Hello once again to all of you, my dear readers. As usual, I hope you have been enjoying the story so far.
I apologize in advance for the considerable delay in getting this chapter out, but setting up a steady update schedule is something that has recently become slightly more difficult than it used to be.
Rambling aside, here is yet another chapter - and, as usual, I hope not to disappoint.
Now, onto the chapter itself...
Chapter 4 – Difficult relationships
In Caledon Hockley's Millionaire Suite on B Deck, April 10th, 1912, 03.20 p.m.
In spite of Rose's apprehension, lunch with the Countess and her family went by more smoothly than she had expected it to. Rather than flaunting the history of her family line or introducing some topic related to gossip, the Countess had mainly spoken about how she was travelling to join her husband, who planned to start an orange business in California, and how much she regretted the fact she'd had to leave her two sons under the care of their governess and maternal grandmother back home. She also had listened politely to Cal and Ruth when they spoke about their own purposes behind the trip, but thankfully she hadn't grasped onto them with the vivid eagerness so many of Ruth's and Cal's friends had displayed, and although she had appeared amazed at learning that Rose was twenty-six years old and unmarried, she had made no comments on the matter, nor had she revealed any form of disapproval or contempt. The Countess' parents had been fairly quiet, and what little they spoke about was related to the chalet in Normandy they were heading to, but they too had been quite pleasant, as well as the Countess's cousin – or rather, cousin-in-law – Gladys Cherry, who had been a veritable chatter box, very vocal about her enthusiasm regarding the journey and her stay at New York, in spite of the glances of discomfort she had sneaked at both Cal and Ruth on more than one occasion.
The food itself had been delicious, which was to be expected from a restaurant at such a grand ship, but Rose had carefully hidden her thoughts on the meal from her mother and fiancée. She would much rather face their reaction at her seeming dislike for the food than the one she guessed they would have if they as much as suspected she was enjoying it.
Overall, it had been much more enjoyable than Rose had imagined it would be, and she had left the A la Carte restaurant quite relieved at having known some people of her class who were not snobs. Even if they weren't exactly the first of that category she had met, people like them were too few and far between among her mother's and Cal's high-society acquaintances.
Rose's opinion, however, didn't appear to be shared by her mother and Cal, who appeared less than pleased by how the Countess and her travelling companions hadn't craved for anything they had to say, and by their polite, but firm dismissal of their further company when the Countess had left the restaurant with her parents and Gladys Cherry, so the four of them could get to know the ship as well as they could until the arrival to Cherbourg – which made sense, as the Countess' parents would be getting off then. In the end, her mother had gone off to try make new acquaintances, while Cal had attempted to drag Rose off so they could take their own look around the ship – which she had refused, saying she wanted to put up some paintings in their stateroom. That had been what pleased Cal and her mother the least, but as Rose had taken the care to part ways with him and her mother in front of their lunch companions, neither had tried to stop her.
By now, standing in the suite with Trudy by her side, and with a crate containing several paintings she had bought in Paris in front of them, Rose had no idea of where her mother and fiancé were, but she thought little about it. She was far more interested in talking to Trudy about which paintings should be put up in the stateroom.
"How about this one for your bedroom, Miss Rose?" Trudy asked, holding up a painting of several water lilies floating on the surface of a calm pond.
As her hands moved to grasp the sides of the painting as well, Rose gave it a long look, while she mentally compared it with a mental image of the layout of her bedroom.
"I don't think so," she finally said, trying to break it as politely as possible to her maid. "I think this one would look better here in the sitting room."
Trudy nodded, and let go of the painting, continuing her search as Rose went over and put the painting of the water lilies on an armchair. After setting it down, she leaned back, and then smiled a bit. They were starting to get some color in this room by now.
"What do you think of this one for your bedroom instead, Miss Rose?" Trudy asked.
Hearing her maid's voice, Rose turned around, and saw Trudy holding up a painting of a ballerina in a blue tutu, balanced only on her right foot, with her left leg stretched out, and her arms spread sideways, as though she was literally flying off the stage she danced on. And just like that, she promptly agreed with her maid Of all the paintings she had bought, this was without a doubt the one Rose liked the most. The way the ballerina moved, completely unrestrained, not caring about the viewers' thoughts, and emanating bliss to such an extent that it flowed out of the painting and into the viewer had been perfectly painted by the artist - a something Degas if she remembered the name right. But it was a bittersweet feeling. Even though she loved the way how the artist's freedom was portrayed, she couldn't help but to feel a little bit sad at how it was so difficult for her to achieve half of the freedom this dancer was experiencing.
