Her name was Antonia, but Miss Elizabeth Baker insisted on the former. It sounded French, posh, and Miss Beth loved that, and bragging. A French ladies maid, born in New Zealand, lived in Australia, the United Kingdom. Antonia’s never been to France even despite her mother never staying still, Europe was too good for the Russell’s. Toni had however caught a glimpse through the window in Miss Beth’s room, you couldn’t see the Eiffel Tower, so how could one be sure that it really was France, it was just as ugly a dock as England was and Ireland would be.
Miss Beth wasn’t a bad person, she was a fair employer and Toni didn’t hate working for her. Miss Beth isn’t supposed to have a ladies maid, she’s not married, but her family had all the new money in the world, so Toni supposed she was pretty lucky to have this job at all.
“Yes,” Toni’s black maid’s skirt billowed out as she faced her mistress.
“Mother said my jewels need to go to… jail.”
She shrugged, “Some sort of lock-up for jewels I suppose. Steffanie’s about to go down so you can go with her,” Elizabeth smiled before her attention was brought back to her vanity.
Toni was pleased to get an opportunity to explore the ship. It was by no means a proper look around, but something different than their cabin, the servants dining room and the bathrooms of the last day, she and Steffanie were happy with this plan. Steffanie was her best friend in the house so a short walk was spectacular for a dose of gossip, the lady of the house’s maid heard everything, and that was Steffanie.
“Ma’am said the boat is unsinkable, because that’s what Sir said and he was told that by… someone else, but we don’t know his name. But you know boats give me the sceevies, how is it unsinkable? Something this big shouldn’t be able to float Toni,” Steffanie rattled that out with a charming Welsh accent.
“Maybe it’s magic Steff,” Toni giggled.
“Aye, a lot of magic, hard working men down below that’ll be the first to drown if something were to happen,” she was talking louder and louder.
“Stop it,” Toni was calm, “People are staring.”
“I don’t like boats Toni.”
“How did you think we were going to cross the Atlantic, hmm?” She stopped her best friend in the hall.
“I didn’t think we’d be crossing the Atlantic a year and a half ago when I applied for the job did I,” her eyes were wide.
“And I did know when I applied six months ago,” Toni nodded, acknowledging.
Toni linked her arm through Steffanie’s as they walked again, “You were given the option to stay in England, and you chose us. And I promise you Steff, they call the Titanic the ‘Ship of Dreams,’ therefore nothing bad could possibly happen.”
Steffanie gasps, “In all my stress I almost forgot.” They joined the back of a queue, it seemed everyone was putting their mistresses’ jewels away.
“I saw Miss Beth’s suitor!”
It was Toni’s turn to gasp, “The one Sir intends to set her up with?”
Steffanie nodded, “The very one, and he’s quite the looker. Literally, I had to force myself to look away,” a dreamy grin was stuck to her face.
“Miss Beth does admire men more for their looks, this sounds splendid for her.”
“And he must be rich enough for Sir’s liking.”
Antonia busied herself by tidying Miss Beth’s things while she was on the promenade deck meeting Mr Jenkins for the first time, it would be followed by tea at the Parisian Café , they could be gone awhile. Toni checked zippers and clasps, she fastened loose buttons and beads with her handy needle and thread kept in a small ornate metal box in her apron pocket. It was the nicest thing she owned, this little silver box, Miss Beth had given it to her on Toni’s birthday last year. She’d only been serving Elizabeth for a few months at that point, Miss Beth could be lovely when she wanted to be.
Sat on the foot of the bed with one of Miss Beth’s French evening dresses in hand, Toni jumped to her feet as the door opened.
Miss Elizabeth bustled in, “Oh Antoinette, sit down, I know you’re a needle magician, but I can’t sew standing up, so why should you have to,” she sat at her vanity and took off her burgundy hat that perfectly matched her favourite day dress.
Toni placed her work on the bed stepping up behind her Mistress, “May I ask how it went?”
The beautiful brunette coyly hid her smile, “You may.”
Toni raised an eyebrow.
“He is one of the most handsome men Toni! And so kind, I was- as you know, rather sceptical about the arrangement because I expected an old man, Mr Jenkins though he’s but a few years older. This is almost perfect,” she had smiled through everything, but became hesitant.
