7: The Problem of Edmund

When Edmund was young, he had been a problem for Mrs. Mapleberry.

At first she tried to make him fit for the upper-classes, as he was clean and very quiet and therefore probably smart. He had trouble with the etiquette lessons, however, and no matter how polite the greeting or clean the offered hand, Edmund would simply stare and not say a word.

As Edmund grew older, she noted that he never seemed to get sick, so she tried fitting him with the simpler and healthier children. He could handle small tasks, but as soon as she gave him a job that lasted longer than ten minutes, his mind would wander. She would often times find him staring out the window at a bee, or studying a particularly interesting hole in the wall.


Image: Henry Leonard Stephenson, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Eventually, Mrs. Mapleberry gave up and begrudgingly put Edmund in a category all his own, which only served to segregate him from the other children even further. At first, he was perfectly happy with this arrangement; He wasn’t particularly interested in more lessons on elocution or poise, and washing dishes or digging in the ground became boring after a while.

Edmund soon realized this was a mixed blessing. When prospective parents came by, he wasn’t allowed to run off to the bedrooms any more. Whether the parents were rich or poor he was forced to walk around the orphanage with all the other children in the vain hope that someone would take a shine to his odd stare or gangly limbs.

Having to present himself twice as often as the other children didn’t seem to make much difference, however; none of the prospective parents ever gave him a second glance.

Sometimes, unfortunately, Mrs. Mapleberry got it into her head that all Edmund needed was to be a bit more like everyone else, and all he needed for that was a bit of help. Then, there was no escaping her for weeks — she would descend on Edmund and hover next to him like a balloon on a string for days at a time, clucking and twittering in his ear about the secrets to a good life and the world outside the orphanage gates.

She would constantly nudge him towards the other children. She would offer helpful suggestions on how to be friendly, or try to get him exercising or playing games with the other lads to broaden him, but it became clear very quickly that they had no interest in playing with him, and he had none in them. Thankfully, after a time Mrs. Mapleberry would always decide that Edmund simply wasn’t worth the trouble, and mostly leave him alone.

Nevertheless, she tried to keep him presentable. She kept giving him new clothes from the donation bins, and tried parting his hair in different places almost every day in the vain attempt to have him attract some parent’s attention. “The orphanage is an unsteady life for a growing boy,” she would tell him, clucking in sympathy.

Edmund disagreed — very little ever seemed to change for him–but he never said anything. He wasn’t even sure he wanted a family; what was the point?

Edmund suspected the truth was that she didn’t want him around any more than the prospective parents did.


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