Still, that didn't make her think differently on the choice.
"Yes," Rose replied, as she walked over to Trudy. "That's the ideal painting to put up the bedroom."
At least, Rose believed it was. After all, if it stayed in her bedroom, Rose would be able to get some looks at it before falling asleep, and maybe it would help her to dream with the sort of freedom this dancer experienced until she was able to obtain it.
But right as she was about to take the painting from Trudy's hands, a low creaking noise came through, and an instant afterwards, Cal walked into the stateroom. Rose felt a pang of dread stabbing at her when she saw him. She could already guess he wanted something of her – and it was rare for him to ask her something she wouldn't mind doing.
Sure enough, even as he closed the door he was already looking for her, and it took only an instant for his eyes to train on her like an eagle's on a hare. But then, the corners of his lips twitched upwards, and a mix of a scoff and a guffaw came from them.
"Already putting up those finger-paintings you bought, Rose?" he asked. "You are certainly eager to display those wastes of money."
Out of the corner of her eye, Rose caught sight of Trudy curtsying at her and retreating to her bedroom, so she could put up the painting. After being reasonably sure her maid was far enough not to be forced to hear spoken arguments, Rose said, "If that's what you think they are, fine. You're entitled to your opinion. But just to remind, I happen to think differently."
His lips stretched in a smirk meant to be indulgent, Cal chuckled in the amused manner of someone who found a person's silly antics funny in a way.
"Rose, you should learn to be less naïve. None of those artists whose paintings you bought will amount to anything other than making men like me spend money to satisfy their fiancées' whims."
Trying not to clench her fists in irritation, Rose said in the firmest tone she could muster, "You were the one who demanded I paid them with your money in the first place. And if I bought them, it wasn't so they would be closed inside a box."
Cal's amused smirk disappeared in an instant, to be replaced by hints of anger. Rose remained expressionless, but she frowned inwardly. Cal never liked to be challenged, and liked even less to hear the suggestion that anything he may have done was wrong. Rose had never been the sort who would permanently lay low, but she knew better than to risk more than a few sparse moments of defiance if she didn't want his bad temper to build up too much.
"Why are you here, anyway?" Rose asked. "I never thought you would take such a brief walk."
His irritation faltered for a few moments at her change of subject, but returned quickly as he spat, "I would look like a fool taking a walk on my own when I'm an engaged man." He jerked his head toward her bedroom. "So get your hat and come on."
A flicker of relief came through Rose at those words. Being showed off in front of strangers like a prized possession was among the least unpleasant things Cal had ever wanted her to do since they became engaged, and although it was frequent for Rose to end up tired and with aching feet after such experiments, she had gone through that enough times to develop a habituation of sorts.
Still, it was hardly something she looked forward to.
"I still have some paintings to put up," she said, hoping to delay Cal's display of her for a moment.
"You can do that later," Cal replied, sounding an edge more annoyed than he had been just before. "Let's go."
As if to drive his point across, he gave a step toward her. An urge to recoil rushed through Rose, but she stayed in her place, and instead drove it out in another way.
"Let me just make sure that that last painting gets put up in the right place then," she said.
Not waiting for him to reply, Rose turned around and walked toward what would be her bedroom. She wished she had put her hat at a different location, as that would allow her to spend more time on putting the painting on the right place and then getting her hat. As it stood, she would have to go on that walk sooner than she would wish to.
But like it had happened when she had been required to go to have lunch with her mother and Cal, delaying the inevitable did nothing to make the dreaded moment better when it finally arrived. Only this time, she was more unlikely to have the same sort of pleasant surprise than when she'd had lunch with the Countess and her travelling companions.
When she entered her bedroom, she saw the painting of the ballerina put up on top of her vanity table, right beside her hat. Trudy was also there, standing beside the table, and looking around the bedroom in pure awe, like Rose had seen her doing several times before, on every part of the ship she'd been at with her. However, as Trudy heard Rose's steps, she turned around and dutifully asked, "Is the painting alright here, Miss? Or should I put it somewhere else?"
A cursory look at the painting in conjunction with its location was all it took for Rose to decide that this was a nice enough place for it to rest, if not the only realistic location for it if she wanted to look at it before falling asleep in this bedroom.
"Here will be fine," Rose replied, as she moved over to her vanity table to grab her hat. "Thank you, Trudy."
Trudy nodded, and then, as if she thought she wouldn't be required to do anything else, she again started looking around the bedroom in awe, as if she wanted to take every tiny detail in.
"You sure are taken with this ship, aren't you?" Rose asked with a playful note to her voice as she put her hat on.
