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Title: The Cradlestone Oil Mills
Author: Fred M White
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Language: English
Date first posted: January 2012
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THE MASTER CRIMINAL

VIII. - THE CRADLESTONE OIL MILLS

by

Fred M White

ILLUSTRATED BY PAUL HARDY

First published in The Ludgate, London, Jan 1899


Felix Gryde - Master Criminal


CHAPTER I

GRYDE watched his companion with frank admiration. He could afford to do this openly for the simple reason that the other man was blind. All the same, Gryde never was a tight hand at a bargain where he could see his way clear to a profitable termination. Frank Chasemore must have been a handsome man before the terrible accident which had scored his face like a dried walnut and deprived him of his sight.

"I am disposed to purchase your invention," Gryde said thoughtfully.

Chasemore smiled bitterly. Gryde had picked up the clever mechanical engineer literally out of the gutter in New York. Wild and visionary as some of his schemes were, Gryde had not been slow to see the practical vein beneath.

"Let me congratulate you," Chasemore replied. "I have hawked that invention all over the States, frequently walking from town to town, and everybody laughed at me. I tell you the thing is workable—with a drill and a motor like mine I could bore a hole through the universe in a fortnight. And what is the cost? Practically nothing. But for that nitro-glycerine explosion I should have made it go. Without my eyes I am like a child. I shall have to go into the poor-house, I suppose. And yet, blind as I am, with a small competency behind me, I could startle the world yet. If the fools would only listen!"

Chasemore shook with the bitterness of his indignation. Gryde perfectly understood Was he not also a genius in his way?

"The fools are going to listen," the latter said quietly. "Do you know why I brought you and your lares to this howling wilderness?"

"I don't know," said Chasemore; "out of pure kindness, perhaps. I have read of people in books committing eccentricities of the kind."

"My dear fellow, there is no occasion for bitterness. I brought you here so that we could test your invention without attracting undue attention. If the thing succeeds in doing what you claim for it, I'll make you a present of twenty thousand dollars. That is merely for the hire of the concern, of course."

Chasemore expressed his satisfaction. If Gryde had anything in the way of a boring operation on, the patent could do the work of a regiment in less time than the same could grapple with a yard.

"So much the better for you," Gryde replied. "Now will you briefly explain."

"To outline the thing is easy. In the first place I have an entirely new motor. In the space of a pill-box I have one horse-power. The fools say you can't multiply power. When the egotist fails at a thing he always says it can't be done. Did you ever see a crowd push down a solid stone wall without anyone being hurt?"

"Get to the point," Gryde suggested quietly.

"I beg your pardon. My motor is more or less a pocket affair. With it I can drive a six-inch drill through granite at the rate of thirty feet an hour. Outside the drill runs a flexible metal coil, and between the two, by a linotype kind of smelting arrangement, I can cast and force in my pipe. What do you think of that? Thirty feet of solid tubing six inches in diameter in an hour."

Gryde's eyes glittered. It was not the first time he had heard these details. Within a day of doing so he had seen his way to turn the discovery to account. Within a week he and Chasemore had found themselves settled in a little hut in one of the loneliest and most dreary parts of Pennsylvania. There was no town in sight, nothing but a collection of wooden huts, a few long warehouses, and two tall grimy chimneys. They were within a mile of one of the greatest oil-wells in the world.

Outside the limits of the Cradlestone Syndicate Estate—itself no more than a square mile—many a bold speculator had ruined himself sinking for oil. There were shafts and pits there down which thousands of dollars had been cast. And yet whilst the Cradlestone Creek flowed like a sea, not a drop came elsewhere.

"Is it oil you are after?" Chasemore asked.

"What put that idea into your head?" Gryde demanded.

"I can't see, but I can smell," Chasemore said sententiously. "The air reeks with it. Still, your business is no business of mine. Pay in my price and I ask no questions."

"All the same you have guessed it," said Gryde. "There is oil here, but one must go down deep to find it. That is why I require your drill. I have purchased some land here with a shaft or two upon it. You will show me how to use your machine, and as for the rest you can lie here and dream to your heart's content."

Gryde, for reasons of his own, said nothing of their proximity to the Cradlestone Estate. In carrying out one of the most daring of his schemes, the blindness of Chasemore was an important and convenient factor. Fortune had favoured him again. But then Fortune always does seem to favour the man who has capital, energy, and an amazing faculty for taking pains.

"What you ask is a very easy matter," said Chasemore. "Within three days you will understand the thing as well as I do myself. And already I can see improvement..."

