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.