The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapters 28 and 29

Author’s Note: Chapter 28 is very small, so today you get two-for-one. Also, I’ll be giving you three posts a week from now on. It’s a long book!

Built in Belfast.
Built in Belfast. “She was fine when she left here.”

Chapter 28

Entry in Time Journal No. 2 of Casey Wilson Andrews, 1 June, 1908

Dear Mother:

It’s odd, how in all this time, it never occurred to me to write to you, but this time, this entry is for you, and for Dad. I have missed you so much and there have been so many times when I’ve said, “I wish my mother were here.” But I always accepted that you weren’t here and tried to carry on. Yet this is a way I can at least let you know what has happened. I really do wish you were here, Mom. You would be so happy and I think, you would be proud, too. Because, Mom, I have a baby.

He was born yesterday morning at 9:22 a.m., and he is simply amazing. I find I can’t take my eyes off of him. Even as I write, I keep glancing down at him, sleeping beside me as I sit in the bed. He is so soft and perfect, with a light brown fuzz of hair, and blue eyes. He’ll have his father’s strong face, I think, and if he has half of his father’s goodness, I’ll be satisfied. He’s a “bonny baby” as they say around here. His birth redness and wrinkles have faded already and he nurses as if he invented the concept.

His name is James Alan Wilson Andrews, in honor of Dad. This is a departure from Irish tradition, but when Tom suggested we name our first son and daughter after my parents, instead of his, I took the idea as the gift that it was. It helped to fill, just a bit, the emptiness where your voices used to be.

You’ll be happy to know, Mom, that some of your constant talk about pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding sank into my hard, teenaged head. You must have thought I wasn’t ever paying attention, but I was. Your wisdom has been with me constantly these last months, as I’ve dealt with primitive medicine and old-fashioned, misogynist viewpoints. I ate well, I walked and exercised, and I stayed active right up to the end. I tried to follow your ideas for labor and delivery, but in this time, they are so uptight about it. They keep wanting the mother to be “modest,” of all things! Stay in bed, stay covered up, don’t walk around, don’t squat… I had to keep arguing about all that so I could do what I felt I needed to do. I never had a chance to relax, like you always said to do. My doctor is very formal and kind of cold–where are all the kind country doctors I always heard about? But he did treat me with some respect and talked to me about what was happening. So my labor was hard and painful, but without any complications. It didn’t last horribly long; only about fifteen hours for the whole thing. It was a lot of hard work, but I was prepared for that. I heard your voice as I labored. You were with me in spirit, Mom, both as mother and doctor, and I will always be grateful.

It occurs to me that, even if you get this journal, you may not be the same James and Theresa Wilson whose 20 year old daughter went missing one night in Belfast. We are fairly sure that we’re in an alternate universe. If that is the case, I suppose this letter is more for me than for you. I just have to tell you both that I am well, and I am happy. That I miss you so much, and always, I will wish we could be together. I love you.

Casey Ashley Wilson Andrews

Belfast, Ireland

Chapter 29

July 1908

Tom watched in disbelief as his uncle and Bruce Ismay prepared to end the meeting without addressing his agenda item to discuss a double hull and higher bulkheads. This pretty much told him what his chances of success were, but he couldn’t let them just ignore it. As the end of July neared, they were approaching the final design conference before White Star gave the go ahead to start building the ships. There would be months of design work even after that happened, but right now, he needed Bruce’s informal approval. He rapped on the table and held up a hand.

“Gentlemen. There is one more item to discuss.”

Lord Pirrie looked at him in exasperation while Ismay turned to him with raised brows. “Well, Tom, I think we’ve more or less taken care of that item.”

Tom swallowed his anger and tried to speak with a reasonable tone. “Sweeping it under the rug, is not the same as taking care of it.” He leaned toward Ismay earnestly. “Bruce, you are going to have the largest, most luxurious vessels on the ocean. You want the cream of society to use your ships on all their runs between Europe and America. These are people who have choices, Bruce. You need to be able to tell them that not only will they travel in complete luxury, they will also travel in nearly complete safety. The only way to make these ships truly safe is to build the double hull and extend those bulkheads. The design you’ve approved does not do that.”

Ismay shook his head. “Thomas, we’ve been putting out ships all along without these features. You’ve been content with the safety of those ships, and indeed, there have been no major problems at all. With the double bottom and the fifteen bulkheads you’ve proposed, these liners will already be among the safest ships on the sea. Why, as large as they are, and with these features, they’re practically unsinkable. I fully intend to make sure the world knows that, don’t you worry about it.”

Tom gaped at Ismay. “Unsinkable! How can you say that? No one in this firm has ever said such a thing! Any ship can be sunk, and we are obligated to do all that our technology can do to keep them afloat and provide regress in an emergency. Any less is murder!”

