TITANIC-TITANIC.com | Sinking Of The Titanic by Logan Marshall

CHAPTER 9

 

IN THE DRIFTING LIFEBOATS

SORROW AND SUFFERING--THE SURVIVORS SEE THE Titanic GO DOWN WITH THEIR LOVED ONES ON BOARD--A NIGHT OF AGONIZING SUSPENSE--WOMEN HELP TO ROW--HELP ARRIVES--PICKING UP THE LIFEBOATS

SIXTEEN boats were in the procession which entered on the terrible hours of rowing, drifting and suspense. Women wept for lost husbands and sons, sailors sobbed for the ship which had been their pride. Men choked back tears and sought to comfort the widowed. Perhaps, they said, other boats might have put off in another direction. They strove, though none too sure themselves, to convince the women of the certainty that a rescue ship would appear.

In the distance the Titanic looked an enormous length, her great bulk outlined in black against the starry sky, every port-hole and saloon blazing with light. It was impossible to think anything could be wrong with such a leviathan, were it not for that ominous tilt downwards in the bows, where the water was now up to the lowest row of port-holes. Presently, about 2 A. M., as near as can be determined, those in the lifeboats observed her settling very rapidly with the bows and the bridge completely under water, and concluded it was now only a question of minutes before she went. So it proved She slowly tilted straight on end with the stern vertically upwards, and as she did, the lights in the cabins and saloons, which until then had not flickered for a moment, died out, came on again for a single flash, and finally went altogether. At the same time the machinery roared down through the vessel with a rattle and a groaning that could be heard for miles, the weirdest sound surely that could be heard in the middle of the ocean, a thousand miles away from land. But this was not yet quite the end.

TITANIC STOOD UPRIGHT

To the amazement of the awed watchers in the lifeboats, the doomed vessel remained in that upright position for a time estimated at five minutes; some in the boat say less, but it was certainly some minutes that at least 150 feet of the Titanic towered up above the level of the sea and loomed black against the sky.

SAW LAST OF BIG SHIP

Then with a quiet, slanting dive she disappeared beneath the waters, and the eyes of the helpless spectators had looked for the last time upon the gigantic vessel on which they had set out from Southampton. And there was left to the survivors only the gently heaving sea, the lifeboats filled with men and women in every conceivable condition of dress and undress, above the perfect sky of brilliant stars with not a cloud, all tempered with a bitter cold that made each man and woman long to be one of the crew who toiled away with the oars and kept themselves warm thereby--a curious, deadening; bitter cold unlike anything they had felt before.

"ONE LONG MOAN"

And then with all these there fell on the ear the most appalling noise that human being has ever listened to--the cries of hundreds of fellow-beings struggling in the icy cold water, crying for help with a cry that could not be answered.

Third Officer Herbert John Pitman, in charge of one of the boats, described this cry of agony in his testimony before the Senatorial Investigating Committee, under the questioning of Senator Smith:

"I heard no cries of distress until after the ship went down," he said.

"How far away were the cries from your lifeboat?"

"Several hundred yards, probably, some of them."

"Describe the screams."

"Don't, sir, please! I'd rather not talk about it."

"I'm sorry to press it, but what was it like? Were the screams spasmodic?"

"It was one long continuous moan."

The witness said the moans and cries continued an hour.

Those in the lifeboats longed to return and pick up some of the poor drowning souls, but they feared this would mean swamping the boats and a further loss of life.

Some of the men tried to sing to keep the women from hearing the cries, and rowed hard to get away from the scene of the wreck, but the memory of those sounds will be one of the things the rescued will find it difficult to forget.

The waiting sufferers kept a lookout for lights, and several times it was shouted that steamers' lights were seen, but they turned out to be either a light from another boat or a star low down on the horizon. It was hard to keep up hope.

WOMEN TRIED TO COMMIT SUICIDE

"Let me go back--I want to go back to my husband--I'll jump from the boat if you don't," cried an agonized voice in one lifeboat.

"You can do no good by going back--other lives will be lost if you try to do it. Try to calm yourself for the sake of the living. It may be that your husband will be picked up somewhere by one of the fishing boats."

The woman who pleaded to go back, according to Mrs. Vera Dick, of Calgary, Canada, later tried to throw herself from the lifeboat. Mrs. Dick, describing the scenes in the lifeboats, said there were half a dozen women in that one boat who tried to commit suicide when they realized that the Titanic had gone down.