Like someone caught in an embarrassing moment, Trudy startled and put her hand over her mouth.
"Sorry, Miss Rose," she muttered, before she turned her head down and started looking at her shoes as if they were the most interesting thing in the bedroom.
"There's no need to apologize, Trudy," Rose reassured her. "The Titanic is a beautiful ship after all – not that I can take any credit for it, of course."
Her posture relaxing significantly Trudy promptly agreed, "Yes, it is beautiful. And everything smells so brand new… like it was made just for us."
At that, Trudy walked closer to her, and then said, like someone confessing a naughty deed, "I mean, just to think, that tonight, when I crawl between the sheets, I'll be the first!"
A wave of chuckles came from Rose at that comment.
"Oh, Trudy…" Rose muttered as she shook her head in amusement.
Then, her good mood was instantly shattered, when a voice said, "And tonight, when I crawl between the sheets, I'll still be the first."
Her heart raising up to her throat in alarm, Rose turned around, and saw Cal standing by the door to her bedroom, a lazy smirk on his face, and right in the middle of jerking his head at Trudy for her to get out.
"Excuse me, miss," Trudy muttered, nervousness written all over her face as she curtsied to Rose. Then, she turned away, and practically bolted out of the bedroom, as if she had an angry mob chasing her. Cal followed her with his eyes for a moment, and then closed the door behind him and ambled toward Rose, the same lazy smirk still on his face.
Making an effort to look inconspicuous, Rose turned away from him, shivers creeping up her spine more than they ever did whenever she saw Cal displaying signs of his short temper.
In what felt like no time at all, Cal had arrived right behind her, taken the hat off her head, and placed it back on her vanity table.
"The first and only," he whispered, before his arms wrapped around her waist like a vise. "Forever."
Rose sensed his breath blowing on her ear, and knew he was going to kiss her cheek. In an effort to avoid it, she craned her neck backwards and kissed his cheek, trying to make it as affectionate as possible. To her relief, Cal cooed lightly, but then his arms wrapped even more tightly around her waist, and he pressed a kiss on her shoulder.
"Yes," he murmured, more to himself than to her. "Tonight will be perfect."
As if Cal had pressed a button, a burst of fear came through Rose, and she wrenched free from his grasp, pulled the skirts of her dress up, and gave one big step away from him, her heart jumping inside her chest like a restless monkey. By miracle, she didn't fall down when doing such a move in high-heeled shoes, but her heart still seemed to want to jump out of her chest.
She knew what Cal had been talking about, and it was something she had been trying to avoid with all her strength ever since the engagement had become final. She knew enough about the subject to know it was something married couples had to go through, but she also knew how the first time was supposed to feel for a woman even if she had it with a caring man. So far, her first time hadn't come, but when her engagement to Cal became final, the prospect started looming ever closer, and that was only strengthened when he started making advances. Until now, she had been managing to delay that moment, but Cal had only been growing more restless as time passed, and from his recent behavior, Rose knew he was almost at the end of his rope.
"Rose…" he said in a tone of warning tone, every bit of the irritation she'd seen him displaying not long before returning.
In an effort to prove her point, Rose said in the firmest tone she could muster before he could say anything else, "I told thousands of times: we are not married yet. I will not have relations with you until we're lawfully wedded."
That was the main argument she had used until now, but while it had been effective at first, it had started to lose its power over time, like most things tended to.
"And I told you thousands of times: neither I nor society as a whole care about whether we are lawfully wedded or not, even if that's the front we put up," Cal said, repeating words he had spoken more times Rose had cared to count. "We are engaged, so that means we are a couple in practice if not yet by law."
As if to drive his words and their implications across, he leaned closer to her, and it took all of Rose's will not to scamper away.
"I can't do that, Cal. Not tonight." Her words came out in a meek tone, as she was unable to muster any other sort of voice through her frantic heartbeat.
Somehow, that appeased Cal a bit, and he righted himself again.
"There's no need to be nervous, Rose," he said in a tone that came across as dismissive, even though the look on his face suggested he wanted to make it sound caring. "It will just last a couple of minutes and then it will all be over."
"That's what Louis XVI must have thought when he was about to lose his head," Rose remarked. Somehow, that comment immediately struck her as appropriate after Cal had said she'd looked like she was awaiting her turn on the guillotine a matter of hours before.
Cal threw his arms up at her remark, uttering a melodramatic and excessively loud groan of hopelessness.
"Must you always make things so difficult?" he said. "Any other woman would hardly bat an eye when the time came to give away her virginity."
