Margaret Brown’s Titanic Story: Part Two
The Rescue by the Carpathia and Other Incidents
Wednesday, May 29th, 1912- It was fully lighted, but not one moving object was visible. Suddenly a rift in the water, the sea opened up and the surface foamed like giant arms spread around the ship, and the vessel disappeared from sight, and not a sound was heard.
When none of the calamities that were predicted by our terrified boatman was experienced, we asked him to return and pick up those in the water. Again, we were admonished, and told how the frantic drowning victims would grapple the sides of our boat and capsize us. He not yielding to our entreaties, we pulled away vigorously toward a faintly glimmering light on the horizon. After three hours of pulling at the oars, the light grew fainter, and then completely disappeared. Then our quartermaster who stood on his pinnacle trembling, with an attitude like some one preaching to the multitude, fanning the air with his hands, recommenced his tirade of evil forebodings, telling us we were likely to drift for days, all the while reminding us that we were surrounded by icebergs, pointing to a pyramid of ice looming up in the distance, possibly seventy feet high reflected by the myriad stars in the sky, that looked like a black shaft. He most forcibly impressed upon us that there was no water in the casks in the lifeboats and no bread, no compass, and no chart. No one answered him. They all seem to be struck dumb. One of the ladies in the boat had had the presence of mind to procure her silver brandy flask. As she held it in her hand, the silver glittered, and he being attracted to it implored her to give it to him, saying he was frozen. She refused the brandy, but removed her steamer blanket and put it around his shoulders, while another lady wrapped a second blanket around his waist and limbs, he looking “as snug as a bug in a rug.” We asked him to relieve one or the other at the oars, saying to him that we would manage the rudder. He flatly refused, and continued to rampoon us at the oars, shouting out, “Here you fellow on the starboard side, your oar is not being put in the water at the right angle!” No one made any protest to his outbursts, as he broke the monotony, but we continued to pull at the oars, with no real goal in sight. Presently he raised his voice, shouting to another lifeboat to pull near and lash to, commanding some of the other ladies to take the light and signal to the other lifeboats. His command was immediately obeyed, that and one other command—that we drop the oars and lie fallow until we were rescued. Sometime later, after more shouts, a lifeboat hove to and obeyed his orders to throw a rope, and was tied to ours. Alongside she dropped oars, and on the cross-seat of that boat stood a man in white pajamas. He looked like a snowman in that icy region. His teeth were chattering, and he appeared quite numb. Seeing his predicament, I told him he had better get to rowing to keep his blood in circulation, which was not with forcible protest from our quartermaster. We, after the exercise, felt the blast from the icy fields, and demanded that we be allowed to row to keep warm. Immediately over into our boat jumped a half-frozen stoker, black and covered with coal dust, dressed as he was in thin jumpers. I picked up a large sable stole that I had dropped in the boat, and from his waist line down wrapped it around his limbs, tying the tails around his ankles. I handed him an oar and then I told the pajama man to cut loose and a howl arose from our seaman. He moved to prevent it, and I said if he did he would be thrown overboard. Then I felt a hand laid on my shoulder to stay my threats knowing it would not be necessary to push him over, had I only moved in his direction, he would have tumbled into the sea, so paralyzed was he with fright. He had by this time worked himself up to such a pitch of sheer despair, fearing that a scramble of any kind would remove the plug from the bottom of the boat (that it had taken three of us some length of time to feel around, find it, and place it in the whole), and if it were displaced the water would sweep in and there was grave danger of filling the boat. The quartermaster became very impertinent and our fur-enveloped stoker, in a broad a cockney as one hears in the Haymarket shouted, “Soy, don’t you know you are talking to a loidy?” For the time being the seaman was silenced, and we again set at our task. Two other ladies came to the rescue of those rowing, and caught hold of oars and backed the water. Thus we aimlessly tugged on over the vast waste of water. Lights were flashed from other lifeboats miles away.
While glancing around, watching the edge of the horizon, the beautifully modulated voice of the English young woman at the oar exclaimed, “There is a flash of light!” All looked in the direction pointed out, and our pessimistic seaman said “That is a falling star.” It became lighter, and later was multiplied by others on the lighted deck. He was convinced then that it was a ship. He said it was the Olympic, as she was to have passed after midnight. (The Olympic passed two days later). Then he gave a sigh of relief, and again ordered us to drop the oars.
We saw this steamer approaching some small lifeboats near her, while we were then possibly six or eight miles off. However, the distance seemed interminable. We saw she was anchored. Again a declaration was made that we, regardless of what our quartermaster said, would row toward her. Again the young Englishwoman from the Thames got to work, accompanying her strokes with cheerful words to the wilted occupants of the boat
A little while later, dawn disclosed the awful situation. There were fields of ice on which, like points in the landscape, rested innumerable pyramids of icy peaks. Seemingly an half hour later, the sun like a ball of molten lead, appeared at its background. The hand of nature portrayed a scenic effect beyond the ken of human mind. The heretofore smooth sea became choppy, which seemed to retard our progress. All the while we saw the small lifeboats being hauled aboard.
