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By Peter K. Connolly
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Peter K. Connolly
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Chapter OneKatherine Curran Finn Queenstown, Ireland April 11, 1912
"Receive into thy most gracious protection the persons of us, thy servants, and the ship in which we sail. Preserve us from the dangers of the sea."
Kate Curran Finn whispered her quick prayer to St. Brendan yet again as she and her sister Nora joined the crush of men, women, and children shuffling along Queenstown's timeworn Deepwater Quay. The southwest wind was tossing the incoming tide against the stacked-stone wall, spawning an occasional icy-cold spray over them. The bright red and white, twin-tailed pennant of the British White Star Line snapped in the early April gusts and festive signal flags of all colors flapped noisily on lines strung over the wharf.
A leathered old man, down on one knee, slid a slippery, shiny mackerel into a well-worn, battered bucket. He reached toward their legs with four groping, discolored fingers and gave them a rubbery, toothless smile as they hastened by him.
Kate moved aside, clutching a red carpetbag with one hand and pressing down on her flowered broad-brim hat with the other. Nora held Kate's arm, her mood as dark as the black water slapping the quay wall. She silently scolded Kate's husband of three months, Michael Finn, who was absent today.
Michael Finn of the Sinn Féin. A Shinner. And, true to his own name, a proud member of the Fenian Brotherhood with just that one driving obsession: free Ireland of British rule.
Nora shivered. Why am I feeling so fearful? This can't be wise. My dear, trusting sister Kate, to be crossing the Atlantic—with child. And Michael should be here with his wife. Please, Mary, Star of the Sea, safeguard all seafarers.
Nora shook her head as she glanced at Kate, setting off with her little bag and Michael's money in her pocket.
"You'll be writing me now, Nora," said Kate. "Let me know when Michael will be coming, promise? I think he'll not be much for letters. I pray he'll be there for the birth of our little one."
"Of course I'll write, you silly goose. We'll both be there when the time comes. Maybe even sell the farm and be gone with County Cavan! You've your ticket?" she asked for the third time.
"Aye, and the thirty pounds from Michael."
Thirty pounds, thought Nora. Thirty. Ah, yes. Gospel of John. But she said nothing and pulled her younger sister closer to her. "Tell Nell and Uncle Will I love them. Soon we'll all be together again."
America, one of two side-wheel, single-stack transfer tenders owned by Clyde Shipping, had checked in most of the 113 third-class men, women, and children bound for New York. Once they were ferried to—and boarded—the 880-foot goliath now riding at anchor near Roche's Point, none would complain that there was only one bath for all of the men—and one bath for all of the women and children. Two baths for 706 persons on the lower decks. Perfectly fine. It was common knowledge that frequent baths caused lung disease.
Steerage class, yes, but far more comfortable accommodations than most Irish enjoyed in their own homes.
"It's time, Katie."
Nora could no longer hold back the flood of tears that had been rising since they left home. She hurled her arms around her younger sister and sobbed on one frail shoulder. She could feel the chill of Kate's body under the thin cloth.
Kate stroked her sister's hair. "Not a worry now, Nora. Not a worry."
Nora just shuddered. Ah, and it's I who should be doing the comforting!
A single bell in the spired tower of St. Colman's Cathedral on the nearby hillside had begun tolling at noon. It would not stop until the massive black-hulled, four-funnel ship departed on its maiden voyage at 1:30 that afternoon.
Other passengers had boarded a second tender, Ireland, as had the "Gentlemen of the Press" hoping for a brief visit to the triple-screw steamer. On the quay, a handful of shrouded photographers remained, steadying their cameras, none with any premonition of the peril of the passage.
No room for words, but there were none satisfactory. Teary-eyed, the sisters embraced again.
Kate stepped on the gangway of America and smiled at the young man assisting her. "Mind your steps going up, ma'am. Watch those boards."
She turned and made her way up the wobbly planks. Another man with muttonchop sideburns reached out and helped her. She quickly joined others along a rail on the crowded upper deck. It was only minutes before crewmen began to cast off. She felt a chill and clung to her bag. Would she ever see Nora again?
The wind picked up as the boat slowly moved away. Billowing loaves of dark gray clouds drifted overhead. Her doubts retreated at the thoughts of seeing America, her sister Nell, her Uncle Will and, most of all, of having her child there with, hopefully, husband Michael at her side.
She'd lost sight of Nora but continued to wave in the direction of the wharf and look back with some uneasiness as the coast of Ireland and the brightly colored homes in Queenstown diminished in the distance.
They passed from the harbor into open water, and the tender made its way toward Roche's Point lighthouse. All stood fascinated as the ten-story ship that would take them to America came into view in Ringabella Bay. They shook their heads in wonder. "Unthinkable," Kate thought she heard someone say. But she couldn't take her eyes off the ship. It is indeed titanic.