Ismay smirked. “Your Irish passions are getting the better of you, Thomas. You and Carlisle have made a lot of demands, including up to sixty-four lifeboats. Now I will remind you, just as I reminded him, these are my ships. And according to our contract, I have final say on the design. I’ll not waste money on extraneous features, and I’ll not have so many of those little boats cluttering up my decks and putting fear into my passengers.”

Ismay turned to go. “Bottom line, Thomas, bottom line. The profit margins are nearly nonexistent as it is. We do what we know will work for these ships. No more, no less. Good day, Gentlemen.”

Ismay walked out and Tom rounded on his uncle. “How can you let him get away with that? He’s going to tell the world these ships are unsinkable? There’s no greater nonsense in the world!”

Lord Pirrie held up his hands. “Of course he’s not going to say that, Tom. You heard him. He said ‘practically unsinkable’ and lord knows that’s true. I can’t imagine a disaster that will sink these vessels. I know you’ve run up a scenario, but honestly, Tommy, it’s just too unlikely. I appreciate your willingness to stick your neck out on this, but keep in mind that Carlisle is heading this project. Although,” he said as he headed out the door, “like you, he does want more lifeboats. We’ll keep working on that, eh?”

He left Tom alone with his thoughts.

***

Later that night, Tom walked the baby to sleep, keeping near the fire in the nursery. The wind threw rain at the house, rattling the windows. He could hear the trees brushing the roof. The peacefulness of the nursery surrounded him, but made no effort to enter. He watched his son sleeping in his arms, the little lips sucking quietly in his dreams.

He loved his work. This was as near a definition of the man he was, as anything in his life had ever been. For eighteen years, he had given himself, heart and soul, to the art of building ships. More than that, his dedication was to the firm that had nurtured him and given him a path through life that, in the joy and creativity it had engendered, surpassed any dreams of his hopeful boyhood. The idea of walking away was a necessity his mind understood, but his heart fought it.

The door opened and Casey entered, a small smile flitting across her face when she saw them. She settled in the rocking chair and opened her book. Tom knew she was just wanting to be nearby. He had not talked to her yet, but Casey usually knew if he was upset. He had not been able to eat dinner, but had just squeezed her hand at her concern. They would talk later, he had promised.

When he thought Jamie was well and truly asleep, he placed him in his crib, covering him as Casey came over to give the baby a goodnight touch. She then slipped her hand into Tom’s and followed him out, leaving the nursery to the storm and Penny’s watchful eye.

He tilted his head toward the parlor and they went, arms around the other’s waist, to sit on the divan in front of the fire. Tom cupped her face in his hands and gazed at her a moment, comforted at seeing the love she had for him.

She caressed his neck. “What’s happened, love?”

He looked away from her, seeing himself arguing with his uncle and Ismay, and tried to ease the tightness in his chest. “Uncle Will and I met with Ismay this afternoon. I knew it wouldn’t go well, but I was… I am… incredulous at how bad it was. Ismay is not giving me anything I asked for. It’s all out, as far as he’s concerned.” He heard Casey’s soft gasp beside him and turned back to her, squeezing her shoulders. “I have only one option left me, Casey. I knew as I left that meeting, and I have been thinking and thinking about it, but I see no other way.” His face twisted with pain. “I cannot build these ships. Tomorrow I’m going to give Uncle Will my letter of resignation.”

Just saying the words caused his heart to contract, and he closed his eyes. As he did, he saw, very clearly, Sam’s drawing of the Titanic, split in two, the stern in the air. Although Sam had not included them in the drawing, he saw the people frantically holding onto his ship, onto the one solid thing in that cold, watery existence.

He finally got a good breath and he opened his eyes. Whatever the cost to him, this one action he took now would forever change the fate of fifteen hundred people. Not just them either, but all of the others on the ship and their families. His family too, and the entire town of Belfast. Oh, they’d get the ships built and people would sail on them. But they wouldn’t be finished on time. Titanic would never sail in April 1912.

Casey was holding his hand as tightly as she could, and he slowly raised her hand to his lips, seeing his pain mirrored in her face. She followed her hand with her lips and kissed him softly. “I will hope that you find another way, but I know you would do anything else before this, if you could. I’m so sorry, Tom.”

He smiled sadly at her. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever even thought of doing, but Casey, if by doing this I save those lives…. There will be a life to live later. I know that.”

He pulled her to him and kissed her deeply. Then he stood up. “I need to work on the letter. I won’t come to bed until it’s done.”

