Eden and I made our way through the busy streets, searching desperately for a map-seller or kindly looking woman to ask for directions. Unfortunately, most all of the pedestrians out at this hour were men, and I did not want to be rude and accost a man.
We were walking up Dellow Street, a few blocks away from the docks, when I glimpsed a maid in uniform hurrying out of a townhouse in front of us.
“Oh, excuse me!” The maid turned, scowling, but saw Eden and me and her face softened.
“Yes dearies?” I smiled.
“We have just disembarked the Wild Duck, and we are trying to ...” I frowned. An idea rooted, then sprouted, then blossomed in my head. “Trying to find our old neighbourhood. Queens Head Lane, in central London? You don’t have a map, do you? We don’t have anything.” The maid sighed, but rummaged in her bag. She drew out an old paper map, torn in the corners and worn through where it had been folded.
“Here. This is an old one I picked up from the street not two days ago. It may be a little out of date, but the area you are looking for isn’t much changed.” She pointed the way to go, and explained it wasn’t too far to walk, which she suggested doing. I thanked her many times, and she nodded and went on her way. We set out ourselves, walking through the streets of London and exclaiming each time we saw a two storey building, or another such building of such scale Eden hadn’t seen before, and I hadn’t remembered.
It was an hour long walk, but really it felt less. We walked into the road not a mile from our old house, and instantly, I recognised it as the street my friend Lucy used to live on. I walked past the house I remembered so well, and was awed, nostalgia overcoming me. These were the places I spent my childhood, innocent and happy, with a mother and father and a house. We were content. Eden had never been a part of that, and so that would be left to me to remember, for no one else would.
As we walked, I could almost see myself running through the street after Lucy, chasing a runaway hoop. Coming home, tired, in my father’s arms after a late night watching reworks over the river. I felt warm, in my cheeks, as I remembered the happy days of contentment and satisfaction.
Eden watched me as I remembered, quiet and observant, as normal. I had forgotten her. It wasn’t just me who was experiencing all these emotions - Eden would be so confused. I had to guide her, or she would watch me remember and see all the memories she had not been part of.
We walked along the lane, and I showed her my memories as best I could, pointing and telling and recounting. Eventually, we came to Queens Head Lane, a cul-de-sac off Cheapside Rd. I stood in the road, my sister holding onto one hand, and our suitcase in the other, looking down the road I remembered so well, but had never thought of in my eight years overseas.
I took a step onto the road, and another, until we reached 9 Queens Head Lane, the place of my birth and the centre of my childhood. It was magical and terrifying. We stood and considered the house for awhile.
“Lydia, is this our house?” I sighed, a smile full of memories and sadness curving my lips.
“Eden, this is where I was born and grew up, this is where Mother sang me songs and Father told me stories. This is where my life began, but it has not ended yet. No, Eden this is not our house, but it was. And in my heart, it always will be. I don’t quite know why I led us here - maybe it was simply that it was the only place I knew in a city full of strangers. Maybe I feel safe here. I do not know, Eden. But this is where our journey begins.” The little girl nodded next to me, more wise and comprehending than such a small girl should be. She looked up at me, and walked slowly up the path that led to the door. She turned and waited for me. I followed her, and once I reached her, she made a fist, and knocked on the wooden door.
The door opened, and an old man stood stooped in the door. His face had been worn and wrinkled by the years, and he looked tired.
“What can I do for you?” He sighed, his eyes landing on the little, defiant looking girl standing on his property, and the larger, timid girl standing behind her.
“Hello sir, my name is Eden and this is my sister Lydia. We used to live here, and we just arrived back in England after...” She frowned, counting. “Seven years. Might we possibly look around?” The man looked at Eden, and then me. I do not know what he saw there, but he sighed and opened the door, gesturing us in. Eden walked confidently into the house, but I paused outside, not knowing if I would see the house I grew up in or a house in England I had simply been invited into. Recklessly, I took a step in-
And was immediately booted out again. The man’s wife seemed to be opposed to strangers entering her house, and had a broom, furiously hitting us as if we were dust on the floor. I pulled Eden by the shoulders and covered her with myself to prevent her from being harmed. We ran out of the house as the woman lectured her husband on the dangers of letting in vagrants and urchins. I felt bad for the poor man. She somewhat reminded me of the woman who used to live next door, Mrs Stilton. She was always a feared character in the neighbourhood, but took a liking to me and I found she was just lonely, and had a kind heart. Would she still be in the house next door? Surely not, but I supposed it was worth trying.
This time, my courage renewed, I was the one who led Eden up to the door of the house next to our old one. I rapped on the door. There was a pause, and I knocked again. An impatient voice rasped from within.
“I’m coming!” I smiled. It was her. I heard slippers scuffing the hallway, and I looked down at Eden to find a very confused girl at my side.
