The Ship of Dreams: Chapter 12
There was a cacophony of mixed resonance and vibrations amongst the passengers when Geoffrey arrived back on the boat deck. There were those that strolled with their midwives and spouses dressed in elegant, adorned blouses, walking the width of the doublewide planks as if nothing had happened without so much as a care in the world. Even so, there were still others that carried with them an underlining sense of angst at what had just occurred. It seemed that to all, that they were only there to see how the situation would develop, and even so, it appeared that to each of them that they truly believed in their heart of hearts and in their mind's eye that the Titanic was an unsinkable vessel as was promised.
“When should the ship be getting underway,” was the most common inquiry amongst them, even as the lifeboats started to be slung out, as they reverberated the same question posed by Ismay as if they were clouded in a thick fog of denial as to the severity to the situation at hand. To a great many of them, the fact that the lifeboats were being sent out to sea was an absurd notion that was a waste of time and resources. For them, they would only have to be brought back on board.
Nothing at all seemed to suggest a ship that only had one to two hours left to live. This lack of urgency was even noticeable in the ways that the Royal Mail Ship’s officers went about the process to send the lifeboats out to sea. To this end, Geoffrey watched in great interest as the first of them in lifeboat number two underwent the process to be sent out.
It was a tedious one from start to finish. The task involved uncovering the heavy wide white container and flipping it right side up from its stationary position. From here, the officers had to see to it that the lifeboat was then dragged to the side of the ship at the appropriate position at the ship railing. Here was located an apparatus that they were to be fastened and strapped to over the ship’s sides. It took two able-body men to pull at the levers in unison to see to it that the lifeboat gracefully made its way down the distance of some one-hundred feet to the ocean's surface below.
Bearing witness to this whole procedure, Geoffrey found himself marveling at how haphazardly and lackadaisically the presiding officers were in overseeing the process. Overall, it must have taken them a good twenty minutes to see the first of the lifeboats out. What was even harder for Geoffrey to believe was the fact that the lifeboat seemed to be only half full.
He was well aware of the fact that there were only twenty lifeboats onboard, and that there weren’t enough for all the passengers, thanks to Ismay and his board of directors. So, it didn’t make sense to him that the officers wouldn’t make sufficient use of the room therewithin them. In his place, they seemed more engulfed in the conversation that they were having the two of them, and so he made his way the closer to eavesdrop.
“From what I hear, they say that there is another ship nearby,” the officer nearest he let out. “Someone said that they saw the light as if of a ship within a twenty-mile radius of our position,” he continued with each crank of the gears and levers.
“So, what does that mean for us,” asked the other officer, mirroring the actions of his counterpart as he did so.
“It means that she may be the only opportunity that we have if Titanic really is to sink. They are going to shoot off the rockets to hail her they are. It will act as a ship to transfer passengers that it will,” he continued with each release of the ropes in his sweat-caked hands.
Geoffrey made his way over to the side of the ship, and sure enough, he spotted a little light of hope glimmering in the distance. For years, the enigmatic third ship in the area would be a matter that would leave a copious many baffled. For decades, it was believed that the source of the light came from the California and its otherwise negligent captain, to whom the fault of the many deaths that night was placed for abandoning all those in the area. Later it was believed that it was the seafaring, Samson, which was hunting seals, an illegal activity, and as such, wanted to remain unrecognized at sea during Titanic’s darkest hour.
Geoffrey observed the light for some time until it had disappeared from sight, and at which point he had noticed that the first of the lifeboats had been launched and seen safely to sea level. Realizing that time was against him, he made his way to the next congregation of people, and the nearest lifeboat to be launched in lifeboat number eight. At the forefront of this critical mass of people, he was surprised to see the likes of Isidor and Ida Straus.
The whole thing was surreal. An hour had passed since the Titanic had struck ice, and only the first of the lifeboats were being lowered into the freezing waters below. Shrieks and cries reverberated out into the vast nothingness of the Atlantic Ocean for no one to hear; only to be silenced by the booming crystalline white rockets exploding overhead.
