Destiny entwined for three strangers – one sneaks, one creeps, one sleeps onboard as passengers of fated Titanic.
April 11, 1912
Queenstown, Ireland – the last port of call for Titanic’s maiden voyage
“Mallory O’Conner! Climb out of that tree right now before you break your wee neck!” Siobhan O’Conner’s red hair shimmered in the morning sunshine as she reprimanded her youngest child. Hands squared on her hips, her tattered apron flapping in the cool breeze, the mother’s breath clung to her lungs as she watched her rebel daughter descend the oak branches with fearless abandon. Nine children she had labored, each a gift from God and each more daring than the prior. It was as though common sense evaporated with each child. Siobhan folded her hands in front of her, thankful at least the children obeyed. If they weren’t so bent on rule breaking. That trait they inherited from their father.
Mallory inched from limb to limb with careful footing now that her mother was watching. It was pure luck she had scaled the branches unsupervised. Mum would have been desperate if she witnessed that endeavor.
“Bollocks,” Mallory breathed as she ran out of equal limbs to grab and stand on simultaneously. The last mature branch that offered a good hold was a solid ten feet from the ground.
Mallory looked impishly over her shoulder and without a word she let go of the bark. She heard her mother say one of those words the Priest would disapprove of as her feet hit the ground.
Mallory smiled as she righted herself, twirling to demonstrate the intact cloth. “I didn’t even tear my dress!”
“You’re banjaxed, Mallory O’Conner! You’re not going to bunk off school so get you with it!” Siobhan yelled at the child, a smaller mirror image of herself. Siobhan pointed to the crumpled paper bag propped against the tree. “And don’t forget your lunch sack, you unruly girl!”
Mallory wasn’t about to tell her Mum she had digested the apple already. Eating lunch for second breakfast would surely earn her a night of double chores. If Mum even noticed. Having eight siblings, Mallory grew up in a crowd. Important matters were overlooked, forgotten even. More pressing issues squirreled the attention. Maybe that’s why Mallory sought danger in the first place.
“Mum, I was watching for it! I have to see it with my own eyes!”
Siobhan shook her head. Of course. She should have known this climbing feat was about the child’s obsession.
The pride of Belfast, arriving in port sometime this morning. Siobhan mentally scolded herself. She should have been keen on this matter. Too many distractions of late to implore the wily scheming of her eight-year-old daughter. Of all her children, Mallory craved attention, craved adventure the most.
Siobhan chose her words carefully as she approached her youngest, eager to envelope her in a hug.
“Ah, of course. The Titanic arrives in Queenstown. I should have thought better of it,” Siobhan said as she knelt to Mallory’s height, where green eyes met green eyes.
“It’s the Ship of Dreams Mum,” Mallory whispered, unintimidated by the closeness of her mother. Her Mum smelled of baked bread and chicken coop straw. Her Mum smelled like home.
“Ay, so they say, so they say,” Siobhan agreed as she raked her child towards her, holding her in a tight hug.
“Miss Clarke told you class would break for the docking. You’ll be able to see the ship from school,” Siobhan’s tone was soothing now that she had her hands on her daughter.
Mallory’s forehead crinkled and her lips set in a pout. “Maybe,” Mallory breathed, the respite short lived. “Dove gets to go on board!”
Siobhan sighed as she released her daughter. She had heard this argument for weeks. “Your brother works for the post. He may get to load the mail. Even he said he wasn’t sure if he’d get to do as much.”
“Oooffff,” Mallory sputtered her lips in disappointment, spewing saliva. “It’s not fair! I’ll never get another chance to see the ship!”
Siobhan O’Conner had heard this argument as well. Mallory’s fascination with the epic vessel was rooted in the preposterous belief that it would sail from Europe once - and never return.
“Go to school child. You can tell me all about the Titanic tonight.”
Mallory picked up her lunch sack. As she crossed the street, she looked over her shoulder. “I love you Mum,” she yelled.
Siobhan smiled as she waved goodbye to her daughter.
“I tell you you’re lucky, Princess. Shamrock luck,” Peenie squealed as she slammed the office door shut behind her.
