Tag Archives: lesbian fiction

Eden 47

Eden carefully opened the tube and drew out a heavy roll of paper.

“Look Pearl, see what Bette has sent you,” she told the little girl who was trying to coax a cat from beneath a chair.

Pearl left the animal in hiding and stepped to Eden’s side. Eden crouched to the little girl’s level and unrolled a bright watercolor.

“It’s Bette’s garden!” Pearl said, pointing to the middle of the picture. “There is the arbor.”

Eden recognized the view of the garden from the piazza of Eleanor’s house in Provence. Sophia and Eden had taken Pearl to Paris only a few weeks after the guardianship had been completed, and had stayed during much of the visit in the country house.

Pearl had loved the garden right away, and Eden had made many of her own sketches of the child and Bette, exploring the flowerbeds and collecting smooth stones from the paths.

“I’ll get this framed and we’ll put it up in the nursery, all right?” Eden smiled.

Mrs. Williams appeared in the doorway. “They’re here, Miss,” she said.

Eden put the picture down and took Pearl’s hand. Together they walked into the hall, dodging Jack, who was carrying a trunk up the stairs.

Before she even entered the parlor, Eden spied her mother, warming her hands by the hearth. Sophia was handing a shawl to Jenny. Joe, hands in pockets, was standing at the window, watching the carriage roll away to the stable.

Eden stepped into the room. Pearl hung behind her, holding onto her whole leg now, rather than just her hand.

Joe’s face broke out in a wide smile. “Eden,” her father said, and reached out to embrace her.

Eden looked back at Pearl. “Come on,” she said, “meet your grandpapa,” and lifted the little girl into Joe’s arms.

IMG_3787

Eden 46:6

“Why did you write to that woman?” Eden came into the hall before Sophia had removed her gloves.

“Woman?” Sophia put her hat on a table and turned to face an angry Eden.

“Mrs.—Russell, from the mission in the north or something…”

“Oh—the North End Mission. I didn’t write—well, I did, but only to answer their queries about Pearl.” Sophia stopped and waited for Eden to move. But Eden stood her ground.

“What do they care about Pearl?”

“They were the ones at the hospital, when her mother died. They funded the advertisements for her family. They wanted to know how she was faring.”

“Do you want them to take her?”

“What do you mean, take her?”

“Mrs. Russell suggested that you wanted them to take Pearl there and raise her in their orphanage. I sent her away, but she seemed determined to come back—at your direction.”

“I didn’t expect them to come here—certainly not today.” Sophia frowned. “But where did you suppose she was going to go?” Sophia moved past Eden and into the parlor. The dining room doors were open, the table set for dinner, but Sophia sat down by the fire and put her hand to her head.

Eden followed and sat beside her. “Do you want to send her there?” she asked Sophia.

“You don’t?” Sophia asked in return.

Eden was quiet for a long time. But there was only one thing to say. “No.”

“Then what shall we do about her?”

“I’ll see Eleanor’s lawyer tomorrow. I’ll have guardianship papers drawn up.”

Sophia dropped her hand to her lap and stared at Eden. “Guardianship? Permanently?”

“Don’t you want me to?” Eden met Sophia’s eye.

“I didn’t know you wanted to.”

Eden looked at the fire. She stooped to take the tongs and shift a log. Sparks flew up the chimney. She felt Sophia’s eyes on the side of her face, but she didn’t turn.

“I do. You ought to be her mother. She ought to have a real family, not grow up in some institution and be treated like a criminal for being born to some poor, desperate woman…”

“You are right, of course,” Sophia said at last.

“Well.” Eden rose. “I’ll do it tomorrow then.” She walked to the dining room.  Sophia followed.

Eden 46:5

Eden was at her easel. Miss Daley sat on a stool by the hearth, coaxing Pearl with a doll and a sweet bun to keep her still enough for a portrait, when Mrs. Williams interrupted them.

“Pardon me, but there is a woman here to see Dr. Abington. I told her the doctor is at the hospital, but perhaps you can help her.”

She handed Eden a card that read, “Lucretia Russell, Assistant Director, Boston North-End Mission.”

Eden looked at the card a moment too long, but put down her brush and sent Miss Daley and Pearl to the nursery, then turned to follow Mrs. Williams to the parlor.

A handsome woman in brown flannel stood by the fire. As Eden came in, she turned, “Excuse me,” she said. “I am waiting for Miss Smith.”

“I am Miss Smith,” Eden said, extending her hand.

But the woman did not take it immediately. Rather, she scanned Eden’s clothing quickly and made an unintelligible sound under her breath.

“Excuse me, I’ve been at work,” Eden said with a slight blush, smoothing her jacket cuffs.

“No, excuse me.” Mrs. Russell at last reached to shake Eden’s hand.

“Please have a seat,” Eden gestured to a chair by the fire and took its mate nearby as Mrs. Russell sat.

“I don’t know if you can help me. I’ve had a letter from Dr. Abington that the child in her care—‘Pearl Gunn’ I believe—is fit to come up to our orphans’ home.”

Eden sat in stunned silence, her face drained of color.

“Are you all right, Miss Smith?” said Mrs. Russell with some distress. “Are you faint?”

