St Andrew’s Dock

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Chapter 4

Part One

Sparkling snowflakes pranced and tumbled in the wake of the dirigible.   Like squadrons of tiny silver moths they dogfought beyond the ornate bow windows that pierced the stern of the Lady Æthelflæda’s gondola, and glistened against the black night with the reflected light of the saloon.   Boz turned from his reveries at the window bay and observed the interior of the saloon, brightly lit, glittering, a rich Puginesque extravaganza with an antique globe as its centrepiece and a snoring Ginsbergbear draped across a deep armchair in one corner.   The almost oppressively cosy warmth was cut by an icy draft as the door opened and Strawberry burst in from his constitutional along the exterior walkway.   He was enveloped in an oversize orange fur coat and matching hat, with earflaps, and accompanied by a swirl of large damp flakes.   Snow sprinkled his head and shoulders and an icicle moustache covered his upper lip.   Together they forced the outer door shut and exchanged friendly banter regarding the benefits of exercise, the unseasonal inclemency and the detrimental effects of low temperatures on the attachments provided by natural selection for the procreative parts of the non-ferrous primate.   Fearing the conversation may flag Boz departed, mounting a light alloy imitation cast-iron spiral staircase into the main hull.   It was even warmer up there, and the interior was cathedral-like, criss-crossed with Duralumin girders and wire ties.   The burners roared intermittently and steam valves hissed, there was the gentle whir of pistons and cranks.   With each flare of the burners the hot-air envelope lit up the space around him, casting fantastical, dancing shadows onto the outer surfaces of the helium cells.   Having confirmed, to his satisfaction, that all was well he descend to the wheelhouse where Ferdy confidently controlled the helm and elevator wheels, Aunty Stella and Phoebles bent over the chart table in a pool of crimson monochrome under the tiny red, low wattage night vision lamp.   The view through the bridge windows showed them to be following the course of a noble river, black and sinuous against the snow-clad landscape.   The lights of their destination, some way ahead, reflected the colour of wilting buttercups onto the underside of low ice-laden cloud.   Soon they were cruising, slow and low, above a labyrinth of alleys, lanes and courtyards.   Dark warehouses loomed over the narrow streets; picturesquely dishevelled catnip dens, music halls and brothels snuggled into every railway arch, cul de sac, entry and cellar.   Infrequent street lamps cast an eerie, jaundiced glow into the general gloom.   Slowing and descending they idled over the Fish Dock, mooring lines were cast down to the waiting stevedores, and without a word of command they were made fast close by an Arctic Coleyfishtrawler.   A boarding ladder was run out and our intrepid group of adventurers emerged onto the quayside.

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