Author Notes: This chapter title is inspired by the title of Agatha Christie’s novel, Mrs. McGinty’s Dead. I put off doing my edit of this chapter until the day before posting, which means that there was no time to allow my normal trusty editors—Julia, Mary, and Susan—to improve it as they usually do. :( I do have to add that the Rouen Suite, mentioned in this chapter, has special meaning to me as I spent a wonderful girls’ day in Rouen itself with my beloved oldest niece. Word count: 8,472.
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Chapter Five: Fraulein Eberhart's Dead
Luck was on Trixie’s side. She, Brian, and Mart entered the Trouville Suite to find that, indeed, the butler was present, having just finished delivering a freshly pressed tuxedo to their father. The first dinner sitting was not as elegant as the second sitting, but black tie was still required. White tie was the de rigueur clothing choice for men at the second sitting, particularly for those lucky enough to be asked to dine at the captain’s table.
Although Trixie enjoyed the creature comforts of her Grand Suite de Luxe, and the luxury of having her own bedroom on the voyage, she didn’t enjoy having to dress so fancily for dinner. Her mother had insisted on buying her several new gowns, the most elegant and grownup that she had ever owned, Trixie supposed she fit in, but she would never feel comfortable in such fine attire.
"Bon jour, Mademoiselle Belden, Messieurs Belden," the butler said in his charming French manner as he executed a small bow.
"Good evening, Jacques," Trixie said pleasantly before moving forward in her bull-in-china-shop manner. Was there ever a tactful way to introduce the subject of murder? "How are you recovering after that awful tragedy this morning?"
If Jacques was surprised by her inquiry, his Gallic upbringing allowed him to hide it well as he responded, "It is a tragedy, but you young people do not need to concern yourselves over the incident. It is being handled with the utmost care."
Trixie noticed that he spoke in the present, which gave her further evidence that it was murder. Had it been an accident, she was sure Jacques would have said that it "had been" handled.
"We must admit that we’re more than a little curious since we were the ones who found the poor woman," Trixie said, hoping to get the butler talking, even though she was sure that, French reticence aside, he had probably been instructed not to discuss the tragic event. She was going to have to be sly in her manner of questioning, which was going to be difficult given her normally direct nature.
Jacques looked surprised at Trixie’s revelation. "I heard that a group of young people had discovered Mademoiselle Eberhart, but I didn’t realize you were the young people in question."
Trixie nodded, thrilled that Jacques had let the woman’s last name slip. It was something to go on, at least. "One of the ship’s crew asked us some cursory questions at the scene, but we were wondering if they’re going to need anything else from us. We’d be happy to provide as much information as we can, especially if it will help to catch the person who did it to her."
The butler looked at her sharply then. "Who told you that it wasn’t an accident?"
"Well, there was so much blood…" Trixie let her voice trail off and opened her blue eyes wide in a look of innocence. "It was an accident, then?"
Jacques avoided her eyes as he answered the question—or avoided answering it. "C’est fou, ça! C’est n’importe quoi! You should not worry about these matters...it is for the ship’s authority to worry about," was all he would say, further confirming for the would-be sleuth that foul play was involved.
"Are you sure there’s nothing we can do to help, Jacques?" Brian asked. "We would like to be available if further statements are needed."
"Please continue to enjoy your vacation, and do not let this tragedy spoil your voyage. The Normandie, she is a marvel and the pride of France, and you should enjoy every second on her and experience all the wonders that she has to offer. Have you been to the Winter Garden yet?"
Brian and Trixie, who themselves frequently employed this tactic when they didn’t want to talk about something, recognized immediately that Jacques was trying to change the subject. Trixie’s mind began to whirl, trying to figure out a way to bring the conversation back to the murder.
It was Mart who did so, saying, "I spent a wonderful hour in the Winter Garden the other day, enjoying the exotic birds and fish with a German gentleman. Eberhart sounds like a German name. I wonder if Miss Eberhart was related to the man. There don’t seem to be too many Germans onboard."
Jacques, apparently not realizing that he was being baited, shook his head and offered, "Miss Eberhart traveled only with her aging mother."
Trixie felt her excitement soar that Mart’s tactic had worked, and she mentally vowed to be extra nice to her middle brother for the rest of the trip. Or at least the rest of the evening.
"That’s awful," Brian said. "I assume that she was helping her mother with the voyage, acting as a caretaker for her. If the woman has no one else onboard, perhaps we could help her out."
Jumping on Brian’s lead, Trixie quickly added, "Brian has medical training and is starting at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons when we get to the States. He’d love the opportunity to practice his skills."
"That is very kind of you, but I believe that the captain has assigned one of our nurses to see to her for the remainder of the trip," Jacques said, looking more and more uncomfortable.
"That’s wonderful for the captain to do that," Trixie said. "I was surprised that we’re continuing on to New York. I was afraid that we might turn around and go back to Europe."
"It was considered, Miss Belden, but because we were already a few days into the journey, and it would take almost as long to return to Europe as it would to continue on, the captain made the decision to continue to New York City." He cleared his throat. "I’m sorry, but if you don’t require anything else of me, I should take my leave."