It was hard for Ida Straus to watch as her numerous friends and acquaintances over the years thunder along the planks of the polished boat deck for safety they would probably never find, their footsteps all but inaudible from the mighty raucous of the night. As the fly-on-the-wall observer that she was acting as it was even more incredulous to witness Titanic’s great and mighty bow get swallowed by the sea. She was in shock really. Nothing can prepare an individual for the trauma that the end is neigh for yourself and those you care deeply about.
Then again, the life that Ida and her husband Isidor Straus had lived had been nothing short of surreal as well. They had lived an extravagant and extraordinary life that most would envy. Her husband was a respected politician, businessman, and congressman who was held in the highest esteem. As a result of his importance, they were tremendously blessed, traveling the world together and living in lavish luxury.
And people always know. Ida dreamily starred out at the black abyss that surrounded Titanic in the early morning hours of April 15th, 1912, while managing a smile. They say that people’s lives flash before their eyes in moments prior to death, and she could agree with that. She recollected the major moments of her life, like how happy she had been when her husband had become the owner of Macy’s Department Corporation. As with many of the thoughts that she was having, she was most thankful that Isidor was the major component of all of these memories.
Reflecting on her life, as she did the dark waters that sat as still as a millpond, Ida Straus was grateful that she knew had and knew the type of love that one could envy. She felt at the nape of her favorite fur jacket which in many ways embodied the lavish lifestyle that she and her husband had shared together; it had been a token of his love that he had given to her when he had made the owner of the clothing organization that she cherished deeply.
While it protected her neck from the cool crisp elements, overly decorated though it was, it made her feel a pained sympathy and compassion towards the lower-class passengers, to whom she had never been able to fully relate with until now.
Titanic had been heralded as the millionaire’s palace. Thinking about the fact sent a quiver of guilt down Ida’s spine. This reputation was at the expense of these so-called lowly types. They were subjected to great ridicule for mere entertainment and to make the social elites feel better about themselves, to which Ida shamefully knew that she had taken a role in, not only in Titanic’s short voyage but throughout the majority of her life because of her and her husbands’ high status.
It made her think about how funny and ironic life could be. People make the best decisions and judgments that they can, just to end up in the position that they found themselves in. That the sum of two-hundred pounds did not purchase a first-class ticket about the world’s greatest luxury liner alone, but rather, for lifeboat number eight, and a chance at life; a privilege that their second-and third-class counterparts could not afford.
This elicited a great realization that saddened her heart, that no matter the race, creed, or economic status, everyone was the same, in their efforts to try and survive. Her heart was the heavier because it had taken her till this point in her life to bring this to her awareness, and she knew full well that there had been those that she had made their personal endeavors to this end all the more difficult.
Isidor Straus did not fear death. As Captain Smith and First Officer Murdoch marched towards them in their naval black and golds, the astute Congressman knew exactly what was coming. Facing the end, everything that he lived through and accomplished escaped his mind. Nor could he say that he had regret in the world, albeit he could have allowed himself to work less to spend more time with his loving life.
Rather, the contents of his thoughts were fixated on Ida his wife and his wife alone. He had advocated for the Gold Standard in his life, and how he could liken his spouse to such high quality. She had loved him from a young age, standing firmly by his side for forty years. In their passion for one another, God had blessed them with seven wonderful children. Ida was the type of wife that could be both fun and serious when the situation called for it, even in her old age, and she was his whole reason for being. It was his love for her that had taken an ambitious young boy and turned him into the man that he was.
“Madam Straus, if you could please enter into the boat now,” beckoned the quivering Second Officer Lightoller. Both Lightoller and Chief Officer Wilde stood on either side of the lifeboat and offered their hands to assist Ida into the collapsible boat.
Ida hesitated to follow the instruction. She looked disparagingly at the broad white vessel. The journey into it meant crossing the Titanic’s railing for a distance of about three feet. That three feet gap however consisted of a fall of about ten stories.
It wasn’t that she couldn’t muster the courage, or that she didn’t think that she had the capacity to do so. For her, the distrust was entirely personal. Before her, she did not simply see a white lifeboat, as a means to safety in a life or death situation. Rather, it was the possibility of a life without her husband.
