Despite crossing the Atlantic aboard a vampire-infested ship, Alice Davison has managed to safely arrive in New York. However, when she and her family are unwillingly settled in a decaying lodging house in Five Points, the most perilous slum in 19th-century America, she discovers that the danger has just begun. Disastrously, only three days before they are scheduled to sail from New York to Galveston, her father goes missing, and Alice is the only one who can search for him.
In this nail-biting sequel to The Birdcatcher, Artemis Rising details Alice's ongoing adventures against an undead force that is more insidious, and organized, than she would have ever guessed. As if these challenges aren't enough, she must also navigate her budding relationship with Sir Henry Falkner in this new, frightening world.
"Poverty, wretchedness, and vice, are rife enough where we are going now."
—Charles Dickens, American Notes
I was beginning to understand the term "sea legs." As we disembarked from the boat taking us to shore, I found that walking on fixed ground was a challenge. My brain and body operated under the illusion that we were still at sea. My knees threatened to buckle underneath me and the world tilted alarmingly as I slowly adjusted to solid land and abandoned the unceasing movement of the sea. The future possibilities with Sir Henry made me equally off kilter. One moment I was ecstatic, the next, full of worry.
I wasn't quite sure how one began a life with a vampire.
It had been a slow process to exit the SS Martinus. Saloon passengers, including ourselves, were the first passengers allowed to depart; beforehand however, we also had to receive a quick exam and a signed health card before we could load onto the boats that took us to the emigrant landing depot. Of Mr. Adebayo, Sir Henry's emissary, there was no sign. I wondered how he would be treated, fine clothes and emancipation proclamation notwithstanding.
My poor mother moved gingerly, stiff and unaware of the scenes before her. My father paid someone from steerage to help us with our belongings, since we were one family member short and my mother was in no shape to help. His face looked grim, and the lines around his mouth were deeper as if fixed in a permanent frown. My youngest, and now only sister, Lucy, held onto my arm, looking bruised and delicate and quite alarmed by the crowd we were in and the one we could see at the depot.
As we exited the gangplank and entered the dock, we were crushed by the crowds from other boats. The odors of people who had traveled many days without proper sanitation overwhelmed me. I was tempted to cover my nose with a handkerchief. It was a beautiful day, however, and the promise of spring and a new life seemed to give many of the haggard-faced immigrants the wherewithal to shuffle through the immigration process.
We made our way along a curving pathway that led to the huge, round structure before us. I saw that Castle Garden was indeed like a castle—it had a wall built all around it—and I could see that there was more than one building within the walls. Signs led the way, but they were unnecessary since we could simply follow the ambling crowd toward the central entrance. Here we encountered a vivid scene--people of all nationalities stood in line or camped besides piles of baskets and boxes, waiting to be processed. I saw women in bright head scarves and men in heavy coats and beaver hats, which were totally mismatched to the weather. And everywhere there were people speaking an array of languages, which made me think of the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. It seemed impossible that so much variety of humanity could adapt and live in a single nation.
When we entered the rotunda, I felt dwarfed by the size of the structure. The round ceiling was at least two stories high and around the half-circle shape were balconies where many people sat, waiting to be processed. I saw glass doors and assumed that something official took place within. The balconies were supported by fluted Greek-style columns, and the large floor space was divided into spaces for the queue and various sellers. There was even a modest restaurant. Alas, the line to be processed was long, so we immediately joined as we entered the room.
There can be very little that is as tiring as travel. My sense of time was disturbed as well as my ability to balance on dry land. In fact, it seemed that every possible aspect of human comfort was withdrawn during emigration. Of course, we would be much less comfortable now than we already were had my family not been moved to first class accommodations during our journey. This move was in thanks to the captain and his nefarious plan to bed me in exchange. I'm happy to report that his plan failed, and for this, I was indebted to Sir Henry Falkner. Fortunately, he was gentleman enough to not expect payment for my indebtedness.
