Authors: Diane Hoh
Remembering the Titanic
, where the icebergs are, is still, a navy blue satin blanket covering the earth for endless miles. Barely a ripple breaks the surface, and then only in the wake of a ship.
But that stillness is deceptive. A dark, painful history lies beneath that placid water. Only those who were part of that history know just how painful.
There are secrets lying deep below the ocean’s surface. Unheard … unseen …
But never forgotten.
AIR WAS COLD
. And she was angry. She was angry with her mother for insisting that Elizabeth wear one of the new, lightweight spring suits, ordered from their dressmaker. It was pretty enough, the color a deep shade of rose, and of course it was the latest fashion, with its hobbled skirt and narrow waistline. The wide-brimmed, veiled hat matched perfectly. Nola would never settle for anything less. She would have fired Madame Claude-Pierre in a second if the woman failed to keep up with the latest designs from Paris. As if to compensate for a full year of wearing somber black mourning apparel, Nola had ordered enough spring fashions to fill every wardrobe in the house to overflowing.
Elizabeth cared little about fashion now. What seemed far more important was warming the ever-present, painful chill in her bones. She missed the heavy woolens she’d worn all winter, although they hadn’t helped much, either. It was April again, a full year from that terrifying night out on the cold, black sea. Shivering with both fear and cold, Elizabeth had watched in horrified disbelief from her lifeboat as the great ship
raised upright in the ocean, pointing toward the sky like an arrow, before breaking in two and sinking forever. To Elizabeth, it still seemed like yesterday. The long, painful vigil in the lifeboat, her limbs and face so cold she could scarcely feel them, could have taken place the night before, so clear were those hours in her mind. Now, try though she would, she could not banish the constant chill in her bones. Nor could she silence the remembered screams of victims as they flailed helplessly in the frigid ocean, realizing, in those agonizing last moments, that no one was coming to their rescue. No one.
One lifeboat … only one … had searched for survivors. But by then, it was much too late. Her mother and Max, the two people she loved most in the world, seemed to have recovered better than she had. How, she wondered, had Max put the tragedy so easily behind him? That night had been far worse for him. She’d been safe in a lifeboat while he, flung into the ocean when the ship finally slid beneath the surface, struggled in the dark, numbing water. Yet even at Christmastime, in the penetrating cold, and when the threat of snow was in the air, Max had arrived at the Fairs’ Murray Hill mansion wearing only an overcoat. No scarf, no hat, no gloves. Elizabeth envied that, too. How did he shrug off the cold when she, even in April, shivered with it?
“It’s been eight months, Elizabeth,” he had said on Christmas Eve after presenting her with a beautiful gold locket and the sheet music for a new song she liked, “and you’re still cold all the time. Maybe you should see a doctor.”
A doctor? She had looked at him skeptically. How could a doctor help?
She had not gone to a doctor. She had simply piled on more clothing. On evenings when her mother wasn’t dragging her to yet another boring dinner or concert or play, she lay on the pink brocade chaise lounge in her room with one woolen lap robe wrapped around her chest and shoulders, another tucked around her legs while she read for the third time Gene Stratton Porter’s
Girl of the Limberlost
. And always, always, there was a fire blazing in her fireplace.
None of it helped. Spring was in the air on this day in April when so many people had gathered at the Seamen’s Church Institute in New York City for the dedication of the
Memorial Lighthouse. Wrapping her arms around her chest in an effort to keep warm, she tried to focus her attention on the ceremony. Her mother was at her side, Max in the crowd somewhere, sketching. The mood was grim. Some present were openly crying, their anguish still raw. Others wore bleak expressions as they recalled receiving the news of a loved one’s death on the great, “unsinkable” ship.
Elizabeth had often thought how painful it must have been for the relatives and friends waiting on shore. Doubly painful because the initial newspaper reports falsely stated that all on board had been rescued. On the contrary, fifteen hundred people had died when the ship sank. How bitter that later news must have been for those who had been rejoicing, believing their loved ones were safe.
Glancing around to see where Max might be, she noticed with interest a few young working women. She envied them their independence. Along with the typical secretary’s uniform of serge skirt, white shirtwaist, and inexpensive, tailored jacket, some wore the yellow flowers of the suffragette movement. Elizabeth hoped her mother didn’t see the flowers. She was sure to comment. Nola despised the efforts of women to secure the vote, hated their highly publicized marches through the city, their “strident voices” raised “all across the country.” With no interest of her own in politics, she failed to understand the needs of other women to have more of a say in such matters.
