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The Time Travel Journals: Chapter 14

The Palm House, Belfast Botanic Gardens
The Palm House, Belfast Botanic Gardens

Chapter 14

December 1906

The people of Belfast were justifiably proud of the Palm House. Casey loved it even in the twenty-first century, but as she stood outside it in 1906, she realized it was really remarkable. Curvilinear and cast iron glass, it stood proudly in the gardens, owner of a world-wide reputation. It was already old, having been built in the 1830’s, with a wing for cool temperature plants and another for tropical plants. That was the area she would be working in, as her new boss, Rupus Mangold, had explained. She had worked here for a year as a student in 2005 and for a moment, as she walked to the door on her first day in 1906, she felt as if time had again folded on itself. Perhaps she couldn’t really get back home, but this would bring her closer.

Mr. Mangold had immediately realized that Casey knew what she was doing, and he fell into a regular routine with her assignments. He would tell her what he wanted done and then disappear for days at a time, leaving her to it. She never figured out what he did with his time but didn’t really care, either. She worked three days a week, planning, sketching, and researching, without benefit of a computer or the internet, where to find and order plants. She also placed orders, watched the budget, and did her share of digging and planting.

She tried to avoid conversations with the students working there. They were all boys her own age and none of them was happy about working with a girl. They were polite enough if they had to speak to her, but it was like trying to join the fifth grade clubhouse with the “no girls allowed” sign on the door. The only reason they didn’t dip her braid in the inkwell was because her hair wasn’t long enough to have a braid. Boys–like little children, she sniffed to herself, knowing full well she was comparing them to Tom Andrews.

She missed him. Since leaving the shipyard, she found herself always listening for his laugh or watching for his large form to come through a crowd. She hoped he would call when work started on the Titanic. If he didn’t, she decided she would contact him, as soon as she heard the ship was being built. She had no doubt she would know about it. The whole town knew what ships were being built at the yard.

***

Moving the pot with the Bird of Paradise next to the ferns, Casey knelt down to widen the space she had picked for it.

“Miss Wilson?” A respectful male voice belonging to the afternoon’s student assistant broke into her thoughts and caused her eyebrows to raise. Why was he being so nice? She continued her digging without looking up. “Yes, Teddy?”

“You have a visitor.”

She blinked in surprise and turned, then hastily stood, wiping her hands on the towel hanging from her apron. A woman stood next to Teddy, straight and corset-tight in a purple dress and flowered hat. Her hair under the hat was salt and pepper, her skin was pale and wrinkled, but she had blue eyes that seemed to actually twinkle, and a delighted smile moved her lips as she observed Casey.

Casey reached a hand out, then winced at the dirt still on it and drew it back. She changed the greeting into a curtsey instead, distracted by Teddy, who was rubbing his cheek, then pointing at her. “Hello! May I help you?” She rubbed her cheek with her towel, hoping she wasn’t just depositing more dirt.

The smile widened and the woman returned the curtsey with a tilt of her head. “You may, dear. I’m Mrs. Herceforth. Lady Pirrie told me about you and suggested you’d be an excellent addition to our Horticultural Society Chapter. She offered to introduce us, but as she won’t return from London for three weeks, I took it upon myself to call.”

The lady turned and charmingly dismissed Teddy, who bowed with gallant ease, and strolled back to his duties. Mrs. Herceforth beamed after him and turned back to Casey. “Such a handsome fellow, he is.” She leaned conspiratorially toward Casey. “If you play your cards right, dear, this job could do quite well for you.”

Casey managed to look doubtful rather than disgusted, but her lips twitched a bit. “If I play my cards right, Mrs. Herceforth, I shall escape unscathed.”

The lady had a pealing laugh and she patted Casey’s arm. “Well said, dear! Now, may I bother you for a short tour? I give quite generously to the Gardens and I’m curious to see what my money is doing.” She glanced toward the spot where Casey had been working. “If you’ve the time to spare for it, of course. I thought it would be a good chance to get acquainted.”

“I’d love to show you around, ma’am. Just let me…” Casey held up a finger and turned to move the potted Bird to a safer locale. She placed her spade in the pot and turned back. “I’d hate for someone to trip over it,” she explained and Mrs. Herceforth nodded approvingly. Casey spread an arm to indicate the room around them.

“Are you familiar with the work to build up the tropical section? You can see we’ve several varieties of ferns in place…” Mrs. Herceforth proved to be a knowledgeable and entertaining audience, and Casey found herself laughing a lot and losing herself in her enthusiasm for the project. She kept seeing the Palm House as it would be in the twenty-first century and often included that description as something to work toward in the future. Mrs. Herceforth seemed quite taken with her ideas, which made Casey a little uncomfortable. After all, they weren’t really her ideas.

As they neared the end of the tour, Mrs. Herceforth began talking about both the Belfast Horticultural Society and the Agriculture Society. “I belong to both of them, dear, and I think you would enjoy attending a meeting of each.” The look she gave Casey was appraising. “Their missions are different, but harmonious. The horticultural society is beginning a project to plant gardens throughout the city. The Ag Society works to help farmers form cooperatives so they are working together to supply good products to the markets, for a decent wage. I’m sure you’re aware of the mass exodus of the Irish, mostly to America.”

Casey nodded. The problem had been covered in her classes at Queen’s. They reached a meeting room and Mrs. Herceforth took the opportunity to rest her feet. Casey joined her at the table, while the older woman continued.

“We want to keep them here, you know. But they need to feed their families. Now dear,” she touched Casey’s hand, a smile playing at her lips, “Lady Pirrie told me about your situation, so I know you understand what life is like for the poor. I loved your “solution,” by the way. Serves those men right, as far as I’m concerned.” They both laughed, Casey blushing a little in embarrassment.

“The Belfast Ag Society is working to assist the area farmers to grow and sell their food right here. We want more market days and more grocers buying from the farmers, instead of food shipped from the Continent. Goodness, some of the food they stock comes from America! It’s putting our farmers right out of business and off of their lands. We want to encourage the populace to grow their own vegetable gardens or establish community gardens. This is where the two societies can work together, don’t you agree?”

“Absolutely,” Casey replied, excited about being here for this endeavor. The Agriculture Society had made a real difference, but like everything else in Ireland, it had fallen victim to the continuing violence between religious factions. She wondered if she could steer them away from that.

They agreed to meet at the next meeting of the Horticultural Society. Casey went back to work with a lighter step and the feeling she had just made a friend.

***

That evening, Casey looked up from writing in her time travel journal. Sam was also writing, sitting at the small desk in the parlor, summing up his work day and the progress he was making toward advancing scientific discovery. She smiled to herself, amused as always, at their disparate goals. Her own goals were modest: build a life for herself and have a few friends–Casey needed friends–and perhaps aid the Irish in their hopes for economic prosperity, by helping them build up and nourish their land.

Sam’s goals were grand: to establish in Ireland a think tank and experimental industry, not dissimilar to the future consortium he used to work for. He hoped to advance scientific discovery by at least fifty years, in as many areas as he could. Medicine could have antibiotics and ultrasounds decades sooner, materials science could have alloys and polymers, quantum physics could practically meet itself coming, if he could place a nudge in the right place and the right time. He had to do it all without actually stating what he wanted to do, or inventing things himself, but he always said that’s what good scientists did. They took a half-beaten idea and tinkered with it until it grew up.

Casey had asked him to somehow avoid dependence on fossil fuels, and the disposable society it encouraged, which was quickly destroying their future world. She’d be happier, too, if he could figure out a way to avoid the creation of super weapons. He had laughed.

“We have to split the atom, Casey. It’s essential to everything.”

“I know,” she admitted bleakly. “I know you also can’t control what governments do. But we need to try and keep nationalism or partisanship out of it this time.”

He didn’t bother to tell her it was probably impossible. They were only two people and it was a big world. It was a smaller version of this problem that bothered her now and caused her to interrupt his writing.

“Sam?” She waited until he reached the end of his sentence and looked up. “When I try to figure out what I want to accomplish by joining these societies, I always come back to one central problem. The Protestants and the Catholics. Their disagreements destroy everything good that the country tries to do. How can I do anything about that?”

“Try not to get killed,” he said, turning sideways in his chair to face her. She laughed.

“I’m serious,” he told her. “You start meddling with some of this and you can end up dead faster than you thought about it. Go easy, okay?”

“Well sure,” she agreed, doodling on the open page of her journal. “But they have to understand that they all live in this country. You can only go so far with advancing one group at the expense of the other. Eventually, the other group must advance, as well.”

Sam shrugged. “What are you thinking about?”

She leaned back into the sofa, legs crossed under her, her skirt billowing out in a circle. “They want gardens, to beautify the city and provide fresh produce. But I doubt that any Catholics belong to this society. Yet, they need to have gardens in the Catholic sections, too.”

“I doubt Catholics would be welcome even if they wanted to join,” Sam pointed out and she nodded.

That’s what I want to accomplish.”

He smiled. “I thought I had a tough job.”

***

The horticulture society met at the First Presbyterian Church, in the social hall. With some regret that they didn’t see the wisdom of meeting at a pub, like sensible chapters in the future did, Casey went to her first meeting, nervous about a social occasion where, as the ward of a highly-placed manager and scientist at the telephone company, she would be seen as an equal to the others, or nearly so. How many of them would know of her employment at the shipyard, depended she supposed, on the discretion or amusement of Lady Pirrie and Mrs. Herceforth.

They all knew about it. The men didn’t bring it up, but the women all asked her about it, admiring and amused at her foray into the world of men. A couple of the oldest women, still dressing in strict Victorian black, were not quite as pleased, but seemed willing to overlook it, “provided,” Casey heard one say to another, “my grandson doesn’t try to court her.”

That comment was made early in the evening and it amused Casey, allowing her to enter the meeting in high spirits. She sat with Mrs. Herceforth, and played the part of a newcomer, not offering suggestions unless they asked her. She explained about her job at the Palm House, and a little of her background as a horticulturist “in California.” They were pleased, and voted her into the group that night, hoping she might be able to bring in more young people.

“Except for Lady Talbot’s grandson,” she murmured to Mrs. Herceforth as they left, listening to the pealing laughter and feeling generally content with the evening. Casey was startled when the older woman suddenly put a hand on her arm and moved closer to her. At her questioning look, Mrs. Herceforth gestured with her chin to the bottom of the steps.

“Protestors, dear. They are seldom violent, but it’s always wise to remain alert.”

Indeed, there were several groups of men, and a few women, on the cobblestones, effectively blocking them in. It would be impossible to leave without a confrontation. Mrs. Herceforth did not stop, but continued regally down the steps, keeping Casey nearby. The protestors were quiet, content with just passing out pamphlets and urging the society members to concentrate their efforts on loyal Protestants. Casey had just begun to breathe easier when an ominous, familiar figure blocked her path.

She realized later that Sloan might not have recognized her if she hadn’t stopped and looked right at him. She was, after all, wearing “girl” clothes: skirt and jacket, a fashionable wide-brimmed hat with a red scarf tied around it, and her long black overcoat. The shortness of her hair was hidden by the hat. There was nothing about her that looked like the boy who had worked at Harland & Wolff.

It was her face, and the fear she knew it showed, that made him take a closer look, as he paused in the act of handing her a pamphlet.

“Well, I’ll be,” he practically chortled, “it’s Casey Wilson!” His head tilted to the side, an amused and mocking look twisting his mustached features. “Looking proper and all.”

Angry, she snatched at the pamphlet he still held in his hand. “Mr. Sloan,” she said flatly, “do you also disapprove of gardens?”

He managed to look innocent. “Ach no, Miss Wilson, ‘course not.” He gave a little bow. “We just want to make sure the society knows our wishes regarding where the gardens should be placed.”

“In no Catholic backyards, I take it?”

“Aye, that would be one place,” he said, without acknowledging her sarcasm. He tipped his hat to Mrs. Herceforth. “Madam. Hope ye are well this evenin’.”

“Marvelous, Mr. Sloan, simply marvelous. How is your brother’s London tour coming along?” Mrs. Herceforth seemed genuinely interested, and Casey stared at her. She had to be asking about the brother in parliament. The one Sam had said was a sectarian bigot.

“He’s a warm welcome wherever he goes, Mrs. Good of ye to ask.”

“So nice to hear it. Do send him my best. Now I must be getting this young lady home. Good night, Mr. Sloan.”

“Night, Mrs. Herceforth, Miss Wilson.” He stepped aside and no one else bothered them as they approached Mrs. Herceforth’s carriage.

“Hop in, dear. I’m delighted to see you home, unless you have other arrangements?”

“Thank you,” Casey murmured, confused at the exchange, but stepping into the carriage. “It’s not far,” she told her as Mrs. Herceforth sat across from her. “I was going to walk.”

“Walk? Alone?” Mrs. Herceforth shook her head and tapped Casey on the knee with her parasol. “Lady Pirrie said you were a bit wild, but honestly, dear. Even in America, I don’t believe they allow their young ladies to wander the streets at night without escort.”

“No ma’am. I guess I just got used to wandering around as a boy. I keep forgetting. I’ll make sure my guardian picks me up from now on.”

“I take it you know our Mr. Sloan from the shipyard?”

Casey’s lips tightened in annoyance. “Yes ma’am. I’m afraid so.”

Mrs. Herceforth’s laugh filled the carriage. “Such a delicate way to put it! He does mean well, you know.”

Casey just raised her eyebrows, and Mrs. Herceforth sighed, folding her hands in her lap. “I suppose I should say that his heart is in the right place, although he is difficult to get along with, sometimes.”

“Do you think we should not include Catholic areas in the planned gardens?” Casey asked her.

The older woman looked troubled. “I think it would be best if they had their own chapter and did the work themselves. It’s so difficult for us to work with them.”

“But surely, they need to associate in some way with the main group? Would they need assistance to get started?”

“I imagine they would. But I think it’s best if Sir Plunkett handles that.” Her fingers tapped along her arms as she answered Casey. “It’s far too dangerous for the general membership to get involved. Ah. Here we are.”

Casey disembarked and turn to curtsey. “Thank you for the ride, ma’am. I look forward to seeing you at our next meeting.”

“I too, child. Ta!” She waved, as the driver clicked to the horses, and the carriage moved smoothly down the street.

 

The Time Travel Journals: Chapter 13

The author visits Thomas Andrews' office at Harland & Wolff
The author visits Thomas Andrews’ office at Harland & Wolff

Chapter 13

November 1906

The note was on pale pink paper, with an even, flowing script, and a coat of arms seal on the back. It was addressed to “Miss Casey Wilson” and was delivered to the house on Tuesday of Casey’s second week after leaving Harland and Wolff.

The sender was Lady Margaret Pirrie.

Casey stood at the small desk in the parlor as Sam lit a fire to ward off the evening chill. She held the note with care, afraid to move for fear that movement would acknowledge the paper in her hand and force her to deal with it. What did Lady Pirrie want with her? Was this prelude to arrest? Announcement to sue? Some other alarming deed?

Sam noticed her stillness and glanced over, moving to her side in alarm at her expression. “What is it? Are you all right?”

She couldn’t focus on him, but handed the note in his direction. Confused, he took it and read the front, noting sender and addressee. Eyebrows severely elevated, he managed a sideways smile. “Honestly, dear. The company you keep.” His voice was mild.

Her lips trembled, eyes wide. “What does she want with me? Why would she send me a note? Am I going to be arrested?”

He held it out to her. “Arrest notices seldom come on scented pink paper. I hate to be pedantic, but the only way you’ll find out is to open it.”

Her lips twitched ever so slightly as she snatched the paper out of his hand and sniffed gently at it. Sure enough, roses. Taking a deep breath, she broke the seal and forced herself to scan the note. She felt her face flushing as she gaped at the invitation to: “Tea? She wants me to come to tea?”

Sam peeked over her shoulder at the elegant script.

Lady Margaret Pirrie requests the company of

Miss Casey Wilson

at Tea

Two o’clock in the afternoon

Friday 22 November, 1906

at Ormiston House, Belfast

“Why would she want me to come to tea?” Casey shouted at Sam.

He lifted his shoulders. “Maybe she’s just curious. She did meet you at the shipyard at least once. Maybe she wants to see you as a girl.”

“For tea?” she repeated. “With Lady Pirrie? At Ormiston House?”

“Now, Casey, surely you know the rules of teatime. You attended Queen’s University for two-and-a-half years and I don’t think they’ve let the basics slide that much. You’ve attended formal teas, I’m sure of it.”

“Yes.” She looked doubtful. “But not by myself, and certainly not with a lady of the realm. Especially one who has a complaint against me.” Each remark got louder.

Sam sat in the desk chair. “I had a colleague once who always said to never admit fault until it was in your lap.” He sighed at Casey’s expression. “You don’t know that Lady Pirrie is offended. She may think it’s hilarious.”

Casey nodded in mock optimism. “I’m sure she does.”

