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The Great War Syndicate By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 12178

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:03

It was about noon of a day in early summer that a westward-bound Atlantic liner was rapidly nearing the port of New York. Not long before, the old light-house on Montauk Point had been sighted, and the company on board the vessel were animated by the knowledge that in a few hours they would be at the end of their voyage.

The vessel now speeding along the southern coast of Long Island was the Euterpe-Thalia, from Southampton. On Wednesday morning she had left her English port, and many of her passengers were naturally anxious to be on shore in time to transact their business on the last day of the week. There were even some who expected to make their return voyage on the Melpomene-Thalia, which would leave New York on the next Monday.

The Euterpe-Thalia was one of those combination ocean vessels which had now been in use for nearly ten years, and although the present voyage was not a particularly rapid one, it had been made in a little less than three days.

As may be easily imagined, a vessel like this was a very different craft from the old steamers which used to cross the Atlantic-"ocean greyhounds" they were called-in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

It would be out of place here to give a full description of the vessels which at the period of our story, in 1947, crossed the Atlantic at an average time of three days, but an idea of their construction will suffice. Most of these vessels belonged to the class of the Euterpe-Thalia, and were, in fact, compound marine structures, the two portions being entirely distinct from each other. The great hull of each of these vessels contained nothing but its electric engines and its propelling machinery, with the necessary fuel and adjuncts.

The upper portion of the compound vessel consisted of decks and quarters for passengers and crew and holds for freight. These were all comprised within a vast upper hull, which rested upon the lower hull containing the motive power, the only point of contact being an enormous ball-and-socket joint. Thus, no matter how much the lower hull might roll and pitch and toss, the upper hull remained level and comparatively undisturbed.

Not only were comfort to passengers and security to movable freight gained by this arrangement of the compound vessel, but it was now possible to build the lower hull of much less size than had been the custom in the former days of steamships, when the hull had to be large enough to contain everything. As the more modern hull held nothing but the machinery, it was small in comparison with the superincumbent upper hull, and thus the force of the engine, once needed to propel a vast mass through the resisting medium of the ocean, was now employed upon a comparatively small hull, the great body of the vessel meeting with no resistance except that of the air.

It was not necessary that the two parts of these compound vessels should always be the same. The upper hulls belonging to one of the transatlantic lines were generally so constructed that they could be adjusted to any one of their lower or motive-power hulls. Each hull had a name of its own, and so the combination name of the entire vessel was frequently changed.

It was not three o'clock when the Euterpe-Thalia passed through the Narrows and moved slowly towards her pier on the Long Island side of the city. The quarantine officers, who had accompanied the vessel on her voyage, had dropped their report in the official tug which had met the vessel on her entrance into the harbor, and as the old custom-house annoyances had long since been abolished, most of the passengers were prepared for a speedy landing.

One of these passengers-a man about thirty-five-stood looking out over the stern of the vessel instead of gazing, as were most of his companions, towards the city which they were approaching. He looked out over the harbor, under the great bridge gently spanning the distance between the western end of Long Island and the New Jersey shore-its central pier resting where once lay the old Battery-and so he gazed over the river, and over the houses stretching far to the west, as if his eyes could catch some signs of the country far beyond. This was Roland Clewe, the hero of our story, who had been studying and experimenting for the past year in the scientific schools and workshops of Germany. It was towards his own laboratory and his own workshops, which lay out in the country far beyond the wide line of buildings and settlements which line the western bank of the Hudson, that his heart went out and his eyes vainly strove to follow.

Skilfully steered, the Thalia moved slowly between high stone piers of massive construction; but the Euterpe, or upper part of the vessel, did not pass between the piers, but over them both, and when the pier-heads projected beyond her stern the motion of the lower vessel ceased; then the great piston, which supported the socket in which the ball of the Euterpe moved, slowly began to descend into the central portion of the Thalia, and as the tide was low, it was not long before each side of the upper hull rested firmly and securely upon the stone piers. Then the socket on the lower vessel descended rapidly until it was entirely clear of the ball, and the Thalia backed out from between the piers to take its place in a dock where it would be fitted for the voyage of the next day but one, when it would move under the Melpomene, resting on its piers a short distance below, and, adjusting its socket to her ball, would lift her free from the piers and carry her across the ocean.

