The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 23

An example of Titanic's plans.
An example of Titanic’s plans.

Chapter 23

July 1907

“Lord Dunmore,” Sam said to Tom and Casey at dinner one night, “was delighted to hear about your engagement. He says he has worked with your father on various projects, Tom, so he knows who you are.”

“Oh, indeed.” Tom gave it some thought. “I don’t believe we’ve met, but I remember my father talking about him over the years. He’s been in London for some time, hasn’t he?”

Sam nodded. “My understanding is that he was living there until a couple of years ago. I guess the king asked him to take charge of the telephone company here, to get it on solid ground. Anyway,” Sam continued, “he’s invited us all for dinner this Saturday, if that will be convenient. He’s hosting a few visiting dignitaries, but wanted to fete your engagement, as well.”

“Buttering you up, is he?” Casey asked, making Tom choke a bit in surprise.

Sam laughed, his eyes dancing in amusement. “He is, actually. He sold my water heater design for an obscene amount of money. I’m his new best friend.”

Tom laughed along with them, then pointed his fork at Casey. “You are a cynical person, young lady. Do you always suspect ulterior motives when someone makes a friendly gesture?”

She nodded. “I do, yes. At least, I do when the somebody is a hard-nosed businessman and a lord whatever, as well. Such people normally wouldn’t have an interest in my engagement.”

“You’re hopeless, you know that?”

“I just try to keep everybody honest.”

“Just stay on her good side, Tom.” Sam told him. “I’ve found she can be helpful, at times.”

***

Given Sam’s new position, Casey supposed it was inevitable that they would run into Colin Riley at some point. On Saturday, they arrived at Lord Dunmore’s soiree, admiring the formal gardens and farmland that surrounded the mansion. Inside, Casey felt as if she were in a museum, and moved with care to avoid the bejeweled statuary and the gleaming white walls with gold-trimmed wainscoting. Lady Dunmore also favored large potted plants, and more than once Casey found herself being tickled by a wayward leaf if she stepped too close.

She was standing near Sam when she saw him straighten, staring ahead with tight lips. She turned to see Dr. Riley standing stiff and angry in front of him. The two of them looked like fighting cocks seizing up the competition.

For a moment, she was just as shocked as they were, her mouth hanging open as she stared at their erstwhile benefactor. Sensing an imminent explosion, she forced herself to step between them.

“Dr. Riley! What a surprise to see you, sir. Have you returned to Belfast, then?”

“Ah, have you already met?” Lady Dunmore had just approached, laying an elegant hand on Dr. Riley’s arm and smiling beatifically at Casey. “It’s so nice when a few of the guests are already acquainted.”

Tom had moved beside Casey, having heard her comment. He reached to shake Dr. Riley’s hand. “Dr. Riley, I’m Tom Andrews, Casey’s fiancé. Sam and Casey have told me all about you. It’s delightful to meet you, at last.”

Sam mentioned later that Dr. Riley did seem to have trouble adjusting to unexpected situations. As when they first met him, he made no response, continuing to shake Tom’s hand while he simply stared. A bemused Lady Dunmore hesitantly asked if anyone wanted a drink.

Dr. Riley recovered a bit. “Thank you, my Lady, a drink would be delightful.” His gaze went back to Tom. “Andrews? Of the Comber Andrews?”

“Aye,” Tom said.

Riley bowed, including Casey in the movement. “My congratulations to you both. If you will excuse me…”

He offered no real excuse, just strolled away, ignoring Sam, who stared after him, dumbfounded. They all did.

Casey broke the silence. “I think the gauntlet has been thrown.”

Tom looked down at her. “What do we do with it?”

They both looked at Sam, who returned their gazes with a twitch of his brow. “Damned if I know,” he said.

***

For the rest of the evening, Sam presented a well-mannered front, gracious to his hosts and friendly with the other guests. He tried unobtrusively to avoid Riley, suspecting that others would attempt to get them together, once it was known they were both physicists. Indeed, a few people mentioned it and offered to introduce them, overtures that Sam declined, mentioning that he had already had the pleasure, and then deflecting the offer, one way or another.

