Carrie Constance Toogood Chaffee remained unmarried until her death on 4 July 1931 in Amenia, North Dakota. The Cassleton Reporter (Cassleton, North Dakota) reported on its front page "Mrs. H. F. CHAFFEE DIES AT AMENIA." Mrs. Chaffee had been sick for a number of months.
It seems I am late realizing that the family stories from my Great-Grandmother, Carrie Toogood Chaffee, might be of interest to the Titanic community.
Carrie, a first class passenger travelling with her husband, Herbert Fuller Chaffee, made away from the Titanic on Lifeboat 4. As the last full-size lifeboat to pull away, the boat had quite an adventure, following along with lifeboat 14 searching for survivors. I have been working on an "historical fiction" account of her journey, based on the formal testimonies and family stories, and finding the research just goes on and on, deeper and deeper.
So in honor of the 100th anniversary, I am going to attempt to post an account of part of her experience, for all to share. The work has helped me find closure for my extended family over the loss of our beloved Great-grandfather, Herbert. For all those who remember, may we find peace and inspiration in the end.
Prologue for this chapter:
The evening before this chapter begins, Carrie Constance Toogood Chaffee and her husband, Herbert Fuller Chaffee, had dinner with several other passengers on the Titanic. It was the evening of April 14, 1912, about four hours before fate would have the great ship strike an iceberg. When the passengers were seated, Bruce Ismay, the ship owner, and Thomas Andrews, the ship builder, stopped by the table, asking for comments on the ship and the voyage.
“Nothing forgotten,” said Herbert, “and exceptional staff. I hope they are well rewarded.
“I have wondered about the engines. Of course, I may know nothing about it, you see, I run several steam tractors. Nothing like this ship. Still, they are unique for their size. It seems to be a shame to be running this ship so hard before the engines are fully broken in.” Herbert turned so that he was facing Ismay directly. “Especially, as I hear, when there are icebergs in the area.”
Carrie broke in before Mr. Ismay could answer. “Is there such a need for such a terrible speed?” she asked.
Mr. Ismay tried to reassure them. “I am quite certain that the Captain and his crew know their business,” was his reply.
Later, the couple walked to the bow to view the sunset. As they stood watching the fading remnants of brilliant gold, Carrie confided her discomfort with the lifestyle of the company with whom they had found themselves, the casual way in which they took their good fortune for granted, and their casual disdain for the ”lower classes” that was a part of that world.
“We need not have anything to do with that, Carrie,” said Herbert, “except that we ourselves must treat every man with dignity. All any man can do is to do the best with what he has been given, and not wish for any more, or any less. What others do, well, we do not need to do as they do. They make too much of both wealth and poverty. No one can say what is in a man’s heart.
“I imagine that if this were the last sunset I would ever see, all I could ask for is to share it with you. With that, I shall be the wealthiest man in the world. Neither the richest nor the poorest among us could ask for more. And time cannot take this away.”
Later that night, as Titanic was sinking, Carrie is one among thirty-five women, four children, and two crewmen put aboard lifeboat No. 4. Titanic begins her list to port as Second Officer Charles H. Lightoller and Quartermaster Walter J. Perkis finally lower lifeboat No. 4 to the Atlantic.
First Officer Murdoch had just passed along the port side on his way to lifeboat 10, repeating Captain Smith’s orders for men to go below, open the gangway doors, let down the ladders, and wait for the lifeboats to pick them up. He had also given orders for the lifeboats to pull alongside the gangway doors and stand by for more passengers.
At Second Officer Lightoller’s urging, as soon as the lifeboat was lowered, Masseurs Widner, Richards, Hocking, Clark, Cumings, and Herbert Fuller Chaffee went below to find the open gangway doors. None of these men were seen again. Their bodies were never recovered.
Chapter 10: The Last Hour
In the end, Second Officer Lightoller managed to load thirty-five women and four children into Lifeboat No. 4 by having them climb up on lounge chairs and out through Titanic’s ‘A’ deck promenade windows. The moment he was certain that the last of the passengers were safely in the boat, he was up the ladder from the ‘A’ deck promenade to the boat deck in three steps.
Lightoller stepped up and out into the open space of the boat deck. The noise of steam venting up on the funnels had quieted, down into a long, grey sigh. He could hear the band playing on the boat deck first class promenade. Nearby he could hear the strained conversation and see the drawn smiles of the remaining gentlemen milling about.
At that same moment, another emergency rocket exploded, high up over the bridge. Lightoller turned to look forward over the bridge. He stepped up to the bulwark at the forepart of the officer’s promenade and looked out over Titanic’s bow. In the brilliant phosphor white light he could see the North Atlantic waters were over Titanic’s bow railing and coming up her forward deck.
Just about that same moment, Quartermaster Perkis had been relieved from his turn at the helm and was leaving the wheelhouse. The two men met as Lightoller turned back around to get to the lifeboat davits, and nearly bowled each other over. Lightoller got one hand on the rail and straightened up. He looked over to the Lifeboat No. 4 davits, looked around at the passengers, and looked back at Perkis.
He gave Perkis a quick order. “Come with me!”
Never hesitating in twenty-three years of service to the sea, Perkis squared himself up and called back instantly. “Aye, sir!”
