It was the 1900's and I was a child. A young girl, dressed in my black dress and apron with my brown hair poking out from under the shabby cap: that was the image I wore because I had no other. And as I grew older the appearance changed very little, except that the skirt became longer, the apron slightly cleaner and the hat had better lace. My hair reached to my waist before it was cut off, as I had been growing it throughout my life.
I was born as an only child in 1897, but this was merely because my parents were only twenty and twenty-one years old respectively. By the time I was eight I had six younger brothers and sisters; by the time I reached thirteen there were twelve of us. I, Arianna, the oldest, followed by Agnes, Elizabeth, James, Melissa, Christopher, Eva, Stephen, John, Philip, Marian and William. But naturally I thought myself superior, being so much older than them all.
When I was twelve years old I left school. That was just before William was born, and Mother was already tired most of the time. I had to help around the house--but of course, I had always done that. Agnes and Elizabeth put aside their petty differences and joined me, realising that it was all they could do to help. Melissa and Eva were still too young to help, really, and Marian could not yet even walk, so the responsibility was on our shoulders.
Leaving school so young would seem to any modern-day reader a shocking thing, but in those days it was considered perfectly normal. The younger a student left school, the cleverer they must have been, to have passed the leaving exam. Twelve was average--I was average.
And indeed I did go on to pursue a perfectly average for a girl of my age and class. We were not a rich family: in fact, we had very little money indeed. I had to work for my keep, so I became a domestic servant. There I was, not yet thirteen, carrying my coat and smart hat, wearing my Sunday best over my everyday dress to save carrying it, and I headed to the large house in the centre of London.
Mother was sorry to see me go. I tried to comfort her, telling her that it was for the best and that she needed the money. She said she wanted me to be a child, but I could not listen to her. I knew that there was no time for a child in this day and age. It was grow up or else. I would make my living for myself.
In many ways it lived up to my expectations. In others, it did not. This is the story of those days.