As she looked through a book of poems she didn't understand, Josie Crewe gazed at the window beside her. Drops of rain ran down the glass and Josie, a very imaginative girl, liked to imagine they were all busy little ladies running through the streets of London, just as she saw below her. They pushed their way around briskly and didn't stop to greet or say friendly hellos- the raindrops, I mean. And the women, just as they did on many other rainy days, carried dismal black umbrellas. But every so often, to Josie's pleasure, she'd see a red umbrella, or perhaps a pink or blue one.
Along with the pouring rain, Josie could hear the laughter of the girls downstairs and the excitement of their games. Josie never seemed to play games with the others girls. She spent most of her time alone, though she lived with exactly twelve other young girls some a little older and some a little younger than she.
Josie lived at Hatfield School for Girls and she'd been living there since her father and mother died when she was eighteen months old. But she wasn't like all the other orphans you've read or heard about, so you needn't worry. She'd never mourned or wept for her parents. And she'd never wondered what life would have been like if they hadn't been killed from a tragic illness or cried herself to sleep thinking of them. In truth, she rarely even thought of them.
She couldn't remember them at all, for she'd been so young when they'd left her. The Crewes hadn't been a very wealthy family, but they hadn't been poor either. Josie's father had worked as an accountant and earned a steady income while her mother had stayed home to care for their only child, Josie. She supposed they'd been kind to her. She supposed they'd doted upon her: given her teddy bears and dolls and dressed her in cute, frilly dresses as all new parents do. Josie supposed a lot of things. She supposed they might even have loved her. And she may have loved them too. But she didn't love them now. She didn't understand how she could love two people she'd never really known.
And if not for the pictures and portraits she'd been given of her parents, Josie supposed she wouldn't even be able to recall what they'd looked like. Mr. and Mrs. Crewe had been a rather attractive, young couple before they had passed away that mournful winter years ago. Benjamin Crewe was quite distinguished with shiny black hair and a well-groomed mustache that he fidgeted with when he was nervous. He was tall and gallant and quite the charmer, so it was no surprise when he and the town beauty, Charlotte Hodge, announced that they planned to marry.
Charlotte, a very admired woman for both her beauty and her grace, truly was an amazing and elegant woman. She had soft, light brown hair that she curled every morning, though it would have looked just as gorgeous if she hadn't done so, and doe-like eyes that had caught the attention of Benjamin one day at the theater. All though, as it's been said, they weren't very wealthy, Benjamin and Charlotte Crewe could have been described as a very sophisticated pair.
Whenever they could save up enough money for it, they had loved to eat at fancy restaurants and go out for a night at the theater. The fact that they had to sit in the very top row and squint their eyes to see the stage and that their clothing was far less expensive and admirable than their fellow theatergoers' made no difference to them; they didn't mind so long as they were there.
Every so often Josie would pull out the little brown box beneath her bed. She'd untie the black ribbon and pull out the few photographs she had of her parents, looking at them as though they were characters in a book. One thing she, nor anyone else, could deny was that both Benjamin and Charlotte Crewe had been blessed with more handsome and attractive faces than most were lucky enough to receive.
This is what made Josie wonder. She wondered why, if one thought about the truths of genetics, she'd come out to be such a plain girl. She had very simple black hair that was neither straight nor wavy, but that slightly turned this way and that at the tips. Just an inch below the average height for her age was she, and she was right on the mark for weight. Her eyes were the only interesting things about her; they sparkled and wandered and were far more perceptive than anyone knew. Plus, they were large and doe-like just as her mother's had been.
The words most would use to describe Josie Crewe were simple and plain. Simple, plain, and peculiar. She was quite peculiar, believed most, for she seemed to always be off in some dreamland of her imagination. Josie loved to read and she liked to imagine that she could enter the world of the characters she read so much about: lands full of adventure, knights, and dragons, princes, princesses, castles, and islands. A world so wonderful that if one were to go there, they'd never wish to come back.
And there wasn't anything Josie particularly excelled at either. She didn't possess the voice of an angel, as Mary Sutton did, nor was she outstandingly clever, like Amelia Henstridge. She wasn't fair and beautiful, as Amy Rigby was, nor was she very athletic, like Bridget Reynolds. It's not to say she failed horribly in all these things, because she didn't; it's just that Josie never really stood out at them. When thinking about this one day, she concluded that instead of being great at some things and struggling in others, as most girls were, all of her strengths had evened out. The only things Josie really stuck out at were her wandering imagination, her understanding of things a girl her age normally wouldn't know, and her love of reading.
