April 15, 1912
The wind whipped rapidly across the barren deck of the Carpathia, causing scarves, dresses, and various outerwear garments of passengers, crew and survivors to tumble amok. It had been mere hours since the Titanic had foundered, and yet, it was still hard to fathom that it really had happened.
Caledon Hockley stumbled slightly over a loose board as he made his way to the steerage area of the ship. Hundreds of widows, children, and a handful of men were scattered about, sipping hot tea and swaddled in large blankets. Crew members alternated between groups, assisting them in their every need.
Regaining his balance, he continued toward the stern, surprised when a steward cuffed him gently on the arm of his tattered tuxedo.
"You won't find any of your people back here, sir. It's all steerage," he gently informed him with a curt nod.
Cal simply shrugged of the man's hand in ignorance and continued onward, determined to check the faces of the women in a single, crushing hope that Rose was still alive—for his sanity and for Ruth's. And even if she was, would he be able to approach her after his cowardly and appalling actions of the night before? He doubted highly that Rose would be warm and inviting to him, but he knew he deserved no better.
He began checking the faces, lifting blankets, nodding appropriately to those who acknowledged his prescense. He had just about given up all hope when he caught a faint trace of red hair, highlighted against the sun. Upon a closer look, Cal realized it was Rose. She was sitting huddled under a blanket, wrapped loosely around her face, sipping hot tea. Her face was white as a ghost, and her eyes were dull and lifeless. She gave no indication that she knew she was being watched, nor did she pay any attention to the chaos surrounding her, until Cal grew closer.
In an instant, anger burned into her eyes, and Rose stared at Cal with a bitter glance, yet making no motion to flee the deck as he would have expected of the old Rose he had thought he had known so well. Yet in the last handful of hours, he had learned that Rose was really a passionate and headstrong woman with a fiery temper to match. She was capable of making her decisions and more importantly, capable of being loved.
"Yes, I lived. How awkward for you." She spoke roughly, sipping the tea to soothe her hoarse throat.
Cal glanced downward at first, and then stared directly into her eyes. "Rose…your mother and I have been looking for you."
Rose made no attempt to answer him and simply cocked her head slightly towards him. The blanket had now fallen down around her chin, exposing more of her matted curls. "I believed you would, even though after your actions last night, I would have expected differently."
"I can do nothing about my actions Rose, except to apologize sincerely for them as a gentleman and for any harm or pain I have caused you last night and over the course of our engagement."
She seemed taken aback by his words, an apology the last thing she had expected from her conniving fiancé. "You are no gentleman, Cal."
The words stung slightly at first, but Cal knew he deserved them. Glancing around, he made a quick motion with his hands. "Where's Jack?"
Rose dropped her eyes to the deck and sipped at her tea once again. "He died so I could live," she replie simply, knowing Cal was not deserving of the details of what really had taken place last night.
"I am so sorry, Rose." Cal cleared his throat and swallowed the lump that had unknowingly formed over the course of several minutes. "It is entirely your decision as to what you choose to do when this ship docks. As far as your mother knows, you are still missing and I have simply gone looking for you. What I tell her upon my return is entirely up to you."
When Rose simply said nothing in response, he continued. "As of this moment, our engagement is off, and you are free to do whatever you wish, and I do wish you the best of luck in whatever you decide. Do not worry about your mother, either. She will be taken care of for the rest of her life, I promise you that. You're a strong and poised young woman, Rose, and I'm sorry I didn't realize it sooner and treat you the way you ought to have been treated."
After several seconds, Rose adjusted the blanket around herself. "Thank you," she whispered. Pausing slightly, she continued on. "Tell my mother that her daughter died with the Titanic."
Cal nodded in understanding, and began to retreat slightly. "You're precious to me, Rose."
Rose made no attempt to glance back at him. Instead, she adjusted the blanket around her frame and sipped at the dregs of her tea. "Jewels are precious. Goodbye, Mr. Hockley."
April 18, 1912
Cal fingered the envelope numbly in his hands, glancing upward at the Statue of Liberty from underneath the umbrella he had been loaned from a first class passenger. A bitter, chilly rain had begun to fall steadily an hour ago, suitable for the tradgedy that had just taken place days beforehand. If anything, it suited his mood, and he dreaded having to face his father at the pier. He had wired the old man immediately after boarding, stating that Rose had been lost at sea and that he would need a car to meet him at the pier, as well as a hotel room for the night at the Waldorf-Astoria under his name. In the morning, he would travel to his manse in Philadelphia, and then, his father's home in Pittsburg to take care of some business.
