Authors: Michaela MacColl, Rosemary Nichols
For “Auntie Sis” Sister Norine Estelle Nichols 1916â2013
Text copyright Â© 2014 by Michaela MacColl and Rosemary Nichols All rights reserved
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, please contact[email protected]
Although this work centers around historical events, this is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents are products of the authors' imagination and are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual incidents or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Calkins CreekAn Imprint of Highlights815 Church StreetHonesdale, Pennsylvania 18431Printed in the United States of AmericaISBN: 978-1-62091-623-0Library of Congress Control Number: 2014935295First edition
ISBN 9781629792750 (e-book)
Design by Barbara GrzesloProduction by Margaret MosomilloThe text of this book is set in Garamond 3.
Cover Photo Credits:Train: copyright Â© Mark Twain Hobby Center, St. Charles, Missouri; girl:copyright Â© Shutterstock; night sky: copyright Â© iStockJacket design by Barbara GrzesloTo the Sisters of the House,Necessity compels me to part with mydarling boy. I leave him, hoping and trustingthat you will take good care of him. Will youlet some good nurse take charge of him andwill you try to find some kind hearted ladyto adopt him and love him as her ownâ¦.It would break my heart to have him growup without a mother to love and care forhim.A letter to the Foundling Hospital, July 1870PARTONENew YorkCHAPTERONE
ACHILD'S CRY, SHARP AND FEARFUL, STARTLEDRORYAWAKE. Her eyes darted about the shadowy dormitory. It was still dark outside; dawn was some hours away. Was it the new boy, Harry? He'd been found under a railroad bridge living on what the rats left, and he often woke with nightmares. But he usually howled. More likely it was Violet, Rory's own sister.
After three years of minding the little kids, Rory didn't throw back the warm covers just yet. Often the orphans would cry once then fall back asleep. She'd wait for a second cryâand then try to silence that one before the other children woke. Rory pulled the covers up around her chin, enjoying the bite of chill on her face. The Sisters of Charity believed a child needed fresh air at night so until All Saints' Day, otherwise known as the first of November, the windows stayed open.
A hand tugged at Rory's blanket. Holding back a sigh, Rory propped herself up on one elbow and looked intoViolet's eyes, bright blue even in the dim light.
“Rory, are you awake?” Violet asked in a lisping whisper. She was five years old to Rory's twelve.
“I am now, you little pest,” Rory answered. Her words might be harsh but she had no worries that Violet's feelings would be hurt. To outsiders, Violet might seem sweet and biddable, but Rory knew how tough she could be.
“I have to pee.”
“Violet, you're five now. You are old enough to pee without my help,” Rory said.
“I'm afraid of the water closet. It's so noisy and I'm scared it will swallow me up!”
“You can pee in the pot and I'll flush it in the morning. That way we won't wake everyone else.” Rory swung her feet off the bed onto the tiled floor. She led Violet by the hand to the brand-new water closet down the hall. It was loud, louder even than the new elevated trains on Third Avenue. Violet squatted on the little pot next to the porcelain toilet. Afterward, Rory dumped the contents into the toilet bowl. Violet slipped her hand into Rory's and the two sisters walked together down the long hall.
When they returned, Rory wasn't surprised to find two other children curled up together on her narrow bed.
“What are you lot doing here?” she demanded, pretending to be fierce. “You're supposed to stay in your own beds.”
There was no answer from the children. They kept their eyes tightly closed and snored impossibly loudly and with asuspicious regularity.
With a sigh, Rory said, “Hop in, Violet.” She shoved the kids this way and that to make room. On the strength of being Rory's real sister, Violet used her sharp elbows to make sure she had the best spot, curled up in the small of Rory's back. Within a few minutes, Rory had been lulled back to sleep by the genuine snores and quick breaths of the three younger children.
“Rory!” A stern voice woke Rory a second time. “The children are supposed to sleep alone.” Rory opened her eyes and had to put her hand over her eyes to block the sunlight pouring in. Sister Maureen stood at the foot of her bed. Short and plump, she resembled a dumpling in her white working uniform.
“What children?” Rory asked, rubbing her eyes with her fists. In her experience, this made her look younger, less likely to be scolded. She patted the bed. “What are these rascals doing here?” She began to shake the kids awake. “Honest, Sister Maureen, they weren't here when I went to bed last night.”
Sister Maureen shook her head and lifted young Harry out of the bed. “Rory, this is precisely why the older children are moved out of the nursery and into the dormitory. How old are you now?”
The dormitory that Sister Maureen was threatening wasn't too bad. Rory knew the other girls from school and liked them well enough. But the dormitory wouldn't haveViolet, and as far as Rory was concerned, that was the end of the argument. Rory leapt out of bed, dislodging Violet, who almost rolled off the bed onto the spotless tiled floor. Catching Violet just in time, Rory stared at Sister Maureen over her sister's head. “I have to stay with Violet. I promised my Ma.”
The stern look on Sister Maureen's face began to soften. “Besides,” Rory said, pursuing her advantage, “however would you get them all washed and dressed for breakfast if I wasn't here to help?”
Sister Maureen glanced around the long narrow nursery where eighteen beds lined the whitewashed walls. Rory knew exactly what the nun was thinking. Eighteen boys and girls, ages three, four, and five, took a lot of caring for. Usually a Sister and two nurses would be responsible. For the past three years Rory had deliberately carved out a place for herself as an extra caregiver, washer, wiper-upper, hair comber, clothes darner, and the first person the children called in the night. Her position at the Foundling was unique and she fought to keep it every day.
In a cajoling voice, Rory asked, “Please let me help, just a little longer?” She tensed, waiting for an answer. Rory had never once spent a night away from Violet.
“Thanks, Sister,” Rory said happily, shepherding the sleepy children into a line to use the water closet. As she led them out of the nursery, she heard Sister Maureen'sexasperated voice.
“But, Rory, I didn't agree to anything!”
Rory hurried the kids into the hallway. Out of sight was out of Sister Maureen's mind. At least for today, Rory could stay put.
RORY SAT DOWN GRATEFULLY,ALREADY EXHAUSTED,AND IT wasn't even breakfast yet. The children were clean and dressed and off to the dining room on the first floor of the main building. Despite all the morning hurry, Rory had found a few extra seconds to make sure that the purple bow in Violet's curly red hair was placed just so. The time it took was repaid by the sweet kiss Violet gave her as she joined the long queue of children hurrying downstairs to their first meal of the day.
Now Rory finally had some time to herself. Moments alone were rare and to be cherished. Another reason to avoid the dormitory! She braided her long red hair into a neat plait; her fingers had grown nimble taking care of so many small children. Rory slipped into a clean pinafore skirt she had pulled from the dresser she shared with Violet. The skirt fell only a few inches below the kneeâtoo short to be quite respectable. As she tugged on her leather boots, she could seewhere her big toes had stretched the leather. No wonder her toes always hurt.
What she wouldn't give for a new dress! Or shoes that had never been worn before. There was a scarcity of donated clothing in the nursery box to fit a girl as tall as she, and shoes for her size feet were always in short supply. Rory dared not draw attention to her constantly increasing height because it always led to questions about her age. Girls in the dormitory had clothing that fitâthe shoes too. But once Rory admitted that she was growing, the Sisters would insist that she move in with the older kids. The Sisters hated anything that interfered with their rules and sense of order. That was Rory Fitzpatrick in a nutshell. So Rory kept her head down and did what was best for her and Vi.
The street noises grew louder, full of the voices of women and the cries of babies. Tugging at the hem of her skirt, Rory braced herself. Every other day Rory would go to the Foundling school, but not on the first Wednesday of the month. Today was payday for the one thousand wet nurses employed by the Foundling Hospital. The wet nurses had babies of their own at home but they provided mother's milk to orphaned babies for a substantial fee each month. Rory had assumed the duty of ensuring that no one cheated the Sisters. It was just one more way to show the Sisters how much they needed her.
The line of women and babies snaked from the main entrance of the Foundling on East Sixty-Ninth around thecorner to Third Avenue. The sight of so many women and babies was remarkable enough that drivers of private cars and carriages slowed down to stare.
Rory began with the women at the front of the line, waiting to enter the building. The first was a woman in her thirties, with a broad face and pale eyes, holding a swaddled baby against her breast.
“Mrs. Healy,” she scolded, “little Brian looks pale. Is he getting enough fresh air? The Sisters say that's important.”
“Look at you, little miss bossy.” Mrs. Healy laughed. “For all you're only thirteen, you talk like one of the nuns.”
“I'm just twelve,” Rory corrected her.
“You look older.”
Rory glanced about to make sure none of the nuns had overheard Mrs. Healy. “Just mind that Brian gets out at least once a day. Your eldest can take himâhe's nine now, isn't he?”
“When my eldest gets home from the shoe factory, he's too tired to mind a baby, especially a stranger.”
“This stranger,” Rory stressed the word, “is worth ten dollars hard cash a month to your family. Remind him of that.”
She moved on. The Sisters had never asked her to play policeman to the wet nurses, but Rory knew firsthand how deceitful people could be. It made Rory angry to think of the Sisters being taken advantage of. Babes in the wood, they were. Besides, Rory was the closest person these children had to family. She would take care of them as well as she took care of Violet, as long as she was able.
No trickery caught her eye until she reached Mrs.O'Flanagan, who had worked with Rory's Ma in the shirt factory before she started taking babies for the Foundling. Mrs. O'Flanagan was an old hand at wet nursing. She always had a baby of her own, so she was happy to take in orphans for the stipend. When she saw Rory, she quickly turned her tall, straight body away from Rory's view.
“Hello, Mrs. O'Flanagan,” Rory said loudly. Reluctantly, the wet nurse turned round. “How is Danny?” she asked.
“Just fine,” Mrs. O'Flanagan said, in the thick brogue of Ireland. “He's a little love.”
“Let me hold him, he's a favorite of mine.” Rory planted herself in front of Mrs. O'Flanagan and waited.
“Look at you, grown so tall,” Mrs. O'Flanagan said. “You're the spitting image of your mother.”
“Thanks, Mrs. O'Flanagan.” Now Rory knew something was wrong. Mrs. O'Flanagan and her mother had never gotten along. “But we were talking about Danny.”
“Are the Sisters taking good care of you? They promised they would.”
“The Sisters don't lie,” Rory said. As firmly as she could manage, she said, “Let me see him.” She held out her arms.
Mrs. O'Flanagan held tight to the baby. “He's just fallen asleep,” she said, looking down severely at Rory.
“I won't wake him,” Rory assured her.
Slowly, Mrs. O'Flanagan handed the baby over. Rory snuggled the baby and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“A lovely babe,” Rory said, very quietly so only Mrs. O'Flanagan could hear. “But he's not Danny. He looks likeyour own boy. Brendan, isn't it? Where's Danny?”
Mrs. O'Flanagan's eyes took on a shifty look.
“Mrs. O'Flanagan, don't lie to me. I know Danny and that's not him.” Rory braced herself; so many things could happen to these defenseless babies.
Finally Mrs. O'Flanagan slumped, as though Rory had pricked her and let all the air out. “The babe is just fine, Rory. He's at home. But he's got a rash. A bad oneâit fair turns your stomach to look at. The nuns are so fussy they might take him away and I can't afford to lose the money.”
“Where's the rash? In the diaper?”
Mrs. O'Flanagan nodded. “And on his back.”
“I'm sure it's nothing that an ointment won't cure,” Rory said. “Go get Danny and I'll make sure Sister Kathleen is fair with you.”
“But I don't want to lose my place!”
“I'll wait in the line for you,” Rory said. “But bring Danny right now or else I'll have to tell the Sisters and then you'll lose any chance of working for them again.”
“You're fiercer than the nuns, you are. I won't be long,” Mrs. O'Flanagan said, but she was already edging past the other mothers. Rory leaned against the wall, knowing she wouldn't have long to wait. Mrs. O'Flanagan lived in a tenement a short horsecar ride away, decent lodging for her family paid for with the money from the Foundling. She knew she had done the right thing.Mrs. O'Flanagan would be back soon with the correct baby.
“Well done.” A familiar voice at her back startled Rory. “I couldn't have handled it better.” Rory whirled around to see Sister Anna, the nun in charge of all the children. She had a nose for a lie; all the kids, including Rory, were wary of her.
“Truly?” Rory kept her eyes fixed on Sister Anna's folded hands.
“Tell me, how did you know that baby wasn't Danny? We see so many.”
Rory looked up, eager to explain. “Danny has a birthmark here.” Rory indicated under her left ear. “But I'm sure the baby is fine. You'll see.”
“I believe you, my dear. You've an instinct for the good in people.” In a sadder tone, she added, “And the evil.”
“After all the Foundling has done for me and Violet, the least I can do is make sure you don't get swindled.”
“I don't know what we would do without you, Rory.” A slight smile played on Sister Anna's lips. “But shouldn't you be in class?”
“Sister, anyone can do arithmetic, but I'm the only one who knows the difference between Danny and Brendan.”
“Just for today, then,” Sister Anna conceded. “But I think it's high time we had a talk about your future.”
“Now?” Rory gulped.
“Soon.” In the way all the nuns had, Sister Anna glided away, almost as if she was skating on ice.
Rory narrowed her eyes as she watched Sister Anna leave. Had Sister Anna finally decided that she was too old to stay in the nursery with Violet? Rory trembled; tomorrow was the time to worry about the future.CHAPTERThree
RORY ONLY HAD TO HOLDMRS.O'FLANAGAN'S PLACE FOR a few minutes before she returned with a plump and bright-eyed Danny. They quickly reached the head of the line, at an alcove off the main entrance of the Foundling, where Sister Kathleen looked like a giant seated at her small desk. Rory whispered to Mrs. O'Flanagan, “Let me do the talking.”
Rory stepped in front of the desk. “Good morning, Sister Kathleen!” she said cheerily.
Sister Kathleen was a tall, thin woman who rarely smiled. Her eyes darted past Rory to the baby. “Who do we have here?” she asked.
Rory marveled that the Sisters saw these women and babies every month but couldn't tell them apart. Rory knew everyone's name and history. She could no more mistake one child for another than she could switch her own head with Sister Anna's. Little Willie had the longest eyelashes, and tiny Mary Dolan had been born too early and still wasn't aproper size. “This is Mrs. O'Flanagan, Sister. And the baby is Danny. Mrs. O'Flanagan is a bit concerned about his rash and wonders if you could take a look.”
Sister Kathleen was the Foundling's expert on childhood ailments, in charge of ensuring that each baby was being well cared for by his wet nurse. She removed her ledger from the desk, whipped out a clean cloth to cover the wooden surface, and indicated the baby should be placed there. The chubby little boy gurgled and threw out his fists. Sister Kathleen undid the large pin holding the cloth diaper together. “What do we have here? Oh my â¦” Her voice trailed off. She looked sharply at Mrs. O'Flanagan. “Have you been changing his diaper regularly?”
“Of course she has,” Rory said quickly, holding up the clean diaper. “I know it looks awful, Sister Kathleen, but you know that Mrs. O'Flanagan has always done right by the Foundling.” Rory turned to the older woman. “This is the fourth babe you've taken?” Mrs. O'Flanagan nodded. “And as soon as she saw the baby was ailing, she asked for help. Why, a babe's own ma couldn't do more!”
Sister Kathleen pursed her lips and considered. She examined the babe's clothes, grudgingly admitting they were clean. “When did the rash start?”
“Just a few days ago,” Mrs. O'Flanagan hurried to get the words out of her mouth.
“Is there anything new in the house? A different kind of food, perhaps?”
“No.” Mrs. O'Flanagan was regretful, as if she wished shecould say the family had started to eat nettles. Anything to protect the family's income.
Rory was peering over Sister Kathleen's shoulder. She reached in and rubbed the unsoiled diaper between her fingers. “Sister, look.” Rory held out her fingers covered with fine white powder.
Sister Kathleen's mournful face brightened. “Have you tried a new soap?”
“That I did!” Mrs. O'Flanagan said. “I ran out and my neighbor gave me some of that Ivory soap. It smelled ever so nice.”
Sister Kathleen's head bobbed, certain of her diagnosis. “The babyâ”
“Danny,” prompted Rory.
“Danny's skin is reacting to the new soap,” Sister Kathleen went on. “Try your old soap and see if the rash goes away. If it doesn't, then be sure you come back. Don't wait until next month.” She gave Danny back to Mrs. O'Flanagan, made an entry in her ledger, and handed over ten one-dollar bills.
“I will,” Mrs. O'Flanagan promised, clutching her money. The Foundling had discovered long ago that a decent wage ensured that the wet nurses took good care of the babies.
Rory continued her watchful patrol of the line. The last woman didn't collect her money for several more hours. By the time the bells began to toll for the afternoon Mass, Rory was dead on her feet in her too-small boots. She groaned; she'd never get any rest in the chapel. The priest was sure to have them jumping up and down with every prayer. She glancedto the side of the imposing entrance at Sister Kathleen's cozy nook. Rory imagined herself napping comfortably in that quiet place. She smiled to herself and sidled up to Sister Kathleen. “Sister, did you hear that the Archbishop of New York is saying Mass today?”
“I had heard that,” Sister Kathleen said wistfully. “I would love to hear him but I'm scheduled to sit at the intake desk this afternoon.”
“You shouldn't miss it, Sister,” Rory said earnestly. “I'd be happy to mind the desk for you.”
“Would you?” Sister Kathleen's solemn face looked hopeful. “I couldn't ask â¦”
“Go, Sister,” Rory insisted. “I'll wait here until after Mass.”
“Bless you, child.” Sister Kathleen hurried away just as the bells fell silent.
The formerly busy entry hall was deserted; everyone except Rory was at Mass. Rory sat at Sister Kathleen's desk and watched the dust motes drift in the light from the tall windows. It wasn't long before she put her head on her forearms and dozed.
A touch on her arm startled her awake.
“Miss,” asked a timid voice. “Is this where I leave my baby?”
RORY LIFTED HER HEAD.BLINKING, SHE REMEMBERED WHERE she was. A young woman stood in front of the desk, a baby in her arms. Down-and-out by the look of her with much-mended clothes and a pinched face with sunken cheeks. With a sinking heart, Rory realized the woman was here to abandon a baby.
“You're in the right place,” Rory said.
“Why, you're just a child yourself,” the woman exclaimed. She peered around the empty hall. “Who's in charge here?”
“I am, but if you wait a little time the nuns will be back,” Rory said, hoping she would stay. Rory had never had to deal with a mother giving up her baby. Usually she only saw the babies after the mothers were gone.
“I can't wait,” the woman said. “If I do I might lose my nerve.”
Rory gave her a searching glance: the mother wasn't very old, maybe eighteen or nineteen.
“You can leave him in the cradle and the Sisters will take care of him.” She gestured toward the white wicker cradle by the door. A representative of the Foundling was always at the desk to receive a baby, day or night. Until Mass was over, that representative was Rory.
The mother stared down at the baby, who was carefully swaddled in a blanket cleaner than her skirt. She glanced up and met Rory's eyes. “What's your name?” she asked.
“My name's Patricia, but everyone calls me Patty. Are you a foundling?”
Rory shook her head hard. “I'm an orphan. Foundlings are abandoned,” Rory explained. “My Ma and Da are dead. I may not have any parents but I know where I came from.”
“So if I leave my baby here, he's a foundling â¦” Patty's voice caught.
Rory's heart sank. She hadn't meant to make Patty feel even worse; she just hated being mistaken for a foundling. The distinction might not matter, but to her it was the difference between being loved, even for a short time, or being discarded, handed over to strangers.
