Above is an aging painting I made of my obsession with Queen Mary when I was a teenager (and can’t believe how the years have passed). She is at a full-gallop at sunset on the North Atlantic with an enormous bow wave breaking at her stem due to speed. Racing at approximately 32 knots, she was the fastest, largest, most popular and luxurious liner on the transatlantic run. Her 24 boilers were 3 stories high and supplied steam to the engines which produced 240,000 horse power to propel the ship’s 81,000 tons. Although it is obvious I am not a full-fledged artist, creating this portrait of her was very satisfactory to me then and now. Many friends and family have color copies made which they then frame in 11X14.
Below is an excerpt from “The Travelers” depicting Jim and Jess Bennett aboard in 1947 headed for New York. The building action prefaces the unnerving feeling Jim and Jess felt of being at full speed then, with a complete loss of power, absolutely dead in the water. This is from the last part of a chapter before the extraterrestrial encounter occurs.
“We arrived at the Southampton docks on a dark, foggy morning and Jess and her mother were both quite subdued, understandably. The fog drifted in thick blankets around us but an endless black wall of portholes and those famous stacks peeked through. This was the first time Jess had ever seen her and the first time I’d seen her in peacetime colors so when the occasional ray of sunshine melted through the fog and we saw her clearly in all her glory, our breath was literally taken away. We had no choice but be staggered by her, like being in the presence of royalty.”
Guy was familiar with that lifelike facet of the Queen Mary and could easily imagine her asserting her dominance over the entire harbor.
“Jess embraced her mother fiercely for a very long time but never broke. Her mother sobbed, as you can imagine, but Jess held her tight and silently hid her face in her mother’s hair. Her mother understood her much better than I and undoubtedly knew her daughter was screaming inside. After they parted, we walked up a narrow canvas gangway with Queen Mary emblazoned on its sides and Jess never looked back. Of course she didn’t look up, either, until we stepped aboard. She didn’t want to wave to her mother from the railing as we pulled away from dock. Safer that way, I suspect.
“We found ourselves in another world. Queen Mary was not at all what I remembered as a troopship. Looking back, I can see how young we were with only one suitcase between us, standing so completely overwhelmed by those glistening wood interiors. We really were backward kids, barely out of our teens, and we wandered for hours taking everything in. How simple we must have appeared. She lingered in the Swimming Pool with its elaborate staircase and balcony, richly tiled all the way to the ceiling that was mother of pearl. It was empty but not quiet with the water splashing against the sides with the movement of the ship. The lounge was the most beautiful room on the ship and in light of what we would encounter there in a few days, I will grant you that Jess recalls every mirror, chair, and column just as I do. I remember how hesitant she was when we opened the door to our stateroom, B27, starboard forward. At first, she wouldn’t step over the threshold but peered in as if she were afraid her shoes would soil the carpeting.
“The Dining Room was as soaring and majestic as any cathedral I had seen and we were both embarrassed to be so under-dressed. Good God, we were out of place with those tuxedoes and gowns all around us. I wore my uniform which had some formality but poor Jess had only a yellow chiffon dress she’d bought for Easter services a few years before. ‘Memories of a lifetime,’ I kept whispering to her. When a waiter came to our table and began to flambé a dish, all diners turned excitedly toward us. Jess was mortified. When the flames burst upward, she screamed and brought a ripple of laughter. Our unease must have been glaringly obvious because an older couple watched us from a nearby table for some time, smiling at us and we were certainly the topic of their conversation. Before dessert, they came over and introduced themselves as Frank and Emily Schofield from upstate New York and we were placed under their wing for the rest of the voyage.
“Now, Guy, sometimes older people take a vicarious interest in young people in love because that is a part of their lives that has become history. They can’t help themselves. As you age, you’ll understand the fascination, mark my words. Well, Mr. and Mrs. Schofield had been married for so long that they were able to complete each other’s sentences, or rather, Mrs. Schofield completed his sentences. She always carried their conversation. I have never met another human being who could talk like her. Her husband rarely finished a sentence and he simply nodded when she asked, ‘Isn’t that right, Frank?’ I told Jess that we needed to open a porthole after she left to let all the words out. They seemed ancient to us but young people have no concept of age whatsoever and they were certainly not as old as I am today.
“They owned three restaurants in Manhattan and were expert people-watchers. Mrs. Schofield proudly told us she knew from first sight that we were not newlyweds but were just beginning our marriage, we had never been aboard a luxury liner, we were not traveling for pleasure, I wanted only the simple things in life and, amazingly, she said that Jess was a very guarded person with her emotions. Looking back, I believe she recognized the obvious but we dumb kids thought she had some supernatural ability that, by the way, she did nothing to discourage. She also informed us that she would be happy to read our tea leaves.
“The Schofields were early risers and knocked on our cabin door each morning at five for a ‘constitutional’ walk on the Promenade Deck. Jess was queasy this particular morning after an incredibly rough gale the day before and almost didn’t get out of bed.”
Guy interrupted with some wonder, “The message indicated that there had been rough weather and, in fact, Illingworth commented that it ‘gave passengers fits’.”
Jim nodded. “Yes, it was quite rough but September 6, 1947 dawned with a much smoother sea. At the last moment, Jess decided to go with us. It was bitterly cold but the first rays of sunlight reached out over the ocean and cast the Queen Mary’s promenade deck in bronze. We walked and waited for the sun to peek over the horizon, listening to Mrs. Schofield talk all the while.”
“Do you remember an electrical storm?” Guy asked.
“Yes. Lightning streaked from the dark clouds across the western sky. Yet there was no thunder.”
“What about static electricity?”
Jim nodded gravely. “But that was overshadowed by the concern that we felt when the deck lights went out and then, within seconds, the engines stopped.”
Guy felt a quickening of his pulse as that inner music drove onward in tempo and timbre, a marching progression toward the crescendo of revelation. “That was the electrical interference again but much closer; close enough to trip every breaker,” he ventured. “And with the electrical systems gone, the engines must have shut down completely. I’ll bet the navigational systems were gone as well.”
“I have no idea,” Jim said. “The decks were, of course, deserted at that hour except for some officers on their rounds. We saw two of them racing toward the bridge, no doubt to inquire about the sudden stopping. We hadn’t felt anything to indicate a collision and I remember wondering aloud if she hadn’t thrown a propeller. But that didn’t explain the loss of power. The Queen Mary was absolutely dead in the water and it was a strange feeling to drift lazily after being at a full gallop for three days. The sunshine slowly faded as those dark clouds from the west overcame us. The humidity changed as well. Our coats and shawls became unbearably warm and condensation was forming on the promenade windows. Streaks of lightning began striking all around the ship and we decided to wait in the lounge until a steward or bellboy appeared for us to question.” Jim took a deep breath and looked sideways at Guy. “And then began the most extraordinary event in our lives.”