Category Archives: 09 Chapter Nine

Eden 9:4

Eden’s short hair was as soft as feathers under Sophia’s gentle fingers. Her shoulders were narrow but strong and Sophia felt the muscles moving beneath her hands, even through Eden’s thick wool waistcoat. Touching Eden and being touched by her felt uncannily familiar, as if by some miracle, she had always known Eden and had always been known by Eden, though they had spoken so little together before two weeks ago.

Eden - Version 2Until the evening of the Chopin concert, she had thought it was a girlish crush. She’d been embarrassed by her own feelings. She guessed Eden Smith would probably never look twice in her direction, given the clamor of much more popular, better dressed, socially clever girls that constantly surrounded her. She had watched Eden as if from afar, though they might be sitting mere yards from one another in a lecture hall, and lived just steps from each other in identical boarding houses. Once, two years ago, Sophia had glanced out the front window of her own room and seen Eden walking arm-in-arm with Gertrude Prescott. Ever after, Sophia found herself watching for Eden to come around the corner and walk past her house on the way to a lecture or the library. But the few times she had actually spoken to Eden, she had done so shyly, certain that if she ever guessed Sophia’s feelings, she would laugh.

But Eden had not laughed. Eden had kissed her. Sophia supposed the miracle was love.

Eden 9:3

EdenIt was eight o’clock on Monday morning and Eden was rushing out, late to her first lecture of the week. But just as she grabbed her hat from its peg in the hall, a knock came at the door. Opening it, she saw Sophia Abington standing there.

“If the other girls are all out for the morning, I wonder if we could talk now…about the book, I mean.”

“Don’t you have a lecture?” Eden asked her.

“It’s just chemistry—I learned it all last summer. It’s a bore. Just this once I thought maybe…” Sophia looked at Eden’s hat. “Oh, I’m sorry, you have one, yourself.”

Eden held the hat in both hands, nervously spinning it around and around. She opened the door wider. “Forgive me, Sophia, come in.”

SophiaSophia began to protest slightly. “We can do this later—I’m so sorry—I only thought to wait until the others were out—” But she stepped into the hall.

“No you’re right, it was a good idea. I’ll just miss mine this morning too—I’m late anyway,” Eden told her. Though she did not find her course on classical architecture to be at all a bore, she knew she could keep up even if she was absent this morning.

“Are you sure?” Sophia asked.

“I am,” Eden told her, hanging her hat back on its peg, and ushering Sophia up the staircase and into her room.

Closing the door behind her and waving Sophia to the same chair in which she’d sat two weeks ago after the Chopin concert, Eden took the girl’s jacket, hat and gloves and laid them carefully on the end of her bed, then took the desk chair for herself.

“I’m not sure what exactly you wanted me to tell you about this book, but—have you read the German one too?” Sophia interrupted herself.

“The German one?” Eden asked.

“Actually, quite a lot of it is in Latin. But Mr. Ellis refers a good deal to Psychopathia Sexualis by a German doctor…” Sophia opened the book and leafed through it as if looking for a reference.  “I looked at it a little in the library, Saturday.”

Eden was stunned. “You found it in the library?” she asked.

“I had a Harvard boy request it at the desk for me,” Sophia explained.

“What Harvard boy?” Eden’s brow wrinkled with concern.

“I don’t know. No one in particular—I supposed the librarian might not be willing to let me have it.” She looked up and saw Eden’s face. “Oh—” She touched Eden’s knee. “I didn’t even tell him my name. It’s alright, I’m sure.”

Eden bit her lip. “Of course, I didn’t mean to suggest…” but she was reeling with amazement that Sophia had done such a daring thing on her behalf. She ran a hand through her hair, leaning back in her chair as casually as she could manage. “What did it say? The German book?”

“It was similar to the one you gave me in some ways. Though Mr. Ellis writes much more about women than Dr. Krafft-Ebbing.”

“But Sophia…” Eden looked at the book in the girl’s lap. “Did you find that anything in the book…” She stopped, frowned, and began again. “Did you think there was anything there that…that described…me?”

