The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 22

Sculpture representing the shipyard workers stands in the worker's residential district. The cranes in the background are in the shipyard.
Sculpture representing the shipyard workers stands in the worker’s residential district. The cranes in the background are in the shipyard.

Chapter 22

April–June 1907

Sea trials for the Adriatic were on Wednesday the first of May. Then she would head straight to Liverpool where she would pick up crew and passengers, as well as finish the last minute fitting out. “There are a million things,” Tom rather resignedly explained to Sam and Casey, “still to do up until the minute we sail.” The actual maiden voyage was said to begin when the ship left Liverpool heading for New York, with paying passengers.

The first ten thousand of those million things to do needed to be done before Wednesday morning, and it was almost nine on Tuesday night before Tom closed his office to head for home. Unfortunately, he found Mike Sloan just entering the outer office, so he paused, dismissing Ham with a wave of his hand. Ham hesitated, but said good night and left them alone. He’d be back well before dawn, just as Tom would be.

Tom leaned against Ham’s desk and folded his arms, eyeing his visitor with careful nonchalance. “What can I do for you, Mike?”

Sloan had put in as long a day as Tom had, and no doubt had just clocked out. Like Tom, he probably was not in a mood to waste time. “Sorry to bother ye now, sir, but it’s the first I’ve had a chance to speak with ye. Bit uncomfortable subject this is, but ye should know, sir, that my men have been talking amongst themselves.” At Tom’s raised eyebrow, he clarified, “’bout your upcoming nuptials.”

“Oh? And their consensus?”

“Well sir, they’ve been wondering…” Sloan stopped, thought a moment, then backtracked. “See, most of the men have not seen Casey since she was fired…and well, sir, they’re all hoping for the chance…” He stopped again and pulled himself straighter, blurting, “They’d like to see for themselves that she’s really a woman, sir. In the long run, it’d be best for ye if ye could bring ‘er by the yard one day.”

What on earth? Tom burst into laughter, tried to speak, then decided it would be better to sit down and get the laughing under control. It took him a minute and by the time he was able to breathe again and wipe the tears from his face, Sloan had taken the other chair, his expression stern.

Fighting not to laugh again, Tom nodded. “I can arrange that, Mike. I think she’d enjoy it.”

Sloan nodded back. “That will help a bit, Mr. Andrews. I’ve told the men that I’m sure she’s a decent woman, else ye wouldn’t marry her. Ye understand they’re a bit uncertain.”

Tom tilted his head as he gazed at him. “Surely they don’t think she’s really a boy. That would be worse than ridiculous. What is this about?”

Sloan spread his hands. “Ye remember when he–no, she–worked here, she freely admitted she was an atheist. Ye’ve always been a good Christian man, sir, and the men respect ye. But they’re disturbed that ye’re marryin’ a godless woman.” He held up a hand to forestall the retort Tom was on verge of giving. “I’ve told them sir, that it’s a personal decision. None of us has a say in what ye do, and I see no reason why this would affect anything at the yard. They understand that, but still it bothers ’em.” His head dipped in a sardonic acknowledgement. “Even the Catholics don’t like it. Men are wonderin’ what they tell their wives and children, if they ask.”

“Their wi…” Tom stood, shaking with fury. “I’ll tell you what you can tell them. You tell them that the last I looked, people in this country are free to worship as they see fit. You tell them there aren’t any inquisitors going around making sure people are in church on Sunday, and saying their prayers before every meal. You tell them that Miss Wilson is as morally upright as the most pious old mother in any church. And you tell them,” Tom stood chin-to-chin with Sloan, who had stood as well, “that every wife and child could use her as their example for life, and Ireland would be a better country for it.”

Sloan seldom gave way in confrontations and he returned Tom’s angry glare with a steady look. “Aye, sir. I will tell them that, and their respect for ye will carry a long way. But ye remember sir, that the devil often uses feminine charm to hinder men who love the Lord. I can warn ye of that, but in the end, it’s between ye and God.” He gave one brief nod. “Good voyage, sir.”

Tom watched him leave, taking a deep breath to calm himself. Sloan was always trouble. Veiled threats. He suspected this wasn’t the end of it. But he’d do his best to make sure Casey never found out about this.

***

He talked to Ham about it on the way to Southampton. They stood on the boat deck, watching the nearly full moon light a path through the Irish Sea and cast deep shadows on the ship around them. Ham listened to Tom’s irritated description of Sloan’s demands, his face outlined by the glow of his cigarette, glasses glinting against the light as he nodded his head.

