In the first minutes, hours, days after Mary Poppins left, Jane believed that everything would be different. Mary Poppins was leaving, but their father was back. He was joyful. He had mended their kite, the kite that had driven Katie Nanna away and brought Mary Poppins to them in the first place.
Actually, at first she didn't even realize Mary Poppins was gone. Jane and Michael had asked her not to go, but then they had left without saying good-bye. They were in the park with their parents—Father! and Mother!—and a thousand kites sailing in the spring breeze. Michael flew the kite and Jane saw one of the stiff-faced men from the bank place a bright red flower in Father's buttonhole, and Father kissed Mother with such joy on his face. Then Jane wanted a turn to fly the kite and asked Michael to give it to her but he wouldn't and Jane said she was older and Michael replied well, he was younger, and Mother said firmly, "Jane, Michael," and Jane let him have it a little while longer before she asked again, more politely. This time he handed her the string.
The kite pulled at her small hands. Around her, even grown-up men and ladies were having trouble holding onto their own kites. A bright blue one, with a yellow border, tugged hard and broke free of a man's hand. Jane did not feel so bad about her tired arms after that.
And although neither Jane nor Michael could have known it, the same wind that pulled away the blue-and-yellow kite was the wind that, at that very moment, was carrying Mary Poppins away.
For the first few weeks, things really were different. Mother declared there would be no more nannies. "No more in this house," she said. Jane and Michael were both shocked. So were Cook and Ellen, although for different reasons. "I knew it," Jane heard Ellen muttering as she straightened the morning's disarray of vases and clocks and candlesticks. "Who'll they get to watch the children when they say no nanny in the house? Me, that's who. And after all I've done, dealing with these blasts twice a day, day in and day out. If I had a position over on Woodley Drive, I reckon I wouldn't even hear Admiral Boom …"
Jane knows that Ellen will never go looking for a position in any other house, no matter what. She didn't, even after the time Nurse Joan left and before Katie Nanna came and Jane and Michael smeared the handle of her feather duster with red ink. Ellen will never leave. But Jane, too, wonders who will watch her and Michael with no nanny in the house.
At first the answer is Mother, and Father. Mother stays home with them in the mornings and takes them calling with her in the afternoons. Unless there's a demonstration, which can be in the morning or the afternoon. Jane and Michael get to go along with her and wave bright red ribbons at the editor of the Times newspaper, which is fun. The visits are not so exciting, and Jane and Michael spend most of them whispering to each other while Mother talks with the ladies.
Father begins coming home one hour earlier each night, at five o'clock. He and Mother do not eat supper until later, of course, but they sit at the table with Jane and Michael as they eat the meals Cook has prepared for them, reminding them to use their forks and knives and take only small sips of milk. Mother helps bathe them, and Father says good night to them before they go off to bed.
It all feels strange to Jane, as if this is only one of those times when they are between nannies. In bed at six o'clock every evening, she closes her eyes and tries to imagine which time it might be. Perhaps they have just driven off Sister Ruth by pouring a cup of cold tea into her slippers, and Mrs. Mumford, the one whose rich brown wig looked very nice indeed on Andrew, has not come yet.
It is almost a relief when Father tells Mother that as the newest partner, he really must work later, and Mother agrees that Ellen has too much trouble getting the rotten-tomato stains out of Jane and Michael's clothing.
The new nanny is called Mrs. Black. Jane doubts that she is practically perfect in any way.
"Let's tidy up the nursery," Michael says to Jane one day, and she agrees, somewhat reluctantly. Mrs. Black, it has turned out, is indeed not perfect; instead, she is very strict. Jane does not enjoy tidying up, but Mrs. Black is having her afternoon lie-down, and Jane and Michael better have that nursery clean by the time she wakes up, or else they will not be able to sit down for a week, she told them firmly.
Michael tries to snap his fingers, rubbing and twisting them. Jane shows him how to hold his thumb steady first, then flick it sharply. Nothing seems to help, even though she presses his fingers into position again and again. "Why won't it work?" he asks, looking puzzled. "Why can't I do it now?"
Jane sighs. "You couldn't do it before," she reminds him. "Watch. Listen to me."
Her fingers make a satisfying cracking sound, but the puddle of books on the floor doesn't move.
Michael closes his eyes and screws up his face, and this time, for only the second time ever, he snaps his fingers. But the pyjamas at the foot of his bed don't move either.
They look at each other and at the messy nursery. "Doesn't it work anymore?" Michael asks. "Without …?"
Jane knows the answer, but she can't say it out loud. "Let's tidy up the nursery," she says, putting the books on the proper shelf. Michael looks at his hand for a moment, then picks up his pyjamas and hangs them on a hook in the wardrobe.
