The week passed in repeat after repeat, with only one mildly different event coming to my attention. It was Thursday lunchtime, and I was having a very animated and opinionated discussion with Olivia and Katie about the various components of the fingers. We each had different views, and we were all comparing ideas. Sam, with Jimmy, walked past very close to my back, and I almost did not notice the small, folded note he dropped into my lap. I looked over my shoulder, but he and Jimmy were far down the other end of the table, sliding into spaces next to Victoria and Charity and Matilda. I looked back down to the conversation, and tucked the note away into my cuff, resuming my place in the discussion. I quite forgot about the small piece of paper until that night, when I was undressing. I thought it quite lucky it had not fallen out of my cuff during practical, especially after I read it.
Again on Saturday I will see you by the apples under the light of the moon.
I rolled my eyes at the poetic note he had written. I drew up a couple of choice remarks I would quip at him on Saturday.
The days passed again, and I found out on Friday that I was scoring very well in my tests and essays in theory - in fact, I was at the top of the class. I brushed this fact off so as not to sound big-headed, but I was rather pleased with myself. Again, in practical I found that I was top of the class there, as well. I was pleased, but slightly worried at the awkward position it would put me in. I would look so very smart, and though this might not be a bad thing in reality, in terms of avoiding the making of enemies it would not particularly help my cause. I knew Olivia and Katie were not worried - they each had scored very well too, but others - for instance, Joanne Reynolds (who seemed never to have any fun because she was studying far too much) I predicted she would not much like me if I was in the place she probably wanted to see herself in. I assured myself it would be alright, for it was only the second week of the year-long programme, and presumably results would vary.
Saturday night drew upon me with surprising swiftness, and the night came with just as much speed. Again, I read until it was time to meet Sam, and I took the same route I had for the previous two meetings.
Once I was opposite him again, I tried to begin the conversation.
“Hello Samuel. I hope you have had a good week. More importantly, what have you found out?” He did not answer me straight away. Instead he began by complimenting me, which I was not quite prepared for.
“Did you know that your eyes look very radiant under the light of the moon?” I was quiet for a few moments as I searched for something appropriate to say in reply.
“Have you taken up poetry, Samuel Jones?” I said, finding something. I expected him to laugh, or at least smile, but his face remained in a thoughtful gaze.
“Perhaps. Your eyes may inspire me to.” I felt my breath catch in my throat.
“Would they?” I said weakly, my breath coming back in ragged wisps.
“They would.” Sam was looking into my eyes, and I was looking into his, and as I studied them, the green, deep eyes that he had, they began to draw closer, until I felthis warm breath on my nose. My breath had been fully vanquished, now, and I was trying to find it when a soft, feathery touch brushed my lips. My breath, however short, returned and I pulled at it, the result being a surprised gasp. I took an unsteady step backwards, away from the barman’s son.
“If, please, you would tell me the progress you have made over the last week, I would appreciate that very much, and afterwards we can hurry back to our rooms and the warm.” I said shakily, my voice growing stronger.
“Lydia-” He said imploringly, and I cut him off.
“Please, Sam.” I was beginning to sound a little desperate to steer the subject to an innocent place, and Sam seemed eventually to comply.
“She has given me not much to tell, certainly nothing of importance to your situation. I have come rather far within her trust field, but still she has revealed nothing to me.” I nodded briskly, before he could take advantage of the silence again.
“Thank you, that was all I needed to hear. I will see you in a week’s time, next Saturday, I suppose?” He nodded, and opened his mouth, but I turned and almost ran over to the door. I looked at him as I closed it behind me, and I saw him standing under the apple tree, looking alone and desperately yearning. I turned my head to the corridor, and closed the door behind me with as little sound as I could manage.
As I walked up the stairs, I ran back over the events that had just played out in the courtyard below. My heart was still racing as I thought of it, and I hurried back to the bed and slid under the blankets in an attempt to find someplace I could escape.
The weeks proceeded in much the same way - each day would be the same with theory in the morning and practical in the afternoon. Each Saturday night Sam and I would meet, and Sam would relate to me the events and progress he had made that week. All news was much the same, and he usually told me of how much of Victoria’s trust he had managed to gain. At the second meeting, he began to delve into his methods of gaining her trust, and I stopped him at an appropriate point. Enough was enough. I only wanted her secrets, not how he found them out.
Academically, I was achieving at quite a high standard. Being at the top of the class did put me in a rather awkward position, and though I was very happy, and as was Grandma when she was told of this news, my classmates began to resent me for it. In particular, Joanne Reynolds.
We were at the dining hall, and a surprise visit from Matron ensured our relative silence. It was a lunchtime on Friday, perhaps half way through the programme. It was January, and we had been allowed home for two weeks over Christmas. Grandma had enjoyed the two weeks immensely, as had Eden and of course Grandpa. We had had a very quiet, but enjoyable time. Eden clung to me desperately, and I regretted leaving them, but Grandma, while sad, was very enthusiastic about me leaving again.