“Don’t worry.” I whispered. The door was pulled open, and there stood the woman who gave me boiled sweets for folding her washing. She was older, more hunched, but it was her.
There was a silence as the woman’s eyes raked over me. “Lydia?” She whispered. I smiled.
“Mrs Stilton.” Her face broke into a smile, and I stepped forward and embraced the frail woman.
“I never imagined I’d see you around here again.” I chuckled and leaned back.
“You’ve changed.” I noticed, frowning.
“I got sick. I am alright now, but I wasn’t for awhile.” I tutted.
“And who’s this?” I smiled.
“This is Eden. She was born on the ship to New Zealand.” The lady smiled as she looked at my sister.
“Come in. I may have some biscuits in my cupboard.” Eden gasped in delight, and Mrs Stilton chuckled. We followed her into the house, Eden took to the woman immediately. She talked happily as she skipped through the hall next to Mrs Stilton. We came into the living room, and Mrs Stilton hustled over to boil the kettle. She brought a jar out of the cupboard with half a packet of Huntley and Palmers scattered in the jar. We sat on a tattered couch placed across from the kitchen. Mrs Stilton joined us until the kettle whistled. She poured a cup for herself and me, and I gratefully sipped it as Eden munched on biscuits, dipping the edges in my tea until they were warm and soggy. The conversation drew quiet, and Mrs Stilton shifted in her seat.
“And your ... your parents?” I sighed. I knew the conversation would turn to this, and had prepared myself for it.
“Mother died in childbirth, and Father of pneumonia, in February.”
“Oh, Lydia.” I smiled sadly.
“It’s alright. It gave us the opportunity to come here.”
“Yes, when did you come?” I frowned. Had it only been this morning we had docked?
“We disembarked at noon.”
“And what are you going to do?”
“I was wanting to find our grandparents - I assume they are still living in Marchmont St.” Mrs Stilton frowned, glancing toward the desk in the corner of the room.
“Do you know, I seem to remember having their address in my book. We’ll get you a ride over there, if you’d like. My son has a horse, and lives just a few streets away.” The woman heaved herself up and opened a drawer in the desk. She flicked through to N, and exclaimed triumphantly.
“Nielson, Josie and Charles. They are still in Marchmont St - well, they were when I wrote this. Here, let’s go and see Martin now.” The sky was darkening as we left the lady’s house, and we hurried through the streets to another house with a glow seeping out from under the limp curtains. Mrs Stilton knocked on the door and a middle-aged man answered the door.
“Ma!” He exclaimed. “What brings you here?”
“Well, Martin,” she said, stepping into the warm. We followed her. “Lydia and Eden need a ride to Marchmont St in Richmond.” Martin hummed.
“I cannot take you now - it’s too dark - but we could do it in the morning.” Mrs Stilton shrugged.
“I’ll put them up for the night. They can sleep on the couch - too thin you are, you’ll both fit easily on there.” I laughed, and it was settled.
We walked back to the house, and I helped Mrs Stilton make a cornish pastry. I helped Eden make shortbread, although she hardly needed it, with all the practise she had gotten on the ship. It was a lovely pastry, and the shortbread was beautiful and simply delicious. As predicted, we slept on the couch. I curled up around Eden, and we slept our first night in England with friends.
The next morning we meandered to Worple Way, and were received happily by Martin and his family. We were even offered a second breakfast, which we declined, as we had had breakfast already, courtesy of Mrs Stilton.
We stayed for a cup of tea, while Martin and his son readied the horses. Adelaide, their daughter, was only a year older than Eden and they became friends as soon as Eden discovered they had similar dolls. I chatted to Kate, Martin’s wife, and Mrs Stilton.
The men came in and told us the horse and cart was ready. We said our goodbyes, and promised Mrs Stilton we’d come and visit. As promised, the horse and cart was waiting in the street, and with the help of Martin we climbed into the cart with our suitcase.
The journey was quite a different one than yesterdays. It was faster, and just as well, because it would have taken at least two hours to walk. As it was, it took only one, and the hour was a most enjoyable one, with Martin talking us around the city.
We reached Marchmont St and I remembered - as I had so much recently. I had only visited them a few times in my childhood, but remembered the street all the same.
“What number did you say it was, Lydia?”
“Number 12.” We slowed down as we looked left and right for the number. It was not far down the road, and we reached it within five minutes. We stopped outside, and Martin helped us down.
The house was just as I remembered it. A brick building with a chimney on the tin roof, smoke curling out of it and the red painted door fresh and bright. The window to the left of it was edged with dark green, and its twin on the right was the same.
“Thank you Martin, we really appreciate it.” He nodded.
