Authors: Sean McDevitt
The following is a work of fiction.
While inspired by true events involving the
and in some instances based on direct testimony from public inquiries, all of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination- or are figures of history used in an entirely fictitious manner. The Church of All Saints in Winkleigh (Church of England, Diocese of Exeter) is a real place, and it does contain the remains of a certain Bartholomew Gidley- but it's certainly not a starting place for would-be vampire detectives, nor should it ever be treated as such.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. No disrespect toward the victims or survivors of the
disaster- or the descendants of Bartholomew Gidley- is intended, nor should be inferred.
© 2013 by Sean McDevitt.
For my father, Dr. Steven J. McDevitt, who first introduced me to the Titanic.
Joseph Bruce Ismay- known to history as J. Bruce Ismay, the chairman of the company that built the
- was born December 12th, 1862 in a small town near Liverpool. He died on October 17th, 1937 in London. However, some say he suffered a form of death on April 15th, 1912, when his beloved ship foundered in the icy waters of the North Atlantic.
A pampered, at times seeming to be unfairly blessed man about town became a pariah overnight, when word came that the chairman of the White Star Line had somehow managed to save his own hide while more than fifteen hundred souls slipped into their watery graves. Ismay did not appear to do much to improve the public perception of himself, as his testimony during official inquiries into the
disaster seemed to depict a clueless, unfeeling caricature of a man who seen, heard, and done virtually nothing while an unthinkable tragedy unfolded around him.
Not that I remember... I have no idea, sir... That I could not tell you, sir... That I could not say.
Surely those words had a hint of humanity to them when Ismay actually uttered them, but in the stark print of newspapers the world over, Ismay came across as evasive, unconcerned.
As to that I have no knowledge, sir... I could not answer that.
Almost every quote attributed to him seemed to reflect the selfish, the craven:
I'm starved; I don't care what it costs or what it is, bring it to me.
Those words were said to have come from Ismay as he set foot on the
the steamship that had sped through a dangerous field of ice in a valiant attempt to rescue those who had escaped the
Those words were absorbed by the public, accepted without question and sealed his reputation as a man who saw himself as grievously inconvenienced by a horrid turn of events that had just happened to consume the lives of hundreds upon hundreds, including women and children.
The world's rejection of Ismay was reflected in how he led his life in the years after the disaster. He never spoke publicly about the
again. Indeed, he was rarely seen by anyone at all; while his wife did continue to lead a sociable life by entertaining guests in their home, she was careful to do so only when he was away. He was apparently incapable of looking anyone in the eye upon his return to England, and during the rare occasion he was engaged in dialogue it was noticed that he would spend most of a conversation looking down at his shoes. In time, he found himself blackballed by his favorite social club. A trusted friend refused to even see him after the disaster.
It was said that in the years after the
disaster, his screaming nightmares woke up the entire household. It was decided by those close to him that- in the interest of peace- the name
should never again be mentioned in his presence.
Once a week, he would ride a train from London to Liverpool, always sitting in the exact same first-class compartment with the curtains drawn- travelling alone, never letting anyone enter or share his space. The train's porters remarked amongst themselves on those curious occasions when it was thought that the sound of soft sobbing could be heard coming from the darkened compartment, although the constant rolling thunder from the train's wheels made it impossible to say with certainty.
November 21st, 1911
Kerry Langston turned his collar up as a light early morning rain started to drizzle, and he took a long but not especially satisfying drag off his self-made cigarette. He'd been walking on the gritty stones of Church Lane for only a moment when the gloomy mist that had initially greeted him turned into little drops of water falling from the sky. After a futile attempt to cup his hand like an umbrella over his wrinkled little tube of cheap tobacco, he quickly realized that it would soon become sogged and useless in the infamous rains of Devon County, so he pitched it aside and continued on his determined path forward.
