From the Relief Society Magazine, April 1936 –
The Mother of Nancy
By Vesta P. Crawford
Margaret Dale, matron of the Children’s Aid Society, had forgotten everything but the May morning. She stood at the south window looking out on the sloping lawn to a shining spot where pink and yellow tulips bordered the flagstone walk. The tulips were fresh and new budded, fluted, and dusted with dew.
The woman caught her breath suddenly. “Chalice cups,” she whispered, “perhaps the Holy Grail was like a tulip cup.”
As she turned back toward the desk, her thin white hand held back the ruffled curtain and sunlight flooded into the room. It was a long room with ivory colored woodwork and a glowing waxed floor. A pleasant room, thought Margaret Dale. And it was her planning and her skillful manipulation of the aid budget that had made it so.
Her consultation desk stood in front of the east windows and there was a tapestry covered chair beside it. Margaret Dale sat there in the sunshine but her eyes were not on the papers before her.
“Well, what’s on the docket?” a brisk voice came from the hallway. Margaret turned slowly. She looked at Eva Stratton, a tall woman in her late twenties. Her eyes were black and a little too shining. But her hair was lovely, coal black except for one lock of gray on the right side. She wore a black crepe dress with white linen collar and cuffs. Black is too efficient looking and too sombre, thought Margaret.
“Who is our first client this morning?” the quick voice repeated. Eva Stratton stood poised, ready for the day’s first “case.”
“A Mrs. Wilton wants to adopt a six-year-old girl.” Margaret’s eyes encountered bravely the hard black ones.
“Oh. One of those particular kind, this Mrs. Wilton. I suppose a five-year-old wouldn’t do.”
“Mrs. Wilton’s voice sounded throaty over the telephone, but nice.” Margaret walked slowly to the window again. The tulips still flaunted springtime, poised springtime. “You know, Eva, picking out a child is such a difficult situation.”
“Difficult? The child is already here. I don’t see anything difficult in that.”
Margaret turned slowly and the sunlight flamed on her orchid wool dress and fell in lighted arcs on the lace collar. “Eva,” she said, “we must remember the great responsibility of ‘matching.’ The mother and child must be suited to each other. It’s a heart situation – linking of hearts.”
Eva opened the top drawer of the file case and took out a long folder. “Well, in your thirty years of Children’s Aid you’ve had so many cases that this one more won’t make much difference.”
The older woman thought of that long procession of children who had for a time been hers and all the women who had come wanting them. “You know, Eva, every time a woman comes I wonder why she wants a child. Her particular reason.”
“How do you find that out?”
“Sometimes I don’t find out.”
“Well, just so she wants a child. Goodness knows, we have plenty of them.”
The doorbell rang and Miss Stratton opened the door. She held out her hand to a slender woman in a navy blue suit. Something over forty. One of the teary kind, thought Eva. But neat and she had good taste. Money, too. Her wide-brimmed blue hat was circled around the crown with a band of twisted white satin and there were white buttons on the suit.
“Mrs. Wilton?” Eva asked. The woman nodded.
“I am Miss Stratton. The matron will handle your case.”
“Take this chair by the window,” Margaret Dale invited. “Did you see the tulips as you came in?”
“Oh, yes. Tulips are lovelier than ever this year, and earlier, too.”
Margaret glanced at her papers. “I understand, Mrs. Wilton, that you want to adopt a six-year-old girl.”
“I’d like to take a little girl to see if we could love each other.”
So she understood, thought Margaret. She knew about heart linking. Margaret’s violet eyes softened and she began to think of the little girls who at that moment were at their lessons, not knowing, of course, what was being planned for them.
“You make take one of the girls you like and try her out. But don’t expect too much at first. Love, you know, has to grow.”
“I know. But then how it grows! And not anything can be like it. Not anything.”
The telephone rang in an inner office and Miss Stratton answered it. Presently she came back. “I beg your pardon, Miss Dale. Someone wants you.”
Margaret seemed to have forgotten such things as telephones and cases. She stood up slowly. “Perhaps, Miss Stratton, you would like to talk with Mrs. Wilton a minute or two. I’ll be right back.”
Eva Stratton sat very straight in the chair and followed along down the typed page with her pencil. Where was she to? Oh, yes. “Now Mrs. Wilton, just what type of child would you like?”
