|Her lights ablaze, the Cunard Liner Carpathia
slowly made her way up the Hudson, steaming into New York harbor as the elements rained
down indifferently upon the decks of Titanic's savior. The ship was surrounded in
mid-river by a hodgepodge of ferries, yachts and tugboats, their bells clanging and horns
blasting like so many angry wasps around a hive. Tens of thousands of city denizens had
braved the cold, dreary April night and lined the river from the piers south to the tip of
Battery Park, awaiting her arrival. Now and again a low rumble of thunder reverberated
down the long canyons of Manhattan, underscoring the preternatural scene.On a crystal morning
three days earlier, Carpathia had rescued from the icy North Atlantic the 700-odd
survivors of the Titanic. Adrift in lifeboats, they had narrowly made their escape
as the 'unsinkable' ship had been swallowed by the sea. The eyes of the city were upon
Pier 54 as the Carpathia was brought to a final stop, the scene eerily lit by
countless photographer's flashes echoing the lightning of the storm.
The Carpathia's own
passengers disembarked first, hoping to escape ahead of the coming tumult. Just as their
stream trickled to a straggling few, signaling to the waiting crowd that Titanic's
saved would soon be appearing, the heavens delivered the heart of the storm.
Margaret "Molly" Brown
moved to the head of the gangway and looked out over a riotous sea of faces. The crowd
extended away into the downpour as far as the eye could see.
"Christ!" Molly muttered
under her breath. "What a circus!"
The city was alive, frenetic as a
scared deer. The news from Carpathia had been sketchy, and confusion reigned
concerning the ultimate fate of many of Titanic's passengers.
A White Star underling, an
employee of the company that had owned and built Titanic, rushed up the canopied
ramp to greet her. He was obviously unsure of the sensitivity of the
Molly thrust her broad body
ramrod-straight and glared icily at the boy.
"No thank you, sonny. You
people have done quite enough already, don't you think?"
Molly didn't really know who was
to blame for the disaster that had befallen Titanic, but she would never forget the
treatment she had received at the hands of the lifeboat crew while the great ship went
under. They had yelled down her attempts to commandeer the half-filled boat in hopes of
returning to save more souls from the freezing water. She had even been threatened and, in
the end, was unable to do anything but listen to the agonies of the dying, her heart at
Molly moved down the gangway into
a maelstrom of magnesium flashes and voices, trying to ignore the many questions barked
her way by the press. In her wake came what she had come to regard as her 'brood': Mrs.
Astor, Mrs. Widener, Helen Candee, and Ruth Bukater.
Molly understood that just a scant
few days ago these women had viewed her as an outsider on Titanic but she also knew
that they needed her now, outsider or not. They had all lost someone very dear to them,
while Molly hadn't. The first day on Carpathia most of them had been too stunned
and too battered by the cold to truly grasp what had happened. There had been gracious
offers of rooms from the ship's crew and passengers, and she had simply made the women
warm and kept the incessant curiosity-seekers at bay. After all of the survivors had been
polled and counted the next day, the weight of the tragedy had hit the women like a blow
to the stomach. Molly had been there when the raw broken hearts surfaced and the tears
poured out, and she remained patiently until the sobs had finally subsided. All of them
had lowered their defenses to the pain, at least a little; all except Ruth, who seemed
still too stunned by the loss of her only daughter to come to grips with the awful truth.
Now they had to move forward into
whatever the future might hold.
"Come on girls, follow
me," Molly instructed, and they walked obediently behind her down to the waiting
carriages below. At the foot of the walkway, relatives and friends of Titanic
passengers milled about, awaiting news, some wailing in distress as soon as they felt the
hollowness in the voice of the official who had drawn them aside. The crowd behind them,
pressing forward and clamoring even louder in their insistence for information, had to be
heavily restrained behind ropes by hundreds of New York's Finest.
The injured and ill were being
taken to a makeshift infirmary set up at Pier 56, and then on to Saint Luke's Hospital.
The rest were scattering with family or friends, or staying temporarily in hotel rooms
provided by the White Star Line. Molly and the women were in the latter group.
As she helped her charges into the
first of the carriages that had been arranged, she heard a call from high up the incline.
