Hidden Lives Revealed. A virtual archive - children in care 1881-1981 * Image of handwritten text

Orphan Story

Photograph that inspired this poem or story

playtime on the farm

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Snow covered the ground like a deep glistening carpet, and the only sound to be heard was a robin, singing sweetly to the empty morning. The smell of cooking wafted from the kitchen, as lunch was prepared, and Luke could almost taste the soup he would no doubt be having for lunch. The bell rang signalling break. After a second boys of all ages rushed into the courtyard, their faces beaming at the thought of a snowball fight before lunch.

The courtyard was a small, square concrete area outside of the main building of the orphanage. You could see the purple hills of Scotland to the north, and to the east was an expansive field, owned by the nearby farmer. The field was empty at the moment, leaving a pure and crisp layer of snow.

Snowballs flew as the boys screamed; they were having a great time. Luke sighed, his breath billowing into a cloud in front of his face. He wished he had some friends to play with, he was the new boy at the home, and he hadn't quite settled in yet.

Luke wandered to the edge of the courtyard and stared up into the purple, snow peaked mountains. He imagined himself to be a bird, flying over all of the landscape seeing him and the rest of the boys as ants, crawling down below.

Content with this image, he walked over to the field and sat on the fence. How perfect the snow looked; completely untouched by humans or animals. But suddenly a silhouette appeared in the centre of the field, a skinny boy a few years younger than Luke stumbling through the snow. The boy stopped, called out, before falling down into the snow. Luke cried for someone to help.

When he had an adult's attention, he jumped off the fence and started to run through the snow. His boots crunched as he ran; his trousers sodden. Luke gasped for breath as he approached the boy, lying on his side in the snow.

Luke felt the boy's pulse… nothing. He checked the boy's breathing… nothing.
Then from behind him the carer appeared, also panting.
"Oh my lord!" she muttered, before falling to her knees in despair. "Is he…"
"Dead?" Luke finished. "Yes ma'am, I think he is." The woman felt the boy's pulse.
"Someone call a doctor!" She shouted behind her. "QUICK!"

Luke stood up, and noticed the boy's hands were clenched around something. He reached down and gently prised the boy's hands open. A small silver key lay in the open palm.

* * *

Luke lay awake that night, plagued by the thought of the boy frozen in the snow. He couldn't stop thinking about the key, they key he had now, held tightly in his hands.

Luke thought of his mother, a woman he hardly knew. He was 3 when she left him. That was eight years ago now. Luke's mother had abandoned him in a cold alley in the centre of Edinburgh. She left him with nothing but a blanket and a photograph. The photograph Luke still had, hidden under a loose floorboard under his bed. It was a single snapshot of time, an image of him as a baby on his mother's knee.

But he was found by a woman named Miss Harrison, and she had taken him in as if he was her own. There Luke had lived, until a few months ago when Miss Harrison had died of cholera. There was no-one to look after him, so he was taken to the orphanage. A single tear rolled down Luke's cheek. Why me? He thought, as he lay awake in the midnight gloom.

* * *

He was disturbed in the morning by a sharp tap on the door.
"Get up and get dressed!" called a sharp voice from behind the door. "There's an Assembly in 15 minutes!"
Luke rose and pulled on his clothes.

As he walked down to assembly he found almost every boy in the orphanage staring at him, with hushed whispers usually following.
The manager of the orphanage, Mrs. Oliver, hushed them as the came in to assembly. When silence was achieved, she started to talk.
"I am afraid to announce that one of the boys at this orphanage has died." She said bluntly. "Timothy Jones was found yesterday lunchtime, in the field adjacent to this orphanage. He had frozen to death." The sound of whispers erupted in the hall, as every boy in the orphanage discussed this news.

The subject was not dwelt on by Mrs Oliver, however, and she quickly moved on to more pressing matters such as the state of the lavatories. But Luke was affected by the death of this boy, and was suddenly compelled to find out about this boy's life, and to find out why he was in the middle of a field on a cold winters day with a key clenched tightly in his hand.

Luke had seen the office many times before. It was a square room with a desk against one wall and shelves packed with files on another. The office was where the boys came to be registered, and as a result there was a file for every single boy at the orphanage. They described where the boy had come from, why he was orphaned, and what had happened to his parents. The office was where Luke planned to get information about Timothy.

Luke waited on the stairs until the office was empty, until the receptionist decided she needed another cup of tea. When she was out of sight, he dashed in and closed the door behind him.

The brown files were arranged in alphabetical order, but there were still hundreds of them, and it would take a while to find Timothy's one. After about two minutes, he found it. The file was covered in dust; this made Luke sneeze as he blew it off. After a few seconds of searching, Luke found what he was looking for:

Date: 22/11/1919
Name: Timothy Christopher Jones
D.O.B: 12/03/1919
Mother: Mrs Francine Jones - unable to care for Timothy due to lack of money.
Father: The late Mr Henry Jones - Died as a soldier in the Great War.
Circumstances of application: Not enough money to support Timothy
Legitimate: Yes
Siblings: None known
Disabilities: None
Illnesses: None known

It had told Luke something, but it was not what he had hoped for. Timothy's history was interesting, but it had not got Luke any closer to the truth about the key.

But then Luke had a thought, maybe the boys in Timothy's dormitory might know something. With this he dashed out of the room, and along the corridor.

It wasn't hard for Luke to find Timothy's dorm, as it was the centre of attention at the moment, after what Mrs Oliver said in assembly. All of the dormitories were the same in the orphanage; a large rectangular room with beds all along each wall. The rooms were dark and musty, with dry rot in the corners, and woodworm in the skirting boards.

