Thursday, April 18, 1912
Rose DeWitt Bukater stood at the railing of the third class deck on the Carpathia, watching the Statue of Liberty come into view. It had represented freedom for a generation of immigrants, and now symbolized the same thing for her.
Rose stood silently at the railing, watching as the lights of New York City became visible, even in the pouring rain. Other people stood beneath umbrellas, or huddled inside, seeking shelter from the storm, but Rose welcomed the pounding rain and the bursts of thunder and lightening. She had done it. She had survived.
In the three days since the Titanic sank, there had been many times when she was not so certain she would survive. When she had let go of Jack's hand and watched him sink into the depths of the North Atlantic, she hadn't wanted to survive. But she had remembered her promise, and had swum to Officer Wilde, using the dead man's whistle to alert the boat to her presence.
Over the days that followed, she had hidden from everyone, staying in steerage with a hundred grieving widows, avoiding everyone and everything she had known before. There had been a tense moment when Cal had come down to steerage, searching for her, but she had covered her head with a blanket, successfully hiding herself from him. She hadn't seen him since.
As the ship had moved ever closer to America, she had battled against the pain and grief of her loss, wishing, more than once, that it had been she who had frozen to death in the bitterly cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean. That same cold seemed to always be with her, no matter how tightly she wrapped her coat—Cal's coat—around herself, or how many blankets she had been covered in. She had mourned with Titanic's other widows, for that was how she saw herself now, as a widow. She had known Jack for only three days, but he had touched her soul in a way that no one else could.
And yet, as the first faint outlines of the New York coast had become visible, she had realized that, in spite of everything, she was glad to be alive. Alive—and free. Freedom. The gift that Jack had given her. She could never return to her old world, but she was alive, and she would go on.
The rain continued to pour as the ship docked at Pier 54. The first class passengers were let off first, followed by those of second class. Rose stepped back into the crowd of steerage passengers waiting to disembark, shielding herself from sight. By the time the third class passengers were allowed to leave, most of the first and second class passengers had disappeared, vanished into the crowd or whisked off to hotels, trains, or homes.
No one recognized Rose as she stepped from the gangway and followed the other third class passengers to where they were being processed. As she huddled deeper into her coat against the chill rain, an officer stopped beside her, his clipboard shielded by a large black umbrella.
"Can I get your name, please, love?" he asked, pen poised over the sheaf of papers.
It slipped out before Rose thought about it. "Dawson. Rose Dawson."
"Thank you." The officer walked away, asking other survivors for their names.
Rose dug her hands deep into her pockets, realizing what she had just done. She had completely cut her ties with her old life. Rose DeWitt Bukater had died with the Titanic, and in her place a new, stronger woman had been born—Rose Dawson.
Neither Ruth nor Cal would ever track her down now. No one would think to look for Rose DeWitt Bukater, high society debutante, in the persona of Rose Dawson, Titanic steerage survivor. If she had had any doubts about the path she had chosen in life, they had been put to rest at the moment she had given her new name.
Would Jack have wanted her to take his name? she wondered. They had been together for such a short time, but in those brief hours she had come to love him, and although he had never said the words, she knew that he had loved her, too. He had sacrificed so much for her, giving up his chance of survival so that she might live. She was his widow, in all ways that counted, and now his name was hers. Jack was gone, but he lived on within her heart.
Rose's fingers clenched, pulling the baggy coat closer against her body. As she huddled deeper into the warm garment, her fingers brushed against something hard and cold. Surprised, she pulled it from her pocket, wondering what it was.
The Heart of the Ocean sparkled in the faint light, the facets of the fifty-six carat diamond picking up and reflecting the smallest flashes of light. Rose looked at it in amazement. The gaudy, heavy jewel that Cal had given her, that Jack had drawn her wearing, had survived the sinking. Cal had put it in the coat before putting the coat on her.
A magnesium flash from a nearby reporter's camera startled her. Quickly, she slipped the diamond back into her pocket. Taking advantage of the distraction, she slipped away into the crowd, walking purposefully onward, her stride never breaking.
Soon, she had left the crowd behind, and the darkened streets of New York City swallowed her. A few streetlights shone in the gloom, but otherwise it was as dark as the sea she had survived. She walked briskly along the sidewalk, with no idea of where she was going. She had never been in this part of the city before, but she kept walking, farther and farther away from the clamor on the pier.
At last, her footsteps slowed, and she looked around her, not knowing where she was, or where she might go. In the distance, the faint sounds of the crowd could still be heard, but she turned resolutely away from them, continuing into the city.
She needed shelter and food, but she had no money, nor any way of getting any until morning came and she found a place to pawn the diamond. Her heart clenched at the thought. Cal had given her the diamond, but Jack had drawn her wearing it, and it was the only tangible reminder she had of what they had shared. Still, she needed to survive, and sometimes survival meant making hard choices.
She passed a lighted sign advertising a small hotel, and looked longingly at it. If only she could afford a night's stay there. It wasn't what she had been accustomed to, but it would be warm and dry, shelter against the raging elements.
Shrugging and pulling her coat more closely around her, she walked on, looking for some sort of shelter, no matter how crude. If hardship was the price of freedom, she would gladly pay it. She might be cold and hungry, but she was no longer trapped in a life of someone else's choosing. Whatever happened from now on, it was her decision, whatever the consequences.
Farther up the street, Rose found a bench under an overhang. Settling down on it, she pulled her feet in and pulled the collar of the coat up around her neck. She was still wet and cold, but the bench was drier than anything around, and at least she had the coat to keep her warm.
Another lighted hotel stood just a block up the street, beckoning to her, but Rose huddled into the coat and ignored the lights. She had no way to pay for a room, and she needed to be grateful for what shelter she had found. Many homeless people were not so lucky.
