Not on the Gallows
by Harry Turtledove
Only a few minutes after coming out of the tunnel under the Hudson River, the train
pulled into Penn Station. Lucas van Haltren had the window seat. He stared like a rube at the new
station's imposing classical bulk. He knew he was staring like a rube, but he couldn't help it.
"Will you look at that?" he said to his wife, who was on the aisle. "I mean, will you just
look at that? The things they can do nowadays!"
"I'd have an easier time seeing if you'd lean back a trifle," Stella van Haltren answered
"I am leaning back." Lucas sounded slightly injured. As soon as he'd hit thirty, he'd
started putting on some good, healthy flesh. Now, ten years later, he had a double chin and a
more than respectable potbelly. He also had more and more gray hairs in his bushy
mustache--too many, he'd decided at last, to keep plucking them out with a tweezer.
Despite his bulk, Stella did manage to get some kind of look out the window. "Well, you
can see why New York is the big city, all right," she said.
Still slightly injured, Lucas answered, "Hey, Pittsburgh is a big city, too." Their home
town was a big city. In the 1910 census, it had come in at more than half a million people. But
that didn't make Stella wrong. New York was the big city. It boasted more than four and a half
million. Except for London, it was the biggest city in the world.
"Yes, dear." Stella was more deflating than anything England had managed to do against
the zeppelins that raided Great Yarmouth this past January.
The train chuffed to a stop. "Penn Station!" a conductor shouted. "You're coming into
New York City! Penn Station!"
Lucas wanted to laugh. There couldn't be much doubt about where a traveler was, not
here. Even he had to admit that. All the same, he said, "The limeys like Pittsburgh just fine. They
wouldn't be paying our way across the Atlantic if they didn't fancy what the company turns out."
"Yes, dear." This time, Stella sounded warmer. And well she might. Her husband was a
mover and shaker with the Monongahela Spring and Screw Company. Nobody thought much
about springs and screws, but everybody needed them. England sure did. Here in April 1915,
caught up in the murderous madness tearing Europe to pieces, she needed more than she could
make for herself. And so she reached out to smoke-belching factories across the sea--factories
like the ones that belonged to the Monongahela Spring and Screw Company.
Lucas and Stella left their car. Signs pointed them to the baggage-claim area. Penn Station
was as modern as next week. Stella took the claim checks from her handbag. The colored man
who gave them their suitcases looked almost like an admiral. He wore a cap with a patent-leather
bill and a dark blue jacket festooned with gold braid and brass buttons. Lucas gave him twenty
cents--a dime for each suitcase. "Obliged, suh," he baggage man said, and touched the cap's bill
in a not-quite-salute.
The suitcases' weight made Lucas van Haltren grunt. Along with clothes, he had business
papers in there. He wasn't sure how long he and his wife would stay in England. Anything they
ran short of, they could buy over there.
He waddled out to the curb, breaking trail for Stella. "The air smells so clean!" she
exclaimed when they got outside.
"Not so many steel mills here," Lucas answered. Coal smoke shrouded Pittsburgh in
"Danny would like it," Stella said wistfully. They had two boys. John was nine, Danny
seven; they were staying with Stella's sister's family while their parents went overseas. Danny
wheezed and coughed all the time. Lucas knew the filthy air in Pittsburgh wasn't good for his
son, but that was where he worked, so what could you do?
Eight or ten taxicabs waited for fares outside the station. Some were French autos, others
Model Ts. They were all painted bright yellow, even if God and Henry Ford hadn't made the
Model Ts that way. The first car in line was a Ford. The bearded Jew driving it hopped out and
helped Lucas wrestle the suitcases aboard.
"Vere to?" he asked in accented English.
"I want to go to the Sherman Square Hotel--Broadway and Seventy-first," Lucas said as
he and Stella boarded the taxi.
"Hokay." The Jew started the taxi meter. It clicked as the clockwork inside spun into
motion. Lucas eyed it with interest. In Pittsburgh, you still dickered a fare with the hackman
before you set out. Not here. New York City really was modern. He wondered whether the meter
included any of his company's screws or springs.
They went up along the Hudson for a while. When they passed Pier 54, Lucas smiled.
Cunard and White Star liners sailed from there. They had a ticket on the ship that left the first of
May. She sat at the pier now, taking on cargo. She was enormous, close to four city blocks long,
her four stacks red topped with black.
"A week after we pull out, we'll be in London," Lucas said. "Only a week! Isn't the
twentieth century wonderful?"
The taxi ride cost $1.15. Lucas gave the driver a silver dollar, a quarter, and, after a
moment's pause, a nickel. "T'ank you muchly," the man said, and helped him get the luggage out
of the Model T.
Twelve stories tall, the hotel was square as its name. The first three floors were faced
with gray stone, the upper nine with red brick. The effect was odd, but not displeasing. A trolley
line ran past the building, which would come in handy for getting around more cheaply than by
While Lucas and the cabbie dealt with the suitcases, Stella gave a short-pants kid with a
pile of newspapers a penny. She carried it into the Sherman Square while Lucas lugged the cases.
"Here, sir, how's about I take charge o' those?" said a bellhop in a red suit and pillbox
cap. Resigned, Lucas doled out some more dimes.
