ROSE AND JACK: A NEW LIFE
April 18, 1912
It was late when the Carpathia finally docked, rain pouring down on the docks and the city beyond. The steerage passengers were the last to leave the ship, and those in the infirmary in steerage the last of all.
Rose was eager to disembark, to set foot on dry land again, but when she tried to get out of bed, she was shocked to discover how much her bout with pneumonia had weakened her. She had always been strong before, but the illness, along with the hypothermia she was still recovering from, had sapped her strength.
Her legs trembled when she stood, nearly sending her tumbling back down on the cot. Only Jack's steadying hands kept her from losing her balance.
"Rose, wait. Maybe this isn't such a good idea. I can go look for a wheelchair," Jack suggested, supporting her as she leaned against him.
"I'm fine," Rose tried to tell him, but in truth, taking even a few steps, let alone the number needed to leave the ship and find shelter, seemed overwhelming.
A few volunteers from the Red Cross had come aboard to help with the ill and injured steerage passengers. One of them approached her, saying, "If you can hold on a few minutes, Ma'am, I should be able to find a wheelchair for you."
Rose nodded weakly, sinking back down on her cot. This was not the way she wanted to start her new life, weak and coughing and almost helpless.
Jack sat down beside her, putting an arm around her. "You'll be okay, Rose," he told her. "It takes a while to get over something like this. I should know." When Rose looked at him questioningly, he added, "Remember how I told you I fell through some thin ice on Lake Wissota?"
Rose nodded, wrapping her arms around herself and shivering at the very thought of such cold water.
"I got pneumonia after that, and it was several weeks before I was feeling strong again."
"I can't wait that long. We need to move before Mother and Cal decide to drag me back to Philadelphia."
"Maybe you should go with them. They can get you the care you need."
"No, Jack. I'm not going back with them—and I don't trust any 'care' that Cal might arrange for me. He's tried to kill me once—how do I know he won't try to do it again?"
"Rose…" Jack tried to reason with her. "We have no place to go and no money. Everything I owned went down with the ship except the clothes I'm wearing. Unless you have some money or jewelry, I don't know how we can even afford a room to sleep in."
"Sir?" The man who had gone to find a wheelchair for Rose had returned. "My apologies for interrupting, but…I couldn't help but overhear your predicament. The Red Cross is offering shelter to survivors of the Titanic, and we are equipped to assist you if you're ill, provided the illness isn't too severe."
Jack looked at Rose to get her opinion. Although he himself had spent plenty of time sleeping outside under bridges, on benches, in the woods, and anywhere else that seemed reasonably safe, Rose had no such experience, and he didn't want her first experience with sleeping outside to be on the streets of New York, in the rain, while she was just barely beginning to recover from pneumonia.
Rose nodded. It wasn't an ideal solution, but it was better than returning to her mother, and she supposed that Jack was right. Pneumonia took time to recover fully from, and she would just have to be patient and try to regain her health in the meantime. Besides, Jack, for all his brave front, wasn't looking so good himself. He looked exhausted after several days of constantly being at her side, and his cold, while not nearly as severe as her pneumonia, would still disappear faster with shelter and rest.
Jack helped her up, getting her settled in the wheelchair. He frowned when he realized that she was clad only in her thin dress and stockings. Looking around, he saw her badly damaged shoes under her cot and put them on her feet for her, but she was already beginning to shiver from the chill April night air blowing in through the open door.
"Hold on," he told the volunteer, scanning the infirmary for any extra blankets or abandoned coats.
At that moment, Nurse Bittner came back into the infirmary; she couldn't leave until all the patients were safely off. She stopped in her tracks when she re-entered the room, surprised to see that they were still there.
"I thought you'd left," she told Jack and Rose, setting down an armload of unclaimed coats and jackets that various passengers had left behind. She had been told to donate any abandoned belongings to the Red Cross for the use of the survivors.
"Rose needed a little help getting out of here," he explained. Eyeing the pile of clothing, he added, "Would you happen to have an extra jacket or some blankets? She shouldn't be out in the cold like this."
Nurse Bittner straightened the pile of coats, some of them still damp and many torn or misshapen from their owners' experience on the Titanic.
"Perhaps one of them belongs to her?" she suggested. "And what about you, sir? Did you have a coat?"
Jack shook his head. "No…my coat was left on the ship. Rose did have one, though." He sorted through the coats, looking for a black coat of good quality.
He finally found it near the bottom of the pile. When Rose stood shakily, he helped her into it, then took the two blankets Nurse Bittner had brought over and wrapped them around her, wanting to keep her warm.
Rose was almost too warm with so many covers, but she only nodded and murmured her thanks. She was tired and growing hungry, and she wanted to get off the Carpathia and away before her mother or Cal came back for her.
