Many of Eden and Gertrude’s classmates were at the library that evening, as were many of the Harvard boys eager to get the term’s work begun. And though she’d promised to help, Gertrude soon drifted towards a group of other third-year girls, leaving Eden at the librarian’s desk.
Eden wished Radcliffe had its own library. She disliked mingling with the young men. They invariably mistook her for one of their own until they noticed the skirt beneath the jacket, waistcoat and tie that were identical to theirs. When that moment came, she never knew if she would be received with hostility, humor, or embarrassment. It was always at least one, sometimes a mixture of the three.
Eden took her books to a table and glanced toward the group where she had left Gertrude. But Gertie wasn’t there. Looking around, Eden spotted her at last in a leather chair, across from a young man in its twin. The two were smiling and whispering, the boy having abandoned a stack of papers and books in favor of Gertrude’s company.
The sinking doubt Eden had felt in the square that afternoon returned as she watched Gertrude lean close to the boy and whisper something near his ear. Eden wanted air. She gathered her things and went to the desk to have her cards stamped.
Leaving the library in the dark, preoccupied as she was, she nearly stumbled over someone stooping on the front steps. “Excuse me!” she said, stopping short when she realized that a girl had dropped several books and was trying to collect them by the dim gaslight.
Eden bent down, placing her own things in a careful pile, and found herself face-to-face with Sophia Abington for the second time that day. “Miss Abington,” she said, “please let me help you.”
“Miss Smith!” The girl sounded embarrassed, but Eden couldn’t see her clearly in the dark. “I’m so clumsy, I’m sorry.”
But as Eden helped gather the books, she saw that Miss Abington had quite overburdened herself. “I think you’d need another pair of arms to carry these home,” Eden said. She gathered several of the spilled books together with her own. “Show me the way,” Eden said. “I’ll take these for you.”
Miss Abington had little choice but to agree. She couldn’t have carried the books alone if she’d tried.
“I suppose I tend to over prepare,” she said.
“I understand,” Eden said. “I think I work twice as hard as everyone else to do half as well.” Then she realized what she’d said. “Not that you do half as well—I’ve heard you are one of the top students in our class.”
“The top,” Miss Abington said. She glanced at Eden over her armload of books. “But I have to do well, if I’m going to be a physician,” she added.
“A doctor?” Eden asked with raised eyebrows. “I’ve never met a lady doctor.”
“There are several—especially in Boston! But you are right in a way—in order to compete for a place in the medical school, I will have to do twice as well as the best man. They have never accepted a woman before.”
“And you plan to be the first?” Eden smiled in the dark.
“I have to try.”
No wonder Miss Abington was never to be found on picnics and bicycling parties with Eden’s friends. If the girl was shy, she also must be the most ambitious student at Radcliffe.
They reached the door of Miss Abington’s house and she put down her share of the books and found a key. She let them in, pushing a button for electric light as they stepped into the hall. No one else appeared to be home at the boarding house.
“I didn’t know you lived here,” said Eden. “I’m right around the corner.”
“I know,” the girl said with a blush Eden didn’t understand. She set the books on a little table in the front parlor of the house and reached out to take the ones Eden had carried as well. In the exchange, one slipped to the floor.
Eden reached down quickly to retrieve the book, idly glancing at its title as she did. “Whose ‘Life and Times?’” she asked.
“Mr. Douglass,” said Miss Abington, taking the book from Eden. “This one doesn’t belong to the library. It’s mine, actually.”
“Mr. Douglass?” Eden asked.
In her first year at college, Eden had found herself in the position of not knowing many of the things the other girls at Radcliffe took for granted. Growing up in the desert had given her a wealth of knowledge about training horses, predicting weather and avoiding snakes, but it had not prepared her well for university life in Boston. Now, she had to assume that Mr. Douglass’s life and times was yet another of the things everyone but Eden knew everything about.
“Frederick Douglass…” Miss Abington said tilting her head a little as if waiting for a light to show up in Eden’s face.
Eden colored instead. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I don’t know.”
“He was a famous anti-slavery agitator,” the girl began. “That is, he was, himself, a fugitive slave. He lived in Massachusetts and was a great speaker and writer in the cause of abolition. My grandfather worked with him.” She paused a moment and added, “Josiah Beales—that was my grandfather—the newspaper editor.”
Eden felt helplessly ignorant as she watched Miss Abington grow more and more enthusiastic, speaking of Frederick Douglass and her grandfather. It was clearly something important. But Eden could only shrug apologetically.
Miss Abington stopped suddenly. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Of course, this isn’t something you would have necessarily heard about in Arizona. But in Boston…”
“No, I’m sorry,” Eden interrupted. “It sounds fascinating, truly. I wish I’d known. I ought to have known.”
Miss Abington’s tone was calmer now as she put the book back in Eden’s hand. “Why don’t you borrow it?” she said. “He supported votes for women, too. He was quite a hero.”
Eden saw that Miss Abington was feeling sorry about putting her in a difficult spot. She turned the book over and over in her hands nervously before depositing it in her pocket.
“I’ll read it. Thank you so much,” she said, removing the hat that she was yet wearing, smoothing her hair and replacing it. “I’ll just be headed back around the corner now…”
“Of course. I suppose I will need a pony cart to return these next week.” Miss Abington smiled graciously as Eden turned back to the door.