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A Consequential Gift: Historical Flash Fiction (With a Twist) by cam

Updated on June 18, 2015
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Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

Violet Jessop

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Violet

Violet stood on the upper deck of the ship as it entered the harbor. Just a few days before, she had been hurrying from room to room in her small, rented cottage, grabbing the clothes and belongings she wanted to take on her new adventure. She had picked up a particular leather case, examined it with curiosity and placed it in her bag. Now, thousands of nautical miles later, her life as a cruise ship stewardess was underway. Many others from her hometown had signed up to form the crew of the liner, and she counted her blessings to have been chosen to be among their number.

Violet had joined the other crew members on the dock as they queued up to board the vessel. Her responsibilities were to be varied, cleaning cabins of the passengers, tending to children as parents enjoyed the amenities of the ship and seeing to the general comfort of everyone on board.

Day after day, Violet had labored to make the trip enjoyable for those in her care. Each night she would collapse into her bed, exhausted, yet overjoyed to have found such an exciting way to earn a living.

On the fourth evening, Violet had decided to take a walk on the deck. She secretly hoped she might catch the eye of a handsome lookout named Frederick, whose job was to scan the sea for any signs of danger. As she strolled the deck, she spotted two men in the crows nest, high up on the ship’s mast. One of the men was Frederick.

Crows Nest

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Frederick

Frederick and Violet had met the prior evening as the crew ate dinner. He told her of the responsibilities of being a lookout, but he also complained that they had not been given binoculars for doing this vital task even though they were stored aboard the ship. It seemed that the man who had the key for the storage cabinet was not along on this trip.

Violet watched Frederick take leave of his fellow lookout and enter the mast from the crows nest. According to his description, there was a ladder inside the mast which gave the lookouts access to their vantage point. He was descending to the deck as Violet’s excitement rose. She opened her handbag and checked to see that the gift was where she had placed it earlier.

“Hello, Violet. I hope you aren’t too cold out here tonight.”

“I’m fine, Frederick. I thought a brisk walk might help me sleep better.”

“I enjoyed visiting with you at dinner last night.”

“As did I. I was hoping that I might run into you this evening. I have something I want to give you.’

“A gift? I’m so embarrassed. I have nothing to give you in return.”

“Not to worry, Frederick. It’s a small gift and not even new.”

“What is it? I’m nearly overcome with curiosity.”

“It is something I’ll never have an occasion to use, so I want you to have it.” Violet reached into her bag and withdrew a leather case containing a pair of binoculars. “These belonged to my father. I have no idea what they were for or where he got them, but maybe they could help you do your job up in the crows nest.

“This is a marvelous gift, Violet. Listen, I must get back to my post. I’ll take the binoculars with me and see how well they work.” The two said goodnight and Frederick climbed back up the mast with a pair of binoculars swinging from his neck.

Lookout Scanning the Sea With Binoculars

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Trouble at Sea, Averted

Later that night, Violet was awakened by three rings of a bell, the signal from the crows nest that danger had been sighted. She heard the vessel’s engines screaming and felt the ship slowly change direction. She quickly dressed and returned to the deck.

Violet scanned the surrounding sea for any sign of the danger they were in, but only saw an iceberg, like many they had already encountered, and this one was a safe distance to the starboard side.

Hazards of the Sea

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Violet looked up at the crows nest and was thrilled to see Frederick waving and holding up the binoculars she had given him.

“They worked,” he shouted. “That might have been a close call otherwise.”

Violet brought her mind back to the present as the great cruise ship entered New York Harbor. The 1,317 passengers and 885 crew members could now celebrate the successful maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic.

RMS Titanic

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The Truth of the Matter

  • The iceberg in the photo above, was the actual one that sunk the Titanic. The photo was taken by the chief steward of the liner Prinz Adalbert
  • There was a stewardess on board the Titanic by the name of Violet Jessop. She survived the terrible night aboard a lifeboat. She continued her occupation as a cruise ship stewardess and was aboard the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic, when it went down in 1916. She survived that ordeal as well and went on to serve nearly fifty years as a stewardess aboard ocean liners.
  • Frederick Fleet was the lookout who spotted the iceberg from the Titanic’s crows nest and rang the bell three times as a warning of danger ahead.
  • Binoculars were supposed to have been issued to the lookouts, but due to a mixup of sorts, the binoculars were not available. The night of the disaster was dark, with only the stars and the ship’s lights to illuminate the surrounding seas. It has been reasoned that in such conditions, binoculars would not have helped. But Frederick did see the iceberg with his naked eyes. Might he have seen it even a few precious seconds earlier with binoculars? Might he have seen it precious minutes earlier? Might the disaster have been lessened or even averted, had he been issued binoculars? Of course, we will never know.

Frederick Fleet

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working

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