Category Archives: 04 Chapter Four

Eden 4:4

Eleanor“Tell me about your holiday, then,” Eleanor asked Eden as they sat around the dining table, sipping brandy after dinner.  Eleanor had been back in Boston for less than a week, but had insisted Eden come over right away.  It had been three months since they’d seen each other.

“It wasn’t much, really,” Eden admitted.  “I just read a lot of books and spent a lot of time at the museum.”

“Did Gertrude like her present?” Eleanor asked.  Eden had consulted her about the bracelet before choosing it.

“She did,” Eden frowned, “but she didn’t get it until January.  I made a mess of Christmas.”

Eleanor raised an eyebrow and quietly waited.  But Eden didn’t explain.  Instead, she changed the subject.

“I might take up painting,” she said abruptly.

“Painting?  Watercolor?” Eleanor asked Eden.

“No,” she said carefully, “oil painting.”

“You will need proper instruction,” Eleanor said practically.  “There are plenty of people claiming to teach painting in Boston.  I don’t know which of them is any good.  I’ve never been much interested in art—producing it, I mean.”

Eden knew well enough that Eleanor’s interest was all in the collecting of art. Her house was a minor gallery to Eden’s thinking. She shrugged. “Whatever it is I need to do—I’ll just have to find out and do it, I suppose.”  Eden tried to keep the urgency she felt from her voice, but her older friend was eying her thoughtfully.

“I suppose,” Eleanor said.


Eden 4:3

EdenThe term had barely begun when Eden found the article.

She probably never would have seen the story except that Gertrude had insisted on reading New York newspapers ever since she’d come home from the holidays there and she had left an old one behind in Eden’s  room.

The New York Times
January 19, 1901
Murray H. Hall, the woman who masqueraded as a man for more than a quarter of a century… was known to hundreds of people in the Thirteenth Senatorial District, where she figured quite prominently as a politician.

Murray HallShe registered and voted at primaries and general elections for many years, and exercised considerable political influence with Tammany Hall, often securing appointments for friends who have proved their fealty to the organization-never exciting the remotest suspicion as to her real sex.

The discovery of “Murray Hall’s” true sex was not made until she was cold in death. She had been suffering from a cancer in the left breast for several years, as Dr. William C. Gallagher, who attended her in her final illness, discovered; but she abjured medical advice for fear of disclosing her sex, and treated herself.

“I wouldn’t believe it if Dr. Gallagher, whom I know to be a man of undoubted veracity, hadn’t said so,” said Senator Bernard F. Martin. “…Why, I knew him well. He was a hard worker for his party, and always had a good argument to put up for any candidate he favored. Suspect he was a woman? Never. He dressed like a man and talked like a very sensible one.”

Minnie Hall, an adopted child, is the sole heir. She is twenty-two years old, and Lawyer Thomas Moran, who drew the will, says she is the only beneficiary named.

Eden frowned and wondered if Gertrude had left the paper with this particular story in Eden’s room by design.  Then she carefully tore the story out from the page on which it appeared, folded it and took out her writing paper and a pen.

Dear Papa,

I hope this letter finds you well.  I have nothing much to tell you since I last wrote.  But I thought this article from the New York paper might interest you.  Please read it in private.

Love, Eden

For as long as Eden could remember, she had known that her father was a woman.  She had likewise known that no one else—not even her twin sister, Minna—knew.  Her mother was the exception of course.  But even as a child Eden knew she must not speak of it, not to Lillian, and certainly not to Joe.

This silent prohibition left her ironically lonely as she began to grow into herself under the gaze of her family and the others on the ranch.  Eden eschewed the dresses her Aunt Susan made for her, insisting on Susan’s son’s handed down knee pants and shirts instead, from the age of six.  She grew up with an eye, not to the sons of the neighboring ranches, but to their daughters who grew up in the desert like cactus blossoms, strong and sweet.

