Monthly Archives: March 2013

Eden 4:1

“Eden you can’t go dressed like that.”

Gertrude stood before Eden in a crimson satin dress trimmed in black velvet.  A sparkling comb and sleek black feathers adorned her elaborate hair.  They were expected at Cathy Dickens’s house for a Christmas party.  Eden had carefully chosen her black suit and a new tie.  She’d added the cufflinks Gertrude had given her for Christmas last year, smiling as she did, imagining that Gertrude would smile too, to see them.

But now Gertrude was frowning.  Her words rushed at Eden.  “People will be there—Cathy’s parents and lots of Harvard men and—you can’t wear trousers, they’ll be scandalized!”

Eden’s heart raced.  Gertrude had never reprimanded her before about her clothes.  If anything, she had always acted proud when they went out together as a boy and girl.  Now Eden’s face grew hot and she knew she was blushing terribly.

She had not thought about who might be at the party, but now it was at once obvious to her that Gertrude was right.  Her friends would all be there but of course, there would also be strangers, and those people might not be so indulgent or amused by Eden’s unusual attire.  She would not be anonymous, nor would she be in Eleanor’s house.  For being so often at parties in Eleanor’s house was what had made her forget that she could not dress as she pleased at this party too.

“I wasn’t thinking, Gertrude,” she said now.  “I’ll just change.”  And Eden ran back up the stairs and hastily pulled on a plain black gabardine skirt, changed her tie for a brooch that had belonged to her mother and found a small, black, straw hat.  But she did not change her shirt or remove her waistcoat and jacket—or the cufflinks.

Cathy greeted them with embraces at the door and introduced Eden to her parents.  Soon, Gertrude had disappeared among the throng of guests.

Eden found herself beside a table laden with cookies and a large crystal bowl filled with something pink.  She took two glasses of punch from a girl of about sixteen who said she was Cathy’s sister, and went to find Gertrude in the laughing crowd of Dickens family and friends.

She tried to protect the shallow cups from too much jostling as she moved through narrow spaces behind and between people, all the while, keeping her eyes on the faces, searching for Gertrude.  But when Eden finally saw the girl, she stopped quite short and the cup in her left hand shook enough that a splash of punch made it over the rim and dripped down her sleeve, staining her cuff pink.

Gertrude was letting some boy kiss her under a bunch of mistletoe that hung in a doorway between the parlor and the dining room.

It was not much of a kiss, just a peck on the cheek, really.  But when it was over, Gertrude’s hands stayed in the boy’s hands and her eyes looked into his with a brightness Eden had seen before in her own private moments with the girl she loved.  Eden’s heart pounded as she turned and began to move back to the room with the punch as quickly as she could without spilling anything more.

But when she rounded the corner to enter the room, she nearly lost the punch again, as she all but collided with Sophia Abington.

Sophia“Oh, excuse me!” Miss Abington said, looking quickly at Eden.  “I’ve made you spill your punch.” She looked at Eden’s spoiled cuff with almost terrified remorse in her eyes.

“No, it’s alright,” Eden said, trying to get the image of Gertrude and the boy out of her mind.

Miss Abington was handing Eden a handkerchief and frowning still.  Eden gave the girl the cup she held in her right hand.  “Well, would you like some punch?” she asked with a forced smile.  She took the handkerchief and dabbed uselessly at her cuff.

“It’s really not your fault,” Eden said, giving up on the cuff and returning the handkerchief.  She drank what was left in the cup she held in one nervous gulp.  She guessed it was about half champagne and was grateful for the warm tingle she felt as she swallowed.

Sophia Abington sipped at the punch Eden had given her, while Eden looked over the books on the shelves in the room.   People came in and out for cookies and drinks and Eden was relieved to recognize none of them.

She was about to ask Cathy’s sister for more of the punch, when a book caught her eye.  The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, sat dustily between two other books by the same author.

“He wrote more than one?” Eden said aloud, and Miss Abington turned.