Kelly Ryan’s shoulders shrugged at the sound. “Really Peenie, I’ve asked you not to call me that,” Kelly said under her breath. “You’ll wake him, making all that noise,” Kelly pointed her pencil upwards as she admonished her round, frazzled hair friend. Peenie was notorious for her outlandish greetings.
Peenie rolled her eyes. “Like he ever gets out of bed before Noon.”
She was right. Kelly Ryan’s husband was sound asleep in the apartment bunk overhead. No doubt deep in slumber due to his nightly whiskey indulgences at the adjacent tavern. Having an office overlooking the docks was convenient for business and leisure, although Mr. Ryan wasted more effort on the latter.
It was almost eleven o’clock in the morning. Kelly calculated she had a bit of peace before her husband made an appearance in the office. Patrick Ryan slept half the day while his wife toiled the books, making deals with the local fisherman on his behalf.
Peenie leaned back against the closed door admiring her friend. “Your black eye has almost healed. It’s a putrid shade of yellow today,” Peenie said, distracting Kelly from her bookkeeping.
“I noticed,” Kelly said, rubbing the soft tissue under her left eye. “It’s not sore anymore.”
Peenie sighed as she sat on the corner of Kelly’s desk. Kelly Ryan was a modest, decent woman. She wore her English made dresses every day, a reminder that she was indeed an outsider. She could do better. She deserved better. “It’s not right, you know. The beatings. A man should never lay hands on a woman, husband or not!”
Kelly closed the ledger she was working on. “It’s Home Rule. The reason Patrick has been so angry. If ---”
Peenie shook her head. “No, that’s not his reason, love. I thought you said you’d had enough and wouldn’t make excuses for him anymore?”
Kelly stared at her friend. While theirs had not been a long relationship, Peenie had proved a loyal, dedicated confidant. They had bonded at once. Both women found themselves in Ireland due to their marriages to Irish men.
Peenie was British, and Kelly ‘new British’ - the term Peenie referred to as an American.
When the beatings started, Kelly was alone in her fear, alone in her desperation. At first, Peenie was an overbearing, curious soul that asked too many questions. It was that curiosity that kindled their friendship. Peenie could keep her secrets. Kelly trusted her. Peenie was her lifeline.
“I know. I said I was finished,” Kelly admitted, her eyes welling with tears. “But what choice do I have, other than to put up with his nonsense?”
“I brought you something,” Peenie whispered, as she pulled a piece of paper from her front jacket pocket and slid it across the desk.
Kelly wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “What’s this?” she asked as she unfolded the paper.
“See for yourself,” Peenie’s eyes were wide as she bit her bottom lip.
Kelly’s hands shook as she read the boarding pass. Air hung in her lungs as she contemplated the significance the tiny piece of paper offered.
“White Star Line,” Kelly fumbled the words as she held the paper, determined to hold onto it.
Peenie leaned in close. “Titanic. You’re sailing today,” Peenie pointed to the docks right outside the office door.
Kelly couldn’t take her eyes off the boarding pass.
“I can go home,” Kelly said in disbelief. Was it possible to put all the bad memories behind her? In her hand was her ticket out of here. It was her chance to begin again.
“You are going home, love. In style. All the way to America!” Peenie squealed as she covered her mouth, determined not to make too much noise now. Not when they were so close to Kelly’s freedom.
Kelly jumped up and gave her friend a tight hug, tears streaming down her face. “Oh Peenie, I don’t know how you did it, but I can’t thank you enough!”
Peenie pulled back to look Kelly in the eye. “Oh love, I’m so happy you’re going. I mean, I want you here, but you can’t stay with him,” Peenie laughed as she made the distinction.
Kelly laughed too, relieved at last. Shamrock luck Peenie called it.
“The boarding pass says it’s second class, Peenie. Why not spring for First-Class?” Kelly joked with her dear friend. It was the first time in months she felt mischievous.
Peenie’s head tilted back as she gave a hearty laugh. “Well, love, I call you Princess. For First-Class you’d have to be a Queen.”
The Rolls Royce had the privilege to park directly in front of the admission ropes. The queue to board the Titanic was long but First-Class passengers could bypass the line altogether. Handicapped passengers also had that option. Katherine Rourke met both criteria. The rear passenger door opened for her as a hand appeared as assistance to exit the car.
