are arguing about building some terrible new invention. Soon they are in front of Marianne and Héloïse bringing forth their plans to Héloïse's utter bemusement.
Gabriel launches into an impassioned speech - something to do with radios and telescopes - and Marianne is making very approving noises. Héloïse is less persuadable. It has been some twenty years and she has not forgotten.
"So, you wish to build a telescope in the garden?"
Mina heaves an exaggerated sigh. "Mama, no! On the roof of the atelier."
"Do keep up, Héloïse," Marianne smiles.
"Under no circumstances."
"Darlings, we will come up with a less dangerous alternative, I promise."
Only moderately consoled they slink off though it is unlikely to be the end of it.
Héloïse smiles though. "You are too fond of him."
"I can't help it." Marianne smiles back, indulgent and doting. "I feel as though we came into the family at the same time."
Though she is like that with all the children. Children - Héloïse reminds herself - who are all very much adults and some of which have children of their own.
They sit together just looking at the conversations going on around the room.
Héloïse leans closer. Speaks quietly. "Let's stay in our old room tonight."
"The book has made you nostalgic."
"It's not about the past. It's just now."
"I know," Marianne whispers. Touches Héloïse's face so gently.
Héloïse melts. It's love and being loved, tenderness and devotion, passion and desire. Burning, always.
"Now, let's go now." Héloïse tries to say it with suggestion but suspects it is more desperate, more full of longing and want. To be close to Marianne. Nothing between them. All day their minds move together and Héloïse feels it so profoundly, loves her so much, that it needs to be matched somehow with their bodies.
"Now? It's still early," Marianne is affecting an innocence, teasing her. She must hear it in Héloïse's voice. See it in her eyes. She does. It twinkles in her own.
"Good. I've no intention of you going to sleep for quite some time."
At breakfast it is only Héloïse, Marianne, and Brigitte.
"Marguerite and Benedetta barely got home a few hours ago," Brigitte informs them. "And Mina has come, eaten, taken all the spoons, and gone."
"Spoons, interesting," muses Marianne, stirring her coffee with a knife.
Héloïse tosses a newspaper onto the table. She doesn't want to. But she must. "Have you seen what our neighbours are up to?"
Brigitte groans. "There won't be another war, Héloïse. There can't be. Just because you were right last time."
"Someone in this family has to keep an eye on things."
Marianne's hand is on her own. "And you do."
"It's just that things are different now. We're a little older. You're in your -
Brigitte will not hear it. "Yes! All right! Thank you so much! I don't need to be reminded what decade I am in. Though you are very nearly -"
"Very well!" Héloïse declares the truce.
"We have the house in London. Francesco is in the States, as is Sophie. All will be well."
Héloïse is comforted by at least this much forethought. "Speaking of, when we go to the States in the winter will you be here or do we need to send the mothers over to you in London?"
"You sound as if you mean to post them," Brigitte protests. "Though I thought I would stay."
That would be nice. Brigitte goes back and forth all the time so that it is usually only weeks in between. But still.
"This is for your book signings - the latest one?"
"Marianne's lecture tour, really."
"No," Marianne interjects, "I'm sure the signings were proposed by your publisher first."
"A convenient excuse to get you over there, my darling."
"This is untrue," Marianne tells Brigitte.
"Well when you have decided which of you will be less noble and admit it, do let me know," Brigitte says, apparently entirely used to this.
Her mother arrives, smiling and pleased to see "her daughters" all here and suddenly Héloïse is feeling all light again.
Édith is not much later. "Marianne, your daughter has taken every single towel from the second floor."
Marianne is calculating again.
Héloïse sighs. "I will make note of your complaint but there's rather a backlog so it might take some time to get to."
After breakfast and they try the kitchen, now without its laboratory. Something smells very unpleasant in the scullery though and they discover a frothing old bathtub full of spoons surrounded by towels to catch the spillover so solve two mysteries at once though are none the wiser as to why it is happening in the first place.
They lie in wait for Mina at lunch, in the meantime listening to Gabriel trying to persuade his sisters to invest in his latest invention. Something to do with engines.
The explanation about the spoons, when it comes, is mostly unintelligible to them but so earnest that Marianne is convinced it is entirely essential and the experiment is allowed to continue. Marianne will buy new spoons.
"You are a very lucky young woman," Héloïse begins. "Your mama is the most extraordinary person I have ever known. The kindest, most talented -"
"Mama! You tell me this every day."
"Really? Every day?"
Mina and Marianne both nod.
Héloïse shrugs it off. "Well it continues to be true every day so I shall continue to say it."
Mina rolls her eyes but she throws herself at them both for a hug before charging from the room. Up to goodness only knows what.
Marianne shrugs. "You will have to save it for another book."
