Empire Of Steam: Chapter 03

Chapter Three: Underground

 

The next day Sir Edward Monk still did not feel like working on any of his designs, which was what he would normally have done on a Tuesday morning. He sat at his drawing board looking at the incomplete blueprint for a new land ironclad, one with slightly thinner armour, but with a more powerful steam engine, which should have meant that the machine would be a lot faster than other designs.

He did not pick up a pencil, though. There seemed to be little point. He had no desire to complete his design. He realised that he might, in fact, never complete this design, or any of the other things which he had been working on. He no longer cared about creating things.

He would design no more rifles; no more land ironclads; no more steam automobiles; no device designed to improve the lives of ordinary people. He stood up, and moved back from his seat. Then he grabbed all of his unfinished designs.

For a second he considered ripping them up, shredding them and scattering the pieces all over the floor of the room. Then the moment of unreasoning anger passed, and he was himself again.

He put all of his designs away, smoothing them out. He was not a child who broke things in some petty tantrum.

He tidied up the room as best as he could, putting away all of his devices of drawing. He did not think that he would need them again. He certainly did not need the money. The things which he had created in the past had made him an extremely wealthy individual. He did not need to invent anything new.

It was said that he was the wealthiest man in the British Empire. Some people claimed that he was wealthier than the queen. Sir Edward Monk did not know if that was true or not. But he had more money than he would ever need.

 

He stood in the middle of the room staring at the empty drawing board. He did not know what he should do with himself now. Not just today, but in all of the empty days to come.

Briefly he considered going abroad. He could go anywhere in the world he chose to visit. But he had already seen a lot of the world in the past. He had been to Egypt not once, but twice, the second time the ill-fated attempt to cure Eliza. He had toured Britain’s possessions in the Indian subcontinent, to see the results of his supplying the British Army with arms. He had been to Canada, once, and had made brief trips to the Gold Coast and the Cape Colony. He was a well-travelled individual, when he thought about it.

There was nowhere abroad which he wished to see, he realised. He had already seen the pyramids, and not been all that impressed. What else was there? There were some natural wonders of the world which he had not yet seen, such as the great falls at Niagara. But he did not care if he saw them or not. He certainly was not about to go on some grand tour of the world.

He went and sat in the drawing room, relaxing into a chair, as he considered the matter. He supposed that he could spend another day looking around the factories which he owned. But was that all that he was to do with the remainder of his life? He did not think that he could spend day after day after day doing that. That seemed to him as though it would be a hellish experience.

 

The morning mail came as Sir Edward was sat in the drawing room, gloomily pondering his continued existence. The letters, and an ornate letter opener, were brought to him on a silver platter. He took the letters and put them on an occasional table next to him.

He did not bother to open any of the letters yet. They were probably only cards of condolence concerning the death of his wife. He had already thrown away all of the other such cards which he had received.

He sat there, and sighed deeply. He tapped his fingers on the arms of the chair. He could not think of anything to do apart from sitting there. He considered sitting there until the end of days.

Half an hour passed. He realised that he had to do something other than simply sitting in the chair, wallowing in his despair.

He reached for the letters and the letter opener. The letter opener was a silver blade inserted into a piece of wood. The wood had been carved to resemble to hook of a deer.

He slit open the letters. There was one more card of condolence – Edward did not even bother to read it. There was a bill. His accountant could deal with that. There was a letter from some Temperance Society. Edward ignored that, as well.

The last letter was from a firm of architects and engineers confirming that his special project had been completed. The envelope contained not only the letter, but also an iron key and a map.

Ah, yes, his special project. He had forgotten all about it, with the death of his wife. He might not even make use of it. But he would like to look at it, to see if it was as he had intended it to be.

 

Sir Edward summoned his automobile. He went and sat in the rear, once more relaxing onto the white leather seats.

“Where to, sir?” Johnson asked.

