Chapter 4: Harland and Wolff

Brynne stared at her reflection in the full-length mirror. Her dark hair was pulled up into a neat bun. She wore a navy pinstripe dress suit topped off with a similarly colored hat on her head. She looked herself over and hardly recognized herself in the Edwardian garb. It wasn’t really so bad as she’d expected. While she would probably never choose to wear an outfit like this, she couldn’t deny that it was kind of snazzy. The corset would take some getting used to, though.

She looked to Carmen, who stood behind her and slightly to her right. “What do you think?” Brynne asked her.

Carmen smiled. “I think you’ve got a ship to build,” she said.

xxx

Harland and Wolff didn’t look like much on the outside, but Brynne knew better. What was going on inside the three-story building was much more important than external appearances.

Directly inside the front entrance was a reception desk, where a young man sat, engrossed in a newspaper.

Brynne strode confidently up to the desk. “Excuse me,” she said to the man.

The receptionist looked up at her, breaking his gaze from the reading. He was a small-framed man with a pair of glasses on his nose. “Yes, ma’am?” he said. “How can I help you?”

“I’m here to see Mr. Thomas Andrews,” Brynne informed him.

xxx

“Are you quite certain that this … woman is the right person for the job?” Jeremy Bratt posed the question to Thomas Andrews, Harland and Wolff’s managing director and Jeremy’s boss. That Andrews, who usually devoted great attention to detail, would bring someone (a woman no less) in on something as important as Titanic without ever even meeting her was a difficult pill for Jeremy to swallow. “We really have no idea at all about who she is,” Jeremy continued. “After all, it was only by accident that her credentials found their way to the firm. Perhaps a trial period would be in order, sir?”

“No,” Andrews insisted. “I believe she’s more than qualified. She hasn’t had much experience in the way of shipbuilding, but the work that she has done is exceptional. I think she can significantly add to our efforts to design Titanic’s interior.”

The knock on the door put their conversation on hold. “Come in,” Andrews called out.

The door opened and a short man with glasses stepped into the office. It was the receptionist from downstairs. “Ms. Brynne Larence here to see you, sir,” the little man said.

Brynne stepped past the receptionist and into plain view. Jeremy’s jaw nearly dropped once he finally got a decent look at her. He hadn’t expected her to be so beautiful. This was a career woman, and from his experience with them, they weren’t of the attractive variety. Usually, they’d only turned to careers because they’d failed to find husbands to provide for them. Obviously, his previously held notions concerning career women would have to be altered.

The receptionist made a hasty exit, closing the door behind him. Andrews took Brynne’s hand and gently shook it. “Ms. Larence,” he greeted with a warm smile. “I’m Thomas Andrews, the managing director here. I’m so glad you could join us.”

“Thank you for having me,” Brynne replied. “It is incredible how things work their way out, isn’t it? I was sending those plans and drawings to my sister in England; how they ended up here is a world of mystery to me.” In all truth, Brynne knew exactly how they’d ended up at Harland and Wolff. Carmen had made sure this was where they would arrive.

“Fate has a way of seeing to it that things turn out the way they’re supposed to, and I’m glad it rang true this time,” Andrews said. “We need someone like you on our team.” He stepped aside. “I’d like you to meet Mr. Jeremy Bratt. He’ll be working with you on the interior designs.”

Jeremy reluctantly shook Brynne’s hand. “How do you do?” he greeted. Brynne Larence was attractive, yes, but the idea of working with her made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. The last thing he wanted was to lead some woman around by the hand all the while catering to her whims. He would never get any work done.

“You’re American,” Brynne noted with surprise. “I wasn’t aware that there were any other Americans working on the Titanic.” She took the opportunity to study the man before her. He was six feet tall, if not taller. He was a handsome man with broad shoulders and brown eyes. But there was something behind those eyes that was clearly not warm. Brynne would even go so far as to believe that the man was annoyed.

“I’ve been working with Titanic since nearly the beginning. That’s when I joined the firm,” Jeremy said.

“Jeremy, why don’t you show Ms. Larence around?” Andrews suggested. “Let her get a feel for the place.”

And so it begins, Jeremy thought bitterly.

xxx

“This is the drafting floor,” Jeremy said as he and Brynne entered a large room with rows of long tables, each occupied by men pouring over deck plans.

