The Last Journey of Titanic
By Bobette Bryan
“Watching the great ship fly up,
and up, and up against the night
was an awakening, a vivid flash
of—something like God,
something More powerful
than nature itself. And it is us.
And we know. We who have seen.”
–Author and scientist, Charles Pellegrino, Ph.D,
at the launch of Challenger, August 30, 1983
“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 said, but he never moved to summon a steward. Instead, he turned back toward the port window, staring out as if mesmerized. And the woman, strangely satisfied with his reply, took a seat at one of the first-class dining room tables where she chatted gaily with her well-dressed companions.
All the while, music droned on like usual as the band played, “Beautiful Dreamer.”
These events 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 on the table, 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 elegant dining room answered, but everyone turned to gap at the man who stood at the head of the Captain’s table.
Andrews, an engineer from Harland and Wolff, an Irish shipping company who’d 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 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 to break the stifling silence. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, sir. We only left Europe four days ago.”
Andrews pounded the 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 the 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 stared at him for a moment, then let out a long roll of laughter. Soon, the others joined in.
“Listen to him, everyone. Just listen to him,” came an authoritative voice.
Andrews turned to see Benjamin Guggenheim enter the lavish chamber. Andrews had always respected the man. The fine cut of his clothes and the sure way he comported himself testified that he was 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 said.
Astor merely rolled his eyes and slowly shook his dark head as he leaned back in his over-stuffed 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, staring Astor 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 said.
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.”
“Nor do I, Captain! Nor do I!” said Astor, ending the statement with a chuckle. “Perhaps, Mr. Andrews, you’ve been visiting the smoking room too much of late.”
Outrage painting his face red, Andrews 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 case and withdrew several leather journals, which he slammed on the table before Astor, many feasting eyes watching on. Astor straightened his shoulders, sighed, his expression conveying skepticism, nevertheless, Andrews opened the first journal to reveal several papers with neat, tiny writing and placed them before the man.
“What is this?” said 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 yet again. For us, it will always be 1912, though, according to my calculations, it should now be 1999 in the real world. If you’ll examine 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, roughly, 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 waving his hand toward the others as he strolled around the table. “Somewhere, inside each of you, you know what I’m saying is true. Yet, you refuse to accept the terrible fate that has befallen you.”
Andrews turned and angrily stormed toward the musicians who had just started playing, “To a Wild Rose.”
“Why do you continually play the same songs over and over? Can’t you see that all is not well here? I tell you, the Titanic will sink again tonight!”
Laughter spewed from the crowd again, more intense this time. When it died down, Mrs. Isidor Straus, an elegant, older lady, who sat beside 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 yelled, waving his hands. “Shipbuilder Magazine and all the other critics gave fame to that nonsense!’
There was silence for a few minutes until Guggenheim spoke. “If Mr. Andrews is wrong, then where are the others–the woman and the children? Look around you, the majority of us are men here. I, for one, haven’t seen my wife in ages—so long ago, that I can no longer remember our parting. And where’s Mr. Ismay? Where’s Office Lightoller? Where are the others? ”
“Obviously somewhere else on the ship,” Mrs. Straus said, hands on her hips.
“Oh, yes, I suppose they’re all just touring the ship,” Andrews said. “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.”
“There must be some other explanation, Mr. Andrews,” said Astor.
“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 doomed or suspended, as it were, why have you only told us this news today?”
“I’ve told you this news 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.” 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 these days. I’ll go alone…and with no chaperone.” Ida winked, and everyone chuckled, amused—everyone except the small man seated beside 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 Ida’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 attache 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 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. Isador arose to help her back into her chair, but she waved him away.
“He’s right. All the lifeboats are gone.”
“You’ve seen more. Haven’t you?” Andrews dashed 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 plaque.”
“What plague?” Ida said, eyes huge.
“The plaque that was left as a memorial.” Andrews gripped Ida’s arms, shaking her
At once, Mr. Straus rushed to his wife’s defense. “Unhand my wife, sir!”
Andrews did, sucking in a long breath and 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 already told you. 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?” Andrews asked no one in particular.
“I, for one,” said Astor, 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 at present. 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 hands 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!”
Next he moved toward the captain, whose head was lowered as if in shame. “Why don’t you tell them, Captain? Tell them the truth. You owe them that much. There’s much you have to say, and you’ve been silent for so long. Yet I know, that you, like me, have an unbearable weight on your shoulders.”
Everyone appeared surprised that Smith, always so stoic, always so strong, lowered his head and seemed to be on the verge of tears. A man like Smith 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 he carried.
“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 gazed apprehensively at the many questing faces. 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 with his wishes though it was against my better judgment. I even failed to slow the ship after I’d received many messages from other ships that there were icebergs ahead…”
The room filled with gasps, silence, and sobs.
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 abandon his good sense when it comes to the safety of the souls on board his vessel!”
“I agree,” said another. “A captain should always put the safety of his passengers first.”
“We’re all flawed, and 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, alone, 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 Pirrie 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 such a disaster to happen. But…I’m sorry…for my part in this. I’m sorry that I failed in my job toward all of you.”
Now the man in white was shuffling 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. 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 horrendous gasp filled the chamber 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 and couldn’t accept.
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, rising from his chair. “Why look at me. Look at yourselves. We all look as hale 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 April 15, 1912 at 2:20 A.M., or shortly thereafter, and your mortal shells have long since perished.”
“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 many 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.
“It’s all right,” said the man in white. “You don’t have to. Remember her the way she was if it will ease the pain in your heart. 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 so 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.'”
A lady at the back of the room spoke up, “”At the launching, one of the White Star employees said that Not even God himself could sink this ship.”
“He did,” said the man in white, “but he was wrong.”
“But if God wanted to teach us a lesson, sir,” said Guggenheim, “wouldn’t there be a better way to do so rather than to take 1,500 lives?”
“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 directly 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 God’s will. Mankind must remember their ultimate benefactor, must remember that they are nothing without Him. Though the loss of life was great, the impact of the tragedy on world 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?”
The tension picked up in the room as everyone pondered the girl’s simple question.
“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.”
“He’s an angel,” said the girl.
The man in white smiled and patted her head, then he turned back to the eager audience.
“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 cheerfully.
“It was,” said the man in white.
“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 be reunited with them.”
“You will, sir,” said the man in white.
Andrews patted Astor on the shoulder warmly, all traces of their 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 ill-fated ship, knowing that, somewhere out there, was a child he’d never see or hold.
Gazing at the others in the chamber, it seemed to Andrews that everyone had given up something dear, had made the ultimate sacrifice, leaving behind some major chapter in their lives that had never been completed.
Like him, the others appeared to be deep in thought, a moment of intense introspection. But no more questions were expressed and, for now, the man in white offered 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 suddenly appeared.
As the man in white beckoned, each person stepped within the warmth to become one with the comforting rays. Only Captain Smith and Andrews lagged behind, each turning to give the ship one last, long look before turning back to the man in white.
“After you, Captain…” said Andrews, holding out his arm for Smith to pass.”
“No, you go first.” Smith said. “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.”
“I suppose, you’re right, Mr. Andrews. I suppose you’re right.”
Andrews stepped into the warm and comforting light, then Smith, fell in behind him. Once again, the ocean floor was cold and dark. But at last, the Titanic disaster had come to a close for its last survivors.
© 1998 Bobette Bryan