Authors: Sara Seale
When Julian Dane’s
heir engagement because a severe injury had lessened his attractions for her, he, said
I don’t intend to remain in single blessededness ... but this time I’ll pick my wife from an orphanage and see that she has no pre-conceived ideas that interfere with mine
He selected Jennet Brown, and carefully set about moulding her to
pattern. But he had not allowed for
Jennet’s having a will of her own.
There were five of
them for Julian to choose from: K
ty, Maggie, Mil
y, Lilly an
They stood in a row and stared at him with wide curious eyes as he limped into the bleak Visitors’ Room of the orphanage preceded by the matron. For all of them he was
event in their monotonous lives, possibly spelling release into that much-discussed world outside, and to four o
them, certainly, his rather sombre good looks had an instant appeal.
“These are the girls, Mr.
ane,” Matron said, observing with displeasure tha
two of them had somehow managed to paint their expectant, smiling mouths, while the girl Jenny stared unblinkingly with those enormous eyes of hers and even forgot the customary bob of respect. Julian stood in silence, leaning carelessly on his s
ick, and surveyed them unsmilingly. He was very dark, and al
hough he could not have been more than thirty, his weary, rather bitter face might have belonged to a much o
“Of course,” Matron’s voice was brightly encouraging, “most of our girls leave the orphanage at fifteen to go into domestic service an
similar occupations. Now, per
aps, one of them has been reserved for something better.” A
aint smile touched Julian’s lips for a moment as he wondered if what he had
s mind for one of them would qualify in Matron’s opinion as being reserved for something better, and his thoughts went back briefly to that last meeting with Luke Fenton.
Luke had seen him through so many phases; public school, the University, and his headlong, feverish engage
ent to Kitty. When he crashed his airplane and his marriage
had to be postponed indefinitely, it was Luke and not Kitty who visited him regularly at the hospital, and
during the long months of convalescence. Kitty, with
her doting old mother in attendance, was touring in cabaret all over Europe and breaking hearts in her own light-hearted fashion, and when she returned to England, delighted with her successes, Julian had gone into the hospital again for another operation on his leg.
Kitty came to see him this time and, perched on the a
m of a chair, nibbling the grapes she had brought him, told him all about her conquests and besought him, with urgency, to reassure her that he would one day be able to dance again. He remembered as if it were yesterday, the look on her exquisite little face as he answered:
“That, my sweet, is highly improbable seeing the mess they’ve made of my unfortunate undercarriage.”
Their engagement dragged on for a little longer, Kitty
s flirtations becoming more flagrant, and Julian’s outbursts of jealousy more bitter. Then came the day when Kitty announced she was going to marry an American and live in New York, and would darling Julian please forgive her, she had tried, really she had, but Mummy thought it was a crime to throw herself away on someone so unreasonable.
I suppose I just can’t take it,” she had said, looking at her own lovely legs with wistful appreciation. “The gay spots—dancing—that’s my life. You used to be such a marvellous partner, Julian. I just couldn’t bear to see you
limping around in the background. And Mummy says
Julian’s ready temper had made it easy for him to do a little tongue-lashing which momentarily eased his cruelly hurt pride, but it was Luke who saw how deep the bitter
ess went, and how pain and frustration might make an old man of Julian before his time.
“You mustn’t let it get you down,” he told him earnest
y. “You’re no cripple, and although you probably don’t think so now, one day you’ll marry—some nice girl who’s got her values right.”
“Oh, I’ll marry all right,” he said grimly. “I don’t intend to spend the rest of my days in single blessedness because some cheap little skate turned me down for a Yank with a whole pair of legs, but this time I’ll make my own choice. I’ll pick my wife out of an orphanage and see that she has no preconceived notions that interfere with mine.”
“My dear chap! I’m glad you’re taking it this way, all the same.”
But Julian’s dark eyes were bright with sardonic amuse
“I’m quite serious,” he retorted. “I know one of the directors of the Blacker Orphanage—he’ll fix things for me. It’s the ideal method, Luke. Pick ’em young, mould ’em as you want ’em. I’ll go down next week.”
“But, my dear fellow,” Luke expostulated, “you can’t just appear at the place and say you wa
t to pick an orphan for a wife. No self-respecting orphanage would let you take one off the premises!”
Julian settled more comfortably into his chair.
“My aunt wants a companion. They can’t object to that, can they?” he said. “She shall adopt the girl if necessary. Women are all alike, Luke. Your only hope is to get hold of them before they form undesirable interests and attachments. There
s a lot to be said for orphans.”
So here, in the scrubbed and unfriendly Visitors’ Room of the Blacker Orphanage, he stood, leaning on his stick, his eyes travelling slowly over the five faces turned to him.
