On the fourth of March, a chance meeting with Mr Peters meant I did not have to organise to see him. He came into the post office, and strode up to the counter.
“I would like, Miss Clark, to renegotiate the terms of your rent.”
“Yes. Can we talk elsewhere?”
“Well, Mr Peters, my employer is currently out on errands, so I cannot leave the counter, but it is rather a quiet day, so I do not expect that anyone will come in.” I said uncomfortably. He seemed unsure, but rested his hands on the counter opposite me.
“Frankly, I do not see how you can pay your rent anymore. Your father is dead,” he said harshly. I straightened, “and you - well, look at you. You’re hardly a child, and you do not have the skills nor the knowledge to keep such a house. Unless you are willing to pay rather more than you have been - which, also, I have been very generous in letting you pay so small a sum - you will have to find residence elsewhere.” I narrowed my eyes. I knew that he thought I would beg and plead to him, desperate for the house. He knew little of such matters, so I thought it was time for a client - or perhaps a soon to be previous client - to be frank and straightforward with him. I was leaving to England, and he could hardly touch me there.
“Mr Peters. I protest at such belittlement of my skills - I have run a house of three for three years, something you, I am sure, could not claim. I am eighteen years of age, and I know enough to tell that you are a horrible, greedy man, which most of your clients would agree with. I know I have hated the year since you took over from dear Mr Johnson, and I am glad to go.” He stood, mouth agape, astounded, as I told him my mind.
“Yes, Mr Peters. My sister and I are leaving to England, so you won’t be able to harm us any longer.” He ran his tongue over his lips, and his eyes were narrowed in dislike. He leaned forward menacingly, ready, almost, to slap my face. I took a step back, but was saved as someone entered the building, the bell ringing as Mrs Sanders opened the door. She paused as she saw Mr Peters at the counter, but he left swiftly as she drew near, muttering curses under her breath.
“Lydia, was he harassing you?” She asked in a low voice. I looked away. “Was he?” I sighed impatiently.
“He came in to renegotiate the tenancy agreement, telling me how worthless I was. I told him exactly what I thought of him-” Mrs Sanders growled obscenities, “and he did not take to it. I was expecting a slap, to be perfectly honest - it was just as well you came in.”
“I will find that man, and I will talk to him, if no one else does soon. He is a menace to this village and I won’t have it.” I smiled, knowing the village would be in safe hands when I left.
Mrs Sanders insisted I go home early and start packing, and I did to make her feel better. I really shouldn’t have, though, as there was nothing to pack. I decided to give our furniture to the Henley family - they would very grateful for the extra beds - and when the furniture was gone there was really nothing left. My parents had limited luggage on the journey over, so there was nothing beyond our clothes. We no longer needed any cutlery, and all we had for luggage was an old suitcase of my father’s. Between Eden and I, we had one work and play dress each, a Sunday dress, and a nightgown. It all fit quite neatly into the case, with room for the two books we owned and a tattered pack of cards on top. Really, we would not have to pack until Sunday night.
Sunday was a very emotional day. Again, Eden and I spent the hours with the Henleys, but for a short period in the afternoon which we spent packing our small case. We had dinner with the family, an extravagant affair into which Mrs Henley had put great effort, to my dismay. I did not want to cause so much work, but when I told her of my worries she simply dismissed it with a: “You are worth it, dear.”
We spent far too long, in my opinion, saying our goodbyes and finishing dinner. Eventually, I had to hurry Eden out the door to avoid another tearful farewell.
Mr Morris had heard of our departure, and very kindly offered to take us to the docks the next morning. He also suggested he wake us up, as he was accustomed to early mornings as a farmer. Gratefully, I accepted, as if I was left to my own devices I would most likely wake at seven. I was not willing to take the chance.
That night I slept relatively soundly, much to my surprise, as I was expecting to be restless and uncomfortable. Mr Morris knocked loudly on the door at 5 o’clock and I, being a light sleeper woke on the first rap. I quickly donned a dress, and answered the door. Mr Morris was an amiable man, originally from Scotland with an orange beard and labour-worn hands. His voice, a rough but warm tone greeted me, and I invited him in. He was a frequent customer of the post office, and I was well acquainted with him, but would not call him a friend.
He stood in front of the embers of the fire as I woke Eden. She had had a late night, and an emotional one saying goodbye to Thelma. Blearily, she slipped her nightgown off and stepped into her dress. The ever-present Dorothea was held by her side as I led her into the main room where Mr Morris was waiting.
“Hello Eden.” He said warmly, and she smiled tiredly up at him. “Lydia, do you have a suitcase?”
“Yes,” I replied. “It is at the door.” We followed him into the hall and he took the case as we passed it.
It was a long ride to town, and Eden fell back to sleep as I hoped she would, leaning heavily against me as I braced her against the jolts and bumps of the road. We got to the docks in good time, and Mr Morris guided the horse down to Wharf 11, where a ship was waiting in port. Men were hurrying up and down, carrying boxes of what I assumed was food.