Everyone around me seemed equally exhausted and forlorn. I especially sympathized with those who did not know the language. How would they find lodging? Or employment? Worst of all, they were vulnerable to every villain who would draw them into their scams. I was grateful at least that my father had some wherewithal to provide us with decent lodging, at least for the three-day duration of our stay. We were waiting for the departure of a steam packet that would ultimately deliver us to Galveston. If Sir Henry had not promised to be on board, I would now be quite despondent.
Poor Lucy leaned heavily against me. She was still weak from her ordeal on the ship. We had not had more time to discuss what had happened, and I could judge by her lassitude and pale complexion that she was haunted. Who could blame her? How many young girls had been abducted by an ancient vampire and lived to tell the tale?
Lucy was at that moment roused from her lethargy when she raised her head and pointed across the rotunda.
"There's Mrs. Forte!" she cried.
"Where, darling?" my mother asked.
"Over there, next to that man wearing the funny hat."
And there the old woman was, carrying a heavy reticule in one hand and a box tied in string in the other. She looked lost and overwhelmed. I realized that I did not know if her son would deliver her to Boston or if he expected her to make her own way.
"Wait here, I will go fetch her," I said.
“I don't think we shall get too far,” my father answered.
I pushed through the crowd and as thanks was cursed in at least a dozen languages. At last, I reached Mrs. Forte.
"Mrs. Forte! I'm so glad to have found you. Would you like to join us?"
"Dear Miss Alice!" she said, her eyes blinking as she studied my face. "I'm equally glad that you have found me! I feel like the little old woman that I am. I don't even know if I'm standing in the queue."
"Come with me, and you will be," I assured her. I took her heavy bag and led her back to my family.
"Mrs. Davison," she said when she approached my mother. She set down her things and took my mother's hand. "How sorry I was to hear about your Mary. To be tossed into the sea and with her beau, no less. Such a tragedy!" She embraced my mother, and my mother held on to her with sincere gratitude. There were few to share our sorrow.
We talked of Dickens and of the things we would miss. And the things on the ship that we would not miss. I venture to guess that my list would be much longer than hers. Ever so slowly, the line moved like a lethargic snake after a big meal.
"At last!" Lucy said, when she saw a uniformed official within sight. He was checking health cards and interviewing the arrivals.
"Papa, what will we do when we leave here?" she asked.
"I suppose we'll find a hansom cab and go to our lodgings. My brother arranged for our stay near the docks."
My father seemed to have lost some of his bluster since Mary's death and then even more after we landed. No longer was he in control in a familiar environment; he was just one of many anonymous foreigners seeking entry into a country he had never visited. I hoped that this sense of helplessness would not increase his usual temper. After all, if he was helpless in a big city, how would he feel at the edge of the frontier?
And thank goodness he didn't know what I had endured during our passage to America. Apart from Lucy, Mr. Adebayo, and Henry, I was the only living person from our journey who knew that we had shared our ship with an ancient vampire who had killed a number of passengers on board, including two of my friends. He had almost killed Lucy and me. One of his pet vampires did kill my sister Mary and her beau, not the rough seas as everyone believed.
Ironically, the only reason I survived several vampires is because of another vampire. Sir Henry. I don't know why exactly that he was drawn to me, but I know why I was attracted to him. Not only was he irresistibly handsome, he also had a magnanimous spirit and was not just a little mysterious.
"Alice! Quit daydreaming!" my father interrupted my thoughts. "Be ready. It's almost our turn."
Sure enough, we had almost made it to an immigration official, who was official in every way. His posture was stiff, and he wore a navy suit with gold buttons and a tidy, flat-top cap. He was a man who held our future in his hands.
We watched as he interviewed a Slavic family in front of us. The family spoke very little English, and the mother carried a child who was one of many and who appeared to be bright red from a fever. The official called for someone. After a moment’s wait, we watched as the family was escorted away. Instead of leaving the rotunda, they were taken to what essentially looked like a cattle pen. I assumed they would now be further evaluated. Or deported. What a horrible possibility after such a long journey.