By the time they disembarked, much of the chaos had died down. Only a few reporters remained, trying to get any details they could from the survivors, and a few family members of the Titanic's passengers and crew still lingered, hoping against hope that their loved ones were on the Carpathia or another ship in the vicinity.
Rose could feel the grief and fading hope emanating from the handful of waiting family members as they peered at the three of them, their eyes searching the faces of herself, Jack, and even the Red Cross volunteer in hopes that somehow they were the ones they sought.
At this hour, it didn't take long to get through immigration, something for which both Jack and Rose were grateful. They had no desire to wait in the long lines that so often accompanied newcomers to America, and being from steerage, it was assumed that they were immigrants. The few people still working to process the Titanic's immigrants looked as tired and sad as Jack and Rose felt, and none gave them any argument when they asserted that they were, in fact, American citizens who had been traveling abroad.
As they left the docks and headed for the Red Cross shelter, Rose noticed how violently Jack was shivering in the falling rain, his thin shirt soaked through again. "How much farther?" she asked the man pushing her wheelchair, who had been plodding along slowly, mumbling under his breath every so often about the Red Cross vehicles that had left before they disembarked the ship.
"About three more blocks, Mrs. Dawson," he told her.
Rose didn't bother to correct his assumption that Jack was her husband. Instead, she looked up at the man pushing her wheelchair and asked him to stop.
"Mrs. Dawson, we'll be there soon…"
"Just help me up for a moment," Rose insisted. She wanted desperately to get to shelter, but she couldn't watch Jack suffer in the cold while she herself had more warm things than she needed.
The volunteer reluctantly stopped pushing the wheelchair, looking forward to getting to shelter himself, and waited as Jack helped Rose up, both of them looking at her in puzzlement and a bit of irritation.
Dropping the blankets into the wheelchair, Rose started to shrug out of Cal's coat.
"R-Rose, s-s-stop! What are y-you d-d-doing?" Jack's teeth were chattering so hard he could barely speak. He had no idea why Rose suddenly wanted to stop and take her coat off, and hoped she wasn't becoming delirious again.
Rose shivered as the cold air hit her skin, but was undeterred. "You need a coat, too," she told him, putting the heavy wool garment on his shoulders.
"Rose, no. You need it. You're getting over pneumonia…"
"I was too warm in that coat and both of those blankets." Rose started coughing and sank gratefully back into the wheelchair, wrapping the blankets around herself. When the coughing fit was over, she added weakly, "I couldn't let you freeze."
Jack was more grateful for the warm coat than he wanted to admit. He nodded briefly. "Thank you." He tucked the blankets around her more securely and they were on their way again.
When they reached the shelter, the man who had assisted them left to find a cup of hot coffee and a warm place to sit before heading for home. He left them in the care of the woman running the shelter, who bustled about, amazingly energetic for so late at night, finding them beds, soup, bread, and tea, and aspirin for the low-grade fevers both were running by this time.
After helping Rose out of the wheelchair and into a regular chair at a large, utilitarian table, Jack sat beside her, making sure she had enough to eat. After hurriedly finishing their meals, they sipped their tea, looking forward to being able to rest at last, though they would be separated for the first time since accidentally finding each other in the infirmary—Jack in the men's wing of the shelter and Rose in the women's.
Rose leaned against him, not saying anything, just grateful to be in a warm room at last. She would miss him while she slept, but it was only for the night.
She was nearly asleep when Jack finished his tea, setting his cup on the table and shaking her gently to get her attention. He looked around for the wheelchair, but it was nowhere to be found, so he just helped her to her feet, letting her lean on him for support as he escorted her to the women's sleeping room.
Knowing that he wasn't permitted inside, he opened the door for her, whispering, "Do you think you can make it from here?"
Glad that she had been given the third bed from the door, Rose nodded. "I can make it. I may have to go slowly, but I'll be asleep in that warm bed before I know it."
She turned to give him a quick kiss, then stopped, realizing that they were being stared at disapprovingly by the woman who ran the shelter.
Reluctantly, she pulled back from him, giving him a quick hug before stepping inside the room. Jack headed for the stairs leading to the men's sleeping quarters on the next floor, his hands thrust deep into his coat pockets for warmth.
He frowned as he felt a cold, heavy object in one of the pockets. Wrapping his hand around it, he lifted it from the pocket, his jaw dropping in shock as he saw what it was.
Quickly, he turned and headed back to the entrance to the women's sleeping room. "Rose!" he called softly, trying not to wake anyone.
Rose was halfway to her bed when she heard Jack call her name. She turned, moving slowly back to the entrance to the room, stepping into the hallway and closing the door behind her as Jack gestured urgently to her.
"What is it?" she asked, waving back the shelter's manager, who had come to see what the problem was.
Jack helped her to a corner, then reached into his pocket and pulled out what he'd found. "I think I know why Cal wanted this coat so bad," he told her.
Rose's eyes widened as she stared in astonishment at the Heart of the Ocean.