It was Caledon Hockley, fiancée
of poor Rose, Ruth's lost daughter. Another of Molly's new 'friends', but one she could
surely live without. Cal, dodging other disembarking passengers, raced down the ramp to
"Cal, I don't mean to be rude
but I don't fancy hanging around here in the middle of this ruckus."
Just give me one moment if you would."
Cal pulled Molly aside, not
wanting to be overheard. The din was so loud that he needn't have bothered.
"Molly, please talk to
"Cal, I will
taking everything very hard right now. You've gotta understand."
contact you tomorrow morning."
"That's a plan there, Cal.
Now let us get the hell out of here!"
Ruth Bukater had been overjoyed
when she had first spotted Cal on the deck of Carpathia, but her heart soon
plummeted like a stone when she realized that Rose was not with him. Though Molly believed
most of Cal's explanation she thought that Ruth would never forgive Cal for ever getting
into a lifeboat without Rose, would never forgive Jack Dawson and, most of all, would
never forgive herself for surrendering to her own choking fear and not going after her
daughter when Rose had stayed aboard Titanic. Ruth was hanging on by the proverbial
thread and was refusing to even speak to Cal. He hoped Molly would intercede.
The carriage moved in fits and
starts as the crowd closed around, but was finally able to break free and start the
journey up river and cross-town to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. They traveled the fabled
streets of New York, city of towering skyscrapers and shimmering bridges, yet for the
silent, downcast faces in the cab it was as though they rode through a cloud so dark that
no light could penetrate. Molly looked from woman to woman and knew that it would take a
long time for the blackness to lift.
The doorman at the Waldorf-Astoria
was young and eager and obviously uninformed. He stepped forward smartly to open their
"Welcome, ladies! Can I get
your bags for you?"
"Son, one piece of advice for
this evening," Molly said. "Cut the chatter and just help these ladies into the
Flustered by the rebuff, the
doorman set to his assigned task as Molly entered the hotel, shook herself dry, and
approached the desk captain.
"Good evening, Mrs. Brown.
It's a pity we come to see you again under such horrible circumstances."
"Howdy. You've got our rooms
ready, I hope."
"Yes, Madame. White Star has
procured quite a few rooms. For your group we have five together on the third floor."
"No offense, but I think
these ladies would prefer to be closer to terra firma tonight. Got any rooms on the ground
"I'll see what I can do.
Please give me a moment."
As the captain went off to see to
the accommodations the rest of Molly's party filed in. The lobby was plush, even opulent,
but its grandeur was completely lost on the women.
Helen Candee came forward.
"Mrs. Brown, where do we
"Please, call me Molly. Just
hold on a little bit, dear, they're getting our rooms ready right now."
Madeline Astor seemed to suddenly
recognize her surroundings and a pained look flooded across her face.
"This is J.J.'s hotel,"
she said softly, and then nearly fainted with the realization. John Jacob Astor IV, her
husband, had perished onboard Titanic. Mrs. Widener supported her friend as best
she could. Ruth Bukater just stared blankly ahead.
"I think we need those rooms
pronto!" Molly yelled to the returning captain, who immediately lead them down a
deep-carpeted hallway to adjoining rooms cloistered around the inner courtyard.
"I trust these will be
"As long as they've got beds
and heat and you keep those bloodthirsty newspaper hounds outside, we'll be fine."
With that, Molly ushered each
woman into a room and, one by one, helped them into bedclothes supplied by the hotel. She
eased them under the covers for a sleep long needed but unlikely to be won so easily.
The relentless rain continued
through the next day, the low-slung sky never lightening beyond a steel gray. At ten in
the morning, as planned, Molly Brown stood at the front entrance to the hotel, watching
for Cal Hockley's cab to arrive.
Cal had sent a messenger to her
room at dawn, and Molly had gone to speak to Ruth soon after. Ruth didn't answer to
repeated knocks, but Molly found her door unlocked and went in. Ruth was still deep in a
state of shock and obviously had not slept at all. She sat propped against the headboard
of the bed, unblinking, staring into space. She barely acknowledged Molly's presence.
Molly circled the bed and sat on
the edge, considering Ruth's appearance.
She's pale as a ghost, Molly
thought. She's got to stop beating herself over this or it'll be the death of her, too.
