Category Archives: 24 Chapter Twenty-four

Eden 24:7

The first thing Eden saw upon waking was a pale gold ring lying on the bedside table at eye level. Then she saw the little garnet. Eden turned over in the bed.  “Sophie?” she said aloud. But she was alone.

She sat up and looked back at the bedside table. The ring lay atop a single sheet of folded, unsealed paper. Eden clasped the ring up, squeezing it until it bruised her palm as she opened the letter and read.

Sophia - Version 2Beautiful boy,

Do not think this means I do not love you. I will never stop loving you with all my heart. Do not think it means that I do not forgive you. I believe that everything you told me is true. But I must allow you to let me go. Your genius has a greater claim on you than I do. I would not stand in its way. Be free and happy. Shine and be strong. I will be ever watching for news of your success. But do not write to me. To hold merely your letters when I can never again hold your dear self would be a pain too much for me to bear. It is hard enough that when I close my eyes I see nothing but you. I will always love you.

Sophia

Eden could not stifle the loud sob that shook her.

Suddenly Eleanor was standing in the doorway. Eden gave her a frantic look and she knelt by the girl’s side and folded her in her arms.

“She’s gone, El, she’s gone,” Eden repeated over and over as she shook in her friend’s embrace.

sophie's ring (sort of)

Eden 24:6

Sophia stood before the small window in Eden’s room and undressed slowly as Eden lay on the bed and watched her silhouette against the moonlight.

Eleanor had gone out and the house was quiet.

Sophia said nothing, but took Eden’s hands and let herself be pulled into the bed.

“Every night I dream of this,” Eden whispered. “I dream you’re here, that we’re together, that I—”

“Shh…” Sophia whispered and the two curled together, kissing and touching and sighing.

At length they lay in one another’s arms, spent and glowing in the warm summer night. “I’m so sorry I hurt you darling. I will never let it happen again,” Eden said.

Eden 24:5

“Sophie!” Eden caught up to Sophia and settled in to walk rapidly beside her.

“Let me go, I want to walk alone,” Sophia said.

“Please! Eleanor told me not to tell you. But I shouldn’t have listened.” Eden reached out to brush her fingers across Sophia’s sleeve.

Sophia slowed her pace and glanced at Eden.

They were coming to a small park. “Please sit and talk to me.” Eden pleaded with the girl.

Sophia said nothing, but walked to a bench and sat, focusing on her own hands as she smoothed her skirt and folded them almost primly in her lap.

Eden sat beside her and reached out again to touch her arm. “It was weeks ago; a late night in the studio—she gave me a drink and… It was so stupid. I was such a fool. I told her to go and I’ve never seen her again.”

Sophia was quiet for a long time.

“Sophie? Please…”

“It doesn’t matter though, does it? Whether you’ve seen her again,” Sophia began.  “There must be a thousand girls just like her in Paris, all more than happy to get you drunk and…” She looked from her hands out into the street.  She blinked hard. She didn’t want to cry.

“It was a mistake. I swear it won’t happen again. Darling…” Eden picked up Sophia’s hand and squeezed it. But Sophia still did not look at her.

Finally she spoke quietly. “This is really the least of it, isn’t it? It isn’t just models. It’s girls like Sylvie Babin. It’s Bette Nourse. It’s…it’s all of Paris!” Sophia took her hand away from Eden and waved it vaguely in the air. “There is too much here for me to ask you to give up. Why should you?” She looked back at her lap again. “I was a fool to think you could or even ought to.”

“But it isn’t like that at all,” Eden insisted. “I don’t want anything or anyone but you.”

Sophia finally looked back at Eden. “That isn’t true. You want many, many things that have nothing to do with me.”

Eden shifted her weight uncomfortably. “You want things that have nothing to do with me,” she argued. “You could come to the Ecole de Medecine and we could be here together.”

“I told you, Eden, I don’t have the money for it and my parents…”

“If you had the money you would come?”

“It doesn’t matter. I don’t.” Sophia finally looked Eden in the eye. “What would I do in Paris, anyway? I don’t belong with these women at your parties; with your artist friends. I’m just plain, practical Miss Abington from New England. Everyone wonders why brilliant, handsome Eden Smith bothers with me. I see it.”

“If you don’t want to come to Paris, I’ll go back to Boston,” Eden said in a rush.

“You won’t.” Sophia said firmly. “I will never ask it of you.” She paused and grew quieter, “You’re barely the Eden I knew anymore. I can’t imagine who you will be in another year.”

“No—” said Eden with growing distress. “I’m still just your own boy,” she lowered her voice to a near whisper. “You know me better than I know myself.”

