Le Grande Stuart Hotels, ornate structures, venerated for elegance. Double glass doors, etched in fluttering white wings of swans, doormen in tails greeted one into a foyer: Persian carpets, marble fireplace, soft refrains from a baby grand, soothed registration. Guests, comfortably seated at a mahogany desk, a crystal of sherry on a silver tray.
Faithful to the Edwardian era, these British bastions, in New York, Paris, Brussels, Dublin, and London, all embraced the Stuart signature; staff in English uniforms, worn with distinction.
Born into this swishy setting, a new citizen of the United States of America, named Tatiana by her Russian mother, after the second daughter of Czar Nicholas II. The child, raised in Le Grande Stuart, New York, loved and cared for by many, including a French bartender, Ukrainian Chauffeur, Polish nanny, German bookkeeper and Croatian doorman.
The child’s English grandfather, passionate regarding his hotels, inspected the marvel in New York often, accompanied by his granddaughter, at first in his arms then by his side. Poking around the many nooks and crannies, he frequently heard from staff, “Hi Tat.” She waved.
Tatiana, inundated with foreign first names, recognized uniforms, called staff by their position, an ingenious tyke.
Observers murmured that growing up in a hotel wasn’t natural. A child would never see her mother in a kitchen preparing dinner. A man in a tuxedo served all their meals, placed on a mahogany table. What a shame, unable to watch out the window, see her father drive home and park his car. Hers didn’t own an auto. A man in a uniform drove them everywhere.
A playroom! What was that? Her toys spread around antique furniture. She put them away before going to bed, but now and then a guest would find a doll hidden behind a silk cushion.
No one to play with, children of the hotel staff found her ‘playroom’ fascinating, invited often. No wonder she spoke so many languages. Her parents sure that is how she learned to swear, in several tongues.
Shutters rattled, slate rumbled, Atlantic winds shrieked over granite cliffs guarding Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. The gale slammed against a stone cottage, a mother and child’s home.
Facing the onslaught were two small windows, not so much for viewing the seascape as to let light in, shoo darkness out the only door. Two sturdy chimneys served as bookends to keep the home’s two rooms from blowing away. Howling, growling out there, no matter, inside, mother and daughter snuggled together in bed, under a sheep wool blanket, slept soundly.
Father no longer home, they lost him to the sea.
The ten year old girl up first, bare feet on a fleece rug, placed a lump of peat onto the night hearth. Hand woven mats spaced over a wood plank floor provided passage across the house to the day fireplace. The girl jumped from rug to rug, feet not once touching a chilly bare floor. She laid a slab of peat on coals, leaped back, hopped into bed and said, “Made it Mom.”
Mom placed her warm feet against the child’s cold.
“Be sure to wear your pull-over dear, teeth in the wind this morn.”
“Yes Mom.” A kiss, a wave, the sweater of white wool sheared from sheep, spun and knitted by her mother. It hung over hips, a plain skirt covered heavy cotton stockings. Sturdy black rubber boots reached her knees. Young girls in big cities would have laughed at her.
In the small village no one referred to her as little, being lanky and lean. She stepped out the cottage door, took long strides down the gravel road, her pace four miles in under an hour. If walking on water, she would leave a wake.