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Aug 28, 2020

Historical Fiction Drama

Inspired by Real Events

July 1910

           Edwin Fitzpatrick anticipated a typical journey across the Atlantic. The Laurentic was the tenth ship aboard which he served as a steward, and he had made trans-Atlantic crossings almost as many times. The excitement had worn off, numbed long ago, along with the effects of nervousness and seasickness. He went through the motions, a subservient smile plastered to his face as he “yes, sir” and “yes, ma’am”ed his way through another day, waiting for the moment he could shovel dinner down his throat with the rest of the stewards and stewardesses. He walked thus, with his head in the clouds, thinking of his fiancée back home, and his Albert, wondering if Albert might return to America now that things looked rather grim for the two of them, when his boss appeared in front of him.

           “Edwin, you have a last-minute passenger to tend to,” he announced.

           “All right,” Edwin said, groaning internally. Some haughty American fellow, no doubt, who expected the world to bend to his every need.

           “This is Mr. Dewhurst,” the second steward motioned to a gentleman approaching the two stewards. Edwin’s eyes grew wide and his brow creased for a moment, before he corrected himself and returned his facial expression to the dumb placidity of a steward. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he saw the same flicker of confusion and recognition in the passenger’s face.

           “Mr. Dewhurst?” Edwin repeated, keeping his voice devoid of any suspect inflection. “Have you any luggage, sir?”

           “Just this,” the passenger held out his singular suitcase—strange in any circumstance—and Edwin took it from him. They walked silently down the corridor to the cabin, where Edwin placed the luggage down and asked if Mr. Dewhurst would need anything else. He said no and asked to be left alone. Edwin closed the door behind him and stood still for a moment, trying to think of what could be going on. Dewhurst, he had said. But Edwin was positive he knew the man. Certainly that was Mr. Dew, the chief inspector at Scotland Yard. Why was he traveling under an assumed name aboard their ship? Was there any reason why they assigned Edwin as his steward? Paranoia stirred in his soul, but he suppressed it in order to serve the rest of his passengers.

           At 11:00 that night, Edwin returned to his cabin and collapsed onto his bed with a heavy sigh. His roommate, an old Englishman called Roger, chuckled.

           “Rough day?” Roger asked.

           “Oh, not rough, necessarily. Only…strange,” Edwin said.

           “What happened?”

           “I’m not honestly sure I can say,” Edwin said. “Do you know of any funny business aboard?”

           “Funny business?”

           “Criminal activity of any sort?”

           “Don’t be absurd! Criminal activity on the White Star Line?” Roger scoffed and returned to reading his paper.

           “Sure, aye, heaven forefend,” Edwin raised his eyebrows. He situated himself in bed and reached under his pillow to pull out the photograph he kept there: a portrait of his Albert, which Albert had taken at Edwin’s request. Edwin leaned against the headboard, long-since accustomed to the uncomfortable servants’ beds aboard ships. He smiled at the visage before him, looking so serious and noble. Edwin would have preferred it if Albert had smiled in the photograph, but that would be rather odd, anyway. He imagined Albert back at Harland & Wolff Shipyard back home in Belfast, working hard on the ship designs for the two latest, greatest model: The sister ships Olympic and Titanic

           “Who is that, anyway?” Roger grumbled.

           “Who’s who?” Edwin asked. Roger nodded at the photograph in Edwin’s hands. “You been going through my things, Roger?”

           “I have to. It’s me job.”

           “I beg your pardon?” Edwin laughed.

           “I have to make sure there’s no funny business going on in here. No criminal activity.”

           “He’s me cousin,” Edwin lied. “Not that it’s any business of yours. I know you think I’m a wee child, but I’m a grown man and a respectable servant, and I’ve been an employee of this line for the last decade. Sure, I’ll have you know Thomas Andrews happens to be a personal mate of mine—”

           “Keep yer trousers on, will ya? Bloody Irishmen,” Roger grumbled. Edwin was about to retort when the bell for Mr. Dewhurst’s room rang. For the first and only time in his career, he was relieved to have a passenger call for him in the middle of the night. Edwin tapped Albert’s lips with his forefinger then slipped the photograph under the pillow, glaring at his roommate before leaving the cabin.

           “Oi, close that door softly!” Roger yelled, just before Edwin slammed the door as hard as he could. A passing stewardess, Laurel, looked at him askance.

           “My apologies,” he smiled, “Only, I lost me grip on the doorknob.” 