Chasemore's speech trailed off into a mutter. A look of dreamy speculation lay like a mist upon his face. When Chasemore retired thus within himself Gryde might as well have been alone. He lighted a cigarette and passed into the open.

So far as he could see the place was one level plain. Nothing seemed to grow there beyond the coarse bush grass. Here and there mounds of earth thrown up testified to the barren labour of the unlucky speculator. By reason of these open shafts the place was a dangerous one for the stranger after nightfall.

Gryde walked on until he reached the split rail fence bounding the Cradlestone property. From where he stood he was within four hundred yards of the main derrick. Here the ground trended down abruptly. In the centre of a hollow cup was a disused shaft. In depth it might have been two hundred feet; the winch and steel hawser for lifting purposes were still intact. Over the same stood a crazy sign bearing the legend—"Guaranteed Oil Trust." For this well astute Gryde had paid down the sum of ninety dollars cash.

Using the timber props as a means of descent, Gryde reached the bottom. The shaft was a fairly large one and perfectly dry. There was nothing there at present beyond a lantern and box of matches. By the aid of the former Gryde proceeded to examine a mass of figures. The study of these seemed to fill him with profound satisfaction.

"Four hundred yards," he muttered, "twelve hundred feet at thirty feet per hour, say three hundred feet a day. Four days would be quite sufficient. That drunken geologist who worked at this for me understood his business. Really, a child couldn't go wrong with these instructions. No rise or fall, but merely a straight boring. The three weeks I spent grappling with the mysteries of the theodolite were not spent in vain. With any luck I ought to make a clear million out of this thing."

Gryde emerged to the surface again. As he did so he became aware of the fact that he was not alone. A big man with a square, determined jaw was regarding him derisively.

"Good evening," Gryde said tentatively.

"Good evening, stranger," came the reply. "If it isn't a rude question, what's your game?"


'WHAT'S YOUR GAME?'

Gryde explained. He hoped to succeed, he said, where others had failed. The other smiled.

"Do you know who I am?" he asked.

"Perfectly well," Gryde said coolly.

"You are Walter Cradlestone, the Oil King, and you are worth a hundred million dollars. You ought to be satisfied with that, but some people can never have enough. You are a lucky man, Cradlestone.".

"You're an original one, anyway," the millionaire laughed. "You'll get no oil there. Our big spring draws all the tributaries to it like a blister. I've known oil found here to spurt for a day or two and then to pour out for good. But as for quantities!"

"I don't want quantities," said Gryde: "a small supply could suffice for me, and the cruder the better. Don't suppose I've come along here to run a rival syndicate. I've got an invention, and I want my own springs to work it. We know nothing about petroleum yet."

"I guess I do," Cradlestone said drily.

"You think so, of course. All you rich men are so amazingly egotistical. I'm not thinking of oil as an illuminating power, but as a healing factor."

"Pooh. Every schoolboy has heard of vaseline."

"Granted. But if you put 'crysoline' to them they would be stumped. And crysoline is going to be one of the healers of the future. Got a bruise about you?"

Cradlestone pulled up his sleeve and displayed an ugly-looking mark on his arm.

"Pinched in a bit of machinery," he said. "Black, isn't it? And a good opening for your crysoline."

By way of reply, Gryde took a small bottle from his pocket. Inside the bottle was some jelly-like substance with a blue-grey green tinge. With the tip of his finger he applied a small portion of this to the wounded arm.

"Now pull your sleeve down," he said, "and forget all about it for a minute or two. So you think I am going to drop my money here?"

"I'm absolutely certain of it."

"Then you're as absolutely wrong, for the simple reason that I haven't any money to drop. And I don't mind making you a small bet that I shall find what I want. Now will you oblige me by pulling up your sleeve again?" Cradlestone did as desired. To his amazement he could see no trace of the dark bruise. The cut remained, but all the discoloration had vanished.

"Well!" he exclaimed, " I should like to know how that was worked."

"Crysoline," Gryde smiled. "Petroleum jelly plus—What do you think of it?"

"I think there's a mighty big fortune squeezed into that little bottle of yours. I'll give you—"

"Twopence-halfpenny for a million," Gryde laughed. "You'd like to buy the universe and sell it in shilling tins, you would. My secret is not for sale, sir."

Gryde was not to be shaken. He returned to the hut whistling.

