Chapter Seventeen

Rain. Never intense, never angry, but unceasing, as though God's intent was to gently wash the last fortnight of July off the calendar, like so much newsprint running off a page.

Rose loved to walk in the warm rain.

Sure, it made the trek to and from work more like an obstacle course sometimes. And, certainly, she and Cora were sentenced to long afternoons in Rose's room, noses deep into books, with the girl listening intently for the slightest pause in the patter on the roof, ready to spring a jailbreak.

Still, Rose relished it, and she would walk the streets of the city feeling the rain wash over her.

Along the sidewalks, in empty lots, tents had been erected, and the homeless gathered in the refuge from of the elements, sipping their soup greedily and eyeing Rose as though she were an escapee from Bedlam. The rest of the city denizens shunned the streets, preferring to hole up in houses, shops and saloons until the summer sun reasserted itself.

Rose would be the lone visitor at the piers, and she would stand at the railing listening to the hiss of the rain on the river and the lonely moan of the lighthouses in the channel.

It'll be all right now, she whispered to herself. Bit by bit, my world is righting itself again. I can feel it. I just have to be strong, give things time to happen.

She could finally deal with the dark truths well enough that she had, the past week, taken to stopping at St. Peter's cemetery after work, in the eerie semi-darkness that lasted from mid-afternoon till sundown. In a secluded corner of the graveyard, its pristine marble in stark contrast to the weathered stones around it, stood the marker of Mr. John Kilgore, Titanic passenger.

This faceless victim had come to represent for Rose all who had perished that night, every soul she had known and not known. She would come to talk to them, understand their stories, and bargain for her peace.

Every soul but one.

This truth she understood now: she had lived, they had died, such is fate. She had not survived in their stead. She believed in her heart that they understood that as well, and that they prayed for her just as she bowed her head for them.

But not all was in perfect balance.

Every soul but one. When Rose would swing the rusty graveyard gate closed behind her, leaving the other spirits behind, Jack would walk beside her towards her home, and though she never felt anything but compassion and love from his essence she also felt her rebirth was not complete.


Rose awoke on that Saturday to a strange sensation - silence. After almost two full weeks of rain its absence was palpable. She washed and dressed in harmony with the quiet, as though needing to follow the morning's lead, and she stepped out of her building, inhaling deeply.

The sky was a threat still, an endless gray awning draped over the city, but as she stepped down to the sidewalk a brilliant shaft of sunlight burst through a crack in the clouds to the east, shot across the sky over the heart of New York, and flashed to earth somewhere west of where Rose stood.

That's so beautiful, Rose thought, but almost before the phrase was complete in her mind the ray vanished, called back to the sun.

Her day at the factory was routine; she spent her breaks quietly, as Gina was among the missing once again. By the time she had returned home to fetch Cora in the early afternoon, the sun was dazzlingly alone in the sky, the rain clouds seemingly so embarrassed at overstaying their welcome that they had fled in shame.

Cora had been penned up inside the building for so long that she literally burst from the doorway when she and Rose left for their walk up to the avenue. She ran straight, in circles, in zigs, in zags and Rose's head spun from watching her.

They reached Sixth Avenue and turned south, browsing in a few shops and stopping for chocolate. After several more blocks Rose spotted the wagons of the Carson twins just ahead of them.

"Cora, there's Mr. Carson. Let's go say hello to Red."

Cora skipped ahead and petted Red under the watchful eye of Mr. Carson. When Rose caught up she greeted the owner and then dug out some sugar for Cora to feed to the horse.

Mr. Carson still didn't like them 'spoilin' Red, but he turned a blind eye when it was Cora that was doing the treating. While he continued his conversation with his brother Red crunched contentedly, Cora cooed an endearment, and Rose petted her equine friend lazily.

Later, when asked, Rose would try to reconstruct what happened next, but many details were unknown to her, or were blurred and lost to time. It all happened so fast that it seemed like a movie flickering before her eyes.

