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In the weeks since their return from their ordeal at the outing neither Amy nor Dennis had spoken of the incident in the cave. In fact, the pair would burst into inconsolable tears and refuse to talk at all for hours if questioned about it. Only Tom was able to shed information about what had occurred that day and he swore that what he was saying was the truth. Although Mrs. Cole and Martha had suspicions about the story that he told they had no way to disprove it and were forced to accept it.

More worrisome, however, was the series of small accidents that had befallen all of the orphans except Tom. He had managed to avoid injury while the other children had become rather accident prone and Doctor Barlow had been kept busy. It was apparent that that the boy had not caused the accidents because he was always visible and nowhere near the scene of the mishaps.

In one incident Eric had tumbled down the stairs into the cellar. He had been instructed to report there to help Martha bring up some containers of food that were stored there. There had been nothing amiss until his fourth trip down the stairs when he suddenly lost his footing and rolled down them to the floor below. Tom had been in the cellar with Martha when the accident occurred and had looked mystified as the other boy fell. The incident had left Eric with a broken arm as well as cuts and contusions.

Amy Benson had been injured when the window that he had opened slammed closed on her hand, pinning it there until the adults had managed to free it. Tom was in the next room and had passed the scene as he was walking to the stairs to go down to the dining room. Amy said nothing about Tom and once again it was obvious that the boy was innocent.

The frequency and number of the injuries did not go unnoticed by the ministry that funded the orphanage and one day Mrs. Cole opened the front door to find a representative of that organization on the other side.

“Mister Wells, how good to see you. Won’t you come in?”

“I am afraid that this is not a social visit, Mrs. Cole. The ministry is rather puzzled and concerned about the number of injuries that the children under your care and supervision are sustaining.”

Mrs. Cole watched as the man brushed past her and followed him dutifully into her office. She closed the door behind them and then sat down behind her desk, wondering if it would be hers much longer.

“I am puzzled as well; Mister Wells, but I assure you that the children are receiving the best care possible.”

“You have to understand our position, Mrs. Cole. In the past few weeks Doctor Barlow has visited this building and cared for several children injured in incidents. The board is rather concerned that some of these accidents may not be such and I have been sent to investigate.”

“Mister Wells, forgive me if I am incorrect, but are you suggesting wrong doing on my part or by my assistant?”

“Not at all, Mrs. Cole, I would not even dare to suggest such a thing, but you must admit that that number of accidents in a very short time bears looking into.”

“My staff and I shall, of course, assist you in your investigation.”

“Very good, Mrs. Cole, I would expect nothing less. Now I should very much like to speak with each child individually.”

“Of course, where would you like to meet with them?”

“This office will do quite nicely.”

“I will send the first child in,” the matron answered as she rose from behind the desk. She hurried out of the office and moments later ushered Amy into the room.

“Amy, this is Mister Wells. He is here to ask you questions about your accident. I want you to tell him anything that he wants to know and I want you to tell him the truth.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

The small girl watched as the matron stepped out of the office and then turned to face the questions that would be asked of her. Mrs. Cole returned to the kitchen where Martha was busy preparing the midday meal.

“The ministry has sent Edward Wells to investigate the accidents.”

Martha stopped in mid-motion as the news registered with her. She turned to look at the matron with concern on her face.

“Surely they do not believe that WE had something to do with what has been happening.”

“Right now, Martha, I cannot begin to imagine what they believe. But I certainly hope that they can determine what is going on for the sake and safety of the children.”

Movement at the door attracted their attention and they turned to see Tom standing in the doorway.

“Yes, Tom, did you need something?”

“No, Mrs. Cole, I just wondered who that strange man was that is in your office with Amy?”

Mrs. Cole put the pitcher that she was preparing to fill back down onto the counter and approached the boy. She bent to look into his eyes before speaking to him.

“I had intended to tell you later, but now will do just as well. The gentleman in my office is Mister Edward Wells and he represents the organization that provides funds for the orphanage. He is here to investigate the accidents that have been occurring and wants to talk to all of us one at a time.”

“I don’t know anything about the accidents! Why should he wish to talk to me?”

“He just needs to talk to everyone here so that they can determine what has been happening. No one is blaming you for anything so please do not be frightened.”

