The Final Testament of Reginald Cross
Francis S Wilson, Esquire 151 South State St. Chicago, Illinois September 10, 1913
As my attorney of record, I enclose a sealed envelope with this letter with the Affidavit of Testament of my life. I hereby retain you to safeguard, keep sealed, and deliver in twenty years from this date to Elizabeth Jonás or whatever heirs of my estate may exist. As previously agreed, I have included the $100 for such service.
Walter Henry Jonas
Affidavit of Testament Of Reginald Cross
Monday, April 15, 1912
Letting go was unnatural. My hands released the dying ship's rail, and I fell into the dark abyss of the unknown. My feet speared through the liquid ice of the Atlantic Ocean, and the explosive cold forced the air from my lungs. Frigid water swallowed my skin, and its black knives penetrated my core to suck the life from me with a million stabs as I sunk deeper. A bright flash, a boiler explosion, from the ship launched me upward like a missile to breach the surface and I gasped for air.
The dark shards continued drawing out my life's energy and stabbed their needle points into my heart. White paint gleamed through the fog of an overturned lifeboat, and I fought the sea like a drunken boxer to reach it. My fists slapped into the vast monster that sought to consume me until strong hands pulled me out of the grasp of the daggers and my inevitable death.
My head pounded in pain as my heart drowned my brain with blood. My lungs heaved, and every muscle shivered without control like a drunk on a bender. Someone tugged my wet coat off and wrapped a dry jacket around me. The survivors pulled me close into the huddle of strangers yet familiar with the common ground of fighting to live. The man to my front wore only a shirt, and through the fog of my mind, I realized he had forfeited his coat for me.
"There she goes," a man's voice said.
I glanced up and witnessed the massive RMS Titanic descend, like a ballerina taking her final bow, into the parted black curtain of the sea.
A solemn voice in our huddled group recited words I didn’t understand.
“Full fathom five thy father lies; Of his bones are coral made;
Those pearls that were his eyes: Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change, Into something rich and strange.
Sea nymphs hourly ring his knell: Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them, --Ding-dong, bell,” he said.
My name, Reginald Cross, sank with the Unsinkable ship and died with all my sins. Reborn, I escaped my past to be spared a watery grave. A new life was born amidst desperate moans and cries of pain in surreal surround sound from the pitch dark. The labors of death resonated across the expanse like a birthing room until all went silent. No better escape could I have devised than one covered by the demise of not one but hundreds of souls.
The night's traumatic events had come as a surprise hours earlier when the ship lurched like a drunkard that bumped into a wall. I sat in the second-class lounge and sipped whiskey with one of my newfound marks, Alfred Cunningham, and eyed his fine Caldwell pocket watch that would soon be mine.
He was one of nine employees of Harland and Wolff, the ship's builder, hired as guarantors. They were on board to oversee the smooth operation of the maiden voyage. I had four timepieces and chains, a single diamond necklace, a pearl bracelet, and a ruby brooch on my list to collect on the final night of the cruise.
It always amazed me how the second class passengers showed off their valuables in vain attempts of faux wealth. The combined value would be enough to finance a new start in America. Instead, I stole Alfred's priceless life vest without remorse when I bashed his head in with the whiskey bottle as we made our way topside.
I had worn out my welcome in England when my errant ways had been exposed and a warrant issued. One of many across England under my various aliases. How could I know the pearl necklace I acquired the night before the Titanic sailed belonged to the beloved sister of the Southampton Constable?
As the unsinkable ship left her moorings, I stood at the rail as the bobbies searched the docks for me. They were too late. It would be days before they attained my real name from the register of the White Star Line.
Every minute, a crewman blew his whistle until a lifeboat emerged from the fog and pulled alongside. They took us aboard their half-full lifeboat. The horrific scenes of the next few hours were burned in my mind. I witnessed the horrors of luminescent blue-faced bodies, frozen in time, that appeared beneath the lamp glow of the crewman on our bow like a silent picture show. Their mouths were aghast and black orbs, void of life, stared into eternity. I wondered which one could have been me. Which one took my place, and would these bodies ever be found?