The pier of the Euterpe was not far from the great Long Island and New Jersey Bridge, and Roland Clewe, when he reached the broad sidewalk which ran along the river-front, walked rapidly towards the bridge. When he came to it he stepped into one of the elevators, which were placed at intervals along its sides from the waterfront to the far-distant point where it touched the land, and in company with a dozen other pedestrians speedily rose to the top of the bridge, on which moved two great

platforms or floors, one always keeping on its way to the east, and the other to the west. The floor of the elevator detached itself from the rest of the structure and kept company with the movable platform until all of its passengers had stepped on to the latter, when it returned with such persons as wished to descend at that point.

As Clewe took his way along the platform, walking westward with it, as if he would thus hasten his arrival at the other end of the bridge, he noticed that great improvements had been made during his year of absence. The structures on the platforms, to which people might retire in bad weather or when they wished refreshments, were more numerous and apparently better appointed than when he had seen them last, and the long rows of benches on which passengers might sit in the open air during their transit had also increased in number. Many people walked across the bridge, taking their exercise, while some who were out for the air and the sake of the view walked in the direction opposite to that in which the platform was moving, thus lengthening the pleasant trip.

At the great elevator over the old Battery many passengers went down and many came up, but the wide platforms still moved to the east and moved to the west, never stopping or changing their rate of speed.

Roland Clewe remained on the bridge until he had reached its western end, far out on the old Jersey flats, and there he took a car of the suspended electric line, which would carry him to his home, some fifty miles in the interior. The rails of this line ran along the top of parallel timbers, some twenty feet from the ground, and below and between these rails the cars were suspended, the wheels which rested on the rails being attached near the top of the car. Thus it was impossible for the cars to run off the track; and as their bottoms or floors were ten or twelve feet from the ground, they could meet with no dangerous obstacles. In consequence of the safety of this structure, the trains were run at a very high speed.

Roland Clewe was a man who had given his life, even before he ceased to be a boy, to the investigation of physical science and its applications, and those who thought they knew him called him a great inventor; but he, who knew himself better than any one else could know him, was aware that, so far, he had not invented anything worthy the power which he felt within himself.

After the tidal wave of improvements and discoveries which had burst upon the world at the end of the nineteenth century there had been a gradual subsidence of the waters of human progress, and year by year they sank lower and lower, until, when the twentieth century was yet young, it was a common thing to say that the human race seemed to have gone backward fifty or even a hundred years.

It had become fashionable to be unprogressive. Like old furniture in the century which had gone out, old manners, customs, and ideas had now become more attractive than those which were modern and present. Philosophers said that society was retrograding, that it was becoming satisfied with less than was its due; but society answered that it was falling back upon the things of its ancestors, which were sounder and firmer, more simple and beautiful, more worthy of the true man and woman, than all that mass of harassing improvement which had swept down upon mankind in the troubled and nervous days at the end of the nineteenth century.

On the great highways, smooth and beautiful, the stage-coach had taken the place to a great degree of the railroad train; the steamship, which moved most evenly and with less of the jarring and shaking consequent upon high speed, was the favored vessel with ocean travellers. It was not considered good form to read the daily papers; and only those hurried to their business who were obliged to do so in order that their employers might attend to their affairs in the leisurely manner which was then the custom of the business world.

Fast horses had become almost unknown, and with those who still used these animals a steady walker was the favorite. Bicycles had gone out as the new century came in, it being a matter of course that they should be superseded by the new electric vehicles of every sort and fashion, on which one could work the pedals if he desired exercise, or sit quietly if his inclinations were otherwise, and only the very young or the intemperate allowed themselves rapid motion on their electric wheels. It would have been considered as vulgar at that time to speed over a smooth road as it would have been thought in the nineteenth century to run along the city sidewalk.

People thought the world moved slower; at all events, they hoped it would soon do so. Even the wiser revolutionists postponed their outbreaks. Success, they believed, was fain to smile upon effort which had been well postponed.

Men came to look upon a telegram as an insult; the telephone was preferred, because it allowed one to speak slowly if he chose. Snap-shot cameras were found only in the garrets. The fifteen minutes' sittings now in vogue threw upon the plate the color of the eyes, hair, and the flesh tones of the sitter. Ladies wore hoop skirts.

But these days of passivism at last passed by; earnest thinkers had not believed in them; they knew they were simply reactionary, and could not last; and the century was not twenty years old when the world found itself in a storm of active effort never known in its history before. Religion, politics, literature, and art were called upon to get up and shake themselves free of the drowsiness of their years of inaction.

On that great and crowded stage where the thinkers of the world were busy in creating new parts for themselves without much reference to what other people were doing in their parts, Roland Clewe was now ready to start again, with more earnestness and enthusiasm than before, to essay a character which, if acted as he wished to act it, would give him exceptional honor and fame, and to the world, perhaps, exceptional advantage.

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