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Chapter XXV


THE next day was a busy one, not only for Lennard himself but for others whose help he had come to enlist in the working out of the Great Experiment.

He turned up at Bowcock's house on the stroke of seven, got into his pit clothes, and was dropped down the twelve-hundred-foot shaft in the cage. At the bottom of the shaft he found a solid floor sloping slightly eastward, with three drives running in fan shape from north-east and south-east. There were two others running north and north-west.

After ten minutes' very leisurely walk round the base of the shaft, during which he made one or two observations by linear and perpendicular compass, he said to Tom Bowcock:

"I think this will do exactly. The points are absolutely correct. If we had dug a hole for ourselves we couldn't have got one better than this. Yes, I think it will just do. Now, will you be good enough to take me to the surface as slowly as you can?"

"No, but yo're not meanin' that, Measter Lennard," laughed the manager. "'Cause if I slowed t' engines down as much as I could you'd be the rest o' t' day getting to t' top."

"Yes, of course, I didn't mean that," said Lennard, "but just slowly — about a tenth of the speed that you dropped me into the bowels of the earth with. You see, I want to have a look at the sides."

"Yo' needna' trouble about that, Mr Lennard, I can give yo' drawin's of all that in t' office, but still yo' can see for yo'rself by the drawin's afterwards."

The cage ascended very slowly, and Lennard did see for himself. But when later on he studied the drawings that Tom Bowcock had made, he found that there wasn't as much as a stone missing. When he had got into his everyday clothes again, and had drunk a cup of tea brewed for him by Mrs Bowcock, he said as he shook hands with her husband:

"Well, as far as the pit is concerned, I have seen all that I want to see, and Lord Westerham was just as right about the pit as he was about the man who runs it. Now, I take it over from to-day. You will stop all mining work at once, close the entrances to the galleries and put down a bed of concrete ten feet thick, level. Then you will go by the drawings that I gave you last night.

"At present, the concreting of the walls in as perfect a circle as you can make them, not less than sixteen feet inner diameter, and building up the concrete core four feet thick from the floor to the top, is your first concern. You will tell your men that they will have double wages for day work and treble for night work, and whether they belong to the Volunteers or Yeomanry or Militia they will not be called to the Colours as long as they keep faith with us; if the experiment turns out all right, every man who sees it through shall have a bonus of a thousand pounds.

"But, remember, that this pit will be watched, and every man who signs on for the job will be watched, and the Lord have mercy on the man who plays us false, for he'll want it. You must make them remember that, Mr Bowcock. This is no childish game of war among nations; this means the saving or the losing of a world, and the man who plays traitor here is not only betraying his own country, but the whole human race, friends and enemies alike."

"I'll see to that, Mr Lennard. I know my chaps, and if there's one or two bad 'uns among 'em, they'll get paid and shifted in the ordinary way of business. But they're mostly a gradely lot of chaps. I've been picking 'em out for his lordship for t' last five yeers, and there isn't a Trade Unionist among 'em. We give good money here and we want good work and good faith, and if we don't get it, the man who doesn't give it has got to go and find another job.

"For wages like that they'd go on boring t' shaft right down through t' earth and out at t' other side, and risk finding Owd Nick and his people in t' middle. A' tell yo' for sure. Well, good-mornin', yo've a lot to do, and so have I. A'll get those galleries blocked and bricked up at once, and as soon as you can send t' concrete along, we'll start at t' floor."

Lennard's first visit after breakfast was to the Manchester and County Bank in Deansgate, where he startled the manager, as far as a Lancashire business man can be startled, by opening an account for two hundred and fifty thousand pounds, and depositing the title-deeds of the whole of Lord Westerham's properties in and about Bolton.

When he had finished his business at the Bank, he went to the offices of Dobson & Barlow, the great iron-workers, whose four-hundred-and-ten-foot chimney towers into the murky sky so far above all other structures in Bolton that if you are approaching the town by road you see it and its crest of smoke long before you see Bolton itself.

The firm had, of course, been advised of his coming, and he had written a note over-night to say when he would call. The name of Ratliffe Parmenter was a talisman to conjure with in all the business circles of the world, and so Lennard found Mr Barlow himself waiting for him in his private office.

He opened the matter in hand very quietly, so quietly indeed that the keen-sighted, hard-headed man who was listening to him found that for once in his life he was getting a little out of his depth.

Never before had he heard such a tremendous scheme so quietly and calmly set forth. Bessemer furnaces were to be erected at once all round the pit mouth, meanwhile the firm was to contract with a Liverpool firm for an unlimited supply of concrete cement of the finest quality procurable. The whole staff of Dobson & Barlow's works were to be engaged at an advance of twenty-five per cent. on their present wages for three months to carry out the work of converting the shaft of the Great Lever pit into the gigantic cannon which was to hurl into Space the projectile which might or might not save the human race from destruction.

