Eleanor "Nellie" Davis sat under her favourite tree in the park. Normally, she'd be climbing on the large willow, making the other girls and older woman tut in denunciation over her immature and "uncouth" behavior. Well, if being elegant and feminine meant being as highfalutin and insipid as they acted, she'd rather be a vivacious misfit. Today was far too humid, though the wind was doing wonders for the summer heat. She was so engrossed in the book she was reading that she paid no mind to the two older boys that were headed in her direction, until they towered over her with arms crossed over their chests. 'Oy Randall, looky what we've got 'ere. A wittl' girl wiv' 'er wittl' book. 'Ow old are ya wittl' baby?" The boy named Randall grabbed the book from her hands and threw it to the other. Nellie balled her fists and rushed to her feet. "Woah, ya want it back, you's gotta work fer it!" Their game of keep away continued as Nellie attempted to grab it.
Without warning there came a boisterous "Hey!" from behind the other boy, causing both to stop their taunting. Nellie took the opportunity, grabbing her book from Randall and giving him a swift kick. He fell to the ground clutching himself while his friend clutched his stomach in laughter, even this third boy didn't hide the smirk that appeared on his face before setting his attention on the others. "Just leave her alone, she didn't do a damn thing to either of you. She's just a little kid." Randall's friend nodded, not wanting the same treatment that he had received. Randall rushed his feet, and they walked off. The boy laughed and turned back to face Nellie. "Well, looks like you didn't need me much after all."
Nellie grinned and shook her head. "Are ya kiddin' me? They wouldn't 'ave stopped if ya hadn't distracted 'em, thank you." The boy gave her a playful bow and they both giggled. Nellie extended her hand "Well, thanks anyway. My name is Nellie, least that's what all of me friends call me. What's yours?" The boy's name was Benjamin Barker, though he preferred Ben, and he excited added that he had just turned ten. "Well, 'appy birthday then Ben, I'm seven myself." Nellie heard a shout and turned her attention to a woman with deep red curls that was beckoning to her. "Sorry, my mum's callin' me, are ya gonna come back tomorrow?" Ben nodded quickly, stating that he was there almost every day.
This pattern went on for two years, Nellie and Ben would meet up and play with each other nearly every day. Some days they would even plan to picnic together and end up out almost the entire day. Ben had quickly become Nellie's best friend, though she didn't have many to begin with. He was the confidant that she shared every secret and dream for her future with. He never even laughed once when she said that she already knew that she wanted to live in a cottage by the sea when she was older, just like her Auntie Nettie. In return, she never laughed when he confessed to being unable to swim, only offering to maybe teach him sometime. He became the constant topic of her conversations with her parents, both of whom found it adorably comical. Nellie's father, Terrance, would let out a boisterous howl of laughter and began to ask questions about his "future son-in-law". Nellie would always quickly remark that she was only a child, even though a very faint blush would occasionally find its way onto her cheeks. With some financial assistance from his parents, he had even gifted her with a small locket for her birthday, which she had promised never to lose for as long as she lived.
This happiness in the child's life was not meant to last however, as Nellie's mother soon began to fall ill. Her temperature rose at an alarming rate, and she would constantly speak of stomach and body aches and shivers. It wasn't long before she was spending most of her time either lying in bed or just sitting outside. Nellie would spend all day at home with her while her father worked. Her mother occasionally had a good day, and Nellie would excitedly run to see Ben on those days; when he would ask why she was gone, she always quick to change the subject. She didn't want to make him worry, and if she was being honest with herself, even thinking about it frightened her greatly. This went on for some weeks until Nellie asked her mother what the "small bumps" on her skin were. Her mother looked to the rash where the girl pointed and told Nellie to get her father and a doctor. Upon returning home, her father leading the way, the doctor immediately pushed the confused child out of the room.
"Come over 'ere darling, come sit with me." Ruth Davis waved her daughter over to her one afternoon. She attempted to pull herself up to a sitting position, but only fell back against her pillow. Ruth let out a harsh shiver, despite being covered with blankets and having a shawl wrapped tightly around her. "Just on the edge though, I won't have my little Nell gettin' sick."
