A Short Tour
Eliste found herself amazed at how large the riverboat was. It wasn't anywhere near as large as a hold, of course, but it was still huge.
She had kept confined to her quarters for most of the trip thus far, occasionally helping on the riverboat when requested. They were nowhere near a port at the moment, however, and there were very few people about, perhaps many taking an early dinner, or perhaps a late nap, so she decided it would be safe to wander a bit.
She wandered the decks for some time, then came to the far side of the cargo deck. A large, noisy contraption set on it surrounded by a wooden lattice. There was a door that was slightly ajar and, curiosity getting the better of her, drew closer.
Barr caught sight of the passenger almost as soon as she got into the engine enclosure. Sure enough, there was one on every trip. This one was a woman, and he thought she looked nosy - though that might just be his prejudice showing itself.
"I wonder how this works?" The words were said aloud, but more to herself, for she did not notice the man until she was almost upon him.
She jerked back in surprised. "Oh, pardon me!"
Barr's expression was still suspicious. "Are you really interested in how it works?" he demanded gruffly.
Eliste pulled her cloak a little more tightly as if to ward him off.
She looked between him and the engines and nodded. "I...I think it's rather interesting."
"It's magnificent," Barr corrected her. "Do you know anything about engines - or steam power?"
The girl shook her head. She had never been allowed to study anything beyond the basic harper classes and whatever her mother taught her.
Women were to stay in the home and take care of it and children. They had no other purpose, according to her father.
"Well, come down and look at the boilers first," the old man said, waving a hand to indicate she should go back out the door she entered through. "If you're _really_ interested, that is."
"The boilers?" Eliste backed up and clambered through the door. She continued to clutch at her cloak, not certain if she was angering the man. He didn't seem to pleased. "I'm...I'm very interested, but...but I don't want to impose."
"No imposition if you're interested." Barr led the way down the narrow walkway between the cargo and indicated the access panels in the deck beneath his feet. "Steam pipes come under here. From the boilers to the engines. A crank on the paddlewheel turns linear motion - which is what the engine provides - into rotary motion - which paddlewheel needs," he explained over his shoulder, while checking if the young woman was following him.
"Oh." Eliste tried to imagine the machinery doing what it was supposed to do, how they all fit together. It was a strange concept, but a compelling one. She hesitated at first, not certain if she should be following the man, especially if she was alone. She took a deep breath.
She had to remember that not everyone was out to get her, and not all men were like Helver. He was rather grouchy, though, so she would just have to be on guard.
"So the engines run on steam?" It was fascinating how such a simple thing could provide so much power.
"Yes, and the steam is produced in here." He led her into another lattice enclosure. He didn't need to point because there was only one focus point to the boilers - the open door where wood was almost always being inserted. It was also loud, with the roar of the fires, and messy with ash.
"Wow." Eliste drew a little bit closer, but had to move back. The heat was far too intense. "How do you stand this?"
"Most of us start in here in childhood," Barr explained. "We need to keep two or three days wood onboard at any time," he said, waving a hand to indicate the neatly stacked, extremely regularly shaped logs, each the length of a man's arm. "We get water from the river. Heat and water ..." The dark eyes flashed a question at the young woman -
silently demanding she answer it.
Eliste drew back a bit at the sharp look that he gave her, but she answered him, "Make steam." She was beginning to wonder if this was a good idea. Perhaps she should go back to her room. She was interested, but she was also uncomfortable. The man was gruff in his ways and it set her on edge. It didn't help that all his looks seem to be stern glares. "I see."
"Now we can go back to the engines - if you're still interested."
Eliste nodded. The engines were more out in the open, not quite so hidden. "Yes, please." She was still curious and she didn't mind seeing more, even with her reservations.
Barr led the way back to the engines, waving a hand at the stacked cargo as he did so. "This is what keeps us in marks - moving cargo.
The passengers aren't really economic."
Especially passengers like her. Eliste felt a pang of guilt. Perhaps she could sell one of her quilts when they stopped and she could send the marks back to the riverboat. "I see."
"This is where you started - the engines," Barr said, leading the young woman back into the enclosure. "Steam in here, driving pistons - linear motion, I told you that, didn't I? And then off along the crankshaft to the paddlewheel. Have you seen that from this deck?" Barr demanded.
Most passengers were enamoured of the wheel from their vantage point high on the upper deck, but down below it seemed like a far more impressive component to him.
"N..no, not from here." Eliste admitted. His gruff attitude was making her more and more uncomfortable. She wasn't sure if she should continue the tour with Barr, but at the same time, she was so very curious.
"If you've seen enough of the engine, then, go back out and we'll go aft and have a look at it."
Eliste raised a hand to her head. The noise and the heat had gotten to her and a headache had formed. "I hope you'll forgive me. I am interested, I really am, but I get tired easily these days. I think I need to lie down for a bit."
Barr eyed the woman, suspecting her of dissembling though he had to admit she did look less than healthy. "All right then. Away you go,"
he said, waving a hand in dismissal.
Eliste offered a shy smile before turning and heading back to her room. She really was tired and her stomach felt tight. She just needed some rest - and she would be glad for it.
Last updated on the March 29th 2008