Authors: S.G. Rogers
Idunn Court Publishing
Larken, Copyright © 2014 by S.G. Rogers
All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher.
This book is a work of fiction. While references may be made to actual places or events, the names, characters, incidents, and locations within are from the author’s imagination and are not a resemblance to actual living or dead persons, businesses, or events. Any similarity is coincidental.
Idunn Court Publishing
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Savannah, GA 31411
Published by Idunn Court Publishing, October 2014
This book is licensed to the original purchaser only. Duplication or distribution via any means is illegal and a violation of International Copyright Law, subject to criminal prosecution and upon conviction, fines and/or imprisonment. No part of this book can be reproduced or sold by any person or business without the express permission of the publisher.
Published in the United States of America
Editor: Kathryn Riley Miller
Cover Design: S.G. Rogers
Interior Book Design: Coreen Montagna
Dedicated to Janniene
walked into Larken’s hospital room and gave her a bright smile. Behind him, a porter wheeled in three battered trunks. The top trunk was so crushed, the contents could be seen through the gaping seams.
“Good morning, Miss Burke,” the man said. “You’re a very lucky girl.”
The statement was so absurd considering the circumstances, no ready response sprang to her lips.
“My name is Mr. Clubb, and I work for the train company.” He gestured toward the trunks. “We took the trouble to recover your family’s luggage from the accident site. Oh, and we recovered these personal items from your parents.”
He produced her father’s wallet, pocket watch, and fob, and her mother’s locket. Larken put out her hand for the items, noticing immediately the dark brown bloodstains on the back of the watch where her father’s initials were engraved.
“The train company has generously agreed to cover your hospital bills. In addition, we’ve contacted the newspaper to see if they would start a memorial fund on your behalf. They’ve dubbed you the Miracle Orphan, you know. It’s likely a great many people will be so moved by your plight, the fund will grow quickly.”
Mr. Clubb lifted his hat.
“Take care, Miss Burke.”
He left, along with the porter, who slid her a curious glance on his way out. When she was alone, Larken had enough presence of mind to open her father’s wallet to see how much money was inside. It was empty, unfortunately—a condition she was certain had occurred somewhere between the train wreckage and the hospital. She bit her lip with worry. The cuts on her back had begun to heal, and the hospital said she must leave that afternoon. How was she to get home without funds? And even if she could get home, how could a fourteen-year-old live alone without parents or a guardian? Overwhelming sorrow and loneliness dissolved her self-control and she let out a keening moan.
Her body was wracked with grief, and the cuts on her lower back ached and itched. The doctors had failed to remove all the shards the first time they tended to her injuries, but she was now at least glass-free. A nurse bustled into the room and stood with her arms akimbo.
“Stop your crying, lass! You’re not the only child ever to be orphaned. You can be sure a lot of children lost one or both parents on that death train.”
When Larken’s crying failed to ease, the nurse made a sound of frustration.
“I see your luggage has arrived. The police are coming to escort you to the orphanage, so unless you want to wear that hospital gown out in public, I suggest you change your clothes.”
Fear of the unknown ate at her center and robbed her skin of its warmth. Larken’s fingers felt frozen as the policemen ushered her into Mrs. Platt’s office and left without a backward glance. The matron eyed her up and down, handed her a uniform, and gestured to a screen in the corner. “Change into this, and I’ll lock up your dress with your luggage.”
“I’d like to wear my mother’s locket.”
“Suit yourself, but it won’t be my fault if it gets stolen.”
Five minutes later, Mrs. Platt escorted her down a long hallway and into a girls’ dormitory. The room was large and open, with beds jutting out from the walls like the ivory keys on a keyboard. When she passed through the phalanx of orphans, Larken felt their hard, unblinking stares upon her. She’d seen stray curs before with friendlier eyes. The matron assigned her a bed, turned on her heel, and retraced her steps through the silent, identically dressed residents. As soon as the woman disappeared, boisterous conversations resumed. Unsure what else to do, Larken sat on her bed and gazed at the floor. Nobody made any attempt to speak with her, but she could hear them whispering behind her back. Finally a tall girl with large bones strolled over, followed by several of the others.
