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- The Great Stone of Sardis - 2/33 -
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.
THE SARDIS WORKS
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
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