FRIENDSHIP, COURAGE, AND COFFEE
Friendship needs no lavish
Polished face, no winning wiles,
Friendship dons no surface smiles,
Friendship follows Nature's dictation,
Shuns the blandishments of art,
Boldly severs truth from fiction,
Speaks the language of the heart.
On a typical day, there was almost always something that needed to be done. Whether it was tending to passengers, working out position and speed, or simply making sure everything on a vast ship was in working order, there was nearly always something to keep the men in the business of sailing occupied.
Maybe that's why Fifth Officer Harold Lowe of the RMS Titanic preferred night time. The worst duty then was taking rounds, and that wasn't bad at all. There was never really any trouble at two or three in the morning, and no one minded if he would stop and lean on the railing for a few minutes, allowing his mind to clear from the day before and prepare for the day ahead. So, on this fine and clear night, he walked along in silence, occasionally shining his light towards something, but never finding anything. There were only two passengers out on deck, both of them somewhat drunk and incredibly pleasant. At this hour, Lowe could actually enjoy a bit of solitude and quiet.
Eventually he came to a spot on the railing and looked out over the water. No moon was out to diminish the stars, and he could easily name many of the constellations out there, if nothing more than for navigational purposes. That was always part of what he enjoyed. Navigating by the heavens, plotting a course by the lights that twinkled long before he was born and would shine long after he was gone.
Admittedly, this was his first run on the North Atlantic, and his first time serving with any of the other deck officers, but after the trials in Belfast, and the trip from Southampton, the men had settled into routine well and before long had a camaraderie that made working more pleasant.
His thoughts wandered back to the Bridge, though he himself didn't move. Like himself, most officers enjoyed those hours, despite the natural urge to go to bed. Right then, Third Officer Pitman was probably walking the other side of the ship, and Chief Officer Wilde was on the Bridge. Like all of the others, Lowe regretted that Blair didn't get to sail on that voyage as Second Officer, for he had liked him in their time in Belfast and en route to Southampton, but while there was a bit of hostility towards Wilde for displacing him, Lowe liked the Chief. He wasn't nearly as hard-nosed or cool as the former First Officer and now Second Officer Lightoller had not-quite-but-nearly warned everyone. Instead, despite the automatic resentment Lightoller had tried to instill in them, Lowe liked Wilde almost immediately. He was very quiet, and sincere. On the day before, when Lowe had been harassed by passengers and crew alike, Wilde had been nothing but nice to him. When the senior officer got off shift, he brought Lowe back some tea...Harold didn't know what he appreciated more; the tea, or the pat on the back and praise. Either way, it only confused him more to everyone's distance from that man.
Like everyone else on the ship, Harold certainly liked First Officer Murdoch. The wiry Scot had an easy manner and a great sense of humor. It was hard not to like him...Harold didn't really think anyone could. He was quick to joke or quip, and loved to talk about his wife at home. He, like Wilde, wasn't a dictator when it came to the junior officers, but treated them as though they were almost equals.
But where Wilde and Murdoch both seemed so agreeable, Lightoller seemed an expert at being aloof. He was a fabulous officer and nothing but civil. But he was so formal that it was difficult to talk to the man. Lowe smiled slightly...it wasn't Wilde that was cool, it was Lightoller. Even his eyes looked like ice at times.
Harold sighed very quietly and started back towards the Bridge. Pitman was easy enough to work with, and Harold didn't spend a whole lot of time with Mr. Boxhall, the Fourth Officer, so it made for a decent crew of an incredible ship.
Lowe decided he liked Sixth Officer James Moody the most, though. They were the junior most officers on that voyage, and only a few years apart in age. On opposite shifts from each other, they didn't have a whole lot of time to talk. However, when Lowe wasn't sleeping but off duty, he could usually be found taking the rounds with Moody. In only a day, they became fast friends, although different in more ways than Lowe could even count. Moody had gone to a Naval School, had the strictest of training, a family that supported him through all of it, and was thought to be a fellow who would rise through the ranks quickly. Lowe had no formal training, no real home besides the ocean, and was often said to be too rebellious to ever make a good officer. And such was true...but where Lowe didn't have the makings of a good officer, he was a natural leader.
Despite everything, though, they were quick to make friends. Even on the first evening in Ireland, when Lowe tagged along on rounds, they dropped the formal titles of sir and Mr. and turned to the more personal James and Harold. On the second day, it was down to Jimmy and Harry. Such was their friendship, and Lowe was certain that no matter what ship they ended up on eventually, they would remain friends long after this voyage.