“It’s one of the larger ones I’ve seen,” Brynne commented. Her eyes migrated to easel at the back of the room, where an artist’s rendition of a completed Titanic was proudly displayed.

“There’s a lot of work that must be put into the ships we build here,” Jeremy said. “We have to ensure that we are able to accommodate enough architects.”

“Oh, I agree wholeheartedly,” Brynne concurred. “Any firm worth its weight in salt follows that rule. Even the very large firms. That doesn’t mean it won’t get crowded, though. I know that from experience.”

Jeremy looked at Brynne, surprised by her statement. “You’ve worked on the drafting floor before?”

“What architect doesn’t? I used to spend all my time on the drafting floor. Now, I usually work in my office.”

Brynne had just hit Jeremy with surprising facts of such magnitude that he found it difficult to digest it all at once. “You’re actually an architect?” he asked.

Brynne chuckled. “Of course. I wouldn’t be here if I weren’t. I’ve been in the field for about five years now.” Brynne stopped walking and studied him. “What gave you the impression that I wasn’t an architect?”

“I meant no insult,” Jeremy said. He swallowed, trying to think of the best way to dislodge his foot from his mouth. “It’s just that it has been my experience that there aren’t many women in our line of work. I assumed that the boundaries of your expertise lay at interior decorating. I see now that I have erred.”

“Don’t worry; no offense taken,” Brynne assured him. “I know I’m somewhat of an anomaly. All I require is that you let me do my job. If you do that, I assure you that you will not regret working with me.”

/\/\/

Two weeks later, Jeremy’s doubts about Brynne’s assurance were multiplying instead of diminishing.

“Why don’t we decorate this sitting room in the style of Louis Seize?” Brynne suggested, trying her best not to sound frustrated.

“We can’t do that,” Jeremy retorted.

“Why not?”

“Because we’ve already got a sitting room in Louis Seize,” Jeremy explained.

“What does it matter?” Brynne asked earnestly. “We aren’t going to be able to decorate every single room on board in a different style.”

“But that is the goal,” Jeremy reminded her. He sighed, already beyond the point of frustration.

“But it just isn’t feasible,” Brynne argued. She refused to lie down on this issue. “We’re going to have some repetition. There’s no way around it.”

Jeremy glared at Brynne. She had to be the most stubborn woman he’d ever known … but she was right. There just weren’t enough styles to go around so that they wouldn’t have to be repeated. “Alright,” Jeremy relented. “Louis Seize it is.”

“Very well,” Brynne said. “Shall we move on?”

“No,” Jeremy said. “Every time that we’ve come together to work out the details of the interior design, we’ve ended up disagreeing about everything. We’ve only been working for two weeks, but it has happened every time without fail. At this rate, we’ll never get done in time. The launch is tomorrow, and after that we’re on a very tight schedule. The directors are looking to launch by spring of next year. We must compromise.”

Brynne nodded appreciatively. “I’m glad you realize that,” she said.

Jeremy looked at Brynne again, amazed. The woman was incorrigible.

/\/\/

The morning of May 31, 1911 brought a flurry of activity to Belfast. By noon, more than 100,000 people had gathered along the River Lagan to bear witness as Titanic was released from her slip into the river.

After the launch, distinguished guests retreated to the Harland and Wolff boardroom for a private lunch hosted by Lord and Lady Pirrie. All other guests went to the Grand Central Hotel in Belfast along with 90 members of the press.

Brynne, sitting beside Jeremy, took a sip of her water. “Is it customary here for a ship to be launched without a champagne ceremony?” she asked him.

“I don’t know,” Jeremy said. “I didn’t attend Olympic’s launch, and I wasn’t with the firm before work was begun on Titanic. I really hadn’t given it much thought until just now, when you brought it up. I don’t really think it matters whether there was a champagne ceremony. It doesn’t mean that it was an unsuccessful launch.”

“No, I never meant to imply that it did,” Brynne said. “It was only an observation.” She looked away from Jeremy and saw a photographer standing right in front of their table. And he looked as if he were ready to flash his bulb. Brynne quickly turned her face away from the camera. “No,” she insisted. “No picture, no picture!” Having her picture published in any paper, even a small one, would be potentially disastrous to her mission. It would provide concrete evidence that she’d been there, and that would be bad for innumerable reasons.

