ORPHAN TRAIN GIRL
The Young Readers' Edition of Orphan Train
This young readers’ edition of Christina Baker Kline’s #1 New York Times bestselling novel Orphan Train follows a young foster girl who forms an unlikely bond with a ninety-one-year-old woman. Adapted and condensed for a young audience, Orphan Train Girl includes an author’s note and archival photos from the orphan train era.
Molly Ayer has been in foster care since she was eight years old. Most of the time, Molly knows it’s her attitude that’s the problem, but after being shipped from one family to another, she’s had her fair share of adults treating her like an inconvenience.
This young readers’ edition of Christina Baker Kline’s #1 New York Times bestselling novel Orphan Train follows a young foster girl who forms an unlikely bond with a ninety-one-year-old woman. Adapted and condensed for a young audience, Orphan Train Girl includes an author’s note and archival photos from the orphan train era.
Molly Ayer has been in foster care since she was eight years old. Most of the time, Molly knows it’s her attitude that’s the problem, but after being shipped from one family to another, she’s had her fair share of adults treating her like an inconvenience. So when Molly’s forced to help an elderly woman clean out her attic for community service, Molly is wary. Just another adult to treat her like a troublemaker.
But from the very moment they meet, Molly realizes that Vivian, a well-off ninety-one-year-old, isn’t like any of the adults she’s encountered before. Vivian asks Molly questions about her life and actually listens when Molly responds. Molly soon sees they have more in common than she thought. Vivian was once an orphan, too—an Irish immigrant to New York City who was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children—and she can understand, better than anyone else, the emotional binds that have been making Molly’s life so hard. Together, they not only clear boxes of past mementos from Vivian’s attic, but forge a path of friendship, forgiveness, and new beginnings for their future.
- Harper Collins
- May 2017
- 240 Pages
“A lovely novel about the search for family that also happens to illuminate a fascinating and forgotten chapter of American history. Beautiful.”—Ann Packer, NYT bestselling author of The Dive From Clausen’s Pier and Swim Back to Me
“Orphan Train is a poignant and memorable story of two steadfast, courageous women—one young, one old—and their discovery of each other’s past as unwanted outsiders. It is a revelation of the universal yearning for belonging, for family, for acceptance and, ultimately, the journeys we must all make to find them.”—Kathleen Kent, NYT bestselling author of The Heretic’s Daughter and The Traitor’s Wife
1. On the surface, Vivian’s and Molly’s lives couldn’t be more different. In what ways are their stories similar?
2. In the prologue Vivian mentions that her “true love” died when she was 23, but she doesn’t mention the other big secret in the book. Why not?
3. Why hasn’t Vivian ever shared her story with anyone? Why does she tell it now?
4. What role does Vivian’s grandmother play in her life? How does the reader’s perception of her shift as the story unfolds?
5. Why does Vivian seem unable to get rid of the boxes in her attic?
6. In Women of the Dawn, a nonfiction book about the lives of four Wabanaki Indians excerpted in the epigraph, Bunny McBride writes: “In portaging from one river to another, Wabanakis had to carry their canoes and all other possessions. Everyone knew the value of traveling light and understood that it required leaving some things behind. Nothing encumbered movement more than fear, which was often the most difficult burden to surrender.” How does the concept of portaging reverberate throughout this novel? What fears hamper Vivian’s progress? Molly’s?
7. Vivian’s name changes several times over the course of the novel: from Niamh Power to Dorothy Nielsen to Vivian Daly. How are these changes significant for her? How does each name represent a different phase of her life?
8. What significance, if any, does Molly Ayer’s name have?
9. How did Vivian’s first-person account of her youth and the present-day story from Molly’s third-person-limited perspective work together? Did you prefer one story to the other? Did the juxtaposition reveal things that might not have emerged in a traditional narrative?
10. In what ways, large and small, does Molly have an impact on Vivian’s life? How does Vivian have an impact on Molly’s?
11. What does Vivian mean when she says, “I believe in ghosts”?
12. When Vivian finally shares the truth about the birth of her daughter and her decision to put May up for adoption she tells Molly that she was “selfish” and “afraid.” Molly defends her and affirms Vivian’s choice. How did you perceive Vivian’s decision? Were you surprised she sent her child to be adopted after her own experiences with the Children’s Aid Society?
13. When the children are presented to audiences of potential caretakers, the Children’s Aid Society explains adoptive families are responsible for the child’s religious upbringing. What role does religion play in this novel? How do Molly and Vivian each view God?
14. When Vivian and Dutchy are reunited she remarks, “However hard I try, I will always feel alien and strange. And now I’ve stumbled on a fellow outsider, one who speaks my language without saying a word.” How is this also true for her friendship with Molly?
15. When Vivian goes to live with the Byrnes Fanny offers her food and advises, “You got to learn to take what people are willing to give.” In what ways is this good advice for Vivian and Molly? What are some instances when their independence helped them?
16. Molly is enthusiastic about Vivian’s reunion with her daughter, but makes no further efforts to see her own mother. Why is she unwilling or unable to effect a reunion in her own family? Do you think she will someday?
17. Vivian’s Claddagh cross is mentioned often throughout the story. What is its significance? How does its meaning change or deepen over the course of Vivian’s life?
SPRUCE HARBOR, MAINE, PRESENT DAY
“Well,” Jack’s mom says from the driver’s seat. “This is it.”
Molly, sitting next to Jack in the backseat of the car, eyes the house. Three full stories. More windows than she can count. Carved curlicues around the roof. The white paint is fresh and gleaming.
This is the house where Jack’s mom works for a rich old lady. And now Molly is—maybe—going to work for that rich old lady too. All because she stole a book. Well, she didn’t actually steal it. Although it’s true she was going to.
Molly had been in the Spruce Harbor Public Library, on her knees in the fiction section with three copies of The Secret Garden on the shelf in front of her. She’d pulled all three copies off the shelf. Put the hardcover back. Then the newer paperback too. The one she kept was old and dog-eared, the cover missing a corner, the yellowed pages beginning to come loose from the cheap binding. She figured nobody would miss it, and she slipped it into her backpack.
But when Molly put the backpack over her shoulders and stood up, the librarian, Mrs. LeBlanc, swooped down on her like a homing pigeon. She called Ralph and Dina, Molly’s foster parents. Dina hit the roof. Molly had way too many problems, she said.
She never signed up for this, she said.
Ralph calmed her down and called Lori, Molly’s social worker.
“Why in the world would you try to steal an old book?” Lori asked Molly.
“I don’t know,” Molly said. But that wasn’t entirely true. The Secret Garden is all about a girl who has to leave her home and travel to a cold, rainy place where nobody wants her. A girl who scowls and sulks and says horrible things and still ends up with a home—a mansion, actually—and a family.
Lori came up with a plan for Molly to do twenty hours of community service. Dina grudgingly agreed that Molly could stay, as long as she finished her hours.
And Jack—who is the best friend Molly’s ever had— heard his mom grumbling about needing to help Mrs. Daly clean out her attic, and came up with the idea for Molly to do it instead. If Mrs. Daly likes Molly. If she says yes.
Molly thinks it might have been simpler just to let Dina kick her out.