The ship was a large one, a marvellous wooden structure of curves and sharp edges. A metal - which I later learned was muntz - clad the hull in sheets. The mast towered above the men working on either side of the grand ship. Eden woke just as we drew near the ship, and her expression was one of wonder. I only saw the ship my mother had died on. The Wild Duck was bigger, and presumably newer, but I could not unsee the similarities between this and the other ship we had come to New Zealand on seven years ago.
“Can I let you down here?” Mr Morris drew to a halt.
“Yes, thank you very much. I really do appreciate this - I hope I caused you no inconvenience.” He chuckled.
“No, no, it was nay trouble. I have to fetch something for the missus, anyway.” He climbed down from the driver’s seat and lifted our suitcase down. “Well, I will miss our coversations at the post office, Miss Clark, and I wish you all the best in England.” I smiled, Eden leaning against me.
“Thank you, Mr Morris, and pass on my good wishes to Mrs Morris.”
“Of course.” We walked away, leaving the only man I knew in this town behind. “And good luck!” I smiled, but did not look at him, for fear of running back and not being able to continue.
At the ship, Mr Graham saw me and waved. I pulled Eden along with me and we drew near the man. He smiled at the sight of my barely-awake sister, turning his eyes to the suitcase in my right hand.
“Is that all?” He exclaimed.
“Excellent. Most girls bring half their wardrobe with them.”
“This is my- our entire wardrobe.”
“Oh ... I see.” He was very cheerful, different from the formal man I had encountered in the office three days prior. “Well, come on board. I’ll show you your cabin, and you can meet the cook and staff.”
The ship was a nice one, its passengers the rich temporary residents of central Wellington. Our cabin was one that the ‘cabin class’ passengers would normally sleep in, but as this sailing was exclusively for about eight rich individuals, we were put in these privileged rooms. It had one large bed, and a writing desk bolted to the oor. Normally, Mr Graham explained, we would have been in steerage class bunks, but there were only a few paying passengers, so there were many spare cabins. Eden fell asleep again on the bed, and I trusted she would not wake until I came back.
I was led into the galley where I met Mrs Albert, a plump, strict lady who was in charge of cooking. She seemed to take a liking to me, and I could tell I would not have any problems with my fellow crew. I was taken into the dining room, where there was a long table screwed to the floor against the wall. Mr Graham explained to me that we would set out the food for breakfast, luncheon and dinner each day on the table, where the passengers would serve themselves, unless it was too unstable a sea, upon which we would serve the passengers in their rooms. They were very rich, these passengers, and had purchased exclusive tickets on this ship, purposefully to avoid the crowds of lower class passengers they would otherwise have to deal with.
I was to begin work immediately, cooking the lunch that would be served at one, about half an hour after we were due to leave port. Mr Graham, who was not coming on the voyage with us, left and bade us farewell. Mrs Albert learned of my sister, and I told her about her as I mashed potato.
“Oh, Mrs Albert, I just remembered. Eden is still asleep in our cabin - might I go and see if she has woken yet?” I paused, butter melting slowly in the mashed potato.
“Of course, of course. Bring her back here, if you’d like.”
I found my way back after a while, the thin corridors all looking very similar. Eden was just waking as I opened the door.
“Lydia?” She said, rubbing her eyes.
“Good morning Eden. We are on the ship now.”
“We’re on the sea?” She said incredulously. “How could you not have woken me?” I smiled.
“We are on the sea, but we are still in Wellington. We have not left yet - men are still loading the cargo. Would you like to come and see the kitchen and Mrs Albert?” She nodded, and I led her, more confidently this time, to the kitchen. I introduced her to the cook and sat her on a chair in the corner while we worked. She watched us and talked merrily as we planned the meals. I had taught her to bake shortbread, once, the previous year, when we had the ingredients. She had never forgotten the recipe, and politely asked Mrs Albert is she could. The lady looked over at me.
“Can she make shortbread well?” I shrugged, smiling, and she chuckled.
“Go on then. The baking supplies are in the cupboard over there.” Eden thanked her, and began collecting ingredients.
At 12 o’clock, we were invited up on deck to watch as we sailed from Wellington. We waved goodbye to the small city, and Eden and I hugged each other as we left the only place Eden had ever known. Eden wanted to stay on deck and watch as we sailed further and further away, so Mrs Albert said she would get the shortbread out of the oven, letting me stay with my sister to make sure she didn’t run into any trouble.
The wind was with us, and we sailed swiftly out of the harbour, the wooden buildings along the waterfront decreasing to the size of ants. Eden hung over the edge, mesmerised by the water streaming past in splashes and waves. Foam collected on the edge of the ship, and spray was blown onto her face as she watched the water. A larger wave hit the side of the Wild Duck, and the little girl giggled as droplets of salty water covered her face.