Southbound on the wet El tracks above the avenue the novice engineer of Train 27 applied his brakes too harshly, trying to slow for his next stop. Normally, the weight of the train would aid the brakes' grip, but on this Saturday afternoon the passenger load was light and so the train, instead of stopping, skidded along the slick rails. When a few seconds later the wheels were finally able to bite into the tracks, the train buckled ever so slightly, lifting the engine's rear section a few inches off the tracks. When it slammed back down to the rail bed, this caused half the train's pile of coal to bounce off the other half, leap the edge of the bin, and fall over the side of the tracks, crashing to the roadway below.

Mr. William Armister, proud owner of a shiny new Renault, was also headed south on Sixth Avenue, basking in the admiring glances of pedestrians. His attention, therefore, wasn't fully on the road, and so he was quite surprised to come suddenly upon a huge pile of coal smack in the middle of his path. Not yet knowledgeable of the idiosyncrasies of his new toy, he over-reacted on the steering wheel, pulling it hard right, and his car jumped the curb, smashing directly into the plate glass window of the Johnson Brothers' Shoe Store.

The two Carsons' carts were just thirty feet or so down the avenue from the Johnsons' shop, so when the window shattered it put a death of fright into everyone in the vicinity of the wagons. Everyone, including the horses.

Rose must have jumped a foot, but she recovered quickly and grabbed Cora, pulling her down the street away from the falling glass. The milkman's horse most likely saw the car coming and anticipated the crash, but Red was faced away, his back to the event, and the noise startled him badly.

He reared, and before Mr. Carson could grab the reins he bolted forward.

Rose saw the horse lunge and immediately recognized the danger.

"Mr. Carson, look out!" she screamed. Not forty feet in front of the wagon was a gaping hole; a sewer construction pit, surrounded by a crew of workers.

As Red raced forward, eyes wide in fright, an alarmed cry went up and the crew on the near side of the pit scattered to safety. Red finally saw the hole through his blind panic but he was unable to find purchase on the wet cobblestone, his wildly churning hooves skidding along the roadway. He was forced to hurdle the two-foot high safety wall along the near edge of the pit and, still unable to stop, he slid out over the opening. The wagon slammed into the wall behind him, finally halting his forward motion.

"Oh, God!" Rose exclaimed. Cora was mute; her eyes like saucers.

Rose grabbed Cora's hand and they ran to the wagon.

Red was suspended over the chasm, held up by his harness, his mass the teeter against the totter of the full weight of the ice behind him. Mr. Carson sat on the cart, dumbstruck.

"Mr. Carson, don't move!" Rose yelled to him. The sewer workers were frozen in place, as were all the incredulous passers-by, mesmerized by the developments.

For a few long seconds the balance held. Then, with a wicked snap, the right rear section of Red's harness broke. More leather snapped loudly under the strain, the sounds like rifle shots, until the horse was held precariously by one last strap around his chest, just behind his forelegs. Red thrashed wildly, his eyes gone white with fright.

Finally, with a crack that echoed up and down the avenue, the last of the harness gave out and Red disappeared down into the yawning pit, followed by a loud splash from deep within the hole.

Mr. Carson sat atop his wagon, hand to his forehead, chanting his horse's name over and over.

Rose commanded Cora to stay beside the wagon and she ran to the edge of the pit. Perhaps fifteen feet below her a churning river of water raced by the opening. Red was nowhere to be seen.

Rose looked around. Everyone still seemed in a daze, as though expecting any minute to awaken from a horrible nightmare. Time seemed to be standing still.

Why isn't anyone doing anything?

She ran to the nearest sewer worker.

"Where does this go?" she asked, pointing down.

The man seemed completely unaware of Rose's presence. He stood, hat clutched tightly in one hand, gaping down into the hole.

"Jesus. Jesus," he intoned.

Rose grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him roughly.

"Where does this drain lead to?"

He turned to her as if emerging from a trance. Bewildered, he tried to focus on her face. Rose raised her voice to a scream.

"DAMN IT, I need you to think! Where does it go?"

He finally seemed to understand what she was asking. He tilted his head, eyes skyward in thought.

"Straight west. Empties into the river," he finally said.

Rose raced back to where Cora stood. Red's owner had dismounted his cart and was circling wildly, completely distracted. His brother was trying in vain to calm him.