Lightoller led the way a short distance down the boat deck past the first collapsible lifeboat.
He stopped and pointed at the Lifeboat No. 4 aft davits. “Give us a hand there at the aft falls.” he said, abruptly. “Stand by to lower!”
“Aye, aye, sir!”
Perkis made his way through the cluster first class men and ladies gathered next to the lifeboats, and up to the Lifeboat No. 4 davits. He got to the falls and got the falls tail loose from the bitt.
The gentlemen who had assisted Lightoller on the ‘A’ deck were now making their way up to the boat deck. Herbert was among those who made their way to the gunwale. He found a spot at the Lifeboat No. 6 forward davit only a few feet aft of where Perkis was taking up the falls. Herbert looked out over the edge. He could see Carrie, seated in Lifeboat No. 4, center, portside, facing in toward Titanic. She was looking up.
Carrie had been waiting, anxiously watching the activities up on the boat deck. She had removed her gloves, laying them to one side on the bench, and drew the hood from her cloak back from over her head in spite of the cold. She saw Herbert as soon as he looked down, and she came up out of her seat and smiled and waved and then she sat down and put her hands to her mouth.
Herbert blew her a kiss.
Lightoller made his way to the forward falls and got them ready. He turned and faced the crowd.
“Gentlemen!” he said, sharply. “I would have you all stand by the gangway doors, below! We can not let you on the boats until they are afloat!”
“As soon as we see them safely away,” Herbert said quietly, just loud enough for Perkis to hear. Perkis gave Herbert a quick, knowing smile, and turned back to the ropes.
Looking out over the gunwale and down the sixteen-foot drop to the lifeboat, Perkis was just above Storekeeper John Foley who was standing at the aft falls block with one hand to the tiller. He took hold of the davit, leaned out over the gunwale, and called out to the lifeboat. “Ready below! Stand by to lower!”
“Aye, aye, sir! All ready!” Foley called back.
Lightoller looked over at Perkis. “Ready!” he called out. “Lower away! Follow along my lead!”
Perkis stood back, braced himself, and looked over at Lightoller. Lightoller gave a nod. The two men watched each other letting out the rope, slowly at first, each watching the rope going faster through the hands of the other, watching the rope make away, singing out over the pulleys, and down through the falls. Lifeboat No. 4 made her way, down, and down, and down, finally settling on to the cold and heartless breast of the North Atlantic Ocean.
When the lifeboat reached the water Foley shouted up to the boat deck from the lifeboat’s aft end. “Boat afloat! Belay the falls!”
Perkis took hold of the Lifeboat No. 4 aft davit, leaned out over the gunwale and called back down to the boat. “Aye, aye, below! She’s all yours Jack!”
Lightoller made the forward falls tail fast to the bitt and turned to Perkis. “Go round the boat deck, Perkis. See if there are any of the ladies or children still at hand.”
“Aye, sir!” Perkis replied.
Forward of Lightoller on the officer’s promenade, Quartermaster Arthur John Bright and Able Seaman William A. Lucas were setting the falls from the empty Lifeboat No. 2 davits to Collapsible Lifeboat ‘D’. A crowd of steerage passengers were making their way up from the forward well deck by way of the officer’s deck stairs, coming on to the officer’s promenade deck next to the collapsible lifeboat’s bow.
Perkis stepped back from the gunwale holding the falls tail not quite hand taut as angry shouting broke out on the officer’s promenade deck about twenty feet behind Lightoller’s back. Unfamiliar voices at Collapsible ‘D’ shouting “Ay!” “Hey!” and English voices shouting “Get back, you!” and an American shouting, “What the hell do you think you are up to!” Perkis could see a couple of men attempting to commandeer Collapsible Lifeboat ‘D’ and he could make out the voices of Bright and first-class passengers Ryerson and Duquemin shouting them back.
Perkis got one hand on the Lifeboat No. 4 aft davit to brace himself as Lightoller was suddenly around and up on the forward davit frame and just as suddenly brandishing a pistol.
“Get out of there, cowards!” he shouted, and vaulted over the ropes and the lifeboat gunwale, and got himself squarely on the mid-ship thwarts right in front of the steerage passengers who were climbing into the boat. “Get out, or I will have you thrown overboard!”
Down below in lifeboat No. 4 the passengers had been silently looking out at the water, watching Storekeeper John Foley and Able Seaman William McCarthy keeping the ropes clear, and looking up at the falls straining from the davits as Lightoller and Perkis were letting the lifeboat down.
Carrie continued to keep her eyes focused on the boat deck railing, trying to see past the lights and reflections and tried to watch the gunwale where Herbert was standing. She could not see much more than his silhouette as the lifeboat settled onto the dark surface of the North Atlantic.
Herbert watched until the boat was in the water, and waved once more to Carrie. She saw him standing and could see him waving. She waved back, still watching. Herbert stepped back from the gunwale and turned away.
Herbert looked around at the others, and noticed Colonel Astor had managed to find a place at the rail next to him.
"Well, then, Colonel,” he said, clearly enough for the others to hear.
“I believe there is a passenger door on “D” deck, not far below. I imagine there would be no harm if we were to stand by there.”
