A story of self recognition and a fight against evil
|Chapter 1 Hermit Crab
“She will not talk.” I heard Miss Shona whisper to her guest. “She absolutely will not utter a single word.”
“Perhaps she is still in shock.” The thin voice of Miss Shona’s companion replied dryly.
“Well, yes.” Miss Shona stuttered. “That is quite obvious. Every orphan that appears on our doorstep is in shock. They just won’t believe that their parents are dead.”
“I find that understandable.” Muttered the voice.
“But, never have we a child that refuses to speak.” Miss Shona rambled on. “This is the first time one of our newly collected children has cut off all communication. I’ve even questioned the other girls to see if she has uttered a sound throughout her few days here, but no. I just don’t understand it, Alexai.”
“And what did you say her name was?” Alexai asked curiously. I sucked in my breath, waiting to hear my name slip off of Miss Shona’s tongue.
“Why, it is Marin.” She said, as if it was of no importance. “Quite an unusual name, if you ask me.”
“Quite.” Alexai agreed. “What an odd thing, to never speak.” Alexai mused, almost to herself.
“Well, that’s only one of the peculiar things about that girl. I’ve noticed that she is different from the others, though she is bright in the head. Although I must say she is a bit clumsy in the kitchens. Her feet seem to trip over each other.” Miss Shona added helpfully.
“Perhaps if I could meet the girl.” Alexai demanded clearly.
Her question took Miss Shona by surprise.
“Why, of c-course you may!” She said, almost too quickly.
“Good.” Replied Alexai. “Right now would be an ideal time.”
“Of course, right away, I’ll just show you the way…” Miss Shona stammered, and began to lead Alexai away.
“Oh dear.” I mumbled to myself. “Miss Shona won’t be happy if she finds I’m not in my room.”
I lift my skirts and shuffle down the corridor. Girls pass by, but I do not call out to greet them. There is a reason I don’t talk to people. I talk to myself, of course. But not to other girls, boys, or Miss Shona and her staff.
A steep flight of stairs is before me, and I climb them slowly, tripping even so. My feet have never done well on sturdy ground, and I feel they would do even worse on anything else. My room is right at the top of the stairs, and I slip into it, unseen. I used to share it with Dotty, but she was adopted. Lucky thing. And so soon, too. Ah well, she was the sweetest of us all. Only in my four days here, I could see that was quite obvious.
A knock sounded on the door. I hesitated, then pulled it open. Miss Shona stood there, her squat figure taking up the space. Behind her was tall, thin, and beak nosed Alexai.
“Oh, Miss Adamma.” Miss Shona addressed me formally. “You have a visitor. This is—“
“Miss Alexai Pickett.” Alexai cut in rather rudely. “I would like to speak with you, uh, privately.”
Miss Shona stepped away from the door smiling uncertainly at me, and nodded slightly. She looked a bit flustered as she closed the door quietly.
Alexai turned to me. “So, there are many questions I would like to ask about you, girl, but there are other orphanages I have to visit. I will ask the most important.” She did not pause for my approval. “First, why don’t you talk?” There was a briskness to her tone that made me obliged to answer her question.
“I do talk.” I answered simply.
“Miss Shona has informed me otherwise.” Alexai answered immediately, not put back by my willingness to talk to her.
“I don’t talk to Miss Shona or the other girls. But I talk to myself…and you.” I responded quietly.
“I don’t see why don’t you talk to the others.” She questioned, confused.
“Because they are too loud. If I talk to them, I might not hear.”
“Hear what?” Alexai asked impatiently.
“My mother. I might not hear her singing to me.” I answer.
“What do you mean, girl?” Alexai cried. “Tell me what happened to your mother.”
“I don’t know. She might be there. She said she was going to go there someday.”
“Go where, Heaven?” Alexai pressed.
“She said she wished she could go there now.” I replied vaguely.
“So she was suicidal?” Alexai questioned.
“My mother is not dead.” I said firmly, turning to look directly at Alexai.
“Then where is she?” Alexai asked softly.
“I think she has went to the sea.”
“Some days, she would stare out the window at the cornfield and watch the rain. She would tell me how one day, she would go to the sea. How she had always wanted to live by an ocean, but dad was a farmer and not a fisherman like she always dreamed. But daddy died when I was six. Mother got more agitated than ever and she told me that soon she would go to the sea and never come back to Kansas. I always asked if she would take me with her. She just smiled sadly and told me I wouldn’t like it. That I was just like my dad. Then she would send me to bed. Those were the best days. But now mother has gone to the sea. And I think I will hear her singing and be able to find her.”
The words all came like a blur, and I couldn’t stop them. Alexai was looking hard at me, puzzled about something. I watched her get up.
“It has been a pleasure talking to you, Marin. I have many more places to go, and I must go there. Good day to you.”
I stared after her.
“Wait!” I yelped. “Aren’t you going to help me?”
“I’m sorry, child, but there is nothing I can do for you.” She turned away.
