Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig



“Ah yes. That’s another thing. You need your papers for the lifeboats.” Mrs. Rutherford rustled about among her pile of papers, producing thin slips, which she proceeded to distribute. “You are each assigned to a place in a lifeboat. Please do try to remember to keep your papers on you. You will need to show it to take your seat.”

“What happens if we haven’t our passes or run to the wrong boat?” asked Miss Cooper, looking worried.

“I don’t know about you,” said Maud, “but if the ship is going down, I’m climbing aboard the nearest lifeboat and asking questions later.”

“There’s really no need for that sort of thing,” said Mrs. Rutherford. “As long as everyone follows the protocols, there shouldn’t be any confusion.”

“But wouldn’t the ship be tilting?” asked Miss Cooper, twisting the chain of her tag around and around her fingers. “What if you couldn’t get to your lifeboat?”

“I’m sure it’s all moot,” said Emmie soothingly, looking to Kate to back her up. “They have to think of these things, but, really, we’re not at all the sort of ship the Germans want, are we? And they do seem to have thought of everything, haven’t they? I’m sure we’ll be safe as—as—”

“One can be in enemy-infested waters,” said Julia.

Miss Cooper gave a tremulous smile. “You make it sound like mice.”

“Mice have their good points,” put in Miss Dawlish, ’07, the kindergarten teacher. Emmie had been seated next to her at the luncheon and liked her immediately. She had a pleasantly freckled face, her ginger hair braided around and around like a crown. “We made pets of them in our classroom. The children built a little cage for them.”

Maud wafted that aside. “Mice, perhaps, but not Germans. Do you know, they say they give you five hundred francs and a Croix de Guerre if you shoot one. I, for one, mean to get a revolver and pot as many as I can.”

“Mice?” asked Miss Cooper.

“No, Germans,” said Maud, rolling her eyes at Liza.

They seemed to have rather departed from the high tone of a moment before. Emmie looked to Mrs. Rutherford, wondering when she would take charge, but Mrs. Rutherford was busy with her notes, shuffling through a pile of lists and papers, unconcerned by the sniping among her recruits.

In desperation, Emmie clapped her hands together. “Has anyone thought of getting a concert together? A charity concert?” Charity concerts were one thing she knew how to do. As she knew better than anyone, the best way not to think was to keep as busy as possible. “We could hold one for the other passengers. There are an awful lot of people on the ship, aren’t there? We could have a concert to raise money for the French wounded. It wouldn’t need to be anything elaborate. Just a few airs and recitations. Kate, remember Henry V? You could do the St. Crispin’s Day speech! ‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers . . .’”

“Wouldn’t it be band of sisters?” said Kate wryly, but at least she’d stopped glowering at Julia.

“Ugh,” said Maud. “You aren’t going to ask us each to do a turn, are you? It would be too embarrassing.”

“Oh, no, we wouldn’t want to take over the program. Just organize it,” said Emmie, improvising madly, feeling the mood of the room lightening. There was nothing like a concert for pulling people together. The others were perking up nicely, everyone starting to think what they knew, what they could do. “We could ask those nice Harvard men to sing glees. Maybe you might ask them? I’m sure they would listen to you.”

“If you think it would be useful . . .” said Maud, but Emmie could tell she was itching to get out there and put her persuasive powers to use.

Emmie looked around the circle of women; she didn’t know them yet as individuals, but they felt familiar anyway, familiar as Smith women, familiar as all the committee women and settlement house volunteers with whom she had worked over the years, women who had helped her drape bunting and serve hot meals and put on comic operettas. She felt a surge of warmth for them all. “There must be other people on the boat with all sorts of talents. We could put out an open call for performers!”

“It will have to be before we enter the war zone,” Mrs. Rutherford cautioned, looking up from her notes. “Once we cross that line, there’ll be no more music after dark. That will be . . . a week from now.”