The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 32

A display in Harland & Wolff Administrative Offices, Belfast. Thomas Andrews was well-liked by all the shipyard workers.
A display in Harland & Wolff Administrative Offices, Belfast. Thomas Andrews was well-liked by all the shipyard workers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 32

June–November 1910

The workforce had more than doubled at the shipyard. Tom found it increasingly difficult to be as personally involved with them. He liked the men who built his ships, but he missed the easy camaraderie they used to have. Now there were thousands of workers he didn’t even know.

Still, he had friends, and after lunch with George Cummings, he walked with him to the engine works. George was giving him a step-by-step report on North Down’s latest cricket match, which Tom had missed, and they paused beside the foundation for one of Olympic’s huge boilers. “Taylor smashed it over, but I was out for a duck!” George shook his head as he retold the story. “We really needed you, Tommy. The whole season will be shot if you don’t make it.”

“Can’t let that happen,” Tom agreed, removing a report from a pocket and scanning it. “Jamie’s walking well now, and he’ll need to start learning right away how to play the game.” He held up a finger in mock seriousness. “I promise he’ll only observe for the first few years. Too short for the team, I s’pose.”

They both laughed, continuing on to George’s office, going over the report Tom held. “We’ll need to have that new hydraulic machinery installed by the end of the year. It’s going to help immensely with the riveting; I want to have it available once Olympic is launched.”

“It’s on order,” George started to explain, but a shout interrupted him. They peered over the catwalk, looking down on the boiler room floor. Two men were arguing and it was turning violent. The smaller man was a foreman; they could hear him explaining about an infraction and what it had cost the company. The bigger man kept shouting about his pay being docked, and he began shoving the foreman with quick, short jabs, pushing him against a spare boiler. By the time Tom and George reached the floor, the bigger man was swinging, a blow landing severely on the foreman’s stomach.

Tom threw his coat into George’s arms, reached for the fellow and landed an upper cut right on his jaw. The guy fell against a boiler and Tom stepped back, raising his fists in readiness as the man struggled to his feet. But George and a few others grabbed him just as he began a roaring lunge at Tom. His glare remained fixed on Tom, but he gave in to the men holding him, his jaw the only thing moving. Tom dropped his fists. “See him to the gate. We don’t need troublemakers.”

Tom turned away, as the workers dragged the man through the building, following directions from George. The foreman was still leaning against the boiler, barely recovered from the hit to his stomach. Tom joined him and together they sank to the floor, each catching his breath.

“Thank you, Mr. Andrews,” the man said, shaking his head in shame. “I couldn’t have done that.”

“Aye, well.” Tom rested his head against the boiler and gingerly rubbed his knuckles. “We don’t usually hire supervisors on their ability to fight.” He gestured toward the Administration Office. “Can you go let ’em know what that was about? You’ll have to file a report.”

“Aye,” was the answer. “I got it all written down. He’s a careless sort. Broke some expensive equipment just because he didn’t want to follow the procedures. He was pretty blatant about it, too.”

Tom nodded and stood, reaching down to help the smaller man to his feet. “See to it, then. And thank you for pursuing the matter. We’ve got too much to do to let a lazy worker get away with trouble.” He watched as the man headed over to George’s office and reflected that this kind of thing was happening more often. He was afraid they were losing control.

He had just returned to his own office when the emergency klaxon went off, with the signal that a man was down. Tom’s shouted “Dear God, not again!” blended with cries of dismay from the drawing office. Other shouts or groans could be heard from outside the office, as thousands of men reacted to what was the third emergency of the month, on the heels of one in May. All had ended in death.

Tom wondered, for a moment, if the angry worker had done more violence. He would almost prefer that, but as he raced through the drawing office, he knew it would make no difference. They had to get this workforce under control. He glanced toward George’s office, but no. Men were looking outside, toward the ships.

Toward Titanic.

Tom ran to the yard. Men cleared a path for him as he pushed his way through the crowd. He didn’t have to go far. On the deck, just a few feet from the ship, a small group was gathered around a body. Tom faltered at the sight of blood and flesh scattered around the victim, and his last steps were slow. There was no reason to hurry.

“John Kelly.” The name was supplied by the foreman as Tom knelt next to him. “He fell from the slipway.”

