Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd
By Dorothy Clapp Robinson
“Let us get dinner, Mother.”
I looked down into the eager faces that waited breathlessly. What fun it was to do something for mother.
“Can you really?”
“Oh, yes, really, Mother.”
“Oh, yes, weally, Muvvver.” Little Tim echoed his sister’s confidence.
Why not? Timothy had gone out of town and now was as good a time as any to let them try their little wings.
“Very well, then. I shall lie here with Robbie and rest. When you are ready, call us.”
“Don’t peek, will you?”
“I promise you I will not.”
With shouts of glee the two little youngsters ran excitedly toward the kitchen. To keep my thoughts from what the children might be doing to my clean kitchen, I went over some problems that had recently risen in Relief Society. The mercury in the penny thermometer had risen to a satisfying degree, but now the ones who usually subscribed had almost filled their envelopes and those who were left could not be depended upon. But we would achieve our goal some way. If one method did not work there were always others. Visiting teaching was gradually being worked to a solution, but our percent of attendance was falling a little.
“It always drops in the spring,” Irene had told me, “and this drop isn’t anything. Last year at our final meeting there were only nine present.”
“There must be forty-nine this year,” I determined.
“It’s ready, Mother.”
“It’s weady,” Muvver.”
I sat up with a start. Had I fallen asleep? The children, with little Rob, were standing beside me, their hands and faces suspiciously clean.
“I shall get up immediately. Um-m-m. Am I hungry.”
Denise’s enthusiasm took a sudden drop. “You see, Mother,” she began hesitantly. “You may not like our dinner so well. We could not find anything to begin on.”
There was an overflowing dish of their favorite jam. Fruit juices from the ice-box had been mixed to make punch. Hopeless stains of it stared accusingly from the linen. But the piece de resistance was an incredibly elaborate cake. Denise caught my glance.
“It is the one you made for Daddy, Mama. We just put more frosting on it.”
“I scwaped the dish,” Tim announced and little Rob made definite remarks about it in his own language.
“Do you like it?”
“Very much. It is marvelous. But as you say, there isn’t much to begin on. You and I might get by nicely on dessert, but babies like Robbie must have their milk and vegetables. Suppose I fix some for you.”
She sighed with relief. “It is so nice to have you to depend on, Mother.”
The last dish had been wiped and put away and the bedtime story told and still Tim had not come. I had been uneasy about him all evening and realized with a shock that I did not know where he had gone. When the telephone shrilled I jumped to answer it.
“Mrs. Maylord? Nettie Grow speaking. Can you come over to my place right away?”
“Just as soon as I can get someone to stay with the children.” The urgency in her voice was all the reason I needed.
When I reached the Grow home it was dark save for one room upstairs where light gleamed from behind closed curtains. I knocked, but there was no response. I tried the door and it opened to my touch. I found myself in a small hall where a dim light burned.
“Who-o-o,” I called softly. almost at once a door opened and Mrs. Grow appeared at the head of the stairs. In the dim light her eyes looked wild and terrified.
“Turn the night lock, will you?” she asked. “And come up.”
After turning the lock I ran up the carpeted steps. Just inside the lighted room I stopped short. One glance told me it had been furnished in exquisite taste, not in keeping with my idea of Mrs. Grow. Then on the bed I saw the reason for my coming. A young girl lay there, a beautiful girl, and it was obvious that she was dying.
“What is it?”
For answer, Mrs. Grow pointed through an open door to a bassinet in the next room. “It was born this morning.” Then in an aside, “She just took a turn and I was alone.”
“Have you called a doctor?”
“Yes. He will be here again soon.”
“I’ll do what I can.” But I knew that would be exactly nothing. I had been called to comfort the living, not to help the one on the bed. The girl was beyond help. We could only watch and wait.
It was a beautiful face that was inexorably taking on a death pallor. Dark curls clung damply about her waxen features. Only once did she arouse, and that was when a faint wail came from the adjoining room. Then her eyes opened suddenly and looked in terror at us. Mrs. Grow leaned toward her.
“She is all right,” she said clearly in a voice that was infinitely kind through its matter-of-factness.
“You will take care of her?”
“You know I will.”
I was sure this was no ordinary wayward girl. The look from her eyes, the inflection of her voice told of breeding and refinement. Later the doctor came again, but there was nothing he could do. In less than an hour it was over and we stood beside the crib, looking down at the sweetest baby girl I had ever seen. Her tiny head was covered with bright red curls, and her eyes, when she opened them, showed unmistakable signs of being brown like the mother’s.
“What shall I do with her?” Mrs. Grow sat down and passed her hand wearily over her eyes. “You heard me say I would take care of her, but I couldn’t do it personally. It would not be fair.”
“That decision will not rest with you,” I told her. “She is now a ward of the state, unless you are a near relative.”
“What do you mean?” Her eyes challenged mine.
“Are the girl’s parents or grandparents alive?”
