The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 34

Chapter 34

January-February 1911

That evening, they gathered with the servants in quiet contemplation before the fire in the parlor, trying to understand what had happened. The doctor had just left, after examining everyone and sewing Casey’s cut. His final words left more chill: “Watch the baby for internal bleeding.” Her mouth had been open in screams while the glass was falling and the doctor was concerned that she might have swallowed some slivers. They could only wait and see.

Casey sat on the divan, holding Terry and leaning on Tom. He voiced the thought she preferred to avoid. “Was it deliberate? Were you targeted?”

“But I haven’t done anything!” she protested in quiet despair. “We’ve only been walking, I swear it!”

“I know.” He squeezed her hand, his eyes troubled. “I’m not interested in reasons, right now. I want to know if you just got caught in a random riot or did someone set you up? Are they still after you?”

No one had answers for that. Sam, holding Jamie on his lap in the big chair, considered the evidence. “All we know is that the shop you were in front of, was attacked. A few other buildings were damaged, but nothing like other riots. This riot ended quickly, with everyone running off when other people started fighting back. The pram was burned. It could all be coincidence.”

“Except…,” Penny started, then glanced at Casey, reluctant to go on.

“What?” Casey encouraged.

“When we were running down the alley. Did you hear someone yelling at us?”

Casey thought about it, memory dawning as they watched her. “I heard someone yell and I think they threw a rock at us. I remember it missed us.” She stared at Penny. “He said something about Papist-lovers.”

Penny reddened. “I swear, Mistress. I’ve not been courting any Catholics. I’ve not been courting anybody!”

They all laughed, the surprised laugh of people hearing something unexpected. But they sobered quickly.

“No, but it might have been a reference to my plans,” she reminded Penny, then she sighed angrily. “But it makes no sense! Why now?”

“Because you’ve just started going out alone. You’ve been following a routine, always walking in the same few places, the same time each day.” Tom spoke with great reluctance. “They’ve just been waiting for a chance.”

Sam shook his head. “You don’t know it though, Tom. We have no proof and no way of finding out who might be behind it.”

“Ach, that ye’ll find out soon enough,” William said, from his perch near the mantle. They all looked at him.

“What do you mean?” Tom asked.

“If it was deliberate, they’ll be wantin’ ye to know it, sir. And to know why. Not who, mind ye. But why. They’ll let you know, one way or ‘ta other.” He shrugged. “If no information comes about it, then it was probably random.”

***

The letter came the next day, with the mail. Tom’s mother, and Jessie, his sister-in-law, had spent the day at Dunallon. His father and brothers came just before dinner. Mrs. Pennyworth had set the mail on a tray in the library. Tom was flipping through the letters when one made him stop. He stared at it, before looking up to see everyone watching him. “It’s odd,” he said.

Casey stepped closer and her brows crinkled in concern at the envelope. It was addressed to Tom, with no indication of who it was from. But it was the handwriting that got their attention.

“Looks like a child wrote it,” Sam commented. He looked over at Jessie. “Something from Jack, perhaps? Forgot to put his name on it?” She shook her head.

Tom touched a finger to the envelope, then resolutely picked it up, reaching for his letter opener. “Let’s find out.”

He had to sit before he’d finished the second sentence. He read it through, knowing the others were waiting, but determined to finish it. The letter was short, but while the handwriting was that of a child, the words were those of an adult. A bitter, hateful adult.

“My god.” He ran a shaking hand through his hair. “William was right.” He heard Casey catch her breath and she sat beside him.

“May I see?”

He handed it to her, pulling her close to him while she read it out loud so everyone could hear, although her voice faded to a whisper by the end.

“Yesterday was a warning. It was not intended that anyone be hurt. But you must keep your wife under control and not allow her to seduce the good Protestants of Belfast with her godless ways and papist sympathies. Keep her at home and away from unsupervised public contact. There will not be any more warnings.”

No one said anything. Tom stared at Casey as she finished reading. She didn’t look up from the paper, but he could see the bright red spot on her cheek, saw her hands shaking. His arm was around her and he rubbed her shoulder, trying to think of something to say.

He winced when her hands jerked and she threw the letter on the floor. “Gah!” she shouted. He reached for her but she thrust both her hands against his chest with a force that shocked him. “My children! They almost killed my children just to keep me from taking walks! How can we survive? How can I keep from doing the wrong thing?”