Tom stared at the body. “He’s just a lad.”

“He were nineteen, sir.”

Tom glanced up to see the owner of the choked voice. Another lad, blinking rapidly through free-falling tears, stood twisting his cap. The boy didn’t look at Tom. “We started workin’ here the same day. His Ma always let me stay for supper.”

Tom stood and put an arm around the boy, turning him away from the body. He saw a couple of men coming with a stretcher. “What’s your name, lad?”

“Danny O’Connor, sir.”

“You can take the day off, Danny. Go home, if you need to. Or…” Tom paused, glancing toward the men approaching.

The boy noticed them, and swallowed hard, swiping a sleeved arm across his face. “I’d like to stay with ‘im, sir, if I may. I… I should be there when ‘is Ma finds out.”

Tom nodded, patting the lad’s back. He had to swallow hard himself, to clear the ache in his throat, so he could give orders. Lord Pirrie insisted that all accident victims be taken to the hospital, even if they were dead. Tom helped them get the body onto the stretcher–a miserable job, but the men who would have to clean off the deck would have an even harder time. George was taking charge of that part of things, so Tom went to get one of the firm’s cars, kept on site for emergencies.

On the way, he spotted Ham. “Call Casey for me, will you? Ask her to meet us at the hospital.” He hated to get her involved. She was five months pregnant, and he knew this would greatly upset her. But she would be furious if he left her out, and in truth, she was a real help. She would be there to talk to the mother, help with other children or with cooking–whatever needed to be done. He couldn’t imagine how he’d gotten through these situations before marrying her.

But as the day went on, through all the painful confusion of helping the shocked mother deal with doctors and paperwork and funeral arrangements, another thought kept intruding. A thought that made him reel with fury and betrayal. But he blocked it off until he could get home and talk to Sam.

***

It was after ten before Tom and Casey limped into the house, having stayed with Mrs. Kelly until they were sure she was well taken care of. Casey had helped with the younger children until Mrs. Kelly’s sister arrived. The usual grapevine had made sure that all relatives and neighbors were aware of the tragedy, and by dinner, many of them had gathered at the Kelly home, bringing food and the comforting tumult of company.

Sam was waiting up for them in the parlor with his latest journal opened in his lap. He was staring into the empty fireplace, making no attempt to write. He looked up as they entered the room.

Tom stared at him a moment, fighting the rage he’d kept back all day. “Did you know?” he asked hoarsely.

Beside him, Casey started, caught unaware by his question. Sam returned the stare, not saying anything. Tom took another step toward Sam.

“Three this month, four in just two months. That has to be mentioned somewhere. Did you know these people were going to die, Sam?”

Sam was shaking his head, but he looked oddly guilty. “No. My god, Tom, no, I didn’t know.”

Tom took another step, hands clenched. “God damn it, Sam. This is not all just about me. It’s not all just about the sinking. People die, Sam, building these ships. If you know these things, you have to tell me. We have to stop everything we can.”

“I should have known.” Sam rubbed his face, wearily. “I’ve been sitting here trying to remember. I know it was told us at some point. And the memorial lists each person who died during construction, but I don’t remember the names. God help me, I should have known.”

“Stop it.” Casey stepped between them, near tears. “Both of you, stop it. Tom, Sam’s been trying to remember everything he can. Do you seriously believe he could have known this and not said anything?”

Tom’s jaw ached from clenching his teeth. “Not deliberately. But we’ve got to do better. What else goes wrong with these ships? What else can we fix?”

“Labor issues, maybe?” She was suddenly angry and Tom stepped back as she rounded on him. “What’s wrong here is the upper-class notion that workers are expendable resources. Management doesn’t have to provide a safe environment, or living wages, because there are always more workers ready to replace the ones who die. Harland & Wolff does better than a lot of companies, but they don’t come close to the right environment. You want to provide safety training for workers? Training they take during work hours and get paid for? Extra safety equipment provided by the company? Safety procedures that are audited and everyone has to follow? Worker’s compensation for injuries or deaths? Giving them time to do their jobs safely instead of rushing to meet a schedule? Want to talk about asbestos? In twenty or thirty years, people are going to start dropping dead because of their exposure to it. Do you want to fix that?”

Stung, Tom looked from her to Sam. “Is that what we need to do? Is that what the company does in the future? All those things?”