But Sophia shook her head, tears breaking at last. “Anyone could see that I’m going to lose you someday. Why not now?”

At this, Eden took Sophia’s hand up again, kissing the finger that bore her ring. “There are not a thousand girls together who could mean as much to me as your brilliant little finger,” she said. “I promised that I would never to let you go and I’m not going to now.”

“You already have.” Sophia said.

Eden 24:4

catalogue-for-the-salon-des-independants-in-paris-1903The exhibition was crowded. They looked at almost everything else before they came to Aphrodite. Sophia watched Eden as they entered the gallery where it hung, but found her expressionless. She reached out and squeezed Eden’s hand.

“I’m so proud of you. Look at all the people who’ve come to see your picture!”

“Not just mine,” Eden demurred.

But her painting was quite central in this particular room, hanging at perfect eye level, in the center of a false wall erected in the middle of the gallery.  Several people were milling about it, making it difficult for Eden and Sophia to get close enough to examine it in any detail. But when the small crowd finally dispersed to move onto another picture, Sophia stepped closer. It came at last into her clear view and as it did, she gave an almost indiscernible little gasp and dropped Eden’s hand. She knew at once why Eden had not wanted her to see it.

“Who is she?” Sophia asked.

“Aphrodite,” Eden answered.

“No, Eden.” Sophia turned and looked Eden in the eye. “Who is she? What is she to you?”

“No one.” Eden looked down and pulled at the cuffs of her jacket. “Just a model.”

“She doesn’t look at you as if you’re no one to her.” Sophia did not look away, even though Eden still would not meet her eye.

“At me? It’s just a picture Sophie.” Eden tried again.

“You’re blushing.”

“Am I?” Eden raised a hand to her cheek and finally looked at Sophia whose gaze was almost accusing now. Her resolve fled before Sophia’s stare and she found herself whispering, “It was nothing, just one night. I was drunk. I haven’t seen her since—”

But Sophia was nearly running now, weaving through the people and out the gallery door. Eden turned after her and followed, quickly as she could manage in the crowd.

Eden 24:3

BethSophia watched Eden watch Bette Nourse as the woman gathered her hat and a parasol, leaving Eden and Sophia waiting in her doorway and sending them out again before her as she left the place, turned and locked the door. Sophia thought her a little stiff, but Eden didn’t seem to mark it.

Sophia was silent as the three made their way down the Rue d’Assas and into the Luxembourg Gardens. But Eden chatted quickly with Miss Nourse.

“I expected you’d be at Mme. Vielle’s last night,” she was saying as Sophia looked about her at the line of trees breaking the sunlight into glittering shards that fell before them on the smooth path.

“I was working,” Miss Nourse said. “I suppose you were the hero of the evening, now that the reviews have all come out.” Here, the woman turned to Eden and smiled and Sophia marveled that Eden almost grew taller under her affirming gaze.

Elizabeth—Bette—Nourse was at least forty years old. But she was the sort of woman who grew classically handsome rather than faded, with age. Her hair was dark with only a few stray wisps of grey. Her complexion was fair, her cheekbones high. As she walked at a clip, she flushed becomingly. Sophia examined the woman quite freely. For Miss Nourse had gone back to looking straight ahead as she walked and Eden had not taken her eyes off of her since they had entered the garden.

children-in-the-luxembourg-gardensAt last they came to a shallow, still pond filled with children’s toy boats and Bette led them to a little table with some chairs where they all sat together facing the water.

“Sophia,” the woman turned to her at last, “Eden says you are studying medicine.”

“I am,” Sophia answered.

“At Harvard?” Miss Nourse inquired further.

“The Boston University School of Medicine—Harvard wouldn’t give me a place—”

“—because she’s a woman,” Eden cut in. “She was the top student in our class at Radcliffe and she ought to have been at the Harvard Medical School.”

Sophia colored and gave Eden a chastising glance.

“Not surprising, I’m afraid,” Miss Nourse frowned. “Why don’t you come to Paris, Sophia?  C’est tres amenable pour femmes americaines!” she gushed. “If not as much for French women,” she added with a little shake of her head. “But the Ecole de Medecine admits women. My own friend, Dr. Andrews, took her degree there and has stayed on in France to practice medicine for the last decade.”

“Dr. Jacobi attended l’Ecole de Medecine,” Sophia admitted, and told her companions about the woman whose work the Harvard Medical School had awarded its highest prize—believing her to be a man—so many years ago that Sophia had been sure they would accept a female student now that it was a new century.

