The Boy With the Golden Eyes
by London Lampy
"Sit down and be quiet this instant, or I'll be sure to let the nuns know what ill behaved little wretches you are!" Father Gregory snapped at the twins, who were attempting to push one another into the luggage space between the seats. They completely failed to pay any attention to him whatsoever.
"Cale, Cole, do as he says." Jane assumed her best "strict" voice, and the two boys looked at her then reluctantly climbed back onto their seat.
Jack lent his head against the window and watched the landscape slipping past, they had been on the train for several hours and despite the circumstances at first it had felt like something of an adventure. However now they were all bored and among the three eldest a certain amount of anxiety about what was going to happen to them when they reached the orphanage was beginning to set in. Father Gregory wasn't helping, he clearly disliked accompanying them and had started the journey in pursed lipped silence, but as the day wore on had become increasingly irritated at the antics of the children, in particular the boisterous twins, and had taken to using informing the nuns of their bad behaviour as a threat.
"Do you really think they'll be that bad?" Jane whispered to Jack and Dana while the priest was busy scolding Cale, Cole and Gary for starting a foot war with one another.
"I hope not." Jack said, noting that the green and brown fields seemed to be lessening and were being replaced by grey stone and brick red buildings.
"They'll all be evil bitches, I bet." Dana spat, her narrow mouth turning down at the corners.
"Dana, don't use that kind of language." Jane looked shocked, her blue eyes wide in her round face.
"Well they will be, we'll be beaten and fed nothing but old bread and water, I might run away." The dark haired girl crossed her arms and scowled.
"Jack, it's not going to be like that, is it?" Jane wound a strand of strawberry blond hair round her finger nervously.
"I don't know what it's going to be like, but I very much doubt it's going to be that bad, Dana's just being dramatic, aren't you Dana?" Dana shrugged in reply. "And at least we'll all be together, whatever happens I'll be looking out for you." He put his arm around Jane and squeezed her. "I bet I'll be the tallest boy there, not even the nuns will dare pick on you when they find out I'm your brother." Jane gave him a small smile but continued to worry at her hair.
Soon the countryside disappeared altogether and there was nothing to be seen but buildings on either side of the train. It was late afternoon and the cloudy sky had already started to darken by the time the train pulled into the Parnell central station for its final stop.
Each of the children had a small bag containing a few clothes and personal items which they carried as Father Gregory led them through the crowded streets, stopping every so often to ask passers by for directions. They were fascinated by their surroundings, with the exception of the priest none of them had ever been further than the next village before, and the sheer number of people and buildings all pressed together interested and scared them in equal measures.
"Look!" Gary suddenly exclaimed, pointing as they turned down a side street. "A visk!"
They all turned to stare as a mottled green figure in russet robes strolled along the opposite side to them. The lizard people had been infrequent and not particularly welcome visitors to their part of the world, and even Jack had had only seen three in his lifetime.
"And another one!" Cale shouted, pointing at a slightly browner visk in dark blue robes and a white head wrap walking toward them. "That one's a lady 'cos its got a tea towel on its head, Miss Osram taught us that."
The small group had come to a halt as they stared in wonder at the unfamiliar creature. The female visk turned and regarded them with her pure black eyes for a moment, then shook her head and carried on.
"Give me strength." Father Gregory raised his eyes to the gloomy skies. "You can't stop every time you spot something of interest to you, we need to get to the orphanage before nightfall, come on."
After another twenty minutes of walking, during which they lost one of the twins and had to double back, only to find him staring into a shop window enraptured by a display of hunting knives, they finally reached their destination.
