Okay, then. I promised a post on this. If you didn’t read the linked article from Friday’s post, you can go do that now. Or, not. It’s not a surprise to anybody that well-rounded, non-stereotypical female characters are mostly absent in the starring role, whether we’re talking about books, movies, TV, or whatever.
As a kid, I read lots of books with female protags. I don’t remember thinking these characters were inferior to their male counterparts. I also never questioned if they “should” be doing or saying the things they were doing and saying, or if those things were more appropriate for men. I sort of took the world as it appeared to me and didn’t try to read nefarious meanings into things.
Well then, of course, I grew up. What a shock that was.
Written for Their Time
But let’s talk about a hero of my innocent youth: Nancy Drew. She had all kinds of smarts, was a strong leader, fair, and good. I don’t remember her ever asking for permission for anything. It’s true, she WAS dependent on a man (her father) for her support, but hey, she was only 18 years old. She had a boyfriend who occasionally helped out with mystery solving, along with her two girlfriends and their boyfriends. But Nancy ran the show. The guys never showed up and took over for the ladies. They were strictly sidekicks. I don’t think they were even in every book.
It’s true, no one actually dated, and everyone was unfailingly polite. There was never a mention (that I remember) of anyone going to college or having a job. The books were sort of unrealistic in that way, or maybe my memory is hazy. Everyone was also white, good looking, and wealthy. This was the early 60’s and written with 60’s sensibilities. I believe the series continued to be written for many years. Maybe they improved.
Anyway, as a hero, Nancy rocked. She saw what needed to be done, and she did it. Or delegated. She understood the strengths of her people and she let them use those strengths. She never apologized for being a woman or even for being young. For me, this was very empowering. I internalized that, whether I realized it or not. So I grew up confident in my abilities. Sadly, I didn’t have a script to follow, and neither did the people around me. Especially the people around me. If they’d only known their lines, things would have gone a lot better for me back then.
Writing Female Protagonists
Of course, in thinking about all of this, I decided to go back and look at my own writing. Now, I do have female protags and I think they’re pretty strong characters. It’s important to me that I write women who live full lives and have equal status in the world. But each character is different and has to come to this in her own way.
Casey – The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder
Casey was my first female character and she’s part of an ensemble cast. But she has a real battle to wage for equality. We don’t meet her before the accident that takes her back in time to 1906, but she makes it very clear who she was and who she expected to be. Born in California in the late 20th century, she had no doubt of her equal status with men. It was in her blood and bones, and there was nothing Edwardian Ireland could do to convince her otherwise.
Shipbuilder was mostly about Thomas Andrews, and Casey’s story is wrapped up in his. The book ends at the resolution of the Titanic sinking. But if I had a chance to write about the rest of Casey’s life in the early 20th century, we would see that she never backed down. Women were fighting for equality, dying and imprisoned in that battle, and our Casey would be right at the front, not just leading the charge, but with knowledge of how to make the fight better and more inclusive of ALL women, of any race, nationality, or sexual orientation. She would have confronted the Church and the government about the Magdalene Laundries, and insisted that women’s equality included the right to say NO to forced sex, and even the right to choose whether to bear a child. She would join the fight for better wages and working conditions for men and insist it applied to women too.
Oh, our Casey had red hair for a reason. She was a firecracker. If I ever get around to finishing the third book in this series, you just may get to see some of this.
Moira and Sarah – The Time Travel Journals: Bridgebuilder
Sarah is one of my favorite characters. She’s Casey’s granddaughter, born in an alternate universe changed by the presence of time travelers. In 1980, Sarah is an engineer like her grandfather was, except she builds spaceships rather than ocean vessels. Thanks to her grandmother, Sarah never had to fight to get a science education or a job just like a man with her degree would have. It’s just the way the world is.
Sarah is happiest when she’s tinkering in the lab, figuring out how to create working machines. She’s MacGyver with overies, a hacker of chemicals, computers, machines, and neutrons. More than her male co-characters, Sam and Andy, Sarah is the real “bridgebuilder” in this book, the person who builds the machines that do what Sam or Andy want them to do.