He checked in. The hotel was three dollars a night, which distressed his thrifty soul. But
he wasn't paying the bill. Neither was his company. It would go to the limeys who were shipping
him to London. Not for the first time, he reminded himself to save all his receipts. Too late, he
remembered he should have got one from the driver. Well, he'd make a note of the expense and
hope his customers would accept it.
Their room was on the ninth floor. The elevator worked smoothly. The room was nice
enough, with private bath and a fine view of the city. Lucas didn't think it was three bucks nice,
but everything in New York seemed overpriced. Well, everything except the paper. You couldn't
get any cheaper than one red cent.
Not so interested in surveying their surroundings from on high, Stella flipped through the
Times. She stopped at an inside page. "Lucas," she said, worry in her voice, "Lucas, look at this."
"What?" He turned away from the window. The first thing he saw near her pointing
finger was an advertisement for the liner on which they'd booked tickets. "Are you unhappy
"Not that. This," she said impatiently, and showed him the box of text by the ad. It was in
tiny type, too small for him to make out at any distance. Realizing as much, she read it aloud:
"'Notice! Travellers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war
exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war
includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by
the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or of any of her allies,
are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on ships of
Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.' It's signed 'Imperial German Embassy,
Lucas laughed. "You know what I think, sweetie? I think they're trying to scare folks like
us off English ships, that's what."
"They're doing a good job, too," Stella said. "They wouldn't put a notice like this in the
paper if they didn't mean it."
"Sure they would. It's nothing but a bluff. A waddayacallit. A ruse of war, I mean," Lucas
said. "Listen, an ocean liner can outrun any U-boat the Kaiser ever made. Those babies are what
they call auxiliary cruisers. They can mount guns on 'em and take 'em out to fight."
He sounded very sure of himself. He was, as he often was, very sure of himself. He still
didn't fully reassure his wife. She said, "I hate to think what would happen if you were wrong."
"Only I'm not wrong. I'm right." Lucas laughed again. "And besides, you know what
else? If you were born to drown, you won't die on the gallows. But if you were born to hang,
you'll never die at sea. How many people do you know who've told you I was born to hang?"
He did get a smile from Stella then--a small one, but a smile. "Oh, maybe a couple," she
"A couple of dozen, you mean," Lucas van Haltren said, not without pride.
"You said it," Stella answered primly. "I didn't."
"You're darn tootin', I did." Lucas looked around the hotel room. "And you know what
else I say, babe?"
"Nobody here but us chickens, that's what. John and Danny are back in Pittsburgh,
hundreds of miles away. How's about we take advantage of it?" He started chivvying her toward
the bed, as if she really were a chicken.
"In the daytime? Before lunch?" She sounded scandalized.
"Who's gonna know?" Lucas retorted. "Who's gonna know what we do in the cabin,
either, or in London? It'll be a second honeymoon, like. London beats the heck out of Niagara
Falls. As a matter of fact, so does New York City."
"Think so, do you?" But Stella was really smiling now. She let him draw her down to the
mattress. Nobody knew but them.
They had more than a week to spend in New York before their ship sailed. They took in a
game at the Polo Grounds. The Yankees beat the Senators, 4-0. Even the great Walter Johnson
proved mortal; that his team made three errors behind him didn't help. It was the first American
League game Lucas had ever seen.
"What do you think of the ballpark?" he asked Stella as they filed out.
"It's enormous, but I like Forbes Field better--it's a nicer place to see a game," she said.
He found himself nodding. He liked the Pirates' park better, too, and he didn't think it was just
hometown pride. Both of them, though, were new concrete-and-steel structures. Unlike the
wooden firetraps they'd replaced, they seemed good for the next fifty or a hundred years.
Broadway beckoned, too. Lucas and Stella saw The Hyphen, which had just opened at the
Knickerbocker. From the outside, the theatre seemed almost as big--and almost as square--as
their hotel. It did boast a good many more light bulbs around the entrance.
The play seemed ripped straight from the headlines. Agents from the Vaterland tried to
talk an old German-American (whose dual status gave rise to the title) working at a munitions
plant in a Pennsylvania town into blowing it up so it couldn't keep selling shells to the Kaiser's
Despite their worst efforts, the agents couldn't get the old man or his son to send the
plant--and the town--up in smoke. An aeroplane got into the plot. So did blueprints stolen from
"Well," Lucas said when they left the theatre, "not like nothing was going on there,
"I guess not!" Stella said. "The fellow who wrote it had enough stuff for six or eight
plays, not just one. He tried to jam half a gallon into a pint bottle, if you ask me. Who was he,
"His name is . . . ," Lucas had to look in the program to find it, "Justus Miles Forman."
"Never heard of him," his wife said.
"Me neither," Lucas agreed. "And if that's the best he can do, I know why we've never
heard of him, too."
"The Germans in the play--," Stella shook her head. "They wouldn't stop at anything,
would they? It makes me worry some more about sailing in an English ship. And the play's set in
Pennsylvania! That could have been a Monongahela Spring and Screw factory."
"No, it couldn't," Lucas said. "Springs and screws and do a whole bunch of things, but
they hardly ever explode. C'mon, honey! It was just a play, and a darn silly play, too. A
mellerdrammer." He mispronounced the word with malice aforethought, and with relish. "You
can't take anything like that seriously."
By the look on her face, Stella wanted to tell him she not only could, she did. Or maybe
that was just a trick of the lights outside the Knickerbocker, because all she did say was, "I hope
"You bet I am!" No, Lucas had never lacked for confidence. He didn't aim to start now.
