|When the Clock Struck Midnight
Author: Lady Josephine Rose PM
Marianne Harris is sent to uncover the murder of a famous Russian actress on the renowned "unsinkable" ship: the RMS Titanic. On a voyage full of suspense, mystery, betrayal, and romance, Marianne will not only learn what it's like to fall in love, but also that everything comes with a price. Links and full summary on my profile. Historical fiction/mystery.Rated: Fiction T - English - Mystery/Drama - Chapters: 17 - Words: 46,776 - Reviews: 9 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 4 - Updated: 12-16-12 - Published: 11-01-12 - id: 3070401
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
April 15, 1912
Wherever they were, Marianne wasn't sure where they were going. They had traveled down Scotland Road for a while after a crewman had told them to turn around on the stairs and take the other way, also begging them to not spread panic. Hands securely clasped, the twosome kept glancing down hallways, the only noise being their breaths and the tinkling of leaking water. Once, there was even a terrifying creaking sound that caused Marianne to cling to Henry in a wide-eyed screech.
When nothing what so ever happened, they hastily continued on their way, hearts pounding in the apprehension they thought they had shaken off after almost drowning in the bowels of the ship. Uneasiness stirring in their veins, they still trudged on.
"Oh, Henry," Marianne sighed while rolling her eyes exasperatedly, tugging at him to stop. "Where are we? I don't have a single clue anymore."
Lifeboats had been ordered to be prepared, and passengers to put on their lifejackets. In the Marconi room, Phillips and Bride were working speedily and nervously to tap out the distress call (CQD, all stations distress) for any ship to hear. And this happened all in the matter of fifteen minutes. It was a race against time, and there was so little of it.
"I don't either. Maybe we're on E deck." Popping his head around yet another corner, he massaged Marianne's knuckles with his thumb before adding, "I say we head this way. I think I hear something."
Around the corner they went, and as Marianne's ears perked up, she did pick up something. It was like a mixture of a pack of buzzing bees and a flock of crowing birds. But this wasn't the jungle, and it was too muffled to identify.
What they were receiving, it turned out, was thechattering of frightened, nervous people. They were the steerage passengers, being locked behind the gates by two measly crewmen. Most of them couldn't speak English, so they couldn't understand what they were trying to say—and Marianne couldn't either, with all the fuss.
"What's going on?" Henry asked a woman comforting her two young children.
Swallowing hard, she replied in an Irish accent, "They're not letting us through. They say they'll let the woman and children go, but they've nothing but just yell at us to stay put."
Furious at the inhumane deed, Henry yelled at the top of his lungs (almost shattering Marianne's ears). "Hey, now!" "Let these people pass! This ship is sinking!"
At the word "sinking," the people who did understand, like the innocent Irish mother and her whimpering children, were startled that the tales weren't rumors anymore. "That's right, it is. And it's freezing cold, too," Henry confirmed, signaling to his soaked hair and clothes.
One of the crewman bold enough to respond to the intimidating man gulped and calmly said, "Our order is to wait until the first-class passengers get into the boats. For now, we're to make sure everything is under control down here and that everyone has their lifejackets on."
As soon as he was finished, the rambunctious, anxious chattering started up again, and Marianne and Henry were pushed to the back of the crowd by the large crowd of people. "Miss Harris!" cried a familiar voice tinged with the Slavic sound. Whipping her head around, Marianne saw that he was well and smiling.
It was Sergei Petrov, a bit shaken but mostly undaunted by the horrible twist of events. "Looks like we meet again," he said, bending down to kiss her hand.
Grinning weakly, Marianne strictly replied, "That's nice of you, Sergei, but we must find a way out of here. Trust me when I say we've seen it all, and the water's only sinking this ship faster. It's catching up to us."
"Then let's try a negotiation," he suggested and, without waiting for a reply, shoved through the crowd of foreigners to the crewmen at the top of the stairs. Reluctantly, Marianne and Henry trailed behind. "My friends," Sergei spoke sincerely, signaling towards the couple. "They are first class. Please let them pass."
There were a few uncertain nods between the crewman before the original one who had been speaking turned back around, a hard expression on his face. "Orders are orders. If I let them through, it would only cause a panic."