Moira, on the other hand, has to fight for every step she takes. She’s a 17-year old school girl in the first universe, living on an unstable Earth in 2080. Much of the planet has become uninhabitable for humans. Governments have fallen apart, puppets of religious leaders and war lords. As the step-daughter of a politically powerful and violent preacher, Moira is destined for early marriage and a lifetime of beatings and bearing children. It doesn’t matter that a teacher called her “the next Einstein or Hawking.” On this Earth, women do what men tell them.
I know that seems excessive and perhaps it makes the story sound cliché-ish. But I’m only extrapolating from the rumblings of many of today’s religious extremists. Hey, I’ve been a religious extremist. I know the kind of world they want to see, and it’s a writer’s job to explore what life can look like if we follow certain paths.
Moira needs a lot of help to escape her prison, so she is not your usual, strong, kick-ass heroine. But this is what happens in real life. Moira doesn’t have super strength or a top-notch talent with deadly weapons, or even great courage. She does have a brilliant mind, intense curiosity, big dreams, and tenacity. And she has people who love her and see her potential. Some of those people put their lives on the line to help her, but here’s the thing: she doesn’t let them down. Even with help, the only way to escape a prison is to make the effort, and take the chances you get. And the best way to stay out of a prison is to build a new life, and Moira shines at that. She’s got her eyes on the stars and she’s not stopping until she gets there.
Oy, look at the time, and I’ve only covered two books! This is longish, too, so I’m going to publish it and give you a part 3.
Who are your favorite heroines? What do you look for in a good female protagonist?
Here’s a fascinating bit of news about fairy tales. I love the possibility that our familiar tales are far older than we thought. I think that story-telling is as old as human intelligence. Our ancestors were probably telling stories even before language was fully developed, using gestures, sounds, and what words they had. The ancients used stories to teach proper behavior to their children, to explain the unknown (including creation myths), to entertain, and to unite the community.
This new discovery shows that some of those stories survived through many ages of human history and are still with us today. Red Riding Hood, Jack and Beanstalk, Rumpelstiltskin, and others started life many thousands of years ago, and incredibly, they started in more than one location. They evolved with the times of each period and place. Even after being written down, and then compiled by the Grimm Brothers, the stories continued to evolve. Our interpretations continue today. Most of us are familiar with the Mother Goose variations and certainly with Disney’s versions. But many, many fantasy authors have delved into these stories and created entire worlds around them.
I love stories that rewrite the old fairy tales and can almost always be hooked into reading a story that promises to be a retelling of one of them. I still love the TV series Once Upon a Time, despite Disney’s heavy and sometimes ridiculous hand in the story. (I’ll never forgive them for the walking broom).
What about you? Do you like retellings of fairy tales or do they piss you off? What stories get your attention? Do you like the idea that these stories were probably told 6,000 years ago?
Every New Year, WordPress sends out a report about how your blog did during the previous year. It’s always a lot of fun, with statistics like if everyone who read your blog got on a cable car, it would take 60 cable cars to hold them all. Really, it’s a hoot.
It’s always nice to know that I’m not just talking to myself over here. I know I tend to wander around like I’m lost in Topic Land, but I really am interested in a lot of things and I like the idea of throwing out an idea or a current issue, or something and see what happens with it.
More often than not, nothing happens. One or two people might “like” the post, and sometimes you dear regulars will say something, but in general I get back a big resounding NADA. Now, that’s not your fault. I know you’re busy. I read a LOT of blogs and I don’t leave comments very often myself.
But I do hope to have interesting conversations with my readers. Better yet, I’d like to see them having interesting conversations with each other in my comment section. It’s not happening and I’d like to learn how to fix it.
Hence: Blogging 101, an online course offered by WordPress to help lonely bloggers improve their presence. Everyday, we’ll get an assignment to do something with our blogs and somehow this will all coalesce into real wisdom. Or something like that.
