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Title: Astounding Stories of Super-Science January 1930
Author: Staley, M. L., Leinster, Murray, 1896-1975, Cummings, Ray, 1887-1957, Rousseau, Victor, Tench, C. V., Meek, Captain S. P., Pelcher, Anthony
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Astounding Stories of Super-Science January 1930" ***

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                             ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCE

                              VOL. I     No. 1    JANUARY, 1930

                                  W. M. CLAYTON, Publisher

                                    HARRY BATES, Editor

                              DOUGLAS M. DOLD, Consulting Editor

      COVER DESIGN
      H. W. WESSOLOWSKI
     _Painted in Water-colors from a Scene in "The Beetle Horde."_

     _On Sale the First Thursday of Each Month_

     The Clayton Standard on a Magazine Guarantees:

    _That_ the stories therein are clean, interesting, vivid; by leading
     writers of the day and purchased under conditions approved by the
     Authors' League of America;

    _That_ such magazines are manufactured in Union shops by American
     workmen;

    _That_ each newsdealer and agent is insured a fair profit;

    _That_ an intelligent censorship guards their advertising pages.

    _The other Clayton magazines are:_

    ACE-HIGH MAGAZINE, RANCH ROMANCES, COWBOY STORIES, CLUES,
    FIVE-NOVELS MONTHLY, WIDE WORLD ADVENTURES, ALL STAR DETECTIVE
    STORIES, FLYERS, RANGELAND LOVE STORY MAGAZINE, WESTERN NOVEL
    MAGAZINE, BIG STORY MAGAZINE, MISS 1930, _and_ FOREST AND STREAM

    _More Than Two Million Copies Required to Supply the Monthly Demand
     for Clayton Magazines._

    Issued monthly by Publishers' Fiscal Corporation, 80 Lafayette St.,
    New York, N. Y. W. M. Clayton, President; Nathan Goldmann,
    Secretary. Application for entry as second-class mail pending at the
    Post Office at New York, under Act of March 3, 1879. Application for
    registration of title as Trade Mark pending in the U.S. Patent
    Office. Member Newsstand Group--Men's List. For advertising rates
    address E. R. Crowe & Co., Inc., 25 Vanderbilt Ave., New York; or
    225 North Michigan Ave., Chicago.



    CONTENTS


    EDITORIAL                         THE EDITOR                     7
      _An Introduction to a New and Unique Magazine._

    THE BEETLE HORDE                   VICTOR ROUSSEAU               8
    _Only Two Young Explorers Stand in the Way of the Mad Bram's
    Horrible Revenge--the Releasing of His Trillions of Man-sized
    Beetles upon an Utterly Defenseless World._ (Part One of a Two-part
    Novel.)

    THE CAVE OF HORROR                 CAPTAIN S. P. MEEK            32
    _Screaming, the Guardsman Was Jerked Through the Air. An Unearthly
    Screech Rang Through the Cavern. The Unseen Horror of Mammoth Cave
    Had Struck Again!_

    PHANTOMS OF REALITY                RAY CUMMINGS                  46
    _Red Sensua's Knife Came up Dripping--and the Two Adventurers Knew
    that Chaos and Bloody Revolution Had Been Unleashed in that Shadowy
    Kingdom of the Fourth Dimension._ (A Complete Novel.)

    THE STOLEN MIND                    M. L. STALEY                  75
    _What Would You Do, If, Like Quest, You Were Tricked, and Your Very
    Mind and Will Stolen from Your Body?_

    COMPENSATION                      C. V. TENCH                    92
    _Professor Wroxton Had Disappeared--But in the Bottom of the
    Mysterious Crystal Cage Lay the Diamond from His Ring!_

    TANKS                             MURRAY LEINSTER               100
    _Two Miles of American Front Had Gone Dead. And on Two Lone
    Infantrymen, Lost in the Menace of the Fog-gas and the Tanks,
    Depended the Outcome of the War of 1932._

    INVISIBLE DEATH                    ANTHONY PELCHER              118
    _On Lees' Quick and Clever Action Depended the Life of "Old Perk"
    Ferguson, the Millionaire Manufacturer Threatened by the Uncanny,
    Invisible Killer._



_Introducing_--

ASTOUNDING STORIES


What _are_ "astounding" stories?

Well, if you lived in Europe in 1490, and someone told you the earth was
round and moved around the sun--that would have been an "astounding"
story.

Or if you lived in 1840, and were told that some day men a thousand
miles apart would be able to talk to each other through a little
wire--or without any wire at all--that would have been another.

Or if, in 1900, they predicted ocean-crossing airplanes and submarines,
world-girdling Zeppelins, sixty-story buildings, radio, metal that can
be made to resist gravity and float in the air--these would have been
other "astounding" stories.

To-day, time has gone by, and all these things are commonplace. That is
the only real difference between the astounding and the
commonplace--Time.

To-morrow, more astounding things are going to happen. Your children--or
their children--are going to take a trip to the moon. They will be able
to render themselves invisible--a problem that has already been partly
solved. They will be able to disintegrate their bodies in New York and
reintegrate them in China--and in a matter of seconds.

Astounding? Indeed, yes.

Impossible? Well--television would have been impossible, almost
unthinkable, ten years ago.

Now you will see the kind of magazine that it is our pleasure to offer
you beginning with this, the first number of ASTOUNDING STORIES.

It is a magazine whose stories will anticipate the super-scientific
achievements of To-morrow--whose stories will not only be strictly
accurate in their science but will be vividly, dramatically and
thrillingly told.

Already we have secured stories by some of the finest writers of fantasy
in the world--men such as Ray Cummings, Murray Leinster, Captain S. P.
Meek, Harl Vincent, R. F. Starzl and Victor Rousseau.

So--order your next month's copy of ASTOUNDING STORIES in advance!

--_The Editor._



The Beetle Horde

A TWO-PART NOVEL

_By Victor Rousseau_


[Illustration: _Dodd and Tommy realised that they were powerless against
the monstrous beetles._]

[Sidenote: Only two young explorers stand in the way of the mad Bram's
horrible revenge--the releasing of his trillions of man-sized beetles
upon an utterly defenseless world.]



CHAPTER I

_Dodd's Discovery_


Out of the south the biplane came winging back toward the camp, a black
speck against the dazzling white of the vast ice-fields that extended
unbroken to the horizon on every side.

It came out of the south, and yet, a hundred miles further back along
the course on which it flew, it could not have proceeded in any
direction except northward. For a hundred miles south lay the south
pole, the goal toward which the Travers Expeditions had been pressing
for the better part of that year.

Not that they could not have reached it sooner. As a matter of fact,
the pole had been crossed and re-crossed, according to the estimate of
Tommy Travers, aviator, and nephew of the old millionaire who stood
fairy uncle to the expedition. But one of the things that was being
sought was the exact site of the pole. Not within a couple of miles or
so, but within the fraction of an inch.

It had something to do with Einstein, and something to do with
terrestrial magnetism, and the variations of the south magnetic pole,
and the reason therefore, and something to do with parallaxes and the
precession of the equinoxes and other things, this search for the pole's
exact location. But all that was principally the affair of the
astronomer of the party. Tommy Travers, who was now evidently on his way
back, didn't give a whoop for Einstein, or any of the rest of the stuff.
He had been enjoying himself after his fashion during a year of
frostbites and hard rations, and he was beginning to anticipate the
delights of the return to Broadway.

Captain Storm, in charge of the expedition, together with the five
others of the advance camp, watched the plane maneuver up to the tents.
She came down neatly on the smooth snow, skidded on her runners like an
expert skater, and came to a stop almost immediately in front of the
marquee.

Tommy Travers leaped out of the enclosed cockpit, which, shut off by
glass from the cabin, was something like the front seat of a limousine.

"Well, Captain, we followed that break for a hundred miles, and there's
no ground cleft, as you expected," he said. "But Jim Dodd and I picked
up something, and Jim seems to have gone crazy."

       *       *       *       *       *

Through the windows of the cabin, Jim Dodd, the young archaeologist of
the party, could be seen apparently wrestling with something that looked
like a suit of armor. By the time Captain Storm, Jimmy, and the other
members of the party had reached the cabin door, Dodd had got it open
and flung himself out backward, still hugging what he had found, and
maneuvering so that he managed to fall on his back and sustain its
weight.

"Say, what the--what--what's that?" gasped Storm.

Even the least scientific minded of the party gasped in amazement at
what Dodd had. It resembled nothing so much as an enormous beetle. As a
matter of fact, it was an insect, for it had the three sections that
characterize this class, but it was merely the shell of one. Between
four and five feet in height, when Dodd stood it on end, it could now be
seen to consist of the hard exterior substance of some huge, unknown
coleopter.

This substance, which was fully three inches thick over the thorax,
looked as hard as plate armor.

"What is it?" gasped Storm again.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tommy Travers made answer, for James Dodd was evidently incapable of
speech, more from emotion than from the force with which he had landed
backward in the snow.

"We found it at the pole, Captain," he said. "At least, pretty near
where the pole ought to be. We ran into a current of warm air or
something. The snow had melted in places, and there were patches of bare
rock. This thing was lying in a hollow among them."

"If I didn't see it before my eyes, I'd think you crazy, Tommy," said
Storm with some asperity. "What is it, a crab?"

"Crab be damned!" shouted Jim Dodd, suddenly recovering his faculties.
"My God, Captain Storm, don't you know the difference between an insect
and a crustacean? This is a fossil beetle. Don't you see the
distinguishing mark of the coleoptera, those two elytra, or wing-covers,
which meet in the median dorsal line? A beetle, but with the shell of a
crustacean instead of mere chitin. That's what led you astray, I expect.
God, what a tale we'll have to tell when we get back to New York! We'll
drop everything else, and spend years, if need be, looking for other
specimens."

"Like fun you will!" shouted Higby, the astronomer of the party. "Lemme
tell you right here, Dodd, nobody outside the Museum of Natural History
is going to care a damn about your old fossils. What we're going to do
is to march straight to the true pole, and spend a year taking
observations and parallaxes. If Einstein's brochure, in which he links
up gravitation with magnetism, is correct--"

"Fossil beetles!" Jim Dodd burst out, ignoring the astronomer. "That
means that in the Tertiary Era, probably, there existed forms of life in
the antarctic continent that have never been found elsewhere. Imagine a
world in which the insect reached a size proportionate to the great
saurians, Captain Storm! I'll wager poor Bram discovered this. That's
why he stayed behind when the Greystoke Expedition came within a hundred
miles of the pole. I'll wager he's left a cairn somewhere with full
details inside it. We've got to find it. We--"

       *       *       *       *       *

But Jim Dodd, suddenly realizing that the rest of the party could hardly
be said to share his enthusiasm in any marked degree, broke off and
looked sulky.

"You say you found this thing pretty nearly upon the site of the true
pole?" Captain Storm asked Tommy.

"Within five miles, I'd say, Captain. The fog was so bad that we
couldn't get our directions very well."

"Well, then, there's going to be no difficulty," answered Storm. "If
this fair weather lasts, we'll be at the pole in another week, and we'll
start making our permanent camp. Plenty of opportunity for all you
gentlemen. As for me, I'm merely a sailor, and I'm trying to be
impartial.

"And please remember, gentlemen, that we're well into March now, and
likely to have the first storms of autumn on us any day. So let's drop
the argument and remember that we've got to pull together!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Tommy Travers was the only skilled aviator of the expedition, which had
brought two planes with it. It was a queer friendship that had sprung up
between him and Jim Dodd. Tommy, the blasé ex-Harvard man, who was known
along Broadway, and had never been able to settle down, seemed as
different as possible from the spectacled, scholarly Dodd, ten years his
senior, red-haired, irascible, and living, as Tommy put it, in the Age
of Old Red Sandstone, instead of in the year 1930 A. D.

It was generally known--though the story had been officially
denied--that there had been trouble in the Greystoke Expedition of three
years before. Captain Greystoke had taken the brilliant, erratic Bram,
of the Carnegie Archaeological Institute, with him, and Bram's history
was a long record of trouble.

It was Bram who had exploded the faked neolithic finds at Mannheim,
thereby earning the undying enmity of certain European savants, but
brilliantly demolishing them when he smashed the so-called Mannheim
stone pitcher (valued at a hundred thousand dollars) with a pocket-axe,
and caustically inquired whether neolithic man used babbit metal rivets
to fasten on his jug handles.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bram's brilliant work in the investigation of the origin of the negrito
Asiatic races had been awarded one of the Nobel prizes, and Bram had
declined it in an insulting letter because he disapproved of the year's
prize award for literature.

He had been a storm center for years, embittered by long opposition,
when he joined the Greystoke Expedition for the purpose of investigating
the marine fauna of the antarctic continent.

And it was known that his presence had nearly brought the Greystoke
Expedition to the point of civil war. Rumor said he had been
deliberately abandoned. His enemies hoped he had. The facts seemed to
be, however, that in an outburst of temper he had walked out of camp in
a furious snowstorm and perished. For days his body had been sought in
vain.

Jimmy Dodd had run foul of Bram some years before, when Bram had
published a criticism of one of Dodd's addresses dealing with fossil
monotremes, or egg-laying mammals. In his inimitable way, Bram had
suggested that the problem which came first, the egg or the chicken, was
now seen to be linked up with the Darwinian theory, and solved in the
person of Dodd.

Nevertheless, Jimmy Dodd entertained a devoted admiration for the memory
of the dead scientist. He believed that Bram must have left records of
inestimable importance in a cairn before he died. He wanted to find that
cairn.

And he knew, what a number of Bram's enemies knew, that the dead
scientist had been a morphine addict. He believed that he had wandered
out into the snow under the influence of the drug.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dodd, who shared a tent with Tommy, had raved the greater part of the
night about the find.

"Well, but see here, Jimmy, suppose these beetles did inhabit the
antarctic continent a few million years ago, why get excited?" Tommy had
asked.

"Excited?" bellowed Dodd. "It opens one of the biggest problems that
science has to face. Why haven't they survived into historic times? Why
didn't they cross into Australia, like the opossum, by the land bridge
then existent between that continent and South America? Beetles five
feet in length, and practically invulnerable! What killed them off? Why
didn't they win the supremacy over man?"

Jimmy Dodd had muttered till he went to sleep, and he had muttered
worse in his dreams. Tommy was glad that Captain Storm had given them
permission to return to the same spot next morning and look for further
fossils, though his own interest in them was of the slightest.

The dogs were being harnessed next morning when the two men hopped into
the plane. The thermometer was unusually high for the season, for in the
south polar regions the short summer is usually at an end by March.
Tommy was sweating in his furs in a temperature well above the freezing
point. The snow was crusted hard, the sky overcast with clouds, and a
wind was blowing hard out of the south, and increasing in velocity
hourly.

"A bad day for starting," said Captain Storm. "Looks like one of the
autumn storms was blowing up. If I were you, I'd watch the weather,
Tommy."

       *       *       *       *       *

Tommy glanced at Dodd, who was huddled in the rear cockpit, fuming at
the delay, and grinned whimsically. "I guess I can handle her, Captain,"
he answered. "It's only an hour's flight to where he found that fossil."

"Just as you please," said Storm curtly. He knew that Tommy's judgment
as a pilot could always be relied upon. "You'll find us here when you
return," he added. "I've counter-manded the order to march. I don't like
the look of the weather at all."

Tommy grinned again and pressed the starter. The engine caught and
warmed up. One of the men kicked away the blocks of ice that had been
placed under the skids to serve as chocks. The plane taxied over the
crusted snow, and took off into the south.

       *       *       *       *       *

The camp was situated in a hollow among the ice-mountains that rose to a
height of two or three thousand feet all around. Tommy had not dreamed
how strongly the gale was blowing until he was over the top of them.
Then he realized that he was facing a tougher proposition than he had
calculated on. The storm struck the biplane with full force.

A snowstorm was driving up rapidly, blackening the sky. The sun, which
only appeared for a brief interval every day, was practically touching
the horizon as it rose to make its minute arc in the sky. A star was
visible through a rift in the clouds overhead, and the pale daylight in
which they had started had already become twilight.

Tommy was tempted to turn back, but it was only a hundred miles, and
Jimmy Dodd would give him no peace if he did so. So he put the plane's
nose resolutely into the wind, watching his speed indicator drop from a
hundred miles per hour to eighty, sixty, forty--less.

The storm was beating up furiously. Of a sudden the clouds broke into a
deluge of whirling snow.

In a moment the windshield was a frozen, opaque mass. Tommy opened it,
and peered out into the biting air. He could see nothing.... The plane,
caught in the fearful cross-currents that swirl about the southern roof
of the world, was fluttering like a leaf in the wind. The altimeter was
dropping dangerously.

Tommy opened the throttle to the limit, zooming, and, like a spurred
horse, the biplane shot forward and upward. She touched five thousand,
six, seven--and that, for her, was ceiling under those conditions, for a
sudden tremendous shock of wind, coming in a fierce cross-current, swung
her round, tossed her to and fro in the enveloping white cloud. And
Tommy knew that he had the fight of his life upon his hands.

       *       *       *       *       *

The compasses, which required considerable daily adjusting to be of use
so near to the pole, had now gone out of use altogether. The air speed
indicator had apparently gone west, for it was oscillating between zero
and twenty. The turn and bank indicator was performing a kind of tango
round the dial. Even the eight-day clock had ceased to function, but
that might have been due to the fact that Tommy had neglected to wind
it. And the oil pressure gauge presented a still more startling sight,
for a glance showed that either there was a leak or else the oil had
frozen.

Tommy looked around at Dodd and pointed downward. Dodd responded with a
vicious forward wave of his hand.

Tommy shook his head, and Dodd started forward along the cabin,
apparently with the intention of committing assault and battery upon
him. Instead, the archaeologist collapsed upon the floor as the plane
spun completely around under the impact of a blast that was like a
giant's slap.

The plane was no longer controllable. True, she responded in some sort
to the controls, but all Tommy was able to do was to keep her from going
into a crazy sideslip or nose dive as he fought with the elements. And
those elements were like a devil unchained. One moment he was dropping
like a plummet, the next he was shooting up like a rocket as a vertical
blast of air caught the plane and tossed her like a cork into the
invisible heavens. Then she was revolving, as if in a maelstrom, and by
degrees this rotary movement began to predominate.

Round and round went the plane, in circles that gradually narrowed, and
it was all Tommy could do to swing the stick so as to keep her from
skidding or sideslipping. And as he worked desperately at his task Tommy
began to realize something that made him wonder if he was not dreaming.

       *       *       *       *       *

The snow was no longer snow, but rain--mist, rather, warm mist that had
already cleared the windshield and covered it with tiny drops.

And that white, opaque world into which he was looking was no longer
snow but fog--the densest fog that Tommy had ever encountered.

Fog like white wool, drifting past him in fleecy flakes that looked as
if they had solid substance. Warm fog that was like balm upon his frozen
skin, but of a warmth that was impossible within a few miles of the
frozen pole.

Then there came a momentary break in it, and Tommy looked down and
uttered a cry of fear. Fear, because he knew that he must be dreaming.

Not more than a thousand feet beneath him he saw patches of snow, and
patches of--green grass, the brightest and most verdant green that he
had ever seen in his life.

He turned round at a touch on his shoulder. Dodd was leaning over him,
one hand pointing menacingly upward and onward.

"You fool," Tommy bellowed in his ear, "d'you think the south pole lies
over there? It's here! Yeah, don't you get it, Jimmy? Look down! This
valley--God, Jimmy, the south pole's a hole in the ground!"

And as he spoke he remembered vaguely some crank who had once insisted
that the two poles were hollow because--what was the fellow's reasoning?
Tommy could not remember it.

But there was no longer any doubt but that they were dropping into a
hole. Not more than a mile around, which explained why neither Scott nor
Amundsen had found it when they approximated to the site of the pole. A
hole--a warm hole, up which a current of warm air was rushing, forming
the white mist that now gradually thinned as the plane descended. The
plateau with its covering of eternal snows loomed in a white circle high
overhead. Underneath was green grass now--grass and trees!

       *       *       *       *       *

The fog was nearly gone. The plane responded to the controls again.
Tommy pushed the stick forward and came round in a tighter circle.

And then something happened that he had not in the least expected. One
moment he seemed to be traveling in a complete calm, a sort of clear
funnel with a ring of swirling fog outside it--the next he was dropping
into a void!

There was no air resistance--there seemed hardly any air, for he felt a
choking in his throat, and a tearing at his lungs as he strove to
breathe. He heard a strangled cry from Dodd, and saw that he was
clutching with both hands at his throat, and his face was turning
purple.

The controls went limp in Tommy's hands. The plane, gyrating more
slowly, suddenly nosed down, hung for a moment in that void, and then
plunged toward the green earth, two hundred feet below, with appalling
swiftness.

Tommy realized that a crash was inevitable. He threw his goggles up over
his forehead, turned and waved to Dodd in ironic farewell. He saw the
earth rush up at him--then came the shattering crash, and then oblivion!



CHAPTER II

_Beetles and Humans_


How long he had remained unconscious, Tommy had no means of determining.
Of a sudden he found himself lying on the ground beside the shattered
plane, with his eyes wide open.

He stared at it, and stared about him, without understanding where he
was, or what had happened to him. His first idea was that he had crashed
on the golf links near Mitchell Field, Long Island, for all about him
were stretches of verdant grass and small shrubby plants. Then, when he
remembered the expedition, he was convinced that he had been dreaming.

What brought him to a saner view was the discovery that he was enveloped
in furs which were insufferably hot. He half raised himself and
succeeded in unfastening his fur coat, and thus discovered that
apparently none of his bones was broken.

But the plane must have fallen from a considerable height to have been
smashed so badly. Then Tommy discovered that he was lying upon an
extensive mound of sand, thrown up as by some gigantic mole, for burrow
tracks ran through it in every direction. It was this that had saved his
life.

Something was moving at his side. It was half-submerged in the
sand-pile, and it was moving parallel to him with great rapidity.

A grayish body, half-covered with grains of sand emerged, waving two
enormously long tentacles. It was a shrimp, but fully three feet in
length, and Tommy had never before had any idea what an unpleasant
object a shrimp is.

Tommy staggered to his feet and dropped nearer the plane, eyeing the
shrimp with horror. But he was soon relieved as he discovered that it
was apparently harmless. It slithered away and once more buried itself
in the pile of sand.

Now Tommy was beginning to remember. He looked into the wreckage of the
plane. Jim Dodd was not there. He called his name repeatedly, and there
was no response, except a dull echo from the ice-mountains behind the
veil of fog.

       *       *       *       *       *

He went to the other side of the plane, he scanned the ground all about
him. Jimmy had disappeared. It was evident that he was nowhere near, for
Tommy could see the whole of the lower scope of the bowl on every side
of him. He had walked away--or he had been carried away! Tommy thought
of the shrimp, and shuddered. What other fearsome monsters might inhabit
that extraordinary valley?

He sat down, leaning against the wreck of the fuselage, and tried to
adjust his mind, tried to keep himself from going mad. He knew now that
the flight had been no dream, that he was a member of his uncle's
expedition, that he had flown with Jim toward the pole, had crashed in a
vacuum. But where was Jim? And how were they going to get out of the
damn place?

Something like a heap of stones not far away attracted Tommy's
attention. Perhaps Jim Dodd was lying behind that. Once more Tommy got
upon his feet and began walking toward it. On the way, he stumbled
against the sharp edge of something that protruded from the ground.

It cut his leg sharply, and, with a curse, he began rubbing his shin and
looking at the thing. Then he saw that it was another of the fossil
shells, half-buried in the marshy ooze on which he was treading. The
ground in this lower part of the valley was a swamp, on account of the
very fine mist falling from the fog clouds that surrounded it
impenetrably on every side.

Then Tommy came upon another shell, and then another. And now he saw
that there were piles of what he had taken to be rock everywhere, and
that this was not rock but great heaps of the shells, all equally
intact.

Hundreds of thousands of the prehistoric beetles must have died in that
valley, perhaps overcome by some cataclysm.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tommy examined the heap near which he stood; he yelled Dodd's name, but
again no answer came.

Instead, something began to stir among the heaps of shells. For a moment
Tommy hoped against hope that it was Dodd, but it wasn't Dodd.

_It was a living beetle!_

A beetle fully five feet high as it stood erect, a pair of enormous
wings outspread. And the head, which was larger than a man's, was the
most frightful object Tommy had ever seen.

Jim Dodd would have said at once that this was one of the Curculionidae,
or snout beetles, for a prolongation of the head between the eyes formed
a sort of beak a foot in length. The mouth, which opened downward, was
armed with terrific mandibles, while the huge, compound eyes looked like
enormous crystals of cut glass. Immediately in front of the eyes were
two mandibles as long as a man's arms, with feathery processes at the
ends. In addition to these there were three pairs of legs, the front
pair as long as a man's, the hind pair almost as long as a horse's.

       *       *       *       *       *

Paralyzed with horror, Tommy watched the monster, which had apparently
been disturbed by the vibrations of his voice, extract itself from among
the shells. Then, with a bound that covered fifteen feet, it had
lessened the distance between them by half.

And then a still more amazing thing happened. For of a sudden the hard
shell slipped from the thorax, the wing-cases dropped off, the whole of
the bony parts slipped to the ground with a clang, and a soft,
defenseless thing went slithering away among the rocks.

The beetle had moulted!

Tommy dropped to the ground in the throes of violent nausea.

Then, looking up again, he saw the girl!

       *       *       *       *       *

She was about a hundred yards away from him, very close to the fallen
plane, and she must have emerged from a large hole in the ground which
Tommy could now see under a ledge of overhanging rock.

She seemed to be dressed in a single garment which fell to her knees,
and appeared to fit tightly about her body, but as she came nearer,
Tommy, watching her, petrified by this latest apparition, discovered
that it was woven of her own hair, which must have been of immense
length, for it fell naturally to her shoulders, and thence was woven
into this close-fitting material, a fringe an inch or two in length
extending beneath the selvage.

She was about six feet tall, and apparently made after the normal human
pattern. She moved with a slow, majestic swing, and if ever any female
had seemed to Tommy to have the appearance of an angel, this unknown
woman did.

She was so fair, in that flossy, flaxen covering, she moved with such
easy grace, that Tommy, gaping, gradually crept nearer to her. She did
not seem to see him. She was stooping over the very sand heap into which
he had fallen. Suddenly, with lightning-like rapidity, her arms shot
out, her hands began tunneling in the sand. With a cry of triumph she
pulled out the shrimp Tommy had seen, or another like it, and, stripping
it off the shell, began devouring it with evident relish.

In the midst of her meal the girl raised her head and looked at Tommy.
He saw that her eyes were filmed, vacant, dead. Then of a sudden a third
membrane was drawn back across the pupils, and she saw him.

She let the shrimp drop to the ground, uttered a cry, and moved toward
him with a tottering gait. She groped toward him with outstretched arms.
And then she was blind again, for the membrane once more covered her
pupils. It was as if her eyes were unable to endure even the dim light
of the valley, through whose surrounding mists the low sun, setting just
above the horizon, was unable to diffuse itself save as a brightening of
the fog curtain.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tommy stepped toward the girl. His outstretched hand touched hers. It
was unquestionably a woman's hand he held, delicately warm, with
exquisitely moulded fingers, in whose touch there seemed to be, for the
girl, some tactile impression of him.

Again that membrane was drawn back from the girl's pupils for a fleeting
flash. Tommy saw two eyes of intense black, their color contrasting
curiously with the flaxen color of her hair and her white skin, almost
the tint of an albino's. Those eyes had surveyed him, and appeared
satisfied that he was one of her kind. She could not have seen very much
in that almost instantaneous flash of vision. Queer, that membrane--as
if she had been used to living in the dark, as if the full light of the
day was unbearable!

She drew her hand away. Soft vocals came from her lips. Suddenly she
turned swiftly. She could not have seen, but before Tommy had seen, she
had sensed the presence of the old man who was creeping out of the hole
in the mountainside.

He moved forward craftily, and then pounced upon the sand pile, and in a
moment had pulled out another of the big shrimps, which he proceeded to
devour with greedy relish. The girl, leaving Tommy's side, joined him in
that unpleasant feast.

And in the midst of it a flood came pouring from the hole--a flood of
living beetles, covering the ground in fifteen-foot leaps as they dashed
at the two.

To his horror, Tommy saw Jimmy Dodd among them, wrapped in his fur coat
like a mummy, and being pushed and rolled forward like a football.

For a moment Tommy hesitated, torn between his solicitude for Jim Dodd
and that for the girl. Then, as the foremost of the monsters bounded to
her side, he ran between them. The vicious jaws snapped within six
inches of Tommy's face, with a force that would have carried away an
ear, or shredded the cheek, if they had met.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tommy struck out with all his might, and his fist clanged on the
resounding shell so that the blood spurted from his bruised knuckles. He
had struck the monster squarely upon the thorax, and he had not
discommoded it in the least. It turned on him, its glassy, many-faceted
eyes glaring with a cold, infernal light. Tommy struck out again with
his left hand, this time upon the pulpy flesh of the downward-opening
mouth.

An inch higher, and he would have impaled his hand upon the beak, with a
point like a needle, and evidently used for purposes of attack, since it
was not connected with the mandibles. The blow appeared to fall in the
only vulnerable place. The monster dropped upon its back and lay there,
unable to reverse itself, its antenna and forelegs waving in the air,
and the rear legs rasping together in a shrill, strident shriek.

Instantly, as Tommy darted out of the way, the swarm fell upon the
helpless monster and began devouring it, tearing strips of flesh from
the lower shell, which in the space of a half-minute was reduced simply
to bone. The most horrible feature of this act of cannibalism was the
complete silence with which it was performed, except for the rasping of
the dying monster's legs. It was evident that the huge beetles had no
vocal apparatus.

For the moment left unguarded, Jim Dodd flung down the collar of his fur
coat, stared about him, and recognized Tommy.

"My God, it's you!" he yelled. "Well, can you--?"

He had no time to finish his sentence. A pair of antenna went round his
neck from behind. At the same instant Tommy, the old man, and the girl
were gripped by the monsters, which, forming a solid phalanx about them,
began hustling them in the direction of the hole. Resistance was utterly
impossible. Tommy felt as if he was being pushed along by a moving wall
of stone.

Inside the opening it was completely dark. Tommy shouted to Dodd, but
the strident sounds of the moving legs drowned his cries. He was being
pushed forward into the unknown.

       *       *       *       *       *

Suddenly the ground seemed to fall away beneath his feet. He struggled,
cried out, and felt himself descending through the air.

For a full half-minute he went downward at a speed that constricted his
throat so that he could hardly draw breath. Then, just as he had nerved
himself for the imminent crash, the speed of his descent was checked. In
another moment he found that he was slowing to a standstill in mid-air.

He was beginning to float backward--upward. But the wall of moving
shells, pushing against him, forced him on, downward, and yet apparently
against the force of gravitation.

Then of a sudden Tommy was aware of a dim light all about him. His feet
touched earth and grass as softly as a thistledown alighting.

He found himself seated in the same dim light upon red grass, and
staring into Jimmy's face.



CHAPTER III

_Ten Miles Underground_


"What I was going to say when we were interrupted, was, 'Can you beat
it?'" Jimmy Dodd observed, with admirable sang-froid.

They were still seated on the red grass, gazing about them at what
looked like an illimitable plain, and upward into depths of darkness. It
was warm, and the light, furnished by what appeared to be luminous
vegetation, was about that of twilight.

On every side were clumps of trees and shrubs, which formed centers of
phosphorescent illumination, but for the most part the land was open,
and here and there human figures appeared, moving with head down and
arms hanging earthward.

"No, I'm damned if I can," said Tommy. "What happened to you after we
crashed?"

"Why, first thing I knew, I found myself riding on the back of a fossil
beetle, apparently one of the _curculionidae_," said Dodd.

"Never, mind being so precise, Jimmy. Let's call it a beetle. Go on."

"They set me down inside the hole and seemed to be investigating me,
the whole swarm of them. Of course, I thought I was dead, and come to
my just reward, especially when I saw those beaks. Then one of them
began tickling my face with its antenna, and I drew up my fur collar.
They didn't seem to like the feel of the fur, and after a while the
whole gang started hustling me back again, like a nest of ants carrying
something they don't want outside their hill. And then you bobbed up."

"Well, my opinion is you saved your life by pulling up your collar,"
said Tommy. "Looks to me as if it's a case of the survival of the
fittest, said fittest being the insect, and the human race taking second
place. You know what the humans here live on, don't you?"

"No, what?"

"Shrimps as big as poodles. If you'd seen that girl and the old man
getting outside them, you'd realize that there seems to be a food
shortage in this part of the world. Say, where in thunder are we,
Jimmy?"

"Haven't you guessed yet, Travers?" asked Dodd, a spice of malice in his
voice.

"I suppose this is some sort of big hole on the site of the south pole,
with warm vapors coming up. Maybe a great fissure in the earth, or
something."

       *       *       *       *       *

Jimmy Dodd's grin, seen in the half-light, was rather disconcerting.
"How far do you think we dropped just now?" Dodd asked.

"Why, I'd say several hundred yards," replied Tommy. "What's your
estimate?"

"Just about ten miles," answered Dodd.

"What? You're still crazy! Why, we slowed up!"

"Yeah," grinned Dodd, "we slowed up. We're inside the crust of the
world. That's the long and short of it. The earth we've known is just a
shell over our heads."

"Yeah? Walking head downward, are we? Then why don't we drop to the
center of the earth, you damn fool?"

"Because, my dear fellow, you can swing a pailful of water round your
head without spilling any of it. In other words, our old friend,
centrifugal force. The speed with which the earth is rotating, keeps us
on our feet, head downward. To be precise, the center of the earth's
gravity lies in the middle of the hollow sphere, of course, but the
counteraction of centrifugal force throws it outward to the middle of
the ten-mile crust. That's why we slowed down after we were half-way
through. We were moving against gravity."

"And what's up there, or down there, or whatever you call it?" asked
Tommy, pointing to what ought to have been the sky.

"Nothing. It's the center of the tennis ball, though I imagine it's
pretty near a vacuum when you get up a mile or so, owing to the speed of
the earth's rotation, which forces the heat into the shell."

"You mean to say you actually believe that stuff you've been handing
me?" asked Tommy, after a pause. "Then how did human beings get here,
and those damn beetles? And why's the grass red?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"The grass is red because there's no sunlight to produce chlorophyll.
The inhabitants of the deep sea are red or black, almost invariably. In
the case of the humans, they've become bleached. My belief is that that
man and woman we saw, and those"--he pointed to the vague forms of human
beings, who moved across the grass, gathering something--"are survivors
of the primitive race that still exists as the Australians. Undoubtedly
one of the branches of the human stock originated in antarctica at a
time when it enjoyed a tropical temperature, and was the land bridge
between Australia and South America."

"And the--beetles?" asked Tommy.

"Ah, they go back to the days when nature was in a more grandiose
mood!" replied the archaeologist enthusiastically. "That's the most
wonderful discovery of the ages. The world will go crazy over them when
we bring back the first living specimens to the zoological parks of the
great cities.

"But," Dodd went on, speaking with still more enthusiasm, "of course,
this is only the beginning, Tommy. There are ten million species of
insects, according to Riley, and it is inevitable that there must be
hundreds of thousands of other survivals from the age of the great
saurians, perhaps even some of the saurians themselves. Who knows but
that we may discover the ancestor of the extinct monotremes, the
rhynchocephalia, the pterodactyls, hatch a brood of aepyornis eggs--"

"And," said Tommy tartly, "how are we going to get them back, apart from
the little problem of getting out of here ourselves?"

"Don't let's worry about that now," answered Dodd. "It will take ten
years of the hardest kind of labor even to begin a classification of the
inhabitants of this inner world. I could sit down for ever, and--"

But Jimmy Dodd rose to his feet as a pair of antenna whipped round his
neck and jerked him bodily upward.

       *       *       *       *       *

One of the monster beetles was standing upright behind them, and by its
gestures it evidently meant that Dodd and Tommy were to join the crowd
of humans in the offing. As Dodd turned upon it with an indignant show
of fists, one of the antennae whipped off his fur coat and stung him
painfully with the bristle-like attachment at the end.

It was a painful moment when Dodd and Tommy realized that they were
powerless against the monstrous beetles. Tommy tried the uppercut with
which he had knocked out the deceased monster, but the quick jerks of
the present beetle's head were infinitely faster than the movements of
his fists, while the antenna had a whiplike quality about them that
speedily convinced him that discretion was the card to play.

Under the threat of the curling antenna, Tommy and Dodd moved in the
direction of the slowly circulating humans. Numerous tiny rodents, which
evidently kept the red grass short, scampered away under their feet. The
beetles made no further effort to force them on, but now they could see
that a number of the monsters were stationed at intervals around a wide
circle, keeping the humans in a single body.

"Good Lord!" ejaculated Tommy, stopping. "See what they're doing, Dodd?
They're herding us, like cowboys herd steers. Look at that!"

       *       *       *       *       *

One of the herd, a male with a long beard, suddenly broke from the herd,
bawling, and flung himself upon a beetle guard. The antenna shot forth,
coiled around his neck, and hurled him a dozen feet to the ground, where
he lay stunned for a moment before arising and rejoining his companions.

"But what are they looking for?" demanded Dodd.

Tommy had not heard him. He had stopped in front of one of the luminous
trees and was plucking a fruit from it.

"Jimmy, ever see an apple before?" he asked. "If this isn't an apple,
I'll eat my head."

It certainly was an apple, and one of the largest and juiciest that
Tommy had ever tasted. It was the reddest apple he had ever seen, and
would have won the first prize at any agricultural fair.

"And look at this!" shouted Tommy, plucking an enormous luminous peach
from another tree.

They began munching slowly, then, seeing one of the beetle guards
approaching them, they moved into the midst of the crowd.

"Did you notice anything strange about those fruit trees?" inquired
Dodd, as he munched. "I'll swear they were monocotyledonous, which,
after all, is what one would expect. Still, to think that the
monocotyledons evolved the familiar drupes, or stone fruits, on a
parallel line to the dicotyledons is--amazing!"

A box on the ear like the kick of a mule's hoof jerked the last word
from his lips as he went sprawling. He got up, to see the girl standing
before him, intense disgust and anger on her face.

She snatched the fruits from the hands of the two Americans and hurled
them away. It was evident from her manner that she considered such diet
in the highest degree unclean and disgusting; also that she considered
herself charged with the duty of superintending Tommy's and Dodd's
education, but especially Dodd's.

       *       *       *       *       *

Taking him by the arm, she propelled him into the midst of the groping
humans. She released him, stooped, and suddenly stood up, a shrimp about
eighteen inches long in her hand.

Towering over Dodd by six inches, she took his face in her hands and
began caressing him; then, seizing his jaws in her strong fingers, she
pried them apart, and popped the tail end of the shrimp into his mouth.

Dodd let out a yelp, and spat out the love-gift, to be rewarded with
another box on the ear by the young Amazon, while Tommy stood by,
convulsed with laughter, and yet in considerable trepidation, for fear
of being forced to share Dodd's fate.

For the girl was again holding out the tail end of the crustacean, and
Jim Dodd's jaws were slowly and reluctantly approaching it.

But suddenly there came an intervention as the strident rasping of
beetle legs was heard in the distance. Panic seized the human herd,
grovelling for shrimps in the sandy soil with its tufts of red grasses.
Milling in an uneasy mob, they cowered under the lashes of the antenna
of the beetle guards, which sacrificed their backs through their hair
garments whenever any of them tried to bolt.

Nearer and nearer came the beetles, louder and more penetrating the
shriek of their rasping legs. Now the swarm came into sight, rank after
rank of the shell-clad monsters, leaping fifteen feet at a bound with
perfect precision, until they had formed a solid phalanx all around the
humans.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tommy heard sighs of despair, he heard muttering, and then he realized,
with deep thankfulness, that these human beings, degraded though they
were, had a speech of their own.

In the middle of the front line appeared a beetle a foot taller than the
rest. That it was either a king or queen was evident from the respect
paid it by the rest of the swarm. At its every movement a bodyguard of
beetles moved in unison, forming themselves in a group before it and on
either side.

There would have been something ludicrous about these movements, but for
the impression of horror that the swarm made upon Tommy and Jim Dodd.
Hitherto both had supposed that the hideous insects acted by blind
instinct, but now there could no longer be any doubt that they were
possessed of an organized intelligence.

       *       *       *       *       *

The strident sounds grew louder. Already Tommy was beginning to discover
certain variations in them. It was dawning upon him that they formed a
language--and a perfectly intelligible one. For, as the note changed
about a half-semitone, two of the monsters left the side of their ruler
and reached the two men with three successive leaps.

Their movements left no doubt in either Tommy's or Dodd's mind what was
required. The two strode hastily toward the assemblage, and stopped as
the antenna of their guards came down in menacing fashion.

It was light enough for Tommy to see the face of the ruler of the
hellish swarm. And it required all his powers of will to keep from
collapsing from sheer horror at what he saw.

For, despite the close-fitting shell, the face of the beetle king was
the face of a man--a white man!

Jim Dodd's shriek rang out above the shrilling of the beetle-legs,
"Bram! It's you, it's you! My God, it's you, Bram!"



CHAPTER IV

_Bram's Story_


A sneering chuckle broke from Bram's lips. "Yes, it's me, James Dodd,"
he answered. "I'm a little surprised to see you here, Dodd, but I'm
mighty glad. Still insane upon the subject of fossil monotremes, I
suppose?"

The words came haltingly from Bram's lips, as from those of a man who
had lost the habit of easy speech. And Tommy, looking on, and trying to
keep in possession of his faculties, had already come to the conclusion
that the sounds were inaudible to the beetles. Probably their hearing
apparatus was not attuned to such slow vibrations of the human voice.

Also he had discovered that Bram was wearing the discarded shell of one
of the monsters: he had not grown the shell himself. It was fastened
about his body by a band of the hair-cloth, fastened to the two
protuberances of the elytra, or wing-cases, on either side of the dorsal
surface.

The discovery at least robbed the situation of one aspect of terror.
Bram, however he had obtained control of the swarm, was still only a
man.

"Yes, still insane," answered Dodd bitterly. "Insane enough to go on
believing that the polyprotodontia and the dasyuridae, which includes
the peramelidae, or bandicoots, and the banded ant-eaters, or
myrmecobidae, are not to be found in fossil form, for the excellent
reason that they were not represented before the Upper Cretaceous
period."

"You lie! You lie!" screamed Bram. "I have shown to all the world that
phascalotherium, amphitherium, amblotherium, spalacotherium, and many
other orders are to be found in the Upper Jurassic rocks of England,
Wyoming, and other places. You--you are the man who denied the existence
of the nototherium, of the marsupial lion, in pleistocene deposits! You
denied that the dasyuridae can be traced back beyond the pleistocene.
And you stand there and lie to me, when you are at my mercy!"

"For God's sake don't aggravate him," whispered Tommy to Dodd. "Don't
you see that he's insane? Humor him, or we'll be dead men. Think what
the world will lose, if you are never able to go back with your
specimens," he added craftily.

       *       *       *       *       *

But Dodd, whose eyes were glaring, said a sublime thing: "I have given
my life to science, and I will never deny my master!"

With a screech, which, however, was evidently inaudible to the beetles,
Bram leaped at Dodd and seized him by the throat. The two men fell to
the ground, the ponderous beetle-shell completely covering them.
Underneath it they could be seen to be struggling desperately. All the
while the beetle horde remained perfectly motionless. Tommy thought
afterward that in this fact lay their brightest chances of escape, if
Bram's immediate vengeance did not fall on them.

Either because Bram was not himself a beetle, or because in some other
way the swarm instinct was not stirred, the monsters watched the
struggle with complete indifference.

At the moment, however, Tommy was only concerned with saving Dodd from
the madman. He got his foot beneath the shell, then inserted his leg;
using his whole body as a lever, he succeeded in turning Bram over on
his back.

Then, and only then, the swarm rushed in upon them. Then Tommy realized
that he had touched one of the triggers that regulated the beetle's
automatism. In another instant Bram would have been torn to pieces. The
needle-beaks were darting through the air, the hideous jaws were
snapping. Bram's yells rang through the cavern.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dodging beneath the avalanche of the monsters, Tommy got Bram upon his
feet again. The beetles stopped, every movement arrested. Bram's hand
went to the pocket of his tattered coat, there came a snap, a flash.
Bram had ignited an automatic cigarette-lighter!

