Unlike her mother, who had painted in oils, Romelle blossomed as a water colorist. Like her mother, however, she was daring in her artistic conceptions, plunging exuberantly into the revolutionary Expressionist style. On the occasion of her first public showing in 1906, an admiring critic applauded her works as "freshets of vivid color flooding the mind with light."
Instead of using her name as a signature, she chose to sign with a small drawing depicting a wood violet. The realistic flower in the lower right corner provided a delicate contrast to the abstract forms of the work itself. This habit inspired amusement among Romelle's friends when Lucien Daudet, a dashing artist who occupied an atelier in the Place Dauphine, adopted a pet name for her, "Violetta," the heroine of Verdi's La Traviata.
He then took to whistling Violetta's lilting waltz, Sempre Libera, "Always Free," whenever he encountered Romelle in the Place. In this way, Sempre Libera became "her" song. It was often played when she appeared in public at the numerous cafes she frequented in the company of the avant-garde "School of Paris" artists whom she numbered among her closest friends.
She was especially favored by Pablo Picasso, a swarthily romantic figure only five years older, and barely taller, than she. He repeatedly swore that he loved her, and begged to use her as his model.
"Mi amor," he said one afternoon as they sat at a sidewalk cafe in the Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, his penetrating black eyes stripping her down to her soul, "you must come with me to my studio this very day. I am inspired! Once, I thought of you in blue. Then, I thought of you in rose. Now, I see you in gold, my golden parisienne, my golden Paris lady. Come with me, my beauty, your beast begs you to come! I shall paint you as you have never been painted before! Olé!"
At this, Lucien harrumphed.
"As never before? Ha! Meaning in the nude, no doubt!" he sneered, waggling his finger at the genius from Spain. "Mind you, it is not the impropriety that offends me, for I know you Catalonians are less interested in women than in bulls, no matter how much the satyr you pretend to be! What frightens me is that an unregenerate abstractionist like you would dissect her and cube her on canvas. Thus would you uncover her heart, and I must tell you, señor, that belongs to me!"
Romelle tossed her head and laughed.
"My heart is my own," she chided Lucien sweetly, her scintillating smile enchanting the men. "Besides, Pablito is too late. My heart is already a cube, but of ice, mes amis, until the one man comes who can melt it with the purest form of love!"
"Is my love for you not pure, dearest one?" questioned Lucien with a pout, reaching for her hand.
She responded with gentle affection. "We are friends, and always shall be."
Their closeness had begun after the discovery of a mutual interest in art when Lucien moved into the Place Dauphine in 1899. Then a girl of thirteen, Romelle had found him absorbed in painting under the chestnut trees. At that time a youth of twenty affecting an airily bohemian lifestyle, he had been deeply impressed by her tactful admiration of the day's unimpressive work.
They became friends with hardly a sense of age between them. She came out to sit with him often in the park, sometimes sketching him at work. The sketches delighted him. He had asked to see more.
She had taken him to her garret, where Adrienne served them black-currant tea and her own incomparable patisserie.
After a second rich pastry, he had wiped his fingers on a linen napkin and commented, "It is scandalous that I have eaten two, but your napoleons are the most dangerously delicious in France, almost as magnificent as the artwork in this room!"
He spent an hour wandering viewing the paintings, marveling at each in turn. He was more astonished by Beth's work than by even that of Renoir and the rest.
"Your mother painted neither from emotional compulsion nor from the mind alone," he finally decreed, "but from the depths of her soul. She is alive! She has gone nowhere! Your mother is here, on these walls, in this room!"
He lingered the longest over Beth's portrait of Bart. While he examined it from every angle, Romelle told him about Beth's life and its tragic end. He begged permission to remove the painting from its place above the mantel. He set it on a chair beneath a skylight, and stood back to change his perspective, an arm across his middle, the opposing elbow resting on the hand, the other hand cradling his chin.
"How she loved him!" he said after minutes of intensive study. "There is love in every touch of the brush. Look at the expression in his eyes. How real it is! How sad, as if he knew what was to come....." He paused. "What? What do I see?"
He moved closer to the painting, bent forward, then reared back and clapped his hands. "Did you know this was here?" He tapped Bart's left eye.
Both Adrienne and Romelle came closer to look.
Adrienne gasped. "O-là-là! I never noticed before! Child, it is your mother's face! She has painted her own face into Doctor Bart's eye!"
Romelle peered into the depths of the eye. A minuscule self-portrait of Beth smiled back. Romelle rested her cheek against the canvas.
"Oh, Poppa! Oh, Momma! We're all together now!"
Inexpressibly moved by the tender scene, Lucien shed a compassionate tear.
Hearing of it later, even Philo admitted not having known Beth's self-portrait was there.
Lucien's discovery provided the springboard into a meaningful relationship with the family. He was always welcome. He was also an intimate of the Empress. A part of her inner circle of young associates, she knew him through his father, writer Alphonse Daudet.
Lucien frequently came to dine throughout Romelle's teens, often bringing friends, thus widening her acquaintanceship with creative intellects nurtured in the atmosphere of artistic freedom prevailing in Paris.
