Empire Of Steam: Chapter 11

Chapter Eleven: Final Preparations

 

Finally, weeks later, the facility was complete; all of the pieces of equipment which Sir Edward Monk would need were in there. It had taken many trips, just him and Johnson, but the place was ready.

Monk had the aerial for his Tesla device, which would allow him to communicate with his forces, to learn how the battles were going. He had tested the device, and it seemed to work, although it did crackle somewhat. But he could hear the voice coming from the other end – and there was no wires linking the two machines, unlike the telephone system, something else which he had had no hand in inventing. That had been Antonio Meucci, many years ago, back when he had still been a youngster.

He had not had a telephone system at his mansion. It had been too far from the nearest exchange. Perhaps he should have had these Tesla radio transmitters instead. Maybe when this was all over… But, no, he could not introduce these devices after his revenge. There would be nothing following his vengeance. He would never be able to go back to the way that the world had been.

He tried not to consider what might happen to him following his little war.

 

He had his difference engines, in their room, just waiting to be put into service. He was not sure if he would even need them. But he was glad that they were there. He liked to be surrounded by the great inventions of mankind. He had the radio transmitter, and these Babbage engines, and much more.

Babbage was another genius who Sir Edward Monk had never met, and would have like to. But Babbage was of a previous generation. He had died a quarter of a century ago. For many years people had not seen a need for his analytical or difference engines. It had only been in the last few years of Babbage’s life that certain industrialist’s, like Sir Edward Monk, had seen how difference engines could be used by industry, not only to control some of the machines, but to analyse the statistics of inventions, in an effort to improve things. Babbage had died finally receiving the plaudits which he had deserved.

Monk had a difference engine in each of his factories, linked up to the machines. The difference engines did not replace his workers. But they helped make sure that when things were produced that they were all of a certain standard, all of the same design. They had helped him achieve his position at the top of industry. He would not have been where he was without the help of his Babbage engines.

 

There was enough food down there to last him and Johnson six months, although Sir Edward Monk did not think that they would need to be down here anything approaching that amount of time. There was dried food, and a lot of it: dried milk, and tins of compressed, dried vegetables. Monk had not tried those dried vegetables yet. But he had tried some of the dried milk, and found it to be less than palatable. But it was not like he could get a cow down in this underground place. There was also dried fruit, which included raisins and sultanas.

There was pickled food as well: picked onions and gherkins, mainly. But there was also piccalilli and Batty’s Nabob Pickles, the last being something which Monk had developed a taste for, over the years.

There was jam and marmalade and all manner of other preserves. As to bread he had purchased a couple of loafs. But they would not remain fresh for long, so they would have to be among the first things which he and Johnson would have to eat.

There were powdered eggs, coffee and tea. There was a lot of tea. Sir Edward Monk liked a cup of tea in the morning, when he got up. He hoped that Johnson would be able to make him his tea the way that he liked it (at least until they ran out of fresh milk).

Then there were all of the tins of food which had been brought down into the facility. It amazed him how many foodstuffs could be found in tins these days. There had been canning of food when he had been born – it had been Peter Durand who had popularised it – but not in the amount of tins which could now be purchased from shops. Everything which could be preserved in a tin was available to buy.

Monk had not stinted on the tins of food. He had far more food than he or Johnson would require, even if they were down here for a year or so. There were tins of tomatoes, asparagus, carrots, green beans, peas, spinach, sweet corn and potatoes. There was corned beef, tinned devilled tongue, tinned lobster, tins of kippers, tins of sardines, tinned minced meat and tins of Victoria pâté. There were a lot of tins of soup, of as many varieties as Sir Edward Monk had been able to find.

Water would never be a problem. He had a direct link to an aquifer. The water would be cold, and pure, probably a lot purer than most people got to drink. Certainly before Bazalguette had done his great revolution in plumbing, constructing a proper sewerage system to take waste away, a lot of water in London had been unsafe to drink. Cholera epidemics had been common. It had been one of the last of those epidemics which had killed his parents.

He had hardly thought about his parents since then. Technology had replaced them as the thing which had most occupied his thoughts. But he thought about them now, even though he did not wish to do so. He could not get them out of his mind.

His father had been a blacksmith. He could not remember his very well. But he could recall the heat of the forge, and steam. He had grown up being around steam. His father had made things other than horseshoes, as well. Monk supposed that, in a different world, his father might have gone on to become an inventor in his own right. But that had been left to the son.

Sir Edward knew that his parents would not have approved of what he was doing. But he tried to tell himself that they did not understand. If they had felt like he had then they would know that what he was doing was right and just.