“Very thoughtful of you, my good man,” Colonel Astor said, and looked up, taking a deep breath in through his nose.
“Good thinking,” he continued, looking around at the other gentlemen. “Perhaps a few of you might see if you have any luck. I believe I should stay here, and see if I might be any further help with the last few boats, here.”
Herbert blinked, and then put out his hand. “Best of luck, then.”
Astor shook his hand firmly. “Yes. Best of luck to us all.”
Herbert looked around at the others. “Well, then. Anyone?” He turned his collar up, looked up at the funnels and the steam, and started making his way down to the gangway doors.
After Herbert was gone, Carrie closed her eyes for a moment and then sat looking down at her hands folded in her lap. She noticed that the sound of steam venting and the shouting orders up on the boat deck had faded away, and that the weight of the lifeboat shifted from the stiff, groaning ropes of the lifeboat falls to the slow, silent, and steady lifting up and letting down of the ocean. She looked down at the fine oak and elm timbers and pitch pine bench and ran her fingers over the wood along the gunwale.
“Only the best, of course,” she whispered to herself.
Carrie slowly and carefully pulled her new capretto gloves back on, buttoning them up with some deliberation, one, two, three, four. She slowly looked up and around, squinting and blinking at the sharp reflections in the water and the unfamiliar darkness of the North Atlantic. From her seat near the center of the port side bench, she had her back to the ocean, and she was facing the starboard side of the lifeboat from the port side bench. The imposing presence of Titanic’s port side consumed her view, the massive metal sheets, rows of portholes and rivet heads seemingly stretching to the horizon on either side.
Carrie watched as the ropes slackened and the blocks lay down on the lifeboat’s end decks. She felt the smell of the cold salt air deep in behind her eyes. She looked around and into the faces of the other passengers on board. The other passengers were looking expectantly around at each other, their eyes betraying their unspoken fears as the sounds from above were displaced by the low, persistent rumble growing deep inside Titanic’s iron walls. No one seemed to know what to do next. Carrie straightened herself and took a deep breath.
“Well!” she said. “It certainly is good to have that done with. Are we all set, then?”
There was a moment of continued silence, and then Foley spoke up. “We will need to man the oars, Ma’am,” he said. “I wouldn’t expect that any of you have been at the oars?”
“Oh! For goodness’ sake!” exclaimed the elder Ms. Hippach from her seat just aft of Carrie, at the second thwart on the port side bench. “With all this fuss,” she said, shaking her head and looking around. “What on earth are you up to? Certainly, there are sailormen who could come aboard! Oh! Of all the indignities!”
Her daughter, Ms. Jean Hippach interrupted. “Oh, Mother!” she said. “It is just for safety’s sake. How many times have you told me not to put myself above any man’s work? Well! The sooner we just make the best of this we can get away from all this fuss!”
“Well! I must say!” said Ms. Hippach.
“I will take an oar, if I may,” said Jean, speaking firmly.
“There is an oar, and there is an oarlock right behind you, if you like,” said Foley.
Jean Hippach turned around. “This one?” she said.
“Yes, Ma’am. And right there, mid the thwarts . . .”
“Yes, I see. Yes, that’s just fine.”
Right across from her, seated on the starboard bench at the aft part of the second thwart, Ms. Thayer took hold of one of the heavy oak oars laid amidships across the thwarts and turned and found a second oarlock along the bench behind her. “I suppose I can manage this,” she said, “unless I might spoil the fun for the rest of you!”
“We can hope it is not too long,” said Ms. Cummings. “We might take turns.”
From the bow of the boat, huddled together with her children, Ms. Carter called out. “I am sure I can help, if we are taking turns,” she said, “I might need some help with the children.”
On the starboard side of the third thwart, Ms. Clark was lifting an oar from along the bench behind where she was sitting, and looking around. “Would there be another oarlock along this side?” she asked.
“Forward,” said Perkis.
“Right up this way,” said McCarthy from the bow deck, pointing to the next starboard oarlock between the third and fourth thwarts, just past the where the Carters were huddled.
“Right, yes, I see it,” said Ms. Clark.
“These are a bit heavy, Ma’am,” said McCarthy. “You will row all right from the benches, if you must. Some times if you are coming up to quarters, needing to move a bit, you see, it will be best if you should have your legs about you, standing, just so.”
“Oh, yes. I see,” said Ms. Clark, looking somewhat puzzled. “Yes. Of course.”
Across from Ms. Clark, Ms. Cummings moved forward on the bench, toward Ms. Hamlin, who was seated on the second thwart. “There would be another just ahead, here?” she said.
Ms. Hamlin was huddled into a blanket with her eight-month-old child, facing forward. On her way to America from her home in Finland, she spoke no English, and did not truly understand what was going on around her.
Ms. Cummings presence beside her startled her out of her focused world.
“Oho! Anteeksi!” she said. “Hei, yes?” (Oh, excuse me! Hello, yes?”)
“Oh, dear, please excuse me. I am so sorry,” said Ms. Cummings.
“No English. Kyllä? No English,” said Ms. Hamlin, her eyes wide. (No English. Yes? No English.)
“You poor dear,” said Ms. Cummings.
“En tiedä . . . Ai tount anderstänt . . .” (I do not . . . I don’t understand . . .)
