The people of Belfast were justifiably proud of the Palm House. Casey loved it even in the twenty-first century, but as she stood outside it in 1906, she realized it was really remarkable. Curvilinear and cast iron glass, it stood proudly in the gardens, owner of a world-wide reputation. It was already old, having been built in the 1830’s, with a wing for cool temperature plants and another for tropical plants. That was the area she would be working in, as her new boss, Rupus Mangold, had explained. She had worked here for a year as a student in 2005 and for a moment, as she walked to the door on her first day in 1906, she felt as if time had again folded on itself. Perhaps she couldn’t really get back home, but this would bring her closer.
Mr. Mangold had immediately realized that Casey knew what she was doing, and he fell into a regular routine with her assignments. He would tell her what he wanted done and then disappear for days at a time, leaving her to it. She never figured out what he did with his time but didn’t really care, either. She worked three days a week, planning, sketching, and researching, without benefit of a computer or the internet, where to find and order plants. She also placed orders, watched the budget, and did her share of digging and planting.
She tried to avoid conversations with the students working there. They were all boys her own age and none of them was happy about working with a girl. They were polite enough if they had to speak to her, but it was like trying to join the fifth grade clubhouse with the “no girls allowed” sign on the door. The only reason they didn’t dip her braid in the inkwell was because her hair wasn’t long enough to have a braid. Boys–like little children, she sniffed to herself, knowing full well she was comparing them to Tom Andrews.
She missed him. Since leaving the shipyard, she found herself always listening for his laugh or watching for his large form to come through a crowd. She hoped he would call when work started on the Titanic. If he didn’t, she decided she would contact him, as soon as she heard the ship was being built. She had no doubt she would know about it. The whole town knew what ships were being built at the yard.
Moving the pot with the Bird of Paradise next to the ferns, Casey knelt down to widen the space she had picked for it.
“Miss Wilson?” A respectful male voice belonging to the afternoon’s student assistant broke into her thoughts and caused her eyebrows to raise. Why was he being so nice? She continued her digging without looking up. “Yes, Teddy?”
“You have a visitor.”
She blinked in surprise and turned, then hastily stood, wiping her hands on the towel hanging from her apron. A woman stood next to Teddy, straight and corset-tight in a purple dress and flowered hat. Her hair under the hat was salt and pepper, her skin was pale and wrinkled, but she had blue eyes that seemed to actually twinkle, and a delighted smile moved her lips as she observed Casey.
Casey reached a hand out, then winced at the dirt still on it and drew it back. She changed the greeting into a curtsey instead, distracted by Teddy, who was rubbing his cheek, then pointing at her. “Hello! May I help you?” She rubbed her cheek with her towel, hoping she wasn’t just depositing more dirt.
The smile widened and the woman returned the curtsey with a tilt of her head. “You may, dear. I’m Mrs. Herceforth. Lady Pirrie told me about you and suggested you’d be an excellent addition to our Horticultural Society Chapter. She offered to introduce us, but as she won’t return from London for three weeks, I took it upon myself to call.”
The lady turned and charmingly dismissed Teddy, who bowed with gallant ease, and strolled back to his duties. Mrs. Herceforth beamed after him and turned back to Casey. “Such a handsome fellow, he is.” She leaned conspiratorially toward Casey. “If you play your cards right, dear, this job could do quite well for you.”
Casey managed to look doubtful rather than disgusted, but her lips twitched a bit. “If I play my cards right, Mrs. Herceforth, I shall escape unscathed.”
The lady had a pealing laugh and she patted Casey’s arm. “Well said, dear! Now, may I bother you for a short tour? I give quite generously to the Gardens and I’m curious to see what my money is doing.” She glanced toward the spot where Casey had been working. “If you’ve the time to spare for it, of course. I thought it would be a good chance to get acquainted.”
“I’d love to show you around, ma’am. Just let me…” Casey held up a finger and turned to move the potted Bird to a safer locale. She placed her spade in the pot and turned back. “I’d hate for someone to trip over it,” she explained and Mrs. Herceforth nodded approvingly. Casey spread an arm to indicate the room around them.
“Are you familiar with the work to build up the tropical section? You can see we’ve several varieties of ferns in place…” Mrs. Herceforth proved to be a knowledgeable and entertaining audience, and Casey found herself laughing a lot and losing herself in her enthusiasm for the project. She kept seeing the Palm House as it would be in the twenty-first century and often included that description as something to work toward in the future. Mrs. Herceforth seemed quite taken with her ideas, which made Casey a little uncomfortable. After all, they weren’t really her ideas.
