The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 26

A view of the modern town of Comber, Northern Ireland
A view of the modern town of Comber, Northern Ireland

Chapter 26

September 1907–January 1908

They spent the week never more than a few feet from each other. He took her hunting and fishing, they fell asleep one night while counting the stars, swam in an inland pond, and made love all over the cottage and a few interesting places outside. Casey had brought her “boy pants,” but somehow, this time there was no mistaking her gender. It was warm enough during the day that a couple of times, she wore just the pants and her camisole, as if she were in the twenty-first century. Tom swore he loved the look.

When they returned home, they settled into Dunallon and got to know their house staff. Gladys Pennyworth was their housekeeper, a managerial position which required her to carry out Casey’s plans and desires for the household. She would handle everything from the servants’ working conditions to the meals the family would eat, acting as an intermediary between employers and servants.

She was a friendly, buxom widow, about fifty years old, and Casey had sensed from the start that they would get along well. Mrs. Pennyworth was often bewildered by the odd ways of her new mistress, but seemed to decide Casey’s oddness was offset by her fairness. Casey insisted all the servants take every Sunday off and half a day during the week. She wanted to give them a full day off during the week, but Mrs. Pennyworth warned her that would be too much of a departure from accepted practices.

“They won’t know how to handle themselves with that much free time, Mistress,” she said over tea in the library, as the two of them had their first discussion about the household. “Ye have to remember, most of ’em are verra young. They need to learn discipline and be kept out of trouble.”

Casey couldn’t quite hide her distaste at being a stern taskmaster. Mrs. Pennyworth relented a little. “Ye might consider an extra day now and then as a treat for them; perhaps for birthdays or such. And ye’ve already said to give each of them a week’s holiday every year. ‘Tis plenty off-time, Mistress, truly.”

Casey did want to pay their servants well and in this, Tom agreed with her. As an apprentice, he had been appalled at the conditions in which the shipyard workers lived. He often had vehement discussions with his uncle about their pay, pointing out that most of them were highly skilled and the work was hard. They deserved a wage good enough to support their families. He’d had only a little luck in convincing his uncle, but he was determined to pay his own workers a respectable wage.

“But good conditions bring increased responsibility,” he told Casey, almost lecturing, somewhat to her amusement. “Sloppy work will bring dismissal.” She agreed to be firm about it.

The plans for the new ships were a top priority, and Tom fell full tilt into the designs. He spent several evenings a week discussing those plans with Sam and Casey, trying to get an idea of what new features might be needed. Sam offered to have his researchers run experiments.

“We might look into more efficient pumps, for one thing,” he told Tom during one of their discussions. “You need something to slow the water filling the compartments.”

Casey sat on the desk, watching them. “Are ships in the future made of the same kind of metal, Sam?” she asked. “Aren’t there lighter metals that won’t sink as fast?”

“The alloy’s a bit stronger,” he said slowly. “I don’t know very much about it, though. I think our ships were made of heavy, dense steel just like now.” He shrugged. “For the most part.”

Sam was at Dunallon so often that by October he decided he may as well move in. “The food and company,” he said, “are both better than what I get at my own place.” His gaze was on Mrs. Pennyworth as he said this, and Casey noted that her housekeeper seemed pleased when Sam moved in, preparing his favorite dishes for dinner and wearing a new brown ribbon in her hair.

Casey asked Tom if she could have a greenhouse. “If we get it done before winter, I can start growing vegetables and herbs for us in there. We’ll always have a steady supply.”

“Certainly.” He seemed pleased. “It won’t be fancy, but I can draw up something. I’ll call the builder and see if he can do it.”

She and Tom did the design for it together, joking that while Tom wanted dream ships, Casey wanted a dream greenhouse. With Tom and their maintenance man, William, helping, the builder was able to have it finished by early November. Casey stocked it with tables and rows of soil and potted plants. She continued to help out at the Palm House, and with the horticultural and agriculture societies. She was busier than ever, and slowly began to feel comfortable with her role in this strange time.

***

Sam’s secretary tossed a journal on the desk in front of him, interrupting his review of an experiment. He glanced at it, then up at MacDonald.

“You’ll want to see the letter on page six, sir,” MacDonald informed him, turning to leave again. “And the chairman of the Albright group is expecting your call.”

Sam groaned. Colin Riley had begun a prolific campaign of letter writing to several newspapers and science journals, berating industry for hiring “charlatans” and “yes-men” to invent or test new products. So far, he stopped just short of libel, managing not to actually mention the telephone company, or Sam, by name.

But it was clear enough who he was after, hence, the phone call to the Albright chairman. Sam would have to call him and explain away Riley’s latest diatribe.

