Part one of a family story
|The rain crept through the cracks in the glass and puddled on the window sill. Then it overran the sill and dripped onto the straw mattress where Mary lay. The child cried out. Mary didn't understand much but she knew a wet bed would lead to a tanning. It was almost dark and she was alone upstairs with no light except the meager flicker of the sticks burning in the hearth.
"We have to go," Elizabeth said, gathering her tools into the wooden box. The sign on the door read closed; the working day was over. Elizabeth's day had barely started.
"Not now, I'm tired," Barnaby replied. As if to make the point he put down his needle and picked up his candle. They had been having this argument ever since that naval officer mentioned the business opportunities to be had in Portsea. As he dragged himself up the narrow stairs to their living quarters he could hear his wife tutting.
Elizabeth picked up the metal cups and plates with the remnants of their dinner and carried them to the sink. She tutted again at the chunk of cheese left on her husband's plate. She wrapped it in paper and put it back in the cupboard. It would do for tomorrow. She cut up what was left of their daily loaf and spread it with dripping. She handed a piece to Barnaby without a word, then threw some to the child.
"You know why we have to go," Elizabeth argued, pointing to the child sat on her mattress in the corner.
"We don't know it's the bad air caused it," Barnaby contended. Mary, who was six, sat bolt upright, staring into space, the food ignored.
"I'm not taking the chance. I don't want another idiot to look after," Elizabeth shouted, patting her belly, which was already showing signs of the pregnancy.
In response to the raised voices, Mary started to scream. Elizabeth tried to comfort the child but Mary struggled to free herself and her mother was thrown to the ground.
"Do you really want another one like that?" Elizabeth spat.
"Very well, I'll give notice to the landlord tomorrow and travel to Portsea to find us a place." He didn't really want to leave his reasonably successful business on the off chance of a better future in the port.
The shop he found was much larger than their current premises and the accommodation had a separate bedroom. Unbelievably, the rent was the same as for his London shop. Enquiries at the local inn, over a glass or two of porter, pointed to ample business. With the country at war, there were many naval officers to outfit.
Their few belongings packed on to a rented cart, it took all day to reach Portsea. Elizabeth was very pleased with their new life. Barnaby junior was born three months later and Jude followed two years after. When Elizabeth wasn't helping in the shop, she would take the children down to the beach. Even Mary enjoyed exploring the rock pools. It was an idyllic life for the Luck family.
Then the war ended. Business dropped off immediately. Barnaby looked to his accounts. Many officers had bought on credit, never to return. Letters had come back unopened.
"Is it really that desperate?" Elizabeth asked.
"We have to move to cheaper premises to have any hope of surviving," Barnaby confessed.
"Maybe now is not a good time for my news," Elizabeth said, looking down at her belly.
The place they moved to was even smaller than their London home, and it was in a rundown part of town. Barnaby had to make his money patching and mending the clothes of the less well off. By the time little Elizabeth came into the world they were pennyless.
"I have to go to the Parish," Elizabeth said, "I can't even feed the baby any more."
As she made her way through the streets she joined an ever increasing throng heading to the poor house. As she waited in line an old lady collapsed and coughed her last, spraying Elizabeth with her germ ridden sputem. By the evening Elizabeth had a fever. There was no money for medicine. Barnaby struggled to care for her and the children while still attempting to earn a few pennies.
It was not long before the whole family were showing signs of the illness. When Elizabeth breathed her last, the cart that came to collect her body took the rest of the family to the workhouse hospital. Barnaby died on the way there.
"We must baptise the children," said one of the staff, "they might not make it through the night."