The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 41

Taken from the deck of the cruise ship, Balmoral, over the site of Titanic's sinking, April 14, 2012.
Taken from the deck of the cruise ship, Balmoral, over the site of Titanic’s sinking, April 14, 2012.

Chapter 41

15 April 1912

Titanic, 12:08 a.m.

Captain Smith ordered all hands on deck and assigned Chief Officer Wilde to see to the lifeboats. He sent crew to wake all passengers, tell them to dress warmly, put on their life belts and where to wait. Blankets were collected. Tom offered the help of the guarantee group. His electrician, Billy Parr, was already below, but the others could help with the lifeboats and in assembling passengers. Captain Smith agreed.

Tom took immediate action. This scenario had been discussed at length with Sam and Casey over the years, and he already knew what he wanted the guarantee group to do. “There was chaos in third class,” Sam had told them when they first discussed it a few years ago while sitting in the garden. “No one gave them instructions, and they all just waited below until it was too late. Those who tried to find the lifeboats got lost because they didn’t know their way around the ship. A lot of them didn’t speak English, and there were no translators.”

Tom knew that some stokers had probably died when the iceberg hit. He was determined to not lose another soul to this disaster. That meant taking charge of third class. He gathered the guarantee group and gave them instructions.

“Billy is staying below to help the electricians keep the lights on and the pumps working. I need the rest of you to help out with organizing people. There are about seven hundred third class passengers, and they’ve been down in steerage the whole time. They’ll not have any idea of where to go in order to find the lifeboats. I want each of you to get down there and help organize those people and bring them in groups to the boat deck. It might be helpful to locate a few capable third class men to help you with this. They’ll respond best to each other. Work with the crew that’s down there, but don’t let them tell you those people can’t come up here or can’t go through first class areas.”

“One other thing,” Tom looked for Artie Frost and pointed at him, “A lot of those people will not speak English. Artie, this’ll be like when we work with the deaf people at Mission Hall. You know how to do that. Yelling louder at them in English won’t get your message across, right?”

Most of the group laughed at this, but Artie nodded; he knew what Tom meant. “I think you can figure out how to communicate with them, so I’m leaving that up to you. All of you,” Tom looked around at them, “make sure they all have their life belts and warm clothes. We only have about three hours to get everyone off, so move those people up here.”

The group took off for their assignment and Tom turned to the boat deck. The crew was working in teams to unhinge the lifeboats and swing them out. Tom went from team to team, racing from port to starboard, showing them the best method for working the davits. As he worked, he felt his mind narrowing to a focus: get everyone through it. Don’t stop, don’t hesitate. You know what needs to be done, Tom. Just do it.

At 12:20, when no people were queuing up for the boats, he stopped and looked around. Spying Lightoller releasing another boat from its davit, he stepped to his side and jostled his elbow. “Where are the passengers? Why aren’t they loading into the first boats?”

When he answered, Lightoller’s tone was high and frustrated as he kicked the davit loose. “Cap’n hasn’t given the order to load ’em, yet.” At Tom’s astonished expression, he continued defensively, “He only ordered the boats swung out. Said to wait for his order to load the passengers.”

“Hell and blast!” Leaving Lightoller to his task, Tom dashed for the bridge, but spied the captain near the bow, looking into the darkness. “Captain!” he called as he turned that way, but the man did not respond. Tom called again as he reached his side and slowly Captain Smith turned his head, taking several moments to recognize Tom. Oh, this is wonderful, Tom thought, exasperated. He’s in shock. Sam never said anything about that. “Sir, most of the first boats are ready. Shouldn’t we begin loading the passengers?”

It seemed an eternity before Smith nodded. “Quite right,” he answered, his voice sounding dead. He turned to Murdoch, standing behind Tom. “Give the order, Mr. Murdoch. People must load up.”

Murdoch exchanged one brief, frustrated glance with Tom as he turned to shout out the order. Tom headed through the first class entrance and into the fray of passengers milling around and on the grand staircase, and below in the promenades and dining rooms. Lifting his arms and raising his voice just slightly, he got the attention of most of the nearby people.

He spoke forcefully, but calmly. “Captain Smith has ordered all passengers to load into the lifeboats. Please begin queuing up immediately on the boat deck. Ship’s crew will direct you to your boat. Wear your coats and lifebelts and move with expedience. There are many people to load up.”

Instead of following his orders, they began peppering him with questions. What had happened? The ship was not going to sink, was it? Wasn’t it true that this ship was unsinkable?