It was not a large crowd, thirty guests altogether. Sam’s dinner partner was Lord Dunmore’s niece, a winsome woman of thirty or so, visiting from London with her young daughter. Riley was further down the table, entertaining the widowed Mrs. Herceforth. Sam could not decide if that was a good thing or not, but knew he would have to deal with whatever occurred. Mrs. Herceforth did love to talk, and since Casey was one of her “projects,” Sam was sure Riley would receive all the details regarding Casey’s recent engagement. As well, Tom was seated across from Riley and so was included often in Mrs. Herceforth’s teasing descriptions of their courtship. Sam could see that Tom was keeping it light, and for the most part, it seemed that Riley was, too. Casey had the fortune to be seated at the other end of the table, with Lord Dunmore.

Before dessert, their host rose and offered toasts to his guests of honor: a visiting earl come to inspect the progress of the telephone company, and the more personal toast to Tom and Casey, announcing his delight in their engagement, as well as his confidence regarding Tom’s growing ability to tell male from female. Even Sam had to laugh at that. Poor Tom would never live it down.

Riley didn’t laugh at all.

***

“He didn’t make a disparaging comment all night,” Tom told Sam and Casey on the drive home. “I’ll admit he didn’t say much at all, just nodded a lot and smiled when necessary. But I have no idea what he was thinking.”

“I’m of two minds,” Sam said, sounding thoughtful. “Perhaps I should call on him. Ask for a meeting and let him know what we’re doing. See if he’ll let bygones be bygones.”

“Or?” Casey asked.

“Do nothing. He did say, the last time we saw him, that he didn’t want to see us again. If he does say or do anything, we just act like we don’t know what he’s talking about. After all, what is he going to do? Tell Lord Dunmore I’m from the future and I’m using my knowledge to create new technologies?” Sam gave a small, bitter laugh. “Who would believe him if he said such a thing?”

Tom reached for Casey’s hand, rubbing her gloved fingers. He looked disturbed. “I think I’d like to talk to him.” He glanced at Casey, trying to gauge her reaction. “He knows my family’s reputation, and is aware of who I am. Maybe I can reassure him about the two of you. Negotiate a truce, or something.”

Casey squeezed his hand and Sam agreed that might be their best option.

***

Tom’s plan to see Riley early in the week was delayed by an announcement he should have remembered was coming.

Pirrie had just returned from London, and had called a meeting of the managing directors. This wasn’t unusual, and Tom had a lot on his mind. His uncle was cheerful and excited as they all gathered in the elegant conference room, and he brought them to order quickly, the chandelier catching the gleam in his eyes, a huge smile on his face and a roll of design paper on the table beside him. But as he talked, Tom felt a chill start in his heart and spread to the farthest parts of his body.

“We have a new project,” Pirrie started out. “I had dinner with Bruce Ismay recently, and we discussed plans for a new line of ships.” He pinned his rough sketch on the board along one wall for them to see and spread his arms to indicate the whole. “This is the “Olympic Line,” gentlemen. There will be three ships. They’ll be the largest, most luxurious vessels in the world. They’ll ply the Atlantic between Europe and America, each one carrying more than three thousand passengers and cargo. Each will have room for all passenger classes and,” he pointed suddenly at Tom, who wasn’t the only one to jump a little bit, making them all laugh a little, “first-class accommodations will be as elegant as the grandest hotels. You know how to do that, Tommy.” He continued over their laughter, building the excitement, “Second class will be nearly as nice as first class on other vessels and third class will the nicest anywhere in the world.”

He became serious for a moment. “Now you know that Cunard developed the new turbine engines with assistance from the government. They did this by agreeing to build their ships combat-capable, so the military could take them over on a moment’s notice.” His face purpled and he thumped the table in front of him. “White Star is not going to do that, gentlemen! These are passenger ships and mail vessels, and they will be classy through and through, as befits the White Star Line and the noble people who will be paying passengers! So we’ll stick with the engines we know, but no expense will be spared to make these ships the best in luxury and service.”

