Tom sat at his desk for several minutes after Casey had gone, staring at the door and trying to comprehend what she had said. His emotions were in such a whirl, he couldn’t concentrate. What did all that mean? The image of a ship scraping along an iceberg sent chills down his spine. He wanted to laugh it off as nonsense, but the scenario Casey described was plausible.
“Going too fast.” What did she mean by that? “A ship called Titanic”? There was no ship by that name even being considered. Was Casey, perhaps, a bit crazy? A harmless crazy, to be sure, but one that made her pretend to be a boy and then leave random warnings of disaster in her wake? But would craziness like that allow to her work hard and accurately every day?
Tom slowly shook his head, unsure of what to do. How could this happen? How could he not see that she was a girl? All the comments from men in the yard: “He sure is a pretty boy,” or “No growth spurt, yet, eh?” Tom had for the most part ignored these, thinking only that the trueness of them must have meant that life was even more difficult for the lad.
Gullible, Tommy. Gullible, that’s what you are. Always willing to take people at their best. Someone’ll always take advantage of that. Ach, but it’s no good being any other way.
Eventually he came back to his original problem: what to tell his uncle. He almost laughed at that, hearing his own voice exhorting Casey to avoid any further lying. Best take his own advice and just confess his gullibility to Lord Pirrie and have it done. He did take some comfort in the knowledge that he wasn’t the only one taken in by the deception.
He heard Ham come in and sighed. Might as well get it over with, then he could head over to his uncle’s office. He wasn’t going to be able to concentrate on these reports anyway.
Predictably, Ham was astonished when Tom broke the news. His ears reddened as he no doubt considered the odd remark that would never have been made had he known he was talking to a girl. Tom could think of a few unwise comments he’d said himself. Not to mention exposing her to all the rough and tumble of the men in the shipyard. Good men, all of them, but still men, who were assuming there were no women around. They acted a bit coarser under those circumstances.
After a few minutes, Ham recovered. “We were going to keep him on. How’re we going to replace him… I mean her? She was all trained and doing a proper job. Good ideas, too.” Ham sounded miserable; after all, he was going to have to go back to all that running around and extra work.
Tom tapped his pencil on the desk as he thought about it. “Tell you what. Let’s put out the word to everyone we talk to today. Start with the men in the drafting room. We need a youngish lad who can read, write and figure to replace Casey. Someone who can start right away. We’ll see what we get.”
Lord Pirrie’s reaction was also predictable. He stared at Tom in disbelief, then let loose a roar of laughter that all but alerted the shipyard that something was up. Tom reflected that there was no way he was getting away easy on this one.
He didn’t, either. There were few places where gossip could travel faster than a shipyard. First, they were looking for a replacement for Casey, which was enough to raise lots of questions. Everyone liked Casey, why’d they let him go? Lord Pirrie was more than happy to tell a few people, and like magic, they all knew. Tom found that on his forays through the yard, he’d suddenly be following a man swinging his hips and twirling an imaginary umbrella. Or upon getting the attention of a man he needed to talk to, the alerted fellow would pouf imaginary hair or bat his eyelashes. These antics were followed by peals of laughter from anyone around.
There was nothing for it but to take it in good humor and let it run its course. He did manage to put an early stop to it in his own department, by noting as how the men perhaps needed to do some rudimentary drawing exercises for their eyes, since they had worked closely with Casey, too, and had not noticed anything untoward. So the snickers died down quickly there, especially since the work that Casey used to do fell to them until a replacement could be secured.
His talk with Sloan was brief. This was not the first time Tom had had to deal with Sloan’s troublemaking, and the man’s self-righteous air at the news that Casey had left nearly sent Tom over the edge. He actually shoved Sloan into a chair and yelled at him, while struggling to keep his clenched fists at his side, rather than using them to wipe the smugness from Sloan’s face.
“I don’t care what her crime was,” he said. “If you thought she was a girl, your treatment of her was outrageous. You understand, sir, that if any harm comes to that young lady, any at all, I will personally see that you are brought before the magistrate to answer for it. Are you clear on that?”
Sloan had acquiesced, humbly protesting that he never truly thought she was a girl, he was just trying to shame the boy into confessing his sins. But the triumphant gleam never left his eye, and Tom was determined to keep a watch on him.
He approached his supervisor, Alexander Carlisle, about the iceberg problem, who thought it was an interesting, although unlikely, possibility. Tom then put the problem to his design team as an exercise. The easy solution, a double hull, was a sensitive one because of cost. If they couldn’t do that, what other solutions were there?
Any mention of Titanic, he kept to himself.
“It was the housekeeper, in the parlor.” Sam said, as soon as he came in the kitchen, an open letter in his hand.
Casey looked up from dinner preparations, her face showing the results of an afternoon of sobbing into her pillow. She had called Sam at work as soon she’d gotten home, and told him what had happened. He had been suitably sympathetic, and furious at Sloan, but she knew he was also relieved that the truth was out. On some level, she was glad of that herself, but still sick with worry over Tom Andrews.
“What are you talking about?” She didn’t feel up to his usual puzzles and chipper conversation.
He waved the letter. “How Sloan found out about you. It was the housekeeper.”
She tried to focus on that. Ann Malone? The young woman who came two times a week to sweep and dust and do their laundry? Casey had only met her a couple of times, first when she interviewed for the job and again a week ago, when she had been working late and Casey had come home…
…dressed as a boy.
