|The English Roses: Titanic
Author: aims80 PM
This is the story of five women, all from different places in life, all travelling aboard the Titanic's fateful maiden voyage and the way they see the tragedy and how it effects their lives afterwards.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Chapters: 8 - Words: 25,096 - Reviews: 16 - Favs: 9 - Follows: 8 - Updated: 08-07-12 - Published: 05-25-12 - id: 3025670
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
[A/N. A story many years- and research- in the making. Back in 1995 when I was 15 (that makes me old, I know) I learnt about 'Titanic' and I was fascinated. Many books, documentaries and movies later I have finally gotten around to putting all that time spent in the library over the past years to good use. This isn't a story just set on the Titanic though it does make up a large portion of it, but it's also the aftermath and is how five women from different places and stations lives intersected on the fatal maiden voyage of the most luxurious, unsinkable ship and how their lives changed forever on the night of the 14th of April 1912. There is upper-class Prudence, sailing with her father the Earl of Cambridge and her mother Lady Julia. There is Lola, a French actress sailing with her married lover, in first class. There is Constance, a ladysmaid entrusted with the job of escorting her employer's daughter to her Aunt and Uncle in New York. There is Kathleen, immigrating to America for a new life with her husband James and their baby daughter Ellen. And there is American Natalie, betrothed to one of the ship's crew headed home for their wedding.]
THE ENGLISH ROSES:
Wednesday 14th of April.
"Darling? Did I remember to pack that lovely fox stole? And those turquoise earrings? And the first edition Shakespeare I want Prudence to read on the journey." My mother, Lady Julia Hastings, asked anxiously as the train steamed into the platform at London's Waterloo Station. The special boat train would take us to Southampton where we would board White Star's new luxurious liner "Titanic" for the maiden voyage to New York.
My father, the 13th Earl of Cambridge, looked to Mama's ladysmaid for an answer but none was forthcoming because the poor girl was still in a state of terror over the fact that tomorrow she'd be setting sail when she had an intense fear of water and didn't know how to swim. Her unfeeling, and jealous, fellow servants left behind at our house in Lambeth told her just to stay away from the pool on board and she would be just fine.
"You packed the stole and the book but not the earrings Mama." I supplied the answer. Mama didn't know that I'd overseen her own packing and had the servants remove around half the things she had packed and didn't need for a short voyage. If everyone packed like her, I'd joked with my long-suffering father the ship would sink before she even left port.
"And even if you had not it would be too late to go back and get them." Papa reminded her.
"True. I suppose I could send for them to join us?" Mama asked.
Papa shrugged noncommittally and pulled his watch out of his pocket, opened it and checked the time.
A porter came up to us. "Much baggage Guv?" He asked in a thick London accent.
"Just these here thank you. The bulk of our luggage has been sent ahead to meet us in Southampton." Papa responded, tipping his head to where two small trunks stood ably guarded by his valet.
The porter gestured to two young men who quickly had the trunks hoisted onto the train and safely lodged in the baggage compartment. "Sailing on the Titanic then are ya?" He asked.
"Indeed we are." Papa replied. His tone said this was a stupid question given the fact that we were catching the boat train.
"They say it's like a floatin' hotel." The porter said wistfully. "Even the steerage passengers get their own general room, smokin' room and all the food an' drink they can handle."
Papa smiled politely and the porter moved off to help other passengers load their baggage.
The train's whistled blared startling Mary, our ladysmaid, and myself. We both jumped and then looked at one another sheepishly.
I moved closer to Mary and asked, in an undertone and under cover of the hustle and bustle of the busy train station, "Are you all right Mary? Have you packed those tablets I got for your nerves and sea sickness? Not that you shall feel sea sick on such a large ship."
"Aye miss, I've got them. Nice an' safe. Ya didn't have to do that for me. And payin' for them like. I'll never save up the money to pay ya back." Mary said gratefully.
I had known her my entire sixteen years of life and though at twenty she was four years my senior I often thought of her as younger. Her mother had been our housekeeper for nearly thirty years and her father the butler so as an only child I'd found myself playing with her until Mama found out and put a stop to it. But even after that we still played secretly. Papa had found out when I was about eight but had told me he would not tell Mama. I hadn't realised it at the time but Papa felt guilty he had not been able to give me a sibling to play with after a bad horse riding accident.
"I've told you it is fine Mary. Besides imagine what Mama would say if you spent the entire voyage in your bed sick rather than doing your duty." I said.
Mary stifled a giggle. "Aye." She said.
A loud laugh echoed throughout the platform despite the noise of the train, the porters and passengers. "You are too, too darling, I can't believe you managed to get us a suite!" A young woman cried, throwing her arms around her companion who was a man likely in his early forties.
"Dot." The man said gently, disengaging her arms from around his neck. "We are in public."
The woman pouted at his gentle admonishment. "And so what if we are. If these fancy folk are uncomfortable with affection that is just too bad." She said, tossing her lose jet-black hair back.
"Please dear." The man said.