"Even in Canada, where we have such clear nights," said Mrs. Dick, "I have never seen such a clear sky. The stars were very bright and we could see the Titanic plainly, like a great hotel on the water. Floor after floor of the lights went out as we watched. It was horrible, horrible. I can't bear to think about it. From the distance, as we rowed away, we could hear the band playing `Nearer, My God to Thee.'

"Among the lifeboats themselves, however, there were scenes just as terrible, perhaps, but to me nothing could outdo the tragic grandeur with which the Titanic went to its death. To realize it, you would have to see the Titanic as I saw it the day we set sail--with the flags flying and the bands playing. Everybody on board was laughing and talking about the Titanic being the biggest and most luxurious boat on the ocean and being unsinkable. To think of it then and to think of it standing out there in the night, wounded to death and gasping for life, is almost too big for the imagination.

SCANTILY CLAD WOMEN IN LIFE-BOATS

"The women on our boat were in nightgowns and bare feet --some of them--and the wealthiest women mingled with the poorest immigrants. One immigrant woman kept shouting: `My God, my poor father! He put me in this boat and would not save himself. Oh, why didn't I die, why didn't I die? Why can't I die now?'

"We had to restrain her, else she would have jumped over-board. It was simply awful. Some of the men apparently had said they could row just to get into the boats. We paid no attention to cowardice, however. We were all busy with our own troubles. My heart simply bled for the women who were separated from their husbands.

"The night was frightfully cold, although clear. We had to huddle together to keep warm. Everybody drank sparingly of the water and ate sparingly of the bread. We did not know when we would be saved. Everybody tried to remain cool, except the poor creatures who could think of nothing but their own great loss. Those with the most brains seemed to control themselves best."

PHILADELPHIA WOMEN HEROINES

How Mrs. Eleanor Widener, whose husband and son perished after kissing her good-bye and helping her into one of the boats, rowed when exhausted seamen were on the verge of collapse, was told by Emily Geiger, maid of Mrs. Widener, who was saved with her.

The girl said Mrs. Widener bravely toiled throughout the night and consoled other women who had broken down under the strain.

Mrs. William E. Carter and Mrs. John B. Thayer were in the same lifeboat and worked heroically to keep it free from the icy menace. Although Mrs. Thayer's husband remained aboard the Titanic and sank with it, and although she had no knowledge of the safety of her son until they met, hours later, aboard the Carpathia, Mrs. Thayer bravely labored at the oars throughout the night.

In telling of her experience Mrs. Carter said:

"When I went over the side with my children and got in the boat there were no seamen in it. Then came a few men, but there were oars with no one to use them. The boat had been filled with passengers, and there was nothing else for me to do but to take an oar.

"We could see now that the time of the ship had come. She was sinking, and we were warned by cries from the men above to pull away from the ship quickly. Mrs. Thayer, wife of the vice-president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was in my boat, and she, too, took an oar.

"It was cold and we had no time to clothe ourselves with warm overcoats. The rowing warmed me. We started to pull away from the ship. We could see the dim outlines of the decks above, but we could not recognize anybody."

MANY WOMEN ROWING

Mrs. William R. Bucknell's account of the part women played in the rowing is as follows:

"There were thirty-five persons in the boat in which the captain placed me. Three of these were ordinary seamen, supposed to manage the boat, and a steward.

"One of these men seemed to think that we should not start away from the sinking ship until it could be learned whether the other boats would accommodate the rest of the women. He seemed to think that; more could be crowded into ours, if necessary.

" `I would rather go back and go down with the ship than leave under these circumstances.' he cried.

"The captain shouted to him to obey orders and to pull for a little light that could just be discerned miles in the distance. I do not know what this little light was. It may have been a passing fishing vessel, which, of course could not know our predicament. Anyway, we never reached it.

"We rowed all night, I took an oar and sat beside the Countess de Rothes. Her maid had an our and so did mine. The air was freezing cold, and it was not long before the only man that appeared to know anything about rowing commenced to complain that his hands were freezing: A woman back of him handed him a shawl from about her shoulders.

"As we rowed we looked back at the lights of the Titanic. There was not a sound from her, only the lights began to get lower and lower, and finally she sank. Then we heard a muffled explosion and a dull roar caused by the great suction of water.

"There was not a drop of water on our boat. The last minute before our boat was launched Captain Smith threw aboard a bag of bread. I took the precaution of taking a good drink of water before we started, so I suffered no inconvenience from thirst."

Mrs. Lucien Smith, whose young husband perished, was another heroine. It is related by survivors that she took turns at the oars, and then, when the boat was in danger of sinking, stood ready to plug a hole with her finger if the cork stopper became loose.

