Authors: Brit Trogen,Kari Trogen
Tags: #Children's Fiction
You see, any talent that isn't used will eventually be lost. By the time Margaret reached her sixth birthday, she could no longer hear any of the quiet sounds that had once filled her small world. And by the time Great-aunt Linda died of old age four years later, Margaret had forgotten that she'd ever heard them at all.
After Great-aunt Linda's funeral, the backgammon ladies herded Margaret out the church door, told her to mind her manners and shooed her onto a crowded bus.
“Going to Hopeton, eh?” asked her seatmate, a wrinkled old man who smelled faintly of cough drops. “To that charity â what's it called? The Worried Women's Group, or something?”
Margaret nodded, grabbing hold of the seat in front of her as the bus lurched forward. As she settled into her seat and the man settled into a coughing fit, she had the chance, for the first time in many days, to think about her situation.
Margaret now lacked a great many things a young girl should have. She had no home, no family, and no possessions save for a ratty tweed bag that had once belonged to Cousin Amos. Her hair was a mess of knots, as no one had thought to comb it in three days, and the tight black dress she had worn to the funeral pinched painfully under the arms.
Some people in Margaret's place might sit around feeling sorry for themselves, but if she had learned anything from Great-aunt Linda it was that well-brought-up people should always “keep a stiff upper lip.” This was Linda's way of saying that you should just get on with things instead of moping. So as Margaret was jerked and jostled and coughed on during that long and uncomfortable ride, she tried her best to feel hopeful about what lay ahead.
After several cramped and bumpy hours, the bus came to a stop.
“C.L.C.,” said the driver. “That's you,” he added, bobbing his head at Margaret, who made her way to the front of the bus.
Stepping out onto the sidewalk, she looked around. She was standing on a quiet street of narrow buildings, trimly painted in pastel yellows, peaches and blues. There was no one in sight, but the building directly in front of her stood out from the rest.
It was smart red brick, and hanging over its door was a sign. On the sign there were large curlicue letters that read: THE CONCERNED LADIES' CLUB. And below them, in smaller letters:
Finding a Home for the Pitiful Foundling, for over Thirty-Seven Years
. As Margaret stared up at the sign, her eyes fixed themselves on four letters: H-O-M-E.
Taking a deep breath, she walked up the steps, stretched onto the tips of her toes and knocked on the door with a large bronze door knocker that was carved in the shape of a hand.
“Yes?” said a voice, though there didn't seem to be anybody there.
“Hello?” said Margaret.
“Who's there?” said the voice, and Margaret realized it was coming from a mail slot set into the door. She stretched up to look through the slot and saw a pair of large bulgy eyes peering back at her.
“I'm Margaret Grey,” she told the eyes. “I'd like a home, please.”
The eyes narrowed. “Are you a foundling?” asked the voice.
“I think so,” Margaret said.
“Are you pitiful?” The eyes bulged even more as they stared down at her knotted hair and ratty tweed bag.
“I suppose,” Margaret said.
The eyes disappeared, and the mail slot snapped shut. A moment later Margaret heard the scraping of locks being turned, and the door swung open to reveal a short, dumpy old lady wearing a lacy pink dress. In addition to bulgy eyes, she had bluish-gray hair that was pinned up in tight curls all over her head. She smiled a toothy smile.
“Welcome,” she said, “to the Concerned Ladies' Club!”
Margaret smiled back.
“Follow me,” the lady said.
Margaret followed her down a narrow hallway. They came to a room with a desk, and sitting behind the desk was another elderly lady, this one wearing a purple pantsuit.
“I found one!” said the dumpy lady.
The lady behind the desk looked up. She was thin and birdlike, with large glasses and a long pointy nose.
Prudence,” she said, looking concerned.
“Oops!” said the dumpy lady, who was called Prudence. “I almost forgot.” Taking hold of Margaret's sleeve, she cleared her throat noisily. “Admission request for one Pitiful Foundling to the care of the C.L.C.”
“Granted,” said the birdlike lady. She stared at Margaret over the tops of her glasses. “Hmph,” she said. “I suppose she'll do. Leave us, Prudie.”