"Well maybe you are just going to have to go on your damn boat by yourself then. And it'll be a long, lonely, cold trip without me." The woman snapped at him.
The man reached out for her but she slapped his hand away and turned her back on him. He looked around, as though he were looking for divine intervention, and when his eyes met mine I gave him a small sympathetic smile which he returned.
"Well." Mama said loudly. "Money cannot buy class can it?"
The man looked embarrassed and I mouthed a sorry before Mama caught my arm and pulled me aside. "Prudence. I was rather hoping you might meet the eye of a good young man, a gentleman, whilst on board. Many fine men shall be on board this ship." She said.
I rolled my eyes. "Mama...it is a voyage, an adventure, not one long debut season." I reminded her. I had worried that my mother might parade me around America on the search for a proper husband and, given how different her thoughts on a proper husband were to my own, it could be disastrous. Mama had been brought up in the generation where women were ornaments, wives, mothers, there to follow her husband's opinions and not to think for themselves whereas I felt things had changed with this new century and women could be so much more than just that. I had always dreamed of going to University to study medicine wanting to be a doctor or a nurse but Mama had put her foot down and instead I would attend finishing school after we returned from America.
Thinking of a husband made me think of Thomas Hamilton even though I had promised myself I would think no more of him lest I cause myself anymore pain on top of the heartbreak losing him had given me. Thomas had come to our country home almost two years ago as a ward of Papa's when he lost both his parents. At first I'd thought of him like a big brother given he was eighteen months older than me as he'd teach me to ride without a side-saddle or how to ask for directions or help in other languages beyond the French my tutor taught me but, as time grew on, I developed feelings for him. Beyond his intelligence and sense of humour was a kind soul who made me think of what a Renaissance man would be and we would walk and talk in the gardens for hours on end, talking about anything and everything. It had taken him almost a year to realise his feelings towards me were more than just brotherly and after that when he was away he would write long love letters and poems and when he was there he'd give me tokens of love and we'd make plans for our future. I knew my parents would not allow me to marry Thomas so we thought to wait until I gained my majority and then we would marry with our without the blessing of my parents. Unfortunately one of the gardeners had seen Thomas and I sitting on one of the stone benches, our heads together in deep conversation and his hand covering mine, and had promptly told Mama. Mama then had the maids search my room where she discovered his letters, poems and trinkets of love and, with that, Thomas was asked to leave by my Papa. I'd been distraught. I'd begged Papa to bring Thomas back, told him I would never love another like I did my Tom. Papa had looked genuinely pained at my unhappiness."I would if I could but you know what your Mama is like. She does not think Thomas good enough for you and, truth be told, in station he is not." He'd said.
"I shall not marry anyone other than Thomas. You can't make me." I'd replied.
Papa had looked sadder still. "I can but I hope I shant have to. You do not need to love to marry you know. Not many women or men have true love matches in their marriage. Especially not people of our station in life." He'd told me.
For three months I had pined for the loss of Thomas. I'd written to him but he had not written me back. When Mama had announced we were going to travel on the Titanic to America for a holiday I knew she was hoping it would bring me out of my slump as well as possibly see me meet an eligible young man. I'd wanted not to be excited, to continue to make my parents pay for my misery, but seeing the photographs of the Titanic on the brochures and hearing about how grand it was and knowing I would then see New York had me excited.
"Indeed. And I was married at your age!" Mama said. Her hazel eyes were narrowed and there was a frown line in her brow. Whenever I frowned she would tap my forehead and tell me not to, that I would get wrinkles and look older than I was. And then what man would want to make me his wife she had added. I had to resist the urge to tap her brow.
"Yes but this is a new century Mama." I pointed out.
Mama sniffed in disagreement but her breeding meant she would not argue in public. I knew, however, she would make a comment once we were safely ensconced in private in our staterooms. She adjusted her hat and gloves.
It had been said many, many times throughout my sixteen years that I looked exactly like Mama. We had the same curly dark blonde hair, upturned nose, and wide set hazel eyes. Papa regularly commented how lucky I was that I had taken after Mama's side given his stocky build and ruddy complexion. Mama said he looked like a country squire and sometimes dressed more like one than a gentleman when we were in our country home and in our city home when we did not have company or were going out. Sometimes in an effort to annoy Mama I would walk around the estate with a pair of Papa's gumboots and one of his jackets over my own clothes. I loved the countryside: the peace and tranquillity, the hours spent on horseback, collecting eggs from the chicken house- and refusing to eat roast chicken when the same chickens stopped laying and were only fit for broiling-, swimming in the stream, doing my lessons underneath a big willow tree in the summer and snuggling up near the fire inside the house in the winter. But then I also loved the city: so many friends to see, parties to attend, shopping to do and plays to attend.
