“Madame, Monsieur Benoit is waiting in the salon.”
“Claude, would you mind waiting with the girls for a few minutes? I have something to which I must attend.”
“Mais naturellement Madame. We shall enjoy a bit of delicious French Chew.”
“Bonjour! Monsieur Benoit.”
“Mr. Benoit. I have the information you requested about Mr. Dean’s mode of travel and when he arrived here.”
“It is no longer of importance Madame. I have located Mr. Dean’s hotel. The news I bring is disturbing.”
“Mr. Dean and two young ladies, much like the two in your company, took a small suite of rooms not far from the railroad station. I have examined the rooms. As I said, the news is disturbing.”
“For a small gift, I was able to inspect the rooms. There had been a struggle. I fear it did not end well. There is a great deal of blood and marks that indicate a body was wrapped in a rug and taken from the room.”
“Oh my God. I fear the worst.”
“Yes, I would agree. For another small gift, the landlord provided me with Mr. Dean’s American passport.” Benoit hands me the passport. The picture is of a man who appears to be much like the man described by Katie and Ada Mae. The name on the document is Francis Patrick Dean. I don’t have a passport. They aren’t required for Americans traveling to European countries, some carry passports for ease of re-entry. Mr. Dean’s Irish heritage must have something to do with his having one.
“Madame, there is more troubling news. The police pulled the body of a man from the Seine last night. There was no identification on the body but it was wrapped in a rug.”
“Have you seen the body?”
“I thought to report to Madame first. Do you want my inquiry to be public? That will lead the Sûreté to you and the children.”
“If Mr. Dean is dead and the Sûreté learns of the girls, what will become of them?”
“Madame, the officials will take the girls into custody and place them in an orphanage. They will conduct an investigation to identify relatives to whom the children may be sent.”
And if they have no living relatives?”
“They will be placed for adoption. It is the law.”
“They have no living relatives. I will not allow them to be placed in an orphanage. What can I do that does not involve an official inquiry?”
“With Madame’s permission, I will call upon a friend at the morgue tonight. For a small gift, Mon ami will allow a short visit with the body of the man pulled from the Seine. I should take the passport with me to help in the identification. There will be no record of my visit.”
“Would you be able to have a photograph of the body prepared?”
“It will require another small gift.”
“Do you need money from me?”
“No, that’s unnecessary. Monsieur Brandies provided me a generous bank draft that more than covers all the, ah, shall we say gifts. I have provided Monsieur Brandies with my services in the past. I have no concerns about money.” Mr. Brandies continues to amaze me.
“When will you report to me concerning this body?”
“Would ten be too early for Madame?”
“Can you meet me here at eight tomorrow morning? I would like to hear your report before the girls awake.”
“Eight is excellent Madame.”
“Good, I will see you then.” Mr. Benoit rises and directs a small bow in my direction. As he turns, I stop him, “Mr. Benoit.”
Turning back, he says, “Yes Madame.”
“Thank you. You don’t know how much I appreciate what you’re doing. It is no small matter for me.”
“Do not concern yourself Madame. It is my pleasure. Bonne journée.”
Once Claude leaves, the girls pounce upon me. They demand to know, “Who is that man Miss Lura? What did he want?”
“Girls, girls, please it does not concern you.” I hate lying to them, but until Mr. Benoit reports, I do not want to break their hearts or give them false hope. “Now what shall we do for dinner?”
Ada Mae falls asleep during dessert. Katie pokes her, “Ada Mae, you must stay awake. At least until dessert is finished. You embarrass Miss Lura.”
“But I’m so tired.”
“Come girls; let us return to our suite. It is time we all went to bed.”
Once the girls are in their nightgowns, Katie calls me in to say good night. “Ada Mae is almost asleep. Please make her stay up long enough to say our prayers, and ask God to bring father back to us.”
My heart is breaking with sadness for what will surely be the last day that these wonderful girls hold onto hope that their father is alive. “Yes, let us pray.” Ada Mae joins us at the side of the bed. With one on each side, I say, “Who shall lead us in prayer tonight?”
Ada Mae says, “I’m too tired.”
Katie says, “Please Miss Lura. God might help you.”
