Boston, 1912 - A Foreboding Departure for Noreen
as She Embarks on Her Voyage Home to Ireland
On a dreary day for the middle of August, my brother escorted me to Boston’s docks, where the new steamship Laconia waited to take me home. The ink of the clouds seemed a perfect cloak for my attire, a feathered black hat and a matching day coat that covered my gray silk dress. In retrospect, I wish I’d worn the blouse that matched my eyes. A vivid color might have thwarted the approaching evil. Or so I’ve often thought.
Well-ordered chaos enlivened the pier over which the Laconia loomed. You’ve traveled to distant lands, Tom, and surely recall such hectic scenes. The porters seemed—baggage smashers? Why, yes, that’s what some called the porters. Thank you, Tom. I’d forgotten that.
Under the direction of the baggage master, hordes of strong, unsmiling baggage smashers bustled between an endless line of arriving cabs and the hold of the ship, heaving a wide assortment of boxes and trunks like mine. Attached labels not only identified their owners, they also told the men which bags they were to stow below and which were to go to the staterooms. As you well know, a wise passenger oversaw the proper placement of his or her bags. Ned and I stayed with mine until a burly young man in his prime approached us.
“Albie Newley at your service,” he said in a baseborn English accent. “Traveling together? To Liverpool?”
Grateful for my brother’s presence, I looked away and let him speak. “My sister is only traveling as far as Queenstown, Mr. Newley. Please see that her bags are kept to the front.”
The porter nodded. “Albie will do, sir.” He reached for my trunk, bending to grip the handles on the sides. Abruptly, he cried out as if in pain and released the trunk.
Concern tightened Ned’s eyes. “Are you all right? It’s no more heavy than usual. The cab driver had no trouble with it.”
“It ain’t heavy, sir. It’s hot. I’d think it was out in the sun, but there ain’t no sun today.”
I gawked open-mouthed at the trunk that held nearly everything I owned. “I packed a box of matchsticks. Could they have ignited somehow?”
Ned crouched over the trunk. “Were the match heads white or red?”
I clearly envisioned the matches. “Red,” I said.
He touched the trunk, shook his head, and regained his stance. “I feel no heat. Even if I did, it wouldn’t be from the matchsticks unless they were made with white phosphorus. If they’re red, they’re made with red phosphorus. Perfectly safe.” He glared at Albie. “Perhaps another man can bring the case to my sister’s cabin.”
Albie rubbed his hands on his trousers. “Her cabin? I thought it was goin’ into the hold.”
“It’s clearly marked,” I said.
“Yes, miss. I see it now. I’ll bring it up for you.” He bent and gripped the handles again. “It’s fine now, but I swear it were hot before. Here, you two! Get the rest of the lady’s things.”
As a pair of porters approached, a rumble of thunder shook the air and triggered a startling notion. Could my stowaway have caused the spurt of heat? I’d told Ned nothing about him, nor would I. Alarmed, I watched Albie heft the trunk and maneuver it onto his back.
Then I chided myself. I’d suffered no harm nor felt any warmth when I’d handled the box of ashes. How could I? The child was dead, for heaven’s sake. The man must have imagined the heat. Perhaps he was a drinker, or off balance in some other way. Still, I worried.
Reluctant to let the trunk out of my sight, I bade Ned a sad farewell—I never did see him again—and followed the porters to my cabin.