“Tell me, Rory, are they kind in this place? Will they take care of my baby boy? Raise him up in the Church?” She held her baby under Rory's nose. His eyes were tightly shut and he had a tuft of black hair that sprang from his head like a patch of grass.
“The Sisters are very kind,” Rory answered. “You know how Jesus said suffer the little children to come unto him?The Sisters practice that here. He'll be safe. They'll give him clothes, food, church, everything he needs.”
Patty's eyes devoured Rory, taking in every detail, from her red braids to the worn boots that peeked out from under the desk. “You don't look as though you've missed any meals lately.”
Rory winced at the hunger in Patty's voice. “Your boy will get fed three times a day. And real food too. Even meat sometimes,” Rory assured her.
Patty's lips started to quiver. “I don't want to leave him, but I can't care for him.” She began to cry, silent sobs that racked her body. Clutching the baby to her chest, she leaned against the desk. “I have a cousin in Utica who says she can get me a job. But I can't bring him. I've been at my wits' end.” Rory stood, uncertain what to do. Finally she imitated the kindness of the Sisters and came from behind the desk to put her arms around Patty and the baby. She held both of them until Patty stopped sobbing. “You can trust the Sisters to take good care of him,” Rory said.
The woman touched the babe's mouth with her fingertip. Even fast asleep, his tiny lips sucked as though he was hungry. “Joseph's not weaned yet. How will he eat?”
“They'll bring in a wet nurse.”
Patty's face asked the question.
“Another woman who's just had a baby,” Rory explained. “So he'll get good milk.” Rory put her hand to her heart. “I promise.”
“As soon as I'm on my feet again, I'll come back and gethim,” Patty said, a resolute tilt to her jaw. “They'll give him to me, won't they?”
“You have three years from today to claim him,” Rory assured her. “But after that, they'll place him with a family.”
“I'll be back before then,” Patty vowed.
Rory said nothing. She knew only too well how few mothers returned. She straightened up and helped Patty back to her feet. “Do you want to leave a note?”
“A note?” Patty shook her head.
“Write down your name and anything you want the Sisters to know about the baby.” Rory reached into her pocket and pulled out a notebook and sharpened pencil.
In a hoarse voice, she said, “I can't write nor read.”
“All right,” Rory said as kindly as she could. “I'll write what you tell me.” A moment later the note was written.
My boy, Joseph, was born on March 1, 1904. Do not be afraid of the sore on his stomach. It is nothing but ringworm. He has been baptized by Father Reilly at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church. I would like his name to stay the same. Please take care of him until I can come back.
Patty watched Rory's hand moving across the paper with admiration. “Can you read too?”
Rory bit her lip to keep from smiling; the last thing she wanted to do was embarrass Patty. “Yes,” she said. “And doarithmetic too. The Sisters think education, cleanliness, and godliness are the path out of poverty.” She paused. “Not in that order.”
“Will my Joseph learn all that too?”
Rory nodded. “Well, once the babies are old enough, they receive some schooling until they are placed with a family. The older kids go to school to learn a trade.”
Patty started to protest but Rory interrupted. “They don't make us go to workâbut they teach us skills so we can get a job. If I weren't needed to help with the babies, I'd probably learn how to typewrite. Or sew. But I'm a rotten seamstress.”
Patty took a deep breath. “Then I'm doing the right thing for Joseph,” she said. She gently placed the baby in the wicker cradle, smoothing the blanket across his small body. The baby didn't peep. Rory wondered if Patty might have given Joseph a dose of spirits to keep him quiet but she didn't want to ask.
As Patty kissed the baby on his forehead, Rory got a lump in her throat. Carefully not looking at the cradle, Patty said, “Can you watch over him? I know it's asking a lot, but â¦”
“I will,” Rory promised. “As long as I can.”
Patty grabbed Rory's right hand and brought it to her lips. “Thank you.” Without another word, Patty ran out the door.
The Sisters always said it was wrong to judge, but Rory couldn't help comparing Patty to her own mother. Even when they didn't have enough to eat, those last days when Ma was dying, she never once thought of getting rid of her and Vi. A real mother never gave up her children. It was that simple. On the other hand, that parting had cost Patty dearly.
Rory rocked baby Joseph. She rubbed her fingers across his wrist, frowning at its thinness. But otherwise he seemed in good health. He opened his eyes and stared up at Rory, his slate-blue eyes unfocused. Joseph's fist opened and he grabbed her finger.
“Hello, little one,” she said. “If you were my little brother, I'd never let you go.”
The baby gurgled as if to defend his ma.
“Maybe she'll come back, Joe,” Rory agreed. “But even if she doesn't, we'll take good care of you.”
Suddenly Rory had an urgent need to see her sister and give her a big hug. Children were abandoned here all the timeâbut not Rory and Violet. As long as they were together, they were a family. Rory had known her Ma and even had a few memories of her Da before he fell to his death from the elevated train track he was building. She knew where she had come from and she'd make sure Violet knew too. It was just one more reason she and Vi had to stay together.CHAPTERFive
RORY WAITED WITHJOSEPH UNTILSISTERKATHLEEN RETURNED from Mass. The Sister stopped short when she saw the baby.
“Another one?” Sister Kathleen said with atsk-tsking noise on her tongue.
“At least this one came in during the day.” Sister Kathleen picked up the baby and inspected him, especially examining his shock of black hair for lice eggs. “I always feel sorry for the mothers who are so desperate they leave the babies in the middle of the night.”
“They're all desperate,” Rory said, the haunted expression of Joseph's mother still fresh in her mind. She felt guilty for judging Patty so harshly.
Whirling around to avoid the Sister's eyes, Rory fetched the ledger. She watched as Sister Kathleen recorded all the details they knew about little Joseph. In the final column Sister Kathleen entered a date three years from the day. Thatwas the date his mother would lose all her rights to Joseph and the Foundling Sisters could do with him what they wished.
“Poor little one,” Rory whispered, kissing him on the forehead. “But you will be looked after here.”
“Of course he will,” Sister Kathleen said, gathering up the baby in her arms to take him to the nursery.
As Rory watched them go, she remembered when she had first arrived, on a cold, rainy September night, carrying two-year-old Violet on one hip and a small satchel with their few clothes on the other. Those last days that Ma had been dying, she'd made Rory promise to go to Sister Anna. The burial arrangements were all made with their neighbor, Mrs. O'Malley. She had helped nurse Ma and she had kept Ma's things, “as payment,” she said. The only thing Rory had been able to salvage was Ma's necklace. Her hand went to the saint's medal hanging around her neck. The Virgin Mary. Ma's patron saint.Fat lot of good the saint had done for Ma, Rory thought. Immediately she felt guilty. Ma would be so angry at Rory for thinking such a thing, not to mention what Sister Anna would say.
Relieved of her responsibilities for the moment, Rory didn't want to go to class. She made her way to the chapel, carefully avoiding any nuns who might ask where she was going or, more specifically, why she wasn't going where she was supposed to be. Funny how she hated having to go to chapel for services every day but it was her first choice whenever she wanted to be alone. Every room in the huge Foundling complex of buildings, schools, and hospitals wasplain and serviceable, except for the chapel. It was beautiful, not huge, each side of the square room perhaps sixty feet long. The decorations in the chapel were gifts from the powerful and wealthy donors who supported the Foundling.
A large circular window over the entrance faced south and the afternoon sun streamed in. The domed ceiling made Rory feel as though she was in heaven. Best of all, the room was empty. Here she could think. But first she had to pay her respects to her favorite statue. The Virgin Mary, dressed all in blue and white with gold trim, stood in her own alcove.
First she said her own Hail Mary. That was only proper. Then Rory settled in for a nice chat. “Hi, Lady Mary,” she said, craning her neck to see the beautiful face. “We've got a new baby. You should keep an eye on him. His name is Josephâlike your husbandâso you won't forget. I know there are a lot of us to look after.” She described how Violet was still up to her old tricks in the middle of the night. And about the wet nurses in line with the babies. “Please, Lady Mary, take care of them, especially the babies.”
Rory made the sign of the cross and turned away. The pulpit to one side of the white marble altar beckoned to her. Making sure she was unobserved, she climbed up to where Father Robert usually stood to deliver his homily. Rory put her shoulders back, took a deep breath, and pronounced, “And on the eighth day God decided that all the children get to go to the park and play.” The words rolled off her tongue and filled the corners of the chapel. Emboldened, Roryadded, “And they should have ice cream every night. And no more strengthening gruel. Ever. Amen.”
Rory stepped back, startled. She fell off the pulpit platform and skinned her knee.
Sister Anna glided down the aisle, her expression stern. “Rory Fitzpatrick! This is the house of Our Lord, not a theatrical stage!”
Rory scrambled to her feet, trying not to wince at the sharp pain in her knee. “Sister, I was just â¦ just wondering how Father Robert manages to be heard in every corner of the chapel.”
Cheeks flaming with color, Sister Anna said, “The excellent acoustics in the chapel are no excuse for your disrespectful behavior. And I take offense at your suggestion that you aren't fed properly.”
“I'm sorry, ma'am.” Rory bobbed a short curtsy and started to make her exit.That could have been worse, she thought.
“Wait,” Sister Anna said.
Rory stopped and slowly turned around. “Yes, Sister?”
“I need to talk to you.” Sister Anna glanced around the ornate chapel. “But not here. In my office.” Without waiting for Rory's response, Sister Anna led the way out a side door.
Rory reluctantly followed. No good news was ever delivered in Sister Anna's office.
“YOU LIED TOME!”THE WORDS FLEW OUT OFRORY'S MOUTH. She clapped her hands over her mouth; after three years at the Foundling she knew there are certain things you never say to a nun.
Sister Anna stared at Rory, her gray eyes flinty and hard. “That is quite enough, young lady.” She was seated at her desk. Sister Anna and the desk suited each other: square and imposing. There were two wooden armchairs in front of Sister Anna's desk and a small leather-covered sofa against the wall under the high windows. There were cracks in the leather but the room was spotlessly clean.
“But you promised that Violet and I would stay together. You promised!” Rory's body shook with anger, and she had to clasp her hands tight to keep from trembling. She had declined Sister Anna's invitation to sit down, preferring to face trouble on her feet.
“You and she have been sheltered at the Foundling forthree years,” Sister Anna said. “You know our mission, to find our foundlings a suitable family. We have found a good family for Violet.”
“Violet has a family. Me! Ma sent us here so we wouldn't be separated.” Rory began to pace around the room, remem-bering her first night at the Foundling. The Sisters had tried to separate Rory from her sister. Rory had screamed and held on to Violet as though their lives depended on staying together. Finally Sister Anna had agreed that Rory could stay with Violet for the time being. Rory had stretched that brief reprieve into three years.
Sister Anna glanced down at a piece of paper on the desk. Rory recognized it as the form for every new orphan at the Foundling Hospital. The ink on little Joseph's paper was still wet. But it was the first time Rory had ever seen Violet's or her own.
“We need to make room for new orphans,” Sister Anna said. “Violet will have a very good home.”
“But where are you sending her, Sister?” Rory asked, stunned. She had just explained the rules to Joseph's mother but somehow she had never dreamed they would affect her and Violet. How could she have been so shortsighted? Her mother had expected more of her.
“It doesn't matter. Just know that it is a good home,” Sister Anna replied.
“It's theonlything that matters. Where are you sending her?”
“Watch your tone, young lady.” Sister Anna's voice wasicy. “I'm trying to make allowances because I know you are upset, but I won't tolerate rudeness.”
It took an effortâthe habit of obeying Sister Anna was bone-deepâbut Rory put her hands on the back of the chair in front of the desk and looked her squarely in the eyes. “Will she be close? Will I still be able to see her?”
Sister Anna's gaze dropped.
“Where is Violet going?” Rory could be as stubborn as she needed to be.
“How far west?” Rory's voice was small. The only thing she knew about the West was her favorite issue ofWild West Weekly. A visitor to the Foundling had left it behind and Rory had claimed it for her own. She'd read it a dozen times and she had serious doubts that a suitable home for Violet lay between those pages. There were Indians, coyotes, and rattlesnakes in the West.
“A week's journey by train.”
“A week away!” Rory shoved the chair aside and clenched her fists at her side. “I'll never see her again!”
Sister Anna stood up from behind her desk and came around to Rory. She stooped to put her arm around Rory's shoulders. Rory could feel the nun's crucifix pressing into her back.
“No, Rory,” she said. Her manner was matter-of-fact, but Rory thought she heard a little bit of pity in Sister Anna's voice. “You won't see her again. She'll have a new family. We have found it best for the children we place to sever all tieswith their former lives. It is easier for them. And for you.” She fell silent, as if waiting for Rory to speak, but Rory was staring straight ahead, thinking more quickly than she ever had in her life.
“Violet's new parents are good Catholics,” Sister Anna went on. “And they are eager to have her; they especially asked for a redheaded girl.”
Rory grabbed the end of her own red braid and shoved it toward Sister Anna's face. “If that's what they want, let's give them two!”
“They only asked for one girl, I'm afraid. And you're twelve. We want them to have a younger girl.” Sister Anna's voice was resolute and Rory had to fight to keep down the panic in her stomach. “You know our policyâwe send younger children so we're sure they will be loved and part of a family, not put to work.”
“Send another orphan! Lord knows you have plenty!”
“The Lord's name is not to be used lightly, Rory.”
“Then He should take better care of his children!” She grabbed at Sister Anna's hand. “I told my mother I would look after Violet.I promised.”
Sister Anna stroked Rory's palm. “Rory, you've done exceptionally well with Violet. She's healthy and bright as a new button. But at five years old, she's the ideal age to be placed. She needs parents. You should make this easier for her, not harder.”
Sister Anna's gentle voice washed over her while her calloused hands tried to soothe Rory's. Rory kept her eyeson Sister Anna's hands. How strange that the nun in charge of so much at the Foundling had calluses. But that was Sister Annaâshe wasn't afraid of hard work.
“Rory, you know it would be best for Violet if you let her go,” Sister Anna said smoothly. “If you love her â¦”
“No!” Rory shouted, shoving herself away from Sister Anna. “You're a nun. What do you know about love?”
“Rory!” Sister Anna stepped back as if she had been slapped. Her thin face had red spots high on her cheeks.
“No, I'm not listening to you anymore. You're trying to trick me.” Rory reached for the door and threw it open. Pausing in the doorway, she cried, “You're a liar and a baby thief! I won't let you take Violet away from me!” She slammed the door before Sister Anna could say another word.
Standing in the hall was a younger orphan, staring at Rory, her mouth open like a hole in the middle of a doughnut.
“What are you looking at?” Rory demanded.
“No one talks to Sister Anna that way,” the girl whispered with a panicked look at the door. She pulled out a rosary and ran it through her fingers as though she could rub away Rory's sins.
“It's about time someone told the Sisters what's what!” Rory said, defiance in her voice. But as she got her breath back, she began to wonder how much trouble she was in. What would happen if Sister Anna turned against her? Rory might lose any chance to be with Violet.
Sister Anna's doorknob began to turn. Rory couldn't face her. She flew down the hallway, ran down two flights of stairsto the main hall. It was suppertime and the entryway was deserted.
The wide double doors to the outdoors beckoned. Rory had never gone out by herselfâthe Sisters frightened the orphans with stories of truants being snatched off the street by the police. With a toss of her head, Rory pushed open the door. If something terrible happened, it would serve Sister Anna right.CHAPTERSeven
RORY PAUSEDAT THE TOP OF THE STEPS.THE LATE-AFTERNOON sun was bright and for a moment she stopped, blinded. Sixty-Ninth Street in front of the Foundling was busy with people walking home after work. Shaking off caution, Rory marched out alone, leaving the Foundling behind.
Two Sisters in their outdoor habits were coming up the wide steps. Rory pushed her way past them. One of them, Rory wasn't sure who, called, “Rory! Where are you going? You can't go out now. The truancy police â¦”
Rory ran down to the corner and then up Third Avenue as fast as she could, leaving the Sisters' rules and warnings far behind. Dodging walkers as the sun went down, she hardly knew where her feet were going. The homes along Third Avenue passed in a blur. The low setting sun cast shadows from the houses on the west side of the street and from the trees in Central Park. Tears streaming down her face, Rory turned down Seventy-First Street until she reached Fifth Avenue.
She hesitated for a scant second to be sure she could dodge the carriages traveling down Fifth Avenue, and then ducked across the sidewalk into Central Park through the Children's Gate. It was a familiar walk from many Sunday excursions with other children from the Foundling, and the park was where she was always happiest. Even though it was in the center of New York City, Central Park felt like a different world. A place where grass and trees grew and buildings didn't shut out the sky. But now the park was quiet, with no screaming children's voices or nannies scolding their charges.
A stitch in her side stole her breath away and she slowed to a walk, pressing her hand to her waist. She could feel the leather in her boots splitting at the toes. She crossed the park toward the lake and stopped only when she reached her most favorite place, the fountain on the water's edge. Half panting, half sobbing, Rory couldn't stop railing at the Sisters. It was so unfair. Rory had mostly followed their rules. She'd worked hard to take care of the children and kept up her studies. And how did Sister Anna reward her? She took away the only thing Rory cared about!
The bronze angel atop the fountain held a lily in one hand as she blessed the water flowing beneath her with the other. Rory scooped water to cool her face and neck. At this hour, the park was almost empty and she had the angel to herself. Rory craned her neck to look up at the angel's beautiful face. Sister Anna had told her that a woman designed it and Rory liked it all the more for that. One bronze foot steppedforward and her wings unfurled as though she was about to take flight. Never had Rory envied her so much.
“I wish I could just fly into the sky,” she told the angel. “What should I do? I have to save Violet before they take her so far away I can't find her. But how? The Foundling has been our home for three years.”
The angel's eyes were fixed on the distant horizon.
“Well?” Rory asked impatiently. “I haven't asked you for muchâat least you could help me now that I'm really in trouble.”
Was it her imagination or did the angel's wings ruffle as though she was irritated by Rory's demands?
“So you want me to figure it out for myself?” Rory put her damp fist under her chin and considered. The Foundling hadn't always been their home. Why not return to Hell's Kitchen, where she had lived with her parents? She hadn't been back since Ma died, but maybe she could find some of her mother's old friends. Other girls her age got jobs and supported their family. Rory could do the same. She dried her face with her skirt and straightened up. With a spring in her step from having made a decision for herself, she headed across the park to Columbus Avenue. An omnibus came lumbering down from the north. Rory ran alongside. When it slowed for a carriage turning right, she hopped onto the back. There were two boys, very dirty, perched on the rear fender too.
“Hello,” she said.
They scowled at her and gestured to the driver in thefront of the omnibus. “Shhh.”
Rory pressed her lips in a tight line and kept her eyes looking straight ahead. There were unspoken rules to catching rides on the taxis and buses. Never, ever draw attention to yourself or your fellow illegal passengers.
As soon as she reached Fifty-Fifth Street she hopped off. Her companions didn't flicker an eyelash at her departure. Where the avenue intersected with Fifty-Fifth Street there was a saloon on every corner. In three years Rory had managed to forget the sound of poor men and women drinking their cares away; the loud laughter always had a cutting edge. Violence was never far away in Hell's Kitchen.
She quickly moved past the saloons into the street crowded with vendors selling goods from carts or trays suspended from their necks. Boys were hawking newspapers or offering to shine shoes. The smallest children scoured the street for bits of wood or coal, fallen from a passing cartâ anything to feed the stove tonight. Rory had done the same in her time. She watched a little boy steal an apple from a fruit stand. She had done that too. She remembered so clearly her reasoningâhow could it be wrong when she was so hungry? And she had always shared the loot with Vi.