For that matter, Stella had plenty of confidence of her own. She sallied forth to Fifth
Avenue, the center of all things fashionable. "I want to look my very best in London," she said.
After a tiny pause for consideration, she added, "I need to look my very best in London."
"Yeah, well, just remember we can only pack so much stuff into our suitcases," Lucas
"I remember," she said. "Whatever doesn't go with us, I'll just send back to Pittsburgh."
"Holy cow!" Lucas van Haltren rolled his eyes. "You've got all the answers, don't you?"
"No, but I've got that one, anyhow."
So Stella did battle with the most famous dress shops in the world--the most famous that
weren't in Paris or London. These days, though, Paris lay almost within range of German
artillery, while war turned London gloomy and gray. Fifth Avenue was still all it had ever been,
and maybe more besides.
Lucas liked looking at pretty women in pretty clothes. His interest in shopping for pretty
clothes, however, was only slightly greater than his interest in suicide. And so, while Stella
attacked the fashion district--whose northern edge lay regrettably close to their hotel--he waved
for a taxicab and rode down to Pier 54. He wanted a longer look at the steam-powered behemoth
that would carry his wife and him across the Atlantic.
Cranes swung plain, unmarked pine crates aboard the liner. The crates vanished into a
forward hold. The ship would carry them across the Atlantic, too. Since they were unmarked,
Lucas didn't, couldn't, know what they contained. He did know that they were about the right
size and shape to hold small-arms ammunition. The liner wasn't supposed to carry anything like
that. If she did, she would make herself a legitimate target for U-boats (though he still didn't
believe for a minute that one could catch her).
Of course, what a ship was supposed to carry and what actually went aboard often had a
very hazy relationship. How did those unmarked crates show up on the cargo manifest? That was
an interesting question, wasn't it? Another was who'd been paid not to look at them too closely.
Still another was how much he'd pocketed for staying myopic.
Lucas wasn't the only man watching those crates go from pier to ship. Standing only a
few feet away was a lean, sharp-nosed fellow with a bowler on his head. Something about him
seemed familiar, though Lucas was sure they'd never met.
The oddly familiar-looking stranger's head turned as he watched the crane revolve. When
Lucas saw him in profile, he blurted, "You're him!"
"I beg your pardon?" the man said, which was probably more polite than Lucas would
have been in the same circumstances.
"You're him," Lucas repeated. "The guy who wrote that play!" The man's beaky profile
was a clean match for the line drawing in the program. Lucas searched for the name, and felt
pleased with himself when he found it: "You're Justus Forman!"
"At your service, sir." The writer touched a forefinger to the brim of his hat. "You have
the advantage of me, I'm afraid."
"Oh! Sorry!" Lucas gave his own name. As the two men shook hands, he went on, "My
wife and me, we saw The Hyphen at the Knickerbocker the other night."
"Ah. And . . . ?" Forman waited expectantly.
Too late, Lucas realized he'd have to say something nice. He tried his best: "You sure
kept a lot of balls in the air there."
He must have done well enough, because Forman said, "You're kinder about it than most
of the critics were." He nodded toward the liner. "And now I'm heading for Europe to see what
the war's like at first hand. The Times is sending me as a special correspondent."
"How about that! I'm going, too--not to the Continent, just to London," Lucas said.
"Maybe we'll run into each other some more on board ship. Which class are you in?"
"First," Justus Forman answered. "The Times does things right."
"I guess so. It's got more dough than the Monongahela Spring and Screw Company,
anyway," Lucas said. "We're in second, Stella and me."
"Still not too bad." Forman took a step toward him and lowered his voice: "Tell you a
"Be my guest, pal. I'm all ears."
"Right after the play opened, I got a telephone call. Whoever was on the other end of the
line, he had a thicker German accent than I'd ever dare to write. He said it wasn't such a hot idea
to go sailing right now. Sailink, he said. Then he hung up."
"Trying to spook you," Lucas said. "Like that stupid advertisement the German embassy
took out. I saw it in your paper the day Stella and me got into town."
Forman smiled a sad smile. "I may belong to the Times for a while, but the Times doesn't
belong to me."
"Yeah, sure. You know what I mean, though." Lucas pointed toward the crane. "What do
you suppose is in those crates?"
"Funny you should ask, Mr. van Haltren. I wondered about that myself, as a matter of
fact," Justus Forman said. "And so, since I'm working for the Times these days, I asked a
customs inspector. Officially, they're parts for agricultural machinery--harvesters and reapers
and the like."
"Officially, huh? How about unofficially?" Lucas said. "Are they .30-06 reapers? Reapers
"Don't be silly," Forman answered. For a moment, just for a moment, Lucas van Haltren
thought, even hoped, Forman meant that what was listed as parts for agricultural machinery
really was parts for agricultural machinery. Then the other man finished, "England doesn't use
the .30-06 cartridge. The standard caliber over there is .303."
"Oh," Lucas said dully. After that, there didn't seem to be much else to say.
Stella kept staring at the liner as she and Lucas neared the landward end of the gangplank
that would take them aboard. "She's so big!" she exclaimed for about the third time that
morning. "I can't get over how big she is!"