“Little one, yes?” Said Ms. Cummings, nodding her head, and looking down at the small face peering out of the blankets. “Yes?”
“Yes, yes,” said Ms. Hamlin, her eyes filling with tears.
Ms. Cummings put her arm around Ms. Hamlin. “Yes,” she said, “I am missing my husband . . .”
Ms. Hamlin put her left hand over her face and began weeping with short gasps. Ms. Cummings pulled gently with her arm around Ms. Hamlin and let her collapse into her shoulder.
The boat grew silent, watching Ms. Hamlin and Ms. Cummings and the heavy, broken sobs.
Carrie watched and then looked down at her warmly gloved hands and back up at Titanic. Her eyes were now more fully adjusted to the light. She listened to Ms. Hamlin slowly recovering herself with deep, heaving sighs and became aware of the stillness of the water, and the cold, and the light haze in the air along the surface of the ocean. She noticed how small the lifeboat was beside Titanic. She noticed the living movement of the water and she noticed the dark sounds of Titanic’s boilers and the low rumbling deep within the great ship’s hull.
As she looked forward up Titanic’s side, she noticed Titanic’s bow had settled further into the ocean and that the water was over the forward well deck and just below the bridge.
From behind her, out of the corner of her eye she noticed a light breaking across the water not thirty feet aft on the ship’s port side. The forward gangway door leading into the first class dining area on ‘D’ deck had been opened. The door opened from the aftward side and swung out so that the door blocked her view of anyone who might be standing there or looking out.
Carrie blinked several times and looked around the boat, first looking forward at McCarthy and then aft at Foley, and then around at the other women.
“Well,” she said, “Don’t you think we should get under way?”
Up on the boat deck, Ryerson, Duquemin, Bright, and Lucas had locked arms around Collapsible Lifeboat ‘D’ along with several other passengers and crew. Lightoller had regained control of the lifeboat, pocketed his pistol, and was now helping Able Seaman Samuel Hemming at the davits, swinging the lifeboat out over the ocean.
Perkis made the Lifeboat No. 4 aft falls tail fast and turned to make his way toward Titanic’s stern along the first class promenade. He passed the empty No. 6 and No. 8 lifeboat davits and a handful of the gentlemen passengers milling about and the band playing. As he passed across the midships deck and came up to the No. 3 funnel and then the dome over the aft first class entrance he paused for a couple of gentlemen making their way from the starboard side.
“Are you gentlemen all right, then?” Perkis asked.
“Well enough, my good man,” said the first one. “Well enough.”
“Quite well, I must say,” said the second, “Just so, the rockets are a bit troubling, don’t you think?”
“Yes, sir, I must say so,” said Perkis. “I daresay you might have a look at the forward deck sir. There are still one or two lifeboats yet to get away, and the women and children are fairly well accounted for.”
“Well!” said the first, his eyes going wide. “I suppose we should have a look!”
“Yes, indeed,” said the second, as the two men looked at each other wide-eyed and nodding. “Thank-you, then, my good man.”
“Yes, sir, you are quite welcome, sir,” said Perkis. He gave a modest tip to his hat, turned to starboard, and made his way across the deck just after the No. 3 funnel and the dome over the first class aft entrance.
“Poor fellows,” Perkis muttered to himself. “I only hope Lightoller can keep that rabble under control.”
On the starboard side of Titanic’s boat deck, Perkis could see that all of the standard starboard lifeboats were away. A crowd of men had gathered on the forward deck, and angry voices in Norwegian and Finnish and Irish and Kurdish, shouts crying out “let us through” and “stand back.” He could make out the voices of Chief Officer Henry T. Wilde and Purser Hugh W. McElroy.
He continued forward up the deck, past the railing for the officer’s promenade, and stopped next to the bench across from the No. 3 lifeboat davits. He straightened his moustache with his right hand and absent-mindedly rubbed the stubble on his chin. He could make out Wilde standing at Collapsible Lifeboat ‘C’ well filled with passengers and Moody and several crewmembers forming a circle around the boat.
Wilde shouted out over the heads of the crew. “Are there any more women about”?
There was a moment of quiet. Perkis gave a shout forward. “None to the aft of the ship!”
Wilde waited a half-minute and then turned to two of the men standing by. “Very well then,” he said. “If there are no more women aboard the ship, let’s get you two aboard.”
“I should not think of it, Wilde. Not . . .” said one of the men, speaking sharply.
Wilde took the man by the shoulders and spoke firmly. “The business on deck is not your duty, Ismay. Enough of your damned heroism. No doubt you have done your best here. But now you have a job to do. Get back to Belfast and tell them the truth.”
With that, Wilde spun the man around and practically lifted him into the lifeboat.
Wilde turned to the second man. “In with you.”
Mr. Carter did not hesitate.
Wilde turned toward Murdoch at the forward davit and spoke sharply. “Murdoch! A hand there at the forward falls! Stand by to lower!” He turned back to the boat. “Quartermaster, there!”
Quartermaster George Rowe called back from the lifeboat stern. “Aye, sir!”
“Stand by the linking gear and have Mr. Ismay at the bow. Take the tiller and have Ismay and the other gentleman hard at the oars as soon as you are away!”
