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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Drama Stories / Human Interest Stories
- Subject: History / Historical
- Published: 11/12/2017
Eleven Forty PM (Part Two)Born 1957, M, from Belfast, United Kingdom
Eleven Forty PM
Our sudden encounter made me stumble backwards and my surprise was worsened when she stepped into the lobby bold as brass, an area passengers were not supposed to be. She stood with her hands on the hips of her blue satin dress with an air of authority and wearing a formidable expression. The kind my teacher Mr. Brady would grace just before he’d dish out some corporal punishment to some poor boy with a cane. This was a lady used to getting her own way, that much I could see, but yet I wondered just what I’d done wrong if a chastisement was due.
There were a few tense moments between us until she pointed her finger like a gun and winked ‘What’s your name son?’ she smiled then she stuck out her hand, very un-lady like I must add, for those times. ‘Mine’s Molly Brown’ she said. Now anyone who’s ever read about the Titanic, Jeb, will have come across this lady. Mostly what they say about her was true, but there was much more, because I got to know her better than anyone. I understand what you’re maybe thinking, how come my name doesn’t crop up in the history books if I was supposed to be so familiar with such a renowned lady? Well I’ll tell you why. Molly Brown by no means courted publicity, even though she was portrayed as an American Socialite and philanthropist, behind that façade was a very private woman. You see, Jeb, when the ship went down, so did my father, and Molly Brown took me under her care. She made sure no one knew she was watching out for me, keeping me hidden from the public eye.
I went to a private boarding school and lived with a governess in a surreptitious home she owned in the country until I was old enough to work for her. I went to the very opposite end of the stick I was born with you might say.
When we met again later on the same lifeboat she remembered our brief afternoon encounter and our conversation in which I’d told her all about how I came to be on the ship. I guess maybe she felt pity, but she gave me a life way beyond my dreams and I’m thankful for it. It’s of no consequence who knows now, who would believe me any way, they would think its just some story made up from a senile old man.
At eleven forty Titanic hit the iceberg; I’d noticed a change in the ships speed shortly after my congenial conversation with Mrs. Brown and when I caught up with Father around 5pm he gave me an account of how, while he was working on some loose stairways near sir Bruce Ismay’s suite, he overheard a heated exchange between him and Captain Smith about lighting another boiler. He described how the Captain was reluctant to make the order and was calmly explaining there had been numerous reports of icebergs in the shipping route, six in fact, but Ismay was hearing none of it because he wanted to get to New York earlier than scheduled. Apparently boasting it would be unprecedented for a steamship the size of Titanic to make the crossing a day less than any other, he described him as a mousy little chap with a wax mustache. And a rich mans folly as we know put paid to that scheme.
Father and I were in our cabin when the iceberg struck the ship just below its waterline. I can’t say it was memorable, the collision I mean, there was no enormous explosion that you might expect when fifty two thousand tons of iron comes into sudden contact with a mountain of ice. To be honest all we felt was a shudder, like the ship itself was shivering in the icy waters. Then the sound of what seemed like a hammer striking a bell echoed through the hull. A baby cried somewhere in the distance, there were voices in the corridors, not cries of despair or panic, those would come later. Why would there be a reason for any, after all, Titanic was unsinkable, isn’t that what they said.
Some fifteen minutes later there was a knock at the door, it was second officer Charles Lightholler who had a notable urgency about him when Father opened it. ‘You are requested by the Captain to sound the ship immediately’ he said. ‘We have hit an Iceberg and are taking on water, report to me when you’re done’
‘How could they not see it?’ Father asked, gathering up his tool bag from below the bed. ‘The night sea was calm and the skies clear’
‘Both lookouts, Fredric Fleet and Reginald Lee, have admitted they could not find the binoculars before going on duty’, Lightholler replied before leaving, ‘and the keys are also missing, now hurry man!’
Father looked at me and then to the cupboard where I had been keeping them since Mr. Blair took charge of the Olympic. I think he knew then the graveness of the situation, if I was to be found with them. ‘Hide the eye glasses son’ he said before stepping out. ‘Put them far from you, do you understand?’
I understood of course, I knew if I was to be caught with them I would be in trouble, but then again I figured they were left in my keep by Mr. Blair so technically it was still my job to keep them safe. I decided to go to the captain and come clean; I’d tell him everything.’
‘And did you?’
Malone shook his head ‘I tried, Jeb, believe me I tried. Too much was happening up top; people were hurrying about with no sense of direction, a band stuck up playing the very same music you heard in the corridor. A half an hour had passed since the ship collided with the berg by the time I got anywhere close to the bridge. There was no sign of the Captain. I spotted Mr. Wilde, the Chief mate; he was conversing with Lightholler but refused to pay attention when I approached. Instead he brushed me aside insisting he didn’t have time to listen to a child’s wistful story.
