Note: This is a short story which has been based on a factual event, the sinking of the Titanic. It is designed to show people what the “middle” class of people witnessed, as in nearly all the stories about the Titanic, the emphasis was placed on the First and the Third class section of Titanic, but hardly ever the Second class. This story is written in the 1st person, told through a fictional character I have created, to show you what it was actually like to be on that doomed ship that night.----
The night was cold, bitterly cold. I stood on the ship’s boat deck, looking out into the black starry night. There before me, the grey steely Atlantic stretched before me as far as the naked eye could see, no other sign of life on its barren surface except us.As every second ticked past, America drew nearer and nearer to us. I was heading to the State of California once I reached New York, as days before, I received word that I was now an Uncle. My sister and her husband had fled the quaint English lifestyle to settle over in the grand United States, and were now establishing their family there. When the news reached me of the new arrival, I booked myself on the first fast Ocean Liner I could find. It just so happened that on the week I booked, The White Star Line’s biggest most luxurious ship was to sail. They called her the Titanic.
As the time drew nearer midnight, I decided to turn in for the night, and leave behind me the deserted boat deck. My cosy cabin now called me, with the luxury of a very comfortable bed, and an electric heater. The Second class accommodation I was staying in was so grand, you could quite easily mistake it for First. It seemed like every whim was catered for us, nothing was too much trouble. I lay on the slightly trembling bunk, listening to the powerful machinery propel the ship further and further. My eyelids started to gently close, and I started to drift into a well needed sleep…I suddenly awoke with a Jolt. I looked around the cabin wildly, thinking someone had forced their way in, but nothing was there. The cabin was as dark and peaceful as normal, yet something felt subtly different. I dropped my feet from the bunk onto the floor, and looked round. All I could hear were voices, then I realised something which started to unnerve me.
Titanic’s massive engines had ground to a halt, leaving us motionless in the water. I heard stewards in the corridor, reassuring nervous passengers that we had possibly stopped for the night due to hazardous conditions. A peek round the door confirmed half the passengers were standing outside in the corridor in haphazardly thrown on clothes, with stewards marching up and down between them. Every so often, an officer would pass through to the lower decks, his face carefully composed to resemble a wax mask, as to be expressionless.I returned to the cabin and started to dress once again. I put on warm clothes, as I was going to brave the windy boat deck to see what was going on up there. I was just reaching for my coat when a loud knocking started on my door, accompanied by shouting. It was our cabin steward shouting orders. I listened carefully, and the words which followed cast serious doubt onto the safeness of the ship.
“ALL PASSENGERS ARE TO DRESS IN WARM CLOTHES, AND PUT ON YOUR LIFEBELTS WHICH WILL BE FOUND ON YOUR WARDROBES. ALL PASSENGERS WILL THEN PROCEED TO MUSTER STATIONS, I REPEAT MUSTER STATIONS. YOUR MUSTER STATION IS LOCATED ON THE STARBOARD BOAT DECK, NEXT TO THE AFT-CLUSTER OF LIFEBOATS!!”This horrendous order was been shouted up and down the corridor. I quickly opened my wardrobe, and brought down my bulky canvas lifejacket. It took some difficulty in fastening, as it was made of thick cork wrapped in canvas. When fastened, it made walking quite difficult due to the weight. When I opened the cabin door, I saw crew positioned round the cabin doors, shepherding lines of confused looking passengers down to the stairs at the end. I locked the door, and followed.
As I was climbing the stairs, something again had changed about the ship. My feet didn’t land where they normally landed when climbing stairs. They were landing more forward, like the ship was starting to tilt. Each person had their own theory about what the emergency was. Some thought it was a very inconvenient lifeboat drill, some thought the ships propellers had snapped, and other thought we had crashed into an iceberg. Either, Titanic was equipped with watertight compartments, so we all felt sure that we were all safe on this ship, even if she had crashed.As I opened the door opening to the boat deck, strange sounds caught my ears. I heard the creaking of ropes, the crackling of canvas, and the shuffle of many feet. When I stepped out into the cold night air, I noticed the boat deck was crowded, and the stewards were guiding people up to the raised sun platform, with the call of “Please let the sailors have some room to work in.”