At twelve, she’d left her mother’s side before dawn and followed her father to the stables.  “I want to work with you,” was all she’d had to say, and from that day, she was trained with the boys of the ranch to care for the herd, mend the fences, dig the wells and raise the outbuildings of the Double S.

In her free moments after dark, she would light the lamp by her mother’s porch rocker and read anything she was able to find or order, and dream of traveling to all the places she learned about in books and magazines.

She had been eighteen when she had finally told her mother “I am like papa.” But she had spoken nothing of it with her parents since then.  Silence was almost the very substance of her father’s identity—or at the very least, of his safety.

But the way Eleanor was teaching her to live was so different.  Eleanor might be “Mr. Eliot Stephens” in certain public places and she might be teaching Eden to answer to “Ethan” in the smoking lounge of the Brunswick Hotel, but Eleanor was Eleanor at home, and to everyone who really knew her.  Her adventures as “Eliot” amounted to little more than after dinner banter at her parties.

Eden loved her home.  For her, no place had ever felt as safe.  And yet, the risk she took as “Ethan” abroad in Boston with “Eliot” delighted her more than anything had since she’d been given her first horse at age ten. The freedom of it, the daring of it—these she had exchanged for the silence of her family without regret.

Eden 4:2

Eden had nowhere in particular to be during the winter break in terms.  Last year, she had spent the holidays in Francine Smalls’s home with Gertrude, who was Miss Francine’s niece.  This year, Gertrude would be spending the holidays with family friends in New York.  So Eden stayed in the boarding house alone while the other girls went to their homes, or on other holiday adventures.

Hemingway's_writing_desk_in_Key_WestShe didn’t mind the prospect of being alone for a few weeks.  She had a pile of books she wanted to read—things referenced by her professors and the other students that everyone seemed to take for granted.  There were fewer of these this year than there had been last, but Eden still felt she was catching up on the education her classmates had all received before college.

So she spent her evenings before the little hearth in her room, reading and writing letters to Gertrude in New York and her parents and sister in Arizona.

But every week, Eden spent at least one afternoon wandering the Boston Museum of Art and a few small galleries in the city where more recent works were on display or available for sale.  Some of the new art intrigued her, but she liked the big museum best.  Though she had all but memorized the pictures there, she liked to visit her favorites again and again.  And she liked simply to be in the building.

EdenEver since she had first found the museum in Copley Square, Eden had come to feel that a gallery full of pictures must be to her what a cathedral was to a Roman priest.  There was something in the quiet, in the high-ceilinged rooms, in the light pouring through oversized windows that made her feel she ought to bow her head in its presence.  Wandering among the paintings, she felt transported to places she had never seen, felt like someone she might have been if she’d been born in another place or another time.  Standing before a favorite portrait or a landscape of some distant country, she was as close to entranced as she thought she could ever be.  It felt like some great revelation was trying to reach her through the canvases; reach her across time, across space, reach the reality she knew and pull her into some other one she couldn’t quite see or touch.

Dimly, she began to think that what she needed to find it was art of her own making.  And Eden’s fingers began to itch whenever they were empty of a pencil.

She had taken up drawing during her first year at Radcliffe, after Gertrude had mentioned casually that it was something the other girls had all done in school.  Eden liked to sit at her window and record the changes the seasons wrought on the scene below.  She liked to sit in Harvard Square and capture little vignettes from the street.  She had taken to carrying about a sketchbook and a pencil instead of a book when she was likely to have idle time, waiting for a streetcar or for a friend to meet her in a café.

Now, behind her almost compulsive need to draw, crept a dream of painting.  It was a literal dream.  It began that Christmas break and it continued to happen every few nights throughout the second term of the year.

She was standing in the desert alone.  It was dark and her head was thrown back to watch the sky. The stars that always dominated the nights in Arizona were shining brightly, but as she watched, they grew ever more crowded until an explosion of light filled the air around her.  She held her hands before her face, to shield her eyes, but as she did, her fingers crackled with electricity, like lightening in a storm.

