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All My TomorrowsTHE ORPHAN TRAINS TRILOGY BOOK TWO
By Al Lacy & JoAnna Lacy
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 2003 ALJO PRODUCTIONS, INC.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was early March 1876. It had been snowing off and on in New York City for four days, and several inches of snow had accumulated on the ground. At the 38th Street Cemetery on Manhattan Island, a small group had gathered at an open grave where a simple pine coffin rested on a cart. A polar breeze was coming down out of the north, and it was snowing lightly beneath a somber gray sky. All of them felt the ice of the breeze and turned their heads into their upturned collars while the minister spoke in a solemn tone.
Ten-year-old Teddy Hansen stared through his tears at the crude wooden box that held his mother's body. It had already been sealed shut by the undertaker, who stood nearby, blinking at the snowflakes that kept settling on his eyelashes.
Teddy was standing between his Uncle George and Aunt Eva Pitts, and his Uncle Henry and Aunt Lois Eades. The stiff breeze was knifing its cold blades through his thin, tattered coat. He was quivering both from the cold and from the grief that was tearing at his heart.
The boy had never seen the minister before, who was speaking in a dead monotone, and was paying little attention to what he was saying. He sniffed and absently wiped his tearstained cheeks and nose with the sleeve of his threadbare coat.
While the minister droned on, Teddy looked up at his relatives, who were also staring at the coffin. Uncle George was his mother's brother and Aunt Lois was his mother's sister.
Teddy's mind ran to his father as he gazed once again on the coffin. Why did Mama have to die? It was bad enough when Papa left us. I was only eight then, and poor Mama had to find a way to provide for us.
At that moment, Teddy relived the horror of the day his father told his mother he was leaving and would never be back. He stormed out of the apartment, slamming the door behind him. He remembered how his mother wept as she held him in her arms and told him that they would make it somehow. Three days later, after walking the streets looking for a job, she was hired as a waitress at a café near the tenement where they lived. They had to move into a one-bedroom apartment in the tenement, and his mother had insisted that Teddy have the bedroom. She slept on the lumpy couch in the parlor.
From the start, Claire Hansen had worked a double shift at the café, seven days a week. It was the only way she could earn enough money to provide for her son and her to live on. The pace she kept steadily wore her down, and after keeping it up for nearly two years, her health began to fail. She caught a severe cold this past January, and by mid-February, she came down with pneumonia and had to be hospitalized. After two weeks in the hospital, she died.
The Pittses and the Eadeses had traded off keeping Teddy in their homes since his mother had first become ill. He was hoping that Uncle George and Aunt Eva would let him live with them, rather than having to switch back and forth between them and Uncle Henry and Aunt Lois every few days like they had been doing since his mother got sick.
Teddy knew Uncle Henry and Aunt Lois really didn't want him. And for that matter, neither did Uncle George. But Aunt Eva really loved him, and he was hoping she would be able to persuade Uncle George to let him live with them permanently.
Teddy's gaze was still fastened on the coffin. A shiver slid down his backbone. Oh, Mama, why did you go off and leave me?
His mind was almost as numb as his cold feet as he lifted his eyes toward the dour gray sky as though his answer would come from there. The falling snowflakes quickly attached to his eye-lashes. He wiped them away and brushed at the flakes that covered his knitted cap. Lowering his head, Teddy looked at the snow on his shoes. His heart was as cold as the ground where he stood.
Oh, Mama, I miss you so much. You always made sure I knew I was loved and wanted. Even though you worked so many hours, you still had time for me. I was left alone a lot, but I always knew you would hurry home as soon as your shifts were over.
Teddy thought about how it affected him when he first noticed that his mother was losing weight and her face was so pale. He was worried about her, and when he voiced it, she smiled and told him she would be fine. From that moment on, whenever she came home from work and opened the door, she had a smile on her wan face, and they enjoyed the moments they had with each other.
The minister's hollow voice was still riding the frigid air as a sob escaped Teddy's tightly compressed lips. He quickly clasped a mittened hand to his mouth, looking up at his relatives. Aunt Eva was observing him with soft, sympathetic eyes. She laid a gloved hand on his shoulder, gave it an assuring squeeze, then let go.
Teddy lowered his head and let the tears course down his reddened cheeks and drip off his quivering chin. He sleeved away the tears and focused on the coffin. I've been good while staying with my aunts and uncles, Mama. I didn't make any noise or cause any trouble. And I didn't eat too much. I hope Aunt Eva and Uncle George will take me.