"I've drawn the feather over his eye," he thought; "he won't suspect anything now. But unless I am greatly mistaken, Cradlestone will sing a different tune ere long. And Heaven help the man who comes to gratify his curiosity here!"

CHAPTER II

A DARKNESS that could be felt brooded over the desolate flats around the Cradlestone estate. Walking amongst those open shafts was a matter attended by personal danger. But Gryde passed along fearlessly, leading Chasemore by the hand.

By means of a simple yet ingenious arrangement Gryde had got rid of the risk. From the hut to the dry shaft where operations were about to be commenced a length of twine had been attached. To follow this was perfectly easy.

"Why this extraordinary secrecy?" Chasemore grumbled.

"It is absolutely necessary," Gryde responded. "We are strangers in a wild place, amongst a reckless and ignorant set of men. As you remarked on a previous occasion, my business is no business of yours. But I don't mind telling you this: I am going to use your machinery to revolutionise all industries of this kind. It would mean the saving of hundreds of hands yonder. If I am found out our lives are not worth a day's purchase."

The fluent lie satisfied Chasemore. He suffered himself to be led along until the head of the shaft was reached. He trusted himself implicitly to Gryde.

"You have conveyed all machinery to the foot?" he asked.

"Everything; and a nice task it was. I had to take the stuff a bit at a time so as not to incur any notice. But it is all there now, including the petroleum necessary to start the motor. I shall have to carry you down on my back."

Chasemore naturally demurred to this proposal, but there was no other way; and, as Gryde pointed out, otherwise the contract on the former's part would not be completed.

"There is really no reason why I should put you to this trouble a second time," said Gryde, in conclusion. "If your machinery is as simple as you say it is, I ought to get the hang of the whole thing in one long lesson. Come on."

The descent was indeed a perilous undertaking. In the first place the shaft was dark as Erebus, and to find his way from one cross-beam to another with a dead weight on his shoulders tested Gryde's nerves and strength to the uttermost. Trembling violently and aching in every muscle, Gryde at length reached the bottom.

"Thank goodness that is over," he panted.

Chasemore said nothing. He could see the faint glimmer of the lantern before his sightless eyes. Then Gryde climbed half-way to the lift again and drew a curtain across the shaft . No prying eye was intended to see what was going on there.

"Now we can make a start," Gryde said, cheerfully. "I've unpacked all the boxes. Perhaps you will tell me where to begin."

Considering his infirmity, Chasemore proceeded to do so with marvellous lucidity and point. A touch of his fingers was sufficient to show him what was required. Gryde watched the curious, compact little machine being built up as a child elucidates a puzzle. Within an hour the thing was completed. Chasemore's fears were now merged with his enthusiasm.

"Now then," he exclaimed, "light the petroleum lamp. In a few minutes the pressure will be full upon the drill. If you require the tunnel made to be lined—"

"I don't require anything of the kind," Gryde interposed. "The rock is too solid to render anything of the kind necessary."

"In that case we can dispose with the more complicated part of the machinery. You see the drill can be forced forward or drawn back by this thread, which is practically endless. As to the rest, the motor is compressed air, but air compressed in a form and strength never before known. Place the drill in any spot you want it: I am ready to begin." Gryde forced the head of the drill against the side of the shaft in the direction of the Cradlestone derrick. Chasemore proceeded to pull a lever.


CHASEMORE PROCEEDED TO PULL A LEVER

"You have the twelve-inch bore on," he said.

"I think it will be necessary," Gryde replied. "You keep to your part of the contract."

Chasemore shrugged his shoulders. It was all the same to him. As the machinery began to work, a flexible, hollow steel tube attached to the base of the drill began to expand as it ran off a reel. With marvellous force the drill revolved, screaming and smoking as it cut its way into the solid rock as if it had been decayed cheese. With a feeling of something like fascination, Gryde watched the process. At the end of an hour he looked at the index on the reel. Chasemore had not in any way exaggerated. Over thirty feet had been bored away.

"Are you satisfied?" Chasemore cried.

His face was aglow with enthusiasm. Gryde expressed his entire approbation. At this rate within a few days his project would be accomplished.

"You have fully earned your money," he said.

"That is good hearing," Chasemore replied. "And now, as I have no particular desire to risk my neck down this hole again, I had better show you how to work the thing. An apt pupil like yourself will pick it up in no time."

By the time daylight began, to creep out of the mist, Gryde was perfect. He turned down the petroleum lamp, and the machinery lapsed sullenly into silence.

