I grasped the rusted latch and pushed gently. The door did not give. I pushed harder but it still did not budge. Finally, I drove my shoulder into the door and shoved hard, wincing as the warped wood scraped across the rough hewn floor.
I froze, heart pounding. Standing still in the dark, I did not dare to even breath. I listened carefully for any movement from inside.
No stirring, only the faint sound of snoring, punctuated now and then by a snort.
My courage returned.
I must be fast. In and out.
The door was cracked open just enough now to allow me to slip inside and so I did.
Red coals burned in the fire grate, illuminating a shadowy path across the room. Mr. Greer’s thinning hair was visible combed over a balding head as it peeked up over the back of his worn chair. He was the source of the snoring. There was no sign of his wife.
I had practiced walking soundlessly in my shoes for hours. Step. Feel for loose floorboards. Step. Feel again. I made my way carefully across the room behind him.
There were two doors off of this room. I picked the one on the right, the one Anne had been carried off through when I had visited before.
There were six infants in boxes lining the floor and there were four more toddlers sleeping fitfully on mats.
Now it was clear what was not said before. This was a baby farm. The bare room smelled sour, of vomit and feces. I shuddered.
Quickly, I located Anne in one of the boxes and picked her up, threadbare blankets and all. She felt lighter, even after all this time. She opened her eyes for a moment when she saw me, smiled faintly, then drifted back to sleep. Another child whimpered in the corner, stirring. I slipped out of the room, making my way quickly out of the door.
As I left, pulling the door shut, I could hear a wailing cry start up. I turned and ran as hard as I could across the yard.
Maybe she would not be missed?
I knew that was impossible. I ran harder, through the gate. My fleeing steps jolted Anne awake but she kept silent. I could see in the moonlight that her eyes were sunken and glazed over. She was listless and malnourished. No wonder she was so quiet.
Feed them as little food as possible, pocket the money you save…
Those other children were starving, too. A sob caught in my chest.
You cannot save them all.
I knew there was a carriage waiting for me at the end of the lane. The night was chill but sweat still stung my eyes as I ran toward the soft sound of nickering horses. Their black outline took shape as the moon moved out from behind a cloud again. A dark, shadowy form rose up as I neared, opening the door, strong hands helped me inside.
I held Anne close against my chest as the carriage lurched forward.