So lost in his thoughts and grief, Teddy was not aware that the minister was closing in prayer. He was unaware that the dreadful funeral was over until he felt a strong hand clamp down on his shoulder.
"Time to go, Teddy," said Uncle Henry.
Teddy nodded. "I want to tell Mama good-bye."
"All right. We'll give you a few seconds to do that."
The aunts and uncles watched as Teddy moved up to the coffin, patted it, and choked as he said, "I love you, Mama, and I will miss you always. Good-bye."
When they arrived at the Eades house where Teddy had stayed the last two nights, Henry said, "Teddy, you go on upstairs to your room. We adults need to talk. We'll let you know when you can come down."
Teddy nodded. "Yes, Uncle Henry."
The heavyhearted ten-year-old mounted the stairs, walked down the hall, and entered his room. More tears were flowing. He closed the door and flung himself on the bed. "Mama! Mama! I need you! I need you!"
After a few minutes, Teddy dried his tears. He thought about the conversation that was going on in the parlor downstairs. He knew what his aunts and uncles were talking about: their orphaned nephew.
Teddy slipped out of his room and moved quietly down the hall. He descended the stairs, crept up close to the open parlor door, and flattened his back against the wall where he couldn't be seen.
Uncle George and Uncle Henry were arguing, each giving the reason why the other couple should take their nephew.
"I can't let this responsibility fall on Eva!" George said flatly. "The kid will just be more of a problem and a nuisance than he's already been since Claire got sick."
In the hall, Teddy swallowed hard and bit down on his lower lip.
Henry cleared his throat. "Well, I'm telling you right now, George, I'm not letting this responsibility fall on Lois, either! Having that kid around is just too much of a bother."
"Right," said Lois. "Henry and I didn't bring him into the world, and there's no reason for us to be stuck with raising him. And as far as I'm concerned, you and Eva shouldn't have to put up with him, either. Let's put him in an orphanage."
Teddy couldn't see Eva's face, but he could hear the break in her voice as she said, "An orphanage? You know as well as I do that the orphanages in this city are already so overcrowded that they can't take any more children. That's why the streets are so full of them. They have nowhere else to go. And you also know that year round many starve to death; in the winter, great numbers of them freeze to death. We can't put that poor child on the streets."
There was silence for a moment, then Eva said, "George, I want us to keep Teddy and take care of him."
"No!" snapped George. "Like I said, I can't let this responsibility fall on you and for that matter, me, either. Why should we have to feed, house, and clothe him for the next ten years? We're not going to do it."
Eva was crying now. "But, George, we can't just put him out on the streets. We must-"
"That's the end of it, Eva!" George said. "That kid's not living in our house!"
In the hall, Teddy's hand went to his mouth. There was a sudden wave of anxiety that flowed across his mind like a cold wave. He wheeled, ran quietly to the stairs, and mounted them quickly. When he entered his room, he closed the door and leaned his back against it.
"Only Aunt Eva wants me," he whispered, breathing hard, "but Uncle George won't let her have me. I'll go live on the streets with other kids who have no parents. At least they'll understand my problem and show me how to make it."
Quickly, Teddy put on his tattered coat, mittens, and knitted cap. He picked up the small cloth bag that contained some of his clothes and hurried to the stairs. He could hear his aunts and uncles still discussing him as he made his way down the stairs. So that no one would know he was leaving, he darted on tiptoe to the rear of the house and hurried out the back door. "Only Aunt Eva will miss me, but the rest of them won't. Uncle George, Uncle Henry, and Aunt Lois will make sure nobody looks for me. They'll just be glad I'm gone."
It was still snowing and a bitter wind whipped the snow in circles around him as he trudged down the street toward down-town, where the street urchins lived. He had seen them many times, begging for money on the streets. The newspapers called the groups of children who lived in the alleys "colonies." Teddy Hansen would find a colony who would take him in.
By the time Teddy reached the downtown area, it was late afternoon and the snow had stopped falling. The wind, however, was knifing along the streets in hard, hissing gusts, hurling clouds of snow and needle-sharp particles of ice against him.
As he drew up to the mouth of an alley, he spotted a group of boys about a hundred feet away, who were gathered around a fire they had built in a metal barrel. When he turned into the alley and headed toward them, one of the boys called the attention of the others to him, and all eleven of them set dubious eyes on him. He could see that they were all in their teens.
