This is the tenth part of a fiction serial, in 1270 words.
April 1912. Agatha De Vere Finds a doll in the water.
A holiday would be nice, she decided. Agatha wrote to the shipping agent, enclosing a cheque for two first class tickets. Bea would love it, she had always wanted to see America. She allowed herself a warm smile. Wait until the tickets arrive, how delighted she will be.
Agatha De Vere had never married. She didn’t actually care for men that much, and had been relieved when her father hadn’t returned from military service in India. Fever, they said, but the diagnosis wasn’t specific. Buried quickly, given the heat. Then her brother Alfred went into the army, and she was left alone in the house with mother and the servants. Mother rarely left her bedroom, living her life in a laudanum haze. It seemed that she had never recovered from the shock of her wedding night, and the terrible realisation of just what her wifely duties would involve.
It wasn’t long before she expired, drifting off to sleep one night, and never waking up. Alfred had married in India, where he was serving with the cavalry. A plain girl, by all accounts. Dumpy, and unprepossessing. The daughter of some clerk with the Civil Service. Just like Alfred to take the easy option. Agatha relished being the Mistress of the house in his absence, and brightened the interior considerably. The family had plenty of money, and she thought it was high time that some of it was spent. Her next plan was to find herself a companion, and she wrote to a recruitment agency in London, that specialised in such things.
The first to arrive was Anna. A tall girl from Germany, she spoke passable English, played the piano, and her needlework was exemplary. A natural blonde with a slim figure, Agatha took to her immediately. But her attempts to become closer than just employer and companion were not reciprocated. Anna made it quite clear that she was not welcome in her room. She valued her privacy, apparently. And the occasional straying of a hand onto her shoulder or long neck always resulted in a flinch. It wasn’t going to work. Anna had to go.
Felicity arrived next. An attractive young woman from a formerly influential family that had fallen upon hard times after bad investments. Agatha thought she might be promising indeed, but once she was settled in, she talked constantly of her love of men. She drooled over their moustaches, and their fine figures in dress suits. One day she went so far as to comment that the new coachman was ‘built like a young stallion’. Not suitable at all.
Felicity had to go.
She decided to try again, six months later. Beatrice was far from what she expected in a companion. Barely middle class, from humble origins in a forgettable mill town, she was short and buxom, and spoke no languages.
She had read very little of note, and could not sew above darning her father’s socks. But her eyes were large and enticing, and she could sing. Oh, how she could sing. She loved the modern songs of the day, and Agatha ordered the sheet music for them, so she could accompany her singing on the piano in the music room. More importantly, she doted on her new employer, and expressed a desire that they should become great friends. After dinner, they would sit quietly in front of the fire, and Agatha would feel the excitement of knowing Bea’s eyes were upon her.
When she had waited long enough with trembling anticipation, she went to Bea’s room late one night, dressed only in her nightgown. The two women exchanged a knowing look, and Bea moved across the bed, turning back the covers in invitation.
Beatrice would stay.
The following years were the best in Agatha’s life, and in Beatrice’s too. They kept up a veneer of respectability around the house, and had to accept that they could never openly declare their love. Instead, foreign travel provided an escape, and a chance to avoid gossiping servants, or busybody villagers.
The delights of Rome and Florence, and exotic bazaars in Cairo and Marrakesh. Beatrice expanded her knowledge along with her horizons, and Agatha joyously welcomed her devoted attentions, as well as her loving embraces.
Now they would see America. Well, New York to start with, then perhaps travel to the emerging west. And they would do it in style, on board the most luxurious ship afloat. RMS Titanic certainly lived up to its name. As they boarded the ship in Southampton, Bea was wide-eyed at the sheer scale and grandeur of it. They were to share a beautiful stateroom too, one of the best and most expensive on the vessel. When they closed the door to the huge cabin, Bea turned and kissed Agatha passionately. “Thank you, my dearest love. Oh, thank you so”, she whispered breathlessly.
The first days on board were simply marvellous. Their status as first class passengers had them hobnobbing with famous people of the day, and the conversation at the dinner table was refined and most interesting. Wonderful food and unlimited drinks added to the feel of decadence, leading the pair to retire early most evenings, to make the most of their time alone.
As they slept soundly together one night, satiated, and blissfully happy in their dreams, they were awoken by a sound of general disturbance, and a steward rapping hard against their door. Bea quickly wrapped a shawl around her nightgown, and opened the door just a little. The man didn’t seem too desperate, but his tone was urgent. “Begging your pardon Miss, but the First Officer says that everyone is to get dressed, and come up on deck. We are going to have to abandon ship, I’m afraid. Something has gone wrong. Bring no luggage mind, and wrap up warm”. Bea turned and looked at the bed. Agatha was sitting up, and had heard him. As she swung her legs out of bed, she smiled at her lover. “I hope this is not some sort of stupid drill, Bea. It’s cold out there”.
They were handed life-jackets, and sailors showed them how to tie them on. The ship wasn’t moving at all, but seemed stable in the water. Perhaps it was a drill after all, Agatha thought. A polite officer helped Agatha into a seat next to a rather brash American woman, who was encouraging everyone not to panic. Nobody was panicking, so why was she going on about it? The officer stepped back onto the deck to offer a hand to Beatrice. As she walked forward, the bows of the ship dipped slightly, and the lifeboat swung away from the side of the ship.
Bea stepped into thin air, and plummeted silently down the side of the ship, straight into the freezing cold sea. Two sailors heaved a lifebelt over the side, a huge circular thing, with the name of the ship printed on it. The crew of the lifeboat began to lower it down hurriedly, hoping to be able to get to the woman who had gone over the side.
Agatha’s eyes searched the black ocean until they grew raw from the salt spray. She was never to see her beloved Beatrice again. As they pulled away from the sinking ship, she saw something floating on the surface, attracted to it by a flash of yellow shown up in the rocket flares being fired from the deck. It was hair. Blonde hair.
Reaching over the side, she plucked the waterlogged doll from the waves, and clutched it to her breast.