“Thank you, Alfred,” Katherine said as she leveled her walking stick. Alfred nodded his head as acknowledgement of her gratitude. Meaningful conversation was encouraged but he had nothing to offer. For her to embark on a journey this tedious at her age had earned his respect. The woman had not faltered in seven months. She never gave up nor did she bury her head in the sand. Mrs. Rourke’s trip to Ireland had not manifested as either had hoped, and he was anxious to leave the country, anxious to return to some normalcy in Boston.
“Do you have my glasses?” Katherine asked as her frail body teetered her weight on the cane.
Alfred patted his coat breast pocket. “Here they are ma’am,” he said offering her the glasses that would shield her eyes and hide her cataracts. While Mrs. Rourke’s vision was obscured by the progressive disease, he knew that the main reason she wore the glasses was to prevent gawkers. First, they’d stare at her, then chatter would follow. Mrs. Rourke was a lady that had no account for unproductive activities and no desire to be in the limelight. The gossip mongers had enough to talk about over their nightcaps already.
A team of porters arrived on cue to assist with the baggage. Alfred tipped each and gave instructions of how to park the car. One of Katherine’s employees would be along to retrieve it.
“This ship is impressive, isn’t it?” Alfred asked as they ambled their way over the gangplank. He had decided long ago it was best to engage in conversation as though nothing was amiss, especially Mrs. Rourke’s vision, or lack thereof. Katherine thought nothing of it, in fact, it made her reality normal. She and Alfred had become friends. Her one hand operated the walking stick, with Alfred wrapped on her opposite arm for support.
Katherine's was a world of shapes, shadows, sounds and smells. Sometimes there was light behind the shadows. Her vision was not completely lost, but the days where a light loomed behind the shadows made her vision less blurry, more often she learned to rely on her other senses. The salt water breeze caressed her check, the seagulls squawked overhead. Katherine could feel the heat of the sun on her face and hear the crowd behind her, above her, all shouting their ‘Goodbyes’ and “Farewells.’
“It’s our ride home,” Katherine offered. “Nothing more to me,” she added, realizing she sounded as old as her bones felt. Alfred was young, of course the maiden voyage of Titanic would be exciting for him. He was due some joy, after the events of the past months. This voyage was his reward. She would do her best to be as excited about it as he was looking forward to it. She only wanted to be home.
“Perhaps we could both enjoy the grandness of this ship. After all, Ismay spared no expense,” Katherine conceded with a tight squeeze to Alfred’s arm.
Alfred chuckled. “Yes, ma’am. I understand the ship has its own supply of Waldorf pudding.” This made Katherine smile. Alfred was trying to lighten the mood, mentioning her favorite dessert.
“I’ll be the judge of whether it meets the mark,” Katherine responded, and her feistiness made Alfred’s lips turn upwards. The old lady might socially recover from this scandal as well. If the truth of it didn’t kill her first.
April 14, 1912
Katherine was lounging in her chamber, lost in thought when she first heard it, the sound of steel on rock. Alarmed, Katherine tried to stand but the force of the collision was cascading through her cabin like a wave, knocking lamps off their pedestals, dishes from the table and her to the floor.
From the front of her room Alfred called out to her. “Katherine!”
“Down here,” Katherine called from a heap of broken glass, aghast that Alfred would catch her in her nightdress. Sitting up, she felt his hand on her back.
“Are you ok? What was that?” The fear in Alfred’s voice was measurable. The impact was rampant because it took everyone off guard. There was a discernable difference, first the ship at half steam, then an impact so severe it changed the ship’s trajectory.
“Listen”, she said, her eyes squeezed closed. Alfred kicked the glass fragments away as he helped Katherine to her feet. She couldn’t hear the rumble of the engine anymore. “The ship has stopped,” she said.
“What was that?” Alfred repeated as he helped her with her balance.
Katherine felt for his face. She could hear in his tone that he was tense. She needed to reassure him.
“I think we hit an iceberg,” Katherine stated as she felt Alfred’s jaw lower. “Oh God,” he said, his breathing shallow.
“Get our overcoats. And me a shawl. “It’ll be cold outside. We need to make our way to the deck. The upper deck.” Katherine had a feeling that the situation would worsen. A woman of her years realized the bureaucracy of the moment. First would be the soothing reassuring assessments. She knew they had cause to be alarmed. Timing and placement were important. They had to get to the deck.
