April 13, 1912, New York City
Francois Babineaux hurried along the alleyway, bearing a sack of meal on his shoulder that weighed sixty pounds- a bit heavy for a twelve-year-old boy to be hefting, but he didn't have an overabundance of options. 'Everything will be better in America' Papa and Mama had said. Yes, it was much better. He earned twenty-five American cents each week- paid on Friday- the equivalent of one and one quarter francs- three quarters of a franc more- and he only had to work half of one hour longer each evening. He did not yet have building in which to sleep, but the greengrocer on Market Street sold him bruised apples two for a penny, and once a week he bought a loaf of day-old bread, not baguette, mind you, but some kind of soft American white bread- from a widow woman for ten American cents which came in a tiny coin the American's called a dime. He had found a window well where he could stash his belongings and so far no one had gotten to them. Every day he walked by a school- the school Mama and Papa had promised he would attend- and see the other children laughing and playing. Of course things were better in America. At home he had taken Fridays off for studies. He could read quite well and had mastered arithmetic. In America he had Saturday and Sunday free, but schools were closed then. For Francois there was no school in America. What Papa had read in the newspapers was all a lie. Americans lived no better than Frenchmen. The paper had boasted of colleges, claiming that any man's son could go there. Francois had dreamed of college. He wanted to be a lawyer, and fight for those who had no champion. But there would be no college for François. He would never step inside a schoolroom again. Oh how he wished they had stayed in France! He would bet Jeanette-Marie did not feel so. She seemed most satisfied with the man she had married. This Mr. Thorwald Ronaldson- a man from Sweden with a two year old daughter and an infant son. Never you mind that Jeanette-Marie had seen but fifteen summers- Thor had snapped her up like a hungry tiger.
"It is the only way we can get into America, François," his sister had told him, "And Mr. Ronaldson desperately needs someone to care for those children seeing how Joni died birthing the baby."
"Let him hire you as a nanny then," François had countered, "With the promise of employment, they will surely let us come in."
"Now think little brother. Mr. Ronaldson cannot afford to pay me to take care of the children- he will need to buy a house. And he is saving money so his sister Ingrid can come next year. No, he needs a wife."
"Let him find someone else then," François had begged, "You are too young Jeanie! We will go home to France!"
"And face that ocean again?" Jeanette-Marie had asked, "No, I think not, little brother. And besides, Papa and Mama wanted us here, you know this is so. Things will be better in America, François, you will see. Now, I must go; Mr. Ronaldson is waiting with the priest." And so, at fifteen and one half years of age, Jeanette-Marie Elizabeth Babineaux had pledged herself to Thorwald Ronaldson 'for better or worse, in sickness or health, until death shall us part.' The five of them had left Ellis Island as a family. That had quickly changed; François had listened outside Thor and Jeanette-Marie's bedroom door one night.
"When will young François be leaving?" his brother-in-law had asked.
"Leaving?" Jeanette-Marie replied, "Leaving for where, chérie?" François hands had balled into fists. Certainly, she had wed Thor only so they would be given an entrance into America, and because of his children. But less than a week of marriage, and she is calling him 'darling'.
"To get a job and a place of his own." Thor explained.
"Not for several years I do not think," his sister had said, "He is after all, only twelve."
"I worked at a sawmill when I was twelve."
"Oui. And at such an age I was a seamstress's assistant. But Thorwald, this is America! François, he has a brilliant mind, he should finish school, maybe go to college and really make something of himself. Is that not what this 'American Dream' is all about? No classes? That the common man can rise above where he was born, and need be 'common' no more?"
"Jenny, when I agreed to marry you, I wasn't planning to take on your orphaned brother as well. He is of age to support himself, or at least bring something to our table."
"S'il vous plaît, ma chérie, c'est mon frère, ma seule famille." Jeanette-Marie spoke rapidly in French. "I'm sorry, my dear." She said when Thor cleared his throat reminding her that he did not speak in her native tongue, "François is all the family I have left, please let him stay."
"No, and that is my final word on the subject."
"François, I will always love you," Jeanette-Marie had told him a few days later, as he is leaving. "I do not think this is right, but he is my husband, you know I cannot disobey."
"Of course, Jeanie, you must respect your husband." François had sneered, "I am glad things are so much better for you here in America." Jeanette-Marie had tried to explain, but François had slammed the door in her face. He had been lucky enough to find a job at the Waldorf Hotel fetching groceries for the chef. François suspected it was actually a part of someone else's job, but they would rather pay him to do it, which was fine; he badly needed the money, and few people were willing to hire a young French boy. He couldn't even apprentice to a skilled tradesman. At home he would have now been studying under Pierre DuPont, a master shipbuilder in Biarritz. It wasn't as good as being a barrister, but at least he would have the hope of someday supporting himself and his own family. Not with twenty-five cents a week. He was saving every penny he could, hoping to return to France and indenture himself to Monsieur DuPont. But the cost of passage across the Atlantic was so high; he would be too old by the time he could afford it. But it was a beautiful dream, and in his lonely gray world, François needed every dream he could find to keep himself going.