She passed a man selling roast chestnuts, a smell Rory loved. She took a deep sniff and started to cough, her eyes watering. Rory covered her mouth with the clean handkerchief from her pinafore pocket. How could she have forgotten the smells of the street? The stench of sewage from the privies in the courtyard behind every building or the freshhorse manure steaming on the street? Had her neighborhood always been this bad? Or had it gotten worse while she was away?
She reached her old building. She stared at it for a moment trying to decide if it was smaller now. It seemed impossibly narrow, wedged between two larger tenements. The door was propped open. Rory took a deep breath and walked in. The wail of a child's crying filled the hallway. The smell of coal fires, cabbage, and burned potatoes hit her senses like a policeman's nightstick thumping a drunk's skull. Unmistakable. Unforgettable.
The stairs were rickety and uneven. Nor had they seen the business end of a broom in years. The scents of vinegar and borax of the Foundling, not to mention the spick-and-span tiled floors, seemed from another world. As she began to climb, a boy dressed in knickerbockers and a shirt that was too small for him came rushing down the stairs. Rory pressed herself against the wall, recalling clearly how she used to race down the same steps, despite Ma's warnings.
Their room had been on the third floor in the back. There was no running water and the single privy was in the tiny back courtyard. At the time, Rory knew they were lucky not to have to share their room with another family. She caught a glimpse of the fire escape outside. It was strung with clotheslines and lined with trash and rags. Rory remembered she couldn't see the sky from the alley. Memories of the past washed over her in waves, threatening to drown her if she wasn't careful.
The baby was still crying and Rory thought that baby's ma might be out working. For the last three years she hadn't heard a baby cry so long without being comforted. She wanted to find the child and hold him close, but she knew better than to knock on any strange doors. Her mother had always tried to keep her away from the other kids in the building. “The likes of them are not for you, Rory,” Ma had said. Back in Ireland, Ma had gone to school for a few years. It was always her dream that Rory and Violet would go to school and get a proper education. Even when Da had died, Ma worked her fingers down to the bone to keep her children decent. They had been all right, even if Rory had gotten tired of eating potatoes all the time.
When the cough came, Rory tried to tell herself Ma was just tired from her job at the shirt factory. It was the chill in the air. Anything but the truth. But Ma would have none of that. “There's no use fooling yourself,” she had said. “Just promise me you'll take care of your little sister.”
Rory stared at her old door. “I swear, Ma.” The three-year-old promise still lingered in the air.
The door swung open and a voice bellowed, “Mavis! Are you finally home? Where's my supper?”
A large, gaunt man wearing a dirty pair of pants and a grimy undershirt stood in the doorway. Unsteady on his feet, he grabbed the doorjamb to stay upright. Even from ten feet away his breath stank of liquor. His bleary eyes spied her and his lips curled in a grin. Rory backed up as he stumbled in her direction. He lunged for her. Rory turned on her heel andbolted toward the stairs.
Down two flights and she paused in the tiny hall to catch her breath. Hell's Kitchen was horrible. What was she doing here? There was nothing here for her and Violet. She had to return to the Foundling and somehow convince Sister Anna there was another way. She slammed through the door and burst into the street, colliding with a large man dressed in blue. She fell to the ground, the wind knocked out of her.
A beefy hand grabbed hers and hauled her to her feet.
RORY STARED UP THE LONGARMINABLUE COAT TOALARGE policeman with a wicked smile on his face.
“Thought ya could double back and get away, did ya?” he asked in a thick Irish brogue. “Outsmarted yerself this time!” With his free hand, he adjusted his round cap with the insignia of the police on the front. Rory had jarred him as she fell.
Writhing under his grip, Rory glared up at him. “I wasn't running from you. You've got the wrong kid.”
“Do I now? And I suppose you aren't part of that gang of thieves?”
“I'm no thief,” Rory retorted. “I live at the Foundling. Ask them and they'll tell you.”
He burst out laughing. “That's a new one. First street kid I ever heard who wanted to be a foundling! If you're at the Foundling then why aren't you there? The nuns don't let theirkids run the neighborhoods. You're a dirty scamp like all the rest of the street kids.”
“Honest, I live with the nuns at the Foundling,” Rory explained patiently. If she told him enough times he would have to check.
“Honest? Ha!” With his free hand he tweaked her nose. “I used to walk that beat and I know a bit about it. Why don't you tell me which building you live in?”
“St. Irene's Residence,” Rory shot back.
“Ha! That's where the babies live!” he crowed. “I knew you were lying.” He pushed her forward. “Let's go.”
“No, wait!” Rory cried. “I do live there. Ask Sister Anna Michaella. She lets me stay with the babies because my sister is there.”
He kept shoving her forward. “I've met Sister Anna before.” He tugged at his collar with his free hand as if the memory was not a pleasant one. “Sister usually dresses her kids a bit more respectable.” He glanced down at her too-short skirt and leather boots where her big toe had finally split the leather.
“I keep growing,” Rory said with an edge of desperation. “Just last week the ward Sister was saying she was at her wits' end trying to find me shoes.” She plucked at the hand on her arm. “You must believe me! Please?”
“You're good.” The officer grinned. “I almost believe you!”
“Just take me there. Any of the Sisters will tell you â¦”
He laughed. “Think I have time to be parading across the park, do you? Not a chance.” He marched her a fewsteps down the street to a black paddy wagon. Somehow all the vendors and shoppers had melted away. Rory wasn't surprised; it had always been like that when the cops were on the street. The policeman unlocked the back door of the wagon. Inside was a metal cell on wheels. A bench lined both sides and there were iron rings bolted to the walls. There was already a prisoner inside. His face was bruised and bloody, and one eye was swollen shut. He was in handcuffs that were threaded through the iron rings. His body was slumped and twisted against the wall, almost unconscious.
Rory's feet dragged on the sidewalk. She began breathing faster. Her heart beat too quickly in her chest. She didn't belong in there. “Don't make me go in there,” she begged. “Not with him.” He must be dangerous to be handcuffed. Rory couldn't afford to take chancesâwhat would happen to Vi without her? “Please, sir?”
“You've changed your tune now, I see,” the officer said, his grip relaxing slightly.
This was her chance. Rory kicked him hard in the shin. He let go and shouted in pain. But no sooner did she turn to run than he grabbed her long braid and hauled her back.
“Ow!” Tears escaped down her cheeks. “Let go of me!”
“If you really are at the Foundling,” the policemansaid angrily, “they'll be glad to be rid of you.” Limping, the policeman shoved her into the wagon. “Not so bold now, are you?” he grumbled, rubbing his knee. “You'll stay in there until we get back to the precinct.” He slammed the metal door and Rory was trapped.
The narrow metal wagon was dark except for thin lines of light rimming the edges of the door. The light told her there was air, but still Rory couldn't breathe. She huddled in the corner, as far from the other prisoner as possible. His breathing was ragged and Rory wondered if his insides were hurt. When her Da had fallen from the elevated train tracks, he had lived for a few days, wheezing just like that. The doctor said his ribs were broken. Rory sat for hours at his bedside those last days while Ma was at work, just listening and praying he would liveâand keeping Violet quiet so he could get his rest.
Rory wanted to kick herself. The children at the Foundling never went outside without the nuns. Rory had been warned time and time again. The police were always looking for poor kids to pull off the streets. What happened to the children afterward had never been specified, like the threat in a fairy tale. Don't go outside alone or else. But Rory had not listened. Now she would find out the ending firsthand.
The wagon lurched forward and Rory cried out. There was nothing to cushion the jarring of the wagon over the cobblestone streets. Her companion groaned. Rory bounced from one surface to another. Her elbow hit the wall with an impact that made her whole arm numb. When the wagon stopped, she rubbed the sore spot and wished she had kicked the policeman harder. Outside, she could hear traffic noises and the voices of lots of men. The door swung open and Rory blinked in the bright streetlight. She was at the Eighteenth Police Precinct. No one could mistake that pink granitebuilding with the telltale pillars holding up the green police lamps. She'd been here with Ma when Da had died. Not a day she cared to recall.
Another policeman joined hers. “Well, O'Rourke, get much of a haul?”
“An idiot who got himself knocked out at McAllister's tavern and a kid.” Rory's policeman, Officer O'Rourke, scowled. “A little hellion. She tried to tell me she's with the Foundling Hospital but she didn't know the name of the right dormitory.”
“These kids will lie as soon as look at you,” the other officer agreed.
“I am not lying!” Rory protested. “Just ask Sister Anna if I am telling the truth.”
“I don't know about you, O'Rourke, but I don't have time to go interrogating nuns.”
“Me neither. In fact, they scare me a bit. Always have since I was a wee lad in Dublin.”
Rory stared at them, disbelieving. “You won't send for her? But then how will I get home?”
“Lass, that's not my concern,” O'Rourke said. Taking a firm hold of her arm, he escorted her up the short flight of stairs into the precinct house.
“You can't do this to me!” Rory protested. “It's not right. The nuns will miss me.”
O'Rourke snorted. “The likes of you ain't missed by nobody.”
Rory's jaw dropped. Was it possible? Wasn't she importantto somebody? Well, Violet, of course. But Violet couldn't help her. Rory's heart ached when she thought of how frightened Violet would be when Rory wasn't sitting beside her at supper. This was what happened when she disobeyed the Sisters and didn't respect authority. The nuns had warned her. And before that, Ma had warned her too. When would she learn?
O'Rourke led her past a wooden counter where a line of people were shouting at the duty officer. Rory tried to dawdle so she could listen, but O'Rourke propelled her into a large room that seemed to be occupied by enormous men in blue uniforms. The noise was deafening. He led her to a hard bench against a wall then sat down at a desk across from her. “You'll wait here until the matron comes to collect you,” he said. “Don't move; I've got my eye on you.”
Rory felt tiny on the bench. Even her legs weren't long enough to touch the floor; the back of her thighs ached as her feet dangled. She leaned back against the wall and looked around. The room was filled with policemen, criminals, and victims, all talking at the top of their voices. Sometimes Rory had to look twice to tell the difference between the criminals and the victims. A policeman escorted an old lady, clutching a stole around her shoulders, to stand in front of Rory.
“Do you recognize the miscreant who stole your purse?” he asked.
“Maybe her â¦” the old woman said, peering through thick spectacles at Rory.
Rory eyes widened. “I didn't steal anything! Ma'am, trulyI didn't!” She sat up straight and tried to look innocent.
“Not her, Mrs. Montgomery,” the policeman said. “I meant the pictures.”
Rory looked over her shoulder and noticed the wall was covered with hundreds of cards. Each card had a hand-drawn portrait of a criminal with a description beneath of his or her criminal record and unusual habits. She slumped against the wall in relief. As Mrs. Montgomery nearsightedly looked at the cards, Rory idly read the card at the end of her nose about “Gentleman Joe Dapper.” That couldn't be his real name, Rory thought. She read on. Gentleman Joe dressed like a gentleman and talked his way into society weddings and made off with the gifts. He was partial to presents from Tiffany's. Looking at his posh face, Rory would never have pegged him for a criminal. Even Sister Anna could have been fooled by him. But on consideration, Rory decided her Ma would have seen right through Gentleman Joe.
“Do you like the rogues' gallery?” O'Rourke said in her ear, startling Rory. “Just be thankful I'm getting you off the streets so your picture will never be up here. I don't suppose you can read, but each of these men and women are desperate criminals.”
“I can read, Officer O'Rourke. The nuns taught me.” She added pointedly, “Because I live with them!”
He scowled. “You are a stubborn one.” He stepped aside and revealed an older woman with a narrow face and dark beady eyes staring down a pointed nose. She wore a black uniform and a sour expression.
“Matron, here's the one I told you about. Watch her, she likes to kick.”
“After a few days staying with me, she'll be as biddable as a lamb,” the matron said. She held out a hand that was red and cracked.
Rory's eyes burned from the smell of lye.
“C'mon, girl,” the matron beckoned.
Rory shrank against the wall. “What about Sister Anna? Won't you tell her I'm here?” She winced to hear how scared she sounded.
“See what I mean?” O'Rourke said to the matron.
The matron grabbed Rory's shoulder and shook her. “Liars don't prosper here,” she said. “You'd better remember that.”CHAPTERNine
“I'MNOT LYING!”RORY CRIED.“IBELONG TO THEFOUNDLING. ” Rory felt as if she were sinking beneath the surface of a lake. If she didn't find someone to listen to her, the waters would close over her head and she would die.
“Lying or truthfulâit don't matter,” the matron said to O'Rourke, as though Rory hadn't said a word. “All the children end up on the trains in the end. Such an economical solution to the problem.”
“What problem? What trains?” Could the matron's trains and Sister Anna's be the same? That seemed unlikely.
“Don't be afraid,” the matron said, although Rory could see clear as day that the matron relished Rory's fear. “After you're unclaimed for a few daysâ”
“Days!” Rory squawked.
“Hush, don't interrupt me. After a few days, we'll send you to Children's Aid. They take all the poor children whohave some work in them and send them west. It's a fresh start you'll have.” The matron's smile didn't reach her eyes.
“Please, just tell Sister Anna I'm here,” Rory begged. “My name is Rory Fitzpatrick. She'll come for me, I know she will.”
“If she comes, she comes. Now I don't want to hear another whine out of you or you'll find out what it's like to miss a few meals.” With a sharp gesture, she indicated that Rory should precede her down a long hallway. Swallowing hard, Rory forced her feet to move. The matron took her up three flights of stairs to the top floor and unlocked a door that opened into a large cell. A window was set high in the wall. Now that the sun was down the only light came from a dim electric bulb high overhead. A girl lay on a bench bolted to the wall. In the corner was a chamber pot with an ill-fitting lid. Rory could tell by the smell it hadn't been cleaned today. The matron shoved her inside.
“No fighting or you'll feel the back of my hand.” The door clanged shut behind her and Rory heard the squeak of the key closing the lock. She turned slowly to face her companion. The other girl looked a little older than Rory. She had dark black hair and pale green eyes. Her dress was filthy, as if she had fallen in the mud, and the hem badly needed mending. Her bare feet had a calloused look as though she rarely wore shoes.
Rory gave her a tentative smile and met with a cold stare. “Hello,” Rory said finally.
“What do you want, Red?” the other girl answered.
“My name's not Red. It's Rory.”
The girl burst out in cruel laughter. “That's a boy's name.”
“It's my name.” Rory shrugged. “Do you have a problem with that?” That was how kids on the street talked in Hell'sKitchen.
With a nod, as though Rory had passed a test, the girl said, “I'm Brigid.” Rory could hear the Irish in her voice. “What are you in for?”
“The policeman thought I was a thief,” Rory said, blushing. “But he was wrong.”
“That's what everybody says,” Brigid said. “It's never true.”
Rory started to protest but then wondered what possible difference it could make what Brigid thought. “So what did you do?” Rory asked.
Brigid shrugged. “The coppers caught me picking a gent's pocket.”
“Oh,” Rory said, making sure to keep her voice neutral. In the old days she'd stolen food to eat, but never money. She had always known in a pinch she could explain food thievery to her mother, but never cash. But who knew what would have happened if she hadn't found sanctuary at the Foundling for her and Violet after Ma died. Rory might have become a thief too. She couldn't judge Brigid without living her life. “What will happen to you now?”
“I'll pay for my crimes,” Brigid said, her expression as gloomy as the single light bulb in the ceiling.
In a tiny voice, Rory asked, “How?”
“With my very life,” Brigid said, hiding her face in her hands.
Rory could feel the blood draining from her head and, without willing it, took a step backward. Brigid peeked from between her fingers and burst out laughing. “Look at you, Red. You shouldn't be let out on the streets without a minder. I'm only joking. I got no family so it's the orphan train for me. But it'll be the end of me too. Kids never come back.”
“From where?” Rory asked.
“Don't you know nothin'?” Brigid said. Without waiting for an answer she said, “Poor kids get put on trains to the West like farm animals.”
“But sometimes they go to specially chosen homes and they get to be part of new families,” Rory said, parroting Sister Anna. But was she sure about that? Sister Anna had let Rory believe that she and Vi could stay together. What else had she lied about?
Brigid snorted and looked pityingly at Rory. “Not likely. The people out there need workers, so they meet the trains and pick out the strongest and best. Then they put them to work. To those farmers you're no better than a beast.”
Rory's breath caught in her chest. “That's â¦ that's â¦ why, that's slavery!”
“It gets worse,” Brigid said, leaning forward to whisper in Rory's ear. “Some of those men want wives and don't care how young they are.”
Rory's knees buckled and she sank down to the bench.
“Still, it might be better than thieving or begging on the streets.” Brigid looked her over. “You must do pretty well to keep so clean.”
“I'm not a beggar,” Rory explained. “I live at the Foundling.”
“An orphanage on the East Side. The nuns there have been good to me. I get room and board and school.”
“Do they make you work for it?” Brigid asked.
“No, of course not,” Rory said with indignation. “I help with the babies, but that's because I want to stay with my little sister. They want me to learn a trade and get apprenticed out. But I make myself useful so they keep me with Violet.”
“It sounds too good to be true,” Brigid said flatly. Rory sighed. “From here, it looks like heaven.”
“Why'd you leave if it's so good?” Brigid shot back.
“I ran away even though I should've known better.” Rory rested her chin on her hand and sighed again. “Sister Anna is going to kill me.”
“You think you're ever going to see her again?” Brigid laughed, then she started to cough. Rory smacked her on the back until she recovered her breath.
“Of course I'll see Sister Anna again,” Rory said, willing it to be true. “She'd never abandon me here.” But there was doubt in her voice where there had never been any before. After the cruel things Rory had said, what if Sister Anna didn't ever want to see her again?
“If that's true, I'd like to meet this nun of yours.” She closed her eyes and shortly began snoring, leaving Rory alone with her fears.
What if Sister Anna left Rory to rot here? Sister Anna had hundreds of children to look out for; what if she decidedshe could do with one less? Violet would be sent off to the Wild West and Rory might never see her sister again. Loaded on a train like cattle, Rory would be claimed by a family more interested in her strength of body than her strength of mind. She would never finish her education. Worse yet, she might be taken in by a cruel family who would beat her and never give her anything more than scraps to eat. They would chain her to a post and make her turn a spit like a dog. Or maybe she would have to sleep with the cows. She might get scalped like the settlers in theWild West Weeklymagazine. Rory pinched herself hard before she worked herself up to hysterics. Of course, Sister Anna would come.
But what if Sister Anna couldn't find her? It was a big city and Rory had gone all the way to Hell's Kitchen, miles away from the Foundling. A tear rolled down her face, followed by another one. Rory rarely cried unless she was hurt, but she had really ruined things for herself this time. She had thrown away everything in a fit of temper. Her eyes felt heavy and she closed them just for a moment.
When she opened her eyes again, the harsh electric light hurt her eyes. Brigid was still sleeping. As Rory wondered what had awoken her, she heard voices in the hall, muffled and indistinct. She rushed to the door and put her ear to the crack in the jamb.
“Officer, if Rory told you she was with the Foundling I am confused why you did not send for me at once. We have been searching for her for hours. This is the third precinct Ihave visited.” It was Sister Anna! She was speaking in what Rory thought of as her most nunnish voice.
O'Rourke sounded like a whipped dog, all his bravado and bullying gone. “Sister Anna, we thought she was lying and didn't want to disturb you.”
“Nonsense, O'Rourke. Rory is honest to a fault.” There was a brief silence; Rory pressed her ear against the door. She didn't want to miss a word.
“This is not the first time you've mistreated one of my children,” Sister Anna went on, implacable. “I think I shall ask His Excellency the Archbishop to write a letter to the chief of police. Again.”
Rory almost giggled when she heard O'Rourke whee-dling, “Ah, ma'am, I mean Sister, there's no call to do anything like that, is there? I'll just unlock this door and you can take your lass with you. No harm done!”