“To somewhere we have never been before, Johnson.” Sir Edward said. “Johnson, where we will be going was intended to be a somewhat secret location. Therefore I would appreciate if you do not mention this trip to anybody else, especially not to any of the other servants.”

“Of course, sir.” Johnson said.

Monk was not quite sure why he insisted on such secrecy, when he no longer intended to make use of the facility. But, for some reason not fully known to himself, he did not want other people to know about the facility, if it was at all possible.

“Good.” Sir Edward said. He knew that he could trust Johnson not to say anything. He breathed a sigh of relief, and waited for Johnson to drive off.

“Sir?”

“Yes, Johnson?”

“I still need to know where we are going.”

“Ah. Of course you do.”

Sir Edward Monk gave the details of where to go, and Johnson drove them away.

 

Around two hours later Sir Edward Monk had reached the location which he had chosen ages ago. He was at the end of a country lane which seemed to end at a copse of trees, with nothing else to be seen. The copse was surrounded by low hills on three sides.

Nobody else was to be seen in the area. But perhaps that was due to the fact that there was still a light rain coming down. It had now rained almost for two days solid. The land around the copse was sodden.

“Give me the umbrella, Johnson.” Sir Edward said. “I want you to remain in the steamer.”

Johnson did not argue, but passed the large, black gamp to Sir Edward in the back of the automobile.

Sir Edward got out of the vehicle, and put up the umbrella. He knew where the entrance to the facility was supposed to be, although he had never been here before in his life. It was supposed to be in the centre of the copse of trees.

He looked down at his feet. He was not really wearing the correct footwear for something like this. But no matter – he could always by more shoes.

As the rain pattered down onto the black skin of the umbrella Sir Edward walked towards the trees.

 

The copse was bigger than it looked from the outside. It took Sir Edward Monk fully fifteen minutes to find the entrance to this facility. By then his feet were cold and sodden, water having leaked into his patent leather shoes. But, eventually, he was at a steel door set into the side of a hill. A small area of concrete surrounded the door. That was the only indication that anything was here.

There was a single keyhole in the metal door. It was the door’s only feature.

Sir Edward put the key into the door and tried to turn it. It did not turn and, for a moment, Sir Edward thought that they had sent him the wrong key. He tried again, using more strength, and there was a click as the key turned. The door opened inwards. Ah, the lock had just been a little stiff, that was all.

Monk stepped inside, glad to get out of the rain. Even with trees above him he had still had water fall down onto the umbrella – not as raindrops, but as drips falling off the leaves of the trees, one by one.

He shook the umbrella, and put it down. He lent it against one of the concrete walls inside the door.

There was a small shelf just inside of the metal door. On the shelf there was an electric lantern, which had been left for him by the builders of the facility. The place was equipped with electric lighting, but only after the generator was started up. Monk had no intention of doing that, so he would be using the lantern on this visit.

He turned the lantern on. He was surprised by just how bright the beam was. But it was the latest model, after all, with a battery which was supposed to work for a good twelve hours. He intended to only be here for a fraction of that time. He would have a look around the place, and then return home.

Sir Edward went down the concrete steps into the darkness. Somewhere he could hear water dripping. That would have to be dealt with, he thought. But his next thought was why should he bother? He had no desire to expand his operations. This place would not be used.

 

He was not even sure why he had come to this underground facility. He had begun building it in secret shortly before his wife had become ill. The building had carried on all through his wife’s sickness. He had hardly given another thought to the place. But now the structure was complete.

The idea had been to build some facility far away from London where dangerous experiments could take place without endangering the citizens of London. He had wanted to do more experiments involving explosives. Sir Edward was well aware of the accident in 1864 which had claimed the life of Emil Nobel, when the Nobel nitro-glycerine factory in Sweden had blown up. Sir Edward was not going to risk any such disaster in London, where hundreds of people might be killed if something like that tragedy was to occur again. That would have made him extremely unpopular with the establishment, who he depended on, for a great extent, for his wealth. Never mind all of the people who might be killed. Better to have any potential accidents happen far away from London, somewhere where they might be controlled, and kill nobody other than his workers.

