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  • Mj Pettengill

The Fate of Little August


A Boston boy finds his dinner. Photo by Lewis Hine, courtesy Library of Congress
A Boston boy finds his dinner. Photo by Lewis Hine, courtesy Library of Congress

Christmas Day, 1857

The Orphans’ Home and Asylum of the Protestant Episcopal Church

New York City

“Elizabeth! Hurry! Come quickly!”

“What?… Another one? We’ve already had four throughout the night. We need more beds. Tell Father that we need them soon, or we cannot do this. Do you hear me? Margaret?”

“Don’t fret. Of course, we’ll do this. We always manage. Once you’ve been here for as long as I have, you will see. Besides, some of the older ones are going to Randall Island in a few months, others will go on the trains, or simply run away. Let’s get him inside. It’s cold.”

“I ran as fast as I could when I heard the bell. Oh, just look at him. He’s shivering. I’ll fetch another blanket. Let’s bring him into the kitchen and warm him by the fire. How could anyone leave such a beautiful boy?”

“Out of necessity, Elizabeth, out of necessity. In time, you’ll become accustomed to it. Is there a note?”

“Here it is, pinned inside of his coat. He has a fabric patch too.”

I am leeving my sweet son on your dorstep. His name is August. He is 3. Im not a bad mother. I love him more than aneything. I need help. Once I find his farther, I will send mony. This is why I am leeving August here. I cannot rase him on my own. Once I find his farther, I will come backe for him. I pinned a blue fabrick with our inishalls inside of his coate. I have the other halfe, which is identicle so that I can come backe for him. I will return. S. Wood

“Hello, August. Don’t be afraid. God will guide us. They’re typically stunned for the first day or two.”

“My heart crumbles for every child and mother who ends up in these circumstances.”

“Mummy?”

“Mummy has gone away for now. We shall take good care of you.”

“He’s such a beautiful boy. Lord knows that we are crowded, but we always find room for one more. He is a Christmas blessing for some family. A boy this handsome will not suffer here for too long.”

“Wipe away that tear, Elizabeth. You can never let them know that you are distressed. We must make them feel safe. With more experience, you’ll learn to view him like all the rest of the children that reside in your soul. You will find a compartment for them, a place that is safe from pulling you under. You must harden and become strong. Not that caring too much is a weakness, but in an orphanage, tears will do you in.”

“But, he’s so young and innocent, and there are so many of them, I can’t—”

“—Just remember, one is not better or worse. They are all the same—God’s children. We do good work, and for that, we will be rewarded in Heaven. Who knows the fate of little August? The Lord knows. And, be prepared to accept that his mother will not return. Until then, we are the guardians, the keepers, and we will carry on as needed.” Excerpt: The Angels' Lament Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series: Book Two