The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 17

The author in Belfast Botanic Gardens
The author in Belfast Botanic Gardens

February–March 1907

Sam noted with some amusement that Casey had not yet answered his good morning, or his twice-repeated question of how her evening had gone. He had accompanied them to the dance, of course. Tom would never have taken her without a chaperone. But he’d pretty much left them on their own at the dance, which had been hosted by the Lord of something-or-other, at a grand estate on the edge of town. He’d been nervous about social interaction with this crowd, in this time. He supposed he did all right. Everyone was polite, anyway, but his concern left him with little time to actually “chaperone.” Tom and Casey had been quiet on the way home and Tom had simply shaken Sam’s hand, and kissed Casey’s, before driving off. Casey had gone straight to bed, although he’d managed to notice her dreamy expression as she said good-night.

Hence, his question this morning. True, the greeting and first question had been sort of tossed at her as he passed her, sitting at the table, on his way into the kitchen for what passed for coffee in Edwardian Ireland. He’d repeated the question as he placed his breakfast on the table and retrieved the newspaper for reading. Now he sat with the paper folded, dipped a spoon into his porridge, and took a minute to observe his distracted ward.

Casey was perched cross-legged on her chair, wearing a warm sweater and her “boy pants,” feet shod only in thick socks. Her hair was rumpled from sleeping, the curls hanging in loose rivulets around her face. That face was thoughtful, the eyes tired and dreamy as she stared at her untouched cereal. Sam waved a hand in front of her.

“Earth to Casey!” He brought the hand back and reached for his coffee. “Isn’t there a song about dancing all night?”

Casey rolled her eyes and pulled up a spoonful of porridge, but she was blushing. “Very funny,” she muttered.

“And begging for more?” Sam continued to tease. Casey just smiled dreamily into her bowl, slowly stirring. “Oh, dear,” Sam said.

She gave a half shrug, continuing to stir. “It’s no use, Sam. Every moment I’m with him, I love him more. I feel like I’m dreaming, because he acts as if he…” she dipped her head lower as if to hide, “…well, as if he likes me, too.”

Sam cleared his throat. “Ah, good… good. I’m glad it’s going well. He’s a good man.” He stirred his coffee for a moment, his look of concern belying the words.

Casey took a sip from her cup. “And?” she prompted.

Sam glanced at her and sat back in his chair. “Well Casey, help me out here. This may seem an odd question, but what would your parents think of this relationship?”

Her eyebrows disappeared under the loose hair. “My parents?” she asked. “What do you mean?”

He spread his arms wide. “I’m serious. They’re not here, you know, and I often feel I should act as a surrogate. You’re only twenty-one years old, Casey, and Tom is thirty-four. I have to question if you understand what you’re dealing with here. And whether your parents would be concerned.”

“I have no doubt they would love Tom, if they could meet him.”

Sam waved this away. “Of course they would. Everybody loves Tom. And they couldn’t ask for a more decent and respectable young man to love their daughter. But would they want you getting this involved with someone his age?”

She shook her head. “I think my parents would be more concerned about his character than about his age. If he’s so decent and respectable, why do you have to worry?”

He rubbed his forehead, frustrated. “What do you want from life, Casey? What would your parents want for you? I know you had plans before, and that since coming here, you’ve been more concerned with survival, as have I. But we need to start figuring out where we’re going. You especially need to, Casey. You’re going to live out your entire life in the early twentieth century. How does that change the plans you had for yourself?”

She answered slowly, as if thinking about it. “Before, I just had general plans. No specific goals, but I just sort of expected to… well, the usual. I would get my degree, do grad school, some kind of research. Maybe biotechnology. I expected to eventually get married and have a child or two. To travel a lot. Just a normal kind of life. It may be more difficult, now, but can’t I do the same kind of thing, here?”

“With Tom?” Sam asked.

Casey blushed again. “That would be my preference, yes.”

“Are we assuming he lives past 1912?”

Her eyes widened. “I’m assuming that with all my heart, Sam. But you bring up a good point.”

He arched an eyebrow. “Which is?”

“That I would be a fool to take my time with this. Before, I would never have considered getting involved–no, getting married–before finishing my degree and having a decent job. Even in this time, there was no real reason to do otherwise. Except that I’ve fallen in love with Thomas Andrews. If we only have a few years together, then I want to have as much of them as possible, together.”

Sam nodded. “I understand. That’s sort of my point, because I don’t think Tom will want to wait several years before marrying you, anyway. But do you understand what marriage to Tom Andrews would require of you? You haven’t met his family yet.”

