A New Life ~ 6

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I awoke suddenly from a light sleep.

It was very dark, but I had heard a strange noise, a sort of scraping and tearing sound and I could feel a sort of vibration.

I yawned, wondering what the strange sound was.

I was soon to find out…
...

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A New Life

By Susan Brown

 
 


This chapter is dedicated to all the passengers and crew of The Titanic who perished on the night of April the 15th 1912.

Chapter 18 Continued…
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The scraping sound went on for what seemed to be a long time but it eventually stopped and I drifted off to sleep again. I think the effects of my medicine made me rather sleepy and not too interested in the incident.

I awoke to the sound of a loud knock on the door of our cabin. I was quite sleepy as I heard Mummy get up walk across the cabin and turn on the light. I blinked in the sudden light and sat up, as did Sarah.

Mummy, dressed just in her long flowing nightgown opened the door.

‘Ma’am I have to ask all of you to dress warmly, put on your life jackets and go up to the boat deck as soon as possible.’

‘Is this a drill?’

‘No Ma’am, we have struck an iceberg and we have to get everyone to safety. It is just a precautionary measure, but it is better to be safe than sorry. I have to go now. Please hurry though.’

The sailor went on his way and I could hear him knock and call out on the next cabin down.

‘Right girls, you heard the man, get dressed and wear whatever is warmest. I will help you Annabel can you manage Sally?’

‘Yes Mummy,’ said Sally and I could hear the fear in her voice. A few that I replicated. Mummy seemed calm though and that helped us to carry out her instructions.

I was told to remove my nightgown and like Sally, I put on two vests and sets of woollen stockings. I then put on several other layers and it all felt very bulky and warm.

As I was dressing I noticed that the ship was no longer on an even keel and there was a quite pronounced list to one side. This concerned me a lot but I said nothing as I did not want to add to the fear that we all had about what might happen to us and the rest of the passengers and crew of the ship.

Surely, I thought, the ship cannot sink.

We had all heard that the mighty Titanic was the most advanced and safe ship of its kind and it was hard to contemplate any real harm coming to her.

I looked up at the wall clock and noted that it was nearly a quarter past midnight, a very late time to go about the ship, but I had no choice, of course!

I heard some noise outside and concluded that many people were making their way to the decks above.

Eventually, we were all dressed in our coats and bulky life jackets. After checking that we girls had put on our lifejackets correctly, we were ready to go. Mummy picked up a bag stuffed with papers and other things, we picked up our reticules and hats and then made our way out of the cabin and proceeded up to the boat deck.

Many others were going the same way and it was strange that not much was said by anyone except a few of the younger children who did not know what was going on and a few of the babies who were crying lustily. I could see by the look of the other passengers that they were quite concerned, but I did not believe at that point that the ship was in any real danger and that things would be put right by the captain and his crew.

It was then that I noticed that I could not hear the engines, only a very loud hissing sound coming from above.

There were several of the crew about, jollying us along. We had been told that the lifts were not working and that all passengers must use the stairs. We all started going up the stairs. Sally and I kept close to Mummy as we went as there was a certain amount of jostling going on. It was a strange feeling going up those stairs as there was now a definite slope and it was getting difficult to climb them. As we went higher and higher, the strange hissing sound became louder. Someone said that it had something to do with the engines letting off steam, but as I have already mentioned I could not hear or feel any vibrations coming from the engines.

By now, I could sense the people around me beginning to get more concerned.

‘Stay close my dears,’ said Mummy and we did just that; frightened that we might soon be parted.

We arrived eventually at the boat deck and went outside.

I was struck by how cold it was and by the number of people milling about looking frightened and confused. This was definitely not a drill, the ship was obviously in dire peril. The hissing sounds were coming from the funnels high above us with steam rising high into the air.

Then I heard some music coming from inside. It sounded like the band and they were playing cheerful, uplifting music. Surely there could be nothing terribly wrong if they were playing? Perhaps the captain would be able to right the ship and we could continue on our journey to New York?

Then we heard an officer shouting above the din.

‘There is no danger, no danger whatever.’

This allayed my fears for just a moment but not for long as I could tell by the faces around me, including Mummy, that the officer did not assuage their fears to any extent.

Shortly after, there was a call for people to board lifeboats.

There was a certain amount of disbelief among some of the passengers, those who did not believe, even at that stage, that the ship could sink.

‘Mummy, what are we to do?’ asked Sally more scared than I had ever seen her.

