July 4, 1936. Morning Watch 0800
Port and Starboard
When speaking of a man ashore
We never hear you say
He's a common this or common that
Be his calling what it may
Be he a travelling tinker,
Or a scavanger, or a sweep
Then why call us common sailors
Who battle with the deep?
~ Sea Shanty
Peggy woke early the next morning. At least she thought she did, but on close inspection, she saw that Nancy was already up. Peggy dressed and went out into the sitting room to see the Admiral sitting behind a newspaper, smoking his pipe. For a moment, she thought of her father or Uncle Jim perhaps, reading a newspaper just that way, but then the Admiral lowered the newspaper and smiled up at her.
"Pity it's all in French," he said grinning, "I've always been hard up in French."
"Good morning," Peggy said, "Do you know where Nan-" she paused, "Ruth is?"
He looked thoughtful for a moment, then pointed the stem of his pipe at the door, "I believe she's gone swimming. You'll find the pool on the roof."
The pool on the roof was housed in a room lined with tall windows on either side. The room was empty except for one yellow bathing dressed dolphin blowing and sputtering at one end of the pool.
"I can never stay under!" Nancy exclaimed.
"Just swim down I suppose," Peggy said as she knelt next to the pool, catching her reflection in the surface of a puddle laying across the flagstones. The next moment, she stumbled back, squeaking, when Nancy sent a wall of water her way.
"I try," Nancy said pulling herself half out of the water, "I just bob up again."
"I can never stay under, either, if it makes you feel any better," Peggy said, wringing out the hem of her skirt. Nancy climbed out of the pool, then jumped off the springboard with a tremendous splash. Peggy went to look out of one of the windows.
"I say!" she called when Nancy came up for air, "There's the Eiffel Tower! I looked for it yesterday and never saw it."
She saw it now, narrow and iconic on the skyline, a dark silhouette against the blue sky.
"The Louvre should be somewhere over there-" Nancy stood dripping behind her, "And Notre Dame is beyond it."
"I can't see it," Peggy said.
"Of course you can't, it's covered up by those buildings." Nancy said, "That dome over there is supposed to be some sort of hospital – it's beyond the river."
"I want to see the Seine," Peggy said.
"Why?" Nancy asked, "You must be insane to want to see the Seine."
"What's wrong with it?" Peggy asked, looking around.
"Nothing," Nancy said, turning, "You can see all of Paris from up here. The Arc de Triomphe should be over there somewhere, and there's the Basilica of St. Clotilde."
"How on earth do you know all this?" Peggy asked.
"I read a tour book last night," Nancy said, grinning.
They ate a breakfast of croissants and coffee in the garden under the shade of a flowering tree. The Admiral was still trying to translate his newspaper and Peggy was hard at work on Nancy's tour book. The Great Aunt and Miss Huskisson weren't speaking to each other.
At last Miss Huskisson broke the silence, "We really must go to Lanvin."
"Adelaide," Aunt Maria said with great patience, "I have said many times that I do not approve of Lanvin. The girls are under my guardianship and I will choose where they go."
"But Maria," Miss Huskisson said, "the styles are practically the same at both Worth's and Lanvin, but I do think that the things at Lanvin are better made. I had a dress from Worth that-"
"That is neither here nor there, Adelaide," Aunt Maria began.
"How would it be if I decided?" the Admiral interjected. "Will you both abide by my decision?"
"I will," Miss Huskisson said.
"Alfred," Aunt Maria said, "I will not be bamboozled-"
"I'm not trying to bamboozle you; I'm only trying to end the argument fairly. You've been at it since we left London." The Admiral said. "Will you do what I suggest?"
"Oh... very well."
"Good," the Admiral said, "You take one of the girls to Worth's and Adelaide will take the other to Lanvin."
The Great Aunt's jaw sagged.
"Oh that's a lovely idea!" Miss Huskisson said clapping her hands together, "may I have Ruth?"
"Well," the Admiral said, standing up and folding his newspaper. "I'm glad that's decided. I'm going down the road to Dalloyau to buy a box of chocolates."
Nancy was footsore and weary by the end of that day. A whole new wardrobe had been picked out for her and Miss Huskisson insisted on paying for it herself.
"If you were my granddaughter I would," she said. "I always wanted a granddaughter and I like you. I think you are very much like I was when I was your age."
