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The Orphanage Girls (The Orphanage Girls Book 1) by Mary Wood

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Overview: Ruth dares to dream of another life – far away from the horrors within the walls of Bethnal Green's infamous orphanage. Luckily she has her friends, Amy and Ellen – but she can't keep them safe, and the suffering is only getting worse. Surely there must be a way out of here?

But when Ruth breaks free from the shackles of confinement and sets out into East London, hoping to make a new life for herself, she finds that, for a girl with nowhere to turn, life can be just as tough on the outside.Bett keeps order in this unruly part of the East End – and takes Ruth under her wing alongside orphanage escapee Robbie. But it is Rebekah, a kindly woman, who offers Ruth and Robbie a home – something neither have ever known. Yet even these two stalwart women cannot protect them when the police learn of an orphan on the run. It is then that Ruth must do everything in her power to hide. Her life – and those of the friends she left behind at the orphanage – depend on it.

The Orphanage Girls (The Orphanage Girls Book 1) by Mary Wood Read Online And Download Epub Digital Ebooks Buy Store Website Provide You.
The Orphanage Girls (The Orphanage Girls Book 1) by Mary Wood

The Orphanage Girls (The Orphanage Girls Book 1) by Mary Wood Read Online Chapter One


Shivers trembled twelve-year-old Ruth’s body at the sound of footsteps approaching the dormitory.

As the door opened, light splashed over her bed seeming to carry with it the voice of the man all the girls hated and feared. ‘Shut yer noise up, girl. I ain’t hurt yer.’

This compounded the misery that had clothed Ruth since the girl had been taken away earlier.

Her mind had screamed memories she didn’t want to think about. Memories of herself being ‘the chosen one’.

There had been no peace for her in the relief of not being taken tonight as she’d lain awake praying for the girl whilst trying hard not to think about what was happening to her.

But now, the heart-wrenching sobs she could hear denied her attempts to continue to shut it all out as vivid images of Belton, the night warden of Carlton Orphanage in Bethnal Green, came to her. His smarmy face, blackened teeth and how his sour breath mingled with the stench of stale tobacco, strong body odour and unwashed hair. But worse than this was thinking about the feel of his hands touching her and hearing his heavy sighs.

A tear seeped out of her eye and as always, she wished she had a mum to love her and take care of her.

Left on the doorstep of a priest’s house when a newborn, Ruth imagined her mum had been poor and lonely to have done such a thing, as that way she could excuse her and love her. Loving a mum – even one she didn’t know – gave her comfort.

Not daring to move, Ruth clung to the one sheet that covered her and watched the light become a thinner strip and then disappear as the door closed behind Belton.

The darkness left little specks dancing in her eyes. She blinked, trying to adjust, wanting to go to the girl to tell her she had a mate, but a harsh voice stopped her in her tracks.

‘Shurrup, can’t yer? How can anyone sleep while you’re making that racket?’

Gwen the grump! It was easy for Gwen to say such a thing. Pimply, snotty-nosed, with hair that hung like greasy string and a huge nose that dominated her face, she didn’t know what it was like to be chosen.

Another – kinder – voice called out, ‘Leave her alone, Gwen . . . But hey, luv, crying won’t do yer no good. Yer have to learn to accept it, snuggle down in yer bed when it’s over and get some sleep. That’s what I do.’

Ruth wondered if Doris really did this and wished that she could. Most nights she lay awake, waiting for the door to open, wondering if the heavy footsteps would stop at her bed and feeling relief if they didn’t but at the same time, sorry for the chosen girl.

With the dormitory quietening and Ruth’s eyes more used to the dark, she slipped out of bed to go to the girl to offer comfort. The lino-clad floor iced her feet as she crept along the row of beds.

When she reached the sobbing girl she found her screwed up into a ball. Touching her made her jump. ‘It’s all right, mate. I want to help yer.’

With light from the corridor trickling through the small window above the bed, Ruth could see how distraught the girl was. Her heart went out to her. ‘I can get in with you if yer like, luv. Me friend does that when Belton brings me back and it helps to comfort me. What’s yer name, you’re new ain’t yer?’

‘Amy. Yes, I came yesterday.’

‘Hotch up.’ As she said this Ruth lifted the sheet and put one foot in the bed.

‘No, stop . . . I – I don’t want you to get in.’

The feel of the warm damp sheet gave Ruth the reason for Amy’s refusal. But with the realization came visions of being hit with a wet sheet, and then wrapped in it and made to stand on her bed till supper time. She had to do something to protect Amy. ‘Shush, don’t say anything out loud about this. Yer can come to my bed for a while, but first we have to sort the bed out.’

As Amy got out, Ruth gathered the sheets in a ball and dropped them onto the floor before whispering, ‘Go around the other side and help me turn the mattress over.’

With this done, she took Amy’s hand and led her back to her bed. From what she could see, Amy wasn’t as tall as herself. ‘Get yourself in, then when all quietens down, we’ll deal with the sheets.’