“Then why were you here?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” She admitted. “It’s my job.”
She moved quickly away.
I watched her clatter down the hall, the other girls heads coming from their rooms, looking at her, then me. I ran back to my room and lay down, a fit of unease pulling at my stomach. How will I ever find my mother now?
Chapter 2 Starfish
“You’re being shipped to Boston.” Miss Shona squealed at me, giddy with excitement. “Aren’t you a lucky duck?”
“Shipped?” I questioned.
“Yes.” She replied, breathlessly. “You’ll take a train to Boston, where you’ll be sent to The Boston House of Orphaned Girls. It really is a fine place. I’m sure you’ll love it. Perhaps now that you’re talking, you’ll make more friends.”
“Why am I being taken there?” I asked, confused. “What’s the point?”
“Oh…” Miss Shona stopped, pondering over the question. “I’m not sure. Mrs. Pickett arranged it.”
“Alexai Pickett?” I gasped.
“Well yes, who else?” Miss Shona giggled.
“Wait, Miss Shona!” I told her sternly. “Is Boston by the sea?” I held my breath, waiting for the answer I hoped was yes.
“Of course!” Miss Shona said, astounded. “It’s the closest you’ll ever get to the Atlantic Ocean.” She smiled. “And it’s such a nice town, as well.” She added importantly.
Thank you, Alexai. I thought in my head. You are leading me to my mother.
“Be sure to write us all on how you’re doing.” Miss Shona directed firmly. “Now, why don’t you go tell your friends in the kitchen.”
I headed downstairs to tell my kitchen mates my story.
Mary, the old cook, was delighted.
“I always knew you was a good girl, Marin. Let Boston be good to you.” She told me.
“Oh I’m sure Marin will make it just fine in ol’ Boston. She’s such a bright girl anyhow.” Kelly assured her.
“I hear the work pays good in Boston.” Bridget, the new scullery maid chimed in. “Maybe I’ll join ya down there, Mizz Marin.” She joked,
“Yah, cause the pay ‘ere sure ain’t that good.” Mary admitted, and we all laughed.
“Well, I’d best be going.” I told them. “I’ll need a good nights rest so I can catch the train at 6:30. I promise I’ll write.” I assured them. After I said my goodbyes, I retired to bed. I wanted to be off as soon as possible. My body ached with excitement. I turned restlessly in my bed for a long time, before finally falling asleep, thoughts of a new world in my head.
“Up, wake up!” A voice was hastily shouting into my ear. “Your train leaves in ten minutes, get up!”
“What?” I yelped. So much for being off as soon as possible. “Why didn’t you wake me sooner?”
Miss Shona scowled. “I need me own beauty sleep, dear child.”
I laughed in spite of myself. Today was so exciting. I hurried to button by bodice and petticoats. Miss Shona had laid out my best Sunday dress, a lavender one with ripples like waves and soft silk at the collars and sleeves. It had been my mother’s.
Miss Shona did my hair into a tight bun and tied my bonnet over it just right. The lovely bonnet matched the dress beautifully, and Miss Shona claimed I looked right stunning in them.
“If only I had your pretty blonde hair, dear.” She sighed, gesturing to her own curly, red, all-the-way Irish hair. I laughed nervously, too flustered to answer. I was jumping in my chair in anticipation as she tied my last bow.
“Really, now, just stay still.” Miss Shona snapped.
I hurried out of the bedroom with my handbag, Miss Shona behind with my two suitcases.
“Oh, sweetheart.” She said. “We’ll be missing you most dearly.” We were outside the orphan house, watching the sun rise and lighten the still dark sky. The cobblestone streets lay still at my feet, waiting for the horses, buggies, and carriages to scratch their smooth surfaces.
“Now, dear, Billy will be along any second with the wagon.” Miss Shona assured me, in a brisker tone.
Soon enough, Billy was along, tapping his foot and humming as he flicked the riding crop. I smiled, knowing this would be my last wagon ride in Kansas City.
“Billy, take Mizz Marin to the train station, and drop her off at platform 3. That’s the train to Boston. Make sure she gets her ticket and a sandwich before she goes. Also, give her this money to keep in her bag so she can buy food on the train.” Miss Shona instructed.
Billy nodded and grunted.
“Well then, dear, write soon. Tell us all about Boston. Bye, now.” She turned away to hide her tears. I hugged her quickly and Billy helped me into the buggy.
“Bye Miss Shona.” I whisper, as she disappears in the morning mist.
The train station is huge, bricked and lonely. It is not full of bustling people, as I thought it would be. Instead, a few solitary travelers wait quietly on benches for the trains, and guard’s sleep lightly as they lean back against supports.
“Well now, Mizz Marin.” Billy’s gruff Scottish voice scratches into my brain. “It seems we part ‘ere. I wish ye a good day, and good luck to come.”
“Thank you, Billy.” I say, grateful.
“Ach, don’t thank me.” He replies. He cracks his whip and is gone.
