After the dramatic speech by Miss Nightingale we were offered the chance to have a look at all the goings-on in the hospital. Most of the group declined, but myself and a few others decided to go. I wanted to because I would, perhaps, get to have a closer look at what we would be expected to do. None of last year’s students still trained, but presumably a few of them would have been placed at St Thomas’. A young helper, who I guessed had finished her training a few years ago, took us on a tour around the wards. Each was different, the surgical ward, recovery ward and the intensive ward. We spent little time in each place, but even so, we saw a lot happen. As there were only five of us we fit easily into all the rooms but had no need to stay long.
We went back to the house, and I returned to my room via the social room in which Matron was sitting, reading. I asked if I was permitted to take a book or two back to read, and she nodded her consent. I picked two classics, and began the first one as I lay on my bed. We were left to our own devices until lunch, before which a bell rang at the end of the corridor. We rightly assumed this was to summon us to the social room, and Matron explained that the bell would ring before each mealtime or a meeting. We were led over to the dining hall, and ate luncheon at a long table. We saw no sign of Miss Nightingale, and it was rumoured we would not be seeing her at all during the year, except when we graduated, when we would go to visit her in her South Street apartment. I found this hard to believe, but the whispers reached Matron and she confirmed that we would be seeing her only once more at the end of the training. I was slightly confused as to why the very founder of the school would have so little to do with its students, but I knew she must be busy, or perhaps observing from afar.
The meal was good, if not delicious, and I knew I would be very content with the food here. Of course, though, Matilda Moore complained.
“This steak is not cooked nearly enough! Why would any self- respecting lady want rare steak? Everyone knows the fashion is medium-rare.” She had the dignity not to say it too loud, but she was sat opposite me and down slightly, and I heard it. I saw other girls shaking their heads as well, and the only ones who were not, I noticed, were the ones who I assumed were ‘Ladies.’
We made our own way back to the house, where I found a starched, pressed uniform folded neatly on by bed. A handwritten note accompanied it.
To be worn at all times during training. Public uniform to be delivered soon.
I dropped the note in a wicker basket underneath a desk in the corner, and unfolded each item. I assumed we were to wear our own under garments, but there were two light blue dresses with navy edging and long sleeves, one nurses’ cap, starched and bleached, a white pinafore, and black, shiny shoes. In my opinion, it was a lovely, practical uniform that was very suitable for its purpose. I saw no need to put it on now, though so separated each item and added them to the chest of drawers in the corner. Afterwards, I finished the book and began the second one, but as I finished the first chapter, the bell rang once more, so I joined the other girls, trying as best I could to avoid Matilda Moore, and met downstairs in the social room.
“Good afternoon, and I hope you all have had a wonderful lunch.” I heard Matilda shifting behind me.
“The bell will again ring for tea, and so you must make your own way to the dining hall then, but for now I simply wanted to speak with you. I trust you have all received your uniforms?” She searched the room for a negative answer, but it seemed everything was in order. “Excellent. You have read and acknowledged the note accompanying it?” Nods and murmurs confirmed this. “Then please get changed as soon as you can once I release you after this. But before you go, I would like to give you the details of what will be happening for tomorrow and beyond.” She cleared her throat. “Tomorrow, the bell will wake you at 6 o’clock. You will have fifteen minutes to ready yourselves, and then you will make your way to the dining room, where you will receive breakfast. Breakfast will last half an hour, after which you will go back to your rooms to make the beds and wash your faces. The bell will ring again at 7 o’clock, and you will, just for tomorrow, make your way down to the social room. From there, you will be guided to the training room that is within the hospital. From Tuesday onwards, you will go to the room yourselves. I trust you will remember the way. You will receive oral training in the morning, from quarter past seven to noon, and then you will have another three-quarter hour break for lunch, after which you will make your way to the practical room, where you will train until half past three. Again, tomorrow this location will be shown to you. The days will continue in the same fashion, you will have the afternoon and evening to study and practice and tea will be held at quarter past seven each night. Saturdays will still be training days, but the day will finish at half past two, and lunch at eleven. Sundays, you will go to church. You have been excused today for reason of settling in, but you will be expected to attend every Sunday, in your own clothes. You will be allocated weekends in which you can choose to go home, if your family is close by. Are there any queries which you would like me to answer?” A few girls raised their hands, but I took no notice of what they were saying. I presumed they would simply be questions about topics that had already been covered. The days sounded reasonable to me, and I found myself quite looking forward to the lessons. I would simply have to hope that Victoria or Matilda would not ruin anything. I glanced at the red-haired girl, who was sitting on a chair on the other side of the room. She caught my eye, and cocked her head mysteriously, smiling. I looked away, pretending to have been interested by an answer Matron had given. That girl made me uncomfortable.
