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The Ships of Tarshish

Chapter XIX. Brewing

Chapter XIX. Brewing.

From the ominous hum of the Ultramarine camp, far away from the sounding terrors of the Noisy drum's incessant beat, we turn to the quiet retreat of Mandevil.

It was on an afternoon in the latter half of July; Mandevil paced in his room with a letter in his hand that he had just read. He ruminated for a while; then, with a confident smile, he soliloquized—

"All my secret agents tell me the same thing; but I'm quite ready for them, though in truth not much too soon. The piles are removed, the frontage dredged, and they won't have to wait long before they see what is behind those iron gates. What will 'my lady' say? What Florence?"

The piles in front of the Tarshish works had in fact been removed a short time previously, and this was what Mandevil referred to. Their removal had revealed a pair of enormous iron gates, spanning the entire width of the structure. The Great Diurnal Weathercock had honoured the occasion with a leading article, adverting to the general curiosity as to what was behind page 69those iron gates. As he spoke, a thundering knock came on the outside door, and then Norval, followed by Box, burst into the room holding a newspaper in his hand.

"We've come to talk with you!" cried Norval; "have you heard the latest news?"

"I declare," supplemented Box, "I never saw anything like the excitement the town is in. People are rushing back wards and forwards, as if they didn't know what to do with themselves! But give him the paper, Norval."

Mandevil looked at the paper. It was the Great D. W.—second edition. Under the head of Reuter's Telegrams he read out the following:—

"At the extraordinary reception yesterday, to the astonishment of the assembled diplomatic body, the Great Mogul, abruptly addressing Lord Cowslip, said that Ireland's cry of agony had entered his very soul and could be endured no longer, and then immediately retired,"

"Well," said Mandevil, looking up with a smile, "what does all that mean?"

"You seem to take it very coolly," said Box. "What does it mean? Why, it means fighting. That's what it does."

"But what do you think?" said Norval; "we came on purpose to ask you."

"I think Box is quite right," said Mandevil quietly. "But excuse me for a moment, I want to send a telegram down to the works, to Bill. Come along."

Mandevil and his two friends adjourned to the adjoining room, where the apparatus was, and he quickly despatched his message.

"Come, tell us what mysterious orders you have sent," said Norval, whose old faith in Mandevil was returning, as he saw him so calm and cheerful.

Mandevil wrote on a slip of paper, and handed it to Norval, saying, "Here's what I sent."

Norval read it. "'Keep plenty hot oil and chemicals ready. Everything else prepared. Steam up night and day.' I'm nearly as wise as before. What does it all mean, Mandevil?"

"You must defer your curiosity for a day or two, when, I promise you, you shall know," answered Mandevil.

"I can comprehend about 'keeping the steam up;' that's in your yacht, I suppose. But the hot oil puzzles me. If you'd said page 70the devil was coming, and get plenty hot pitch to pay him with, it would have been more intelligible."

"You've made a shrewd guess as it is," said Mandevil, laughing; "I think the hot oil may be made to answer the same purpose pretty well."

"You really think it means fighting, then?" asked Box.

"I'm certain it does," said Mandevil.

"All right!" exclaimed Norval. "Our Warriors, and Black Princes, and the new cupola fleet, will give a good account of them, f they venture to show their ugly noses this way."

"I'll tell you another thing I am certain of," said Mandevil calmly; "if that is all you depend upon, your chance is not worth much."

Both Box and Norval appeared to be taken aback by the assertion delivered with so much confidence. "What do you mean?" they asked simultaneously.

"I mean that the Great Mogul is too shrewd a fellow to venture on an attack without being pretty confident beforehand that he has the means of disposing of the whole lot that you've mentioned pretty quick."

"What are we to do then?" said Norval.

"Our Government ought to have built some of the vessels I told you of once," said Mandevil.

"Oh!" said Norval, laughing and relieved; "there you are again with your wonderful ships. It's too late to begin those now. Anyhow, if we haven't the best, ours are as good as theirs. We can smash ship against ship, and then see who can build a new lot quickest. I think we can beat them at that game Come, Box, we'll go back to town and see if there is anything fresh."

Again Mandevil was left alone. As he watched their retiring forms, he said, "My wonderful ships again. I'll have the laugh of you, and a few others too, before two days are over, my young friend."