Toni had barely registered Miss Beth’s use of ‘Toni’ before her tone had changed, “What’s wrong?” she started on Miss Beth’s hair, they’d need to restyle it within the next hour anyway.
“He’s barely taller than me,” she grimaced.
“But Miss Beth-“
“I know, I know, I’m very tall, I understand that, he’s of perfectly average height, it’s not really a problem is it Antoinette?”
“I wouldn’t think so Miss,” she ran her fingers through the long curls of her mistress, loosening them.
“No, it’s not, and besides,” her face lit up again, “His eyes were the most beautiful blue, you should have seen them Toni.”
Toni was drifting to sleep, snuggled in a crisp and clean duvet, it was full of warmth but she had an extra blanket at the ready just in case.
“Toni, psst, Toni.”
She opened her eyes as she turned to the shape of Steffanie’s bed in the darkness. “Yes?”
“Why do you think they cancelled the lifeboat drill?”
“I don’t know Steff.”
Sir’s Valet spoke from the other side of the room, there was a divider between he and the girls. “Titanic is unsinkable, that’s why.””
“But it doesn’t hurt to be safe Claudio,” Steffanie sat up.
He popped his bald head around the divider, Toni and Steff didn’t mind, they got on well with him when he wasn’t a snitch. “It doesn’t Steff, but it gives me confidence that they have confidence, and that’s all that we can hope for.” Steffanie was in love with his Swiss accent, therefore his words calmed her more than anything Toni could have said.
Everyone said their goodnights once again, and this time finally went to sleep.
Quick steps echoed down the long hallway as Toni ran down it to deliver the letter she held unopened in her hand, she prayed this time it was the correct path to his door. Miss Beth had said it was urgent. She was on a different deck in hunt of this room, still first class of course. She compared the number and letter combination on the separate bit of paper she had, to identical ornate door after identical ornate door. Outside of the room she was looking for she stopped to catch her breath. She didn’t even get a chance to knock before the door opened.
With her chest still heaving she did her best to catch her jaw.
“Can I help you?” The man gave her a small smile.
Toni held out the note, continuing the work on regulating her breathing, and it was no longer just from the run.
Men didn’t have long hair, well definitely not first-class men, it was practically unheard of, out of fashion mostly. But his eyes, they were so blue it’s no wonder Miss Beth hadn’t shut up about them, Toni had to agree they were certainly striking. He was striking and Toni was staring. And he was talking, but Toni wasn’t listening.
Mr Jenkins stared at her for a moment, before she realised, he was waiting on an answer.
“Um,” Toni blinked, stalling. “I just ran here; I’m feeling a tad feint.” She touched the bun at the back of her head.
“You should take a seat,” he gestured into his room.
She knew she shouldn’t, a woman should never enter a man’s room unless he’s her husband or blood related. But she’s a maid, she could be cleaning. There was more staring before she slowly entered. Why did this feel wrong? Wrong, but she also wanted to smile.
“I’ll get you a drink Miss-“
“Antonia,” she spoke quickly, “Antoinette,” she corrected herself.
He chuckled as he poured what she hoped was water into a teacup, he was clearly new to serving himself. “What do you prefer to be called?”
She knew what she should say, after all this man was to marry her mistress, and Miss Beth called her Antoinette, “Toni.”
Crouching in front of her he hands over the teacup, “That makes all the sense in the world. My mother calls her ladies maid Margaret because the name Millie simply isn’t posh enough.”
“Why not Mildred?”
“Margaret sounds French, much like Antoinette. I like Antonia better,” he shrugged.
“Why are you being so nice to me? I’m a maid.”
“Is Elizabeth not nice to you?” his eyebrow quirks.
“No she’s lovely, better than her parents… I probably shouldn’t have said that,” Toni covered her mouth.
He openly laughed, “Probably not, but it’s good to know it’s not just my parents. My mother does everything she can to pretend that my grandmother herself wasn’t a ladies maid.”
Toni tried to hide her surprise with a sip of water.
“Shocking right? A rich man marrying a ladies maid because he loved her, someone marrying anyone at all because they loved them, not just because their parents say they must.” He wasn’t smiling anymore, but his gaze was still warm towards her.
