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Title: Adrift in the Unknown - or, Queer Adventures in a Queer Realm
Author: Cook, William Wallace
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.

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                         Adrift in the Unknown


                   Queer Adventures in a Queer Realm


                        By WILLIAM WALLACE COOK

        Author of "The Paymaster’s Special," "A Deep-sea Game,"
               "In the Web," "His Friend the Enemy," etc.



                       STREET & SMITH CORPORATION
                               PUBLISHERS
                     79-89 Seventh Avenue, New York



                         *A CARNIVAL OF ACTION*

                          *ADVENTURE LIBRARY*

                  *Splendid, Interesting, Big Stories*

For the present the Adventure Library will be devoted to the publication
of stories by William Wallace Cook.

The fact that one man wrote all of these stories in no way detracts from
their interest, as they are all very different in plot and locality.

For example, the action in one story takes place in "The Land of Little
Rain;" another deals with adventure on the high seas; another is a good
railroad story; others are splendid Western stories; and some are
mystery stories.  All of them, however, are stories of vigorous
adventure drawn true to life, which gives them the thrill that all
really good fiction should have.



                          Copyright 1904-1906
                         By Frank A. Munsey Co.

                         Adrift in the Unknown


               (Printed In the United States of America)



                               *CONTENTS*

      I. Lost, Strayed, or Stolen?
     II. An Uninvited Guest
    III. Professor Quinn’s Feat
     IV. The Plutocrats Reconciled
      V. Traveling Sunward
     VI. A Landing Effected
    VII. Facing a Mercurial Storm
   VIII. The Mercurials
     IX. Learning the Word-Box
      X. How We were Catalogued
     XI. The Dilemma of Mr. Meigs
    XII. Condemned to Death
   XIII. A Threatening Calamity
    XIV. Plan to Steal a Building
     XV. Surveying our own Planet
    XVI. How Ill-Luck Overtook Me
   XVII. A Change of Heart
  XVIII. How We Outwitted the King
    XIX. Back to Earth



                        *ADRIFT IN THE UNKNOWN.*



                              *CHAPTER I.*

                      *LOST, STRAYED, OR STOLEN?*


There could be no more fitting introduction to this most amazing
narrative from the pen of James Peter Munn than that article in the
_Morning Mercury_.

Munn, it is no breach of confidence to inform the reader, was a reformed
burglar; although the author of two books which achieved large sales and
were most favorably received by the reviewers—"Forty Ways of Cracking
Safes" and "The Sandbagger’s Manual"—Mr. Munn developed small skill with
the pen, so that the breathless interest aroused by his revelations
hangs more upon the matter than the style.  The _Mercury_ article should
do its mite toward preparing the reader for what is to come.

In the first place, the story was what newspaper men call a "scoop."

The article in the first edition ran as follows:


                        QUINN’S CASTLE VANISHES.

    AND SO DOES QUINN!  WITH HOUSE AND BELONGINGS.  THE HARLEM SAGE
    DISAPPEARS IN A SINGLE HOUR.  LEAVING NOT A TRACE BEHIND.

    What happened to Professor Quinn last night?  And what happened
    to the strange steel structure known locally among Harlem
    residents as Quinn’s Castle?

    For Quinn and his castle were snuffed out like a candle-gleam
    some time between the hours of eleven o’clock and midnight.
    Patrolman Casey, who travels a beat in that part of Harlem,
    avers that he passed the castle at eleven o’clock, and that it
    was there; he passed its site again at twelve, and it was not
    there.

    Considerably exercised, Patrolman Casey made search for the
    castle, and although he beat up the country for a dozen blocks
    in all directions, he failed to find it.  And what is more,
    Patrolman Casey declares that he took the pledge when he went on
    the force and has been a total abstainer ever since.

    Corroboration of the officer’s report is not lacking. Certain
    residents of the vicinity state that they saw the professor’s
    weird dwelling yesterday evening; its windows were aglow and it
    appeared evident that the professor was entertaining friends.
    The first gray dawn this morning showed a bare lot with the
    steel house missing.

    Is it another case of Aladdin’s palace dissolving into thin air
    at the "presto!" of some wonder worker?  Or is it a plain case
    of larceny undertaken on a gigantic scale?  A golden opportunity
    offers itself to a sleuth of the Sherlock Holmes school; and for
    such a person the _Mercury_ presents the following facts:

    First, the so-called castle was projectile-shaped, of
    boiler-plate construction, and measured some twenty feet in
    diameter, tapering to a point thirty feet above ground. It was
    covered with a sort of paint that gave it the appearance of
    frosted silver.

    Second, there is much low shrubbery surrounding the site of the
    castle, and if the castle had been blown down and rolled from
    the ridge it stood on into the river there would have been left
    evidences in plenty of such disaster.

    (Note: The castle certainly weighed five tons, possibly five
    times that.  Nothing short of a cyclone could have budged it,
    and there was hardly a breath of air stirring the whole night
    long.)

    Third, Professor Quinn, ever since he erected his steel house
    and moved into it, has been regarded as mildly insane.  Like
    Abou-ben-Adhem, he desired to be entered on the angelic scroll
    as one who loved his fellow-men.

    Last summer he read before the Astronomical Society a paper
    entitled "The Mutability of Newtonian Law," and was laughed out
    of that honorable body for his inconsistencies.  Although
    adverted to as "The Harlem Sage," Professor Quinn is no Merlin,
    nor does he possess the ring of Gyges that rendered its wearer
    invisible.

    Yet where is he?  And where is his castle?  Until some Vidocq
    appears and solves the mystery, echo can only answer "Where?"


So much for the article in the first printing of the paper.  The bright
young man who stood sponsor for the "scoop" had meanwhile been very busy
with fresh details, and the second edition contained the following
addenda:

    It has just been learned that Mr. Emmet Gilhooly, the
    multimillionaire and president of the railroad combine, was a
    guest of Professor Quinn last night, and must have been in the
    castle at the very moment it faded into oblivion.

    Mr. Gilhooly did not return to his home and has not since been
    heard from.  His relatives are distracted and leading railroad
    men of the country are in a panic.

    His absence from affairs at the present moment jeopardizes the
    traction interests of the entire country, and may prove a
    deathblow to the success of the gigantic pool he was forming.


This was startling news indeed, and sped hither and yon throughout the
city, the country, and the civilized world.  Appalling as the
information was, nevertheless it proved merely a fractional part of the
truth.

The bright reporter on the _Mercury_ made further discoveries, which
were printed in the third edition rushed from the presses of his paper.

    Not only was Mr. Emmet Gilhooly a guest of Professor Quinn in
    the steel castle last night, but so also were Hon. Augustus
    Popham, the coal baron; J. Archibald Meigs, of Wall Street, late
    manipulator of the corner in wheat and now engineering a corner
    in cotton, and Hannibal Markham, well known as the instigator of
    a plot to control the food supply of the United States.

    What has become of these four millionaires and Napoleons of
    finance?  They have gone with Quinn and his castle, disappearing
    as utterly as though the earth had opened and swallowed them.


Fabulous rewards were offered by the relatives of the missing
millionaires for any information relative to the fate that had overtaken
them.  Foul play was suspected, and the financial world stood aghast and
dumbly wondered what was to happen to the business of the country if it
really developed, beyond all peradventure, that Gilhooly, Popham, Meigs,
and Markham had been eliminated from commercial affairs.

The influence of these four was vast and far-reaching, and they were
scheming to make their grip on the republic’s resources even more secure
and relentless.  If their plans carried, no man could eat, or clothe
himself, or warm his body and drive his manufacturing engines, or travel
from place to place and ship the product of his mills without paying
tribute to Gilhooly, Popham, Meigs, and Markham.  Should those schemes,
titanic in conception, be worked out to their manifest conclusion, four
men would hold the destiny of industrial America in the hollow of their
hands.  Prosperity would wait upon their pleasure, or at a mere nod
would be paralyzed and leave the country stranded on the reefs of
disaster.

It seemed an odd fatality that, at the very time these
commanders-in-chief of industry were plotting to make their power
complete, they should have vanished as utterly as though they had been
engulfed by a tidal wave and swept into the broad regions of the
Atlantic.  A few facts were brought to light through the probing of
skilled detective minds, but these facts were in nowise clues to the
fate that had overtaken the millionaires.

Popham’s confidential aide reluctantly admitted that his chief had
accepted an invitation from Quinn, and had gone to his "castle" for an
interview.  Quinn professed to have made some discovery or other which,
he declared, would make coal a useless commodity so far as human needs
were concerned.  Popham, while laughing at Quinn’s pretensions, was
nevertheless secretly worried.  Anything that threatened the success of
the coup which was being engineered by himself and his three confreres
was to be dealt with decisively and without loss of time.

In the case of Meigs, Markham, and Gilhooly there was no confidential
aide to offer testimony, for these bright, particular stars of high
finance had placed a limit on the confidence reposed in their
secretaries.  Nevertheless, the probing minds at work on the case
developed the extraordinary fact that these men, no less than Popham,
had visited Quinn at the latter’s request.  A spirit of scoffing
investigation animated them, but they were prepared to see with their
own eyes and hear with their own ears whatever Quinn had to show and to
say.  If anything that militated against their projected _coup_ was
brought before them, they would proceed to lay the spectre forthwith.

Strangely enough, the shrewdest of the detectives failed to connect the
disappearance of the millionaires with the comprehensive plans they were
forming, and which could not be carried out except by the plotters in
person.

Other rich men of the country, who were wont to trim their sails in
accordance with whatever wind blew from the offices of The Four, in Wall
Street, were already shifting affairs to lay a course that would give
them the best headway against the projected new order.  This sudden
disappearance of the powers to which the lesser rich looked for guidance
left them becalmed in an uncharted sea.

The middle class, long accustomed to being mulcted right and left,
accepted the astonishing situation with equanimity.  So far as they were
concerned, Gilhooly, Popham, Meigs, and Markham were abstract
generalities—merely names to conjure with.  For years the middle class
had paid for the conjuring, and had been taught to look calmly into the
eyes of what they had come to believe was the inevitable.  If their
annual outing to the seashore or the mountains cost too much, they could
stay at home; if the butcher, the baker, and the grocer ran prices too
high, some of the luxuries could be cut out; if anthracite went to $20 a
ton, they would heat fewer rooms; and if clothing became too expensive,
there would be fewer suits and gowns to wear. By a little self-denial,
the middle class also could trim their sails to any gale that blew.
They were used to it.

With the poor it was different.  They were already down to bed-rock in
the way of self-denial.  No sooner had it drifted through their brains
that the influence of Gilhooly, Popham, Meigs, and Markham had been
blotted out than they lifted their voices in praise of the blessed
event.  Their situation had been bad enough, and any change among the
vaguely understood causes presiding over their affairs could hardly be
for the worse.

The detectives, feeling that they were at work on a particularly complex
case, hampered themselves by looking for complex causes.  At first, they
believed it was a matter of sequestration and that presently a ransom in
seven or eight figures would be called for.  However, a delving into
Quinn’s past failed to reveal any lawless actions that would point to a
ransom in his present line of endeavor.  The detectives, growing more
complex as the ambiguities closed them in, overlooked entirely the
simplicity of Quinn’s character.

Anyhow, one analytical mind would demand of another, what had Quinn’s
intentions to do with the disappearance?  That was a positive reality.
And, although it was surmised, it was not definitely known that Quinn
himself had had anything to do with it.

Such was the situation confronting the country and with which the police
department of New York City was called upon to deal.  But the keenest
reasoning, inductive or deductive, was powerless to find even a clue.

The tremendous mystery might have remained a mystery until this day, had
it not been for the narrative of James Peter Munn, now for the first
time given to the world.



                             *CHAPTER II.*

                         *AN UNINVITED GUEST.*


I used to be one of those who claimed that the world owed him a living,
and I went out with a drill and a "jimmy" to collect it.

Where was the difference, I argued, between the man who cracks your
strong box and removes a few paltry bills or coins, and the nabob who
skulks behind a "trust" and takes his tax on the necessities of life?

This was pure sophistry, of course, but I became wedded to it in early
life, and that I escaped a suit of stripes and measurement on the
Bertillon system, is due entirely to my experiences with Professor
Quinn.

’Twas a blessed night that sent me to his castle with the view of
mulcting it of treasures I felt to be there.  Quinn was a queer one.  I
do not mean to say that he was unhinged, as some thought, but he was
queer in his outlook upon life, and in resources which fall under the
head of "ways and means."

His castle claimed my professional attention. For why should a man build
a big steel vault and live in it unless he had portable property worth a
burglar’s while?  I reconnoitered the place for a week before I
considered myself possessed of sufficient knowledge for my undertaking.
In view of what transpired at the time of my visit, a brief description
of the castle, taken from my memorandum book, will prove of interest.

The structure was cigar-shaped, twenty-nine feet from base to apex and
twenty feet in diameter through its largest part.  It was divided into
two stories by means of a steel floor, leaving head-room of ten feet in
the lower story.

Four windows pierced the circular walls of the nether room, and two gave
light to the room above; these six openings being guarded on the outer
sides with latticework of steel.

The door was an oblong piece of boiler plate—the entire building was a
shell composed of plates riveted together—hinged heavily and provided
with a strong lock.  As I had yet to find a lock which I could not pick,
if given time enough, my designs naturally centred about the door.

I had hit upon the somewhat early hour of ten in the evening for my call
at the professor’s. Unless business kept him abroad I knew that he was
usually in bed long before that time.  If he chanced to be out, so much
the better for the success of my foray.

After the patrolman had passed, I crept through the bushes and was soon
busy with the lock on the steel door.  It yielded with much less
resistance than I had anticipated, and I was quickly within, flashing my
bull’s-eye lantern about me.

A circular seat upholstered in leather ran around the wall, and a table
bearing an unlighted oil lamp stood in the centre of the floor.  I had
barely completed a hasty survey when a crunch of footsteps on the
graveled walk without smote on my ears.

Without loss of a moment I snapped the lantern shut and darted up the
iron stairway to the room above.  It is needless to say that I was very
much put out because of the interruption.  I was a hard man in those
days, and such an occurrence was apt to anger me and make me say things.

Lying flat on the floor with my face to the stair opening, I had a
fairly good view of the circular chamber below.  The professor had been
abroad and not in bed, for he appeared now, ushering in callers.

Four gentlemen, all of distinguished mien and important bearing,
followed the owner of the castle, and began glancing about with
ill-concealed amusement.

"Gad, but this is an odd place!" exclaimed one.

This gentleman wore a frock coat and silk hat, but what caught my eye
was a four-carat spark in his scarf, a massive seal on his fob, and a
scintillating gem on the third finger of his left hand.

"Odd, perhaps," returned the professor, "but most suitable to my
purposes, Mr. Gilhooly, as I hope to show you before many minutes have
passed.  Be seated, sir.  And the rest of you gentlemen; you will find
the divan most comfortable."

Gilhooly?  I went hot and cold at that name. Nearly everybody in New
York was just then talking about the man who was scheming to make
railroad travel too expensive for ordinary mortals.  He was a
millionaire several times over, and in the breast of his frock coat I
knew there must be a bulky wallet.

At once, and while I watched and listened to those in the room below, my
mind busied itself with details of a more comprehensive operation than I
had at first contemplated.

The professor’s four guests had seated themselves on the circular divan.
After my eyes had finished with Gilhooly they turned on the other three,
and my first impressions were more than confirmed.

Each of the quartet was a Croesus, and dressed and strutted the part.
Fine birds, indeed, and I hugged myself to think how opportunity had
come knocking at my door.

Six-shooter in hand, I could descend upon this covey, compel a
readjustment of values between them and myself, then back through the
steel door, lock it behind me, and make off.

The professor, intent on other things no doubt, had turned his key in
the lock and had failed to discover that the bolt was already thrown;
therefore my presence in the castle was entirely unsuspected—manifestly
an advantage.

"You have asked us to come here, Professor Quinn," spoke up one as the
professor turned higher the wick of the lamp he had just lighted, "and
here we are.  You say you have discovered something whose value to
science and the industrial world is beyond compute, and that you wish to
interest capital.  Well"—and the speaker surveyed his three companions
with a large smile—"here is the capital."

"I shall come at my discovery in due course, Mr. Popham," said the
professor, who was a wiry little man with a bald head and bead-like
black eyes.  "I thank you for coming here. Emmet Gilhooly, Augustus
Popham, J. Archibald Meigs, and Hannibal Markham are stars of the first
magnitude in the skies of speculation, and I esteem myself fortunate in
arousing their interest."

A faintness seized me as these names, each an "open sesame" to the world
of finance, fell glibly from the professor’s tongue.  I was all but
cheek by jowl with representatives of billions.

Augustus Popham turned his head to give Emmet Gilhooly a plebeian wink.
Gilhooly smiled behind his smooth white hand.  J. Archibald Meigs leaned
over to whisper something to Hannibal Markham, who was affixing a pair
of gold eyeglasses to his Roman nose, whereupon both gentlemen
suppressed a titter.

A doubt of the sincerity of all four broke over me.  They were there to
have sport with this bald little man with the beady eyes and the bee in
his bonnet.  I chuckled grimly as I thought of how the tables would
presently be turned.  I do not know whether the professor was as keen as
I to detect these evidences of insincerity.  If he was, he gave no sign.

"I am sixty-five," said he, "and my life work has been the discovery
which I am about to bring to your august attention.  Perhaps some of you
gentlemen have read my paper on ’The Mutability of Newtonian Law’?"

The gentlemen acknowledged that they had not.  Professor Quinn seemed
disappointed.

"If you had read that," he continued, "you would have prepared
yourselves for an understanding of my theory and the demonstration of it
which I am about to give.  Let me ask you this: When an apple leaves its
parent branch, why is it that it falls downward instead of upward?"

The Napoleons of finance stared at one another.  J. Archibald Meigs went
so far as to tap a suggestive finger against his forehead.

"Gravity," said the professor.  "It is that which draws every atom on
the surface of the earth directly toward the earth’s centre; it is that
which chains our feet to this planet and keeps us from falling through
interstellar space; it is even that which keeps our little world from
flying apart and dissipating itself in dust throughout the great void.
It is a simple proposition simply stated, and I trust you follow me?"

They did follow him, and so signified.

"In the paper I read before the Astronomical Society," pursued the
professor, "I made bold to declare that it was possible to insulate a
body against the force of gravitation.  In other words, to make it so
immune from Newtonian law that it would spurn the earth and fall from it
at a speed even greater than the drawing power of gravity.

"Can you not comprehend what this means?" cried Quinn, waxing eloquent.
"It means a new force in the industrial world—a power that feeds on
nothing save a law that transcends that of gravitation.  In point of
fact, it falls little short of perpetual motion.

"Without the expenditure of even a pound of coal, this new force can
turn the wheels of every railroad train on the globe!  With its own
inherent energy it can give life to the machinery of flour mills, cotton
mills, iron foundries; it can——"

Augustus Popham got up hurriedly and put on his hat.

"A rattle-brained idea, sir!" he exclaimed.  "I have no mind to remain
here and listen to such talk."

Popham’s coal mines ravaged the earth’s crust in a thousand and one
places.  The idea that human industry could get along without his coal
was too much for him.

Before he could reach the door, Professor Quinn was in front of him,
barring his way.

"Remember, Mr. Popham," said the professor, "if I were to take away your
mines I should yet give you something in their place worth incalculably
more.  Hear me out, sir.  I beg of you."

"Theories are cheap things," muttered Popham, as he again seated
himself.  "An ounce of proof is worth a pound of theory."

"Exactly," cried Quinn, "and the ounce of proof shall be forthcoming."

With that he pulled the table from the centre of the room, revealing an
iron chain some three feet in length, attached at its lower end to a
staple in the floor by means of a clevis and pin.

The chain was not lying loosely, but was rigidly upright, its upper end
wound about a white block—a six-inch cube, as I judged.

Climbing to the table top, the professor stepped thence to the cube,
poising himself for a moment on one foot.  Then he sprang to the floor
again.

"This cube," he explained, laying one hand on the block with an
affectionate gesture, "is of steel, and has been treated with my
insulating compound.  To all appearance it is falling upward with a
force sufficient to draw the chain rigidly to its full extent and to
support my weight."

"Poppycock!" muttered the coal baron.

"A trick!" exclaimed Meigs.

The other two remained silent.  They were bewildered, perhaps impressed.

"Let us see whether it is a trick or no," went on Quinn.  "Pray come
forward, gentlemen, and lay hold of the chain.  There is no danger in
the little experiment with which I am going to amuse you, and I think it
will dispel your doubts."

The gentlemen hesitated, but finally came forward, got down with some
difficulty, and grasped the chain as directed.

"Hold tight!" exclaimed the professor, and drew the pin from the clevis.

Thus released the cube rose to the ceiling, lifting the four gentlemen
with it.  They hung in mid-air until Quinn drew the table under them,
and they dropped to its top, each in turn, and so reached the floor.

Bewilderment was written large in the faces of the quartet, their
credulity struggling against the evidence of their senses.

"You are a good magician, sir," averred Popham, brushing the damp from
his forehead with a handkerchief.

"You could make your fortune as an entertainer," declared Gilhooly.

J. Archibald Meigs chewed briskly on an unlighted cigar, while Hannibal
Markham kept his eyes on the cube and dangling chain like one
fascinated.

"It is the fate of a man who makes startling discoveries to be classed
among disciples in black art," observed Quinn calmly.  "What is the
hour, Mr. Gilhooly?" he asked.

The head of the railway pool consulted his repeater.

"Eleven-fourteen," he replied.

"And high time I was going," added Popham.

"Just a few moments more," said the professor.

Turning to the wall behind him, he caught a small lever and turned it
over as far as it would go.  The castle vibrated slightly, communicating
a perceptible swaying motion to the pendent chain.

"What’s this?" cried Markham, jumping up.

"Do not be alarmed, my friends," cried Quinn, whirling around.

His face was pallid as death, and his beady eyes gleamed like coals.
Then, wonder of wonders, the white cube settled to the floor.

"Ha!" shouted Popham.  "Your anti-gravity compound is not very long
lived, it seems to me."

"You will find differently, to your cost!" returned the professor
through his teeth. "Augustus Popham, I, Kenward Quinn, arraign you, and
Emmet Gilhooly, and J. Archibald Meigs, and Hannibal Markham as foes of
the human race!  You are leeches who would suck the life-blood from the
veins of the poor——"

With steady forefinger, Quinn had transfixed each of the plutocrats as
he called his name. Markham was already on his feet, and the other three
were not slow in following him.

"What’s this, what’s this?" gasped Gilhooly.

"An insult!" muttered Popham.

"The old addle-pate is not accountable for what he says or does,"
remarked J. Archibald Meigs.

"We had best leave this steel trap of his while there is yet time,"
counseled Markham.

"While there is yet time!" repeated Quinn, with a wild laugh.  "A pretty
set of conspirators you are, on my soul!  Markham, there, would raise
the price of food until the poor would go hungry; you, Meigs, would so
manipulate the cost of clothing that they would not have the wherewithal
to cover their nakedness; Popham would make fuel a luxury of the rich;
and Gilhooly would so boost passenger and freight rates as to quadruple
to the consumer the tremendous cost of the necessities of life.  Deny me
if you can, if you dare!"

Quinn looked like a Nemesis as he confronted the four men and lashed
them with his scorpion whip of words.

"Fiddlededee!" exclaimed Popham.

"We deserve it," said Meigs, "for it was the height of folly for us to
come here, in the first place."

"Is this why you brought us here?" asked Markham, "to air your own
particular ideas on sociology and to make us the victims of your abuse?"

The professor threw back his head and straightened his shoulders.  It
was the real thing in dignity that he showed those plutocrats, and my
nerves tingled with admiration.  I was sorry I had come to the castle
with designs oh Quinn’s portable property, and doubly glad that I could
force tribute from these four who were badgering him.

"I am not unjust," averred the professor, "and such a thing as abuse is
farthest from my mind; but I love the plain people, the bone and sinew
of this glorious republic, and it arouses my indignation when the right
to live and let live is trampled upon by any one man, or set of men."

"Platitudes!" sneered Popham.

"To call a truth a platitude is witless argument," answered Quinn
serenely.

"Be that as it may," said Meigs, "we were not invited here for a debate
but to witness a demonstration of what you were pleased to term a
revolutionizing discovery."

"You have seen me overcome the force of gravity," went on the professor,
"and to astute minds like yours further explanation seems uncalled for.
In destroying gravity I produce a power equalled by no other force in
the world. The ’pull’ of an insulated block the size of that one"—and
here he waved his hand toward the cube—"is equal to the strength of a
hundred horses.  Develop that ’pull’ horizontally instead of vertically,
and we have a locomotive that runs continuously without the consumption
of a pound of coal.  That," cried the professor, his voice ringing with
triumph, "is the apotheosis of power!"

Gilhooly, judging from his manner, was the victim of uncomfortable
thoughts; Meigs wore a startled look, and Markham seemed half convinced.
Popham, alone, was brusque and uncompromising.

"I think we had better get out of here," again suggested Markham.  His
half convictions appeared to arouse some small amount of apprehension.

"I’m of the same opinion," spoke up Meigs.

"Wait a little," suggested Popham, and I saw a gleam in his eyes that
meant a stroke of some kind.  Once more he faced Quinn.  "I have no
patience with your harebrained theories," he went on, "and I have seen
charlatans work greater wonders than what you are pleased to call your
’demonstration.’  But it is a business principle of mine to buy up these
promising theories if they happen to run counter to any pet scheme I am
trying to put through.  Sir, rather than be annoyed further with this
chimerical idea of yours, I will pay five thousand dollars, spot cash,
just to have you give over your notions and quit experimenting."

Professor Quinn laughed.

"Five thousand dollars!" he exclaimed; then added, as though to himself,
"He would have me sell the welfare and happiness of the people for five
thousand dollars!"

"I will add another five thousand to Popham’s offer."  put in Gilhooly,
"not because I am afraid your discoveries will upset the transportation
interests of the country, but simply to clear the commercial atmosphere
and keep your visionary ideas from affecting the price of stocks."

"Let me add another five thousand," said Meigs.  "I don’t see how your
invention, even if it is all you claim for it, could affect me or my
interests one way or the other, but I will add my contribution simply
because Popham has taken the initiative."

"Count me in for the same amount," supplemented Markham, "on the
condition that Professor Quinn signs over to the four of us all his
right, title and interest in his non-gravity invention, and covenants to
leave that field entirely alone in future."

Quinn seemed to enjoy these propositions, and it was apparent at a
glance that he had no intention of accepting twenty thousand dollars and
renouncing his discoveries.

"Gentlemen," said he, "you are already half convinced that I am no
dreamer, for you are financiers, and, while twenty thousand dollars is
no more to you than twenty cents is to me, it is not your habit to give
your money away.  I repeat that you are inclined to have faith in me,
and before many minutes I shall have made your belief in my abilities
complete."

"Am I to understand that you decline our offer?" demanded Popham.

"Most decidedly!"

"Then there is nothing more to be said.  Come on, gentlemen," and Popham
started toward the door.

"A moment more, if you please," requested the professor.

"Not another second!" cried Popham.  "Our offer is withdrawn; and, if
your so-called discoveries amount to anything, we shall find other means
for making them ineffective."

I had been interested in proceedings to an extent that had all but
caused me to forget my purpose.  The plutocrats were about to leave the
castle in a temper, and if I wrested tribute from them it must be now or
never.

Starting up, I drew my revolver and ran hastily down the iron stairs.



                             *CHAPTER III.*

                       *PROFESSOR QUINN’S FEAT.*


My unexpected advent upon the scene proved as startling as I had
anticipated.  Even the professor was dashed.

Stepping in front of the steel door, I toyed menacingly with the
revolver and surveyed the plutocrats with a grim humor I made no attempt
to conceal.

At that period of my life, inspired by the sophistry to which I have
already adverted, I was a cool and dangerous man.

"Pardon me for entering unannounced," said I blindly.  "You have
listened to Professor Quinn’s theory and witnessed its demonstration. I
am but an humble philosopher, yet I have a theory of my own which I
should also like to expound and to demonstrate."

"Who are you, sir?" demanded Quinn.

"I am a bird of like feather with these, your guests," said I
facetiously, "albeit my methods are more direct if less extensive.  My
name is James Peter Munn; my specialty is robbery of the out-and-out
variety, for I have the courage of my convictions, and do not hide
behind a technicality.

"I do not wish to intrude my presence here longer than necessary to
accomplish my designs, and if these amiable gentlemen will aid me"—I
indicated the amiable gentlemen with my revolver point—"I will take my
departure quietly from the castle.  But"—and here I scowled
blackly—"some trust or other will be minus its guiding power in case any
resistance is attempted."