"Then you leave me no other choice." With that, he received a nose-crunching punch in the face, sending Marianne's hand to fly to her mouth in surprise. His friend knocked unconscious, Sergei beckoned towards the other dumbfounded crew member and said, "Give me the keys," which he did at a lengthy distance before dashing away.
As Sergei unlocked the gate, Marianne commented, "If I had known it would be easier to use physical force, I would have kicked him in the groin. At least that way I wouldn't have left him in pain and unconscious."
"It's all in a day's work," was all Sergei said as he handed the keys off to Henry and waved to the passengers, whispering with confusion at what was going on. "Everyone! This way!"
Though most of them asked their families about what he said, they were still able to comprehend what he meant by the wag of his hand and point of his finger that led to Marianne and Henry, who were still holding hands this whole time.
"What a poor sense of communication," Marianne muttered as the huge group reluctantly followed behind them, glancing behind her shoulder with worry lines engraved in her forehead. "Would they have kept them down there until it was too late?"
Henry just squeezed her hand tighter, dread gripping his heart. "My dear Marianne, I honestly don't know."
There was a tap on Henry's shoulder, and he turned around to meet the Irish mother and her two children, her eyes beaming. "How can we ever repay you?" she said, tears in her eyes. "You've saved so many people from Death's unfair fate."
"No need to mention it," he shrugged it off unassumingly. "It's what every gentleman does."
Meanwhile, as the couple led the group to the decks, the first distress rocket was fired, lighting up the sky like a firework at the same time the first lifeboat was lowered down. Some of the children draped in their mother's coats opened their droopy eyes to catch sight of the blinding sight that lit up the dark night. Then they burrowed into their parents' legs or were heaved on their father's shoulders, whining about going back to sleep.
After a few twists and dead ends, Marianne, Henry, and Sergei with their eager group of passengers came upon a long, spiraling stairwell. By the time they reached the top and Marianne recognized the third-class hallway, she was practically crying silent tears from relief. Then she found the doors that led to the freezing breeze and night sky twinkling with stars. And for the first time, she felt the tilt under her feet as she stepped onto the poop deck, British flag flapping in the wind at the tippy top of the stern.
Midnight had passed, and the clock was entering the anticipated one in the morning, which was defined by the passengers as less time as the seriousness of the situation became clear. This wasn't just some precautionary drill anymore; the ship really was sinking. For almost an hour now, Wallace Hartley and his staunch followers were playing lively music to settle the prolonged sense of alarm welling up in the passengers' bodies and minds.
As the pack of bottom-class people dispersed up into the crowd of wealth, they looked upon the higher place with eyes of awe. The only person who stayed behind was Sergei, smiling sympathetically at them as they left.
"Thank you, Sergei," Marianne said while putting a hand on his shoulder. "For everything."
But then his triumphant smirk faded as his eyes caught an unwilling sight of someone distasteful—and yearning of human flesh—in the distance. Marianne flicked her gaze up to see what he was looking at, and her heart turned cold when she recognized the crazed blue eyes and long, blonde hair: Catherine.
Inherently, she bolted behind Henry as a first instinct. Right as she did so, however, she had disappeared, just like the dozens of other times on the ship before the iceberg disaster.
"Whoa!" Henry cried out as she tugged at his tuxedo with her manicured nails. "Is everything all right back there?"
Breathing heavily and heart pounding, Marianne told herself unconvincingly that Catherine was gone, and forcefully ripped herself off Henry. "Yes, everything is fine. For a second I thought I saw—"
"You did," Sergei chimed in, bitterness in his voice and an ugly sneer on his mouth. "I saw her too. If it comforts you, you're in a public place. She only does her dirty work when she's alone."
When Marianne was about to make a fearful reply, she yelped as a hand came down upon her shoulder. "Ryan!" she cried, placing a hand over her heart; Henry instinctively wrapped an arm around her in fear that she had been harmed. "You gave me a fright!"
"Quick," he said sternly, ignoring her complaints. "I need to get you off this death trap safely. Now stop hanging around the lower decks and follow me! Do you want to get yourself—" That's when he noticed the wrinkling dampness of her nightgown. "Marianne, what happened to you? You're soaking wet!"