Prudie bobbed her head and set off back down the hall.
The birdish lady pointed at one of the chairs. “Sit,” she said.
The lady took a sheet of paper from one of the desk drawers. “Name?” she asked, without looking up.
“Margaret Grey,” Margaret said.
The lady peered up over the tops of her glasses. “With whom were you staying before now?”
“My Great-aunt Linda.”
“Hmph,” said the lady, scribbling on the paper. “And where is your Great-aunt Linda now? Tired of taking care of you, I suppose. Probably gone on vacation to the Netherlands.”
“No,” Margaret said. “She died.”
“Hmph,” the lady said again, as if that was a very inconsiderate thing for a person to do. “What are your ambitions in the world?”
“I beg your pardon?” said Margaret.
, girl,” said the lady. “Surely you don't intend to be a silly little child for the rest of your life.Â I, for example, started my career in knitting then moved into philanthropy. What do you intend to do?”
“I don't know,” said Margaret.Â
“Tsk,” said the lady, shaking her head. She jotted something down on the paper. “Well, you ought to be very grateful. We've got a place for you at the Hopeton Orphanage.”
“Oh,” said Margaret, who didn't feel especially grateful but tried her best to look it. “Thank you.”
But the birdlike lady wasn't listening. “Han-nah!” she shouted suddenly, peering out the office door. “Han-nah!”
After a moment another woman appeared in the room. She wasn't dumpy like the woman who'd answered the door, or birdish like the woman at the desk. She wasn't very old or very young. In fact, if you were seeing her for the first time you wouldn't think there was anything really remarkable about her at all, unless you looked into her hazel eyes and saw the depth of kindness there.
“Hannah,” said the birdlike lady. “Prepare the car. We are taking Marjorie to her new home.”
“Margaret,” corrected Margaret.
“Hmph,” said the birdlike lady.
The unremarkable face of the lady named Hannah blossomed into a warm smile. “How wonderful!” she said, her voice as soft as feathers. “It's a pleasure to meet you, Margaret. I'm Hannah Tender.”
Hannah's hazel eyes met Margaret's brown ones. And though Margaret still knew she was alone in the world, she felt somehow a little safer.
“Yes, yes,” said the birdlike lady. “Follow
please, Hannah. The car.”
“Right away, Gertrude.” Hannah gave Margaret another warm smile, then hurried from the room.
“Very well, child,” continued the birdlike lady, whose name, it appeared, was Gertrude. “I assume you don't need anything else.”
Margaret was tired, hungry and rather in need of a good scrubbing, but not wanting to be a bother, she shook her head politely.
“Good,” said Gertrude. “I'll telephone Miss Switch, then, and we'll be off.”
And before Margaret could ask who Miss Switch might be, Gertrude had shooed her out into the hallway and shut the door.
If there has ever been a time in your life when you have wanted something to come right away, like Christmas morning, or your birthday, or the day you will no longer be alone in the world, then you know that the more you want something to hurry up and arrive, the longer it is likely to take.
And so, as Margaret gazed outÂ the window of a shining pink car, watching the streets of the town give way to trees and rolling hills, the drive to the Hopeton Orphanage seemed to last forever.
“Don't daydream, child,” said Gertrude, who was driving the car. “It causes warts.”
“That it does,” agreed Prudie, who was in the front seat.
“You must be nervous,” whispered Hannah, who was sitting next to Margaret in the back of the car.
“Keep your head squarely on your shoulders,” Gertrude continued.
“There's nothing like lemon juice to get rid of warts,” said Prudie.
“Yes,” Margaret whispered back, staring up at Hannah. “I just hope they like me.”
Hannah smiled. “They'll love you,” she whispered. And then, as if she were reading Margaret's mind, “Don't worry, we're almost there.”
Sure enough, only a few minutes later, the dirt road carried them over the top of a hill. “There!” breathed Hannah, pointing off in the distance.
Margaret caught her breath. At the end of the road was an enormous white gabled house. Wide windows shone across the front of the building in the light of the sun, and a gleaming porch circled around it.
