A wood burning stove is in the yard, under a tree where a tarp has been tied to the lower branches to act as a roof. A broken picnic table is nearby, supported by pieces of firewood where a leg is broken. Some dishes are piled on the table, washed from the last meal.
of young children's voices in the distance, unintelligible.
An older woman with a limp appears, surrounded by a dozen children of various ages. They cluster around her, all talking at once, and gesturing toward
FINEGAN and JOEY.
The ORPHAN MISTRESS has graying hair, barely pinned on top of her head in a bun. Her dress is tattered and hanging on her body as though at one time she were somewhat overweight. She looks immensely weary, and walks as though she might not make the next step. She stops to take her breath and looks up at the visitors. Seeing them non-threatening, she raises a hand weakly, as though saying a 'hello', and then walks forward toward the dining area.
She takes a seat on the picnic table, sighing as though relieved to be off her feet. Taking a deep breath to gain her strength, she lifts her face to smile at the visitors and waves them forward to join her.
of the ORPHAN MISTRESS as she directs her charges.
Stir that fire and put on a pot. We'll serve some tea.
Morning mam. Finegan Fine here and my partner Joey. I'm a trader, moving up and down these parts. Got my houseboat out there at the end of your field. Pretty impressive plots you have there. You plant and harvest that all by yourself?
The ORPHAN MISTRESS smiles and winks at the absurdity of this idea.
Fortunately, I've got plenty of help.
She leans back, having caught her breath, and continues to direct her young charges.
Honey, use that other pot. It has a spout. That's it.
These aren't all yours . .
Oh Heaven's no. I'd surely be in the ground if that was the case! Picked them up in Montgomery when the troubles hit. I was down there visiting, checking on some friends of mine that can't move around so good no more. After I buried them . . heart attack and such . . I was heading back home and found these kids just lost. . . Been weeks, and no one came to collect them. . . Well, what could I do? . . We came home together. Been a blessing, these darlin's have been. A blessing.
FINEGAN's mouth drops open at this unexpected description of a dozen or more orphans, some obviously only toddlers when she collected them, being
described by this exhausted woman as a 'blessing'. He catches himself as he realizes they are watching his reactions.