image from the book The Brittle Sea

Debris.

The scene of debris, bodies, capsized-boats, flotsam and a mass of small icebergs scattered across a wide expanse of freezing Ocean sent a chill down Blackmore’s spine. It wasn’t the chill of the cold, it was the chill of desperation those people experienced in their last moment before a cold death took them. It was an unworldly scene, almost like a surreal painting. Everywhere he looked was as still and silent as a grave. Blackmore nodded to himself, realising that was exactly what he was looking at. The Titanic was now at the bottom of the ocean and with it were the lost souls who perished with her. Another vessel, the Carpathia, had been on the scene but had already departed for New York with the survivors. Blackmore had been tasked with searching for more survivors, if that were possible in this frozen and lifeless scene before him.

The radio operator had brought Blackmore more bad news, news that made Blackmore seriously doubt the usefulness of the new radio technology.

“Let me understand what you are saying, Mr. Archer. The message we received was actually a day older than it said? And you are saying somebody else sent this message, not the Carpathia?”

Archer stood his ground but was instinctively feeling like a schoolboy up before the headmaster. “It was very confusing with a lot of extraneous chatter, Sir. Hard to discern what was what. It could have been Titanic and equally it could have been Carpathia, even the California who insist they had attempted to warn Titanic about the icebergs, sir.”

“So, this disaster, was never going to be anything other than a disaster. We could not have got here any sooner because what warning we received was garbled and unhelpful, at the very least?”

“Aye, Captain.”

Blackmore dismissed the young radio-man and shook his head. They had been combing the area with long-boats for hours and could find no trace of life. It was a hopeless task and miracles didn’t usually happen in real-life. The bridge had several people searching through binoculars, but the feeling of hopelessness was beginning to affect them all.

A pointless task. All long dead.

But as he thought that gloomy, miserable thought, he could see a sailor signalling from a longboat quite a distance out.

“What are they signalling?” Blackmore asked. Mr. James followed Blackmore’s stare and put his powerful binoculars to his eyes.

“I don’t believe it, Sir, they have found a survivor.”

“Get them back here as soon as possible and alert the ship’s medical officer. Pray to God we’re in time.”

Time seemed to move slowly as the ship’s longboat was rowed back to the Lady Jane.

 

***

 

Blackmore, along with half a dozen others, some peering through Blackmore’s cabin windows, watched, helpless, as Mr. Bell, the medical officer, examined the young woman. A beautiful, but fragile, young woman, so close to death it was a miracle she had survived.

Maybe miracles do sometimes happen.

“How is she?” Blackmore asked in a whisper, as if his loud voice would crack the woman’s fragile beauty.

“Not good, close to death in fact. She has hypothermia and we need to bring the core heat of her body back up to normal. Someone fetch warm blankets, towels, anything that will retain heat. I need to remove her wet clothing so all of you, out. Now!”

Bell stood upright and stretched, looking around. “You too, Captain,” he said to the older man, cocking his eyebrow.

“But, this is my cabin, I’m Captain.”
Bell laughed, cheerlessly. “You are Captain, but this room,” he waved an arm around, “is now a medical bay and I am in charge. I am medical-officer and my authority here is absolute. Please leave… now.”

Blackmore opened the door and walked out into the cold, almost being bowled over by the steward, Mr. Lee, carrying a pile of blankets and towels. The Chinese man gave the Captain a cursory, “Solly” and pushed the Captain aside. The door to Blackmore’s cabin, his ex-cabin, slammed shut with an absolute finality.

 

***

 

“She was in a boat, alone and virtually frozen into a splinter from an iceberg?” Blackmore’s voice carried the incredulity it deserved. It was as farfetched a story as he had ever heard.

The bosun shuffled his feet, nervously. A man who in the face of danger would stand steadfast, but under his Captain’s hard stare he felt like a lost schoolboy.

“I cannot fathom it, Captain. I obviously don’t know the ins and outs of the matter, only what I and my crew seen and as to what we told Mr. James, Sir.”

The Bosun’s thick Cornish accent gave away his heritage and Blackmore knew he was looking at a highly-trained ex British Royal Navy man. This Bosun wouldn’t know how to lie.

“Very well, we will see what the young lady remembers. Thank you for your time.”

“Sir,” the bosun said, saluting in the proper manner and turned to leave, but stopped. “She did say something,” he said, turning around to face Blackmore.

“She did? What?”

“I dunno what she said as it were foreign, Sir.”

“Foreign? She spoke French, German? What?”

“I would have said Russian, if memory serves.”

“Russian? You know Russian?”

The Bosun shook his head. “My Grand-pappy was Russian, a sailor during the Anglo-Russian war. Back in 1807 he and his ship, the Speshnoy, was captured in Portsmouth where they were docked and eventually he joined the Royal Navy and retired in Cornwall.”

“So, you know some Russian?”

The older man blushed and shook his head. “Not really, I just remember how my Grand-pappy sounded. The young lady said something that sounded Russian. Something like batko, but I’m not sure, we were a bit busy trying to get her across to our boat. It was a long time ago, sir.”

“Very well, Bosun.” Blackmore was about to dismiss the man when a thought occurred to him. “Was she placed in the life-boat, do you think?”

“Funny you should mention that, Captain. She was lying at an odd angle, almost as if she had fallen in from a height.”

“Very well, Bosun. Thank you for the information.”

As the man left, Blackmore shook his head and wondered what tales other crew members had to tell.

But it wasn’t long before the Bosun’s story was forgotten. Blackmore would live to regret that failure to remember.

Copyright Tom Kane © 2018

Please use the menu system below to read further chapters in The Brittle Sea saga

Chapters

MARCH 15, 1931

APRIL 15, 1912

DISASTER

DEBRIS

THE LOSS

MAGGIE

MISSING

NEW YORK

GORDON BELLAGON

THE TWO MINDS OF MAGGIE

A PARTING OF THE WAYS

VENEZUELA

THE DAYS GROW LONGER

CROSSING THE LINE

MAGGIE’S FALL

STORM WARNING

HARKER’S SEARCH

A BOX OF TRICKS

REBELLION

BALLANTINE LEARNS THE TRUTH

This is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors. Context and characters may change between now and the final publication date.

When published as an eBook and paperback at the end of 2018, this book will be the first in a trilogy: The Brittle Sea, The Brittle Land and The Brittle Sky.

As a English expat author living in Cyprus, you may think my life revolves around cocktails by the pool. You would be wrong. In ten years on the island I’ve had my fair share of adventures and interesting experiences.

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