She held up her hands. “Don’t start with the family again.”

He leaned forward. “I mean, it might behoove you to observe what role women play in his family. Do any of them have careers, or interests or hobbies outside of their marriages? Or, are they strictly helpmates? Wives and mothers?” He rubbed the table, thinking as he talked. “Tom holds a powerful position in his company and in this town. I don’t know if it’s happened yet, but people will want him to hold public office, to aid in solving labor problems, home rule issues, all kinds of things. His family is very involved in politics. His older brother eventually becomes Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. It may be that the woman who marries Tom will have to be a strong presence behind the man. Support, dear. Social, political, familial support, not a woman with a career of her own. Not in this age.”

He met her gaze with a frank smile. “Are you ready or able to be a wife and mother? To run a household with servants, maintain a social standing in the community, and support your husband? Because I suspect that’s what your life will be, dear.”

She stared at him and swallowed hard. “I could learn, couldn’t I? I think… No. I don’t think that Tom would expect me not to pursue my own interests. He doesn’t seem to be that kind of person.” It was her turn to draw on the table with her fingers. “We’d have to talk about it. I’d have to make sure he understands that I don’t know how to do that stuff. But I’ll learn. We’ll compromise. Maybe I won’t have an actual job, but I’ll do other things. I have to try, Sam.”

She stood up abruptly and picked up her dishes. “This is silly, anyway. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. We’ve only been to one dance. You make me start worrying about what our marriage will be like, I might get too confident. I may wake up and find out he’s been distracted by a, what’s the phrase? ‘A well-turned ankle.’” She spoke lightly, but ducked into the kitchen.

Sam raised his cup for a sip. “Nothing wrong with your ankles, my dear,” he murmured to himself.

***

Ardara House was quiet when Tom arrived that morning. The ivy-covered stone manse of his childhood appeared to glower under the day’s dark clouds. The rooms inside were cold and empty, except for a fire in the parlor, laid in preparation for the family’s return from church. They were all at church, even the servants, although he found Martha, the scullery maid, watching over supper preparations in the kitchen. He greeted her, stole a carrot from the cutting board, and headed into the parlor.

He was reading in there when his family arrived home, and the bustle of preparing an early supper and settling in for the afternoon began to sweep through the house. His father shook his hand, with a mock-stern visage. “Thought you’d be here in time for church, son. Late night?”

“Aye,” Tom replied. “Danced my feet off and had to recuperate.”

“Wonderful!” his father said.

Tom turned to give his mother a kiss.

Her look was thoughtful as she searched his face for clues to what he was feeling. “So we can assume you had a good time? How do you find the young lady, Tommy?”

“I find the young lady enchanting, Mother. Also beautiful, intelligent, compassionate, and a joy to be with. Full of surprises, too, although you knew that.”

Her eyebrows rose higher and she exchanged a glance with her husband, before answering. “Perhaps I should call on her this week. I would like to meet her.”

Tom tilted his head as he thought about it. “She works, Mother. I’m pretty sure she won’t have a calling day. Can I bring her and her guardian for dinner in a couple of weeks?

“Certainly.” She didn’t look happy, though and Tom slipped an arm around her shoulders in a hug.

“All right, Ma. What’s bothering you?”

“It should be obvious, Tommy.” She looked at him in exasperation. “You asked me to hold off arranging a marriage because you wanted a chance to find love on your own. I agreed to that, because I want you to be happy. But what possessed you to look beyond all the suitable young ladies of our acquaintances?”

“But Casey is suitable, Mother. You’ll understand when you meet her. And be fair. I didn’t purposely look for someone different. She was just there.”

“Not exactly, Tommy, and this is what disturbs me most of all.” Mrs. Andrews had the air of someone speaking words that had long been bottled up. “She lied to you, from the first moment she met you. She deceived you for five months, and that takes a lot of deliberate deception, yet you want us to believe she is a person of great character. I understand that she apologized, and I would never encourage you to withhold forgiveness from anyone. But it does seem that you’ve given your trust far too easily.”

“Tom,” his father interjected before he could think of an answer, “love is a powerful emotion. Your mother and I are simply concerned that you might not be seeing the situation as clearly as you should. That’s not unusual in the early stages of infatuation, you know. But it is a good reason why you should give heed to the doubts of others.”