Tom finally got a good grip on her, holding her tight against him. He stared at his father, who stood, fierce and silent, behind Casey. “This is it,” Tom said, caressing Casey’s head as she sobbed. “It ends, now.”

***

He took two actions. The first was to file a report with the police. He had an officer come out to Dunallon, and showed him the letter. They explained all that had been happening, starting with Casey’s first meeting with Mike Sloan. The officer agreed they had no concrete proof against Sloan, but it was good enough for them to question him. He’d see about that and be in touch.

The second step was to write a letter. Tom wanted a letter sent to the Belfast Telegraph. “I’ve no doubt it was Mike Sloan, but it’s not only him,” he told everyone when the officer had left. “I already know he has an alibi. He was at work when the riot happened. It’s all the others, too, you see. All the hard-liners, all the extremists. That’s who we’re up against.”

He sat back, his expression tortured. “We can’t fight them quietly or in secret. It’s got to be out in the open. In public.”

His father nodded. “Yes, it must be. Secrecy gives them power and it gives them time to do whatever they want. You may not be able to name names, but frankly, we all know who these people are. They’ve gone against all common sense, with this act. You understand, though, we might not win this fight, not in time.” His expression was guarded.

Tom nodded, but Casey shook her head. “What do you mean, in time?”

Tom stared hard at Casey as he spoke, wanting to make sure she understood. “He means they’ll try to silence us, sweetheart. This is one battle in a long war. If we take this action, it’s possible one or all of us could be killed. Me. You. The children.” Casey closed her eyes. He waited until she opened them again, and looked at him. “If we do nothing, they’ll get bolder. Attacking my family is an attack against the leaders of this town, against any who work for moderation in Home Rule solutions.” He glanced at Sam, realizing that none of this had happened in their history, that every step taken now, was a new direction, in a new future.

“We need to make sure,” he continued softly, “that the whole town knows the truth about what happened. So that if anything happens to us, they’ll have a chance to do something.”

Sam whistled, low. Casey glanced at him, before turning back to gaze at Tom. “All right,” she said, standing very still. “Go for it.”

He went for it.

***

The newspaper printed his letter in the next edition. It was an essay really, long and intense. But Casey and Sam helped, and the letter was hard-hitting and emotional. Indeed, the letter was filled with his agony and his anger at this treatment from his fellow Protestants. He included the entire text of the warning received at Dunallon, along with the information that a child had evidently been used to write the dictated message.

His father and brothers agreed with Sam’s suggestion to send copies of the letter to every major newspaper in Ireland. His letter asked the people to decide what life they wanted. If they continued to follow power-hungry fanatics, they would lose all that was dear in their lives, not to the Catholics, but to their leaders. He reminded them that even now, with centuries of loyalty to Britain, and with Protestant majorities across the board, the Protestants of Ireland were not able to live in peace. Their leaders always agitated for another battle to fight, or another war to wage, and now the fight had been brought into their homes and nurseries. They would have no privacy, no rights, when other men could tell them how and when to discipline their wives, or could place innocent people under house arrest, with the threat of murdering their children if the sentence was not followed.

He said a lot of things and ended by telling them that his wife was too afraid to leave her home and he was glad of that, because he was too afraid to let her. “Our home,” he wrote, “is beautiful. Dunallon is a warm and happy refuge for all of us, but it was never meant to be a prison. When did these men, who will not even put faces or names to their actions, become our judges and ministers? When will we stop them?”

***

Tom’s father and brothers followed that letter with letters of their own. Lord Pirrie wrote one as well, and a new movement was born. People talked about it everywhere. At home, at work, in pubs, in shops, on trains. Ministers preached about it the very next Sunday, and for many Sundays after, in every church of every kind in the country. Sentiment was mostly on Tom’s side. Letters were printed in newspapers, not all of them signed, written by people who secretly longed for peace, who wanted to “get along” with all their fellow Irishmen, whatever the religion.

A few letters defended the violence, continuing the argument that they all had to show solidarity or they would soon be ruled by Rome. These letters brought immediate and profound protest. They would not be ruled by Rome or by bullies. People were demanding a third choice.

“This is unprecedented in Irish history,” Sam said as he and Casey filled out their journals one night. He held his up, the title of the first page a clearly written, Time Travel Journal #3.

“We’ve made a difference, Casey. It’s true that movements come and go. I have no idea if this one will be successful. But we’ve made a difference.”

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