Alfred scrambled for their coats, helped Katherine put on her shoes, wrapped a scarf around her neck. He was quick. In two minutes, they were in the hall, heading to the upper deck.
“What do you see?” Katherine asked. She could hear the conversations as they squeezed by people in the hall.
“White Star employees. Their everywhere,” Alfred told her in a hushed whisper as a body grazed against hers.
“Never mind them, never mind what their saying,” Katherine repeated her thoughts out loud. “Just get us to the deck.”
Once they left First-Class accommodations the crowd grew larger. Some people were satisfied with their composed conversations, standing around in idle chitchat. Others scurried about, shouting for loved ones. Tidbits of information was gleaned as Alfred led Katherine to the upper deck.
“The bulkhead has started to flood,” Katherine heard a bloke say.
“We’re almost there,” Alfred said, his words clipped although he held onto her hand in a tight clutch. She could feel the sweat in his palm.
The noise was a frenzy. People were shouting, screaming at each other. Some were fighting each other. Katherine heard what sounded like a wood chair crash onto the deck. Children wailed for their mothers. White Star employees called for “Order!” but no one was listening.
“What’s going on Alfred?” Katherine asked, now she was afraid. The rawness of human reaction to a calamity was terrifying.
“Miss Katherine, it’s chaos. People have swelled against the lifeboats. Their fighting to see who boards. There are too many people. There aren’t enough boats for everyone,” Alfred sounded like he was crying.
The air temperature was frigid. Katherine was glad she had requested the scarf. She momentarily let go of Alfred’s arm to tie the material tighter around her neck, all the while the noise around them got louder, closer. A bottle whipped by her head, thrown by another passenger. The crash of glass behind her affirmed her suspicion it was a bottle of some sort.
“Alfred, find me a place to sit away from the crowd. I have to think,” Katherine said, feeling confused.
Alfred pulled gently on her arm, leading them to safety against the hull of the Upper deck. “I think they’ve thrown all the chairs, Ma’am,” he says as he guides her to prop against a metal siderail.
Katherine smiled as she rested. Alfred’s humor was restored. “You must have hope, Alfred, to be making jokes.”
“We have a guest,” Alfred says as Katherine hears him moving items around, no doubt to make room for their visitor.
Katherine wished for her vision to return. If this were to be her final hour, she would at least like to see life out. She was born with sight; it seemed a reasonable request to ask for vision at death.
“And who are you, little one?” Alfred asks in his gentle giant voice. Alfred could be counted on to describe things beautifully, communicate details that Katherine’s eyes could not distinguish.
“My name is Mallory. Mallory O’Conner,” Katherine hears the child’s strong voice. Obviously too young to realize the misfortune of their situation. Just five minutes ago Alfred, a grown man, was nearly in tears.
“Hello Mallory O’Conner. I’m Alfred and this is Mrs. Katherine,” Alfred introduces them.
Mallory fiddles with the buttons on her overcoat. The worn, thin material is not ideal for night temperatures, especially at sea.
“Hi,” the child says. “What’s wrong with your eyes?”
Katherine hears the child’s voice. It sounds as though she is below them.
“Alfred, where is the child?” Katherine asks as she scoots over to make room on the rail.
“Ma’am, she’s tucked back in a metal compartment. A good hiding spot,” Alfred praises the child’s ingenuity to escape the danger on deck.
“Want to come on out of there? You can sit here by me?” Katherine offers, tapping the rail with her hand.
The body heat is welcome alongside Katherine’s on the cold metal rail.
“Do you need help to find your parents?” Katherine offers. Somewhere a mother is going mad with desperation. Katherine understood that emotion all too well.
“We should have brought extra coats,” Alfred suggests. Katherine reaches for the child’s hand. Alfred hears Katherine’s sharp intake of breath. The child’s hand must be frigid.
“Child, you’re freezing!” Katherine admonishes, reaching to untie her scarf.
“It’s colder tonight than it’s been,” Mallory confesses. “And darker.” The child turned her gaze to the moonless night.
“Here, wrap this around your shoulders,” Katherine suggests, holding the scarf in Mallory’s direction.
Mallory does as she’s bid.
“Where is your mother?” Katherine asks again.