***

In the end, he never got to bed at all. He worked for a while in the library, but as the house settled down, he felt somehow haunted. Casey had gone to bed, so he picked up his papers and pen and moved to the bedroom to be near her. He sat at the small desk in the corner, with the lamp shaded so not to awaken her. Once, after getting up to feed the baby, she touched Tom’s head softly as she went back to bed.

He wrote, scratched out, wrote more, thought often. Twice, he had to throw away paper when a tear smeared the ink. In those moments, every happy year he had spent at Harland & Wolff came to him, from the first bewildering and hectic years as an apprentice in each department, to the rushing days of management. His mind called up drafts, faces, ships of all sizes, rivets with their chalks of approval, crews, laborers, cranes and gantries.

Eighteen years.

In all that time, there had been many disagreements, artistic differences, and contrary opinions, many times indeed. Their work was not mindless; it required all their thought and love to perform to perfection. Disagreements were part of the process. Eighteen years of toil, excitement, joy, amazement, experimentation, laughter.

He saw no other way. Finally, as the clock struck 4:30, he finished a copy of the letter, which he placed in his safe. Then he dressed and woke Casey, needing her touch to get him through the next hours.

***

Last night’s rain had turned into a clear, gleaming dawn. Tom reached his uncle’s office before Lord Pirrie was there, and he decided just to wait. He stared at the floor, but saw nothing except snatches of his letter. He held his hat and unneeded umbrella, for all the world the picture of a man just dropping in and then leaving. It was odd enough that Saxon, the secretary, gave him a hard, concerned look before turning away to the files.

Lord Pirrie arrived within a few minutes, moving quickly and already giving orders to Saxon. He stopped dead at the sight of Tom, who raised his head to regard his uncle tiredly. Eyebrows raised nearly to his hairline, Lord Pirrie greeted him. “Thomas! Good morning!” He gave him an intent look and gestured into his office. “You look like hell, lad. Are you ill?”

Tom followed Lord Pirrie in and stood before the desk. He had not thought of a way to start this conversation, and now he simply removed the letter from his pocket and handed it to his uncle. “I’ve spent the night in thought, Uncle Will. This decision has not been easy, but I am turning in my resignation.”

Lord Pirrie stared at Tom in complete befuddlement, not reaching for the letter. His mouth moved a couple of times before any sound came out. “Well I won’t accept it!” He stated at last, his voice loud in the silent office. “This is about Bruce, isn’t it? Look, Tommy, I know he was out of line yesterday, but he does have final say…”

Tom silenced him by throwing the letter on the desk. “I will not build those ships using his criteria, sir. As a managing director of this firm, when I build a ship and declare it finished, it must meet my criteria, because the world expects no less. These ships are fragile, and you know it. Bruce Ismay does not want a shipbuilder, he wants a puppet. I will not be that puppet.” He straightened angrily. “The question came to this: ‘Would I put my wife and son on one of those ships’? The answer is no, I would not. And that, sir, is my bottom line.”

He seemed to deflate as he pointed at the letter. “My resignation is effective immediately. I would like time to clean out my office and then I’ll be gone.”

He turned to go and nearly reached the door before his uncle spoke. “Thomas.” A choked voice, a voice that made Tom blink and turn around. His uncle was staring at the letter that he had still not picked up. After a moment, Lord Pirrie raised his eyes to his nephew. “Tom, don’t clear out your office, yet. Give me one day. Please. Just go home and give me one day to see what I can do. That’s all I ask.”

Tom sighed. “Uncle, I’m not bluffing about this. I won’t be placated or coddled.”

Lord Pirrie nodded. “I know. Just one day, Tommie.”

Tom blinked back tears of anguish and exhaustion, then nodded, once. “All right. Call me tonight.”

He left and walked blindly to the drafting room. He had promised not to clean his office, but one book locked in his safe belonged to him and he could not leave it under these circumstances. Waving Ham back into his seat for the moment, Tom went in to his office and closed the door. Taking the small key from his pocket, he unlocked the safe and took out his time travel journal, placing it in the raincoat’s inside pocket. He stopped to talk briefly to Ham.

“There’s a situation, Ham. I promise I’ll talk to you about it later, but for now, just cancel today’s appointments. I’ll be at home, but no calls, no messages. Nothing at all.” He patted Ham’s shoulder and left Queen’s Island.

***

Tom was in the parlor after dinner, when the bell rang. He continued to stare into the fire as Mrs. Pennyworth went to the door. A wave of fear, mixed with relief, moved through his body when he heard his uncle’s voice greeting Casey and teasing the baby. He stood, dread nailing him into place.

“Where is that nephew of mine, dear?” he heard Pirrie say. “Will he speak to me?”

