Niamh explains how she, Carmine, and the boy –Hans, nicknamed Dutchy – become an “odd little family.” She learns that Dutchy was born to German parents, that his mother died when he was little, and that his physically abusive father forced him to work shining shoes. He eventually stopped coming home, and started living with a group of boys who “tried to look after one another.” The Children’s Aid Society “lured them in” with food and clean beds. He suspects that the charity must be getting paid for the kids. Dutchy tells Niamh that she might help out in someone’s house, but he suspects that he’ll be taken as a farmhand. The train pulls up to a station in Chicago. Mrs. Scatcherd explains that while waiting for their next train, the children must challenge the suspicions of the “good citizens of Chicago” by staying on the platform and behaving like “model citizens.”
Despite her initial wariness, Niamh has come to embrace Dutchy as part of her “odd little family.” The use of the word “family” illustrates the children’s desperate need to feel a sense of belonging, however temporary and makeshift it may be. Dutchy’s story indicates that he has long preferred to be on his own instead of at the mercy of adults, who in his experience haven’t been trustworthy. His experiences help to explain his cynicism toward the Children’s Aid Society. Mrs. Scatcherd holds the children responsible for defying the stereotypes of ignorant adults, preparing them for the work they must do in their new lives.
On the platform waiting for the next train in Chicago, Niamh sees Dutchy disappear up a stairwell. He beckons for her to join him. In the upstairs terminal, Niamh is mesmerized by the well-dressed people, the beautiful grand architecture, and the lights glittering above. Dutchy puts Carmine on his shoulders and twirls him. For a moment, Niamh feels deeply happy, “like a knife’s edge of joy.” Suddenly, police arrive. They take Carmine, handcuff and beat Dutchy, and hold Niamh down on her knees. Mrs. Scatcherd appears and scolds them, expressing disappointment in Niamh and outrage at Dutchy. Niamh lies and says it was her idea to go upstairs to show the baby the lights, and that she made Dutchy “escort” her. Mrs. Scatcherd is visibly “softened”, but she continues to use a firm, angry voice when she tells the police to release Dutchy and leave his punishment to her.
Despite her precarious situation and the responsibility that comes with it, Niamh is still a child with a curious, playful spirit. By escaping to explore the terminal, she and Dutchy seek out a small adventure to alleviate the anxiety and sadness of their circumstances. The “knife’s edge of joy” that Niamh feels illustrates how her joy is both dangerous and painful because it is so fragile and fleeting. Mrs. Scatcherd must maintain an appearance of strictness to preserve her authority, yet she appears moved to imagine the innocence of Dutchy going with Niamh just to keep her safe while Niamh shows the baby something pretty.
On the train out of Chicago, Mrs. Scatcherd “half-heartedly” whacks Dutchy’s knuckles. Niamh knows there is little else Mrs. Scatcherd can do to punish Dutchy that his life hasn’t already done. Feigning reluctance, Mrs. Scatcherd allows Dutchy, Niamh, and Carmine to stay together. Before she turns the lights out, Mrs. Scatcherd delivers a speech to the children, explaining that tomorrow they will make their first stop. She encourages them to behave well and stay optimistic even if they aren’t adopted in the first town. The children clamor with doubts and questions. Carefully choosing her words, she explains that some families might be a good fit right away, while the “path” for some children might not be “clear.” She encourages them to have faith that God will “guide” them. Niamh realizes that Mrs. Scatcherd has no knowledge or control over how their future families will treat them.
The performative quality of Mrs. Scatcherd’s punishment and authority suggests that she may feel more understanding and compassion for the children than she allows herself to show. The fact that Mrs. Scatcherd ultimately allows Dutchy, Niamh and Carmine to stay together indicates that she may be aware of and wish to indulge the relationship that the three children share. Her speech to the children portrays a romantic version of reality—while she tries to be honest with them, she also doesn’t want to admit the harsh truths of their futures. Seeing through Mrs. Scatcherd’s careful words and demeanor, Niamh realizes yet again how helpless she actually is.