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Swimming with the Current
Author's note: I did this for an English project. I really enjoyed writing it and I have always been fascinated with the Titanic.
“Fate is never fair. You are caught in a current much stronger than you are; struggle against it and you'll drown not just yourself but those who try to save you. Swim with it. and you'll survive”
― Cassandra Clare
“Do yo' haf enny grub fo' mah siblin's, miss?” A little dirty boy asks as he pulls on my skirt.
I look down at him, nose wrinkling despite my effort to control my expression.
“I’m sorry, little boy. I do not carry any food with me.”
He sighs and walks away dejectedly, head hung.
I start walking, stop and turn around intending to give the boy the half penny I had sitting in my pocket but he was gone. Part of me was relieved but another part of me felt sorrow for the child. London was full of homeless children always wanting money. If I gave coins to every child I would soon join them. Father did not agree with this logic but Mother lived by it. I sighed, whose side I would take, I don’t think I’d ever find out.
I kept walking; head down so as to not make eye contact with anyone. I was in a hurry. Beatrice had told me to hurry home for she had heard word from Father. We had decided to not open it until Mother and Alexander arrived home from Martha Green’s house where they were having tea.
Finally I came upon a brick house that looked as if it was slightly sinking in the middle. It was old and smelled slightly no matter how many flowers we put in the rooms and the blue door was atrocious but I loved it none the less.
I walked in, “Mother, I’m home.”
“Greetings, darling. Come, sit, let us read your father’s note.”
My siblings and I all crowded around my mother as she sat in her favorite armchair. I plopped down onto the ground, grinning excitedly.
Mother folded her hands in her lamp and looked down her slightly pointed nose. “Bridget, what have I told you about sitting on the ground?”
I sighed, “Ladies should never sit on the floor. It is unbecoming and the floor will no doubt ruin my dress.”
“Yes. Now shall we follow my teachings?”
“Perhaps…” I said, prolonging my stay on the floor.
“I do not know why you must make such a fuss about this Bridget. Just sit on the couch or I shall just read this letter to Beatrice and Alexander.”
“Fine, Mother. I shall follow your ‘teachings’.” I heaved a large sigh and stood up being sure to hike my skirts well above my knees in doing so resulting in a sharp intake of breath from my mother. I grinned and sat down taking a few extra seconds to arrange my dusty skirts around me.
I looked at mother. “I believe I am ready.”
She rolled her eyes (something she would never do in public for it is unbecoming and unladylike) and started reading.
“My dear wife and children.
I have missed you all greatly and hope you are faring well. I have taken much time to think this over in my past months spent in this great country and have come to a grand conclusion. I believe that you should all come and live with me in America.
My painting business has already started off well and I believe you would all love it. I have even been able to purchase a small piece of land and I have great plans for a beautiful house we shall build together.
I hope you will consider it. I know this might sound rash but if you do not come I have come to believe that I shall stay in America. I have no attachment to England though it be the place of my birth and so I shall not miss it too greatly although I shall miss my family that is why I hope you will come live with me.
I have left money with Aunt Josephine for you to go. I am afraid that it will only barely be enough for all of you to go but the living quarters on the ship shall not be luxurious. I have a ship in mind for you all. If you have not already heard there is a grand ship under construction. I marvel at the craftsmanship but again my marveling is limited for I have only heard about it. It is called The Titanic. Does it not sound grand? I think I shall paint it when it arrives in New York.”
At this point my Mother sniffed disapprovingly. Father had a way to get off subject and my mother just hated it. She said it made him sound distant and not like a gentleman. I thought it a fine quality. I want my husband (once I find one of course) to have a great imagination much like my fathers.
She continued, still sniffing.
“I am sure you are sniffing at this point my dear Victoria so I shall stop my marveling. I must stop writing for it is getting late. I wish you all well and hope you all come to the same conclusion as I have.
Your Father and Husband,
I looked up at my mother. She sat, staring at the letter.
“So... what do you think Mother? Are we going to America as Father said?”
She sighs, “I do not know Bridget… I do not think that with Alexander and I being sick this past winter… we might not fair well with the trip. I have not fully recovered yet and I am not sure I want to leave London just yet.”