“It’s a good idea to have her come by, I think,” he said. “He’s right that there’s been a lot of talk. The men were amused at the trick to begin with. But they don’t quite know what to make of your engagement.”

“I won’t have her mistreated, Ham.” Tom was still furious. “She’ll be treated like a lady or they’ll not see her at all.”

“Ah, they’ll treat her like a lady, sir. I expect they’ll feel some awkwardness, but they’ll have on their Sunday manners.” Ham tossed the cigarette, the glow arcing to the water below. “Mayhap, you could have her come in with Lady Pirrie one day. You can bring them by the worker’s lunchroom for a few minutes to chat with whoever is there. No one will dare be forward with Her Ladyship present.”

Tom smiled sardonically at the thought. “That’s brilliant, Ham.” He chewed on his lip, thinking. “Are the men as disturbed about her atheism as Sloan has let on?”

Ham turned to look at his boss, his face blurred in the darkness. “It didn’t bother ‘em when she was working with them, sir, ‘cept for when Sloan reminded them. You know how it is: when they’re working on a ship, that’s all that matters. But,” he hesitated, then shrugged. “They look up to ye, sir. Some of them attend church with ye. They don’t understand what it means, that you’ll have a godless wife.”

“They’re making it into something it’s not.” Tom’s jaw clenched. “I’m as firm in my beliefs as I ever have been, Ham. My beliefs about the treatment of people and social justice and how we live our lives mesh quite well with Casey’s. Intellectually, she may not believe in God, but there is nothing “godless” about her.”

Ham laughed. “That may be a bit deep for most of ‘em, sir,” he pointed out, and Tom laughed a little, too. “May I ask, sir, what your uncle and aunt think of her?”

Tom folded his arms and leaned sideways against the rail. “They like her just fine. Aunt Marge thinks she’s wonderful and daring and,” his voice took on the cadence of a quote, “exactly what I need to keep me from getting lazy and complacent in my old age.”

“Well, sir.” Ham laughed again at Tom’s words. “No one doubts that Lord and Lady Pirrie are godly folk. Same with your family. If they approve of her, I think we can convince the men that means they’re content with the state of her soul. Bring her by the yard when you return from your voyage. I expect it will be just fine.”

***

Casey slowly adjusted to having a maid around. Her dismay with having servants increased as she read the books Mrs. Andrews had given her, but her time with Penny helped her see that the practical application of the rules could be flexible. It helped that Penny proved to be a talkative sort.

“…and my little brother is such a scamp, Mistress, that my biggest relief was obtaining employment at Ardara House,” Penny was breathless as she completed a long and detailed description of her family as she organized Casey’s clothes. Casey watched in amazement as various articles of clothing, some of which Casey could not even name, practically folded or hung themselves in neat sections in her armoire. A small pile on the bed contained those items that had fallen victim to Casey’s twenty-first century idea of female behavior, and thus, needed repairs. Penny assured her befuddled mistress that she loved to sew and would gladly spend some time each day reducing the pile.

“Unless I continue to replenish it,” Casey offered, and Penny laughed in delight.

Sam had purchased a small safe that they put in the parlor and covered with a tablecloth so that it could double as a serving table. Into this safe, they placed their future gadgets and clothing, along with the time travel journals. They hoped this solution would protect both them and Penny, who would have access to the entire house.

“It is,” Sam admitted, “a temporary solution. We’ll keep adding journals, after all, and once you’re at Dunallon, there will be Tom’s journals, too.”

Casey thought about it. “I’ll ask Tom if he can build a locked cabinet for the library. We can make it large enough to hold a few years’ worth of journals.” She shrugged. “We’ll have to keep adding cabinets, I guess. Although, once we’re past the Titanic, maybe we won’t have so many changes to document.”

Sam snorted at that, but didn’t offer any other comment.

So it became just a matter of getting used to having someone else around. For Casey, this was easier than she had feared: Penny stepped into the place left empty of friends, and the two of them spent a great deal of time giggling about one thing or another. It was Sam who suffered with the new arrangement, grousing that having two young girls to watch after was not what he expected to be doing in his sixties. But there was often a twinkle in his eye when he retired to the parlor to read.