Nancy stared at her. She could not imagine Miss Huskisson, delicate and proper, as anything remotely like herself. Nancy geared herself up to dislike shopping, but it wasn't quite as bad as she thought it would be. She was older now and pretty clothes were not as revolting as they had been in her tomboy years. She was still rather put off by the perfume at Lancôme, but she wore it to make Miss Huskisson smile. Before leaving home, she had promised her mother that she would do her best to act like a lady. She had thought it a tall order at the time, but now as she moved through the expensive stores that lined the Rue du Faubourg and smelled the perfume, tasted the chocolates and ran her hands over the silk scarves, she automatically smiled and spoke softly and looked like a lady instead of the incognito pirate she really was.
"They are beautiful, aren't they?" Miss Huskisson said, lifting up a scarf at Hermes. "I'd buy you one, but I've used most of my money and I still have to buy you lunch. I'll have to get more from my brother."
"Don't even think of it," Nancy said. "You've been more than generous."
There, she thought, that's what Peggy or Mother would have said.
"You must have been very beautiful when you were young," Nancy said, then added hastily, "Not that you're not now – why did you never marry?"
Miss Huskisson laughed. "I never met anyone I suppose. My father was very ill the year I was supposed to debut, my mother had died and my older sister was already married, so I took care of him. He had cancer; he died when I was twenty-two. By that time, my brother had been widowed and I went to take care of him and that's what I have been doing ever since. I'm really perfectly happy the way it's turned out. Alfred is quite a traveller and I've seen many parts of the world with him, probably enough to write a book."
"Why don't you?" Nancy asked.
Miss Huskisson laughed.
They had lunch at one of the little cafeterias that seemed to have spilled out of its building into the street under umbrellas and surrounded by flowers. They ate shaded by a red umbrella and watching an old lady and Papillion. The waiter, as directed by the old lady, tied a napkin around the little dog's neck, then brought a pile of books outside so the dog could be on the same level as his mistress.
"Pierre likes beef au jus," the old lady said.
"Sir," the waiter said bowing.
When they returned to the Hotel le Bristol Paris, the day was more than half over. The hotel was less than an eighth of a mile down the road and they decided to walk, a train of porters from the various stores parading behind them, laden with boxes and bags.
The Great Aunt surveyed Nancy's new costume of deep burgundy with disgust. She said nothing, but Nancy knew what she was thinking and half agreed with her. Miss Huskisson had liked the effect so much she couldn't leave it behind. Peggy on the other hand was stunning in white linen with a long pheasant's feather out of a stylish cap.
"Well," Admiral Huskisson said, stepping between the glaring Great Aunt and the smug Miss Huskisson, "Shall we go to the Eiffel tower before the day is through? Margaret expressed a great interest in going there. And I was thinking I might buy a camera."
"It was built in 1889," Admiral Huskisson said as the elevator slowly climbed towards the top of the tower. He was fiddling with the camera he'd bought on the way there, trying to put in a roll of film. "Zeiss Ikon," he explained, almost apologetically. "Probably made by slave labour, but they're the best out there."
Peggy clung to Nancy's hand as the latticework of the tower slipped past and the ground grew more and more distant.
"It served as the entrance arch of the 1889 world's fair. I was nineteen when I went to that, a young and cocky sub lieutenant." The Admiral continued.
"That was four years before father was born," Nancy said.
To Peggy, the base seemed to grow smaller and more inadequate as they rose higher. She looked up, then down again, and shivered.
"Don't be a galoot. We're not going to fall off," Nancy said squeezing her hand, "We'll see all of Paris from the top."
And when they stepped out of the elevator, they did see all of Paris. It stretched around them in all directions, the streets narrow and crisscrossing, the people almost microscopic. The wind whipped their hair and the horizon, shrouded with mist, almost curved.
This, Nancy thought, is what it must be like to fly.
The white curving wings of The Palais of Chaillot spread out on the other side of the Seine across from the tower. There were little ships down there, docked on the riverside, looking for all the world like a child's toys.
"There's the Louvre," the Admiral said, pointing towards the distance. They could just see it, the wings making a great square around an open courtyard.
"And there's Notre Dame," the Admiral said, "You can barely see the bell towers beyond the Louvre."
"Paris goes on forever, doesn't it?" Peggy said.
"It's not nearly as big as London," Nancy said.
"What's that building over there?" Peggy asked walking to the other side of the tower.