“Well, I hope you all enjoy your evenings, and I will see you tonight at tea. Thank you, you may go, and do not forget to wear your uniforms!” As soon as she finished speaking, I hurried up the stairs as everyone else hung back, either talking to another girl, browsing the books or asking another question of Matron. I was on the landing when a hand encircled my wrist. I jolted around, and found myself staring into the bright green eyes of Victoria Fitch.
“Get off me,” I hissed, flicking my wrist to shake her hand off, but she was strong.
“I know your little secret,” she whispered, pulling me down until our noses were almost touching. I felt my heart in my ears. “And it would pay, I think, to do your best to remain on the right side of me, because otherwise...” She raised her eyebrows and released me as other girls began filtering through the door and up the stairs. I watched her as she turned to Matilda, who was coming up beside her with a pleasant smile that showed no emotion. I bit my lip as I closed the door to my room, and wandered over to the window without thinking. I had no clue as to why Victoria had targeted me - perhaps it was the slightly sarcastic way I had spoken to her outside Mary Dale’s office? But surely that would not be reason enough to risk exposing me? Maybe she had some other, personal reason for disliking me - and she really seemed to hate me with a fiery passion, but I honestly could not think why. I really could not fathom any reason she could have not to like me. I was thoroughly confused, but for now I had to focus on the risk she posed, before guring out her incentives. I assured myself, though, with the thought that she could not possibly physically touch me while we were at the school.
I was staring absently out of the window as I considered this, and eventually my eyes focused and I saw a figure standing in the courtyard, supposedly sweeping the cobbles. He was close enough for me to identify him as Samuel Jones, and the only reason I could guess he had been sweeping was the broom that was abandoned on the cobbled ground a few feet away from him. He himself, however, was chatting animatedly with a group of girls I recognised from the house. They all seemed to be giggling and blushing, and I stared in disbelief at how quickly Sam had managed to ‘collect’ the girls of the school. I wonder if they knew how old he really was. They would be all at least six years older than him. I considered him. He certainly did look much more mature than he had in New Zealand - he had grown, and where previously we had been the same height he was now a full head above me. His blonde hair was obviously now well looked after, and it had acquired a healthy sheen. His face had matured, and his jawline more defined. His shoulders had become broader, and his posture, which had been terribly poor in New Zealand, was now excellent, and he stood straight. His arms had bulked up, and his muscles had grown. I shook myself as I watched him, in a daze. What was I doing? Suddenly, he looked up at me, as he joked with Olivia Munro. I looked at him as he saw me, but turned away when he smiled cheekily. I lay on my bed and reached for my book, but remembered Matron’s instructions, and walked over to the drawers and changed into the uniform. It was scratchy and stiff, but I knew it would soften after being worn. I returned to my bed to read.