Over the next week, Jane looks over her shoulder to make sure she's alone before she laughs as hard as she can and jumps onto a brightly chalked picture on the pavement. She tells herself that she has to be alone, because she doesn't want anyone seeing her sail into the air or the beautiful Welsh moor. She tells herself that she has to be alone, because she doesn't want anyone seeing her laughing like crazy to herself or playing hopscotch alone on the pavement.
But the truth is: She knows it won't work. And she's not ready to admit that to anyone else, even Michael.
"I wish you many happy returns of the day," Jane says politely to Michael as they lie in bed on the night of his seventh birthday. For supper that night, Cook baked him a large cake covered with chocolate icing. Father came home early from the bank—they waited for him so that they could hold a very late supper together—and Mother kissed Michael seven times.
"Thank you," Michael says politely. He is gazing across the dark room at the small black blazer with a red flower in its buttonhole, Father's gift to him. "Did you know Father is going to take me on an outing tomorrow?"
"He is? Where are we going?" Jane asks, excited. Any day without Mrs. Black's morning digestive and bracing walk sounds lovely to her.
"Not you," Michael says. His voice is stuffed with pride. "Just me. Father and me. We're going to the bank."
"The bank?" Jane says, alarmed. Michael sounds perfectly content with this idea, but he is only seven years old. She remembers the last outing to the bank. What will happen this time, with no Mary Poppins on her day off, and no Bert to rescue them? She hasn't tried standing in the cold, clean fireplace, but she is quite sure that she will no longer be whisked up the chimney to explore the bare rooftops of London.
"Father's bank," Michael says even more proudly. "He says I shouldn't bring tuppence this time. But I am older now, and he can show me all about his work. He's a partner now, you know," he continues.
Jane wants to go over and prick him with a pin, to let that annoying tone out of his voice. She settles for saying, "I know."
"I can sit at his desk," Michael says. "And I can wear my new shoes." Those were Mother's birthday gift to him. They're shiny and black, just like Father's. "He may even let me drink tea."
"You're too young to drink tea," Jane says. "Mary Poppins always said we could only have milk."
There is a pause, and then Michael says, "Who?"
It is Jane's turn to look at something in the dark—she rolls over to look at Michael. Is he teasing? "Mary Poppins," she says. "Our nanny."
"Our nanny is Mrs. Black," Michael says confidently, as if their nanny has always been Mrs. Black.
"Our old nanny," Jane says, emphasizing the "old." "Don't you remember our old nannies?"
"I remember Katie Nanna," Michael says slowly. "I remember the time we hid from her at the zoo, behind the aquarium. That was very naughty, wasn't it?"
"Mary Poppins was our nanny after Katie Nanna," Jane says, not much caring if hiding was naughty or not. "You remember her, don't you? We tidied up the nursery—we went on a holiday—we went up the chimney—"
Michael is so quiet that Jane wonders if he's fallen asleep. "No," he says finally, stubbornly. "And that was naughty too."
"It wasn't naughty," Jane protests. "Mary Poppins and Bert were with us."
"No, who's Bert?"
"Bert! You remember Bert! He painted chalk pictures!" Jane exclaims. "He laughed with us at our tea party on the ceiling! He was a chimney sweep—"
"Children!" Mrs. Black's voice rattles the door to the nursery. "Young men and ladies need their rest, do they not?"
Jane squishes under her covers and makes sure to lower her voice. "You do remember, don't you?"
Michael refuses to lower his voice. "No," he says loudly. "I don't."
Jane hides her head under her pillow. Michael hums himself to sleep.
This can't be right. There must be something wrong here, Jane reasons. Why can she remember, and Michael can't?
Someone else must remember.
The next day, Jane gobbles her digestive biscuit and tells Mrs. Black she wants to take an extra walk through the park for her morning constitutional. Mrs. Black thinks this is an excellent idea. "Get your hat and coat," she says. "And finish your milk."
"I'm not thirsty."
"Finish your milk," Mrs. Black says sharply.
Jane compromises by sucking what's left into her mouth and holding most of it in her cheeks. She runs for her coat and hat and races out the door before Mrs. Black can finish her tea. "I'll meet you in the park!" she burbles, milk spilling down the front of her camel coat.
Of course, she has no intention of meeting Mrs. Black in the park. Instead, she runs all the way past Admiral Boom's house and down the street, looking for Uncle Albert's house. She remembers what it looked like from the outside, a brick house with a green door. But there seem to be a hundred houses like that—how will she find it? She listens for the sound of laughter, of Bert's voice, but all she sees are horses and dogs and some pigeons and men and ladies and houses, houses, more houses that all look the same.
She looks for Uncle Albert until her ears are cold under her hat, until she has no choice but to ask a constable to help her get home. He asks her if she knows her address. "Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane," she says. He holds her hand to warm it up and walks her home.