"Well, it just happens to be my virginity," Rose replied, somehow managing to muster enough forcefulness to stand straight and speak in a firm tone, her frantic heartbeat now settled down. "And I will give it away whenever I'm ready to, god damn it."
A frown creeping onto his face, Cal raised his hand and slapped her lips with the back of his fingers in a quite forceful manner, causing Rose to groan slightly and take her hand to her mouth.
"I will not stand for you having such a dirty mouth," he spat as Rose rubbed her mouth to push the stinging feeling down. "Remember you are meant to kiss me with it."
After a moment of silence, he added, "And it's more than about time you start fulfilling your wifely duties."
The stinging in her lips pushed down to a more manageable level, Rose brought her hand down.
"Please, Cal," she begged, now unable to reach for any sliver of firmness. "Just give me some more days to get used to the idea. I promise, I will try to get myself on the right mindset for us to have our first time together before this voyage is over."
How she had managed to say all that without feeling faint, she had no idea.
Cal gave her a long look, his features looking as if they were made of stone, but his eyes betraying how displeased he was by that development. Rose's heart again started beating frantically, to the point she feared it would burst.
Then, at long last, he nodded.
"Very well," he said in a resigned tone. "But I will hold onto that. So don't you dare go back on your word. "
Relief surged through Rose at those words, so much so that she could scarcely bring herself to attempt to hide it. Thankfully, Cal either didn't see it or pretended not to notice.
"And we'll start sleeping on the same bed every night," he added. "Just to help you to get used to the idea - which you'd better do fast."
The meant-to-be-charming smile he could pull off so well coming to his face, he added, "After all, there is no better occasion for us to have a dream time for the first time than on the maiden voyage of the Ship Of Dreams."
Rose repressed a frown. Sleeping in the same bed as Cal seemed like giving him her virginity in a silver platter. But she knew better than to push her luck at this moment.
"Right," she said, her words sounding forced even as she spoke them. "But don't make any advances, or you will regret it!"
Cal put a hand in front of his mouth at those words, and a wave of muffled laughter came from behind it. Although he certainly was not fond of her defiance on most occasions, he always seemed to find it unreasonably funny whenever Rose actually resorted to threatening him. True, all of her threats had been empty so far… but she always vowed to herself that someday, any time soon, one of them wouldn't be.
"I'll keep it in mind," he replied in a congenial manner. "Now come on. And step lively, we still have many things to look forward to today."
Not giving her the time to reply, he grabbed her shrub-like hat and slapped it down on her head. Knowing what she had to do, Rose carefully straightened it up, and then allowed Cal to link arms with her, as the two of them walked toward the door that lead to the corridor, and Rose slipped into the mindset she always entered when Cal paraded her around like a trophy.
But as she did so, she also wondered what Cal meant exactly when he'd told her they still had many things to look forward to.
On the Titanic's starboard bridge wing, April 10th, 1912, 05:45 p.m.
His forearms resting on top of the bridge wing's bulwark, with a pair of binoculars held in his right hand, Wilde stared into the horizon, half of his being alert to spot anything that might endanger the Titanic if it came too close, and the rest of him trying to feel for anything unusual that might be happening anywhere on the ship. As senior officer on the watch, the responsibility for the vessel and each one of the souls on board came down on his shoulders over the four hours he spent on the bridge, and to make sure they were all safe, he needed to take notice of as many things as possible at the same time, and make a decision in a split-second should anything become unusual.
It had been a fair bit of a jarring surprise when he had first become a senior officer years before, but by now, it was already a routine, mainly after performing the same duty so many times on the Olympic. That was not to say he was less aware of his responsibility than he had been ever before, but simply that he already knew how things worked.
And although this time he could still feel slightly more restless than he had been when on watch at most other ships he'd served on, he was calmer by far than he had been when the voyage started. Regardless of its rather troubled beginning, the maiden voyage had been going perfectly until now. The ship's engines ran like clockwork beneath him, all equipment was in a condition as pristine as if it had just been manufactured, and from what he had gathered, all crewmembers on duty were where they should be, performing their duties splendidly. Granted, the coal fire in Boiler Room 5 kept burning as strong as ever according to the most recent information, the Titanic would get to Cherbourg rather later than it was supposed to, and they had already passed by a few ships, but the first simply would take time to be put out, the second was to be expected after their delayed departure, and the third was perfectly normal.
The only remotely unusual thing that had happened after the departure had been that meeting with the First Class lady, but even that no longer seemed important to Wilde, as it simply made no sense musing about a random passenger he'd never seen before.