“That’s very first class,” Toni commented.
“True, you could marry whomever you wanted to.”
“If I ever met someone, I suppose so.”
“No handsome valet’s or footmen in your house?” He was smirking now.
“I have higher aspirations than service my whole life. I could marry a banker, after I travel the world working in stores and hotels as I go.”
“Second class huh?” He teased, leant in.
“Better than first, all the men are snobby up there,” she leant back in her seat, crossing her legs so as to almost kick him.
“Come on now, you think I’m snobby?”
“No, I think you’re trying to flirt with me Mr Jenkins. I’m tempted to tip my water on you,” smirking she let her teacup hover just above his head, tilted ever so slightly.
He leant closer, “I dare you.”
With pursed lips she pulled the cup back, “But you’re to meet with Miss Elizabeth, so…” she averted her eyes, realising again just how wrong this was.
That note you gave me, it said she needed to delay our meeting by an hour. Does she need you?”
“That’s what the note was about? I ran for that,” Toni huffed, more than a little annoyed. “No, she doesn’t need me, she’s all dressed.”
He swiftly stood, “Then we’re to go for a walk,” he held out his hand.
Against her better judgement Toni took the hand of the man she barely knew.
“What do we do if someone sees us?” Toni asked, adjusting her steps to match his as they step onto the deck of the boat.
“No one from first is going to be here, we’re usually too busy promenading,” he winked.
Toni had a smart remark on the tip of her tongue, instead she gasped at the sight before her. Running she reached the railing in seconds, she climbed onto the first rung.
“Careful, it’s wet,” he ran after her. He placed a hand on the railing beside her, the other hovering near her in case she leant too far.
“Why is it wet?” Toni kept turning her head to look from one side to the other, she was leaning, knuckles white as she gripped the horizontal bar.
“Sea spray. We’re going so fast,” he stared towards the front of the ship.
“I can almost see the whole boat-“
“Don’t! Lean any further, please,” his words got softer as he spoke.
“What’s your name?” She stepped off the railing.
“Pardon?” A frown pulled onto his face.
“Everyone calls you Mr Jenkins, or Elizabeth’s suitor, even Miss Beth. She was so stuck on your good looks that she never told me your name.”
He shrugged, “I don’t recall her asking… happy to know though that all she took from our meeting was how I look,” he shoved his hands in his pockets as he turned away from Toni.
“I’m sorry,” she stepped around him, grabbing his arm to stop him before he walked away. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“You didn’t, the woman my parents chose for me did.”
“Can we keep walking?” Toni linked her arm through his.
He mustered a smile, “Of course. Austen.”
“My name’s Austen.”
“Like the state in America?”
He let out a small chuckle, “Like the novelist Jane. Enough about me, I want to know where your accent comes from.”
“Well,” Toni laughed, as they continued their walk around the third class deck arm in arm, not a single passenger batting an eyelid down there.
Austen walked Toni back to the Baker’s suite knowing that Elizabeth would be waiting for him in the reception room upstairs. Toni only hoped that she wasn’t running late and wouldn’t see her and Austen together.
“And now I’m to walk the deck again, this time with a woman who is not nearly as interesting,” he leant, arms folded, against the wall, close enough to the door to block the handle.
“Austen,” she giggled, pushing him out of the way, “You can’t say that, what about Miss Beth?”
“Why? Because I’m supposed to marry her?”
“Yes, that’s exactly why,” she took a deep breath to steady herself, she shouldn’t let this man make her feel so giddy like this, it wasn’t right, he was off limits.
“I want to see you again Toni,” he took her hand but she immediately pulled away.
“I can’t, Miss Beth is a nice person, she’s the one you’re supposed to be seeing, not me. Have a nice day Mr Jenkins.” She had spoken so quickly, never giving him a chance to reply, just quietly shut the cabin door on his distraught face.
“Where’ve you been!” Steffanie rushed over, tightly hugging her best friend.
“We were about to send out a search party,” Claudio tried to joke as he brushed off one of Sir’s jackets.
“We were, of us,” Steffanie nodded, “I was so worried!” She embraced Toni again.
Toni fought for air as she was squeezed, managing to eek out, “I did get a little lost.”
“I told you,” Steffanie pointed at Claudio.