But Eden recovered quickly. “No—I’m fine, Mrs…” She glanced at the card still in her hand, “Mrs. Russell. I didn’t know that Dr. Abington was in communication with you about Pearl. As I understand, her relations are still being sought and until someone is found who can either take responsibility for her or—”

“Oh, no,” Mrs. Russell interrupted Eden. “I’m afraid they’ve quite given up hope of finding any relations. Her mother was probably too ashamed to keep up any correspondence, if she had people at all. We see quite a bit of this at the mission. Girls sometimes go astray to such a point that they even change their names. Pearl’s mother may not have been “Mrs. Gunn” at all, as she told the nurses at the hospital. It is unlikely anyone will ever be found to claim the child. But we are well-equipped to raise her with other girls like herself and teach her the virtues her mother lacked, while giving her the skills to work honestly for a living when she comes of age.”

Mrs. Russell held her head slightly higher than level as she spoke of the work of her mission. It sounded to Eden almost like a prepared speech, and she supposed that the woman was used to describing the work of her mission in succinct little orations in order to collect charitable contributions towards its funding.

But Eden was not moved. She wanted Mrs. Russell to go.

The woman said, “May I meet the child?”

“No.” Eden’s tone was too sharp. She took a breath. “She’s having a nap. I’m afraid this is a bad time.”

Mrs. Russell raised her eyebrows, waiting, Eden supposed, to be instructed when to return.

“I’ll discuss it with Dr. Abington, and I’m sure she will be in touch with you soon.” Eden rose.

Mrs. Russell gave a tight smile and stood as well. “Well, I’m sorry to have disturbed you. I look forward to hearing from Dr. Abington. The child will do better, the sooner she can join in the life of the mission and find her place in our routines.”

Eden’s stomach turned unexpectedly, but she put her hand out again. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Russell,” she said.

And Mrs. Williams appeared in the hall to show the woman out.

Eden 46:4

“Eden will read a story!” Pearl insisted, tugging herself out of Miss Daley’s arms and running back to Eden’s side in the music room. Sophia had given her a lesson on the piano after her supper and now it was the child’s bedtime, and time for the adults to go in to their own dinner.

But Pearl would not go easily and Miss Daley looked apologetically at Eden and blushed. “Come now,” she said in a meek tone.

Pearl paid her no heed.

Eden said, “It’s all right, I’ll read a story.” And she took Pearl’s hand and stepped to the door, only remembering just before she walked through it to turn back to Sophia. “I’m sorry, do you mind waiting?”

“Go on,” Sophia gestured them out of the room.

When Eden finally came back for dinner half an hour later, Sophia kissed her on the cheek before they sat down. “You’re good to her. She really loves you.”

Eden shrugged. “She reminds me of Minna’s Edith,” she said.

“She’s doing so well. She has put on flesh and her cheeks are glowing. I worried that she might have her mother’s illness, but there’s not a whisper in her lungs.”

In spite of her hopeful words, Sophia’s tone was wistful and Eden noticed a line of concern across her brow.

“What’s wrong, then?”

“Apparently there’s been no success in finding any of her relatives. If she has any, her mother must have left them far behind some time ago.”

“That’s a shame,” Eden said quietly.

“Yes…”

Eden looked at Sophia, but she was eating again.

“Did you decide to take the studio?” she asked after a few moments.

“It wasn’t quite right.” Eden frowned. The truth was, she preferred the dayroom.

Eden 46:3

Eden“Eleanor says Durand has sold everything already,” Eden glanced up from her letter with a smile at Sophia across the breakfast table.

“Even my portrait?” Sophia asked.

“Oh, I didn’t give him that. After the exhibition I gave it Bette to keep for us. It’s in her parlor.”

“Poor Bette,” Sophia teased.

Eleanor - Version 2“Listen—” Eden raised her hand a little and read aloud, “‘I have sold the house in Kent.  Perhaps my grandfather is turning in his grave, but so be it. Bette prefers Provence and I have bought something there instead. It is very quiet and we don’t know anyone in the neighborhood, but it is ideal for our work. I believe you and Sophia will like it.’”

“I knew it,” Sophia said. “She got so many letters when she was here in the summer—nearly all from Bette, I think.” She smiled.

“I suppose, but the house in Kent…” Eden frowned.

Sophia had taken the rest of the mail from the tray, and was sorting it. She laid it all aside but one long, narrow envelope. That she put in her lap, keeping one hand on it as she reached for her tea with the other.

“The house in Kent?” Sophia said, putting down her cup.

“It has been in her family for so long, is all,” Eden finished. She took up the rest of the mail and stood. “I’m going to go look at a studio near the park this morning. It’s time I gave you back the dayroom.”

Sophia didn’t need the dayroom. But she let Eden go. And when Eden was safely away, she opened her own letter with no small anxiety.

Eden 46:2

For three days, Pearl would have nothing to do with Eden. But on the fourth morning, Eden walked into the parlor to retrieve a book she’d left there and found the little girl hiding behind the potted palm in the corner of the room. She was ignoring the remonstrances of Mrs. Williams, who was trying to introduce Miss Daley, the new nurse she had hired that morning. When Pearl saw Eden, she ran to her side and grabbed her trousers.

