New York City, 1st May, 1912
Jennifer stood outside the imposing arch which fronted the Chelsea Piers. She had promised Max she would stay away, that this first day of the new month, nearly two weeks after their arrival in New York City, would be the first day of their new life. But it had proved impossible, the draw of the dockside overpowering, the hope that against all odds her sister was alive drawing her back again and again to the place where the Titanic should have berthed. As had Max prepared to leave for his office that morning, she had pasted a smile on to her face, promised that she would look through the real estate details of the premises for their new business, and told him stoically that she was fine, just fine.
She was not, though she was putting up a good pretence of coping because that’s what her nature dictated. Max hadn’t believed her, but he was not, thank goodness, the kind of man who assumed he knew best. One of the things she loved about him most was the enormous effort he made not to be overly-protective, not to wrap her in cotton, not to make her decisions for her. ‘This is our life,’ he told her each night as he tried to persuade her to look forward, ‘not just mine. Whatever our future is, we’ll make it together.’
But how could she look forward when the past was still unresolved? Max had told her he loved her on board the RMS Carpathia, but she had not returned the sentiment. Not aloud. ‘I’d know if something had happened to her,’ Jennifer had said instead, repeating the words of comfort Max had offered her.
He had agreed, all the way to New York, for days afterwards, but now, when she said those words, he remained silent. It wasn’t punishment for his realism, but superstition which made her hold back telling him how she felt about him. She knew she loved him, had known as she watched from the lifeboat as the Titanic went down, but she couldn’t tell him. It was foolish, but she felt if she told him she’d be giving up on Maud. Jennifer’s fingers crept to the necklace which bore her name. ‘I love you, Maudie,’ she whispered instead.
The necklace was the partner of the one her twin sister wore. It was the one tangible thing which gave credence to her belief that Maud was not dead. None of the drowned brought to shore in Canada had worn such a necklace, Max told her, after he had pulled every possible string to find out. Though many of the drowned were not recovered, he had added, gently but firmly. Another thing she loved about him, his honesty. But he was wrong. He had to be wrong.
‘Maudie.’ Jennifer closed her eyes tight, oblivious of the hustle and bustle around her. ‘Maud,’ she whispered, remembering that last moment together when her sister had thrown her into the lifeboat. Jennifer delved down, into her heart, into the deepest part of herself, where her twin had always lived. Her shadow. Her other half. And Maud was there still. She was there.
A blast from a ship’s funnel made Jennifer jump. Turning her back on the Chelsea Piers, she made her way towards a smaller, less glamorous, open quay, where a smaller and much less glamorous ship than anything Cunard owned was berthing. She watched as the stevedores secured the ropes and pulled the gangways into place. The passengers, clutching wicker baskets and bundles of belongings tied with rope, trailing children, were obviously of the poorest sort. They walked towards customs in that dazed, swaying way of the disoriented who had been too long at sea. She’d noticed it before on her daily visits here, as she gazed out in the direction of the ocean. It wasn’t that she sought Maud, simply that she was drawn here, to this place of arrivals and beginnings. Of hope, burning inside her like the Statue of Liberty’s flame.
The deck of the new arrival was empty now, save for one woman standing at the top of the gangplank. The man at her side, in a thick seaman’s jumper, was obviously crew. The woman was laughing. Jennifer’s heart lurched. It was the way the woman tilted her head up to look at the man. Flirtatious, that look was, capricious, confident of her attraction.
It could not be. It simply wasn’t possible.
Jennifer pushed through customs, ignoring the warning shout from the officials. It simply wasn’t possible, yet her heart, her blood, her very bones told her it was. She pulled herself free of an official grasp, and started to run.
‘Maud!’ The woman turned. She wore a shawl, for goodness sake. Cumbersome black boots. A thick tweed skirt. The sort of clothes Jennifer’s smart, perfectly-turned-out twin would never wear in a million years. Unless she had no alternative. Unless she had had to borrow…
‘Maud!’ This time Jennifer’s cry was louder. Wilder. There was an edge of hysteria to it which made several people on the dockside turn to watch. ‘Maud!.
Her sister’s voice was a high-pitched scream of delight. And it was her sister. It really was her sister, hurtling down the gangway, throwing herself into Jennifer’s arms, sobbing and laughing. And it didn’t matter how she had survived, how she came to be here on this tramp steamer, wearing the clothes of a farmer’s wife, because all that mattered was that she was here. Alive. And Max had been right after all, even though he thought he was wrong. She would have known. She had known.
It felt like forever as they hugged, standing on the quay, watched by passengers, stevedores, dockside officials and ship’s crew. The sisters hugged and kissed, and Maud spluttered out a garbled story about being picked up by a whaler. ‘And just in time. I was unconscious. I still don’t know what happened after you disappeared down the side of the ship. I don’t remember anything, not a single thing. And those poor whalers didn’t know what to do with me because of course they weren’t supposed to be whaling there in the first place. They knew my name because of this,’ Maud said, touching her necklace. ‘I don’t know exactly what happened, but somehow they got me off the whaler and onto the Gemini, which I thought must be fate, because of the twin thing you know, and…’
‘And she assured me that her sister would recompense us beyond all our worldly dreams because she was, if not married, as good as, to one of the richest men in New York,’ a deep voice edged with laughter interrupted.
‘Alan!’ Maud exclaimed. ‘Jennifer, this is Alan, who is the first mate on the Gemini.’
‘And who, before you ask, wants nothing in return for handing over this young lady except her eternal gratitude. Alan McPherson, Miss Spencer, it is a pleasure to meet you.’
If the way Mr McPherson looked at Maud was anything to go by, he was already her slave, Jennifer thought as she shook his calloused hand. ‘I don’t know if I have words enough to thank you,’ she muttered, for her throat was suddenly clogged at the realisation that she really wasn’t dreaming.
‘Not tears, Jenny. You must have known that I’d turn up like the proverbial bad penny,’ Maud said, kissing her sister’s cheek. ‘And is it still Miss Spencer, incidentally? Your Max has surely asked you by now.’
Jennifer blushed. ‘He has.’
‘And you’ve said yes, Jenny?’
She hadn’t said anything, and he hadn’t pushed her. He could wait, he’d said. But as she gazed around her, at the bustling docks, at her incorrigible, irrepressible, beloved twin and Maud’s unlikely rescuer, Jennifer felt a deep-seated glow, which made New York city, for the first time since her arrival, seem like the new world she had hoped for. She hadn’t said yes, but she would, just as soon as she saw Max.
‘Yes,’ would be the second thing she would say. The first thing would be, ‘I love you.’
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