The train comes just as I finish my sandwich. I clutch the ticket tight in my hand as I approach the doors with my suitcase.
“Here then, Miss, let me help you with those.” A boy’s voice calls out.
“Why, thank you.” I say graciously. He lugs the cases up the steps with difficulty. After he finishes, he turns to me, panting.
“Miss…?” He waits for me to step aboard.
The inside of the train was nice and clean. The red velvet seats reminded me of miniature thrones. There weren’t many passengers, just a man reading a paper and a young woman and her daughter, about my age.
The girl looked quite rich, perhaps not from Kansas. She had an umbrella for blocking the sun from her pale skin, something I like to call a sunbrella. Her creamy white dress almost matched her skin, which was ghostly, having been powdered with a thick dust. Her head was held with a proud composure, and her feet were crossed just right. The delicate silk gloves on her hand fit beautifully over her slender fingers. A wave of chestnut hair had fallen loose from her bun, and the white veil hanging from her hat shaded her eyes and forehead just right. She was basically a larger version of a China doll.
Her mother looked a lot different. She had stunning black hair and tanned skin with a hint of freckles. Definitely not proper for a girl, and her daughter seemed so perfect. Her dress was a loose silver gown that flowed to her ankles, tied with a thick braided cord at the waist. I liked her extremely better than her daughter already. Yet, she was so young…
I read the paper for a while, trying to scrape out words I knew. I can hardly read, just a bit. I’m trying to learn better, but I haven’t the time.
“You can read?” Said I perfectly toned, soft voice at my side. I looked up to see the perfect, ghostly white girl standing next to my seat.
“Well, only a bit.” I whispered. The rumbling train beneath the girls’ feet did not seem to faze her, and never once did she lose her balance. To my surprise, she lowered her perfect self to the seat next to mine.
“What’s your name?” She asked politely.
“My name is Marin.” I replied. “What is yours?”
“Laila.” She answered happily. “And I suppose you come from Kansas.”
“Why, yes.” I tell her. “Where do you come from if not here?”
“I come from North Dakota.” Laila smiled dreamily. “But now we’re moving to Boston. And I’m not happy.” She said fiercely.
I smile nervously. “And is that your mother?” I ask casually, glancing at the tanned girl across the cabin.
“Her?” Laila stares at me incredulously. “Of course not. She looks nothing like me. She is nothing like me. She’s my cousin, Sherry.” Laila scowls, and I fear she doesn’t like Sherry.
“Just look at her skin. All tan and freckled. No self respecting girl would ever have skin like that.”
I begin to dislike Laila more than ever.
“Perhaps I could have the pleasure of meeting her?” I ask coldly.
“Pleasure?” Laila responds. “I don’t think it will be a pleasure, but why not.”
Laila slowly stands, smoothes her dress, and beckons Sherry to her. Sherry warily walks to us and eyes Laila with suspicion. I can tell they have a mutual dislike.
“Sherry, dear, this is Marin. She lives in Kansas City and is traveling to Boston as well.” Laila says.
“Well of course she’s traveling to Boston as well, dear, if she wasn’t she would be on the wrong train.” Laila frowns at Sherry, but I stifle my giggles.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Mary, I hope you’ve enjoyed your talk with Laila.” Sherry turns to me,
“It’s Marin.” I correct.
“Yes, yes.” She replies, waving away the mistake carelessly.
“I’ve enjoyed our chat, Marie, but I must be going.” She declares.
“It’s Marin.” I insist.
“My God.” Sherry snorts. “I don’t care, I’ll never see you again. God, girls these days take things so seriously. God.” Sherry flounces back to her seat.
Perhaps I don’t like Sherry so much after all.
Chapter 3 Sea Urchin
“I see what you mean about Sherry.” I whispered to Laila. “She’s quite unmannered.”
“Quite unmannered?” Laila scoffed. “She’s horrible. I’m sure she’s out to get me.” I nodded sympathetically.
“Anyhow…” Laila sighed, and then brightened. “That is quite a pretty dress. Have you any more?”
“No.” I replied. “I’m actually a very poor orphan. This was my mothers dress.”
“An orphan?” Laila said, confused. “Why are you going to Boston?”
“I’ve been shipped from my other home to the Boston House of Orphan Girls.” I explained.
“Really?!” Laila exclaims, astonished.
I nod. The ride is getting boring and I’m wondering when we’ll get to Boston.
“How much longer until we reach Boston?” I ask Laila. She gapes at me, and then begins to laugh.
“We won’t reach Boston for days.” She giggles. “We still have two nights on the train, and of course some stops at other stations.”
I groan out loud, though it is not proper. “I don’t think I can stand much more of this.” I say to Laila, a hint of exasperation in my tone.
“You’re getting bored of me.” Laila guesses, hurt.
“Oh, no!” I gasp. “Why, I am very much enjoying our conversation.” I assure her, and she settles down, satisfied. “But, we are due to run out of things to say after several days.” I add.
