The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 16

The author at the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Comber, Northern Ireland. 2014

Chapter 16

February 1907

One would think that being told the date and manner of one’s death would be frightening and depressing, especially if the date were just a few years away. Yet Tom felt light and hopeful.

First, of course, was his sincere belief that whatever happened in his life was in the capable hands of God. And God had seen fit to give him a warning of what might be ahead. He believed he could try to prevent it. Indeed Tommy, he told himself as he shaved the next morning, you’re obligated to prevent it. You’re not the only one who dies.

He stared thoughtfully into the mirror, hearing Sam Altair’s voice again. “You need to keep that ship afloat for at least five hours. It’s four hours before the first rescue ship arrives.”

As a managing director of the firm, he was responsible for the integrity of any ship the firm built. Despite the horror of the accident Casey and Sam described, Tom felt confident that he could design the ship to withstand it. He always said that once you understood how a ship could sink, you could design it to float.

The second reason for his hope was Casey. The thought of her made him feel light and giddy, and whatever else he was thinking about, thoughts of Casey intruded. He was drawn to her peculiar mixture of strength and vulnerability. At some point he had decided to believe her story, and he hurt for her. She had lost everything in a single moment–her family, her friends, her plans, her very world–yet she had persevered, tenacious enough to build a new life. But how lonely she must be! He was quite serious when he said he wanted her to meet his friends, and he was already thinking of a night of music and dancing on Saturday. It had occurred to him, however, that one or two friends might be competition for Casey’s affections. Maybe he should just introduce her to his married friends for now.

He had a moment of deep enjoyment when he told Ham about his adventure. He skimmed over his reasons for deciding to see Casey and said nothing of her story, but with a great deal of satisfaction, he described seeing her for the first time and what she looked like. He could see that Ham was kicking himself for not thinking to go first. Ham was also amused that Tom planned on courting her.

“That’s going to get the whole place going again, you know,” he told Tom, who shrugged it off.

“I suspect the payoff will be worth it,” he said, and then he put his hand over his heart. “I must see her again, Ham. I am simply overwhelmed.”

“Well, then, I wish you good luck, sir,” Ham replied, moving to his own desk to begin the scheduling. “You must keep me apprised of your progress!”

Tom laughed. “I’ll do that. I just hope it’s all good news.”

***

The Belfast City Council had made it a priority to modernize Belfast, and huge strides had been made in recent years to provide electricity and telephone service throughout the city. Tom, always looking for better ways to build ships, was usually one of the first to try a new invention of any kind, and a telephone was no exception. As well, his parents were not afraid to keep up with the times, and had recently installed a telephone at Ardara House, the family home in Comber. He and his mother had developed a pleasant habit of speaking to each other nearly every night. They had always been close, and Tom often confided in her. But he was somewhat reticent to tell her about Casey. He couldn’t tell her everything, and he suspected she would not be as amused as Ham had been.

She wasn’t.

“I hope you consider what you are getting into, Tommy.” Mrs. Andrews expected her children to put family honor ahead of other considerations, and her voice through the phone sounded sterner than usual. “The girl is an American. You know nothing about her family. She has been the instigator of a great deception, however amusing it was. You must make sure that she is a suitable match for you. Don’t let your emotions cloud your thinking.”

She was right, based on the information she had. I wish I could tell them everything. I could show them the “cell phone” and the “calculator.” It would be better if they knew the truth. Yet his thoughts gnawed at the fear his parents would never believe the story. And he had no right to break the trust Sam and Casey had placed in him.

“I understand your concern, Mother,” he said at last. “I realize I need to know her better, but I did spend several months working with her. Even accounting for her deception, I believe she is honest and trustworthy. I know that she is kind and cares for others. I suspect she was well brought up, whoever her parents were.”

“I hope so, dear.” Her tone was warmer. “You have always been a good judge of character and I do trust you to make the right decision. I look forward to meeting the young lady and her guardian.”

“I promise to bring them around for dinner, soon,” he told her, and she left it at that.

***

Sam had his own misgivings. He’d seen Casey angry, sad, hungry, any number of things. He had never seen her in love. But there was no doubt the girl had gone completely over, and he was worried. Edwardian society had its own rules for things, and for her protection, he felt she had to know those rules.

