Authors: Melyssa Williams
“You are a sharp lad! Well done, Ollie!” And well done, Sonnet, I think.
“And I’m sure you could spell the name of our dear city, now couldn’t you?” I am certain it’s just old London, but I would like to be very sure.
“L, O, N, D, I, N.” Ollie grins.
“Close enough,” I smile. “Listen, I think I hear your master approaching. We must look very busy and angelic.” I wink at him. So much for my haughty lady impersonation; my new friend is simply too appealing to not want to be his friend. And I will need a friend in time.
“Please come this way, miss,” says Sir Halloway as his reed thin frame reappears in the doorway of the kitchen once again. “Your father?”
“Looking for you it seems,” I adopt my regal, snooty bearing and up my accent a notch. “He was quite cold and quite concerned for our mutual friend, Mrs-“
“o Broin? Yes, she’s with the good doctor now. Seems she is fine; nothing a rest won’t cure. Won’t you tell me though of what you saw? I do want to be quite sure that Oliver is reprimanded appropriately.”
I accept the offer of his arm and together we leave Gertie and Oliver.
“I expect, good sir, that Oliver was simply being an exuberant boy, on his way to run an errand for your cook. He merely wasn’t looking where he was going and combined with such a large armload of vegetables, accidently knocking into Mrs. o Broin. She had just exited a doorway, you see, and neither of the two saw one another until the unfortunate collision happened. You know, my dear Sir Halloway, I do believe Mrs. o Broin is quite frail and elderly. I am so very concerned for her constitution and also for her future, you see. If only I could demonstrate my Christian duty by taking her in myself, but I’m afraid I am only here on holiday and must return to my home tonight. Time simply doesn’t allow for me to act upon my urging of charity and generosity. I am so glad she has fallen into your capable hands! I am sure with your kindness and Gertie’s nourishment, she will make a full recovery and perhaps even be a welcome addition to your lovely home!” I attempt to squeeze his hand as it guides my elbow but since I am still wrapped in a blanket, it is easier imagined than done.
Still, my preposterous words have had the desired effect. Sir Halloway agrees to keep the mysterious Mrs. o Broin for as long as she is indisposed, Oliver is off the hook, and we have reached the front door of the large house. I adjust my blanket and wonder if Dad has had enough time to acquire anything of value while I spouted silly propositions and distracted Sir Halloway.
“I have had my driver pull around. He’ll take you home.” Sir Halloway bows once more, his heels clicking together sharply again, and even kisses my hand.
“Ah, there’s my father now,” I grab Dad as he approaches, looking suspiciously bulky under his button down shirt.
“You don’t mind, old fellow, if I bring along the blanket for the ride?” Dad holds up the blanket he had been given which is now folded and if I’m not mistaken, stuffed with any number of items. I’m praying for shoes. His smart English accent is quite adequate and I want to throw my arms around him suddenly and hug him tight for trying his best.
“But of course. Good day to you, sir,” the bow once again, “Miss.”
We leave hastily, not wanting to give Sir Halloway the opportunity to become wary of our story – which at best is hard to believe, at worst, ludicrous – and also in order to get our stolen goods to the carriage where we can inspect them properly.
“Place of residence, sir?” asks the driver, a nondescript man with gray hair and a pot belly.
I stifle an urge to laugh.
“America, the twenty first century,” I say. “And be quick about it!”
“What’d she say?” the driver asks Dad, incredulously.
“Nothing. She’s been out in the cold too much. Take us, oh, that way.” Dad gestures towards where we came from earlier this morning.
I climb into the carriage and as I do so I glance up at the house we are about to leave. Someone stands in the window at the second story and I pause long enough to blow a kiss towards the person.
Prue has secured herself a warm bed and food within an hour of traveling. It must be some sort of record.
When we are unceremoniously dumped off where we started from I am uneasy to not yet see Israel. I am being unreasonable in my desire to all be together so early, I know, but I cannot hold back the feeling that if we are not together something bad will happen. So much bad can happen in an unfamiliar place, an unfamiliar time. In a relatively short time, things can go wrong. We can be arrested, hurt, taken advantage of. Destitute, poor, desperate. Although made of sterner stuff than most, the Lost bleed red the same as all others.
“I’m done waiting,” I announce several hours later.
The sun has gone down (what there was of it that wasn’t obscured by clouds and fog of gray). We have sat by the road, leaving only when we felt pressured by passersby and only then to go a short distance. Israel has not returned. I am itching to do something, go somewhere. I worry about Prue, without a friend in that large house, lying through her tobacco stained teeth. I worry about our Lost comrades, Is especially, but Harry and Matthias too, left in modern America without me. I worry about Dad, who has wasted no time in shoplifting something to drink and is halfway to smashed. So much for sobriety.
The neighborhood we are in appears middle class: not elaborate and wealthy like Sir Halloway’s, but not destitute and poor the way I know London to be in several areas. Most of the people we see are servants running errands, working men, ladies in corsets who aren’t exactly the leisurely affluent but perhaps close enough.
“Definitely done waiting,” I repeat.
Dad responds with a soft belch. We are mostly hidden in an alley way of sorts where we have a good view of the place we woke this morning. I am about to walk away from Dad when Israel appears, like a mist the way he always does.
“Food,” he says shortly, tossing a bag towards me. Since I am not exactly the athletic type, I of course drop it, and I glower at him as I bend down to clean it up.
“I was worried,” I say shortly and then tear into a roll with my teeth.
“Sorry,” Israel rubs his eyes and yawns. “This place is a maze. I think I spent half the day lost. The other half was trying to blend in.” He smiles awkwardly. “Didn’t work out so well.”
