Sunday, August 31, 2014

One of the steampunky bits.


Still not sure this will work.  This excerpt is a good bit way through the book.

In Hot Water.

Being a clement morning, Cynthia told her brother that she was going for a walk by the Thames. She planned to walk to the weir and then upstream. She followed her proposal and was standing at the landing above the weir watching the swans when she heard a quiet chugging sound. Looking upstream she saw Mr. Willis piloting a small launch towards the landing.
She called, “Mr. Willis. Is that a steam launch? I've never seen one before.”
He waved to her and headed for the landing. When he was close enough, he said “Would you care for a ride?”
“Where's your inseparable companion?”
“Micheal does not swim and consequently does not approve of boats.”
“Oh. Is it dangerous?”
“A little. Are you brave enough to try, Miss Milton?” Since this question came from the man she gave a white feather to, she straightened up to her full height and said, “Me, a coward? Never. I'm game for anything.”
“Good, I could use an extra hand today.”
He expertly brought the boat into the landing and threw her a line. She staggered when she caught it and the boat's momentum pulled her, but stood firm. “Good lass. Now if you'll hold that while I disembark.” Quickly jumping out of the boat, he took the line from her and tied it to a cleat. Then he helped her into his vessel. “Are you solely interested in a leisurely excursion, or would you like some adventure?”
“Adventure? I would have thought that just riding one of these tea-kettles was adventurous enough.”
“I find them a bit tame, but then I've been up and down the river a few times with her.”
“The adventure it its.”
“There's a pair of glasses in the compartment in front of you. You'll need them.” Cynthia was unsure of this, but then noticed that Mr. Willis had replaced his dark glasses with a pair that was strapped around his head. She pulled the glasses out of the compartment and fastened them on.
Mr. Willis pointed to a lever and a gauge. “I need you to pull that lever back and watch the gauge. If the indicator.”
“The what?”
He pointed at the fine wire that was to the right of the dial. “This, if it gets into the red area release the lever.”
“Why?”
“We need high steam pressure. This holds the safety valve closed.”
“The safety valve? Are you sure this is a good idea?”
Mr. Willis grinned. It was unsettling. Then he continued, “Don't worry, the boiler has a blow out plug. It will fail safely. I learned about that the hard way, the week before I met you. Now if you'll excuse me I have to make a few adjustments.”
He scrambled over the machinery in the back of the boat and turned a couple of knobs and shifted a lever. The chugging noise stopped and was replaced by a quiet low-pitched whine. This seemed to please him. “Excellent. I think she's ready.” Then he turned to Cynthia and said, “You can pull your lever now.”
She did and as the needle on the gauge moved towards the red, the pitch and volume of the whine increased.
“Let it go!” She released the lever. There was a loud bubbling noise as the steam was released under the boat. The whine returned to its original tembre. Mr. Willis untied the boat, pushed it from the landing and leaped in. He told her to pull the lever, the whine increased, and then with a jerk started forward.
“Hold on to your hat, Miss Milton. I just engaged the propeller.”
As the boat steadily accelerated the bow rose into the air and then settled back once the hull started planing. Mr. Willis focused on the steering, but took time to say, “Enjoying yourself, Miss Milton?”
“How fast are we going?”
“We should make 15 knots on the straight.” As they turned the bend into the straight, they came across two rowing sculls practicing for the for Oxford. “Damn!” Mr. Willis pulled a chain, the steam pressure was released through a loud whistle and the two sculls sprinted for shore. “Miss Milton, where is that indicator?”
“About half way to the red.”
“Can you pull that other lever?”
“Yes.”
“Please do so now.”
The indicator moved closer to the red and the boat leaped as it sped up. The bow split the waters and created a large wake behind the boat. The abuse the rowers screamed at them as the wake nearly flipped their sculls was drowned by the whine of the engine and the roar of bubbles where the steam exited the boat behind them.