“So why not Dr. Abington?” Bette Nourse smiled kindly but Sophia looked to Eden, who looked away from them both, removed her hat and ran a hand through her hair.

“Oh—I haven’t the funds to study in Paris,” Sophia admitted. “My grandfather left money for my education, but even he didn’t suspect just how much education I would need. I’ve nearly come to the end of it and I must rely on my parents for help. They’d never agree to let me come to Paris, I’m certain.”

Eden looked at Sophia now, and asked her quietly, “you’re certain?”

“Well, anyway, there’s no money for it,” Sophia insisted again.

Eden didn’t press Sophia further and Bette Nourse smiled vaguely for a moment before changing the subject. “You must come up to the studio soon Eden, and see what I’m working on. Not today—the light will be wrong by the time we get back. Perhaps later this week?”

Eden’s eyes snapped to Bette at the mention of her work. “Yes, later this week.  Sophie—you’d like to see it too, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes of course,” Sophia agreed. But she wanted to see Eden’s studio. She wanted to see Eden’s work.

Eden 24:2

Eden“You’ll take her to see Aphrodite, today?” Eleanor asked Eden at a very late breakfast the next morning.

“Maybe,” Eden demurred.

Just then, Sophia came through the double doors into the garden in a dressing gown, her hair hanging in a loose braid down her back.

“Good morning!” she smiled at Eden, who rose to pull out her chair, kissing her as she did.

The maid came out with coffee and Sophia sipped it carefully and put it back down.

Eden grinned. “It’s strong,” she said. “Try it with milk.”

Sophia poured milk and sugar both into her cup and tried again. “Are you taking me to your exhibition today?” she asked Eden.

Eden looked at her hands for a moment. “It’s so late already,” she began. She looked up.  “We’ll wait until later in the week, perhaps.”

Sophia frowned, “I think you’re ashamed to have me among your artist friends.”

“Sophie!  How could you say so? I only want to show you so many other things first, is all,” Eden insisted.

“Have you seen it, Eleanor?” Sophia asked, turning to the older woman.

Eleanor“I have,” Eleanor answered in a neutral tone, shaking out the match she’d just used to light a cigarette. She glanced fleetingly at Eden, then smiled a little at Sophia, drew on her glasses and picked up the newspaper beside her coffee cup and opened it.

Sophia looked from Eleanor to Eden and sighed. “Well then, what will you show me today?”

“How about the Luxembourg Gardens?” she asked with a smile. “We’ll call on Bette. And then, perhaps, some shopping?”

“Shopping?” Sophia asked.

“It’s Paris, after all. Sylvie thought you might like a new dress.”

“A new dress?” Sophia thought of Sylvie Babin’s elegant ball gown. “Well, I suppose if you think I ought to…”

Sophia“Only if you’d like to,” Eden said, suddenly feeling uncomfortable for reasons she couldn’t name.

“Lovely,” Sophia said looking into her cup. Then, to the maid in the doorway, “Pardonez-moi, mais il n’y a pas du the?” And the woman hurried off to make Sophia tea.

Eden 24:1

EdenEden beamed as she swept Sophia around Mme. Vielle’s ballroom. It had only been two days since Sophia had arrived and Eden was pleased to have somewhere special to take her right away.

Sophia

“Sophie! Cherie! We have so longed to meet you,” Mme. Vielle had exclaimed when they’d arrived and kissed Sophia on both cheeks, pronouncing her name to rhyme with cherie, and taking her by the hand to meet everyone.

Sophia danced with Wil Hyland twice and Eleanor once before Eden was able to cut in. “It’s heaven to have you here,” she told Sophia now.

Sophia smiled and glanced around the room at the women in summer evening gowns and men’s tailcoats. “There are so many beautiful girls.”

Sophia had worn the same white dress with the blue sash Eden had used to admire in Boston. But as unconcerned as she usually was with fashion, she could not help but notice that the other girls in the room wore dresses of finer fabric, newer cuts and richer detail. They all had feathers and jewels in their hair. Sophia wore only a simple pearl comb that had belonged to her grandmother in hers. In the company of the Parisians, Sophia felt like a little girl at her elder sister’s wedding.

Eden had danced with one of the other girls when Sophia had been dancing with Wil. The other girl had dark hair and eyes that reminded Sophia a little of Gertrude Prescott. Her dress was all bright white lace laid over airy ivory silk with a long jet sash. Sleek black feathers adorned her hair and black satin gloves that ought to look dour but somehow looked fresh and cool instead clung to her arms just past her elbows. Sophia had not been introduced to her and didn’t know her name. She watched her now, dancing with a young woman in gentlemen’s evening clothes like Eden’s.

