The Mona Lisa Sisters

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Chapter 12

At the hour we are scheduled to board La Touraine, we join a small crowd waiting at a gangway behind a sign proclaiming, “Second-class Passengers Board Here.” When I boarded this same ship a few weeks prior, I was ushered from the dock to the first-class deck and then escorted to my stateroom. Today is quite different as I learn the difference between first and second-class.

The girls and I queue up and make our way to the foot of the gangway. A purser stands there with a clipboard. As I reach him, he speaks, “Please give me your boarding pass and your travel documents.”

I hand him the boarding passes for the girls and myself. “What about your travel documents? These girls do not share your last name. Who are they?”

Mr. Benoit had told me I might run into this problem. “These are my nieces. We are travelling together.”

“I don’t have all day. You must show me something that allows them to be in your company.” Mr. Benoit had provided an answer to this very question. I hand the purser an unsealed envelope. He looks at the contents and says, “I believe this will suffice,” as he waves us up the gangplank.

At the top is another purser. There are no porters, or cabin attendants waiting to help us. After taking a quick look at my boarding pass, he says, “Through the door, go to the second passage way and turn right. Your room is the fourth on the right.” With that, he dismisses us with a wave in the direction of the door.

I’m glad that Claude has had our luggage delivered to the room. Other passengers are struggling with theirs. If the service is this poor in second-class, I wonder what the poor souls in third-class must endure.

Finding our stateroom is not difficult. Claude’s promise of having our luggage delivered was a Godsend. However, delivery is all that was arranged. Unlike my personal butler and maid in first-class, there is no such service in second-class. Our luggage and the girls bedding is laying on the floor. That wouldn’t have been a problem, except there is no room left for us to move about.

“This is certainly not like my stateroom on the way to France.” I immediately regret saying it because the girls bombard me with questions.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if you must know…”

Katie demands an explanation. “You must tell us.”

“Alright, alright. When I travelled from New York to La Havre, I was in first class. The facility was as large as this entire cabin.”

Ada Mae interrupts with, “what’s a facility?’

“The bathroom.”

“Was the bed the same as this one?”

I cannot help myself. I laugh and pull the girls down onto the bed that’s hardly large enough for one person. “Oh no. The bed was large enough for three people. It had a canopy and was as soft as sleeping on a cloud.” Remembering the luxury, I smile. “There was a vanity with three mirrors, a reading table with two chairs and an armoire, that’s a large cabinet for your clothes.”

I smile, but inside I’m angry. The girls take it in stride and we soon have everything stowed as best we can. The stateroom is an inside cabin, we have no porthole, window, or balcony. The bed, as small as it is, is still large enough for both girls. I decide to let them share it. “I’ll sleep on the floor.”

“No Miss Lura, Ada Mae and I want to sleep on the floor. It is part of our adventure. Father let us do it when we came to France.”

The dinner hour is nearing as we settle in to the room. The bathroom will be a challenge for the three of us. I must ring for a maid to bring more towels. I search the room but find no means to summon a maid, or anyone for that matter. “Girls, I’m going to find the maid. Do you want to wait here or walk with me?”

Both jump as one, and are out of the cabin door before I can get my hat and shawl. The area second-class occupies is small, with no access to the forward area of the ship. I find that we must climb stairs at the rear, to reach the upper decks. A partition divides us from the third-class passengers, much the same as the forward wall separates us from first-class. Both first and third-class passengers have a promenade that runs around the entire ship. Second-class accommodations have two short walking areas, one on either side of the ship.

We see a crewmember cleaning windows. I ask, “How may we find a maid?”

The man is the first friendly crewmember I’ve encountered. “I’m sorry ma’am. There are no maids in second-class. There are room attendants, but they only come around in the morning and once again after supper is served.”

This is not acceptable. “Can you kindly direct me to the purser’s office?”

“Second-class passengers are not allowed on the first-class decks. That is where he is located. There is an assistant purser for second-class. His office is open from ten to four. He is not available until tomorrow morning.”

“What about meals, where is the second-class dining room?”

“Your dining room is down one flight of stairs. Dinner is served from six until eight.” Looking at his watch, he says, “They begin service in fifteen minutes.” I thank him for his courtesy. We are tired from our trip to La Havre. We decide to eat at six so we can be back in our cabin in time for the attendant so we may get to bed early.

Arriving at the dining room, I find another difference in service. There are no escorts to take us to an assigned table. We are told to sit anywhere we please. There are waiters who bring our dinner, however instead of an extensive menu; there is soup or salad and a choice of two dishes. The quality of the food is however, excellent. I choose the fish. The girls opt for pork chops.

“How is your fish, Miss Lura? My pork chop is good.”

“I must admit, the fish is excellent. I don’t believe I had better in first-class.” The girls fuss over their vegetables, but they are just being children. There is nothing unwholesome about the meal. The girls both select strawberry short cake for dessert. The other choice is a pudding. I’m quite full and decline both.

Hurrying back to our cabin, we see two of the three attendants working in open cabins. As we approach ours, Cabin 4-17, the third-class attendant is coming out. I engage her in conversation. “Good evening, this is our cabin. Please be so kind as to provide us with two more sets of towels.”

“I’m sorry ma’am, but we are not allowed to do that.”

I’m upset but don’t show it. When I was in first-class, there was always an abundance of towels and toiletries. Remembering Mr. Benoit and his use of small favors; I invite her into the cabin and ask her to wait a moment.

A gift of one-hundred francs gets two additional sets of towels and toiletries. We come to an immediate understanding. I will leave an envelope with a small gift of one-hundred francs for her each day. In return, we will have our cabin cleaned as necessary, the beds made up, and the towels always fresh. If I’m pleased with the service, the last day the envelope will contain five-hundred francs.

“If I need additional services, how will I reach you?”

“Stop any of the crew, but none of the officers, and ask to have me notified. My name is Colette. I will come to your cabin once I finish my other duties.”

After Colette leaves, we prepare for bed. It is an adventure of its own. I turn my bed down and use the bathroom to prepare for bed. Finished, I take the half step necessary to exit the tiny facility and return to the cabin proper. I step on the girls’ makeshift bed. There is no clear floor visible except under the desk that serves also as our vanity, sans mirror.

Katie sits on my bed. “Miss Lura I don’t think this will be a fun adventure.”

Ada Mae is asleep on the floor. “Katie, we don’t want to wake Ada Mae. Please talk softly.”

“I will. I wish we had a window to open so we could get some fresh air.”

“So do I child. However, that’s not possible. When we are in the cabin, we can leave the door ajar to get as much fresh air as possible. Now we must rest. I can sleep with Ada Mae if you wish.”

“No ma’am. Ada Mae will cry if she wakes up and I’m not next to her.”

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