Instantly the monsters went scurrying away into the distance. And Tommy
had another clue. The beetles, living in the dimness of the underworld,
could not stand light or fire!

He ran to where Jimmy was lying, face upward, on the ground. His face
was badly scarred by Bram's nails, and the blood was spurting from a
long gash in his throat, made by the sharp flint that was lying beside
him.

He had some time before discarded his fur coat. Now he pulled off his
coat, and, tearing off the tail of his shirt, he made a pad and a
bandage, with which he attempted to staunch the blood and bind the
wound. It must have taken ten minutes before the failing heart force
enabled him to get the bleeding under control. Dodd had nearly bled to
death, his face was drawn and waxen, but, because the pulsation was so
feeble, the artery had ceased to spurt.

Then only did Tommy take notice of Bram. He had been squatting near, and
Tommy realized that he had unconsciously observed Bram put some sort of
pellets into his mouth. Now he realized that Bram was a drug fiend. That
was what had made him walk out of the Greystoke camp in the storm.

Bram got up and came toward them. "Is he dead?" he whispered hoarsely.
"I--I lost my temper. You two--I don't intend to kill you.
There--there's room for the three of us. I've got--plans of the utmost
importance to humanity."

"I don't think much of the way you've started to carry them out,"
answered Tommy bitterly. "No, he's not dead yet, but I wouldn't give
much for his chances, even in the best hospital. The best thing you can
do now is to go to hell, and take your beetles with you," he added.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bram, without replying, raised his head and emitted from his throat the
shrillest whistle that Tommy had ever heard. The response was amazing.

Rasping out of the darkness came eight beetles in pairs. Instead of
leaping from an upright position, they trotted in the manner of horses,
on all fours, their shells, which touched at the edges, forming a solid
surface, gently rounded in the center so that a man's body could lie
there and fit snugly into the groove.

"Help me get him up," said Bram. "Trust me! I'll do my best for him. If
we leave him here they may kill and eat him. I can't trust all those
beetle guards."

Tommy hesitated a moment, then decided to follow Bram's suggestion.
Together they raised the unconscious man to the beetle-shell couch. Bram
seated himself upon the boss of one of the beetle-shells in front, and
Tommy jumped up behind.

Next moment, to his amazement, the trained steeds were flying smoothly
through the air, at a rate that could not have been less than
seventy-five to eighty miles an hour.

Tommy's shell seat was not a bed of roses, but he hardly noticed that.
He was thinking that if Dodd lived they should be able to turn the
tables.

For, unknown to Bram, he was in possession of the cigarette-lighter
which he had picked up, and which Bram, in his agitation, had
forgotten. It was full of petrol, or some other fluid of a similar
nature, which Bram must have obtained from some natural source within
the earth. And, in an emergency, Tommy knew that he had the means of
keeping the beetles at bay.

       *       *       *       *       *

They had traveled for perhaps an hour when a faint light began to glow
in the distance. It grew brighter, and a roaring sound became audible. A
turn of the track that they were traversing, and the light became a
glare. A terrific sight met Tommy's eyes.

Out of the bowels of the earth--actually out of the crust beneath their
feet--there shot a pillar of roaring flame, of intense white color, and
radiating a heat that was perceptible even at a distance of several
hundred yards. The beetle steeds dropped gently to the ground; they
halted. Bram got down, grinning.

"Nicely trained horses, what?" he asked. "By the way, you have the
advantage of me in names. Who and what are you?"

Tommy told him.

"Well, Travers, it looks as if we're going to be companions for some
time to come, and I quite admit you saved my life back there. So we
don't want to start with secrets. This is a natural petrol spring, which
has probably been burning undiminished for ages. My trained beetles are
blind--you didn't happen to notice I'd cut off their antenna? But the
rest of the swarm daren't come near it. So that makes me their master.

"Pretty trick, what, Travers? I'm the Lord of the Flame down here, and
I'm using my advantage. But don't get the idea of supplanting me. There
are lots of other tricks you don't know anything about, and I'll have to
trust you better before--"

He broke off and slipped another pellet into his mouth.

"Help me get Dodd down, if this is our destination," answered Tommy.

They lifted Dodd to the ground. He was conscious now, and moaning for
water. The two men carried him into a sort of large cavern, at the
farther end of which the fire was roaring. Bram went to a spring that
trickled down one side, filled something that looked like a petrified
lily calyx, and brought it to Dodd, who drained it.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tommy looked about him. He was astonished to see that the place was, in
a way, furnished. Bram had carved out a very creditable couch, and
several low chairs, evidently with a stone ax, for by the light of the
fire, which cast a fair illumination even at that distance, Tommy could
see the marks of the implement, rough and irregular, in the wood.

On the ground were thick rugs, woven of hair, and two or three more rugs
of the same material lay on the couch. It was evident that the human
herd was expected to furnish textile materials as well as meat.

"Sit down, and make yourself comfortable," said Bram, when they had
raised Dodd to the couch. "We'll have dinner, and then we'll talk. I can
give you a fine vegetarian meal. Those dirty shrimp-eating savages look
on me as a cannibal because I eat the fruits of the trees." He grinned.
"There's a bad shortage of food in Submundia, as I've named this part of
the world," he went on, "for until I came the beetles simply devoured
the humans wholesale, instead of breeding them, like I taught them. And
there's another of the hundred-and-fifty year swarms due to hatch out
soon. However, we'll talk about that later. And all those fine fruits
going to waste! Excuse me, Travers."

       *       *       *       *       *

He disappeared, and returned in a minute or two with a small table,
piled high with luscious fruits unknown to Tommy, though among them were
some that looked like loaves of natural bread.

Tommy, whose appetite never failed him even in the worst circumstances,
fell to with a will. He was enjoying his meal when he happened to look
up, and saw that the penumbra at the edge of the lighted zone was dense
with beetles.

Thousands--perhaps millions, for they stretched away as far as the eye
could see, were packed together, their antenna waving in unison, their
heads, beneath the shells, directed toward the fire.

Bram saw Tommy's look of disgust, and laughed. "The fire seems to
intoxicate them, Travers," he said. "They always throng the entrance
when I'm here. It's as far as they dare go. They're quite blind in the
least light. Care to smoke? I've learned the art of making some quite
decent cigars." He produced a handful. "Oh, by the way, you didn't see
my lighter anywhere, did you?" he went on, with a pretense of
carelessness.

"No," lied Tommy. "I was surprised you--"

"Oh, there's a supply of petrol in the rocks. No matter," answered Bram
carelessly. "Your friend looks bad," he added, glancing at Dodd, who had
fallen asleep. "Travers, I'm sorry I lost my temper. The--the shock of
meeting men from the upper world, you know."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dodd opened his eyes and tried to whisper. Tommy bent over him and
listened.

"He wants to know whether he can have that girl to take care of him," he
said.

"What, the one I saw you with? Why, she's a cull, Travers."

"What d'you mean?" asked Tommy.

"Why--useless, you know. There's several of them running loose, and
waiting to be rounded up. We raise two breeds, one for replenishing the
stock, and one for meat. She's just a cull, a reversion, no use for
either purpose. I'll have her brought by all means. I--I like Dodd. I
want to get him to like me," Bram went on, with a sort of penitence
that had a pathetic touch. "Our little differences--quite absurd, and I
can prove he's wrong in his ideas.

"Make yourself comfortable as long as you're here, Travers, and don't
mind me. Only, don't try to escape. The beetles will get you if you do,
and there's no way out of here--none that you'll find. And don't try to
follow me. But you're a sensible man, and we'll all get along famously,
I'm sure, as soon as Dodd recovers."



CHAPTER V

_Doomed!_


There were no means known to Tommy of reckoning time in that strange
place of twilight. His watch had been broken in the airplane fall; and
Dodd never remembered to wind his, but they estimated that about two
weeks had passed, judging from the number of times they had slept and
eaten.

In those two weeks they had gradually begun to grow accustomed to their
surroundings. Haidia, the girl, had arrived on beetle-back within an
hour after Bram's departure, apparently into a cleft of the rocks--how
he had communicated his order to the beetle steeds Tommy had no idea.
And under the girl's ministrations Dodd was making good progress toward
recovery.

That Haidia was in love with Dodd in quite a human way was evident. To
please the girl, both Dodd and Tommy had learned to eat the raw shrimps,
which, being bloodless, were really no worse than oysters, and had a
flavor half-way between shrimp and crawfish. To please the men, Haidia
tried not to shudder when she saw them devouring the breadfruit and
nectarines of which Bram always had a plentiful supply. Bram was
solicitous in his inquiries for Dodd's health.

"Jim, I've been thinking about our chances of getting away," said Tommy
one morning. "It's evident Bram's only waiting for your recovery to put
some proposition up to us. Suppose you were to feign paralysis."

"How d'you mean? What for?" demanded Dodd.

"If he thinks you're helpless, he'll be less on his guard. You haven't
walked about in his presence." That was true, for the activities of the
two had been nocturnal, when Bram had vanished. "Let him think a nerve's
been severed in your neck, or something of the sort. If it doesn't work,
you can always get better."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dodd's realistic portrayal of a man with a partly paralyzed right side
brought cries of horror from Bram next morning. Solicitously he helped
Dodd back to the couch. Bram, when not under the influence of his drug,
had moments of human feeling.

"Can't you move that arm and leg at all, Dodd?" he asked. "No feeling in
them?"

"There's plenty of feeling," growled Dodd, "but they don't seem to work,
that's all."

"You'll get better," said Bram eagerly. "You must get better. I need
you, Dodd, in spite of our differences. There's work for all of us,
wonderful work. A new humanity, waiting to be born, Dodd, not of the
miserable ape race, but of--of--"

He checked himself, and a cunning look came over his face. He turned
away abruptly.

At the end of two weeks or so, an amazing thing happened. One day
Haidia, with a look of triumph in her eyes, addressed Dodd with a few
English words!

Her brain, which had probably developed certain faculties in different
proportions from those of the upper human race, had registered every
word that either of the two men had ever spoken, and remembered it. As
soon as Dodd ascertained this, he began to instruct her, and, with her
abnormal faculties of memory, it was not long before she could talk
quite intelligently. The obstacle that had stood between them was swept
away. She became one of themselves.

In the days that followed the girl told them brokenly something of the
history of her race, of the legend of the universal flood that had
driven them down into the bowels of the earth, of the centuries-long
struggle with the beetles, and of the insects' gradual conquest of
humanity, and the final reduction of the human race to a miserable,
helpless remnant.

       *       *       *       *       *

Everywhere, Haidia told them, were beetle swarms, everywhere humanity
had been reduced to a few handfuls. Bram, by breeding mankind from
prolific strains, and using the new-born progeny for food, had
temporarily averted universal starvation. But a new swarm of beetles was
due to hatch out shortly, and then--

The girl, with a shudder, put her hand to her bosom, and brought out a
little bright-eyed lizard.

"The old man you saw with me, who is one of our wise elders, has told
our people that these things feed upon the beetle larvae," she said. "We
are putting them secretly into the nests. But what can a few lizards do
against millions." She looked up. "In the earth above us, the beetle
larvae extend for miles, in a solid mass," she said. "When they come out
as beetles, it will be the end of all of us."

Bram had grown less suspicious as the time passed. His sudden visits to
the cavern had ceased. Dodd and Tommy knew that he spent the nights--if
they could be termed nights--lying in a drugged slumber somewhere among
the rocks. They had asked Haidia whether there was any way of escape
into the upper world.

"There are two ways from here," answered the girl. "One is the way you
came, but it is impossible to pass the beetle guards without being torn
to pieces. The other--"

She shuddered, and for an instant drew back the film from across her
pupils, then uttered a little cry of pain at the light, dim though it
was.

"There is a bridge across that terrible monster that devours all it
touches," she said, shuddering, meaning the fire.

Suddenly Dodd had an inspiration. He still had the fur coat that he had
worn, and, reaching into a pocket he drew out a pair of snow goggles,
which he adjusted over Haidia's nose.

"Now look!" he said.

Haidia looked, blinked and, with an effort kept her eyes open. She gazed
at Dodd in amazement. Dodd laughed, and pulled her toward him. He kissed
her, and Haidia's eyes closed.

"What is this?" she murmured. "First you give me medicine that opens my
eyes, and then you give me medicine that closes them."

"That's nothing," grinned Dodd. "Wait till you understand me better."

       *       *       *       *       *

Bram's eyes were preternaturally bright. It was evident that he had been
increasing his dose of late, and that he was fully under the influence
of it now.

"Well, gentlemen, the time has come for us to be frank with one
another," he said, as the three were gathered about the little table,
while Haidia crouched in a far corner of the cave. "I want you to work
for me in my plans for the regeneration of humanity. The time for which
I have long labored is almost at hand. Any day now the new swarm of
beetles may emerge from the pupal stage. But before I speak further,
come and see them, gentlemen!"

He rose, and Dodd and Tommy rose too, Tommy supporting Dodd, who let his
arm and leg trail awkwardly as he moved.

Bram led the way into the cleft among the rocks into which he had been
in the habit of passing. Beyond this opening the two men saw another
smaller cavern, with a beetle guard standing on either side, antenna
waving.

Bram shrilled a sound, and the antenna dropped. The three passed
through. Tommy saw a hair-cloth pallet set against the rocks, a table,
and a chair. Beyond was a sloping ramp of earth. Overhead was a rock
ceiling.

Bram led the way up the ramp, and the three stepped through a gap in the
rocks and found themselves on an extensive prairie. But in place of the
red grass there was a vast sea of mud.

By the light cast by the petrol fire, which roared up in the distance, a
veritable fiery fountain, the two Americans could see that the mud was
filled with huge encysted forms, grubs three or four feet long,
motionless in the soil.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bram scooped up one of them and tossed it into the air. It thudded to
their feet and remained motionless.

"As far as you can see, and for miles beyond, these pupae of the beetles
lie buried in the decaying vegetation in which the eggs were hatched,"
said Bram. "Every century and a half, so far as I have been able to
judge from comparative anatomy, a fresh swarm emerges. See!"

He pointed to the pupa he had unearthed, which, as if stirred into
activity by his handling, was now beginning to move. Or, rather,
something was moving inside the cocoon.

The shell broke, and the hideous head and folded antenna of a beetle
appeared. With a convulsive writhing, the monster threw off the covering
and stepped out. It extended its wings, glistening, with moisture, from
the still soft and pliant carapace, or shell, and suddenly zoomed off
into the distance.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tommy shuddered as the boom of its flight grew softer and subsided.

"Any day now the entire swarm will emerge," cried Bram. "How many
moultings they undergo before they undergo the finished state, I do not
know, but already, as you see, they are prepared for the battle of
life. They emerge ravenous. That beetle will fall upon the man-herds and
devour a full grown man, unless the guards destroy it."

He raised his arms with the gesture of an ancient prophet. "Woe to the
human race," he cried, "the wretched ape spawn that has cast out its
teachers and persecuted those who sought to raise it to higher things!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Tommy knew that Bram was referring to himself. Bram turned fiercely upon
Dodd.

"When I joined the Greystoke expedition," he cried, "it was with the
express intention of refuting your miserable theories as to the fossil
monotremes. I could not sleep or eat, so deeply was I affronted by them.
For, if they were true, the dasyuridae are an innovation in the great
scheme of nature, and man, instead of being a mere afterthought, a jest
of the Creative Force, came to earth with a purpose.

"That I deny," he yelled. "Man is a joke. Nature made him when she was
tired, as the architect of a cathedral fashions a gargoyle in a sportive
moment. It is the insect, not man, who is the predestined lord of the
ages!"

And for once in his life, perhaps because at this point Tommy dug him
violently in the ribs, Dodd had the sense to remain silent. Bram led the
way swiftly back into the larger cave.

"When this swarm hatches out," he said, "I calculate that there will be
a trillion beetles seeking food. There is no food for a tithe of them
here underneath the earth. What then? Do you realize their stupendous
power, their invincibility?

"No, you don't realize it, because your minds, through long habit, are
only attuned to think in terms of man. All man's long history of
slaughter of the so-called lower creatures obsesses you, blinds your
understanding. A beetle? Something to be trodden underfoot, crushed in
sport! But I tell you, gentlemen, that nature--God, if you will--has
designed to supplant the man-ape by the beetle.

"He has resolved to throw down the wretched so-called intelligence of
your kind and mine, and supplant it by the divine instinct of the
beetle, an instinct that is infinitely superior, because it arrives at
results instantaneously. It knows where man infers. Attuned closely to
nature, it alone is able to fulfil the divine plan of Creation."

       *       *       *       *       *

Bram was certainly under the influence of his drug; nevertheless, so
violent were his gestures, so inspired was his utterance, that Tommy and
Dodd listened almost in awe.

"They are invincible," Bram went on. "Their fecundity is such that when
the new swarm is hatched out their numbers alone will make them
irresistible. They do not know fear. They shrink from nothing. And they
will follow me, their leader--I, who know the means of controlling them.
How, then, can puny man hope to stand against them?

"Join me, gentlemen," Bram went on. "And beware how you decide rashly.
For this is the supreme moment, not only of your own lives, but for all
humanity and beetledom. Upon your decision hangs the future of the
world.

"For, irresistible as the beetles are, there is on thing they lack. That
is the sense of historic continuity. If they destroy man, they will know
nothing of man's achievements, poor though these are. My own work on the
fossil monotremes--"

"Which is a tissue of inaccuracies and half-baked deductions!" shouted
Dodd.

Bram started as if a whip had lashed him. "Liar!" he bawled. "Do you
think that I, who left the Greystoke expedition in a howling blizzard
because I knew that here, in the inner earth, I could refute your
miserable impostures--do you think that I am in the mood to listen to
your wretched farrago of impossibilities?"

"Listen to me," bawled Dodd, advancing with waving arms. "Once and for
all, let me tell you that your deductions are all based upon fallacious
premises. No, I will not shut up, Tom Travers! You want me to aid your
damned beetles in the destruction of humanity! I tell you that your
phascalotherium, amphitherium, and all the rest of them, including the
marsupial lion, are degenerate developments of the age following the
pleistocene. I say the whole insect world was made to fertilize the
plant world, so that it should bear fruit for human food. Man is the
summit of the scale of evolution, and I will never join in any infamous
scheme for his destruction."

Bram glared at Dodd like a madman. Three times he opened his mouth to
speak, but only inarticulate sounds came from his throat. And when at
last he did speak, he said something that neither Dodd nor Tommy had
anticipated.

"It looks as if you're not so paralysed as you made out," he sneered.
"You'll change your mind within what used to be called a day, Dodd.
You'll crawl to my feet and beg for pardon. And you'll recant your lying
theories about the fossil monotremes, or you die--the pair of you--you
die!"



CHAPTER VI

_Escape!_


"I heard what he said. You shall not die. We shall go away to your
place, where there are no beetles to eat us, even if"--Haidia
shuddered--"even if we have to cross the bridge of fire, beyond which,
they tell me, lies freedom."

High over and a little to one side of the petrol flame Dodd and Tommy
had seen the slender arch of rock leading into another cleft in the
rocks. They had investigated it several times, but always the fierce
heat had driven them back.

Both Dodd and Tommy had noticed, however, that at times the fire seemed
to shrink in volume and intensity. Observation had shown them that these
times were periodical, recurring about every twelve hours.

"I think I've got the clue, Tommy," said Dodd, as the three watched the
fiery fountain and speculated on the possibility of escape. "That flow
of petrol is controlled, like the tides on earth, by the pull of the
moon. Just now it is at its height. I've noticed that it loses pretty
nearly half its volume at its alternating phase. If I'm right, we'll
make the attempt in about twelve hours."

"Bram's given us twenty-four," said Tommy. "But how about getting Haidia
across?"

"I go where you go," said Haidia, sidling up to Dodd and looking down
upon him lovingly. "I do not afraid of the fire. If it burn me up, I go
to the good place."

"Where's that, Haidia?" asked Dodd.

"When we die, we go to a place where it is always dark and there are no
beetles, and the ground is full of shrimps. We leave our bodies behind,
like the beetles, and fly about happy for ever."

"Not a bad sort of place," said Dodd, squeezing Haidia's arm. "If you
think you're ready to try to cross the bridge, we'll start as soon as
the fire gets lower."

"I'll be on the job," answered Haidia, unconsciously reproducing a
phrase of Tommy's.

       *       *       *       *       *

The girl glided away, and disappeared through the thick of the beetle
crowd clustered about the entrance to the cavern. Tommy and Dodd had
already discovered that it was through her ability to reproduce a
certain beetle sound meaning "not good to eat" that the girl could come
and go. They had once tried it on their own account, and had narrowly
escaped the lashing tentacles.

After that there was nothing to do but wait. Three or four hours must
have passed when Bram returned from his inner cave.

"Well, Dodd, have you experienced a change of heart?" he sneered. "If
you knew what's in store for you, maybe you'd come to the conclusion
that you've been too cocksure about the monotremes. We're slaughtering
in the morning."

"That so?" asked Dodd.

"That's so," shouted Bram. "The beetles are beginning to emerge from the
pupae, and they'll need food if they're to be kept quiet. We're rounding
up about threescore of the culls--your friend Haidia will be among them.
We've got some caged ichneumon flies, pretty little things only a foot
long, which will sting them in certain nerve centers, rendering them
powerless to move. Then we shall bury them, standing up, in the
vegetable mould, for the beetles to devour alive, as soon as they come
out of the shells. You'll feel pretty, Dodd, standing there unable to
move, with the new born beetles biting chunks out of you."

       *       *       *       *       *

Tommy shuddered, despite his hopes of their escaping. Bram, for a
scientist, had a grim and picturesque imagination.

"Dodd, there is no personal quarrel between us," Bram went on. Again
that note of pathetic pleading came into his voice. "Give up your mad
ideas. Admit that the banded ant-eater, at least, existed before the
pleistocene epoch, and everything can be settled. When you see what my
beetles are going to do to humanity, you'll be proud to join us. Only
make a beginning. You remember the point I made in my paper, about
spalacotherium in the Upper Jurassic rocks. It would convince anybody
but a hardened fanatic."

"I read your paper, and I saw your so-called spalacotherium,
reconstructed from what you called a jaw-bone," shouted Dodd. "That
so-called jaw-bone was a lump of chalk, made porous by water, and the
rest was in your imagination. Do your worst, Bram, I'll never crucify
truth to save my life. And I'll laugh at your spalacotherium when your
beetles are eating me."

Bram yelled and shrieked, he stamped up and down the cavern, shaking his
fists at Dodd. At last, with a final torrent of objurgation, he
disappeared.

"A pleasant customer," said Tommy. "We'll have to make that bridge, Jim,
no question about it, even if it means death in the petrol fire."

"Fire's dying down fast," answered Dodd. "Haidia ought to be here soon."

"If Bram hasn't got her."

"Bram got--that girl? If Bram harms a hair of her head I'll kill him
with worse tortures than he's ever dreamed of," answered Dodd, leaping
up, white with rage.

"You mean you--?" Tommy began.

"Love her? Yes, I love her," shouted Dodd. "She's a girl in a million.
Just the sort of helpmate I need to assist me in my work when we get
back. I tell you, Tommy, I didn't know what love meant before I saw
Haidia. I laughed at it as a romantic notion. 'Oh lyric love, half angel
and half bird!'" he quoted, beginning to stride up and down the cavern,
while Tommy watched him in amazement.

And at this moment a complete beetle entered the cave. Complete, because
it had a plastron, or breast-shell, as well as a back-shell, or
carapace.

       *       *       *       *       *

A double breast-shell! A new species of beetle? An executioner beetle,
sent by Bram to summon them to the torture? Tommy shuddered, but Dodd,
lost in his love ecstasy, was ignorant of the creature's advent.

"'Oh lyric love--'" he shouted again, as he twirled on his heel, to run
smack into the monster. The crack of Dodd's head against the
beetle-shell re-echoed through the cave.

The double plastron dropped, the carapace fell down: Haidia stood
revealed. The lovers, folded in each other's arms, passed momentarily
into a trance.

It was Tommy who separated them. "We'll have to make a move," he said.
"I think the fire's as low as it ever gets. Why did you bring the
shells, Haidia?"

"To save us all from the beetles," answered the girl. "When they see us
in the shells, they will not know we are human. That is what makes it so
hard to have to be eaten by those beetles, when they are such
dumb-bells," she added, reproducing another of Tommy's words.

"Come," she continued bravely, "let us see if we can pass the fire."

       *       *       *       *       *

The roaring fountain made the air a veritable inferno. Overhead the
rocks were red-hot. A cascade of sparks tumbled in a fiery shower from
the rock roof. Dodd, holding Haidia in his arms, to protect her,
staggered ahead, with Tommy in the rear. Only the beetle-shells, which
acted as non-conductors of the heat, made that fiery passage possible.

There was one moment when it seemed to Tommy as if he must let go, and
drop into that raging furnace underneath. He heard Dodd bawling hoarsely
in front of him, he nerved himself to a last effort, beating fiercely at
his blazing hair--and then the heat was past, and he had dropped
unconscious upon a bed of cool earth beside a rushing river.

He was vaguely aware of being carried in Dodd's arms, but a long time
seemed to have passed before he grew conscious again. He opened his eyes
in utter darkness. Dodd was whispering in his ear.

"Tommy, old man, how are you feeling now?" Dodd asked.

"All--right," Tommy muttered. "How's Haidia?"

"Still unconscious, poor girl. We've got to get out of here. I heard
Bram yelling in the distance. He's discovered our flight. There may be
another way out of the cave, and, if so, he'll stop at nothing to get
us. See if you can stand, but keep your head low. There's a low roof of
rock above us."

"There's water," said Tommy, listening to the roar of a torrent that
seemed to be rushing past them.

"It's a stream, and I believe these shells will float and bear our
weight. We've got to try. We've got to put everything to the touch now,
Tommy. I'm going to lay Haidia on one of the shells, poor girl, and
start her off. Then I'll follow, and you can bring up the rear."

"I'm with you," said Tommy, getting upon his feet, and uttering an
exclamation of pain as, forgetful of Dodd's injunction, he let his head
strike the rock roof overhead.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the darkness he felt the outlines of his beetle-shell lying beside
the torrent. He could hear Dodd in front of him, grunting as he raised
Haidia's unconscious form in his arms and deposited her in her shell.
Tommy got his own shell into the stream, and held it there as the waters
swirled around it.

"Ready?" he heard Dodd call.

Before he could answer, there sounded from not far away, yet strangely
muffled by the rocks, Bram's bellow of fury. Bram was evidently fully
drugged and beside himself. Inarticulate threats came floating through
the rocky chamber.

"Bram seems to have lost his head temporarily," called Dodd, laughing.
"A madman, Tommy. He insists that the marsupial lion--"

"Yes, I heard you telling him about it," answered Tommy. "You handed it
to him straight. However, more about the marsupial lion later. I'm
ready."

"Then let 'er go," called Dodd, and his words were swallowed up by the
sound of the hollow shell striking against the rocky bank as he launched
his strange craft into the water.

Tommy set one foot into the hollow of his shell, and let himself go.

Instantly the shell shot forward with fearful velocity. It was all Tommy
could do to balance himself, for it seemed more unstable than a canoe.
Once or twice he thought he heard Dodd shouting ahead of him, but his
cries were drowned in the rush of the torrent.

       *       *       *       *       *

Suddenly a light appeared in the distance. Tommy thought it was another
of the petroleum fountains, and his heart seemed to stand still. But
then he gave a gasp of relief. It was a cluster of luminous fungi, ten
or twelve feet tall, emitting a glow equal to that of a dozen 40-watt
electric bulbs.

By that infernal light Tommy could see that the stream curved sharply.
It was about fifty feet in width, and the low rock roof had receded to
some fifteen feet overhead. Instead of a tunnel, there was nothing on
either side of them but a vast tract of marshy ground thinly coated with
the red grass.

As Tommy looked, he saw the shell that carried the unconscious body of
Haidia strike the bank beside the phosphorescent growth. He could see
the girl lying in the hollow of the shell, as pale as death, her eyes
closed. Dodd was close behind. As the swirl of the current caught his
shell, he turned to shout a warning to Tommy.

And Tommy noticed a singular thing, of which his sense of balance had
already warned him, though he had hardly given conscious thought to the
matter. _The river was running up-hill!_

Of course it was, since the center of gravity was in the shell of the
earth, and not in the center!

But, again, the shell of the earth was under their feet!

Then Tommy hit on the solution to the problem. If the river was running
up-hill, that meant that they must be near the exterior of the earth. In
other words, they had passed the center of gravity: they must be within
a mile or so of the exit from Submundia!

       *       *       *       *       *

Tommy was about to shout his discovery to Dodd when his shell grounded
beside the two others, at the base of the clump of fungi.

Huge, straight, hollow stems they were, with mushroom caps, and, like
all fungi, fly-blown, for Tommy could see worms nearly a foot in length
crawling in and out of the porous stalks. The stench from the growth was
nauseating and overpowering, utterly sickening.

"Push off and let's get out of here!" Tommy called to Dodd, who was
balancing his shell against the bank, and trying to peer into Haidia's
face.

At that moment he caught sight of something that made his blood turn
cold!

It was an insect fully fifteen feet in height, three times that of a
beetle, lurking among the fungi. He saw a hugely elongated neck, a
three-cornered head with a pair of tentacles, and two pairs of legs as
long as a giraffe's. But what gave the added touch of horror was that
the monster, balancing itself on its hind legs, had its forelegs
extended in the attitude of one holding a prayer-book!

That attitude of devotion was so terrible that Tommy uttered a wild cry
of terror. At the same time another cry broke from Dodd's lips.

"God, a praying mantis!" he shouted, struggling madly to push off his
shell and Haidia's.

The next moment, as if shot from a catapult, the hideous monster
launched itself into the air straight toward them.

(_To be concluded in the February Number._)



The Cave of Horror

_By Captain S. P. Meek_

[Illustration: "_Suddenly, for no apparent reason at all, one of the men
on guard was jerked into the air feet upwards._"]

[Sidenote: Screaming, the guardsman was jerked through the air. An
unearthly screech rang through the cavern. The unseen horror of Mammoth
Cave had struck again.]


Dr. Bird looked up impatiently as the door of his private laboratory in
the Bureau of Standards swung open, but the frown on his face changed to
a smile as he saw the form of Operative Carnes of the United States
Secret Service framed in the doorway.

"Hello, Carnes," he called cheerfully. "Take a seat and make yourself at
home for a few minutes. I'll be with you as soon as I finish getting
this weight."

Carnes sat on the edge of a bench and watched with admiration the long
nervous hands and the slim tapering fingers of the famous scientist. Dr.
Bird stood well over six feet and weighed two hundred and six pounds
stripped: his massive shoulders and heavy shock of unruly black hair
combined to give him the appearance of a prize-fighter--until one looked
at his hands. Acid stains and scars could not hide the beauty of those
mobile hands, the hands of an artist and a dreamer. An artist Dr. Bird
was, albeit his artistry expressed itself in the most delicate and
complicated experiments in the realms of pure and applied science that
the world has ever seen, rather than in the commoner forms of art.

The doctor finished his task of weighing a porcelain crucible, set it
carefully into a dessicator, and turned to his friend.

"What's on your mind, Carnes?" he asked. "You look worried. Is there
another counterfeit on the market?"

The operative shook his head.

"Have you been reading those stories that the papers have been carrying
about Mammoth Cave?" he asked.

Dr. Bird emitted a snort of disgust.

"I read the first one of them part way through on the strength of its
being an Associated Press dispatch," he replied, "but that was enough.
It didn't exactly impress me with its veracity, and, from a viewpoint of
literature, the thing was impossible. I have no time to pore over the
lucubrations of an inspired press agent."

"So you dismissed them as mere press agent work?"

"Certainly. What else could they be? Things like that don't happen
fortuitously just as the tourist season is about to open. I suppose that
those yarns will bring flocks of the curious to Kentucky though: the
public always responds well to sea serpent yarns."

"Mammoth Cave has been closed to visitors for the season," said Carnes
quietly.

"What?" cried the doctor in surprise. "Was there really something to
those wild yarns?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"There was, and what is more to the point, there still is. At least
there is enough to it that I am leaving for Kentucky this evening, and I
came here for the express purpose of asking you whether you wanted to
come along. Bolton suggested that I ask you: he said that the whole
thing sounded to him like magic and that magic was more in your line
than in ours. He made out a request for your services and I have it in
my pocket now. Are you interested?"

"How does the secret service cut in on it?" asked the doctor. "It seems
to me that it is a state matter. Mammoth Cave isn't a National Park."

"Apparently you haven't followed the papers. It _was_ a state matter
until the Governor asked for federal troops. Whenever the regulars get
into trouble, the federal government is rather apt to take a hand."

"I didn't know that regulars had been sent there. Tell me about the
case."

"Will you come along?"

Dr. Bird shook his head slowly.

"I really don't see how I can spare the time, Carnes," he said. "I am in
the midst of some work of the utmost importance and it hasn't reached
the stage where I can turn it over to an assistant."

"Then I won't bother you with the details," replied Carnes as he rose.

"Sit down, confound you!" cried the doctor. "You know better than to try
to pull that on me. Tell me your case, and then I'll tell you whether
I'll go or not. I can't spare the time, but, on the other hand, if it
sounds interesting enough...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Carnes laughed.

"All right, Doctor," he said, "I'll take enough time to tell you about
it even if you can't go. Do you know anything about it?"

"No. I read the first story half way through and then stopped. Start at
the beginning and tell me the whole thing."

"Have you ever been to Mammoth Cave?"

"No."

"It, or rather they, for while it is called Mammoth Cave it is really a
series of caves, are located in Edmonson County in Central Kentucky, on
a spur railroad from Glasgow Junction on the Louisville and Nashville
Railroad. They are natural limestone caverns with the customary
stalactite and stalagmite formation, but are unusually large and very
beautiful. The caves are quite extensive and they are on different
levels, so that a guide is necessary if one wants to enter them and be
at all sure of finding the way out. Visitors are taken over a regular
route and are seldom allowed to visit portions of the cave off these
routes. Large parts of the cave have never been thoroughly explored or
mapped. So much for the scene.

"About a month ago a party from Philadelphia who were motoring through
Kentucky, entered the cave with a regular guide. The party consisted of
a man and his wife and their two children, a boy of fourteen and a girl
of twelve. They went quite a distance back into the caves and then, as
the mother was feeling tired, she and her husband sat down, intending to
wait until the guide showed the children some sights which lay just
ahead and then return to them. The guide and the children never
returned."

"What happened?"

"No one knows. All that is known is the bare fact that they have not
been seen since."

"A kidnapping case?"

"Apparently not, in the light of later happenings, although that was at
first thought to be the explanation. The parents waited for some time.
The mother says that she heard faint screams in the distance some ten
minutes after the guide and the children left, but they were very far
away and she isn't sure that she heard them at all. At any rate, they
didn't impress her at the time.

       *       *       *       *       *

"When half an hour had passed they began to feel anxious, and the father
took a torch and started out to hunt for them. The usual thing happened;
he got lost. When _he_ failed to return, the mother, now thoroughly
alarmed, made her way, by some uncanny sense of direction, to the
entrance and gave the alarm. In half an hour a dozen search parties were
on their way into the cave. The father was soon located, not far from
the beaten trail, but despite three days of constant search, the
children were not located. The only trace of them that was found was a
bracelet which the mother identified. It was found in the cavern some
distance from the beaten path and was broken, as though by violence.
There were no other signs of a struggle.

"When the bracelet was found, the kidnapping theory gained vogue, for
John Harrel, the missing guide, knew the cave well and natives of the
vicinity scouted the idea that he might be lost. Inspired by the large
reward offered by the father, fresh parties began to explore the unknown
portions of the cave. And then came the second tragedy. Two of the
searchers failed to return. This time there seemed to be little doubt of
violence, for screams and a pistol shot were faintly heard by other
searchers, together with a peculiar 'screaming howl,' as it was
described by those who heard it. A search was at once made toward the
spot where the bracelet had been picked up, and the gun of one of the
missing men was found within fifty yards of the spot where the bracelet
had been discovered. One cylinder of the revolver had been discharged."

"Were there any signs on the floor?"

"The searchers said that the floor appeared to be rather more moist and
slimy than usual, but that was all. They also spoke of a very faint
smell of musk, but this observation was not confirmed by others who
arrived a few moments later."

"What happened next?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"The Governor was appealed to and a company of the National Guard was
sent from Louisville to Mammoth Cave. They took up camp at the mouth of
the cave and prevented everyone from entering. Soldiers armed with
service rifles penetrated the caverns, but found nothing. Visitors were
excluded, and the guardsmen established regular patrols and sentry posts
in the cave with the result that one night, when time came for a relief,
the only trace that could be found of one of the guards was his rifle.
It had not been fired. Double guards were then posted, and nothing
happened for several days--and then another sentry disappeared. His
companion came rushing out of the cave screaming. When he recovered, he
admitted that both he and the missing man had gone to sleep and that he
awoke to find his comrade gone. He called, and he says that the answer
he received was a peculiar whistling noise which raised all the hair on
the back of his neck. He flashed his electric torch all around, but
could see nothing. He swears, however, that he heard a slipping, sliding
noise approaching him, and he felt that some one was looking at him. He
stood it as long as he could and then threw down his rifle and ran for
his life."

"Had he been drinking?"

"No. It wasn't delirium either, as was shown by the fact that a patrol
found his gun where he had thrown it, but no trace of the other sentry.
After this second experience, the guardsmen weren't very eager to enter
the cave, and the Governor asked for regulars. A company of infantry was
ordered down from Fort Thomas to relieve the guardsmen, but they fared
worse than their predecessors. They lost two men the first night of
their guard. The regulars weren't caught napping, for the main guard
heard five shots fired. They rushed a patrol to the scene and found both
of the rifles which had been fired, but the men were gone.

"The officer of the day made a thorough search of the vicinity and
found, some two hundred yards from the spot where the sentries had been
posted, a crack in the wall through which the body of a man could be
forced. This bodycrack had fresh blood on each side of it. Several of
his men volunteered to enter the hole and search, but the lieutenant
would not allow it. Instead, he armed himself with a couple of
hand-grenades and an electric torch and entered himself. That was last
Tuesday, and he has not returned."

"Was there any disturbance heard from the crack?"

"None at all. A guard was posted with two machine-guns pointed at the
crack in the wall, and a guard of eight men and a sergeant stationed
there. Last night, about six o'clock, while the guard were sitting
around their guns, a faint smell of musk became evident. No one paid a
great deal of attention to it, but suddenly for no apparent reason at
all one of the men on guard was jerked into the air feet upwards. He
gave a scream of fear, and an unearthly screech answered him. The guard,
with the exception of one man, turned tail and ran. One man stuck by his
gun and poured a stream of bullets into the crack. The retreating men
could hear the rattle of the gun for a few moments and then there was a
choking scream, followed by silence. When the officer of the day got
back with a patrol, there was a heavy smell of musk in the air, and a
good deal of blood was splashed around. The machine-guns were both
there, although one of them was twisted up until it looked like it had
been through an explosion.

"The Officer commanding the company investigated the place, ordered all
men out of the cave, and communicated with the War Department. The
Secretary of War found it too tough a nut to crack and he asked for
help, so Bolton is sending me down there. Do you think, in view of this
yarn, that your experiments can wait?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The creases on Dr. Bird's high forehead had grown deeper and deeper as
Carnes had told his story, but now they suddenly disappeared, and he
jumped to his feet with a boyish grin.

"How soon are we leaving?" he asked.

"In two hours, Doctor. A car is waiting for us downstairs and I have
reservations booked for both of us on the Southern to-night. I knew that
you were coming; in fact, the request for your services had been
approved before I came here to see you."

Dr. Bird rapidly divested himself of his laboratory smock and took his
coat and hat from a cupboard.

"I hope you realize, Carnsey, old dear," he said as he followed the
operative out of the building, "that I have a real fondness for your
worthless old carcass. I am leaving the results of two weeks of patient
work alone and unattended in order to keep you out of trouble, and I
know that it will be ruined when I get back. I wonder whether you are
worth it?"

"Bosh!" retorted Carnes. "I'm mighty glad to have you along, but you
needn't rub it in by pretending that it is affection for me that is
dragging you reluctantly into this mess. With an adventure like this
ahead of you, leg-irons and handcuffs wouldn't keep you away from
Mammoth Cave, whether I was going or not."

It was late afternoon before Dr. Bird and Carnes dismounted from the
special train which had carried them from Glasgow Junction to Mammoth
Cave. They introduced themselves to the major commanding the guard
battalion which had been ordered down to reinforce the single company
which had borne the first brunt of the affair, and then interviewed the
guards who had been routed by the unseen horror which was haunting the
famous cave. Nothing was learned which differed in any great degree from
the tale which Carnes had related to the doctor in Washington, except
that the officer of the day who had investigated the last attack failed
to entirely corroborate the smell of musk which had been reported by the
other observers.

"It might have been musk, but to me it smelled differently," he said.
"Were you ever near a rattlesnake den in the west?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Bird nodded.

"Then you know the peculiar reptilian odor which such a place gives off.
Well, this smell was somewhat similar, although not the same by any
manner of means. It was musky all right, but it was more snake than musk
to me. I rather like musk, but this smell gave me the horrors."

"Did you hear any noises?"

"None at all. The men describe some rather peculiar noises and Sergeant
Jervis is an old file and pretty apt to get things straight, but they
may have been made by the men who were in trouble. I saw a man caught by
a boa in South America once, and the noises he made might very well have
been described in almost the same words as Jervis used."

"Thanks, Lieutenant," replied the Doctor. "I'll remember what you have
told me. Now I think that we'll go into the cave."

"My orders are to allow no one to enter, Doctor."

"I beg your pardon. Carnes, where is that letter from the Secretary of
War?"

Carnes produced the document. The lieutenant examined it and excused
himself. He returned in a few moments with the commanding officer.

"In the face of that letter, Dr. Bird," said the major, "I have no
alternative to allowing you to enter the cave, but I will warn you that
it is at your own peril. I'll give you an escort, if you wish."

"If Lieutenant Pearce will come with me as a guide, that will be all
that I need."

The lieutenant paled slightly, but threw back his shoulders.

"Do you wish to start at once, sir?" he asked.

"In a few moments. What is the floor of the cave like where we are
going?"

"Quite wet and slimy, sir."

"Very slippery?"

"Yes, sir."

"In that case before we go in we want to put on baseball shoes with
cleats on them, so that we can run if we have to. Can you get us
anything like that?"

"In a few moments, sir."

"Good! As soon as we can get them we'll start. In the meantime, may I
look at that gun that was found?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The Browning machine-gun was laid before the doctor. He looked it over
critically and sniffed delicately at it. He took from his pocket a phial
of liquid, moistened a portion of the water-jacket of the weapon, and
then rubbed the moistened part briskly with his hand. He sniffed again.
He looked disappointed, and again examined the gun closely.

"Carnes," he said at length, "do you see anything on this gun that looks
like tooth marks?"

"Nothing, Doctor."

"Neither do I. There are some marks here which might quite conceivably
be finger-prints of a forty-foot giant, and those two parallel grooves
look like the result of severe squeezing, but there are no tooth marks.
Strange. There is no persistent odor on the gun, which is also strange.
Well, there's no use in theorizing: we are confronted by a condition and
not a theory, as someone once said. Let's put on those baseball shoes
and see what we can find out."

Dr. Bird led the way into the cave, Carnes and the lieutenant following
closely with electric torches. In each hand Dr. Bird carried a
phosphorus hand-grenade. No other weapons were visible, although the
doctor knew that Carnes carried a caliber .45 automatic pistol strapped
under his left armpit. As they passed into the cave the lieutenant
stepped forward to lead the way.

"I'm going first," said the doctor. "Follow me and indicate the turns by
pressure on my shoulder. Don't speak after we have started, and be ready
for instant flight. Let's go."