Mrs. Black is very, very angry when the constable brings her home. She doesn't leave like Katie Nanna, but she does box Jane's ears and send her to bed without supper. Ellen is angry, too, since she was afraid Mrs. Black would leave, and Mother is upset, since she was called home from a meeting in the park. But by far, the worst is Michael, who has been freshly scrubbed and is lying in bed with his red flower on his nightstand. "Father and I had the best day!" he says before he can even notice how dirty and cold and tired Jane is. "He showed me the money boxes at the bank, great ones, bigger than mine! And we drank tea together, just like men!"
"Did you see the Bird Woman?" Jane asks.
"The Bird Woman? No. Father says she doesn't sit there anymore. The birds near the bank are very fat anyway," Michael says carelessly. "And Father showed me how to add figures, Jane! It was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!"
Jane's feet are very tired, but she stands up quickly and looks at Michael. "So you do remember!" she cries.
"Remember?" Michael asks. "Remember what?"
"Mary Poppins!" Jane says. "It's her word, don't you remember? Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. It's what you say when you don't know what to say."
"No," Michael says. "It's just a word. Nobody owns a word."
"She owns this one," Jane says.
"No she doesn't," Michael insists. He reaches out and touches his red carnation with one finger.
Mrs. Black leaves after she declares that she can no longer deal with Jane's "funny turns," and Mother suggests that it is time Jane begins to study with a governess instead. "You can do your lessons in the mornings," she says, stopping home one day in between a breakfast and a gathering, "and learn to entertain and serve in the afternoons. Perhaps Cook will show you—"
"No ma'am," Cook cuts in on her way through the hall. "That will be the governess's job."
"Well," Mother smiles. "That's just as well. You don't need to learn how to cook, dear."
The governess, Mrs. Hathorne, is much nicer than Mrs. Black, but she is no Mary Poppins. As Mother suggested, she gives Jane her lessons in the mornings and then teaches her about the home in the afternoons. Jane learns how to take someone's hat, how to put on stockings, how to sit up properly in a chair when entertaining company, and how to make polite conversation—the hardest lesson yet. She and Michael practice in bed at night, by asking each other questions about the bank (Jane to Michael) and the weather (Michael to Jane).
It is while she and Mrs. Hathorne are out one afternoon that the great thing happens.
Mrs. Hathorne decides to take Jane shopping, because she says it is every lady's responsibility to know what her household needs to run smoothly. "There is nothing worse than a useless maid who brings the wrong thing home from the shops," she says firmly, buttoning her coat up to her chin. "You must know what kinds of foods and supplies are needed in your house. You must know when the wrong thing is about to be served to your guests. You must know what to provide for your husband when no one else can do it. These are the skills that every fine lady must have."
So far they've visited the bakery and the butcher. Today it's the greengrocer. Mrs. Hathorne is pointing out all the different kinds of fruits and vegetables when Jane sees him. It's Bert.
Driving the produce wagon, a brightly painted green wagon pulled by a brown horse, he has a cap on his head and ruddy red cheeks. He delivers a load to the shop and is about to leave when Jane shouts, "Bert!"
Mrs. Hathorne cuts off in the middle of an explanation of lettuce. "Jane!" she exclaims. "Really, the idea! Shouting in public is not—"
Jane ignores her. She's already dashing toward the front of the shop to Bert. "Bert!" she cries again. "Oh, Bert, it's so good to see you! Where have you been?"
"Me? Oh, here and there. Just around." Bert beams down at her. "Let's see, for a while there I was a cobbler. Mending shoes all the day—it weren't nearly as much fun as drawing pictures. And then for a time I was a milkman. Got to know all the dogs on my route—I saw enough of ol' Andrew. Now, just lately I was a wainwright. This here"—he points out to the horse on the street—"is a wagon I repaired myself, so I did."
"Tell me, have you seen Mary Poppins?"
Bert pushes his cap back. "Well, no, not lately I haven't."
"But you do remember her?" Jane asks anxiously.
"Mary Poppins? 'Course I do! Who wouldn't?"
"Michael," Jane says quietly.
Bert scratches his head, then squats down to look at her. Jane realizes that she is much taller than the last time he did this. She can see the top of his head. "Well, now," he says, also quietly. "Sometimes, you know, Jane—" He hesitates. "Sometimes people forget."
"Where is she?" Jane demands. "Can't she come back? Just so he'd see her—just so he'd remember!"
Bert's face gets tight and sad for a moment. "Well, now, Jane," he says again. "Mary Poppins isn't a pet, you know—not like Andrew. She doesn't come when she's called. She comes when people need her."
"But I need—" Jane begins, when she is cut off.
