The Mona Lisa Sisters

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Chapter 23

I am finished with my interviews of Katie and Ada Mae. “Lura now that I’ve established that you want the girls and that they want you to adopt them, our search for relatives begins.”

“What does such an investigation entail?”

“I will prepare a confidential report that contains everything we know about Katie and Ada Mae and their family. As of now I believe that they have no living relatives, but we will need to prove that to the courts.”

“Where do you begin?”

“As your attorney, I will ask the court, in this case the Fairfield County Superior Court in Bridgeport, to appoint me as the attorney for the girls as well. It should not be a problem. If it becomes one, I’ll ask Louis Brandies to argue the case, and have him appointed. Regardless, we will protect the girls’ rights.”

“In the meantime what are you doing?”

“I’ve hired local Boston detectives to conduct a search for relatives. As far as they know, we want to find them. By this action, they will work to find any relatives. That will help us provide the court with the proof necessary to support our request for adoption.”

“How long will their investigation take?”

“It will take as long as there are leads to follow. We know where Mr. Dean lived when his wife died. Our detectives will interview the neighbors to see if they can locate anyone who knew them, knew where they were married, or knew where they were born.”

“What does it matter where they were married or born?” I have a notion of what Joseph needs to accomplish, but long ago, I learned from Father, “If you’re not sure of something ask to have it explained. Never worry what others may think, ask the question.” Joseph doesn’t seem to mind my endless questions.

“There is a great deal that can be learned. We’ll check into census records, which may show if other children were born to either of their parents. Marriage records, though not always recorded, can identify friends and family members who can lead us to other sources of information. It can be time consuming, and lead in many directions. It can also become rather expensive.”

“I’m not concerned with costs. I want you to make sure we satisfy the courts. I hope you find nothing.”

“Lura, remember we have to be open minded in our search. That is why the detectives only know that I want the relatives found. They don’t need to know anything else. However, being good detectives, I’m sure they will learn, if they don’t already know, that the search is part of an adoption investigation involving you.”

I ask, “How soon will we know anything?”

“We will know within days of each step of the investigation. The detectives send me a telegraph every time they find or exhaust a lead, no matter how large or small.”

“When do you expect to receive the first report?”

“As a matter of fact, I expect that there is one waiting for me. They normally deliver them to me at the hotel. I doubt they would think to send a messenger to Grisham Manor.”

I experience a shiver of curiosity that won’t subside. “Shall we have Earl send the carriage around? You could drive us to town and pick up your telegram. It would be a nice outing and we could enjoy tea with Emily. I’ve seen little enough of her since returning from France.”

Joseph agrees and we enjoy the ride into town. The girls decline my invitation saying, “You and Joseph go without us. Cook has promised to let us help make gingersnap cookies.”

It is a lovely summer day and the ride with Joseph is much more agreeable than I had expected. Relaxed and away from other people, he is more outgoing than usual. I see more of Walter in him each day. It is a shame that the two never met. They would have liked one another. Arriving at the telegraph office, I’m disappointed that the ride is over so soon.

When he returns to the carriage, I see that Joseph is troubled. “What is wrong?”

“Let’s see Emily first. There is a problem. I would like to think about it before discussing it. Do you mind?”

I do mind, but I can also see that I’ve an obligation to him as my attorney to let him do his job. “No, not at all. Let’s see what is going on with Emily at the mercantile.” During the short ride, Joseph is unnaturally quiet. His only words are short and deliberate responses to my attempts at conversation.

Emily is hustling and bustling about the store with an air of confidence. I can see that her employees are comfortable around her, yet respectful and hardworking. She wastes no time or effort. “Lura it is wonderful to see you. Joseph you look upset.” It’s obvious. He is forcing a smile out of the frown he has carried since leaving the telegraph office.

Joseph is unsmiling when he answers her. “You’re very perceptive Emily. I have a matter that gives me cause for concern. I would very much like a little privacy while I consider the problem. Would you have a room where I could be alone for a few minutes?”

“Let me show you the way to my office. You can use it as long as necessary. No one will bother you.”

After depositing Joseph in her office, Emily returns. “Is he always this somber?”

“No. I’ve never seen him so serious. I know his mood is the result of a message just received from the detectives in Boston. I know not what to make of it.”

Emily has always been the sensible one. “If he needs time to be alone, why don’t you and I go to the hotel? We should be just in time for tea.”

“That sounds much more pleasant than waiting around here for Joseph. It will give us a chance to visit and I want your advice about some outfits for the girls.”

We find Captain Delacroix relaxing on the hotel veranda. He comes to attention and bows as Emily and I climb the few steps to the porch. “Good afternoon Mrs. Myer. It is a pleasure to see you.”

“And a pleasure to see you sir. Emily, this is Captain Julien Delacroix of the French army. He is the military attorney whose duty is to prevent my adoption of Katie and Ada Mae by forcing me to return them to France.”