As he finished off stocking the facility he realised that he was having arguments with ghosts.

 

It was not only food and water which had been the concerns of Sir Edward Monk. He and Johnson could hardly sleep on the concrete floor of the place. So a lot of other equipment had been taken down into the darkness.

Camp beds were among the first of the other pieces taken down, through that copse of trees, and into the underground facility.

The first time that Johnson had gone down into the place the chauffeur had reacted with great surprise. Monk had forgotten that Johnson had not yet seen inside the place. Johnson had seen Monk go inside the small wood, and then emerge a lot later.

The door in the hillside had not been that great a surprise to Johnson. He had reasoned that his employer must have gone somewhere, and had not simply been hanging around in the trees.

What had been a surprise were the concrete steps going down, and the sheer size of the hidden place. Johnson had looked at the place around him. But he had not had too long to stop and look in awe as he had been in the process of helping get equipment down into the place, although Johnson had not been told why. But it was not his place to ask.

So a pair of camp beds had gone down into the darkness; and they had been followed bay a pair of camp chairs. A folding table, as well, so that they would not have to eat their food off the floor. And a gas stove so that food could be heated up. Several large tanks containing gas were hauled down into the place by Johnson. He began to feel as though he was a manual labourer, rather than a chauffeur. But he did not complain. He was sure that Sir Edward must have a very good reason for doing this.

Monk had several books taken down into the facility. He knew that not all of the time could be spent in planning, or giving out orders to his army. He would need something to pass the long hours in the darkness.

He had never been a great reader of fiction, although he had read his fair share, dipping into the books which had lined the shelves of the library in his mansion. But he had been happier with technical manuals, or books written about or by some of the great engineers of the world. Now, though, he would need no technical books, as he had no intention of ever inventing anything else new. He would read those books which had been recommended and which he had never got around to reading; or those books which he had begun reading and never managed to complete.

So, one day, as the preparations had continued, Monk had raided the shelves of the library. Into a large box had gone War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy; Bleak House by Charles Dickens; Middlemarch by George Eliot; The Egoist by George Meredith; Erewhon by Samuel Butler; Before the Storm by Theodor Fontane; Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy; and many more.

More minor items had gone down into the dark; more batteries for the lantern; fuel for the generator; a set of tools to deal with that annoying, leaky pipe; a map of the streets of London; and what other luxuries or items that Sir Edward Monk had thought that he might need. The very last item which he had decided to take down, almost as an afterthought, was his revolver, a gun which he had never fired.

 

It had not just been a matter of preparing the facility, however. There had been more meetings with Kirby; and checks on the factories and warehouses, to oversee their military production.

Monk had had to explain to Kirby just how to operate a land ironclad, so that Kirby could explain to the rest of his army, the one which Monk had presumed that the man had already assembled. Monk, in the end, had made a mock-up of the controls of a land ironclad, to give the young man some understanding of how to operate it. It was not the same as actually operating one – but that would have to wait until when Monk was ready. You could not have a land ironclad wandering around London without somebody saying something; the ones which had been sent to the warehouses were transported there on trailers, dragged by powerful steam-powered tractors.

Monk had gone over the instructions again and again, explaining about the two levers, each one controlling one of the caterpillar tracks. Really, Monk thought, operating a land ironclad should be child’s play. If you wanted the right caterpillar track to accelerate forwards you pressed forwards on the lever; and the same with the left. Monk thought that anybody should be able to handle such a machine, even if they had never operated a steam automobile before in their life.

 

Kirby had also been provided with one of the Tesla radio transmitters. Once a day Monk contacted the young man, to make sure that nothing untoward had occurred. Kirby usually answered almost immediately. He described to Monk how things were going well, and that he and his men would be ready for whenever Monk was.

Monk could envision Kirby recruiting an army of the poor, telling them of the scheme. He thought that Kirby must have hundreds of people ready to rise up. Yet it would be he, Monk, rather than Kirby, who would ultimately control them. He, Monk, would use them for his vengeance, to smash the traitors. But he did not think that any of those poor people would have any qualms about destroying Harley Street. It was not like any of them would ever be able to afford to go and see those charlatans.

First Harley Street, and then the rest of the people who had betrayed him…

 

Eventually Sir Edward Monk had everything inside the facility which he needed. There was one last trip back to his mansion, though. He wanted to make sure that there was not anything which he had forgotten.

He went into his study, and looked down at his escritoire. Ah, yes, his journal. He had almost forgotten that. It would not have done to leave that behind, as all of his thoughts and ideas were poured down onto its pages, every night. All of his plans for his vengeance were there, as well as his plans for the hidden facility.

