© 1998 Bobette Bryan
"Captain, please help me. I've been searching the ship all morning, but I can't find my son!"
"I'll have one of the stewards assist you as soon as possible, Madame." Smith replied, but he didn't summon a steward. Instead, he turned back toward the port window, staring out as if mesmerized. And the woman, strangely satisfied with the Captain's reply, took a seat at one of the First Class dining room tables where she began to chat gaily with her companions.
All the while, the music droned on like usual as the band played, Beautiful Dreamer.
These events all served to ignite Andrew's ire. He was known for his coolness in even the most dire situations, but he’d finally reached his breaking point. Sitting his attaché case down, he exclaimed: "Good God! Don't any of you realize what happened? Don't you realize how very long we've been here?"
No one in the long, elegant dining roomanswered, but everyone turned to gap at the man who stood near the Captain.
Andrews, an engineer from Harland and Wolff, the Irish shipping company that had devised and built the great ship, was a wise and respected man. Everyone liked him—perhaps because he was always willing to lend an ear and offer a bit of honest advice. And then, he certainly possessed a fair amount of charisma and charm. Though he often had his nose in his papers which he always carried with him, people were invariably drawn to him. Often the passengers and crew alike had sought him in times of trouble during the ship's maiden voyage to New York. When he spoke everyone listened and generally accepted his advice without question.
Yet now, they were looking at him as if he’d gone mad!
Millionaire John Jacob Astor, full of his own self-importance, was the first who dared break the stifling silence. "I don't know what you're talking about, sir. We only left Europe four days ago."
Andrews pounded a table with a fist, the action serving to draw a gasp from a few of the ladies who looked at each other conspiratorially and shook their heads. But this reaction didn’t prevent him from speaking his piece. "Oh, you're really off the bat, sir! We've been here some 87 years."
Astor let out a long roll of laughter, alone at first, but soon, the others joined in.
"Listen to him, everyone. Just listen to him." came an authorative voice.
Andrews turned to see Benjamin Guggenheim enter the room. Andrews had always respected the man. The fine cut of his clothes and the sure way he comported himself testified that he was obviously in Astor’s monetary league, yet he seemed to possess an inner warmth and sincerity that Astor lacked.
"Don't any of you have the odd sense that you've been here before?" Guggenheim continued.
Astor merely rolled his eyes and slowly shook his dark head as he leaned back comfortably in his chair. "It's called deja vu, old man, something I’m sure we’ve all experienced many times in our lives."
"No," Andrew's said, leaning on Astor’s table and staring him dead in the eyes. "We feel like we’ve been here before, because we have! We've relived this horrible day, every day for the past 87 years. We're trapped here, I tell you--locked in time and forced to continually relive a terrible catastrophe. Ask Captain smith. He knows about it. I'm sure he does!"
All eyes primed on the Captain who continued to stare blankly into nowhere as if his thoughts were miles away.
"Well, captain?" Guggenheim urged.
Slowly, Smith turned, his bearing as regal and proud as ever, his eyes sharp and penetrating. Still there was no emotion on his hard face. He remained as stoic as a cigar store Indian as he spoke. "I have no idea what Mr. Andrews is referring to," he said simply.
"Nor do I, Captain! Nor do I!" said Astor. "Perhaps, Mr. Andrews, you've been visiting the smoking room too much of late!"
Outrage painting his face red, Andrews stood and marched closer to Astor. "Sir, I've not consumed one ounce of liquor since that fateful night. I want to have my wits about me. And I tell you, as a trained engineer, part of my job is to observe my environment and look for answers to explain the physical phenomena around me. I always kept meticulous records of my observations, and over the years, I've continued to do so. Just look for yourself."
With that, Andrews retrieved the attaché case and withdrew several black leather journals which he slammed on Astor’s table before the many feasting eyes. As Astor watched on skeptically, Andrews opened the first journal to reveal several loose yellow papers with neat, tiny writing.
"What is this?" asked Astor.
"This is proof--a record of the disaster and the days following it. There are 87 entries for April 14, 1912--one for each night we've relived the disaster. I tell you, sir, the date is once again, April 14 1912. We are stuck here, sir, lost in time, and the disaster is upon us again. For us it will always be 1912 for us, though, according to my calculations, it should now be 1999 in the real world. If you'll examine all my entries, you’ll see that the day always begins and ends the same. The Titanic, strikes an iceberg at around 11:30 P.M., and she founders at about 2:20 A.m."
Everyone was quiet as Astor studied the papers beneath narrowed eyes, but it wasn't long before he tossed them back with disgust. "Good show, Andrews, old boy," he said with a chortle, "but talking such nonsense doesn't befit a man of your character. Perhaps you should see Dr. O'Loughlin."
