“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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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.