The joy he’d felt since last night’s dance seemed to still as he listened to them. He didn’t respond right away; he just put his hands in his pockets and gazed unhappily at them a few moments, thinking. When he spoke, he was quiet, but unable to completely cover his bitterness. “I understand what you’re saying. I can’t disagree with you, when I know these things to be true.” His eyes stung, and he blinked several times. “Please understand, I’ve talked to Casey at length about her deception, and to her guardian as well. I have not just swept it under the rug and tried to pretend it never happened, but I am satisfied with the sincerity of her apology. I also understand her reasons for the deception, although I don’t condone it.” He looked from one to the other in desperation, and held out his hands. “Please give her a chance. I have never wanted anything in my life as badly as I want this. Just give her a chance.”

His mother took his hands in hers and squeezed them. “We will, Tommy. That was always our intention. But you needed to be aware of our misgivings.” She changed the subject, obviously hoping to bring the conversation to a happier topic.

“What church does she attend, Tommy?”

Worse and worse, Tom thought. He leaned against the desk and chose his words carefully, “I don’t think she or her guardian attend church.”

His mother was struck silent, turning to stare at him in confusion. He waited. “I don’t understand,” she said at last. She seemed determined to try again. “They must attend somewhere. Surely you mean that they just have not been able to attend services often. Due to their difficult circumstances, perhaps.”

He gave her a slow half-nod, not sure how to explain this. “That’s possible, I suppose.” He covered an involuntary wince by scratching his head. He couldn’t lie to his parents about this, and he had to watch what he said.

They seemed bewildered at his reaction, exchanging a concerned glance. His father spoke up. “Tommy, they’re not…” he glanced at his wife again before continuing, “they’re not… Catholic, are they?”

Tom laughed at that, a little relieved that this was their first concern. “Of course not.”

They’re own relief was obvious, and they seemed content to drop the subject. “I’m sure there’s a reasonable answer, Tommy.” His mother smoothed her skirt and moved toward the door. “While I would have preferred you met her at church, of course, I understand the circumstances are a bit strange.” She gave him a stern look. “Nevertheless, I do insist you discuss this with her. It would never do to pursue a relationship before being certain of your religious compatibility. Since she’s American, there’s just no telling what religion she is.”

He nodded, looking so miserable that Mrs. Andrews had to hug him for a good long minute. “Bring them over for dinner, dear. We will all hope for the best.”

He was quiet the rest of the day, until his brother, Willie, pestered him into an impromptu game of football out in the rain and cold. Soaked, muddy, kicking and running, Tom let exhaustion and physical effort replace his despair. Odd how that always helped.

***

Tom began spending several evenings a week with Casey and Sam. He didn’t consciously plan it that way, but he discovered, night after night as he headed for his flat, that he just didn’t want to go home. He had grown up in a happy and boisterous household, and the quiet of his bachelor life had always grated on him. With love, laughter, and companionship waiting for him somewhere else, his feet just naturally turned in that direction. So he went, and they were always happy to see him, and he was reasonably sure, as they shared a meal and chores, that he added something to their lives, too.

He learned to understand the casual way they had with each other, and many times he could see flashes of what their century must have been like. It seemed mostly good, and even amazing, with space shuttles and men on the moon, cures for many diseases, and airplanes that flew around the world in just hours. He was pretty sure they’d never get him on one of those! Once though, they told him about wars, terrorism, and weapons so frightening, he had disturbing dreams for several nights. He was upset to learn that Ireland had split, and that Ulster still had not learned to live with itself, but was surprised that Sam thought Ireland should go ahead and vote for Home Rule.

“Northern Ireland is a war zone during the twentieth century,” Sam mentioned one night as they cleaned up after dinner. “The two factions cause total bloody mayhem for decades. Let me tell you, Tom, this is a real opportunity to try the other way. Voting against Home Rule didn’t work in our timeline; I can’t see that voting for it this time, could possibly be any worse.”

“Maybe,” Tom said, but he thought about it. “I think the Catholics should be equal under the government, but I can’t accept that separating from Britain is the answer. I truly think it would ruin us, economically.”

Sam lifted a shoulder. “It doesn’t have to be one or the other. If you can manage to bring about equality without Home Rule, I’m all right with that. I’m just telling you, it didn’t work in our history.”

Tom acknowledged that with a twitch of his brows. “Unfortunately, there are people on both sides who refuse to allow any compromise. Maybe we should try to strengthen any society that has a goal of improvement. I have observed, at the shipyard, that Catholics and Protestants work together just fine, when they are committed to a common task. But the Catholics need to be allowed in, and even at the yard we have trouble with that, from time to time.”

