Edmund grabbed his bundle of clothes from the ground, and ran back to the Meeting Room, his small hard shoes scraping and clattering against the wooden floor. He had stopped just outside the room to catch his breath, when he heard the woman’s voice from inside.
“Well, I suppose he’ll have to do,” she was muttering quietly, her dry lips clicking as she spoke. “He just needs to be alive and not provoke my rancid cousins… ha! As if they wouldn’t happily chew the legs off a puppy if I brought it home. Well, we’ll see how happy they are once they see I have an heir! Spiteful little brats. I’ll show them…”
Edmund thought about this, and decided he didn’t know what the woman was talking about. It sounded like she was having trouble with her family, which was a surprising idea for Edmund. Having never had a family, he had always relied on what others had said they were like. He always been told families were happy arrangements, with parents who fed the children and children who kept quiet and stayed out of sight. That’s what Mrs. Mapleberry made it sound like, at any rate.
Edmund had been skeptical, of course, since he had also heard the stories told by the children who came back, but Mrs. Mapleberry had assured the orphans that these were rare exceptions.
Of course, this old woman was nothing like the parents he had seen walk into the orphanage before. Perhaps she was an exception too?
Suddenly, the woman’s muttering stopped. Edmund wondered if she had heard him thinking, when he began to hear the sound of heavy footfalls coming down the hall.
“Are you ready, Edmund?” came Mrs. Mapleberry’s voice. Edmund looked up to see Mrs. Mapleberry’s rotund form rolling towards him, her face red and puffing, gripping a small stack of papers in one hand and a small inkwell and pen in the other. Edmund nodded, shifting the bundle under his arm. Mrs. Mapleberry nodded back with a strained smile, took a deep breath, and walked back into the Meeting Room.
“Here we are, all ready to sign!” Mrs. Mapleberry said, her voice frighteningly gleeful. “Just put your name right here, and Edmund is all yours!”
Edmund was positive the woman hadn’t moved an inch since he left the room. If he hadn’t heard her talking, he might not have believed she had even breathed. Her eyes followed Mrs. Mapleberry as she hobbled over to the table, placed the ink and paper down, and held the small dip pen out for the woman to sign.
With a sniff, the woman plucked the small pen from Mrs. Mapleberry’s hand and stared at it. Her eyes narrowed, and for a single dreadful second Edmund was positive that she was about to change her mind. She was going to laugh cruelly, tear up the papers, throw the pen away, and leave the orphanage without taking him with her.