The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 40

Titanic Memorial in Southampton, England
Titanic Memorial in Southampton, England

Chapter 40

14 April 1912

Titanic –North Atlantic

At 9:30 p.m., Tom made his way to the wireless room. As Casey and Sam had described, Jack Phillips and his assistant, Harold Bride, were swamped with messages to transmit. Phillips was polite, but short. The wireless had been broken, he’d just gotten it repaired, and he had a hundred messages to send out. If Mr. Andrews had a message to send, it would not be going out until morning. Tom assured him that he was only checking on things. On his way out he paused next to the box marked “Bridge.” There were several slips of paper in there, and he felt a chill that went through his entire body as Casey’s voice echoed in his head.

“The wireless operators had several ice warnings that they just never turned over to the captain. They were too busy…”

He turned to Harold Bride, his hand hovering over the box. “I’m on my way to the bridge. How ’bout I take these for you?”

Harold’s eyes flicked briefly over and he shrugged. “Sure, that’d be great. Just ice warnings. Nothing the Cap’n doesn’t know.”

Tom was gone in an instant, notes in hand, quickly flipping through them. Only four were about ice, with latitude and longitude given for berg sightings, including descriptions of a large ice field.

He put these together with the three warnings Captain Smith had received earlier, struggling with the idea of approaching the captain. He was enough of a seaman to understand the inviolability of the captain’s position. I’m not even a member of the crew. I have no right to offer unsolicited advice.

But with seven warnings, just today, and several others since Friday, could he suggest that the Captain at least slow down? Could he convince him to change course further south?

He had to do something. He was at the bridge, the captain and officers working efficiently inside. Tom shivered. Lord, it was cold, tonight! No wonder, as Casey had said, the passengers had not wanted to wait on deck or get into lifeboats. He entered the bridge, returning a nod from Second Officer Lightoller, and waited for the captain to finish his log entry before approaching him.

Captain Smith was happy to see him. “Tommy, my lad! Wonderful bread the baker prepared for you, tonight. Thank you for sharing.”

“Oh my pleasure, Captain. Wouldn’t do to eat it all myself, you know.” They both laughed. “I still have work to do tonight and I’m hoping to get a letter finished to my parents. You know my father is poorly, these days. I’m anxious to get to New York and hear some news.” He held out the wireless slips. “I was just in the wireless room. Poor lads are earning their keep tonight. I told them I’d bring these along with me to the bridge.”

He held his breath as Captain Smith looked through the notes. The captain shook his head, lips pursed, as he turned to beckon Lightoller to join them. “More ice warnings. Have Mr. Murdoch calculate our position relative to these sightings. Maintain course and speed, but keep a sharp watch; sounds likes there’s a large ice field ahead. I’ll be off duty. If it becomes at all doubtful, let me know at once.”

He turned to Tom. “Thank you for bringing these by, Tom. We don’t want to take too many chances, do we? These warnings almost never pan out, of course, but we’ll keep an eye out. We’ve changed course a bit farther south to avoid most of the ice, but we want to keep to our schedule, if possible.”

That’s what you did before! Tom tightened his lips against the outburst. “The ice is further south than I’ve ever seen it, this early in the year,” he said. “It won’t be such a bad thing if we have to change course further.”

Smith nodded. “We’ll see what Murdoch says when he’s checked our position. ‘Night, Tom. ‘Night, all.” He left the bridge, leaving Lightoller to follow the last set of orders.

Frustrated, Tom left as well, glancing at his watch. 9:50 p.m. Nothing new had been done, even with personally handing Smith the warnings. Sam had already told him about the course change. They needed to go further south, or better yet, stop for the night. He faltered for a moment before the enclosed promenade, looking hard at the ocean. Where was that berg? What about others? Sam had said there were several out there. He moved forward to the crow’s nest and called a greeting.

“Ho, there! All clear, then?”

The lookout responded laconically. “All clear, Mr. Andrews! Cold night, eh?”

“Bracing’s, what I’d call it!” At their laughter, Tom reached into his pocket. “You lads have your binoculars?” he asked. “I have an extra pair here, if you need ‘em.”

They conferred, then answered, “Why, that’d be great, Mr. Andrews. We seem to ‘ave misplaced ours.”

Tom made his way up the ladder and handed over the pair. “You know about the ice warnings the captain’s received. Seems we’re approaching an ice field and he’d like to avoid it. Keep sharp, lads!”