"Of course," Brian said. "We didn’t mean to detain you, Jacques. Have a pleasant evening."
"You as well. Please do not give this morning’s...incident another thought and enjoy the remainder of your voyage." With a final small bow, the Frenchman left the suite.
Trixie was about to say something to her brothers about Jacques’ revelations, but just then Mrs. Belden entered the living room. "There you are!" she exclaimed. "I thought that I heard voices out here. You have just enough time to get cleaned up for dinner. I was afraid that you were going to miss it!"
Mart grinned at his mother. "Miss a meal? Me? Never!"
"I’m sorry, Moms," Trixie apologized. "We were spending time with our new friends, and we lost track of time. Do you need help with Bobby?"
Helen shook her head. "No, when Jacques realized this afternoon that we were traveling without a nurse for Bobby, he had one assigned from the ship, so she has taken him to eat in the children’s dining room."
Trixie’s jaw dropped. "Bobby has a nurse?"
Helen smiled. "Apparently, families with children who travel in first class, and particularly in the grand suites, usually have their own nurses who travel with them. Of course, our situation is a bit different, so we certainly have no nurse. Late this afternoon after he found out, Jacques seemed to think that was an untenable situation and immediately ‘rectified’ it, as he said." The woman, who looked almost young enough to be Trixie’s older sister, broke into a grin as she looked at her daughter. "That lets you off the hook for the remainder of the trip. Enjoy, young lady."
Trixie threw her arms around her mother. "Thanks, Moms!" she cried. "I really don’t mind spending time with the little imp but now that—" Trixie broke off suddenly, about to say "now that we’re trying to solve a murder..."
"Now that what, dear?" Helen asked.
Trixie was able to recover quickly. "Now that we’ve made such wonderful friends on the ship, I’ll have more time to spend with them."
"Yes, you will, dear," Helen said. "Now hurry. We don’t want to be late for dinner. I’m sure there’s some French law, punishable by death, about being late for the seating!"
"Yes, Moms," Trixie said, hurrying into her room, where her mother already had laid out a youthfully cut silk gown the color of sparkling sapphires. Trixie dressed as quickly as she could, and soon the Belden family was headed to the Grand Salle la Manger.
While the Beldens had been chatting with their butler, Honey was chatting with Pierre, the butler assigned to the Deauville Suite. She had found the perfect opening when the butler had politely asked her how her day was. Normally, Honey would have responded the way most people do when asked that question, no matter what type of day they’ve experienced: Fine, thank you. This automatic, polite response had been on the tip of her tongue when she caught herself, realizing that the charming French butler had just provided her with a way to introduce the topic of murder.
"Not very well, I’m afraid, Pierre," she said sadly.
"No, mademoiselle?" Pierre responded, surprised and distressed. "But the Normandie, she is the finest ship sailing the blue seas. She is the pride of France. And you did not enjoy her this day?"
One thing that Honey had learned in her short time on the ocean liner was that the French were fanatical about this ship, and a good deal of their national pride appeared to be tied to the SS Normandie. The French members of the crew seemed personally affronted if one did not view the ocean liner as perfection.
"Oh, no, Pierre!" Honey hastily assured him, not wanting to insult the man from whom she hoped to obtain information. "The ship is gorgeous! I’ve loved everything that she has to offer. It’s just that, well, my friends and I were the ones who discovered that poor woman this morning."
Pierre’s chocolate-colored eyes went wide. "Mais non!" he cried, looking distressed. "Poor mademoiselle! I am so sorry that you had to see that!"
Honey shivered, and it was not for effect. "I keep thinking about her, wondering who she was. I can’t get her out of my head, and I don’t even know her name. I would like to pay my respects to her family, if they’re onboard, and I can’t even do that one small thing."
"Mademoiselle Wheeler, I should probably not be telling you this, but if it will make you feel better…" Pierre hesitated only a moment while Honey tried not to look as eager as she was feeling. As long as Pierre was feeling sympathetic toward her, Honey had the feeling that she could get almost any information that she wanted from the butler.
Pierre continued, "Her name was Margarethe Eberhart."
"Margarethe," Honey repeated. "What a pretty name. Is that German?"
"Yes, the woman was German, traveling with her aged mother as her caretaker."
"Oh! Her poor mother!" The tears glistening in Honey’s eyes were not manufactured. She did feel for the woman—losing her daughter while traveling. "Who will take care of her now?"
"The captain has assigned one of the ship’s nurses to be Madame Eberhart’s care taker for the remainder of the crossing. As you can imagine, the woman is quite distraught and has taken to her bed."
"I wonder if she might be up to seeing visitors. I do so feel compelled to pay my respects," Honey said. "Although, if she’s not up to it…"
"It is a lovely thought, mademoiselle," Pierre said, "and you are very kind to think of it. Perhaps I could find out for you?"
"That would be wonderful, Pierre. I would appreciate that."
Pierre gave a low bow. "Anything for such a lovely young woman. Is there anything that you require this evening? I understand that you are to dine with Capitaine Le Commandant Lehuédé this evening."