In another boat Mrs. Cornell and her sister, who had a slight knowledge of rowing, took turns at the oars, as did other women.

The boat in which Mrs. J. J. Brown, of Denver, Col., was saved contained only three men in all, and only one rowed. He was a half-frozen seaman who was tumbled into the boat at the last minute. The woman wrapped him in blankets and set him at an oar to start his blood. The second man was too old to be of any use. The third was a coward.

Strange to say, there was room in this boat for ten other people. Ten brave men would have received the warmest welcome of their lives if they had been there. The coward, being a quartermaster and the assigned head of the boat, sat in the stern and steered. He was terrified, and the women had to fight against his pessimism while they tugged at the oars.

The women sat two at each oar. One held the oar in place, the other did the pulling. Mrs. Brown coached them and cheered them on. She told them that the exercise would keep the chill out of their veins, and she spoke hopefully of the likelihood that some vessel would answer the wireless calls. Over the frightful danger of the situation the spirit of this woman soared.

THE PESSIMIST

And the coward sat in his stern seat, terrified, his tongue loosened with fright. He assured them there was no chance in the world. He had had fourteen years' experience, and he knew. First, they would have to row one and a half miles at least to get out of the sphere of the suction, if they did not want to go down. They would be lost, and nobody would ever find them.

"Oh, we shall be picked up sooner or later," said some of the braver ones. No, said the man, there was no bread in the boat, no water; they would starve--all that big boatload wandering the high seas with nothing to eat, perhaps for days.

"Don't," cried Mrs. Brown. "Keep that to yourself, if you feel that way. For the sake of these women and children, be a man. We have a smooth sea and a fighting chance. Be a man."

But the coward only knew that there was no compass and no chart aboard. They sighted what they thought was a fishing smack on the horizon, showing dimly in the early dawn. The man at the rudder steered toward it, and the women bent to their oars again. They covered several miles in this way--but the smack faded into the distance. They could not see it any longer. And the coward said that everything was over.

They rowed back nine weary miles. Then the coward thought they must stop rowing, and lie in the trough of the waves until the Carpathia should appear. The women tried it for a few moments, and felt the cold creeping into their bodies. Though exhausted from the hard physical labor they thought work was better than freezing.

"Row again!" commanded Mrs. Brown.

"No, no, don't," said the coward.

"We shall freeze," cried several of the women together. "We must row. We have rowed all this time. We must keep on or freeze."

When the coward still demurred, they told him plainly and once for all that if he persisted in wanting them to stop rowing, they were going to throw him overboard and be done with him for good. Something about the look in the eye of that Mississippi-bred oarswoman, who seemed such a force among her fellows, told him that he had better capitulate. And he did.

COUNTESS ROTHES AN EXPERT OARSWOMAN

Miss Alice Farnam Leader, a New York physician, escaped from the Titanic on the same boat which carried the Countess Rothes. "The countess is an expert oarswoman," said Doctor Leader, "and thoroughly at home on the water. She practically took command of our boat when it was found that the seaman who had been placed at the oars could not row skilfully. Several of the women took their place with the countess at the oars and rowed in turns, while the weak and unskilled stewards sat quietly in one end of the boat."

MEN COULD NOT ROW

"With nothing on but a nightgown I helped row one of the boats for three hours," said Mrs. Florence Ware, of Bristol, England.

"In our boat there were a lot of women, a steward and a fireman. None of the men knew anything about managing a small boat, so some of the women who were used to boats took charge.

"It was cold and I worked as hard as I could at an oar until we were picked up. There was nothing to eat or drink on our boat."

DEATHS ON THE LIFEBOATS

"The temperature must have been below freezing," testified another survivor, "and neither men nor women in my boat were warmly clothed. Several of them died. The officer in charge of the lifeboat decided it was better to bury the bodies. Soon they were weighted so they would sink and were put overboard. We could also see similar burials taking place from other lifeboats that were all around us."

GAMBLERS WERE POLITE

In one boat were two card sharps. With the same cleverness that enabled them to win money on board they obtained places in the boats with the women.

In the boat with the gamblers were women in their night-gowns and women in evening dress. None of the boats were properly equipped with food, but all had enough bread and water to keep the rescued from starving until the expected arrival of help.

To the credit of the gamblers who managed to escape, it should be said that they were polite and showed the women every courtesy. All they wanted was to be sure of getting in a boat. That once accomplished, they reverted to their habitual practice of politeness and suavity. They were even willing; to do a little manual labor, refusing to let women do any rowing.

