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"Well, each of them consists of a great iron horse-
shoe, rendered alternately a magnet and not a magnet by
an intermittent current of electricity from a battery, this
current in its turn regulated by clock-work. When the
horseshoe is in the circuit, it is a magnet, and it pulls its
clapper toward it with enormous power. When it is out
of the circuit, the next second, it is not a magnet, and
it lets the clapper go. The clapper, oscillating to and
fro, imparts a rotary motion to a fly-wheel, which trans-
mits it to the drivers on the rails. Such are our motors.
They are no novelty, for trial has proved them practic-
able.

"With a magnetic engine for every truck of wheels,
we can reasonably expect to move our immense car, and
to drive it along at a speed, say, of a mile a minute.

"The forward end, having but a quarter of a mile to
go, will reach B in fifteen seconds. We will call this
platform car number i. On top of number i are laid
rails on which another platform car, number 2, a quar-
ter of a mile shorter than number i, is moved in precise-
ly the same way. Number 2, in its turn, is surmounted
by number 3, moving independently of the tiers beneath,
and a quarter of a mile shorter than number 2. Number
2 is a mile and a half long; number 3 a mile and a
quarter. Above, on successive levels, are number 4, a
mile long; number 5, three quarters of a mile ; number 6,
half a mile ; number 7, a quarter of a mile, and number
8, a short passenger car, on top of all.

"Each car moves upon the car beneath it, independent-
ly of all the others, at the rate of a mile a minute. Each
car has its own magnetic engines. Well, the train being
drawn up with the latter end of each car resting against
a lofty bumping-post at A, Tom Furnace, the gentleman-

13-2



THE TACHYPOMP . l

ly conductor, and Marie Rivarol, engineer, mount by a I

long ladder to the exalted number 8. The complicated j

mechanism is set in motion. What happens? r

"Number 8 runs a quarter of a mile in fifteen seconds i

and reaches the end of number 7. Meanwhile number 7 (

has run a quarter of a mile in the same time and i

reached the end of number 6 ; number 6, a quarter of a •;

mile in fifteen seconds, and reached the end of number 5 ; i

number 5, the end of number 4 ; number 4, of number 3 ; j

number 3, of number 2; number 2, of number i. And i

number i, in fifteen seconds, has gone its quarter of a \

mile along the ground track, and has reached station B. '

All this has been done in fifteen seconds. Wherefore, *<
numbers i, 2, 3, 4, s, 6, 7, and 8 come to rest against

the bumping-post at B, at precisely the same second. ;

We, in number 8, reach B just when number i reaches !

it. In other words, we accomplish two miles in fifteen ^
seconds. Each of the eight cars, moving at the rate of

a mile a minute, has contributed a quarter of a mile to \

our journey, and has done its work in fifteen seconds. j

All the eight did their work at once, during the same ;

fifteen seconds. Consequently we have been whizzed !

through the air at the somewhat startling speed of seven )

and a half seconds to the mile. This is the Tachypomp. [.

Does it justify the name?" 1

Although a little bewildered by the complexity of cars. j

I apprehended the general principle of the machine. I i

made a diagram, and understood it much better. "You 1

have merely improved on the idea of my moving faster j

than the train when I was going to the smoking car?" ^

"Precisely. So far, we have kept within the bounds of *

the practicable. To satisfy the Professor, you can J

theorize in something after this fashion : If we double |

the number of cars, thus decreasing by one half the dis- |

tance which each has to go, we shall attain twice the j

speed. Each of the sixteen cars will have but one- ]

^33



COMEDY

eighth of a mile to go. At the uniform rate we have
adopted, the two miles can be done in seven and a half
instead of fifteen seconds. With thirty-two cars, and a
sixteenth of a mile, or twenty-two rods difference in their
length, we arrive at the speed of a mile in less than
two seconds ; with sixty-four cars, each traveling but ten
rods, a mile under the second. More than sixty miles
a minute ! If this isn't rapid enough for the Professor,
tell him to go on, increasing the number of his cars and
diminishing the distance each one has to run. If sixty-
four cars yield a speed of a mile inside the second, let
him fancy a Tachypomp of six hundred and forty cars,
and amuse himself calculating the rate of car number
640. Just whisper to him that when he has an infinite
number of cars with an infinitesimal difference in their
lengths, he will have obtained that infinite speed for
which he seems to yearn. Then demand Abscissa."

I wrung my friend's hand in silent and grateful ad-
miration. I could say nothing.