Today’s assignment is to post what my blog is for, what I want to accomplish with it, and what its purpose is.
My blog’s main purpose is to let the world know about my books and where they can purchased. I gotta make a living you know.
Visitors to my blog can learn pretty quickly about my books. They’re all right there on the first page. But I want you to stay and chat. So I talk about a lot of other things. They are things I’m interested in, because it is MY blog after all.
So on my blog, we’ll talk about, in no particular order of importance and certainly not limited to only these topics:
Pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding
Travel (especially my travels)
And oh yeah, writing, publishing, and when am I gonna finally finish another book????
What I want to see happening this year on my blog: conversations with my readers.
I’ve been writing almost ten years. I never thought about that until right now, when I wrote that sentence. It sort of takes my breath away. Of course, we all know I haven’t been writing for the entire ten years. Based on recent performance, I have to lose the past year or two when I’ve only come up with a few hundred words. Barely qualifies.
During this time, I’ve belonged to various writing groups, such as OWW (Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror), CWC (California Writers Club), and of course, my own dear critique group with three other CWCers who also write SF&F.
Also during this time, I have stayed firmly outside of NaNoWriMo, which everyone knows is National Novel Writing Month. In November. When I have cooking to do and autumn decorations to deal with (after I put away the Samhain decorations), and hopefully visiting family. I have stood on the sidelines and cheered on many of my writing buddies as they dived daily into those thousands of words they needed to write to meet the goal of fifty thousand words in one month. But I refused to try it myself.
You’ve probably already figured out that I’m jumping into the pool this year. This was partly brought on by NaNoWriMo creator Grant Faulkner, who spoke at our CWC meeting last month. You can’t say “no” to that man, he’s too darn happy. And I’m also desperate. I really want to finish and publish more novels and I need help to get those words on paper.
So this is my ANNOUNCEMENT. I have just signed up for NaNoWriMo and entered my novel, Verdandi, into the fray of NaNoWriMo, pumpkin pies be damned. I’m going to find a group or partner to write with, because I know I need the accountability. And every day during November, I will write.
Those words are terrifying. But if I do it, will someone make me a pumpkin pie?
Avoiding the busy pedestrian traffic, 26-year-old Sam Altair parked in front of the house known as Dunallon, and waited a moment to gather his nerve, reflecting back over the strange invitation he’d received. He knew who Casey Andrews was, of course. Everyone in Ireland did. The widow of Thomas Andrews, the man who brought Harland & Wolff through the twentieth century with increasingly modern sailing ships, airplanes, and eventually space shuttles. He made Ireland a force in modern industry and gave her a real presence in space. Along with her husband, Casey Andrews had been tireless advocates for a peaceful Ireland, and instrumental in bringing the warring factions together, even if they couldn’t always keep them together. They were heroes a hundred times over. But he could not imagine what her interest was in him.
Only one way to find out. He locked the car and approached the house, looking around him at the famous garden. At the door, he was greeted by a middle-aged woman who shook his hand, informing him she was Mrs. Andrews’ secretary. She guided him through the parlor and into a library at the back of the house, pausing in the doorway. “Dr. Altair is here, Ma’am.”
An old woman balanced on a cane in the center of the room, contemplating a box of books. When she saw him, her face crinkled into what could only be described as a huge grin. She limped toward him, taking his hand and studying his face intently. Sam took the time to study her in return.
He’d seen pictures of her as he was growing up, and had even seen her on a television talk show once, but he wasn’t prepared for how small she was. Her hair was white, the eyes a vivid green. She was pale and wrinkled, but dressed impeccably, and stood straight, supporting herself with the cane. He knew she was nearly ninety, and he was impressed with her bearing. He gripped her hand with care, afraid of hurting her, and bowed briefly. “Mrs. Andrews. How do you do?”
The smile widened. She shook her head as if amazed. “Incredible,” she murmured, then gestured to the divan. “Please, have a seat. Would you like some tea?”