I frowned. “Well, you can send me and Beatrice can’t you?”
“Beatrice and I, Bridget; and I might consider sending just your sister and you but I am not in any condition to decide this minute. Now, leave me at once. Beatrice, make dinner please. I need to rest.”
We all slowly trudged out of the sitting room. I made my way up to my room. If I go down to the kitchen Beatrice will demand I help and I am not in the mood to work.
When I get to my room I instantly go to my small wooden desk. I open the only drawer and carefully lift out a small purple book. I gently open it. I sigh. How I live for the crinkle of the old pages. I pull out a pen and start writing:
Saturday, April 6, 1912
We got a letter from Papa. He invited us to come to America and help him build a home. Mother is contemplating. She doesn’t think she or Alexander will go. She might send Beatrice and me and then come later. I hope she does this.
I have a good feeling about America. I think it will be a fresh start—something that I believe I need. I want to start new, with a blank canvas, free of dark smudges and scratches. I don’t know. I just have this incredible feeling that America will do us good. I am positive Papa’s business will flourish. I just see it as a land of new possibilities which is what people say it is, I guess I just believe it.
Anyway, Beatrice is calling me down to help with dinner. I hope to soon be writing in you while on aboard the S.S. Titanic (it truly is a grand name, I love saying it) Titanic. It has a ring to it, don’t you think? Goodnight for now dear diary, ‘til next time.
I hurry down the stairs, careful not to trip on my skirts—it has happened and I got no sympathy from Mother.
“BRIDGET!” Beatrice bellows. She does not usually bellow when Mother is around. This must be serious.
“You are a lazy pig! Why do you never help with anything? What were you even doing up in your bedroom? Were you hiding from work?”
I blink at her. “No. I was writing in my diary; preserving my history. Is that a crime, Beatrice?”
She glares at me. “No it is not but there is a time and place for ‘preserving your history’.” She mimics me angrily.
“I found right now a perfect time. Didn’t Mother ask you to make dinner?”
“Yes she did, but I think she also expected you to help!”
“ENOUGH.” Alexander yells. For being three, he is quite intelligent.
We both look at him, then at each other. Beatrice sighs. “We are accomplishing nothing bickering. Let us just both work and then we can eat.”
Alexander nods approvingly. I swear he is mocking me. Sometimes I truly wonder who would be considered the wisest among us. I think Alexander would win. Grumbling I start to set the table.
After dinner Mother again calls us all to the sitting room.
“Children, I have made a decision,” She paused; Mother can be very dramatic when she wants to. “I will be sending Bridget and Beatrice to America on the S.S. Titanic.”
I jump up and give an excited yelp. I throw my arms hastily around Mother. “Thank you, Mother. Thank you, thank you, and thank you. You are the best. I love you!”
Surprised, she daintily taps my back. “You—you are very welcome, my dear. Now, let me continue. I will let you girls go on one condition.”
“Yes?” I ask eagerly.
“You must promise to help your father earn the money to be able to send Alexander and I to America. Do you understand?”
“Yes! Of course, Mother, of course.” I cry.
“We will work our hardest and get you to America, Mother.” Beatrice adds with a broad smile.
The next days are some of the slowest I have ever experienced in my short 15 years. Then finally comes the day that we board the Titanic; Wednesday, April 10th, 1912, such a momentous day. Beatrice and I start packing early in the morning. The Titanic is to set sail at noon. We are close enough to walk to South Hampton where we will be boarding
I take my time packing. I put my journal wrapped in my favorite blanket in the pocket on the front of my suit case. I packed my clothes slowly relishing the moment because I knew I would probably never come back. I zipped it up and slowly turned in a circle, taking in my room. It was small with a large window. I had always loved sitting in that window seat. I used to sit and read novels all day or write in my diary. I smiled. My smile faded. This room held just as many bad memories as good. I would be slightly happy to leave it and start anew. It was time to start a new chapter and I would start by leaving the place where I had spent the most time. I quietly closed the door, soaking in the nostalgia of my room. The door closed… and another opened.