Sam ignored the sarcasm as he gazed at the lace curtains over the window. “In fact, Lady Pirrie could be a real asset.”

“What do you mean, asset?”

Sam settled into his lecture mode. “According to history, Lady Pirrie had a lot of influence with her husband. She was practically a partner in the business. You mentioned she was often at the yard.” He looked at her for confirmation.

“So?”

“So when you go to tea, you should feel her out. She’d be a formidable ally if she knew about the Titanic.”

“The Titanic?” Casey threw the note on the desk, face flushed and angry. “You want me to tell her about the Titanic? About us? Are you out of your mind, Sam?”

“Only if you’re comfortable with it, of course. I haven’t met her at all; you have. I’m sure you’ll get to know her a bit better on Friday. I’ll leave it to your discretion.”

“Sam.” Casey was flabbergasted and showed it. “Sam, the Pirries are not interested in us. Lady Pirrie probably wants to meet me to make sure I’m not up to espionage or something. That’s okay, I can understand that. But everyone says they’re extravagant, haughty social climbers. Their fondest wish is to be the darlings of London society. I’ve seen how Lord Pirrie runs that company like it’s his own personal little fiefdom. If anyone disagrees with him, he doesn’t promote them. Even his own nephew got that treatment because they disagreed about Home Rule. The Pirries are the problem, Sam.”

Sam was nodding. “I know, I know. They also live well beyond their means and when he dies, he leaves his wife destitute, and at the charitable mercies of friends and relations. He also cooks the books, although none of it is actually illegal these days. Still, Harland & Wolff is nearly as destitute as Lady Pirrie. But that’s all beside the point. The thing is, Casey, she knows ships. She really does. If you give her our information, she just might persuade Pirrie to change the ship.”

“She just might have us locked up for good, too. Worse, she might turn us over to the government. If he’s so desperate for society approval that he cooks the books, we’d be a real prize, wouldn’t we? Heck, the King might make him a Duke or something, for turning over time travelers. I don’t trust her at all, Sam. I don’t even trust her long enough to have tea with her. I wouldn’t dare tell her about us.”

He threw up his hands. “I told you. Do what you think is best. You know more about the woman than I do.” He reached over and lifted a fold of her black working skirt, eyeing it critically. “So, what do you plan on wearing to tea?”

***

Since Casey didn’t trust Lady Pirrie, she felt no need to go out of her way to impress her. She didn’t quite dare to refuse the invitation, however, and she responded with a polite note informing Her Ladyship that she was honored by the invitation, and looked forward to tea on Friday.

She would wear her nicest dress and shoes, which, while quite presentable for a woman of the middle class, would still never measure up to Lady Pirrie’s standards. Nevertheless, Casey was content. Her station in life was not a secret, so surely Lady Pirrie would understand. Casey did have a new hat.

Transportation was a thornier issue, with Sam vetoing all the possibilities. She couldn’t take a tram and walk onto the Ormiston property and up to the front door, not to mention leaving the same way. She couldn’t take a cab for the same reason. How would she summon another one when it was time to leave? In the end, Sam splurged and hired a driver and carriage for the afternoon. Like any other lady paying a call, Casey would be taken to the front door by her driver, who would then park the carriage at the designated spot for visitors. The horse would be allowed a drink of water and the driver some tea. When Casey was ready to leave, her driver would be summoned by the butler and Casey could enter her carriage at the door, as was proper.

“As long as you don’t make a habit of these teas, of course,” Sam teased her on Thursday. “If you get too popular, one of us will have to take a second job.”

***

So it was that on Friday, Casey let ‘her’ driver help her out of ‘her’ carriage and she rang the bell of Ormiston House precisely at two o’clock. She managed a polite smile for the butler in spite of sweaty palms and a pounding heart. He ignored it, bowing formally and taking her cloak before handing it off to a young girl in a maid’s uniform. He interrupted Casey’s awed examination of the proverbs carved into the walls, and led her to the drawing room, where he stiffly announced her to Lady Pirrie, who remained regally seated in front of a shining tea service.

Casey curtsied and murmured her how-do-you-do’s, having polished up on her lessons from Queens. Lady Pirrie broke into a delighted smile and stood, reaching to take both of Casey’s hands into her own. Flustered, Casey stood still and allowed the Lady’s scrutiny.

“My dear.” Lady Pirrie tilted her head graciously and gestured to the chair on the other side of the tea service. “I’m delighted you could come.” She returned to her seat as Casey sank into the indicated chair, an elegant open-arm affair with pink upholstery, identical to the one in which Lady Pirrie sat. The entire room was filled with color: the furniture in pink or green upholstery, gleaming gold and crystal chandeliers, polished wood armoires and side tables with gold handles. Casey felt like a child in a museum, hearing a distant docent’s voice admonishing her to “not touch the display.”

Lady Pirrie continued, “I must tell you, I was amused beyond words at the trick you played on our Tommy. I simply had to meet you, and see for myself the young lady who could accomplish such a task.”

Casey reddened and sat straighter in her chair. “Madam, I assure you. My motive was not to trick Mr. Andrews at all. I hold him in the highest esteem, and I am truly sorry if my deception has caused him any hurt.”

The tilted head was more intently critical this time. “Is that so?” the Lady murmured, but adroitly did not pursue the topic. Instead, she began the process of serving tea to her guest and herself, a ritual familiar and comforting to Casey. When both were outfitted with tea and small sandwiches, Casey’s fear began to return. What did Lady Pirrie want?

“My nephew, Miss Wilson,” began Lady Pirrie, with an air of resignation, “would rather die than add injury to someone already in distress, most particularly a young lady in distress. Surely, you realize he let you off astonishingly easy?”

Casey held her teacup gingerly and nodded. “I do, Lady Pirrie.” Ignoring the advice of Sam’s colleague, she added, “I would not have been so kind in his place.”

“Indeed? How would you have handled such a transgression, Miss Wilson?” Lady Pirrie seemed genuinely curious.

Casey set the teacup down, afraid of dropping it. During the months of her employment, she had imagined many dreadful things happening when Mr. Andrews found her out. In the few days since the confrontation, she had considered further which of the dire imaginings could have been most likely. “I imagined arrest or humiliation, although,” she added hastily, seeing Lady Pirrie’s insulted expression, “I’m sure that was more my own guilt speaking than anything else. After becoming better acquainted with him, I knew he would never do such a thing.”

“At the least, Madam, I would have given me a severe dressing down.” Casey looked down at her hands, clenched tightly in her lap, as she confessed, “to have him speak to me in that way would have been the most painful punishment. His good opinion of me meant so much. I am sure I have lost it and…well, I know I deserve that.”

Lady Pirrie sighed. “As to that, I cannot say. I know he forgives you, but whether he would trust you, that’s another story.”

He hasn’t contacted me or Sam about the warning, Casey thought miserably. Obviously, he doesn’t trust me. He probably never wants to see me again.

“How did you do it, Miss Wilson?”

Casey looked up, startled. “Do, Lady Pirrie? I don’t understand.”

“How did you manage to pass yourself off as a boy for all that time?” Lady Pirrie’s gaze wandered frankly over Casey’s form. “I talked to you myself for several minutes and I never guessed at all. But I don’t understand how you pulled it off. You look nothing like a boy, although your hair is an abomination.”

Casey’s hand went to her head in embarrassment. “I know. I had such wonderful hair, too. I miss it so much. But it will grow back. That, at least, is not permanent.” Her fingers uselessly fluffed the short curls in a mindless and habitual fashion. “I had it cut in order to sell it, when we needed money. Putting on pants and shirt with the cap completed the costume. I had noticed the boys on the street that were always out looking for odd jobs.” She shrugged delicately. “People see what they expect to see, for the most part. I didn’t plan to make a career out of it, but at that point, any money earned could only help us.” She frowned sternly at her hostess. “Obviously, Lady Pirrie, I could not go out on the streets to look for work as a girl. Society really gives women abysmal choices. We can starve. Or we can prostitute ourselves. But we are not allowed to do honest work for honest pay.”

Lady Pirrie flushed. “I know, dear. Without condoning what you did, I can only agree with you. Still, it seldom bodes well to toss society’s grievous conventions back into its face. Somehow, the victim always ends up paying the price.”

Casey nodded, acknowledging the truth of that. But she felt no guilt as she spoke. “I have no apologies for looking for well-paying jobs to help my guardian and I survive. I did good work, and I don’t believe anyone suffered because they unknowingly hired a girl instead of a boy. Not even Mr. Andrews, and Harland & Wolff.” She shrugged in self-deprecation. “I’m afraid I have a strong rebellious streak in that matter. If society insists on certain rules, however discriminatory or illogical, then I’ll work within the rules as I see fit.”

“They’d have burned you as a witch two hundred years ago, dear,” Lady Pirrie said. “You are fortunate society has matured in some fashion since then.”

“No doubt,” Casey agreed.

“And what are you doing since leaving the shipyard?”

“An acquaintance of my guardian is a horticulture professor at Queen’s. He needed some help with a project at the Palm House. This was my field of study in California, so I applied.” Casey found herself smiling. “I thought shipbuilding was fascinating, but I am overjoyed at working with plants again.”

Lady Pirrie blinked in astonishment, then shook her head, laughing a little. “It wouldn’t appeal to me, but I can see you enjoy it.” She filled Casey’s cup and leaned back to regard her solemnly. “Are you familiar with the Agriculture Society, and the work of Sir Horace Plunkett?”

Casey gulped in astonishment. “Yes, of course. He has established the society as a department of the government and is working throughout the country to help farmers form co-operatives and earn a living wage. I think his work is marvelous.”

Lady Pirrie seemed surprised she knew so much. “Indeed. I didn’t realize an American would be so familiar with the work, but it is true that Sir Plunkett spent a few years in America. Are you familiar with him from his time there?”

“His writings were often brought up during my studies, Lady Pirrie,” Casey said, quite truthfully.

The older woman nodded. “That’s wonderful! I ask because if you are truly interested in pursuing this work, I can arrange to introduce you to the local chapter. I have no way, myself, of determining whether you are qualified to help them, but they will know. Would you be interested in meeting them?”

Casey’s smile was answer enough, but she tried to sound calm and assured as she answered, “I would be honored, ma’am. I would love to help in any way I can.”

Lady Pirrie nodded again, pleased with this result. “I will be in contact with you then, once I’ve made arrangements.” She was not done, though, and continued with a slightly chiding tone. “My nephew will be glad to know you are doing well. I will talk to him, of course, but you might consider sending him a note and letting him know.”

Casey flushed. “I did write him, Lady Pirrie, when I first started the project. I sent a note to Mr. Andrews and to Mr. Hamilton, as I worked closely with both of them. Mr. Hamilton wrote me back, saying only that they were pleased and wished me luck.” She licked her lips and ran a finger around the rim of her cup. “I do not wish to make a pest of myself.”

“A wise decision, dear. I will say they have had a difficult time replacing you, which amuses my sense of feminine justice. You went a long way toward convincing some of them that a woman can work as well as a man.”

Lady Pirrie rose to indicate the interview was ended. Casey hastily placed her cup on the table and stood as Lady Pirrie rang for her butler and turned to face Casey. “Thank you for coming, my dear. I’m afraid I really was quite curious about you. But I rather have the impression that you’ll be an asset to the people of Belfast.”

Casey curtsied, managing to look elegant in spite of her poor dress and abominable hair. “I hope so, Lady Pirrie. And the pleasure has been mine. Your graciousness in this situation is most appreciated.”

She followed the butler out to her carriage, leaving a bemused Lady Pirrie to her thoughts.

***

On Tuesday, at the shipyard, Tom was sidetracked from an errand by a familiar voice calling him toward the Corridor of Power, the stairway leading to his uncle’s office.

“Oh, Tommy dear!” His aunt was just coming down the stairs, resplendent in her purple dress and matching parasol. Tom paused in his dash and gave her a peck on the cheek.

“Hello, Aunt Marge. Come to make sure Uncle Willie is handling things all right?”

“It’s a constant battle,” she said, smiling up at him in delight. “How have you been, dear? I’m just on my way to visit your mother and I’ll have to give her a report.”

Tom gave it some thought. “Now, I just saw her on Sunday, so I suppose you can tell her that I’ve been on an even keel and remain as content as I was then. Although,” and he anxiously rubbed at a small cut on his neck, “I did nick myself shaving yesterday. She might feel that’s significant news.”

They laughed together. She held up a hand as she remembered something. “By the way, I had your young lady over for tea the other day.”

He looked blank. “Has someone not informed me of something?” he asked her, puzzled. “What young lady is that?”

“Silly dolt,” she murmured. “I meant your former employee.”

“Oh,” he replied in despair. He was still putting up with teasing from the men; now Aunt Marge would be added to his list of torturers. “That young lady.”

“Why Tommy,” Lady Pirrie suddenly reached up and firmly rubbed a spot on his cheek. “You have egg on your face.”

He couldn’t help it; the joke caused him to roar with laughter. Too bad, too, because it would only encourage her. “Aye, so I do, so I do. Will I ever live this down?”

She smiled. “We’ll tire of it eventually.”

“Humph,” was his only response, but he suddenly realized what she had said, and he stared at her in shock. “Did you say you had her over for tea?” He could almost feel the blood draining from his face.

“Why yes, dear. On Friday.”

“Friday,” he said weakly. She nodded. “Why’d you do that?” he asked.

“Why?” Her brows rose, but she shrugged slightly. “Curiosity, dear. The story was quite amusing, of course, but I was fascinated at what she had done. I had to meet her for myself.” The parasol tip hit the floor sharply as Lady Pirrie tapped it. “I’m surprised you haven’t made the effort yourself. Aren’t you at all curious about her?”

Curious? he thought. That’s not quite it. Uneasy… perturbed… yes, curious as well, but… Almost without effort, he heard Casey’s warning again, and Dr. Altair’s enigmatic rejoinder. Most unsatisfactory.

He blinked, bringing himself back to the current conversation. His aunt was looking at him strangely. He cleared his throat. “Curious, yes. Of course. What did you think of her?”

The strange look remained, but she answered calmly enough. “I found her quite charming, Tommy. Truly, if I had not met her when she worked here, I would never have believed the young lady I was talking to could have pulled off such a deception.”

“Really?” Now he was curious. “How so?”

She examined him for a moment, tilting her head quizzically. “She’s very pretty, Tommy. Very feminine. I do not understand at all how she passed herself off as a boy.”

Tom grabbed a quick thought. “Are you certain it was the same person? None of us has ever met her as a girl.”

But his aunt merely nodded. “I am certain, yes. I talked to her for several minutes one day, while I was working in Saxon’s office. It’s subtle, but there were too many similarities for it to be a different person. In fact, I asked her about it.”

“What did she say?”

“She explained about her ‘costume,’ as she called it. How she used the clothes to cover herself and make her appear younger and boyish. She also said that in general, people see what they expect to see. She tried hard to never give us a reason to expect anything other than a boy.” She shook her head, clearly befuddled. “I don’t quite understand how that helped, but there you are.”

Tom could see it, as he thought back to the first moment he saw her. Part of it was the context: it would never have occurred to him that a girl would be loitering on the street, looking for work. She was dressed as a boy and his expectations told him to expect a boy. So that’s what he saw.

His aunt continued. “Frankly, I was concerned that she may have been part of some kind of espionage attempt, or something. I thought that talking to her would alleviate my fears, and I do feel better about her now. In fact, I’m introducing her to the Horticulture Society. I think she may fit in there.” She shrugged. “Really, Tommy, she’s very young. American, orphaned, in the care of an old man who has never married or raised children…. It’s a miracle the child can function in society at all. I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. At least, I’m convinced she was doing just what she told you she was doing. Trying to survive.”

Tom nodded, disturbed, but gave his aunt a quick hug. “I’ve got to run, Aunt Marge. Thanks for telling me about this. Be well, and tell my mother hello for me.”

She kissed his cheek. “I will. Be well, Tommy.”

 

The Time Travel Journals: Chapter 12

Plaque for Thompson Graving Dock at Harland & Wolff Shipyard
Plaque for Thompson Graving Dock at Harland & Wolff Shipyard

Chapter 12

November 1906

Tom sat at his desk for several minutes after Casey had gone, staring at the door and trying to comprehend what she had said. His emotions were in such a whirl, he couldn’t concentrate. What did all that mean? The image of a ship scraping along an iceberg sent chills down his spine. He wanted to laugh it off as nonsense, but the scenario Casey described was plausible.

“Going too fast.” What did she mean by that? “A ship called Titanic”? There was no ship by that name even being considered. Was Casey, perhaps, a bit crazy? A harmless crazy, to be sure, but one that made her pretend to be a boy and then leave random warnings of disaster in her wake? But would craziness like that allow to her work hard and accurately every day?

Tom slowly shook his head, unsure of what to do. How could this happen? How could he not see that she was a girl? All the comments from men in the yard: “He sure is a pretty boy,” or “No growth spurt, yet, eh?” Tom had for the most part ignored these, thinking only that the trueness of them must have meant that life was even more difficult for the lad.