"You have listened to the man of theory," he said
proudly. "You shall now behold the practical engineer.
We will go to the west of the Mississippi and find some
suitably level locality. We will erect thereon a model
Tachj'pomp. We will summon thereunto the professor,
his daughter, and why not his fair sister Jocasta, as well?
We will take them a journey which shall much astonish
the venerable Surd. He shall place Abscissa's digits in
yours and bless you both with an algebraic formula.
Jocasta shall contemplate with wonder the genius of
Rivarol. But we have much to do. We must ship to St.
Joseph the vast amount of material to be employed in
the construction of the Tachypomp. We must engage
a small army of workmen to effect that construction, for
we are to annihilate time and space. Perhaps you had
better see your bankers."

134



THE TACHYPOMP

I rushed impetuously to the door. There should be
no delay.

"Stop ! stop ! Um Gottes Willen, stop !" shrieked Ri-
varol. "I launched my butcher this morning and I
haven't bolted the — "

But it was too late. I was upon the trap. It swung
open with a crash, and I was plunged down, down,
down ! I felt as if I were falling through illimitable
space. I remember wondering, as I rushed through the
darkness, whether I should reach Kerguellen's Land or
stop at the center. It seemed an eternity. Then my
course was suddenly and painfully arrested.

I opened my eyes. Around me were the walls of Pro-
fessor Surd's study. Under me was a hard, unyielding
plane which I knew too well was Professor Surd's study
floor. Behind me was the black, slippery, hair-clgth
chair which had belched me forth, much as the whale
served Jonah. In front of me stood Professor Surd
himself, looking down with a not unpleasant smile.

"Good-evening, Mr. Furnace. Let me help you up.
You look tired, sir. No wonder you fell asleep when I
kept you so long waiting. Shall I get you a glass of
wine? No? By the way, since receiving your letter I
find that you are a son of my old friend, Judge Furnace.
I have made inquiries, and see no reason why you should
not make Abscissa a good husband."

Still I can see no reason why the Tachypomp should
not have succeeded. Can you?



T.r«;



" They Made a Handsome and Engaging Couple "



" slquoO §ni§B§na bns smozbnBH b sLbM YsriT "



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

Being Some Adventures of Francis, Second Son of the
Late Marquess of Auriol.

By H. B, Marriott Watson
CHAPTER I

THE INN AT HOOK

CHE high spring sun danced among the gay colors
that hned the Lady's Mile, as Lord Francis Char-
mian, debonair and indifferent, drove his four bays
round the turn and fetched them gently through the
archway of Hyde Park Corner. The coach, which was
of a mustard yellow picked out with green, was tenanted
only by the driver and a man in livery who sat behind,
impassive, with his arms folded — as stiff a figure as
the long horn protruding over his shoulder or the cock-
ade upon his hat. The emptiness of this fine coach was
remarkable, for the meeting of the Club is invariably
the cause of a popular demonstration, and seats upon
the coaches are deemed honorable, and are always the
matter of competition, particularly among ladies. A
fusilade of envious glances, and some indignant ex-
clamations of disgust, saluted the mustard coach in its
passage from the magazine between the lines of spec-
tators ; but Lord Francis neither heard, saw, nor cared.
With his hat set well back on his head, and his nose
dipping incuriously towards his horses, he bowled softly
and pleasantly along, to all appearances enveloped in

137



COMEDY

an amiable satisfaction with himself. He chose to drive
an empty coach; and, as he paid for it, criticism was
merely impertinent, and at least mattered nothing in the
world to him.

It was known to none but Charmian himself exactly
upon what expedition he was bound that fine June
day; nor is any one ever likely to learn, for circum-
stances, which abruptly changed the course of his in-
tentions, as you shall presently hear. The secret of that
frivolous adventure is-buried deep in Charmian's breast,
and all that his man Jacob knew was that the horses
were to be changed at a certain hostelry some distance
from London. As a matter of fact, the horses were
changed twice, and the coach was thus kept running at
a precipitate rate deeper and deeper into the heart of
that pleasant southern county. Jacob had his instruc-
tions, and blew his horn tunefully, but with the gravest
of austere faces and the most stiff and immaculate of
postures. What the villagers saw when they ran to
their doors was a monstrous yellow coach, rolling upon
its great springs, and fleeting like a mammoth moth
through clouds of grey dust, a solitary and grimy driver
on the box, and the mechanical apparatus of a
postboy behind. It was clear, however, that this pace
could not continue all day, but it was long after Jacob's
patience had given out that his master also wearied ;
and, dashing into a little hamlet upon the high road, he
pulled up his team in front of the venerable inn that
looks out through a huge sycamore upon the cottages
of Hook.