Mrs. Hathorne has marched up to her, a heavy straw basket filled with something green on her arm. "Jane Banks!" she exclaims. "I'm surprised at you! The very idea! Consorting with someone like this—definitely not part of your lessons—come along now!"
Bert stands up so that he's taller than Jane again. But again, not as tall as he was the last time she saw him. "Good night, miss, ma'am," he says. "I'll be around, Jane. You just look up."
"Look up?" Jane is puzzled. "For Mary Poppins?"
"No." Bert says. He points at his eyes and tips his hat to Mrs. Hathorne. "Look up for me."
"Hmph!" Mrs. Hathorne sniffs, ushering Jane away from the greengrocer. "The very idea! You're not a little girl anymore, Jane Banks, and there are people that you just shouldn't speak to …"
As Mrs. Hathorne steers her into the street, Jane looks after Bert and understands what he meant. But he's getting his wagon and leaving without a backward glance, and all she can do is watch him, the last person who remembers Mary Poppins and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, driving away.
Jane is sorry to see Mrs. Hathorne go, but she has been offered a position in a household with five children, and she tells Jane that she feels it is her duty to help educate those three boys and two girls. "Besides," she adds, wrapping her scarf around her throat, "you're very grown-up now. I have taught you a great deal, Jane. Now if you'd only remember it—and not go running and shouting and drifting off so much—"
"I understand," Jane says. "Thank you, Mrs. Hathorne."
Mrs. Hathorne smiles at her. "Good luck."
Jane is eleven now, old enough to move out of the nursery, her mother tells her. And for the first time, she will be attending school with other children her age. She will be one of the first students to attend the new central school. It is only for pupils age eleven and up, so Michael will not be coming with her. It's just as well, as he wears his new navy-striped coat every day and is better at maths than she is.
Going to school in a classroom is very different from studying at home with Mrs. Black or Mrs. Hathorne. Jane has never seen so many little girls her own age, all sitting at long rows of desks, their hair neatly tied back with ribbons. Some of them are better at writing with a nib pen than she is, others are better at arithmetic, others are worse. At breaks the girls talk about their families or their holidays. As Christmas approaches, there are excited whispers about gifts and decorated trees and aunties coming to visit them.
None of the little girls ever mentions their old nannies. Perhaps it is time for Jane to do the same.
Jane is twelve when the war, which the Times has termed The Great War, first touches London. By and large, it does not affect her very much. Father works longer hours than ever, and he seems tired. Jane has only the slightest idea of how a bank might be involved in a war. Michael continues to go to the bank with Father sometimes, but the next year, when he is eleven, he also attends school for the first time, a central boys' school.
In 1916, Jane is fourteen, old enough to leave school. Mother and Father recommend that she stay until the war is over. "You'll want to find a husband to marry," Mother explains, carefully braiding Jane's hair back with a ribbon.
In 1919, after the treaties are signed, Jane leaves school.
In 1920, she marries a young former soldier, Redmond Chapman, who has a scar just above and to the outside of his right knee, from a bullet.
Their first child, Dorothy, is born in 1922.
Jane knows that she draws her fair share of curious looks and whispers from her neighbours and guests and her husband's friends' wives. "That Jane Chapman!" she overhears one woman telling another in the chemist. "Did you know she won't even allow her husband to hire a nanny? No nanny in that house for those three lively children!—and, I must say, I believe my William is much better behaved than her little boy, what's his name …"
"Oh, Edward Chapman, a little devil if I ever saw one, bold as brass," the second woman says. Jane recognizes her; her husband, John, often goes to the same pub as Redmond. "Do you know, he was at Sunday school with my Peter last week, and right there, saucy as you please, he poured his cup of milk all over his teacher's shoe! Can you imagine? Surely Redmond and Jane wouldn't dare show their faces in the church next week …"
"Those children could use a good caning," the first woman agrees, "that's sure."
"But they do have such lovely long curls," John's wife admits wistfully, "just like their mother."
Jane swallows her laughter, pays for a bottle of iodine, and walks out of the shop without saying anything to the two women. No, there is no need; she has heard the same thing over and over throughout the years. At the births of Edward and Margaret, even her own mother said to her, "Jane, darling, you know it's high time you got a nanny for those children, don't you? And with a new baby in the house!"
Patiently, Jane explained that things were different now, Mother. These children would go to primary school starting when they were five, and there was no need for a nanny or a governess. They would be in school during the days, and Jane would care for them in the afternoons and evenings, before Redmond got home.