His eyes remained steadfastly focused on his target: the Parish Church of All Saints, Winkleigh, a church that dated from the 12th century and was believed to have been dedicated to Saint Thomas of Canterbury. As he approached from a westward direction, he was struck by the sheer height of the church's stone tower- more than five hundred feet, far taller than he had expected. As his eyes were pulled in awe toward the cloudy heavens, just as its architects had intended, he suddenly noticed that he'd neglected to take into account the rain. This oversight was rewarded with vision-distorting blotches on his horn rimmed glasses.
As he continued on his solitary, fog-shrouded pilgrimage under a canopy of leafless trees, Langston fumbled in the pockets of his tweed coat for what had to be the tenth time. He continually reassured himself he had in fact brought along his battered, falling-apart-at-the-seams featherweight diary that held more than a year's worth of handwritten notes, along with two pencils bearing multiple tooth marks. Slips of paper, each carefully notated with descriptions and categories, poked out from numerous sections of the diary, in the event he might need to quickly view a written reference during the course of his research. It was exactly this sort of compulsive, dogged attention to detail that had sustained him in his career as a reporter. After an attempt at restarting
an exercise in futility that had very nearly cost him and a few of his colleagues their hard won reputations- Langston now found himself frequently contracted with the
London Daily Chronicle
. He'd been keeping his editor at bay for some time now, promising a story that would, in his words, “shake the foundations of our empire.” Indeed, if Langston's suspicions on this one story were accurate, he feared that his reporting would almost certainly cause a volcanic political upheaval not only in Great Britain but the rest of the civilized world.
He cringed upon remembering the lie he'd been telling about his investigation- keeping his employer in suspense with promises of a story about a certain person being secretly held in custody by the authorities for reasons that involved the nation's security, no less. While Langston actually had no such lead, he felt it necessary to distract his editor with at least something while he tried to pull together the pieces of a puzzle that he knew would sound completely insane.
The subject of his journalistic attention, Edward Lyons, had as of yet given no sign that he had become aware of Langston's shadowy pursuit. Indeed, Lyons seemed to pay him no mind for the most part, and when he was within physical reach of the man at public functions he seemed entirely oblivious to Langston's physical existence. Lyons was an imposing figure; handsome, with a pampered moustache and steel blue eyes, altogether captivating and calculating. While Lyons never made mention of what the
had to say about him (nor did the MP ever seem to suffer any real lasting repercussion from newspaper reports) Langston's journalistic competitors did grumble amongst themselves on how he had seemingly hounded Lyons in the interest of what had to be some sort of political agenda. He had penned several articles in which Lyons appeared nothing short of bizarre as one of the few Liberal MPs in the House of Commons to oppose a so-called “People's Budget.” Although Lyons insisted that he opposed the measure strictly on fiscal and not social principles, Langston more or less succeeded in portraying Lyons as a slick opportunist looking to endear himself to some of the conservatives in the House of Lords. It was widely believed that Langston had drawn a bead on Lyons because of the MP's legendarily vocal- almost outlandish- support of women's suffrage. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Kerry Langston privately felt that women over the age of 30 should have an inalienable right to vote; Black Friday, in which hundreds of suffragettes were viciously beaten by police outside the House of Commons, had sickened him to the point of despair. A few months after Black Friday had occurred in November of 1910, his beloved sister Nancy, an East London suffragette, had endured unspeakable violence when business owners- mistaking a peaceful protest by a group of women as a violent mob about to smash windowpanes and light fires- had overreacted, and sent pots full of boiling water cascading down into the street, sending scalded, shrieking women fleeing in all directions. Fearing further retribution from those who opposed suffrage, Nancy's husband pleaded with Langston to never disclose any connection to his wounded sister in the course of his own news reporting. Therefore, any distaste for the women's movement was out of the question when it came Langston's relentless focus on Lyons; it was merely based on a sincere interest in the unique nature of a news story involving a liberal politician who opposed a tax on wealthy landowners.