That woman came back again, saving me from having to explain to the girl beside me why I was so clueless (the bit about being from the future might be a little awkward, and I didn't think she would believe me even if I showed her my watch, now hidden in my apron pocket). "Children! Our visitors have arrived."
Everybody rose to their feet and I scrambled to copy them, feeling even more like a fraud. For what had we been chosen, and why was I among what seemed to be the 'elite' of this curious workhouse? Behind the woman came four people. There was a lady of about twenty-five with somebody I presumed to be her husband, dressed all in green silk and looking quite the aristocrat. Behind them was another couple, this time with the lady in blue, but obviously equally rich.
"Good morning," they said kindly. Instantly all of the girls curtseyed and all of the boys bowed; again, I hastened to copy them, wobbling slightly with my lack of practice. "Now children, as you all know we have come to choose three very lucky children for adoption." Adoption? But of course, that must have been what was meant when the woman mentioned 'taking you off our hands'.
"My name is Grace and this is my husband Alexander," said the first lady, the one in green. "We would like to adopt just one child, preferably a girl, and bring her up as a young lady. Although we have two young children of our own we would like somebody to act as their older sibling with love and care, and this is what has led us to consider adoption."
The boys' disappointment was all too visible, but the other couple had already stepped forward. This time it was the man that spoke. "My name is William and this is my wife Theresa. We would like to adopt two boys to bring up as strong, patriotic young men."
So there would only be one girl leaving this place. All of a sudden, the tension in the room rose by a few notches and the competition started to increase, as did my confusion. How would they choose?
The woman brought us forward one by one. "This is Eva, fourteen years old, very healthy--only arrived last week, left here by her mother..." But Grace and Alexander shook their heads. "This is Margaret, eleven years old, excellent at needlework--been with us for two years now, very loyal..." However, Margaret too was unlucky, and she returned to her place with a disconsolate expression.
Meanwhile, William and Theresa were examining the boys on their own. "What's your name?" they would ask, checking all over for defects. Or rather, William did and Theresa watched, occasionally answering a question in a quiet voice.
"And this is Elizabeth," said the women at last. I had wondered when she would get around to me. "We know very little about her, arrived late last night in a state of great confusion, but very pretty and sure to bend easily to your will ... possible memory loss, but surely a benefit." I smiled at them and tried to look appealing. Adoption couldn't be such a bad thing, could it?
"We'll take her," said Alexander, after a whispered discussion with his wife, who appeared to be pleading with him. "Has she any possessions to collect?" The woman shook her head but I spoke up.
"What about my clothes, miss?"
"Your clothes will be burned," she replied bluntly. "They are not fit for anybody to wear. I am amazed you could bear to be seen in them. Indecent little things." Grace looked like she was trying not to laugh at her husband's scandalised expressions. "No, she has no possessions."
"Then we will leave at once," said Alexander pleasantly. "I'm sure our lawyer will write up the correct documents for you to sign. In the meantime, let us go." My time at the workhouse had not lasted very long, and I was on my way to the house of two rich Victorian--for I was sure that this had to be the nineteenth century--people, who were now my parents.
Only then did I stop and remember my home.