           “Late night caller?” Laurel asked.

           “Don’t you know it. Though, I tell ya, something strange is happening,” Edwin said.

           “Oh?” Laurel raised her eyebrows and smiled, eager for gossip.

           “Aye. Perhaps it’s all in me head, but I could swear I’ve seen this fella before. I—well, I guess I shouldn’t tell you,” Edwin caught himself.

           “You can’t stop now! You haven’t said anything!” The stewardess implored.

           “No, no, I can’t. I’ve got in enough trouble runnin’ this blasted mouth of mine. We should probably get to shore before I do it again, so they don’t throw me overboard,” Edwin said. Then, as he began to walk away, “If you’re in the kitchen in an hour, I might be persuaded for more information.”

           “I’ll bear that in mind,” Laurel said.

           Edwin knocked on the cabin door, hoping that he would realize it had all been in his head, and that this man simply resembled Mr. Dew of Scotland Yard. Instead, when Mr. Dewhurst opened the door, Edwin was more convinced than ever that he was, in fact, Mr. Dew.

           “Good evening, sir. How can I help?” Edwin asked.

           “Come in, please,” Mr. Dew stepped aside and ushered Edwin into the cabin. Edwin tried to show neither his nerves nor his exhaustion, standing tall in the middle of the room, regarding Mr. Dew with his open, friendly smile.

           Mr. Dew seemed on the verge of telling Edwin something, but he faltered and asked if he might have some brandy brought up to his cabin.

           “Certainly, sir,” Edwin bowed slightly. “Will that be all?”

           “Yes, that should do it,” Mr. Dew said.

           “Forgive me, sir, but has anyone told you before that you’re the spit of an inspector at Scotland Yard?”

           “Oh?”

           “Aye. Mr. Dew. Forgive me once more, but I’ve forgotten your—erm, his—Christian name.”

           “Do you know Mr. Dew personally?”

           “I’ve only met him briefly,” Edwin said, hands clasped behind his back, expression and tone, he hoped, devoid of any particular inflection. “He knows someone who knows me fiancée. You know how it goes.”

           “Certainly, certainly,” Mr. Dew—it was him—nodded thoughtfully as he chewed on his pipe. “Well, I suppose there’s no use carrying on in this manner. Edwin, yes?”

           “That’s correct.”

           “And you’re correct if you thought I was Dew, not Dewhurst,” the inspector said in a whisper. He sat down on the edge of his bed and indicated that Edwin should do the same in a chair facing the bed. Edwin sat, feeling strange in doing so. He expected the second steward would be along at any moment to scold him for sitting in the presence of a passenger. The second steward was otherworldly in that regard—equipped with some sixth sense that allowed him to denote a shift in the atmosphere when some breach of conduct occurred among his men. Already having spoken too much, Edwin remained tight-lipped and awaited the inspector.

           “Few people know. The captain, a couple of officers, the wireless operator. And you,” Dew said. Edwin’s face remained blank as his mind raced with possibilities. Had a crime occurred on board the ship? Why had Edwin been appointed to look after Dew? Perhaps it was nothing suspicious—perhaps Dew requested Edwin because he saw him and happened to recognize him as someone he vaguely knew. If that had been the case, though, surely Dew would have said something upon their introduction. If anything, he seemed rather annoyed that Edwin had recognized him. It was always a nuisance to the passengers when they had to think of their stewards as living, breathing human beings who continued to live and breathe in the great wide world beyond the sea.

           He thought of the photograph of Albert, hidden under his pillow. He wondered what else Roger had seen. Letters, yet unsent, in Edwin’s desk? Telegrams received from Albert? Of course they were careful—their relationship was built on subtext and fictions. Friends, cousins, brothers, coworkers—never lovers, that unspeakable term. But what if Edwin had slipped up? Had he, in some drunken or exhausted fervor, written out a romantic letter and left it lying around his cabin? Had Roger seen it? If he had, it would only follow that he would alert someone. The natural step after that, of course, would be Edwin’s dismissal from the White Star Line and, likely, prosecution. But would they really send someone from Scotland Yard aboard? Surely, that was a bit extreme. None of it made any sense, Edwin told himself. He was not, generally, a paranoid person, but the issue of his sexuality was the one factor that could throw him into chaotic anxiety at the slightest hint that he had been found out. It was only in the midst of this feverish thought that he realized the inspector was speaking.