Gullible, Tommy. Gullible, that’s what you are. Always willing to take people at their best. Someone’ll always take advantage of that. Ach, but it’s no good being any other way.

Eventually he came back to his original problem: what to tell his uncle. He almost laughed at that, hearing his own voice exhorting Casey to avoid any further lying. Best take his own advice and just confess his gullibility to Lord Pirrie and have it done. He did take some comfort in the knowledge that he wasn’t the only one taken in by the deception.

He heard Ham come in and sighed. Might as well get it over with, then he could head over to his uncle’s office. He wasn’t going to be able to concentrate on these reports anyway.

Predictably, Ham was astonished when Tom broke the news. His ears reddened as he no doubt considered the odd remark that would never have been made had he known he was talking to a girl. Tom could think of a few unwise comments he’d said himself. Not to mention exposing her to all the rough and tumble of the men in the shipyard. Good men, all of them, but still men, who were assuming there were no women around. They acted a bit coarser under those circumstances.

After a few minutes, Ham recovered. “We were going to keep him on. How’re we going to replace him… I mean her? She was all trained and doing a proper job. Good ideas, too.” Ham sounded miserable; after all, he was going to have to go back to all that running around and extra work.

Tom tapped his pencil on the desk as he thought about it. “Tell you what. Let’s put out the word to everyone we talk to today. Start with the men in the drafting room. We need a youngish lad who can read, write and figure to replace Casey. Someone who can start right away. We’ll see what we get.”

Lord Pirrie’s reaction was also predictable. He stared at Tom in disbelief, then let loose a roar of laughter that all but alerted the shipyard that something was up. Tom reflected that there was no way he was getting away easy on this one.

He didn’t, either. There were few places where gossip could travel faster than a shipyard. First, they were looking for a replacement for Casey, which was enough to raise lots of questions. Everyone liked Casey, why’d they let him go? Lord Pirrie was more than happy to tell a few people, and like magic, they all knew. Tom found that on his forays through the yard, he’d suddenly be following a man swinging his hips and twirling an imaginary umbrella. Or upon getting the attention of a man he needed to talk to, the alerted fellow would pouf imaginary hair or bat his eyelashes. These antics were followed by peals of laughter from anyone around.

There was nothing for it but to take it in good humor and let it run its course. He did manage to put an early stop to it in his own department, by noting as how the men perhaps needed to do some rudimentary drawing exercises for their eyes, since they had worked closely with Casey, too, and had not noticed anything untoward. So the snickers died down quickly there, especially since the work that Casey used to do fell to them until a replacement could be secured.

His talk with Sloan was brief. This was not the first time Tom had had to deal with Sloan’s troublemaking, and the man’s self-righteous air at the news that Casey had left nearly sent Tom over the edge. He actually shoved Sloan into a chair and yelled at him, while struggling to keep his clenched fists at his side, rather than using them to wipe the smugness from Sloan’s face.

“I don’t care what her crime was,” he said. “If you thought she was a girl, your treatment of her was outrageous. You understand, sir, that if any harm comes to that young lady, any at all, I will personally see that you are brought before the magistrate to answer for it. Are you clear on that?”

Sloan had acquiesced, humbly protesting that he never truly thought she was a girl, he was just trying to shame the boy into confessing his sins. But the triumphant gleam never left his eye, and Tom was determined to keep a watch on him.

He approached his supervisor, Alexander Carlisle, about the iceberg problem, who thought it was an interesting, although unlikely, possibility. Tom then put the problem to his design team as an exercise. The easy solution, a double hull, was a sensitive one because of cost. If they couldn’t do that, what other solutions were there?

Any mention of Titanic, he kept to himself.

***

“It was the housekeeper, in the parlor.” Sam said, as soon as he came in the kitchen, an open letter in his hand.

Casey looked up from dinner preparations, her face showing the results of an afternoon of sobbing into her pillow. She had called Sam at work as soon she’d gotten home, and told him what had happened. He had been suitably sympathetic, and furious at Sloan, but she knew he was also relieved that the truth was out. On some level, she was glad of that herself, but still sick with worry over Tom Andrews.

“What are you talking about?” She didn’t feel up to his usual puzzles and chipper conversation.

He waved the letter. “How Sloan found out about you. It was the housekeeper.”

She tried to focus on that. Ann Malone? The young woman who came two times a week to sweep and dust and do their laundry? Casey had only met her a couple of times, first when she interviewed for the job and again a week ago, when she had been working late and Casey had come home…

…dressed as a boy.

She leaned against the counter, folded her arms over her apron, and gazed thoughtfully at Sam. “Pray tell, what is the connection between our housekeeper and Mike Sloan?”

Sam blinked at the letter in his hand. “Evidently, she’s his cousin.”

Casey sighed. “God save me from the Irish and their infernal relations.”

Sam laughed. “It can be a tricky road to traverse,” he agreed. “Buried mines, everywhere.”

“I take it that letter is from her?”

“Aye.” Sam offered it to her but she just raised an eyebrow and waited. He shrugged. “She is informing us that her cousin has forbidden her to continue in our employment. She regrets this and sincerely hopes she has not caused us trouble. She had only thought that Mr. Sloan would find the story amusing.”

“Fucking idiot.”

“Why? For thinking Sloan would be amused, or expecting us to believe she thought that?”

“Either one.” Casey returned to cooking. “So, mystery solved. It’s nice to know he didn’t figure it out on his own.” She stirred the stew to avoid Sam’s gaze, one thought shouting itself in her mind: He knew. That whole time, with those men there, threatening to strip me, he knew I was a girl.

Sam dropped a kiss on her head. “Can you call the agency tomorrow and ask them to send ‘round another housekeeper? And no, you can’t do the work. I have a possible job for you.”

That got her attention and he smiled wickedly. “I have some connections now, you know.”

Her eyes narrowed. “What job?”

“Know anything about the Palm House?”

She gasped. “Don’t be ridiculous. The greenhouse in the Botanic Gardens. I worked there for over a year in the future.”

“I know.” He sat on a stool, quite proud of himself. “A colleague has a relative who’s heading the program to build up the tropical section. They’re using Queen’s students, of course, but they need some help from outside the university. He’s agreed to talk to you.”

“When?”

“Tomorrow, if you can get there in the afternoon. Rupus Mangold is his name. Go and see what you think.”

She squealed and hugged him. “Thank you!”

He chuckled, glad to see her smile.

***

A few days later, Sam received a phone call from Tom Andrews. Tom sounded genuinely concerned about Casey and wanted to meet with Sam in person, to discuss the situation. Sam agreed to meet him after work at a pub.

He called Casey to tell her.

“He said he would talk to you about Sloan,” Casey reminded him.

“I know.” Sam was nervous. “This is silly, especially since you’ve been working with him all this time. But this guy was one of my childhood heroes. I can’t believe I’m actually going to meet him.”

“Yeah, well, try to put in a good word for me, okay?” Casey was depressed. “And try to tell him more about Titanic!”

***

Sam recognized him right away, having seen pictures of the man as he studied the Titanic in school. If Tom thought it odd that this stranger walked right up and introduced himself, he didn’t let on. Maybe he’d given up on anything connected with Casey making sense.

Tom didn’t drink, so he sipped the tea Sam bought for him and said that he was uncertain of Sloan’s sincerity in promising to leave Casey alone. “He knows where you live. He has connections everywhere. I hope you can keep Casey from running around on her own, especially dressed as a boy.”

Sam was thoughtful. “I don’t think she’ll do that anymore, Mr. Andrews. She had a real scare, and she’s heartbroken over deceiving you. She was never comfortable with it, you know. She simply felt she had no other choices.”

“What is she going to do, now?” Tom asked him.

“Fellow I work with has a brother-in-law teaching horticulture at Queen’s. That was Casey’s field of study. They’re starting a project at the Palm House in the Gardens, and he agreed to let Casey help them out.” Sam raised his glass. “She’s thrilled about it. It will be good for her. She’ll be working with plants and won’t be cooped up in a factory or sitting in front of a typewriter all day. She’d do those jobs if she had to, but it would drive her insane.”

Tom shook his head. “She’s a very strange girl, Dr. Altair. Don’t get me wrong, please. I like her. At least, I liked him and I assume she’s the same… Oh, for heaven’s sake.” He stopped talking, befuddled, and Sam laughed.

“I know what you mean.” He sobered, though, and looked at Tom seriously. “She truly admires you, sir, and is quite concerned for your welfare. It’s not my place to say, but I hope you see a way to get to know her as herself.” He smiled a little. “I think you’ll find that her strangeness is overwhelmed by her goodness.”

Tom nodded, his lips tight, one finger tapping the table. He opened his mouth, but closed it again, then abruptly asked, “Do you know why she told me about a ship called Titanic crashing into an iceberg? I’ll tell you, Dr. Altair, that gave me the chills, but it also lends a lot of credibility to the notion that she’s more than just a little strange.”

Sam stared at him for several seconds, his mind racing, before deciding on a course of action. “The answer to that is not simple, Mr. Andrews. From what Casey tells me, she just gave you a brief description, yes?”

“Brief?” Tom spread his hands. “How would I know? I guess it was brief. A large ship, going too fast and can’t miss the berg. The berg scrapes along the side and tears holes in the hull for several hundred feet. A nasty story, Dr. Altair. But do you know it’s almost word-for-word, the plot of a work of fiction written about ten years ago?” Sam nodded as Tom continued. “She wasn’t talking about that book, though. I don’t know why, but I know she wasn’t. But what was she talking about?”

Sam sighed. “As I said, sir, the answer is not simple and this is not the place to discuss it.” He sat back and observed Tom for a minute. “Mr. Andrews, you have a standing invitation to dinner anytime you’re ready for the whole story.” He held up his hands. “If you’re uncomfortable about being with Casey, I’ll arrange to have her be somewhere else. Is this acceptable?”

Tom looked confused, but he just nodded. “All right. I’m sure I’ll be in touch.” He didn’t sound sure, but Sam let it drop.

The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 11

Chapter 11

November 1906

Arms full of rolled up plans, Casey dashed along the lower catwalk of the gantry, shivering in the November cold. She’d just left Tom and several foremen on the gantry, and now she hurried to get the plans back to Ham so Mr. Carlisle had them for a meeting. As she rounded a corner, though, Trouble appeared, in the overbearing person of Mike Sloan. He stepped in front of her, holding up a hand to stop her headlong rush. She skidded to a stop, struggling to keep hold of the plans as several rolls tried to make an escape from her arms. She managed to glare at Sloan at the same time.

“Can I help you with something?” she asked in annoyance. What a jerk!

His slow grin made him look like a satisfied fox, knowing the hen was cornered. “It’s almost lunch time,” he pointed out, nodding back toward the platers’ shed. “Wanted to ask you again to come to our meeting.”

“And again, no thank you,” Casey replied, tossing a recalcitrant plan toward her shoulder and taking a step to continue past him.

He moved to block her. “Thought you might reconsider,” he said, looking her over with sharp eyes. “Seems like if you don’t want trouble, you might consider meeting us halfway. Show a little concern for your soul.”

Casey stayed still, balancing on the balls of her feet. She answered with care. “I don’t want trouble. My soul is feeling fine. I still don’t want to go to your meeting.”

Again, he looked her over, tilting his head thoughtfully. “Boy like you has a lot of demons in his heart. Sooner you ask the Lord to heal you, the better off you’ll be. Or is it,” his voice softened dangerously, sending a chill down Casey’s back, “maybe you’re not a boy. If you’re not, I’d say there’s still a lot of demons in your heart, but they’d be different ones. Which is it, Casey?”

“This conversation is over,” she replied, her voice almost sounding calm. She turned back to the slips, where she knew there were a lot of people, but came up against a human bulk whose name escaped her. A glance to her left and right revealed similar bulks waiting patiently. She turned back to Sloan and tried to sound threatening and bored. “Not a good idea, Sloan.”

He ignored her comment and spread his arms in an attempt to look reasonable. “Prove it to us, Case. Prove you’re a boy and we’ll let it go, for now. Just drop ’em quick-like. Don’t need more than a glance, do we?”

Fear hammered at her chest. She could take on a couple of them, but never all four. Her only hope would be to make a lot of noise and hope there were people close enough to get here fast. Unfortunately, Sloan had picked his place well. They were in a fairly isolated part of the yard.

“I’d never give you the satisfaction, asshole,” she said in a low voice. All her muscles tensed as she prepared to drop the plans and start with a swift kick to the guy behind her, when a mild voice, moving toward them, broke into the tableau.

“What’s the problem, here?”

Fire burned through Casey as she closed her eyes in despair. Tom Andrews! Sure, she needed someone to come along, but why him?

The goons all looked at each other innocently, and Sloan shrugged, shaking his head. “No problem at all, Mr. Andrews, sir. Almost time for horn-blow, we was just discussing the meeting.”

Tom’s eyes narrowed, but his voice remained mild. “Wait for horn-blow, please. You are all still on the clock.” His chin jerked at Casey. “Ham is waiting for those plans, Case. Get a move on, please.”

“Yes sir.” She was past Sloan in a nanosecond, nearly running to the safety of the drawing office. Whatever happened behind her, she didn’t care to know.

She tried to slow herself as she dashed into the room, not wanting to bother the men working at the tables. She moved quickly to the back office, dropping the plans on Ham’s desk as he turned from the filing cabinet.

“Thanks Case! I was wondering where you were.” He peered at her. “You okay?”

“Yeah, fine,” she muttered, turning to her desk, her whole body shaking. She pulled out the inventory sheet and some pencils, trying to look busy. Her shaking hands dropped the pencils everywhere but into the cup on her desk, causing a breathless, and nearly silent, “fuck!” to escape her as she tried to pick them all up. If Ham heard that, she could be in real trouble, but he said nothing.

The lunch horn blew just as the shadow of doom fell across her desk. Tom said, “Case,” and gestured toward his inner office. She gave up on the pencils and, without looking at him, walked past him into the office.

“Have a seat,” he said, sitting himself.

With great effort, she moved to obey, clenching her hands to stop the shaking. Tom looked at her in concern.

“Are you all right? Did they hurt you?”

Her voice shook. “Just scared. I’ll be all right in a few minutes.”

He hesitated, then got up, turning to the sideboard along the wall, and poured some water into a glass, coming around his desk to hand it to her. “Take your time. Take some deep breaths.”

She did, feeling the first stirrings of anger begin to take the place of fear. Damn that Sloan! Now she was in trouble, and she wasn’t the one who caused the problem! No, she told herself without mercy, you’re just the one going around pretending to be someone you’re not. How much had Mr. Andrews overheard? And what had Sloan told him?

His concern still showing, he sat back down and watched her, giving her a minute before speaking. “Casey, Mike Sloan is a troublemaker. Always has been. Don’t think at all that I believe you were the cause of that problem, back there.”

A relieved laugh escaped her in a gasp and she nearly spilled the water, looking at him for the first time. “I appreciate that, sir. Whatever I’m guilty of, it has nothing to do with Sloan.”

His eyebrows rose and he sat back in his chair, as if inviting her to continue.

She stared at him a moment. This had to end. She couldn’t keep lying to him. “Mr. Andrews,” she started, then stopped, not sure what to say first. She heard her dad’s voice, If you’re really confused, start at the end. Or at least, the middle. Makes you figure out what’s important and what’s not.

“My contract is up in a couple of months, isn’t it?” she asked.

His eyebrows climbed higher, but he nodded. “Middle of January.”

It was painful to look at him and Casey glanced at the water glass, then placed it with deliberate slowness on the desk. “I wanted to finish out the contract and not leave you in a lurch, but,” she hesitated, “maybe I should resign now.”

He shook his head. “That’s unacceptable, Casey. I told you, Sloan’s a troublemaker. I can’t let him run off a good worker just because he objects to his religion.”

“Religion?” Casey blinked in surprise. “Is that what he told you?”

Tom pursed his lips, looking at her thoughtfully. “He said you told him you’d decided to convert to Catholicism. He was trying to talk you out of it.”

Casey surprised herself by laughing. “Converting?” she repeated, shaking her head. “I’ve sometimes been accused of looking for trouble, but I’d have to be suicidal to say something like that to Sloan.”

Tom laughed a little, too. “Well, that’s what I thought, too. So you’re not converting to Catholicism?”

“Not even close!”

Now Tom just looked bewildered. “So what’s it about?” He suddenly held up both hands, forestalling her answer. “I’ll tell you, normally I’d drop this. It doesn’t do any good, usually, to get too involved in the workers’ personal issues. As long as people are steady, they can have all the disagreements they want. But I get the impression you’re really frightened. I don’t like to see that. If you need help, you need to say so.”

She looked at her hands, silently asking her father what the next step was. He had no answer, beyond the obvious one. Tell him the truth.