Murdoch entered and repeated the captain’s order, ignoring their inquiries as he moved through the crowd. Tom followed his example and stopped answering questions. He moved quickly through the crowd, instructing them to load onto a boat, and moving on.

He realized his mistake when a waiter impeded his progress. “Would you care for a drink, Sir?”

Tom turned to stare in astonishment at the proffered tray of wine and champagne. He noticed another waiter with a tray of canapés and he turned in a bewildered circle, seeing the chatting groups, the orchestra playing jauntily, the fur coats and sparkling jewelry. He turned to answer the patient waiter.

“You are a member of this crew. Put these drinks down, put on your lifebelt, and report to a lifeboat. Encourage everyone you see to do the same. The Captain has given the order.”

The waiter nodded. “Aye, Mr. Andrews. I know. But it’s cold outside and people want to be comfortable while they wait their turn to load.”

“Comf…” Tom stopped. Sam and Casey had mentioned this. I always thought they were exaggerating. Trying to show me the excesses of this time.

He shook his head and moved to the starboard exit. He grabbed a crew member. “Put your lifebelt on, now. I need you to help me.”

The skinny boy nodded and fumbled with the belt in his hand. While he was doing that, Tom turned and tucked a hand under the elbow of a lady he recognized as Mrs. Appleton. She had come aboard at Southampton.

“Madam, please put on your lifebelt and follow this crewman to a lifeboat. I see your sisters are here as well. All of you, move smartly, please. We have many people to load.”

“Surely, this ship will not actually sink, Mr. Andrews.”

“We certainly hope not, madam. But the Captain refuses to take chances with the lives of the passengers and crew. Hurry now.”

He saw them out, instructing the young boy who was still buckling his lifebelt, “See them into a boat and return for more passengers. Move sharp.”

He repeated this scene, starting with those closest to the exit and slowly widening his circle. Murdoch had moved to the boat deck and was supervising the loading of portside boats. Everywhere Tom saw a crew member, he put them to work guiding passengers outside.

He stopped when he came upon John Astor for the second time. “Sir, I thought you already got into a boat. Where is your wife?”

Astor bit his lip and stood straight. “Women and children first, Mr. Andrews. I asked to go with my wife, as she is in a delicate condition, but the officers are not loading men at this time.”

Blast. He’d forgotten about that. He dashed to the starboard boat deck and found Lightoller. “Listen, I know it goes against the grain, but don’t turn men away. We don’t have time. Make sure every boat is loaded to the full. They’ll be warmer, too and there will be more people to help with rowing.”

Lightoller looked doubtful and Tom shook his arm. “I’m serious, man. Fill those boats up! We’re getting people out here as quickly as we can. Get them into boats! Don’t send any away less than full.”

He raced portside and gave Murdoch the same speech. Murdoch was more receptive. “Aye, I’m trying to load women and children first, but if they’re not here, I’m putting men in.” He hesitated, but went on. “The boats haven’t been completely full. We’re worried about the weight.”

“Nonsense!” Tom blew his breath out in frustration. “These boats have been tested for up to seventy men in weight! Fill them up!”

Damn, he thought as he turned away. How could I forget they’d do that? What else am I forgetting?

Back inside, he ushered Mr. Astor out again and reminded every crew member he saw to tell the men to load up along with the women and children. “We have time to get everyone off this ship. But we can’t be sloppy about it.”

He stopped in despair when he spied a group of ladies, lifebelts tied snugly around their warm coats, standing near the orchestra. What in thunder is going on now? “Ladies, I thought you were in line for boats. Why are you back inside?”

Miss Elizabeth Eustis, a handsome spinster traveling with her sister, placed a flirtatious hand on his arm. “Oh, Mr. Andrews, don’t be angry with us, sir. But it’s so cold outside. We thought it better to wait in here and listen to the music.”

An idea struck him and he reached for the first violinist, interrupting his playing. “Mr. Hartley. May I have your assistance?”

The orchestra had stumbled to a stop at Tom’s interruption and Mr. Hartley did not look happy. But he remained polite. “Certainly, Mr. Andrews. What can I do for you?”

“Do you have your coats and lifebelts?”

Hartley gestured behind the stage. “Aye, we do.”

“All of you, put them on and come with me.”

“What?” Hartley began to sputter. “Where? We’re needed here.”

“No, sir.” Tom said. “I need you in a lifeboat. You can play once you’re on the water. It will help immensely with getting these people to load up. I’m afraid that by playing, you are slowing things down considerably.”

There were protests from the bystanders and Hartley considered Tom as if he’d grown a second head, but he put his instrument down and reached for his coat. The rest of the orchestra followed his example. Tom helped them with the belts, pushed their instruments into their hands and guided them starboard.