He paused to drink some water from the crystal glass in front of him. Tom held his breath, not daring to look away. Pirrie continued, “The first two ships will be the Olympic and the Titanic. We’ll build them…” his voice faded from Tom’s awareness as Tom stared at the notes in front of him, dizzy. He felt as if he were sinking into an encroaching darkness that somehow smelled of cold seawater. Someone else said something and there was laughter, and his uncle continued on, but all Tom heard was the now-beloved voice of Casey repeating, “a ship called Titanic… a ship called Titanic…”

God Almighty. It was really happening.

***

When he told Casey and Sam that night, sitting in their small parlor after dismissing Penny, they got as quiet as he had done, as the reality of the situation stared them down. Had they just been playing a game all this time? Had it, for them, just been “history,” something to read about in school or watch in a theater?

Now, faced with the project before him, with having to draw designs and build models and make recommendations, Tom was desperate to know what his first step would be. He held his time travel journal in his lap, with its notes and sketches of the last few months, and begged Sam to tell him what to do. Casey was silent, her face pale, her stocking feet curled up under her as she sat next to him on the divan, looking only at him. As if he would disappear if she looked away.

Sam looked helpless. “Tom, I don’t know how to build ships. I can’t tell you step-by-step, day-by-day, what your actions will be. Or what they should be.” He held out a hand. “Let’s take it a day at a time, okay? You do what you always do. We’ll talk about it. We’ll talk every day and figure out how that day’s actions fit into the big picture. If you come to a place where I have an idea that might help, I’ll tell you. We’ve got five years, Tom.”

Tom shook his head. “We have less than that, actually. We can’t make these decisions at the last minute. We have a few years, at most. We’ll have to make a difference long before that.”

Sam nodded. “All right. We will. We’ll go over it constantly.” He rubbed his face, staring at the low table between them. “It’s too big to do all at once, Tom. We’ve always known that. What are the first pieces you design?”

Tom glanced at the notes he’d written in his journal, not really seeing them. “Uncle Will always does a fairly detailed preliminary sketch that gives us the ship’s dimensions, tonnage, engine type, things like that. I’m meeting with him and Cousin Alex tomorrow. We’ll decide on our first steps, then.”

Sam slapped his hands together. “Excellent! Then tomorrow you’ll have a better idea of what happens.” He leaned toward Tom, lightly touching the journal Tom held. “Don’t get bogged down, lad. We’ll work on it together, every day. Take your time, think things through, keep your head above water.”

Casey gasped and both men looked at her, startled. Her eyes were wide as she stared at Sam in disbelief. He realized what he’d said and stood, running his hand through his hair.

“Jesus, I’m sorry. That was stupid. I’m going to see if dinner’s ready.”

Tom put his journal down and pulled Casey into his arms. She hadn’t spoken at all, and he could think of nothing to add.

***

He spent the next day in meetings with Lord Pirrie and Alexander Carlisle. Despite a sleepless night, he supposed he functioned all right; at least, no one seemed to notice anything strange about his behavior. As they talked, he began to see the project through their eyes, and slowly, he came back to himself, understanding that the work was going to be a joy, the kind of project that few men ever had the opportunity to work on. The day was spent discussing firsts, because everything they thought of to do needed something else done first, some technology invented, some space cleared or machinery built, some bidding process begun. The scale was more than humans had ever attempted, at least, Tom remarked wryly, since they’d built the pyramids. It even occurred to them that piers around the world would not be large enough to accommodate these ships, so negotiations would have to be opened with harbormasters in New York and elsewhere.

The sheer challenge of the project began to excite him: really, he was lucky to be in this place, at this time! He built ships, beautiful ships, marveling as they took shape under his direction, from putting the first thoughts on paper to the tiniest details improved upon during a maiden voyage. These new ships would require all his knowledge, all his experience and care, to become real. He would work with Sam and Casey, using their knowledge to make the ships as safe as they could be. And deep within, where the love for his work sometimes threatened to overwhelm him, Tom knew these ships would be his legacy. He would make it a good legacy, not the painful one described in another history. Perhaps others had left better things to the world, but these were not such a bad thing to leave behind for future generations to build upon.

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