"Yes, and I’m quite looking forward to it," Honey said. "I think it will be a unique experience to dine with the captain. I imagine that he has all sorts of wonderful stories about life at sea and knows just about everything that there is to know about this beautiful, amazing ship."
"Mais oui," Pierre said. "This is true. You will have a wonderful evening with the Capitaine le Commandant. It will be enlightening and enjoyable."
"I’m sure it will be. I don’t need anything right now, Pierre. I’m sure my mother has already selected my gown for the evening."
Pierre nodded. "Indeed she has, mademoiselle. It’s a beautiful emerald green gown. You and your mother have very good taste."
Honey laughed. "It’s all my mother. She selected most of my dinner gowns in Paris."
"Ah, oui. La Ville Lumière, she is a grand place for fashion, is she not?" Pierre asked.
Honey laughed. "Oui! Très chic!"
"Honey, you speak like a true French woman!" At that, Pierre bowed. "Your mother and father are relaxing before dinner, and I shall now let you do the same. I wish you an enchanting evening, mademoiselle!"
"Merci beaucoup, Pierre," Honey returned in her best French.
The young woman headed to her room, absolutely ecstatic that she had learned the identity of the murder victim and that Pierre might actually be able to secure a visit with the woman’s mother. Honey truly felt awful for the woman, even though she also felt a twinge of guilt at the deception that she merely wanted to pay her respects. But she consoled herself by rationalizing that if the group was able to somehow solve the murder, they would get justice for her daughter, and so the lie of omission could be forgiven.
Diana invited Jim and Dan to eat dinner with her family in the crowded, raucous dining room in third class, and Mr. and Mrs. Lynch were pleased to meet some of Diana’s new friends. Diana was forever grateful that Jim and Dan seemed to be good with little kids. Jim had absolutely captivated Rose and Violet, and it was clear that the toddler girls were in the thralls of their first crush, hanging onto Jim’s every word and movement. Meanwhile, Terry and Larry gave Dan their full attention as he told stories about his life in Ireland with his mother. Diana knew that a lot of Dan’s story was sad, but he focused on the happy times, and Terry and Larry loved his tales, loved hearing a different perspective about the home country that they would probably never see again. As a result, dinner was a relatively calm affair with the two younger sets of siblings behaving very well.
The children were so well-behaved, in fact, and Diana’s mother so impressed with the young gentlemen, that she told her daughter that she would put the children to bed by herself and urged Diana to spend the evening with her new friends.
"You’ve not had a lot of time in this world to be a young, carefree woman, Diana, luv," Mrs. Lynch had said, "and I regret that greatly. I can put the children to bed. You go have some much-deserved fun." As Di had hesitated, torn between her sense of duty and the desire to enjoy herself, Kathleen had barked, "’Tis final. Get on with ya now!"
At that, Di had given her mother a fierce hug and thanked her before heading off with Jim and Dan to find some talkative crew members. Unfortunately, they found that most of the third-class crew members did not speak any English, making it difficult to eavesdrop or engage them in conversation.
"I bet Honey can speak fluent French," Di said after yet another disappointing encounter. "She just seems the type who would know French."
"She probably did pick up a little on her trip if she didn’t know the language already. She said that she and her parents spent a good deal of time in France while they were over here," Dan agreed.
"Well, what’s our next step if we can’t understand the crew members? How are we going to get information about the victim or the murder?" Jim asked, running an impatient hand through his red hair.
"Hopefully, Honey and the Beldens have managed to get some information from their butlers," Dan said. "It’s about time for Honey’s dinner with the captain, too. Maybe she can get some information from him."
"We’ll see," Diana said. "If I were Honey, I’d be too afraid to bring the subject up with the captain."
"I’ve also been wondering how she’s going to manage that," Dan said, "but she does seem to possess a lot of tact, so maybe she can pull it off."
Diana gestured toward Jim. "I’m with you, though. No matter what Honey and the Beldens are able to accomplish, I feel like we should be doing something, too!" Suddenly, her face brightened, and a wide grin split her face as she stared at the boys, a decidedly mischievous look on her face.
"What?" Jim and Dan asked in one breath.
"I may have an idea," Di said. "I can fake an illness, distract whoever’s on duty in the ship’s hospital room, and you guys can sneak in and investigate the body for clues!"
The two young gentlemen stared at the Irish lass before them, their jaws agape. The black-haired beauty continued to grin at them. "What?" she asked with an air of innocence.
Jim and Dan eventually recovered, and Dan’s face broke into a slow grin as his red-headed friend exclaimed, "You’re worried about initiating a conversation with a captain but you’ll distract a ship’s officer so we can illegally go explore a dead body?"
Diana nodded, her violet eyes sparkling. "Sounds that way, doesn’t it?" she asked, her Irish lilt taking on a playful quality.
Jim’s face broke into a slow grin like his brother a few moments before. "I like you!"
"So, are you in? I think I can pull it off," Di said, feeling giddy at Jim’s compliment. "At least, I was in a couple of school performances back in Ireland."
"I’m sure your acting skills will be just fine," Jim assured her. "I’m more worried about trying to figure out where they might be keeping the woman’s body, not to mention all of the ethical considerations of breaking in and violating a soul’s peace."
