The past several days have been dark ones for Kitty Bennet…and me. Mining deep into my own past…and my psyche has proven to be a grim time. Very difficult. When you read Book 3 in “The Exile”…A Passage Into Darkness…you will understand.
But now, things are getting brighter…if only by degrees and if only by comparison with “Passage”. Jacques and Maggie have discovered each other. Kitty is healing. And Henry is close to discovering her whereabouts. Reunions are in the wind.
Please enjoy this latest chapter from “The Exile”.
la Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris, May 9, 1892
The words from the Founder’s Letter echoed through his mind as he stepped from the cab in front of la Galerie Durand-Ruel in la Rue Laffitte. There was an urgency that he could not ignore.
Why did She…the Lady of the voice I have heard in my dreams all these years…beg me to act with all due speed? How does she know my sister? Oh, if only I could have seen her face during those weeks by the beach. What am I seeking?
He adjusted his fedora with a tug on the brim, pushed his dark glasses up his nose with a stiffened forefinger, shot his cuffs from the sleeves of his medium grey suit jacket, and strode across the sidewalk to number 16, a modest building which, from the addresses on crates carefully unpacked at Matlock and Selkirk throughout his childhood, he knew contained treasures beyond measure. A liveried attendant awaited his approach. With nary a flicker of his eyes, he opened the door through which Henry passed into a cathedral of art.
Giant scenic canvases by Monet elbowed for attention with the dancers of Degas and the workers of Pissarro. Then there were walls of Renoir. Riots of noonday color competed with the dimness of russet sunsets and misty dawns. There was much to overwhelm the senses, but little that would clearly explain why he had been directed to this spot in Paris with such short notice.
A young man, obviously one of the gallery’s assistant managers, dressed in a pitch-colored suit that accentuated the bleached whiteness of his shirtfront, slid soundlessly across the birch-stained floorboards. He skillfully sized up Henry’s obvious wealth, pegging him as a man of substance and not one of the nouveau riche Américains seeking six feet of painting to cover a blank spot on a wall above a sofa.
Preferring to conduct his business in his native tongue, Henry reached into his vest and pulled out his card, presenting it to the attendant English side up. The young fellow’s eyebrows shot toward his hairline. He instantly recognized the name of one of Monsieur Durand-Ruel’s best customers…now obviously extending across two generations!
He quickly assumed a deferential attitude and inquired, “Ah, Monsieur le Compte…how may we at la Galerie Durand-Ruel be of service to you? Are you perhaps seeking one of Maître Monet’s latest? He is now studying haystacks and the ways in which the quality of light changes with the seasons.”
While Henry appreciated the manager’s eagerness, he was seeking information and Durand-Ruel himself, he believed, would be his best source.
“I do thank you for your attention, M’sieur, however, I would ask if you could inquire if Monsieur Durand-Ruel would be available to meet with me. I come on a matter of great urgency and some delicacy,” Fitzwilliam said.
Disappointed that he would not be writing a sales slip for one of the wealthiest art buyers in Britain, but also professional enough to understand that fulfilling even this small commission could result in great rewards for the gallery and, perhaps, himself, the functionary bade Henry to take a seat in a comfortable armchair facing an American grouping of Cassatt and Whistler. Then he hurried away into the rear of the gallery.
Paul Durand-Ruel was now in his in his 60th year. He had spent the better part of the past two decades discovering and promoting the fleet of radicals who had by now been grouped under the moniker “Impressionists.” Finding customers willing to take a risk on unproven and controversial artists had been challenging, leaving him to despair often that his gamble would ruin his family. Then the Americans discovered Impressionism. They silenced French derision as their dollars sent countless Monets, Renoirs, Degas, and Sisleys across the Atlantic.
When his assistant presented the Earl of Matlock’s card, the dealer immediately rose, tossed a soft drape over a painting on an easel adjacent to his desk, and followed the youngster back onto the main floor. The Fitzwilliams and the rest of the Five Families had been mainstays on Durand-Ruel’s list since his earliest days. Yet, the Countess rarely came to the gallery except when she would be in Paris for her annual…how did she put it…ah yes…“museum crawl.” But that would have been August when the Fitzwilliams repaired to Deauville. For her son to suddenly appear unannounced in early May…well, that was unusual.
The bluff impresario crossed the skylight illuminated room to where the young man stood with his nose about three inches away from Cassatt’s Woman Standing, Holding A Fan.
“You may wish to move quickly on that one, my Lord. I have a wealthy Philadelphian coming in tomorrow. I plan to suggest that he repatriate Ma’mselle Cassatt’s painting,” Durand-Ruel playfully stated.
Henry spun and, with a large smile, stuck out his hand, “And, I am sure that you have a few other little gems that you will attempt to foist off on Cousin Jonathan, you old thief.”
Durand-Ruel guffawed causing his assistant to glance over sharply as the Monsieur was never loud—especially not in these hallowed halls.
When his mirth had settled, Durand-Ruel gazed intently at the Earl, “Perhaps, my young friend, we should go into my office where you will feel more at ease.”
Once the two men had settled in two armchairs beneath a Monet haystack, and pleasantries had been exchanged, Henry explained what he was about. Durand-Ruel was puzzled as to how he could be seen as being able to provide the slightest assistance in the case of Fitzwilliam’s missing cousin. Henry was equally insistent that he could not reveal what forced him to dash from London to Paris on such short notice.
After the two men had spent a desultory quarter hour poking and prodding the mysterious case of the lost heiress, Durand-Ruel leaned back a shot a look at Henry.
“I do not know if I should be amused or confused, my Lord. You come here searching for a woman. Of that species, I have hundreds, but all are of oil on canvas or pigment on paper. If you could be satisfied with that, I would end your quest in a moment and send you home with five, myself being all the richer.
“But, you want one of flesh and blood. Of that, I have none.
“Perhaps we are pursuing this problem in the incorrect manner. Here I am, a purveyor of art, yet I have not asked you about the appearance of this young lady.”
Fitzwilliam had the grace to blush when he realized that in his enthusiasm he had neglected to do with Durand-Ruel that which had been done with hundreds of waiters, hotel managers, shop girls, and porters. He pulled a small pasteboard folder out of an inner pocket and presented it to his friend.
Durand-Ruel flipped open the cover and gazed down at the photograph in his hand. His eyes widened and he gave a small gasp. He looked at the young aristocrat.
“Where did you get this photograph, my friend?” he whispered.
Surprised at the older man’s reaction, Henry slowly replied, “I have had this particular print for over two years. Miss Bennet sat for it when she passed through Berlin after she graduated from school. When she stopped at Menzel’s studio, she encountered the young American Stieglitz who offered to take her portrait.”
Momentarily diverted from his surprise by his critical appraisal of the image, Durand-Ruel murmured, “Such control of light and shadow. This young man has a future.”
Then more firmly, “I fear I surprised you, my Lord. The reason shall become clear in a moment…for you see, even though I have never met your Miss Bennet, I have assuredly seen her before…in fact not more than a half hour ago.”
With that, he stood and walked over by his desk.
Henry started and sat absolutely upright.
“You saw her? Where? When?”
With a puckish grin, Paul Durand-Ruel, ever the showman, turned the easel he had been studying earlier and, resting a hand near the top of the shrouded artwork, said, “Here is one of those gems I just received from my dear Pierre-Auguste. I was going to sell it to the rich American tomorrow. Perhaps you would rather acquire it for your collection.”
And, with a flourish he pulled the violet silk away.