Empire Of Steam: Chapter 06

Chapter Six: The Son

 

Two nights later a hansom cab pulled up at the mansion of Sir Edward Monk. A man in his late twenties got out. He paid off the cabbie, and then walked up the stone steps to the front door of the mansion. He pulled the bell pull and waited. He did not have long to wait before a manservant answered the door.

“Good evening, Walters.” the young man said. “Is my father in?”

The young man was George Monk, the only son of Sir Edward and Eliza Monk. He was back at the mansion where he had spent his youth – the time when he was not away at Eton, first, and then Cambridge. It felt a little odd, though, to come back to the house as a visitor, rather than as a person who lived there.

“I shall see if Sir Edward is receiving visitors.” Walters intoned. Walters was the doorman – not the butler, as the butler’s duties only extended to the extensive wine cellar. Each of the servants had their own little empire, one which they guarded jealously. Walters would never have let Simpkins the butler answer the front door; and Simpkins would never have let Walters down among the Merlot and Marsala.

“Never mind.” George said. “I know that means that he is in. No need to show me in, Walters, I know the way.”

 

George Monk pushed past the faintly protesting doorman, and entered the grand mansion of his father. Once it had been his home, too. But when he had reached his majority he had decided that he wanted a place of his own. He now had some very fine lodgings in the West End of London – paid for by his father, of course. He was only on an allowance.

George Monk expected that, one day, all this would be his. He was the only heir, of course. Sir Edward had been an only child, so there were not even any uncles trying to get their hands on the family wealth. George was not about to see his inheritance go up in smoke.

That fact, to a certain extent, explained what George was doing back at the mansion. He feared that events were taking place which might harm his inheritance.

George Monk came into the huge entrance hall of the mansion, with its ballustraded stairs leading down from upstairs, on either side of the room. Monk’s shoes clicked as he strode across the patterned stone floor of the entrance hall – a hall larger than the living accommodations of whole families in the East End of London.

George Monk did not bother looking at this spacious hall. He had seen it many times before, and nothing about ii impressed him anymore. Not even the Constable hung on one wall. George felt that he knew which way to go. He had grown up here, and he thought that he knew his father’s habits better than any one (servants excluded).

Walters closed the front door behind George Monk. The doorman shook his head. He sensed that bad times were coming. Like all of the others who were below stairs, he had taken note of all which had happened since the death of Eliza Monk. Changes were coming, and they probably would not be good ones.

The saturnine Walters wondered if he should start looking for another position.

 

George had expected to find his father in the drawing room, at this time of the evening, or possibly in the library. But Sir Edward was in neither room. That flummoxed George. His father had always used to either read or relax in front of the fire, at this time of the evening. That had been the way all through the years when George had been growing up. It had been one of the things which were utterly reliable, like the sun coming up in the morning, or wasps going for the jam sandwiches at a picnic. Only at times like Christmas would his father deviate from his habits.

George was at a loss for a few seconds. Then he decided that he would simply go through the mansion until he found his father. Sir Edward had to be somewhere in the place.

George went into the dining room and then into his father’s study. His father was not in either room. But George noticed that there was nothing on the drawing boards. All of the plans had been put away. That, too, was something which he had not expected to see. His father had always been working on something.

George went though all of the rooms at the front of the ground floor of the mansion. He did not bother with the servant’s quarters, as he knew that his father would not be there.

Then he began striding through the upper floors of the mansion, checking the rooms one after the other: bedroom, bathrooms, the Long Gallery with its paintings by George Stubbs, Joseph Turner and Sir Joshua Reynolds. But his father was not in there.

George finally found his father in am almost empty box room, one which was hardly ever used. Sir Edward had his back to the room, looking out of the window at the sky. He seemed to be entirely lost in thought.

“Father?” George asked.

Sir Edward turned around at the sound of his son’s voice. He stared at George for a second, almost as though he did not recognise his son. Then Sir Edward smiled.

“George? What are you doing here?”

“Father, what is going on?” George Monk asked. After having walked through most of the mansion he was not in the mood for social niceties; nor respect, for that matter.