Just as the light became intolerable, it was suddenly gone.   She wasn’t in Arizona now.  She was in a great, dark room with no light at all.  She knew there was a woman somewhere in front of her, though she couldn’t see her.  But gradually, she became aware that she was holding a brush in her right hand.  She raised it, and as she did, light began to come up on the mysterious woman, beginning dimly at her feet.  Eden drew an imaginary outline of the woman in the air and the light moved higher and increased.  Finally the woman stood before her, naked, but draped in her own long hair, modestly holding it before her, her eyes vacant and staring into nothingness, like Botticelli’s Venus.  But the woman was real.  And as Eden’s brush completed its work, and the woman was fully lit, she drew her hands away from her body, holding them aloft like a dancer. She raised her eyes boldly to meet Eden’s across the dark room.  “Paint me,” she whispered.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEden always awoke after the dream with an insatiable hunger for something she had never known.  It took her, as often as she could get there, to the museum.  But even her favorites were not enough to feed her desire.  She wanted her own paint, her own canvas, her own models, her own landscapes…  She wanted her own art.

Eden 4:1

“Eden you can’t go dressed like that.”

Gertrude stood before Eden in a crimson satin dress trimmed in black velvet.  A sparkling comb and sleek black feathers adorned her elaborate hair.  They were expected at Cathy Dickens’s house for a Christmas party.  Eden had carefully chosen her black suit and a new tie.  She’d added the cufflinks Gertrude had given her for Christmas last year, smiling as she did, imagining that Gertrude would smile too, to see them.

But now Gertrude was frowning.  Her words rushed at Eden.  “People will be there—Cathy’s parents and lots of Harvard men and—you can’t wear trousers, they’ll be scandalized!”

Eden’s heart raced.  Gertrude had never reprimanded her before about her clothes.  If anything, she had always acted proud when they went out together as a boy and girl.  Now Eden’s face grew hot and she knew she was blushing terribly.

She had not thought about who might be at the party, but now it was at once obvious to her that Gertrude was right.  Her friends would all be there but of course, there would also be strangers, and those people might not be so indulgent or amused by Eden’s unusual attire.  She would not be anonymous, nor would she be in Eleanor’s house.  For being so often at parties in Eleanor’s house was what had made her forget that she could not dress as she pleased at this party too.

“I wasn’t thinking, Gertrude,” she said now.  “I’ll just change.”  And Eden ran back up the stairs and hastily pulled on a plain black gabardine skirt, changed her tie for a brooch that had belonged to her mother and found a small, black, straw hat.  But she did not change her shirt or remove her waistcoat and jacket—or the cufflinks.

Cathy greeted them with embraces at the door and introduced Eden to her parents.  Soon, Gertrude had disappeared among the throng of guests.

Eden found herself beside a table laden with cookies and a large crystal bowl filled with something pink.  She took two glasses of punch from a girl of about sixteen who said she was Cathy’s sister, and went to find Gertrude in the laughing crowd of Dickens family and friends.

She tried to protect the shallow cups from too much jostling as she moved through narrow spaces behind and between people, all the while, keeping her eyes on the faces, searching for Gertrude.  But when Eden finally saw the girl, she stopped quite short and the cup in her left hand shook enough that a splash of punch made it over the rim and dripped down her sleeve, staining her cuff pink.

Gertrude was letting some boy kiss her under a bunch of mistletoe that hung in a doorway between the parlor and the dining room.

It was not much of a kiss, just a peck on the cheek, really.  But when it was over, Gertrude’s hands stayed in the boy’s hands and her eyes looked into his with a brightness Eden had seen before in her own private moments with the girl she loved.  Eden’s heart pounded as she turned and began to move back to the room with the punch as quickly as she could without spilling anything more.

But when she rounded the corner to enter the room, she nearly lost the punch again, as she all but collided with Sophia Abington.

Sophia“Oh, excuse me!” Miss Abington said, looking quickly at Eden.  “I’ve made you spill your punch.” She looked at Eden’s spoiled cuff with almost terrified remorse in her eyes.

