We found out early on in the journey that the trip would take around 115 days, or almost four months if everything went to plan. The days were a repeat of waking early and cooking breakfast, eating, clearing, cooking lunch, eating, clearing, cooking dinner, eating, clearing, and retiring to bed. The days were exciting for the first few weeks, with new recipes being cooked each day, but as time went on I found that the hours all blended into one another.
Two months into our journey, Mrs Albert and I were making a stew to go to the passengers’ rooms as the harsh sea wind was buffeting the ship, when a puffed crewman burst into the kitchen.
“Charlie’s unconscious - the wind’s gone and blown a barrel over and Charlie’s under it.”
“Where is he?” I said, shaking my hands dry over the sink. The sailor gestured up and started down the corridor. “Edie, stay with Mrs Albert.” The sailor led me down two corridors, and then up two more flights of steep stairs, a shortcut up to the deck I hadn’t encountered before. I emerged from the hatch, and was immediately blown off balance. The sky was grey, but not quite raining, and the wind was stronger than I had ever felt. The sails were flapping and whipping about, creating a harsh clapping sound each time they hit each other. A stack of barrels that presumably had been tied together on the far side of the deck had been blown over, and two were rolling around, following the rocking movement of the ship. Two men were huddled over another who was on the deck near the pile of barrels. I battled against the wind, each step harder to make. Eventually, I reached the unconscious man, who was, thankfully, in a sheltered spot behind remaining barrels. He had obviously been hit on the head, where a large bruise was blossoming already. I guessed it would continue to bruise and eventually become a large bump.
“You’ve tried waking him?” I shouted, the wind picking up my words and blowing them away. The men looked puzzled. I repeated, louder this time, and they nodded.
“We’ve splashed water on ’im, and slapped ’is face but he isn’t woken up.” One on the left said gruffly. I nodded, and examined his head more thoroughly. The barrel must have hit him on an edge, I mused, as there was a quite defined line on his forehead.
“We need to get him below.” I instructed, and they nodded and pulled him roughly over to the hatch with much more ease than I had simply walking. I winced as they dropped him near the door. One opened it up and the other two lifted him once more and slid him down.
I followed each of the sailors down the ladder, and asked where Charlie’s bunk was. In reply, they pulled him down the corridor and opened a door. The bunk was cramped, but it would have to do.
“You-” I pointed to the one who had fetched me. “Find the doctor.” He shook his head.
“Doc’s lookin’ at one of the payin’ passengers. He won’ want ta be rushed.” I sighed.
“Find him, and tell him to come as soon as possible.” The sailor obliged, leaving the room and clearing more space for me to work in. “One of you leave,” I said to the remaining sailors, one of whom I recognised from the dining room.
“I’m ’is brother. I’ll stay.” The taller one said, and the other left, presumably to go to his cabin or back up on deck. I muttered as I worked, every so often instructing Charlie’s brother to fetch something for me - usually water, as the wound was beginning to bleed.
It was ten minutes until the doctor came. He was a surly man I’d only encountered when serving, as he was an extra - not a paying passenger but one of a high enough rank that he was served with the guests or in his cabin. Another such passenger was the captain. He may have been slightly antisocial, but he was a good doctor and knew what he was doing.
He took over from me when he came in, asking only one question about the man’s condition and then shooing me out of the room. I walked back down to the galley and continued making the stew as Eden and Mrs Albert each threw questions at me.
“It really wasn’t very exciting,” I explained exasperatedly. “But the wind on deck really is very strong. I would not want you up there, Eden.”
The remaining half of the trip was mostly uneventful, much as the previous half had been. The weather was quite unpredictable, but there were no more dramatic injuries and the guests got only more annoyed and demanding as the journey progressed.
When we were two days away from London, the ship’s manager instructed us all to begin packing our things. Evelyn and I sat up late on the last night, discussing what we would do when we got Home. Evie was going to find a job in the city, she said, and had only been in Wellington because of a rather unfortunate experience with her older brother, who had since moved to a different suburb, and so she therefore was left alone in central Wellington.