Casey did take her supervisory duties seriously, telling Sam she was “terrified of screwing up” once Dunallon was in her charge. She confessed this to Penny, using somewhat different language, and they both took on the task of reading all the servants’ manuals and discussing how practical application might work. Penny’s experience as a maid was brief, but she was familiar with her society, and Casey was grateful for her help.

***

Two weeks after Tom’s return, Lady Pirrie picked up Casey and the two of them rode in her carriage out to Queen’s Island. Casey matched Lady Pirrie in dignity, wearing a lavender, high-necked blouse, with chiffon lace in the yolk and the long sleeves, and a matching skirt sporting two panels of the same lace. Penny had pinned her hair on her head and covered it with a wide hat graced with a lavender chiffon bow. Casey carried a white parasol and wore a cameo necklace and earrings that Tom had given her as a birthday present. It was doubtful the men would even recognize the boy they had worked with for five months.

Tom met them at the door to the administration building, hiding his nervousness with a gallant air. The sight of his playful love looking so regal nearly took his breath away. He kissed her cheek and turned to offer the same to his aunt, whose eyes sparkled with mischief.

“Doesn’t she look marvelous, Tommy? The very picture of ladylike decorum.”

“Yes indeed,” he murmured, his admiring glance making Casey blush. “How long do you think she can keep it up?”

Lady Pirrie eyed Casey thoughtfully. “About an hour, I should think. I’ll need to have her in the carriage before it turns back into a pumpkin.”

They both nodded seriously and Casey haughtily lifted her skirt, reaching to take Tom’s arm. “Goodness. We’d better get started then, don’t you think?”

She was expected, but that didn’t stop the double-takes and stares as they made their way toward the lunchroom. Casey felt her heart choking her as she walked with Tom through the familiar hall and tried to smile at the faces she knew. They had timed the visit toward the end of the lunch break, so that the men would have had a chance to eat, and were starting to relax. The room was full when they walked in, Sloan and his evangelicals grouped near the door.

The noise stopped, then started again as several hundred men rose to their feet at the sight of the two ladies. Casey received a good many gapes. Lady Pirrie waved them down and called out a greeting.

“Thank you for giving us your time. We’ve been looking forward to formally introducing my nephew’s fiancée to you all.” She turned to Casey beside her and pulled her from Tom’s arm. “I know she looks different and fabulous, but I assure you: she’s the same sweet Casey we all worked with for so long.”

In all her preparation for this meeting, Casey had never figured out what to say. Now she faced their astonished stares with a blank mind. As she stepped forward, her gaze fell on Ham, sitting next to Sloan and grinning that incredible grin that seemed to split his face. The very same grin that had greeted her on her first day, over a year ago. The memory brought her own happy smile out, and she spread an arm, leaning lightly on her closed parasol with the other. The pose allowed them all a good look, and her eyes wandered over the crowd.

“I thought you were all marvelous to work with, and I’ve always missed being here. I’m truly sorry for my deceit, and I hope we can still be friends.” She turned a bit, indicating Tom with her head, and glanced flirtatiously back at her audience. “You mustn’t blame me for not being able to tell this man I couldn’t work for him when he offered me a job.”

They laughed, and Tom kissed her hand. Then she sat at the table in front, and most of the men she had known gathered around. They spent several minutes catching up with the work of the yard and how their families were doing. They seemed glad to see her, but the awkwardness never quite went away and after a few minutes, she realized that it wasn’t just because they were faced with Casey the girl. She was Miss Wilson, the boss’s fiancée, and any familiarity they had enjoyed before would never completely return.

She stood as the bell rang to signal the end of the lunch break and turned to find herself facing Mike Sloan. When he took her hand, an involuntary shudder went down her back as she remembered that terrifying confrontation the day she was fired. Grateful for the presence of Tom and Lady Pirrie, she tilted her head as he presented a brief bow. His manner was polite, but his look was piercing.

“Thank ye for coming, Miss Wilson,” he told her formally. “It puts the men’s minds at ease.”

She nodded. “Thank you for giving Tom the idea. I enjoyed seeing everyone again.” She met his eyes and decided to call his bluff. “We all live in this town, Mr. Sloan, and we all want to live in peace and raise our children to be happy people. Shall we work toward that goal together?”

Trapped, he let the corner of his mouth twitch once before answering, not without a small threat: “I am at your disposal, Miss. The good, Protestant people of Belfast want nothing more.”

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