By: D.E. Brynelsen
"Isn't your Mother making the trip with you and your father?" Alice Roosevelt asked as she and Phoebe walked along the deck, their parasols open to shield them from the tropical sun. Fantasy Island was slowly receding towards the horizon as the Manchuria steamed out into the open sea towards Japan, several days journey ahead.
"My mother died when I was nine years old," Phoebe replied, "She was killed in an accident."
"And it's been just you and your father since?"
"Yes." Phoebe nodded.
"I never knew my mother," Alice said looking at the deck, "She died shortly after I was born. My father didn't even want to be around me, he gave me to my Aunt Bamie to be raised while he ran out west to be a cowboy. And when he came back he refused to tell me about her, or allow her name to be spoken in our house. All I have of her's is her name." The pair stopped as Alice took Phoebe's hand and looked into her eyes. "Your father, does he speak to you of your mother?"
"All the time," Phoebe replied, "He says that's how you keep someone you love near to you even after they're gone. There are several pictures of her in our home, and he carries one with him always in a small locket."
"You're very lucky." Alice said, almost wistfully. "I take it your father never considered taking another wife?"
"No, not ever. He couldn't imagine being in love with anyone else but my mother, and in time we both realized that having each other was all we needed, that it was us together against the rest of the world."
"So you do things together?"
"Yes, we've been to just about every part of the world on assignments for the assorted magazine's he's written for, he's taught me how to fly,"
Alice's eyes widened. "Fly, as in an airplane?"
"Yes, we have a Model 140 Cessna." Phoebe replied.
Alice tilted her head to one side, curiosity brimming in her eyes. "Tell me, is that made by the Wrights, or Mr. Curtiss' company?"
"I've heard of attention to detail," Bryson thought to himself as he gazed at the gang of stokers feeding shovelfuls of coal into the fiery mouths of the massive boilers that provided the steam that drove the throbbing engines that propelled the Manchuria through the waves, "But this is ridiculous!" Invited on a tour of the ship, he'd expected to find more modern engines in her bowels, radar and other modern navigation aids on her bridge. But he'd found none of those things so far, it was if he really was aboard the actual S.S, Manchuria in the summer of 1905, taking part in the Taft diplomatic junket to the Far East. "I have got to talk to my editor when we get home," he told himself mentally, "See about a possible multi-part series about Roarke and his entire operation."
A hand clapped onto his arm and he was spun around to find himself looking in the face of Nick Longworth, or rather, down at his face, seeing as he was about a foot taller then the other man.
"A friendly word of advice," Longworth sneered, "Stay away from Miss. Roosevelt! She's already spoken for."
Bryson folded his arms, which were thick with muscle. During his high school and college football careers, he'd earned the nickname of The Bear, and like a grizzly it would be a small matter for him to take apart the smug little rich boy from Ohio, who had probably never worked an honest day in his life, having everything handed to him on a silver platter. He'd come to despise Longworth through his research on the lives of Miss Roosevelt and her father, and having this facsimile here in front of him only reinforced his opinion.
"Well, that is going to prove difficult," Bryson said evenly as he took a step forward, his bulk causing Longworth to back up involuntarily, "Seeing as I was sent here to cover this trip and her, so why don't we agree we can't stand one another and leave it at that?" Longworth's back was against the railing; he was actually shaking. "Or would you care to try your luck by throwing down on me, and we do an experiment on just how many productive BTU's that carcass of yours can put out hmm?"
"Is there a problem here?" Will Taft came down the catwalk, the metal actually groaning under the weight of his considerable bulk. He was sweating from the heat in the boiler room and dabbed at his face and neck with his handkerchief as he neared Bryson and Longworth.
"No problem," Bryson responded, "Just a, misunderstanding." He looked at Longworth, his eyes holding a challenge.
"Well, I'm glad to hear it," Taft chuckled, "We are going to be spending a lot of time together on this trip, best we do so with a minimum of fuss." He took Bryson's arm and led him away from Longworth. "It's best not to antagonize Nick, he can get rather possessive about Alice, that's why he came on this trip, to keep an eye on her, and fend off any other potential suitors." He said after they were a safe distance.
"And how does she feel about him?" Bryson asked.
"She loves him, or at least she believes she does."
"And what about him? Is it love, or does he just see her as a means to further his political career?"
"I'd have to concede your point." Taft nodded. "Nick does have a reputation as a ladies man, but he and Alice's father were both Harvard men, and belonged to the same secret society, which is why Teddy feels that he'd be a good match for Alice, but I have my doubts, mostly because of the womanizing I mentioned before." The two men continued to talk as they made their way topside where they encountered Phoebe and Alice laughing together.
"Having a corset on sort of impedes things, but this should give you the general idea." Phoebe was saying as her father and Taft came out on deck. She then did a brief sinuous harem dance to the delight of her companion.
"Phoebe! That is absolutely scandalous!" Alice squealed, "You simply must teach me how to do that!"
"Alice seems to have found a kindred spirit in your daughter." Taft smiled, "Which reminds me; several of the ladies have asked me to inquire about her sharing a cabin with one of them, seeing as your own is somewhat cramped for the two of you."
"We've been in tighter quarters." Bryson replied, "We'll manage, but I'll ask her none the same."
