Empire Of Steam: Chapter 08

Chapter Eight: Walker

 

“Sir? Sir George Walker is at the door. Are you in?” Monk’s doorman, Walters, asked, the day after the night of the storm.

“What?” The first feeling which Monk felt was one of panic, accompanied by a smidgen of guilt. He wondered if the Minister for War had somehow learned of the crusade which he had planned against those in London who had failed him and his wife.

No, Sir Edward told himself, there was no way in which Sir George could have found anything out. Not yet, anyway. The plans were still at too early a date for anything to have leaked out. He had not told a single other mortal soul just what he intended to do.

There was his journal. He had put down all of his ideas and thoughts into that great, black book. For a second Monk felt a frisson of fear, wondering if one of his many servants had somehow sneaked a look at his plans. But that was impossible. His journal was locked in an escritoire in his study, and he had the only key.

He checked the keys in his pocket. Yes, the escritoire key was there. Nobody had got into his writing desk. His journal had not been read.

“Sir?”

“What? Yes, yes, I am receiving visitors – especially such estimable ones as Sir George. Show him in.”

 

Monk stood up, and waited for Walters to show the Minister for War into the drawing room. Walters had been in that political position for the last couple of years. But he had also been Minister for War in the past, under the last Salisbury administration. Walker had done well in his position, in no small part due to monk and his armaments factories.

Walker entered the door. He looked worried. There were extra lines on the old man’s face. But he still smiled on seeing Monk.

“George, please, sit down.” Monk said, waving vaguely in the general direction of a chair. “I had not expected to see you.”

Sir George Walker sat down in an armchair.

“Would you like something to drink? I have a very nice Clos-de-Vougeot from Hedges and Butler…”

Monk’s voice trailed off. Hedges and Butler had been in his dream. They had been one of the places destroyed by a land ironclad. He had just recalled that part of his dream. He obtained most of his alcohol from that establishment. If his dream was to come true then that place might well end up destroyed. Still, though, Monk thought, it was a sacrifice he was prepared to make.

“Why not?” Walker said. He had not noticed how Monk’s voice had trailed away.

Monk went to his drinks cabinet and got out a bottle of the Clos-de-Vougeot. He poured two glasses, and handed one to his friend.

Monk wanted to know why Walker had come to see him. But he was not going to appear to be too curious. So he waited until Walker chose to raise the subject for this social call.

They exchanged social niceties for a few minutes, Monk asking about George Walker’s family, and so on. Walker’s wife was healthy; and his son was planning to stand for Parliament at the next general election. Monk was not really interested in politics, either Conservative or Liberal. He had never seen a great deal of difference between the two sides. But he listened politely while Sir George described walker junior’s political ambitions.

It was not longer before Walker raised the reason for this unexpected visit.

“I understand that you are converting all of your factories to munitions and machines of war.” Walker finally said, leaning forwards in his chair.

Monk was very careful with his reply. He did not wish to lie; he had never been good at inventing fictions, for one thing. So he would say as little as he possibly could.

“I have decided to focus on such matters, yes.”

He watched Walker carefully, to see what his response would be.

“I have to say, old friend, that your decision has caused some consternation in the War Office.” Walker said. “There are those who have been wondering whether your expansion of such production means that you intend to sell weaponry to those countries who… ah, how shall I put this..? who are not all that fond of the activities of the British Empire. Well, I told them that you would never sell anything to those who were our enemies, Edward. But the PM still insisted that I come and speak to you. I hope that you will forgive me for this intrusion. But I thought that you would rather speak to me than somebody else.”

For a second Monk felt roaring anger towards the Prime Minister; and then the feeling passed, as he realised that he was safe. They did not know what he was planning! They felt that he was simply considering selling arms to such countries as Russia. None of them suspected that he was planning war against those individuals who had betrayed him.

“It cannot be that you need the money, Edward. I know that you must be one of the wealthiest people in the country…”

“I think that I have once been described as one of the wealthiest men in all Christendom.” Monk said, interrupting Walker. He gave a short, sharp laugh. “No, I am not doing this for the money, old friend. As you say, I do not need the money. And you can assure the Prime Minister that I have absolutely no intention of selling as much as a single bullet to any nation like Russia or Italy or Germany. The thought had mot even crossed my mind.”

“Then why the change, Edward?”

Sir Edward, again, was very careful with his words. He considered what he could say without implicating himself in treason, yet without telling an outright falsehood.

“I will have one last period of production of rifles and bullets and the greater machines of war.” the industrialist said. “Then I think that it will be highly likely that I will produce nothing at all.”

What he had said was not strictly a lie. But it certainly excluded the truth.

“You are retiring?” George asked. There was palpable relief in his voice that Monk was not intending to sell arms to any of Britain’s rifles. “Yes, I can understand that you are upset, with the death of Eliza. But what of your son?”

“He can make his own way in life.” Edward said. “If he wishes, at some stage, to have his own factories then he will certainly, one day, have enough money to do so. But that is not my concern.”

George Walker gave Monk an odd look. He wondered if there had been any bad blood between the Monk and his son. They had not really exchanged any words at the funeral; or afterwards, for that matter, when the mourners had returned to Sir Edward Monk’s mansion. And Monk had avoided mentioning his son in their opening bout of small talk.

“I see.” Walker said. He liked the other George. But the familial relationship between Sir Edward and his son was not his concern. It was not for him to interfere in such affairs.

“Well, anyway, I would reconsider your retirement, Edward. I know that the death of your wife must have cast a terrible shadow over or life. But it was not you who died. What will you do with the rest of your life, if not for your industry?”

Oh, I have plans, Sir Edward thought. Yes, he had plans, but he would not be telling anybody about them.

Sir George Walker glanced down at his watch.

“Anyway, Edward, I shall not keep you much longer. I am sure that you have designs which you want to work on?”

Sir Edward Monk shook his head. There were no designs which he would work on ever again.

“Ah, yes, your retirement.” Walker said. The Minister for War was now talking a little too quickly, almost stumbling over his words; whereas Sir Edward Monk was not talking at all. “Well, I have made clear my feeling that you should reconsider that.”

Sir Edward Monk did not say anything.

“I have, ah, matters to which I must attend.” Walker said, standing up. He smiled again. The smile looked a little forced. “You know, it is a little funny, but the Foreign Secretary thought that you had converted all of your factories into munitions factories because you had heard that there was about to be some war.”

“Surely the Foreign Secretary would be aware of any such event?”

“No, he would probably be the last to know. Anyway, I must tell my master that there is nothing to worry about in relation to your factories.”

“Of course.” Sir Edward said. “I will show you out.”

 

Sir Edward Monk showed Sir George Walker out of his mansion. There was a steam-powered automobile waiting on the drive for Walker. It was a monk Steam Automobile, of course. Monk had the contract to provide the government with all of its official vehicles.

Monk watched walker climb into the vehicle, and then be driven away. Monk stayed in the doorway until Walker had gone out of the wrought iron gates at the end of the drive. Then Monk smiled, briefly, and went back inside.

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