Two of them were pretty, despite the drab uniform, two looked eager and willing to please, while the fifth just stood and stared at him, the light brown hair dragged unbecom
ngly off a high forehead giving her a skinned expression.
He was silent for so long that Matron cleared her throat.
“If I might make a suggestion, Mr. Dane,” she began,
“I would personally recommend
“Thank you, Matron,” he replied coolly. “I’ll take my own pick.”
“Just as you please, of
course. I only thought that
knowing these girls, which you do not
Someone giggled nervously and Julian said, addressing them generally:
“Would you like to live with my aunt and possibly be adopted?”
There was a chorus of assent.
“You would live in the, country,” Julian continued; “you might find it dull.”
There were swift denials, and one of them remarked: “It’s no whirl of gaiety here.”
Julian regarded her thoughtfully for a moment, then his eyes rested on the girl who just stood and stared, and so far had said nothing.
“What about you?” he asked idly. “Don’t you want to be adopted,
She lowered her eyes then and said the one word: “No.”
Julian raised his black eyebrows.
“This is very interesting,” he observed. “Do you want to remain in the orphanage for the rest of your days?” She was silent. “What’s your name?”
“Jennet,” she replied briefly.
“She came to us with that name written on a piece of paper pinned to her dress. It’s all we ever knew about her,” Matron said. “But of course we call her Jenny—so much more suitable.”
“I prefer Jennet,” said Julian. “Why are you the only one who doesn’t want to come away with me
he enquired in an amused voice. “Don’t you like the look of me?” She was silent again, and Matron said in exasperated tones:
“Jenny knows perfectly well that she will have to leave Blacker’s some day soon like all the other girls. But in any case, I think Katy would meet your requirements the best out of the five, Mr. Dane.”
“I’ve made my choice,” Julian said with finality. “I’ll take Jennet.”
He regarded her dismayed face and smiled a little grimly.
“A contented mind, you see, Matron,” he said with amusement. “Not always wanting a change of scene—an admirable quality coupled with a reluctance to accompany any strange man who asks her. I think she will suit my aunt very well.” And, he added to himself, though the plainest of the lot, those bones spell breeding.
“Very well,” said Matron, regarding Jennet with a certain sympathy. She had not taken to Mr. Dane herself, but it was a fine chance for one of these nameless orphans. She wished, however, it had not been Jennet. The girl was well-mannered enough, but not a good advertisement for the orphanage with that hungry, delicate look.
“When do you want her to be ready?”
“Now,” he said.
“Now! But the girl must have time to pack her th
gs. Couldn’t you come back in an hour?”
“I want to be back in town by then,” Julian replied. “Besides, she won’t need anything from here. My aunt will see to all that.”
Matron’s lips compressed in a thin line.
“Very well,” she said. “Girls, you may go. Jenny, go up to the dormitory and collect what you need for the night, then come to me in my office. Mr. Dane will wait for you here.”
The four of them sat on Jennet’s bed and burst into a babel of comments and questions.
“Of all things! It would have to be you!” cried Milly disgust
y. “Here I’ve been itching to get me out of this blasted hole for years and he has to pick our mousy Jenny-wren.”
“If he’d listened to Matron, it’d have been me,” said Katy complacently. “You’re too forward, Milly, for a ladies’ companion.”
“Why did you say you didn’t want to
go, Jenny?” said Milly. “You were as keen as we were to get out of here.”
Jennet paused in collecting her few belongings.
“I do want to ge
t not with him,” she said slowly
ve thought he’d give you a thrill,” giggled Maggie. “He reminds me of a film actor.”
“Didn’t you like him?” asked Lilly curiously.
as an uncomfortable sort of face,” Jennet said.
“Well, it’s the aunt wh
’s going to do the adopting, not him,” said Mil
y with a wink. “Gosh! What wouldn’t
give to be in your shoes, you lucky little so-and-so! Still, well, perhaps I’m
not going to be me fetching and carrying for some snarky old, dame.”
Jennet had put on her coat,
and the ugly uniform hat, and gazed for the last time round the cheerless dormitory with eyes that were a little frightened
“I suppose I'd better be going,” she said.
They thumped her on the back with rough good nature and wished her luck and were gone, laughing and joking down the corridor.
Lilly, alone, lingered
She was a big kindly girl, already turned seventeen, the oldest of them all. She stood regard
ng Jennet with a puzzled expression.
“I’m glad for you, Jen,” she said slowly. “It's a fine chance for you. Adoption doesn't often come along at our age, and you were always kind
of different to the others. I can see why he chose you.”
