Empire Of Steam: Chapter 02

Chapter Two: Empire Of Steam

 

The next morning Sir Edward Monk woke up as a widower, for only the seventh day in his life. It was not something which he felt that he was going to get used to any time soon.

He sat up in bed. The clock on the table beside the bed told him that it was a little before seven. The alarm was set for seven o’clock. But he had been getting up for so many years at this time of the morning that he rarely needed the alarm to awaken him. He knocked off the alarm just before it was due to ring.

He was alone. That was the thought which echoed through his mind. True, he had a mansion full of servants; chambermaids, a cook, a butler, a gardener, and others. But they were only servants. They didn’t count.

He got out of bed and put on his dressing robe. It was black silk. Even his dressing gown was now part of his mourning clothes. He would wear nothing other than black for as long as he lived.

The silk felt too luxurious on his skin. He would have preferred sackcloth. But he endured its softness.

 

He stared into the mirror in his bedroom. An old man looked back at him, out of the glass. His hair was grey, turning white. It was brushed back from a widow’s peak – a widower’s peak, he thought.

His sideburns were now grey, as well. They had been the last of his hair to remain black. But they, too, had been greyed by the passage of time.

His face was lined. It had gained a lot of new lines over the past year or so. He had aged five years in the past one. What lines he had had before had deepened, becoming trenches in his flesh. New ones had formed, to scour his skin.

His eyebrows were bushier. They still seemed to grow, while everything else had stopped. His ears, too, seemed to be a little longer than before. He had only just noticed that. He pulled on the lobes, not really knowing what he was doing, or why. They were real.

He shrugged. Then he pulled the bell-rope to summon his servants.

 

Sir Edward had his servants dress him. His wife might be dead, but he still had things which he had to do. This was a Monday morning, after all, and it was his duty to go into London and visit his factories, as he had done nearly every Monday morning for countless years.

He did not eat breakfast, despite one having been laid out for him. He did not feel hungry. He would eat something later.

There had been food left over from the previous day. He and some of the other mourners had returned to his mansion, despite the fact that he had only wanted to be alone. But things had to be done in the correct way. Ham, wine, cider, pies, cakes and other foodstuffs had been served up by his servants. He had eaten hardly anything at all. The food had tasted like ash in his mouth.

He had been relieved when the mourners had all gone away and he had finally been left alone to grieve.

 

It was tipping down with rain outside. The rain had begun the previous day, at the funeral’s end, and it seemed as though it had come to say.

Sir Edward had his steam automobile brought for him. While going into London he always rode in his Mark Three Monk Automobile, produced in one of the factories he owned.

His chauffeur, Johnson, was sat in the front of the automobile. Johnson was dressed in his red leather chauffeur’s uniform, a red leather cap on his head.

Johnson leapt out and opened the rear door for Sir Edward. Today the roof was on the automobile. Sir Edward would not be getting wet.

The industrialist climbed into the back of his vehicle. This Mark Three was not the same as the other Mark Three steam carriages which could be purchased from his company. It was unique, developed from the prototype, and was slightly faster than the steam cars which were sold to those people able to afford them.

It was slightly faster than the others. It had an experimental suspension, designed to give a slightly more comfortable drive on the streets of Britain. But, inside, was where the differences were most obvious. None of the other steam automobiles had seats which were upholstered in white leather. They did not have a small drinks cabinet in the back of the vehicle. They did not have door handles of solid silver.

Johnson shut the door behind his master. He climbed into the front of the vehicle.

“Which factory, sir?”

Every Monday morning Sir Edward Monk went to see his factories. But he did not always go to the same ones. Some he might not visit for weeks, while he might visit one twice or thrice in a row. He liked to keep his managers on their toes, so that they would not know if he was coming down for an inspection or not.

“I think that we will go to the armament factory in Greenwich first, Johnson.” Sir Edward said.

“Yes, sir.”

 

Sir Edward sat back on the white leather seats as Johnson began to drive towards Greenwich, the steam automobile accelerating up to its cruising speed of some forty miles an hour. It left the long gravel drive of the Monk mansion behind, going out onto the open road.

When Sir Edward Monk had produced his first steam automobile the speed limit outside of London had been only four miles an hour, and a man was supposed to walk in front of the steam automobile waving a flag, to announce the passage of the vehicle. Four miles an hour? That was ridiculous.

