The second Tuesday of each month was hellacious in the Torrington household. It was starching and mangling day for the laundry and they had batches from three different clients which all needed to be ironed and returned by Thursday morning. Molly and John could a decent amount of rest before they had to rise, but Mum always got up before dawn in order to light the fire and mix and boil the starch. When the starch grew thick and the sun began to rise, Mum would holler at Molly and John in the least delicate way and tell them to get up. John dressed in his Navy uniform, cotton striped shirt and brown trousers, whereas Molly usually simply rolled out of bed and pulled on her clunking black boots which swallowed her feet.
The both of them waded through the sea of clotheslines from which damp petticoats, shirts, and drawers hung. The mangler, a cumbersome machine much like a table with a rolling pin attached (and which was often used as an extra eating surface during the rest of the week) was lifted from the kitchen into the parlor where it would later be used to wring excess water out of the clothes.
Sometimes there was time to have a bit of bread and bacon, but Molly needed to be at school and John needed to be at the dockyard by seven o'clock sharp, so breakfast became more of an occasional indulgence.
Today, however, John sawed off two slices of bread, topping them with horseradish and gave one to Molly.
"God, I love food," he muttered as he chewed.
When Molly stepped out of the house to go to school the two Hartnell brothers were outside waiting for John. Thomas said nothing but John Hartnell ruffled Molly's hair with his enormous hand and said, "Good morning, little devil."
"Don't touch me, you measly maggot!' Molly replied.
John sighed as he came out the door behind his sister. "Molly, can you please, please try to be kind," he said.
At the end of Giffen Street was a small Ragged School that about a dozen children attended. Ragged schools had popped up all over London in a futile attempt to educate the poor children. But it was really the teachers learning a lesson, because the children of Giffen Street were beyond unruly.
Molly, of course was one of those unruly children but she had good company.
There were a whole gaggle of doe-eyed, curly-haired kids who only came on Tuesdays and Thursdays and always sat on the back bench, huddled together and puffed up like sparrows. They were probably the children of some foreign factory workers, but they never spoke to the other pupils, so they remained the forgotten enigmas.
Harry Fedlington, however, was not soon forgotten. Molly and Harry were involved in a merciless prank war with each other which dated back to when they were little more than toddlers. At school, he was especially fond of dipping the ends of Molly's hair in the inkpot when she sat in front of him. In response, she dumped her ink over his head and then she had a talking to which was their teacher's word for scolding.
Molly had an excellent partner in crime, though and her name was Annie. Annie Bulgary wasn't an especially smart girl, but she had an excellent mischievous streak. Annie was Jewish with long, knotty brown hair and green eyes. She bit her nails and picked at the split ends of her hair. Most importantly, she wasn't afraid to play with the boys or run races or get her dress dirty and this was why she was Molly's best friend. They were the only two eleven year olds at school; Harry Fedlington was twelve.
The other twelve year old at school was named Litzy York. She was the only girl at school who had a dress with puffed sleeves, and she let everyone know it.
Litzy's hair was never knotty nor was her dress ever dirty. Her cheeks were rosy and her hair was blonde and curly and she always had the best handwriting. She was the embodiment of perfectionism and Molly hated it.
Then there were the eight year old twins, Scotty and Gavin O'Connor. They were pricelessly adorable with a mess of black curls, blue eyes, and red freckles peppered all over their face but they were the most devilish, fidgety creatures one could imagine.
This particular Tuesday Molly walked into the schoolroom to see Harry Fedlington lying on top of the blackboard. Yes, on top of it. Somehow he was able to support himself on the three inch wide frame of the blackboard and was lying awkwardly on his side with a stick in his hand.
"You didn't scare me; I saw you!" said Molly.
"I'm not trying to scare you. I'm trying to scare Ms. Pickering." Ms. Pickering was a nasty old witch with reading glasses perched far too low on her thin, sharp nose. She had little appreciation for humor, which is why she was so fun to tease.
"Look!" Harry said, waving the stick in his hand. Dangling from it was a string tied to a lump of coal with twigs sticking out. From a distance it made a fairly convincing spider.
"It's almost seven! Cover me, cover me!" Harry yelled. Scotty and Gavin got the sheet that was used to clean the blackboard and crawled up onto the desk to shroud Harry. "Can you see me?" said Harry, coughing from the chalk dust.
"You should really get down from there," said Litzy.
"Pull in your legs a little; I can see your shoe," said Annie.
And then they waited, nearly bursting out in uncontrollable giggles from their feverish anticipation.
"Good morning, children." Ms. Pickering walked obliviously underneath the blackboard and stood in front of her desk right beneath Harry's hiding spot.
"Good morning, Ms. Pickering," the students muttered in unison, trying very hard not to laugh.
"Shall we begin with reading today?"
From underneath the sheet the students could see Harry's hand cautiously creep out with the fake spider. Ms. Pickering was completely absorbed in her speech about the day's activities. Harry slowly lowered the spider until it was on top of Ms. Pickering's head. She patted her head absent mindedly and Harry lowered it right in front of her face.
Ms. Pickering let out a scream that was more of a combination of a screech and a howl. For a split second there was a pure look of fear in her eyes that promptly melted into frustration as she realized it was a prank. Everyone was doubled over laughing including Harry who lost his balance and fell off the blackboard and onto the floor next to Ms. Pickering.
"Harry!" she snapped, "Outside, now!" and everyone knew he was going to get a talking to.
After school Annie asked Molly if she wanted to come over to her house and play.
"Naw. Mum needs help with the laundry today," Molly replied, "but maybe tomorrow."
"Alright, but I have to tell you a secret," whispered Annie.
"I can't tell you now, it's a big secret."
"Well what's it about?"
"Shh!" Annie looked around in all directions, making sure the coast was clear. "I can't tell you now, but it's about someone I met yesterday."
"Ooh, was it a boy?" Molly laughed and teased her and said goodbye as they reached her house.
A few streets away John Torrington and John Hartnell walked back from the dockyard together.
"Did you enlist?" Hartnell asked.
"Yes," John said, but Hartnell could tell he was uneasy.
"You shouldn't be worried. I'll be there with you every day and so will Thomas. You're going to love it; it's going to be so exciting. I mean think of what an honor it will be when -".
"I know, Hartnell," John cut him off abruptly, "I'm just not sure what Molly and Mum will think of it."
"Tell them it will be one hell of an adventure."