When she located Max, a rush of warmth flooded Elizabeth, as it always did when she looked at him. Sketch pad in hand, his head was down as he concentrated furiously. His light brown hair needed cutting, as always, though that didn’t take away from his attractiveness. What she loved most about him were his eyes, a deep blue. Navy blue when he was feeling most intense or excited.
Still, as much as Elizabeth loved Max, she felt strongly that he shouldn’t be sketching the faces, and she decided to say so. Telling her mother she’d be right back, she hurried over to him. He smiled when he saw her, but continued to draw.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” Elizabeth said, touching his arm.
He raised his head then, a look of surprise on his lean, handsome face. “Do what?”
“Sketch people. Not now, not here. They’re grieving, Max. You’re invading their privacy.”
He frowned. “They don’t even know I’m doing it.”
“It’s still an intrusion.” She pointed toward the brown-suited men armed with cameras moving through the crowd. “Isn’t it bad enough that the press has arrived? We’re here to remember the loved ones we lost a year ago, and it’s wrong to take advantage of that. Our privacy should be respected.”
“Privacy? Elizabeth, this is a public place.”
“I don’t care. Please, Max. Not now.” She was disappointed in him. It wasn’t like Max to take advantage of the pain of others. He was kinder and more sensitive than that. What had gotten into him?
Max didn’t put his sketch pad away. But he said, “I’ll sketch the Lighthouse memorial instead,” and began to do just that.
Elizabeth had to admit this new memorial was intriguing. The Lighthouse mounted on the institute’s roof was topped with a black ball that would drop each afternoon at one
(though Elizabeth puzzled over why they had picked that specific hour since the ship itself had sunk in the wee hours of the morning). A light had been put inside the ball. It was green, the color of hope. It all seemed more impressive than a simple bronze plaque.
Although she was still shivering slightly, Elizabeth concentrated on the words being spoken in memory of the father she still missed fiercely and in memory of the fifteen hundred other people who had perished in the disaster.
Far from where Elizabeth stood, on the fringes of the crowd, Katie Hanrahan fidgeted restlessly. Though she, too, had spent that long, frightening night in a lifeboat, she was not plagued by an incessant chill as Elizabeth was. Frequent nightmares and a fear of dark, enclosed spaces were her legacies. The nights were the worst. During the daytime hours she was usually busy enough to keep from thinking about the ill-fated journey from her home in Ireland. There were household chores in her aunt’s roominghouse, and trips into Manhattan for auditions and meetings with theatrical agents in hopes of establishing a singing career. That career, though it had yet to get off the ground, had been her goal in traveling to America. Her days were very busy.
But she had no control over the dark dreams that stalked her sleep. She woke from them in a state of panic, drenched in a clammy sweat, convinced that she was still trapped in the belly of the sinking
Still, she could handle the nightmares. A cup of warm milk, a chapter or two read in a favorite book, and sleep would return.
What was harder to handle was Paddy’s stubborn refusal to attend a single memorial for victims of the
. She needed him with her during these painful ceremonies. Did he not miss his brother Brian, who hadn’t been as lucky as they? Where was his respect for his older sibling? If it hadn’t been for Brian, neither one of them would have made it to America. It was Brian her da trusted, not his younger brother. Everyone in Ballyford liked Paddy well enough, but that didn’t mean they trusted him with their daughters. On the contrary, he had left behind a string of broken hearts.
Katie smiled, thinking how determined she had been not to join that sad group, in spite of Paddy’s charm and good looks. But those days on the
… the happy days before the shocking end to the journey … had changed all that. To her astonishment, she had discovered a side to Paddy that she’d never known existed … a sensitive, caring side that had nearly kept him from leaving his brother on the sinking ship. If Brian hadn’t insisted that Paddy might be needed to help out in the lifeboats, both brothers would have perished.
Katie sighed. Why wasn’t Paddy here, at her side at this dedication ceremony, instead of her aunt Lottie? Lottie hadn’t lost a loved one in the disaster. She had accompanied her niece only because she disapproved of Katie traveling from Brooklyn alone and because she, a soft-hearted woman, felt deeply about the tragedy. Surely Paddy should feel the same. But he didn’t seem to.
“I don’t see the point to all of these ceremonies and all this fuss,” he had said. “What good does it do? We need to be gettin’ on with our lives here in America, not be laborin’ the past. ’Tis over and done with, and best forgotten”