The tender drew alongside Royal Mail Ship Titanic and the gangway came down. Kate felt herself jostled as the crowd queued up. Some were pointing up with alarm at one of the ship's four huge funnels. Kate followed their eyes and was unnerved to see a black-faced figure clinging to the top of the funnel. This should not be. When she looked again, it was gone.
The line began to move more quickly, and Kate soon found herself stepping onto the lower deck. She surrendered her ticket to a white-capped young man in a red, four-buttoned jacket. He scanned his clipboard and nodded.
"Ah, yes, Kate Curran. Ticket number 370373. County Cavan." He scanned his list and smiled. "Did you know there's another Kate Curran sailing with us? Tipperary. A bit older. Not quite as lovely. But don't you be telling her now what I said. You'll meet her, I'm sure."
"I'll try to find her," said Kate. "I don't know anyone else I'll be traveling with. Thank you."
The young man blushed and smiled again. "You do love your Kates! No offense, Miss Curran. I've a cousin in County Cavan. Do you know the name O'Donnell there?"
Now it was Kate's turn to smile. "Ahh, they're as thick as primrose, are they not?"
He pointed to anther queue. "You'll have to join them over there now, Miss Curran. Eye examinations."
She hesitated a moment. "Sir? My married name is Finn. I was a Curran when I paid the seven pounds fifteen for my ticket."
He laughed. "That's fine, Mrs. Finn. You'll get used to it, I'm sure."
Later that afternoon, as hundreds of screaming Herring Gulls trailed in its frothy white wake, the ship passed below the headlands of Kinsale and sounded her whistle for a gaggle of gaping onlookers before heading into the open sea.
On the third-class promenade "C" Deck, a group was singing Erin's Lament to the accompaniment of a Uilleann piper, a rail-thin young man whose name, Kate later learned, was Edward Dolan. Like her Michael—and many other young Irishmen—Dolan strongly opposed British rule and didn't try to hide it. "To Erin's sons be gracious, who in sorrow are forced from their homes ..."
His lyrics told it all. "They set the roof on fire with their cursed English spleen. And that's another reason why I left old Skibbereen ..."
Dolan had decided to travel abroad and test the waters. He was an ardent nationalist, a Shinner like Kate's husband, Michael. He believed that there were many Americans who would lend their support to the cause. His talents with the elbow pipes had opened doors and he displayed them now for his steerage-class audience.
"Oh, I courted girls in Blarney ... in Queenstown ... Cove of Cork ... and the next that you will hear of me ... is a letter from New York."
Chapter Two370 miles south of Newfoundland 2:30 am, April 15, 1912
In the end, it was the gaunt young music-maker, Edward Dolan from her neighboring County Westmeath, to whom Kate Curran Finn would owe her life. And the life of her child. Less than twelve hours earlier, Dolan had been once again squeezing out jigs and reels on the steerage deck and Kate herself had been step-dancing to the ancient tunes.
Now, on that starry but moonless Sunday night when more than fifteen hundred souls would perish in the hypothermic North Atlantic (many within just minutes of being immersed), the piper became Kate's lifeline. As she clung to a brass button on his overcoat, Dolan pulled her from the frigid, floe-filled waters and wrapped his large, black woolen coat around them both, the heat of their bodies keeping them alive in a "collapsible" lifeboat until they were transferred to Lifeboat 14 and then rescued by Cunard Line's RMS Carpathia crewmen just after dawn.
They were given warm clothing, blankets, soup, and hot drinks, and then taken to first aid rooms that had been set up in the ship's three dining rooms. Others requiring more assistance were moved to cots in a recovery room where Carpathia passengers joined in caring for them.
Less than six hours after the rescue, the ship's under-officers conducted a roll call in the saloon, collecting names and other information to assemble a manifest of Titanic's saloon, cabin, and steerage survivors. Two days later, as Carpathia neared New York, the completed list was checked with the survivors.
Kate remembered in time and turned to the young officer with two gold stripes on the sleeve of his blue uniform. "It should be Finn, sir. I was a Curran only three months ago. Kate Curran. But now I'm Kate Finn. And soon to be a mam."
The young man drew a dark line through "Curran" and inserted "Finn." Then added "w/child." He showed her the list. "There. Kate Curran, now Kate Finn. Of County Cavan. Welcome to America, Mrs. Finn! The Lord looked after you. You and your babe!"
The White Star Line homeport of the International Navigation Company had become a funeral parlor. At New York's Chelsea Piers in a chilling rain, a somber, swelling assemblage of thousands crowded Cunard Line's Pier 54 as Carpathia was nosed alongside just before 10 pm to offload four shrouded bodies and 705 Titanic survivors, less than a third of the 2,223 passengers and crew who had sailed on her maiden voyage.
