I was six years old when I met Edith, Susie, and Lucia.
I sat in the alleyway as darkness fell upon me. Cool wind passed over me and my dress became colder and colder as it was soaked from the piss that was thrown into the streets. I wrapped my arms around me in an effort to keep warm. I felt tears prick in my eyes that soon flowed like a waterfall down my rosy cheeks. I quickly tired from crying and fell into a stressed slumber.
But soon I was awakened by a loud chatter coming from the around the corner. Nervousness arose in me and I squeezed my eyes shut tightly and pulled my legs closer to me.
“Hey, shut your blubbering mouths for a second will ya?” A woman spoke. I heard a groan come from another.
“Wha’ is it Edith?” Another voice called out. “I don’t have time for your foolin’, I have an appointment with Lord Callingsworth tomorrow mornin’ and I need to sleep.” She proudly spoke.
“Like he would be your keeper, he only wishes for fine tastes and you, surely, are not” A third woman spoke. I heard an exasperated huff followed by laughter.
“Just come here, there’s somethin’ over there,” The first woman, who I now identified as Edith, breathed out as her laughter died off.
I heard footsteps begin to near me and I felt my heart begin to race. Adrenaline filled me and I pushed myself further against the cold stone wall behind me. I opened my eyes for a moment to see the three women’s dresses flowing as their heels clicked against the ground. I felt a light began to illuminate me.
I heard a gasp.
“Hell’s whiskers! It’s a girl!” A surprised voice spoke. I heard the sound of something being hit.
“Shut it Sus, it’s not just a girl, it’s a child, don’t scare ’er,” Edith chastisted as her soft footsteps began to near.
I cowered back more with a small whimper leaving my lips as her hand touched my shoulder. I felt her flinch back before she began to ‘tsk,’ her hand slowly reaching back out.
“It’s alright, we won’t harm you love,” Edith cooed to me as her hand began to soothingly rub on my shoulder.
I slowly began to peel my eyelids open that were crusted over from the tears I had shed. I blinked rapidly as I adjusted to the light, the first thing in my sight being a womans large bosom.
Soon her face came into view.
She looked young, maybe seventeen. Her dark locks cascaded around her face in ringlets. She had a soft smile on her face as her dark brown eyes inspected me.
“There we are,” She spoke quietly as though not to alarm me. “Now, what’s your name?”
I swallowed the lump that had formed in my throat and felt a sudden defensive urge fill my chest. But it quickly dispersed as I saw the motherly look the woman gave me as she patiently awaited my answer.
I took a deep breath to speak.
And immediately began to cough.
My dry throat made the air that entered me feel like dust and I hunched over as coughs racked at my body. Edith began to pat my back lightly and I felt tears begin to form in my eyes.
“Would you two stop standin’ there like unpaid lackies and get ’er some water!” Edith called out to them with an urgent tone in her voice. Her words were followed by the shuffling of feet and soon a small jug of water was placed up to my lips and I greedily downed it.
“What feeble minded lumpen left you here alone?” A higher pitched voice spoke from beside me. I finished the water and shyly brought it away from my lips as I looked towards the woman who spoke.
She held an oil lamp in her hands and made it able for me to see her clearly. She looked the same age as Edith, her golden hair in similar ringlets but messily sticking up around her head. She wore a maroon and light pink dress with a tight corset around her waist accentuating her figure. Her bosom protruding outside of her dress as a shawl hung around it. She wore no makeup, as like Edith, but had deep red lips.
“Don’t mind Susie,” Edith scowled at the red lipped woman before looking back to me. “Let’s just start with your name love.”
I opened my mouth but quietly cleared my throat before I spoke. I felt Edith’s hand squeeze my shoulder and I gave her a soft smile.
“E...Elise,” I stuttered out shyly. A large smile grew on Edith’s face, a notable tooth was missing from her bottom jaw.
“It’s good to meet you Elise, I’m Edith” She told me politely. I nodded to her and she turned her body slightly towards the other two women beside her.
