Category Archives: 17 Chapter Seventeen

Eden 17:4

Eden“Your parents don’t like me,” Eden bit her lip and frowned over her lunch in the dining room of the Hotel Vendome. It was three days after Christmas.

Sophia sipped her wine. “It isn’t you in particular, it’s me, having—someone like you in my life. They’d rather I was a spinster devoted to nothing and no one but my work.”

“If I were a man…” Eden began.

“If you were a man, they’d feel the same way,” Sophia insisted. “They might not mind me marrying—when I’m forty and have a successful career.”

“They married each other,” Eden objected.

“It was different for them. They were as devoted to the cause of their school as they were to each other. They work together. They…understand each other.”

Eden frowned. “We understand each other. We may not know everything, but…” Eden bit her lip, thinking of all the things she had yet to explain. She reached over the table and picked up Sophia’s hand. “But you know me. And I know you.”

“Yes.” Sophia assented almost inaudibly. Eden knew her—knew at least a part of her that no one else did. And whatever details remained to be discovered between them, it was that part that mattered most.

“I want your parents to see it. How can I convince them to trust me?” Eden asked.

“Don’t let it concern you. It doesn’t matter to me.”

Sophia“It matters to me then,” Eden said.

Sophia changed the subject. “Let’s go back to Eleanor’s before you take me home. I want to play for you.” And she smiled from beneath her eyelashes more like the heroine of a French novel than a Quaker college girl.

Eden 17:3

“You must miss your family, Miss Smith. What do they do in Arizona to celebrate Christmas?” Mrs. Abington smiled kindly and a stiff, nervous Eden felt herself relax a little as Sophia’s family settled down for dinner.

“It’s not so extravagant as it seems in Boston,” Eden answered. “My aunt Susan makes cookies and my uncles play music. There’s dancing. The children have candy from town.”

claret“That sounds perfectly lovely,” Mrs. Abington told Eden. “My own parents would probably not even approve of this duck—and certainly not the claret,” Sophia’s mother sipped modestly at the ruby wine in her glass.

Sophia noted Eden’s blank expression, “Quakers in those days didn’t celebrate Christmas,” she said with a quiet smile.

“Oh,” said Eden, suddenly worried about the brightly wrapped gifts she had brought.

“They were good people—very principled and simple. But I can’t believe there’s really any terrible harm in finding a little joy in the midst of the dreary days of winter.” Mrs. Abington said.

Eden was quiet.

Sophia’s father turned to her and asked, “I understand you are a student of art history?”

“Art and architecture,” Eden confirmed.

“What will you do with this knowledge in Arizona?” Mr. Abington asked.

“In Arizona?”

“Do you not intend to return and use your degree to elevate the place?”

“I—I don’t know…” Eden said, looking at her plate. For the first time she realized that though she was still not sure what she would do after college, she was sure that she had no intention of returning to Arizona for more than a visit.

“Eden spent the summer in Paris.” Sophia interjected with a smile in her direction.

“And London,” Eden said, grateful for the change of subject.

Mrs. Abington looked up.  “Paris and London?  What took you there?” she asked.

“A friend took me to meet some people in London—and to Paris to see the art,” Eden wasn’t sure how to explain her relationship to Eleanor or why she’d traveled with her.

“E.W. Stephens took her, Mother,” Sophia explained. “She and Eden are quite warm friends.”

Eleanor - Version 2“E.W. Stephens.” Mrs. Abington’s tone betrayed neither approval nor disapproval, but she glanced at her husband who met her look for a fleeting moment before he looked back to Eden with open curiosity.

“Father teaches literature and has read all of Miss Stephens’s books,” Sophia told Eden.

“You like her books?” Eden began, “I had never heard of her before coming to Boston, but I suppose she’s famous.”

“I don’t know that I like them,” Sophia’s father corrected her without looking up. “But when people say any book is dangerous, I feel it is my duty to read it.  People have said as much about the Bible, you know.”

Eden gave a worried glance towards Sophia, but Mr. Abington looked up at her and smiled pleasantly after all. “It sounds as if Miss Stephens has been very kind to you.”

