II. Lydia

The Wrong Way To Build A Bridge, or The Memoirs of Lady Lydia Parker-Wright, artificer and explorer

Vol IV. March 20th

Credit: Wellcome Library

The Sacramento (from Southend to Tower Hill)

We departed S_____ on what appeared to be a most expeditious form of transportation. Sykes had engaged a dirigible line to traverse the South Essex countryside, as the direct line to Fenchurch Street was closed. She was named Sacramento, and her captain was a stout Portuguese named Da Silva, whose affected manner of English was as charming as his attentions proved vexing. Twice he slipped while assisting my boarding, and I was forced to take a sharp restitutionary measure with my knee to ensure such accidents were not repeated.

The dirigible had been a last minute decision that Sykes had made on his own initiative. While it was impertinent of him to doubt the abilities of the Essex Railway Company to produce an efficacious mode of alternate transportation to London, I appreciated his forethought; the weather was exceedingly clement and an omnibus would have been hot and crowded. I have my father’s constitution for such affairs, and an Englishwoman must remember that perspiration, as with all bodily functions, remains the sole preserve of the male.

Sykes stayed near the brazier that operated the contraption, as per his station. I had, of course, instructed Sykes to pack my brass goggles and calibrators in the hand luggage, and so did not peruse the mechanism or take more than a cursory professional interest in its operation. I also refrained from any whoops of delight as we rose steadily in the air, although I confess the majesty of soaring among the clouds was a joyful experience.

Above Hornchurch I took tea with my fellow passengers, the Reverend Jacobs and Colonel Blumstead, who had both chosen our form of travel for novelty. Jacobs was hoping to visit his mother in Pimlico before he departed Britain to bring the word of our Lord to the natives of Siam. The Colonel refrained from discussing the purpose of his travel, and at the time I made the mistake of thinking little of his oversight.

Our conversation was, alas, most tiresome. I had barely taken a bite from the cucumber squares on offer when the Colonel engaged the topic of pacifying certain regions of the country, insisting Her Majesty’s government to be comprised of “weak-willed cowards” under the influence of “costermongers, plebeians and their assorted foreign notions”.

Listening dutifully to a rather one-sided discussion, it soon became apparent the Colonel had several quaint and misguided beliefs on the operation of Armstrong guns, and was confident they would have proven great benefit in our recent wars in the Punjab. He proved most disagreeable when I endeavoured to venture certain logistical considerations regarding heavy ordinance he had failed to contemplate, and he stated, rather frankly, that a woman should not have ideas above her station.

“Indeed,” I replied. “And a colonel should not entertain ideas of government policy.”

“Madam,” he retorted, “war is the merely the continuation of politics by other means.”

“You have read Von Clausewitz, then, Colonel? How marvellous. I had considered such an author outside of your remit, given that he was a Prussian gentleman and full of ‘assorted foreign notions’.”

This response made my dining companion rather dyspeptic, and I retired to the rear, allowing the men to benefit from brandy and cigars. From here I could see the expanse of the Metropolis below, and enjoy our gentle flight above the smokestacks and tenements that had begun to creep beyond the Bow Road. We were coming in to land when I sighted a small group of children playing cricket, and felt inclined to lean over the railing to see if the lower classes had mastered a gentleman’s game. They were not wearing top hats (one supposes they could not afford them), nor pads, but even as we soared some three hundred feet above I could see the bowler had good action, and the basic principles of a strong silly mid-off field had been ingrained in them.

My interest in the game, however, was interrupted by a most inconvenient eruption. The brazier I earlier neglected to examine had developed a fault, and sent the Sacramento reeling to the side with considerable force and a terrible, rattling screech. Holding firm to the railing, I twisted to see if Captain Da Silva would make the remedial correction required (an emergency vent in the secondary pressure regulator while altering the flow to correct our ballast) and halt the list to port. However, the man seemed at a loss to repair his command (one can only speculate how he became a captain at all, a child would have been more competent), and I was obliged to instruct him in its repair.

Unfortunately, this course of action was thwarted before it began. For it was at that moment the much celebrated rogue cable, loosed by the blast, struck me on hard on the shoulder and swept me off the dirigible’s platform.

I confess, dear reader, I began the perilous fall toward the streets below with a most unbecoming scream…

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