“Your brother? He just left you?” I said incredulously. I could never imagine leaving dear Eden alone in the city, no matter how horrible I was.
“Yes,” she sighed, “Our family wasn’t the most stable, I suppose. Ma was very sick and died when I was eight, and Pa was so distraught that he started on the devil drink. Joshua was a nice brother, but then when Ma died and Pa all but left us he became different. He went so bad, always mean and horrible, and it was like all his beautiful emotions that had previously been there just vanished with Ma and Pa. So then he carted us off to the New Country, and when we got there he got so sick of me that he left. But you’re bored now, look - what about you?”
“I cannot say my story’s much happier ... But, Evelyn, what did you say your surname was?” She chuckled.
“What would you want that for? Peters. Evelyn Peters. And you?” I looked at her.
“Did you ... did you say Peters?” I said slowly, as I realised what had happened.
“Yes ... what’s wrong, Lydia?” I sighed.
“Only, my old landlord’s name was Mr Peters. He was rather horrible, as well.”
“Where’d you say you lived?”
“That sounds about right.” I smiled at her.
“Well, I never thought I would meet Mr Peters’ sister. He does look so different!”
“Yes, Joshua was always a surprise. Pa was so short and stumpy, it set us all wondering when he grew up so tall and thin.”
“After seeing him I’d always mutter about having a word to his mother - but sister, I never thought.” She smiled sadly, gazing at the wooden floor as if staring into the past.
“I hope you gave him a good telling-off when you left.” I grinned, remembering my outburst at the post office all those days ago.
“Yes,” I said, “I gave him a piece of my mind.” We chatted a bit more, and I found out that Evelyn, like me, had seen an advertisement and saw her opportunity. She had no relations in England, but for her drunk of a father who she presumed was now dead.
We glanced out the window and found that it was well after dark, and I could not help but feel rather excited for what tomorrow would bring. I said goodnight to the girl I had found so much about, and strolled wearily back to my own cabin, where Eden was sleeping. I undressed and slipped into my own bed, turning towards the wall and curling up to get warmer.
I woke early the next morning, despite my late night. Through the porthole I could see land, the coast of England not far off. I woke Eden, and we hurried to the deck before going down to the galley. We would navigate the Thames before docking, as the captain had explained last night when I enquired on behalf of the below decks staff.
We returned to the galley, where Mrs Albert was waiting for us so that she herself could go up and have a look at the country she had spent so long away from. I started on the celebratory eggs benedict and bacon with orange juice we were to serve for breakfast. Even the crew would get the meal, so we made a large portion.
Breakfast was rowdy, with every person excited and relieved to be at the end of the journey. The sailors were discussing in loud tones the type of weather that the day looked to hold, and all the below decks crew were chatting excitedly about what they were to do in the break between this and their next sailing. Most of the crew - indeed almost all of them cleaned and sailed the ‘privvy’ ships, as they named them. It was a shortened version of ‘privileged’ - all the ships (and there were not many) that carried wealthy passengers around the oceans. The only labour-for-passage workers were really Evelyn and me, but most of the crew hadn’t seen Home for a while as their jobs were on the ships between New Zealand and Australia.
The breakfast was a long one, and afterwards Mrs Albert and I cleared the dishes. We found a surprise under the napkins of several of the passengers - one pound coins. I’d certainly never seen one myself, and was wonder-filled to find a coin of such wealth tossed carelessly under a napkin. In all, we found four of these magical coins, and we divided them up evenly. I slipped my two pounds into the top of my boot for safekeeping.
We spent the rest of the morning relaxing as we hadn’t done all voyage. The guests would not be needing lunch, the manager said, so we made our way up to the deck with what seemed like the entire crew, and the guests. We sailed slowly up the Thames, watching and pointing as we saw the cities and towns that lined the riverbank.
It was an hour until we finally arrived in port, a busy place with workmen and passengers alike flitting about. The ship was quiet as we all admired the beauty of Home, those of us who hadn’t been here in years looking around as if it was a new place, those who had been here more recently smiling fondly at the familiarity. We drew near the docks, and it took awhile to navigate the ship into the moorings, but it was done. Eden, Evelyn and I stood with our bags, and excitedly we waited along with the other crew who each had a week’s break until the next sailing. We heard a thunk of rope hitting wood, and the door opened.