"We'll have more time for this discussion later. But for now, Henry and I have to—" Marianne started, but was interrupted rudely by her frantic brother. He'd acted this way before after coming home from a brutal fight; always the savior he was, he couldn't deal with something undesired happening around his loved ones.
"Henry?" he spat, his hold tightening on Marianne's wrist. "The one who broke your heart? Marianne, he's not good, all right? He never was."
"No!" she cried, and pulled away. Whenever he did this, her mind tricked itself to believing she was a naïve, stupid girl. "He's sweet, really. Please, if you let us go, I'll explain it to you later—"
"There might not be a later for me," he whispered as the cycle of cut-offs resumed. "They're only letting women and children onboard the lifeboats. Go for your family's sake, Marianne. Stop acting like a child and get in a boat!"
A tromp up to the boat deck, and Marianne was desperately trying to emancipate herself from Ryan's persistent grasp. However, there was a blockade of people impeding their passage to the next loading lifeboat, and Marianne got to watch, with a lingering sadness clouding her heart, as lifeboat number one was lowered—with only twelve people aboard a vessel that could contain forty men without buckling under their meaty weight.
Bumping into her brother's back as he abruptly stopped, she clung on to Henry with her free hand, trembling in panic, as the horrific scene unfolded in front of her: the women being separated from their husbands and lovers, the children trying to comprehend what was happening as their fathers were ripped away from them, the band's lovely ragtime tunes emanating throughout the screaming, sobbing outdoor deck.
And the air. It was so unimaginably cold. If it was brutal dry and safe in a boat, what would it be like for the men swamped into the water, all because there weren't enough lifeboats for everyone, not even half? The White Star Line was responsible for supplying for a floating city, and instead they botched up the safety records in place for luxury and entertainment.
Furious and terrified, Marianne tore her unrelenting stare away from the torment, and started to defy her brother again. He may have weakened her with his soldier-like strength, but she was rejuvenated and ready to fight back belligerently. Swinging at his shoulder, she instead cracked her own knuckles, and being the fuss of a sister she was, she tugged him into the person next to him. Which, of course, caused an outrage from the well-dressed male whose feet had so rudely, and unintentionally, been stomped on.
After apologizing for the deed he did not commit, he hardheartedly put his attention on his furious sister, who'd so patiently waited for the crowd to lighten a bit as woman after child boarded on lifeboat number nine.
Ten minutes had passed, and the officer was calling out for more women and children. In that time, she had witnessed a thirteen-year-old boy be denied a seat in a boat because he was considered a man, and a woman need to be pried from her husband's powerless arms. It was enough horror to last a lifetime, and she was becoming a victim of it in only a couple of hours.
Instead of punching her brother in the nose, however, she asked him snobbishly, "What time is it anyway?"
He shuffled through his pocket and peered down at the pocket watch Mr. Harris had so generously given as a Christmas gift last year. "One fifteen," he proclaimed before locking his eyes with hers and clicking it shut. Stuffing it in his pocket, he commanded, "Now don't let me tell you again—get in the lifeboat."
She stood up on her toes so they were at eyelevel, nose-to-nose. "No."
Both brother and sister abandoning all sense of decorum, Marianne pounded on Ryan's back as he boosted her up and over his bulky shoulder. "No!" she cried, kicking her legs and sending a flurry of surprised passengers away from her floundering range. "I'm eighteen now, Ryan. You can't treat me like a child! Now let me go, please!" Then she jabbed out her hand, reaching for Henry. "Henry," she whimpered, and pleaded for help in her gleaming, hazel eyes.
However, what he said made her stomach plummet. "Your brother's right," he whispered. "We need to make sure you're safe."
"No!" she reiterated as she continued to resist the power involuntary placed upon her. "Not without you. Not without Father or Ryan either. I need you all to be with me so I could know you'll be all right…"
Surprisingly, Ryan set her down on her still damp feet with a soft click of her heels, sighed deeply, and whispered, looking straight in her eyes, "Oh, Marianne, my sister. It's not our place."
"Forget the rules!" she snapped, loathing her visible weakness as it emanated from her sobbing figure. "Just come home with me. Please."
