The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 27

“Hey, look out for that building!” The author steers The tender ship, Normadic, which was built to match Titanic. Normadic is being restored and now sits guard over the Titanic Quarter in Befast.

Chapter 27

January–April 1908

“I’d like to see some colorful perennials along this border,” said a soft, whispery voice. Casey, engrossed in the garden design Mrs. Herceforth had presented to the Horticultural Society, looked up to see who had spoken. Lady Talbot was a tiny woman with a candy-sweet disposition. Casey could take her only in small doses, but she knew the woman meant well.

Lady Talbot was moving her finger along the border in question, which Mrs. Herceforth had so far left blank. Casey agreed that color would be nice, but her brows crinkled in puzzlement when the finger stopped moving before reaching the end of the design area. She put her own finger on the spot.

“Don’t you want to continue it?”

Lady Talbot shook her head sadly. “I’m afraid, dear, that this part of the design will have to be discarded.” Seeing that Casey did not understand, although Mrs. Herceforth was nodding in agreement, Lady Talbot offered an explanation. “It’s been declared a Catholic area, dear. Quite recently, you see. We can’t plant there.”

Casey rolled her eyes, unable to hide her annoyance. “Why not? Why is it we have no gardens planned for those areas?”

“Now Mrs. Andrews, you know the reason.” The speaker was Mike Sloan, who to Casey’s extreme displeasure, had joined the society, solely for his own political purposes. Or, she thought with bitter rancor, to torture me. He wasn’t interested in joining before.

“Remind me, Mr. Sloan.” She found it so hard to be polite to him.

He was always willing to repeat his beliefs. “We keep to our own areas. If they want gardens, they can make their own.”

She tightened her lips in an effort to not yell at him. She counted to three, then spoke. “That’s all you do, you know. Prevent us from building gardens. Why did you even join the society? You don’t care about gardens.”

“Aye, that’s true,” he admitted without shame. “Before, I had no problem just reminding the society, once in a while, to do the right thing for the loyal Protestants of Belfast. But since you joined,” he gave her a little bow, as if to a worthy adversary, “I felt it was necessary to step up my efforts. I know how subtle ye can be.”

A few of the others shifted uncomfortably and Mrs. Herceforth broke in. “For now, I suggest we plan the gardens we know we can finish. That will be a difficult enough job.” She patted Casey’s hand. “The rest will come in its own time.”

The others all agreed and quickly brought the discussion back to the plan. Casey watched and didn’t offer any other suggestions.

***

The Horticultural Society had a large wall map of the Belfast area hanging in the office. Casey stood gazing at the map in early February. Push pins marked areas of planned and actual gardens. A red line demarcated the Catholic areas, which were bereft of pins. She could see places where natural landscaping progressions were cut off because they would have gone into those zones. This is ridiculous, she told herself, and I’m going to do something about it.

So a few days later, she and Penny made their way to a bookseller who had maps. She purchased her own map of Belfast and brought it back to Dunallon, setting it up in a corner of the library. When she had time to spare, she worked on her plans, extrapolating from the plans put forth by the Society. Tom and Sam knew she was doing it. Both agreed that in the case of nature and landscaping, it was best to look at Belfast as a whole, rather than a series of disjointed neighborhoods. Tom cautioned her often to keep in mind that she could not just ignore the politics and she promised him she wouldn’t.

***

For a while, she had other things to worry about, especially her desperate wish that her mother could be with her at this time. Her mother, the former hippie, liberal and practical about all things related to sex. Her mother, the obstetrician, who had talked all the time about how to handle a pregnancy and prepare for childbirth. Casey could hear her lecture, as she railed about patients who thought the only thing they had to do to have a baby was screw somebody. “It’s a marathon. If you were going to run a marathon in nine months, you would start preparing. You would eat right, you would exercise, you would train, and you would find out all you needed to know about your body and what happens to it when running. You wouldn’t just ignore it until you were dropped off at the starting line.”

Theresa Wilson specialized in helping women deliver babies without drugs, in comfortable environments. She volunteered with shelters for the homeless and domestic violence victims. She took cases pro bono and passed out birth control and condoms like they were candy. Casey’s upbringing could not have been further from the uptight and oppressive Edwardian society in which she found herself. It was a society on edge—still believing that pregnancy should not be mentioned in mixed company, but willing to let male medical doctors take control of deliveries. Casey had no doubt that the current practices of those doctors would horrify her mother.

“It turns out,” she told Tom as they walked through the neighborhood one evening, “that prenatal care is still a pipe dream at this time.”

They walked whenever they could, if Tom did not have to work late. Despite the immodesty of her condition, Tom basked with pride when people passed them, seeing him with his beautiful wife who was carrying his child.

Now, however, he screwed up his face in an effort to put sense to her words. “Pipe dream?”