Mummy was undecided as there was a definite lack of people wanting to get into the boats. I could understand that. The sea, although calm, would be an unhospitable place for a small boat. It was cold, very cold and it wasn’t a decision to take likely.

Mummy saw an officer helping an old lady and gentleman into one of the boats and we went over to speak to him. He looked worried.

‘Sir, could you tell me truthfully, are was about to sink?’ asked Mummy.

He looked around and then said as quietly as possible under the circumstances, ‘We have been told that the ship will sink within the hour Ma’am, we are trying to avoid panic.’

‘Thank you for your candidness.’

Mummy turned to us with a determined look on her face.

‘Girls, we must get in the boats now, but gather up some of those blankets from the side there. It is going to get much colder.’

Over to the side, I saw our friend Marie, standing there looking very scared with her parents.

I quickly went over to them and said, ‘We are getting in the boat, are you coming?’

‘Daddy says no.’

I looked at him and his wife, he looked almost as scared as Marie and his wife terrified.

Glancing around, full of indecision as to what I should do. I realised that they did not have the information that I had.

With a sudden determination, I spoke to Marie’s father. There was still a terrific noise coming from the funnels and I had to speak louder than I wanted to.

‘Sir, my mother has spoken to the officer by the boat. He says that the ship is going to sink shortly. I have to go, but please save yourselves.’

Without waiting for his reply, I quickly hugged Marie who was by now crying and hanging on to her mother's skirt. I then ran over to the boat where Mummy and Sally were waiting.

Once again we were told to get into the boat quickly and we did as we were asked. With some difficulty, we stepped into the waiting lifeboat, where the old couple were huddled up together to keep warm. Others were there too but the boat was far from full.

Looking back at the severely listing ship I could see some sort of argument going on between Marie’s parents while Marie was sobbing her heart out.

Soon, others joined us but the boat was still far from full.

Suddenly, Marie and her parents clambered on the boat and sat in front of us. They all looked as scared as we must have looked. Marie looked around at me, tears streaming down her face. She looked as terrified as I felt. I reached over and held her shoulder for a moment and tried to smile, but there was nothing much to smile about.

‘Anyone else want to come aboard?’ shouted the sailor, ‘we must go now. Men can come aboard too, there is plenty of room. Please join, it is for the best.’

Surely people can see by now that the ship is about to sink? I thought.

The ship was now listing heavily and still others were not joining us. There were huddled groups everywhere in their bulky life jackets.

I could not understand their reticence. Could they not understand the danger they were in?

I noticed the severe lady that had been at our table and her meek and mild husband standing at the back. I could tell by her look that she had no intention of joining us.

I caught her eye.

I shouted as loudly as I could.

‘Please come?’

She looked at me as if I was something unpleasant found on the sole of her shoe and just shook her head and looked away. Her husband, after saying a few words to her, just looked defeated.

I sighed thinking how stupid some people could be.

Glancing along the line of boats, and noticed with horror that, none of them were full and some were being lowered already without waiting for more passengers.

Moments later, two deckhands joined us and the boat was lowered slowly into the sea, joining others that were already there.

‘Mummy, why are there spaces left on the boat?’ asked Sally.

‘Some people do not want to leave the ship, no matter what they are told. Perhaps they do not believe that it will sink. The officer in charge had to make a decision to at least save the people who wanted to get off.’

As we were lowered, I could still hear faintly the ship’s band playing, despite the noise from the funnels.

We were in boat 5 and it lowered slowly but it was going down unevenly and it looked for a moment that we might be pitched into the sea, but somehow, the boat righted itself and we finally managed to get down safely.

We were unhitched from the ropes and the deckhands rowed us away from the stricken ship.

Suddenly, above us, a distress rocket flew into the sky, underlining the fact that the mighty Titanic was indeed in distress. It was 12.45 by Mummy’s watch.

As we rowed away from the ship, I could see that the steam from the funnels had lessened somewhat and the noise gradually petered out. I could now hear the sound of the band quite clearly and I wondered why they still played. As we rowed far enough away, I could actually see people still inside the ship.

‘Mummy, why are there not more people trying to save themselves?’ I asked.

‘I do not know my dear, perhaps they still feel that the ship is not going to sink despite what their eyes are telling them?’

‘Mummy, I’m scared,’ said Sally, wrapped up in her blanket and huddling close to Mummy, as I was.

‘We are safer here than on the ship my Darling.’

We were, by now, deemed to be at a safe distance for the ship. Many other boats were dotted about but not as many as I thought there might be. All of the boats that I could see were very much less than full and others nearly empty. I could not understand why that was but I felt too cold and scared to fully comprehend what was happening.