Room to work in? I felt sure they were not painting rails or sweeping decks at this time of night. I stepped onto the sun deck, and looked directly in the view of the lifeboats, and looked in amazement at the activity. The four lifeboats which were normally stood there unnoticed were surrounded by crew members. Stewards were bustling around, taking canvas off the covers and loading them with bread and blankets, whilst sailors were hauling ropes through the blocks, lifting the boats off the deck and lowering to deck level.All of a sudden, an explosion happened near us. We all turned round in fright, and saw the sky and the ship lit up in a bright purple blaze of stars and smoke. A distress rocket had just been fired, illuminating the sky with brilliant colours. As I pieced together the situation, the truth seemed to get more and more dire by the second. Passengers ordered to muster stations, lifeboats being swung out and distress rockets been fired? To cap it all off, that slight list under our feet seemed to be getting more pronounced. I turned to a wall, closed my eyes and silently prayed.
The sound of music started to reach my ears, a light cheery tune that was quite calming. Apparently, the band had set themselves up down the forward end of the boat deck, and had started to play light soothing melodies to try and distract the passengers. The music swept round the boat deck, and started to cause amusement to the passengers. People started to tap their feet on the deck, and I even saw an elderly couple start to dance together!Suddenly, an officer’s whistle blew from beside the boats. He stood there, waving his hands towards us. We obediently trooped down the steps and lined up round him. Obviously, more orders were to follow, as crew were grouping themselves together to get ready for action. Slowly, the officer picked up his megaphone towards us, and started to bark orders to us. Orders which meant safety for some, but a great loss to others..
“ALL MEN ARE TO STAND BACK WELL CLEAR OF THE LIFEBOATS. WILL ALL WOMEN PLEASE MOVE TO THE ENLCOSED PROMENADE ON A-DECK. PLEASE REMAIN CALM. THE CREW WILL DIVIDE THE WOMEN AND CHILDREN INTO GROUPS AND YOU WILL BE PLACED INTO LIFEBOATS MOMENTAIRILY. THE MEN WILL FOLLOW IN LIFEBOATS WHEN THE WOMEN AND CHILDREN HAVE EVACUATED.”There was complete uproar at these words. Women and children started to cling to their partners and fathers, men started to shout angrily at the crew, and people started to go pale and clammy, guessing that we were in serious danger. I felt someone tap on my back, and I looked round. It was a quartermaster that I met on deck a couple of days ago, and we had a conversation about the ship. Now his normal weather-beaten skin looked harassed and sweaty, and his hands were slightly trembling.
He led me to one side, and he started to tell me the truth. The conversation we had was one which will stay in my memory forever more. It contained truth so terrible about the situation we were in that I did not want to believe any of it.“What’s all this about?” I asked
“It’s serious”, he replied, “We hit a large iceberg about an hour ago, and it has caused fatal damage below. Six of the watertight compartments were breached, and the water is rapidly filling over the bulkhead tops. The designer, Mr Andrews, has given the ships another hour maximum to survive.”“What about the lifeboats?” I enquired
He shook his head gravely and warned me first, “Please do not circulate any of this information. The Captain does not want any passengers to be informed of this, in order to prevent a panic.”
“Certainly, I will not tell a soul” I assured him
“Thanks for letting me know the truth”, I said“No problem. Please, take my advice,” he said “Help out with the lifeboats; it might earn you more respect”. He turned, and left me to start the evacuation procedure. The news left me sick in the stomach. My own life was in the balance now, so to keep myself occupied, I started down to the promenade deck where lifeboat 9 was hanging.
It was harrowing work, trying to drag the ladies and children away from their men. We reassured them patiently, and one by one each woman left their partners side. Children were easier to load; we just told them they were going for an adventure. After about fifteen minutes of coaxing, the first lifeboat in the cluster had 45 people in it, and the officer gave the order to lower it.I stood and listened to the ghostly creaking of ropes sliding through the davit rails, watching the flimsy wooden boat jolt down. It had just reached B-Deck when a commotion broke out. Some male passengers came running across the deck and tried to jump in from the deck. Me and two crew members locked arms, and blocked their way through the promenade windows. We scuffled, and sent them flying to the other side of the deck, with the shout of “Women only!” They gave us a scowl, and one of them shouted “Let’s try the other side” and ran off
An Officer just appeared by my side now, asking me to go up to the boat deck. They were trying to clear lifeboats 13 and 15, and fill them from the boat deck. He asked me to go up and help there as they were short handed. As I started out on the run between decks I heard the first gunshot.On the other side of the ship, crowds of men were fighting to get in Lifeboat 12, and the officer in charge was having great difficulty in restraining them. He raised his pistol in the air, and fired a shot. He gave a warning that any man who tried to enter a lifeboat without permission would be shot. I could tell by now fear and panic were infecting the whole ship, and time was running short. Another big creak shook the ship, and the deck tilted yet further to the bows.