The people on that particular boat were a sad group. Fathers had kissed their daughters good-bye and husbands had parted from their wives. The card sharps, however philosophized wonderfully about the will of the Almighty and how strange His ways. They said that one must be prepared for anything; that good always came from evil, and that every cloud had a silvery lining.

"Who knows?" said one. "It may be that everybody on board will be saved." Another added: "Our duty is to the living. You women owe it to your relatives and friends not to allow this thing to wreck your reason or undermine your health." And they took pains to see that all the women who were on the lifeboat had plenty of covering to keep them from the icy blasts of the night.

HELP IN SIGHT

The survivors were in the lifeboats until about 5.30 A.M. About 3 A.M. faint lights appeared in the sky and all rejoiced to see what was supposed to be the coming dawn, but after watching for half an hour and seeing no change in the intensity of the light, the disappointed sufferers realized it was the Northern Lights. Presently low down on the horizon they saw a light which slowly resolved itself into a double light, and they watched eagerly to see if the two lights would separate and so prove to be only two of the boats, or whether these lights would remain together, in which case they should expect them to be the lights of a rescuing steamer.

To the inexpressible joy of all, they moved as one! Immediately the boats were swung around and headed for the lights. Someone shouted: "Now, boys, sing!" and everyone not too weak broke into song with "Row for the shore, boys." Tears came to the eyes of all as they realized that safety was at hand. The song was sung, but it was a very poor imitation of the real thing, for quavering voices make poor songs. A cheer was given next, and that was better--you can keep in tune for a cheer.

THE "LUCKY THIRTEEN"

"Our rescuer showed up rapidly, and as she swung round we saw her cabins all alight, and knew she must be a large steamer. She was now motionless and we had to row to her. Just then day broke, a beautiful quiet dawn with faint pink clouds just above the horizon, and a new moon whose crescent just touched the horizon. `Turn your money over, boys,' said our cheery steersman, `that is, if you have any with you,' he added.

"We laughed at him for his superstition at such a time, but he countered very neatly by adding: `Well, I shall never say again that 13 is an unlucky number; boat 13 has been the best friend we ever had.' Certainly the 13 superstition is killed forever in the minds of those who escaped from the Titanic in boat 13.

"As we neared the Carpathia we saw in the dawning light what we thought was a full-rigged schooner standing up near her, and presently behind her another, all sails set, and we said: `They are fisher boats from the Newfoundland bank and have seen the steamer lying to and are standing by to help.' But in another five minutes the light shone pink on them and we saw they were icebergs towering many feet in the air, huge, glistening masses, deadly white, still, and peaked in a way that had easily suggested a schooner. We glanced round the horizon and there were others wherever the eye could reach. The steamer we had to reach was surrounded by them and we had to make a detour to reach her, for between her and us lay another huge berg."

A WONDERFUL DAWN

Speaking of the moment when the Carpathia was sighted. Mrs. J. J. Brown, who had cowed the driveling quartermaster, said:

"Then, knowing that we were safe at last, I looked about me. The most wonderful dawn I have ever seen came upon us. I have just returned from Egypt. I have been all over the world, but I have never seen anything like this. First the gray and then the flood of light. Then the sun came up in a ball of red fire. For the first time we saw where we were. Near us was open water, but on every side was ice. Ice ten feet high was everywhere, and to the right and left and back and front were icebergs. Some of them were mountain high. This sea of ice was forty miles wide, they told me. We did not wait for the Carpathia to come to us, we rowed to it. We were lifted up in a sort of nice little sling that was lowered to us. After that it was all over. The passengers of the Carpathia were so afraid that we would not have room enough that they gave us practically the whole ship to ourselves."

It had been learned that some of the passengers, in fact all of the women passengers of the Titanic who were rescued, refer to "Lady Margaret," as they called Mrs. Brown as the strength of them all.

TRANSFERRING THE RESCUED

Officers of the Carpathia report that when they reached the scene of the Titanic's wreck there were fifty bodies or more floating in the sea. Only one mishap attended the transfer of the rescued from the lifeboats. One large collapsible lifeboat, in which thirteen persons were seated, turned turtle just as they were about to save it, and all in it were lost.

THE DOG HERO

Not the least among the heroes of the Titanic disaster was Rigel, a big black Newfoundland dog, belonging to the first officer, who went down with the ship. But for Rigel the fourth boat picked up might have been run down by the Carpathia. For three hours he swam in the icy water where the Titanic went down, evidently looking for his master, and was instrumental in guiding the boatload of survivors to the gangway of the Carpathia.

