Saturday 31 March – Monday 2 April 2012
Charlotte shifted on the bed. She knew what was to come. Her great grandfather always skipped the trivial things, and headed straight for the exciting parts of a story. He would omit to tell all of the things that happened once he met the purser for the first time, and she’d never bothered to ask what had occurred, not when the best of the story was so impressive. But today, she wanted to know.
‘Pop, what happened before, you know, the iceberg and chaos?’
Her words pulled him back from the past, and he looked at Charlotte, bewilderment in his eyes. This was not a question that he had expected to have to answer, and he didn’t really know how to reply.
‘I . . . I guess we spent a lot of time waiting. We, and by we I mean those of us in third class steerage, were told not to be seen by the first or second class passengers. I remember a ship’s officer spoke to some of us when we were on deck. His word, the word he used was invisible. He told us that we had to be invisible to the first class passengers.’
‘My pop, invisible? That I can’t believe,’ Charlotte feigned shock, making her great grandfather chuckle.
‘You’re more like me, Lotte, than your parents would like you to be.’ He reached out and took her hand, affectionately squeezing it. ‘Let’s just say that my new friends, Reggie and Nancy, and their children, we all might have caused a little trouble, turning up in places that the crew didn’t want us to be in. We might have been forcibly removed from the first class lounge once or twice, too.’ He chuckled again. ‘First class high tea was delightful, m’lady.’
That one thought took him straight back to Titanic, and straight back to that fateful night.
* * * * *
Unable to sleep, Henry got down from his cot, and stealthily crept through the sea of bodies that had found resting places on the floor. The vessel was certainly overcrowded in third class; Henry had never seen so many people in one room at one time, but he made it out of the room without stepping on anyone. He made his way up to the deck, and stood alone in the cold night air.
The night sky was clear. Henry marvelled at the stars, wondering why he’d not seen them as clearly before. They sparkled above him, and far beyond where he could see, falling away somewhere near what Henry thought might be the horizon point. The water that Titanic was stealing through appeared as black as the sky, perfectly still aside from the path cut by the vessel, and it reflected the night sky like a mirror. Henry could see for miles. The cold, crisp air nipped at his nose and ears, and turned his cheeks red. He rubbed his hands together to warm them up, settling for shoving his hands as far down into the front pockets of his pants. It was a beautiful night despite the cold air.
Henry walked the length of the deck from bow to stern, and back again, so many times that he lost track of which was bow and which was stern. Had he been back at home, he would have wandered the streets, past the darkened houses, until he felt weary enough to return home and back to his bed. Still, the excitement bubbled through his veins, sleeping eluding him to make way for anticipation. He turned and began the walk back in the opposite direction from where he had just come.
‘That’s odd,’ he said to himself, ‘the stars are disappearing.’ He leaned overboard, just enough to catch sight of the most terrifying thing he’d ever seen. Looming ominously, slightly ahead of the ship, a ragged form rose from the depths of the ocean. Before he knew it, it was upon them, racing past Titanic at speed, throwing chunks of itself onto the deck, and ever so slightly pitching the vessel as it went by. Not more than ten feet in front of Henry, large chunks of ice fell, at first hitting with a thud, and then sliding along the deck in a haphazard fashion.
‘Jesus Christ,’ said Henry, his keen ears picking up an horrific sound below the water line.
He reached out an arm. It was close enough to touch, and touch it he did.
‘Ice. Bloody Jesus, it’s an iceberg.’
The monstrosity loomed high above Titanic, dwarfing her as it passed.
‘If it’s that high above us, I don’t want to imagine what’s below water level.’ The voice startled Henry. He thought he was alone. Turning to see who it was coming from, Henry was surprised to learn that he’d been joined on deck by the purser he’d spoken too a day or so before.
‘What do you mean?’ Henry asked him.
The purser paused for a moment, and regained his composure. Crew of the White Star Line were always in control of themselves and any situation that might arise.
‘They say that only one tenth of an iceberg is visible above water, and that nine tenths sit below the water line. If that was the one tenth, then the rest of the iceberg . . . it must be colossal.’
Henry thought he saw the purser shiver, and it worried him.
‘Then,’ Henry started, ‘then that sound that I heard as it passed us?’
‘Ice on metal, I’d imagine, young sir,’ the purser replied.
‘You mean, ice through metal,’ Henry looked back at the iceberg as he spoke.
‘Let’s hope that she really is unsinkable or . . .’
‘Or what?’ asked Henry.
The purser struggled to find his words. ‘Or God help us all.’
. . . To be continued . . .