Forward into the interior of the cave they made their way. The iron
cleats of the baseball shoes rang on the floor and the noise echoed back
and forth between the walls, dying out in little eerie whispers of sound
that made Carnes' hair rise. Ever forward they pressed, the lieutenant
guiding the doctor by silent pressure on his shoulder and Carnes
following closely. For half a mile they went on until a restrainable
pressure brought the doctor to a halt. The lieutenant pointed silently
toward a crack in the wall before them. Carnes started forward to
examine it, but a warning gesture from the doctor stopped him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Slowly, an inch at a time, the doctor crept forward, hand-grenades in
readiness. Presently he reached the crack and, shifting one of the
grenades into his pocket, he drew forth an electric torch and sent a
beam of light through the crack into the dark interior of the earth.

For a moment he stood thus, and then suddenly snapped off his torch and
straightened up in an attitude of listening. The straining ears of
Carnes and Lieutenant Pearce could hear a faint slithering noise coming
toward them, not from the direction of the crack, but from the interior
of the cave. Simultaneously a faint, musky, reptilian odor became
apparent.

"Run!" shouted the doctor. "Run like hell! It's loose in the cave!"

The lieutenant turned and fled at top speed toward the distant entrance
to the cave, Carnes at his heels. Dr. Bird paused for an instant,
straining his ears, and then threw a grenade. A blinding flash came from
the point where the missile struck and a white cloud rose in the air.
The doctor turned and fled after his companions. Not for nothing had Dr.
Bird been an athlete of note in his college days. Despite the best
efforts of his companions, who were literally running for their lives,
he soon caught up with them. As he did so a weird, blood-curdling
screech rose from the darkness behind them. Higher and higher in pitch
the note rose until it ended suddenly in a gurgling grunt, as though the
breath which uttered it had been suddenly cut off. The slithering,
rustling noise became louder on their trail.

"Faster!" gasped the doctor, as he put his hand on Carnes' shoulder and
pushed him forward.

       *       *       *       *       *

The noise of pursuit gained slightly on them, and a sound as of intense
breathing became audible. Dr. Bird paused and turned and faced the
oncoming horror. His electric torch revealed nothing, but he listened
for a moment, and then threw his second grenade. Keenly he watched its
flight. It flew through the air for thirty yards and then struck an
invisible obstruction and bounded toward the ground. Before it struck
the downward motion ceased, and it rose in the air. As it rose it burst
with a sharp report, and a wild scream of pain filled the cavern with a
deafening roar. The doctor fled again after his companions.

By the time he overtook them the entrance of the cave loomed before
them. With sobs of relief they burst out into the open. The guards
sprang forward with raised rifles, but Dr. Bird waved them back.

"There's nothing after us, men," he panted. "We got chased a little way,
but I tossed our pursuer a handful of phosphorus and it must have burned
his fingers a little, judging from the racket he made. At any rate, it
stopped the pursuit."

The major hurried up.

"Did you see it, Doctor?" he asked.

"No, I didn't. No one has ever seen it or anything like it. I heard it
and, from its voice, I think it has a bad cold. At least, it sounded
hoarse, so I gave is a little white phosphorus to make a poultice for
its throat, but I didn't get a glimpse of it."

"For God's sake, Doctor, what is it?"

"I can't tell you yet, Major. So far I can tell, it is something new to
science and I am not sure just what it looks like. However, I hope to be
able to show it to you shortly. Is there a telegraph office here?"

"No, but we have a Signal Corps detachment with us, and they have a
portable radio set which will put us in touch with the army net."

"Good! Can you place a tent at my disposal?"

"Certainly, Doctor."

"All right, I'll go there, and I would appreciate it if you would send
the radio operator to me. I want to send a message to the Bureau of
Standards to forward me some apparatus which I need."

"I'll attend to it, Doctor. Have you any special advice to give me about
the guarding?"

"Yes. Have you, or can you get, any live stock?"

"Live stock?"

"Yes. Cattle preferred, although hogs or sheep will do at a pinch. Sheep
will do quite well."

"I'll see what I can do, Doctor."

"Get them by all means, if it is possible to do so. Don't worry about
paying for them: secret service funds are not subject to the same audit
that army funds get. If you can locate them, drive a couple of cattle or
half a dozen sheep well into the cave and tether them there. If you
don't get them, have your sentries posted well away from the cave mouth,
and if any disturbance occurs during the night, tell them to break and
run. I hope it won't come out, but I can't tell."

       *       *       *       *       *

A herd of cattle was soon located and two of the beasts driven into the
cave. Two hours later a series of horrible screams and bellowings were
heard in the cave. Following their orders the sentries abandoned their
posts and scattered, but the noise came no nearer the mouth, and in a
few minutes silence again reigned.

"I hope that will be all that will be needed for a couple of days," said
the doctor to the commanding officer, "but you had better have a couple
more cattle driven in in the morning. We want to keep the brute well
fed. Is there a tank stationed at Fort Thomas?"

"No, there isn't."

"Then radio Washington that I want the fastest three-man tank that the
army has sent here at once. Don't bother with military channels, radio
direct to the Adjutant General, quoting the Secretary of the Treasury as
authority. Tell him that it's a rush matter, and sign the message 'Bird'
if you are afraid of getting your tail twisted."

Twice more before the apparatus which the doctor had ordered from
Washington arrived cattle were driven into the depths of the cave, and
twice were the screams and bellowings from the cave repeated. Each time
searching parties found the cattle gone in the morning. A week after the
doctor's arrival, a special train came up, carrying four mechanics from
the Bureau of Standards, together with a dozen huge packing cases. Under
the direction of the doctor the cases were unpacked and the apparatus
put together. Before the assembly had been completed the tank which had
been requested arrived from Camp Meade, and the Bureau mechanics began
to install some of the assembled units in it.

The first apparatus which was installed in the tank consisted of an
electric generator of peculiar design which was geared to the tank
motor. The electromotive force thus generated was led across a spark gap
with points of a metallic substance. The light produced was concentrated
by a series of parabolic reflectors, directed against a large quartz
prism, and thence through a lens which was designed to throw a slightly
divergent beam.

"This apparatus," Dr. Bird explained to the Signal Corps officer, who
was an interested observer, "is one which was designed at the Bureau for
the large scale production of ultra-violet light. There is nothing
special about the generator except that it is highly efficient and gives
an almost constant electromotive force. The current thus produced is
led across these points, which are composed of magnalloy, a development
of the Bureau. We found on investigation that a spark gave out a light
which was peculiarly rich in ultra-violet rays when it was passed
between magnesium points. However, such points could not be used for the
handling of a steady current because of lack of durability and ease of
fusion, so a mixture of graphite, alundum and metallic magnesium was
pressed together with a binder which will stand the heat. Thus we get
the triple advantages of ultra-violet light production, durability, and
high resistance.

       *       *       *       *       *

"The system of reflectors catches all of the light thus produced except
the relatively small portion which goes initially in the right
direction, and directs it on this quartz prism where, due to the
refractive powers of the prism, the light is broken up into its
component parts. The infra-red rays and that portion of the spectrum
which lies in the visible range, that is, from red to violet inclusive,
are absorbed by a black body, leaving only the ultra-violet portion free
to send a beam through this quartz lens."

"I thought that a lens would absorb ultra-violet light," objected the
signal officer.

"A lens made of glass will, but this lens is made of rock crystal, which
is readily permeable to ultra-violet. The net result of this apparatus
is that we can direct before us as we move in the tank a beam of light
which is composed solely of the ultra-violet portion of the spectrum."

"In other words, an invisible light?"

"Yes. That is, invisible to the human eye. The effect of this beam of
ultra-violet light in the form of severe sunburn would be readily
apparent if you exposed your skin to it for any length of time, and the
effects on your eyesight of continued gazing would be apt to be
disastrous. It would produce a severe opthalmia and temporary
impairment of the vision, somewhat the same symptoms as are observed in
snow blindness."

"I see. May I ask what is the object of the whole thing?"

"Surely. Before we can successfully combat this peculiar visitant from
another world, it is necessary that we gain some idea of the size and
appearance of it. Nothing of the sort has before made its appearance, so
far as the annals of science go, and so I am forced to make some rather
wild guesses at the nature of the animal. You are probably aware of the
fact that the property of penetration possessed by all waves is a
function of their frequency, or, perhaps I should say, of their
wave-length?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Certainly."

"The longer rays of visible light will not penetrate as deeply into a
given substance as the shorter ultra-violet rays. This visitor is
evidently from some unexplored and, indeed, unknown cavern in the depths
of the earth where visible light has never penetrated. Apparently in
this cavern the color of the inhabitants is ultra-violet, and hence
invisible to us."

"You are beyond my depth, Doctor."

"Pardon me. You understand, of course, what color is? When sunlight,
which is a mixture of all colors from infra-red to ultra-violet
inclusive, falls oh an object, certain rays are reflected and certain
others are absorbed. If the red rays are reflected and all others
absorbed, the object appears red to our eyes. If all the rays are
reflected, the object appears white, and if all are absorbed, it appears
black."

"I understand that."

"The human eye cannot detect ultra-violet. Suppose then, that we have an
object, either animate or inanimate, the surface of which reflects only
ultra-violet light, what will be the result? The object will be
invisible."

"I should think it would be black if all the rays except the
ultra-violet were absorbed."

"It would, but mark, I did not say the others were absorbed. Are you
familiar with fluorescein?"

"No."

"I think you are. It is the dye used in making changeable silk. If we
fill a glass container with a fluorescein solution and look at it by
reflected light it appears green. If we look at it by transmitted light,
that is, light which has traversed the solution, it appears red. In
other words, this is a substance which reflects green light, allows a
free passage to red light, and absorbs all other light. This creature we
are after, if my theory is correct, is composed of a substance which
allows free passage to all of the visible light rays and at the same
time reflects ultra-violet light. Do I make this clear?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Perfectly."

"Very well, then. My apparatus will project forward a beam of
ultra-violet light which will be in much greater concentration than
exists in an incandescent electric light. It is my hope that this light
will be reflected by the body of the creature to a sufficient to allow
me to make a photograph of it."

"But won't your lens prevent the ultra-violet light from reaching your
plate?"

"An ordinary lens made of optical glass would do so, but I have a camera
here equipped with a rock crystal lens, which will allow ultra-violet
light to pass through it practically unhindered, and with very slight
distortion. When I add that I will have my camera charged with X-ray
film, a film which is peculiarly sensitive to the shorter wave-lengths,
you will see that I will have a fair chance of success."

"It sounds logical. Would you allow me to accompany you when you make
your attempt?"

"I will be glad of your company, if you can drive a tank. I want to take
Carnes with me, and the tank will only hold two besides the driver."

"I can drive a tractor."

"In that case you should master the tricks of tank driving in short
order. Get familiar with it and we'll appoint you as driver. We'll be
ready to go in to-night, but I am going to wait a day. Our friend was
fed last night, and there is less chance he'll be about."

       *       *       *       *       *

The early part of the next evening was marked by howls and screams
coming from the mouth of the cave. As the night wore on the noises were
quite evidently coming nearer and the sentries watched the cave mouth
nervously, ready to bolt and scatter according to their orders at the
first alarm. About two A. M. the doctor and Carnes climbed into the tank
beside Lieutenant Leffingwell, and the machine moved slowly into the
cave. A search-light on the front of the tank lighted the way for them
and, attached to a frame which held it some distance ahead of them, was
a luckless sheep.

"Keep your eye on the mutton, Carnes," cautioned the doctor. "As soon as
anything happens to it, shut off the search-light and let me try to get
a picture. As soon as I have made my exposures I'll tell you, and you
can snap it on again. Lieutenant, when the picture is made, turn your
tank and make for the entrance to the cave. If we are lucky, we'll get
out."

Forward the tank crawled, the sheep bleating and trying to break loose
from the bonds which held it. It was impossible to hear much over the
roar of the motor, but presently Dr. Bird leaned forward, his eyes
shining.

"I smell musk," he announced. "Get ready for action."

Even as he spoke the sheep was suddenly lifted into the air. It gave a
final bleat of terror, and then its head was torn from its body.

"Quick, Carnes!" shouted the doctor.

The search-light went out, and Carnes and the lieutenant could hear the
slide of the ultra-violet light which Dr. Bird was manipulating open.
For two or three minutes the doctor worked with his apparatus.

"All right!" he cried suddenly. "Lights on and get out of here!"

Carnes snapped on the search-light and Lieutenant Leffingwell swung the
tank around and headed for the cave mouth. For a few feet their progress
was unhindered and then the tank ceased its forward motion, although the
motor still roared and the track slid on the cave floor. Carnes watched
with horror as one side of the tank bent slowly in toward him. There was
a rending sound, and a portion of the heavy steel fabric was torn away.
Dr. Bird bent over something on the floor of the tank. Presently he
straightened up and threw a small object into the darkness. There was a
flash of light, and bits of flaming phosphorus flew in every direction.
The anchor which held the tank was suddenly loosed and the machine
crawled forward at full speed, while a roar as of escaping air mingled
with a bellowing shriek burdened the smoke-laden air.

"Faster!" cried the doctor, as he threw another grenade.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lieutenant Leffingwell got the last bit of speed possible out of the
tank and they reached the cave mouth without further molestation.

"I had an idea that our friend wouldn't care to pass through a
phosphorus screen," said Dr. Bird with a chuckle as he climbed out of
the tank. "He must have been rather severely burned the other day, and
once burned is usually twice shy. Where is Major Brown?"

The commanding officer stepped forward.

"Drive a couple of cattle into the cave, Major," directed Dr. Bird. "I
want to fill that brute up and keep him quiet for a while. I'm going to
develope my films."

Lieutenant Leffingwell and Carnes peered over the doctor's shoulders as
he manipulated his films in a developing bath. Gradually vague lines and
blotches made their appearance on one of the films, but the form was
indistinct. Dr. Bird dropped the films in a fixing tank and straightened
up.

"We have something, gentlemen," he announced, "but I can't tell yet how
clear it is. It will take those films fifteen minutes to fix, and then
we'll know."

In a quarter of an hour he lifted the first film from the tank and held
it to the light. The film showed a blank. With an exclamation of
disappointment he lifted a second and third film from the tank, with the
same result He raised the fourth one.

"Good Lord!" gasped Carnes.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the plate could be plainly seen the hind quarters of the sheep held
in the grasp of such a monster as even the drug-laden brain of an opium
smoker never pictured. Judging from the sheep, the monster stood about
twenty feet tall, and its frame was surmounted by a head resembling an
overgrown frog. Enormous jaws were opened to seize the sheep but, to the
amazement of the three observers, the jaws were entirely toothless.
Where teeth were to be expected, long parallel ridges of what looked
like bare bone, appeared, without even a rudimentary segregation into
teeth. The body of the monster was long and snakelike, and was borne on
long, heavy legs ending in feet with three long toes, armed with vicious
claws. The crowning horror of the creature was its forelegs. There were
of enormous length, thin and attenuated looking, and ended in huge
misshapen hands, knobby and blotched, which grasped the sheep in the
same manner as human hands. The eyes were as large as dinner plates, and
they were glaring at the camera with an expression of fiendish
malevolence which made Carnes shudder.

"How does that huge thing ever get through that crack we examined?"
demanded the lieutenant.

Dr. Bird rubbed his head thoughtfully.

"It's not an amphibian," he muttered, "as is plainly shown by the shape
of the limbs and the lack of a tail, and yet it appears to have scales
of the true fish type. It corresponds to no recovered fossil, and I am
inclined to believe it is unique. The nervous organisation must be very
low, judging from the lack of forehead and the general conformation. It
has enormous strength, and yet the arms look feeble."

"It can't get through that crack," insisted the lieutenant.

"Apparently not," replied the doctor. "Wait a moment, though. Look at
this!"

He pointed to the great disproportion between the length and diameter of
the forelegs, and then to the hind legs.

"Either this is grave distortion or there is something mighty queer
about that conformation. No animal could be constructed like that."

       *       *       *       *       *

He turned the film so that an oblique light fell on it. As he did so he
gave a cry of astonishment.

"Look here!" he said sharply. "It does get through that crack! Look at
those arms and hands! There is the answer. This creature is tall and
broad, but from front to rear it can measure only a few inches. The same
must be true of the froglike head. That animal has been developed to
live and move in a low roofed cavern, and to pass through openings only
a few inches wide. Its bulk is all in two dimensions!"

"I believe you're right," said Carnes as he studied the film.

"There is no doubt of it," answered the doctor. "Look at those paws,
too, Carnes. That substance isn't bone, it's gum. The thing is so young
and helpless that it hasn't cut its teeth yet. It must be a baby, and
that is the reason why it made its way into the cave when no other of
its kind ever has."

"How large are full grown ones if this is a baby?" asked the
lieutenant.

"The Lord alone knows," replied Dr. Bird. "I hope that I never have to
face one and find out. Well, now that we know what we are fighting, we
ought to be able to settle its hash."

"High explosive?" suggested the lieutenant.

"I don't think so. With such a low nervous organization, we would have
to tear it practically to pieces to kill it, and I am anxious to keep it
from mutilation for scientific study. I have an idea, but I'll have to
study a while before I am sure of the details. Send me the radio
operator."

The next day the Bureau mechanics began to dismount the apparatus from
the tank and to assemble another elaborate contrivance. Before they had
made an end of the work additional equipment arrived from Washington,
which was incorporated in the new set-up. At length Dr. Bird pronounced
himself ready for the attempt.

       *       *       *       *       *

Under his direction, three cattle were driven into the cave and there
tethered. They were there the next morning unharmed, but the second
night the now familiar bellowing and howling came from the depths of the
cave and in the morning two of the cattle were gone.

"That will keep him quiet for a day or two," said the doctor, "and now
to work!"

The tank made its way into the cave, dragging after it two huge cables
which led to an engine-driven generator outside the cave. These cables
were attached to the terminals of a large motor which was set up in the
cave near the place where the cattle were customarily tethered. This
motor was the actuating force which turned two generators, one large and
one small. The smaller one was mounted on a platform on wheels, which
also contained the spark gaps, the reflectors and other apparatus which
produced the beam of ultra-violet light which had been used to
photograph the monster.

From the larger generator led two copper bars. One of these was
connected to a huge copper plate which was laid flat on the floor of the
cave. The other led to a platform which was erected on huge porcelain
insulators some fifteen feet above the floor. Huge condensers were set
up on this platform, and Dr. Bird announced himself in readiness.

A steer was dragged into the cave and up a temporary runway which led to
the platform containing the condensers, and there tied with the copper
bus bar from the larger generator fastened to three flexible copper
straps which led around the animal's body. When this had been completed,
everyone except the doctor, Carnes, and Lieutenant Leffingwell left the
cave. These three crouched behind the search-light which sent a mild
beam of ultra-violet onto the platform where the steer was held. The
engine outside the cave was started, and the three men waited with tense
nerves.

For several hours nothing happened. The steer tried from time to time to
move and, finding it impossible, set up plaintive bellows for liberty.

"I wish something would happen," muttered the lieutenant. "This is
getting on my nerves.

"Something is about to happen," replied Dr. Bird grimly. "Listen to that
steer."

       *       *       *       *       *

The bellowing of the steer had suddenly increased in volume and, added
to the note of discontent, was a note of fright which had previously
been absent. Dr. Bird bent over his ultra-violet search-light and made
some adjustments. He handed a helmetlike arrangement to each of his
companions and slipped one on over his head.

"I can't see a thing, Doctor," said Carnes in a muffled voice.

"The objects at which you are looking absorb rather than reflect
ultra-violet light," said the doctor. "This is a sort of a fluoroscope
arrangement, and it isn't perfect at all. However, when the monster
comes along, I am pretty sure that you will be able to see it. You may
see a little more as your eyes get accustomed to it."

"I can see very dimly," announced the lieutenant in a moment.

Dimly the walls of the cave and the platform before them began to take
vague shape. The three stared intently down the beam of ultra-violet
light which the doctor directed down the passageway leading deeper into
the cave.

"Good Lord!" ejaculated Carnes suddenly.

Slowly into the field of vision came the hideous figure they had seen on
the film. As it moved forward a rustling, slithering sound could be
heard, even over the bellowing of the steer and the hum of the
apparatus. The odor of musk became evident.

Along the floor toward them the thing slid. Presently it reared up on
its hind legs and its enormous bulk became evident. It turned somewhat
sideways and the correctness of Dr. Bird's hypothesis as to its peculiar
shape was proved. All of the bulk of the creature was in two dimensions.
Forward it moved, and the horrible human hands stretched forward, while
the mouth split in a wide, toothless grin. Nearer the doomed steer the
creature approached, and then the reaching hands closed on the animal.

There was a blinding flash, and the monster was hurled backward as
though struck by a thunderbolt, while a horrible smell of musk and
burned flesh filled the air.

"After it! Quick!" cried the doctor as he sprang forward.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before he could reach the prostrate creature it moved and then, slowly
at first, but with rapidly gaining speed, it slithered over the floor in
retreat. Dr. Bird's hand swung through an arc, and there was a deafening
crash as a hand-grenade exploded on the back of the fleeing monster.

An unearthly scream came from the creature, and its motion changed from
a steady forward glide to a series of convulsive jerks. Leffingwell and
Carnes threw grenades, but they went wide of their mark, and the monster
began to again increase its speed. Another volley of grenades was thrown
and one hit scored, which slowed the monster somewhat but did not arrest
the steady forward movement.

"Any more bombs?" demanded the doctor.

"Damn!" he cried as he received negative answers. "The current wasn't
strong enough. It's going to get away."

Carnes jerked his automatic from under his armpit and poured a stream of
bullets into the fleeing monster. Slower and slower the motion of the
creature became, and its movements again became jerky and convulsive.

"Keep it in sight!" cried the doctor. "We may get it yet!"

Cautiously the three men followed the retreating horror, Leffingwell
pushing before him the platform holding the ultra-violet ray apparatus.
The chase led them over familiar ground.

"There is the crack!" cried the lieutenant.

"Too late!" replied the doctor.

He rushed forward and seized the lower limb of the monster and tried
with all his strength to arrest its flight, but despite all that he
could do it slid sideways through the crack in the wall and disappeared.
A final backward kick of its leg threw the doctor twenty feet against
the far wall of the cave.

"Are you hurt, Doctor?" cried Carnes.

"No, I'm all right. Put on your masks and start the gas! Quick! That may
stop it before it gets in far!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The three adjusted gas masks and thrust the mouths of two gas cylinders
which were on the light truck into the crack, and opened the valves. The
hissing of the gas was accompanied by a thrashing, writhing sound from
the bowels of the earth for a few minutes, but the sound retreated and
finally died away into an utter silence.

"And that's that!" cried the doctor half an hour later as they took off
their gas masks outside the cave. "It got away from us. Carnes, how soon
can we get a train back to Washington?"

"What kind of a report are you going to make to the Bureau, Doctor?"
asked Carnes as they sat in the smoker of a southern train, headed for
the capital.

"I'm not going to put in any report, Carnes," replied the doctor. "I
haven't got the creature or any part of it to show, and no one would
believe me. I am going to maintain a discreet silence about the whole
matter."

"But you have your photograph to show, Doctor, and you have my evidence
and Lieutenant Leffingwell's."

"The photograph might have been faked and I might have doped both of
you. In any case, your words are no better than mine. No, indeed,
Carnes, when I failed to make the current strong enough to kill it
outright I made the first of the moves which bind me to silence,
although I thought that two hundred thousand volts would be enough.

"The second failure I made was when I missed him with my second grenade,
although I doubt if all six would have stopped him. My third failure was
when we failed to get a sufficient concentration of cyanide gas into
that hole in a hurry. The thing is so badly crippled that it will die,
but it may take hours, or even days, for it to do so. It has already
made its way so far into the earth that we couldn't reach it by blasting
without danger of bringing the whole place down on our heads. Even if we
could blast our way into the place it came from I wouldn't dare open a
path which would allow Lord only knows what terrible monsters to invade
the earth. When the soldiers have finished stopping that crack with ten
feet of solid masonry, I think the barrier will hold, even against that
critter's papa and mamma and all its relatives. Then Mammoth Cave will
be safe for visitors again. That latter fact is the only report which I
will make."

"It is a dandy story to go to waste," said Carnes soberly.

"Tell it then, if you wish, and get laughed at for your pains. No,
Carnes, you must learn one thing. A man like Bolton, for instance, will
implicitly believe that a four leaf clover in his watch-charm will bring
him good luck, and that carrying a buckeye keeps rheumatism away from
him; but tell him a bit of sober fact like this, attested by three
reliable witnesses and a good photograph, and you'll just get laughed at
for your pains. I'm going to keep my mouth shut."

"So be it, then!" replied Carnes with a sigh.



Phantoms of Reality

A COMPLETE NOVEL

_By Ray Cummings_

[Illustration: _The office room faded.... I was lying on another
floor.... New walls sprang around me._]

[Sidenote: Red Sensua's knife came up dripping--and the two adventurers
knew that chaos and bloody revolution had been unleashed in that shadowy
kingdom of the fourth dimension.]



CHAPTER I

_Wall Street--or the Open Road?_


When I was some fifteen years old, I once made the remark, "Why, that's
impossible."

The man to whom I spoke was a scientist. He replied gently, "My boy,
when you are grown older and wiser you will realize that nothing is
impossible."

Somehow, that statement stayed with me. In our swift-moving wonderful
world I have seen it proven many times. They once thought it impossible
to tell what lay across the broad, unknown Atlantic Ocean. They thought
the vault of the heavens revolved around the earth. It was impossible
for it to do anything else, because they could see it revolve. It was
impossible, too, for anything to be alive and yet be so small that one
might not see it. But the microscope proved the contrary. Or again, to
talk beyond the normal range of the human voice was impossible, until
the telephone came to show how simply and easily it might be done.

I never forgot that physician's remark. And it was repeated to me some
ten years later by my friend, Captain Derek Mason, on that memorable
June night of 1929.

My name is Charles Wilson. I was twenty-five that June of 1929. Although
I had lived all of my adult life in New York City, I had no relatives
there and few friends.

       *       *       *       *       *

I had known Captain Mason for several years. Like myself, he seemed one
who walked alone in life. He was an English gentleman, perhaps thirty
years old. He had been stationed in the Bermudas, I understood, though
he seldom spoke of it.

I always felt that I had never seen so attractive a figure of a man as
this Derek Mason. An English aristocrat, he was, straight and tall and
dark, and rather rakish, with a military swagger. He affected a small,
black mustache. A handsome, debonair fellow, with an easy grace of
manner: a modern d'Artagnan. In an earlier, less civilized age, he would
have been expert with sword and stick, I could not doubt. A man who
could capture the hearts of women with a look. He had always been to me
a romantic figure, and a mystery that seemed to shroud him made him no
less so.

A friendship had sprung up between Derek Mason and me, perhaps because
we were such opposite types! I am an American, of medium height, and
medium build. Ruddy, with sandy hair. Derek Mason was as meticulous of
his clothes, his swagger uniforms, as the most perfect Beau Brummel. Not
so myself. I am careless of dress and speech.

I had not seen Derek Mason for at least a month when, one June
afternoon, a note came from him. I went to his apartment at eight
o'clock the same evening. Even about his home there seemed a mystery. He
lived alone with one man servant. He had taken quarters in a high-class
bachelor apartment building near lower Fifth Avenue, at the edge of
Greenwich Village.

All of which no doubt was rational enough, but in this building he had
chosen the lower apartment at the ground-floor level. It adjoined the
cellar. It was built for the janitor, but Derek had taken it and fixed
it up in luxurious fashion. Near it, in a corner of the cellar, he had
boarded off a square space into a room. I understood vaguely that it was
a chemical laboratory. He had never discussed it, nor had I ever been
shown inside it. Unusual, mysterious enough, and that a captain of the
British military should be an experimental scientist was even more
unusual. Yet I had always believed that for a year or two Derek had been
engaged in some sort of chemical or physical experiment. With all his
military swagger he had the precise, careful mode of thought
characteristic of the man of scientific mind.

       *       *       *       *       *

I recall that when I got his note with its few sentences bidding me come
to see him, I had a premonition that it marked the beginning of
something strange. As though the portals of a mystery were opening to
me!

Nothing is impossible! Nevertheless I record these events into which I
was plunged that June evening with a very natural reluctance. I expect
no credibility. If this were the year 2000, my narrative doubtless would
be tame enough. Yet in 1929 it can only be called a fantasy. Let it go
at that. The fantasy of to-day is the sober truth of to-morrow. And by
the day after, it is a mere platitude. Our world moves swiftly.

Derek received me in his living-room. He admitted me himself. He told me
that his man servant was out. It was a small room, with leather-covered
easy chairs, rugs on its hardwood floor, and sober brown portieres at
its door and windows. A brown parchment shade shrouded the electrolier
on the table. It was the only light in the room. It cast its mellow
sheen upon Derek's lean graceful figure as he flung himself down and
produced cigarettes.

He said, "Charlie, I want a little talk with you. I've something to tell
you--something to offer you."

He held his lighter out to me, with its tiny blue alcohol flame under my
cigarette. And I saw that his hand was trembling.

       *       *       *       *       *

"But I don't understand what you mean," I protested.

He retorted, "I'm suggesting that you might be tired of being a clerk in
a brokerage office. Tired of this humdrum world that we call
civilization. Tired of Wall Street."

"I am, Derek. Heavens, that's true enough."

His eyes held me. He was smiling half whimsically: his voice was only
half serious. Yet I could see, in the smoldering depths of those
luminous dark eyes, a deadly seriousness that belied his smiling lips
and his gay tone.

He interrupted me with, "And I offer you a chance for deeds of high
adventuring. The romance of danger, of pitting your wits against
villainy to make right triumph over wrong, and to win for yourself power
and riches--and perhaps a fair lady...."

"Derek, you talk like a swashbuckler of the middle ages."

I thought he would grin, but he turned suddenly solemn.

"I'm offering to make you henchman to a king, Charlie."

"King of what? Where?"

He spread his lean brown hands with a gesture. He shrugged. "What
matter? If you seek adventure, you can find it--somewhere. If you feel
the lure of romance--it will come to you."

I said, "Henchman to a king?"

But still he would not smile. "Yes. If I were king. I'm serious.
Absolutely. In all this world there is no one who cares a damn about me.
Not in this world, but...."

He checked himself. He went on, "You are the same. You have no
relatives?"

"No. None that ever think of me."

"Nor a sweetheart. Or have you?"

"No," I smiled. "Not yet. Maybe never."

"But you are too interested in Wall Street to leave it for the open
road?" He was sarcastic now. "Or do you fear deeds of daring? Do you
want to right a great wrong? Rescue an oppressed people, overturn the
tyranny of an evil monarch, and put your friend and the girl he loves
upon the throne? Or do you want to go down to work as usual in the
subway to-morrow morning? Are you afraid that in this process of
becoming henchman to a king you may perchance get killed?"

I matched his caustic tone. "Let's hear it, Derek."



CHAPTER II

_The Challenge of the Unknown_


Incredible! Impossible! I did not say it, though my thoughts were
written on my face, no doubt.

Derek said quietly, "Difficult to believe, Charlie? Yes! But it happens
to be true. The girl I love is not of this world, but she lives
nevertheless. I have seen her, talked with her. A slim little
thing--beautiful...."

He sat staring. "This is nothing supernatural, Charlie. Only
the ignorant savages of our past called the unknown--the
unusual--supernatural. We know better now."

I said, "This girl--"

He gestured. "As I told you, I have for years been working on the theory
that there is another world, existing here in this same space with us.
The Fourth Dimension! Call it that it you like. I have found it, proved
its existence! And this girl--her name is Hope--lives in it. Let me tell
you about her and her people. Shall I?"

My heart was pounding so that it almost smothered me. "Yes, Derek."

"She lives here, in this Space we call New York City. She and her people
use this same Space at the same time that we use it. A different world
from ours, existing here now with us! Unseen by us. And we are unseen by
them!

"A different form of matter, Charlie. As tangible to the people of the
other realm as we are to our own world. Humans like ourselves."

He paused, but I could find no words to fill the gap. And presently he
went on:

"Hope's world, co-existing here with us, is dependent upon us. They
speak what we call English. They shadow us."

I murmured, "Phantoms of reality."

"Yes. A world very like ours. But primitive, where ours is civilized."

       *       *       *       *       *

He paused again. His eyes were staring past me as though he could see
through the walls of the cellar room into great reaches of the unknown.
What a strange mixture was this Derek Mason! What a strange compound of
the cold reality of the scientist and the fancy of the romantic dreamer!
Yet I wonder if that is not what science is. There is no romantic lover
gawping at the moon who could have more romance in his soul, or see in
the moonlit eyes of his loved one more romance than the scientist finds
in the wonders of his laboratory.

Derek went on slowly:

"A primitive world, primitive nation, primitive passions! As I see it
now, Charlie--as I know it to be--it seems as though perhaps Hope's
world is merely a replica of ours, stripped to the primitive. As though
it might be the naked soul of our modern New York, ourselves as we
really are, not as we pretend to be."

He roused himself from his reverie.

"Hope's nation is ruled by a king. An emperor, if you like. A monarch,
beset with the evils of luxury and ease, and wine and women. He is
surrounded by his nobles, the idle aristocracy, by virtue of their birth
proclaiming themselves of too fine a clay to work. The crimson nobles,
they are called. Because they affect crimson cloaks, and their beautiful
women, voluptuous, sex-mad, are wont to bedeck themselves in veils and
robes of crimson.

"And there are workers, toilers they call them. Oppressed, down-trodden
toilers, with hate for the nobles and the king smoldering within them.
In France there was such a condition, and the bloody revolution came of
it. It exists here now. Hope was born in the ranks of these toilers, but
has risen by her grace and beauty to a position in the court of this
graceless monarch."

       *       *       *       *       *

He leaped from his chair and began pacing the room. I sat silent,
staring at him. So strange a thing! Impossible? I could not say that. I
could only say, incredible to me. And as I framed the thought I knew its
incredibility was the very measure of my limited intelligence, my lack
of knowledge. The vast unknown of nature, so vast that everything which
was real to me, understandable to me, was a mere drop in the ocean of
the existing unknown.

"Don't you understand me now?" Derek added vehemently. "I'm not talking
fantasy. Cold reality! I've found a way to transport myself--and
you--into this different state of matter, into this other world! I've
already made a test. I went there and stayed just for a few moments, a
night or so ago."

It made my heart leap wildly. He went on:--

"There is chaos there. Smoldering revolution which at any time--to-night
perhaps--may burst into conflagration and destroy this wanton ruling
class." He laughed harshly. "In Hope's world the workers are a primitive,
ignorant people. Superstitious. Like the peons of Mexico, they're all
primed and ready to shout for any leader who sets himself up. My
chance--our chance--"

He suddenly stopped his pacing and stood before me. "Don't you feel the
lure of it? The open road? 'The road is straight before me and the Red
Gods call for me!' I'm going, Charlie. Going to-night--and I want you to
go with me! Will you?"

Would I go? The thing leaped like a menacing shadow risen solidly to
confront me. Would I go?

Suddenly there was before me the face of a girl. White. Apprehensive. It
seemed almost pleading. A face beautiful, with a mouth of parted red
lips. A face framed in long, pale-golden hair with big staring blue
eyes. Wistful eyes, wan with starlight--eyes that seemed to plead.

I thought, "Why, this is madness!" I was not seeing this face with my
eyes. There was nothing, no one here in the room with me but Derek. I
knew it. The shadows about us were empty. I was conjuring the face only
from Derek's words, making real that which existed only in my
imagination.

Yet I knew that in another realm, with my thoughts now bridging the gap,
the girl was real. Would I go into the unknown?

The quest of the unknown. The gauntlet of the unknown flung down now
before me, as it was flung down before the ancient explorers who picked
up its challenge and mounted the swaying decks of their little galleons
and said, "We'll go and see what lies off there in the unknown."

That same lure was on me now. I heard my voice saying, "Why yes, I guess
I'll go, Derek."



CHAPTER III

_Into the Unknown_


We stood in the boarded room which was Derek's laboratory. Our
preparations had been simple: Derek had made them all in advance. There
was little left to do. The laboratory was a small room of board walls,
board ceiling and floor. Windowless, with a single door opening into the
cellar of the apartment house.

Derek had locked the door after us as we entered. He said, "I have sent
my man servant away for a week. The people in the house here think I
have gone away on a vacation. No one will miss us, Charlie--not for a
time, anyway."

No one would miss me, save my employers, and to them I would no doubt be
small loss.

We had put out the light in Derek's apartment and locked it carefully
after us. This journey! I own that I was trembling, and frightened. Yet
a strange eagerness was on me.

The cellar room was comfortably furnished. Rugs were on its floor.
Whatever apparatus of a research laboratory had been here was removed
now. But the evidence of it remained--Derek's long search for this
secret which now he was about to use. A row of board shelves at one
side of the room showed where bottles and chemical apparatus had stood.
A box of electrical tools and odds and ends of wire still lay discarded
in a corner of the room. There was a tank of running water, and gas
connections, where no doubt bunsen burners had been.

       *       *       *       *       *

Derek produced his apparatus. I sat on a small low couch against the
wall and watched him as he stripped himself of his clothes. Around his
waist he adjusted a wide, flat, wire-woven belt. A small box was
fastened to it in the middle of the back--a wide, flat thing of metal, a
quarter of an inch thick, and curved to fit his body. It was a storage
battery of the vibratory current he was using. From the battery, tiny
threads of wire ran up his back to a wire necklace flat against his
throat. Other wires extended down his arms to the wrists. Still others
down his legs to the ankles. A flat electrode was connected to the top
of his head like a helmet. I was reminded as he stood there, of medical
charts of the human body with the arterial system outlined. But when he
dressed again and put on his jaunty captain's uniform, only the
electrode clamped to his head and the thin wires dangling from it in the
back were visible to disclose that there was anything unusual about him.

He said smilingly, "Don't stare at me like that."

I took a grip on myself. This thing was frightening, now that I actually
was embarked on it. Derek had explained to me briefly the workings of
his apparatus. A vibratory electronic current, for which as yet he had
no name, was stored in the small battery. He had said:

"There's nothing incomprehensible about this, Charlie. It's merely a
changing of the vibration rate of the basic substance out of which our
bodies are made. Vibration is the governing factor of all states of
matter. In its essence what we call substance is wholly intangible. That
is already proven. A vortex! A whirlpool of nothingness! It creates a
pseudo-substance which is the only material in the universe. And from
this, by vibration, is built the complicated structure of things as we
see and feel them to be, all dependent upon vibration. Everything is
altered, directly as the vibratory rate is changed. From the most
tenuous gas, to fluids to solids--throughout all the different states of
matter the only fundamental difference is the rate of vibration."

       *       *       *       *       *

I understood the basic principle of this that he was explaining--that
now when this electronic current which he had captured and controlled
was applied to our physical body, the vibration rate of every smallest
and most minute particle of our physical being was altered. There is so
little in the vast scale of natural phenomena of which our human senses
are cognisant! Our eyes see the colors of the spectrum, from red to
violet. But a vast invisible world of color lies below the red of the
rainbow! Physicists call it the infra-red. And beyond the violet,
another realm--the ultra-violet. With sound it is the same. Our audible
range of sound is very small. There are sounds with too slow a vibratory
rate for us to hear, and others too rapid. The differing vibratory rate
from most tenuous gas to most substantial solid is all that we can
perceive in this physical world of ours. Yet of the whole, it is so very
little! This other realm to which we were now going lay in the higher,
more rapid vibratory scale. To us, by comparison, a more tenuous world,
a shadow realm.

I listened to Derek's words, but my mind was on the practicality of what
lay ahead. An explorer, standing upon his ship, may watch his men
bending the sails, raising the anchor, but his mind flings out to the
journey's end....

       *       *       *       *       *

We were soon ready. Derek wore his jaunty uniform, I wore my ordinary
business suit. A magnetic field would be about us, so that in the
transition anything in fairly close contact with our bodies was affected
by the current.

Derek said, "I will go first, Charlie."

"But, Derek--" A fear, greater than the trembling I had felt before,
leaped at me. Left here alone, with no one on whom to depend!

He spoke with careful casualness, but his eyes were burning me. "Just
sit there, and watch. When I am gone, turn on the current as I showed
you and come after me. I'll wait for you."

"Where?" I stammered.

He smiled faintly. "Here. Right here. I'm not going away! Not going to
move. I'll be here on the couch waiting for you."

Terrifying words! He had lowered the couch, bending out its short legs
until the frame of it rested on the board floor. He drew a chair up
before it and seated me. He sat down on the couch.

He said, "Oh, one other thing. Just before you start, put out the light.
We can't tell how long it will be before we return."

Terrifying words!

His right hand was on his left wrist where the tiny switch was placed.
He smiled again. "Good luck to us, Charlie!"

Good luck to us! The open road, the unknown!

I sat there staring. He was partly in shadow. The room was very silent.
Derek lay propped up on one elbow. His hand threw the tiny switch.

There was a breathless moment. Derek's face was set and white, but no
whiter than my own, I was sure. His eyes were fixed on me. I saw him
suddenly quiver and twitch a little.

I murmured, "Derek--"

At once he spoke, to reassure me. "I'm all right, Charlie. That was just
the first feel of it."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a faint quivering throb in the room, like a tiny distant
dynamo throbbing. The current was surging over Derek; his legs
twitched.

A moment. The faint throbbing intensified. No louder, but rapid,
infinitely more rapid. A tiny throb, an aerial whine, faint as the
whirring wings of a humming bird. It went up the scale, ascending in
pitch, until presently it was screaming with an aerial microscopic
voice.

But there seemed no change in Derek. His uniform was glowing a trifle,
that was all. His face was composed now; he smiled, but did not speak.
His eyes roved away from me, as though now he were seeing things that I
could not see.

Another moment. No change.

Why, what was this? I blinked, gasped. There was a change! My gaze was
fastened upon Derek's white face. White? It was more than white now! A
silver sheen seemed to be coming to his skin!

I think no more than a minute had passed. His face was glowing,
shimmering. A transparent look was coming to it, a thinness, a sudden
unsubstantiality! He dropped his elbow and lay on the couch, stretched
at full length at my feet. His eyes were staring.

And suddenly I realized that the face that held those staring eyes was
erased! A shimmering apparition of Derek was stretched here before me. I
could see through it now! Beneath the shimmering, blurred outlines of
his body I could see the solid folds of the couch cover. A ghost of
Derek here. An apparition--fading--dissipating!

A gossamer outline of him, imponderable, intangible.

I leaped to my feet, staring down over him.

"Derek!"

The shape of him did not move. Every instant it was more vaporous, more
unreal.

I thought, "He's gone!"

No! He was still there. A white mist of his form on the couch. Melting,
dissipating in the light like a fog before sunshine. A wisp of it left,
like a breath, and then there was nothing.

       *       *       *       *       *

I sat on the couch. I had put out the light. Around me the room was
black. My fingers found the small switch at my wrist. I pressed it
across its tiny arc.

The first shock was slight, but infinitely strange. A shuddering,
twitching sensation ran all over me. It made my head reel, swept a wave
of nausea over me, a giddiness, a feeling that I was falling through
darkness. I lay on the couch, bracing myself. The current was whining up
its tiny scale. I could feel it now. A tiny throbbing, communicating
itself to my physical being.

And then in a moment I realized that my body was throbbing. The
vibration of the current was communicating itself to the most minute
cells of my body. An indescribable tiny quivering within me. Strange,
frightening, sickening at first. But the sickness passed, and in a
moment I found it almost pleasant.

I could see nothing. The room was wholly dark. I lay on my side on the
couch, my eyes staring into the blackness around me. I could hear the
humming of the current, and then it seemed to fade. Abruptly I felt a
sense of lightness. My body, lying on the couch, pressed less heavily.

I gripped my arm. I was solid, substantial as before. I touched the
couch. It was the couch which was changing, not I! The couch cover
queerly seemed to melt under my hand!

The sense of my own lightness grew upon me. A lightness, a freedom,
pressed me, as though chains and shackles which all my life had
encompassed me were falling away. A wild, queer freedom.

I wondered where Derek was. Had I arrived in the other realm? Was he
here? I had no idea how much time had passed: a minute or two, perhaps.

