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The Great War Syndicate By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 10672

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:03

When Roland Clewe, after a voyage from Cape Tariff which would have been tedious to him no matter how short it had been, arrived at Sardis, his mind was mainly occupied with the people he had left behind him engulfed in the arctic seas, but this important subject did not prevent him from also giving attention to the other great object upon which his soul was bent. At St. John's, and at various points on his journey from there, he had received messages from the Dipsey, so that he knew that so far all was well, and when he met Mrs. Raleigh she had much to tell him of what might have been called the domestic affairs of the little vessel.

But while keeping himself in touch, as it were, with the polar regions, Roland Clewe longed to use the means he believed he possessed of peering into the subterranean mysteries of the earth beneath him. Work on the great machine by which he would generate his Artesian ray had been going on very satisfactorily, and there was every reason to believe that he would soon be able to put it into operation.

He had found Margaret Raleigh a different woman from what she had been when he left her.

The absence had been short, but the change in her was very perceptible. She was quieter; she was more intent. She had always taken a great interest in his undertakings, but now that interest not only seemed to be deepened, but it was clouded by a certain anxiety. She had been an ardent, cheerful, and hopeful co-worker with him, so far as she was able to do so; but now, although she was quite as ardent, the cheerfulness had disappeared, and she did not allude to the hopefulness.

But this did not surprise Clewe; he thought it the most natural thing in the world; for that polar expedition was enough to cloud the spirits of any woman who had an active part and share in it, and who was bound to feel that much of the responsibility of it rested upon her. At times this responsibility rested very heavily upon himself. But if thoughts of that little submerged party at the desolate end of the world came to him as he sat in his comfortable chair, and a cold dread shot through him, as it was apt to do at such times, he would hurriedly step to his telegraphic instrument, and when he had heard from Sammy Block that all was well with them, his spirits would rise again, and he would go on with his work with a soul cheered and encouraged.

But good news from the North did not appear to cheer and encourage the soul of Mrs. Raleigh. She seemed anxious and troubled even after she had heard it.

"Mr. Clewe," said she, when he had called upon her the next morning after his return, "suppose you were to hear bad news from the Dipsey, or were to hear nothing at all-were to get no answer to your messages-what would you do?"

His face grew troubled.

"That is a terrible question," he said. "It is one I have often asked myself; but there is no satisfactory answer to it. Of course, as I have told myself and have told you, there seems no reason to expect a disaster. There are no storms in the quiet depths in which the Dipsey is sailing. Ice does not sink down from the surface, and even if a floating iceberg should turn over, as they sometimes do in the more open sea, the Dipsey will keep low enough to avoid such danger. In fact, I feel almost sure that if she should meet with any obstacle which would prevent her from keeping on her course to the pole, all she would have to do would be to turn around and come back. As to the possibility of receiving no messages, I should conclude in that case that the wire had broken, and should wait a few days before allowing myself to be seriously alarmed. We have provided against such an accident. The Dipsey is equipped as a cable-laying vessel, and if her broken wire is not at too great a depth, she could recover it; but I have given orders that should such an accident occur, and they cannot reestablish communication, they must return."

"Where to?" asked Mrs. Raleigh.

"To Cape Tariff, of course. The Dipsey cannot navigate the surface of the ocean for any considerable distance."

"And then?" she asked.

"I would go as quickly as possible to St. John's, where I have arranged that a vessel shall be ready for me, and I would meet the party at Cape Tariff, and there plan for a resumption of the enterprise, or bring them home. If they should not be able to get back to Cape Tariff, then all is blank before me. We must not think of it."

"But you will go up there all the same?" she said.

"Oh yes, I will go there."

Mrs. Raleigh made no answer, but sat looking upon the floor.

"But why should we trouble ourselves with these fears?" continued Clewe. "We have considered all probable dangers and have provided against them, and at this moment everything is going on admirably, and there is every reason why we should feel hopeful and encouraged. I am sorry to see you look so anxious and downcast."

"Mr. Clewe," said she, "I have many anxieties; that is natural, and I cannot help it, but there is only one fear which seriously affects me."