He acquiesced, as the tea service was already in place. She poured, her hand shaking a bit. As he took his cup, she sat back in her chair and looked at him. “This will all be very strange to you, Sam,” she said, then blinked. “Excuse me, may I call you Sam? I know it seems forward, but it will make sense, shortly.”
He smiled at the old world formality and nodded, not without some confusion. “I have no objections, ma’am. I’m honored to meet you, but I don’t understand what I can do for you.”
Her eyes were bright, as if tears had formed in them. “I read your Ph.D. thesis.”
He nearly choked on the tea. “My thesis? It’s not even published, yet.”
Her smile was enigmatic. “I have connections. I understand your hypothesis predicts time travel.”
He put the cup down. “Mrs. Andrews, my work is extremely esoteric, even among physicists. What is your interest in it?”
Still that smile. “I’m going to do the same thing to you, that I did to my husband over sixty years ago. I’m going to tell you the bottom line, then we’ll go back to fill in the details. I practically had to tackle Tom to keep him in the room after I told him. I’ll beg a little more forbearance from you. I’m afraid my tackling days are over.”
He couldn’t help returning her smile, deciding she was senile and harmless. He spread his hands in submission. “Consider me glued to the chair, ma’am.”
She laughed. “I’ll remind you of your promise. You see, Sam, in the year 2006, you create an experiment in time travel, with unforeseen results. You end up moving yourself backwards through time to the year 1906. Along with a not very appreciative twenty-year-old American girl who had been attending school at Queens.”
He thought of his hypothesis and stared at her. “I know what my hypothesis predicts, but even I don’t think that’s possible, Mrs. Andrews.”
Her lips tightened and she gestured toward the boxes on the floor. “These journals are yours, Sam.” She seemed to sense his alarm and smiled briefly. “I don’t mean they were all written by you. Some of them were. Some were written by my husband, some by me. But they will be given to you, Sam. For your work.”
He shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
She picked up the loose-leaf notebook on the table in front of her. It was very old, the binding cracked and torn, its pages yellow and crumbling. She made no effort to hand it to him.
“This is the first one. I had my backpack with me when we went through time, and Sam and I started keeping our notes on these pages. It was all an accident, you see. He couldn’t get us back.” She rubbed the binder, her expression sad. She looked up at him earnestly. “You must try to accept it, Sam. Try to understand. Read the journals. Sam and I kept a section for memories of our time. We wanted a record of what had happened in our history and of what our world was like in 2006. For comparison, you see.”
He shook his head again. “Comparison with what?”
“We changed things, Sam. Some changes were inevitable, just because we existed in 1906. Some things, we changed deliberately. Other changes occurred as a result of the first changes, a domino effect. You realize we had almost no control.”
“I don’t believe this.”
She didn’t respond and he continued. “We don’t know what travel backwards through time would do. Are there parallel time streams? Tangential time streams? I don’t see how we can go back to the same time stream and create a loop, but maybe that’s what happens. We just don’t know!”
She held out a hand. “You didn’t know when it happened, either. We’re pretty sure we started a tangential time stream. But we don’t know. That’s one of things you’ll have to work on. But you see,” she handed him the book; he wouldn’t have taken it, but it was too heavy for her and he didn’t want her to hurt herself, “your older self did not want you to waste time redoing his work. He wanted you to have this information so you could begin where he left off.”
He closed his eyes, hoping it would all be gone when he opened them. That didn’t work, of course. When he opened his eyes, she was watching him. “Your husband was not from the future. I know about the Andrews family. Everyone does.”
Her smile was soft. “No, he wasn’t. Tom Andrews was born in 1873. I met him in 1906. I loved him almost at once. I didn’t know who he was, but Sam did.” Her gaze was direct. “I could not have just let him die, Sam. I had to warn him about his future and Sam agreed. It’s the first time we deliberately tried to change something.”
