“What if…” said Mandy to herself, “what if I pretended this cottage were mine? I could sort of adopt it. Who would know? Who would care? Nobody lives here. I’m sure of that, now. And somebody needs to take care of it. And oh, I could take care of it.” She sprang to her feet. “I could. This place could really be mine, a house of my very own.” She ran back into the little garden. “I could pull all the weeds out of here, and plant flowers and mend the fence and make the path tidy. I could sweep and dust and inside and clean the shell room and wash the curtains and the windows. Oh—little house,” and she turned to it. “I could take such good care of you.”
On the scale of my favorite quiet, dreamy, introverted book characters, the protagonist of Mandy, by Julie Edwards, would score pretty high. A long-time resident of St. Martin’s Orphanage, ten-year-old Mandy knows all the staff and children well, but mostly prefers to be alone. She has a bright imagination and enjoys working at the village store to earn spending money. However, Mandy is keenly aware that something is missing in her life. “It was as though she were searching for something, though what or where it was she could not say.”
Mandy’s discovery of a small abandoned cottage on the estate adjacent to (and out-of-bounds of) the orphanage sets in motion a chain of events that transforms her life. She adopts the cottage as her own, cultivating the garden and cleaning the rooms, making it into her own secret place, a haven, away from the noise and bustle of the orphanage. However, secrecy can only go unnoticed for so long in a communal environment, and soon Mandy is drawn into conflict. How can she get things for the house with so little pocket money? What should she tell her best friend, Sue, who just wants to spend time with her? Mandy’s longing for a home is so strong that it leads her to lie, steal things from the orphanage—even risk her own health and safety by venturing out to the cottage in a storm when she is ill.
Thankfully, this story has a happy ending—the cottage is owned by Bill and Ann Fitzgerald, a couple who has just bought the estate after many years of saving. Their love for their home and land is also evident, and as Mandy recovers from her illness at the Fitzgerald’s house over the holidays, it becomes evident that her new home should be with them. In a tear-inducing scene, the Fitzgeralds adopt Mandy, and she gives the cottage back to the orphanage, for other young girls to enjoy having a place–a home of sorts–of their own. There are plenty of tales of adventurous orphans out there, but this story of Mandy and her quiet, desperate longing resonates strongly with me. Mandy’s ache for home and a family is so well-expressed through her care for the cottage, and both her and the Fitzgerald’s joy in finding each other is so genuine. This book has been in print since 1971, but I seem to rarely find anyone who has read it anymore. I hope you can track a copy down and enjoy it as much as I have.
(Bonus author trivia: Julie Edwards’ full name is Julie ANDREWS Edwards. “The hills are alive….”)