Five o’clock on New Year’s Eve, and it was getting dark. Megan Cole was walking as fast as she could without slipping on the icy street. Light sleet had begun to fall, and it was bitterly cold. Megan’s toes were frozen in her boots, and her thin woollen scarf was already soaked with snow. She hugged two warm bags full of hot buns and bread rolls close to her chest. It was comforting to know that she could go home to such luxury.
The orphanage. It wasn’t the comforting refuge where one’s family lived. No – life was hard there; you had to pull your weight, do the washing, the cleaning, the cooking, run on errands in the cold. But ultimately it was worth it. Mrs Talbot, the Matron, had trained them well, and the children never went hungry, were perfectly content, in a way.
Megan stopped at the side of the road, waiting patiently as an elegant carriage passed, thick blinds shielding the occupants from view. She used to dream about those carriages, wishing and hoping that some day, a kindly lady would adopt her, whisk her off to a life in the lap of luxury. But she was old enough to see sense now, and she was content living at home.
Someday, she even hoped to help others like herself.
The sleet was fiercer now, and Megan pulled up her hood, dashing the last few yards to the orphanage’s front steps.
A figure was crouched at the foot of the gate; a small, thin face framed by bedraggled hair gazed up at Megan briefly.
She stopped, wondering what she should do. The sleet was getting heavier, the buns were getting cold, and Mrs Talbot would not be pleased if she was late home.
“Pl – please.” The figure shifted slightly, and Megan was astonished to see that it was a young girl, barely older than herself. The girl’s skin was tinted blue with cold, thin rags barely covered her body, a large bump protruded from her stomach; she was pregnant.
“P – please help me.” The girl lifted her hands briefly, but dropped them quickly as if she hadn’t even this much energy remaining in her weak body.
Megan stood, torn. She knew that the orphanage was already overcrowded; they couldn’t really take another one in. There had been a recent outbreak of flu, and many of the staff were still in bed, recovering; there weren’t enough people to carry out a childbirth. She could take the girl to the hospital, but the journey would probably kill her.
The girl tried to stand, her numb blue fingers desperately grasping the railings. Megan could see that this was her last chance; this girl had lived a life ten times harder than Megan’s. Yet here she was, not giving up, still hopeful, even at the brink of death.
It was New Year’s Eve…one more person wouldn’t hurt.
Megan opened the door, and let the girl in.