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Remembering the Titanic
By Diane Hoh
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1998 Diane Hoh
All rights reserved.
Elizabeth Fair 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 Titanic 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 Titanic 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 P.M. (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 Titanic.
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 Titanic. 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 Titanic ... 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"
Forgotten? Katie had been shocked and furious. How could it be forgotten? Hadn't it been the worst night of their lives? She'd forget her own name before she'd forget a single moment of that night.
As if the nightmares weren't bad enough, she could no longer bear to be in small, enclosed spaces. Elevators in the city were an endurance test for her. If it was at all possible to take a flight of stairs instead, she did so, though her aunt insisted staircases were not safe and Katie should never use them. "You don't know who might be lurking in a stairwell," she would say. But to Katie, even an enclosed stairwell was not as terrifying as the four walls of an elevator. Besides, she had argued, why couldn't someone be "lurking" in an elevator as well?
She knew why the closed-in feeling haunted her. 'Twas was a reminder of the suffocating moments she had spent in the depths of the ship, after the Titanic struck the iceberg, and she tried to find her way up from the steerage lower deck to the top of the ship where the lifeboats were stationed. Accompanied by two small children whose governess had abandoned them, she had navigated the puzzling twists and turns of the narrow subterranean corridors in vain, trying to find a way to escape the water rushing into the ship at an alarming rate. The passageways were so narrow, the corridor so deep in the bowels of the ship, she had felt as if she were suffocating. Panic had risen within her steadily.
If Paddy hadn't found them....
But he had. He had taken them up top, where they had eventually gotten into one of the few remaining lifeboats. Then there had been that terrifying moment when Paddy had been required to stay behind, as Katie climbed into the lifeboat. Only women and children were allowed to board. If, at the last moment, he hadn't been ordered to help crew the lifeboat, she'd have lost him, too. Bad enough to lose one Kelleher, let alone the Kelleher she loved so deeply. She had loved Brian, too, but not in the same way. Her passion for Paddy was the deepest, truest feeling she had ever known. And she missed him now just as passionately, so busy was he with his new, exciting life. He had had better luck in America with his dreams than she with hers.
"What time are ye meetin' with that agent?" her aunt Lottie asked loudly. "His Nibs gets testy when his dinner isn't ready on time. You know that as well as me."
Katie nodded. Her uncle had a temper, and he liked things to be just so. Still, he'd been good to her, taking her in and giving her a home. "We've plenty of time. But you needn't come with me. I can get there on me own."
Her aunt shook her head. "You'll not be wanderin' around the city alone. What would your uncle say, was I to let you do that? I'll come. I'm just sayin', we can't be hangin' around that office all day, that's all I'm sayin'."
"I know." Katie fell silent, lost in unhappy thought. Her aunt was fretting for nothing. When had she ever been in an agent's office for more than a few minutes? She was always hurt and puzzled by how hastily she was shown the door. She was certain it wasn't her attire that was the cause. The ruffled, bright pink dress she'd had Lottie make for her was the prettiest dress she'd ever owned. Katie had seen it in a magazine and thought it just right for impressing agents. Another magazine article had showed her how to arrange her hair in a fancy 'do. She had even persuaded her aunt that if she was going to succeed, she simply had to wear makeup. So she was certain it couldn't be her appearance that led agents to interrupt her in mid-refrain while she was belting out the latest songs just as she'd heard them on John Donnelly's phonograph. It had to be something else that led them to mutter an insincere, "Very nice. We'll call you," and rush her to the door.
Of course they never called. Her aunt and uncle had a telephone. Katie was always very careful to write the number down clearly and legibly, but to no avail. Not so much as one agent had called on the telephone to say they wished to further Katie Hanrahan's singing career.
But she wasn't giving up. If only this new agent would be pleased with her voice....
And if only Paddy were here to meet the agent with her. As she had gone with him to meet his publisher, Edmund Tyree. She'd been nervous about meeting such an important man, but Paddy had insisted, saying he needed her with him. Well, now she needed him. But he wasn't here. And truth to tell, she didn't know exactly where he was. She knew only, as she did so often now, that he wasn't with her.
Glancing around as if he might be lurking somewhere in the crowd, Katie gasped when she glimpsed a young man with a sketch pad in his hand. She blinked in surprise, and peered more closely. Did she not recognize him as a passenger on board the Titanic? A very special passenger, at that. She would never forget him. The young man had risked his own life to deposit the two young charges in her care into a lifeboat. He had had to stand outside the ship's rail to reach, and had nearly fallen into the sea in the process. The pretty girl standing with him had called him "Max," and was clearly very fond of him. This "Max" had lived? He had survived and returned to New York safely?
Katie's heart flooded with warmth. How wonderful for both of them! The saints be praised!
She glanced around again, this time for some sign of his companion on the Titanic. A very pretty first-class passenger, she'd had great difficulty leaving him behind as she and her mother boarded a lifeboat. Katie had felt sorry for her, watching her being torn from both her father, a handsome man with kind eyes, and the young man she clearly loved.
Were the pretty girl from the ship and this Max still in love, as they'd seemed to be on the ship? Perhaps not, since they were not together today. Might they have discovered, once on shore, that the closeness they'd shared on the Titanic was gone, as if it had tumbled into the sea and disappeared along with the fine china, the pianos, the luggage, and the jewelry lost forever to the deep, dark water?
Ever the romantic, Katie hoped that hadn't happened. They had seemed to be so much in love. And they were so fortunate that the young man was still alive, for her own lifeboat had been one of the last to leave and he hadn't been in it. How had he survived the sea?
Excerpted from Remembering the Titanic by Diane Hoh. Copyright © 1998 Diane Hoh. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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