Guests in Eden

sudden appearance of a strange relation might prove a great bore to my cousin.

However, Martha Bianchi was in a hospitable mood, so that my reticence melted under her gracious insistence that I come to her house to meet her.

The sensation I had as I walked up the path to the Austin Dickinson residence, and got a glimpse of Emily's house through the garden, was nothing short of extraordinary. Al­ though the journey from the gate to the front door consumed only a few seconds in time, my feelings underwent a minor revo­lution. I no longer felt a stranger, but very much at home be­hind the hedge. Inside that door I was to meet for the first time a personage who was to reconstruct for me in a very subtle way my own background, or at least a very vital section of it.

Being diluted by descent from the so-called "Cavalier civil­ization" of Virginia, I can only count that one quarter of my heritage is Puritan, but on the pathway to the door which was to open for me, I was suddenly conscious of holding hands with reality.

I felt a rushing like the hurrying up of Time. My spirit took a leap in the dark and landed on a friendly shore. The step across the threshold made so much difference that the change held something in it of magic. I gathered an immediate im­pression of a tall erect woman, in the middle years of life, full to the brim of charm and challenge. It was impossible to miss in her a breathless quality and the fullness of her extraordi­nary personality.

That meeting was followed by others in Paris, London, Italy and New York. For several years before she died I made peri­odical visits to Amherst, in order to reassure myself that she was there, actually, and because I wished to hold fast to that thing which had become more deeply important to me because of her-my own heritage, of which she was the embodiment.

During our friendship, I did not attempt to penetrate very far into the mystery of that magical chemistry, nor to break the spell of the relationship we had established spontaneously. She became interwoven with early memories of conversations

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Transcription and commentary copyright 2000 by
Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved.
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Last updated on March 10, 2008

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