The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 42

Wreaths for the memorial ceremony on board Balmoral, April 2012. The wreaths were tossed into the ocean above the site at the time of Titanic's sinking, one hundred years later.
Wreaths for the memorial ceremony on board Balmoral, April 2012. The wreaths were tossed into the ocean above the site at the time of Titanic’s sinking, one hundred years later.

Chapter 42

April 15, 1912

As dawn lit the sky, the Virginian came over the horizon. Captain Rostron gave way for them to finish picking up the people in lifeboats. By eight, the Californian arrived, having spent some hours working her way around the ice field in which she had stopped the night before.

Baltic came in as they were loading the last of the passengers. Since the Baltic was heading to Liverpool, her captain offered to take Titanic’s crew on board. Most of them took advantage of this, especially since the White Star Line stopped paying them the moment their ship sank. The guarantee group was also welcome, and Tom sent them over with Bruce Ismay.

As Carpathia, Californian, and Virginian steamed away toward New York, Baltic remained, her only Titanic passengers consisting of the crew, the guarantee group, Captain Smith, and Bruce Ismay.

They had begun to pick up the bodies.

Baltic‘s doctor was adamant that they could not handle too many bodies. The ship was over-full with passengers and Titanic crew, and he didn’t have the space or equipment to properly store so many dead. Tom, unable to forget the sight of people falling out of the boat, could not bear the idea of deserting them to the lonely Atlantic. Finally, Baltic‘s captain brought them news that the Mount Temple was on her way. Captain Moore had promised to pick up as many bodies as possible and transport them to New York. It was hoped most of the dead would have relatives there to claim them.

While they were discussing this, Ismay sent two telegrams, one to J.P. Morgan in New York, the other, at Tom’s request, to Lord Pirrie in London, letting him know what had happened, that the guarantee group was alive and well, and they were on Baltic, en route to Liverpool.

Once these details were finished, Tom, with slow and heavy steps, descended to the room they had found for him. It was little more than a broom closet, but it had a cot and was reasonably warm. He sat wearily on the cot, almost too exhausted to move further. After a few minutes, he undressed enough to justify getting into bed and slipped under the blanket. It was nearly two-thirty in the afternoon of April fifteenth. The plans and hope and dread of the last five years were finally coming to an end. In some alternate reality, he was dead twelve hours, the ship at rest in her grave on the ocean floor. It had happened sometime, somewhere, or Casey would not have been able to let him know.

***

Belfast was in shock.

The news that came through on Monday was sporadic and contradictory. People gathered in groups, in pubs and street corners or offices, discussing the latest bit of information. At Harland & Wolff, work continued, but slowly, as if each man was working with one ear cocked toward the main offices, waiting for news. They had sent their beautiful ship into the world as perfect as they could make her. Their strength and skill, indeed the very blood and lives of some of them, had gone into her. With every breath, they waited to learn her fate and the fate of their mates.

“Bring ‘er home,” they said to each other in low murmurs whenever they stopped work to give vent to their sorrow. “Just bring ‘er home and we’ll fix ‘er. She’ll be all right.”

At Dunallon, and at all the homes of the guarantee group, relatives waited, hearts soaring with hope and dread with each piece of indefinite news. When would they know for sure?

The businesses of Belfast had closed and people had returned to their homes, or gathered in pubs or churches, when a telegram arrived from Lady Pirrie. The telegraph office had stayed open and reporters waited there for each notice. Willie Andrews had stayed as well, taking this duty to himself, with young Jack at his side to run messages back to Dunallon.

Lady Pirrie’s message passed on the news from Bruce Ismay and thus constituted the first official notice they had received. At its news, the reporters raced to put out a special edition, some writing notices that would make the rounds of pubs and churches. Jack and Willie both raced for Dunallon, a hastily written copy in Willie’s hand.

Willie’s copy contained a private postscript from Lady Pirrie, and he and Jack burst into Dunallon, shouting to all, “He’s all right! He’s all right!”

Casey, still holding her mother-in-law’s hand, nearly fainted as relief made her heart first skip, and then begin racing. She covered her face with her hands, letting those three words echo over and over in her mind. Despite all the anxious relatives around her, it was Sam who got to her first, sobbing as he held her, at last able to let go of the dread he’d kept to himself for five years.

They stood, surrounded by Tom’s family, as Willie quietly read the message:

Deeply regret advise you Titanic sunk this morning fifteenth after collision iceberg resulting in loss life. Further particulars later. All Guarantee Group alive returning Baltic.

Bruce Ismay

Personal to Andrews, Belfast: No word from Tommy but all GG alive and returning. Hope to know more soon. All our prayers.

M. Pirrie

London


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