She removed her cap and ran a hand through her short hair, roughly at first, then falling into her habit of fluffing the curls, in an unconscious attempt to encourage growth. She took a deep breath and looked up at Tom, who was watching her curiously. She felt a stab of pain. He was so handsome and so good! How could she have lied to him like this? And now she was going to have to confess the deception. What would he think? Would he hate her forever? She wanted him to love her. How had she screwed this up so badly?

He was waiting, and she had to say something. She put her hands in her lap and looked down at them. “This isn’t easy, but I know you’re busy, so I’ll try.” Her heart wouldn’t stop racing and she took another deep breath. “I don’t know if what I’ve done is illegal, but I never meant it to be. I never meant to cause any harm. Please believe that.”

Tom sounded bewildered. “Have you done something wrong and Sloan found out about it? Has he threatened you?”

She shrugged at her hands. “He’s only guessing. Thing is, he guessed the truth. I don’t know about threats, but,” she hesitated, “he might feel violence is called for. He might even think it’s his religious duty.”

When Tom spoke next, he sounded uncomfortable. “Casey, let’s talk plain.” He was silent, so she nodded, still afraid to look at him. “Has Sloan accused you of any…perversion? Does he have some proof of it?”

She shook her head, sure that Mr. Andrews was referring to homosexuality, which is what Sloan had suspected, at first. This was not a safe topic of conversation, so she kept her answer vague. “He seemed to suspect something, although he never had any proof of anything. Now he says he suspects I’m really… a girl. He wanted proof I’m not a girl, which is what you interrupted.”

She raised her head then, forcing herself to face him. “I don’t know what he’ll do if he finds out he’s right.”

He blinked. “What?”

Her voice was a whisper. “I’ve been pretending to be a boy, Mr. Andrews. But I’m really a girl.”

She saw his expression change from strained, to disbelief, to horror, as he stared at her. For a moment, she thought she would faint, she was so afraid of the way he looked. What would he do to her? Her body tensed, ready to run as she clenched her hands tightly against her stomach.

He didn’t speak for a minute. Gods, what was he thinking?

He seemed to recover a bit as he studied her, his eyes moving down her body. His face reddened, but he leaned over his desk, holding out a hand. “A girl? Why, Casey? Why would you do this? Why would you tell such a lie, for such a long time?”

She closed her eyes against the pain in his voice. He truly felt betrayed. “It wasn’t safe on the streets for a girl, and I was trying to find odd jobs to make money.” Her voice sounded high and whiny. She realized she was pleading with him. “I had more opportunities for that as a boy. My guardian was trying to find work too, but then he got sick. He needed medicine and a doctor. I took your offer so I could help him. That was all, really.”

“But,” he couldn’t seem to comprehend it. “Case, there are places you could have gone for help. The poorhouse, charities…” he stopped as she shook her head.

“We tried those. But they aren’t good places, Mr. Andrews. I think that’s where Sam got sick, ’cause they crowd so many people in, and lots of people are really ill.” A hint of defiance crossed her face. “We weren’t used to being poor. We wanted out of it and those places seemed designed to keep us in it.”

He rubbed his forehead, nodding. “Aye, I’ve heard that said of them, but I never really knew.” His hand moved through his hair in frustration. “Is your guardian still sick, Casey?”

She shook her head again. “He’s fine, now. The doctor put him in touch with someone at the telephone company, and Sam got a job there. He’s a physicist, and they have him doing research and development.”

“I wish you’d told me the truth sooner,” Tom told her. “I understand your reasons… I just don’t know what to do, now.” He absent-mindedly rolled a pencil around, thinking hard. “You’re right, though. I was hoping we could keep you on. I was going to speak to you about that in a few days. But now, you won’t be able to continue working. I certainly can’t let you finish out your time as a boy, and there’s no possible way you can come in here as a girl. And we have to do something about Sloan.”

She thought about it, relieved that he seemed willing to work something out. At least, he wasn’t yelling at her. “He doesn’t know where I live. If I’m not around here and not a threat to him, maybe he’ll just forget about me.”

Tom nodded, but he looked doubtful. “You’ll have to keep an eye out. I will talk to him, though. I’ll make it very clear to him that nothing is to happen to you, or I’ll see that the blame goes to him. I’d like to talk to your guardian, too, and make sure he’s aware of the problem.”

Casey nodded and then looked up at him through tears. “I’m sorry for this, Mr. Andrews. I know it’s inadequate, but I really am sorry. I’ve put you in a terrible position and I had no right to do that.”

A small smile crossed his face and he looked grateful. “I forgive you,” he told her in all seriousness. “But I hope you stop this nonsense, Casey. I know you meant no harm, but you must be who you are. This constant deception has to be bad for your health, and your soul.”

Despondent, she looked at her hands, nodding. “I miss being a girl.”

It was a few moments before he spoke, and when he did, his voice sounded thick, as if something blocked his throat. “You’ve done everything we needed you to do. You have a right to survive, and you have a right to try and better your life. I want to help you. There are jobs you can do as a girl, if it’s work you want. With your education, you should be able to find something that you would enjoy. I can certainly recommend you–your work here has been excellent, once I get past the necessary explanations. Let me ask around. I’m sure I know someone who could use you, or maybe you could go back to school. You mentioned that you were doing that before.”

She nodded. “It would be nice to finish. To study plants again.”

He tilted his head and asked suddenly, “Have you considered marriage?”

This startled her. “Marriage? No, I hadn’t considered marriage.” She added sardonically, “There’s been a real dearth of opportunities.”

His smile was rueful. “I imagine there’d be more if you wore a dress.”

She laughed a little at that. “I’m not opposed to the idea in general, Mr. Andrews. But I’m only twenty-one. I don’t think I’m ready for marriage, yet.”

He nodded again. “I understand. But it’s something to keep in mind. With your guardian’s occupation, and your education, I think you could make a good match. You could marry just about anyone you want.”

You? She thought. No, of course, you’re not even thinking of yourself. She decided to change the subject.

“I’ll keep it in mind. Sam has not said anything about marriage, so I don’t have any idea what his thoughts are. I think he’s just been trying to take care of me and he knows I’m happier if I’m doing something, so he’s always encouraged me to find work.”

“Well, I truly hope he puts a stop to this boy nonsense, Casey. I know things were desperate, but he should never have allowed you to do this.” Tom sounded indignant.

But Casey shook her head. “Sam has never been able to stop me from doing anything. He wasn’t happy about it, truly.” She sighed. “I’m concerned that this will reflect badly on you, since you hired me.”

Tom harrumphed and tilted his head as he looked at her. “Perhaps, but everyone else was fooled, as well. I’ve had a few comments here and there about you, but no one ever suggested they thought you were a girl. Until Sloan, anyway, and he’s always looking for trouble.” A quick smile touched his lips. “You did a good job, pretending to be a boy.”

He tapped the table and Casey jumped a bit. “Go on home, Casey. I’ll have Ham handle the paperwork, and we’ll send you any pay you’re owed. I’ll have to figure out what to tell Lord Pirrie and talk to Sloan. Looks like I’m in for an interesting day.”

She stood. “I really am sorry, Mr. Andrews.”

He waved her away. “You did your job and you did it well. Take some pride in that. Just please, don’t make a habit of this kind of thing. You could make yourself a miserable life, I fear.”

She nodded and turned to go, but abruptly turned back. “Can I say one more thing, Mr. Andrews? This has nothing to do with any of this, and it’s not going to make any sense to you, but I have to give you some warning or I won’t be able to live with myself.”

His eyes narrowed as he gazed at her. “Go ahead.”

She licked her lips and plunged on. “I’ve heard you say that when you build a ship, you think about how it can sink, and that helps you build it so it floats.” His eyes widened. Whatever he was expecting, it wasn’t this. She continued, somewhat frantically, “Well, just think about a large ship, bigger even than the Adriatic, going too fast, about to hit an iceberg. They try to turn the ship and it misses mostly, but the iceberg scrapes along the side, punching holes for several hundred feet, all under the waterline.” She took a step toward him, pointing at his desk, at the drawings. “You’ll be a Managing Director someday. Build that ship so it doesn’t sink, Mr. Andrews. Especially, if it’s a ship called Titanic. That’s all I know to tell you.” And she turned and left.

The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 10

Chapter 10

September–October 1906

Casey dashed past the Number Seven slip, with a stack of logbooks for the office. She met up with Tom at an intersection. His grin grew wider as he shifted the machine parts in his hands, tucked some rolled plans under an arm, and handed her a few sheets of paper. “You’re on the way to the office, aren’t you?” he asked hopefully. “Just drop these on my desk. I’ll get to ’em later.”

“Sure,” she replied, following his example and placing them in a pocket. That kept them from getting mixed in with her other stuff. She paced alongside him as he made his way past the slip. “I’ve got a quick question,” she told him and he nodded as she jumped into some recent confusion about the figures from the plating shed. He was in the middle of clearing up her confusion when he went silent, lifting his head and looking around quizzically.

Suddenly, he tossed the rolls and parts at her, ran down a path and disappeared around a corner of boxes. Puzzled, she followed, and stopped in astonishment at the intersection. He was tearing through a gang of men, all of them scrambling in haphazard panic to get out of the way, as he did a credible imitation of a jig, running this way and that, knocking over tea kettles, cups, and tins of tea and sugar. Cries of consternation could be heard as several men tried to claim their crockery before it broke, some slipping in the spilled water. Tom stopped then, arms akimbo, as he regarded the dismayed gang with unforgiving sternness.

“Heating your tea water already! It’s five minutes before horn-blow! I’d like to know where the honor is in stealing time from your employer!” His glare took in each man individually, but none of them seemed willing to attempt an answer, as they looked down and mumbled a bit, most offering shamefaced apologies. One of them glared at a pale-faced youth peaking from behind a plating machine. “Ye was supposed to keep a look-out and warn us if ‘e came through!”

The boy nodded enthusiastically, eyeing Tom with awe. “Aye, I was looking. But ‘e didn’t come that way, like usual. He slipped in the back, sneaky as you please!”

“Aye,” said another, “and came tearin’ through here like a racehorse, hittin’ every bit of our mess!”

They all agreed with admiring head shakes. Tom grinned, confident they’d gotten the point. “Becker!” he roared, spying the men’s supervisor coming up the path. “Five minutes off the break for these men. They’ll have to drink their water cold, this morning! And make sure they wait for that horn from now on!”

Becker lifted an arm in acknowledgment, waving the men back to work, as Tom turned to Casey, his face split in a happy grin. He started grabbing back his papers. “Thanks for catching all that, lad. Good reflexes!”

She handed him back the rolls, shaking her head at him in mock consternation. “You had entirely too much fun with that. Sir.”

The grin turned into a laugh as they continued on their way. “Aye, well, I’ll tell you. Becker and I have been suspecting something of the sort was goin’ on, but we could never catch them. That’s why I went around back this time. Worked like a charm!”

His laugh was always infectious, and Casey joined in for a moment, then she shook her head. “But you just docked them five minutes instead of something harsher. That was kind of you.”

His smile remained in place, but he looked at her earnestly. “They’ll have to clean up that mess on their break, too, you know. But I don’t think it’s necessary to treat people harshly. I started here as an apprentice and I worked in all these departments. I know the work is hard, and it’s tempting to take it easy or skip a step. But for their own safety, we have to maintain discipline. A supervisor should build his men up, while making sure they learn self-discipline. Those men are all good workers, and their crime was mild. It’s important to me what a person’s intention is, too. I’m always willing to give someone another chance so long as they meant no real harm.” He shrugged a bit. “Provided they didn’t cause any real harm, of course.”

The smile came back in full force. “So there’s your Andrews lecture for the day, lad. Ye bore it well.” He tipped his hat at her and took off down another path. After a moment, Casey resumed her hurried pace to the drawing office, feeling some real hope that Thomas Andrews might–might–understand about, and maybe forgive her for, her own crime.

***

In the office later that day, Casey turned from the tonnage projections she was working on. “Have I picked up the wrong formula for figuring the number of lifeboats?” she asked Tom. “It seems wrong.”

He looked over her shoulder, checking what she had written. “Looks correct to me. What don’t you understand about it?”

“Why it’s used,” she said, looking at him curiously. “I suppose the tonnage relates to how much room there is for lifeboats, and to the number of people the ship can carry. But why not just provide enough seats for each person the ship can carry? The other way seems so inefficient. Not to mention inaccurate.”

Tom smiled thoughtfully, as he turned and leaned against the table, arms crossed. “Now that’s something that needs to change,” he said. “Knowledge has been increasing so quickly over the last twenty years or so, that rule-making bodies are struggling to keep up. It’s also true that a governing board is typically conservative and slow-moving.” He gave her a rueful look. “We’ve been lobbying for more lifeboats for a long time. For the most part, the board doesn’t see the need to change the rule, and until the rule is changed, the people who control the purse strings aren’t going to spend the money.”

She shook her head. “It always comes down to money, doesn’t it?”

He looked despondent. “Aye, Casey. It always does. But we keep hounding them. Eventually, they’ll come around.”

“Not before a lot of people die,” she murmured, staring at her figures.

“Oh, not necessarily,” he protested. “There are other ways of effecting rescues, you know. All the ships have the wireless now, and can call for help, if it’s needed. And the ships themselves are better built and more stable, more able to withstand the storms and other dangers. ‘Tis true that no ship is unsinkable, but we do everything we can to keep them afloat for as long as possible, if damaged.” He held out a hand. “No one wants people to die.”

Casey stamped down on her nervousness. This was the first real opportunity she’d had to even begin to warn him and she didn’t want to blow it. “I was reading about the Great Eastern,” she began, and stopped when he raised both eyebrows in astonishment.

“You were?” he asked. “Why?”

She was puzzled. “Why not?”

“I just didn’t realize you were that interested in this, that you’d be reading about it in your spare time.”

She shrugged. “It’s your fault,” she told him, laughing at his expression. “You give me a job here and I find it’s fascinating stuff. So I start reading about ships.”

He seemed amazed. “So what about the Great Eastern?”

“Well, it seems that we don’t use even the technology we have available to build safer ships. The Eastern was built almost fifty years ago, with a complete double hull and watertight bulkheads that rose thirty feet above the water line. When she ran into a rock and had severe damage, she was still able to make it to harbor. Because of the double skin.”

He looked at her for a moment, then held a finger up to indicate she should wait. He went into the drawing room and came back in a couple of minutes with a few rolls of plans. He spread them out on the table. “These are the early drawings for Cedric and Adriatic. I don’t know if you can read these well enough yet, but can you see the double hull? And here,” he pointed to a dotted line that ran the length of the ship, “this is the waterline. The bulkheads extend thirty feet up.” He pointed them out, then looked at her, quite seriously.

“Every ship we design starts out with these. Our first design is always an engineer’s dream—the perfect ship, as near as we can make it. And every time, our first design is denied. It’s like a play. We all know our roles and we all play them.” He sounded surprisingly bitter. “You’ve seen the figures, Casey. Shipping is extremely competitive and the profit margins are almost nonexistent. The ship’s owners want a ship that will make them money. Shareholders want dividends. So we end up building a ship with features that sell: comfort, beauty, service. Safety is important, but it’s one place that owners feel we can cut corners and get away with it. Because we have gotten away with it, Casey.” He rubbed his hand gently over the plans. “There have been no major accidents in all this time. We’ve been lucky.”

She watched him, uncertain. The situation troubled him, and she was about to make it much worse. If he was already doing everything he could, what more could she ask of him? Well, she could ask him to live. That was the bottom line.

“Say there is a major disaster, with a large loss of life,” she said carefully. “Suddenly the public is outraged, and there are inquiries and trials and they begin demanding these features. I’m cynical enough to believe that the money would be there, in that situation. How can we convince them to spend the money before the disaster?”

He looked at her in amazement, shaking his head. “Where did this come from?” he asked. “Of all the issues in shipbuilding you could investigate, why this one?”

She smiled ruefully. “I have a vivid imagination. I watch that ship being built,” she gestured vaguely in the direction of Adriatic, “and I’m simply amazed at it. But I see these figures, and I see what’s not going into the ships. If I, as a customer, wanted to buy a ticket to America, I would know there’s more danger than is being admitted by White Star Line, or even by Harland & Wolff. And I would like to know there’s a seat on a lifeboat, if I need it.”

He nodded, thinking about it. “What would it take to get those features? You already said it: public demand. Across the board, though. If I sat down with Bruce Ismay today, and convinced him to allow those features on his ships, it could bankrupt White Star. If they raised prices to cover the cost, people would go with another line. If they swallow the costs, they’ll never make it up.”

“But they can use the extra safety in marketing, can’t they? If they talk about the features and what they mean, won’t people be willing to pay more?” Casey realized she was thinking of twenty-first century marketing techniques, but she thought it was worth a try.

“Only in a perfect world, lad.” Tom looked apologetic. “Aye, some people will pay more, but most won’t. Most people, if it comes down to it, would rather take the risk, if given the choice. I’m afraid that even the paying public may need your major disaster before they are willing to pay for safety.”