Sam nodded. “But it’s a start. You need to allow more Catholics in, too. Right now, they’re a tiny percentage of the workforce, so are at the mercy of the Protestant workers.”

Tom spread his hands. “I can honestly say we’ve never refused to hire someone because he was Catholic. But it’s true that, in general, the Catholic population doesn’t have the skills that we need.” He shook his head. “Then we get into the education problem. Truly, Sam, I think this issue is too big for even time travelers to solve.”

Sam held up an admonishing finger. “We can’t solve it all at once. But let’s approach it methodically and take what improvements we get, all right?”

Tom nodded. “It’s a start.”

Later, over tea in the parlor, Sam showed them the latest letter from Albert Einstein. As someone whose business benefited directly from the applications of recent discoveries made by physicists, Tom was quite interested in new theories, and Sam had mentioned that his research in time travel was based on the work of this Einstein. He was curious.

“You’ve mentioned him before, when you said your research was based on his theories. But I’ve never heard of him.”

Sam thought about it a moment. “It’s only 1907,” he pointed out. “His first batch of papers were only very recently published and I suppose they are not widely available yet.”

“The name sounds Jewish?” Tom asked it as a question, and Sam nodded.

“He is a Jew, although not a practicing one. He’s German, living in Switzerland at this time. He eventually becomes a Swiss citizen.”

“Ah, but that would explain why his work is not well known here,” Tom told him, a little sadly. “British scientists don’t collaborate much with German ones.”

“Long live King Isaac Newton?” Casey asked.

“Oh, Newton is still king,” Sam told her. “For a while longer, anyway. In another decade, it will be a British scientist who confirms Einstein’s theory about gravity. Then the crown changes heads.”

“You’ve been writing to him?” Tom asked, gazing at the several sheets of paper in Sam’s hand. “About the time travel?”

Sam nodded, a sheepish expression on his face. “I first wrote him just a few days after we got here. Honestly, I didn’t have an exact plan; I don’t know what I wanted him to do. Can’t say that I know, now. But he’s a great thinker, Tom. I guess it boils down to that. If anyone can figure out what I’ve done and what we can do about it, it will be he.”

Tom glanced at Casey, uncomfortable with the thought that came to him. “Will he be able to help you get back?” He felt lightheaded. Would Casey leave if she had the opportunity to go home? What right did he have to ask her to stay?

Sam was shaking his head as if trying to figure it out. “I don’t think so. All the data point to a separate timeline. The only connection it has to our original timeline is January 24, 1906.”

“What if you built another machine and went back to that time? Could you get back that way?”

Casey laughed and they looked at her, not sure what was funny. She held her hands up as if drawing something in the air. “Like there’s a nexus there. Maybe a time travel station: ‘Transfer here for the twenty-first century!’“

Tom felt bewildered, but Sam laughed. “If this becomes commonplace, I can guarantee some entrepreneur will build one!” But he shook his head again. “I don’t know if that would work. Who’s to say it would be our twenty-first century? But it’s the kind of thing Einstein is good at thinking about.”

Sam turned through the pages, all traces of laughter gone from his face. “The problem is,” he said, “Herr Einstein is pretty sure I’m a crackpot. He’s interested enough to consider what I tell him and keep the correspondence open. But he’s not going to say he believes that Casey and I have traveled back through time.”

“Have you told him about Titanic?” Tom asked.

Sam looked up. “Not yet. But I will soon.”

“Sam did tell him about the San Francisco earthquake,” Casey said. “In his first letter, before the earthquake happened. I suspect that’s why Einstein hasn’t just written Sam off as a complete nutcase. But he doesn’t know what to do with him.”

Tom smiled at her. “I know exactly how he feels.”

Under cover of Sam’s laugh, he reached over and took Casey’s hand, helping her to her feet. “I need to be getting home.” He shook Sam’s hand and Casey walked with him to the door. Lately, she had been trying to conduct herself in a manner more acceptable to proper society, so he was surprised when she stopped and slipped her arms around his neck. Her kiss was deep, her body scandalously close against him. Thought vanished in a swirl of emotion as he lost himself in her lips. When she pulled away he rested his forehead against hers, forcing his hands to remain lightly on her waist.

“I’m kind of glad no one’s figured out how to build another time machine,” she whispered. “I don’t want to have to make that decision, now.”

“I could never ask you to stay,” he said. “But I couldn’t bear it if you left. I love you, Casey.”

Chapter 18

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