Or was I still in Derek's laboratory? The darkness was as solid,
impenetrable as ever. No, not quite dark! I saw something now. A
glowing, misty outline around me. Then I saw that it was not the new,
unknown realm, but still Derek's room. A shadowy, spectral room, and the
light, which dimly illumined it, was from outside.

       *       *       *       *       *

I lay puzzling, my own situation forgotten for the moment. The light
came from overhead, in another room of the apartment house. I stared.
Around me now was a dim vista of distance, and vague, blurred, misty
outlines of the apartment building above me. The shadowy world I had
left now lay bare. There was a moment when I thought I could see far
away across a spectral city street. The shadows of the great city were
around me. They glowed, and then were gone.

A hand gripped my arm in a solid grip. Derek's voice sounded.

"Are you all right?"

"Yes," I murmured. The couch had faded. I was conscious that I had
floated or drifted down a few inches, to a new level. The level of the
cellar floor beneath the couch. Cellar floor! It was not that now. Yet
there was something solid here, a solid ground, and I was lying upon it,
with Derek sitting beside me.

I murmured again, "Yes, I'm all right."

My groping hand felt the ground. It was soil, with a growth of
vegetation like a grass sward on it. Were we outdoors? It suddenly
seemed so. I could feel soft, warm air on my face and had a sense of
open distance around me. A light was growing, a vague, diffused light,
as though day were swiftly coming upon us.

I felt Derek fumbling at my wrist. "That's all, Charlie."

There was a slight shock. Derek was pulling me up beside him. I found
myself on my feet, with light around me. I stood wavering, gripping
Derek. It was as though I had closed my eyes, and now they were suddenly
open. I was aware of daylight, color, and movement. A world of normality
here, normal to me now because I was part of it. The realm of the
unknown!



CHAPTER IV

_"Hope, I Came...."_


I think I was first conscious of a queer calmness which had settled upon
me, as though now I had withdrawn contact with the turmoil of our world!
Something was gone, and in its place came a calmness. But that was a
mere transition. It had passed in a moment. I stood trembling with
eagerness, as I know Derek was trembling.

A radiant effulgence of light was around us, clarifying, growing. There
was ground beneath our feet, and sky overhead. A rational landscape,
strangely familiar. A physical world like my own, but, it seemed, with a
new glory upon it. Nature, calmly serene.

I had thought we were standing in daylight. I saw now it was bright
starlight. An evening, such as the evening we had just left in our own
world. The starlight showed everything clearly. I could see a fair
distance.

We stood at the top of a slight rise. I saw gentle, slightly undulating
country. A brook nearby wound through a grove of trees and lost itself.
Suddenly, with a shock, I realized how familiar this was! We stood
facing what in New York City we call West. The contour of this land was
familiar enough for me to identify it. A mile or so ahead lay a river;
it shimmered in its valley, with cliffs on its further side. Near at
hand the open country was dotted with trees and checkered with round
patches of cultivated fields. And there were occasional habitations,
low, oval houses of green thatch.

The faint flush of a recent sunset lay upon the landscape, mingled with
the starlight. A road--a white ribbon in the starlight--wound over the
countryside toward the river. Animals, strange of aspect, were slowly
dragging carts. There were distant figures working in the fields.

A city lay ahead of us, set along this nearer bank of the river. A city!
It seemed a primitive village. All was primitive, as though here might
be some lost Indian tribe of our early ages. The people were
picturesque, the field workers garbed in vivid colors. The flat little
carts, slow moving, with broad-horned oxen.

       *       *       *       *       *

This quiet village, drowsing beside the calm-flowing river, seemed all
very normal. I could fancy that it was just after sundown of a quiet
workday. There was a faint flush of pink upon everything: the glory of
the sun just set. And as though to further my fancy, in the village by
the river, like an angelus, a faint-toned bell was chiming.

We stood for a moment gazing silently. I felt wholly normal. A warm,
pleasant wind fanned my hot face. The sense of lightness was gone. This
was normality to me.

Derek murmured, "Hope was to meet me here."

And then we both saw her. She was coming toward us along the road. A
slight, girlish figure, clothed in queerly vivid garments: a short
jacket of blue cloth with wide-flowing sleeves, knee-length pantaloons
of red, with tassels dangling from them, and a wide red sash about her
waist. Pale golden hair was piled in a coil upon her head....

She was coming toward us along the edge of the road, from the direction
of the city. She was only a few hundred feet from us when we first saw
her, coming swiftly, furtively it seemed. A low pike fence bordered the
road. She seemed to be shielding herself in the shadows beside it.

We stood waiting in the starlight. The nearest figures in the field and
on the road were too far away to notice us. The girl advanced. Her white
arm went up in a gesture, and Derek answered. She left the road,
crossing the field toward us. As she came closer, I saw how very
beautiful she was. A girl of eighteen, perhaps, a fantastic little
figure with her vivid garments. The starlight illumined her white face,
anxious, apprehensive, but eager.

"Derek!"

He said, "Hope, I came...."

I stood silently watching. Derek's arms went out, and the girl, with a
little cry, came running forward and threw herself into them.



CHAPTER V

_Intrigue_


"Am I in time, Hope?"

"Yes, but the festival is to-night. In an hour or two now. Oh Derek, if
the king holds this festival, the toilers will revolt. They won't stand
it--"

"To-night! It mustn't be held to-night! It doesn't give me time, time to
plan."

I stood listening to their vehement, half-whispered words. For a moment
or two, absorbed, they ignored me.

"The king will make his choice to-night, Derek. He has announced it.
Blanca or Sensua for his queen. And if he chooses the Crimson Sensua--"
She stammered, then she went on:

"If he does--there will be bloodshed. The toilers are waiting, just to
learn his choice."

Derek exclaimed, "But to-night is too soon! I've got to plan. Hope,
where does Rohbar stand in this?"

Strange intrigue! I pieced it together now, from their words, and from
what presently they briefly told me. A festival was about to be held, an
orgy of feasting and merrymaking, of music and dancing. And during it,
this young King Leonto was to choose his queen. There were two
possibilities. The Crimson Sensua, a profligate, debauched woman who, as
queen, would further oppress the workers. And Blanca, a white beauty,
risen from the toilers to be a favorite at the Court. Hope was her
handmaiden.

If Blanca were chosen, the toilers would be appeased. She was one of
them. She would lead this king from his profligate ways, would win from
him justice for the workers.

But Derek and Hope both knew that the pure and gentle Blanca would
never be the king's choice. And to-night the toilers would definitely
know it, and the smoldering revolt would burst into flame.

       *       *       *       *       *

And there was this Rohbar. Derek said, "He is the king's henchman,
Charlie."

I stood here in the starlight, listening to them. This strange primitive
realm. There were no modern weapons here. We had brought none. The
current used in our transition would have exploded the cartridges of a
revolver. I had a dirk which Hope now gave me, and that was all.

Primitive intrigue. I envisaged this chaotic nation, with its toilers
ignorant as the oppressed Mexican peons at their worst. Striving to
better themselves, yet, not knowing how. Ready to shout for any leader
who might with vainglorious words set himself up as a patriot.

This Rohbar, perhaps, was planning to do just that.

And so was Derek! He said, "Hope, if you could persuade the king to
postpone the festival--if Blanca would help persuade him--just until
to-morrow night...."

"I can try, Derek. But the festival is planned for an hour or two from
now."

"Where is the king?"

"In his palace, near the festival gardens."

She gestured to the south. My mind went back to New York City. This
hillock, where we were standing in the starlight beside a tree, was in
my world about Fifth Avenue and Sixteenth Street. The king's palace--the
festival gardens--stood down at the Battery, where the rivers met in the
broad water of the harbor.

       *       *       *       *       *

Derek was saying, "We haven't much time: can you get us to the palace?"

"Yes. I have a cart down there on the road."

"And the cloaks for Charlie and me?"

"Yes."

"Good!" said Derek. "We'll go with you. It's a long chance; he probably
won't postpone it. If he does not, we'll be among the audience. And when
he chooses the Red Sensua--"

She shuddered, "Oh, Derek--" And I thought I heard her whisper, "Oh,
Alexandre--" and I saw his finger go to his lips.

His arm went around her. She huddled, small as a child against his tall,
muscular body.

He said gently, "Don't be afraid, little Hope."

His face was grim, his eyes were gleaming. I saw him suddenly as an
instinctive military adventurer. An anachronism in our modern New York
City. Born in a wrong age. But here in this primitive realm he was at
home.

I plucked at him. "How can you--how can we dare plunge into this thing?
Hidden with cloaks, yes. But you talk of leading these toilers."

He cast Hope away and confronted me. "I can do it! You'll see, Charlie."
He was very strangely smiling. "You'll see. But I don't want to come
into the open right away. Not to-night. But if we can only postpone this
accursed festival."

We had been talking perhaps five minutes. We were ready now to start
away. Derek said:

"Whatever comes, Charlie, I want you to take care of Hope. Guard her for
me, will you?"

I said, "Yes, I will try to."

Hope smiled as she held out her hand to me. "I will not be afraid, with
Derek's friend."

       *       *       *       *       *

Her English was of different intonation from our own, but it was her
native language, I could not doubt.

I took her cold, slightly trembling hand. "Thank you, Hope."

Her eyes were misty with starlight. Tender eyes, but the tenderness was
not for me.

"Yes," I repeated. "You can depend upon me, Derek."

We left the hillock. A food-laden cart came along the road. The driver,
a boy vivid in jacket and wide trousers of red and blue, bravely worn
but tattered, ran alongside guiding the oxen. When they had passed we
followed, and presently we came to the cloaks Hope had hidden. Derek and
I donned them. They were long crimson cloaks with hoods.

Hope said, "Many are gathering for the festival shrouded like that. You
will not be noticed now."

Further along the road we reached a little eminence. I saw the river
ahead of us, and a river behind us. And a few miles to the south, an
open spread of water where the rivers joined. Familiar contours! The
Hudson River! The East River. And down at the end of the island, New
York Harbor.

Hope gestured that way. "The king's palace is there."

We were soon passing occasional houses, primitive thatched dwellings. I
saw inside one. Workers were seated over their frugal evening meal.
Always the same vivid garments, jaunty but tattered. We passed one old
fellow in a field, working late in the starlight. A man bent with age,
but still a tiller of the soil. Hope waved to him and he responded, but
the look he gave us as we hurried by shrouded in our crimson cloaks was
sullenly hostile.

We came to an open cart. It stood by the roadside. An ox with shaggy
coat and spreading horns was fastened to the fence. It was a small cart
with small rollers like wheels. Seats were in it and a vivid canopy over
it. We climbed in and rumbled away.

       *       *       *       *       *

And this starlit road in our own world was Broadway! We were presently
passing close to the river's edge. This quiet, peaceful, starlit river!
Why, in our world it was massed with docks! Great ocean liners, huge
funneled, with storied decks lay here! Under this river, tunnels with
endless passing vehicles! Tubes, with speeding trains crowded with
people!

The reality here was so different! Behind us what seemed an upper city
was strung along the river. Ahead of us also there were streets and
houses, the city of the workers. A bell was tolling. Along all the roads
now we could see the moving yellow spots of lights on the holiday carts
headed for the festival. And there were spots of yellow torchlight from
boats on the river.

We soon were entering the city streets. Narrow dirt streets they were,
with primitive shacks to the sides. Women came to the doorways to stare
at our little cart rumbling hastily past. I was conscious of my crimson
cloak, and conscious of the sullen glances of hate which were flung at
it from every side, here in this squalid, forlorn section where the
workers lived.

Along every street now the carts were passing, converging to the south.
They were filled, most of them, with young men and girls, all in gaudy
costumes. Some of them, like ourselves, were shrouded in crimson cloaks.
The carts occasionally were piled with flowers. As one larger than us,
and moving faster rumbled by, a girl in it stood up and pelted me with
blossoms. She wore a crimson robe, but it had fallen from her shoulders.
I caught a glimpse of her face, framed in flowing dark hair, and of eyes
with laughter in them, mocking me, alluring.

We came at last to the end of the island. There seemed to be a thousand
or more people arriving, or here already. The tip of the island had an
esplanade with a broad canopy behind it. Burning torches of wood gave
flames of yellow, red and blue fire. A throng of gay young people
promenaded the walk, watching the arriving boats.

       *       *       *       *       *

And here, behind the walk at the water's edge, was a garden of trees and
lawn, shrubs and beds of tall vivid flowers. Nooks were here to shelter
lovers, pools of water glinted red and green with the reflected
torchlight. In one of the pools I saw a group of girls bathing,
sportive as dolphins.

To one side at a little distance up the river, banked against the water,
was a broad, low building: the palace of the king. About it were broad
gardens, with shrubs and flowers. The whole was surrounded by a high
metal fence, spiked on top.

The main gate was near at hand; we left our cart. Close to the gate was
a guard standing alert, a jaunty fellow in leather pantaloons and
leather jacket, with a spiked helmet, and in his hand a huge,
sharp-pointed lance. The gardens of the palace, what we could see of
them, seemed empty--none but the favored few might enter here. But as I
climbed from the cart, I got the impression that just inside the fence a
figure was lurking. It started away as we approached the gate. The guard
had not seen it--the drab figure of a man in what seemed to be dripping
garments, as though perhaps he had swum in from the water.

And Derek saw him. He muttered, "They are everywhere."

Hope led us to the gate. The guard recognized her. At her imperious
gesture he stood aside. We passed within. I saw the palace now as a long
winged structure of timber and stone, with a high tower at the end of
one wing. The building fronted the river, but here on the garden side
there was a broad doorway up an incline, twenty feet up and over a small
bridge, spanning what seemed a dry moat. Beyond it, a small platform,
then an oval archway, the main entrance to the building.

Derek and I, shrouded in our crimson cloaks with hoods covering us to
the eyes, followed Hope into the palace.



CHAPTER VI

_The King's Henchman_


The long room was bathed in colored lights. There was an ornate tiled
floor. Barbaric draperies of heavy fabric shrouded the archways and
windows. It was a totally barbaric apartment. It might have been the
audience chamber of some fabled Eastern Prince of our early ages. Yet
not quite that either. There was a primitive modernity here. I could not
define it, could not tell why I felt this strangeness. Perhaps it was
the aspect of the people. The room was crowded with men and gay laughing
girls in fancy dress costumes. Half of them at least were shrouded in
crimson cloaks, but most of the hoods were back. They moved about,
laughing and talking, evidently waiting for the time to come for them to
go to the festival. We pushed our way through them.

Derek murmured, "Keep your hood up, Charlie."

A girl plucked at me. "Handsome man, let me see." She thrust her painted
lips up to mine as though daring me to kiss them. Hope shoved her away.
Her parted cloak showed her white, beautiful body with the dark tresses
of her hair shrouding it. Exotically lovely she was, with primitive,
unrestrained passions--typical of the land in which she lived.

"This way," whispered Hope. "Keep close together. Do not speak!"

We moved forward and stood quietly against the wall of the room, where
great curtains hid us partly from view. Under a canopy, at a table on a
raised platform near one end of the apartment, sat the youthful monarch.
I saw him as a man of perhaps thirty. He was in holiday garb, robed in
silken hose of red and white, a strangely fashioned doublet, and a
close-fitting shirt. Bare-headed, with thick black hair, long to the
base of his neck.

He sat at the table with a calm dignity. But he relaxed here in the
presence of his favored courtiers. He was evidently in a high good humor
this night, giving directions for the staging of the spectacle,
despatching messengers. I stood gazing at him. A very kingly fellow
this. There was about him, that strange mingled look of barbarism and
modernity.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hope approached him and knelt. Derek and I could hear their voices,
although the babble of the crowd went on.

"My little Hope, what is it? Stand up, child."

She said, "Your Highness, a message from Blanca."

He laughed. "Say no more! I know it already! She does not want this
festival. The workers,"--what a world of sardonic contempt he put into
that one word!--"the workers will be offended because we take pleasure
to-night. Bah!" But he was still laughing. "Say no more, little Hope.
Tell Blanca to dance and sing her best this night. I am making my
choice. Did you know that?"

Hope was silent. He repeated, "Did you know that?"

"Yes, Your Highness," she murmured.

"I choose our queen to-night, child. Blanca or Sensua." He sighed. "Both
are very beautiful. Do you know which one I am going to choose?"

"No," she said.

"Nor do I, little Hope. Nor do I."

He dismissed her. "Go now. Don't bother me."

She parted her lips as though to make another protest, but his eyes
suddenly flashed.

"I would not have you annoy me again. Do you understand?"

She turned away, back toward where Derek and I were lurking. The
chattering crowd in the room had paid no attention to Hope, but before
she could reach us a man detached himself from a nearby group and
accosted her. A commanding figure, he was, I think, quite the largest
man in the room. An inch or two taller than Derek, at the least. He wore
his red cloak with the hood thrown back upon his wide heavy shoulders. A
bullet-head with close-clipped black hair. A man of about the king's
age, he had a face of heavy features, and flashing dark eyes. A
scoundrel adventurer, this king's henchman.

Hope said, "What is it, Rohbar?"

"You will join our party, little Hope?" He laid a heavy hand on her
white arm. His face was turned toward me. I could not miss the gleaming
look in his eyes as he regarded her.

"No," she said.

       *       *       *       *       *

It seemed that he twitched at her, but she broke away from him.

Anger crossed his face, but the desirous look in his eyes remained.

"You are very bold, Hope, to spurn me like this." He had lowered his
voice as though fearful that the king might hear him.

"Let me alone!" she said.

She darted away from him, but before she joined us she stood waiting
until he turned away.

"No use," Hope whispered. "There is nothing we can do here. You heard
what the king said--and the festival is already begun."

Derek stood a moment, lost in thought. He was gazing across the room to
where Rohbar was standing with a group of girls. He said at last:

"Come on, Charlie. We'll watch this festival. This damn fool king will
choose the Red Sensua." He shrugged. "There will be chaos...."

We shoved our way from the room, went out of the main doorway and
hurried through the gardens of the palace. The red-cloaked figures were
leaving the building now for the festival grounds. We waited for a group
of them to pass so that we might walk alone. As we neared the gate,
passing through the shadows of high flowered shrubs, a vague feeling
that we were being followed shot through me. In a moment there was so
much to see that I forgot it, but I held my hand on my dirk and moved
closer to Hope.

We reached the entrance to the canopy. A group of girls, red-cloaked,
were just coming out. They rushed past us. They ran, discarding their
cloaks. Their white bodies gleamed under the colored lights as they
rushed to the pool and dove.

We were just in time. Hope whispered, "The king will be here any
moment."

       *       *       *       *       *

Beneath the canopy was a broad arena of seats. A platform, like a stage,
was at one end. It was brilliantly illuminated with colored torches held
aloft by girls in flowing robes, each standing like a statue with her
light held high. The place was crowded. In the gloom of the darkened
auditorium we found seats off to one side, near the open edge of the
canopy. We sat, with Hope between us.

Derek whispered, "Shakespeare might have staged a play in a fashion like
this."

A primitive theatrical performance. There was no curtain for interlude
between what might have been the acts of a vaudeville. The torch girls,
like pages, ranged themselves in a line across the front of the stage.
They were standing there as we took our seats. The vivid glare of their
torches concealed the stage behind them.

There was a few moments wait, then, amid hushed silence, the king with
his retinue came in. He sat in a canopied box off to one side. When he
was seated, he raised his arm and the buzz of conversation in the
audience began again.

Presently the page girls moved aside from the stage. The buzz of the
audience was stilted. The performance, destined to end so soon in
tragedy, now began.



CHAPTER VII

_The Crimson Murderess_


Hope murmured. "The three-part music comes first. There will first be
the spiritual."

An orchestra was seated on the stage in a semi-circle. It was composed
of men and women musicians, and there seemed to be over a hundred of
them. They sat in three groups; the center group was about to play. In a
solemn hush the leaderless choirs, with all its players garbed in
white, began its first faint note. I craned to get a clear view of the
stage. This white choir seemed almost all wood-wind. There were tiny
pipes in little series such as Pan might have used. Flutes, and
flageolets; and round-bellied little instruments of clay, like ocarinas.
And pitch-pipes, long and slender as a marsh reed.

In a moment I was lost in the music. It began softly, with single muted
notes from a single instrument, echoed by the others, running about the
choir like a will-o'-the-wisp. It was faint, as though very far away,
made more sweet by distance. And then it swelled, came nearer.

I had never heard such music as this. Primitive! It was not that. Nor
barbaric! Nothing like the music of our ancient world. Nor was it what I
might conceive to be the music of our future. A thing apart, unworldly,
ethereal. It swept me, carried me off; it was an exaltation of the
spirit lifting me. It was triumphant now. It surged, but there was in
its rhythm, the beat of its every instrument, nothing but the soul of
purity. And then it shimmered into distance again, faint and exquisite
music of a dream. Crooning, pleading, the speech of whispering angels.

It ceased. There was a storm of applause.

I breathed again. Why, this was what music might be in our world but was
not. I thought of our blaring jazz.

Hope said, "Now they play the physical music. Then Sensua will dance
with Blanca. We will see then which one the king chooses."

       *       *       *       *       *

On the stage all the torches were extinguished save those which were
red. The arena was darker than before. The stage was bathed with a deep
crimson. Music of the physical senses! It was, indeed, no more like the
other choir than is the body to the spirit.

There were stringed instruments playing now; deep-toned, singing
zithers, and instruments of rounded, swelling bodies, like great viols
with sensuous, throbbing voices. Music with a swift rhythm, marked by
the thump of hollow gourds. It rose with its voluptuous swell into a
paean of abandonment, and upon the tide of it, the crimson Sensua flung
herself upon the stage. She stood motionless for a moment that all might
regard her. The crimson torchlight bathed her, stained crimson the white
flush of her limbs, her heavy shoulders, her full, rounded throat.

A woman in her late twenties. Voluptuous of figure, with crimson veils
half-hiding, half-revealing it. A face of coarse, sensuous beauty. A
face wholly evil, and it seemed to me wholly debauched. Dark eyes with
beaded lashes. Heavy lips painted scarlet. A pagan woman of the streets.
One might have encountered such a woman swaggering in some ancient
street of some ancient city, flaunting the finery given her by a rich
and profligate eastern prince.

She stood a moment with smoldering, passion-filled eyes, gazing from
beneath her lowered lids. Her glance went to the king's canopy, and
flashed a look of confidence, of triumph. The king answered it with a
smile. He leaned forward over his railing, watching her intently.

With the surge of the music she moved into her dance. Slowly she began,
quite slowly. A posturing and swaying of hips like a nautch girl. She
made the rounds of the musicians, leering at them. She stood in the
whirl of the music, almost ignoring it, stood at the front of the stage
with a gaze of slumberous, insolent passion flung at the king. A knife
was in her hand now. She held it aloft. The red torchlight caught its
naked blade. With shuddering fancy I seemed to see it dripping crimson.
She frowned, and struck it at a phantom lover. She backed away. She
stooped and knelt. She knelt and seemed with her empty arms to be
caressing a murdered lover's head. She kissed him, rained upon his dead
lips her macabre kisses.

And then she was up on her bare feet, again circling the stage. Her
anklets clanked as she moved with the tread of a tigress. The musicians
shrank from her waving blade.

       *       *       *       *       *

A girl in white veils was suddenly disclosed standing at the back of the
stage.

Derek whispered, "Is that Blanca?"

"Yes," whispered Hope.

Blanca stood watching her rival. The crimson Sensua passed her, took her
suddenly by the wrist, drew her forward. For an instant I thought it
might have been rehearsed. I saw Blanca as a slim, gentle girl in white,
with a white head-dress. A dancer who could symbolize purity, now in the
grip of red passion.

An instant, and then horror struck us. And I could feel it surge over
the audience. A gasp of horror. The frightened girl in white tried to
escape. The musicians wavered and broke. I stared, stricken, with
freezing blood. Upon the stage the knife went swiftly up; it came down;
then up again. The read Sensua stood gloating. The knife she waved aloft
was truly dripping crimson now.

With a choked, gasping scream the white girl of the toilers crumpled and
fell.... She lay motionless, at the feet of the crimson murderess.



CHAPTER VIII

_"Why, This Is Treason!"_


There was a gasp. The audience sat frozen. On the stage, with no one
lifting a hand to stop her, the crimson murderess made a leap and
vanished. A moment, and then the spell broke. A girl in the audience
screamed. Some one moved to stand up and overturned a seat with a crash.

The amphitheater under the canopy broke into a pandemonium. Screams and
shouts, crashing of seats, screaming, frightened people struggling to
get out of the darkness. The torches on the stage were dropped and
extinguished. The darkness leaped upon us.

Derek and I were gripping Hope. We were struck by a bench flung backward
from in front. People were rushing at us. We were swept along in the
panic of the crowd.

I heard Derek shout, "We must keep together!"

We fought, but we were swept backward. We found ourselves outside the
canopy. Torchlight was here. It glimmered on the pool of water. People
were everywhere rushing past us, some one way, some another. Aimless,
with the shock of terror upon them. Under the canopy they were still
screaming.

I was momentarily separated from Derek and Hope. I very nearly stumbled
into the pool. A girl was here, crouched on the stone bank. Her wet
crimson veils clung to her white body. Her long, wet hair lay on her. I
stumbled against her. She raised her face. Eyes, wide with terror. Mute,
painted red lips....

I heard Derek calling again, "Charlie!" I shoved my way back to him. The
crowd was thinning out around us. Girls were climbing from the pool,
rushing off in terror, to mingle with the milling throng. Among the
crowd now, down by the edge of the bay, I saw the sinister figures of
men come running. The toilers, miraculously appearing everywhere! I saw,
across the pool, a terrified girl crouching. A huge man in a black cloak
came leaping. The colored lights in the trees glittered on his upraised
knife blade as it descended. The girl fell with a shuddering scream. The
murderer turned and whirled away into the crowd.

"Charlie!"

I was back with Derek and Hope. Hope stood trembling, with her hand
pressed against her mouth. Derek gripped me.

"That cloak, get it off!" He ripped his crimson cloak from him and
tossed it away. He jerked mine off. "Too dangerous! That's the crimson
badge of death to-night."

We stood revealed in the clothes of our own world. My business suit, in
which that day I had worked in Wall Street. Derek in his swagger
uniform. He stood drawn to his full height, a powerful figure. The wires
of our mechanism showed at his wrists. They dangled at the back of his
neck, mounting to that strangely fashioned electrode clamped to his
head. Strange, awe-inspiring figure of a man!

We were momentarily alone under the colored lights of the trees. Hope
murmured, "But they will see us--see you...."

Derek's face was grim, but at her words he laughed harshly. "See us!
What matter?" He swung on me. "It forces our hand; we've got to come out
in the open now! This murder--this king! My God, what a fool to let
himself get into such a condition as this! His people--this chaos--what
a fool!"

He had drawn his dirk. I realized that I was holding mine. Near us the
body of a crimson noble was lying under a tree. A sword was there on the
ground. Derek sprang for it, waved it aloft.

I think that no more than a minute or two had passed since the murder.
Down by the water the boats were hastily loading and leaving the dock.
One of them overturned. There were screams everywhere. Red forms lay
inert upon the ground where they had been trampled, or stabbed. But the
prowling figures of the toilers now seemed to have vanished.

Derek gestured. "Look at the palace! The garden!"

Beyond the canopy I could see the dim gardens surrounding the palace. I
glimpsed the high fence, and the gateway in front. A mob of toilers was
there. The guard at the gate had fled. The mob was surging through. Men
and women in the vivid garments of the fields, armed with sticks and
clubs and stones and the implements of agriculture. They milled at the
gate; rushed through; scattered over the garden. Their shouts floated
back to us in a blended murmur.

We were standing only a dozen feet from the edge of the pavilion. No one
seemed yet to have noticed us. A few straggling lights had come on under
the canopy. I could see the dead lying there in the wreckage of
overturned seats.

Derek said, "We can't help it--it's done. Look at them! They're
attacking the palace!"

This mob springing miraculously into existence! I realized that the
toilers had planned that if Sensua were chosen they would attack the
festival. The murder of Blanca had come as big a surprise to them as to
us....

"Come on! Can you get into the palace, Hope? The king must have gotten
back there. Get your wits, girl!" Derek stood gripping her, shaking her.

"Yea, there's an underground passage. He probably went that way."

From the palace gardens the shouts of the mob sounded louder now. And
from within the building there was an alarm bell tumultuously clanging.

Hope gasped, "This way."

She led us back into the pavilion. We clambered over its broken seats,
past its grewsome huddled figures. Some were still moving.... We went to
a small door under the platform. A dim room was here, deserted now.
Against the wall was a large wardrobe closet; stage costumes were
hanging in it. The closet was fully twenty feet deep. We pushed our way
through the hanging garments. Hope fumbled at the blank board wall in
the rear. Her groping fingers found a secret panel. A door swung aside
and a rush of dank cool air came at us. The dark outlines of a tunnel
stretched ahead.

"In, Charlie!"

I crouched and stepped through the door. Hope closed it behind us. The
tunnel passage was black, but soon we began to see its vague outlines.
Derek, sword in hand, led us. I clutched my dirk. We went perhaps five
hundred feet. Down at first, then up again. I figured we were under the
palace gardens now, as the tunnel was winding to the left. There were
occasional small lights.

Derek whispered to Hope, "The toilers don't know of this?"

"No."

"Where does it bring us out?" I whispered.

"Into the lower floor of the castle. The king must have gone this way.
There might be a guard, Derek. What will you do?"

He laughed. "I can handle this mob. Disperse it! You'll see! And handle
the king." He laughed again grimly. "There is no Blanca to choose now."

The tunnel went round a sharp angle and began steeply ascending. Derek
stopped.

"How much further, Hope?"

"Not far," she whispered.

We crept forward. The tunnel was more like a small corridor now. Beyond
Derek's crouching figure, in the dimness I could see a doorway. Derek
turned and gestured to us to keep back. A palace guard was standing
there. His pike went up.

"Who are you?"

"A friend."

But the man lunged with his pike. Derek leaped aside. His sword flashed;
the flat of it struck the fellow in the face. Derek, with incredible
swiftness, was upon him. They went down together and before the man
could shout, Derek had struck him on the head with the sword hilt. The
guard lay motionless. Derek climbed up as we ran forward to join him.

I noticed now, for the first time, that in his left hand Derek held a
small metal cylinder. A weapon, strange to me, which he had brought with
him. He had not mentioned it. He had produced it, when menaced by this
guard. Then he evidently decided not to use it.

He shoved it back in his pocket. He whirled on us, panting. "Hurry!
Close that door!"

We closed the door of the tunnel.

"Charlie, help me move him!"

We dragged the prostrate figure of the unconscious guard aside into a
shadow of the wall. We were in a lower room of the palace. It seemed
momentarily unoccupied. Overhead we could hear the footsteps of running
people. A confusion in the palace, and outside in the garden the shouts
of the menacing throng of toilers. And above it all, the wild clanging
of the alarm bell from the palace tower.

Derek said swiftly, "Get us to the king!"

Hope led us through the castle corridors, and up a flight of steps to
the main floor. The rooms here were thronged with terrified
people--crimson nobles in their bedraggled finery of the festival. In
all the chaos no one seemed to notice us.

We mounted another staircase. We found a vacant room; through its
windows we looked a moment, gazing into the garden. It was jammed with a
menacing mob, which milled about, leaderless, waving crude weapons,
shouting imprecations at the palace. At the foot of the main steps the
throng stood packed, but none dared to mount. A group of the palace
guards stood on the platform over the moat.

Derek turned away impatiently. "Let's get to the king."

We mounted to the upper story. The castle occupants stared at Derek and
me as we passed them. A group of girls at the head of the staircase fled
before us.

"The king," Derek demanded, "Which is his apartment? Hurry, Hope, we've
no time now!"

We found the frightened king seated on a couch with his counsellors
around him. It was a small room in this top story of the castle, with
long windows to the floor. I saw that they gave onto a balcony which
overlooked the gardens. There were perhaps twenty or thirty people
huddled in the room. A confusion existed here as everywhere else--no one
knowing what to do in this crisis. And that cursed alarm bell wildly
adding to the turmoil. We paused at the doorway.

"Now," whispered Derek. He drew himself to his full height. His eyes
were flashing. It was a Derek I had not seen before; he wore an air of
mastery. As though he, and not the frightened, trembling monarch on the
couch, were master here. And as I stared at him that instant in this
primitive chaotic environment, the power of him swept me. A conqueror.
The strange electrode clamped to his head gave him an aspect miraculous,
awe inspiring.

He strode forward across the apartment. The king was just giving some
futile, vague command to be transmitted to his guards down below. A hush
fell over the room at our appearance. The king half stood up, then sank
back.

"Why--why--who--"

I saw Rohbar here. His long crimson cloak hung from his shoulders, with
its hood thrown back. Beneath it, as it parted in front, his leather
uniform was visible. A sword was strapped to his waist. He was striding
back and forth with folded arms, frowning, but his gaze was very keen.
Rohbar was not frightened. He seemed rather to be gauging the situation,
pondering how he might turn it to his own ends. He stopped short and
swung about to face us. His jaw dropped with surprise, amazement, at our
strangeness.

Derek confronted him. His bulk, and huge weight towered even over Derek.
The king gasped and sat helplessly staring.

Rohbar spoke first. "Who are you?"

"This mob must be dispersed. Don't stand looking at me like that, man!"

Derek spoke in friendly fashion, but vehemently. "This is no time for
explanations."

They were menacing each other. Rohbar's heavy hand fell to his sword,
but Derek boldly pushed him away. He faced the king.

"Your Majesty...."

The king stared blankly at him. The title was no doubt strange to this
realm, but no stranger than Derek's aspect.

"Your Majesty...."

But the noise from the garden, the confusion which now broke out in the
room, and that damnable clattering bell, drowned his words.

The king found his voice. "Be quiet, all of you!" He was on his feet. He
demanded of Derek again, "Who are you?"

Derek said swiftly, "I'll show you. I can disperse this mob! Charlie,
come."

It seemed as though the gaze of everyone in the room went to me. I drew
myself up and flashed defiance back at them. And I followed Derek to one
of the balcony windows. He went through it, with me after him. I stood
at the threshold, watchful of the room behind us. Rohbar was standing
aside, and I saw now the woman Sensua with him. They were whispering,
staring at me and Derek.

I had been wondering why, when Sensua must have known that the king
would choose her--why she had dared to murder her rival. I thought
now--as I saw her with Rohbar--that I could guess the reason. She loved
Rohbar, not the king. Rohbar was plotting to put himself on the throne,
using Sensua as a lover to that end. He had doubtless persuaded her to
this murder, knowing it would arouse the toilers, precipitate this chaos
which was what he wanted. Scheming scoundrel! I could not forget the
look of desire on his face as he had accosted Hope....

And now Derek appeared, to add an unknown element to Rohbar's plans.
There was no way he could guess who or what we were. I saw that he was
puzzled, was whispering to Sensua about us, doubtless wondering how to
handle us.

I saw too, that there were half a dozen crimson cloaked men here who
were not frightened. They had gathered in a group. They stood with hands
upon their swords, eyeing me, and watching Rohbar--as though at a sign
from him they would rush me.

On the balcony Derek stood with the light from the room upon him. The
crowd saw him. The main gateway of the palace was just under his
balcony. The crowd had now started up the steps to where the guards were
standing at the top. At the sight of Derek the mob let out a roar, and
those on the steps retreated down again.

Derek stood at the balcony rail, silent, with upraised arms, gazing down
upon the menacing throng. There was a moment of startled silence as he
appeared. Then the shout broke out louder than before. The crowd was
milling and pushing, but still leaderless. An aimless activity. Someone
threw a stone. It came hurtling up. It missed Derek and struck the
castle wall, falling almost at my feet.

Derek did not move. He stood calmly gazing down; stood like an orator
waiting for the confusion to die before he would speak.

From the platform, just beneath Derek, the guards were staring
wonderingly up, awed, startled. To the right a wing of the building
turned an angle. The castle tower was there: it rose perhaps a hundred
feet higher than our balcony. On the railed platform-balcony girding its
top I saw the figures of other guards standing, gazing down at Derek.
The clanging bell up there was suddenly stilled.

I became aware of the king close behind me. His voice rang out: "What
are you doing? How dare you?"

Derek whirled, "You fool! To what a pass you have come! Your people in
arms against you...."

His violent words brought the king's anger. "How dare you! This is
treason!"

I stood alert, with my hand upon my dirk.

There would be conflict here, I felt that we could not hold it off more
than a moment longer. My mind leaped to that metal cylinder Derek had
concealed. A weapon? Then why did he not have it out now? His eyes were
flashing. The aspect of power, of confidence, upon him was unmistakable.
It heartened me. I took a step toward him.

He smiled faintly. "Wait, Charlie."

The king gasped again. "How dare you? Why, this is treason! Rohbar,
seize him!"

Hope was beside me, her eyes watching the room. Rohbar came striding
forward. Derek rasped, "You perhaps have some sense! Lead His Majesty
away. Take care of him until this is over."

They stood with crossing glances. And upon Rohbar's face a look, queerly
sinister, had come. A smile, sardonic.

He said abruptly to the king, "I think we should let him have his way.
What harm?"

He gestured and Sensua came forward. The crimson murderess! Her
voluptuous figure was shrouded in a crimson cloak. Her heavy painted
lips smiled at the King. Her rounded white arms went over his shoulders.

"Leonto, do as Rohbar says. Let this stranger try. It can do no harm."

The king yielded to her; I watched as she and Rohbar urged him through
an archway that gave into the adjoining apartment.

No wonder Rohbar was sardonically smiling! Derek had played into his
hand. We did not know it then, but we were soon to find it out.



CHAPTER IX

_"Alexandre--"_


Derek turned back to the balcony. It had been a brief interlude. The mob
in the garden, the soldiers at the top of the stairway, and the other
guards high on the bridge of the tower were all standing gazing. Shouts
again arose as Derek appeared. Again he raised his arms. This time his
voice rang out.

"Silence all of you! I am a friend! Silence!"

At first they did not heed him; then someone shouted:

"Quiet! Listen to him! Let him talk!"

The crowd was bellowing, and then they ceased. The bell was still. In
the hush came Derek's voice:

"I am a friend. I come from foreign lands, from distant lands of strange
people and strange magic."

For answer the crowd shouted and milled in confusion. A stone came up
and then another. Derek stood immovable, like a statue gazing down at
them.

"I command you to disperse. You will not? Then look at me! Look at me,
all of you. My will is law beyond this king--beyond these palace
soldiers--beyond any power you have ever known."

Then I knew a part of Derek's purpose! He had pressed the mechanism at
his wrist. He stood imperious with upraised arms. The garden was in a
tumult, but in a moment it died. A wave of horror swept the crowd. A
freezing, incredulous horror. They stood staring, incredulous, silent,
swept with a widening wave of horror.

The figure of Derek on the balcony was fading, turning luminous. A
wraith, a ghost of his menacing shape standing there. It faded until it
was almost gone, and then, as he reversed the mechanism, it materialized
again. A moment passed, then he stood again solid before them.

His voice rang out, "Will you obey me now? I am a friend of the
toilers!"

They were prostrate before him. There is no fear more terrible than the
fear of the supernatural. In all of history there has been in our world
no worship more abject than the worship and fear of a primitive people
for its supernatural God. On the platform beneath the balcony, the
palace soldiers stared up, horrified. Then they too were prostrate
before Derek's threatening gestures and commanding voice.

I stood watching, listening. And suddenly, from the prostrate crowd, a
man leaped up. In the silence his amazed voice carried over the garden.

"Alexandre! It is our Prince Alexandre! Our lost prince!"

He stood staring at Derek, his arms gesturing to his comrade around him.
He shouted it again:

"Our rightful king, come back to us! Don't you recognize him? _I_ saw
him go! He went like that--fading into a ghost. Ten years ago, when
Leonto killed his father and would have killed him had he not escaped!"

The crowd was standing up now. They recognized Derek! There was no doubt
of it. The garden was ringing with the tumultuous shouts,

"Alexandre! Our lost prince has come back to us!"

My head was whirling with it. Derek, prince of this realm? I could see
that it was true. Escaped from here as a young lad, when his throne was
usurped. Returning now, a man, to claim his own.

And suddenly he turned and flashed me his smile.

The din from the garden drowned his words. The crowd was shouting:
"Alexandre! Our lost prince!"

The king's guards on the lower platform stood sullen, confused. I heard
footsteps behind me. I whirled around.

From the room, the group of Rohbar's crimson nobles were rushing toward
me! Their swords were out. One of them shouted, "Kill them now! We must
kill them and have done!"

There were five or six men in the group. They were no more than ten feet
away from me. They came leaping.

I stood in the window opening, with only my dirk to oppose them. I
shouted, "Derek! Derek!"

I think I took a step backward. I was out on the balcony. It flashed
over me--Derek and I were caught out here!

The first of the red cloaked figures came hurtling through the doorway.
I leaped to avoid his sword. I saw the others crowding behind him.

Then I felt Derek shove me violently aside. I half fell, but recovered
myself at the balcony rail. Five of the crimson nobles were on the
balcony. Derek confronted them. His aspect made them pause. They stood,
with outstretched swords. The garden was silent; the crowd stared up.
And in the silence Derek roared,

"Get back! All of you, go back inside! Back, or I'll kill you!"

In Derek's right hand he held the cylinder outstretched, leveled at the
menacing nobles.

"Back, I say!"

But instead they rushed him. There was a flash. From the cylinder it
seemed that a ray spat out, a flash of silver light. It caught the three
men who were in advance of the others. Their swords dropped with a
clatter to the balcony floor. They stood, transfixed.

An instant. Derek's silver ray played upon them. Their red cloaks were
painted with its silver sheen.

They were shimmering! I gasped, staring. The other nobles, beyond the
ray, had fallen back. And they too stood staring in horror.

Another instant The three figures wavered. I saw the face of one of
them, with the shock of incredulous horror still upon it. A face turning
luminous! A face, erased, with only the staring eyes to mark where it
had been!

There was a moment when the three stricken men stood like shimmering
ghosts, with Derek's deadly ray upon them. Then they were gone! It
seemed, just as they vanished, that they were falling through the
balcony floor....

Derek snapped off his ray. He rasped, "Back into that room, I tell you!"

The remaining nobles fled before him. He turned again to the balcony
rail.

"My people--yes, I am Alexandre--I had not thought you would recognize
me so soon. But you are right--the time has come for me to claim my
inheritance. And I will rule you justly."

His cylinder was still in his hand; he swept a watchful glance behind
him. I thought of Rohbar. He was in the next room, with the king. Had
they seen this attack upon Derek? They must have heard the crowd
shouting, "Alexandre!" It seemed strange they did not appear.

I recall now, as I look back to this moment on the balcony, that I
suddenly thought of Hope. She had been beside me just before the nobles
attacked. I did not see her now. I was startled, but thought of her was
driven from my mind. From within the palace a scream sounded. A girl
screaming.

But it was not Hope's voice. A girl, screaming, and then shouting:

"The king is dead!"

Derek came rushing at me. "Charlie, that--"

We heard it again. "The king is dead!"

We hurried into the adjoining room. There was no one to stop us--no one
up here now who dared oppose Derek. The terrified nobles in the room
fell cringing before him.

"Alexandre--spare us! We are loyal to you!"

He strode past them. In the adjacent apartment we found the king lying
upon the floor. A wound in his throat welled crimson. He had evidently
been lying here alone, and had just now been found by a girl who had
entered. He was not quite dead. Derek bent over him. He opened his eyes.

He gasped faintly: "Rohbar--killed me. Rohbar and that--accursed crimson
Sensua...."

His voice trailed away. The light went out of his staring eyes. Derek
laid him gently back on the floor.

And as though already the news of his death had miraculously spread, the
bell in the castle tower began tolling. Not clanging now. Tolling, with
slow, solemn accent. The crowd evidently recognized it. We could hear
the shouts: "Death! Death has come!"

Derek's eyes ware blazing as he stood up. "The end, Charlie! I would not
have planned this, and yet...."

He did not finish. He whirled, rushed back to the other room and to the
balcony. The scene was again in confusion the crowd milling, voices
shouting:

"The king is dead!"

At the edge of the garden a woman's shrill, hysterical laughter rose
over the din.

Derek called, "Yes, the king is dead!" He paused. Then he added, "If you
want me--if I have your loyalty--I will claim my throne."

