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Mr Parmenter Says







From: The World Peril Of 1910

Happily for the defenders of Britain the fleet of aerial submarines,
from which so much had been expected for offensive purposes during the
proposed "triumphal march" on London, soon became of little or no use in
the field.

The reason was this: As, day after day and week after week, that awful
struggle continued, it became absolutely necessary for the Allies to
obtain men and material to make good the fearful losses which the valour
and devotion of what was now a whole nation in arms had inflicted upon
them, and so all but four were despatched to guard the route between
Dover and Calais--eight under the water and eight in the air--and so
make it possible for the transports to cross. Of course, this meant that
thousands of fresh men and hundreds of horses and guns could be poured
into Kent every day; but it also meant that the greater portion of the
defenders' most terrible foes were rendered harmless--and this was not
the least of the good work that the Ithuriel had done.

Of course, that famous "sea-devil," as the invaders called her, was
mostly on the spot or thereabouts, and every now and then a crowded
transport would lurch over and go down, or a silent, flameless shot
would rise up out of some unknown part of the waters and a shell would
burst with a firmament-shaking concussion close to one of the
airships--after which the airship would burst with a still more
frightful shock and distribute herself in very small fragments through
the shuddering atmosphere; but this only happened every other day or so,
for Erskine and his lieutenant knew a good deal better than to run too
many risks, at least just now.

So, for twelve weeks of bitter, bloody and unsparing strife the grim,
unceasing struggle for the possession of the Capital of the World went
on, and when the eighteenth of March dawned, the outposts of the Allies
were still twelve to fourteen miles from the banks of the Thames. How
desperate had been that greatest of all defences since man had made war
on man may be dimly guessed from the fact that it cost the invaders two
months of incessant fighting and more than a million men before they
planted their guns along the ridges of the North Downs and the Surrey
Hills.

Meanwhile Gilbert Lennard passed his peaceful though anxious days
between Bolton and Whernside, while Auriole, Margaret Holker, Norah
Castellan and Mrs O'Connor, with hundreds of other heroines, were doing
their work of mercy in the hospital camps at the different bases behind
the fighting front. Lord Westerham, who had worked miracles in the way
of recruiting, was now in his glory as one of General French's Special
Service Officers, which, under such a Commander, is about as dangerous a
job as a man can find in the whole bloody business of war.

And still, as the pitiless human strife went on with its ceaseless
rattle of rifle fire, and the almost continuous roar of artillery, day
by day the Invader from Space grew bigger and brighter in the great
reflector, and day by day the huge cannon, which, in the decisive moment
of the world's fate, was to do battle with it, approached completion.

At midnight on the twelfth of March Tom Bowcock had announced that all
was ready for the casting. Lennard gave the order by electric signal.
The hundred converters belched their floods of glowing steel into what
had once been Great Lever pit; night was turned into day by a vast glow
that shot up to the zenith, and the first part of the great work was
accomplished.

At breakfast the next morning Lennard received the following cablegram
from Pittsburg:


"All ready. Crossing fourteenth. Give particulars of comet away
when you like. Pittsburg Baby doing well. How's yours?--PARMENTER."


In order to understand the full meaning of Mr Parmenter's curt cablegram
it will be necessary to go back for a little space to the day when he
made his hurried departure from the Clyde in the Minnehaha. It will be
remembered that he had that morning received a cablegram from New York.
This message had read thus:


"Complete success at last. Craft built and tried. Action and speed
perfect. Dollars out, hurry up.
"HINGESTON."


Now the signer of this cablegram, Newson Hingeston, was an old college
friend of Mr Parmenter's, and therefore a man of about his own age. He
was a born mathematician and engineer, and, like many another before
him, the dream of his life had been the conquest of the air by means of
vessels which flew as a bird flew, that is to say by their own inherent
strength, and without the aid of gas-bags or buoyancy chambers, which
he, like all the disciples of Nadar, Jules Verne, Maxim and Langley, had
looked upon as mere devices of quackery, or at the best, playthings of
rich people, who usually paid for their amusement with their lives.