“I’m here, Uncle,” Tom paused in the parlor doorway. His uncle was holding the baby, laughing down at him. Was that a good sign? “Come on in.”

He waited as Pirrie handed Casey his coat, hat, and the baby. He returned Lord Pirrie’s appraising stare before gesturing him to a seat. Tom knew he looked terrible–his head had been pounding all day.

Pirrie opened his briefcase and pulled out an envelope. Tom followed his movements warily. Leaving the envelope on his lap, Lord Pirrie steepled his fingers as he gazed at Tom. “You had us running today, lad. I’ve spent most of today talking to Bruce, with a few telegrams to Morgan in New York.” He paused as Mrs. Pennyworth brought in tea and cakes, leaving them on the table.

“I’ll leave out the details for now, but,” he handed Tom the envelope, “you’ve got the higher bulkheads and sixty-four lifeboats, if Alex can come up with a davit design that works. Bruce won’t give on the double hull and I’m taking the chance that you’ll compromise. This is an addendum to the contract for the Olympic Line. All it needs is the Managing Director’s signature.”

For a moment, Tom didn’t move, his eyes on the envelope. We got it. Almost everything we asked for. Slowly, he reached out and took it, removing the papers inside. Lord Pirrie continued, “There’s the original and a copy for you. Take your time and look it over. If you decide to sign, bring it in with you in the morning.”

Tom nodded, laying the papers flat on his lap, then looking up at his uncle. He felt lighter, somehow. “Thank you, Uncle Will.” A twitch moved his cheek and he took a deep breath. “It could be better, but I promise, this will make White Star and Harland & Wolff better companies. These ships will be unbeatable.”

Lord Pirrie smiled at that. “I have no doubt, Tommy.” He cocked an eyebrow. “Tom, did you actually think they could let you walk away? Do you have any idea how that would have looked to the rest of the world?”

Tom laughed a little. “Casey mentioned something about that, today. Believe me, I hadn’t even thought of it. I just knew I couldn’t build those ships.”

“You’re considered one the best shipbuilders in the world, lad, maybe the best. If you had left us for these reasons, both companies would be out of business in a year. People wouldn’t sail on our ships. I’m just counting my blessings that you didn’t ask for a huge raise, too!”

Tom did laugh at that, shaking his head. Lord Pirrie reached over to pat his knee. “Some of us do know what it would have done to you to leave the firm, son. I have no doubt that you would have left, if it came to that. But Tommy, it would have killed you.”

Tom thought of a metaphorical death versus a cold, real one at the bottom of the Atlantic. He smiled sadly at his uncle. “Perhaps. I have certainly never hurt so much as in the last twenty-four hours.”

Lord Pirrie stood to go, reaching out to shake Tom’s hand. “You keep giving vent to those Irish passions, lad. They work well on you, but I want to get one thing straight.” He looked Tom sternly in the eye, still gripping his hand. “You have concerns in the future, you bring them to me and I’ll give them a hearing. But I am the head of this company, Thomas, and you still have a lot to learn. You can disagree, but you better back it up, and when I give the final word, it’s final. I need to know I can depend on you, Tom, like I always have. Can you work under those terms?”

Tom’s mouth tightened, but he nodded slowly. “Aye, Sir. I can.”

He walked to the door with his uncle. “I want you to know how grateful I am that you believe in me as you do. I really am devoted to the firm, Uncle Will. There’s nothing else I would want to do in my life.”

As he closed the door after his uncle, he heard Casey on the stairs, and turned to her. She stood on the bottom step and opened her arms as he walked into them.

***

Final approval for the Olympic-class ships came on 31 July 1908, just in time for the new financial year. Lord Pirrie waved White Star’s letter of approval as he stood on the landing near his office, and the men on the floor erupted into cheers. The first two ships were numbers 400 and 401, and work would begin on them straight away. The directors and shareholders, along with their spouses, celebrated with a dinner at Ormiston House, where Lord Pirrie opened several bottles of champagne, noting that Harland & Wolff did not christen their ships at launching in the usual way, but by gum, they’d celebrate the contract correctly!

The work proceeded in all haste. Tom and the other directors put in many hours wrapping up the designs and preparing orders for construction. In September, they gave the orders to the yard and engine works to proceed with preparations, and made up their reports for material purchases. It seemed to Tom that the entire year would run on adrenaline. The meetings were endless, the workforce was expanding rapidly, and finally, on 16 December 1908, they laid the keel for the first ship. The keel for Titanic would be laid in March; her construction would trail Olympic’s by three months. As he watched them lay Olympic’s keel, supervising from the plans rolled out in front of him, Tom felt as if he had just stepped up and shaken hands with destiny. There was no turning back.

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