Nellie made her way over to the bed, tears threatening to fall from her shimmering eyes. She desperately wished that she could fall into her mother's arms and be told that she would be well soon, even if it were a lie. She wished that her racing heart would jolt her awake to realize that this was a horrible nightmare, and that she would run to find her mother in perfect health. She watched as her mother coughed violently, fighting through it in order to be strong for the plainly brokenhearted and terrified little girl. Nellie crawled onto the end of the bed, "Tell me the truth, mum… are - are ya going to die?" It felt like ages before Ruth answered, and even then, it was only in a nod. Nellie's angelic countenance contorted into one of pain as a loud wail erupted from deep inside of her as if from her very soul. Her body rolled into a ball as she laid her head on her mother's legs. The door opened to reveal Terrance, who was quick to approach the child to take her way, before Ruth shook her head at him. With his help, she pulled herself higher up and rested a hand on her daughter's small red head, telling her that she had to be strong. "I don't want to be strong; I want you to stay 'ere with me and papa!" Terrance carefully wrapped his hands around her arms to pull her off Ruth, but Nellie only pushed him off and returned to her mother's legs. "No! No! I don't want ya to die, I need ya, mum!" Ruth continued to caress the back of her head, shushing the girl's lamenting, until the bawls turned to sniffles and she raised her head; eyes bloodshot and puffy, the back of her raised to wipe her cheeks and slightly runny nose. "I don't want to be strong, but if ya want me to, I will be." Ruth nodded, running her palm down the girl's wet face. A few short weeks later, Ruth Davis finally succumbed to smallpox and joined her ancestors, but not before reminding Nellie that no matter what, she would always be there when her daughter needed her.
Nellie now only left the house to get necessities, she no longer spent sunny or any other days at the park. She wrote to Benjamin, explaining everything that had happened and that she needed to stay home and keep her father company. Her mother's death had been very difficult for him as well, of course. She completely understood that the loss was leaving her father feeling lost and dejected. He had drunk before - only on very rare occasions like the holidays - now it was a rare occurrence when he was seen without a bottle or glass in his hand. When she asked him to take a break or told him that he had too much, he would bring up Ruth and make her feel guilty until she went to buy him more. Terrance would start fights with her on occasion, but after some arguing, Nellie would always back down, knowing that it was his anger and grief making him argue, not he himself. The end came when he arrived - already in a deep state of intoxication - to the factory where he was employed, and his employer quickly informed him that he was no longer needed. He was quick to return home and immediately went to the cabinet where the alcohol was kept. He narrowed his eyes upon seeing that the cabinet was empty, making his way around the flat, he finally found Nellie pouring the last bottle out of her bedroom window and onto the street below. The child stopped mid-pour when she spotted her father at the door, and within what felt like seconds, her vision went black.
Nellie began to come to and could faintly hear a man's cry. She opened her eyes and rubbed the side of her slightly throbbing head, Terrance was kneeling next to her bed and stroking her hair. "Sweet'eart! I am so sorry; I wasn't thinking at all. I know that ain't an excuse, but could ya ever forgive me?" Nellie picked her head up and her father helped her to sit up. The next thing that her eyes focused on were two small suitcases. She looked between him and the luggage, her brows furrowed, and she leaned in closer to him. Uncertain of why her heartbeat began to speed up, she asked why the luggage was lying there. "Nell, I love you, you know that I do. I am so sorry and ashamed of 'ow I've been actin' lately and I just caused…" He stopped short and held her face in his hands. "I need you safe, and right now that ain't wiv' me, sweet'eart. So, you're going to stay wiv' your Auntie Gertrude for a while. I'm gonna stop drinking, get me job back, and then I'll bring you back 'ome, I swear it on me 'eart. I can't 'ave you 'ere in possible danger while I'm… sick, like this."