“Aye,” they answered. “Thanks for the touch-up, sir.”

He left the nest and paused once more on the deck. The chill in his bones had nothing to do with the temperature. What else could he do? His half-baked idea to sabotage the engines came back to him, but he had to keep in mind Sam’s doubts about that. They needed to be able to maneuver the ship.

He could wait a while before deciding. Best wait and see what happened once Murdoch had figured their position and, hopefully, noticed they were surrounded by ice. He’d wander back up to the bridge about 10:30 p.m. and see what was up.

***

 Dunallon–2:00 a.m.

Casey sat in bed, fully dressed, and stared at the clock. With the four-hour time difference, it was ten p.m. on the Titanic. Every bit of her soul longed for a telegram from Tom, or better yet, a phone call. If she could hear his voice again…

Neither of those would happen, of course. Even if Tom sent a telegram, it would not be delivered until morning, and phone calls were impossible. If she wished hard enough, could she put herself on Titanic and see what he saw? Could she be there to help?

She slowly rocked herself, back and forth, face resting on her bent knees. His name filled her mind, her body tense with the desire to have him safe. The minutes ticked by.

Titanic—10:30 p.m.

Wrapped up tight against the cold, Tom moved out to the Boat Deck and over to port. The night was still pitch black, the sea still calm. The only wind came from the movement of the ship as she raced through the water, her engines thrumming evenly. Looking over the rail, he could hardly hear the water splashing against the hull, far below.

He hailed the lookouts. One waved, the other was looking through the ‘nocs as the ship moved ahead. He turned to stare at the lifeboats, his mind rehearsing the steps to follow to most efficiently release them.

He realized what he was doing and closed his eyes. Dear Lord, I’m acting as if it’s actually going to happen. I’ve got to stop it from happening, not just give up!

After a minute, he walked to the bridge.

First Officer Murdoch and Sixth Officer Moody were discussing their position when Tom entered. Both were surprised to see him, but greeted him cordially enough. “You’re wandering around late, sir,” was Murdoch’s casual inquiry.

“Aye,” Tom said, “just checking on a few things.” He looked curiously at the map. “Looks like you’ve found some ice?” he asked them, noting himself that the pin marking the ship was indeed surrounded by areas marked as icebergs.

They nodded and Murdoch answered. “At least according to the messages. Some of those are a couple of days old, of course. We’ve no accurate measurements.”

Tom shook his head in dismay, but tried to keep his voice light and easy. “You know, I’ve built you a good ship, gentlemen. But she will no’ appreciate a rubbing from a berg.”

They agreed, laughing a little. Then, as Tom continued to stare at them, Murdoch cleared his throat. “Cap’n said to let him know if we had any doubts. Hate to wake him, but he’ll be interested in our position.”

Tom nodded, not taking his eyes from Murdoch. It took all his willpower to not demand he get the captain immediately. Murdoch exchanged an uncomfortable look with Moody as he went to rouse the captain. Tom checked the time. 10:40 p.m. One hour to go. One hour!

Knowing he had no real right to be on the bridge, Tom moved outside and over to the railing. Give Smith time to check things. He can’t miss those bergs marked on the map!

At nearly 11:00, he felt a presence beside him and looked up into Captain Smith’s frown. “Jitters, Tommy?” Smith asked quietly.

“Sir?”

Captain Smith looked away, out into the darkness, and considered his words. “You know sailing, Tom. I know you understand the risks we take, the fine line between caution and cowardice.” He looked back at Tom. “It’s a good crew we have, in the bridge and in the nest. They know their jobs. I’ve been at sea a long time, you know. Long before these wireless messages came along to add confusion to what should be straightforward decisions. I’ll tell you, I don’t entirely trust them. You and I both know the bergs move with the currents and we can’t pinpoint their exact locations. I’ve often run at night and I’ve never hit a berg.”

Tom nodded, heart pounding as Smith continued. “Bruce Ismay has made a few suggestions regarding course and speed. You are pestering my crew. Now I know Bruce owns the ship and you know the ship. But Thomas, I’m the captain of the ship. You and Bruce need to back off and let me do my job.”

Tom struggled to swallow past the dread filling his throat. Smith’s eyes narrowed as he regarded Tom. “Do you have a premonition, lad? I’ll tell you, in forty years of being on the sea, I’ve never had a real problem, but I’ve seen enough and heard enough to not ignore an experienced seaman’s nerves. Are you that worried about the ice?”