Jeremy regarded Brynne with utter confusion, but he told the photographer to comply with her request. “The lady doesn’t want her picture taken,” Jeremy told him. “Why don’t you move along to another?”

The photographer appeared to be as confused as Jeremy at Brynne’s response, but he obliged and moved away from the table. Once he was gone, Jeremy turned to Brynne. “What’s the matter?” he asked her. “Most people would love to have their picture in the papers.”

“I’m not most people,” Brynne said quietly.

“I’m beginning to see that,” Jeremy said, eyeing Brynne curiously.

/\/\/

In the following months, Jeremy and Brynne’s workload increased considerably as the countdown to sailing day ensued. They still had their disagreements, but the need to finish in time overshadowed their differences, and they were able to work through them. In September, the date of Titanic’s maiden voyage was officially set for April 10, 1912.

The months leading up to that date were a flurry of activity, and April arrived in seemingly no time. With its arrival, Brynne and Jeremy dutifully boarded Titanic with Andrews and six other Harland and Wolff employees on April 2nd to take part in the ship’s sea trials, which lasted only 12 hours.

By 8 p.m., the trials had ended, the Titanic had been officially handed over to White Star, and the ship was ready to set sail for Southampton. The sun was setting while Brynne stood at the bow of the ship, looking out at Belfast Lough and the Irish Sea beyond. She was so entranced by the view that she didn’t hear Jeremy walk up behind her.

“It’s beautiful out here, isn’t it?”

Brynne whirled around, completely surprised to find Jeremy standing behind her. “Sorry,” Jeremy said. “I didn’t mean to startle you. Mind if I join you?”

“Not at all,” Brynne said. Jeremy stepped up to the rail and stood beside Brynne. “I can’t believe I’m actually here,” she said.

“On the Titanic?” Jeremy questioned.

Brynne looked at Jeremy. She was speaking of her experience in this time period as a whole, but of course, Jeremy wouldn’t know that. “Yes, on the Titanic,” she said. “This is the largest ship the world has ever seen, and I helped bring her into existence. The very idea is … remarkable.”

Jeremy caught himself gazing at her and promptly looked to the water after scolding himself. “I’m very glad that you’ve been a part of all this,” he told her. “Even taking into consideration all the rough patches we encountered. It really wouldn’t have been the same without you. And she wouldn’t have turned out nearly as good as she did if you hadn’t been here.”

In spite of Brynne’s efforts not to beam from ear to ear, she did. Jeremy Bratt had just paid her one of the very few compliments that he rarely doled out to anyone, least of all, Brynne. “Thank you,” she said. She turned to him again. “I told you that if you let me do my job, you wouldn’t regret working with me.”

Both Brynne and Jeremy became aware of the peculiar sensation of movement. The wind began to beat against their faces.

“Are we moving?” Brynne asked.

“I believe so,” Jeremy replied. “It is after 8, after all. We need to be in Southampton by midnight tomorrow.”

“This is incredible … ” Brynne said. “I’m standing at the bow of the Titanic. I don’t think I’ll ever experience something quite like this again.”

“Sure you will,” Jeremy said, leaning over and resting his elbows on the railing. “It won’t be long before they start laying down the keel for the Gigantic.”

Brynne avoided Jeremy’s gaze and continued to look out at the water. She was so sure that her eyes would betray her if she looked at him, and then he would know that she was hiding something. “I know,” she said. “But it won’t be the same as this exact moment. There isn’t anything like the very first time.”

“Well, like I said before – Gigantic will probably be on its maiden voyage within the next two years,” Jeremy said. “Maybe that experience will surpass even this one.”

Brynne finally turned to Jeremy. She contemplated telling him that she wouldn’t be around for Gigantic, but before she could open her mouth again, one of the other workers from Harland and Wolff approached.

“I just wanted to let you know that they’re starting to serve dinner in the crew saloon,” he said.

“Thanks, we’ll be right there,” Jeremy said.

The young man nodded and left them again. Jeremy turned to Brynne and proffered his arm for her. She looped hers through his, and they left the railing.

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