Ruth DeWitt-Bukater stared back at him sadly underneath the umbrella she was sharing with Margaret Brown several feet away. The two women had found solace in each other, and Cal was silently glad, but at the same time, he felt terribly guilty. He so desparetly wanted to tell Ruth the truth, that her daughter, the only thing she felt she had left in the world after the death of her beloved husband, was alive. But he had made a promise to Rose, and given her his word as a gentleman, and as much as he wanted to take all of Ruth's pain away, he couldn't bring himself to tell her. Hopefully one day, sooner rather than later, Rose would come out of the shadows and mother and daughter could be reunited.
He nodded to her briefly and turned away from her, walking down the deck to a spot where he couldn't be disturbed. Leaning over the railing, it was then that he caught sight of her.
Rose's hair was hanging limply in her face, drenched from the rain pouring from the sky. She was wearing his overcoat from the night of the sinking, and Cal could make out the same, tattered dress she had worn underneath it. The poor thing looked so lost and desolate, yet so determined as she stared up at Lady Liberty.
It was then that Cal remembered the envelope in his hand. The moniker on the front had been smeared by a raindrop, but it was still visible. Carefully, he protected it underneath the umbrella and managed to flag down a passing steward.
"Mr. Hockley, how may I be of assistance?"
Cal pointed towards the poop deck, in Rose's direction. He dropped his voice to a whisper. "Do you see that woman right there, sir? Her name is Rose."
"Yes, of course, sir. The one with the red hair in the overcoat." The steward nodded with enthusiasm.
"See that this letter gets to her immediately. It's very important." For good measure, he removed his money clip from his belt and handed the steward a $20 tip.
The steward seemed slightly taken aback at the generous amount of compensation he was receving for delivering a simple letter, but he obliged all the same. "Of course, sir. Thank you kindly. I'll see that she gets it."
"Thank you," Cal acknowledged, sliding his money clip back underneath his belt. And from his perch on the deck, he watched as the steward politely intercepted Rose, made brief conversation, and handed her the letter. He saw the confusion in her face, but was surprised when she didn't open it right away. Instead, she placed it in her pocket and continued staring up at the star filled sky.
"Excuse me, Miss? Miss Rose?"
Rose snapped out of her reverie and turned her head, finding a middle aged steward tapping her lightly on the shoulder and calling her name. How did he…?
"I'm terribly sorry to disturb you, Miss, but a gentleman requested I deliver this letter to you. I didn't mean to startle you," he apologized quickly.
Rose grasped the letter lightly in her left hand, finding her name smeared on the front. "It's all right. Thank you. Might I ask whom gave you this letter?"
The forgetful steward blundered over the name. "I'm not sure, Miss. He seemed to know you, though."
"Thank you." Rose watched as the steward nodded and walked away. Turning the envelope over, she simply pocketed it. Usually she possessed quite a curiosity for all things mysterious and unexplained, but tonight, she had no desire, no will to do anything. She wanted to desparetely sleep for the next week or so to forget everything; Jack, her mother, Cal, the sinking, her father's death. Everything.
She was surprised when her knuckles scratched against something hard and smooth in the coat pocket beneath the letter. Confused, she sunk her hand in deeper and pulled out the object quickly, surprised when to her avail, she discovered the Heart of the Ocean cupped in her palm. Rose hadn't seen the diamond since the night of the sinking, and was surprised to find it in her coat. But, she realized…she was wearing Cal's overcoat, and sometime in the haste of that night, he must have placed it in his pocket for safekeeping. Was he missing it? Should she return it? Surely he was missing it by now, unless he intended for her to keep it, and that was absurd.
She had little time to think about the diamond when an immigration officer approached her, clipboard in hand. "Can I take your name please, love?"
Rose stared at him. "Dawson. Rose Dawson."
The life of Rose DeWitt-Bukater, sheltered society girl, would now be nothing more than a memory.
The flashbulbs and swarms of people had long since died down around Pier 54, but yet Rose still found herself huddled on a metal bench, away from the leftover bustle. She had no recollection of the time, but assumed it had to be somewhat after midnight now.
The cold rain had continued to fall and only gotten heavier and steadier over time. Rose was soaked to the bone; her dress and overcoat plastered uncomfortably to her skin and her hair hanging in her face like a tangled, rusty mop. She had stopped shivering long enough, blocking out the coldness in an instant. Inside, she was completely numb to anything and everything.