A tumult interrupted him. "Alexandre! King Alexandre!"

He spread his arms, but he could not silence them.

"The king is dead. Long live King Alexandre!"

A wave of it swept over the garden, engulfing the castle. At the main
entrance Leonto's soldiers stood sullen, listening to it.

Derek stood triumphant. His hands were outstretched, palms down. But up
on the circular bridge at the top of the tower there was a sudden
commotion. The soldiers up there had vanished, moved back within the
tower to make room for other figures. I stared amazed, transfixed. A
huge man in leather garments was there, with a sword stuck in his wide
belt. A man with a bullet head, a heavy face, gazing down....

Rohbar!

And held in front of him the slender figure of a girl. Hope! He clutched
her, his thick arm encircling her breast. With sinking heart I realized
what had happened. Hope had moved away from me. Every one in the room
had been intent upon Derek. Rohbar had come quietly in, after murdering
the king, had seized Hope, stifled her outcry, and had taken her up into
the tower.

And I had promised Derek that I would shield this girl from harm! The
horror of it--the self-condemnation of it--swept me, froze me to
numbness. I could not think; I could only stand and stare. Rohbar held
Hope like a shield before him. The low railing hardly reached her knees.
A sheer drop to the garden beneath. He held her tightly, and in his free
hand I saw his dirk come up menacingly against her white throat. His
voice called:

"Silent, down there! Alexandre, you traitor! Silence!"

Derek stared up. The triumph faded from him. He stared, stricken. The
crowd stared. The soldiers on the lower platform ceased their shouting
and gazed up at these new actors, come so unexpectedly upon the stage.
Again Rohbar called, to the guards this time:

"I represent your King Leonto. This Alexandre is a traitor to us all.
And he cannot harm me! I defy him. Look at him! I defy him to use his
evil weapon upon me!"

Derek was silent. A single adverse move and Rohbar's knife would stab
into Hope's throat. Derek's ray was powerless. A flash from it would
have killed Hope, not Rohbar.

The king's soldiers saw Derek's indecision. One of them shouted, "He
cannot harm us! Look, he is frightened!"

The crowd recognized Hope. They began calling her name. And calling,
"Master Rohbar, do not harm our Hope!"

"I will not harm her! Not if you do what I tell you! Leave the
garden--go quietly! I will deal with this traitor!"

He added to the guards, "Go up and seize him! He cannot hurt you!
Traitor! Seize him! If he does not yield--if any of this crowd attacks
you--then I will kill Hope."

Derek stood clinging to the balcony rail. With Rohbar's watchful gaze
upon him he did not dare turn or move. I was standing back from the
balcony, behind Derek and partly in the room. No one thought of me. No
one from outside could see me. And I, who had played no part in this,
save that one I had neglected, suddenly saw my role. My cue was
sounding. My role to play, here upon this tumultuous stage.

I turned back into the dim room. A few frightened men and girls were
here. They were all crowding forward, gazing through the windows at the
scene outside. No one noticed me, but I saw, with sudden realization, my
role to play.

I darted across the room, out into the dim, deserted corridor of the
castle.



CHAPTER X

_My Role to Play_


I slipped like a shadow through the almost empty corridors. Down on the
lower floor I found that many of the soldiers were on the inside,
standing about the corridors in groups, waiting for word from their
comrades on the platform to indicate what action they should take. My
time was short; I knew that within a few minutes they would be rushing
up to overpower Derek.

I stood unseen against the wall near the main entrance. I could not get
outside. There were too many soldiers there.

I tried to keep my sense of direction. The wing upon which the tower
stood was about two hundred feet from me here. If I could not get
outside I would have to try the inside, along this corridor. I prayed
that I might not make an error. I tried to gauge exactly where the tower
would be.

The hallway was almost dark and in this wing there chanced to be no one
at the moment. I came to the angle and turned it to the left. I was
unarmed save my dirk. I drew it. But I encountered no one. I passed the
doors of many empty rooms. The windows were all barred on this lower
floor. I could hear the shouts of the crowd outside.

I came at last to the end of the wing. A staircase here led upward. I
guessed that I was directly under the tower now, and that this staircase
undoubtedly led upward into it. I mounted a few steps to verify what I
was sure would be the condition. It was as I thought. Rohbar had won
over the soldiers who were here. He had sent them down from the tower
bridge. They were guarding this staircase.

I crept up another few steps, very cautiously. I could hear their voices
on the stairs. A light was up there. I could see the legs of some of
them as they crowded the stairs. I softly retreated.

There was no way of getting up into the tower here. Alone and armed only
with my dirk, I could not mount these stairs and assail a dozen armed
men standing above me; especially when, if I raised an alarm, Rohbar
overhead might be startled into killing Hope.

I stood another moment, thinking, planning my actions. I was trembling.
Everything depended upon me now. I must get up into the tower. And,
above everything, haste was necessary.

I retreated back to the lower floor. I was still some twenty feet above
the ground, I judged. That was too far. A dozen paces along the hall I
saw a stairway leading downward into the ground level cellar of the
castle. I marked in my mind exactly in which direction I turned, and how
far. I went down the stairs.

There was an empty lower room. It was pitch black. I lay down on its
earthen floor. Above me, a few paces off to one side I could visualize
the tower. A hundred and fifty feet above me, at least, up to that
bridge balcony, where Rohbar stood with Hope. I kept my mind on it and
prayed that I might not be making an error, a miscalculation.

I prayed, too, that luck would be with me. A desperate chance, yet I
thought I knew what was here, or about here, in New York City. I lay on
my side, alone in the blackness, and pressed the switch at my wrist....

The familiar sensation of the transition began. The darkness grew
luminous. Around me shadows were taking form. My body was humming,
thrilling with the vibrations within it. I could feel the ground under
me seeming to melt. My head was reeling. Nausea swept me, but with it
all I tried to keep my wits. I must watch this new Space into which I
was going. Space? I prayed that here on this spot in New York City there
would be empty space! If not, at the first warning, I was prepared to
stop my mechanism.

The shadows grew around me. There was a moment or two when I felt as
though I were floating. Weightless. The sense of my body hovering in a
void, intangible, imponderable, with only my struggling mentality
holding it together....

And then I felt myself materializing. Around me walls were taking form.
I floated down a foot or two and came to rest upon a new floor. My hand
brushed it. My physical senses were returning. I could feel a floor of
concrete. A vague, shimmering light was near me. It seemed to outline
the rectangle of a window. All around was darkness. Empty darkness.
Soundless, with only the throbbing hum of the mechanism....

I was indoors, in a room. I felt suddenly almost normal, except for the
whirring vibration. I flung the switch again. There was a shock. A
whirling of my senses. Then I sat up; my head steadied. The nausea
passed.

I was back in my own world, in New York City. This was night: I tried to
calculate the time. Derek and I had departed about midnight. This would
be, then some time before dawn. I was in a cellar room, lying on its
cement floor. There was a window, with a faint light outside it. A
window up near the ceiling. A straggling illumination showed me a bin, a
few barrels, a door leading into another room which looked as though it
might be a machine shop.

I sat up, calculating. I was a thousand feet perhaps from the Battery
wall, two hundred feet from the Hudson River. This was an office
building, and I was in one of its cellar rooms, at the ground level.

Near dawn? I tried to calculate what might be overhead. A deserted
office building. Too early yet for the scrub-women. The elevator would
not be running. I laughed to myself. Of what use to me an elevator, if
it had been running? How could I, a midnight prowler, appear from the
cellar of this building, and demand to be taken upstairs! There would be
no elevator, but there would be watchmen. I would avoid them.

I found a door. My heart leaped with a sudden fear that it would be
locked, but it was not. I went through it into a passage and found the
staircase. I made two turns. I tried again to keep my mind on this Space
here. I stood, carefully thinking. I had it clear. I had made no move
without careful thought. The tower with Rohbar was still to my left, and
about directly above me.

I went up the short stone staircase, opened another door carefully. I
was in the dim lower hall of the office building. I found myself beside
the deserted elevator shaft. A light was burning on the night
attendant's table in an alcove, on the other side of the shaft. He sat
there with his back to me. I closed the door soundlessly.

The stairway upward beside the elevator was here. I watched my chance. I
darted around the angle and went up. I met no one. The concrete
staircase had a light at each floor. Four floors up. No, not enough! I
opened the fourth floor door. The marble hall of the office building was
empty and silent. Rows of locked office doors with their gold-leaf names
and numbers. A single dim light to illumine the silent emptiness....

I retreated into the staircase shaft and mounted higher. My dirk was in
my hand. Charlie Wilson, the Wall Street brokerage clerk, prowling
here! And upon what a strange adventure!

I came to what I thought was the proper floor. In the hall I selected a
room. The door was securely locked. I had no way of breaking the lock,
but the panel was of opaque glass. I would have to chance the noise. I
rushed the length of the hall, to where a red fire-ax hung in a bracket.
I came back with it. I smashed the glass panel of the door.

Would a watchman hear me? I did not wait to find out. With the ax I
scraped away the splinters of glass. I climbed through the opening. My
hand was cut, but I did not heed it.

I was in a dim, silent office, with rugs on the floor, desks standing
about, filing cases, a water-cooler, and a safe in the corner. I rushed
to one of the windows. It looked over Battery Park and the upper bay.
The stars were shining, but to the east over Brooklyn I could see them
paling with the coming dawn. I gazed down to try and calculate my
height. Yes, this would be about right. And my position. I could see the
outline of the shore, the trees of Battery Park, the busy harbor, even
at this hour before dawn, thronged with the moving lights of its boats.

I saw all this with my eyes, but with my mind I saw the wrecked,
deserted pavilion, and the gardens of Leonto's castle. The threatening
mob would be below me. The palace entrance would be here to my left,
down in the street where those taxis were parked. There was a commotion
down there by the office building entrance. I know now what caused it,
but at the time I did not notice. The wing of the castle was under me.
This would be the tower. Its upper room, or the balcony, just about
where I was standing. I prayed that it might be so. I seemed with my
mind to see it all.

I lay down on the floor by the window. Out in the office building
hallway I heard heavy footsteps come running. One of the night watchmen
had evidently heard the glass crashed.

I laughed. I pressed the switch at my wrist....



CHAPTER XI

_The Fight on the Tower Balcony_


The sensations swept me again. The room faded. Whether the watchmen came
in to see a ghost of me lying there on the floor I did not know, nor did
I care. I whirled into the shadows. And came in a moment out of the
black silence. The office room was gone. I seemed to have fallen or
floated down--how far I do not know. A triumph swept me. I was lying on
another floor. I could see a doorway materializing. I was not upon the
balcony as I had calculated, but within the tower room. New walls sprang
around me.

I did not heed it, this time, the sensation, of the transition. I was
too alert to what new situation might come upon me. The tower room. I
could see it. I could see its oval windows close at hand. The doorway to
its balcony. Sounds flooded me, mingled with the humming within me.
Familiar sounds. The crowd shouting. And a single voice--the voice of
Rohbar. Vague and blurred, but as I materialized it became clearer.

I was suddenly aware that there was a man beside me. One of the palace
soldiers. He saw me materialize. He leaped backward in horror. I flung
my switch. I was on my feet, swaying, and then I leaped upon him. My
dirk plunged downward into his chest.

The thing made me shudder. I reeled with the sickness of it, but as he
fell I clung to the dirk and ripped it out of him. It was dripping with
his blood.

I stood trembling. The small tower room had no other occupants. I turned
toward the door. I could see a patch of stars, paling with the coming
dawn. I crouched in the small doorway which gave onto the balcony,
staring, swiftly calculating. The scene had scarcely changed. But, some
of the soldiers had left the entrance platform, gone, no doubt, into the
castle on their way upstairs to seize Derek.

On this upper balcony, no more than ten feet before me, Rohbar still
stood gripping Hope. She was in front of him. His back was to me. A
sudden jump, and I could plunge my dagger into his back.

Rohbar was shouting, "King Leonto is dead. If you should want me to
succeed him, I will take this girl Hope for my queen. You all love
her...."

I was tense to spring. Then out in the balcony, to one side, I saw
Sensua crouching. Her crimson robe fell away to bare her white limbs.
Her hand fumbled in her robe. She had been Rohbar's dupe, and now she
knew it. Her knife was in her hand. Frenzied with jealousy and rage she
sprang upon Rohbar's back, trying to stab at Hope.

Perhaps he sensed her coming, heard her; or perhaps she was unskilful.
Her knife only grazed Hope's shoulder. He released Hope. He roared. He
turned and gripped his murderous assailant. A second or two while I
stood watching. He caught Sensua's wrist, twisted the knife from it and
plunged the knife into her breast. She sank with a scream at his feet,
and as he straightened he saw me.

But I had leaped. I was upon him. His own knife had remained in Sensua's
breast. As I raised mine in my leap, he caught at my wrist; twisted it,
but I flung the knife away before he could get it. The knife fell over
the balcony rail. The weight of my hurtling body flung him backward, but
the rail caught him. His arms went around me. Powerful arms, crushing
me. I gripped at his throat.

There was an instant when I thought that we would both topple over the
railing. I felt Hope beside us. I heard her scream. We did not go over
the rail, for Rohbar lurched and flung us back. We dropped to the
balcony floor, rolling, locked together. He was far stronger and
heavier than I. He came uppermost. He lunged and broke my hold upon his
throat, but I was agile: I squirmed from under him. I almost regained my
feet. He got up on one knee. He was trying to draw his sword. Then again
I bore into him, kicking and tearing. He roared like a bull. And
ignoring my plucking fingers, my flailing fists, he lunged to his feet
with me gripping again at his throat.

His huge height swung me off the ground. I was aware that he had drawn
his sword, but I was too close for him to use it. He swayed drunkenly
with my weight; he was confused. I felt the rail behind us. We lunged
again into it. Again I heard Hope scream in terror, and saw her leap at
us. Rohbar stooped, trying to clutch the low rail. His bending down
brought my feet to the balcony floor. With a last despairing effort I
shoved him backward. And as he toppled at the rail, I fought to break
his hold upon me. I felt us going and then I felt Hope reach me. Her
arms flung about my waist. Her hold tore me loose. Rohbar's huge body
fell away....

For an instant Rohbar seemed balanced upon the rail; then he went over.
He gave a last long, agonized scream as he fell. I did not look down. I
crouched by the rail. The crowd in the garden; Derek standing on the
other balcony; the soldiers who now had appeared behind him--all were
silent, and in the silence I heard the horrible thud of Rohbar's body as
it struck....

I clung to Hope for an instant, and she shuddered against me. The scene
broke again into chaos. I cast Hope away and leaped up. I stood at the
balcony rail. My arms went up and gestured to Derek. Amazement was on
his face, but he answered my gesture. Behind him the soldiers who had
come to seize him were standing in a group, stricken at this new
tragedy.

Derek swung on them. He was not powerless now! "Away with you!"

His cylinder menaced them, and they fell back in terror before him.

He darted past them and disappeared into the castle.

I felt Hope plucking at me. "I want to talk to the people."

She stood beside me, leaning over the rail. Gentle little figure.
Familiar figure to them all. Their beloved Hope. Her voice rang out
clearly through the hush.

"My people, we all want our beloved Alexandre--he has come back to us.
He is our rightful king."

"King Alexandre! Long live King Alexandre!"

Derek in a moment appeared behind us. "My God, Charlie, I can't
understand--"

I told him how I had done it. He gripped me. "I'll never be able to
repay you for this!"

I pushed him forward and he joined Hope at the rail. Held her, and her
arms went around his neck as she returned his kisses. The crowd gaped,
then cheered.

I shouted, "Hope will be your queen--The reign of the crimson nobles is
at an end!"

The wild cheering of the people, in which now the castle guards were
joining, surged up to mingle with my words.



CHAPTER XII

_One Tumultuous Night_


I come now with very little more to record.

I returned to my own world. And Derek stayed in his. Each to his own;
one may rail at this allotted portion--but he does not lightly give it
up.

The scientists who have examined the mechanism with which I returned
very naturally are skeptical of me. Derek feared a further communication
between his world, and mine. He smiled his quiet smile.

"Your modern world is very aggressive, Charlie. I would not want to
chance having my mechanism duplicated--a conquering army coming in
here."

And so he adjusted the apparatus to carry me back and then go dead. I
have wires and electrodes to show in support of my narrative. But since
they will not operate I cannot blame my hearers for smiling in derision.

Yet there is some contributing evidence. Derek Mason has vanished. A
watchman in an office building near Battery Park reports that at dawn of
that June morning he heard splintering glass. He found the office door
with its broken panel, and the ax lying on the hall floor. He even
thinks he saw a ghost stretched out by the window. But he is laughed at
for saying it.

And there is still another circumstance. If you will trouble to examine
the newspaper files of that time, you will find an occurrence headed
"Inexplicable Tragedy at Battery Park." You will read that near dawn
that morning, the bodies of three men in crimson cloaks came hurtling
down through the air and fell in the street near where several taxis
were parked. Strange, unidentified men. Of extraordinary aspect. The
flesh burned, perhaps. All three were dead; the bodies were mangled by
falling some considerable height.

An inexplicable tragedy. Why should anyone believe that they were the
three crimson nobles whom Derek attacked with his strange ray?

I am only Charles Wilson, clerk in a Wall Street brokerage office. If
you met me, you would find me a very average, prosaic sort of fellow.
You would never think that deeds of daring were in my line at all. Yet I
have lived this one strange tumultuous night, and I shall always cherish
the memory.



The Stolen Mind

By M. L. Staley

[Illustration: _The structure, pivoting downward, plunged Quest to his
waist in the osmotic solution._]

[Sidenote: What would you do, if, like Quest, you were tricked, and your
very Mind and Will stolen from your body?]


"What caused you to answer our advertisement?" Owen Quest felt the steel
of the quick gray eyes that jabbed like gimlets across the office table.

"Why does any man apply for a job?" he bristled.

Keane Clason gave an impatient smile.

"Come!" he said. "I'm not trying to snare you. But there were unusual
features to my ad, and they were put there to attract an unusual type of
man. To judge your qualifications, I must know just why this proposition
appeals to you."

"I can tell you that," nodded Quest, "but there's nothing unusual about
it. In the first place, I knew that the Clason Research Corporation is
the leading concern of its kind in the country. In the second place,
this seemed to offer a way to obtain a substantial sum of money
quickly."

"Good," said Clason. "And you feel that you have all the necessary
qualifications?"

"Decidedly. I am 24 years old, athletic, and of an earnest and
determined nature. Moreover, I have no family ties, and I'm willing to
run any reasonable risk in order to improve the condition of my fellow
men."

Clason smiled his approval.

"You say you need money. How much immediately?"

Quest was unprepared for the question.

"A thousand dollars," he ventured.

Without hesitation Clason counted out ten one-hundred-dollar notes from
his wallet and laid them on the table.

"There's your advance fee. You're ready to go to work immediately, I
hope?"

"Certainly," stammered Quest.

Stunned by the swiftness of the transaction, he sat staring at the money
that lay untouched before him.

To accept it would be like signing an unread contract. But he had asked
for it; to refuse it was impossible. Even to delay about picking it up
might arouse Clason's suspicion. Already the latter had turned away and
was opening the door of a steel cabinet. Quest had one second in which
to reach a decision.... He crammed the currency into his pocket.

       *       *       *       *       *

With delicate care Clason set two objects on the table. One looked to
Quest like a miniature broadcasting tower or a mooring mast for lighter
than air craft. The other was a circular vat of some black material,
probably carbon. Within it a series of concentric tissues were suspended
from metal rings, and in a trough outside ranged four stoppered flasks
containing liquids of as many different colors.

"Look at these models carefully," said Clason. "They represent two of
the most remarkable discoveries of all time. The one on your left is the
most _de_structive weapon known to man. The other I consider the most
_con_structive discovery in the history of science. It may even lead to
an understanding of the nature of life, and of the future of the spirit
after death.

"Both of these were developed by my brother Philip and me together--but
we have disagreed about the use to which they shall be put.

"Philip"--the inventor dropped his voice to a whisper--"wants to sell
the secret of the Death Projector--the tower, there--as an instrument of
war. If I should permit him to do that, it might lead to the destruction
of whole nations!"

"How?" demanded Quest "I've heard of a device called the Death Ray. Is
this it?"

"No, no," said Clason contemptuously. "Even in a perfected state the Ray
would be a child's toy compared to the Projector. This is based on our
discovery that invisible light rays of a certain wave-length, if highly
concentrated, destroy life--and our additional discovery that if these
are synchronized with short radio waves the effect is absolutely
devastating.

"We obtain the desired concentration of invisible light by using a
tellurium current-filter under the influence of alternate flashes of red
and blue light. The projector can literally blanket vast areas with
death, up to a top range of at least five hundred miles.

"Just picture to yourself what this means! In a space of ten minutes two
men can lay down a circle of destruction a thousand miles in diameter;
or they can cut a swath five hundred miles long in any desired
direction."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Have you ever proved it?" demanded Quest skeptically.

"Yes, young man, we have," snapped Clason. "Right here in the
laboratory--but on a minute scale, of course. However, there's no time
to demonstrate now. The point is that my brother is determined to sell
if he can obtain his price for the invention. He argues that instead of
bringing disaster upon the world, this machine will forever discourage
war by making it too terrible for any civilized nation to consider. In
spite of my opposition he has opened negotiations with an ambitious
Balkan power. He may actually close the sale at any moment!

"However," Clason drew a deep breath "you see this other device? Simple
as it appears, it is the key to the whole situation. We can use it--you
and I--to overcome Philip's will and prevent this unthinkable
transaction. The two of us can do it. Alone I would be virtually
helpless."

"Why not have the Projector confiscated or destroyed by our own
Government?" suggested Quest. "That seems to me the only safe and sure
way out of the difficulty."

"You simply do not understand," frowned Clason impatiently. "Philip is
selling the plans and descriptions of the machine, not the machine
itself. Even if this model and the larger test machine that we have
built were destroyed--even if I were willing to have Philip sent to
Leavenworth for life--he could still sell the Projector.

"But this other invention, our Osmotic Liberator, makes it possible for
me to gain control of Philip and actually _change his mind_, through the
medium of an agent. I have hired you to act as my Agent, Quest, because
I can see that you are a young man of unusual character and vitality.
And by way of reward I can promise you both money and a brilliant
future."

       *       *       *       *       *

The inventor poised in a tense attitude on the edge of his chair as
though his body were charged with electricity. His eyes seemed to dart
out emanations that set Quest's blood to tingling. Then for a moment the
latter lost consciousness of his physical self. It was as though he had
opened a door and found himself suddenly on the brink of a new and
totally strange world. He dispelled this fancy by a quick effort of the
will, for he knew that he had a delicate problem on his hands and that
it must be solved within a very few minutes. However he proceeded, he
must act without disloyalty to his Government, and at the same time
without injustice to Keane Clason.

"Tell me," he said in a husky voice, "how do you intend to use me? I do
not believe in Spiritualism. I would be a poor medium."

Clason gave a short laugh.

"You are not to be a medium in that sense at all. Spiritualism as
practiced is just a blind sort of groping and hoping. Osmotic
Liberation, on the other hand, is an exact and opposite physico-chemical
science. Here--I will show you."

Into the outer cell of the Liberator he emptied the purple vial, and so
on to the innermost, which he filled with a golden-green liquid like old
Chartreuse.

"The separating membranes, you understand, are permeable by these
complicated solutions. Each liquid has a different osmotic pressure and
therefore should, under normal conditions, interchange with the others
through the membranes until all pressures are equalized. I prevent such
interchange, however, by maintaining an anti-electrolysis which retards
ionization and thus builds up what might be called osmotic potential.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Now if an Agent--yourself for instance--submerges himself in the
central cell, at the same time maintaining a physical contact with his
Control at the surface of the liquid, and if then the osmotic potential
is suddenly released by throwing the electrolytic switch, the host of
ions thus turned loose in the outer compartments make one grand rush for
the center solution, which contains the cathode.

"Under these conditions your body becomes a sort of sixth cell, and your
skin another membrane in the series. Properly speaking, however, you are
not a part of the electrolytic circuit but are merely present in the
action. Your body acts as a catalyser, hastening the chemical action
without itself being affected in any way. Physically you undergo no
change whatever; but in some strange way which is, like life, beyond
analysis, your mind flows out into the solution, while your unaltered
body remains at the bottom of the tank in a state of suspended
animation.

"If no Control is present, all that is needed to return your mind into
your body is a throw of the electrolytic switch back to negative,
whereupon you emerge from the tank exactly as you entered it. But with
your Control present and in contact with your submerged body, your mind,
instead of remaining suspended in the solution, flows instantly into his
body and resides there subject to his will.

"This can not be done, however, unless the wills of Control and Agent
have first been brought into accord. To accomplish that, we clasp
hands"--Quest grasped Clason's extended hand--"and look steadily into
each other's eyes.

"Now, it is well known that the vibrations of an individual's will are
as distinctive as the sworls of his finger-prints. What is not so well
known is that the frequency of vibration in one person can be brought
into accord with that in another.

       *       *       *       *       *

"You consciously retract your will by concentrating your mind upon the
thing which you know I wish to accomplish. Gradually while we continue
in this position your vibrations speed up or slow down until they
acquire exactly the same frequency as my own. We are then in accord, and
when your mind is liberated in the tank it is in a state which admits
absorption into my body. And it is subject to my will because you have
purposely attuned it to my peculiar frequency. Immediately after the
transfer there will be a brief conflict, due to the instinctive desire
of your will to obtain the ascendancy. But of course mine will gain the
upper hand at once, since both wills will be in my frequency."

Quest felt, rather than saw, a wall of alarm closing in on him. He tried
to avert his eyes, to withdraw his hand from Clason's grasp. With a
nostalgic pang in the pit of his stomach he suddenly realized that he
could not do so. He had gone too far--farther than any man in his
position had a right to go. Having deliberately weakened his will, it
seemed now to have deserted him entirely. A prickling sensation coursed
up his spine, his extended arm went numb, his hand trembled violently.

"Splendid!" said Clason, suddenly releasing both eye and hand. "Just as
I foresaw, you will be able to attune yourself to my vibration-frequency
with hardly an effort. Now please remain seated; I'll be back in a
moment."

       *       *       *       *       *

For a second after the door closed, Quest remained slumped in his chair.
Then he was on his feet, shaking himself like a wet dog to free himself
from the spell under which he had fallen. Something about Clason
attracted and at the same time repelled him, fraying his nerves like an
irritant drug and confusing his mind at the moment when he needed the
full alertness of every faculty.

Invisible light--disembodied minds--will vibrations! Nothing there to
get hold of. Were these things real or imaginary? Was Keane Clason a
great inventor, or a madman? Would Philip prove to be a real or an
imaginary scoundrel? Should he summon help, or go on alone?

Professional pride said: wait, don't be an alarmist! With his knuckles
Quest tapped the table, half expecting it to melt under his fingers. The
feeling and sound of the contact gave him a peculiar start. On the
farther end of the table stood a letter-box--an invitation. From his
pocket Quest snatched a slip of paper, and wrote:

     6 stroke 4--9:45A--Hired. If no report in 48 hours, clamp down
     hard.

To address a stamped envelope and slip it in with the outgoing mail was
the work of seconds. But he was none too quick. He had just dropped back
into a lounging attitude when the door burst open and Clason flew into
the room?

"We must act instantly," hissed the inventor. "Philip plans to close the
transaction within a day."

In spite of himself, Quest jumped upright in his chair. Clason tapped
him on the shoulder reassuringly.

"It's all right," he smiled, "I'm ready for him. We'll make our move
this afternoon and beat him by eighteen hours.

"Let's see." He paused. "Oh! yes. I was about to explain to you that as
soon as the will of the Agent enters the body of his Control, the latter
can again transfer it into the body of still another person.

"Now you understand why I advertised for a man of exceptional character?
As my Agent, I want you to enter the body of Philip, and your will must
be strong enough to conquer his in the battle for mastery which will
begin the instant you intrude into his body. You will still be under my
control, but your will must be strong enough on its own merits to
overcome his. I can direct you, but your strength must be your own.
That's clear, isn't it?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"I think so," said Quest slowly. "But what becomes of me after you have
frustrated Philip's plot?"

"That's the easy part of the process," smiled Clason; "but naturally you
feel some anxiety about it. I simply withdraw your will from Philip,
return it to your own body, and pay you a reward of ten thousand
dollars."

"You're sure you can?"

"Perfectly. I have merely to touch Philip's hand to recapture your will.
Then I immerse myself in the tank with the switch at plus. The osmotic
action will extract both wills momentarily from my body. But the
presence of two bodies and two wills in the solution together forces a
balance, and each will seeks out and enters its own body. Then you and
I climb out of the tank exactly as we are this minute."

"If it weren't for my belief that anything is possible," Quest shook his
head, "I'd say that your claims for this invention were ridiculous."

"And you couldn't be blamed," admitted Clason readily. "This toy of a
model is hardly convincing. But come along with me and I'll show you how
the Liberator looks in actual operation."

       *       *       *       *       *

The office rug concealed a trap door which gave upon a spiral stair.
Below, Clason unlocked another door and led the way through a narrow and
tremendously long passage lighted at intervals by small electric bulbs.
Presently another door yielded to the inventor's deft touch and closed
behind them with a portentous chug. Here the darkness was so utter and
intense that Quest imagined he could feel the weight of it on his
shoulders. From the slope of the passageway and the muffled beat of
machinery that had come to his ears on the way along, he guessed that he
was below ground in some chamber at the rear of the factory.

He gave a low exclamation as Clason switched on the toplight. No wonder
the darkness had seemed of almost supernatural quality! Even the hard
white glare of the daylight arc was grisly. Its rays rebounded from the
liquids of the great circular tank in a blinding dazzle of color, while
the dull black walls and ceiling were so perfectly absorptive that
beyond arm's length they became to all effects invisible. Even the ledge
on which he stood--the shoulder of the vat--gave Quest the feeling that
to move would be to step off into a bottomless pit.

But Clason took his attention at once, pointing here and there in his
quick, nervous way to indicate how faithfully the Liberator had been
reproduced from the model. In all respects the arrangements were the
same, with the addition that here a long plank like a spring-board
extended out from a wall-mount as far as the central compartment of the
tank, and that from its end a narrow ladder hung down to the surface of
the Chartreuse liquid. A double-throw switch fixed to the wall above the
base of the plank was evidently the source of electrolytic control.

"When you throw the switch to plus," said Clason, pointing to the
chalk-marked sign above, "you produce the violent electrolytic action
needed to bring about a liberation. All the rest of the time it should
be closed at minus, in order to maintain the anti-action which I
explained to you.

"Now let's rehearse, so that when the time for the real performance
arrives we can be sure of running it off without a hitch."

"All right, sir," nodded Quest, so dazed by the glittering light that he
was hardly conscious of what he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

"First," said Clason, running lightly up the steps to the plank, "you
walk out to the end, like this, and start down the ladder. Then you
lower yourself into the tank. The liquid is at body temperature; it's
neither strongly acid nor caustic; it will cause you no injury or
discomfort whatever.

"Meanwhile I keep in contact with your hand until the instant that you
become submerged. Now your mind is in me, see?--ready for transfer into
Philip, where it will act as my Agent. That's how simple it is! Come on
up and we'll go through the motions."

Quest experienced a shiver as he mounted the bridge. Annoyed with
himself, he shrugged the feeling off. There was no risk here. Moreover,
it was a part of his daily work to take chances; he had done so a
hundred times without hesitation. Now he moved all the more quickly, as
if to belie the squeamishness that possessed him in spite of himself.

Swinging past Clason on the plank, he lowered himself without a pause
to the bottom rung of the ladder, while the inventor, hanging head
down, maintained contact with him.

"No need to stay here," he said in sudden irritation. "I understand
perfectly what I am to do."

"I'm testing my own acrobatic ability," grunted Clason amiably. "Just a
minute now."

He wriggled as if trying to adjust himself to a better balance, but in
reality to mask the motion of his free hand with which he reached up and
pressed a button in the side of the plank. Instantly the structure,
pivoting downward on its wall-socket, plunged Quest to his waist in the
osmotic solution.

"For God's sake get out of the way!" he shouted, trying to wrench his
hand out of Clason's sinewy grip. "Let go, I tell you!"

But Clason clung like a leech, his teeth gritted under the strain. Again
the plank lurched downward, and with a violent splash Quest vanished
below the surface.

Quick as a cat, Clason scrambled up the ladder and back to the base of
the plank, where he erased and interchanged the chalk-marked signs with
which he had misled Quest. Then with a sinister twist of a smile he
threw the switch to minus, and turned to watch as the plank slowly
righted itself and the vacant ladder came clear of the liquid.

For some time he stood staring at the gleaming colored rings of his
dissociation-vat like some witch over her cauldron, his lips working,
his hands clasping and unclasping like the tentacles of some sub-sea
monster. Then, as if the spell had suddenly broken, he turned on his
heel and switched off the light. As he hastened down the passageway
toward his office, the airlock sucked the door against its jamb with an
ominous whistle.

       *       *       *       *       *

In a twinkling, as Quest's shackled spirit writhed in its new housing,
he knew that he was in bondage to a scoundrel. Formless and voiceless,
he still fought madly for the freedom which the instinct of ten
thousand generations made necessary to him.

At the same time he was furious at himself for having been tricked like
an innocent schoolboy. The plank socket, the button which had tripped
the supporting spring, the fake rehearsal, the tuning of his will to
that of Clason--step by step the whole cunning scheme unfolded itself to
him now.

But what could be the purpose behind this villainy? Only one answer
seemed possible. Keane must be the one bent on selling the Death
Projector, Philip the one who wished to frustrate the fiendish
transaction! And Quest of the Secret Service--he was to be the tool to
force the sale.

With the soundless scream of rage Quest's will hurled itself against
Keane's. The two met like infuriated bulls, and for an instant too brief
to be pictured as a lapse of time they poised immovable. But two wills
can not exist on equal terms in a single body, and in this case the
vibration of both was that of Clason. Quest had challenged the Master
Will. He could do no more. It hurled him back, crushed him like foam,
compressed him to the proportions of an atom in the background of his
consciousness. So brief and unequal was the conflict that in the next
breath Clason had all but forgotten the presence of the stolen will
within him. When he was ready to use his Agent, that would be time
enough to summon him!

Despite this suppression, Quest began to see dimly through strange eyes,
and to hear vaguely with ears that were not his own. Feelers, tentacles,
some intangible kind of conduits carried thought impulses to him from
the Master Will. He received these impressions vividly, but those which
he gave off in return were so weak, due to the subjection of his will,
that Clason was entirely unconscious of any response. Quest was not
enough of a scientist to be astonished at the ability of a disembodied
mind to experience sense impressions in the body of another. He was
only glad that the darkness and silence were growing less. Very, very
slowly he was awakening to a new kind of consciousness--the
consciousness of another person's Self. He hated and loathed that Self,
yet it was better than the awful blankness that had gone before.

       *       *       *       *       *

Suddenly, as light grew brighter and sound more clear and definite, a
new element entered--the element of hope. At first it was feeble: its
only suggestion was that sometime, somehow, he might escape this prison.
But it was like water to a parched plant. It caused his will to expand,
to extend its feelers, to press up a little more bravely against the
crushing pile of the Master Will.

Now another surprise sprang upon him. He was moving! That is, Clason's
body was moving in some kind of a conveyance, which was threading its
way through crowded streets. Stores, buildings, buses, people--Quest
remembered them all distantly as things he had known thousands of years
ago. The driver turned his head, and his profile seemed vaguely
familiar.

Now a rush of foreign thoughts drowned out his own. They were a sort of
overflow from the mind of Clason. They thronged along the conduits that
bound the two wills together, but only Quest was conscious of the
movement.

Keane's mind was on his brother Philip: that much was particularly
clear. And there was something about a telephone call. Yes, Keane had
telephoned to the police, disguising his voice, refusing to divulge his
name. He had said that a man by the name of Philip Clason was in trouble
and had told them where to find him. Then the police had telephoned the
factory, and Keane had pretended astonishment and alarm at the news.
That's why he was here now--he was on the way to confer with the police.
And he was chuckling--chuckling because he had fooled Quest and the
police, and because now the hundred million dollars was almost in his
grasp.

Cutting in close, the car turned a corner and drew up before one of a
row of loft buildings in a section of the city which Quest failed to
recognize. As Clason stepped to the sidewalk, Quest was more painfully
aware than ever of his powerlessness to influence by so much as the
twitch of a muscle the behavior of this hostile body in which he had
permitted himself to be trapped. In his weakness he felt himself
shrinking, contracting almost to nothingness under the careless pressure
of the Master Will.

       *       *       *       *       *

Clason glanced casually at his watch, and three men converged toward him
from as many directions. There was nothing to distinguish them from
anyone else in the street, but along the conduits it came to Quest that
they were detectives and that they were there by appointment with Keane
Clason.

"What floor?" asked the latter, with an excitement which Quest felt
instantly was pure pretense. "Are you sure they haven't spirited him
away?"

"Don't worry," replied the leader of the detectives. "The alley and roof
are covered. We'll take care of the rest ourselves."

On tiptoe they climbed three long flights of stairs in the half-light.
Clason held back as if in fear. He was a good actor, and Quest felt the
shrinking and hesitation of his body as he crouched and slunk along in
the wake of the detectives, pretending terror at what was about to
happen, though he knew--and Quest knew he knew--that there would be no
resistance up there--that Philip would be found alone exactly as he had
been left by Keane's hired thugs.

On the top landing Burke, the leader, paused to count the doors from
front to rear.

"This is it," he whispered to the bull-necked fellow just behind him.

The other nodded, and crouched back against the opposite wall while his
companions placed themselves in position to cross-fire into the room the
moment the door gave way.

       *       *       *       *       *

Quest longed for the power to kick his hypocrite of a master as he still
held back, cowering on the stairs, playing his fake to the limit. Then
the door flew in with a splintering shriek under the charge of the human
battering ram, and across it hurtled the other two detectives in a cloud
of ancient dust.

"Here he is!" someone shouted.

"Phil! Phil!" Keane Clason's voice fairly quavered with sham emotion as
he ran into the room and threw himself at a man tightly bound to an
upholstered chair, which in turn was wedged in among other articles of
stored furniture.

But Philip was too securely gagged to reply, and as Burke slashed the
ropes from across his chest he dropped forward in a state of collapse.
Stretched on a couch, he soon gave signs of response as a brisk massage
began to restore the circulation to his cramped limbs. Suddenly he sat
up and thrust his rescuers aside.

"What time is it?" he demanded with an air of alarm.

"One o'clock," replied Keane before anyone else could answer, patting
his brother affectionately on the shoulder while within him Quest
writhed with indignation. "By Jove! Phil, it's wonderful that we got to
you in time. Really, how--you're not injured?"

"No," grunted Philip, "just lamed up. I'll be as fit as ever by
to-morrow."

"If you feel equal to it," suggested Burke, "I wish you'd tell me
briefly how you arrived here. Do you know the motive behind this affair?
Did you recognize any of the body-snatchers?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Philip frowned and shook his head.

"Yesterday noon," he said slowly, "I took the eight-passenger Airline
Express to Cleveland on business. There were three other passengers in
the cabin--two men and a woman. Right away I got out a correspondence
file and was running over some letters. The next thing I knew I was
approaching the ground in the strangest state of mind I ever
experienced. My head was splitting, and everything looked unreal to me.
Seemed as if I was coming down on some new planet."

"You mean the ship was gliding down to land?"

"No, no. I was dangling from a parachute.... By the way, where am I
now?"

"In a Munson Avenue loft."

"In Chicago?"

Burke nodded.

"I guessed as much," frowned Philip. "You see, I came down in a field,
and then before I could free myself from my trappings I was pounced
on--trussed up and blindfolded--by a gang of men. I knew they had taken
me a long distance by automobile, but I saw nothing more until they tore
the blindfold from my eyes when they left me here."

"And they were all strangers to you?"

"Yes--those that I saw."

"Isn't this enough for just now, Burke?" interrupted Keane, and Quest
received an impression of uneasiness that was not apparent in the
inventor's tone. "After a good rest he's sure to recall things that
escape him now."

"Just one minute," nodded the detective, turning back to Philip. "Can
you think of no plausible reason for this attack? Is there no one who
might possibly benefit by putting you temporarily out of the way?"

Philip gave a frightened start. Then he was on his feet, clutching at
his brother's arm.

"Keane!" he pleaded, "Keane! What's happened? I know, I know! It's the
Projector."

"Water!" roared Keane, and Quest felt the panic that coursed through him
as he tried to drown out his brother. "Somebody bring water! He needs
it!"

At the same time he snatched up Philip's hand in a grip of steel.
Instantly the latter's wild eyes became calm, the flush passed from his
relaxing face, and he slumped down weakly on the couch.

       *       *       *       *       *

In that fleeting moment Quest surged into the body of Philip and
confronted his will with a fierce and triumphant ardor. For now his will
would have command of a body with which to fight his fiend of a Control.

With a sensation of contempt he met Philip's resistance and buffeted him
ruthlessly backward, crushed down and compressed his feebly struggling
will. And as Philip yielded, Quest felt his own will expanding to
normal, taking possession of the borrowed body with hungry greed, and
flashing from its faded eyes the spark of youth.

Burke stared in amazement at the kaleidoscopic rapidity of the changes
in the rescued man's expression. Strange lights and shadows continued to
flit across Philip's face as Quest's invasion of him proceeded, but with
a diminishing frequency which soon assured Keane that his Agent was
tightening his command.

The younger of Burke's aides stood fascinated, his mouth agape. The
other spoke guardedly to his superior:

"Dope, eh!"

"Nah!" replied Burke, shrugging himself out of his trance. "Shock."

The actual duration of the conflict in Philip was something less than
three seconds. It would have been more brief if Quest had exerted
himself to the utmost. But his sensations as he first surged into this
new habitat under Keane's propulsion were so weird and unearthly that
for the moment he was lost in the wonder of the experience. For that
short time, therefore, Philip was able to fight back against the onrush
of the invading will.

In the next second Quest became conscious of the resistance. Urged on by
his Control, he must push Philip back and quell him; but his sympathy
for his opponent and his hatred of Keane roused him to sudden revolt. He
wanted to disobey the Master Will, retreat, leave Philip in command of
himself. But he could only go on, unwillingly thrusting back Philip's
will despite the indescribable torment and confusion in his own. Then,
with the feeling that he was ten times worse than the most inhuman
ghoul, he took full possession of his borrowed body.

"I'll take him home now," said Keane composedly to Burke. "As you see,
he needs a little extra sleep. Meanwhile, if you have any occasion to
call me, I will be at the factory."

       *       *       *       *       *

To the youthful mind of the Agent, used to the lightness of an athletic
physique, the body in which it moved down the stairs to the limousine
seemed strangely heavy and awkward.

"I'm badly done up, Keane," he said with Philip's lips as the car got
under way.

"Bah!" snorted Keane, "you've had a scare, that's all. Go to bed when
you get home and sleep till nine this evening. At ten a man named Dr.
Nukharin will call for you. He will drive you to a garage, leave the
car, and transfer to another one a few blocks away.

"Out near Marbleton you will find an airplane staked in an open field.
Nukharin is a capable pilot. He will fly back southeast along the
lakeshore to the meeting place. You should arrive about twelve-thirty.
The test is set for one o'clock."

Quest listened in a state of abject rage. Lacking the power to resist
his Control, he could only boil away in Philip's body like a wild
creature hemmed in by bars of steel.

"Bring with you," continued Keane venomously, "the set of papers that
you took from the safe in my office. Hold the other set in readiness to
deliver to Nukharin to-morrow, after he has studied the results of the
test and has notified Paris to release a hundred million dollars in
cash for delivery at your Loop office at 3 p. m."

The murderous greed of the man maddened Quest. He tried to revolt, his
will squirming like a physical thing, threshing the ether like a wounded
shark in the sea. For a moment he felt that he was about to burst the
bonds that his demon of a Control had woven around him. So violently did
he resist that the immured and sporelike will of Philip forged up
fitfully out of the blackness and joined his in the hopeless struggle.
But along the attenuated conduits that still chained Quest to the Master
Will Keane caught the impulse of the mutiny, and his eyes darted flame
as he countered with a will-shock that paralyzed his unruly Agent.

