They'd left the basement window open...
And really, anything would have done for an escape route. When you were in there, in The School, you'd do anything to get out. Sell your soul, if they'd left you with one. Kissing the Duchess was easy, compared to that. At least you could lie to a picture.
In the School, they always knew when you were lying, even if you didn't think you were. And over time you came to realize that yes, in fact, you had been lying, and you were a Bad Girl.
Bad Girls were the ones that were not wanted, or were too outspoken, or too honest, or liked the boys too much. In some cases, Bad Girls did not like the boys enough.
Tilda had not liked the boys enough. Magda had not liked the boys enough. For this, they suffered...
And found their escapes where they could get them.
Magda became angry easily. She raged, she hit things, broke things. In her wake she left destruction. She scared everyone, even the men with sticks. When Madga was angry, people stayed out of her way- Well, most people. Occasionally, she was gentle. She held Tilda like an eggshell, like a piece of glasswork. She took matches away from the girl before she burned her fingers. She kept the men with sticks away.
Magda was not scared of very much. One thing she was terrified of was that one day, Tilda would hold onto a match for too long and simply burn away. She had nightmares about that, where she grabbed away the match and was too late, dreams where she was smothered by ashes. She hated those dreams, where she woke up covered in cold sweat. When she had them, she had to race across the room to be sure Tilda was still there. She usually was, and was often awake, staring at the candle beside her bed. Magda was grateful for this awake Tilda, who greeted her with a shy smile as she sat down on the edge of the tiny cold cot.
Sometimes they preformed an Abomination Unto Nuggan, although it was less sleeping together and more huddling together for warmth. Possibly something more, true - Possibly for the chance to be close together. However, they never voiced this idea, as if by not saying it there was less of a chance of being caught.
Tilda told Magda stories, stories she saw reflected somewhere in the candle flame. An unspoken and deadly secret pact was formed - Tilda said, I will tell you stories, stories about warm flickerings and glows and great big rooms where the world is a better place. In return you will listen to the stories, and that is cost in itself. And Magda promised, Because these stories make me believe in something besides beatings, being locked up, serving Nuggan, because I really do think that somewhere there are great big rooms where the world is a better place, I will protect my stories. I will protect you.
Father Jupe, who was good at seeming, saw Magda very often. She spat on pictures of the Duchess and refused to honor Nuggan. She refused to cry when they beat her, standing fast with a bone-dry face and a red-soaked back. Tilda did cry, but silently, without the pleas that the Good Father would have liked. She was hit and fell over like a rag doll, limp and totally apathetic. Tears would fall, but she never made a sound. It took a while for Father Jupe to discover the pact. The girls in the dorm gave in too easily when questioned, though, and he found out how to destroy Magda.
Tilda became her whipping-girl, took her beatings blow for blow while Magda stood by helplessly on the sidelines. At first she threatened, cursed, swore like a sailor and hurled death wishes across the room. Father Jupe stood, serene and unflappable. A smile began to twitch on the corners of his mouth when Magda broke down and began to beg, Please, please, let her go, let me take her place. I'm sorry, please, stop! And when she finally fell to her knees and began to cry, it was all he could do to keep from laughing. He had broken this iron girl, shattered her steel backbone like glass. And now she would do as he said.
For a long while that was the way it went. Magda did as she was told, because she had to protect her stories. She had promised. But then the farmer came along, and took Magda's stories away. She could not sleep, cold and too alone in her bed. There was no tiny spark of candlelight, because the stories - Tilda! - had gone, and oh, how she missed them.
When Tilda came back, Magda took her in her arms and smiled. She was happy, until she went to hear a story that night.
Tilda stared at the candle light, blank, dead. She told a story about cleaning, about scrubbing your skin until it almost came off, about wanting to be clean and pure again when it seemed like it could never happen. The story was about being clean not on the skin but on the inside. It made Magda furious, and she wanted to go and break things, take the farmer and his wife and snap them in half, burn the bits like firewood. She reined it in, and held Tilda as softly as she knew how, like an eggshell, like glass.
Months later, Magda tried to smile as she stroked the bulge that was Tilda's stomach. She was surprised, in a small and distant way, that such a thing could happen. Tilda did not look like she weighed enough to carry that huge belly, did not get enough food to support two instead of one. Madga gave Tilda her own food, because it looked like if she didn't that stick of a body would fulfill her nightmares and shrink into nonexistance. One night, Tilda howled with pain and Magda raced across the room to see her panting, sheets soaked. One of the nuns had heard already and they took Tilda away to the hospital of the School. Magda fretted, unable to finish work, desperate to see Tilda again. It was a very short time - Two days, and Magda was sure that was not long enough to recover, but Tilda was there. She worked constantly, like the broken girls who did nothing but scrub plates and floors and windows and walls and glasses and clothes. The girls who scrubbed so hard they could think of nothing else while working. They lost themselves in the work, maybe finding their own room where the world is a better place somewhere in their heads.
Magda wished she knew how to make Tilda better. She had never been able to fix things, though. More often than not the things she tried to fix broke in her hands when she gripped too hard. If she tried to fix Tilda, and made her worse, then what? No-one left to tell her stories, and Magda would be left alone to sink into her work. She could not fix it, and so she told Tilda she would at least make it better in the only way she knew how. Magda went to break more things. Revenge was familiar, it had a simple place in her strangely-wired head. She protected Tilda, and she hurt the people who had hurt them. Of course, there were many men with sticks, and there was only one Magda. This was how they ended up in the basement room, cold and wet and starving. The men did not dare go in there. They had locked them in and said they must learn a lesson, down there below-stairs with even more rats than there were in the bedrooms. It had been a while before they saw the window. It was closed and crusted with paint, but the bars that were over so many other windows in the Home were not there. They could hear, outside, the music. Roll up, my young shavers, it's a good life in the Ins-and-Outs!
Tilda, who became Lofty, thought of the plan. Magda, who became Tonker (Yes, she laughed at that one... ) made it work. She forced the window open and pushed Tilda out, and hoisted herself out, and they ran. They chased the cart to a little nothing-town, where nobody would ever recognize them.
Father Jupe, who was good at seeming, seemed to be concerned and seemed to say, We will have to return those poor lost girls to the Ways of Nuggan.
Tonker, who was bad at seeming but good at being, said, We're going to burn that rat's nest one day.
And they kissed the Duchess, or pretended to, and they went on an adventure. And the rest, as they say, is history . . .
What happened after History
They danced, a slow and awkward waltz, on the ashes of the School. Magda, who was sure now that she preferred being Tonker, led. She lofted Lofty, holding her at the waist and twirling her up into the air.
The world became, by tiny halts and starts and misses and hits, a better place.