“I have a volume or two that I believe should shed some light on the matter,” Waters said. “Follow me.”
He led Hemmings out of the drawing-room and down a long, high-ceilinged hallway that angled into the left wing of the manor. Suits of mounted armor and large, florid paintings in oils lined the walls. The hallway ended in a set of mahogany double doors, which Waters flung open and strode through without pausing. Within was a large library, the walls lined with bookshelves that rose a full two storeys or more and must at the very least have contained tens of thousands of volumes. An upper gallery circled the library at about ten feet, and on both levels, rolling ladders on gleaming brass rails allowed access to upper shelves. The middle of the library was occupied by a number of large Admiralty-style desks and reading tables, upon several of which lay open tomes or curious devices. Two large alabaster globes occupied one desk, only one of them recognizable as the Earth.
Waters headed unhesitatingly for an iron spiral stair on the far side of the room, one of several that led to the upper gallery.
“Hendrickson and Fotheringay, Principia Metallurgica, volume five, should have the necessary information,” he said. But Hemmings’ attention had been entirely captured by the huge, complex apparatus that stood against the west wall. More than six feet wide, it stood three feet into the room and rose several feet beyond the upper gallery, which it interrupted. Meticulously polished copper vessels sat within an iron frame, connected by spotlessly clean piping, some of glass, some of brass. Shining bronze valves divided sections of the machine. At its base, a firebox glowed through a thick iron grille; a covered chute emerged from the wall, feeding into a mechanism at the base of the firebox that appeared to be driven by a slowly-turning steel shaft, and a sheet-iron stack rose from it to disappear through the ceiling. What appeared to be a fractionating column rose from the left side, where a rack held several large carboys of crystal-clear liquid. Glass tubes dipped into the carboys, apparently drawing their contents into a boiler below the fractionating column. On the right, condensation dripped from a copper tank wrapped in brass coils into a broad tray, from where it drained to parts unseen. White liquid was visible in a green glass sight-glass on the side. The whole was festooned with dials, gauges, levers and sight-glasses, in several of which bubbles rose. Two large central dials adjacent to a thick-walled glass flask near the center bore red pointers; peering more closely, Hemmings saw that one indicated a temperature of two hundred and eight degrees Fahrenheit, the other a pressure of some eighteen bar. Heat radiated from the amazing contraption as it hissed, clunked, chattered and gurgled constantly to itself in a low mechanical murmur punctuated by the clicking of constantly-moving steel pushrods toward the rear.
“My word, Waters,” Hemmings exclaimed. “It’s magnificent. An astounding piece of engineering! But ... what on earth does it do?”
Waters, who had just plucked a large leather-bound volume from a shelf, turned and fixed Hemmings with a somewhat jaundiced stare.
“It makes coffee,” he said. “Very ... very ... good ... coffee. Life is too short to drink inferior coffee. Have you never seen an espresso machine before? Raise that green-handled lever, there’s a good chap.”
OK. Now I really need a good steampunk userpic...