"Listen! you whimpering dog," he snarled. "Think as I tell you--and
nothing more! You are going to apologize to Dr. Nukharin for your
previous unwillingness to sell the Projector. You are going to tell him
that I am at fault--that I held out--but that you found a way to force
my compliance. You understand?"

Quest could find no words. With Philip's head he nodded meekly. Just
then the car stopped and the chauffeur threw open the door.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Nukharin flew high despite the masses of cumulus cloud which
frequently reduced visibility to zero. He had merely to follow the rim
of the lake to his destination, and an occasional glimpse of the water
was sufficient to hold him on his course.

In the back seat hunched Philip, his body crumbling under the weight of
Quest's despair. For hours the latter had gone on vaguely, hoping
somehow to thwart this horrible transaction that was rushing the world
to its doom, thinking he might grow strong enough to wrench himself free
and so liberate Philip from the dominance of his conscienceless brother.
Even though such a move should leave his own will forever separate from
his body, he was ready and anxious to make the sacrifice.

Suddenly the crash of the motor ceased and Nukharin banked the ship up
in a spiral glide. Quest had never been in the air before, and the long
whirl down into the darkness on this devil's errand was to him as eery
as a ride to perdition in a white-hot projectile.

His mind seemed to trail out in a great nebular helix behind the
descending ship. He felt that he had suddenly crossed some cosmic
meridian into a new plane of existence, where he was changed to a gas,
yet continued capable of thought. But even here his obsession remained
the same. Keane Clason--trickster, traitor, arch-criminal--must be
destroyed!

"I'll get him!" vowed Quest in words that were no less real for being
soundless. "I'll trail him to the end of space and bring him to
account!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Then wheels touched earth and the cold, bare facts of his destiny rushed
in on him with redoubled force. He felt the nearness of his Control
seconds before he perceived him through the eyes of Philip. With a
sensation like a stab he realized that now he must speak, play his part,
be any bloodless hypocrite that Keane Clason chose to make him. The
silent order surged down the conduits promptly enough; he responded as
an automaton obeys the pressure of a button.

"Well, Doctor," chuckled Philip with a cunning leer, "here's the magic
tower, just as I promised you. We'll run it up in a jiffy. This test is
going to be so vivid and conclusive that not even a hard-headed skeptic
like you can raise a question."

"You misunderstand me," returned Nukharin in an injured tone. "So far as
I am concerned this procedure is only a formality, but it is none the
less necessary. Suppose that I should spend a hundred million of my
government's money and the purchase prove worthless? You may guess that
my folly would cost me dear."

Keane Clason was waiting on the platform of a giant truck, the motor of
which was idling. All the apparatus was in readiness except that the
three demountable sections of the tower had yet to be run up into
position.

"One of the beauties of the D. P.," said Philip gleefully to the Doctor,
while Keane smiled slyly to himself, "is that this pint-size dynamo
provides all the current needed for the test. We pick the power for our
radio right out of the air by means of a wave trap and mensurator
invented by this bright little brother of mine," and he clapped Keane
patronizingly on the back.

"Yes, ah--Dr. Nukharin," ventured Keane timidly, and at that moment
Quest experienced the raging red hatred that causes men to murder.
"Philip has promised me that you will employ this device only as a
threat to hold the ambitions of the larger powers in check."

"Of course, of course!" replied the Doctor heartily. "But now let's have
the test. Even at night I'm not too fond of these open-air
performances."

       *       *       *       *       *

The height of the tower as they ran the upper sections into place was
forty feet. When all connections had been inspected, first by Keane,
then by Philip, the former led Nukharin aloft.

As the climax of his plot approached, Keane's excitement bordered on a
cataleptic state, hints of which came confusedly through the conduits to
Quest. With a peculiar satisfaction he felt that Keane was suffering.
The inventor's jaws became rigid, as though his blood had changed to
liquid air and frozen him, and he had difficulty in controlling the
movements of his arms.

Now he was afraid! Genuinely afraid, this time. Quest caught the impulse
too clearly to doubt its meaning. This was no sham! Keane was doubting
his own machine, fearing that in the crisis some element in the finely
calculated mechanism might fail to operate, thus cheating him of the
blood-money on which his heart was set. Then he was speaking, and even
Nukharin noticed the tremor in his voice:

"These nine tubes, which look like a row of gun barrels, are molded from
silicon paste. Each shoots a beam of invisible light and a radio dart of
precisely the same wave length. The destructive effect depends chiefly
upon this exactness of synchronization."

"A question occurs to me," said the Doctor: "will others be able to
manipulate the machine as successfully as you can?"

"It's fool-proof," chattered Keane, almost losing control of his voice,
"absolutely fool-proof. Surely you have scientists in your country who
can follow written directions! Nothing more is necessary."

"Very well," shrugged Nukharin. "I only want to be sure that no
unforeseen difficulties may arise in an emergency."

"See this range-setter?" continued Keane. "The thread on the vertical
shaft enables us not only to limit the range by angling the beams into
the ground, but it can also be disengaged and the Projector revolved in
a flat circle for maximum ranges."

"And is there no danger of the machine going wrong--of destroying itself
and us?" suggested Nukharin.

"None whatever, Doctor. There is no explosive force and no great
electrical voltage involved. As long as we stand back of the muzzles we
have nothing to fear.

"Now look. I have set the micrometer at three hundred yards, which will
just about cover the stretch between ourselves and the lake. I will cut
a swath for you--and every bush, every blade of grass, every insect in
this swath will be withered to ash in the twinkling of an eye. The
destruction will be absolute."

"Please proceed," said Nukharin grimly.

Keane pulled a lever in its slot, then pressed it down into its lock as
his projection battery swung lakeward at the desired angle. Then with
one hand poised on another lever, he pressed an electric button.

At the controls below, a bulb flashed on and off. The signal was
superfluous, for already Quest had received his silent command from the
Master Will. An icy dread fastened on him. He must obey the unspoken
command; he had no will of his own with which to resist. The test would
be a success; the Projector would be sold; the world would be turned
into a shambles. And he, Owen Quest, would be the destroyer, the
murderer, the weak fool who made this horror possible.

All this flashed through the Agent's mind in the fraction of a second
that it took him to extend Philip's hand, close the switch of the
dynamo, and snap on the alternating lights in the housing over the
tellurium filter.

For an interminable five seconds he waited, in a ferment of revolt which
the paralysis of his will made it impossible to put into action. Then
again the command pulsed within him, the signal bulb flashed, and he
reversed his motions of the moment before.

Cold sweat cascaded down Philip's face as Quest felt the ladder
vibrating under descending feet. He longed for the power to hurl Keane
Clason to the ground and turn the Projector upon him. But with an awful
irony the Master Will forced him to his feet, and to speak in a tone
that withered the manhood within him.

"Come," said Philip in a triumphant tone to Nukharin, "and I will show
you that Clason inventions perform as well as they sound."

Flashlight in hand, he started toward the lake with Nukharin and his
brother close behind him. Twenty paces, and the long meadow grass
suddenly vanished from beneath their feet.

"See that!" whispered Philip excitedly, waving the light from side to
side to show the forty-foot swath that stretched away before them. "Not
a trace of life left, not a blade of grass--nothing but dust!"

The only response was a gurgling sound that issued from Nukharin's
throat.

"Look!" Quest formed the word with Philip's lips under the urge of the
Master Will. "Here was a tall bush. What do you see now? Just a
teaspoonful of ash. When you examine the remains by daylight, you will
find that even the root has disintegrated to a depth of two feet."

"Enough of this," croaked Nukharin in horror. "The deal is closed."

His face was convulsed with fear. Without another word he whirled about
and fled toward his airplane. Philip gave a start as if to follow.

"Halt! you slob," growled Keane, whose composure had returned with the
successful outcome of the test. "I have use for your company, even
though you are as great a coward as our Slavic friend."

Coward! The epithet stung Quest like a flaming goad. One of the fine,
intangible lines that bound him under the will of Keane Clason severed,
and his own will exploded into action like a thunderbolt. With startling
agility he whirled Philip about, the flashlight clubbed in his hand. But
Keane was quicker still. A clip on the wrist sent the weapon flying.
Then Philip reeled backward from a kick in the stomach, and his
clutching hands beat the air as he sank unconscious in the dust.

       *       *       *       *       *

With a violent tug, Quest lifted Philip's body to a sitting posture. The
phone was ringing, and by the pull on the will-fibers he knew that Keane
was at the other end of the wire. Philip's body was failing under the
strain of the part it was forced to play, and the blow of the night
before had further weakened it. Now he sat rocking his head painfully
between his hands. But Quest lifted him to his feet by sheer will, and
he staggered across the room.

"Hello!", he said in a hoarse voice.

"Get the hell out here to the factory!" rasped Keane, and the crash of
the receiver emphasized the command.

It was one o'clock as Philip whirled his sedan into Olmstead Avenue. At
three, reflected Quest as the car scorched over the pavements, he must
be at the downtown office to deliver the papers and receive the money.

Then he was face to face with Keane, reeling dizzily at the hatred that
blazed from the latter's accusing eyes.

"Double-crossed me, eh!" The voice was a low snarl, and as he spoke
Keane thumped the extra outspread on his desk. "But you're not going to
get away with it--neither of you!"

Dismay, hope, dread, wonder robbed Quest of the power to speak. But he
whirled around behind the desk with such unexpected violence that Keane
staggered back in alarm. Then he was devouring the screaming headlines
of the newspaper. Three seconds, like a slow exposure, and every word of
the Record's great scoop was etched upon his mind as if with caustic:

     DOOM LAUNCH ADRIFT ON LAKE

     Physician Baffled by Condition of Five Bodies Found in Craft

     Blighted Area on Shore Said to Have Bearing on Tragedy

     THAW HARBOR, IND., June 6.--Five Chicago sportsmen, most of them
     prominent in business and society, perished in the early hours this
     morning while returning in the launch of A. Gaston Andrews from a
     weekend camping party near Hook Spit on the Michigan shore.

     The boat was towed into this port at daybreak by the Interlake Tug
     Mordecai after being found adrift less than a mile off shore.
     According to Captain Goff of the Mordecai the death craft carried
     no lights and he barely avoided running her down. The weather along
     the Indiana shore was perfect throughout the night and there is
     nothing to indicate that the launch was in trouble at any time. The
     bodies are unmarked, and this little community is agog with rumors
     ranging all the way from murder and suicide to the supernatural.

     Dr. J. M. Addis of Thaw Harbor, the first physician to examine the
     bodies, says that they appear to have suffered some violent
     electro-chemical action the nature of which cannot be determined at
     the moment. This statement is considered significant in view of the
     reported discovery ashore of a large blighted area almost directly
     opposite the point where the launch was found. Joseph Sleichert, a
     farmer who lives in that vicinity, reports that this patch of
     ground extending back from the lakeshore was completely stripped of
     vegetation overnight. He ascribes the damage to some unknown insect
     pest. Others say that the condition of the ground indicates that it
     has been burned at incinerator temperatures. Nothing is left of the
     soil but a blue powder.

Philip faced his brother with eyes that were dull with agony.

"You have made me a murderer!" Quest forced out the words in painful
gasps.

But Keane snapped back at him like a rabid dog.

"You did it--you did it yourself! You tampered with the Projector. You
tried to spoil the test. You changed the range. You tried to kill me,
and instead you killed these others. And you're going to pay--both of
you. You hear me?--you're going to pay!"

His voice mounted the scale to a scream. It was a wail of unreasoning
terror, of the dread of exposure, of the fear that he would fail to
collect the fortune now so nearly in his grasp. The accident that had
jarred his well-laid plans had unnerved him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Frantically Quest strove to answer him, to explain his utter subjection,
as Agent, to say that if he had possessed the will to oppose or trick
him he would have turned him over to the police, or might even have
killed him, at the very outset. But in his frenzy, Keane had so
tightened his control that Quest was speechless. Now he tried to
substitute gesture for words, but Philip was rooted to the spot like a
statue; even his hands were immovable.

He might have remained in this state indefinitely had not Keane's fears
withdrawn his mind from his immediate surroundings. Momentarily he
forgot Quest, Philip--everything but himself and his predicament. And in
the instant that his vigilance relaxed, Quest's enslaved will
experienced a sudden lease of strength and hope. Independently of his
Control, he found that he could move Philip's hand, could take a
faltering step.

But now, what to do? How might he fan this feeble spark of volition to
sufficient strength for decisive resistance? The idea came to him: if
only he could place distance between himself and Keane, perhaps with one
titanic effort he might launch himself against the Master Will, take him
by surprise, crush him down, and reverse him to the status of Agent
instead of Control.

With infinite effort Quest forced Philip's body step by step across the
room. He must reach that window, get a signal of distress to someone in
the street.

But Keane began to sense a mutiny. He followed. He crossed the floor
with slinking, tigerish steps and snaking body. His wet lips writhed
back over his teeth, and his contorted features wove the leer of the
abyss. Now as his Control drew physically near, Quest felt his mite of
strength ebbing fast. Slowly Keane reached up with his clawed fingers
and grasped his Agent by the arm.

"Remember!" he hissed, "if these deaths are traced to us, you break
down--you confess--you take the blame--you paint me lily white--you
describe the cowardly means by which you moulded me to your will--you
plead only for a quick trial and the full penalty of the law. You
understand?"

Quest made no reply, but he understood all too well the hideous
intention of his betrayer. What a fool he had been to imagine that Keane
Clason would ever restore him to his body! Philip to the chair, Quest a
homeless spirit wandering in space, and for the body at the bottom of
the tank, the brief regrets of the Department!

       *       *       *       *       *

A sudden rushing sound filled the air with a sense of action and alarm.

Two--three--four speeding automobiles swung in recklessly to the curb
and shrieked to a standstill under smoking brakes. Men leaped out and
deployed on the run to surround the factory. Keane darted to the door
and twisted the key.

"Come on!" he spat at Philip as he snatched back the rug and threw open
the trap door.

The command galvanized Quest to action. In two bounds he had Philip on
the stairs. A heavy impact rattled the office door just as he dropped
the trap into place over his head. Then, infected with Keane's panic, he
was running down the passageway like mad.

Inside the tank chamber the brilliantly colored rings of liquid flashed
back the rays of the arclight. Half crazed with anxiety, Keane danced on
the black ledge like a monkey on a griddle. His face was ashen, drool
ran from his twisted mouth, his eyes were two black pools of terror.

Again Quest experienced the peculiar sensation which came with the
slackening of control. New hope sprang up in his agonized being as heavy
blows boomed against the air-locked door. Great waves of fear poured
along the conduits, betraying to the Agent the state of mind of his
Control. Now what would Keane do? What could he do? Why, of all places,
had he fled down into this blind burrow?

Thud, thud! Then came a series of sharp reports. Outside, they were
trying to shoot away the deep-sunk disk hinges.

Still the door stood fast, but the fury of the assault on it whipped the
faltering Keane to action. In a bound he was on the platform. With a
lightning hand he threw the switch to plus, starting electrolytic action
in the tank. Then he pressed a button concealed under the edge of the
switch-mount and a panel slid silently aside in the wall, revealing a
narrow outlet.

       *       *       *       *       *

To Quest everything went a flaming red. He might have known that this
fox would have something in reserve--a way of escape when danger
threatened!

But his Control gave him no time for independent thought. He forced
Quest to turn Philip's eyes up to his own. Without disconnecting that
grip of his glittering eyes, Keane leaped back to the ledge. Quest felt
the silent order:

"Get up on that plank! Dive into the tank! Get back into your own body,
let Philip have his! Then come up--the two of you--and face the music.
For I'll be gone, and your story will sound like the ravings of a
maniac."

Quest took an obedient step toward the platform. But at the same instant
a tremendous crash shivered the door. It seemed to unnerve Keane Clason.
With a gasp he sank down upon the steps, his body doubled in pain, his
hand clutching at his heart. Another crash followed, and he shuddered
and cried out.

Instantly Quest felt an expansion of the will. Keane's sudden physical
weakness had loosened his control. Philip's lips worked painfully as
Quest forced him to pause, to disobey the command of the Master Will. In
a spasm of will he fought to wrench himself free from the countless
clinging tentacles of his Control. In great surges, Quest's reviving
volition pounded against the walls of his borrowed body. Now he sought
to force this sluggish body back to the wall, so that he might release
the airlock and spring the door. But Philip seemed to ossify, every cord
and muscle of his body frozen to stone by the conflict that raged within
him.

Braced against the wall, Keane was rising slowly to his feet. His
seizure was easing, and so he was able to exert a better pressure upon
his rebellious Agent.

"Come!" he gasped, realizing that he lacked the strength to escape alone
and must therefore change his plan. "Lift me--quick! Carry me out! Slide
the panel back into place. We will escape together!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The spoken command turned the balance against Quest. His will yielded to
the master. At the same instant Philip's body relaxed like an object
relieved of a great excess of electrical potential. Suddenly strong and
supple, he lifted the trembling Keane and tossed him across his
shoulder.

For a moment there had been a lull in the assault on the door. Now the
battering resumed with a fury that jarred the whole chamber and sent
ripples dancing across the varicolored liquids in the osmotic tank.

"Quick!" gasped Keane. "Move! I say. Carry me out."

But he was in a fainting condition. Crash after crash rocked the
chamber, and with every blow Quest's will felt a stimulation that
enabled him to stand off the commands of his Control. Then a wave of
nausea swept over him and left him reeling. It seemed that Philip's
blood had turned to boiling oil. A dazzling mist swallowed him up, and
with a weird sense of inflation he felt full strength returning to his
will.

A booming blow that bulged the door inward acted upon him like a stage
player's cue. He leaped to the platform. The gurgling sound of
remonstrance rattled from Keane's throat. But Quest paid no heed. Philip
was walking the plank--away from the open panel--out over the tank.

Rapidly he dropped down the ladder to the bottom rung, snatched Keane's
wrist in a gorillalike grip, and hurled him down into the vat.

Then Philip was clinging desperately to the ladder, his strength gone,
his body shivering as if with ague.

"Go on up!" came a strange, impatient voice from below him. "For
heaven's sake let me out of here!"

       *       *       *       *       *

A downward glance, and with a shout of alarm Philip was scrambling up
the ladder, for there was a head down there, and a pair of naked
shoulders, and the face of a man he had never seen before. Hand over
hand Quest followed. Philip had collapsed and lay prone on the plank.
Quest lifted him to his feet and shook him anxiously.

"Philip!" he urged. "Philip! Can you walk?"

The tattoo on the battered door helped to revive the older man.

"Quick!" whispered Quest, kneading Philip's arms. "There's barely an
hour left. Get to your office. Burn the papers. Refuse the money. Do you
hear me?"

Philip nodded dazedly.

"Hurry!" puffed Quest, thrusting him through the opening that Keane had
reserved for his own escape, and sliding the panel back into place.

Quest was himself now--young, strong, free. Instantly he threw the
electrolytic switch to minus. For Keane had failed to emerge from the
tank, and since he was submerged alone, he could not escape until
electrolysis was halted.

Just as Quest leaped from the platform to release the airlock, the door
burst in and three men with drawn guns rushed into the chamber.

The leader stopped with a startled oath and stood blinking his
unbelieving eyes. Quest was poised like a statue, his naked body
gleaming an unearthly white against the lusterless black of the wall.

"Quest," came from the three in chorus. Then a rush of questions:
"What's the matter? What's happened to you? Where are the Clasons?"

Quest turned toward the platform, expecting to see Keane.

"Something's wrong!" he shouted. "Quick! Somebody get Philip. He's gone
to his Loop office. Keane Clason's at the bottom of this tank. I'm not
sure how this thing works, but Philip can get him out! I'm sure of it!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Despite the confident predictions of both Quest and Philip Clason,
osmotic association failed to restore Keane to life, and at last the
coroner ordered the removal of the body. The autopsy revealed heart
disease as the cause of his death.

For reasons best understood at Washington, the cause of the five launch
deaths was withheld from the public. Quest's punishment for his part in
the crime consisted of a promotion and a warm personal letter from the
President of the United States.



Compensation

By C. V. Tench

[Illustration: _Good God! Was I going mad? Surely this was some awful
nightmare!_]

[Sidenote: Professor Wroxton had disappeared--but in the bottom of the
mysterious crystal cage lay the diamond from his ring.]


"Why, John!" Involuntarily I halted at the entrance to my snug bachelor
quarters as the flood of light my turning of the switch produced
revealed a huddled figure slumped in an easy chair.

"Aye, sir, 'tis me." The man got to his feet, gnarled hands rubbing at
his eyes. "An' 'tis all day that I've been waiting for you, sir. The
caretaker said you'd be back soon so let me in. I must have fell asleep,
an' no wonder, what with the strain an' no sleep or rest all last
night."

"Strain? No rest?" I stared my bewilderment, trying at the same time to
conceal the vague apprehensions occasioned by the fact that the trusted
servitor of my friend, Professor Wroxton, should wait all day for me.

Hastily shedding my outer things, I bade him again be seated, sat down
facing him, and asked him to explain.

"'Tis the professor, sir." The old chap peered at me with anxious,
wrinkled eyes. "'Tis common enough for him to send me here on messages,
sir, but to-day I've come on my own, because, sir," answering the
question in my eyes, "I haven't seen sight of him since last night."

"Why--" I began.

"That's just it, sir." John took the words out of my mouth. "For twenty
years my wife an' me have looked after the professor at The Grange. In
all that time he's never been away at night. Whenever he had to come to
town he'd tell us. Most times I'd drive him myself in the old car. But
that was very seldom, sir, for Professor Wroxton had few interests
outside."

       *       *       *       *       *

"But, John," I protested "is there no other reason for your agitation?
He might have had an urgent call, or gone out for a walk or drive by
himself."

"No, sir. If you'll pardon me, sir, you're wrong. The professor was
fixed in his habits. He would not go away without tellin' me. Think
back, sir, you know the professor as well as me. Better, because you are
his friend and I am only a servant. Although, sir," this proudly, "he
always treated me as a friend."

"Go on," I urged, seeing he was not finished.

"Well, sir, a few minutes back you asked me if there was no other reason
for my being upset like. There is, sir. You know, sir, that for more'n
twenty years the professor has led a retired sort of life; the life of
a--a--"

"Recluse," I suggested.

"That's it, sir. He only left The Grange when he had to. He was all
wrapped up in some weird-like thing he was inventing. In all those
years, sir, you were the only visitor who ever went into his laboratory,
or stayed at The Grange for a night or more. That is, sir, until three
days ago."

"Go on," I again urged, some of his perturbation communicating itself to
me.

"The Grange, sir, lying as it does, fifteen miles from town an' back in
its own grounds away from the road, isn't noted by many. When strangers
do get into the grounds I usually gets 'em out again in short order.
Three days ago, sir, a stranger drove up to the door in a fine car. He
told me he was wantin' to purchase a country home. I told him The Grange
was not for sale an' turned 'im away. He was turning his car to leave
when my master came out. To my surprise, sir, he invited the stranger
in. An' I'm sure, sir, because he looked so taken aback like, that the
stranger had never seen the professor before."

"And after that?" I asked, now feeling decidedly uneasy.

"The stranger, sir--a Mr. Lathom he called himself--stayed on. He was in
the study with the master last night. This morning there was no trace of
either of them."

"But--good God, John!" I jerked to my feet, a fresh dread clutching at
my heart. "What are you trying to get at? The professor and Mr. Lathom
might possibly have driven away somewhere last night."

"Both cars, sir," the servant answered, "are in the garage. I bolt all
the doors in the house myself every night. They were still fastened this
morning. My wife an' me searched the house from cellar to garret an'
hunted all over the grounds. We couldn't find a trace of the master or
his guest."

"You mean to suggest then," I shot at him, "that two full grown men have
completely vanished? It's absurd, John, absurd!"

       *       *       *       *       *

I paced the floor thinking desperately for a few minutes, conscious of
the ancient's anxious eyes. I half smiled. The thing was too ridiculous
for anything. Old John had grown morbid from living away from the outer
world. Also, I had to admit that the atmosphere of The Grange,
impregnated as it was with the lethal scientific dabblings of my friend,
was exactly suited to the conjuring up of unhealthy forebodings in
uneducated minds. I'd drive out to the home of my friend at once. No
doubt I'd find him fit and well. He had refused to install a phone, so
drive it had to be.

"John." I stopped my pacing and patted him on the shoulder. "I'm coming
out to The Grange at once." His face showed his thankfulness. "I am
sure," I went on as I struggled into my coat, "that we shall find the
professor and his guest awaiting us. Anyway, it's time you got back to
your wife and had some food."

"I hope to Heaven, sir, that you're right." With that we left the
building and entered my car.

Although I had tried to dispel my fears, although I had tried to banter
John out of his dread, I drove that evening as I had never driven before
or since. Barely fifteen minutes later I halted my roadster at the short
flight of steps leading to the main door of The Grange. Even as we
stepped from the machine the door flung open and an agitated woman
hurried towards us. She was Mary, John's wife.

"Sir!" She gripped my arm and stared anxiously into my face. "'Tis glad
I am that you've come. The Grange is a house of death."

In spite of myself a chill shook my whole body. Gently handing her to
John, I strode up the steps.

At the open doorway I halted, the aged couple crowding on my heels, the
woman still babbling about death. I couldn't blame her. All day she had
been alone in that gloomy, rambling old building, wondering, no doubt,
why John and I had not returned sooner.

       *       *       *       *       *

And gloomy the house was. Always, even when staying there at the
professor's request, I had found it to be somber and depressing, as if
there lurked within its walls the shadowy wings of the years-old tragedy
that had caused my friend to retire to such a God-forsaken place, and
there become absorbed in his scientific experiments.

Even now, as I gazed into the dimly-lighted hallway, the air seemed
charged with that same malignant something I cannot describe.

Pulling myself together I strode quickly along the corridor, and flung
open the study door. The lights being full on, one glance sufficed to
show me that my friend was not there. Swinging on my heel, the horror I
saw in the eyes of the servants, honest, healthy folks not easily
frightened, conveyed itself to me. Somehow, the sight of that room,
lights on, chairs drawn up to the burnt-out fire, brought home to me the
fact that something serious was amiss. I chided myself for thinking John
had been unduly agitated.

For a moment I stood, trying to conceal the chill coursing through my
veins, puzzling what to do next. I decided to search the house
thoroughly. If I found no sign of the professor or his guest, I would
call in the police.

Fearfully yet willingly the aged couple led me from room to room, from
attic to basement, until but one place remained--the laboratory. I
hesitated for several seconds at the closed door of my friend's
workroom. Not that I had never entered the--to a layman's
eyes--weirdly-appointed place. I had been in many times with the
professor. But this time I dreaded what I might find.

       *       *       *       *       *

Pulling myself together, I gently tried the door. To my horror it
yielded to my touch. Alive, the professor always kept it locked. A new
dread assailed me, as, flinging the door wide open, I blinked in the
sudden glare of powerful globes. Someone had left the lights full on!

Horrified I stood and stared, knowing by their heavy breathing that the
aged couple were also staring with fright-widened eyes. Afraid of what?
I did not know. I only knew that the atmosphere had become even more
sinister. I knew that something dreadful had taken place in that room.

Trembling with consternation I forced myself to take a few steps
forward, then I again stared about me. At one end of the large room
something shone brightly in the glow of the lights. Slowly I walked
across to examine it: it appeared to be a glass case, almost like a
show-case, about eight feet square and seven feet in height. With the
mechanical actions of the mentally distraught I walked all around it.
Not the slightest sign of an entrance could I see. The fact intrigued
me. I tapped lightly on the highly polished surface with my fingers. It
rang to my touch like cut glass.

Through the transparent surface I could see John and his wife. They were
watching me furtively, wondering, no doubt, why I lingered. As I looked
at them John suddenly lumbered up to the case on the opposite side.
Dropping to his knees, he stared. Turning an imploring gaze to me, he
pointed. His lips moved soundlessly. I followed the pointing finger with
my eyes; gasped at what I saw.

Near the center of the cage, on the floor constructed of the same
crystalline substance, something glittered, its brilliance almost
dazzling as the light rays struck it. My face pressed close to the cold
outer surface of the structure, my shocked intelligence gradually
realized what that small sparkling object was. It was a magnificent
diamond--and the professor had always worn a diamond ring!

       *       *       *       *       *

In a sudden frenzy of horror I pawed my way around the cage to where
John still knelt. As I reached him he jerked his head in a numb way as
he croaked, "It's a diamond, sir! The professor's!"

"But how?" I implored. "How can it be? There's no way into this thing.
Perhaps he was working here, and the stone came loose from its setting.
He couldn't have dropped it after the cage was completed."

"It's his diamond, sir," intoned the old man, dully. "I know it is."

Then a sudden unreasoning terror filled me. I shrank away from that
shining box. It seemed to be mocking me, gloatingly, malevolently.

"Quickly!" I threw at the aged couple. "Let us get out of here! Now! At
once!" They needed no second urging. I knew that they felt as I felt:
the laboratory was a sepulcher!

Five minutes later I was guiding my car over the narrow road to town. I
did not pause until I drew up at police headquarters. I suppose my
appearance was distraught, for I was ushered into the presence of the
chief without delay. In a few moments I had poured out my story. He
listened with a polite calmness I found almost maddening. Leaning back
in his chair, he reviewed, audibly, the facts.

"Some twenty-odd years ago your friend, Professor Wroxton, married. He
was so absorbed in the pursuit of some weird invention that he neglected
his bride. She ran away with another man. This man deserted her, and
disappeared. The professor found her many months later, in desperate
health. Shortly afterwards she died. Your friend tried to trail the man,
but failed. Shocked and saddened beyond measure, he retired to a place
known as The Grange."

       *       *       *       *       *

He suddenly straightened up in his seat, and pointed at me a thick
forefinger.

"How long have you known Professor Wroxton?"

"About ten years," I answered.

"What was he trying to invent?"

"I don't know," I replied.

"And yet you had his confidence in other matters?"

"But what has all this to do with finding out what has become of my
friend?" I blurted out. "Perhaps every moment counts."

"A lot." The chief eyed me in a way I did not like. "Solely because your
friend has not been seen by his servants for nearly twenty-four hours,
merely because you saw what you believe to be his diamond in some kind
of a glass compartment in his laboratory, you come here as distraught as
a man who has something terrible on his mind. Why?"

"I can't say." I shifted uneasily under that direct stare. "Somehow I
_feel_ that something dreadful has happened to my friend."

"We do not go by _feelings_." The chief got to his feet. "But you have
told me enough to warrant action. I want you to guide me and a couple of
men to this house. Please wait here until I return." He left the room.

Sitting there awaiting his return, I tried to ponder the matter
reasonably. After all, perhaps the chief was right. Merely because the
professor had been absent for a few hours and I had seen what I thought
to be his diamond in the laboratory, I had worked myself into a perfect
fever of anxiety. I almost smiled to myself. In that businesslike office
the whole affair did seem absurd. After all the professor did not have
to answer to his servants for his actions.

Heavy footsteps, announcing the chief's return, caused me to rise to my
feet. A few minutes later, in company with the three officers, I was
driving again towards The Grange.

       *       *       *       *       *

We made the return journey in almost complete silence. Occasionally the
chief would shoot a question at me; but, the night air cooling my
fevered brain, my replies were guarded. He realized that fact, for I
felt his eyes upon me all the way. What was going on behind that broad
forehead, I wondered.

Then we reached The Grange. As we mounted the steps, John, his wife
herding behind him, flung wide the door. He answered the question in my
eyes with a negative shake of his head, and the words, "Nothing fresh,
sir."

The chief eyed him keenly, then curtly bade him lead the way to the
laboratory. John hung back, his face blanched. "I can't, sir," he
faltered. The chief turned to me, and, although I wanted to follow
John's example, although the atmosphere of the house had again filled me
with an unshakable dread, I led the way, standing back at the door to
allow the officers to enter first.

With calculating gaze the chief slowly took in every detail of the stone
apartment. He turned to me.

"What is there here to be afraid of?" I pointed hesitatingly towards the
crystalline cage. The chief and his men strode across to it.

"You don't know how to open this?" the chief shot at me after a brief
examination.

"No," I replied. "It was not here on my last visit."

"When was that?"

"Some two or three months ago", I answered. "My work occasions much
traveling on my part."

       *       *       *       *       *

The chief and his men turned again to the cage, talking in undertones.
He turned again to me.

"You notice that this thing is built in sections. One of them must be
movable. Perhaps--" He paused as his eyes fell upon some wires and tubes
that trailed across the floor from underneath the cage to a switchboard
fastened to the wall.

"Perhaps," he repeated, "it is worked from that board." He crossed over,
stared thoughtfully at the shining levers for some seconds, and moved
one slightly. The result was astounding. All four of us stared with
unbelieving eyes as slowly, without the faintest sound, a section of one
wall slid inwards, as if guided by invisible tracks on floor and
ceiling.

"Guess that's enough for now." With the words the chief backed away,
almost timidly, I thought, from the switchboard, and walked to the cage.
For a moment he hesitated, but he entered, and emerged with the
sparkling object in his hand.

"It's the professor's," I choked, crowding close to him.

"How'd you know?" he shot back. "All unset stones look pretty much
alike."

"I just know," was all I could falter.

"You 'just know'." The chief sat down on a stool and regarded me
searchingly. "Mr. Thornton, when I started out with you, I thought I was
on a wild goose chase or the trail of a confession. You looked exactly
like a man who had either committed a serious crime, or was getting over
a bad drunk. I feel sure now"--he again regarded the diamond--"that your
story was not the product of an alcohol-crazed brain. Come on!" He
lurched to his feet, and grasped me by the shoulder. "Come through!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Without answering, I wrenched myself free. Over my shoulder I saw one of
the policemen at the door. In the hand of the other a revolver suddenly
appeared. Good God! I glared in bewilderment from one to another. Was I
going mad? Surely this was some awful nightmare! What had I said to make
them suspect me of having committed a revolting crime?

"Sit down!" The command came from the chief. Mechanically I found a
stool, and obeyed him. "Hold your stations, boys, and listen carefully,"
he ordered his men. Then he turned to me.

"Professor Wroxton was a wealthy man without kith or kin?"

"Yes."

"Do you know the nature of his will?"

"Yes." Chilled to the heart, I felt the circumstantial net tightening.

"What is its nature?"

"This house and an annuity to John and his wife," I explained. "The
residue of his wealth to me."

"Humph!" The chief stared at me piercingly. "And how has business been
with you lately?"

Damn the man! What right had he to put me through the third degree? I
felt my state of dazed horror slowly giving way to anger. I glanced
around. The pistol still menaced; the man at the door had not moved. It
was useless to try and evade the questions.

"For the past year," I replied, "business has been very poor. In fact,
the professor advanced me some money."

"Humph!" Again that irritating, non-committal grunt.

       *       *       *       *       *

The chief turned in his seat and stared thoughtfully at the crystalline
cage.

"And you don't know what the professor was trying to invent?"

"Only its nature," I began.

"Ah! That's better. Why didn't you tell me that before?" The chief
leaned forward.

"Well," I explained, "the whole thing seems so absurd. When the
professor told me how his married life had been broken up, he told me
that at that time he reached the utmost depths of human suffering.
Absolute zero, he called it."

"Ah!"

"The experiments he indulged in," I continued, trying to hide the shiver
pimpling my flesh, "were to produce an actual state of absolute zero. It
is years since he told me this. I had almost forgotten it."

"And exactly what is an absolute zero?" The chief's eyes never left
mine.

"Well," I protested, "please understand that I also am a layman in these
matters. According to my friend, an absolute zero has been the dream of
scientists for ages. Once upon a time it was attained, but the secret
became lost."

"And exactly what is an absolute zero?"

Curse the man! I could have struck him down for the chilling level of
his tone. I forced myself to go on, realizing that I was damning myself
at every step.

"An absolute zero is a cold so intense it will destroy flesh, bone and
tissue. Remove them," my voice rose in spite of myself, "leaving
absolutely no trace."

       *       *       *       *       *

No trace! Something attracted my eyes. The chief had opened his hand.
The diamond there flashed and sparkled as if mocking me. I pulled myself
together, and went on.

"It all comes back to me now. One day I came out here and found the
professor terribly distraught. He told me that, with the aid of electric
currents he had been able to invent the absolute zero, but he could not
invent a _container_."

"Why?" Those eyes continued to bore into mine.

"Because--remember it is years since he told me this--there was
difficulty in controlling the power. Besides destroying living things,
it would destroy bricks and mortar, stone and iron. Only one substance
it could not wipe out--crystalline of diamond hardness.

"I know, now!" I jumped to my feet and grabbed the chief's arm. "I know
now what he meant. Fool, fool! Why did I not think of it before? This--"
I swung towards the cage--"is compensation." Almost panting in my
eagerness I went on:

"My friend told me that the law of compensation would atone to him for
the tragedy of his youth. Absolute zero in suffering would be atoned for
by a real state of absolute zero. Chief!" I whirled on him. "Don't you
understand? This is the perfected dream of my friend. It is the absolute
zero."

"Humph! Plausible but not convincing." I slumped back at the officer's
words. "That does not explain the professor's disappearance. Even if it
did, what about Mr. Lathom? And don't forget this contrivance is worked
from outside. We found the diamond inside. Of course, he might have
placed it there himself to test the machine," he concluded.

"Of course, that's it," I commenced. But I regretted the words when I
saw suspicion flicker again in the chief's eyes. Lamely I finished, "And
he has probably rushed off, in an ecstasy of triumph, to acquaint
professional colleagues."

"Without unlocking any doors or taking a car, eh?

"Mr. Thornton." The chief stood up and regarded me sternly. "As a
sensible man, don't you think yourself that your story is a bit thin?
The professor has disappeared. Here is a strange-looking case which you
say is an absolute zero container. Whether you know, or are just jumping
at conclusions, remains to be proved. But even if it is, do you think
that, after perfecting such a tremendous invention, the professor would
commit suicide?"

"On the contrary," I gasped, "my friend was a man of gentle, kindly
disposition, but strong purpose. I should think his first action on
attaining his life's ambition would be to notify me, his closest
friend."

"And he didn't." Every word condemned me, and roused me to retaliate.

"Chief, I know enough of the law to know that, before you can try a man
for murder, you must prove that murder has been committed." I grinned
savagely. "You must have the corpus delicti. Go ahead! Find my friend or
his remains, or else withdraw your charges." I grinned again, with
shocked mirthlessness.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then I buried my head in my hands. I had called in the police to help
find the professor, and they had only blundered around and asked a lot
of stupid questions. The chief had practically accused me of
murder--something I knew he could not prove, yet feared he might.
Because I had told the chief of the locked doors and unused cars, he had
confined his investigations to the house itself.

He interrupted my thoughts.

"Mr. Thornton, I am going back to town. You will remain here with my
men. I advise you to get some sleep, as I shall not be able to carry out
certain investigations until the morning. One of my men will spend his
time searching the house and patrolling the grounds, the other one will
stay here with you."

He turned away, whispered some instructions to his men, and, followed by
one of them, silently left the laboratory. I started to protest, tried
to follow him; the man at the door stopped me. Silently, almost grimly,
he indicated a narrow cot at one end of the room. For a moment I
hesitated, feeling the man's eyes upon me.

Sleep on my dead--I felt sure he was dead--friend's cot! Sleep in that
fearful place! My whole being crawled with horror. I turned again to the
man. His features were unyielding. Perhaps this was more third degree.
Limp with weakness and weariness, I dragged my lagging feet towards the
cot.

       *       *       *       *       *

As long as I live I shall never forget my awakening. A uniformed figure,
the chief, shaking me by the shoulder. Two other uniformed men silently
watching. I sat up and gazed about me, dazedly. Bright sunlight streamed
through the windows. A stray gleam struck the cage. I shrank back,
trembling. And yet I had slept soundly.

"Mr. Thornton," the chief said, "I have serious news for you. I have
positive proof your friend is dead."

"Dear God!" The exclamation was wrung from me as recollection returned
with a rush. "Where? You can't have!"

"Here." He thrust a bundle of letters into my hands. "You acted so
strangely last night you caused me to suspect you of a serious crime.
Also, you overlooked several important points. You got back from a trip
only last night."

Last night! Surely it was years.

"You had left instructions to have your mail forwarded," the level voice
went on. "These letters were evidently one day behind you. I picked them
up at your rooms this morning. I took the liberty of opening them. Read
this one." He selected it.

       *       *       *       *       *

With trembling fingers I extracted from the envelope a single written
page. I recognized the handwriting as the professor's. I read with
feverish intensity, each single word burning itself into my
consciousness:

     Dear Thornton:

     I am writing this in anticipation. I will see that it is mailed
     when my plans are completed. Too late, dear friend, for you to
     attempt, with the best intentions in the world, to frustrate them.

     You will, perhaps, recall that many years ago, when I gave you my
     full confidence, I told you that I felt sure that the law of
     compensation would atone in some measure for my loss. Thornton, old
     friend, I believe that, in more ways than one, my hour has arrived.
     Two days ago I completed the absolute zero. But even better!

     A man called here to-day. Although he did not recognize me, I saw
     through the veneer of added years with ease. Fate, call it what you
     will, my visitor is the man who wrecked my happiness.

     Under pretext I shall detain him. I shall induce him to enter the
     crystalline cage. I have already arranged a dual control which the
     power will destroy when I apply it from _the inside of the cage_.

     Please destroy the cage. It will have brought compensation to me
     before you read this.

     Good-by, dear friend!

     Wroxton.

"I apologize, Mr. Thornton." The chief offered a hand which I clutched
in mingled sorrow and relief. The world had lost a genius. I had lost a
dear friend. But he was right. It was compensation.



Tanks

_By Murray Leinster_

    ... The deciding battle of the War of 1932 was the first in which
    the use of infantry was practically discontinued ...

    --History of the U.S., 1920-1945 (Gregg-Harley).


[Illustration: _Row after row of the monsters roared by, going greedily
with hungry guns into battle._]

[Sidenote: Two miles of American front had gone dead. And on two lone
infantrymen, lost in the menace of the fog-gas and the tanks, depended
the outcome of the war of 1932.]


The persistent, oily smell of fog-gas was everywhere, even in the little
pill-box. Outside, all the world was blotted out by the thick gray mist
that went rolling slowly across country with the breeze. The noises that
came through it were curiously muted--fog-gas mutes all noises
somewhat--but somewhere to the right artillery was pounding something
with H E shell, and there were those little spitting under-current
explosions that told of tanks in action. To the right there was a
distant rolling of machine-gun fire. In between was an utter, solemn
silence.

Sergeant Coffee, disreputable to look at and disrespectful of mien, was
sprawling over one of the gunners' seats and talking into a field
telephone while mud dripped from him. Corporal Wallis, equally muddy and
still more disreputable, was painstakingly manufacturing one complete
cigarette from the pinched-out butts of four others. Both were
rifle-infantry. Neither had any right or reason to be occupying a
definitely machine-gun-section post. The fact that the machine-gun crew
was all dead did not seem to make much difference to sector H.Q. at the
other end of the telephone wire, judging from the questions that were
being asked.

"I tell you," drawled Sergeant Coffee, "they're dead.... Yeah, all dead.
Just as dead as when I told you the firs' time, maybe even deader....
Gas, o'course. I don't know what kind.... Yeh. They got their masks
on."

He waited, looking speculatively at the cigarette Corporal Wallis had in
manufacture. It began to look imposing. Corporal Wallis regarded it
affectionately. Sergeant Coffee put his hand over the mouthpiece, and
looked intently at his companion.

"Gimme a drag o' that, Pete," he suggested. "I'll slip y' some butts in
a minute."

       *       *       *       *       *

Corporal Wallis nodded, and proceeded to light the cigarette with
infinite artistry. He puffed delicately upon it, inhaled it with the
care a man learns when he has just so much tobacco and never expects to
get any more, and reluctantly handed it to Sergeant Coffee.

Sergeant Coffee emptied his lungs in a sigh of anticipation. He put the
cigarette to his lips. It burned brightly as he drew upon it. Its tip
became brighter and brighter until it was white-hot, and the paper
crackled as the line of fire crept up the tube.

"Hey!" said Corporal Wallis in alarm.