Her husband had the facts at his fingertips. He was used to dealing with small, precise
things--exactly so many screw threads or spring twists per inch (or, when dealing with the
persnickety French, per centimeter). "She's 882 feet long," he said, as if he'd designed her
himself. "If you stood her on her nose, she'd be taller than any building ever made."
"Boats don't have noses," Stella said.
"She'd be almost as long as the Eiffel Tower is tall," Lucas went on, as if she hadn't
spoken. "She's got nine decks, and she's as tall as an eleven-story building--almost as tall as the
Sherman Square Hotel. And that's when she's not standing on her nose."
"Noses!" Stella turned hers up toward the clouds drifting across the blue sky.
"She's got three million rivets," Lucas said. "When they launched her, they greased the
way with more than twenty tons of tallow and soap and oil. She's got three screws, and they'll
push her up past twenty-one knots. So we won't have to worry about any darn U-boats making
trouble, no matter what the squareheads said in that silly notice of theirs."
"We'd better not!" Stella said.
In due course, they presented their tickets and passports to a purser's assistant. He
examined the tickets more closely than the travel documents. "All seems to be in order, aye," he
said in a clotted Scots burr as he returned the papers.
"Thanks. It's a shame we had to go to the trouble of getting passports to begin with,"
"It used to be looser, that it did. No one worried about anyone else for a long time," the
purser's assistant agreed. "But since this blasted war started, they've clamped down on things.
Who knows? If the twa of ye came aboard with no passports, you might be spying for the
Kaiser." He tipped Lucas a wink.
Lucas snorted. "Yeah, sure. Tell me another one. And you might be Queen Victoria in
"Not me, sir. I can prove it," the Scotsman said, deadpan. "I'm a guid six inches taller
than Her Majesty was, God bless her."
"Where do we go to get to our cabin?" Stella asked. She preferred practicality to
clowning more often than her husband did.
"Second-class entrance is aft of the fourth funnel, ma'am, one deck below the first-class
veranda." The purser's assistant pointed.
"So the first-class passengers can look down on us, huh?" Lucas said. The purser's
assistant chuckled. It was a joke, and then again it wasn't. First-class passengers would look
down on those who couldn't afford such pricey tickets whether they actually saw them or not.
Stella found another cogent question: "Will we sail on time?"
"Och, aye, ma'am." The purser's assistant looked shocked that she could doubt it.
"Captain Smith, he's a stickler for punctuality, he is. Always has been. Only time we were ever
late was our maiden voyage, three years ago now. A couple of boiler tubes burst when we were
getting up steam. We were supposed to be off at noon, but we couldn't go till half past. The
skipper, he was ready to bite nails in half, he was that angry. The boilermakers heard plenty when
we got back--you'd best believe they did."
"I do believe it." Lucas had had bosses yelling at him, as who had not? Sometimes he'd
deserved it, sometimes he hadn't, which was also par for the course. But it stung whether he had
or he hadn't.
"He was even more upset since he meant for that to be his last cruise," the purser's
assistant added. "It was, too. He retired. But he came back when the war started, so younger men
could serve in the Royal Navy."
"Good for him," Lucas said.
"Aye. He's a right corker." The purser's assistant paused. "Enjoy your voyage, sir,
ma'am." That was a plain signal for the van Haltrens to get moving so he could deal with the
passengers behind them.
When they got to their assigned entrance, Lucas looked up to the rich people's
veranda--so he thought of it, anyhow. He wondered if he would recognize anyone among the
swells staring down at the plebeians beneath them in more ways than one. To his surprise, he did.
There holding the painted rail stood Justus Forman and another man. Forman saw Lucas and
waved. "Good morning, sir!" he called.
"And the same to you, Mr. Forman," Lucas said. "This is my wife, Stella." To her, he
murmured, "It's the fellow who wrote The Hyphen."
The playwright doffed his derby. "Pleased to meet you, ma'am." He nodded to his
companion. "My friend is Charles Frohman, the producer. Like you, he's bound for England." He
told Frohman how he'd got to know Lucas.
"Nice to meet you both," Frohman said. He was about sixty, short and heavyset, with a
Jewish-looking face. "What line of work are you in, Mr. van Haltren?"
"My company makes screws and springs," Lucas said. It wasn't his company, not that
way, any more than the Times was Justus Forman's newspaper. If it were, he would have been up
there on the veranda himself. He added, "Good market for them these days over there."
"I'm sure there would be. Maybe we'll run into each other in London." Frohman touched
a finger to the brim of his fedora. He and Forman--odd that they had such similar
names--ambled away. The producer walked with a limp.
Lucas van Haltren grinned at his wife. "Stick with me, kid. You'll run into all kinds of
"Huh!" Stella said. "It's a good thing your Mr. Forman didn't ask me what I thought of
his play, or I would have told him."
"I bet you would have," Lucas said. "With both barrels, too."
"Maybe only one," Stella said. "After all, we'd only just been introduced." Laughing, they
went down the steel spiral staircase to find their cabin.
The cabin was two decks below the entranceway. It did boast a porthole above the flower-upholstered settee. Bunk beds were riveted to the opposite wall. Upper and lower both had steel
rails to keep anyone in them from getting tossed out when the Atlantic felt frisky. Next to the
bunks was a tiny, closetlike chamber that held the toilet. A washbasin with two sinks that tipped
up for drainage sat against the wall opposite the door.
