Category Archives: 11 Chapter Eleven

Eden 11:2

It didn’t take her long to spot the studious Miss Abington. She had a favorite, deserted corner that Eden had quickly come to know well. She sat there now, as Eden had guessed, one hand holding a book open flat against the small desk, the other hovering over a notebook with a pencil at the ready. She was wearing a simple, button-down shirtwaist with no adornment but her small, gold brooch, and a practical wool skirt of dove grey. Her hat and gloves were on the floor and she sat upon her jacket. An errant lock of hair had come out of the hasty chignon at the nape of her neck and it waved slightly in some otherwise unnoticeable draft.

SophiaEden stopped and watched her quietly. She was so earnest and so wise. Eden couldn’t imagine there was a greater mind in all of Harvard University than Sophia Abington’s, yet to Eden she made a simple, pretty picture there, of a girl forgetting herself in a book. No heiress in a silk evening gown, flaunting the latest hairstyle could be more beautiful. Eden couldn’t understand why men didn’t want women to be educated, though Eleanor and Miss Francine and all the women supporting Radcliffe insisted they were doing something terribly controversial. The college’s opponents claimed that education made women less feminine, less suited to marry and be mothers. But Eden couldn’t imagine a more desirable girl than Sophia was right now, in the library, devouring books like someone starved.

She wished she could walk up to her, take her in her arms and kiss her right there.

Of course, she could do no such thing. But just as she was thinking it, Sophia at last closed her book, and somehow sensing Eden halfway across the room looked up to find her watching. She smiled as Eden walked to her.

“Are you going to work with me for a while?” Sophia whispered.

“No. I’ve come to take you to tea and see the surprise you promised me,”

Sophia checked her watch. “It’s barely six, and I’ve got so much to do,” she objected.

“You work too hard. And you have to eat,” Eden argued, still whispering. “Get these things together. Come with me.”

Sophia began to protest, but Eden stopped her, “Just this once. Please Sophie, you don’t know how I want to get you out of here…and I can’t stay here like this.”

She glanced down. In her haste she had not changed her clothes. She had sneaked into the library in her trousers. Any moment, someone might recognize her and cause who knew what trouble. Sophia collected her things and took Eden’s arm as they walked out the door.

“Let’s not go out,” Sophia said as they left the library.  “I’m sure I can find us something in the kitchen at home. We can eat in my room and I can show you the surprise right away.”

Eden couldn’t object. The desire to be alone with Sophia had been growing unchecked since they had left the library.

They found Sophia’s house empty, but the larder full. They gathered some apples and cheese in a tea towel and went up to Sophia’s room.

“Alright.” Sophia switched on the electric light, “here it is.” She waved her arm in the direction of her small desk, which Eden saw was heavily burdened by some kind of machine.

“But what is it?” Eden asked, putting the towel full of food on the floor by the hearth and stepping to the desk.  It held an oblong wooden box with a small crank at one end. A long brass tube sat atop the box and from that a shining brass trumpet projected.

Edison PhonographSophia watched Eden and smiled broadly. “Wait,” she told her. I’ll show you.”  She stepped to the machine and took down a paper tube with a lid from the shelf beside her desk. Opening the tube, she drew out a thin metal cylinder. She pulled back the trumpet and fitted the cylinder around the brass tube. Then she cranked the handle of the machine and replaced the trumpet.

The cylinder turned. Eden heard a small crackling noise and then a piano began to sound through the bell of the trumpet. “Chopin!” Eden turned to Sophia, astonished. “Where did you get it?” she asked.

“I ordered it from a shop in Boston. I have some other record cylinders for it as well,” she said, indicating the shelf, which held half a dozen more of the little paper tubes. “Now we can have music at home—even without a piano.”

Eden beamed. “You’re amazing, Sophia Abington. Did I ever tell you that you’re amazing?”

Sophia smiled, “I didn’t invent the thing, I just bought it,” she demurred.

“You’re amazing and I won’t hear a word to the contrary,” Eden insisted, taking her in her arms and kissing her as the music played.

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Eden 11:1

IMG_2801It was evening and the day’s light was fading as Eden walked through her front door, hung her hat and coat on a hook and looked through the mail the landlady had left on the parlor table. There was a letter from her sister, Minna, and a note that had been left in person. She carried the letters to her room, sat on the edge of the bed and opened Minna’s first. It was filled with stories of her children’s exploits, and other bits of family news from everyone on the ranch. Eden smiled to imagine her lovely sister and the children doing familiar, comforting things back home.

It had been so long since Eden had seen her family. In her childhood, she never could have imagined being away from her sister for more than a day but it had been over a year now, since the twins had been together. Since she’d last seen Minna, her sister had had twin babies of her own, a sister and brother for Eden’s two-year old nephew, Nate. Eden wondered how old they would be before they met their aunt.

In some ways, putting her family away in the drawer where she kept her letters was easier than she had expected it to be. Talking about them was more difficult than setting them aside. She still had not told Sophia much about them. She wanted to, but she hardly knew how or where to begin.

frederickdouglassWhen Sophia had shared Frederick Douglass’s Life and Times with her, Eden had been on the point of telling her, for example, that Peter, Minna’s husband, was a Negro. But the moment when the subject been naturally at hand had passed. Now Eden didn’t know how to bring up the fact without seeming either defensive about it or mistrustful of Sophia’s opinion. Eden assured herself she was neither. It was simply that the thing both mattered very much and mattered not at all. And how could she explain that to anyone in Boston, even Sophia?

But worse than feeling unknown by her college friends was the fear that among them, she was becoming a person her family in Arizona would not know. How could she explain her excitement about her art history course, about the British Museum in London or the Louvre in Paris? How could she tell her father—who had taught her to rope a colt, tie him down and brand him—that she wanted to be a painter? How could she tell her mother—who had left a wealthy husband for her father’s hired man—that she loved the life Eleanor Stephens had shown her, with its champagne, its tailcoats, its first-class steamer suites?

She held Minna’s letter against her cheek. She envied her sister’s new babies as she remembered the simplicity of being a child, curled together with her twin for warmth on a winter night in the desert, wanting nothing more than sweet sleep within arms as familiar as her own. And in spite of all her excitement about what she was learning and seeing and becoming, she feared she would never know anyone—never be known so deeply by anyone—again.

The hand-delivered letter was from Sophia.

Sophia - Version 2Dearest Eden,

I have a marvelous surprise. But it is too difficult for me to bring to you. Please come around to my room at nine o’clock tonight if you want to find out what it is.

One hundred kisses,

Sophia

Eden’s mood shifted quickly and she smiled in spite of herself. Arizona would have to be put away in the drawer. Here was Boston in her hand. And however she loved her sister, Eden could not deny the flush she felt at the mere thought of Sophia Abington. If she must grow away from Minna, growing toward Sophia was no hateful exchange.

EdenBut the letter teased her terribly. Sophia would be in the library until eight, when it closed. Eden had no doubt that marvelous surprise or not, Sophia would work hard all evening before letting herself go home.

But Eden didn’t want to wait. She skipped back downstairs, put on her hat and coat and went to find Sophia in the library.