I'm a new author in the Lockets and Lace Collection, and I hope you'll give my story a chance! This one is near and dear to my heart as it deals with two things I've always had a great interest in--the Orphan Train, and those who are disabled, specifically deafness.
Here's the summary:A daring young woman with a disability. An orphan train filled with hope. A dream that won't be denied.
Julia is a deaf girl raised as an orphan who is working with the Children’s Aid Society to help find homes across the country for orphans from New York. But each time one of the orphans she’s grown close to is adopted, she finds her heart breaking. And the farther the train goes, the farther from home she feels.
But feelings can be deceiving. And there might just be a home waiting for her at the end of the journey she didn’t expect.
Here's a snippet:
Finally, Mrs. Jansen pulled away, swiping the tears that spilled over her cheeks. “It’s just so good to see you. You look healthy and well. That’s a blessing and more than I could have asked for.”
Julia nodded. “I got your letters.”
The wide smile Mrs. Jansen had for a moment slipped just a bit, and her lips became thin. “Savannah. She’s quite a handful. You and she couldn’t be more different. Where you were quieter than a church mouse and introspective, Savannah spends much of her time voicing her frustrations in the form of screaming. She’s impossible to communicate with and shows no interest in learning to read and write.”
“And she’s deaf, like me?”
Mrs. Jansen nodded slowly.
Her letters had said as much. Mrs. Jansen couldn’t afford to send Savannah to Connecticut to the School for the Deaf, nor could she ask for Mr. and Mrs. Milne to take on another ward like they had taken on Julia. It would have been too much. Though Julia had worked with some tough cases at the school—deaf children who showed their frustration with being unable to communicate their needs and feelings through violence—she’d had the Milne family’s help. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly as Mrs. Jansen’s gaze shut toward the upstairs.
With a finger pointing toward the kitchen’s ceiling, Mrs. Jansen said, “That would be her, now.”
Julia nodded. “Take me to her.”
Mrs. Jansen’s tight-lipped smile continued as she turned about and headed toward the back of the kitchen and to a narrow wooden staircase. The familiar yet musty scent of old books and lemon wood polish assailed Julia’s nose. She’d forgotten this smell. The Jansens opened the home to about five or six orphaned children at a time. Some of the children had incapacitations, like she had, though few were deaf or blind. Many left their care early on to earn a living for themselves in factories and on the wharf. Some children would run away, presumably to look for their parents. The few who stayed were fed and clothed well by the parishioners of the church and cared for by the Jansen family in their home behind the rectory of the church.
When they reached the top of the stairs, they found four children standing in the hallway in their night clothes, staring into what Julia remembered as the play room. One of the children ducked out of the way as a wooden toy train whizzed past her head and smashed against the wall opposite the doorway, leaving a dark smudge on the white paint. The children’s eyes were filled with sadness and confusion as they all turned their gazes toward Mrs. Jansen and Julia. Julia offered the children a friendly smile and eyed them all with nods as Mrs. Jensen introduced them.
Alice, with beautiful sparkling blue eyes and dark hair, pale complexion and a cleft lip, looked to be only about six or seven years old. Mary, with fiery red hair and hazel green eyes looked at her with suspicion. She seemed the oldest of the two girls, probably closer to thirteen, with more freckles covering her face than clear white skin peering through. One of the boys, William, appeared to have dwarfism, but his smile shone like the sun as he looked up at her. The other boy, George, a Chinese, backed away from her and hid behind Mary’s skirts when Julia approached. He couldn’t have been more than five and barely looked at Julia.
Then Mrs. Jensen gestured toward the play room. “And Savannah is just inside.”
Julia peered into the room and found a six or seven-year-old child on the floor, her nightgown hiked half way up her thighs, her hands in her matted hair as she pulled at it and stared at the ceiling above her. Tear tracks streamed down her face. Then her brown eyes met Julia’s and widened. She backed away quickly, picking up the nearest wooden block and throwing it at Julia. The wooden block bounced off the thick skirt of Julia’s traveling dress.
A hand rested on Julia’s arm, and Mrs. Jensen’s worry-filled eyes met hers. “She’s weary of strangers. It may take her a moment more to calm down.”
Julia rested her hand atop Mrs. Jensen’s and set her carpet bag on the floor beside her feet. “I’ll be okay.”
Then she took a deep breath and focused on the young, wild girl who sat in the corner, terrified eyes fixed upon Julia. Julia took three steps forward and then knelt down, reveling in the weight of silence for a moment, ignoring the presence of those behind her. She offered Savannah a soft smile, but the child frowned, narrowed her eyes at Julia and then threw another wooden block.
Even though Julia didn’t often understand the rules when it came to sports, she liked to play them. And the Milne family loved a new game they had learned during their stay in Brooklyn when they met her—baseball. Julia reached out and caught the block in her hand, ignoring the sting on her palm and fingers. The child’s eyes went wide and her mouth formed an “O.” Keeping her smile on her face, Julia set down the wooden block on the floor and tilted her head toward Savannah.
The child studied her with curiosity more than suspicion now. Progress. Julia edged just a bit closer to the corner Savannah had backed herself into and the sat on the floor, straightening her skirts around her legs. For a long moment, the two of them sat quietly. When the sun outside had set, it leeched out the last of the natural light that had come in through the window when she’d first arrived. Though she didn’t look, Julia saw Mrs. Jensen set a lantern on the nearby table from the corner of her eye.
Julia’s stomach growled. She hadn’t had dinner since getting off the train from Hartford, but she ignored the annoyance. She ignored everything except the silence and the child whose tension slowly slipped away as she sat in the corner. Savannah’s eyes half closed, and her head nodded once before she ripped it upward and opened her eyes wide. Julia offered her another smile and finally, reached a hand out toward her.
Savannah lifted a brow and looked at her hand for a long moment, a frown returning to her face.
Together, they had been sitting there for the better part of two hours. In silence. In patience. In stubbornness. And Julia had her arm outstretched and the small smile on her face for long enough that her arm grew tired and her elbow began to hurt from the weight of her own hand. Savannah didn’t nod off again. Instead she continued to stare at Julia incredulously. Then, finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Savannah leaned forward and crawled to Julia. She bypassed Julia’s outstretched hand and crawled directly into Julia’s lap.
Julia stayed utterly still, her hand still outstretched while the child’s knees dug into her numbed calves. Though pain shot through her body. Julia ignored it, fighting to keep a smile on her face though she wanted to wince. Then Savannah’s fingers gently touched the locket on Julia’s neck. She fingered the oval and lifted the pendant. Julia remained still, her breath becoming bated as Savannah gripped the locket in her palm, and the chain bit into the back of Julia’s neck a moment just before the chain broke when Savannah yanked on the locket.