Teddy put a smile on his face as he drew up. "Hi. I'm Teddy Hansen. Could I warm myself by your fire?"
The largest of the boys scowled. He appeared to be about fifteen. "No, you can't, twerp. On your way. Ain't no room for you, here."
"I wouldn't take up much space. I'm really cold. Couldn't I just get warm?"
Another boy took a step toward him. "What is it, kid? You deaf? Rocky just told you there ain't no room for you. If you don't disappear real quick, I'm gonna beat you to a pulp."
"You won't have to, Chip," said Rocky. "If he ain't outta sight in thirty seconds, I'll pound him myself."
Teddy started backtracking, eyes wide, then pivoted and ran. He could hear the boys laughing fiendishly. When he reached the sidewalk, he headed on down the street, cold and discouraged. Soon he approached another alley and saw a colony comprised of both boys and girls about halfway down the block. They too had a fire going in a barrel.
He moved down the alley, and when he drew up, every eye in the group was on him. A husky boy of about sixteen glared at him. "Whattya want, kid?"
Teddy swallowed hard. "I-I'm an orphan. My name is Teddy Hansen. Could I get warm by your fire?"
"No, you can't. Get outta here."
One of the girls said, "Aw, c'mon, Slug. He's just a little guy. He isn't going to soak up much heat."
Teddy smiled at her.
"You shut up, Sally!" yelled another husky teenage boy. "We ain't got no room for nobody else. Next thing, he'll want to eat some of our food. On your way, kid."
Sally glared at him. "What's your problem, Garth? You were his age once. Somebody was kind to you, weren't they?"
Garth shook his shoulders. "Not always." He turned to Teddy. "What you got in that bag, kid?"
"Just some socks and underwear and a couple of shirts."
"Well, take your socks, underwear, and shirts somewhere else before you get hurt."
Tears moistened Teddy's eyes. "I'm really cold. Please? Just a few minutes by the fire?"
Garth leaped up and smashed Teddy on the jaw. Teddy staggered back, and as he gained his balance without falling, Slug hastened past Garth, anger flaming in his eyes. "What is it, punk? You don't understand English?"
The cold in Teddy's bones was greater than his fear. "Please, Slug. As the girl said, I won't soak up much heat."
Teddy noticed the big ring on Slug's right hand just before it lashed out and cracked him on the left cheek. He felt himself sail through the air, and the ground rose up and hit him on the back. There was fierce pain in his cheek and the alley seemed to be swirling around him. Slug and Garth were out of focus as they stood over him.
"Get outta here, kid," said Slug, "or you'll get more of the same."
Teddy shook his head in an attempt to clear it and rolled onto his knees, still clutching the cloth bag. There was something wet on his left cheek. When he put a hand to it, he felt the warmth of the blood and looked at it on his mitten. The ring had cut his cheek, and the cut was burning like fire. He worked his way to his feet, put the mitten to the bleeding cut, and staggered toward the end of the alley. He could hear Sally reprimanding the bullies for what they had done.
When he reached the sidewalk, Teddy made his way slowly past door after door, tears bubbling from his eyes. People he met along the way looked at him, but passed on by. Soon he came upon a dark, recessed doorway of a building that was closed up. He sat down on the step, scooting as close to the door as he could. This took him out of the path of the cold wind.
He opened the cloth bag and pulled out one of his socks. Folding it a couple of times, he pressed it to the cut on his cheek. "Oh, Mama, I need you! I need you!"
Teddy pulled his bony knees up close to his chest, leaned his head against them, and wept. He held the sock tight against the cut. Tears of frustration and pain streamed down his face.
He stayed in this position for several minutes, eyes closed. Then suddenly, he was aware of a hand on his shoulder. "Hey, little fella, what are you doing out here in this freezing weather?"
Teddy lifted his head and looked up at the tall man in dark blue with a badge on his chest.
The policeman saw the blood on the sock. "You're hurt, son. Where do you live?"
Teddy sniffed. "I don't have a home, sir. I'm an orphan. My mother died a few days ago, and I just came downtown to find a colony of street urchins to live with. In one of the alleys, I got punched. The big boy who hit me was wearing a ring. It was the ring that cut me."
The officer hunkered down to Teddy's level.
Excerpted from All My Tomorrows by Al Lacy & JoAnna Lacy Copyright © 2003 by ALJO PRODUCTIONS, INC.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.