We had floated for hours and shivered in silence when a singular light, bright against the black canvas of the ocean and night sky, appeared on the horizon. Like a lighthouse, the moonbeam grew more prominent as it came nearer. A locomotive? I thought. Confused and delirious, I feared the constables had caught up with me, and the paddy wagon had come to take me away.
A clang of bells cracked through the air, and a foghorn blared across the black void, and I realized a ship had come to our rescue. I grimaced a slight smile at my fortune like a newborn blind to the future.
The RMS Carpathia took us aboard and gave us blankets, coffee, and soup. A young man identified himself as the second mate and asked me for my name to enter into the ship's log.
"Alfred, Alfred Cunningham," I said, and finalized my greatest theft.
Thursday, September 18, 1912
Three long days passed, and the Carpathia sailed into New York's Harbor. I remained segregated from the other survivors with no requirement to engage with anyone in the perpetual atmosphere of shock. Some gathered with those they recognized. Others, locked in the darkness of trauma, were left alone.
The ship docked at pier 54. As a passenger, I was escorted to the American Seamen's Friend Society Sailor's Home and Institute at the corner of Jane St and West St and given a room. The crew was escorted to Pier 59 and housed onboard the RMS Lapland.
Food and clothes were provided by several women's organizations in New York City, and I settled into a room the size of a ship cabin with a bunk bed. Exhausted, I slept and found myself back on the nightmarish ocean where the sharp knives of the monster sought to claim me.
Bluish gray faces with blackened eyes, void of any light, floated and encircled me. They pointed their stiff fingers at me in accusation. The nearest bumped against me, and I heard a guttural "Guilty" come from its mouth. Trapped, I couldn't escape and would join their frozen state of death if one touched me.
A sharp thud awoke me and I recognized a knock on my door. My unknown savior, a porter, saved me from the peril of my nightmare.
Friday, September 19, 1912
"Mr. Cunningham, I have telegram for you," a man's muffled voice reported through the door. I opened the door, ever grateful for this intervention, and with a fervent voice, thanked him. I closed the door and stared at the telegram in my hand.
Atlantic Telegraph Company, April 19, 1912
We are forever grateful you have survived, one of the nine. Report to the RMS Lapland, Pier 59. Departure 4/20 10 a.m. Harland and Wolff Guarantee Group.
I had less than twenty-four hours to make my final escape. To return to England would be my death sentence.
Based on their fine attire, gracious New York women of high station catered to survivors of every economic class. A myriad of people milled about the Seaman Institute lobby.
Clothing hung on a wooden bar behind a table with a Council of Jewish Woman's banner. Across the room, another table loaded with bread, pastries, coffee, water, and sandwiches was decorated with a Woman's Relief Committee banner.
The front steps were guarded by men dressed in black, with red bands on the arms embroidered with the letters T.A. They were from the Travelers Aid Society, which kept reporters, onlookers, and traffickers out of the Seamans Institute to protect the survivors.
I accepted black pants, a black shirt, boots, and a worn Norfolk jacket with gratitude. My forgotten stomach growled in anger, and I partook of the bill of fare. The more I ate, the happier the woman reacted.
They encouraged me to take wax paper-wrapped sandwiches to my room, and I obliged. I returned to my quarters, changed into my new clothes, and returned to the lobby.
I observed the movements at the entrance for an hour and absconded a Travelers Aid Society armband left on a front counter.
The night came.
I floated on the frigid black ocean once again. No lifeboats were within sight, and an ice-faced dead man bumped into me. Startled, I whipped around to see Alfred, arms outstretched, as he reached for me. Gold tooth fillings shone against the blackened tongue of his mouth.
"Thef, Thef, Thief," he screamed.
I awoke soaked in my sour sweat's cold, salty wetness that made the nightmare surreal.