Her face grew suddenly hot and she knew she was blushing. Why had she given Sophia this book at all?

And yet, Sophia remained calm and serious. “I don’t see how a foreign doctor who has never met you could begin to describe you. In fact, he hasn’t met most of the people he is trying to describe here. It reads like a gossip column in a cheap newspaper, didn’t you think so?”

When Eden had gathered enough courage to look up, she found Sophia searching her face most earnestly.

“So you don’t think there’s something…wrong with me? Because…” Eden looked away again, adjusting her tie nervously.

“Wrong?” Sophia was quiet for just a moment. “No, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you. Not in the least,” she said.

“You don’t…pity me?”  Eden looked at her lap again.  “Gertrude Prescott said she did.” Her words were almost a whisper.

“Gertrude Prescott is a fool!” Sophia spoke more sharply than Eden had supposed possible. And though her face was pink with self-consciousness, she continued in a rush, “You are no mistake of nature, Eden Smith. I don’t care what these doctors write. I think you are just as your creator intended you to be.”

Her eyes found Eden’s. Her blush had faded. “I think you are wonderful,” she said more steadily. “And I think any girl who calls herself your friend is the luckiest girl alive.”

Sophia seemed to drain herself of courage with this last declaration, and her gaze quickly fell back to the book in her lap. But Eden sat spellbound by the speech she had made. It was so out of character with the practical Miss Abington Eden thought she knew that its pure honesty could not be doubted.

“Sophia?” Eden leaned forward and reached out to touch the girl’s cheek.

Sophia looked up and Eden leaned across the space between them and kissed her gently at first, then, as Sophia reached back, Eden took her hands and raised her to standing, kissing her again and again with ever more passion. The book in Sophia’s lap slid disregarded, spine-up on the floor as her arms went around Eden, pulling her closer.

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Eden 9:2

Eden lay on her bed and watched the shadows the fire made on the ceiling. Just as she didn’t use the electric light, she preferred her own fire to the steam heat. There was always plenty of kindling, since the other girls rarely bothered with fires themselves.

She wondered what Sophia Abington thought of her. She was beginning to have second thoughts about having given her the Ellis book. Eleanor had said they would discuss it when Eden was finished reading it, but she couldn’t face El just yet. She had felt that maybe Sophia would give her some idea of what to say when she next saw her friend. But now she worried that the book might make Sophia wary of her.

She thought she understood that Dr. Ellis believed a person such as Eden to be faultless from a moral point of view, but flawed from the point of view of nature and medicine. Eleanor had said people thought them sinners and criminals and Mr. Ellis’s book seemed to be arguing against this assumption. Eden remembered Eleanor mentioning going to jail for her clothes and wondered if she had been really serious.

It wasn’t that Eden didn’t realize the world thought it strange—even wrong, she supposed—for a girl to go about dressed as a boy. But she had worn boys’ clothes from the age of six. In Arizona, people had not cared so much about such things. At least, Eden’s people had not. Only since coming to Boston had she learned to keep a close observance of herself, making sure she could see what others would, so as to be prepared for the reactions of the world around her.

Under Eleanor’s tutelage he had learned to divide herself. At home she had been just a girl in breeches and work shirts. But in Boston she had had to become two people. She was either Miss Smith—an unconventional girl dressed like a boy from the waist up, wearing a skirt from the waist down—or she was an anonymous young man. Only at Eleanor’s private parties could she simply be Eden—a girl who wore trousers and waistcoats and men’s hats.

Eden wished she could talk to her father about it all. She was sure her papa had never considered her a sinner or a criminal. Her papa kept the fact that he was a woman a secret, and yet, he had never been two people to Eden. Her papa was just her papa. If most people didn’t know Joe’s secret, it was a practical matter. Her father wouldn’t have been able to do all he had done in his life if people had thought him a woman, Eden knew. But wasn’t this was because of the limitations of the world? Eden had never thought it a flaw in Joe.

But Gertrude had said…

No.