Sam held out a hand as if to placate both of them. “Look, this is stuff it takes decades to accomplish. Casey, we can’t single-handedly tear down the social structure and rebuild it in our own image. You said it yourself. Harland & Wolf is way ahead of other companies with its safety practices. Give them credit, Case.” He rubbed his forehead. “So much of this is industry specific, too, and we tend not to think of dangers until they happen. This is exactly why the Titanic sank. A failure of imagination. Not imagining the dangers that could occur and providing a way to survive. It was before your time, Casey, but do you know about the fire in the Apollo space capsule in the sixties? Something as simple as a handle to open the door from the inside could have saved those men’s lives. But no one thought of it.”

“Even when they know, they ignore it if it costs too much,” she said bitterly. “They didn’t change the O-rings on Challenger. They didn’t do anything about the foam shedding on Columbia. Even these Olympic-class ships are going out without a double hull. All management decisions, made even though they knew of the dangers.”

Tom winced, but said nothing. Silence gripped them all, by turns accusatory, guilty, and hopeless.

Casey jerked suddenly with a spasm, reaching around to rub her back. Tom wilted as he watched her, pregnant and weary, but still full of passion. He took her in his arms and she slipped her own around him, hugging him tenderly. “I love you,” he whispered. “I’m going to put you to bed. You’ve done too much today.”

She nodded, let go of him to drop a kiss on Sam’s head, and went to bed.

***

Work did not slow down, and on a late evening in August, Tom left the administration building to head home at last. Nine o’clock, and he had to be back before six in the morning. He was scrambling to have Olympic’s shell complete in time for the October launch date. There was a point in every ship’s development when he despaired that it would ever get done by the deadline. If one more vendor called him to ask for an extension…

He paused as a figure approached him, peripherally aware that there were a few other figures keeping out of sight in the shadows to his side. He was somewhat relieved to see it was Mike Sloan approaching. Trouble then, but not anything he wouldn’t live through.

“Mr. Andrews, do ye have a minute?” Sloan stood stiffly, with an offended air.

Tom thought of the figures waiting out of sight. “I suppose I do. What can I do for you, Mike?”

“Were ye aware, sir, that your wife has been visiting a Catholic church?”

Tom’s face scrunched in confusion. “What on earth are you talking about? I assure you we spend our Sundays together.”

But Sloan shook his head. “Not services, sir. During the week day. People noticed her a couple of times going into St. Patrick’s. Always alone, she is.” Sloan moved a step closer to Tom, who stood rooted to the spot. “Now I won’t suggest she’s working for Home Rule or anything like that. But she meddles, and if you’re honest sir, you’ll admit that. If ye weren’t already aware of it, we think it might be a good idea if you remind her of her place. For her safety, sir.”

Tom’s eyes narrowed as he glared at the man. “You’re coming to me with hearsay about my wife? You’ve no real proof it was even her. You call her a meddler? You are the meddler, Mike, never leaving people to live in peace.”

“There’s people willing to say it was her, sir.”

“I don’t care, Mike. You can come up with fifty people who’ll say what you want them to. Casey would not do something like that without discussing it with me. And my family, Mike,” Tom pointed a finger at him, “is not under your jurisdiction. You will not tell me what rules my family may or may not follow. Is that clear?”

“Aye, sir.” Sloan nodded briefly and stepped to the side. “Perfectly clear, sir.”

The problem, Tom knew, is that the situation was perfectly clear to him, too. As Sloan intended.

***

It was not in Tom’s nature to shout in anger, although he had done it at times. But he had never known anything to drive him to that state faster than Casey admitting she’d been to the Catholic church three times, and had talked on the phone several times with Father McCarrey. It wasn’t just anger that clinched at him, but fear, too. Did she not understand the danger?

He stood in their bedroom as she sat on the divan, her face pale and stubborn, feet tucked up under her, dressed only in her camisole and bloomers, her pregnant belly pushing against the material. Her hands were folded under her stomach as she stared at the floor in front of her.

It was late, and he was exhausted. He’d said all the desperate, ugly things people say at times like this: how could she, why did she sneak around, how long had she been doing it, what was she doing? And the part he kept coming back to: Why didn’t she trust him enough to come to him, first?