“Aye, aye, sir!”
Wilde made loose the aft falls tail, and he and Murdoch began to let out the falls and lower the lifeboat to the water below.
Perkis could see that there would be not much doing until the lifeboat was away and thought better of helping out at Collapsible Lifeboat ‘A’ there atop the officer’s quarters and he turned to make his way back to the port side, blowing into both of his hands together and then pulling his collar up and holding tight at the neck with his right hand and continuing to blow into his left hand.
He noticed Titanic’s list growing heavier as he made his way back across her lifeboat deck. When he got to the port side he looked aft and could see First Officer Murdock with sailormen Buley and Evans at the No.10 lifeboat davits, lowering away the last of the afterdeck lifeboats. A pair of sailormen was lashing deck chairs together and another was simply pitching them over the side.
There was a deep thump from the bridge and the light of a signal rocket rising. Perkis stood for a moment and looked up into the light of the rocket illuminating the sky, and then the signal burst and the deck and the steam and the sea were bright and the frenetic activities at the lifeboats and the darkness and the noise of the steam faded into a strange wonder of light and then faded back to darkness again.
He took hold of the railing at the engineers’ promenade with both hands. He kept his head down and blinked several times to get the after-light out of his eyes. After about one minute his eyes had adjusted back to the dark and he could see the white paint on Titanic’s railing and he breathed deeply and watched his clouded breath curling down to the bright pine decking at his feet and back up into the night.
“What a shame.” he said to himself. “Such beautiful wood.”
He straightened up, got his footing, and turned to make his way forward to report back to Lightoller.
Coming up the deck toward the No. 4 lifeboat davits, Perkis could see Mr. Astor up by the portside boat deck fore gunwale fumbling with a cigarette and looking down the No. 4 lifeboat falls. Behind him, up on the officer’s deck, Lightoller and Able Seaman Samuel Hemming were loading passengers into Collapsible Lifeboat ‘D’ out on the No. 2 lifeboat falls.
As he crossed over the port side officer’s promenade rail Perkis could make out the voices of the loud and angry passengers up around Collapsible ‘D’. Fireman Jensen had joined Mr. Duquemin and the others facing down the press of sullen-faced second and third class passengers and crewmen that had made their way up from the well deck and below. Next to Jensen a uniformed man was holding a pistol in the air. Several gentlemen and about a dozen women were huddled back against the officer’s promenade railing, watching Lightoller and Hemming at the davits and Quartermaster Bright standing by the forward falls.
Perkis came forward and took hold of the No. 4 lifeboat aft davit. He looked across to Lightoller, now just a few feet away. He looked again up and down the deck and had a look over the side down to the lifeboat. Looking down he could see the ropes leading down into the dark, illuminated by the windows of the ‘A’ and ‘B’ promenades and a scattering of portholes on the decks below. The lifeboat itself was no more than an outline, the faces barely visible but for the light scattering along the surface of the ocean from the gangway door on the ‘D’ deck, now only a few feet above the surface of the cold and unmoving Atlantic.
Between the dark of the ocean and the lights from the ship, Perkis could just make out Foley standing by the tiller and someone near the bow attempting to put the oars out.
Perkis called down to the boat. “Ahoy there, Jack, are you making way?”
Foley called back. “Yes, sir! We need another hand down here, sir!”
Perkis turned to see if Lightoller was making way with Collapsible ‘D’. He could see the women who had been waiting by the officer’s promenade railing had stepped forward to the boat. Lightoller had the collapsible out, had one foot in on the bench, and was helping the women on board. Perkis looked back down the falls and back at Lightoller.
Just then, he saw Wilde standing by the No. 2 davit falls, speaking sharply to Lightoller. “That will do with the ropes, Lightoller. As soon as she’s ready we will have you go with her.”
Lightoller stepped back up on the deck. “Not damn likely, Wilde. I will have Sailormen Bright and Lucas and a couple of worthy gentlemen aboard. We will still have Collapsible ‘B’ to get loaded.” Wilde stammered briefly, turned around, and headed back to starboard.
Perkis turned back to the falls.
“Stand by the ropes there, Jack!” he shouted. “I am coming down. Hold the falls and stand by to keep the lines clear while I bring up the davit.”
Foley called back. “Aye, aye, sir.”
Perkis rubbed his hands together, made loose the aft falls tail, and got it under his right foot. He got to the aft davit winch and brought the davit up so that the falls came in to about four feet of the deck, letting the tail slip out under his foot. He made the tail fast again, got up on the edge of the deck, took hold of the davit with his left hand, and leaned out over the empty space to fetch the lifeline with his right hand.
He called down to the boat. “Mind the lifeline below!”
“Aye,” Foley called back.
The lifeline was reeved to the davit span with a small eye, and the forward tip of the Titanic caused the rope to slide toward the bow. Perkis looked up at the span, shook the lifeline twice to pull it tight to the aft davit, and got it to hook up over the davit tip. He looked down at the lifeboat below, and took a long slow breath.
“Easy,” he whispered to himself. He looked down again and creased his forehead as he gauged the distance. “She’s just below ‘D’ deck. That’s not far.”