The threat was sufficient, and the usual sunny smile returned to my face
as I added:

"Mr. Gilhooly will advance to the table, spread his handkerchief upon
it, and lay thereon his watch and fob, the ring on his finger, the
kohinoor in his tie, and the wallet in the breast of his coat.  It is my
theory that one thief has the right to take from another property that
does not belong to either of them.  It is Mr. Gilhooly’s privilege to
give the first demonstration."

Fidelity to truth forces me to chronicle the above speech.  The _éclat_
with which I made it is far from me now as I pen it verbatim.

There are speeches in life which we could wish unsaid, and this one of
mine I would give much to consign to the limbo of things unspoken.
Reformation has worked wonders in me since that evil time.

I will say for Mr. Gilhooly that he was alacrity itself in carrying out
my command.  His hands trembled a little as he placed his belongings on
the handkerchief and knotted the four corners over the plunder as I
requested.

The professor, smiling strangely, sank down on the divan and watched
proceedings with twinkling eyes.  His manner filled me with a foreboding
I tried not to manifest.

"Evidently this amuses you!" cried Gilhooly, in anger, his snapping eyes
on the professor.

"Your inference is correct, Mr. Gilhooly," answered Quinn.  "I am
profoundly amused.  It is all so unexpected, so dramatic, and
so—useless."

"By gad, sir," cried Popham, "I see more in this than a desire on your
part to interest capital in a fake discovery.  There is a plot here,
gentlemen," and he turned to the other three.  "Our folly in allowing
ourselves to be lured to this place was stupendous.  I make no doubt but
that there is a plot here between this man Quinn and this thief.  Quinn
gets us in the thief’s power, and the thief does the rest."

"A pretty scheme!" snapped Meigs.

"Clever, very clever," put in Markham.

"And successful, too," growled Gilhooly with a regretful look at the
plunder on the table.  "But there will be a reckoning.  When we are once
clear of this place we can set the police at work."

I was surprised at the way Quinn took this talk.  He continued to smile
and was in no way ruffled.

"You’re wrong there," cried I, hot and indignant.  "Professor Quinn had
nothing to do with my being here.  I’ve had my eye on this castle for a
long while, and I let myself in, just before you came, hoping to make a
haul and get clear. You interrupted me, and I stowed myself away
upstairs.  From what I saw and heard, I must say that it is a pleasure
for me to turn my back on Professor Quinn’s property and to give my
entire attention to you four."

"Mr. Munn," said Quinn, "how long have you been engaged in this
business?"

"For some years now, sir," I answered.

"You were honest—once?"

"Every man is born honest, if it comes to that. I used to work in an
iron foundry, but the works were taken over by a combination and a lot
of us were thrown out of employment.  There was nothing for me to do but
beg—and I’m above that.  This came handiest, and I went into it. I like
the business.  Matching one’s wits against the law keeps one constantly
in the midst of alarms, so to speak, and I like excitement.  And I have
ability, for never yet have I worn the stripes or learned the lock-step.
I have written some on the subject of my vocation, in the hope of
beguiling others into the work."

"A dangerous man!" muttered Gilhooly.

"What are we coming to?" clamored Popham. "Here is a thief who is
actually proud of his profession, and who actually writes books about
it!"

"Merciful heavens!" gasped Meigs, in horror. "I feel sorry for my
country when it produces such men."

"We—we are tottering on the verge of chaos!" added Markham, in a stage
whisper.

I laughed at all this, for I enjoyed it hugely.

"Spare yourselves any needless worry about me, gentlemen," said I.
"Look to home, and you will probably find enough there to fret your
consciences."

Professor Quinn continued to take pleasure out of the queer situation.

"I can honor a man like Munn," said he, "where I am tempted to despise
men like you, Gilhooly, Meigs, Markham, and Popham.  As Munn said, he
has the courage of his convictions. He does not take from the poor, for
in the very nature of things he cannot.  His loot comes from those who
are able to lose it, while you are vampires, and sapping the very
lifeblood of the nation.  You are all criminally deluded, although,
perhaps, doing what you conscientiously believe to be exactly right.
Would to Heaven," and here the professor grew suddenly sincere and
intensely earnest, "that something would conspire to open your eyes to
the exact truth.  But I have despaired of that, and I am trying, in my
own feeble way, to meet the present emergency."

"You are either a fool or a madman!" cried Popham.

"A rattle-brained zealot!" chimed in Meigs.

"You are the one who should see things differently," said Markham.  "You
preach a doctrine which you fail to apply personally."

"Enough of this talk, gentlemen," I interposed. "My situation is
precarious and I must ask you to hurry a little."

"Sir," shouted Popham, leveling a forefinger at me, "I shall see you
properly jailed for this. Why, you miserable footpad, I can——"

"Save your breath," I interrupted tartly, meeting his forefinger with
the muzzle of the pepper box.  "Lead is no respecter of persons.  One of
you has called me a dangerous man.  I am all of that, and desperate.
Mr. Popham, you saw how Mr. Gilhooly carried out my orders.  You will
proceed in the same manner, and without further loss of time.  In five
minutes I must be out of here."

He started to argue the point with me, and I allowed my forefinger to
flex, ever so slightly, upon the trigger.

That was enough.  A man values his life in a direct ratio with what he
considers his importance; therefore, the esteem in which these four
millionaires held themselves must have been overwhelming.

The Honorable Augustus Popham finally yielded up his personal property
with the same readiness that had characterized his friend. Hannibal
Markham followed him, and after Markham came J. Archibald Meigs.

I had a pleasant word for each as I marshaled the four bundles, strung
them on the fingers of my left hand and backed toward the door, which
was a few paces behind me.

"When a good general beats a retreat," said I, preparing to pull open
the door and let myself out, "he places as many obstacles in the path of
the pursuing force as possible.  When I leave, therefore, I shall lock
this door on the outside."

I was watched by the plutocrats in philosophical silence; by the
professor, with a geniality that nothing seemed able to shake.

I had spared Quinn because he was a friend of the poor, as I had
discovered.  And I had been poor myself some fifteen minutes back.

"Good-by," said I airily.

"_Au revoir_," answered the professor.  "Look well where you step."

I threw open the door with a laugh.  The laugh faded into a shout of
terror.

I threw out my hands, revolver and packets of loot falling through the
door, and I only barely saving myself with one foot over the threshold.

The horror that gripped me then is such a horror as comes to a man but
once in a lifetime. My brain sickened and chilled, my heart all but
stopped its beating, and my limbs grew rigid.

In the black of the fearsome night—not the atmospheric blue-black I had
been accustomed to, but the ebony dark of Erebus—I saw a wild greenish
star below, a huge disk whose gleaming nimbus danced on my sight in
quivering lines.

Half crazed, I flung back into the room and fell groveling to the floor,
my ears echoing with the professor’s merriment and the startled
exclamations of the four men I had robbed—all to no purpose.

Presently I sat up, rubbing forehead and eyes.

The professor stood in the open door, gloating over the vista below.

"Come!" he called, beckoning to the huddled quartet at the other side of
the room.  "Come, Gilhooly, Meigs, Popham, and Markham—come, look down
upon the scene of your feverish activities.  You were plutocrats there,
more powerful than kings!  Here you are no more than shoulder high with
me, and yon muddled thief on the floor!  You have been snatched from the
scene of your pernicious labors—exiled into planetary space where you
will be powerless to work further evil.  I have not lived in vain; for
this, this is the triumph of my career."

Slowly Meigs disentangled himself from the mute group by the opposite
wall and crept on all fours to the threshold that overlooked the void
and the greenish star.

He recoiled with a yell; then, maddened by what he had seen, he leaped
erect and tried to hurl himself out into space.

"Fool!" cried the professor, laying hold of him and struggling to keep
him back.  "Would you become a satellite of this twenty-by-thirty
planet?  We are beyond the atmosphere of the earth—look!  See the four
packets of loot and the thief’s revolver."

He pointed through the door and the bulging handkerchiefs and my
six-shooter were abreast of us, hanging in space, turning slowly,
weirdly—a sight to upset the strongest mind.

Gilhooly jumped forward, gave vent to a maniacal laugh, then crumpled
down on the floor.

"Bid up for the G.H.&D.," he mumbled, "bid to the limit!  I must have
that road—I _will_ have it."

"Brace up, Meigs!" said the professor sharply, pulling the key from the
outer side of the lock, slamming the door, fastening it, and putting the
key in his pocket.  "Take care of Gilhooly, man! His mind falters!
Heavens, are you all mad? Are your keen minds, unshaken in the
contemplation of vast deals for the enslavement of the poor, so quick to
break?  I had thought better of you than this!"

Meigs, white as the spotless linen that covered his breast, advanced
upon the professor.  He tried to speak, but without success.  At last,
with a supreme effort, the words came:

"Madman, what have you done?"

"That is better," returned the professor, smiling as he looked at Meigs
and noted how Markham and Popham ranged themselves at his side; "much
better.  You were engaged in plots back there on the earth, and the
success of those plots would have proved a great calamity.  I have saved
the world from the calamity!"

"Your—your castle has risen from the earth?" asked Meigs.

"It has fallen off the earth.  As you and I and the others happened to
be inside, we fell with it!"

Sudden rage convulsed Meigs.  He crouched downward, his eyes ablaze and
his fingers working convulsively.

"Scoundrel!" he screamed, and launched himself at the professor’s throat
like a tiger.



                             *CHAPTER IV.*

                      *THE PLUTOCRATS RECONCILED.*


Looking back now at that dreadful hour when the realization of our awful
predicament burst upon us, I wonder that I preserved my own equilibrium.

The first shock came near to throwing me off my poise, but after that I
gained the whip hand of my wits by swift and sure degrees.

I verily believe the professor would have been strangled by Meigs, aided
and abetted by Popham and Markham, had I not rushed to his rescue.  I
had muscles of iron, and after I had caught Meigs by the nape of the
neck and thrown him backward, I planted myself between Quinn and his
foes.

"Leave the professor alone," said I.  "You men show mighty poor
judgment, it strikes me, in trying to lay violent hands on him."

"He deserves death," babbled Meigs.  "He had no business shooting us
into space in this summary manner."

Fear and anger had made Meigs childish.  He measured our dilemma in
terms so common a smile came to my lips.

"Judgment, poor judgment!" sniffed Popham. "Look at Gilhooly, and then
talk about poor judgment, if you can."

In truth, the railway magnate presented a sorry spectacle.  His clothing
was in wild disorder, his hair was rumpled about his head, and he was
hopping back and forth with two fingers in the air.

He was under the impression that he was dealing in railroad stocks,
completing the huge transaction that had made him the talk of two
continents.

"This professor ought to be flayed alive," declared Markham.  "Where are
we going, and when will we get there?"

"Now," said I.  "you are striking the keynote. Who knows where we are
going if the professor doesn’t?  And who knows when we shall arrive
there if it is out of his power to tell?  We need the professor, for if
we are to be saved it will be his knowledge that does it."

"But what will my family think?" whimpered Meigs.  "And my business
interests!"

He threw up his hands and fell back in his seat with a groan.  Then
abruptly he straightened up again.

"This is a dream!  By gad, it must be!  The whole affair is too
outrageously unreal for any sane man to believe."

Gilhooly gave a maudlin chuckle.

"I was dead sure I’d get that last block of X.Y.&Z. stock!  That road is
the last span in my network of ties and rails.  Ha!  _Now_ we’ll see!
_Now!_"

Meigs shivered.  Gilhooly’s maunderings struck sharply at his desire to
coddle himself with a myth.

"It’s awful to have Gilhooly like that," spoke up Augustus Popham.  "If
he had not been thrown out of balance, his wide knowledge of matters
relating to transportation might have proved of inestimable service to
us now."

Professor Quinn laughed.  It was an eerie laugh, and it shook me to hear
it.

"Oh, you!" cried Markham reproachfully, whirling on Quinn.  "After
causing this disaster and overthrowing as brilliant a mind as there ever
was in Wall Street, you have the heart to indulge in levity.  Look here:
how far are we from the earth at the present moment?"

"That is a difficult matter to estimate, even approximately," answered
Quinn calmly. "Ordinarily, gravity exerts a force that can be measured
definitely on the earth’s surface.  A body falling freely from rest
acquires a velocity which is equal to the product of thirty-two and
one-fifth feet and the number of seconds during which the motion has
lasted.  What is the time now?"

Three gentlemen reached for their watches, failed to find them, and
turned hard looks on me. I appreciated their dilemma and drew from my
vest an open-face timepiece that was personal property and honestly come
by.

"It is twelve-fifteen," said I.

Quinn took a pencil and notebook from his pocket and did some figuring.

"We might be a little more than two miles from our native planet," said
he, "but——"

"Only two miles!" cried the three exiles in chorus.

"You can take us back, sir," said Popham, who had been pacing the floor
nervously.  "Shut off the power of this infernal machine and let us drop
back to where we belong.  Two miles is no great matter.  Your castle is
a slow freight compared with some of Gilhooly’s express trains."

"I cannot take you back, sir," returned the professor, "and I would not
if I could.  You did not hear me out.  The law of velocity, recited for
your benefit a moment ago, does not measure the speed of this car."

"No?" murmured Markham.

"Decidedly not.  The earth sweeps along in its orbit at the rate of
eighteen miles to the second, while some aerolites and meteoroids attain
a speed of twenty and thirty miles to the second. In building this car,
I equipped it with an anti-gravity block geared up to fifty miles to the
second.  The lever on the wall"—and here Quinn turned and pointed to
it—-"is thrown so as to give us the maximum."

"In other words," said Popham feebly, "we are sailing skyward at a rate
of—of three thousand miles per—per minute?"

"Presumably.  As we left my city lot in New York at about
eleven-fifteen, it follows that we have been one hour on the way."

"And should be one hundred and eighty thousand miles from home,"
faltered Meigs.

"About that," answered the professor calmly. "I do not know just how
much our progress was impeded by the atmospheric envelope of the earth,
but I think we may call our distance from the mother orb some one
hundred and eighty thousand miles, in round numbers."

These startling figures came near to unsettling the three gentlemen
again.  In that flight through space we were confronting immensities
well-nigh beyond our puny comprehension.  And the professor was not yet
done.

"In the storeroom overhead," he continued, "I have a supply of cubes and
insulating compound which I can combine and give tremendous added
velocity to the car."

"I am sure we are traveling fast enough," said Meigs, leaning back on
the divan hopelessly dejected.

"If you are now ready to listen to reason," proceeded Quinn.  "I will
tell you how Mr. Munn here saved your lives by rescuing me from your mad
attack."

"Our lives, forsooth!" exclaimed Markham bitterly.  "Of what value is
life to us, situated as we are?"

"That is one way to look at it, of course," rejoined Quinn caustically.
"But I did not exile you into planetary space for the purpose of wiping
you out of existence."

"You might as well have done so," said Popham severely.  "That is what
this harum-scarum plot of yours amounts to in the long run."

"You may not care to learn how I am preserving you at the present
moment," continued Quinn, "nor how I shall do so in the future, yet I
will tell you so that you may understand how much you owe to Mr. Munn’s
foresight and courage."

I was beginning to entertain a high regard for Quinn in spite of what he
had done.  He may have been laboring under terrible delusions, but his
resource certainly commanded respect.

"To my forethought," he continued, "is due the fact that you are
breathing oxygen at this moment; and had I not invented a liquid which
fortifies animate or inanimate bodies against heat and cold, our rush
through the atmosphere of the earth would have incinerated this car and
its contents—nay, would have caused it to explode and settle back on our
native planet in impalpable powder."

These were things that none of us, aside from the professor, had so much
as taken thought of. My respect for him was growing into something like
awe, and I fancied I detected traces of the same sentiment in the other
three.

"There are roving bodies in space," Quinn went on, noting with apparent
satisfaction the interest he had aroused, "with which we might come into
collision.  I have a good telescope at the observatory window upstairs,
and while I cannot guide this car, I can at least increase or slacken
its speed so as to dodge any other derelict that may come into dangerous
proximity with us."

"Hadn’t you better be up there on the look-out?" queried Markham in some
trepidation.

He was manifesting an interest in his personal safety that pleased the
professor.

"There is not much danger at present," returned Quinn.  "When we have
plunged farther into the interstellar void, it will be well to stand
watch and watch about at the telescope."

"Will it not be possible to land on some other planet, Mars, for
instance?" queried Popham with sudden hope.

"I should prefer Mars," added Meigs, reflecting the hope shown in his
friend’s face.  "They have been signaling from Mars, and perhaps we can
find out what they want over there."

Quinn shook his head.

"We are in the hands of fate, gentlemen," said he.  "We may drop into
some port, but what that port will be is beyond my power even to
surmise."

"The moon isn’t so far off," suggested Markham.

"Only two hundred and forty thousand miles," said Quinn.

"We should be there in less than two hours from the time of starting,"
remarked Meigs, after a mental bout with the figures.

"If I wished," said Quinn, "I could increase our speed; traveling at the
rate we are, however, something will have to be deducted for the
resistance of the earth’s atmosphere.  If we drop on a planet it must be
a planet with an atmosphere.  The moon has none, and consequently is a
dead world.  Besides, fate might not throw us into its vicinity, or——"

"Just a minute, sir," interposed Markham, "for I am a man who likes to
understand thoroughly every situation with which he is called upon to
deal.  You invited us to your castle, not, I am constrained to believe,
to have us victimized by Munn, here, nor to have us invest in any of
your discoveries, but to snatch us away from the scene of our labors.
Is that correct, Professor Quinn?"

"Entirely so, Mr. Markham," replied Quinn.

"Evidently," proceeded Markham, "your plot has cost you some time and
labor.  You had first to find your gravity-resisting compound——"

"The plot followed as a result of my discovery," smiled the professor.
"I did not first evolve the plot and then go searching for means to get
you off the earth.  When I had made the discovery, it remained for me to
give it to the world—or to better the world by taking you four gentlemen
away from it.  Had I given the public the benefit, you shrewd men of
affairs might have devised means for setting it aside, or for
controlling it.  Not being a business man myself, I feared to take
chances.  For that reason the present enterprise appealed to me."

"You have planned so well in the smaller details that I wonder you
overlooked the main point."

"And that is——"

"What you are going to do with us, now that your plan has succeeded."

The professor tossed his hands deprecatingly as though that was really
the most insignificant part of his startling scheme.

"We can’t go bobbing around through interstellar space," grumbled
Popham.  "I don’t relish the idea of being cribbed, cabined and confined
in a steel room indefinitely.  I should go mad from the very thought."

"It’s awful to contemplate," said Meigs, casting a melancholy glance
through the iron latticework at one of the windows.

The bags of loot were in that vicinity, at the moment, and his glance
swerved reproachfully to me.

"We shall make a landing, I have no doubt," said the professor
soothingly, "somehow and somewhere."

"By gad, sir," cried Popham, bringing his fist emphatically down on the
table, "I don’t like such a hit-and-miss way of doing things.  Whenever
I set out to accomplish anything, the goal is always clear in my mind;
yet, here I am, through no desire of my own, afloat in the great void,
without a single aim or a remote prospect.  If we are going to land
anywhere—and you remain firm in your decision not to take us back to our
native planet—I demand that you make landfall on some orb that is worth
while."

"Very good, Popham," approved Meigs. "Unless I am greatly mistaken, that
was the very idea Markham had in mind when he began questioning the
professor.  Eh, Markham?"

"It was," replied Markham.  "A full knowledge of where we are going is
necessary to a thorough understanding of our—er—most remarkable
situation.  Now, there are worlds larger than the one we have recently
left. Personally, I am predisposed in favor of a large planet—one on
which there are traction interests, fuel supplies, and products of the
soil similar to those we have been accustomed to."

Under the spell of Markham’s words, Popham began to glow and expand.
Meigs, all attention, pressed a little closer.

"The bigger the planet the bigger our field of operations!" cried
Popham.  "What’s the matter with Jupiter?"

"Or Saturn?" echoed Meigs.

"Or Neptune?" put in Markham.

"What’s the matter with the whole solar system?" inquired Quinn, with
gentle irony.  He turned to me.  "Observe, Mr. Munn, how extravagant are
the ideas inspired by monopoly! These gentlemen are hardly started on
their journey into space before they forget the business interests, the
friends and the environment they are leaving behind and begin planning
the commercial conquest of the stars!"  He shook his head forebodingly.
"Your regeneration," he added to the millionaires, "calls for a landing
on some barren world, some outcast of the solar system, where you will
have nothing to do but think over the evil of your past and learn
something of the duty you owe your fellow-men."

Popham, Markham, and Meigs were visibly annoyed by the professor’s
remarks.  Withdrawing as far as the limits of the steel structure would
allow, they put their heads together and held a brief but animated
conversation in tones so low that the professor and I could not
overhear.

"Think of that, professor!" I muttered.  "And yet there are people who
find fault with a respectable burglar."

"Softly, Mr. Munn," returned Quinn.  "Before we are done with this
journey I am fain to believe that all of you will have a different
outlook upon life, and a higher regard for your duties of citizenship."

Just then, Popham turned from his friends and stepped toward the
professor.  His manner was truculent—probably just such a manner as he
was accustomed to use in facing a board of obstinate directors.

"If you will not return us to our native planet, Professor Quinn," said
he sharply, "then we shall stand upon our rights.  We are unalterably
opposed to landing upon any orb whose diameter measures less than——"

At that instant a most astounding thing happened.  The car ducked
sideways, throwing the whole structure out of plumb.

Loose articles began to drop from shelves and other places and to slide
across the floor to the lowest point.  By a quick movement I saved the
lamp and braced myself in an upright position.

Cries of terror went up from Markham, Meigs, and Popham.

"Where’s Gilhooly?" shouted the professor.

He was answered by a wild yell from overhead.

"He’s in the storeroom!" cried Quinn.  "Follow me with that lamp,
Munn—quick!"

The professor rushed for the stairway and I made after him with what
speed I could.



                              *CHAPTER V.*

                          *TRAVELING SUNWARD.*


There never lived a man, I suppose, who did not, at some time or other
in his career, submit his veracity to question.  A reformed burglar,
therefore, although animated by the most disinterested motives, can
scarcely hope to escape the shafts of the incredulous.

Although well-grounded in the science of cracksmanship, and with some
store of legal learning as to alibis and so forth, my mind was as empty
of astronomical lore as a drained bottle.  The professor’s sayings were
jotted down in a sort of commonplace book at a later day when leisure
offered.

Memory may have played me false in some few minor points, but in all of
major importance this narrative is to be taken with the same sincerity
in which it is written.  I ask no more of the reader than that; and if
he is not averse to strolling through unfrequented ways touching elbows
with a man who has a past, we shall get along famously.

To return, then, to the steel car, and the obliquity it suddenly
presented to the direction of its course.  Startling disclosures had
somewhat obscured Gilhooly, and he had vanished from the lower room
without being missed.

For a man of sixty-five, the professor was very agile, and he took the
winding iron stairway two steps at a time.  I gained the storeroom close
behind him, and there we found Gilhooly, crooning to himself and working
like mad.

He was not working in the dark, but had possessed himself of my
bull’s-eye lantern, which I had left on descending from the loft some
time before.  Mounted on a pile of packing cases, he was engaged in
painting a large steel cube, taking his pigment from an open cask with a
whitewash brush.

"My anti-gravity compound!" exclaimed the professor in an irritated
tone.  "There are several blocks on the floor, as you can see: Gilhooly
began painting that one, and it rose as insulation proceeded, lodging to
the left of the dome and tilted the car."

"This is the shabbiest lot of coaches I ever saw in my life," said
Gilhooly, dabbing away with the brush.  "I won’t own a road with such
rolling stock."

The three men downstairs had followed Quinn and me.  After some coaxing,
Meigs got Gilhooly to descend from his perch and give up the whitewash
brush.

Thereupon the cube was pried over until it rested directly under another
block in the point of the dome, and the professor finished the
insulation begun by the railway magnate.

"Gilhooly will have to be watched," said Quinn, "or he will play havoc
with the materials I have stored up here.  He has wasted at least a
quart of that anti-gravity mixture, and it is worth its weight in gold.
Nay, it is worth more than that, for after this supply is exhausted
there will be none to be had for love or money.

"Our rate of speed has been multiplied by two, and we are rushing
through space with frightful rapidity.  There is my telescope"—and the
professor pointed to the instrument which stood beneath a window in the
sloping roof of the car.  "Suppose Gilhooly had demolished that! Or what
if he had wrecked the oxygen vat, or the anti-temperature reservoir!
Gentlemen, I shudder to think of what might have happened."

The professor sank down on a copper tank and brushed his perspiring brow
with a bandanna handkerchief.  I placed the lamp on a box beside the
bull’s-eye lantern and reclined on a bale of something or other that lay
conveniently near.

Meigs and Popham dropped down on a packing case with Gilhooly moored
between them, and Markham took up his station on an overturned cask.

The loft of the car, stored as it was with odds and ends of science,
together with a supply of provisions made ready for us by the farsighted
and wonderful man who was conducting this select party into the unknown,
was an object of deep solicitude and interest.

Out of a desire to tag the various materials understandingly, I lifted
the lid of my curiosity and let out a few questions.

"If I mistake not," said I, "you mentioned this anti-temperature
material once before.  What is it, professor?"

"A liquid," he answered amiably.  "As a discovery, it is outranked only
by my anti-gravity compound.  An ounce of the fluid in a bath renders
the bather impervious to heat or cold, keeping in the animal caloric and
keeping out all other extremes of temperature.  Some of the mixture was
incorporated into the paint with which this car is coated.

"Yonder is the water receptacle," and the professor nodded toward a
large tank opposite him. "With economy, the supply in that reservoir
will last us several months.  The food I have provided is of the
ready-prepared kind, mostly in tins, with an alcohol lamp for the
brewing of tea, coffee, and chocolate.  During this hegira into infinity
I have omitted nothing, gentlemen, which will minister to your comfort."

"You are a very able man, professor," acknowledged Popham.  "How long
have you been planning this little excursion?"

"Ever since I began erecting what the Harlemites were pleased to call my
castle," smiled Quinn.  "The plan was conceived at the time the success
of the manipulations of yourself and your friends seemed assured."

"It was your purpose to foil the speculative gentlemen," I struck in,
"and so come to the aid of a long-suffering public?"

"You hit off the matter finely, Mr. Munn," replied the professor.  "That
was my purpose."

"Could not your anti-temperature mixture have been donated to the poor
with beneficial results?"

"It is altogether too expensive for general use. I will not conceal from
you gentlemen the fact that we are falling sunward.  If we make landfall
on a planet where the heat is several hundred degrees beyond our earthly
powers of endurance, the mixture in question will preserve us."

"Falling sunward!" exclaimed Markham.  "It was hard upon midnight when
we left the earth. If my school-day learning is not at fault, the sun,
at the hour of our departure, was on the opposite side of our planet.
How, then, does it happen that we are falling toward the great
luminary?"

"Bravo!" cried the professor, vastly pleased. "I am glad to see, Mr.
Markham, that your intellect has not suffered a total eclipse by the
demands of commercial supremacy.  Night is the result of one of the
Earth’s hemispheres being turned from the sun, and, other things being
equal, we should now be falling toward the outer limits of our solar
system; but, if I may use the term, the castle was not aimed for a
direct fall from the earth’s crust.  We dropped at a very sharp angle,
and the influence of the sun has attracted us still farther out of a
straight course. I trust you follow me?"

The three millionaires understood the situation, but, judging from the
expression of their faces, the knowledge brought keen disappointment.

"There are only two planets between the earth and the sun," observed
Markham, "Mercury and Venus, if I remember rightly."

"Both insignificant," grumbled Popham.

"Venus is about the size of our own planet, gentlemen," said the
professor.  "However, it has long been supposed that there is another
group of planets between Mercury and the sun, among them a little world
called Vulcan, which——"

"That does not interest us," cut in Meigs. "Sunward the planets are
smaller, but they get larger as you go the other way."

"Larger," expounded the professor, "but less dense."

"As I was about to tell you, a moment ago," pursued Popham, "Meigs,
Markham, and I have decided that either Saturn or Mars would about fill
the bill so far as we are concerned.  There are lights on Mars, which,
as we figure it, presupposes electricity; and electricity means
civilization to a degree that affords us a promising prospect.  Then,
again, there are canals on Mars, and, if canals, certainly water
transportation. Transportation problems of any sort will interest
Gilhooly; indeed, we are prone to think they would bring him back to his
normal poise. Saturn, on the other hand, has rings, and such a condition
might afford opportunities to wide-awake men such as are unknown
anywhere else in the solar system.  Take us either to Mars or to Saturn,
Professor Quinn, as you may find it most convenient.  We demand it!"