As they snuggled up together giving each other warmth, Ruth told Amy her name, but then wasn’t sure if it fell on deaf ears as Amy’s deep breathing, interrupted by the jerking of rebound sobs, told her that she was already asleep. Ruth held her close.

Not daring to sleep herself, she waited until she thought all the girls in the dormitory had settled before getting out of bed and tiptoeing along to Amy’s bed, stopping at Grumpy Gwen’s to listen a moment. She wanted to be extra sure she didn’t disturb her as Gwen was known to snitch on anyone just to put herself in a good light.

With the reassurance Gwen’s snores gave her, Ruth ran, scooped up the wet sheets, and was out of the door with them, in a flash.

Fear gripped her as she looked this way and that along the dimly lit, draft-filled corridor, but all was quiet. Now, all she had to do was to get safely past Belton’s office.

A strip of light across the floor ahead made her heart sink even further – his door was ajar! Ruth slowed her pace, then wanted to take flight back to her bed as a distressed voice made her jump. ‘No, I ain’t doing that.’

It was one of the lads. The orphanage housed girls and boys but kept them separate most of the time.

Ruth couldn’t bear to hear any more, but couldn’t block her ears.

Mr Belton’s, ‘Why yer like boys is beyond me, Alf,’ made her feel sick.

‘Shurrup, it’s easy for you. The girls don’t fight back.’

The second voice belonged to Gedberg, the night manager.

Ruth waited.

The door opened wider, and the boy came dashing out, his tear-filled voice screaming, ‘Leave me alone . . . Come near me and I’ll kick yer in the knackers.’

Ruth fled in the opposite direction then stood around the corner of the passageway. Don’t let them have seen me, please!

Her tummy ached with suddenly wanting to pee. She clenched her legs together.

When she peeped around the corner, she saw both Belton and Gedberg chasing the boy.

Her sigh held relief for herself, mixed with pity for the boy. But with nothing she could do to help him, she tried to put out of her mind what might happen when they caught him and ran like the wind to the laundry.

Closing the door, she switched on the light. It was then that she saw the blood on Amy’s sheet. Her temper rose, as she realized Belton had truly hurt Amy. But she couldn’t think about that now, she had to hurry.

Dumping the sheets into the huge cloth-bag of dirty laundry, she grabbed clean ones off the shelf and was back out in the corridor, running as if her life depended on it.

Once inside the door of the dormitory, the sounds of sleeping girls – rows and rows of them – helped to calm her.

No one stirred as she felt the mattress to make sure it was dry on its upside, dumped the sheets on it and ran to the water closet to relieve herself. Once there, the fear that had zinged through Ruth brought tears as the wretchedness of their situation filled her with despair.

But as she began the chore of making the bed, she told herself that at least she’d saved Amy having to go through with more than she already had, and this cheered her.

Tired now, she wearily woke Amy. ‘Come on, mate. Yer bed’s made for yer . . . Only you won’t wet it again, will yer?’

‘No, I ain’t a bed wetter, it were . . .’

Her sob tore at Ruth. ‘Shush, luv, it’s all right. Don’t cry. I know . . . Did he hurt you badly?’

‘Yes . . . He . . . he—’

‘Look, I’ll get in with yer a mo, eh? Then you can talk, but yer have to keep your voice down, there’s them as would tell of us, then we’d both be for it.’

Once under the sheets, Ruth asked, ‘When did you come in here? I ain’t seen much of yer.’

‘It was yesterday evening . . . That man was with Matron when I was brought in.’

‘Have yer just lost yer family, then?’

‘No, I was found at the gates of a convent when I wasn’t many hours old.’

Ruth gasped. ‘Something like that happened to me.’

‘I don’t know how a mum can give a baby away, do you?’

‘No. But I think of my mum as not being able to help herself. I’m going to find her when I leave here.’

‘Is that soon?’

‘When I’m thirteen on the twenty-first of August. That’s if they don’t keep me on working in the kitchen or the laundry. Miss Flynn, the housekeeper, is always saying I’m good at both and they kept Hettie on. You’ll meet Hettie, she’s Mr Belton’s favourite, but it don’t seem to bother her. She says she makes the best of it and gets favours because of it. But I couldn’t do that, I’d rather they sent me into the workhouse than that.’

‘I was in the workhouse for a time. The nuns wanted rid of me when I grew up a bit. They said I was a pest and caused trouble, but I didn’t. Other kids blamed me for everything, so when I wasn’t well, they took me to the infirmary and didn’t come back for me.’

As she listened, Ruth’s heart felt heavy with pity for Amy. ‘Was it bad in there?’

‘No, the women were good to us kids, and the warden was kindly. She said I didn’t belong there as I didn’t have parents, so she got me a place here. I wished she hadn’t now.’

‘How old are yer, Amy?’

‘Eleven, only I ain’t sure when me birthday is.’

The sound of someone stirring made Ruth shush Amy. Once it became quiet again, she told her, ‘I’ll look out for yer, don’t worry. I know all there is to know about here. Anyway, as soon as whoever that is settles, I’ll have to get back to me bed.’

