Hazel didn't want to go.
As Hazel boarded the ferry, she gave one last longing look at America, her home, her parents and her friends. Once she sat down on the coarse wooden bench she thought of the last few days in New York. It was 1861 and the beginning of a Civil War in America. She had begged her parents to stay, but they remained firm in their decision that she had to go. "Conflict is brewing", her mom had said. "If slavery ends or not, there will be war and you will be safe with your aunt and uncle in London. They will then send you to Cheltenham Ladies College while you are there, so you can become a proper young lady. We were already planning to send you there next year." "What if there is no war? Then can I return? Do you really want to send me to the place where The Great Stink* happened?" she had asked. Her parents hadn't answered.
*The Great Stink was an event in central London in July and August 1858 during which the hot weather exacerbated the smell of untreated human waste and industrial effluent that was present on the banks of the River Thames.
After the argument, she had rushed to tell her best friend Annabella: "My parents have forced me into going to London." Annabella had been sympathetic and tried to comfort her and at the end she asked for letters to be sent weekly. The only good thing she got from the talk was that Annabella had reminded her that there are a lot of libraries in London. As soon as Hazel got home she had packed her few possessions, went to bed, and was taken to the ferry by her father's carriage the next morning.
The rest of the trip went in a blur, although when she had almost reached the docks she thought: "What will I do when I finally get to London?" When she finally exited the boat, she saw no sign of her uncle or her aunt, so she sat down on a wooden bench and waited. Soon enough, rain began dripping down ruining the experience even more. Finally, after what felt like hours, a tall young man came up to her and had asked: "Are you Hazel Lawson?" "Huh, oh yeah", she replied a little too quickly. Hazel cursed herself mentally, she didn’t even know this gentleman! But she regained her composure and asked: "And who may you be?" The young man laughed: "Thomas, of course." When Hazel continued to look blankly at him, Thomas sighed and said: "Looks like your parents didn’t even mention your own cousin." Cousin? Hazel had never heard of a cousin named Thomas. Thomas was still laughing: "It's okay, I had never heard of you until my father told me you were visiting." He then called out his coachmen to take Hazel's baggage and said: "May I care show you a little bit of London?"
The Coach ride itself was pleasant and Thomas tried to explain as much as possible while they were riding through the streets of London, naming the streets while she was attempting to listen, though she was so sleepy that all the street names blurred together: Lime street, Long lane, King street, King William street and many, many more. Finally, they arrived at a dimly lit house that was much bigger than her own abode which would of have had a grand elegant look to it if not marred by the dank air and dull grey stone. Not sensing Hazel's dread, Thomas grinned at her and said "Here we are! You're going to enjoy yourself so much, now let me just ring the bell."
Hazel was not enjoying herself at all. An older man with thin gray hair and a rather long nose from which rain dripped from opened the door: "Master Nithercott," he said with a slight bow "your parents are waiting for you in the living room." Hazel giggled at the last name, earning a rather exaggerated groan from Thomas: "You may find my last name funny and I would agree with you, but my father will give you an extensive lecture of how powerful the Nithercott name is." Hazel no longer joked about the name. The butler who, according to Thomas, was called Calen, led them in to a fancy laced room with couches. In the center couch sat a man who looked like an older version of Thomas except with stuffier posture and pinched lips as though he had eaten a rather sour lemon, next to him sat an older woman who looked exactly like Hazel's mother down to the worry lines on her face. "So" said Thomas's mother looking her up and down crinkling her nose "This is the girl, she doesn’t look like much, but she will do once her schooling is done." "Margaret" said Thomas's father to her aunt "She is just a mere child, we have time to make her into a proper lady, until then she will go to the school." "Well then," said Margaret "At least let me teach her the proper tea time etiquette so she can act like a lady. Who knows what fluff was stuffed into her head in America" By the end of the day Hazel stumbled up the stairs and collapsed on the bed wanting nothing more than to go home.
The next day Hazel got up early, so she could visit London Library. That was the world's largest library. After she spent the morning lost, she eventually found the library where she spent the rest of the morning reading in a large leather chair with towers of books protruding from the floor around her. She got a few funny glances from some other people, but the rest went like clockwork. Eventually Hazel looked up and a young man was walking to her and asked her: "What's your favorite book, Madame?" "The man had a smile on his face. "Is he trying to find a subtle way to kick me out or is he is flirting with me?" The man continued to smile so she though it was probably the latter. She then took a deep breath and said: "It’s a tie between Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, what about you?" The man's smile faltered but only for a second as he said: "Why War and Peace of course!" Hazel pretended to brighten "You have read it! Isn't Count Ilya Andreyevich Rostov hopeless with finances?" The gentleman's smile instantly disappeared as he said: "Yes, she certainly is." And as he quickly walked away, Hazel called out "Oh, Count Ilya Andreyevich Rostov is a man."
