FRIENDSHIP, COURAGE, AND COFFEE
An orphan's curse would drag
A spirit from on high;
But oh! more horrible than that
Is a curse in a dead man's eye!
-- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Lowe hadn't heard the door open, nor Boxhall pop in and tell him that the ship was sinking...he was too deep asleep at the time. Finally what woke him were the sounds of people shouting on deck and he got up, wondering what the commotion was all about. He threw his uniform on quickly and walked outside to see Lightoller working with Wilde on the port side. Moody was also out and about, and Lowe walked over to try and talk to him, but neither of them could really say much with people interrupting them and noises of the winches interfering.
When he finally managed to piece the entire story together, he thought perhaps that this was just a necessary precaution, and that it wouldn't end nearly so badly as everyone seemed to think. Still, as he thought he decided to go back and get his revolver from his quarters, just in case he needed it.
Without much else to do, Lowe crossed over to the starboard side and helped Murdoch. The Scot looked worried under his cheery facade, and it was then that Harold realized something desperately serious was going on.
"Women and children!" Murdoch called out, taking people left and right and loading them into Number 5 lifeboat. Lowe immediately helped him, concern filtering its way through him. What could have happened? Finally he asked, and was told the situation. Now the concern turned to fear, and he worked a little more quickly. The people waiting were behaving well, all but for a tall man with a mustache who was waving his arms and shouting, "Lower away! Lower away! Lower away!" again and again.
Lowe finally had all he could stand after he heard it a good four times, and growled up at him, "If you'll get the hell out of the way, I would be able to do something!" The man said nothing, only gave him a glowering look as Pitman worked in the boat and Murdoch worked a few feet away.
Lowe glared back, his Welsh accent becoming more pronounced as he got frustrated. "You'd have me lower away quickly? You'd have me drown the lot of them!" he quite nearly snarled, a hard edge in his voice. The man didn't say anything else, and moved on to Number 3. Lowe watched for a brief moment, regretting a little his harsh words, but immediately went back to working. The boat was lowered with Pitman in command, and he moved on to the next one, with the man he had yelled at working quietly beside him. A rocket went up, and he watched it...this was very bad. Once that boat was away, he hurried back to the port side. Moody was walking to the next boat as he caught up with him. "What are you doing?"
"Loading and lowering," Moody replied, his face more serious than Lowe had ever seen it. That didn't do much to ease the Fifth Officer's fears.
"I say, there'll be hell to pay when this is all said and done, won't there?" Harold forced a smile, trying to make conversation and hoping subconsciously that James would say something reassuring.
Moody gave him a slight smile in turn. "Yes, and I hope we aren't the ones paying."
"No..." Lowe said, pausing to call for women and children, then continued on to add, "That'll probably be the Captain."
Moody nodded. "Well, we're only juniors. We'll both make it out fine, I think."
Lowe nodded also. "Yes. We can get another ship to captain, eh?"
Moody chuckled. "Probably going to be some broken down old hulk, after this mess."
"You're right," Lowe said. "But at least it'll be ours," he added, and started loading. Moody went and worked on the boat next to him, and they didn't say anything else.
Lightoller came along when the boat was a good way to filled, his eyes glancing around before settling on the younger man. "Go with this one, Mr. Lowe. Hang close to receive more passengers, would you?"
"Yes, sir," Lowe replied, and stayed in the boat as Lightoller ordered them to be lowered. He tossed a glance back up at Moody, still working with the other lifeboat, and the thought crossed his mind that they would have quite a story to tell whenever they got home. Then he noticed all of the men crowding the railing, glaring at the boat and trying to calculate the distance to jump. Harold pulled his revolver and shouted, "If any man tries to jump, I'll shoot them!" and fired a warning shot down the side of the ship. The men stayed back, and Lowe fired twice more at two more decks.
The immediate threat of the men jumping ship was over, and he turned his sharp mind to the next problem...they were in danger of being lowered on by another boat with the tip to the bow. Thinking quickly, Lowe had a few of the men in his boat cut the falls, and the women cried in fear as the boat dropped the remaining five feet to the water.
Once they were in the water, and rowing, Lowe allowed himself to look back up. Moody had vanished, but Harold wasn't worried. Jimmy wouldn't have any trouble finding a boat to man. He was the youngest, and the most likely to make it off.
