“Sophie! Cherie! We have so longed to meet you,” Mme. Vielle had exclaimed when they’d arrived and kissed Sophia on both cheeks, pronouncing her name to rhyme with cherie, and taking her by the hand to meet everyone.
Sophia danced with Wil Hyland twice and Eleanor once before Eden was able to cut in. “It’s heaven to have you here,” she told Sophia now.
Sophia smiled and glanced around the room at the women in summer evening gowns and men’s tailcoats. “There are so many beautiful girls.”
Sophia had worn the same white dress with the blue sash Eden had used to admire in Boston. But as unconcerned as she usually was with fashion, she could not help but notice that the other girls in the room wore dresses of finer fabric, newer cuts and richer detail. They all had feathers and jewels in their hair. Sophia wore only a simple pearl comb that had belonged to her grandmother in hers. In the company of the Parisians, Sophia felt like a little girl at her elder sister’s wedding.
Eden had danced with one of the other girls when Sophia had been dancing with Wil. The other girl had dark hair and eyes that reminded Sophia a little of Gertrude Prescott. Her dress was all bright white lace laid over airy ivory silk with a long jet sash. Sleek black feathers adorned her hair and black satin gloves that ought to look dour but somehow looked fresh and cool instead clung to her arms just past her elbows. Sophia had not been introduced to her and didn’t know her name. She watched her now, dancing with a young woman in gentlemen’s evening clothes like Eden’s.
Eden saw Sophia watching the couple. “That’s George St. John,” she told her.
“She’s pretty,” Sophia said.
“Pretty? Oh! The girl—that’s Sylvie Babin. Liz Vielle’s niece or something. She might go to Radcliffe next year.” Eden looked at the couple again. “George would rather she didn’t, I think.” Eden grinned.
“Are they—?” Sophia didn’t know how to finish the question.
Sophia was quiet for the rest of the waltz and when it was over, Eden went to find champagne.
“What’s this? Eden Smith has left you alone?” an English voice inquired. The one Eden had said was called George now stood by Sophia’s elbow. Sophia looked up and noticed that Sylvie Babin was still dancing—this time with Eleanor.
Sophia smiled and extended her hand. “Sophia Abington,” she said.
“Georgina St. John—George, if you will.” She took Sophia’s hand with a hint of a bow and kissed it.
“Is this your first visit to Paris?” George asked her now.
“It is,” said Sophia, “I’ve only been here two days, but it has been lovely, if a bit overwhelming.”
“Being overwhelmed by Paris is one of life’s greatest joys, I find. I hope we can persuade you to agree.” George took a cigarette from her breast pocket and offering it to Sophia with a gesture.
Sophia shook her head and George lit the cigarette for herself just as Eden returned with champagne.
“Cheers darling,” Eden smiled and tapped her glass lightly to Sophia’s. Then to George St. John, “you’ve been meeting Sophie?”
“I have,” George raised an eyebrow ever so slightly at Eden and smiled at Sophia. “She’s finding Paris overwhelming.”
Sophia blushed to be spoken of as if she weren’t present. She put her hand on Eden’s arm and stepped closer to her side as George changed the subject.
“You’ve taken her to the exhibition, of course?”
“Not yet,” Eden said.
Sophia looked from Eden to George. “The exhibition?”
“The Independents—Monsieur E.F. Smith’s debut!” George gave a little laugh and glanced conspiratorially at Eden.
“Monsieur? Debut?” Sophia asked again.
“She hasn’t told you?” George looked at Eden in shock. “You haven’t told her!”
“Told me what, Eden?” Sophia asked, inspecting Eden’s face now and seeing her discomfort.
“I have a picture in the exhibition is all,” Eden said quietly.
“She has a picture that’s been reviewed as one of the best—perhaps the best—in the exhibition this year,” corrected George with enthusiasm. “But they think she’s a man. It’s going to be the story of the season when they find out the truth—a bigger one yet, if she gets arrested for fooling them.”
Eden was blushing now. Sophia was staring at her. “George is joking. It’s nothing, really.”
“It doesn’t sound like nothing.” Sophia smiled and reached up to touch Eden’s hair with affection, almost forgetting that George was watching.
“It isn’t nothing, I assure you,” George insisted as Sylvie Babin walked up to join the little group.
“What isn’t nothing?” she asked in a chirping French accent.
“Eden Smith’s artistic success, cherie.” George kissed her cheek, flushed with dancing.
“Ah! C’est quelque chose, certainment!” Sylvie agreed with a smile and held out her hand to Sophia.
“Sylvie Babin,” she said.
Sophia took the girl’s hand and introduced herself.
Sylvie smiled kindly at her and offered to show her the garden of the house. It had been her uncle, M. Vielle’s house, she said, and she knew it well, having played there often as a child with her cousins. So Sophia left Eden and followed Sylvie out of the warm ballroom.
“Why didn’t you tell her?” George asked Eden. “Surely you aren’t so modest as to keep it from the girl who’s come all the way from America to see you.”
“She’s only just arrived. I hadn’t mentioned it yet, is all,” Eden said.
“She acts rather sincerely devoted to you,” George changed the subject now. How long have you known her?”
“We were at Radcliffe together,” Eden said, but at the word, “Radcliffe” she noticed George shift her weight slightly and glance toward the door through which Sophia and Sylvie had just gone.
Eden changed the subject. “Sophia is studying medicine in Boston.”
“She didn’t mention that,” George said. “She’s quite a serious girl then? I might have guessed.”
“She’s brilliant,” Eden said.
“Why doesn’t she come to the Ecole de Medecine?” George raised an eyebrow. “She could carry on with her education and with you.”
It was Eden’s turn to look uncomfortable. “She’s lived in Boston her entire life. Her family—” Eden stopped, reached into her pocket and drew out a cigarette.
“Of course,” George said. Then, “let’s go find them, shall we?” And they left the ballroom in search of the garden.