Sophia was almost finished with her dinner when her father excused himself to mark student examinations leaving her alone with her mother at the table.
“What a lovely new ring, Sophia,” Mrs. Abington remarked. “Where did it come from?”
Sophia looked at her hand instead of her mother. “Eden Smith gave it to me for a Christmas present,” she answered simply.
“And you gave her yours in return? Or have you stopped wearing it?” her mother said.
Sophia bit her lower lip. This, she had not thought of. But of course her mother noticed the missing ring. She had given it to Sophia at her graduation from Miss Ireland’s school. She had worn it every day since.
“Yes, mother, I gave it to Eden,” she said finally.
Her mother’s brow knit with apparent concern. “Sophia, you have always been such a sensible girl. You know that your father and I don’t mind if you do not marry right away—even if you should never feel led to marry, we accept that—so long as you remain a sensible girl.”
“I hope I am sensible, mother,” Sophia returned. “I am still the top student in my class. Professor James says that I am the best student he has ever seen—at Radcliffe or Harvard.” She blushed at the boast, wishing immediately that she could retract it. But she finished. “What has a ring to do with any of that?”
Mrs. Abington frowned a little. But Sophia recognized worry, uppermost in her expression. “You are too old to be infatuated with a girl,” her mother said. “You never gave in to such nonsense at school. I cannot understand your doing so now, with such worthy ambitions as you have.”
“Eden does nothing to thwart my ambitions, mother. Eden is very—”
But her mother did not allow her to finish. “I don’t want to argue with you, Sophia. And I have nothing against this girl, though Francine Smalls tells me she is a bit…eccentric.” She sighed. “If you are going to insist on this friendship, you need to be aware of the reaction people will have. Things are not like they were when I was your age and women like Francine and Beatrice Warner could keep house together without raising respectable eyebrows. The world is not so innocent now—” she paused a bit and softened her tone to finish, “—even if you are, dearest.”
“I’m not.” Sophia found herself filled with an almost alien courage. “I’m not innocent, Mother. I love Eden Smith and I intend to wear her ring for the rest of my life—and she has sworn to wear mine. I can be a doctor —I know I can—and love Eden too.”
Mrs. Abington said nothing more, but looked at her daughter for a long moment. At last, she rose from the table and said, “It grieves me to see you adding this burden to the challenges you already face.” She was quiet for a moment. But tell Miss Smith to come for dinner on Saturday. You owe your father and me the opportunity to meet her.” And she left the room.
Sophia put her face in her hands and took a long, trembling breath.