I stare around my tiny room and start to gather the few possessions I have accumulated over the years. I stare at the crumpled rows of uniform hanging in my wardrobe and smile at the thought of leaving the stiff black dresses and the itchy lace aprons behind forever. I open my draws and pick up the grubby packs of cards that I have treasured for so many years. I smile and put them in my pocket, I'm sure they will come in useful later. My eyes fall on the tiny package that Miss Wakefield gave me from my brothers. I had clutched it in my hands all the way here before dropping it absentmindedly on the bed. I scoop it up and tuck it safely between the packs of cards. I do not want to risk losing that. I gather a few of my favourite books, pack up my toiletries and slide my tin box out from its hiding place under the dresser.
This is my prized possession. It is very old, scratched and dented but you can still see the elaborate painted decorations that adorn it. I cannot quite remember where I got it from but it contains all of my earthly treasures. My best pack of cards. My tattered photograph of a boy and girl dancing together, love glimmering in their eyes. The small rag doll I have had since I was young. A silk embroidered handkerchief I had stolen from someone a few years ago. Several coins. I stare at my meagre possessions and sigh, at least I will be travelling light. I set off to the other rooms and brace myself for the farewells to come.
I walk out of my room and am immediately ambushed by a horde of children. "Marlin! Marlin!" they shriek, "Is it true? Are you really leaving? Marlin, I'm going to miss you!" Their cries ring in my ears as they go on about how I need to write to them and how they are going to miss me more than they could bear. The younger children liked me because of my stories. Many stormy nights, when they cowered in their beds from the thunder and lightening, I would be awakened by a timid knocking at my door and I would be summoned to their dormitories to tell stories until they were soothed enough to fall asleep. I would go on for hours, telling tales of beautiful mermaids and princesses to the girls and stories of great feats of bravery and gallant knights to the boys. They would listen, enraptured, lost in realms of imagination where anything was possible.
I finally manage to escape their clutches I go to say farewell to a few of my closest friends. There are tears. I promise to write again and again. Hugs and kisses. By the time I return to my room, my eyes are red and my throat is sore. I snatch up my belongings and make my way to Miss Wakefield's office, for what seems like the thousandth time this day.
Both her and Matron are waiting for me when I arrive. "I'm ready," I say. "No," Matron says sternly, "Not quite." Miss Wakefield smiles at my confusion, "It is not everyday a girl graduates from this Institute, Marlin, it is a cause for celebration! And did you also think we were going to send you out into the world unprepared?" Behind Matron on the desk I suddenly spy a pile of treasures I guess are intended for me.
Matron quickly and neatly packs away my possessions in a small trunk, followed by a pair of beautiful lace up boots with pointed toes, two plain dresses, and all the necessary undergarments such as a petticoat, several pairs of stockings and more. Miss Wakefield walks around from the back of the desk and shows me a secret pocket in the lid of the trunk, inside is a pouch with a beautiful hairpin inside and I gasp at the sight of countless gold coins tucked into the lining. There is another concealed compartment in the side of the suitcase which to my surprise contains three extraordinarily sharp daggers. "A lady needs the means to defend herself," Miss Wakefield says, running her fingers over them.
There is also a small leather bound notebook that Matron carefully places in the top of the suitcase. Miss Wakefield snatches it up and holds it in front of my nose. "This book is your key to survival. It has lists of allies and enemies. Places you can count on for safety and places that provide cheap bed and board. Your brothers are both currently in London. You must catch a boat down the river, this is your ticket here and you must look for this man in this picture. He will keep you safe and assist in your onward journey. He will tell you more when you find him." Miss Wakefield snaps the book shut and stares deep into my eyes. "This task is of the upmost importance, Marlin, I hope you realise that. The future of our nation rests upon your shoulders." I nod solemnly and suddenly Miss Wakefield smiles and says, "Well, I have one more thing for you Marlin, I think you will like it."
Matron turns around to reveal the most beautiful dress I have ever seen. It is an exquisite deep red velvet. Matron undresses me down to my slip and helps me into a petticoat and underskirt before pulling the dress over my head. It fits perfectly. I feel like royalty! Finally Matron helps me into a pair of high heeled boots identical to the spare ones in my suitcase and places my trunk in my hand. "Thank you," I gasp, "Thank you for all of this, thank you... Thank you for everything." I smile as Matron blows her nose with a honk and as Miss Wakefield looks me over I see something in her eyes that just might be pride. " You will do just fine out there," she says, "Goodbye and good luck, Miss Pellitier."
Her words still ringing in my eyes I stride out the main door, still unused to the swish of my dress and clack of my boots as I walk. I am no longer a girl. I am a lady. And as I walk past the gates that have imprisoned me for the last eleven years I know, finally, my life is about to start.