He broached the subject at dinner the night after Tom had been over. “We’ve never really developed a story about your family, Casey,” he told her. “It’s possible that some people will want to know more information about your upbringing, to determine how you might fit into this society. What will we tell them?”

Casey looked resigned, as if she had known this was coming. “We tell them the truth, Sam. My father was an engineer, my mother was a doctor. We lived in Berkeley, I was an only child. Isn’t that a decent upbringing?”

“It is, Casey, it is. But some people might want details. Names, addresses. References, even. Death certificates. Something.”

Casey sighed. “But Sam, we’ve covered that. We have a story we tell people when they ask for information. Don’t change it now. And anyway, who wants to know, all of a sudden?”

He leaned back in his chair. “No one yet. But you have to understand this, Casey and you won’t like it. You’re falling in love with a man from a powerful family. They’re good people, don’t get me wrong. But they aren’t going to let their son marry a waif from the streets of Belfast. I’m just concerned that this may not turn out well.”

She stared at the table for a minute, and then whispered, “But I’m not a waif from the streets of Belfast.” She looked up at him, her eyes angry. “We were poor for a while and it was a struggle to get by. But we got through it. Do people hold that kind of thing against you, around here?”

“Maybe.” He rubbed his eyes wearily. “They might. I don’t know. But it’s not just that. It’s a class issue. This society is completely stratified, Casey. People very seldom marry outside of their class.”

“But Sam, Americans don’t have a stratified society. Europeans marry Americans, so there has to be a way around it…” she trailed off as Sam laughed at her.

“Don’t be naïve, Casey. Americans may try to say they don’t have a class society, but they do, they really do. Your parents were educated and very well off, but they were not gentry. Money has nothing to do with it. You’re born into it. I suppose you can only try, but you needed to be aware of this. The Andrews family simply may not approve of Tom being involved with an American girl, especially considering the circumstances.”

She stared sullenly at the table, not answering. Sam took a deep breath and plunged in with his fait accompli.

“Have you considered that in the original timeline, Tom marries someone else?”

Slowly, she raised her head to look at him. “What?”

“There’s another woman in Belfast who’s supposed to become his wife, Casey. I can tell you her name, age, who her family is, how many children they have…”

“No!” She stood, slapping the silverware off the table and against the wall with a great clatter. She glared at Sam. “You’re preaching determinism, again! I don’t care who he married before. He died before! I’m going to stop that; I’ll stop the other, too.” Defiance brought her chin up. “He didn’t know me before, but he knows me now. He’s interested in me, not someone else! And I will do everything I can to keep it that way!”

She left the room and he heard her bedroom door slam, as he dropped his head onto his arms.

“That went well,” he told the silverware.

***

Tom was coming to dinner on Thursday and as the time approached, Casey’s emotions refused to settle on anything. Having him over the other night, knowing he was seeing her as a woman for the first time, had filled her with an erotic ache. He had actually held her, something completely against the rules. She couldn’t wait to see him again. To be with him now, to eat and talk and laugh with him, was almost more than she could bear. But Sam’s warnings moved like a murmur underneath her joy. It could all come to nothing, for the simple reason that she was an American and not from a wealthy family.

But when Tom arrived, bearing chocolates, Casey didn’t even try to keep her emotions in check. When she opened the door, he smiled and offered the candy, at the same time, glancing down at her dress. Her body throbbed in response to his gaze, but she managed to raise an eyebrow quizzically when his eyes again reached her face. His smiled widened into a teasing grin. “Just checking.”

She laughed. “I probably deserved that. Point to you.”

He laughed with her. “I promise I won’t wear the joke to death. Just until you’ve paid me back for all the teasing the men put me through.”

“That will take a while, I imagine.”

He patted her shoulder, and his next words sent a thrill charging through her. “I hope to spend several years at it.”

After dinner, she and Sam showed Tom their time travel journals, and described how they were attempting to keep track of any changes they made in the past. Tom had brought a notebook in which he had recorded their observations about the Titanic. They all agreed to continue with the journals and compare their notes regularly as time went by. They spent a couple of hours writing it all down, including sketches that Sam tried to duplicate from memory. Tom was astonished at the things Sam knew, from being able to sketch a rough draft of a ship that had not yet been designed, to information about a coal fire that burned for two weeks and probably contributed to the quick sinking, by weakening a bulkhead.

