Alice sat quietly, waiting for her turn to be called to testify. It had been several weeks since the sinking. She kept her hands folded in her lap and she gazed at the floor. Her thoughts wandered back to the sinking, trying to remember all the details. It all seemed a blur.
“Miss Clarke, would you please come in now?” A tall gentleman held the door open for her. She rose and entered the room. The gentleman guided her to a seat in front of the committee.
“Will you please state your name and place of residence?” one of the senators asked.
“Alice Clarke; formerly of London, England. Right now I’m staying in New York, but I’m not sure where I’ll end up.” Her voice sounded tiny and strange to her ears.
“What was your purpose in boarding the Titanic?”
“I was in the employ of Mr. and Mrs. Fillbrook, of Montreal, Canada. I had been engaged to look after their infant son, Henry Fillbrook.”
“How long did you work for the Fillbrooks?”
“I had just been hired a week earlier, sir.” Alice dared to dart a glance at the men asking the questions. They seemed so serious and proper. The one in the center, a Senator Smith, seemed to be asking most of the questions.
“And did any of the Fillbrooks survive?”
“Only Henry, sir. I took him aboard a lifeboat.”
“None of the others survived?”
“How many of the Fillbrook family were on board?”
Alice paused a moment to steady herself. Tears were welling in her eyes. “There was Mr. and Mrs. Fillbrook, their daughter, Claire, who was two years old, and Henry, who was ten months.”
“Very well. Would you please tell us, Miss Clarke, what happened?” Senator Smith looked directly at her for the first time.
“Well, sir,” she began. Her hands twisted a handkerchief. “Sarah—that’s the other nurse—she and I watched the children. Mr. and Mrs. Fillbrook looked in on them from time to time. Sarah and I had gone to bed. The children were already asleep, you see. I felt something different with the ship, but I went back to sleep.” She dare not tell the truth of where she had been with Tom. “A knock sounded at the door, and I got up to open it. A steward was there. He told us to dress warmly and put on our lifebelts. Sarah and I talked about it for a couple of minutes, wondering what had happened. We got dressed and packed some things for the children, sir. Then we took the children to their parents’ room.”
“And then what happened, Miss Clarke?”
“We sat there for several minutes. The children were cranky because they had been awakened, which distressed Mrs. Fillbrook. Mr. Fillbrook was saying that there was nothing to worry about and we should all go back to bed.”
“Go back to bed? Even after the stewards told you to put on lifebelts?” The senator looked at her.
“Yes, sir. Another steward opened the door and advised us to go to the boat deck. Mr. Fillbrook told him to go away.”
“He told the steward to go away?” He wrote something down.
“Yes, sir.” Alice’s voice got quiet.
“Did he change his mind?”
“No, sir. I was getting frightened. I grabbed Henry and the bag I had packed and rushed out the door.”
“Against the wishes of your employer?”
“Yes, sir.” Alice dropped her eyes to the floor. “I was that scared. And I couldn’t leave little Henry there.”
“All right. Then what did you do?”
“I ended up in a right crowd of passengers. We were making our way through the first class smoking room, I know ladies don’t usually go there, but I was following the path the other passengers were taking. I had Henry in my arms. No one seemed to be in a big rush. They took their time, stopping to talk to others, blocking the way.”
“Did you see anyone you knew or recognized?”
“I saw Mr. Andrews, sir. He was sitting near the big white mantel in the middle of the room. He looked distracted. Distracted and worried, sir.”
“How did you know Mr. Andrews?”
Should she speak up? She didn’t want to lie under oath, but she didn’t want his indiscretion to shame his memory. A partial truth, that would probably be best. “I met him in the library, sir. He introduced himself and asked me to recommend him a book. I remembered him because I thought he was,” her voice dropped even lower, “rather handsome, sir. He remained in my mind.”
“I see. You say he seemed distracted?”
“Yes, sir. He looked right worried. And sad.”
“Sad, you say?” Senator Smith leaned forward. This was the first testimony he’d heard regarding the ship’s designer at this juncture of the disaster.
“Was he doing anything?”
“Just sitting, sir. He looked at me and my heart just broke.” Alice’s voice cracked. Her hand raised to cover her mouth as tears spilled. The air suddenly felt overly warm and the room began to swim.
“What lifeboat were you on?”
The words weren’t making sense any longer; she covered her face with her hands and closed her eyes for a moment.
“Some of the other witnesses have mentioned a mystery ship. Did you see a light while you were in the lifeboat?”
“A light. Yes, sir. It seemed to sit—” Heat quickly traveled up her body, and the room became very bright before going dark.
Alice woke up in an office. Someone had carried her to a sofa and lain her down until she recovered. It took a while for her to remember she had been at the inquiry.
“What happened?” she asked.
“You fainted while you were testifying. How do you feel?” A woman in a gray dress was sitting near her. She leaned forward so Alice could see her easily.
“Oh.” Alice tried to sit up, but she felt woozy.
“Just lie back. Let me bring the doctor.”