Still, the strange feeling he had about this ship kept clinging to him like a barnacle, and refused to be pulled off. If not for his sheer devotion to duty and his awareness of its importance, Wilde was certain he would already have allowed himself to succumb to it. Ironically, that was the last thing he should do if he wanted to avoid a disaster, as paying attention to bad thoughts would only make a disaster all the more likely to occur.
As the thought came to him, he couldn't help but to shake his head in hopelessness, although, for some reason, an ironic smirk tugged at the corners of his lips.
However, his expression became dead serious when he heard the sound of shoes beating on the deck at a regular rhythm. Knowing what that meant, Wilde stood straight and turned around, to see Lightoller walking toward him. Realizing what that most likely meant, Wilde put his free hand into his pocket, took his watch out, and checked the time.
Apparently, his watch on the bridge had gone by more quickly than he had realized, and Lightoller, fulfilling the standard practice, had arrived a quarter of an hour early to get acquainted with how things went. But typically, only half of the time at most was used to actually exchange information, and whatever spared was used for small talk if the two officers got along well. As that wasn't the case here, either Lightoller intended to make the effort to get along Captain Smith had requested of them, or he wanted some time to rile Wilde up before the official end of his watch.
Not that Wilde would give him that satisfaction.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Lightoller," Wilde greeted, taking the care to sound as polite as possible, and to address the Second Officer in the professional manner two officers were expected to use at such situations.
"Mr. Wilde," Lightoller replied in a polite but stiff manner that almost managed to look relaxed in comparison to the nod of acknowledgment he gave afterwards.
Then, with all 'pleasantries' out of the way, he went straight to business.
"What is the ship's current situation?" he demanded rather than asked.
Not expecting anything particularly different or better, Wilde slipped his watch back into his pocked, and replied, "The most constant and ordinary situation that could be expected. The engines have been working smoothly, the rest of the equipment remains as perfectly functional as I was told it was at the time of the sea trials, and the most recent observations indicate we'll keep meeting excellent weather and smooth waters until we get to Cherbourg. The only issue that may eventually prove dangerous is the coal fire in Boiler Room 5, but as of now, it is causing no problems for anyone besides those in the boiler room, and there is no other plan to put it out other than to remove the coal close to it and let it burn out."
As he spoke of it, Wilde couldn't help but to think that perhaps the coal fire, in spite of burning fairly strongly, perhaps hadn't been intense enough, as it had not been considered an impediment to the maiden voyage by the inspectors during the Board of Trade muster. Granted, such a thing was entirely owed to the fact the coal fire had been concealed – but if it had been strong enough, there would have been no way to hide it. And if it had been discovered, the ship would have to be sent back to Belfast, so the fire could burn out safely and repairs made afterwards. That would inevitably delay the maiden voyage a great deal, and for a second time at that, and therefore a decision had been made to conceal the coal fire.
To be honest, the way things had stood at the time of the inspection, the coal fire had not been strong enough for not to be dealt with even during the voyage, but still, no chances had been taken, and the coal fire had been concealed. And Wilde had a very strong feeling as to who had given the order for such arrangements to be made.
His only source of relief was that, coal fires like the one in Boiler Room 5 were of the sort that could be taken care of without disturbing an overseas journey, and even without causing danger to anyone, provided all involved parties were cautious.
Still, having a miniature inferno in the ship's belly during the maiden voyage seemed as much of a bad sign as a near-collision less than a minute after the intended departure.
"Is there anything else I should be aware of, Mr. Wilde?" Lightoller asked, making the Chief Officer realize he'd somehow sensed Wilde's unease.
Wilde kept the same exterior, but he let out a string of curses inwardly. Lightoller could sniff out anything that he perceived a weakness wherever Wilde was concerned, and although just about all those clues were fake as everything, it never ceased to annoy him.
But again, Wilde wouldn't give Lightoller the satisfaction of having annoyed him.
"If there was, I would tell you, Mr. Lightoller," Wilde replied, his tone calm and even, but the hand of his that didn't hold the binoculars itching slightly, as if it wanted to clench into a fist.
Lightoller looked like he wanted to smirk, but was restraining that urge for whatever reasons he had. Wilde took advantage of the moment of silence to briefly turn around and make sure the ship hadn't gotten close to anything dangerous during the time he'd spent talking to Lightoller. To his relief, nothing lay in the Titanic's path besides the ocean it sailed through.
"Should I take that to mean there may be something wrong that you feel I better not be aware of?" he inquired in a very interested and clearly provocative manner, after Wilde had turned back around.
Unfortunately, he'd put his foot in his mouth, because, in a burst of inspiration, Wilde remarked, "Well, there is something wrong here, but it has nothing to do with this ship's machinery, course, or fuel. But I am sure you are more than aware of what that is, my good sir."
