Lydia hurried down the crowded street, sun decorating her shoulders and a red felt hat covering her face. She glanced worriedly up at the clock on a nearby building, put her head down and hurried on, weaving through sailors of all description. It was quarter to one, and she thought she might be late.
She rounded a corner, following the path onto the wide square near where the wharves were situated. It was now almost one, and as she neared the centre of the square, she looked around, searching for the person she was to meet. She had not seen the woman for over a year, and she had no clue at what she was to look for, or even if she was going to turn up.
At last, she was surprised by a tap on her shoulder and she turned, expecting a man or stranger to have approached her. Instead, she recognised the wavy brown hair and blue eyes of Evelyn Peters, who had made her acquaintance on the journey to England. Each girl’s face broke into a smile, and they embraced for a few seconds, before breaking apart.
“Lydia! How you have grown!” Lydia smiled bashfully, casting her gaze to the cobbled ground.
“Oh Evelyn, I have not seen you for long!” She said, changing the subject. Evelyn smiled, still in awe of the success of the meeting they had planned so long ago.
“There is a lovely tea room in the city I thought we might go
to, so shall we begin walking?” Lydia nodded.
“And how has England treated you, Evie?” Evelyn tried to contain a smile.
“Terribly well, I must say.” Lydia raised an eyebrow and smiled questioningly. “Oh?”
“Yes. I found temporary work at the Paddington post office and met someone there. We were married in March.” Lydia turned to her in amazement and drew in an excited breath.
“Oh Evie!” She almost squealed before restraining herself. “Married! I never would have thought…” It was now Evelyn’s turn to blush, but she smiled all the same. “What is his name?”
“Graham. Graham Anderson.”
“And how old is he? Does he have much money? Oh, Evie! You are now Mrs Anderson!” Evelyn smiled.
“He is twenty-five, and yes, in fact, he does.” Evelyn avoided Lydia’s gaze, trying to keep her smile to a minimum. She was, however, failing.
“And what have you achieved since we were last together, Lydia?”
“Well, Evie, I was accepted into Florence Nightingale’s School for Nursing and Midwifery. I assume you heard about the drama there?” Evelyn turned to Lydia, eyebrows raised.
“You were not part of that awful incident, were you Lydia?” She shrugged.
“I told Matron, actually.” Evie looked puzzled.
“You found out about it in the first place?”
“Well, a friend found out about it before me, but he told me. You see, the girl - Victoria Fitch, her name was - had discovered a... secret, I suppose, about me that I did not particularly want anyone knowing.” Lydia explained awkwardly. “Of course, everyone knew about it after the investigation began.
“You see, after I told about Victoria, the police sergeants were called in. She was restrained - although she really had no need to be, she was perfectly calm - and taken down to the station. She was questioned, and a few hours into the afternoon, I was called in along with Sam Jones, my friend who told me about Victoria. I will not bore you with the details of how he discovered her guilty conscience.” Evelyn smiled vaguely, intrigued with the story.
“Go on.” She said.
“I told them everything - I had to, and honestly they did not seem terribly bothered about the fact that I was underage. The officer told me the sentence on its own would not have been enough to convict her, but as she had confessed the police would press her until she spoke the names of the people who helped her. It was all reported in the papers much later, but I suppose you know all about that. And actually, the only reason I could meet you here is because we finished our training early. If we had not, I would still be at St Thomas’.” Evelyn nodded, awed.
“And to think you were a part of all that! What a story, Lydia.” The women had almost reached the tea room, and Evelyn directed the pair across the street and into the small cafe. They sat down in the window, and continued chatting and filling the other in about the year gone by.
Pedestrians walked past the window, no more aware of the young women in the tea room window’s stories than Lydia and Evelyn were of theirs. Two young women in central London on the 23rd of June 1866 comparing stories of late, as the bustle of London hummed around them.
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