Jacky and the Age of Steam – Outtake from Golden Dragon...

“Give it over, lad,” I say, reaching out a hand. My bedmate Joannie is a silent lump off to my left side. No, actually, we had not returned directly to the Nancy last night after we had completed our nocturnal reconnaissance of Flashby’s lair. No, on our way back, when we passed by the Admiral Benbow Tavern and music and laughter were pouring out, we just had to stop in. We did not stick out. We were just two more black-clad footpads jammed in the crowd. And, of course, our money was good and so no questions were asked. The fiddler was excellent, with a fine strong voice. He reminded me of my Shantyman, Enoch Lightner, now back in Boston on the Lorelei Lee.

We got back very late, and so we were sleeping in.

I open the note Ravi gave me and read:

To the Person known as Lotus Blossom, Greetings:

The Gentleman of whom we spoke at our last meeting has agreed to meet with you on the night of Wednesday next.

Please present yourself ready at Mrs. Featherstone’s at Eight in the evening. Your terms for payment will be met.

Benj. Crespo

I refold the note and lay it aside.

“How did it go in there, Ravi?” I ask of the little fellow.

“Oh, very well, Memsaab,” he says, “The ladies there much kind to Ravi. Many pettings of his unworthy person .”

“I’ll bet,” I say, smiling and giving him a pet of my own.

“Sahib Creespo ask Ravi if he would like to earn some money...”

Ah, ha... I figured something of the sort would happen. That’s why, when I left orders with the watch last night that Ravi was to be sent to the brothel in the moning to see if anything was up with Creepo, I added that the very large and forbidding John Thomas should go with him as protection, in case anyone tried to pull something nasty with him...Ravi is such a very pretty little boy.

“... but I told the Sahib that I was very happy in the employ of Memsahib Blossom of Lotus Tree.”

“Well, good on you, Ravi,” I say, laughing, “Now go tell Mister Lee-chi that we are ready for our breakfast.”

As he pops off the bed and scurries out, I give Joannie a poke.

“Up, you lazy slug,” I say, “My Lord Richard Allen is taking us all on a ride in the country today.”

Heading out of London, we go north, which I think is good. If we went south, we might meet up with...Let’s let sleeping dogs, or Highwaymen, lie for now.

We have Ravi and Joannie with us to give them a bit of a treat. It is springtime, after all. The buds are swellin’ and some of them already have burst into bloom. It is a glorious time of the year and I do love it so, as do the kids. Having them along is a joy, and furthermore, my very fallible self is less likely to fall into passionate embraces with Richard Allen if we are not alone. Things are not yet resolved in that way, and until they are, I must be careful. I’m sure there will be many comfortable inns along our way today with many cozy... and private... rooms beckoning to us.

Joannie and I are in our Lawson Peabody Black. Just two little schoolgirls are we, doncha know.

It doesn’t matter what I think.. or want... in the way of small chaperones, for as soon as we hit a crossroads and have to stop, our two young companions are out of the coach and onto the sunshine of the top of the carriage.

Which is where I would head, too, but not today...

“So where are we bound, milord Richard?” I ask, tight by his side, now that we are quite alone. Today he is not dressed in his regimentals. No, today he is dressed like any country gentleman: fine faun colored coat, matching trousers, half boots, and, instead of his sword, a highly ornamented walking stick with brass tip at the bottom, black shaft, and gold knob at the top, cast in the head of a growling lion. Very nice over all, I’m thinkin’. In fact, he looks just smashing, even though I am sure that his cane conceals a blade within. That is all right, though, since I myself travel with my shiv up my sleeve, even in the most civilized of places. You never can tell...

I snuggle into his side and purr... ummmmmm

His hand goes on my shoulder and he says, “not much artifice in you is there, Princess?”

That pops up the Faber head, indignant.

“What? I like you and I’m happy sitting close to you. What’s wrong in that?” I ask, miffed.

His expression grows soft and gentle and he nods. “Nothing Princess, nothing at all.” and I put my head back on his shoulder, mollified...somewhat.