I whispered to Lucy to look bright and healthy. And I straightened my shoulders, pinched my cheeks, and fixed a smile on my face. It's my habit to only smile with my lips closed, because of the gap between my two front teeth, even though my mother assures me that it's charming.
"Health cards, please," the official said as we approached him. My father handed him each of our cards. The doctor had signed off each one of us, probably glad to be rid of us after our mysterious injuries and my pesky questions.
"All in order, then.” He studied my father.
"Banker," my father replied. "This is my wife and my," his voice cracked a little, "two daughters."
"I see. One wife, two spinsters."
I grimaced at the harsh term.
"Where is your ultimate destination and what will be your occupation?" he asked my father, staring at him with watery blue eyes. I imagined that he was quite bored asking foreigners the same question over and over.
"We leave for Galveston in three days' time. Once there, I will purchase my own land to farm. I have a brother in Houston."
"Very good. On your way," he said curtly, indicating with one arm that we should proceed toward the exit. I turned and watched Mrs. Forte as she endured the same interview. To my relief, she was not long in joining us.
"Oh, my, but what a trying moment! I just knew he was going to send me to the pen, and then what would I do?"
"Is your son meeting you here, Mrs. Forte?" I asked her.
"No. He's supposed to pick me up at the Boston train station. I'm to send him a telegram with my arrival times."
"I think it would be wonderful if you would go with us to the boarding house. Once you’ve had a chance to recover, we can help you find train times and send a telegram," I said. "What do you think, mother?"
"Perfectly fine," she said with an indifferent voice, although she attempted a gracious expression.
Mrs. Forte was sensitive to her pain and put an arm around her shoulders.
"What you need is some building up. As soon as we get to the boarding house, you can have a lie down and some proper food. Or what stands for proper food in America."
My mother only smiled weakly. I had to wonder if we would find anything nourishing at this establishment. My uncle, who was as frugal as my father, had been the one to recommend Mr. Donahue's boarding house. I hoped that for once, he had chosen one out of character.
By this time, we had stepped out of the confines of Castle Garden and were instantly overwhelmed by the lines of hansom cabs, food sellers, and rough looking men with hats low over their eyes as if they were hiding their intentions. More than one approached us, attempting to lure us to this or that boarding house or to some form of employment. My father dismissed them all. Luckily, we were able to make a quick escape when he quickly located and hired us a hansom cab that was ample enough for us all.
The driver was gruff, and I noted an Irish accent. His lank hair drooped in his eyes, and his threadbare waistcoat was missing several buttons. His horse was a sad beast; its back sagged defeatedly, and its skin chafed from the tack. I tried to pet it, but the driver would have none of that.
"She need no coddlin' now. Into the coach with ye," he growled, slapping the dun mare with his hand.
"Where to?" he asked once we were all settled.
"Lower Manhattan," my father replied, taking a slip of paper from his breast pocket. "I have the address here." He handed the man the note, stretching out his arm as if he feared the man might give him bed bugs.
"Orange Street! Hoo! Hoo! Youse lucky it's light. I never go near Five Points in the dark. Don't like to go there in the day, neither. Hope you plan on tippin' me good." And with a slap of the reins, the horses stumbled into the mix of coaches
My heart sank. The driver's pronouncement boded ill. My mother turned a shade whiter. Lucy and I grabbed each other's hands. It seemed absurdly unfair that we had survived a vampire-ridden ship only to stay in a dangerous slum. Even I knew of Five Points' reputation thanks to Charles Dickens' account of his visit there more than a decade before.
At first, the roads were fairly clear. Piles of steaming horse manure rose like little brown hills along the curbs, but we still were able to amble along fairly well. I watched as well-dressed ladies stepped from the high stoops of their brownstones directly into their coaches. As we passed by a number of shops with shining glass windows brightened by lights and beautiful wares, I longed to stop and browse the shops.
It seemed I had traveled far only to come full circle, for New York was a lot like Liverpool with its crush of people and battling odors, which became stronger the farther we went. Soon, the roads worsened, as did the appearance of the buildings. For one, the buildings had grown shorter, as if they were hunched in upon themselves. Many of the windows were shuttered. I had to wonder: What were they were hiding within?
