Annie Hamilton Donnell, “The Adopted,” 1906

Source:  Annie Hamilton Donnell, "The Adopted," Harper's Monthly Magazine, November 1906,  931.

“Margaret heard, with a cold terror creeping over her. . .”

This sentimental story about girlhood friendship and rivalry from early in the century illustrates not only the enduring theme of telling in adoption, but suggests that secrecy was closely tied to stigma. Perhaps more than anyone, children were aware that adoption was often kept confidential and was widely considered unequal and shameful.

It was mid-May and school was nearly over. The long summer vacation stretched endlessly, lonesomely, ahead of Margaret. . . .

Usually at recess Nell—the Enemy—and Margaret had gone wandering away together with their arms around each other’s waist, as happy as anything. But for a week of recesses now they had gone wandering in opposite directions—the Enemy marching due east, Margaret due west. The stone wall stretched away to the west. She had found a nice lonesome little place to huddle in, behind the wall, out of sight. It was just the place to be miserable in.

“I know something!” from one of a little group of gossipers on the outside of the wall. “She needn’t stick her chin out an’ not come an’ play with us. She’s nothing but an adopted!”

“Oh!—a what?” in awestruck chorus from the listeners. “Say it again, Rhody Sharp.”

“An adopted—that’s all she is. I guess nobody but an adopted need to go trampin’ past when we invite her to play with us! I guess we’re good as she is an’ better, too, so there!”

Margaret in her hidden nook heard with a cold terror creeping over her and settling around her heart. It was so close now that she breathed with difficulty. If—supposing they meant—

“Rhody Sharp, you’re fibbing! I don’t believe a single word you say!” sprang forth a champion valiantly. “She’s dreadfully fond of her mother—just dreadfully!”

“She doesn’t know it,” promptly returned Rhody Sharp, her voice stabbing poor Margaret’s ear like a sharp little sword. “They’re keeping it from her. My gran’mother doesn’t believe they’d ought to. She says—”

But nobody cared what Rhody Sharp’s gran’mother said. A clatter of shocked little voices burst forth into excited, pitying discussion of the unfortunate who was nothing but an adopted. One of their own number! One they spelled with and multiplied with and said the capitals with every day! That they had invited to come and play with them—an’ she’d stuck her chin out!

“Why! Why, then she’s a—orphan!” one voice exclaimed. “Really an’ honest she is—and she doesn’t know it!”

“Oh my, isn’t it awful!” another voice. “Shouldn’t you think she’d hide her head—I mean, if she knew?”

It was already hidden. Deep down in the sweet, moist grass—a little heavy, uncrowned, terror-smitten head. The cruel voice kept on.

“It’s just like a disgrace, isn’t it? Shouldn’t you s’pose it would feel that way if ‘twas you?”

“Think o’ kissin’ your mother good night an’ it’s not bein’ your mother?” . . .

Margaret drove her hands deep into the matted grass. . . . It was—it was terrible! . . . The terror within her was growing more terrible every moment.

Then came shame. Like the evilest of the evil Things it had been lurking in the background waiting its turn,—it was its turn now. Margaret sat up in the grass, ashamed. She could not name the strange feeling, for she had never been ashamed before, but she sat there a piteous little figure in the grip of it. It was awful to be only nine and feel like that! To shrink from going home past Mrs. Streeter’s and the minister’s and the Enemy’s!—for fear they’d look out of the window and say, “There goes an adopted!” Perhaps they’d point their fingers—Margaret closed her eyes dizzily and saw Mrs. Streeter’s plump one and the minister’s lean one and the Enemy’s short brown one, all pointing. She could feel something burning on her forehead.—it was “Adopted,” branded there. . . .

Something must be done—there was something she would do. She began it at once. . . .

“I have found it out,” she wrote with her trembling fingers. “I don’t supose its wicket becaus I couldent help being one but it is orful. It breaks your hart to find youre one all of a suddin. If I had known before, I would have darned the big holes too. Ime going away becaus I canot bare living with folks I havent any right to. The stik pin this is pined on with is for Her That Wasent Ever my Mother for I love her still. When this you see remember me the rose is red the violet blue sugger is sweet and so are you.

She pinned it on tremblingly and then crept back to bed. Perhaps she went to sleep,—at any rate, quite suddenly there were voices at her door—Her voice and—His. She did not stir, but lay and listened to them. . . .

“I’ve always expected Nelly to find out that way—it would be so much kinder to tell her at home. You know it would, Henry, instead of letting her hear it from strangers and get her poor little heart broken. Henry, if God hadn’t given us a precious little child of our own and we had ever adopted—”

Margaret dashed off the quilts and leaped to the floor with a cry of ecstacy. The anguish—the shame—the cruel gibing Things—were left behind her; they had slid from her burdened little heart at the first glorious rush of understanding; they would never come back,—never come back,—never come back to Margaret! Glory, glory, hellelujah, ‘twasn’t her! Her soul went marching on!

The two at the door suffered an unexpected, an amazing onslaught from a flying little figure. Its arms were out, were gathering them both in,—were strangling them in wild, exultant hugs.

“Oh! Oh, you’re mine! I’m yours! We’re each other’s! I’m not an Adopted any more!” . . .

Then Margaret remembered the Enemy, and in the throes of her pity the enmity was swallowed up forever. . . . She could never be too tender—too generous—to Nelly, to try to make up. And all her life she would take care of her and keep her from finding out.


Source: Annie Hamilton Donnell, “The Adopted,” Harper's Monthly Magazine, November 1906, 929-930, 932-933.

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