More rockets were now being fired, but looking around I could see no ship's lights on the horizon. On our boat, it was strangely quiet as we looked on at the tragedy that was playing out on board what we now knew to be the stricken Titanic.

By now the great ship was very low at the front and somewhat higher at the back. Some of the lowest portholes had disappeared under the water. The funnels had finally been silenced and we could hear shouts and a few screams from aboard.
Many people congregated at the back, perhaps thinking that it was the safest place to be.

I wondered how long it would take for the ship to sink and how many people might lose their lives, it was almost too terrible to contemplate.

More lifeboats had been launched but many had far too few people on them. I could not understand why this was. Did people not want to be saved or, even a that stage, perhaps they did not believe that their lives were in peril?

The only good thing as far as those in the boats were concerned was that the sea was still, almost like a mill pond.

Suddenly from the ship, some white distress rockets went up, lightening the sky.

‘Look,’ said one of the sailors with us who pointed behind, away from our ship

On the horizon were what looked like the lights from a ship.

Our hearts lightened as this might be the saving of everyone.

As we looked, I could hear yet more music coming from The Titanic. I recognised it as being Land of Hope and Glory.

Perhaps they had been made aware of the ship on the horizon?

A few minutes later, the lights of the ship had disappeared over the horizon. There would be no help from that quarter.

I could hear quite distinctly now the sounds of furniture, crockery and glass being broken on the stricken liner as the ship was pitched at an impossible angle.

‘That ship, they must have seen the rockets,’ I said to Mummy.

She just shook her head.

Suddenly, I heard the sound of gunfire coming from the ship, together with shouting and a few screams.

Looking across, I noticed that the bow of the ship was now under water and I wondered How long would she last before she slipped beneath the waves.

It was then we heard someone on the ship call using a speaker,

‘Boats, return to pick up my passengers.’

I looked around but no boat responded.

One of the sailors on our boat shook his head and said, ‘We cannot return to the ship, we have to save who we have and we would be sucked down should we go anywhere near the ship when it sinks and it looks like it might go at any moment.’

A few more boats were being launched with a great deal of difficulty and they were somewhat fuller than the ones that were in the water at the moment. It looked like many lives would be lost soon and my heart bled for them.

I felt that I was living in a nightmare that would never end.

I struggle after this length of time to even want to think of that terrible night, it upsets me so. Both Sally and I huddled into the folds of Mummy's clothes and blanket with our eyes shut tightly. I only looked up a few times after that and then Mummy told us to look no more. We were crying as were others in that boat. We felt utterly useless. I could hear the firing of guns, the screams and shouts…

We heard a tremendous cracking sound I looked up but could see nothing as the ship's lights had been extinguished. I learned later that the ship had broken in two and then went down quickly.

It was now quite dark with only the stars to give any illumination to the scene. I could hardly see in front of my face. Suddenly a hand gripped the outside of the boat. It was a survivor who had somehow swum to us. The sailors and Marie’s father helped the girl on board. She was shivering uncontrollably and was close to collapse. Mummy immediately went to the young girl, I would say she was a bit younger than Sally and myself and, as a matter of urgency, Mummy helped to strip her of the lifejacket that had undoubtedly saved her life, her sodden coat, dress and underthings. Mummy rubbed her dry with some blankets.

While this was happening, behind me I could hear the groaning of the great ship in its final throes.

I would not look, I could not look.

The screaming was terrible and the sounds would live with me for the rest of my days.

There was a terrible rending and breaking sound coming across the still water.

It was not quite pitch dark and others, more brave than I, did look at what was happening to that great ship and they were so, even Marie’s father was crying as he hugged his wife and child.

I had never seen grown men cry and it was so very distressing.

The rescued girl was almost insensible and was in something of a shocked state. It was good that she was very young and possibly more resilient than those who were much older.

As Mummy looked after the girl, I noticed one of the sailors look toward the ship, his mouth open.

The screaming from the ship had stopped suddenly.

The big strong sailor had tears running down his face as he turned to us.

‘She has gone.’

I looked behind me and saw only the dim outline of a few other lifeboats and also many people in white life jackets bobbing about on the freezing cold ocean, some shouting, others crying and still more, silent.

‘We must try and save some,’ said the sailor, visibly pulling himself together. His name was Fred, I think.

They rowed towards the nearest person, but he was dead. No one could survive very long in that icy cold water. We approached another poor soul, the same again…

We then found a man who was alive – just and he was pulled into the boat and Mummy, together with Marie’s Mother managed to save him.