He pulled his cap on tightly, and put both hands on the rope. He lifted himself, got his right leg around the rope, got a scissors lock on the rope, right leg around, and left foot on top. He took a last look at the deck, and then closed his eyes for a moment.
“Mother Mary,” he said quietly. “Have mercy on us, now . . .”
He focused on both hands together holding tightly while letting his legs slip just enough to move down, holding the rope close to his body as he let himself down, arms extended, bringing his left hand down, and then his right. He let himself slide a second time, and a third, and again as he passed the ‘A’ deck overhang. As he let himself down he could see into first the ‘A’ deck and then the ‘B’ deck promenades. Still brightly lit, now deserted, strange, and unfamiliar without the bustle and the assuming happiness of the first and second class passengers.
He let himself down into the dark space below the ‘B’ deck promenade, and down again. He felt his right leg shaking. He held still for a moment, lifted himself slightly, and let go with both legs. He let himself down again while getting his left leg around the rope, and then getting his right leg around and shifting his weight on to his left leg. He held still with his eyes closed until his right leg stopped shaking.
As he opened his eyes, he could see he was the better part of twelve feet from the ship’s side. As his eyes adjusted to the dark he could see his breath now in white clouds and could see aft along the ‘C’ deck port holes. Just above, another signal rocket was launched off the bridge, lighting up the night, and glinting off the long rows of rivets that detailed the black outlines of Titanic’s side plates. Far at the stern, Perkis could make out the top edge of the screws, just breaking above the water.
In the boat below, the younger Ms. Hippach and Ms. Thayer had the aft oars into the oarlocks and were looking up and watching Perkis making his way down the life rope. Carrie had settled as well as she could into the corner of the center thwart and the portside bench.
“Well,” noted Ms. Cummings, from her seat next to Ms. Hamlin. “It is certainly a good thing the sea is calm. I could not imagine any of this in rough weather. So much of a fuss for safety’s sake, I must say. I certainly hope they have a better plan for getting everyone back on board.”
“It is hard to believe that they would not have better organized their lifeboat plans,” said Carrie. “They seem to have gone through such pains for everything else.”
“Well, there was a drill scheduled for tomorrow. Although I suppose it is a little late now.”
“A little late all together, I should say. That is not the sort of thing that should wait. Not for the crew, at any rate. That should be well rehearsed beforehand.”
“Oh my, yes,” added Ms. Hippach. “Rather an indignity to use the passengers to practice, I should say. Up and down the stairs, they had us. Marching like an army drill. Why, it should be just so simple to put people on a boat. Having us climbing through a window, for goodness’ sake! Who would have thought such a thing?”
“It so good of your daughter to take to the oars,” said Ms. Astor, from her seat facing forward on the second thwart. “I would have liked to row a bit myself.”
“Oh, my dear,” exclaimed the other ladies, almost in unison. “Good heavens! Not in your condition,” added Ms. Hippach. “You must take care of yourself.”
“I do so wish they would have let John aboard. There is plenty of room,” said Ms. Astor, “and he is such a good oarsman. We should want for nothing.”
“He is quite the gentleman,” said Ms. Cummings.
“Yes,” said Carrie, who was looking down at her hands. “I should have Herbert here. We have a lake house, a fine place for boating, and he does enjoy the exercise.”
“Really?” said Ms. Astor.
“A little place, really,” said Carrie, looking up. “Lake Melissa. It’s in Minnesota. My husband insisted we should have some place to get away with the summers so hot. He got a motor launch, and it is just like having a porch with an awning that you take out on the water. And some fishing with the boys, of course.”
“It sounds wonderful,” said Ms. Cummings.
“It is, so,” said Carrie, brightening up. “We should have you all come visit.”
“Oh, do, yes,” said Ms. Astor. “We can make all the arrangements as soon as we get this silly business settled.”
“Do you really think we will get back on the ship?” asked Ms. Clark, who was seated across from Ms. Astor. “I am afraid I will have lost all my things.”
“I should certainly hope we get back to our rooms,” said Ms. Hippach. “Really. They should have some means of keeping things safe, you know, and I do believe I saw the purser still on deck. Not that this lifeboat drill makes me very confident, I should say.”
Just then is when the signal rocket burst, and Carrie looked up. She could see Perkis outlined in the phosphor light, and the dark mass of Titanic behind him.
Perkis looked down as the light of the signal rocket faded and could see that he was now only about ten feet above the boat, as Titanic had settled as much while he was climbing down.
“Lord, be with us, now, . . .” he whispered.
“Are you right, mate?” Foley called out.
“Aye!” said Perkis. “All right,” he said, and let himself down another arm’s length. “She’s settling fast, Jack. Down to the ‘C’ deck and tipping heavy to the bow. The screws are coming up. Out of the water.”
He let himself down, and down, one last time. “Make way, Jack.”
He made the stern of the lifeboat and got his footing on the gunwale and on the thwart next to the block at the end of the falls, and then stepped down into the bottom of the boat next to Foley, who was standing by the tiller. He let go the safety rope and rubbed his hands together.
“Who is aboard?” said Perkis, feeling the sway of the small boat, and reaching back out to take hold of the falls with his left hand.
“Me and this fellow,” said Foley, nodding his head at the bow, where a dark and heavily mustached sailorman, William McCarthy was standing by the forward falls.