As Sam and Casey talked about the building of the ship and the disaster itself, Tom made notes, quickly categorizing their memories by placing a symbol next to each item. He would later add a section to the notebook for each symbol. This is where he would work on the detail. They had an intense debate about whether Tom should take the book to work or leave it with Casey and Sam. Although he acknowledged the danger of having it at work, Tom was adamant that he needed to have it with him. He would keep it locked in a drawer, and not even Ham would have a key.

***

Saturday afternoon, when Tom finished work for the day, he invited Casey for a walk in the Botanic Gardens. The day was cold, but clear, and the treetops moved in a high breeze. It was too early for flowers, but the park’s greenery was flourishing, and there were several groups of people taking the fresh air. Tom met Casey and Sam at the entrance to the park, Casey smiling with excitement at the prospect of a walk. She looked wonderful, in a simple brown skirt and jacket. She wore a green scarf around her throat, and a flowered hat. Her eyes seemed to pick up the color from the scarf, looking even deeper green than usual. She held his arm as they walked, and he felt as if there was no other time or place in the world except for this one.

They left Sam reading on a bench near the entrance, and as they strolled away, Tom explained that he had a certain motive for the walk. “You had all those months, working at the yard, getting to know me, while you knew that you were a woman, not a boy. I need a chance to catch up.” He stopped and looked at her quite seriously. “What parts of Casey the boy, are true for the woman, as well? What was an act?” He smiled, but it was a troubled smile. “Who is Casey Wilson?”

She returned his smile, with tears in her eyes. “Well now, that’s a very fair question. I don’t know that the answer is a short one.”

He patted her hand and resumed walking. “We have all afternoon. Start anywhere.”

She laughed a little, and then paused as if to gather her thoughts. “I want to be completely honest with you,” she said, and he frowned. He expected her to be honest, why would she say that? She squeezed his arm. “What I mean by that, is that I might need to tell you more than you expect to hear about the time I’m from, to give you reasons for what I did or said. You see, once I started getting to know you, I knew that I would never lie to you about anything else, ever. No matter what the cost to me.”

She fell silent, unable to continue for a moment. Tom rubbed her fingers. “Casey, I have forgiven you for that deception. I understand your reasons, even more now than before. Please don’t let it stay between us.”

With a deep breath, she nodded, and then gestured widely. “Well, it may surprise you to hear that, for the most part, Casey the boy–the way I acted and talked and worked while at the yard–is pretty much me. In a way, the woman who wears these… costumes,” she indicated her hat and clothes, “is more of an act than the boy.”

He shook his head. “I don’t understand.”

She moved to the rail and stood looking at the river. Tom realized she was not like the girls he knew–she stood differently, moved differently. The differences were subtle though, and could be put down to upbringing. She was naturally graceful, but had not been trained to gentility. After a moment, she turned to lean her back against the rail and regard him seriously. “Tom, I was born in 1985. The world changes a lot between now and then. I think it changes more in the next hundred years than at any time in human history. One of the biggest changes is the blurring of differences between men and women.”

Her words shocked him. He knew it showed because she smiled at his expression, clarifying, “Okay, I mean the social differences between men and women. Kids in my generation grew up as complete equals. We went to the same schools, had the same opportunities, the same responsibilities, competed for the same jobs. Women vote, they hold public office, they run companies, they do anything they are capable of doing. They don’t have to ask permission, they don’t have to be ‘protected’ or supported by a man.”

He shook his head, dumbfounded. She touched his arm. “What I’m trying to say is that working in a shipyard was completely normal for me. Oh, not the work itself, I had to learn that, but to have a job, to be around a lot of working men, I was comfortable with that. In fact, the part that was weird was not having more women around. That, and not having women’s lavatories, of course.”

He heard the joke in her tone, but just shook his head, unable to speak. He put his hands in his pockets and turned to look at the river. The suffragettes talked about a society like that. He was not one of those who thought women were incapable of voting or making decisions–far from it. But he couldn’t imagine the life Casey talked about.

She stood beside him and tried again. “Tom, think of the camaraderie, the casualness, you feel when working in a roomful of men. For my generation, that’s the way it is for boys and girls working together. It’s been that way for all our lives. We hardly even think about it. So when I say that Casey the boy is normal for me, that’s what I mean. Except for being careful that no one found out I was a girl, I just acted like myself.”