“Mr. Douglass…” Miss Abington noted the books Eden was looking at.  “Yes.”  She took down the one that began A Narrative of the Life…” brushed its cover with her hand and smiled.  “Most of it is just the same material revised.  I guess a story so profound takes time to tell in just the right way.”

“I guess so,” Eden agreed.

“Do you have a story?” Miss Abington asked.

Eden was startled by the question.  “A story?”

“Do you think your life would make a good book, I mean?”

Eden looked at Miss Abington.  Part of her wanted to blurt out her romantic hopes for life with Gertrude.  But it was hardly a thing to share with a girl she barely knew.

“I don’t know,” she said.  “Would yours?”

Eden“Not yet.”  She put back the book.  “But I hope it will someday.”

Eden’s friends called Sophia Abington prim.  They called her timid.  They called her sanctimonious.  Eden didn’t know her well enough to defend her against such accusations, but she was beginning to suspect the others might be wrong.

“Eden Smith, where have you been?” Eden turned to see a giggling Cathy take a cookie from her sister’s table.  “Gertrude is looking for you.  And Julia Bloom wants to give you something.  And my cousin, Paul, wants to meet you.  He has been threatening to go West instead of to college ever since her was fourteen.”

Eden gave Miss Abington a smile and a shrug and followed Cathy out of the room.  When she saw that Gertrude was waiting for her, the anxiety she had felt a quarter-hour before flooded over her again.  She put a hand to her temple and frowned.

Gertrude seemed not to notice Eden’s distress.  “Here you are!” she chimed.  “I thought you might bring me some punch, but you disappeared.”

“I’m sorry, Gertie, I was just looking for you,” Eden lied.  “I’ve got a terrible headache all of a sudden.  I thought I’d catch a streetcar back to Cambridge and see you in the morning.”

Now Cathy was frowning.  “But you just arrived.  Before you go, just say hello to Paul—” and she turned as if to go find her cousin.

Gertrude was shaking her head.  “Have you forgotten?  I’m leaving for New York tomorrow.  I’m going to stay with my parents tonight,” she reminded Eden.

“Of course,” Eden apologized.  “I’m so stupid to forget, it’s just, my head…”

And Eden reached into her pocket to find the gift she’d bought Gertrude and had meant to give her tonight after the party, in a quiet cab ride to the girl’s home in Boston.  But there was nothing there.

She’d left the small box with the silver bracelet in the pocket of her trousers.

“Oh Gertie, I’m so sorry, I’ve really made of mess of the evening.  I left your present at home…” Eden felt like crying, but didn’t dare.  Instead, she gave Gertrude a forlorn look and reached nervously to straighten the tie that wasn’t there, and pulled at her brooch instead.

“Oh never mind, we can do that another time.  I’m sorry you aren’t well.” And Gertrude kissed her on the cheek, not unlike she’d kissed the boy under the mistletoe.  She took Eden’s hands, gave them a squeeze, said “feel better darling,” and turned back to the party, leaving Eden to let herself out the front door of the house.

Eden 3:2

The carriage rattled over the brick streets of Beacon Hill and towards Cambridge.  Eden took out the card Eleanor had given her as she passed under a streetlamp.

Herbert and Sons
Watchmakers-Repairs-Engraving
Main Street Cambridge

watch

She drew her father’s watch from her pocket and opened it.  The carriage was dark again, but she passed her thumb over the rough inscription.  She knew it said, “Yours for all time, Lillian.”  Her mother had given it to her father before they were married.

Eden sometimes thought that Lillian had given Joe Smith everything.  Almost no one knew it, but Eden’s mother had left a life at least as privileged as Eleanor’s to be with a man who had nothing.  Joe Smith had been working in Lillian’s father’s stable when they fell in love.  Lillian had run away from a rich husband to be with Joe.  She had never seen her family again—nor had she ever seemed to regret her choice.

Eden smiled in the dark.  Her parents were the heroes of their very own romance.  Someday, she and Gertrude would be, too.