"Where?" Nancy turned, bumping into someone who had been standing behind her. "Oh I'm sorry, do forgive me."
"Quite all right," the girl said, smiling. She was some years younger than Nancy, probably still in school. Then the girl standing next to her turned around. Nancy gasped, they were identical!
"Giminy," she said. "You must be twins."
"Yes, this is Nell and I'm Bess," Bess said, then added, "Farland."
"Very pleased to meet you," Nancy said, "I'm Nancy Blackett and this is my sister Peggy."
Nell glanced at Bess (or was it Bess glancing at Nell?). They both shrugged.
"You wouldn't happen to know any people named Dick and Dorothea Callum, would you?" Bess asked (or was it Nell?)
"The D's?" Nancy said, "I'll say we know them! They used to come up to our lake in the summer!" she paused and stared at them, "You're not…the Coots are you? From the Norfolk Broads?"
"Port and Starboard," Nell said, "Very pleased to meet you!"
"Captain Nancy Blackett, terror of the seas," Nancy said. "But Ruth in polite company. Don't call me Nancy here."
"I thought your name was Nancy," Bess said.
"It's not, it's really Ruth, I was Ruth up to when I was eleven, but pirates are ruthless, so I decided to call myself Nancy." Nancy explained. "It gave mother no end of a headache, but the Great Aunt doesn't know."
"Ah, so that's what it's all about," the Admiral said. "I was wondering why Margaret kept slipping up and calling you Nancy."
"Anyway," Nell said, "We've heard so much about you. I've always wanted to meet you from the way Dorothea talked about you – and the Death and Glories after their trip north. Why are you in France? We go to school here, but I didn't think you did."
"We don't," Nancy said, "We're en route to Alexandria, Egypt."
"Alexandria!" Bess' eyes widened. "That will be exciting. The D's have been there. Dick told us all about the white ibis he saw in the Nile."
"He would," Nancy said grinning.
They agreed with Port and Starboard that the next day they would meet at the Louvre and spend the day there together.
"We'll have to spend at least a day at the Louvre," the Admiral declared. "I once set aside three weeks to see it and still barely saw the whole thing."
One of the world's largest museums, it rose in intricate golden grandeur above them. It had been a fortress, then a royal palace and now it held some of the finest art in the world. They walked the marble halls and wondered at the Chardins, the Fragonards, the Rembrandts. Their voices echoed softly as they stared up at the statues of ancient Greece and Assyria and the Winged Victory, headless but magnificent. They were silent as they looked into the eyes of Leonardo's Mona Lisa and contemplated the peculiarities of the background.
They walked down the thoroughfare to the Arc de Triomphe and stared up at its coffered ceiling wondering how it could have possibly been high enough or wide enough for a French aviator to fly his biplane through it.
The next morning, they got up early and took a bus to Versailles. It too was massive and beautiful. They walked the panelled halls; they saw the parquet floor, the gilt trim. They saw themselves reflected in a thousand different ways in the breathtaking Hall of Mirrors, where, nearly twenty years earlier, the dignitaries of the world had signed the peace.
They walked the grounds and explored the Petit Trianon, the little château that had been built for Louis XV's mistress, Madame de Pompadour, but later served as a retreat for Marie Antoinette in the days before the French Revolution. To think that Marie Antoinette had wandered these pathways and seen these views with her children a hundred and fifty years before was almost as stunning as finding a meteorite on an afternoon walk.
That evening, they saw Notre Dame; from the gargoyles to the rose garden and the great stained glass window in the nave. The flying buttresses crossed the sky and the Seine glittered in the afternoon light.
The day fled by too quickly.
SimonC: Thank you very much for your review! I'm really glad you like the detail, I've tried to make the story as true to the time as possible. If you should ever have any more comments or questions, please feel free to tell us.
Guest1: Glad you like the restaurants. I've always been deeply interested in food. :)
the English version of Swallows and Amazons was dedicated to Mrs E.H.R. Walker and Mrs. Robert Blackett. The nickname 'Ted' was mentioned in both We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea and and Secret Water. Ted can be a nickname for Theodore, Edward or Edwin. The inscription in Swallows and Amazons narrows it down to Edward or Edwin and I ended up choosing Edward.
I can imagine that becoming a great aunt would be daunting (I'm not even an aunt) but I'm quite certain that anyone who loves the Swallows and Amazons couldn't be anything but first class!
As before, thanks very much for your review!