It happened in the morning. Mary woke me at dawn; she knew he was close. I gently shook Eden, and told her that her Papa was dying. I told her as gently possible, but I knew tears would come anyway. They did. She held my hand and we watched our father, our protector, our guardian, slip away from our lives. He was awake, in the end, and smiled when he saw us. We, his daughters, watched him die with a smile on his lips, a smile put there by his daughters’ faces - our faces.
After he’d gone, Eden and I went over to Mrs Henley’s. Thelma wanted to play with Eden, but her mother had to explain what had happened. Thelma came over to her, and held her hands as she cried. Wilhelmina held mine.
The day was long, but not memorable. Dr Sansome signed the death certificate and Mrs Sanders offered to take it to the church. Neither I nor Eden could bear to be in the house, so we spent most of the day in Mrs Henley’s house. Very generously, she fed us, and made sure we did all the things we would not have otherwise, so consumed by grief as we were.
I did not know what to do anymore. Father had brought us to New Zealand, but now he wasn’t here to watch us, and simply - I did not see what possible reason there was for our staying in the new country. Others had good lives here, and their families were happy. Ours was not. And we were not.
When I was young - the age Eden was now, younger, even - we would always take visits to my Grandparents, my father, my mother and I. They were my mother’s parents, and such kind people they were too. We did not have much in Karori, and I thought it was a chance. I could not explore it yet, though. We had to overcome our grief before other options could be considered.
At teatime, Mrs Henley offered us beds in the house. I could hardly accept, for I knew she was stretched for space as it was. She did look rather relieved when I declined, but insisted that we should come over any time in the night should we feel the need. I nodded, assuring her we would, but did not think it likely.
The undertaker had moved the body, but still we kept Father’s door closed. It was a quiet evening. At first I attempted Eden’s lessons, but without Father’s quiet presence it was not the same. Neither of us knew what to do, so we sat in front of the re and told stories to each other until it was time for Eden’s bedtime. Finding myself with nothing to do, I quickly followed her, snuggling into her bed when I found myself in need of comfort.
During the night, I woke to hear Eden’s soft sobs from the bed beside me. I turned over and comforted her until she fell asleep once more. Finding myself needing comforting as well, I stayed in her bed and we hugged each other as we slept.
The next morning both of us lay, each thinking the other was asleep until I sat up quietly, not wanting to disturb Eden. She sat up next to me, and we hugged each other. This time it was I who cried, and she who held me. I cried for Eden, only seven years of age, and already she had been orphaned. I cried for Father and, of course, I cried for Mother too.
We took the short walk across the street when Mrs Henley gestured to us in the kitchen from her door. At breakfast, I knew. I was breaking up a slice of bread when I knew.
It was for Eden, really. She was only seven years old - and if she was with family she would have the chance to grow up with not parents, but very close to them. I never had the chance to grow up in a whole family. It was happy, sometimes, but it was never complete. If we went to England, and we found our grandparents, Eden was still young enough to have the chance to grow up in an unbroken family.
“We’re going to England.” I said suddenly. Eden looked up from her bread, eyes wide. Mrs Henley turned around, and the kitchen was quiet.
“I- don’t know what to say, Lydia. It is your choice, I suppose...” The older woman looked unsure. Thelma seemed curious - of course, she would have no memory of England, the Henleys came here before us.
“England?” Eden said. “Why would we want to go there?” I considered the younger girl.
“Your mother’s parents live in England. It’s where I was born.” Eden seemed surprised. Mrs Henley looked slightly shocked - I’d never spoken about my mother before.
“I just don’t know how we’d get there.” I sighed. I was being ambitious - there was almost no chance that we’d actually manage to find passage on a ship. And how I’d pay for it - I had no clue. A knock sounded at the door.
“If you’ll excuse me.” Mrs Henley smiled as she exited the room, leaving us all to our thoughts. It was silent until she came back with a visitor.
“Mrs Sanders is here to see you, Lydia.” I stood, and saw the woman come in.
“Mrs Sanders.” I acknowledged her with a nod. She smiled. “Could I talk to you outside, Lydia?”
“Of course.” I followed her outside into the hall.
“Have you thought about what you’re going to do after... Well, now?” News travelled fast in Karori.
“I- I was actually just talking about that when you came. I was considering taking Eden back to England, to our grandparents. I don’t know how I’d do it though.” Her face lit up.
