An Ocean Between Us
Thursday, April 11, 1912
And All the World Was Gold
Madge's stomach tossed unhappily, churning like the sea.
She felt a little too hot, the brisk wind doing little to cool her down. She fanned herself with her hand and wished her heart would stop sprinting in her chest. Relax she thought but it did no good. Any moment now, the Titanic would appear on the horizon, ready to take Madge and her family across the ocean to America.
It was a terrifying thought.
Ireland was the only home she'd ever known. She'd never travelled abroad, had barely ever left her tiny, miniature pinprick of a village. She could count the times she'd ventured out on one hand, and twice were here to Queenstown, today to catch the ship and once to buy their tickets. Sailing all the way to a new country, a new continent even, was profoundly frightening. It wasn't that she didn't like to travel, she'd always dreamed of seeing more of the world, but this wasn't travelling, it was leaving, never to return. What if it didn't work out? Would they fit into this new country, its culture? Would they be any better off than they were here?
America is the land of opportunity, her father had said but Madge couldn't help but wonder how much opportunity was really left after all of these years of people seeking it.
"Any minute now," Delly Cartwright said from Madge's right, her voice shivering with excitement. Madge peeked over at her, Delly's whole frame quaking with anticipation. They'd grown up next door to each other and it was the Cartwrights' decision to book passage that had inspired her father. While Madge was glad to know she'd have at least one friend in America, she couldn't help but feel a little sour towards Delly and her family. It wasn't their fault, not really, but without them, Madge's father never would have decided to uproot their family.
Think how much better off we'll be there, he'd said and Madge sincerely hoped he was right. They'd sold nearly everything they had to finance their Second Class passage, if they couldn't find that vaunted 'opportunity' in America, they'd be left with nothing at all.
"There it is!" Delly squealed and Madge couldn't help but gasp. It was huge. She'd heard it was big, of course she had, but this was beyond big, it was beyond any word Madge could conjure up. It was like a floating city and everyone crowding up the pier leaned forward in awe. Madge stared, even her misgivings temporarily silenced. She could definitely understand why they'd labeled it 'unsinkable'. What could possibly sink such a ship?
It was much, much too big to pick them up in the harbor, as such, tenders would ferry them from the pier. The three First Class passengers would go first of course, followed by Madge, her parents and Delly and her family, the seven of them the only Second Class passengers boarding in Queenstown. After them would come the one hundred and thirteen Third Class passengers and Madge could understand why her parents would prefer Second Class to Third, after all, who wouldn't? But still, she almost wished they'd booked Third Class instead and saved a little more for their arrival in New York.
Madge shook her head. She was such a Nervous Nellie. Delly squeezed her hand as the first tender drew near and Madge tried to smile.
This is it.
"Come on, come on," Delly said, tugging on Madge's arm. "We need to get up top!"
Madge rolled her eyes but allowed Delly to pull her along, leading them up onto one of Titanic's higher decks. There were people crowding along the railings and the wind was sharper here than it had been in the harbor, the sun seemingly brighter. Madge and Delly wedged themselves between a couple of people and there, off in the distance, was Ireland.
"Look at us, sea breeze in our hair and waving our final goodbyes to Ireland," Delly said, eyes shining with joy. Madge felt a throb in her chest. "Goodbye Ireland, you've been great!" Delly called, the wind carrying her laughter back to Queenstown. Madge found it difficult to summon up similar exuberance. Instead, she merely looked at the island she'd always called home and promised herself she wouldn't cry.
"Goodbye Ireland," she whispered, voice lost in the general cacophony around her.
The Titanic was officially out to sea now, Ireland and all the rest of Europe left behind.
Madge and Delly stood outside in the dissipating crowd, their old home fading into the horizon.
"Well, we've got plenty of time until dinner, how about a quick gander 'round the ship?" Delly asked and Madge nodded, trying hard to banish her melancholy.
"Though I doubt it'll be quick, isn't this supposed to be the biggest ship…ever?" she pointed out, forcing her tone to be cheery and Delly shrugged.
"Well, we won't bother with the Third Class areas, there can't be anything exciting down there, or it wouldn't be in Third Class."
"Oh, that's nice."