He did not think that he had mentioned exactly where the facility was. But Monk did not think that it would have been impossible for a clever man to have got some idea as to where to look for the underground facility by using the clues in the book.

Perhaps he should never have put his ideas down into the journal. But he had found that it helped him to write his ideas down onto the pure white pages of the book. By looking at what he had written he had been able to look for potential flaws in his reasoning.

He unlocked the escritoire, using the little key which only he possessed. None of his servants had a key; and they would never have dared to have broken into his writing desk. But who would come into his study once he had gone?

In his mind’s eye Sir Edward Monk could see the police rushing into this room, and using jemmies and crowbars to force open the rosewood escritoire, those policemen not caring what marks they left in the wood. The police, too, were traitors, for they would stand against him, to try to prevent him from achieving his justified vengeance.

So any police who stood in the way of his forces were traitors and must die.

 

He reached into the desk, and pulled out the black-covered journal. Monk did not bother to lock the escritoire. Let the police open it. There was nothing in it other than letters and the odd bit of financial information. None of them were incriminating; and Monk no longer cared who knew about his finance. Let his competitors see all of his financial secrets, for all he cared! He would soon be going put of business, anyway.

Sir Edward Monk tucked his journal under his arms and set out for one last walk around his estate. He wanted one last look at the wealth he had built, before he moved down into the concrete ground.

 

The day was blustery, and cold. Winter was on its way. A few times Monk had to hold his black top hat on his head so that it was not snatched by the wind and blown away. He did not want to have to go chasing after his hat.

The wind whipped his coat around he legs. But he carried on, even though it was cold.

“Caw!”

Monk looked up at the roof of the mansion. There was a lone crow there, perched on the guttering at the edge of the roof, looking down at him. Seeing the crow sent a chill through Monk’s soul, although he did not know why. But he was not sure that seeing the crow was a good omen.

“Stuff and nonsense.” he muttered to himself. He did not believe in such things as good or bad omens. That was nothing more than base superstition. He was a man of reason.

In Ancient Greece a crow on a roof was supposed to be an omen of death. Athena, the goddess (according to legend) would not allow crows to alight on the Acropolis. But, as far as Monk was concerned, the crow had only landed on his roof because it was probably too blustery to fly, at the moment.

He had never seen any crows at his mansion before.

He walked over to where the cherry tree was, its limbs shaken by the wind. It had been planted by Eliza many years ago. All of the cherries which it had produced had been small, and a little bitter. But it would live on, even after he was dead. The cherry tree, and George, would both live on after Sir George Monk had had his revenge.

Monk walked further down the path through his grounds, until he reached the oak tree which had been blasted by lightning on the night of the storm. Monk could see the heart of the tree, as the tree had been split in twain by the electrical bolt. Monk should really have had the tree chopped down. Split in two it looked dangerous. The parts might fall over, especially in this harsh wind.

But perhaps the tree was not entirely dead. It still had its roots. New life might spring forth from out of the blasted tree. No, he thought, he would let the tree live. There was enough death in the world; and more death to come. He would let the tree have a chance at life. It had done nothing against him.

He carried on, down to the folly, that utterly pointless tower. Monk had considered having the tower pulled down, in the past, perhaps replaced by something like a gazebo. But the hollow tower would also survive. It would outlive him.

Monk walked back up towards the mansion. As he neared the cherry tree a sudden, stronger, gust of wind caught his top hat, and snatched it off his head. Monk made a vain attempt to catch hold of his hat with the hand not carrying his journal. But he was not quick enough. He saw the wind push his top hat along the ground, the hat rolling over and over in the dirt. Monk did not bother to run after it.

He carried on walking back up to the mansion, as the wind blew his grey hair around his face, trying to get it into his eyes. Monk had to keep brushing his hair out of the way.

As he neared the mansion he looked up at the guttering. But the crow had gone, despite the cold wind. Monk felt vaguely disappointed.

 

Monk walked back into his mansion. He walked upstairs into his bedroom, and put the journal down on his bed.

He looked at himself in the mirror. His hair was a mess. He spent a couple of minutes combing it, so that he looked presentable.

Then he went in search of another top hat.

It was then that he summoned Johnson and the Mark Three. It was time to go. The underground facility awaited them.

A few minutes later and the automobile was accelerating down the drive away from the mansion, its tyres kicking up little grey bits of gravel as it went.

“The journal!” Monk suddenly shouted. “Stop, Johnson!”

He had left his journal on his bed, where anybody would be able to read it. He could not let that happen.

Holding his top hat on his head Monk got out of the steam-powered automobile, not waiting for Johnson to open the door. Monk ran all of the way back into the mansion, Walters opening the door as his master approached.