But their five minutes were up, and the officer running the operation for lifeboat nine announced the people at the davits to steadily lower away. Dashing to the railing, Marianne watched as her chance started its journey to the bottomless ocean, the most cramped lifeboat she'd seen so far.
"Ha!" she huffed as the people around her waved good-bye or dumbly stood around, speechless and not knowing what to do. "They're all gone!"
"We'll just wait until these ones go—"
"Ryan!" Marianne snapped, irritated by her pounding head. "Can't you see I'm not going?"
Defeated, he sighed. "It was worth a shot." And she rushed into his arms, holding him tight. He patted her back, trying to push back the worry that clogged his throat. "My brave, darling little sister. You've been through too much." Then he reached out towards Henry. "And you too…brother."
Waiting patiently for an idea of survival to come (there was no convincing the stringent criterion of the loading officers, they learned), they listened to the band and blocked out the chaos that was now spreading throughout the ship. Many times Marianne believed she saw a dash of blonde hair and a dirtied hem damp at the seams, but they were only that of a soundlessly crying wife and a steerage woman cradling a baby in her arms, wondering where to go.
All of a sudden, there was a round of terrified screams, and the trio bolted to the railings to see lifeboat fifteen being lowered under lifeboat fifteen, the whole disordered scene a jumble of straining communication and leaning boats as the ropes were unevenly pulled. Just in the nick of time, though, those ropes were cut and the two boats made it away safely.
"When will this all end?" Marianne whispered inaudibly, her eyes pinned on the rowing boats as they left the others to perish.
"Here," Ryan suggested after the ordeal had done, pointing to the tilting bow. "Let's see what's going on down there."
"But what about Father?" Marianne cried, now more afraid that she was before.
"He's a grown man," Ryan comforted her, smirking. "He'll be fine. Besides, he's probably enjoying himself in the smoking room. They're still serving brandies despite all this chaos."
Though all the boats had long been gone, there were still the collapsibles on top of the crew's quarters. Men of all sizes, cultures, and wealth propped oars under the awaiting boat, and unsteadily the hulk slid down the precarious, manmade ramp.
As Marianne, Henry, and Ryan patiently watched the smart plan and the collapsible C being set up at the davits, there was a wheezing pant, and a familiar man came barreling through their way. Half-crazed, it was Ivan Alexandrov, eyes opened wide like a dog with rabies. "I must get in a boat!" he cried, flailing about as he shoved Marianne over, who fell with an "oh!" in Henry's cautious arms. "Let me through!"
Filled with greed, he begged and groveled to be let in, but a man pushed him aside exasperatedly so he could place his anxious-looking wife in the lifeboat. "No!" he huffed, but more people overcame him. "I must pass! I have an important mission awaiting me in America!"
But no one seemed to hear him, and after a couple of minutes, Marianne could no longer see him even if she strained her neck with all her might. "He's gone," she informed the others, who had also witnessed the scene. "Where could he have gone?"
"More importantly," Henry piped up, skimming above Marianne's head and into to crowd for any sign of the pudgy Russian man, "what is his mission in America?"
Right then, the officer called out if there were any more women or children, and without one last thought Marianne became witness to J. Bruce Ismay, the head of the White Star Line, hop on in despite the denunciating glares he was receiving. "Is that all?" the officer, disappointed by his boss's action, asked more quietly. "Then lower away!"
Meanwhile, on the other far side of the ship, Fifth Officer Harold Lowe was in charge of loading lifeboat fourteen when he was unexpectedly mobbed by groups of men, panicking and pushing to get in, notwithstanding the fact that there were still tear-stained women in the crowd. Properness mutating into savagery, and without another choice, he retrieved his pistol from his inside coat pocket and pointed it to the sky, pulling the trigger.
The shot rang out into the night, the distress flares illuminating the muddled darkness. And only fifty miles away, aware yet misunderstanding the situation as a celebration, was the ship that Jack Phillips had so rudely dissed off, tucked away in an ice field that had caused them to abruptly halt until morning. Now, Phillips was sending out the last warning cry of SOS to the nearby Californian.
But there was nothing but an eerie silence.