I was just about to go back down to our cabin when I saw Father with Captain Smith and Sir Bruce Ismay over by the officers smoke room. After a few seconds of discussion they were joined by a tall well dressed man in a black expensive suit with gray sideburns and distinguished furrows of forehead wrinkles. He was holding what looked like a set of blue prints; the shapes on which I could see were of Titanic’s layout. He was pointing at them, no, stabbing at them, in anger with his finger. I could tell he was angry, even though I couldn’t hear what he was saying; the look on Ismay’s face was enough for me to know something was badly wrong.
He then threw them to the deck before storming off in the direction of second class. They watched him leave and then Father saw me.
He came over. ‘That man was Thomas Andrews’ he said ‘The ships designer’.
I asked Father why he was so mad. ‘He’s just explained to Sir Ismay and the Captain that six of the forward compartments below sea level are flooding. This ship is going down son’ he said. Just like that, so matter a fact.
Above our heads a barrage of rockets exploded in a burst of white light, showering the deck with their burning sparks. A woman screamed, then fainted. A few men rushed over to help her up while most were hurrying towards the stairs and escalators. It was as if they were signaling this was the beginning of the end.
‘They will be ordering the lowering of the lifeboats soon’ he said, that’s good isn’t it, I replied, but he shook his head and placed his hands on my shoulders. ‘No son’ he said, and it was the first time I ever saw him look frightened ‘There’s not enough for everyone’. His words felt as cold as the night and it was filled with the smell of the sea and gunpowder.
‘Hurry and find one, climb into it’ he ordered, ‘don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine’ he said. but he wasn’t and that was last time I saw him.
I’d never disobeyed him up to that night and this was the only time I thought about it. Somehow deep down I knew he was never coming back. I wanted to run after him, grab his hand and never let it go. I wanted to tell him how much I loved him, stay with him, and if that meant us both dying then I was ready. But before I could move he was swallowed up by a mass of people pushing to get to the lifeboats, just as he had said.
In the midst of the hysteria a hand grabbed my arm from behind; it belonged to a worried looking Mrs. Brown minus her large hat. She hurriedly led me to one of the boats and we climbed in with the aid of one of the crew. By this time the ship was listing to port and she was well down into the water at the head. Beside us on deck, before we were lowered, Mr. Moody, who was the 6th mate, stood brandishing a pistol. He was barking orders above the noise of the rockets and the screaming people to the crew working the davits; it was to be only women and children first. I remember one stout gentleman in a black tuxedo tried to push through and climb aboard protesting he was a rich important business man and Moody should step aside. However, after a short argument and another warning he would not heed, Moody shot him dead. I watched in horror as his top hat tumbled from his head and rolled along the deck, His body falling backwards in a silent thud, with blood pouring from his chest.
This only made the crowd panic more. I think in Moody’s own fear and the noticeable list of the ship there could be further trouble, he ordered the lowering much too soon because the boat wasn’t nearly full enough. Mrs. Brown tried to protest shouting at the crew to stop, but they continued to follow his orders. From what I read in newspaper reports later ours wasn’t the only one to be put in the water half empty. It really didn’t make much of a difference, I thought then and still do, more than half were damned anyway.
We rowed in a subdued silence away from the ship under the charge of a crew member, quarter master Robert Hichens. A wiry nervous little man with a thick black mustache who continuously kept looking over his shoulder while he counted the pace of every stroke with the thud of his fist against the tiller, ‘faster’ he shouted ‘we are still too close, she’ll suck us down if we don’t get far enough out’.
Later, after the ship sank, Molly and a few other women wanted to go back to pick up survivors. He flatly refused citing ‘they would top us over’ but it was hard to just sit there and listen to those poor people being slowly frozen to death in the icy waters. I can still hear their pitiful cries in my dreams to this day. Molly did tried to reason with him, but he too had a pistol similar to Moody’s and I think he was just frightened enough to use it, and Molly knew it. We later found out he was the very same man who was steering the Titanic when she hit the iceberg.
