Tuesday 27 – Thursday 29 March 2012
Charlotte listened intently, captivated by every word despite having heard them hundreds of times. Her great grandfather’s story was akin to legend in the Thornton households; every child, grand and great grandchild knew what Henry Thornton, sixteen, originally of Surrey, England had survived that night.
‘At least I always thought that my life had been filled with pain and misery. But that night, that night taught me what real pain, and real misery were, and it was nothing at all like what I believed I was living. I had it good compared to some of those people.’ Henry’s voice wavered when he recalled all those he had met on that feted journey. Charlotte watched the faraway look return to his eyes as he got lost in the memory.
‘Ninteen twelve, Lotte, was a good year for some. Not your old pop though. It was a stroke of luck that I managed to get myself a berth aboard that liner.’ He chuckled at his choice of words. ‘Luck, I say. Bloody stinking bad luck is what it really was.’
* * * * *
Sixteen-year-old Henry Thornton wondered how he could feel alone, afraid, and excited all at the same time. Before him was the greatest liner in all of history, at least, that’s what the papers were saying. It rose from the ocean, a monstrosity in size, nothing else, no other ship as grand as her. He imagined that the letters that spelled out her name must have been enormous in order to be seen, and yet they paled in comparison with the size of the vessel.
‘Indeed you are, madam,’ Henry commented about her name as he slowly approached the ship. He marvelled at her gigantic size. It made him shiver, and a fleeting thought passed through his mind. ‘No ship should ever be that big. It’s not right.’ Mouth agape, Henry her full length and back. A filthy, tired looking dockhand watched as he did so, and stepped out from his post to meet young Henry as he returned.
‘She’s a beauty, ain’t she?’ he asked of Henry.
‘Yes, yes she is,’ Henry replied, beaming from ear to ear at the prospect of sailing aboard her.
‘They say she’s unsinkable.’
Henry snapped his head from his view of the ship to the dockhand next to him. The dockhand laughed at the expression of pure awe on the young man’s face.
‘Unsinkable? Well,’ said Henry, ‘that’s comforting. I’ve not sailed on anything larger than . . . actually, I’ve not sailed on anything at all.’
‘Let’s hope that you don’t get seasick then, boy.’ The dockhand laughed again at Henry, clapping him on the shoulder as he returned to his duties.
In awe and wonder, Henry threw his gaze back to the vessel. The dockhand’s words had unsettled him. Henry hadn’t considered that the ship might sink.
‘Dear God, I hope that you are unsinkable.’
Fishing around in his pocket, Henry pulled out a slightly crumpled ticket. Not a scholar by nature, Henry had left school at ten to go out to work. He hadn’t earned a lot over the last six years, but everything that he had managed to scrimp and save, he’d used to buy his ticket. He didn’t expect much from third class steerage, but it had to be better than the squalor he’d been living in for so many years.
Clutching the ticket in his left hand, Henry tossed the small canvas bag containing his belongings over his right shoulder, and cautiously made the walk to the gangplank that would take him to his berth aboard the unsinkable, the glorious, Titanic.
. . . To be continued . . .