He touched her shoulder. “You can talk to people, write letters, maybe talk to a newspaper and see if they’ll write about it. The only way to begin changing public opinion is by first telling them about the problem.” He looked alarmed. “But I don’t think you, personally, should do anything. Do you have any idea what it would look like, if an employee of Harland & Wolff started a campaign like that? It would look like disgruntlement, like you were trying to harm the company. It could hurt you and us.”

He held up a finger. “I’m serious about that, Casey. Forget I even made the suggestion. Let me keep working on it through inside channels, all right?”

She nodded. “All right.”

He smiled at her. “I promise I’ll work on it more.” He picked up the blueprint and started rolling it up. “I have a meeting. But thanks for your concern. You have very good ideas.”

***

She couldn’t shake the worry and remorse that she felt. She told Sam about the conversation, suggesting that perhaps he could approach a newspaper about the issue.

“I’m reluctant to do that, Casey,” he told her. “For one thing, I’m only one step removed from the situation. It would still look like a campaign of some kind. Why don’t you give him a chance to see what he can do? We still have several years before Titanic sails.”

“Five,” she said under her breath, then louder. “We have five years. He’s been trying for years and hasn’t made any progress. And based on our history, he doesn’t make any progress in the next five years. I’m worried, Sam.”

“But he didn’t have this conversation with you in our history. Maybe it will give him an impetus.”

Casey left the dinner table and went to stand at the window, staring at the street. “I want to tell him,” she told the window.

At the table, Sam sighed. “How do we do that?” he asked her. “Casey, right now, he respects you. He knows you’re intelligent and curious, and that you’re interested in the ships. You go to him spouting about time travel and shipwrecks, and he’ll be convinced you’re crazy. You’ll lose all the ground you’ve made with him.”

“We have our gadgets,” she said, not turning from the window. “They convinced Riley.”

“Who promptly left town.”

She rested her forehead against the window, as if weary with the turmoil that boiled within her. “I can’t let him die, Sam.” Her voice was barely more than a whisper.

He turned to look at her. She was still looking out the window, a small, thin girl, her short hair disheveled. As usual, she had changed into a skirt. Sam was glad that she still looked “normal” to him, although at times, it was beginning to look odd: her Edwardian clothes with the short curls, instead of the elegant up-dos all the women wore. Not for the first time, Sam wished he’d had a daughter, or just more experience with young women. What could he say that would help her?

He went to stand next to her, also looking out the window. “I’d rather he didn’t die, either, Casey. He was a real asset to this town, and he could’ve done so much more if he’d lived. He might even have been able to knock a peace agreement together. He had that kind of respect from both sides.” He rubbed the windowsill thoughtfully, staring at his hands. “I just don’t know how we tell him. We have to be careful, Case. We need to really think this through. Please don’t do anything rash.”

She sighed. “Sam, I’m aware this does not involve just me. I won’t do anything that we both don’t agree to.”

He nodded, gazing at her in concern. She looked so pale, with those two high spots of red on her cheeks. “Casey, can I try to appeal to your logical side?” She closed her eyes as if in pain, but nodded. “Case, Tom Andrews is never going to love you.” She jerked once and flushed, half turning away from him. “Wait, Casey, listen.” He touched her shoulder. “Not just because he thinks you’re a boy, although God knows what he’ll feel when he finds out the truth. But he’s gentry, Casey. They have their own ways of doing things and they rarely deviate. One of those things is who and how they marry. He’s constrained by society. Even if he wanted to, he couldn’t marry you. I’m just saying that you need to make your own choices for your life without hoping that he’ll be in it. We can try to help him with Titanic. But can you understand why we need to be careful about telling him about us? I’m concerned that you want to tell him because of your feelings for him, not for any logical reason. Will you just think about it?”

She didn’t look at him, but after a moment, she nodded, and went to her room.

The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 9

The Dry Dock at Harland & Wolff Shipyards
The Dry Dock at Harland & Wolff Shipyards

Chapter 9

August 1906–September 1906

Casey had to collect reports and deliver supplies to all the departments at the yard, and it turned out there were a lot of departments. Tom Andrews was Head of the Designing Department, which evidently involved a lot more than just drawing pictures of ships. They drew plans for every part of a ship, from the tiny screws used in a switch plate, to the huge funnels that graced the skyline. Tom worked with all the other departments as they turned those drawings into three-dimensional reality. He dashed in and out all day, eventually settling at his desk to do paperwork for a couple of hours, then off again. Everywhere he went, he smiled or laughed. After just a few days, as she made her rounds of the yard, Casey noticed that it was always possible to tell when he was nearby. The men would stand taller or work faster, or with more precision. She would hear his laugh as he made his way through the crowd, and the men always smiled or laughed, too. He loved his work and that love rubbed off on everyone around him.

He thought it was important that Casey understand what they were doing and why they were doing it, but he never sat her down and lectured. He just talked while they worked, and somehow it all made sense. After just a few weeks, she was convinced that he paid attention to every single detail, that he felt nothing was too small or unimportant to be ignored. He believed, in a way Casey almost couldn’t quantify, that every ship they built had to be safe, had to be perfect.

“Which is why,” she mentioned to Sam as they ate dinner one night toward the end of August, “I don’t understand how I’m getting away with my impersonation. He notices everything, but he has not noticed that I’m a girl.”

Sam laughed. “You’re disappointed at that, aren’t you?” He laughed harder at her blushing protest.

She finished her soup in sullen silence. He’s right, I am disappointed. I don’t want to get caught, exactly. But what if he notices and likes what he sees? She shook her head. More likely, he’d be furious that I lied to him all this time. Made him look like a fool in front of everybody.

Guiltily, she cleared the table and disappeared into the kitchen, even though it was Sam’s turn to wash dishes. Will that happen? When people find out, will they make fun of Mr. Andrews?

That had not been her intent. She didn’t feel guilty about taking the job, even under false pretenses. Sam had needed medical care, which had led to his new job. They had settled with relief into a solid middle-class lifestyle, soon renting a small house in one of the good neighborhoods near the university. They were furnishing it in small increments, and they had both purchased several new pieces of clothing. They loved shopping for food at the market on Saturdays, when all the farmers brought in their produce, and they made frequent stops at the butchers for fresh meat. Casey had put on a few badly needed pounds, and Tom Andrews had observed that she seemed more energetic. It was true. She did feel better, with a constant supply of decent food and safe shelter. Best of all, they had running water, and Sam was building a system to heat the water in the pipes. Hot baths at the turn of a faucet! They could hardly remember the luxury.

They had also hired a housekeeper, Ann Malone, who came twice a week, making them feel like royalty when they came home to swept fireplaces and floors, dusted furniture and clean laundry. They only had to make sure all of their twenty-first century gadgets, as well as their journals, were locked safely away on these days.

Sam continued to write to Einstein, amazed as the relationship blossomed. Einstein never actually said he believed Sam, but he discussed future physics discoveries as if they had already happened, and was using the knowledge in his own work. They began making tentative plans to get together at a future time.

***

The shipyard was an inveterate source of gossip. Casey would not have thought this, since she’d always heard men were not prone to the habit. Harland & Wolff in 1906 proved beyond doubt that they were. A thought whispered out on the slip before the breakfast break would reach the last of the five thousand workers by lunch.

The free-flowing talk had one advantage for a new worker: it was possible to quickly learn who did what for the company, why they did it, and who was related to whom.

The gossip mill focused, normally enough, on upper management. Even before meeting him, Casey had already formed an opinion of the managing chairman, Lord William Pirrie, as a charismatic and powerful businessman who ran his company with an iron fist.

“Departments can’t do anything without ‘is approval.” (From a low-level foreman).

“He wants detailed reports every week.” (From Saxon Payne, the secretary).

“All that running around you’re doing? Goes right into a report for Pirrie.” (From Ham).

Micromanager, Casey sniffed disdainfully to herself. She knew better than to say anything aloud, though.

“He’s ambitious.”

“Happy as a lark when the king made him viscount.”

“Used to be Lord Mayor of Belfast.”

“Lost the ’06 run for Parliament. His position on Home Rule cost him.”

The family connection was something else the gossips made sure she knew about. Lord Pirrie was Tom Andrews’ uncle. Alexander Carlisle (Tom’s supervisor) was Lady Pirrie’s brother (and therefore, brother-in-law to Lord Pirrie) and all of them were cousins. It screamed of nepotism, but Pirrie and Carlisle had started in the company together and Tom had been through the normal apprentice program. They were all very good at their jobs.

Lord Pirrie spent a great deal of time at the company’s administrative headquarters in London, but he also had a home in Belfast. Casey had her first glimpse of him during her third week on the job. He was about sixty years old, rather short, attractive, with gray hair and beard, a forceful and talkative nature, and eyes that showed a happy temperament, which Casey decided made some sense. He was related to Tom Andrews, after all.

When they were in Belfast, both Pirries worked many hours at the shipyard. Casey never knew what Lady Pirrie did, but she often saw her working at a desk near Saxon Payne, Lord Pirrie’s secretary. The gossips let her know that Lady Pirrie had almost as much power as her husband. He seldom made a business decision without her.

Casey managed to keep her interactions with them to a minimum. She was introduced to Lord Pirrie on his first day back from London. He was quite friendly, shaking her hand and thanking her for being such a help to “Tommy.” After that, he pretty much ignored her.

But Lady Pirrie was intimidating. Entering Mr. Payne’s office one day, her arms full of reports, Casey came up short to find Lady Pirrie sitting at the polished oak desk, papers spread around her. A deep brown dress covered her large frame in soft folds, and her gray hair was piled on top of her head, held with a pearl clip. Matching pearls graced her neck, and rings glittered on her hands. Casey quickly bowed when Lady Pirrie glanced up at her.

“Excuse me, Ma’am. I have some figures to enter in the logbooks. I’ll just be over here.” She indicated the work table along the wall and started to turn, but Lady Pirrie’s voice stopped her.

“You’re the American, are you not?”

Casey turned back. “Yes ma’am. Casey Wilson, ma’am.” She couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“My nephew has spoken quite highly of your work. That’s an honor for you; he’s not easily impressed.”

Casey flushed with pleasure and bowed again. “Thank you ma’am. I’m enjoying the work very much. The ships are a wonder.”

Lady Pirrie smiled softly. “I think they are, too,” she agreed, her voice kind, but then her demeanor changed and she was brisk and dismissive. “Well, carry on, Casey. I shan’t keep you from your work.”

Startled at the abrupt dismissal, Casey was nevertheless happy to avoid further conversation, and buried herself in the logbooks. In principle, her reasons for pretending to be a boy were justifiable, but every person she talked to increased her feelings of guilt.

***

Sam had warned her the shipyard was a dangerous place, but the danger did not always come from lax employment laws. Sometimes it came from nature, like when the fetch out on the Irish Sea was strong and fast, and Belfast would experience nearly gale force winds blasting through the channel and city toward the hills. The only thing to do during these days was to wrap up and hold onto your hat. Moving from one place to another took a lot of determination.

Casey was used to these days, the weather being one thing that didn’t change much from one century to another. But the shipyard was an open area, and even inside offices could be at the mercy of the elements, with the wind howling over machinery, through corridors, into sheds and workshops and offices. Out on the slips, the ships were tied up tight, swaying dangerously in all directions on their short tethers. Any material left loose would be sent flying through the yard, causing men to duck, or hastily jump out of the way.

Casey was dropping off supplies outside, and as she turned to go, a strange movement on the scaffolding caught her attention. Boards nailed onto a steamer had worked loose in the wind, sending men on the decks scrambling for safety. Artie Frost, a foreman fitter who was nearest the scaffolding, immediately pocketed his hammer and climbed eighty feet to the ripped apart section and began hammering the boards back into place.

But he slipped as the wind shook the scaffolding, losing his hammer, which fell in seeming slow motion into the water below. Casey saw the change that came over Artie as he suddenly froze in place, gripping the boards of the scaffold in panic. Everyone around noticed at the same time and the crew rushed to help him, holding the scaffold to balance it, and shouting encouragement to Artie to climb down. If he heard them, he gave no notice of it–he closed his eyes and hung on to the swaying scaffold as if stuck to a spider’s web.

Casey could not look away. Every part of her willed Artie to gain his equilibrium and climb down. Her horror increased when she noticed a figure dart out onto the slip to the bottom of the scaffold. Tom Andrews held onto the swaying partition and shouted up at his friend. Casey caught fragments of his voice, but not the words, as Tom gestured and gave instructions. It was doubtful that Artie, high on the scaffold, could even hear anything from the ground.

Tom removed his coat and began to climb. Every man (and woman) on the dock forgot to breathe, as Tom climbed higher, the gale furiously whipping around him as the scaffold continued to sway. Casey cringed as a board flew just inches past his head and a moment later, another board landed against his leg with a sold whap. He climbed, deliberate and steady, defying the wind. Although they couldn’t hear him, they could see he was talking to Artie the entire time.

He reached Artie, climbing until he was next to him, one arm firm around Artie’s back as he grasped the wooden slat on the other side of him. The watchers could see Artie’s white face, stark against his black jacket, eyes still tightly shut.

Tom said something and Artie shook his head–a firm, panicky shake. The conversation continued, but not for long as Tom, keeping an arm around Artie’s back, moved a foot between Artie’s feet and leaned back very slightly, into the wind.

The scaffold gave a great rattle, causing gasps of dismay from the men trying to hold it steady. Casey literally felt the blood drain from her face. She was probably just as white as Artie. The two men began to move, one foot down, as Tom moved his hands to help Artie maintain his grasp on the scaffold. Tom moved down another step–both hands and feet–and waited until Artie did the same, prying Artie’s fingers from the scaffold.

Step by step the two men made their way together down the scaffolding, as the structure swayed and shook. When they were about three-quarters of the way down, they paused and exchanged a few words. They saw Tom laugh suddenly, and he swung away to Artie’s right, glancing down, then up at the loose boards banging above them. They spoke a few more words, before Tom started back up the ladder. After a moment, Artie continued down. The assembled crew watched in dismay as Tom cautiously hurried up the swaying scaffold, apparently oblivious to the driving wind.

“Ah, damn,” Casey muttered in angry despair, wishing he had seen fit to come down with Artie, as the men around her raced to help Artie off the scaffold and out of the wind. She kept her eyes on Tom, watching as he reached the boards and began hammering them into place.

Ham joined her after a minute, watching as the wind whipped the scaffolding around as if it were a spider’s web. The struggling figure holding onto the slats continued until the job was done, whereupon Tom slipped his hammer back into his pocket and began to hurry down the ladder. Casey and Ham started breathing again at the same time, as Tom reached the relative protection of the dock wall. The crew below held the scaffold as steady as possible as he finished the last twenty feet and jumped to the deck. They surrounded him then, cheering and slapping him on the back as he sank to the ground. Casey and Ham reached him at the same time, Casey handing him his coat as he grinned up at them.

“Thanks,” he managed. “Think I’ll just sit here a minute. Solid ground and all that.”

The men laughed, and in a few moments they had cajoled him to his feet and moved en masse into the building. They plied him with hot tea and he joined a still-shaky Artie, who was working on his own cup.

Casey heard a voice in her ear. “Chalk up another one for the legend.” She turned to find Mike Sloan standing behind her, looking thoughtfully at Tom as the men continued a step-by-step breakdown of the rescue.

Sloan had backed off on invitations to his meetings, but lately he’d started a more insidious campaign. Casey knew that in many ways, an atheist was even worse than a Catholic. Sloan would have to address the issue eventually, but even she was taken by surprise when he began to mention scriptures in her presence relating to God’s hatred of men who engage in “unnatural acts.” Evidently, he had decided that Casey the boy, who was small and “pretty,” was homosexual. Ironic, but dangerous. She usually tried to avoid him, but now annoyance caused her to jump to Tom’s defense.

“Is that what you think he was doing? I didn’t notice you climbing up there to help Artie.” Her whisper was furious, but he answered mildly.

“Why, Mr. Andrews’ reputation is well-deserved, lad. Wouldn’t think to disparage him, not at all.” He started to turn away, but stopped, eyes narrowing as his gaze pierced her. “Don’t hurt the legend none, though. Makes you notice him, I guess.”

Casey flushed, closing her mouth against a retort that would only make things worse. Damn! Sloan had noticed her attraction to Tom, and put exactly the wrong spin on it. There’d be no good to come of that, she was sure.

***

“The thing is,” she told Sam as she furiously chopped a cabbage for dinner that night, “despite the riots and other problems in Belfast, the workers at the shipyard get along pretty well.”

Sam checked the cooking chicken. “I remember in history class–seventh grade or so–we did a section on Titanic and the shipyard. One of the things they told us was that Harland & Wolff had one of the fairest work policies in all Ireland. They didn’t hire many Catholics, but the ones they had could work in safety, for the most part.”