"We’re not going to do anything to the body except investigate it," Dan reasoned, "and if we find justice for her, that will give her soul some peace."
In the end, the three developed a plan that they were rather proud of. None of them was exactly sure if the plan would work— or if they would even be able to interpret anything that they might find, but they all felt that they owed it to the dead woman to at least try to bring her some justice. None of them seemed to give any consideration to the ocean liner’s investigation into the incident. For whatever reason, all of them—including the four absent friends—were determined to solve the crime themselves. Deep down, the seven must have known that the exercise was a lark, an effort with little possibility of success, but that didn’t stop them.
According to their plan, Di tried to look as sick to her stomach as possible and asked the nearest crew member where the hospital room on the ship was located. After receiving the answer, the trio was off in the direction that the crew member had indicated. Jim and Di hid while Dan moved stealthily forward to check the place out before Di went in with her act. The pair stood tensely, cautiously peeking around the corner, not daring to speak until Dan returned, a wide grin on his face.
"You look like the cat who swallowed the canary!" Jim exclaimed, and then looked around and lowered his voice. "What did you find out?"
"It was perfect timing!" Dan exclaimed.
"It was?" Di asked. "How?"
"There was someone from the ship’s security talking about the body!" Dan responded, excited but trying to keep his voice down so that no one could over hear them. "Let’s go down the hall farther away so no one hears us."
When they had traveled some distance from the medical rooms, Dan summarized what he had heard. "First of all, it’s definitely what they call ‘foul play.’ Just as I was about to enter the room, I stopped because I heard the ship’s security man say that his staff was looking into the man the victim had eaten dinner with the night before to see if he knew of anyone who might want to harm the woman. The nurse on duty was surprised to hear that the woman had had dinner with a man the night before. Apparently, she’s traveling with her elderly mother and neither of them has a male companion with them onboard the ship.
"The security officer said that he found that suspicious, too. He and the nurse seemed to think that it was possible that the woman might have met someone on the ship, but neither could imagine why she wouldn’t bring her mother to dinner. She’s elderly, but not room-bound. The best stroke of luck is that the security officer actually said, as he was leaving, ‘Well, I’m off to Room 1013 to interview this Schmidt fellow.’"
"Schmidt!" Jim exclaimed. "That sounds German!"
At the same time, Di cried, "We have a room number and a name for a possible suspect!"
Dan grinned triumphantly at his companions. "Exactly!"
"What a stroke of luck! You deserve to wear Sherlock Holmes’ cap for that one!" Jim stated.
"It was luck more than anything," Dan protested modestly.
Di shook her head at that. "I don’t think so. You thought to wait outside the hospital room and eavesdrop once you heard the man talking. I would have probably just barged right in without thinking!" she said. "I’m so glad that you went to scout it out in advance and no one sent me in there straight away! Should I still head in there? Or should we try to find this Mr. Schmidt?"
"I don’t think that the room is in third class. We’ll have to go with the Beldens or Honey, I believe. We don’t want to be seen skulking around other areas of the ship, lest we be considered suspects ourselves!"
"Good point," Di said. "But at least we still have some really great news to share with the rest of the crowd tomorrow."
"Very true," Jim agreed. "Were you also able to see enough to figure out where a body might be kept once you went in?"
Dan nodded. "I did. I noticed a large refrigerator, one much larger than anything that they would need to store medications and the like in. I think that would be our best bet."
"Wonderful! I was wondering what they might do with a body at sea. I was hoping that it wasn’t like the pirates. They had a service and threw the bodies over the side of the ship sewed up into their hammocks."
"I did not need to know that!" Di said with a shudder. She then took a deep breath, saying, "Okay, I guess it’s my turn to go and distract the nurse. What did she sound like?"
Dan responded, "She sounded kind of young. I didn’t think they’d let someone young serve as a nurse on a ship, especially not alone."
"It’s not like it’s the most desirable shift. The experienced nurses with seniority probably get the day shift," Jim theorized.
"And the doctors probably only come in when they’re really needed," Di surmised before focusing on the task at hand. "Well, wish me luck!"
The Irish lass hurried off down the long passageway toward the hospital rooms. Jim and Dan, peering from around their corner, watched her pause for a moment outside of the doorway and take a deep breath before she disappeared into the room. A few minutes later, they watched as the young nurse, her long, dark brown hair pulled into a bun beneath her starched white nurse’s cap, hurried down the hall. The doctor was sure to have quarters not very far from the hospital room and would return in tow soon, so Jim and Dan raced down the hallway.
Jim stood guard outside of the hospital room while Dan hurried in to find Diana studying a medical folder.
"I think we may have what we need here without even looking at the body," she said, relieved, as she looked up from the folder.
Dan moved to look over Di’s shoulder, reading aloud the initial report of death, "Margarethe Eberhart, aged thirty-three. Born in Bergisch Gladbach in the North Rhine-Westphalia state of Germany. Eyes, blue; hair, blonde; weight, fifty-two kilos; height, 173 centimeters. Victim traveling with her mother, Anna Eberhart, in room 2072. Cause of death, blunt force trauma to the back of the skull. Findings indicate that the weapon was thin, most likely something similar to a pipe constructed of a heavy material. Extent of injuries to the cranium could not have resulted from a simple fall."
