I. The Ship of Dreams
Disclaimer: I own nothing! For the origins of all characters and events, please consult James Cameron's Titanic first, historical fact second. See References for more information.
My frustrations with fanfiction: Okay, neither extra spaces nor asterisks nor horizontal lines are giving me the extra spaces for scene breaks that I want, and will desperately need in later chapters. In a last ditch effort, I'm just putting in "(line)". Sorry.
Condensed "thank you" A/N: For all who have subbed/favorited, those e-mail alerts brighten my day! Love you guys! Hope you're enjoying the story! As for my reviewers, THANK YOU SO MUCH. More specific thanks are in the References (ch. 14.) I still welcome reviews or PM's on the story- short or long, praise or critiques. I may have hit "Complete" months ago but honestly, it's still a work in progress!
Wednesday, 10 April, 1912
My dearest Nellie,
Though we were working down to the last minute, (and then some,) I must say that Titanic's send-off was nothing short of dazzling. Thousands came down to the docks only to watch and wave. The passengers boarding were often heard gasping in awe. I saw several small children become distressed in the hubbub on deck, and I was relieved that our Elba did not have to endure such a trying day. Nonetheless, I wish you both could have been here; perhaps we shall make a holiday of Britannic's maiden voyage in a few years.
By the time you read this, you will have heard about our close call with the SS New York. Fortunately, we aboard Titanic were quite safe. Indeed, I was more concerned for the damage the New York might have sustained, had she hit. Between this near collision at Southampton, and the need for tenders at Cherbourg tonight and Queenstown tomorrow, I admit that I look forward to the day when docks are redesigned to better accommodate ships of the Olympic class's size.
I have much to do and much to plan during this voyage. Yet I promise I will take a little time every day to write to you, my love. When I return home, I want you to read these ramblings and feel as if you were here with me all along. Know that I love you with all my heart and I miss you every day.
Send Elba her daddy's love.
Moments before the noon departure from Southampton, Thomas Andrews slipped away from the promenade where Captain Smith and other prominent men personally greeted the first-class passengers. Thomas's job description for the next three weeks was quite convenient. He was to carefully note Titanic's performance and log any suggestions for improvement- anything at all, from the color of the deck chairs to the rivets holding together the very ship. Therefore, he could roam his prized creation freely, and excuse his absence from stifling first-class niceties on the grounds of "work."
He went down to the engine rooms. The rhythmic churning of endless rows of forty-foot reciprocating engines was just the thing to temper his nervous energy. He spent much of his time taking notes and speaking with the ship's engineers, but he also stole away a few moments on the catwalk, just taking it all in. Even in the depths of the ship, with no outside view, there was an obvious sensation that they were moving. Somehow, one could sense the push of Southampton Water rushing past the hull. The hum of the engines vibrated the grate beneath Thomas's feet.
A foreman came up from the boiler room with some minor questions, and Thomas offered to accompany an engineer in going down and taking a look. The heat was intense, the air dense with soot. But Thomas relished this environment, and ended up taking a full page of careful notes in the boiler rooms alone. After all, this was the place from which his ship acquired her very lifeblood!
She was in motion once more, no longer on trial runs or on the quiet delivery trip from Belfast to Southampton. This was now her maiden voyage. She had come to life. Thomas's most ambitious imaginings, as a young boy in a handmade rowboat on the lough thirty years ago, were coming to life.
The press had already given Titanic many epithets. Thomas only liked some of them, and there was just one that he really loved: "the ship of dreams." For indeed she was. The third class passengers' dreams of starting life over again in a New World; the more prosperous passengers' dreams of making their week-long Atlantic crossing in state-of-the-art comfort and style; and Thomas's dream of crafting a beautiful, innovative vessel that could make so many others' dreams a reality…
When he'd taken three pages of careful notes in both the boiler rooms and engine rooms, and his nerves had eased to a grand and steady joy, he ascended to the passenger decks again. His pocket watch read 3:30. That long? They were halfway to Cherbourg already! No wonder his hands around the watch were tinged with soot.