"I'm not saying it to be mean! I'm just saying that all the really exciting stuff is reserved for First Class. They even have all of A Deck to themselves; our staircase doesn't even have an entrance to that deck! I suppose we're not good enough for mingling. Then again, I hear Second Class here is like First Class anywhere else."
Madge snorted. "Oh really? And I'll bet third class is like second class everywhere else?"
Delly shrugged, lips quirking up in the corners. "So I've heard."
"Hmph, I wonder if the third class passengers would agree," Madge wondered and Delly shrugged again.
"Would you like to go and ask them?" she suggested and Madge rolled her eyes. Delly clapped her hands. "Now, come along, you're as slow as molasses! I hear there's a pool, a library, even a workout room! Not that I know why you'd want a workout room, I mean, this is meant to be a vacation…"
Madge nodded along as they made their way towards the back of the ship. They were on the Boat Deck, the sides crowded with lifeboats. Madge knew the sight should be reassuring, but instead it made her nervous, forcing her to remember that they were on a boat in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight. They could sink at any moment and even though she knew it was unlikely, knew ocean liners made crossings all the time without incident; she was still more than a little terrified.
"And just for your information, we do have our own library, lounge and smoke room, not that either one of us smokes, but it's the principal of the thing…"
They'd reached the second class promenade deck, at the rear of the ship, and below them Madge could see the Poop Deck, where the Third Class passengers could mill about and get some fresh air. Her eyes skipped over them as Delly continued to talk, something about parlor suites, and she wasn't really looking at them, more like glancing, when her roving gaze suddenly jerked to a stop on one particular boy.
He was tall, perhaps a year or two older than she and Delly with very dark hair just peeking out from below his cap. Madge's stomach did something funny as she looked at him leaning against the railing, the breeze tickling loose hairs and ruffling his shirt.
And then he looked at her.
His head turned absently and their eyes met, her face heating up instantly. She couldn't make out his eye colour from so far away, but she felt a little unsteady, the deck not quite solid beneath her feet. She couldn't actually tell if he saw her, if maybe he was just looking in her direction and didn't even notice her standing there. Either way, she couldn't bring herself to look away and time seemed to stop until Delly finally snapped her back to reality.
"Hello? Anyone alive in there?" she asked, waving a hand in front of Madge's face. She flushed, face hot with embarrassment.
"Yes, yes, sorry," Madge apologized, dragging her gaze away from the boy. Delly narrowed her eyes and turned, clearly trying to figure out what had caught her attention.
"What's so interesting?" she asked and Madge burned an even darker red.
"Nothing, nothing," she said hurriedly. "Did you say we had a library?"
Delly turned back to her with a suspicious frown.
"Wonderful, doesn't that sound just…grand? Why don't we go visit?"
Madge winced at her own forced enthusiasm and Delly frowned at her a moment more.
"Oh, alright, don't tell me," she finally said, allowing Madge to take her arm. They started towards the doors for inside and Madge determinedly didn't turn around to see if that boy was still there. Delly began explaining something about the second class staircase they were about to use and Madge nodded, happy they'd found a new topic.
Even still, she couldn't quite get that boy out of her head.
They spent the rest of the day exploring, canvassing the ship and Madge almost forgot all her worries. Titanic was truly magnificent, most assuredly the 'ship of dreams'. She couldn't help but feel a little inspired as she made her way through its carefully crafted interiors, couldn't help beginning to believe in America and the golden opportunities it offered. This was the start of something new and exciting, a brand new life unlike any she could have imagined.
She would hold on to that.
(she'd have to)
The ocean was black like ink, spilled out in every direction as far as the eye could see.
Madge found it terrifying, so deep, dark and foreboding, but also reassuring, so calm and smooth like glass. It was late, the ship quiet and she was leaning on the railing on their promenade deck, the cool night air clearing her mind. Her parents had joined the Cartwrights in a night of cards and Madge knew she should be there with them, but she'd needed a moment, sudden sadness overwhelming her. She'd never thought she was particularly attached to Ireland, but now, all she could feel was an aching homesickness that filled her top to bottom.
I'll come back, someday.