"It is impossible to do anything of that kind, Mr. Popham," returned the
professor decidedly. "The influence of the sun upon our course is too
powerful."

"Are we to understand, then," cried Markham, "that we are compelled to
put up with either Mercury or Venus?"

"Even there, gentlemen, we have no choice. We are in the grip of
circumstances and must perforce accept whatever fate throws our way.
Possibly we shall become a satellite of the sun, revolving around and
around it—Quinn’s Planet, the smallest of any in the great system."

Although I felt drowsy, I aroused myself with an effort and kept sharp
eyes on the professor’s face.  I do not think he was in earnest, but
merely talking to see what effect his remarks would have on the three
millionaires.

"Corner, corner, corner," babbled Gilhooly; "make a corner, corner
everything."

Markham dropped his face in his hands, Meigs bowed his head, and I saw a
shiver run through Popham.

"Egad," muttered Popham, "this castle of yours, Quinn, is little short
of a steel tomb. Inasmuch as we are safely interred, what’s the use of
living?  Gilhooly is the only fortunate one among us, for his reason is
shattered and he cannot realize what he is facing."

"You are talking less like a man, now, Popham," reproved Quinn, "than
like a driveling idiot.  While there’s life there’s hope.  How many
brilliant minds have been overthrown as a result of your manipulations
of stock in Wall Street?  How many bright futures have been wrecked by
an adverse trend of the speculative market?  Were those unfortunates any
better off because thrust into madhouses and unable to realize the fate
that had overtaken them?  For shame, sir!"

"You are perfectly sure, are you, professor," I struck in, attempting to
give a more pleasant twist to the conversation, "that we shall come out
all right in the end?"

"I have my plans, Mr. Munn," he answered, not unkindly, "and the success
or failure of them will depend largely upon the mental attitude of these
gentlemen."

This was too deep for me, and I cast about for some equally important
question which would bring a less indefinite response.

"Anyhow," said I, "we have plenty of food for a long journey?  It would
be a fearful thing to have a famine so—so many miles from a base of
supplies."

"The food supply, Mr. Munn," answered the professor, "is adequate.
There will be no famine."

"And the water, the oxygen, the——"

"I have looked after everything necessary to our safety and comfort."

I had confidence in Quinn.  He had shown that he was an able man, and
that his promises were to be taken at face value.  With a sigh of
relief, I settled back in tolerable comfort.

Meigs took the role of questioner out of my hands at this point, and,
although I was eager to hear all that was said, "tired nature’s sweet
restorer" got the better of my curiosity and I fell asleep on the bale.



                             *CHAPTER VI.*

                         *A LANDING EFFECTED.*


It is not my purpose to cumber this narrative with the smaller details
of our journey, novel and thrilling though some of them proved to be.
It is with our experiences on the planet which finally claimed us that
this account has mostly to do, so I shall glide over intermediate
incidents in a somewhat cursory manner.

Our faculties, keyed to an understanding of earthly conditions only,
found themselves continually at bay; and at nothing did they stand more
aghast than at the lightning-like speed with which we shot through
space.

The energy developed by the two insulated cubes gave to our steel car
the stupendous velocity of one hundred miles per second, six thousand
miles per minute, three hundred and sixty thousand miles per hour!
Human reason might well falter at the threshold of such immensity.

Yet while I slept peacefully on that bale in the storeroom, these
figures were verified by the professor and J. Archibald Meigs, who
happened to be the only two who were wide awake.  It has been my lasting
regret that they did not rouse me so that I might also have had a view
of the noble spectacle for the first time unrolled to earthly eyes.

We passed the moon, a dreary, burned-out world, and the professor was
able to check off two hundred and forty thousand miles of our sunward
plunge.  We had traveled a little more than half an hour at our ultimate
velocity; taking this into consideration, and noting the exact minute
when we crossed the centre of the satellite’s orbit, the professor was
able to do some figuring and so test his theories as to speed.

The car skimmed through ether less than five hundred miles above the
lunar crust.  Quinn was doubly pleased, for he not only proved that our
velocity was substantially as he had supposed, but also discovered that
the moon’s attraction, so powerful on the tides of our mother sphere,
could not swerve the car by a hair’s breadth from its direct course, or
overcome the influence of the sun.

Meigs told me later that the marvelous beauty of the satellite, gleaming
against the black void with ghostly radiance, was probably worth the
trip and its attendant inconveniences.  He and Quinn had looked their
fill on the hemisphere which is never seen from the earth.

After this the hours literally flew past, the novelty of our journey
precluding any such thing as monotony.  In fact, we hardly allowed
ourselves a sufficient amount of time for rest and refreshment.

A lookout was kept continually at the eye-piece of the telescope to
signal the approach of any asteroid with which we might possibly come
into collision.  Only once did this danger threaten us, and then, as may
be supposed, it was the professor who proved our salvation.

The lever in the wall of the lower or living room of the car
communicated with screens, ingeniously arranged for shutting off the
power of the anti-gravity cubes.  By lessening our speed, the professor
suffered the asteroid to cross our course, our car ducking through the
luminous trail that swept out behind it.

Night reigned around us constantly.  Our car caught the rays of the sun,
it is true, but the lack of an atmosphere caused the light to be thrown
back into space and lost.

The castle was nothing less than a small planet, attended by five
satellites which, held to our vicinity by the car’s attraction, circled
around us continually.  These satellites were the four knotted
handkerchiefs containing the tribute I had levied upon the plutocrats,
and also the revolver which had assisted me in the work.

These objects went through varied phases exactly as more pretentious
satellites would have done.  It would be difficult to describe my
feelings as I watched them from the car windows.

I am prone to think, at the present writing, that this lost booty,
waxing and waning under my eyes, planted in my nature those first seeds
of regret which finally grew into a reformation.

I recall a conversation that I had with Markham while I sat with my eye
at the lower end of the telescope, watching for stray asteroids.

The millionaires had given me to understand that I was not in their set.
Circumstances over which they had no control had brought us together
within the narrow confines of the car, but no social barriers had been
leveled.  Occasionally the novelty of our situation, and the consequent
excitement, would cause one or other of the wealthy gentleman to forget
the gulf that yawned between us.

This attitude of the magnate afforded me a good deal of innocent
enjoyment.  They had left social prestige, no less than their bank
accounts, behind them, and what little collateral they had had upon
their persons was now "satelliting" about the car.  The line they drew
between themselves and me, in their thoughtful moments, was a
distinction without much of a difference.

Markham, I remember, was munching a sandwich, contrived out of two
crackers and a slice of tinned beef.

"Did you never reflect, Mr. Munn," said he, "upon the evil of your
past?"

"When a man writes books which are mainly drawn from his own experience,
Mr. Markham," said I, "he has to go into his past pretty exhaustively."

"Ah, yes, I was forgetting about the books. Were you not horrified with
the results of your retrospection?"

"Horrified?  Well, yes, here and there.  I lost a big haul once through
the breaking of a jimmy, and I was horrified to think how any dealer in
burglar’s kits could have foisted such an unreliable instrument upon a
well-meaning cracksman."

Markham stared at me dazedly.

"I have set down the experience in Chapter One of ’Forty Ways for
Cracking Safes,’" I proceeded, "and one of the first of my ten rules for
success in any safe-cracking job was this: Be sure that your kit is
reliable, and without flaws."

"Mr. Munn, Mr. Munn!" whispered Markham hoarsely.  "Think of the people
from whom you have taken property dishonestly."

"I never think of them but to wish that I had been able to relieve them
of more."

"This is awful!" muttered Markham.  "You really exult over what you have
done."

He would have started down the iron stairs had I not restrained him with
a word.

"Let me ask you something, Mr. Markham," said I.  "Last fall, bread went
to ten cents a loaf because the wheat market was cornered—and a man by
the name of Markham did the cornering. The people who had to put up that
extra five cents missed it more than did those from whom I took five
hundred dollars."

Markham coughed.  "Any asteroids in sight?" he inquired absently.

"I wonder if _you_ ever did any reflecting?" I asked tartly.

"What do you think of Quinn?" and Markham looked away as I took my eye
from the telescope and gave him an expressive wink.

"I don’t think," I continued, "that you ever wrote a book called ’Forty
Ways to Starve the Poor.’  You have material enough for a pretty
effective volume on the subject, but you haven’t my nerve."

"No," he returned slowly, "I haven’t your nerve.  It requires unalloyed
impudence and a mind incapable of clear thinking to liken the results of
high finance with those of your own petty and highly criminal
proceedings.  You are too bright a man, Mr. Munn, to allow yourself to
be led afield by sophistries of that kind."

"Mr. Markham, Mr. Markham!" I breathed, in horrified protest.

"You have bolstered up your nefarious business with false ideals," he
went on, "and you are unregenerate and lost!"

"This is awful!" I murmured.

"When we get to where we are going," pursued Markham, either failing to
note my sarcasm or else hoping to ride it down, "I trust you will hold
your criminal instincts in check.  If there are any people there, don’t
give them any false ideals or implant the notion that your standards
belong to the rest of us."

"I would not so belittle my ideals," I returned bluntly.

"Sir," he cried sharply, "am I to understand that you set yourself up as
being any better than Mr. Popham, Mr. Gilhooly, Mr. Meigs, or myself?"

"What you understand doesn’t concern me in the least," I answered
airily.  "What you don’t understand, it strikes me, is the matter that
ought to claim your attention."

"Confound you, sir!  Your overwhelming ignorance is equalled only by
your colossal egotism. I am sorry that I allowed myself to be beguiled
into any talk with you."

"Our regrets are mutual," said I, "for your conversation is
demoralizing.  You are a past master in successful trickery—trickery of
the sort that ought to be stamped out.  If the law was as quick to deal
with you as with me——"

"Hold!" fumed Markham, plunging for the stairs, "I have heard enough."

I have said that I was a hard man, in those times.  I could call a spade
a spade with never a thought that my angle of vision was distorted.  I
have regretted expressing my views in this frank fashion to Markham, yet
I believe that there was injustice in his remarks no less than in mine.

Being the only person in the car who possessed a watch, the professor
appointed me official time-keeper.  It was my duty to bulletin the hour,
with its equivalent in days such as we were accustomed to, upon a
blackboard in the lower room; I had also to enter this information upon
a book, which the professor called the "log-book."

Every ten hours we had a class in astronomy, with the professor as
instructor and with every man save Gilhooly and the lookout as students.
The railway magnate’s aberration continued; all we could do was to watch
him solicitously and prevent him from doing any injury to himself or to
our paraphernalia.

The class learned that the nearest planet with an atmosphere, and
supposedly habitable, was Venus, which, at inferior conjunction, is
distant some twenty-five million miles from Terra, as Quinn called our
own planet.  Counting out the delays at starting, and in maneuvring to
escape the asteroid, our instructor asserted that we should reach Venus
in something like seventy-five hours.

Markham, Meigs, and Popham, on consulting the bulletin board and finding
that seventy hours had passed, began to brush their clothes and tidy
themselves against the hour of landing.  But they were destined to
disappointment.

Unable to locate Venus at the point where he had hoped to find it, the
professor decided that it was nearing superior conjunction and was
somewhere on the other side of the sun.  Meigs made a deplorable display
of temper.

Quinn was a mighty poor astronomer, he said sneeringly, if he could find
himself so far wide of the mark on such a simple matter.  Meigs further
added—with a good deal of childishness as I thought—that the role of a
derelict was distasteful to him: a derelict, he argued, was nothing more
than a tramp, and he objected to being a tramp, even a celestial tramp.

I was out of patience with the man.  Admiration for the professor had
taken fast hold of me and I would not have him sneered at or maligned.

A war of hot words was on between myself and the Wall Street broker when
Quinn interfered.

"True," said he, "we have missed Venus by a few millions of miles, but
we are aimed directly at the orbit of another world, and I can so
manipulate the lever as to wait for it, if necessary, and drop upon its
surface when it overtakes us."

"What world is that?" said Popham, pricking tip his ears.

"Mercury," answered the professor.  "It is the smallest orb in our solar
system and measures some three thousand miles in diameter."

"I thought Venus was rather contracted for men with such large schemes
as ourselves," remarked Meigs, shaking his head, "but this other planet
seems to be smaller still."

"I wonder if they have coal mines there?" murmured Popham meditatively.

"And if they grow wheat and cotton?" added Meigs.

"If Mercury is inhabited," spoke up Markham eagerly, "food will
certainly be as necessary there as on the earth.  I don’t know,
gentlemen, but it strikes me we might fall into worse places."

"Poor Gilhooly!" sighed Meigs.  "What a pity it will be if the
Mercurials prove to have traction interests!"

"How long before we shall reach this planet you speak of, professor?"
inquired Popham.

"Well," answered Quinn thoughtfully, "Mercury is rather slow.  It
travels along its orbit at the rate of thirty miles per second, while we
are moving at one hundred miles.  At a rough estimate, I should say we
can effect a juncture with the planet in ten hours, although an extra
hour may be required for maneuvres to secure a landing."

The ten hours that followed were hours of great anxiety and feverish
labor.  Believing that my nerves were the steadiest, the professor
placed me at the telescope to act as pilot while he served as engineer
and manipulated the lever.

The responsibilities of my position so worked upon me that I had no time
for the glories of the planet we were endeavoring to intercept. Through
the telescope I saw huge mountains and broad plains, but they were
blurred over with a reddish light and the lesser details of topography
were lost.

When five hours were gone, the professor left the lever and came
upstairs to have a look through the telescope for himself.

"You have done very well indeed, Mr. Munn," he was pleased to say, "but
I think that I had better take this post from now on, while you go below
and station yourself at the switch board. The slightest mismanagement,
when the critical moment arrives, might hurl us against Mercury with a
force that would result in annihilation.

"The lever turns in a half circle, as you may know.  The arc is divided
into spaces, numbered from zero to ninety.  I will call down to you the
number to which you must throw the lever; you will repeat the number
back to me, and instantly obey my order."

"Trust me, sir," said I.

But the professor was loath to let me go without still further
impressing upon me the importance of the work before us.

"In order to alight safely, Mr. Munn," he continued, "we must graduate
the power of the anti-gravity cubes to the Mercurial atmosphere.  By
proceeding intelligently in the matter, we shall make the car weigh
slightly more than the atmosphere we encounter; then, when we are about
to land, we will let the car just counterbalance the ’pull’ of the
planet and there will not be the slightest jar."

"I understand, professor," I answered and went downstairs.

Markham, Meigs, and Popham ascended to the upper chamber, this position
bringing them a few feet nearer the goal of our desires as well as
giving them a point of vantage from which to watch events.  Gilhooly was
the only one besides myself in the lower room; he was kneeling on the
divan writing imaginary stock quotations on the steel wall with the
point of his finger.

For four hours or more the professor called out for slight variations in
the speed of the car, but in the main the lever was held on the number,
90, which gave a maximum velocity.  The tension of the minutes ushering
in the last hour of the ten is beyond my power to describe.

Once in my evil days I manipulated the tumblers of a combination and
pulled open a vault door.  Behind the door stood two men with revolvers.
For two seconds I stared agape at the trap which I had sprung upon
myself; and when I got away I had a bullet in my shoulder.

Intensify my feelings fourfold as I stood looking into the leveled
revolvers of those two men, then spread out the two seconds to cover a
half hour.  In this way only can I describe my state of mind while we
fought for a safe landing on the planet Mercury.

Cries of wonder and apprehension echoed to me from overhead.  Above them
I heard the shrill voice of the professor:

"Zero."

"Zero," I repeated, throwing the lever clear over.

There followed a jolt as the screens covered the cubes and shut off
their energy.  Instantly there came the sickening sensation of a fall,
accompanied by a rush of displaced air that roared and bellowed all
about the car.

"Forty-five!" shrieked Quinn.

"Forty-five!" I yelled, throwing the lever half over.

Then we caught ourselves with a suddenness that threw me to my knees.
We were moving upward again—I could feel the steel floor rising under
me.

"Twenty!" came down from above.

"Twenty," I answered hoarsely, struggling erect and shifting the lever.

I felt that we were still rising, but slowly.  The professor was
juggling with an unknown atmosphere, and on the success of his judgment
depended our lives.

"Fifteen!"

"Fifteen!" and over went the lever for five degrees.

We were swinging stationary in mid-air. From the window by the switch
board I looked outward and downward with bulging eyes.

A dazzling glow covered peak and plain, and I turned away that my sight
might not be blinded to the lever numbers.

"Ten!" cried the professor.

"Ten it is!" and I threw the switch to the number given.

Then again we dropped, but slowly, very slowly.

"Five!"

I repeated the order, and again the air rushed against the blunt base of
the car, yet not so fiercely as before.  Then, all of a sudden, I felt a
grip of fingers about my throat, and I was hauled from the lever and
thrown back on the floor.

Gilhooly had a knee on my breast and was strangling me with fingers of
steel.  The fire of an insane purpose gleamed in his eyes, and he seemed
possessed of the strength of a dozen demons.

I struggled, but I might as well have tried to rise under the
thousand-tons pressure of a hydraulic press.

"Ten!" cried Quinn.

I did not answer—I could not, for my tongue was lolling between my lips.

"Ten!" screamed Quinn.  "_Ten—or we’re lost!_"

A groan, hardly audible, escaped my gasping throat.  I heard a frantic
clamor above and then there was such a jar and crash as I hope I shall
never experience again.

All tangible life slipped away from me, and I collapsed into an
unconsciousness that I felt might be death itself.



                             *CHAPTER VII.*

                      *FACING A MERCURIAL STORM.*


That our lives were preserved and the car saved from destruction was due
to two circumstances, one of them most peculiar and of far-reaching
importance.

The lesser of the two circumstances was this: the car had not dropped to
the plain, but had had its downward rush intercepted by an elevation, so
that the force of our fall was just about half what might have been
expected.

As to the other and more vital circumstance, the fall itself was not
what it would have been on our own sphere.  The "pull" of gravity on
Mercury, as we afterward discovered, has only one-third the power it has
on Terra.  To this phenomenon were due many wonderful things, as the
reader will discover before we have gone very far.

I was not the first of our party to open his eyes after the landing, for
when I sat up and stared about me I saw the professor moving around the
steel chamber and ministering to the others.

Gilhooly was creeping toward the divan on all fours, muttering something
about "a great slump in the market" and chuckling over the way in which
he had "got out from under."

J. Archibald Meigs was groaning and trying to lift himself on his elbow;
Augustus Popham was on his knees, wobbling erratically and apparently
undecided whether to say his prayers or to try and get up; Hannibal
Markham was flattened out along the floor, the professor kneeling over
him and chafing his temples.

"What sort of a navigator are you, Quinn?" asked Meigs crossly.  "By
gad, it is more dangerous to make port with you than it is to sail
through space."

"Don’t blame the professor for a fault of mine, Meigs," I spoke up
warmly.

The broker looked at me with something like contempt.

"I blame him for placing an incompetent and irresponsible person at such
an important post as the switch board," said Meigs.  "He should have
known that a man who holds your distorted views on the subject of
personal property is not to be trusted."

"That’s right," added Popham, lifting himself to the divan.

"Gilhooly made an attack on me," said I.  "He bore me down and came
within one of strangling me."

"Quinn is the cause of Gilhooly’s abnormal condition," persisted Meigs,
who was bound to have Quinn at fault for every evil that overtook us.

I got up, rather more wrathful than the situation demanded.  The fall
had jarred my temper no less than my body, and I was in a mood to have
the business out with Meigs at close quarters.

"Softly, Mr. Munn!" cautioned the professor. "It is well to have a deaf
ear for these gentlemen at times.  Help me lift Mr. Markham to the
divan."

The professor’s words dispelled my anger. Without another word to Meigs
I went over and assisted in getting the food trust magnate into a more
comfortable position.

Markham was not long in recovering, and when we took stock of ourselves
we found that we were not much the worse for our shaking up. Quinn
called to me to go upstairs with him and see if any havoc had been
wrought there.

We found that no particular damage had been done to the instruments or
other material.  When we descended to the lower chamber, after an
absence of fifteen or twenty minutes, Meigs had the key in the steel
door and was standing at the entrance with Popham and Markham on either
side of him.

"Where did you get that key?" demanded the professor, one hand groping
in his pocket.

Heretofore he had been careful to keep the key upon his person.  Small
wonder that he was now surprised to find it in the possession of Meigs.

"I found it on the floor," replied the broker with a good deal of
dignity.  "Probably you lost it out of your pocket when you fell from
the stairs a few minutes ago."

"What are you intending to do?" asked the professor quietly.

"Professor Quinn, sir," returned Meigs with elaborate condescension, "we
have reached the parting of the ways.  While we were traveling through
space, I and my friends could do nothing less than bear with your
company, and with that of the rogue at your side; but now that we are
safely moored on Mercury, and can debark, we see fit to withdraw
ourselves and renounce further intercourse with you."

"Ah!" murmured Quinn, a slow smile hovering about his thin lips.

The smile caused some acerbity to manifest itself in the three gentlemen
at the door.  They drew themselves up haughtily.

"Quinn," went on the broker sharply, "you lured us into your castle and
abducted us from our native orb, with small regard for the feelings of
our relatives or friends, and no consideration whatever for the business
interests with which we were engaged; so——"

"Your business interests had my every consideration," interrupted the
professor.

Meigs took no notice of the remark.

"So," he continued, "remembering these wrongs, we feel that we can no
longer associate with you.  As for Munn"—here he turned a fastidious eye
in my direction—"he is utterly impossible to men of our social standing.
This planet, you tell us, is three thousand miles in diameter. May we
request that you and Munn take one end of the diameter and leave the
other end to us?"

The professor laughed softly and seated himself.

"Sit down, Mr. Munn," said he.  "We have been ostracized by our
fellow-exiles.  Let us see how well they get along without us."

"We bid you farewell," finished Meigs loftily.

Thereupon he turned the key, threw open the door—and dropped on the
threshold as though he had been shot!  Markham and Popham cried aloud,
threw their arms across their faces and reeled back.

A blast as from a furnace drove in at the opening, filling the chamber
like a draft from Hades.  I could scarcely breathe in the stifling
atmosphere.

"Hurry, Munn!" cried Quinn.  "Drag Meigs away from the door or he’ll be
burned to a crisp!"

The broker was already smoking when I caught his ankles and jerked him
inside.  The professor slammed the door.

Presently the air within the car readjusted itself to normal conditions.
Meigs, red as a beet and breathing heavily, was little the worse for his
warm experience.

"I fancy, Mr. Meigs," cooed the professor, "that you will wish to avail
yourself of one of my anti-temperature baths before cutting loose from
myself and Mr. Munn.  There is plenty of water left for all of us, and I
will go aloft, set up the collapsible tub, and make the bath ready.  We
have alighted in the tropics, evidently, and at the period of
mid-summer.  The temperature is about five hundred degrees, fahrenheit."

With that the professor took the key from the door to keep Gilhooly from
making a dash outside, and started for the storeroom.  I followed him,
the three disgruntled gentlemen gazing after us mutely.

The professor and I were the first to fortify ourselves with the
anti-temperature bath.  After dipping our bodies, we rinsed our clothing
in the liquid.

Aside from a pleasant, cooling sensation the bath gave no evidence of
its potent qualities. There was no hardening of the skin, as I fancied
there might be, no change in its ruddy color, no inconvenience.

When we went down again we sent the other three gentlemen aloft, the
professor instructing them as to the necessity of making their clothing
as well as their bodies proof against the climate.  In due course,
Popham, Meigs, and Markham once more showed themselves.

Gilhooly, of course, had also to be made immune; and he struggled
against it so fiercely that we were obliged to hold him in the tub while
the professor poured three buckets of the mixture over him.

He was not disrobed, and when sufficiently drenched he leaped from the
tub and fled, raving, to the lower chamber.

"Now," said the professor, "we are prepared to fare forth.  You
gentlemen"—he addressed himself to Markham, Meigs, and Popham—"may go
with Mr. Munn and me, or keep by yourselves, as you may elect.  But it
will be well to make this car our headquarters.  Here we have food and
drink, also a stronghold in case of attack by the Mercurials—if there
happen to be any."

"How can there be any life in such an over-heated atmosphere?" inquired
Markham.

"Nature is a great leveler of barriers," replied Quinn.  "She is able to
adjust life to its environment, you may be sure, just as easily as she
can bridge the social chasm that separates a thief from a trust
magnate."

His eyes twinkled.

"Such a bridge," he added, "would not prove much of a tax on her
resources.  For my own part, I do not think the chasm either so wide or
so deep as you gentlemen appear to imagine."

I chuckled at that, and Meigs and his two companions grew duly
resentful.

"As for Mr. Gilhooly," continued Quinn, "we cannot take him with us on
our tour of observation. It will be best to leave him locked in the car.
I will close the trap leading into the store-room and I do not think it
will be possible for him to work much damage in the room below."

"I don’t know what good it will do me to go out with your exploring
expedition," said Popham dejectedly; "in a country as hot as this there
can be no earthly use for coal."

"Or wearing apparel," added Meigs listlessly. "Cotton couldn’t grow in
such a temperature. And as for wheat!"  He shook his head wearily.

Cotton and wheat were the abc of his Wall Street experience.  Beyond
those commodities he groped in the dark.

"What sort of food can be grown on such a sun-baked planet?" grumbled
Markham.

The railway man was shouting something about watered stock, and his
babbling was wafted up to us.

"Gilhooly," added Markham, "is the only fortunate man in the party.
Realization will blast the hopes and mayhap prove the death of the rest
of us, while he—he cannot realize!"

"You gentlemen lose courage too quickly," said the professor.  "In my
lectures on Venus I told you how that planet was inclined to the plane
of its orbit.  The axis of Mercury has a still greater inclination; in
fact, the orb leans on itself as though about to fall.  Its days are of
about the same length as the days of Terra—only three minutes longer—but
its years, owing to its contracted orbit, are much shorter.  In
eighty-eight days Mercury makes its round, so that each season is only
twenty-two days in length.

"At the poles of Mercury, in what answers to the polar regions of our
own earth, there must be a more tempered climate——"

"Then let us get there, by all means," cut in Popham.

"In whatever we do," answered Quinn, "we must make haste slowly."

"Let’s get out and look around, anyhow," cried Meigs.  "It may happen,
after all, that we have a world to conquer here, and I have not the
patience to remain longer in this steel cell of yours."

"Very good," returned the professor.  "We will make our preparations and
go forth."

He shut off the flow of oxygen from the tank and then followed the rest
of us to the under apartment, closing a steel door over the trap at the
head of the stairs and locking it.  Gilhooly, imagining himself a
conductor, was walking around the edge of the circular divan collecting
tickets from imaginary passengers.

"Sing Sing!" he called out as the professor unlocked the door at the
entrance and pulled it open.

"Here’s where you get off, Munn," said Meigs maliciously.

"Here’s where we all get off," returned the professor, smiling.

Thereupon we passed hastily into the blinding glare of the Mercurial
day.  For several minutes our eyes rebelled at the brightness; when
finally they became inured to it, we looked around us upon a desolation
that struck dismay to our hearts.

We saw then that our car had alighted upon an elevation which was
nothing less than the rim of an extinct volcano of vast proportions.
From ridge to ridge across the abysmal crater at least half a mile could
be measured.

It was beyond the power of our eyes to penetrate to the black depths of
the great pit.

"Listen!" cried the professor, his voice resounding so thunderously as
almost to deafen us—some trick of the atmosphere.

We stood silently, our ears alert, and heard a confused babel of sound
proceeding apparently out of the very core of the volcano.

"Sub-Mercurial fires may be at work down there," whispered the
professor, nodding toward the crater.

Even the whisper sounded unpleasantly loud to us.

"What a world!" came from Augustus Popham in bellowing tones.  "With
fire within and without, what chance is there for life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness?"

Some of Meigs’ peevishness had got into the coal man, and he rent the
air with it.  We remained mule after this outburst, I with my gaze
hopefully on the professor and the professor blinking at the sun.

In a little time I allowed my own eyes to falter zenithward, and the
glory of the sun in Mercury’s mid-heaven has ever since been one of the
treasured memories of my life.  Its disk was six times its diameter as
viewed from Earth, and the grandeur of its flaming surface is beyond the
powers of my feeble pen to make known.

I was oppressed and held captive by a feeling of awe and wonder.  There
was a red tinge to the atmosphere, caused by a reflection from the red
of the planet’s brick-like crust; through this warm color pulsed the
golden streamers—yellow and scarlet overhead, fading to faintest orange
on the horizon.