Matron had visited the hall as we were finishing lunch. She waited in the corner and watched us while we finished. I honestly did not notice her until I took my plate to the servery, where she was standing. We had not had as much interaction with Matron as I thought we would, usually only on day trips around London for practicals or on Sundays. She did live in the same house as us, but she did not dine with us. As I approached the bench where the kitchen staff took the dishes in, she smiled, and, rather surprised, I smiled back. She began to walk over, so politely I waited.
“I see your results are exceedingly good, Lydia, and the feedback from Dr Jeffries and Miss Reading are exceptional. They both say you are attentive, reliable when called on, and the effort and results in your tests are all spectacular.” I smiled bashfully, uncomfortable with all the praise.
“I- well, thank you Matron Phillips.” She nodded, and I took the cue to return to my seat. Olivia glanced questioningly at me. I rolled my eyes and she smiled.
“What did Matron want?” I sighed.
“She was telling me how amazing my results were.” Olivia patted my shoulder affectionately.
“Lydia! That is excellent!” I smiled.
“Thank you, Olivia. But you know how awkward it will get if that gets out.” Olivia was about to protest my words, but was interrupted by the clapping hands of Matron. All of our heads turned, and Matron waited for Matilda to stop talking to Charity to begin talking.
“Ladies of Florence Nightingale’s esteemed School of Nursing. In just a few weeks, the mid-year exams will be upon the few of us, and be sure that these are just as important as the end of year ones. Here, on this list, I have the standings as they are now. These ratings have the total of the results of the tests that have been conducted so far.
“With each test being a total of 25 questions, and 15 tests from each class, the total amount of marks possible is 750. With 745 out of 750, join me in applauding Lydia Clark.” I winced and hid my face from the 17 girls who had turned to face me. Olivia winced in sympathy. Thankfully, Matron moved on relatively quickly. “With 730 marks out of 750, Joanne Reynolds.” I clapped for Joanne, who was still staring at me thunderously. I tried smiling at her, but it did no difference. She narrowed her eyes even more and pursed her lips. I sighed, and gave up.
“With 729, Olivia Munro, and with 728, Katie Martin.” I clapped enthusiastically for each of my friends, who were smiling at each other. I congratulated them as Matron continued reading out marks. I did not pay much attention, but I did hear Matilda’s score. She was almost last, only before May Schofield. She managed to get 612. I winced in sympathy, but it was half-hearted for one of the girls who seemed to despise me for no reason. Olivia suppressed a snort, and I had cover my mouth with my hand to prevent any unwelcome noises from making their way from my throat. Katie had to morph her laugh into a cough, but her hacking fooled only Matron, who looked slightly concerned. Charity, Victoria and Matilda however, stared daggers at the three of us. Matron dismissed us with an ending speech, about the importance of the mid-years and how proud she was of each and every one of us for putting so much effort into our studies.
We stood up as the volume rose once again - our lunch today had been early, presumably so we could be told our marks without an audience of the rest of the staff. As we left, the staff began to filter into the hall, and we nodded politely at them for the most part. Victoria, however, spotted Sam walking in, and stalked over to him, purring in her sugary sweet voice. I was astounded at how much progress Sam really had made. I was focusing on the scene when I was abruptly stopped my hand on my arm. I turned, thinking it was Katie or Olivia, but they were both beside me.
“Joanne!” I exclaimed.
“Lydia Clark.” She said, almost snarling the words. I sighed.
“Can I help?”
“Perhaps.” I waited for her to continue. I noticed that she still had not removed her hand from my arm. “I noticed you have only gotten five questions wrong?” I nodded, frowning.
“It would seem so...” I smiled, in an effort to sound friendly. She sneered.
“I should think you would make an effort to give those of us that deserve it,” she said, “The chance to...” She frowned, thinking. “Deserve it.” She nodded, and I raised my eyebrows.
“I should those who deserve it the chance to deserve it?” She looked as if she was at the point of growling, but instead angrily took her hand off my arm and stormed off down the corridor.
“I thought she was the smart one.” Katie watched her back as she walked down toward the practical room.
“I guess not so when she gets angry...” Olivia said.
“She is usually so...” I searched for the correct word. “Civilised.” Katie and Olivia agreed, and we made our way down the corridor. Each day we studied and listened in the morning and then put our knowledge to practical use in the afternoon. Sometimes we would visit wards, other times we would perform dissections. Each day in the afternoon we would learn in more depth about the previous morning’s lecture. It was an effective teaching method, and we picked things up very swiftly.
With the mid-year exams quickly approaching, everyone was on edge, trying to learn as much as they could before the examinations were upon us. Each afternoon and evening the social rooms were always full of silent, concentrating girls reading Notes on Nursing - What it is and What it is not, published by Miss Nightingale in 1859, and heavily praised (of course) by Matron Phillips. I myself had read most of it - if not all, and found it very helpful in addition to Dr Jeffries’ and Miss Reading’s teachings. The mid year exams came and went, with only two exams in total being held - one on theory and one on practical. I thought they went very well for me, and I was pleased with how I performed. Joanne, of course, was totally radiant and very happy with her performance, and I generally tried to stay out of her way so as not to ruin the mood. We were told we would receive our results on the Monday after the exams were held - they had been held on Monday and Wednesday respectively, with the Tuesday being a free day for study. I assumed mine and Sam’s normal Saturday night meeting would be had as normal, and that night I crept down as I had since the beginning. Sam was waiting under the apple tree as normal, and as I was quite nervous about the coming results that we would be given the day after next I was in rather a good mood, but rather jittery and jumpy.
