The undertaker took Father’s body away from the house the day after he died. As he was taken away in a cart, covered with a white sheet, I felt the weight that had been on my shoulders lift and fly away, following the cart that bumped down the road. Soon after he was taken away, the Reverend arrived at our house to discuss the funeral arrangements with me. Of course, it would be a small service, for I could not contribute much money. Most likely he would rest in a basic pine casket, but I knew he would be content. He always had been a simple man.
The days passed in an uneventful daze. In the morning, I would wake and hurry to the door, checking for any sign of a letter ensuring my passage on board. I hurried through breakfast, leaving as soon as I could to the post office, checking if Mrs Sanders had received anything there. As each day passed, I started to lose hope. Surely I should have been sent something, if I was to go.
On the morning of the funeral, the house was subdued. Eden was in a bad mood, and I almost had to raise my voice at her. The Henleys all came with us to the Anglican Church, and we walked there in a sombre but small procession of people. The cart that had taken my father away just three days ago was waiting, empty, outside the church.
I paused for a moment outside, and took a steadying breath. I smiled down at Eden, who was glancing up at me worriedly. We stepped into the church together, and I saw my father’s coffin lying in front of all the pews. The Reverend was waiting so we sat down.
It was a small service, but nonetheless it was an emotional one. More people than I knew lived in the town attended, and as I received their condolences I could not help but wonder why they were here. Perhaps Father had known a few of them, but many I suspected were newcomers, freshly arrived from Home. I accepted their commiserations with a small smile, Eden always on my hand and Mrs Henley standing protectively behind me. Of course, Mrs Sanders was there, and even Miss Alders showed her face, but as I had guessed Mr Peters was nowhere to be seen.
Watching the many people as they passed through the doors, I wondered if they were here simply because they had indeed known my father. Before he fell ill, we were a happy family, and though I still cared for Eden he worked as a carpenter, and I realised many of these strangers must have been clients of his. I did not know how I felt towards them, but if they wanted to attend a funeral, and they were respectful and appropriate, I supposed I could harbour no resentment towards them.
It had been four days, and not a word had come. Wearily, this time, I woke and made simple oatmeal for Eden and me. I walked to the post office, rain starting to spot my thin jacket as I neared the small building.
I took my place behind the counter as Mrs Sanders called a greeting from the back. Largely due to the rain, I thought, it was a very quiet day, two customers in total visiting. Mr Dasent to collect a package, and Miss Alders again demanding the newspaper be delivered. I dealt with each accordingly, and otherwise sat and chatted to Mrs Sanders, or sorted through letters to posted or delivered.
It was an organised little shop that Mrs Sanders had taken charge of. Residents had expressed need for a post office, as the suburb was growing so rapidly. The council had consented, and one had been built. A cart delivered a few sacks of letters everyday (but Sundays) at noon. We would then sort through the sacks, ready for a volunteer to deliver the letters.
It was a well run system, with not a complaint made, except, perhaps, from the demanding Miss Alders. At noon, we took the delivery of one sack of mail. Mrs Sanders and I worked through the sack, sorting the letters into address-based piles. We were gossiping about the new family - the O’Reilly’s from Scotland - on Raine St, when Mrs Sanders stopped abruptly in the middle of telling me about Mrs O’Reilly’s incomprehensible accent. She frowned, examining the letter in her hand.
“I say, Lydia. This is for you!” My breath caught in my throat. Could it be? I told myself to calm down. It may just be another complaint from Mr Peters. Shaking, having apparently taken no notice of my own chastising, I took the letter from Mrs Sanders’ hand. Turning it to face me, I saw the fancy scribble of an official’s handwriting. The address came from town, near the docks. I stifled a squeal, and told myself it may just be a letter of rejection.
Selecting a letter opener from the counter, I slit the envelope and pulled out the paper inside.
Dear Miss Clark,
Following your application as chef’s hand on the grand ship Wild Duck, we have considered it with the utmost care. We acknowledge that you have a younger passenger you want to provide passage for, and we think this can be negotiated.
You understand that your pay would go into the fee of your travel, with additional pay of 10 pence per week if you perform well.
Your skills will be needed on the journey, and you may not acquire the most rest or sleep that you may want. I would like to confirm that this issue is understood by you. The kitchen will ask a lot of you, and you may also, considering your extensive skills in housekeeping, be asked to aid with upkeep of the cabins.
If you would still like the position, come to the Shipping Office on Lambton Quay at 1 o’clock on the 3rd of March of this year. I will interview you further, and we will discuss options for the additional passenger’s journey.
Mr Alexander Graham
I looked up at Mrs Sanders, a smile curving my lips. She raised an eyebrow, and wordlessly I handed her the letter. Her eyes scanned the paper, and she looked up at me, a smile forming until we were both sitting on our stools beaming like fools.