It was by now five of the clock, and the sun still
shone very briskly and hotly that summer weather.
Charmian descended, and, resigning his horses to the
ostler, who had rushed forth to meet this grand equip-
age, walked into the "Anchor" at a stride.

"Dinner !" said he, meeting a civil waiter in the hall.






THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

"Yes, sir ; table d'hote, sir, at seven o'clock," replied
the man.

"Oh, confound your table d'hote!" returned Char-
mian, irritated that not even yet had he come clear of
town.

The waiter looked embarrassed. "Would you like
something before that, sir?" he asked, his glance pass-
ing out of the open doorway, and resting appreciatively
upon the coach.

"Why, naturally," said the young man brusquely:
"Water, soap, a towel, and tea, — no watercress, you
know, waiter."

He faxed imperturbable eyes upon the man, who
coughed as if deferentially suggesting that he would
never of course have imagined watercress, and that such
a thing was inconceivable in the "Anchor."

The inn, to be sure, presented a solemn and even a
royal air of decorum in its grave oaken hall ; and the
long spreading dining-room, with its low roof, the
woodwork blackened by the stain of generations, while
making no pretences, was somehow dignified and re-
spectable. Here, all day long throughout the summer
season, the small tables stood spread with white linen,
and the glasses sparkled in the dim light. Upon this
warm and dusty day of June the room smelled very cool,
and offered a very quiet and gentlemanly welcome to a
thirsty visitor. Charmian dropped lazily into a chair,
readjusted his tie, and cocked his head towards a sport-
ing picture which hung upon the wall near by. Then he
yawned ; and his glance traveled leisurely and with a
trace of weariness across the broad vacancy of the
chamber. Not even the waiter was in sight. The peace
was rest to him ; he had partaken of a feast of noisy,
clattering solitude upon his journey down, and now the
drums murmured in his ears of the road, like shells
echoing of a distant roaring sea.

139



COMEDY

Suddenly he pulled his attention together, arrested by
a sound. It came out of the twilight of that cool and
empty room, and he recognized it at once. It was be-
yond all possibility of misconception. He heard it now
not for the first time, and he frowned as he always
frowned when he encountered the experience. It was
the sound of a sob.

There is only one sex that will sob ; and this sob was
a gulp of tears, suddenly broken forth against the will,
unexpected of the poor sad soul within, tremulously
and precipitately suppressed and stifled with shame and
fear. Charmian turned round and fixed a wondering
eye upon a window-sill, that rose but two feet from the
floor and was partly veiled in silk curtains. It was the
direction of the sob; and as he came to this conclusion
a second sob succeeded. He rose instantly. Some child,
maybe, was weeping on her broken doll behind that
kindly arras.

He strode across the room, pulled aside the curtain,
and found that he had trespassed on a woman's private
sorrow.

The wide eyes were open with alarm, and still wet
from weeping. The whole figure of the girl, as she lay
heaped into a corner of the sill, was distressingly piti-
ful. Charmian made a bow.

"You will forgive my impertinence," said he, "but I
thought it was a mouse, and I have a certain terror of
mice."

A look of perplexity was followed on her face by one
of indignation, and then her teeth gleamed in the spectre
of a smile.

"I did not know any one was in the room," she ob-
served diffidently.

"Precisely my case," returned Charmian, politely: "I
only thought of mice."

The girl was quite young and handsome to the eyes,

T40



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

and the sparkle in her expression suggested to him that
her grief was probably not much more deeply serious
than that of the child he had conjectured.

"I am aware," he went on with his most solemn
manner, "that it's usual in such cases for the intruder
to withdraw apologizing. But I think we are not living
in a story-book, and things happen most extravagantly
in real life. Can I be of any use?"

She looked at him in uncertainty, her brows adver-
tising her embarrassment, and for a time there was a
pause.

"Oh, well," said he, and would have dropped the cur-
tain with a civil expression. But it seemed that she
had small powers of restraint, and that she was after
all in some difficulty, for upon that she went swiftly
and unexpectedly into tears.

"My dear young lady," said Charmian, in his most
paternal manner — "my dear young lady, I see that I
must take this affair into my own hands. I really
think that yours are not capable. You are in some dis-
tress. Perhaps we can find a remedy?"

