A story written by Ron Sewell especially for Titanic week. As I am not certain of the future of the Night Reading community website I have asked Ron if I could put it here as wonderful stories like this should not be lost. You may need tissues for this.
Soaked by the constant downpour, the aged priest closed his sodden bible and uttered, “Amen.”
The deluge continued to drench Phoebe Bayliss and those standing alongside the open grave. She stared at the mud-spattered coffin for a few seconds before walking away. With her father gone it fell to her to dispose of his assets.
His house, like him, had been there, peaceful and safe. Over the years, it wove its own magic around the family. Grieving and worried by the future, tears mixed with the rain on her face. With no job and little money, her prospects were bleak.
Phoebe, a pretty woman of thirty-six years, pushed her soggy black hair from her face. A firm resolve emanated from her brown eyes. From as far back as she could remember her life had been trouble-free. Since her eighteenth birthday a new car arrived each year, money was never a problem and all the time in the world to enjoy life. On the demise of her mother, father had met all her financial needs. With father’s house mortgaged to the hilt, she would have to find a job.
On her return to the redbrick house she hesitated at the front door before entering. The hall smelt of the dead. Fortunately, a local builder offered a price for the house she dare not refuse. With little time, all that remained was to remove its contents.
Methodically, she moved from room to room. The number of items she wanted to keep grew and these she carefully packed. This arduous task over and with the whole house checked, she made ready to leave.
What made her think of the attic, she had no idea. It took a great effort to drag down the ladder and for her pains a cloud of dust covered her from head to foot. A single lamp illuminated this Aladdin’s cave. Her father, for his own reasons, had never allowed her to enter this area. Now it was hers to explore. She examined box after box; tin soldiers in perfect condition, dolls belonging to her mother, they were all there. It was getting late but one large trunk remained unopened. The threadbare canvas straps that bound it parted with little effort. The lid would not budge but finally yielded to reveal numerous sealed boxes. She was intrigued and opened the uppermost.
To her amazement it contained, wrapped in fine paper, a wedding dress fashioned at the beginning of the century. She returned the dress to its box with care. Other boxes contained worn leather-bound dairies all in date order. One fell open to the floor and she began to read.
2 June 1911
Today father, a member of Lloyds, accompanied by mother and I, travelled to their offices before going on to theSavoyfor lunch. They left me alone in the vast entrance hall while they conducted important business. At that precise moment I saw him.
I did not know who he was or what he was doing but those deep blue eyes penetrated the very depth of my soul. If he had said come with me, I am sure that I would have followed him to the ends of the earth.
3 June 1911
Today I returned to Lloyds with father. My hopes rose only to be dashed when the man with blue eyes did not appear. My maid told me the feelings I had would pass.
4 June 1911
Each morning I dreamt up another reason to accompany father to the city. With every visit my expectations grew but again the blue-eyed man failed to appear.
5 June 1911
Persistence has its own reward. This afternoon, whilst waiting in an anti-room, the stranger entered. The encounter was too much and I fainted. From what I was told, my blue-eyed man moved swiftly and caught my limp frame before it touched the floor. Father fussed and on opening my eyes the man I so wished to see peered down at me.
Father thanked him rather abruptly and I chastened him for this. When he strolled away, for an instant he turned and our eyes met. I whispered “kismet.” That evening I asked about my white knight.
Father explained that Jonathon Ellis was a lowly clerk. Moreover, that he was beneath my station and I should not bother about the likes of him.
Phoebe at once recognised the name. It was her grandfather and the diarist, her grandmother Cecilia.
6 June 1911
I find Jonathon is constantly in my thoughts and I will have to meet him if only to say thank you. He has for whatever reason altered my life. To father he maybe an unlettered nobody but I believe he has that something special about him.
With no one but my maid to confide in I have spoken openly toFlorenceand between us we have conceived a plan. I will learn to sew.Florenceand I will be allowed to visit the haberdashers for materials. I’ve spoken to mother and she has no objection to my new-found interest. In fact she appeared pleased.
7 June 1911
I need to somehow contact Jonathan and let him know I want to see him. I have written a letter forFlorenceto deliver by hand. Although silly of me, I have sprinkled it with rose water.
From the browning pages of the diary, a letter fell to the floor. Phoebe scooped it up and read rapidly.
Dear Mr J Ellis
I would have liked to thank you personally for your kindness on the day I was overcome with the ague.
As this has not been possible, I have instructed my maid to convey this note by hand to you. I would be obliged if you would take heed of her message.
Phoebe continued to read.
5 September 1911
At long last we have met and talked, albeit in a public place. He is as charming as I had imagined and well read. As a gentleman, Jonathon has honour and does not wish to compromise me in anyway. Father is not correct in his opinion of him.
1 October 1911
My meetings with Jonathon continue and I love him dearly but we must be careful. Today I think one of father’s associates may have witnessed us together. If that is so, I will tell father everything. We have done nothing to be ashamed of. He is as always the perfect gentleman.
2 February 1912.
I am banished to my room with a new maid bringing me my meals. It appears that fortune was not on our side. Yesterday, someone did see us and told father.
Florencehas been dispatched, I know not where.
Father informed me that he has bought Jonathan’s silence in this matter with a significant promotion. It would seem the alternative of dismissal was never an option. For my Jonathon, it was an offer he dare not refuse.
2 April 1912
Today, father told us that he had booked passage for the family toNew York, where he was to conclude some business.
To my dismay, Doris, my maid, overheard him telling mother that with the correct introductions, they would find me a husband of standing to complement the family fortunes. It would seem that I am fated to continue my life inAmerica.
I know it is wrong, but I am beside myself to see Jonathan once more.
The house is a hive of activity. Servants bustling, packing trunks and dispatching them to the docks.
I approached mother but the moment I mentioned Jonathon’s name I was sent to my room.
3 April 1912
Tomorrow we all leave forSouthampton. I have made up my mind and will find Jonathon and will not travel toAmerica. I have gathered a few trinkets together and packed a single case. I have written my parents a note and hope in time they will forgive me. When the house is quiet I will leave.
6 April 1912
Today is the happiest of my life. With the assistance of a special licence, I have married my Jonathan. I know it will never be the same again and I prey that my parents in time will condone my actions. It is, however, the choice I have elected to make. I have written to my parents, not asking for forgiveness, but their blessing in my happiness.
15 April 1912
Today we have been told of the greatest shipping disaster of all time. I know father and mother booked passage on that ship.
I am anxious to know if they are amongst the survivors. Thankfully, I have my husband at this time of uneasiness to support me.
20 April 1912
A runner arrived today and confirmed that my father and mother had remained on the ship. It is assumed they have perished in the cold, dark waters of theAtlantic. It is of some comfort that the staff have survived.
A Lloyd’s messenger today visited our home. They have requested that I attend a meeting to discuss the disposal of my father’s assets. I will leave such matters to my Jonathon.
Phoebe sobbed as she gathered all the documents together, returning them to the trunk.
The love she felt for two people she had never known gave her inspiration. It was obvious what she had to do; write her grandparents’ story.