 

He reached the bottom of the steps, to be faced with a choice of passages. He reached into his coat, to get out the map which had accompanied the letter and the key. It would not do to get lost down here, with only Johnson knowing that he was down here. Monk knew how big this place was supposed to be.

He unfolded the map, holding it in his right hand, the torch in the other one. He checked the map, and then set off to the right.

He wandered through the underground facility, shining his torch here and there. This was the first time that he had been down here. He had never seen the place before, despite having come up with the original design.

The builders had done a good job. Apart from the drips of water – coming from where he did not know – the place was exactly how he had envisioned it, when he had drawn up the architectural plans for the place. He could have people begin to move in the next day, if that had been what he desired.

This place, though, did not feel to him like some testing facility for high explosives and other dangerous chemicals, as he had originally intended. Wandering through the empty rooms it seemed more like some great underground tomb to him. It was a mausoleum, awaiting the arrival of the dead.

There was chamber after empty chamber, among the many featureless concrete passages. He had only specified a small amount of equipment to be taken down into here by those who had constructed the place. It was after it had been completed that he had intended to fill the place with equipment. But why bother now? He did not really feel like creating anything new.

He found the leak. It was in the corner of one of the large, featureless rooms. It was not the roof, as he had feared, but a pipe which had obviously not been properly plumbed. The facility secretly took water from a nearby aquifer, and this one pipe had developed a fault. There was now a large pool of water on the floor of the room. Well, any plumber worth his salt should be able to deal with a faulty pipe. At least it was not the roof.

He continued his inspection of the place. He came across the generator room. The generator, when powered up, would provide electricity to the entire place. Anybody in the underground facility would only have to flick a switch to get bright electric light filling the room.

He did not attempt to fire up the generator. There was no point. He had a torch, and nobody else would be using this place.

There was one more room which Sir Edward had wanted to check out before leaving the underground chambers, and that was a chamber close to the generator room. He walked into the concrete room and stared ahead.

Yes, there they were, his pair of difference engines, constructed inside these chambers. He had insisted on them being in here. But now they might not even get used. He had intended to have them analyse the results of some of the experiments which had been planned. But those experiments almost certainly would no long take place.

Sir Edward shivered. It was cold in this concrete tomb, especially as he had damp feet. It was time to go.

He checked his map to determine the shortest route out of there. He walked back along the concrete tunnels, until he reached the concrete steps leading up to the metal door. He could see a crack of light filtering through the gap between the door and the doorframe.

He hurried back up the steps. He turned off the lantern, leaving it on the concrete shelf beside the door. He picked up his umbrella and opened it. He went back out into the copse, pulling the door closed behind him, and locking the door, albeit with some difficulty. Despite the fact that he no longer intended to use the place he did not want anybody discovering it and going down into the darkness below. Sir Edward could easily imagine some silly, inquisitive children getting lost in the place, unable to find their way back out onto the surface.

He sighed. He was glad to be back out into the open air. He was a little surprised to see that it was still daytime. It felt as though he had spent ages in the place. He had expected it to be night when he re-emerged.

He walked out of the copse. It only took a few minutes to find his way out of there, to the edge of the small wood. More wetness leaked into his unsuitable shoes.

It was still raining, although it was now only spotting down. He could see his automobile waiting for him.

He walked back towards his steamer. Johnson leapt out of the automobile, holding the passenger door open for Sir Edward Monk. Monk walked over to the door and clambered in. He threw the wet umbrella down onto the floor of the vehicle.

Johnson climbed back into the driver’s seat. He drove back to Sir Edward Monk’s mansion. Not one word was exchanged by the two men on the way back home.

When Sir Edward got back home he threw his shoes away.

 

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