The Paper

April 16, 1896
Edith Bowen

“Is it you?” Lucy asked.

“Pardon me?” I replied confused.

Lucy had approached me from behind with her fiancé, Edward Taft. They had never struck me as a good match until seeing them just there. Their faces were a matched pair as they hurried closer toward me. I had little difficulty in determining that whatever her question was about, she had already decided I was guilty.

“You are the one, admit it!”

She waved a copy of the Paper, Brown University’s underground student news, at me. I snatched it from her excited hand in order to comprehend her as yet cryptic accusation.

My eyes fell immediately to the paragraph of her consternation.

My jaw dropped open as I read and reread the venom on the page. Never had I dreamed or nightmare-d my innocent comments to Mr. Carrington would be heard beyond his ears. Even then, when I learned he had discussed the matter openly with the Dean, I had not thought it likely to ever come to pass. Now not only has my feebly minded suggestion come to fruition, but it seems clear I will be identified as a responsible party.

How could anyone know it was I who suggested this course to Mr. Carrington? It seems clear Mr. Carrington must have revealed me to the Dean despite his assurance of confidentiality. From the Dean’s own journal my name must have been found. I can only count my blessings the Paper did not reveal my name.

My eyes turned back to Lucy and Edward. They were fuming. I could see it in their eyes. They agreed with every hateful and prejudiced word written. Since my endeavor in disciplining Penelope failed, I have felt the weight of disapproval on my back. The other girls see me as a traitor to Primrose, as though we are an elite organization requiring honor. Mrs. Carrington herself has taken less of a liking toward me as well. Our afternoons of polite conversation and hot tea have abruptly ended. I had felt certain my awkward existence of late could not possibly deteriorate further and now this.

“Tell me, Edith. Is it you?” Lucy repeated.

“Yes.” I whispered.

“Do you have an idea what you have done? What you have started?” Edward asked belligerently.

I stared blankly at him. There are plenty of moments in my life of which I am ashamed. There are volumes of words I have spoken which I would swallow back if I could. The day I suggested the young men of Brown could be educated alongside the young women of Primrose is not such a moment. I am not apologetic because no matter the consequences I believe I was and am right.

“What would you have me say?” I asked them.

“That it was a mistake. That you were wrong.” Lucy replied.

“Yes, and tell it to the Dean right away.” Edward concluded.

“I do not believe it was a mistake and if I was wrong, I still am.”

“I ought to --” Edward began and cut himself off.

“You ought to what, strike me? Is that what you desire? Will it bring you better life or secure your fragile liberty or further your pursuit of happiness?”

I heard the loud slap before I felt it. My heart was pounding but not with fear. The burning sensation on my left cheek felt like a badge of courage instead of a mark of shame. I stared heatedly at Edward. My expression dared him to raise his hand again.

His will broke before mine or perhaps he simply realized my will would never break. He turned on heel and began marching away. I laughed at his cowardice. Lucy stared at me as though she believed I had gone insane. Her hand reached out for me.

“Lucy! Come!” Edward ordered.

Lucy obeyed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Passion, politics, gender issues. Face slapping. What more could one ask?
A great pyschological intensity, too!
Mr R Fane