“Can you?” Jennet’s eyes were enormous. “I can’t.”
l, we’re a
l kinds here, coming here as we mostly do with no known parentage. But you
re his kind, it you know what
Jennet didn’t know. She said that Mr. Dane alarmed her and she thought he was probably lacking in affection.
“You’re a rum kid,” said Lilly. “As if that mattered when you’ve your way to make in the world.”
“Oh, but Lilly, it does. It matters terribly, said Jennet. “You don’t expect affection at Blacker’s, but outside—one will be an individual outside—that
s why I’ve wanted to get out.”
“Well,” said Lilly, looking puzzled, “there’s always the aunt. Perhaps she’s some nice old lady who’ll let you love her if you must.”
“I suppose I’d better be going, Jennet said again. She gave Lilly a hug. “Good-bye, Lilly. I’ll write to y
She went downstairs and knocked on the door o
the office, and when told to enter, stood silently before Matron’s desk waiting to be spoken to.
“Here’s your National Health and insurance cards,
Matron said briskly. “Don’t lose them now. You’d better hand them straight over to Mr. Dane for safety.
She paused and looked at Jennet doubtfully. It had always been her custom to say a few words of advice to orphans who were leaving, but she could think of nothing adequate in this child’s case. For almost the first time, she wondered who her parents could have been, and it seemed probable, looking at her, that she had come from just such a home as that to which she was going.
“I hope you fully realize, my dear, how fortunate you are,” she said aloud. “You are being given an exceptional start in life for a girl in your position, and I only hope you will always bring credit to Blacker’s.”
“Never forget the orphanage which gave you shelter when others would not.”
“Now, you had better go. Mr. Dane will be getting impatient. Write to us and let us know how you get on.” Matron never kissed. She held out a cold hand across the desk and they shook hands formally.
Outside the room again, Jennet walked slowly and with growing hesitation down the corridor to the Visitors’ Room.
as standing where she had left him, right at the very end of the room. He did not turn as she opened the door, and she stood just inside the threshold, looking nervously at his back, then said in a small voice:
“I’m ready, Mr. Dane.”
“Come here a minute,” he said, still without turning.
She took a few steps forward, then hesitated.
He turned round then and said impatiently:
“'What’s the matter? I want you to come over here.”
She started slowly across the room, clutching her news
aper parcel in
one hand. He leant against the wall watching her, then he laughed:
Do you have to bring that extraordinary-looking parcel?”
“It’s my toothbrush—and things,” she said. “Matron said I was to give these to you.”
He took the cards that she held out, glancing at them idly.
“Jennet Brown,” he read out. “Is that your real name?”
“We none of us know our real names,” she replied simply.
He made no comment but slid the cards carelessly into the breast-pocket of his coat.
“Well, let’s go,” he said, “this place is enough to freeze the marrow in your bones.”
They walked in silence back across the room, the tap of his stick and the slight drag of his foot the only sounds
besides her own heavy shoes. He walked slowly and it seemed a long time before they had left the room and started down the corridor to the hall. The familiar smell of beeswax and disinfectant greeted Jennet for the last time with the sharpness of sudden nostalgia. She was leaving Blacker’s, the only home she had ever known, and she was filled with a forlorn sense of loss.
She stood on the steps of the orphanage. Behind her the bleak building rose, vast and ugly, never to receive her again. She stood there for a moment blinking away the unwonted tears, and Julian’s voice called irritably from the car:
“Come along, child, what are you standing there for?”
“Yes, Mr. Dane,” she
said, and ran down the steps and got in beside him. Julian only spoke once during the short drive to London, then he said abruptly:
“Throw it out of the window.”
“Throw what out of the window?” she asked nervously.
“The hat of course. I can’t stand it any longer.”
She took the hat off and twisted it doubtfully.
she protested, shocked.
“Out of the window—a good hat?”
“It may be a good hat,” said Julian wearily, “but it offends my eye. Throw it out of the window.”
“Yes, Mr. Dane,” Jennet said, and tossed the hat regretfully into the road, wondering if anyone would pick it up.
The orphanage was situated in the suburbs of London, and it was not long before they reached Julian’s flat on the Embankment.
She followed him into the big foyer, a little awed by its magnificence. The lift wrought havoc in her stomach, and she stood uncertainly just inside the door of Julian’s comfortable living room, dumbly watching while he switched on the electric
fire, and gave a brief, peremptory order on the house telephone.
“Well, sit down,” he said impatiently.
She sat on the extreme edge of a deep cushioned chair and Julian lit a cigarette and observed her more closely.
“You look green,” he remarked. “Do you feel all right?”
“I feel sick,” she said. “The lift, you know.
“Good lord!” he said. “Here—I’d better show you the bathroom.”
“I don’t want to be sick out loud,” she said reassuringly.