Saturday, April 20, 2012
After breakfast, I slipped into a coatroom unnoticed and stole a man's wallet with thirty-eight dollars, an employment card, a bracelet, a gold arm ring, and a pearl brooch with a center diamond.
The Travelers Aid Society rotated teams every four hours, and in the confusion of their shift change, I donned the armband and walked out the door, down the steps.
Members of the surviving crew held a memorial on the front walk. They had gathered for a group photo before they departed on the RMS Lapland. I slipped past the throng as the camera flashed and captured the moment in time.
The distraction aided my escape as the crew was closely monitored by the White Star Line officials, and I turned left, walked up Jane St. to 8th Avenue, and stopped in a bodega.
There I purchased hot tea and a newspaper. The proprietor informed me the Grand Terminal Station remained under construction and that Penn Station was a fifteen-minute walk north.
Nearby, the Jane St Garden afforded me a place to observe any followers and decide my next steps. I sipped my tea and examined the employment card from the stolen wallet.
My new name is Walter Henry Jonas, per the employment card. I worked for Smith and Brothers Furniture Manufacturing. The garden was perfect, and the new buds of spring reminded me of my rebirth.
Two hours later, I walked through the massive Roman-style colonnades and stepped into the classical opulence of Penn Station.
Reminiscent of Athens, Greece, with its high arched ceiling, rays of light burst from one hundred and forty-eight feet above onto the marble concourse.
I bought a Pennsylvania Special to Chicago ticket for thirty-three dollars, made my way down to the iron and glass-covered train platforms, and waited for the call to board for the 4 p.m. departure.
I boarded at three-thirty pm and settled into my sleeper seat, and the Pennsylvania Special departed on time at four p.m. My heart rate jumped when two New York policemen entered the platform. They stopped and questioned random people until a porter pointed at the Pennsylvania Special as the locomotive's air brakes released and the train sidled forward and out of the station.
Ten minutes later, the train entered the North River Tunnel. Under the black waters of the Hudson River, I made my last interaction and connection to the Atlantic Ocean and couldn't have been happier. A few minutes later, the rocking rhythm of the train lulled me into a deep sleep to face my ice-laden ghosts once again.
Adrift, I rocked back and forth in the cradle of the gentle waves under dark but starry skies. Hypnotized by the silent and surreal scene, my body relaxed, and I floated free of any worry or stress. A shooting star arrowed across the canvas of deep blue when a weight struck my legs and upset my revery. Startled, I saw Alfred's arms laid across my legs, and I sank into the ocean's depths.
I screamed, thrashed my legs, and kicked his gray, ashen face with my boot. He descended into the deep and sank. I fought to the surface and sucked the air, and a warm hand touched mine and pulled me to the surface.
"Mister, you okay?" a boy said. I jerked my hand away from his and cowered into the far corner of my seat, now fully awake. Salty cold sweat dripped down my face to my collar.
"Yes," I said, “a bad dream.”
The boy sat across the aisle by his mother and stared at me until I turned and stared out the window as we crossed the countryside. Would I ever sleep in peace again? I thought.
"Leave the man alone, Reginald," the woman beside the boy said and patted his hand.
"Yes, momma," Reginald said.
The boy across the aisle, Reginald, could have been me at ten years old. Life had been perfect for me in the comfort of my mother's love and care.
My father died in a mining accident in 1890. Everyone knew the explosion could have been prevented, but the greedy mine owners, the industrial aristocracy, refused to replace a methane pump.
Twenty-nine men died that day for want of a device that cost five quid. The sham coroner's inquest faulted the miners and claimed the workers didn't follow safety protocols. My mother's great aunt took us in, though poor herself.
Momma worked in a washing shop by day and stitched pieces at night to eke out bare sustenance. Two years later, in the brutal cold of winter, my mom became delirious and sick with viral pneumonia. She needed medicine with no money to buy it, and no means for help.