“Mr. Lightoller. May I ask for your sufferance for one thing? Please load these gentlemen into this boat and send it out straightaway. We’ll sacrifice space, just this once.”

Lightoller waved the orchestra into the half-filled boat, shaking his head at Tom. “Mr. Andrews, you are crazier than a fox in a henhouse. But if it will keep you happy…”

Tom turned his head back to see several more people crowding onto the deck after the orchestra and glanced at Lightoller with a grin. “Didn’t Handel write “Water Music” for the King of England, to be played on the Thames? We’ll have our own version.”

Hartley heard him and sputtered in laughter. “All right, Mr. Andrews. The first request is for Water Music. As soon as we’re down, I promise.”

The crowd waiting to load began to laugh, and the word got around: if they wanted to hear the music, they needed to get into boats.

With the party atmosphere subdued, loading began to move more efficiently. By 1:10, just one-and-a-half hours after the collision, they had launched twelve boats. A good number of people waited near their assigned spaces, and others stood ready to take their places once they were loaded. The guarantee group were coming and going at a steady clip, bringing thirty or forty third-class passengers as far as the first class promenade on A deck. From there, they could easily reach the boat deck and were loading onto boats as efficiently as first- and second-class passengers.

Tom had a chuckle seeing Roderick Chisholm, his chief draftsman, guiding a group from third class with a small girl sitting snugly on his shoulders. She couldn’t have been more than two, but she was looking around in a serious manner as Rod approached Tom. “Her parents are lost,” Chisholm informed him. “Don’t think they speak English. You haven’t noticed any frantic people looking for a child, have you?” Tom couldn’t say that he had, and Chisholm nodded briefly. “Well, I’ll head back down for another group. She’s got a good perch and she’ll spot them right enough. Doubt they got on a boat without her.” He headed off then, with the child clutching to what little hair he had, chatting a blue streak to her about keeping an eye out for her wayward parents. As Rod was approaching the stairs, the child suddenly spotted her parents, and with a shouted “Maman!” used Rod’s head as a launching pad to jump into the arms of her frantic mother. Tom treasured the moment.

***

The list of the ship was getting worse.

As the pumps began to lose their battle with the seawater, the ship leaned more and more to starboard, making it harder and more dangerous to lower the boats on that side. Tom went below to see what was happening, stopping in waist-deep water at D Deck. He rested his head against the cold metal of the ladder, his body heavy with despair and fatigue. He felt the ship’s pain, heard her groans and creaks as she fought against the pressure of water where no water had a right to be.

A yell of anguish escaped him as he clung to the ladder. “I’m sorry,” he told her. “I knew the danger and I built you anyway. I wanted you to live. I’m so sorry…” He hugged the ladder, trying to give her his strength. She would need all the spirit he had built into her to accomplish her task.

I’m trying, he heard the ship tell him. I hurt all over, but I’m trying. I’ll float as long as I can. With a deep breath, he accepted her sacrifice, vowing to help her as much as possible. He went up and over to amidships, then back down to check on the engineers.

Engineering wasn’t flooded yet, but they were working in a couple of feet of water, laboring to keep the machines running and the lights on. He gave the chief engineer a quick report of conditions topside and in the bulkheads. Tom did not need to ask the question he most wanted an answer to.

“We’ll work as long as you need us to, Mr. Andrews,” Joseph Bell told him. “Just give us a shout when everyone is off, and we’ll head to a boat.”

Tom nodded in thanks, took a moment to clap an encouraging hand on Billy Parr’s shoulder—he was more proud than he could say of his guarantee group—and headed topside.

On the starboard boat deck, Mr. Murdoch continued to load people into a boat, but he paused to confer with Tom as he came over, dripping wet and shivering, from his excursion below.

“Finish the boats you’ve started, but it’s getting too dangerous to keep working from this side,” Tom suggested in a low voice. “We should start sending the others to port. Those boats will have to do.”

Murdoch nodded, touching Tom lightly on the shoulder in reassurance. “We only have about twenty-two hundred souls, Mr. Andrews. We won’t need all the boats, as it is.”

There was a sudden lurch as the ship dropped an abrupt few inches toward the bow. Tom instinctively grabbed a rope, watching in horror as a wave washed several feet up the deck, sweeping people off their feet. Some went overboard and he cried out in futile protest. But the real horror was much closer.