He stood and stared at her, shaking with tiredness and anger and fear. And love. Weary, he sat next to her, joining in her investigation of the floor. His voice was hoarse. “I guess I’m done.”

She stirred then, her hands stroking her belly in an upward motion to rest there, as if to comfort the baby. She looked at him and he saw her flinch to do it. All the love between them, and they had still come to this.

“I was afraid you’d tell me I couldn’t go,” she said. “And I had to go. It’s one thing to do something on my own, even if I think you won’t approve. But it would have killed me to do it once you’d said not to.”

“That doesn’t make sense, Casey.”

“It’s the truth, though.” She ducked her head. “It shouldn’t be a crime to talk to a priest.”

“It’s not a crime,” he pointed out. “Just very unwise. I would have gone with you.”

Her eyes jerked up to his face and color flooded her cheeks. She looked like she might be sick. “You would have?” Her voice squeaked.

He nodded, feeling his heart break further that this had never occurred to her. “It’s the sneaking around that causes the trouble, Casey. People see you and they wonder what you’re up to. They expect betrayal, you see. They’re looking for it. And they punish it very swiftly. If you and I had just gone in the open and talked to the priest, and everyone knew you were handing over the plans—they’d have been unhappy, but it would soon be forgotten. This way…” He shook his head, trying to rid his mind of the pictures there.

“They’ll believe what they want.” His face was bleak. “You could be tarred and feathered. Beaten. Stoned. They might burn our house. All of that could still happen, if they decide you’re actively working against them. My name and my family can protect you against a lot, Casey. But we can’t protect you forever if you keep…doing…these things…” he ended in tears, choking out the words. “They’ll find a way to get to you. Even if we went away, to England or America, if they feel there’s a debt, they’ll find us.”

She stared at him, cheeks flaming, breathing deeply, before abruptly racing to the chamber pot in their room and was sick in to it. He went to her, holding her until she was done, then carried her to the bed. He brought her some water, which she tried to drink, as sobs shook her body.

“I would never put my family in danger,” she said through the tears. “I would never hurt you or Jamie or the baby or any of your family. Those things… what you said, those are illegal in the future. It’s wrong,” a spark of her anger returned, slowing her tears. “It’s wrong that the people I have to be afraid of are the ones who are supposed to be my people.”

He stroked her hair. “I know. And I’ll take care of it, Casey. It’s not gone so far that there’s no hope. Just let it go for now, all right? You’ve given them the plans, now just let it be.” His hands went to her belly. “You’ll have another baby, soon. You have Jamie, and our garden, and the harvesting and canning coming up. You always do a lot to donate food to the poor at that time. Just stay busy here, and at Ardara. We’ll still have music nights, and it will be all right. Just give it time.”

“All right,” she whispered. “But what will you do about Sloan?”

He gripped her hands. “I’ll talk to him. I’ve had to handle this kind of thing for other people. I know what to say to him, although it’ll be different since it’s my own family in trouble. They’re just looking for certain reassurances.” He thought for a moment. “Maybe I’ll ask Uncle Will to talk to him. His reassurances might carry a lot more weight than mine in this situation.”

“Sloan hates me,” she murmured, her eyes haunted. “He hates me all out of proportion to what I did at the shipyard. He always has. Because I’m an atheist.”

Tom nodded. “Aye, that’s exactly right. And Casey, I know he’s wrong about it. But you still have to live as if he’s a danger to you. You have to stay on your guard and for now, at least, not give him any ammunition.”

“I won’t. I promise.” Her fingers caressed his cheek, her face splotchy and tear-stained as she gazed at him. He thought she looked fragile and beautiful. “I’ve done something incredibly stupid this time. Can we recover from this? Will you ever be able to forgive me?”

“ Ah, lass.” He returned her touch, his fingers gentle on her cheek. “It’s not in me to stay angry at you. You are my life, and every year you grow more precious to me. The reasons to love you are beyond count.” He kissed her forehead and lay down next to her, cradling her in his arms. “We’ll get through it.”

***

Lord Pirrie’s talk with Sloan, along with Casey’s voluntary isolation, bought them some peace. The Pirries had begun to work for Home Rule, but on the whole, the Andrews family were all loyal advocates of Unionism, and Casey was not important enough to tip the scales away from that. Tom knew she chafed at being confined though, so he spoke to his father and uncle about arranging for her to have safe time to work with the Catholics. In the large scheme of things, gardens were fairly harmless. They promised it would happen eventually.

