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Authors: Jacqueline Wilson

Hetty Feather

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THE DINOSAUR'S PACKED LUNCH
THE MONSTER STORY-TELLER

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SLEEPOVERS

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BURIED ALIVE!
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COOKIE
THE DARE GAME
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JACKY DAYDREAM
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MIDNIGHT
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MY SECRET DIARY
MY SISTER JODIE
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THE SUITCASE KID
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DOUBLEDAY

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

ISBN 9781407048420

Version 1.0

www.randomhouse.co.uk

Hetty Feather
was partly inspired by Jacqueline Wilson's role as the inaugural Thomas Coram Fellow of the Foundling Museum. To find out more about the
Foundling Museum which tells the story of the Foundling Hospital, please visit
www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk

HETTY FEATHER
A DOUBLEDAY BOOK

ISBN: 9781407048420

Version 1.0

Published in Great Britain by Doubleday,
an imprint of Random House Children's Books
A Random House Group company

This edition published 2009

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Text copyright © Jacqueline Wilson, 2009
Illustrations copyright © Nick Sharratt, 2009

The right of Jacqueline Wilson to be identified as the author
of this work has been asserted in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

This electronic book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

Set in Century Schoolbook by Falcon Oast Graphic Ltd

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THE RANDOM HOUSE GROUP Limited Reg. No. 954009

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available
from the British Library.

For my dear friend Mary Vacher.
Thank you so much for all your brilliant
professional support –
and all your loving care and kindness.

1

My name is Hetty Feather. Don't mock. It's
not my
real
name. I'm absolutely certain my
mother would have picked a beautiful romantic
name for me – though sadly I have not turned out
beautiful or romantic.

I shall picture her:

'My little darling,' my mother whispered,
wrapping me up tightly in a shawl. She held me
close close close to her chest, as if she could never
bear to let me go.

'My little . . .' Rosamund? Seraphina? Christobel?
My eyes are my best feature, as blue as the summer
sky. Did she perhaps call me Sapphire? Azure?
Bluebell?

I like to think my baby hair had not yet sprouted
from my little pink head. A bald baby can still just
about be beautiful. An infant with hair as scarlet as
sin is an abomination, spawn of the Devil. So says
Matron Bottomly, and she pulls my hair hard. Once
when I cheeked her really wondrously, calling her
Matron Stinking Bottomly, she pulled so fiercely, a
whole hank of my hair came away in her hand. She
would have been in trouble if anyone had spotted my
poor bald patch, but she crammed my cap down hard
and no one saw. Well, two hundred foundling girls
witnessed her assault on me, but Matron Bottomly
didn't give a fig about them.

It took an entire year for my hair to grow back
properly, but it was worth it because from that
day onwards we
all
referred to her as Matron
Stinking Bottomly – though not out loud. No other
girl is as bold as me. I have a nature as fiery as my
wretched hair.

I do so
hope
I was bald when I was newly born in
1876. Suppose I came into the world with little red
tufts. Oh dearie, what a shock for my poor mother.
Maybe she was tempted to call me Carrot or Goldfish
or Marmalade.

No, I am absolutely certain my mother would not
mock me. She held me close, she rubbed her cheek
over my flaming head, she gently wound a little lock
around her finger. She loved my red hair because it
was mine. She cut off one tiny tuft to plait with pins
and keep within a locket. That way she kept a small
part of me for ever.

She didn't
want
to give me away. She loved me
with all her heart. I know I was a poor, puny little
thing, hardly weighing so much as a twist of sugar.
I'm sure my mother nursed me night and day, trying
her hardest to build me up and make me strong.
If I close my eyes now and hunch up small, I can
almost feel her arms around me, hear her humming
a lullaby, smell her sweet perfume, clasp her white
hand with my tiny fingers. I cannot focus properly,
but if I try really hard I can see her pale face, the
tears in her own blue eyes.

Everyone says you can't remember back to
babyhood. I've asked the nurses and the teachers
and they all say the same. Even Jem insisted this
is true, and he is the wisest boy ever. However, I'm
absolutely certain they are all wrong on this point.
I
can
remember.

I remember the worst day ever, when my mother
bathed me and dressed me in my napkin and my
petticoats and a little white gown she had stitched
herself. She wrapped me up in a crocheted shawl and
then carried me outside. She took me on a long, long
journey. I'm sure I remember the roar and whistle
of a train. Then I think we took a cab because I cried
at the strange bumping and the clack of the horses'
hooves. She held me tighter, rocking me in her arms,
crying too.