"I wish we had thought to bring something to write with!" Di said as she frantically tried to remember the details.
"We need to remember Margarethe and Anna Eberhart, Room 2072," Dan summarized. "The important thing is that findings look like Trixie’s theory proved correct—there’s no way her death occurred from the fall. Looks like some type of a pipe was involved. We just need to remember that."
Just then, Dan and Di heard Jim outside in the passageway speaking loudly. "Are you the nurse? I mean, you must be the nurse, you’re dressed like a nurse! I was wondering if you had any advice about handling a crying child. See, my friend’s little sister won’t stop crying, and my friend won’t leave her room, so I volunteered to come here and maybe get some advice."
As soon as Jim had started speaking, Di sat down on the bed and started moaning, getting back into character, while Dan pretended to look after her.
They heard the nurse tell Jim that she would help him in a minute, but she had another patient to tend to. The young nurse in her starched whites briskly entered the room, all business. "The doctor—" she broke off realizing that her young, female patient was not alone. "Oh, I’m sorry. Young man, you can’t be in here."
"I’m sorry," Dan said, gazing into her brown eyes with the intense look that he had found to be effective with ladies, young or old. He saw a slight blush tinge her Gallic features, and he knew that his look was having the desired effect. "This is my sister," Dan lied smoothly, glad that he and Di were both what was known as "Dark Irish" and could pass as siblings. "Do you know what’s wrong with her?"
"Oh, well, if you’re her brother, I suppose you can stay. I don’t know what’s wrong, but the doctor is on his way."
Just then, Di jumped up. "Is there a bathroom close by?"
The nurse looked startled and pointed to a small door off to the side. Di rushed into it and shut the door. Dan hid a grin as he heard the sounds of Di retching. He knew that they were fake—part of their "extraction" plan to leave the infirmary without Di actually having to be admitted or diagnosed—since nothing was, in fact, wrong with her—but he had to admit that the retching noises sounded very real. Even though logically he knew better, he did began to wonder if Di was actually getting violently ill. Diana really was quite the actress.
A few moments later, Di exited the bathroom, looking pale and wan, and Dan was impressed anew with her acting skills. She really looked like someone who was feeling truly ill.
"I’m so sorry," she apologized. "But that seems to have helped. The pains and cramps have gone away. Do you mind if I just retire to my room now instead of seeing the doctor? I am so sorry to have bothered you and him. But I think I’d just really like to lie down in my own room now."
The nurse looked at her with concern. "I really think you should see the doctor…" she trailed off.
"Please, nurse," Di pleaded in a pathetic voice. "I just want to go back to my room."
Dan once again gave the nurse "the look" and she relented.
"Well, since your brother is here and can help you back..." the nurse said, still not sounding very sure of herself. Dan and Di realized that they had really been very lucky to have encountered such a young, inexperienced nurse. The two began moving to the door, both thanking her and apologizing to her, and made their escape. As planned, Jim had already disappeared.
Dan continued to pretend to help Di down the passageway, and a few moments later they heard the nurse exclaim to herself, "Now where did that red-headed kid go?"
Dan and Di both broke into grins but did not dare look at each other. "Excuse me!" they heard the nurse call. They slowed and turned around to face her, Di screwing up her face in a look of wan illness. "Did you see a young red-headed man out here just now?"
"No, ma’am," Dan said truthfully. The nurse looked up and down the passageway, and then, shaking her head, headed down the passageway in the opposite direction, presumably to tell the doctor that he was no longer needed, as the situation had resolved itself.
As they made their way back to their quarters, Dan and Di excitedly filled Jim in on what they had found.
"That’s bloody wonderful!" Jim exclaimed. "I can’t believe that our plan worked!"
"It not only worked, it worked even better than I could have imagined since no one actually had to look over the poor woman’s body for clues!" Di returned. "I don’t know why we didn’t think of just looking for the doctor’s files before!"
Jim grinned. "Because we’ve never investigated a murder before?"
Meanwhile, Honey was seated at the captain’s table enjoying the caviar course, an enormous bronze statue that represented peace standing solemnly behind her. Seated between her parents, the young woman looked much older than her eighteen years, elegant and refined in the emerald green silk organza gown, her honey hair swept into an intricate up-do courtesy of her mother. Filling out the captain’s table was a German baron and his wife and two older couples whose names Honey could not specifically remember, but the men had both been introduced as captains of industry traveling with their wives. Honey thought that maybe one of them was in steel and the other one was in aviation, but she had been too busy staring at the wives, who seemed to be wearing their husbands’ fortunes quite liberally in the form of diamonds, to truly pay attention.
After the captain had signaled the waiters, standing alert nearby, to begin bringing in the hors d’ oeuvres course, he asked the passengers seated at his table how they were enjoying their accommodations. "You all are staying in our finest suites. I hope that they are to your liking."
"Our family is absolutely loving ours," Matthew said immediately. "It’s much more luxurious than I could have ever imagined possible on a ship. It’s quite remarkable."