Tom’s breath returned. “Yes, Captain. I’m not a superstitious man, but sir, we need to slow down. I know that as well as I know my name.” He turned to stare at the night. “There’s a berg out there with our name on it. I’m sure of it.”

He glanced back and saw Captain Smith’s blink of surprise. “It could be,” Smith said reasonably, “that slowing down will put us right in its path. If our name’s on it, it’s possible that any action we take will bring us right to it.”

Tom nodded at this, looking at Smith earnestly. “Aye, it might. But if we’re moving slower, or better yet, stopped, the damage will be less. We need to do what we can.”

Smith stared out at the water a moment, before nodding slightly. “I’ll take it under consideration, Tom.” He turned, his expression unreadable. “That’s all I can do on the strength of a premonition. I’ll not run my ship based on superstition, but I’ll re-examine the ice reports and our heading. In the meantime, I’ll request that you return to your stateroom and cease bothering my crew. Can I count on that?”

“Aye, Captain. Thank you, sir,” Tom said, and he moved to follow his orders.

Dunallon—3:30 a.m.

Sam wearily looked up from his journal as Casey limped into the library, arms around her stomach. She looked ill and old, pain etching her pale face, her eyes hollow and lined with dark circles. His breath caught in his throat and he stood to put his arms around her and hold her.

Neither one of them found anything to say.

Titanic—11:30 p.m.

Tom’s breathing was unsteady and his heart was pounding. He stood in his cabin, staring at the door, waiting. Another heartbeat went by and he knew he couldn’t take any more. The captain’s implied order had been for Tom to remain in his room, but as long as he didn’t bother the crew, Tom felt he could be outside. He couldn’t stay in place another minute. He walked quickly out to the forward boat deck and stood out of the way, watching ahead with complete intensity. He saw nothing.

The boats creaked against the ropes, the ship continued to sail at a fast clip; Captain Smith had not reduced speed. A powerful ship, clean and strong, but not indestructible. His spine straightened with rage. He had built her for a full life. Careless fools would deny her that.

11:40 p.m. He saw it at the same moment he heard the shout from the lookout.

“Iceberg, right ahead!”

God almighty! A black mountain was suddenly there in the darkness, blocking the stars. So close.

Too close.

He couldn’t move. For a wild, dizzy moment, he was filled with thoughts of home, feeling the softness of Casey as she moved beneath him, his nostrils filled with the smell of her skin, hearing her moans. If longing could move time and space, he could have reached out and twisted open a portal to take him home instantly.

The moment was gone in the same instant the ship shuddered around him. Screeching metal filled his ears as the ship scraped the berg, a stretch of time that seemed to last forever. Shouts from the crew rang out, orders were given and repeated.

With a vision of Sam’s description of the damage in his head, he raced for the crew stairway in the bow. He heard shouts from below. As he neared the Orlop Deck, he encountered frantic stokers racing up the stairs, and heard the watertight doors clanging as they closed. The saline smell of seawater reached him as he struggled past the men, pausing when he saw water flowing along the deck. He saw no damage. The excited stokers milling about told him they’d barely escaped before the doors came down. A few mentioned names of those behind them; they had not seen them get out, although they still had access to the escape ladders.

“The hull buckled real sudden,” they told him, “like holes being poked all along the side. Water’s pouring in.”

He ran down the last flight of stairs to the tank top, which was really the top of the double bottom. The watertight doors to the sixth compartment were closed here, and as above, there was water pooling on the deck. He could see no other damage here, and he took a few minutes to run the length of the deck he could reach, checking for cracks. It looked clear.

Remembering that Officer Boxhall would perform a cursory examination and report no damage to Captain Smith, Tom abandoned his investigation and raced up to the bridge. As he approached, he heard Bruce Ismay’s voice.

“Perhaps we should restart the engines and head for Halifax. I believe it’s the nearest port.”

Tom moved faster, entering the bridge nearly at a run. “Don’t move this ship!” he shouted. Smith and Ismay turned, startled at his appearance. Ismay’s lips tightened in annoyance, but Tom addressed the Captain. “The hull’s been damaged in the forepeak and at least four compartments. Further investigation is needed to determine the full extent. But sir, you must not start the engines again until we know exactly where we stand. If the bottom is damaged the tank top could rupture.”

This is what happened in the other timeline, according to Sam. Moving the ship forward, even for a few minutes, had greatly increased the flow of water into the ship. It had been the final, fatal mistake.