Children peeked out of doorways in a third-class hallway on G Deck, staring at him curiously. The suit coat draped over his arm, his fine waistcoat and silk tie, his expensive pocket watch and notebook, all belied the fact that he was not a common worker- even if he'd clearly just spent considerable time amongst men shoveling coal.
He smiled and waved. "Afternoon to ye, children. Is the ship to yer liking?" he asked. They nodded shyly. He continued on his way, taking a back route up to his suite, deftly avoiding the Grand Staircase until he could make himself look more presentable.
"Mr. Andrews! How are the boilers running today?"
Of course, taking the route less traveled by passengers often meant taking the favored route of crew, and Thomas was not surprised to run across Captain Smith in a hall on D deck. "Just grand, sir," he answered. The older gentleman's blue eyes shone with mirth as he took in Thomas's disheveled appearance, his fine linen dress shirt damp and smudged, his face flushed, his wavy brown hair turned curly in the steam. Surely that's how Smith knew to ask about the boilers.
"I'm headed to the smoking room for a bit before greeting the passengers at Cherbourg. Would you care to join me?"
"I'm sorry, Captain, but I need to wash up. Then I was planning to visit second-class before dinner, ask around for any troubles they've had getting settled in."
"You will ask the first-class passengers the same, of course?"
"Of course. But I'll see them at dinner tonight, and I figure they won't be shy with their comments then."
Smith let out a short, booming laugh. "Very true! Some days I'd rather face a press conference in New York than the likes of them! Although, speaking of New York…" The captain paused at a turn in the hallway. "I trust you noticed back at Southampton when the engines were briefly reversed?"
"I assumed there was some minor trouble in leaving the harbor."
Smith gave a crisp nod. "Yes, very minor- for us at least. Your ship's wake was big enough to snap the moorings of the SS New York. She nearly hit us at one point."
Thomas frowned. "Nearly?"
"Her stern was within ten feet of our hull before the tugboat pulled her back. She would have hit well before then, if we hadn't done some clever maneuvering. Not that it would have hurt Titanic at all, what with those 'unsinkable' compartments, eh?" And with that, Smith turned on well-polished heel and headed for the smoking room. Thomas continued up to his stateroom.
On the one hand, Thomas was grateful to have an experienced captain, unflappable in the face of averted disaster. On the other hand, while the watertight compartments were a tremendous safety advancement, they certainly wouldn't have prevented a delayed departure if Titanic had collided with another ship. He wished Smith would show a little more caution, especially after that incident that occurred under his watch with Olympic last year…
Not to mention, the boiler room workers in the breached compartment could have suffered severe steam burns, or even drowned. The construction of Titanic had cost nine shipyard workers their lives. Thomas would be relieved if she made it through as many voyages as possible without costing any more.
He arrived in his stateroom and shut the door. Before undressing, he sat at his desk, which had sleek modern lines and was made of fine mahogany. The desk was very large- and by design. There needed to be ample space for working on the ship blueprints. Thomas thought about unrolling a blueprint from a leather case right now, but decided against it. He gazed out the window. Beyond the smooth new glass, he had a portside view of the covered A-deck promenade, then choppy sea and grayish sky.
He pulled out a piece of White Star Line stationery and wrote a quick note to his wife Helen (nicknamed Nellie.) Nothing fancy, just a few things he wished he could share with her right now. He even lightened his account of the New York incident, like he might if she were sitting here with him. Granted, if she were here, she would see right through him and get the real story anyway…
The only purpose for such a note was it gave him an excuse to think of his darling wife and beautiful baby daughter for a few moments. This little note wasn't really worth posting at Queenstown, so it's not like it would reach Belfast before Thomas himself returned home.
The French shoreline came into view, but they would have to weigh anchor some distance offshore. Titanic's keel extended too far below the waterline for Cherbourg's docks; her next batch of passengers would be brought aboard by tenders. But these harbor hassles were more or less expected for a ship of hersize. Out in the open sea, nothing would stand in Titanic's way. That would be the fun part, and it was less than a day away now.
Thomas pulled out his pocket watch, absentmindedly rubbing it against a clean spot on his shirtsleeve. Only one more day…