“And you’re due to run out of good dresses.” Laila states firmly. “You said this was your only good Sunday dress? You must have a few of mine.” She says this fiercely, ready to challenge my protests. I decide to play along, knowing my efforts would be futile in the end.
“I couldn’t possibly…” I begin, but Laila glares at me.
“You must.” She insists, so harshly that I’m afraid to speak further.
“Well, if I must…” I agree weakly.
She lets me pick out a few dresses, and says she doesn’t care which ones I choose. Laila says she can get more immediately, if she’s the slightest bit attached to one that I pick.
Lailas’ dresses, are, in the least, very beautiful. They are fine silks and muslins, cottons and laces. I am hesitant to touch them, in fear of spoiling their beauty. In the end, I choose a gorgeous white cotton dress, with black embroidery. The black embroidery looked almost Indian. I also chose two other dresses. The second was a bit more plain, but still nice, being a navy wool skirt and a white pleated fleece blouse. Several petticoats were also part of the skirt. The third was lovely, and definitely not a work dress. It was made of a beautiful, glimmering purple satin, with several ruffles. The ruffles were outlined with a red and blue plaid. The bodice was very tight, I imagined, seeing how it was pulled in at the waist. Down the chest were several buttons, held together by loops of violet thread. A delicate black lace graced the neckline of the dress. The same black was the satin sleeves of the dress, which was layered by the same purple fabric. This would be the perfect dress for special occasions and parties, even for calling on people with a higher status. Perhaps I would even get a job as a maid in some wealthy persons house!
Now, now. I tell myself. Don’t let your fantasies get away with you. It’s only a dress.
“Oh, you’ll look simply lovely in them!” Laila titters, interrupting my thoughts. “Perhaps you should try them on…to make sure they fit.” She suggests helpfully.
As I walk to the bathrooms, I hear Sherry complain about me in a drawling, bored voice.
“You really shouldn’t be sharing dresses with scum like that.” I heard her ‘advise’. Laila scoffs, and I smile gratefully.
“Since when have you been worried about my welfare?” Laila retorts.
“Not your welfare.” Sherry scowls, rolling her eyes. “If you look bad, I look bad. And I cannot, I repeat, cannot look bad.”
Laila snorts and laughs coldly.
“You don’t need me to do that for you.” She teases, but not in a friendly way. I giggle, then run for the restroom.
The dresses fit perfect, oddly. I’m sure Laila is much smaller than me, but who am I to complain. The dresses look great on me, which really is a first, besides my mothers Sunday dress that I’m wearing today. I come out to find Laila again in the seat by mine, ignoring Sherry, but smiling slightly.
“So.” I state, waiting for her to look up. When she does I tell her how perfectly the dresses fit and that they look lovely.
“That’s great.” Laila assures. “Sherry wasn’t so sure, but I won that argument.” She says triumphantly, smiling.
I smile too, knowing that I’ve found my first friend.
The next two days pass more quickly than I suspected, seeing the train makes me slightly sick, and my growing dislike of Sherry makes me restless. Laila is friendly and we talk about everything. She even gives me advice on how to cover up freckles with face powder. I’m sure Miss Shona would have called her a ‘good influence’. I’m almost hesitant to leave her company when we come to Boston.
But there is no way out of never reaching Boston, and eventually I hear the train whistle and the grind of slowing wheels.
“Well.” I sigh, turning to Laila. “I guess this is it.”
Laila smiles at me.
“I guess.” She agrees sadly.
I smooth my dress and stand unsteadily as the train finally comes to a stop. Laila does the same. Sherry kicks her feet off the top of the seat in front of hers and tugs on her shoes. Her silver gown I had once thought quite beautiful was wrinkled and stiff. I felt no need to bid her goodbye.
“Lets go on down now, ladies.” The conductor says, speaking with a thick accent.
Laila walks ahead of me, tall and perfect. Her steps are light, not too close or too far. Sherry walks slouched, her feet dragging at the red carpet. I’m sure I walked somewhere in between.
When I have all my baggage in hand on the station platform, I make my way to Laila and Sherry, who are surrounded by butlers and servants. Laila pulls away to greet me.
“Laila.” I begin, talking a breath. “Laila, it has been nice sitting with you and becoming your friend. I would be delighted at any further companionship from you. If we ever meet again.”
Laila smiles, realizing the truth of the slim chances we would have to ever complete this feat.
“If we ever meet again.” She says, her farewell.
I wave to her as she is ushered away by Sherry and the others. She returns it, and I’m sure that the lift of that perfect white glove is the last I’ll ever see of Laila. Until God’s sanctuary, if we never meet again.
Chapter Four Octopus
A maid of the Boston House of Orphaned Girls soon recognizes me. She introduces herself as Hannah and leads me to a small wagon that she pushes me into. I sit there and look out at Boston, so much larger and better than Kansas City. Immediately, I can smell the salt. The cry of gulls excites me, and I take a deep breath of ocean air.
“Where exactly is the Boston House?” I ask Hannah.