Cynthia shouted “My bonnet!” as her elegant headgear was blown behind them.
“Fun, isn't it?” Mr. Willis was grinning as the boat sped upstream. Cynthia grinned back. It was fun. The lock and weir at Goring sprung into view ahead of them.
“You can release the levers.” Reluctantly, she did. The boat slowed immediately then lunged forward as the wake caught up with it.
Cynthia asked, “Mr. Willis, did we make your 15 knots?”
“If we didn't, we came close enough.” The whine of the engine slowed and was replaced by a loud hiss. “Damn and blast, sorry Miss Milton, the seal has gone.” He disengaged the propeller and the boat coasted to a stop.
“What now?”
“We could just drift back.”
“After that ride, I'd rather we moved.”
“I suppose I could shift back to the other engine.” Mr. Willis clambered back, which rocked the boat dangerously. Then he began playing with valves and levers. The slow thumping pulse that the boat originally had resumed. The boat rocked again as he clambered forward and said, “I suppose it is for the best. Those rowers will not give us a very friendly reception.”
Cynthia looked at his face. It was emotionless, deadpan. “I suppose they didn't like our waves.”
Mr. Willis' face broke into a smile and laughed, “Somehow I doubt it. At least this way we can still outrun them.”
He re-engaged the propeller and with the leeway the piston engine gave them was able to turn the boat back downstream. “Sorry about your bonnet, but I think you look better without it. The windswept look becomes you.”
She blushed and said, “Mr. Willis, don't be silly.”
The rowers started to shout abuse at them as they passed, but noticing the presence of a lady minded their manners. Mr. Willis hailed them with his condolences. “Sorry about that wave, but we were trying a speed trial for my new boat, 'the white feather'.”
“You blasted steam launches are a nuisance. Should be banned from the river.”
Cynthia studied her companion. He seemed subdued. She said, “Mr. Willis, that white feather I gave you.”
“Yes?”
“Did it hurt?”
“Some. Well, yes, quite a bit.”
“It was Major Hogan's idea.”
“You didn't have to do what he said.”
“I know. I'm sorry. You're doing something important and more than a little dangerous, aren't you?”
“I can't tell you about it.”
“Why?”
“I can't tell you about that either.”
As they chugged by Upper Basildon, Mr. Willis noticed Michael standing on the bank and waving to them. His bulk made him impossible to miss.
“Oh cruft,” Mr. Willis said, “I'm in trouble now.”
“You're in trouble?”
“I wasn't really supposed to take her out.”
“Oh, and I suppose giving me a ride was not allowed either?”
“No.” He gave Cynthia a wan smile, and said “Still it was fun, wasn't it?”
“Yes. I hope you'll be fine.”
“The boat didn't blow up and we did run her at speed. That's all that matters.”
“Was it in danger of blowing up?”
“No, but the Nervous Nellie's in charge thought so. Wouldn't let me try it.”
He piloted the launch into the freshly dug cove just below the town and tied it to the dock. They were met by a squad of red-coated soldiers. Their commander said, “Mr. Willis?”
“Yes.”
“You and your companion.”
“Miss Cynthia Milton.”
“You and Miss Milton are to come with us.”
Cynthia shot him a panicked look. He smiled at her and said, “Don't worry. All will be well.”



They were escorted to a closed carriage with drawn blinds and brusquely ordered to get in. The door was shut behind them. Cynthia could hear the noise the lock made as it was snapped closed. The carriage began to move. In a fit of anxiety, Cynthia asked, “Is this used to transport prisoners? Are we going to the tower?”
“The Tower? I doubt it. That's too much bother over such a little matter as this. I'll get a dressing down from my commander, that's all.”
“And me?”
“I don't know. Are you any good with figures?”
“Good with figures, I don't understand.”
“You know, adding, subtracting numbers that sort of thing.”
“Why?”
“What they're going to do is to read you the secrets act. If you agree to it, then you're free to go.”
“If I don't?”
“Then I'm sorry, but you won't be free to go.”
“Oh. Did you agree to it?”
“Can't say. The reason I asked you about figures is that we're always looking for new computers. The faster we can compute the better.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not good with arithmetic.”
“Oh well, I'll have to find something you can do.”