Eden looked up as the carriage stopped.  She closed the watch and got out of the door John held for her.  She stepped to the porch of her boarding house but did not go in until she had watched the carriage roll out of sight.

Eleanor, John, now Wil—Eden counted the all the people in the world she knew to be “like her”—she herself made four.  Altogether then, there were five.

But of course, her father had been the first.

Eden 3:1

Eden’s shoes pinched her feet as she stepped to the front door of an imposing house on Chestnut Street.  She lifted her hat, ran a hand through her hair and rang.

Even in the dark, it was obvious that the house was grand.  The door was framed by an arch, just inside which were two marble urns filled with topiary boxwoods and ivy that trailed out of the pots and up the bricks facing the street.  There were three stories of large windows and a fourth of attic dormers above them.  Several of the ones at the ground level were lit, though curtained, preventing any view of the rooms behind them from the street.  Smoke was rising from one of the chimneys though it was only September and not yet really cold.

In a moment, a housemaid in a neat, grey dress with a white apron and cap opened the door and ushered Eden inside.

“Good evening, Miss Smith,” the girl said.

“Good evening, Ginny, thank you,” said Eden handing the maid her hat and gloves.

“Is Miss Prescott with you tonight?”

“No—She has got a headache, I’m afraid.”  Eden frowned.

“I’m sorry to hear it, Miss Smith.”

She showed Eden into a parlor and bowed slightly as she turned back to the front door.

The room was lit by candles and a fire burning low in the large hearth.  The overall effect was to make the wallpaper flocking appear to undulate and change color from blue to purple to rose to brown as the fire flickered.  The large widows at the front of the room were heavily draped in velvet and silk and the floor was covered as the hall had been, in thick Turkey carpets that overlaid each other richly here and there and muffled the guests’ voices.

The room was full of women.  Most of them were smoking cigarettes and little ashtrays of marble and glass were placed here and there to accommodate them.  As Eden entered, many of them turned and smiled to acknowledge her before returning to their conversations.

Eden’s attention, however, went directly to a corner of the room near the front window.  In it sat a glossy japanned sideboard covered with crystal glasses and several decanters filled with liquids ranging from burgundy to pale gold.  As she expected, the mistress of the house, Eleanor Stephens, stood there, pouring something from one of the decanters and handing it to a lady in an expensive-looking green satin gown.

Eleanor

Like Eden, Eleanor wore gentlemen’s evening clothes tonight.  Unlike Eden, she always dressed in gentlemen’s clothes, and she had exhorted Eden that if she wished, she might do so as well, whenever they were together.

There had never been anyone—perhaps excepting Gertrude—whose good opinion Eden wanted more than Eleanor Stephens’s.  The woman was like no one Eden had ever known.  She regularly passed as an anonymous man on the streets of Boston and had been instrumental in Eden’s learning how to do it too.  She often took Eden with her to gentlemen’s lounges in hotels or to the opera, where she had a box under the name E.W. Stephens.  In these places, she called Eden “Ethan” and insisted Eden call her “Elliot.”  She was a writer of some acclaim, but the first of her books, published originally in France, had been banned in the United States for several years.  In spite of her increasing fame, her writing was still considered controversial and caused raised eyebrows among many of the literature professors at Radcliffe.  Nevertheless, Radcliffe received a generous sum from E.W. Stephens, in support of its mission every year.

“I think you’ve met everyone here except my houseguest, Miss Hyland,” Miss Stephens said after a brief greeting.  She nodded to someone, sitting on a small couch with Mrs. Wister, an administrator Eden knew from the college.  Catching Eleanor’s look, the stranger said a word to Mrs. Wister and rose to meet them in the middle of the room.

“Eden Smith,” Miss Hyland said in what Eden thought was an English accent, “I’ve heard so much about you from Eleanor.  She insists this little affair tonight is expressly for the purpose that you and I should meet, in fact.”

