The streets of Southampton were crowded as Emily pushed her way through back to the St. Francis Home for Misplaced Children. The basket over her arm was laden with carrots, celery, and lettuce, for it was her turn to go to market, something that she had looked forward to all month, as it meant getting out of that accursed building for a day. As she navigated through the crowd, she saw, with a sinking heart, that she was only a block away from the orphanage.
The Home had been where she lived since she was two years old. Her mother, she had heard, had died of influenza, and her father couldn't care for a child, so he left her on the doorstep of the home with a note telling them her name and age. She didn't remember them much, but she did remember mother tucking her into bed at night and singing her sweet lullabies. Now that she was eighteen, she should be out of the Home, but, since she had no place else to go, Miss Stewart agreed to keep her as help. The wages were very nearly nonexistent, and the accommodations were terrible, but she considered herself lucky for not being on the streets.
She reached the Home and went around to the side, where the servants' entrance was, hidden from view of the streets. She opened the door with some difficulty as the basket kept hindering her progress, but she managed to finally get it open wide enough for her to slip through. She set the basket on the center counter and wiped her hands off on her grubby apron. The door to the kitchen opened, but, so used to the daily hustle and bustle, she didn't turn until she heard Miss Stewart call her name.
"Emily Catherine, I need you." Emily winced at the use of her full name, but the authority of Miss Stewart's voice was impossible to ignore, so Emily followed her up the stairs. They reached the parlor, a room that Emily had barely been in, and she saw a very finely dressed gentlewoman sitting on the elegant sofa. "Emily Catherine, this is Madam Elizabeth Mason." Emily curtsied to the lady as Miss Stewart departed, leaving them alone.
"Please, sit." Madam Mason's voice was very refined, her accent perfect. Emily sat down in the armchair across from the sofa, folding her hands in her lap, painfully aware that her clothes were dirty and her fingernails bitten. "Now, Emily, Miss Stewart tells me that you are eighteen, am I correct?" Emily nodded, trying her best to hide the confused look that she was sure was threatening to mar her features. "Please answer out loud, Emily," she admonished.
"Yes, ma'am," Emily said, as clearly as she could manage.
"Well, I see that your manners are good. Now, I have already spoken with Miss Stewart, and she is quite alright with it, but she suggested that I speak to you." She looked Emily right in the eye, something Emily was not used to. "I am traveling to America in one month's time, on the R.M.S Titanic. I wish to have a companion with me, as my son and I are traveling alone. I came here to find such a companion, and Miss Stewart suggested you. Would you be willing to accompany me?"
Emily couldn't help but stare at her; she, accompany a lady of stature on the grandest ship afloat? Finding her voice, Emily answered her. "I would be honored to accompany you, ma'am."
"Very well then," she sounded pleased. "You will be staying with me until then, of course. There are many things to be seen to. First, we must get you a suitable wardrobe," she examined Emily's clothes with distaste, and Emily could feel her cheeks flaming. "Then I must take you to voice lessons. That accent will not due to be heard by John Jacob Astor!" She laughed a twinkling little laugh.
"But, ma'am," Emily stammered, quite overwhelmed with this change. "I have no money. I could not possibly afford a wardrobe."
"Why, dear girl," she sounded astonished, "I will be paying for all of this, of course."
"Thank you, ma'am." Emily inclined her head. Her heart was pounding in her chest; she could not believe her new good fortune.
"It is nothing," she waved an elegantly gloved hand in dismissal. "Now, I need to speak with Miss Stewart. Will you fetch her, please?" Emily nodded and stood up from her chair. Curtsying to her again, Emily left the room. Miss Stewart was in her office, sorting through papers, when Emily knocked on the door.
"Come in," she said, without looking up.
"Madam Mason wishes to see you, ma'am." She looked up then, and smiled, something that Emily had rarely seen her do.
"Ah yes, you are going then?" Emily nodded and she stood up from her desk. "Very well." She swept out of the room, and Emily followed her back to the parlor. "Madam Mason, you are pleased with her, then?" Miss Stewart inquired when they reached the parlor.
"Yes, I am satisfied that she will make an excellent companion for me." Madam Mason looked in Emily's direction and smiled kindly. Emily smiled back shyly. "Please, Emily, sit down." She sat again in the same armchair. "Now, I will take her home with me today, if that is fine with you, Miss Stewart."
"But of course." Miss Stewart sounded slightly shocked, but she was the gracious hostess nonetheless. Emily knew, however, that she was only eager to let her go because it meant she did not have to pay her.
"Come, Emily, the motorcar is waiting." Madam Mason stood up and swept gracefully from the room, and Emily followed behind. The motorcar was, indeed, waiting for them by the curb. The driver opened the door and held his hand out for Madam Mason, which she took delicately, and he helped her in. He turned to Emily next, holding out his hand the same way he had done for Madam Mason. Slightly shocked, Emily placed her hand in his and stepped up into the automobile. The inside was quite elegant, with rich, crimson velvet lining the walls, and the same colored satin covering the windows.