The door lock squeaked and Rory jumped back. No sooner had the door swung open than Sister Anna stepped inside, filling the doorway with her tall frame. Her dark nun's bonnet shadowed her face. “Rory, it's time to go.”
Rory wanted to run and hug Sister Anna, but that would never do. She contented herself with waking up Brigid to say goodbye. “This is the nun I told you about. She came. I knew she would!”
RORY FOLLOWEDSISTERANNA TOWARDAWAITING HORSE CAB. She hung back to rub the horse's nose, postponing the trouble she knew was coming. His coat was rough and his eyes were dull; the horse looked like he needed as much help as she did.
“Rory!” Sister Anna's voice made her start.
“Yes, Sister.” Rory climbed in. Sister Anna settled back in the seat as the cab lurched forward. Silence filled the cab and Rory wasn't interested in breaking it. She leaned away and pressed her ear into a leather seat that smelled of mold, her eyes fixed on the shadowy city passing by. She'd forgotten how loud the taverns could get, although she well remembered not being able to fall asleep at night. A woman in a scanty dress stumbled out of a tavern and hit the side of the cab. The cabbie shouted at her, using such language that Sister Anna covered Rory's ears.
“I've heard worse, you know,” Rory said.
“I know,” Sister Anna said sadly. “But no child shouldhear such things.” She took Rory's hand and didn't let it go until they reached the Foundling.
Back home, Sister Anna brought Rory to the kitchen. Rory loved the Foundling kitchen. There was an enormous cast-iron stove in one corner and shiny copper pots hanging from the ceiling. Rory knew the cook's secret; there was a fat black cat that liked to sleep on the floor under the stove. Cook doted on the animal but Sister Anna would never allow her to keep it. As they walked in, Rory saw the tip of a black tail disappearing into the pantry.
The cook had kept a bowl of stew and fresh bread for her. Rory wolfed it down, all the while waiting for the axe to fall. Sister watched her eat, still silent.
Finally Rory could not stand to wait another moment. Stumbling over her words, she said in a rush, “Sister, I'll take any punishment you have for me if only you'll let me stay with Violet!”
“Rory â¦” Sister Anna sounded tired. “I don't want to punish you, but you have to face the facts. Violet is going.”
“I thought you cared about us,” Rory said, keeping her voice quiet. Sister Anna had rescued her and deserved a chance to explain. “After all we've been through, how can you split us apart?”
Sister Anna sighed and sank into a chair next to Rory. “Someday you'll see that I'm doing the right thing by Violet. I understand why you were upset. To someone your age, three years with your sister seems like an eternity. But we must move forward, and Violet needs a home.” She removed herbonnet and placed it on the table then ran her hands through her short hair. “That's better. It's been a very long day.”
Rory stared, distracted by Sister Anna's never-before-seen hair. “You've got red hair too,” she said, wonder in her voice.
Sister Anna smiled. “Perhaps that's why I understand you so well.” She reached over and tucked a stray strand of hair behind Rory's ear. “Today when you left my office â¦”
Heat flushed Rory's face to the tips of her ears.
“I was furious,” Sister Anna said. “And frightened. I am very glad that we found you and brought you back to where you belong. We see so many children. It doesn't do to get attached. But you, Rory, have managed to find a special place at the Foundling.”
Rory wiped the bowl with a bit of soft bread and waited. There had to be more.
“Rory, you have many good qualities. But you have just as many faults. The worst is how you tend to leap first and ask for permission afterwards. It shows that you don't respect authority. Orphans don't have that luxury.” Sister Anna sighed. “I wish they did.”
Relieved, Rory glanced up at Sister Anna. She was startled by the remnants of worry in Sister Anna's expression. How exhausting it must be, Rory thought, to be responsible for all of the children. Loving them but having to send them away all the same. Knowing some would succeed but many wouldn't. How could she do it?
Sister Anna folded her bonnet neatly over once, then twice, staring down at her hands. “We'll find something foryou to do here. You'll find it easier to say goodbye to Violet then.” She put her hands flat on the table and pushed herself up. “It's late and we've talked about this incident enough.”
“Sister, may I take a bath?” Rory scratched her head. “I'm afraid of what I might have picked up in jail.”
Clearing her throat, Sister Anna agreed. “Exactly what I was going to suggest.”
Rory gathered her courage. “Sister, what about Violet?”
“Come to my office after breakfast. We'll talk then,” Sister Anna insisted. “Now go get clean.”
The bathhouse was in another building but there was a long underground passage so the children and nuns didn't need to brace themselves against the outdoor weather in the colder months. Rory walked down the long, familiar tunnel, lit by electric light bulbs installed in the old iron gaslight fixtures. After visiting her old home, she couldn't believe how much she took for granted here at the Foundling. In Hell's Kitchen she'd never even seen a bathtub. Water had to be carried up the stairs from the one pump and then heated on the small stove and poured in a basin. But here she could just turn on the oversized metal bath knobs and hot steaming water cascaded into the porcelain tub with its clawed feet.
She took twice as long in the bath as she usually did, scrubbing hard to make sure she left the filth and lice of the jail behind. She wondered about the girl Brigid and if she had ever taken a long hot bath like this. There were definiteadvantages to living at the Foundling. What else would she miss if she ever had to leave? Central heating. The plentiful food. The library. Even her little chats with Sister Anna.
She walked back through the tunnel, the concrete floor cold to her damp feet, and the electric bulbs flickering like lightning bugs. Sometimes, Rory thought, her place at the Foundling felt like one of these new bulbs in an old gas fitting. It shouldn't work, but somehow it did. A light bulb burst and died in a shower of sparks, leaving Rory to walk the last ten yards in near darkness. So much for staying at the Foundling. Maybe it was a sign. If Violet had to leave the Foundling, then Rory had to go too.
Clean and dry, she crept into the dormitory. Rory made a beeline past the other seventeen beds straight to Violet's. Her sister's hair, as red as Rory's, was splayed across the white pillow. She lay on her back, arms extended, snuffling as she slept. The marks of dried tears and snot streaked her face. Rory put her head in her hands and rubbed her scalp so hard it hurt. Her sister had cried herself to sleep and it was all Rory's fault. She pulled the blanket up to Violet's neck and for a moment rested her hand against her sister's forehead. She let Vi's steady breathing calm her. After a time, Rory felt the knots in her neck and shoulders dissolve. “Violet,” she whispered as she kissed her precious sister. “I'll never leave you again.”CHAPTEREleven
THE NEXT MORNINGRORY KNOCKED GINGERLY ATSISTER Anna's office door. The nun was sitting behind her desk examining a file. She closed it when she beckoned Rory to come in. Before Rory could get a word in, Sister Anna began speaking. “Our decision about Violet is final. I'm very sorry, Rory, but she leaves next week on the train out west.”
Rory took a deep breath and spoke rapidly. “Sister, they threatened to put me on an orphan train at the jail. The matron and the police officer thought it was just the thing for a delinquent girl like me.”
Sister Anna's mouth tightened. “That Officer O'Rourke! You are not going on a Children's Aid Society orphan train, and neither is Violet.”
“But she's taking a trainâ”
“The orphan trains you heard about are despicable. The Children's Aid Society doesn't select good Catholic homes for the children before they get on the train.” Almost as ifshe was thinking aloud, Sister Anna went on, “Sometimes I wonder if that is their true purposeâto remove young Irish children from the streets and take them far away from the Church.”
“But what happens to the children?” Rory asked.
“The children can be claimed by almost anyone. The Society's recordkeeping is sloppy and sometimes they lose track of the children altogether. The children just vanish.”
“Will that happen to Brigid?” Rory asked.
“Was that your â¦ cellmate?” Sister Anna asked.
“No doubt some find good homes, but not all. Not nearly all.” Sister Anna's eyes were bleak.
“How are your trains any different?” Rory asked.
“The agent and I write to parishes all over the country to find good Catholic homes. No one gets a child without a reference from the parish priest. I match the child to the family. We inspect the homes before they can keep the children.”
Rory considered Sister Anna's words. It sounded good, but who knew what happened in the world outside the Foundling.
“We don't ever forget them either,” Sister Anna continued. “We write to the families to see how the child is. And most important, the Foundling has the legal right to take the child back if the home is unsuitable in any way.” A shadow crossed her face. Rory wondered if she was remembering a child in trouble. “Sometimes we make mistakes, but we try to correctthem. Violet will be safe and happy. I guarantee it.”
Rory was going to have to think quickly to stay one step ahead of Sister Anna. “I know, Sister,” Rory said, staring at her feet. “If you've found the perfect family, you can't afford to lose this chance for Vi.” Behind her back, she crossed her fingers.
“Really?” Sister Anna sounded surprised. She examined Rory's face, her eyebrows raised. Rory steeled herself to meet the nun's searching look without flinching.
“Of course, Sister. But I wonder â¦ Do you think I could write to her? She's the only family I have.” Without much effort, Rory let her voice tremble. “Even if we aren't together, I can't lose her completely.”
“Perhaps,” Sister Anna said slowly. “It's irregular, but not unheard of.”
“Thank you.” Her initial purpose was achieved. Now Sister Anna would tell her where Vi was going. Time to distract her further. Rory asked, “Sister, what about me?”
“You've been very helpful with the babies,” Sister Anna began.
Rory grimaced. She had quite enough of changing diapers and braiding hair. “But you don't really need me for that.”
“Your schoolwork is good. Especially your writing and reading. You could study to become a nun,” Sister Anna spoke persuasively.
“Become a nun?” Rory took a step back. “I want a life. No offense intended.”
“None taken, Rory.” Sister Anna's lips twitched. “Well,we could apprentice you. Perhaps as a typewriter, although your training class with Sister Mary Alice did not go well.”
“Who knew all those keys could get so tangled?” Rory said.
“You could learn a skill like glove making or sewing.”
Rory shook her head. “Have you seen my stitches? Sister Barbara says they will be the death of her. And when I tried to make gloves, I was all thumbs.” She held up her hands in a helpless gesture.
Sister Anna laughed. “Perhaps not sewing. What about studying to be a teacher? Or a governess?”
Rory shook her head. She wanted a future that didn't re-quire taking care of small children. Except for Violet, of course.
“Do you have any suggestions?” Sister Anna asked.
After a moment's hesitation, Rory, staring at the floor, said, “I like to tell people what to do. Maybe I should be a boss of something.”
Sister Anna didn't say anything. Rory peeked and saw that Sister Anna had pressed her hand against her mouth and was quivering with pent-up laughter.
“Sister! Are you laughing at me?”
“No, of course not.” But Sister Anna's voice was strangled. “A boss sounds excellent. Do you have any ideas of what kind of boss?”
“Not yet,” Rory said, glaring at Sister Anna suspiciously.
“Before you can be a boss, you might have to learn to take orders,” Sister Anna said helpfully.
“Oh.” Rory thought for a bit. “If being a boss doesn't work out, maybe I should write stories.”
“That's no way for a young lady to make a living,” Sister Anna said.
“I could write for a magazine.” Rory grew more excited. “How hard could it be to write aWild West Weeklystory? All I need are cowboys, Injuns, six-shooters, and mustangs.”
Sister Anna's face appeared so tightly pinched her ears seemed to move together. “I see I shall have to keep a closer eye on your reading habits.” She pressed her palms together. “I'll have a good think about your future and we'll talk later. But for now, we have to arrange the sewing.”
“Sister, perhaps you misunderstood about my stitches? All thumbs!”
“Dear, we have fifty-seven children to take west. They'll each need a new outfit. And we sew colored labels into their collars to make sure that each child goes to the location I've chosen for him or her.”
“Can Violet's be violet-colored?” Rory asked, making her voice wistful, as though Violet was already gone. “She would like that.”
Sister Anna reached across the desk and patted Rory's hand. “I think that can be arranged. And don't worry, Rory. Violet will be happy.”
“I know.” Rory's voice sounded convincing. Violet would be happy because Rory was going to be with her. Even if she had to go as far west as the Pacific Ocean to make that happen.
“RORY, YOU'RE TYINGMY BOW TOO TIGHT.MY HAIR HURTS. ” Violet scowled at her sister.
“Hush, don't be foolish. Your hair can't hurt. Your scalp can hurt like the dickens, but not your hair,” Rory said. She finished fixing Violet's hair and tugged the little girl's dress to make the hem even. “There you are. Pretty as a picture. Your new family is going to love you.”
Violet shot Rory a startled glance. “But I thought â¦”
“Shhh!” Rory warned, jerking her head to indicate Sister Anna, who was moving about the dormitory trying to catch little Jimmy Harris. He scuttled under the first of the cribs lined up against the wall. Wise to his five-year-old ways, Sister Anna waited at the last crib and when he emerged, she scooped him up with one arm. With her other hand she checked his collar. “Number fifty-four,” she said and then let him go. Her assistant, Sister Eileen, a sixteen-year-old novice who had just come to the Foundling, consulted a list clippedto a board. Sister Eileen, with her sweet face, sparkling black eyes, and dimples, was going on the train to help Sister Anna manage all the paperwork with so many adoptions.
“Fifty-four. Jimmy Harris. He is going to Clifton, Arizona, to the Flores family. His ribbon should be purple.”
“Violet, Sister Eileen,” Sister Anna corrected with a quick glance over at Rory and Violet.
Every child's assigned number had been painstakingly sewn into his or her clothes. The ones that Rory had done might have included a few specks of blood for her pains. The number was matched to the adoptive family Sister Anna had chosen for him or her. The color ribbon said which city the children were going to. Rory marveled at Sister Anna's power to organize fifty-seven adoptions all at once. Rory had been trying to catch a look at the list all week. She still didn't know anything about Violet's family. She only knew that Violet's number was twenty-two and her ribbon was also violet. But now Rory knew that a violet ribbon meant Clifton, Arizona.
“Vi,” she whispered. “You're going to Arizona.” She stumbled on the unfamiliar word.
“What's Arizona?” Violet asked.
“It's a nice place,” Rory lied. In fact, she knew nothing at all about Arizona except that it was a territory. What was Sister Anna thinkingâsending Vi into a place that wasn't even grown up enough to be a state?
Rory glanced outside the window. The carriages were lined up, waiting to take the children to the train station. The youngest children were running around the dormitory,overexcited by all the commotion. The Sisters bustled in and out, picking up the small case for each of the children chosen to go west. Each child had a brand-new dress or set of boys' dress clothes. The rest of their clothes had been mended and made as presentable as possible. Violet's small case was a little fuller than the others because Rory had stashed an extra bundle of clothes and treasures inside, including her copy ofWild West Weekly.Where they were going, she might find it useful.
Violet stared into Rory's blue eyes, identical to her own. “Rory, tell me again that we'll be all right.”
“Yes, as long as you do what I say.” She bent in and whispered into Violet's ear, “Remember what I told you. You are going to get in the taxi without me. I'm going to say goodbye and you have to look sad.”
“But I will see you again?” Violet had asked this question a dozen times and her anxiousness broke Rory's heart.
“Yes. I'll find you,” Rory assured her. “But you have to be convincing when you leave. Cry if you can. Sister Anna has been watching me like a hawk ever since â¦ Never mind. She's been watching me lately.” Rory had no intention of telling Vi that a cop had hauled her off to jail. That unfortunate episode was a secret known only to Rory and Sister Anna.
“Rory, I'm scared.” Violet grabbed Rory's hand and squeezed hard enough to leave marks. “I don't want to go on a train.” Her lovely blue eyes started to tear.
“It's going to be a grand adventure, Vi,” Rory said enthusiastically, to ward off the crying storm. “And remember, you won't be alone. The other kids will be there and SisterAnna. Sister Eileen is coming tooâstick close to her. And I'll be there as soon as I can.”
“What if you don't come?” Vi whispered.
“I'll come,” Rory said in a voice that should end the matter. But she didn't reckon on Vi, who could be as stubborn as Rory herself.
“How can I be sure?”
With an impatient sigh, Rory pulled a silver chain from around her neck. Hanging from the chain was a tarnished saint's medal. “See this?” she asked.
“It was Mama's,” Violet said, staring at the medal swaying from Rory's hand. “And you got it because you are the oldest.” Rory had had to reinforce that lesson several times because Violet wanted the medal for herself.
“You know I'd never risk losing this, right?” Rory said.
“I'm going to lend it to you.” She lifted up Violet's thick red hair and clasped the necklace around her neck.
Violet stroked the medal, her lips in a roundOof pleasure.
Rory pointed at the necklace. “This is my promise that we'll be together soon.” She hugged Violet. “So you have to give it back when webothget to Arizona.”
Vi fixed her eyes on Rory's face and nodded slowly. The medal was more convincing than Rory's reassurances.
“Rory!” The girls sprung apart at the sound of Sister Anna's voice. She stood behind them, like a great bird of prey watching over its dinner.
“Sister Anna!” Rory said. How much had she overheard?
“You're needed to help the rest of the children too, not just Violet.”
Violet hid her face in Rory's skirt.
“Violet,” Sister Anna said in a kind voice. “Let me see your collar.”
“She's number twenty-two,” Rory said, speaking quickly, hoping that Sister Anna wouldn't notice the necklace and begin asking questions.
“Twenty-two,” Sister Anna repeated for Sister Eileen's sake. Sister Eileen looked up from the list. “Violet Fitzpatrick. She's going to Ramon and Elena Martinez in Clifton, Arizona.”
Rory mouthed the name. Elena Martinez. What kind of name was that? What would she be like? Would she be kind to Violet? Would she understand that Violet was very brave except when it came to hairy spiders? Would she notice that Violet might not talk much but that was because she was thinking so hard? Would she love Violet? And most important of all, would she welcome a second red-haired daughter who was good with children and knew her letters and multiplication tables?
“Rory!” Sister Anna's voice broke through her troubled thoughts. “The other children â¦” she prompted.
Turning to Violet and giving her a last hug, Rory said, “I'll see you outside, Vi.” Hurrying to assist the other Sisters, Rory carefully did not look back at Sister Anna but she imagined she could feel the Sister's eyes watching her even as she supervised all the other children.CHAPTERThirteen
THE GREAT BELL RANG IN THEMAIN HALL OF THEFOUNDLING. Rory squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. It was time. She helped the nuns shepherd fifty-seven children, the youngest only three years old and the eldest just six. Outside a line of horse-drawn taxicabs waited for the children. The nuns kept the smallest children from wandering under the hooves of the horses. Older boys from the school hoisted the trunks high onto the roofs of the taxicabs. The trunks were full of the children's suitcases, as well as ample supplies of foodstuffs, medicines, and linens for the journey. Rory kept Violet close by her side. At first Violet tried to pull away but the moment she saw the hubbub, she pressed herself into Rory's skirt.
Sister Anna seemed to be everywhere: overseeing the luggage, directing the drivers, counting the children. The other nuns who cared for the babies on a daily basis watched from the top step, like a line of stone-faced bowling pins. If they were affected by so many of their charges departing forthe Wild West, Rory could not tell from their faces. Except for Sister Maureen, who dashed the tears from her eyes, only to have to do it again seconds later.
“Sister Maureen, if you cannot control yourself, return to the dormitory.” Sister Anna's stern voice instantly dried Sister Maureen's tears. “I won't have you upsetting the children.”
Sister Maureen inclined her head. “I'm sorry, Sister Anna; it's just that they are so small. And they are going so very far.”
“They are going to proper families who will give thema home and raise them as good Catholics,” Sister Anna said loudly. “They are very lucky.”
Rory overheard and snorted. “Some home, on the other side of the country.” Rory's impudence was carefully planned; she didn't want Sister Anna to wonder why she was being so docile.