"This reminds me of London's East End," Lucy murmured in my ear. And she was mostly right. But not even the East End contained such wretchedness as we could now see out of the coach's windows. There were gangs of children, barely clothed, screaming riotously through the streets. I saw a man holding up a woman who wailed and stumbled along. She was quite drunk, I was sure. Even in this early hour, somewhere nearby, lively music was playing.
"Ah!" Lucy cried when the cab jolted to a halt. I looked down from the window and saw that the wheels were mired in deep, putrid mud. The driver jumped from his seat, cursing the filth, the road, and the universe. He attempted to pull the horse out of the sludge, but the exhausted nag seemed to dig in her hooves, as if she were on strike. I wished at that moment that I had the means to buy her from her hateful owner. The moment I thought of rescuing it, the driver took out a short whip and began to whip the poor horse across the flanks, as if he had read my mind and was determined to prove himself a villain. He yanked on the reins and at last, she began to move forward, although it was difficult pulling the carriage in this muck.
The driver got back in his seat, sweat dripping down his face.
"We're almost there now." He wiped at his brow. "I wouldn't want to get stuck here!"
Later, I saw that we were crossing through a center around which five streets radiated like the spokes on a misshapen wheel. Men in top hats and men in bowler hats, all with scruffy suits, gambled along the edges of the center. A skinny yellow dog trotted through the crowd, squeezing between legs without pause as if it was on important business. A few middle class sightseers stood alongside a policeman, each one holding a handkerchief to his or her nose.
There was poverty and misery, but there was also industry. There were shops of all sorts, from grocers to shoemakers. Spirits dealers were in abundance as well. The most amazing sight, however, was to see negro men and women mixed in with whites in both the industry and the vice. I supposed there was more egalitarianism at the bottom of society than at the top.
"Welcome to Five Points!" the driver shouted with maniacal gaiety. Judging by his constant head turning and furrowed eyebrows, he felt anything but cheerful.
I saw a sign against a building that announced that we were joining Orange Street. The street was as dismal as everything else that I had seen. I longed for comfort, for hot food, and a clean bed. There was little chance we would find it here.
At last the cab pulled in front of graying, wood structure. The portico was held up by two posts that leaned like two drunk men, and the front steps were cluttered by lounging figures who were sprawled upon the stairs.
Our driver stepped down and asked the loungers if this was Mr. Donahue's Boarding House. They said it was, so he began to unload our belongings, enjoining my father to stand nearby to protect them from thievery. When I stepped out in the filthy street, I saw eyes peeking out from behind the shutters of the basement. I shuddered to think of how dank and mildewy the basement must be in this crumbling, mud-mired neighborhood.
My father's face was a picture. His mouth hung open with shock as he stood guard over the luggage. I don't think he meant to be quite this frugal. In a moment, though, the driver had unloaded all of our things, collected his dues, and ridden away. We were stuck. I only hoped we could get a ride out of Five Points.
Without a word, each of us carried something up the steps, squeezing in between the lay-abouts on the steps who made no effort to make way. One woman, who sat with her legs spread wide under her tattered skirt and sucked on a peppermint stick, rubbed a hand up my father's leg as he passed her. He pretended not to notice.
My father knocked at the door, which was slightly ajar. He waited and then knocked again. At last, the door opened just a few inches more and a man stuck his head out of the door.
"Whaddya want?" he asked, around a fat cigar in his mouth. I almost laughed. I don't think he and my father would be discussing the art of cigars with this gentleman. I figured that the man, Mr. Donahue I presumed, was around fifty. He was portly and the only reason his trousers stayed in place was because of his braces. His hair was brown and parted in the middle, an unfortunate style given the size of his nose.
"I am Mr. John Davison. I have reservations for three nights," he said, his Adam's apple bobbing nervously. My father smoothed down his already smooth, well-oiled hair. It was a habit of his.
The man rubbed at his prickly chin and leaned on the door.
