IT was about noon of a day in early summer that a westward-bound Atlanti_iner was rapidly nearing the port of New York. Not long before, the ol_ight-house on Montauk Point had been sighted, and the company on board th_essel were animated by the knowledge that in a few hours they would be at th_nd of their voyage.
The vessel now speeding along the southern coast of Long Island was th_uterpe-Thalia, from Southampton. On Wednesday morning she had left he_nglish port, and many of her passengers were naturally anxious to be on shor_n time to transact their business on the last day of the week. There wer_ven some who expected to make their return voyage on the Melpomene-Thalia,
which would leave New York on the next Monday.
The Euterpe-Thalia was one of those combination ocean vessels which had no_een in use for nearly ten years, and although the present voyage was not _articularly rapid one, it had been made in a little less than three days.
As may be easily imagined, a vessel like this was a very different craft fro_he old steamers which used to cross the Atlantic—"ocean greyhounds" they wer_alled—in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
It would be out of place here to give a full description of the vessels whic_t the period of our story, in 1947, crossed the Atlantic at an average tim_f three days, but an idea of their construction will suffice. Most of thes_essels belonged to the class of the Euterpe-Thalia, and were, in fact,
compound marine structures, the two portions being entirely distinct from eac_ther. The great hull of each of these vessels contained nothing but it_lectric engines and its propelling machinery, with the necessary fuel an_djuncts.
The upper portion of the compound vessel consisted of decks and quarters fo_assengers and crew and holds for freight. These were all comprised within _ast upper hull, which rested upon the lower hull containing the motive power,
the only point of contact being an enormous ball-and-socket joint. Thus, n_atter how much the lower hull might roll and pitch and toss, the upper hul_emained level and comparatively undisturbed.
Not only were comfort to passengers and security to movable freight gained b_his arrangement of the compound vessel, but it was now possible to build th_ower hull of much less size than had been the custom in the former days o_teamships, when the hull had to be large enough to contain everything. As th_ore modern hull held nothing but the machinery, it was small in compariso_ith the superincumbent upper hull, and thus the force of the engine, onc_eeded to propel a vast mass through the resisting medium of the ocean, wa_ow employed upon a comparatively small hull, the great body of the vesse_eeting with no resistance except that of the air.
It was not necessary that the two parts of these compound vessels shoul_lways be the same. The upper hulls belonging to one of the transatlanti_ines were generally so constructed that they could be adjusted to any one o_heir lower or motive-power hulls. Each hull had a name of its own, and so th_ombination name of the entire vessel was frequently changed.
It was not three o'clock when the Euterpe-Thalia passed through the Narrow_nd moved slowly towards her pier on the Long Island side of the city. Th_uarantine officers, who had accompanied the vessel on her voyage, had droppe_heir report in the official tug which had met the vessel on her entrance int_he harbor, and as the old custom-house annoyances had long since bee_bolished, most of the passengers were prepared for a speedy landing.
One of these passengers—a man about thirty-five—stood looking out over th_tern of the vessel instead of gazing, as were most of his companions, toward_he city which they were approaching. He looked out over the harbor, under th_reat bridge gently spanning the distance between the western end of Lon_sland and the New Jersey shore—its central pier resting where once lay th_ld Battery—and so he gazed over the river, and over the houses stretching fa_o the west, as if his eyes could catch some signs of the country far beyond.
This was Roland Clewe, the hero of our story, who had been studying an_xperimenting for the past year in the scientific schools and workshops o_ermany. It was towards his own laboratory and his own workshops, which la_ut in the country far beyond the wide line of buildings and settlements whic_ine the western bank of the Hudson, that his heart went out and his eye_ainly strove to follow.
Skilfully steered, the Thalia moved slowly between high stone piers of massiv_onstruction; but the Euterpe, or upper part of the vessel, did not pas_etween the piers, but over them both, and when the pier-heads projecte_eyond her stern the motion of the lower vessel ceased; then the great piston,
which supported the socket in which the ball of the Euterpe moved, slowl_egan to descend into the central portion of the Thalia, and as the tide wa_ow, it was not long before each side of the upper hull rested firmly an_ecurely upon the stone piers. Then the socket on the lower vessel descende_apidly until it was entirely clear of the ball, and the Thalia backed ou_rom between the piers to take its place in a dock where it would be fitte_or the voyage of the next day but one, when it would move under th_elpomene, resting on its piers a short distance below, and, adjusting it_ocket to her ball, would lift her free from the piers and carry her acros_he ocean.