“So you’re the Miracle Orphan, huh? You’re not better than any of us.”
A gulp. “I never said I was.”
“You’re thinking it. I’m Drusilla. If you want to get along here, you’ll stay on my right side.”
With a sneer, the girl strode off with her friends, surrounded by nervous titters and giggles.
For Larken, falling asleep that night was a struggle and staying asleep impossible. After she’d wakened from her nightmare for the third time, Drusilla hauled her out of bed, dragged her to the infirmary, and threw her inside.
“Sleep in there from now on, and leave us in peace!”
The door closed and Larken was cast into complete darkness. She crouched on the floor, whimpering and hugging her knees. The cuts on her back prickled, and her arm felt bruised from Drusilla’s iron grip. When something stirred in the corner, she scrambled back until she hit the wall and could go no further. Were there rats in the orphanage?
“Hang on,” a voice said. “It’s black as pitch in here.”
More stirring. A match flared, lighting the face of another girl about Larken’s age. The illumination revealed the girl’s huge eyes, elfin face, and completely bald head. To Larken, she resembled an unearthly, beautiful creature from a fairy story. The creature regarded her a moment before lighting a bedside candle.
“Hello. I’m Josephine Wilkes, but you can call me Josie.”
Josie beckoned. “There’s another bed in here. Although it’s probably lumpy, it’s got to be more comfortable than the cold floor.”
With one final sniff, Larken scrambled to her feet, went over to the empty bed, and sat down.
“You’re new,” Josie said.
“Yes. This is my first night.” Larken could not wrench her eyes from the girl’s head. “Forgive me, but what happened to your hair?”
“Lice. They’ll put me back with the others tomorrow.” Josie ran her hand over her bare scalp. “I look terrible, but honestly, it’s a relief not to itch anymore.” She paused “Why’d Drusilla toss you in here?”
“My nightmares kept her awake.” The bruises on Larken’s upper arm ached. “She’s mean.”
“Yes, but she won’t be here much longer. She’ll be turned out of the orphanage next week on her seventeenth birthday. That makes her meaner than usual.”
“I should think she’d be happy to leave.”
“She has nowhere to go. Drusilla’s not clever enough to be a governess or nanny, so she’ll have to look for work as a maid if she’s lucky. If not, she’ll be working on her back.”
Josie peered at her a moment. “Never mind, it’s not important. I really shouldn’t talk like that to a lady.”
Larken was taken aback. “How do you know I’m a lady?”
“It’s obvious just by looking at you and hearing you speak. Don’t worry, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. We just don’t get many upper class girls in here.”
They talked half the night, and by morning the girls were fast friends. Even after a foster family from Rugby agreed to take Larken in three months later, she and Josie continued to correspond. Josie’s last letter came shortly before her seventeenth birthday, and Larken’s reply was returned to her with no forwarding address.
1871. Rugby, England
Mr. Howley shot Larken a baleful glance as she hastened into the dining room and slid into her seat. “You’re late.”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
“It’s all right, Larken,” Mrs. Howley said in a singsong tone. “We’re used to it.”
The woman’s cheerful sarcasm slid off Larken’s back. Mrs. Howley might indeed be accustomed to her lateness, but in return she’d developed a callus where the woman’s frequent barbs were concerned.
“It was just so beautiful in the garden, I didn’t want to come inside for lunch.” Larken tossed her long golden braid over her shoulder so it wouldn’t fall into her food. “The rose bushes are covered with buds ready to bloom. It’s as if little fairies are wrapped up in the petals, waiting to be released.”
Mr. Howley rolled his eyes and shook his head in exasperation. “Would you please keep your prattling foolishness to yourself?”
Larken picked up her napkin and draped it across her lap. “Yes, sir.”
“Mr. Howley has some news which concerns you,” Mrs. Howley said.