When I reached lifeboat 13, the confusion and terror of the passengers had been getting worse and worse. Crowds of people drove at the small boat, in which I was constantly fighting and shoving to disentangle the women and children from the men. At one time, my heart gave way, and I let a young newly-wed couple into the lifeboat together, hoping they would not be seen. The crowds screaming got worse and worse, and coupled with the noise from the distress rockets, which were now been fired every two minutes, it was deafening.As the boat got fuller and fuller, the crowd got worse and worse. Finally, after much confusion, shoving and pulling, we got around 60 people into the lifeboat. The officer came across, and shouted, “Prepare to lower”. The crew started to order the crowd to stand back clear, whilst sailors started to man the falls ready for the boats descent.
All of a sudden, the Quartermaster appeared yet again. “I’m in charge of this boat.” He said, “I will require you to help man it. Go now, before it’s too late.” We both stepped into the boat just as the officer boomed the command of “lower away”, through his megaphone.My stomach gave a lurch as the small frail lifeboat started its creaky descent to the cold sea below us. The decks, now tilted quite severely, rose higher and higher above us. All above us, people were screaming and running across decks, trying to find a chance of safety. Distress rockets boomed louder and louder, tinting the night air with a bright lilac hue, trying to call a glimmer of hope to us.
As we were one foot above the water, the boat stopped. The quartermaster called for us the look for the release pin to free the boat from the ship. We scrabbled about, trying to find it, but all to no avail. I looked up, and saw the most frightening sight of the night.Lifeboat 15 was filled and launched just after us, and was on its downward descent. Due to the forward list, lifeboat 15’s gunwale was now directly in line with our bow, and was coming down on us fast. There was a frantic cry of “Cut the Ropes!!” and everyone armed with a pocket knife launched themselves at the falls.
Just as lifeboat 15 was nearly touching our heads, we cut through our last fall. Our boat dropped into the water, drenching us in freezing cold spray. Luckily, we landing near a condenser tube, and the wash from this pushed us away from the Titanic’s side. I grabbed an oar, and we rowed as hard as we could to clear the ship and to avoid suction from the massive bows.The next half an hour is one I will carry with me to my grave. In particular, the massive ship’s sinking bow first cast such an impression in our minds. The band, now playing ragtime to keep people’s spirits up, continued to the very end. I just remember the stark contrast of the brightly lit decks, listing now severely, being swallowed by the cold Atlantic.
As the long sweeping bridge sunk beneath the waves, the band struck up their final melody. The eerie sound of “Nearer my God to Thee” haunted the still night air, lending a final harrowing end to the night. People were screaming and shouting, running across the boat deck, now cleared of the previously unnoticed boats that soon became a symbol of hope, safety and refuge for the passengers.Suddenly, a massive great shattering noise filled the air. The first funnel had now broken free of its supports, and smashed straight into the sea, sending towering waves amongst the rapidly sinking bows. Slowly and steadily, the massive stern raised itself higher and higher, revealing the Titanic’s giant propellers. People were now gathering on the rear well and poop decks, either clinging onto railings or throwing themselves into the Atlantic.
Then the final event we had been dreading happened. The hot boilers came into contact with icy water as it sank further, and caused a massive explosion due to the shock. The ships brightly lit lights flickered and died, leaving a massive black hulk in the sea. She climbed higher and higher, until she finally reached a 90 degree angle against the water. She bobbed like a cork for a few seconds, and then with a massive rush of water, she sunk into the cold grey Atlantic. The Titanic was now gone forever.I will never forget the shouts and cries of the 1,500 people left in the water, each trying to save themselves. As our boat was full, we could not return. Any more people in it and we would be in danger of capsizing, with the loss of all of us. All we could do was sit and wait and listen to horrible screaming of drowning souls.
Gradually, the screams died, finally leaving an eerie silence. All we could see was debris and bodies, all headed with a dark grey mist where the giant ship had stood. Ocean surrounded us, with the occasional glimmer of ice.As dawn started to break, we saw the best sight of the night. A rocket, obviously from a ship heading to us, blasted into the lightening sky. We jumped, and started to shout for our lives. A single funnel appeared on the horizon, and we started to row towards it. As we neared the bows, I caught a glimpse of the wreckage.
All I could see were pieces of wood, a rocking horse, deckchairs, a lifebelt, and finally, in order to cap the horrible sights off, a big lifebuoy floated past us. The lifebuoy was painted white, with the word of S.S Titanic on it, a final tragic souvenir of the haunting events we had all witnessed.We knew our lives would never be the same again.
Steven Hughes – 2004
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