“It’s right by the shoreline of the Atlantic.” She replies in a matter-of-fact tone. “It’s quite a nice place, I believe you’ll enjoy it.” She assures me.
I smile contentedly, knowing I’ve reached my home at last.
At the first sight of the ocean, I start to cry. So beautiful are its rolling blue waves, so calming the white foam that birthed the lovely Aphrodite.
“Stop the wagon, stop.” I choke, leaping to the ground and racing to the sea. I run madly, then collapse at the waters edge. I joyfully cup my hands and trap the water, splashing my face with it. I sob into its salty caress, bursting with grief, hope, and relief.
“Are you alright?” Hannah asks me, concerned. She had come up to me as I bawled into the water.
“I’m fine.” I tell her, wiping the salty tears from my cheeks. I’m no longer sure whether they’re tears or water, mixed together. “I’m just so happy to be here.”
Hannah looks at me strangely, then takes my arm and pushes me toward the orphanage.
“Here, miss.” A meek voice whispers. I turn to see a small, mousy girl with thin hair and a pointy nose. A splash of freckles covered the bridge of her nose and her eyes were an interesting yellow green.
“You dropped this.” She tells me softly, holding out a small coin purse. I take the purse, realizing that it is my own. It’s empty.
“It’s very beautiful, miss.” The girl prompts shyly. “You must have been rich before.”
“You can have it.” I say graciously. “And no, I was not rich. It was a gift from a friend.” The girl smiles, and then bows her head sheepishly.
“I’m Sarah.” She says. “Who are you?” I smile at her kindly.
“I’m Marin.” I answer. “A pleasure.”
Sarah beams, then glances about her nervously. She looks back at me, her eyes wide.
“Perhaps you’d best be getting to your room.” She suggests hastily. “I’ll see you soon.”
I watch her hurry away, then set out to find Hannah.
Hannah is sitting idly in a rocking chair, one of my suitcases lying at her feet. I come up to her, and realize that her eyes are closed. She is not sleeping, but humming a strange Irish tune.
“There you are.” She exclaims suddenly. I jump, but manage a smile. “I suppose you should get unpacked. I’d show you to your room, but there are other places I must be. Just ring that bell over there and shout for Madi.”
I rang for Madi as soon as she was out of the room. Madi must be fast because she arrived only moments later. Once I saw her, I almost forgot to breathe. Madi was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. Her wavy blonde hair was the color of light honey and her eyes a deep, misty purple. Her skin was fair, and her cheeks a soft peach pink. She was thin and elegant, her dress a silvery, shimmering cloak of fog. Or so it seemed. It was really a loose, glistening dress, as simple as Sherry’s. But how could you possibly dislike Madi? Her short but lovely figure glowed in the dark room, and I could make out a few moths that preferred her to the lamplight.
“Uhh…hello, are you Madi?” I stuttered.
“Yes.” She said, in a mystical, whimsical voice. Yes will never be a boring word to me again, I thought. Anything she says is like the words of a famous poet, maybe even a Goddess.
“I am to show you to your room.” Madi prompted, nodding her head slightly for my approval. I couldn’t believe I was so stupid to forget. What would she think of me now?
“Oh, yes, you were.” The words sounded dull in my mouth compared to hers.
“Well, follow me.” She instructed, tilting her head towards the hallway. A slightly mischievous look crossed her face, making her awe inspiring purple eyes blinding in their brightness.
Madi led me down a dark hallway, where we needed no lamp, only her silver blonde hair to light the way. Another corridor approached on the left, with a beautifully decorated door with a jeweled sign upon it reading: “Marin”.
“Wow, this is my room?” I asked, breathless. I couldn’t believe my good fortune.
“No.” She replied abruptly. I glanced at her, confused.
“But it has my name written on it!” I protested, desperately wanting the room to be mine. There couldn’t possibly be another Marin here, could there? It was a quite uncommon name.
“That’s the room of Wanting.” Madi mysteriously explained, her stage whisper carrying down the hallway.
“To me, the room says Madison on it. But if you go in there, you’ll never come out.” She added darkly.
“Oh, come now.” I whined. I hated disagreeing with Madi, but I simply could not believe what she was saying.
“Rooms like these can’t possibly exist. Such things are for fairy tales!” I tell her sternly. Madi looks down at her feet, and turns to look at me, a strange, lonely expression on her face.
“How do you know this isn’t a fairy tale?”
Chapter Five Sand Dollar
I was confused. It was as if Madi was suggesting we were in a fairy tale, while, I saw no fairies of any sort. Mrs. Sump was not exactly your dream foster mother, but she wasn’t a hideous orphan owner stereotype. She checked in on me a while after Madi left me on my own, much to my disappointment. Mrs. Sump led me down the corridor of Wanting again, and as I saw the room approaching, I closed my eyes.
“Why are you squinting like a blind bat, girl?” Demanded Mrs. Sump loudly.
