“Girls, I have some very interesting news to share with you.” Both look at me with tilted heads and wide eyes.
“I met someone today who is related to me.”
Ada Mae asks, “Who?”
“My husband’s brother, Joseph Myer.”
It’s Katie’s turn for a question, “What is he doing on the ship? Did you know him before?”
“It’s a long story and I’ll tell you all about him later. All I can tell you now is that he is a passenger on this same deck. He’s a lawyer. You will meet him in two hours. He will call upon us for dinner.”
Ada Mae takes her turn, “What does he look like? Is he old? Is he handsome?”
Her questions take me by surprise. I have to think about Joseph. “Well, he is a good looking man, or at least I think so. His face is hidden by a beard. His eyes are just like Walter’s. He is taller than Walter was and instead of brown hair, his is blonde. I think he is older than Walter was when he died.” After a pause, I add “Now I have an errand to run. You can come with me, or you can do your reading.” Naturally, Ada Mae elects to accompany me while Katie reads.
We reach the Assistant Purser’s Office minutes before he closes. “I wish to send a telegraph. Can you assist with that?”
“Yes ma’am but you must hurry.” Pushed for time I send a brief telegram to Attorney Brandies.
The girls are unable to talk of anything but meeting Joseph. I have accepted his story as true, why else would I already refer to him as Joseph. The three of us fuss with our hair and clothing. I spend more time on my makeup than usual.
Promptly at six, there is a knock at the door. Rushing to answer; the girls crash into each other and almost fall. Recovering first, Ada Mae pulls the door open with a flourish. Joseph bows to the girls and proclaims, “Why good evening ladies, it is a pleasure to meet you. My name is Joseph Myer. Please call me Joseph.”
Not the least hesitant, Ada Mae, curtsies and says, “Good evening Joseph. I’m Ada Mae Dean and this is my sister Katie. Please come in. Miss Lura has been expecting you.”
Katie and I are both a bit more reticent. Katie seems shy at the sight of Joseph. I’m wrong when she speaks. “You’re the stranger. You’re the man from the Louvre and on the train.” She is much more perceptive than I’ve given her credit. This is going to be an interesting evening.
Joseph looks to me for direction. I shrug as if to say, “You’re on your own.”
His answer to Katie is more than I could have hoped. “It is a long story. If Mrs. Myer agrees, I will wait to explain until after we get to know one another a little better.”
“I approve. Now may we remove ourselves to the dining room?” Pausing a second before adding, “I’m famished.”
Our main course finished, we wait for dessert. Joseph orders coffee, and I tea. Katie pauses no longer. “Joseph, tell us about you and why you are on this ship. Don’t forget to tell us about the other times we saw you.” Maybe I’ve been too liberal in my treatment of the girls, particularly of Katie. Does she know no bounds?
“Katie, I told you we would talk about this later.”
“I know Miss Lura, but this has been all too mysterious, almost like Treasure Island and Long John Silver. Is Mr. Myer a pirate? I think it only fair that you or he tells us.”
“If Miss Lura consents, I will tell you how I came to be here on the same ship.”
I mouth the words, “Leave out the story about the major.”
“I learned two years ago that I had a brother, Walter. Walter was married to Miss Lura and lived on an estate in Ridgefield, Connecticut. He was an engineer and he built railroads. I’m a lawyer. I live and work in New York. Do you know where New York is?”
Ada Mae gives Joseph a look of mild annoyance, “Of course we know where New York is. Katie and I live in Boston with our father.” At the mention of their fathers, both girls fall silent. I can see they’re close to tears. With one at each side, I hug Ada Mae, and then take Katie in my arms. I’ve come to know that she is the more sensitive of the two.
Saved by the arrival of dessert, we eat our fill. After we finish, the girls recover and Joseph continues. “I waited until Walter and Miss Lura came to New York to introduce myself. When they came for the birth of their child, there was a terrible accident. Walter was killed and Miss Lura lost the baby.”
The girls didn’t know about Little George or Walter’ death. They hug me, bury their faces in my hair, and begin to cry. “I’m so sorry Miss Lura. We didn’t know.”