“Are you saying he died earlier in your history? Before 1961?” Sam struggled to keep up with the changing tenses and her confusing way of calling both him and this older self she said she knew, by the same name.
She thought about it, looking at her hands for a moment, as they rested in her lap, before looking back up at him. “Read the journals. I’m not willing to actually give them to you, yet. I’d like to request that you leave them here for now, but you are welcome to spend as much time here as you wish. You can even move in, if that would help you.” She stood, her gaze piercing. “There is a foundation established to provide you with funds for this work, should you decide to pursue it. There will be rules, particularly regarding my children and their descendants. I’m not willing for them to be hurt by this. I’ll give you some time, now. Please, look them over.”
He stared at the notebook as she made her slow way to the door. His hypothesis predicted this, but it made no conjecture about the consequences. Nothing was in there about the people and the lives affected by time travel. Perhaps it was fitting that his own life was disrupted by this. He looked up to ask her a question, but she was gone, the door closed. His own hand shook a bit, as he reached to turn the cover of the book.
Thank you so much for reading SHIPBUILDER! I truly hope you enjoyed it. Let me know! I’d love to hear what you think. If you have a blog or Facebook page, please consider leaving a review. Every bit helps a struggling author.
If you liked SHIPBUILDER, please continue the adventure in BRIDGEBUILDERS, the second Time Travel Journals book.
Tom watched as George signed off on the final paper turning the Britannic over to White Star Line. She was every bit as beautiful as her sisters had been. George was confident she would perform well. Despite the Titanic tragedy, he said he was looking forward to heading the guarantee group on this voyage. Handing Tom copies of the reports, he raised an eyebrow at his friend. “Sure you don’t want to come along?” he asked, only half joking. “We could use your expertise.”
Tom laughed a little, holding up both hands as if to ward him off. “Now you know my wife would have my head if I left on that ship. Not only that, I honestly don’t want to go.” He reached over to shake George’s hand. “She’s as safe as we can make her, George. The workers are confident, but even more, I think the world is confident about that. No other ship has been watched as closely as this one has been during her construction, yet she’s going off with nearly every berth full.”
“They must think we did something right,” George agreed, “thanks to all the rule changes since the inquiry. Listen, I appreciate you looking in on Susan while I’m gone. I know you and Casey can understand her nervousness.”
“Indeed we do. We’ll have her and the children over as often as they want to come. We’ll keep her occupied.”
The “all ashore!” whistle blew and Tom gathered his papers. “Good voyage, George.”
“Thanks, mate. See you soon.”
Tom walked down the gangway, meeting Ham at the bottom and handing off the reports. Saxon joined them, as they watched the Britannic make her slow way to the river and on to Southampton, before the three of them went back to their duties. Tom sent off a telegram to Lord Pirrie, informing him the ship was off without a hitch.
Back in his office, he pulled out his time travel journal and entered the information, staring thoughtfully at the page as he finished. After a few minutes, he continued writing.
So many changes. Fourteen hundred people that died in another timeline still walk the earth, still building their dreams, because Sam and Casey chose to act. We now have shipping rules in place that reflect both the reality of the ships we build, and the dangers that nature can throw at us. World War I, as Sam and Casey call it, has been vicious, but is already contained. Sam insists the differences there are enormous. Was it because of someone on Titanic who lived instead of died?
Sam’s ‘inventions’ have begun to appear everywhere, even among the poor. His work to harness the sun’s energy is remarkable. I’m going to talk to Uncle Will about using his solar sails in the next ships we build. Sam thinks we’re ready to try that. He says if this is the primary energy source for the world, the changes from his future will be astronomical. He’s convinced it’s a good thing, and I believe him.
We are making real progress in keeping the various factions of Ireland talking to each other. Despite the effort it takes, Sam and I both want to concentrate on bringing our Ireland in this timeline to a peaceful existence, without all the bloodshed that occurred before. There are no guarantees, but ever since that letter, people have been insisting we live together in peace, and they’re voting like they mean it. I suspect we won’t be part of the UK much longer, but once again, Sam has helped with that. Ireland is the world’s technological leader, and we can deal with England from a position of strength, so breaking off will not beggar us. We can make it worthwhile for England, too.