I’ve grown to adore the girls in these few days. Releasing a sigh, I put my arms around their shoulders and pull them close. How can I lie to them? And praying for the safe return of their father when I’m sure he’s dead is a lie. “Maybe we can all say a silent prayer together.” The girls each put an arm around my back and squeeze. I know at that instant. It is more than adoration, I love them.
I will do whatever I must to protect them.
“Madame Myer, the body in the morgue is that of Mr. Dean. Je suis désolé.”
“Are you positive?”
“Although the man had been beaten badly and in the water for many hours, I’m positive. His face was that of the man in the passport photograph. There is more.”
“What do you mean, there is more?”
“Might I ask; are the deux jeunes dames named Katie and Ada Mae?”
“Yes, they are. Why?”
“There were many tattoos on the body. However, two were different. Over his heart was the “Katie” and over his right breast “Ada Mae”.
I’m squeezing Mother’s pendant so hard, it is a wonder it doesn’t break apart. Tears struggle to erupt from my eyes, as does a moan. I turn away from Mr. Benoit as the tears break free, and the moan escapes.
“Madame, Madame, may I be of assistance.”
“I’m sorry. Please forgive my bad manners. Give me a moment.”
Mr. Benoit produces a handkerchief and gives it to me before getting me a glass of water. Sufficiently settled to talk, I ask him, “What will become of the body?”
“If no one claims it, it will be buried in a pauper’s grave.”
“Can you arrange to have the body claimed and shipped to America?”
“Yes, but many questions will be asked and the officials may learn of the existence of the jeunes dames.”
“Is there another, more discreet, possibility?”
“For several large gifts, arrangements can be made.”
“Please make the arrangements. Return this afternoon. Come at three. I will have a bank draft for you. Will twenty-thousand American dollars suffice?”
“Half that will be more than sufficient. I shall report at three. Bonne journée Madame.”
“Monsieur Dean’s body will be delivered to a reputable undertaker in New York within four weeks. The body will be preserved until you call for burial. Is that satisfactory for Madame?”
“What name will be used?”
“Madame should not worry herself about the details. Mr. Brandies will handle the arrangements in New York. Rest assured that when the time comes, you shall be able to bury the girl’s father as Francis Patrick Dean. I can tell you no more.”
“Thank you Mr. Benoit. Here is my bank draft as promised.”
“Merci. Will Madame require my services for any other matter?”
“I may. Would you be so kind as to return in an hour?”
The next hour proves to be one of the most difficult of my life. That I had lost four loved ones in a matter of months, has not prepared me for what I must now do.
“Girls, we must talk. I have news of your father.”
The girls are ecstatic. Ada Mae always the more demonstrative jumps up and down while screaming “Yes, Yes.”
Katie less demonstrative, shows her joy as she grabs Ada Mae, embraces her, and then runs to me, and throws her arms about me. Her smile is infectious. Despite what I must tell her, I cannot help smiling back at her.
“Quiet, please settle down.”
The girls cannot contain their excitement at news of their father. Katie is the first to let out a sigh and sit. As she sits, she takes Ada Mae’s hand and pulls her down beside her on the bed. Both face me with wide-eyed anticipation. I have to begin somewhere. I cannot tell the girls their father has been murdered. “There has been an accident. Your father has…”
Ada Mae screams, “Is our father alright? Where is he? When can we see him?”
Katie on the other hand looks at me with dread in her eyes as she puts her arms up in an attempt to ward off what I’m about to say. I believe she knows her father is gone, dead. Leaning as far back into the bed as she can, Katie looks away, face down, as she whispers, “No.” Before I speak again, she begins to shake.
“Your father is dead. He was found in the River Seine.”
Ada Mae falls back against Katie and buries her head in her sister’s lap. Katie raises her head and glares at me. Then through clenched teeth she snarls, “No. No, it’s not true. You don’t know.”
I try to explain what the detective has learned. It does no good. The girls refuse to believe me as they become more and more angry. With voices overcome by tears, they try to make sense of what I tell them about their father being found in the river. I let them assume that he drowned.
Finally, mercifully they cry themselves to sleep. I place them in bed. For the first time I kiss each one. They don’t know it, they are asleep. The act of kissing them frees me from doubt. I will take them home to Grisham Manor. I will make it their home.
In the morning, they are still upset but talk and listen to what I have to say. “Do you have any relatives?”
“No, we told you that before. It is just father and us. Now it is just us.” Katie is obviously being strong for her sister.
