The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 9

The Dry Dock at Harland & Wolff Shipyards
The Dry Dock at Harland & Wolff Shipyards

Chapter 9

August 1906–September 1906

Casey had to collect reports and deliver supplies to all the departments at the yard, and it turned out there were a lot of departments. Tom Andrews was Head of the Designing Department, which evidently involved a lot more than just drawing pictures of ships. They drew plans for every part of a ship, from the tiny screws used in a switch plate, to the huge funnels that graced the skyline. Tom worked with all the other departments as they turned those drawings into three-dimensional reality. He dashed in and out all day, eventually settling at his desk to do paperwork for a couple of hours, then off again. Everywhere he went, he smiled or laughed. After just a few days, as she made her rounds of the yard, Casey noticed that it was always possible to tell when he was nearby. The men would stand taller or work faster, or with more precision. She would hear his laugh as he made his way through the crowd, and the men always smiled or laughed, too. He loved his work and that love rubbed off on everyone around him.

He thought it was important that Casey understand what they were doing and why they were doing it, but he never sat her down and lectured. He just talked while they worked, and somehow it all made sense. After just a few weeks, she was convinced that he paid attention to every single detail, that he felt nothing was too small or unimportant to be ignored. He believed, in a way Casey almost couldn’t quantify, that every ship they built had to be safe, had to be perfect.

“Which is why,” she mentioned to Sam as they ate dinner one night toward the end of August, “I don’t understand how I’m getting away with my impersonation. He notices everything, but he has not noticed that I’m a girl.”

Sam laughed. “You’re disappointed at that, aren’t you?” He laughed harder at her blushing protest.

She finished her soup in sullen silence. He’s right, I am disappointed. I don’t want to get caught, exactly. But what if he notices and likes what he sees? She shook her head. More likely, he’d be furious that I lied to him all this time. Made him look like a fool in front of everybody.

Guiltily, she cleared the table and disappeared into the kitchen, even though it was Sam’s turn to wash dishes. Will that happen? When people find out, will they make fun of Mr. Andrews?

That had not been her intent. She didn’t feel guilty about taking the job, even under false pretenses. Sam had needed medical care, which had led to his new job. They had settled with relief into a solid middle-class lifestyle, soon renting a small house in one of the good neighborhoods near the university. They were furnishing it in small increments, and they had both purchased several new pieces of clothing. They loved shopping for food at the market on Saturdays, when all the farmers brought in their produce, and they made frequent stops at the butchers for fresh meat. Casey had put on a few badly needed pounds, and Tom Andrews had observed that she seemed more energetic. It was true. She did feel better, with a constant supply of decent food and safe shelter. Best of all, they had running water, and Sam was building a system to heat the water in the pipes. Hot baths at the turn of a faucet! They could hardly remember the luxury.

They had also hired a housekeeper, Ann Malone, who came twice a week, making them feel like royalty when they came home to swept fireplaces and floors, dusted furniture and clean laundry. They only had to make sure all of their twenty-first century gadgets, as well as their journals, were locked safely away on these days.

Sam continued to write to Einstein, amazed as the relationship blossomed. Einstein never actually said he believed Sam, but he discussed future physics discoveries as if they had already happened, and was using the knowledge in his own work. They began making tentative plans to get together at a future time.

***

The shipyard was an inveterate source of gossip. Casey would not have thought this, since she’d always heard men were not prone to the habit. Harland & Wolff in 1906 proved beyond doubt that they were. A thought whispered out on the slip before the breakfast break would reach the last of the five thousand workers by lunch.

The free-flowing talk had one advantage for a new worker: it was possible to quickly learn who did what for the company, why they did it, and who was related to whom.

The gossip mill focused, normally enough, on upper management. Even before meeting him, Casey had already formed an opinion of the managing chairman, Lord William Pirrie, as a charismatic and powerful businessman who ran his company with an iron fist.

“Departments can’t do anything without ‘is approval.” (From a low-level foreman).

“He wants detailed reports every week.” (From Saxon Payne, the secretary).

“All that running around you’re doing? Goes right into a report for Pirrie.” (From Ham).

Micromanager, Casey sniffed disdainfully to herself. She knew better than to say anything aloud, though.

“He’s ambitious.”

“Happy as a lark when the king made him viscount.”

“Used to be Lord Mayor of Belfast.”

“Lost the ’06 run for Parliament. His position on Home Rule cost him.”

The family connection was something else the gossips made sure she knew about. Lord Pirrie was Tom Andrews’ uncle. Alexander Carlisle (Tom’s supervisor) was Lady Pirrie’s brother (and therefore, brother-in-law to Lord Pirrie) and all of them were cousins. It screamed of nepotism, but Pirrie and Carlisle had started in the company together and Tom had been through the normal apprentice program. They were all very good at their jobs.

Lord Pirrie spent a great deal of time at the company’s administrative headquarters in London, but he also had a home in Belfast. Casey had her first glimpse of him during her third week on the job. He was about sixty years old, rather short, attractive, with gray hair and beard, a forceful and talkative nature, and eyes that showed a happy temperament, which Casey decided made some sense. He was related to Tom Andrews, after all.

When they were in Belfast, both Pirries worked many hours at the shipyard. Casey never knew what Lady Pirrie did, but she often saw her working at a desk near Saxon Payne, Lord Pirrie’s secretary. The gossips let her know that Lady Pirrie had almost as much power as her husband. He seldom made a business decision without her.

Casey managed to keep her interactions with them to a minimum. She was introduced to Lord Pirrie on his first day back from London. He was quite friendly, shaking her hand and thanking her for being such a help to “Tommy.” After that, he pretty much ignored her.

But Lady Pirrie was intimidating. Entering Mr. Payne’s office one day, her arms full of reports, Casey came up short to find Lady Pirrie sitting at the polished oak desk, papers spread around her. A deep brown dress covered her large frame in soft folds, and her gray hair was piled on top of her head, held with a pearl clip. Matching pearls graced her neck, and rings glittered on her hands. Casey quickly bowed when Lady Pirrie glanced up at her.

“Excuse me, Ma’am. I have some figures to enter in the logbooks. I’ll just be over here.” She indicated the work table along the wall and started to turn, but Lady Pirrie’s voice stopped her.

“You’re the American, are you not?”

Casey turned back. “Yes ma’am. Casey Wilson, ma’am.” She couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“My nephew has spoken quite highly of your work. That’s an honor for you; he’s not easily impressed.”

Casey flushed with pleasure and bowed again. “Thank you ma’am. I’m enjoying the work very much. The ships are a wonder.”

Lady Pirrie smiled softly. “I think they are, too,” she agreed, her voice kind, but then her demeanor changed and she was brisk and dismissive. “Well, carry on, Casey. I shan’t keep you from your work.”

Startled at the abrupt dismissal, Casey was nevertheless happy to avoid further conversation, and buried herself in the logbooks. In principle, her reasons for pretending to be a boy were justifiable, but every person she talked to increased her feelings of guilt.

***

Sam had warned her the shipyard was a dangerous place, but the danger did not always come from lax employment laws. Sometimes it came from nature, like when the fetch out on the Irish Sea was strong and fast, and Belfast would experience nearly gale force winds blasting through the channel and city toward the hills. The only thing to do during these days was to wrap up and hold onto your hat. Moving from one place to another took a lot of determination.

Casey was used to these days, the weather being one thing that didn’t change much from one century to another. But the shipyard was an open area, and even inside offices could be at the mercy of the elements, with the wind howling over machinery, through corridors, into sheds and workshops and offices. Out on the slips, the ships were tied up tight, swaying dangerously in all directions on their short tethers. Any material left loose would be sent flying through the yard, causing men to duck, or hastily jump out of the way.

Casey was dropping off supplies outside, and as she turned to go, a strange movement on the scaffolding caught her attention. Boards nailed onto a steamer had worked loose in the wind, sending men on the decks scrambling for safety. Artie Frost, a foreman fitter who was nearest the scaffolding, immediately pocketed his hammer and climbed eighty feet to the ripped apart section and began hammering the boards back into place.

But he slipped as the wind shook the scaffolding, losing his hammer, which fell in seeming slow motion into the water below. Casey saw the change that came over Artie as he suddenly froze in place, gripping the boards of the scaffold in panic. Everyone around noticed at the same time and the crew rushed to help him, holding the scaffold to balance it, and shouting encouragement to Artie to climb down. If he heard them, he gave no notice of it–he closed his eyes and hung on to the swaying scaffold as if stuck to a spider’s web.

Casey could not look away. Every part of her willed Artie to gain his equilibrium and climb down. Her horror increased when she noticed a figure dart out onto the slip to the bottom of the scaffold. Tom Andrews held onto the swaying partition and shouted up at his friend. Casey caught fragments of his voice, but not the words, as Tom gestured and gave instructions. It was doubtful that Artie, high on the scaffold, could even hear anything from the ground.

Tom removed his coat and began to climb. Every man (and woman) on the dock forgot to breathe, as Tom climbed higher, the gale furiously whipping around him as the scaffold continued to sway. Casey cringed as a board flew just inches past his head and a moment later, another board landed against his leg with a sold whap. He climbed, deliberate and steady, defying the wind. Although they couldn’t hear him, they could see he was talking to Artie the entire time.

He reached Artie, climbing until he was next to him, one arm firm around Artie’s back as he grasped the wooden slat on the other side of him. The watchers could see Artie’s white face, stark against his black jacket, eyes still tightly shut.

Tom said something and Artie shook his head–a firm, panicky shake. The conversation continued, but not for long as Tom, keeping an arm around Artie’s back, moved a foot between Artie’s feet and leaned back very slightly, into the wind.

The scaffold gave a great rattle, causing gasps of dismay from the men trying to hold it steady. Casey literally felt the blood drain from her face. She was probably just as white as Artie. The two men began to move, one foot down, as Tom moved his hands to help Artie maintain his grasp on the scaffold. Tom moved down another step–both hands and feet–and waited until Artie did the same, prying Artie’s fingers from the scaffold.

Step by step the two men made their way together down the scaffolding, as the structure swayed and shook. When they were about three-quarters of the way down, they paused and exchanged a few words. They saw Tom laugh suddenly, and he swung away to Artie’s right, glancing down, then up at the loose boards banging above them. They spoke a few more words, before Tom started back up the ladder. After a moment, Artie continued down. The assembled crew watched in dismay as Tom cautiously hurried up the swaying scaffold, apparently oblivious to the driving wind.

“Ah, damn,” Casey muttered in angry despair, wishing he had seen fit to come down with Artie, as the men around her raced to help Artie off the scaffold and out of the wind. She kept her eyes on Tom, watching as he reached the boards and began hammering them into place.

Ham joined her after a minute, watching as the wind whipped the scaffolding around as if it were a spider’s web. The struggling figure holding onto the slats continued until the job was done, whereupon Tom slipped his hammer back into his pocket and began to hurry down the ladder. Casey and Ham started breathing again at the same time, as Tom reached the relative protection of the dock wall. The crew below held the scaffold as steady as possible as he finished the last twenty feet and jumped to the deck. They surrounded him then, cheering and slapping him on the back as he sank to the ground. Casey and Ham reached him at the same time, Casey handing him his coat as he grinned up at them.

“Thanks,” he managed. “Think I’ll just sit here a minute. Solid ground and all that.”

The men laughed, and in a few moments they had cajoled him to his feet and moved en masse into the building. They plied him with hot tea and he joined a still-shaky Artie, who was working on his own cup.

Casey heard a voice in her ear. “Chalk up another one for the legend.” She turned to find Mike Sloan standing behind her, looking thoughtfully at Tom as the men continued a step-by-step breakdown of the rescue.

Sloan had backed off on invitations to his meetings, but lately he’d started a more insidious campaign. Casey knew that in many ways, an atheist was even worse than a Catholic. Sloan would have to address the issue eventually, but even she was taken by surprise when he began to mention scriptures in her presence relating to God’s hatred of men who engage in “unnatural acts.” Evidently, he had decided that Casey the boy, who was small and “pretty,” was homosexual. Ironic, but dangerous. She usually tried to avoid him, but now annoyance caused her to jump to Tom’s defense.

“Is that what you think he was doing? I didn’t notice you climbing up there to help Artie.” Her whisper was furious, but he answered mildly.

“Why, Mr. Andrews’ reputation is well-deserved, lad. Wouldn’t think to disparage him, not at all.” He started to turn away, but stopped, eyes narrowing as his gaze pierced her. “Don’t hurt the legend none, though. Makes you notice him, I guess.”

Casey flushed, closing her mouth against a retort that would only make things worse. Damn! Sloan had noticed her attraction to Tom, and put exactly the wrong spin on it. There’d be no good to come of that, she was sure.

***

“The thing is,” she told Sam as she furiously chopped a cabbage for dinner that night, “despite the riots and other problems in Belfast, the workers at the shipyard get along pretty well.”

Sam checked the cooking chicken. “I remember in history class–seventh grade or so–we did a section on Titanic and the shipyard. One of the things they told us was that Harland & Wolff had one of the fairest work policies in all Ireland. They didn’t hire many Catholics, but the ones they had could work in safety, for the most part.”

“It’s true,” Casey said. “Some of the Catholics and Protestants are friends with each other, at least at work. There aren’t many who are like Mike Sloan, but it doesn’t take very many to cause a lot of trouble. Sloan’s a foreman. If he wants to make trouble for a Catholic worker, he can. And they let him hold these meetings at lunch time, where he’ll get the workers riled up about something and blame the Catholics for it.” She leaned against the counter and stared at the floor. “You can always tell when he’s been doing that. It’s real tense in the yard for a while. Usually after a few hours, everyone’s back to normal–they start working together and forget about the issues. But it can be scary.”

“And Sloan thinks you’re gay?” Sam handed her the plates for the table, an eyebrow raised at her. “I could’ve told you something like that would happen.”

She sniffed. “Gay, and interested in Tom Andrews. Can’t I just tell him to mind his own business?”

Sam laughed. “Get real, Casey. Everybody these days knows,” he put two fingers up in quotation marks, “that homosexuality is wrong. It’s sinful. That’s something the Catholics and the Protestants agree on.” He tossed her the napkins. “No one would be on your side.”

She caught the napkins, glaring at him. “What can he do about it? He can’t prove it.” But she looked worried. “If he starts spreading rumors, it could look bad for Mr. Andrews, though.”

“Oh, I doubt he’d try that, Casey.” Sam stared off into space, thinking. “I wonder if this guy is related to Thomas Sloan, who’s a member of parliament. A very sectarian, bigoted MP. Hates Catholics; totally committed to the Protestant cause. If so, your Mike Sloan has a formidable position as a political influence in the yard. But he still depends on Lord Pirrie more or less approving of what he does. And Pirrie is an enigma when it comes to Home Rule. He’s generally for it, if I remember my history right. But he waffles because he wants to advance in British society, and the British are obviously against it.” Casey looked confused and Sam offered a brief smile. “Basically, Lord Pirrie will want to avoid action for or against a man like Sloan. So Sloan can get away with a lot. But I don’t think he’d get away with slandering Lord Pirrie’s nephew.”

They sat at the table as Sam dished up the food. “You may be somewhat protected from Sloan by your working relationship with Andrews. Just try not to piss the guy off, okay? They do bad things to homosexuals in this era.”

Casey nodded. “Okay.”

“And try not to moon over Tom Andrews so much when you’re at work. You have to remember, he thinks you’re a boy.”

She just stuck her tongue out at him.

Chapter 10

Author Note:
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