“This is Susie, and that’s Lucia,” She informed me as she motioned to the two other women. The woman, Lucia, looked almost identical to Edith but differed with her larger nose and blue dress. They gave me small waves and I raised my hand slowly to wave back.
“Where are your parents love?” Edith asked me. I lowered my head as shame filled me.
“I...don’t know,” I spoke quietly, barely able to hear my own words. I heard a sharp intake of breath and a few mumblings of words between the women.
“Why don’t you come home with us love?” Edith blurted out.
“No no no, Edith, Mrs. Sutchet would throw us into a bloody poxy sack before she would bring a child in,” Lucia spoke up angrily. Edith waved her off.
“Shove it up her hole, you wanna leave ’er here, alone, for the drunkens that are runnin’ around here celebratin’ their voting rights?” Edith questioned her. And to Edith’s benefit no doubt because Lucia immediately shut her mouth with a scowl on her face.
“That’s wha’ I thought,” Edith whispered to me with a silly smile on her face. A small laugh left my lips as I watched her stand up in front of me. She extended a hand out to me.
“Come on then, don’t want to sit out in the cold all night, do ya?” Edith said with a wink. I gave her a grateful smile as I stood up.
My feet wobbled and Edith wrapped an arm around me, picking me up so my small frame wrapped around hers. I shyly nodded my head towards her and she took one hand to mess my hair playfully. She looked towards the women and we all began to walk out of the dark alleyway.
My eyes travelled over the streets and I saw lights begin to dim in homes as people began to go to bed. I heard loud cheering and conversing from behind us and I felt a shiver run up my spine as I thought of Edith’s words.
’You wanna leave ‘er here, alone, for the drunkens that are runnin’ around here...′
What could have, or would have happened to me if they did leave me alone? What would those men have done?
Luckily, I would never know.
“Are you cold?” Edith’s voice spoke, interrupting my thoughts. She didn’t await my answer as she used her free hand to throw her shawl around my shoulders. I opened my mouth to protest but as I felt the warmth of the shawl envelope me, I couldn’t find it in me to refuse.
“Thank you Ms. Edith,” I whispered out. She shook her head at me with a grin.
“Don’t need no thanks, just don’t call me Ms. Edith, makes me feel old,” She joked. Laughter fell from our lips and she gave me a tight hug.
“Hey, do you have a last name?” Susie’s sweetly asked as she brought the lamp up to our faces. “Mrs. Sutchet is gonna need a formal introduction.” She finished, soothing Edith’s pointed look.
I looked off to the sky, furrowing my eyebrows in thought. Did I have a last name? A family? I surely found myself unable to remember a thing.
I shook my head with a frown on my face.
“Well, men only wish to know ya first name anyway,” Lucia spoke cooly from beside us. Edith rolled her eyes and rubbed her hand up and down my arm.
I couldn’t help the curiosity that swelled in me as I looked towards Lucia. I could see the pain in her eyes as she looked towards the sky, dread on her features and she looked towards the ground.
Why was she hurting? Or more accurately. Who hurt her?
“Ooh Edith! We should give ’er one!” Susie excitedly spoke, ignoring Lucia’s dark comment. Susie’s blonde curls bounced as she hopped with joy. Edith looked down at me with a raised eyebrow.
“Hmm,” She hummed in thought.
“Wha’ about Huntington? I could get that bastard to pay me pounds upon pounds to keep his love child a secret,” Susie spoke with a glint in her eye. I cocked my head at her in confusion.
Why would he pay her money for a child he didn’t want? Why would she get a share of his wealth? Edith seemed to have a similar outlook as me as she spoke up with her nose scrunched in disgust.
“You fucked ’im the first time a year ago Sus, not...,” Edith paused and looked down to me.
“How old are you?” She whispered in my ear. I found myself in deep thought again and counted on my fingers unconsciously as I tried to figure out my age. I gave up with a loud sigh and looked to her.
