Category Archives: 02 Chapter Two

Eden 2:3

EdenGertrude had called her dashing.  And this morning, as Eden’s mind wandered away from the lecture, Gertrude seemed to wander with her, sneaking smiles beneath the neat brim of her flower-trimmed straw hat.  The doubts of the night before fled as Eden basked in the certainty that she was securely planted in Gertrude’s heart.

Eden wasn’t sure where their love would take them.  Whenever she tried to imagine life beyond college only the haziest images came to her.  But where would they live?  How would they get their living or spend their days?  Would their families be nearby?  She had only met Gertrude’s parents once.   But if Gertrude loved Eden and Eden loved Gertrude what future could there be for either of them, but together somehow?

She pondered these things later that evening as she removed her tie and collar before the photo stuck in the frame of her dressing table mirror.

Sitting in a velvet chair, wearing an expensive lace tea dress and an elaborately feathered and beribboned hat, Gertrude smiled merrily in sepia tones.  Beside Gertrude stood Eden herself, in her best suit and a new Homberg, one hand on Gertrude’s shoulder, an unlit cigar in the other.  They looked for all the world like newlyweds.

It had been Gertrude’s idea.  The Radcliffe literature club—of which, Gertrude was president—had held an April Fools Day ball last spring in which half the girls had dressed as boys and half as girls.  Eden had been the only “boy” there whose clothing actually fit and whose hat wasn’t awkwardly poised atop a vast upsweep of hair.  She and Gertrude had taken the prize for handsomest couple and had their photograph taken.

Eden knew it was all supposed to be a joke, but secretly she cherished the photo.  Gertrude had a copy too, and Eden had written on the back, “to the prettiest girl in Boston, all my love, E.”  Gertrude had written on Eden’s too.  It simply said, “x, G.”

Why couldn’t she and Gertrude go away to a sepia world in which Eden really was a dashing young man, Gertrude, her lovely bride and everyone smiled approvingly at them?

After all, her parents had done it—in full color.

Eden 2:2

“Miss Abington!” Eden called across a small quadrangle early on Monday morning.

Sophia Abington was alone on the opposite path.  She turned to the sound of her name and stopped as Eden stepped quickly to her.

“I have your book here,” Eden said.  I was going to drop it by your house later, but…” She handed the book to Miss Abington, who smiled a small thanks.

Sophia“Did you enjoy it?” the girl asked.

“I did, thank you.”  Eden fell silent.

Eden

“Well…” Miss Abington put out a hand.  Eden took it and held it a beat too long, then blushed and dropped it awkwardly.

“Your grandfather…your family—” Eden said now, moving her weight from one foot to the other.  “They are quite interested, then, in Negro rights and that sort of thing?”

Eden watched as Miss Abington’s face grew so very slightly paler that no one else might have noticed the change.  “All sorts of things,” she said, raising her chin a little.  “Negro rights, the suffrage, education reform…” She stopped and watched Eden, waiting, perhaps, for a verdict on her response.

Everyone Eden had met in Boston was in strong favor of women’s suffrage.  And the very fact of being at Radcliffe College attested to an interest in education reform.  It was only on the Negro question that Miss Abington might anticipate any opposition from a classmate.  Did she expect such opposition now?

Eden found herself struck dumb in fear of the thousand ways in which what she chose to do or say next might be misunderstood.  Miss Abington grew more noticeably pale.

“That’s interesting,” Eden said at last.  “I—my own family is rather…”

“Eden!” called a voice across the grass.  It was Gertrude.

“I’m sorry,” Eden said, nodding a hasty goodbye to Miss Abington.  “I’ve got a lecture.  Perhaps we can take up the subject another time.”

“Perhaps so,” said Miss Abington with no particular emotion, putting the book in a leather satchel and moving away.

“She’s looking as grim as ever.” Gertrude laughed a little at Sophia Abington’s back.  “What plain things she always wears.  Such a good Quaker girl.”

“Gertrude!” Eden chastised.  “If you think her plain, what must you think of me?”

“Oh—you are not plain.  You are dashing.”  Gertrude took Eden’s arm, smiled and bowed her head submissively. “But whatever did you have to say to her?”

“I was returning a book she loaned me,” Eden said, hoping that Gertrude wouldn’t ask what book.

She didn’t.  They arrived at their Classics lecture with five minutes to spare.

Eden 2:1

EdenPhaedrus did not hold Eden’s attention long and she put it down and picked up, instead, the book Sophia Abington had given her.

She had thought to read herself to sleep with a chapter or two, but as soon as she opened it, she found it impossible to close and spent the next several hours wide awake, lost in the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, almost forgetting Gertrude.

Outside of her personal experience, Eden knew little of the history of slavery or of the fate of Negroes since the war.  The only book she’d read about it had been her mother’s worn edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and though it had held her riveted attention for a week, she had not known enough to place it in a context that held much meaning for her.

In Cambridge, there were monuments to the members of the university who had fallen in the war, and from time to time there were solemn events to commemorate them.  But as Eden strove to follow the social lead of the girls she had met in Cambridge, it became clear to her that whatever the role of Boston had been before or during the war, current discussion of such things was not within the bounds of polite—even intellectual—society.  After all, the students at Harvard and Radcliffe came from many places and many kinds of families.  In Eden’s experience, whenever the Negro Problem came up, someone grew anxiously quiet and someone else changed the subject quickly.

Eden never brought it up herself and she wasn’t skilled enough in conversation to gracefully change the subject.  But sometimes, she was the anxious, quiet one.