Hazel soon left to return home, but she shortly got lost among the twisting corridors of London. Great. thought Hazel I am hopelessly lost and I will probably starve, get robbed or fall into a sewer system before I even get close to finding my house! And unbeknown to Hazel her prediction was one third right, Hazel took a turn and ended up in alleyway where a group of men were standing. She tried to turn back, but one of the men was standing behind her blocking the exit. I am... dead! thought Hazel as the men slowly circled around her ready to do whatever they would have done if it weren't for the fact that at the last possible second Thomas walked in and said "Hey, leave her alone!" The biggest of the brutes turned and looked at him and said "Why should we leave her alone?" "If you leave her alone I will give you some money.." All the men turned, money was something they understood, but the man said: "Why shouldn't we rob the both of you then?" Thomas just laughed and said "Then you would face the wrath of the Nithercott family." All the men just walked away after hearing the name Nithercott. Hazel looked at Thomas in amazement: "How did you do that?" "I've already told you the Nithercott name has power." "Once I noticed you had left for the library without me, I went after you knowing something would happen from what I know, you're hopeless with directions." "No, I am not!" Hazel interjected angrily "Then why did your parents send a letter stating you have no sense of direction," Thomas casually stated. Hazel having nothing to say followed him and off they went back to the Nithercott's house.
The days continued in a pattern similar to this: Margaret taught etiquette and dragged Hazel to balls parties and other frivolous evens. She spent the days eating tiny foods, making small talk, and trying to not to faint while wearing tight corsets from sunup to sundown. Then if Hazel had some time, she and Thomas went to the library where Thomas would try not to laugh at the extensive amount of books Hazel read. On and on the days went in an endless pattern wearing Hazel down more and more until one day Thomas's dad whose name was Henry said: "You are going to Cheltenham Ladies College in three days. You are sixteen years old and you should be in boarding school, not on the street doing who knows what." Hazel was so startled she dropped her fork with a loud clang causing everyone, even the servants to stop what they are doing to and look at her "I'm sorry" said Hazel "but I am leaving for Cheltenham already?" "I thought it was still August." Margaret looked at her scolding: "A lady must always know the date, so she may plan activities for her husband." Hazel sighed and went to her room where she cried herself to sleep wishing more than ever for her parents to have her return to America. Unfortunately she knew that would be impossible, the civil war was getting so bloody she probably would not make it to America alive.
The next day Hazel attended a tea party where she decided to say as little as possible since apparently, practically everything she was saying was usually not proper. Such as the time she said the civil war was getting bloody. She later got told off on how she didn't mingle enough with the other women. "You must have contacts to help your future husband with business." Margaret scolded for what felt like the millionth time, but eventually aunt let her go off with Thomas. "Where would you like to go the library, the library or the library?" asked Thomas imitating his father's voice as they walked off "Why, the library of course" said Hazel mimicking Margaret's voice. They both laughed on their way to the library. Once they got there a man was standing dressed in work garb telling everyone who came near: "The library's closed for repairing!" Hazel almost cried once she heard him, the trips to the library were the highlight of the week. It was also the only place where people were nice to her. Thomas, sensing her anguish, said: "We could go someplace else." " No, it's fine." Hazel said miserably "Let's return home."
When they returned, Margaret quickly escorted the two upstairs: "Tonight we shall have a party." Margaret said, "Thomas go to your room and get dressed and Hazel, you are coming with me." When Hazel entered her aunt's room there was a mannequin holding the biggest puffiest dress ever made, along with a few female servants. The events that followed included stuffing Hazel into that dress and about an hour of being covered in powders and getting her hair pulled at in every possible way. When the prosses was done Margaret looked at her and said "Perfect, Hazel this this will be a very important night, so don't make a fool out of yourself." "Now let's go." The party seemed to go on forever, Hazel had talked to so many people that her voice was sore. Then, a young lady much older than Hazel came up to her: "Madame Lawson." she said with a curtsy. Hazel quickly searched her brain for the girl's name thanking Margaret for making Hazel memorize all of the names of the people that were coming. "And you must be Madam Davidson." Hazel replied, remembering her name "What a delightful party you have here." The girl replied: "It's to celebrate your acceptance into Cheltenham Ladies College, according to my brother." "Yes, it is." replied Hazel. The girl laughed: "You don't sound excited, but remember, never stop trying to find joy." The girl then left and was nowhere to be seen. Huh, that was strange. thought Hazel, although she had no time to question it. The rest of the party went well. After the party Hazel stumbled up the steps, got out of the dress with help of aunt's maid and fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning Hazel woke up and remembered - this was the day she was leaving for boarding school. She packed her things including the books that some of the library workers gave to her as a way of saying thanks for all the nice things Hazel had done to them. Once she packed her things and said good bye to her uncle and aunt, she took a carriage with Thomas to the boarding school. When they arrived on campus they were greeted by headmaster Charleston. Hazel was whisked away to her room. Months passed, and things went well, the girls there were nice, the classes she found enjoyable and for the first time for what felt like forever...Hazel had found joy.