"At last." The priest said, the relief evident in his voice. The children all stared at the sight before them. High grey stone walls surrounded a group of buildings in the same stone which were visible through large black wrought iron gates with a spiked top and the words "Bryce Orphanage" spelled out in two foot high iron letters. Father Gregory pulled on a chain set into the wall at the side of the gates and after a few moments it was answered by a nun dressed all in black, her hair tightly covered by a wimple which gave the impression that her pale, wrinkled face was floating in a black void. She greeted the priest, he explained who they were then she opened a wicket gate set into the larger gates and led the party across the cobbled yard that contained a single, leafless tree. There was not a one bright thing in sight, it was all shades of black and grey and it seemed to Jack that with every step he took the colour was draining out of his world.
Jane had watched silently, half hidden behind Jack as the youngest three boys were led off, all of them protesting, to what the nun who had met them at the gates called the "junior's building".
"It's how things work here, you might have been used to simply doing as you pleased under your old guardian, but there are rules here and you will obey them." Father Gregory had said when Dana objected to the going of Cale, Cole and Gary as they waited in a dark corridor for someone to take the three of them to their new quarters. The walls were painted a sickly brown colour, with the paint peeling badly in places, and floor was covered in worn brown linoleum. "Children under twelve in one building, twelve and over in another, and you lot are no different." He then smiled as he spotted a tall, thin nun approaching them.
"Good afternoon Mother Hardigan, it's a pleasure to meet you again." He greeted the woman. She nodded to him, narrowing her eyes critically as she cast them over the three remaining children. It felt to Jane as if the woman's gaze carried a cold breeze with it, and she rubbed her arms as goose bumps formed under her sweater. The nun had a face so devoid of flesh that it was almost a skull, her cheeks were hollow, her eyebrows sparse and grey and she had deep set muddy brown eyes with yellowish whites. Her mouth was a wide, flat lipless line set above an angular chin and it was filled with large horse like teeth. She looked to be in her fifties, but it was hard to be sure with everything but her face covered.
"Mother Hardigan is the head of the seniors building, and as such she is in charge of you and to be treated with the highest respect at all times." The priest addressed them, glaring at each one of them in turn, making Jane feel small and angry. She wasn't rude to people, Dana was quite often, occasionally even was Jack if he was riled, but not her, and it wasn't fair of the priest to suggest that she might be. Father Gregory then spoke to the nun. "I'm afraid they have little discipline and even less piety, their late guardian never saw fit to ever bring them to chapel, and instead filled their heads with all kinds of nonsense. You'll have your work cut out with them I fear, but if anyone can create useful, obedient members of society out of hopeless cases it's you."
"Nanny did not fill our heads with nonsense!" Jack protested, at the same time as Dana was objecting to being described as a hopeless case, but not wanting to be seen to be speaking out of turn Jane stayed quiet.
"Silence!" The nun snapped, her voice a whip crack. "The first lesson for you to learn is that you only speak when spoken to, not about."
Jane made a small whimpering noise and stepped back all the way behind Jack, her worst fears seemed to be coming true, but the other two simply glared at the woman.
"Father, I'm sure you're anxious to be on your way and dispense charge of these children into my care." Mother Hardigan said, never taking her eyes off the three of them.
"Thank you Mother, I have an invitation to dine with an old friend tonight, and it wouldn't do to be late." He then turned to the last of Nanny's charges. "You have been handed a second chance here, take it. Forget everything that old libertine taught you and replace it with the words of the sisters and of the gods and you may just manage to make something of yourselves. A girl who was raised here recently took the position of head housekeeper to to our own Bishop of Parnell. So you see a rewarding life can be achieved if you apply yourselves." With that sentiment he bid Mother Hardigan farewell and left, and even though the priest wasn't someone she knew well Jane had to clamp her mouth shut to avoid calling out after him to come back. He was their last link to Nanny and Dovedale, the last person who could reverse the decision to send them here and let them go back home.
"Follow me." The nun instructed them. "You need uniforms, your old clothes will be burnt as a precaution against parasites, place them in the bins in the changing rooms."
"We don't have any parasites, Nanny always made sure we bathed and washed our clothes regularly." Jane said, appalled at the suggestion as they strode through gloomy passageways after Mother Hardigan.