"I don't need a doctor, damn it all! I need answers. You all need answers," he said turning toward the others. "Somewhere inside each of you, you know what I'm saying is true. Yet, you refuse to accept the terrible fate that has been cast your way!"
Andrews turned and angrily stormed toward the musicians who had just started playing, To a Wild Rose. "Why do you continually play these gay ragtime tunes? Can't you see that all is not well here? I tell you, the Titanic will sink again tonight!"
The laughter came again, more intense this time. When it died down, Mrs. Isidor Straus, an elegant older lady, who sat next to her husband at the rear of the chamber, spoke up.
"Mr. Andrews, you have my utmost admiration, sir, but I must say that I agree with Mr. Astor. Everyone knows the Titanic is unsinkable. Even Harland and Wolff say so."
"The company never said so!' Andrews rebutted.
"Shipbuilder Magazine and all the other critics gave fame to
"Obviously somewhere else on the ship!" Mrs. Straus said.
"Oh, yes, I suppose they're all just touring the ship!" Andrews rebuked. "Then I challenge you to go out to the deck and have a look for yourself, Madame. They are not there, and all of the lifeboats are gone!"
It was Astor's turn to cut back into the conversation. "There must be some other explanation, Mr. Andrews."
"Absolutely, Mr. Astor," said Mrs. Straus. "And if all you say is true, Mr. Andrews, and you've known all along that the ship sank 87 years ago, and that we're all suspended, as it were, in time, why have you only told us this news today?"
"I've told you this news, Madame, every day for the past many years," said Andrews. "But few of you listened to me then, just as few of you are listening to me now."
"Fine, then, Mr. Andrews. I'll go out on the deck and have a look for myself," said Mrs. Straus. "Maybe that will end these shenanigans."
"No, Dear. Let me go," her husband Isidor, clutched her arm as she arose.
"You heard Mr. Andrews. It's 1999. We’re approaching a new millennium, and I’d suspect that woman are given more freedom in these days. I’ll go alone…and with no chaperone!" She winked and everyone chuckled, amused—everyone except the small man seated next to her who continued to grip her arm tightly.
"Oh, let her go, Mr. Straus," said Astor with a flippant wave of his hand. "Nothing can harm her out there! All she’ll see is the deck, the ocean, and more stars than she can count"
Taking a deep breath, Straus nodded and reluctantly released his wife's arm.
Everyone watched quietly as she headed to the deck.
Then the waiting began.
Andrews collected his journals and placed them back in his attaché case, and then he began pacing nervously while the others watched on and whispered among themselves. The band, who’d continued playing, despite Andrew’s protest, began Barcarolle. But the music failed to overshadow the sound of the dining room clock…ticking, ticking, steadily ticking—yet seemingly going nowhere.
When Mrs. Straus returned, the room suddenly grew quiet--even the band quit playing. Her face was as white as rice powder, and at first, she appeared so weak that she had to grasp the table in order to stand. "He's right!" she exclaimed. "All the lifeboats are gone!"
"You've seen more, haven't you?" asked Andrews, rushing toward her.
"I don't know what you're talking about Mr. Andrews."
"Yes, you do. Tell them what you saw!"
"I told you, the lifeboats were gone."
"I was out there earlier myself. Tell them about the plague that was left as a memorial." Andrews said, tugging at her arm.
At once, Mr. Straus was up and rushing to his wife’s defense. "Unhand my wife, sir!"
Andrews did so, trying to get a grip on himself. He was losing control, and he knew it—but he absolutely must make them understand. "She knows more. She saw more. I know it. I merely want her to tell us what she saw."
"I don't know what you're talking about Mr. Andrews." Mrs. Straus said.
Andrews shook, gritting his teeth as Astor spoke. "Come now, Mr., Andrews, stop harassing the lady. There absolutely must be some other explanation."
"Why? Oh, why won't any of you listen, and accept the truth now?" Andrews asked.
"I, for one," said Astor, as blasé as usual, "have heard all I want to hear! Only a shot of whiskey, a cigar, and a hand of cards sounds appealing to me right now. Would any of you gentlemen care to accompany me to the smoking room?"
"I...I'm so cold," a little girl who sat on a piano stool next to her mother cried.
"I know. I know," her mother, brushed the golden curls from the girl’s face, then turned to face Smith. "Captain, aren't the boilers working?"
Before he could reply, Andrews was before the woman waving his
hand madly. "There are no workable boilers, Madame. Haven't you heard a word
I've said? The ship sank 87 years ago! The boilers are now growing rust at the
bottom of the ocean!"
Everyone appeared surprised that Smith, always so stoic, always so strong, lowered his head, and seemed to be on the verge of tears. A great man like him would obviously consider emotion a weakness, a fault of character, and would be loath to show an ounce of it, but finally, the man beneath the obdurate mask caved in beneath the weight of the heavy burden in his heart.
