Finding a Better Future

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

How three children take responsibility for their own lives.


 The snow was deep and white, creating an eerie silence on the day the small group of children between ten and thirteen years old, made a break from the orphanage. It had been a really non-Christmas, because the children never received any presents that the public willingly donated to the orphanage. The best things went to the organizers and their families. The children who they were meant for, had to make do with half-broken toys. These were handed out by the women and sometimes the older children. There was nothing nice in the orphans’ lives, everything was sad and drab. Some of them managed better than others, it all depended on how long they had been there, and how much they were willing to put up with.

Leah was twelve when she decided to go for it, and get away. She also knew that several of the other children were ready to run away, in spite of the fact they might get caught and be taken back. Leah, with Natasha her best friend, and Amos the boy who was the most willing of the boys, all decided to leave.

The snow was so white it made anything moving on its surface standout. So the trio decided to make a dash for it on a moonless night, to avoid being seen. Some of the other children were too afraid to go, so they stayed behind. Leah tried to convince them to leave, “It’s your choice, but I can’t imagine after all the things we’ve seen and heard, what might become of us. The girls are taken on as maids, to be slaves and servants for the rest of their lives. The boys about the same, although we know they also get put into the army. Our education is deplorable, as if we’re not fir for anything, just because we are what we are. Well, I, for one, have had enough, and I’m off. Anyone who wants to come with me is welcome, but anyone who does, will have to learn to do their own thing.”

The other children had always known Leah would do her own thing, and become entirely independent of everything and everybody. The night of the escape was planned very carefully, and those who were going, had made provision for their uncertain journey, with food and warm clothes. The adults who ran the orphanage on a daily basis, took it for granted that nothing untoward could possibly take place in such terrible weather. They were sitting at the large dining-table, where the older children had served them food and drink, till they were full up and drunk


Leah knew she had made the right decision when, at one o’clock in the night, she, with Natasha and Amos, left through the back kitchen door, and set off across the snowy fields. From time to time, there were flurries of snow from the snow laden trees. Nevertheless, the trio managed to get quite far. They had very little idea of where they were going, but Leah didn’t care. The main thing was to get away - nothing else.

There was a farmhouse in the distance and they directed themselves towards it. There was no one about, so they went into the warm barn, where they covered themselves with hay, and soon fell asleep. They were woken up by a voice saying, “Hello, looks like we’ve got visitors,” the speaker was a farm worker, and he was soon joined by two other men.

One of the men stepped forward, and said, “I reckon they’re from the orphanage. If we take them back, there might be something in it for us.”

Leah told her friends not to panic. First of all, they had to be captured, and that wouldn’t be easy after all the humiliations they had been through. The men left the barn to fetch the farmer. While they were gone, Leah said, “I’d rather die than go back, so I’m off. You two can do what you like.”

Amos said, “If they offer me a job on the farm, I wouldn’t mind staying.”

Natasha said, “I’ll stay with Leah, till we’re far away from this area, and can earn a living.”


The two girls bade Amos farewell, and set off once more across the snow. They saw a cart being loaded with victuals for the villages, and hid beneath the tarpaulin.


The men arrived and looked around for the girls. “Where have your two friends gone?”

Amos said, “I don’t know. Can I stay here and work. I don’t want to stay at the orphanage any more.”

The farm workers stared at him, and liked what they saw, so they agreed he could stay, and if anyone came sniffing around looking for him, they wouldn’t get anything out of them. So Amos had found a slot in his life that would eventually lead to better things.


Natasha and Leah made their way across snowy fields during the harsh winter but to their surprise, they always found somewhere warm and dry to sleep and eat for a few days. As they were still in the West Country, their never-ending journey took them from being enclosed in a safe place from wild animals, to walking in the open air and the freezing conditions, to pouring rain. At times they were so tired, that they both knew that if they stopped for whatever reason, they would perish, and that was the last thing on their minds. At other times they spoke about their origins, “How old were you when you arrived at the orphanage?” Natasha asked Leah.

Leah had to stop and think hard for a long moment. “You know it’s so long ago now, that I don’t remember. But I know that it was an aunt of mine, who took me there. One day, she’ll have to answer up to that,” Leah said, with a tone of bitterness in her young voice.

Natasha said, “My father died, and all of a sudden I was bundled into a train and got down there. Have you got your birth certificate? I’ve got mine. I stole it from the office once when the secretary left the office. I was born in London, and I’d like to walk in and see their faces after all this time. They thought they had got rid of me, as your family did with you. Would you like to see your relatives again?”

“Natasha, the only thing I’m thinking of at the moment is how we get out of all this countryside, and get to a city where we can get work and make some money and find somewhere to live.”


