The water was freezing. I knew that just by looking at it. My breath created tiny wisps of white in the air as I breathed, my lungs burning from the cold. My fingers were frozen as I watched the last of the lifeboats being loaded; women and children, tiny creatures with fear written into their faces, those barely old enough to understand. Others slumbered in their mother’s arms, while still more were pulled from the arms of loving fathers, attempting to console and comfort despite the yawning gulf that would soon stand between them. I helped where I could, and then retreated inside, having given my life jacket to one of the maids. “You should set a good example, Violet,” I reminded her, seeing the look of panic in her eyes.
The ship seemed to be in mourning, giving one last valiant attempt to stay afloat, groaning with the burden she would bear to the depths of the sea. I had never heard such sounds before, of a dying creature born of metal and wood, each echo reflecting the desperation of my heart. I wandered listlessly but with a purpose, my steps carrying me over the Grand Staircase to the smoking room beyond. It was abandoned, cards left scattered on tables and the floor, the scent of cigar smoke still wafting toward my nostrils. One was burning, forgotten, in an ash tray stamped with Titanic’s insignia, beside an Ace of Spades. A game interrupted. Lives interrupted for a grating of ice against hull, a tremor that those in first class barely felt but shook the glass lamps in my cabin.
I had known looking at the lower quarters, at the bulkheads, felt the freezing water swirling around my ankles as the mail room flooded, that it was too late. It was all too late. I stood staring about me, my eyes wandering the last thing I would ever remember, each ornamental stroke, the beauty found within that room. A beauty I had conceived and others had borne into reality. I rested my hand against the mantle and saw that the time was wrong on the clock.
Every detail made perfect.
My wife would have testified that this was the nature of my life, an endless search for perfection and in the pride of my accomplishments. My cold fingers reached out and opened the glass case, setting the hands of time.
Dear Lord, I thought, but it ended there. I could fathom nothing, no way to ask for help, for some angelic force to come and save them all, those thousands of souls left roaming the decks. Not even my own life was thought of, as my hand tightened and my head lowered in sorrow.
“Forgive us,” I whispered. “Forgive our arrogance.”
It was the last word I ever spoke. And that room was the last I remembered in this life. Beyond the muffled cries that resided outside the panels of glass, I knew nothing except its beauty.
And the cold.