Category Archives: 01 Chapter One

Eden 1:4

EdenEden sat at her desk and tried to concentrate on a Socratic dialog she had been assigned for the next day.  The library had closed half an hour ago and she had still not heard Gertrude come home.

Gertrude’s room was next to Eden’s and last year, they had studied together more often than not in the evenings.  But tonight the half hour became an hour and more before Eden grew too tired to sit up any longer.  She extinguished her lamp and went to bed in her clothes.  But she did not sleep and within another quarter of an hour she heard a step in the hall and the door nearest hers opening.

She imagined Gertrude taking down her hair, undressing herself with effort—usually she asked Eden’s or another girl’s help with her corset laces—pulling on her nightdress and pushing the button that would extinguish the electric light by her bed.

Eden knew it was late, but wished Gertrude had knocked at her door and said goodnight.  It would be hours yet, before Eden could knock on Gertrude’s and wish her a good morning.

She sat up, lit the lamp by her bed and picked up Plato again.

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Eden 1:3

EdenMany of Eden and Gertrude’s classmates were at the library that evening, as were many of the Harvard boys eager to get the term’s work begun.  And though she’d promised to help, Gertrude soon drifted towards a group of other third-year girls, leaving Eden at the librarian’s desk.

Eden wished Radcliffe had its own library.  She disliked mingling with the young men.  They invariably mistook her for one of their own until they noticed the skirt beneath the jacket, waistcoat and tie that were identical to theirs.  When that moment came, she never knew if she would be received with hostility, humor, or embarrassment.  It was always at least one, sometimes a mixture of the three.

Eden took her books to a table and glanced toward the group where she had left Gertrude.  But Gertie wasn’t there.  Looking around, Eden spotted her at last in a leather chair, across from a young man in its twin.  The two were smiling and whispering, the boy having abandoned a stack of papers and books in favor of Gertrude’s company.

The sinking doubt Eden had felt in the square that afternoon returned as she watched Gertrude lean close to the boy and whisper something near his ear.  Eden wanted air.  She gathered her things and went to the desk to have her cards stamped.

Leaving the library in the dark, preoccupied as she was, she nearly stumbled over someone stooping on the front steps.  “Excuse me!” she said, stopping short when she realized that a girl had dropped several books and was trying to collect them by the dim gaslight.

Eden bent down, placing her own things in a careful pile, and found herself face-to-face with Sophia Abington for the second time that day.  “Miss Abington,” she said, “please let me help you.”

“Miss Smith!”  The girl sounded embarrassed, but Eden couldn’t see her clearly in the dark.  “I’m so clumsy, I’m sorry.”

SophiaBut as Eden helped gather the books, she saw that Miss Abington had quite overburdened herself.  “I think you’d need another pair of arms to carry these home,” Eden said.  She gathered several of the spilled books together with her own. “Show me the way,” Eden said.  “I’ll take these for you.”

Miss Abington had little choice but to agree.  She couldn’t have carried the books alone if she’d tried.

“I suppose I tend to over prepare,” she said.

“I understand,” Eden said.  “I think I work twice as hard as everyone else to do half as well.”  Then she realized what she’d said.  “Not that you do half as well—I’ve heard you are one of the top students in our class.”

“The top,” Miss Abington said.  She glanced at Eden over her armload of books.  “But I have to do well, if I’m going to be a physician,” she added.

“A doctor?” Eden asked with raised eyebrows.  “I’ve never met a lady doctor.”

“There are several—especially in Boston! But you are right in a way—in order to compete for a place in the medical school, I will have to do twice as well as the best man.  They have never accepted a woman before.”

“And you plan to be the first?” Eden smiled in the dark.

“I have to try.”

No wonder Miss Abington was never to be found on picnics and bicycling parties with Eden’s friends.  If the girl was shy, she also must be the most ambitious student at Radcliffe.

They reached the door of Miss Abington’s house and she put down her share of the books and found a key.  She let them in, pushing a button for electric light as they stepped into the hall.  No one else appeared to be home at the boarding house.

“I didn’t know you lived here,” said Eden.  “I’m right around the corner.”

“I know,” the girl said with a blush Eden didn’t understand.  She set the books on a little table in the front parlor of the house and reached out to take the ones Eden had carried as well.  In the exchange, one slipped to the floor.

Eden reached down quickly to retrieve the book, idly glancing at its title as she did.  “Whose ‘Life and Times?’” she asked.

“Mr. Douglass,” said Miss Abington, taking the book from Eden.  “This one doesn’t belong to the library.  It’s mine, actually.”

“Mr. Douglass?” Eden asked.

