Spring turned into a lethargic, hot summer, minus the cooling fog bank, and with almost no rain. The usual breezes from the Irish Sea never made it into the lough, leaving Belfast dry and airless under a blanket of noxious, early twentieth century industrial chemicals. The pollution made Sam’s cough worse, and even Casey struggled to breathe as she made her rounds. People still burned coal for cooking, and the black soot turned the air a dull grey, adding to the ever-present dust and dried horse manure.
Casey wished she could wear a handkerchief over her nose and mouth. Perhaps, she thought, she could take up robbing banks for the summer so it would be part of the costume.
As the afternoon progressed, and with four pence in her pocket, Casey left the quiet marketplace to roam the city streets, hoping to find more work helping a shopkeeper. She crossed an alley to head toward the shops, just as a man digging around in a Renault pulled himself out the open door and spotted her. “Hey lad.” He motioned to her. “I could use some extra hands here. Got time to make sixpence?” She nodded, and he began pulling boxes from the car. After judging her size, he handed her two boxes and took three for himself, gesturing to the building behind them. “Right up the stairs lad, second floor.”
She followed him up, taking the time to observe him closely, since he seemed worth observing. He was dressed in the typical businessman’s suit: brown pants and jacket, white shirt, cravat, and a bowler hat. He reminded her of an old-fashioned movie star, with his dark brown hair cut short and combed sideways, and his strong, aristocratic features. His eyes were brown and kind, putting her at ease, although she’d had to look up nearly a foot to meet his gaze. And his hands… she had noticed his hands as he handed her the boxes. They were a little rough, as if he used them for work, but clean and manicured, nevertheless. She thought of those hands caressing her, and suppressed a sigh. This was hardly the appropriate time for such thoughts.
At the second landing, he put his boxes down, took out a key, and let them into a neat apartment, furnished with a sofa, two chairs and two small tables arranged on a rug in the room’s center. Casey placed the boxes next to the writing desk against the opposite wall, impressed that it held a telephone, the kind with a separate piece held to the ear, with the speaker held in the other hand. As the man placed his boxes next to hers, she stepped back into an alcove, trying to avoid the small round dining table and two chairs. A door next to the table presumably led to a kitchen; on the other side of the sitting room, another door probably led to a bedroom. It was all very neat, with everything placed just so.
Noticing the writing on the boxes, she reached down to turn them over as they stated “this end up” in dark letters. He noticed her action and smiled in approval. “Ah, can you read, then?”
The question surprised her. “Of course, sir. Got more boxes downstairs?”
“I do, aye. Just bring up two. The box marked ‘Ardara’ can stay in the car.”
She trotted downstairs, found the correct boxes, and brought them back.
He was unpacking a box that contained several plaques, each one wrapped in paper. He glanced up as she came in, flashed a smile at her that made her wish she were dressed as a girl, and brought out the sixpence he’d promised. He handed it to her, while looking her over with an appraising glance. “D’you have time to earn more? I can use someone to help deliver these plaques, and since you can read, you’d make it a lot easier on me. It might take you a couple of days to get the lot, but there’d be half a pound in it for you.”
Half a pound! Casey tried not to gape as she answered. “I could do that, sir. That would be great!”
“Wonderful!” He reached out shake her hand. “I’m Tom Andrews.”
She took the hand in a firm grip, and answered, “Casey Wilson, sir.”
He tilted his head. “You sound American. Where are you from?”
“California. I came to Belfast to live with my guardian when my parents died.”
He nodded and turned to the desk. “I see. It’s a lot of running around, have you eaten?”
She shook her head, bemused. He gestured to the kitchen. “There’s some meat in the ice box and bread in the bread box. Cut yourself some and have a bite, so you’ve got your strength about you. And,” he continued as he sat at the desk and pulled out some paper, “cut me some too, will you? I’m famished!”
Casey entered the kitchen and pulled open the icebox. Sure enough, a roast sat on the shelf, wrapped in paper. She pulled it out, found the bread, and got a knife from the block. Then she moved to the sink to wash her hands, looked for soap, and finally found some tucked under the sink. Men always seemed to not understand what soap was for. Why was that?
Casey cut a large portion of meat and bread, put them on a plate taken from the cabinet, and brought them to Mr. Andrews, placing them well out the way of the moving pen. He smiled again, making her look away in confusion, which she covered by heading back to the kitchen. Wouldn’t do to start blushing; the guy might think it a bit odd.
She made a large enough sandwich to justify putting half of it in her pocket for Sam. She ate with relish, adding the roast to her private Top Ten List. She wondered if Mr. Andrews had cooked it; she didn’t see any indication of a woman living here.