"Put him on your wagon!" Rose barked to the milkman.

"What?" he responded, thinking she'd gone crazy as well.

Rose grabbed him and turned him towards the hole, pointing.

"That pipe leads into the Hudson," Rose said, and understanding flooded across his features. He nodded quickly and ushered his brother over to his wagon.

Rose glanced down, debating what to do with Cora.

I can't just leave her here, she thought, so she picked the girl up and put her on the milk wagon's seat, climbing aboard after her. It was a tight squeeze for the four of them.

"Come on, Givvy," the iceman clucked to his steed. He reined the colt quickly about and they shot off to the west like a meteor.

The Saturday traffic on the side street was fairly light, but they still had to zigzag past slower vehicles, Mr. Carson ringing his signal bell wildly in warning. Rose sat on the far outside, opposite the driver. Cora clung to her tightly as Rose swayed with the lurching wagon, leaning far off the side at times as they cut around obstacles.

As they approached the larger intersections, Mr. Carson slowed slightly and then, spotting a gap, he would slice through the cross traffic and snap the reins at Givvy, accelerating again to full speed. They passed dumbfounded drivers, frightened pedestrians, irate street workers and, as they crossed Ninth Avenue, a mounted policeman, who took off after them as they swept by him like a runaway train.

Rose had no idea how many accidents they may have triggered but, fortunately, they didn't hit anyone. Cora rode with her eyes tightly shut, her fingers digging into Rose's side. Rose craned to look behind them, nearly losing her balance in the process. The policeman was still following, blowing his whistle shrilly, but they had had too much of a head start and he was barely gaining on them.

The milkman shot a glance back at their pursuer and then raised an eyebrow at Rose.

"Too late to stop now!" she yelled over the sounds of the hoofbeats and the groans and squeaks of the speeding wagon. They raced on, jarring badly at every bump, their teeth rattling as they went airborne and then slammed back down to the hard bench.

They swept out across the avenue bordering the river and Mr. Carson almost wasn't able to stop the wagon before they went headlong down the embankment and into the water. At the last second he managed to jerk Givvy's head sharply to the left, and horse and wagon skidded sideways to a stop with Rose hanging on for dear life.

"Stay here!" Rose yelled at Cora, pointing sharply to emphasize her command. Rose jumped off and scurried down the embankment, searching the surface of the river for the sewer pipe's outlet. The Carsons slid down the gravel behind her.

A sudden splashing out in the water drew Rose's attention.

"There!" she pointed. Red was thrashing in the river, about 70 yards off shore.

"Jesus! Red!" the iceman exclaimed. "What are we gonna do?"

He looked desperately from the horse to Rose and back.

"I don't know how to swim!" he cried in anguish, wringing his hands at his inadequacy.

Rose searched his brother's face but he also shook his head, embarrassed.

"Maybe we can find a rope….," he suggested.

"No time for that!" Rose replied, and she kicked off her shoes, threw her hat to the ground and ran to the water's edge.

As she stepped calf-high into the river she hesitated for a split second, then ran a few more steps and dove in.

The cold of the water shocked Rose to the core. Though it was mid-summer, the Hudson flowed with runoff from the snow-capped mountains upstate and the river clutched that iciness to its heart for its entire journey to the sea.

Rose shivered, her teeth clenched, but she concentrated on the outline of Red bobbing in the river out ahead of her. She aimed upstream so that the current wouldn't sweep her down past the animal, and she swam.

Hundreds of images flashed through her mind as she methodically stroked. Of learning to swim in the lake behind her house, of summers on the Schuykill, of the numbing terror of the dark North Atlantic. Her arms screamed under the exertion, demanding she stop, so she bore down more, took deeper breaths, and kicked with all her might. She pulled and pulled but still didn't seem to be any nearer the horse when, suddenly, he was right beside her.

Red was churning the water wildly with his legs, trying to keep afloat, and Rose had to stay clear of the deadly hooves. The horse was throwing his head from side to side and whinnying pitifully, his ears pinned back and his eyes wide. Rose treaded water a few feet from him.

