The cold fog hung thick in the Boston night, threatening to settle as icy droplets on the young girl’s shoulders. Her breath had already crystallized on the stringy, blonde hair drooping around her face. She pulled her crocheted shawl closer. It was mostly decorative, meant to call attention to her dainty shoulders rather than to keep her warm. Still, the girl could not help but tie it around her, seeking comfort in its futile threads.
Looking each direction down the street, she searched for a fine carriage that might house a gentleman who required her services. She detested most of the men who sought her companionship, but would welcome any excuse to be out of the cold. Even though it was early, the lanes were empty, except for the miserable fog and the eerie light of the gas street lamps.
She crossed her arms and rubbed her shoulders, eying the empty lane as she shivered. Worry creased her pretty brow. Things would not go well for her if she returned to Mr. Drake empty handed.
She heard the rhythmic footsteps of boots on the cobblestone street, then saw her friend round the corner, fog swirling around her long skirts and dark curls. Her friend wore an excited expression on her face, something that was entirely foreign to them lately.
The dark haired girl spied her friend and quickened her step. “Edith!” she cried, catching the girl’s hands in her own. “I have found a place for us, for both of us! We can escape this wretched place! Come with me!” Her voice rang with an Irish lilt, and the girl eagerly tugged on Edith’s hands toward the direction from which she had just come.
“Wait, Clara!” Edith pulled back from Clara’s grasp, not understanding her friend’s sudden enthusiasm. “What are you talking about? What place?” Edith’s voice betrayed the same melodic accent.
Clara was almost breathless. “A man came up to me. He said he had work for us. Real work! Not this... life.” She swept her hand across the empty street to emphasize the hopelessness of their current situation.
“No, Clara,” replied Edith, keeping her voice calm to steady Clara’s enthusiasm. “You know we cannot trust strangers. You don’t know this man!”
Clara stood motionless for a moment, and Edith could see the frost that had accumulated on her eyelashes. Clara spoke, her tone firm and decided. “I have to take the chance, Edith. I cannot do this anymore.”
Edith sighed. “At least we know that Mr. Drake will give us a warm place to sleep as soon as we make enough coin for him. We know we will not freeze, or starve. But this man? We know nothing about him.”
“I’m with child, Edith.” Clara’s statement was matter-of-fact, though Edith could see the desperation in her eyes. “If Mr. Drake finds out, then... who knows what will happen to me?” She looked hard into Edith’s face. “I have to take this chance.”
Edith took her friend’s hand sympathetically. She knew that Clara was right, that Mr. Drake had no use for a pregnant girl. Clara’s life was over. And then what would Edith do without her only friend? Clara tugged Edith’s hand once again, gently. This time Edith willingly followed after her.
They rounded another corner, and Edith saw a black carriage waiting under one of the dim lamps, its horses stamping impatiently in the cold. When the heavily bundled driver saw the girls, he jumped down from his seat and opened the carriage door. Apprehension filled Edith’s chest. This was foolishness. No one in Boston was going to help two Irish prostitutes. No one.
A black, gloved hand emerged from the darkness of the carriage interior and offered itself to Clara. She looked up hopefully, then accepted the hand and stepped through the door. Edith strained to see into the shadow, then the same gloved hand was suddenly before her, beckoning her to enter the carriage.
The driver stood patiently as Edith hesitated, holding the door open for as long as was necessary for her to make a decision. She looked behind her, surveying the foggy, empty streets. She returned her gaze to the still waiting hand, then quickly took hold of it before she could change her mind.
As the gloved hand tightened on her own, fear bit through her heart. Still, she allowed herself to be pulled into the foreboding unknown of the carriage.