Sunday, 20 December 2009
06:38:11 AM (GMT)
“This child maid, caught for stealing three shillings from her mistress here,”
The judge pointed one meaty finger at me and looked grave, “She will hang tomorrow,
town square. Any objections?” I gulped and looked around, my fingers clasped in a
silent prayer. They were all ladies and gentlemen of high authority, and would
probably say nothing. But still, I prayed. “No objections, the child is to be put
into jail.” Another pair of beefy men dragged me along painfully by the ropes
holding my wrists, and threw me into a small cell with one window. There was a heap
of straw in one corner. “There’s no escaping here, so don’t you try, little
thief, you.” I stared blankly at him and went over to curl up on the straw.
They snorted and locked the door, leaving me in the dark except for the small
square of moonlight. “There wouldn’t be any point trying to escape anyway, I’m
just a child. I can’t run fast, I can’t jump high; they’d catch me for sure.”
I closed my eyes and sighed, covering myself in the straw and drifting off into
sleep. I was disturbed by a soft clinking sound at the window, and I stirred. “May,
are you there? Come out, love, I’m here to help you.” My eyes widened and I stood
up, stifling a gasp. It was Mrs. Anderson, the cook. “Oh, no, ma’am, you’ll get
into trouble,” I stammered. Mrs. Anderson had never been nice to me before, why
should she start now? She ignored my words and silently removed the bars, gesturing
to me to scale the wall and squeeze through.
I hesitated. “Ma’am, I…” She looked at me and smiled, with tears in her
eyes. “Come, child, there’s not much time left.” I gulped and scaled the uneven
wall, easily squeezing through the window and falling into her arms. She replaced the
bars and grabbed my hand. We hurried through the dark and looming streets of London,
and she placed a finger on my lips when we reached the house. We crept past
Mistress’s room, where loud snoring could be heard. She went into our room and held
a case open, stuffing the few belongings I had into it and putting in some of the
mistress’s daughter’s clothes. I gaped at her. Then she closed the clasp and
grabbed my hand once more, pulling me along with her until we reached a house and
knocked hard on the door.
A young woman came out and hugged me, taking in my case and waving goodbye to Mrs.
Anderson. She waved at her and kissed me on the cheek. “Listen, love, tomorrow
night there’ll be a carriage at the gates, Miss Devans, your new mistress, she’ll
take you to her mansion, and won’t that be grand, eh?” I blinked at her, crying.
She smiled and hugged me hard, “Take care, May. I know I haven’t been good to you
but you’re a good person, you are. You’ll grow up to be a fine woman, so don’t
fret. Goodbye.” She turned and hurried back into Mistress’s house, closing the
door quietly behind her. The rest of the night I remember not.
But the next day, however, I remember clearly. Miss Devans woke me up and brushed
my hair, telling me to hide in her bedroom with her until night. She brought a lovely
breakfast and I feasted. Mistress had not given me much food since I was hired. But
as I looked out of the window, my heart dropped. “Mrs. Anderson!” I stared at the
platform in the middle of the town square, where a noose hung and a trap door was
visible. Mrs. Anderson was being pushed on stage and people were cheering. “Oh,
Miss Devans, we must do something!” But she patted my shoulder and shook her head.
Mrs. Anderson was going to die because of me. She placed the curtains back and hugged
me again as I sobbed. The next time I opened the curtains, the stage was gone. I had
no appetite for the rest of the day.
That evening, a carriage did come, and Miss Devans brought me into it, sitting
beside me and clasping my hands in hers. “Let’s pray for Mrs. Anderson, May. She
was a good woman, and she won’t have a bad afterlife, darling.” I closed my eyes
and prayed hard. Mrs. Anderson wouldn’t deserve anywhere but Heaven. I shut my eyes
for fifteen minutes and drifted off into sleep. When I woke up, I was facing a
beautiful mansion and Miss Devans smiled at me. “I promise you, darling, you’ll
lead a better life here. You’ll still be a maid, I’m afraid I don’t have the
power to adopt you into the family, but you’ll still certainly be part of it.” I
smiled gratefully at her. I couldn’t believe my luck. But I hadn’t forgotten
about London. Somehow, I’m going to help the people in there. Someday, there
won’t be any hanging for children –children!- who stole shillings to feed
themselves. There would be justice, and there would be happiness.