"Think you, Mr. Popham," murmured the professor, his voice awakening us
as from a trance, "that all yon splendor, which has been in these skies
for ages upon ages, was created for the enjoyment of no living thing?
If so, you are wrong.  There are now, as there have always been, beings
with an intelligence capable of appreciating all this magnificent
profusion of light and color.  But enough.  We have looked down into the
crater and up into the heavens; suppose we turn our eyes another way and
see what there is to offer."

He faced about as he spoke, and gazed down the bare rocky slope of the
volcano and off across an equally bare and forbidding plain.

"No trees, no water, no life of any kind," muttered Meigs querulously.

"There is a bright spot over there," said Quinn, shading his eyes and
pointing.

Our eyes followed his finger and encountered a glittering object on a
slight elevation.  As we gazed, the object, whatever it was, slowly
vanished.

"We might investigate that," suggested Popham excitedly.  "Perhaps it
was a Mercurial wearing a sort of armor to protect him from the heat.
It may be that there are people here, and that they live underground."

He would have started forthwith, but the professor stretched out a hand
and detained him.

"Just a moment," said Quinn.  "Before we get too far from the car, let
me make sure that all of you are sufficiently immune from the heat.  Do
you feel that you are fully protected in that respect, gentlemen?"

So far as I was personally concerned, I had not felt the slightest
inconvenience from the sun’s rays.  I declared as much, and the others
likewise so expressed themselves.

"There’s another one of the things!" spoke up Meigs, pointing in another
direction.

We were just able to detect a glow on another low elevation when it also
flashed into thin air. Then we began looking for the little hills, and
counted no less than a dozen within our range of vision.

Some of the hills were capped with the mysterious gleam, which dazzled
for a time and then twinkled out.

The professor was perplexed, as I could see plainly.

"We’ll examine one of those hills," said Meigs, "and find out what this
means."

The top of the volcano, where we were standing, was perhaps five hundred
feet from the plain.  As Meigs spoke, he leaped for a rock a yard or so
below him.

To the astonishment of all of us, he rose in the air like a human
balloon, soared over the rock by a score of feet, and alighted several
rods down the slope.

It was a titanic jump, but Meigs had regained a foothold with the
lightness of a piece of down. He was a large man, was Meigs, his
ponderosity exceeding two hundred pounds, Fairbanks.

He was as much surprised at his agility as we were, and began to essay
various feats.  He leaped straight upward, gaining a maximum height of a
dozen yards and returning lightly and easily to his original position.

Next he coupled his leap with an aerial somersault, and carried on with
an abandon much beneath the dignity of a Wall Street broker, as it
struck me.  In fact, he acted like a schoolboy out for a holiday, and so
full of animal spirits he hardly knew what to do with himself.

"You’d think he belonged to a circus," observed the disgusted Popham.
"I’ll go down there and put a stop to the performance."

"And I’ll go along and help," added Markham, visibly distracted because
of the broker’s folly.

They started down the steep with rod-long steps; and presently one would
have thought they wore seven-league boots from the amount of speed they
developed.

Instead of putting a stop to the broker’s performance they joined in.
By and by they were playing leapfrog, every bound taking them forward
half a hundred feet.

"Gravity here is far from having the force it has on Terra," remarked
the professor. "Exertion comes easy and gives most astonishing results.
Those men, Mr. Munn, are not used to such activity, yet their marvelous
gymnastics do not seem to tire them in the least.  Suppose that we
ourselves make a test of the Mercurial gravity?"

I needed no second bidding, and Quinn and I took the descent as
buoyantly as thistle-down before the wind.  Somehow the lightness of our
heels got into our heads, and the staid professor and myself began
cavorting like a pair of ten-year-olds.

The delightful freedom of movement, was as novel as it was exhilarating.
Liberty of muscle bred license of mind; had we been smoking opium we
could not have acted more outrageously.

Nor was there any fatigue apparent.  I felt that I could have run a
hundred miles in as many minutes and never paused for breath.

Carried away by the wonderful effects of diminished gravity, we forgot
all about our projected investigation of the little hills.  In the midst
of a game of tag we were suddenly brought to our senses with a round
turn.

A pall had fallen over the landscape.  The sun was blotted out by inky
clouds, and a tremendous wind began to blow.

"We must get back to the car!" cried Quinn.

His voice, great in volume though it was, was all but drowned in the
shriek and roar of the blast.  The lightness that had afforded us so
much enjoyment in still air now became a source of grave danger, for we
could not keep our feet in the fury of the tempest.

"Merciful powers!" roared Popham, as he and Meigs were driven against
each other with a terrific impact.

Although sorely put to it to keep myself from being blown away, I
managed to cling to a rock and watch the weird gyrations of the two
millionaires.  Their collision had caused them to lose their footing,
and, clinging desperately to each other, they were hurled back and
forth, touching the ground now and then, only to rebound from it like
rubber balls.  And all the time this ground-and-lofty tumbling was going
on both men were whooping frantically for some one to come to their aid.

I was too hard beset to think of leaving my place of temporary refuge,
and it was only when I saw the professor and Markham, their right hands
clasped, staggering toward the two men, that I made up my mind to join
them.  Three of us, in a chain, might be able to do something toward
rescuing Popham and Meigs.

Breathing deep, like a swimmer about to plunge through a whirlpool, I
cast myself adrift and allowed the wind to drive me in the direction of
the professor and Markham.  No matter how strongly I braced backward
against the blast, every time I lifted a foot I was hurled onward and
almost overturned.  Finally, more by good luck than anything else, I
came close enough to catch the professor’s hand.

"Popham and Meigs will be killed if we can’t get to them!" shouted
Markham.

There were eddies in the wind, like those in the swift current of a
stream, and Popham and Meigs had become entangled in them.  Had they
been blown off on a straightaway course, they would long since have been
too far away for us to do anything toward laying hands on them and
getting them upright.

The professor had taken note of the gyratory movements of our hapless
companions, and he called upon Markham and me to plant ourselves as
firmly as possible and remain in our present positions.  This was easier
said than done; yet, by calling upon every ounce of our reserve
strength, we contrived, after a fashion, to keep our places.

Popham and Meigs were bounding and leaping through the arc of a great
circle.  All we had to do was to remain where we were and wait for them.

They came to us in mid-air, and we had literally to reach up and pull
them down.  For a space the five of us were tangled in an indiscriminate
heap, our united weight offering greater resistance to the wind and
giving us an opportunity to rest and collect our scattered wits.

"Join hands," cried the professor, "and we’ll get under the lee of that
rock.  Careful, now! We must not get separated again."

By desperate work we succeeded in getting to our feet and clasping
hands; then, hurled and buffeted, we gained the rock and fell breathless
under the leeward side of it.

"What a place, what a place!" groaned Popham.

"I wish Venus hadn’t been out of our course," wailed Meigs.  "Certainly
we couldn’t have been any worse off there than here."

"No wonder nothing can grow on this sun-scorched world," growled
Markham.  "Even if plants could stand the heat such a wind would pull
them up by the roots."

"What are we to do now?" demanded Popham. "You got us into this, Quinn,
and you’ve got to get us out of it."

"Now’s a good time for you three to go off to the other side of the
planet," I remarked. "Whenever there’s danger, you suddenly realize that
you can’t get along without the professor. Oh, you’re a fine lot of
nabobs, you are."

"Peace, Mr. Munn," called the professor.  "We have enough to occupy our
minds without wasting time in useless bickering.  I was at fault, for I
knew what terrible gales visit this planet, and that they come suddenly.
It was a mistake to venture so far from the car."

"A mistake," breathed Meigs, with some heat, "that came near having
tragic consequences. Popham and I were knocked about like a couple of
footballs."

"What’s to be done, what’s to be done?" cried Popham impatiently.  "The
gale is increasing, and who knows but this rock may be plucked up bodily
and rolled over us?  We can’t stay here."

"That is true," said the professor.  "We must get back to the car."

"There’s no telling what will become of us if we try that," called
Markham.

"And there’s no telling what will become of us if we remain here,"
answered the professor. "If we form a chain, it is quite possible that
we may succeed in getting back to our refuge."

"Even the car may not be able to stand up against this wind," clamored
Meigs.

"We shall have to take our chances with it, nevertheless," went on
Quinn.  "If we should get separated, each of us must make the best
preparations he can to weather the gale, and then, when it has blown
itself out, hunt for the car.  That must be our rendezvous during the
time we are here."

The professor got up slowly, bracing himself against the fierce swirl
that came around the side of the rock.

"Come," he called; "it is now or never."

I could see that the gale had increased alarmingly.  Its force seemed
irresistible, and yet I knew that we could not remain where we were.

We clasped hands again, but were unable to cling together, being lifted
high and thrown helter-skelter in all directions.  Lightning
flashed—such lightning as I have never seen before or since.

It snapped and crackled overhead and ran like trailing serpents over the
rocks.  We were in a sea of flame.

And the thunder!  It seemed to split the heavens and crack open the
lava-like hills.  Rain came; yet not rain, for it turned to damp vapor
in the red-hot atmosphere.  The Mercurial elements were at war—wind,
steam, thunder, and lightning all marshaling their hosts and charging to
conflict.

To regain the steel car was impossible.  We were lost in the fearsome
fury of darkness and storm, driven helplessly and with smashing force
across the vast plain.

I was hurled against something which I gripped with convulsive energy.
The something gripped me in return.

"Help!" I cried, bereft of my wits and eager only for rescue.

"Munn!" shouted a voice.  "Is this you?"

"Quinn!" I exclaimed.

"We must hang together."  said Quinn.

And then, tightly locked in each other’s arms, we were lifted high on a
billow of fog and driven relentlessly I know not how far.

When the blast released us, we fell to the rocks and rolled over and
over; then the surface beneath us gave way and we dropped.

The distance we fell could be only a matter of guesswork, and even
guesswork was out of the question in the disordered state of our minds
at that moment.  Suffice to say the fall did not render us unconscious,
and we struck on something that vibrated under the impact of our bodies.
We were still in blank darkness, and the turmoil of the tempest no
longer beat about us, but could be heard crashing somewhere overhead.

"Thank Heaven!" murmured the professor, withdrawing himself from me.
"Are you alive, Mr. Munn?"

"I believe so," I answered.  "What has happened to us, professor?"

"We have been flung into some sort of a shelter, it seems to me," he
replied.

"But we are not on stable ground," he added. "We are sitting on an
object that is descending with us, descending rapidly and—ah, wonder of
wonders!"

Abruptly we fell into broad day, surrounded by such sights and sounds
that I thought myself dealing with the mysteries of a disordered dream.



                            *CHAPTER VIII.*

                           *THE MERCURIALS.*


Professor Quinn and I were sitting on a large box constructed of metal
that was polished to dazzling brilliancy.  So far as our purposes were
concerned, this box was nothing less than an elevator; we had fallen
upon it and it had carried us down into the wonderful interior of the
planet.

Now, truly, we were in another world—a world that teemed with life—a
smiling and pleasant region underlying a most barren and inhospitable
shell.  The scoriated exterior of the planet was the husk; here was the
kernel.

It was a white world, extending league on league in every direction and
roofed with a lofty vault that sparkled as with stars.  From every hand
came a bee-like hum, proving that we were in a hive of industry and
life.

Houses spread out before us in rows, queerly shaped structures that
looked as though they might have been built of alabaster, and so
diminutive that the tallest scarcely came more than head high.  Back of
the houses were fields thickly covered with nodding blossoms that looked
like snow; through the fields ran waterways dividing each into small
squares.

So intent were we on the background of this strange picture that we
failed to take account of what was going on in our immediate vicinity.

Suddenly a weird creature hopped to the top of the box and stood between
my companion and myself, regarding us fixedly.  This, I supposed, was
one of the Mercurials.  If he considered the professor and myself
objects of curiosity and surmise, we were no less keen in so regarding
him.

He stood twenty-three or twenty-four inches high; his head was an ivory
billiard ball, and his trunk a larger spheroid; from his middle downward
hung a red kirtle.  He had one eye at the front of the head and an ear
at the back; the olfactory organ was missing, but there was a mouth
opening perpendicularly under the eye.

The upper spheroid rested directly on the lower; and at each side of the
lower one, corresponding to the shoulders, were two tentacle-like arms,
sinuous as whips and ending in hands that were made up of a palm and
seven digits. Queerest of all, there were two more arms set in the
breast and back.

From the creature’s shoulder was suspended a round object like a
canteen.  For all of five minutes Quinn and I eyed this surprising
figure and were eyed in return.

"Can you talk English?" asked the professor at last.

It was a foolish question, such as I was far from expecting from the
professor, but something had to be said, and I suppose that was as good
as anything else.  As the professor began speaking the head whirled
squarely around, presenting the ear.

After my companion was done, the head spun back again, and the breast
arm caught the canteen while the fingers of a shoulder arm began
manipulating a set of keys.  The result was language, with all the
variations of tone and accent. But it was an unknown tongue, if an
expression of that kind may be allowed in such a case.

Since the word-box was as ineffective as our own speech, we fell back
with more success on the language of signs.  At this the Mercurial had
the better of us, for he could make signs with four hands.

The professor signified that we were hungry, and the Mercurial signified
that we were to descend from the box.  This we did, and found ourselves
in the centre of a group of Mercurials whose word-boxes were chattering
like so many magpies.

The Mercurial with whom we were already on gesticulating terms played
off some orders on his own canteen, and two of the others advanced upon
the box from which we had just descended. Pulling out a slide in the
side of the receptacle, they exposed two ewers of steaming food, and we
were motioned to fall to.

We stood not upon the order, but obeyed instantly, using a pair of small
paddles which were thrust into our hands.  I had no idea what the food
might be, but it was tender and of good flavor.

"A bright little people," observed the professor as he ate.

"Seemingly," I responded.

"Nature has denied them the power of speech, yet see how they have
surmounted the difficulty. I must give that talking machine of theirs a
close inspection.  We are in a most wonderful country, Mr. Munn."

"The little I have seen of it already quite dazes me," said I.  "What a
pickpocket a man could make of himself with all those hands!"

Quinn gave me a reproachful look, and I hastily apologized for even
mentioning a branch of my profession.

"Do you understand now," said he, turning the subject very pleasantly,
"what those bright objects were which we saw on the tops of the low
hills?"

"No," said I.

"They were ovens," he answered.  "Food is put in them and sent up to the
hot surface of the planet.  When properly cooked it is lowered again."

Association with this learned man was a liberal education in itself.  I
can never be sufficiently thankful to fate for causing our paths to
cross.

"You think, then," said I, "that we were blown to the top of one of the
hills and fell into a shaft used by the traveling ovens?"

"Nothing else could have happened."

The professor gave a start and looked worried.

"Dear, dear!" he exclaimed.  "I was quite forgetting our friends.  While
we are here feasting and taking our ease, they are battling with the
storm, and are no doubt in peril of their lives.  How very, very
thoughtless we are, Mr. Munn."

I was not greatly exercised over the matter. The trust magnates believed
that there was a figurative gulf between myself and them, and I was more
than willing that this gulf should grow from the symbol to the reality.

"I doubt if we can return to the outside of the planet at present,
professor," said I, "and even if we were able to do so, what could we
accomplish in the face of that tremendous storm?"

"True, very true," said he.

"That oven," said I, by way of taking his mind from the plutocrats,
"must have been very warm when we landed on it and descended to these
regions."

"We should have been grilled, sir," returned the professor, "but for the
fact that we are coated, and our clothing impregnated, with my
anti-temperature fluid."

"These Mercurials appear to stand the heat pretty well," I remarked.

"Covered, as we are, with the anti-temperature compound," he returned,
"it is impossible for us to judge, even approximately, of the degree of
heat that obtains in these sub-Mercurial regions. Naturally it must be
very much less than prevails on the surface of the planet, and yet, even
at that, if left unprotected we should probably be shriveled to
cinders."

"Hardly, professor," I ventured to protest. "Those fields"—and I waved
my paddle toward the open country—"are growing rank with a white herb,
which is evidently cooked in these ovens and served for food.  Quite
likely we are eating of it now, and very good eating I find it. However,
the point I wish to make is this: If the heat was so intense as you
surmise, those fields would be wilted and dried up."

"Nature, Mr. Munn," answered the professor, "adapts itself to every
condition.  On our own planet we see how life and comfort are rendered
possible in every zone from the farthest north to the tropics; and this
same adaptability of intelligent creatures to their environment, we may
be sure, proceeds throughout the universe.  These one-eared, one-eyed,
diminutive creatures are formed in the manner best calculated to afford
them comfort and happiness amid these surroundings.  And, as with them,
so with the products of their husbandry."

"You could argue a squirrel out of a tree, professor," said I, with
whole-souled admiration. "I am sorry I did not take a course of
scientific training, for it would have helped me immensely in my
business.  A burglar should be an all-around man.  If I ever return to
Terra——"

"So long as you feel as you do regarding your odious profession, Mr.
Munn," broke in the professor, compressing his lips, "you will never
return to Terra."

"A return is possible?" I asked, hiding the wonder his words aroused.

"Anything is possible."

"How about the millionaires?  Are they to return provided the means are
at hand?"

"Provided they experience a change of heart. In their present state of
delusion, they are mere firebrands of destruction.  Before they ever
again take part in mundane affairs, they must be taught to see things
differently.  I wonder what has become of them?"

The professor’s brow clouded with anxiety.

"Don’t fret about them, professor," said I. "They are not overeager for
our society.  Let them have a taste of shifting for themselves without
your knowledge and resourcefulness to shield them from everything that
goes wrong. It will do them a world of good."

"Perhaps you are right, Mr. Munn," my companion answered musingly.  "If
I could know they had survived the storm, I should feel tolerably easy
in my mind.  These little Mercurials appear to be a friendly people, and
if our comrades escaped that frightful tempest they must sooner or later
fall into the hands of these dwellers of the under-world."

"I suppose," I ventured, seeking to draw my companion’s mind from the
plutocrats, "that this Mercurial under-world is another illustration of
the way Nature takes care of her protégés.  After baking the outside
shell of the planet to a degree that makes all life impossible, she
thoughtfully scoops out the interior so that these small creatures will
have a place to go."

"You have stated the case correctly, Mr. Munn," and the professor’s face
lighted up as he swept his gaze over the country immediately adjacent.
"These ovens," he proceeded, "are a remarkable example of adapting means
to an end. The fierce heat of the surface does the cooking."

"Popham will find little pleasure in that," I laughed.

"Like the rest of us," answered the professor grimly, "he will have to
accustom himself to new conditions."

"Everything must be different here from the surroundings with which we
have been familiar all our lives.  I wonder what form of property is
considered most valuable to these Mercurials?"

The professor frowned.  My mind was running in its old groove despite
its novel environment.

"That query was inspired by an unworthy motive, Mr. Munn," said Quinn
severely.

I bowed humbly.  "Every man his own way," said I.  "I cannot help trying
to adjust myself along the line of the principles I know best.
Nevertheless I am of an intensely curious disposition, and those
talk-boxes fill me with wonder."

"The Mercurials are dumb, it seems," answered the professor, "and they
have to resort to purely mechanical means for an exchange of ideas.
Language appears to flow readily enough from the little boxes."

"If any one of them ever lost his four hands," I observed, "he would not
only find it impossible to help himself but would be unable to tell
others what to do to help him.  Nature has been prodigal with them in
the matter of hands, and in this, no doubt, showed her usual wisdom."

"I am glad to see your thoughts taking a philosophical trend, Mr. Munn,"
said the professor. "It argues well for your future."

By that time we had emptied the receptacle of food, and as we dropped
our paddles and drew back, the word-boxes of a hundred Mercurials
shrieked despairingly.  The pygmies clustered about the empty basins,
glared into them, and then turned their menacing eyes on the professor
and myself.

"Goodness me, Mr. Munn," exclaimed the professor.  "We have probably
eaten the food supply of the entire district.  If we do not have a care,
our voracious appetites are like to prove our undoing.  Look, there come
more of the Mercurials.  They’re after their supper, I’ll warrant, and
they are going to be disappointed."

I looked in the direction indicated by the professor, and saw a long
line of billiard balls rolling our way.

It was a procession, headed by a pompous little Mercurial whose trunk
and arms were gorgeously gilded.  With two of his hands he carried a
metal plate and spoon, and with the other two he wielded a silver baton
about the size of a match.

Plates and paddles were also carried by the rest of the advancing
Mercurials, their word-boxes chanting a sort of quickstep.  The sight of
the professor and myself, towering mountain-like over the throng about
us, brought the procession to an abrupt halt with a squeak of dismay.

The gentleman in the red kirtle went forward and held converse with the
gentleman of the gilt torso.  Before they got through, their word-boxes
were fairly roaring, and stricken groans went up from every talk-machine
in the line.

The advent of two leviathans like my companion and myself must have had
a demoralizing effect, but that seemed as nothing in comparison with the
harrowing results of our voracity.

The leader raised his baton.  Silence fell.  The leader then advanced to
where we were standing and circled around us, examining us critically
with his solitary eye.

The survey finished, he tried his word-box on us, the professor
answering in all the languages of our home planet, living and dead, of
which he was master.  But in vain; we could not come to an
understanding.

The begilded gentleman finally gave over and whirled on the underling in
the red kirtle.  His fingers flew over the keys of his canteen, and
speech of a swift and commanding kind was poured out.

A skurrying about of the oven tenders resulted.  From somewhere a fresh
supply of uncooked food was brought and placed in the huge metal box.

While this was going forward, Quinn suddenly seized my arm, a troubled
look crossing his face.

"What is the matter, professor?" I asked.

"Matter enough, Mr. Munn!" he answered. "The lever was left on Number
Five!"

His thoughts were up with the steel car.  I was surprised at this, for
it appeared to me that there was more than enough to claim our full
attention right in our immediate vicinity.

"And what of that, sir?" I asked.

"The anti-gravity cubes lighten the car by five degrees," he answered
excitedly.  "Thus buoyed, and in its elevated position, I doubt if the
car should hold its own against the fury of the storm!"

"You think it has been blown——"

"Aye!  Blown to the uttermost parts of Mercury and perhaps wrecked and
lost—lost with all our scientific apparatus and other paraphernalia!"

"But——"

"And that is not all," went on the professor. "The lever should have
been thrown to zero and then removed to prevent Gilhooly from tampering
with it.  Who knows what that mad railway magnate may take it into his
head to do? Suppose he were to grasp the lever and give the cubes their
full power.  He would be launched into the void, sir, and we should be
marooned on this sun-baked planet, compelled to live out our lives with
these one-eyed quadrumana, devastating the country of its food
supply—our presence a curse instead of a blessing!"

I had already imagined a possible return to Terra, and from this it,
seemed that the professor had not lost sight of that contingency.

"What is to be done?" I asked, catching some of his excitement.

"We must return to the outer shell—we must find the car—we must go back
on the oven when they send it up!"

As he finished speaking, Quinn ran frantically to the metal box and
leaped to its top.  I followed, clumsily upsetting a half dozen
Mercurials who chanced to gel in my way.

The oven was loaded by that time and ready for its return to the intense
heat; nay, more, the chef in the red kirtle already had his hand on a
wheel which presumably released the lifting power.

Our movements, however, had acted as a check on proceedings.

"We’ve got to go back!" cried the professor, forgetting in his stress of
feeling that his words were lost on the throng around us.  "Don’t
attempt to stop us, don’t!  We’ll return——"

The Mercurials began leaping to the box from all sides in a veritable
swarm.  Carried away by the excitement of the moment, I sank to my knees
and swept my arms about me, throwing them back pell-mell.

The professor also resorted to violence.  In the midst of it all, I
caught a glimpse of the gilded gentleman aiming his baton.

A moment more and there was a lurid flash, which enveloped my companion
and myself in a billow of violet fire.  Every atom of strength was drawn
from my limbs, and I fell limply to the ground with the professor on top
of me.



                             *CHAPTER IX.*

                        *LEARNING THE WORD-BOX.*


It was not the violet fire that did the work for the professor and me.
Rather it was some chemical, known to the Mercurials, and which
manifested its presence by an overpowering odor.

Long after we had regained consciousness, the drug-like smell clung to
our clothes and sapped our strength.  Shackles of iron could not have
been more effective in making us prisoners.

Cords were made fast to our feet, and we were dragged by a small army of
Mercurials down the principal street of their city and out into one of
the white, irrigated fields.

Had a dwelling been found large enough, I presume we should have been
comfortably housed, but we were of such stupendous proportions that
there were no walls capable of containing us.

When we reached the field, a ring a foot high was reared about us.  As
the odor lessened and my strength increased I tried to roll over this
low barrier, but received such a shock that I was only too glad to roll
back to the professor’s side again.

"It is of no use, Mr. Munn," said the professor, who had been watching
my attempt.  "These Mercurials are possessed of ways and means beyond
our earthly powers to combat.  We must accept the situation with all the
philosophy we can muster."

This great man, who could remain unshaken under any fate that befell
him, was a constant source of strength and inspiration to me.  While we
lay forsaken by our captors and couched on the strange white herbage of
that underground field, our discourse drifted along many channels.

I remember that I asked him a question concerning a matter that had long
been weighing upon my mind.

"How is it, professor," said I, "that your anti-gravity compound remains
in a liquid state in an open cask?  I should think its inherent energy
would cause it to fly upward _en masse_."

"I can demonstrate that by means of an algebraic formula," said he.
"Are you acquainted with algebra?"

"No," I answered humbly.

"Then," he went on disappointedly, "I fear you will have to remain in
ignorance.  You must rest content with the evidence of your senses,
since an explanation in terms you can understand is impossible."

And thus the matter rested.  When we were so far recovered as to be able
to rise, we made an attempt to step over the ring that hemmed us in, but
were shocked by the same unseen power I had already encountered, and
driven back.

"See with what weapons nature has provided these people!" murmured the
professor. "Throughout the universe everywhere you will find, Mr. Munn,
that Nature takes care of her own.  Ah, here comes Captain Goldman!
Retainers follow, and they are bringing—now, what are they bringing?
Why, as I live, they have manufactured a couple of large word-boxes.
Evidently we are to be taught the use of them."

The professor was right.  Ever since our disastrous attempt to regain
the surface we had been tabooed by the inhabitants of the country.

"Captain Goldman," as my companion referred to the little man who had
used his mysterious baton with such telling effect, was crossing the
fields toward us, followed by six of his countrymen bearing the talking
machines.  As a precautionary measure, the captain carried his weapon.

Arriving at the ring, Captain Goldman reversed the baton and with the
black tip of it cut an imaginary doorway for himself in the air. He then
stepped through and joined us, without shock or resistance.

Thus, by means to us inexplicable, he broke the power of the circle at a
given point.  The others followed him through the entrance he had
cleared.

Wielding the baton with two of his hands, Captain Goldman began
manipulating his word-box with the other two.  He was not addressing us,
however, but those who had come with him.

Three of his followers advanced to me with one of the machines, while
the remaining three conveyed a machine to the professor.  At once our
instruction in the art of mechanical speech began.

It is not my intention to burden the readers with the details of our
lessons, although a few remarks under this head may not be out of place.
As to the word-box itself, it had seven keys. This made it somewhat
difficult for a five-fingered creature to operate with any great degree
of fluency, although the professor did get so he could peg out his ideas
at a remarkable rate.

There are but six syllables in the Mercurial language, each syllable
being represented by a corresponding key.  The way these syllables were
fingered gave the words.  As they could be combined and repeated and
combined again, the vocabulary of the boxes was practically unlimited.
The syllable notes were of resonant quality and of such divergent timber
as to be quickly and easily recognized.  The syllable for Key 1 was
synonymous with our personal pronoun "I," and was the most assertive and
determined note in the whole gamut of the box.

The seventh key emitted a sound so utterly unlike the other sounds as to
be in a class by itself.  It was used for spacing between words, for
exclamatory purposes and for the audible expression of laughter and
grief.

It was likewise the expletive or swear-key; for these small egotists had
all the passions of other mortals, and Key 7 acted as a sort of safety
valve.  The manner in which the key was used gave it its versatility.

Day by day our lessons proceeded, the professor learning with a rapidity
that was marvelous.  He was well along in the polysyllables while I was
struggling with the basic tones and acquiring some facility in spacing
and in the expression of the feelings.

Our ears kept pace with our fingers, and in a fortnight the professor
was so eloquent with his word-box that he could now and then play off a
metaphor, or some other frill, to the great delight of himself and his
auditors.

Next to a wonderful jimmy invented by a cracksman named "Cricket"
Doniphan, whom I knew well, and who, at that period, was doing time in
Stillwater, I take off my hat to that Mercurial word-box as the most
marvelous contrivance ever evolved by a thinking mind.  I have a very
good memory, and when sufficiently proficient with the keys I practiced
by repeating passages from "Forty Ways of Cracking Safes," which, as
distinguished from "The Sandbagger’s Manual," I considered my _chef
d’oeuvre_.  I could not discover that my terse English, faulty enough
though it was, lost anything in force from translation into the
Mercurial tongue.  (The word "tongue" is used with reservations, for, of
course, tongue that language was not.)