As they neared the end of the tour, Mrs. Herceforth began talking about both the Belfast Horticultural Society and the Agriculture Society. “I belong to both of them, dear, and I think you would enjoy attending a meeting of each.” The look she gave Casey was appraising. “Their missions are different, but harmonious. The horticultural society is beginning a project to plant gardens throughout the city. The Ag Society works to help farmers form cooperatives so they are working together to supply good products to the markets, for a decent wage. I’m sure you’re aware of the mass exodus of the Irish, mostly to America.”
Casey nodded. The problem had been covered in her classes at Queen’s. They reached a meeting room and Mrs. Herceforth took the opportunity to rest her feet. Casey joined her at the table, while the older woman continued.
“We want to keep them here, you know. But they need to feed their families. Now dear,” she touched Casey’s hand, a smile playing at her lips, “Lady Pirrie told me about your situation, so I know you understand what life is like for the poor. I loved your “solution,” by the way. Serves those men right, as far as I’m concerned.” They both laughed, Casey blushing a little in embarrassment.
“The Belfast Ag Society is working to assist the area farmers to grow and sell their food right here. We want more market days and more grocers buying from the farmers, instead of food shipped from the Continent. Goodness, some of the food they stock comes from America! It’s putting our farmers right out of business and off of their lands. We want to encourage the populace to grow their own vegetable gardens or establish community gardens. This is where the two societies can work together, don’t you agree?”
“Absolutely,” Casey replied, excited about being here for this endeavor. The Agriculture Society had made a real difference, but like everything else in Ireland, it had fallen victim to the continuing violence between religious factions. She wondered if she could steer them away from that.
They agreed to meet at the next meeting of the Horticultural Society. Casey went back to work with a lighter step and the feeling she had just made a friend.
That evening, Casey looked up from writing in her time travel journal. Sam was also writing, sitting at the small desk in the parlor, summing up his work day and the progress he was making toward advancing scientific discovery. She smiled to herself, amused as always, at their disparate goals. Her own goals were modest: build a life for herself and have a few friends–Casey needed friends–and perhaps aid the Irish in their hopes for economic prosperity, by helping them build up and nourish their land.
Sam’s goals were grand: to establish in Ireland a think tank and experimental industry, not dissimilar to the future consortium he used to work for. He hoped to advance scientific discovery by at least fifty years, in as many areas as he could. Medicine could have antibiotics and ultrasounds decades sooner, materials science could have alloys and polymers, quantum physics could practically meet itself coming, if he could place a nudge in the right place and the right time. He had to do it all without actually stating what he wanted to do, or inventing things himself, but he always said that’s what good scientists did. They took a half-beaten idea and tinkered with it until it grew up.
Casey had asked him to somehow avoid dependence on fossil fuels, and the disposable society it encouraged, which was quickly destroying their future world. She’d be happier, too, if he could figure out a way to avoid the creation of super weapons. He had laughed.
“We have to split the atom, Casey. It’s essential to everything.”
“I know,” she admitted bleakly. “I know you also can’t control what governments do. But we need to try and keep nationalism or partisanship out of it this time.”
He didn’t bother to tell her it was probably impossible. They were only two people and it was a big world. It was a smaller version of this problem that bothered her now and caused her to interrupt his writing.
“Sam?” She waited until he reached the end of his sentence and looked up. “When I try to figure out what I want to accomplish by joining these societies, I always come back to one central problem. The Protestants and the Catholics. Their disagreements destroy everything good that the country tries to do. How can I do anything about that?”
“Try not to get killed,” he said, turning sideways in his chair to face her. She laughed.
“I’m serious,” he told her. “You start meddling with some of this and you can end up dead faster than you thought about it. Go easy, okay?”
“Well sure,” she agreed, doodling on the open page of her journal. “But they have to understand that they all live in this country. You can only go so far with advancing one group at the expense of the other. Eventually, the other group must advance, as well.”
Sam shrugged. “What are you thinking about?”
She leaned back into the sofa, legs crossed under her, her skirt billowing out in a circle. “They want gardens, to beautify the city and provide fresh produce. But I doubt that any Catholics belong to this society. Yet, they need to have gardens in the Catholic sections, too.”
“I doubt Catholics would be welcome even if they wanted to join,” Sam pointed out and she nodded.
“That’s what I want to accomplish.”
He smiled. “I thought I had a tough job.”
The horticulture society met at the First Presbyterian Church, in the social hall. With some regret that they didn’t see the wisdom of meeting at a pub, like sensible chapters in the future did, Casey went to her first meeting, nervous about a social occasion where, as the ward of a highly-placed manager and scientist at the telephone company, she would be seen as an equal to the others, or nearly so. How many of them would know of her employment at the shipyard, depended she supposed, on the discretion or amusement of Lady Pirrie and Mrs. Herceforth.
They all knew about it. The men didn’t bring it up, but the women all asked her about it, admiring and amused at her foray into the world of men. A couple of the oldest women, still dressing in strict Victorian black, were not quite as pleased, but seemed willing to overlook it, “provided,” Casey heard one say to another, “my grandson doesn’t try to court her.”
