She paid for the cab she had taken from the dock and put her portmanteau in the hall while Jack took her trunk upstairs. The sounds of the piano filled the house. It was a piece of Mozart that Sophia had taught Eden to sing to: “twinkle, twinkle, little star.” But the player couldn’t be Sophia. The music halted and started, went awry and halted again.
Mrs. Williams raised her eyebrows at Eden’s questioning face and nodded to the music room.
When Eden walked through the door, the music stopped. “Oh, darling!” Sophia rose from the piano bench and stepped to Eden’s side. “I didn’t hear you come in. Mrs. Williams ought to have told me. You weren’t to land until morning…”
“We arrived early,” Eden said, taking Sophia in her arms for a happy kiss.
“We would have met you if we’d known. I didn’t see the paper this evening.” At these words, Sophia half turned and Eden saw a child of two or three, sitting before the piano.
“We?” Eden asked.
“Pearl, come meet Eden,” Sophia said, stepping back to the piano and helping the little girl down. Eden looked closer now and saw a mass of brown curls too short to be gathered, but long enough to fall over a pair of eyes that almost filled the thin little face, and so dark as to be nearly black.
Eden bent down to meet the child at her eye level. “Pearl,” she said, reaching for a small hand, “I am Eden. This is my house.”
“Sophie’s house,” said the little girl, not extending her hand towards Eden, but taking a fistful of Sophia’s skirt instead.
“Well, yes. Sophie’s house. But mine too,” Eden insisted, not rising. “In either case, you are very welcome. Is Sophie teaching you to play the piano?”
The child did not respond by word or gesture. Sophia reached down and picked her up. Mrs. Williams was standing in the doorway. Sophia smiled and handed the child into the housekeeper’s arms. “Time for milk and a bath,” she murmured. Pearl continued to eye Eden with suspicion throughout the exchange of her caregivers, but finally lifted her face to kiss Sophia’s cheek before Mrs. Williams carried her away.
“Milk and a bath?” Eden asked.
“She’s been here for a fortnight or so.”
“A fortnight! Where’s her mother?”
“Dead.” Sophia frowned and gestured for Eden to sit. “Do you need something to eat?” she asked.
“Her mother’s dead?” Eden prompted Sophia to return to the story.
“She came into the hospital directly from the street. It was a late-stage case of tuberculosis. She didn’t live for twenty-four hours. Her little girl—Pearl—was with her.”
“She had no family?” Eden said.
“They have posted notices in several papers, but no one has come forward.”
“Why didn’t they send the little girl to a foundlings’ home?”
Sophia bit her lip and Eden thought she read judgment in her eyes. “I don’t mean she isn’t welcome,” she added.
“No, of course. But you just got home. Sit, darling.” The look on Sophia’s face wasn’t judgment then. It was worry about the rest of the story.
“Pearl refused to go to the nurses from the mission we called,” Sophia continued. “She would not leave her mother’s side, but held onto the poor dead woman’s clothes and screamed and bit the nurse when she tried to remove her by force.”
Eden ran a hand through her hair, finished her brandy and put the glass down.
“I was a few doors down the hall. I heard a child scream and ran into the room. Pearl dropped her mother’s dress and walked to me, buried her face in my skirt and just wailed. I picked her up and she would not let me put her down for the rest of the day.”
Sophia searched Eden’s face for a reaction, but it was cast in evening shadows. Eden pondered the carpet pattern.
“I brought her here. She has slowly come to trust Mrs. Williams. But of course, Mrs. Williams is not paid to be a nurse.”
Sophia was quiet for a minute. She rose and stepped to the piano. “Twinkle, twinkle, little…” her fingers skipped over the keys absently.
“So she is interviewing someone tomorrow,” Sophia said.
“Interviewing a nurse?” Eden looked up at Sophia. “A nurse to come here?”
“For how long?” Eden asked.
“Well…the little girl is grieving terribly. And I think that this might be the only house she has ever lived in. She cannot be older than three and she seems even younger. I think she was born on the streets. I don’t think she had a day of regular meals in her life before she came here. I can’t imagine when she will be well enough to…”
“We’ll need the nurse then,” Eden said and rose from her chair.
“I can pay for it,” Sophia said.
“Of course you needn’t pay for it. There’s plenty.” Eden stepped to Sophia and kissed her. “Play for me?” she asked.