MEANWHILE something like an organised attempt was being made to grapple wit_he evil: Days must, of necessity, elapse before a proper estimate of th_amage could be made, to say nothing of the loss of life.
Nothing very great could be accomplished, however, until the huge accumulator_a been cleared and the deadly current switched off. So far as the London are_roper was concerned, Holborn Viaduct was the point to aim at. In big vault_here, underground, were some of the largest accumulators in the world. Thes_ould have to be rendered harmless at any cost.
But the work was none so easy, seeing that the tube here was crushed an_wisted, and all about it was a knot of high-pressure cables deadly to th_ouch. There was enough power here running to waste to destroy a city. Ther_ere spaces that it was impossible to cross; and unfortunately the dange_ould not be seen. There was no warning, no chance of escape for the too hard_dventurer; he would just have stepped an inch beyond the region of safety,
and there would have been an end of him. No wonder that the willing worker_esitated.
There was nothing for it but the blasting of the tube. True, this might b_ttended with danger to such surrounding buildings as had weathered the storm,
but it was the desperate hour for desperate remedies. A big charge of dynamit_ent a long slit in the exposed length of tube, and a workman taking his lif_n his hands entered the opening. There were few spectators watching. It wa_oo gruesome and horrible to stand there with the feeling that a slip eithe_ay might mean sudden death.
The workman, swathed from head to foot in indiarubber, disappeared from sight.
It seemed a long time before he returned, so long that his companions gave hi_p for lost. Those strong able men who were ready to face any ordinary dange_ooked at one another askance. Fire, or flood, or gas, they would hav_ndured, for under those circumstances the danger was tangible. But here wa_omething that appealed horribly to the imagination. And such a death! Th_nstantaneous fusion of the body to a dry charcoal crumb!
But presently a grimed head looked out of the funnel. The face was whit_ehind the dust, but set and firm. The pioneer called for lights.
So far he had been successful. He had found the accumulators buried under _eap of refuse. They were built into solid concrete below the level of th_ube so that they had not suffered to any appreciable extent.
There was no longer any holding back. The party swung along the tube wit_anterns, and candles flaring, they reached the vault where the grea_ccumulators were situated. Under the piled rails and fragments of splintere_ood, the shining marble switchboard could be seen.
But to get to it was quite another matter.
Once this was accomplished, one of the greatest dangers and horrors tha_aralysed labour would be removed. It was too much to expect that the averag_abourer would toil willingly, or even toil at all when the moving of an inc_ight mean instant destruction. And it was such a little thing to do afte_ll. A child could have accomplished it; the pressure of a finger or two, th_iny action that disconnects a wire from the live power, and the danger woul_e no more, and the automatic accumulators rendered harmless.
But here were a few men, at any rate, who did not mean to be defeated. The_oiled on willingly, and yet with the utmost caution; for the knots of cabl_ire under their feet and over their heads were like brambles in the forest.
If one of these had given way, all of them might be destroyed. It was the kin_f work that causes the scalp to rise and the heart to beat and the body t_erspire even on the coldest day. Now and then a cable upheld by some debri_ould slip; there would be a sudden cry, and the workmen would skip back,
It was like working a mine filled with rattlesnakes asleep; but gradually th_ass of matter was cleared away and the switchboard disclosed. A few ligh_ouches, and a large area of London was free from a terrible danger. It wa_ossible now to handle the big cables with impunity, for they were perfectl_armless.
There was no word spoken for a long time. The men were trembling with th_eaction. One of them produced a large flask of brandy and handed it round.
Not till they had all drunk did the leader of the expedition speak.
"How many years since yesterday morning?" he asked.
"Makes one feel like an old man," another muttered.
They climbed presently into the street again, for there was nothing to be don_ere for the present. A few adventurous spectators heard the news that th_treets were free from danger once more. The tidings spread in the marvellou_ay that such rumour carries, and in a little time the streets were packe_ith people.