During the four days we were at sea I met and got friendly with a young man named Jack Thayer. He was traveling with his parents and their maid; we struck up a conversation the day before the ship went down while I was helping Father repair some loose door hinges on the port side of ‘C’ deck near his cabin. He was a few years older than me but I think he was happy to talk to someone closer to his own age for a change. He seemed quite interested as to why I was on board after I told him our story, and while he stood watching Father intensely as he expertly went about his maintenance. Before we left he suggested we should try and play a game of cards later in the evening after he had dinner, but I had to reluctantly explain others would frown on our fraternizing, being of a different class stature you understand. However I did come across him again on the rescue ship the Carpathia the following morning. He told me, as he shivered through tear filled eyes, like me he had lost his Father and began to relive his own experience of the previous night. His account was so chillingly in-depth and articulate I suggested he write it all down in case his testimony of events would be called upon later and because I knew accountability would at some point be necessary. I also knew it was an important responsibility that should be placed upon the right shoulders when the time came. Yet history will tell no one was ever found liable.
He did write it down, and I read his words with a heavy heart, because we were brothers in requiem along with many others. So eloquent was his descriptions of both our hellish tragedy I have memorized some of his words to heart over the years as they fittingly express as well my own misfortune. Let me recount them for you, Jeb, to give you an insight of what we went through.
‘’It must now have been 1.25 am the ship was way down by the head with water entirely covering her bow’ he wrote. ‘She gradually came out of her list to port and if anything she had a slight tilt to starboard. The crew had commenced to load and lower the forward starboard boats. These could hold over 60 people but the officers were afraid to fill them to capacity while suspended by falls, bow and stern 70 feet above the water. Fearing they may buckle or break away from their ropes.
On deck the exhaust system was still roaring. The lights were still strong. The band with life preservers on was still playing. The crowd was fairly orderly but the scene was too kaleidoscopic for me to retain any detailed picture of individual behavior.’’
He goes on to say how as one by one the lifeboats were lowered until he realized it would soon become every man for himself. ‘’I debated whether or not to fight my way onto the last two boats’’ he recounts ‘’I could see the ship was going down at the head, there was so much confusion. I did not think they would reach the water right side up so I decided not to attempt it. By 1.50 am the last boat had gone. I thought about jumping but I feared I might hit some wreckage or a steamer chair rendering me unconscious. So many thoughts passed so quickly through my mind, I thought of all the good times and of all the future pleasures I would never enjoy; of my Father and Mother, of my sister and brother. I looked at myself as though from some far off place. I sincerely pitied myself, but there was still a chance if I could keep away from the crowd and the suction of the sinking ship’’
At 2.15 am the water was creeping up the ship fast, Molly and I observed this from our boat. It was right up to the bridge a good sixty feet covered the bow. As sea gained headway along the deck the crowd gradually moved with it. Always pushing towards the floating stern and keeping in from the rail of the ship as far as they could. Jack describes this time as them being a ‘’Mass of hopeless, dazed humanity, attempting, as the Almighty and nature made us to keep our final breath as long as possible’’ The roaring of the exhaust steam suddenly stopped, making a great quietness, in spite of many mixed noises of hurrying human effort and anguish. As I recall it the lights were still on even then. There seemed to be a ruddy glare, but it was a murky light with distant people and objects vaguely outlined. The stars were brilliant and the water oily. Occasionally there was a muffled thud or a deadened explosion within the ship. Now without warning she began to move forward and into the water at an angle of 15 degree’s. The movement was accompanied by a rumbling roar and more explosions. Jack would say this was like ‘’standing under a steel railway bridge while an express train passes overhead. Mingled with the noise of a busy factory and wholesale breakage of china’’
In the end Jack had to jump into the sea just before the ship broke in two at the mid-ship, the second funnel lifted off emitting a cloud of sparks then crashed down upon those swimming away from the liner. They stood no chance. The stern began to rise into the air, the forward motion had stopped and she was pivoting on a point abaft of mid-ship. The last funnel, the dummy one was about on the surface of the water. This was when the lights finally went out. She hung in this position briefly then turned her decks slightly towards us, we could still make out clusters of people like swarming bees. Some falling in masses others singly as the great part of the ship 250 feet of it rose into the sky till it reached a 65 or 70 degree angle. Then with the deadened noise of her last few bulkhead bursting she slid quietly below the surface. There was no final apparent suction and no wreckage that we could see. A minute or so of immense quietness followed then there were individual calls for help here and there gradually swelling into a composite volume of one long continuous wailing chant from the 1500 in the water all around us, like locusts on a midsummer night.
After about an hour there was no more wailing, no more cries for help, only the intermittent sound of Mr. Lighthollers whistle as he tried to coral the boats into a stable circle until help would arrive and that wouldn’t be until 4am.’
‘It was then you were rescued by the Carparthia’
‘That’s right Jeb, I and only seven hundred and five other poor souls out of over two thousand’
‘What happened next Tom?’