I look up into those kind eyes which are brown like mine. Not too much of a surprise what our children would look like, our hair being the same color as well... Enough of that, you...

“So where are we going, milord?” I ask, shaking that thought from my mind.

“Ahem...” he coughs, “Up to Bloomsbury, Princess, to view a scientific demonstration...”

“Wot?” I say, mystified. “...one that might possibly affect you in the future as head of a shipping company.”

I sit up with a sense of some dread.

“Oh? The scientist in charge of this demonstration wouldn’t be named ‘Tilden’ by any chance?” I ask, instantly on my guard. Professor Phineas Tilden, our schoolmaster on HMS Dolphin, nicknamed Tilly by us ships boys, has crossed my path a few times, each time putting my poor body in some danger with his zany scientific devices.

“No, Princess, his name is Richard Trevithick, and here is the circular announcing the exhibition.” He reaches in his waistcoat and pulls out a paper and gives it to me.

To the Discerning Publick of London & Surrounding Environs:

All are invited to a wondrous demonstration of the Power of Steam in the Modern World.

You will perceive my Device for Travel is Reliable and Faster than any Horse-drawn Vehicle- Safe and Receptive to the Sensibilities of Females and Children.

Mister Trevithick’s One and Only Steam Circus, Featuring the ‘Catch-Me-If-You-Can’ Steam Locomotive.

Cost to Ride: Adults: One Shilling Children: Free

At Bloomsbury Circus Saturday, June 16, 1808

Our coach rattles to a halt.

“Ah,” says Richard, “We have arrived at Trevithick’s “Steam Circus.”

I look out the window and see that we have pulled up next to a circular track laid out in a field.

Within there are parallel rails, which appear to be made of wood, and on them rest several open cars. And, out in front of them, sits some sort of Infernal Machine, huffing and puffing great gouts of white steam.

“Come on, Princess, it is but one shilling a ride, and the fare has already been paid” says Allen, “Let us ride together into the future. Don’t be afraid, now.”

The kids are already off the top of the carriage and have piled into the second car in line, hooting and hollering with excitement. Richard and I leave the coach and climb in beside them.

“This should be safe enough, Princess,” says Lord Allen. “It’s far enough back from the Engine.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, well, unfortunately, one of Mister Trevithick’s engines exploded three of four years ago, killing four men.”

“Well, that is cause for concern, milord,” I say.

“You are not fearful, my little woodland nymph?”

“No, do not expect me to quiver, Lord Allen,” I reply, snoot in the air, “As I have already traveled by steam.”

“And how was that, Princess?”

“Oh, Richard, you of the Sceptured Isle, think that we back in the States are so provincial, but this time we have one up on you.” I put my impudent finger to his nose. “Shall I explain?”

“By all means, please do, Jacky.”

“Very well,” I say, as we hear a shrill whistle and feel a slight jerk in our carriage, “It was like this.”

I slip back into remembrance...

It was last spring, Richard, back in the States when we were readying the Lorelei Lee for her maiden voyage under the Blue Anchor Flag, a voyage that turned out to be a very long one. For me, anyway.

Colonel Trevelyne of the Dovecote Estate in Quincy, Massachusetts, dispatched his son Randall Trevelyne, United States Marine Corps officer home on extended leave, to New York City to settle some business for him. I was in Boston, quite well off in the way of money, and leaped at the chance to visit our neighboring state to the South, and immediately engaged my Nancy B for the trip down the coast, she having just returned from a granite/rum/molasses run to the Caribbean.

The Nancy was to carry the five of us to New York: my very dear friend Amy Trevelyne; her very ardent admirer Ezra Pickering, who is also the Clerk of the Faber Shipping Worldwide Corporation and my very good lawyer and financial advisor; the aforementioned Randall Trevelyne and his new companion and love, Polly Von, Actress and good friend to me back in our Cheapside days; and me, for once without male escort. Yes, you dog, I wish you had been there.

I had anticipated spending most of my time in the very lively taverns and theatres of that fair city whilst I was there, but such was not to be. No, it was not, for Ezra Pickering, on his own, had arranged for us a trip up the Hudson on Mister Fulton’s North River Steamboat. I suspect his purpose was to give me a bit of an education in things to come.