From my point of view, these things are amazing, but I don’t see the future as changed. I am just living, with life going along as it always has, except for outside knowledge from a couple of future time travelers.
Tom smiled slightly, at the joy he always felt when thinking of one particular time traveler. His pen continued to move.
I am willing to just let life be. It’s good this way.
Subpoenas awaited the crew and guarantee group at Liverpool, and that meant traveling to London rather than the homes they had been longing for. Many passengers were suing, and the Americans had already begun an inquiry; Britain dared not lag behind. Although the ship was owned by an American company, most of the crew was British. The Wreck Commission was convened immediately, and presided over by Lord Mersey, whose first order of business was to obtain witnesses.
Captain Smith, bridge crew, Bruce Ismay, and the guarantee group, were required immediately. Lord Pirrie, already in London and still in poor health, would no doubt be required to testify at some point.
I cannot tell you what it means to have the pictures you sent with Ham, Tom wrote to Casey, as he rode the train to London. He gave me your package right away and I have devoured it, feeling as if I am starving. The photograph is my constant companion; I must look at it a hundred times a day. To see your precious smiles, the three of you blowing kisses–Casey, how do you think of these things? How do you understand so clearly what my heart needs?
I worry that my little Terry will not remember me, that when I come home, I’ll be a stranger to her. If I am, then I will simply try every day to help her remember. When you write that she sleeps with my shirt and my picture held in her arms, I sit in wonder. How can she understand? But you say it helps her and I know you remind her always how much I love her. Do you know that you are the glue that makes the whole world stay together?
I have Jamie’s drawing in my pocket. I am a father drifting loose, but these gifts are like an anchor. I hold them and look at them often, hearing their voices and seeing them in my mind. I can picture Jamie sitting at his desk, drawing his picture, his tongue poking out as he concentrates. He is always so intense when he draws, so careful. I can tell that he actually wrote the message. I’m sure you helped him spell it, but to see the letters in his own hand makes me nearly burst. You see how silly I am? All children learn this, yet I am overcome.
Casey, I feel so furious, so bitter. All I want is be with you, to hold you and hold our children, and to just be home. I feel that I have reached some limit, that duty no longer holds me under its sway. I am not myself, dear, and that worries me. Have I lost that part of me that holds honor as precious? Have I become selfish and shallow, feeling that I have given all I can, and having it refused, I have nothing more to offer?
I know they need answers. People died. Others lost money and valuables. Some of them lost everything they had. And I remind myself that we have accomplished only half of our goal. It is not enough that we saved most of the lives. The rules must change. People must change and learn that all our lives are precious. These hearings are a necessary part of that, and until I have finished all my part, I cannot rest. So I will set myself to get through this, to get it done and then return to Dunallon, and my heart’s desire as quickly as possible.
I beg you, continue to write. Send me all the little things you can think of. Hold me to the earth a little longer, Casey, and then I will be home and can hold you myself.
I love you,
He was in London for two weeks, and had to testify for five days. His first session lasted nearly all day, with questions about the ship’s design and construction. He had to explain nomenclature, how to read a blueprint, nautical measurements. It went on and on. And then he’d have to explain it again when someone else stepped up to question him. Tom had always been told he was a patient man, but this was beyond his capacity. Before the first day was over, he was convinced they weren’t looking for true answers. Rather, they wanted a particular answer to support their own agendas.
He wanted nothing to do with a whitewash. He did not expect Harland & Wolff to accept accusations of building an inadequate ship. At most, Lord Pirrie was guilty of short-sightedness for rejecting Tom’s own scenarios for accidents. But that was for Lord Pirrie to answer, and Tom would not let them trick him into accusations. He explained the designs, he explained how construction proceeded from the designs. In this, he had many supporters. The workforce of Harland & Wolff was held in the highest regard by the shipping industry. The commission would not be able to blame the firm for shoddy workmanship.