His father died soon after he left college, and left him a comfortable
little estate on the north-western slopes of the Alleghanies, and a
fortune in cash and securities of a million dollars. The estate gave him
plenty to live upon comfortably, so he devoted his million to the
realisation of his ideal. Ratliffe Parmenter, who only had a few hundred
thousand dollars to begin with, laughed at him, but one day, after a
long argument, just as a sort of sporting bet, he signed a bond to pay
two million dollars for the first airship built by his friend that
should fly in any direction, independently of the wind, and carry a dead
weight of a ton in addition to a crew of four men.

Newson Hingeston registered the bond with all gravity, and deposited it
at his bank, and then their life-ways parted. Parmenter plunged into the
vortex of speculation, went under sometimes, but always came to the top
again with a few more millions in his insatiable grasp, and these
millions, after the manner of their kind, had made more millions, and
these still more, until he gave up the task of measuring the gigantic
pile and let it grow.

Meanwhile, his friend had spent the best twenty-five years of his life,
all his fortune, and every dollar he could raise on his estate, in
pursuit of the ideal which he had reached a few minutes later than the
eleventh hour. Then he had sent that cable. Of course, he wanted the two
millions, but what had so suddenly happened in England had instantly
convinced him that he was now the possessor of an invention which many
millions would not buy, and which might decide the fate of the world.

Within twelve hours of his arrival at his friend's house, Ratliffe
Parmenter was entirely convinced that Newson Hingeston had been
perfectly justified in calling him across the Atlantic, for the very
good reason that he spent the greater part of the night taking flying
leaps over the Alleghanies, nerve-shuddering dives through valleys and
gorges, and vast, skimming flights over dim, half-visible plains and
forests to the west, soaring and swooping, twisting and turning at
incredible speeds, in fact, doing everything that any bird that ever
flew could do.

When they got back to the house, just as dawn was breaking, and Mr
Parmenter had shaken hands with Hiram Roker, a long, lean, slab-sided
Yankee, who was Hingeston's head engineer and general manager, and had
fought the grim fight through failure to success at his side for twenty
years, he said to his friend:

"Newson, you've won, and I guess I'll take that bond up, and I'd like to
do a bit more than that. You know what's happening over the other side.
There's got to be an Aerial Navigation Trust formed right away,
consisting of you, myself and Hiram there, and Max Henchell, my partner,
and that syndicate has to have twenty of these craft of yours, bigger if
possible, afloat inside three months. The syndicate will commence at
once with a capital of fifty millions, and there'll be fifty more behind
that if wanted."

"It's a great scheme," Hingeston replied slowly, "but I'm afraid the
time's too short."

"Time!" exclaimed Mr Parmenter. "Who in thunder thinks about time when
dollars begin to talk? You just let me have all your plans and sections,
drawings and the rest of your fixings in time to catch the ten o'clock
train to Pittsburg. I'll run up and talk the matter over with Henchell.
We'll have fifty workshops turning out the different parts in a week,
and you shall have a staff of trustworthy men that we own, body and
soul, down here to assemble them, and we'll make the best of those chaps
into the crews of the ships when we get them afloat.

"Now, don't talk back, Newson, that's fixed. I'm sleepy, and that trip
has jerked my nerves up a bit. Give me a drink, and let's go to bed for
two or three hours. You'll have a cheque for five millions before I
start, and we shall then consider the Columbia our private yacht.
We'll fly her around at night, and just raise Cain in the way of
mysteries for the newspapers, but we won't give ourselves away
altogether until the fleet's ready."