Josie watched as a navy umbrella appeared in the sea of black and her eyes followed its holder down the street until they turned the corner. Folding her legs up beneath her on the little window seat in one of the several sitting rooms in the school, Josie smoothed out her skirt and began to read the confusing book of poems again, though its language was foreign to her. Silence prevailed in the stiff, finely furnished room, but all around it were random noises: the girls playing downstairs, raindrops hitting the roof in a pattern that rather calmed Josie than disturbed her, the people shuffling by on the street down below, and then, suddenly, Josie heard a noise coming from inside the fireplace.
Looking up from her book, she saw some black dust sprinkle down onto dry, unlit logs from up inside the chimney. As it's been said that Josie beheld quite an active imagination, she began to fantasize about what it could be. Using the sensible half of her brain first, it could have been birds, she supposed, but she'd like to think it was something more interesting. Fairies, perhaps, or maybe a magical wizard. But the best possibility of all, she decided, was that it was Santa Claus, and that he'd decided to bring his great bag of gifts along early though it wasn't yet December.
The noise stopped though, just after. Josie cocked her head to the side for a moment, wondering, before continuing to read her book again.
She'd only gotten through a few lines before the scuffling sound came again. After ignoring it a second, Josie looked up but it instantly stopped once more. So, she went back to her book.
And then, for the third time, there was the noise followed by, much to Josie's surprise, a cough.
"Hello?" asked Josie, looking towards the chimney, "Hello up there?"
For a moment there was no response, but suddenly a loud boom could be heard as a dark figure fell from somewhere near the top of the chimney all the way to the bottom of the hearth. Thick, gray smoke filled with dust spread about the parlor causing Josie to cough, but she wouldn't be deterred from this new, mysterious boy. Standing up from her seat near the window, Josie came to stand behind the chaise, setting her hands upon it. She watched as the boy looked around himself with a sigh. He was obviously angry with himself for he'd gotten the entire area surrounding the fireplace dirty and full of black dust.
"Hello," she repeated, "My name's Josie Crewe. What's yours?"
"Jude Turner," the boy replied, wiping the dirt out of his eyes.
"I'm six-years-old, you know. How old are you?"
Josie thought about that a second before asking, "Why were you in the chimney, Jude Turner?"
"Why do you think?" he replied pleasantly, "I'm a chimney sweep, of course."
"Oh," Josie said softly, feeling rather foolish.
Hard was it to see what the real Jude Turner looked like, for at the moment black soot and dirt covered his entire body. She could determine though, if she looked closely, that his hair had once been a soft, light brown before it had been covered in black. Emerald eyes and his bright smile created quite a contrast with his dark face.
Jude hated those eyes, and he always had. His Uncle Mark told him they looked like two fat, ugly toads; and Jude believed him.
He was a rather short fellow, Josie determined, for he stood only several inches above her own head. Despite the soot, he dressed like most other boys Josie saw around town did wearing a short pant suit in gray, a tweed peaked cap, and kneesocks. She supposed they weren't always extremely clean, for he didn't look to be a very wealthy boy but rather a working class one, yet she doubted they were usually so very dirty. At the moment, it seemed his entire outfit was black. He wasn't very handsome, but rather just an ordinary boy.
"Do you live around here?" asked Josie, "For I don't believe I've seen you before."
Jude nodded, "Down the street with my Uncle Mark. He's a chimney sweep too."
"But don't you have any parents?"
"Yes, but they don't care about me. They're always off traveling. They're in Africa right now, you know. Studying plants and such."
"Do you like your uncle?"
Jude shrugged, "I suppose he's alright most of the time." There was a short pause before he asked Josie, "Are your parents rich? I bet they are if they got you into a fancy place like this."
"No, I don't have any parents," Josie replied, as if it was nothing out of the ordinary, "And I don't get to sleep in one of the nice rooms with the other girls. I have my own, smaller room and I have to work and do odd jobs around the house to earn my stay. Miss Ingrid wishes I'd been thrown out into the streets, but Mrs. Bernadette, she's Mr. Hatfield's wife, wouldn't let her."
"Does Hatfield own the place?"
"I've seen you around before, I believe."
Josie cocked her head to the side, "Where?"
"Oh, you and all those other girls that live here go out on walks all the time. To the church, and through the park and always in two straight lines. And you're all dressed like little matching dolls too- with those little gray dresses, black coats, and big black bows in your hair. And if it rains, then you've all got black umbrellas too. I can't even tell one of you from the others."
Josie laughed, "I never thought about it much before, but you're right. It's true."