Eden reached down and picked up the little girl, who hid her face against Eden’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” Eden said, reaching out to shake Miss Daley’s hand. But Pearl did not let Eden out of her sight for the rest of the day. When Sophia came home, she found the two of them in the dayroom, its floor strewn with charcoal scribbles, Eden’s sketchbooks full of Pearl.

Eden 46:1

IMG_3780Eden had spent several weeks in Paris, selling pictures at Durand’s and painting more with Bette. Now she had returned to Boston a bit earlier than expected and she was eager to see Sophia.

She paid for the cab she had taken from the dock and put her portmanteau in the hall while Jack took her trunk upstairs. The sounds of the piano filled the house. It was a piece of Mozart that Sophia had taught Eden to sing to: “twinkle, twinkle, little star.” But the player couldn’t be Sophia. The music halted and started, went awry and halted again.

Mrs. Williams raised her eyebrows at Eden’s questioning face and nodded to the music room.

When Eden walked through the door, the music stopped. “Oh, darling!” Sophia rose from the piano bench and stepped to Eden’s side. “I didn’t hear you come in. Mrs. Williams ought to have told me. You weren’t to land until morning…”

“We arrived early,” Eden said, taking Sophia in her arms for a happy kiss.

“We would have met you if we’d known. I didn’t see the paper this evening.” At these words, Sophia half turned and Eden saw a child of two or three, sitting before the piano.

“We?” Eden asked.

Sophia“Pearl, come meet Eden,” Sophia said, stepping back to the piano and helping the little girl down. Eden looked closer now and saw a mass of brown curls too short to be gathered, but long enough to fall over a pair of eyes that almost filled the thin little face, and so dark as to be nearly black.

Eden bent down to meet the child at her eye level. “Pearl,” she said, reaching for a small hand, “I am Eden. This is my house.”

“Sophie’s house,” said the little girl, not extending her hand towards Eden, but taking a fistful of Sophia’s skirt instead.

“Well, yes. Sophie’s house. But mine too,” Eden insisted, not rising. “In either case, you are very welcome. Is Sophie teaching you to play the piano?”

The child did not respond by word or gesture. Sophia reached down and picked her up. Mrs. Williams was standing in the doorway. Sophia smiled and handed the child into the housekeeper’s arms. “Time for milk and a bath,” she murmured. Pearl continued to eye Eden with suspicion throughout the exchange of her caregivers, but finally lifted her face to kiss Sophia’s cheek before Mrs. Williams carried her away.

“Milk and a bath?” Eden asked.

“She’s been here for a fortnight or so.”

“A fortnight! Where’s her mother?”

“Dead.” Sophia frowned and gestured for Eden to sit. “Do you need something to eat?” she asked.

brandy tray“I ate on the boat,” Eden said, but rather than sitting, she walked to the corner of the room that held Eleanor’s crystal decanters and poured herself a glass of brandy.

“Her mother’s dead?” Eden prompted Sophia to return to the story.

“She came into the hospital directly from the street. It was a late-stage case of tuberculosis. She didn’t live for twenty-four hours. Her little girl—Pearl—was with her.”

“She had no family?” Eden said.

“They have posted notices in several papers, but no one has come forward.”

“Why didn’t they send the little girl to a foundlings’ home?”

Sophia bit her lip and Eden thought she read judgment in her eyes. “I don’t mean she isn’t welcome,” she added.

“No, of course. But you just got home. Sit, darling.” The look on Sophia’s face wasn’t judgment then. It was worry about the rest of the story.

“Pearl refused to go to the nurses from the mission we called,” Sophia continued. “She would not leave her mother’s side, but held onto the poor dead woman’s clothes and screamed and bit the nurse when she tried to remove her by force.”

Eden ran a hand through her hair, finished her brandy and put the glass down.

“I was a few doors down the hall. I heard a child scream and ran into the room. Pearl dropped her mother’s dress and walked to me, buried her face in my skirt and just wailed. I picked her up and she would not let me put her down for the rest of the day.”

Sophia searched Eden’s face for a reaction, but it was cast in evening shadows.  Eden pondered the carpet pattern.

“I brought her here.  She has slowly come to trust Mrs. Williams. But of course, Mrs. Williams is not paid to be a nurse.”

“No.”

Sophia was quiet for a minute. She rose and stepped to the piano. “Twinkle, twinkle, little…” her fingers skipped over the keys absently.

“So she is interviewing someone tomorrow,” Sophia said.

“Interviewing a nurse?” Eden looked up at Sophia. “A nurse to come here?”

“For now…”

“For how long?” Eden asked.

“Well…the little girl is grieving terribly. And I think that this might be the only house she has ever lived in. She cannot be older than three and she seems even younger. I think she was born on the streets. I don’t think she had a day of regular meals in her life before she came here. I can’t imagine when she will be well enough to…”

“We’ll need the nurse then,” Eden said and rose from her chair.

“I can pay for it,” Sophia said.

“Of course you needn’t pay for it. There’s plenty.” Eden stepped to Sophia and kissed her. “Play for me?” she asked.