As they came nearer, Margaret saw that children wearing lovely red and blue coveralls were playing on the porch steps, which had bushes of budding roses on the lawn at either side. The children were smiling, and they waved happily at the car as it approached.
“Here we are,” said Gertrude. “The Hopeton Orphanage.”Â
Margaret's Great-aunt Linda had often said, “You should never judge a book by its cover.” This is very difficult advice to follow, as the cover of a book can often tell you a great deal about whether or not it is something you might want to read.
If you saw a book with a plain white cover that was called
An Introduction to Economics,
you would likely put it down and walk away. But if the book had a colorful picture on the front and was called something delightful like
The Mystery of the Dragon's Egg
Adventures on Jungle Rock Island,
you would probably snatch it off the shelf in an instant.
So you can hardly blame Margaret, when she saw the enormous house that was to be her home and the happy children who were to be her friends, for judging that the Hopeton Orphanage was going to be a wonderful place to live.
Gertrude pulled the car around in a wide circle and came to a stop.Â Just then, the front door of the house swung open and a woman stepped out.
If Margaret had been excited before, she now felt close to bursting. Because her first impression of this woman was that she was the most beautiful person Margaret had ever seen.
The woman was tall, with silky golden hair and creamy skin. She was wearing a plain gray dress with a tattered flower-print apron tied around her waist, and a dusting of flour was brushed lightly across her hands and one cheek.
When she looked up and saw the car, her face broke into a dazzling smile.
The children parted before her as she descended the steps, and Gertrude, Prudie and Hannah climbed out of the car.
“Gertrude, Prudence!” said the woman, wiping her hands on her apron and waving at them.
“Miss Switch!” said Gertrude. “How nice to see you again.”
“Hello, Hannah,” said Miss Switch, with a small nod. “And this must be our new arrival.”
She opened Margaret's door and leaned down so that they were eye to eye.
“Hello,” said Margaret, feeling dizzy. The beautiful woman smelled like fresh baked bread, and she was looking into Margaret's eyes exactly as Margaret had always believed a mother would.
“Why don't you come out to meet your new family?”
Miss Switch held out a soft hand, which Margaret took as she climbed down from the car. Everything seemed to be happening in a blur.
“Children,” said Miss Switch. “Say hello to your new sister, Margaret.”
The fact that this beautiful woman knew her name was almost too much to take in, and Margaret barely heard as the children called out “Hello, Margaret!” in a chorus of voices.
As Miss Switch led her up the gleaming white steps and through the front door, it seemed to Margaret that she really was walking in a dream.
The house was warm and cozy, with comfy chairs and plush carpets and velvet drapes hanging from the windows. Miss Switch led Margaret into the dining room, where an enormous carved table was laid with silver platters of strawberries and cookies and tarts and cakes. It was more food than Margaret had seen in her entire life. She shivered with delight.
“Are you cold, dear?” Miss Switch asked.
Without waiting for an answer, she produced a delicate red shawl, which she draped over Margaret's shoulders. It was as soft as silk and the nicest piece of clothing Margaret had ever worn. When she breathed in, a delicious perfume filled her nose.
Hannah followed them inside and smiled when she saw the joy on Margaret's face. “I see everything here is still as lovely as I remember it,” she said, looking at Miss Switch.
Miss Switch smiled, too, revealing two rows of even, pearly teeth.
“Of course, Hannah, dear. We were just about to sit down for tea.” Turning from Hannah, she put a soft hand on Margaret's shoulder. “I hope you're hungry, sweetling.”
Margaret nodded, wide-eyed, feeling she might burst into tears from so much happiness.
“Now then,” said Gertrude, who had walked in with a purple clipboard. “Miss Switch, do you accept full responsibility for this pitiful foundling and hereby take guardianship of her from the C.L.C. from this point forward?”
“I do,” said Miss Switch.
“And Marjorie,” Gertrude said, reading from the paper, “do you agree to this arrangement as well?”
“Yes!” breathed Margaret, barely louder than a whisper.