"Ruth, I know you're hurting
but you need to control it some and accompany Cal back to Philadelphia. Your family will
be waiting for you. Cal has promised me that you will be looked after and, while he may be
a lot of things, I don't believe he's scoundrel enough to renege on that. He's too intent
on being thought a gentleman to ever consider going back on his word. If he does, though,
call me and I'll come running to tattoo his hide."
"Why didn't Rose get into the
lifeboat?" The words startled Molly; Ruth had done little more than nod since they
were rescued four days earlier.
"Ruth, a woman's heart is a
one can rarely fight it. Darlin Rose was just finding out what love
was all about. Don't you remember what you were like when you were seventeen?"
"I had more
" Ruth tailed off.
"Then you were better than I
was!" Molly said with a brief laugh. "I didn't take kindly to stayin at home at
"You know, you really gotta
go with Cal."
Molly was surprised by Ruth's
quick acquiescence but it seemed that Ruth's resolve had eroded with her increasing
fatigue. So, an hour later, Ruth had accompanied Molly to the lobby and was now perched on
a settee like an obedient schoolgirl.
Cal's cab arrived in short order
and Molly shepherded Ruth out under the cover of the hotel awning. Ruth barely nodded at
Cal as she entered the cab, and as the doorman closed the cab door Cal turned to Molly.
"This is for the best, I
think. The train leaves at eleven and I think it's in her interest to put all this behind
us as soon as possible. It's for the best."
"You already said that, Cal.
"It's going to be a long
trip," Molly added, nodding her head towards the motionless Ruth.
"Cal, let me be blunt. I've
never thought that much of you, especially the way you walk all over people. You could use
to be taken down a peg or two. But I trust you to do the right thing by Ruth. She misses
Rose somethin fierce."
"I can't undo what has been
done, Molly, and you may not think so, but I too truly miss Rose. I loved her."
Molly looked into Cal's eyes and
for a minute she could almost believe that he was telling the truth; that he was feeling
the same kind of pain. In the end, Cal looked away self-consciously and she could never be
"Goodbye, Cal." She
tapped on the glass. "Farewell, Ruth."
Molly turned back inside. The
carriage headed west into the fog and the rain.
The rest of the day passed quickly
amid a parade of well-wishers, nervous White Star officials, and barristers too numerous
to count. There followed a funeral-like tea with the remainder of her group. Friends and
relatives were on their way to help the ladies pick up the pieces of their lives, and
Molly felt that the small delay had been a blessing in giving the women enough time to
regain their strength to cope. Her own friend and business advisor, Wallace Hammond, lived
in New York, and would normally have immediately come to her aid but he had been out of
town on business when the tragedy struck. He had telegraphed that he was rushing back to
the city and would soon be arriving by train. Molly was confident that his business-like
mind would help her put things straight.
That evening's dinner was a small
affair in a private room off the main dining service. Slowly, the women found their
direction and emerged from the muteness of their grief.
Sleep seemed to be coming easier
to all the second night on land, and the others took their leave of the impromptu
sanctuary of Molly's sitting room quite early. Molly was left alone in her thoughts and
she rested in quiet solitude, hypnotized by the steady beat of rain against the window and
the distant thunder of yet another approaching storm front.
She was dozing off in her chair
when she suddenly jerked awake. Momentarily disoriented, she found herself back in the
lifeboat, in the dark, filled with the anguish of those hours. With effort, her mind
returned to the present and she wondered what had made her startle.
From the corner of her eye she
noticed a dimly lit figure standing in the rain on the patio outside her room.
Damn vultures! she thought. Can't
those photo-hounds give us a moment's peace?
She went to the door to chase the
photographer away but then, as a flash of lightning illuminated the patio, she stopped
dead in her tracks.
Was she still dreaming? She shook
her head to clear it, then opened the door slightly to better look upon the figure.
"Molly," it said, so low
that she wasn't sure she had really heard it.
"Oh My God! Oh My God!"
was all Molly could manage. It was as though an impossible ghost stood before her. Another
bolt of lightning froze the scene.
"Molly," the apparition
repeated quietly, then staggered forward.
And with that, seemingly pulled
from the sea, risen from the grave, the pitiful, drenched figure of Rose DeWitt Bukater
collapsed into Molly's arms.