“The room.” I answered quickly. “Madi told me…”
“What, girl? What did she tell you?” Mrs. Sump snapped. I glanced at her, and her face was contorted into a look of anger and fear.
“That the room was of no importance.” Madi’s voice said, and she walked from a room on the right of the corridor. I melted in her presence, but Mrs. Sump glared at her with an expression close to hatred.
“Yes.” I said hastily. “She said I should forget about it completely.”
“Hmmphff.” Mrs. Sump sniffed suspiciously. “Well, Marin, it seems you have a…knowledgeable mentor here.”
Mrs. Sump shot a look at Madi, who smiled silkily, and disappeared.
“Now, on with the tour.” Mrs. Sump commanded.
I follow closely at her heels as she waddles stiffly in front of me, leading me to the dining hall, kitchens, parlor, drawing rooms, and the study, where Hannah and Sarah are sitting at the fireplace.
I give them a small wave, and Sarah responds with a flap of her mending cloth. Hannah merely shoots a warning glance at Mrs. Sump and returns to her needle and thread.
Mrs. Sump also shows me where the other girls bedrooms are, though I already know, since mine is right next to them. She informs me that the servants’ quarters can be accessed from the kitchens, if I should ever need to visit. She says this as if it was a preposterous and disgusting thought, but I disagree silently with her reasoning. I expected to be a servant one day myself, and sympathy was needed to survive the lowly profession.
I retired early, exhausted from the train ride and the tour, along with the baffling idea of a powerful and magical room. I saw, when I reached my cozy bunk, another girl nestled in the covers.
I shook her awake, impatient to be in her place.
“That’s my bed.” I tell her bluntly.
She shakes her head sympathetically, as if my brain was somewhat muddled.
“The top bunk is yours.” She states. “I’ve always had this bunk, and since I’ve been here longer, my pick.”
She snuggles down, pulling the covers up tightly towards her chin. I undress quickly, and climb into bed in a coarse nightdress, leaving my satin slip for a warmer night.
I recalled the girl saying something about being here longer, and I couldn’t help wondering if she knew something about the Room.
“Excuse me?” I say firmly.
“No, I will not move.” She replies, to my confusion. “This is my bunk, and always will be.”
“No it’s not that.” I say, giggling a bit.
“Well?” The girl prompts.
“Do you know anything about the room of Wanting?” I gasp, wriggling under my covers with anticipation.
“Sure, everybody does.” She answers lightly, as if this were an obvious subject. I felt my cheeks getting red at her subtle insult.
“Poor Marta just couldn’t wait anymore.” She sighs sadly. “We never saw the dear again. Mrs. Sump tried to cover it up, but the truth got out fast. Madi spread it around, because she thought Mrs. Sump had deliberately forced Marta through the door. Mrs. Sump hadn’t liked Marta at all, being an obnoxious little girl like herself. Now Mrs. Sump has it in for Madi, and we all know it.”
“Did everyone believe Madi, then?” I ask.
“Well of course they did. Who wouldn’t? Even though she is a servant…” The girl responds. “We do anything for Madi, she having slight brainwashing powers, the source you may have discovered.” She adds disgustedly, and I thought of Madi’s gorgeous face and light, dreamy voice.
“By the way, my name’s Nell.” The girl introduces suddenly.
“Marin.” I inform her, feeling slightly exotic and out of place amongst all these common names.
“Marin!!!” Nell yelps, twitching in her bed.
“Why, yes…” I reluctantly assure her.
“No, no.” Nell whispers to herself, and I can see her eyes darting about the room wildly. “Lady Marin wasn’t supposed to come for years.”
“Who’s Lady Marin?” I ask excitedly, wondering at the fact of anyone important having the same name as I.
“What?” Nell answers distractedly. “Oh, you’re not her?”
“No, I don’t believe so…” I say slowly, rather liking the picture of myself as high society Lady Marin.
“Not the Lady, not the Lady.” Nell whispers again. “Not her, not her. Safe.”
“I think I’ll go to bed now.” I say, nervous. “G’night, Nell.”
“Goodnight.” Nell says quite calmly.
“Goodnight, goodnight…” Someone whispers through the window.
“Nell, did you hear that?” I ask her, wondering if she had been the source of the mysterious voice.
But Nell was asleep.
The next day, Mrs. Sump was waiting for me it the dining hall, and asked me to join her in the study for a brief conversation. I reluctantly munched on a few more morsels of breakfast, and trailed after her, ignoring the stares of others.
Once in the study, I found Mrs. Sump seated at a large desk made of a deep, reddish wood. She was slumped over some files that were piled neatly on the desk. When I walked in, she pursed her lips and indicated with a nod that I should take a seat. Her double chins swayed as she leaned over to take a pencil from a can to her right.
“So.” She begins briskly. “You, as everyone else, have the sore matter of money in hand. I believe you to be a poor girl with not much financial value, am I correct?”
I nod ever so slightly, feeling a bit put down.