There wasn't much to do but shout encouragement to the men and women rowing...Lowe kept an eye on the decks above. He immediately thought about the Captain, Wilde, and Murdoch. He knew then that Smith wouldn't leave the ship, and chances were, neither of the other two would either. Lightoller probably wouldn't make it, as a senior officer. He felt a sorrow rise into his chest...they were all good men, even if he hadn't known them long, and he hoped that something would prevent any lives being lost. Another ship that was said to be seen, or maybe she would stay afloat. He didn't hold much hope for the latter, though. He thought again about Wilde, who he had come to admire for his levelheaded sensibility, and Murdoch, who was usually so lighthearted and cheerful, and said a mental prayer for all of them.
Part of him still refused to think that any lives would be lost. Someone was bound to get there soon enough and save all those aboard. He looked forward to asking James about what happened after he left when they were rescued.
Thoughts like that occupied his mind, as the ship sank farther. Soon it became apparent that no one would be there soon enough for a rescue, but by then, Lowe had thrown himself completely to rowing when someone needed a rest, or steering. He tried to block out the noises from the ship, but it was hard. He could hear a gunshot here or there, and though it was so far off by then, he jumped at the sound. Those in his boat were crying out, or cursing, or praying, and he devoted his full attention to them. Maybe it was for his sanity, or maybe out of reason, but he had a duty to those trusted in his care, and was more than determined to fulfill it.
He counted them off and encouraged them to keep rowing for the sake of warmth. It gave them something to think about other than the people they had left behind, or the hundreds who would lose their lives on this clear morning. He had to admire them for that much, for not shirking away from the oars, and wished he could divert his thoughts as well.
The stern rose higher in the air, and higher still. She was going down fast now...the unsinkable Titanic. Harold kept his eyes turned anywhere but the ship he had been so thrilled to be assigned to. There was no point in regrets now, just getting his duties done. Then the lights from the ship went out. He searched for a flashlight in the bottom of the boat, eventually finding one. He could hear the Titanic, and loud noises as the hull gave away. After four bangs that sounded like gunshots, he heard her no more, and realized that she was gone.
That's when the screams came into earshot.
There were more voices than Lowe could try to count, and he choked slightly at the thought of all of those people drowning in the water. He managed to direct his thoughts to organizing the lifeboats nearest to him, partly for practicality, and partly to focus on something other than the shrieks and pleas. "Pull in your oars and tie these two together!" he yelled, over the voices around him. "Come on! I want all of the people in my boat to prepare to be transferred."
Lashing the boats together took too much time, in his opinion, and Harold tried to keep the impatience from his voice as he shouted orders. When they were finally floating in an island of wood, he started transferring his passengers into the other boats, redistributing them as evenly as he could.
He found one man dressed as a woman, and literally threw him into another boat, then turned around. By the time he had everything organized, the voices out on the water were dying down fast...only a faint cry or two breaking the cold air. "All right, men. We have to go back! I need sailors!"
A few volunteered, along with a passenger or two. Lowe started back, the ocean silent now. There was no light, save for the faint light of the stars and his flashlight as they rowed towards the mass. He shined it from place to place, and as they got close enough, from body to body. He didn't allow himself to give up at the first several floating corpses, trying to batter back the inevitable that was slowly invading his mind. Harold Lowe did not believe in the inevitable; the impossible situation. There had to be someone left out there.
He didn't feel the cold that numbed his nose and ears, and didn't feel the ache in his back from bending so much and checking bodies. Each one flashed, branded in his mind like some sort of horrid nightmare he couldn't escape from. Why didn't I come back sooner? he thought again and again. He found a child...a little boy laying in the water with a lifebelt on several sizes too large. For a long moment, he stared into the lifeless eyes, transfixed and paralyzed. Finally someone had the sense to shake him and they went back to searching.
"Just a boy...he's just a boy. Couldn't have been older than seven..."
They found a man still alive, but in terrible shape. Lowe helped get the enormous fellow on board, and they quickly tried to give him some air by loosening his collar and shirt, but to no avail. He died not long after. Lowe went back to looking though the people. A doll floated by, one button eye missing.
"Some child...must have dropped it getting into a lifeboat. Oh, no, please let there be more alive...please don't do this."
Another man was pulled from the water, this one in better shape. Harold felt a surge of hope, but when he kept searching, there were precious few survivors to be found. One of the sailors in the boat broke down in tears, and Lowe had no heart to scold him when he stopped rowing and sobbed. After two more people were pulled into the boat, he searched for some time, but found no one else. The inevitable had happened, and it was quite nearly enough to stun him.
"I could've saved more, had I not been a fool...I could have."