The ocean smelled delightful, salty and fresh. It was a sunny and warm. Not uncommon for Southampton which seemed to be the only sunny city in England. We came upon the dock and I stopped mouth agape. There floating at the dock was the most magnificent ship I have ever seen in my life. It was huge. It was the largest thing I had ever seen in my life. It looked fit for a queen. A majority of the ship was painted a glossy black that I swear you could see your reflection in and the hull was a bright white. It was dazzling.
Still gaping, we slowly made our way through the crowds to the ticket holder who took our tickets. Then we were on. We walked slowly around the deck. It was enormous. We never would have made it around the deck before sunset. We slowly made our way to our second class rooms. I didn’t know we had so much money as to buy a second class boarding but Mother said that she wanted us to enjoy our ride and that was another unspoken reason why she had just let us go.
We finally found our room, D13. I wasn’t superstitious but I knew Beatrice was and I knew she wouldn’t be happy to have the number thirteen for her room. It was quite nice to be honest. We didn’t get hot or cold water preferences but we did get a nice wash basin that was attached to the wall. That was in the path of the door. To the left was a bunk bed with a floral curtain that could be pulled across. Then on the right was a couch bed that could be pushed into the wall. Above that were cabinets. There was much floor space.
We set sail not long after we got settled and had unpacked. We slowly made our way to the hull and stood. It was magical. I felt free. The wind was whipping my hair around. I turned and smiled at Beatrice. She had a frown plastered on her pale pretty face.
“What’s wrong? Isn’t it wonderful?” I ask, confused.
“It’s incredible but I just have a bad feeling, like something bad is going to happen.” She replied brow furrowed.
I sigh, “Is this because of your silly superstition?”
“NO,” she says defensively. “It’s just a feeling.”
“Well, good job raining on my parade, Be. Try and not be all haunted and dreary the whole trip. Do that for me.”
She turns to me and fixes me with a glare. “I will make this trip delightfull dear sister.”
At 6:30 PM we stop at Cherbourg, France. I only get a glance but from what I see I know I will have to visit France someday. We eat dinner in a large dining room. The food was excellent. I had fresh lobster. It was delicious then I listened to the orchestra play.
Finally I decided I was tired and slowly walked down to my cabin. Beatrice was already there writing a letter to her sweetheart Simon White who is currently training to be a glass maker. He’s trying to earn money to go to America.
I settle down on my bed (I bribed Beatrice to let me have the top bunk) and opened up my journal.
“April 10th, 1912
Dear Diary,” I wrote.
“We are on the Titanic. It is the end of day one. We stopped in Cherbourg, France. I didn’t get to get off the ship but I got to look over the deck. I would love to go to France someday. We are going to stop in Queenstown, Ireland tomorrow and pick up more then we are off to New York.
Beatrice is acting really strange. I am afraid she is becoming too superstitious. First of all she is worried because we are in room D13. Then she says she has a bad feeling about this ship. I do not know why she believes it her personal mission in life to ruin all the happy moments. It is quite irritating.
I hope she stops.
Anyway, I fear it is late, dear diary, so I shall close this entry.
“April 14, 1912
It seems like I haven’t written in days.
The voyage so far has been wonderful. The food is delightful and delicious and the orchestra is always playing something pleasant. The rooms are nice and I haven’t yet gotten sick yet. I have come to really love the gentle rocking.
The weather has been awful and chilly but in a strange way beautiful.
Beatrice has never let up and been happy even when a young man started trying to woo her. She is being ridiculous. She keeps saying she has an awful feeling something bad is going to happen. I think she is just a little sick.
I am quite tired and stuff so I think I will go to sleep.”
I lie down and go to turn off the light when I see Beatrice sitting on the ground.
“Be, what are you doing?”
“I—I’m sitting.” She replies shakily.
“Pray tell, why are you sitting when you should be sleeping in bed?”
“Bridget, I have this horrid feeling that something awful is going to happen tonight. I do not know what it is but I know that something bad is going to happen. I just know. It is going to awful Bridget, just awful. I—I’m scared.” A tear slips down her cheek.