"I don't agree," her mother said bluntly, although she didn't have much time to be blunt, as she was running off to a meeting at the Parliament building. "Just think, you with a little girl of five and a little boy of two and now another baby! You know your brother Michael has two nannies for their boys, and they dote on little George and Michael Jr. …"
Well, of course they would! Jane thought impatiently. Her brother works such long hours, at the bank with their father, and his wife, whom Jane likes very much, also works for the women's right to vote. Someone needs to take care of their two boys, and who else but a nanny? Two nannies, even.
That was two years ago. Since then, the Equal Franchise Act has given women equal voting rights with men, and Jane is very proud of her mother and sister-in-law. Margaret is now two, Edward four, and Dorothy seven, already in primary school for the whole day. Jane's priority is her children. She will never, never turn them over to a team of nannies.
Besides, she likes being with them during the day. They ask the funniest questions, and her maid, Florence, and the cook, Edith, love to hear them. The other day Edward wanted to know why Cook cut up the potatoes to make the soup, and if he could help her. He proceeded to show her how he could help by taking a big bite out of one—and promptly spitting it out. Little Margaret decided to help, too, by turning over a box of salt on the floor. Jane reprimanded them both, reminding Edward that only last week he upset a cup of milk on his Sunday school teacher's shoe, and he really can't waste food that way.
Edward's and Margaret's eyes light up every day when Dorothy comes home from school, as if—just for a few hours—they weren't sure she'd ever return.
"Mother, Mother!" Dorothy says one day, waving her lunch box and shaking her coat and hat onto the floor. "Today in school we had a contest and I won!"
"That's wonderful!" Jane says, hanging up Dorothy's coat. "What did you have a contest in?"
She's expecting her oldest daughter to say reading, or perhaps arithmetic, but Dorothy slings her lunch box into the kitchen and shouts, "Snapping!"
It is not what Jane expected to hear at all. "Snapping?" she repeats.
"Snapping," Dorothy confirms, waving her hands in front of her mother's face. "Like this!" She holds her thumb and third finger steady, the same way Jane tried to show Michael how to do all those years ago, and her fingers make a satisfyingly loud flicking sound.
"This was a contest in school?" Jane asks suspiciously, in the same tone of voice she uses for questions like "Did you put this salt on the floor?" and "Did you dump that milk on your teacher's foot?"
"Well, no," Dorothy admits. "It was a contest for me and my friends. But I still won, Mother!"
"Then that is wonderful," Jane says. "This deserves a celebration."
She goes into the kitchen to ask Cook to make a cake for tonight's supper. Cook protests, saying that she had planned to make chicken pie and that will take the whole afternoon. Fortunately, Edward sticks his head around the swinging door just in time to hear that. "We can help!" he says hopefully.
"Er—no," Cook says hastily, pushing the pie pastry aside. "You'll have a beautiful cake for tonight's supper, Mrs. Jane."
An old friend of Jane's parents comes to call on her one afternoon. Neither Mother and Father nor Jane have seen Mrs. Shaw in many years, but the Shaws used to live next door to them on Cherry Tree Lane. "Come in, come in," Jane says, opening the door to a woman in a black coat and brilliant red hat. "May I take your coat and hat for you, Mrs. Shaw?"
"Oh, no thank you, dear, let's have the maid do that—maid!" Mrs. Shaw calls, already shedding her outer garments and looking around for Florence. "Maid, please take my—"
"I'd be happy to," Jane says smoothly, taking the hat and coat from Mrs. Shaw. "Please, come into the parlour and sit down. May I offer you a cup of tea? It's a blustery day, isn't it?"
"Yes, thank you, dear, it is indeed," Mrs. Shaw says, looking somewhat mollified. Jane stows her hat and coat and is grateful to see Florence coming with a tray already. "So good to see you again, my dear! It's been many years. I'm in town again to see my sister—do you remember my sister, Mrs. Webb, Arthur's wife?—and your mother told me you were all grown up and married now! Dear, dear, how time does fly!"
"Yes, it does," Jane says, pouring the tea and handing her the cup. "And yes, I'm married to Redmond Chapman. I'm sorry you won't meet him, but he's still at work right now."
"And your children?" Mrs. Shaw prompts, taking a noisy slurp of tea. "Your mother told me you had—dear, dear, how many children?"
"Three," Jane confirms. "Two girls and a boy."
"Oh, of course. I thought she mentioned something about two boys, but, no, that must have been your brother. She wrote to tell me how successful he is!" Mrs. Shaw exclaims. "And you, Jane—"
At that moment there is a noise like thunder, and Dorothy, Edward, and Margaret come crashing into the parlour. They seem to be in the middle of some kind of race, because Margaret is riding pick-a-back on Dorothy, and Edward is ahead of his sisters, who are both crying, "No fair!" between giggles. "Oh, Mother!" Margaret shouts, right in Dorothy's ear. Dorothy winces and drops her on the ground, and Margaret sits there, rubbing her backside and still shouting, "Mother, run with us! It's not fair—"
"It is fair!" Edward cuts in, stepping in front of his sisters. "Because Dorothy's bigger than me!"