His voice seemed to win upon her, and she ceased
from her tears, considering him with a desperate en-
treaty. Her face was very sprightly by nature, but was
most tragically convulsed with her present emotions.

"'Come," said he, "I am about to have tea, and should
be delighted if you will join me. I should not venture
to invite you to dinner, but tea is, I think, respectable ;
and after all I have the makings of a gentleman."

He looked at her significantly, and she smiled through
her distress.

"Yes," she said of a sudden and impetuously, "I will
come."

"That is right," said Charmian, with approval; "you
will infinitely oblige me if you will pour out my tea, for
I am very hot and dusty."

141



' ■ ^»*■ ■frS.'WJWWMa fl fl UM WI



COMEDY

She settled in the chair opposite him, and facing each
other across the little table they made a handsome and
engaging couple. The girl played the hostess, at his in-
vitation, but now with some embarrassment and an ac-
cess of awkwardness.

"This trouble, now . . ." said Charmian, calmly doub-
ling his bread-and-butter: "perhaps we had better come
to business ; and to clear the ground, I may say, my
dear madam — whose name I do not know," with an
apologetic bow in her direction, where she sat with her
eyes ashamed and a reddened cheek — "that I am a
mere bird of passage, that I wandered into this inn out
of the dust and heat of the day but ten minutes since,
and that in ten minutes more I shall no doubt be again
upon the wing, somewhat vague as to my destination, but
fleet, covering a vast deal of ground between us, I would
remind you, and sunk in the most profound and melan-
choly dejection."

He paused. Her pretty eyes sparkled upon his with
eager curiosity.

"Now then," he ended, "shall I have the pleasure of
carrying with me the thought of one good action, of
one opportunity recovered from the limbo of the lost?"

"It's a long story," she faltered, dropping her eyes.

Charmian made a gesture. "We have still a few min-
utes," said he, "as my horses have not yet finished their
dinner."

"I have run away," she said, even in a smaller voice,
while her face was once more colored like a pink.

"And repent?" he ventured.

"No," she cried sharply, and casting a quick glance
of resolution at him. The negation steeled her, and she
ran on more equably : "I have been used ill ; my guar-
dian would have me" — an infinitely little pause of shame
marked her voice — "marry a man I hate. The engage-
ment is pressed on me harshly, and I — I — there is some

142



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

one else..." She ended, of the redness of a carnation.

"Oh, but this is very easy," cried Charmian; "because
there are two roads, and if you refuse one you are free
to take the other."

But here again the girl showed signs of returning to
her state of tears. "But he has not come," she faltered,
with a sob.

"My dear young lady, who has not come?" inquired he
in perplexity.

"Mr. Gray," she answered.

"I see," said he ; "and Mr. Gray is the fortunate . . .
Well, he is unintelligible ; I cannot understand him."

"And I have no means of getting home or doing any-
thing, for I have no money, and I know no one," she
wailed, suddenly falling back into the clutches of her
woe.

Charmian leaned across the table. "My dear child,"
he said, "you shall have all the money you require, if
that's all your trouble ; and no doubt some day you will
return it to my bankers, who are, of course, very ogreish
people. And for this Mr. Gray — well, I think he
ought to be ashamed of himself."

"I am sure it is not his fault," she said indignantly.

"No doubt — no doubt," he said, soothingly. "Well,
then, your guardian and the other gentleman ought to
be ashamed of themselves."

"They ought indeed !" she assented. "We were to
have met and been married to-day," she explained, dry-
ing her eyes, "and I have been waiting here since early
this morning," she sobbed.

"Abominable !" exclaimed Charmian, adding hastily,
"of your guardian and the other gentleman, of course.

Well, now " he was resuming, when all of a sudden

the girl took him by the arm.

"Oh, he is coming — he is here !" she cried, with a
tragic face.

Vol. i8— lo '4?



COMEDY

"My dear young lady, then let me heartily congratulate
you," he answered, "and resign my "

"No, no," she implored him in distress; "he is coming
into the inn now."

"Who is coming?" he asked in bewildered despair.

"My guardian, — look !"

He followed the course of her gaze through one of
the long narrow windows, which commanded a broad
gravel sunlit pathway through the formal garden ; and,
surely enough, there was a figure of a tall, elderly man,
something in haste, striding up to the entrance.

"Don't let him take me!" she wept, clinging to him;
■'I will not, I dare not go home. I "

"Stay," said Charmian, knitting his brows ; and then,
looking about. "Here is a further room." He opened
the door. "There is a flight of stairs. You will find
some refuge at the top. I will meet your guardian. His
name is "

"Windsor," she whispered, and was gone.

