Mathilde Verne 1865 – 1936 was an English pianist and teacher, her pupil
“I remember it as if it were yesterday,” said Georgette, when we were lunching at the Embassy Club (the last place in the world to talk of tragedy.) I really don’t know what first brought up the subject, but I gradually became so absorbed in the story that the bright crowd around me vanished and in its place, I saw a sinking ship, plunging to her doom in the pitch black darkness and I almost fancied that I heard the ice tapping against the sides of the boat with shelter Georgette and her family.
“I was sharing a cabin on the deck with my cousin,” she continued, “and, as it was very cold, I went to bed early. About midnight I was suddenly awakened by two totally the dissimilar noises – one something like the tiering of calico – the other the sound of escaping steam.
“The next moment the engine stopped and, to my great relief, mother came into the cabin and rang the bell to ascertain what it happened.
“The steward appeared, as ever, efficient and unperturbed, and in reply to mothers anxious questioning he said: “Well, madam, I really can’t say what is wrong, but as there are no orders to go on deck, you had better remain where you are.”
“This was reassuring but after a little while our maid came up from her cabin, and in agitated tones, informed us that there was water in the baggage room.
“‘There’s nothing to be alarmed at,’ said mother, ‘go back to bed and get off to sleep.’ But mother was not so confident as she appeared, and as we sat wondering what on earth the noises had meant, the maid rushed back… this time making no attempt to hide her terror.
“‘My cabin is flooded out – I can’t stay there a minute longer,’ she cried.
This decided us. We got dressed as quickly as possible, lent the maid some clothes, and we were just ready when we heard the stewards knocking on all the doors and shouting as they did so: Orders – put on lifebelts and go on deck.’
We hurried to the main deck and on our way upwards we saw stewards going hither and thither, laden with armfuls of bread for the boats, while the Purser was giving out their jewellery to passengers some of whom would very soon have no further use for jewels or any worldly vanities. I remember noticing the lift boy, a stickler for duty, who remained unconcernedly in the lift which had already ceased working.
“Everyone was at his or her post; there was no panic and we were wondering what to do next, when my cousin Elizabeth insisted on going back to our cabin to fetch her fiance’s photographs. It goes without saying but every moment of her absence was an eternity of suspense and when at last she returned with her treasured photographs, we went to the lifeboat deck, from where I saw the distant lights of the S.S.California. We were then lowered into the sea-boat.
“The First officer ordered the Fourth officer to come with us, and to bring with him a supply of rockets, which was subsequently used to guide the S.S. Carpathia to the scene of the wreck. I didn’t realise, however, that at the moment when our boat was being lowered, the Titanic was actually sinking, her lower ports still brilliantly lighted. Until then I didn’t seem to have had time to be afraid, in fact none of us realised that the great ship was foundering.
“When we had seated ourselves in the boat, we saw that with us were to steerage passengers from central Europe, our maid, ten first class passengers and three of the crew. We were the only family to be saved in one boat, and when at last I settle down, I put my feet on something soft lying huddled up at the bottom of the boat – this heap moved when I touched it and disclosed itself as a terrified human being.
“We rowed away and went round the ship, which had now started for her final plunge. Then – and then only – the lights went out.
“There was a moment of tense silence. The second after the disappearance of the Titanic, a long scream pierced the darkness like a sword-thrust. I shall never forget the agony which that terrible screening meant; one despairing voice seemed to rise higher than all the others. Thank God the screaming only lasted a few minutes, dying away into perhaps more heartbreaking sounds, prayers, sobs, struggles, most mercifully not to be prolonged.
“We remained stationary in the blackness; nobody spoke; we were too dazed with horror and we could hear the intake of our breathing when we knew that death was aboard everywhere around us. All at once we were brought back to realities by the sound of something tapping against the sides of the boat – it was an iceberg.
“You can guess how rapidly we pulled away, the fourth officer letting off flares and rockets at intervals. I can’t tell you how cold it was and how we huddled together to keep warm until dawn broke over the Ocean of Death and we saw the lights of the S.S Carpathia, which altered her course in our direction directly her captain saw the rockets.
“Imagine our disappointment when the Carpathia suddenly changed her course – then we saw the reason. The iceberg, that terror by night, was still with us, and the Carpathia did not dare to approach, although she stood by at a safe distance, and we rowed slowly towards her, leaving behind us that glittering iceberg, green as an emerald, and now scintillating in the rays of the morning sun.
“I don’t remember how we managed to climb up the rope-ladder; by this time we were ‘all in’. But I do remember being surrounded by friendly faces, class being friendly hands and drinking neat whiskey on the deck of the Carpathia.
“Youth has great recuperative powers, so I was none the worse physically for my night in an open boat, but I have never forgotten the shriek in the darkness and the feeling of finality and extinction which it represented.
“A few months after our return to New York, mother decided that we must go back to England and not allow the disaster to become an obsession or a possible impediment in the future of sea travelling, much in the same way that many people refuse to deprive themselves of any amusement or means of progression which may have represented a bad smash, a crash, or perhaps a fall. This is a drastic medicine for nervous folk, but you can take my word for it that in nine cases out of ten it serves its purpose.”
[Thanks to Encyclopedia Titania for photo]