Captain Aubrey checked his new Harrison-patented pocket watch and tapped his cane against the Thameside bollard; his impatience had been growing since 3pm and it was ringing out evensong now across the hidden pattern of churches sounding the great dome of St. Pauls, each catering for their own guild, who would now be gathering cloak and hat and closing up shop and bank alike to make their way to worship. Doctor Maturin smiled inwardly and nodded at his old companion's tipsy displeasure at this deplorable delay.
"For all the hubbub about this vessel I gave up lunch at Black's" muttered Jack at the cormorants wheeling above, and at the Almighty far beyond the red wispy mare's tails of cirrus.
Stephen fed the last of his steak pie's thick crust to a scavenging rook that was hopping between tables, and admired its intelligence when it decided to ignore the inedible pie scraps, spreading its oily black wings to ascend.
At that very moment a whistle, much like the steam-pressure values on the harvester newly installed on the Hampshire estate, sounded out across the busy London Pool. It echoed off the brick walls of the huge West India sugar storehouse and across distance to the Royal gunnery near the ancient stone battlements of the Tower.
On the opposite bank the rows of top hats and bonnets swiveled as eyes and outstretched fingers pointed towards something burning, a pall of thick grey smoke rising beyond the two schooners and a barge skiff. These vessels, also packed with onlookers and unsavory waterrats helped to block Jack's view, and so he stood a tip-toe to discern better his reason for polishing off a yard and a-half of disgraceful ale at the Waterside inn.
Out past the anchored boats came churning a wonder of the age.
"By All the Saints..." said Stephen dropping his notebook on his lap, and fixed his gaze on what appeared to be a small but terrifyingly optimistic boat with an almost Romanesque prow, a smoke chimney in wrought iron rising from amidships from which rose the cloud, and aft was a strange hump. No sails were spread from its mast, and yet it was directly moving against the tide and the wind.
"My my, there's Mister Symington himself!" said Jack, observing the movement of the Charlotte Dundas from his pocket-glass, its focus fixed on the stern where four engineers were pacing about. The wash from the little vessel hit the sides of the beach and dockside with the power of a small squall in the middle of Old Father Thames.
"She's to run on the Forth and Clyde canals… Imagine what the Service could do with bigger engines Stephen."
"Imagine..." echoed Stephen, and whilst he stooped to retrieve his notebook his mind briefly filled with a vision of Hephaestus toiling in the depths of Vesuvius.
© 2006 Louis Boukman