Difficulty was experienced in getting a suitable Mercurial equivalent
for the good English word "cracksman."  Finally, however, I hit upon
three quick touches of the swear-key, which made the word intelligible
in my own ears if not to any one’s else.

Soon I began to observe a little throng gathering across my side of the
prison ring, listening intently as I practiced.  From day to day the
throng increased.

Over on the other side of the ring Professor Quinn was absorbed in
cutting all manner of scientific capers with his word-box.  "The
Mutability of Newtonian Law" formed his staple theme, and he was able to
put it through the keys with amazing variations.

But no crowd gathered to listen to the professor.  The Mercurials were
all on my side of the compound.  Thus it was clear to me that my brand
of science was more attractive to the little people than the
professor’s.  While "The Mutability of Newtonian Law" languished for an
audience, "The Sandbagger’s Manual" was fast acquiring one that taxed
the capacity of the word-box.

The professor, for a long time, had been so wrapped up in his attempt to
master the Mercurial language that he had paid little heed to me and my
efforts.  The attention my work was securing, however, finally caused
him to sit up and take notice.  Halting his weighty remarks, he laid
aside his talk machine, came over to my side of the circle, and stood
behind me, listening. The first I knew of his presence was the reaching
of two angry hands over my head and the snatching away of the instrument
on which I was, at that moment, reciting the ten rules for a cracksman’s
success.

My audience was as greatly put out as I was myself.  While I was leaping
to my feet and whirling around, my listeners were clamoring on their
word-boxes for me to proceed.

Professor Quinn, white-faced and in a greater temper than I had ever
before seen him, held my talking apparatus over his head and seemed of a
mind to clash it down on the earth at his feet.

"I say, professor," I called restrainingly, "don’t do anything rash."

"Mr. Munn," he gasped, his voice thick with suppressed emotion, "is my
confidence in you to be destroyed utterly?  I singled you out as one of
the worthiest of all those brought from Terra, and yet I find you busily
inculcating false ideas of personal property into the keen minds of
these Mercurials!  For shame, sir!  Would you demoralize this planet?
Would you turn these law-abiding people into thieves?"

"Professor," I answered, "your ideas and mine do not harmonize on this
matter of property rights."

"While I admit, Mr. Munn," he answered, "that conditions on our own
planet in a measure condoned your actions, yet I maintain that you have
no right to air your ideas in Njambai.  Here the conditions are of an
altogether different sort. So far as I have been able to learn, this orb
has not fallen under the noxious spell of the monopolists.  You have no
excuse for instructing the Mercurials in the alpha and omega of your
contemptible profession."

"Contemptible?" I repeated.  "That is a hard term, professor.  Besides,
they seem to be fond of the instruction.  Everybody listens to me, while
you haven’t had so much as a corporal’s guard to enjoy that astronomical
stuff you have been playing off on your concertina."

"Your line, perhaps, is more attractive than mine," and the shadow of a
smile curled about his thin lips, "for the notion of getting something
for nothing has a direct appeal to every thinking being.  On the other
hand, my thesis on ’The Mutability of Newtonian Law’ requires profound
thought before it can be assimilated.  Yet, be that as it may, I shall
not allow you to degrade these people with the unworthy ideas that have
been coming from your word-box.  I can destroy this machine, sir, and I
shall do so unless you promise never again to let an ignoble thought
come out of it.  What do you say?"

"Your mere command is enough, professor," I replied.  "It is not
necessary to couple it with a threat."

His face softened, and he at once returned to me my talk-producer.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Munn," said he.  "I have confidence in your
word, and know that I can trust you."

Thereupon he went back to his own side of the ring, and I applied myself
assiduously to undoing any evil my ill-considered practicing may have
wrought.  I told the Mercurials that my utterances had been in the
nature of a fairy story, and I gave the lie to my convictions by
declaring that the reasoning, as in all fairy tales, was unsound.

From that hour my audiences vanished.  The professor, although his talk
was profound and somewhat wearying, seemed to the Mercurials as more
worth while, and they flocked to hear him. We began acquiring a
knowledge of the country, and of its people and institutions, with our
very first lesson.  In two weeks we had gathered most of the information
that follows:

Their planet they called Njambai; their country was Baigol.  Baigol was
one of four kingdoms comprising the under-world of Njambai. The other
three kingdoms were Baijinkz, Baigossh, and Baigadd—all derived from the
root word "bai," signifying planet.

There were only two places on Njambai where water was able to collect
and defy the absorbing power of the sun.  These places were at the two
ends of the planet’s axis, corresponding to the polar regions of Earth.
Here there were seas feeding rivers that ran through the under-world and
irrigated the fields.

The kingdoms of Baijinkz and Baigossh lay on the shores of these seas,
the former at the north and the latter at the south.  They were the only
kingdoms on the outer shell of Njambai, and levied tribute from the
interior kingdoms of Baigol and Baigadd for water rights.

The distribution of light and heat throughout the nether kingdoms was by
a system of gigantic reflectors, located at either end of a radius drawn
through the equator.  There was one stupendous reflector on either side
of the planet, measuring no less than twenty _spatli_ across—a _spatl_
being the equivalent of a geographical mile.

These reflectors, we were told, followed the sun as it moved through the
heavens, and reflected heat and light to countless other reflectors
ingeniously placed to acquire and radiate the solar energy.

The heat thus secured was further intensified by the planet’s shell,
which, forming the vault of the nether kingdoms, constantly diffused
warmth.

The king was Golbai, the nine hundred and twenty-fifth of his line.  The
name of the pompous gentleman whom the professor had christened "Captain
Goldman" was Ocou.

Names of people, places, and things, as here given, are simply a rude
equivalent as nearly as can be rendered into English.

From my wording the astute reader will probably discover more than the
six basic syllables of the Baigol language.  The flexibility of the
word-box will account for this, and the inconsistency is only seeming
and not real.

Baigol had one half the inner sphere, and Baigadd the other half.  These
two kingdoms were not on the best of terms, owing to a wretched piece of
business carried out by Gaddbai, king of the other country, which will
be adverted to later.

The four kingdoms were connected by a railway, if such the mode of
transportation could be called.  The roadbed was a "V"-shaped groove,
and the wheels of the cars were solid spheres with axles pierced through
their diameter.  On these axles the carriages were supported.

For a people so wonderfully progressive the Baigols were strangely
backward in their motive power, their trains being dragged by
hand—relays of the small creatures taking them in charge.

Owing to the diminished force of gravity, large weights were easily
handled, and a fair rate of speed was developed by the train haulers.
But it was a very primitive method of transportation.

The trunk line connecting the nether kingdoms was known as the Baigadd
and Baigol Interplanetary System.  When two weeks of our enforced stay
in Baigol had passed, a startling rumor was wafted from the word-boxes
of the other kingdom to the effect that the management of the line had
secured a wonderful new traction power of tremendous speed and unlimited
endurance.

The kingdom of Baigol was agog with excitement, for the president,
vice-president, and board of directors of the Interplanetary were to
take a trial spin over the road in a special equipped with their new
motive power.

We had not yet been allowed to leave the mysterious circle which
imprisoned us, but we could stand erect, and so overtop the fields and
houses that we were able to see the railway station.

Billiard balls came rolling in from every direction, clustering about
the right of way and clambering to roof tops and other elevations that
would afford an unobstructed view of the centre of excitement.

At last, far off, the professor and I heard a thunderous shout:

"Toot, t-o-o-t!  Ting-a-ling-a-ling!"

No word-box could have been the source of that echoing cry.  The
professor gave a gasp and clutched my arm convulsively.

"Do you recognize that voice?" he asked hoarsely.  "Merciful powers, Mr.
Munn, how could such a thing happen?  Look!  Look!"

Over the fields beyond the city, leaping along at fifty-foot bounds and
dragging behind him a train of queer-looking cars crowded with officials
of the system, came no less a person than Emmet Gilhooly!

The professor threw himself at the barrier that hedged us round.  He
could not pass, although he struggled frantically.

"Take it coolly, professor," I urged, grasping and holding him upright.

"But this is outrageous, Mr. Munn!" he cried. "Poor Gilhooly!  Is _he_
the new traction power the other kingdom has been talking about?  How
does he happen to be here?  And why are they treating him like that?
This must be stopped! Where’s my word-box?"

His eyes swept the ground.  Glimpsing his talking machine he dived for
it and began working the keys like mad.

No one paid any attention to the furious language that went up under his
frenzied fingers, however.  Leviathan in harness absorbed the entire
attention of all the Baigols, and with another "Toot, toot!
Ting-a-ling-a-ling!" the railway magnate galloped out of sight.

It was a sad spectacle indeed.  I was almost as completely unmanned by
it as was Professor Quinn.



                              *CHAPTER X.*

                       *HOW WE WERE CATALOGUED.*


Let it not be supposed that we had given no thought to our companions in
exile during our two weeks’ probation in Baigol.  The professor and I
had talked of them frequently, wondering whether they were alive or
dead, and, if alive, where they were and what they were doing.

Our story had been punched out of our word-boxes for the benefit of the
Baigols, but had not seemed to make much of an impression on Ocou, or on
others who came to see us.

Now the sight of Gilhooly would add corroborative detail, and we harped
on that key until Ocou promised to communicate directly with King
Golbai, and find out what his wishes were in the matter.

As for the professor, he wanted to go roaming the four kingdoms looking
for the other exiles, first visiting Baigadd and appropriating the
motive power of the B.&B.I. system.

The most we could get from Ocou was a promise to learn his majesty’s
pleasure in our affairs; and while we were abiding the king’s decision,
other events took place which were of prime importance to us.

Ocou had a queer-looking machine borne to our "home circle," which was
the humorous fashion in which the professor referred to our prison ring.

The machine was an upright shaft measuring some three feet in height.
To its base was attached a golden cord several yards long and
terminating in a small silver disk.

Professor Quinn and I were consumed with curiosity while this
contrivance was being set up and made ready.  We put a question through
our word-boxes, but were only smiled at mysteriously.

Presently I was made to sit down, Turk fashion, while one of Ocou’s
attendants came to me and passed the silver disk over my head.  One end
of Ocou’s baton had a black tip, the other a white.

As the disk passed over my head, Ocou rested the white tip of the baton
on the pedestal. Instantly a slide flew out of the shaft’s top bearing a
painted ideograph.

The professor and I were not "up" in the Baigol ideographs, and were
very much surprised at the actions of Ocou and his companions when they
looked at the slide.  They recoiled, stared at me suspiciously, and
moved about me with caution.

I grabbed my word-box.

"What’s the matter, anyhow?" I asked.

"We have just discovered that you are a robber," said Ocou.

"I am no robber here," I answered, "no matter what I was in the place I
came from."

"Once a robber always a robber," retorted Ocou, "unless you touch the
Bolla."

"Well, well!" murmured the professor, rubbing his hands delightedly over
the pedestal and giving little heed to Ocou’s remark.  "What do you call
this machine, Mr. Ocou?"

"That, sir," Ocou replied, "is a character indexograph.  We find it very
useful in cataloguing the natural tendencies of subjects of the realm."

He sighed.

"The number of indexographs in the kingdom is limited, and they have all
been working overtime of late.  This is the first opportunity we have
had to use one on you and your friend. Now, professor, if you will
oblige me."

The professor dropped down, the disk gliding over his bald head, and
another ideograph shot into sight.

"Ah," murmured Ocou, reading the sign: ’philanthropist, scientist, a man
to counsel with!’  You’ll do, sir; but your friend!"—and he shook his
head sadly as he dropped his talking machine.

"I suppose," said I, watching Ocou and his attendants make off with the
indexograph, "that I shall be kept within this circle indefinitely?"

"Let us hope not, Mr. Munn," rejoined the professor, laying a kindly
hand on my arm. "Rather let us hope that you will experience a moral
rejuvenation, so that when the indexograph is tried on you at another
time it will show a different result."

"I wish they would try that thing on J. Archibald Meigs!" I exclaimed.
"The Baigols would find, I think, that I have no monopoly on that
particular ideograph."

The professor laughed quietly.

"Let us see what comes to us now after we have been catalogued," said
he.  "I think they have simply been waiting to make trial of our
tendencies before allowing us to pass out of this enchanted circle."

Ocou came back in a couple of hours, carrying a roll of parchment in
addition to his baton.  He came alone.

"Gentlemen," said he in his mechanical way, "your names have been
entered and tagged.  In accordance with the information secured through
the indexograph, a task has been set for you. Perform that task
faithfully and you are to have the freedom of the realm."

"What is the task, Mr. Ocou?" inquired the professor.

"You are to restore the sacred Bolla to his majesty, the king of
Baigol."

"And what is the Bolla?"

"It is the stone of happiness and peace.  Merely to touch it restores a
mortal to health, physical and moral.  Crime is a contagious disease,
and since the Bolla has been lost to us and untouched of any in the
kingdom, lawlessness has become widespread."

"Where is the Bolla?"

"It was loaned some seasons ago to the king of Baigadd, who now refuses
to return it.  As Baigadd is a more powerful country than ours, it would
be an act of destruction for us to make war for the stone.  So our king
has graciously decreed that Mr. Munn shall proceed to the neighboring
kingdom and steal the Bolla, taking you along with him, professor, as
adviser and general aide."

Nothing could have pleased us more.

As I have stated elsewhere in this narrative, stealing property from
some one to whom that property does not rightfully belong can hardly be
accounted a crime; and when property thus purloined is restored to its
rightful owner, the theft is transformed into a high and noble act.

Such a task filled me with enthusiasm, and I was ready to go forth among
the four-handed enemies of Baigol and demonstrate my abilities. The
professor, thinking of Gilhooly, would have welcomed any undertaking
which carried him into the neighboring realm.

Ocou told us that the king of Baigadd was a very grasping individual,
although he was very careful to abstain from touching the Bolla.  Had he
touched the wonderful stone, so great was its power that he would have
experienced a change of heart immediately, and could not have shirked
returning the property to its rightful owner.

King Gaddbai was very wealthy, according to Ocou, drawing his revenues
principally from the kaka industry, of which he had a monopoly.  Ka was
a fibrous plant from which kaka, the only cloth known in the four
kingdoms, was made.

This plant would grow nowhere else than in Baigadd, so that the people
of the other three kingdoms had to go to Baigadd for their kirtles.
Every time the king of Baigadd suffered a pecuniary backset, or donated
a large sum to charity, he recouped his exchequer by boosting the price
of kirtles.

There was a time, Ocou declared, when all the inhabitants of Njambai
went clothed from neck to heels, but wardrobes dwindled as the price of
cloth rose.  Very few people could now afford the luxury of a full suit;
and since the upper half of the body could not be covered with a
garment, it was covered with paint—the paint being usually of a color to
match or harmonize with the kirtle.

A variety of black kaka was the only serviceable material to be had for
writing purposes, ideographs being traced on its surface with white ink.
We were told how gentlemen once wealthy, but who had fallen upon evil
days, had drawn upon their libraries for wearing apparel.

Books of poetry, essays, travel, fiction, all yielded their leaves to
the making of various garments, thereby clothing the body as comfortably
as they had already clothed the mind.

What could be more apropos than a morning gown inscribed with choice
ideographic sonnets? Or a student’s robe begemmed with the brilliant wit
of an essayist?  Or a traveling costume bearing an account of some
voyage of discovery?

The only fault to be found with this arrangement was that such clothing
advertised the wearer’s poverty; and in Njambai, as in Terra, the pride
of wealth was most pronounced.

King Gaddbai, it appeared, had so enhanced the cost of black kaka that
literature lay languishing.  Writers had not the requisite material on
which to inscribe their thoughts, and the four kingdoms were threatened
with a blight of ignorance.

From what we heard of King Gaddbai, the professor and I were not
disposed to regard him very favorably.  He seemed a greedy and
unscrupulous person, more than ready to swell his coffers by trampling
on the rights and the welfare of others.

The parchment roll brought by Ocou was a map, showing us how to direct
our steps in order to reach Baigadd.  Ocou also delivered to us a royal
banner, direct from the hands of King Golbai, which was to procure us
favor en route and entitle us to be received and cared for as
ambassadors when we reached the other kingdom.

The professor asked for a baton, but this was denied him.  The Baigols
feared, I suppose, to trust such a terrible weapon in the hands of
aliens.

The professor’s pleasure over the prospect of being allowed to leave our
prison ring and journey in search of our friends while seeking the Bolla
was marred somewhat by Ocou’s revelations.

He had hoped to find Njambai free of monopoly and greed, and yet here
was King Gaddbai boosting the price of kaka whenever the whim struck
him; and he had hoped to find a people where poverty was unknown, and
yet he discovered how the educated were obliged to raid their libraries
in order to cover their nakedness.

"Human nature, professor," I expounded, "is the same all over the
universe.  If a man finds himself in a position to gouge his neighbor,
he is as apt to do it on Jupiter, or Mercury, as he is on Terra."

"I am grievously discouraged," he sighed.

"Furthermore," said I, "my practicing on the word-box could not have
caused the havoc you imagined it might.  Ocou tells us that, since the
Bolla has been taken from Baigol, lawlessness has been widespread, and
increasing."

"Your rehearsal of the false sentiments contained in your book may have
helped on the lawlessness.  I am more sorry than I know how to express
in finding, among this gifted people, some of the worst elements of our
own civilization. And my regret is the more pronounced on the score of
Popham, Meigs, Gilhooly, and Markham."

"How do they figure in your disappointment?" I queried.

"Can’t you understand?" he cried.  "I had the same hopes of them that I
had of you.  Suppose we found on this planet not a trace of monopoly or
greed; suppose we had found here a peace-loving, justice-serving people,
with plenty to eat and wear, needing no laws to govern them, and all
happy and contented.  The moral effect upon you and the rest of our
friends would have been uplifting.  You would have seen, admired and
coveted the same conditions for our own orb.  A change would have been
worked in you, and for the better.

"That," he went on passionately, "is the full measure of my
disappointment.  So far from finding such conditions, Mr. Munn, you are
immediately catalogued as a thief, and given a task commensurate with
your supposed abilities—a task or robbery!"

"But a righteous robbery," I averred.  "Recovering stolen property and
returning it to the rightful owner is a meritorious act."

"We must call it so," he answered bitterly, "since so much hangs upon
our joint attempt. But what a lesson for these poor, benighted people!"

"The ability to get the stone is beyond them, and they call upon us," I
pursued.  "Their action is flattering, rather than otherwise.  If we
succeed, it means that we shall stand even higher in their estimation."

"We, who ought to know better, are making ourselves living examples of
successful thievery."

"The end justifies the means, professor."

"We must strive to think so."

"I suppose Gilhooly has been catalogued, the same as you and I, and that
he was found to stand so high in traction affairs that they——"

"Let us not dwell upon poor Gilhooly."

"He is just where he ought to be," I declared. "I only wish he had a
glimmering of sense still left him in order that he might realize his
position.  The effect would be salutary."

This frank expression of my views rather startled Professor Quinn.  He
walked back and forth, his hands clasped behind him and his head bowed
in deep thought.

"The indexograph is a most remarkable invention," he finally observed,
"and would be of inestimable value on our native planet.  The detection
of crime would be an easy matter, and on the testimony of the
indexograph alone justice could be meted out without the intermediate
application of the courts.  Furthermore, justice would never miscarry."

"I hope," I exclaimed in a panic, "that I shall never live to see the
day when the police officials of Terra are equipped with indexographs!
It would prove a knockout blow for my profession. Every citizen would be
tested, and his proclivities jotted down in black and white."

"That would mean," expanded the professor, "that crime would be
relegated to the limbo of lost arts!  Before a lawless act could be
committed, the artist in crime would be placed where the deed would be
impossible."

"That’s the way I figure it out, professor."

"But that is not the least of the indexograph’s merits.  Children could
be duly catalogued, and, if they showed criminal tendencies, could be
sent to institutions for proper moral training.  The inclination of the
young toward certain trades could be learned, and they could be given
instruction along the line which would best serve their future careers.
There would not be so many failures in life, Mr. Munn."

"Perhaps not," I answered stubbornly, "but I still maintain that the
overturning of our customary standards would land us in chaos."

"Tut!" he exclaimed half angrily.  "Some day, I trust, your angle of
vision will change materially.  Until that time, Mr. Munn, it would be
well for you to repress your peculiar views, for, you are going to be
sorry for them."

Just three weeks to a day from the time we reached Baigol we fared forth
from the royal city, bent upon the performance of our mission. We were
armed only with our word-boxes, the king’s standard, and a firm
determination to achieve our liberty by securing the Bolla, no matter
what the cost.

Our journey led us through a pleasant country, level for the most part
and covered with irrigated fields growing the white blossoms which the
Baigols gathered and cooked for food.  The king’s will, as made known by
the banner, secured us rest by the way.

I have not considered it necessary to refer to the fact that there was
light and darkness throughout the kingdoms of Baigol and Baigadd during
each period of twenty-four hours and three minutes.  Light and heat were
sent through the under-world by means of the two huge reflectors already
mentioned, and when the sun passed from the heavens of course night
fell.

But the climate was at all times delightful. We were armored against the
temperature, and could not ourselves experience the equable air, yet our
eyes and ears assured us of its presence, and this proved another
surprise for the professor.

By day we traveled and by night we rested, often covering as many as
five hundred _spatli_ in a single day.  Four days, at that rate, were to
carry us to the capital of the other kingdom.

I gathered much wisdom from the professor as we journeyed, and there
were two of our conversations which made a deep impression on me.  The
first had to do with the reflectors that turned the sun’s rays into the
bowels of the planet.

"Without the sun, Mr. Munn," remarked Quinn, indicating the white fields
beside us with a gesture of the hand, "there could be no vegetable life
in Baigol.  Those fields must be quickened to life by the solar rays or
they would be as barren as the outer shell of the planet.  Finite
ingenuity may always be trusted to accommodate itself to its
environment.  I can set the astronomers of Terra right on one mystery,
at least."

"What mystery do you refer to, professor?" I asked.

"Why," he answered, "a luminous point has been detected by earthly
telescopes on the disk of Mercury.  The phenomenon has been explained as
a huge mountain, whose top reflects the sun; yet it is only one of the
great reflectors fabricated by these ingenious people."

Then at another time:

"Professor," said I, "have you made any discoveries relative to that
powerful little weapon which the Baigols know so well how to use?"

"A few," he answered.  "The baton is called a zetbai, and its ammunition
is drawn from a peculiar ingredient of the atmosphere.  The white tip of
the zetbai furnishes the destructive force, while the black tip combats
and nullifies it.  The inhabitants of this orb, Mr. Munn, have a weapon
of such awful power in the zetbai that a dozen of their number, armed
with the batons, could descend upon our own globe and devastate it.

"Well is it for Terra that means are lacking for interplanetary
communication; otherwise the Baigols and their fellow-creatures might
prove the Napoleons of the universe.  Such a contingency is terrible to
contemplate."

"Had the zetbai anything to do with that invisible power that stayed us
from crossing the circular wall?"

"It had everything to do with that.  An unseen barrier was placed around
us—a barrier of zet, drawn from the atmosphere by these Baigols and made
to serve their ends.  Unlike powder and ball, which destroy themselves
in creating destruction, zet is indestructible; it can be regathered
into the zetbai and used over and over again. The resisting medium,
controlled by the black tip of the baton, is alone powerful to annul the
energy of the white tip."

These were the points that impressed me. Another which we discussed, but
which did not appeal to me as logical or accurate, had to do with the
object of our quest—the Bolla.

"With all due respect to Mr. Ocou," said I, "he was certainly talking
moonshine when he described the Bolla."

"I would not go so far as to say he was talking moonshine, Mr. Munn,"
the professor answered.  "There are stranger things in Heaven, Earth,
and Mercury than are dreamed of in our philosophy.  Take yourself, for
instance.  You are a sick man——"

"Never sick in my life," I declared.

"I mean morally," went on Quinn.  "If crime is a disease, you will
admit, I think, that you are sick."

"No," I averred, "I am healthy in mind and body.  I take no stock in Mr.
Ocou’s assertions—which ought to prove that I am mentally sound, I take
it.  But we’ll get this palladium, just the same, for our liberty
depends on it."

Toward noon of the fourth day, as we drew near the boundaries of
Baigadd, we entered a rocky and uneven country, the well-defined road we
had been following cutting and circling through the low hills.  When we
were well in among the bowlders a frantic shout reached us from around a
bend in the road a few _spatli_ ahead.

"That was a cry in our own tongue, Mr. Munn!" exclaimed the professor,
coming to a halt.  "Did you not hear it?  It was certainly a call for
help."

"You are right, sir," I answered.  "That was a lusty English yell, if I
ever heard one."

"It was given by one of our friends, of course."

"No doubt; it is not hard to distinguish a human voice from the bleat of
one of these Baigol word-boxes.  Possibly the new motive power of the
B.&B. Interplanetary has rebelled and is fleeing this way."

"No," answered the professor excitedly, "I do not think that shout came
from Gilhooly.  It was——  Ah, Mr. Meigs!"

At that instant, J. Archibald Meigs came bounding into sight around the
bend.  But he was not the well-groomed, richly appareled Mr. Meigs of
Earth and the steel car.  His only garment was a kirtle.

He must have been surprised at seeing us, but so great was his fear that
he did not show it. Panic left no room for any other emotion.

"Quinn!  Munn!  Save me—save me from the soldiers!"

A few dozen prodigious leaps brought him trembling to our vicinity, and
he fell exhausted to his knees.



                             *CHAPTER XI.*

                      *THE DILEMMA OF MR. MEIGS.*


"My, my!" cried the professor.  "What has happened, Mr. Meigs?  How is
it that we find you in this—er—forlorn condition?"

"I’m a wretched man!" wailed Meigs, grabbing the professor’s knees in
the stress of his emotion.  "You have got to save me, Professor Quinn.
It was you who brought me to this awful planet, and if I am slain my
blood will be upon your head!"

That was Meigs for you.  Even in his dire extremity he did not forget to
heap censure upon the head of our great savant.

"You are not going to be slain," said the professor confidently.

"But these creatures are as venomous as centipedes!" murmured Meigs,
suffering himself to be lifted erect by the professor.  "Horrors! There
they come now.  Oh, this is too much, too much!"

Meigs got behind the professor.  Turning our eyes toward the bend, we
saw a detachment of the Baigadd army just hurling itself into sight.

We had made some acquaintance with military affairs in Baigol.

Soldiers, as may be surmised, were armed with zetbais, but word-boxes
were kept out of the ranks.  Only officers carried talking machines,
matters being ordered on the principle that privates were to hear and
obey.  Each soldier wielded two zetbais—one with each pair of
hands—thereby enormously increasing his capacity for destruction.

The fighting force of Baigol, we had been informed, although organized
on a smaller scale, was equipped and maneuvred exactly as was the
military arm of Baigadd.

The detachment approaching at a double-quick in pursuit of Meigs was, as
we afterward found, a company of Gaddbaizets, or royal guards. They
numbered fifty, wore yellow kirtles, had the torso gilded, and were
commanded by a single officer carrying nothing but a word-box.

The sight of the professor and myself caused the Gaddbaizets to come to
an abrupt halt. They had undoubtedly heard of us, but they were far from
expecting to encounter us there at that time.

The officer was the first to recover his wits, and approached the place
where we were standing, holding his talking machine over his head and
punching its keys vigorously.  His first words were a command to the
soldiers: "Hold your zetbais and make no move against these fierce
colossi until you get further orders from me!"

Then, to us:

"Behemoths!  Whence come you and why are you protecting the monster in
the red kirtle?"

Meigs, it could easily be seen, was not on familiar terms with the
word-boxes.  So far as he was concerned, the captain’s words fell on
deaf ears.

"We are from Baigol," said the professor, giving an amiable twist to his
words by a deft use of Key 7, "and come on an errand from the king of
that country.  This gentleman is a friend of ours——"

"A friend!" screeched the captain’s machine. "He is a thief and has
stolen a hundred djins of kaka from our sovereign storehouse."

I thrilled an amused laugh on the seventh key of my own machine.

"How do you know he is a thief?" I asked. "Did you try the indexograph
on him?"

"I’ll do the talking, Mr. Munn," said the professor in our own tongue;
then added to the officer: "There must be some mistake, captain. This
gentleman has a very good reputation and would not commit a theft, such
as you describe."

"He bears the proof of it upon his person," answered the captain.  "It
is the kirtle."

