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Chapter 6

  • 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,
  • breathing heavily.
  • 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.