Sister Anna fixed Rory with a stern glare. “Rory, that's enough. Now say your farewells to Violet; we'll be leaving soon.” Raising her voice, she scolded one of the boys for letting a trunk drop to the ground.
Rory knelt down so she could be at Violet's level. “It's time for you to go.”
Violet glanced at Sister Anna. “All right, Rory.”
“I won't see you for a very long time,” Rory said deliber-ately, conscious of Sister Anna's listening ear.
Nodding, Violet said, “I know.”
“You're being very brave,” Rory said, watching Sister Anna from the corner of her eye. As soon as the nun's attention was diverted, she whispered sharply to Violet, “Too brave! You'vegot to look upset! Like this.” Rory made a sad and anxious face. As though Rory was looking into a mirror, Violet's face contorted to match Rory's. Violet blinked so many times that her bright blue eyes filled with tears and she stuck out her lower lip so it could tremble in a pitiful manner.
“Good girl,” Rory said approvingly. “Now, a last hug.”
Pressed tightly against Rory's body, Violet whispered, “This is a game, right? You're coming to rescue me?”
“Sooner than you think.” She unwrapped Violet's armsfrom around her waist. “I promise.” She touched the medal hanging around Violet's throat with the tip of her finger. “Take care of Mama's necklace. I want it back and it had better be in perfect condition.”
Squeezing her lips together, Violet nodded. Rory buried her face in Violet's neck and inhaled everything she loved about her little sister. Then she lifted Violet up and into the waiting seat in the taxi. Each cab would carry half a dozen children and at least one minder. Now, it was time to make sure she wasn't left behind. She turned and stopped dead, almost running into Sister Anna's dark skirts.
Her voice unusually tender, Sister Anna said, “I'll watch over her on the journey.”
Rory nodded. The tears she brushed away were not as pretend as she would have liked. What if something went wrong? What if this really was the last time she saw Violet?
“Sister, it's too hard to watch Vi leave,” Rory said. “I'm going inside.”
Sister Anna looked as if she was about to say somethingwhen a trunk crashed from the top of a carriage to the pavement. She rushed over to make certain there was no damage.
This was her chance. Rory slipped between the cabs to the street side. Shielded from the Sisters' view, she ran to the last of the carriages. Catching hold of the lowest rung on the ladder on the back of the cab, she pulled herself up as quickly as she could. This was one of the most dangerous moments of her plan. Could she hide on top of the cab amidst the luggage without being seen? She squeezed between two trunks, tucking her skirt close to her body. The only way to see below was to slither to the front of the cab and prop herself up on the rail to peek at the street.
Then one child realized he was leaving the only home he had ever known. The wailing started with him and spread to the other children, from cab to cab, like a tenement fire leaping from building to building. Peeking over the railing, Rory saw the nuns were crying too. Even Sister Anna had tears in her eyes. As though Sister Anna had a sixth sense, she glanced up at the top of the carriages. Rory pushed her body into the cab roof and closed her eyes tight. With relief she heard Sister Anna announce it was time to go to the ferry that would take the group to the train. Sister Anna stepped briskly into the first cab in line without a backward glance at the Foundling. Why should she, Rory asked herself. Sister Anna would be coming back.
The first cab lurched into motion, followed by the rest. Rory's driver shook his reins and the taxi moved forward in line.Rory propped herself up on one elbow and watched the bulk of the Foundling disappear down the street. Then it hit her. She would never see any of this again. No New York. No Foundling. No Sister Anna.
Rory shook herself. Enough of self-pity. Hadn't Rory always known exactly what she wanted? If Rory had to abandon every familiar person, place, and thing to stay with Violet she would do it. Just before the cab turned a corner, Rory waved and whispered, “So long, Foundling.”
WEDGED BETWEEN THE TRUNKS,RORY TWISTED HER BODY SO she could kneel and watch the city fly by. Ahead of her, she could see the line of eight other cabs, like a funeral procession making its serpentine way across Sixty-Ninth Street to Fifth Avenue. Underneath her, the sniffling and moaning of six little kids and the exasperated tones of the nurse floated up to her. Rory smothered a giggle; fifty-seven children would overwhelm the nurses and nuns in no time at all.
It was forty blocks from the Foundling to the ferry. Rory got to see a new Manhattan, as different from Hell's Kitchen and the Foundling as chalk was from cheese. She forgot the trunk poking her in the back as posh hotels towered over the streets. But they were nothing compared to St. Patrick's Cathedral. She'd been inside once before when the Sisters took the orphans at Easter, but she hadn't had the chance to admire the soaring spires. She lay flat and imagined hersoul floating up into the sky, as though this cathedral was the entryway to the kingdom of heaven.
As the cab traveled south, the women on the sidewalks became more fashionable. Rory forgot herself in the thrill of gawking at the latest stylesâthe women here wore elaborately flowered hats and dresses with barely a bustle. One young woman was riding a bicycle. The front wheel was almost as high as Rory's taxicab. Rory let go of her grip on the railing to wave gaily. The young woman looked surprised for a moment, then smiled and waved back.
The cabs turning at Thirty-Fourth Street shook Rory out of her reverieâshe didn't have much time to figure a way off this cab roof, onto the ferry, and on board the Sisters' trainâall without being seen. One glimpse of her and Sister Anna would send her back to the Foundling. And that would be the end of Rory and Violet together. She could not fail. She pulled a kerchief she had borrowed from the clothes bin in the older girls' dormitory out of her pocket and tied it around her head to disguise her flaming red hair.
The cab turned into the Ferry Terminal. After a short wait it rumbled onto the Pennsylvania Railroad ferry, jostling for its place among other cabs, wagons, and even a few automobiles. Rory crept to the edge of the carriage, watching and waiting. Everywhere Rory looked she saw travelers in vehicles and on foot, all much too busy to notice one girl on top of a cab. To her surprise, the Sisters didn't leave the cabs. The surest way to stay with Violet was to remain where she was, so Rory waited and enjoyed the fresh breeze off the river.From her high perch, she had a perfect view of the far-off shore of New Jersey. Other than a little cluster of buildings right in front of the ferry, New Jersey seemed to be mostly trees.
The ferry blew its horn three times and began its journey across the Hudson River. Beneath her, Rory heard the renewed sobbing of small children who had never been on a boat before. It took all of Rory's determination not to climb down and check on Violet. But she had to think of the plan. Violet needed Rory to stay hidden until it was too late for the Sisters to send her back.
The river was choppy and the wind was cold out on the water. Rory wondered if she would ever see New York and the Foundling again. She tore her eyes away from the shrinking city. There was no use in looking back, she thought; time to worry about the future. Especially the next hour or so.
The ferry bumped against the dock on the New Jersey side. A large sign proclaimed it was Exchange Place. Workers pulled the ferry to the dock with ropes slick with the gray river water. After a wait that seemed endless, Rory's cab moved forward to dry land. It lined up next to the other eight cabs. As soon as Sister Anna got out of the first cab and began supervising a small army of porters to collect the luggage from the tops of the cabs, Rory clutched the railing on the cab roof, ready to spring to the ground.
But she hesitated. Was it better to get off before the porters reached her cab? Or wait, hoping to remain unseen and then make her escape when the carriages were unloaded?
An authoritative voice said, “Hurry up, we have to get these kids to their train.”
Before she had made up her mind, the children beneath her had been helped outâsome with tearstained facesâand were gathering in a tight knot near Sister Anna.
The carriage shook as a porter scurried up the ladder. Rory nearly screamed when the porter's bald head and then his face popped up over the top rung. The porter took one look at Rory, recoiled, and fell back to the ground with a loud cry.
“Stop fooling about. We don't have any time for your jokes,” the authoritative voice said.
“There's someone up here,” the porter exclaimed. “Scared the bejabbers out of me.”
“Let me see.” A heavier body started clambering up the ladder.
Holding on to the railing at the top of the cab, Rory swung her body off the carriage away from the ladder. She dropped four feet to the ground, hitting with an impact that took her breath away. Then she scurried under the carriage.
“I don't see anyone.” The authoritative voice was exas-perated.
“'Twas a girl! She was there, I swear!”
“Have you been drinking again? I warned you last time â¦”
“I haven't touched a drop!” The porter's bald head shone with sweat.
Through the carriage wheel's spokes, Rory shifted her view from the porter's boots to the other side of the carriage whereshe could keep her eye on Sister Anna. She was counting the children in pairs, directing the frightened children into a neat line. The children huddled together, clasping each other's hands tightly. Violet clutched Sister Eileen's hand.
Several of the children looked green; the motion of the ferry on the water had not agreed with their delicate tummies. Violet didn't appear sick; she looked furious, her lower lip between her teeth. Violet's eyes crisscrossed the terminal looking for Rory. Rory knew that Violet would have something sharp to say when they were finally together again.
The chief porter, the one with the authoritative voice, approached the Sisters. “Sisters, we have all the baggage. We'd best hurry,” he said. “The train leaves in a few minutes.”
“They won't leave without us,” Sister Anna said confidently.
“They would and they will, Sister!”
While Sister Anna argued with the porter, Rory slipped out from under the carriage. She circled wide away from the Foundling group to blend in with the other passengers crowding into the station. She looked back to see Sister Anna leading the way to the train, her back straight and her black cape floating out behind her. She looked like one of the carved wooden ladies on the front of sailing ships, cutting through the waves of people. The passage of almost sixty orphans through the chaos in the station caused a murmur of comments and smiles from the other passengers. Even Rory had to admit they looked adorable. There was Violet staring about the busy station with a wide-open mouth.
“Hold on, Vi. Just get on the train and I'll be with yousoon,” Rory muttered. She gave herself a shake. She had to forget about Vi for a minute and get going. First, to find the St. Louis train and get aboard before the Sisters did. Rory spotted a chalk-written sign listing the departures. She scanned it impatiently until she saw “St. Louis Express. Track 3.” Taking off at a run, she headed for the tracks.
A steam engine waited at the end of the platform, belching out little puffs of smoke as though it was getting ready for a major effort. Travelers were already boarding. Although there were dozens of passengers on the platform, she felt suddenly alone, as though the sun only shone on her, inviting everyone to notice the unaccompanied orphan. Her scalp started to sweat under her kerchief.
“All aboard!” A man in uniform was bellowing his message up and down the platform. Rory took care not to attract his attention.
She didn't have much time. A large man in a brown checked suit stood at the rear of the train, pacing and looking at his watch every few seconds. He was arguing with an official from the train.
“They'll be here. The Sisters never miss a train,” the man in the suit said. “Have you any idea how difficult it is to move fifty-seven small children? And their luggage? And food and bedding for a week?”
“No,” the official answered. “And Mr. Swayne, I don't care. This train has a schedule to meet. As a courtesy we permitted your group to add a car to the train â¦”
“Half of your company's Board of Directors are patronsof the Foundling Hospital,” Mr. Swayne retorted. “I assure you, your train will wait if need be. But I think I see them.”
Hiding her face, Rory hurried past the two men as though she were a paying passenger. She made her way past the engine car, followed by the coal car, the baggage car, and several passenger cars where men in uniforms directed passengers. The farther down the platform she went, the more worried she became. Her heart was pounding and her palms were moist. How was she to find the Sisters' car without asking anyone? Thinking of Mr. Swayne's conversation she wondered how you added a car to the train anyway. Maybe it was better to just sneak onto the train and find the Sisters after the train left the station. How hard could it be to find almost sixty orphans, escorted by nuns in full black habits and nurses wearing their working white uniforms?
Taking a deep breath, Rory climbed into the nearest car. Unluckily, a conductor was making his way down the rows of bench seats. Rory ducked behind the last bench and the wall and tried to make her lanky body small and unnoticeable.
“What do we have here?” A mincing voice accompanied a strong grip on her arm. Rory squealed as he hauled her from her hiding place.
“Where's your ticket, miss?” The conductor was a small man whose uniform seemed a tad too big.
Rory straightened up and met his eyes squarely. Her only chance was to brazen it out. “I'm with the Foundling,” Rory muttered. “Do you know where they are?”
The conductor frowned. “If you really were with theFoundling, you'd know they have their own car at the rear of the train. And the Children's Aid Society kids already boarded.” He nudged her back to the doorway. With every step Rory knew she was closer to losing everything. She didn't move and he would have to shove her to get her to leave.
“No ticket, no ride, little girl,” he said. “Now move, before I call the police.”
Rory slowly let him push her. She was halfway out the door when she saw Sister Anna not twenty feet away.
The man in the brown suit walked backward in front of Sister Anna. “The train won't wait for you, Sister.”
“Of course it will, Mr. Swayne,” Sister Anna said, but her step quickened. The little children were practically running and the porters with all the trunks were red-faced and panting.
Rory whirled around, her back to the platform and Sister Anna. “Mister, I really am an orphan. My little sister is with the Foundling. If you throw me off then my family is wrecked forever. Please let me stay!” She locked her hands around the door handle and held on for her life.
“If you haven't paid, you don't ride my train.” He began to pry her fingers off the handle. Out on the platform, Sister Anna passed by, too intent on her argument with Mr. Swayne, the Foundling's agent, to notice Rory.
“But mister, just give me a chance!” Rory said desperately.
“OFF!” he shouted and pushed her from the train. Rory landed on the platform, falling on one knee and tearing her dress. He closed the door behind her with a slam. Herkerchief fell to the ground and through the tears in her eyes Rory groped to get it back.
At that moment the train whistle blew twice. Rory looked up and down the platform. There were no more passengers. The train jerked as the steam engine began pulling out of the station. Unstoppable.
It was too late. She had lost Violet. Her stomach contracted and she retched. Her head in her hands, she felt for the first time what it was like to be alone.
“Hey, Red!” A voice from above startled her. Rory jumped to her feet, looking up. “Remember me? From jail!”
Brigid was hanging from a window just barely wider than her frame. She was grinning. The train moved slowly, taking her closer to Rory and then away.
A jolt of hope through her body felt like lightning. Rory ran alongside Brigid's window. “I have to get on this train!”
“Why should I help you?” Brigid's broad smile had more than a little malice in it. Rory didn't care. She had a second chance and she wasn't going to waste it.
“'Cause I'll owe you one!” Rory panted.
“How do I know you're good for it?”
“I never break a promise!” Rory shouted.
“It's a deal!” She leaned from the window and stuck both her hands out toward Rory. “Jump!” she commanded.
Rory stretched out her arms and leapt for the moving train.
RORY'S HANDS CAUGHT HOLD OFBRIGID'S.HER KNEES AND feet banged hard against the side of the train. The clicking of the wheels against the rails sped up and the passing air pushed against her body, blowing her skirt up over her head. Luckily there was no one to notice. Rory saw the train had cleared the platform. If she fell now she'd drop to sharp stones.
“Pull yourself up,” Brigid ordered.
“I'm trying,” Rory gasped. “Don't let go!”
Rory struggled to climb up, the toes of her worn boots sliding against the side of the train. Rory could see the top of the window was cutting into Brigid's arms, but the girl's grip didn't loosen. Rory kicked at the side but her feet couldn't find any purchase.
“Hurry!” Rory cried.
With a huge yank, Brigid hauled Rory up. Rory let go with her right hand and took hold of the window sash. Brigidgrabbed Rory's shoulders and Rory tumbled through the window to the wooden bench beneath.
“Thanks,” Rory managed to say, panting for air.
Brigid collapsed in the corner between the bench and the window. “I couldn't believe it when I saw you there on the platform,” she wheezed. “I wasn't sure until I saw that hair, then I knew.”
“My hair?” Rory patted at her head but her kerchief was gone.
“What are you doing here?” Brigid asked. “I thought your nuns would never let you get shipped out.”
Rory sighed. “They shipped my baby sister instead. They took her from me and are sending her to a family in Arizona.”
“Ah, Red, that's rough,” Brigid said. Her voice was husky and she seemed to have trouble catching her breath. Rory remembered Brigid had had a bad cough in jail too.
“I'm stowing away so we don't get separated,” Rory said.
Brigid grinned appreciatively. “Red, I didn't know you had it in you.”
With a shrug, Rory said, “I'm just doing what I have to. What about you?”
“I told you I was doomed to head west,” said Brigid. “The Society put me on the first train.”
“You were right,” Rory agreed. “Where are you heading?”
“St. Louis, I think. So where are your precious nuns and sister?” Brigid asked.
“They have a private car at the end of the train.”
“A private car? Ooh-la-la.” Brigid whistled. “It has to be a lot nicer than this.”
Rory examined her surroundings. There were wooden benches, the seats covered with a thin fabric. Every bench had three or four kids her age or older crammed into it like sardines in a tin. At the end of the car, there was a partition with a curtained door. That must be where the toilet was. There was nothing else in the car.
“I'd just about given up when you called to me,” Rory confessed. “I'd still be on that platform without your quick thinking.” It was a miracle, she thought but didn't say. “I owe you.”
“They called me Fast Fingers Brigid on the street,” she said ruefully. “I'm glad I could be useful for something other than thieving.”
“Of course you are!” Rory exclaimed. “Sister Anna always says we're on this earth for a purpose. We might not know what it is, but God has a plan for everyone.”
“That's nice to hear,” Brigid said. “Usually people just tell me I'm worthless. When I got this cough my uncle threw me out. He didn't want to get sick too.”
Rory gazed at her for a long time. Brigid's tough exterior showed some signs of cracking. She reached over and touched Brigid's hand. “At the Foundling, the nuns say no one is worthless.” Rory spoke from her heart. “And they take care of anyone who asks for help.”
“They sound nice,” Brigid said.
“Yeah, they were. But I won't be going back,” Rory said.She felt a spasm in her chest. This wasn't a game she was playing. If she were separated from Violet, if she lost track of the nuns, if she got stuck on this train â¦ so many ifs. And no backup plan at all.
“I hope it works out for you,” Brigid said.
The girls were silent. At the front of the carriage, the curtain moved aside. A tall boy about Rory's age swaggered out and headed for Rory and Brigid. He had black hair and his face was disfigured by pockmarks. His large hands had cuts across the knuckles. She recognized the type from her days in Hell's Kitchen. He might be a kid like them, but he was in charge and he'd beat up anyone who disagreed. He stared at Rory, taking in every detail, from her sweaty face to her torn dress.
“Brigid, who's this?” he asked.
“This is Red,” Brigid answered, not meeting his eyes.
“She's in my seat.”
Rory stood up and stumbled at the unfamiliar movement of the train. “I'll change seats.” Brigid had helped her out; Rory didn't want to get her into any trouble.
“Jack, there's room. She's one of us,” Brigid said, pulling Rory back to the seat.
“Then why didn't she come with Miss Worthington?” he accused. “She ain't on the list.”
“Half the names on the list are wrong,” Brigid shot back with more courage than Rory would have had. But then Rory's life at the Foundling had been so occupied with small children, she didn't have much experience with older kids.
“Worthington said there's just enough food to get us to St. Louis. We can't be feeding strays. How'd she even get in here anyway?”
“I came through the window,” Rory said.
He glanced at her, then back to Brigid. “How do you know her?”
“We met in jail.”
His ugly face lightened with a smile. “I met some of my best friends when I was enjoying the hospitality of the New York cops.”
Rory moved to make room for him. “I won't be here long,” she said. “And I promise not to eat anything.”
“Why are you here? No one wants to go out west.”
“I do.” She explained the situation with Violet. “The Sisters won't take older kids, so they left me behind.”
“Nuns stole your sister? That's bad news.”
Rory felt she had to explain why the nuns were good people. “The Sisters aren't like your Children's Aid Society. They're kind and they want to do the right thing by Violet. They've got a nice family all lined up for her. For every one of the orphans.”
“And you believe that?” Jack sneered. “All grown-ups lie.”
