After the concert to which Eleanor took her, Eden declined dinner, saying she had to study. It was true enough—she always had to study something—but she was still feeling disturbed by the scene in Eleanor’s dining room and she wanted to be alone. She likewise declined a carriage ride home, and though the sky was growing dim, bid Eleanor goodbye, thrust her hands in her pockets and set off back to Cambridge on foot.
Eden frowned at the pavement as she walked. It was not as though she had never wondered about him. Ever since she realized that there had to be a man somewhere in her mother’s past that explained her own and her sister’s existence, she had been curious.
She did not long to know him. She did not think of him as “father.” She only wondered sometimes, vaguely, if she looked anything like him, the way her sister looked so like her mother; if he had other children; if he was, in fact, living or dead.
But now, suddenly faced with the fact of him—the accessible reality of him—Eden shrank in horror and wished him at the bottom of the sea.
She had only one father, her papa, who had danced with her in her mother’s kitchen the very day she was born. Her papa, Joe Smith, had said yes, when twelve-year old Eden had begged to be taught to work with the men and boys instead of left with her mother and sister to cook and wash and raise chickens. Her papa had taken Eden quietly aside and shown her how to wrap her breasts in bandages to conceal them beneath the handsome suits her Aunt Susan had made her before coming to Boston. Without being asked or told, her papa understood her in a way no one else on earth ever could. As much as Eleanor Stephens might have reason to take a “special interest” in her, Joe Smith had watched her grow—watched her as someone who had lived through the same thing—and knew exactly where she had come from. Eleanor would never know that. This man, Henry Barrett, knew less than nothing. He didn’t even know she existed, did he?
Eden’s stomach turned as she realized that she didn’t know if he knew she existed. She wondered if Eleanor did. How could her mother have told Francine and not told Eden she had done it? How could these other people know the man’s name, when she herself did not know it? She knew she should be angry with her mother for telling, but instead, she was angry with Eleanor for knowing.
When she reached her room, she opened the drawer in her desk that held her letters from Arizona. She drew out the last one her father had sent and read it tearfully.
I hope this letter finds you well and happy.
We miss you so much here, darling. I miss you, I should admit I mean. Your mother and your sister never forget you of course. But there are times when your papa gets lonely in a way that only his Eden would understand. And those are the times I wish you were home instead of so far away.
I sometimes worry about you out there among strangers. I know you have wonderful friends. Miss Stephens in particular has been so good to you. Your mother and I are grateful for that, of course. But somehow, when I think of you up in Boston I have a picture in my head of you walking down the street alone and I wonder if you are really alright, darling. You’d write and tell me if ever you were not wouldn’t you? Never think there is anything you can’t tell your papa.
The foals from last spring are all looking fine this year. There’s not one I wouldn’t be happy to keep for myself. But there is one in particular I am going to raise for you. He’s a pretty brown bay colt with four white socks and a perfect blaze. He is one of Orion’s grandsons and he reminds me a little of his fine old grandsire in his youthful days. I’d let you name him, but there is no telling when you’ll be home again, and he can’t go nameless indefinitely. What do you think of Arrow? He’s going to be fast, if not exactly straight—he’s got Orion’s spirit certainly. I think we’ll not geld him. I don’t want to see that spirit dimmed, somehow. I’ll take good care of him and train him well, but he’ll be yours. I’ve said he reminds me of Orion, but it’s just come to me that he reminds me of you.
Your mother says that you are a fine student and never doubt that I am proud of you for it. But more important than anything you might accomplish in the judgment of others, I want you to be satisfied that you are doing the thing in life you were put here to do. I don’t mean to be sentimental. You know that isn’t my way. But life is hard enough for everyone, and harder still for people like you and me. Finding the right work; the right place; the right people is such a great comfort. And I wish those things for you my dearest child.
Please send a letter just for me sometime. Don’t neglect your papa. I know your mother writes more often, but not an evening goes by I don’t look for Orion in the sky and hope you are looking for it too and thinking of us at home.
I love you, Eden.
It had been two weeks since the letter had come. One thing and another had kept her too busy to reply. She took her pen from the desk now and began to write.