I tell Joseph, “The girls have learned enough for one day.”
He is embarrassed and nods his assent before saying, “I too am sorry. I didn’t know the girls had not been told of your tragic loss of Walter and the baby.”
“It’s alright; I should have said something before, Mr. Myer. It is time for the girls and me to retire to our room. We can continue this conversation after lunch tomorrow. Good night.”
The girls, with me holding them close, return to our cabin. There we share a good cry. I cry for my loss and that of the girls. They cry for their father, and for mine. I don’t know how long we cry, but I awake after midnight to find the three of us still locked in an embrace on the bed. Covering them, I lie on the floor in my dress, where I cry myself back to sleep.
“Wake up Miss Lura, wake up. We missed breakfast.” Ada Mae has bathed and is almost dressed. Katie has not bathed. She is sitting under the lamp reading. Once dressed, we take a stroll on deck, where we meet Joseph walking the opposite direction.
“Good morning ladies. I hope you slept well.”
The girls look at him with mischievous grins on their faces. Ada Mae, the prankster, mocks him, as she makes light of what was a dreadful night for the three of us. “Mister Myer, after the fun we had at dinner, we slept through the night like babies.”
Before he realizes that he is being teased, Joseph apologizes. “Ada Mae, Katie I’m terribly sorry for the way…” He stops his apology when he sees me suppressing a smile, and hears the girls’ outright laughter.
“I must apologize to you Mr. Myer. The girls have obviously taken a liking to you. Otherwise, they would not be so quick to mislead you. We had a terrible night, but after getting to sleep, we had a good rest. We are ready to face anything the Good Lord sends our way. Is that correct girls?” Joseph smiles and asks if he may join us in our walk. In answer to his question, the girls each grab one of his hands and swing him around in the direction we are walking. I say, “Well, Mr. Myer, I believe that answers your question.”
“May I ask your permission to allow the young ladies to call me by my given name?”
I’ve no objection and tell the girls, “It is your decision. If you wish to address Mr. Myer by his given name, Joseph, you have my permission to do so.”
“Joseph. I will only call you Joseph, if you call me Katie.”
“Why Katie I would be delighted. And what of you Miss Dean, may I call you Ada Mae?”
“Of course, don’t be so silly.”
I decide to do the same. “Mr. Myer you are, it seems, my brother-in-law. It only seems right that we extend the same courtesy to one another. If you please, call me Lura. Might I call you Joseph?”
We all seem to be in a lighthearted mood. “Why Mrs. Myer I would be honored to address my sister-in-law as Lura, you have already assumed that familiarity as regards my name. You have been calling me Joseph since shortly after we met yesterday.” We enjoy a laugh as we continue our walk. As we stroll, my thoughts race back to the two hooligans and the threat they had posed to us. From there my mind moves forward to New York and Connecticut. Whatever shall I do with the girls once we are back in America? They have only been in my life for a short time, but I already appreciate that I love them and want them to remain in my life. I know that I’m being a worrywart, but I can’t help myself.
“Joseph what kind of a lawyer are you?”
“I’ve a general practice. I represent people and businesses, however I do not defend or represent people accused of criminal acts. Why do ask?”
I don’t want to say anything in front of the girls, nor do I want him to know my concerns about keeping the girls and raising them as my own. “It’s nothing, I’m just curious.”
After we walk twice more around the deck, Katie announces, “I’m hungry.”
Ada Mae chimes in, “We missed breakfast and if I don’t have something to eat, I shall shrivel up and blow away.”
“I would like see that young lady, but I’m also hungry.” I decide that dining with Joseph is pleasant and invite him to join us. “Joseph would you do us the honor of joining us for our mid-day meal?”
“But of course Miss Lura. Let me lead the way?”
“You must excuse us Joseph, the girls have reading and arithmetic waiting for them back in our cabin.” Returning to the stateroom, I find a telegram slid under the door.
Mrs. Lura Myer
Jacob Myer first-rate lawyer.
Story about mother true.