“Not Sister Anna.” Rory's certainty stopped Jack in his tracks.
Picking at one of the scabs on his knuckle, he asked, “So what are you going to do? Take her off the train?”
Rory shook her head. “Nah, a good family is worth alook. If I like what I see, I'm going to try and convince them to take me too.”
“What if they won't?” Brigid asked.
“Then I'll take her away. We'll make our own life in the Wild West.” Rory wished this part of her scheme was better planned. She could see the doubts in her companions' faces. “It don't matter,” Jack said. “The nuns'll send you back as soon as they find you.”
“Not if I time it just right,” Rory argued. “There are fifty-seven kids in that train car with only seven grown-ups.”
“So?” Jack asked. “We've got fifty with only three minders.”
With a grin Rory said, “The oldest is six. Most are three and four years old.”
Brigid burst out laughing. “By the time you show your mug, they'll be desperate.”
“I don't get it,” Jack said with a scowl. “What's so funny?”
“You've never taken care of little kids, have you?” Brigid asked, still chuckling. “They're a lot of work. And as soon as you get one to sleep, another one wakes up.”
“Exactly!” Rory said. “Plus at the Foundling I took care of lots of kids anyway, not just my sister. They'll be so happy to see me, they'll forget about sending me home.”
With the wiliness learned on the street, Jack put his finger on the weakness in her plan. “But the nuns will be coming back to New York. They'll just bring you with them.”
Rory caught her bottom lip between her teeth. “I'll climbthat mountain when I get there. But for now, I need to hide for a day or so.”
“You can stay with us,” Brigid offered.
The train began to go slower. After a moment, Rory heard the brakes stopping the train.
“What's happening?” she cried, pressing her face against the window, trying to see why the train wasn't moving. “Do you think they know I'm here?”
Jack's voice from behind her made fun of her fears. “You think they'd stop the train just for you? With all the rich people who'll cut up something fierce if their trip is delayed? We're just letting some other train go by.”
“Are you sure?” Rory asked.
“Course I'm sure,” he said. “Girls don't know anything about trains.”
Brigid shoved him. “Like you know anything about trains. You're just guessing.”
“Stands to reason,” he muttered. He got up and crossed the aisle to join the other boys peering out the window.
Rory leaned back against the bench and let out a long breath. Brigid was staring behind Rory as though she'd seen a ghost or, worse, a conductor. Rory sensed movement from the other kids behind them. “Brigid, what's wrong?”
“Quick, get down, Red!” Brigid whispered. “It's Miss Worthington.”
As Rory ducked down onto the floor underneath the bench, she caught a glimpse of a tall woman wearing a shabbytraveling dress. She was moving along the corridor counting off the kids. She came closer, close enough that Rory could see her boots were as worn as Rory's. She added Brigid to the tally and moved on.
The lady stopped at the front of the carriage and raised her voice so she could be heard. “There are sandwiches here. One for each child. And there's a bucket of drinking water and a cup. Take turns and don't spill anything. There's nothing else until dinner.” With that she moved to the next car.
Rory stayed hidden, watching the feet of the kids scramble to line up for their sandwiches. The kids had clothes that looked new. Some of them even had new shoes. She wished she did.
After a time, Brigid came back. “Come out, Red, it's safe.”
Rory rolled out from under the bench and tried to dust off the dirt on the creases of her skirt.
“Don't worry about it,” Brigid said. “You're still cleaner than most of us. They gave us new clothes but the only baths we've had were ice cold.” She had a thick sandwich between her hands. She pulled it into two pieces and handed one of them to Rory.
Rory realized she was starving. Breakfast at the Foundling was a long time ago. “Thanks!” She took a large bite. “Ugh!” she said, grimacing. “It's mustard.” She chewed gingerly and forced herself to swallow it. She looked between the slices. Sure enough, it was mustard and mustard only. No cheese. No meat. She had seen Sister Anna supervising the food forthe journey. Not only were the Foundling kids going to get fresh bread, meat, and cheese; there was fruit for dessert.
Brigid was bolting it down as though she had not eaten in days.
“Here,” said Rory, handing the mustard sandwich back to Brigid. If she thought this was good, she must be far hungrier than Rory.
Brigid shrugged. “Are you sure?”
Brigid devoured Rory's half sandwich in two bites.
Rory had thought to wait a day or two before finding Sister Anna and Violet. Her stomach rumbled. If she didn't want to starve, she might have to make her move sooner than she had planned.CHAPTERSixteen
AS THE TRAIN MADE ITS WAYACROSSAND DOWNNEWJERSEY, Rory stared out the window watching the backside of buildings. The train whistled every time they came to a road. She had never traveled so quickly, changing from open countryside to small town and back again. No sooner had she noticed they were passing through a town than they were speeding out of it. How could she get her bearings when the train never stopped moving? After hours of traveling, Rory faced the facts. The world was much bigger than she had thought. Who would care about a twelve-year-old girl and her baby sister? Rory sighed. She knew who. The farther west the train went just hastened the moment when Rory would have to face Sister Anna.
Brigid came back from the curtained toilet. “Red, you have to try it.”
Rory raised her eyebrows. “Why?”
“When you pee it goes straight onto the tracksâyou can see the ground from the toilet.”
“Later, maybe.” Rory smiled. “Are you sure that no one will ask any questions about me?”
“Miss Worthington counted us once alreadyâand I don't think she's the type to do any more work than she has to.”
Rory gave a sharp nod. “Then that's all right.”
“When are you going to tell the nuns you're here?” Brigid asked. “Then you won't need to worry anymore.”
“The first stop is Philadelphia, right?” Rory asked. “I'll wait until after then. The last thing I want is for the nuns to find some Good Samaritan who'll escort me back to New York.”
“I saw the Foundling car being loaded with lots of trunks,” Brigid said. “What's in all those trunks anyway?”
Rory had seen Brigid's small bundle of a few mended clean clothes. “Just some clothes,” she said, making it seem like each child didn't have a new outfit. “And food for the trip. Medicines. And Sister Anna's paperwork.”
“Oh.” Brigid wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “And what about you? You don't have any clothes but the ones on your backâand you made a right mess of those.”
Rory glanced down at the rip in her skirt and the streaks of tar and dirt. “I hid some clothes with Violet's things.”
Brigid's green eyes were admiring. “You thought of everything.”
“Not everything, or else I wouldn't have needed your help.” Rory grabbed Brigid's hand. “When I go back I can't ever tell Sister Anna how I got on the train. She'd kill me.”
“You ran away. How can you be so sure of your welcome?” Brigid asked, her head tilted toward Rory.
A dozen images of Sister Anna flashed through Rory's mind. Some stern and angry and others stern but kind. “She'll be mad. But she won't be surprised. She knows I'd never leave Violet.” She leaned forward, her voice dropping to a whisper. “It's my secret weapon, really. I think she likes how I stick to Violet, no matter what.” She nodded sharply, convincing herself. “She'll let me stay.”
Brigid looked down at her feet, not meeting Rory's eyes. “I wouldn't mind having a sister like you.”
“Really?” Rory felt a warmth start in her chest and radiate through her whole body. “Thanks, Brigid. You'd be a good sister. I love Violet, but she'll never be as quick-witted as you. She's never had to survive by herself like you and me.” Rory chewed on a torn fingernail. “I wish you could meet her though. We could all be friends.”
“We won't get the chance, will we?” Brigid said with a curled lip. “In a few days, some stranger'll pick me off the auction block to do who knows what.”
“They don't actually sell you, do they?” Rory felt faint. Brigid couldn't be sold like a piece of meat. Slavery was a thing of the past.
“Naw,” Brigid said. “But it feels like it. Miss Worthington said we have to clean up. As if we could with a bucket of cold water and no soap. And mind our manners something sharp. She said the sooner we're picked, the sooner she can go home.”
Rory squeezed Brigid's hand without saying a word. How awful, she thought. No matter how angry she was with Sister Anna, no matter what terrible accusations Rory had hurled at her, she knew that Sister Anna would do her best for the children. And Rory had no doubt that Sister Anna would act out of love. Not just because it was her job.
THE CONDUCTOR CAME INTO THEIR CAR TWICE.MISS Worthington made her rounds too, clutching a handful of tickets and counting the kids in a halfhearted manner. Every time there was any danger of Rory's discovery, Brigid was able to warn her in time and she hid on the floor under Brigid's feet.
Rory passed the long hours watching the scenery change outside the window. Fields as far as the eye could see were planted with â¦ Rory wasn't sure what. Workers in some of the fields were gathering large golden stalks. Could that be corn? When there weren't fields or small towns, there were trees turning all shades of gold and red and orange. She had thought Central Park was big, but now she knew that her eyes hadn't been wide enough or tall enough to see a real forest. The world kept getting bigger. Rory pinched her arm to remind herself that she was still exactly the same size.
Sometimes another train would come rushing towardthem, faster and faster as though it was going to smash into them. But at the last minute, Rory saw the train was always on another track altogether.
Once, Brigid shook Rory awake to see an outcropping that had words painted on it. “They've even got wall writing out here,” she said.
Rubbing her eyes, Rory said, “You didn't have to wake me up.” But she understood. It was reassuring to find similarities between here and home: rotten kids everywhere were painting their thoughts in places carefully chosen to irritate grown-ups.
“Look at that!” Rory said as they slowed to pass through a station. Another train was there, its engine stopped under a water tank. A sluice was pouring water into the engine. “It's like feeding a baby,” Rory said with a giggle.
Brigid gave Rory a sidelong glance. “If you say so. You're the expert on babies.”
Big clouds of steam billowed out, hiding the train's engineer in his little compartment. The girls burst out laughing. “This baby expert never saw a kid do that!” Rory said.
As the sky began to darken, Miss Worthington had Jack and another boy distribute sandwiches. Brigid tore hers in half and handed it to Rory. This time Rory was hungry enough to accept.
“Thanks,” Rory said, tucking into it. “It's not that bad.”
“Anything is good when you're hungry,” Brigid said.
“When I go back to the nuns I'll bring you some food,” Rory promised, talking around the stale bread and mustardin her mouth.
Rory was half asleep when the conductor announced, “Philadelphia is the next stop! Philadelphia is next.”
Rory and Brigid peered through the window. The train clicked slowly through block after block of city.
“It's big,” whispered Brigid.
Rory spoke past the nervous lump in her throat. “Yeah, it's almost as big as New York. But remember, New York is the greatest city on earth.”
“And so far, the only city either of us has ever been to,” Brigid answered back.
At Philadelphia's station the train stopped inside a great glass-roofed building alongside many other trains. Rory pulled the window down and winced at all the noise outside. There were more horses and carriages than cars, but just as many people as in Exchange Place. Philadelphia was the final destination for many passengers and there were whistles for porters. Passengers got on and off the train, some because it was journey's end, but others just to stretch their legs.
Rory's fingers gripped the window's edges tightly. What was she thinking, throwing Vi and herself into the huge world? She was an idiot to think she could control anything out here. She should have stayed at the Foundling and hid Violet until Sister Anna left with the others. Yes, that would have worked. How was it that she only thought of this now when it was too late?
“I'm going out,” Jack said, interrupting her thoughts.
“We're not supposed to,” Brigid warned.
“Nobody tells me what to do!” Jack said. But he didn't make it as far as the door before Miss Worthington stopped him.
“All of you are supposed to stay on the train at all times,” she said. “It's more than my job is worth if I let you leave, even for a minute.”
Rory ducked down under the window sash when she saw Sister Eileen walk toward her car with a change purse. Giving Sister Eileen enough time to pass by, Rory poked her head up. She watched Sister Eileen bargain with a vendor to buy fresh fruit from a cart. She also called to another vendor with cans of fresh milk to follow her back to the last car. Fresh fruit and milk. Rory had to speak sternly to her stomach to keep it from growling. When she did return to the Sisters, she would eat well. All at once, Rory felt better. Her plan had gotten them this far; she and Violet would be fine. Better than fine.
“Does Sister Eileen look tired to you?” she asked Brigid.
Brigid nodded. “Exhausted.” They both giggled.
Suddenly Sister Eileen began yelling. Rory stuck her head out the window to see what had attracted the young novice's attention. A flock of women, nuns in black habits and nurses in white, were running across the platform. She leaned out farther to see what they were chasing. It was a child. A child with red hair and a determined expression.
“Rory, you can't let them see you!” Brigid urged.
“It's Violet!” Rory said to Brigid over her shoulder. “She got off the train somehow.”
“Rory! I want Rory!” Violet screamed. Sister Eileen dropped her groceries and ran after her. Violet dodged the Sister's arms, darting under a stopped wagon. “Rory!”
Sister Eileen didn't hesitate. She fell to her hands and knees and crawled after Violet while the other adults surrounded the wagon.
Without thinking, Rory started to head for the door. “I'm coming, Vi!”
Brigid hauled her back to the seat. “Are you nuts?” Brigid asked. “Have you come this far to give yourself away now?”
Rory stopped struggling. Brigid was right. She held up her hands and Brigid let her go, watching her with suspicion. Rory returned to the window and peeked out. The nuns had managed to corral Violet. A vision of a wild bronco being captured popped into Rory's mind. She'd read Violet a story inWild West Weeklywhere a horse had to be cornered like this. Violet had apparently taken it to heart.
The nuns passed her window carrying Vi, who kicked and writhed in their arms. In a voice grown hoarse from screaming, she called, “I want my sister!”
“What's happening?” Brigid asked, watching Rory warily.
“She's back in the train,” Rory said, slowly closing the window and sinking back down to the seat. She pinned her arms against her stomach trying to stop shaking. “She was scared. I should never have left her alone for so long. Shethinks I abandoned her.”
“You didn't have a choice, did you?” Brigid asked. “She's a kid. She'll get over it.”
“No!” Rory sat up and glared at Brigid. “Violet never has to suffer. I'm here to make certain she doesn't. I have to go to her.” Rory calculated how far they were from New York and how difficult it would be to send her home. Too difficult, she decided. “As soon as the train leaves the station, I'm finding Sister Anna.”
It took Rory a moment before she noticed the disappointment on Brigid's face. “What's wrong?”
“Nothing,” Brigid said. Tears glistened in her eyes and she rubbed them with the back of her hand. “I got something in my eye.” She got up and stomped off to the water bucket. While she was gone, Rory figured it out.
Brigid didn't return until the train had left the city and entered the dark countryside. She slouched in her seat, not meeting Rory's eyes.
“I'll miss you too,” Rory said, staring straight ahead.
“Who said anything about missing anybody?” Brigid said. “I've never needed anybody and I don't need you.”
Rory punched Brigid in the shoulder. “Don't be maudlin. I'm only going to the end of the train. This isn't goodbye.”
With a deep sniff, Brigid said, “Maybe it is, maybe it isn't.”
“I'll see you later. I promise,” Rory said, getting up and walking toward the end of the car. She glanced back and saw Brigid staring out the window.
Rory entered the first-class car and then a car filled with stout men smoking cigars and drinking strong spirits. Rory held her nose and tried to open the far door to get to the Foundling car, but it didn't budge.
Rory leaned against the door and thought hard. The only thing between her and Violet was a single locked door. Now that she was so close, Rory couldn't let another minute pass without holding Violet. Maybe Jack knew how to pick a lock? Some street kids did pick locks. Maybe she should just knock? But then she might lose the element of surprise, which she thought would be to her advantage. Rory was afraid she would need every advantage she could get when she faced Sister Anna.
The conductor, the same one who had thrown her off the train, entered the car from the other door. Without thinking, she ducked behind a seat. But as she cowered on the floor, she thought better of hiding. Why not let him help her? He owed her for the humiliating way he had treated her. She stood up, dusted off her skirt, and planted herself in front of him.
He stared at her in surprise. “You!” he said. “How did you get here?”
“I snuck on,” Rory told him, without a trace of apology.
“You won't stay on for long,” he threatened. “At the next stop â¦”
“Thank goodness,” Rory said. “I was afraid you were going to bring me back to the Foundling Sisters. They'dpunish me something fierce for hitching a ride on the train.” The conductor smiled, but not a nice smile. “On second thought,” he said, “perhaps I was too hasty. You're the Foundling's problem; they should take care of you.”
Rory blinked to force tears to her eyes and let her lower lip tremble. “Oh please, mister, not the nuns!”
The conductor twisted her arm behind her back and frog-marched her to the locked door. He pulled a keychain from his belt and opened it. They had to cross the narrow gap between cars and Rory made the mistake of looking down at the tracks rushing beneath her feet. Her stomach heaved. The train went over an iron bridge and Rory could see a river running below. She froze, her eyes fixed on the river's sharp rocks. The conductor laughed.
“I don't think you have the stomach for train travel, little girl, if this scares you. Wait until your car gets all the way to Arizona. There's only one track out there. High in the mountains, the train goes up a track that a goat'd be afraid of. You won't be so bold then!” He pushed her toward the final car.
For a moment, Rory could see the Foundling group before they were aware of her. Sister Anna was standing in the aisle between the cushioned seats, her back to Rory. Her bonnet was askew, something Rory had never seen in all her time at the Foundling. Beyond Sister Anna was a sight that made Rory laugh: fifty-seven children were climbing over the seats and rolling on the floor. The nurses and Sister Eileen were slumped onto seats as though they didn't have the strength tostand. When the conductor opened the door, a loud whoosh echoed through the car. It almost, but not quite, was louder than the sound of Sister Anna shouting at the children to sit still.
Violet came running and hurled her body into Rory's arms. “It's about time!”CHAPTEREighteen
SISTERANNA TURNED SLOWLY.HER EYES BULGED EVER SO slightly when she saw Rory.
Rory stepped into the middle of the car, her eyes fixed on Sister Anna's face. Violet slid out of Rory's arms and wrapped herself around Rory's leg like a vine choking a tree. Resting one hand on Violet's shoulder, Rory gently dragged Violet as if Vi were a wooden leg.
Suddenly the din in the train car faded away, as the rest of the children sensed something important was happening. The only sound was the train wheels rattling and spinning on the tracks. Sixty-three pairs of eyes were focused on her as she moved forward. Rory only walked fifteen feet, but the journey felt far longer than the distance she had already traveled from the Foundling.
Little William shouted, “Hey, it's Rory!”
Sister Eileen shushed him and watched Sister Anna nervously.
Sister Anna looked almost like her usual self, except for the set jaw. Step by step, Rory waited for some sort of sign, a clue as to what Sister Anna might say or do. Finally she stopped in front of Sister Anna and waited. After a long moment of silence, Rory realized that Sister Anna was waiting for her to speak.
“Hello, Sister Anna.”
Her eyes dark with an emotion Rory couldn't quite identify, Sister Anna said, “Rory.”
“I couldn't let Violet go alone. So I came too.” There it was. Her confession and her explanation. It was up to Sister Anna now.
“And what about the children you were responsible for back at the Foundling?” Sister Anna asked. “Did you just abandon them?”
Rory pinned her arms against her stomach. Sister Anna was right: Rory had thought only of Violet and left the little ones without so much as a goodbye. What kind of person could do that?
“You lied to me!” Sister Anna said suddenly, as though the words couldn't stay inside her any longer. Now Rory recognized the look. It was betrayal. Her own face had looked the same when Sister Anna had disclosed her plans for Violet.
Rory sucked her cheeks in to keep from crying. Had Rory pushed Sister Anna away for good? “Violet's my family. It was wrong of you to take her away,” Rory cried. “And it was wrong of you to try and make me like it!”
Sister Anna spoke past lips tight with anger, “You have togo back to New York.”
Violet lifted her face from Rory's skirt and shrieked. “No! Rory can't go away again!” Violet clung even tighter to Rory's legs and began to sob.
