Annabelle lives in an orphanage in London at the beginning of the 19th century.
It was not yet dawn when I was awoken. I stared with heavy eyes around the darkened bedchamber at the sleeping forms of twelve children, wondering which one had made the noise that woke me. Possibly Lizzie had had another of her terrible nightmares, or little Edgar was ill again and cried out in pain. I lay there a few moments, but no sound came to my ears except the slow breathing of my sister slumbering next to me.
Before I had rested my head back down on the pillow, the noise again reached my ears-- a rap on the door. Pulling back the ragged blanket and rising from my mattress, I stole down the corridor on bare feet and quietly opened the front door.
A gust of chilly air blew over the threshold and made my spine shiver. outside the sky was still midnight black, sprinkled with glimmering stars. Three figures stood on the doorstep-- a man, tall and lean, and two much smaller girls around my own age.
"Please excuse me for the lateness of the hour," the man said, "but I wish to speak to Madame Roper. Is she here?" I could not see him clearly in the dark, but he had a refined tone to his voice, as if he was royalty.
"Come in, I beg you. It is much too cold to linger on doorsteps."
The two girls, who clasped each others' hands tight, glanced back at the man, who nodded reassuringly. The three of them stepped inside and I closed the door softly behind him.
"Madame Roper is currently ill," I whispered, not wanting to wake the other children. I busied myself with lighting a candle sitting on a small old table. "I think it best not to disturb her. It has become quite hard for her to fall asleep now, since the pnuemonia set in."
I held the candle aloft to gaze into the visitors' faces. The man was rather lanky, with chestnut brown hair and large eyes. He had pleasant feautures, even when wearing a grave expression like the one currently on his face. The girls were very close in age, fair and golden-haired. Their eyes were half closed with sleep; the youngest swayed dangerously.
"You are the mistress if the orphanage, then, until she is well?" the man inquired.
"No. Madame wished for me to take care of the younger ones, since I am the oldest."
"I see," he muttered. "Forgive me for not introducing myself. My name is Dr. Rowland, I live on Fleeting Street. You are?"
"Annabelle Lawson," I replied, smiling slightly. "I am very pleased to make your aquaintance." I held out my hand and he shook it, his grip strong and warm. "May I inquire as to the business that brings you here?"
His face fell. "Ah yes," Dr. Rowland turned to the girls on his left. One looked as if she had fallen asleep standing up. "It is my sad duty to bring to you two girls who were orphaned just yesterday. Their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Adams, perished in a house fire. It is a shame, for they were very respectable people and clients of mine. As for the children, they now have no money and no relatives to speak of. All their possessions were destroyed in the fire.