“Six,” I whispered back. She winked to me and looked back to Susie.
“Not six years ago Sus, like this little lass here,” Edith spoke confidently, proving her point. Susie’s face fell and she sucked in her teeth as she grumbled inconspicuously.
“Excuse my foul words love, she just always is gettin’ ’erself in trouble,” Edith spoke with regret on her features. I looked up into her eyes and nodded in understanding and she gave me a small smile.
I wonder what that word means? I’ll have to ask her later.
“Now, your last name,” She paused and examined me. I tugged at the front of my small worn clothing and looked down at it in thought.
Suddenly, Edith’s hand came into my sight. I was surprised by the delicate hands she had, her nails clean and cut nicely. She reached out and lifted the small necklace from around my neck and examined the small pendant.
The pendant was a small silver locket that had pictures of what I assumed were my parents inside. The front of the pendant had a engraved picture of a small bird fluttering around in a delicate cage. To me, it was the most exquisite thing I had ever laid my eyes on.
“Where did you get this? It’s beautiful,” Edith asked me in awe as she looked at it. I blushed at her and lightly touched the chain that wrapped around my neck.
“It was in my bag when my ma’ left me at the orphanage years ago,” I quietly spoke with a sad smile. I played with the small chain as Edith furrowed her eyebrows in thought.
“How ’bout Silver?” Susie spoke up behind us. Edith looked to her with narrowed eyes but then they widened.
“Elise Silver...,” She drawled out quietly in thought. Then she smiled.
“I like the sound of that, how about you love?” Edith asked me sweetly. I wasn’t sure how I really felt about it, but I was afraid if I said no, they would leave me outside. So I nodded excitedly.
“Ladies I am now introducing Elise Silver!” Edith spoke proudly. I smiled wildly to match hers.
“See, I’m smarter than you think Edith,” Susie announced pridefully. Edith rolled her eyes playfully at her.
“Oh shut it you div, yesterday you gave yourself to Sir Wilkins for six pence,” Edith corrected knowingly. Susie grew a raging blush on her face and cursed under her breath. Edith winked down at me and laughed as we continued on. Talking to them became more and more comfortable and I found myself joining in happily to their conversations.
“Get ready for the hell comin’ your way Edith,” Lucia’s voice cut through sharply, dripping with acid as she interrupted Edith.
I saw Edith close her mouth and give her a tight lipped smile before she looked forward towards something.
“We’re here love,” Edith informed me as I looked towards the building ahead.
It was a relatively small building. Vines had grown up the walls, but somehow made it look more elegant than without. A set of large six panel oak wood doors faced us as we approached. There were white pillars that stood strongly in front of the doors with a small roofing overhead. As we got closer I could faintly make out the small birds that were on the wood.
“Look it’s just like my pendant,” I excitedly spoke. Edith gave me a sad smiled and squeezed my side.
As the light shone on the doors I made a closer inspection of the grand doors. I began to see little intricate designs carved into the wood, and also I realized that the birds were trapped in vines that encased them.
Almost as though they were suffering in their own impending doom.
“Why are the birds trapped Edith?” I asked her curiously before she opened the door. She paused her hand on the handle and looked to me.
“Because that’s how us women are love,” She told me with a sigh. ”Trapped.” She finished and pushed the door open.
I felt an itch to ask her more but I was soon encapsulated by the home I entered. Lights were on and I could see the floral patterned walls that were covered with pictures and flowers. There was a warmth to the home, welcoming all comers. But otherwise, the home was quite bare. My ears were soon filled with sounds of music and laughter coming from rooms beside me, as well as upstairs. A loud, consistent, pounding kept resounding from above.
“Edith...,” I started but she just shook her head at me and put a finger up to her lips to silence me. I closed my mouth and nodded to her.
She carried us across the hall and I looked into one of the rooms to see men and women conversing. One seeming to be eating a woman’s neck.