Mrs. Shaw looks absolutely horrified. Jane wants to giggle along with her daughters, but she fights to look grown-up and presentable in front of her guest. "Not right now, children," she says. "Please close the parlour door behind you and play quietly. I'll see you before supper."
Margaret gets to her feet as both Dorothy and Edward study the visitor and nod. "We'll be quiet," Dorothy promises, then ushers her brother and sister out of the parlour. Edward pulls the door shut carefully behind him.
Jane turns back to Mrs. Shaw to see that she is wincing, her hands over her ears. "Would you care for some more tea, Mrs. Shaw?" she asks.
"What?" Mrs. Shaw shouts.
"I said," Jane repeats, touching one finger to her own ear, "would you care for some more tea?"
"Yes—no—thank you," Mrs. Shaw says shakily, lowering her hands from her ears. "I—well—my dear! Those are the three loudest children I've ever had the opportunity to meet! What kind of a nanny have you for them—an incompetent one, surely!"
"In a manner of speaking," Jane says, pouring more tea for Mrs. Shaw anyway. "We have no nanny. Dorothy and Edward are both in primary school now, and Margaret will start school next year. I care for them in the afternoons."
If possible, Mrs. Shaw looks even more disgusted. "No nanny! But why? Surely you and Redmond—I mean—" She looks tactlessly around the gracefully decorated parlour. "Is this Redmond's doing, Jane?" she asks, lowering her voice to a whisper. "I have heard—of men who will not even support their families in the manner in which they should—"
"No," Jane says politely but firmly, thinking of Redmond with the scar on his leg and the slightest stoop to his posture. "Redmond is a merchant, and a very successful one. He is proud to employ both Florence and Edith in this household."
"I see." Mrs. Shaw's expression is a picture—one part suspicion, one part pity, and one part delighted gossip. Jane is relieved that Mrs. Shaw no longer lives in London.
"Who was that woman?" Edward asks later that afternoon as they sit in the nursery with scissors and pencils. Dorothy is doing her homework. Jane is cutting out paper dolls for Margaret—and for Edward, too, "just so long as you don't call them dolls, Mother."
"Mrs. Shaw," Jane says, freeing a second soldier from the piece of stiff, shiny paper. She hands it to Edward. "She was my neighbour when I was a little girl."
"You were a little girl?" Margaret looks up from happily mutilating a paper lady's paper fur coat and turns O-shaped eyes and mouth on her mother.
"Of course, I was a little girl once," Jane says, reaching over to smooth out the paper fur coat gently. "I lived in a house with my mother and father and my brother—that's your Uncle Michael."
"Uncle Michael was a little boy!" Edward bursts out laughing at this idea.
"Of course he was a little boy, if Mother was a little girl," Dorothy says, giving her brother a withering look. "And Grandfather George was a banker," she continues in a confident tone of voice, looking sideways at her mother for confirmation. "And Grandmother Winifred was a suf-fra-gist."
"That's right," Jane says, going back to the paper soldiers. "Grandmother Winifred worked very hard for the women's right to vote."
"Tell us about it again," Dorothy says, putting down her maths book. "Tell us about the time they marched on the Parliament building."
"I don't really remember," Jane says, which is true. The march on the Parliament building was in 1927, just before the Equal Franchise Act was signed. Jane was busy with her two little children then, and Margaret on the way.
"Then tell us about the time they threw the eggs at the Prime Minister," Dorothy suggests gleefully. "Nobody I know has ever thrown rotten eggs at the Prime Minister!"
"And well you shouldn't," Jane agrees, handing Edward a third soldier. "Your turn now, Margaret." She starts on a pair of shiny black shoes for Margaret's crumpled paper lady. "Dorothy, do you really want to hear these old stories about Grandmother Winifred?"
"Yes," Dorothy says emphatically, picking up her book again. "Tell me. Tell us all." Her eyes are dark and reverent. "Grandmother Winifred was a great lady."
Jane opens her mouth to protest, and then she looks at her daughter's face and eyes. There is love and awe shining there. There is her younger daughter, Margaret, who will live her whole life in a time when women have equal voting rights with men.
Dorothy, Winifred's granddaughter, doesn't care what kind of mother Winifred was. She knows only that her grandmother Winifred was a great lady. And that, Jane reflects, is at least true.
Jane is pleased beyond perfection when all three of her children marry—Dorothy in 1939, Margaret in 1945, and Edward in 1946, after he comes home from the war decorated and celebrated and with a scar like his father's.
