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Writer's Corner- New Brunswick

The Orphan

By Fran Dincorn

    In London, England, in 1910, a ship was leaving for Canada. On it were children from the London orphanage. The ship would later be known as the orphan boat. This is the story of nine year old Henry Barret, one of the orphans aboard that ship.

    Henry was the son of Jane, and William Barret. Jane died in childbirth, and William, a street singer, was killed in a fight when Henry was six.

    Henry was very small for his age, and he had fair hair, and blue eyes. Although he was half the size of other boys of nine, he didn't act it. He stood up to the best of them, and sometimes even started battles himself.

   A dairy farm in south-eastern New Brunswick had been Henry's destination, and he looked forward to having a family, and living on a farm with cows, and other animals.

   When they arrived in Halifax, Henry was transported by train to New Brunswick, and from there by horse and wagon to the farm.

    A young man in his late teens, Carl Betts, picked him up, but he was just a hired hand. His new parents were the Thorns, and they waited at the farm for his arrival.

    When Carl pulled into the driveway off the road, and Henry saw the huge barns, and gracious old house, he thought he was in heaven. Little did he know. This place turned out to be a living hell, and he was just slave labour.

    His first day went by without any trouble, he was shown to his room in the attic. It had a cot with a straw mattress, and a thin blanket on it. There was a window on hinges that looked out over the barn yard. Henry was told to take off his good clothes, and hang them up on a hook, then put on overalls, no shoes or socks as it was summer, and shoes were reserved for church, and school.

    The Thorns were middle-aged, and very plain people. Gladys Thorn had brown hair tied in a bun in the back, and grey eyes that looked right through you. She was stout, but not fat.

   Alfred Thorn was a large man with dark hair and brown eyes. He had a stern manner about him, and never showed any warmth.

    Henry was given a list of chores that would be his, and was told that if he forgot any, he would be punished, and made to do them anyway. His chores consisted of, feeding chickens, cleaning horse stalls, getting fire wood, cleaning the cow barn, carrying water, getting the mail, which was at the end of the long driveway. He was told this was to be done before, and after school, and that he could have the rest of the time to play.

    It seemed like a lot of work to Henry, but he found out that was only half of his work, as he got older, chores were added.

    Gladys, after telling Henry the rules, said, "Sit down and have your supper Henry. Tomorrow morning Carl will teach you the ropes."

    That night Henry thanked God for giving him a home, and asked him to give him the strength to do his work. He didn't know what the punishment would be for not doing them, but he hoped to never find out.

   The next day when Henry got up he was told to wash in cold water, and then have his breakfast. This would be the only day that he had breakfast before doing chores.

   Carl came in, along with three other men who helped work the farm. There was John Vanderbelt, from Holland, James Preston, and Clark Andrews. There was also an adopted daughter named Donna, who helped with the housework. Donna, a thin, stuck up girl with dark braids, and pale grey eyes, looked at Henry with scorn.

    Gladys Thorn placed a plate of six pancakes on the table in front of the men, and Henry. There were sausages, and milk, and coffee for the men. Carl and John looked at each other, but didn't say anything.

    After breakfast Carl showed Henry the ropes.. He took him aside, and said, "Look Henry, you want to get things right. Old man Thorn is a tyrant, and the old lady is worse, so do things right, and you'll be okay."

    Henry looked at Carl, wide-eyed. "Show me the right way Carl, I want to do good."

   "Okay Henry, let's go to the chicken house, they have to be fed before breakfast."

    So it went, Carl showed Henry the work he would do before breakfast, and before school, and after school, and at night. Henry took it all in, but being nine, he didn't remember everything.

    A month later the social-worker came to check on him. He was dressed in his good clothes, and shoes, and told what to say. Everything went smoothly, and when she left, Henry was told to put on his work clothes, and get to work.

   On Sundays they all went to church, and Henry would become a member of the choir, and an alter boy. Everyone thought he was sweet, and sang beautifully.

   As Henry got older he soon found out what they meant by 'punished'. Alfred had a piece of harness hanging on the closet door, and Henry felt it's sting many times. Gladys knew how to use it too, and she used it often. Henry's first winter on the farm was a cold one, and his teeth chattered under the one blanket on his cot. He slept in the 'buck', as he wasn't given underwear to wear under his overalls.

   On one of the coldest nights that winter Gladys called up to him, "Henry, get down here now, don't dress., just get down here!"

    Henry, shivering, went down the stairs, "Yes, misses?"

    "You forgot the firewood, Henry, get out there, and get it now!"

    "Can I put my boots on first?" he asked her.

    Gladys picked up the strap, "Get the wood now!"

    Henry took off on the run, out in three feet of snow to the shed. His feet stung from the cold, and turned beet red, but he piled the wood on a sled, and dragged it back and put it in the wood box. Shivering he stood looking at Gladys, "Is there anything else, misses?"

    "Let that be a lesson to you, Henry, maybe next time you won't forget."

    The next time it was the mail. Henry took his boots off each night, and dried them on the oven door for the next day. When Gladys realized he hadn't gotten the mail yet, she took the strap off the hanger, and swung it across his rear end. Henry jumped, and cried out.