“It’s true,” Casey said. “Some of the Catholics and Protestants are friends with each other, at least at work. There aren’t many who are like Mike Sloan, but it doesn’t take very many to cause a lot of trouble. Sloan’s a foreman. If he wants to make trouble for a Catholic worker, he can. And they let him hold these meetings at lunch time, where he’ll get the workers riled up about something and blame the Catholics for it.” She leaned against the counter and stared at the floor. “You can always tell when he’s been doing that. It’s real tense in the yard for a while. Usually after a few hours, everyone’s back to normal–they start working together and forget about the issues. But it can be scary.”

“And Sloan thinks you’re gay?” Sam handed her the plates for the table, an eyebrow raised at her. “I could’ve told you something like that would happen.”

She sniffed. “Gay, and interested in Tom Andrews. Can’t I just tell him to mind his own business?”

Sam laughed. “Get real, Casey. Everybody these days knows,” he put two fingers up in quotation marks, “that homosexuality is wrong. It’s sinful. That’s something the Catholics and the Protestants agree on.” He tossed her the napkins. “No one would be on your side.”

She caught the napkins, glaring at him. “What can he do about it? He can’t prove it.” But she looked worried. “If he starts spreading rumors, it could look bad for Mr. Andrews, though.”

“Oh, I doubt he’d try that, Casey.” Sam stared off into space, thinking. “I wonder if this guy is related to Thomas Sloan, who’s a member of parliament. A very sectarian, bigoted MP. Hates Catholics; totally committed to the Protestant cause. If so, your Mike Sloan has a formidable position as a political influence in the yard. But he still depends on Lord Pirrie more or less approving of what he does. And Pirrie is an enigma when it comes to Home Rule. He’s generally for it, if I remember my history right. But he waffles because he wants to advance in British society, and the British are obviously against it.” Casey looked confused and Sam offered a brief smile. “Basically, Lord Pirrie will want to avoid action for or against a man like Sloan. So Sloan can get away with a lot. But I don’t think he’d get away with slandering Lord Pirrie’s nephew.”

They sat at the table as Sam dished up the food. “You may be somewhat protected from Sloan by your working relationship with Andrews. Just try not to piss the guy off, okay? They do bad things to homosexuals in this era.”

Casey nodded. “Okay.”

“And try not to moon over Tom Andrews so much when you’re at work. You have to remember, he thinks you’re a boy.”

She just stuck her tongue out at him.

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The Time Travel Journals: Chapter 8

Chapter 8

June 1906

At the end of her first week, Casey found a doctor to examine Sam. She paced outside their flat, wondering why it was taking so long. Somehow, the longer the exam, the more worried she was that something was seriously wrong. How long did doctor exams take in 1906, anyway? It wasn’t like he could take x-rays or anything.

Eventually, her private eternity ended, and the door opened. The doctor motioned her in and she anxiously looked over at Sam, resting on his couch. He managed a smile for her, but gestured to the doctor. Casey turned her glare on him, but he didn’t seem fazed.

“Dr. Altair has bronchitis, my dear. I’ve given him some medicine to take for the next two weeks and he’ll have to stay in bed for at least one week. After that, if he’s feeling better, he can start taking some sun for short periods, but stay out of the dust. Continue the toddies you’ve been giving him, they’ll do him good.”

He snapped his bag shut–he really did carry a black doctor’s bag–then gave Casey a pat on the shoulder. “He’ll be fine, I think. His lungs are in remarkable shape.” He turned toward Sam. “I’ll bet anything it’s because you say you haven’t smoked in twenty years. Nasty habit.”

He turned back to Casey. “The medicine will make him sleepy, so don’t let him go out alone. I’ll be back in a week to check on him.” His gaze was suddenly piercing. “What about you? No signs of illness?”

She shook her head. “No. I’ve been fine.”

Satisfied, he reached to shake Sam’s hand. “Follow your instructions, now. I’ll speak to my brother-in-law and, once you’re better, I’ll arrange an introduction.”

“Thank you,” Sam rasped it out, already under the medicine’s influence. “I’ll look forward to it.”

Casey watched him leave, feeling an odd mixture of relief and consternation. Bronchitis in 1906 was nothing to take lightly, but Sam had medicine and she could only hope it would be effective. She turned to ask Sam his opinion of the matter, but instead, just covered his sleeping form with a sheet and settled down to read for a while.

***

“So what’s with the doctor’s brother-in-law?” Casey asked as she handed Sam a cup of soup a couple of days later. He was still groggy from the medicine, but was feeling a lot better, just reaching the point where he was chafing about having to stay in bed. Not yet chafing seriously, thank goodness, or Casey would be tempted to ask for overtime at the shipyard.

“Ah, the brother-in-law. Aye, that’s a good thing to come of this.” Sam sipped his soup and paused to let its heat sooth his throat, before glancing up at Casey. She had settled with her own cup at the small table near the hot plate, having changed from her “boy clothes” into a skirt and blouse. She liked to change out of her work clothes when she got home, since she had only two outfits for work and had to wear them all week.

“Good, how?”

“A job, that’s how.” Sam coughed with careful attention. He was, he’d told her, “sick of coughing” and sore from it, besides. He said his chest felt like it was filled with chain saws. “Dr. Thornton and I got on the subject of new advances in technology, due to the easy availability of electricity. One thing led to another, and I told him some of my background. His brother-in-law works for National Telephone and they’re trying to break into some R&D work. He said he’d tell him about me; see if there was work to be had, even if I couldn’t prove I had a PhD.” Sam raised his eyebrows at Casey. “I think I can convince them I know something about physics.”

Casey stared at her soup, feeling real hope stir in her heart. “That would be wonderful,” she said, not missing the tears that filled Sam’s eyes.

***

Three weeks later, Sam stood in the doorway of his new laboratory. Long wooden tables equipped with Bunsen burners. A steam boiler. Pipes and electrical wires running from the walls to, and between, equipment. A fan on each end of the room. Shelves of glass bottles over cabinets with locking doors. Sinks with running water.

He smiled a small, not-quite-bitter smile. Part of him was jumping for joy to have a laboratory again. The other part was crying because it was 1906, and the phrase, starting over, had never been so real, before.

Dr. Thornton had been true to his word. His brother-in-law, a jovial, skinny man with no hair and a twice-broken nose, had been delighted to chat with Sam and in no time, had arranged an interview with Lord Dunmore, the head of Belfast’s local telephone office. Sam spent an hour dazzling Lord Dunmore with his scientific knowledge and the practical applications he could envision. It wasn’t hard. For all his lofty position, Lord Dunmore was not a scientific person, and he depended on subordinates to guide him through the treacherous waters of new technology. Those subordinates insisted that Sam, despite his lack of documentation, was the perfect man to head up their new attempts at research and development. So here he was, with a new lab still to be furnished, his own staff, most still to be hired, and a nearly free hand to determine the directions to take for future technology.

So there, Dr. Riley, he thought as he wandered through the room, letting his hand caress the table tops, before stopping to examine the hood and determine just how much exhaust he had. When he reached the back of the room he faced the door that stood closed in front of him and reached, for the first time, to open it. His office. A desk holding a telephone, a blotter, a pen, and ink stand, with a nice office chair and a visitor’s chair. Bookshelves. Filing cabinet. A window. Not a large office, but adequate. As he placed his briefcase on the desk, footsteps made him look up, to see a youngish man approach the door and stop just inside.

“Hello,” Sam said, waiting for information.

The man smiled, quite sincerely, Sam thought. “Good morning, Dr. Altair.” He held out a hand, which Sam took. “I’m Craig MacDonald, sir. Your secretary.”

“Ah. Mr. MacDonald, quite pleased to meet you.” Sam allowed a moment of amusement. With the advent of computers, personal secretaries had gone the way of carbon paper, and it had been several years since he’d had the use of one. For a moment, he wondered if he could stand having someone following him around all the time, but he reminded himself that without modern office equipment, a secretary was essential. Not even carbon paper had been invented yet, after all.

“Lord Dunmore has asked to see you at nine a.m., sir. He’s in meetings until then. I have submitted your list of requested supplies and hope to begin receiving a few of the items later today.” MacDonald was eager, but Sam had the impression he was competent, too. The young man handed him a set of keys.

“Here are your keys, sir. You’ll find keys for your doors and all the cabinets, as well as the front and back doors to the building itself. Please don’t lend any out; I’ve an extra set for loans if one of your assistants needs one.” Sam nodded, and MacDonald continued without stopping. “The telephones in the building receive and send outside calls in addition to interoffice communications. A list of personnel is in your top right drawer, simply tell the operator who to route the call to. If you’d like, sir, I’ll show you around a bit and let you get your bearings before your meeting.”

Sam nodded again, pocketing the keys and feeling a little overwhelmed. “That’s a splendid idea.” He started to check his wrist for the time, remembering just in time to take out his pocket watch, instead. “We have about half an hour. You can show me around and finish by dropping me off at Lord Dunmore’s office.”

Sam began to enjoy himself. Belfast prided itself on advanced technology, a pride just as strong in 1906 as it was in 2006. MacDonald introduced him to a few of his new assistants, and he promised them he’d have the lab up and running as quickly as possible. They were all eager, which was good, but they were also all men, which Sam hoped to rectify. He didn’t plan on asking permission to hire women. He expected to just do it, provided any at all were graduating with degrees in physics. He’d even take a chemist or two. If he was going to nudge the human race into a quicker paradigm shift in technology, he’d do it with all of them.

***

That evening at dinner, he told Casey about his chat with Lord Dunmore. “It was… interesting.”

She had changed into a skirt and blouse and was eating quickly, hungry after running around the shipyard all day. She’d been listening with amusement to the story of his day, but picked up on his pensiveness. “How so?” she asked.

Sam considered how to describe it. “Part of the problem, I suppose, is my own experience with employers. When I first started working, in the seventies, company culture was still pretty strict–managers were managers and workers weren’t, if you know what I mean.” She nodded and he shrugged. “As a scientist, I pretty much spent my day in the lab and didn’t worry too much about it. My boss was also a scientist and he dealt with the bureaucracy. But as I got older, I turned into my boss and I had to deal with it. By that time, the culture had relaxed, but also, by that time, I was working for the Consortium. Bureaucratic, but with a distrustful, spy mentality.”

He paused while Casey laughed at that. He’d known she would.

“So I’m not wild about managers. It’s even worse here and now, though, when the boss is likely to be Lord Someone and there’s a culture of elitism behind his shoulder. You know that from your experience at Harland & Wolff.”

“Yeah,” Casey gave it some thought. “I think that most of the managers are part of the landed gentry, at least. But there are a lot of foremen who are just regular folks who worked their way up.”

Sam nodded. “Sure, but I’ll bet they never go any farther. You have to have that original step of being part of the deserving class.”

Casey looked puzzled. “But you’re not looking to run the place, Sam. And they have made you a manager, haven’t they?”

“Aye, but that’s not my problem.” Sam laughed at himself. “I’m talking to Lord Dunmore and finding myself feeling impatient with the whole system. Maybe it’s a reaction to the poverty we’ve experienced since coming here. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to prove myself to someone who is assuming I’m going to fall on my face. And it’s not completely his fault. After all, I can’t show him my years of research in quantum physics and string theory and neutrino behavior. All I can do is talk fast about recent discoveries and where I think I can take them, and hope he doesn’t think I’m a charlatan.”

“Did he like what you told him?”

“Aye, he did.” Sam was bemused. “In fact, he seemed a little excited about some of the possibilities. But Case, he’s a businessman. His background is not in the sciences and his first objective is to make money. Still, I think I convinced him that advancing the technology is the way to get ahead. He’s funding my project for an entire year, with an extension guaranteed as long as we have results. Which we will have.”

“That’s great! Will you be able to sneak in the time travel research?”

Sam nodded. “I think so, but it’s going to take small steps. I’ve got to get the technology built up and I can’t do that overnight. It’ll take years to get us to the point of any practical work.”

He leaned forward and pointed his fork at Casey. “But one thing it does mean, is that you can stop pretending to be a boy.”

Her brows went up. “It does? How’s that?”

He spread his arms wide. “I’ll be making plenty of money. My salary alone will give us plenty to spare, but I talked him into a share of any patents and royalties, too. Believe me, those will pay off big-time.”

“And I’m supposed to just be the little woman sitting at home?”

“Oh, don’t start that.” He glared at her. “You can do anything you want to. Go back to horticulture. Go back to school. Start a business. But you can do it as a woman.”

He watched her, confused, as she stared uncomfortably at her plate. “What?” he asked. “You prefer the disguise?”

Her eyes were troubled. “No, of course not. I hate it. But I don’t feel right just going up to Tom Andrews and telling him I’m quitting, either. He hired me for six months and believe me, they are keeping me busy.”

“If he knew you were a girl, he would want you to quit. In fact, he’d have to fire you.”

“Is that supposed to be comforting?”

“It’s just a fact. Do you expect to never tell him the truth?”

She stared at him. “I don’t know. I suppose I thought I wouldn’t.”

“But you want to warn him about Titanic.” Sam tapped a finger on the table thoughtfully. “What are your thoughts about that? Do you want to just give him a cryptic warning and leave it at that? Or would you want to be available to help him through it? Give him details about the ship and all the things that go wrong that night?”

She shook her head, disturbed. “I don’t know.”

“We need to think about it, Casey. Frankly, I don’t think it will help to just warn him and walk away. He’ll need help. And that means, that at some point, you have to tell him the truth.”

She covered her mouth with a hand, her eyes filled with tears. “He’ll hate me, Sam.”

“Ah, lass. He will not.” Sam looked her over intently, before a small smile tugged at his lips. “You have a crush on him, don’t you?”

Her mouth fell open. “A crush?” She closed her mouth and affected a haughty air. “I refuse to answer that.”

He laughed a little. “You do! It’s okay. I’ve seen pictures of him. He was a handsome man. A good person, too.”

Her face bland, she stood and moved to a chair, tucking herself in with a book. “Think what you want. And I don’t need anything to be okay with you.”

That stung a little, but it was worth it to see her blush.

The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 7

Chapter 7

June 1906–July 1906

If she had not already known where Harland & Wolff Shipyard was located, Casey could have found it by following the noise. Even in the midst of town, it was possible to hear a rhythmic banging coming from Queen’s Island. The sound increased with every step as she approached the gate shortly before eight the next morning. The yard was crowded with the second shift, hundreds of workers, several of them young boys, moving through the gate, or loitering as they waited to be hired for the day. They were all dressed as she was, in dark pants and shirt, with dark caps covering their heads.

I guess I look the part. Maybe this will work.

She paused when she saw a guard. “Casey Wilson, sir. I’m to report to Mr. Thomas Andrews.”

He looked over and nodded, indicating a big man heading in. “Follow Albright, there. Hey, Albright! Drop this lad off for Mr. Andrews. You’re goin’ that way.”

The big man gestured a “come on” without slowing down. Casey scrambled through the crowd, afraid to lose him. As they entered the building, the smell of burning coal made her cough, mingled as it was with grease, cigarettes, and superheated metal. The source of the banging wasn’t obvious, but it saturated everything, overriding the lesser sounds of boilers building up pressure for steam, generators providing electricity, the taps and clacks of a thousand hammers, pulleys, and chains, and the jovial shouts of men as they performed their tasks.

I guess I’ll get used it. No one else seems to mind it.

One thing for certain, the scale of everything in this place was simply huge. The building was cavernous and filled with machines and equipment, some of them reaching over twenty or thirty feet high. She couldn’t begin to guess the names of any of it. The cranes and gantries were visible from many points of town, and here, as she caught glimpses of them through doorways, Casey almost couldn’t tear her eyes away.

How can they do this kind of thing with their level of technology? These things are basically built by hand!

After a few minutes of walking through rooms filled with people, machines, and noise, Albright waved Casey toward a doorway. “He’s in there. Office in the back,” was his only comment as he rushed onward.

“Thanks!” Casey called after him, not sure if he heard.

Heart pounding, she stepped into the room indicated: a large, cathedral-like space with beams rising from the floor to arch over the high ceiling. Each beam alternated with a large skylight on the ceiling and a window on the walls. Even this early in the day, the room was filled with natural light. Row after row of long tables provided workspace for men to stand or sit, all of them sketching or measuring, or discussing their drawings. This was obviously the drafting department.

They pretty much ignored her as she made her way to the back, which she nervously took as a good thing. Can I pull this off? The first person I talk to is probably going to realize I’m a girl! Maybe I should just leave. Timid, she stepped through the door into the office. If no one’s in here, I’ll just run. Um…if I can find my way back out, that is.

Nearly gasping with relief that she didn’t see Mr. Andrews, Casey jumped as a head appeared from behind an open cabinet to the side of the room. The head had black hair, gold-framed glasses covering the eyes, and a pair of really big ears. When the eyes saw her, they lit up and a big grin split the face. The head was followed by a long, thin body in a dark suit, belonging to a young man who was holding several pencils and a cup. He tossed the pencils in the cup and came toward Casey, hand outstretched. “Mornin’! Ye must be Casey. Boss said to expect ye!”