“Mademoiselle, please do not portray me as such an ogre to your charming friend. I’m but a simple soldier trying to do his duty.”

I smile and continue. “My dear Captain, I understand your position and outside of the political situation into which I’ve drawn you, Joseph speaks highly of you. Please accept my apology for speaking despairingly of your position. Allow me to begin again.”

“Très certainement Mademoiselle.”

“Captain, may I present Miss Emily Bartolini. Emily and I have been friends our entire lives.”

“C’est un honneur Miss Bartolini.”

“You must forgive me captain; I do not speak French as does Lura.”

“My apologies, no insult was meant.”

I can see that Emily is taken with the handsome captain as she says, “None is taken captain.”

“Would you ladies do me the honor of joining a lonely soldier for tea?”

Emily answers for us. “We came here to enjoy the tea. Having you join us will only increase our pleasure.” I’ve never seen this side of Emily. She is flirting with the captain. He seems to enjoy the encounter as much as her.

“Emily, Captain Delacroix, shall we go inside and take tea?”

Captain Delacroix says, “On one condition,” as he opens the door.

Emily smiles and asks, “And what might that condition be Captain Delacroix?”

“That from here on you and Lura shall call me Julien.”

“But of course, I shall happily call you by your given name. You must address me as Miss Bartolini.” Delacroix is taken aback until a smiling Emily says, “Please, by all means, call me Emily.” My God, what has come over these two? They have exceeded all boundaries of good taste within mere moments of meeting. Am I being old fashioned?

Tea is very pleasant for Emily and Delacroix. They keep up a lively conversation while I sit worrying about Joseph and the bad news I know he is carrying.

A somber Joseph joins Emily, Captain Delacroix and I. “The news I have is very disturbing and may prevent your adoption of Katie and Ada Mae.”

I’m thunderstruck. Once again, I find myself crushing my pendant. When did I start calling it my pendant?

“Joseph what is it?”

“We should discuss this in private.”

“Joseph, Emily is like my sister and you told me that Captain Delacroix is cooperating and he is a man to be trusted. Please go on.” Before Joseph can speak, both Emily and Delacroix stand and offer their apologies and take their leave.

“Now that we are alone Lura, I don’t know how to tell you this.”

“For God’s sake Joseph, tell me what you have learned.”

Joseph takes a deep breath, lets out a long sigh and begins. “As you know, I’ve hired Boston detectives to search for members of the Dean family. At first, I wanted to use Pinkertons from New York, detectives I have worked with in the past, and in whom I have the greatest respect. I discussed it with Brandies. He suggested that detectives in Boston would have a greater chance of success.”

“What difference does it make where the detectives come from?”

“It shouldn’t make any difference, but I fear it may have.”

“Joseph, I don’t need to know all this. Tell me what happened and tell me now?” I’m annoyed with him. If I’m not careful, I’ll break the pendant loose from the chain. I’m not just angry, I’m frustrated at the delay.

“All right. I hired Boston detectives and I think they may have connections to the Irish Mob.”

“What does the Irish Mob have to do with finding relatives?”

“The report, that came today, claims they have found a half-sister of Francis Dean. She is demanding access to and custody of the girls.”

“Oh Lord. I can’t suffer another loss of this magnitude. Please tell me there is a mistake.”

“I don’t know if there is a mistake or not. My concern is that the Irish Mob learned of my investigation.”

“I ask you again Joseph. What concern do you harbor about the Irish Mob knowing of the search for Mr. Dean’s relatives?”

“My fear is that relatives, real or pretend, will come forward and demand custody of the girls. The claims are more than likely because of your connection to Katie and Ada Mae. These people may only want your money.”

I’ve been around business, railroads are tough business, and I learned a great deal from my father. “How much money?”

“No one has asked for money so far that I know of.”

“According to your detectives, how many people are claiming to be related to Mr. Dean?”

“So far only one.”

“What do we know of her?”

“She claims to be Mr. Dean’s illegitimate half-sister, born to his father’s mistress.”

“That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?” As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I can see I’ve embarrassed Joseph. “Oh, Joseph, forgive me. I didn’t mean it the way it sounded.”

Joseph takes my left hand in his. My right still clutches my pendant. His hand is warm and strong. I feel heat long forgotten. I stiffen and start to pull away as a fluttering in my stomach almost overwhelms me. I relax and enjoy the warmth of his grip. “I know Lura.” He is quiet for a moment before our eyes meet. Embarrassed, we both unclasp our hands and sit straight.

“I’m sorry.”

Although troubled by the news he has delivered, I can’t help but feel safe in his company. What is happening? I’ve only been a widow for six months. Joseph brings me back to reality. “I’ve decided what to do about this woman.”