"We must get back," he said; "it is nearly morning. A little carelessness on our part and all the labour will be lost."

An hour later and both lay fast asleep on the floor of the hut. Night was turned into day for the next week. And whilst Gryde worked in secret like a mole underground, Chasemore dreamed of the fame and fortune awaiting him when once the twenty thousand dollars were his.


* * * * *

GRYDE was puzzled and perplexed. Angry lines criss-crossed on his forehead. After all the months of care and trouble expended, it looked as if all his plans had failed at the crucial moment. And yet he could discover nothing wrong in his data or his drawings. To make the matter no longer a mystery, Gryde had worked out to a mathematical certainty his ability, with the aid of the drill, to strike the great Cradlestone Oil Spring at a point where it entered the shaft. The calculations showed the length and direction of the boring to an inch. And once this was done, more than half the oil—the whole of it, perhaps—would flow into the new channel.

The moment had arrived. Like some uneasy, grimy demon, Gryde stood by the side of the machine, listening intently. Three feet more and he must be into the distant shaft. He checked the speed of the engine.

Another ten minutes, and he would hear the result. Once the open was found, the drill would fall spent and useless on the other side. This would be the signal that the task had at length been successfully accomplished. The seconds dragged on: Gryde could hear the beating of his own heart

"Pshaw!" he muttered; "I've been slaving away at this thing till my nerves are out of order. I never realised I had any before. And yet the moment is exciting enough in all conscience. If the drill does not— Hullo!"

The drill suddenly plunged forward, tearing the tube almost to pieces. The distant shaft had been pierced. With a breathless eagerness Gryde wound the coil reversely. Then he waited for the in-rush of oil.

It came, but only with one spurt, and then stopped. Gryde was equally puzzled and astonished. He knew that he was deep down in the spring. Why, then, did not the oil flow? A little cogitation solved the problem.

A syphon was required to start it. The up-rush of air drove the petroleum back to its own old vent. If the derrick on the far side could only be stopped for five minutes! After that they could run their pumps as long as they liked.

"Only partially successful," Gryde muttered. "If I could only close that derrick, it then would only be an explosion of—ah!"

A brilliant idea flashed into Gryde's nimble brain. Without further ado he climbed out of the shaft and took his way to the cottage. Chasemore was just beginning to stir uneasily after his night's sleep.

"Well," he asked, "have you been successful?"

"I have and I haven't," Gryde replied.

"I've reached the spot, right enough, but unfortunately I came upon a vacuum—an underground cave, probably. Therefore the drill drops into water, I expect. If you could rig me up some kind of infernal machine that I could push into the vacuum with the drill, I may manage. I want a time torpedo. Can you do it?"

"I've got the materials, right enough, in one of my boxes yonder," Chasemore said thoughtfully, "and, given one thing, I could make you a nitro-cordite package enough to blow up a town."

"And what is the one thing you lack?"

"Machinery to fire the percussion."

"What kind of machinery do you require?"

"A common American clock would do as well as anything. Or, to make a still more handy parcel, I could manage much better with a watch."

Gryde promptly took his watch from his pocket. It was a valuable gold chronometer of English make, and would have been cheap anywhere at a hundred pounds.

"Take it," he said; "the difficulty is soon overcome. "When will it be ready?"

"Not before sundown, if I am to run no unnecessary risks. Shall I make it half an hour?"

"Say an hour. I shall have to carry the thing to the shaft?"

"Yes; and you must lower it down carefully. If it should happen to fall in a certain direction I should lose my twenty thousand dollars."

Gryde nodded. He was half-dead for want of sleep. He fell heavily upon a pile of blankets in one corner of the hut, and was asleep instantly. When he came to himself again the lamp was alight on the table, and Chasemore was bending over him.

"I must have had a long sleep," Gryde said.

"Thirteen hours without a motion. I have your machine ready. Will you eat?"


I HAVE YOUR MACHINE READY

Gryde hastily swallowed some food. On the table stood a square box about some six cubic inches. Outside the intense darkness had fallen once more. Gryde was eager as a schoolboy to be off and test his deadly toy.

It was fairly early yet, and a gang of men were just leaving work. Gryde could discern their ghostly forms in the distance, and the knowledge that life would be spared filled him with a certain satisfaction. He was not sorry when at length the infernal machine was safely in the boring and being gently pressed forward by the drill. Presently the latter ceased to go forward, and Gryde knew that the deed was done.

"Ah!" he said with a shudder, "it's like dancing on a volcano. I'll stay here and see the result If it fails, I must abandon my enterprise."