Perkis turned toward the bow. “Are you with the crew then?”
“Aye, sir,” came the reply. “Able Seaman. McCarthy.”
“How did you happen to board?”
“Lightoller’s orders, sir. Down the falls, as she stood off the ‘A’ deck.”
“Were you ordered to cast off?”
“Aye, sir,” said McCarthy. “Cast off and stand by the gangway doors.”
“Lightoller sent him down after he and Hemming got us off the boat deck,” said Foley. “After that Murdoch come along and says for us to go around to the gangway doors and stand by for passengers. Then after Lightoller gets the ladies in the boat he says it again, pull away and stand by the doors.
“Right after that is when he went up to the boat deck and he gets you and lowers away. We were getting the oars set and a couple of the ladies here have volunteered to row, just as we seen you passing above.”
Perkis took in a sharp breath. He took a quick look about the boat and at the passengers as he put his right hand up to smooth his moustache, and could see Ms. Thayer and Ms. Hippach sitting by the aft oars. He looked up at Titanic and along the rails above while rubbing his moustache and chin and then looked back at the passengers in the boat. He took another deep breath.
“Begging your pardon, Ma’am . . . Ma’am . . ,” he said, and nodded to each of the women. “Hadn’t seen you there. Are you quite prepared, if you . . . you are ready to follow orders?”
“Oh of course,” said Jean Hippach.
“Certainly, Mr. . . ” said Ms. Thayer.
“Perkis. Quartermaster Perkis, Ma’am.”
“Oh,” said Ms. Thayer.
Perkis took a deep breath. “Right then,” he said, returning to full command with his voice. “McCarthy, let go the Murray link forward and keep a hand to the falls. Make your way to the first starboard oarlock and stand by to come about.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
“Mr. Perkis,” said Ms. Thayer, “are we in danger?”
Still standing at the aft falls, Perkis’ shoulders slowly sagged just briefly. He looked down, took a deep breath, and straightened himself up. Still holding the ropes with his left hand, he rubbed his chin with his right. He looked up and looked at all the women, who were listening now with their full attention. He looked down again, took another deep breath, and looked up again. He let go the ropes, rubbed his hands together, and squared his shoulders as best he could. “Titanic is taking on water,” he said, “and she’ll not be going much further.
“Murdoch, First Officer Murdock . . . . they, uhmmm. They say . . . Murdoch says he was told she should stay afloat some time. Maybe twenty-four hours. He says we have word from the Marconi, that would be the wireless telegraph, says, Murdoch says, that we have word there’s a ship on the way, maybe a couple, and we should be loaded up and off to New York by morning.”
“We are to cast off and stand by and look for more passengers at the gangway doors,” he continued. He looked up at Titanic. “I am not sure but if we are better off here on the lifeboats,” he said. “There is, ah, I feel I must put it plainly. . . .”
Perkis stopped and looked blankly down at the bottom of the boat. He blinked several times, took a deep breath, and got his chin up again. “I suppose I should say some of the steerage passengers are a bit upset and I am afraid it might be a bit rough with them.”
He looked around at the boat, looking for some sign that the women understood. No one spoke.
He looked down again and then looked around again and said “Leastways we’ll be able to make way to the first ship as arrives and pitch in to help.”
The women sat in cold silence. They were all sitting straight, all hands folded, all eyes looking for his next word. Perkis felt the cold air on his neck and listened to the steam far above and the dark rumble coming from deep within Titanic’s hull. He looked out across the still black water and watched his breath becoming a white cloud. He looked back at the tiller and back at the boat. He squared his shoulders, got another deep breath, and turned to Foley.
“Jack!” he said, “Let’s have you on an oar. Make your way forward to port side oarlock. You should be set there. I seen to the thole pins myself.”
“Aye, aye!” Foley said, and turned to get a foot up on the first thwart forward of the tiller.
“Beg your pardon, please, make way Ma’am,” he said, as Mrs. Widener and her servant Amalie made room between them, and Foley stepped across the first thwart and then the second.
“Beg your pardon, Ma’am,” he said.
“Oh, come right through,” said Lady Astor.
“Just you never mind us,” said Ms. Endres, making a fuss with her coat.
“Are you set, McCarthy?” Perkis called forward.
McCarthy had produced a pair of woolen mittens and was pulling them on, standing by the starboard oarlock. “Aye, aye, sir!”
“Foley! A hand to the Murray latch there!”
Perkis turned and called up to the lifeboat deck. “Letting go the links! Casting off the blocks! Anyone above, take up the falls!”
There was no reply. He could see no one at the Lifeboat No. 4 davits.
Perkis stood still for a moment, looking up at the boat deck. He could see Collapsible ‘D’ starting her way down to the water. There were a few crewmen and others standing near the gunwale there, watching the lifeboat as she was lowering. He could see that Titanic was listing to port a good ten degrees, and the lifeboat was about five feet from the ship’s side as she passed ‘A’ deck.
As he watched the lifeboat pass the ‘A’ deck forward promenade he could see a couple of men standing by the ‘A’ deck gunwale. Perkis watched as first one of the men leapt from the deck and grabbed the falls and swung into the boat, and then the second.