“You know.” She gestured, drawing something in the air. “As in smoking opium or something. The hallucinations you get from that are pipe dreams.”

He laughed. “What a vivid description! But how is prenatal care a pipe dream?”

“It doesn’t really exist. At least, not in any real form, yet.”

“Oh. How so?”

“I saw a doctor today.” Casey stopped walking and looked at Tom, only her face visible under the layers of winter protection. “I liked him well enough and I’ll probably stick with him.”

Tom felt a wave of relief; he’d been worried she’d try to do without anyone at all. “That’s wonderful, sweetheart! What did he say?”

She shrugged. “The usual. The baby is fine…” she paused and rubbed her stomach, her voice softening slightly. Tom’s heart beat a little faster just watching her.

“…and,” she continued with a sigh, “I shouldn’t worry my little head about anything. He’ll give me ether and make sure I don’t suffer at all.” Her laugh was bitter, and Tom rubbed her arms.

“But you don’t want ether. Did you tell him that?” He was confused and worried. Her moods really did change quickly these days and he didn’t think she was as logical about things as she used to be.

“Of course I told him.” She resumed walking and Tom followed.

“And?”

“And he listened. He actually talked to me about it for a few minutes, instead of just patting me on the head and sending me away. He’s willing to let me try it my way as long as he can have his equipment nearby. I’m afraid I lied to him a little.”

“Lied to him? About what?”

“When I’ve talked to other doctors, I’d tell them my mother was a doctor, to help them see that I might know what I’m talking about. That she told me about this stuff.”

Tom nodded. He knew this much.

“It never seemed to do any good,” she said, her voice shaking a little. “They suggested she wasn’t properly trained or wasn’t able to be objective about birth, since she was a woman. So this time, I told him my father was the doctor. Immediate respect!”

Tom pulled her into a hug. “I am amazed sometimes, at how obtuse men can be. There’s no wonder so many women are protesting in the streets.”

“Tom, I’ll need you to help.” Her voice was muffled in his coat and he lifted her chin with a finger.

“Help how, dear? What do you mean?”

“I told him I don’t want drugs and I certainly don’t want him using forceps unless I agree to it. He has to really convince me it’s necessary and not just convenient for him. And he was willing to go along with it, but I could see he was unhappy about it.”

“What can I do?”

“Stick up for me, if he wants to force the issue. Especially when I’m in labor. I want to concentrate on having the baby, not arguing with my doctor.”

He felt sick with dread at her words. “I will always stick up for you, Casey. But if you’re suffering, or the baby is in danger, how will I know what’s the right thing to do? That’s why we have a doctor.”

“Just make him explain it.” Her eyes filled with tears. “I’ve told you how dangerous the drugs can be and about the damage forceps can cause. Even your own mother knows of babies permanently disfigured by them.”

She stood straighter, determined. “I’m going to do everything I can to do this right, Tom. But in the end, none of us knows how it will go, and I know that things can go wrong. That’s why I’m using a doctor. But help me have a chance, first.”

He nodded. Then he just held her.

***

Sam worried about her, too, and mentioned his concern to Mrs. Pennyworth. The two of them had gradually established a habit of sharing a spot of brandy or tea in her basement apartment after the other servants were dismissed for the night. She was a sensible woman and had no objections to an occasional nip, although she had been uncertain about the propriety of imbibing with her mistress’ guardian. But Casey seemed quietly pleased about the growing relationship. Sam suspected she was also amused. She wasn’t above teasing him occasionally.

“’Tis not unusual for a young girl to be frightened at this time,” Mrs. Pennyworth said with a thoughtful air. “I imagine she really misses her mother, too.”

Sam nodded. “I know she does. I’m sure this is an experience she had always planned on sharing with her.” He stood to crank the gramophone, wincing at the sound of the music. I really need to work on that, he thought as he sat back down. “What about you, Gladys? Do you have any advice for her?”

She had expressive eyebrows and they registered severe disapproval at his question, but she answered. “I don’t, really.”

“No children?” Sam asked, somewhat carelessly.

Her lips tightened. “One. Stillborn, you see. I thought it best to not mention it to the mistress.”

Sam touched her hair gently, flushing with regret. “That’s probably wise. I’m sorry, Gladys. It must have been a difficult time.”

Her expression softened. “Ach, you’re a sweet man, Sam Altair. It’s kind of you to care.” She shook her head a little. “It was twenty-five years ago and I’ve learned to move on. It’s for the best perhaps, since Mr. Pennyworth never did get a feel for work.” Her eyes crinkled in amusement and Sam moved a little closer to kiss her.