‘The crew and passengers of the Carparthia began to comfort those in distress; they handed out warm dry clothes and blankets, food and hot drinks. Some even gave up their cabins. Later in the day while we were traveling onwards to New York I told Molly about the binoculars which I’d still carried with me. Before putting on my overcoat and life preserver I had secured them across my shoulder by their leather strap. ‘Keep them with you’ she said ‘and when the right time comes we will hand them over to the right people’ but that right time never came.
In the weeks following the disaster Molly and her high society circle had heard rumors there was a lot of interest in the missing binoculars. With some citing the fact they had been missing being the main cause of the tragedy. The commission members of United States Congress taking testimonies of the two lookouts had asked the question of Fleet ‘had there been binoculars as was the regulations would you have seen the iceberg sooner?’ to which he replied ‘ soon enough to get out of its way’
Even though at the end of the hearing the legal expert Gray Slapper suggested Blair’s forgetfulness wasn’t a material reason for the disaster as there were other intervening causes. Molly however knew the graveness of the situation if I was to come forward. Why Mr. Blair never omitted at the inquires he had put me in their charge I don’t know, maybe it was because I was not supposed to be on the ship in the first place. Or he feared by disclosing his decision on both counts it would then jeopardize his future career with the White Star line. So the resolution was made they were never to be talked about or their location ever revealed again.
Molly placed them in her safe and they remained there until she died of a brain tumor on the 26th of October 1932, by that time I was old enough to look after her affairs and had been agent to her during her minor acting career in the few years before she slipped away in her sleep. Most of the estate she willed to me, with a small trust set aside for her husband. And with good investments I had a comfortable life. I never married though and never fathered any children, well none that I know of Jeb. But ever since that infamous night those glasses have been like a sword hanging over me just waiting to fall. Why didn’t I just get rid of them? Throw them into the sea and be done. How could I, my own guilt wouldn’t let me, it was as if each soul who perished that night was spiritually entombed within them. They became a symbol of all the lives lost and it was right and fitting I should pay penance for my errors, so I kept them.
I’ve told you my story as you wanted Jeb and at last I am ready to meet my maker with serenity in my heart. I know I don’t have long to go before him and I shake hands, time isn’t on my side, so I’m going to ask you one favor as recompense for my revelation if you have a mind. In my suitcase which I keep under my bed you will find the binoculars wrapped in a white star line flag which I took from lifeboat 6. They would be worth millions today if sold, and now that I have disclosed everything you could do just that once I’m gone. But as I said I think you are from good stock Jeb Williams, I see the way you treat the others. The last request of my pitiful life is they should be taken to where the ship sank, put in the sea and returned to their rightful place. Will you do that for me Jeb?’ I will pay you well for your trouble. What do you say, Jeb, will you help an old man rest in peace?’
On September the 1st, 1985, oceanic explorer Dr. Frank Ballard discovered the wreck of the Titanic approximately 400 miles east of Newfoundland, 1200 feet down. Tom had kept a lot of newspaper cutting’s covering the discovery in his suitcase. There were also pictures of some of the artifacts retrieved from the numerous dives such as Titanic’s last lunch menu, plates and silverware. All of which were put on display, or some sold to the highest bidder. I managed to track down one of those bidders with Toms help in the weeks that followed our conversation and offered him exclusively the flag the Binoculars were wrapped in. Part of the arrangement however was he was never to disclose his source. Needless to say he readily agreed and was happy to pay what we asked. There was another caveat however along with the sale that was, on a day yet to be specified, he must charter a ship from Newfoundland to coordinates which would be sealed in an envelope and only given to the Captain once I was on board. All he would be told would be he must sail to that position and at approximately 2.15 am a sealed lead box was to be dropped into the ocean.
Tom Malone died one year after telling me his story. The next day I began my journey.
Acknowledgements to the real words of Jack Thayer where used. All the Characters on the Titanic were real people except for Tom and Michael Malone. Times and dates are accurate based on survivors accounts.
Eleven Forty PM (Titanic)
‘Diamond sky reflection tranquil water held
A silent beast in waiting for the metropolis of the dead
Four eyes that failed to see its secret hidden form
Until iron and steel kissed its cheek and a scar was born
Teeth bared the wakened monster wailed, with vengeance in its soul
It scorned the mighty city retribution then its goal
Beneath the tears of god it left a wound that could not heal
No amount of arrogance might its anger now appease
So it swallowed up the city and some of those within
Down into its belly for an eternity of sin
Those it left in its tainted wake will not forget its eyes
Forever they will talk about her legendary cries
Monuments will be created and tender prayers are said
About a silent beast in waiting for the metropolis of the dead’
Will Neill 2017