As promised, the bell rang at a quarter to seven, and I put on the remaining items of my uniform - the pinafore and cap - and joined the ten other girls on my floor in walking down to tea. The ten girls who were on my floor were mostly paying - only two other girls did not pay, like me. Katie Martin and Olivia Munro were the other two girls, and as we walked downstairs we ended up grouping together. I found each of them quite nice and amiable, and I guessed we would become friends. Katie was from Brighton, and I was surprised that anyone would come so far just to go to a school, but I supposed her family must have encouraged her to get training and therefore a job. Olivia was slightly better off, but her parents paid for her brother to attend university and study law, so she took the non-paying option. Katie’s room was next to mine, and Olivia’s was two doors in the opposite direction. We were all relatively close, and we sat together at tea as well, talking about our backgrounds and where we had come from. I had to be careful with dates and times for my safety, but I do not think either of them were particularly suspicious, and neither of them were the type of educated person who would calculate the mathematics of a ship’s journey. We talked as we ate a roast, courtesy of the kitchen. Other non-paying girls sat around us, and all 11 ‘ladies’ were sat at the other end of the table. It had already been clearly divided up, with the nine non-paying girls - myself, Olivia, Katie, Barbara Bennett, Yvette Collins, Jane Smith, Madeline Taylor, Olive Walker and Prudence Wilson sitting at the end of the table closest to the doors, and the 11 paying girls - Victoria, Matilda Moore, Charity Adams, Claudia Clyde, Phoebe Edwards, Francesca Jacobs, Alice Linwood, Louisa Miller, Joanne Reynolds, May Schofield, and Edith Thorpe grouping around the other end. I was slightly surprised when such a clear divide came over the table so quickly, but really I should not have been.
We ate the roast, which was followed by a victoria sponge, and after that we returned to the house. Olivia, Katie and I were the first to head back, but Jane and Madeline soon followed. Eventually, most of the household was back inside the house, but for Charity Adams, Victoria and Matilda. They, it seemed, were outside in the dark with who I imagined was Sam Jones. It was dark, and Sam had been ‘sweeping the courtyard’ again, which I suspected was simply a ruse to have more girls come out and talk to him. The matron was not very impressed when she saw three figures, and one in particular very close to the boy. I could not see faces, but I suspected I knew who had been pushing herself up against Sam. My suspicions were confirmed when I saw a flash of red hair indignantly flipping itself over a shoulder after Matron had returned back inside. I watched as the three of them remained in the courtyard, and I wondered how such privileged, wealthy girls could act in so outrageous a manner. I shook my head and slipped into bed, lighting a candle on the way there. Consequently, I did have enough light to read by, but Matron knocked on the door and instructed me to put it out as it was a fire hazard. I did so, not wanting to get on the woman’s bad side, and I lay in bed, in the dark, wondering how my family was faring.
The next morning, I was half-woken by the sun that filtered through the lacy coverings over the window, and half by the bell that rang, interrupting the silence that consumed the house. The sun’s rays fell onto my bed, and travelled up the blanket to my face. I was dozing when the bell rang, and so found it easy to heave myself out of bed and over to the dresser. I wore the dress I had worn the day before, as I had not worn it long, and it would not be soiled yet. It took me about five minutes to get dressed, after which I went out into the hallway to hear no noises from any of the rooms. I thought I would pay my friends a courtesy, and knocked on Katie and Olivia’s doors, after which I heard a grunt from each room. I continued on to the bathroom, which was predictably empty, and I managed to wash my face and hands without being interrupted. No sound came from any of the paying girls’ rooms, and I decided that if they were to look down upon us then they could also look down at the floor as Matron chastised them for being late. I knocked again on Katie and Olivia’s doors, and they each let me in. They were both awake, and had gotten dressed. I had to correct Olivia’s cap - it was on backwards, and I blamed the morning for her mistake. She thanked me, and I recommended she go to the bathroom. She did and afterwards I visited Katie, and told her of my plan to make the paying girls humble. She giggled, but I hushed her, telling her we must be quiet if the plan was to work, but I could hardly contain the giggles myself. I wondered how many of the girls downstairs were awake, and I crept down the stairs, finding it best to avoid the third stair down from the landing. Eight out of ten of the girls were awake, and I found them all relatively cheerful and in good spirits. I went back upstairs where Olivia and Katie were both in my room. I joined them and we chatted about what we were likely to do that day. Eventually, we went downstairs, finding all the girls down there awake. They were gathered in the social room, chatting as we were upstairs. The matron came in to check our numbers, and to her fury, seven were missing. I tried very hard not to glance at Olivia and Katie, as I knew if I did we would spoil it all by laughing, but found it impossible and we shared glances, biting our lips so as not to burst out in laughter. Once Matron had stormed out of the room, however, it was Olivia who snorted first, and from then after we were laughing as quietly as we could. We heard the indignant shrieking from upstairs, and laughed even harder. Some of the other girls were looking at us in mild disgust, and I suppose we must have looked rather ridiculous and immature. Normally I would not have cared less, but then the thought of possible identification crossed my mind, and I quietened down, and just in time as it turned out. Matron walked in, scowling as the girls upstairs presumably got dressed.
