The Mona Lisa Sisters

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Chapter 2

I awake to silence. Walter sleeps peacefully at my side. I’m wearing mother’s pendant. The baby
is no longer kicking. I listen, there is no sound. My heart beats wildly. I can feel it trying to beat
an opening in my chest, as if to escape. I recall the premonition of the night before and I’m filled
with dread.
“Walter, Walter, wake up.”
Walter comes from a deep sleep rubbing his eyes, “What is it? Is the baby kicking?” He
smiles until he sees my face. “Oh God. What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. Its mother, I’m so frightened. We must see to her.”
Covering our nightclothes with robes, we hurry to mother’s suite. Walter knocks at the
door several times. There is no answer. I open the door to the drawing room. It is dark. With ever
increasing fright, we cross to mother’s bedroom door. I knock.
“Mother! Mother are you awake?”
Unable to wait for an answer, I open the door and step into the room. It is darker yet.
Walter takes a lamp from the drawing room and lights it. He walks past me to the bedside.
Mother’s unmoving. On her chest rests the family bible along with an envelope. We cannot rouse
I put my right hand to her left cheek. There is no warmth. Mother is dead. I know it even
as I say, “Mother, mother please wake up.”
Walter takes me in his arms and pulls me away. “She’s gone my darling, she’s gone.
There is nothing we can do.”
I feel as though I’ll faint. Walter senses my condition and helps me to mother’s settee.
Once I know that I will not pass out, I say to Walter, “Please open the curtains.” He does so
without question.
We sit in silence unsure what to say or do for what seems like a lifetime. In truth, it is
only minutes before Walter takes charge. “Lura, we need to clean and dress. After, we can begin
preparations to honor mother. Come with me.”
“Please, you go. I’ll join you in a few minutes. I wish to say goodbye to mother before
we begin this new ordeal.”
Walter understands and leaves me. I sense more than see that I’ve got mothers pendant.
I’m rubbing it between my hands.

The few minutes I spend alone with mother come as a surprise for me. I was unprepared
for what happened next. I don’t cry because I’m angry, angry with mother. Shaking my fist at
her, I say, “How could you do this to me? You know how I love you. How can you leave me
now? I need you so.” Crying, I say unkind things and regret them immediately.
As I sob, I feel mother’s presence. It’s as if she is holding me in her arms. I don’t hear,
but feel her tell me, “It will be better child. I’m with Father now and we are happy.”
The envelope contains mother’s will and a note. I’m now the sole owner of the Grisham Railroad
Company, all the family holdings. I’m a wealthy woman; I should say Walter and I are.
Connecticut law provides for shared ownership of all properties by husband and wife.
Christmas comes with a flurry of storms. With both my father and mother gone the house seems
empty. We celebrate as best we can but with no family, it is difficult. Walter’s parents died years
before I met him, and now with Father and mother gone we are alone.
The day after Christmas dawns clear and cold. The baby is more and more active. Walter
and I discuss redoing, the nursery. Not knowing if we will have a boy or girl, Walter is
convinced it will be a boy, we leave the walls a pale yellow. Unable to decide where to place the
crib, we leave it along the wall away from the window.
The doctor is sure the baby will arrive during the last week of January. I’m not sure at all.
By afternoon, I feel faint and feverish. Walter brings the doctor who examines me. “I don’t think
you or the baby are in danger but you should consider travel to New York where you can receive
the best care possible.”
Terrified, I wrap my arms and shaking hands around my stomach as if shielding my
unborn child from danger. “Doctor, what are you saying? Is something wrong with me or the
“No. That is not what I’m saying. You and Walter have been through trying times. You
are on the verge of exhaustion. I think it would be better for you and the health of the baby if you
had specialized care.”
Walter and I exchange glances and I can see the concern in his face. “Tell us what we
should do.”
The doctor pulls his spectacles off and cleans them on his coat. I’ve seen him do this
many times over the years. I know he is thinking about what to say next. Letting out a sigh, he

answers Walter’s question. “I believe that Lura and the baby are fine. I just don’t want to take
any chances. There is a doctor in New York who specializes in caring for women with child. He
can give you better care than I am able to. In addition, there is a hospital with a children’s ward,
New York Hospital. The doctors and nurses can give you twenty-four-hour care before, during,
and after the birth.”
Walter looks at me with a plea that I can feel and almost hear. “We’ve lost Father and
I answer his unspoken question, “Yes, I know. We can’t take the chance. We’ll leave as
soon as we can travel.” Turning to the doctor, I ask, “Can you make the arrangements in New
York for us? You can let them know that we’ll be taking a suite at the Waldorf Hotel.”
“Yes, I’ll send him a telegraph today. I should have an answer no later than tomorrow
We thank the doctor and Walter walks him to the door. Thinking I can’t hear them,
Walter asks, “Are you sure Lura and the baby are fine?”
“Yes. Lura is exhausted and she refuses to stay in bed here. Get her to New York, and the
doctor will provide her with nurses around the clock. They will insure that she gets the rest she
and the baby need. Promise me you’ll rest.”
“I’m not tired doctor.”
“Walter, I know that physically you’re in excellent condition. Another condition requires
rest. It has to do with mental exhaustion, I think the term most popular is stress. We know little
about it, but we know it requires rest.”
“I have a railroad to run. I can’t just stop working.”
“I know Walter, but you should turn some of the responsibility and day-to-day tasks over
to your staff, as much for Lura’s sake as yours. She cannot suffer another loss.”
While I didn’t know it at the time, Walter took the doctor’s advice and turned much of
the operation of the railroad over to his trusted assistants. His relinquishment of control was
much the same as Father had done when Walter and I had married. Walter had made it possible
for Father to enjoy his retirement, short-lived as it was.
Walter and I hold each other for a long minute when he rejoins me. Not wanting him to
know how worried I am, I make light of the trip. “The Waldorf Hotel is the newest and without a
doubt the most luxurious hotel in the world. Did you know that it was finished only a few
months ago?”

“No. I didn’t.” Walter goes along with the charade that we’re going on a holiday.
“Well you should have. I read about it The Evening Telegram. It is on the corner of Fifth
Avenue and 33rd Street. William Waldorf Astor tore down the family mansion and built the
largest, most luxurious hotel in the world on Fifth Avenue.”
“Do tell.” Walter is smiling now.
“Don’t tease me dear. The hotel was completed earlier this year and just opened and I
expect you to book us a suite. I don’t care what it costs or what you have to do to get it. If you
can’t, I will.”
“What do you mean if I can’t you will?”
“Father had to deal with those nasty people at Tammany Hall to get a spur approved
several years ago. Thomas Gilroy was the Commissioner of Public Works and a power at
Tammany Hall. He and Father became friends, though I will never understand what he saw in
that man.”
“Darling, will you please get to the point?”
“Mr. Gilroy is now Mayor Gilroy. I’m sure he can get me, I mean us, into the Waldorf.”
We didn’t need to resort to asking Mayor Gilroy for help. Mr. Astor was acquainted with
the Grisham Railroad and was more than happy to accommodate us. Little did he or I anticipate
the length my stay.

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