"No, Papa, you're not bad, I was bad. I threw away your drinks and they wasn't mine to throw away!" She threw herself into his arms, tears starting to stream. He followed suit and cradled her in his arms, both holding onto the other and weeping for what seemed like hours before there was a knock at the door. "I-is th-th-that 'er?" Nellie asked through her sobbing. Terrance nodded and helped her to her feet. He told her that she had fallen after he had hit her, and that she had 'fallen asleep'. In that time, he had stopped a carriage, told the driver to go to the other side of the city where Gertrude resided, inform her that Nellie was to stay with her, and immediately return to pick the girl up.
There was another loud rapping and Terrance opened the door to reveal a tall, slender, and very severe looking woman with greying hair pulled into such a tight bun that it seemed to be entirely keeping her bony face from drooping. Her lips were pursed, her brows forced together. Nellie's eyes widened and she clenched Terrance's hand, this woman did not look pleasant at all. Gertrude looked the man up and down and clicked her tongue. "Look at you Terrance, you look terrible. It's no wonder that you're having the girl stay with me." She took Eleanor's hand in her gloved one and shook it with a tight grip. "Eleanor, I am your Aunt Gertrude. I expect you to refer to me as such and expect you to behave as a proper girl should while in my care." Nellie nodded silently and looked up at her father.
Gertrude reached into the pocket of her coat and pulled out a silver pocket watch on a long chain. She cleared her throat and reached out a hand "Come along now Eleanor, we'll leave now and be there in time for supper." Nellie continued to stand by her father's side, she didn't want to go with this cold woman. Her father had made a mistake, true, but he really did love her with all of his heart. Nellie knew that she could help him if she just tried hard enough. She had just lost her mother, she didn't want to lose her father as well, he was all that she had left in the world! If she hadn't upset him, he wouldn't have felt the need to protect her from him. This woman wasn't going to love her, to hold her when she cried or was frightened during a loud thunderstorm. This woman did not care about her, she had only known her for a few minutes, but Nellie could already tell that she saw her as a burden.
Nellie cried out and wrapped her arms around Terrance's waist, looking up at him with wide, pleading eyes. "Papa, please d-d-d-don't make me leave! I forg-g-g-give you, I know tha-tha-tha-that ya didn' mean it. Or if I've got to go, why n-n-n-n-not Auntie Nettie? I know Auntie Nettie! I don't kn-kn-kn-know 'er, she's a stranger and you and mum always t-t-t-t-told me not to tal-." Tears erupted from her eyes; she could barely get everything out that she was struggling to say.
Terrance crouched down to meet her eyes and wiped her tears away with his thumbs. "I know that you love Auntie Nettie darling, but she lives so far away, and she's trying to process your mother's passing just as much as we are. Plus, this would give you and your Aunt Gertrude a chance to know one other. I love you, so will you be my big girl and go with her? You'll be 'appier and safer with 'er than stayin' with me right now. I promise, I'll come for ya when I've gotten better, my sweet girl." Nellie sniffled and nodded her head, giving her father a long embrace before taking Gertrude's hand.
Gertrude gave her hand a slight tug to hurry the girl. They descended the indoor staircase, left the building and sat in the waiting carriage, Gertrude flattened her heavy grey dress and studying Nellie from over her turned up nose, handed the girl a small compact brush. "I know that it won't do much to fix the mess, but do try to make yourself look presentable, girl. I won't have you looking like I pulled you from the streets, you are my niece after all, and you will look proper." Nellie began to sob again and Gertrude, letting out a loud sigh, handed her a cloth. "Do stop sniveling, it's neither becoming of a proper young lady nor is it necessary." Nellie banged her fists on the carriage window, her arms waving wildly towards the flat's window as Terrance watched the carriage drive away, loudly begging for him to change his mind, even if he couldn't hear her. This heart wrenching display stopped, however, when Nellie felt something strike her knee. She let out a yelp and looked to see Gertrude holding onto a small purse. She thought it best to remain silent throughout the remainder of the ride, staring out of the window whilst wondering what was awaiting her.