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The Great War Syndicate By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 9516

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:03

After breakfast the-following morning Roland Clewe mounted his horse and rode over to a handsome house which stood upon a hill about a mile and a half from Sardis. Horses, which had almost gone out of use during the first third of the century, were now getting to be somewhat in fashion again. Many people now appreciated the pleasure which these animals had given to the world since the beginning of history, and whose place, in an aesthetic sense, no inanimate machine could supply. As Roland Clewe swung himself from the saddle at the foot of a broad flight of steps, the house door was opened and a lady appeared.

"I saw you coming!" she exclaimed, running down the steps to meet him.

She was a handsome woman, inclined to be tall, and some five years younger than Clewe. This was Mrs. Margaret Raleigh, partner with Roland Clewe in the works at Sardis, and, in fact, the principal owner of that great estate. She was a widow, and her husband had been not only a man of science, but a very rich man; and when he died, at the outset of his career, his widow believed it her duty to devote his fortune to the prosecution and development of scientific works. She knew Roland Clewe as a hard student and worker, as a man of brilliant and original ideas, and as the originator of schemes which, if carried out successfully, would place him among the great inventors of the world.

She was not a scientific woman in the strict sense of the word, but she had a most thorough and appreciative sympathy with all forms of physical research, and there was a distinctiveness and grandeur in the aims towards which Roland Clewe had directed his life work which determined her to unite, with all the power of her money and her personal encouragement, in the labors he had set for himself.

Therefore it was that the main part of the fortune left by Herbert Raleigh had been invested in the shops and foundries at Sardis, and that Roland Clewe and Margaret Raleigh were partners and co-owners in the business and the plant of the establishment.

"I am glad to welcome you back," said she, her hand in his. "But it strikes me as odd to see you come upon a horse; I should have supposed that by this time you would arrive sliding over the tree-tops on a pair of aerial skates."

"No," said he. "I may invent that sort of thing, but I prefer to use a horse. Don't you remember my mare? I rode her before I went away. I left her in old Sammy's charge, and he has been riding her every day."

"And glad enough to do it, I am sure," said she, "for I have heard him say that the things he hates most in this world are dead legs. 'When I can't use mine,' he said, 'let me have some others that are alive.' This is such a pretty creature," she added, as Clewe was looking about for some place to which he might tie his animal, "that I have a great mind to learn to ride myself!"

"A woman on a horse would be a queer sight," said he; and with this they went into the house.

The conference that morning in Mrs. Raleigh's library was a long and somewhat anxious one. For several years the money of the Raleigh estate had been freely and generously expended upon the enterprises in hand at the Sardis Works, but so far nothing of important profit had resulted from the operations. Many things had been carried on satisfactorily and successfully to various stages, but nothing had been finished; and now the two partners had to admit that the work which Clewe had expected to begin immediately upon his return from Europe must be postponed.

Still, there was no sign of discouragement in the voices or the faces-it may be said, in the souls-of the man and woman who sat there talking across a table. He was as full of hope as ever he was, and she as full of faith.

They were an interesting couple to look upon. He, dark, a little hollow in the cheeks, a slight line or two of anxiety in the forehead, a handsome, well-cut mouth, without beard, and a frame somewhat spare but strong; a man of graceful but unaffected action, dressed in a riding-coat, breeches, and leather leggings. She, her cheeks colored with earnest purpose, her gray eyes rather larger than usual as she looked up from the paper where she had been calculating, was dressed in the simple artistic fashion of the day. The falling folds of the semi-clinging fabrics accommodated themselves well to a figure which even at that moment of rest suggested latent energy and activity.

"If we have to wait for the Artesian ray," she said, "we must try to carry out something else. People are watching us, talking of us, expecting something of us; we must give them something. Now the question is, what shall that be?"

"The way I look at it is this," said her companion. "For a long time you

have been watching and waiting and expecting something, and it is time that I should give you something; now the question is-"

"Not at all," said she, interrupting. "You arrogate too much to yourself. I don't expect you to give anything to me. We are working together, and it is both of us who must give this poor old world something to satisfy it for a while, until we can disclose to it that grand discovery, grander than anything that it has ever even imagined. I want to go on talking about it, but I shall not do it; we must keep our minds tied down to some present purpose. Now, Mr. Clewe, what is there that we can take up and carry on immediately? Can it be the great shell?"

Clewe shook his head.

"No," said he; "that is progressing admirably, but many things are necessary before we can experiment with it."

"Since you were away," said she, "I have often been down to the works to look at it, but everything about it seems to go so slowly. However, I suppose it will go fast enough when it is finished."

"Yes," said he. "I hope it will go fast enough to overturn the artillery of the world; but, as you say, don't let us talk about the things for which we must wait. I will carefully consider everything that is in operation, and to-morrow I will suggest something with which we can go on."

"After all," said she, as they stood together before parting, "I cannot take my mind from the Artesian ray."

"Nor can I," he answered; "but for the present we must put our hands to work at something else."

The Artesian ray, of which these two spoke, was an invention upon which Roland Clewe had been experimenting for a long time, and which was and had been the object of his labors and studies while in Europe. In the first decade of the century it had been generally supposed that the X ray, or cathode ray, had been developed and applied to the utmost extent of its capability. It was used in surgery and in mechanical arts, and in many varieties of scientific operations, but no considerable advance in its line of application had been recognized for a quarter of a century. But Roland Clewe had come to believe in the existence of a photic force, somewhat similar to the cathode ray, but of infinitely greater significance and importance to the searcher after physical truth. Simply described, his discovery was a powerful ray produced by a new combination of electric lights, which would penetrate down into the earth, passing through all substances which it met in its way, and illuminating and disclosing everything through which it passed.

All matter likely to be found beneath the surface of the earth in that part of the country had been experimented upon by Clewe, and nothing had resisted the penetrating and illuminating influence of his ray-well called Artesian ray, for it was intended to bore into the bowels of the earth. After making many minor trials of the force and powers of his light, Roland Clewe had undertaken the construction of a massive apparatus, by which he believed a ray could be generated which, little by little, perhaps foot by foot, would penetrate into the earth and light up everything between the farthest point it had attained and the lenses of his machine. That is to say, he hoped to produce a long hole of light about three feet in diameter and as deep as it was possible to make it descend, in which he could see all the various strata and deposits of which the earth is composed. How far he could send down this piercing cylinder of light he did not allow himself to consider. With a small and imperfect machine he had seen several feet into the ground; with a great and powerful apparatus, such as he was now constructing, why should he not look down below the deepest point to which man's knowledge had ever reached? Down so far that he must follow his descending light with a telescope; down, down until he had discovered the hidden secrets of the earth!

The peculiar quality of this light, which gave it its great preeminence over all other penetrating rays, was the power it possessed of illuminating an object; passing through it; rendering it transparent and invisible; illuminating the opaque substance it next met in its path, and afterwards rendering that transparent. If the rocks and earth in the cylindrical cavities of light which Clewe had already produced in his experiments had actually been removed with pickaxes and shovels, the lighted hole a few feet in depth could not have appeared more real, the bottom and sides of the little well could not have been revealed more sharply and distinctly; and yet there was no hole in the ground, and if one should try to put his foot into the lighted perforation he would find it as solid as any other part of the earth.

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