Charmian closed the door, and stood with his hands
behind him and his feet well apart, and at that mo-
ment the new-comer entered. He glanced about him
with a very brusque manner, and making use of an angry
face.

"You have lost something?" inquired Charmian, po-
litely.

The old gentleman scowled, as if he would resent
this question, but answered shortly, "Yes, sir."

"A brooch?" queried Charmian in his civilest and most
affable tones, "or a parrot?"

The old gentleman glanced at him furiously, but seem-
ing ta recollect something, quickly changed his demean-
our.

"No, sir; but perhaps you would be good enough to
tell me? I was looking for a young lady who was



144



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

here a few minutes ago. Can you inform me where
she went?"

Charmian had the appearance of deep thought. "No,
sir," — he shook his head gravely, — "I fear I cannot."

"But you must have seen her," began the old gentle-
man, testily. "I know she was here a moment " He

broke off as his glance lighted upon the tea-table, by
which Charmian stood. Suspicion grew in his eye and
deranged his bearing. He turned and stared savagely
at the young man, who was regarding him with
scrupulous and incurious indifference.

"I think I know you," exclaimed the old man presently,
in a deep voice of indignant satisfaction ; "I recognize
the description. It had escaped me before."

"Precisely," assented Charmian in some bewilderment.

"You are Mr. Gray," asserted the old man.

"You are Mr. Windsor," declared Charmian.

"It's well to know where we are," continued Mr.
Windsor, displaying an ironic calm. "And now that
we do, we may as well get to business. I demand my
ward."

"I very much regret to say that your demand comes
too late," replied Charmian, pleasantly. "But it will,
of course, receive due consideration," he added cour-
teously.

"What !" cried Mr. Windsor furiously : "do you mean
to insinuate that you are married?"

Charmian had meant nothing of the kind; but he
made no answer, for at that the girl herself, held by
her own timidities within earshot, and overhearing the
rising voices of an altercation, impetuously thrust open
the door of her refuge and stood revealed to her guar-
dian. His gaze narrowed upon her in an ugly frown,
and when he spoke it was with the restraint of passion.

"So you are married, eh?" he said, shortly.

Charmian fluttered hastily towards her. "As you see,"

145



COMEDY

he observed urbanely, and gently taking in his one of
her hands. She gazed in bewilderment, and opened her
mouth as if to speak, but he intervened quickly. "Come,
come, my dear," said he decisively, "you must let me
manage this."

The red mounted once more into her soft cheeks.

"I do not believe it. Where is your ring?" demanded
the old gentleman truculently.

Charmian's glance followed his, and rested on the
bare and slender fingers of her left hand. "My dear,"
he remonstrated tenderly, "you must really not forget
your ring another time. She is so new to it, sir," he
explained.

"I demand to see your certificate," exclaimed Mr.
Windsor, pompously : "I do not believe in this mar-
riage."

"My good sir," cried Charmian, "do you suppose we
walk about with our certificate inside our boots? You
shall have the name and address of the parson who
married us. Come, that should solve your doubts. And
besides, I ask you to consider. We have been here since
ten this morning. If you leave two young people to-
gether all that time, what are you to expect but that they
will get married?"

"I will upset the match, sir," exploded Mr. Windsor.

"Nothing, my dear sir, can break the bonds of two
true hearts, as I may remind you," remarked Charmian,
placidly; and he softly pressed the fingers he held, now
thoroughly enjoying himself.

"No doubt you expect to be happy," sneered Mr.
Windsor.

"We hope so — we believe so — nay, we are sure so,"
murmured Charmian, looking affectionately into the

girl's face: "don't we — er — er " But here, suddenly

recalling that he had not the advantage of her name,
he ended rather lamely — with boldness, indeed, but not

146



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

with that fluency which his previous assurance would
have suggested, "er — er — darling?"

"I have the honor to be posted in your affairs, Mr.
Gray," said Mr. Windsor, savagely, "although I have
not the pleasure of your acquaintance."

"The loss is mine," interpolated the young man, po-
litely.

"And I am quite aware how you stand financially,"
pursued the old gentleman, without regarding his in-
terruption. "May I ask what you propose to live on?"

"Oh, we shall drag along," said Charmian cheerfully,


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Online LibraryUnknownClassic tales by famous authors (Volume 18) → online text (page 9 of 20)