"Well . . ." Lucas put the best face he could on things: "It's just for a week. After that,
London. We'll have plenty of room to swing a cat there."
"You couldn't even swing a kitten in here," Stella said, and then, "What are you doing?"
"Making sure the curtain that covers the porthole is nice and dark," he answered.
"Wouldn't want anybody going by on the walkway out there to be able to look inside. Not a
whole lot of space in those bunks, either, darn it. I figure we'll manage any which way."
"You are the most shameless man!" But Stella didn't sound altogether displeased.
The liner loosed several blasts from the steam whistles mounted on the forwardmost
funnel as she weighed anchor and pulled away from the pier. Before long, Lucas and Stella
sought out the second-class dining saloon. His spring lamb with mint jelly was good without
being spectacular. She had the haddock. After they ate, they went back to their cabin and closed
the door behind them.
Being the age he was, though, Lucas couldn't do as much along those lines as he had at
Niagara Falls some years earlier. He found the second-class smoking room, nor was he the only
middle-class gentleman to do so. Games of poker, auction bridge, and backgammon had already
started by the time he walked in. Several smiling fellows puffing away on pipes and cigars
invited him to join them at this table or that.
They were all cordial, so very cordial that a little alarm bell jangled in the back of his
mind. "I think I'll stick to my Havana for now, thanks," he said, and made a small production of
lighting up. A drummer who worked so very hard at being friendly was almost sure to be
peddling shoddy goods. And if you sat down to play cards with people you didn't know--and
with pasteboards you didn't know--you almost deserved the fleecing you'd get.
He had an easier time shaking off the gladhander who tried to talk him into a
backgammon game. He told the man, truthfully enough, that he'd never played the game.
"I'd be glad to teach you, friend," the Englishman said.
But his smile had a little too much dorsal fin in it to warm the cockles, or even the
mussels, of Lucas's heart. "I bet you would," he said. "You'd be glad to let me pay for my
education, too, wouldn't you?"
"Who, me?" The would-be backgammon hustler looked a good deal more innocent than
any real mortal was ever likely to be. Lucas chuckled and waved and blew a smoke ring up
toward the ceiling. He sat down on a sofa not far from a cuspidor. When he finished his cigar, he
tossed the butt into the brass vase with the flared mouth.
Watching his fellow bourgeois sports at play was as fine an amusement as he could find
outside of the cramped, narrow lower bunk. He spent a while doing it. Not everybody was as
cautious or as canny as he was. A fellow in a loud checked jacket clapped both hands to his head
in horror as one of the men who'd try to lure Lucas into a poker game raked in a big pot. The
loser didn't get up and walk away. He clenched his jaw, girding himself for the next hand. A
poilu in the trenches could have shown no greater determination.
The man with the ugly jacket lost again. He looked even more appalled. Lucas didn't
know that anything but chance was involved. He didn't know, and he didn't care to find out the
Stella wrinkled her nose when he walked back into the cabin. "I know where you've
been," she said.
He sniffed at his own sleeve. Sure enough, he'd brought the odor of the smoking lounge
back with him. "Does it bother you?" he asked. "I was in it for a while, so I pretty much stopped
"It's all right. I know what tobacco smells like." His wife sent him a sidelong glance. "Is
it like the smoking car on a train? Did you pick up a bunch of new dirty stories?"
"Sweetie, there are no new dirty stories." Lucas spoke with great conviction. "Julius
Caesar told the same ones you hear at the corner saloon. What they mostly do in the smoking
room is gamble."
"I believe that. Have you seen the notices about cardsharps they've stuck on everything
that doesn't move?"
"Didn't pay any attention to 'em, no. But you don't need to worry that the boys'll go
without shoes, either. Any time somebody tries extra hard to talk you into something, you'd
better believe he's not doing it for you. No, sirree, Bob--he s taking care of Number One instead.
It's like that in business, and it's like that at the card table, too."
"You make good sense." Coming from Stella, it was not the smallest praise. "I knew I
must have married you for some reason or other."
"Some reason or other, hey?" Lucas leered. "What was the other?"
"Oh, maybe you'll think of something," his wife said demurely.
On and on the great liner steamed, east and a little north. Every day put them nearly five
hundred miles farther from the New World, the peaceful world they'd always known, and five
hundred miles closer to the Old World, the world their ancestors had abandoned, the world
tearing itself to pieces in a vast spasm of industrialized murder, the world to which profits had
lured the executive from the Monongahela Spring and Screw Company.
Lucas van Haltren had had no trouble escaping the blandishments of cardsharps and
backgammon hustlers. Those were small temptations, ordinary temptations. He didn't lie down
with every streetwalker who chatted him up and lifted the hem of her dress to show him her
ankle, either. But if the lure was big enough, enticing enough . . .
The liner displaced some 45,000 tons. Not only was she bigger than any skyscraper ever
erected, she was also bigger than any dreadnought ever built. Next to the Atlantic, though, she
was a toothpick in a tycoon's bathtub. Sometimes the four-year-old splashing in the tub got
feisty. Waves shoved her up and down and from side to side.
Although Lucas noticed them, they didn't put him or Stella badly off their feed. Green
faces and the occasional whiff of a sour stink floating along the passageways said others were
less lucky. Lucas began to fancy himself a fine sailor.