She went back into the parlor just as he finished counting plaques in a box. He handed her the box and a list. “Start with this. There are twenty plaques, and the list has the names and addresses. The plaques have names on them, so you’ll have to make sure the correct plaque gets to the correct address. Some places will get more than one; I’ve tried to indicate that when it happens. These are all North Belfast, and I imagine it’s all you can get done today and maybe part of tomorrow. Come back when you’re done and collect another box and list. I’ll leave them with the landlady downstairs. Is this fair for you? Can you manage?”
She nodded, glancing over the list. She knew most of the streets, but he was right, this would take a while. She glanced up at him, froze for a moment at the sight of those eyes on her, then remembered she had a question. “Do you want me to always hand them off to someone or is it okay to leave it if no one’s home?”
He looked thoughtful. “No, they know to expect them, so you should be able to leave them. Should be someone there at most places, though.” He handed her five shillings. “Here’s half; I’ll pay you the rest when you’re done. Let me know if you have any trouble. Thanks for your help, Casey!”
What a stroke! Casey took the box and the list with concealed glee, hid the money in an inner pocket, and headed outside. Once outdoors, she put the box down and squatted next to it, examining the addresses. With a stick, she drew a grid of the city in the dirt, trying to determine where the streets were located and figure out the best route to take. A couple of minutes later, she heard a voice and looked up, startled, to find Tom Andrews standing near his car and looking quite curious.
“What are you up to, lad? Is there a problem?”
She stood up. “No sir. Just trying to map an efficient route.” She grinned at his expression; she’d managed to surprise him. She tipped her hat and bent to pick up the box. “Don’t want to do any backtracking, if I can help it!”
She glanced back just before turning a corner. Andrews had moved over to look at the map she’d drawn in the dirt, the desired streets marked with small numbers. Giggling to herself at the astonished look on his face, she headed on her way.
She spent four hours running around town, delivering about half the plaques. This was the nicer part of Belfast, with gardens and lacy curtains in the windows. At most houses, she left her package with a friendly housekeeper, who gave her a half penny, although she protested that Mr. Andrews had already paid her. They didn’t seem to mind, though, so she took it with thanks and no further protests.
Not wanting to be caught out at night, she headed home with the much lighter box. Sam was sitting at their small table, beaming with pride as the aroma of cooking wafted around the room when she arrived home. She looked around in astonishment. “You finished it?” she asked in amazement. “It works?”
“It works!” Sam declared, pointing to the hot plate he’d been working on, pausing to let a hacking cough interrupt him. “It’s not real efficient, but we can cook on it.”
“I hope.” Casey bent down for a closer look, then glared back at Sam. “How is it on safety? I don’t want to wake up burned to a crisp.”
He held up both hands in conciliation, then bent down to show her. “As long as we turn it off, it’ll cool down just fine.” He turned his head and coughed until he had to sit on the floor. “It’s on a ceramic plate, which should absorb the heat, but protect the floor. I’ll keep checking it to make sure it doesn’t get too hot. We won’t use it for long periods of time, anyway. Just short cooking sessions.”
Casey nodded. “I can live with that. Real food is something to look forward to. And hey!” She stood up and showed him both his sandwich and the money. “I ran into a windfall today! Big delivery job for this seriously hot guy. He’s going to pay me five more shillings when I’m done, which should be tomorrow or the next day. And on top of that, every place I’ve delivered to, the people tipped me a bit! Pretty cool, huh?”
He slapped his hands together. “Excellent! If we’re careful, we can make that last a few weeks!” He grinned crookedly at her and she felt a twinge of affectionate sorrow for him.
“Maybe we can buy some medicine for that cough. What do they use in this time?”
He waved the thought away. “I’ve made soup; that should help. Some citrus and whiskey would be good for a hot toddy. The whiskey we can find, and surely there are limes somewhere. I know they have them on ships for sailors to eat.”
Casey nodded. “I know that, but you should still have some medicine. It can’t cost that much. Look, Sam, be practical. If you get really sick, they don’t have the expertise to get you well. There are no antibiotics in this time, so if you end up with a secondary infection, we’re in trouble.”
He sat and coughed some more, then answered. “Well, let me see what I can find out. Are you hungry? The soup’s ready.”
Casey was quiet as she ate the thin soup, trying to think of a way through their problem. Sam needed medicine and they both needed better food. She had to make more money!
Sam had a rough night and was worse in the morning. Casey made him porridge to sooth his throat. After getting him settled, she took off to finish the deliveries. She worked fast, again looking for the most efficient route.