“It seems fate is upon us. In the post office, a notice has just been pinned up advertising for a chef’s hand on a ship leaving from here in a week. You’ll get no pay, just passage on the ship. I thought that you may want to travel to England - it seems we are in the same mindset.” I smiled. “It seems so. How do I apply for the job?”
“Well, I can take you right now - unless you’d rather wait for a while?”
“No, no, that’s alright - take me now.” After a quick explanation to the others, and a promise we would be back soon, Mrs Sanders led me to the post office. There were forms to fill out, and a witness had to approve my skills. As Mrs Sanders read, she raised her eyebrows.
“Only three years? Your father must have taught you well.”
“Oh, these I taught myself. He was a keen - not great - but keen cook, and he taught me a few skills. All the housekeeping I taught myself though.” She placed a hand on my shoulder and looked me in the eye.
“I don’t think any of us have really known what’s been going on, have we?” She said softly.
I shrugged. “It’s not something I really share.”
“Understandable.” She smiled, and we continued filling out the form.
Once it was complete, we folded it into an envelope and posted it. Mrs Sanders assured me that her paying for the stamp was quite alright, and I gratefully let it go.
“Now, a reply should be sent within a few days - if they’ve had to advertise for a job like this they cannot have had many applicants in the first place.” I nodded, agreeing with her reasoning, and hoping that our quick effort made even more of a difference.
She accompanied me home, and we chatted as we walked. I found that there are so many thing one doesn’t know about people - Mrs Sanders’ daughter had died when she was 3. Her husband had turned out to be a drunk, and he was eventually arrested for uncouth behaviour on London’s streets. She saw an advertisement for a cheap cabin on a ship to the new country, and she did not know what else she would do. She decided to take a chance and try to establish herself in a different situation.
By the time we returned to 3 Wrighton Place, each of us knew more about the other. It seemed a shame that we were leaving just as I made a friend, but sometimes that was how it worked.
We told the kitchen of our success and Eden seemed to take to the idea. At such a young age, it is often easy to push unwanted thoughts out of one’s head, and for Eden it was no different. She and Thelma went off with their dolls, happily playing on the dirt road.
In the kitchen, the three of us chatted over tea, the occasional child running in to Mrs Henley. Each of them offered to help pack our things, so sure that I would get the position. While I tried to be optimistic, what were the chances of the position being taken by me? I was only 18, and while I was skilled, I was sure the crew would want someone more experienced. I had to try, though.
Evening fell, and Mrs Sanders left to her home. Though invited to stay for tea, I politely declined, thinking that Mrs Henley must surely have had enough of us in her house.
Over the road, I reheated the soup I had made those few days ago, when our lives were so different. Eden came in to tea quite exhausted and content, with no memory of the terrible events of this morning. We ate quickly, and Eden told me she wanted to continue her lessons.
I complied, and though quite tired the little girl wanted to keep going long after it was her bedtime. I decided enough was enough, and quite sternly managed to get her into bed. Even when she was there, she would not give up. She wanted a story, and I told her one Mother always used to tell me.
I got barely past the first sentence when Eden’s eyes closed and her posture slumped. It must be so nice, I thought, to be able to sleep that quickly. I retired to my own bed, and to my surprise, found myself quite tired. No horrid thoughts plagued me that night. I had no dreams that I could think of, and in the morning woke more rested than I had been in awhile.
Lydia bit her lip. She knew that a party of some sort was going on on deck, but she did not know where the ship’s doctor would be. Running over to the stairway, she called, faintly hoping her feeble cry would reach the decks, but really, she did not expect any reply. Her voice was too little, and the stairs too long. She hurried back to her mother, and seeing that she was sweating, fetched a cloth from the water barrel in the corner of the room. She placed it gently on her mother’s head. She seemed to be unconscious, now, breathing shallowly and eyes closed. Lydia could not see anything happening, but she knew the baby was in her mother’s belly.
Lydia was shy by nature, but a mature and knowledgeable little girl. She didn’t particularly want to put herself in the spotlight, but knew her mother was in danger, and she was willing to sacrifice anything for the benefit of her beloved mother. She climbed the stairs, shaking from the danger her mother was in, and the anticipated moment in the eyes of others. She kept climbing until she was above decks, where most people were. It was a loud party, with many drunken men being rowdy and disruptive.