“No, but – she should have been my daughter. Her father was the only man I ever loved, but I was not his kind and his folks interfered. Later he married, but they were both killed in an accident when Diane was a small girl. Her grandmother was hard and uncompromising with her, as she had been with her son. Diane had his dislike for control so her life has been a series of clashes. When I saw how things were going, I sort of – took her under my wing.”
“Do her grandparents know of this?”
“They are both dead. She had an aunt and uncle, but the baby isn’t going back to them. It would break my heart if they found out about it. Why can’t we do something about it now?”
Into my mind there flashed a daring idea. It might not work out, but why not try it? I dashed downstairs to the telephone and called Gloria Holsinger. They had just come in.
“Don’t go to bed. I will be over there soon. Turn your front light off.”
When I went back upstairs I told Mrs. Grow my plan. “Legally we have no right to do anything with the child, but neither do the aunt or uncle. You would like her to be adopted into a good home, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes, a good one. The best we can find. There is no trashy blood here. If the child could be placed tonight no one would be the wiser. Only Don, Salle and your husband knew about Diane.” She paused, doubtless at the look that flashed into my eyes. Then she went on. “I cannot tell you what a lot of help your husband has been. I appealed to him because through my dealings with him in the store I had found him to be what he pretended to be. He untangled Diane’s financial affairs and helped me with mine. He has helped in so many other ways, too, and through it all has kept his mouth shut. It has meant a great deal to us. Diane made him executor of her estate. She was of legal age and could do that.”
“Will you take her back to her relatives?”
“Oh, yes. I must notify them. I shall get Dr. Putman to give them a reason for her death. But what shall we do about the baby?”
“She must be taken care of for the time being, so if you do not mind I shall take her to a home I know about. Tomorrow we can notify the proper authorities.”
I could see it all so clearly now. Tim, Salle, Mrs. Grow, all defying gossip to do what they could for this girl. Mrs. Grow told me she had persuaded Salle to come there because of Diane’s need for companionship.
I waited until the undertaker had come and gone, and then with the baby in a basket in my arms I paused in the hall. There were deep lines in the woman’s face. The last few hours had made her an old woman. In her eyes was great weariness.
“I – I think you are grand,” I whispered. “I am coming back to stay with you until Don comes.”
She flung open the outer door. “Go quickly while I have control of myself.”
So I went out into the kindly enveloping darkness leaving behind a broken woman in an empty house. When I reached the Holsingers’ the house was dark so no one saw me approach. I placed the basket in the shadows beside the door and rang the bell. Immediately the light flashed on inside, and the door was flung open. Dave Holsinger faced me looking puzzled and concerned. Behind him stood his wife.
“Do come in and tell us what this is all about.” It was the first time I had seen Dave act nervous.
As I closed the door behind me Gloria said, “For goodness sake, Dona, why all the mystery?”
I looked from one excited face to another. The air of the room hung tense, expectant about them.
“I have something I would like you to keep for the night. Something very precious and helpless. Will you do it?”
Dave nodded assent. In his eyes was already the light of understanding.
“Will you, Gloria?”
“Yes, but –”
I had been standing with my back to the door. Now I slipped out and lifting the baby from the basket returned to the lighted room and closed the door. Gloria gave a gasp of dismay when she saw the blankets.
“Hold out your arms.”
“No. No. I won’t take it. I will not have it. I don’t want it.”
Reluctantly she held out her hands. Removing the blanket I laid the baby in her arms. It had been well wrapped and the bright curls clung damply about its tiny head.
“Take it. Take it, someone.” Gloria looked about terrified. I moved back, but Dave stepped to her side and put an arm about her shoulders. For an instant they both watched; then as the baby’s cries fought their way into her heart, Gloria lifted it gingerly to her face. Instantly the sobs ceased and it gurgled in satisfaction as only a baby can. Its tiny lips searched her face.
“Oh, you helpless, helpless darling.” The baby was suddenly snatched against her in an infinitely possessive gesture. David breathed with relief and nodded to me. It was almost more than I could do to break the spell.
“It is just for tonight, Gloria,” I reminded her. “Its basket is in the shadows outside.”
Then I slipped out. It would have been a cruel thing to do had I not been certain the authorities would eventually give her the child. They might even leave it with her while they were conducting the necessary investigations. Of one thing I was certain: the baby would soon belong to them.
Going back to Mrs. Grow’s, I realized I was weary in mind and body. This had been a hard evening. To participate in such things was not easy. I wanted to lay my head on Tim’s shoulder and cry. With the thought my despondency lifted a little. I knew now why Salle and Tim had been such frequent visitors at this place. I knew why they persistently defended Mrs. Grow. I understood why Don had been attracted to Salle. I wanted to get to Tim as soon as possible and ask his forgiveness for doubting him.
But Mrs. Grow was waiting at the door for me. As she saw me coming up the walk she ran to meet me.
“We must go to the hospital at once. There has been an accident. They are all there.”