He stared at the railing, knowing he still didn’t understand. “So now?” he asked. “Dressing and acting like a woman? How is this an act, for you?” He looked at her accusingly. “That day in my office, you said you missed being a girl. It nearly broke my heart to hear you say that, to think we’d taken something special away from you. Where is the truth, Casey?”

She blinked away tears. “The truth is all of it, Tom. I missed being able to just go to work and have everybody know I was a girl and have it be okay. I’d have done all the same things and acted the same way and probably dressed the same. But I’d have been a girl.” She spread her hands, as if begging. “I would have just been me.”

He stared at her for a minute, trying to understand it, then rubbed his temples. “It’s all so foreign to me, but I guess I can understand how it would be for you, growing up that way. But what about now?” He held up his hands to indicate her clothing, not able to hide his misery. “Now, you can be a girl. But you say this is an act, and I don’t understand why. I want to know you, Casey. I want that more than anything else in the world. But where is the real Casey Wilson?”

She did start crying then. “Somewhere in 2006, I think.” Remorseful, he reached for her, but she turned away. He waited as she tried to stop crying and after a minute, she spoke again, her voice not quite clear. “I just find it a struggle to always be proper and… ladylike… for lack of a better word.” She turned to face him, brushing away a tear with gloved fingers. “I’m used to being more casual with people, even with men, and I’m… I don’t know… wilder, I guess, than what’s proper for a woman in this time. When I was running around Belfast as a boy, I didn’t have to worry about any of that. But now I feel like I’m constantly stifled.” She retrieved a handkerchief from her pocket and blew her nose. “It’s not so bad that I’m unhappy or anything, and it can’t be helped, after all. I just have to get used to it.”

He chewed his lower lip, trying to think of a way to cheer her up. “If you could act as you wanted, what would you do?”

She looked surprised, and then turned in a slow circle, taking in the entire city. “Oh I don’t know. Maybe,” she gestured down the path at some kids playing football, “join in an impromptu game of football. Or meet my friends for a few beers at a pub.” She smiled a little at his alarmed expression. “Go dancing. Play a game of catch on the campus lawn.” She laughed suddenly. “Take off my shoes and sit on the floor!”

He laughed at that, though he was shocked about the beer. She looked at him curiously. “You have a sister, don’t you?”

He nodded. “Yes, Nina. She’s twenty-five.”

“What does she do for fun?”

He frowned, thinking about it. “Well, she just got married last year. I believe she enjoyed planning that. She lives in England, now. But she likes to read, which,” he bowed briefly to her, “I know you like to do also.” She nodded and he continued, “She’s quite accomplished at needlepoint and spinning, and I think she also enjoys those. And she writes that she meets with friends for tea and gossip fairly often.” His lips quirked as he looked at Casey and the politely interested expression she wore. “She is also an accomplished horsewoman, and plays golf and tennis.”

“Ah! Golf and tennis. And riding? Well, that all sounds enjoyable,” Casey said. “I just had no idea what women did for fun in this time.”

He looked cross, a corner of his mouth curling up to show he was teasing. “You truly must socialize more.”

“Well there’s no doubt about that,” she replied. “And perhaps work on shedding some of my preconceived notions. Can women play cricket?”

“Oh, goodness!” He groaned. “Of course they don’t play cricket, that’s much too rough!”

She stopped walking and looked at him, pouting. “My best friend was on the women’s varsity cricket team at Queen’s.”

He stared at her, speechless. He played cricket, and it was not a game for women.

Casey waved a hand at him. “Tom? You can breathe, now.”

He blinked. “Women’s varsity cricket? Real cricket?” She nodded. “Do you play?” he asked her.

“Not on a team. I like to jump around and have fun, but it turns out I’m not real competitive. I always want everyone to just get along.”

That made him laugh. “I can just imagine.”

“What about football?” Casey asked suddenly.

“You mean, women playing football?” Tom shook his head. “Young girls play when they are still in school. Not after, I’m afraid.”

“Why not?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s not like there’s a law or anything against it. I guess it’s just not considered ladylike.”

“Ladylike? Oh my god, the dreaded word!”