Eden saw Sophia watching the couple. “That’s George St. John,” she told her.

“She’s pretty,” Sophia said.

“Pretty? Oh! The girl—that’s Sylvie Babin. Liz Vielle’s niece or something. She might go to Radcliffe next year.” Eden looked at the couple again. “George would rather she didn’t, I think.” Eden grinned.

“Are they—?” Sophia didn’t know how to finish the question.

“They are.”

Sophia was quiet for the rest of the waltz and when it was over, Eden went to find champagne.

“What’s this? Eden Smith has left you alone?” an English voice inquired. The one Eden had said was called George now stood by Sophia’s elbow. Sophia looked up and noticed that Sylvie Babin was still dancing—this time with Eleanor.

Sophia smiled and extended her hand. “Sophia Abington,” she said.

“Georgina St. John—George, if you will.” She took Sophia’s hand with a hint of a bow and kissed it.

“Is this your first visit to Paris?” George asked her now.

“It is,” said Sophia, “I’ve only been here two days, but it has been lovely, if a bit overwhelming.”

“Being overwhelmed by Paris is one of life’s greatest joys, I find. I hope we can persuade you to agree.” George took a cigarette from her breast pocket and offering it to Sophia with a gesture.

Sophia shook her head and George lit the cigarette for herself just as Eden returned with champagne.

“Cheers darling,” Eden smiled and tapped her glass lightly to Sophia’s. Then to George St. John, “you’ve been meeting Sophie?”

“I have,” George raised an eyebrow ever so slightly at Eden and smiled at Sophia. “She’s finding Paris overwhelming.”

Sophia blushed to be spoken of as if she weren’t present. She put her hand on Eden’s arm and stepped closer to her side as George changed the subject.

“You’ve taken her to the exhibition, of course?”

“Not yet,” Eden said.

Sophia looked from Eden to George. “The exhibition?”

“The Independents—Monsieur E.F. Smith’s debut!” George gave a little laugh and glanced conspiratorially at Eden.

“Monsieur? Debut?” Sophia asked again.

“She hasn’t told you?” George looked at Eden in shock. “You haven’t told her!”

“Told me what, Eden?” Sophia asked, inspecting Eden’s face now and seeing her discomfort.

“I have a picture in the exhibition is all,” Eden said quietly.

“She has a picture that’s been reviewed as one of the best—perhaps the best—in the exhibition this year,” corrected George with enthusiasm. “But they think she’s a man. It’s going to be the story of the season when they find out the truth—a bigger one yet, if she gets arrested for fooling them.”

Eden was blushing now. Sophia was staring at her. “George is joking. It’s nothing, really.”

“It doesn’t sound like nothing.” Sophia smiled and reached up to touch Eden’s hair with affection, almost forgetting that George was watching.

“It isn’t nothing, I assure you,” George insisted as Sylvie Babin walked up to join the little group.

“What isn’t nothing?” she asked in a chirping French accent.

“Eden Smith’s artistic success, cherie.” George kissed her cheek, flushed with dancing.

“Ah! C’est quelque chose, certainment!” Sylvie agreed with a smile and held out her hand to Sophia.

“Sylvie Babin,” she said.

Sophia took the girl’s hand and introduced herself.

Sylvie smiled kindly at her and offered to show her the garden of the house. It had been her uncle, M. Vielle’s house, she said, and she knew it well, having played there often as a child with her cousins. So Sophia left Eden and followed Sylvie out of the warm ballroom.

***

“Why didn’t you tell her?” George asked Eden. “Surely you aren’t so modest as to keep it from the girl who’s come all the way from America to see you.”

“She’s only just arrived. I hadn’t mentioned it yet, is all,” Eden said.

“She acts rather sincerely devoted to you,” George changed the subject now. How long have you known her?”

“We were at Radcliffe together,” Eden said, but at the word, “Radcliffe” she noticed George shift her weight slightly and glance toward the door through which Sophia and Sylvie had just gone.

Eden changed the subject. “Sophia is studying medicine in Boston.”

“She didn’t mention that,” George said. “She’s quite a serious girl then? I might have guessed.”

“She’s brilliant,” Eden said.

“Why doesn’t she come to the Ecole de Medecine?” George raised an eyebrow. “She could carry on with her education and with you.”

It was Eden’s turn to look uncomfortable. “She’s lived in Boston her entire life. Her family—” Eden stopped, reached into her pocket and drew out a cigarette.

“Of course,” George said. Then, “let’s go find them, shall we?” And they left the ballroom in search of the garden.