A baby's crib floated a few feet away, and Lowe turned away from it. He doubted there was anything in it, but the message it sent was clearer than the sky above him. He gasped for air...for some reason, he couldn't really breathe right. The cold began to get to him, but it wasn't nearly as bad as the gut-wrenching certainty that he could have done more...saved more than he had.
He managed to get the mast up, and turned his boat into a sailboat, making use of the breeze that had sprung up. From there, he rescued men from the overturned collapsible, including Bride and Lightoller, and then went and saved those from the sinking collapsible. He had long since gone numb...he kept going out of the inability to quit so close to rescue, but he felt nothing. Carpathia appeared on the horizon, and he made good speed tacking towards her.
"Don't think. Don't think. Just do your damned job..."
It seemed like eternity until they were on Carpathia, and Lowe went to the Bridge with the officers. He didn't stay long, though, only long enough to report who he was, and to hear Boxhall's broken statement of how many were lost. He tottered off, suddenly drained now that the adrenaline that had kept him going hard throughout the night wore off. He might have gone and looked for Moody, but people began coming up to him in high numbers, searching. Word had traveled fast that he had been the officer to go back.
"I...I can't say, ma'am," he managed, trying to get free of the crowd around him. They kept pressing forward, still pleading. Lowe didn't know what hurt worse by then; the fact that he hadn't been able to save them, or the fact that those women were all so hopeful. He didn't want to be the one who broke their hearts, but in the back of his exhausted mind, he did blame himself.
"He was wearing a hat..."
"There was a little bear he was holding..."
"She had a rag doll, with one button eye."
Lowe stopped dead and looked at the woman who said that, a chill running through him. She was older, with her large eyes filled with hope and trust that he would be able to make it better. "I don't know," he forced himself to say. What have I done? he asked himself silently.
They kept pressing in on him, and many began to grow angry. His thoughts became so confused that he wasn't even quite understanding what they were saying to him...it had all turned into one long noise. He attended the service held for those who perished, and many hours later, he finally had time alone to go lay down. Someone showed him to a room, and he dropped onto the bed in full uniform. Before his head even hit the pillow, he was dead to the world.
"Come on, Harry...you have to wake up."
Lowe tried to ignore Moody's voice as it drilled into his mind. It wasn't easy, and there was a pleading sound to his friend's voice that worried him. But he was still so tired and cold through.
"Please! Come on. Don't do this...Harry, please wake up!"
"What is it, Jimmy?" Lowe finally moaned. He opened his eyes, and eventually got his vision to focus. Moody wasn't there. Some strange man with white hair was shaking him, and Lightoller was standing a few feet away. The older man smiled slightly. "You gave us a scare, Mr. Lowe. Some poor steward thought you were dead."
Lowe nodded. He could barely move; he felt so weak and his head ached fiercely. "Where's Mr. Moody? Wasn't he just trying to wake me?"
Lightoller looked stricken, and Lowe felt bad for a moment that he had given him The Coffee. Then the realization hit him. Lightoller must have saw this look and said, "Mr. Lowe..." His voice softened. "Harold...Mr. Moody went down with the ship. I'm sorry."
Lowe didn't believe it at first. Why, Moody had just been trying to wake him up a moment ago. He had heard it as clearly as can be. But the look on Lightoller's face spoke volumes; he meant it. Grinding his teeth together, he tried to deny it with everything he had. He was senior to James...he wasn't supposed to make it off before the younger officer.
Lightoller sat beside him on the bed, his eyes so full of honest regret that Lowe knew then that his best friend was gone, and the cruel slam of knowledge cut deep. "Take it easy," Lightoller said, pushing him back when he made an attempt to get up. "We don't need to lose you, too, and we thought we might have."
"Captain Rostron, Mr. Ismay, and all of the officers have been here to look in on you," the white-haired man commented, as though he thought that would somehow cheer Harold from the thoughts of Moody being gone.
"Who else didn't make it?" Lowe asked after a moment, not really wanting to know.
"The Captain, Wilde, and Murdoch."
Lowe flinched, but he could already feel exhaustion creep back into him. Lightoller threw another blanket over him, and Harold just realized that someone had taken his jacket and boots, and loosened his collar. "How long have I been asleep?" he managed, fighting back the lead force that was pushing his eyelids down.
"Near a day," Lightoller said. "We tried to wake you a few times, but you haven't so much as moved a muscle."
Lowe nodded very slightly. The man that was there took Lightoller aside and spoke quietly to him, but by then, Lowe was far beyond hearing.