“You have blood drinkers ’ere!” I screeched quietly into Edith’s ear. She simply gave me a silly look and giggled behind her hand.
“Lord, you’re silly,” She laughed out as she lifted me up higher onto her side. Some of my fear diminished but still resided in my chest. I am definitely not dying here today.
We began to ascend a staircase with Susie and Lucia following close behind. The staircase led straight up to the second floor and the floorboards squeaked with each step we took. It felt almost like a sick game it was playing as though I was nearing the end, my heart left beating furiously.
We approached a closer door, it matched the oak wood doors that were downstairs but differed in the fact that no patterns presented itself on the frame. I could hear grumbles coming from inside the room and I buried my face into Edith’s neck in fear.
“Are there monsters in there?” I asked with a shaky voice. Edith looked to me and burst into a fit of laughter. She patted my back, her eyes crinkling as she laughed. She removed one hand from me as she wiped away a tear that had strayed from her eye.
“No, she’s scarier,” She breathed out with a smile on her face, wiggling her fingers at me jokingly. I frowned and shook my head at her.
“I don’t wanna go in then,” I whined into her ear. She shook her head and gave me a motherly smile as she ran her hand over my hair.
“Don’t worry love,” She cooed. “I’ll protect ya’ from ’er.” She squeezed me protectively and I found myself reluctantly nodding in agreement.
“Good chavy,” She said pridefully.
Edith continued to approach the large door and I held on tightly to her neck. When we reached the door she placed her hand onto the handle. She paused and took a deep breath before turning the handle and pushing the door open.
Bright light illuminated the room and I squinted slightly, blinking to clear my vision. Once I adjusted to the light I scanned the room. A small coffee table stood in the center surrounded by chairs and a small green floral patterned couch. I looked towards the corner of the room and spotted a large, dark, wooden desk. It was so elegant and seemingly expensive. It shocked me, but I was more shocked by the the woman who I finally realized was sitting in the chair behind it.
The woman had dark brown hair tied up in ringlets. Her bosom was largest of all the girls, almost reaching her chin. She seemed much older than them as well, wrinkles creased around her eyes and mouth. Also on her forehead as her eyebrows furrowed in a sudden frustration.
She abruptly stood up and I saw she was wearing a purple dress with a tight corset around her large waist. She was a pretty large woman, I almost thought she could be a man.
“No, no, no Edith,” The woman spoke, shaking her head. “We’re not takin’ in any more strays you’ve decided to divey home.” She pointed towards me and waved her hand.
Edith began to set me down on the ground and I protested by gripping her neck tightly. She pulled back from me slightly and gave me a warm smile, mouthing, ‘It’ll be ok, trust me.’ I slowly nodded to her and released her neck.
Edith led me around the small couch and set me down onto it. I bounced lightly on the new feeling of cushions, compared to the dark and desolate streets I was accustomed to.
“Let me introduce Ms. Elise Silver to you,” Edith boastfully spoke as she motioned towards me. The big woman grunted and didn’t spare a glance at me as her eyes shot through Edith.
“I don’t care for this Edith, get ’er out,” The woman demanded, crossing her arms defensively.
“She was left out in the street to rot, she’s jus’ a child Abbess,” Edith spoke, pleadingly. The woman shook her head.
“I ain’t housin’ ’er! This ain’t no flash house!” She stated strongly. Her face was fuming with anger. I swear it almost seemed as though steam was coming out of her ears. She was like a big chimney.
“Mrs. Sutchet! She ain’t a criminal! She’s just an orphaned child!” Edith reasoned with the same strong tone lacing her voice. The big woman huffed, who was now Mrs. Sutchet, gave Edith a warning look a the title she used for her. Edith looked back to her with the similar vigor.
Mrs. Sutchet looked away before walking towards us and placing one large palm onto the back of the chair. She pinched her nose with her free hand and I could see her struggling to calm herself before speaking again.
“Wha’ ya’ expect me to do, hm?” She asked, removing her hand and looking towards Edith. “Go chaunting around and beggin’ for a shilling to raise ’er?” She demanded.