Sergeant Coffee waved him aside, and his chest expanded to the fullest
limit of his blouse. When his lungs could hold no more he ceased to
draw, grandly returned about one-fourth of the cigarette to Corporal
Wallis, and blew out a cloud of smoke in small driblets until he had to
gasp for breath.

"When y' ain't got much time," said Sergeant Coffee amiably, "that's a
quick smoke."

Corporal Wallis regarded the ruins of his cigarette with a woeful air.

"Hell!" said Corporal Wallis gloomily. But he smoked what was left.

"Yeah," said Sergeant Coffee suddenly, into the field telephone, "I'm
still here, an' they're still dead.... Listen, Mr. Officer, I got me a
black eye an' numerous contusions. Also my gas-mask is busted. I called
y'up to do y' a favor. I aim to head for distant parts.... Hell's bells!
Ain't there anybody else in the army--" He stopped, and resentment died
out in wide-eyed amazement. "Yeh.... Yeh.... Yeh.... I gotcha, Loot.
A'right, I'll see what I c'n do. Yeh.... Wish y'd see my insurance gets
paid. Yeh."

He hung up, gloomily, and turned to Corporal Wallis.

"We' got to be heroes," he announced bitterly. "Sit out here in th'
stinkin' fog an' wait for a tank t' come along an' wipe us out. We' the
only listenin' post in two miles of front. That new gas o' theirs wiped
out all the rest without report."

He surveyed the crumpled figures, which had been the original occupants
of the pill-box. They wore the same uniform as himself and when he took
the gas-mask off of one of them the man's face was strangely peaceful.

"Hell of a war," said Sergeant Coffee bitterly. "Here our gang gets
wiped out by a helicopter. I ain't seen sunlight in a week, an' I got
just four butts left. Lucky I started savin' 'em." He rummaged shrewdly.
"This guy's got half a sack o' makin's. Say, that was Loot'n't Madison
on the line, then. Transferred from our gang a coupla months back. They
cut him in the line to listen in on me an' make sure I was who I said I
was. He recognized my voice."

       *       *       *       *       *

Corporal Wallis, after smoking to the last and ultimate puff, pinched
out his cigarette and put the fragments of a butt back in his pocket.

"What we got to do?" he asked, watching as Sergeant Coffee divided the
treasure-trove into two scrupulously exact portions.

"Nothin'," said Coffee bitterly, "except find out how this gang got
wiped out, an' a few little things like that. Half th' front line is in
th' air, the planes can't see anything, o'course, an' nobody dares cut
th' fog-gas to look. He didn't say much, but he said for Gawd's sake
find out somethin'."

Corporal Wallis gloated over one-fourth of a sack of tobacco and stowed
it away.

"Th' infantry always gets th' dirty end of the stick," he said gloomily.
"I'm goin' to roll me a whole one, pre-war, an' smoke it, presently."

"Hell yes," said Coffee. He examined his gas-mask from force of habit
before stepping out into the fog once more, then contemptuously threw it
aside. "Gas-masks, hell! Ain't worth havin'. Come on."

Corporal Wallis followed as he emerged from the little round cone of
the pill-box.

The gray mist that was fog-gas hung over everything. There was a
definite breeze blowing, but the mist was so dense that it did not seem
to move. It was far enough from the fog-flares for the last least trace
of striation to have vanished. Fifteen miles to the north the fog-flares
were placed, ranged by hundreds and by thousands, burning one after
another as the fog service set them off, and sending out their
incredible masses of thick gray vapor in long threads that spread out
before the wind, coalesced, and made a smoke-screen to which the puny
efforts of the last war--the war that was to make the world safe for
democracy--were as nothing.

Here, fifteen miles down wind from the flares, it was possible to see
clearly in a circle approximately five feet in diameter. At the edge of
that circle outlines began to blur. At ten feet all shapes were the
faintest of bulks, the dimmest of outlines. At fifteen feet all was
invisible, hidden behind a screen of mist.

"Cast around," said Coffee gloomily. "Maybe we'll find a shell, or
tracks of a tank or somethin' that chucked the gas here."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was rather ludicrous to go searching for anything in that mass of
vapor. At three yards distance they could make each other out as dim
outlines, no more. But it did not even occur to them to deplore the
mist. The war which had already been christened, by the politicians at
home, the last war, was always fought in a mist. Infantry could not
stand against tanks, tanks could not live under aircraft-directed
artillery fire--not when forty guns fired salvos for the aircraft to
spot--and neither artillery nor aircraft could take any advantage of a
victory which either, under special conditions, might win. The general
staffs of both the United States and the prominent nation--let us say
the Yellow Empire--at war with it had come to a single conclusion.
Tanks or infantry were needed for the use of victories. Infantry could
be destroyed by tanks. But tanks could be hidden from aerial spotters by
smoke-screens.

The result was fog-gas, which was being used by both sides in the most
modern fashion when, their own unit wiped out and themselves wandering
aimlessly in the general direction of the American rear, Sergeant Coffee
and Corporal Wallis stumbled upon an American pill-box with its small
garrison lying dead. For forty miles in one direction and perhaps thirty
in the other, the vapor lay upon the earth. It was being blown by the
wind, of course, but it was sufficiently heavier than air to cling to
the ground level, and the industries of two nations were straining every
nerve to supply the demands of their respective armies for its material.

The fog-bank was nowhere less than a hundred feet thick--a cloud of
impalpable particles impenetrable to any eye or any camera, however
shrewdly filtered. And under that mattress of pale opacity the tanks
crawled heavily. They lurched and rumbled upon their deadly errands,
uncouth and barbarous, listening for each other by a myriad of devices,
locked in desperate, short-range conflict when they came upon each
other, and emitting clouds of deadly vapor, against which gas-masks were
no protection, when they came upon opposing infantry.

       *       *       *       *       *

The infantrymen, though, were few. Their principal purpose was the
reporting of the approach or passage of tanks, and trenches were of no
service to them. They occupied unarmed little listening-posts with field
telephones, small wireless or ground buzzer sets for reporting the enemy
before he overwhelmed them. They held small pill-boxes, fitted with
anti-tank guns which sometimes--if rarely--managed to get home a shell,
aimed largely by sound, before the tank rolled over gun and gunners
alike.

And now Sergeant Coffee and Corporal Wallis groped about in that
blinding mist. There had been two systems of listening-posts hidden in
it, each of admittedly little fighting value, but each one deep and
composed of an infinity of little pin-point posts where two or three men
were stationed. The American posts, by their reports, had assured the
command that all enemy tanks were on the other side of a certain
definite line. Their own tanks, receiving recognition signals, passed
and repassed among them, prowling in quest of invaders. The enemy tanks
crawled upon the same grisly patrol on their own side.

But two miles of the American front had suddenly gone silent. A hundred
telephones had ceased to make reports along the line nearest the enemy.
As Coffee and Wallis stumbled about the little pill-box, looking for
some inkling of the way in which the original occupants of the small
strong-point had been wiped out, the second line of observation-posts
began to go dead.

Now one, now another abruptly ceased to communicate. Half a dozen were
in actual conversation with their sector headquarters, and broke off
between words. The wires remained intact. But in fifteen nerve-racking
minutes a second hundred posts ceased to make reports and ceased to
answer the inquiry-signal. G.H.Q. was demanding explanations in crisp
accents that told the matter was being taken very seriously indeed. And
then, as the officer in command of the second-line sector headquarters
was explaining frenziedly that he was doing all any man could do, he
stopped short between two words and thereafter he, also, ceased to
communicate.

Front-line sector headquarters seemed inexplicably to have escaped
whatever fate had overtaken all its posts, but it could only report that
they had apparently gone out of existence without warning. American
tanks, prowling in the area that had gone dead, announced that no enemy
tanks had been seen. G-81, stumbling on a pill-box no more than ten
minutes after it had gone silent, offered to investigate. A member of
her crew, in a gas-mask, stepped out of the port doorway. Immediately
thereafter G-81's wireless reports stopped coming in.

       *       *       *       *       *

The situation was clearly shown in the huge tank that had been built to
serve as G.H.Q. That tank was seventy feet long, and lay hidden in the
mist with a brood of other, smaller tanks clustered near it, from each
of which a cable ran to the telephones and instruments of the greater
monster. Farther off in the fog, of course, were other tanks, hundreds
of them, fighting machines all, silent and motionless now, but
infinitely ready to protect the brain of the army.

The G.H.Q. maneuver-board showed the battle as no single observer could
ever have seen it. A map lay spread out on a monster board, under a
pitiless white light. It was a map of the whole battlefield. Tiny sparks
crawled here and there under the map, and there were hundreds of little
pins with different-colored heads to mark the position of this thing and
that. The crawling sparks were the reported positions of American tanks,
made visible as positions of moving trains had been made visible for
years on the electric charts of railroads in dispatcher's offices. Where
the tiny bulbs glowed under the map, there a tank crawled under the fog.
As the tank moved, the first bulb went out and another flashed into
light.

The general watched broodingly as the crawling sparks moved from this
place to that place, as varicolored lights flashed up and vanished, as a
steady hand reached down to shift tiny pins and place new ones. The
general moved rarely, and spoke hardly at all. His whole air was that of
a man absorbed in a game of chess--a game on which the fate of a nation
depended.

He was thus absorbed. The great board, illuminated from above by the
glaring bulb, and speckled with little white sparks from below by the
tiny bulbs beneath, showed the situation clearly at every instant. The
crawling white sparks were his own tanks, each in its present position.
Flashing blue sparks noted the last report of enemy tanks. Two staff
officers stood behind the general, and each spoke from time to time into
a strapped-on telephone transmitter. They were giving routine orders,
heading the nearest American patrol-tanks toward the location of the
latest reported enemies.

       *       *       *       *       *

The general reached out his hand suddenly and marked off an area with
his fingers. They were long fingers, and slender ones: an artist's
fingers.

"Our outposts are dead in this space," he observed meditatively. The use
of the word "outposts" dated him many years back as a soldier, back to
the old days of open warfare, which had only now come about again.
"Penetration of two miles--"

"Tank, sir," said the man of the steady fingers, putting a black pin in
position within that area, "let a man out in a gas-mask to examine a
pill-box. The tank does not report or reply, sir."

"Gas," said the general, noting the spot. "Their new gas, of course. It
must go through masks or sag-paste, or both."

He looked up to one of a row of officers seated opposite him, each man
with headphones strapped to his ears and a transmitter before his lips,
and each man with a map-pad on his knees, on which from time to time he
made notations and shifted pins absorbedly.

"Captain Harvey," said the general, "you are sure that dead spot has not
been bombarded with gas-shells?"

"Yes, General. There has been no artillery fire heavy enough to put more
than a fraction of those posts out of action, and all that fire, sir,
has been accounted for elsewhere."

The officer looked up, saw the general's eyes shift, and bent to his map
again, on which he was marking areas from which spotting aircraft
reported flashes as of heavy guns beneath the mist.

"Their aircraft have not been dropping bombs, positively?"

A second officer glanced up from his own map.

"Our planes cover all that space, sir, and have for some time."

"They either have a noiseless tank," observed the general meditatively,
"or...."

The steady fingers placed a red pin at a certain spot.

"One observation-post, sir, has reopened communication. Two infantrymen,
separated from their command, came upon it and found the machine-gun
crew dead, with gas-masks adjusted. No tanks or tracks. They are
identified, sir, and are now looking for tank tracks or shells."

The general nodded emotionlessly.

"Let me know immediately."

       *       *       *       *       *

He fell back to the ceaseless study of the board with its crawling
sparks and sudden flashes of light. Over at the left, there were four
white sparks crawling toward a spot where a blue flash had showed a
little while since. A red light glowed suddenly where one of the white
sparks crawled. One of the two officers behind the general spoke
crisply. Instantly, it seemed, the other three white sparks changed
their direction of movement. They swung toward the red flash--the point
where a wireless from the tank represented by the first white flash had
reported, contact with the enemy.

"Enemy tank destroyed here, sir," said the voice above the steady
fingers.

"Wiped out three of our observation posts," murmured the general, "His
side knows it. That's an opportunity. Have those posts reoccupied."

"Orders given, sir," said a staff officer from behind. "No reports as
yet."

The general's eyes went back to the space two miles wide and two miles
deep in which there was only a single observation-post functioning, and
that in charge of two strayed infantrymen. The battle in the fog was in
a formative stage, now, and the general himself had to watch the whole,
because it was by small and trivial indications that the enemy's plans
would be disclosed. The dead area was no triviality, however. Half a
dozen tanks were crawling through it, reporting monotonously that no
sign of the enemy could be found. One of the little sparks representing
those tanks abruptly went out.

"Tank here, sir, no longer reports."

The general watched with lack-luster eyes, his mind withdrawn in
thought.

"Send four helicopters," he said slowly, "to sweep that space. We'll see
what the enemy does."

One of the seated officers opposite him spoke swiftly. Far away a
roaring set up and was stilled. The helicopters were taking off.

       *       *       *       *       *

They would rush across the blanket of fog, their vertical propellers
sending blasts of air straight downward. For most of their sweep they
would keep a good height, but above the questionable ground they would
swoop down to barely above the fog-blanket. There their monstrous screws
would blow holes in the fog until the ground below was visible. If any
tanks crawled there, in the spaces the helicopters swept clear, they
would be visible at once and would be shelled by batteries miles away,
batteries invisible under the artificial cloud-bank.

No other noises came through the walls of the monster tank. There was a
faint, monotonous murmur of the electric generator. There were the
quiet, crisp orders of the officers behind the general, giving the
routine commands that kept the fighting a stalemate.

The aircraft officer lifted his head, pressing his headphones tightly
against his ears, as if to hear mores clearly.

"The enemy, sir, has sent sixty fighting machines to attack our
helicopters. We sent forty single-seaters as escort."

"Let them fight enough," said the general absently, "to cause the enemy
to think us desperate for information. Then draw them off."

There was silence again. The steady fingers put pins here and there. An
enemy tank destroyed here. An American tank encountered an enemy and
ceased to report further. The enemy sent four helicopters in a wide
sweep behind the American lines, escorted by fifty fighting planes. They
uncovered a squadron of four tanks, which scattered like insects
disturbed by the overturning of a stone. Instantly after their
disclosure a hundred and fifty guns, four miles away, were pouring
shells about the place where they had been seen. Two of the tanks ceased
to report.

The general's attention was called to a telephone instrument with its
call-light glowing.

"Ah," said the general absently. "They want publicity matter."

The telephone was connected to the rear, and from there to the Capital.
A much-worried cabinet waited for news, and arrangements were made and
had been used, to broadcast suitably arranged reports from the front,
the voice of the commander-in-chief in the field going to every
workshop, every gathering-place, and even being bellowed by
loud-speakers in the city streets.

       *       *       *       *       *

The general took the phone. The President of the United States was at
the other end of the wire, this time.

"General?"

"Still in a preliminary stage, sir," said the general, without haste.
"The enemy is preparing a break-through effort, possibly aimed at our
machine-shops and supplies. Of course, if he gets them we will have to
retreat. An hour ago he paralyzed our radios, not being aware, I
suppose, of our tuned earth-induction wireless sets. I daresay he is
puzzled that our communications have not fallen to pieces."

"But what are our chances?" The voice of the President was steady, but
it was strained.

"His tanks outnumber ours two to one, of course, sir," said the general
calmly. "Unless we can divide his fleet and destroy a part of it, of
course we will be crushed in a general combat. But we are naturally
trying to make sure that any such action will take place within
point-blank range of our artillery, which may help a little. We will cut
the fog to secure that help, risking everything, if a general engagement
occurs."

There was silence.

The President's voice, when it came, was more strained still.

"Will you speak to the public, General?"

"Three sentences. I have no time for more."

There were little clickings on the line, while the general's eyes
returned to the board that was the battlefield in miniature. He
indicated a spot with his finger.

"Concentrate our reserve-tanks here," he said meditatively. "Our
fighting aircraft here. At once."

The two spots were at nearly opposite ends of the battle field. The
chief of staff, checking the general's judgment with the alert suspicion
that was the latest addition to his duties, protested sharply.

"But sir, our tanks will have no protection against helicopters!"

"I am quite aware of it," said the general mildly.

He turned to the transmitter. A thin voice had just announced at the
other end of the wire, "The commander-in-chief of the army in the field
will make a statement."

       *       *       *       *       *

The general spoke unhurriedly.

"We are in contact with the enemy, have been for some hours. We have
lost forty tanks and the enemy, we think, sixty or more. No general
engagement has yet taken place, but we think decisive action on the
enemy's part will be attempted within two hours. The tanks in the field
need now, as always, ammunition, spare tanks, and the special supplies
for modern warfare. In particular, we require ever-increasing quantities
of fog-gas. I appeal to your patriotism for reinforcements of material
and men."

He hung up the receiver and returned to his survey of the board.

"Those three listening-posts," he said abruptly, indicating a place near
where an enemy tank had been destroyed. "Have they been reoccupied?"

"Yes, sir. Just reported. The tank they reported rolled over them,
destroying the placement. They are digging in."

"Tell me," said the general, "when they cease to report again. They
will."

He watched the board again and without lifting his eyes from it, spoke
again.

"That listening-post in the dead sector, with the two strayed
infantrymen in it. Was it reported?"

"Not yet, sir."

"Tell me immediately it does."

The general leaned back in his chair and deliberately relaxed. He
lighted a cigar and puffed at it, his hands quite steady. Other
officers, scenting the smoke, glanced up enviously. But the general was
the only man who might smoke. The enemy's gases, like the American ones,
could go through any gas-mask if in sufficient concentration. The tanks
were sealed like so many submarines, and opened their interiors to the
outer air only after that air had been thoroughly tested and proven
safe. Only the general might use up more than a man's allowance for
breathing.

       *       *       *       *       *

The general gazed about him, letting his mind rest from its intense
strain against the greater strain that would come on it in a few
minutes. He looked at a tall blond man who was surveying the board
intently, moving away, and returning again, his forehead creased in
thought.

The general smiled quizzically. That man was the officer appointed to I.
I. duty--interpretative intelligence--chosen from a thousand officers
because the most exhaustive psychological tests had proven that his
brain worked as nearly as possible like that of the enemy commander. His
task was to take the place of the enemy commander, to reconstruct from
the enemy movements reported and the enemy movements known as nearly as
possible the enemy plans.

"Well, Harlin," said the general, "Where will he strike?"

"He's tricky, sir," said Harlin. "That gap in our listening-posts looks,
of course, like preparation for a massing of his tanks inside our lines.
And it would be logical that he fought off our helicopters to keep them
from discovering his tanks massing in that area."

The general nodded.

"Quite true," he admitted. "Quite true."

"But," said Harlin eagerly. "He'd know we could figure that out. And he
may have wiped out listening posts to make us think he was planning just
so. He may have fought off our helicopters, not to keep them from
discovering his tanks in there, but to keep them from discovering that
there were no tanks in there!"

"My own idea exactly," said the general meditatively. "But again, it
looks so much like a feint that it may be a serious blow. I dare not
risk assuming it to be a feint only."

He turned back to the board.

"Have those two strayed infantrymen reported yet?" he asked sharply.

"Not yet, sir."

       *       *       *       *       *

The general drummed on the table. There were four red flashes glowing at
different points of the board--four points where American tanks or
groups of tanks were locked in conflict with the enemy. Somewhere off
in the enveloping fog that made all the world a gray chaos, lumbering,
crawling monsters rammed and battered at each other at infinitely short
range. They fought blindly, their guns swinging menacingly and belching
lurid flames into the semi-darkness, while from all about them dropped
the liquids that meant death to any man who breathed their vapor. Those
gases penetrated any gas-mask, and would even strike through the
sag-pastes that had made the vesicatory gases of 1918 futile.

With tanks by thousands hidden in the fog, four small combats were kept
up, four only. Battles fought with tanks as the main arm are necessarily
battles of movement, more nearly akin to cavalry battles than any other
unless it be fleet actions. When the main bodies come into contact, the
issue is decided quickly. There can be no long drawn-out stalemates such
as infantry trenches produced in years past. The fighting that had
taken place so far, both under the fog and aloft in the air, was
outpost skirmishing only. When the main body of the enemy came into
action it would be like a whirlwind, and the battle would be won or lost
in a matter of minutes only.

The general paid no attention to those four conflicts, or their possible
meaning.

"I want to hear from those two strayed infantrymen," he said quietly, "I
must base my orders on what they report. The whole battle, I believe,
hinges on what they have to say."

He fell silent, watching the board without the tense preoccupation he
had shown before. He knew the moves he had to make in any of three
eventualities. He watched the board to make sure he would not have to
make those moves before he was ready. His whole air was that of waiting:
the commander-in-chief of the army of the United States, waiting to hear
what he would be told by two strayed infantrymen, lost in the fog that
covered a battlefield.

       *       *       *       *       *

The fog was neither more dense nor any lighter where Corporal Wallis
paused to roll his pre-war cigarette. The tobacco came from the gassed
machine-gunner in the pill-box a few yards off. Sergeant Coffee, three
yards distant, was a blurred figure. Corporal Wallis put his cigarette
into his mouth, struck his match, and puffed delicately.

"Ah!" said Corporal Wallis, and cheered considerably. He thought he saw
Sergeant Coffee moving toward him and ungenerously hid his cigarette's
glow.

Overhead, a machine-gun suddenly burst into a rattling roar, the sound
sweeping above them with incredible speed. Another gun answered it.
Abruptly, the whole sky above them was an inferno of such tearing noises
and immediately after they began a multitudinous bellowing set up.
Airplanes on patrol ordinarily kept their engines muffled, in hopes of
locating a tank below them by its noise. But in actual fighting there
was too much power to be gained by cutting out the muffler for any minor
motive to take effect. A hundred aircraft above the heads of the two
strayed infantrymen were fighting madly about five helicopters. Two
hundred yards away, one fell to the earth with a crash, and immediately
afterward there was a hollow boom. For an instant even the mist was
tinged with yellow from the exploded gasoline tank. But the roaring
above continued--not mounting, as in a battle between opposing patrols
of fighting planes, when each side finds height a decisive advantage,
but keeping nearly to the same level, little above the bank of cloud.

Something came down, roaring, and struck the earth no more than fifty
yards away. The impact was terrific, but after it there was dead silence
while the thunder above kept on.

Sergeant Coffee came leaping to Corporal Wallis' side.

"Helicopters!" he barked. "Huntin' tanks an' pill-boxes! Lay down!"

He flung himself down to the earth.

Wind beat on them suddenly, then an outrageous blast of icy air from
above. For an instant the sky lightened. They saw a hole in the mist,
saw the little pill-box clearly, saw a huge framework of supporting
screws sweeping swiftly overhead with figures in it watching the ground
through wind-angle glasses, and machine-gunners firing madly at dancing
things in the air. Then it was gone.

"One o' ours," shouted Coffee in Wallis' ear. "They' tryin' to find th'
Yellows' tanks!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The center of the roaring seemed to shift, perhaps to the north. Then a
roaring drowned out all the other roarings. This one was lower down and
approaching in a rush. Something swooped from the south, a dark blotch
in the lighter mist above. It was an airplane flying in the mist, a
plane that had dived into the fog as into oblivion. It appeared, was
gone--and there was a terrific crash. A shattering roar drowned out even
the droning tumult of a hundred aircraft engines. A sheet of flame
flashed up, and a thunderous detonation.

"Hit a tree," panted Coffee, scrambling to his feet again. "Suicide
club, aimin' for our helicopter."

Corporal Wallis was pointing, his lips drawn back in a snarl.

"Shut up!" he whispered. "I saw a shadow against that flash! Yeller
infantryman! Le's get 'im!"

"Y'crazy," said Sergeant Coffee, but he strained his eyes and more
especially his ears.

It was Coffee who clutched Corporal Wallis' wrist and pointed. Wallis
could see nothing, but he followed as Coffee moved silently through the
gray mist. Presently he too, straining his eyes, saw an indistinct
movement.

The roaring of motors died away suddenly. The fighting had stopped, a
long way off, apparently because the helicopters had been withdrawn.
Except for the booming of artillery a very long distance away, firing
unseen at an unseen target, there was no noise at all.

"Aimin' for our pill-box," whispered Coffee.

They saw the dim shape, moving noiselessly, halt. The dim figure seemed
to be casting about for something. It went down on hands and knees and
crawled forward. The two infantrymen crept after it. It stopped, and
turned around. The two dodged to one side in haste. The enemy
infantryman crawled off in another direction, the two Americans
following him as closely as they dared.

He halted once more, a dim and grotesque figure in the fog. They saw him
fumbling in his belt. He threw something, suddenly. There was a little
tap as of a fountain pen dropped upon concrete. Then a hissing sound.
That was all, but the enemy infantryman waited, as if listening....

       *       *       *       *       *

The two Americans fell upon him as one individual. They bore him to the
earth and Coffee dragged at his gas-mask, good tactics in a battle where
every man carries gas-grenades. He gasped and fought desperately, in a
seeming frenzy of terror.

They squatted over him, finally, having taken away his automatics, and
Coffee worked painstakingly to get off his gas-mask while Wallis went
poking about in quest of tobacco.

"Dawggone!" said Coffee. "This mask is intricate."

"He ain't got any pockets," mourned Wallis.

Then they examined him more closely.

"It's a whole suit," explained Coffee. "H-m.... He don't have to bother
with sag-paste. He's got him on a land diving-suit."

"S-s-say," gasped the prisoner, his language utterly colloquial in spite
of the beady eyes and coarse black hair that marked him racially as of
the enemy, "say, don't take off my mask! Don't take off my mask!"

"He talks an' everything," observed Coffee in mild amazement. He
inspected the mask again and painstakingly smashed the goggles. "Now,
big boy, you take your chance with th' rest of us. What' you doin'
around here?"

The prisoner set his teeth, though deathly pale, and did not reply.

"H'm-m...." said Coffee meditatively. "Let's take him in the pill-box
an' let Loot'n't Madison tell us what to do with him."

They picked him up.

"No! No! For Gawd's sake, no!" cried the prisoner shrilly. "I just
gassed it!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The two halted. Coffee scratched his nose.

"Reckon he's lyin', Pete?" he asked.

Corporal Wallis shrugged gloomily.

"He ain't got any tobacco," he said morosely. "Let's chuck him in first
an' see."

The prisoner wriggled until Coffee put his own automatic in the small of
his back.

"How long does that gas last?" he asked, frowning. "Loot'n't Madison
wants us to report. There's some fellers in there, all gassed up, but we
were in there a while back an' it didn't hurt us. How long does it
last?"

"Fur-fifteen minutes, maybe twenty," chattered the prisoner. "Don't put
me in there!"

Coffee scratched his nose again and looked at his wrist-watch.

"A'right," he conceded, "we give you twenty minutes. Then we chuck you
down inside. That is, if you act real agreeable until then. Got anything
to smoke?"

The prisoner agonizedly opened a zipper slip in his costume and brought
out tobacco, even tailor-made cigarettes. Coffee pounced on them one
second before Wallis. Then he divided them with absorbed and scrupulous
fairness.

"Right," said Sergeant Coffee comfortably. He lighted up. "Say, you, if
y' want to smoke, here's one o' your pills. Let's see the gas stuff.
How' y' use it?"

Wallis had stripped off a heavy belt about the prisoner's waist and it
was trailing over his arm. He inspected it now. There were twenty or
thirty little sticks in it, each one barely larger than a lead pencil,
of dirty gray color, and each one securely nested in a tube of
flannel-lined papier-mache.

"These things?" asked Wallis contentedly. He was inhaling deeply with
that luxurious enjoyment a tailor-made cigarette can give a man who had
been remaking butts into smokes for days past.

"Don't touch 'em," warned the prisoner nervously. "You broke my goggles.
You throw 'em, and they light and catch fire, and that scatters the
gas."

       *       *       *       *       *

Coffee touched the prisoner, indicating the ground, and sat down,
comfortably smoking one of the prisoner's cigarettes. By his air, he
began to approve of his captive.

"Say, you," he said curiously, "you talk English pretty good. How'd you
learn it?"

"I was a waiter," the prisoner explained. "New York. Corner Forty-eighth
and Sixth."

"My Gawd!" said Coffee. "Me, I used to be a movie operator along there.
Forty-ninth. Projection room stuff, you know. Say, you know Heine's
place?"

"Sure," said the prisoner. "I used to buy Scotch from that blond feller
in the back room. With a benzine label for a prescription?"

Coffee lay back and slapped his knee.

"Ain't it a small world?" he demanded. "Pete, here, he ain't never been
in any town bigger than Chicago. Ever in Chicago?"

"Hell," said Wallis, morose yet comfortable with a tailor-made
cigarette. "If you guys want to start a extra war, go to knockin'
Chicago. That's all."

Coffee looked at his wrist-watch again.

"Got ten minutes yet," he observed. "Say, you must know Pete Hanfry--"

"Sure I know him," said the enemy prisoner, scornfully. "I waited on
him. One day, just before us reserves were called back home...."

In the monster tank that was headquarters the general tapped his fingers
on his knees. The pale white light flickered a little as it shone on the
board where the bright sparks crawled. White sparks were American tanks.
Blue flashes were for enemy tanks sighted and reported, usually in the
three-second interval between their identification and the annihilation
of the observation-post that had reported them. Red glows showed
encounters between American and enemy tanks. There were a dozen red
glows visible, with from one to a dozen white sparks hovering about
them. It seemed as if the whole front line were about to burst into a
glare of red, were about to become one long lane of conflicts in
impenetrable obscurity, where metal monsters roared and rumbled and
clanked one against the other, bellowing and belching flame and ramming
each other savagely, while from them dripped the liquids that made their
breath mean death. There were nightmarish conflicts in progress under
the blanket of fog, unparalleled save perhaps in the undersea battles
between submarines in the previous European war.

       *       *       *       *       *

The chief of staff looked up; his face drawn.

"General," he said harshly, "it looks like a frontal attack all along
our line."

The general's cigar had gone out. He was pale, but calm with an iron
composure.

"Yes," he conceded. "But you forget that blank spot in our line. We do
not know what is happening there."

"I am not forgetting it. But the enemy outnumbers us two to one--"

"I am waiting," said the general, "to hear from those two infantrymen
who reported some time ago from a listen-post in the dead area."

The chief of staff pointed to the outline formed by the red glows where
tanks were battling.

"Those fights are keeping up too long!" he said sharply. "General, don't
you see, they're driving back our line, but they aren't driving it back
as fast as if they were throwing their whole weight on it! If they were
making a frontal attack there, they'd wipe out the tanks we have facing
them; they'd roll right over them! That's a feint! They're concentrating
in the dead space--"

"I am waiting," said the general softly, "to hear from those two
infantrymen." He looked at the board again and said quietly, "Have the
call-signal sent them. They may answer."

He struck a match to relight his dead cigar. His fingers barely quivered
as they held the match. It might have been excitement--but it might have
been foreboding, too.

"By the way," he said, holding the match clear, "have our machine-shops
and supply-tanks ready to move. Every plane is, of course, ready to take
the air on signal. But get the aircraft ground personnel in their
traveling tanks immediately."

Voices began to murmur orders as the general puffed. He watched the
board steadily.

"Let me know if anything is heard from these infantrymen...."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a definite air of strain within the tank that was
headquarters. It was a sort of tensity that seemed to emanate from the
general himself.

Where Coffee and Wallis and the prisoner squatted on the ground,
however, there was no sign of strain at all. There was a steady gabble
of voices.

"What kinda rations they give you?" asked Coffee interestedly.

The enemy prisoner listed them, with profane side-comments.

"Hell," said Wallis gloomily. "Y'ought to see what we get! Las' week
they fed us worse'n dogs. An' th' canteen stuff--"

"Your tank men, they get treated fancy?" asked the prisoner.

Coffee made a reply consisting almost exclusively of high powered
expletives.

"--and the infantry gets it in the neck every time," he finished
savagely. "We do the work--"

Guns began to boom, far away. Wallis cocked his ears.

"Tanks gettin' together," he judged, gloomily. "If they'd all blow each
other to hell an' let us infantry fight this battle--"

"Damn the tanks!" said the enemy prisoner viciously. "Look here, you
fellers. Look at me. They sent a battalion of us out, in two waves. We
hike along by compass through the fog, supposed to be five paces apart.
We come on a pill-box or listenin' post, we gas it an' go on. We try not
to make a noise. We try not to get seen before we use our gas. We go on,
deep in your lines as we can. We hear one of your tanks, we dodge it if
we can, so we don't get seen at all. O'course we give it a dose of gas
in passing, just in case. But we don't get any orders about how far to
go or how to come back. We ask for recognition signals for our own
tanks, an' they grin an' say we won't see none of our tanks till the
battle's over. They say 'Re-form an' march back when the fog is out.'
Ain't that pretty for you?"

"You second wave?" asked Coffee, with interest.

The prisoner nodded.

"Mopping up," he said bitterly, "what the first wave left. No fun in
that! We go along gassin' dead men, an' all the time your tanks is
ravin' around to find out what's happenin' to their listenin'-posts.
They run into us--"

Coffee nodded sympathetically.

"The infantry always gets the dirty end of the stick," said Wallis
morosely.

       *       *       *       *       *

Somewhere, something blew up with a violent explosion. The noise of
battle in the distance became heavier and heavier.

"Goin' it strong," said the prisoner, listening.

"Yeh," said Coffee. He looked at his wrist-watch. "Say, that twenty
minutes is up. You go down in there first, big boy."

They stood beside the little pill-box. The prisoner's knees shook.

"Say, fellers," he said pleadingly, "they told us that stuff would
scatter in twenty minutes, but you busted my mask. Yours ain't any good
against this gas. I'll have to go down in there if you fellers make me,
but--"

Coffee lighted another of the prisoner's tailor-made cigarettes.

"Give you five minutes more," he said graciously. "I don't suppose it'll
ruin the war."

They sat down relievedly again, while the fog-gas made all the earth
invisible behind a pall of grayness, a grayness from which the noises of
battle came.

In the tank that was headquarters, the air of strain was pronounced. The
maneuver-board showed the situation as close to desperation, now. The
reserve-tank positions had been switched on the board, dim orange glows,
massed in curiously precise blocks. And little squares of green showed
there that the supply and machine-shop tanks were massed. They were
moving slowly across the maneuver-board. But the principal change lay in
the front-line indications.

The red glows that showed where tank battles were in progress formed an
irregularly curved line, now. There were twenty or more such isolated
battles in progress, varying from single combats between single tanks to
greater conflicts where twenty to thirty tanks to a side were engaged.
And the positions of those conflicts were changing constantly, and
invariably the American tanks were being pushed back.

       *       *       *       *       *

The two staff officers behind the general were nearly silent. There were
few sparks crawling within the American lines now. Nearly every one had
been diverted into the front-line battles. The two men watched the board
with feverish intensity, watching the red glows moving back, and
back....

The chief of staff was shaking like a leaf, watching the American line
stretched, and stretched....

The general looked at him with a twisted smile.

"I know my opponent," he said suddenly. "I had lunch with him once in
Vienna. We were attending a disarmament conference." He seemed to be
amused at the ironic statement. "We talked war and battles, of course.
And he showed me, drawing on the tablecloth, the tactical scheme that
should have been used at Cambrai, back in 1917. It was a singularly
perfect plan. It was a beautiful one."

"General," burst out one of the two staff officers behind him. "I need
twenty tanks from the reserves."

"Take them," said the general. He went on, addressing his chief of
staff. "It was an utterly flawless plan. I talked to other men. We were
all pretty busy estimating each other there, we soldiers. We discussed
each other with some freedom, I may say. And I formed the opinion that
the man who is in command of the enemy is an artist: a soldier with the
spirit of an amateur. He's a very skilful fencer, by the way. Doesn't
that suggest anything?"

The chief of staff had his eyes glued to the board.

"That is a feint, sir. A strong feint, yes, but he has his force
concentrated in the dead area."

"You are not listening, sir," said the general, reprovingly. "I am
saying that my opponent is an artist, an amateur, the sort of person who
delights in the delicate work of fencing. I, sir, would thank God for
the chance to defeat my enemy. He has twice my force, but he will not
be content merely to defeat me. He will want to defeat me by a plan of
consummate artistry, which will arouse admiration among soldiers for
years to come."

"But General, every minute, every second--"

"We are losing men, of whom we have plenty, and tanks, of which we have
not enough. True, very true," conceded the general. "But I am waiting to
hear from two strayed infantrymen. When they report, I will speak to
them myself."

"But, sir," cried the chief of staff, withheld only by the iron habit of
discipline from violent action and the taking over of command himself,
"they may be dead! You can't risk this battle waiting for them! You
can't risk it, sir! You can't!"

"They are not dead," said the general coolly. "They cannot be dead.
Sometimes, sir, we must obey the motto on our coins. Our country needs
this battle to be won. We have got to win it, sir! And the only way to
win it--"

       *       *       *       *       *

The signal-light at his telephone glowed. The general snatched it up,
his hands quivering. But his voice, was steady and deliberate as he
spoke.

"Hello, Sergeant--Sergeant Coffee, is it?... Very well, Sergeant. Tell
me what you've found out.... Your prisoner objects to his rations, eh?
Very well, go on.... How did he gas our listening-posts?... He did, eh?
He got turned around and you caught him wandering about?... Oh, he was
second wave! They weren't taking any chances on any of our
listening-posts reporting their tanks, eh?... Say that again, Sergeant
Coffee!" The general's tone had changed indescribably. "Your prisoner
has no recognition signals for his own tanks? They told him he wouldn't
see any of them until the battle was over?... Thank you, Sergeant. One
of our tanks will stop for you. This is the commanding general
speaking."

He rang off, his eyes blazing. Relaxation was gone. He was a dynamo,
snapping orders.

"Supply tanks, machine-shop tanks, ground forces of the air service,
concentrate here!" His finger rested on a spot in the middle of the dead
area. "Reserve tanks take position behind them. Draw off every tank
we've got--take 'em out of action!--and mass them in front, on a line
with our former first line of outposts. Every airplane and helicopter
take the air and engage in general combat with the enemy, wherever the
enemy may be found and in whatever force. And our tanks move straight
through here!"

Orders were snapping into telephone transmitters. The commands had been
relayed before their import was fully realized. Then there was a gasp.

"General!" cried the chief of staff. "If the enemy is massed there,
he'll destroy our forces in detail as they take position!"

"He isn't massed there," said the general, his eyes blazing. "The
infantrymen who were gassing our listening-posts were given no
recognition signals for their tanks. Sergeant Coffee's prisoner has his
gas-mask broken and is in deadly fear. The enemy commander is foolish in
many ways, perhaps, but not foolish enough to break down morale by
refusing recognition signals to his own men who will need them. And look
at the beautiful plan he's got."

       *       *       *       *       *

He sketched half a dozen lines with his fingers, moving them in
lightning gestures as his orders took effect.

"His main force is here, behind those skirmishes that look like a feint.
As fast as we reinforce our skirmishing-line, he reinforces his--just
enough to drive our tanks back slowly. It looks like a strong feint, but
it's a trap! This dead space is empty. He thinks we are concentrating to
face it. When he is sure of it--his helicopters will sweep across any
minute, now, to see--he'll throw his whole force on our front line.
It'll crumple up. His whole fighting force will smash through to take
us, facing the dead space, in the rear! With twice our numbers, he'll
drive us before him."

"But general! You're ordering a concentration there! You're falling in
with his plans!"

The general laughed.

"I had lunch with the general in command over there, once upon a time.
He is an artist. He won't be content with a defeat like that! He'll want
to make his battle a masterpiece, a work of art! There's just one touch
he can add. He has to have reserves to protect his supply-tanks and
machine-shops. They're fixed. The ideal touch, the perfect tactical
fillip, will be--Here! Look. He expects to smash in our rear, here. The
heaviest blow will fall here. He will swing around our right wing, drive
us out of the dead area into his own lines--and drive us on his
reserves! Do you see it? He'll use every tank he's got in one beautiful
final blow. We'll be outwitted, out-numbered, out-flanked and finally
caught between his main body and his reserves and pounded to bits. It is
a perfect, a masterly bit of work!"

He watched the board, hawklike.

"We'll concentrate, but our machine-shops and supplies will concentrate
with us. Before he has time to take us in rear we'll drive ahead, in
just the line he plans for us! We don't wait to be driven into his
reserves. We roll into them and over them! We smash his supplies! We
destroy his shops! And then we can advance along his line of
communication and destroy it, our own depots being blown up--give the
orders when necessary--and leaving him stranded with motor-driven tanks,
motorized artillery, and nothing to run his motors with! He'll be
marooned beyond help in the middle of our country, and we will have him
at our mercy when his tanks run out of fuel. As a matter of fact, I
shall expect him to surrender in three days."

       *       *       *       *       *

The little blocks of green and yellow that had showed the position of
the reserve and supply-tanks, changed abruptly to white, and began to
crawl across the maneuver-board. Other little white sparks turned about.
Every white spark upon the maneuver-board suddenly took to itself a new
direction.

"Disconnect cables," said the general, crisply. "We move with our tanks,
in the lead!"

The monotonous humming of the electric generator was drowned out in a
thunderous uproar that was muffled as an air-tight door was shut
abruptly. Fifteen seconds later there was a violent lurch, and the
colossal tank was on the move in the midst of a crawling, thundering
horde of metal monsters whose lumbering progress shook the earth.

Sergeant Coffee, still blinking his amazement, absent-mindedly lighted
the last of his share of the cigarettes looted from the prisoner.

"The big guy himself!" he said, still stunned. "My Gawd! The big guy
himself!"

A distant thunder began, a deep-toned rumbling that seemed to come from
the rear. It came nearer and grew louder. A peculiar quivering seemed to
set up in the earth. The noise was tanks moving through the fog, not one
tank or two tanks, or twenty tanks, but all the tanks in creation
rumbling and lurching at their topmost speed in serried array.

Corporal Wallis heard, and turned pale. The prisoner heard, and his
knees caved in.

"Hell," said Corporal Wallis dispairingly. "They can't see us, an' they
couldn't dodge us if they did!"

The prisoner wailed, and slumped to the floor.

Coffee picked him up by the collar and jerked him out of the pill-box.

"C'mon Pete," he ordered briefly. "They ain't givin' us a infantryman's
chance, but maybe we can do some dodgin'!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Then the roar of engines, of metal treads crushing upon earth and
clinking upon their joints, drowned out all possible other sounds.
Before the three men beside the pill-box could have moved a muscle,
monster shapes loomed up, rushing, rolling, lurching, squeaking. They
thundered past, and the hot fumes of their exhausts enveloped the trio.

Coffee growled and put himself in a position of defiance, his feet
braced against the concrete of the pill-box dome. His expression was
snarling and angry but, surreptitiously, he crossed himself. He heard
the fellows of the two tanks that had roared by him, thundering along in
alignment to right and left. A twenty-yard space, and a second row of
the monsters came hurtling on, gun muzzles gaping, gas-tubes elevated,
spitting smoke from their exhausts that was even thicker than the fog. A
third row, a fourth, a fifth....

The universe was a monster uproar. One could not think in this volume of
sound. It seemed that there was fighting overhead. Crackling noises came
feebly through the reverberating uproar that was the army of the United
States in full charge. Something came whirling down through the
overhanging mist and exploded in a lurid flare that for a second or two
cast the grotesque shadows of a row of tanks clearly before the trio of
shaken infantrymen.

Still the tanks came on and roared past. Twenty tanks, twenty-one ...
twenty-two.... Coffee lost count, dazed and almost stunned by the sheer
noise. It rose from the earth and seemed to be echoed back from the
topmost limit of the skies. It was a colossal din, an incredible uproar,
a sustained thunder that beat at the eardrums like the reiterated
concussions of a thousand guns that fired without ceasing. There was no
intermission, no cessation of the tumult. Row after row after row of the
monsters roared by, beaked and armed, going greedily with hungry guns
into battle.

       *       *       *       *       *

And then, for a space of seconds, no tanks passed. Through the
pandemonium of their going, however, the sound of firing somehow seemed
to creep. It was gunfire of incredible intensity, and it came from the
direction in which the front-rank tanks were heading.

"Forty-eight, forty-nine, forty-ten, forty-'leven," muttered Coffee
dazedly, his senses beaten down almost to unconsciousness by the ordeal
of sound. "Gawd! The whole army went by!"