Casey took his hand and tried to speak past her dry mouth. “Yeah. I mean, yes sir, I’m Casey Wilson. Are you Mr. Andrews’ secretary?”

“I am, I am. Thompson Hamilton is the name. Everyone calls me Ham, so’s not to confuse me with the boss!” This was accompanied by a hearty laugh that clearly said “Not bloody likely!” as Ham placed the cup on the desk and turned back to Casey. “Really glad you’re here, Casey. Mr. Andrews said he expects big things from ye. Ah, and here’s Himself, now!”

Indeed, the laugh heard from the other room could belong to no one else. Mr. Andrews could be heard commenting on a drawing and answering questions as he neared the office. Casey turned, certain they would be able to see her heart beating in her chest, it was pounding so hard. He spotted her immediately, and the laugh returned as he shook her hand with delight, noting that she was on time and had already met Ham. He wore a bowler hat on his head and a blue coat over his suit, every pocket of which was stuffed with paper and pencils.

She felt the tension in her chest ease just a bit, as he proceeded to talk about the plans for the day, unloading his pockets into neat piles on his desk, then refilling the pockets with other papers while telling Casey to just trail along with Ham, learn his way around, and help as needed. He exhorted Ham to “show Casey everything” and to get a good idea of what Casey knew how to do.

“He can read, write, and do arithmetic, but go easy on the algebra,” was the instruction given with a great laugh and a slap on Casey’s shoulder, as Mr. Andrews darted off to talk to the riveters on his way to his next meeting. By the time he left, Casey was grinning, and she noticed it was infectious: the grin had spread to Ham and the men at the drawing tables as well.

Later, as she reflected on the day, Casey was pretty sure those few minutes in the office were the last time she stood in one place. Ham did indeed “show her everything,” moving at top speed through the cavernous buildings and shipyard. Once they were out in the yard, the source of the banging was immediately apparent. Ham stopped to let her watch for a few minutes, explaining with noticeable pride what she was seeing. Men were swarming over the ships in various states of construction, with a lot of them lined up in teams next to the ships. Each team was placing a red hot piece of metal–Ham called it a rivet–in one of many holes in a huge metal plate and then ramming it home with a hydraulic hammer. Workers above the men were heating up and hammering the next rivet into shape and dropping it down to be caught by an extremely brave lad who hoisted it to the hammering team. They worked in a quick and rhythmic pattern, never slowing or pausing to rest. As they continued on their tour, Ham told her the riveters were like the gods of the yard. They had the respect and admiration of every worker in every department.

Part of Ham’s job was to collect orders and schedules from each department. This would be Casey’s biggest responsibility, because if Ham could eliminate the running around from his own duties, he’d be free to get to those duties left hanging. It meant that Casey was going to have to quickly learn her way around, and how to find the correct person in each department from whom to collect the paperwork.

It’s just too bad, it occurred to Casey a few minutes later, that I don’t know all about the future. I would’ve figured out a way to avoid this conversation.

The problem had started when Ham brought her into the plating department and hailed the foreman, a tall, lanky man with greasy hair and a handlebar mustache. His name was Mike Sloan and he’d taken a full half-minute to carefully look Casey over, his expression suspicious and haughty. He was the first person she’d met whose greeting was not a welcome.

“American?” was his disbelieving comment when Ham introduced her. “Seems like everyone in Ireland is tryin’ to go to America. Why are ye here?”

Casey wanted to glance at Ham for reassurance, but instead, she matched Sloan’s glare with a firm expression and a lifted chin. “Came to live with my guardian when my parents died.” She didn’t offer more information.

His stare was intense. “Are ye Catholic or Protestant, Casey?”

Her jaw dropped and “What?” escaped her before she could remember that his question, while confrontational and troublesome, was normal for this time and place.

Ham coughed into his hand, and Sloan’s eyebrows climbed up his forehead as Casey snapped her jaw shut. “’Tis an easy question, lad,” Sloan told her, his voice slightly milder.

She glared. “Protestant,” she admitted, wondering what he’d say if she said “atheist, “ which was closer to the truth. But she’d been in Ireland long enough to know the response to that, even in the twenty-first century: “Aye, but are ye Catholic Atheist or Protestant Atheist?

“Protestant” must have been the right answer, as Sloan’s expression morphed into one of agreeableness, and he clapped Casey on the shoulder. “Good ta meet ye, lad! Ye might be wantin’ to come to one of our meetin’s at lunch time, here in the plater’s shed. Meet more of the men that way.”

For some reason, it sounded ominous. “What kind of meeting?”

“E-van-gel-ical meetin’,” Sloan stood straight and proud as he said it, reminding her uncomfortably of a TV evangelist. “Read some scripture, pray a bit, talk about things.”

Casey felt her face twitch, but she tried to sound calm. “Ah. I probably won’t be interested, but thank you for inviting me.” She glanced at Ham, who was standing unhelpfully silent at her side. “So I see Mr. Sloan to collect the plater reports?”

Ham pushed his glasses higher on his long nose and nodded. “Aye, he’ll be the one.” His tone gave Casey no hint to what he was thinking or what was expected of her, but he gave Sloan a curt nod. “Thank ye, Mike. I’ll be sending Casey around on his own in a couple of days.”

Sloan gave a wave of his arm and stepped back to his work as Ham turned to go. Casey hurried after him, uncertain if she should say anything.

After a few seconds, he glanced at her, looking apologetic. “Don’t worry about the meetings. He’ll probably ask ye a few more times, but most of the men don’t attend. Mr. Andrews would never make anything like that mandatory.”

Casey stopped, feeling sick to her stomach. “Does Mr. Andrews attend those meetings?” If she sounded incredulous, it couldn’t be helped. The thought of that kind and happy man thinking of ways to discriminate against Catholics was more than she could comprehend. But Ham shook his head.

“Lord Pirrie–he’s Chairman of the company––tolerates ’em in the interest of worker contentment. So Mr. Andrews tolerates ’em, too. He shows up once in a while to keep a gauge on the temper of the men. If there’s going to be trouble in the yard, it usually starts there.” He tilted his head, blinking owlishly at her. “Mr. Andrews would also never tell ye that ye couldn’t attend the meetings if ye wanted to. But he’ll be happy to know ye don’t want trouble.”

Casey shrugged. “We’ll never be perfect in America, but I’m more used to religious differences being under the radar. I think it’s such a waste to spend time fighting with each other over it.”

Ham stopped, his look puzzled. “Under the radar? What are ye on about?”

“Oh.” Casey bit her lip. Idiot! Radar hasn’t even been invented yet! “Just something a friend used to say. It means underneath the surface; can’t be seen.”

He accepted the explanation, but she saw him mouthing the words “under the radar” as he led her to the next department.

***

Sloan extended his invitation twice more over the next week, whenever Casey showed up when work was at a moderate pace. Both times, she managed an evasive “no thanks.” Nervous about the temper of Belfast during this time, Casey wanted to discuss it with Sam, but his illness was worse and she didn’t want to worry him. So she was left to deal with it herself, and she was pretty sure that her final solution, later in the week, was not well thought out.

The horn for lunch had rung as Casey finished following Tom Andrews and Ham around on a ship called Adriatic, while a Board of Trade inspector conducted a review. They ran into Sloan as they descended the gangplank.

“Afternoon.” Sloan was courteous as he tipped his hat to Tom. “Have time to drop into our meetin’, Sir?”

“Ach, not this time, Mike.” Tom seemed truly sorry. “Ham and I are having a working lunch, as it is.”

Sloan nodded, apparently unconcerned, and glanced at Casey. “Be nice if you could attend, Casey. Men would like to know you better.”

The presence of Tom Andrews made her reckless. “I’d like to know everyone better, Mr. Sloan,” she said. “But see, even though I’m Protestant, I’m an atheist, and your religious meeting just doesn’t seem like an appealing way to spend the lunch break.”

They all stared at her. Oops, she thought in sudden despair. Can I get fired for being an atheist? She glanced guiltily at her boss. He looked just as shocked as Ham and Sloan, but something in her expression made him grin, and he slapped Sloan on the shoulder.

“Give him a break, Mike. You know how Americans are about religion.”

“Well…” Sloan looked confused but Casey could tell he didn’t want Tom to see that. “I’ve heard things, Sir, but…”

“Ah, but I’ve talked to many Americans on my trips, Mike.” Tom was reasonableness personified. “Trust me, they’re good, religious people. They just approach it differently from us.”

Sloan nodded, still doubtful, but he tipped his hat again, this time to Casey. “If ye change your mind, lad, ye know where we meet. We’ll keep ye in our prayers.”

He left and Tom turned to Casey. “Can you type those notes up after lunch, Casey? I’ll need to get the inspector’s comments out to all the foremen this afternoon.” He motioned to Ham. “We’ve got to hurry, Ham. Carlisle’s waiting for us.”

They left with waves to Casey, who acknowledged the waves and the meaning: nothing else would be said on the subject. But as she hurried to drop the notes off at the office, she wished she could figure out what Tom Andrews was thinking.

The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 6

Chapter 6

June 1906

Spring turned into a lethargic, hot summer, minus the cooling fog bank, and with almost no rain. The usual breezes from the Irish Sea never made it into the lough, leaving Belfast dry and airless under a blanket of noxious, early twentieth century industrial chemicals. The pollution made Sam’s cough worse, and even Casey struggled to breathe as she made her rounds. People still burned coal for cooking, and the black soot turned the air a dull grey, adding to the ever-present dust and dried horse manure.

Casey wished she could wear a handkerchief over her nose and mouth. Perhaps, she thought, she could take up robbing banks for the summer so it would be part of the costume.

As the afternoon progressed, and with four pence in her pocket, Casey left the quiet marketplace to roam the city streets, hoping to find more work helping a shopkeeper. She crossed an alley to head toward the shops, just as a man digging around in a Renault pulled himself out the open door and spotted her. “Hey lad.” He motioned to her. “I could use some extra hands here. Got time to make sixpence?” She nodded, and he began pulling boxes from the car. After judging her size, he handed her two boxes and took three for himself, gesturing to the building behind them. “Right up the stairs lad, second floor.”

She followed him up, taking the time to observe him closely, since he seemed worth observing. He was dressed in the typical businessman’s suit: brown pants and jacket, white shirt, cravat, and a bowler hat. He reminded her of an old-fashioned movie star, with his dark brown hair cut short and combed sideways, and his strong, aristocratic features. His eyes were brown and kind, putting her at ease, although she’d had to look up nearly a foot to meet his gaze. And his hands… she had noticed his hands as he handed her the boxes. They were a little rough, as if he used them for work, but clean and manicured, nevertheless. She thought of those hands caressing her, and suppressed a sigh. This was hardly the appropriate time for such thoughts.

At the second landing, he put his boxes down, took out a key, and let them into a neat apartment, furnished with a sofa, two chairs and two small tables arranged on a rug in the room’s center. Casey placed the boxes next to the writing desk against the opposite wall, impressed that it held a telephone, the kind with a separate piece held to the ear, with the speaker held in the other hand. As the man placed his boxes next to hers, she stepped back into an alcove, trying to avoid the small round dining table and two chairs. A door next to the table presumably led to a kitchen; on the other side of the sitting room, another door probably led to a bedroom. It was all very neat, with everything placed just so.

Noticing the writing on the boxes, she reached down to turn them over as they stated “this end up” in dark letters. He noticed her action and smiled in approval. “Ah, can you read, then?”

The question surprised her. “Of course, sir. Got more boxes downstairs?”

“I do, aye. Just bring up two. The box marked ‘Ardara’ can stay in the car.”

She trotted downstairs, found the correct boxes, and brought them back.

He was unpacking a box that contained several plaques, each one wrapped in paper. He glanced up as she came in, flashed a smile at her that made her wish she were dressed as a girl, and brought out the sixpence he’d promised. He handed it to her, while looking her over with an appraising glance. “D’you have time to earn more? I can use someone to help deliver these plaques, and since you can read, you’d make it a lot easier on me. It might take you a couple of days to get the lot, but there’d be half a pound in it for you.”

Half a pound! Casey tried not to gape as she answered. “I could do that, sir. That would be great!”

“Wonderful!” He reached out shake her hand. “I’m Tom Andrews.”

She took the hand in a firm grip, and answered, “Casey Wilson, sir.”

He tilted his head. “You sound American. Where are you from?”

“California. I came to Belfast to live with my guardian when my parents died.”

He nodded and turned to the desk. “I see. It’s a lot of running around, have you eaten?”

She shook her head, bemused. He gestured to the kitchen. “There’s some meat in the ice box and bread in the bread box. Cut yourself some and have a bite, so you’ve got your strength about you. And,” he continued as he sat at the desk and pulled out some paper, “cut me some too, will you? I’m famished!”

Casey entered the kitchen and pulled open the icebox. Sure enough, a roast sat on the shelf, wrapped in paper. She pulled it out, found the bread, and got a knife from the block. Then she moved to the sink to wash her hands, looked for soap, and finally found some tucked under the sink. Men always seemed to not understand what soap was for. Why was that?

Casey cut a large portion of meat and bread, put them on a plate taken from the cabinet, and brought them to Mr. Andrews, placing them well out the way of the moving pen. He smiled again, making her look away in confusion, which she covered by heading back to the kitchen. Wouldn’t do to start blushing; the guy might think it a bit odd.

She made a large enough sandwich to justify putting half of it in her pocket for Sam. She ate with relish, adding the roast to her private Top Ten List. She wondered if Mr. Andrews had cooked it; she didn’t see any indication of a woman living here.

She went back into the parlor just as he finished counting plaques in a box. He handed her the box and a list. “Start with this. There are twenty plaques, and the list has the names and addresses. The plaques have names on them, so you’ll have to make sure the correct plaque gets to the correct address. Some places will get more than one; I’ve tried to indicate that when it happens. These are all North Belfast, and I imagine it’s all you can get done today and maybe part of tomorrow. Come back when you’re done and collect another box and list. I’ll leave them with the landlady downstairs. Is this fair for you? Can you manage?”

She nodded, glancing over the list. She knew most of the streets, but he was right, this would take a while. She glanced up at him, froze for a moment at the sight of those eyes on her, then remembered she had a question. “Do you want me to always hand them off to someone or is it okay to leave it if no one’s home?”

He looked thoughtful. “No, they know to expect them, so you should be able to leave them. Should be someone there at most places, though.” He handed her five shillings. “Here’s half; I’ll pay you the rest when you’re done. Let me know if you have any trouble. Thanks for your help, Casey!”

What a stroke! Casey took the box and the list with concealed glee, hid the money in an inner pocket, and headed outside. Once outdoors, she put the box down and squatted next to it, examining the addresses. With a stick, she drew a grid of the city in the dirt, trying to determine where the streets were located and figure out the best route to take. A couple of minutes later, she heard a voice and looked up, startled, to find Tom Andrews standing near his car and looking quite curious.

“What are you up to, lad? Is there a problem?”

She stood up. “No sir. Just trying to map an efficient route.” She grinned at his expression; she’d managed to surprise him. She tipped her hat and bent to pick up the box. “Don’t want to do any backtracking, if I can help it!”

She glanced back just before turning a corner. Andrews had moved over to look at the map she’d drawn in the dirt, the desired streets marked with small numbers. Giggling to herself at the astonished look on his face, she headed on her way.

***

She spent four hours running around town, delivering about half the plaques. This was the nicer part of Belfast, with gardens and lacy curtains in the windows. At most houses, she left her package with a friendly housekeeper, who gave her a half penny, although she protested that Mr. Andrews had already paid her. They didn’t seem to mind, though, so she took it with thanks and no further protests.

Not wanting to be caught out at night, she headed home with the much lighter box. Sam was sitting at their small table, beaming with pride as the aroma of cooking wafted around the room when she arrived home. She looked around in astonishment. “You finished it?” she asked in amazement. “It works?”

“It works!” Sam declared, pointing to the hot plate he’d been working on, pausing to let a hacking cough interrupt him. “It’s not real efficient, but we can cook on it.”

“I hope.” Casey bent down for a closer look, then glared back at Sam. “How is it on safety? I don’t want to wake up burned to a crisp.”

He held up both hands in conciliation, then bent down to show her. “As long as we turn it off, it’ll cool down just fine.” He turned his head and coughed until he had to sit on the floor. “It’s on a ceramic plate, which should absorb the heat, but protect the floor. I’ll keep checking it to make sure it doesn’t get too hot. We won’t use it for long periods of time, anyway. Just short cooking sessions.”

Casey nodded. “I can live with that. Real food is something to look forward to. And hey!” She stood up and showed him both his sandwich and the money. “I ran into a windfall today! Big delivery job for this seriously hot guy. He’s going to pay me five more shillings when I’m done, which should be tomorrow or the next day. And on top of that, every place I’ve delivered to, the people tipped me a bit! Pretty cool, huh?”

