You'll have to stay on that side of the wire. If you want more you must go and see Professor Challenger and get his leave.'
'I've been,' said the journalist, ruefully. 'I went this morning.'
'Well, what did he say?'
'He said he would put me through the window.'
'And what did you say?'
'I said, "What's wrong with the door?" and I skipped through it just to show there was nothing wrong with it. It was no time for argument. I just went. What with that bearded Assyrian bull in London, and this Thug down here, who has ruined my clean celluloid, you seem to be keeping queer company, Ted Malone.'
'I can't help you, Roy; I would if I could. They say in Fleet Street that you have never been beaten, but you are up against it this time. Get back to the office, and if you just wait a few days I'll give you the news as soon as the old man allows.'
'No chance of getting in?'
'Not an earthly.'
'Money no object?'
'You should know better than to say that.'
'They tell me it's a short cut to New Zealand.'
'It will be a short cut to the hospital if you butt in here, Roy. Good-bye, now. We have some work to do of our own.
'That's Roy Perkins, the war correspondent,' said Malone as we walked across the compound. 'We've broken his record, for he is supposed to be undefeatable. It's his fat, little innocent face that carries him through everything. We were on the same staff once. Now there'--he pointed to a cluster of pleasant red-roofed bungalows--'are the quarters of the men. They are a splendid lot of picked workers who are paid far above ordinary rates. They have to be bachelors and teetotallers, and under oath of secrecy. I don't think there has been any leakage up to now. That field is their football ground and the detached house is their library and recreation room. The old man is some organizer, I can assure you. This is Mr. Barforth, the head engineer-in-charge.'
A long, thin, melancholy man with deep lines of anxiety upon his face had appeared before us. 'I expect you are the Artesian engineer,' said he, in a gloomy voice. 'I was told to expect you. I am glad you've come, for I don't mind telling you that the responsibility of this thing is getting on my nerves. We work away, and I never know if it's a gush of chalk water, or a seam of coal, or a squirt of petroleum, or maybe a touch of hell fire that is coming next. We've been spared the last up to now, but you may make the connection for all I know.'
'Is it so hot down there?'
'Well, it's hot. There's no denying it. And yet maybe it is not hotter than the barometric pressure and the confined space might account for. Of course, the ventilation is awful. We pump the air down, but two-hour shifts are the most the men can do--and they are willing lads too. The Professor was down yesterday, and he was very pleased with it all. You had best join us at lunch, and then you will see it for yourself.'
After a hurried and frugal meal we were introduced with loving assiduity upon the part of the manager to the contents of his engine-house, and to the miscellaneous scrapheap of disused implements with which the grass was littered. On one side was a huge dismantled Arrol hydraulic shovel, with which the first excavations had been rapidly made. Beside it was a great engine which worked a continuous steel rope on which the skips were fastened which drew up the debris by successive stages from the bottom of the shaft. In the power-house were several Escher Wyss turbines of great horse-power running at one hundred and forty revolutions a minute and governing hydraulic accumulators which evolved a pressure of fourteen hundred pounds per square inch, passing in three-inch pipes down the shaft and operating four rock drills with hollow cutters of the Brandt type. Abutting upon the engine-house was the electric house supplying power for a very large lighting instalment, and next to that again was an extra turbine of two hundred horse-power, which drove a ten-foot fan forcing air down a twelve-inch pipe to the bottom of the workings.