“But I took a walk round the ship, it’s beautiful. You two should do the same if you get the chance.”
She watched her two work-colleagues in service exchange glances, they all knew it would be harder for them than Toni with Sir and Madam’s lists of daily tasks.
Steffanie and Toni walked arm in arm to the lock-up to put their mistresses’ jewels away for the night. Once again, they’d picked the busiest time and had to join the back of the queue.
Out of the corner of her eye Toni is sure she saw someone waving, but she paid no mind, who would be waving to her? Steffanie and Claudio (somewhat) are her only friends. She then heard the tell-tale ‘psst’, ‘psst Toni.’ Her face went crimson as she peeked a glance of Austen, still dressed in his finest from dinner. Toni slyly looked at Steffanie to make sure she hadn’t noticed so that they could ignore him, get on with their tasks and go to bed. The Welsh brunette was completely oblivious, staring in completely the opposite direction.
“Why is Mr Jenkins calling for you?” That had gotten Steffanie’s attention.
“Umm- it’s maybe… something about Miss Beth, I’m sure. Here,” Toni handed off the jewels. “I’d better see what he wants.”
She nodded quickly, “Sure-sure, go.”
Toni stormed over to the grinning man, “This had better be good.”
“I’m so glad you showed up, I have been waiting here a while.”
“Yes, you’re very lucky. How was dinner with Miss Elizabeth?” She raised an eyebrow.
“As boring as the stroll around the deck was with her, why do you ask?” His smirk meant he knew exactly why she’d asked.
She sighed, “Austen.”
He broke into a cheesy grin.
“You called me Austen.”
“I thought I was Mr Jenkins now?”
Toni suppressed a smile, “Mr Jenkins, I told you I can’t see you again.”
“Well Miss Russell, I waited once, and I’ll wait again. If you truly don’t want to see me again don’t meet me at the swimming pool at half past eleven tonight.”
“I can’t go in the pool,” she whispered, “I’m staff.”
“Passenger staff, not ship staff. I’d make that very clear if we got caught, which we won’t, because I know a guy,” he smiled, sure he’d talked her into it.
“Please,” he cut her off.
“Fine, I’ll try, but I’m not promising I’ll even be able to leave the room, let alone find the pool.”
Toni left Austen behind with a big grin on his face.
“What was that about?” Steffanie had handed the jewels over and was waiting across the hall for Toni.
She pulled her along, “I’ll explain, but only if you promise to cover for me.”
Steffanie had been nervous to cover for Toni once she’d heard the whole story, until she thought of the cleverest joke that Toni still smiled about on her way to the pool room, “Well then, you’ll be hiring me of course once you marry Mr Jenkins then find yourself in need of a ladies maid.” Toni of course rolled her eyes, but she had to admit that it wasn’t an unpleasant thought. Marriage was though entirely out of the question, this was their second day on the boat, she barely knew the man, not to mention their class divide. In saying that, Toni had decided that since Austen didn’t like Miss Beth in the romantic sense, then she might as well have fun with him.
Toni had also come to terms with the fact that she hadn’t brought any kind of swimwear, it wasn’t the sort of thing that, as a ladies maid, she ever needed. She had a robe over her unfastened day-dress, over the chemise she planned to swim in.
Toni made it to the pool room unscathed, unstopped, unspotted. Opening the pool room door, she was greeted with a face full of warm, humid air. She didn’t know why she thought it would be cold, it was going to be more like bath water.
Toni smiled at Austen but turned away because he was in his undergarments.
“Oh, I’m sorry Miss Russell, were you going to swim fully dressed?” He teased.
“Didn’t think so. I’m thrilled you showed up.”
“Did I really have a choice? You were going to follow me around until I did.”
“Not true. I said I’d leave you alone if you didn’t show tonight.”
“Then bye,” she turned to leave.
“No,” he grabbed her arm, “Please don’t.”
She spun back around with a coy smile, “Then look the other way so I can change.” She knew it was pointless to ask that, she was going to be nearly naked when they swam, but the fact that he did turn away warmed her greatly.
In just her thin cotton shift she watched him jump into the water with absolutely no style, she hid a giggle, then Toni took a running jump herself.