“Okay,” Jack says quickly. “Here’s the deal. Mrs.
Daly’s okay for an old lady, but kind of . . . old-fashioned.”
His mom pivots to look at Molly. “What Jack means is, you need to mind your manners. Don’t slouch. Say please and thank you.”
“What I mean is, she’s kind of uptight,” Jack says.
“How old is she again?” Molly mumbles.
“I don’t know. Pretty old.”
“Come on, you two,” his mom says. “Might as well get this over with.” She gets out of the car and heads up the walk toward the house.
Molly is suddenly nervous. She looks down at her too-big pink blouse and attempts to tuck it into her skirt. The blouse is Dina’s; she insisted Molly borrow it, saying it would be disrespectful to Mrs. Daly to wear her usual black T-shirt over black jeans over worn-out black tennis shoes. “Maybe if you look a little more respectable, Mrs. Daly will overlook that blue streak in your hair,” Dina said.
Jack opens his car door, then hesitates. He leans toward Molly. “Listen. Mom didn’t tell her about you stealing the book.”
Molly twitches in her seat. “She didn’t?”
“No. Just that you have to do a community service project. She thinks it’s for school, like everybody has to do one,” he says. “Got it?” Then he bounds out of the car and waits for Molly on the driveway.
Molly slides out more slowly. So this rich lady doesn’t know that Molly is a thief. That’s good—right? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe it means that Mrs. Daly will expect Molly to be what she definitely isn’t—just like every other kid.
Gloomily, Molly follows Jack up the walk. It’s one of those rare days when spring in Maine actually feels like spring, but even the warm April sun doesn’t help her mood.
“Just nod and smile. That’s what I do when I have to talk to her,” Jack whispers as they climb the porch steps.
Molly feels like she is shrinking inside herself, getting smaller with each step as she follows Jack’s mom inside and down a long hall. She tugs at the collar of the stupid pink blouse, thinking about the scene in The Secret Garden when Mary Lennox arrived at Misselthwaite Manor. When Mary got there, her uncle insisted that she get rid of all her dark clothes. “I won’t have a child dressed in black, wandering about like a lost soul,” he said. Molly feels like a fake in this outfit, and a bad fake at that. When was the last time she wore something pink? Or a blouse with a collar?
At the end of the hallway is a closed door. Jack’s mom pauses before it and knocks softly. “Vivian?” She opens the door a crack. “All right for us to come in?”
Molly hears the faint reply beyond the door: “Why, certainly.” Jack’s mom opens the door wider, and Molly and Jack follow her into a large sunny living room. The wide windows are filled with the bright, restless blue of the sea. Sitting in a red wingback chair, wearing a snug cream-colored sweater that looks as soft as a kitten’s fur, is an old lady. The old lady. The one who owns this giant house.
“Good morning,” the old lady says.
“Good morning,” Jack’s mom says. “Vivian, you know my son, Jack.”
He lifts his hand in a small wave. “Nice to see you, Mrs. Daly.”
“And this is the girl I told you about. Molly Ayer.”
She gestures at Molly to step forward.
“Molly, this is Mrs. Daly,” she says.
Nod and smile, Molly thinks. She nods and smiles and holds out her hand for Mrs. Daly to take. The old woman’s hand is dry and cool. “Nice to meet you, Molly,” she says.
“All right, then. I have some things to do in the kitchen,” Jack’s mother says. “Jack, why don’t you come with me?”
“Can’t I stay and—”
“I could use some help.” Jack trails after his mother, casting a glance back at Molly that is probably meant to be encouraging.
Now Molly and Mrs. Daly are alone. Mrs. Daly leans forward a little in her chair. She looks at Molly with interest.
Molly fights an urge to start babbling. She’d like to explain to Mrs. Daly that Jack came up with this terrible idea and then asked his mom. Although Molly doesn’t know that much about real moms—moms who actually take care of their kids—she can tell that his mom doesn’t say no to Jack, not much, not when it’s something he really wants. And so Molly’s here. But now that Mrs. Daly has seen Molly, has seen the blue streak in her dark hair and the look on her face
(Molly’s trying not to have that look on her face, but it’s there, she can feel it), they can all quit pretending that Molly is the kind of kid who does community service in people’s attics. And she can just go. Like always.
“How on earth do you achieve that effect—the blue stripe?” Mrs. Daly asks. She reaches up and brushes the hair at her own temple.
Smile and nod. But Mrs. Daly has asked her a question, so Molly has to answer: “Um . . . I separated out this one part and bleached it. Then I went back and dyed it blue.”
“How did you learn to do it?”
“I saw a video on YouTube.”
“On the internet?”
“Ah.” Mrs. Daly lifts her chin. “The computer. I’m too old for such fads.”
Molly blinks again. This old lady doesn’t have a computer? She’s never heard of YouTube?
Mrs. Daly leans back in her chair. “Excuse my bluntness, but at my age there’s no point beating around the bush. Your hair . . . and your fingernails . . .” Molly glances down at her fingernails. She left most of her thrift store rings at home, but she kind of forgot about the chipped black polish. “You borrowed that blouse, I assume?”
“Uh . . .”
“You needn’t have bothered. It doesn’t suit you.” She waves a hand, which Molly takes to mean that she can sit down. She picks a matching armchair across from Mrs. Daly and perches on the edge of the seat cushion. “By the way, you can call me Vivian. I never liked ‘Mrs. Daly.’ My husband is dead, you know.”
Molly nods, a little surprised at how blunt the old woman is. “I’m sorry.”
“No need to be sorry. It was eight years ago. Anyway, I am in my nineties. Not many people I once knew are still alive.”
Molly isn’t sure what she is supposed to say to this. Sorry, again? Or of course not? Maybe wow? She just nods once more and makes a mental note to tell Jack that Mrs. Daly—Vivian?—is close to a century old! She wouldn’t have guessed, but then she hasn’t known many elderly people to compare. The only grandmother she can remember died of cancer when Molly was three.
“Terry tells me you’re in foster care,” Vivian says.
“Are you an orphan?”
Molly lets her gaze slide from Vivian’s face to the bright sunlight and shimmering water on the other side of the windows. “My mom’s alive. But yes, I call myself an orphan.”
“Why?” Vivian doesn’t sound as if she feels particularly sorry for Molly. Or horrified. Or weirdly intrigued, the way people can be when they find out about Molly’s family.
Molly’s memories of her mother are a little hazy.
When she thinks back, she can recall the smell of their trailer, mildew and cigarette smoke, the way the TV seemed to be on all the time. She remembers pulling open the refrigerator door when it was still big and heavy to her, and rummaging inside to find things to eat—cold hot dogs, maybe some leftover pizza. She’d do that whenever her mother was at work. And sometimes even when she was home.
“I think if you don’t have parents who take care of you, you can call yourself whatever you want,” Molly says.
There is a pause. Then Vivian says, “Fair enough. Tell me about yourself.”
Molly has lived in Maine her entire life. She’s never even crossed the state line. She remembers bits and pieces of when she was a little kid on the reservation on Indian Island—the community center with pickups parked all around, Sockalexis Bingo Palace, St. Anne’s Church. She remembers the cornhusk doll her dad gave her with black yarn hair and moccasins and a long fringed dress that she kept on a shelf in her room.