She looked up at the stars, glowing bright and beautiful through the clouds. They, at least, looked just like the ones from home. She felt suddenly small and lonely, entirely insignificant in the great, wide world around her. Look at all those stars, the vastness of the ocean. What am I in comparison to that?
She shook her head and summoned up her earlier inspiration. Alright, that's enough. Feeling sorry for yourself isn't going to change anything. She nodded and squeezed the railing as she pushed herself upright, determined to at least try and enjoy herself. They were going to America whether she liked it or not, no point in being miserable about it. She turned, intent on heading to Delly's cabin and trouncing everyone at cards when she nearly screamed. She had thought she was alone, but clambering up over the railing only about four feet from her was a boy and her eyes widened, her mouth dropped open and a shriek began building in her throat.
"Don't scream!" he hissed in panic as he pulled himself all the way over. Strangely, she didn't, her mouth snapping shut as he straightened. She blinked at him and oh no, it can't be. It was the boy from earlier, with his sturdy shoulders, lovely jaw and even nicer arms. Madge immediately went scarlet. Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no. He looked at her, her skin prickled and she desperately cast about for something to say.
"You're not supposed to be here," she blurted and then winced as he bristled.
"And why would you say that?" he asked, posture stiffening defensively.
Good job Madge, excellently done, she grumbled to herself and hurriedly tried to come up with something to salvage the situation. She rarely spoke to boys and never alone at night, but there was something about this one that made her feel both bold and shy at the same time. For some reason she couldn't explain, she very much wanted him to smile at her.
"Well, if you were, you probably wouldn't need to climb over the rail, would you?" she asked, pleased at how her nerves didn't shine through her voice. He softened instantly, a grin starting to tug at his mouth.
"Alright, I suppose I'll give you that."
She bit her lip, could feel a smile trying to bloom out over her face and his eyes moved over her, heating her whole body as they swept across her.
"Are you going to report me?" he asked, a teasing lilt to his voice that made her stomach flutter.
"I should," she answered, couldn't stop her smile from breaking through. He grinned fully, her heart thudding at the sight.
"But you won't."
"No, I won't."
They stared at each other a moment and his eyes were the loveliest silver she'd ever seen, the kind she could happily get lost in.
"You've got a much better view up here," he said and though he gestured out at the sky, his eyes stayed locked with hers. She nodded.
"I came up last night too, but there was no one here then," he continued and that meant he'd gotten on in Southampton or Cherbourg, but she'd bet on Southampton. His accent was definitely English, but she knew too little of accents to say exactly where in England.
"Ah, sorry. I didn't mean to ruin your nightly ritual," she replied, strangely confident in front of this total stranger. His grin seemed to grow and she wondered if she was imagining that he took a step nearer.
"I think I can forgive you…" he trailed off, clearly waiting for her name and she knew she shouldn't give it, but something about this boy was making her foolish.
"Madge," he repeated, her name sounding so much better in his voice than anyone else's. "I'm Gale."
Gale. She rolled it around in her head and instantly liked the sound of it. Laughter came from somewhere behind her and he broke their gaze to look over her shoulder and down the deck.
"Well," he said, "I should probably get going."
She felt herself wilt even though she knew it was ridiculous to be so attached to a boy she'd only exchanged a few words with.
"I was lucky it was you who caught me, but I better not risk anyone else coming by."
She nodded and he was right of course, even if she was a little disappointed. He moved to the railing and took hold of it, Madge trying vainly to keep her face neutral. He turned to her suddenly, grin mischievous.
"I'll you around then, Madge," he said with a wink that made her heart skip a beat and then promptly leapt right over the rail. Her eyes went perfectly round.
"Gale!" she whisper-squealed, rushing over to the railing. She arrived just in time to see him land smartly on the deck below, entirely unruffled. He looked up and smirked, Madge's stomach swooping. Her teeth dug into her lip to stop a smile and he tossed her a one fingered salute, backing away from her down the deck.
She watched him go until he was out of sight, her smile lingering long after she'd gotten back to her cabin.
Gale, she thought as she went to sleep that night.
It was entirely ridiculous, and more than a little improper, to be infatuated with a near stranger, but even so, she was.
Oh yes, she definitely was.