Those were the last people in the water that we were able to pull out.

Many of the boats came towards each other. A few were overloaded with people and there was a certain amount of transfers so that the survivors were more easily distributed.

The next few hours were miserable ones. We got colder and colder.

The young girl, her name was Nancy, recovered quickly. She was eleven years old and was a third-class passenger. She hoped that her parents had been rescued on another lifeboat, but soon realised that there was little chance of that as they were not in any of the boats.

The girl was understandably bereft and we all did as much as we could to comfort her. Mummy said that she would look after her and that seemed to settle her down a bit.

I wondered if we would ever be rescued but Albert, the other sailor, said that distress signals had been sent and he fully expected a rescue as soon as a ship was near enough.

Eventually, there was a glimmer of light as dawn approached. By Mummy’s watch, it was about 4.10 when there was a shout from one of the other boats.

‘Ship, I see a ship, over there,’ said Fred pointing excitedly.

We all strained to look and there on the horizon, approaching quickly, was a ship.

There was a stifled cheer from some of our fellow passengers, others, like myself felt too numb to respond to our good news.

It took a few hours for everyone still alive to be picked up by RMS Carpathia and the grim job of recovering those who did not survive the icy waters.

We were provided with shelter, warm clothing, food and drink once aboard and were treated with such kindness that I would forever be thankful. We were allocated some space in one of the public rooms to share with many others. It was a bit congested but we certainly did not complain about that!

Mummy took Nancy under her wing. She was a nice girl but very quiet; understandable under the circumstances. She sometimes cried at the loss of her parents and we all did what we could to comfort her. She had no other relatives, and, like me, was very concerned about what might happen once we reached New York.

Sally and I were allowed on deck the following morning and we stood at the guard rail and spoke quietly, as there were others nearby. Nancy stayed with Mummy as she was still feeling the effects of her being in that freezing cold water. She had told us, once she had recovered somewhat from her shocking experience, that with her parents, they jumped off the ship at the last possible moment but the sinking of the ship had created such turbulence that they were parted on entering the water.

‘I think that Mummy and Daddy will adopt Nancy,’ said Sally suddenly.

‘Do you think so?’

‘Yes, and you of course.’

‘You cannot say that. Your father does not know of Nancy or me for that matter. Perhaps he would not want to get involved with me considering all the problems that I have.’

‘What problems?’

‘Do you forget that I am officially a boy?’

‘Oh, I did forget, but that does not matter, it is obvious to anyone with sense that you are a girl and always will be.’

She looked around and then spoke even quieter as the ship slipped through the water, rising and lowering slightly in the waves.

‘Mummy cannot have any more children. Something happened when I was born that made it impossible to have any other babies. Both Mummy and Daddy wanted to have more children, they both came from large families, and I know that they were sad when they realised that I was the only one. Mummy told me all this, one time when she was in an unguarded moment.’

‘I am sorry to hear that. She is a wonderful person and deserves good things.’

I thought for a moment and continued.

‘Sally, what do you think of this? Would you like to have me and Nancy as your sisters?’

She turned to me.

‘I already think of you as my dear sister and Nancy is sweet and I think that she would make a lovely addition to our family. I would be proud to have her as a sister, would you?’

‘Yes, I would. Let us hope that this can happen.’

With that, we went below as it was rather cold and draughty out on deck.

 
 

Chapter 19
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It took several days for us to get to New York from the place where the Titanic and all those poor souls went down. After an understandable amount of confusion and settling in on that, by now, very crowded RMS Carpathia, things calmed down a bit and got more orderly. The main problem the captain and crew of the ship had was to be able to supply food and clothing for the hundreds of additional passengers that they had to cater for.

We had no real change of clothes and Nancy had to wear the dress that had been soaked in the water, once washed and dried again. The crew provided us with coats and blankets and very basic food such as bread, crackers, soups and broth. A vast difference to the fare available on The Titanic, but very welcome and filling indeed.

One day, I was wrapped up warm and walking by myself on the deck. The day was slightly warmer and there was a watery Sun overhead.

A man was standing by the rail and I immediately recognised him as the husband of that horrible lady that I had encountered in the dining room twice.

On an impulse, I went over to him.

‘Hello,’ I said.

He turned to me.

‘Oh, it’s you, erm, Annabell, isn’t it?’

‘Yes Sir. I am glad that you were able to survive.’

‘Thank you. Yes, I am luckier than most.’

He looked worn and somewhat haggard.

‘And your wife?’

‘She did not come through it.’ he said his voice catching slightly in throat.