The train's whistle blew again, startling me. It was strange because I rarely got startled but the past few days I had felt like I was walking on eggshells. I told myself it stemmed from Mama's desire that after our visit to America we would return to London for the debut season and I did not like the idea of making my debut. I didn't like the idea of being paraded in front of all the eligible young men of London society and their families, being judged for my looks and my pedigree, like one of Papa's prized horses. As well as Mama's regularly expressed hope in the lead up to our trip across the Atlantic that sons of some of England and Europe's finest families might be on board and I could make a good impression before the debut season even began.
A porter began making his way through the crowd of passengers, beginning at the first class carriages and working his way down to the third class carriages. "Ladies and gentlemen, please begin boarding the train." He called over and over.
Papa turned to Mary and Mr. Higgins his valet. "I suggest you two go down and board your carriage. Higgins you shall look after young Mary?" He said.
"Yes me lord." Mr. Higgins agreed dourly. He eyed Mary with a look that was equal parts consternation and dutiful. He had been my Grandfather's valet for the last ten years of his life before then working for my father and in all those years I did not think I had seen him smile once. But he was loyal to the family and would do anything to help my father. Papa, in turn, trusted him implicitly.
Mr. Higgins turned to Mary, who was looking a little pale. "Come along then lass. We shall see you at Southampton me lord and lady." He said, turning and striding off so that Mary had to run to catch him.
As I watched her work away my gaze met that of a young lady about my own age standing a few carriages down with a young girl who couldn't have been more than 13. The girl was chattering excitedly to a middle aged couple I assumed were her parents but the young lady looked so unlike the other three that I decided she was not related. The young lady had dark hair and dark skin, whereas the other three were fair skinned and had red hair and while the girl and the couple were dressed expensively, like Mama, Papa and I, the young lady was dressed neatly and servicely in a blouse with a broach pinned on the collar and long skirt.
As I watched the older woman bent down to the girl. "Now Penelope you must be very, very good for Constance. And you must do everything she tells you okay?"
"Yes Mother." The girl said dutifully. She seemed to be bouncing on her toes excitedly, her energy barely contained.
"And your Uncle Thomas and Aunt Genevieve will be there to meet you in New York to take you to their home. Whilst there I expect you to obey them as if they were your parents, as you do us." The woman continued.
"Yes Mother." The girl said.
The man bent down too. "And we shall see you in three months when we will follow you over to America for our holiday." He said.
The woman and man both stood up.
"Constance please remember we have put our faith in you to escort our girl across to New York and I hope you will not let us down." The man said.
The young lady nodded earnestly. "Yes Ma'am. I shall look after her as if she were my own sister." She assured the older woman.
For some reason the older woman blanched slightly and I wondered what that was about.
"Prudence. Do not stare. It is rude." Mama hissed to me.
I bit back a sharp comment about her own staring at those she considered lower-class or inferior or interesting in their difference to her.
"Julia, Prudence, we shall board the train now." Papa said.
Mama and I obediently moved towards the door of the carriage and Papa helped Mama up and onto the train and then me. Once boarded we found our seats though we stopped a couple of times along the way for Papa and Mama to greet people they knew, two of whom were close enough acquaintances for me to have met them. Another Lord and Lady were travelling with their son Edward who I had met on a few occasions but disliked because he was staid and boring and arrogant but whom Mama had always expressed a wish that someone such as he would make a wonderful match for me.
"Prudence. I love your earings." Lady Johnson told me.
"Thank you Annette." I said, studiously keeping my eyes from Edward's gaze as I felt his eyes intense enough on me to burn a hole through me. I didn't know why though and was relieved when we continued our progress down to our own seats where we got settled before the train began to pull out of the station.
"Bye for now London." I said, my excitement over the coming journey making me feel more like half my actual age
Mama rolled her eyes. "Don't be so melodramatic Prudence. You sound like a child rather than a young lady." She said.
"Why shouldn't she be excited Julia?" Papa countered. "We're sailing on the "Titanic" for heaven's sake."
Mama turned her cool gaze upon her husband. "Indeed. But I still think a Cunard liner would have been better. You know I do not like being at sea and Cunard would have gotten us there much quicker."
"But in nowhere near as much style. Even you were impressed when you heard of the unrivalled luxury aboard the "Titanic" and getting a B-deck suite of staterooms for us with Prudence across the hallway not far from the couple of millionaire's suites was amazing luck." Papa replied.
"Even just the first class staterooms without being suites looked luxurious in the advertisements." I pointed out to my father. "Even the third class accommodations looked good. Imagine they have their own cabins with two, four or six berths instead of existing in two dormitory style accommodations- one for females and young children and one for men and boys of a certain age- plus they have their own smoking room and general room and access to all they can eat in their own dining rooms."
Mama frowned. "I do not like you thinking about steerage passengers Prudence. Luckily we are safely segregated." She said.
I bit back any comment about her snobbishness and, instead, turned my attention to the window where I watched London go by and watched as busy streets packed with houses gave way to bigger homes with larger gardens and more room between the next house along and then, seemingly very quickly, the countryside loom up. My excitement bubbled up inside me: we were on our way. Next to Southampton where the Titanic was due to depart at noon.