"The next one of you who speaks out of turn will be punished." She snapped. "Don't dispose of your shoes though, you may keep them."
"Does that mean that our shoes are parasite free then?" Jane heard Jack ask as they stopped at a doorway. This was followed by a swooshing noise and the sound of Jack yelping in pain. Jane stared unable to believe what she had just seen, the nun had hit Jack hard on the back of his hand with a wooded ruler produced from inside her sleeve.
"Ow!" Jack grumbled, rubbing his reddening knuckles. "You hit me."
As Mother Hardigan tucked the ruler out of sight again Jane felt herself on the edge of tears, she might not have been the one who was hit but seeing her brother being treated like that was almost too much for her to bear. "You were warned about speaking out of turn." The nun said smugly. "Let that be a lesson to all of you."
Mother Hardigan had selected uniforms for each of them from the shelves around the room, along with a second set and two sets of night clothes, then sent them to change in a pair of curtained booths at the back. She could hear the girls whispering to each other and she called out to them to keep quiet. Mother Hardigan didn't like girls, with their gossip, tears, moods and dramas they irked her and she only disliked one thing more, and that was boys. For them she reserved a special loathing, as far as she was concerned they were hideous smelly noisy energetic things who were far too interested in the contents of their underwear. Jack in particular looked to her like an especially gruesome example and she felt that she would have to keep a close eye on him. He was too big for a start, she was a tall woman who towered over most of her charges and used this to her advantage, but he was nearly a head taller than her and she hated to have to look up at a child. He was broad in the shoulder too, which implied an excess of strength and energy. She knew she would struggle to find chores that would push him to his limits, where the boys were concerned keeping them in a state of constant exhaustion was one of her favourite ways to control their behaviour. While she herself could see nothing but ugly defiance in his face she was also aware that he had the kind of looks that would distract the girls and make them behave in that disgustingly moony way they sometimes did around certain boys, which was another black mark against him, but worst of all he was confident. Confident children were trouble makers, constantly stirring up the others but ultimately useless to the place as a whole. The aim of the orphanage, apart from giving a home to the homeless, was to turn the children into "useful and dutiful members of society", which translated into servants, factory workers and army cannon fodder.
No household, employer or recruiting sergeant would want to take a confident outspoken child, they wanted them ready broken and pliable. It would be her, and the other sisters, mission to see him in that state by his sixteenth birthday when he could be passed out of her care, and for a few shillings, into the hands of whoever wanted him.
The two girls stepped out of their cubical first, both identically attired in drab grey pinafore dresses that fell to mid calf. The chubby blond girl's dress was unsurprisingly rather too tight across her bust and cut in deeply at her waist where she carried a roll of puppy fat, although Mother Hardigan knew that it wouldn't be long before that was remedied, another way to ensure that the children were too tired to misbehave was to under feed them. It was also almost an economic necessity, the weekly food bill for the place was always hard to meet and they had to keep the portions small. In contrast the dark haired girl's dress hung off her slight frame, dipping at the neck, showing off her prominent collar bones. Neither of the girls looked happy with their new clothes, no doubt they would have preferred something colourful and frilled, the nun thought to herself, taking a small amount of satisfaction in their dislike. Both had the sense to keep their mouths shut about their feelings though, unlike the boy Jack. He stepped out in a pair of trousers that stopped somewhere above his ankles and a shirt clearly straining at the chest and shoulders.
"These clothes are too small, do you have anything larger?" He asked.
"The uniform is fine, it is you that's too big." She snapped at him.
"I can't wear these, look." He lifted the bottom of his shirt to show her where he had barely managed to button the trousers. "Could I have my old clothes back please?"
She brought ruler came down hard on his hand again. "I can see that you are a particularly stupid boy not to be able to obey a simple rule about when you are permitted to speak, and if you ever expose yourself to me or any of the other sisters ever again in that way I'll be sending you to Father Fredrick for a more severe punishment." Oh yes, she would definitely see him broken before he turned sixteen.
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