The roaring of the fighting-tanks was less, but it was still a monstrous
din. Through it, however, came now a series of concussions that were so
close together that they were inseparable, and so violent that they were
like slaps upon the chest.

Then came other noises, louder only because nearer. These were different
noises, too, from those the fighting-tanks had made. Lighter noises. The
curious, misshapen service tanks began to rush by, of all sizes and all
shapes. Fuel-carrier tanks. Machine-shop tanks, huge ones, these.
Commissary tanks....

Something enormous and glistening stopped short. A door opened. A voice
roared an order. The three men, beaten and whipped by noise, stared
dumbly.

"Sergeant Coffee!" roared the voice. "Bring your men! Quick!"

Coffee dragged himself back to a semblance of life. Corporal Wallis
moved forward, sagging. The two of them loaded their prisoner into the
door and tumbled in. They were instantly sent into a heap as the tank
took up its progress again with a sudden sharp leap.

"Good man," grinned a sooty-faced officer, clinging to a handhold. "The
general sent special orders you were to be picked up. Said you'd won the
battle. It isn't finished yet, but when the general says that--"

"Battle?" said Coffee dully. "This ain't my battle. It's a parade of a
lot of damn tanks!"

There was a howl of joy from somewhere above. Discipline in the
machine-shop tanks was strict enough, but vastly different in kind from
the formality of the fighting-machines.

"Contact!" roared the voice again. "General wireless is going again! Our
fellows have rolled over their reserves and are smashing their
machine-shops and supplies!"

Yells reverberated deafeningly inside the steel walls, already filled
with tumult from the running motors and rumbling treads.

"Smashed 'em up!" shrieked the voice above, insane with joy. "Smashed
'em! Smashed 'em! Smashed 'em! We've wiped out their whole reserve
and--" A series of detonations came through even the steel shell of the
lurching tank. Detonations so violent, so monstrous, that even through
the springs and treads of the tank the earth-concussion could be felt.
"There goes their ammunition! We set off all their dumps!"

There was sheer pandemonium inside the service-tank, speeding behind the
fighting force with only a thin skin of reserve-tanks between it and a
panic-stricken, mechanically pursuing enemy.

"Yell, you birds!" screamed the voice. "The general says we've won the
battle! Thanks to the fighting force! We're to go on and wipe out the
enemy line of communications, letting him chase us till his gas gives
out! Then we come back and pound him to bits! Our tanks have wiped him
out!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Coffee managed to find something to hold on to. He struggled to his
feet. Corporal Wallis, recovering from the certainty of death and the
torture of sound, was being very sea-sick from the tank's motion. The
prisoner moved away from him on the steel floor. He looked gloomily up
at Coffee.

"Listen to 'em," said Coffee bitterly. "Tanks! Tanks! Tanks! Hell! If
they'd given us infantry a chance--"

"You said it," said the prisoner savagely. "This is a hell of a way to
fight a war."

Corporal Wallis turned a greenish face to them.

"The infantry always gets the dirty end of the stick," he gasped. "Now
they--now they' makin' infantry ride in tanks! Hell!"



Invisible Death

_By Anthony Pelcher_

[Illustration: _Wildly racing through the night, missing other cars by a
breath, the visible car continued its pursuit of--what?_]

[Sidenote: On Lees' quick and clever action depended the life of "Old
Perk" Ferguson, the millionaire manufacturer threatened by the uncanny,
invisible killer.]


The inquest into the mysterious death of Darius Darrow, savant,
inventor, recluse and eccentric, resembled a scientific convention. Men
and women of high scientific attainment, and, in some instances, world
fame, attended to hear first hand the strange, uncanny, unbelievable
circumstances as hinted by the newspapers.

Mrs. Susan Darrow, the widow, was the paramount witness. She appeared a
quaint figure as she took the stand. Tearful, yet alert, this little
woman betrayed the intelligence that had made her one of the world's
foremost chemists. She gave her age as fifty-eight, but if it had not
been for her snowy hair she would have looked much younger. She was
small but not frail, and had expressive blue eyes. She had a firm little
nose and chin, and was garbed in black silk garments of a fashion
evidently dating back a decade.

Although not modern in dress, her answers to questions regarding
scientific and business affairs involved in the mysterious case, proved
she was thoroughly abreast of the times in all other particulars.

"You believe your husband was murdered?" bluntly asked the examiner at
one stage.

"That is my opinion," she said, then added: "It might have been some
scientific accident, the nature of which I cannot fathom. We were
confidential in all matters except my husband's work. He reserved the
right to be secretive about the scientific problems on which he was
working."

"Can you throw any light on a motive for such a crime?"

"The motive seems self-evident. He was working on an invention that he
said would do away with war and would make the owner of the device a
practical world dictator, should he choose to exercise such power. The
device was completed. The murderer killed him to secure his device. That
all seems plain enough."

"Was anything else of value taken?"

"We had nothing else of value about the place. I was never given to
jewelry. The furnishings and equipment were undisturbed. It is quite
evident, I think, that the thief was no ordinary petty burglar."

       *       *       *       *       *

The attorney interposed: "I believe we had better let Mrs. Darrow tell
this story from the beginning in her own way. There are only two really
important witnesses. Whatever she can remember to recite might be of
value to the authorities. Now, Mrs. Darrow, how long had you lived at
Brooknook? Begin there and just let your story unfold. Try to control
your nerves and emotions."

"I am not emotional. I am not nervous," said the quaint little woman,
bravely. "My heart hurts, that is all.

"The place was named by my father. We inherited it at his death, thirty
years ago, and moved in. My two children were born and died there. At
first we kept the servants and maintained all of the thirty-two rooms.
But after the children were gone, we both gave ourselves over to study
and we began to close one room after another, releasing the servants one
by one."

"How many rooms do you occupy now?"

"We lived in three, a living-room, kitchen and bedroom. The two big
parlors were turned into a laboratory. We both worked there. It was
there my husband met his death at his work. Sometimes we worked
together, sometimes independently. I did all my own housework, except
the laundry, which I sent out. We had no visitors. We lived for each
other and our work."

"Tell us about the rooms that were not occupied."

"We left them just as they always had been. I have not been in any of
these rooms for twenty years. Once I looked into the little girl's
room--my daughter's room. It was dusty and cobwebby, but undisturbed by
human hand. My husband peered in over my shoulder. I closed the door. We
turned away in each other's arms."

       *       *       *       *       *

Here the little old woman fell to weeping softly into her lace
handkerchief. Minutes lapsed as the court waited, respecting her grief.

"Were these rooms locked?" asked the attorney finally.

"No," said the widow, recovering, as she dabbed at her eyes. "We feared
no one. All the rooms were closed, but not locked. The outside doors
were seldom locked. We lived in our own world. For appearance sake we
kept up the grounds. Peck, the gardener, kept the grounds, as you know.
He called in outside help when necessary. This was his affair. We never
bothered him. He lived probably a half mile up the road. The first of
each month he would come for his pay. He was practically our only
visitor.

"When it was necessary to see our attorney or other connections, Peck
would drive us. At first he used to drive our horses. Ten years ago we
pastured the horses for life and bought the small car. We seldom went
out. We have no close friends and no relatives nearer than the Pacific
coast. They are distant cousins. You see, we were rather alone in the
world since the children went away--we never spoke of them as being
dead."

Again the court was hushed. The coroner and the attorney took occasion
to blow their noses rather violently.

"On May 27th, the day your husband died, what happened, as you
re-remember it?" asked the attorney.

"We arose and had breakfast as usual. I was puttering about the rooms.
My husband kissed me and started for the laboratory. I was in the
kitchen. It was about ten o'clock when I finished in the kitchen and
went into the living room which adjoins the laboratory. I had been
rather fretted, something unusual for me. It seemed I dimly sensed the
presence of someone near me, someone I did not know, an outsider. I
thought it was foolish of me and buckled up.

"But when I went into the living room, it seemed as if some invisible
presence were following me. I could hear the low hum of my husband's
device. The door of the laboratory was open. He called to me and said:

"'Sue dear, it seems strange, but I made two models of this set and now
I can find only one. You could not have misplaced the other by any
chance, could you?'

"I assured him I knew nothing of it and he said, 'Hum-m, that's funny.'
Then he went back into the library and closed the door. The humming
continued. I was more annoyed than ever, but I did not want to bother my
husband. Then a queer thing happened. I saw the door of the laboratory
open and close, but I did not see anyone. The next instant, I heard my
husband's outcry. It was more a groan than a scream.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I rushed into the laboratory. My husband was lying by his slate-topped
table. The device, I noticed, was gone. It was no bigger than a
coffee-mill, I thought, as I bent over my husband. Strange how such a
thought could have crowded in at such a time.

"My husband's head was bleeding. It was cut, a long gash over the ear,
just below the bald spot. It must have been a frightful blow. I looked
in his eyes. My nurse's and pharmaceutical course gave me knowledge
which sent a chill to my heart. He was dead. I must have fainted.

"When I recovered I ran for Peck. I found him near the house, coming my
way and holding his right eye.

"'Something struck me,' he said. Then, seeing me so pale, he said, 'My
God! Mrs. Darrow, what has happened?'

"'Run for the doctor,' I said. When the doctor came he called the police
and coroner. They told me not to disturb the body. Later they took it
away, and the gardener told me--"

"Never mind what Peck told you," interrupted the attorney. "We will let
him tell it. Is that all you can tell us about the death itself?"

But the widow was weeping now, so violently that the court ordered her
excused.

       *       *       *       *       *

The gardener was called and took the stand displaying a big, black eye,
which offered comedy relief to a pathetic situation.

"On the main road to the east," he began after preliminary questioning,
"was a small car which had been parked there all morning. I noticed it
because it had no license plates. It was visible from the inside of the
grounds, but was hidden from the road by a hedge. It made me wonder
because it was just inside our grounds.

"I had some very special red flags which I planted as a border back of
pink geraniums. They were doing fine. I got them from the Fabrish seed
house. There are no plants like Fabrish's--I wouldn't give a snap of my
finger for all the other--"

"Just a minute," interrupted the attorney. He told the gardener to never
mind the geraniums and flags, but to tell just what happened.

"Well, I was bending over the border bed when I heard sounds like
someone running along the gravel path towards me. I heard a humming like
a bumble bee and I jumped to my feet. Just then something hit me in the
eye and knocked me down. Yes sir, knocked me plumb down, and--"

"Then what happened? Never mind the asides, the extras--tell us just the
simple facts," instructed the attorney.

"Well, you won't believe it, but I heard the footsteps leave the road.
The geraniums were badly trampled. I looked at the parked automobile and
could hear the hum coming from there.

"The machine started and turned into the road--"

"Did you notice anyone at the wheel?"

"That's what you're not going to believe. There wasn't anybody in that
auto at all. I didn't see anyone at any time. The auto started itself,
and what is more, that auto only went about a hundred yards when it
disappeared altogether--like that--like a flash."

"Did it turn off the road?"

"I didn't turn anywhere. It was in the middle of the road. It just
disappeared right in the middle of the road. It started without a
driver, it turned north without a driver, and went on by itself for
about a hundred yards. Then it vanished in the middle of the road. Just
dropped out of sight."

The court-room was hushed. The audience and court attaches were awe
stricken and looked their incredulity.

"Do you mean to tell us that auto drove itself?" asked the court
sternly.

       *       *       *       *       *

The witness was completely confused. The attorney came to his rescue,
looked at the court, and said:

"He has told that same story a hundred times, and he will stick to it.
It seems impossible, but has not Mrs. Darrow told us she heard this
humming and saw nothing? With the purely perfunctory recitals of the
doctor and the constabulary this court and the jury have heard all there
is to hear. We have no more witnesses. That is all there is.

"The jury will have to decide from the evidence whether this case is
accident or murder. The doctor and two experts have reported that the
wound appeared to have been made by some blunt instrument, swung
powerfully. The skull under the wound and back of the ear was simply
crushed. Death was instantaneous. It all happened in broad daylight."

After an hour's deliberation the jury decided the savant came to his
death in his laboratory from a blow on the skull received in some manner
unknown.

The crowd filed out, spiritedly discussing the unusual crime. In the
crowd was Perkins Ferguson, known as "Old Perk," head of the Schefert
Engineering Corporation, who paid royalty on some of the Darrow patents.
With him was Damon Farnsworth, his first vice-president.

"Well, what do you think of it?" asked Farnsworth, biting into a black
cigar.

"Damned weird, isn't it?" replied "Old Perk." "I have my own theory,
however," he added, "but I am going to know a whole lot more about this
case before I venture it." The pair climbed into Ferguson's car
discussing the Darrow death case with furrowed brows.

       *       *       *       *       *

What might be termed an extraordinary meeting of the directors of the
Schefert Engineering Corporation, was held a few days later in a big
building in the financial district.

The rich furnishings of the directors' room indicated, better than
Bradstreet's, the great wealth of the corporation. Uniformed pages stood
at attention at each end of the long, mahogany table at which were
seated the fourteen directors of the company. All were men of wealth,
standing and engineering knowledge. The departed Darrow often had been
summoned to such meetings, and at this one there was a hush because of
his recent demise.

After a batch of preliminary business had been transacted, Ferguson
arose and cleared his throat. The directors leaned forward in their
chairs expectantly. The page boys lost their mechanical attitude for the
instant and fairly craned their necks around the bulks of the forms in
front of them.

"The Darrow case has taken a sudden and sinister turn," said the
president. "I have a letter. I will read it:

     "Old Perk: Get wise to yourself. We are in a position to destroy
     you and all the pot-bellies in the Wall Street crowd. If you want
     to die of old age, remember what happened to Darrow and begin
     declaring us in on Wall Street dividends. If you do not you will
     follow Darrow in the same way.

     "Our first demand is for $100,000. Leave this amount in hundreds
     and fifties in the rubbish can at the corner of 50th Street and
     Broadway at 10 A. M. next Thursday. If you fail we will break your
     damned neck. Bring the police with you if you like.

     Invisible Death.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ferguson passed the letter around for inspection. It was painstakingly
printed, evidently from the type in a rubber stamp set such as is sold
in toy stores.

"I have decided," said Perkins at length, "to give this case to Walter
Lees. He has never failed us in mechanical, chemical, or any form of
scientific problem. I hope he will not fail in this. He will work
independently of the police, who have requested that we keep the
appointment at 50th Street and Broadway at the hour named. We will
deposit a roll of newspapers, around which has been wrapped a fifty
dollar bill and then we will stand by while the awaiting detectives do
their duty."

"You do not think anyone is going to call for any supposed package of
money at one of the most congested corners in the world in broad
daylight?" asked a director at the end of the table.

"Why not?" asked Ferguson. "A seedy individual could pick a package from
a rubbish bin at that corner without attracting the least attention."

"I guess you're right," agreed the doubting one.

"I know I'm right," said the president. And he usually was.

"I have already arranged to have Lees instructed in his work," Ferguson
volunteered as a pause came in the buzz of conversation about the table.
"Lees is young, but he is capable." There was general discussion of the
strange case of Darius Darrow; the room filled with the blue haze of
many cigars.

Suddenly a low, humming sound was heard in the room.

Papers on the directors' table were bunched as if by unseen hands, and
thrown to the ceiling, from which they descended like flakes of snow and
scattered about the room.

A book of minutes was torn from the hands of a secretary. It was raised
and brought down on vice-president Farnsworth's head. A chair was pulled
out from under another direction and he was deposited in an undignified
heap on the floor.

Another director acted as though he had been tripped, and he fell on top
of Farnsworth. Two big vases crashed to the floor in bits. Other
decorative objects were scattered about.

The directors who had been hurtled to the floor stood up with
expressions of comical surprise on their features. Their chairs
catapulted into a far corner of the room, one after the other.

Startled expressions resounded from the group.

A small bookcase fell on its front with a crash of glass. Ferguson's
cane jumped in the air and crashed a window pane.

The humming ceased suddenly.

       *       *       *       *       *

The room was a wreck. The assembled men stood aghast. They were simply
nonplussed. Finally they phoned for the police.

After hearing the strange recital from so many highly reputable
witnesses, a detective sergeant, who had responded to the call with
others, reported to headquarters.

A uniformed police guard was sent to the place with instructions to
remain on duty until relieved.

Ferguson sent for Walter Lees, the young engineer of whom he had spoken
to the directorate. Assigned to the task of unraveling the Darrow death
mystery, Lees ran true to form by getting busy at once. This was at
midnight of the day of the surprising directors' meeting. Lees owned a
big car; he piled into it and started for the scene of the crime.

Daybreak found him examining every inch of the road around the Darrow
estate. Then he searched the hedge along the east road, where the
phantom auto had disappeared after the crime. The brush along the
opposite side of the thoroughfare was also gone over.

Passing autos had stopped to ask the meaning of his flashlight. Lees
explained he had lost a pocketbook. It was as good an excuse as any and
served to keep him from drawing a crowd. He found nothing to reward his
long and painstaking efforts.

At seven A. M. he decided to interview the Darrow widow, and found her
already up and about her kitchen, weeping softly as she worked.

She bade him be seated in the living room.

"No, I am not afraid to stay here alone," she said in reply to Lees'
first question. "Whoever killed my husband did so to get possession of
his second model. They had already stolen the first. I have thought
since that they were afraid that the finding of the second model after
his death would aid in their detection. For some reason they had to have
both models."

She agreed to tell all she knew of the case. Lees listened to the long
recital as already recorded at the coroner's inquest. By adroit
questioning Lees gained just one new fact. Mrs. Darrow remembered that
she had called her husband, just before he retired to his laboratory, to
fix a towel hanger in the kitchen. "He found the pivot needed oiling,"
explained the widow. "That was all. He oiled it and went into the
laboratory."

       *       *       *       *       *

The idea of one of the world's greatest mechanical engineers stopping
his work to oil a towel hanger caused Lees to smile, but Mrs. Darrow did
not smile.

"My husband was a genius at repairing about the house," she said, in all
seriousness.

"I can imagine so," agreed Lees.

The conversation ceased. Lees sat for a few minutes with his head in his
hands, thinking deeply. Finally he said:

"I am convinced that someone who was well aware of your husband's habits
committed this crime. Do you believe, positively, that the gardener is
above suspicion?"

"Oh, it couldn't have been Peck," insisted Mrs. Darrow. "I had seen him
down near the gate from the window. He was too far from the house, and
besides, he was devoted to us both."

"Then it was somebody from the neighborhood," said Lees.

"Maybe so," replied Mrs. Darrow, noncommittally.

"Who lives in the next house south?"

"That is towards the city," mused the widow. "There are no houses south
on either side of the road for a little further than a mile, when you
reach the town limits of Farsdale. The town line is about half-way
between, and marks the southern end of this estate."

"Who lives in the first house to the north?"

"That is the cottage of Peck, the gardener."

"How near is the next house?"

"That was the parcel my father sold. It is about three acres, and in the
center, or about the center, is the house built by Adolph Jouret, who
bought the land. He lives there with his daughter. They built a
magnificent place. The brook that traverses our grounds rises at a
spring back of his house. Save for two West Indian servants, they are
alone. The servants live in Farsdale and motor back and forth."

       *       *       *       *       *

"What do you know of this--what's his name?" queried Lees, who had
assumed the role of examiner.

"Jouret? Very little. He is some sort of a circus man or showman, or was
before he retired. He once had wealth, but my husband, some weeks ago,
said that because of ill-advised investments he was not so well rated as
formerly. I had the feeling that he might be forced to give up the
place. I just felt that. I never heard it. I am so sorry because of the
daughter. She is a beautiful girl, and seemed kindly, the one time I saw
her. She was about twelve then. I do not like to say it, but she seemed
a little dazed or slow witted, but really beautiful." Mrs. Darrow fell
to smoothing out the folds in her house apron as Lees asked:

"When was the only time you saw her?"

"Ten years ago, about. Just after my father's death. They called on us.
We did not care to continue the friendship, as Jouret seemed a little
flamboyant--his circus nature, I suppose. Anyway, we were quiet folks,
and there was no need of close association with neighbors.

"I remember," continued the widow, after a pause, "that Jouret, when he
heard my husband was a scientist, simulated an interest in science. He
did have a smattering knowledge of science, but he was plainly affected,
so we decided to just let him drop. No ill-feeling. We just--well, we
were not interested."

"You do not approve of circus people?"

"It is not that. Any honest work is honorable. It seems commendable to
furnish amusement for the public. I know little about people of his
profession but I am sure they are perfectly all right. It was Jouret,
personally. He seemed noisy and insincere. The girl was nice. I loved
her."

"That is all you know of the Jourets?"

"That is all."

"Mrs. Darrow, I wish to go through this house from attic to basement.
Have you any objections?"

"None whatever. Make yourself free, but do not attach any significance
to what appears to be a secret passageway and cave. My father was a
biological chemist. He used to experiment much with small animals. He
had a cave where he stored chemicals, and I believe you will find old
chemicals stored down there now. I disturbed nothing."

The widow forced a smile to her lips. "Will you excuse me?" she
concluded. "I am trying to carry on."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lees, carrying a flashlight, began a systematic search of the premises.
He made his way up a winding staircase, through dust and cobwebs to the
attic. He found the top story filled with trunks and bits of furniture
of a previous generation. All was in order, but dust-covered and
cobwebby.

"Someone has been here before me," he said to himself, brushing a mist
of cobwebs from his coat sleeves. "There is a path brushed through the
spiderwebs." Turning his flashlight on the floor, he exclaimed:

"And here are footprints in the dust. Well I'll be--!"

Then, after some study, he mused:

"Of course there has been someone here. The killer of Darrow probably
has been here to see what he could see. It was no great task. The doors
were never locked. The footprints are of no value except to give me the
size of his shoes."

He measured the footprints carefully. Then he went downstairs and phoned
the measurements to a local shoe dealer, asking him to give him the
trade size of shoes which would make such prints.

"They are number nines," decided the shoe dealer.

Lees then returned to resume his search in the rooms and corridors.

"Wonder if Jouret wears nines," he questioned himself. "But what if he
does? I couldn't convict him on that score. However, it might help."

Then he fell to searching through the old trunks. He found old
photographs, articles of apparel, knicknacks--grandmother's and
grandfather's belongings all of them, and some children's clothes of the
days when little boys wore ruffles about their necks and little girls'
pantalettes reached to their ankles.

Carefully each article was replaced. He made his way down to the third
and then the second floor. Through cobwebby corridors and bedchambers he
searched, but found nothing further to aid his case.

In the unused rooms on the first floor he found an old spinning-wheel,
candle moulds and utensils used in cooking in the days when housewives
cooked over an open fire.

       *       *       *       *       *

He did not find the "secret" passageway until Mrs. Darrow came to his
aid. Leading from the basement was a coal chute. This shoot was formed
in a triangle with the point under a trap. It was man-high at the cellar
opening and its floor was a slide for fuel. It had been in use,
evidently, quite recently.

At the cellar wall of this chute, Mrs. Darrow pressed what appeared to
be a knot in the old timber and pushed open a door.

A dank odor issued forth as the door was opened. Lees entered the
passage and Mrs. Darrow returned upstairs.

Following the underground passageway, Lees came onto a cave about 14 by
14 feet in size with a ceiling and walls of arched brick. It had
evidently been built before the days of cement construction.

A long bench and shelves with carboys and jars of chemicals were the
only furnishings. Lees sounded all the walls, but found nothing further
to interest him.

Lees returned to town at the urgent call of "Old Perk," who had arranged
with great care to keep the appointment at 50th street and Broadway,
where the decoy package was to be left. He had snipers in nearby
windows. He had detectives, dressed in the gay garb of the habitues of
the neighborhood, patrolling the corner, and he and his own guard parked
an automobile, against all traffic rule, at the curb near the rubbish
can.

An office boy sauntered up to the rubbish can, threw in the decoy
package, and sauntered away.

A second later there was a low humming sound. The decoy package fairly
jumped out of the rubbish can and disappeared in thin air.

The humming sound seemed to round the corner into 50th Street.
Detectives followed on the jump. The humming approached an auto at the
curb and the auto's self starter began to function. As the police stood
near by, enough to have jumped into the auto, the whole machine, a big
touring car, actually disappeared before their eyes.

Consternation is a mild word when used to describe the result.

       *       *       *       *       *

All forces set to trap the extortionists gathered in a group, and in
their surprise and disappointment began discussing the queer case in
loud tones. A crowd was gathering which was blocking traffic.

"Old Perk" was the first to recover from his surprise.

"Get the hell out of this neighborhood," he yelled to his working
forces. "All of you get down to my office!"

The working force dissolved and "Old Perk" drove away.

At "Old Perk's" office shortly afterward a conference of the defeated
forces of the law and of science was held.

"Old Perk" stormed and raged and the detective captain in charge fumed
and fussed, but nothing came of it all. One was as powerless as another.
Finally the conference adjourned.

The next morning in the mail, Perkins Ferguson, president of Schefert
Engineering Corporation, received a letter carefully printed in rubber
type. It read:

     Thanks for the $50 bill. You cheated us by $99,950. This will never
     do. Don't be like that. You poor fools, you make us increase our
     demand. We double it. Leave $200,000 for us on your desk and leave
     the desk unlocked. We will get it. Every time you ignore one of our
     demands, one of your number will die. Better take this matter
     seriously. Last warning.

     "Invisible Death.

"Not another dime will they get out of me," mused Ferguson.

He started opening the rest of his mail.

A clerk entered and handed him a telegram. It read:

     "Damon Farnsworth struck down at breakfast table. Family heard
     humming sound as he fell from his chair. Removed to Medical Center.
     Skull reported fractured. May die.

     "William Devins, Chief of Police, Larchmont."

Ferguson wildly seized the telephone. "Get me Farnsworth's house at
Larchmont!" he shouted to his operator.

       *       *       *       *       *

The phone was answered by Jones, the butler.

"This is Ferguson."

An agitated voice replied:

"'Ow sir, yes sir. It's true, sir. 'E was bleeding at the 'ead, sir.
Something 'it 'im."

"Let me talk to Mrs. Farnsworth."

"They are at the 'ospital, sir."

"One of the boys."

"Both are at the 'ospital, sir."

"Do you think he will live?"

"An' 'ow could I say, sir?"

Ferguson called the Medical Center. They permitted him to talk to a
doctor and a nurse. The nurse referred him to the doctor, who said:

"He is unconscious. There is a wicked fracture at the base of the brain.
He was struck from the back--a club, I believe. He may die without
regaining consciousness. I am hoping he will rally and that he will be
all right."

Ferguson ordered his car and, with Lees at his heels, jumped in the
tonneau. He heard a humming sound back of him. He looked back and saw
nothing. Both he and Lees were too impressed for words.

"Step on it," Ferguson ordered the chauffeur. "Drive us to the Medical
Center."

At the world's largest group of hospitals, Ferguson's worst fears were
confirmed. The patient was reported sinking.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ferguson, giant of Wall Street, was a low spirited man as he drove back
down town to his office. With Lees he passed through the outer offices,
buzzing with business and the click of typewriters. Not a head was
raised from a desk or machine. It was a well-drilled force.

Into his private sanctum he walked or rather dragged himself, and
wearily he sat down. He pushed a pile of papers from him and ran his
hand over his hot brow.

Blood pounded at his temples.

For the first time in his life he faced a situation which was too deep
for his understanding.

Over and over again he reviewed the uncanny events as Lees sat awaiting
orders.

"I cannot have them killing off my friends like that," he mused finally.

He called a clerk.

"Go to the bank and get $200,000 in fifties and one hundreds," he
commanded.

When the clerk returned with the money he laid the package on his desk
and left the desk open. "This might appear cowardly, but it will give us
time," he said. Lees did not offer an opinion.

Ferguson drew a personal note for $200,000 and sent it to the Schefert
Corporation's attorneys. This amount represented a large part of
Ferguson's personal assets, not involved with any company with which he
was connected. He told Lees to go about his further investigations. Then
he left the office and started for his home. "I'll bank my life Lees
will have those crooks lined up within a week," he assured himself as he
lolled in his auto, bound homeward. But his voice sounded hollow, and
the blood still pounded at his temples.

       *       *       *       *       *

Reaching home, he found a call from the western plant, at Chicago. He
phoned the superintendent with a foreboding that all was not well.

"This you, Perk?" sounded the voice on the wire.

"Yes, what's up?"

"I had not intended bothering you with this, but in the light of all
that has happened I guess you had better know that one of our engineers
went stark mad out here about three weeks ago. He was a very brainy man
but his reason snapped. He first appeared queer when he began talking of
anarchy and cursing capitalists. Then one afternoon he struck a shop
foreman down with a heavy wrench and rushed out of the plant. We have
not seen him since. The police have been looking for him, but he is
still at large."

"That explains a lot of things," said "Old Perk." "Tell the police to
keep after him. We'll look for him here. File me a complete detailed
report of the incident by telegraph," he instructed. Then he asked:

"How is the foreman? Badly hurt?"

"He dodged; it was a glancing blow. The foreman was back to work in a
week. But he is nervous and has armed himself. We have put on extra
guards."

"Good," commended Ferguson. "Don't hesitate to spend tolls to keep me
advised of any developments."

An hour and a half later, Ferguson phoned the chief clerk in his
offices:

"Go into my private office," he ordered, "and see if there is a package
on my desk. It is a bank package."

The clerk returned in a few moments.

"There is no package on your desk, Mr. Ferguson."

"That is all I wanted to know," said Ferguson, and hung up the receiver.

Then Ferguson called up the Darrow home and tried to get in touch with
Lees, but was unable to do so, as Mrs. Darrow said she had not seen him
since he had been called back to the office.

       *       *       *       *       *

The reason Ferguson could not reach Lees was because Lees had decided to
learn once and for all if Jouret wore number nine shoes. He had started
for Jouret's in his own car. It was a beautiful country he was
traversing, but he had no time to note that the tree branches almost met
over his head and that his way was bordered with a profusion of wild
flowers, displaying a rainbow of colors.

The house of Jouret, the retired circus performer, sat back far from the
road, against the side of a beautiful hill, and was surrounded by
poplars. The landscape was wilder and more natural than that of the
Darrow place adjoining.

The door was opened by a Porto Rican boy. Lees lost no time. He said
bluntly:

"Tell your master that a gentleman is here to see him on very particular
business."

Jouret, himself, came back with the boy.

"What is it?" he asked, smiling a welcome.

"I am working on the case of the death of Mr. Darrow, your neighbor. I
believed you might have seen something. I thought you might aid me."

       *       *       *       *       *

Jouret betrayed no surprise.

"Come in," he said. He led the way to a large reception room and asked
his visitor to be seated. He was the soul of affability. Short, husky
and florid. His eyes large, black and staring. His hair black, quite
long and curling upward at the ears. He was dressed in black, and he had
the appearance of a big, fat crow.

"I am glad you came," he greeted his guest, "for I have far too few
callers." He switched on a big electric bunch-light in the center of the
room, for it was dusk.

"We have been told that you are a retired circus man," said Lees, in his
usual frank manner.

"Not exactly," said Jouret. "I traveled on the continent, finally
journeying to Australia and then to the States. I crossed the country
from San Francisco and settled down here. I was known as 'Elias, the
Great.' I had my own company and property. It was a magic show. It was
not a circus, although we did carry two elephants, three camels, some
ponies, snakes, and birds and smaller animals. That's where the circus
report came from.

"When I retired I sold my stock to a circus. The newspapers regarded it
as funny, and one of them printed a half page story with pictures about
the public sale. It was very much exaggerated. They mentioned giraffes,
hyenas, and a lot of other animals I never possessed. Odd, wasn't it,
getting so much publicity after I was through needing it? However I
never, in those days, dodged the limelight." Jouret ended his speech
with a loud and hearty guffaw.

"I will call my daughter," Jouret appended. "She will be glad to meet
you." He left the room.

Lees had taken occasion to note the size of Jouret's feet. They were
small, almost effeminate. More likely fives or sixes than nines.

Soon Jouret returned with a girl in her early twenties. She was blond
and radiantly beautiful.

       *       *       *       *       *

Doris Jouret bowed and smiled in a perfectly friendly manner. Lees noted
that there was something about her eyes that made her appear dazed.

Jouret monopolized the conversation, giving no one a chance to edge in a
word.

"This gentleman desires information in connection with the death of our
neighbor Mr., or is it Dr., Darrow? I want you to assure him, as I will,
that we have seen or noted nothing that could possibly throw light on
the strange case."

The girl nodded, it seemed a little wearily, and Jouret was off on
another conversational flight:

"I too am a man of scientific attainments," he chattered. "I am a
biologist, toxicologist, doctor of medicine, a geologist, metalurgist,
mineralogist, and somewhat of a mechanic and electrician. I have given
long hours to the study of strange sciences in meta-physics, to which
you men give too little attention. There are sciences which transcend
any of this sphere. There is a higher astronomy. I neglected to say that
I am an astronomer."

"Yes?" drawled Lees.

"Yes!" said Jouret emphatically.

The girl had adopted rather a theatrical pose, which disclosed
considerable of her nether charms, and said nothing at all.

"When you find your man," volunteered Jouret, "you will find a madman."
He said this ponderously and with a gesture meant evidently to be
impressive.

"You believe a madman did it?" asked Lees, as Jouret paused, expecting a
question.

"Undoubtedly. It was a paranoic with delusions of money, grandeur and a
strongly developed homicidal mania. To me, that is the only sensible
solution. I am quite sure that I am correct."

Lees arose to go and Jouret did not urge him to stay. He bowed Lees out
and Doris bowed with him.

"She is a beautiful girl," mused Lees once he was outside.

Lees ran over in his mind the circumstances of his visit to Jouret.
There was no doubt in his mind that Jouret's shoes were too small to be
number nines, and he reasoned that that fact might tend to eliminate
Jouret. But he was not satisfied.

"I am going to get some gas," he told himself, "and then I am going to
get two private detectives to assist me, for I'm going right back there.
For the first time in my life I am going to be a Peeping Tom.

"There is no moon. The poplars will give us a view of all three floors
of that house, if they leave their blinds up enough, and three of us can
watch all three floors at once."

He phoned Ferguson that he might be busy for days, joined his pair of
operatives from the detective agency and for some time the three
operated on a well conceived plan.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was probably a week later that Lees rendered a report to Perkins
Ferguson, which for a time proved one of the strangest documents in the
weird case. It read:

"You will probably think I am crazy, and for this reason I am having
this report subscribed and sworn to, jointly and severally. With my two
detectives I have seen Miss Jouret, the girl I told you about over the
phone, in three places at one and the same time. Not once but twice this
has happened.

"Looking through the windows of the Jouret place at night, we saw the
girl on the first, second and third floor of the house. We believed this
due to a clever arrangement of mirrors. But figure this out:

"The next day she drove a car to town. We followed. She got out at one
theater and entered. She did not come back, that we could see, but the
car drove off. There was no chauffeur, and we thought we had discovered
the driverless auto, until we looked and saw Miss Jouret still at the
wheel.

"She got out and entered another theater. She did not come back, but the
car drove off with her still at the wheel. She entered a third theater
after parking the car and this time the driver's seat and the tonneau
was empty.

"Reverse the reel and you will see her coming out of three theaters and
driving home. That is what happened. There must be three of her, all
identical, but only one shows at a time. If it's some of Jouret's
far-famed magic, I'll say he's some conjurer. The explanation is not yet
forthcoming. We want to shadow Jouret, but he never goes anywhere. The
girl has only been out the one time when she attended three matinees as
described. Believe it or not.

"The next night we each--the two detectives and I--tried to steal a
march on one another and called her up and asked her to go out. To our
individual surprise, she agreed in each case. To our collective
surprise, she kept all three dates on the same night. She walked
through the trees in this vicinity with me. She also drove down the road
in the auto with one of my detectives, and she went dancing with the
other. She was in three places miles apart at one and the same time.

"We each brought her home within a half hour of the other and we are
swearing to that. Either we are all hypnotized or else there are three
identical Misses Jouret.

"Jouret himself treats us all wonderfully, gives us the run of the
house, and tries to talk us to death."

       *       *       *       *       *

The strange document was subscribed by Lees and the two detectives and
was held by Ferguson pending developments.

The next report from Lees read:

"I had a chance to prowl around the Jouret house a little while waiting
for Miss Jouret to dress. I met her twice in my ramblings and a few
minutes later she met me again, this time in a different costume.

"I got a chance to search the woods back of Jouret's house in the
evening. I found a spot where the earth had been disturbed, and dug up a
pair of shoes. They were number nines."

A fourth report from him read:

"We found the body of the crazed engineer. He had drowned himself in a
lake. This eliminates him as a murder suspect."

       *       *       *       *       *

Two weeks passed with no new developments in the "Invisible Death" case
except for the arrival of a letter demanding $1,000,000 and threatening
the life of Perkins Ferguson if the demand was ignored. It was ignored,
and only served to spur Lees and his detectives on to decisive action.

They decided to rush the Jouret house and kidnap Jouret with the idea of
holding him until he agreed to explain the presence of the number nine
shoes buried back of his house.

A low moon hung over the poplars when Lees rang the Jouret front door
bell. One detective was guarding a side door and the other a back door.

Suddenly Jouret was seen to jump from a second-story window. As he did,
a car driven by one of his Porto Ricans came along the drive and he
leaped into it. Lees, first to see Jouret, called his detectives. They
came running. Their car was waiting in the road.

The Porto Rican was seen to jump from the Jouret car just as it started
south towards New York.

Lees took up the race. Both cars had plenty of power, but the Jouret car
suddenly disappeared as a low humming noise began to break the stillness
of the night.

One of the detectives was at the wheel. Lees, as usual, was giving
orders:

"Keep close to that hum. Never mind that you cannot _see_ the car. It is
there all right. If you can gain on it enough, drive right into it."

"Righto!" shouted the detective. "We're wise to him now."

The humming noise was taking on speed with every second. So was Lees'
car. Soon Lees' car was making sixty miles an hour with the hum just
ahead and barely audible.

Past traffic lights, over bridges and grade crossings the mad chase of
the phantom continued.

Wildly racing through the night, missing other cars by a breath, the
big, visible auto continued its pursuit of--what?

Careening, Lees' car rounded a curve, and, above the hum just ahead,
they heard the shouted curses of their quarry. But he could not be seen.
Lees could only see the road marked by his lights.

Mile after mile the wild, uncanny chase of the phantom continued.

       *       *       *       *       *

Soon the lights of New York could be seen in the distance. The cars were
forced to slow down somewhat. Suddenly there was a thundering crash
ahead. A car was twisted in a mass of tangled wreckage.

Feminine and masculine shrieks blended as Lees' car piled up on the
wrecked heap. A third car, becoming suddenly visible, rolled over and
brought up at the edge of the road. From this car emerged the limping,
cursing form of Jouret.

From the wreckage three painfully injured young men dragged and tore
themselves. Then they leaped--ignoring their hurts--at the limping
figure.

The fight was on. Jouret was heavy and powerful and proved an obstinate
fighter, for he knew he was fighting for his life. He bit and clawed. He
kicked with one uninjured leg and butted with his massive head.

Lees and his detectives were fighting with no respect for the rules.
Lees managed to get his two hands on the bull-neck of Jouret just as one
detective connected a duet of blows to the man's wind.

Lees' hands closed in a steely grip, and soon Jouret was limp and
helpless.

They held him there. An ambulance arrived. A few minutes later a police
auto with reserves came on the scene. The police shackled Jouret.

The car that had been hit by the phantom was a light sedan. It was
occupied by two women. Their bodies were drawn from the wreckage. Both
were dead--innocents sacrificed to the blood madness of a maniac.

Jouret was right about himself. He was a paranoic with a strongly
developed homicidal mania.

In the wreckage was found a package containing $200,000 and also two
twisted and broken mechanisms. One of these was about the size of an
ordinary kitchen coffee-mill, and the other slightly larger.

       *       *       *       *       *

Regarding these machines, Lees wrote in a report:

"While making a fourth search of Darrow's laboratory, I found the
equations, specifications and what I believe to be the full plans for
the last invention of the ingenious Darius Darrow.

"Many of the most astounding inventions and discoveries have resulted
from theories which were laughed to scorn at the time they were
advanced. Roebling's plans for the Brooklyn Bridge resulted in a meeting
of the foremost engineers of the day. All agreed that the plans were
built on a false premise. They argued that the bridge would fall of its
own weight. Then they all had a good laugh. The bridge still stands.

"Watching smoke float over a hill from army camp fires caused an early
French scientist to dream of filling a bag full of smoke and riding with
it over the hill. The first balloon was the answer to this dream.

"James Watt is said to have gotten his idea for a steam engine from
watching a lid on a tea-kettle dance under steam pressure.

"When Langley was flying his man-carrying kites the Wright brothers
dreamed of hitching an engine and a propeller to a giant kite. The
airplane was the result of these experiments.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Darrow got his idea from watching a rapidly revolving wheel. He noticed
that the spokes and rim blended into a blurred disc when a certain speed
was reached. The entire wheel was practically invisible, under certain
lighting conditions, when a higher speed was attained.

"Darrow went further and reached the conclusion that there was a rate of
vibration that would produce invisibility. This was accepted in
practically all engineering research plants, long before it was
perfected by Darrow.

"The facts are that any rapidly vibrating object becomes more and more
difficult to outline as its rate of vibration increases. All that was
left for Darrow was to arrive at the exact mathematical time, tone, or
rate of vibration producing invisibility and to construct a vibrator
tuned to produce this condition.

"His first machine produced the vibrations of invisibility in a field
with a three-foot radius in all directions. That is, it caused every
solid object, within this atmospheric field, to vibrate at the rate,
tone, or speed of invisibility. This machine was in no sense rotary. It
departed from the original example of a revolving wheel and entered
instead into general vibration in a given or measured field.

"The pulsations or vibrations of an ordinary automobile engine will
cause every ounce of metal, or solid, in the automobile--including the
driver--to vibrate at the same rate or momentum. This is a known fact,
and it provided the basis for Darrow's experiments.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Darrow built two machines. The first had a field with a radius of three
feet on all sides. This was used by the killer in his murders. Jouret
stole this machine first, thus paving his way for the second robbery.

"With the first machine in his possession, Jouret was able to commit the
Darrow murder without being seen. He had to have the second and larger
machine, however, to make his auto disappear. He stole the larger
machine at the time of the Darrow murder, and with it he had his auto
vanish, as the gardener testified.

"Both machines were hopelessly smashed in the wreck, but with Darrow's
documents at hand, we might be able to construct another and a larger
model. A machine built on the proper scale will make a plane or a
battleship invisible and should, as Darrow said, make war against this
country impossible.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Digging into Jouret's history we found that the 'Misses Jouret' were
one-cell triplets. Their mother, Mrs. Doris Nettleton, an English woman,
was a member of Jouret's troupe, as was the father.

"The mother died at the birth of the triplets. The father died a few
years later. The company was touring Australia at the time. Jouret and
the father had the birth of only one baby recorded. She was named Doris,
after the mother. The other girls also used this one name. They now have
only one name among them until the court gives them individual names.

"Jouret never let but one girl be seen at a time. The reason was that he
and the father had planned to use the girls, when grown, to create a
surprising stage illusion. In this illusion, one girl was to act as the
earthly body and the other girls as the astral bodies of the same
purported individual.

"The father died, and Jouret retired before he ever got around to
staging the illusion. Jouret continued the deception, however, because
it appealed to his showman's nature.

"The girls, at all times, were under the hypnotic control of Jouret,
and, of course, knew nothing of his crazed intellect or crimes. Upon his
arrest Jouret released the girls from the spell of years.

"The Misses Nettleton say that Jouret was always kind to them and was an
ethical showman until his mind gave way.

"I told the triplets that I might find them employment with our concern,
but they prefer to follow in the footsteps of their mother and father,
and return to the stage."

Ferguson, quite his normal self once more, since Farnsworth was
recovering slowly, twitted Lees about being in love with one of the
triplets. Lees admitted they were most gorgeous blondes, but insisted he
preferred one brunette.

"Then another thing," added Lees. "Any man who falls in love with one of
the Nettleton triplets will never be sure just which one he fell in love
with."





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Astounding Stories of Super-Science January 1930" ***

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ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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