He was asked to explain the damage to the ship and the reasons for his prognosis. They spent several hours having him explain why he made no effort to repair the damage, but none of them seemed satisfied with his answers. What would they have wanted him to do? He couldn’t understand them by this point–he was tired and depressed with describing the injuries to his ship. Good Lord, did they actually think that he would not have done everything possible to save her? That he uncaringly let her die?
They finally let him go as they adjourned for the day, but then he had to work his way through the reporters. He had been told to not discuss the collision with them, and could only tell them he was very tired and needed to rest. This was the truth, and they let him go after a few minutes.
After Tom had testified for two days, they put Captain Smith on the stand. He testified all that day. He touched on Tom’s actions during the evening of the fourteenth, including their conversation on the boat deck, but he left out any mention of a “premonition.” Tom realized this was probably wise. Another experienced sailor might understand about premonitions and the feeling of pending disaster one could get while at sea, but this commission would not understand, and the reporters would create a sensation with it. They would never live it down.
So when they put him back on the stand and had him describe his actions that night, he also left out that part. He was relieved to do so, since he knew it was no premonition he had, but actual foreknowledge. How could he ever tell them that?
Before letting him go, in the middle of his second week there, they asked him what could have been done differently. He was desperate for good to come of this, and he spoke earnestly.
“Differently? I am on record as asking for a double hull and for higher watertight bulkheads. I fought hard for the number of lifeboats we had, and you all know that number greatly exceeded the requirements in place.
“What do we need to do differently? Sirs, we need to grow up. As industrialists, as traders, as businessmen, we need to act like adults. I have children, sirs, as do many of you. Children do not understand danger. They plunge ahead without regard for their environment because they don’t know any better. But we do know the dangers. We have no right to build bigger and bigger ships that carry more and more people, without also putting in place the protections we know are needed. We need to change the rules. We need safer ships.”
They let him go home then, although they warned him he might have to return for further questioning. The rest of the guarantee group had been allowed to leave after the first week. He booked his passage and sent a telegram to Casey telling her when he would be home. He had stayed with the Pirries of course, and his last evening in London, he shared a meal with his uncle, who was confined to bed. They had talked often during the week, and Lord Pirrie was philosophical about the commission’s possible verdict.
“I’ve no doubt they’ll put some blame on White Star and possibly myself, since we chose not to heed all of your warnings, son,” Lord Pirrie told him. “I expect that poor Captain Smith will take the brunt. But when it comes down to the finish, the real blame will rest with the Board of Trade and the shipping industry as a whole. Your final speech to them was right on mark, Tommy. Already, every line has added more lifeboats to their ships. Bruce plans on sending the Olympic and other ships back to the yard to be fitted with a second skin, and certainly the Britannic will be built with it. You’ll have to handle that, Tommy. It will be a huge job. There are other rules to be changed as well. It will all happen, son. I’m sure of it.”
“It’s a start, Uncle Will.” Tom moved his uncle’s empty tray to the bedside table and stretched the kinks out of his back.
His uncle watched him with concern. Tom seemed to look much older than his thirty-nine years. Lines etched his mouth, the skin around his eyes was puffy and drooping, new gray speckled his hair. He was subdued, somehow, as if the joy he usually carried with him had been misplaced. Perhaps he just needed more time to put this all behind him. It would do him good to get home, too.
Lord Pirrie reached for Tom’s hand and patted it. “There’s a lot to do, lad, but take some time when you get home. I imagine your wife has been through hell these last few weeks. She’s a good girl, Tommy. Take care of her for awhile.”
Tom’s soft smile touched his eyes as he returned the hand pat. “I’ll do that, Uncle Will. You follow your doctor’s orders and get better, all right? I’ll take care of things at the yard.”
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.
Personal to Andrews, Belfast: No word from Tommy but all GG alive and returning. Hope to know more soon. All our prayers.
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.