"Dad, I don't think this is some elaborate recreation." Phoebe said later as she sat on her bunk in their cabin, "This might sound crazy, but I think we're actually back in time!"
"I've been having the same thought myself." Bryson replied as he examined the camera that had been provided him, "I was given a tour of the ship, and it's period accurate down to the last rivet. It would have cost a ton of money to build something like that, just for one person's fantasy, and required a major shipyard to build it in. What was your first clue?"
"Well, I let it slip to Alice that you had taught me to fly, and told her what kind of plane we had, and she asked me whether it had been built by the Wright brothers or Glenn Curtiss. And she knows things only she would have known, information that would have required a lot of research to discover."
"Mr. Roarke did mention that he had a large and experienced research staff."
"Dad, I'm talking about things that were never written down, personal things, like when she went to New Camelot Island and stayed with your Great Granddad's family at the castle. She mentioned an incident that was only recorded in Great Aunt Cathleen's diary, which had been gathering dust in the library until I discovered it. And another thing, you know how I nearly passed out a couple times until I got the hang of breathing in this corset, well Alice wears hers as if she has all her life."
"Well, if what you say is true, that we are somehow back in the year 1905, aboard the Manchuria, there would be some trace of our presence in the historical record." Bryson went to his valise, dug out the books he'd brought along to see just how accurate Roarke and his people made what up to now he had thought to be a recreation of the Far East Tour. He flipped open Crowded Hours, Alice Roosevelt's autobiography that she'd written in the 1930's and paged through it to find the passage he wanted. He read it once, then again, just to be sure he'd read it correctly.
"There was really not much difference between swimming in a bathing suit or a linen skirt and shirtwaist, and of course Phoebe and I left our shoes, watches, and other things the water could hurt in the care of onlookers."
"Dad, what is it?" Phoebe asked as her father snapped the book shut, his mind racing with the implication of what he had just read. He knew Crowded Hours almost by heart, and until this moment, that passage had read differently. "Can I see?" his daughter asked as she rose from the bunk and came over to him.
"Not just yet Pheebs," he replied as he put the book back into his valise, "There's something I want to test first." The incident described would take place in a few days; he'd have his answer then.
The days that followed passed without incident. There were costume parties, lectures about the countries the passengers were going to visit, other social events as Bryson and his daughter got to know their fellow passengers or acted out their roles of covering the trip for the newspapers. After stressing that is was essential that she not look in the books he'd brought until he said she could, Bryson took the extra precaution of sealing them to detect any peeking on her part. Finally the morning he'd awaited arrived. It was hot and humid, just as he knew it would be, walking out on deck, he saw crewmembers finishing up the canvas swimming tank they'd rigged in a forward cargo hold. He saw Alice standing with Nick Longworth at the railing overlooking the tank. "Nick, if you'll take a plunge into that tank dressed as you are, then I'll do likewise." Alice was saying as Bryson and his daughter approached. Longworth shook his head vigorously, to which Alice added laughing, "Well if you won't dare, I will!" She unpinned her watch from her blouse, kicked off her shoes, and leapt into the water with a small scream, coming up a moment later amidst her ballooning skirts. She began to swim about the tank as a crowd gathered. "Now will you take my dare?" she called up to Longworth who stood open mouthed at the rail. "Phoebe, how about you?" she called out, "You'll take a plunge dressed as you are won't you?"
As if he was watching a movie he'd seen before, Bryson stood as his daughter handed him her own watch and shoes before going to the rail where she did a backwards somersault ending in a cannonball into the tank. Coming up, she and Alice laughed as they splashed each other or swam about the pool as their skirts billowed and swirled about their waists.
"Aren't you going to do something?" a lady was asking him.
"Not really, it is a hot day," Bryson smiled as he snapped pictures with his camera. "And it's not like she hasn't done something like this before."
"I can well imagine." The woman sniffed, "I understand that you are a widower Mr. Bryson, that you attempted to raise your daughter on your own after your wife's death, but perhaps you should have considered seeking a woman's hand to aid you, so she might not have turned out so wild."
"Hey Dad, come in with us!" Phoebe was shouting, "The water is wonderful!"
"You too Nicolas Longworth," Alice added, "Stop being so stuck up for once, and have some fun!"
Bryson looked over at Longworth who looked back at him, both men wordlessly issuing the challenge to take up the dare.
"I need a drink." Longworth said finally as he turned from the rail.
"I'll go with you." Bryson responded. His theory was already playing out; Phoebe had joined Alice in the pool, just as the revised passage in the book had predicted. Now another change was taking place in Longworth not staying to coax Alice out of the pool as the historic record showed. What other changes were being made as a consequence of he and Phoebe being here, could he actually manipulate and alter the past if he so chose? As he pondered this, a hearty Irish whoop came from a man who had jumped into the pool to join Alice and Phoebe in their swim. The woman who had been talking with him about Phoebe gave out a scream as she was bumped from behind, causing her to lose her balance and tumble into the pool. "I know how to mix something that will really knock you on your ass," Bryson said clapping a hand on Longworth's shoulder, "Let's go see if they have what I'll need behind the bar." As the two men headed for the ship's lounge, neither noticed the strangely colored cloud that was forming in the distance…To Be Continued