Finally he walked back onto the Bridge. Pitman had made it back, and Wilde was pacing along, somewhere not on the ship but far out. He looked up when Harold walked in and gave him one of his rare smiles, then his face fell somber again and he continued his pacing. Lowe nodded to both of them, and then went just outside and leaned on the railing, waiting to get off shift in another hour or so. The prospect of sleep weighed heavy on his mind, and he looked forward to what few hours he would be able to snatch before he was due back on the Bridge. If nothing else, the shift rotation was the hardest part...sometimes four hours on, four hours off, and then the two hour, alternating dog watch. Either way, not too long ago his body had learned that it was time to sleep the second he was in bed, and there were more times than Lowe could remember where he had slept so deeply that someone had to wake him. He yawned, his breath turning to steam in the crystal clear and cold air. Soon enough he would be able to lay down and rest...not nearly long enough, but that was the way it was. He loved sailing, and such prices were paid.
As an afterthought, he went to Wireless room under the pretense of looking for ice warnings. He knew that Wilde understood the true nature of the trip, but neither man made any move to disrupt the given story. So Lowe went back through the chart room and to the Wireless room. Harold Bride, the junior operator, was on duty that evening, and Lowe leaned against the table. Bride smiled up at him and took the headphones off. "Hello, sir."
Lowe smiled back, glad for a friendly voice. "Hullo, Sparks. Anything interesting out there?"
"Not much," Bride answered, leaning back in his chair a ways and listening with one ear for anything important enough to catch his attention. "Some still sending personal messages, but nearly no one has a twenty-four hour watch."
Lowe leaned down and Bride handed him the headphones. He listened for a moment, able to understand it for the most part except for an abbreviation or two, known only to those who worked the key. He caught someone faintly transmitting a personal message but could only catch parts of it. Eventually he handed the phones back to Bride, who grinned. "Exciting, isn't it?"
Lowe laughed. "Absolutely thrilling, old man. Where's Jack? Off to bed?"
Bride nodded. "Turned in a while ago to read. Last time I looked, he had fallen asleep with a book."
"I suppose all of those rich fools want a ton of things sent," Lowe mused, stifling a yawn.
"Yes...we get quite a few of those. Good part is, we know who's going where and when."
"I suppose that would only come in handy if you're planning on hijacking them." Lowe chuckled. "Give me a call when you do...we can all be rich."
Bride just smiled and shook his head. "Sure, and end up in jail because of it."
"True enough, old man. Can't say that being an officer is always that different from indentured servitude, but it would sure beat prison life."
"Admit it, you love it."
"Absolutely," Lowe said, without hesitation. "Sometimes it can be the greatest feeling in the world."
"I believe it."
Lowe stood up from where he had leaned and yawned again. It was definitely time for some sleep. "Well, I have to get back to the Bridge. They might think you brutalized me or something back here."
Bride laughed. "Sure. Sleep well, Harry."
"Night, Sparks," Lowe replied, and walked back out to the Bridge. He had a little time left, so he engaged Pitman in quiet conversation while Wilde leaned on the railing outside. Time seemed to drag a bit, but before too long, Lowe was able to leave and go to bed. He trudged off of the Bridge, not surprised to notice the dim light slowly...very slowly starting to creep into the eastern sky. On the ocean, dawn was much longer with nothing to obstruct the view. But he had no urge to wait up for that, and went to his quarters--Jimmy had affectionately referred to them as closets--and tossed his greatcoat on his chair. Once he was out of uniform and into his bed clothes, he fell onto his bed, and was almost instantly asleep.
"Come on, Harry. Wake up. It's time to work!" Moody pushed Lowe insistently.
Lowe didn't want to wake up, but he reluctantly opened one eye and looked at his friend. "Lemme alone, Jimmy. I just went to bed a minute ago..."
"Try four hours. Now, come on! You're going to be late if you don't," Moody pointed out, grabbing one of Lowe's uniforms and tossing it at him. "I shouldn't even be here, but I knew you weren't going to wake up on your own."
Lowe finally rolled out of bed, hitting the floor with a thud and picking himself up. "Ow..."
Moody hauled him up the rest of the way. "Hurry up. I can't leave until I know you're not going to crawl back into bed."
Lowe gave him a look of annoyance. "Thanks." He quickly dressed and followed Moody out onto the Bridge, still tying his tie and buttoning his uniform jacket. Lightoller was on duty, and Wilde was a good distance from him waiting to begin inspection parade. Both of the juniors touched their hats in greeting and were greeted back. Lightoller made a point to give Lowe's slightly disheveled appearance a faint scowl, but his voice was pleasant as he greeted them. Wilde looked worn down tired, and Lowe felt a pang of pity for the older man. He hadn't had an easy voyage so far. But duties needed doing, and Lowe's first task of the day was taking the rounds. Moody went with him. "Well, at least the sun's out." He yawned.