Around noon, the cook who answered the door had her come around to the kitchen to “sample the meat pies for dinner” and give her opinion of them. Casey’s opinion was ecstatic, which satisfied the cook enough to pack one up for her to take with her for the afternoon. The cook was easy to talk to, and Casey told her about Sam and asked where to find limes and medicine for a cough. The cook happened to have some limes on hand and also gave her a small bundle of mullein, coltsfoot, and licorice, with instructions to mix one tablespoon in a cup of hot water. She told Casey she could find these herbs at the apothecary if she needed more. Grateful, Casey ran back home to give Sam the bounty.
He was glad to get it, and ate the pie in bed, and drank the toddy she’d made for him without any argument. As soon as she could, Casey ran out to get the next box of plaques. The landlady had them, as promised, so she swallowed her disappointment at not getting another glimpse of the handsome Mr. Andrews, and hurried on her way.
She didn’t finish all the deliveries until the next morning. She stopped by to see Mr. Andrews about seven that evening, which was when the landlady said he’d probably be home.
He’d just arrived, and he gave her that fabulous smile when he saw her. “Hi Casey!” He moved aside so she could enter. “You’ve done a great job. I heard from several people who were all happy to get their plaques so quickly. Hope you’re not worn out!”
She laughed and shook her head. “Not at all, Mr. Andrews. It was great running around all those pretty neighborhoods and meeting everyone. Nice people.”
He gave her a curious look as he pulled her money from his pocket. Before handing it to her, he said, “I’ll tell you, lad, you’re really an enigma.”
Her eyes widened. “Well, I don’t mean to be, sir. What can I clear up for you?”
He sighed. “To start, I’d like to know how a street waif knows what an enigma is!”
Casey laughed again and shrugged. “I haven’t always been a street waif. I used to go to school.”
He looked thoughtful as he handed her the money. “You can read and write, what about your numbers?”
“Not my best subject, but I’ve had lots of math.”
“Can I ask what you did before you started this illustrious career?”
She flushed, not wanting to lie to him any more than she already had, but plunged into the story she and Sam had concocted. “I was a student at home, but then my parents died and Sam thought it best I come to Belfast and stay with him. He was a good friend of my dad’s, you see, and I had no other relatives.” Casey’s smile was small and tight. “But things got rough here, too, so Sam and I just go day to day, sort of.” She made herself grin. “It’ll get better, though. Nowhere to go but up.”
Mr. Andrews studied her before speaking again, causing Casey to flush more under his gaze. “I’m wondering, Casey, if you’d be interested in a job. It’s temporary, but it might give you the chance to come through the rough spot. Maybe about four to six months. My secretary is swamped and needs an assistant. It’d be a lot of running around, collecting information from various departments and helping with scheduling, paperwork, that kind of thing. The pay would be six shillings a week, eleven hours a day with a half hour for breakfast and lunch.” He looked hopeful. “It’s good work and I could give you a solid recommendation if you decide to go back to school.”
Casey stammered, then gulped and nodded. “I’d sure like to, Mr. Andrews. That’s…that’s a wonderful offer.”
His smile appeared again and this time, she shyly smiled back. He rubbed his hands together briskly. “Wonderful! You know where Harland & Wolff shipyard is?” At her nod, he went on, “Be at the gate on Queen’s Island at eight in the morning. Tell them you’re to see me. They’ll direct you. Mind ye, lad,” he spoke a bit sternly, “ye be on time. There’s no slacking possible!”
“Yes sir! Thank you, sir!” Casey nearly saluted, but thought better of it, instead taking the hand he offered her in a firm shake. He seemed quite content as he ushered her out, wishing her a good night’s rest since tomorrow’s work would probably “wear you out.” She said good-bye and ran home, hardly daring to believe her good luck. A real job, with regular pay! And, the thought occurred to her, a chance to see that hunk every day!
It was Sam who reminded her of the problems that came with this stroke of good luck. He was still in bed, but he said the medicine had helped the coughing, and he’d slept some. Casey thought he looked pale and weak, but she didn’t harp on it. He listened while she heated up the soup and prattled on about tomorrow. Then he sat at the table and between sips, discussed a few issues.
“You’re out there looking like a boy. Does he know you’re a girl?”
Casey rolled her eyes. “Of course not! I’d never be hired for anything if people thought I was a girl.”
Sam looked morose. “I know it’s discriminatory, Casey, but in this time, there just are not that many jobs a girl is allowed to do. You’ll be the only girl there; the shipyards hire thousands of men. You realize there will not be any women’s lavatories?”