He heard Murdoch shout, “Christ!” and turned to the lifeboat, which had begun to rock in great arcs, passengers screaming in terror. Murdoch was shouting orders to the seamen working at the swinging ropes. Tom quickly tried to take the passengers in hand, hoping to calm them. Several stood up, or made as if to jump back to Titanic, and over Tom’s frantic shouts, a few determined fools began to push their way through the crowd on the boat. There was not even time to think: the boat tipped precariously, and three people on the edge fell out. Even over all the noise, Tom heard the crack of a woman’s head against the ship’s railing as all three fell into the water.

Complete chaos engulfed the passengers as every person in the boat attempted to jump out. A few made it, grabbing the railing and hanging on. But most didn’t make it, as the boat turned almost completely over, spilling its cargo into the cold darkness below.

Murdoch was weeping in great gasps as the survivors were helped back on board and he turned to Tom, grasping handfuls of Tom’s life-belt in his fists. “What was that?” he screamed, his face contorted. “Why did the ship fall like that?”

Dear God, the coal fire. The weakened bulkhead. Tom stared at Murdoch, silent with grief and guilt. But Murdoch didn’t seem to want an answer, anyway. He let go of Tom as suddenly as he’d grabbed him and straightened solemnly, his face stern and calm. “Mr. Andrews, take the remaining passengers portside and help them into boats. We can do no more on this side.”

Too numb to think or respond, Tom just nodded and turned to the cowed group of passengers crying and shaking as they leaned against the wall. He gestured toward the door. “All of you, we’ll go portside. It’s safer to use the boats over there.”

He moved them inside. The quickest way was down one level and over through the writing room, and as he guided the shocked group through the ship, he told everyone he saw, “Go portside. Starboard boats cannot be used. Go portside.”

How many people are left? Tom thought in despair, as his crowd of frightened passengers joined the throng still waiting portside. A quick glance at his watch told him it was three o’clock. An hour and ten minutes longer than they had lived before. But still an hour before Carpathia arrived. Would they make it?

***

At 3:30, an excited murmur spread through the crowd on deck, and out to the evacuees in lifeboats. People were pointing off into the darkness and for a short time, all activity ceased as everyone turned at the shout, “It’s Carpathia!” As they watched, the indiscriminate flickers of light far in the distance turned into larger, brighter, steadier lights. Final certainty came when the far away ship sent up a rocket and a full cheer went up from every person on deck, and in the boats at sea.

On Carpathia, the cheer reached them faintly, but there was no mistaking what it was. Captain Rostron exchanged a grin with his chief officer and went to have a word with the wireless operator.

Harold Cottam had been nearly non-stop on the wireless with Titanic and other rescue ships. He had to be exhausted, but Rostron needed further information. “It’s still dark and we don’t want to run over any lifeboats. Find out where the boats are in relation to Titanic. Tell them to make sure the boats stay on the other side of the ship from us. We’re slowing down, but we should reach them in about fifteen minutes. We’ll approach from the south and stop just west of the ship. We’ll start loading from the boats as soon as we stop.”

Cottam nodded, writing furiously, but Rostron’s hand on his shoulder made him look up. “You all right, kid? Need anything?”

A rueful grin tugged at Cottom’s mouth. “Coffee, sir. And maybe a big piece of chocolate cake.”

Laughing, Rostron tipped his hat and promised to send it right down. He did, too.

Dunallon, 9:00 a.m.

They all came to Dunallon: Tom’s parents, brothers, sister-in-law, all the children, and a few extra servants who came along to help the Dunallon staff. The usually boisterous crowd was quiet, gathered in the garden shade, watching children play. Talk was subdued: even the younger children seemed to catch the mood.

Casey held her mother-in-law’s hand as if it were a personal lifeline. Her face was nearly bloodless as she stared at something only she could see. Sam stayed near her, partly afraid she would say something that would require some damage control, but mostly concerned for her well-being. He was truly afraid, if the news was bad, that she would simply die.

The day crawled by. People moved in and out of the house as the weather warmed up, but Casey stayed among her flowers, and Mrs. Andrews stayed with her. Tom’s brothers took shifts at the telegraph office, unwilling to wait for news to filter down to them through the shipyard. Around eleven, James came in to say a telegraph had been received from Carpathia, stating they had reached the Titanic and were in the midst of rescue. The Baltic, Olympic, and Virginian were on their way, as well. The original message had been sent from Carpathia to New York about three hours ago. There were no details, but with word that the ship still floated, a little color returned to Casey’s face. She and Sam exchanged a glance. In their past, the ship was gone by the time the Carpathia arrived. Something they had done was working.

Titanic, 4:00 a.m.