“I am sure that I do not know what you mean.” Sir Edward intoned. He frowned.

“I visited the automobile factory today.” George Monk said. “Is it true that you are converting the factory into only producing land ironclads and not our steam automobiles? What about the Mark Three? And you were working on the design for the Mark Four. But you have nothing on the drawing boards in your study.”

“Are you concerned about your inheritance?” Sir George sneered. “You will get more money than anybody else. I did not get any bequest such as you will receive when I die. Or are you eager for me to shuffle off this mortal coil? Is that it?”

“No, of course not, father.” George said. He was shocked. He had only lost his mother a few days ago, and he did not understand how his father could even suggest such a thing. “I want to know why you have decided to switch the factory to producing weapons of war.”

“Might I remind you that it is the production of such weapons that has made my company – and our country – great? A lot of my wealth has come from the production of munitions and war machines. If I wish to switch to full production of such items that is my prerogative. When you inherit the company you will be free to do whatever you desire to do with it. But that time has not yet come.”

Sir Edward did not like to conceal from his son what he was planning. But there was no way that he could tell George. The fewer who knew about what he had planned the better.

Sir Edward suspected that if his son knew the truth then he would only try to convince him to stop. George was probably the only person who might accomplish that, too. So the longer that George was kept in the dark the better for all concerned, as far as Sir Edward was concerned.

There was trouble coming, one way or another, but Sir Edward hoped that George would stay out of it.

“You have something planned, father.” George said. “What is it?”

Damnation, Sir Edward thought, it was almost as though his son could read his mind. He had to say something to quell the doubts of his son. It was far too soon to reveal the truth to anybody.

“This room is not given to long discussions.” Sir Edward said, sweeping with one arm to indicate the empty tea chests and other boxes in the room. “We will go downstairs to somewhere more comfortable and continue this discussion, if you wish.”

“Very well, father.”

 

A little later the two men were ensconced in the comfortable armchairs of the drawing room. A log fire had been made up in the grate, and was merrily crackling away. Each man now had a glass of fine cognac in their hands.

“I remember when I gave you your first ever glass of cognac.” Sir Edward mused. “You were fourteen years old. Your mother said that you were still too young for such things. But I said that it was time that you appreciated the finer things in life. As it was your mother was right, and the cognac made you a little ill. But you have no problem with it now.”

“I remember.” George said. “I was thirteen, not fourteen. And you filled the glass to the brim, and made me drink it all. I was very ill. It was years before I could look at cognac without feeling nauseated.”

“Yet you have a taste for it now.” Sir Edward observed.

“I did not come here to discuss cognac.” George said.

“No, I suppose that you did not.”

“Why have you switched to only producing weapons? Do you know something that I do not?”

“Whatever do you mean?” Sir Edward was careful with his words. He did not intend to lie to his son. But there was no way that he could tell George the truth of what he had planned.

It was not that Sir Edward did not trust his son. He could have ordered George not to say anything concerning his great plan – and Sir Edward would have expected to have been obeyed. But he did not want to involve George in this affair, if he could help it. If George did not know anything then he could not be held to be culpable by the authorities.

“I know that you are very close to Sir George Walker.” George said. “Is the government planning some war? Is that the reason for the switch?”

Edward Monk smiled inwardly. That was a wrong conclusion. But if his son wished to think that then he would not disillusion him. It meant that he would not have to lie to George.

“George, you must realise that if, for example, I had had any discussions with the War Office that they would have been in the strictest secret.” Sir Edward said. He took another sip of his cognac.

“I see.” George Monk said. He finished off his glass of cognac, and stood up.

“I must return to London.” he said.

“I will have Johnson run you down there in the steamer.” Sir Edward said. “Give Johnson something to do. Save you messing about with calling hansom cabs and all that nonsense.”

Sir Edward heaved himself out of his chair, and went to inform Johnson that his talents were required. But Sir Edward did not really relax until he saw the Mark Three Steamer disappear into the darkness beyond the gravel drive.

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