Walking into the newspaper office the next morning, I felt slightly uneasy. Male workers sat at desks spread across the room, some shouting at each other rather than walking to the others' station. My presence was barely noticed until the only other woman in the entire building coughed. Finding myself relieved, I was sorely disappointed to find that she was not the kindred spirit I had hoped for.
"Who are you asking for?" she questioned, her voice flat.
"Fifth cubical in the third row." Nodding, I once again took in the room, completely oblivious to what her reply had meant. Letting out a deep sigh, the woman explained.
"Three rows to your right, go to the fifth desk up." I thanked her, then made my way. I could feel the eyes of some of the men taking in my body, while others were so immersed in their work that my presence was hardly noticed. The reporter who I had met with the day before was one such man. Hunched over, he scribbled something profusely to the point where he was muttering to himself.
"Bloody high class woman," His voice more frustrated than actually angry, "if she could take her nose out of the air for one second, I-"
"I think you mean me," I interrupted, only slightly offended to hear his comments. Taken by surprise, Joseph Daniels jumped up from his position and turned towards me with wide eyes.
"Didn't anyone teach you to let people know you were around?" he questioned sarcastically, his eyes now back to their normal size and the only remnants of his shock being in the slight blush in his cheeks.
"Didn't anyone teach you not to talk about people behind their backs?" I mocked, not even trying to hide the "unladylike" smirk on my face. A rueful smile played at his lips.
"Fair enough, Ms. Grex. Fair enough. So, to what do I owe this pleasure?" It seemed like sarcasm was the only form in which he knew how to communicate. "We had such lovely conversation yesterday, after all." I knew the speech that I had prepared for him by heart, but it felt wrong to say them in this place, where everyone heard you, but no one was listening.
"Do you think, perhaps, we could take a turn about the park?" I asked, looking out the main window of the building to the park across the street. His brows furrowed slightly, looking down at his work. "I promise, I'll make it worth your while."
"You had better, Ms. Grex," he teased, "or I will be very put out."
As we walked, I took the moments to get a better look at him. He wasn't very old, early thirties at most, with dark brown hair. He stood a head taller than me, with a build that was neither fat nor thin, simply in the middle. I noted that he did not take the opportunity to glance at me again, instead keeping his focus on the road ahead.
"Your name is Joseph Daniels, correct?" I asked, making sure that we came to a point where I would be able to call him by his name, rather than "the reporter." He glanced briefly at me, then returned his gaze to the street that we were crossing, protectively holding his right arm in front of me, as though to shield me from either being hurt by all of the traffic, or from entering into it. His brows furrowed in concentration, unresponsive to my question. Moments later, he motioned that it was time to cross the street, taking me by the wrist and pulling me along. At first, it felt like the familiar tugging of Harry as he pulled me across the boat deck, desperate to find me a boat.
Once we reached the other side and had merged into the walking trail of the park, he looked at me. "I'm sorry, what was your question?"
"Your name. It's Joseph Daniels, correct?"
He nodded. "Yes, and you are Georgiana Grex, daughter or the Earl and Countess of Manton." He didn't offer me his arm, as a gentleman would, but instead strode next to me slowly, staying at the pace I had chosen. I knew that I was stalling. I had become almost immobile, so immersed in my thoughts. How to begin? What should I share, I wondered, and what was mine to keep to myself? Mr. Daniels took notice. "And what is it, Ms. Grex, that you wanted to speak to me about?"
I may not have known where to start the story that he would put in the paper, but I knew what I wanted to say to him.
"You were right," I admitted. "Terrible as it is, horrible as it is, you were right. Everyday people think and speak less about the Titanic, and think of it as little more than a sad accident. They've forgotten that so many lives were lost." A sudden face came to my mind. "Poor Mr. Sandrini..."
"Was he the loved one that you lost?" Mr. Daniels inquired, his face quite surprised, no doubt thinking it odd that a noble English woman would fall for an Italian.
"No, he was not." He nodded, seeing that his suspicions were incorrect. "He was my server." In truth, I hadn't known his name until after he was dead. I recognized him as the server who had winked at me that first night at dinner, and asked the woman who sat by his side who he was. Poor Annie Desmond, she and I felt a similar loss; having lost the men that we were going to marry.
Joseph Daniels looked at me in surprise, something that I supposed he would be doing a lot of as my story unfolded. "You knew his name, though? Were you friends?"
"No, sir." I smiled sadly. "We never exchanged words. He only winked at me."
"Just like an Italian," Daniels muttered under his breath.
"What does that have anything to do with it, his nationality?" I questioned angrily. "Is an Englishman or Irishman or Scotsman any less able or likely to wink at a person?"
Taken aback, Mr. Daniels attempted to explain himself. "It's not that, m'lady. It's just...Italians lack a certain amount of class." I rolled my eyes. "But that's besides the point. You were saying how right I am...?" I let out a breath, away that I would not change his opinions.
"You were right about people needing to see another side of the story. A personal side, and I'd be willing to provide that for you." His eyes widened slightly and his eyebrows shot up.
"Honestly? You would be willing to make yourself emotionally vulnerable to the public?" he asked, not quite sure to believe my statement. "But why? You certainly don't need the money I'm willing to pay."
"It's just something I must do. For those who were lost." Silence hung in the air until his curiosity could no longer contain him.
"But it will not simply be tails of fine dining and beautiful gowns, will it? Because, if that's the case, I'm-"
"Mr. Daniels," I interrupted, wanting to quiet him. "It will not be a story of fine dining and beautiful gowns."
"Then what will it be of?" As if by providence, we had made a full circle of the trail at this point and were once again nearing the street we had crossed.
"Love, loss, and continuing on."
We crossed the street much as we had the first time, and parted with his assurance that he would come to call the next day. After this, I made my way back to the Widener's house, where Mrs. Widener waited for me.
"Georgiana!" she greeted, her smile tight as I entered the sitting room. I did not see the face of the person who sat on the other side of the room, their image obscured by the fireplace wall. "Did your inquiry prove satisfactory."
"Yes, it most certainly did," I replied hesitantly, unsure of how to respond to her stiff speech. When I had fully entered the room, I saw two strangers sitting on the couch furthest from where Mrs. Widener was sitting. A woman, who looked to be Mrs. Widener's age, and a man, not much older than Harry, sat next to her. There was nothing about the two that inspired discomfort, though I was immediately on edge because my hostess was so, although she tried to hide it.
"Miss Georgiana Grex," Mrs. Widener began formally, "may I introduce you to my sister-in-law, Mrs. Louisa Gilbert, and her son, Mr. Allen Gilbert." I didn't know what it was about her in-laws that made Mrs. Widener so distressed, but I was certain to find out.