Now, a djin is a unit of measurement and corresponds to the inch of our
system; from which it follows that Meigs stood convicted of stealing
about eight feet of red kaka—enough to make kirtles for a score of the
Baigadds.

"What are you harping about?" asked Meigs.

"They say you are a thief, Mr. Meigs," said I.

"Thief!" he blustered, glaring at the captain over the professor’s
shoulder.  "I deny it, sir, I deny it!"

"He says you stole that kirtle you have on," I continued.

"A man has a right to clothe himself as well as he may," answered Meigs,
aggrieved.  "I do not count that theft.  The country should see that a
man is provided with a respectable covering."

This was too good an opportunity for the professor to let slip.

"Suffer your mind to drift back to your own planet, sir," said he.  "It
is your opinion that our government owes every poor man a suit of
clothes?"

J. Archibald Meigs cringed under the blow. It was a thrust at his
clothing trust, and it found the weak point in his armor.

"Circumstances are different here," he mumbled.

"In some ways, yes; in other ways, no.  King Gaddbai is the monopolist
of this planet.  He controls the kaka output and charges for it
accordingly."

The captain of the royal guard was growing impatient.

"If you are here on an errand from the king of Baigol," said he, "we
shall be glad to escort you to the capital—but not until you have
surrendered the giant who stole the king’s property."

"Take us to his majesty," returned the professor, "and we will explain
everything in a satisfactory manner."

But this the captain would not do, and he became so threatening that we
retreated behind a barrier of bowlders.

"Display the banner, Mr. Munn," said the professor, and I held up the
royal standard so that the captain could not help but see it.  His one
eye gleamed insolently, and he came as near swearing as the seventh key
of his word-box would allow.

"Deliver up the thief," he ordered, "or I will command my men to
annihilate you with their zetbais."

It was certainly a critical situation.  I had already had a slight
experience with the overpowering properties of zet and didn’t care for
further acquaintance with it.  Meigs was nothing to me.  He would have
stripped the coat from a poor man’s back, if he could have had his way
on Earth, and it afforded me secret pleasure to see him hoisted by his
own petard.

The trust magnate did not fail to take note of the war-like movements of
the soldiers.

"Can’t you do anything to save me, professor?" he pleaded.

"We shall not give you up," answered Quinn firmly.  "Can you think of
any way, Mr. Munn, whereby we can extricate ourselves from this
difficulty?"

I have a quick mind, if I do say it, and a happy thought presented
itself on the spur of the instant.  Stooping, I picked up a stone; then,
raising myself, I let the missile fly straight at the captain.

His shoulder-arms still held the word-box above his head, and the stone
smashed against it and carried it away.  It was rather neatly done, for
the captain himself was left untouched.

"Bravo!" cried the professor.  "You drew the fangs of the enemy by that
trick, Mr. Munn. You have rendered the captain mute, and his men cannot
act without orders."

I had already figured this out in my mind, and it was presently proved
that I had not gone far from the mark.  The captain recovered the
word-box and attempted to use it, but its mechanism was so disarranged
that the order to attack became a confused jumble that seemed to sound a
retreat.

The whole company whirled and fled, their leader following and
gesticulating wildly and helplessly with his arms.  Meigs was saved for
the present, and he should have thanked me for it—but he did not.

Seating himself on a bowlder, he gazed pensively down at the red kirtle.

"This is what I call the irony of fate," said he in a morose tone.  "And
then, on top of it all, to be called a thief!"

He leaned his bare elbows on his knees and dropped his face in his
hands.

"How did this happen, Mr. Meigs?" asked the professor gently.

"Happen!" cried Meigs, lifting his head with a jerk and glaring at
Quinn.  "It would never have happened but for you!"

"Have you seen Gilhooly?" went on the professor, ignoring the reproach.

"Poor Gilhooly!" sighed Meigs.  "He has become a power in the traction
interests of the country.  The last I saw of him he was hauling trains
throughout the kingdom."

"We know that much already.  How about Popham and Markham?"

"Alas!" groaned Meigs.  "Popham is working like a galley-slave in a coal
mine; and Markham—well, these little fiends are slowly starving him to
death.  All Markham does is to wander about the kingdom with a plate and
a paddle begging food enough to keep body and soul together. Think of
it!  And the great Augustus Popham, owner of a controlling interest in
all the great anthracite and bituminous fields of Earth, delving in the
mines of this planet—no better than a two-dollar-a-day miner!"

"Coal fields!" I exclaimed.  "What do they need of coal in these
underground kingdoms?"

"They use the coal in the kingdoms of Baijinkz and Baigossh, which are
situated at the poles," explained the professor.  "During the long
nights in those countries a certain degree of cold must prevail.
But"—and here Quinn turned again to Meigs—"tell us what happened to you
and the other two gentlemen during the storm which separated us."

"We managed to regain the car," replied Meigs.  "We could not get in, of
course, because you had the key, but we hung to the latticework at the
windows.  I am a little hazy as to what happened after that, but I think
the car must have been picked up by a terrific gust and thrown to the
bottom of that crater in the volcano."

"Ah!" murmured the professor, looking at me. "You remember, Mr. Munn, I
told you I feared something of the kind would happen."

I nodded.

"Proceed, Mr. Meigs," added the professor. "This is all intensely
interesting.  Was the car seriously damaged?"

"I haven’t seen the car," resumed Meigs.  "A hiatus followed the blowing
away of the castle, and when I opened my eyes again I was a prisoner in
the hands of a legion of those one-eyed creatures.  For two weeks I was
kept confined—an object of curiosity for the whole kingdom, if I could
judge from the way the little imps flocked to stare at me.

"After a time I was led off to a place where I joined Popham and
Markham.  Need I tell you how affecting that meeting was?  Popham shed
tears, and both Markham and myself were nearly unmanned.

"Our captors had some sort of a contrivance consisting of a small shaft
and cord.  One end of the cord was put to Markham’s head and a slide
flew up on the end of the shaft.  Then Markham was led off, given a
plate and paddle and cast adrift.

"Popham was the next one to have the queer machine tried on him.  When
he was removed my turn came."

Meigs wrung his hands despairingly.

"After the storm," he continued with an effort, "my costume was not as
complete as I would have had it, but those impudent creatures denuded me
still further.  In self-defense I was forced to steal this red cloth and
run for my life.  Oh, it was terrible!  Woe is me that I should ever
have lived to see this day!"

"Some good may come out of this unfortunate experience, Mr. Meigs," said
the professor.

"Good!" almost shouted Meigs.  "Sir, you express yourself strangely.  Is
it good to have a man used to such luxury as I have been fleeing through
these rocky underground hills merely because he committed theft in order
to retain his self-respect?  Have a care, sir!  Do not think for a
moment that I am under any misapprehension as to the real cause of my
sorry situation."

"The king of this country is evidently a man of a humorous and practical
turn," observed Professor Quinn after a little thought.  "The
indexograph made him familiar with the natural bent of you three
gentlemen and he is seeking to show you the error of your ways.  On
Earth you were at one end of a trust; here you are placed at the other
end.  Really, I think the experience will prove most wholesome."

J. Archibald Meigs stared at the speaker with distended eyes.

"Is it possible," said he, "that your brain has been turned, like
Gilhooly’s?"

"Nonsense!" I struck in.  "The professor’s head is as clear as a bell.
He’s got the right of this thing, Meigs.  The king of Baigadd is making
you take a little of the medicine you measured out in such large doses
on the other planet."

"You are both crazy," snarled Meigs.  "I never stripped a man to his
hide and threw him out in the cold world—as the king of this country has
done to me, in a figurative sense."

"You don’t know how much evil you have done," said Quinn, an expression
on his face similar to the one I had seen when he jerked the lever and
shot us into the unknown.  "You have taken your pound of flesh, Mr.
Meigs, but are now under the heel of a monopoly yourself."

"Stuff!" cried Meigs.  "We will talk no longer about a matter in which
you display such poor judgment.  Although I have told you my story, I
have heard little of yours.  Am I to conclude that you and Munn
purposely cut loose from myself and my friends?  After bringing us to
this miserable planet did you have the heart willfully to abandon us?"

"Not at all, Meigs," said the professor hastily.

I wondered if Meigs had forgotten all about the attempt he and his
friends had made to abandon the professor and me?  He was one of the
most inconsistent men I have ever encountered.

"Like yourself and the others, Mr. Meigs," continued the professor, "Mr.
Munn and I were taken prisoners——"

"But you were not treated with the same barbarity as the rest of us,"
burst out Meigs, his small mind finding even that a cause for temper.
"You, who engineered the plot, and plunged us all into these terrific
difficulties, escape the consequences.  What is that banner?"

"We are under the protection of the ruler of the neighboring kingdom of
Baigol.  That is the royal standard."

"Ah," said Meigs bitterly, "you are even received at court—you and a
professed thief—while Markham, Popham, Gilhooly, and I are no more than
outcasts!  Is there no such thing as justice, even on this disgusting
planet?  Look at me!  _Look at me!_"

His final request for us to look at him was a frantic wail.  He yanked
savagely at his kirtle, and twisted his bare feet around in fearsome
dejection.

"We are looking at you, Mr. Meigs," observed the professor quietly.

"Do you find any pleasure in the spectacle? Does not my situation arouse
even a spark of pity?  I do not ask Munn for his sympathy, but you,
Professor Quinn, although criminally careless in evolving plans and
carrying them out, are a scientist, and you must have a heart."

"My heart is wrung with your misfortunes," replied the professor gently,
"but I realize that desperate diseases require desperate remedies."

"What disease are you referring to," snapped Meigs, suddenly changing
his tack, "and what remedy?"

"The disease that afflicts our common country, and which you would deny
and ridicule were I even to name it.  The remedy, too, you would
consider no remedy at all, but a useless infliction of discomfort and
mental anguish.  What you are undergoing, Mr. Meigs, is not accidental,
but providential.  The workings of fate are as marvelous as they are
effective.  Patience a little, and we shall see what we shall see."

"This is no time for oracular remarks!" scowled Meigs.  "These
four-handed, one-eyed demons are forcing Gilhooly, Markham, Popham, and
me steadily toward destruction. Gilhooly, daft as he is, is pulling his
heart out on their ugly little transportation system; Markham is
galloping from place to place pounding his paddle against his dish and
begging a few morsels of food; Popham is working like a galley-slave,
and his wages, already insufficient to give him the necessary food he
requires for his heart-breaking labor, are being systematically cut
down; as for me, the army of Baigadd is at my heels.  Baigadd!" and, in
his extreme discouragement, Meigs gave vent to a wild, mirthless laugh.
"Baigadd and Baigol!  They sound like expletives from our own good
planet, but altogether too mild to express the state of my feelings."

"Be calm," adjured the professor, with an apprehensive look at me.

"Calm!" echoed Meigs brokenly.  "I shall be as mad as Gilhooly if this
keeps up much longer."  He started forward with a truculent air.  "What
are you going to do for me, Quinn?" he cried. "How are you going to get
me out of this fix? Those infernal little soldiers went away, but
they’ll come back again.  Then what?"

"We are here in the role of ambassadors," answered the professor,
"and——"

"Munn an ambassador!" sneered Meigs, drawing away from me.

"And, as such, we are entitled to some courtesy at the hands of King
Baigadd.  I feel quite sure that, when the higher authorities understand
you are my friend, they will be lenient in their treatment of you."

"That is rather a vague supposition on which to ground a man’s hopes of
life or death," muttered Meigs.

"It is all we can fall back on, Mr. Meigs. There are but six of us on
this small planet, and we must make the inhabitants our friends.  If we
do not, annihilation will overtake the lot of us."

"We were fools ever to land on Mercury in the first place," pursued
Meigs, still wild and unreasoning.

He stamped with his bare foot to emphasize his anger, and a sharp stone
unexpectedly gave point to it.  With a howl of pain he caught his foot
in his hands.

I have never been called particularly hard-hearted, but somehow I took a
measure of enjoyment out of all this.  However, I had the grace to turn
my head and conceal the smile.

"You must be careful, Mr. Meigs," warned the professor.  "Sit down and
rest yourself."

"Rest!" fumed Meigs, "just as though such a thing were possible!  I am
one of the miserable victims of your duplicity, and if I could have
recourse to the law of our planet for about an hour, I would soon put
you where you belong."

"Be sensible," I struck in, perhaps ill-advisedly. "You act like a
whipped schoolboy, Meigs."

"I’ll hear nothing from you," he cried, glaring at me.

"As I was saying, Mr. Meigs," proceeded the professor, "Mr. Munn and I,
although we appear to be free, are, nevertheless, virtual prisoners of
the king of Baigol.  We are being sent to Baigadd upon an important
mission, and on our success or failure depends, very largely——"

"That will do," interrupted the broker irritably; "I don’t care to hear
an account of your experiences, Quinn.  It is evident, I think, that you
and Munn have not been crossed by the same adversity which has overtaken
myself and the others.  I have a demand to make."

Meigs arose from the bowlder and struck an attitude which he intended to
be both dignified and compelling.  With his unshaven face and red kirtle
he succeeded only in making himself ludicrous.

"What is the demand?" inquired Quinn.

"You and Munn are fairly well-clothed," replied Meigs, "and I demand
that you share my distress to the extent of donating enough of your own
clothing to make me presentable."

On the impulse of the moment the professor began removing his coat.
When the garment was half off he changed his mind and slipped back into
it again.

"No," he returned.  "You have made your own bed, Mr. Meigs, and I think
you should lie in it until you experience a change of heart. When you
can truly say to Mr. Munn and me that you realize how sadly mistaken you
were on the other planet, we will share your distress—but not till
then."

"Out on you for a pair of heartless wretches!" exclaimed the broker
angrily.  "Your reasoning is false, and I will never yield assent to it.
I wash my hands of both of you"—and he went through the motions—"and if
our paths should cross in the future, it is my desire that we pass as
strangers."

He glared at us, turned on his bare heel and made his way to the road.
Then he strode off in the direction of the bend.

We watched him silently, the professor with apprehension and I with
unrestrained enjoyment. As he was about to vanish from our sight we saw
him come to a startled halt, gaze off along the road that lay beyond the
bend, then throw up his arms, whirl and race back to us.

"They’re coming!" he shouted frantically; "the whole army is coming!  Is
there no way you can save me, gentlemen?  Think, for mercy’s sake,
_think_!"

Meigs was continually building barriers between himself and the
professor and me, only to knock them down again whenever the slightest
danger threatened him.  Had I been the one to decide, he should then and
there have been left to shift for himself.



                             *CHAPTER XII.*

                         *CONDEMNED TO DEATH.*


"Have courage, Mr. Meigs," said Professor Quinn.  "It is my hope that
some high personage may be with the approaching army, in which event the
royal banner given us by the king of Baigol will be respected and prove
the salvation of all three of us."

This great and good man was utterly incapable of harboring resentment
against any one.  He beguiled the plutocrats into his castle, I grant
you, and shuffled them from the scene of their grievous labors, yet this
was not because he loved the rich man less but the poor man more.

As I write these words, piecing my narrative together out of my
commonplace book, a wave of affection and reverence rolls over me.

And often I steal forth o’ nights when skies are propitious, gaze at
Mercury through my telescope, and can almost fancy myself in communion
with the gentle soul forever lost to its native planet.  But I
anticipate.

The retreating Gaddbaizets had reached headquarters and acquainted the
high chief in command with the fact that two more colossi had appeared;
so the major part of the king’s forces had been ordered out.  By tactful
maneuvres, they were approaching from all sides.

A cordon was drawn around us—a cordon of soldiers with their flashing
zetbais presented. One hostile move would have placed the seal on our
death warrant.

The high chief, perhaps fearing his word-box might be wrecked as his
captain’s had been, had evidently laid plans and given all orders in
advance of his attack on our position.  The assault was noiseless,
swift, and sure.

When completely surrounded by the troops, a number of the soldiers
disengaged themselves from various points of the circle.  These soldiers
carried lances at least ten feet long.

The lances were held high, and to the point of each the upper edge of a
net was made fast, the lower edge of the net trailing along the ground.

As the lancemen advanced the net took the form of a rapidly contracting
circle, the professor, Meigs, and myself in the centre.

In less than five minutes we three colossi were stoutly encompassed by
the net, hurled together and thrown in a helpless jumble.  The web was
finely woven and of a material that defied our efforts to break through
it.

Professor Quinn made a fierce attempt to use his word-box, but he was
held so rigidly that he could not do so.  One by one we were
disentangled, the upper parts of our bodies were wrapped about in
sections of the net so that only our legs were free, and we were forced
to proceed with our captors, the army marching on every side of us.

Meigs was loudly bewailing his evil fortune.

"Take heart, man!" cried Quinn.  "If I can see the king or get word to
him I am sure that all will yet be well."

"It’s all day with us," returned Meigs with a groan, "and you cannot
make me believe otherwise."

There was no twilight in the nether kingdoms. Day leaped into night as
swiftly as a curtain falls on a stage play.

Long before we reached our destination we were in Stygian blackness.
There were no artificial illuminants known to the creatures of the
under-world, and they had no need of them. Their single eyes were gifted
with power to see at night almost as keenly as in the daytime.

When we had traveled several hours we were made to halt and a circle of
zet, similar to the one that had imprisoned Quinn and myself in Baigol,
was reared around us.  Thereupon we were freed of the nets and left to
ourselves.

The instant he was able to make use of his hands the professor grabbed
his word-box and began shooting questions into the opaque gloom that
hemmed us in.

"Why have you taken us prisoners?  What harm have we ever done you?  We
are under the protection of King Golbai.  Did not the captain of the
other detachment so inform you?"

Answer came back:

"You have been taken prisoners because you resisted the royal authority
and tried to protect a man who stole goods from our regal master. Theft
of goods from his majesty’s storehouse is punishable with death.  Even
ambassadors from King Golbai are not above the laws of our realm."

"What is to be our fate?"

"Zet," was the laconic answer.  "You will all three be slain by the
executioner-general as soon as may be after the great reflector sends
its first gleam of day through the kingdom."

That ended the professor’s talk with our unseen enemy who, presumably,
was the high chief of the forces.  It was sufficiently discouraging,
although I was reckless enough to ease my feelings with a few expletives
on Key 7—the most insolent and defiant that I had learned in Baigol.

"Mr. Munn, Mr. Munn!" cried Quinn in rebuke. "This is no time to express
yourself in that key."

"I am not endowed with your magnificent forbearance, professor," said I,
"and I had to say something."

"What’s it all about, anyway?" asked Meigs.

"We are to die at sunrise, Meigs," I answered roughly, "or as soon after
sunrise as the executioner-general may find it convenient."

"I would have spared Mr. Meigs that information," said the professor.

"He ought to have time to prepare himself," I returned.  "As the night
is far spent I am going to turn in and snatch forty winks against the
time the reflectors begin to work.  Good night, professor," I added, as
I stretched out on the ground.  "I don’t amount to much more than Meigs,
and will never be missed, but I am sorry for you."

Quinn groped for my hand.

"Life, in itself, is a small thing," said he, "no matter whether it is
long or short.  It is what we do with life that counts, Mr. Munn."

"I have no regrets for what I have done with mine," I declared.

And I had not.  Conscience did not accuse me in the least.  Never had I
taken a penny from those who could not afford to lose it.

"Think again, Mr. Munn!" implored the professor.  "I would not have you
face your doom in that mental attitude.  Surely your senses are not
blunted to the evil of your past life?"

"Sir," I answered, imbued to the core with the sophistry that had made
me what I was, "I have been a financier in a small way.  Not having the
requisite capital for large operations, I was compelled to work in a
small way.  My business, however, while it may not have been as
legitimate, was every whit as honest as that of Meigs and his
associates."

"If you men would stop that useless palavering," called Meigs, from
somewhere in the dark, "and try to think of some way for making our
escape, you would be putting in your time to better advantage."

"Never mind him, professor," said I.  "This is probably the last
opportunity we shall ever have for an extended talk.  At such a time a
man speaks from the heart, and I want you to know just where I stand."

"Just a moment, Mr. Munn."  The professor turned his head to answer
Meigs.  "It is impossible for us to escape," said he.  "Even if we could
get away from here, we should find the entire country in arms against
us."

"Possibly we could get back to that other benighted kingdom from which
you and the thief come accredited as ambassadors?" returned Meigs.

"It is a hard journey from here, Mr. Meigs, and we should be overtaken
and recaptured before we could cross the border into a friendly country.
Before we could take to flight, however, we should have to beat down the
barrier of zet that hems its in.  That, as I know from experience, is
out of the question."

Meigs began to complain, and to find fault, and the professor turned
from him and went on talking with me.

"I have brought these troubles upon you, Mr. Munn," he continued, a sad
note in his voice, "and upon the others.  It seems impossible to
accomplish any great good without causing some small amount of misery."

"Don’t let my situation worry you," I remarked.  "While constantly
exercising my wits to secure the best fortune for myself, I have always
made it a point to be prepared for the worst.  I shall face the zetbais
in the morning without the quiver of an eyelid."

"Don’t misunderstand me, Mr. Munn," said the professor earnestly.
"While I grieve that matters should have fallen out in this fashion, yet
I would not undo the one thing which brought us into these troubled
waters.  In other words, I would rather be here, in Njambai, with death
staring us in the face, than back there on Terra, with Meigs, Markham,
Popham, and Gilhooly free to work out their nefarious plans."

"That’s the spirit!" I cried warmly.

"It’s the spirit that has put many a man in the penitentiary," called
Meigs, who appeared to be following our conversation even if he was not
taking any part in it.

I turned with a stinging reply on my lips, but the professor dropped a
hand on my arm, and I held my peace.

"We are sharing together our last few hours," said he, "and let us have
no quarrelsome talk. Personally, I have a good deal of charity for
Meigs.  He is a man who, until very recently, has been accustomed to
having scores of people wait upon his slightest nod.  Here he has been
subjected to much indignity, and at the hands of a people whom he
believes to be his inferiors. Naturally that renders him disagreeable."

"He might, at least, have the grace to leave you alone," I answered.

"Not so, Mr. Munn.  He is perfectly right in badgering me.  I am at
fault, so far as he and his associates are concerned, and he knows it. I
do not expect approbation at their hands, but at the hands of those, in
far-away Terra, whom my drastic actions have helped.  Your calm
acceptance of your fate is so different from the attitude of Meigs that
it touches me deeply.  You have the same cause to blame and abuse me,
and yet you let the opportunity pass."

"It has been worth something, professor," I responded, "to stand at your
side and to pass through these remarkable adventures shoulder to
shoulder with you."

"Thank you for that, my friend."

"I have no doubt," I continued, "that if you and I were to be spared,
you might in time lead me to see what you are disposed to call the error
of my way, for you are a master hand at arguing; but, as I am at
present, I feel that my chances in the next world are as good as any
one’s.  The rich have taken from the poor in a way that the law
sanctions; and I have taken from the rich in a way the law does not
sanction, and, in a few rare instances, have given to the poor.  There’s
nothing in that to oppress my conscience.  The only thing I am sorry for
is that I entered your castle with my felonious intention centred upon
your property.  Now that I know you so well, my plan to steal from you
looks more like a crime than anything else I have done."

"Munn," he replied, "it grieves me to think that your career is to be
cut short before you have had an opportunity to reform.  However"—and he
sighed softly—"there is no escaping fate on our own planet or on this.
Good night to you."

I was dog-tired and went off into slumber the moment I closed my eyes.
About the last thing I heard was the peevish voice of Meigs resisting
what little comfort the professor tried to offer him.

I was aroused by the professor.

"The first gleam of day, Mr. Munn," said he, bending over me with a
quiet smile.

I rubbed my eyes and got the cobwebs out of my brain.  Yes, it was the
first gleam of day—our last day.

We were in an open square in the heart of a diminutive city.  From every
side radiated trim little streets bordered thickly with white dwellings.

In front of us was a palace, rising dome upon dome until it stood full
thirty feet high. Inhabitants of the royal city were already abroad,
walking rapidly or gathering in groups and using their word-boxes
excitedly.

"Toot! toot!  Ting-a-ling-a-ling!"

The familiar sounds came from a distance, and I sprang erect and with
the professor gazed in the direction from which they reached us.
Presently Gilhooly came along with a loaded train.

He halted in front of the palace, the passengers disembarked and
Gilhooly bent over the cars, picked them up carefully and turned them
the other way along the V-shaped groove.

"All aboard!" he cried, and a minute later he was off and away.

"Poor Gilhooly!" murmured Quinn.  "He is bringing excursionists to
witness our execution. I am glad that he does not know what he is doing
and that Meigs is asleep."

Quinn laid his hand on my shoulder.

"I deeply regret, Mr. Munn," he went on, "that I am the indirect cause
of Gilhooly’s lunacy.  It was a great surprise to me to find that his
intellect was not strong enough to withstand the ordeal to which I
subjected it."

"It couldn’t be helped, professor," I returned. "It was a grand idea of
yours—that of abducting these trust magnates and placing them where they
could do no harm to the poor of our planet. What though one mind has
been wrecked?  Better that than the misery and enslavement of hundreds
of thousands."

"Mr. Munn," said the professor with feeling, "I thank you.  Such words
from a companion who is about to suffer jointly with me the extreme
penalty prove that you are a man of parts and fitted for a nobler walk
in life than the one you have heretofore taken.  I am very, very sorry
that you are to be cut off so soon."

Quinn was fortitude itself, his courage born of a knowledge of duty well
done.  I am prone to believe, also, that I myself was not less firm,
although a less laudable cause lay back of it.

The square, I should judge, measured about two hundred feet on each
side.  While the professor and I were engaged in talk, sight-seers had
been gathering in the streets, keeping carefully to the sidewalk
boundaries of the open space.

Every eye was turned upon the professor and myself and the sleeping
Meigs.  The broker was snoring dismally, the sound rumbling above the
babble of the word-boxes and echoing through the adjacent thoroughfares.

"What has happened to the executioner-general?" I said to the professor.
"He isn’t very punctual in keeping his engagement with us, it seems to
me.  We have had daylight for an hour."

"Something has gone wrong, Mr. Munn," Quinn answered, taking note of a
ripple of excitement that ran through the crowds around us. "Ah!  Here
comes the high chief of the military forces.  He has his word-box ready,
so I suppose he is going to explain."

The high chief was pushing through the throng into the square, two of
his hands holding a word-box and the other two a zetbai.  Advancing upon
us, he halted just without the ring.

"Be patient, gentlemen," he said through his talk machine.  "You will
not be kept waiting much longer."

"We are not so wildly impatient as you seem to think," I sent back at
him; whereupon he tittered a little with Key 7.

Seeing that I was getting ready to use the same key for a few
expletives, the professor made haste to break in.

"What has happened?" he asked.

"It has just been discovered that there is no white paint in the king’s
storehouse," replied the high chief.

"What is the white paint to be used for?" came curiously from the
professor.

"The executioner-general is obliged by law to give himself a fresh coat
of white paint at every execution.  It would be impossible for him to
perform his function without first complying with the statute."

"Could not some one else, who has been freshly decorated, do the work in
his stead?" I inquired, somewhat flippantly.

"No," answered the high chief.  "He is the only one in the kingdom who
is duly empowered to execute criminals.  Our executioner is a proud
person, and jealous of the prerogatives of his office.  He receives no
less than two kanos for every happy dispatch that he performs.  In this
case he will be the richer by six kanos, so you will understand how
anxious he is to have everything done as it should be."

A kano was the equivalent of a half cent of our own money; so that our
one-time millionaire, Mr. J. Archibald Meigs, was to yield up his
valuable life and help swell the executioner-general’s income to the
extent of a single copper.  Had he been awake, I should have explained
the matter to him so that he might have still further expatiated upon
the irony of fate.

This kingdom of Baigadd differed from the other kingdom with which we
had already made acquaintance in one material respect: The surface of
the country had shrunk much farther from the outer crust of the planet.

In Baigol, for instance, we were always able to see the vault that
covered us; but in Baigadd the sight reached into nothing but empty
space.

Shortly after the high chief had finished speaking there came a flourish
of word-boxes from the direction of the palace.  Turning our eyes toward
that point we beheld two resplendent soldiers in turrets to right and
left of the richly hung balcony.

"Hail to our munificent sovereign, Gaddbai, ruler of the realm and
mightiest monarch of Njambai!"

Thus the pæans of the soldiers.

The words were echoed by the crowd, and a surging roar went up from the
talking machines: "Hail to his majesty, King Gaddbai!"

On the heels of the tumult the kaka draperies parted at the rear of the
royal balcony and the king appeared, bowed and seated himself.  He had a
reserved seat for the performance and could see everything that took
place.

"Let the executioner-general stand forth, prepare himself for his work
and then proceed—all in the royal presence!"