At Hatfield, all the girls were required to wear the same outfit everyday: a gray long-sleeved dress that came to the knees with a white collar and pleated skirt, black tights, black shoes, and their hair had to be pulled back with a large black bow. On Sundays, though, when they walked to church, the girls could wear whatever dress they chose. Each had a closet full of pink laces, yellow plaids, and violet taffetas from their doting parents that they loved to show off with. Josie had to wear the same dress every week though: a light green smock that didn't fit her as it should. She'd received it from one of the older girls who had outgrown it.
"Still raining?" Jude asked, looking towards the window.
"Hasn't stopped since noon."
Just then, Miss Ingrid's screeching voice came from down the hall, "Miss Crewe!"
"Yes, Miss Ingrid?"
"The cook needs a few things from the butchery and the bakery for supper! Get on your galoshes and umbrella and hurry back!"
"Yes, Miss Ingrid!" Josie called back.
"Is this the kind of odd job you spoke of earlier? Running errands?"
"Yes, and I should probably get going. Miss Ingrid is quite impatient, she is, and she doesn't like me very much either," Josie explained. She looked at the black soot Jude had dispersed across the clean white carpet when he'd fallen. Several footsteps led from it to where Jude now stood. Josie bit her lip and told him, "Miss Ingrid's not going to like that at t'all."
"I shouldn't think she would," Jude agreed.
"I suppose it'd be too hard to try and clean before she arrives?"
Jude nodded, "Far too difficult for either of us. And besides, anything I touch ends up turning black anyway."
Before they could come to any decision of what to do about the mess, Miss Ingrid came down the hall and into the sitting room. She put a hand to her chest, taken aback, when she saw Jude, Josie, and the black soot on her clean white rug.
She wasn't a very attractive woman to begin with, so with her face contorted into a look of anger and fury, she was only more repulsive still. Tall as a man, thin as a board, and as rigid as mountain, she wasn't one to be ignored. Wearing a long maroon skirt, white blouse, and broach, she appeared quite a proper lady. Her grayish-brown hair was pulled back into a loose bun on the top of her head, and her defined eyebrows, which she drew on every morning, were slanted down to her long pointy nose.
With charcoal-colored eyes full of malice, and an evil smile, Josie had determined long ago that she hated Miss Ingrid. She truly did. She'd never been anything but rude and ignorant to Josie, knowing Josie was but an orphan.
Miss Ingrid hated the fact that she wasn't married, hated her admired colleague Mrs. Bernadette, and hated anyone of a lower class than herself, orphans and chimney sweeps included.
"What in the world have you done this time, Mr. Turner?" she asked madly, "I just had that rug cleaned last week and now it's filthy!"
"I know, ma'am, and I'm terribly sorry," Jude explained, "I didn't mean to do it, honest."
"I don't care if you meant to do it or not!"
"Please don't punish him, Miss Ingrid," Josie implored, "It was all just an accident. I should know, for I saw it happen with my very own eyes."
"What? Are you two friends now? Is that it?" Miss Ingrid asked, putting her bony hands on her hips, "I should have you fired for conversing with one of my girls, Mr. Turner!"
"I'm sorry, ma'am," Jude apologized, putting his head down.
Josie didn't say anything, but looked with her big, wondering eyes from Miss Ingrid to Jude to Miss Ingrid again.
"Tell your Uncle Mark that next time he needs to send someone older and more experienced, young man, for I won't have this happening again!" Miss Ingrid instructed.
"Shall I try to tidy up the mess I've made before I go?" Jude asked, lifting his head back up. But as he did, his tweed peaked cap fell off and onto the rug.
Miss Ingrid, with her eyes blazing, picked it up using only the tips of her fingers. A large black spot now marked where it had been.
"No, Mr. Turner. I believe you've done quite enough already. Just take your things and go."
"Yes, ma'am," Jude nodded. He took his hat from her and walked back to the fireplace, pulling out a long pole with wire sticking out in the shape of a circle on its end. As he walked slowly to the doorway, a line of black footprints followed. When he'd reached the end he looked back, tipped his cap, and said, "Good day."
Miss Ingrid rolled her eyes, "Good day."
Josie could hear his slow footsteps as he walked down the stairs. Looking back at the mess he'd left behind, Josie could only hope that she wouldn't be the one having to scrub out the soot tomorrow.
"What are you looking at, Miss Crewe?" Miss Ingrid asked rudely, disturbing Josie's thoughts, "Stop wasting time and go out and get those things like I told you!"
Josie nodded, "Yes, Miss Ingrid."
And that was the day Jude and Josie met.