Captain Smith plays cupid


Gary Cooper

I don't know if any of you have seen this before. I was put onto it by a lady who was researching the life of Kate Douglas Wiggin, the authoress of 'Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm'.

' The early summer of 1894 found me on my way to England again...
I chose the Britannic for this particular voyage (or at least I thought I did) because of its commander, Captain Edward Smith, who was already an old friend and placed me always on his right at table. He was a strong, sane modest man, of quick intelligence, wide information, and a decided sense of humor; straightforward, loyal, and fitted for all sorts of companionship. When, years later, he met his tragic end on the ill-fated Titanic, a brave and gallant sailor, a true gentleman, and a staunch friend went to his death, and I mourned him greatly.
Tranquilly, I walked up the gangway on that sunny May morning in 1894, looking aloft and waving my hand in answer to the skipper's welcome. I had not the smallest idea that before many days I should be making the most Micawber-like leap of my career, for, standing somewhere on one of the decks, was a man whom I was going to marry.
Neither sense of fear or strange exhaltation crossed my mind; indeed, had a clairvoyant on the dock predicted such a change in my intentions concerning the future I should have said with dignity and full conviction, "Marriage is the last thing I wish; my life is full and my work satisfies me."
I had a brief interview with the Captain before luncheon, at which, of course, he never appeared on the first day of sailing.
"Captain, dear," I said, "I was never so tired in my life and I must rest on this voyage. I don't want to meet anyone except those at our end of the table."
"All right," the Captain replied with a quizzical glance, "You'll agree that I never was much of an 'introducer'. -There's an awfully nice chap on my left, who has made twelve or fifteen voyages with me; the Earl and Countess of R. are seated next to you, and across the table Mr William Shakespeare, the London musician, and his wife."
"That sounds delightful!" I answered. "No one could 'seat' a dinner-party with more discretion."
I went down to luncheon very late and the people at table had nearly finished the meal. We all made a brief remark or so to one another, with a view to deciding what sort of companionship might be established on a nine days' voyage. I thought both the Earl and Countess R. had most delightful and democratic manners, and the "nice chap" opposite, named on the list as George C. Riggs, New York City, looked sufficiently the part.
"Not exactly in my line," I thought, "nor I in his. The Captain says he is an American, but he looks British; however, I like that. Is he conventional, I wonder, or just correct? And oh! how could Nature waste such a curly crop of hair on a mere man! Still it is short! Let us be thankful for that! I dare say we shall get on!" (And we did!)
That superficial impression recorded, I dismissed him, and all the others, from my mind. When I learned at dinner-time that the Captain would not go down, I dined on deck and went early to my cabin.
The next day at breakfast Captain Smith introduced us and we had a very merry meal. During the morning I walked with my new acquaintance and went to tea in the Captain's room, where he and one or two others were present.'

Kate Douglas Wiggin, 'My Garden of Memory' (Massachusetts, n.d.), pp.263-265.

The next year having married the 'nice chap' that Captain Smith had introduced her to aboard the Britannic, Kate wrote how they 'sailed immediately for our wedding journey abroad. Of course we chose the Britannic as our ship and Captain Smith as our commander, thinking this a simple act of loyalty.' (p.275)
My knowledge of American literature is a bit rusty, but I have a piece noting that 'Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm' was not published until 1903, so Smith perhaps knew her via earlier works. Kate Douglas Wiggin also later delivered a eulogy at the unveiling of Smith's statue in 1914.
Could the Earl and Countess of R. be Norman and Noelle of Rothes? (Yes, Randy, I know that's the incorrect way to say it.)