“Oh, yes. More than kind,” Eden said, suddenly glad she had not come to the house in Eleanor’s landaulette, or yet mentioned she was staying at Eleanor’s house over the holiday.

Sophia gave a little smile and her eyes twinkled.“I am delighted to have dined in her house, myself,” she announced to her surprised parents.  “I believe she is going to be remembered as an important literary figure someday.”

“Perhaps,” Sophia’s father said.

But Mrs. Abington looked at Sophia with surprise. “You have dined in her house?”

“I have, as Eden’s guest. She was lovely. She has a beautiful piano. I played the harp etude for her. She said I belonged in a concert hall.”

Eden was blushing now. She was afraid Sophia was intentionally making trouble with her parents and she worried it would be at her own expense.

Mrs. Abington did not look at Sophia, but at Eden as she said, “You play beautifully, Sophia. I have always said so.”

Eden tried to smile. “She does.”

“Sophia plans to go to Harvard Medical School—if they will give her a place—but I’m sure she’s told you,” Mrs. Abington said, continuing to look at Eden.

“Yes, of course.” Eden felt that in spite of her soft eyes and slight smile, Mrs. Abington was offering her a challenge.  She took it up.  “Everyone says that she is the best student at Radcliffe in any year—Harvard too.”

“If her social calendar doesn’t become too distracting, perhaps she will live up to that reputation,” Mrs. Abington said, and returned her attention to her dinner.

“Mother.” Sophia dropped her fork quickly but quietly on her plate and looked at her parents each in turn. “I have very little on my social calendar. There’s no danger of it overwhelming my studies, I’m sure. Eden will tell you from her own experience how difficult it is to eject me from the library.”

“It’s true, she won’t even come away to eat sometimes, unless I plead with her,” Eden added, hoping it was not a terrible mistake to speak at all.

“Well, she must eat. Thank you, Eden, for encouraging her not to starve,” Mr. Abington said and smiled.

And Mrs. Abington announced it was time for dessert.

Eden 17:2

Eden took Sophia’s letter from her breakfast tray and broke the seal. She leaned against the mantel and let her tea grow cold as she read and reread:

Sophia - Version 2Dearest Eden,

Mother asks that I invite you for dinner on Christmas Day.  You know, my love, how happy this makes me. And yet I must confess it came after a scene that has shaken my nerves.

When Mother saw your ring, she disapproved of me both for having accepted it and for giving you mine. But I told her I love you and I want to be yours for the rest of my life! Where do you think your Sophie found the courage to say these things to her mother? It was your ring working its magic on me already. I looked at it and felt you were right beside me, holding my hand.

Eden, I know that at times, the world looks upon you with unkind curiosity. I believe that Mother fears that your friendship will draw that same curiosity to me. But I promise to stand beside you and use whatever weak power I have to deflect the slings and arrows that come your way, dear, dear boy. Your love makes me strong to do it. I felt somehow, more than my mere self when I spoke to my mother this evening. I felt magnified with Eden’s love.

I sometimes feel there is nothing in the world that matters but that you love me. I am almost ashamed to admit how unimportant all my previous hopes and plans have become next to my desire to be with you under any condition you might set upon me. What has become of ambitious Sophia? She is no one now, but Eden’s Sophia. All my hopes have become nothing to me unless they will please you.

I blush to write these things, darling, but they are true.They are true!  I am glad my mother doesn’t know, and yet, at the same time, I want to run into the street and shout them to the world!

What have you done to me, Eden? I have never been so bold in my life—not for any cause.

Come Saturday at noon, my love. Until then I am nothing but a shadow of

Your own Sophia

Eden finally sat in the chair by the fire and poured herself a tepid cup of tea. She hated to admit how she feared Mrs. Abington. She and Sophia’s father took their daughter’s education very seriously. Sophia was the only surviving child of her parents, her mother having lost one newborn infant before and another after her birth. Sophia wanted to be a doctor. Eden knew she did. But Sophia’s parents—especially her mother—seemed to want it nearly as much, perhaps even more than their daughter. Eden hoped Sophia had not said anything to her mother that would lead Mrs. Abington to think Eden stood between Sophia and her success in the medical school.