"And that makes you pale," said Clewe. "Are you afraid that if I begin work with the Artesian ray I shall become so interested in it that I shall forget our friends up there in the North? There is no danger. No matter what I might be doing with the ray, I

can disconnect the batteries in an instant, lock up the lens-house, and in the next half-hour start for St. John's. Then I will go North if there is anything needed to be done there which human beings can do."

She looked at him steadfastly.

"That is what I am afraid of," she said.

Roland Clewe did not immediately speak. To him Margaret Raleigh was two persons. She was a woman of business, earnest, thoughtful, helpful, generous, and wise; a woman with whom he worked, consulted, planned, who made it possible for him to carry on the researches and enterprises to which he had devoted his life. But, more than this, she was another being; she was a woman he loved, with a warm, passionate love, which grew day by day, and which a year ago had threatened to break down every barrier of prudence, and throw him upon his knees before her as a humiliated creature who had been pretending to love knowledge, philosophy, and science, but in reality had been loving beauty and riches. It was the fear of this catastrophe which had had a strong influence in taking him to Europe.

But now, by some magical influence-an influence which he was not sure he understood-that first woman, the woman of business, his partner, his co-worker, had disappeared, and there sat before him the woman he loved. He felt in his soul that if he tried to banish her it would be impossible; by no word or act could he at this moment bring back the other.

"Margaret Raleigh," he said, suddenly, "you have thrown me from my balance. You may not believe it, you may not be able to imagine the possibility of it, but a spirit, a fiery spirit which I have long kept bound up within me, has burst its bonds and has taken possession of me. It may be a devil or it may be an angel, but it holds me and rules me, and it was set loose by the words you have just spoken. It is my love for you, Margaret Raleigh!" He went on, speaking rapidly. "Now tell me," said he. "I have often come to you for advice and help-give it to me now. In laboratory, workshop, office, with you and away from you, abroad and at home, by day and by night, always and everywhere I have loved you, longed for a sight of you, for a word from you, even if it had been a word about a stick or a pin. And always and everywhere I have determined to be true to myself, true to you, true to every principle of honor and common-sense, and to say nothing to you of love until by some success I have achieved the right to do so. By words which made me fancy that you showed a personal interest in me, you have banished all those resolutions; you have-But I am getting madder and madder. Shall I leave this room? Shall I swear never to speak-"

She looked up at him. The ashiness had gone out of her face. Her eyes were bright, and as she lifted them towards him a golden softness and mistiness came into the centre of each of them, as though he might look down through them into her soul.

"If I were you," said she, "I would stay here and say whatever else you have to say."

He told her what more he had to say, but it was with his arms around her and his eyes close to hers.

"Do you know," she said, a little afterwards, "that for years, while you have been longing to get to the pole, to see down into the earth, and to accomplish all the other wonderful things that you are working at in your shops, I too have been longing to do something-longing hundreds and hundreds of times when we were talking about batteries and lenses and of the enterprises we have had on hand."

"And what was that?" he asked.

"It was to push back this lock of hair from your forehead. There, now; you don't know how much better you look!"

Before Clewe left the house it was decided that if in any case it should become necessary for him to start for the polar regions these two were to be married with all possible promptness, and they were to go to the North together.

That afternoon the happy couple met again and composed a message to the arctic seas. It was not deemed necessary yet to announce to society what had happened, but they both felt that their friends who were so far away, so completely shut out from all relations with the world, and yet so intimately connected with them, should know that Margaret Raleigh and Roland Clewe were engaged to be married.

Roland sent the message that evening from his office. He waited an unusually long time for a reply, but at last it came, from Sammy. The cipher, when translated, ran as follows:

"Everybody as glad as they can be. Specially Sarah. Will send regular congratulations. Private message soon from me. We have got the devil on board."

Clewe was astonished: Samuel Block was such a quiet, steady person, so unused to extravagance or excitement, that this sensational message was entirely beyond his comprehension. He could fix no possible meaning to it, and he was glad that it did not come when he was in company with Margaret. It was too late to disturb her now, and he most earnestly hoped that an explanation would come before he saw her again.

That night he dreamed that there was a great opening near the pole, which was the approach to the lower regions, and that the Dipsey had been boarded by a diabolical passenger, who had come to examine her papers and inquire into the health of her passengers and crew.

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