“Now, let me correct myself. I believed you to be a poor girl with not much financial value. I had heard a rumor of sorts, and, with several bribing attempts and hard research, I have cleared it up.” She paused, as if hoping that I would brace myself for the hard truth.
“You, my…dear…girl, are quite rich.” She says.
“In fact, you have been left a small fortune by an unanimous source. It is possible that you could leave this orphanage and buy your own house and servants. You will reach the age in which this is allowed in two months. Assuming that you wish to leave the orphanage as soon as possible, all we need to do is fix up some financial problems and you’ll be free to go.”
I stare at Mrs. Sump, dumbfounded.
“And you have no idea who or where the money has come from?” I ask, recovering enough to put some logic into my mind.
“No, I’m afraid not, but we’ve looked into the procedures, and this is not a hoax. In fact, it’s quite allowed and quite common. Mysterious benefactors are one way to help someone without them being able to protest. Of course, you could protest in court, but who would? You wouldn’t have to work a day the rest of your life.” Mrs. Sump answers.
“Exactly how much money is it?” I say, licking my lips excitedly.
“I can’t say here, but I can tell you this. The amount of money is enough for a small mansion, a dozen servants, and supporting money for the rest of your life. Or, a large mansion, twenty servants, and supporting money for half of your life. The other half you needn’t worry about, a husband can provide.” Mrs. Sump responds, almost proudly.
“Wow.” I say, almost lost for words. Who could possibly be so generous? I knew no one that had enough money for that.
“Yes, but it is time for you to continue with your daily activities. More conversations are in the near future.” Mrs. Sump dismisses me abruptly.
Feeling that I would intrude if I pressed any farther, I got up and left, still wondering at my good luck. But, it posed one problem that I could not allow. It left me only two months to solve the mystery of Madi, Marta, Lady Marin, and the room of Wanting. I would have to start right away.
I sought out Nell immediately. She was just putting her dishes away, one of the last to finish her breakfast. Most of the girls had already moved on, and I grabbed her arm, hoping to get a few minutes alone with her to question more deeply.
“Nell.” I hissed. “I need to talk to you.”
“Very well.” She said. “What would you like to say?”
I led her to a corner of the room where we sat at the far end of the table. She waited expectantly, probably wondering what could be so important that we needed such a distance between us and the rest of the dining hall.
“I need you to tell me more about Madi, Marta, and the room of Wanting.” I demanded, deciding not to push it with an extra Lady Marin, who had seemed to cause Nell stress.
“There’s no place to begin.” Nell confessed. “Tell me what you want to know.”
“Well.” I began, taking a breath and gulping down my doubts.
“Tell me more about Marta and never coming out. Of the room, I mean.” I told her.
“Hmm.” Nell mused thoughtfully. “I guess I’ll start at the beginning. The very first day that Marta came here. I don’t know why you need to know, but I suppose it’s the history of this place.”
I leaned in farther as Nell took a deep breath, and blew it out. She pushed her red brown bob behind her ears, and licked her cracked lips.
The first day Marta came here, she was assigned a room with Madi. Marta met Madi and suddenly she had no fear of the orphanage what so ever.
“Wait.” I yelped, confused. “I don’t understand. Madi is a servant. Marta wouldn’t have shared rooms with her.”
“I’m getting to that.” Nell said crossly. “Madi wasn’t always a servant. Now, no more interruptions. I have to get to mending class.”
Madi and Marta did everything together. Madi had never had such a good friend. I mean, she’s a nice girl and all, but everyone was always too in awe of her to act themselves in her presence. Except for Marta.
Anyhow, Madi introduced the room of Wanting to Marta, just like she must have done for you. Marta wanted, of course, to go inside, and Madi had to hold her back.
This caused trouble, for Marta was very mad at Madi for this. She refused to talk to her for weeks, but Madi always followed her around secretly, making sure she didn’t step into the room.
Finally, Marta decided to go to the room, and was about to open that golden doorknob, when Madi lunged after her and pulled her back. The door was still slightly ajar, and Marta could hear voices calling eerily to her: “Come, dear Marta. Come in, come in. Taste the food, the wine. Sleep upon our satins. Dress in our silks. Pay in golden coins. Eat at marble tables. Walk on jeweled mosaics. Bathe in milk and cream.” Everything that Marta had ever wanted was ‘there’ in that room. Or so she thought. After this incident, though, Marta was scared of the room. She thanked and apologized to Madi, who forgave her under the condition that she never set hand to that door again.
“Oh.” I said, as Nell paused. “That’s the end. So where’s Marta?”
“Wait.” Nell said impatiently. “I wasn’t finished.”
For the next months they were inseparable, even though many hated Marta for stealing Madi’s attentions. Mrs. Sump was also a Madi adorer, and allowed her everything. But, you could tell that she was also fed up with Marta, for the girl snootily sent her away whenever Mrs. Sump came to boast to Madi. Maybe Mrs. Sump was jealous like the other girls.