And yet, beside these concerns, Eden’s heart warmed with pride and love at Sophia’s brave vows on her behalf.

IMG_2922She found stationery in a small desk in her room and wrote:

 Darling,

I am so glad to know that we will be together again soon. I am longing to see you, though you only left me yesterday! After three nights in your sweet arms, I ached last night without you. I hope you don’t mind too much how I want and need you. But I do, Sophie.

Please thank your mother for inviting me for Christmas. I’m sorry she wasn’t pleased about the ring. I hope you told her that I adore you and support your every ambition. I do not want her to worry that my love for you should compromise your plans in any way. Please never say you would give them up for me, Sophia. That is something I could not think of asking. I am so proud of my Dr. Abington— I know you do not want me to call you Doctor yet, but that is how I like to think of you, brilliant girl.

What can I do on Saturday to please your parents? Please tell me just what to do and I will do it. I am anxious that they should not find me too backwards and western. Tell me anything you can think of that will help things to go well with them.

Sweet, sweet girl, please dream of me tonight as I will be dreaming of you. It is an eternity until Saturday.

I am kissing you everywhere, my love,

Your own boy, Eden

redwax

She sealed the letter with Eleanor’s red wax and sent it back with Christine and the breakfast tray to be posted. Then she dressed and went out to find Christmas gifts for Sophia’s parents.

Eden 17:1

Sophia was almost finished with her dinner when her father excused himself to mark student examinations leaving her alone with her mother at the table.

“What a lovely new ring, Sophia,” Mrs. Abington remarked. “Where did it come from?”

Sophia looked at her hand instead of her mother. “Eden Smith gave it to me for a Christmas present,” she answered simply.

“And you gave her yours in return? Or have you stopped wearing it?” her mother said.

Sophia bit her lower lip. This, she had not thought of. But of course her mother noticed the missing ring. She had given it to Sophia at her graduation from Miss Ireland’s school. She had worn it every day since.

“Yes, mother, I gave it to Eden,” she said finally.

Her mother’s brow knit with apparent concern. “Sophia, you have always been such a sensible girl. You know that your father and I don’t mind if you do not marry right away—even if you should never feel led to marry, we accept that—so long as you remain a sensible girl.”

“I hope I am sensible, mother,” Sophia returned. “I am still the top student in my class. Professor James says that I am the best student he has ever seen—at Radcliffe or Harvard.” She blushed at the boast, wishing immediately that she could retract it. But she finished. “What has a ring to do with any of that?”

Mrs. Abington frowned a little. But Sophia recognized worry, uppermost in her expression. “You are too old to be infatuated with a girl,” her mother said. “You never gave in to such nonsense at school. I cannot understand your doing so now, with such worthy ambitions as you have.”

“Eden does nothing to thwart my ambitions, mother. Eden is very—”

But her mother did not allow her to finish. “I don’t want to argue with you, Sophia. And I have nothing against this girl, though Francine Smalls tells me she is a bit…eccentric.” She sighed. “If you are going to insist on this friendship, you need to be aware of the reaction people will have. Things are not like they were when I was your age and women like Francine and Beatrice Warner could keep house together without raising respectable eyebrows. The world is not so innocent now—” she paused a bit and softened her tone to finish, “—even if you are, dearest.”

“I’m not.” Sophia found herself filled with an almost alien courage. “I’m not innocent, Mother. I love Eden Smith and I intend to wear her ring for the rest of my life—and she has sworn to wear mine. I can be a doctor —I know I can—and love Eden too.”

Mrs. Abington said nothing more, but looked at her daughter for a long moment.  At last, she rose from the table and said, “It grieves me to see you adding this burden to the challenges you already face.” She was quiet for a moment. But tell Miss Smith to come for dinner on Saturday. You owe your father and me the opportunity to meet her.” And she left the room.

Sophia put her face in her hands and took a long, trembling breath.