Excerpt of HETTY FEATHER by Jacqueline Wilson

Excerpt of HETTY FEATHER by Jacqueline Wilson

HETTY FEATHER the first in a middle grade trilogy which has taken Britain by storm! The series is now available in the United States in ebook format.

London, 1876.

My name is Hetty Feather. Don’t mock. It’s not my real name. I’m absolutely certain my mother would have picked a beautiful romantic name for me – though sadly I have not turned out beautiful or romantic.

I shall picture her:

‘My little darling,’ my mother whispered, wrapping me up tightly in a shawl. She held me close close close to her chest, as if she could never bear to let me go.

‘My little . . .’ Rosamund? Seraphina? Christobel? My eyes are my best feature, as blue as the summer sky. Did she perhaps call me Sapphire? Azure? Bluebell?

I like to think my baby hair had not yet sprouted from my little pink head. A bald baby can still just about be beautiful. An infant with hair as scarlet as sin is an abomination, spawn of the Devil. So says Matron Bottomly, and she pulls my hair hard. Once when I cheeked her really wondrously, calling her Matron Stinking Bottomly, she pulled so fiercely, a whole hank of my hair came away in her hand. She would have been in trouble if anyone had spotted my poor bald patch, but she crammed my cap down hard and no one saw. Well, two hundred foundling girls witnessed her assault on me, but Matron Bottomly didn’t give a fig about them.

It took an entire year for my hair to grow back properly, but it was worth it because from that day onwards we all referred to her as Matron Stinking Bottomly – though not out loud. No other girl is as bold as me. I have a nature as fiery as my wretched hair.

I do so hope I was bald when I was newly born in 1876. Suppose I came into the world with little red tufts. Oh dearie, what a shock for my poor mother. Maybe she was tempted to call me Carrot or Goldfish or Marmalade.

No, I am absolutely certain my mother would not mock me. She held me close, she rubbed her cheek over my flaming head, she gently wound a little lock around her finger. She loved my red hair because it was mine. She cut off one tiny tuft to plait with pins and keep within a locket. That way she kept a small part of me for ever.

She didn’t want to give me away. She loved me with all her heart. I know I was a poor, puny little thing, hardly weighing so much as a twist of sugar. I’m sure my mother nursed me night and day, trying her hardest to build me up and make me strong. If I close my eyes now and hunch up small, I can almost feel her arms around me, hear her humming a lullaby, smell her sweet perfume, clasp her white hand with my tiny fingers. I cannot focus properly, but if I try really hard I can see her pale face, the tears in her own blue eyes.

Everyone says you can’t remember back to babyhood. I’ve asked the nurses and the teachers and they all say the same. Even Jem insisted this is true, and he is the wisest boy ever. However, I’m absolutely certain they are all wrong on this point. I can remember.

I remember the worst day ever, when my mother bathed me and dressed me in my napkin and my petticoats and a little white gown she had stitched herself. She wrapped me up in a crocheted shawl and then carried me outside. She took me on a long, long journey. I’m sure I remember the roar and whistle of a train. Then I think we took a cab because I cried at the strange bumping and the clack of the horses’ hooves. She held me tighter, rocking me in her arms, crying too. Then the bump-clack stopped and my mother stayed crouching inside, shaking, so that I shook too. The cabman shouted at her and she gave me one last desperate kiss.

‘I will always love you,’ she whispered right into my ear.

For more information and where to buy Hetty Feather, visit the Jacqueline Wilson website!

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