It was more than an hour before Kate finally reached the metal gangway. She wore her dried clothes, a donated seaman's jacket, and carried a blue cloth bag containing a new mouthbrush, comb, hairbrush, towel, some personal effects, and the brass button that she had torn from the overcoat of her rescuer, the piper Edward Dolan. She was stopped at the bottom by a red-eyed, lanky, tired-looking official in a wet, woolen uniform.
"Your name, Miss?"
"Please, please, let me off. It's Kate Finn." She felt dizzy. The man shouted her name into a bullhorn as he stepped aside. For Kate, who had been on the Titanic for almost four days, immersed for several hours in the numbing North Atlantic, spent a night in a crowded lifeboat, and then another four bewildering days aboard the Carpathia, it was a nightmare.
But the worst lay ahead for Kate. In the ensuing clamor, confusion, and crush of humanity, she was met not by her sister Nell but by a young woman in a nurse's uniform who stepped forward quickly, a Sister of Charity nurse, one of many who were taking some one hundred survivors, most now widows and orphans, to St. Vincent Hospital for the night. Amidst scenes of rejoicing and scenes of grief, the nurse guided Kate to the end of the pier and sat her down out of the rain.
"I'm Sister Margaret Timothy, Kate."
She put her hands on Kate's shoulders to steady her.
"Nell, your sister Nell, was to meet you, Kate?"
"Yes, yes, where is she?"
"Do you have any other relatives here?"
"No ... Yes, my Uncle Will Curran in Newark. Where is ...?"
"I'm so sorry. So sorry, Kate." The nurse reached out and pulled Kate close. "Your sister's heart gave out when she saw your name on the list of those missing. I don't know why it was there. Just a mistake. So much confusion. So many gone. I'm very, very sorry. We'll take care ..."
Kate collapsed into her arms.
The days that immediately followed were lost to Kate's memory forever. She and others were interviewed by inspectors with the Immigration Service. She scarcely recognized her Uncle Will when he arrived two days later at the hospital to take her to his home. Her sister Nell's funeral had been that morning at Nell's parish church, St. Ignatius Loyola on East Eighty-fourth Street. Uncle Will, City Attorney of Newark, had many friends in Manhattan and he had coordinated all details, as well as disposition of Nell's ground floor apartment in the seven-story brownstone building at 309 East Eighty-eighth Street.
He thanked the Sisters of Charity and pressed two Grover Cleveland twenty-dollar notes into Sister Margaret's hand. Then he helped Kate into his Steamer Roadster and fired up the boiler.
"They told Nell you didn't make it. They said there was no doubt. Showed her a list of those lost. You were on it. I saw it myself. Kate Curran. A black-edged list marked 'Final.'"
"But there was another Kate Curran ... I never met ..."
"It will be all right. And may the Lord bless that good Sister Margaret. And all of them at St. Vincent."
But what of my baby?
Will went on. "I'm really sorry that I wasn't at the pier to meet you. I was in Philadelphia when the messenger from the hospital arrived at home."
Kate just stared. "What pier?" she asked.
"End of the line," he said an hour later. He sounded the brass bulb horn and pulled up in front of a three-story, brownstone brick, turreted row house at 241 South Eighth Street in Newark. Nine stone steps and a black iron railing led up to a mahogany door with decorative inlaid frosted glass.
"I own this block. We have our masquerades in the adjoining house on the right there. Now you'll finally get to meet your cousins."
Clouds of steam poured from pipes below the headlights and another at the rear. Kate looked out to see several small faces smiling down from the tall, narrow windows.
"I'm tired, Uncle Will. My baby is tired too. I need to tell Nora about Nell."
"I've done that, Kate. Sent a cable to Michael and Nora. And everything will be okay. Sister Margaret said your babe has a good strong heartbeat.
"Not to worry. You can rest here for a few days. I'll settle you out in the country. I've a comforting summer home in Somerset County. Apple trees, a brook of fat fish, pheasants, wild strawberries as big as your fist, plums, grapes, and horses. There's a housekeeper. You can just sit in the sun. You'll love it. And your little one can be born at All Souls Hospital. It's close by, and Bishop O'Connor and Sister Superior Viola, who oversee it, are both good friends of mine. I'm very sorry for the loss of Nell, Kate."
"I need to write to Michael."
It was the summer of 1912. New Yorkers were still agonizing over the loss of friends and relatives on the Titanic—less than a year, they deplored, after the horrific deaths by fire of more than 140 young Jewish and Italian workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist garment factory at the foot of Fifth Avenue.
Arizona had just become the forty-eighth state and the forgotten Inca city of Machu Picchu had been recently "rediscovered." Jim Thorpe had won two golds at the Olympics in Stockholm, and Uncle Will was busy campaigning for his good friend New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson.
But Kate, prima gravida, swimming deep into her first and only pregnancy, cared nothing of any of it as she lay on a hillside overlooking Clairvaux Manor, Uncle Will's country home in Somerset County.
Excerpted from Grottogate by Peter K. Connolly Copyright © 2010 by Peter K. Connolly. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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