I hastily get down and sit down beside her. I slip my arm around her thin shoulders.
“It is going to be fine. We are going to be fine. Don’t worry. Just go to sleep. “
She slowly gets up and lies down. I sit with her, stroking her soft hair until I hear her quiet snores.
I sit in bed for what seems like hours. I am troubled. Beatrice scared? Sure Beatrice was horribly superstitious but never was she as scared as she just was. I have no idea whether I should be worried about what might happen or about Beatrice. I do not know if she will last for the rest of the voyage. I almost wish whatever bad she believes is coming would come so as to let her rest peacefully.
It was late. I hadn’t slept much but I knew it was late.
I slowly got down from my bed and opened the door. A maid stood at the threshold.
“Miss, I need to ask you to come onto the deck. Put on your life belt and come to the safety demonstration.”
I frowned and walked over to Beatrice.
“Be, we need to go up on deck for a safety demonstration. Help me get the life belts.”
Her eyes flew open. “It’s happening.”
“What is Beatrice?” I asked sighing impatiently.
“What I’ve been telling you about. It’s happening.”
“Well, there is no way to stop it. Let’s go.”
I pulled her out of bed and we grabbed the life belts. I was just about to walk out when I quickly grabbed our jackets and my journal.
I put the jacket in Beatrice’s hand and she hastily pulled it on.
We walked in a daze, following the crowds of people moving up to the deck. When we came out on the deck I saw many annoyed looking people without their life belts.
“It will take more than an iceberg to me out of bed.” I saw one man say to a steward.
Beatrice grabbed my hand. “Iceberg.”
“What are you talking about Beatrice? You are tired.”
“No. No. We hit an iceberg.”
“You are really tired, Be. I’m going to wait until they tell us what to do. I am not going to decide anything over your half asleep intuition.” I retorted angrily. She was starting to get on my nerves with her cryptic whispers.
I looked around. I saw many young boys playing soccer with large chunks of ice. The musicians had set up their instruments in the lounge near the deck. Then I saw a steward stand on one of the chairs and yell, “Ladies and gents, I just want to tell you that there is nothing to worry about. The life belts are just a precaution.”
Beatrice snorts, “As if.”
I turned to tell her to shut her mouth when I saw the crew members start swinging life boats over the side of the ships.
It was that moment that I learned that we truly were in danger. Almost instantly people started yelling. Frantically collecting their children and some started crying. I could see the stewards trying to calm them down. Some ran back inside, probably to get their belongings. I stood, numbness filling me not just from the cold.
“Please. Listen up, women and children first.”
I was pushed forward by the crowd towards a waiting life boat.
“Put on a dress, honey. We’re leaving.” One woman said, attempting humor. Her husband quickly shushed her.
“Lifeboats! What do they need of lifeboats?” another woman cried. “This ship could smash a hundred icebergs and not feel it.”
The ship had already begun to slant a slight bit towards the bow. The lifeboats seemed miniscule compared to the sheer size of the Titanic. Wasn’t this ship unsinkable?
Then I realized I was holding nothing. I quickly turned around. Beatrice was gone. Where could she have gone?
“Beatrice!” I screamed into the crowd. All I heard was the cries and yells of the frantic passengers.
“C’mere girl, you needa get in a boat.” A man said to me pushing me roughly towards a lifeboat.
“But sir, my sister—I can’t find her. I need to keep her with me.”
“Too late, girl, you gotta get in the boat.” He replied with a final shove.
I sat down, tears stinging my eyes. All I could do was pray that Beatrice made it onto a boat. The tears began to freely fall as the ship started to tip even more. As the lifeboat filled up more and more my hope began to dwindle. It was awful and Beatrice knew something was going to happen. I should have listened to her.
“We have been living together for many years. Where you go, I go. As we have lived, so will we die together.” A woman said, as my life boat slowly was lowered into the dark sea.
The word “awful” was spinning in circles in my head. Our boat dropped into the water as the orchestra started playing hymns. This seemed to calm some while as others in my boat started to sob.