He had changed all that, after a few years of campaigning. It had helped that he had been one of the main providers of armaments to the British Army. He had influence, and he had used that to get those ridiculous speed limits lifted, at least outside of the capital. The limits were now forty miles an hour on some roads, thirty or twenty on others. It made his journey into London a lot quicker from his mansion to the north of the greatest city in the world. After all, this was the Age of Steam, and you could not expect the world to continue to crawl along at a snails’ pace. Why should the trains be the only vehicles which were allowed to move at a decent speed?

A lot had changed in the sixty something years that he had been alive. The Age of Steam had blossomed so that technology was now seen in every part of people’s lives – and a lot of that technology was supplied by him. Other industrialists had fallen by the wayside, or had been bought out, or had died. No one could compete with him in terms of manufacture.

Yet he did not feel content. He had not been content even before Eliza had been content. And he had never known why that was.

 

The rain pattered down on the roof of the Mark Three. Sir Edward looked out of the window, as the automobile splashed through puddles. The sky was grey with clouds pregnant with rain. It looked like it was going to rain all day. He tried not to think about the rain washing away the earth above his wife’s coffin, and the thing floating up out of the hole on the ground. No, that was a ridiculous idea, he told himself. The gravedigger would have made sure that the coffin was secure.

He did not mind the rain, otherwise. He preferred the fact that it was not a sunny day. Let the heavens weep, for he could not. He had not yet shed one physical tear for the death of his wife. It was inside that he was crying.

A sunny day would have been unbearable.

 

Johnson did not say a word as he drove south towards London. Sometimes Sir Edward liked to talk to him as they went. Sometimes Sir Edward preferred silence. It was not up to a lowly chauffeur to attempt to initiate conversation. Johnson guessed that this was one of those days when the great industrialist preferred to be alone with his thoughts.

So Johnson concentrated on driving, and avoiding any holes in the road. More and more (very rich) people had bought steam automobiles in recent years. But some of the roads still left a little to be desired. Johnson considered it his duty to provide as smooth a ride as possible.

Sir Edward Monk hardly noticed the few bumps in the road as his Monk Automobile Mark III neared the munitions factory in Greenwich.

 

The automobile pulled up on the road outside of the Monk Armaments Factory. Johnson got out of the car, an umbrella in his hand. He opened up the umbrella, and then opened the passenger door for Sir Edward. Johnson held out the umbrella to make sure that sir Edward did not get wet.

The two men walked towards the iron gates of the factory. The gates were opened as they approached. All of the men who worked there knew what Sir Edward Monk looked like. You did not keep such a man waiting outside of the gates.

Johnson walked beside Sir Edward, keeping the umbrella up above the industrialist, as he walked into the main area of the factory. Then the chauffeur returned to the automobile.

 

This was not the factory where the land ironclads and other large machines of war were constructed. This one turned out the bullets and rifles which went into the hands of British soldiers. It was these small arms which helped to keep the empire safe from rebellion. Monk was proud of that fact.

It was his guns which had been used in the Anglo-Burmese War of 1885, where Dalrymple Prenderghast had sent the Burmese running.

His guns had been used in the Second Ashanti War, in the north of the Gold Coast. The Ashanti rebels had been crushed.

It was weaponry designed by his company which had been used by the British South Africa Company in the Matabele War. They had been using not only his rifles, but also his water-cooled Monk machine guns. They had made short work of the enemy. Lobengula and his rebels had been no match for the superior firepower. They had been crushed in short order.

Monk’s guns had not been used by General Gordon, though. The forces in Egypt had still used weapons from other suppliers. They were not bad rifles, not by any means. But after the disaster at Khartoum Sir Edward had been able to convince his friends in Parliament that the Monk .303 Army Rifle was superior to any of the other weapons in service. Monk had demonstrated that its superior rate of fire, and the fact that it was far less likely to jam, would give any British soldier a big advantage in battle.

So his rifles had replaced those made by Martini-Henry. His Monk Mk II revolvers had replaced the Enfield Mk I and Mk II revolvers, which had been in use at the time. The Webley revolver, the intended replacement for Enfield, had not been adopted by the British Army, with the exception of native regiments in India. Almost all of the guns used by the British and Imperial armies, from Canada to the Australian colonies, were now made at this factory. It was his guns which were keeping the empire safe.