Lowe nodded, still not quite awake yet. It was just too damned early considering he had only just gone to bed a few hours before. He rubbed his eyes after he made sure no one was watching. "I really want to go back to bed."
"Well, not a chance there, old chap," Moody said. "I wish they would put us on an eight hour rotation. It would be a lot easier."
"What, and miss the chance to turn us into men?" Lowe snickered. "Sadistic, sometimes, huh?"
"Well," Moody teased, "I can see why they might try that with you...after all, you are Baby-Face Lowe."
"Hey," Lowe growled, with no real anger in his voice. "I hate it when people call me that." He was a baby-face, and no one forgot to remind him of it. He looked as young as Moody, even though he was twenty-nine, and many old women went out of their way to treat him like a boy. It wouldn't have been so bad if he hadn't been at sea for half of his life, living one long adventure, or if he really was less experienced. But in his own mind, he knew he was anything but a child, and it served as an annoyance.
"Well, it could be worse," Moody pressed. "They could say you look like a girl."
"Oh, Lord." Lowe laughed. He couldn't help it...that was a well-made and very deadpan point. Moody certainly didn't live up to his name. When not on duty, he was as good-humored as they came, and very rarely seemed to be bothered by anything. When Blair had been reassigned, Moody was a little upset, but already liked Wilde as well. Other than that, he was happy with his job, quick to tell a good joke, and well liked by all who knew him.
"See? Things could be much worse."
"I guess you're right," Lowe agreed, still chuckling a little bit.
Moody made a turn for a slightly more serious side. "Do you think we'll both still be on this ship after this crossing?"
"Not sure," Lowe answered, squinting at the bright sunlight. "The Captain's retiring and the Chief's probably going to get his own command. We might end up promoted, eh?"
Moody grinned. "Captain Lowe and Chief Moody."
Lowe laughed again, finally starting to feel awake. "I like that! It has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?"
"Well, I'd like it if it were the other way around, but you are a rank above me."
"Well, Jimmy, if you want it that bad, I'll be Chief," Lowe conceded. "So long as I get a bigger room and better pay."
"I'm sure it can be arranged," Moody said, putting on an air of high class dignity as they meandered slowly along the First Class Promenade. There were a few passengers out, mostly men, and they nodded to the two young officers.
"Awful polite, aren't they?" Lowe whispered through his polite smile. "Especially when they're barely awake."
"Well, I know they put you through hell the other day," Moody replied, just as quietly. "What was the one woman's problem again?"
"Her bath tub wouldn't work properly," Lowe answered, "and she refused to talk to a steward...said it was beneath her. I was the one who got to listen to her."
"Poor chap," Moody said, in honest and sincere sympathy. No one liked putting up with the snobbish passengers. least of all officers who had better things to do with their time.
Lowe nodded slightly. "Ah…well, all part of the job, I suppose. And onto another day of this. Hopefully nothing else will go wrong, or I'll end up having to deal with it."
"Or me," Moody said. "It's a wonderful ship, but I think I'd rather not be the lowest ranking officer here."
"I gave up Third Officer on Belgic to be here," Lowe commented, lightly. "Looks good to be an officer on one of these monsters."
Moody smiled. "Yes...where it's an adventure finding your way around. I must have gotten lost twenty times on the tenth, trying to inventory and set for sail."
"Aw...poor boy," Lowe joked. "We found him laying in the Cargo Bay starved to death. He must have lost his way."
"Ha ha," Moody said, but grinned. "I'll just drive that fellow's Renault through the side of the ship."
"And sink the lot of us, right?"
"Didn't you hear? This ship is unsinkable," Moody mocked, tossing his head in an imitation of a reporter.
"Oh, yes, I had forgotten. Do forgive me." Lowe bit back a grin and imitated a first class woman. "I was rather concerned, you see. The coloring in my room is an entire shade too dark, and that gold leafing isn't actual gold."
"Oh, dear Lord...you must be joking. That's horrible. We shall have to write a letter to the line and insist upon getting our money back," Moody added.
Lowe went through the gate to the Engineer’s Promenade. There were several people out there, some black from the grease and coal, and others just waking up. Most nodded in respect to them. "I like these chaps better. More honest, you know."
Moody nodded in agreement. "Work for a living."
One of the engineers caught this, and whispered to a stoker next to him, "I like this ship."
"Me, too. Cleaner," the stoker said, "and better food, too."
