The best jobs in 1911 Belfast are in the shipyards, but Donal Gallagher’s pay packet at Harland and Wolff doesn’t stretch far enough. He needs someone to share his rented room; fellow ship-builder Jimmy Healy’s bright smile and need for lodgings inspire Donal to offer. But how will he sleep, lying scant feet away from Jimmy? It seems Jimmy’s a restless sleeper, too, lying so near to Donal…
In a political climate turned volatile, Jimmy fears he’ll have to choose sides. He’d do anything to keep his Donal safe, even emigrating. Will shoveling coal on the ship nicknamed The Pride of Belfast make a new beginning for them, or the end?
5 stars from Erastes at Speak Its Name
Excerpt: Donal agus Jimmy
Donal turned back the way he’d come, gazing toward the shipyard. Enormous even at the distance of miles, the Arrol Gantry’s girders caught enough of the evening’s sunlight to shimmer. One half of the gantry looked empty, though Donal knew it was not—the ship within was still in the keel-and-ribs stage, only half plated. The other side was full and beyond full, though tomorrow it would be empty again. After a busy two years, Harland and Wolff’s Ship 401 would meet the water for the first time.
Not, Donal thought with satisfaction, that it would be ready for any voyage. He had far too much work to do first. He, and of course the thousands of others who worked at the yard, would have many months of steady work and steady pay before that ship would leave the Belfast Lough, like her sister, Ship 400, had done, just yesterday.
Donal and a few others watched for the Olympic’s return from her sea trials. Four funnels and upper decks moved magically past terraces of houses, the rest of the ship and its tugs too low in the water to be seen.
“D’ ye fancy taking the grand tour tomorrow?” asked the only stranger in a sea of familiar faces. Donal glanced over, liking what he saw a bit too much—reddish gold hair beneath a flat cap peeking out just a little farther than Donal’s did, and him overdue for a barbering. That hair had grown closer to the stranger’s collar over the last month—Donal had watched from the pay line every Friday for weeks now. The man might have been there far longer, but Donal had only noticed him recently, standing two lines over waiting for a pay packet that had to begin with “H”. Twelve thousand men drew their wages every week at Harland and Wolff—if they didn’t work in the same shop or on the same section of a ship, Donal would never meet most of them. Sailing through the queue, he’d had something to dream about. He dragged his eyes back to the ship, which was drawing nearer the gantry.
“Do I fancy spending two days’ pay to see a ship I’ve been in and out of for months?” Donal lifted his brow at the absurdity.
“Two?” The stranger regarded him frankly, which made Donal want to squirm. “I’d have thought– “
He chopped off the appraisal of Donal’s status in the yard, though what he’d said already was both rude and flattering. The five shilling fee would have been the best part of two days’ wages for an unskilled laborer, but part of Donal’s skills were in ciphering and forethought. “One for the tour, one for the wage they’d dock me for missing work. Ye must figure that in too.”
The stranger laughed. “That would account for the lightness of my pay packet last week. ‘Twas a dear cup of tea, then, and all for me getting thirsty before end of day.”
“Boiling can,” Donal recited, glumly noting the offense as it would appear in the shipyard’s fine book. “Half day’s wage.” He’d made the mistake but once—the drain on his pocket had been painful.
“Quarter day only, but still, it should have been whiskey for the price.” The stranger licked his lips, a gesture Donal caught from the corner of his eye and regretted seeing. His sturdy work trousers would only disguise his reaction so much—he stared fiercely at the barely moving funnels instead.
“So, you’ve been aboard so often you’re weary of the leviathan?” the stranger teased. “Even if it has such wonders as hot water from a tap? Or so I hear, scarce believable though it is.”
“Only in first class, but quite true.” Donal tried to imagine what life would be like with such a thing. He could barely imagine en suite facilities; his own room had a thunder mug that he never used, preferring to brave all but the worst storms to go out back to the small house, though the ewer and bowl were serviceable enough for washing and shaving. “But even second and third class cabins have washstands with running water; all three of the Olympic class ships will.”
“Pull the other one.” The view blocked by another tram coming up the street, the stranger gave off looking at the distant ship. “How do ye know?”
Given no choice about eye contact if he were to maintain his manners, Donal tried to look at the stranger’s nose instead, for if he were to notice how blue his companion’s eyes were in the soft evening light…”I cannot tell you how many washstands I’ve put on that ship, so if the fitters have done their work, the passengers could have as much water inside the ship as outside it.” Donal could tell exactly how many washstands, both first class and second, he’d made, but shouldn’t brag, and the stranger’s nose was short with just the hint of an upturn…
“Sounds a dreadful idea, the way you’ve put it.” Cripes—now he was smiling, laughing, and Donal wanted to kiss him there and then, but what a scandal that would be, so he laughed instead.