Miss Hyland was tall with pale hair and a fair complexion.  She looked about midway in age between Eleanor and Eden—perhaps thirty—and like them, wore a men’s haircut and men’s evening clothes.  Seeing her, Eden’s heart gave a little leap, just as it had when she had first met Eleanor.  But she strove to remain polite and calm as she shook the woman’s ring-covered hand.  “Miss Hyland,” she said congenially.

The woman corrected her, “please call me Wil,” she insisted.  “My mother committed the travesty of naming me Wilomena, but my friends, over the years have salvaged it.” And she smiled warmly.

“Wil,” said Eden, smiling back.

“Eden, can I get you a drink?” Eleanor asked.

Eden looked back to the japanned cabinet and frowned for a fleeting instant.  Eleanor was always offering her drinks, but she had not yet learned to like any of them.  “Whatever you’re having, thanks,” she said and turned back to Wil Hyland.

“Does anything in particular bring you to Boston?”

“Eleanor and I are neighbors in London,” she answered.  It’s my first trip to America.  She’s been trying to get me over for years,” Miss Hyland reached into her jacket, pulled a cigarette from her breast pocket and lit it.

Eleanor returned with two glasses and handed Eden one.  “Gin and tonic,” she announced, “in honor of our English visitor.”  Eden took the glass and tapped it against Eleanor’s and Wil’s before taking a sip.

“I guess Wil told you she lives near me in London,” Eleanor said as Eden nodded.  “But I doubt she mentioned that she’s a poet, as well—quite a celebrated one in certain circles, in fact.”

“Small, inconsequential circles,” Miss Hyland demurred with a smile.

“Nonsense,” her hostess objected.  “Wil is too British about it.  She has in fact been called ‘important’ by one or two people who ought to know—myself for example.”

“Yourself, for example?” Wil laughed, “for all the time you spend in my country, you are still a typical blustering American.”

“Thank god, for that,” Eleanor said, finishing her drink. “If I didn’t have my father’s property to keep up, I wouldn’t have to spend any time in your dreary little country at all, darling.”

“Don’t believe her, Eden,” Wil said, “Eleanor could never abide being a real American.  Tiresome as they are, half her cousins have titles.  She needs England, if only to give her somewhere to recuperate when Paris has exhausted her.  This country is too full of Puritans for her debauched heart.”

Eleanor Stephens smiled but said nothing, setting her empty glass on a small table and lighting a cigarette instead.

Eden knew Eleanor didn’t really find England dreary.  In fact, it was Boston she usually described that way.  She spent months of the year in London and had all but given Eden to understand that she came back every spring only because her publishers were here.  But she and Wil Hyland were both smiling and laughing, so Eden supposed it was a joke between them.

As Eleanor struck a match, Wil turned to Eden and asked, “when will you be over to meet the rest of London, then?”

“The rest of London?” Eden asked.

“Well—the rest of Eleanor’s London, anyway,” Wil amended.

“Her family?” Eden ventured.

“Oh God no.  My ‘family’ is hardly my London—or perhaps I should say I’m not part of theirs.” Eleanor raised an eyebrow.  Then, turning to Wil, she added, “She needs to make the acquaintance of Boston a bit better before I start parading her about the globe.”

“Hmm,” Wil said, eyeing Eden “we will all be waiting with bated breath for your debut.”

Eden wasn’t sure what to say.  She finished her drink and was glancing about for a place to put her empty glass when, mercifully, the bell rang for dinner.

The parlor maid rolled open a door at the end of the room.  It disappeared into the wall, revealing a dining room furnished with a long mahogany table and matching chairs with thick upholstery of subtle damask and satin braid.

candleslitOn the table itself, crystal in various shapes and sizes flanked thin china.  Heavy silver stamped with a family crest sat at every place.  Linen napkins folded into crisp swans sat upon the plates and candelabras laden with burning ivory tapers stood across the length of the table.

There was another fireplace in the room, with a marble mantel, above which hung a seascape in oil.

“You have a new picture?” Eden said and walked to it.  It was signed “J.F. Kensett.”

