I've decided to give up on my secret, hoped for wishes because a girl can't live off of fantasy forever. Wireless boys do not just fall out of the sky and land at one's feet – no matter how hard one tries – and oh did I try! – to wish it into reality. That is fantasy. Mother would have my head if she knew I've been mooning about for six months over a boy who does not know I even exist. How can he? We've never even met.
So, I take down the newspaper photographs I tacked around my flat and move all my Titanic newspaper articlesto a big, plush memory book like most people have for keeping photographs. Memories are all these last months should be. Perhaps I should move home. I've run off, had my year in London, gotten my taste of the big city, lived my life how I wanted instead of how Mother expected. Maybe it is time to go home. I smile at the thought. Funny, how I never missed Stranraer, Scotland till now.
“Enough of that. I need to clear my head.” I shut up the memory book and stash it away with the newspaper photos that I had pasted onto thicker paper and then framed because, yes, I am focused (Mother would call it obsessed) on the boy I convinced myself I am in love with without ever meeting – junior wireless operator Harold Bride from Titanic.
I have no plan in mind on where to walk once I'm down the three little steps leading up to my flat, so I just go off in whatever direction suits me. I realize too late that my feet are taking me right past the London Office of the Marconi Telegraph Company. How many times in the last six months have I walked past there just hoping? Or that day I finally bucked up enough courage to hand deliver that letter that probably came across as complete and utter nutter talk? The boy behind the counter told me “Mr. Bride is not in” before motioning at a large, overstuffed mail bag. “If that's a fan letter, he's got plenty. Take a number.” Did Mr. Bride ever read the letter? Did he even have time?
I stop again outside the office. I can't help myself. Hope is a powerful thing.
I wait in the big crowd waiting to cross East. The traffic light changes, signaling it's our turn to cross, which we do. I nearly let myself get swept along down the street with the rest of the group, but my feet stop when I catch a glimpse of something – no someone – out of the corner of my eye. I push backwards to where the other group of people is waiting to cross North.
Could it be? After all this time of wishing and hoping and praying? Could it actually, finally, truly be him?
A young man who I know from the papers is my age, just twenty-two, is standing with the crowd waiting to cross North. He's dressed in a dark brown suit that nearly matches his hair which is much curlier under the pomade than any photos from the papers showed. For a second, I think I must be wrong, but I've had this man's photos hanging on my wall for the last six months. I know what he looks like.
“Bride, isn't it?”
When I get excited, my accent comes on thick. He stares down at me, eyes wide, looking like he's trying to translate what I just said, so I try again, remembering to calm down and speak slowly so my accent doesn't get in the way.
“Harold Bride from Titanic?”
“Yes, Harold Bride.”
I grin before sticking out my hand to shake. “Miss Lucy Downie.”
He takes my hand and – I can't describe it. I wish I could. I wish I could put a name or words to the whooshing rush of emotions that passes through me (that passes through us?) at that first touch. I feel as if I've only been bidding my time in life till this exact moment.
“Where are you headed, Miss Downie?”
He's still got a hold of my hand which I don't mind. “I. . .I don't rightly remember, Mr. Bride. Nowhere in particular, I suppose. Just out for a stroll.”
“I was. . .I was going to an early dinner before catching the train home. Would you care to join me?” He swallows a bit between some of the words, like he's trying to be extra brave by bucking up his courage and asking me to join him. I almost laugh at the thought of him being nervous around me. I'm no one. Just a school teacher from Scotland who has a far, far, far, far, far, far too active imagination when it comes to the boy standing before me with my hand still tucked safely in his. He's the hero. Why would he be nervous around me?
“Would you care to join me?” he repeats because I suspect I'm taking too long to answer.
I nod, perhaps a little too enthusiastically, but I don't quite trust myself to speak. I'll probably pop off and say something about Titanic which he probably doesn't want to be reminded of. After living through it, newspaper interviews, and two inquiries into the disaster, he's done enough talking on the subject. He releases my hand in favor of offering me his arm, which I gladly accept and, when the light signals that it's safe to cross North, we do so together.
Despite my perchance for haunting the streets outside the London Marconi Telegraph Office, I've never been to the restaurant Mr. Bride leads us to. It's dark inside, intimate, with only candles lighting the tables instead of electric lights. It's a good place to hide or be anonymous if you wish for anonymity, as I suspect he probably does after his adventurous Spring.
“So, you know who I am,” he starts up the conversation. “You called me by name back there. You knew about Titanic.”
“Who doesn't know about Titanic?” I play off my 'focus' with a smile and a short laugh. “It was all anyone talked about for months and months. Of course I know who you are. You're a hero. You and your friend saved a lot of lives with your wireless. Just like that Jack Bins fellow on the Republic.”
His eyes widen with interest, or perhaps surprise, at my wireless know-how. A girl's got to have hobbies. Can I help it if mine are unique?
“You have an interest in wireless telegraphy?”
I smile. “I have an interest in wireless telegraphy operators. . . .And I've said too much.”