Casey sighed in frustration. “Geez, Sam. What am I supposed to do? You’re sick! We need the money. I’ll work around all this. I have to try anyway. If it doesn’t work, then fine, I’ll leave.”
“But you could get into serious trouble. I don’t know if it’s illegal to impersonate a boy, but you are obtaining a job under false pretenses. They may not be willing to just slap your hand if you get caught.”
“I’ll be careful! Mr. Andrews seems like a nice person. I don’t think he’ll throw me in jail.”
Sam stopped eating and stared at her blankly. Casey stared back, worried. “Sam? Are you all right? You look like you’re having a stroke.”
He blinked and focused on her again. “Who hired you?”
“Thomas Andrews. I don’t know what he does exactly, but he wants me to help his secretary.” Casey shook her head in disbelief. “I always swore I’d never be a secretary, because it seemed like such a dead-end job to stick women in. But here, it’s like an honored position, and as a woman, I don’t qualify for it! Too weird.”
Sam brushed her comments off and leaned forward urgently. “Thomas Andrews? At Harland & Wolff? That’s who hired you?”
Her eyebrows rose in bafflement. “Yes. Why? Who is he?”
Sam shook his head at her ignorance. “You Americans don’t know anything! Thomas Andrews is the builder of the Titanic! You do know about the Titanic, don’t you?”
Casey sat back in her chair and stared at him, an ache of despair beginning to build deep in her stomach. “I saw the movie.” Sam rubbed his forehead, unimpressed, but she ignored that and grabbed his hand. “Sam, he dies! In the movie, Thomas Andrews dies! Is that true in real life? He doesn’t wear his life belt or get into a boat?” Her heart clenched, as she thought of that smile and those hands…
Sam jerked his hand back, irritated, and began to cough. He wearily got up and moved to the bed. Casey poured some hot water into a cup with the herbs and brought it to him, her thoughts jumbled.
“Tell me, Sam. Is that what happens?”
Sam nodded, sipping the tea and looking very sad. “He was one of my childhood heroes. I studied him a lot when I was twelve or so. I can’t believe you went to school in Belfast for two years and never knew about this. The Titanic is a big deal to this city.”
Casey shrugged, miserable. “So are the pubs. Where do you think I spent most of my time? Sam…” she hesitated, then went on, “I’ve never met anyone like this guy. He was so kind… if he’s the same person, I…” She looked away, biting her lip in misery, “I can’t let him die. I have to warn him.”
Sam’s short bark of laughter degenerated into a coughing fit. Casey rescued the cup and waited for him to recover, worry eating at her. Sam was in bad shape and now she had to worry about Thomas Andrews as well. She didn’t trust the doctors in this time, but what was she supposed to do to help Sam? They needed money, whether for medicine, or a doctor, or both. That job would come in handy at a time they really needed it. It also gave her the opportunity to work with Andrews and maybe figure out a way to warn him about his future.
Sam tried to speak and finally was able to rasp out a few sentences. “You can’t ‘warn’ him. He’ll never believe you. The most you can try to do is make some suggestions that will get him thinking along certain lines.”
“Like more life boats?” Casey asked.
Sam waved his hand. “Everybody harps on the life boats. Sure, more would have been, or would be, great, but how about keeping the ship from sinking to begin with? Andrews supervises the drafting department, he’s in charge of the ship’s design. Let me think about it. My mind is too muddled right now. But listen, Casey,” he leaned forward, gripping her arm, “You keep your wits about you and your eyes open. This is June ’06. I don’t think they’ve even thought of building these ships, yet. You can’t warn him about a ship that isn’t even on paper.”
“Oh.” That brought Casey up short. She thought about what she knew of the Titanic, which wasn’t much. “Let’s see, it sinks in 1912, right?”
Sam nodded. “Hits the iceberg just before midnight on 14 April. Sinks in a couple of hours.”
“I guess it takes a few years to build a ship like that. When do they start?”
“Soon, I imagine,” Sam replied, coughing again. “Seems to me they start on the plans sometime next year. Let me think about it,” he said again. “It’s just too much to remember all at once.”
Casey nodded, worried at his weakness–all the coughing was wearing him down. She blinked away tears and tucked the blanket around him. “Get more rest, okay? I’ll have to be out of here pretty early. Will you be all right for breakfast?”
He patted her hand. “I’ll get through. Keep in mind that I’ve got sixty years of good medical care behind me. I should be in pretty good shape, generally. I’ll shake this.”