The truth is, she would’ve preferred a Barbie, like the ones donated by charities and doled out at the community center around Christmas. (They were never the popular ones like Beauty Queen Barbie or Cinderella Barbie. Instead they were the kind you find on clearance at Walmart—Hot Rod Barbie, Jungle Barbie.)
But Vivian doesn’t want to hear about toys. Where should Molly start? She knows by now that people don’t want to hear everything. There’s a lot they’d rather not know, and a lot she’d rather not tell.
“Well.” She picks a bit of nail polish off one finger. “I’m a Penobscot Indian on my father’s side. When I was young, we lived on a reservation near Old Town.”
She tells the rest of the story in a few sentences—her mom and dad couldn’t take care of her, so she ended up with Ralph and Dina. She doesn’t mention the car crash that killed her father, how her mom got worse and worse after he died until the caseworker stepped in. There weren’t any foster families on the reservation who could take her, so she ended up getting shuffled around before landing with Ralph and Dina.
“Terry tells me you were assigned some kind of community service project,” Vivian says.
Terry? Oh! Molly realizes. Jack’s mom.
“And she came up with the brilliant idea for you to help clean out my attic. Seems like a bad bargain for you. There’s nothing you’d rather do?”
Molly shrugs again. “I like organizing things.”
“Then you are even stranger than you appear,” Vivian says with a smile. Normally Molly would be offended, but for some reason she isn’t. Is it because there’s nothing in Vivian’s voice to show that she thinks strange is the same thing as bad? Not like the girls at school, the way they look at Molly and whisper “Weird.” Vivian only seems amused by the idea of a sixth grader who likes to tidy things.
Leaning forward in her chair, Vivian says, “I’ll tell you something. By your definition I’m an orphan, too. So we have that in common.”
Molly isn’t sure how to answer. She’s never met a grown-up who talks about being an orphan. Don’t you have to be a kid to be an orphan? But she has to admit she’s curious. “Your parents . . .” she asks hesitantly, watching Vivian’s face carefully for a sign that she’s saying the wrong thing. “They didn’t take care of you?”
“They tried. There was a fire. . . .” Vivian shakes her head. “It was all so long ago, I barely remember.”
NEW YORK CITY, 1929
Niamh was seven years old when her family took a berth on a ship called the Agnes Pauline, bound for Ellis Island. As Niamh stood on the lower deck outside the dark, cramped rooms, watching the oily water churn beneath the ship, her spirits filled with hope.
People from their village in County Galway were always fleeing to America. In Ireland, potatoes rotted in the fields, and children cried from hunger. Many young men in their village went off to fight the British. Some came back wounded or grimly silent. Some didn’t come back at all.
But in America, people said, there were oranges the size of potatoes, fields of grain waving under sunny skies, houses with water running from faucets and even electric lights. Niamh wasn’t sure all that was true, but she hoped they would at least find a better life, once they arrived.
What they found were the grimy streets of lower Manhattan, a dishwashing job for Da at a pub, and a small apartment on Elizabeth Street for ten dollars a month. There was a bedroom for Niamh and her brothers and sister, an even smaller one for Mam and Da, a kitchen, and a parlor. There was, indeed, a weak electric light that Niamh could pull on with a chain, and a small, stained sink where cold water ran from a faucet.
Outside in the hall there was a toilet, one they shared with their neighbors downstairs, an elderly German couple called the Schatzmans.
Da’s paycheck from the pub was barely enough to feed all four children, and Ma seemed listless much of the time. And it was hard to get used to the great crowds of people, all speaking different languages. Surely there were more people on Elizabeth Street than in their entire village back in Ireland. Some of them twisted up their faces or spat in disgust as soon as Niamh opened her mouth and her Irish voice tumbled out.
Even with all of this, she felt hope. It was a chance for a new beginning.
SPRUCE HARBOR, MAINE, PRESENT DAY
The next Monday, after school, Terry leads the way to the third floor. Vivian moves slowly behind her. Molly brings up the rear.
She still can’t get over the size of the house. Fourteen rooms! For one person! In one of Molly’s past foster homes, there were four rooms for seven people; three were kids younger than Molly. She’d been told on the first day it would be her job to look after them.
She’d lasted a month at that place.
In Molly’s hands are the supplies Terry gave her downstairs—a slippery stack of white garbage bags, a small knife with a plastic handle and a serrated edge, and a notebook with a pen clipped to it. Now Terry reaches the top of the stairs and pauses. “Yikes! Where to start, Vivi?” she asks.
Vivian reaches the top step, clutching the banister. She’s wearing another expensive-looking sweater, gray this time, and a silver necklace with an odd little charm on it.
Standing behind her, Molly peers around. Floor to ceiling, the attic is packed with cardboard boxes. Overhead, pink insulation peeks out between rafters. The only open area is around the narrow windows that let in slivers of natural light and a view of the bay outside.
In one corner Molly spies a long clothes rack covered with a plastic zippered case. Several large cedar chests— how did anyone ever get them up the stairs?—are lined up against one wall, next to a stack of steamer trunks.
Vivian trails her fingertips along some bulging old cardboard boxes. Molly can make out a few labels: The store, 1960. The Nielsens.
“I suppose this is why people have children, isn’t it?” Vivian murmurs. “So somebody will care about the stuff they leave behind.”
Molly tugs her phone out of her pocket and looks at the time. 4:15. She’s supposed to stay until six today, and then come back for two hours twice a week after school, and two hours on Saturday too, until the attic is finished or she’s done her twenty hours. Whichever comes first.
Vivian appears to be in no hurry to get started.
“It’ll be good to clear all this stuff out, Vivi,” Terry is saying. “I’m going to do some laundry. Call if you need me!” She nods to Molly and scuttles down the stairs.
“You look much more like yourself today,” Vivian says when Terry is gone, motioning toward Molly’s black T-shirt. Molly doesn’t know how to respond, so she heads for a window and pulls it open a crack.
The attic is stuffy. “How long have all these boxes been here?” she asks.
“I haven’t touched anything since we moved in,” Vivian says. “That was twenty years ago.”
Molly peers at a box close to her. The label says Valuables. How valuable could the stuff be, she wonders, if Vivian hasn’t needed it in all this time?
“Were you ever tempted just to toss it all in a Dumpster?” she asks. From the sharp look Vivian turns on Molly, she realizes maybe she should think before saying the first thing that pops into her head.
But—twenty years! Vivian’s had this stuff for longer than Molly has been alive. And she’s never even looked at it! Tossing it all into a Dumpster doesn’t seem like such an unreasonable idea. Plus it would make her job a whole lot easier.
But as Lori, her social worker, reminds her, you can usually find something good about wherever you are. While Molly waits for Vivian to tell her what to do, she tries to come up with a list of the things that are good, or at least not bad, about being in this attic.
One, she won’t be in trouble with the library anymore for stealing the book.
Two, she might get to stay with Ralph and Dina. Sure, Dina doesn’t like her much—that’s pretty obvious.
It was Ralph who wanted to take in a foster kid in the first place. Still, at their house she’s got a bedroom to herself, and the fridge is full of food, and she has her own cell phone, even if Jack’s the only person who ever calls. It could be a lot worse.