While Mrs. Cole talked to Tom Mr. Wells was having a difficult time with Amy. The child had broken down into tears when questioned about her accident and refused to talk about it.

“Amy, dear, I just wish to know what you can tell me about the day that you got hurt. Please calm down and tell me anything that you can.”

Amy continued to cry and then buried her face in her hands as Mr. Wells sat across the desk from her and wondered how to proceed. It was obvious that the child was afraid of something and he wondered what it was.

‘Perhaps,’ he thought, ‘I might get more information from one of the other children.’

He finally rose and allowed the weeping girl to depart before calling for another child. Eric Whalley cautiously entered the office and was soon occupying the seat that Amy had departed.

“What is your name, lad?”

“I’m Eric, sir. Eric Whalley.”

“Eric, my name is Mr. Wells and I am here to look into the accidents that have been occurring here at the orphanage.”

“Am I in trouble, sir?”

“Not at all, Eric. It is just that the organization that I work for is very concerned about the injuries that have occurred. I understand that you were injured in a fall recently.”

“Yes, sir, I fell down the stairs to the cellar.”

“And why were you going down into the cellar?”

“I was helping Martha and Tom bring food up to the kitchen.”

“What happened that caused you to fall?”

“I don’t know, sir. I was walking back down to get another sack and I tripped.”

“Could someone have caused you to fall?”

“No, sir, there was no one around me when I fell.”

“You mentioned Martha and Tom, where were they when you fell?”

“They were both in the cellar. Tom was getting ready to go up the stairs when I fell and Martha was pulling things off of the shelves to bring them up.”

“Did they see you fall?”

“I don’t see how they could have not seen it.”

“Eric, do you know anything about what happened to Amy?”

“Only a little bit.”

“What can you tell me?”

“She was trying to open the window and it closed on her hand. Mrs. Cole and Martha were downstairs when it happened and she started screaming. They both ran up to help her.”

“Were any of the other children around?”

“Tom was upstairs, but he was in his room and the rest of us were downstairs.”

“Could Tom have done anything to Amy?” Mr. Wells asked as he wrote a notation on the pad before him.

“Maybe, but I doubt it. Amy doesn’t like Tom and would have told him to get out of her room. Boys are not supposed to be in girl’s rooms anyhow, you can get the switch for that.”

Eric watched as Mr. Wells wrote even more down on the paper that rested on the desk before him. The boy fidgeted on the chair as glanced at the jar of lemon drops that rested within easy reach but made no attempt to take any.

“Eric, can you think of anything more that I should know?”

“Mister Wells,” the boy began as he lowered his voice to a near whisper as if afraid that he would be overheard.

“Yes, Eric.”

“Everybody is afraid of Tom.”

“Why is that Eric, why is everyone afraid of Tom? Has he done anything to hurt people?”

“No, sir, but he is really very odd and when he looks at you it is almost as if he is looking THROUGH you.”

“And this makes everyone afraid of him?”

“Yes, sometimes queer things happen when he is around.”

“What kind of queer things?”

“Dennis told me that Tom did very strange things while they were in the cave during the outing.”

“What strange things did he do?”

“Dennis would not tell me, it was almost as if he could not.”

“Is Dennis still here at the orphanage?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Thank you Eric for your help. Now I have some other questions.”

“Yes, sir?”

“Have Mrs. Cole or Martha ever harmed you or any of the other orphans?”

“Mrs. Cole uses her switch sometimes when someone is naughty.”

“What about other times besides when you are naughty?”

“No, sir.”

“Very well, Eric, thank you again. Could you have Dennis come in next?”

Edward Wells watched as the boy rose and then walked out of the room. Moments later a smaller boy entered the room and pushed the door closed behind him. A moment later, the boy was settled into the chair facing the adult.

If Mr. Wells had hoped for answers from the boy he was terribly disappointed. Dennis repeated Amy’s testimony with a torrent of tears and sobbing. These tears intensified when Tom’s name was mentioned. Finally, the questioning going nowhere, Dennis was released from the room and he wasted no time in vanishing.

Billy Stubbs was the next to be seated in the room and before long Mr. Wells began to believe that he could not count on the answers that the boy was giving. All of them centered on the hatred that Billy had for Tom and nothing that was said to him could sway his answer to what was asked of him. Finally the boy was dismissed from the room and Edward Wells sat back in the chair to think about what he had heard.