He made the mistake of saying so to one of the stewards who worked in the dining
saloon. The man--a slight, balding Britisher with a gold-capped front tooth--looked at him the
way any grownup will look at a silly child.
"Sir," he said, "meaning no disrespect, sir, but you say that after you make the crossing in
a February gale, and you keep your grub in your belly in the midst of one, I'll tip my cap to you
and call you a jolly jack tar with a heart of oak and a cast-iron stomach, I will indeed. Till then,
you've not truly tested yourself."
The man carried away a yard-wide tray of dirty dishes. He balanced it on his left shoulder
and supported it with his left hand, keeping his right hand free for whatever else he might need to
do. This despite the rolling and pitching of the deck under his well-polished shoes. It wasn't
merely that that didn't faze him. He took no more notice of it than he would have of the
quiescent sidewalk in Pittsburgh or New York City.
"He's got some nerve!" Lucas said, but only after the steward was out of earshot.
"He's done more sailing than you have, dear," Stella pointed out.
"Well . . . maybe," Lucas said grumpily. "But at least I don't lose my supper in the
"This ship has one, you know," Stella said. "It's pretty far forward, and way down deep.
It's on the same deck as the third-class dining room, right above the engines."
"I do know about it. I haven't gone down there to see it, though. What's the point?" Lucas
said. "I mean, if I want to see water, I just have to look out the porthole. There's all the water in
the whole darn world right there."
"But you wouldn't want to go swimming in it," Stella said.
"You'd best believe I wouldn't," Lucas said. "A little choppy for that, even if my stomach
is good. And a little chilly." He gave forth with a theatrical shiver.
"Another couple of days and we'll be in England," his wife said. "Everything under our
feet will keep still. We'll probably wobble all over the place because we'll be used to the way the
"They say old sailors really are like that," Lucas said. "Ever hear people talk about getting
their land legs back?"
"Of course I have. I didn't think I'd ever be one of those people, though," Stella said.
"That's what you get for hanging around with me. See how I take you places?" Lucas
might have been a theatrical producer--someone like Charles Frohman, for instance--sweet-talking a pretty chorine into working with him, and maybe into sleeping with him. He might have
been, but he so spectacularly wasn't, Stella burst out laughing. He looked miffed.
"There, there," she said, as if she were soothing their younger son. "I've hung around
with you this long. Now it looks like you're stuck with me for the rest of your life. What do you
think of that, Mr. van Haltren?"
"I like it, Mrs. van Haltren." Lucas cheered up at once. "Tell you what. When it's 1950
and we're both old and gray, we can book the same cabin we have this time and cross the
Atlantic again. How's that sound?"
"It sounds fine to me. By 1950, though, they'll probably have aeroplanes than can cross
the ocean in a day or so. Wouldn't you rather go on one of those and not have to worry about
getting seasick at all?"
"That might be pretty good," Lucas said. "But we don't have to make up our minds about
it right away. When 1950 rolls around, we can argue about it then." He chuckled. 1950! It
seemed a million years away. Then again, so had the twentieth century when he was a boy. It had
got here. He supposed 1950 would, too.
On the evening of the sixth of May, as the liner neared the war zone, she doused all her
exterior lights. Crewmen taped black cloth over the portholes. They also covered the ship's
skylights, especially the glass dome above the first-class staircase, with canvas. More sailors
swung out the lifeboats, positioning them so they could be used if worse came to worst.
At supper, the skinny English steward said, "We don't expect any trouble. But we don't
want to take chances, either. We'll be in British waters tomorrow, off the south coast of Ireland,
and who knows what the Huns may try if they get the chance?"
"You don't sound worried," Lucas said, admiration in his voice.
"That's because I'm not, sir," the steward replied. "I'm just careful, and so is the skipper,
thank heavens. We've plenty of practice dodging icebergs--why, on our maiden voyage we
missed one by no more than a furlong. Dodging U-boats is the same kind of business."
"Best if there aren't any U-boats to dodge," Lucas said.
"Yes, sir. That's a fact." The steward nodded. "And that's why we've got the Royal Navy.
A submarine's a coward's way to fight, if you want to know what I think. If the Kaiser aims to
come out and take us on battleship to battleship, why, let him do that. Sneaking about under the
surface, though . . ." He made a face. "It's like tiptoeing up behind a bloke and coshing him
before he knows you're there so you can filch his wallet."
"Coshing him?" Stella said.
The steward did a good pantomime show of clubbing Lucas behind the ear. "Oh, I get
you," Lucas said. "In America, we call that blackjacking."
"Call it what you please, sir. It's robbery any which way. And whether you call them U-boats or submarines, no civilized country ought to use them," the steward declared.
Lucas thought about asking him how many of them the Royal Navy had, but held his
tongue. It wasn't as if the USA were too pure to try them out, either. Going about underwater
might be--was--sneaky, but if it worked people were going to do it. And work it did. The toll of
warships and freighters German U-boats had already taken offered melancholy proof of that.
"I'll be glad when we get to port," Stella said as they walked back to their cabin.
"So will I. But everything'll turn out fine--you wait and see," Lucas said.
They ate lunch early the next day, as soon as the dining saloon opened. Then they went up
on deck to peer through the misty air at the Irish coast off to port. Ireland had been a part, if not
always a contented part, of the British Empire for centuries. Seeing the smaller British isle felt
almost as good to Lucas as getting off the ship on the larger one would soon.