Anyhow, one day Mrs. Sump asked Marta to come on a walk with her through the building for just a little while. Madi didn’t want Marta to leave her side, and protested. But Mrs. Sump assured her that it was only for a few minutes, and that she would bring Marta straight back here. Marta reluctantly obeyed, she not liking Mrs. Sump, and feeling her a nuisance on hers and Madi’s friendship.
So, Mrs. Sump takes her away, but when she comes back, Marta isn’t with her. She looks at Madi proudly, as if she has won an argument.
“I have disposed of Marta. She has been sent away, for I believe she has been a bad influence on you.”
So, you can imagine the fit Madi threw, but Mrs. Sump would not give in. Madi fell into a depression, and would not eat or sleep much.
One day, as she recalls, she was walking along the corridor and saw the room of Wanting door ajar again. She had closed it the first time, using all her strength and power of refusal.
She walked up to it to see what was the problem and heard the voices.
“Come dear Madison. Come in, come in. Come taste our pastas and fruits. Come drink our brandies and juices. Come sleep in our king sized beds. Come dress in our satin gowns. Come slip on our muslin coats. Come comb your hair with our jeweled combs.” Everything that she ever wanted. And then: “Come join your friend Marta, who is waiting for you.”
Madi is livid, so she slams the door shut and races down the hall and into the parlor, where we are taking afternoon tea. She yells out the story of her discovery. And then she accuses Mrs. Sump of pushing Marta through the door, Marta who really was scared of the room. Accuses her of being so jealous of Madi’s friend that she would do such a thing as murder in a sort.
No longer does Madi charm Mrs. Sump. No longer does she bend to Madi’s every word. They are now mortal enemies. Mrs. Sump banished Madi to the servant quarters for some made up reason, but we all know the truth. Mrs. Sump is stressed to worlds end, for the only thing she wants to think of is how to keep the rumor in, to save herself from the suspicions of all the orphan girls. So, the war has begun. And Marta has never returned.
“That’s it.” Nell finishes, with a dramatic flourish of her hands. I sit in stunned silence, questions flooding my mind.
“What about the room’s powers?” I ask finally. “What else can it do?”
“That will have to wait for tonight. I really need to get to class.” Nell refuses bluntly. I watch her go, but stay here, thinking hard about her story.
So, the war has begun.
Chapter Six Coral
After Nell had left, I looked at my own schedule to see where I was supposed to go next. The paper was packed with teachers, directions, classes and the period of the class.
Period 1 Cooking class Mrs. Kate Kitchens Left from dining hall
Period 2 Mending class Mrs. Jill Parlor Right from dining hall
Period 3 Housewifery Mrs. Tumm Kitchens Left from dining hall; right from hall
Period 4 Embroidery Mrs. Lout Study Across from parlor
Lunch Lunch No teacher Dining Location is known
Period 5 Music Mrs. Wolfe Parlor Right from dining hall
Period 6 French Madame Study Across from parlor
Period 7 Etiquette Madame Parlor Right from dining hall
Period 8 Flowers Ms. Kelly Front Outside front door
Period 9 Servant training Ms. Stewn Kitchens Left from dining hall
Dinner Dinner No teacher Dining Location is known
Cooking class was first on the list of endless torture, and I’d never been good in the kitchens. I was always clumsy, dropping china plates, burning the bread. Ah well, I’ll give it a shot.
In the kitchens, Mrs. Kate scolded me for being late, but I told her that I was new, and a bit confused. She forgave me, and asked the other girls to line up and introduce themselves.
“Jaimy.” Said the first girl, a petite but ferocious looking girl who has blonde hair, blue eyes, and a splash of freckles.
“Annie.” Whispered the next, who was tall and gangly with thin red hair and pale skin.
“Mary.” Said the third, thin and pretty, with a perfect posture.
“Dina.” Said the fourth, plump and cheery, quite beautiful in a girly way.
“Shannon.” Said the fifth, a skinny, long limbed girl with sharp facial features and spidery fingers.
“Karrie.” Said the last, a pale black haired girl with up slanted eyes and foreign clothes.
I greeted them all politely, and from watching their body language, I could tell a little bit about them.
Jaimy was the leader, who was the prettiest and the most confident.
Annie was the outcast, shy and with low self esteem.
Mary was the perfect girl that everyone except Jaimy looked up to.
Dina was the nice girl, who wasn’t in our out with Jaimy, and who wasn’t ignored or flocked about.
Shannon was the girl who’d hurt you if you insulted her or did something wrong. She and Jaimy looked to be friends.
Karrie was the exotic girl whom everyone wondered about. She and Jaimy were obviously best friends, with a gently competitive attitude.
I also knew who to befriend and who to stay away from: Stay away from Annie, she will only lead you to scorn.
Stay away from Shannon (but not in an impolite way) because she could ruin your reputation.
Befriend Dina, she will get you respect.
Befriend Mary, she attracts attention.
Befriend Karrie, she will be good for your reputation.
Worship Jaimy, or your social life will be over.