***

A March rain pounded the house as Sam finished a sketch in his journal one cold night. He gazed critically at it for a moment before putting the pencil down. The electric lights Tom had installed flickered occasionally, but managed to stay lit. He glanced over at Tom, who sat by the library fire reading through his copy of Maeterlinck’s “The Life of the Bee.” He didn’t realize he’d sighed until Tom looked up, finger marking his place in the book.

“Problem?” Tom seemed to bask like a proud Irish chieftain: his home was warm and secure, filled with industrious servants and artful treasures, his wife was pregnant and well-cared for, his land was ready for planting.

The household was settling down for the evening. Casey, whose back ached constantly in her last months of pregnancy, had decided a bath might help. Tom and Sam had retreated to the library, with drinks of choice and the chance to work on reading or writing.

Sam hated to disturb his peace, and with another glance at the drawing, he shook his head and closed the time travel journal. “Not anything you need to worry about at this point. Just working on a question you’d asked about recently; there’s time to deal with it later.”

Tom’s brows twitched downward in bemusement and he stood, leaving his book on the seat. “Ah now, you’ve got me curious,” he said as he reached for the journal, leaning against the desk. “Let’s have a look.”

Sam just watched, hands folded, as Tom flipped to the last entry. The sketch made an impact–Tom was still, his face thoughtful and tight as he stared at the page. After a moment, his fingers traced the outline of his ship, broken in two, with the bow all but gone beneath a still sea, represented by a wavy line, the stern’s broken end exposed and beginning to fill with water.

Sam cleared his throat. “You had asked me about the structural integrity. About how the ship held up during the sinking.” Tom nodded, not looking up, and Sam continued. “I don’t remember why it broke in two, I just know it did. I guess because of all the water pulling it down by the head.” He shrugged. “This is what I remember of the pictures I’d seen. Which, by the way, were all artist’s renditions. There were no actual photographs of the sinking, you know.”

Tom put the book down, his lips pursed as he continued to stare at it. “I wanted to know if the ship held up well enough to last for several hours. It won’t do any good to keep her afloat if she starts falling apart because of pressure.” He shook his head, dismayed. “This won’t do, at all.”

“Tom.” Sam held out a hand. “I remember that people had decided the ship was as perfect as possible. There were arguments back and forth over various issues, but in the end, all the investigations proved she was as strong as your technology could make her. You couldn’t have done any better.”

The smile that touched Tom’s face was bitter as he regarded his friend. “Well, now I can do better. What twenty-first century technology will improve her?”

Sam shrugged again. “You figure out why she broke in two. I’ll give you any ideas I have.”

***

Tom stopped into Alexander Carlisle’s office the next day and tried to explain his concerns. Carlisle didn’t seem to understand.

“I don’t know what you’re after, Tom.” His boss interrupted his questions with a frustrated wave of his hand. “The steel is the best quality we can make, the frame you’ve designed is solid and true. It certainly meets all the requirements. What else do you want?”

Tom rubbed his face, the pencil he held clicking roughly against his wedding ring. He stared at the plan rolled out on Carlisle’s desk and muttered, “I don’t know what I did before. How can I know what to change now?”

“I’m sorry?” Carlisle hadn’t heard him at all, which was just as well. There was no explaining a remark like that.

Tom shook his head and tried again. “I want to understand what happens to the frame and the plates if the ship is sinking. What are the stresses? What are the vectors? What’s the weakest point?”

Carlisle sat back and blinked several times, lips pursed tight as he stared at Tom. When he finally spoke, it was with the air of a man humoring an unreasoning person. “I guess it would depend on the manner of sinking. On the location and extent of the damage. The rate of water flow.” He gestured helplessly. “It depends on a dozen or more variables, Tom. You can’t build the frame to withstand all of them. It would be impossible.”

“By the head.” Tom stood and picked up the small model ship on Carlisle’s credenza, tilting the bow downward. “Damage on the starboard side, forepeak through five compartments.” He stopped as Carlisle shook his head, holding up his hands.

“Is this your iceberg scenario from a several months ago? Honestly, Tommy, I thought we settled that.”

“We put it away,” Tom reminded him. “We haven’t settled it.”

“And we’re not going to.” Carlisle rose and gently took the model from his cousin’s hands and put it back on its stand. “White Star doesn’t expect us to justify every expense but we’ve never tried to pass on extensive research costs to them, either. You uncle won’t do it this time, that’s for sure. These ships already will cost a fortune.”

He put an arm around Tom’s shoulders, leading him to the door. “The ships will be fine, Tommy. Relax.” He smiled as a thought occurred to him. “You’re nervous about your upcoming fatherhood, lad. That’s all. Thinking about all the things that can go wrong in the world.” He held a finger before Tom’s face. “’Tis normal, lad. Shows you’re a conscientious fellow.” He patted Tom’s shoulder. “Go on with ye and let me get some work done. And give your wife a kiss from me.”

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