The third day at sea, I leave the girls to nap while I walk the promenade. “Do not leave the cabin until I return.” An afterthought, I take Sherlock with me. Almost to the end of the second-class promenade, I spy the blonde headed man. He is fast asleep on a deckchair. Covered with a light blanket, a dark top coat rests on the chair to his right. Despite a full beard, he seems familiar. I sit on the chair to his left facing him. I shall read until he awakens.
He must be tired, as he sleeps for a good thirty minutes before he stretches and opens his eyes. He blinks and stares wide-eyed. Looking away, he says, “Ah, Ah, excuse me.” Retrieving his top coat, he uncovers a bowler.
“Oh, my God, you’re the man, the stranger.” Halfway to his feet, the man falls back on to the deckchair with an audible sigh. As he slumps, I bend forward until my face is inches from his. “Who are you? Why have you been following me?” The man looks as though he would rather be anywhere else than here.
He offers a feeble, “You have me at a disadvantage. Please excuse me. I must return to my cabin.”
“No. You are not going anywhere. If you insist on leaving, I will scream for help. Do you understand me?”
“Yes ma’am I do. Allow me a moment to compose myself and I shall explain all.”
“I should hope so. You have been following me for quite some time.”
He gives a small shrug as his shoulders drop. “I’m sorry for any pain I’ve caused you and the young ladies.” After a few more deep breaths and sighs, he says, “With your permission, I will start at the beginning. It is a long story.”
“Why don’t you begin?”
“My name is Joseph Myer.”
“Myer? Are you related to my husband?”
“Yes, I’m Walter’s half-brother, illegitimate if you will.”
“Walter never mentioned you.”
“He didn’t know about me. His father was a major in the Union Army. In November, 1863 he was wounded at Chattanooga. My mother was a nurse at the military hospital where he was treated and recuperated. They fell in love and I was born in 1864.”
“But he was married. What about his wife? Did she know?”
“Mrs. Myer never knew. I don’t think the major did either. My mother never saw him again after he was discharged from the hospital.”
Even as I say, “Why should I believe you?” I know he is Walter’s brother. He has the same gold-flecked green eyes as Walter. This man is a Myer!
“Mrs. Myer, there is no reason for you to believe me. If you choose not to, that will be your decision. You are the only living relative I have, and that’s tenuous at best.”
“Why have you been following me?”
“My mother died two years ago. Before she died, she gave me this picture.” Joseph hands me a faded photograph. It is grainy and time worn, but there is no question, the uniformed man is Major Joseph Myer, Walter’s father.
“Mother told me about Major Myer. When I was born, she named me after him. Until she gave me this picture, she refused to tell me who my father was, only that he was a soldier who died in the war. After she died, I hired detectives to find my father. As you know, he was already gone. I learned that I had a half-brother, Walter. I got regular reports from the detectives. When I learned of the death of your parents, I decided to reach out to Walter when you came to New York.”
“Why New York? Why not at our home in Ridgefield?”
“My practice is in New York. I thought it would be better there. I didn’t want to surprise him in Ridgefield in the event the meeting went badly.”
“Practice? Are you a doctor?”
“No, I’m an attorney.”
I check my watch and see that I’d been gone from the girls for well over an hour. I make a decision. “Mr. Myer I believe you. I need to return to the girls. They will wonder what has become of me. Would you care to join us at dinner? We can talk at length after the girls have retired for the evening.”
“I will be honored to join you at dinner. What shall you tell the girls about me?”
“The truth, to a point, I will tell them you’re my husband’s long lost brother and that we met today by lucky happenstance. Is that satisfactory?”
As we stand, Joseph answers me. “That is quite satisfactory. I’m happy to finally meet you, Mrs. Myer. I will call for you and the girls at six.”