   "You forgot the mail, go get it," she said.

    Henry reached for his boots, "Never mind your boots, get the mail, now!"

    Henry ran like a rabbit through the snow to the mail box. When he got there, there wasn't any mail, so he ran back. His feet pained him from the cold, and his thin body shivered. He never forgot the mail again.

   When Henry was thirteen, Alfred said, "I want you to kill that bob calf for me on Monday morning, Henry, he has the scours."

    "All right, mister, first thing in the morning after chores", Henry told Alfred.

   When Gladys found out Henry was going to kill a calf, she forbade him to do it.

    "If you kill that calf, I'll whip you," she said.

    "But, mister, told me to," Henry told her.

    "I don't care, I'm telling you, don't do it."

    Henry didn't know what to do. If he killed the calf she'd whip him. If he didn't, he'd whip him. He decided, Alfred whipped harder, so he'd do it.

   The next morning, Henry went to the barn and put a rope around the calf's neck, and pulled him out behind the barn. He picked up a mall, and with one crack he killed the calf. He hated that job, but he did it. It was the calf or him.

    He turned around and there was Gladys, coming across the yard, strap in hand. She whipped him good, all the way back to the house, and that night he had to go to bed without supper.

    Alfred never stuck up for him, and the hands never interfered. Donna stood back out of the way, and smiled. He was learning to hate her.

    Eventually most of the hired help left. They were tired of the small wages, and meager meals. Carl stayed on, he didn't have anywhere else to go, and he had his eye on Donna. Carl figured that Donna would someday own the farm, and it would be his, if he played his cards right.

    Henry was ready to tell the social worker that he wanted to leave, but they both threatened to kill him if he opened his mouth, so, when the social worker came, Henry said nothing.

    Henry was supposed to bring the bull in from the pasture one day. It was going to the cattle auction in Sussex to be sold. It was a mean old thing they called Satan, and Henry was nervous around it, but he went after it, keeping the mall in one hand, the rope in the other. Henry put the rope through the ring in the bulls nose, and led it in towards the barnyard.

    Half way to the barn, the bull swung around, and pinned Henry to the fence. Henry hung there, one horn on either side of his skinny frame. The bull snorted and started to raise his head. Henry, fearing for his life, swung the maul he was carrying with him, and hit the bull, full between the eyes. Satan went down. He was dead, and Henry realizing what he had done, thought he would soon follow.

    Luck was with Henry that day. When Alfred found out about Henry killing the bull, he said he was going to kill him anyway, and Henry did him a favour. That was the only time he didn't get punished for doing something he wasn't supposed to do.

   Henry found out, over the years, that Gladys and Alfred Thorn were in constant competition with each other. Everything Alfred said, Gladys said the opposite, it made it a living hell for Henry.

   Carl told Henry that the Thorns had six other boys through the years before Henry, and they all died of pneumonia, so Henry tried to do everything right. He knew they showed no pity for orphans, and Henry was just another labourer.

   When Henry was sixteen, Alfred died. It was a great day for Henry. They all dressed up, and went to his funeral, and when they got home some of the neighbours came with them. Henry put on his overalls, and went to the barn after they all left. He closed the barn door, and laughed, and laughed, and then he started dancing around. He sang, and danced, "The devils dead, the devils dead," he was singing when the barn door opened. There she was, the devils wife, and she had a whip in her hand. "How dare you, you ungrateful hoodlum," she roared, and swung the whip.

    Henry jumped back with hate in his eyes. She swung again, and this time he picked up a pitch fork. "Put that down," she screamed at him.

    Henry pushed her up against the barn wall, and pressed the pitch fork against her chest. "You bitch!" he said to her. "I should drive this right through you."

    Gladys, used to having the upper hand, trembled, but didn't back down. "I'll see you rot in hell, Henry."

   Henry grabbed the front of her Sunday dress and ripped it down to the waist.

   Shocked, she screamed, "You dirty boy, what are you doing?" Henry took the pitch fork, it was razor sharp, and raked it down her breasts. Then he said to her, "Listen to me old woman, see these marks? Everytime you holler at me I'm going to drag you out here, and give you a few more, and if you ever raise a hand to me again, I'm going to drive this fork right through you, do you understand'?"

    "Gladys, crying now, knew that Henry meant it, she nodded, and said, "Yes, Henry."

   "I'll get you before they get me," Henry said in a low voice. "So keep your mouth shut."

    Gladys held up the front of her dress, and stumbled from the barn.

   Henry stood at the barn door, and watched her go.

    When Henry came in later that evening, Donna was in the kitchen getting herself some tea. Henry said to her, "Get me some supper, I'm starving."

    Donna looked at him as if he were crazy. "You don't get supper, your late."

    He walked over to her, and grabbed her arm, "Get my supper, now!" he said menacingly.

   Donna screamed for Gladys, and Gladys walked into the kitchen. "Henry's threatening me, he want's supper," she told Gladys.

    "Well, get it, and hurry up," Gladys said, "A working man has to eat."

    Henry stayed on the farm until 'poor' Carl married Donna. They ran the farm together, and Henry later married, and moved to Saint John, where he spent a happy life with his wife, and two lovely daughters.

THE END

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