She approves wholeheartedly of her daughters' husbands—Dorothy's James is a banker, and Margaret's Peter is a solicitor—but she is not sure how she feels about Edward's wife, Patricia, a doctor's daughter who worked as a telegraph operator in the war and, even now that peace has been declared, wears trousers in the home and to church.
"She likes you very much, Mother," Edward says firmly one day, sitting across from his mother in her parlour, like a guest. He asked Patricia to stay out of the room, and she agreed; she is carrying Margaret's baby son and getting in Florence's way, offering to help serve supper. "It would please me if you tried to like her as well."
Jane studies the pot of tea sitting between them on the table. "I like Patricia," she lies to the sceptical expression on Edward's face. "I simply think, Edward—do you really think those trousers are appropriate for churchgoing? And she refused to give up her job after the war was over, and I did think you would have some children by now …"
"Oh, Mother, not that again," Edward groans.
"But it's true!" Jane says. "Dorothy has three children, and Margaret has two—Edward, my only wish as a mother is for you to have a family as well." He opens his mouth to protest, but Jane cuts him off with a triumphant "Your father agrees with me."
"Yes, well, I'm sure he does," Edward says, placing his hands on his knees. "Mother, the thing we've come to tell you today is that Patricia and I are expecting a baby in the spring."
"A baby!" Jane's mouth falls open with surprise and joy. "Oh, a baby! Edward, how wonderful!" She stands to embrace her son. "I'm so happy for you! The joys of being a parent—"
"Thank you, Mother." Edward returns the hug briefly, then holds up his hand for pause. "The thing is, Mother, Patricia and I would really like—now that we're going to have a family—if you and she could get along a little better. Patricia is the mother of your grandchild." He fixes her with a look. "You were the best mother of all. There was not a single boy in school who had better parents than you were to us." His voice softens. "Please, let Patricia be that mother to your grandchild."
Jane cannot think of a single instance in which she would have said something like that to her mother or father. Even after Michael became quite close to their father, she is sure he would never have said anything like that either. But she looks at her son, and she knows she is not the kind of mother Winifred was, either.
She leans across the table and takes her son's hand in her own. "I think," she says, "that Patricia will make a wonderful mother."
She is uncertain again six years later, when Patricia—in one of their comfortable chats, together in Edward and Patricia's home—tells her that she is planning to go back to work. "I'm very excited about it," she says, as David tears through the parlour and makes a loud, noisy circle, shrieking with laughter, then heads out again.
"I'm happy for you, then," Jane says, picking up her feet as David comes through for another pass, this time on his hands and knees, making some kind of thucka-thucka-thucka sound. "Although I had hoped that you and Edward would have another child."
"Yes, well, so had I." Patricia smiles a bit. "But perhaps we will, in time. Edward has told me so many happy things about growing up with his sisters—"
"When they weren't dropping me on my bum and telling me that six times six was really forty-two," Edward cuts in cheerfully, coming into the parlour with a fresh pot of tea in a silver service. "Dave, pipe down a bit, you're driving your grandmother to distraction."
"Oh, no," Jane says quickly, accepting the cup of tea that her son hands her. "No, no distraction at all." The boy is certainly loud, though. She doesn't remember any of her children being this loud.
"We are thinking," Edward says carefully, looking directly at his mother, "that it would be best to hire a nanny for the times that David isn't in school."
Jane presses her lips together in a thin line before she can stop herself. She does her best to erase the expression from her face so that no one will notice, but clearly it's too late, since Edward and Patricia are looking at her with identical childlike expressions of guilt and defiance on their faces. "I am very sorry to hear that," she says, keeping her voice intentionally cold despite the warm tea in her throat. "You both know I feel the parent's primary responsibility is to the child—"
"The mother's," Edward counters. "Father was often at work when we were growing up, Mother."
"He would have had me hire a nanny as well," Jane says. "I was the one who wanted to be home to raise you myself. I thought you were pleased with that situation, Edward—you often speak well of the years you were growing up—"
"I do, Mother, of course I do," Edward says. "And I appreciate all the things you did for us."
A lady does not cross her arms and sit back on the Chesterfield with a sullen expression on her face, Jane reminds herself. Nevertheless, she crosses her arms and studies her son and daughter-in-law with a very grumpy expression. She makes sure she remains sitting up, with perfect posture.
Patricia clears her throat nervously. "Edward has told me so many wonderful things about the mother you were to him the whole time he and Dorothy and Margaret were growing up," she says, her voice sincere. "But I know I'm not like that, Mother Jane. I need to go back to work."
Jane narrows her eyes, ready to speak, but Edward cuts her off.