Moody opened the gate to the Second Class Promenade and they continued the seemingly endless walk. Very few people were out; a couple of women and a few men wandering around. They were all polite also.
"I should say that the Second Class are the most agreeable of passengers," Lowe commented quietly.
Moody nodded, but didn't say anything.
They walked a bit farther and Lowe took the peace and quiet to think about things. The roughest times were when he had nowhere to go...no ship. Countless times he had written to his parents, but never got a reply. After the fifteenth letter, he knew better than to expect one. That was just the way things were. He looked over at Moody. Lowe really didn't have a lot of close friends, and in a matter of only weeks he thought that James might have been the closest thing he had to a best friend. How odd life was sometimes...it was rare when two people could make friends that quickly, and when it happened, it was the kind of friendship; the real kind. The kind that lasted a lifetime if treated right.
Moody noticed his look and gave him a smile. "Distant thoughts?"
"You could say that," Lowe said, looking at the deck, and then ahead. It took him a moment to add, "It's nice to have someone to talk to."
"Yes, it is," Moody agreed. "Never have much of a chance to know your fellow officers when you’re at these ranks."
"How true. And then you have so little time on shore that making anything more than good acquaintances is impossible."
"Well, Harry, I guess we'll just have to stick together then, eh?" Moody said, in a gesture of openness that was incredibly rare with sailors, but not so rare among young men who had very else little to count on besides the friends they might make.
"Yes, that we will," Lowe said, then tried to lighten the atmosphere. "After all, we are going to be the commanding officers of this ship, you know."
"Good point, Captain Lowe."
"Thank you, Chief Moody."
After rounds they parted ways for awhile and met up again later. Moody was on duty, and Lowe brought him some tea and went for a cup of coffee in the Officer's Mess. About two hours later, he regretted that decision. Word had gotten around that the coffee was bad, but he had no idea it was bad enough to literally make him ill. He didn't even hear Moody come looking for him...just sat on the floor beside the toilet. James came in when no one answered the door. "Harry? Are you all right?"
"Whatever you do, don't drink coffee in the Mess," Lowe spat, miserable.
Moody chuckled, but he was worried. "Can you make it to bed, old man? You'll end up catching a chill on the floor."
Lowe managed to stagger to his feet, queasy, and Moody took his arm and led him to bed. "Thanks, Jimmy," Lowe groaned, rolling onto his side. Why did he drink that coffee? Why hadn't he quit when he couldn't stand the first sip? The instant wake-up it provided wasn't worth the misery. He shook his head, thinking, Idiot. I'm an idiot.
Moody covered him over, teasing slightly like a mother hen before saying, "I'm going to get the doctor, and I'll take your shift, all right?"
"No...call the doc, but don't take my shift. You haven't slept yet."
"We'll talk about it later," Moody said, smiling. He walked out, leaving Lowe to groan in bed for the short time it would take to track down Dr. O'Loughlin. Harold sighed; this would look really good to the senior officers. He could almost hear them on the Bridge, "Did you hear about Baby-Face? He drank The Coffee." The thought was so absurd, though, that he couldn't help but smile, despite how miserable he was feeling. With a considerable effort, he dragged himself out of bed and dressed slowly for watch. Moody came back in with O'Loughlin, who promptly had him sit. "When did you start feeling like this?"
Lowe turned a little red. "Right after I drank the coffee in the Officer's Mess."
O'Loughlin tried not to laugh, though he nearly failed. "After it put Henry down on the tenth?"
Lowe searched through his memory...who was Henry? Finally it hit upon him...Wilde. Henry Wilde. "It did?"
"Yes...he was miserable for about an hour or two, then he was fine."
Moody just shook his head, trying to suppress his grin. Lowe gave him a look, but he was already feeling better, and the insanity of the whole situation struck him as silly. O'Loughlin left, and he looked at Moody. Finally James just started laughing, and Harold joined him a moment later.
"You drank The Coffee?" Murdoch asked, choking on a sip of tea.
Wilde was a few feet away with the log, and just broke down in laughter. Lowe blushed again...he expected Murdoch to poke fun at him, but Wilde barely ever smiled and now he was laughing so hard he couldn't speak. Still, Harold had to admit that he was glad the Chief was having some fun, even if it was at his expense. He nodded. "Yes, sir. And I might add that I never will again."
Murdoch leaned against the wall, laughing so hard that he was in tears. Wilde was still chuckling when he went and put the log back, and finally Will was able to speak. "Mr. Lowe, I expect things like that from Henry...Mr. Wilde, but from you?"
