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The Ships of Tarshish

Chapter XIV. The Tarshish Works

Chapter XIV. The Tarshish Works.

Some distance above Wavesend, on the Thames, lies the farm of Marshney. The land next the river, at the time last spoken off, consisted of low grass land a few feet above the level of high water.

The immediate neighbourhood was bare of houses, and a few cows were the principal inhabitants to be seen daily. At the commencement of 1865, the regular passers up and down the river saw a wonderful change come over the face of that particular scene.

First, a sort of landing-place or jetty sprang up in the course of two or three nights. In a week move a small settlement of iron houses for workmen sprung up. And in the mean time, theodolites, levels—dumpy or Y, according to taste,—levelling-staves, signal-flags, and Gunter's chains, were glancing and dodging over the ground. For weeks a constant succession of barges were unloading bricks. In the beginning of the second week, an oblong space of about eight acres, with a frontage to the river of 400 feet, having been laid off, 500 bricklayers set to work to surround it with a wall 25 feet high. At the same time a double row of piles was erected at the end next the river. In about three weeks from the commencement of operations the wall surrounding page 48was completed. In about another month the whole space of ground was covered in with a roof of glass and iron. The walls forming the sides of the enclosure had been carried out into the river as far as the row of piles, and the water pumped out. The piles, together with a high, screen, which was raised on them, concealed the nature of the river end of the inclosure, so that the curious had to wait till they were removed, an occurrence which did not take place till long afterwards, and which will be duly described in its proper place. It was astonishing to see the rapidity with which all these operations were carried forward.

The works already mentioned were completed in two months from the commencement. In addition to these, before the end of July following, a set of enormous buildings, with their stacks of chimneys, had also been erected at the landward end of the inclosure, both inside and out of it. Of course all this did not go on without setting the eyes, tongues, and ears of the curious on the alert. For it commenced so suddenly and mysteriously that no one knew where to get information from. However, about the beginning of the second month, the big paper, the Great Diurnal Weathercock came out with an oracular authoritative statement which relieved the anxious suspense of the aforesaid curious.

It stated that the new works were an undertaking of two of our first firms in their several ways. That the celebrated Squire & Sons, of Jerkemahead, and Worthit & Co., were about to enter into the Manufacture of artillery on a more gigantic scale than any that had been yet attempted; that they were determined not to rest till they had found the gun—that which should beat every other. Then, that having found the gun, it was probable that they would turn their attention to building the boat that should carry it. In fact, the G. D. W. believed that both branches would be carried on simultaneously, but the gun would decidedly receive the main attention. "And we must confess," observed the Great Diurnal, in conclusion, "that we are gratified at finding the convictions which we have long since expressed on the subject, confirmed in such a practical manner and by such eminent authorities. For we have often stated our opinion that in the battle between guns and ships, the gun would and has carried the victory. And this being the case, what we have to do is to find the best gun, and then build a ship to carry it—in short page 49find a floating carriage for it. And this, we have the best authority for stating, is precisely the direction that these eminent engineers and ship-builders are prepared to follow out."

"Wiseacres!" said Mandevil, as Norval read it out to him on the day it appeared. "Mark my words, Norval; if in two or three years' time it shall have been proved that the first thing to be invented is the best ship, and then find guns for it, these clever fellows will be the first to say, 'There! did we not tell you so?'"

One day in April of that year, Mandevil asked Norval to take a trip with him down the river. When they stepped on board the steamer, Norval observed that it was the cleanest and smartest passenger-boat he had ever seen, and what a wonder that no passengers were on board such a boat.

"A nice boat, isn't it?" said Mandevil, smiling; "a yacht you might call it."

It must be stated that three or four weeks after Mandevil's having informed Norval of his intention to start the next morning by railway, to look after something to do,—the former having returned again, told Norval that he had succeeded in fashioning out a good appointment, that of general superintendent to some engineering works of great extent, which were to be commenced shortly. At the same time he evaded entering into particulars.

As they steamed down the river, Norval asked why they did not stop anywhere to take in passengers.

"Oh, bother passengers," said Mandevil; "we won't stop till we come to the new Tarshish works."

It may be observed that the new works had been so named to the further mystification of the curious. "The lower horders," as one of the workmen told Mandevil, thought it to be a corruption of "Marshney."

"Are we going there? "exclaimed Norval. "That's jolly; I should like to see them. Everybody is asking about them, and no one knows anything."

At length they arrived there. As the enormous structure came in view, Mandevil said to his companion—

"Well—here are the Tarshish works; and allow me to introduce their general superintendent and disposer also of this yacht, combined in the person of your humble servant."

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"You!" exclaimed Norval, in surprise, his feeling of veneration coming back to near its olden pitch for the first time since the meeting in Heidelberg. "I had no idea your billet was anything so good. You must have a good salary from the concern."

"I get no fixed salary, but I have an interest in it. As the affair succeeds or otherwise, my fortune goes with it."

In the mean time Norval's pecuniary condition had undergone a great improvement. He had followed Mandevil's advice with respect to leaving his picture for sale, and to his great surprise it sold almost directly.

He imparted the fact to Mandevil, with great elation immediately afterwards, who recommended him to follow it up; but asked him as a favour always to bring his pictures to him before placing them for sale, as he was reckoned a good judge, and could point out, perhaps, where they needed retouching, and what price to put on them—which Norval gladly agreed to. To Norval's and still more to the picture-dealer's great surprise, the drawings continued to sell almost as soon as offered.

One feature in connection with the new works which excited the surprise of those who observed it, was the immense quantity of earth which was continually being brought out of the inclosure. By the middle of summer enough had been taken out to fill up a large hollow of about thirty acres of marsh land adjoining—which belonged to the company, and which formerly was inundated at the highest spring tides.