Leah never spoke about her past again, and Natasha was wise enough never to ask. Two months after they had run away from the orphanage, they found a large country house where the park keeper gave them shelter. Their arrival was reported to the lady of the house, who invited them into her private room. The housekeeper took them along, after having given them a bath and clean clothes. As luck would have it, the large house needed more servants, in order for it to run as smoothly as it should. The lady of the house was Lady Romaine de Forrest, who was about fifty years old at the time she met Leah and Natasha, and was in very good health. She needed a new personal maid to look after her clothes, and another one for the house, which already had a large number of staff in charge of maintenance. She wasn’t interested in the staff as people, but as a means of being free of doing any work herself, and who would do whatever she wanted them to do. The two girls saw an autocratic female of middle age, and she saw two relatively healthy young girls who would do her bidding.

“Would you like to work here for me?” Lady Romaine asked them.

Natasha said rather too quickly for Leah’s liking, “Oh, yes please, Madam,”

Lady Romaine knew that Natasha would make a good personal maid, about Leah and her silence she wasn’t so sure, but the extra pair of hands would be useful in the over-large house.

And so it was decided that Natasha would live in a small room next to Lady Romaine’s. Leah would sleep in the attic with the other maids. From then on, the two girls led separate lives. Natasha lacked Leah’s burning desire of breaking away and living a more independent life. Lady Romaine’s husband, Humbert, was not around much, because his businesses in London took up most of his time. The house ran on well-oiled wheels, due to the large number of servants, most of whom were fed up, and wanted to go into a factory or a shop, anything other than continue working as a servant. Some of the servants came and went, but the older ones stayed where they knew they were safe from having to think for themselves. Leah said very little, but kept her eyes and ears open, as she had done so in the orphanage. One of the young maids called Myrtle, said to her one day, “Leah, are up for running off to Bristol?” The two were banging carpets outside and were being smothered with dust. Leah thought anything might be better than banging carpets, and answered. “OK, when is the decisive moment?”

“We’d best be off when her ladyship is asleep. We can go in the afternoon or at night, when the rest of the staff is in bed.”


Leah had never told anyone about running away from the orphanage, and thought that maybe Myrtle hadn’t made a very good decision in the times she wanted to flee. Leah began to make other plans, and now that Natasha was well and happy with Lady Romaine, Leah never even mentioned to Natasha that she was going to make tracks, and move on once again. Poor Myrtle had none of the know-how of Leah, and one day on arriving at the kitchen she found that Leah had once more done a disappearing act.


Leah had made her preparations a few days before putting them into action. Lady Romaine had given Natasha a travel bag as a reward for her hard work. Natasha didn’t want it, and had given it to Leah, who packed her clothes and money she had saved into the bag, and then hid it under her bed out of sight.


A few days later, Leah was to be seen wearing her strongest boots, that the game keeper’s son had given her. She had set out to see what adventures life would present her with. Natasha wasn’t in the know, so that she wouldn‘t have to lie, and Leah was happy for her old friend, who enjoyed working for Lady Romaine, who had taken a liking to the young girl.


 For the next years, Leah knew what hard work and loneliness meant. She preferred to work in industry or in an inn, than ever to go back to being a servant. There were young men who seemed to be keen on her, but she wasn’t keen on them. Leah had two ideas, and they were: work hard and live alone, or marry someone who could provide her with comfort, without her ever having to go to work again.  When she worked in an inn, she had a room to herself, which gave her more independence, and then bit by bit she saved up enough money to buy herself a tiny house. It wasn’t much, but it was hers. She was known as the local spinster. From time to time, she would think of making an effort, and try to find out why her aunt had sent her to the orphanage, instead of looking after her. Leah had been taught how to sew in the orphanage, and when she didn’t want to work for anyone again, she began to make clothes and furnishings. The money wasn’t wonderful, but it was hers, and she was able to pay her bills.


It occurred to Leah one day, to go up to London to see what had happened to the house where she had been born. Before leaving Bristol, she had read in a newspaper about a young lawyer who had handled several cases where his clients were people who had been done out of money and possessions by unscrupulous relatives. Leah thought to herself that he was the man she should see. She sent him a letter from Bristol, telling him her story and a few days later she received a reply requiring her to go and see him in London. The train ride was tremendous enough, but London was overwhelming to a young woman who had only known Bristol, and had thought that it was a big city.


Angus Stewart was a young lawyer and a widower, with a young daughter called Clarissa. He had read Leah’s letter with great interest, and wanted to investigate her case. When he met Leah, he was struck by her strong character and independence. “Good morning, Miss McKinley. Please take a seat. I’ve read your letter several times, and I must say it’s a very intriguing story. I’d like to take it on.”

“That’s very kind of you Mr. Stewart, but I don’t know whether your fees will be too high for me, after all, this is London with London prices.” Leah felt rather confused, as she had expected a more elderly man, but Angus looked very much younger than she had expected.

“I don’t know what you need from me. To begin with, I don’t have my birth certificate, and I don’t know how to get one.”