Rory's heart was thudding louder than the steel wheels on the train tracks. She had come too far to be sent back now. Somehow she had to convince Sister Anna to let her stay. She said, “I'll just run away again. And then I'd have to get to Arizona on my own.” Rory didn't want to sound like she was threatening Sister Anna; she was just saying the truth.
“Nevertheless, you don't belong on this train,” Sister Anna said. “At the next city we stop at, I'll make arrangements to send you home.”
“I don't have a home. I'm an orphan!”
“You always have a home at the Foundling,” Sister Anna said in a clipped voice that discouraged argument.
Rory ignored the warning signs and barged ahead. “Like Violet does? How about the other fifty-six?” Before Rory could say anything else, she saw Mr. Swayne coming up the aisle. His suit had tiny, dirty handprints all over the trouser legs. He coughed to get Sister Anna's attention.
She turned around. “Yes, Mr. Swayne?”
“With all due respect, Sister, it won't be easy to send her back. I don't have money in my budget to be buying extra tickets. And how will I find someone reliable in a strange city to escort her?”
Sister Anna stepped backward so she could see both Rory and Mr. Swayne. “We pay you to make the travelingarrangements. It's absolutely necessary that she returns to New York. Immediately.” Her voice was granite hard.
“Sister?” Sister Eileen stood up from the seat where she had collapsed. Her face looked exhausted. Her complexion was pale. “Excuse me for interrupting. But as you know, Rory has a wonderful way with the little ones. They listen to her. And goodness knows we could use an extra pair of hands.”
Rory schooled her face not to show satisfaction. She knew she'd been right from the startânone of these grownups had ever tried to take care of so many kids for so long. They needed her help. If only Sister Anna's anger and injured pride wouldn't keep her from doing the sensible thing.
“Sister, if we let Rory stay, we're rewarding her disobedience.” Sister Anna was implacable. “It would be a terrible example to the other children at the Foundling.”
Sister Eileen took a deep breath. It was no easy thing to challenge Sister Anna. “Sister Anna,” she said, “I don't wish to speak out of turn, but those other children aren't here. Rory can help us take care of these little ones, and isn't that our first concern?” After a moment, the words burst from her throat, “Six more days with fifty-seven childrenâI don't know if we can survive it!”
Mr. Swayne added, “We'll bring the girl back from Arizona. If she travels with us, there's no need to buy her a ticket.”
Sister Anna's severe look traveled from Sister Eileen, over the exhausted nurses, and rested on Rory. There was a long pause. Finally she spoke: “You think you've won a battle, butif I let you stay, Rory, you'll have to work harder than you ever have in your life.”
Rory nodded, though not too eagerly. “I will, Sister, gladly.”
Someone in the car sighed loudly in relief.
Violet looked up at Rory. “You're staying?” she asked.
Rory nodded. Violet bounced on her toes, grinning. She glanced at the other kids. “I got my sister back!”
Sister Anna waited until Violet had calmed down. Then she said for Rory's ears only, “You can accompany us to Arizona and settle Violet with her new family. Then you return to the Foundling with us.” She grabbed Rory's chin to make certain that she understood.
“Yes, Sister,” Rory said dutifully.
As soon as Sister Anna's back was turned, Rory knelt on the floor to give Violet all the love she'd missed for the past two days. To her surprise, Violet held her at arm's length. Looking older than her five years, Violet whispered, “Are you going back to New York without me?”
Rory's slow smile was reflected on Violet's face. “Fat chance, Vi! You can't get rid of me that easily!”
THEFOUNDLING'S CAR WAS DELUXEACCOMMODATIONS COMPARED to the Children's Aid Society car. The seats had leather cushions and the fittings were made of brass. Even if Rory had to share with fifty-seven runabouts, this was traveling in style.
Rory had barely gotten her bearings when Sister Eileen warned her that there was illness aboard. “Several of the children have bad stomachaches. I'm worried it's the start of an epidemic. In a tight space like this, it won't be any time at all before they all have it.” She paused. “Violet too.”
Rory knew all too well about disease. Her skin went cold at the thought of Violet sickening. “I'll look after her, Sister Eileen,” she promised.
As soon as she had a quiet moment, she sat down with Violet on the last seat nearest the door that led to the rest of the train. She sniffed and understood why the seat was empty. It was next to the toilet, a small separate room. Placing herhands on Vi's shoulders, she said, “What's wrong?”
“I've got an ache in my tummy.” Violet curled up and held her stomach.
“Did you eat something bad?” Rory asked.
Violet shook her head.
Rory put the back of her hand on Violet's forehead. “You don't have a fever.”
There was a whooshing sound from the toilet room. Little William Norris scurried out of the toilet, his trousers around his ankles. “Violet,” he cried. “You were right. The little door opens up and the ground is moving so fast. You could fall right in!”
Violet's eyes were as wide as William's. “I know. I lost my favorite violet-colored hair ribbon. I won't ever go in there again.”
Rory considered the two children as she helped William pull up his trousers. “Violet, have you been to the bathroom since you got on the train?”
In a whisper, Violet answered, “I peed. But I couldn't do the other. I was too scared.”
“No wonder your stomach hurts! If I hold on to you so you can't possibly fall in, will you be able to go?”
Violet nodded meekly.
“You're a little fool,” Rory said as she led Violet to the toilet. “You could have made yourself sick.”
Violet stared down at her feet. “After you help me, can you hold William? And Katie? And Mary?”
Rolling her eyes, Rory nodded. So much for the epidemic.These nuns really had no business venturing outside the Foundling.
After a long evening escorting the children to the toilet, Rory was dead on her feet. Fortunately so were the little ones. The conductor came in and helped the nuns and Rory transform the leather seats into cozy Pullman beds. What an improvement over sharing a hard bench with Brigid. As soon as she had the children in their nightclothes, Rory took the opportunity to stretch out and rest her feet. Violet snored gently as she snuggled, content, against Rory's back.
Rory couldn't sleep. She stared out the window at a world that was darker than Rory believed possible. The moon hadn't risen yet. The only light Rory saw was from the windows of scattered houses as the train chugged past them. She was drifting off to sleep when a sharp rap on the door between cars startled her awake. Her eyes darted toward the nuns and nurses, but they were sleeping soundly. Rory eased away from Violet's warm body and went to the door. For a moment she was surprised that it opened so easily. Then she saw that the door could not lock on the inside, probably for safety's sake. She opened the door just wide enough to peek out and saw Brigid, her black hair whipping in the wind. She pulled the door a bit toward her so Brigid could step in and then closed it quickly. It seemed they had been lucky. No grownup demanded to know who was visiting at such an hour.
“What are you doing here?” Rory whispered.
“I came to see how you are faring.” Brigid looked aroundthe luxurious car and whistled. “This is nice! I wish I was one of your orphans!”
“Shhhh!” Rory hissed. “Scoot into my bed so if they wake they won't see you.” Rory shifted Violet to one side to make room.
“A bed? You're living in style,” Brigid said. “We've got boys sleeping on the floor.” She glanced down at Violet. “Is this the famous Violet?”
“She's cute,” Brigid said. “Were the nuns very mad at you?”
Rory shrugged. “Mad enough. But they needed me too much to send me back.”
“Your plan worked.” Brigid fanned herself. “It's so hot in here. Why don't you open the windows?”
Rory explained that an ember from the engine had blown in and landed on one of the nurses' skirts. It started to smolder and the nurse had just escaped being burned. Since then, Sister Anna had ordered the windows shut.
“Golly,” Brigid said simply. “And I thought it would be dull back here.”
Rory guessed why Brigid was there. “I saved some food for you, so I'm glad to see you.”
Brigid stiffened. “That's not why I came.”
“I know,” Rory said. “But you shared your food with me. I was hoping to do the same.” She pulled out a thick sandwich made with fresh bread and a generous helping of beef.
Brigid sniffed and licked her lips.
“Also a couple of apples and some cheese,” Rory said.“Maybe these will help you get through a few of those mustard sandwiches!”
“I thought nuns were poor,” Brigid said, stuffing the apples and cheese into her pockets.
“Not these nuns. They have generous friends. That's how they got this car.”
“Thank you for the food,” Brigid said, her mouth forming the words around a healthy bite of her sandwich. “Miss Worthington just told us that we don't have any more food until we arrive in St. Louis tomorrow afternoon.”
Rory stared. “But you'll all be starving by then!”
Brigid shrugged and tore off another bite of her sandwich. “Jack's so hungry that he's sworn he'll run away if he doesn't get a family that gives him a proper meal.”
“St. Louis â¦ that's where you â¦” Rory trailed off.
“It won't be so bad,” Rory continued. “You know the World's Fair is there?”
Brigid shrugged. “So?”
“Look at this.” Rory pulled out a booklet that Mr. Swayne had picked up in Philadelphia. “There's fountains and fireworks and exhibits from all over the world.”
Brigid wouldn't take the booklet. “I won't be seeing the fair. It's off to the block with me.”
“You don't know that,” Rory said. “Sister Anna said that sometimes the Children's Aid kids end up in really good homes. That'll be you.”
“Those Sisters sure do teach you to hope for the best,don't they?” Brigid said.
In the darkness, Rory couldn't see her face, but Brigid sounded as though someone was choking her.
“But we know better. I've never had any luck before; why should I get a family now?”
“Because you deserve one,” Rory said simply. “I don't often do this, mind you, but I'm going to pray for you and the others to have enough food to eat, then I'm going to ask for you to get a good family.”
Brigid snorted and then almost giggled. “Do you think that'll work?”
Rory held out her hands. “Sister Anna always says that the Lord will provide.”
“Rory? Who are you talking to?” Sister Eileen appeared in the aisle, yawning. Brigid started as though she was about to bolt, but where could she go? Rory put her hand on Brigid's forearm and she went still.
“Sister Eileen,” Rory whispered. “This is my friend Brigid.” Sister Eileen wrinkled her nose. “She isn't from the Foundling, is she? Did she stow away too?”
Rory weighed the dangers of telling the truth to Sister Eileen. She was only a few years older than Rory. And she wasn't really a nun yet. She was training to be one. But since Sister Eileen had kept her promise to look after Violet, Rory decided to trust the novice. “She's traveling with the other orphans.”
“The Children's Aid Society children?” Sister Eileen was horrified. “Rory, she doesn't belong with us. She has to goback immediately before she is missed.”
Brigid spoke up. “No one will miss me. Our minder, Miss Worthington, couldn't care less.”
“Still, you don't belong here.” Sister Eileen might be the newest Sister, but she could be as strict as Sister Anna.
“Sister Eileen, the Society children are starving. They didn't bring enough food for the journey.” Rory was certain if anything would sway Sister Eileen to their side it would be the thought of hungry children.
Sister Eileen's face clouded over. “Brigid, is that true?”
Brigid nodded. “We ran out of mustard sandwiches late this afternoon. There's nothing else but water.”
“Mustard sandwiches,” Rory said with emphasis on mustard. “No meat, no cheese. And now they don't even have that.”
“That's appalling!” Sister Eileen looked back into the car and reassured herself that they were unobserved. “Rory, get that box of bread and cheese. Throw some fruit in too.”
Rory was careful not to wake Violet. “What about Sister Anna?”
“I'll explain in the morning. But our Savior told us to care for the little children, not just the ones in our railroad car. She won't begrudge our charity.”
Rory packed the box, including some sweets that she knew Brigid would love. When she returned, Brigid got up to leave.
“I don't want to meet your Sister Anna. Good luck, Red,” Brigid said, holding out her hand.
“It's not goodbye,” Rory said. “I'll see you tomorrow.”
Brigid's face was hidden in the shadows but her shoulders were slumped. Rory set down the box and hugged her friend.
For a moment, Brigid hugged her back then pushed Rory away as though she couldn't bear to be touched by someone who cared about her.
Sister Eileen held open the door and Rory handed Brigid the box of food. She leaned in and whispered, “See, ask and you shall receive! If God could answer the food prayer this fast, who knows what will happen tomorrow? He has all night to work on it.”
“Bye, Red.” With a nod, Brigid disappeared into the windy darkness between the cars.
Sister Eileen pulled the door closed. Crossing her arms, she faced Rory. “You shouldn't have let her come in,” she said sternly. “The door is locked for a reason.”
“Brigid was a good friend to me. She helped me sneak onto the train and hid me from the conductor.”
“I'm not sure that's how I would describe a âgood' friend,” Sister Eileen said, but a whisper of a smile crossed her lips. “In any case, Rory, you mustn't trust the Children's Aid Society children. They're street kids. Criminals as often as not. I wouldn't be surprised if Brigid was a thief or a beggar in New York.”
“All of us,” Rory gestured to the rest of the sleeping children, “would be on the streets if it weren't for the Foundling.”
“All the more reason not to associate with the Children's Aid kids. We'll make sure you stay on a proper, decent path.”Sister Eileen checked that the door was firmly closed. “Good night, Rory.”
If the likes of Brigid aren't decent, Rory thought,then the nuns don't know what they're talking about.She'd never questioned the infallibility of nuns before, except where Violet's and Rory's futures were concerned. For a moment, she wondered if she'd be struck down for such disrespect.
“I guess they're wrong about that too,” Rory said to herself.CHAPTERTwenty
MR.SWAYNEMARCHED UP AND DOWN THE CAR LIKEACAGED animal. Whenever Sister Anna was occupied, he tried to slip off to the smoking car, but Sister Anna caught him every time. Mr. Swayne had worked with Sister Anna for several years. It made Rory laugh to see the two arguing like an old married couple. Rory knew Mr. Swayne was a father. She thought he would have gotten accustomed to the noise of the children by now, but he tugged at his earlobes, as though he had an earache.
“Mr. Swayne,” Rory asked quietly.
“What is it, Red?” he asked.
Rory narrowed her eyesâshe had grown to accept Brigid's calling her that, but she didn't like Mr. Swayne doing it. Even though he had argued with Sister Anna to let Rory stay, Mr. Swayne was not her friend.
After a moment she asked, “When do we get to St. Louis?”
“It's the next stop. In,” he consulted a silver pocket watch, “fifty-eight minutes. It's a shame we don't have time to get off and see the fair.”
“Will we be able to see it from the train?” Rory asked.
He nodded. “Better than nothing, I suppose.”
Sister Anna had approached silently and Mr. Swayne jumped when she touched his elbow. “Mr. Swayne.”
Rory tried to catch her eye, but Sister Anna purposefully avoided her. In fact, since Rory had talked her way onto the train, Sister Anna had barely spoken to her.
“We'll be delivering ten children in St. Louis.”
Ten! Rory wondered which children would be going. She'd miss each and every one of them.
“We'll have them ready,” Sister Anna continued. “I'll expect you to find the new families and verify their identities.”
“Sister, don't I always?” Mr. Swayne grinned.
“Which children?” Rory seized the moment to try and mend her fences. “Sister Anna, I can help.”
Her lips slightly pursed, Sister Anna considered and said, “Sister Eileen has their names.”
“Of course.” Rory gave her a big smile, but did not receive one in return. With a sigh, she said, “I'll start right away.”
Violet trailing at her heels, Rory made her way down the swaying car to find Sister Eileen, who was trying to grab one of the children to check his color ribbon against her list.
“Rory!” she cried with relief in her voice. “Can you tell me which one is Brendan Burns?” She checked the list. “He's number eight.”
Brendan was a mischievous four-year-old who was rolling on the floor, his arms wrapped about himself, giggling at Sister Eileen's predicament. He stopped laughing when Rory pointed at him. “That's Brendan.” Under her breath she muttered, “He's not a numberâhe's a person.”
“Aw, Rory,” he complained. “She never would have guessed!”
“Sister Anna said I should help you,” Rory said to Sister Eileen.
Sister Eileen pressed her palm to her heart. “Thank you,” she said. “Can you get Brendan ready?”
Rory and Violet took Brendan down to the buckets of fresh water that were loaded on the train each day to keep the children clean and decent. “Violet, you scrub his face. You'll have to use soap.”
A gleam in her blue eyes, Violet nodded. Rory went to the trunks of clothes and looked for the bundle marked with the number eight. She pulled out Brendan's brand-new sailor suit. Between Violet and Rory, they managed to wash Brendan, brush his mop of curly, sandy-colored hair, and wrestle him into his new outfit.
By the time Rory delivered Brendan, Sister Eileen and the nurses had managed to get the other nine children, mostly girls, presentable. Rory glanced around the train car and noticed more little girls than boys. She'd never thought about it before and asked Sister Eileen about this.
“Sister Anna told me that most families ask for girls. Perhaps they think that girls are easier to bring into a house.”
“Maybe,” Rory said, hoping it was good news for her andViolet. If a family wanted one little girl, they might want two, especially when the older girl was expert at making herself indispensable. She thought back to her time with the Children's Aid Society kids. “But with Brigid's group, there were more boys than girls.”
“There's always a need for strong boys on the farms, so the Children's Aid Society brings more boys on the trains knowing they'll get chosen.”
“What about the girls?”
“They find homes too.” Sister Eileen patted Rory's arm. “I'm sure your friend will be fine.”
Rory wasn't so sure. Brigid wasn't strong enough to work on a farm. Every time she exerted herself, it took her ten minutes to get her breath back. And that cough didn't sound too good. What if no one wanted her? Brigid was tough and loyalâbut those weren't qualities that a grown-up might notice at first. Rory would bet that families wanted girls to be sweet and cute, like Violet.
Rory could hear the whistle of the train and the sound of brakes being applied. Not enough to stop the train, but enough to slow it down.
Standing by the window, Mr. Swayne shouted out to the car, “We're crossing the Mississippi!”
All the children, nurses, and nuns rushed to the right side of the train. For a moment Sister Eileen cried out as though the train might tip over. Rory thought Sister Eileen was being silly; the train was stable, wasn't it? She nudged another child over so she could be next to Violet at the window. The trainwas traveling over a wide river on a high steel bridge. Rory pointed to a boat passing beneath the bridge to Violet.
Theoohs andaahs of the others made her look up toward the city. Mr. Swayne was right; they could see the World's Fair grounds.
“Rory, it's just like the book!” Violet said. Rory had been reading and rereading aloud the booklet about the World's Fair to keep the children occupied. The Sisters had packed all the necessaries for a long journey, but hadn't thought much about entertainment.
“It's beautiful,” Rory whispered. She could see an enormous bright wheel turning slowly on the horizon. She wondered if it might spin off and roll across the prairies. If it raced the train, Rory bet it would win.
“How do they fit the whole world there?” Violet asked.
Rory smiled. “It's not really the whole world. But fifty countries and forty-three of the forty-five states have pavilions where they tell everybody about the best stuff they have.” She caught a glimpse of a rainbow of water. “Look, Vi, those must be the colored fountains we read about.”
When the train took a curve and the grand spectacle was lost from view, Rory and Vi sank into the seat.
“I want to see more,” Vi said. “Can we go inside that big wheel?”
“No, honey,” Rory said. “We won't be leaving the train.”
“I hate the fair,” Violet muttered.
Rory sighed. How silly to feel like she had lost something precious when she'd only glimpsed it from a train. But maybeVi was rightâif they couldn't go to the fair, maybe it was better to not even catch a glimpse of it. “Vi, love, life is full of beautiful things we can't keep. But there's plenty of things we can hold on to.”
“Like Ma's necklace?” Vi asked slyly.
“You're a little scamp,” Rory said. “Just for that, the tickling monsters are going to get you!”
“Not the tickling monsters!” Vi shrieked with laughter as Rory pounced on her sister, tickling her under her knee and in the ribs.
A hand tugged on Rory's skirt. She stopped playing with Vi to see Brendan. His usual cheeky grin was gone. “Rory,” he asked, “what's going to happen to me?”