He waited. The seconds seemed to drag like hours. Had the machine gone wrong? Gryde wondered. He turned from the opening of the boring where he had stood listening intently, and this movement saved his life. Hardly had he done so when a mighty rushing wind came driving along the pipe carrying stones and chips of rock before it. The force of the blast whirled Gryde from his feet, and as he fell heavily to the ground a fragment of rock struck him with stunning force.

For a few seconds Gryde lay there unconscious. When he came to himself again he was floating on a seething, boiling stream of petroleum which came pouring from the pipe with a roar like that of a veritable Niagara.

Gryde had been successful. The force of the explosion had turned the current of the big spring, and the adventurer was struggling for life in the volume of his own riches. The oily mass rose with alarming rapidity, Gryde floating upwards with it. There was little or no room to swim then; he could only tread like a dog, and fight to get to the cross-beams.

When his strength was, to all practical purposes, spent, Gryde succeeded. He managed, by an effort of his iron will, to reach the surface, and for a little time he remembered no more. When he opened his eyes again it seemed as if day had returned. And yet the great sheet of flickering light before him had not the steadfast glare of sunshine. Gryde tottered to his feet and looked around.

Reaching far into the midnight sky not far away was a large pyramid of flickering flames. Its roar drowned the cries of the dancing demons around. Gryde had little trouble in guessing what had happened. He had tapped the lower depth of the petroleum while the rest had been fired by the explosion of the infernal machine. It might be weeks before that acre of blazing cloud was damped down.

"I've done it!" Gryde cried exultingly.


I'VE DONE IT!

"I've got all the oil, and they will have none; and they will have to come to me for terms. They can buy me out if they like—indeed, I shouldn't know what to do with the stuff otherwise—but not a penny under four million dollars do I take for my property. And when one comes to think of all the trouble and worry I've had to go through, the money's worth it."

Gryde strode back to the hut in a curiously triumphant frame of mind. Chasemore was asleep. This was a pleasant surprise, because it enabled Gryde to get rid of his petroleum-soaked garments and destroy them. All Chasemore subsequently heard was that the experiment had been successful, and that they were to proceed by to-morrow's stage on the first part of their journey to the South. "And then," said Gryde, "you shall have your money."

Chasemore was too satisfied to ask any further questions.

In the morning Gryde was early astir. He did not feel entirely at ease until he had dispatched Chasemore off by the coach. There was no idea of defrauding him of his money. Nobody over at the wells had any idea that Gryde had a companion, neither was the latter anxious to have the fact blazoned on the housetops.

"Something detains me," he said. "I will pick you up at Bedford. Wait at the hotel there for me, and pay for your requirements out of this bill."

Hardly had the cloud of dust caused by the coach subsided, when there came towards the hut the visitor Gryde had expected. The latter was quite easy in his mind, Chasemore could never by any means guess the truth.

Cradlestone's face was a study in suppressed passions. The millionaire was mad with rage.

"You scoundrel," he cried, "how did you manage it? O, you know precious well what I mean. I had a great mind to shoot you in your tracks."

"I have my revolver in my hand behind me," Gryde said quietly. "I expected some such folly as this, and that is why I waited. I have only taken advantage of a little geological knowledge, which but for that explosion yonder would have been useless. It is the fortune of war. A little time ago you had the oil and I had the hole, and now the positions are reversed. If you can prove that I have done you a wrong you have your remedy."

"I can't prove it," Cradlestone said sullenly.

"But you may get a jury to believe that I dug a hole a quarter of a mile through the granite with a toothpick," Gryde smiled. "Or you might pump my shaft and find something unique in the way of machinery. I'll sell it."

"Ah, I suppose you would require half a million—"

"Four million dollars cash within a week, or it goes elsewhere. You came here to make terms: those are mine. And all the time you are smiling in that superior way you are thinking what a fool I am for my pains."

"Four million dollars is a lot of money."

"And a ruined concern like yours is worth nothing."

"Very well. You shall have your price. If you can contrive to see me, say, this day week, at our New York office, we can arrange the matter. I can only hope you are not going to take so much money out of the country."

Gryde smiled meaningly.

"No," he said, " I am going to try my luck on Wall Street. You need not laugh. Your smart brokers will not get the best of me, I promise you. I shall do them."

"As you have done me, if I only knew how," Cradlestone muttered. "Good-day."


Felix Gryde - Master Criminal


THE END

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