Plenty of other passengers were up there rubbernecking with them, pointing and
exclaiming and taking photographs that probably wouldn't come out. The sea was as calm and
smooth as a putting green. By now, Lucas had grown so used to the vibration of the mighty
engines far below his feet that he didn't consciously notice it.
From up toward the bow, a faint shout floated back to the second-class passengers:
"Torpedoes coming on the starboard side!"
Some people didn't even notice. Lucas only half heard the cry himself, and the half that
did hear didn't want to believe. "What was that?" he said.
But Stella went whiter than the cheap paper they used to print the liner's daily news sheet.
Her hand clenched into a fist and flew to her mouth. "Oh, my God!" she gasped, her tone as far
as the orbit of Neptune from the way Lucas had made her bring out those same words, over and
over again, in the cramped sweetness of the lower bunk.
"Maybe he's got the vapors. Maybe it'll miss," Lucas said. "Maybe--"
The observer, whoever he was, didn't have the vapors. The torpedo didn't miss. Before
Lucas could come up with any more apotropaic possibilities, it struck the liner, up at the
starboard bow. The explosion sounded like a door slamming. The ship staggered on the quiet sea.
"Don't worry, folks! Keep calm!" a steward called. He was younger and less seasoned
than the crewman with whom Lucas had traded gibes in the dining saloon. Lucas would rather
have heard the same thing from that man; he knew what he was talking about. This fellow went
on, "Don't worry, I tell you! The ship is unsinkable!"
He could say whatever he pleased. Saying something didn't make it so. Lucas grabbed
Stella by the arm and propelled her forward. "What are you doing?" she yipped.
"What do you think I'm doing?" he said. "I'm heading for the boats, that's what. If she
really is unsinkable, then I'm a silly, panicky fool. No harm done. But if she ain't--" He couldn't
remember the last time he'd said ain't when he wasn't doing it for a joke. He couldn't remember
the last time he'd been in fear for his life, either.
A second explosion, much stronger than the first, staggered both van Haltrens. "I love
you, Lucas," Stella said quietly. "You're not a fool. I never thought you were."
"Yes, I am." Bitterness and self-reproach filled his voice. "I watched them loading those
cartridges--that's got to be what they were--before we sailed. I watched them, and I came
anyway. If that wasn't a bunch of them going off, the Devil take me." The Devil was much too
likely to take him anyway, as he knew too well.
He shoved his way forward all the same, using his bulk like a football player. Inside of
five minutes, he was sure the young steward had been talking through his hat. The liner was
down by the bow and listing to starboard. Her screws, still turning, drove her forward and down.
She'd never stay afloat, not like this, no matter how unsinkable the White Star Line said she was.
People, a flood of people, burst from every stairway. What were things like belowdecks?
The instant the question crossed Lucas's mind, he realized he was better off not knowing. The
poor bastards in third class, down in the bowels of the liner, would have an awful time getting to
the boat deck before it was too late. And how fast was rising water chasing them?
Any great ship's lifeboats looked reassuring . . . till you really needed them, and you
discovered they couldn't possibly hold all the passengers and crew. The sailors must have known
that all along. There was one, and then another, tossing kapok-stuffed life jackets to passengers.
Lucas snatched a jacket out of the air. Back in the 1890s he'd been a pretty fair third baseman on
the sandlots of Pittsburgh.
He buckled the jacket onto Stella. "What are you doing?" she said. "You take it!"
"Shut up," he said. He never talked to her that way--never till now. He didn't know if
he'd be able to get her into a boat. If he didn't, he wanted her to have the best chance he could
Stella shut up.
They were on the port side. Even launching the boats wouldn't be easy. The liner was
already listing so badly, they'd have to slide down her tall steel flank to reach the water.
Closer. Closer. Almost to a boat. It was crowded with frightened people, more women
than men. Maybe not too crowded, though. Lucas gave Stella a great shove. Someone in the boat
caught her and pulled her aboard in the nick of time. Released from the davits, the boat jounced
down the liner's side and into the gray-green water.
He breathed a great sigh of relief. The important business was taken care of. Now to save
himself if he could. Were they still passing out life jackets? If they were, he couldn't find them.
How long could he swim? How long could he at least keep his head above water?
As the ship sank, the deck tilted ever more steeply down toward the bow. That pushed
people together tighter and tighter. Lucas fetched up against a woman he would have been happy
to bump into in happier circumstances. "Beg your pardon, ma'am," he told her.
"Quite all right." Like her strawberries-and-cream complexion, her accent spoke of
England. "We shan't get away alive, shall we?"
Lucas shrugged, as best he could in the crush. "Sure doesn't look like it."
"Beastly Huns," she said. "They really are savages."
"Yeah." Lucas contemplated scrambling over the rail and along the ship's side. Maybe he
could get clear before she went under. It wouldn't be long now. He had to lean against the list.
Odds were he wasn't born for the gallows. No, he'd drown after all. So would the ship. She
might have dodged an iceberg on her maiden run, but that damned U-boat would surely take her
down. Too bad!
Someone else did what he was thinking about. He somehow wasn't the least bit surprised
to see Justus Forman. "Come on, van Haltren," the playwright said, recognizing him, too. "We
may have a chance."
"Where's your producer buddy?" Lucas asked.