Gertrude could go to hell—she and her rich fiancé. Eden tried on the curse in her mind and liked how it felt. She remembered how she had defended the girl when Eleanor had said it out loud last spring. But now, after London, after Paris, after a multitude of small things she couldn’t number or name, Eden Smith was a different person. She was a person, for example, who had no interest in kissing Julia Bloom even when it would be so easy to do it.  Eden was almost shocked by the change in herself—both the fact that she might find it easy to kiss a girl and the fact that she didn’t care to—to kiss Julia, that is.

Eden 9:1

EdenEden met Julia as agreed—at a particular bench in a particular corner of the university grounds.

“Why don’t we have our tea in my room?” Julia asked after she’d greeted Eden.  “No one else is home today. They’ve all gone to an orchard somewhere to pick apples.”

Eden paused slightly before nodding a small assent. She hoped the girl didn’t sense her reluctance. She would have preferred a public place, but Julia’s house was nearby and it was easier to agree with her than protest.

But once in Julia’s room, cup of tea in hand, on the edge of the narrow bed where Julia had invited her to sit, Eden wished she had protested after all.

Julia talked continuously, and she sat by Eden on the bed, in spite of the fact that two perfectly suitable chairs stood in the rather large room, flanking the cold hearth. The steam heat Julia preferred to a fire had made the room too hot for Eden’s comfort, as winter had not set in, and the days were yet mild.

Julia had removed her hat and gloves upon entering the room and had taken Eden’s and put them with her own, in a large armoire in the corner. Eden felt a bit trapped by the gesture, though how it was anything but simple hospitality she couldn’t honestly say.

“Have you heard anything from Gertrude lately?” Julia was saying now. “She’s been positively neglecting me since she left college. I don’t get one letter from her for every three I send, I think.”

Gertrude was the last person Eden wanted to talk about. But she surprised herself by answering Julia frankly. “I don’t hear from her often. I’d rather talk about something else anyway.” Eden twisted the teacup in her hands, then took a reluctant sip from it.

“Of course,” Julia nodded with a knowing smile. “I perfectly understand. I was horrified, Eden, horrified by her treatment of you—you can be certain.

What did Julia know about Gertrude’s “treatment” of her? Eden wondered anxiously. Gertrude and Julia were best friends. There was no guessing what they might have said about Eden. Eden wondered if Julia “pitied” her too.

“I think Gertrude was all wrong about you, Eden,” Julia went on, as if conversing with the train of Eden’s thought. “She didn’t really appreciate you for all that she tried to keep you to herself.”

“Keep me to herself?” Eden was really puzzled.

“Oh, you know. She wouldn’t let any of us get too close to you. I for one, would have liked to get to know you better. Now Gertrude’s moved on to other interests,” here, Julia made a mocking face “maybe I can.”

The girl sat her teacup down and reached to take Eden’s without asking. Eden had not finished the tea but it had gone cold and she hadn’t wanted it anyway. Julia put the cup beside hers on the bedside table then put her hands in her lap.

All at once, Eden felt her heart thump hard. Somehow, she knew that Julia wanted her to kiss her. But Eden didn’t want to kiss Julia. She had not wanted to come to this room with her. She had not wanted to discuss Gertrude Prescott with her. Nevertheless, there Julia sat, a little closer to Eden than was comfortable, giving Eden her trademark gaze from beneath her long eyelashes and smiling.

Eden stood up. “I’m sorry Julia, I’ve just remembered I have a dinner engagement this evening. I really ought to get home and dress.”

“You’ve just remembered a dinner engagement?” Julia asked, incredulous. “With whom?”

Eden looked at her feet, “a friend in Boston,” she said, thinking automatically of Eleanor, though they did not have plans tonight.

“Oh.” Julia rose with an audible sigh of disappointment and retrieved Eden’s hat and gloves.

teacup

“Thanks for tea,” Eden said, hastily brushing Julia’s cheek with her lips. Then she turned and walked down the stairs too quickly for the girl to follow.