Even granted Lennard's unimpeachable credentials, it was only natural that the great iron-master should exhibit a certain amount of incredulity, and, being one of the best types of the Lancashire business man, he said quite plainly:

"This is a pretty large order you've brought us, Mr Lennard, and although, of course, we know Mr Parmenter to be good enough for any amount of money, still, you see, contracts are contracts, and what are we to do with those we've got in hand now if you propose to buy up for three months?"

"Yes," replied Lennard, "I admit that that is an important point. The question is, what would it cost you to throw up or transfer to other firms the contracts that you now have in hand?"

There was a silence of two or three minutes between them, during which Mr Barlow made a rapid but comprehensive calculation and Lennard took out his chequebook and began to write a cheque.

"Counting everything," said Mr Barlow, leaning back in his chair and looking up at the ceiling, "the transfer of our existing contracts to other firms of equal standing, so as to satisfy our customers, and the loss to ourselves for the time that you want — well, honestly, I don't think we could do it under twenty-five thousand pounds. You understand, I am saying nothing about the scientific aspect of the matter, because I don't understand it, but that's the business side of it; and that's what it's going to cost you before we begin."

Lennard filled in the cheque and signed it. He passed it across the table to Mr Barlow, and said:

"I think that is a very reasonable figure. This will cover it and leave something over to go on with."

Mr Barlow took the cheque and looked at it, and then at the calm face of the quiet young man who was sitting opposite him.

The cheque was for fifty thousand pounds. While he was looking at it, Lennard took the bank receipt for a quarter of a million deposit from his pocket and gave it to him, saying:

"You will see from this that money is really no object. As you know, Mr Parmenter has millions, more I suppose than he could calculate himself, and he is ready to spend every penny of them. You will take that just as earnest money."

"That's quite good enough for us, Mr Lennard," replied Mr Barlow, handing the bank receipt back. "The contracts shall be transferred as soon as we can make arrangements, and the work shall begin at once. You can leave everything else to us — brickwork, building, cement and all the rest of it — and we'll guarantee that your cannon shall be ready to fire off in three months from now."

"And the projectile, Mr Barlow, are you prepared to undertake that also?" asked Lennard.

"Yes, we will make the projectile according to your specification, but you will, of course, supply the bursting charge and the charge of this new powder of yours which is to send it into Space. You see, we can't do that; you'll have to get a Government permit to have such an enormous amount of explosives in one place, so I'll have to leave that to you."

"I think I shall be able to arrange that, Mr Barlow," replied Lennard, as he got up from his seat and held his hand out across the table. "As long as you are willing to take on the engineering part of the business, I'll see to the rest. Now, I know that your time is quite as valuable as mine is, and I've got to get back to London this afternoon. To-morrow morning I have to go through a sort of cross-examination before the Cabinet — not that they matter much in the sort of crisis that we've got to meet.

"Still, of course, we have to have the official sanction of the Government, even if it is a question of saving the world from destruction, but there won't be much difficulty about that, I think; and at any rate you'll be working on freehold property, and not even the Cabinet can stop that sort of work for the present. As far as everything connected with the mine is concerned, I hope you will be able to work with Mr Bowcock, who seems a very good sort of fellow."

"If we can't work with Tom Bowcock," replied Mr Barlow, "we can't work with anyone on earth, and that's all there is about it. He's a big man, but he's good stuff all through. Lord Westerham didn't make any bad choice when he made him manager. And you won't dine with me to-night?"

"I am sorry, but I must be back to London to-night. I have to catch the 12-15 and have an interview in Downing Street at seven, and when I've got through that, I don't think there will be any difficulty about the explosives."

"According to all accounts, you'll be lucky if you find Downing Street as it used to be," said Mr Barlow. "By the papers this morning it looks as if London was going to have a pretty bad time of it, what with these airships and submarines that sink and destroy everything in sight. Now that they've got away with the fleet, it seems to me that it's only a sort of walk over for them."

"Yes, I'm afraid it will have to be something like that for the next month or so," replied Lennard, thinking of a telegram which he had in his pocket. "But the victory is not all on one side yet. Of course, you will understand that I am not in a position to give secrets away, but as regards our own bargain, I am at liberty to tell you that while you are building this cannon of ours there will probably be some developments in the war which will be, I think, as unexpected as they will be startling.

"In fact, sir," he continued, rising from his seat and holding out his hand across the table, "I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet but when the time comes, I think you will find that those who believe that they are conquering England now will be here in Bolton faced by a foe against which their finest artillery will be as useless as an air-gun against an elephant.

"All I ask you to remember now is that at eleven p.m. on the twelfth of May, the leaders of the nations who are fighting against England now will be standing around me in the quarry on the Belmont Road, waiting for the firing of the shot which I hope will save the world. If it does not save it, they will be welcome to all that is left of the world in an hour after that."

"You are talking like a man who believes what he says, Mr Lennard," replied Mr Barlow, "and, strange and all as it seems, I am beginning to believe with you. There never was a business like this given into human hands before, and, for the sake of humanity, I hope that you will be successful. All that we can do shall be done well and honestly. That you can depend on, and for the rest, we shall depend on you and your science. The trust that you have put in our hands to-day is a great honour to us, and we shall do our best to deserve it. Good-morning, sir."

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