"That name don't ring a bell," he said.
"My brother notified you of our arrival. His names is Mr. Stuart Davison."
"Hm. I think I did get somethin' from him. The way I remember it, you were supposed to be here on the 23rd."
My father's face turned red. "Regardless, we are here now and would like to see our rooms."
"That's ripe, that is! Your 'rooms,'" he laughed around his cigar, managing to keep it firmly in place. "I can give you a place to sleep. But it'll be in the basement, and you'll have to share it." His eyes danced with mirth. "And the rent'll be the same, if you please."
At that moment, I truly felt sorry for my father. Perhaps for the first time ever.
"I suppose we have no choice." He looked at us all gathered behind him. "It will only be for a short while, after all."
Very short, I was afraid. I hoped we'd survive this first night.
The hall was narrow and the walls were covered in a once-ivory wallpaper that was peeling. The carpet under our feet smelled of mildew. I could see a steep staircase rising before me and doors on either side.
"This here's the dinin' room," he said, pointing to the first door on our left. He pointed to another door. "That'un is my room. Stay out." His eyebrows lowered threateningly as he glared at us.
At the back of the hall, there were two more doors, and he led us to the one on the right. From the open door, I could see a few steps that descended into a murky darkness. A slight odor of sewer and a more than slight smell of rotting wood wafted from its depths. Lovely.
"Mind yer step, now," he indicated to the door. "Breakfast is at seven. Dinner's at seven. You get to the table late, you get nuthin' to eat, understand?" Then he held up a flat palm. "That'll be three dollars for the three nights."
My father grumbled as he dug into his pockets. He dropped the coins into the landlord's hand, and we began to carefully maneuver down the steps into the damp belly of the house. After several steps, my eyes began to adjust to the dim light. Someone below had lit a gas lamp or a few candles. The stairs traveled straight down at an alarming angle, and a few of the steps bent under my weight.
Once we all made it to the basement, my father mumbled that he would go back up for the rest of our belongings. He probably wanted to be alone after the humiliation of being shuffled to the basement. I could hardly blame him. To say that our accommodations were disappointing after such a long, difficult journey would be an understatement.
I gaped at what was to be our shelter for three days. It was not much larger than our cabin on the ship. And the light didn't come from a candle, but from a small, square window. I realized it was the shuttered window where I had seen someone watching us. One wall had a rough-hewn bunk, and another corner had a sagging bed. Between the two, directly on the floor, were a few, large blue-ticking mattresses that looked like nothing more than flattened, striped sausages. Who knows how many people had slept on these? I felt my skin crawling with imaginary fleas already.
From a few nails hammered into the walls hung some cloth bags, which I suspected held someone's earthly possessions. And on the double bed, I finally realized, were two children, cowering beneath blankets.
"Hello," I said to them. "Don't be afraid. We are new tenants, well at least for a few nights." Daring at last to peep out of their hiding place, they looked at me with round, owl-eyes.
"Tsk, tsk," Mrs. Forte had her hands on her hips and looked quite displeased. "Where is their mother? And look at the state of them!"
It was true that the two children, I would guess around four and five, had not met up with soap in a very long time. Both girls had nut-brown hair that tangled about their thin, smudged faces. Why, I thought, they're as pale as vampires. This thought gave me the shivers.
"Where's your mum?" I asked them. I sat gingerly on the bed hoping not to frighten them.
The older and braver one spoke with a tiny voice. "She's at work, ma'am."
I gave a small laugh. "I'm afraid I'm not old enough to be a Ma'am. You can call me Alice." I then told them everyone's name. "And what are you called?"
"I'm Sally," said the oldest, "and this is my little sister Agatha." She dropped the blanket and now her whole face emerged. Agatha had planted a thumb in her mouth.
"Is this where you sleep?" I asked the girls. The older girl nodded. "And your Mother?"
"Yes. And Uncle Thomas, too," she answered.
"Is there anyone else?" I was afraid to hear her answer.
"Sometimes strangers come and go. I guess the other beds are yours now."
