Western Fiction posted May 9, 2013 Chapters:  ...21 22 -23- 24... 

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Jo's first day in the Orphanage

A chapter in the book AN ORPHAN NAMED JO

Chapter Nine - Part two

by c_lucas

Jo is charged with stealing a two cent apple and turned over to the New York Orphan Asylum.

New York Orphan Asylum

Ending of the last chapter: The police took their juvenile prisoners to the New York House of Refuge. Caitlin/Jo and other detainees sat on the cold floor waiting to be processed into the system.
A young woman, in a nurse's uniform, walked among the children treating their many cuts and bruises. She was followed by a girl holding a clipboard and pencil. The woman dabbed at Jo’s bloody lip. “What’s your name?”
Jo answered, “Caitlin Jo Wiley.” The young girl wrote Katelyn Joe Riley. Another nurse led Jo into a side room where she was treated, bathed and given a uniform white dress to wear. She was led to an upstairs dorm where she was assigned a bed with a small chest at its foot.

The second nurse came in carrying a small bundle of undergarments, topped with a white cotton night gown. She showed Jo how to store the undergarments into the chest and had her place the uniformed dress on top. She helped her into her night gown and tucked her in, bidding her a good night sleep. Jo spent a restless night in a strange bed getting very little sleep. When Jo fell asleep, Scorpion visited her in her dreams.
The sound of a large school bell brought Jo out of her restless sleep. She found a metal chamber pot under her bed and used it. Jo sat on the bed, watching the uniform-wearing woman shake those still sleeping, while continuing to ring the bell. She smiled at Jo. “Make your bed and get dressed.”
Jo pulled on her undergarments and long-sleeve dress she had received the night before, noting it was too big for her... While she dressed. an older girl placed a hand mirror, comb and brush on her bed. “Place these in your chest when you finish with them.” Jo nodded.
The next half-hour was chaotic as the girls dressed, made up their beds and policed their area. When Jo finished, she followed the example of the more experienced girls and stood at the foot of her bed.
“Maggie,” a girl standing by the next bed whispered, “What’s your name?”
“Jo,” She answered in a soft voice.
“Quiet!” a new woman barked. A middle aged man, carrying a large Bible, followed her into the dormitory.  “Close your eyes and bow your heads. Reverend Johnson will lead us in prayer.” Her voice lost some of the sharpness when she spoke the minister’s name.
“Thank you, Mrs. Griffin…Lord, we ask thy blessings on these poor misfortunate children….”
Jo peeked out at the other girls and at the man dressed in regular clothes. He’s not a priest and I have never heard this kind of praying before, but this must be holy grounds. She slipped off her shoes and knelt, making the sign of the cross, she prayed silently to St. Brigit.
Several minutes passed before she became conscious of the minister’s silence.  Jo opened her eyes and saw the minister’s feet in front of her. She quickly crossed herself and attempted to stand, but stopped when the man held out his hand.
”Let me help you up.” He lifted Jo to her feet. “Why do you have your shoes off?” He asked, releasing her hand.
Jo looked at her shoes and then up to him. “Aunt Heather and Nana Kennedy said I should always take my shoes off when I’m on holy ground. You started praying and made this holy ground.” Her neck began to hurt from looking up at him.
“What church did you go to?”
She stopped, remembering the treatment she’d received from the Reverend Mother and Sister Abigail. Father Paul saw me steal from the pauper’s plate. “I didn’t attend any church. I worship with Aunt Heather in Nana Kennedy’s apartment.”
“Really?” The man studied her.
“Really,” Jo answered, stifling a cough. I’m lying more and more. I can’t face Aunt Heather after being called a thief.
“You were still praying after I stopped. Who were you praying to?”
Jo was conscious of the angry looks she was receiving from Mrs. Griffin. “Saint Brigit.”
“Mrs. Griffin and I will be interviewing you later this morning. Maybe we can talk some more.”
“Interviewing?” Jo did not understand the meaning of the word.
“Asking you questions about yourself. What do you say we go get some breakfast?”  He offered his hand and she took it.
To her surprise, they led the group downstairs to the dining area. The table in front of her lay covered with food.
The morning hours flew by.  Jo and the other new girls answered the questions Mrs. Griffin asked. Just before lunch, the small group went to the Nurse’s office, removed their dresses and received a thorough examination by a doctor who was assisted by the young woman from the night before.
Having had breakfast at the adults’ table with the minister and staff, Jo found herself among her age group for lunch; A weak barley soup, a slice of stale bread and a small glass of water proved to be a poor lunch when she compared it to breakfast she was served at the adult table. She stared at food on the staff’s table.
Maggie quit slurping her soup and spoke, never lifting her eyes from the table. “Don’t let them catch you staring at their table,” she warned.
“Why?” Jo asked, staring at the girl.
“Keep your voice low and your head down when you talk to me. Even though it’s your first day, you’ll be thrown into the "Dungeon." The preacher has gone to check on the story you told him. Mrs. Griffin said you’re to work with my group, dusting, sweeping, and mopping the first and second floor. We can talk then.” She picked up her bowl and drained it. Maggie used her bread to wipe the interior and ate the bread. ”Always save your water for last. It washes the bad taste away.”
Jo followed Maggie’s example and placed her empty water glass into the soup bowl. “Is that all we get to eat? I’m still hungry.”
Mrs. Griffin's whistle ended their limited conversation. “To your duties, girls.” She blew her whistle again.
Jo worked side by side with Maggie and learned her duties and about the place Maggie called the Dungeon - a group of small dark rooms with padlocks on the doors.
“They keep the boys on one side of the basement and the girls on the other side. You get bread and water twice a day. If you make any noise, you get whipped: The boys with a leather belt and the girls with a stiff rope. Plus, you get an extra day in the Dungeons. I’ve been down there once and I don’t want to be sent there again.” Maggie shivered.
To emphasize her statement, two male guards dragged a kicking, screaming teen-aged boy past the silent, fear-struck girls, and to the back hallway.
Jo recognized him as one of the boys she had fought her first day back to Five Points. “Do you know his name?”
Maggie took a deep breath. “I’ve heard him called Johnny. He’s always bullying the young and picking fights. This is his second trip to the Dungeons and he’s only been here a week or so.”
One of the older girls walked over to Jo. “You’re wanted in Mrs. Griffin’s office.”
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19th century orphanages
New York Orphan Society


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