Three, if you must spend twenty hours in an attic in Maine, spring is the best time of year to do it.
Four, Vivian is ancient, but she doesn’t seem to be senile.
Five—who knows? Maybe there will actually be something interesting in one of these boxes.
“All right,” Vivian says, smoothing a stray hair back into her tidy bun. “I suppose we should get started.”
NEW YORK CITY, 1929
Maisie sensed it first. She wouldn’t stop crying. Since Maisie was a month old she had slept with Niamh on her narrow cot. Their room was dark, with no windows; Niamh couldn’t even see her brothers, Dominick and James, six-year-old twins, huddled together on their pallet on the floor.
She sat up on the cot with her back against the wall and held Maisie the way Mam had shown her, over her shoulder. She tried everything she could think of to comfort her, all the things that had worked before: stroking her back, running two fingers down the bridge of her little nose, humming their father’s favorite song.
“I have heard the blackbird pipe his note, the thrush and the linnet too / But there’s none of them can sing so sweet, my singing bird, as you.”
But Maisie only shrieked louder.
Only a few weeks after the baby was born, Mam had come down with a fever. She had no more milk for Maisie, so they made do with warm sweetened water, slow-cooked crushed oats, a splash of cow’s milk when they could afford it.
Everyone in Niamh’s family was thin; days went by when they had little more than rubbery potatoes in weak broth for supper. Eighteen-month-old Maisie weighed no more than a bundle of rags in Niamh’s arms. When Maisie finally stopped sobbing, Niamh held her close and the two of them drifted to sleep.
Mam screamed, and Niamh bolted awake, coughing from the acrid smoke in her nose. Then all was utter confusion.
Mam snatched Maisie from Niamh’s arms and pushed her out into the hall. Da tried to wake James and Dominick, still asleep on the floor of their room.
Probably the smoke had stupefied the boys, neighbors said later. Probably Da hadn’t been able to rouse them. And then had not been able to get out himself.
Niamh found herself outside in the fresh, cold air.
But Mam, holding Maisie, was not behind her. Maybe she’d turned back to look for Da. Maybe she’d missed her footing and stumbled.
If only Niamh had paid closer attention to why the baby was crying. If only she had realized that more was wrong than the hunger in Maisie’s belly and the sweltering heat of the summer night. Maybe Maisie smelled smoke from the fire before any of the older children.
Maybe she sensed, somehow, that danger was coming. If Niamh had listened and tried to understand, she might have been able to save her family.
Da, James, and Dominick had been carried out under white sheets. But men had carried Mam away on a stretcher, and Maisie was with her. There was still hope for them.
That was what Niamh clung to as she lay wrapped in a blanket on the floor of an unfamiliar room. She could hear Mr. and Mrs. Schatzman arguing.
“I didn’t ask for this,” Mrs. Schatzman hissed.
“Those Irish! Too many children in too small a space. The only surprise is that this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often.”
This sort of thing, Niamh thought. This sort of thing meant half her family gone.
Somehow she fell asleep, her throat sore from tears and the harsh smoke. In the morning Mr. Schatzman woke her to tell her that he and Mrs. Schatzman had figured out a perfect solution. They would take her to the Children’s Aid Society the next day. There were people there who helped children, he told Niamh. She’d be fed and warm and dry.
“I can’t go,” Niamh said. “My mother will need me when she gets out of the hospital.”
He shook his head. “I’m sorry, child. She won’t be coming back.”
“But Maisie, then—” Niamh began.
“The doctors say that Margaret—that your sister— best not to hope,” he told her awkwardly. He turned away, as if he didn’t want to look at her, didn’t want to see that his words had turned her entire life inside out.
SPRUCE HARBOR, MAINE, PRESENT DAY
Bending down, Molly scans the labels on the cardboard boxes surrounding her. “Okay, so . . . I guess we start with the earliest first? This one says ‘World War II.’ Is there anything before that?”
“Yes.” Vivian gets to her feet, squeezes between two stacks of boxes, and makes her way toward the cedar chests. She stops near a pile that looks ready to topple at her touch. “The earliest stuff is over here, I think.”
Molly lifts the top box down to the floor. Scrawled on the top in faded marker are two dates: 1929–1930.
She takes her knife and pokes through the tape holding the box shut.
Vivian, sitting on a chest, waits patiently as Molly lifts out a mustard-colored coat.
“Mercy sake,” she says. “I can’t believe I saved that coat. I always hated it.”
Molly holds the coat up, inspecting it. It’s sort of a military style with black buttons. The gray silk lining is coming to pieces, and something falls through a disintegrating pocket to bounce on the floor. A penny, dark with age.
Vivian gasps. Her face is pale. Molly looks closely at her, afraid she might have a heart attack or a stroke or something. Doesn’t that happen to old people sometimes?
But Vivian just says, a little sharply, “Could you find that, please?”
Molly lays the coat across a box and gets to her hands and knees. She fishes the coin out from under a cedar chest. She hasn’t seen a penny like this before— on the front is Abraham Lincoln’s familiar head, but on the back are two ears of wheat with the words ONE CENT in big letters in the middle. Maybe that’s how you get to be rich, Molly thinks, by making sure you keep track of every penny.
Vivian holds out a hand and Molly drops the coin into it. “Is there anything else in the pockets?” Vivian asks. She still looks a little ashen. Molly wonders if she should call Terry, but it’s not like Vivian has fallen over or can’t talk or anything. If she wanted Terry, she could call for her herself.
Going through the coat’s pockets, Molly discovers a folded piece of lined paper, worn almost to nothing at the creases. She unfolds it cautiously to find a child’s careful script in faint pencil: Upright and do right make all right. Upright and do right make all right. Upright and do right . . .
Vivian takes the paper from her and spreads it out on her knee, looking more like herself now. “I remember doing this. I was copying Miss Larsen’s writing on the board. She had the most beautiful penmanship.”
Vivian nods. “They barely teach handwriting anymore, I hear.”
“Yeah, everything’s on computer.” Molly is suddenly struck by the fact that Vivian wrote these words on this sheet of paper at least eighty years ago, when she was a kid herself. Her mind boggles at the thought. Surely Vivian, a rich white lady in a big old house, was never anything like Molly. “Things have changed a lot since you were my age, huh?” she asks.
Vivian cocks her head, still studying the faded handwriting.
“I suppose. Though not everything. I still sleep in a bed. Sit in a chair. Wash dishes in a sink.”
Well, Terry washes dishes in a sink, Molly thinks. “I don’t watch much television. I don’t need a computer. In a lot of ways my life is the same as it was twenty or even forty years ago.”
“That’s kind of sad,” Molly blurts. And immediately regrets it.
But Vivian doesn’t seem offended. “Do you think so? I don’t think I’ve missed much.”
“Well . . . only the internet, Snapchat, Facebook, smartphones, Instagram, YouTube . . .” Molly counts off on her fingers.
Vivian laughs. “I hardly think FaceTube—whatever that is—would improve my quality of life.”
Molly shakes her head. “It’s Facebook. And You- Tube.”
Vivian shrugs. “It doesn’t make any difference to me.”
Molly gives up. “Why did you keep this coat, if you hated it?” she asks.
