Of Governesses and Greasers

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
November/December 2006

Adam Rowe

“Larissa! Get back from there.” The voice cut into Lacey’s musings like a knife, ripping her daydream and dumping her back in the present. To be precise, 1912.

“I won’t have you standing that close to the edge of the deck,” Lacey’s governess, Mrs. Etchman, said apprehensively “What would your mother think?”

“She’d probably be standing there with me,” Lacey muttered.

Mother had taken a ship to New York three months ago, saying that Lacey should come when she had set up a home there. Now five-year-old Lacey and her slightly overprotective governess were over halfway there. Despite the fact that this was one of the safest ships in the world, Mrs. Etchman still harbored doubts.

“I hate these engines! In my day, ships had sails or, at the very least, oars. Not these big clunky hunks of metal pumping out smoke. Why, I remember…”

“Mrs. Etchman!” Lacey interrupted. She knew these one-sided conversations could go on forever. “Can I go to our cabin?”

“Yes, you may. I’ll come with you, of course.”

When they got to their first-class rooms, Lacey belly-flopped onto the bed. Despite the ship’s restaurant, lounge, reading room, gymnasium, swimming bath, and squash court, Lacey was bored. She let the gently rocking ship roll her around the bed, wishing that she didn’t have to have a guardian all the time. Suddenly, she sat up.

Of Governesses and Greasers poeple in a ship

“Oh, don’t worry about that. This ship surpasses all others before it. It won’t be a problem”

“Mrs. Etchman, may I go to the bathroom?”

“Yes, you may” Mrs. Etchman approved.

Once out of sight, Lacey headed for the main hall, away from the bathrooms. She wandered up corridors and down stairs, not sure where she was going. Presently, she came upon two women talking to an officer. Lacey heard one of the women address him as chairman. He was reading a telegram, trying to sound important.

“‘Icebergs and large quantity of field ice 41.59 N 49.9 W’ Oh, don’t worry about that. This ship surpasses all others before it. It won’t be a problem.”

Lacey passed them without noticing. She was thinking about her governess. Her spiteful, rude, malicious governess. Lacey had thought that her first trip overseas would be enjoyable. But not with Medusa’s mother-in-law watching her like a vulture. The voyage had got off to a bad start in Queenstown, anyway. She’d been seasick the first few days, while Mrs. Etchman, perfectly well, watched disapprovingly As if it was her fault she was sick! Mrs. Etchman was always pointing out problems and correcting manners. Larissa, tuck in your shirt. Larissa, don’t bolt your food. Larissa…

Suddenly, Lacey’s thoughts were scattered when the floor beneath her changed from lush, dark red carpet to gray, metallic steel. The cold sheet metal sent shivers up her bare feet and rang faintly when she stepped on it. She jumped up and down on it. Booum! B000um! This was fun. She walked farther down the corridor to see whether it sounded louder over there.

*          *          *

Eventually, she got tired and decided to go back. But wait. Was that dead-end there last time? And that door wasn’t locked. Lacey was suddenly aware that the engine sounded much louder than it always did. In fact, she could feel the vibrations through the walls. It was coming from a door ahead. The opening door ahead.

Out of the door stepped a young man in grimy coveralls. He was a rangy six- or seventeen-year-old; easily recognized as a mechanic because of the trademark oily rag in his back pocket.

“Hey” he said, surprised. Then, more gently and with a grin, “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”

The young mechanic radiated goodwill and, against Mrs. Etchman’s command to not talk to strangers, Lacey soon found herself telling him everything.

“Well, it seems like this governess of yours is really mean,” the greaser theorized. “Or, so you seems to think. But didja consider that maybe she’s just being too possessive? She is suppos’d to take care of ya, after all. I’m sure she doesn’t do all those things to you to be cruel, just to help your welfare,” he went on. But Lacey wasn’t to be moved so quickly. She was five years old, after all. The mechanic talked to her longer, telling her his name (Axel) and his occupation (greaser).

“Ya know,” Axel remarked, “people can be very prejudiced. Why, there’s a couple in second class who were frightened just last night because it was the thirteenth. They were prejudiced against a number, but you’re prejudiced against a person.”

Lacey was having trouble following the conversation, perhaps because she didn’t know what “prejudiced” meant.

“See if you can find something nice about her. Try asking where she grew up. That usually works.”

Axel winked and got up from the pipe they’d been sitting on. “I’ve got to get back to work. You head in that direction and stay to the right, and you should get back to the deck.”

Lacey watched Axel walk back to the engine room. Then she turned and walked back, thinking about what he’d said.

By the time she reached her room, she had decided that Axel was right. Maybe she had been too hard on Mrs. Etchman. But when she opened the door, her resolve dissolved.

“Where have you been?” Mrs. Etchman shrieked. “I’ve looked all over the first-class area. I was getting ready to call on the captain. If you’ve been…”

Lacey tuned her out. Maybe Axel was wrong. Mrs. Etchman seemed plenty mean to her. She decided to try one last time.

“Mrs. Etchman, where did you grow up?”

Mrs. Etchman stopped her tirade and stared at Lacey “Where did I- now, don’t try to change the subject. We were discussing your shameful behavior.”

“Yeah, just answer this an’ I won’t interrupt or disagree or anything,” Lacey pleaded. “Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease?”

“Oh… very well. But don’t think you’ll get away with this, because you won’t. Let’s see… where did I grow up? In the country, by a small lake. Lake Adam. I had my very own sailboat. I used to have such fun flying over the lake, with the wind in my face and sea spray drenching my skirt. But then I had to move to a city.” Mrs. Etchman sighed. “That’s about it. I became a governess, and had to punish naughty little girls who disappear. What do you have to say for yourself?”

*          *          *

Later, Lacey stood on the deck, leaning against the railing and thinking. Mrs. Etchman’s attitude towards boiler engines was explained by her love for sailboats. Why, that almost justified her tedious talks about the evils of machinery.

Well, almost. And it still didn’t explain why she was so stern, either. But then, she had seemed really upset when she couldn’t find Lacey Maybe it was all for Lacey’s protection. Whatever the case, if Mrs. Etchman got lenient enough to allow Lacey evening strolls on the deck by herself just by being asked a few questions, Lacey wasn’t complaining. Besides, being overprotective could be a blessing in some conditions. If anything happened on this voyage, Lacey was sure Mrs. Etchman could handle it.

And the RMS Titanic glided onward through the sea.

Of Governesses and Greasers Adam Rowe

Adam Rowe,13
Renton, Washington

Of Governesses and Greasers Annalise Nurme

Annalise Nurme, 13
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts

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