“You will have to make some choices before we leave today.”
Katie takes the lead, “What do you mean?”
“The authorities do not know who your father is, nor do they know about you girls. If we visit your father, they will have to take you into protective custody.”
“What does that mean, Miss Lura?”
“It means that they will place you in an orphanage until they locate your relatives.”
“Katie already told you we have no relatives.”
“I know Ada Mae.”
“How long will we have to stay in an orphanage?”
“When the authorities learn that you have no relatives, they will put you up for adoption.”
Katie understands what that means. Ada Mae needs an explanation. After I finish, she asks, “Will we stay together?”
I have to be honest and tell her that they might go to different homes. As she begins to cry, Katie asks, “Can you adopt us?” Overcome by emotion, I sob and hold my head in my hands. The girls seem to forget their own woes, and hold and comfort me.
“I would love to adopt you. But I’m not a French citizen. France’s citizens have rights over foreigners. As Americans we are foreigners.”
Katie rubs her jaw, first looks down and then at me. She hesitates for an instant, and says, “Miss Lura, you said we had choices. What do you mean?”
Now I hesitate. I know I want these two girls in my life. If I say the wrong thing, I can lose them before I get the chance to earn their love. My God, earn their love. Does this mean I love them?
“There may be other choices, but there is one I hope you make. I have a lovely home in America that could be your home. We can travel to America. We can bury your father there. He will always be near you.”
There is no whooping or jumping for joy. The girls are too spent for that, but there is love. Both girls come, put their arms around my neck, and kiss my cheeks. If it weren’t for the sad reason for this occasion, I would be jumping and whooping. “Thank you girls,” is all I can muster.
Mr. Benoit tells me, “It is a good thing that Madame travels without a passport.”
“Why is that?”
“If Madame travelled with a passport, there would be a record of your entry without children. No you can pass through passport control and claim they are your wards, or relatives. I must advise you to leave France quickly. If Mr. Dean is identified and the authorities learn he was accompanied by two children, they will begin a search for them. It won’t take La Sûreté long to find you and the girls.”
“Can you help me get them out of the country?”
“Madame, the best destination would be America. I can help you get to La Havre, but you will have to book a ship. You must leave immediately, today if possible, but in no case later than tomorrow.”
“I will have Claude assist me with booking passage, preferably on La Touraine. I will send a note to you when I have the departure arranged.”
Claude arrives shortly after Mr. Benoit takes his leave. “Claude, I must return to America. Would it be possible to book passage through Cook Travel Agency?”
“Mais bien sur, Madame. I will be honored to accompany Madame to the agency.”
I find that money doesn’t always fix the problem. “But, Madame, there are no first-class accommodations available for the next sailing of La Touraine. It is, after all, the height of the season.”
“What about second-class? What can you find for me?”
“Of the ninety-eight second-class staterooms, there are but two singles left. We can arrange for two adjoining rooms in third-class, but Madame would be most unhappy in such appalling spaces.”
I do not wish to delay any longer than necessary. “Is there another ship that can accommodate us?”
“There is another liner leaving two days after La Touraine. I’m sure we can arrange for first-class on that ship.”
Not wanting to wait two more days, I ask, “If I book one of the second-class staterooms, will my nieces have a place to sleep?”
“We can petition the purser to allow the young ladies to sleep on the floor. But Madame would be obliged to provide her own bedding for them.”
“May I book both second-class staterooms?”
“Yes Madame, but they are located quite far from one another.” I will not have us separated. I decide to take one of the second-class staterooms, so I tell the agent to book one. I know that a “small gift” will ensure that the purser approves my petition.
The agency has the booking and the purser’s approval completed within the hour. “Madame will board with the second-class passengers at two tomorrow afternoon. Will Madame require transportation to La Havre and a hotel near the pier?”
Transportation to the railroad station will be handled by Claude. We have but two hours to return to the hotel, pack, check out and board the train. I don’t have time to reach Mr. Benoit. Claude handles our luggage. “Madame, once at the hotel, if you would pack only what is necessary for tonight, I will arrange to have your luggage, and bedding for the young ladies delivered to the ship and placed in your stateroom prior to sailing.”
I make one brief stop in route to the hotel. “Claude, please pull to the curb. Girls, wait here with Claude. In less than five minutes, I make three purchases, which I conceal in my handbag.