We boarded at New York, and accompanied by many whistles and screams of vented steam, we were soon bound for Albany, the capitol of that state. The engine, concealed below, was connected to a large paddle-wheel, similar to what we would see joined to a common gristmill along some tranquil stream, slowly turning to grind coarse wheat into fine flour for our daily bread. This wheel slowly rotated as well in its effort to propel us upstream.

“Upriver, against the current, you might discern, Miss Faber,” observes Ezra Pickering, leaning against the rail and smiling his little secret smile. “Could this mean the end of sailing as you know it, Jacky?” People on the shore point to us and I hear Monster! shouted, and so must we appear, with steam pouring out, wheel grinding, great smoke stack high above, belching out black clouds from the coal and wood burning boiler. I was rather delighted at their distress, but that is just me and my contrary nature, as you well know.

“No, Ezra,” I say, “This is all amazing stuff, but steam will never take the place of sail at sea, where the wind is free and wood and coal are not. Oh, look at them on the shore running away! Run, you dogs! Ha!” “True,” says, Ezra, “But when the steerage is restricted, such as in a harbor, or a river, would not the maneuverability be an advantage?”

I have to nod in agreement...Poor Mike Fink, your days as King of the River, with your flatboats and keelboats, are alas, sadly over. I am afraid my lovely Belle of the Golden West will very soon be lying in some forgotten bayou, rotting slowly away to nothing...

“To say nothing of the uses of such craft in war...”

Ah, yes, war... it always gets back to that, doesn’t it? Yes, it would be handy, never to have to fight the wind and struggle to gain the advantage of the weather gauge... no, just plow in and pound away at each other... well, we shall see...

At that moment, the funnel of the steamboat lets loose a shower of sparks, one of which lights upon Amy Trevelyne’s dress and we hurriedly pound it out. She, of course, is furious, but Ezra is not, as he is most happy to help extinguish the ember...and sooth her easily riled nerves with his gentle ways.

We land near Clermont to spend the night at a very respectable inn and then on to Albany the very next day. All in all, it’s a very pleasant trip.

“So what do you think, Miss Faber?” asks my very good friend Ezra on the following day as we watch the shoreline slip past.

“It might have inland possibilities,” I allow.

“Mister Fulton is selling shares in his enterprise...”

I think about this and then say, “Buy up two hundred dollars worth, Ezra.”

“Yes, Miss,” he says, and then goes on. “There is a fellow in England who is going the same sort of thing on land. Should we invest there, too?”

“Yes, Ezra, we should,” I reply. “We must have faith in the future, mustn’t we?”

He nods, and we enjoy looking at the passing pastoral landscape till we arrive back in the City of New York.

Ah well, fine memories of pleasant times past...

I rouse myself back to the present, and to Richard, who sits next to me in this... thing.

“So you see, My Lord Allen,” I say a mite smugly, “We in the former colonies are not quite so backward as you of the Sceptered Isle might think. And, Richard, it might interest you to know that I could very well have an investment in this particular enterprise.”

“We shall see, Princess,” says Allen. “Ah, I believe we are about to shove off.”

There is the screech of yet another whistle, another jerk, and we begin to move.

“Hmmm, “ I say, as we move along, “Not bad... a little smoother than your regular coach.” A puff of black smoke brushes by my nose, but I whisk it off.

“True. But it is not faster than my horse, disagreeable brute though he might be.”

“True, Milord, but your steed would eventually tire and this machine would...”

At that moment, there is a lurch and we look forward to see that the locomotive has hit a low spot on the track and leans very alarmingly to the right side. It hovers there for a moment and then topples over.

The engine spews steam and smoke and people run from it in all directions, themselves screeching in well-founded fear.

“Best we get back to our coach, Princess, for I believe the show is over, and the thing is about to blow, “ says Richard, hustling us all back.

We pile into the coach and head off.

As we calm down, Richard Allen laughs and says, “Ah, Princess, I do fear for your railway investment! I do, indeed!”

And so do I... Oh, well....

 
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