Eden frowned at the book Eleanor Stephens had placed on the table in front of her. They had dined alone at Eleanor’s house and now, Eden realized there was a reason it had been only the two of them.
“Studies in the Psychology of Sex… It doesn’t sound like something my mother would want me to be reading,” Eden told her friend.
“Well, as long as we’re breaking maternal taboos, have a cigarette.” Eleanor took two from the silver case in her breast pocket, lighted them, and handed one to Eden.
Eden took it gladly now, but went back to frowning at the book.
“Well, give it a try. You ought to read it for yourself before you hear about it from someone with something other than your best interests at heart,” Eleanor said.
“Why do you say so? Is it bad?”
“Not bad exactly—just, well, that we’re ill. Or rather, mistakes. It says people such as you and I are mistakes of nature. I suppose that sums it up as well as anything. It’s rather avant guard, I suppose. Better a mistake than a sinner, right?” Eleanor smiled grimly.
“A sinner?” such a thing had never crossed Eden’s mind.
“Or a criminal,” Eleanor added, finishing the brandy at the bottom of her glass.
“Oh,” said Eden, not really understanding and not sure she wanted to.
“Just read it, bring it back and we’ll talk about it, alright?” Eleanor told her in a gentler tone.
“Alright,” Eden said, feeling guilty, but for what, she couldn’t name.
“Never mind,” Eleanor changed the subject. “It sounds like you are a convert to Chopin.”
“I am!” Eden assented with enthusiasm.
“I’m surprised your mother didn’t ever play it for you,” Eleanor mused.
“We didn’t have a piano,” Eden said, then added, “but my Uncle Liam plays the mandolin and guitar and my Uncle Bill plays the fiddle—the violin. We used to have a lot of music around the place when we weren’t working, but not the kind of music you hear in Boston.”
“I daresay…Well, if your mother had no piano, I suppose there is an awful lot of music you missed. I know you’ve been to see a few concerts since coming to Boston, but I’ll start keeping an eye open for important things you ought especially to hear.” She grinned at Eden affectionately. “I can’t say I’m surprised you like Chopin.”
Eden knew Eleanor was teasing her, but she wasn’t sure why. She sipped her brandy.
“Have you ever known a lady doctor?” She asked suddenly.
“Certainly!” Eleanor insisted. “Abigail Tate—a girl I knew at Miss Ireland’s School—took a medical degree in Germany and I believe is practicing in New York, now. Why do you ask?”
“I know a girl who wants to be a doctor,” Eden told Eleanor. “She studies all the time. She’s the top student in our class. She sat next to me during the Chopin then came to tea. She plays the piano too, but she doesn’t have so much time for that these days.”
“Is she pretty?” Eleanor asked.
“El!” Eden protested, but blushed and admitted, “She’s pretty. But that’s not my point.”
“No, of course it isn’t. She wants to be a doctor. Well, I suppose this is the time to try.” Eleanor’s face clouded so slightly and so briefly that Eden almost missed it.
“El? Don’t you approve?”
“Approve?” Eleanor smiled. “Of course, I more than approve! I hope your Miss—?”
Eleanor raised an eyebrow. “Dorthea Beales Abington’s daughter? Josiah Beales’s granddaughter?”
“I think so. She told me her grandfather was something important. Do you know about it?” Eden asked.
“Everyone in Boston knows about it. Josiah Beales was one of New England’s most influential editors before the war. He was a collaborator with Frederick Douglass I believe. But I was just a child at the time, and my parents left the country as soon as the war broke out.”
“Frederick Douglass, yes. Sophia gave me the book.”
“The book?” Eleanor asked.
“Frederick Douglass’s Life and Times.”
“Ah, that book. So your Miss Abington is a reformer in true Beales tradition. No wonder she wants to be a doctor. Be careful, she’ll have you on the street agitating for the vote and before you know it, you’ll be jailed for dressing like a radical.”
Eden hoped Eleanor was joking about going to jail. Sophia hardly seemed to be the sort of girl to get into trouble of any kind.
She decided to change the subject. “Why do you think Sophia’s mother didn’t want her to play Chopin?”
Eleanor knocked the ash from the end of her cigarette. “Probably for something like the reason your mother wouldn’t want you reading that book I gave you. I can’t think Chopin fits very well into the Beales family philosophy of life.”
“Why shouldn’t it?”
“Perhaps these are things you ought to ask your Sophia,” Eleanor said, and reached to pour them more brandy.
Eden gave a little wave. “No thank you. I should get home. I’ve got reading for tomorrow.”
“I’ll just order the carriage, then,” Eleanor said.
“She’s not my Sophia,” Eden added.
“Alright, darling,” Eleanor rang for the maid.