“One who stands with her lips parted and a shining face when she hears music.”
Miss Stratton frowned. “I mean what physical type, complexion, and so forth.”
“I am not particular about that. Only if you have one with pale gold curls.”
“Well, so many want curls. Most any of them could take a permanent.” A woman like that deserved something snappy by way of retort, thought Eva.
But Mrs. Wilton had not noticed. “And little long fingers,” she was saying, “so that she could play a violin.” A light flamed in the blue eyes, her eager lips parted.
“We have two rather robust children,” Miss Stratton said. “Good solid nerves. There’s one slender child, not so strong, nervous and makes poor group adjustments.”
Just then Margaret closed the door of the inner office and came back to her desk. “Miss Stratton, will you please bring Jane in.” Eva walked quickly down the hall and the matron turned again to Mrs. Wilton.
The woman’s slender fingers lay on the desk. “Miss Dale,” she said, “I want to ask you something that I think you’ll understand. What kind of thoughts do these children have?”
A far-away look came into Margaret’s face. “We never get close enough to these children to even guess their thoughts. Only a mother can do that.”
Miss Stratton came back with a chubby child. “This is Jane,” she said. The child’s unlighted black eyes looked solemnly at Mrs. Wilton.
“Have you a dolly?” asked the woman.
“Two. I don’t break my dolls.”
“She never breaks anything,” said Miss Stratton, “and she knows how to set the table already.”
Margaret noticed that finally the woman’s eyes shifted to the window. The black-eyed child was taken away and another brought in.
“This is Phyllis.” Obediently, Mrs. Wilton looked at the child. She was a small girl with blue eyes and brown hair. She stood on one foot and turned the ends of her collar around her fingers.
Mrs. Wilton looked out of the window again, then she turned to Phyllis and said, “Some little girls think that tulips are the cups of springtime and the sun pours warmth into them. What flowers do you like, my dear, nasturtiums?”
“I like all flowers. But the best are violets. They’re so little and afraid.”
When Miss Stratton had taken Phyllis out, Mrs. Wilton said slowly, “She has nice thoughts, that little girl. But she hasn’t any freckles. I would like a little girl with freckles on her nose.”
Margaret said, “That little girl needs loving. She has been with us a long time.”
Eva came again. The child with her was tall and thin. Suddenly Mrs. Wilton raised her eyes and looked intently at the little girl. Clear blue eyes looked straight into clear blue eyes. The child pushed back her pale gold hair with a little long hand. The woman stood up and moved eagerly toward the little girl. She stroked her hair and turned her face upwards. Then her fingers touched the freckled nose.
“What is your name?”
The woman trembled and her hand caught the desk. “Oh,” she said, “your name is Nancy.”
“I like it,” said the child, “don’t you?”
“Yes, I do. It’s my favorite name. Only I …” Mrs. Wilton turned away quickly. With trembling hands she picked up her bag and gloves. “I’m sorry, Miss Dale. I have to go. I’ll telephone later. I didn’t know it would be like this.”
She was gone. They heard a motor turn. Margaret Dale stood again at the window. She looked at the tulips and thought once more of chalice cups and cups for sunshine. The freshness of spring welled up against the window. The shadowed patterns of leaves moved back and forth across the pane. Color, warmth, new life, May.
Miss Stratton had taken Nancy out of the room. Now she gathered up the papers on the desk and put them back into the file case. “Well, I guess that’s the last we’ll see of Mrs. Wilton,” she commented. “A good thing, too. Not the kind to handle children. But she’s gone for good.”
“No,” said Margaret Dale. “She will come back when the healing is over.”
But Margaret was thinking of many things. She was thinking about the linking of hearts and about mothers and little girls.
Eva Stratton was about to say something about hens that had never had any chicks of their own. Then Margaret turned from the window and her eyes were wet with tears. Eva said, “Don’t take it so hard. These women who have never had any children of their own are particular about what they want. Never having had any of their own.”
But Margaret did not hear. she sat down uncertainly in the tapestry chair and fingered a blue opalescent vase on the desk. Then she looked at the door Mrs. Wilton had closed so quietly.
“I wonder when her own little girl died,” she said.