Vivian picks up the coat gingerly and holds it out in front of her. “That’s a very good question. But I have a question for you. Where is that mother of yours?”
Where did that question come from? “I don’t know.”
“Would you like to know?”
“No. I really don’t care,” Molly says shortly.
“You’re not curious at all?”
“I’m not sure I believe that.”
“Well, you should.” Molly turns away from Vivian.
“Hmm. Because, actually, you seem kind of . . . angry.”
“I’m not angry. I just don’t want to talk about it,” Molly says, making sure her voice says that’s enough.
Even her social worker backs off when Molly uses that voice. “So we should get rid of the coat, then? Put it on the Goodwill pile? Or throw it out?”
Vivian folds the coat on her lap. “Ah . . . maybe. Let’s see what else is in this box.”
NEW YORK CITY, 1929
“You—the Irish girl. Over here.”
A thin, scowling matron in a white bonnet beckoned with a bony finger. She must have known Niamh was Irish from the papers Mr. Schatzman filled out when he brought her in to the Children’s Aid Society several weeks ago. Or maybe she could tell from Niamh’s accent, still as thick as peat.
There was a line of children behind Niamh on the windy, chilly train platform. They’d been shuffling forward for what seemed like forever, so that each child could be inspected and checked off on a list. Finally it was Niamh’s turn.
She took a few steps forward to stand in front of the skinny matron and a plump woman with a list in her hand.
“Humph,” the matron said, pursing her lips. “Red hair.”
“Unfortunate,” the plump woman agreed. “And those freckles! It’s hard enough to get placed out at her age.” She frowned at her paper. “Nee-AM? That’s your name?”
“It’s ‘Neeve,’” Niamh said. A common enough name in County Galway, but Americans were always baffled by it.
The woman tsked and shook her head. “I hope you’re not attached to that name, young miss,” she said. “Because I can promise if you’re lucky enough to be chosen, your new parents will change it in a second.”
The thin matron licked her thumb and pushed the hair out of Niamh’s face. “Don’t want to scare them away, do you? You must keep it neat and pulled back.” She pointed at Niamh’s necklace. “What is that?”
Niamh reached up and touched the small pewter cross on a chain around her neck. At the center of the cross, where the arms met, two hands held a heart between them.
“It’s an Irish cross. A Claddagh,” she said, fighting the urge to clamp her fist around it.
“It’s very odd-looking. What are those hands? And why does the heart have a crown?”
Niamh remembered what her gram said when she gave her the cross. “The hands are for friendship. Holding hands, see? The heart is love. And the crown is loyalty.”
The matron shook her head. “You’re not allowed to bring keepsakes on the train.”
Niamh’s heart was pounding so hard she thought both women must be able to hear it. “It was my gran’s.”
The women peered at the cross. Niamh could see them hesitating, trying to decide what to do.
“She gave it to me in Ireland, before we came over. It’s—it’s the only thing I have left.” This was true, and it was also true that she said it hoping the women would feel sorry for her and let her keep the necklace.
“All right, then,” the plump one said finally, and called for the next child in line. Niamh joined the others waiting in a clump near the edge of the train platform.
There were about twenty of them, all ages, the girls in dresses with white pinafores and thick stockings, the boys in knickers that buttoned below the knee, white shirts, neckties, thick wool jackets. A tall woman in a black bonnet and a droopy, thin man with a droopy brown mustache guarded the group. Niamh remembered meeting them back at the Children’s Aid: the man was Mr. Curran, and the woman was Mrs. Scatcherd.
They’d be chaperones for the children on the train. It was warm for October, and Niamh’s braids stuck to her neck. In one hand she clutched a small brown suitcase that held everything she owned in the world—a bible, two sets of clothes, a hat, a black coat several sizes too small, a pair of shoes. When she was admitted to the Children’s Aid orphanage some weeks later, they gave her the clothes and this coat. Embroidered inside the coat was her name—Niamh Power.
Niamh heard the train before she could see it. A low hum, a rumble underfoot, a deep-throated whistle, faint at first and then louder as the train got close.
Along with the other children, she craned her neck to look down the track, and suddenly, there it was: a black engine letting out a hiss of steam like a massive panting animal.
“Chil-dren! Places, children!” Mrs. Scatcherd shouted.
They all lined up. Niamh felt lonelier than she ever had in her life. She’d lost her entire family. But her story, she knew, wasn’t worse than the others. Every one of the children had a sad tale behind them—otherwise, they would not be there, about to step on a train and be carried away from the Children’s Aid Society and New York City into a life they could not even begin to imagine.
SPRUCE HARBOR, MAINE, PRESENT DAY
Molly is sitting with her social worker at a table in the school’s science lab. All the other kids are eating lunch in the cafeteria. But Molly—lucky her—gets to eat with Lori every Tuesday.
“So how’s the community service going?” Lori asks. She has bright eyes like shiny buttons and a small, pointy nose that, as far as Molly’s concerned, she likes to stick in Molly’s business.
Molly shrugs. She unwraps the sandwich Dina packed for her, a slice of baloney between two pieces of limp white bread.
Lori picks at the salad she packed in a Tupperware container. “I’ll take that as an okay. But, Molly, you’ve really got to make an effort there. No more . . . problems, okay? We want things to go smoothly for you for a while.”
It’s not like Molly goes looking for problems. She’d love for everything to go smoothly for a while. It just never seems to work out that way. She peels apart the sandwich, pulls the baloney out of the middle, and leans over to drop it in a garbage can next to the table.
“You don’t like baloney?” Lori asks.
“I’m a vegetarian,” Molly says.
“Really? When did you decide that?”
“A few weeks ago.” She’d been thinking about it for a while, but an online video about chicken farms convinced her.
“Have you told Mrs. Thibodeau?”
“Yeah.” Molly puts the pieces of bread back together, picks up her sandwich of nothing, and takes a bite. Of course she told Dina. It hasn’t stopped her from packing Molly a baloney sandwich every day.
“Hmm.” Lori flips open a folder on her desk. “How are your classes going?”
Molly shrugs again.
Lori taps a pencil on a sheet of paper inside the folder.
“There’s a note from your Language Arts teacher.”
“What’d she say?”
“She said she’d love for you to participate more in class. You haven’t raised your hand once. Maybe you could give that a try. What do you think?”
Molly mushes the rest of the soft white bread into a ball and stuffs it into her mouth so she doesn’t have to answer.
The truth is, she doesn’t see the point of participating in class. Except for Jack, nobody really cares what she has to say anyway. She’s just the weird Goth girl— even to her foster mother.
Molly touches her necklace, with its three charms: a blue-and-green fish, a pewter raven, and a tiny brown bear. She remembers the night her dad gave them to her and wishes that, right now, the charms would give her some kind of encouragement, some feeling of strength.
You can get through this. Or maybe a warning. Leave the science lab and run for it!
But the charms feel like nothing. She can’t even sense their weight against her skin.
Lori waits to see if Molly is going to say anything. Then she sighs and flips her folder shut. “Just stay out
of trouble, Molly. Okay?”
Molly pulls a Red Delicious apple out of her lunch bag. It’s a little soft to the touch and smells too sweet, like apples do when they’re about to go bad. She takes a big bite, waiting for this time with Lori to be done.