Romelle's education at her own dining table proved far broader and more comprehensive than anything taught her by the gentlewomen who staffed the Soufflot Academy for Young Ladies from which she was graduated in the spring of 1904. Lively conversations with Lucien's confrere, Marcel Proust, introduced her to the trends of contemporary literature. Proust never turned down an invitation to sup on Adrienne's heavenly cassoulet. Sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon explained his transition to Cubism from the traditions of Rodin. He was always on hand when word got about that Adrienne had baked her justly famous version of the creamy ring of puff pastry known as Paris-Brest.
It was this latter association that finally lured Kathy Foley from Baltimore to the Place Dauphine. A budding sculptor herself, Kathy could not resist Romelle's promise of an introduction to Duchamp-Villon.
She arrived in 1908, between her birthday on the thirtieth of July and Romelle's on the twenty-fifth of August. Both were just turning twenty-two. Romelle had already enrolled her as a fellow student at L'Ecole des Beaux Arts, the renowned academy of fine arts where Beth had formed her friendship with Renoir.
Romelle and Philo drove all day from Paris to Cherbourg in a new silver Daimler to meet her. The independent Kathy had refused her father's offer to sail with Duncan Cargo. She insisted upon paying her own way with proceeds from the sales of her sculptured pieces at galleries in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. For her first trip to Europe, she had chosen the Cunard Line's Mauretania, fastest ship in the world, in keeping with Bridget's advice to get on and get off the ocean as quickly as she could. Kathy discovered that she, as did her mother, suffered agonizingly from mal de mer.
After they spent the night at a local inn, the Harbor Master at Cherbourg, an old friend, took Philo and Romelle out to meet the giant ship in his personal lighter. They boarded thirty minutes before docking and were directed immediately to Kathy's first-class cabin.
They intended to give her the surprise of her life, but it was they who got the surprise.
When they knocked, the door opened and out flew a puppy. His surprising rush past Philo toppled the man to the deck. A pretty ash-blonde dashed out behind him.
"I'll help the gentleman to his feet, Miss, if you'll chase after my dog," Kathy suggested to Romelle, not realizing who she was. "Rebel won't bite a lady, I hope!"
Romelle raced along in pursuit of the hound, cornering him beneath a stairway to the promenade deck. The dog stood his ground in the corner, facing her with a quizzical look. She fell to her knees.
"Come to me," she coaxed. "I'm your Auntie Romelle. I'd say you were from fine stock - a fox hunter, I'll warrant. Come to me, Rebel. I won't bite if you won't."
Rebel lifted his ears and arched his brows inquisitively at the sound of his name. His noble, long-muzzled face was copper in color, which turned to chestnut and black along his saddle. The rest of his body ran to creamy white, was distinctly apricot, as was his long tail, which wagged amiably when Romelle gently extended her fingers to touch him.
He moved closer to her a step at a time, churning his nose slowly, sniffing the air.
Inspection done, he lurched forward suddenly to nuzzle her chin.
She had passed his test. "Well," she said, "I would guess that now we are friends."
She gathered him up in her arms.
In the cabin, Kathy was daubing at Philo's face with a cloth dipped in cool water. They were laughing, and Romelle saw when she entered that, as had she and Rebel, so had these two become friends.
"Stand away from my grandfather, you Floradora blonde!" declaimed Romelle. "You sent me on that dog chase to divert me from your nefarious intent! Shame! He is a man of virtue! Hands off him, I say!"
"What makes you think I'm interested in him?" inquired Kathy, winking at Philo. "I'm in love with that dog you're holding in your arms. I ought to be the jealous one!"
Once ashore and through Customs, they drove off merrily to Paris, Philo at the wheel with Rebel at his side, Romelle and Kathy chattering gaily in the back seat.
"I have a friend who rides to the hounds down in Virginia, way back in Fluvanna County," Kathy was saying. "She invited me for a week of hunting and parties with the local gentry, to wish me bon voyage. Her father breeds foxhounds from a very old line sent out from England in colonial times. They're said to be among the finest hunters in the world. Some of them have even been sent to France, to some place called Shev...Chev...I don't know....."
"Cheverny!" called Philo from the driver's seat. "That's a dukedom in the chateau country between Orleans and Tours. I've seen the dog packs. What a sight! Eighty or a hundred in one chase! Beautiful creatures! And smart!"
"Indeed they are!" Kathy agreed. "They are born smart. Rebel, for example, is only five months old, but he's as bright as a penny. Let me tell you how I came to know him. I am not really a good enough horsewoman to chase the foxes, so while that was going on, I worked on a bust of my friend's mother. At every sitting, this little fellow lay at her feet, keeping his eye on me. If I got up to study my subject closer, he got up, too, and watched every move I made. The lady said he would not be a threat to me unless it appeared that I was ready to attack her. These dogs are so good at tracking scent, they can smell a menacing mood in a human being, or a mood of fear. They can smell love, just as they can smell hatred."
"Why do you call him 'Rebel'?" asked Romelle.