Amy gave a soft moan when she moved away. Ruth guessed she was sore. ‘Don’t go to the matron with how you’re hurting, Amy, and don’t tell no one nothing. You’ll only get a beating for telling lies.’

‘But it ain’t a lie.’

‘I know. Just don’t, that’s all.’

Back in her own bed, Ruth sought the place where Amy had lain as it was still warm, and it was nice to think of her being there.

The clanging of the bell woke Ruth with a start the next morning. Every part of her ached from lack of sleep. Dreams of Mr Belton had disturbed her, making the rest of the night a torturous nightmare, but she dared not dwell on this and so jumped out of bed as fast as everyone else did as the morning routine had to be followed.

She soon had her bed made and her nightdress folded under her pillow before donning her grey surge frock and topping it with a wraparound pinny. She didn’t own a comb so she gathered her long black hair, shoved it into a net and covered it with her mob cap.

The hive of activity around her showed that everyone was doing the same, but for Amy. ‘Amy . . . Amy, get up, mate!’

Amy gave a muffled moan.

‘Please, Amy, you’ll get a whipping with Matron’s cane. She’s a tartar.’

‘I can’t.’

Torn between carrying on with the regimented morning routine – she’d still to go to the lav and then swill her face with the rest of them in the washbasins at the other end of the dormitory – or helping Amy, Ruth sighed. She glanced both ways. Queues of wriggling girls at the closet end and chattering ones at the washbasins told her she had at least five minutes before it would be her turn at either. She just had to help Amy and pray that Matron didn’t appear before she was stood in line.

Feeling how hot and sweaty Amy was deepened Ruth’s concern, but despite this she knew that she had to get her to try to dress, as Matron didn’t tolerate anyone being unwell. ‘Amy, come on, mate. Please.’

Too late, the door of the dormitory swung open with a vicious slamming against the wall. Ruth froze.

‘What are you doing? Why isn’t this girl out of her bed!’

‘She’s unwell, Matron Hecton.’


Matron often repeated what you said, as if to say, ‘How dare you!’

Ruth trembled – she knew the consequences of Matron’s temper and could hear it rising in her tone as she barked at Amy, ‘Get out of bed at once, girl!’

Amy tried to put her legs out of the bed but flopped back down again. Ruth jumped forward to help, but a stinging slap sent her reeling. Matron’s face came within inches of hers. ‘Get in line for your wash, little miss interferer!’

Ruth scurried away, holding her smarting face, unsure whether to head for the lav or the washbasins. The closet won as her fear had made the need of it an urgency. But then she wished she’d gone the other way as she came up behind a smirking Gwen. ‘Serves yer right. Yer’ve always got yer nose in where yer shouldn’t have, Ruth Faith.’

Ruth seethed with anger. The need to lash out overwhelmed her. Her fist cracked into Gwen’s nose. Blood spurted everywhere. Gwen’s screams brought Matron flying up the dormitory.

It seemed to Ruth as if doomsday was on her. She couldn’t react or make a move to defend herself as a violent jerk of her head gave her excruciating pain. It felt to her as though every strand of her hair was being pulled from its roots. She tried to keep to her feet to release some of the pressure but lost her balance as Matron dragged her along the wooden floor.

One voice protested. Ellen. Her lovely mate, Ellen. ‘Let her go! That’s cruel!’

‘Shut up, big mouth, I’ll deal with you later. I’ll show you cruel!’

This pained Ruth. Ellen was a bright light in her life, as was Hettie. Both made some of the drudgery bearable.

The youngest in the dormitory at ten years old, Ellen was also the prettiest, with how her dark hair fell in soft curls and her large brown eyes dominated her oval face. She’d latched onto Ruth from the moment a heavily veiled woman had brought her into the orphanage a year ago.

Whilst trying to comfort the weeping Ellen at the time, Ruth had learned that the woman was Ellen’s stepmother who had treated her cruelly and had constantly reminded her that she wasn’t her daughter and seemed to begrudge every minute of her being in her house. ‘She always calls me me dad’s bastard. But— but me dad loves me.’ Ellen had told her.

It seemed to Ruth that the love Ellen had for her dad had kept her going through all of his wife’s mistreatment of her, as she’d described him as being loving and kind. Poor Ellen still missed him every day. Often, she would stand by the railings looking up the street, sure he would come and fetch her home.

Seeing the wretchedness of this, it occurred to Ruth that it was better to be like herself and not remember anything of your parents.

When they reached the isolation cell in the basement, Ruth knew an easing of the dreadful pain as Matron let go of her hair and shoved her inside. Though the feeling of relief didn’t last long as the truth of her predicament dawned on her and compounded as Matron, a burly woman with hairs coming out of her chin, raised her bushy eyebrows and glared out of her beady eyes. ‘You . . . you, Pig, will stay here till you learn you cannot mess with me. Understand? You’re nothing but a stinking tyke!’

The last bit of this was muffled as Matron pulled the heavy creaking door and slammed it shut behind her.

With no air coming into the near-dark room, the putrid stench surrounding Ruth brought the bile to her throat, its sting choking her as she lay in a huddle on the cold stone floor.

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