 

Monk walked quickly into the office of the manager of this factory, a small man by the name of Ebenezer Masters. Masters was fifty, but looked older. He was a little less than five and a half feet tall. His hair was now very sparse, leaving the pate of his head to reflect the light bulb above him. His face was heavily lined. For some reason Monk always thought of depictions of gnomes when he saw Masters.

Masters might not be handsome or tall, but he was an effective administrator. There had been very few problems at the munitions factory ever since Monk had appointed him manager. That was the way that Monk liked things to be.

Masters was studying some paperwork, frowning as he did so. He did not notice that he had a visitor until his employer was looming over him.

“Ah, g-good morning, Sir Edward.” Masters stuttered. Despite having been the manager of the munitions factory for the past five and a half years Masters was still nervous around his boss. It was not helped by the fact that, at a height a little over six feet, and broad as well, Sir Edward cut an imposing figure.

In addition, there was also the fact that Masters had not expected Sir Edward Monk to come into the factory today. Masters was well aware of the fact that Sir Edward had attended the funeral of his beloved Eliza on the previous day. Masters had thought that, following such a sad event, the head of Monk Munitions (and other companies) would have no desire to deal with something like work.

“Good morning, Masters.” Sir Edward said.

“Ah, yes, it is a nice day…”

“No, it is not.” Sir Edward replied. “It is raining as though preparing for the Flood.”

Masters laughed. Sir Edward did not. Masters’ laughter quickly trailed off.

“Are there any problems?” Sir Edward asked. “Is there anything which I need to know about?”

“Er, no, Sir Edward, everything is proceeding normally. All shipshape and Bristol fashion.”

“Good. Please carry on doing whatever it was that you were doing, Masters, I am quite capable of wandering around my own factory.”

Sir Edward Monk touched the brim of his black top hat, and walked out of the manager’s office. He strolled around the munitions factory.

 

Everything did seem to be in order, just as Masters had said. All of the machines were in working order, drilling the barrels for the rifles, and so on. All of the workers were at their posts. Nobody seemed to be shirking their duties. There were no arguments going on.

Everybody seemed to work harder, if that was possible, when they saw Sir Edward Monk walk past. Everybody at the munitions factory knew who he was, as he had made many visits to the factory in the past.

Monk almost wished that something had gone wrong. That would, at least, have given him something to do. He wanted to be active, to take his mind off what had happened. But everything was as Masters had said: shipshape and Bristol fashion.

He looked at where the bullets were being made. A rifle might last for years, but the soldiers would always need more bullets. Somewhere in the British Empire soldiers would always be firing off bullets, even if only in minor skirmishes. There were still a few problems in Burma at the moment; and there had been noises from the Boers in the Cape Colony. There was always the possibility that the Ashanti might try to do something foolish again. So Bullets would always flow out of the munitions factory to the far-flung corners of the British Empire.

Monk was still trying to have the native regiments in India issued with his rifles and revolvers. They were about the last part of the Empire using guns other than those which he had designed. It was the one area of expansion left. Otherwise he would not really have anybody to buy his guns, as he did not believe in selling weapons to those countries outside of the British Empire: Monk was a patriot through and through.

Here and there, though, a few foreign troops had apparently got hold of his arms. He understood that there was a troop of the Abyssinian Army which was using some of his rifles. But he had not sold them any arms. Monk put that down to corruption in the British Army. Somebody in power must secretly have sold an assignment of rifles to the Abyssinians. There was nothing that Monk could do about that.

 

He stopped wandering around the factory to pick up a bullet. He held it up to the light. It looked perfect. It should be, as well, as his machine tools were the best in the world. There were no flaws in what he made.

Bullets for rifles, bullets for revolvers, bullets for machine guns. The soldiers of the British Army got through a lot of bullets. Even when not at war there was basic training for new soldiers, with new privates firing at targets. Any soldier missing a target, though, would no that it was their fault, and not the fault of the tools in their hands. There was nothing wrong with his guns.

Monk moved on to where machine guns were being assembled. He had not created the first ever machine gun, and the British Army had originally bought machine guns from one of Monk’s few serious competitors. But he had waited, taken apart the machine guns of all of the other armament companies of the world, and improved them, creating a water-cooled machine gun which simply was better than any of the others. His rate of fire was just as good as that of the Maxim machine gun. But the weapon which he had designed was far less likely to jam, even in dusty conditions such as might be found in places like Africa.