Ismay spoke before Smith said anything. “Andrews, how soon can we be under way?”

Captain Smith stood straighter, his expression stern and determined.

“Have you seen the damage?” he asked Tom quietly, ignoring Ismay. “You’ve been below?”

“Aye, Sir. I need more time to look it over.”

Smith nodded once, and gestured to Tom to lead the way down. “Let’s go see for ourselves, shall we?” He turned to Murdoch. “Remain at full stop. Send the carpenter down to help sound the ship.”

Tom felt a brief rejoicing. At last! Something has changed! He left the bridge with Smith behind him.

At the first compartment, they climbed the short ladder to the upper hatch, swinging it open. They stared in dismay at the water flowing freely down the bulkhead and pooling on the deck below. It was worse the farther forward they went. The forepeak was completely flooded. Tom estimated the flow rate in each compartment as best he could. They discovered holes in the sixth compartment as well. The water flow was much slower there, moving in a thin, but solid, stream down the wall in three places.

“The post office is flooded,” Tom remarked as they reached the staircase on their way back to the bridge. He spoke quietly as there were a few passengers about, whispering to each other or to stewards. They looked curiously at Smith and Tom, but no one approached.

Smith’s face was tight. “I’ll see if they need help moving the mail. Would you bring the ship’s plans to the bridge? We’ll discuss the damage with the staff in a few minutes.”

They parted and Tom went to his room to retrieve the plans. He paused a moment as he entered. His stateroom was quiet and clean, just as he had left it. Vertigo seized him and made the room spin for a moment. He rubbed his face with his hands.

The entire world had changed. He’d known it was coming, but now that it was here, he felt inadequate and guilty, full of fear. All this time, I’ve never faced the reality of this. It’s all been hypothetical. I never believed it would really happen.

He should have stopped it.

Smith, Lightoller, Chief Officer Wilde, and Bruce Ismay were waiting in the chart room when he arrived. He spread the plans on the table.

Six compartments were flooding. Tom showed them the consequences of their collision, pointing out the sections on the plan. “The watertight doors are all sealed, but these compartments are filling with water. Once the water reaches C Deck, it’ll start flooding into the stair wells.”

Ismay sputtered, but Captain Smith held up a hand to silence him, never taking his eyes off of Tom. “Will she stay afloat?”

“No sir.” Tom thought for a moment that those words would kill him.

“That’s ridiculous! This ship can’t sink.” Ismay moved next to them, sounding angry, but uncertain.

“Without a double hull, the water is filling those compartments. It will reach the top of the bulkheads on C Deck and from there will flood the rest of the ship. We have no way of blocking off the stair wells past that point.” Tom could barely bring himself to look at Ismay, he was so angry.

“What about the pumps?” the Captain asked.

Tom shook his head. “The pumps can’t stop it. But they have a new efficient mechanism that will buy us time. A few hours, maybe.”

He reached for paper and pencil, making a rough calculation. “Conservatively, we can stay afloat for about four hours, maybe five.” Whatever else, they were in better shape than in the other time line, when the ship had sunk in two-and-a-half hours. “We need to get everyone off this ship, quickly, and call for help.”

RMS Carpathia, North Atlantic, 1:30 a.m.

Harold Cottam sighed with relief as he pulled off his dratted boots and pulled down the sheets. This was the last time he ever went to sea as the lone wireless operator. In the future, if he didn’t have a backup, he wouldn’t take the job. He had hoped to turn everything off and be in bed an hour ago, once he received a reply from the liner Parisian. But that reply had required a response, and now he was waiting for a confirmation to that. But that was it. He was going to bed the second the response came through.

Once he was ready for bed, to keep himself awake for the reply, he switched over to the Titanic’s frequency. He’d heard several messages come in for them, but they had not been replying. Eejits, he sniffed disdainfully. They had two wireless operators and still couldn’t keep up!

Ah, they were transmitting, now. Too tired to translate, he leaned on his elbow and listened to the clicks, until something made him sit up. What was that? Had that been a CQD? All Stations Attend: Distressed. He started translating automatically. The Titanic was broadcasting her position. He wrote it down and waited. Nothing else happened and he tapped quickly: Repeat your message. Did you say CQD?

The reply came back in an instant: Yes. Come at once. We have struck a berg Old Man. Going down by head. CQD. CQD. They repeated their coordinates.

“Blimey,” Cottam breathed. Throwing on his boots and jacket, but otherwise not bothering to dress, he grabbed the message and ran to the bridge. He presented his disheveled self to the first officer, who read the message and pulled Cottam with him to the captain’s quarters.