“I’ll put my share towards ‘er schoolin’ and food,” Edith immediately responded. Mrs. Sutchet scoffed and shook her head. We sat there in an unsettling silence as we awaited her response. I began to bounce my leg in anxiousness, soon Edith rested a hand on my knee and gave me a reassuring smile.
But that smile was soon wiped off of my face as Mrs. Sutchet’s footsteps approached me. I looked up at her from the couch I was resting on and she glared down at me.
“Stand,” She demanded. I warily stood up in front of her and she examined me. Her eyes seemed unimpressed as she looked over my figure. Her eyes trailed up my body and soon reached my eyes.
Her look of boredom soon turned to one of slight shock. I swear on the almighty christ that for a split second her eyes widened. Her face relaxed into one of an almost unnoticeable joy, one you could easily miss.
But I didn’t miss it.
“Fine,” Mrs. Sutchet’s loud voice spoke, breaking the deafening silence. She sauntered away as though nothing had happened. I released a breath I didn’t know I was holding and looked towards Edith. She smiled widely at me.
Mrs. Sutchet sat down in the chair of her small desk and began to write with an old looking fountain pen, not paying any attention to us.
“Make sure you keep ya word about shares,” Mrs. Sutchet spoke, back to her uninterested voice.
“Yes ma’am,” Edith spoke while trying to hide the joy in her voice. I walked over to her and sat down next to her. She turned and grasped my small hand into her larger one.
“And she’s sleepin’ in your kife, cause I ain’t buyin’ ’er a new one,” Mrs. Sutchet said in frustration as she pressed harder into the paper in front of her.
“Yes ma’am,” Edith repeated.
Silence fell upon us again and we waited for Mrs. Sutchet’s response. I looked up towards Edith to find her patiently waiting with a stoic look on her face. After a few moments a loud sigh came from Mrs. Sutchet. I turned towards her and saw her rubbing her temple before she looked up and spotted us still awaiting her.
“Tha’s all,” Mrs. Sutchet said. I moved to get up but Edith held me back. “Get out!” She demanded.
Edith nodded her head towards Mrs. Sutchet and stood up from the chair. I quickly realized Edith was waiting for Mrs. Sutchet’s dismissal from the room. I must remember that if I’m going to stay here.
We silently exited the room and she quickly led me across the hall to another door. It was the exact same as Mrs. Sutchet’s office, but had a few carvings in it. It read, ‘Edith,’ ‘Susie,’ and ‘Lucia.’ She turned her head towards the stairs as she heard the loud pounding from below. Where was that coming from? Edith grabbed the handle and opened the door, ushering me inside and locking the door behinds us. The room was dark, and I squinted, trying to see whatever I could with the only light coming from the moonlight through the window.
Edith’s hand found mine and she tugged me across the room as she felt around to find her way. We reached what I assumed was a bed and Edith threw back the blanket before turning towards me.
“Come on love, hop in, it’s time for you to sleep,” She whispered quietly. I crawled into the bed and Edith crawled in next to me. She pulled the blanket over us and wrapped an arm around me.
“Are you comfortable?” She asked me, slight concern in her voice. I hummed in approval and pulled the blanket closer to my chin.
“So she get’s to stay?” A high pitched voice yawned from beside us. Although I couldn’t see, I could tell it was Susie’s voice.
“Yep, I told ya she would let ’er,” Edith spoke proudly. I could practically hear the smirk in her voice and I covered my mouth with my hand to refrain from laughing.
“She musta seen somethin’ special in you,” Susie trailed off before I heard her head hit the pillow as she fell back asleep. I turned and curled up into Edith’s welcoming arms and closed my eyes contently.
“Goodnight love,” Edith spoke tiredly before drifting off to sleep as well.
I smiled and laid there in my thoughts.
A few mere hours ago I was left in the dark streets of England.
But now, I had a home.