She looks at me with wide eyes, a frail hand resting on the banister. There is a moment's hesitation, and she refuses to set foot on the board while I haven't answered her question.
"Elizabeth?" she repeats. "Is it really as they say?"
I smile and gently nudge her forwards. "Unsinkable? Absolutely."
Mathilda looks like me. She reminds me of the person I once was, careless, wild, free. That person is long gone. Today, I have Mathilda to look after, since neither our mother nor father are there to do so anymore.
As the heel of my boot resounds against the wooden planks, I let the memories assault me, and I feel anger rise with them.
Mother had no right to die when she gave birth to Mathilda as I was merely eight years old. Father had no right to remarry as I had barely accepted the fact that Mother was dead two years ago. Father had no right to die last year when I had just turned one and twenty. And the horrid woman he had married had no right whatsoever to send us off to America at father's death.
My slender fingers clench up into fists at the thought of that woman. She makes my skin crawl, with her heavily lathered makeup, her clipped tone and her expensive perfume, expensive clothes and shoes and hats that she spends all mine and Mathilda’s money for.
There is no more money.
She granted us both enough for the trip, not a penny more.
You should be flattered, Elizabeth, that I still take time for you and your sister. I could, after all, have you abandoned in the streets. But I have found another solution. You will both be sailing to the United States of America in less than a year, where your mother's aunt resides. She, I am sure, will accept to take you in.
Mother's Aunt Henrietta will not be taking us in. She has been dead for years. However, there was no need for the sickening woman talking to me to be aware of this fact. Leaving, with no idea of what awaits us, is better than staying here.
We are greeted by a steward, who gives our tickets a quick look. His eyes linger on me rather than on the cabin numbers printed black against the cream paper, and I stiffly accept it when he hands them back over.
"All is in order," he smiles. "Have a nice trip."
His teeth truly are in a dreadful state.
Another steward, less surly, carries our only trunk to our cabin. I can sense that Mathilda, walking closely behind me, wishes to cling to my hand, but does not dare to do so.
She is afraid.
The cabin we share is small, but clean. Crisp linen sheets are spread over the beds, still faintly smelling of lavender. Mathilda sits on one of the beds, rocking back and forth nervously. Her attention is caught by the light streaming through the porthole behind her.
Carefully, she turns around, kneeling on the bed to look outside at the rippling ocean that extends infinitely in front of her.
"Elizabeth," she calls to me while I begin to unpack our meagre belongings. "Look at how beautiful the water is. I am sure I read a poem about the Atlantic not so long ago, can you not remember who wrote it?"
I shake my head, and she sighs, resuming to her silent contemplation.
I never was one for poetry anyway.
Mathilda is doubled over a china bowl, conveniently placed on the small table separating our beds. Her face is pale, covered by a sheen of sweat, and she heaves the contents of her stomach away, her body shaking with each spasm.
I hold her hair back, murmuring soothing words to her as she retches once more, bile black as ink.
"Water," she croaks. "Please."
Wordlessly, I hand her a glass that is half-full, and she drinks it slowly, testing the reactions of her fragile stomach. When the glass has been emptied, she smiles weakly.
"I think I will stay here and rest," she informs me, gathering up her skirts. "If you wish to take a walk on the deck, please do so. I will stay here until you come back, unless I have your permission to explore the area on my own afterwards."
"I think it is better that you wait for me here," I tell her quietly, brushing a lock of hair out of her face, "but I will not be long."
She has already crawled to bed, having removed her heavy skirt. "Take your time, and if I am asleep please take care not to wake me."
I smile at the sight of her eyes fluttering shut. "I will. Sleep well, little one."
I am leaning forwards, one hand on the rail, the other holding a lit cigarette. I remember the harlot's words when she discovered me in such a situation for the first time, with a cigarette I had stolen from the cook.
Terribly, terribly improper habit for a young lady. Smoking, and in public! What a disgrace you are to your father and to myself…
She never understood that I had taken to smoking only to infuriate her. I bring the cigarette up to my lips, smiling wryly at the memory while the smoke fills up my lungs. Slowly, I exhale, watching the grey cloud spiral out before it vanishes into nothingness.
"Care to spare one of those?" A low voice breaks your thoughts, startling me.
A young man is standing besides me. He has hair the colour of damp sand that falls into his warm brown eyes, and I feel my fickle heart miss a beat as he flashes me a smile that reveals two rows of perfect teeth.
Wordlessly, I hand him a cigarette. He lights it with a match that he throws away casually, and I can't help but notice how his muscles flex under his white shirt, accompanying his movement.
"Jeremy Abbott, by the way."
"What is a young girl like you doing here on her own?"
I feel anger rise up in me at his words; it often does when people take me for a child. "I am not a young girl," I spit. "A young girl would be incapable of defending herself, which I assure you is not my case."
He laughs. "I would like to see that."
My left hand immediately finds its way to his collar while I raise my right fist. It collides with his nose with a crunching sound, and blood is everywhere as he staggers back. My fingers uncurl one by one, knuckles cracking, and I pull out a clean handkerchief that I hand him disdainfully. He dabs his face with it, not taking his eyes off me.
"Goodnight, Mr Abbott," I say coolly. "I was delighted to meet you."
I am having breakfast with Mathilda the next morning when he walks up to our table.
"I believe I have something of yours, Miss Alberts."
I do not reply, instead analysing his face. It should be bruised, swollen, his nose bent to the side; but no, it is as if nothing has happened. His nose is as straight as it ever was. If I did not know better, I would say it was magic, but this is ridiculous. Magic does not exist.
"Your handkerchief," he holds it out for me to take. Once more, I am surprised: there is not a hint of blood on it, though God knows how difficult it is to remove blood stains from cotton.
I gingerly accept the folded piece of the cloth, and resume chasing my beans around the rim of the white china plate, expecting him to go away.
He does not, instead sliding his lean frame into the chair across mine. Mathilda looks at him curiously, then at me, trying to understand why I would have given a perfect stranger my handkerchief, but I shake my head imperceptibly.
Now is not the time.
A waiter advances towards our table to take Jeremy Abbott's orders, and I sit there, irritated, drumming my fingers against the gleaming panelled wood of the table.
When his food has been served and the waiter dismissed, I drop my voice to a furious hiss.
"What on Earth do you think you're doing?"
"Where did you learn to fight, Miss Alberts?"
He has called me by my surname, and for some inexplicable reason this reassures me. Not all morals are lost to him. Stiffly, I take a sip of my coffee, black, no sugar, no milk, and dab the corner of my mouth with a napkin, pressing a corner firmly to my mouth to leave no trace of the beverage.
"I grew up near the sea. It was common for me to spend a vast part of my time as a child near the ships, and I was taught to fight like man by the dockers, who took me under their wing."
"Ah," he nods. "Were those skills ever of any use before yesterday?"
I remember the bruises, the gashes, the pain, the blood, the scraped knees and palms, the tattered trousers, full of holes and loose threads. This is information that does not concern him.
So I shake my head, answer by the negative and let the RMS Titanic continue its voyage across the Atlantic.
A/N: Hi there! This is going to have three chapters, Sailing, Sinking, and Surfacing. I hope you like Elizabeth, and I'd love to have your thoughts on her, Mathilda and Jeremy (who, in my head, is Hannah Abbott's grandfather).
I am aware that there is no magic in this yet, but Elizabeth is a Muggle... Magic will appear in the following chapter!