The German baron nodded. "My wife and I are quite impressed with the Grand Suite de Luxe Rouen," he said.
"We feel very privileged to be traveling in such luxurious accommodations," the baroness added. "We were in Rouen itself last year and were very impressed with the ‘City of One Hundred Spires.’"
The two older couples, who were traveling together in the Grand Suite de Luxe Caen, also commented on how impressed they were.
The conversation lagged slightly near the end of the hors d’ oeuvres course, after everyone had feasted on œufs farcis à l'aurore (stuffed eggs with cheese and tomatoes), oysters, foie gras served with toasted bread points, and other delicacies. Dinner was served service à la Russe, or in the Russian style, with each course brought separately, as opposed to service à la Française, service in the French style, which involved all of the courses and dishes being brought to the table at once in a very impressive display.
With the lull in conversation, Honey realized that it was her opportunity to engage the captain and try to find some information about the tragic incident that had occurred earlier that day in Touriste Classe. Sitting so near the captain and across from a baron and baroness, Honey was suddenly shy about trying to obtain information, especially since she was with her parents—who would rightly frown on her if she displayed anything but the most impeccable manners. Honey had always been careful not to embarrass her parents, and she didn’t want to start now in this most dignified setting where they were guests.
Fortunately, she didn’t have to bring up the unpleasant topic because, as her mind was floundering, one of the dowager women did her dirty work for her, engaging with the captain after the hors d’ oeuvres course had been cleared but before the servers had brought out the decorative salad course.
"So, Captain Lehuédé, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I’m afraid I just can’t control myself any longer. Can you tell me anything about the rumors I’ve been hearing. Is there really a murderer on board this lovely ocean liner?"
Honey immediately looked to her right toward their host, who sat on the other side of her mother. She saw a slight tightening of the captain’s features at the woman’s question, but he graciously smiled and responded. "A murderer on board the SS Normandie?" he asked. "Wherever did you get that idea, Madame Anderson?"
Honey noticed that the captain did not directly answer the woman’s question.
"Well, I heard that a woman in Touriste Classe was found murdered," Mrs. Anderson responded.
Honey’s attention was drawn to the German baron, who had looked down and suddenly seemed to be very interested in his napkin. Remembering that the victim was a German woman, Honey filed this information away and mentally vowed to keep an eye on the baron throughout the meal to see if she could glean any information based on his behavior.
The captain kept his smile in place as he answered, "Unfortunately, yes, a woman was found lying in the Touriste Classe passageway, and she was quite deceased. Our very capable medical officer is responsible for determining the cause of death, but I assure you that murder is not something that you need to worry about."
Honey watched as the German baron visibly relaxed at what even she recognized as double-speak from the French captain.
As three servers approached the table with an array of decorative salads, the captain was able to gracefully change the subject. "Ah, here we go with the next course. I think that you will love the terrine salads," he said.
As the guests began to enjoy their terrines, the baroness asked the captain to tell his most interesting sea story.
The captain launched into a tale about his first voyage on the Normandie, not as captain, but as the ship’s assistant navigator, in of May 1935. Captain Lehuédé’s dark eyes glowed with pride as he finished, in his charmingly French-accented English, "It was quite exciting, earning that first Blue Riband!"
Matthew Wheeler lifted his glass of champagne and toasted, "To France’s jewel, the SS Normandie ."
Everyone at the table raised their glasses while the captain beamed with pride. Honey smiled to herself as she realized that her father had just earned the captain’s favor with his simple toast. She felt a little giddy knowing that she could possibly capitalize on her father’s favor with the captain in the course of the murder investigation.
Finally, after so many courses had been served that Honey had lost count, waiters arrived with dessert, and the young sleuth realized that she would soon lose her chance to speak to the German baron. With a spoonful of delicious ice cream fortifying her, she gathered up the courage to speak to the man and his wife.
"Baron and Baroness, " she started, praying that leaving off their last name, which she could not remember, was not some horrible faux pas. "Where in Germany do you live?"
It was the baron who answered after politely patting his mouth with a crisp white linen napkin. "We live in Berlin," he said in his heavily accented German.
The baroness, a nice-looking woman with dark blonde hair that curled gracefully around an elongated neck and a warm and friendly—though plain—face, added, "That’s where we live now that Johann’s business has brought him to the capital of the Fatherland, but we’re from Bayern. I believe it is called ‘Bavaria’ in English. It’s in the southern part of the country."
"Where in Bavaria?" Honey asked, feeling at ease in the conversation now. She had loved Bavaria! "My parents and I recently traveled through there on our continental tour."
"Wunderbar!" the baroness exclaimed with a smile. "We are from a lovely, quiet place called Lauf an der Pegnitz, which is near Nuremburg."
"We went to Nuremburg," Honey said. "I fell in love with it! The medieval architecture was absolutely fascinating, and the Pegnitz River was so calm and serene."