Instantly the master of ceremonies put in an appearance.  He wore a
white kirtle, carried himself with a lordly air, and was followed by a
retinue of attendants.

Two of the attendants bore the official zetbais; another carried the
official word-box; four more were dragging a cart on spherical wheels—an
open cart laden with an object that startled us.

"Great heavens, Mr. Munn!" gasped the professor. "Unless my eyes deceive
me, the executioner-general is having my tub of anti-gravity compound
hauled after him!"

"Your eyes do not deceive you, sir," I made answer.

"But what in the world are they going to do with it?"

"We shall be able to tell in a few moments. Look!  The executioner takes
his word-box and kneels; he is about to address the king."

"Your majesty," said the executioner-general through his talking
machine, "your slave craves your indulgence in the matter of preparing
for this happy dispatch.  The supply of the official pigment is quite
exhausted, and it has been found necessary to fall back upon the white
paint that was found in the dwelling recently fallen from the top of the
crater."

"Will it answer the purpose?" demanded the king.

"It is white, your majesty, and of proper consistency.  So far as I can
see, it will answer the purpose well."

"Then proceed with your preparations.  I would have this matter over
with as quick as possible."

Of course Quinn and I understood all this.  I knew that the professor
was meditating a final appeal to the king, and he shot a strange look at
me as his trembling hands lifted his word-box.

"Before the executioner-general proceeds, your majesty," remarked the
professor, his fingers none too steady, "will you allow me a word?"

His majesty gave an exclamation of surprise.

"Where have you learned our language?" he inquired.

"In Baigol, your majesty.  We come from that country on a visit to you,
under the protection of the royal banner of Golbai."

The professor nodded to me and I shook out the banner and held it aloft.

"My royal friend," said Gaddbai, "should have been more particular in
choosing the subjects he sends to visit my realm.  The sleeping
colossus, in the ring with you raided my storehouse, and you sought to
save him from capture.  For that lawless act death has been decreed to
all three of you, and the sentence must be carried out."

"But we were ignorant of the law," pleaded the professor.

"Ignorance of the law is no excuse."

"The gentleman in the red kirtle is a friend of ours——"

"If we know a person by the company he keeps, that speaks ill for you,"
interrupted the sovereign.

"You are determined to have us slain, your majesty?"

"It is my royal will."

"Then I shall have to set forces at work to combat the royal will," said
the professor calmly.

Cries of consternation and anger went up on every hand.  The king rose
wrathfully from his seat.

"You dare to dispute my authority?" he demanded.

"I dare to dispute your ability to slay us," returned Quinn.  "Your
executioner will disappear from before your eyes if he attempts it."

The king laughed ironically.

"We shall see," he said, sinking placidly back on his seat.  "Let the
executioner-general proceed with his preparations."

I was greatly pleased with the drift of affairs. Circumstances had
conspired to favor us, and the professor was making the most of his
opportunity.

The executioner-general motioned to one of his attendants and then
raised his four hands above his head.  A moment later the attendant had
seized the whitewash brush, dabbed it into the anti-gravity compound,
and with two quick strokes had covered the executioner’s chest and back.

Had a third stroke been needed it could not have been given.  In a flash
the official had been snatched away, vanishing like a streak of white in
the void above.

The king rose gasping, clutching at the balcony rail.  The throng around
us was paralyzed for a space, and not a word-box was heard.

As for Quinn, he had struck an attitude, his left hand raised aloft and
his glittering, bead-like eyes transfixing the king.



                            *CHAPTER XIII.*

                       *A THREATENING CALAMITY.*


And through all this J. Archibald Meigs slept placidly on.  Presently a
perfect roar of awe and dismay broke from thousands of word-boxes. In
the midst of the hubbub the king could be seen waving his hands to
command silence and attention.  The glittering soldiers in the turrets
sounded a clarion warning and silence fell once more.

"Marvelous are the powers of these colossi!" cried the king with
trembling voice.  "The sleeping thief receives my royal pardon; the
offense of his two friends, in attempting to succor him, is condoned.
From now henceforth these three are my honored guests!  Let all take
heed!"

I caught the professor’s hand and gave it a fervent clasp.

"You saved our lives, professor," said I.

"Hardly," he returned, smiling.  "It was the anti-gravity compound that
did that.  Now that we can inflate our lungs without catching our
breath, suppose we waken Mr. Meigs."

On being aroused Meigs sat up and stared around at him.  He was not long
in picking up the trend of events where he had left off during the
night.

"Are they ready to—to kill us?" he asked, clasping his hands.

"They are not going to kill us, Mr. Meigs," answered the professor.
"The king has changed his mind, and we are now his honored guests."

"You don’t mean it!" exclaimed the broker.

The professor replied that he did mean it, and went on to tell how the
unexpected result had been accomplished.  Before he had fairly finished,
the king, clad in his robes of state and accompanied by a dozen members
of his household, could be seen approaching across the square.

Attendants followed the royal party, bearing basins of food, a chair on
which his majesty could repose himself and a canopy to shield his august
person from the reflected rays of the sun.

"The first thing you do, Quinn," said Meigs, while the royal party was
making itself comfortable, "tell the king I’ve got to have my clothes."

"Have patience, Mr. Meigs," answered the professor.

"Patience?" spluttered Meigs.  "Merciful powers, man!  How can I be
patient and cut such a figure as this?"

"Attend his majesty!" came from a word-box among the king’s suite.  "Our
gracious sovereign is about to speak."

Our close attention being secured, the king remarked:

"Now that these colossi have been spared they will need food.  See that
it is given them."

This command was very satisfactory to me, for I was little short of
famished.  Presently our paddles were flying over the basins, and we
were breaking our fast in a way that made the king open his eyes.

The lord of the exchequer—a most important officer of state—drew near
his majesty and said that if the kingdom was going to board us for any
length of time it would behoove them to till all the crown lands and get
every available acre into produce.

The king made answer that the little man with the beady eyes was a
wonder-worker; he had taken care of the executioner-general with a mere
wave of the hand, and no doubt he could, with a stamp of the foot,
materialize as much food as he wanted and whenever he wanted.

The lord of the exchequer thereupon retired in much confusion.

In the midst of our repast we were startled by a voice behind us.

"Gentlemen, gentlemen!  Out of your abundant store will you not have the
goodness to give me a few mouthfuls of food?  I’m starving, literally
starving!"

"Markham!" cried Meigs, whirling around.

"Mr. Markham!" exclaimed the professor.

The food-trust magnate was fully clad, although his clothing showed
signs of much hard usage.  His cheeks were sunken and pale, while his
eyes were round and abnormally bright.  In his left hand was a metal
plate, and in his right a small paddle.

Both Meigs and Quinn started toward Markham with the food that still
remained in their basins.  The zet-ring, however, reared its intangible
barrier between so that Markham could not so much as touch the
receptacles extended toward him.

It was pathetic to watch this one-time master of millions struggling to
get the coveted food. He would throw himself at it and recoil trembling
from the mysterious force that had shocked and baffled him; he would
sink to his knees or leap in the air, trying to reach above or below the
invisible barrier; and then he would dissemble, slink toward the basins
and make a sudden dash, as though the strong chemical was an enemy whom
he thought he could take off its guard.

At last he gave over and turned away with a despairing moan.  Meigs
faced the king and began an angry outburst which the professor made
haste to interrupt.

"Your majesty," said Quinn, "this needy gentleman is also a friend of
ours.  Will you not supply his wants, or enable us to do so?"

"The indexograph informed me as to his character," answered the king,
"and it is a law of the realm that punishment must fit the crime. When
your friend will truly acknowledge himself in the wrong his needs will
be plentifully supplied.  Until that time he must beg his food from
house to house, morsel by morsel."

"And this other gentleman in the kirtle," proceeded the professor, "will
you not exercise a little clemency in his case?"

"I have already exercised a good deal of clemency," the king answered;
"nor can I go any further until he also announces a change of heart."

Markham was as deaf to the word-boxes as was Meigs, and his majesty’s
will was interpreted to them.

"I am not in the wrong!" declared Markham. "The principle involved is of
vital importance, and I will die for it, if need be."

"So will I," averred Meigs.

"We will eliminate your friends from our calculations for the present,"
said the king.  "Just now I would like to know what has become of my
executioner-general."

"He is pinned to the roof of the under-world," said the professor.

"Can you bring him back?" asked the king, turning his eye aloft.
"Really, I don’t see how we are to get along without him."

"Possibly I can return him to you," answered the professor.  "I will
try, at least, providing you will grant a request I have to make."

This dallying with the royal prerogative was not well received by his
majesty, nor by those around him.

"What request would you make, in case I was inclined to receive it?"
asked the king.

"I would have you bring out the Bolla and allow these two gentlemen to
take it in their hands."

The king gave a start, and a look of consternation overspread the faces
of those in his retinue.

"Where did you hear of the Bolla?" the king asked sharply.

"In the other kingdom, your majesty," the professor replied.

The king was silent a few moments.

"We will take that matter up later," said he finally.  "From whence come
you and your friends?  That point has been bothering me for some little
time."

"We come from another planet which is called the Earth," said Quinn.

"Does the planet you speak of circle around our sun?"

"Yes, your majesty."

"Is it as large as Njambai?"

"Much larger, your majesty."

"And are all the creatures on Earth two-handed, as large as you, and
able to communicate thoughts without a word-box?"

"The inhabitants of Earth are just as you see us.  But they do not live
beneath the crust of the planet.  The sun’s rays are so tempered by the
time they reach the Earth that beings are able to live in comfort on the
outer shell."

The king clapped two of his hands at this, and gave other evidence of
his pleasure on the word-box.

"Most wonderful!" he exclaimed, and launched into a series of questions
concerning the physical attributes of our mother planet and the
character and institutions of its people.

Quinn answered him fully, expatiating on the progress in arts and
sciences already made by the Earth dwellers.  The king’s wonder grew
into awe and admiration.  Rising from his chair he paced back and forth
in front of us, thinking deeply.

"What sort of weapons have your people?" he inquired at last.

The professor described our powder-and-shot machines to the best of his
ability.  The king was puzzled.

"Don’t they know anything about zet on your native orb?" he inquired.

"No," answered the professor.  "There is no zet in our atmosphere."

"Suppose a company of my soldiers were to land on Earth, fully equipped
with zetbais. Could they be resisted?"

Quinn shuddered.

"No, your majesty, they could not be resisted. With your wonderful
zetbais you could conquer and lay waste the entire planet.  Candor
compels me to tell you this, knowing full well that such a result would
not be possible to you."

"Why impossible?" cried the king, with wild enthusiasm.  "You and your
friends must have come hither in that strange house which fell into the
crater.  Why could I not load a company of my soldiers into the house
and go back with you?"

Then, and only then, did we see what this crack-brained monarch was
driving at.  Quinn was in trepidation over the outcome.

"Such a thing is not to be thought of!" he cried.  "Your majesty, let me
beg you not to give your attention to such a quixotic project!"

"I am fully resolved!" exclaimed the king, striding up and down with
clinched hands.  "It is a very alluring picture you give me of this
planet called Earth.  I’ll conquer it, annex it and own it."

He halted and raised his word-box.

"Ho, there, Olox!" he cried.

The high chief stepped forward and made the royal salaam of four hands.

"We are going forth to conquer the solar system, Olox," paid the king in
a brisk, matter-of-fact way.

"Yes, your majesty," answered Olox, as readily as though the capturing
of a planet or two was an every-day occurrence.

"You have overheard what this strange two-handed creature has been
telling me?" went on the king.

"Yes, your majesty."

"Trains that burn the black blocks and need not be hauled by hand!
Green vegetation, laughing rivers and babbling brooks all on the outer
shell!  Rich cities, stores of art and heaps of yellow gold!  These, and
myriad other marvelous things are on the Earth, Olox, and guarded only
by two-handed, five-fingered colossi, who have to load a tube of iron
with black powder and round missiles before they can attack their foes!"

The king threw back his head and laughed on the word-box.  Taking a cue
from the king, Olox also laughed, and so did the others.

"And these Earth dwellers can’t even see in the dark!" rippled the king
with contemptuous fingers.

"But they are large, your majesty," ventured the high chief.

"Large and therefore awkward; not quick like our people, Olox.  The
zetbai is the key to the situation.  We could girdle the green star of
these colossi, devastate it and destroy all who sought to oppose us.
That is what we shall do."

"It will be a noble campaign, your majesty."

"Noble?  That is not the word, Olox.  It will be stupendous!  We’ll
monopolize everything when we get there, my dear sir—everything we can
get our hands on.  And I guess we can get our hands on whatever there
is—zet will clear every obstacle out of our way."

The king looked at the theoretical side.  Olox, naturally, had an eye to
the practical.

"What are your orders for the campaign, your majesty?" he asked.

"I shall leave a regent to look after Baigadd," said the king, "and
myself accompany the expedition.  You will be the military head, Olox."

"Yes, your majesty.  We are to go in the metal house?"

"It is the only thing we have to go in.  The metal house was unhurt by
its fall into the crater?"

"That appears to be the case, your majesty, strange as it may seem.  It
fell into the kingdom right side up and——"

"The interior is in good condition?"

"Very good, your majesty."

"My orders to the effect that nothing should be removed from it have
been carried out?"

"The executioner-general would have that tub of white pigment.  Nothing
else has been taken from the house."

"Very good.  How many of our people will the house contain comfortably?"

"I should say that fifty or more could dwell in it without much
inconvenience."

"Then select fifty soldiers, the flower of the Gaddbaizets.  Among your
stores be sure you have a good supply of black kaka.  I want some one
who is away up in ideographs to accompany the expedition as historian."

"It will be attended to, your highness."

The king turned and aimed his word-box at the professor.

"Is that tub of white pigment essential to the proper equipment of the
metal house?" he asked.

"Very essential," replied Quinn.

Three weeks and more in the nether kingdoms had whitened us
considerably, but the professor’s face was now a sickly grayish color.

"Then I will have it taken back to the house," said the king.

He gave orders to that end at once, and the cart was laid hold of and
drawn out of the square and down the street, Olox accompanying it.

"I had no idea," the king drummed on his word-box, "that there were any
people in the solar system with so much wealth and so little power with
which to guard it.  I’ve got the other three kingdoms of Njambai pretty
well under my thumb, and the regent I leave behind to boss things will
have an easy time of it.  Quite possibly I may conclude not to come back
to Njambai.  This other star has natural advantages which we do not seem
to have here, and may prove a more comfortable place in which to live."

Professor Quinn was shivering, like a man with an ague.  He proceeded to
use his talk-machine, and the words shook under his unsteady fingers.

"What you are thinking of, your majesty," ran the professor’s words, "is
only the wildest of dreams."

"I have had dreams before, and wild ones," the king’s word-box rattled
off complacently, "and I have made them come true.  It shall be the same
with this.  I am a conqueror, and I come of a line of conquerors."

"There are millions upon millions of people on our planet," persisted
the professor, despairingly. "They could hurl these countless numbers
against you faster than you could slay them with your zetbais."

Key 7 of the royal word-box gave a screech of contempt.

"Suppose we draw a line of zet," the box added, when the derision had
died out, "imprison groups of those countless numbers and then wipe them
out by detachments?  How would that work?"

"The atmosphere of Earth is different from that of Mercury," continued
the professor. "You cannot draw zet from the air of our planet."

"Thanks for the hint," replied the king.  "We will take an ample supply
with us and charge the atmosphere with it.  Then we shall have a store
at hand whenever the need develops."

While the king was using his word-box with two of his hands, he was
rubbing the other two together with ill-concealed delight.

"Conditions there are absolutely unknown to you, your majesty,"
persisted the professor in a frantic endeavor to turn the king from his
designs.  "You will be brought face to face, at every turn, with
situations that will puzzle you and be fraught with danger.  All the
nations of the Earth will combine against you."

"Let them combine!" was the monarch’s answer. "I hope they will display
sufficient strength to make the campaign exciting.  I will capture this
Earth of yours and rule over it!  From one end of it to the other I will
make it mine!  I have long felt that Njambai was too small for the
proper exercise of my wide abilities."

"This is your world," the professor thumped angrily on his word-box,
"and you have no right to meddle with any other planet."

That caused the king to turn his keen eye on the professor, and to keep
it there for a full minute.

"I have the right to do whatever I see fit," snapped his talk machine.
"There is no will in this kingdom but mine, and no other will in the
four kingdoms, if I choose to have it so.  But why are you saying such
things on your word-box? After firing me with a kingly ambition to
capture and annex a distant planet, why do you proceed to throw
discouragement in my way? Ha!  I wonder if you have been telling me the
truth?"

"Your majesty," hummed the professor’s talk machine, with dignity, "I am
not in the habit of making misstatements."

"We’ll find out whether you are or not," came from the king.  "This is
an important matter, and I shall take no man’s word for anything. Ho,
there!" and the word-box was leveled at some of the retainers; "bring an
indexograph, varlets!  We will settle this question of veracity here and
now."

Some of the retainers scurried away and vanished inside the palace.
Presently they reappeared with the indexograph.

The professor was backward in facing the test—strangely backward, as I
thought, for a man so clear-minded and conscientious.

"The test is not necessary," he demurred.

"Your actions are far from being open and aboveboard," remarked the
king.  "You must submit."

The royal eye was on the machine as the professor was tried out.  The
ideograph told of a truthful mind, sadly perturbed.  The royal word-box
chattered mirthfully.

"You are afraid I can accomplish my purpose!" laughed his majesty.  "You
are worried about your planet!  Such a state of mind merely enhances my
determination, for you, if I mistake not, are a clever man.  You would
not feel worried if you did not believe I could accomplish what I have
in mind.  But be at peace, my dear sir.  You shall in nowise suffer.  I
will make you ruler of one of the captured kingdoms."

This was no lure for the professor.  He maintained an attitude of
dignified silence, watching the king with steady eyes.

"A wise general," went on his majesty, "always looks over his ground, as
well as he may, before going out to battle.  That will be advisable in
the case of my present campaign."

"What do you mean by that, your majesty?" queried the professor.

"To-night," explained the king, again, "we shall mount to the upper
crust and make a reconnoissance of this orb I am to subjugate."

"Have you any astronomical instruments?" asked Quinn.

"None whatever," replied the king.  "Have you?"

"There is an instrument in the steel car which will bring the planet
Terra much nearer to us than the naked eye could do."

"What is it?  Describe the instrument to me and I will have it brought
out for our night’s work."

The professor described the telescope, and the king dispatched a
messenger after Olox in hot haste, with supplementary orders.  Thereupon
the king bade us farewell and left the square, followed by his suite.

As I stood watching the royal party out of sight, I heard a gurgling
groan behind me. Facing about I saw the professor reeling unsteadily;
the next moment I had caught him in my arms and saved him a fall.



                             *CHAPTER XIV.*

                      *PLAN TO STEAL A BUILDING.*


Professor Quinn did not become unconscious. The frightful catastrophe
that threatened Terra had preyed upon him at the expense of his
strength.  Easing him to the ground, I dropped beside him and held his
head on my knee.

"Cheer up, professor," said I.  "It surprises me to see you give way
like this."

"Mr. Munn," he returned brokenly, "if this rattle-brained monarch goes
out into the universe with a picked company of fifty men and a hundred
zetbais, it will mean that the whole solar system will get a set-back to
a period corresponding with our Middle Ages!

"These creatures of Njambai are far beneath those of Terra in
civilization, and fate has placed in their hands the terrible zetbai, a
weapon whose destructive powers are beyond compute.

"Oh, Mr. Munn, think of our government being overwhelmed by these
four-handed, one-eyed creatures!  Think of the word-box screeching
through the lofty corridors of the Capitol at Washington, where the
soul-stirring eloquence of Senators and Representatives has been
thundered amain!  Think of the——"

The professor could give no added touch to the harrowing picture.
Throwing his hands to his face, he groaned aloud.

"This hasn’t happened yet," said I.

"No, but it will happen unless we can do something to circumvent the mad
scheme.  Anarchy will reign in our beloved land—over the whole earth—and
I will be held responsible.  Ah, me! In removing the trust magnates I
have but paved the way for a mightier monopolist!  I have but followed
the sad example of Frankenstein, for out of my plans has sprung a
monstrous project that will check progress and hurl civilization back
five hundred years."

"Don’t give up hope," said I, but not very cheerfully, for I was greatly
cast down.  "Let us pretend to help them.  We will lend our aid in
making the car ready, and then, at the final moment, perhaps we can dart
away and leave them behind; or, failing in that, we may be able to throw
the zetbais from the car while in space. That will pull the fangs of the
Baigadds, I think, and they will land on Earth as harmless as a lot of
kittens."

The professor took heart at this.  He would have rallied any way, for
his resourceful nature could not struggle long in the slough of despond.

J. Archibald Meigs had been circling around the edge of our barrier
seeking for another glimpse of Markham and even calling his name with
all his lung power.  But the food-trust magnate neither answered nor
showed himself, being engaged in a house-to-house canvass for the
pittance of provender that would keep him alive.

Meigs finally turned to us and demanded the cause of the professor’s
downcast air.  Quinn revealed the king’s plot and Meigs tore off into an
outburst of recrimination, just as I expected he would do.

The professor bowed his head meekly to the tempest and even restrained
me when I would have put a stop to the broker’s intemperate language.

By and by we had our noon meal, and with the attendants who brought it
came Olox, seating himself on the ground and watching us as we ate.  The
high chief was quite amiable, and I began asking him questions relative
to our surroundings.

He indicated the king’s private apartments in the palace, and pointed
out his own residence, as well as the dwelling occupied by the late
executioner-general, besides vouchsafing other information of interest.

"What is that small, square building under the wing of the palace?" I
asked.

"That is the imperial exchequer," said he. "Within that building the
king keeps the most priceless of all his treasures."

"And what is that?" inquired the professor.

"The Bolla," was the startling answer.

Quinn and I exchanged expressive glances. Here, through a chance remark
by Olox, we were suddenly reminded of our duty to the king of Baigol.
It was necessary that Olox should not see the startled looks which the
professor and I were exchanging, and Mercurial eyes were preternaturally
sharp.

"Bolla?" I allowed to come limpingly from the talk instrument.  "What
may that be?"

"A stone," answered Olox, and there was suspicion in his manner in spite
of my attempt to avert it.  "You already know of the Bolla.  Your friend
requested his majesty to have it brought out, and at that time you said
that you had heard of it in the other kingdom."

"So we did," I replied, trimming my sails to another breeze, "but what
is it?  Our information is rather vague."

"A stone, as I just said," went on Olox.  "It has a beneficial moral and
physical effect on whoever touches it."

"Where did it come from?"

"It has been in Njambai for ages," was the indefinite answer.

"How did King Gaddbai get hold of it?"

"He borrowed it from the king of Baigol."

"And yet you call it one of his treasures!  If it was borrowed, Olox,
how could it possibly belong here?"

"King Gaddbai has taken it," was the calm response.  "What he wants he
makes his own.  If King Golbai had not loaned the stone, there would
have been a war."

"Was that the right thing for your king to do?" inquired the professor.

"Whatever our sovereign does is right."

There was no getting around a flat statement of that sort.  Evidently
the ruler of the country had drilled his subjects thoroughly.

"What did you do at the car, Olox?" said the professor.

"At the iron house?"  The professor nodded.

Nods and gestures were well understood by the people of Njambai, for,
with four hands, they were well equipped for finger and whole arm
movements.

"The king’s orders were carried out, at the iron house," finished Olox.

"The paint was returned to its proper place?"

"Even so."

"And the telescope——’

"That matter was attended to."

"I trust you handled the telescope with care? It is exceedingly fragile
and could be easily injured."

"After the king spoke as he did, death by zet would be meted out to the
one who injured the instrument."

There were several things I wanted to ask Olox, and the principal one
had to do with Gilhooly, and the way he had been taken from the car and
made to serve the traction interests of the kingdom.  However, the
professor was keeping Olox so busy with his word-box that my own
questions were crowded out.

"The family of the executioner-general are anxious to have him
returned," remarked Olox, while the professor was looking for the proper
key on which to formulate his next question. "Could that be
accomplished?"

"It might," replied the professor guardedly.

"What has become of him?"

"He disappeared as he was about to commit a deed of base injustice,"
said the professor grimly.

"We are aware of that," and Olox looked uneasily around as he punched
the words, "but we are ignorant of the cause of his disappearance. He is
a distant relative of mine, and I promised his next of kin to put these
questions to you.  Is he alive?"

"Undoubtedly."

Olox pressed closer and muffled his word-box so that the sounds could
not carry to dangerous limits.

"If you would tell us how to proceed in the matter of getting the
executioner-general back," he whispered, "I can promise you and your
friends help in getting out of the country."

"Look out for the indexograph, Olox," said I. "If they should happen to
give you a try out with it, the ideograph wouldn’t look well to the
king."

Olox was greatly shaken—so shaken, in fact, that he could not pursue the
subject further.

"I will talk with you later about the executioner-general," he finished,
noting the empty dishes before the professor and Meigs and me, and the
curious manner of those who had come with him.  "Until then, pray
consider that nothing has been said on the subject."  With that, he
arose and beckoned to his companions.

After Olox had led the attendants away with the empty food receptacles,
the professor and I got our heads together on the mission that had
brought us to Baigadd.

We did not think it necessary or advisable to let Meigs know of our
purpose in regaining control of the Bolla.

"We are pledged to secure the mysterious stone if we can, Mr. Munn,"
said Quinn. "Undoubtedly the work will put us in bad odor here, and may
interfere with our attempt to balk the king in his comprehensive scheme
of conquest, but that does not release us from the task in question."

A tingle of gratification shot along my nerves. The feeling of
oppression that had burdened me was lifted, for I ever loved to crack a
professional nut, and here was one that would certainly try me to the
utmost.

I surveyed the small building with critical eyes.

"Here is where my inches get the better of me, professor," said I.  "For
one of my size to get into that house is out of the question.  And I
wouldn’t know where to lay hands on the Bolla if it were physically
possible for me to effect an entrance."

"I can make a suggestion, Mr. Munn," said Quinn, "which would get you
safely around that difficulty."

"What is that?"

"Whisper."  I inclined my ear to his lips. "Why not run away with the
imperial exchequer?"

"Eh?" I gasped.

"Steal it bodily, I mean.  When you get to Baigol with it, let the king
effect entrance, secure his Bolla, and then you return the exchequer to
its original location.  Of course, it would be very wrong to steal the
king’s treasury, and I would not counsel that under any consideration.
You merely borrow it to obtain the Bolla; the stone returned to its
rightful owners, you return the exchequer."

"And get zetbaied for my pains!" I exclaimed.

"Let us hope," said the professor, "that before you can get zetbaied we
shall be in a position to use the car and escape from the planet."

I gave much thought to the matter.

"It is a long chance," I returned frankly, "but I have been taking long
chances ever since I became a cracksman.  I will put the plan in
operation, professor, at the very first opportunity that presents
itself."

Thus we left the matter, the professor warmly congratulating me on my
courage and expressing the hope that I would prove equally courageous in
more worthy pursuits, if the chance ever offered.



                             *CHAPTER XV.*

                      *SURVEYING OUR OWN PLANET.*


Day slipped along to its close, and shortly after the reflectors winked
out the king came, accompanied by Olox, a guard of Gaddbaizets, and six
attendants bearing the telescope.

To our surprise and gratification, both Markham and Popham were in the
midst of the royal guard.

"It struck me," said the king graciously, "that your friends might also
wish to view the orb from which they came.  It is a little thing and can
be done without inconvenience, so I am pleased to favor them."

The high chief traced an opening in the zet ring with the black tip of
his weapon, and Meigs was first to rush through and hurl himself into
the arms of Popham.  The unfortunate gentlemen were long in each other’s
embrace.

When they finally drew apart, Meigs groped through the black gloom by
Markham, while the professor felt for the coal baron’s hand and gave it
a gentle and reassuring pressure.

"Professor Quinn," said Popham, "I am being badly treated.  The king has
put me on the night shift in one of the royal coal mines and the
soldiers make me work like a galley slave.  This is the first night I
have had off since they set me to work."

Popham was loud in his complainings, but was cut short by the king.

"We must proceed, gentlemen.  I have word from above that the night is
fine and everything propitious for an excellent view of your planet, but
storms come suddenly and we can never be sure of the weather on the
outer crust.  It is well to make haste."

We started stumblingly, each of us led by a soldier to whom the way was
plain.  We were jostled here and there through the gloom, and finally
were made to mount some object which gave a metallic ring beneath our
feet.

"This is the royal lift," explained the king. "When the heat of the day
is suspended I often go above."

He then addressed himself to Olox.  "Give the signal at once."