She leaned against the counter, folded her arms over her apron, and gazed thoughtfully at Sam. “Pray tell, what is the connection between our housekeeper and Mike Sloan?”
Sam blinked at the letter in his hand. “Evidently, she’s his cousin.”
Casey sighed. “God save me from the Irish and their infernal relations.”
Sam laughed. “It can be a tricky road to traverse,” he agreed. “Buried mines, everywhere.”
“I take it that letter is from her?”
“Aye.” Sam offered it to her but she just raised an eyebrow and waited. He shrugged. “She is informing us that her cousin has forbidden her to continue in our employment. She regrets this and sincerely hopes she has not caused us trouble. She had only thought that Mr. Sloan would find the story amusing.”
“Why? For thinking Sloan would be amused, or expecting us to believe she thought that?”
“Either one.” Casey returned to cooking. “So, mystery solved. It’s nice to know he didn’t figure it out on his own.” She stirred the stew to avoid Sam’s gaze, one thought shouting itself in her mind: He knew. That whole time, with those men there, threatening to strip me, he knew I was a girl.
Sam dropped a kiss on her head. “Can you call the agency tomorrow and ask them to send ‘round another housekeeper? And no, you can’t do the work. I have a possible job for you.”
That got her attention and he smiled wickedly. “I have some connections now, you know.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What job?”
“Know anything about the Palm House?”
She gasped. “Don’t be ridiculous. The greenhouse in the Botanic Gardens. I worked there for over a year in the future.”
“I know.” He sat on a stool, quite proud of himself. “A colleague has a relative who’s heading the program to build up the tropical section. They’re using Queen’s students, of course, but they need some help from outside the university. He’s agreed to talk to you.”
“Tomorrow, if you can get there in the afternoon. Rupus Mangold is his name. Go and see what you think.”
She squealed and hugged him. “Thank you!”
He chuckled, glad to see her smile.
A few days later, Sam received a phone call from Tom Andrews. Tom sounded genuinely concerned about Casey and wanted to meet with Sam in person, to discuss the situation. Sam agreed to meet him after work at a pub.
He called Casey to tell her.
“He said he would talk to you about Sloan,” Casey reminded him.
“I know.” Sam was nervous. “This is silly, especially since you’ve been working with him all this time. But this guy was one of my childhood heroes. I can’t believe I’m actually going to meet him.”
“Yeah, well, try to put in a good word for me, okay?” Casey was depressed. “And try to tell him more about Titanic!”
Sam recognized him right away, having seen pictures of the man as he studied the Titanic in school. If Tom thought it odd that this stranger walked right up and introduced himself, he didn’t let on. Maybe he’d given up on anything connected with Casey making sense.
Tom didn’t drink, so he sipped the tea Sam bought for him and said that he was uncertain of Sloan’s sincerity in promising to leave Casey alone. “He knows where you live. He has connections everywhere. I hope you can keep Casey from running around on her own, especially dressed as a boy.”
Sam was thoughtful. “I don’t think she’ll do that anymore, Mr. Andrews. She had a real scare, and she’s heartbroken over deceiving you. She was never comfortable with it, you know. She simply felt she had no other choices.”
“What is she going to do, now?” Tom asked him.
“Fellow I work with has a brother-in-law teaching horticulture at Queen’s. That was Casey’s field of study. They’re starting a project at the Palm House in the Gardens, and he agreed to let Casey help them out.” Sam raised his glass. “She’s thrilled about it. It will be good for her. She’ll be working with plants and won’t be cooped up in a factory or sitting in front of a typewriter all day. She’d do those jobs if she had to, but it would drive her insane.”
Tom shook his head. “She’s a very strange girl, Dr. Altair. Don’t get me wrong, please. I like her. At least, I liked him and I assume she’s the same… Oh, for heaven’s sake.” He stopped talking, befuddled, and Sam laughed.
“I know what you mean.” He sobered, though, and looked at Tom seriously. “She truly admires you, sir, and is quite concerned for your welfare. It’s not my place to say, but I hope you see a way to get to know her as herself.” He smiled a little. “I think you’ll find that her strangeness is overwhelmed by her goodness.”
Tom nodded, his lips tight, one finger tapping the table. He opened his mouth, but closed it again, then abruptly asked, “Do you know why she told me about a ship called Titanic crashing into an iceberg? I’ll tell you, Dr. Altair, that gave me the chills, but it also lends a lot of credibility to the notion that she’s more than just a little strange.”
Sam stared at him for several seconds, his mind racing, before deciding on a course of action. “The answer to that is not simple, Mr. Andrews. From what Casey tells me, she just gave you a brief description, yes?”
“Brief?” Tom spread his hands. “How would I know? I guess it was brief. A large ship, going too fast and can’t miss the berg. The berg scrapes along the side and tears holes in the hull for several hundred feet. A nasty story, Dr. Altair. But do you know it’s almost word-for-word, the plot of a work of fiction written about ten years ago?” Sam nodded as Tom continued. “She wasn’t talking about that book, though. I don’t know why, but I know she wasn’t. But what was she talking about?”
Sam sighed. “As I said, sir, the answer is not simple and this is not the place to discuss it.” He sat back and observed Tom for a minute. “Mr. Andrews, you have a standing invitation to dinner anytime you’re ready for the whole story.” He held up his hands. “If you’re uncomfortable about being with Casey, I’ll arrange to have her be somewhere else. Is this acceptable?”
Tom looked confused, but he just nodded. “All right. I’m sure I’ll be in touch.” He didn’t sound sure, but Sam let it drop.