Now it was Wilde's turn to blush. "Well, Mr. Murdoch, I'll try to forget the time that you smoked a cigar and was damn near green as grass. I distinctly remember warning you that I had never heard the brand name before, and I distinctly remember you saying, 'It's tobacco, isn't it? How bad can it be?'"
"All right, all right." Murdoch threw his hands into the air, a gesture of good-natured defeat. "I surrender."
"Good!" Wilde replied, holding back the smile from his face, but he couldn't hide it from his eyes.
Lowe watched the exchange. He knew from rumor and intuition that they were friends but it rarely ever came out when they were on the Bridge. Still, it made the atmosphere all the more pleasant, and he took up his duties in a much better mood. Moody soon caught up, and they both talked about the weather, and the ships they had sailed on in the past. It got to a point where they would talk into subjects rather than over them.
Finally Moody asked, "What happened between you and your parents?"
Lowe studied his boots for a moment, then looked over at James. "Disagreements. My father wanted me to apprentice myself under a tradesman, I didn't want to, he insisted, and I ran away."
"Where do you go?"
Lowe didn't want to answer this. He didn't want to tell Moody that the ship was his home, and that he generally spent holidays on his own. He didn't want to make him worry, but he finally said, "Wherever I can, really. It isn't bad, though."
Moody looked over at him. "If you don't have anywhere else to go, you could always spend Christmas and that with my family," he said.
"Thank you," Lowe replied, touched by the gesture. "That means a lot."
"Well, I have to offer it..." Moody grinned, trying to brighten the atmosphere from the serious cast it had taken. "You're the only person I know that puts up with me. At least, the only one that doesn't say, 'James, you've told that joke a thousand times. Shut up.'"
"Oh, get on with you!" Lowe laughed. "You're downright good company compared to a lot of people I know."
Moody just smiled, and they continued their rounds.
Later on, the next day, Lowe took the rounds alone, and walked back to talk with Wilde. The Chief seemed even more somber than normal, and he finally gave into curiosity and sympathy. "Sir, is everything all right?"
Wilde looked up, as though he was a little startled by the question. "Yes...thank you, Mr. Lowe."
"You just seem a bit bothered by something, sir."
Wilde's eyes tracked along the water, somewhere in thought that Lowe couldn't determine. Finally he said, "Maybe a little. But it's nothing to worry about."
Lowe wasn't known for his tact, and just came out with it. "Is it Mr. Lightoller?"
Wilde looked at him, a faint smile playing on his face. "I say, you are forward, aren't you?"
Lowe nodded. Most of the time that completely straightforward approach got him reprimanded, but he wasn't about to be anything more or less than he was. And he was blunt.
"Well," Wilde said, "it's not my place to say, so forgive me."
That was all that needed to be said. Wilde was too professional to speak badly of a fellow officer, but the look on his face spoke for him. Lowe nodded and walked off. When Lightoller came on shift that evening, Lowe was nothing but pleasant. Moody was just preparing to go with him on the rounds, and Lowe walked up to Lightoller. "Sir?"
"Yes, Mr. Lowe?" Lightoller asked, not looking at him.
"I thought you might like some coffee sir, so I brought you a cup." Lowe smiled, as innocently as possible. He hoped that Lightoller hadn't caught up on the rumor, or if he had, didn't give it any thought at the moment.
Lightoller seemed surprised as he took the cup, smiling a half-smile at Lowe. "Oh...thank you."
Lowe grinned. "You're welcome, sir." Quickly, he walked off the Bridge with Moody. James nearly fell over laughing once they were out of earshot, and punched Lowe in the arm. "What are you doing?! You're going to get yourself fired!"
"He took it." Lowe chuckled. "It's not my fault if he did."
Moody just shook his head. "All right, Harry...I'll see you on the next coal steamer out."
"And you can come with me."
"Sure." Lowe snickered, clasping his hands behind his back as he walked. "After all, Mr. Moody, we've ranks to climb and pay raises to get."
"Coal to shovel, decks to swab, heads to clean," Moody added, putting on a desperately false air of despair. "If I let you make the decisions, we'd both be doomed."
"You're insinuating that I'm a troublemaker?" Lowe cried, in mock-indignation, putting a hand over his heart. "Sir, I am insulted!"
The look James gave him was one of a wide grin and twinkling eyes. "I think you'll live, Harry."
Harold chuckled, "I think so too."
The rest of the day went by slowly enough, and Lowe turned in after a tedious shift of rounds, working the slip table, and chasing passenger complaints. The thought settled into the back of his mind as he prepared for bed that perhaps being thrown into a strange run with people he didn't know had its benefits, and the further thought that flitted across his conscious mind before sleep caught up to him was that Lightoller still looked slightly green in the face.