They'd promised him a place in history. The first unsinkable ship, they said, that'll be something to tell your grandchildren. He'd been more interested in the money. He'd have to be away a good few months, but the wages were good, and with Maisie expecting again... well, it wasn't really a choice now, was it? When there was work available, you took it.
So, he'd hugged Maisie, and promised her it wouldn't be long. He'd packed his things - and endured her repacking them, tsking and demanding to know what he thought he would do without clean underwear. He'd checked his violin and checked it again, making sure he'd packed extra strings, because who knew what the sea air would do to it? And at the given time on the given day, he'd hugged the children goodbye, kissed Maisie, and boarded the Titanic - the unsinkable ship - with the other band members, ready and willing to play beautiful music for fancy folk until they reached America.
Those folk weren't seeming quite so fancy now. Funny how the airs and graces dropped into screaming, wailing and fighting just like everyone else when people were afraid for their lives. There were no formal manners now - nary even a 'please' and 'thank you' as people elbowed and shoved to get a place on the boats.
They said there weren't enough boats.
God only knew who had started the rumour, but it had spread like wildfire in whispers and murmurs, and then in shouts and screams. Not enough lifeboats, which meant that people were going to die. People were panicking and shouting, women and children - and a few men - were wailing in terror, the sailors were yelling instructions, and all the band could think to do was stand on the deck and play. It was their job, after all. Maybe it would calm some people.
The shout went up that the last boats were starting to be filled, and he exchanged glances with the other band members. As one man they lowered their instruments, wishing each other good luck, exchanging awkward pats on shoulders and back. Easier to say "good luck" than "hope you don't die", or worse, "hope I don't die". He'd grown fond of them this journey - together they occupied an awkward space on the crew. No-one counted them as sailors, but they certainly weren't important enough to eat with the gentry. They'd eaten and drunk together, swapped stories of families and homes. Homes which they might now never see again. God help them all.
He hadn't gone three steps when he heard the violin music and looked back. It was Bricoux, the stupid fool. Standing there, eyes focused in concentration as though the world weren't ending around him, playing when he should be fighting for a room on the boats.
But there was no room on the boats...
That much was obvious from the people around them, each desperate to secure a place. Did they think that they might find an exception, that a musician might be given a place that might otherwise give a woman or child a chance to live? No. They were going to die here.
It occured to him in a moment that a man might have little choice about when he died, but a man could still choose ihow/i he died. That was to say, he could die fighting and scrabbling for his life like an animal, selfishly shoving others aside... or he could die, maybe, doing the only thing he'd ever truly been good at.
Maisie's face flashed in front of his eyes for a moment - curly, dark hair; bright blue eyes; grin that seemed far too young for a woman of her age. Would that smile stay as young, bringing up three - no, four - children alone? He wavered, looking again towards the boats.
But the boats were nearly full - would be full before he could even have a chance to reach them. And Bricoux looked so alone there on the deck, and they had always played as a band. Bricoux shouldn't be playing there, not alone like that. How could he live, how could he go back to his family, if it meant going to the other man's family and explaining that they'd just left him there? He couldn't.
He sent a silent apology to Maisie as he stepped back, lifting his instrument again. He saw the others turn back, saw the same hesitation in their eyes in that moment before they were a group again. No-one spoke. No-one needed to. A decision had been taken.
Would it help? Perhaps, perhaps. Maybe the music might afford those on deck some slight respite, a moment's peace in their hearts before they reached the final peace, the one from which there is no awakening. It was all they could give now, and they gave it with all their hearts.
He hoped whoever told Maisie would do so gently. Maybe they could tell her how beautifully he'd played. Maybe she could take comfort in that, in imagining her husband's last moments trying to give just a little hope to those with no hope left.
Maybe she would curse him for not fighting for a place, and leaving her alone. There was no way to tell and little to do about it now. He looked away, half-closed his eyes so as not to see the last of the life-boats leaving. Don't think about it. Better to concentrate on the music.
As the ship sank, the band played on, singing her gently to her last rest.