“Do you like it?” Eleanor asked as Eden turned from it and found her place next to Eleanor at the table.

“I think so.  I’d like to get a look at it in better light,” she answered.

“It’s not as nice as the French one in the library, but I like to have at least one picture of water in every room,” Eleanor said.  To Wil Hyland, at her other side, she noted, “Eden has quite an appreciation for art.  I believe—tell me if it’s true Eden—she has decided to focus her studies on the history of art and architecture?”

“Yes,” Eden said.

“Well, in that case you must come to Europe,” Wil insisted.  “The art and architecture of America has no history.”  She looked at Eleanor, “you really must give her the grand tour.”

“All in time, Wil,” Eleanor said.

Eden didn’t know what a grand tour was but it sounded intimidating—and expensive.  So she said nothing as the women beside her bantered about what ought to be done with her.  Across the table, two women in their early sixties were deeply engaged in a quiet conversation.  On the other side of Wil, Mrs. Wister was asking the kitchen maid about some detail of the meal.

The meal was as good as any Eden could have imagined.  Eleanor never served anything but the best food in ostentatious amounts.  A few of the more modestly dressed ladies picked timidly at their little stuffed hens, but Eden fell to hers with enthusiasm.  She had nearly finished her second glass of wine and between it and the gin, she felt herself loosening.  “El—”  She said, calling Eleanor’s attention from her own food.  “Where in Boston can I buy a good watch?”  Eden had been using her father’s watch for a year.  She wanted to offer him one for Christmas to replace it.

Eleanor smiled.  “Well…I’ve never bought a new watch.  I’ve got my father’s watch, my grandfather’s watch and my poor brother’s watch.  But I do sometimes take them to be cleaned or repaired.  I go to Cambridge for it, in fact, not so far from the university.  I’ll give you the man’s card before you leave tonight.”

After dinner, the party retired to the music room where Mrs. George DeVries, the wife of a wealthy benefactor to Radcliffe, was to play Beethoven and Miss Francine Smalls, one of Boston’s leading advocates for women’s education, was to sing.

Eleanor poured Eden yet another drink.  “You must learn to appreciate my brandy, Eden,” she said, handing her the glass.  She lowered her voice.  “It will help you to appreciate Francine’s singing.”

“I heard you—you’re horrible,” whispered Wil Hyland as the piano sounded and she sat down to join them.

Eleanor merely finished her own brandy and signaled to the parlor maid to close the music room door.

It was Ginny, the same girl who’d taken Eden’s hat and gloves when she’d come in.  Ginny was the housekeeper’s, daughter.  She and her brother, Howard, had grown up in Eleanor’s house.

When Eden had first met Eleanor, she had wondered what the servants thought about their mistress’s eccentric habits.  Did they never whisper together about a woman in trousers who held all-female dinner parties at which so many of the guests were spinsters or widows who shared households with each other instead of husbands or brothers or grown-up sons?

Then Eden had taken her first carriage ride in Eleanor’s landaulette and had met John Ringles.

John was the footman.  One winter day, Eleanor had sent her carriage to collect Eden in Cambridge.  Eden came out, dressed in her trousers, nervous that the footman might realize her disguise.  But as he touched his hat to salute her, she was struck with the immediate sense that John was not a young man any more than Eden was.

Eleanor had confirmed Eden’s suspicion.  Fourteen-year-old Jean had come to the door looking for work and the housekeeper, Mrs. Williams, had taken one look at her and brought her in.  It soon became clear that Jean preferred the stable to the parlor and wearing Mrs. Williams’ son’s outgrown clothes to her daughter’s.  In a few years, John was the footman and no one called him “Jean” anymore.

Mrs. Williams herself had been widowed since her children were infants.  She had made a home with Miss Daley, the cook, ever since.  Eleanor had hired them together soon after taking over the household affairs upon her father’s death.

Eden had gradually come to learn that Eleanor’s staff was full of people with one reason or another for reserving judgment on the mistress’s eccentricities.  Likewise the mistress reserved judgment on theirs—and she paid better than the going wages.