“I’ll be on my way then, Lydia. Do visit.” I nodded back and we watched as he climbed into the cart and led the horse down the road. We stood and considered the house for a while, before I walked up to the door. Eden followed me, slightly behind, and we knocked on the door.
“I’ll see to it, Josie!” A voice spoke from inside. Steps sounded down the hallway, and I knew it was them. They were still here.
The door opened, and it was much the same reaction as Mrs Stilton. Grandfather stood there for a moment, preparing to say “Can I help you?”. Then, a seed of recognition was placed in his mind, and his brow furrowed as he tried to remember me.
“It’s not... It’s not Lydia?” I smiled at him.
“Hello Grandpa.” He laughed, and a tear came to his eye. He took me and embraced me, hugging me so enthusiastically I had to pat his back to release myself.
“Josie! Josie! Come, come quickly.” My grandmother came hurrying down the hallway.
“What is it Charles? It’s not your back, is...” She saw me in the doorway and her mouth dropped open. “Lydia?” She said weakly. “Grandma.” She bit her lip, and came and hugged me too.
“This is Eden, your granddaughter. She was born in 1857.”
“Well, dears, come in. We have some spaces to fill in after seven years away.”
We came into the house, the hangings on the walls exactly as they had been seven years ago when we paid a visit to Charles and Josephine Nielson delivering the news we were to travel to the new country. Unbeknownst to us, this would be the decision that would change our lives, and not for the better.
Down the hall was the kitchen, where Grandma had left a pot of peas boiling on the stove, steam issuing from the pot. The living room adjoined the kitchen, and an old purple armchair I remembered being told stories on sat under the window. A couch, obviously a recent addition, sat as a barrier to separate the spaces. A small, what looked like hand-made table was placed in the centre, and we sat down. I chose the chair. Grandma attended the stove as we waited on our seats. Grandpa simply looked at me fondly, and at Eden with wonder. Eden looked just as curious. Being the inquisitive little girl that she was, she got up and went and sat on Grandpa’s lap. He looked surprised at first, but warmed to it and relaxed into the back of the couch.
“Would you like a cup of tea, Lydia?”
“Yes dear!” Grandpa said.
“Oh, shush. I know you always want tea, Charles. I’ve stopped asking.” He chuckled as she busied herself with the kettle, filling it with water from a jug and setting it on the stove to boil. She selected three mugs from the cupboard, and readied them.
“So, Lydia. How have things been going?” I sighed.
“Alright. They could be better, really.” We had written two very long and emotional letters to Mother’s parents after we arrived, and hadn’t had any response. We had had no time to think any more of it, but as the years had passed I did wonder about them.
“We did get your letters, Lydia. We just... we did not have the courage to reply. It tore us, you see. It tore us apart, and we did not have anyone to help piece us back together. It took awhile, but we’re over it now. It’s a thing of the past, and we do not live there anymore.” I nodded grimly.
“Well, that is what I have been trying to do recently. The journey on the ship being so long made it easier.” Grandma bit her lip, seeming to guess at the topic I had just breached. Grandpa, however was less sharp.
“What is it, Lydia?” He said sadly.
“Father died in February.” I said quietly. Wordlessly, Grandma padded over to the seat and embraced me. I had not had someone to cry into for so long, and at the moment, after all that had happened, I took the opportunity to have a mother in my life. I leaned into Grandma, and I saw Eden across the room resting her head on Grandpa’s shoulder. It was a family, and it may not have been complete, but it was a family. And I was grateful for just that.
Marie-Alice groaned again, but Mrs Barrett was persistent.
“Your baby, Marie, your baby. You need to push.”
“Damn this baby!” She shrieked. Lydia was shocked, but she knew that pain could do strange things to people. As it was, it was doing strange things to her, and she was not even in pain. Unless emotional pain was counted. She saw her mother, her protector, bleeding and shrieking and groaning, and all she could do was watch on, and fetch the occasional cup of water. She wanted to do more. She needed to do more, for otherwise her mother would die. Her mother could not die. She had too many memories inside her head, and she wasn’t yet old enough to pass them on. It could not be now.
Marie-Alice pushed, her face strained and red. Mrs Barrett pushed a pillow into her hands, and she screamed into the limp thing. It was a struggle, Lydia could see that. Mrs Barrett knew what she was doing, though. She had done it before. It would be alright.
Marie-Alice started panting, and her face, abruptly, turned white. Her pupils dilated, and Mrs Barrett lifted up her nightgown. The child was coming through. Lydia gasped. It was so bloody under there.
“Keep going Marie, you are nearly there. You are doing very well.” Lydia’s mother seemed not to hear her. She simply lay, and panted, her body spasming with the effort. Sweat was shiny on her forehead, and her hair lay limp and greasy around her face. Lydia could not bear to see her like this.