Desperate, I skulked the night and came across a drunk passed out under a waterfront dock. He wore a fine suit and was a man of means. Without a thought, I lifted his wallet and stole his gold lapel pin.
The sun rose, and I hurried to the apothecary and waited on the step for the shop to open. Stolen money and the pin purchased medicine for my momma. I rushed home to find the coroner's wagon parked in front of our cottage. I was too late.
My momma had died. I smashed the vials on the stone pavement, ran into an alley, and hid behind a trash heap. Silent tears rolled down my cheeks where a blind world couldn't witness my pain.
One tear in anger, two for my loss, three in self-pity, and a fountain of heavy tears that pounded like nails to slam the lid on my ice-cold heart.
Two days later, the constable came to the door and arrested me for the crime of thievery. The judge sent me to the Southampton House of Correction for two years. Upon my release, I stepped into the world better trained to steal.
The dining car tables were all occupied when I sought to resolve the rumbling in my stomach. I turned away when a child's voice called my attention.
"Mister, you can sit with us," said the boy who awakened me, "Can he, Mom? Please.... We have room."
I had not paid heed to his mom earlier other than her voice. A beautiful woman with a shadow of sadness over her visage turned to me and back to her son.
"The gentleman may prefer his privacy Reginald," she said.
"Mister, you don't have to be afraid," Reginald said, and I laughed. The laugh surprised me and sounded foreign to my memory.
"I'm not afraid. If it is a tolerable imposition to the lady I would be honored to sup with you," I said.
"Please sir, there is no imposition, as we are all travelers that share a journey," she said, "You may not find us in good company as we are in mourning. I am Mrs. Elizabeth Lewy, and this is Reginald."
"I am thankful for your consideration. I am Walter Henry Jonas of London, England.
I learned they resided in Chicago and were on their return from New York City. They were to meet her husband, who had been lost on the Titanic, after a three-month sojourn to Antwerp to purchase diamonds for his Jewelry shop.
With great difficulty, I recovered from my shock as I witnessed the pain endured by a mother and her son.
"What is your profession Mr. Jonas?" she said.
"Please address me as Henry, ma'am, if we are to dine together," I said and sat with the window to my back.
"I am a wholesaler of fine jewelry," I said.
Reginald, hungry for more than food, brokered the conversation as we dined and the interaction continued for the remainder of the trip.
The Pennsylvania Special arrived in Chicago on time, and I removed myself to the platform where Reginald and Mrs. Lewy awaited their luggage.
"Mr. Jonas, what are your plans in Chicago?" she said.
"I plan to explore the commercial district to employ my skills," I said.
"I have a proposition for you," she said, "I find myself in an impossible bind with the aspects of my husband's business and offer you a position to manage the jewelry store.
We are new to Chicago and have no friends or family to lean on. There is a carriage house behind the main house which you would find suitable quarters."
"Mrs. Lewy, I'm a salesman, not a jeweler or goldsmith," I said.
"Which is exactly what is required," she said, "we have an excellent goldsmith who works in the back room. Neither him, nor I, are predisposed to the art of sales."
"You do not know me well enough to offer this gift to a stranger," I said.
"Henry, I believe in destiny. It is no accident our lives intersected with a salesman by trade, and we were allowed a twenty-hour interview," she said, "and Reginald likes you."
I took my hat off and saw steel in her eyes emerge from the darkness of grief. Her gaze loosened a nail in my cold heart.
"I accept Mrs. Lewy," I said.
"Excellent, I shall see you whenever you arrive at 5728 South Park St and it is Elizabeth," she said with the glimmer of a smile that once was.
Tuesday, May 15, 1913
One year later, Elizabeth and I were married. She claimed it was the proper thing to do to dispel the rumors of gossip that pervade every city. On our wedding day at the courthouse, I felt the last nail slide out of my hardened heart and felt the love given and received by us both.
Reginald taught me about baseball, hot dogs, and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The store grew successful with the allure of my British accent, and we created a wonderful life. The nightmares abated, and I felt like a whole man in this new world. This period of reprieve lasted only for a time.