Rather than give any hint of looking affected or upset, Lightoller smiled, which made Wilde recoil, as it was the one that always came to Lightoller's face whenever he felt he had a particularly good verbal jab to use.
"Indeed I am," he replied. "Unfortunately, it is not within my power to repair that fault, it is in yours only. And you missed out your chance to do it when you did not take advantage of the suggestion I kindly gave you this morning."
Wilde's expression morphed into a grimace for a tiny instant, but rapidly pulled itself together, and he gave Lightoller the most annoying smirk he could muster.
"Well, I may have not have taken advantage of your suggestion, but don't worry, I'll certainly take the first chance to teach you to watch your tongue that I have," he replied, widening his annoying smirk as much as he could.
Lightoller's smile shifted into a snarl, but this time, before he had the time to say anything else, another voice was heard in the general area.
"You two are not having a verbal duel again, are you?"
The words caused Wilde's eyes to widen, and Lightoller to stand stiff and straight as a spindle. Then, the two of them turned toward the sound, and saw Captain Smith standing there, an all-knowing look on his face, looking like someone who'd caught his charges misbehaving.
As soon he was able to, Wilde replied in a calm, collected tone, feeling his whole body more rigid than stone, "No, sir. Mr. Lightoller and I were not having any form of verbal duel. We were only having a calm conversation."
Smith seemed anything but convinced by those words, but a matter of instants after Wilde had spoken, Lightoller said, "Mr. Wilde is right. There was no argument between me and him. We simply were making the effort to get along that was requested of us."
Smith's penetrating gaze seemed to encompass the two of them, as if he was reading both of his officers like a book. It was a skill every Captain would better have, and the vast majority of them did, but Smith seemed to be one of the best at that. Fortunately, he was also kinder and more understanding than a good number of Captains were – not to say he tolerated any funny business or didn't know how to bellow out orders. After all, meek, quiet chaps never made it far as sailors, much less as officers.
"Well, it is good to see you are making the effort I asked you to," Smith finally said in a slightly amused manner, chuckling quietly afterwards. "But may I encourage you both to work a little bit more on the final result?"
Wilde inwardly sighed in relief, and felt his entire being relaxing, so much so that he almost dropped the binoculars. Lightoller's spine also seemed to loosen up slightly, but at the same time, he couldn't help but to speak up himself, "Sir, I apologize for changing the subject so suddenly, but is there anything you need to tell either of us?"
Smith turned toward Lightoller, the look of slight amusement still on his face, and said, "As a matter of fact, there is. Mr. Lightoller, please relieve Mr. Wilde for a few moments. I need to talk to him."
For whatever reason, Lightoller took some time to reply, but when he spoke, his voice was firm and resolute. "Yes, sir."
With those words, Smith turned around, and Wilde gave the binoculars to Lightoller, the Second Officer glaring at him as he accepted them. After meeting Lightoller's gaze for as long as he could both without wasting time and without giving the impression he didn't have the moral fiber to stand it, Wilde followed after the Captain. The two men walked until they were about 65 feet away from the bridge, by Lifeboat 5.
Wilde gave a look around, and, after making sure no one was around to listen to them, he asked, "What is it you want to tell me, sir?"
After taking a glance around himself, Smith turned to Wilde, and said, "There's no need for 'sir' now, Henry. We are in private after all."
Wilde nodded in acknowledgement. Although hierarchy was meant to be in place when on duty, he and Captain Smith had been friends for a number of years now, and treated themselves as such when in private.
"Right," Wilde said, as his posture relaxed ever so slightly in a further sign of acknowledgement. "What do you want to talk to me about, Edward?"
"Nothing much," Smith replied in a reassuring tone. "I simply want to know if you would be interested in accompanying me during the greeting of the first class passengers that will board at Cherbourg."
Those words caused Wilde to instantly make a face like that of a child who was told to take medicine or to drink a teaspoon of cod liver oil.
"I don't think so," he replied, his mind easily picturing the task of socializing with passengers and repeating words of welcoming over and over again like a parrot.
He knew both those tasks had to be fulfilled, and in no way he wished the passengers to have a bad voyage, but interacting with them was far too difficult. Not only was there a whole list of rules to fulfill, but one had to look like he sincerely enjoyed every minute of it. And Wilde knew that Smith did enjoy such things, and that was one of the main reasons why he had been appointed Captain of both the Olympic and the Titanic – although his sailing skills had also been a deciding factor. But Wilde himself didn't really enjoy interacting with passengers, at least those from First Class. And as much as he wanted to, he wasn't Captain yet, so there was no need for him to be burdened with this extra duty.