“Tell me.”

“First I will have the Boston detectives arrange a meeting at the woman’s home. I want to question her myself and to get an understanding of what she may want.”

“If that’s first, what else do you intend to do?”

“I will do what I wanted to in the beginning. I’m going to send Detective Donald White the Pinkertons from New York up to Boston. He can make discreet inquiries without revealing the nature of the investigation and while concealing his identity.

“Will you be safe in Boston? I don’t want to lose you.” I don’t know what caused me to say these words; words that make my cheeks redden.

Joseph’s response, “Nor I you,” brings the same reddening to his face.

“I think we should find Emily and Captain Delacroix. They are probably worried about the news you brought me. Is this something we can share with Emily? With Captain Delacroix?”

“That a woman is claiming to be a relative won’t remain secret. I see no reason we can’t tell them. In fact, I believe that Captain Delacroix has a legal right to know the status of our investigation. Aside from that, I’m of the opinion that he is an ally. A man we can trust, and in whom we may seek counsel.”

“If that’s your belief Joseph, please let us find them. Would you see any harm in inviting them to dine with us at Grisham Manor?” My God. Did I just refer to Joseph and me as us?

Neither Emily nor Captain Delacroix seems the least discomforted by my invitation to Grisham Manor on such short notice. Propriety seems not to matter to either.

Cook and Earl are prepared for the four of us. Earl merely smiles when I ask how they knew to prepare such a feast.

Captain Delacroix expresses his concern about the possibility that the woman in Boston might be related to the girls. “For your sake Lura, I hope it proves to be a false claim. However, I must warn you that if it is not and the woman somehow gains custody of the girls, my government will likely withdraw its demand for their return to France.”

“That would be a relief, but what of me? Will France still seek my arrest and extradition?”

“I do not have the authority to answer that question. I believe the longer the question lingers, the less publicity, the greater is the chance that the demand will die a silent death. That is my fervent wish.”

I find it difficult to enjoy dinner, even with such splendid guests. Joseph notes my melancholy and attempts to cheer me. “May I play something for you and your guests?”

“Whatever do you mean?” I ask.

“Some believe that I’m an accomplished pianist. I would be pleased to demonstrate what little skill I have.”

Emily claps her hands and says, “Oh please Joseph that would be a delight. Lura you must insist that he play for us.”

It is difficult for me to maintain my low spirits in light of the joy that Joseph wishes to share. I rise from the table. “If you insist Emily dear we’ll retire to the great room and give Joseph the opportunity to regale us with his self-proclaimed talent.”

Joseph is a fine pianist. For an hour, he entertains us beginning with “Old Time Religion and ending with “In the Good Old Summer Time,” In between he throws in a few works of John Phil Sousa while telling us, “Sousa is a little troublesome without horns.” Captain Delacroix tells us of watching Sousa’s band march from the Chaps-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe.

Soon it is time for Emily and Julien to return to town. “I’ll have Earl bring round the carriage for you Emily.”

She looks disappointed until Julien says, “Please don’t inconvenience Earl. I have my carriage and would be honored to provide transportation for Miss Bartolini.”

Emily brightens. “Why Captain Delacroix, that would be delightful.”

While the men exchange a few quiet words about Boston, Emily and I go to the cloakroom to retrieve her cape. “Emily, what would your father say? Is it prudent to share a carriage with Julien without a chaperon?”

“Oh, Lura, whatever do you think will happen? If Julien were to kiss me, I would not be offended. If he doesn’t, I might kiss him myself. He is so handsome and such a gentleman. As to Father, I’m fast becoming an old maid. He would encourage me to trap this beautiful man.”

“Emily you’re a brazen hussy. He is handsome isn’t he? Be careful darling, you’ve only just met him and you know what they say about handsome Frenchmen.”

“No I don’t. What do they say about handsome Frenchmen? I would like to know.”

By now, I can hardly control my mirth. “Oh Emily, I have no idea what they say.”

Earl has prepared Captain Delacroix’s carriage. He waits under the portico holding the team ready.

Emily and I exchange kisses and I hand her over to Julien. After he assists her into the carriage, he turns back. I look at him with what I hope is a stern mother’s gaze. Laughing he takes my hand and twirls me in a circle as if we’re dancing. Still laughing he kisses me on each cheek before saying, “Dearest Lura, Miss Bartolini is in safe hands; you need not fret. It may be that I’m the one in danger.”

“Oh Julien, you are incorrigible.” As the carriage disappears, Joseph and I stand together under the portico. I feel comfortable and safe with this man, my husband’s brother. Walter, I miss you so.

Taking my hand, Joseph leads me up and into the house. “I’m tired and will retire once I’ve tucked the girls in and we’ve said our prayers.” Joseph wishes me a good night and then surprises me by kissing me on the cheek before turning and walking away.

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