In her first year at college, Eden had found herself in the position of not knowing many of the things the other girls at Radcliffe took for granted.  Growing up in the desert had given her a wealth of knowledge about training horses, predicting weather and avoiding snakes, but it had not prepared her well for university life in Boston.  Now, she had to assume that Mr. Douglass’s life and times was yet another of the things everyone but Eden knew everything about.

“Frederick Douglass…” Miss Abington said tilting her head a little as if waiting for a light to show up in Eden’s face.

Eden colored instead. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I don’t know.”

“He was a famous anti-slavery agitator,” the girl began.  “That is, he was, himself, a fugitive slave.  He lived in Massachusetts and was a great speaker and writer in the cause of abolition.  My grandfather worked with him.”  She paused a moment and added, “Josiah Beales—that was my grandfather—the newspaper editor.”

Eden felt helplessly ignorant as she watched Miss Abington grow more and more enthusiastic, speaking of Frederick Douglass and her grandfather.  It was clearly something important.  But Eden could only shrug apologetically.

Miss Abington stopped suddenly.  “I’m sorry,” she said.  “Of course, this isn’t something you would have necessarily heard about in Arizona.  But in Boston…”

“No, I’m sorry,” Eden interrupted.  “It sounds fascinating, truly.  I wish I’d known.  I ought to have known.”

Miss Abington’s tone was calmer now as she put the book back in Eden’s hand.  “Why don’t you borrow it?” she said.  “He supported votes for women, too.  He was quite a hero.”

Eden saw that Miss Abington was feeling sorry about putting her in a difficult spot.  She turned the book over and over in her hands nervously before depositing it in her pocket.

“I’ll read it.  Thank you so much,” she said, removing the hat that she was yet wearing, smoothing her hair and replacing it.  “I’ll just be headed back around the corner now…”

“Of course.  I suppose I will need a pony cart to return these next week.” Miss Abington smiled graciously as Eden turned back to the door.

Eden 1:2

EdenEden sat staring into a chipped teacup as Gertrude chattered about a party she’d been to the evening before.

“These Harvard boys are so arrogant!  They really feel they are doing you a favor to dance with you.  They don’t consider for a minute that you might rather not.”

“Why do you go if you don’t want to dance with them?” Eden asked, hoping her tone did not betray her anxiety.

“It’s fun anyway—everyone goes…” Gertrude stopped, realizing that of course, Eden never went to Harvard affairs.

Eden ignored Gertrude’s slip.  “I would expect that with so few of us and so many of them, they’d feel you are doing them the favor to dance,” she said.

“Oh Eden, it’s not like that at all.  There are throngs of Cambridge girls—girls from Boston and even New York—at these parties.  They all want a Harvard man.  The Radcliffe girls are considered queer for being educated.  They’d rather have an empty-headed townie in a garish hat than one of us,” Gertrude said.

“Well it’s their loss.  I prefer an educated girl, myself.” Eden smiled across the wooden table stained with cup rings and old coffee spills.  The smell of stale cigarette smoke permeated the place, though they sat in the ladies’ dining room where no smoking was permitted.  Eden wished she had taken Gertrude somewhere quieter and cleaner, more refined and romantic.

“If you had been there, I could have danced with you,” Gertrude teased.

Eden guessed Gertrude was grinning, but she found she couldn’t meet her eye.  She wouldn’t dare admit it aloud, but it was the very fear that Gertrude wouldn’t dance with her that kept her from the parties.  Gertrude always made a show of inviting Eden to come with her, but Eden was reluctant to go among the Harvard boys in the skirt she would be obligated to wear to such an occasion.  If she was going to accompany Gertrude to a dance, she wanted to go as a boy herself.  In a skirt…she didn’t like to imagine the comparison Gertrude might draw between her and the young men.

But she could only wear her trousers when she was among strangers.  She could nod politely if a maitre d’ called her “sir” in a restaurant in Boston, but at a dance full of her classmates and their brothers and beaus, she could not pretend to be anyone but herself.  She would have to wear the same black gabardine skirt that she wore to lectures.  So she let Gertrude go alone, a thing which filled her with nearly as much anxiety as the prospect of going with her.

Last term, after a walk in the park, Gertrude had said she loved Eden.  She had never said it since, but when they sat together studying in their rooms, Eden sometimes laid her head in Gertrude’s lap while the girl stroked her hair affectionately.  Gertrude had let Eden kiss her enough times that Eden had stopped counting.  But in recent weeks Eden thought she felt a waning of Gertrude’s enthusiasm to be with her.

Standing in the square today, Eden had even found herself battling a vague, doubtful feeling that she couldn’t quite name.  When Gertrude had arrived, relief had flooded the doubts.  But now, listening to Gertrude analyze the behavior of what Eden imaged to be a faceless crowd of entitled young men, anxiety twisted her stomach.

