Streets of Hope – Excerpt
Book 3 of Lizzie Series by J. Robert Whittle
Even from a block away, they could see there was a full contingent of ships in dock, many having arrived since their last visit late yesterday afternoon. Trying to count their masts, the new arrivals included a three-masted barque, two brigs, a schooner, and farther down at the government wharf were two small frigates. Dodging a lumbering, dust-covered coach, they crossed Dock Street and made their way onto the wharf, moving amongst tall stacks of cargo.
They were surprised to find Charley Mason’s horseless cart empty. Neither he nor the Grim brothers were anywhere to be seen. Concern tugged at Lizzie’s mind and she quickened her pace, but Quon had already noticed her concern.
“Dare!” he exclaimed, pointing down the row of ships to the deck of the Falcon where Charley and Captain Davis could be seen deep in conversation.
Creeping slowly forward, their thoughts of surprising the men were quickly dispelled when the booming voice of One-Eyed Jack rang over the quay. “Visitors comin aboard, captain!”
Looking up, Lizzie saw Jack waving from the upper deck.
“Come aboard, lass,” Davis growled from the rail, pulling his hat down further to shade his eyes against the rising sun.
At the top of the gangway Lizzie stopped. “Are you working today, Charley?
“No lass, just talking. An idea I have … I wanted to talk to a man of the sea about it.”
Lizzie’s brow wrinkled from squinting, as she often did when thinking. “Is it to do with us … and ships?” she asked, abruptly.
Captain Davis’ booming laughter interrupted them. “May as well tell her, lad. She won’t stop ‘till she knows!”
Charley rolled his eyes. “Well, a week ago a ship came in loaded with grain from Hull. The captain informed me that grain in the area was very cheap as all the local markets were swamped with it; exporting by sea was out of the question as the cost of bagging and loading made the process too slow and expensive.” He stopped, watching their reaction.
“Is it the right stuff for making whisky?” she asked.
“Yes …,” said Charley, scratching his head, wondering if she had heard a word he said. “But the labour costs are too high,” he repeated.
Quon’s hands went wild. Lizzie nodded and grinned.
“Well, what did he say?” asked the engineer.
“Oh, he just answered yer question for ya,” she giggled coyly, dropping back into the rough street talk of her youth. “He reckons yer the engineer, Mister Mason … and if yer any good at what ya do, yer’ll solve it yerself!”
Captain Davis burst out laughing and Charley threw one of his walking sticks at Quon who caught it deftly and handed it back.
Lizzie jumped to her feet and strode toward the gangway with Quon right behind. Over her shoulder, she threw a challenge to Charley. “Better solve it, lad. It’s business we need so don’t take too long!”
The words had no sooner left her lips when a loud bang rent the air followed by the sound of hissing steam. The alarmed shouts from the nearby Kings Dock drew their attention to a plume of smoke rising into the still morning air.
Lizzie and Quon moved along the dock joining the group of onlookers. Some minutes later, another loud boom reverberated against the buildings, this time like an explosion. A shout from behind alerted them to the arrival of Charley and his boys as they pushed their way through the crowd.
“What happened?” asked Charley, from atop his cart as Captain Davis pushed past them.
Lizzie and Quon climbed up behind Charley to get a better view. When the disinterested crowd began to move away, they could see Davis conversing with another man. He beckoned them to come closer. Warily, the Grim boys edged the cart past the last of the onlookers coming to a halt beside the captain and a man they recognized only slightly.
“Bloody hell! It’s a steam engine!” exclaimed Charley, impatiently banging his stick on the side of his cart.
The Grims rushed to his side and lifted him down. As soon as his feet touched the ground, he could hardly contain himself and quickly wobbled over to examine the equipment. Charley’s fingers gently caressed the now-useless engine.