"Red," she said in her calmest, most soothing voice, trying to disguise her own terror.

"Red, boy…it's me…Rose"

The horse continued pin-wheeling his legs but steadied his head a bit and looked towards Rose.

She wasn't sure if he was calm enough to approach but time was running out. The sewer had emptied between two piers and now both woman and horse were drifting towards the ragged pilings under the downstream dock. She knew the remainder of his harness could easily snag on the wooden structure. Rose grabbed his bridle and angled his head towards shore. Red jerked away hard and turned his body, pulling Rose under.

She tumbled over in the water, losing track of up and down. Releasing her hold, she searched for the brightness indicating the surface, but the depths seemed equally murky in all directions, and she began to panic. Which way? Which way? She swam and swam, but every direction seemed the wrong one. Finally, her lungs screaming for relief, she spotted the faint ball of the sun through the cloudy water and she pulled for the surface.

Rose broke through into the air, taking deep, gulping breaths. She heard yelling from the shore and imagined they had become frenzied when she had gone under. She quickly waved to them and then spun around, seeking out Red once again.

He was just a few yards from her and she called to him again as she paddled closer. They were dangerously close to the dock now so she grabbed his bridle, being as gentle as she could under the circumstances. Her presence seemed to have calmed the horse some; this time he turned his head easily and followed her lead, seemingly grateful for the control that Rose was providing. Red's breathing was ragged and he was visibly tiring, barely able to keep his head above the river's surface. She knew she had to hurry.

She swam beside him, holding his head above the water with her right hand, and they moved shoreward ever so slowly. Rose's left arm felt like it was on fire but she swam despite the pain, almost willing Red along. At long last Red felt the riverbank beneath his legs and stood upright, pulling Rose up to her feet along with him.

Sopping wet, Rose dragged herself onto the shore guiding the shivering horse. Red's owner ran forward to take the bridle and Rose collapsed to her knees, exhausted, racked by a bout of coughing as she tried to clear her lungs of the water she had swallowed.

Cora came racing down the shore as well, accompanied by the policeman and about two dozen dock workers who had been drawn by the commotion.

"Rosie!" Cora yelled, and then she embraced her friend tightly, a child's fright written all over her face.

"Miss. Are you all right?" the officer asked, helping her to her feet. His eyes flashed in amazement at what he had just witnessed.

Rose, unable to speak, waved her okay as she coughed a final few times and tried to catch her breath.

The Carson brothers had been holding Red away from the crowd, trying to calm the petrified horse. Red stood on rubbery legs, weary to the bone and disconcertingly quiet, and they walked him slowly in tight circles, trying to keep him from lying down. After the colt's trembling had lessened a bit his owner walked over to Rose.

"Miss Dawson….I don't know what to say…..You saved my friend, you did. You saved my Red."

Rose looked up at him. She hadn't really stopped to think about what she was doing, she had just reacted. She began to realize how dangerous her actions had been.

But SOMEBODY had to save that horse, she thought, looking over at Red. I was his only chance.

Mr. Carson seemed unsure how to properly thank her. At first he held out his hand but then pulled it back, thinking a handshake totally inadequate. He stepped closer and kissed Rose gently on the cheek.

Rose looked up at him, embarrassed, exhilarated, feverish from her efforts, and the crowd of hardened dock workers cheered wildly.

"Thank you," Mr. Carson said, tears filling his eyes.

"You're welcome," Rose replied softly.

Mr. Carson looked down at his feet sheepishly.

"Miss Dawson, do you remember when you asked to have the chance to ride Red? I know I made light of your request and I'm sorry about that. That was wrong of me. I would be honored if you would come, any time you may please, to ride Red to your heart's content."

Oh, God, yes! Rose thought, her breathing finally slowing. I will learn to ride him and together we will see everything there is to see it this city!

Suddenly, Red whinnied, a dry towel was wrapped around Rose, Cora hugged Rose while peering up at her with wide eyes, the Carson twins grinned at her, and Rose, despite her fatigue, smiled the broadest smile she had worn in a long time.

The next morning, Sunday morning, Rose Dawson felt moved to attend services for the first time.


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