She knelt down to look him straight in the eye. “You are going home. A family has asked just for you and they're going to love you and take care of you forever.” At that moment, for Brendan's sake, she made herself believe it.
“Really?” His eyes were wide. “How do you know?”
She nodded. “Because if they don't, they'll have to answer to Sister Anna!” She lightly punched his arm. “And to me.”
Slowly a broad smile appeared on his lips. “All right.”
It seemed no time at all before the train pulled into St. Louis. The station looked like a fairy-tale castle, with turrets and a stone clock tower. As soon as the train hissed and whined to a halt, Mr. Swayne leapt down to the platform. Inside the car, Sister Anna collected the children who were being placed with St. Louis families. The little girls had their hair curled and wore the special pinafore dresses that made themlook like china dolls. Brendan in his sailor suit completed the angelic scene. Mr. Swayne hopped back into the train. “I've found them,” he said. “Father McMartin has them inside the depot.”
Sister Anna frowned. “Isn't there someplace more private for us to meet the parents?”
“Maybe when the World's Fair isn't in town.” Mr. Swayne's grin was crooked. When Sister Anna started to protest, he held up his hand. “But the stationmaster owes me a favor. He's letting us meet in his office.”
Sister Anna drummed her fingers on her list. After a moment, she said, “Very well. Lead the way.”
Mr. Swayne held open the door and helped Sister Anna to the platform, followed by each child accompanied by a nurse or a nun. Sister Eileen tried to take Brendan's hand. But he ran to Rory, hugging her so hard he almost knocked her over.
“Come with us, Rory,” Sister Eileen said sharply. She looked to the station to see Sister Anna and the others disappearing through a wide door. “Just so he doesn't make a fuss. Hurry!”
RORYANDSISTEREILEEN WALKED QUICKLY TO CATCH UP, swinging Brendan by his arms so his feet barely touched the ground. He laughed with delight. They slipped through the doors and stopped, staring at the enormous space with a high domed ceiling made of brick and a glittering chandelier lit with thousands of electric lights. Mr. Swayne was talking with a priest next to a door marked stationmaster. Behind the priest were women, staring hopefully at the little ones. The door to the office opened and Rory caught a glimpse of Sister Anna sitting at the desk, her files spread out in front of her. One of the hopeful mothers came out with little Frances, a quiet girl Rory didn't know very well. The mother was beaming and Frances clutched a new doll under her arm.
Sister Anna called to Mr. Swayne and another mother was led in with a child. Rory knew Sister Anna was making her final judgment: was this woman worthy of taking one of Sister Anna's foundlings? Brendan was next.
Rory smoothed his hair and kissed his cheek. “It will be all right,” she said. “I promise. Just be a good boy and your new mother can't help but love you.”
His solemn eyes stared at her. “Bye, Rory.”
“Goodbye, sweet pea.”
Rory watched the adoption closely. Brendan's new mother couldn't take her eyes off him. At first Brendan was shy, but she soon won him over with a carved wooden toy shaped like a locomotive. He was going to be all right. The other meetings were the same. A few tears, but on the whole the excitement of the new mothers seemed to reassure the children. Rory was reassured too.
Satisfied that the children were in good hands, Rory took the opportunity to step into the main depot and look around. Underneath the chandelier, a large crowd had gathered in the center of the room. At first Rory thought they were waiting for a train. But then the main door to the trains opened and Miss Worthington appeared, leading the Children's Aid Society kids in a ragged line. The crowd stirred and began to murmur. They were waiting for them, Rory realized. Brigid was near the front of the line. She looked freshly scrubbed and Rory could tell she was standing up very straight. Rory drifted closer to watch. If only Brigid could be adopted by a kind family too!
Miss Worthington spoke with a man in a black suit straining to contain his wide belly. She called him Mr. Singer. He had a neatly trimmed beard and a pince-nez perched onhis nose. He reminded Rory of the worthy donors of the Foundling. They gave their money generously and expected to be treated like kings when they came to inspect how their money was being spent.
Mr. Singer said, “I hope you don't mind if we do the placing out here. Normally, we go to the union hall down the street, but every space has been taken by the World's Fair.”
Miss Worthington looked flustered, but she tried to be polite. “I'm sure it will be fine, but how unfortunate that the fair is taking place right now.”
“Nonsense, good lady! The fair is quite marvelous. I hope you will take the opportunity to see it while you are here. Of course, you could be our guest. My wife would gladly have you stay with us.”
Miss Worthington shrugged. “It will depend. If we get rid of all the children here, then I can stay a few days to make sure they are settled.”
Rory bristled. Miss Worthington made the orphans sound like extra kittens, a burden to be gotten rid of.
Miss Worthington went on: “If we can't place all the children, I'll have to get on the train and find homes for them in the next town.” She glanced at the waiting crowd. “You've made inquiries about everyone?”
Mr. Singer nodded hard, setting his stomach to jiggling. “I know all these fine folks, or else they've been vouched for by someone I do know.”
“Very well, shall we get started?”
Mr. Singer spoke loudly to attract the attention of the waiting crowd. “On behalf of the St. Louis Children's Committee, I'd like to thank you for what you are about to do. These poor children have never known a good home. Your kindness will be repaid a hundredfold!”
Rory was standing behind a well-dressed couple. The lady's face was just shy of beautiful and she wore a purple hat that set off her pale blond hair. She turned to her husband, her eyes shining. She said, “Darling, I knew we were right to come. We can do so much good here!”
Mr. Singer went on, “The Children's Aid Society appreciates the sacrifice you are making to offer these poor children a home. Let's begin!” He gestured to the first boy that Rory now recognized as Jack.
Jack swaggered to the empty space between the line of orphans and the would-be parents. Mr. Singer said, “What's your name, son?”
“Jack,” he muttered.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is Jack. He's a fine-looking boy. Who wants him?”
A short man dressed in plain clothingâhe looked like Rory's idea of a farmerâstepped forward. “I might take him. But he looks too thin. Can he work?” Without so much as a by-your-leave, he took hold of Jack's arm and squeezed it. Jack pulled away.
Mr. Singer laughed. Rory frowned; his laughter had a sinister sound to it. “He's stronger than he looks. And youcan see that he's got spirit. He'll be able to earn his keep. Do you want him?”
“Does he have any experience on a farm?” the farmer asked.
“These are all city kids. But that doesn't mean he can't learn!” Mr. Singer said.
“I suppose he'll do as well as any of them,” the farmer said. “Do I have to send him to school?”
“Until he's fourteen,” Mr. Singer said with a glance at Miss Worthington. “But the Society understands that schooling might have to take a back seat when your crops need tending.”
“Come, boy,” the farmer said.
Jack glared at him, his eyebrows drawn together like a thick caterpillar across his forehead. It broke Rory's heart to see how hurt he looked. Couldn't these grown-ups see how being treated rudely made Jack rude in return?
Miss Worthington stepped forward. “I'll need your name and address, of course. The CAS will visit once a year to make sure the boy is healthy and attending school.”
The man scowled. Miss Worthington hastened to add, “Depending on the harvest, of course.”
Jack was led away without even the chance to say goodbye to the others. Now it was Brigid's turn.
“Take a look at this one. A bright young thing, and pretty too.” Mr. Singer turned to Brigid and asked her name. “Her name is Brigid, ladies and gentlemen. She'd be a fine parlormaid or minder for your children.”
Rory overheard the well-dressed woman talking to her husband. “She might do, dear. I like the look of her. She could help me with my charity work.”
The husband replied, “Are you sure? She looks a little sickly.”
“I don't think so. She looks like she's missed a mother's care. We could give her that.”
The man still wasn't sure. “With that dark hair, she looks a bit wild.”
Rory stepped forward. The couple looked kind enough and rich enough to take care of Brigid. “Excuse me,” she said, tugging at the woman's sleeve. “But I know the young lady and I can attest to her good character.”
The couple exchanged amused glances. “That's very sweet, my dear,” began the woman. “But you're a child yourself.”
“Sister Eileen of the New York Foundling can speak for her, too!” Rory pointed over to where the nuns stood with Mr. Swayne. Sister Anna was there too. Rory didn't feel it necessary to mention that Sister Eileen was the young novice standing behind them. If they assumed she was indicating Sister Anna, always an impressive figure, so much the better for Brigid.
“Really?” The husband seemed inclined to be impressed. “We aren't Catholic â¦”
“Neither is Brigid,” Rory assured them, not caring for the moment if it was true. Right now a good home was more important than religion. “But Brigid's fine qualities were apparent to the Sisters on the train journey.”
“Hurry, dear, before someone else claims her!” The ladygrasped her husband's arm.
The husband nodded and spoke loudly enough to be heard. “We'll take her!”
Brigid looked up and searched the crowd to see who had spoken. Her eyes lit on Rory, who pointed to the couple and gestured with her thumb up. Brigid nodded to show she understood Rory's message.
The man led his wife over to Miss Worthington to sign some papers. Brigid rushed over to Rory.
“What did you do?” she asked wonderingly. “Why did they choose me?”
“Why wouldn't they choose you? You're going to be the best daughter ever.” Rory leaned in and whispered, “But you might not want to mention your old nickname.”
“You said something to make them want me,” Brigid said, smiling. “I know you did.”
Rory confided, “I didn't have to say much. They're good people. I wouldn't be surprised if they take you to the World's Fair.”
Sister Eileen waved at Rory, gesturing for her to return to the group.
“I have to go, Brigid,” she said. “Be well.”
Brigid gave Rory a warm kiss on the cheek. “You kept your promise. I hope you and Violet are as lucky as me.”
That night Rory snuggled with Violet in their bed, listening to the sound of the train hurtling through the night. Shestroked Vi's hair, wondering where Brigid was now. Was her new mother tucking her in? “Good luck, Brigid,” she whispered.
As she closed her eyes, she felt that just possibly she had repaid Brigid for her kindness.CHAPTERTwenty-Two
AFTERST.LOUIS, THEFOUNDLING CAR WAS DISCONNECTED FROMthe Pennsylvania Railroad train. They waited on a sidetrack for a few hours and then the car was attached to a new, slightly shorter train that headed south. They rode for hours through forests and over rivers. The little towns by the railroad looked raw and unfinished. The distances between stops grew wider and the land more desolate. The only sign that anyone had ever been on this land before them was the reliable twin ribbons of railroad track stretching for miles. There were no animals, no houses or roads, only tall trees and swamps. The only colors out here were straw, brown, and the faint tinge of blue green in the distance under an expanse of vast blue sky. The journey began to seem like a never-ending dream.
The next stop was Little Rock. Seven children were made irresistible to their new parents. After the stop, the train was strangely quietânot just because there were fewer children,but because the abrupt departures frightened the ones who remained. The children fell asleep easily enough, lulled by the evening prayers of the Sisters, but each night Rory was wakened more than once by a child sobbing in his or her Pullman bed.
After she settled the child, Rory would lay awake staring at the ornate ceiling with its bronze light fixtures. She'd roll over and put her arms around Vi, who would kick Rory in her sleep and throw off the blankets. “Am I doing the right thing?” she would whisper. Soon the train ride would end for Vi and Rory and they would have to go out into the world. Rory had nothing except Violet. But the more happy families she saw, the more she wondered if Vi had a future that might not include Rory. If Vi had a chance for parents and a home, could Rory stand in the way of that? But when morning came, Rory would put her doubts aside. The only thing that mattered was staying together.
As they pulled out of El Paso and chugged through New Mexico, forty children remained. Violet ribbons were sewn in their collars, indicating they were destined for Clifton in Arizona Territory. Rory was glad that so many of the kids would be in the same town. No matter what happened, they would have one another. And if Rory had her way, they would still have her. Surely with so many parents wanting children, room could be found for just one more.
Tempers were short in the stuffy car that never stopped moving. The air outside was stifling, hot and dusty. And inside the car was worse. The nuns and nurses never removedtheir heavy habits or uniforms. At least the children wore playclothes. With no way to wash their clothes or thoroughly cleanse their bodies, all the children were beginning to smell. Rory longed above all to be clean. She dreamed of thedrip dripof the cistern back at the Foundling Hospital, filling an enormous tub. After a long bath, she imagined, she would slip into a clean set of clothes, smelling of starch. She still wore her too-small dress, now torn and stained. Her only nice dress was hidden away with Violet's things. Like the little ones, she would save her finery to impress a new family.
Soon, Rory thought, the journey will end.We'll wake up from this dream and be in our new home.She walked to the front of the car where there were two barrels of fresh water. One was for washing, the other for drinking. At every stop, Sister Eileen arranged for the barrels to be refilled, just like the locomotive getting fresh water for its steam engine. Rory dipped a tin cup in the drinking water and drank it gratefully.
She felt the back of her neck prickle. Someone was watching her. Slowly she turned around. The children were too dazed by the heat to be bothered with her. The steady rocking of the train and the monotonous click of the wheels on the track had the nuns and nurses dozing too. Swayne was in the first-class passenger car. That left only Sister Anna awake and staring at Rory.
Their eyes met. For the first time since New Jersey, Sister Anna didn't look away. Dipping the cup in the water, Rory carefully brought it to Sister Anna. Another peace offering. This time, Sister Anna accepted. She took the cup and drankdeeply, draining it in a few moments. She glanced up at Rory and a faint smile appeared on her lips. “Thank you, Rory.”
“You are very welcome, Sister,” Rory said with emphasis.
“This has been a difficult journey,” Sister Anna said. “I've accompanied the children before but never farther than Louisiana. I didn't know how hard it would be to care for so many.”
“They're good kids,” Rory said. “It's just tough for them to be stuck in a small space for so long.”
“Rory, I always knew you were good with the childrenâ but you've outdone yourself on this trip.”
“I'm trying to make amends,” Rory said simply.
Sister Anna tilted her head and waited.
Rory took a deep breath. “I lied to you. I disobeyed you. I ran away from the only home I had. I had a good reason, but â¦”
“A reason is not an excuse for deceit,” Sister Anna said. “You should have trusted me.”
Rory thought for a moment, then fired a question at Sister Anna: “How many orphans have you placed in new families?”
Sister Anna looked surprised. “I don't know. Several hundred at least, perhaps a thousand.”
“See, there are so many, Sister Anna, you dare not love them all. If you did, your heart would be split a thousand ways when they left. But I only have the one sister.”
Sister Anna stared out into the desert beyond the window. “You're wrong about that,” she said quietly.
“I have another sister?” Rory asked mischievously.
A tiny bark of laughter escaped Sister Anna's mouth, lightening her mood. “No, I love each and every child. God placed them all in my care. I hate leaving them with strangers. But I have no choice.”
Thinking of Brigid and the Children's Aid Society, Rory said, “At least you try to find them good homes.”
“I do. And Rory, I promise you, if Violet's family isn't suitable in every way, I won't leave her there.”
“I know, Sister.”
Sister Anna patted the seat beside her. “Sit down, my dear. I've been thinking about your future.”
Warily, Rory slid into the seat.
“You are resourceful and intelligent. And you are good with the children. What if you became my assistant?”
Rory's jaw dropped. “Your assistant?”
“Well, not right away. You'll have to finish school. But you could help me place the children and accompany me on these trips. Who better to look out for all the children of the Foundling than you? And I know that you'd never let a foster family take advantage of the Foundling or the children.”
Rory rubbed the back of her neck without meeting Sister Anna's eyes. In a way, Rory had been training for this job for the past three years. But â¦ “What about Violet?” she said.
Sister Anna let a small smile appear on her lips. “We inspect the foster homes at least once a year. You could see her for yourself.”
Sister Anna was always so convincing that Rory hadto close her eyes to think clearly. Once a year wasn't good enough. But it was a pretty good offer. “Sister,” she began, “may I think about it?”
“Of course.” Sister Anna looked at the watch pendant she wore pinned to her habit. “After lunch, we'll be heading into the mountains to Clifton. We'll have to get the children ready. All of them.”
“Clifton must be a big town to take so many children.”
She pursed her lips, considering. “I'm not certain it is. It's a mining town, I know that much. Father Mandin's letter insisted that the parents are devout Catholics and are eager to take the children.” Sister Anna's voice was as confident as usual but Rory detected a shadow of doubt in her eyes.
“You're worried about something!” Rory said accusingly. Sister Anna glanced around the car to ensure that their conversation was private. “Not worried exactly. It's just that Father Mandin didn't write his own letters. A woman in his parish did.”
“Maybe he was busy?” Rory offered.
Sister Anna rubbed the bridge of her nose, which just made the crinkle on her forehead worse. “Probably. Usually Mr. Swayne would have inspected the homes in advance. But Arizona was so far we didn't do it this time.”
Rory felt the same turmoil in her stomach she had when that matron had tossed her in a cell. Still, that had worked out because Sister Anna had appeared at just the right moment. Sister Anna, a force to be reckoned with, was equal to any problems in Clifton.
After they passed through a dusty little town called Las Cruces, the train began to climb. Everyone welcomed the cooler temperatures and some of the children began to revive and look curiously out the windows. The vegetation was still sparse but not so scarce as it had been in Texas. In the distance, they could see tall, blue mountains. Rory liked the look of them. Maybe Arizona wouldn't be so bad.
In Lordsville, New Mexico Territory, their car was transferred to the smallest train Rory had yet seen. There were only three pieces to their trainâthe engine, the coal car, and the Foundling car. Rory thought she should feel a weight lifted with the loss of the other cars, but instead their car seemed lonely and defenseless.
Sister Eileen stood with Rory under a wooden awning watching as their car was connected to the new engine.
“What kind of place are we going to?” Rory asked quietly. “Did you know that it was so far into the mountains?”
“Sister Anna knows what she's doing,” Sister Eileen said reprovingly. But Rory could hear an anxious tremor in her voice.
As they slowly climbed out of Lordsville into the blue mountains, Rory was disappointed to see that up close the mountains were a dullish gray-brown in color. She noticed few houses and not one person. Rory couldn't blame the missing people; who would want to live here?
At about six p.m. they entered a narrow valley with the tracks squeezed in between a small river and steep cliffs. Rory remembered herWild West Weeklyreading. This was a perfect spot for an ambush. Maybe the Indians were waiting to kidnap the orphans. Although why the Indians would want forty New York City orphans was beyond her imagination. The children were here because no one wanted them back home.
She didn't see any Indians, but she soon saw something worse. The train passed an enormous building that was belching smoke, darker and more dense than the smoke from the train's engine. Behind and beside the building were heaps of what looked like coal. One hill was glowing red. Rory looked closer and realized that there was molten rock oozing down the hill. Everything stunk of sulfur. Violet started to cough and Rory put her handkerchief over her sister's mouth. “Just breathe through this, Vi,” she said.
“Hellish,” Mr. Swayne said to Sister Anna. She raised an eyebrow and didn't answer.
Sister Eileen crossed herself. “Virgin Mary, preserve us from the devil who must live in this land.”
Rory was too distracted to pray since she was busy keeping her charges from ruining their new clothes. It was six thirty by Sister Anna's watch when the train pulled into the smallest station they had stopped at yet. It looked brand new with clean brick and a clay roof that hadn't been stained by the smoke.
A crowd of people was waiting on the platform. This wasn't unusual. In most of the towns they had visited, peoplehad heard about the baby train and come to stare. Suddenly, a face was pressed against the glass. Then every window was full of flattened faces with bulging eyes, tapping on the windows, calling for the children to answer them. Rory realized they were all women. She stood on a seat to see over their heads. Behind the women who were trying to rush onto the train was a group of dark-skinned women who hung back because of better manners or fear.
Sister Eileen shrank from the window. “Who are these people?” she whispered.
“Perhaps these are the mothers, eager to claim their children,” Sister Anna said. “Close the blinds.”