“No, it’s alright,” Eden said, trying to get the image of Gertrude and the boy out of her mind.

Miss Abington was handing Eden a handkerchief and frowning still.  Eden gave the girl the cup she held in her right hand.  “Well, would you like some punch?” she asked with a forced smile.  She took the handkerchief and dabbed uselessly at her cuff.

“It’s really not your fault,” Eden said, giving up on the cuff and returning the handkerchief.  She drank what was left in the cup she held in one nervous gulp.  She guessed it was about half champagne and was grateful for the warm tingle she felt as she swallowed.

Sophia Abington sipped at the punch Eden had given her, while Eden looked over the books on the shelves in the room.   People came in and out for cookies and drinks and Eden was relieved to recognize none of them.

She was about to ask Cathy’s sister for more of the punch, when a book caught her eye.  The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, sat dustily between two other books by the same author.

“He wrote more than one?” Eden said aloud, and Miss Abington turned.

“Mr. Douglass…” Miss Abington noted the books Eden was looking at.  “Yes.”  She took down the one that began A Narrative of the Life…” brushed its cover with her hand and smiled.  “Most of it is just the same material revised.  I guess a story so profound takes time to tell in just the right way.”

“I guess so,” Eden agreed.

“Do you have a story?” Miss Abington asked.

Eden was startled by the question.  “A story?”

“Do you think your life would make a good book, I mean?”

Eden looked at Miss Abington.  Part of her wanted to blurt out her romantic hopes for life with Gertrude.  But it was hardly a thing to share with a girl she barely knew.

“I don’t know,” she said.  “Would yours?”

Eden“Not yet.”  She put back the book.  “But I hope it will someday.”

Eden’s friends called Sophia Abington prim.  They called her timid.  They called her sanctimonious.  Eden didn’t know her well enough to defend her against such accusations, but she was beginning to suspect the others might be wrong.

“Eden Smith, where have you been?” Eden turned to see a giggling Cathy take a cookie from her sister’s table.  “Gertrude is looking for you.  And Julia Bloom wants to give you something.  And my cousin, Paul, wants to meet you.  He has been threatening to go West instead of to college ever since her was fourteen.”

Eden gave Miss Abington a smile and a shrug and followed Cathy out of the room.  When she saw that Gertrude was waiting for her, the anxiety she had felt a quarter-hour before flooded over her again.  She put a hand to her temple and frowned.

Gertrude seemed not to notice Eden’s distress.  “Here you are!” she chimed.  “I thought you might bring me some punch, but you disappeared.”

“I’m sorry, Gertie, I was just looking for you,” Eden lied.  “I’ve got a terrible headache all of a sudden.  I thought I’d catch a streetcar back to Cambridge and see you in the morning.”

Now Cathy was frowning.  “But you just arrived.  Before you go, just say hello to Paul—” and she turned as if to go find her cousin.

Gertrude was shaking her head.  “Have you forgotten?  I’m leaving for New York tomorrow.  I’m going to stay with my parents tonight,” she reminded Eden.

“Of course,” Eden apologized.  “I’m so stupid to forget, it’s just, my head…”

And Eden reached into her pocket to find the gift she’d bought Gertrude and had meant to give her tonight after the party, in a quiet cab ride to the girl’s home in Boston.  But there was nothing there.

She’d left the small box with the silver bracelet in the pocket of her trousers.

“Oh Gertie, I’m so sorry, I’ve really made of mess of the evening.  I left your present at home…” Eden felt like crying, but didn’t dare.  Instead, she gave Gertrude a forlorn look and reached nervously to straighten the tie that wasn’t there, and pulled at her brooch instead.

“Oh never mind, we can do that another time.  I’m sorry you aren’t well.” And Gertrude kissed her on the cheek, not unlike she’d kissed the boy under the mistletoe.  She took Eden’s hands, gave them a squeeze, said “feel better darling,” and turned back to the party, leaving Eden to let herself out the front door of the house.