Miss Francine, as her friends called her, beamed as the small party applauded her singing.  Eden had not thought it bad for a lady obviously past the prime of her life, and wondered if she was learning to appreciate brandy after all.  But she had other reasons to feel kind hearted towards Miss Francine.  The woman had obtained a place for Eden at the college two years ago and had since been paying Eden’s fees with the large inheritance left her by her companion of many years, Beatrice Warner.  Eden’s father gave her an allowance, but year-to-year income was uncertain at the Double S ranch, and the place supported four families and a number of hired men.  Miss Francine’s benevolence was Eden’s best guarantee of finishing her course at Radcliffe.

Mrs. DeVries, at the piano, smiled at Miss Francine with admiration.  It looked as if she had not considered that any of the applause could be due to her playing.  Eden marked the smile and wondered where Mrs. DeVries’s husband was tonight.  The woman was often at Eleanor’s parties but Mr. DeVries never was.  She was the only married woman in the room, though all the ladies were well over 35.  Eden was the only student.  She didn’t mind, but she missed Gertrude.  She might have asked her whether she noticed anything particular about Mrs. DeVries attitude towards Miss Francine.

The guests began to take their leave and Eden asked Eleanor to excuse her too.  She had had too much to drink and would suffer for it, but was determined not to miss her early lecture the next morning.  Eleanor called for the landaulette and Ginny found Eden’s hat and gloves as she exchanged polite goodnights with Wil Hyland.

Eden 2:3

EdenGertrude had called her dashing.  And this morning, as Eden’s mind wandered away from the lecture, Gertrude seemed to wander with her, sneaking smiles beneath the neat brim of her flower-trimmed straw hat.  The doubts of the night before fled as Eden basked in the certainty that she was securely planted in Gertrude’s heart.

Eden wasn’t sure where their love would take them.  Whenever she tried to imagine life beyond college only the haziest images came to her.  But where would they live?  How would they get their living or spend their days?  Would their families be nearby?  She had only met Gertrude’s parents once.   But if Gertrude loved Eden and Eden loved Gertrude what future could there be for either of them, but together somehow?

She pondered these things later that evening as she removed her tie and collar before the photo stuck in the frame of her dressing table mirror.

Sitting in a velvet chair, wearing an expensive lace tea dress and an elaborately feathered and beribboned hat, Gertrude smiled merrily in sepia tones.  Beside Gertrude stood Eden herself, in her best suit and a new Homberg, one hand on Gertrude’s shoulder, an unlit cigar in the other.  They looked for all the world like newlyweds.

It had been Gertrude’s idea.  The Radcliffe literature club—of which, Gertrude was president—had held an April Fools Day ball last spring in which half the girls had dressed as boys and half as girls.  Eden had been the only “boy” there whose clothing actually fit and whose hat wasn’t awkwardly poised atop a vast upsweep of hair.  She and Gertrude had taken the prize for handsomest couple and had their photograph taken.

Eden knew it was all supposed to be a joke, but secretly she cherished the photo.  Gertrude had a copy too, and Eden had written on the back, “to the prettiest girl in Boston, all my love, E.”  Gertrude had written on Eden’s too.  It simply said, “x, G.”

Why couldn’t she and Gertrude go away to a sepia world in which Eden really was a dashing young man, Gertrude, her lovely bride and everyone smiled approvingly at them?

After all, her parents had done it—in full color.

Eden 2:2

“Miss Abington!” Eden called across a small quadrangle early on Monday morning.

Sophia Abington was alone on the opposite path.  She turned to the sound of her name and stopped as Eden stepped quickly to her.

“I have your book here,” Eden said.  I was going to drop it by your house later, but…” She handed the book to Miss Abington, who smiled a small thanks.

Sophia“Did you enjoy it?” the girl asked.

“I did, thank you.”  Eden fell silent.

Eden

“Well…” Miss Abington put out a hand.  Eden took it and held it a beat too long, then blushed and dropped it awkwardly.

