4: The Children


Image: Uncredited, VictorianChildren.org

For their part, the other children seemed to find Edmund just as odd and unnerving as the hopeful parents, and would quickly stop talking or avoid his gaze whenever he was near. They always found themselves playing on the other side of the yard from where Edmund sat, but if you asked them they wouldn’t be able to tell you why.

Once, at the ever insistent urgings of Mrs. Mapleberry, Edmund tried to join in a game of stick-ball. He had watched the other children play before, and it had seemed a simple enough game. The other children had reluctantly acquiesced, and Edmund found himself swinging languidly at a gently tossed leather ball.

Before long, he was bored. It wasn’t nearly as exciting as it had seemed from across the yard. No one was shouting or laughing, and they were definitely throwing the ball a lot more timidly than they had when he was watching.

No one seemed to mind when he set down the stick and walked away.

Edmund never tried very hard to make any friends. It wasn’t that the children were cruel (although some of them were) or stupid (which several definitely were), it was just that Edmund didn’t see the point. Why bother when they could be gone in a week, never to be seen again?

There were exceptions, of course. While many of the orphans who entered the Home for Wayward Lads and Ladies would vanish again within the year, quite a few would show up again. Some of them were orphaned again by industrial accidents, while others were returned by parents who asserted they had done quite enough of their patriotic duty, thank you. Others were picked up and returned by the local constabulary as vagrants, having run away from their new homes for any number of reasons.

A few just walked back through the wooden gate, as though they had never been away.

As fashionable as adoption seemed to be these days, turnover was quick, with some children leaving and returning as much as three times a month. They would always return full of stories about how marvelous or terrible it had been to have a family.

Edmund only partially paid attention; after a while, the stories had all begun to sound the same. Sometimes it was chocolates and clothing and three square meals a day. Other times, it was beatings and rotten bread. Sometimes there were siblings, other times dogs. Sometimes the houses were large, other times small. Sometimes it was a lovely tale, other times a horror story, but it ended the same way; the children came back to the orphanage.

It was an academic point for Edmund to say the least–everyone seemed sure he would never have to deal with it.

Mrs. Mapleberry, however, was unable to give up.


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