Well, that was certainly a relief. I was afraid that I would have to share a bed with Thomas' brothers or cousins or something along those lines.
"I'll just air out these blankets, Mother, then you and Lucy can have a rest."
I stepped over the mattresses on the floor and approached the bunk beds. I could already smell the bed clothes. They were stale and mildewed. A few spiders ran for cover as I shook them out. There were a few limp pillows, which I plumped out. I asked mother for her wrap, and I covered the pillows with the light blue wool fabric.
"There. Much better. Come, have a rest."
My mother sighed and hung her purse upon an empty hook and then warily lay down on the bed. Lucy perched alongside her, barely seated on the bed as if she feared to touch it.
"I will go see about some tea," I said, trying to seem brisk and cheerful.
"Mrs. Forte, would you like to lay down too?" my mother moved to make space. Mrs. Forte didn't seem to know what else to do, so down went her things, and she too joined them in the narrow bed.
"Just a little rest, I think," she said, although her eyes were so wide with anxiety, I doubted she would rest.
"I hope Father can find us somewhere else to stay," Lucy said. She was curled up against mother looking delicate and frightened. "This is a horrid, nasty place."
I looked at the two girls, but they didn't seem to realize that their home had been insulted. They wouldn't get to leave after a few days' time.
"I'll go see where Father is and find us some tea." I looked at the two urchins who had now crawled out of the covers and silently watched us with big eyes. I saw that their feet were bare and filthy and that their dresses were at least two sizes too small. I was glad I had saved Mary's things. Maybe all of us together could fashion them some new clothes.
I ascended the steps, lightly placing my hands on the wall for balance. When I reached the landing, I was blinded by the sunlight struggling through the door and the smeared window above it. Then, it registered that the front door was wide open. The steps were now empty, so I supposed that the loungers had moved on. I wondered if that woman had been the girls' mother? If so, I suspected that I knew their mother's form of employment.
I walked down the hall toward the front door. I peeked out, but I did not see my father any where. I noticed then, that our suitcases still waited along the wall by the cellar door. I was surprised that they hadn't yet been stolen.
The dining room door was still shut. I went in--perhaps there would be an entrance to the kitchen here. I hoped it was cleaner than the rest of the house I'd seen so far. While the room was quite dim, I discovered a long table that looked as if it could seat at least a dozen people. On either side were a few benches and stools. One gas lamp was on the farther wall. Sure enough, there was a swinging door that must lead to the kitchen.
I could hear sounds in the kitchen. A woman's laugh, like a braying donkey, penetrated through the walls, and I could make out the gruff rumbling of a man's voice. I was almost afraid to enter.
I remembered how weak Lucy was and forced myself to briskly knock on the kitchen door. The other room became silent. I pushed the door open just a few inches.
"Hello? Sorry to intrude," I said with a sing-song voice.
I heard a snort. I poked my head inside and smiled into the room, until I found where they were. I aimed my smile at them and dared to enter the room.
"I'm so sorry to bother you. My family just arrived after a long voyage, and we are in sore need of some tea. Might I trouble you for a pot?"
The woman, broad in the beam and narrow across the bosom, looked to her companion. I saw that it was our landlord. His hairy arms were resting on a small table and that he held a whiskey bottle with both hands as if it might try to get away.
"Go on. Give it to 'er, Nan," he gestured with a jerk of his head. He looked at me, "I'll add it to yer tab."
The woman looked put upon, and who could blame her? The kitchen was hot and had barely enough space for herself, the table, and a wood stove. She slammed the kettle onto the stove and threw a few logs into the fire. She then reached up for a cracked teapot covered with brilliant orange roses that rested on a plain board shelf. She took a pinch of tea from an enameled pot and dumped it into the teapot.
I pressed myself against the wall, trying to make myself unobtrusive.
The woman flicked a strand of graying hair from her eyes and studied me. Her eyes were small, blue marbles that looked as if they had been wedged into a ball of dough. Her mouth was turned down in a frown. She didn't look mean, I thought, just ill-used.
