- Historic Sites
A Gibson Girl Romance
December 1965 | Volume 17, Issue 1
Our readers will recall the author of this story as the charming lady who in our June, 1965, issue described the colorful events that have kept Wickford, Rhode Island, where she spent her turn-of-the-century summers, a very lively place. Wickford was—and it remains —a small town, but it has by no means been the entire compass of Mrs. Hinckley’s life. She comes of an old Providence family, of that class of sweet-faced Edwardian young ladies who took the Grand Tour—or several tours—of Europe and came home with enough memories to last a lifetime. Time might color the memories a bit, and blur the precisions of time and place, but the story is affecting, and a nice one to remember.
One autumn—it was 1903, as I remember—we were delayed in London until nearly Christmas. I had gone to Europe with my mother and two sisters to put the girls in a French boarding school, but our maid, Marie, became very ill in London and it wasn’t until one day in December that we left Charing Cross Station for Dover and the Channel boat. It was raining hard, but we had a comfortable second-class carriage to ourselves; we settled Marie with pillows behind her back. Mother, my sisters, and I sat anywhere, surrounded by our luggage.
There seemed to be a good deal of commotion at the station as we left, but we did not pay any attention.
When we reached Dover the rain was still streaming down, and a howling gale was blowing. Why we did not think of waiting until the storm was over, I do not know. We hustled aboard the boat and Mother said to me, “We will sit here and wait. Go and try to get a stateroom to put Marie in. I think it is going to be very rough.”
We had two porters carrying our bags. One porter put his down beside Mother, received his pay, and left. I turned and saw our other porter going into a stateroom with the rest of our bags, among them the one that held all our tickets and valuables. I darted after him frantically.
As I got to the closed door of the stateroom and started to go in, I was grabbed by the arms by two of the biggest liveried footmen I had ever seen. I struggled to get free, saying, “The porter is stealing our bags and tickets! I must get them! Let me go!” Nothing happened.
Just then the door of the stateroom opened and our porter came out. Sitting opposite the door at a table were three men, two in uniform flanking a third in civilian clothes. I screamed to our porter, “You have stolen my luggage!” and appealed to the men not to let him get away. Dead silence …
After a little, the man in the middle said something to the footmen holding me. They pushed me into the room and closed the door behind me, never relaxing their grip on my arms. For once I knew what fear was. I was desperate at our plight. I had failed Mother and had lost our tickets, our valuables, and our letters of credit. I didn’t know what to do or how to get away.
Sensing that the young civilian was the person in authority, I turned on him. “How dare you bring me in here and steal our things?” I shouted.
He looked terribly surprised and said, in perfect English, “Mademoiselle is an American.”
“Yes, I am. But that is no reason for you to be a thief.”
“Please, Mademoiselle.” Then he said something else to my captors, and they let my arms go. Finally able to move, I was turning to go out when I suddenly saw, in a corner, Mother’s cape and the precious bags.
“Those are my bags and my mother’s cape!” I cried, pointing to them.
“Oh, Mademoiselle—I am sorry,” he said, standing up for the first time. He asked some questions. All the men shook their heads. “Do not think too badly of us. It was a mistake. I do not know how your things got here.”
“Of course you know how they got here,” I stormed at him. “You thought you saw an easy way to steal some nice things. You are a miserable thief. Now, let me go.”
“Please don’t go. Do sit down and tell me where you came from. Are you going to Paris?”
“Sit down with a robber?” I sneered. “No!”
“Then will you not shake hands, as this is all a mistake?”
“Shake hands? Of course not. I wouldn’t touch you with a ten-foot pole. I want my things and I want to get out of here.”
I pointed out our belongings to the footmen, who carried them out. I took the ticket bag in my hand and went outside. What a storm had blown up! Mother had found a stateroom, and the footmen put our things in it. She was furious with me for going off and leaving her, and she had been worried about the luggage.
I was too dazed to explain.
My sister Gladys said we were lucky to get a stateroom. “The Grand Duke Michael, the Czar’s brother, is on board,” she explained, “and has taken nearly all the staterooms. He has just been on a state visit to England and is going back to Russia. He is young and terribly good-looking, the stewardess says.”
So that was who the “robber” was! I felt faint. I had to have air, and in spite of the storm I went out on deck and hung over the rail on the lee side. How rough it was! I would probably have been seasick if I had not been so excited.
I had been standing there about fifteen minutes when I sensed someone beside me. I looked up and there was the Grand Duke. He looked scared to death and his voice trembled as he said in a rush, “Don’t be cross—there is so little time. Do tell me your name. You know I did not mean to cause you trouble.”