“Lydia!” She exclaimed “I- I don’t know what to say!”
“Shouldn’t I be the one lost for words?” I chuckled. “What if they do not accept Eden?” I bit my lip, the possibility presenting itself. Mrs Sanders smiled kindly.
“I’m sure they will. There isn’t any reason that they would not.” She assured me. We continued sorting, talking about what I might do on the voyage, the problem out of my mind for now. All day I felt warm, the rain no dampener to the news I had received. I walked home, meaning to collect Eden and have a small but celebratory dinner in our kitchen. I got so far as the Henley’s, however, when I was ambushed by a suspicious Mrs Henley, who enquired after my day. I could hardly lie to the family, and there was great uproar in the household on our behalf.
We dined and talked late into the evening, to the point where Eden and Thelma were falling half asleep. As we left, Mrs Henley again congratulated us, and I went to bed content.
Waking on the first of March I felt like a new person. The death of my father was still fresh in my mind, but with the opportunity that had risen for Eden and me to start anew I knew both Father and Mother would be happy for me. March brought happiness - such as I hadn’t felt for a long time. The past three years had been full of worry and sickness, but now that was over and though it was not finished in the way I had ever wanted, it was something of the past. I would never forget, but I was going to move on, and hopefully with more success than before. I was ready to begin again.
The morning was similar to the previous ones. After breakfast, Eden skipped merrily over to the Henley’s, where Thelma waited at the door. I again set out for the post office, walking in an appropriately sunny day to match my mood. Not even Sam Jones could dampen my mood, I thought, smiling to myself, but as I neared the centre of the village I caught sight of the boy, and hurriedly crossed the road, thinking it best not to test my thought.
The day was similar to the previous, with the delivery at noon, but it was a spectacularly busy day, with almost all the suburb, it seemed, coming in to collect packages, deliver letters or buy stamps. I served each customer with a smile, not forced at all. It was a genuine, happy smile, and each customer returned it, but for the predictable exception of Miss Alders.
I looked around the little room, with Mrs Dale browsing the cards, and Mr McKinnon writing a letter. I would miss the little place. I had started working here in 1862 when Father first contracted pneumonia. There was an advertisement in the window, and I was looking for a job, so it was really the best time to see it. I applied, and to my joy, I was accepted. I began, a young, scared girl of 15, and Mrs Sanders had welcomed me and showed me what to do, guiding me through my struggles and giving me support when it was needed most. I felt almost as if I hadn’t done enough in return. She had been such a motherly person to me, that I almost took her for granted. I would have to find her and express my gratitude before we left. If we left.
The rest of the day and the next were the same as each other. It was on the third that I broke the pattern, though.
Having donned a warm coat and hat, I joined the cart that brought the sacks to the post office, at noon as it made it’s way back to town. The driver was a nice fellow, and we talked of mundane things such as the weather. He left me near the docks, where after it was only a short walk to the Shipping Office. I made it there just as the clock rang one o’clock, and I took my place in line.
The attendant was polite, if flustered, and she quickly sent a note to Mr Graham, informing him that I had arrived. I waited on a wooden chair in the corner of the small room and watched the goings-on in the dock across the road, thinking of the possible opportunity that lay ahead.
I heard my name, and turned to see a straight-backed middle-aged man in an ash grey suit standing in a door off to the side I hadn’t noticed. He had a moustache, and he looked the kind of man who would wear a top hat outside. I stood, smiling in what I hoped was a friendly manner. He nodded and gestured for me to join him. I crossed the room, and followed him up a thin flight of stairs into an office furnished with a desk, chairs and bookshelves. The desk was on the left, facing the opposite wall with the window beside it. Bookshelves lined the walls behind the desk, and mismatched chairs were placed in front of it. He sat behind the desk, and I took a seat opposite him.
He leaned his elbows on the surface, and steepling his fingers, rested his chin on his fingertips. He considered me like this for a moment, before relaxing back into his chair and clearing his throat.
“Tell me about yourself, Miss Clark.” I hesitated, but began.
“My parents and I travelled here when I was ten, but my mother died in childbirth on the voyage.” The man started to speak his condolences, but I interrupted him. “No, it’s alright. It was over eight years ago. My father was, of course, devastated by her death, but we were so busy with the baby - my sister, Eden - that really there was no time to dwell on what had happened. We settled in Karori and were happy for four years. In 1862, my father contracted pneumonia. He recovered, and started working again, but wasn’t as strong as he once was, so I started working at the post office and cooking and cleaning for my family. Then, he got it again in early 1864, and recovered, but after that he was very weak. Last week, he acquired the illness once more, and died last Thursday.” I did tear up this time, but managed to keep the tears minimal as Mr Graham murmured his words of solace. “I want to travel to England and find my mother’s parents. Without this guarantee of passage, I don’t know what my sister and I are going to do. Our landlord is not the nicest of men, and if I keep working as I am, I am sure we will run out of money. At least in England we can contact our grandparents and Eden would perhaps be able to grow up in a family.” Mr Graham nodded and smiled.
