Monthly Archives: August 2013

Eden 42:4

Sophia rushed through the upstairs hall. It was seven o’clock and she was half an hour later than she had intended to be in leaving for the hospital.

Passing Eden’s door she glanced in to see an open trunk and Eden standing over her bed folding shirts.

“What are you doing?” She had not expected to find Eden awake.

“Packing.” Eden told her without turning to look.

Sophia stepped into the room now, her hurry forgotten.

“Packing for what?”

“The cape. Now the weather’s broken, I want to go out there to work for a while.” Eden glanced briefly at Sophia, then went back to her careful folding. She had recently found and purchased, on Eleanor’s authority, a cottage in a town on the cape where some writers and painters Eleanor knew had done the same.

“For how long?”

“I don’t know.”

“Eden?” Sophia felt a chill and wanted to see Eden’s eyes.

But Eden kept her eyes on the shirt she was folding. “You won’t notice I’m gone, Sophie. You do nothing but work. You leave the house most days before I’m awake and go back to work directly after dinner—if you come home for dinner at all.”

“The research is nearly finished, but Claire only gave the last of the data to me yesterday. We won’t make the deadline if we don’t work every minute we have.”

“I know your work is important.” Eden met Sophia’s eye for a fraction of a second, then dropped her gaze.

Sophia felt a rush of courage. “It’s Paris, isn’t it? You want to go back, but you are afraid to say it.”

Eden was silent, refusing to look up.

“I’ve already arranged for Vivienne Webb to meet me at the cape for her portrait.”

“Of course,” Sophia said. “Naturally, you should go.”

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Eden 42:3

“You and Claire are always out so late working, why not bring her home for dinner tomorrow?” Eden told Sophia at a hurried breakfast one morning.

“Dinner? Here?” Sophia drained a cup of tea and poured another.

“Certainly—no need to dress or make a fuss—just bring her home. She hasn’t got a cook, has she? She could probably use a decent meal.”

“I’ll ask her.”

But one thing and another crowded the idea out of Sophia’s mind and she never did ask Claire to dinner.

Instead, she missed dinner herself more and more often until one night, long after the servants had gone to bed, she let herself in with a latchkey and crept quietly back to the kitchen in the hopes of finding something left over in the larder.

Passing the parlor as she did, she saw a light burning, and looked in to find Eden seated by the fire, a glass of brandy in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

“You’re home.” Eden put down the glass to consult her watch. “It’s after midnight.”

“Have you been waiting for me?” Sophia was worried now.

“We had dinner with Miss Francine and Mrs. Devries, remember?”

Sophia had forgotten the engagement entirely. “Oh…” She sank into a chair near Eden. “I’m so sorry. We are so close to finished, it is difficult to stop and we forget everything else, and…”

“Miss Francine said to tell you how sorry she was to miss your playing. I got an earful of Mrs. Devries’ instead.” Eden tried a small smile, but her mouth was hard and her eyes were dark.

Sophia was quiet.

Well…you must be tired. Go to bed, darling.” Eden rose and kissed Sophia’s forehead, then stepped out of the room herself.

Eden 42:2

Sophia almost forgot about the sketch. She was busy with a new doctor’s ordinary load of patients and surgery hours in addition to the research she was doing with Claire.

But when she opened her wardrobe to take out a shirtwaist and wool skirt and jacket one morning, she spied one of the half-dozen fashionable dresses Eden had bought for her in Paris and felt a slight turn of guilt in her stomach. She had only worn one of them and that only once, when Eden had taken her dancing soon after their return to Boston.

Since that evening there had been no occasion to wear such things. They nearly always dined at home, quietly and alone, and Sophia nearly always ran in just in time to eat, after late evenings at the hospital.

Eden had been working hard all winter too, but Sophia worried that she was bored. Perhaps she missed the frivolity of Eleanor’s London friends. She must certainly miss her studio in Paris—in Boston she painted in Eleanor’s small day room. Perhaps she even missed Madame Vielle’s fetes where the girls always flirted and smiled at Eden, whether Sophia was on her arm or not.

Sophia supposed Eden would never complain, would never admit it if asked. But she must miss it all. Boston would never be Paris.

Eden 42:1

Sophia was sorting through Eden’s summer clothes to give the most soiled ones to Mrs. Williams for the laundry when a thick folded piece of drawing paper fell from some pocket of a jacket.

She smiled to herself and opened it, expecting one of Eden’s sketches. But the style was not one Sophia recognized as Eden’s. And Eden was a prominent figured in it.

It was Decker’s “puppy love” satire.

Sophia’s smile changed to a frown. There was Eden, and there, George, whom Sophia also knew. But the third figure was a mystery. In spite of the comical style of the sketch, it was obvious the girl was beautiful and sophisticated. Her clothes were just in fashion, her hair elaborately dressed and expensive jewels hung from her every available appendage.

And someone—whomever had drawn the picture—was quite certain she was enamored with Eden.

Eden wore a halo in the picture, but it was impossible to say whether the artist believed Eden a saint or believed that Eden thought herself one.