By the time we reached the Carpathia, a heavy sea was running. Our boat being the last to approach, we found it difficult to get close. Three or four unsuccessful attempts were made. Each time we were dashed against the keel and bounded off like a rubber ball. A rope was then thrown to us, which was spliced in four at the bottom, where a wide board was held in four large knots. Feet first, we got on and sat on the seat that formed a swing. Catching hold of the one thick rope, we were hoisted up to where a dozen of the crew and officers and doctors were waiting. Stimulants were given those who needed them, and hot coffee was provided for all the survivors. Everything was done for our comfort, the Carpathia passengers sharing their staterooms, clothes and toilet articles, they, then retiring to the far corner of the ship, where then deck-chairs were placed, giving the lounge up completely to the survivors, and in the two succeeding foggy, murky days, when the deck was too damp to sit out, they remained in their stuffy staterooms rather than use up the space there.
After picking up the lifeboats, only half filled, the ship reconnoitered for hours around the place where the Titanic had sunk. In doing so, they passed fifty miles of leefields, so I was told, endangering their own safety in their endeavor to rescue more.
On entering the dining-salon I saw in one corner our brave and heroic quartermaster, with a cluster of people around him. He was wildly gesticulating, trying to impress upon them what difficulty he had had in disciplining the occupants of his boat. On seeing a few of us near, he did not tarry long, but made a hasty retreat.
On the swivel chairs in the dining-salon were seated the Titanic survivors. They were speechless, half-clad, their eyes protruding, hair streaming down—those who, only twelve hours before, were immaculately groomed, and richly gowned and furred—evidence of “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity” Here they sat, shaven and shorn and in utter hopelessness and despair, almost all bereft of husbands and sons, fathers and brothers. Unable to grasp the situation they sat mute, not being able to realize in the one short hour between a quarter of twelve, when the boat struck, and somewhat after one, when she sank, that their dear ones were swallowed up in the jaws of death.
Sprinkled among the affluent were our sisters of the second class, and for a time there was that social leveling caused only by the close proximity of death.
While getting the addresses from many of the survivors of their relatives that they might be apprised by Marconi of their safety, I was grappled by a poor woman of the second class, who held in her closed fist long strands of hair she had pulled from her head. Holding them on high as though measuring them with her eyes, she frantically shouted to me to find her baby. I promised her I would. Seeing she was mentally unbalanced, a doctor was called, and she was put under opiates. When she had gotten into the boat, her baby was being handed to her, and somehow was dropped into the sea and drowned.
Fortunately, the Carpathia was carrying something more than half she usually accommodates so the second morning found a great number of the Titanic survivors provided for. The overflow beds were made on the couches in the lounge, and pallets or blankets were made on the floor. The first night many of the men slept on the deck in the steamer chairs, others slept in the smoking-room and dining salon. The Captain gave up his stateroom, it accommodating four of the socially representative ladies.
The barber, fortunately, had in stock a few dozen tooth-brushes, combs, and other toilet-articles.
The Carpathia’s objective points being ports on the Mediterranean, she was carrying on an extra large supply of food. In that line there was nothing left to be desired.
On reaching the Carpathia, the first thing found necessary to be done was to relieve the anxiety of relatives of the survivors. Immediately on obtaining the addresses, I visited the Marconi quarters and left written messages that had to be paid before sending, though there were many who had little or no funds.
The system was so glutted in sending messages of the wreck and names of surviving passengers, it was the third day before the private ones could be sent, their Marconi system being limited, so I was told, to 250 miles.
The kindly spirit and tender solicitations of officers, crew and passengers elicited the thought that we, the survivors, should in some substantial way express our gratitude to the Captain in the form of a loving-cup and to compensate the crew for their efficiency and double hours of labor in our behalf.
At breakfast the second morning when we suggested to the gentleman at the table that immediate action should be taken, I found they were eager to express gratitude, but made no protest at funds being collected. A committee was later formed, and a typed notice was tacked up that a meeting of the survivors would be held in the dining salon at three in the afternoon. Almost the full list of survivors were present. Resolutions of gratitude, first to God, and then to the Captain and officers, who were framed and read.
A subscription list was immediately started, and about $4,000 was subscribed in money and checks. The names and amounts subscribed were typed and tacked on the wall at the foot of the stairs, and an open list for those not having yet given in their names and amounts. The day before reaching New York, the fund was augmented to the extent of $10,000, so I was informed by the Secretary.