Brandon of the Engineers - Harold Bindloss - ebook

Brandon of the Engineers ebook

Harold Bindloss

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Our hero is one hundred percent faithful to work. His goal was to build high-quality bridges and move up the career ladder. Brandon was already close to his goal. However, on his way there is Claire Kenwardin, who changes the course of his life. Secrets lay the foundation for their relationship.

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Liczba stron: 460

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Contents

I. A Promising Officer

II. Dick’s Troubles Begin

III. The Punishment

IV. Adversity

V. The Concrete Truck

VI. A Step Up

VII. Dick Undertakes a Responsibility

VIII. An Informal Court

IX. Jake Fuller

X. La Mignonne

XI. Clare Gets a Shock

XII. Dick Keeps His Promise

XIII. The Return from the Fiesta

XIV. Complications

XV. The Missing Coal

XVI. Jake Gets into Difficulties

XVII. The Black-Funnel Boat

XVIII. Dick Gets a Warning

XIX. Jake Explains Matters

XX. Don Sebastian

XXI. Dick Makes a Bold Venture

XXII. The Official Mind

XXIII. The Clamp

XXIV. The Altered Sailing List

XXV. The Water-Pipe

XXVI. The Liner’s Fate

XXVII. The Silver Clasp

XXVIII. Rough Water

XXIX. Kenwardine Takes a Risk

XXX. The Last Encounter

XXXI. Richter’s Message

XXXII. Ida Interferes

CHAPTER I

A PROMISING OFFICER

The lengthening shadows lay blue and cool beneath the alders by the waterside, though the cornfields that rolled back up the hill glowed a coppery yellow in the light of the setting sun. It was hot and, for the most part, strangely quiet in the bottom of the valley since the hammers had stopped, but now and then an order was followed by a tramp of feet and the rattle of chain-tackle. Along one bank of the river the reflections of the trees quivered in dark-green masses; the rest of the water was dazzlingly bright.

A pontoon bridge, dotted with figures in khaki, crossed a deep pool. At its head, where a white road ran down the hill, a detachment of engineers lounged in the shade. Their faces were grimed with sweat and dust, and some, with coats unbuttoned, sprawled in the grass. They had toiled hard through the heat of the day, and now were enjoying an “easy,” until they should be called to attention when their work was put to the test.

As Lieutenant Richard Brandon stood where the curve was boldest at the middle of the bridge, he had no misgivings about the result so far as the section for which he was responsible was concerned. He was young, but there was some ground for his confidence; for he not only had studied all that text-books could teach him but he had the constructor’s eye, which sees half-instinctively where strength or weakness lies. Brandon began his military career as a prize cadet and after getting his commission he was quickly promoted from subaltern rank. His advancement, however, caused no jealousy, for Dick Brandon was liked. He was, perhaps, a trifle priggish about his work–cock-sure, his comrades called it–but about other matters he was naïvely ingenuous. Indeed, acquaintances who knew him only when he was off duty thought him something of a boy.

In person, he was tall and strongly made, with a frank, sunburned face. His jaw was square and when he was thoughtful his lips set firmly; his light-gray eyes were clear and steady. He was genial with his comrades, but usually diffident in the company of women and older men.

Presently the Adjutant came up and, stopping near, glanced along the rippling line that marked the curve of the bridge.

“These center pontoons look rather prominent, as if they’d been pushed upstream a foot or two,” he remarked. “Was that done by Captain Maitland’s order?”

“No, sir,” Dick answered with some awkwardness. “For one thing, I found they’d lie steadier out of the eddy.”

“They do, but I don’t know that it’s much of an advantage. Had you any other reason for modifying the construction plans?”

Dick felt embarrassed. He gave the Adjutant a quick glance; but the man’s face was inscrutable. Captain Hallam was a disciplinarian where discipline was needed, but he knew the value of what he called initiative.

“Well,” Dick tried to explain, “if you notice how the wash of the head-rapid sweeps down the middle of the pool–”

“I have noticed it,” said the Adjutant dryly. “That’s why the bridge makes a slight sweep. But go on.”

“We found a heavy drag on the center that flattened the curve. Of course, if we could have pushed it up farther, we’d have got a stronger form.”

“Why?”

