- Historic Sites
A Gibson Girl Romance
December 1965 | Volume 17, Issue 1
We had a grand dinner at a special restaurant whose name I have forgotten, and went on board the steamer about 10 P.M. She was someone’s private yacht, small and unseaworthy, and on the way to Naples we had a terrific storm. The boat stood first on one end and then on the other. I was terribly sick. Mother, in her bunk, just hung on and never said a word.
We were too exhausted to go farther than Naples, and spent two days there. We went to the opera and just happened to hear Caruso that night in Aïda . Is it possible that anyone else ever had such happiness? Afterward we walked back to the hotel through the gardens along the waterfront in the moonlight. It is lucky that the walk was not too long, for when a beggar asked us for money Mike gave such a lot that the news travelled fast, and soon we must have had a retinue of at least fifty, all praising us and singing with happiness. Mike emptied my bag and his pockets and then turned them inside out and said, “Now we are beggars.” They laughed and blessed us, and Mike told them we needed their blessings and their prayers. We went into the hotel with their vivas ringing in our ears.
He had to leave early the next morning and I did not see him for many months, but now I did get an occasional letter brought by messenger, which I answered the same way. It does cramp one’s style to know that a messenger is sitting in the next room waiting for an answer, and I know my letters were stupid and stilted.
My father and brother David joined us in the spring, after David’s term at Andover had ended. We met them at Cuxhaven and then came back to Hamburg and had a wonderful reunion.
The next morning Father asked me to walk to the bank with him.
“You have changed, dear,” he said. “Are you happy? You seem thoughtful to me … Your mother tells me you have a friend. Tell me about him.”
It was fun telling him everything. He laughed at the Channel boat story and said right away, “Why did you let the bag with the tickets out of your hands?”
At the bank Father found a letter from Mike asking if he could come and call on him. Father wrote and said he could come as soon as convenient, and told him our plans.
Mike couldn’t have been very far away, for he was with us by lunchtime. It amused me so, for Mike was as nervous as a debutante. I had never heard him stutter, but now he seemed hardly able to talk. Father was adorable to him. I do not know what they said to each other, for all I heard as they started out for a walk after lunch was, “Don’t apologize to me, boy—I love her, too.”
Father told me later that Mike was moving heaven and earth to renounce his right of succession, take one of his lesser titles, and marry me. His mother and the Czar had consented and were delighted at the thought of his happiness. But until the Czarevitch was older and stronger, nothing could be done. Mike told Father he was glad I was so young, for I could wait, and he would wait forever if there was a chance.
Father told him quite plainly that he would never consent to a morganatic marriage, and Mike said he did not want one either.
That night the hotel was crowded and Mike had to sleep with David, who happened to have an extra bed in his room. They had a pillow fight and a pillow burst and the German housekeeper called them everything she could think of. She was so dancing mad that they had to get Father to apologize for the two unruly boys, and he had to give the housekeeper enough money to buy pillows for an army.
We saw Mike again that summer, in Paris. One day I had to go shopping—for stockings, I suppose. We went to the Bon Marché. I told Mike I would only be a few minutes and to wait for me on the ground floor near the main entrance. He found a chair and sat with his back against the wall at the end of a long aisle between two ribbon counters.
As luck would have it, at the stocking counter I met a friend of ours from the United States with her two daughters. None of them could speak French and they fell on me to help them buy some trousseau items for one of the girls. It took longer than I realized. When I finally got back to Mike he was sound asleep, with the shop girls much interested. But the two nice-looking civilians, the shabby-looking clerk and the workman with a bunch of tools under his arm who were hovering around glaring at me, made me realize how well guarded he was. We called these men, who were constantly on the alert to protect him, “The Speckled Band.” Mike loved Sherlock Holmes and that was one of his pet stories.
We sailed home in the fall, and though gifts of flowers, candy, and fruit—and an occasional letter—continued to arrive, I did not see Mike for a year.
In the meantime, my father died. I had the most wonderful letters from Mike, and got used to Paul. Paul was the man I was never to notice, but who took care of me. Once, coming from Boston on the train, I found myself without money for my ticket. I must have dropped my purse running to catch the train. The conductor was rude. I did not know what to do. Suddenly a five-dollar bill was thrust into my hand and a voice said, “ Voilà, Mademoiselle .” It was Paul. Paul got a job on a farm near ours and worked there all the time we were in Wickford.
Early the next October, on a beautiful warm day, I was in the kitchen making apple jelly. I heard someone come into the back hall and open the kitchen door. I turned, and there was Mike. I nearly fainted, and he had to catch me.