The Chicago Tribune ended my delusion in June when I read the list of Titanic victims had been revised and my nightmares returned.
Chicago Tribune, July 1st, 1913
Once thought to be the sole survivor of the nine guarantors for Harland and Wolff Guarantee Group, Alfred Cunningham is now believed to have died on the night the Titanic sunk. It is thought someone impersonated Mr. Cunningham upon rescue by the RMS Carpathia. The strange case may be connected to a grand theft robbery of the Seamans Society coatroom on April 20, 1912. Lloyds of London has engaged The Pinkerton Agency to investigate the crime.
In the middle of the night, I found myself once again in my Titanic nightmare.
My hand gripped the ship's rail and momma's voice cried out from the depths of darkness.
"Reginald, save me," she cried, "Hurry."
I landed in the icy water and surfaced to see her atop the overturned lifeboat.
"Medicine," she cried, "I'm dying, save me son, hurry. Help me."
My hands slapped the water and fought the ocean's thick black liquid to reach her, but Alfred's dead gray hands gripped my legs to pull me down, and she floated away out of my reach.
I awoke and flailed the quilt from my bed, soaked to the skin, unsure if it was salt water from the Atlantic or my own sour sweat. In my state of confusion, I wasn't sure.
Two months later, a man in a brown vested suit entered the store and flashed a Pinkerton Badge. He laid a photo of a pearl brooch with a center diamond on the counter.
"Good afternoon, sir. My apology for interrupting your business day, but we are in search of a missing heirloom brooch. The brooch is custom-made and quite valuable. In your business dealings, have you been offered or recognize this jewelry?"
His eyes locked on mine to read my reaction. I recognized he had vast experience in the interrogation of criminals. I studied the photo closely to break eye contact.
"No, I haven't. It appears to be a fine piece," I said.
"You're British?" he said.
"Yes, of London," I said.
"Thank you for your time," he said and abruptly turned and left the shop.
Each night the nightmares came for me, and I grew haggard in my mental and physical state. The night after the Pinkerton Detective visited Alfred returned.
Alfred clawed and pulled me into the deep, joined by a thousand frozen corpses. I held my breath until I woke and heaved for air. He grew stronger with each attempt.
The truth would ruin Elizabeth and Reginald's life. It was a matter of time before they connected all the pieces and exposed my crimes. For once, I chose to think of someone else and not myself.
I traveled to a Philadelphia Jewelers Convention and sold the brooch to a pawn shop for a third of its value. Upon my return, I purchased a one hundred-thousand-dollar life insurance policy and named Elizabeth the beneficiary.
I love Elizabeth and Reginald, and I feel responsible for their future. My love for Elizabeth has increased my fear of the torment she may endure. Together, they freed me of an ice-cold heart to become wholly human again and do not deserve to suffer my tempest.
My fate, like fifteen hundred and three others, was sealed on April 15, 1912, aboard the Titanic, and I can no longer outrun it. Out of love, I cannot drag her into the dark waters of my guilt. I will not allow it. Instead, I will free her.
I now understand the recitation of Shakespeare the night the Titanic sank into the deep waters of the Atlantic. My Tempest has come and This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine and there is no one to applaud me that I might be saved.
I swear this is my testament and confession with a sound mind as I am resolved to pay for my sins. Whoever reads this, judge me as you will.
Alfred, you win.
Signed by my hand, September 10, 1913
Reginald Cross, aka Alfred Cunningham aka Walter Henry Jonas
Chicago Tribune September 13, 1913
Local jewelry proprietor Henry Jonas formerly of London, England, unexpectedly died in his sleep on Tuesday. He was a trusted and knowledgeable jeweler and loved by all who knew him. He is survived by Elizabeth Lewy Jonas and his adopted son, Reginald. Funeral plans to be announced.
Tempest, Lyrics and Song by Bob Dylan
About the author
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions