The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 10

Chapter 10

September–October 1906

Casey dashed past the Number Seven slip, with a stack of logbooks for the office. She met up with Tom at an intersection. His grin grew wider as he shifted the machine parts in his hands, tucked some rolled plans under an arm, and handed her a few sheets of paper. “You’re on the way to the office, aren’t you?” he asked hopefully. “Just drop these on my desk. I’ll get to ’em later.”

“Sure,” she replied, following his example and placing them in a pocket. That kept them from getting mixed in with her other stuff. She paced alongside him as he made his way past the slip. “I’ve got a quick question,” she told him and he nodded as she jumped into some recent confusion about the figures from the plating shed. He was in the middle of clearing up her confusion when he went silent, lifting his head and looking around quizzically.

Suddenly, he tossed the rolls and parts at her, ran down a path and disappeared around a corner of boxes. Puzzled, she followed, and stopped in astonishment at the intersection. He was tearing through a gang of men, all of them scrambling in haphazard panic to get out of the way, as he did a credible imitation of a jig, running this way and that, knocking over tea kettles, cups, and tins of tea and sugar. Cries of consternation could be heard as several men tried to claim their crockery before it broke, some slipping in the spilled water. Tom stopped then, arms akimbo, as he regarded the dismayed gang with unforgiving sternness.

“Heating your tea water already! It’s five minutes before horn-blow! I’d like to know where the honor is in stealing time from your employer!” His glare took in each man individually, but none of them seemed willing to attempt an answer, as they looked down and mumbled a bit, most offering shamefaced apologies. One of them glared at a pale-faced youth peaking from behind a plating machine. “Ye was supposed to keep a look-out and warn us if ‘e came through!”

The boy nodded enthusiastically, eyeing Tom with awe. “Aye, I was looking. But ‘e didn’t come that way, like usual. He slipped in the back, sneaky as you please!”

“Aye,” said another, “and came tearin’ through here like a racehorse, hittin’ every bit of our mess!”

They all agreed with admiring head shakes. Tom grinned, confident they’d gotten the point. “Becker!” he roared, spying the men’s supervisor coming up the path. “Five minutes off the break for these men. They’ll have to drink their water cold, this morning! And make sure they wait for that horn from now on!”

Becker lifted an arm in acknowledgment, waving the men back to work, as Tom turned to Casey, his face split in a happy grin. He started grabbing back his papers. “Thanks for catching all that, lad. Good reflexes!”

She handed him back the rolls, shaking her head at him in mock consternation. “You had entirely too much fun with that. Sir.”

The grin turned into a laugh as they continued on their way. “Aye, well, I’ll tell you. Becker and I have been suspecting something of the sort was goin’ on, but we could never catch them. That’s why I went around back this time. Worked like a charm!”

His laugh was always infectious, and Casey joined in for a moment, then she shook her head. “But you just docked them five minutes instead of something harsher. That was kind of you.”

His smile remained in place, but he looked at her earnestly. “They’ll have to clean up that mess on their break, too, you know. But I don’t think it’s necessary to treat people harshly. I started here as an apprentice and I worked in all these departments. I know the work is hard, and it’s tempting to take it easy or skip a step. But for their own safety, we have to maintain discipline. A supervisor should build his men up, while making sure they learn self-discipline. Those men are all good workers, and their crime was mild. It’s important to me what a person’s intention is, too. I’m always willing to give someone another chance so long as they meant no real harm.” He shrugged a bit. “Provided they didn’t cause any real harm, of course.”

The smile came back in full force. “So there’s your Andrews lecture for the day, lad. Ye bore it well.” He tipped his hat at her and took off down another path. After a moment, Casey resumed her hurried pace to the drawing office, feeling some real hope that Thomas Andrews might–might–understand about, and maybe forgive her for, her own crime.

***

In the office later that day, Casey turned from the tonnage projections she was working on. “Have I picked up the wrong formula for figuring the number of lifeboats?” she asked Tom. “It seems wrong.”

He looked over her shoulder, checking what she had written. “Looks correct to me. What don’t you understand about it?”

“Why it’s used,” she said, looking at him curiously. “I suppose the tonnage relates to how much room there is for lifeboats, and to the number of people the ship can carry. But why not just provide enough seats for each person the ship can carry? The other way seems so inefficient. Not to mention inaccurate.”

Tom smiled thoughtfully, as he turned and leaned against the table, arms crossed. “Now that’s something that needs to change,” he said. “Knowledge has been increasing so quickly over the last twenty years or so, that rule-making bodies are struggling to keep up. It’s also true that a governing board is typically conservative and slow-moving.” He gave her a rueful look. “We’ve been lobbying for more lifeboats for a long time. For the most part, the board doesn’t see the need to change the rule, and until the rule is changed, the people who control the purse strings aren’t going to spend the money.”

She shook her head. “It always comes down to money, doesn’t it?”

He looked despondent. “Aye, Casey. It always does. But we keep hounding them. Eventually, they’ll come around.”

“Not before a lot of people die,” she murmured, staring at her figures.

“Oh, not necessarily,” he protested. “There are other ways of effecting rescues, you know. All the ships have the wireless now, and can call for help, if it’s needed. And the ships themselves are better built and more stable, more able to withstand the storms and other dangers. ‘Tis true that no ship is unsinkable, but we do everything we can to keep them afloat for as long as possible, if damaged.” He held out a hand. “No one wants people to die.”

Casey stamped down on her nervousness. This was the first real opportunity she’d had to even begin to warn him and she didn’t want to blow it. “I was reading about the Great Eastern,” she began, and stopped when he raised both eyebrows in astonishment.

“You were?” he asked. “Why?”

She was puzzled. “Why not?”

“I just didn’t realize you were that interested in this, that you’d be reading about it in your spare time.”

She shrugged. “It’s your fault,” she told him, laughing at his expression. “You give me a job here and I find it’s fascinating stuff. So I start reading about ships.”

He seemed amazed. “So what about the Great Eastern?”

“Well, it seems that we don’t use even the technology we have available to build safer ships. The Eastern was built almost fifty years ago, with a complete double hull and watertight bulkheads that rose thirty feet above the water line. When she ran into a rock and had severe damage, she was still able to make it to harbor. Because of the double skin.”

He looked at her for a moment, then held a finger up to indicate she should wait. He went into the drawing room and came back in a couple of minutes with a few rolls of plans. He spread them out on the table. “These are the early drawings for Cedric and Adriatic. I don’t know if you can read these well enough yet, but can you see the double hull? And here,” he pointed to a dotted line that ran the length of the ship, “this is the waterline. The bulkheads extend thirty feet up.” He pointed them out, then looked at her, quite seriously.

“Every ship we design starts out with these. Our first design is always an engineer’s dream—the perfect ship, as near as we can make it. And every time, our first design is denied. It’s like a play. We all know our roles and we all play them.” He sounded surprisingly bitter. “You’ve seen the figures, Casey. Shipping is extremely competitive and the profit margins are almost nonexistent. The ship’s owners want a ship that will make them money. Shareholders want dividends. So we end up building a ship with features that sell: comfort, beauty, service. Safety is important, but it’s one place that owners feel we can cut corners and get away with it. Because we have gotten away with it, Casey.” He rubbed his hand gently over the plans. “There have been no major accidents in all this time. We’ve been lucky.”

She watched him, uncertain. The situation troubled him, and she was about to make it much worse. If he was already doing everything he could, what more could she ask of him? Well, she could ask him to live. That was the bottom line.

“Say there is a major disaster, with a large loss of life,” she said carefully. “Suddenly the public is outraged, and there are inquiries and trials and they begin demanding these features. I’m cynical enough to believe that the money would be there, in that situation. How can we convince them to spend the money before the disaster?”

He looked at her in amazement, shaking his head. “Where did this come from?” he asked. “Of all the issues in shipbuilding you could investigate, why this one?”

She smiled ruefully. “I have a vivid imagination. I watch that ship being built,” she gestured vaguely in the direction of Adriatic, “and I’m simply amazed at it. But I see these figures, and I see what’s not going into the ships. If I, as a customer, wanted to buy a ticket to America, I would know there’s more danger than is being admitted by White Star Line, or even by Harland & Wolff. And I would like to know there’s a seat on a lifeboat, if I need it.”

He nodded, thinking about it. “What would it take to get those features? You already said it: public demand. Across the board, though. If I sat down with Bruce Ismay today, and convinced him to allow those features on his ships, it could bankrupt White Star. If they raised prices to cover the cost, people would go with another line. If they swallow the costs, they’ll never make it up.”

“But they can use the extra safety in marketing, can’t they? If they talk about the features and what they mean, won’t people be willing to pay more?” Casey realized she was thinking of twenty-first century marketing techniques, but she thought it was worth a try.

“Only in a perfect world, lad.” Tom looked apologetic. “Aye, some people will pay more, but most won’t. Most people, if it comes down to it, would rather take the risk, if given the choice. I’m afraid that even the paying public may need your major disaster before they are willing to pay for safety.”

He touched her shoulder. “You can talk to people, write letters, maybe talk to a newspaper and see if they’ll write about it. The only way to begin changing public opinion is by first telling them about the problem.” He looked alarmed. “But I don’t think you, personally, should do anything. Do you have any idea what it would look like, if an employee of Harland & Wolff started a campaign like that? It would look like disgruntlement, like you were trying to harm the company. It could hurt you and us.”

He held up a finger. “I’m serious about that, Casey. Forget I even made the suggestion. Let me keep working on it through inside channels, all right?”

She nodded. “All right.”

He smiled at her. “I promise I’ll work on it more.” He picked up the blueprint and started rolling it up. “I have a meeting. But thanks for your concern. You have very good ideas.”

***

She couldn’t shake the worry and remorse that she felt. She told Sam about the conversation, suggesting that perhaps he could approach a newspaper about the issue.

“I’m reluctant to do that, Casey,” he told her. “For one thing, I’m only one step removed from the situation. It would still look like a campaign of some kind. Why don’t you give him a chance to see what he can do? We still have several years before Titanic sails.”

“Five,” she said under her breath, then louder. “We have five years. He’s been trying for years and hasn’t made any progress. And based on our history, he doesn’t make any progress in the next five years. I’m worried, Sam.”

“But he didn’t have this conversation with you in our history. Maybe it will give him an impetus.”

Casey left the dinner table and went to stand at the window, staring at the street. “I want to tell him,” she told the window.

At the table, Sam sighed. “How do we do that?” he asked her. “Casey, right now, he respects you. He knows you’re intelligent and curious, and that you’re interested in the ships. You go to him spouting about time travel and shipwrecks, and he’ll be convinced you’re crazy. You’ll lose all the ground you’ve made with him.”

“We have our gadgets,” she said, not turning from the window. “They convinced Riley.”

“Who promptly left town.”

She rested her forehead against the window, as if weary with the turmoil that boiled within her. “I can’t let him die, Sam.” Her voice was barely more than a whisper.

He turned to look at her. She was still looking out the window, a small, thin girl, her short hair disheveled. As usual, she had changed into a skirt. Sam was glad that she still looked “normal” to him, although at times, it was beginning to look odd: her Edwardian clothes with the short curls, instead of the elegant up-dos all the women wore. Not for the first time, Sam wished he’d had a daughter, or just more experience with young women. What could he say that would help her?

He went to stand next to her, also looking out the window. “I’d rather he didn’t die, either, Casey. He was a real asset to this town, and he could’ve done so much more if he’d lived. He might even have been able to knock a peace agreement together. He had that kind of respect from both sides.” He rubbed the windowsill thoughtfully, staring at his hands. “I just don’t know how we tell him. We have to be careful, Case. We need to really think this through. Please don’t do anything rash.”

She sighed. “Sam, I’m aware this does not involve just me. I won’t do anything that we both don’t agree to.”

He nodded, gazing at her in concern. She looked so pale, with those two high spots of red on her cheeks. “Casey, can I try to appeal to your logical side?” She closed her eyes as if in pain, but nodded. “Case, Tom Andrews is never going to love you.” She jerked once and flushed, half turning away from him. “Wait, Casey, listen.” He touched her shoulder. “Not just because he thinks you’re a boy, although God knows what he’ll feel when he finds out the truth. But he’s gentry, Casey. They have their own ways of doing things and they rarely deviate. One of those things is who and how they marry. He’s constrained by society. Even if he wanted to, he couldn’t marry you. I’m just saying that you need to make your own choices for your life without hoping that he’ll be in it. We can try to help him with Titanic. But can you understand why we need to be careful about telling him about us? I’m concerned that you want to tell him because of your feelings for him, not for any logical reason. Will you just think about it?”

She didn’t look at him, but after a moment, she nodded, and went to her room.

Chapter 11

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