Forman's face clouded. "We got separated on the stairs, dammit. With that bad leg, I
don't like his chances."
Lucas didn't like his own chances right now, or Forman's. But you had to try. He lifted
first first one leg and then the other over the rail. The steel of the ship's side felt felt somehow
different from the deck under his shoes. As the list grew even worse, he shed those shoes and
crawled toward the ocean.
He'd waited too long. So had Justus Forman. The liner gave a tired, almost human, groan
and slid beneath the smooth surface of the sea. The water was cold. And deep, Lucas thought,
remembering an old, stupid joke as the undertow pulled him down, down, down.
He had always wanted to make the newspaper headlines, but not like this. Sweet Jesus,
not like this! He held his breath till he thought his lungs would burst. Then they did.
Stella van Haltren stood on the bunting-draped platform in Schenley Park, in the East End
of Pittsburgh. Her left arm encircled her older son; her right arm, the younger. John came up past
her chin now. Danny had grown, too.
Her dress and hat were black. Her boys wore black suits and cravats. Almost two years
had gone by since the Kaiser's villains sent the liner to the bottom. She allowed herself somber
colors most of the time: lavender or gray or navy blue. But this was a special occasion. She not
only had to mourn her murdered husband today; she had to be seen to mourn him as well.
And seen she would be. People packed Schenley Park as far as the eye could reach. They
all seemed to be staring toward the platform. At very long last, the United States would take
vengeance on the murderers in their skulking U-boat. More than a thousand people had drowned
that black May day. More than a hundred of them, including poor Lucas, had been Americans.
Woodrow Wilson had been too proud to fight then. He wasn't any more.
Senator Philander Knox orated behind the microphone now--it wasn't as if Stella were
the sole attraction today. Knox looked almost every inch the lawmaker. He was tall and portly,
with a high, impressive forehead. He wore his expensive suit well. Only eyes that kept wanting to
cross took away from his appearance.
"Kaiser Wilhelm doesn't know what he started!" Knox thundered. "The American people
may be slow to anger. Once we're riled up, though, we don't stop for anything. We'll hang out
our washing on the Siegfried Line. If we have to, we'll hang the Kaiser in Berlin!"
People cheered and whooped and hollered and clapped their hands. Stella wanted to clap,
too, but holding her sons was more important. She'd found herself a celebrity when she got back
to the United States. She didn't feel like a celebrity. She felt like what she was: someone who'd
lived through something horrible because her husband threw away his own life to save hers.
But, because Lucas had died the way he had, Stella wanted the Kaiser dealt with even
more than somebody like Philander Knox did. Knox's reasons were political. Stella's were
personal. And, now that war was here at last, she wanted to do everything she could to make sure
America won it. More to the point, she wanted to do everything she could to make sure Germany
Senator Knox finished his speech. Everybody cheered again, perhaps because he was
through. Pittsburgh's mayor, Joseph G. Armstrong, stepped up to the mike. Joe the Builder had
already spoken. He was there now to introduce Stella and the boys. She gulped a little, trying not
to show how nervous she was. She'd made a lot of speeches since coming home, but never to
such a crowd. A sellout at Forbes Field was nothing beside it.
"And now," Mayor Armstrong said, "here's somebody who can tell you exactly why we
need to go Over There and give the Hun what-for. Ladies and gentlemen, here's Pittsburgh's very
own heroine, Mrs. Stella van Haltren!"
Stella walked up to the microphone. John and Danny came with her, still shepherded by
her arms. Applause poured down on them like warm, soft rain. She knew people were clapping
more because of what she was, what she represented, than who she was. It didn't matter. Either
way, the greeting eased her nerves.
"Thank you," she said. "Thank you so very much. I only wish Lucas could be here to
listen to that. But he's not. He was crossing the Atlantic on business, and the Germans murdered
him in cold blood. They would have killed me, too, only he gave up his own life so I could live."
She still remembered what Lucas had said about the cartridges going into the hold. She
remembered it, but she chose not to think about it. The U-boat would have torpedoed the liner
whether she carried ammunition or not. The Germans didn't much care about that. They probably
didn't even know. They'd sunk the ship because she flew the Blue Ensign. Nothing else mattered
"Lucas died so I could live, but his sons," she pushed John and Danny half a step forward,
"have to grow up without a father because of what that U-boat did. Countries that order such
things have no business being great powers. We've got to knock some sense--we've got to
knock some civilization--into the Huns' heads. England and France can't do it on their own, and
heaven only knows what's going on in Russia right now. But with America's help, Germany will
never trouble the world again!"
People cheered her louder than they'd cheered Philander Knox. In a way, she was glad. In
a way, she was proud. In another way, she would have given everything she had not to be
standing where she was now. That would mean Lucas had lived, too, or that they'd never gone to
sea in the first place.
But here she was, doing the best she could for her family and for her country. "We all
have to pitch in and do whatever we can for the war effort," she said into the microphone. "Save
coal! Save scrap metal! Buy war bonds! Please buy war bonds! And whatever you do, always
remember the Titanic!"
"Remember the Titanic!" the crowd shouted. This was why she was here: to remind
people of the German atrocity back in 1915. If they forgot, they might not work so hard to beat
the Kaiser. But they wouldn't forget, thanks in part to her. They shouted the slogan again, over
and over: "Remember the Titanic! Remember the Titanic!"