We stepped off the ship onto dry land. It was beautiful, London, in its own rustic, busy way. We made our way through the docks, with our suitcase in one hand and Eden on the other, keeping close. Evelyn was on my side, and we walked along the cobbled path that led from the wharf to the road. We were silent as the raucous sound of working hours flew around us and over us and through us, taking in the town two of us hadn’t been in for years, and the other never.
We reached the gate, a wrought iron thing that stopped over the path. We stood for awhile and looked at the tall buildings on the other side of the road, and the sea that sparkled in the midday sun beyond the docks.
“Well.” Evelyn said. “Where are you going?” I frowned. I hadn’t thought this far. Since boarding the ship in Wellington so long ago, I had been so busy I hadn’t thought of what would come after we disembarked at the place I had imagined. After the rush of seeing London, and walking down the ramp to the earth beneath my feet, I had been so consumed with excitement and wonder I had only thought about what we were to do afterwards. I knew we should find Grandmother and Grandfather, but how it was to be accomplished I hadn’t thought through.
“I- I’m not quite sure ...” I said, gazing into the distance.
“Well, Lydia,” Evie chuckled “I imagine you’ll need to figure that out soon. I plan to find work at a guest house in central London somewhere - clean and work for a room and the like.” She smiled fondly at me. “I don’t expect we’ll be seeing each other again very soon, will we?” I exhaled, and it dawned on me that the friend I had made over the last 115 days was about to be gone - like so many other things in my life, I realised.
“No, I guess not. Well, goodbye.” I embraced her, and Eden squeezed her from below. She chuckled, and prised the little girl off.
“Goodbye Edie. Goodbye Lydia.” I smiled sadly, and she walked off along the dirt road to the left. As I watched her go, I thought of something completely ridiculous, but I decided to do it.
“Wait! Evie!” I shouted, starting to walk towards her. Eden skipped along behind me. Evelyn turned.
“What? What is it?”
“Nothing important ... But, I wondered. Why don’t we two meet on this spot, in a year? One year exactly. The 23rd of June, 1866. Then we’ll see what we two have done since then.” Evie smiled.
“Alright. I’ll try to remember. 23rd of June 1866, at the wharfs, at 1 o’clock. I will see you then, Lydia.” I smiled and she turned back around, and continued walking to her new life.
“Let’s go, Eden.” I smiled at my sister, and we walked into ours.
“But Lydia, where are we going?”
The doctor waited impatiently for the girl to return. He hoped she would bring Mrs Barrett as well, as he had heard that she was a midwife.
He heard people climbing down the stairs, and stood up. Lydia appeared, and then Mrs Barrett, who rushed over when she saw the woman on the bed.
“Doctor,” she said hurriedly, “How would you wake a woman?” He frowned, and spoke loudly and slowly in Marie-Alice’s ear.
“Mrs Clark, I need you to talk to me.” The woman tossed her head.
“She’s responsive to sound, which means she should be more easily woken. I would suggest pouring water on her, or using smelling salts if you have any.” Mrs Barrett leaned over the patient, and flicked her wrist at Lydia.
“The water in the corner - fetch a cup.” The doctor thought it wise to stand back, and retreated to a corner near the bed. He watched as the older woman took the cup from Lydia, and poured it gently over the woman, murmuring to her the whole time. Her eyes flickered open, but closed again and Mrs Barrett thrust the cup back at Lydia, her eyes never leaving Marie-Alice’s face. She stroked her forehead and murmured to her until Lydia returned, whereupon she poured it over the sick woman’s face again, murmuring louder until she was talking in a normal tone. Marie-Alice’s eyes flickered open once more, but closed, and Mrs Barrett talked louder. Her eyes opened, and stayed open, heavy-lidded.
“Marie, I need you to push.” Marie-Alice turned her eyes drunkenly toward Mrs Barrett, and then they opened as what looked like a contraction contorted the woman with pain.