NEW YORK CITY, 1929
Mrs. Scatcherd and Mr. Curran walked up and down the line, making sure that the children were all lined up by height, shortest to tallest. The babies were handed to girls older than eight. Mrs. Scatcherd pushed a toddler into Niamh’s arms, an olive-skinned, slightly crosseyed boy who seemed to be a few months younger than Maisie. “His name is Carmine, and he will be your charge,” she said.
Brown suitcase in one hand, Carmine in the other, Niamh climbed unsteadily onto the high step that led into the train, wobbling until Mr. Curran scurried over to take the bag.
“Use some common sense, girl,” he scolded. “If you fall, you’ll crack both of your skulls, and then we’ll have to leave the two of you behind.”
Niamh found a seat inside the train, a bench long enough for her and Carmine to spread out, and Mr. Curran heaved her suitcase up on the rack over her head. Mrs. Scatcherd stood at the front of the car, holding on to the leather backs of two seats, the arms of her black cape draping like the wings of a crow.
“They call this an orphan train, children,” she said in a shrill voice. “And you are lucky to be on it. You are leaving behind the big city, an evil place full of ignorance, poverty, and vice. You are on your way to a healthy and virtuous life in the country.”
Niamh had lived in both the city and the country, and it never struck her that one was more honorable than the other. She bounced Carmine up and down on her lap.
“While you are on this train, you will follow some simple rules,” Mrs. Scatcherd went on. “You will listen to instructions. You will not wander off alone at any time. And if your behavior proves to be a problem, you will be sent straight back to where you came from and left to fend for yourselves.”
Niamh looked around at the faces of her fellow train riders. She knew some of the children from the time she’d spent at the Children’s Aid Society. Others were strangers.
The younger ones, she saw, were wide-eyed and anxious and a little bewildered, as if worried that they might commit some dreadful sin without meaning to.
The older ones looked like they were barely listening. Many of them had been at the Children’s Aid for much longer than Niamh. Some had come there from other orphanages. They’d probably heard plenty of speeches like this before.
Carmine started to whine, kicking his feet against Niamh’s leg. He was hungry, she guessed. They’d only had a dry piece of bread and a tiny cup of milk for breakfast, and that was hours ago. But Niamh knew better than to ask when food would be coming. During her time in the orphanage, she’d learned that food came when adults were ready to pass it out, and not before.
At breakfast that morning she’d managed to drop two sugar lumps into her pocket. Now she crushed one between her fingers and licked her index finger to make the grains stick. She slipped the finger into Carmine’s mouth. The look of astonished delight on his face made her smile.
After sucking her finger, Carmine seemed to relax.
He clutched Niamh’s hand with both of his chubby ones, holding on tight, and drifted off to sleep as the train started to move. Soon enough Niamh slept too.
She woke when they stopped at a depot. Through sleepy eyes she watched Mr. Curran get off. She could see him outside her window talking to the farmers on the platform. One held a basket of apples, one a sack full of bread. A man in a black apron reached into a box and unwrapped a package of brown paper to reveal a thick yellow slab of cheese, and Niamh’s stomach rumbled.
Mr. Curran got back on the train, and it pulled out of the station. After a few minutes, Niamh saw a paper airplane winging above his head. Mr. Curran leaped to his feet and wheeled around. “Who did that?” he demanded, but no one confessed. Slowly he sat down.
Then, from behind his back, someone let out a deafening belch.
Mr. Curran junped up again. “Scoundrels!” More belches came from various benches, and one girl gave a high-pitched ghostly moan. Giggles burst out as Mr. Curran looked around wildly. Niamh put her face in Carmine’s hair to hide her smile.
Mr. Curran could not pick out one child to punish. “I’ll send you all off this train at the next stop!” he bellowed, standing in the aisle, gripping two seat backs for balance.
“I’d be glad to make my way on my own!” one of the older boys shot back. He had bold blue eyes under a flannel cap that was also blue, and he met Mr. Curran’s gaze with defiance. “Been doing it for years. I reckon I can shine shoes in any city in America! It’s probably better than being sent to live in a barn with animals, eating pig slops.”
Children murmured in their seats.
“I hear we’ll be sold at auction to the highest bidder,” another boy whispered loudly.
The car grew silent. Mrs. Scatcherd, who had been silently watching all the commotion, stood up. In her black cloak and steel-rimmed glasses, she was far more frightening than Mr. Curran.
“I have heard enough,” she snapped. “Mr. Curran, maybe the young man who spoke to you so impudently should be moved to a new seat.” She lifted her chin, peering out from her bonnet like a turtle from its shell.
“Ah—there’s a space over there,” she said, pointing a finger in Niamh’s direction.
Niamh’s skin prickled. But she could see that Mrs. Scatcherd meant what she said, so she slid as close as she could to the window. She set Carmine in the middle, a barrier between herself and this stranger.
The boy stood, pulled his bright blue cap down hard on his head, and dragged his feet up the aisle. He flung himself into the seat beside Carmine, then took his cap back off and slapped it against the seat in front. A small cloud of dust floated up.
“Man,” he muttered, “what an old goat.”
Then he held his finger out to Carmine, who buried his head in Niamh’s lap.
“Don’t get you nowhere being shy,” the boy said.
Glancing at Niamh, he said, “A redhead. That’s worse than a bootblack. Who’s gonna want you?”
Niamh’s heart dropped. Hadn’t those women on the train platform said the same thing? But she lifted her chin. “At least I’m not a criminal.”
He laughed. “That’s what I am, am I?”
“You tell me.”
“Would you believe me?”
“No point, then, is there.”
Niamh didn’t answer, and they sat in silence. Outside the window, gray clouds hung low in a watery sky.
“They took my kit from me,” the boy said after a while.
Niamh turned to look at him. “What?”
“My bootblack kit. All my paste and brushes. How do they expect me to make a living?”
“They don’t. They’re going to find you a family.”
“You think so, huh?” he said. “A ma to tuck us in at night and a pa to put food on the table? I don’t see it working out like that. Do you?”
“I don’t know. Haven’t thought about it,” she said, though it was all she could think about.
“Well, I have,” he said. Over the next few hours the boy told Niamh his story. His name was Hans but everybody called him Dutchy. His mother died of pneumonia, and his father sent him out into the streets to earn money as a bootblack, beating him with a belt if he didn’t bring back enough. So one day he stopped going home.
He fell in with a gang of boys on the streets, and they looked after one another as much as they could. He taught himself piano by ear in the back room of a speakeasy, where people crept in to order beer and whiskey they couldn’t buy in the light of day, not since the law changed. And then someone from the Children’s Aid Society came by and promised him a hot meal if he came inside—and he ended up here, sitting beside Niamh on this train full of orphans.
When Carmine began to fuss, Dutchy reached into his pocket and pulled out a penny. He rolled it across his fingers, held it between his thumb and forefinger, touched it to Carmine’s nose, and then clasped it in his closed fist. When he opened his hand, the penny wasn’t there. He reached behind Carmine’s ear, and—“Presto,” Dutchy said.
Carmine gazed at the bright coin between Dutchy’s fingers, astonished.