Landing very close to Austen she fought the water to force the skirt of her shift down from around her chest where the water seemed to want it. And she couldn’t touch the bottom, her legs worked furiously.
“I won’t go under, you don’t have to worry,” Austen assured her.
Toni nodded, her arms joining her legs to frantically tread water, “Can you swim?”
He scoffed, “Of course.”
His eyes widened, “Oh,” he dragged her back to the edge of the pool. “You should have said something.”
Toni clung to the side as Austen pulled his hands away, “I didn’t think.”
“Clearly not, we could have gone to the shallower end.” He was still close, and Toni wanted him to stay there, though purely as a safety precaution.
“The other end is shallower?”
“Yes,” he nodded, “It’s where the children swim.”
“Stop it,” she complained with a hint of laughter. She’d have hit him, but that would require relinquishing her hold on the side of the pool.
“Come on, pull yourself along until you get to the ladder,” Austen kept the same small distance between them, helped her onto the ladder and let her climb.
Toni sat down on the tile as Austen climbed, “I don’t think I want to swim anymore.”
He sat beside her, feet in the water, “No, that wasn’t quite as romantic as I’d pictured.”
Her eyes snapped to him, “You planned this for romance?”
“Yeah, I think you’re beautiful, inside and out, I enjoy talking with you, and I suppose I’d settle for friendship if that was all you wanted. Although I am hoping that we are the same way inclined,” his head hung, almost as if he were embarrassed.
Toni spoke quietly, “I would like that, I’d like that very much, but how would it work, I’m not-“
“First class, no, but neither was my grandmother, I quite frankly don’t think it matters. I just want to spend time with you. All the free time you have tomorrow, if you’d spare it, I’d like to spend it with you,” he took her hand in his.
“What about Miss Beth?”
“I’ll tell her I have no interest in marrying her,” he stated absolutely.
“But your parents, won’t they be mad?” Toni turned to face him.
“Yes, but they’ll just have to get over it.”
“And what if I’m not all that you think I am?”
“It’s a risk I’m willing to take,” Austen slid closer, palm of his hand to her cheek, he leant in pressing his lips to hers.
“You kissed him?”
“I kissed him.”
“You kissed him!”
“I kissed him so much!”
The Baker’s were at breakfast and Toni and Steffanie were squealing to each other.
“This was worth the roose,” Steff’s hand was over her heart.
“You never had to say anything,” Toni giggled.
“But you don’t understand, my poor heart was running a million miles a minute Toni, it’s lucky no one suspected anything.”
“Was my faith in you misplaced perhaps?” Her eyebrows rose in jest.
“Absolutely not. I’d keep your secrets to the grave, I’m saying I’d have suffered a heart attack for you Miss, no Mrs, Antonia… wait,” she frowned, “Would I call you Ma’am?”
Toni mimed vomiting, “You’ll do no such thing. I kissed him, that’s all, also we’re spending all my spare time together today, but we’re not getting married.”
“Steffanie, I’m going to kindly ask you to stop before I throw you overboard,” she took a mocking step forward.
Steffanie squealed, “No!” And jumped back. “I won’t do it anymore,” she held up her hands, "Mrs Jenkins.” She turned and ran straight into Claudio.
“What’s this?” He asked, completely and totally serious.
Toni and Steffanie exchanged knowing looks, Claudio was a rule follower through and through.
Steffanie panicked, and Steffanie kissed him.
Toni’s hands slammed over her mouth. She didn’t know if this would make it better or worse.
Austen held out his arm for Toni to take. He was dressed as casually as he could, she was wearing her day dress sans apron. She took his arm as they strolled the third-class deck.
“Two people you say?” He adjusted his hat.
“Yes, I’m sorry.”
“No need to apologise, you’re always apologising, and you don’t need to,” he smiled at her. “I think this situation is funny.”
“Mm hm, extraordinarily so. All of Elizabeth’s staff know, but she doesn’t know exactly why I won’t be with her.”
“How did she take it?” Toni asked hesitantly.
“With great confusion. I’m sure you’ll hear all about it later.”
“Ladies maids don’t know everything about their ladies.”
“Only almost everything.”
Toni chuckled, leaning her head against his shoulder.
He kissed the top of her head as they walked.