I swallow my massive bite of bread and smile a little. I eye another roll longingly but evidently Lady Halloway had a more willowy figure than I: without a corset I could barely do up the buttons of the blue dress Dad pinched for me. I’m not sure the stitching could handle another roll.
Israel yawns again before asking, “Where’s Prue?”
“She was in a warm bed sipping tea and bossing the rich around last time I saw her,” I roll my eyes indulgently. “I’ll go check on her tomorrow or the next day. I think she can charm her way into the household but my story of being a noteworthy gentlewoman wasn’t going to check out so Dad and I hit the road pretty quickly.”
“That must be some sort of record,” Israel muses.
I laugh. “That’s what I thought. Of course she’s been here before, so that’s an advantage. She told me she worked for a rich Victorian lady once. Oh my word, do you think she could actually run into her first husband? Or was it her second?” My eyes grow large at the thought and I stop chewing on my second roll for a moment.
“Who knows? Stranger things have happened. There are some sausages in there; fish them out, would you?”
For a while we eat in silence. My dress is warm (especially since I left my nightgown on underneath the full skirts, partly for warmth and partly because I have nowhere to stash it) and the blankets we kept from Sir Halloway are helpful as well. All in all we are cold but only just, though the dampness in the air has a heaviness that rubs into your bones. Dad had stolen a coat for himself and shoes, and Israel is fully dressed as a dapper Englishman too. I don’t ask where he got them, but I certainly hope we don’t run into a naked, six and a half foot tall, angry man anytime soon. Israel looks rather nice, I think, especially in the hat; though I want to tell him so, I don’t.
“And as for lodging?” I finally ask through bites of cold sausages. I lick the grease from my fingers.
“You’re looking at it, at least for tonight.”
I want to sigh melodramatically but I know Is has done the best he could for today and besides, we’ve stayed in worse surroundings than a dirty alley in the streets of London. Just once though, I’d like to wake up in Buckingham Palace.
“Can we build a fire?”
“Not here. Area gets more run down if we walk farther; we could stay there. A few more huddled around a fire won’t be noticeable.”
“Can your dad walk?” Israel glances over at Dad who is snoring away serenely, oblivious to the cold and huddled in a little ball, his contraband bottle of something grasped tightly against his chest.
“It would be tempting to leave him, but I suppose if we wake him, he can walk.”
“Go on then.” Israel helps himself to the last sausage.
“Thanks,” I mutter.
After a few moments of shaking and shouting in Dad’s ear, and then finally ripping his bottle away from him, he stirs himself enough to apologize and agrees to join us. The weather becomes frigid and even with my blanket wrapped around my head to protect my ears, my teeth chatter. I start talking to keep the cold at bay.
“Did you know it’s almost Christmas? Ollie said December twentieth though he didn’t seem quite sure.”
Israel frowns. “I know. We don’t usually lose two months like that.”
I snort and sound just like Prue. “What’s two months in the grand scheme of things? We just lost a century and a half!”
“I know, but I still don’t like it.”
“Do you ever get the feeling we’re supposed to figure this out? This whole traveling, lost in time, sort of thing? Like it’s maybe really obvious and we just haven’t put the pieces together?”
“All the time, Sonnet, all the time. Share the blanket, would you?”
We walk the rest of the way in silence, huddled together under the woolen blanket. It makes for strange walking, trying to find our sync and not stumble around the way Dad unfortunately is doing. I match my steps to Israel’s and once we find a rhythm it starts to be successful in an ungraceful sort of lurching way.
I tell him his new clothes smell funny.
“What? I can’t hear a word you’re saying.”
I remove the blanket from where I have it wrapped around my face, only my eyes peeking through.
“I said you smell like pipe tobacco. I think whomever you stole these clothes from was a big smoker.”
“I didn’t steal them, I borrowed them.”
“Uh huh. Smells nice actually. Like cherry and smoke.”
I may imagine it, but it feels as though his arm around my waist tightens just a bit and the fingers of his hand move slightly, almost like an unexpected, strange caress.
“I’m glad you’re here,” I whisper from under the protection of the muffling blanket.
We don’t have to go far to reach a different section of London altogether; seedy and teeming with people, either huddled in groups around fires built in iron trash containers or walking briskly. We are ignored for the most part other than the ladies of the night who call out or whisper out offers to Dad, which turns my stomach. Israel they only widen their eyes at and I don’t know if it’s out of fear or respect or curiosity. Maybe all three. There are children too, here and there, playing in the street or sleeping on their mother’s lap, but it’s mostly the prostitutes who are almost practically swarming about in numbers so large I can hardly fathom it. I think of the girls who used to come into the coffee shop, the ones with tight pants and low cut shirts and provocative eye liner – they were only playing silly children’s games, texting boys and flirting. I think of them paired up with these girls, these girls are old before their time and hardened, and think what a contrast they would be. The slums are so bad - worse than any I’ve seen in any other time - that I tell Israel I want to stop. It seems as though the farther we go, the worse it gets and I’m reticent to discover anymore. This is bad enough.
“Stay here,” Israel instructs, propping Dad up against a wall. “I’ll borrow a light.”
He is back in no time, with a torch made of garbage and lit up with the glowing warmth of blessed fire. I watch him as he makes a small bonfire in the metal circular bin that we are near. The flame lights up our faces, the three of us, making us seem ghoulish in the orange reflection. The yellow radiance that dances across Israel’s dark face makes for a Jack-o-lantern effect and I tell him so. He bares his teeth at me in good humor.
I laugh at the sight and therefore am unprepared when I am knocked to the ground by the force of a person jumping out of the shadows.
“I can’t believe you’re here!” Emme squeals with such delight that I throw my arms back around and hug her for at least the fourth time since she knocked me to the ground.