Blanche

1888
On Tuesday of the following week Monet had announced his intention of going into Rouen and she had managed to slip away, unnoticed. She hurried along the street towards the pink washed house, praying he would be there but preparing herself in case he wasn’t. With her heart beating fast, she peered through the foliage into the garden and there he was, seated at his easel, intent on his work. There was no sign of anyone else. She called softly to him and he looked up, grinned and came quickly to the garden gate.
‘John Leslie!’
‘Blanche!’ his eyes shone. ‘You’re here.’
‘I had to see you,’ she whispered. ‘I couldn’t bear it any longer.’
‘No need to whisper, there is nobody here. Come in.’
She stepped into the garden and they stood for a moment gazing at each other then he took hold of her hands.
‘I was praying you’d come,’ he said. ‘It’s been such a long time.’
‘A week.’
She looked at him, the sun on his dark hair, the sharp curve of his cheekbones, his mouth, the truth of his presence made her catch her breath. Her sense of separateness vanished and she was just Blanche, heart pounding, mouth dry with a mixture of delight and anxiety.
‘It has seemed like forever,’ he said and she saw the longing in his expression.
Maybe people could see what was happening? She felt it was written as clearly on her face as it was on his. Thank God, no-one had said anything at home, not yet…
‘I’m sorry I couldn’t come before, I have had to go out painting with Monet, every day,’ she told him. ‘Listen to him going on about haystacks.’
‘Haystacks!’
‘It is what he is painting at the moment. You have no idea how difficult it has been for me, out in the fields with him each day, talking about atmosphere and changing light and reflection when all I wanted to speak about was you. And at home, I have to behave as if everything is as usual when the truth is everything is utterly changed.’
He brought her hands to his lips. ‘It is, isn’t it? Everything is changed. I find it hard with my family, too.’
Why should it be a secret? she wondered. Why can’t I share this happiness?
‘I cannot understand his loathing of us Americans, it seems out of all proportion,’ John Leslie said. ‘What have we ever done to him?’
‘It is what you represent,’ she replied. ‘As interlopers in his precious domain. He will tolerate you as painters but apart from Robinson he sees you as a threat to the way things are done at Le Pressoir.’
She looked up and met his gaze. He caressed her face and kissed her gently. ‘The others have gone to Vernon to the market. They went early and I’m not sure how soon they’ll be back.’
Over his shoulder she gazed at the easel. ‘Won’t you show me your painting?’
It was a simple subject of orchard grass and the beauty of apple trees in snowy blossom, the candid promise that spring offers, every year.
‘A Normandy orchard: I came across it a couple of months ago. I thought I’d finished it but when I fetched it out today, I saw there was still work to be done.’ He indicated areas on the canvas. ‘I love that time of year, don’t you, with everything coming to life again.’
Blanche, gazing, wondered but will the promise be fulfilled? What is to happen to us? Spring has gone and summer is passing, when the autumn comes he will be gone. The uncertainty returned.
He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face him. He looked into her eyes then, it seemed, into her mind. ‘Blanche, don’t worry. I am planning to come back here next summer, only then I’ll stay with the Baudy family. I am trying to persuade them to transform their property into a small hotel. Somewhere where we can create a colony of painters, maybe even build some studios.’
‘Really?’
‘You always ask me that. Yes, really. I am attracted to this style of painting. Since I’ve been here my work and my palette have changed radically. Never mind what anyone says, I intend to become an impressionist.’
And you want to be with me? She asked him silently.
As they spoke they were aware of the two levels of dialogue starting again. They avoided the topic of Monet although he was as close as if he were beside them, the threat to their happiness.
‘I don’t want you to go ever,’ she murmured. ‘I will have to for a while, there are my studies to follow.’
She felt a stab of panic. ‘I’m afraid something will happen to prevent your coming back and I won’t ever see you again.’
It was all right while they were here and now and she could feel his solid presence, hear his voice. But she knew, when the moment came to say goodbye, the wrench would be so terrible she didn’t know how she would bear it.
‘Oh darling Blanche, of course you’ll see me again and I’ll write to you, often. Don’t worry it will all turn out just fine. We’ll overcome the problem with Monet, I’m sure.’
They moved into each other’s arms and she clung to him, her face wet with tears, closing her eyes as if to shut out the world.
‘Promise me,’ she whispered. ‘Promise you’ll come back. I think I’d die if you didn’t.’
‘I promise,’ he said.