"Now, let's have a good look at you." Emily started, not sure that she wanted to be looked at. "Your features are quite elegant, very finely proportioned, delicate cheekbones; you could very well be of high birth. You are of Scottish decent, yes?"
"I do not know, ma'am." Madam Mason looked puzzled. "My mother died when I was two, ma'am, and my father couldn't take care of me, so he left me at the Home. Therefore, I know nothing of my heritage or family."
She nodded. "With your blue eyes and black hair, you look like you could be Scottish. Now, let me think of a wardrobe for you." She studied Emily for a moment more. "Yes, the latest fashion would look very good on you. Small frame, delicate build..." Emily was beginning to feel like a horse on auction as Madam Mason examined her, but it couldn't quell the feeling of excitement as she thought of the upcoming month and then the journey. "We will need to stop at the dress shop on the way home, of course. You need bedclothes for this week at least, and day dresses."
She continued on this track all the way to the dress shop. The driver helped Emily out of the motorcar, and she stood on the walk, looking at the store while she waited for Madam Mason to join her. A simple sign hung over the door, reading Madam Lucas's Dress Shoppe. The sign was adorned with a picture of a bobbin and needle. They stepped into the store, and Emily was immediately accosted by sight and smell.
The shop floor was covered with mannequins displaying the newest fashions, and the walls held the latest in lingerie and bed clothing. As soon as they entered, a lady bustled up to us, measuring tapes hung around her neck.
"Hello again, Madam Mason!" she greeted cheerfully. "Is this the companion that you were telling me about?"
"This is Emily," she introduced Emily, and she curtsied to the lady. "We're here to get her some clothes before we buy her entire wardrobe. Let's see, we need..." Madam Mason took out her list, which was a good foot long. Deciding at this point that it was better to just go along with her plans, Emily tuned out everything and simply thought about what had happened.
They made it out of the shop two hours later, the driver laden down with many packages. The driver put them all in the automobile before helping the Madam and Emily in.
"Home, driver," Madam instructed imperiously. "Now Emily, tonight you'll meet my son, and tomorrow he will take you to your voice lessons."
"Voice lesson, ma'am?" Emily had never thought that her voice was very bad.
"Of course, dear," she sounded shocked that Emily hadn't thought of it. "Your accent is fairly good already, but it has room for refinement."
"Yes ma'am," Emily said quietly, looking out the window at the passing houses. They were all large, fine houses, houses that Emily could only dream about entering. As she looked, she couldn't help but wonder which of these grand buildings was the only that she would spend a month in. This unasked question was answered in just a minute's time.
The house they stopped in front of was very large, almost larger than any of the others. The brick was faded but still beautiful, the windows of all three stories sparkling clean and trimmed in white. The tall, reddish-brown door was slightly formidable as a tuxedoed butler opened it from the inside, inviting them in.
"Welcome home, Emily." Madam's voice was warm, but the word "home" made Emily cringe slightly. This world was grand, but she was not quite sure that it was for her. She walked up the wide front steps with trepidation, inclining her head slightly as the butler bowed to her, and she stepped into the hall.
The floor was white and gray marble, with black marble on the edges. The mahogany walls were covered in gilt mirrors, reflecting Emily in her new finery a thousand times over. The heels of Emily's new shoes clacked gently on the marble as she walked further into the house, looking around in awe.
"Emily?" She came to earth with a jolt as Madam Mason called her name from the stairs; she had not even noticed Madam Mason passing her. "You will follow me upstairs, to your room, and then rest for an hour before dinner." Emily nodded as she joined her at the stairs.
She led Emily up to the second floor, to a door at the end of the hall.
"This is my room," she indicated the door across from the one they had stopped in front of, "and this is my son's." This door was right next to Emily's. She opened the door to Emily's room, and Emily gasped in shock.
The room was the most elegant that Emily had ever seen: the walls were of the same mahogany as the downstairs, but warmer and richer. The single window was draped in crimson velvet, much the same as in the carriage. The bed was a tall canopy, with the same velvet as on the window. The quilt was a beautiful patchwork of crimson and gold velvet, with gold edging. The vanity and dresser were made of the same mahogany as the walls, and the vanity bench was padded in plush fabric.
"You like it?"
"Oh, yes, ma'am!" Emily stood in the middle of the room, rotating slowly as she looked at every detail.
"Good." Madam Mason sounded very pleased. "I'll leave you to rest, then I will come up and help you dress for supper." Madam Mason turned and left, closing the door behind her. Emily sat down on the large bed, overwhelmed tears of joy leaking out of her eyes.
This life is amazing, she thought, as she closed her eyes and leaned back against the pillows, falling asleep almost instantly.