Claudio was brushing the lint off Sir’s dinner-jacket and Toni watched him with a needle and thread in hand.
Without looking up he spoke, “I haven’t said anything.”
“But you should know that Miss Elizabeth has not left her room since she came back from breakfast.”
Toni’s gaze fell to her idle hands, “I cannot tell her Claudio.”
“I know, you’d likely be fired and struggle to find further employment… and I wouldn’t do that to you. But I’m sure she’ll find out somehow,” he looked up at her, they both knew what would happen: the Baker family would ruin her, it didn’t need to be said allowed.
“Steffanie’s idea is adorable though,” Toni tried to lighten the mood.
Claudio smiled as he went back to work, “The one in which you marry Mr Jenkins then she and I get hired by you two?”
“Yes, that one.”
“Honestly, I quite like that idea myself.”
“Because of Steffanie?”
“Because most of Mr Jenkins family business is in America and I would like to move my wife and children to a more stable home where I can spend more time with them and less time travelling overseas.”
Toni caught her jaw, “You’re married?”
“Are they in Switzerland?”
“No, America, I have citizenship and Sarah was born there, so are my two sons and my little girl, she was born right before I left.”
“She’ll be almost two now!” Toni felt horrible, how could she not have known any of this, how could Steffanie not have? Did they really talk to Claudio that little?
“This is why I want to stay in one place, it wasn’t supposed to be this long,” the bitterness came through thick.
“Why did you never tell us before?”
“I like to keep my business mine. It wasn’t until Steffanie kissed me that I knew I shouldn’t keep it secret, and I’m seeing my family in a few days, it’ll be hard to keep it secret then,” he sighed.
“Does Sir know about your family?”
Claudio is silent for a while before nodding. Toni had always disliked Sir, and now even more so.
Toni wanted to ask Austen about his staffing situation, she knew he didn’t have a valet on the ship, but what about at home? He seemed pre-occupied. Toni was wearing her best dress and they were sitting on a long deckchair together on the second-class deck. Austen wasn’t talking much, and she wondered if he was thinking about how much riskier this was than spending time together in third.
“What’s wrong?” She finally asked, the silence worrying her more than it should have.
“I’m just trying to figure out what we do when we reach New York.”
“We as in you and I?”
He took her hand, “Yes.”
“Aren’t you going to Pennsylvania, same as the Baker’s?” Toni asked.
“I live in Philadelphia, the Baker’s in Pittsburgh.”
“Well my love, I don’t think you quite grasp just how big Pennsylvania is,” he ran his thumb across the back of her hand repetitively.
“You would have been visiting Miss Beth, but not me?” She pulled her hand away.
“Toni, you misunderstand.”
“Oh, do I?” Her eyes narrowed.
“Yes, I will most definitely visit you, or course I will, it’s a matter of explaining it to my parents.”
“I see,” Toni slid her hand back into Austen’s, she liked the warmth of him in the chill of the Atlantic Sea air. She moved so their legs were touching too, pressed together.
“I could just tell them the truth,” he continued, “But that will get back to the Baker’s before I could get to you… unless-“ He cut himself off with a shake of his head.
Toni sat up straighter, “What? Tell me,” she shook his arm, impatient.
“No, it’s a silly idea… well not silly, just rash I suppose,” he sighed.
“Please tell me.”
“If you don’t like it, we’ll forget I ever said it, okay?” He held out his pinkie.
“Okay,” she sealed the promise.
At eleven ‘o’ clock at night on the 14th of April 1912, Antonia Russell dragged her best friend Steffanie Harris and work colleague Claudio Fischer to bear witness to the marriage of herself to Austen Jenkins.
During the ceremony they felt the jolt of the ship as it hit the iceberg but continued.
Fischer and Harris were sent back to retrieve their employer’s jewels. They did not make it off the sinking vessel.
Russell’s employers, the Baker family, all made it safely off the ship.
Jenkins and Russell were on their way back to his cabin when they were bombarded by his parents frantically searching for him. He told them the news, they didn’t care because the boat was sinking.
Up on deck Russell managed to get on a lifeboat with her mother-in-law, who despite prejudices, held her close.
The Jenkins men had to wait their turn. Neither man made it onto a lifeboat.