All is quiet in the house for a while in the afternoon. Some members of the household are sleeping off the night before, others are just sleeping, and others are too overwrought to sleep even if they tried.
Héloïse is in their bedroom with Marianne who is just ever so gently tense even after so many wildly successful exhibitions. Héloïse finds this heartwrenchingly beautiful and is perfectly content to watch Marianne fussing over what they will wear that evening. Going back and forth over the same limited options and bemoaning something that has paint on it, or no buttons since that time Mina was in a passion for something or other.
However Héloïse's reverie is interrupted by an almighty hissing in the garden. She looks out the window in time to see a tin can hurtle past.
"Why could she not have been an artist?" Héloïse shakes her head. "Stationary. Quiet. Less likely to explode the house."
"She's only fourteen. She has time," Marianne says, absentminded and used to Héloïse's consternation. "She can be an artist and a writer and a... chemical engineer... is it? and a violin virtuoso and a champion cyclist and a chess grandmaster."
Héloïse startles. "When did she want to be a chess grandmaster?"
"I'm just anticipating."
"Good to be prepared, I suppose. Though I do not think the world is prepared for that child."
"Neither were we and we did a good enough job."
"A 'good enough job'! My love, I cannot imagine a better parent than you." Héloïse is on the verge of disintegrating at the memories. But quite concerned about the tin cans. She opens the window. "Vilhelmina!" A sure sign of trouble. "Point it next door if you please."
Down in the garden Mina just grins and salutes.
Héloïse closes the window. Opens it again. Shouts down, "We're leaving in two hours."
"If I had a radio transceiver I could -"
Héloïse closes the window firmly.
Somehow everyone makes it to the salon in one piece and almost on time. Héloïse is gently perspiring from the effort of it. At least when they were little she could pick them up and stuff them in a cab. Those days are long gone. The book has definitely made her nostalgic. Marianne had been right. Marianne was always right. Marianne knew her better than Héloïse knew herself.
Héloïse's hand opens. Marianne's fills it.
Inside they must sidestep greetings and well wishes and conversation to get to Gianna's painting. Gianna herself definitely came in with them but is now nowhere to be seen and Héloïse understands this impulse. They linger to note reactions before moving on to see Simon's. Then a good number of Marianne's former pupils and other friends' work, most of whom they still see every week at the rue de Fleurus.
"Is there anything here you haven't already seen?" Marianne asks.
Héloïse smiles. "Give it a few years and I feel like that will be true. I heard tell," she says conspiratorially, "that yet again there are more women exhibited than ever before."
"I hope you are not implying -"
"I imply nothing. At least half of them were your students."
Simon appears through the crowd bringing a young man. Simon's hand on his back.
"My aunts, Héloïse and Marianne. This is Mateusz." Simon smiles, shy, but adds, "Mateusz is more afraid to meet you than Mama." The poor boy shuffles.
"As well he should be. Marianne has quite the reputation for incredible fierceness."
For a moment Mateusz looks as if he doesn't know whether to correct her but then she is swatted by Marianne and Simon is rolling his eyes. "You will have to try harder than that, Aunt Héloïse," he says.
They congratulate him on his work and Héloïse tries not to scare Mateusz any more than she can help.
There are occasional sightings of Benedetta and Marguerite with their entourages in tow. Héloïse and Marianne are rarely introduced to any of them, they change so often.
Amongst the whirlwind of friends and admirers not one but two members of the academy approach Marianne about sitting on a new board being set up. Héloïse is far more excited about this than Marianne seems to be. Next stop full academy membership. Though Héloïse knows better than to say it out loud.
Still, Marianne glows and Héloïse is transported.
"Look at you," Héloïse whispers. Marianne smiles and Héloïse aches. "I love you."
"I love you."
They stand in front of Marianne's painting. It's not the largest nor the most detailed but Héloïse believes - and yes she believes this every time but believes it to be true every time - that it is the most spectacular. That Marianne soars without limits to surpass herself and surprise the entire world every time.
"Do you remember?" Marianne asks.
It is a shelled out cottage in the churn of destruction. Héloïse looks at it and feels the cold wind on her face. Until Marianne was at her side and pointed to the wildflowers that clung to half a wall.
It is the Great War. It is her story, her first story. It is her, before Marianne.
Hope growing out of the horror. A reminder that sometimes the very worst can happen and we can find it within ourselves to carry on. That there is always hope. Always love.
But the blossoming. Here in the painting the flowers take over. The joy of it spreads across the canvas. Picks up the viewer. Makes them believe in something good. Everything good Marianne has helped Héloïse see about the world.
Héloïse remembers. Héloïse remembers it all. Always hope. Always love. And above all, always Marianne.