Bartolini will meet ship,
My concerns about the veracity of Joseph answered to my satisfaction, I shall ask for his help. Leaving the girls with a promise to return within an hour, they assure me they will complete the assignments I’ve given them. Eliciting their promise to remain in the room until I return, I depart to find Joseph.
I knock at the door to his cabin. There is no answer. Trying once more, my knock is louder. There is still no answer. I find him enjoying a cigar in the salon. “Please join me on deck when you finish your cigar?” Using an engraved silver cigar cutter, Joseph removes the lit end of the cigar and places the rest in an ornate case. I’m taken with the design and comment upon it. “My but the bamboo design seems so real. It is beautiful.”
“It is. The other side has a Chinese lord sitting under the image of dragon.” Joseph turns the case over and shows it to me.”
“Where did you get such a magnificent case?”
“I travelled to China last year on business. This was a gift from my Chinese hosts.”
“What business did you have there?”
“I travelled with clients, members of the flour grower’s association. Our flour industries are competing with the Chinese for a larger share of their flour market.”
Joseph takes me by the arm and we make our way to the deck. This time of day, it is very popular. Fortunately, there are less than one-hundred second-class cabins. We find an area where we may sit and talk with a degree of privacy.
“Thank you for breaking away from your cigar to talk with me.”
“It is my pleasure Lura. What may I do for you?”
“I must return to the girls shortly. I have but a few minutes to bring my request to you.”
“By all means, what can I help you with?”
“To begin with, you should know that Mr. Louis Brandies represents my business interests. When you first approached me, I sent him a telegraph requesting that he investigate the veracity of your story and your character.”
Joseph smiles and leans forward. In a conspiratorial tone he says, “I know Louis.”
“So I’ve learned. He tells me you’re a first-rate lawyer. I would like to retain you for a personal matter.”
“Go ahead Lura, I’m listening, but I must warn you that I’m very expensive.”
“And I’m a very rich woman. Somehow, I think you know that.” Leaving nothing out, I explain how Katie and Ada Mae have come into my care. I want Joseph, who I’ve already come to trust, to know my quest and to help make my dream come true.
“I think I understand what you wish to accomplish and although it may be difficult, with your wealth, position in the community, along with representation by me and Louis, I believe we can bring your wish to fruition.”
“If the girls consent, how long do you think this will take?”
“Lura you may well run into a legal issue with the French government over the way you spirited Katie and Ada Mae out of France. What you did could be considered kidnapping.”
“What do you mean, kidnapping?”
“We both know that if the French authorities had known of the relationship of the girls to the murdered man, Mr. Dean, they would have taken them into protective custody under French law.”
“Yes, I know. But Joseph, I wanted to protect the girls and prevent their being placed in an orphanage where they could have been separated.”
“What is the personal matter you want me to handle for you?”
“I wish to adopt the girls.”
“Lura do you realize what you’re saying?”
“I do and I’m ready to do whatever I must.”
“I don’t think you know what you’re getting into. First, I must ask, have you asked the girls?”
“No, not yet.”
“Have you even considered that they might not want to be adopted by you, or anyone for that matter?”
“Joseph, I love them. I can give them everything. Why wouldn’t they want me to adopt them?”
“There might be someone back in Boston that they care about and want to be with. There could be any number of reasons. Before you make any assumptions or engage in a legal action, you need to know what they want. I suggest you talk with them, and do it now.”
“Can’t it wait until we get back to Grisham Manor?”
“No, it can’t. For one thing, if the French authorities have learned of the girls’ existence and that they are here on the ship with you, you can expect a confrontation when we arrive in New York.”
“What do you mean? The French have no authority in America.”
“Lura, this is a French flagged vessel. What if the Sûreté is waiting, boards the ship, and refuses to allow you to take the girls? I’m not sure they can do that, but they might try.”
“Oh my God Joseph. You can’t allow that to happen.”
“Before we do anything, you need to talk with the girls. We have less than forty-eight hours until we land in New York. I suggest you make use of that time to talk with the girls. Until you know their wishes, we can do nothing.”