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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 739

In April, 1919, Edith Fisk leaves England for California in order to care for the five young children of Thomas Ransom, a lawyer, whose wife died during the birth of twins. Since Mrs. Ransom’s passing, no relative or servant has been able to care for the children properly. Edie changes all that. On her arrival in the family, she serves the children tea and speaks to them in an adult manner. Within weeks, their behavior begins to improve as she stops every tear and bandages every cut. She posts the children’s drawings in her own room along with the pictures of her two former charges—Lady Alice and Lady Anne, prim and proper little English girls. The children come to trust Edie and depend on her.

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This relationship develops just before the children’s father marries a series of three different women. The first, nineteen-year-old Trish, has little to do with anyone in the house but her husband, except for Saturday afternoons when she, Edie, and the three oldest children go to the movies and immerse themselves in fantasy. Trish leaves after two years, during which the children grow and flourish.

Childhood diseases pass uneventfully and each child begins to develop an individual direction. James leans toward mechanical experiments, Eliza buries herself in books, Jenny escapes in romantic daydreams, and the twins entertain each other. Meanwhile, Edie occasionally reveals something about her own past, but the children fit everything relating to England into their own romantic picture of Lady Alice and Lady Anne.

Two years later, Ransom marries Irene, an exotic woman who fills the house with friends who discuss trendy philosophies, and she redecorates the house to fit her foreign tastes. Once she takes Edie and the children to a fortune-teller, who predicts the usual fame, fortune, and good luck.

By the time that Ransom’s next wife, Cissy, comes along, the older children are teenagers. Cissy, an Englishwoman, glories in the California climate and lies in the sun until she blisters. However, as the seasons become drier and she confronts American holidays, her gaze turns eastward. It is clear to the children that she is miserably out of her element, so she too departs. The children discuss her with Edie as they have done with her two predecessors. Edie classifies all the various husbands and wives involved in such remarriages as “poor souls.”

After having survived all these childhood traumas and events, the children grow up, appearing none the worse for not having a mother. Edie remains in the house until the twins leave for college. By then, the two girls are married and James has married, divorced, and remarried. Only occasionally does anyone visit. In 1938, when all the children are gone, Edie goes to Ransom, who sits in his study below a portrait of his first young wife. She tells him that because she has no one left in England, she wishes to stay in California. He grants her a pension and a small cottage in which to live for the rest of her life.

Retired to her cottage near the sea, Edie fills it with children’s paintings and pictures of Lady Alice and Lady Anne. Each Ransom child visits her just once. Letters come less and less frequently. During the first autumn after her retirement, she returns to the Ransom house to dispose of the belongings of the twins, who have been killed in a bombing mission over Europe. She and Ransom speak only two words: “Lovely day.”

If the children had written to Edie, James would have told her that instead of becoming an inventor, he is a junior partner in his father’s firm. Eliza would have told about living with her archaeologist husband in the damp jungle of Mexico where she looked north and remembered first tasting tea. Jenny would have told about her marriage to a thin pale English student whose accent she adored. She has spent her days making tea in their Massachusetts kitchen.

In the spring of 1948, Ransom assembles his children to tell them that Edie is dying. One at a time, they enter her hospital room to visit. Perhaps she does not recognize them. After their separate visits, they meet outside and recall Lady Alice and Lady Anne, imagining these girls, seven and eight years old, writing “I am sorry” over and over again, then signing their two names. In the midst of this, Edie dies.

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