“Sam? How is the devil?” He smiled at my offhand reference to Victoria.
“The devil is rather suspicious after I heard something...” I was instantly hooked by this comment.
“Do go on.”
“I shall tell you the bad news, I think, first.” I sighed.
“So there is some?” He nodded regretfully.
“I have been told, after some exclaiming of how much your results astounded me, and how really you looked as though you had the brain of a mouse, and how could you possibly have gotten higher than the most acclaimed and wonderful Victoria, that she is planning to expose what little evidence she has on you a few days after the results for the mid year examinations come out. I think that she knows she is going to get no more proof of your age unless she gets the law involved, and so is planning an exposure.” I sighed, but I could have expressed my feelings with so much more than a sigh.
“I see.” I said dejectedly. “I suppose that my mid year results no longer matter, then.”
“But they might.” I looked up at Sam, frowning. He had the strangest expression his face. I could not tell if it was joy or fear. “I was talking to her majesty yesterday about the unfortunate murder of Alison Walker.” I must have looked puzzled, and so I was. “Lady Alison Walker was murdered two years ago, on Christmas Day in 1863. No one quite knows how, or who did it, but her body was found in the caretaker’s shed on her estate. At first the police thought, quite reasonably, that it was the gardener whose shed she was found in, but he was given an alibi by the church, where he was all day. The police, since then, have had no clue who committed the crime.” I frowned.
“How do you know about this? You were most likely telling Karori how Mrs Mackenzie does not take sugar in her tea, as she had claimed.” Sam blushed, but chuckled, and I knew I had not offended him.
“Jimmy. He told me all about it on Christmas Day last year.” I rolled my eyes.
“Of course. Although, I do remember seeing something about the two year anniversary of someone’s death in the papers last Christmas.” He nodded.
“I was talking to Victoria about the murder - I am not quite sure why, or why we had been talking about it in the first place, but Victoria said something very strange.” I raised an eyebrow.
“I was expressing my sympathy for Alison Walker’s family, and how much I knew they must have grieved to lose their mother and wife in such a way.” He pulled a scrappy bit of paper that seemed to have torn of a newspaper or some such article. He had scribbled a few words on it. “Victoria shrugged, and said: ’People do always talk about her death in such a way. In reality, it was not terribly violent. It was definitely not bloody, or it would have been so much harder to clean up.” I frowned.
“She really said that?” Sam nodded, and I could not quite believe it. Perhaps this was the vital leverage I needed.
“But how could she have been so careless? Were Matilda and Charity with her?” Sam shook his head.
“Neither were. I was not quite sure why she would say such a thing, but I seem to have gained as much of her trust as can possibly be gained, if she is admitting murdering someone to me.” I raised my eyebrows.
“I still cannot quite believe it. Do you think you can get me a few newspaper articles from the reporting on her death?”
“I should think so. I’m sure Jimmy will have a couple.” I smiled gratefully.
“Thank you. I really appreciate all the effort you have gone to for me. In fact, I am not quite sure why you have, but I do appreciate it.”
“Lydia, I think you know why I like to do things for you, but if you do not, well, I suppose I cannot make you realise. But I do think that you know.” I blinked at him.
“I think I should go now. Thank you.” I turned again, and hurried over to the door, leaving Sam alone under the apple tree. I fell asleep quickly, to my surprise, as I thought I would be consumed by dark thoughts and wonderings.
Once all the warm, joyful life had bled out of Lydia’s mother, and Kenneth’s wife, it was still at least an hour before Kenneth would let go. The doctor asked everyone to leave the room as he wrapped the body in spare blankets. Mrs Barrett took the child from Isabella Ward, as the little baby was beginning to tire of feeding, and was falling asleep. Isabella made her way back to her cabin. Mrs Barrett did not want to let the child into the care of Mr Clark, for though she knew he would have no bad intentions, he was drunk, and upset, and she did not want any harm to come to the child. She held her as her father and sister cried over their mother and wife. Eventually, the grief subsided somewhat, and they saw the new member of their family. Lydia realised that the girl needed a name.
“Father, we need to name my sister.” Mr Clark looked away from his newborn baby, and down to his eldest child.
“Of course we do, Lydia. What would you like to name her?” Lydia considered this, the name she had suggested to her mother those hours ago.
“I like Winnie, I think.” Mr Clark smiled, tears still drying on his cheek.
“I should think Winnie is a wonderful name, Lydia, but I think it is not quite the name for your sister.” The girl looked at her father for a moment, the only parent she had, now. Then, she walked over to Mrs Barrett, who was rocking the sleeping baby.
“Mrs Barrett, what is your first name?” The woman looked slightly surprised.
“Well, my child, my name is Eden Stella Barrett. I cannot think what you should want my name for, however.” The little girl acknowledged this with a nod, and went back over to her father.
“I think, Father, that we should name her Eden.”