Mallory looks at the older lady and the younger man. Mum would say their upper class. Maybe they can help her. The people she met so far hadn’t taken an interest. It was just like being at home.
Alfred stands and looks up and down the ship. “I thought we were port side,” he says, looking around for an anguished parent. There’s plenty of desperation, but no one calling the child’s name.
“No, I mean Queenstown. I came aboard at Queenstown. By myself,” Mallory admits.
Katherine is speechless. “You’re a stowaway? How old are you?”
Mallory scoots up and sits on the rail. “I’m eight. Almost nine.”
Alfred watches Katherine’s expression. She wipes a tear from her eye.
“There was another lady here at first. She was all by herself too. I don’t think she saw me though,” Mallory says. “What’s wrong with your eyes, the child asks Katherine again.
Katherine can’t help but smile. The honesty of a child is sincere. It’s refreshing, that innocence.
“My eyes have a thing called cataracts. It makes the pupils white and foggy,” Katherine explains.
“Do they hurt?” Mallory asks. “It looks like you’re sleeping.”
Katherine shakes her head. “Not hurt. Not really. I just can’t see well. I have to listen, so I close my eyes. I use my ears. Listen to my heart,” Katherine says. “Do you hear that?” Katherine points off in the distance.
The closest lifeboat has launched so the fray has moved further away, down the deck of the ship. In the distance you can still hear the screams, the meshing of flesh. Further away a band plays music. The melody is familiar although Katherine cannot name the tune.
“I hear music,” Mallory says as she smiles.
“And the band played on,” Katherine says. “That’s important. For the history books. You remember that” Katherine instructs the child.
“I really don’t want to sound negative ma’am, but I don’t think it matters. Not for us,” Alfred says. The seriousness in his voice makes Katherine regret every decision she’s made. It was all for naught.
“Excuse me, but do you mind if I join you?” Kelly Ryan asks the lot of them. “It seems like you’ve got a good spot.”
“Scoot on in. You can prop against the rail. If you three hunker together, you’ll stay warm,” Alfred says as he stands. “Stay here. I’m going to the other side of the ship. See if I can find us a way out of here.”
“Alfred, be careful,” Katherine pleads. “The people are getting desperate. Keep your head down.”
Alfred nods toward the new girl, beckoning her to watch over the old lady and the child in his absence. She smiles, assuring him she will watch over them.
“It’s a cold night, isn’t it?” Kelly warms her hands with the breath of her mouth. “I’m Kelly Ryan.”
“And I’m Katherine Rourke. Of Boston. And this is Mallory O’Conner, of Queenstown.” Katherine introduces them as Mallory swings her feet in the air.
“I snuck onboard,” Mallory grins. “All by myself.”
Kelly laughs. “And I thought I was brave.” Secrets aren’t necessary in such dire circumstances. “I left an abusive husband. A friend bought me the ticket to sail home. To America.”
Mallory ducks her head to look up at the lady. “You were here earlier. I was hiding in there,” she points to the metal overhang. “Is that why you have a bruise on your face?”
Kelly nods. “I didn’t see you.” She hadn’t thought about her last beating for two days, had forgot her face wore the evidence of healing. “Yes, he gave me a black eye and a few other bruises this last time. But it was the last time. God, he’ll be so happy when he learns our fate. He’ll say I had it coming. Leaving him. Serves me right to sink at sea,” Kelly says as her eyes brim with tears.
“He sounds like a monster,” Katherine concedes. “You couldn’t have been together too long. How old are you, twenty-five?” Katherine askes. She can tell by Kelly’s voice that she’s not very old.
“I’m twenty-seven,” Kelly says. “We were married five years. Five awful years. Wasted.”
Katherine cannot believe it. The same ages. Both of them. What are the odds?
She clears her throat before speaking. “Alfred and I sailed to Ireland searching for my granddaughter. And great-granddaughter,” she adds, the pain in the old woman’s voice apparent.
Kelly straightens her posture. Mallory’s attention is on Katherine too.
“Did you find them?” Kelly asks. They could have stayed in Ireland.
Katherine shakes her head. “Found their graves. Finally. After months of following leads.”
“I’m so sorry,” Kelly says putting her arm around the old woman’s shoulders. She has to be chilled to the bone.