Monk ran up the stairs into his bedroom, his feet heavy on the stairs. He had a vision of bursting into his bedroom to find one of the chambermaids holding the book in her hands, reading all about the facility and his plans for revenge on those who had failed him. He was sure that some of his servants tried to do things like that. It was one of the reasons he had always locked his escritoire.

He burst into his bedroom. There was nobody in the room – no chambermaid looking at his secrets. The journal was where he had left it, on his bed. It did not look like it had been touched.

Monk sat down on the bed, gasping for air. He was not used to running. In fact, he could not recall the last time that he had run. The fastest that he usually went was a brisk walk. It took him a good five minutes to get his breath back.

When he was himself again he put the journal under his arm and walked back downstairs. Walters opened the front doors for him as he approached.

“Thank you, Walters.” Monk said. As he walked out of the front door he wondered if this would be the last time that he would ever see Walters. Would this be the last time that he ever saw his mansion? He supposed so.

The Mark Three now stood just outside the doors. Johnson must have driven it back there. Johnson stood outside of the vehicle. He opened the passenger door as Monk approached.

Monk climbed into the back of the vehicle. Johnson slammed the door shut.

“The facility?” Johnson asked.

“Yes, we are going there.” Sir Edward Monk. He relaxed back into the white leather seats. That had been close. He might have ruined everything. But things were still going according to plan.

 

Some time later and Johnson was driving the Mark Three down the narrow road towards the copse. Johnson stopped at the end, where the road petered out. They had arrived.

Johnson opened the door. Sir Edward Monk climbed out, and stood by the automobile. He held his top hat with one hand, the journal with the other one.

“Are we to go down into the facility?” Johnson asked.

“In a little while, Johnson.” Monk replied. Monk looked at his automobile. He did not think that anybody had seen it on their other trips to the facility. But he could not leave it here. If anybody saw the steam automobile they might wonder what it was doing here. Somebody might then think to look inside the copse, and discover the door down to the facility. No, Monk thought, he could not allow that to happen. The automobile would have to be hidden.

“Johnson, can you drive the Mark Three a little way into the trees, so that it can not be so easily seen?”

“Sir?”

“Can you do it, Johnson?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then do so.”

Johnson did as he was instructed, carefully driving the automobile through a gap in the trees, so that it was not so visible. He then rejoined Monk.

“To the facility.” Monk said. It was time.

 

Monk took the lantern, and went down into the dark with Johnson. The facility was still in darkness, but would not be dark for much longer.

“Take this, Johnson, but do not read it.” Monk said, temporarily passing the journal to Johnson. Monk would need both hands. Despite many trips down into the facility he did not yet know its layout by heart: the place was immense. Monk took out the map, and looked for the shortest route to the generator room.

Soon the two men were stood in front of the generator. Monk put the map away.

“The journal, please, Johnson.” Monk said. The chauffeur handed the book over.

My former chauffeur, Monk thought. Johnson might not realise it, but he would not need to ferry his master around ever again.

“It is time to operate the generator.” Monk said.

“Sir?”

“Don’t worry, Johnson, I will tell you what to do. First we need to fill it with oil…”

 

A little later the generator was rumbling. It shook a little. But it was working. Unless Monk had been lied to the generator was powerful enough to power the entire facility.

Monk allowed himself a smile. For his entire life he had been involved in steam and steam devices. He had made parts for the railway industry; he had manufactured kettles, steam-powered land ironclads; a few steam ships; steam-powered automobiles; and many more things, using machines which were themselves powered by coal and coke, belching out wisps of steam into the grey skies over London. But now, for light and power in this place, he found himself reliant on oil.

“Is that it?” Johnson asked.

“Well, it will need to be tended to each day, Johnson. It will need to be kept topped up with oil so that we will continue to have power. That will be your task, Johnson.”

Johnson had given a sharp glance at Sir Edward when the industrialist had said each day. But Monk had not noticed. He had still been staring at the generator. Johnson did not like the sound of each day. This was not what he had signed on for when he had become Sir Edward Monk’s chauffeur.

Monk stepped over to a lever on the wall. The lever was supposed to send power coursing through the underground complex.

“Let there be light!” Monk pulled down the lever.

At first he thought that nothing was going to happen. But, after a second or two, lights set into the ceiling overhead began to flicker, before coming on; dim, at first, and then very bright, far brighter than the light of day.

“There, we have power.” Monk said.

The facility was complete. It was fully stocked with more food than he would ever need. The generator was on and running; and the complex filled with light. Kirby had built his army of the poor and downtrodden. There was no more reason to wait.

It was time for war!

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