She gave Gertrude a strained smile as they left money on the table and rose to leave.

“What have you got this evening?” Gertrude asked, taking Eden’s arm as they let the café door fall shut behind them.

“Library—I need about a dozen books for the weekend,” Eden frowned.

“I’ll come too.  I got mine this afternoon, but I’ll help you tonight,” she said with a smile that lightened Eden’s heart.

Eden 1:1

1900Eden

Eden Smith was not a boy.  But anyone who happened past Harvard Square would not have known this to see her standing there in a boy’s suit, squinting at her watch and running a nervous hand through her neat, short hair.  Since coming East, Eden had found that no one expected to see a girl in boys’ clothes, so no one really saw her when she wore them.  What they saw was just another Harvard student roaming Cambridge.

It was twenty minutes past four.  She closed the watch and scanned the streets leading to the square.  Two girls, arm in arm, were dodging the streetcars and carriages on Main Street to approach her.

“It is you!” one of them called merrily. “Sophie said ‘it’s Eden Smith in trousers’—but I was sure you were a young man.”

Eden didn’t blush, but glanced about quickly.  Her classmates at Radcliffe had become accustomed to her eccentricity, but sometimes, they drew attention to it that worried her.  On her father’s ranch in the Arizona Territory, she had always worn boys’ clothes and no one had made a fuss.  But Arizona was a long way from Boston.

The college girls—none from further West than Ohio—thought Eden an exotic marvel straight from the pages of the kind of magazine their mothers had forbidden them to read.  And though a handful of them seemed to avoid her suspiciously, her company was much in demand among her more adventurous classmates.

Eden assured herself that no one had overheard Cathy’s remark, then smiled congenially at the two girls who stood before her.  Cathy Dickens was the one who had called out, Sophia Abington the one blushing at her side.  Cathy lived in the same boarding house as Eden.  She was a gregarious girl with red curling hair that suited her fair complexion.  A third-year student, she was the social hub of Radcliffe.  Today she wore a crisp shirtwaist blouse and a skirt of green and yellow stripes.  Her bright eyes sparkled beneath the brim of a hat trimmed with yellow flowers and a green ribbon band.

Beside the vividness of Cathy, Miss Abington might have been her maid. She wore a brown cotton dress, her light brown hair knotted simply at her neck and topped with an unadorned straw hat.  She was a second-year student like Eden.  But all Eden knew about her was that everyone said she did nothing but study.  Until this moment, Eden didn’t think she’d ever heard anyone call her “Sophie.”  But here she was, improbably arm-in-arm with the most popular girl at the college.

Considering her very different relations to the two girls, Eden didn’t know whether to merely take their hands or to kiss them in greeting.  Cathy solved the dilemma by turning a freckled cheek up to Eden.  Miss Abington made no similar overture, but Eden fumbled to kiss her anyway, not wanting to discriminate between them.

“Why are you standing here, in the square?” Cathy asked.  “You look as if you’re waiting for a train.”

“I’ve just come off the street car.  I was at the Athenaem this morning, but I’m to meet Gertie here for tea,” Eden said, hoping her light tone convincingly concealed her impatience.

Even as she spoke, however, the girl for whom she was waiting at last arrived.  Gertrude Prescott stole upon the little crowd of students as they preoccupied themselves with each other.  “Eden!” she called; then “hello Cathy, Miss Abington.”

Eden repressed an impulse to check her watch again and kissed Gertrude hello instead.  “I was beginning to worry,” she said.

“I’m so sorry, darling, I was detained at the library,” Gertrude said, taking her arm.  Eden checked herself before asking Gertrude by whom or what she was detained.  Instead she said, “you look beautiful this afternoon.”

It was true enough.  Intellect was verbosely prized above appearance among the thoughtful young women at the college.  Nevertheless, Gertrude Prescott was widely considered to be Radcliffe’s Great Beauty.  Today her dark hair was swept high and topped with a feathered hat that matched a blue day dress with white satin ribbon trailing down the skirt and curling into little florets along its hem.  She looked as if she were dressed for tea at the Brunswick Hotel rather than the busy student café where they had planned to go.

Eden wondered a little at Gertrude’s attire, but didn’t ask why she was so elaborately dressed for a Friday afternoon at the library.  It occurred to her, perhaps not entirely consciously, that she might not want to know the answer.  Better to forget it and enjoy having the lovely girl by her side now that she had the chance.

“Well, she’s here now.  I suppose you’ll be off,” Cathy said.

“Yes,” Eden bid Cathy and Miss Abington goodbye with a smile, then offered Gertrude her arm.  As far as the rest of Cambridge might know, they were a proud young man and his pretty fiancée.