What Honey didn’t realize was that her father had almost avoided visiting Germany at all. They had not visited Munich because of its reputation as the "Capital of the Movement" and the birthplace of the Nazi Party, where lavish memorial ceremonies were held. The Wheelers also had almost skipped Nuremburg, which held annual Nazi rallies, but Madeleine had put her foot down and said that, as long as it was safe, she wanted Honey to see Germany. Because Matthew had maintained that visiting the northern portion of Germany was out of the question, Madeleine had declared that they were going to visit either Nuremburg or Munich. Matthew Wheeler had not been happy with either choice, but in the end, he found Nuremburg to be more palatable.
The baroness was beaming at Honey’s compliments, and even the stoic and unsmiling baron looked pleased with Honey’s enthusiasm. "That river begins in my home town," the baroness explained. "As a girl, its banks were my favorite place in the world."
"I can see why. It’s a shame that you had to leave such a lovely place, although I imagine Berlin has its merits, too," Honey said. She moved her hazel gaze ever so slightly to meet the baron’s eyes. "And what business are you in that takes you to Berlin, if I may ask?"
"But of course," the baron said, but Honey had the feeling that he was being polite rather than actually interested in talking about himself. Maybe she was being too harsh, especially since she genuinely liked the baroness, but Honey found the man to be ferret-like and secretive. "I’m in finance, and for the past few years my financial dealings have brought me to Berlin quite frequently. Within the past year it became obvious that the best course of action would be to relocate to Berlin."
Matthew, listening to the conversation, was able to read between the lines, and he wondered whether Honey understood the intricacies of the baron’s situation. Obviously, the baron was financing Hitler to such an extent that the madman had wanted him to relocate to Germany to give him a prestigious place in the Nazi government as a reward. To her credit, Honey noticed the look of distaste that flitted across her father’s face before he quickly masked it, and she realized that there was more to the relocation than met the eye. She vowed to ask her father about it later.
The honey-haired young woman remained pleasant as she responded, "That makes a good deal of sense. I’m glad you’re able to spend more time with your wife instead of traveling. Do you have children?"
At that, the baroness, who had been looking rather unhappy at the talk of relocation, began to smile again. Her beaming face left no doubt that she was, indeed, a mother. She answered, "Yes, a lovely ten-year-old daughter who is with her au pair now. She’s had a grand time during the crossing."
"That’s wonderful," Honey’s mother interjected with a fond glance at her own daughter. "I remember that age. Honey was just starting to become independent and had so many delightful questions about the world around her. It fun to start introducing her to what I affectionately called the ‘real world,’ beyond children’s parties and schools."
The baroness continued to beam, this time addressing Honey’s mother. "That is true," she agreed. "That is why I happen to be on this crossing. Johann had sudden business on the ship, and Heidi is at the perfect age to appreciate an opportunity to travel to New York and experience such a lovely ocean liner. Even though Johann was reluctant at first, I was able to persuade him that Heidi and I should accompany him."
Madeleine smiled up at her husband and then looked back at the German baroness. "Men! They’re so protective! Matthew was hesitant about this trip as well, but Honey and I prevailed, and I know that we’re all glad, all three of us, that we did."
Matt Wheeler smiled indulgently at his wife. "Yes, as always, my better half—" He broke off and looked fondly at his daughter, adjusting his statement. "My better halves, I should say, well, they know better than I ever could about the ways of the world and what is best for this family."
Madeleine let out a tinkling laugh. "You’re pretty worldly, Matthew Wheeler!" she protested, but then she grinned up at him, a wicked glint reflecting in her hazel eyes. "Worldly enough to know that women secretly run the world, that is!"
At that, everyone at the table laughed, even the sour German baron, although Honey thought that his laughter sounded forced, and the sentiment didn’t seem to reach his watery blue eyes. The captain made a French joke about the cleverness of women, who should never be underestimated, and the dinner ended on a jovial note. The adults were ready to move on to the Grand Salon for dancing and after-dinner drinks, and although Honey would have been more than welcome, she made her excuses and, after shaking hands with the captain and thanking him profusely for a lovely evening and expressing a sincere good-night to the rest of her table companions, the eighteen-year-old attempted to make her leave.
Before she could, however, the captain laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Mademoiselle Wheeler, may I have a moment before you retire?" He looked toward her parents. "If it is permissible for your parents, of course." At their nods, he continued, "I’d like to get a young person’s opinion about the ship, which often is geared toward adults or children, but not necessarily young people of your age."
"Of course," Honey murmured demurely. "I’d be honored."
The two waved the others on, although Honey noticed that the German baron was eyeing them suspiciously and had encouraged his wife to move on as he found an excuse to hover nearby. The captain didn’t appear to notice, but Honey kept part of her attention on the German.
Captain Lehuédé didn’t hesitate to speak to the young woman about the real reason that he had called her aside. "I understand that you are one of the young people who found the unfortunate women this morning," he said in a low voice. At Honey’s surprised nod, he continued, "I want to thank you for your discretion at the dinner table this evening. You could have fed Madame Anderson’s thirst for gossip, but you did not. I am very grateful for that."
Honey managed to say, "Of course."