But Smith seemed to think otherwise.
"It will be good for you," the Captain encouraged. "When you become a Captain yourself, you will be expected to greet the First Class passengers as well, and you will inevitably have to interact with at least a few of them. I'm simply giving you a few chances to practice."
Wilde did all he could to repress a sigh. He didn't want to be rude, and he knew Smith had made the offer with the best intentions, but there was no way to walk around the fact that he, unlike Smith, would rather not interact with first class passengers.
"I still don't think that is the best of ideas," Wilde replied, the tiniest bit of adamant stubbornness slipping into his voice.
Apparently realizing it was better not to pull the string too hard, Smith took the care to give him a reassuring look, and calmly said, "I am not giving you an order, nor am I trying to force you to do anything. I am merely passing some good advice onto a friend. Remember, Henry, the more passengers in whose good graces you fall when you finally become Captain, the more likely you are to gain command of ships destined to be prestigious, and the better paid you are likely to be as a result."
Wilde frowned slightly at the prospect. He had never been a man who would fight with all his strength for the very best share of anything, and he certainly did not enjoy being in the spotlight. But the prospect of earning some extra money did sound tempting. Granted, he would already earn more automatically when he became Captain, but the possibility of being even better paid was something a bit of common sense dictated he should at least consider. While his and his children's living was more comfortable than that of many people – including just about every steerage immigrant travelling on the Titanic – a bit of a higher income was something it was better not to turn down, mainly if financial emergencies were to be considered. And even if he didn't manage to follow in Smith's footsteps when it came to socializing with passengers – something he frankly wasn't really interested in trying, and, to put it bluntly, he could never do simply to not being made of the appropriate stuff – a bit of practice and habituation regarding the task was not something to exactly throw away.
"Very well, Edward," Henry relented. "I will be joining you at Cherbourg, after I finish my rounds and have my dinner."
A pleased smile on his face, Smith nodded forcefully, and patted the Chief Officer's shoulder as he said, "That's the spirit, Henry!"
In a quieter voice, he added, "I look forward to seeing you at Cherbourg." Then, as if a sudden thought had come to him, he asked, "You know which entrance the First Class passengers are going to use, don't you?"
A brief chuckle reverberated through Wilde's throat, and the corners of his mouth momentarily twitched upwards.
"The starboard entrance on D Deck," he replied, a hint of good humor in his voice. "I may not have been meant to sail on Titanic, but I know how things work on her."
"Just checking," Smith replied, in a noticeably more good-humored voice. Then, he shifted to a professional sounding one. "Now, Mr. Wilde, go back to your watch until the time comes for Mr. Lightoller to relieve you."
Used to such changes from professional treatment to cordial one and vice-versa, Wilde replied, "Yes, sir."
Then, he turned around toward the bridge, and took his pocket watch out as he did so. To his relief, the conversation with Smith had burned up a considerable amount of time, so he wouldn't have to deal with Lightoller for very long before being relieved.
Before he'd even moved four feet away, though, Smith called, as if reading his mind, "Just one last thing."
Wilde promptly looked around, and Smith added, "I know this will be difficult, Mr. Wilde, but again, do make sure you and Mr. Lightoller try to get into a cordial relationship."
A strong urge to grimace came over Wilde. Getting along with Lightoller seemed even more unpleasant than greeting a flock of conceited First Class passengers. And the worst part was that it was a task much more difficult to avoid.
Still, Wilde kept a calm look for the most part, although his grimace kept threatening to come onto his face.
"I have been trying my utter best sir," he replied. "And I will keep doing so."
A ghost of a smirk broke Smith's official façade for a moment.
"Well, in that case I can only suggest that you also recommend you also try to make a better job each time," he said. "And don't worry, I'll take care of reminding Mr. Lightoller to do the same thing in regards to you after you leave on your rounds."
Sensing Smith had nothing more to say, Wilde turned back around and started to walk toward the bridge – and a few moments later, Smith followed after him. Wilde couldn't help but to feel quite some relief when he saw that. Lightoller never dared to rile up his temper even when in front of less senior officers or quartermasters, so as to set a good example. To do so in front of the Captain would be even more unthinkable. So, for now he only had a short time on the bridge to look forward to, before going on his rounds, and eating a fine meal at the officer's mess afterwards.
And then, onto greeting the First Class passengers set to board at Cherbourg, a thought that still made Wilde wary, even as he acknowledged it might be a wise thing to do in preparation for the future. Hopefully, having a nice dinner beforehand would be enough to help him carrying out that task as well as he was supposed to.
