”… And Then The Water Closed Over Me …”
April 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 3
A man insane with fright was clinging to my shoulders. I can see the panic in his eyes as he looked over my head. He had no life belt on and his weight was pulling me under again. Had I struggled against him, he would probably have clung to me, but I never even felt the inclination to. I said, “Oh, please don’t” and then the water closed over me and I became unconscious again. He must have left me when he found me sinking under him. I opened my eyes later on the brilliant sunlight and blue sea. I was floating on my back. The men and women were floating with wider spaces between them. A man on my right had a gash on his forehead; the back of a woman’s head was near me. I saw an old man at my left, upright in the water and, as he could see the horizon, I asked him if he saw any rescue ships coming. He did not. An Italian, with his arms around a small tin tank as a float, was chanting. There were occasional shouts; I could see the crowded ship’s boats far away. I wondered where Mr. Friend was. I noticed the water felt warm and saw an oar. I reached for it and pushed one end of it toward the old man on my left, and then as my heavy clothes kept dragging me down, I lifted my right foot over the blade of the oar, and held it with my left hand. This helped to save me. I tried to lift my head a little to see for myself if there was not some aid coming. Then I sank back very relieved in my mind, for I decided it was too horrible to be true and that I was dreaming, and again lost consciousness. This was about three o’clock.
The next thing I was aware of was looking into a small open grate fire. This was half past ten at night and I was in the captain’s cabin on the rescue ship Julia . I decided that the opening of the grate measured about 18 X 24 inches; I did not remember the shipwreck. I saw a pair of grey trowsered legs by the fireplace and, turning my head, saw a man leaning over a table, looking at me where I lay wrapped in a blanket on the floor. I heard him say, “she’s conscious” and two women came up to me and patted me and told me the doctor was coming. I thought they looked alike and asked them if they were sisters and what their names were. When I tried to talk, I found that I was shaking from head to foot in a violent chill, though there were hot stones at my feet and back. A doctor came and picked me up, calling two sailors, who made a chair with their hands and lifted me. I was too stupid to hold on to them and fell back, but the doctor caught me by the shoulders and I was carried off the ship and through the crowds on the dock, the sailors shouting “Way, way!” They lifted me into a motor and in a few moments we stopped at what proved to be a third-rate hotel.
I told the doctor I could step out of the car myself, but in trying to, I crumpled up on the sidewalk and was picked up and carried in. I was left on a lounge in a room full of men in all sorts of strange garments, while the proprietress hurried to bring me brandy. The Englishman of our table, who had been so anxious to eat his ice cream, was in a pink dressing-gown; he came and sat by me. I asked him if he had seen Mr. Friend. He shook his head without answering. I was given brandy and with help walked up stairs and was put to bed. All night I kept expecting Mr. Friend to appear, looking for me. All night long, men kept coming into our room, snapping on the lights, bringing children for us to identify, taking telegrams, getting our names for the list of survivors, etc., etc. I kept asking officials for news of Mr. Friend and giving a description of him.
A civil engineer who lives near Hartford and knew of me took it upon himself to look everywhere for Mr. Friend—in hotels and hospitals and private houses. He returned every two or three hours, but brought no news. I will not write more now of that night and my illness and frightful anxiety about Mr. Friend.
Three days later, when I was taken to Cork by Mr. and Mrs. Haughton, I became convinced that Mr. Friend was delirious from injury and unidentified and Mr. Haughton, at my request, put notices in two papers for a week. I simply cannot write any more about it now. Write soon and often to me, my darling mother. Tell Marjorie I have written, perhaps you can judge if she would better read this. She must take no risk.
P.S. Did Mr. Haughton tell you of the way in which I was saved? Mrs. Naish, to whom in a great measure I owe my life, saw me pulled on board with boat hooks; the oar had worked up under my knee and kept me afloat. I was the last one rescued by that ship and was laid on deck with the dead. Mrs. Naish touched me and says I felt like a sack of cement, I was so stiff with salt water. She was convinced I could be saved and induced two men to work over me, which they did for two hours, after cutting my clothes off with a carving knife nastily brought from the dining saloon. They say that one suffers greatly in being restored from drowning, but I was totally unconscious of it all, owing to the effect of the blow on my head, and was unconscious for some time after breathing was restored; had also severe bruise above and below my right eye, which disfigured me by the swelling and discoloration. I seem to have escaped several separate deaths in a miraculous way and yet I truly believe there was no one on the ship who valued life as little as I do. I had told Mr. Friend one day, as we stood by the rail, that if the Germans did torpedo us, I hoped he would be saved to carry on the work we had so much at heart.
I have tried to tell it carefully, but I cannot dwell on it.