It did not bother Monk that thousands upon thousands of people had been killed by weapons which he had designed. He felt no guilt. In fact, he was proud of producing weapons used by the British Army. If his weapons had not been used then the British Army would have gone with Krag-Jorgenson or one of the other foreign companies. At least he knew that the use of his weapons was saving the lives of British soldiers. He did not care about those who fought against them.

He watched as his workers put one of his machine guns together, slotting the barrel onto the main frame, attaching the belt feed with its hundreds of bullets. As far as Monk was concerned his guns were things of beauty.

The guns could easily be assembled on the battlefield, as well. He watched as his workers put one together from the machined parts in the matter of a minute or two. They were doing their best to ignore him. But he could sense that the workers were a little tense, being watched by the head of the company.

He had seen enough at this factory. Everything was fine here. He walked back to Masters’ office, and told the manager that the inspection was complete.

 

Sir Edward opened the door leading out onto the yard of the munitions factory. But he did not yet step out onto the concrete.

Johnson leapt out of the automobile and ran over to Sir Edward Monk. The rain was not coming down with as much force as when Sir Edward had entered the munitions factory. But the rain droplets were still coming down quickly enough to have wetted his coal-black suit.

Johnson opened the large umbrella and walked Sir Edward back to the automobile. The chauffeur opened the passenger door for his employer. Sir Edward clambered into the back, and sat back down on the white leather seats. He sighed deeply. He almost wished that there had been something wrong at the factory. That was not like him.

Johnson got back behind the controls of the steam automobile.

“Where to now, sir?” the driver asked.

Sir Edward looked out of the window of his automobile, at the rain falling on the concrete of the yard between the entrance to the munitions factory and the iron gates separating it from the world outside. Where to now? That was a good question. He no longer knew where he was going. It was as though his old life had ended the previous day, when the coffin had finally been lowered down into the grave.

He sighed. The chauffeur twisted in his seat to look at Sir Edward.

“We will go to another factory.” Sir Edward Monk said. It seemed like he was doing a stocktaking of his entire empire of steam. Yes, he thought, he would spend the day going to all of his factories that he could manage to visit.

The chauffeur waited. But Sir Edward did not seem inclined to say anything else.

“Which factory, sir?” the chauffeur prompted.

“The automobile factory next, I think, Johnson.” Monk said. The manager of that factory, Hardy, had been at the funeral. He had given his condolences to Monk. Hardy was one of the most loyal people who Monk could imagine.

 

A little later Monk’s steam automobile pulled up outside the factory where more of the automobiles were made, although none of them were as luxurious as the one currently being driven by Johnson.

Johnson, once again, used an umbrella to keep the rain off Sir Edward Monk as the industrialist walked up to the door of the factory. Once Monk was inside Johnson returned to the vehicle, where he would wait for however long it was that Monk spent inside. Johnson did not mind waiting. He had got used to it.

Monk walked up to Hardy’s office.

Hardy was having a walk around the factory himself, though, and monk had to deal with the under-manager, Wilkins, until Hardy returned after a few minutes.

“Sir Edward!” Hardy said, when he walked back into his little office. “I had not expected to see you today, with Eliza’s funeral yesterday.”

Sir Edward Monk had guessed from Masters’ expression that the other manager had not expected to see him, either. But Hardy, unlike Masters, always spoke his mind.

“I needed something to do.” Monk muttered. “Are there any problems?”

“I couldn’t see any.” Hardy said. “I have just done a tour of the floor, but everything seems to be fine, sir. But I’m sure that you’ll want to see for yourself.”

Monk did a tour of where the automobiles were assembled by hand. But, again, there were no problems. It was almost disappointing.

 

Sir Edward of Monk spent the rest of the day going around his London factories, just for want of something to do, and to try to keep his mind away from the fact that Eliza was dead.

He visited the factory where heavy artillery pieces and land ironclads were slowly put together. There was nothing wrong there.

He visited the factory making household appliances, everything from kettles upwards. There were no problems there, either.

He visited the boatyard on the Thames which designed parts for steam paddle ships. Once again, things were proceeding smoothly. His Empire of Steam was a well-honed and well-oiled machine.

In the end there was nowhere else to go, and nothing more to see. He went home to his mansion, another day done. Now all that he needed was something to fill the rest of the days of his life.

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