With You Always (Orphan Train Book #1)

By: Jody Hedlund

For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.

Isaiah 41:13

Chapter 1

New York City

June 1857

Elise Neumann stared out the cracked third-story window to the muddy street below, watching the omnibuses and carriages slog their way through the muck. Pedestrians dodged puddles as they hurried along. A lone newsboy stood on the street corner attempting to sell his papers, his cheeks and hands black with ink. Even at the early morning hour, the city was bustling.

To think that only a day ago these dangerous and dirty streets had been her home.

Behind her came Marianne’s soft whisper. “How long have you been awake?”

Elise turned. “Not long.” Her sister’s face still shone from the hard scrubbing she’d given it yesterday when they arrived at the Seventh Street Mission. It wouldn’t be quite as easy to wash away from their minds the trauma of being homeless orphans.

She was still pinching herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming, even though the rumbling of her stomach told her she was very much awake.

“I’m going to work today,” she told Marianne quietly with a glance to where the other three children lay on pallets. She didn’t want to wake them yet. She hoped they’d sleep all day.

Marianne brushed back her wavy brown hair that was still in need of a washing. “Miss Pendleton said we didn’t have to start today, that we could take a few days to rest.”

“We need the money.” They had none. In fact, they had nothing but a small sack of clothes and belongings to remind them that they’d ever had parents or a home. With each passing day, it was becoming more difficult to remember a time when they’d been happy and safe together in Hamburg, when both Vater and Mutti had been alive, when Vater had his thriving bakery, when they had everything they needed and more.

At a faint scuttling, Marianne shuddered and hugged her thin arms across her chest. Elise had slept deeply last night—the first time since Mutti had died over a month and a half ago—and she hadn’t heard the rats in the walls or the cockroaches on the ceiling. But in the quiet of the early morning, their cacophony of skitters and squeaks had been all too loud.

Miss Pendleton, the owner of the newly opened Seventh Street Mission, had explained she was still in the process of cleaning up the massive building that had once been a brewery. When the brewery had closed several years ago, gangs and thugs had taken over the unused building, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

Bullet holes dotted one wall, while another had a jagged gap that had been hastily patched. The ceiling was coated in black soot, evidence someone had burned a coal fire for warmth. The floor had been swept, but a residue of grime remained.

It was better than the streets, Elise reminded herself. Much better.

Even more important, Miss Pendleton had promised her and Marianne one of the coveted seamstress positions in her workshop. Elise planned to put the promise to the test that very morning. She was desperate for a job. She’d promised Mutti on her deathbed she’d take good care of her siblings, and so far she’d failed to do so.

Besides, she couldn’t rely upon Miss Pendleton’s or the Seventh Street Mission’s charity. Already Miss Pendleton had provided them several meals yesterday. She’d given them dry blankets and pallets. And she’d sent for a doctor to care for poor little Nicholas. At one year of age, the elements and lack of food had quickly taken a toll on the infant. Thankfully, except for dehydration, the doctor hadn’t found anything wrong with the boy. After a day of rest and plenty of fluids, color had begun to return to his cheeks.

“Stay with the children.” Elise combed her hair back with her fingers and began to plait it. In the scant light coming through the window, her thick blond hair appeared gray. She didn’t doubt that it was. The dust of the streets engrained every fiber.

Marianne didn’t argue. Even though she was only a year younger than Elise’s nineteen years, Marianne had always deferred to Elise. It made Elise’s job of caring for her siblings easier. They listened to her without question. But the weight of responsibility could be unbearable at times, especially because she couldn’t seem to take care of them the way they deserved.

Elise’s fingers snagged in her hair. They were chapped and red from the exposure to the rain. And stiff. She just prayed she could make her fingers work to do the detailed stitches that would be required of her.

Marianne brushed her hands aside. “Let me do it.”

Elise relinquished her hair into Marianne’s deft but tender fingers. In no time, Marianne had her hair braided, coiled, and pinned at the back of her head. Elise pressed a kiss against her sister’s cheek in thanks and then tiptoed across the room.