Dutchy grinned at Niamh and tucked the coin back into his pocket. “Who knows what’ll happen to us? If it’s bad we just have to put up with it. Or maybe we’ll get lucky and live happily ever after. Only the good Lord knows what’s next, and he ain’t telling.”
SPRUCE HARBOR, MAINE, PRESENT DAY
Molly is sitting at the desk in her room, doing math.
The only thing on the surface of her desk is her textbook and a sheet of lined paper.
She opens her desk drawer and reaches in to find a pencil sharpener, neatly set alongside a packet of yellow Post-its, a row of unsharpened pencils, three ballpoint pens, and a stapler. She gives her pencil a perfect point. Jack, who’s sitting on the floor by Molly’s bed with a textbook open on his knees, snorts. Molly looks over at him. “What?”
“That’s the third time you’ve sharpened your pencil since you started your homework.”
“So?” Molly glowers at him. She likes her pencils sharp. What’s wrong with that? Her numbers look neater that way.
Jack puts up a hand as if to shield himself from her glare.
Dina passes by in the hall and looks in suspiciously.
“Only if the door is wide open,” she said when Molly asked if Jack could come over and study with her after school.
“He’s not my boyfriend!” Molly said. “Just a friend.”
“Wide. Open,” Dina said. “Or he’s not coming.”
When Molly told Jack what Dina had said, he shrugged. “I get it. Moms can be annoying.”
“She’s not my mom,” Molly snapped.
Jack just laughed. “I think you both need to chill out a little bit.”
Molly met Jack her first week here, in Language Arts. They’d been assigned to a writing group, along with Jody Davis. Jody tucked a strand of long, taffy-colored hair behind her ear and stared at Molly. “That girl is weird,” Molly heard her whisper to Jack. “She freaks me out.”
Jack didn’t do what Molly expected. He didn’t laugh at Molly or exchange an I know, right? look with Jody. He just shrugged. Then, when Jody looked away, he glanced at Molly, ran a finger down his own hair where the blue streak was in hers, and grinned.
Molly tugs at the blue streak, remembering. In between math problems, she’s been sketching a shape on the edge of her paper. A circle the size of a quarter, with four legs, a head, and a tail. Now she begins to draw in a tiny, tight pattern on the turtle’s shell.
“Hey, what’s that?”
Molly looks up, startled. She’d become so interested in her drawing that she hadn’t noticed Jack closing his book or coming to stand over her. Instinctively she covers the turtle with her hand, but Jack’s already seen it.
“Cool. What’s his name?”
“It doesn’t have a name.”
“I think you should call him Carlos.”
“What?” Despite herself, Molly begins to smile.
She takes her hand away and studies the turtle. “Why Carlos?”
“He just looks like a Carlos. See his little head? He’s kind of wagging it, like, ‘What’s up?’ He’s a chill dude.”
Jack perches on the edge of her desk. “So . . . how’s it going with Mrs. Daly?”
“Vivian.” Molly folds the sheet of math problems in half and puts it away in her textbook, turtle and all.
“Oh, I don’t know. She’s all up in my business.”
“I don’t know anything about her life. Oh, except she said that one of her teachers when she was in school was named Miss Larsen. Not like I care! But she expects me to tell her everything about mine! What does she need to know for?”
“Maybe she’s lonely. Living in that big house all by herself. My mom is the only one she talks to.”
Molly frowns. “Well, I don’t need to tell her stories about my sad life. We can’t all be rich and live in mansions.”
“So turn it around. Ask her questions.”
“Like whatever,” Jack says. “You’re going through all those boxes, right? So ask some questions about what she’s kept up there all these years. Like: Why turtles?”
Molly looks at him as if he’s lost his mind.
He nods at her notebook. “‘Why turtles?’ See, that’s how you ask people questions. You like them?”
“Are you asking me?”
“Turtles—they mean something. In my culture.”
Why should she answer him? Or Vivian? Or Lori?
Dina walks by the room for a second time and stares at him, and he ignores her. He’s just sitting there looking at Molly, smiling a little. He actually seems to want to know about the turtles.
Molly opens her notebook again and looks at Carlos.
“Turtles carry their homes on their backs,” she tells
Jack, remembering what her dad told her years ago. She repeats his words as best she can. “They’re out there in the world, for anyone to see, but hidden at the same time. They’re strong. They’re slow, but they get where they’re going. They don’t give up.”
She draws another turtle next to Carlos, a little smaller, with a different pattern on its shell. Jack sits next to her quietly, watching her pencil on the paper.
It’s funny. Sitting at her desk with Jack, with Dina pacing back and forth in the hall outside like she’s on patrol, Molly feels exposed and protected all at once.
Yeah, that’s right. Like a turtle in a shell.
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, 1929
On the third day the train crossed the Illinois state line. Niamh felt stiff and sore from all the hours on the hard bench, restless and tired at once, and amazed by the sheer size of the United States. She’d known the country was big, but she had no idea how big. They had been traveling for days and were barely in the middle yet!
Near Chicago, Mrs. Scatcherd stood for another lecture.
“In a few minutes we will arrive at Union Station, where we’ll switch trains for the next portion of our journey,” she told the children. “We are not allowed to board for an hour, so we will wait on the platform. Quietly. Young men, put on your suit coats. Young ladies, your pinafores. Chicago is a proud and noble city, on the edge of a great lake. The lake makes it windy, which is why it is called the Windy City. You will bring your suitcases, of course, and will want to put on your coats. Mr. Curran and I expect you to conduct yourselves like the model citizens the Children’s Aid Society believes you can become.”
Mrs. Scatcherd was right; when Niamh stepped off the train, the wind on the platform rushed through her pinafore and her dress. She dug her too-small coat out of her suitcase and stuffed her arms into the sleeves, but it was impossible to fasten the buttons. Carmine staggered around, happy to have room to roam, while Niamh kept a sharp eye on him. He wanted to know the name of everything he saw: Train. Wheel. Lights.
They were a quiet lot, even the older boys, who were huddled together, stamping their feet to keep warm.
Except for Dutchy, Niamh realized. Where did he go?
When she heard her name, she turned to glimpse his blond head at the foot of a staircase across the platform. Niamh looked over at the adults. Mrs. Scatcherd was frowning at a conductor. Mr. Curran was poring over papers with a station agent. A large rat scurried along a brick wall a little way down the platform. As the other children pointed and shrieked, Niamh scooped Carmine up and slipped behind a pillar and a pile of wooden crates.
In the stairwell, Dutchy leaned against a wall. When he saw Niamh, he turned and bounded up the stairs, vanishing around a corner. Niamh held Carmine tightly and followed.
She knew perfectly well that she shouldn’t be doing this, and she told herself she only wanted to find Dutchy to make him come back—but for the first time since the dreadful night when she had lost her family, something flickered inside her. It wasn’t quite happiness and it wasn’t quite hope, but it might have been curiosity. What was at the top of the staircase? What did Chicago look like beyond this one platform?
Carmine tilted his head up and leaned back in her arms, floppy as a sack of rice. “Yite,” he murmured, pointing. Following his gaze, she saw that just up ahead was the enormous ceiling of the train station, laced with skylights.
