Home > Raising Steam (Discworld #40)(2)

Raising Steam (Discworld #40)(2)
Terry Pratchett

Mrs Simnel, reluctant, was dragged by her son to the great open barn he had kitted out like the workshop back at Sheepridge, hoping against hope that her son had accidentally found himself a girl. Inside the barn she looked helplessly at a large circle of metal which covered most of the floor. Something metallic whizzed round and round on the metal, sounding like a squirrel in a cage, giving off a smell much like camphor.

‘Here she is, Mother. Ain’t she champion?’ Dick said happily. ‘I call her Iron Girder!’

‘But what is it, son?’

He grinned hugely and said, ‘It’s what they call a pro-to-type, Mother. You’ve got to ’ave a pro-to-type if you’re going to be an engineer.’

His mother smiled wanly but there was no stopping Dick. The words just tumbled out.

‘The thing is, Mother, before you attempt owt you’ve got to ’ave some idea of what it is you want to do. One of the books I found in the library was about being an architect. And in that book, the man who wrote it said before he built his next big ’ouse he always made quite tiny models to get an idea of how it would all work out. He said it sounds fiddly and stuff, but going slowly and being thorough is the only way forward. And so I’m testing ’er out slowly, seeing what works and what doesn’t. And actually, I’m quite proud of me’sen. In the beginning I made t’track wooden, but I reckoned that the engine I wanted would be very ’eavy, so I chopped up t’wooden circle for firewood and went back to t’forge.’

Mrs Simnel looked at the little mechanism running round and round on the barn floor and said, in the voice of someone really trying to understand, ‘Eee, lad, but what does it do?’

‘Well, I remembered what Dad said about t’time he were watching t’kettle boiling and noticed t’lid going up and down with the pressure, and he told me that one day someone would build a bigger kettle that would lift more than a kettle lid. And I believe I have the knowing of the way to build a proper kettle, Mother.’

‘And what good would that do, my boy?’ said his mother sternly. And she watched the glow in her son’s eyes as he said, ‘Everything, Mother. Everything.’

Still in a haze of slight misunderstanding, Mrs Simnel watched him unroll a large and rather grubby piece of paper.

‘It’s called a blueprint, Mother. You’ve got to have a blueprint. It shows you how everything fits together.’

‘Is this part of the pro-to-type?’

The boy looked at his doting mother’s face and realized that a little more exposition should be forthcoming. He took her by the hand and said, ‘Mother, I know they’re all lines and circles to you, but once you have the knowing of the circles and the lines and all, you know that this is a picture of an engine.’

Mrs Simnel gripped his hand and said, ‘What do you think you’re going to do with it, our Dick?’

And young Simnel grinned and said happily, ‘Change things as needs changing, Mother.’

Mrs Simnel gave her son a curious look for a moment or two, then appeared to reach a grudging conclusion and said, ‘Just you come with me, my lad.’

She led him back into the house, where they climbed up the ladder into the attic. She pointed out to her son a sturdy seaman’s chest covered in dust.

‘Your granddad gave me this to give to you, when I thought you needed it. Here’s the key.’

She was gratified that he didn’t grab it and indeed looked carefully at the trunk before opening it. As he pushed up the lid, suddenly the air was filled with the glimmer of gold.

‘Your granddad were slightly a bit of a pirate and then he got religion and were a bit afeared, and the last words he said to me on his deathbed were, “That young lad’ll do something one day, you mark my words, our Elsie, but I’m damned if I know what it’s going to be.”’

The people of the town were quite accustomed to the clangings and bangings emanating every day from the various blacksmith forges for which the area was famous. It seemed that, even though he had set up a forge of his own, young Simnel had decided not to enter the blacksmithing trade, possibly due to the dreadful business of Mr Simnel Senior’s leaving the world so abruptly. The local blacksmiths soon got used to making mysterious items that young Mr Simnel had sketched out meticulously. He never told them what he was constructing, but since they were earning a lot of money they didn’t mind.

The news of his legacy got around, of course – gold always finds its way out somehow – and there was a scratching of heads among the population exemplified by the oldest inhabitant, who, sitting on the bench outside the tavern, said, ‘Well, bugger me! Lad were blessed wi’ an inherited fortune in gold and turned it into a load of old iron!’

He laughed, and so did everybody else, but nevertheless they continued to watch young Dick Simnel slip in and out of the wicket gate of his old and almost derelict barn, double-padlocked at all times.

Simnel had found a couple of local likely lads who helped him make things and move things around. Over time, the barn was augmented by a host of other sheds. More lads were taken on and the hammers were heard all day every day and, a bit at a time, information trickled into what might be called the local consciousness.

Apparently the lad had made a pump, an interesting pump that pumped water very high. And then he’d thrown everything away and said things like, ‘We need more steel than iron.’

There were tales of great reams of paper laid out on desks as young Simnel worked out a wonderful ‘undertaking’, as he called it. Admittedly there had been the occasional explosion, and then people heard about what the lads called ‘The Bunker’, which had been useful to jump into on several occasions when there had been a little … incident. And then there was the unfamiliar but somehow homely and rhythmic ‘chuffing’ noise. Really quite a pleasant noise, almost hypnotic, which was strange because the mechanical creature that was making the noise sounded more alive than you would have expected.

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