"Is there anything I could help you with?" I asked. I nervously fiddled with the pink fabric of my frock. Although it was an everyday gown, it looked overly fine in this kitchen.
"You can pour the water when it boils," she said. She turned her back to me as she scrubbed some pots that had been soaking in a pan that rested on a small table. "And I hope you'se have your own cups."
I was afraid to answer her. "No, Ma'am, I'm afraid that we don't. We just made the passage across the Atlantic, and we left them on the ship."
She sighed and then waddled into the dining room and came back with a stack of tea cups without handles. "How many are you needin' then?" I told her and she handed the lot to me. Just then, the kettle began its pathetic whistle, as if it, too, had given up on life. I could hardly blame it.
I poured the water into the teapot and fitted the lid. I held the stacked cups, enough for the two girls, too, in one hand, and then took the handle of the teapot.
"Thank you, Ma'am, for the tea."
She snorted as an answer. The landlord tottered in his seat. He had been nursing the bottle the entire time. I turned to leave and then recalled my father's strange absence.
"Sir? Did you happen to see if my father went out? He didn't return to the basement."
He looked at me with droopy, blood-shot eyes, seeming to struggle to remember what had happened thirty minutes ago.
"Let me shee," he slurred, "I think I saw him go out on Orange Street. Mayhaps he was lookin' for a bit o' fun," he found himself amusing and gave a little chortle. "Although Miss Lillith would have been happy for him to have his fun right here at home."
I assumed Lillith was the woman on the steps. Was this boarding house a brothel?
"I'm obliged, sir," I said and departed as quickly as I could carrying a heavy and scalding hot, teapot. I saw that our things were still there in the hall, and I resolved to return for them after I delivered the tea. I only hoped I could carry it all.
I nearly fell on the last step, but I made it to the cellar without breaking anything. The girls were still perched on the bed.
"I have tea!" I announced. I placed it on the floor. "I'm going to fetch the rest of our things if you could serve everyone, Lucy." I started up the stairs. I stopped and turned around, "Sally and Agatha--I have cups for you as well."
Their eyes grew even larger. I smiled to myself as I went up the steps yet again. I found that I enjoyed myself just even thinking about bringing those little girls even the smallest joy.
There was no sign of my father upstairs. Where would he have gone? I found it very perplexing, considering how unnerved he was by the entire atmosphere. Except for our steam trunks, I managed to deliver the entire load downstairs, but I had no idea where I was going to put everything. Perhaps if Mrs. Forte, mother, and Lucy slept in the bottom bunk and father on the top, I could curl up on the floor around the boxes and bags. I saw that the girls were silently eyeballing our things.
"Would you girls like a job?" I asked them. They nodded eagerly at me.
"Since we are taking up so much of your space, and we have nowhere else to store our things, can I put you in charge of guarding our things? To keep them safe?"
Lucy piped up. "If you do, when we leave, I will give you my soft toy, Lambykin."
Sally began to jump up and down, more animated than ever. "Oh, yes! Please!"
I laughed. "I imagine that we can find more than that to repay you." I thought of the dresses we could make.
I had my own cup of tea, and I could see that it had already begun to revive my mother.
I whispered to Mrs. Forte, "We could work on my making the girls new frocks."
Mrs. Forte's eyes sparkled. "What a lovely plan! It will help to pass the time."
I asked mother if I could use Mary's clothes to make the new dresses. Her eyes puckered sadly, but she nodded. "I think that Mary would like that her clothes went to these little girls."
I wasn't so sure about that.
I took out some of Mary's day frocks and decided that if we cut them down, we wouldn't have to start from scratch. Mary had been tiny, so the dresses would be large on them. At least the girls could grow into them.
We cut and sewed in the dim room. The girls eagerly perched on the edge of the bed, watching their new frocks develop.
And so the hours crawled by. I began to wonder when the girls ate breakfast or even lunch. Did they even play outside? Were they motherless all of the time? I supposed the cellar was safer than the street, but I hated to think of them being alone with strange tenants.