They continued to work steadily, loading people onto the boats, lowering the boats, starting again with the next batch of people. By four o’clock, Carpathia was nearby, taking people from the lifeboats. Once water had reached the long hallway they called Scotland Road, it had begun to fill the port side, which had more open space to hold the water. This had straightened the list to starboard, but was now creating a list to port. She would not be able to right herself this time. The bow was completely submerged. Water had been pouring over the tops of the watertight bulkheads for thirty minutes. She would fill quickly, now. Tom thought they still had about a hundred people to get off.

Those still aboard had to hang on and pull themselves up the incline of the deck. As the boat tilted further, Tom slipped, and along with about thirty others, fell in a heap to the deck. He slid toward the water, desperately grabbing for rails or ropes. The deck burned his hands and ripped his nails as he tried to stop his slide. When he entered water, still on the ship, he made a desperate lunge and found a rail, stretching his body lengthwise to try and catch the others. Some slid past, landing against submerged rails, a few continued further and he could no longer see them. Bruised and aching, Tom began pushing people back, urging all of them upright again.

Looking down, trying to see those who had fallen further, Tom spied a couple of empty boats heading for them. One boat stopped to pick up the people who had fallen and Tom turned to his group.

“Go down! Hang on and go into the water. There are empty boats from Carpathia.”

They obeyed, too frightened to argue. Tom helped them past, watching until the sailors had them in hand, pulling them into the boats. Then he turned, shivering violently, and made his way back up, looking for people to help.

He stopped when the electricity flickered. The next moment, the ship plunged into darkness. Screams pierced the night, as those still on board panicked in the dark. They were practically at water level, and the remaining mob began jumping for the lifeboats floating at the ship’s side. A few men kept their heads and began cutting the ropes to free the boats. Tom added his shouts to the chaos, trying to encourage the people to help each other into the boats.

As the last few people climbed in, Tom looked around. Was everyone off? He and Captain Smith, along with Lightoller, made one more round of all the areas they could reach, wanting to make sure. Titanic was submerged to amidships now and the rate of sinking had increased so much, Tom could no longer estimate it. Wet and shivering, sick with sorrow, Tom hurried up and down ladders in the eerie darkness. Carpathia was shining lights on them and in the sporadic flashes, he splashed through water nearly to his chest, checking nearby staterooms, lavatories and sitting areas, calling out and listening for human voices. Through it all, his hands were constantly on his ship, touching her, offering comfort. He heard only sloshing water and the deep groans of fatigued metal and wood. Titanic was dying. He was saying good-bye.

Satisfied there was no one left, they agreed to abandon ship. They began to enter the freezing water, one by one, to swim toward Carpathia, several yards away. Tom and Captain Smith shared a brief look. With a twitch of his eyebrows, Tom acknowledged Smith’s final claim as Master of the Ship, and with grief filling him, he left his ship to her fate.

He was already wet and cold, but the freezing water stabbed every part of his body, even under the lifebelt, as if a million needles had fallen on him. He swam as hard as he could, forcing his exhaustion and grief to wait. Only his promise to Casey, that he would do everything in his power to live, kept him moving toward Carpathia. It would have been so much easier just to die.

After he reached Carpathia, after they helped him up the ladder and hauled him onboard, after he gave them his name and place of residence, after they gave him a blanket, Tom refused to go below. Shaking furiously with cold and shock, he turned, leaned against the rail, and watched his ship. As if in a dream, he heard a steward suggest again that he go to the saloon for hot soup and dry clothes, but was vaguely aware that someone shushed the steward, explaining who he was. He ignored it all. He just watched her, wanting her to know that she would not die forsaken.

Her death throes soon claimed the attention of everyone on deck and those still at sea in lifeboats. She was at an ungodly angle, her stern high against the stars. They had begun to move away but they were still so close, Tom almost could reach out and touch her. She began to groan, an unfathomable sound from deep within her, soon joined by the creaking and shriek of wood and metal. They watched, Tom with the dread of foreknowledge, the others astonished, as she began to break apart, right in the middle.

He had heard about it from Sam and Casey. He had seen Sam’s drawings of it. But nothing could prepare him for the horror and majesty of the actual sight. Although it was underwater and dark, he knew when the bow broke away, not quickly, but gradually breaking free, as the stern slowly settled back into the water. Tom’s breath came in short gasps of silent weeping at the indecent sight of the open stern, filling again with water.

It took just a few moments. As he watched, with one hand unconsciously reaching for her, what was left of Titanic faced downward, and slipped beneath the sea.

Part of display on Balmoral during the Titanic Memorial Cruise, April 2012.
Part of display on Balmoral during the Titanic Memorial Cruise, April 2012.
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