The pier of the Euterpe was not far from the great Long Island and New Jerse_ridge, and Roland Clewe, when he reached the broad sidewalk which ran alon_he river-front, walked rapidly towards the bridge. When he came to it h_tepped into one of the elevators, which were placed at intervals along it_ides from the waterfront to the far-distant point where it touched the land,
and in company with a dozen other pedestrians speedily rose to the top of th_ridge, on which moved two great platforms or floors, one always keeping o_ts way to the east, and the other to the west. The floor of the elevato_etached itself from the rest of the structure and kept company with th_ovable platform until all of its passengers had stepped on to the latter,
when it returned with such persons as wished to descend at that point.
As Clewe took his way along the platform, walking westward with it, as if h_ould thus hasten his arrival at the other end of the bridge, he noticed tha_reat improvements had been made during his year of absence. The structures o_he platforms, to which people might retire in bad weather or when they wishe_efreshments, were more numerous and apparently better appointed than when h_ad seen them last, and the long rows of benches on which passengers might si_n the open air during their transit had also increased in number. Many peopl_alked across the bridge, taking their exercise, while some who were out fo_he air and the sake of the view walked in the direction opposite to that i_hich the platform was moving, thus lengthening the pleasant trip.
At the great elevator over the old Battery many passengers went down and man_ame 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, fa_ut on the old Jersey flats, and there he took a car of the suspended electri_ine, which would carry him to his home, some fifty miles in the interior. Th_ails of this line ran along the top of parallel timbers, some twenty fee_rom 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 bottom_r floors were ten or twelve feet from the ground, they could meet with n_angerous obstacles. In consequence of the safety of this structure, th_rains were run at a very high speed.
Roland Clewe was a man who had given his life, even before he ceased to be _oy, to the investigation of physical science and its applications, and thos_ho thought they knew him called him a great inventor; but he, who kne_imself better than any one else could know him, was aware that, so far, h_ad not invented anything worthy the power which he felt within himself.
After the tidal wave of improvements and discoveries which had burst upon th_orld at the end of the nineteenth century there had been a gradual subsidenc_f 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 sa_hat the human race seemed to have gone backward fifty or even a hundre_ears.
It had become fashionable to be unprogressive. Like old furniture in th_entury which had gone out, old manners, customs, and ideas had now becom_ore attractive than those which were modern and present. Philosophers sai_hat society was retrograding, that it was becoming satisfied with less tha_as its due; but society answered that it was falling back upon the things o_ts ancestors, which were sounder and firmer, more simple and beautiful, mor_orthy of the true man and woman, than all that mass of harassing improvemen_hich had swept down upon mankind in the troubled and nervous days at the en_f the nineteenth century.
On the great highways, smooth and beautiful, the stage-coach had taken th_lace to a great degree of the railroad train; the steamship, which moved mos_venly and with less of the jarring and shaking consequent upon high speed,
was the favored vessel with ocean travellers. It was not considered good for_o read the daily papers; and only those hurried to their business who wer_bliged to do so in order that their employers might attend to their affair_n the leisurely manner which was then the custom of the business world.
Fast horses had become almost unknown, and with those who still used thes_nimals a steady walker was the favorite. Bicycles had gone out as the ne_entury came in, it being a matter of course that they should be superseded b_he new electric vehicles of every sort and fashion, on which one could wor_he pedals if he desired exercise, or sit quietly if his inclinations wer_therwise, and only the very young or the intemperate allowed themselves rapi_otion on their electric wheels. It would have been considered as vulgar a_hat time to speed over a smooth road as it would have been thought in th_ineteenth century to run along the city sidewalk.
People thought the world moved slower; at all events, they hoped it would soo_o so. Even the wiser revolutionists postponed their outbreaks. Success, the_elieved, 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 wer_ound only in the garrets. The fifteen minutes' sittings now in vogue thre_pon 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 no_elieved 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 _torm of active effort never known in its history before. Religion, politics,
literature, and art were called upon to get up and shake themselves free o_he drowsiness of their years of inaction.
On that great and crowded stage where the thinkers of the world were busy i_reating new parts for themselves without much reference to what other peopl_ere doing in their parts, Roland Clewe was now ready to start again, wit_ore earnestness and enthusiasm than before, to essay a character which, i_cted as he wished to act it, would give him exceptional honor and fame, an_o the world, perhaps, exceptional advantage.