That comment was made early in the evening and it amused Casey, allowing her to enter the meeting in high spirits. She sat with Mrs. Herceforth, and played the part of a newcomer, not offering suggestions unless they asked her. She explained about her job at the Palm House, and a little of her background as a horticulturist “in California.” They were pleased, and voted her into the group that night, hoping she might be able to bring in more young people.
“Except for Lady Talbot’s grandson,” she murmured to Mrs. Herceforth as they left, listening to the pealing laughter and feeling generally content with the evening. Casey was startled when the older woman suddenly put a hand on her arm and moved closer to her. At her questioning look, Mrs. Herceforth gestured with her chin to the bottom of the steps.
“Protestors, dear. They are seldom violent, but it’s always wise to remain alert.”
Indeed, there were several groups of men, and a few women, on the cobblestones, effectively blocking them in. It would be impossible to leave without a confrontation. Mrs. Herceforth did not stop, but continued regally down the steps, keeping Casey nearby. The protestors were quiet, content with just passing out pamphlets and urging the society members to concentrate their efforts on loyal Protestants. Casey had just begun to breathe easier when an ominous, familiar figure blocked her path.
She realized later that Sloan might not have recognized her if she hadn’t stopped and looked right at him. She was, after all, wearing “girl” clothes: skirt and jacket, a fashionable wide-brimmed hat with a red scarf tied around it, and her long black overcoat. The shortness of her hair was hidden by the hat. There was nothing about her that looked like the boy who had worked at Harland & Wolff.
It was her face, and the fear she knew it showed, that made him take a closer look, as he paused in the act of handing her a pamphlet.
“Well, I’ll be,” he practically chortled, “it’s Casey Wilson!” His head tilted to the side, an amused and mocking look twisting his mustached features. “Looking proper and all.”
Angry, she snatched at the pamphlet he still held in his hand. “Mr. Sloan,” she said flatly, “do you also disapprove of gardens?”
He managed to look innocent. “Ach no, Miss Wilson, ‘course not.” He gave a little bow. “We just want to make sure the society knows our wishes regarding where the gardens should be placed.”
“In no Catholic backyards, I take it?”
“Aye, that would be one place,” he said, without acknowledging her sarcasm. He tipped his hat to Mrs. Herceforth. “Madam. Hope ye are well this evenin’.”
“Marvelous, Mr. Sloan, simply marvelous. How is your brother’s London tour coming along?” Mrs. Herceforth seemed genuinely interested, and Casey stared at her. She had to be asking about the brother in parliament. The one Sam had said was a sectarian bigot.
“He’s a warm welcome wherever he goes, Mrs. Good of ye to ask.”
“So nice to hear it. Do send him my best. Now I must be getting this young lady home. Good night, Mr. Sloan.”
“Night, Mrs. Herceforth, Miss Wilson.” He stepped aside and no one else bothered them as they approached Mrs. Herceforth’s carriage.
“Hop in, dear. I’m delighted to see you home, unless you have other arrangements?”
“Thank you,” Casey murmured, confused at the exchange, but stepping into the carriage. “It’s not far,” she told her as Mrs. Herceforth sat across from her. “I was going to walk.”
“Walk? Alone?” Mrs. Herceforth shook her head and tapped Casey on the knee with her parasol. “Lady Pirrie said you were a bit wild, but honestly, dear. Even in America, I don’t believe they allow their young ladies to wander the streets at night without escort.”
“No ma’am. I guess I just got used to wandering around as a boy. I keep forgetting. I’ll make sure my guardian picks me up from now on.”
“I take it you know our Mr. Sloan from the shipyard?”
Casey’s lips tightened in annoyance. “Yes ma’am. I’m afraid so.”
Mrs. Herceforth’s laugh filled the carriage. “Such a delicate way to put it! He does mean well, you know.”
Casey just raised her eyebrows, and Mrs. Herceforth sighed, folding her hands in her lap. “I suppose I should say that his heart is in the right place, although he is difficult to get along with, sometimes.”
“Do you think we should not include Catholic areas in the planned gardens?” Casey asked her.
The older woman looked troubled. “I think it would be best if they had their own chapter and did the work themselves. It’s so difficult for us to work with them.”
“But surely, they need to associate in some way with the main group? Would they need assistance to get started?”
“I imagine they would. But I think it’s best if Sir Plunkett handles that.” Her fingers tapped along her arms as she answered Casey. “It’s far too dangerous for the general membership to get involved. Ah. Here we are.”
Casey disembarked and turn to curtsey. “Thank you for the ride, ma’am. I look forward to seeing you at our next meeting.”
“I too, child. Ta!” She waved, as the driver clicked to the horses, and the carriage moved smoothly down the street.