Their stomachs, as well as all of ours, began to grumble as the day worn on. We had nothing with us, and neither did the girls. At last, though, the dinner hour arrived. There was still no sign of father.
We all climbed the steps with stiff legs. The girls did not move from their bed.
"Are you coming to dinner?" Lucy asked them.
They shook their heads. "Mum might bring us something later."
"Come with us," I said. "I think you should get a break from this cellar air."
They look petrified at the idea, but Lucy gave them one of her sweet smiles and each took a hand. When we got to the hall, it was crowded with the other tenants, all men, but no sign of the earlier layabouts on the front steps. Everyone stared at us. Then they went back to their conversations without a word to us. We stood there until we heard a bell ring. At the sound of the bell, the men started pushing and shoving into the dining room. By the time we arrived, there was only one bench left.
We squeezed ourselves on to the bench, and Sally and Agatha each took one of our laps. Agatha had her thumb in her mouth and hid her face against Lucy. Nan, the cook, came out, carrying a tray laden with big dishes of food. She placed them in the middle of the table, and the men descended upon the food like pigs at a trough. Nan whacked their hands with a wooden spoon she had tucked in her apron pocket. She took a second look at the girls, obviously unaccustomed to their presence, but if she didn't approve, she didn’t say so.
"Now then! Let the ladies eat first, you louts! Didn't yer Mams raise you any better?" The men didn't look too ashamed, but they at least left the food alone. A young woman came out of the kitchen carrying a plate of rolls. She put one on each plate, but since the girls didn't have one, she handed one to each girl. I stood and served mother, Lucy, and Mrs. Forte. Mother and Lucy began to share their food with the girls.
The cook wrapped her arms in front of her chest.
"Now mind yer manners. And you," she pointed at a middle-aged man who had at least bothered to slick his greasy, gray hair into some semblance of tidiness. "Make sure the ladies get all they need. And those little gals, too."
He readily agreed; he was apparently terrified of the cook.
Nan was beginning to grow on me.
Once they realized they could eat as much as they wanted, the girls did not stop until all of the food was gone. As soon as she had eaten her fill, little Agatha curled into Lucy's lap and fell asleep. We thanked Nan for the food when she came back to clear out the plates, and some of the men did, too--which was when I noticed that most of them were Irish. Nan just waved us away, and everyone drifted out of the dining room. All of the men spilled out into the street where there could be heard a lot of shouts, the whinnying of horses, and loud music. I almost missed the sounds of the crashing waves and the brisk ocean wind.
We got Sally and Agatha tucked into bed.
We each took embarrassed turns at the chamber pot, one of us holding up a blanket for privacy. But what to do with the contents? I asked a half-asleep Sally, and she said to just throw it out of the window.
The window was quite high and very small. I had to climb on a case, crack open the window and attempt to pour it out without getting the contents on myself. I could see a lot of people milling about, even a couple of men punching one another while their mates cheered them on. One couple was kissing passionately on a corner. I looked away. This act of passion made me blush and remember Sir Henry. It almost seemed like he had been a dream.
When my gaze returned to the couple on the dark corner, something didn't seem right. The man leaned against the wall, his body seemed limp, but the woman continued to kiss him on the neck. The only thing keeping him upright seemed to be her outstretched arms. To my surprise, when she pulled herself away, he fell lifeless to the street. She turned toward one of the few street lights and wiped her mouth. It was covered in blood.
She happened to look across the street and that's when she saw me. She gave me a sharp-tooth grin, smoothed down her skirts like any woman would do, and sauntered away down the sidewalk.
A vampire. In New York.
I watched her until she disappeared into the raucous streets. I looked back at Lucy, who was fast asleep and curled around my mother. I was glad that she had not witnessed that scene.
shut the window--it did not have a lock--and hoped that the vampire would not
think me of any importance. I found the pocket automaton that Sir Henry had
given me and tucked it into my bodice. Now that it was safe, I sought an empty
bed and although I tried to stay awake, my eyes grew heavy and even the lumpy
mattress that I lay on could not stop the falling of sleep's curtain.