As the afternoon continued he heard from the brother and sister as well as from Martha. None of what he heard helped his investigation and he was finally ready to talk to Tom. Shortly after he summoned the boy the child was seated in the chair across the desk from him.

Immediately he realized that what Eric had said was true. The boy DID seem to look through a person while he looked at them and a definite chill went through the man as he faced Tom. The man and boy looked at each other for a long moment before Mr. Wells finally spoke.

“Tom, I am Mr. Wells and I represent the organization that provides for this orphanage.”

“Why am I here?”

“Tom, I am here to investigate the accidents that have been occurring here at the orphanage and the injuries that have resulted from them.”

“Why are you asking ME about them? I do not know anything that could help you.”

“Well, Tom, your name has come up several times today and I am eager to learn what you might know about what is going on.”

“I told you, I do not know anything about the accidents.”

“What about the day of the outing? I am most interested in hearing about what happened in the cave.”

Tom’s face flushed red and his dark eyes narrowed as he leaned forward to face the man sitting in the chair behind the desk.

“I told that old loon, Mrs. Cole, what happened that day and I do not feel like repeating myself.”

“Well, I have not heard what happened in the cave and would be most interested to. I am especially interested in what happened that was so traumatic that neither Amy nor Dennis will speak of it.”

“Damn it all to Hell, if you must know, they went into the cave, found a dead rabbit and when they turned to leave ran into me in the dark! That is all! End of story! Thank you!”

“I am sorry if I upset you, Tom. Please understand that I am not accusing you of anything. I just need answers to this mystery.”

“Answers, you want answers, well here they are. This building is an ancient rat-trap and the windows are faulty, one of them fell and landed on Amy’s hand. Eric fell down the stairs because he is a clumsy lout! Herbert fell on the ice and then tripped over his own feet in the lavatory. You are wasting your time, Mr. Wells; I cannot tell you what I do not know!”

Mr. Wells was stunned by the response that the boy had given him and was even more surprised when Tom rose to walk to the door.

“Tom, I need you to be seated. I have not finished with my questions.”

Tom stopped and then turned back to Mr. Wells.

“You ARE finished with your questions!”

Mr. Wells stopped short as Tom shouted his response and then prepared to speak again when he heard a voice that he knew hadn’t been spoken aloud and yet didn’t seem like was in his head.

“LEAVE ME ALONE!”

Tom walked out of the room and left the door he had opened hanging ajar. Mr. Wells sat behind the desk for a moment until his eyes managed to focus and then he rose from the chair.

Mrs. Cole had seen Tom leave the room after hearing him shouting at their visitor. She hurried into the office to find the man preparing to slide his paperwork back into his bag.

“Mister Wells, did everything go well?”

“Yes, Mrs. Cole, it went quite well and I believe that I have enough to make my report to my superiors. You have nothing to worry about as I see no evidence of wrongdoing on your part or that of your assistant.”

“I heard Tom shouting at you, would you like me to speak to him about it?”

“That is hardly necessary, Mrs. Cole. The boy was merely agitated by my questions.”

The pair of adults walked towards the front door of the building unaware that Tom stood at the stop of the stairs listening to their conversation.

“You shall have the results of my report within the week. But, as I said before, I see no evidence of fault on your part and my report shall reflect that.”

Tom listened as the door opened and the man left after bidding his farewells. He hurried to the window in his room to watch Mr. Wells get into his automobile and then start it. A moment later the boy watched as the vehicle began to slowly drive away.

The questions that the man had asked angered him and he thought about them as he watched the vehicle move down the narrow street. Thoughts began to fill his mind as the anger grew within him and he visualized the car careening out of control.

Edward Wells was driving down the street when his car suddenly picked up speed as the motor began to race out of control. Instinctively his foot pressed down onto the brake, but there was no response from the accelerating car. He reached for the shift knob and as he touched it his hand recoiled from the suddenly superheated metal. Pain arched through his hand as the metal seared the flesh of its palm.