As they say on the other side of the Atlantic, what Ratliffe Parmenter
said, went. He wielded the irresistible power of almost illimitable
wealth, and during the twenty-five years that Hingeston had been working
at his ideal, he and Maximilian Henchell, who was a descendant of one
of the oldest Dutch families in America, and one of its shrewdest
business men to boot, had built up an industrial organisation that was
perhaps the most perfect of its kind even in the United States. It was
run on lines of absolute despotism, but the despotism was at once
intellectual and benevolent. To be a capable and faithful servant of
Parmenter and Henchell, even in the humblest capacity, meant, not only
good wages and provision for life, but prospects of advancement to the
highest posts in the firm, and means of investing money which no
outsider would ever hear of.

Wherefore those who worked for Parmenter and Henchell formed an
industrial army, some fifty thousand strong, generalled, officered and
disciplined to the highest point of efficiency, and faithful to the
death. In fact, to be dismissed from any of their departments or
workshops was financial death. It was like having a sort of commercial
ticket-of-leave, and if such a man tried for work elsewhere, the answer
was "If you can't work for P. and H. you must be a crook of some sort. I
guess you're no good to us." And the end of that man was usually worse
than his beginning.

This was the vast organisation which, when the word went forth from the
headquarters at Pittsburg, devoted the best of its brains and skill to
the creation of the Aerial Fleet, and, as Mr Parmenter had said, that
Fleet was ready to take the air in the time he had allowed for its
construction.

But the new ships had developed in the course of making. They were half
as long again as the Columbia, and therefore nearly twice as big, with
engines four times the power, and they carried three guns ahead and
three astern, which were almost exact reproductions of those of the
Ithuriel, the plans of which had been brought over by the Minnehaha
on her second trip.

The Columbia had a speed of about one hundred miles an hour, but the
new models were good for nearly a hundred and fifty. In appearance they
were very like broad and shallow torpedo boats, with three aeroplanes on
either side, not unlike those of the Flying Fishes, with three lifting
fans under each. These could be driven vertically or horizontally, and
so when the big twin fans at the stern had got up sufficient way to keep
the ship afloat by the pressure under the aeroplanes the lifting fans
could be converted into pulling fans, but this was only necessary when a
very high speed was desired.

There was a signal mast and yard forward, and a flagstaff aft. The guns
were worked under hoods, which protected the gunners from the rush of
the wind, and just forward of the mast was an oval conning-tower, not
unlike that of the Ithuriel, only, of course, unarmoured, from which
everything connected with the working of the ship could be controlled by
a single man.

Such is a brief description of the Aerial Fleet which rose from the
slopes of the Alleghanies at ten o'clock on the night of the fourteenth
of March 1910, and winged its way silently and without lights eastward
across the invisible waters of the Atlantic.

There is one other point in Mr Parmenter's cablegram to Lennard which
may as well be explained here. He had, of course, confided everything
that he knew, not only about the war, but also about the approaching
World Peril and the means that were being taken to combat it, to his
partner on his first arrival in the States, and had also given him a
copy of Lennard's calculations.

Instantly Mr Max Henchell's patriotic ambition was fired. Mr Lennard had
mentioned that Tom Bowcock, Lennard's general manager, had proposed to
christen the great gun the "Bolton Baby." He had spent that night in
calculations of differences of latitude and longitude, time, angles of
inclination of the axis of the orbit, points and times of orbital
intersection worked out from the horizon of Pittsburg, and when he had
finished he solemnly asked himself the momentous question: Why should
this world-saving business be left to England alone? After all the
"Bolton Baby" might miss fire by a second or two. If it was going to be
a matter of comet-shooting, what had America done that she could not
have a gun? Were there not hundreds of eligible shafts to be bought
round Pittsburg? Yes, America should have that gun, if the last dollar
he possessed or could raise by fair means or foul was to be thrown down
the bore of it.

And so America had the gun, and therefore in after days the rival of the
"Bolton Baby" came to be called the "Pittsburg Prattler."





Next: John Castellan's Threat

Previous: The Lion Wakes



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