Eden 43

“We’ve an invitation to dinner,” Eden announced to Sophia at breakfast on the veranda. “Clive Williams—he’s a writer, do you know of him?—he says Eleanor has told him to have us.” She handed the folded note to Sophia.

“Clive Williams? Of course I know of him!” Sophia picked up the note eagerly and read it.

Eden blushed. The old feeling of not knowing things other people took for granted returned to her in a rush, as it still did and probably always would, from time to time.

“Well, he has a cottage here and wants us this evening.”

Sophia smiled her assent.

The cottage was like enough to Eleanor’s that it might have been its twin. But its veranda was hung round with Chinese lanterns, giving it a festive charm as the day’s light fell away and the summer night embraced it. Eden and Sophia were not the only guests of Clive, as Mr. Williams insisted upon being called. But they were the only women among the dozen others.

“E.F. Smith,” Clive announced to a small man with a large mustache, who had been mingling with three other men, all taller, but with smaller mustaches.

“Eden, please,” said Eden, giving the man her hand.

“E. F. Smith! Eden… it is an honor to meet you.” The man introduced himself as Arnold Butler. Eden knew him to be a local painter of some esteem. He told Eden he had read her reviews and seen one or two of her pictures in an exhibition in New York, to which Bette had encouraged her to submit some months ago.

Eden turned now to Sophia. “This is Dr. Sophia Abington,” she introduced.

Mr. Butler took Sophia’s hand with a smile, while, over his shoulder, Sophia saw a man turn to face her. “Dr. Abington!” the man said, startled.

Sophia turned. “Dr. Warren?” Then, “excuse me, Mr. Butler.” And she walked quickly across the room to the man that she saw now, was Ralph Warren, the doctor who directly supervised her work at the Boston Women’s Hospital.

Dr. Warren reddened and stammered. “I—I never imagined I would meet you here, Miss…Dr. Abington.”

“I suppose it had better be Sophia,” Sophia said, blushing slightly herself.

“Of course—and Ralph,” he said.

“Ralph–” a man a few feet away walked to them now and put his hand on Dr. Warren’s shoulder. “Who is your charming friend?”

“Oh!” Dr. Warren turned to the man quickly, then back to Sophia. “This is my newest staff member, Dr. Abington—Sophia Abington—” then to Sophia, “this is Cyril Prescott, my…friend.”

A light came up in Sophia’s mind and she felt suddenly, very foolish to have ever been in the dark. Of course.  Ralph Warren. Of course. “Mr. Prescott,” she said with a smile, and let the man take her hand.

Once the entire party was informed of Eden’s identity as the destined-to-be illustrious E. F. Smith, and a friend of the already-illustrious E. W. Stephens, the slight discomfort Sophia and Eden had felt about being the only women present dissolved into conviviality.

All the gentlemen were bachelors. All were perfectly chivalrous towards Sophia. But with a sense she could not name, Sophia knew that not one of them had any interest in marriage. She glanced at Ralph, laughing over perhaps one too many glasses of wine, and saw him put an unguarded hand on Cyril’s knee under the table. He caught her eye and she smiled warmly. Some burden she had not, until then, realized she was carrying suddenly lifted from her. She thought of going back to the hospital and seeing him there. Her memory of his hand on Cyril’s knee would make her work somehow…friendlier.

When they had bid the gentlemen good evening, Eden and Sophia walked back home with a light step. “You can stay a bit longer than a week, can’t you?” Eden asked.

“I suppose that if Dr. Warren can stay, I can too,” she agreed.

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