           “…received a telegram over the wireless. The captain says he’s sure they’re on his ship. Some think I’m mad, as there’ve been so many alleged sightings that came to nothing. But I’m inclined to believe the captain. At any rate, we certainly can’t let them get away.”

           Edwin strained to decipher what the inspector meant, but he had the distinct feeling that he should already know. Injecting and asking now would only prove that he had not been paying attention up to that point.

           “They fit the description, anyway. The lady in boy’s clothing, the old doctor apparently shaved his moustache, but he’s got marks on the bridge of his nose where his spectacles would normally be. The plan is for the Laurentic to reach Canada before the Montrose, and surprise them, as it were.”

           “It sounds like a bold plan, sir,” Edwin said, hoping this was the correct thing to say.

           “Yes, well. In my line of work, it pays to be bold,” the inspector stood. Edwin followed suit.

           “I’m envious,” Edwin chuckled. “In my line of work, being bold would likely get me sacked.” 

           “Well, we all have our place in life,” Inspector Dew ushered Edwin to the cabin door. “Good evening. I trust you’ll keep this close to your vest.”

           “Of course,” Edwin nodded.

           “Oh, and Edwin? I was serious about that brandy.”

           “Right away, sir,” Edwin closed the door softly behind him and hurried down to the kitchen, where he found Laurel sipping a glass of water. They said hello to one another and Edwin joined her at the table after grabbing a bottle of brandy and helping himself to a glass of whiskey.

           “Rough night?”

           “The brandy’s for Mr. Dew,” Edwin explained, sliding the drink away from him. “Laurel, do you keep up with the news?”

           “Of course! As best I can, any road,” Laurel said.

           “Do you know anything about a couple of fugitives—an old, mustachioed doctor and a lady dressed as a lad?”

           “Not Dr. Crippen and Ethel Le Neve?” Laurel gasped.

           “I dunno. Maybe,” Edwin shrugged. “Who are they, what’d they do?”

           “Ah, you must’ve heard of ‘em! Why, it’s only the biggest case since Jack the Ripper!” Laurel helped herself to a sip of Edwin’s whiskey and leaned over the table, jabbing her finger into the old wood as she made her point. “So, Crippen was married to this lady Cora—alias Belle—who up and left him back in, oh, January or February, I believe. That was the story, anyway. But her friends found it strange that she would just vanish off to America one day without so much as a word, and it was especially strange that she’d leave all of her clothes and jewels behind, which she seemed to have done. After some time went by, Crippen told everyone that Cora died in America, but he was quite vague and people started to wonder,” Laurel sipped her water before continuing,

           “He couldn’t come up with answers—where, exactly, she was, for example, how she died, or where she was buried. Scotland Yard got involved and, lo and behold, Crippen and his new lover suddenly disappear. Well, the inspectors went to search his house and found Cora’s remains buried under the cellar. Oh, it was right gruesome. I near about fainted when I read it. They’ve been looking for Crippen and his lover—Ethel Le Neve—ever since then. There’ve been sightings the world-over.”

           “Well,” Edwin sat back in his chair and finished off his whiskey. “Looks like you and I might be seeing them right soon.”

           “What do you mean?”

           “Never mind,” Edwin said after a moment’s hesitation. He stood up and grabbed Mr. Dew’s brandy.

           “Wait, Edwin!”

           “We really shouldn’t be down here at this hour. Go on, to your cabin with ya. I’ve got to take this up to Mr. Dew.”

           “You can’t leave me hanging like that!”

           “Never you mind, love. Sure, it’ll all be clear soon enough. Sweet dreams,” Edwin hurried out of the kitchen, leaving Laurel gaping after him as she tried to piece together the meaning behind his words. He chuckled to himself as he hurried through the corridor, a lightness in his step. How silly he had been to assume the inspector was after him, and how fascinating the truth was! He usually appreciated the solitude of life at sea, using it as a means to escape the day-to-day in Belfast, but now he couldn’t wait to compose his very first wireless cable to Albert, telling him he was collaterally part of a chase to catch England’s most wanted criminal.

           On the morning of Friday, July 29th, Edwin brought tea to Dew’s cabin, along with the news that they would reach Father Point in the Gulf of St. Lawrence that afternoon. There, Dew would disembark and await Crippen.

           “And we’re ahead of the Montrose?” Dew asked.

           “Aye, well ahead, sir,” Edwin replied as he poured the tea. 

           “Brilliant. I only hope it’s them,” Dew muttered as he reached for a scone.

