It was eight o’clock on Monday morning and Eden was rushing out, late to her first lecture of the week. But just as she grabbed her hat from its peg in the hall, a knock came at the door. Opening it, she saw Sophia Abington standing there.
“If the other girls are all out for the morning, I wonder if we could talk now…about the book, I mean.”
“Don’t you have a lecture?” Eden asked her.
“It’s just chemistry—I learned it all last summer. It’s a bore. Just this once I thought maybe…” Sophia looked at Eden’s hat. “Oh, I’m sorry, you have one, yourself.”
Eden held the hat in both hands, nervously spinning it around and around. She opened the door wider. “Forgive me, Sophia, come in.”
“No you’re right, it was a good idea. I’ll just miss mine this morning too—I’m late anyway,” Eden told her. Though she did not find her course on classical architecture to be at all a bore, she knew she could keep up even if she was absent this morning.
“Are you sure?” Sophia asked.
“I am,” Eden told her, hanging her hat back on its peg, and ushering Sophia up the staircase and into her room.
Closing the door behind her and waving Sophia to the same chair in which she’d sat two weeks ago after the Chopin concert, Eden took the girl’s jacket, hat and gloves and laid them carefully on the end of her bed, then took the desk chair for herself.
“I’m not sure what exactly you wanted me to tell you about this book, but—have you read the German one too?” Sophia interrupted herself.
“The German one?” Eden asked.
“Actually, quite a lot of it is in Latin. But Mr. Ellis refers a good deal to Psychopathia Sexualis by a German doctor…” Sophia opened the book and leafed through it as if looking for a reference. “I looked at it a little in the library, Saturday.”
Eden was stunned. “You found it in the library?” she asked.
“I had a Harvard boy request it at the desk for me,” Sophia explained.
“What Harvard boy?” Eden’s brow wrinkled with concern.
“I don’t know. No one in particular—I supposed the librarian might not be willing to let me have it.” She looked up and saw Eden’s face. “Oh—” She touched Eden’s knee. “I didn’t even tell him my name. It’s alright, I’m sure.”
Eden bit her lip. “Of course, I didn’t mean to suggest…” but she was reeling with amazement that Sophia had done such a daring thing on her behalf. She ran a hand through her hair, leaning back in her chair as casually as she could manage. “What did it say? The German book?”
“It was similar to the one you gave me in some ways. Though Mr. Ellis writes much more about women than Dr. Krafft-Ebbing.”
“But Sophia…” Eden looked at the book in the girl’s lap. “Did you find that anything in the book…” She stopped, frowned, and began again. “Did you think there was anything there that…that described…me?”
Her face grew suddenly hot and she knew she was blushing. Why had she given Sophia this book at all?
And yet, Sophia remained calm and serious. “I don’t see how a foreign doctor who has never met you could begin to describe you. In fact, he hasn’t met most of the people he is trying to describe here. It reads like a gossip column in a cheap newspaper, didn’t you think so?”
When Eden had gathered enough courage to look up, she found Sophia searching her face most earnestly.
“So you don’t think there’s something…wrong with me? Because…” Eden looked away again, adjusting her tie nervously.
“Wrong?” Sophia was quiet for just a moment. “No, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you. Not in the least,” she said.
“You don’t…pity me?” Eden looked at her lap again. “Gertrude Prescott said she did.” Her words were almost a whisper.
“Gertrude Prescott is a fool!” Sophia spoke more sharply than Eden had supposed possible. And though her face was pink with self-consciousness, she continued in a rush, “You are no mistake of nature, Eden Smith. I don’t care what these doctors write. I think you are just as your creator intended you to be.”
Her eyes found Eden’s. Her blush had faded. “I think you are wonderful,” she said more steadily. “And I think any girl who calls herself your friend is the luckiest girl alive.”
Sophia seemed to drain herself of courage with this last declaration, and her gaze quickly fell back to the book in her lap. But Eden sat spellbound by the speech she had made. It was so out of character with the practical Miss Abington Eden thought she knew that its pure honesty could not be doubted.
“Sophia?” Eden leaned forward and reached out to touch the girl’s cheek.
Sophia looked up and Eden leaned across the space between them and kissed her gently at first, then, as Sophia reached back, Eden took her hands and raised her to standing, kissing her again and again with ever more passion. The book in Sophia’s lap slid disregarded, spine-up on the floor as her arms went around Eden, pulling her closer.