Sophia knew there was no discovering the mystery. She told herself there was really nothing to discover. So many of the rich people Eleanor knew were frivolous and shallow. The drawing probably represented nothing but the fancy of a moment. It was likely to have been of no consequence even to Eden. Though she had kept the sketch, she had certainly forgotten it by now, not having worn the jacket in months.

Sophia would not mention it. She tossed the paper into the fire and didn’t even watch it burn before leaving the room.

Eden 41:4

Soon after her arrival in Boston, Sophia called on Claire.

“Dr. Abington!” Claire cried happily, kissing Sophia on the cheek and flushing with joy. “Welcome home to Boston.”

She ushered Sophia into a modest sitting room in the house she now shared with a new medical student.

“Thank you, Dr. Reardon,” Sophia said. “But I am not here for social reasons only.” She eyed Claire with a grin. “I have a plan and I hope you will consider helping me.”

Claire raised an eyebrow. “What kind of plan?”

“There is some research I have been planning for some time now. And I think…if it goes well…I think we could submit it for the Boyleston Prize.”

“The Boyleston Prize? From Harvard’s medical school? That is quite a plan, Dr. Abington.”

“It is.” Sophia was sober.

“But…” Claire shook her head. “What about the policy—”

“Against women?” Sophia smiled again. “The papers are submitted anonymously. They will not have any way to know we are women until we have won.”

“If we win,” Claire said.

“We can, Claire. I’m sure we can.” Sophia clapped her hands on the arms of her chair with enthusiasm. “I have read the last five years’ prize papers, and I am certain that we can meet or surpass their quality. And when we do…the attention the research receives could make a real difference to the care of women and their babies all over this country—perhaps even abroad.”

It was a noble goal. It was worthy of all Sophia’s work over the years of her education. It was worthy of her parents. It was worthy of a good doctor with a good heart like Claire’s. It was worthy of Eden’s sacrifice.

All of this was in Sophia’s face, impossible for Claire to ignore. “Whether we win or not, you know I will be proud to help you,” Claire said.

Eden 41:3

It was still dark and Eden was still sleeping when Sophia rose and dressed. She took the valise standing beside her trunk and slipped out of the room and down the stairs to the lower deck, where she walked to the railing, cool wind in her loosely braided hair.

For just a moment, she watched the eastern sky lightening where it met the water, then she reached into the valise.

She held a sheaf of papers as far out from the railing as she could and dropped them, watching them flutter and float down, one catching a draft and blowing back past her again before twisting and flying finally out into the dark water with the rest. As Sophia’s eyes grew sharper in the half-light, she could make out the litter of white in the boat’s wake.

There was nothing left in the valise now, but a notebook bound in leather. She reached for it, but before she could toss it after the paper, a voice made her freeze.

“What on earth are you doing?”

Eden slipped to Sophia’s side and looked over the railing. The paper was out of sight now. But Sophia held the notebook in her hand.

“That’s Bertrand’s book.” She recognized it, of course, Sophia thought, and shuddered to imagine the circumstances in which Eden had become familiar with it.

“Yes.”

“You’re throwing it overboard?” Eden looked bemused.

“Yes.”

“Does he know you have it?”

“I don’t know.” Sophia looked down at the book for a moment, glanced at Eden and hurled it as hard as she could into the ocean.

Eden was silent.

“That was all of his notes, the draft of the article, everything I could find in his files about you—all of it, I think.” Sophia stopped and looked down as if to make sure the notes had not resurfaced, but the boat had surely left them far behind by now. “He could still reconstruct it from memory I suppose.” She frowned.

“Sophie—” Eden touched Sophia’s sleeve.

“I’m so sorry.” Sophia was in tears. “How can you ever forgive me for it?”

“There’s nothing to forgive, darling,” Eden said. “I went to him, remember? It had nothing to do with you.”

But it did. It had everything to do with Sophia and she knew it.

Eden 41:2

After dinner, Eden and Sophia retired to the first-class drawing room, which was empty, most of the passengers preferring the parlor or smoking in the gentlemen’s lounge.

“Where did you go?” Sophia asked Eden.  “I worried about you every day.”

“I was all right—it was quite nice for a while, but I can only cope with George and Wil and…England for so long.” She smiled again.

“I thought you might be with George. And Wil, and…who?”

“Oh it doesn’t matter—a lot of people at Wil’s house in Kent. It’s one of those big ones, you know—not like El’s cottage,” Eden said.

“El’s ‘cottage’ has nine bedrooms.”

“Yes, well…Wil’s has a deer park,” Eden raised her eyebrows and made an unconvincing frown.

“So you’ve suffered, then, while I was luxuriating in my examinations?” Sophia teased.

“But I have suffered, Sophie. I missed the look on your face when your exam results came in. I missed taking you to the Continental to celebrate. I missed you on my walks in the deer park, for all that…” Eden looked furtively around her to confirm that they were alone in the room. She placed a careful hand on Sophia’s thigh.  “I’m tired of missing you, darling.”

“Ah yes, I know. I know,” Sophia didn’t bother to look about her. She leaned close to Eden and kissed her cheek, laying her head, for just a moment on Eden’s shoulder and snatching a breath of the faint but familiar scent of turpentine and hair oil and soap. She was home. Even on a boat in the middle of the sea.