"His particular line of foxhound descends directly from the kennel of a great Southern general."
His interest piqued in light of his own career in the Civil War, Philo asked over his shoulder, "What general?"
Kathy laughed. "Ha! All I have to do is say the great man's name, and this dog will give us the rebel yell."
Leaning forward, she cupped her hands around her mouth and boomed: "Robert E. Lee!"
Rebel stretched his neck toward the sky to let out such a howl that two horses grazing by the side of the road whinnied and reared, galloping in terror across the field.
"Oh, I love him!" cried Romelle.
"I'm glad you do, Romy," Kathy said, "because he's yours. I asked for him in exchange for the sculpture. I just knew he was the dog for you. I remember how much you missed Pepper when we were small, and how Irene refused to have a dog in the house. You said to me, 'Kathy, if ever I go home to my grandfather and the Place Dauphine, I'm going to have a dog again.'"
Romelle sighed and shook her head. "I'd forgotten about that. He's really mine? You would give up this wonderful dog for me?"
Kathy smiled. "He was never mine, sweet sister of my heart. I brought him only for you."
Philo peered at the reflection of Romelle's face in the rearview mirror. She was crying, her head on Kathy's shoulder.
When they reached the Place Dauphine, even Adrienne, who had maintained a distant relationship with Pepper, was also instantly attracted to Rebel, and he, to her. Before the day was over, he was master of the house.
Rebel became a familiar fixture in the neighborhood after the girls taught him the route he was to use in carrying on a custom Kathy had established for him in Baltimore: fetching the morning paper from the newsstand.
The daily excursion took him past the elderly street sweeper in the Place Dauphine, a dog-hater whose menacing broom Rebel good-naturedly mistook for a friendly greeting.
He trotted disdainfully past the parrots and canaries caged in the bird market on the Quai de L'Horloge. Nobly descended from fox hunters without a taint of bird dog, he considered the feathered noisemakers beneath the dignity of old Virginia blood.
In the beginning, he wagged his tail engagingly for the buxom widow who placed the rag-wrapped newspaper in his mouth at her kiosk in the Boulevard du Palais. He was on the verge of establishing a friendship with her when the lady acquired an enormous tomcat adept at fending off marauding river rats from the Seine with his fine set of razor-sharp claws.
As Philo had noted en route from Cherbourg to Paris, Rebel sprang from a line of smart dogs. He needed only one malignant glare from the feline to understand that loitering beyond the essentials of business would no longer be tolerated at the widow's kiosk.
In the spring of 1910, the family paid a visit to the kennels at Cheverny. At Philo's request - to Kathy's delight and Romelle's consternation - the Master of Hounds invited Rebel to join a hunt as measure of the dog's character. Romelle was furious, grabbing Rebel's collar and refusing to let him go, incensed that Philo would foster his participation in so cruel a game.
Kathy begged her to desist. "Romy, fox hunting is splendid sport, and it's in Rebel's blood. You even told me your mother's friend, the Empress Elizabeth, was the best horsewoman around. You wrote to me that she was always riding to the hounds! As for Rebel, just let him be the dog he is. You know how your arguments with Picasso never fail to turn out. Bull fights will continue in Spain whether you like them or not!"
Reluctantly, Romelle let him go, unable to resist remarking, "Principle knows no compromise."
Rebel proved his worth in a most unusual way. First to catch the fox's scent, he led the pack in a frenzied chase until the frightened little creature scampered into the lower branches of a tree, safely beyond the range of rows of snarling muzzles showing bared teeth.
At that point, Rebel turned on the coterie of blood-lusting dogs. He backed them off with a ferocity vigorously promising serious injury to any who would interfere.
His message was clear to canines and huntsmen alike: "This fox goes free!"
Every dog lay down but one, a female whose white was richly overlaid with golden tan. She came forward meekly to stand at his side, rewarding him with a touch of her muzzle to his broad chest.
The Master of Hounds, still astride his roan mare, began to applaud, soon joined by the others in the large hunting party. The dogs were called off with the horn.
"M'sieur Rebel showed the instincts of a born hunter when he picked up the scent ahead of the pack," the Master pronounced, "and surpassed them all in speed during the chase. Having achieved his goal of treeing the fox, he next revealed a trait one rarely sees in a dog. Rebel made a profound judgment, and would have defended it to the death. If he were human, we would call him a man of principle. His peers, the dogs, as you have seen, have deferred to him as leader. This beautiful female, my priceless Eleanor of Aquitaine, has volunteered herself as his prize. I herewith request his services at the time of her next estrus."
When a litter of six puppies was born the following November, the Master of Hounds offered Romelle a choice of one in payment for the studding. This represented a handsome price. Eleanor of Aquitaine was renowned for her perfection, and Rebel's fame had gone before him. Their issue would have great value among the hunting nobility.
Romelle turned to the litter of handsome animals, and surprised everyone by selecting the runt.
"He's the one I want," pointing him out to the incredulous Master.
Although smallest of the lot, his coloring was unusually beautiful, quite like Rebel's. He was in all ways, save size relative to his litter mates, a perfect dog.