"I have a wife and a daughter. A teenage daughter. The Titanic's maiden voyage was to be my last. I wanted to retire and spend more time with them…so much to do…"
"We all had things we wanted to do, sir," said Andrews. "But, the hand of fate turned against us. And, now, you must tell these people the truth. It’s your duty to see this to the end, Captain."
Smith nodded as he looked at the many people in the large gleaming chamber. The expressions that greeted him said more than words possibly could--fear...curiosity...regret...pain...disbelief. And outright disgust. Still, Smith continued: "It was all my fault...my fault alone. I failed in my duty as Captain."
"Oh, great, now the Captain's gone mad as well," said Astor. "I swear that I’ll never book passage on the White Star Line again."
"That's a certainty, sir," said Andrews.
"Silence, both of you. Let the Captain speak!" Guggenheim said.
"I was only concerned about doing what Mr. Ismay wanted me to
do...he was, after all, the director of the White Star Line, and I didn't want
anything to interfere with my retirement or to stain my record. More than forty
years I’d faithfully served my duty at sea. When he said that he wanted the
Titanic to beat the Olympic's speed on
it's maiden voyage and make headlines, I complied though it was against my
better judgment to do so. I even failed to slow the ship after I’d received
messages from other ships that there were icebergs ahead."
A man in a white suit, who’d been inconspicuously sitting at the back of the room, rose and came toward the captain, placing a hand on the big man's shoulder. "You're only human, Captain. You only did what many a man would do in such circumstances."
Guggenheim, angry, stalked toward the two. "You're excusing him? You heard the man, he shirked his duty! A captain can never afford to shirk his duty when it comes to the safety of the souls aboard his vessel!"
"I agree," said another. "A captain should always put the safety of his passengers first!"
"We all make mistakes," the man in white said. "And some things are predestined. Perhaps the ship would have sank no matter what the captain did."
"Predestined? What do you mean?" asked Guggenheim.
"I mean that God decides some things for his own reasons...reasons we can't always understand."
"Then I suppose you'd excuse him as well," the woman at the piano said, pointing at Andrews, "when he's the one who designed this blasted ship?"
"There's no need to point fingers," said Andrews. "I take my share of the blame. I knew every square inch of this ship and all her faults. I knew that the metal wasn't strong enough for a ship of this size. I knew it became brittle in freezing temperatures. I knew that there were not enough lifeboats for everyone as well. And, God help me, I unsuccessfully tried to persuade Lord Pririe to add more, but perhaps I should have tried harder. Of course, I now know that the water-tight seals should have gone higher. She was designed to float with four of her five compartments flooded, but, you see, it didn't seem probable for this to happen. But...I’m sorry...for my part in this. I'm sorry that I failed in my job."
Now the man in white was coming toward him. "You're being too hard on yourself, Mr. Andrews. You were a fine engineer and ship designer, the very best, and this ship was a miraculous creation, the finest on the ocean--maybe the finest that ever crossed the ocean even to this day. And you were not the only one who put too much faith in machines and too little faith in God. At that time, the whole world was guilty of that!'
"He's right. Buck up, old boy," said a man at another table. "You might have failed in your job, but never in your duty. The Captain, on the other hand, failed in both!"
The accusation created a tension that hung over the room like a heavy cloud, but Guggenheim, in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere, smiled and slapped Andrews across the back. "Anyway, it all came out all right in the end. The ship sank, but we're all here, and we're fine."
A gasp filled the chamber suddenly as the undesirable truth dawned on the crowd. Everyone looked at the man in white and at Andrews. The thought of death was perhaps the one they'd dreaded the most—the one that they’d all buried deep within.
All of them except Andrews.
He merely shook his head before he deigned to enlighten them. "No, you see, it's not all right. The ship sank, and there were not enough life boats. We....each and every one of us...are dead!"
"That's a lie!' snapped Astor, suddenly rising from his chair. "Why look at me. Look at yourselves. We all look as well as ever!"
"Take another look." said the man in white. "You're all only seeing what you want to see. You're all translucent--a mere hazy, smoky image of what you once were. Few other living beings could see you, for you no longer have living, breathing bodies. You no longer have shape, mass or form. The ocean claimed all of you on October 15, 1912 at 2:20 A.M., or shortly thereafter, and your mortal shells have long since vanished from the earth."
"And look at the ship," added Andrews. "Really look at the ship! You're all only seeing what you want to see, what you want to believe. You imagine yourself on some luxurious cruise, the Titanic a floating palace slicing through the blue-black ocean with sunny skies above, but in reality, the ship is approximately some 21 knots under the sea, and is a terrible wreck, broken in two and dripping with rust, her contents scattered over several miles. Why, even the fine wood work that once covered these walls—wood so lovingly hand-carved by the Belfast carpenters--is no more."