“That’s no problem, we can get a copy for you, as long s you know your parents’ names and when and where you were born.”

“I was born in McKenley House on the eighteenth of August and I’m now twenty-five.”

Angus stared at her, and understood he was in front of a true personality with no artifice. He liked what he saw and was more than interested in her case.

“Would you like to see the house where you were born?”

“Yes, of course. Is it far from here?” asked Leah.

“The distance is no problem, we’ll take a cab,” Angus replied.


The house was very grand, and in Leah’s opinion, almost as grand as Lady Romaine’s. She stood and stared, and then said she preferred to return to her small hotel. Angus wondered how he would have felt, had he been in her shoes. The house was rightfully hers, and it had been inhabited by a gang of usurpers, albeit they were supposed to be her guardians.

The next day Angus called on the McKinleys to pay his respects, and argue Leah’s case somehow or other. He had made a collection of papers referring to Leah, and that she was the rightful heiress to the McKinley house.

The imposing front door was opened by the even more imposing butler, “Who shall I say is calling, Sir?”

“Mr Angus Stewart, attorney at law.”

The butler showed Angus into a large morning room, where the lady of the house and, judging by her age and size, Leah’s aunt. There were a couple of young men and young women sitting there too. Angus wondered how much they knew of Leah and her plight, as the appearance they gave out was one of indulgence. He gave a shudder at the unfairness of it all.

“Mr Stewart, to what do we owe the pleasure?” Leah’s aunt asked.

I represent your niece Leah McKinley, who would like to reclaim her property that was stolen from her as a young child.”

There was a snigger from the young men and women, and the aunt said, “What proof do you have of this preposterous claim?”

“I have papers that prove beyond doubt, that Leah is the rightful owner of this house.”

“Young man, Leah disappeared many years ago, and it’s highly unlikely she’s still alive, so please leave while we’re still amused by this hideous joke,” Leah’s aunt answered.

Angus stood up and said, “I suppose that’s your last word, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is. Good day to you, and don’t bother coming back.”

Angus left the house, and as he was closing the door, he heard the giggling and sniggering again.


Later that day, he told Leah everything that had happened at the house. Leah, who had always kept her counsel, said nothing, and then she returned to her hotel. Her dwellings were situated in a busy area, and she had no problem in procuring candles, rope, and paraffin. Leah had leant a lot in the orphanage from the boys there, and subsequently from the young men she had met wherever she was working, who, at times, were no more than common criminals.

Leah sat and waited in her room, and when all was silent and when it was the deepest part of the night, she slipped out, and went to the house. The basement door wasn’t kept locked, the inhabitants were too sure of themselves to think a stranger would be able to enter. Leah carefully went down the steps and opened the basement door. No problem. She tied the candles together with a long piece of the rope so that they wouldn’t fall over, and then soaked the long ends of the tied rope on the floor in paraffin. The rest of the paraffin she poured over the floor. She lit the two ends of the rope, which acted as fuses, and then left, closing the door behind her, and went back to her hotel.


At first light, the house was blazing, and Leah was preparing to go to the railway station to catch the train to Bristol. Angus heard the news about the fire from a paper boy in the street. He smiled to himself and went along to see the damage. What had been a fine piece of architecture the day before, had turned into a mass of blackened bricks and furniture.


Leah returned to her life in Bristol, and continued making clothes and soft furnishings. One day, Angus went to Bristol, taking his daughter, Clarissa, with him. He liked Bristol, and decided to set up a law practice there. He told Leah about the destruction of McKinley House.


At the same time, Lady Romaine sold the great house, and with Natasha and a very reduced number of maids went to live in a house just outside Bristol. That meant Natasha and Leah were able to see more of each other.

Both women set up a clothing business, and employed a lot of women, who otherwise would have had no opportunity of getting a job.

Angus, of course, married Leah, and always suspected that she had been involved in the destruction of the house. Her attitude had been: if I can’t have the house - then no one else will. Angus bought them a finer house to live in, and sold Leah’s tiny one.


Many years later, after Natasha and Leah had told Clarissa innumerable times about their escape from the orphanage, and found notes written by Leah about her opinion of the world at large, and the people she had met. It was then, Clarissa made the journey to London and see where the house had been. She took a taxi and arrived at a block of flats called McKinley House. She went up to a policeman, who was standing outside, and asked, “Is this the site of a mansion once called McKinley House?”

“Yes, it is.”

“What happened to the owners of the house?” Clarissa asked.

They were reduced to having to earn a living, and went abroad to live. Nothing’s been heard of them since that night, and no one was ever arrested for the act.”

“Thank you so much.”


Clarissa went back to Bristol, none the wiser about the house or the fire, but she often wondered why it had figured in Leah’s notes about her origins. 

Submitted: April 03, 2016

© Copyright 2023 Georgina V Solly. All rights reserved.

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