Jonas Briggs, a seaman abroad the Carpathia, now has Rigel and told the story of the dog's heroism. The Carpathia was moving slowly about, looking for boats, rafts or anything which might be afloat. Exhausted with their efforts, weak from lack of food and exposure to the cutting wind and terror- stricken, the men and women in the fourth boat had drifted under the Carpathia's starboard bow. They were dangerously close to the steamship, but too weak to shout a warning loud enough to reach the bridge.

The boat might not have been seen were it not for the sharp barking of Rigel, who was swimming ahead of the craft, and valiantly announcing his position. The barks attracted the attention of Captain Rostron; and he went to the starboard end of the bridge to see where they came from and saw the boat. He immediately ordered the engines stopped, and the boat came alongside the starboard gangway.

Care was taken to get Rigel aboard, but he appeared little affected by his long trip through the ice-cold water. He stood by the rail and barked until Captain Rostron called Briggs and had him take the dog below.

A THRILLING ACCOUNT OF RESCUE

Mr. Wallace Bradford, of San Francisco, a passenger aboard the Carpathia, gave the following thrilling account of the rescue of the Titanic's passengers.

"Since half-past four this morning I have experienced one of those never-to-be-forgotten circumstances that weighs heavy on my soul and which shows most awfully what poor things we mortals are. Long before this reaches you the news will be flashed that the Titanic has gone down and that our steamer, the Carpathia, caught the wireless message when seventy-five miles away, and so far we have picked up twenty boats estimated to contain about 750 people.

"None of us can tell just how many, as they have been hustled to various staterooms and to the dining saloons to be warmed up. I was awakened by unusual noises and imagined that I smelled smoke. I jumped up and looked out of my port-hole, and saw a huge iceberg looming up like a rock off shore. It was not white, and I was positive that it was a rock, and the thought flashed through my mind, how in the world can we be near a rock when we are four days out from New York in a southerly direction and in mid-ocean.

"When I got out on deck the first man I encountered told me that the Titanic had gone down and we were rescuing the passengers. The first two boats from the doomed vessel were in sight making toward us. Neither of them was crowded. This was accounted for later by the fact that it was impossible to get many to leave the steamer, as they would not believe that she was going down. It was a glorious, clear morning and a quiet sea. Off to the starboard was a white area of ice plain, from whose even surface rose mammoth forts, castles and pyramids of solid ice almost as real as though they had been placed there by the hand of man.

"Our steamer was hove to about two and a half miles from the edge of this huge iceberg. The Titanic struck about 11.20 P.M. and did not go down until two o'clock. Many of the passengers were in evening dress when they came aboard our ship, and most of these were in a most bedraggled condition. Near me as I write is a girl about eighteen years old in a fancy dress costume of bright colors, while in another seat near by is a women in a white dress trimmed with lace and covered with jaunty blue flowers.

"As the boats came alongside after the first two all of them contained a very large proportion of women. In fact, one of the boats had women at the oars, one in particular containing, as near as I could estimate, about forty-five women and only about six men. In this boat two women were handling one of the oars. All of the engineers went down with the steamer. Four bodies have been brought aboard. One is that of a fireman, who is said to have been shot by one of the officers because he refused to obey orders. Soon after I got on deck I could, with the aid of my glasses, count seven boats headed our way, and they continued to come up to half past eight o'clock. Some were in sight for a long time and moved very slowly, showing plainly that the oars were being handled by amateurs or by women.

"No baggage of any kind was brought by the survivors. In fact, the only piece of baggage that reached the Carpathia from the Titanic is a small closed trunk about twenty-four inches square, evidently the property of an Irish female immigrant. While some seemed fully dressed, many of the men having their overcoats and the women sealskin and other coats, others came just as they had jumped from their berths, clothed in their pajamas and bath robes."

THE SORROW OF THE LIVING

Of the survivors in general it may be said that they escaped death and they gained life. Life is probably sweet to them as it is to everyone, but what physical and mental torture has been the price of life to those who were brought back to land on the Carpathia - the hours in lifeboats, amid the crashing of ice, the days of anguish that have succeeded, the horrors of body and mind still experienced and never to he entirely absent until death affords them its relief.

The thought of the nation to-day is for the living. They need our sympathy, our consolation more than do the dead, and, perhaps, in the majority of the cases they need our protecting care as well.

 

Chapter 10



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