"I am sure that you understand the gravity of the matter, and I will not insult your intelligence, as I am sure that even a brief glance told you that there was far too much blood for it to have been an accident. You showed a great deal of poise tonight at dinner, so I am trusting you to be discrete now, and I want you to know that we are looking for the person—or persons—responsible. I do not want you to be frightened that there is a wanton killer on the ship, seeking to harm just anyone whom he may find. Mademoiselle Eberhart was most likely…she may have invited…well, please just understand that I do not think that the typical passenger has anything to worry about, so I do not want this to dampen your trip. I would very much like you to continue to have the fun that a young lady your age deserves to have before she makes her way into the world, especially on such a special ship."
"Why, thank you, Captain Lehuédé," Honey said. "I appreciate your reassurance, and it’s comforting to know that there is nothing to worry about. You have a lovely ship, and I am eager to spend the next few days enjoying her."
"Très bien. Parfaitement," the captain said, nodding and grasping Honey’s slender hands in his roughened, seaworthy ones. "Have a lovely evening, Mademoiselle Wheeler."
"Merci," Honey returned. "Et vous."
As she parted ways with Captain Lehuédé, it didn’t escape Honey’s notice that the baron was still loitering nearby. She had watched him out of the corner of her eye, and even as he pretended to remove a nonexistent piece of lint from his impeccable white jacket, fix the hem of his trouser, and buff an already mirror-like black patent shoe, it was clear that he had been stalling—and eavesdropping. That made Honey more convinced than ever that this "gentleman" had something to hide. She was a little frightened to travel back to her suite at that point, wondering if the German baron was truly sinister and would try to silence anyone who had any knowledge of the dead woman and her secrets.
Fortunately, Captain Lehuédé drew the man in. "Baron von Ottendorf," he said, and Honey memorized the name, which she had missed earlier. "Let us join everyone waiting for us in the Grand Salon." The baron meekly followed the captain without so much as a backward glance toward the young woman.
Honey breathed a sigh of relief and headed toward the Deauville Suite. Once safely ensconced in her luxurious "home," she hurriedly changed out of her gown, which had made her feel somewhat like a princess, and into a silk pajama set, also emerald green and lined with purple silk piping that made her again think of royalty, and hurried on to the private promenade deck, a luxury that only two suites on the ocean liner were lucky enough to possess. She was hoping that one of the Belden teens, particularly Trixie, might be outside on the adjoining deck enjoying the night air, heavy with the pleasant salty sea breeze.
Honey was in luck. Sure enough, Trixie, unable to sleep because of the mystery at hand, was out on her side of the deck. The British teen was thrilled when she looked over the half-wall that separated the two decks to see Honey step outside. She had been pacing the deck, wondering when her new-found friend would return from dinner and, hopefully, head out on to the deck to report that she had exciting news about the mystery.
"Honey!" Trixie cried when she saw the young American girl. "You’re back!"
Honey grinned and hurried over to her friend. "Yes, and I think I have good news for us! I learned quite a bit from our butler," she reported.
"I learned a tiny bit from ours, but he seemed very reluctant to talk to us. All I found out was the woman’s last name, which sounds German," Trixie admitted.
"She is!" Honey said. "Or, rather, was. Her name was Margarethe Eberhart, and she’s traveling as the caretaker for her mother."
Trixie’s hand flew to her mouth. "Oh, dear! That poor woman! Losing her daughter on what was supposed to be a pleasure cruise!"
Kind-hearted, empathetic Honey nodded. "I know," she commiserated. "It’s simply awful!"
"Did you find out anything else from the butler?" Trixie asked.
"Not really," Honey said. "I told him I wanted to pay my respects to Miss Eberhart’s mother because I was one of the passengers who found the body, and he said that he would see what he could do—and he seemed sympathetic. But I do have other news!"
Trixie leaned forward eagerly, noting the excited twinkle in Honey’s large hazel eyes.
"Do tell!" she encouraged her new American friend, who needed no further urging. In a flurry of words, it all came out, the German baron’s suspicious behavior—and the fact that she knew exactly where he was staying on the ship—the captain’s admission that the German woman had not been an accident, and the fact that she had been targeted for something that she had done or been involved in.
"I bet she was a spy!" Trixie exclaimed excitedly when Honey finished her discourse. "She’s German, and you said this German bloke is working directly for Hitler!"
"I said I think he’s working directly for Hitler," Honey corrected. "It sounded like he finances him pretty heavily, but I can’t be sure until I ask Daddy."
Trixie waved an impatient hand. "I can!" she declared. "Works in finances? Suddenly moves to Berlin? The guy’s working for that creep!"
Honey smiled at Trixie’s leap—and her absolute faith in herself and the logic that told her that she was right in taking that leap. What Honey wouldn’t give to have that level of confidence! And yet, she herself had been sure that the German baron was working for Hitler. She’d even implied it when retelling her story to Trixie. Was she really so different from this brazen English woman? After all, earlier that evening, she had held her own with a table full of impressively accomplished adults while she sought out clues to solve a murder. The captain of the ship had told her she had poise and had confided in her facts that he had not shared with the adults. In that moment, Honey vowed to stop thinking of herself as "that shy girl" and learn to be more like her new friend—bold, smart, brave...and always ready for adventure.
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Story copyright © GSDana