Wrapping her arms around herself for warmth, Rose was surprised to feel a thick, wet mass inside the coat—one on each side. Reaching inside the coat, she felt the hidden inner pockets.
Looking around to make sure no one was looking, she dug into the pockets, at last extracting two bundles of money. In the darkness, she couldn't tell how much it was, but it was a considerable amount, knowing Cal.
Rose peeled a few bills from one of the bundles and tucked them into an outer coat pocket, placing the rest of the money back in the inner pockets. She could afford shelter now. Putting her hands in her pockets, she debated which hotel to try first.
She looked up, startled, as a man with two small children and a dog sat down on the opposite end of the bench from her. One of the children was coughing fretfully, having apparently been out in the cold and the rain for far too long. Rose looked at the bedraggled group, and dismissed the man as a threat. She doubted that he would attack her with two little girls in tow. Rose pulled her knees up to her chin, still debating where to go.
The man pulled the children into his lap and set the puppy on the bench beside him. One of the little girls put her head on the man's shoulder and closed her eyes, while the one who had been coughing fretted irritably.
Rose's heart went out to the children. Why did the man have them out in the rain? Why didn't he find shelter for them?
He might also be homeless, Rose realized. He had settled as far back under the overhang as possible, and had opened his coat, wrapping the two girls in it as much as he could. He put his arms around them for further warmth, while the sodden puppy put its head on the man's knee, looking sorrowful.
She wished that she could help them, but didn't know how. She didn't know how much money she had, or how long it would last her. They might not even want help, she reflected. Some people had too much pride to accept charity, which could explain what they were doing on the streets in this weather when there were homeless shelters available.
Putting her hands deep in her pockets, Rose put her feet on the ground. Making a decision, she got up, intent upon reaching the hotel a block away.
The little girl who had been fretting looked up as she stood. "Hi," she said, looking at her.
Rose looked at the sodden, bedraggled child. She looked as though she, too, had survived the Titanic. "Hello," she responded, peering at the toddler.
The man hushed the child. "Shh," he told her. "Don't bother the lady."
"Mommy's fend," the girl protested, pointing to Rose.
"No, Mary. Your Mommy didn't know her."
Rose looked at the girl. She seemed vaguely familiar for some reason. "What was your Mommy's name, sweetie?"
The little girl screwed up her face, thinking. "Mirim," she announced triumphantly after a moment.
"Uh-huh." Mary looked up at her sadly. "Mommy died."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Mary. Is this your Daddy?"
"Uh-huh. And Nada, and Egro."
Rose looked at her in confusion, trying to translate the children gibberish into English.
"Nadia and Allegro," the man explained. "I'm John."
"I'm Rose." Suddenly, Rose recognized him. She had seen him only once, when she had attended the party in steerage, but he had been sitting next to her old acquaintance Miriam, who had given up the high society life in favor of the simpler, more honest working class life. John Calvert, Miriam's husband.
"Rose DeWitt Bukater?"
Rose was a little surprised that he remembered her, but perhaps Miriam had told him who he was. She had certainly been visible that night. Not many first class women came down to steerage, danced, and got drunk on cheap beer.
"Rose Dawson," she told him, in a voice that brooked no argument. "And, unless I miss my guess, you're John Calvert, the husband of Miriam Anders Calvert." She looked at him sympathetically. "I'm sorry to hear she didn't make it."
"Thank you," he replied, a look of sorrow passing over his features. "What are you doing out here in the street? What happened to your fiancé?"
Rose looked at him, her face carefully blank. "Suffice it to say I am not with him, nor will I be again. As to what I am doing out here, I am looking for a hotel. There are two inexpensive ones on this street."
"Are they still accepting guests at this hour?"
"If they aren't full, they will be. If they are, I suppose I will have to look farther. You should think about doing the same. Those children shouldn't be out in the cold like this, especially after Titanic. If you can't afford a hotel, there's a Red Cross shelter just three blocks that way." She remembered overhearing some rescue workers telling people about the shelter, and had glimpsed a carriage full of survivors making its way to the shelter as she had walked along the streets. The carriage had stopped in front of an old building, showing her the location of the shelter. She had briefly considered going there, but hadn't wanted to spend another night with the weeping, sorrowing survivors of the Titanic.
"They've taken some of the Titanic survivors there," she added. "They would probably give you shelter and some food."
"I can afford a hotel. Where are these hotels you mentioned?"
Rose pointed to the two hotels she had seen, gesturing to the one just a block away. "That's where I'm going to try first."
"If you don't mind, I'm going to tag along."
Rose stiffened, eyeing him suspiciously. Did he think she was going to pay for a room for him, or offer him any favors? If he did, he was in for a big surprise.
"I need to find a room for the night," he explained. "You're right, the girls don't need to be out in the rain. I'm not trying to follow you, but that hotel looks to be the nearest one, and I need to get them inside before they get sick."
Rose was still suspicious, but little Mary coughed, her tiny face turning red from the exertion. Rose was immediately concerned.
"Is she ill?"
"She just recovered from pneumonia, and I don't want her getting it again. She nearly drowned when the ship went down," John explained.
"Oh, how terrible! Hurry, then." She held out her arms. "Let me carry one of them."
John stood, giving Mary to Rose to carry. He picked up Nadia and took the puppy's leash, walking down the street beside her.
Mary clung to Rose's coat, shivering. Rose held her more securely, trying to warm the child. The little girl looked up at her, reaching to touch her tangled red curls.
"You pretty," she told Rose, looking at her admiringly.
"Thank you, Mary. You're very pretty, too." Rose smiled at the toddler.
Mary grinned back at her, then began coughing again. Rose walked faster, cradling the miserable child. John kept pace with her as they hurried toward the hotel.