Captain Rostron had just fallen asleep, leaving him groggy and irritated at the interruption, but the message he read woke him instantly. Dressing quickly, he took the others to the chart room to determine distance and course. He sent Cottam back with a message for Titanic: we’ll be there in four hours. Then he immediately began giving orders to turn his ship into a rescue boat.

15 April 1912

Dunallon—4:00 a.m.

Neither Sam nor Casey knew when they could expect news. The telegraph office opened at six, but they had no idea when a specific telegram would be sent to someone at Harland & Wolff and from there, to them. They did expect that telegraphed messages were flying through the airwaves from ship to ship as Titanic called for help, and these would be picked up by various news sources. News should be getting out soon.

If events followed the original timeline, Titanic would have hit the iceberg at 3:40 a.m., Belfast time. By 6:20, she would have sunk and Tom would be gone. Casey, fighting rising panic and despair, fainted twice, until Sam insisted she lie down on the sofa. He put a pillow under her feet and a cool rag on her forehead and forbade her to move.

At seven o’clock, the doorbell rang. Ham stood on the step, his hat in hand, his long face miserable, as he gazed at Sam. “Dr. Altair,” he began, and paused in shock as Casey came into view. Sam realized how strange her appearance must seem to Ham: her hair was loose and wild, her face pale and pinched, with deep lines around her mouth, her eyes groggy and unfocused.

Ham seemed to throw off his shock, though, stepping inside and gripping her shoulders. “Casey, I have some news. Let me say first that, as far as we know, Tom is okay.”

Her expression didn’t change and he took an uncertain breath. “We’re still trying to find out what’s happened, but wireless messages between ships at sea have been picked up by several news services. Mr. Kempster received a call about an hour ago from a reporter who had heard about the messages.”

He glanced at Sam, instinctively begging for help with Casey’s blankness. “Titanic hit an iceberg sometime last night. We don’t have details, so we don’t know when it happened or what the damage was. The last we heard, they’re loading people onto boats. Several ships are working their way to her. That’s all I know.”

Casey stared at him, her hands on his chest, but before she spoke, Sam put a hand on each of them and turned them toward the parlor. “Sit down, Ham,” he directed, as he guided Casey to a divan. She went with no argument, staring blankly at the floor. Sam sat next to her, bringing his attention back to Ham. “Do you have any idea of when or how you’ll learn more?”

Ham swallowed, hard. “Carpathia is excepted to arrive within the hour. We’ll have to give them time to rescue everyone, which could take several hours. We hope to hear more sooner than that, but we’re uncertain.” He shifted as Casey’s haunted eyes moved up to watch him. “You see, they are much closer to New York than to us. The messages we’re getting are being passed on from other ships as they move in and out of range. It’s quite haphazard, I’m afraid. We’ve sent inquiries, but have not received any replies. We don’t expect to, really. We must allow them to concentrate on their situation, and understand they cannot take the time to send information.”

Casey placed a hand on Sam’s arm and stood up. Both men stood awkwardly, not sure what to expect. Her gaze at Ham was direct, with eyes that were suddenly clear. “Is there someone at the telegraph office? How is Harland & Wolff getting the information?”

“George Cummings is down there, with a few of the office boys. Since we’re not having any telegrams addressed to us, Mr. Kempster thought it best to remain on the scene. George is having the boys run information to us, although someone at the telegraph office is letting him use a phone there, too.” Ham twisted his hat and held out a hand to her. “We’re getting it in bits and pieces, Casey. I’ll return to the office and call you every time I get more news. Is that all right?”

“Has anyone contacted Tom’s parents?”

Ham shook his head. “We wanted to talk to you first.”

She nodded. “I’ll talk to them. Go back, Ham. Let me know everything. Even if it doesn’t make sense. Even if you don’t trust it. Call immediately.”

He nodded, giving her a piercing look before heading for the door. She turned to Sam, lips tight, cheeks flushed with color against her paleness.

“There’s been no change.” She was almost accusing him.

“That we know of,” he reminded her. “We really have very little news. Remember, even if the collision occurs exactly as before, we have higher bulkheads, better pumps. This will certainly give them more time. We have forty-eight lifeboats and perhaps enough time to load them up. Don’t lose hope.”

She reached for his hand. “Will you gather the staff? I’ll speak to them after I talk to Tom’s parents.”

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