Well, one more chapter is over. I sincerely hope you all had the best possible time reading it.
Now, onto the usual list regarding details that readers may want to nitpick about... well, to begin with, I know that the Countess of Rothes as I describe her does not look at all like the one we see in James Cameron's movie in terms of personality, but I took the chance to make some more research on the lady, and after what I found out, it seemed better to portray her as the real person was like than like the movie's portrayal. And yes, the real Countess's husband did intend to start an orange business, and the Countess did have two sons that she had to leave behind when she travelled to join her husband.
Also, the first segment of this chapter is - quite obviously - based on the first scene in which we see Cal's suite in Cameron's movie, as well as the deleted scene of 'I'll Be The First'. However, I confess I enabled myself to change quite a lot of things regarding it, so as to more properly suit the ideas I have regarding this story. Of course, James Cameron owns the official version of it - like that of anything else regarding his movie.
Regarding the much larger section with Wilde, which is the largest one regarding details that may be pointed out by readers familiarized with the Titanic, there is a fair lot more to say, but I will try to be as brief as possible, without omitting important information.
To begin with, regarding the binoculars I describe Wilde as holding, the truth is that, although the lookouts complained about a lack of binoculars, the senior officers on watch at the bridge were reported to have binoculars by Lookout Frederick Fleet. I did not manage to figure out whether each of the senior officers (Smith, Wilde, Murdoch, and Lightoller) had his own binoculars or whether there was simply a pair of binoculars available for the senior officer on watch, but I used the latter option in this story, simply because it did not seem to me that, had there been four accessible pairs of binoculars on the Titanic, no one thought of making arrangements for one or two pairs to be loaned to the lookouts after they complained of the lack of them. Aafter all, the senior officers on watch weren't meant to be on the bridge all at the same time.
Regarding the coal fire: yes, there really was a coal fire on the Titanic, which started before it left Belfast, and was located in Boiler Room 5. I am not sure of whether it was actually concealed, as I mention it having been, but it is a valid possibility, as coal fires can grow dangerous if they get too intense (like any fire at that) and it's possible the Board of Trade might have deemed it wiser not to put the ship to sea with a coal fire raging in a boiler room - and as a matter of fact, one of the inspectors, Maurice Clarke, testified that the coal fire had not been reported to him, which he said was not unusual for small fires.
As an extra caveat regarding that topic, Lightoller actually testified that he was unaware of the coal fire, which seems to support Clarke's statement, and is actually incompatible with how I have portrayed him so far. But it is possible that Lightoller knew considerably more than he let on regarding a lot of things - at least, he testified at the British Inquiry that he was involved with the loading of way less lifeboats than he turned out to be involved with after close examination made in recent years. Also, Leading Fireman Charles Hendrickson testified that, although he had been working with the White Star Line for five years, he had never seen a coal bunker fire, which seems to indicate it wasn't exactly usual - and by logic, unusual things on a ship should be things that the officers would be aware of. But, to be fair to Lightoller, it is not impossible that it was Hendrickson who was omitting something for whatever reasons he had.
In the end, I followed the perspective that coal fires were not unheard of, and there was a standard procedure to deal with them, but they were deemed as serious enough for at least the senior officers to know about them. I sincerely hope that does not offend anyone.
Now, regarding Wilde and Smith being friends, I found a few 'official' sources saying so. I don't know how solid they are, but it seems a valid interpretation that they are speaking the truth. Also, I don't know whether the Chief Officer would also greet First Class passengers with the Captain, or either whether it was a standard practice for the Captain to greet First Class passengers, but it is known that Captain Smith greeted the First Class passengers that boarded the Titanic, so it is possible that it was a standard practice. And having established him and Wilde as friends, it seemed appropriate enough to have Smith inviting Wilde to come along to give him a chance to practice that duty.
Lastly... like I said on the prologue, it is not my intention to disrespect the real Wilde and Lightoller by portraying them as disliking each other. Nor is it my intention to anger Lightoller fans by portraying him as detestable in Wilde's eyes. Remember, if Wilde doesn't like him, and I write things from his perspective, I can't very well portray him as likeable. Again, there is no confirmed truth to the opinion that Lightoller and Wilde disliked each other, but, also like I said in the prologue, it seems permissible to use that in a fanfiction. And remember, the fact Wilde and Lightoller dislike each other doesn't mean either of them is an evil bastard, and it's certainly not my intention to portray either of them as such.
Well... I hope I didn't exhaust you by making you read this long note. Best regards to all of you, and until the next chapter.