“It’s obvious, sir. If we disregard the moorings, a straight bridge would tend to curve downstream and open out under a shearing strain. As we get nearer the arch form it naturally gets stiffer, because the strain becomes compressive. After making the bridge strong enough for traffic, the problem is to resist the pressure of the current.”

“True,” the Adjutant agreed with a smile. “Well, we’ll let the pontoons stand. The traditions of the British Army are changing fast, but while we don’t demand the old mechanical obedience, it might be better not to introduce too marked innovations. Anyhow, it’s not desirable that they should, so to speak, strike a commanding officer in the eye. Some officers are conservative and don’t like that kind of thing.”

He moved on and Dick wondered whether he had said too much. He was apt to forget his rank and comparative unimportance when technical matters were discussed. In fact, it was sometimes difficult not to appear presumptuous; but when one knew that one was right–

In the meantime, the Adjutant met the Colonel, and they stopped together at the bridge-head.

“I think we have made a good job, but the brigade’s transport is pretty heavy,” the Colonel remarked.

“I’m satisfied with the bridge, sir; very creditable work for beginners. If the other branches of the new armies are as good–”

“The men are in earnest. Things, of course, are changing, and I suppose old-fashioned prejudices must go overboard. Personally, I liked the type we had before the war, but we’ll let that go. Young Brandon strikes me as particularly keen.”

“Keen as mustard,” the Adjutant agreed. “In other ways, perhaps, he’s more of the kind you have been used to.”

“Now I wonder what you mean by that! You’re something of what they’re pleased to call a progressive, aren’t you? However, I like the lad. His work is good.”

“He knows, sir.”

“Ah,” said the Colonel, “I think I understand. But what about the drawings of the new pontoons? They must be sent to-night.”

“They’re ready. To tell the truth, I showed them to Brandon and he made a good suggestion about the rounding of the waterline.”

The Colonel looked thoughtful.

“Well, the idea of a combined pontoon and light boat that would carry troops is by no means new; but these are rather an unusual type and if it were known that we were building them, it might give the enemy a hint. I suppose you told Brandon the thing’s to be kept quiet.”

“Yes; I made it plain,” the Adjutant said, and they walked on.

Dick had been sitting on the bridge, but he jumped up as a rhythmic tramp of feet came down the hillside. Dust rose among the cornfields and hung in a white streak along the edge of a wood, and then with a twinkling flash of steel, small, ocher-colored figures swung out of the shadow. They came on in loose fours, in an unending line that wound down the steep slopes and reached the bridge-head. Then orders rolled across the stream, the line narrowed, and the measured tramp changed to a sharp uneven patter. The leading platoon were breaking step as they crossed the bridge. Dick frowned impatiently. This was a needless precaution. The engineers’ work was good; it would stand the percussive shock of marching feet.

He stood at attention, with a sparkle in his eyes, as the hot and dusty men went by. They were, for the most part, young men, newly raised infantry, now being hardened and tempered until they were fit to be used as the army’s spear-head in some desperate thrust for which engineers and artillery had cleared the way. It was some time before the first battalion crossed, but the long yellow line still ran back up the hillside to the spot at which it emerged from the deepening shade, and the next platoon took the bridge with unbroken step. It swayed and shook with a curious regular tremble as the feet came down; but there was no giving way of tie and stringer-beam, and Dick forgot the men who were passing, and thought of fastenings and stressed material.

He was young and the pomp of war had its effect on him, but the human element began to take second place. Although an officer of the new army, he was first of all an engineer; his business was to handle wood and iron rather than men. The throb of the planks and the swing of the pontoons as the load passed over them fascinated him; and his interest deepened when the transport began to cross. Sweating, spume-flecked horses trod the quivering timber with iron-shod hoofs; grinding wheels jarred the structure as the wagons passed. He could feel it yield and bend, but it stood, and Dick was conscious of a strange, emotional thrill. This, in a sense, was his triumph; the first big task in which he had taken a man’s part; and his work had passed the test. Taste, inclination, and interest had suddenly deepened into an absorbing love for his profession.

After a time, the Adjutant sent for him and held out a large, sealed envelope.

“These are the plans I showed you,” he said. “Colonel Farquhar is driving to Newcastle, and will stop at Storeton Grange for supper at midnight. The plans must be delivered to him there. You have a motorcycle, I think?”

“Yes.”

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