He slapped his hands together. “Excellent! If we’re careful, we can make that last a few weeks!” He grinned crookedly at her and she felt a twinge of affectionate sorrow for him.

“Maybe we can buy some medicine for that cough. What do they use in this time?”

He waved the thought away. “I’ve made soup; that should help. Some citrus and whiskey would be good for a hot toddy. The whiskey we can find, and surely there are limes somewhere. I know they have them on ships for sailors to eat.”

Casey nodded. “I know that, but you should still have some medicine. It can’t cost that much. Look, Sam, be practical. If you get really sick, they don’t have the expertise to get you well. There are no antibiotics in this time, so if you end up with a secondary infection, we’re in trouble.”

He sat and coughed some more, then answered. “Well, let me see what I can find out. Are you hungry? The soup’s ready.”

Casey was quiet as she ate the thin soup, trying to think of a way through their problem. Sam needed medicine and they both needed better food. She had to make more money!

***

Sam had a rough night and was worse in the morning. Casey made him porridge to sooth his throat. After getting him settled, she took off to finish the deliveries. She worked fast, again looking for the most efficient route.

Around noon, the cook who answered the door had her come around to the kitchen to “sample the meat pies for dinner” and give her opinion of them. Casey’s opinion was ecstatic, which satisfied the cook enough to pack one up for her to take with her for the afternoon. The cook was easy to talk to, and Casey told her about Sam and asked where to find limes and medicine for a cough. The cook happened to have some limes on hand and also gave her a small bundle of mullein, coltsfoot, and licorice, with instructions to mix one tablespoon in a cup of hot water. She told Casey she could find these herbs at the apothecary if she needed more. Grateful, Casey ran back home to give Sam the bounty.

He was glad to get it, and ate the pie in bed, and drank the toddy she’d made for him without any argument. As soon as she could, Casey ran out to get the next box of plaques. The landlady had them, as promised, so she swallowed her disappointment at not getting another glimpse of the handsome Mr. Andrews, and hurried on her way.

She didn’t finish all the deliveries until the next morning. She stopped by to see Mr. Andrews about seven that evening, which was when the landlady said he’d probably be home.

He’d just arrived, and he gave her that fabulous smile when he saw her. “Hi Casey!” He moved aside so she could enter. “You’ve done a great job. I heard from several people who were all happy to get their plaques so quickly. Hope you’re not worn out!”

She laughed and shook her head. “Not at all, Mr. Andrews. It was great running around all those pretty neighborhoods and meeting everyone. Nice people.”

He gave her a curious look as he pulled her money from his pocket. Before handing it to her, he said, “I’ll tell you, lad, you’re really an enigma.”

Her eyes widened. “Well, I don’t mean to be, sir. What can I clear up for you?”

He sighed. “To start, I’d like to know how a street waif knows what an enigma is!”

Casey laughed again and shrugged. “I haven’t always been a street waif. I used to go to school.”

He looked thoughtful as he handed her the money. “You can read and write, what about your numbers?”

“Not my best subject, but I’ve had lots of math.”

“Can I ask what you did before you started this illustrious career?”

She flushed, not wanting to lie to him any more than she already had, but plunged into the story she and Sam had concocted. “I was a student at home, but then my parents died and Sam thought it best I come to Belfast and stay with him. He was a good friend of my dad’s, you see, and I had no other relatives.” Casey’s smile was small and tight. “But things got rough here, too, so Sam and I just go day to day, sort of.” She made herself grin. “It’ll get better, though. Nowhere to go but up.”

Mr. Andrews studied her before speaking again, causing Casey to flush more under his gaze. “I’m wondering, Casey, if you’d be interested in a job. It’s temporary, but it might give you the chance to come through the rough spot. Maybe about four to six months. My secretary is swamped and needs an assistant. It’d be a lot of running around, collecting information from various departments and helping with scheduling, paperwork, that kind of thing. The pay would be six shillings a week, eleven hours a day with a half hour for breakfast and lunch.” He looked hopeful. “It’s good work and I could give you a solid recommendation if you decide to go back to school.”

Casey stammered, then gulped and nodded. “I’d sure like to, Mr. Andrews. That’s…that’s a wonderful offer.”

His smile appeared again and this time, she shyly smiled back. He rubbed his hands together briskly. “Wonderful! You know where Harland & Wolff shipyard is?” At her nod, he went on, “Be at the gate on Queen’s Island at eight in the morning. Tell them you’re to see me. They’ll direct you. Mind ye, lad,” he spoke a bit sternly, “ye be on time. There’s no slacking possible!”

“Yes sir! Thank you, sir!” Casey nearly saluted, but thought better of it, instead taking the hand he offered her in a firm shake. He seemed quite content as he ushered her out, wishing her a good night’s rest since tomorrow’s work would probably “wear you out.” She said good-bye and ran home, hardly daring to believe her good luck. A real job, with regular pay! And, the thought occurred to her, a chance to see that hunk every day!

***

It was Sam who reminded her of the problems that came with this stroke of good luck. He was still in bed, but he said the medicine had helped the coughing, and he’d slept some. Casey thought he looked pale and weak, but she didn’t harp on it. He listened while she heated up the soup and prattled on about tomorrow. Then he sat at the table and between sips, discussed a few issues.

“You’re out there looking like a boy. Does he know you’re a girl?”

Casey rolled her eyes. “Of course not! I’d never be hired for anything if people thought I was a girl.”

Sam looked morose. “I know it’s discriminatory, Casey, but in this time, there just are not that many jobs a girl is allowed to do. You’ll be the only girl there; the shipyards hire thousands of men. You realize there will not be any women’s lavatories?”

Casey sighed in frustration. “Geez, Sam. What am I supposed to do? You’re sick! We need the money. I’ll work around all this. I have to try anyway. If it doesn’t work, then fine, I’ll leave.”

“But you could get into serious trouble. I don’t know if it’s illegal to impersonate a boy, but you are obtaining a job under false pretenses. They may not be willing to just slap your hand if you get caught.”

“I’ll be careful! Mr. Andrews seems like a nice person. I don’t think he’ll throw me in jail.”

Sam stopped eating and stared at her blankly. Casey stared back, worried. “Sam? Are you all right? You look like you’re having a stroke.”

He blinked and focused on her again. “Who hired you?”

“Thomas Andrews. I don’t know what he does exactly, but he wants me to help his secretary.” Casey shook her head in disbelief. “I always swore I’d never be a secretary, because it seemed like such a dead-end job to stick women in. But here, it’s like an honored position, and as a woman, I don’t qualify for it! Too weird.”

Sam brushed her comments off and leaned forward urgently. “Thomas Andrews? At Harland & Wolff? That’s who hired you?”

Her eyebrows rose in bafflement. “Yes. Why? Who is he?”

Sam shook his head at her ignorance. “You Americans don’t know anything! Thomas Andrews is the builder of the Titanic! You do know about the Titanic, don’t you?”

Casey sat back in her chair and stared at him, an ache of despair beginning to build deep in her stomach. “I saw the movie.” Sam rubbed his forehead, unimpressed, but she ignored that and grabbed his hand. “Sam, he dies! In the movie, Thomas Andrews dies! Is that true in real life? He doesn’t wear his life belt or get into a boat?” Her heart clenched, as she thought of that smile and those hands…

Sam jerked his hand back, irritated, and began to cough. He wearily got up and moved to the bed. Casey poured some hot water into a cup with the herbs and brought it to him, her thoughts jumbled.

“Tell me, Sam. Is that what happens?”

Sam nodded, sipping the tea and looking very sad. “He was one of my childhood heroes. I studied him a lot when I was twelve or so. I can’t believe you went to school in Belfast for two years and never knew about this. The Titanic is a big deal to this city.”

Casey shrugged, miserable. “So are the pubs. Where do you think I spent most of my time? Sam…” she hesitated, then went on, “I’ve never met anyone like this guy. He was so kind… if he’s the same person, I…” She looked away, biting her lip in misery, “I can’t let him die. I have to warn him.”

Sam’s short bark of laughter degenerated into a coughing fit. Casey rescued the cup and waited for him to recover, worry eating at her. Sam was in bad shape and now she had to worry about Thomas Andrews as well. She didn’t trust the doctors in this time, but what was she supposed to do to help Sam? They needed money, whether for medicine, or a doctor, or both. That job would come in handy at a time they really needed it. It also gave her the opportunity to work with Andrews and maybe figure out a way to warn him about his future.

Sam tried to speak and finally was able to rasp out a few sentences. “You can’t ‘warn’ him. He’ll never believe you. The most you can try to do is make some suggestions that will get him thinking along certain lines.”

“Like more life boats?” Casey asked.

Sam waved his hand. “Everybody harps on the life boats. Sure, more would have been, or would be, great, but how about keeping the ship from sinking to begin with? Andrews supervises the drafting department, he’s in charge of the ship’s design. Let me think about it. My mind is too muddled right now. But listen, Casey,” he leaned forward, gripping her arm, “You keep your wits about you and your eyes open. This is June ’06. I don’t think they’ve even thought of building these ships, yet. You can’t warn him about a ship that isn’t even on paper.”

“Oh.” That brought Casey up short. She thought about what she knew of the Titanic, which wasn’t much. “Let’s see, it sinks in 1912, right?”

Sam nodded. “Hits the iceberg just before midnight on 14 April. Sinks in a couple of hours.”

“I guess it takes a few years to build a ship like that. When do they start?”

“Soon, I imagine,” Sam replied, coughing again. “Seems to me they start on the plans sometime next year. Let me think about it,” he said again. “It’s just too much to remember all at once.”

Casey nodded, worried at his weakness–all the coughing was wearing him down. She blinked away tears and tucked the blanket around him. “Get more rest, okay? I’ll have to be out of here pretty early. Will you be all right for breakfast?”

He patted her hand. “I’ll get through. Keep in mind that I’ve got sixty years of good medical care behind me. I should be in pretty good shape, generally. I’ll shake this.”

The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 5

Chapter 5

May 1906

The hours were long and the pay was negligible, but on occasional warm days, the job of “free-lance contractor” had its pleasurable moments. Casey sat on a bench in the Botanic Garden, with her legs tucked up under her, hands resting on her knees. She stared at her tree, letting the sun warm her back, listening to birds sing. The little oak seemed unfazed by its backward trip through time, and had grown a couple of inches over the last few months. She came to see it as often as she could. Somehow, as long as the little tree was okay, Casey felt like she would be okay, too.

After a while, she tilted her face to the sun, sighed, replaced her cap and stood. She was hungry and had not made any money today. Almost none this week. Sam was not having any luck, either, and their rent was overdue. She knew they didn’t have it. Tomorrow, they would have to leave the boardinghouse, and their prospects for shelter were slim. Her stolen moment of peace over, Casey headed back into the market.

She had just stepped onto the walkway fronting the stores when a rock came hurtling past her, grazing her leg. She yelped and jumped back. The rock smashed into a shop door, a hail of stones close behind. Casey flattened herself against a building just as the yelling started, and she turned in dread to see a gang of men and boys coming up the street. Rocks were the least of their weapons: some of them carried cricket bats or torches, many had guns. They flaunted the weapons as the rocks flew. Several of the rioters entered a store, reappearing within moments, dragging two men with them. They threw the prisoners on the ground and kicked, while others swung at the shop’s window with a bat, sending glass flying into the street. A torch was waved at the shopkeeper, who fell to his knees in apparent supplication. Another shop was attacked just as a second gang appeared from a side street. They joined in the fray, two of them close enough to Casey to head for her.

“No papists! Papists go home!”

They were nearly at her side and she frantically waved her hands. “I’m Protestant! And American!”

A hand closed on the back of her neck and a face shoved itself in front of her eyes. “Wot’s yer name?” came the demand.

“C-Casey. Casey Wilson.”

“Yer American?”

“Yes! Ow!” His hand had tightened on her neck.

“Come on, then. Be a good Protestant and give us a hand.” One of them thrust a bat into her hands and pointed at the shop next door. “That shopkeeper hires Catholics. Let him know he’s wrong to do that.”

As she stared at him, screams filled the air. A nearby house had been set ablaze and the occupants were streaming outside. Most of them were men and they had weapons too. The brawl distracted Casey’s tormenters. She dropped the bat and ran.

They were after her in an instant, rocks grazing her as she ran. She ducked down a side street just as a rock clipped her shoulder. Terror put speed to her feet as another rock landed in the middle of her back. She tripped forward, past training instinctively making her turn it into a forward roll. The roll caused the rest of her training to flood her muscles and she leapt to her feet, turning with a side snap to the boy just reaching her. Her foot connected with his thigh, knocking him down. Not slowing, she went for the next guy, with a forward snap to his chest that quite possibly broke a rib as he fell, unable to breathe. The two others behind them stopped short, unwilling to get within her range.

She narrowed her eyes, and her mouth twisted in contempt. “Help your friends. I’m going home.”

No one tried to stop her.

***

“I don’t get it!” she yelled at Sam later that afternoon. Mrs. Fitzsimmons had fussed over her bruises when she got home, and then had given Sam a piece of her mind for letting Casey run around town dressed as a boy and without any protection. Casey and Sam were in the little parlor now, waiting for dinner. “There must be some signal between people. They have to have this planned out. But how do they know who’s Catholic and who’s not? It’s not as if the Catholic’s have purple skin or feathers growing out of their heads!”

Sam just shook his head, torn between his anxiety over her safety and a fatalistic amusement that somehow, all of this was his fault. “I don’t know. I imagine word gets to them about where the Catholics are working. And I’m sure they have a signal.” He sat on the sofa and rubbed his face. “I’m just glad you’re all right. Thank goodness for that karate training.”

She sniffed. “My leg hurts like hell. I haven’t been practicing, you know.”

“Maybe you should.” He was despondent. “I didn’t make any money today, either. I don’t know where we’ll end up, but it will probably be a more dangerous area. I asked Mrs. Fitzsimmons if she could let you stay if you could help out around the house or with cooking. Even if she just gave you a cot in the basement. But she said she can’t.”

Casey was touched. “She probably gets that all the time. A certain amount of hardheartedness is necessary, I guess. But thank you for trying.”

“I don’t know where we’ll go.”

“We’ll find something.” She turned to the stairs, intent on putting on a skirt for dinner, and hoping her words were true.

***

They weren’t.

Hunger forced them to a charity meal at a church, for dinner the next night. Casey tried to be upbeat as they took their bowls of soup and bread to a long table. “I grew up in Berkeley. It’s not as if I’ve never seen homeless people. We’ll find a protected spot and sleep in our cloaks.”

But Sam refused to let her sleep outside. Desperate, he asked everyone around them where he could send Casey. Then he began going to other tables to ask. She tried to stop him, telling him that she’d be okay, but finally, she forced him to sit in an empty corner and listen to her.

“Jesus, Sam! Do you know what you’re doing?” She whispered furiously, hoping she wasn’t calling attention to them. “In the first place, you’re letting everyone know that we’re alone and helpless. They’ll see you as an old, weak man and me as a small, weak girl. You’re making us marks, do you understand?”

He stared at her, then closed his eyes. “Damn. I’m sorry. You’re right, it’s stupid.” His eyes snapped open. “But you need to be somewhere safe.”

She shook her head. “Not without you.” Despondent, she turned and sat next to him on the bench. “I’m afraid to go somewhere without you. What if I can’t find you again? I’m a single girl. What if they send me someplace like those laundries or something?” She looked up at him and winced at his astonished expression.

“I’m not suggesting leaving you, Casey.” He touched her hand. “You’re single, but you’re not alone. I’ll tell them I’m your guardian, just like we told Mrs. Fitzsimmons. I just want you someplace safe and warm for the night. We can meet up in the morning at a prearranged spot.”

A volunteer approached them, her hands full of dishes, her smile friendly. “Some are sayin’ you need a place for your daughter to stay,” she said to Sam. “Sometimes, there’s still room at the poorhouse. Might be that both of you can get in.”

***

They stayed for a week in the poorhouse, men on one side, women on the other. True to his word, Sam met Casey every morning at the door to the dining room, where they could pick up a bowl of porridge and day-old bread. Sam went out every day to look for work, and they put Casey to work cleaning in the kitchen. They wouldn’t let her go out on her own and she didn’t dare put on her boy clothes.

Between the two of them, they scraped enough money together to rent another room, smaller and meaner than the first boardinghouse. This one did not include board and there was no place to cook anything. Sam had hopes he could build a hot plate out of scrounged parts. Until then, they would eat cold food or try to get dinner at the charities.

Worst of all, Sam had picked up a virus in the crowded shelter. He coughed a lot, and had a low fever. He just couldn’t shake it, whatever it was, and Casey lived in fear of his illness getting worse. There was no running water in the building, and the water pipes outside worked only a couple of hours a day, and not at all on Sunday. It was a struggle to stay clean and almost impossible to clean their room. Casey looked for work, worry a constant companion.