"I don't want to see it. I can't bear to see her that way!" said the Captain, removing his cap and urgently running his hand over his balding head.
"That's all right," said the man in white. "You don't have to. Remember her how she was if it will ease the pain in your heart and soul. It's your right. Only, you must accept the truth now."
"I do accept the truth. I did that night...only...I couldn't bear the guilt of it all...and so I choose to stay here...with these people whom I greatly wronged."
"But this man says the sinking was God's choice, Captain, not your fault," Guggenheim said before he turned to the man in white. "But if it was God's choice, sir, then why? Why would God want to destroy this ship and the many souls upon it?"
"To teach man a lesson, Mr. Guggenheim. It took the death of some 1,500 people to open eyes. It's like one of the survivors, said, 'the world woke up on April 15, 1912."
"At the launching," a lady at the back of the room spoke up, "one of the White Star employees said that ‘Not even God himself could sink this ship.’"
"Correct," said the man in white.
"But if God wanted to teach us a lesson, sir, wouldn't there be a better way to do so rather than take 1,500 lives?" asked Guggenheim.
"God tried, and even warned everyone of what was to come, but the world refused to listen. I believe that in 1874, poet Celia Thaxter wrote a poem about a ship that struck an iceberg. There were not enough lifeboats on the ship and everyone died. W.T. Snead also wrote about a sea disaster caused by a lifeboat shortage. And, God was speaking in Morgan Robertson's ear when the writer penned the novella, Futility."
"I read that story," one of the female passengers piped in. "A friend gave it to me shortly before the trip as a joke of sorts. It was about a British ship called the Titan. She hit an iceberg on the starboard side in April, and was roughly the size of Titanic, even having a similar number of passengers aboard."
"Yes," said the man in white. "But again, the world refused to heed the warning, certain that technology, modern machines, were impervious to the grace of God, and it was imperative that man remember his ultimate benefactor. Though the loss of life was great, the impact of the tragedy on mankind's thinking was much greater. People remember the disaster even today. "
While the others pondered this, the little girl approached the man with a shy smile and tugged at his sleeve. "What’s your name, sir?"
Now all eyes were on the man as everyone silently pondered the little girl’s question.
"The girl has a good question," said Andrews. "Sometimes, it has been difficult for me to think--to remember, but I know that I’ve never seen you here before. Who are you, sir?"
"I'm the one who has always been here to guide and help you, to relieve your suffering. The world thought, perhaps, that God turned his back on you in 1912, but he did not. He merely wanted to wait...until you were all ready to join him. Ladies and gentleman, your loved ones are waiting. Finally you'll be reunited. Follow me, and I'll take you to them."
Astor's eyes were huge. "Madeline is waiting?" he asked. "After all this time?'
"Yes, Mr. Astor, Madeline and your son. He has always wanted to meet his father."
"Then it was a boy!" Astor said, as if thinking out loud. "Not being there for her when the child was born has been the heaviest burden for me to bear all of these years. I knew when I put her on the lifeboat that I'd never see her again, or hold my child in my arms. To think...that I’ll finally see them at last."
Andrews patted Astor on the shoulder warmly, all traces of the earlier animosity gone. He knew exactly how Astor felt, he too had left behind a pregnant wife. And how difficult it had been to pass the years aboard the ship, knowing that somewhere out there was a child he’d never see or hold.
Looking around at the others, it seemed to Andrews that everyone here had given up something dear…that some chapter in their lives had been not been completed.
Like him, the others were deep in thought. But there were no more questions, and for now, there were no more answers. Each man, woman, and child was satisfied with this turn of events, and hopeful for the first time in ages.
Even John Jacob Astor.
And each, eagerly awaited this long anticipated reunion with their friends and family, wanting so desperately to put April, 1912 out of their minds forever.
Slowly, they each arose and made their way to the upper deck.
There they moved toward the starboard bow where a great wall of splendid light
"After you, Captain…" said Andrews, holding out his arm for Smith to pass."
"No, you go first." Smith replied. "As the Captain of the vessel, I suppose it’s only fitting that I stay until I’m sure that the others have safely disembarked."
Andrew’s nodded. He understood the Captain’s dedication to duty completely. He turned to the man in white. "She was such a fine ship that I suppose that even God hated to destroy her!" said Andrews.
"I suppose, you're right, Mr. Andrews. I suppose you're right," the man in white replied, as Andrews stepped into the warm and comforting light, the man in white and the Captain behind him, Then, once again, the ocean floor was cold and dark. But at last, the Titanic disaster came to a close for these last few survivors.
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