“I should note,” she said, “That it does not pay to wake up late on the first morning.” there was a general murmuring of agreement and shaking of heads. Silence covered the room as we waited in the looming presence of Matron. Eventually we heard the hurried tripping of feet down the stairs and we all stood, ready to leave for breakfast. Matron turned to us.
“You 13 can go ahead to breakfast. I will stay here and have a word with the others.” A dark look crossed her face, and we silently led out into the courtyard. We broke into murmurs as soon as we were out of the door. I saw Sam waiting across the courtyard again. I was amazed at the amount of time the boy managed to spend outside the house. Did he not have other things to be doing? Surely he could not be that desperate. I saw his gaze flicker over the line of girls hopefully and I sighed. Apparently he was.
We crossed the courtyard quickly and made our way to the hall in groups. The sun was shining and it was a typical June day. I was happy, and we had not even finished the first day.
Lydia and Mrs Barrett were sat on the barrel, when hurried steps were heard on the stairs. Mrs Barrett looked up, wondering who the visitor might be. When she saw the captain’s boot emerge on the ladder, she murmured an explanation to Lydia, who moved off her lap, almost sleepily, and wandered over to a bunk, lying down and facing the wall. Mrs Barrett bit her lip as she watched the girl, but turned to the captain as he set foot on the floor. He moved out of the way, making way for another figure. Mrs Barrett watched as Lydia’s father, Mr Clark, stumbled off the end of the ladder drunkenly and squinting.
“What is happening, Mrs Barrett?” The captain, John Macey, hurried over to the woman. She explained in low tones, and Macey sighed, rubbing his forehead.
“I see.” He turned to Isabel Ward, and looked at the baby, then at Mrs Clark, who was lying, almost white on the bed. He shook his head and turned to Mr Clark who was leaning against the wall with closed eyes and a slack expression. The captain walked over to him and took him by the shoulders.“Kenneth.” He grunted. “Kenneth, look at me. Look at your wife. And your baby.” The drunken man grinned.
“Ma baby’s out izzit?” He slurred. “Where’sit then?”
“Kenneth, Marie-Alice is very sick, and will most likely...” He shook his head again. “Die.” Kenneth looked at the captain. Then he cocked his head, the action almost tipping him over.
“You said what?” He raised an eyebrow. “Ma wife, she’s over there she is.” He looked over there and pointed in the direction. Then he caught sight of the woman on the bed. He frowned.
“That’s my wife!” He growled at the doctor. “Why isn’t she alright? Why’s she white like that?” The doctor looked for words as he faced the drunken man, but could not find any.
“Kenneth, look at me.” Mr Clark turned around, and located the captain.
“Aaaaaargh!” He grunted, yelling as he lunged at the captain. His fist struck the man’s face, and the captain stumbled. He lunged forward again, but caught himself and looked at his fist, then at the captain, his face white in disbelief. He shook his head and stumbled backwards, his eyes staring around the room, taking in the child being fed on the other side of the room, Lydia lying on the bunk, his wife lying, motionless on the bed, and finally, the captain of the ship he was on, and his employer, crouching in front of him and holding his cheek.