“I miss them!” the little girl wailed, sniffling miserably as the carriage bumped along the icy roads of northeastern Pennsylvania.
“So do we, dear, but we’ll always remember them.”
“Here we are! The Blair Orphanage,” the driver announced.
“Thank you,” Cecelia said in a dignified voice, stepping out of the carriage. “Elizabeth, take that bag and help Anastasia. I’ll take our bags.” She led the way through the gates and up to the front door, where a kind young maid let them in. They were taken upstairs to a big, ornate office, where they sat down and faced a desk.
“Names, please?” a stern-looking woman behind the desk asked.
“Cecelia Cliffton. This is Elizabeth, and the little one is Anastasia,” Cecelia said bravely, not faltering despite her nervousness. She was a seemingly fearless girl who was always calm.
“Fifteen, eleven, and five.”
“Welcome to the Blair Orphanage. We do hope you will enjoy it here. We have a few rules you girls must know. You’re to be up at seven, washed and dressed by half past. Breakfast is served at half past seven. Girls sit on one side of the table, boys on the other, seated according to age. Breakfast is over at half past eight. Then you have lessons: arithmetic, reading, writing, geography, and history. They are over precisely at noon, and then we have one hour of lunch. At one, there are exercise classes until half past one. Then you have lessons until three. At three, the play hour begins. You are free to stay in your room and read, play with the children in your parlor, play outside - whatever you wish. At four, lessons in manners are taught, and visitors are permitted. If there are people who are considering adoption, we may call you to present you to them. Supper is at six. At seven, you are to spend an hour in your rooms reading. Lights go out at eight. Any questions?”
The girls were silent.
“You are to wear your uniforms at all times, and the nightgowns we provide. Playthings are to be kept in your rooms. You are to be absolutely silent at mealtimes with me, unless you are spoken to. I usually do not eat with the children, so you are free to speak quietly among yourselves. When at play, you mustn’t be rough or rude. You mustn’t tease the other children. And you aren’t to leave the grounds. Are we understood?”
All three girls nodded and murmured, “Yes ma’am.”
“Good! Mary, lead these three to their rooms and give them their uniforms.”
Half an hour later, Anastasia was dressed just like all the other girls: brown dress, white apron, and two braids. She was put in a room with dozens of girls ranging from four to seven, and even more bunks.
“Cecelia? Elizabeth?” she whimpered pathetically. She sat on her bed with her black bag beside her, watching the girls run by.
A taller girl approached her. “Hi, you’re new, aren’t you? I’m Samantha. Just call me Sam. What’s your name?”
“Anastasia,” she meekly replied.
“Anyone ever call ya Stacey?”
“Mind if I do?”
She shook her head.
“All right Stacey! This is your bunk. So, what’s yer story?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why are ya here?”
“My mama and papa died, with my sister Eloise. Their carriage wrecked,” Stacey said sadly, wiping away tears.
“That’s too bad, kid. Well, don’t worry, I’ll look out for ya! I’ll show ya around this place an’ tell ya who’s who, what’s what, what to do.”
“All right,” Stacey said, managing a small smile.
The door was pushed open a bit, and a round face peered around the door. “Anastasia, there you are! I was worried!”
“Don’t worry, she’s in good hands,” Sam said confidently.
Elizabeth didn’t look convinced. “My bunk is in the room on the right. Come and get me if you need anything.”
Stacey nodded nervously. A bell rang and all the girls rushed to their beds.
“C’mon, it’s time for bed!” informed Sam, pushing Elizabeth away. “Hurry!”
Anastasia changed slowly, climbed into bed, and stared at the bottom of the bunk above her, crying silently.
Stacey skipped down the stairs, intent on putting the second half of her play hour to good use. She paused to pull on her coat, and Elizabeth walked by.
“Hiya Betsy! Hi Dolores! Hi Ruth!”
“Hi Spacey,” taunted a voice.
She turned and glared. “Go away, Eddie!” she warned.
“Spacey, Spacey, Spacey…”
She balled her fists and ran towards him. He ran away quickly - he’d gotten into a fight with the little girl before, and didn’t care to again.
Grinning, Stacey buttoned her coat and headed for the door. On the way, she stumbled across a small boy crying in the doorway.
“Are you okay?” she asked sweetly.
“My (hiccup) my, my (hiccup) parents (hiccup) died!” he wailed.
“It’s okay. Mine did too. Almost everybody who’s here’s parents died,” she said matter-of-factly. “I’m Stacey Cliffton, and I’m six. Who are you?”
“Patrick Meyers, I’m seven.”
“Come on, Patrick, play hour’s half over, so we still have time to play!” Stacey dragged him outside. Patrick soon forgot his misery.
“Who’s this?” jeered John as Stacey and the newcomer approached the table.
“Patrick, and he’s new, so be nice John!” warned Stacey, setting down her plate.
“He looks funny!”
“Does not!” defended Stacey.
“Does too! His skin’s funny!”
“Like our breakfast mush,” added Eddie, grinning.
“Yeah, how’s it goin’, Mush?”
“Mush!” Both boys laughed. Patrick ran out of the room. Stacey followed, shoving both boys out of her way.
“Patrick… Don’t let John bother you. He’s a bully. And he has funny teeth.”
Patrick grinned a bit.
“C’mon, let’s go eat.” Stacey put one arm around his shoulders and they walked into the dining room.
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