“Your grandfather…your family—” Eden said now, moving her weight from one foot to the other.  “They are quite interested, then, in Negro rights and that sort of thing?”

Eden watched as Miss Abington’s face grew so very slightly paler that no one else might have noticed the change.  “All sorts of things,” she said, raising her chin a little.  “Negro rights, the suffrage, education reform…” She stopped and watched Eden, waiting, perhaps, for a verdict on her response.

Everyone Eden had met in Boston was in strong favor of women’s suffrage.  And the very fact of being at Radcliffe College attested to an interest in education reform.  It was only on the Negro question that Miss Abington might anticipate any opposition from a classmate.  Did she expect such opposition now?

Eden found herself struck dumb in fear of the thousand ways in which what she chose to do or say next might be misunderstood.  Miss Abington grew more noticeably pale.

“That’s interesting,” Eden said at last.  “I—my own family is rather…”

“Eden!” called a voice across the grass.  It was Gertrude.

“I’m sorry,” Eden said, nodding a hasty goodbye to Miss Abington.  “I’ve got a lecture.  Perhaps we can take up the subject another time.”

“Perhaps so,” said Miss Abington with no particular emotion, putting the book in a leather satchel and moving away.

“She’s looking as grim as ever.” Gertrude laughed a little at Sophia Abington’s back.  “What plain things she always wears.  Such a good Quaker girl.”

“Gertrude!” Eden chastised.  “If you think her plain, what must you think of me?”

“Oh—you are not plain.  You are dashing.”  Gertrude took Eden’s arm, smiled and bowed her head submissively. “But whatever did you have to say to her?”

“I was returning a book she loaned me,” Eden said, hoping that Gertrude wouldn’t ask what book.

She didn’t.  They arrived at their Classics lecture with five minutes to spare.

Eden 2:1

EdenPhaedrus did not hold Eden’s attention long and she put it down and picked up, instead, the book Sophia Abington had given her.

She had thought to read herself to sleep with a chapter or two, but as soon as she opened it, she found it impossible to close and spent the next several hours wide awake, lost in the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, almost forgetting Gertrude.

Outside of her personal experience, Eden knew little of the history of slavery or of the fate of Negroes since the war.  The only book she’d read about it had been her mother’s worn edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and though it had held her riveted attention for a week, she had not known enough to place it in a context that held much meaning for her.

In Cambridge, there were monuments to the members of the university who had fallen in the war, and from time to time there were solemn events to commemorate them.  But as Eden strove to follow the social lead of the girls she had met in Cambridge, it became clear to her that whatever the role of Boston had been before or during the war, current discussion of such things was not within the bounds of polite—even intellectual—society.  After all, the students at Harvard and Radcliffe came from many places and many kinds of families.  In Eden’s experience, whenever the Negro Problem came up, someone grew anxiously quiet and someone else changed the subject quickly.

Eden never brought it up herself and she wasn’t skilled enough in conversation to gracefully change the subject.  But sometimes, she was the anxious, quiet one.

Eden 1:4

EdenEden sat at her desk and tried to concentrate on a Socratic dialog she had been assigned for the next day.  The library had closed half an hour ago and she had still not heard Gertrude come home.

Gertrude’s room was next to Eden’s and last year, they had studied together more often than not in the evenings.  But tonight the half hour became an hour and more before Eden grew too tired to sit up any longer.  She extinguished her lamp and went to bed in her clothes.  But she did not sleep and within another quarter of an hour she heard a step in the hall and the door nearest hers opening.

She imagined Gertrude taking down her hair, undressing herself with effort—usually she asked Eden’s or another girl’s help with her corset laces—pulling on her nightdress and pushing the button that would extinguish the electric light by her bed.

Eden knew it was late, but wished Gertrude had knocked at her door and said goodnight.  It would be hours yet, before Eden could knock on Gertrude’s and wish her a good morning.

She sat up, lit the lamp by her bed and picked up Plato again.