           “Is there any doubt?” Edwin asked, clasping his hands behind his back. Dew eyed him with annoyance, but he answered anyway,

           “There’s doubt. I am convinced, myself. I believe Captain Kendall. But if he’s wrong, I’ve made a fool not only of myself, but of Scotland Yard and, probably, the British Empire. The whole world’s listening. It’s a strange business.”

           “I only wonder—if I may—if so much is being transmitted via this wireless, isn’t it possible Crippen has been tipped off?”

           “Captain Kendall says he’s still quite oblivious,” Dew replied, sipping his tea. “I shouldn’t be discussing this business with you.”

           “My apologies,” Edwin said. “Do you require anything else?”

           “No. But sit with me, talk. I must take my mind off the day for a while.”

           Edwin looked over his shoulder at the cabin door, causing Dew to laugh.

           “It’s quite all right, no one’s looking. If they do, I’ll tell the truth, anyway—I asked you to sit with me,” Dew said.

           “Well, if anyone comes in, you must say I protested vehemently,” Edwin said, chuckling as he relaxed into the seat opposite Dew.

           “Will you have time to enjoy Canada when we arrive?” Dew asked, dabbing the corners of his mouth with his napkin.

           “A wee bit,” Edwin said. “Though I don’t suppose there’s much to enjoy.”

           Dew laughed heartily and reached for more food. Edwin watched him eat, hoping the inspector’s laughter had covered up the grumble of Edwin’s stomach—not that the inspector would have cared, anyway. Even in this apparent show of friendship, the inspector only wished to use Edwin to assuage his nerves. Regardless, Edwin enjoyed conversation, and a steward’s life was often lonely and mundane, so he happily indulged the inspector.

           “I’m hoping to find a decent shop somewhere; I’d like to buy a gift for me—erm, me cousin,” Edwin said. “It’ll be his birthday in August. I was thinking a pocket watch, maybe, gold plated. Inscribed. Something special.”

           “I’m sure he’d appreciate that,” Dew said, between bites of scrambled egg and black pudding. “And I have heard there are shops in Canada.”

           When Dew finished his tea and breakfast, Edwin left the cabin to attend to his other passengers. At three o’clock that afternoon, the Laurentic approached Father Point. As Edwin helped Dew dress and prepare to disembark, Dew pressed a generous tip into Edwin’s hand.

           “Thank you for your service, Edwin. I’ve enjoyed my crossing tremendously,” Dew clapped Edwin on the shoulder. “I trust there’s enough there to help you find a decent gift for your cousin.”

           “Ta very much,” Edwin said, gaping at the tip in his palm. He put the money in his pocket and wished the inspector good luck before grabbing the luggage and walking Dew to the deck. “I’ve always wanted to feel I was part of history somehow,” Edwin admitted. Dew smiled and shook his hand.

           “Well, now you are,” Dew said.

           Edwin stood in place, watching the inspector disembark into a throng of reporters eagerly awaiting his arrival. He leaned against the rail and looked over the ship’s stern. Out there somewhere, the Montrose sailed along, Crippen and Ethel Le Neve enjoying the last few hours of ignorant bliss while wireless messages flew all over the world, a quiet place no more. 

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3 comments

Sylvia Luna
02:52 Sep 03, 2020

I was intrigued by the year, "1910", I'm a real nut for period pieces and it was inspired by true events. The story captivated me when Edwin referred to "my Albert", I immediately wondered who that was, was it his son, but it felt like his lover and I guess I was right as I found reading more into the story. I was waiting for Crippen and Ethel to be arrested, so felt a little let down when that didn't happen, but I guess there will be more to the story. Edwin's character felt like he was experiencing unrequited love, I felt bad that he was b...

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Hannah B
03:08 Sep 03, 2020

Thank you for the feedback! Yeah I sort of ran up against the word count limit, so the ending is a bit abrupt...but Crippen & Ethel were in fact arrested in real life. It's a very bizarre case, which is why I felt compelled to write about it. I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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Hannah B
15:16 Aug 28, 2020

Thanks for reading--just a note that Edwin is a recurring character of mine...he and Albert are characters in a novel I'm working on, and I actually started writing on this site to try my hand at writing more short stories (the idea being I'd create *new* characters...). But, when I'm working on a novel it's hard to get those characters out of my head...also, I just read about the chase across the Atlantic to catch Dr. Crippen, and I was fascinated! Anyway, ta for reading :)

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