"My grandmother Winifred worked for many years to see women have equal rights, didn't she?" he asks. Jane nods reluctantly; clearly this is not a question, as Edward certainly knows that. "Mother, you of all people should know that women now have the right to work outside the home. I support Patricia fully in this," he says, taking his wife's hand. David zooms into the room again and stops short, banging his elbow on his father's knee. He sits back against a chair and rubs it gently, looking up at his parents and Jane in turn as Edward finishes, "I'd like you to as well."
It reminds Jane of the conversation Edward came to her home to have with her six years ago, when he pleaded with her to know and like Patricia. There are many good feelings between Jane and her daughter-in-law now—Patricia is a wonderful mother and she opened her home to Jane after Redmond died. And if the nanny is horrible, Jane will be here to help with little, rambunctious, noisy David, will she not?
She is not quite ready to smile, but she nods as she finishes her tea. "I will support you both," she says, looking down at her grandson, who is crawling around on the floor, trying to kiss his own bruised elbow. "And David."
She is not very able to, however. The winter saw a raging influenza epidemic sweep through the neighbourhood. Edward and Patricia both recovered quickly, and David did after a time, but for Jane it has been a longer struggle to feel healthy again. The situation at home does not help either; both Edward and Patricia have been putting in longer and longer hours at work, and David has driven off three nannies already. From what Jane can tell, he isn't a trickster, the way she and Michael were when they were little. But his insatiable store of energy seems to confound even those that came with the best references.
She has tried to tell her son and daughter-in-law this, but they seem confident that it will just take some time before David gets used to having a nanny around in the afternoon instead of his mother. And Jane is not very convincing when she falls down in a coughing fit after every sentence. "You're not well, Mother Jane," Patricia says when she gets home from work and brings Jane some supper on a tray. "You need to relax and get your strength back."
"Yes, oh, yes, of course," Jane says distractedly, taking a bite of the dry toast. "Patricia, I really think you need to reconsider this nanny situation for David. He doesn't seem happy with any of the women you've employed thus far, and you've accepted so much responsibility for being new at the office …"
"David will adjust," Patricia says confidently, reaching behind Jane's head to plump her pillows. "And I'm happy about all the hours I've been working, Mother Jane. I look forward to moving up from being a stenographer."
"Yes, but—" Jane begins, but Patricia shushes her gently and turns to leave. She tells Jane to finish her supper and to relax before she sends David up to say good night.
"Tell me about what you did in school today," Jane says to her grandson from her bed. David is sitting in a chair next to the foot, kicking his feet up and down and staring fixedly at her. At seven years old, he is getting better about sitting for extended periods of time, although he'd still rather be running, jumping, screaming, or shouting, preferably all at once. Tonight, when Patricia brought him upstairs to say good night, she warned him not to tire his Grandmother Jane. "How many pages of reading did you do?"
"Four," David says with a shrug. "I did some maths too."
"Oh?" Jane tilts her head to see him better. "My brother, your great-uncle Michael, was always very good at maths."
"Yeah." David hums a little. "But even better, Grandmother, I played marbles today at break! And I won! My thumbs are just right for it, Mr. Pearce says! I beat everyone in my class!"
"That's wonderful," Jane says, with an effort. She smiles at her grandson. "If I could get out of bed, I'd bake you a cake to celebrate." She takes a deep breath as a memory strikes her. "Tell me, David, can you snap your fingers?"
"Snap?" David looks confused for a second, then smiles a reassuring smile, as if he wants to go along with whatever his old Grandmother Jane says. "No, I can't. Some of the boys in my class can do that, though."
"It's no matter," Jane replies. "I was just curious."
"I haven't seen Father all day," David says conversationally. "Is he coming home tonight?"
"Of course he's coming home," Jane says. She frowns. "That is, I am sure he's coming home, though he doesn't always come say good night to me the way you do—I think sometimes I'm asleep by the time he gets home."
"Oh." David looks disappointed. "I thought maybe he'd be here tonight."
"Your mother's here."
"Mother's angry at me," David confides, crawling onto the bed. "She says she really hopes things work out with this new nanny, because I can't be driving them off all the time, not like I did with Mrs. Webster and Mrs. Payne, now that I'm all of seven years old."
"I also wish you wouldn't drive them off all the time," Jane agrees, closing her eyes as she leans back against her pillows. "That's not good behaviour for a young man. And it makes your parents so upset."
"I suppose." David shrugs, making the whole bed bounce. "This one who answered the advertisement today is nice. Mother hired her and she starts tomorrow."
"I'm glad to hear it." Jane is nearly asleep now, and the blackness behind her eyelids surrounds her and holds her close, like an old friend. "What is she like?"
"She's pretty. And she brought a great long umbrella with her," David says, crawling up the bed to kiss his grandmother's still face. "Mother says I am to call all my nannies Mrs., but she says"—he lowers his voice as if confiding a glorious secret—"she says I can call her Mary."