He laughed, but felt contrite. “I’m sorry, Casey. School girls can and do play these games among themselves, but any sport a lady plays is done in a sedate manner. Ladylike, if you will.”

“But why? And what about tennis? You said your sister played tennis. That’s not sedate.”

“It is when ladies play it. I’ve seen them.”

“Oh brother.” She put her head in her hands. “I guess I can’t lose all my preconceived notions, after all.”

“You know, girls are quite active as children,” he told her. “They play along with the boys all the time. My sister had four brothers and we were merciless with her. And she never had any trouble keeping up. But about thirteen or fourteen years of age, she stopped. Mother may have encouraged her, but I think that’s when she first noticed boys other than her brothers.”

“Ah,” Casey said, “the biggest game of all.”

He tilted his head in acknowledgement. “Exactly.”

“But Tom, you’re, what, thirty-four?” He nodded. “And you still play cricket and go hunting or fishing for fun. I’ve heard you talk about that.”

“Certainly. Not as much as I’d like of course, because of work, but certainly.”

“So in this society, men can continue to play like boys well into their thirties, and the girls, at quite young ages, take up needlepoint.” Her raised eyebrows indicated he could take it as a question.

He rubbed his mouth to hide a smile, aware of the trap he’d walked into. “Now,” he pointed out, “I may not be the right person to ask, but I always assumed girls did that because they wanted to. Some kind of domesticity desire kicking in or something.” He gestured helplessly. “I don’t really know. Boys are sent off to school and the girls stay at home, or attend a local school with other girls. We really don’t see them much, at least not socially, until they come out, but I have several female cousins and, of course, I knew sisters of my friends. And at that age, the girls mostly sat in groups and giggled. They wouldn’t have played football with us if we’d begged them.”

Casey just shook her head in consternation.

“So girls in your generation don’t do that?” he asked.

“Oh for heaven’s sake, of course they do!” she said. “But we don’t have to give up the games and running around. We can keep playing as long as we’re able, same as the guys. And why not? It’s healthy to keep active.”

“So does no one learn needlepoint, anymore? It does make things attractive and many clans in Ireland are fiercely proud of their patterns.”

She hesitated. “They do if they’re interested in it as a hobby, but for the most part, no one does that kind of thing anymore. Needlepoint is done by machine and outsourced to wherever labor is cheapest. Anything homemade, especially by a clan in Ireland, is going to take top dollar.”

“So we lose art to progress, is that what you’re saying? But it frees everyone up to play football.”

She nodded. “Sort of. Although it’s more like people are freed up to do whatever interests them.”

She paused as they rounded a corner, and her eyes wandered off the path and to the small oak tree on the side. Tom watched as she moved, as if dazed, to stand next to it, one hand tentatively touching the young branches, the top of the tree just reaching her waist. He followed behind her. Her voice was so soft, he had to lean in, not daring to breathe. “I used to come here all the time at first.” He watched her hand caress the bark, her mind a million miles away. Or a hundred years. “I would look around and try to remember what the park and city looked like before. Then I started working for you and I didn’t have time to come anymore.” She brought the hand to her face, wiping away a tear and shaking her head slowly. “I can’t picture it, now. I’m forgetting.”

He touched her back, gently, so that she hardly felt it. “It does no one good to cling to what we can’t have, Casey. There’s nothing wrong with moving on.”

She blinked and looked up him, serious as she searched his face. He was relieved when she smiled a little. “I know. I may need to be reminded occasionally.”

He gripped her shoulders. “I’m sorry that it’s been hard for you, here. I try to imagine what it would be like for me, to suddenly find myself in 1807 and have to figure out how to survive and fit in.” He shook his head. “I think you’ve done splendidly. I hope I can be a help to you from now on.” He touched her cheek. “You can always take off your shoes and sit on the floor when I’m around.” He smiled as she laughed at that. “And I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than take you dancing. I know of a ball we can go to tonight. Would you like to?”

He hoped she would always look at him the way she was now, eyes shining and lips trembling slightly. Was it love he saw on her face? He held his breath as she nodded, and he gave in to one more improper act: a light, quick kiss on her lips. Then he let her go and turned away, taking her arm in his again as they resumed their walk. He could tell she needed the break as much as he did.

Chapter 17

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