He thought Riley’s campaign was childish and useless, but it did serve to upset Lord Dunmore, who was concerned that if the king heard degrading rumors, he might rescind Dunmore’s appointment. Or that investors, such as the Albright chairman, would back out of funding them. So Dunmore had been keeping Sam on a tighter leash, administratively. He wanted documentation to prove he’d kept control, if it were ever needed.

Sam had always kept thorough records, and he met with Dunmore to go step-by-step over the procedures he had set up. Dunmore was impressed, muttering several times that “Riley won’t be able to get through this.” He didn’t know, of course, that Sam was thorough because he wanted a record left for future scientists. He didn’t notice that Sam was handpicking his team using criteria beyond what was needed in communications, nor that Sam was grooming them to carry on a vision. The scientists themselves didn’t know this, yet.

They had already taken several steps toward Sam’s goal. The hot water heater that Dunmore had sold for an obscene amount of money had been a practical application of the team’s research into recycling steam escaping from factories. He’d simply encouraged them to think of a way to capture and re-use the steam for energy. Not even Sam had been thinking of hot water heaters for homes. One of his young recruits had done that. Sam reminded Dunmore often that by allowing his team freedom to explore, he was enriching himself, and providing a better standard of living for everyone.

***

Casey felt a little thrill when she began to suspect she was pregnant. It happened almost immediately. By the middle of October she was certain enough to tell Tom.

They sat on the divan in their bedroom. He just looked at her, the corners of his mouth turned up a bit, and he didn’t move at all. He held her hand, watching her in silence, until she bit her lip in concern. He shook his head, his smile abashed. “I’ve never felt this before,” he said, squeezing her hand, then placing his hand over his heart. His voice was husky. “I love you so much, Casey. You…” he paused, and motioned downward to encompass her whole body. “Everything in my life, in my heart, is in you. You have no idea the power you have over me.”

She had no words for that, so she just slipped her arms around him and rested against him.

***

Even after four months of marriage, Casey still felt awkward around her mother-in-law, although she was quite fond of her. They had begun weekly knitting lessons at Ardara House, and on a cold December morning, Casey sat in front of the fire, holding her hands up for Mrs. Andrews to roll the yarn around. Outside, rain was falling, but the sitting room was warm, with winter decorations on the mantle and hot cocoa laid out on a silver tray next to the divan. Casey thought it all very Courier & Ives, and although she had no patience with knitting, she did enjoy these cozy mornings. But today, she couldn’t relax. “Mother, may I ask you a personal question?”

“Of course, dear. With the caveat that I may not want to answer it.” Mrs. Andrews smiled gently to show she was teasing, and continued to put the yarn in its place.

“Will you tell me about your childbirth experiences?” Casey asked the question in one big rush, afraid to bring the subject up but too concerned to ignore it. Tom had told her that traditionally, no one must be told about a pregnancy for at least three months and then, only those closest to the couple. They had just recently let his parents know, although Casey had told Sam right away, since the rules didn’t apply to him. But now that her mother-in-law knew, Casey was desperate for answers about childbirth in this era.

“I don’t know how most women handle it. Do they use a doctor or a midwife? Do they have the baby at home or a hospital?” She paused to take a breath and then waited as Mrs. Andrews put the yarn down and stared with tight lips at Casey, her expression shocked and unhappy. Casey cringed inwardly. Was this a taboo subject?

After a moment, Mrs. Andrews’ expression softened and she shook her head. “You poor child. You really have missed out on so much by not having sisters, or your mother around. Normally, it would be she who would tell you about this. But Casey, you don’t need to worry about it yet. You have several months before your child comes.”

Casey bit her lip, staring at the yarn on her hands, then shook her head. “But I will worry about it. I need to be prepared. The more I know, the easier I’ll feel.”

An eyebrow went up and contributed to the doubtful look on Mrs. Andrews’ face. “Not all knowledge is helpful. However, I do understand what you mean.” She picked up the yarn again. “Now I had all my children at home, of course, but my youngest is twenty-one years old. Since that time, I believe more doctors have begun to handle deliveries.” She looked uncomfortable, but continued. “I don’t know that I approve of that, but one mustn’t block progress, I suppose. Still, I would never recommend that an upper-class woman use a hospital. Jessie and Nina had their babies at home, although they were attended by a doctor, as that is considered much safer than a midwife.”

She tilted her head and considered her youngest daughter-in-law. “As to my own experiences, I will only tell you, Casey, that childbirth is absolutely the hardest thing you will ever do. It is painful, as the good book tells us, and also humiliating. You just need to remember that this is the lot of women, and most get through it just fine. At the end, you have a precious little baby in your arms. That is worth all of it.”

Casey swallowed, eyes still on the yarn. Then, taking a deep breath, she looked up at Mrs. Andrews and gave her a small smile. “Thank you. I really am looking forward to that part!”

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