Then the bump-clack stopped and my mother
stayed crouching inside, shaking, so that I shook
too. The cabman shouted at her and she gave me
one last desperate kiss.

'I will always love you,' she whispered right into
my ear.

Then she clambered out of the cab, clutching me
close. She said a few words to the cabman and then
walked over to a tall gateway. She murmured to the
gatekeeper, so softly that she had to repeat herself.
Then the gate creaked open and we stepped inside.
There must have been other mothers, other infants,
because I heard wailing all around us.

My mother and I stood in front of a long polished
table where a line of solemn men sat and asked
questions. My mother answered, while I whimpered
dolefully. Then we were led to a little room with
a bright gaslight overhead. I blinked and tried to
burrow into my mother's breast, but large cold
hands snatched me away from her.

I was laid on my back on a hard table. My
shawl was tugged away. My beautiful white dress
was unbuttoned and taken from me. Both my
petticoats were pulled over my head. They even
removed my napkin so I was lying there stark
naked. The hard hands turned my head from side
to side, prodded my belly, moved my arms and legs
about while I protested vigorously, screaming my
head off.

Then the hands wrapped me in strange coarse
clothing, not mine at all! They picked me up and
carried me away. My arms and legs were too small
and weak to punch and kick. All I could do was
scream. I screamed and screamed for my mother,
but she wasn't there any more. I was being carried
down endless corridors in this vast building, away
from my mother for ever.

I was bound so tightly within the scratchy
woollen shawl that I couldn't move. I was laid
on my back in an iron cot, still screaming. I cried
for my mother, but she didn't come to rescue me. I
cried for my own soft familiar clothes, but I stayed
stuck in these harsh, worn garments reeking of
carbolic. I cried for the comfort of my thumb, trapped
inside the shawl. I cried for gentle arms and warm
sweet milk.

'Now now, what a terrible noise! You're disturbing
all the other babies. What are you crying for, hm?'
said one of the nurses, picking me up.

What did she
think
I was crying for? I was only
a few days old and I'd lost everything I loved. No
wonder I howled. But she meant it kindly enough.
She held me against her flat starched chest and
patted my back as if my problem was just a little
trapped wind.

'There, there, nearly time for your feed,'
she said.

She put me down again and I cried harder. I only
quietened for a few seconds when someone plucked
me once more from my cot. I desperately hoped
they were about to return me to my mother, but the
hands that held me were coldly capable, not tender
and stroking. A bottle was thrust into my mouth.
My lips puckered and would not suck. It tasted
wrong. It wasn't my mother. I choked and tried to
spit it out.

'This one's a hopeless feeder – and she's tiny as
it is. I don't know why they accepted her. She's not
long for this world.'

'They'll have to christen her quick or she'll be off
to Limbo-land,' said another. 'Let me try. I'll make
her feed.'

I was passed over promptly and the bottle
poked hard against my mouth. I kept my lips
pressed together. She pinched my nose so I had to
open my mouth to breathe. I yelled furiously at this
mean trick.

'Temper, temper! Never mind Limbo-land, she's
like a little imp from H-e-l-l,' she said, giving me a
shake. 'Take the bottle like a good girl! You don't
want to starve, do you?'

I did not care whether I lived or died if I could not
be with my mother. I cried all day, until my throat
was raw and I shook all over, but it was no use. She
still didn't come.

There were other babies crying too, though not
as loudly and insistently as me. I couldn't see them
as I was stuck on my back, but I could hear them.
I heard their sucking and sighing after the hateful
hands had lifted them from their cots.

'Won't you feed too, poor little lamb?' This was a
gentler voice, with smaller, softer hands. She wasn't
my mother but she cradled me almost as carefully.
She didn't ram the choking bottle into my mouth
straight away. She shook a few drops of milk onto
her finger and stroked it against my lips. I opened
my mouth and sucked.

'Ah, it's good, isn't it? Some more?'

She gave me more drops on her finger and I
sucked it dry. She did this again and again. When
I opened my mouth eagerly for more, she edged the
bottle very cautiously against my lips. I could not
resist sucking – and felt the sweet milk splashing
down my sore throat. I still did not like the feel of
the bottle, but I ached with hunger and thirst so I
sucked and sucked.

'My, look at Winnie with 25629! She's got her
sucking away a treat now.'

So the kind nurse was called Winnie. And 25629
seemed to be
my
name now. I was not old enough to
understand numbers, but the long sound was harsh
and I hated it. However, before long I was given yet
another name. I was dressed in a gown so stiff with
starch I was stretched out rigidly, scarcely able to
draw breath. I was carried to a new place, vast and
echoing, with strange windows that played patterns
of red and blue on the stone floor. There was solemn
talk and then a voice addressed me.