“Rosalie, please get into the boat,” chimed Ellen, the Straus family’s new maidservant in a shaking tone of voice that bordered on beseeching.
Ida turned about-face and faced her husband. “My love, what says you about this? As always, where you go, I too shall go.” Her breath billowed out in the night between her parted lips at each stressed syllable.
“Ida, get into the boat and do be a good girl. You know that I will follow right behind you. Please, I need you to do this for me,” Isidor pleaded with a comforting smile. Secretly he pleaded with God that she would hurry up in boarding before the Captain showed up bearing bad news at their doorsteps. Love is accepting, and there was the part of him that wanted his wife to survive him.
“Okay, if you say so, my love.” The combined gestures were enough to move Ida into the boat; no one ever called Ida by her real first name, and it showed how much their help cared about their family. It did, however, remind her of how deeply she felt for the rest of Ellen’s lot. That, and Ida always listened to what her husband had to say. Ida warmly embraced her husband with an affectionate kiss on the cheek, and then she reluctantly handed her things over to Ellen and took the officer’s hands.
Congressman Straus watched over his watch wife longingly with many afflictions. He would never say it, but his Ida was so very stubborn; something that had taken a while to grow onto him. Isidor had to feign all the confidence that Ida loved in her as he witnessed her clamber over the railing into the contents of the collapsible lifeboat. His heart skipped a beat, a second of arrhythmia as he feared her falling the one-hundred feet below.
It was the deepest pain he had ever known. Isidor had overcome many great challenges and obstacles in his long and blessed life, but nothing surmounted this. The smile on his face was a lie, and he couldn’t stomach the thought of this being the last time that he would see the love of his life, knowing that she would have to live without him to provide for. What hurt him even more, was love itself. Isidor could sense what his wife was feeling, and her own affliction, and he was scared to see how she would act when the reality of things caught up with her.
“Next in line please,” the Royal Mail Ship officer requested of the crowd, objects beginning to the role and shuffling the length of the glistening boat deck as he did so. Ellen looked inquisitively up at Isidor, unsure of her place, waiting for him to take the lead. To her, it didn’t seem fitting that the servant should be before the master.
“Ladies first Ellen. Do be careful, and take care of her,” he responded with a gentle smile. Helping her with her passage, Isidor saw to it that he collected Ida’s things before Ellen departed from him.
“You are a good man Mr. Straus,” Ellen returned with a forced smile. Then, not wanting to delay, she turned to the officers that were impatiently waiting to see her into the lifeboat. It was as she was climbing into the boat that Captain Smith, who was accompanied by First Officer Murdoch, arrived at their gathering on the boat deck at collapsible boat number eight. Their brisk promenade was concluded with a stomp of their feet as they stopped in place at the center of the congregation.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” First Officer Murdoch started, shouting, and projecting himself out to the mass of people before him. The first thing that Isidor observed about him was that there was heavy perspiration developing at his brow, and he was unnerved, his hands shaking from beneath the black leather gloves that covered them. “Ladies and gentlemen, he repeated, “if I can have your attention, please. At present, the Captain has given the demand that the boats shall be loaded with women and children only. Again, the order as it stands is for women and children only to be loaded into the boats.”
The Captain had not uttered so much as a word. It seemed he was only a witness to oversee that his final instruction is carried out by First Officer Murdoch. Nevertheless, once the command of women and children had been given, the two left, carrying on their brisk stroll as quickly as they had come.
A hysteric uproar exploded out as they did so. It was exactly the type of panic that Captain Smith had been hoping to avoid, and in part, it was one of the reasons for his solemn silence. There was a chorus of moans, shrieks, screams, and shrills that carried their way out into the night air combined with the metallic groan of water bending the iron rivets, bolts, and sheets of the ship.
It disheartened the Captain to know that he was going to have to encounter more of it as he carried the order out throughout all the ship. There was nothing in the world like telling half a boat full of people that their demise was near, his own included.