All of these things removed his attention from the task at hand and his vehicle became a deadly missile as it flew down the street. Wells realized that he was in terrible trouble as he frantically attempted to regain control of the car as it continued to accelerate. He attempted to shut down the racing motor and found that it was also out of his control.

A moment later his car sideswiped a large truck that was attempting to avoid the collision. He frantically swung the wheel in an effort to avoid more impacts as the vehicle continued to gain speed. A moment later a slow moving wagon pulled out of an alley and directly into the path of his car. He tromped down hard onto the breaks and found that the brakes also failed to respond to his commands. Edward Wells had no choice but to prepare for the impact that was coming.

The speeding automobile slammed into the side of the wagon just as its driver jumped clear. In the instant of consciousness that he had left to him before he was thrown through the windshield Edward Wells heard laughter in a voice that he recognized but could not place. He landed in a heap beyond the shattered wagon and was soon surrounded by a gathering crowd. The man would survive, but would never return to employment, he would spend the rest of his life as an invalid.

While the constables worked at clearing the wreckage from the crowded street Tom sat in the classroom working on his grammar lesson. Mrs. Cole saw the smile flit across his face and wondered what the boy found humorous but, because it didn’t cause a distraction, she put it out of her mind. There were things other than a boy smiling during class to worry about. In the distance she could hear the wail of the sirens as they rushed to the site of the accident and she mildly wondered what mishap had occurred. The thought that Mr. Wells had come to grief never crossed her mind and she was irritated when the children under her charge turned to look out the window when they too heard the sirens.

“All of you need to get back onto task. I shall have no daydreaming in my classroom and certainly no gazing out through the windows.”

The heads of the children immediately snapped back around and some cringed when they noticed the switch that she held in her hand. None of them had any doubt that the matron would use the switch and they certainly didn’t want to experience it. The threat had the desired effect and soon the children were all back to work, much to the satisfaction of the woman at the head of the room.

Martha was working in the kitchen and also heard the sirens, but thought nothing of it. What connection could it have with the orphanage? She regarded the soup that was simmering on the stove and then began to pull the bowls off of the shelf in preparation for setting the table. Dinner would be soon and Martha was grateful to finally be caught up. The visit with Mr. Wells had put her behind and it had been incredibly hard to make up for the time lost. She stepped out into the dining room and began to set the table while also keeping an eye on the kitchen, the last thing that she needed after the visit was a fire or some other accident.

She was nearly finished with the table when the door to the classroom opened and the children began to file towards the lavatories to clean up for the meal. As she watched the group of freshly scrubbed faces begin to emerge from the lavatories she became aware of an insistent knocking at the front door and left her position to answer it. The young woman was surprised to find a constable standing at the door waiting for an answer.

“Can I help you, officer?”

“May I speak to Mrs. Cole?”

“Please come in and I will tell her that you are here, officer.”

The young constable watched as Martha hurried to find Mrs. Cole and soon saw the woman walking towards him. The worry on her face was obvious and she was soon ushering him into the now empty classroom.

“Can I help you, officer?”

“Yes, Ma’am, I am here because there has been a terrible accident a short distance from here.”

“What has that to do with the orphanage?”

“The accident involved a Mr. Edward Wells.”

“Good heavens, he was just here not an hour ago. What happened to him?”

“It was an automobile accident; he collided with a brewery wagon and was thrown from his vehicle. I am afraid that the situation looks grim for the gentleman as he went through the windscreen of the vehicle and struck a building.”

“Will he survive?”

“I do not have the answer for that question, Ma’am. Can you tell me why he was here?”

“He was asking questions about the operation of the orphanage. The organization that funds us sends a representative occasionally to do that. We have had a few accidents lately and they wanted to make certain that everything was proper here.”

“I see. Did he seem upset when he left the orphanage?”

“No, actually he was in quite good spirits. How did you connect him with the orphanage?”

“We found his case in the car and the paperwork led me here.”

“I see.”

“Can you tell me anything that might assist our investigation?”

“No, officer, I cannot.”

“Very well, Ma’am, if you think of anything please notify us.”

“I will do so.”

They exited the classroom aware that the children were watching curiously from the table at which they sat. All of the heads turned in their direction quickly turned back to their meals when Martha spoke sharply and they all wondered what could have brought a constable to the building.

Well, all but one wondered.
 

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