'I christen you Hetty Feather,' he said, and
sprinkled icy water on my forehead.

I cried, trying to tell him that I didn't
wish
to be
called Hetty Feather, that wasn't my real name at
all, my real name was . . .

But I couldn't speak yet so I simply screamed,
and someone tutted and scolded, whispering that
I was a bad example to the other babies. I paused
for breath and heard thin copycat wails. I took
satisfaction in the fact that no one else could
achieve anywhere near my volume, for all that I was
so small.

I was carted back to the sleeping room in disgrace.
Gentle Winnie was there and rocked me gently.

'Hello, little Hetty! No need to cry so. There now.
I'll take the christening robe off and fix a bottle for
you.'

I was soon soothed, though I hiccuped a little as
I gulped my milk. Winnie laughed and hiccuped too,
teasing me. I peered up at her, trying hard to focus.
She had a round rosy face with fair hair escaping
from her cap. She wasn't special like my mother
– but perhaps Winnie could be a second mother to
me now? I was too small even to smile, but I fixed
my blue eyes on her. She looked back, doing all the
smiling for both of us.

Other babies were wailing now, demanding
attention, but Winnie still held me, whispering my
new name. 'Little Hetty Feather! Well, you're light
as a feather and no mistake.' She whirled round and
round so that I whirled too. We danced in and out
of all the iron cots. It felt as if I was flying. I willed
Winnie to whirl us right out of the door, away from
this chill, puzzling prison, but another nurse spoke
to her sharply and she put me back in my little bed,
both of us breathless.

I did not cry for my mother that night. I still
thought of her longingly, but I consoled myself with
the thought that I'd see Winnie in the morning –
and every morning after that.

I couldn't have been more wrong. The next day
new hands fed me, bathed me, and then dressed
me in my uncomfortable clothes. The shawl was
wound extra tightly and knotted at the ends, so
that I resembled a small woollen parcel – and like
a parcel, I was picked up, carried along corridors,
taken outside the huge door and posted into a
waiting cab.

I was stuffed into a large basket padded with
rags. I lay there, too stunned even to scream. What
was happening to me now? I wanted Winnie. I
wanted my mother. My heart started beating so fast
it nearly burst through my shawl.
Were they taking
me back to my mother?

The cab door opened again. I heard an infant
wail, so sad, so scared. My mouth was shut so it
couldn't be me. The cries grew frantic as another
child was crammed into the basket beside me. I let
out a little wail myself and the other crying stopped
in surprise. Then it started up again and I started
too. We drew breath at the same time so we were
crying in unison. Then I stopped and the other babe
stopped too. It was as if we were talking to each
other.

Hello! I'm here too. I'm just as anxious as you
are.

Where are they taking us?

I don't know. I want them to take me back to my
mother.

I want mine too!

Well, at least we have each other.

Our hands were trapped in our woollen shawls,
but it was as if we were reaching out and clasping
each other.

The cab jerked and the horses' hooves clacked
and I remembered my own mother so painfully.
Then we stopped and the door opened, and my
fellow basket baby and I blinked in the sudden
light. Someone took us up out of the cab, swinging
us along into a vast, roaring, smoky hall. This
brought back memories too. I now know that
we were at a vast London station. Soon we were
stowed in our basket upon a seat and the train
jerked into motion. The other baby and I cried
lustily, but the steady chug and whir of the
wheels beneath us grew soothing and soon we both
slept.

I dreamed that I was back in my mother's
arms, but when I woke I was still trussed up in
the shawl and stuffed in the basket, and the baby
next to me was wailing forlornly. I cried too because
I was hungry and thirsty, my stomach empty and
aching. The baby beside me set up a mournful
descant.

When we lived in the huge bleak building we had
always been fed every few hours and our napkins
changed. I was now wet and sore, my shawl damp
and reeking. So we cried and cried, and then slept
some more out of sheer exhaustion – and then the
train slowed and stopped. The door opened and
we were swung out into the fresh air. Our carrier
stamped his feet and marched forwards. There was
a clamour of voices with a softer country burr. The
basket rocked as hands reached in, lifting out my
baby neighbour.

'This here is Master Gideon Smeed, fresh from
the Foundling Hospital!'

I heard laughing and cooing and clapping. I was
left in the basket by myself! I screamed – and more
hands came back for me.

BOOK: Hetty Feather
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