It didn’t trouble Edmund, though; he enjoyed being alone. Of course, it was hard to find a place to be alone in the orphanage. The building would have been able to fit twenty children snugly, but there were often more than sixty children of varying ages waiting to be adopted.
When it was warm, and most of the other children were playing outside, he would stay inside and do his best to keep out of sight. In the winter, when it was too cold for the children to play in the yard, he would bundle himself up in his scarf, sneak out into the snow, and find a place to sit alone and read until his fingertips turned blue.
When Edmund wasn’t reading, he was watching. He liked watching things and listening to them too. When he was outside he would watch the snow fall, or the skyline of the city’s smokestacks as they faded deeper and deeper into the black clouds of industry. He would listen to the old autumn leaves crunching under animal paws, or birds singing as the first dawn of spring peeked its head over the hills.
When he was inside, he would watch the weevils burrow in and out of knots in the wooden floor or holes in the wall. He watched the leaves fall off the single thin tree that sprouted in the yard through the bent shutters. He would listen to the children play at their games of catch, tag, and stick-ball, or to Mrs. Mapleberry muttering to herself or scolding another child when they had done something ‘not befitting a Wayward Lad or Lady.’
He was so good at watching, in fact, that the children had a tendency — as did Mrs. Mapleberry, for that matter — to forget he was even in the room. Sometimes, while the children were playing inside or studying, Mrs. Mapleberry would enter the room and asked if anyone had seen Edmund around the orphanage. The children would always be very polite and say that no, they hadn’t seen him, to which Mrs. Mapleberry would cluck in exasperation and vanish again.
Most of the children would return to their games, while some of the crueler ones would immediately begin to guess where he was and what he was doing.
Had he run away? Was he digging up a corpse from the graveyard in the city? Was he being re-wound by his creator? Or had he run off into the sewers to grow into a monster that would feed on the flesh of naughty children?
Of course, Edmund was usually sitting in the corner of the room the whole time reading, but no one ever seemed to notice and he never thought of drawing attention to himself.
And so it was that Edmund lived his days in the drearily morbid surroundings of the orphanage, dealing with the depressingly cheerful Mrs. Mapleberry, and avoiding the speedily rotating roster of the other children.