She was so lost in her own thoughts that she never realized that a middle aged, well dressed woman with a large brimmed hat had approached her, holding an umbrella. She only broke out of her reverie when the woman reached out and grasped her arm gently.
"Excuse me, Miss? Are you in need of assistance?"
Rose stared up at her with cold eyes at first, but was taken aback by her kind face and warm smile. "Pardon me?"
"It's just that you've been sitting here for quite some time now, and I was wondering if I could point you in the right direction." When Rose didn't answer, the woman continued. "I run a small woman's shelter a couple of blocks away from the pier, and I'd like to offer you a place to stay. Pardon me for being so blunt, but you look like you need it."
Rose nodded. "That's kind of you." She paused briefly. "Honestly, I have nothing. My husband died on the Titanic, I have no clothes on my back, and only ten dollars in my pocket. I don't know where to go from here, so I've just been sitting, hoping that I can find some sort of absolution."
The woman nodded sympathetically, moving closer to Rose so that the umbrella shielded both of them from the downpour. "I'm Margaret O'Neill, dear. I'm terribly sorry to hear of your loss. I too know the pain of losing a loved one. My husband died several years ago, and I remarried last year to a wonderful man, Walter. He and I run the woman's shelter together."
"I'm sorry to hear of your loss."
"Times heals all wounds, dear. If you remember nothing else, remember that. Might I have your name?"
"Rose Dew…Dawson. Rose Dawson," she quickly corrected herself. Years of being accustomed to a certain name would not disappear overnight.
"How old are you, Rose?" Margaret questioned.
"Seventeen, but I'll be eighteen in July."
Margaret sighed. "So young for such a terrible tragedy. Come on now, I'll lead the way. Once you get a warm meal in you and take a hot bath, you'll be feeling much better, I promise."
The walk had only taken several minutes, and before she had expected it, Rose found herself trudging up the steps of a three story brick brownstone home in a presumably nice part of the city. The front was kept well, with a tended garden of flowers and a gate that separated it all from the sidewalk. In the center of the flower patch was a medium sized sign, recognizing the brownstone as O'Neill's Home for Displaced Women.
Already, a plan had formed in her head. As broken of a woman as she was now, Rose was too proud to accept charity when others were still so much less fortunate than she was. She would stay for a few days, perhaps give herself a chance to recover and mourn appropriately, and then, she would move on, as she promised Jack. I will never forget, she thought to herself as she silently trudged up the stairs behind Mrs. O'Neill. But, I will move on.
"I'll show you right upstairs to your room, dear. I can tell you're exhausted, and I don't want to trouble you. I'll come to you tomorrow and explain more about the home."
Rose nodded, her grief once again setting in. It tugged at her heart so fiercely that it took all she had to bite her lip and keep from crying out in anguish. "Thank you," she managed instead. "You've been so kind."
Once inside, she climbed a second set of stairs that led to a row of doors. Mrs. O'Neill paused at the fourth one down, and taking out a small brass key ring, she unlocked it carefully. Once open, the room revealed two comfortable looking beds, a dresser, a basin and pitcher, and a small desk and lamp.
"Usually we place our girls two at a time, but I can tell you need time to yourself. There's a nightgown in the bottom drawer for you. I'll be by in the morning with your breakfast tray. You can join us downstairs in the morning, if you change your mind and feel up to it."
Rose nodded politely, eyeing the bed. She was so tired, and nothing would feel better than to sleep to forget. "All right."
Mrs. O'Neill nodded. "Good night, Mrs. Dawson."
"Goodnight," Rose replied monotonously. It wasn't until Mrs. O'Neill's eyes were off of her and the door was shut that she allowed herself to give into her grief.
The tears came slowly at first as she made her way over to the dresser, silently falling in rivers down her porcelain cheeks. She removed the pale pink nightgown and began stripping off her clothes until she was in nothing but her shift and underwear. She slid the nightgown over her head and buttoned all three buttons before somehow managing to fold her ruined clothes and Cal's coat over the desk chair.
She shook with sobs as she pulled back the quilt, burying her face into the pillow. She thought of Jack at first, then of her mother, and finally, Cal. Of his kind words to her and his apologies on the Carpathia, and wondered, in her delirious state of mind, if she had made a mistake.
It only made her cry harder, yet somehow, after a half hour spent in her own misery, the hazy border between sleep and wakefulness hit her hard, and she welcomed it. For a few hours, at least, she would not feel anything.