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The Great War Syndicate By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 8896

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:03

At the little station of Sardis, in the hill country of New Jersey, Roland Clewe alighted from the train, and almost instantly his hand was grasped by an elderly man, plainly and even roughly dressed, who appeared wonderfully glad to see him. Clewe also was greatly pleased at the meeting.

"Tell me, Samuel, how goes everything?" said Clewe, as they walked off. "Have you anything to say that you did not telegraph? How is your wife?"

"She's all right," was the answer. "And there's nothin' happened, except, night before last, a man tried to look into your lens-house."

"How did he do that?" exclaimed Clewe, suddenly turning upon his companion. "I am amazed! Did he use a ladder?"

Old Samuel grinned. "He couldn't do that, you know, for the flexible fence would keep him off. No; he sailed over the place in one of those air-screw machines, with a fan workin' under the car to keep it up."

"And so he soared up above my glass roof and looked down, I suppose?"

"That's what he did," said Samuel; "but he had a good deal of trouble doin' it. It was moonlight, and I watched him."

"Why didn't you fire at him?" asked Clewe. "Or at least let fly one of the ammonia squirts and bring him down?"

"I wanted to see what he would do," said the old man. "The machine he had couldn't be steered, of course. He could go up well enough, but the wind took him where it wanted to. But I must give this feller the credit of sayin' that he managed his basket pretty well. He carried it a good way to the windward of the lens-house, and then sent it up, expectin' the wind to take it directly over the glass roof, but it shifted a little, and so he missed the roof and had to try it again. He made two or three bad jobs of it, but finally managed it by hitchin' a long cord to a tree, and then the wind held him there steady enough to let him look down for a good while."

"You don't tell me that!" cried Clewe. "Did you stay there and let him look down into my lens-house?"

The old man laughed. "I let him look down," said he, "but he didn't see nothin'. I was laughin' at him all the time he was at work. He had his instruments with him, and he was turnin' down his different kinds of lights, thinkin', of course, that he could see through any kind of coverin' that we put over our machines; but, bless you! he couldn't do nothin', and I could almost hear him swear as he rubbed his eyes after he had been lookin' down for a little while."

Clewe laughed. "I see," said he. "I suppose you turned on the photo-hose."

"That's just what I did," said the old man. "Every night while you were away I had the lens-room filled with the revolving-light squirts, and when these were turned on I knew there was no gettin' any kind of rays through them. A feller may look through a roof and a wall, but he can't look through light comin' the other way, especially when it's twistin' and curlin' and spittin'."

"That's a capital idea," said Clewe. "I never thought of using the photo-hose in that way. But there are very few people in this world who would know anything about my new lens machinery even if they saw it. This fellow must have been that Pole, Rovinski. I met him in Europe, and I think he came over here not long before I did."

"That's the man, sir," said Samuel. "I turned a needle searchlight on him just as he was givin' up the business, and I have got a little photograph of him at the house. His face is mostly beard, but you'll know him."

"What became of him?" asked Clewe.

"My light frightened him," he said, "and the wind took him over into the woods. I thought, as you were comin' home so soon, I wouldn't do nothin' more. You had better attend to him yourself."

"Very good," said Clewe. "I'll do that."

The home of Roland Clewe, a small house plainly furnished, but good enough for a bachelor's quarters, stood not half a mile from the station, and near it were the extensive buildings which he called his Works. Here were laboratories, large machine-shops in which many men were busy at all sorts of strange contrivances in metal and other materials; and besides other small edifices there was a great round tower-like structure, with smooth iron walls thirty feet high and without windows, and which was lighted and ventilated from the top. This was Clewe's special workshop; and besides old Samuel Block and such workmen as were absolutely necessary and could be trusted, few people ever entered

it but himself. The industries in the various buildings were diverse, some of them having no apparent relation to the others. Each of them was expected to turn out something which would revolutionize something or other in this world, but it was to his lens-house that Roland Clewe gave, in these days, his special attention. Here a great enterprise was soon to begin, more important in his eyes than anything else which had engaged human endeavor.

When sometimes in his moments of reflection he felt obliged to consider the wonders of applied electricity, and give them their due place in comparison with the great problem he expected to solve, he had his moments of doubt. But these moments did not come frequently. The day would arrive when from his lens-house there would be promulgated a great discovery which would astonish the world.

During Roland Clewe's absence in Germany his works had been left under the general charge of Samuel Block. This old man was not a scientific person; he was not a skilled mechanic; in fact, he had been in early life a shoemaker. But when Roland Clewe, some five years before, had put up his works near the little village of Sardis, he had sent for Block, whom he had known all his life and who was at that time the tenant of a small farm, built a cottage for him and his wife, and told him to take care of the place. From planning the grounds and superintending fences, old Sammy had begun to keep an eye upon builders and mechanics; and, being a very shrewd man, he had gradually widened the sphere of his caretaking, until, at this time, he exercised a nominal supervision over all the buildings. He knew what was going on in each; he had a good idea, sometimes, of the scientific basis of this or that bit of machinery, and had gradually become acquainted with the workings and management of many of the instruments; and now and then he gave to his employer very good hints in regard to the means of attaining an end, more especially in the line of doing something by instrumentalities not intended for that purpose. If Sammy could take any machine which had been constructed to bore holes, and with it plug up orifices, he would consider that he had been of advantage to his kind.

Block was a thoroughly loyal man. The interests of his employer were always held by him first and above everything. But although the old man understood, sometimes very well, and always in a fair degree, what the inventor was trying to accomplish, and appreciated the magnitude and often the amazing nature of his operations, he never believed in any of them.

Sammy was a thoroughly old-fashioned man. He had been born and had grown up in the days when a steam-locomotive was good enough and fast enough for any sensible traveller, and he greatly preferred a good pair of horses to any vehicle which one steered with a handle and regulated the speed thereof with a knob. Roland Clew e might devise all the wonderful contrivances he pleased, and he might do all sorts of astonishing things with them, but Sammy would still be of the opinion that, even if the machines did all that they were expected to do, the things they did generally would not be worth the doing.

Still, the old man would not interfere by word or deed with any of the plans or actions of his employer. On the contrary, he would help him in every possible way-by fidelity, by suggestion, by constant devotion and industry; but, in spite of all that, it was one of the most firmly founded principles of his life that Roland Clewe had no right to ask him to believe in the value of the wild and amazing schemes he had on hand.

Before Roland Clewe slept that night he had visited all his workshops, factories, and laboratories. His men had been busily occupied during his absence under the directions of their various special managers, and those in charge were of the opinion that everything had progressed as favorably and as rapidly as should have been expected; but Roland Clewe was not satisfied, even though many of his inventions and machines were much nearer completion than he had expected to find them. The work necessary to be done in his lens-house before he could go on with the great work of his life was not yet finished.

As well as he could judge, it would be a month or two before he could devote himself to those labors in his lens-house the thought of which had so long filled his mind by day, and even during his sleep.

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