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The Great Western

Mary watched her husband carefully.

She stared at his form, strong, tall, lean, gloved hands behind his back, head back. His eyes were up, watching the scene before himself. His black suit, pressed and ironed this morning by Clara, already has spots of darkness on it, where the waves had splashed up. He rocked back on his heels, his shining shoes squeaking slightly, and his shoulders moved in a sigh. He was happy, and proud of himself.

She averted her eyes from him and pulled a handkerchief out of the small pocket in her skirts.

She dabbed her eyes delicately, discretely, but someone saw.

‘Are you alright, ma’am?’ the kindly man asked. He was short, wearing nothing but a white shirt and trousers, much to the lady’s discomfort, but she smiled as if seeing such men were an everyday occurrence.

‘Just the sea air. I will be fine,’ she told him, her voice quiet and polite. He gave a short jerk of the head, a nod, and disappeared. She watched him go with distain.

The dock was teeming with people, all dressed like the man. They ran about, collecting crates and nets and all manner of equipment, and scuttled up the plank onto the deck of the ship.

The woman’s eyes rose, for the first time, to look at the beast that now lay in the water, tied to the dock where she now stood. It was massive, the biggest ship in the docks. It had a large wooden hull, strapped with iron, and four massive masts protruded from the deck. The sails were all being tied down professionally by the scantily clad men, who were climbing up the riggings like monkeys.

However, what made this ship so unusual, was the large chimney in the centre of the deck, and the huge wheel paddle attached onto the side.

‘Unnatural,’ the woman muttered to herself, and clasped her hands, the handkerchief still in them, before herself.

The chimney suddenly started to puff out great amounts of smoke. She immediately covered her mouth again with her handkerchief, her nose wrinkling in disgust. However, the smell penetrated the cloth and she coughed loudly.

The man in the suit started, and turned around. His face was young and unlined, with a large predominant nose and dark hair down the side of his face that matched the dark mop that was now neatly tucked underneath his top hat.

‘Mary dear, are you alright?’ he asked, concern tinting his voice. His gloved hand rested gently on her arm, below the huge puffed blue sleeve. She removed the handkerchief and smiled a little at him.

‘Just the smoke dear,’ she replied softly. He frowned, and turned back to the ship.

‘Oh,’ was all he replied with. Her eyebrows furrowed in a slight frown, seemingly annoyed with the response she got. He turned back and saw it before she wiped the emotion off her face, and his eyes softened. ‘Oh Mary, I am sorry. I brought you here for selfish reasons.’

She shook herself almost visibly, and smiled radiantly. ‘No,’ she told him rather firmly, ‘I ought to be sorry. This is your pride and joy. I wanted to come and see it. It is beautiful.’

‘She is, isn’t she?’ he breathed, turning back around.

At his words, though, the woman instantly frowned again. The ship, The Great Western, was a beautiful ship indeed. But the woman then looked down at herself. The large blue dress, puffed sleeves, tight bodice over her corset, and large skirts that trailed the wet wooden dock was spotless. It was obviously new, and instead of complimenting her, this man was complimenting a ship made of wood and metal.

‘She is 1340 tons and 234.91 ft long. See the wheel there, it is 57.71ft across. They are all made down to the tiniest amount. William did the best job on this, don’t you agree Mary? Didn’t he do well? She has a 2 cylinder Maudslay steam engine, do you remember Henry Maudslay, Mary, from Maudslay, Sons & Fields? Yes, I had them over for dinner.’

He paused, not turning, but she made a noise of recognition, her eyes dull. He didn’t seem to notice, and continued.

‘Yes well that is what they make, you see? They are very powerful. They ensure that the Great Western can do 8.5 knots. Now my dear that is very fast, for her size. She will be the biggest ship ever made. I bet she is. That is what I hope anyway. She can carry 128 passengers, and 20 servants and 60 crew. That is big my dear…’

He turned around now, and the woman let out a long sigh.

‘Isambard Kingdom Brunel, you do go on so,’ she sighed. He frowned.

‘Oh, I am sorry my dear.’

‘It is fine,’ she commented, waving her hand gracefully and yet the sentiment didn’t reach her eyes. Her face was still as sullen as it always had been since arrival. ‘I do wish to go home though, my dear,’ she added. He frowned.

‘Oh,’ he stated again, and then nodded ‘alright.’ She smiled dazzlingly at him.

‘Oh good,’ she exclaimed ‘I shall call James to fetch the carriage. Clara is cooking chicken for dinner, won’t that be a nice treat?’

He smiled and nodded, and she turned swiftly on her heel, her skirts swishing around her ankles as she walked off. She paused only momentarily to pick the heavy fabric up in her hand away from the wet wooden planks disdainfully.

However, the man paused. He glanced up at the ship towering above him. His ship. The ship he had designed. His ‘pride and joy’ as his wife had stated.

‘I’ll be back,’ he murmured into the air, to the ships side where it stated The Great Western proudly. ‘I will be back in April, to see you sail to North America and back. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.’

And with that he raced off after his wife, his black coat flapping behind him.

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