They stepped into the huge terminal, filled with people. There were wealthy women in furs, trailed by servants. Men in top hats and morning coats. Shopgirls in bright dresses. Dutchy was standing in the middle, looking up at the sky through the huge panes of glass, with a huge grin on his face. Suddenly he took off his cap and flung it into the air.
Carmine struggled in Niamh’s arms, and when she set him down, he raced toward Dutchy and grabbed his legs. Dutchy reached down and hoisted the baby onto his shoulders. He clasped Carmine’s legs and began to twirl.
Carmine stretched out his arms and threw back his head, shrieking with glee, and that flicker inside Niamh sharpened and brightened into joy. Joy so sharp it felt like the edge of a knife. Even though it hurt, she hugged the feeling tightly. It was nothing she’d ever experienced before, and she didn’t know if she’d ever feel it again.
A whistle blasted through the air. Niamh spun around, trying to see where the sound had come from. She spotted three policemen in dark uniforms, racing toward Dutchy and Carmine. Mrs. Scatcherd had climbed the stairs from the platform. She raised her black wing, pointing toward the two boys. Mr. Curran pushed past her. Dutchy froze. Carmine grabbed his hair and shrieked.
Just then someone seized hold of Niamh’s arm, another policeman. “Trying to get away, were you?” he hissed in her ear, his breath smelling of licorice.
Niamh twisted in his grasp, trying to see what had happened to Dutchy. He was facedown on the ground now, the policemen surrounding him. Carmine was on the ground as well, sitting beside Dutchy, crying and bewildered. Niamh tried to go to him, but the policeman yanked her back. Then another policeman hauled Dutchy roughly to his feet, and they were both dragged over to Mrs. Scatcherd. A third policeman carried Carmine.
“These are your charges, ma’am?” one of the policemen asked.
Mrs. Scatcherd nodded. “Unfortunately they are.”
She looked as if she’d bitten into a lime. “I placed this young man with you,” she said to Niamh in a quietly terrible voice, “in the hope that you might prove a civilizing influence. It appears that I was gravely mistaken.”
Niamh wanted to tell her that Dutchy didn’t mean any harm, that she didn’t either, that both of them just wanted to see what was at the top of the stairwell, that they just wanted to spin and laugh under the bright sky.
“No, ma’am, I—”
“Do not interrupt.”
Niamh looked down.
“Now, what do you have to say for yourself?”
Niamh knew that Mrs. Scatcherd was not going to approve of her, never again. But maybe she could still save Dutchy. If Mrs. Scatcherd sent him off the train here, in Chicago, what would he do? He didn’t have his bootblack kit. He couldn’t make money for himself.
“I asked Dutchy—I mean Hans—to take me and the baby into the station,” she told Mrs. Scatcherd. “I thought . . . maybe we could get a glimpse of that lake. I thought the baby would like to see it.”
Mrs. Scatcherd glared at her. Dutchy looked startled but said nothing. Carmine said, “Yake?”
Mrs. Scatcherd’s face softened.
“You are a foolish and headstrong girl,” she told Niamh, but her voice had lost its edge, and Niamh could tell that she wasn’t as angry as she wanted to appear.
“You disobeyed my instructions. You’ve disgraced yourself.” She turned to the officers in their uniforms. “But this is not, I think, a matter for the police.”
The officer holding Dutchy let him go.
SPRUCE HARBOR, MAINE, PRESENT DAY
After Jack has packed up his backpack and gone home, Dina calls from the kitchen that dinner is ready.
“So how’s that community service working out?” Ralph asks when Molly gets to the table. He pours himself a big glass of milk.
“Fine,” Molly says. She picks up a piece of corn on the cob from a platter in the center of the table and plucks a hot dog gingerly from the bun on her plate. She sets the meat quietly to one side. “There’s lots of stuff in that attic.”
“Twenty hours’ worth?” asks Dina.
“I guess there’s other things I can do if we finish the attic,” Molly says. “That house is huge.”
“Yeah, sure is. I know the house—I’ve done some plumbing work over there,” Ralph says. “Old pipes. Is Jack’s mom usually there when you’re working?”
Molly nods. “She’s around. Doing laundry and stuff.”
Dina gives her a funny smile. “Terry Gallant doing laundry. Now there’s a picture.”
Molly looks at her in confusion.
“Come on, Dina,” Ralph says mildly.
Dina ignores him. “Back in high school, Terry Gallant was Miss Popular. Homecoming queen and all that,” she tells Molly. “Now she’s scrubbing floors, huh?”
Molly turns her attention to her food. When she’s done, she picks up her plate with the hot dog still on it. She remembers to thank Dina for dinner.
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, 1929
By the time they left Chicago, it was evening. As the train chugged out of the station, Mrs. Scatcherd rapped Dutchy’s knuckles several times with a long wooden ruler as punishment for leaving the platform. He barely winced, then shook his hands twice in the air and winked at Niamh.
Carmine sat on Niamh’s lap, face pressed against the window, gazing out at the streets and buildings, all lit up. “Yite,” he said softly as Dutchy flopped onto the seat beside him.
“Get a good night’s rest, children,” Mrs. Scatcherd called from the front of the car. “In the morning we’ll be making our first stop. You will need to be at your very best if you want to be chosen by a kind family.”
“What if nobody wants me?” one boy asked, and the entire car seemed to hold its breath.
Mrs. Scatcherd looked as if she’d been waiting for this. “If it happens that you are not chosen at the first stop, there will be several later chances. I cannot think of a time . . .” She paused. “It is very rare for a child to be with us on the return trip to New York.”
“Pardon me, ma’am,” a girl near the front said. “What if I don’t want to go with the people who choose me?”
“What if they’re mean?” a younger boy cried out. “Children!” Mrs. Scatcherd’s glasses flashed as she turned her head from side to side. “I will not have you interrupting!”
But was she going to answer the questions or not?
Everybody had their eyes on her.
“I will say this.” She looked sterner than ever.
“Some parents are looking for a healthy boy to work on the farm. Some people want babies. Parents sometimes think they want one thing, but later change their minds. We dearly hope all of you will find the right home at the first stop, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Be respectable, polite, and keep your faith in God. Whether your journey is long or short, He will help you as long as you place your trust in Him.”
Niamh looked at Dutchy. Mrs. Scatcherd hadn’t really answered the question—but the message was clear. Mrs. Scatcherd did not know, any more than the children knew, whether they’d be treated with kindness.
This train was taking them steadily into the unknown, and they had no choice but to sit quietly in their hard seats and let themselves be taken there.
Christina Answers the Top 10 Book Club Questions
How close are the events you describe in the novel to real life? (00:19)
Did situations like the Grotes’ home really exist? (01:19)
Was it common for train riders to keep their experiences secret? (02:35)
How did most train riders ultimately feel about having been put on a train? (03:50)
Did the research for this book give you a bleak perspective of human nature? (05:48)
Why did you write a novel – and not nonfiction — about the orphan trains? (07:47)
Did you know everything that would happen in the novel when you started, or did you change things as you went along? (09:00)
Why did Maisie have to die? (10:57)
Why didn’t you show the reunion between Vivian and Sarah? (11:58)
And finally … the question every book club asks: Why did Vivian give away her daughter? (13:28)