“Fortunately, I am sure that you will be able to go on the Wild Duck. However, I would like to know more about your sister. How old is she?”
“She is seven years old, eight in September.”
“And is she educated?” I considered this question.
“For the past three years my father and I would give her lessons in the evenings, and so she is fairly educated, as far as I can imagine for a child of her age.” I replied slowly. He seemed content with this answer.
“And can she make a bed? Assist you in the kitchen, if necessary? Can she entertain herself while you work?”
“She can make a bed and I’m sure she could help me with little things - perhaps baking, but I would not trust her with hot stoves or ovens when cooking. She can keep herself entertained I am sure - and she doesn’t like to explore too much, so shouldn’t be too much of a concern around the ship.”
“Well, Miss Clark, I am happy with your sister’s going aboard.” I smiled inwardly, trying not to show my teeth and grin like a fool. “The ship leaves on the 6th of March - three days hence, which should give you sufficient time to pack your things and organise what needs to be. I will see you here at Wharf 11 at 6 o’clock in the morning, preferably fed. I will give the appropriate documents to you for yourself and your sister. These will give you entry into England when you get there. You will not need to bring anything other than clothes and perhaps a pack of cards or a book. You will eat with the other kitchen staff - of whom there are not many. You will be required to present the food in the dining chamber - the passengers serve themselves. If you would just sign here, please.” He handed me a leaf of paper. I scanned the contract, and signed where he pointed. He gave me a few more instructions, and I was free to go, my future confirmed and passage to England leaving on Monday.
Kindly, Mr Graham paid for a cart to take me back to Karori, and I arrived at 4 o’clock. I made to collect Eden from the Henley’s, but like yesterday, I got no further than the door without Mrs Henley screeching questions in my direction.
I recounted in full to the table of eight what had happened. Mr and Mrs Henley were both thoroughly pleased for me, and even Andrew, Bella, Oliver, Danny and Thelma were excited. Eden watched quietly, and afterwards I talked to her while the others were having a loud conversation about the new road being constructed.
“Edie, you did not seem terribly excited. Are you alright?”
“Liddy, I’ve never been to England. It’s alright for you - you were ten when you left. What if I don’t like it?” I knelt down and took her hand.
“Edie, London is big, and it’s very busy and different from here. However, Grandma and Grandpa live just out of London, and while it will still be very different from here, I’m sure you’ll like it.”
“And what about Thelma? I won’t see her anymore, will I?” I sighed.
“No Eden, you might not. Not for a while, but if, when you’re older, you want to come back and see Thelma, I’m sure you will be able to. I do not know what we are going to do once we are in England, beyond finding Grandmother and Grandfather, but once we’re there, I know we will find something, and you may even be able to go to a real school.” Eden looked up.
“A real school?” She said in a shaky voice.
“Yes, Eden, I am sure you will.” I pulled her into a hug, and she rested her head on my shoulder.
“I like it here.” She whispered. “But I’ll come and see what it’s like there.”
Lydia spotted her father leaning drunkenly on another man. She rushed over to him, but he was either unconscious or very near it. She looked up desperately at the other man.
“My mother... she’s having her baby!” He glanced at her, raising his eyebrows and tugged her father over to a small flight of stairs. She cried out, realising that he hadn’t believed her.
She spun around and again saw the huddle of people across the deck. Noticing the ship’s surgeon among them, who she recognised from many visits to her mother, she rushed over to him, weaving through the groups of people crowding the deck. He seemed to be hunching over a small boy, who she recognised as the Leighton’s son, Arnold. Lydia desperately tapped him in the shoulder, and he turned, seeing the small girl. He noticed the worried, almost tearful expression on her face, and was immediately worried.
“Lydia? What’s wrong?”
“Mother! It’s Mother ... she’s having the baby, and she’s not awake anymore.” His face darkened in concern, and turned to Mrs Leighton, who was worriedly stroking her son’s forehead.
“I’m sorry Mrs Leighton, but another passenger is having a baby. I need to attend her, as your son’s injuries are not so serious as you think.” The woman gasped indignantly.
“Excuse me, sir, but my son has fallen from the rigging! Can you not see that he quite obviously has broken his wrist?” The doctor glanced at the boy, who was not crying and seemed quite calm.
“Go back to your mother,” he murmured to Lydia, “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”