Ada Mae asks, “What did you buy Miss Lura?”
“That does not concern you. We must hurry to the hotel and pack.”
Claude puts us at ease, “Madame, do not trouble yourself. I will have you at the railroad station in plenty of time.” My once gruff driver has become a valued friend and guardian.
Delivered to the railway station, I give Claude a warm hug. He seems embarrassed. The girls run into his arms and kiss him. Their show of affection does not embarrass him. After giving Claude the money necessary to get our goods delivered to the ship, I offer him a suitable gratuity for all his service. He refuses. “No Madame, it is my pleasure to assist; besides the agency pays me well.” I know this is far from the truth. However, there is no arguing with the man. I will send him a bank draft in care of the agency.
As we board the train, I sense danger. Looking about the platform, I see nothing amiss, but the feeling persists. I will learn that three pairs of eyes were watching.
“Miss Lura, is something wrong?” Katie, always the observant one, asks.
“No, I’m just anxious to begin our trip, our adventure.”
Ada Mae asks, “When will we get to the ship?”
“The train is scheduled to arrive in La Havre at eight o’clock tonight. The travel agency has arranged for a driver to meet us and take us to a small hotel near the port. It will be late when we get to our rooms. Tomorrow after lunch, a driver will deliver us to the ship.”
“What about our clothes Miss Lura?” Asks Katie.
“Claude has made arrangements to have everything delivered to our stateroom. It should be waiting for us, along with bedding for you to sleep on. It will be an adventure. There is but one single room with a small bed. At least we’ll have our own bathroom.”
An hour before we arrive in La Havre, the girls fall asleep. I take the opportunity to visit the facility and freshen up. Opening the door, two men block my exit. They smell of filth. I recognize the two hooligans who accosted me at the Louvre and followed us a few days ago. “What do you want? Let me pass?”
The taller of the two speaks in very poor and heavily accented English. “We’ll have Madame’s purse and necklace.”
Holding tight to the pendant, I protest, “No you shall not?”
The girls wake and begin crying. “You have frightened my girls. I demand that you leave us alone.”
The shorter man pulls a wicked looking dagger from under his coat. “Give us what we want, or I’ll give you a taste of this.”
I hear a voice from behind the two ruffians. “That’s a gun you feel in your back. Drop the knife or I will shoot you where you stand.” The knife falls from the man’s hand.
“Madame, please close the door and don’t open it again until the train reaches La Havre.”
The two ruffians seem to fall back. As I close the door, I see what appears to be a bowler atop a dark overcoat pulling the two back into the corridor. The stranger has come to our rescue once again? Who is he? What does he want?
I’m as frightened as the girls are. We huddle in silence until the train stops. I open the door cautiously and look up and down the corridor. The only people I see appear to be fellow passengers.
Once we arrive at La Havre, a page calls my name, “Madame Lura Myer.” He has a telegram from Claude. “Please accompany the Page. He will take you to your cab.”
Safely ensconced at the small hotel Claude arranged for us, I relax enough to doze. My slumber is full of dreams about the ruffians who have been threatening me throughout my time in France. After a restless night, we wake to a beautiful June day. Our hostess is friendly and gregarious. As she serves us in the miniscule dining room, her running commentary never stops. I find one bit of news extremely interesting.
“When I went for eggs and baguettes this morning, the baker who provides the passenger train with bread told me an interesting story.” Without waiting to see if we are interested, she continues. “It seems that once all the passengers were off the train, the cleaners found two men locked in an empty compartment.” She walks out of the room speaking. The girls and I look at each other. Katie asks me a question. I put my hand up to shush her as our hostess returns. The woman takes up right where she left off as she enters the room. “Both men were unconscious. However, that wasn’t all. When the Gendarmes came and took them away, they found the men’s hands broken. Both hands of the men looked like someone had beaten them with a club or a hammer. When interrogated, they refused to answer questions.”
“Did the baker tell you what the men looked like?”
“All he knew was that they were rough looking men from Paris.”
We hurry through breakfast and return to our room. The girls speak in unison. “Miss Lura, do you think those are the men who frightened us?”
I’m not sure I want to know if they are the ruffians. “I don’t know. Shall we bathe? I would like to go shopping before we go to the ship.” I’ve said the magic word, shopping. The girls forget all about the hooligans as they talk of what they would like to get before we go aboard the ship.