New York was dark with rain, and bitter cold to the bone...at least to Harold Lowe. He couldn't shake the halfway numb feeling he had, and couldn't quite get over how tired he felt even now. Someone had said mentally exhausted, but the phrase meant little to him. He went to a hotel, and tossed the suit he had borrowed onto a chair. Now he was required to testify at a US Senate Hearing. All he could really think was that he wanted to go home. Maybe back to his home town and family.
Maybe if he did, he could shake the miserable feeling of hollow pain.
He shivered again, changing into his nightclothes and laying down in the huge, soft bed. It was luxury beyond belief to Lowe, who had slept anywhere between the stateroom on Carpathia to under a bridge once when he had nowhere else to go. The finery was definitely something he could get used to. He fell asleep, just barely able to reach over and turn the light off.
The boat again...it swayed slightly with the movement of the oars, and he peered into the blackness, searching, ever searching. A wail came from the water and he shone his light that way, but when he looked, there was nothing alive. Just the body of a dead girl. Cries began all through the darkness, starting off softly and getting louder with each moment. But every time he looked, they were dead. All dead, and staring with a look of bitter accusation. "You could have come back sooner...we could still be alive," he heard a far off voice say.
"Captain Lowe and Chief Moody."
The laughter echoed through the air, each word cutting Lowe like a knife to his heart. Maybe it was because James had been the closest thing he had ever had to a best friend, or maybe it was because he might have been able to do something.
"It should have been me!" Lowe cried out, wishing with everything in him that there were some way to go back and switch places with Moody. "It should have been me..." he repeated, in a broken whisper.
"If you don't have anywhere else to go, you can always spend Christmas and that with my family..." he heard Jimmy say again. Why did he have to stay there? Why didn't he go when they told him to? He had his whole life ahead of him; a promising career, a loving family, and that damned good humor that won Harold over to begin with. He should have left, should have had a chance, but he hadn't. Why?
"He was braver than I was." Lowe answered his own unbidden question.
The voices started wailing again, louder than ever. Lowe covered his ears, wincing. He looked around for where those voices were coming from, but was met with only the sight of dead bodies. He turned away and was back on Titanic again. Moody and Wilde were cutting the ropes still holding one collapsible. He watched, trying to help but unable to move, as they were both pulled under the water and never surfaced again.
"AHHHHHHHHHH!" Lowe yelled, sitting up straight in bed. His chest heaved as he gasped for air in the blackness of the room, and sweat ran down the sides of his face. Finally the shock of it wore off, and alone, he buried his face in the pillow and sobbed. He was too old at that point to hide from death, and still too young to face it.
Eventually he got up and turned the light on, frantically grabbing some of the hotel stationary and a pen, and started writing a letter to Moody's family. Tears were still running unchecked down his face, and he could barely see to write, but he kept writing anyway. There were three pages when he finally finished it, and he sealed it into an envelope. He didn't know the address, but figured that someone would. Then, slowly calming down, he wrote to his own family...
"I'm sorry...Mum, Dad, I'm so sorry..."
Eventually his mind cleared somewhat, and he waited until morning. He found out Moody's address from Lightoller, who was also writing to his family, and both letters were sent out.
Through the Senate hearings, and through the media and all of the things that needed to be answered, Lowe managed to make it seem as though he was as calm and capable as they came. And he was. He derived a certain pleasure at running Senator Smith mad...the man knew so little about ship life that Lowe couldn't help it. Harold was slowly but surely getting back to normal. But he still woke up every night, no matter what lengths he went to in order to exhaust himself beyond dreams. Over and over he found himself on Titanic, or on that lifeboat. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't get away from it. Fifteen hundred people were dead, Moody was gone, and he had lived. It was wrong, but it was too late to change it.
When all was said and done and he was allowed to go home, to whatever home he could find, he had the Italian Embassy on his back about his testimony and was still facing another hearing back in England. There came a day, somewhat later on, when Lightoller came to him and read a part in a letter from Moody's parents:
"I'm very glad that Mr. Lowe wrote to us...and that James had a good friend he could talk to. Please tell him that we would like it if he came and visited us someday..."
If nothing else, that helped Lowe a little bit. He still felt awful about the whole ordeal, but slowly it was getting easier to face each day. Then another letter came shortly after that one, and it put Harold in tears all over again.
"Come home, son..."
The other was a softer voice,
As soft as honey-dew:
Quoth he, "The man hath penance done,
And penance more will do."
--Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner