5: Mrs. Mapleberry

Mrs. Mapleberry was a rotund disciplinarian, full of boisterous energy and a loud voice that she could use to reach the ears of any child inside the orphanage’s fence. Her cheeks and nose were rosy, her mouth locked into a wooden smile; unless, of course, one of her children misbehaved.

Edmund didn’t like Mrs. Mapleberry very much. While he was rarely the object of her discipline, her voice made his ears itch and his fingernails tingle. He did his best to avoid her, which was usually easy to do considering how many children she had to deal with and all the hopeful parents that would come by to shop for orphans. She was devoted to her job, and would spend hours showing prospective parents child after child, swapping height, hair-color, and demeanor until her client was satisfied.

To help keep everything organized, Mrs. Mapleberry had a system. She segregated her orphans, not by age, but by several qualities that allowed her easy access to the children her clients wanted to see.

Every child that passed the orphanage’s gate was quickly assessed by Mrs. Mapleberry and placed first into one of two groups. The first group was for the handsomest, cleanest, and quietest children. The other group was comprised of the thickest, healthiest, and strongest.

From there, the children were categorized and itemized in a small notebook that was always tucked in Mrs. Mapleberry’s blouse. She knew which of her children were best at standing still and holding trays, or excelled at pushing plows and holding small pigs. She knew which children had the wide eyes and charming smiles that were expected of chimney-sweeps, and which were pale and sickly, perfect for the ennui-enamoured upper-class.

The children never saw the contents of this notebook: all they knew were the two groups. She taught each group separately, insuring that the right children knew how to clean chimneys or wash dishes, while others were given lessons on etiquette and proper behavior. The cleverest of both groups were taught how to read, write, and do sums to prepare them for a possible future in accounting or clerical work, the only possible jobs that had so far managed to straddle both classes like a rickety bridge. They were all given appropriate clothing and ate on one of the two long tables in the dining room.

Both groups had a bell hanging in the common room connected to a string, and whenever prospective parents stopped by, Mrs. Mapleberry would discern her customer’s class and status at a glance, and yank hard on the appropriate bell-pull. The other children would run and hide in the bedrooms while the customers were ushered around the grounds, and the proper children displayed like horses.

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