“Damn fools,” Perkis muttered to himself. “Going to foul the ropes.” He held his breath and watched until he could see that the boat was continuing to lower. “Mother Mary,” he said under his breath. “We will ever be grateful,” he said, and quickly crossed himself. He got his feet square up against the stowage hatches near the stern bulkheads and got himself balanced standing in the boat and got both hands on the tiller.
“McCarthy, starboard hard, about to port!”
McCarthy, facing aft, leaned far forward, set his oar in the water, and pulled. The boat urged forward. Perkis swept the tiller to starboard, rudder to port, and she pivoted out from Titanic’s side.
“Ready on the port side!” said Foley.
“What should I do?” called out Ms. Thayer.
“Be ready, Ma’am, you are starboard,” Perkis said to Ms. Thayer.
“All starboard, pull hard.”
Ms. Thayer leaned forward and got her oar into the water. McCarthy managed to match her stroke and Lifeboat No. 4 made her way into the Atlantic.
Perkis called out, “Again! All starboard, pull hard,”
He swept the tiller to starboard and she came around and out, about twenty feet from Titanic. The boat being thirty feet long, she was now about one length from the falls.
From the stern of the lifeboat, Perkis could now see aft along Titanic’s port side, and then just alongside the lifeboat he saw the light from Titanic’s ‘D’ deck open gangway door going below the water line and saw the water surging into the doorway. He felt the tiller slack in his hand and the lifeboat sliding to port and her stern being pulled into the downward suction of the water.
“Hard ahead! All hands, hard ahead!” he shouted.
“Oh, my!” said Ms. Thayer.
Foley, McCarthy, and Ms. Hippach lay to their oars all together. Ms. Thayer caught McCarthy’s oar on the forward stroke as she leaned forward to lay her oar back. McCarthy was quick to flutter his oar into a backstroke and called out “Ahead, Ma’am, ahead!”
Ms. Eustice, who was facing aft next to Ms. Thayer on the first thwart ahead of Perkis cried out “The water!” and put her hands to her face.
“Double up, Jack,” shouted Perkins. “Port side! Hard on the port side!”
Foley suddenly felt himself pulling against what felt like empty air inside a wall of water deep below the boat and dragging with an unknowable force that slammed his oar up against the lifeboat side. The lifeboat stern turned to nearly ninety degrees toward the open doorway and into the water now pouring into Titanic’s side.
“Hard ahead!” shouted Perkis, leaning the tiller to port.
McCarthy got his oar in and pulled, finding the oar seeming to pull itself. He fell backward against Ms. Carter’s maid Augustine.
Foley brought his oar back and leaned deep into it, again the oar was dragged aft by the undertow as Foley seemed to pull against wind. “Can’t . . .” he said.
Ms. Jean Hippach sat with her oar suspended and looked up to see the open portal not ten feet in front of her off the lifeboat stern. She was looking directly into the doorway and at the water pouring into the port side entry to the first class dining level. She sat helpless watching the water pulling the lifeboat in, and down.
Just behind Ms. Jean Hippach, Carrie looked up to see straight into the doorway as if looking into the mouth and into the depths of Titanic’s now insatiable gullet. Deep within the galleyway, she saw a hand on a stairwell rail and another reaching up and suddenly the gangway door itself was sucked back into Titanic’s side. The door was drawn nearly all the way shut and stopped. The door handles left askew at the bolts blocked the door open with just a finger width gap remaining.
“Now!” said Perkis. “Hard ahead!”
First Foley and Ms. Hippach and then all four at the oars pulled hard and deep, now together, now quickly feathering up and back, now deep again, and the lifeboat pulled away from the gangway door. From the gap around the door Carrie could hear the sound of crashing china and glass.
“Hard ahead! Once again!” said Perkis, now steering back to parallel the ship, at about twenty feet from her side, and along three boat lengths from the door.
Carrie continued to stare at the light shining up through the water out of the edges of the door, slipping down into the darkness, not quite closed but forever out of reach. She heard herself exhaling in short open-mouthed gasps, and felt her hands cramping with the tight grip she was holding on the blanket she had in her lap.
In the front of the boat, one of the Carter children spoke out. “Mommy, are we all right?”
“Shhh, shhh, yes of course, child.”
“Steady on,” said Perkis. “Pull! Again! Pull!”
The lifeboat moved further out from Titanic’s side and up along the midships, aside the aft part of the first class promenade. They had moved no more than three lengths aft along Titanic when Carrie looked around at the surface of the water and realized they were passing through a clutter of dozens of chairs and life-rings, bits of ship’s furniture, the wheelhouse door, and other flotsam. She heard voices calling from the boat deck above and when she looked up she could see men throwing chairs off the first class promenade deck and over the railing.
As Carrie looked up Ms. Clark called out. “Oh! Careful!” and a deck chair fell into the water close behind the boat. Two, three, four more came over the side.
“Hey up there! Have a look here!” Perkis shouted up at the deck. “Watch what you are doing!”
“All ahead!” Perkis called out to the boat. “Hard on the port side!” he said, laying the tiller over to port to move them away from the ship.
The rowers pulled and the boat moved another length away.
“All ahead, all ahead,” said Perkis, and they were two more lengths along Titanic’s side.
“Lay off, now,” he said. “Lay off.”