‘I am so sorry to hear that.’

‘She was a heroine.’

‘How so, if you do not mind me asking Sir?’

He looked out to sea and continued in a low voice.

‘We were to be on the last boat of the ship. She pushed me forward and I got in. The boat was very full and she was to be the last one to come aboard. There was a child there, alone. He could not have been more than ten or eleven. His parents were there and they were huddled together, knowing that their chance of survival was slim.’

He stopped for a moment and I could see that he was having great difficulty in continuing.

He then looked at me with tears in his eyes.

‘Synthia, my wife went to the family, spoke a few words and then pulled the child from the parents and pushed the young boy onto the boat. She then went back to the parents and embraced them. Just then, the boat was lowered and I saw them no more.’

‘I am so sorry for your loss. You must be very proud of your wife.’

‘I am; she appeared to have a somewhat prickly attitude to some but she had a heart of gold.’

We stood there for a moment and watched the sea go by.

Just then, a young boy in a rather dishevelled sailor suit came skipping up and stood next to the man.

He looked down, smiled and then held the boy's hand.

‘Cook says that I can have a sandwich, may I?’

‘Yes Albert, off you go.’

The boy hugged the man, who returned the embrace with obvious affection and then went off on his quest for food.

The man turned to me.

‘Albert is a good boy but still suffering from the loss of his parents. He wants me to be his new father and adopt him and I will, God willing.’

‘That is very good of you Sir?’

The man shrugged.

‘I have no one and nor does he. I think that will be good for each other.’

After a few moments, I left the man and went below. I rather regretted having such negative thoughts about that lady and I hoped that she and little Alberts's parents had not suffered unduly.

So many lives had changed after the tragedy and for the hundredth time, I wondered what was going to happen to me and Nancy.

Three days after the sinking, we arrived in a sombre New York.

There had been some limited wireless communication between The Carpathia and the shore and therefore our plight had been known by the authorities and others in New York and beyond.

Mummy had been able to send a brief message to her husband regarding the fact that she and Sally had survived. She could not elaborate on the situation as many others also wanted to send messages. So her husband had not been aware of the situation regarding Nancy and myself.

I would just have to be content to await the outcome of the meeting once we had docked in New York.

As far as I was concerned, I was still having problems with my groin area but was able to receive my medicine from the ship’s doctor, luckily without any form of examination. I just said that I had headaches. The doctor and nurse on board had far more to worry about because some of the passengers that had been saved were quite ill. Some due to the effects of exposure and others due to cuts, bruises and broken bones.

Mummy kept a close check on me. Although my pains were getting a little worse, making me need stronger medicine which inevitably made me more sleepy than I would have liked, she deemed it safe to wait until her husband was able to examine me.

What he would think of me, I did not know and the fear of rejection was getting stronger the nearer we got to port, despite many reassurances from Mummy and Sally.

We arrived at Pier 54 on the evening of the 18th of April. Apart from the crew and her own passengers, there were over 700 survivors from The Titanic.

Many of us lined the decks as we arrived at the port and we were surprised at the number of people there to greet us. There appeared to be thousands of people.

There were no banners or cheers and everything seemed understandably, very sombre.

I wondered where Sally’s father was. I fully expected him to be in the crowd somewhere.

We had nothing to carry other than our reticules and Mummy still had her bag with her. Once docked, there was an orderly disembarkation from the ship.

We were near the back of the line of people leaving the ship and I was glad of that as I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of people waiting at the quayside and I think that Nancy felt the same as me.

Sally continued to look for her father on the quay, but there were so many people, it was impossible to spot him amongst the throng.

I held Nancy’s hand as we followed Mummy and Sally off the ship after we had all thanked the officers and crew who had come to our rescue.

By the time we stepped onto the quay, the crowds had lessened somewhat but there were still many people about including photographers snapping away. And reporters shouting at us.

We all ignored them as we all walked a little way along the quay, not sure as to what to do or where to go.

There was suddenly a gap in the crowd and there stood Dr John Dempsey, Mummy’s husband and father to Sally. I instantly recognised him. He looked a little older than when I had seen him last, but he was still a tall, handsome man and had a nice kind face that looked delighted when he saw Mummy and Sally.

He came forward with a rush as Mummy and Sally went to him.

They all embraced and it was such a loving scene.

Nancy and I stood a little behind. She gripped my hand fiercely. I think that she was as afraid of rejection as I was.

This was the moment of truth.

Mummy and Sally moved aside and he finally saw us for the first time.


 

To Be Continued...

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