Not far from the ship we stopped at the gawked at the incredible sight; the unsinkable Titanic almost halfway in the water, halfway out. It looked as if the Titanic was sliding out of ocean. How I wished that was the case.
We started rowing again only to stop once more. The orchestra still plucking out hymns the Titanic began to sink swiftly into the sea. A huge wave swept over the deck silencing the terrified screams and cries.
Deeper it sank, furniture and bodies sliding along with it. The lights slowly blinked out as the Titanic broke into two. It was distressing sight. Many of the people started sobbing my boat. The stern settled for a second then it sank rapidly into the murky black water. In another moment, the unsinkable Titanic was gone.
Still people cried out for help. Gut wrenching it was. The screams running circles in my head, ringing in my ears, I couldn’t help the tears streaming down my face. They were warm against the cold air.
We kept rowing. After about twenty minutes the cries stopped. The silence was the most horrible sound in the world. It was the silence of the dead, the sound of catastrophe and disaster. I shuddered and kept rowing still hoping that maybe Beatrice would have made it.
For what seemed like hours we rowed. The sounds of the pitiful screams of death seemed to have never stopped. Even though I knew nothing was there I kept looking back. All of a sudden we saw a rocket shoot up from a ship. We all began to shout and wave our arms. Never had I been so relieved in my life. I was cold and exhausted.
Finally the boat came near us. The Carpathia threw down ladders. I waited my turn and slowly climbed up. Limbs shaking I was pulled up and a warm blanket was wrapped around me and a steaming mug placed in my blue hands.
I slowly walked around the deck, studying the faces of the Titanic passengers huddled together with identical blankets and mugs, searching; searching for the familiar black curls and pale pointed face and blue eyes. I found nothing.
Finally after the last life boat was rescued I sank to me with a sob. She was gone, gone forever. What would I say to Mother? Father? Simon? What would I do? My only sister, the only person I felt I could talk to other than my diary. She had known something would happen, she had tried to warn me and she herself had fallen victim to something she had predicted. And that, that was the worst part of all.
“What is your name?” the smart looking man with a small brown hat with a paper saying, “Press” tucked into the brim asked me.
“Bridget Clarke.” I reply.
“How old are you?”
“15, sir.” I answer, surprised by the number. It seems I have lived far more years.
“Ah, very young; what was it like on the Titanic?”
“It was… incredible. Brilliant, stunning, unforgettable; even though I wasn’t first class it was beautiful. For sure one of a kind, huge—“
I snort. “Far from it.
“No ship is unsinkable, Mr…?”
“No ship is unsinkable, Mr. Jones. It was a silly thing to call it that but who was to know? It is sad that to prove the fact that no ship is unsinkable we had to witness such a catastrophic event. “
“Interesting… well said.
What was it like when it finally sunk?”
I pause and take a moment to ponder that night. I relive it every night; vivid nightmares. “It was terrific, unreal. I almost wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. It just seemed so impossible at the moment. The orchestra playing, the lights blinking out, the screams of people as the ship tipped all the way up and sunk into the water… just awful.”
“I’ve heard the silence afterwards was a silence that is unlike any other, would you agree?”
“Absolutely, the silence was unreal. It was absolutely quiet yet at the same time it was horribly loud. You could still hear the screams of the people—I still can.”
“Do you regret going on the Titanic?”
Ah, the question I had pondered ever since I had arrived in New York. After seeing my father’s crushed face, the funeral without the body, the letters of sorrow, the sobs, all the things I hated and had hoped would not happen for a long time. I breathe deeply, taking my time to formulate an answer that will satisfy this probing man.
“No. I don’t.” He raises his eyebrows.
“Sure I lost family and it was a traumatizing experience. But I grew, I learned, I made memories. I got to see the great Titanic. Sure it wasn’t unsinkable but it was still magnificent. I still traveled to America where I could start my new life. It was a treacherous journey. I was thrown into the water and caught in a current that if I swam against would just make it worse so I had to go with it and deal with what happened and get the most out of it. Fate is a cruel thing but it doesn’t happen ‘just because’. There is a reason that this happened to me, it is my duty to find out why it happened.”