For now, Casey spent more time at Ardara or at Maxwell Court with her sister-in-law, Jessie. Jamie was happy with this arrangement and followed his cousins around learning to hunt snarks. It was his favorite game and Casey didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth.

She went to church a bit more often at first, admitting to Tom and Sam that it was a blatant attempt to get back into everyone’s good graces, but gradually, she went back to her regular schedule. Too many of the people at church were the same ones who had voted her out of the Society, and she wasn’t able to feel free about chatting with them.

***

As October moved through its days, Casey counted each one with trepidation, hoping the baby would wait to be born until after the Olympic’s launch. That would happen on the twentieth, and until then there were meetings and reports and lists and details that kept Tom at the yard until ten or eleven nearly every night. They joked that he would just come home one night and find another child in the nursery. But Casey did hope he would be able to be home for a while when the baby was born.

Normally, she and Sam would both have attended the launching, but her advanced pregnancy would keep her home. Although in their time, the Titanic was the most famous of the ships, the Olympic had really been the jewel of the trio. She was the first Olympic-class ship built, the first to sail, and the only one to serve for many years. Tom described her frequently. It was clear he was smitten with her. Her design had a leaner and more elegant appearance than older liners. He thought she was amazingly beautiful, even at this point, when she was just a shell.

“I know you’ve seen pictures of her complete,” he told them one Sunday afternoon as they rested in the garden. “But I have only our plans of what she’ll be like when she’s finished. We’re working on the fittings. The staircases will be grand, with detailed carvings. We’ll have wrought iron detailing in places, a glass dome, and artwork throughout. I can’t wait to have her finished.” He hugged Casey gently. “I hope you get to see her before her maiden voyage. I’ll take you on a private tour.”

“Really?” Her eyes lit up at the thought and she teasingly leaned toward him. “If I get you alone on one of those ships, she may not be a maiden when she leaves.”

His hug tightened briefly as he laughed. “I can arrange that quite easily. I shall look forward to that tour, indeed.”

***

Launching Day dawned bright, cool and baby-less. Tom was at the yard by 5:00 a.m., seeing to the last-minute details for the 11:45 launching. Spectators began arriving by eight. There was no point in any department trying to get actual work done, although many people tried. Tom had not been happy about it, but the managing directors had decided not to pay workers for attending the launch of a ship unless they actually had duties to perform. All other employees were expected to continue working, but it was difficult with the public wandering in and out. They had to keep people safely away from work zones, one more detail to add to the other thousand things to deal with.

Tom had given Sam a ticket that placed him on one of the stands near the ship. He’d have a good view, and Tom hoped he enjoyed the spectacle. He knew that, for Sam and Casey, these ships represented something terrifying, and he really wanted to show them how wonderful they could be.

Indeed, Sam looked awed and happy as he stood with the crowd and watched as they knocked away the last of the boards, and released the hydraulic hold on the ship. Olympic floated backwards, silent and majestic. She settled in the water as the crowd erupted in cheers and applause, and out on the hills someone set off fireworks. Tom let his breath out in relief. She was on her way. There would be a celebratory lunch while a crew brought Olympic into the slip that would be her home for the next seven months for her fitting out. Then he had some time off.

Just in time to be a father again.

***

Theresa Diane Andrews was born bright and early on 23 October 1910, with the apparent goal of making her father smile. Casey said she looked like the grandmother she was named for, and it was certainly clear to everyone that she looked like her mother. Even Jamie was smitten with her, although he tried hard to remember she was supposed to be a pest. He had that on good authority from his cousins, but they had not warned him how much fun it would be to hear his sister laugh, something she did early and often.

***

Fitting out for the Olympic continued, and there were often sudden moments of wonder throughout the yard, as men paused to observe the beauty and craftsmanship that went into her. The ships they built were among the most beautiful in the world, as Lord Pirrie expected their liners to rival the grandest hotels. But they were doing more than ever with these ships, and it made them proud. Nearly every person in Belfast had something to do with building the ships, or had a close relative who did. Shipbuilder Magazine wrote about them in every issue. Harland & Wolff was on top of the world.

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