“I’m sorry, too,” Mallory offers in a quiet voice.
Death is not an accustomed nuance for an eight, nearly nine-year-old. More importantly, death is a tragedy for a nine-year-old.
“Do you want to talk about it? Sometimes that helps me more than anything,” Kelly prodded. She wanted to know what happened to this woman’s family, but she didn’t want to pry.
“An explosion of some sort. In Ulster,” Katherine stated without emotion. “They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Simple as that.”
Kelly understood the divided nature of Ireland. If it happened in Ulster, it was most likely associated with Home Rule. Ireland’s fight against Great Britain for self-government. Patrick was a patriot of the same movement.
“I couldn’t save them,” Katherine says as she tried to stand. “But I have to save you two.”
Kelly stands as Katherine does, the poor woman is so frail, in this cold weather too.
“Katherine, I just don’t see how. I think we’re going in the water.” Kelly says as Mallory’s eyes widen.
“The water! It’ll be freezing,” Mallory says, her eyes brimming with tears. The child starts to understand their dire situation.
“I didn’t find any lifeboats on the other side,” Alfred returns, out of breath. “It’s pretty nasty over there, too.”
Mallory jumps off the rail. “There’s another boat,” the child says, pointing up the side of the hull.
“Where?’ Alfred’s eyes follow the direction of her tiny finger, but he sees nothing.
“There,” Mallory points to a rope. “It’s loaded in the middle of the ship. You can’t see it from here. I’ve been sleeping in it.” The child smiles at the trio.
“Are you sure?” Kelly asks Mallory. “Maybe the mob already got it.”
“Nope. It’s still there.”
Alfred scratches his head. “Ok, if we can reach the rope, I can try to pull the boat down. If I can drag it over to port, I can attach the launch rope and lower us into the sea. I’ll need some help.”
“I’ll get the rope,” Mallory says as she climbs on the handrail. “I’ll throw it down to you.”
The group watch as the child scales the side of the ship, Kelly and Alfred keep watch. The last thing they need is a mob to take the lifeboat from them.
“IF we can get it over to launch, I’ll load you three in, then get as many people onboard as possible,” Alfred says with Kelly nodding her head in agreement.
Mallory whistles to get their attention. “It’s still here. Here’s the rope,” she calls as she slings it down the side of the ship. She starts to scoot down on her own as Alfred spots her on the descent.
“You’re a brave little monkey girl,” Kelly tells Mallory as she leads the child and Katherine out of the way. Alfred gives a few tugs on the rope before he sees the hull of the lifeboat. One more good pull and it crashes onto the deck.
“Help me move it to the launch,” he calls, desperate to be in place before their found out.
Kelly, Mallory and Katherine push and pull as he instructs. In just a couple of minutes the lifeboat is in place. He helps Kelly in first, so that she can help Katherine. Once Katherine is loaded, Mallory jumps in.
“Come on Alfred,” Katherine calls to her friend. Other people arrive. Mostly women and small children. Alfred helps them board. The lifeboat can hold sixty people easily.
Two other men offer to help Alfred launch. The lights have flickered, the ship is tilting downward now. The sea is only a few feet away. Alfred has to cut the ties, or the ship will drag the lifeboat down with it.
Alfred gets the lifeboat loose in time, soon the ship is engulfed with water. Alfred and the other two men that helped launch swim to the lifeboat and climb over the side. The water is freezing cold.
“Row! Row now!” One of the men commands. “We’ll be sucked down with the ship. ROW!”
Kelly kept her arms wrapped around Katherine and Mallory. Alfred was standing mid boat operating the small oar.
They made enough distance away from the ship to keep them from being sucked under. Now all they could do was watch.
“What’s happening?” Katherine asks as Kelly and Mallory sit in stunned silence. The front of the ship is completely upended.
“The ship is breaking apart,” Kelly says. The people on the last lifeboat remain silent. The screams from the seas will haunt them all forever.
Katherine takes Kelly and Mallory’s hands in hers. An old woman saved felt as though it was a waste. Kelly was young, Mallory younger. Both had their whole lives ahead of them. But then she realized, these two saved her long before they found the lifeboat.
Katherine sniffled in the silence as she said, “We were in the right place at the right time.”
About the Creator
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