Rose Online - Holly Webb

One

Rose peered out the corner of the window at the street below, watching interestedly as two little girls walked past with their nursemaid. They were beautifully dressed in matching pale pink coats, and she found them fascinating. How could anyone keep a pink coat clean? She supposed they just weren’t allowed to see dirt, ever. The little girls strolled sedately down the street, and Rose stretched up on tiptoe to get one last look as they turned the corner. The bucket she was standing on rocked and clattered alarmingly, and she jumped down in a hurry, hoping no one had heard. The tiny, leaded windows at St. Bridget’s Home for Abandoned Girls were all very high up, so that the girls were not tempted to look out of them. If any of the matrons realized that Rose had discovered a way to see out, they would do their utmost to stop her—in case her virtue was put at risk by the view of the street. Perhaps they would even outlaw buckets, just in case.

Rose straightened her brown cotton pinafore and trotted briskly along the deserted passageway to the storeroom to return the bucket. She stowed it carefully on one of the racks of wooden shelves, which was covered in more buckets, brushes, and cloths. If anyone saw her, she was planning to say that she had been polishing it.

“Pssst! Rose!” A whisper caught her as she headed for the storeroom door, and Rose shot around, her back against the wall.

A small, grayish hand beckoned to her from under the bottom shelf, behind a large tin bath. “Come and see!”

Rose took a deep breath, her heartbeat slowing again. No one had seen her unauthorized use of the bucket. It was only Maisie.

“What are you doing under there?” she asked, casting a worried look at the door. “You’ll get in trouble. Come on out.”

“Look,” the whispery voice pleaded, and the grayish fingers dangled something tempting out from under the shelf.

“Oh, Maisie.” Rose sighed. “I’ve seen it before, you know. You showed it to me last week.” But she still crouched down and wriggled herself under the shelf with her friend.

It was Sunday afternoon. At St. Bridget’s, that meant many of the girls had been in Miss Lockwood’s parlor, viewing the relics, the tiny, sad little things that had been left with them when they were abandoned. Rose didn’t have any relics, which was why it was a good time for borrowing buckets. Even if anyone saw her, they would probably be too full of silly dreams to care.

“Do you think it’s meant to hold a lock of hair?” Maisie asked wistfully. “Or perhaps a likeness?”

Rose stared thoughtfully at the battered tin locket. It looked as though it had been trodden on and possibly buried in something nasty, but it was Maisie’s most treasured possession—her only possession, for even her clothes were only borrowed.

“Oh, a likeness, I’m sure,” she told Maisie firmly, wrapping an arm around her friend’s bony shoulder. Really she had no idea, but she knew Maisie dreamed about that locket all week, and the hour on Sunday when she got to hold it was her most special time, and Rose couldn’t spoil it for her.

“Maybe of my mother. Or perhaps it was hers, and she had my father’s picture in it. Yes, that would have been it. I bet he was handsome,” Maisie said dreamily.

“Mmmm,” Rose murmured diplomatically. Maisie wasn’t ugly exactly, but she was very skinny, and no one looked beautiful with their hair cropped short in case of lice. It was hard to imagine either of her parents as handsome.

All Rose’s friends spent Sundays in a dream world, where they were the long-lost daughters of dukes who would one day sweep them away in a coach-and-four to reclaim their rightful inheritance.

Strangely though, unlike all the other girls, Rose did not dream. She had no relic to hang her dreams on, but that wasn’t the main reason. Quite a few of the others didn’t either, and it didn’t hold them back at all. Rose just wanted to get out of St. Bridget’s as soon as she possibly could. It wasn’t that it was a bad place—the schoolmistress read them lots of improving books about children who weren’t lucky enough to have a home. They lived on the streets and always went from bad to worse in ways that were never very clearly explained. Girls at St. Bridget’s were fed, even though there was never enough food to actually feel full,