“It’s so fresh out here Liddy,” she mused, closing her eyes and smelling the salty whiffs of the sea. I closed my own as I clung onto the rail, my tongue tasting the salt that splashed up. It was so different to the musky country air that I had lived in for eight years in Karori, the dirt and earth creating a smell so different to the sharp tang that resided out here.
I decided Eden would be safe enough out here, and she knew her way back. I asked her to come back soon, so that she might help us with lunch. There were only two of us cooking, and today it might be easy but I was guessing it would become a demanding task as the weeks went by.
I walked back to the galley, and found Mrs Albert boiling asparagus. I started preparing the steak for lunch, placing it in a dish and sprinkling herbs onto the meat. I sliced the steak and let it sit for a while, and helped with the asparagus while it rested. I fried each piece in a pan for a few minutes, browning the meat but leaving it pink inside. I arranged the pieces in a dish, and put them in the oven on a low heat to cook the inside a bit more. I had once cooked this when my father had been given a promotion, and we had enough money to purchase steak from the butcher. I had improvised the recipe, and it had turned out well.
The lunch was a success, and we set it all out on the table as instructed. Eden helped, arranging the dishes in a neat order while Mrs Albert brought it all out. We had prepared a different, easier meal for the staff and crew, but we had still tried to make it interesting. There were limited amounts of fresh meat, so we were to use the fresh meat only for the passengers. We had tinned beef for the crew, and we added carrots and cauliflower with cheese sauce to the table. I met Evelyn, a girl like me of 19 who had also arranged a labour-for-passage journey. We ate together at lunch, Eden sat by my side, quiet and observant, and she told me she would be cleaning, when needed. Her cabin was only a few doors along from ours, and I was glad that I had found a friend on the first day.
Mrs Albert and I cleared the buffet after the guests had finished, and cleaned all the dishes. Once they were done, Eden offered to dry them, and Mrs Albert was perfectly happy for the extra help. It meant that we could get on to cooking the dinner, as we had been instructed by the manager of crew to cook something special for the first night, in a celebration of the start of our voyage. We had been instructed, also, to put out the bottles of champagne. I was amazed. There was champagne on this ship? At home the most we got was water, and even then it was sometimes brown. I had seen orange juice for the staff in the morning, and I was sure that would be saved for the last morning, but I had been surprised by Mrs Albert to learn that it was for every morning. She chuckled when she saw the expression on my face.
“These are every rich people, Lydia. Very rich. They pay for the best, so they get it.” I raised my eyebrows.
For the dinner we planned to cook a beef wellington. It was a time consuming meal. The heat from the oven and stove working continuously made each of us perspire, our foreheads shiny and wet. Eden kept out of the way in our cabin, where I presumed she was reading or playing. The seas had stayed relatively calm, with just a few minutes of rough sea just after luncheon, but as dinner time approached waves rocked the ship and the order was put out to serve the guests in their cabins.
We arranged the food on plates, and took each dish around the rooms, each guest taking no notice of either of us as we brought them their food. They simply ignored us as they continued reading, or playing cards, or relaxing on their bed.
Our work was not over after we’d served the crew dinner either. We had a quick meal, and continued to cook a blancmange. I was not particularly experienced in the making of desserts, so I watched Mrs Albert, who experienced great joy in making a blancmange, one of her specialties. Enthusiastically, she showed me each step of making the dessert. She made eight little ones in moulds, and once they were finished, I delivered them to each passenger.
By the time we had finished cleaning up it was around ten o’clock, and I was exhausted from the early start. I dropped into bed after ensuring Eden was asleep, and slept soundly until the morning, when a loud knock on the door woke me up. It was Mrs Albert, making sure I was up and ready to start.
And so the journey began.
Lydia hurried back to her mother, who was still unconscious in the dormitory. Meanwhile, the doctor dealt with the Leightons on deck.
“Your son seems to be alright, and I should think he was, as he fell hardly more than three feet.” Mrs Leighton, a first class passenger, screeched in outrage.
“Excuse me! Arnold has fallen from the top of the rigging, did you not see it yourself, sir? He is quite obviously upset.” She snarled. “Poor darling,” she added, cooing over her son and stroking his forehead. The doctor sighed impatiently.
“Take Arnold to your cabin, if you are so worried. I must attend the lady in labour.” He strode purposefully away before she could protest.
Jogging to fetch his bag, he arrived in the women’s dormitory to see blood on the sheets of Marie-Alice Clark’s bunk. He rushed over to her, Lydia sobbing near her. The woman must be woken if she was to deliver. It looked to be a very fast labour, and if the baby was to live the woman must be woken up.
“Lydia!” He cried urgently. “Fetch a pail of water ... or smelling salts from Mrs Barrett. Go, now!” The girl sniffed, and ran off up the stairs. The doctor knew he must save the baby - he wasn’t sure if the mother was going to make it, but if both mother and baby died Kenneth Clark would be so consumed by grief he may make some rash decisions, and the doctor did not want to be the subject of a fight.