“No, no, I simply can’t do it,” erupted the courageously fragile Ida. Lifeboat number eight rocked and swayed in its place above the ocean’s surface as she rummaged about it in order that she could climb back out of her. Ellen and the other passengers aboard the small lifesaver watching her in a sense of shock and out. Some disbelieving that she would make the passage back onto Titanic after what had just happened. The others hoped that her struggle wouldn’t send them falling the one-hundred feet below.
“Rosalie, stop it,” retorted Ellen disparagingly, taking her by the arms as she did so. “Please think about what it is that you are doing,” she continued, not forgetting the last thing that Isidor had instructed her.
“Ellen, I want you to have this, Ida responded, taking her favorite fur clothes from off of her back, and handing them to her faithful maid. “I think that you will be needing it more than I do tonight,” Ida went on, her eyes twinkling with the fondness that she now felt and had always had for the woman in front of her as she folded the coat firmly over and placed it gently in her open arms. Then one after the other, she looked at Ellen, then to her husband, back and forth again until her eyes rested back on Isidor. “My place is with you, my love. I have lived with you. I love you, and if necessary, I shall die with you, she told her husband admiringly. Then without so much as a second thought, Ida took hold of the Titanic’s railing and made the crossing over the hundred-foot drop a second time to the gasp of the people aboard.
“I knew that this wouldn’t sit well with you Ida, but I am torn,” Isidor said, taking Ida by the arms as she came unto him. “I am torn. I can’t see you living a life without me, albeit I know that is selfish. At the same time, I can’t stand the thought of you risking your life for the likes of me. Either way, I can die happily now, in this testimony that you would actually walk hand in hand with me unto death. How I simply adore thee,” Isidor told his wife with a smile. With that, the two took each other into a warm embrace.
“Mr. Straus,” let out one of the astonished RMS officers, trying to bring his attention back to the situation at present. “Mr. Straus if I could have a word with you.
“What is it lad,” he answered, turning to see what it was that the man wanted of him.
“That was perhaps the greatest exhibition of love that I have ever witnessed in all of my years, although they don’t compare up to the likes of you. I think with all things kept into consideration, that we can make an exception for you due to old age for both you and your wife,” he suggested, moved by what he had just seen.
“I and my wife would not want to impose by making ourselves about the rules and regulations of the ship, or the other passenger's sir. As long as there is one woman left on this ship, I will not leave. I am not too old as to sacrifice myself for a woman. We both stand by my wife’s decision,” he answered, looking back at his wife as if he was the luckiest man in the world. “Well, what of it Ida? What should we do from here?”
With that Geoffrey watched the couple walk away from the crowd of people in what was the greatest exhibition of love that he had ever witnessed in his life. He questioned whether or not he could act in such a fashion as Mr. Straus had done, and when his mind mulled over the fact that his odds of survival had greatly diminished with the Captain’s last orders, he concluded that he probably couldn’t.
And so, Geoffrey Archibald stood rooted in the spot not knowing what to do for the first time in what now seemed his short life. In a way, he envied the couple as they walked away, and he felt bad that this was the case. They, at least, had one another. Geoffrey was miles away from his, a fact that made him seriously rethink every one of his life’s decisions, especially when considering that he was survived by none.
There was another part of him that wondered if there was some kind of life lesson that was to be learned from all this. He started thinking about an article he had once read about the top regrets of the dying. Half of these raced through his mind, like those about not staying in touch with old friends, or not having the courage to be your most authentic self, but none of these really seemed to apply to him.
Another idea surfaced. It seemed to him, that in the events surrounding him, that one should experience the event out for what it is. It also occurred to him that the individual should never fail to try more and to make the most of each moment, which seemed to be a given. Not only that, but he felt the was a tremendous lesson in not hesitating to act on a situation.
And, on that final, note, he decided that he was going to precisely do that. At that moment, he made a promise that with what fleeting moments that he had left, if the case come of it, he was going to be living for his legacy as Mr. Straus, and the Captain was doing. For Geoffrey Archibald, his legacy for him meant helping see as many passengers to safety as he possibly could.