Luke walked over to one of the boys; he was lying on his back staring up at the ceiling. Luke had just opened his mouth to say something, when the boy cut in.

"I suppose your looking for Tim's bed!" He said, sounding bored.
"er… yes." Luke said, at a loss for words, "I don't suppose you could tell me where it is?" The boy sat up and looked at Luke.
"Sure, it's over in the corner there, over by the window." The boy pointed to the end of the dorm.
"Thanks!" Luke said, hurrying towards the corner.

Luke looked at the bed, he didn't know what he expected to find, but it was just an ordinary bed. Luke sat down and examined the surrounding area. There was nothing special about it, just a typical bed in a typical dormitory in a typical orphanage.

Luke sighed, he was despairing. He was just about to give up when something caught his eye. Part of the skirting board was jutting out. Just enough to be noticeable. Luke got down on his knees and pulled the skirting board. It came out with a scrape to reveal a cavity in the wall behind. Luke reached inside and felt around a bit. His hand bumped into an object. He slowly dragged it out of the hole. It was a small wooden box.

The box was small and rectangular, made of dark brown wood. It was well crafted and varnished, but the dust that had gathered on it over the years would not come off. Luke had stuffed it up his jumper as soon as he found it, and gone back to his dorm to open it.

Luke raised the box's lid. Inside it were 4 journals. The first page of the first one read:

1st June 1907
Dear diary, I have decided to start a journal of the next year to give me something to do. My name is Henry Jones and I am a 10 year old boy living in an orphanij orphanage in Scotland. I hate it here. But my parents abbando abandoned me when I was a baby, and I have grown up in the orphanage all my life. Today I went out into the field with James Monaghan, looking for tresha treasure. We didn't find any. We never find any! Anyway, got to go, dinners ready.
Henry Jones

Luke flicked through the rest of the diary, but it was nothing interesting. Just the naove ramblings of a 10 year old. The diary mentioned his 11th birthday, but it ended soon after. Luke put down the first diary and picked up the second. The first page of this read:

17th August 1911
Dear diary, I have managed to persuade Ms Everett to buy me this journal. I have been trying for the last 3 years! I am 14 now, and haven't written a journal since about my 11th birthday! But I have this new one and I am going to make it last! Harry picked a fight with me today, but I managed to beat him. Mind you, I did have James and Chris on my side! Harry had a black eye by the end, and we think James might have broken his nose, but it wasn't serious! Anyway, I think I better try and sleep now, I am shattered!

The rest of the diary was more of the same, and once again, ended abruptly after Henry's next birthday. Luke dropped the second journal, and reached for the third. Henry was 16 now it seemed. His journal read:

12th March 1913
Dear diary, I have my third diary! I managed to steal one off the new teacher, Miss Oliver. Maybe I am getting a bit too old for diaries, but who is gonna know? I'd better fill in the gap since the last one! I met a girl! She is absolutely stunning! Her name is Francine Greene. I met her on the high street. She was standing in the cold so I offered her my coat. We walked to the café and I bought her a hot chocolate. Anyway, I have got a job! I have been allowed to stay at the orphanage as a janitor. It means I get a roof over my head and I have a decent wage! Anyway, I am going out to see Francine in a second, better go.

A bit further on, there was another interesting entry. It read:

27th November 1913
I can't believe it! Francine is pregnant! I don't know whether to be happy or sad! I mean, its great news! I will of course marry her and we are going to look after it together. Its just, I don't think I am ready to be a dad! I think I will try to look after it as best as I can. We have decided for me to stay working and sleeping at the orphanage but to come and see her every evening and at weekends. Anyway, got to go, there has been a flooding in the toilets!

The child was born on the 20th of August 1914. They called it Max. Henry mentioned the war starting. It was a terrible time. Luke placed the journal back in the box, and picked up the final one. About half way through this one there was an interesting entry:

14th July 1917
Dear diary. Help me! My application for the army has been accepted, which is great news, but Francine is pregnant again! I don't know what to do. I could leave Francine to join the army, or leave the army to live with Francine! I just don't know!

There was then an unusual gap in the writing, but it was explained on another page of the journal. This said:

11th November 1917
Dear diary, Francine has left me. I got a letter from her saying she was changing her name and both of our sons names and she going to start a new life. She was angry about me going back to the army after my leave. She sent me a photograph of her and the two boys. I have kept it with my most prized possessions. It is buried in a box under the oak tree in the field.. I hope ill come back for it one day.

But Luke already knew he didn't come back for it. He already knew that Henry had died in the war. He also knew that Timothy had died trying to find the box. He ran to the groundskeepers shed and grabbed a shovel, before running straight to the field and through the snow, to the oak.

Luke dug in the only soft earth he could find around the oak, and within minutes, the shovel hit something metal. Luke fell to his knees and started to desperately scrape away at the earth. After a minute he had a small metal box in his arms. He took the key out of his pocket, and inserted it into the keyhole at the front of the box. The box clicked open, a waxed cloth was wrapped around a large bundle of things. Luke slowly unravelled the cloth. A photograph fell out. Written across the back were the words "To Henry, to remember us by, x Francine"

Luke turned the photo over and looked at the image on the other side. A child, about 3 years old was standing stiffly beside a woman with a baby on her knee. Luke gasped. He knew the woman's face. Luke's younger brother Timothy had died. Luke's father Henry had died. And there was no mistaking the face of Luke's mother at the centre of the picture.

Luke stood up and gazed upon the glistening field. He could see the orphanage in the distance, and the purple mountains of Scotland behind.


by a pupil at The Charter School

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