“Most girls wait for an introduction before coming up to a fellow.”
“I'm not most girls,” I say. “I'm not British so don't much care for British girl's rules. What if I waited forever and then missed my chance and we wouldn't be sitting here now.”
“I was. . .” He thinks a moment. “I'm not used to being famous, and thought that was over and done with. It was a surprise, Miss Downie. That's all.”
“A good surprise?”
He nods. “A very good surprise.”
I grin over at him. “Brilliant.”
“So, what do you enjoy about wireless telegraphy?” He must remember my Jack Binns comment from earlier.
“Connecting to people all over the world,” I say. “Morse is sort of like a second language, or third in my case. I speak Gaelic.”
He looks surprised. “You know Morse?”
“Not well,” I concede. “I didn't go to school for it, but I. . .a friend taught me. I'm better at – what do you call it? Reading?” With his nod, I continue. “I'm better at reading then sending. I'm probably rusty now, though. It's been years and years since I was taught and I didn't keep up with it.” I laugh. “Probably because I didn't keep up with the boy who taught me.” I spread my hands, fingers wide, and look down at them, suddenly embarrassed. “So, what I said before about having an interest in wireless telegraphy operators is mostly true. My – well, I suppose he is my ex-fiancee since we were engaged, even briefly. . .At any rate, my friend, who is a wireless telegraphy operator,got me interested in it when we were kids so that's how I know about it and that's. . .that's why I knew about you. Why I followed your story above anyone else after the disaster. Because you're a wireless operator.”
“Are you engaged now?”
I hold up my ringless ten fingers. “Free and clear for years and years.”
I think he mutters “good” but it's around a mouthful of mashed potatoes so I could be wrong. Suddenly, a flash of a horrid newspaper article comes to mind of an even more horrid girl who claimed she was engaged to Harold Bride. I remember tearing up the clipping and crying all afternoon when it ran and, now, I hope it was just some attention seeker hoping for a quick quid from the paper wild to run a story about the Titanic Hero without checking facts first.
“Are you?” I turn his question around on him.
He holds up his hands, long fingers spread wide. There's a signet ring on his middle finger right hand but I recognize it as a Marconi Graduation ring. “Free and clear my whole life.”
“Good.” I don't bother to mutter it around anything. I'm not one to hide my intentions or emotions. Maybe that scares people or loses friends, but life is too short to be indirect. I tilt my chin up, determined, when Mr. Bride blinks several times in surprise. “What? Does that shock you? Too forward?” I point at myself. “Not British, remember?”
“I. . .” He takes a long drink of his tea. “I think I can get used to it.”
“I know you're being polite and British and just doing things as you were raised to, but you can leave off with the 'Miss Downie' bit and start calling me 'Lucy',” I say. “I don't mind. I won't think you're being rude. Honest.”
“Lucy.” He breaths my name like a prayer. I get the feeling he's been calling me that in his head all night and is happy to finally be given permission to use it out loud. “And, please, do the same. No more 'Mr. Bride.' It's Harold.”
“Harold.” I sip at my tea. “Do you, um, ever go by anything easier to say? It's sort of like a tongue twister with my accent.”
“When I was a very little boy, my family called me 'Harry' but no one but Thomas has called me that for years,” he says. “He only uses it now because he says it's too queer to say his own name out loud.”
“There we go then. Now, who is Thomas?”
“Harold Thomas Cottam. From the rescue ship Carpathia.”
I suck in my breath at such a casual mention of another hero of the Titanic disaster. “You know him?”
“Of course I know him. He's my best mate.” He takes a sip of tea, though he must know I'm dying for details. “He has been for years. Thomas introduced me to wireless telegraphy and helped build my first aerial antenna. He introduced me to Jack Phillips too. We've. . .We've been through quite a lot together.”
“Now, I think that's the understatement of the year.”
Harry gives a little laugh, though not in a humorous way. “Thomas understands. I've needed that this year.”
I reach my hand out across the table, palm up. He places his hand in mine, our fingers lacing together as if they were made just for that purpose. “I may not understand – not as much as Thomas does – but I can listen. If you let me in, if you want to, I can listen. The more I listen, the more I'll understand.”
“I'd. . .I'd like that. I'd like that very much, Lucy.”
“I'd like that very much too, Harry.”
“Is tomorrow too soon to ask to see you again?” Harry asks after we finish our meal. “Forgive me, I don't know the protocol for these sorts of things, but I figured a forward, non-British girl like you wouldn't mind.”
I grin. “Same time?”
He fishes in his pockets before producing a blank telegram slip and handing it to me (as if I didn't know where he works). “My work address. I'll leave word up front that I'm expecting you around – five?” I nod that the time is acceptable before he continues. “There were gawkers in those early days after the disaster when I worked up front so I requested to be moved to working one of the sets in the back. I can't bear shipboard – not yet, I tried – so it's land for me till I'm ready to go back to sea.”
“I'll cook tomorrow,” I offer. “Any requests?”
“You keep saying that.”
“You keep surprising me.”
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