The signal was given and we shot aloft.  The transformation from the
fury of a storm to the light and tranquillity of the underworld had been
great and astounding; but this second transformation was none the less
impressive.

We emerged into a wonderful night set with stars that were perfectly
familiar to me.  The Dipper and Polaris were in the north and occupying
relatively the same positions that they do when viewed from Earth—so
little effect has the immensities of distance upon their posts in the
vault.

But our own globe!  It hung huge and tremulous in the blue of the
evening sky, so plain that we could almost note the continents that
gemmed its surface.

Meigs gave a whimpering cry and he and Markham and Popham rushed
together, fell upon each other’s neck, and wept aloud.

"Oh, I wish I was back, I wish I was back!" moaned the broker.

"I’m lonesome enough to die!" sobbed Markham.

"Exiled, exiled, exiled!" was all the coal baron could murmur in husky
tones.

I will not say that I was proof against the sentiments that had unmanned
the one-time magnates, but I will declare that both Quinn and myself had
our feelings under better control.  In silence I assisted the professor
to plant the telescope and we each gazed longingly at the greenish star
magnified to many times its diameter.

"There’s the United States!" cried Popham.

"Can you see New York?" whispered Meigs hoarsely.  "Look for New York,
man!"

Of course, a view of New York was out of the question, but the frantic
ex-plutocrats imagined they could see it, and even look down into Wall
Street for aught I know.  Again were their emotions too much for them,
and they gave way as they had done before.

"Mr. Munn," said the professor, "this is harrowing."

"It is pretty hard on those gentlemen," I returned, "to be brought face
to face with something they thought they owned and yet not be able to
possess it."

"That remark is unlike you," answered the professor, and turned to the
king.  "A thought occurred to me while we were coming up on the lift,"
he went on, "and I should like you to explain."

"If it is in my power."  answered the king, his eye to the telescope.

"When we dropped into the kingdom of Baigol there was a storm on the
surface of this planet.  That storm must have hidden the sun, and yet
the reflectors below were sending day throughout the realm."

"The reflection came from other and smaller reflectors arranged to take
care of just such an emergency," explained the king.  "Storms are only
local, you know, and when one gathers over the giant reflector the
smaller ones at the other points are brought into use.  But let’s not
talk of this planet, but of that other one up here."

And along that line the king’s conversation ran for a full hour.

At last, when we were ready to descend, so far from being dismayed by
the enormity of the task before him, the royal zealot was fortified in
his resolution to carry it out.

His majesty was in great good humor, and when we had left the lift and
marched back to the square he very graciously tendered us the freedom of
the town.

He could not understand why the professor and I should have any desire
to escape from his country, and inasmuch as he had made us his honored
guests, to return us to the circle of zet would be to besmirch his
hospitality.

The zet had been regathered into the high chief’s zetbai and it was not
again released.  It was not necessary for Popham to return to the royal
mines until the following night, so he remained with us, along with
Markham, and we all bunked down in the centre of the plaza.

"Is there no way, Professor Quinn," quavered Popham, "whereby we can
escape from the inhuman monsters who people this planet?  The treatment
I have suffered is monstrous!  I feel as though I shall die if I have to
go back to those royal coal mines again.  Being a large man, they expect
me to do the work of a dozen Mercurials.  There are blisters on my hands
and my feet are so sore I can hardly walk."

This wail from the brusque and tyrannical Popham was in itself a highly
edifying comment on his sad experiences.

"Your position was grace itself compared with mine," mourned Markham.
"These people seemed determined to starve me to death.  I am expected to
travel from house to house, begging food, and they hardly give me enough
at one house to take me to the next."

"You are on the surface," returned Popham, "and you are not delving
continually in the hot, unhealthy regions where I must do my work.  I
have to toil like a galley slave for a cent a day, and a cent’s worth of
this vegetable food, which seems to be all they have here, does not
furnish me with enough strength for my labor."

"You have your clothes, at least," whimpered Meigs.  "Quinn ought to
help us; he _must_ help us."

"I shall do what I can, gentlemen," said the professor wearily.  "I have
not succeeded in showing you the error of your ways, but I must let that
pass.  A greater calamity menaces our planet than any you could possibly
let loose upon our devoted country."

"Meigs was saying something about that," spoke up Popham.  "What is it
this mad king thinks of doing?"

"Why, with fifty warriors, armed with zetbais, he intends making an
attack upon Terra.  He hopes to conquer our mother orb."

Popham gave a faint cry of derision.

"Why; if that rascal ever landed on our planet," said he, "he and his
warriors would be captured out of hand and turned over to some museum
for exhibition purposes.  If _I_ happened to be around at the time of
their capture," he finished angrily, "I would send every last one of
them into mines that are mines.  I’d make them toil with their four
hands until they wore them off at the wrists.  Gad, but that would be a
revenge worth having!"

"This is not a time to think of revenge, Mr. Popham," spoke up the
professor, more in sorrow than rebuke.  "We have our planet to consider,
and, next to the planet, ourselves."

"Our planet is big enough to take care of itself," averred Markham.
"Leave that out of the question, professor, and confine your attention
to some way in which we can better our condition."

"The danger that threatens Earth is greater than you appear to imagine,"
went on Quinn. "For whatever happened to our home-star because of King
Gaddbai and his astounding plans of conquest, I should be responsible.
The thought weighs upon me and will give me no rest.  The king must be
foiled."

"How does he intend to reach the Earth?" asked Markham.

"By means of our car."

"Is that in usable condition?" came joyously from Popham.

"So far as I can discover, it lies intact at the bottom of the crater on
whose rim we landed. There is no reason why the car cannot be employed
for a return to Terra; but," and here the professor’s words became
emphatic, "it shall not be so employed by King Gaddbai and his army of
conquest.  I shall prevent that at all hazards."

"How?" came hoarsely from the three ex-millionaires.

"By destroying the car, as a last resort and when other means fail," was
the calm rejoinder.

"You would not dare!" breathed Popham.

"You would not have the heart to take from us our sole means of escape!"
added Markham.

"Madman!" ground out Meigs.  "If I really thought that you would destroy
our only means of salvation, I’d——"

"You wouldn’t do a thing, Meigs," I chimed in.  "Whatever the professor
thinks best to do is going to be done, and no two ways about it."

"I don’t want to destroy the car," continued the professor, unmoved by
this storm he had aroused, "if other means can be made to serve. And I
may say that we shall exhaust every effort to make other means serve.  I
feel that it is my duty to return you gentlemen to the place from whence
you were taken.  I have not accomplished what I had hoped to do, but it
is better to be disappointed in that rather than to let King Gaddbai get
away in the car with his fifty warriors."

"Certainly it is your duty to send us back," said Meigs, "and you should
consider that duty before anything and everything else."

"Exactly!" seconded Popham, "and we must take Gilhooly with us.  If one
goes, all must go."

"Leave the matter to me, gentlemen," counseled the professor quietly.
"I shall do everything possible."

The coal baron and the food-trust magnate continued to dwell upon their
harrowing experiences with various degrees of intensity until a command
for silence came from a word-box somewhere around us.  Our raucous tones
were keeping the people awake all over the city, the talking machine
averred, and unless we became instantly quiet the authorities would take
the matter in hand.

This threat had the desired result.  We gave over our conversation and
settled ourselves for the night.

I do not know how long I slept, but it must have been some hours.  I was
aroused to find it still dark and to behold the professor with a lighted
match in one hand and his other hand over my lips.

The burning match threw a fitful glare around the open space and even
reached to the roof tops beyond.  Both the palace and the imperial
exchequer were brought shadowily forth out of the gloom.

"Now is the time, Mr. Munn!" whispered the professor.

"The time?" I returned sotto voce.  "Time for what?"

Without a word he pointed to the square building under the wing of the
palace.  I understood. It was now or never if I intended to make my raid
and secure the Bolla.

I started erect.

"You have matches, Mr. Munn?" the professor asked in the very faintest
of audible tones.

I nodded.

"You must be very careful to keep to the street until you reach the
country," the professor went on.  "If you should make a misstep and
wreck a block of houses the disaster would be irretrievable."

"I will strike matches and light my way until I get well into the
hills," said I.

"Just what I should have suggested," said he.  "Good-by, Mr. Munn.  Fail
not to return with the exchequer as soon as the king of Baigol has
secured the Bolla.  Meantime I shall hope to get the car in readiness to
speed our departure."

We struck hands as men will when confronted by an issue of life and
death.  Then I stepped into the street, bent over the imperial
exchequer, and wrenched it from its foundations.

It was a well-constructed building, and, although its contents jingled
like a rattle box when I took it under my arm, it did not give way in
any part.

Striking a match on the roof of the exchequer, I lighted my way down the
street, picking my steps with care and caution.



                             *CHAPTER XVI.*

                      *HOW ILL-LUCK OVERTOOK ME.*


Good fortune fared forth with me from the royal city and remained
steadfastly at my right hand as long as the matches lasted; but when the
last one had flickered out and left me in impenetrable gloom, my
troubles began.

I was well into the rough country when the lights failed, threading a
road bordered by hills that in some places were shoulder high.  About
the first thing I did was to blunder off the trail; in trying to regain
it I stumbled over a five-foot mountain and went down all of a heap.

Had I fallen on the exchequer I should have smashed it into a cocked
hat—a result only narrowly averted.  Regaining my feet and smothering
some good strong language that rose instinctively to my lips, I essayed
once more to find the Baigol road.

I had my trouble for my pains, and, after an hour spent in fruitless
blundering, I sat down on a cliff, propped up the exchequer on the side
of a cañon and nursed my barked shins until day began flashing from the
reflectors.

As I sat there waiting for the light my brain was filled with evil
thoughts which I recall with contrition and chronicle with regret.  I
knew the exchequer must contain the king’s wealth—golden pieces of eight
of a rare fineness unknown to the mints of Terra.

I was not of a mind to return the gold after allowing the king of Baigol
to take his Bolla. Why not stow the treasure away about my clothes and
rely upon my native tact and discretion to get me to the steel car in
spite of the grasping monarch of Baigadd?

I was much wrought up over the way I had lost the loot taken from the
plutocrats.  In my mind’s eye I could see those four bulging
handkerchiefs waxing and waning about the castle, and I had hoped they
would fall to the surface of Mercury along with the car, so that I might
still be able to secure them.

In this I was disappointed.  Once the Mercurial atmosphere was struck
the loot and the revolver had fallen away from the castle like so many
pieces of lead.

The wallets, undoubtedly, had been incinerated by the sun’s rays,
together with the banknotes that were in them.  I imagined that the
intense heat had exploded the cartridges in the six-shooter and had
warped and twisted the firearm until it was no longer serviceable.

The other plunder also, even if found, could not by any possibility be
utilized by me or any one else.

All this had made me savagely eager to recoup my finances.  And as I sat
brooding on the cliff I asked myself why I should not do this at the
expense of the Baigadd exchequer.

I did not arouse myself at the first reflected flash of day.  Although I
had decided to appropriate the contents of Gaddbai’s coffers, I was
casting about for a suitable method that would gain my end with the
least inconvenience.

A maudlin chuckle from near at hand brought me abruptly out of my
reflections.  I turned, and there, on a neighboring elevation, stood
Gilhooly, balancing the exchequer on the broad of his hand.

I was brought up staring.  What could the motive power of the B.&B.
Interplanetary be doing there, at that time?  His absence must have
interfered sadly with the train schedule. Certainly the officers of the
system, would not have countenanced this neglect of duty, had they known
of it.

Then it flashed over me that Gilhooly had run away.  He had tired of
racing up and down the V-shaped groove with a string of toy cars and had
taken French leave of the system.

The fire of insanity was still in his eyes, and he retreated step by
step as I advanced upon him.

"Look here, Gilhooly," said I in my most persuasive tones, "that
building you have in your hands is the imperial exchequer.  Put it down,
there’s a good fellow.  Don’t juggle with it in that way.  Suppose you
were to drop it!"

Gilhooly had begun shaking it up and down as though it were one of those
cast-iron banks in which children sometimes deposit their coppers The
jingle of the exchequer’s contents appeared to please him.

"If you want this road you have got to bid up for it," said he.  "I’m
not so young that I don’t know a good thing when I’ve got it in my
grip."

"That road has gone into the hands of a receiver," I returned, humoring
his fancy, "and I’m the receiver.  Give it here, Gilhooly."

"I was not consulted when the receiver was appointed," he answered.  "I
have rights in the matter and those rights must be protected.  It’s a
deal framed up to beat the pool.  My, how it rattles!" and he shook the
exchequer again.

I was at my wits’ end.  I knew that tact was far and away more effective
than violence when dealing with a crazed person.

"Put it down for a moment, Gilhooly," I wheedled, "and come over to the
directors’ meeting."

"Who are the directors?" he asked suspiciously.

"Well, there are only two.  I’m one, you know, and you’re the other."

He exploded a laugh, tossed the exchequer in the air like a strong man
playing with a cannon ball, and then caught it deftly as it came down.

"I’m the boy to juggle with railroads!" he boasted.  "Ask any one in the
Street and they’ll tell you."

"Look out!" I gasped, "or you’ll drop it."

"Not I!" he mumbled.  "I never yet wrecked a railroad."

"Where did you come from, Gilhooly?" I asked, seeking to get him into
conversation while I edged closer to him by degrees.

"From distant parts," he replied.  "I’ve been the whole thing for a big
transcontinental line that I’m adding to the Gilhooly System."  He
chuckled craftily.  "They thought they had me, but I got out from under
with the rolling stock. I’ve hid the cars in a gully, and my next move
will be to steal the right of way.  I’m the big railroad man of the
country.  Just ask anybody who knows what’s what in transportation
circles and they’ll tell you the same thing."

I had arrived within a few feet of him, and suddenly I leaped forward.
But he was wary and sprang aside, the exchequer jingling sharply.

"No, you don’t," said he.  "You’re trying to serve a subpoena on me and
I’m too foxy for you.  Get out of here or I’ll have you thrown
downstairs."

"Come over to the directors’ meeting, Gilhooly," I urged, turning and
walking away from him.  "You’ve got to look after your interests, you
know."

But the vagaries of a shattered mind are hard to deal with.  Gilhooly
laughed at me, sat down on a rock and took the exchequer on his knees.
He was wary, and never for an instant permitted me to lose his eyes.

"You can’t fool me," he cried, "so you’d better take the next train for
home.  I hold a majority of the stock, and after I’ve watered it a
little I’ll have enough to buy another line.  It’s easy being a railroad
magnate when you know how.  Clear out, you annoy me."

"Gilhooly," said I, with a gentleness I was far from feeling, "don’t you
want to know something about Popham?"

"Don’t know him," snarled Gilhooly, "but if he’s trying to break into
this railroad game, just tell him that I control the whole bag of tricks
and that it’s not worth his while."

Hugging the exchequer in his arms, he rocked back and forth and began to
sing.

"Well," said I, starting away again, "if you don’t want to attend this
directors’ meeting I’ll have to look after it myself."

He made no reply but kept on hugging the exchequer, rocking back and
forth, and timing his monotonous croon to the rattle of treasure in the
king’s strong rooms.

Warily as I could, I circled about, creeping on all fours and screening
myself by the little hills and ridges.  My design was to come up on
Gilhooly from behind and snatch the exchequer away from him.

But he heard me.  Before I had come within a dozen feet of him, he
stopped his singing, leaped to his feet, and whirled around.  The next
moment he had placed himself at a safe distance.

"I’m too many for you," he shouted.  "Go away, or I’ll call the police."

I was in a sweat for fear some of King Gaddbai’s soldiers would locate
us and develop their zetbais.  One flash of that violet fire would do
the business for both Gilhooly and me, and the professor’s cherished
plans would go by the board.  Besides, I had plans of my own, and it
seemed as though Gilhooly was destined to make a mess of everything.

"Oh, come, now," I cried, in a bit of a temper. "That won’t do you any
good, Gilhooly.  It doesn’t belong to you, and you haven’t any right to
keep it."

"Don’t we ever keep anything that don’t belong to us?" he asked
sarcastically.  "I’m not that sort of a fellow, for I keep everything in
the railroad line that I can get my hands on."

Logic and reason were utterly dead in his mind.  Whims he had, but they
were but fancies of the moment.  As I stood there looking at him, I
wondered how the people of Baigadd had ever managed to keep him hauling
their trains as long as they had.

"Good-by," he called suddenly, taking the exchequer under his arm.  "I
think I’ll go to the office and——"

Just then I made a dash at him.  With a mocking laugh he whirled about
and raced off across the hills, myself in hot pursuit.

Gilhooly’s course intersected the Baigol highway and he turned into it,
roaring defiantly as he sped along.  Suddenly he stumbled and fell, and
a cry of dismay escaped me.

He had fallen squarely on the exchequer and wrecked it completely!

Kyzicks—yellow coins the size of a gold dollar and worth five times as
much—rolled, everywhere about the road, diverging from a heap that lay
revealed by the collapsed walls of the building.  Flinging forward, I
went to my knees and began plunging my hands into the pile.

I believe that just then I was as daft as Gilhooly himself.  In those
days the glimmer of gold always had a demoralizing effect on me.

As I raked my outspread fingers through the yellow pile I brought up a
round, jet-black stone the size of my fist.  I regarded it as a bit of
chaff in the bin of wealth and hurled it from me down the road.  With a
loud yell, Gilhooly leaped after it.

Then I became aware of a weird and inexplicable feeling that laid itself
like an axe at the root of my professional instinct.  What right had I
to all this treasure?  It belonged to the king of Baigall; he was an
unworthy creature, perhaps, but still it belonged to him.  What had I
been about to do?  My heart sickened and I sprang up, spurned the
kyzicks with my heel and turned my back.

That was my awakening.  In one instant the iron of repentance had
pierced my soul.  The past rolled its turgid waters in front of me.  I
shivered and drew back from that wave of evil, covering my eyes to blot
it from my sight.

How should I atone for the days that had been?  Could I do it by an
unflinching rectitude in the days there were to be?  Conscience was
belaboring me with telling blows.  I had not been on intimate terms with
my conscience for many years, and to have it thus suddenly overmaster me
and drive me into reformation was a mystery beyond my power to explain.

While I stood there consumed with regret and hoping against hope for the
future, a voice hailed me from down the road.

"Did you say your name was Munn?"

Could that calm, contained voice have come from Emmet Gilhooly?  I
looked in his direction and found him leaning against a jutting spur of
rocks, his right hand clutching convulsively the black stone I had flung
from me.

The crazed light had vanished from his eyes. An expression of wonder was
on his face, but it was a rational wonder developed by an awakening as
abrupt and complete as mine had been.

"You have it right, Mr. Gilhooly," I answered, the extreme mildness of
my voice surprising me.  "My full name is James Peter Munn and——"

"You are the thief who just came into the castle and relieved myself and
my friends of their valuables?"

Gilhooly’s normal condition had come back to him at the point where it
had been dropped.  I was not slow in reasoning how this might be.

"I was a thief in the letter and spirit less than ten minutes back," I
humbly answered, "but now, sir, I have turned a leaf.  I promise you
that the rest of the book shall read better than what has gone before."

Gilhooly passed his left hand across his forehead.

"Where—where am I?" he faltered.

"In the kingdom of Baigadd," I returned, "some distance out of the royal
city."

"Baigadd?  Royal city?  You talk strangely, Mr. Munn.  Where is the
castle?  Where are Meigs, Markham, and Popham?  And Professor Quinn?
Are we";—he started forward and looked wildly around—"still in the
castle?  But no, that can’t be.  You just said we were somewhere else.
I beg your pardon, Mr. Munn.  I am confused and hardly know what I am
saying."

I began an explanation, going patiently into every detail, and when I
finally finished Gilhooly knew as much about our situation as I did.

For some time Gilhooly walked up and down the road, passing and
repassing the heap of gold. At last he paused beside it.

"We should return this treasure to its owner, Mr. Munn," said he, and he
dropped the black stone on the yellow pile.  "From what you tell me,
this is a strange planet and strangely peopled.  Yet there is
superstition here as well as in our native orb—as these wonder tales
about the Bolla will bear evidence."

"I think with you, sir," said I.  "The Bolla is simply a fetish and its
miraculous powers are purely imaginary."

"That is the sensible way to look at it.  Suppose we load our pockets
with the gold and start back with it to the city from whence it was
taken?"

I assented and suggested using our coats as improvised bags for the
easier transportation of the king’s wealth, and we stripped to our shirt
sleeves and set about our work.  In half an hour we had collected all
the scattered treasure, had bound it up in our coats and had started
back.

Gilhooly preserved a pensive silence.  His thoughts were far away and he
seemed entirely oblivious of the fact that I was trudging along at his
side.  It was only when we turned an angle in the road and came face to
face with Quinn, Meigs, Markham, and Popham that Gilhooly showed any
interest in our present situation.



                            *CHAPTER XVII.*

                          *A CHANGE OF HEART.*


The meeting between Gilhooly and his brother exiles was most affecting.
In the general joy at finding the ex-railway magnate restored to reason
the matter of the imperial exchequer was temporarily lost sight of.

And I think the man who rejoiced most over Gilhooly’s returned sanity
was Quinn.  The professor’s beady little eyes were fairly glowing as he
caught and clung to Gilhooly’s hand after the others had expressed their
pleasure and tendered congratulations.

"This is a glad day for me, Mr. Gilhooly!" exclaimed the professor.  "I
had taken myself very much to task on account of your clouded mind."

"Your reproach of yourself was well merited," spoke up Meigs, who always
had a venomous shaft in his quiver for Quinn.  "Small thanks to you that
our friend is himself again."

"Gently, Mr. Meigs, gently," came from Gilhooly.  "I do not find
Professor Quinn in the wrong in any particular."

Popham, Meigs, and Markham regarded Gilhooly with open-mouthed amaze.  I
think the professor also was startled; I know at least that I was.

"Do you mean to say, Mr. Gilhooly," cried Meigs, "that you can overlook
Quinn’s criminal folly in casting us adrift in the unknown?"

"I cannot only overlook it," was the quiet response, "but I can forgive
it.  Almost I am of the opinion that it was justifiable."

"Faugh!" rasped Meigs.  "You have not recovered your reason after all or
you would not talk that way."

"Let us not engage in useless disputes, gentlemen," put in the
professor.  "There is another affair to engage us.  It was thought,"
Quinn went on, with an expressive look at me, "that Mr. Gilhooly had
fled the realm and taken the imperial exchequer with him."

"It was I who took the exchequer," said I, "and it is I who hope to
return it to the king."

"What about the Bolla?" queried Quinn, giving me a sharp look.

"It is here," said I, touching the makeshift bundle I was carrying under
my arm.  "At least," I added, "there is a strange looking black stone
among the gold coins and I suppose it must be King Golbai’s palladium."

"We were sent forth to look for Mr. Gilhooly and the stolen treasure,"
remarked the professor. "Olox and his Gaddbaizets are likewise on the
road, but we have been able to leave them pretty well in the rear."

"What was thought of my absence?" I asked.

"Very little, Mr. Munn.  Every officer of the state seemed united in
fixing the blame upon Mr. Gilhooly.  Since he was known to be mentally
unsound, no crime could be attached to his act."

"I shall tell the truth of it," I declared.

"And be condemned to death by zet," said the professor, gazing at me
fixedly.

"Let the king believe what he will," said Gilhooly. "I should rather
have it so since it means so much to Mr. Munn."

"Why did you not keep on to the other kingdom with the Bolla?" inquired
Quinn of me.

"Because I didn’t think I should be doing the right thing," I replied.

"Ah!  And why this sudden change in your sentiments, Mr. Munn?"

"I can’t explain it, professor."

"I believe it is a theory of yours that one thief has the right to take
from another what does not belong to either of them."

"Two wrongs do not make a right."

"Indeed!  The change in your sentiments is most sudden—and remarkable.
Will you please untie the sleeves of your coat and allow me to have a
look at that black stone?"

I lowered my bundle and opened it.

"There," said I, but poorly concealing the contempt I felt for the black
stone as I pointed to it.  "You may take stock in the superstition if
you will, professor, but I will have none of it."

The professor gave me a queer smile, then picked up the Bolla and
surveyed it curiously.

"Would you like to look at it, Mr. Meigs?" he asked.

"A fetish like this is a sure sign of barbarism," observed Meigs, taking
the stone.  "The creatures who inhabit this planet are not of a very
high order mentally."

He passed the Bolla to Popham and Popham handed it to Markham.  It was
presently returned to me and I packed it away as before.

The professor then asked me for an account of what had happened during
my flight toward Baigol with the exchequer.  Gilhooly was not able to
help me much in the recital, as the most important part of our
adventures was a perfect blank to him.

I did not try to conceal anything from Quinn. I painted my designs on
the king’s money as black as they really were and he smiled as he
listened.

"When did Mr. Gilhooly lay hands on the Bolla?" Quinn asked.

"How do you know that he did?" I returned.

"I am very sure that he did," was the quiet reply.

Thereupon I told the professor how I had thrown the stone from the heap
of gold and Gilhooly had picked it up, his reason returning shortly
afterward.  Quinn wagged his head sagely and mumbled something I could
not understand, but which had to do with the ridiculous pretensions of
the Bolla.

I feared then for the mind of this great and good man.  Was he breaking
under the tremendous responsibility incurred by removing the plutocrats
from Earth?

A chill of apprehension shot to my heart.  I was about to say something
of a soothing nature to my patron—for I certainly looked upon him as
such—when Olox and his Gaddbaizets appeared.

Key seven of the high chief’s word-box titillated with relief the
instant the officer got his eye on Gilhooly.  The exuberance faded into
a note of foreboding and the foreboding into the words:

"Where is the king’s treasure house?  If that has not been recovered,
calamity threatens our expedition to the planet Terra!"

"The treasure house has been broken and wrecked," replied the professor,
"but my friends, Mr. Gilhooly and Mr. Munn, are returning the gold to
his majesty in their coats."

"Why should Mr. Gilhooly steal the gold and then help to return it?"
came incredulously from Olox.  "Is it simply a vagary of his unbalanced
mind?"

"I am pleased to say, Chief Olox, that his mind is no longer
unbalanced," returned the professor, warning me to silence with a look
as I was about to operate my talking machine.  "Mr. Gilhooly is now as
sane as you or I."

Olox looked worried.

"I declare," said he, "I don’t know how the president and board of
directors of the Interplanetary will regard this unexpected occurrence."

"They should feel overjoyed at the unclouding of so bright a mind as Mr.
Gilhooly’s."

"But what if it interferes with the traffic of the road?  They have been
running limited trains on a schedule heretofore beyond their wildest
dreams.  His majesty farmed out the concession to the management of the
road for ninety-nine years, on a cash basis.  If the traction power
proves unavailable, a demand will be made on the king for a return of
the money—and just now any depletion of the imperial coffers might prove
fatal to the projected expedition."

It was just as well that the ex-magnates could not comprehend what was
going on between the word-boxes.  The utilitarian views of the king, as
exemplified in Gilhooly’s case, would have jarred somewhat on their
conceit and self-esteem.

I noticed that a gleam of hope crossed Quinn’s face when Olox spoke of a
possible failure of the king’s plan of conquest through lack of the
sinews of war.  But the hope died away almost instantly when Quinn
reflected, as I did, that the monarch was as unscrupulous as he was
resourceful.

No further conversation was indulged in.  The royal troops executed an
about face and returned to the capital, convoying our reunited party of
aliens.

As we drew up in the square the two glittering soldiers appeared in the
turrets and sounded a call that drew the king to the balcony.

His majesty listened to the report of Olox with a beaming face, but his
smiles fled when he learned how the traction interests of the realm were
threatened by Gilhooly’s returning sanity.

While this momentous question was still up for debate, Meigs plucked at
the professor’s sleeve.

"Tell the king, professor," said he, his eyes downcast, "that I see the
error of my way and frankly acknowledge it.  If I am ever so fortunate
as to get back to Earth I shall be a reformer.  Please ask the king when
I can have my clothes."

And this was Meigs!  Had the heavens fallen I could not have been more
astounded.

"Tell him the same for me," spoke Hannibal Markham.  "Make it even
stronger, if you will. I have not been starved into submission—I should
have withstood such a siege to the death—but the change has been wrought
here."

He struck a hand against his heart.

"And ask him, professor," added Markham plaintively, "to have my wants
supplied immediately from the palace kitchens."

"Allow me to join my honorable friends in this free announcement of a
change of heart," chimed in Augustus Popham.  "Look at my hands!"

He held his hands out to us and we found them calloused and scarred.

"I can’t go back to those mole burrows!" he supplemented.

Professor Quinn showed no signs of amazement. After grasping the palm of
each ex-magnate, he fairly electrified his word-box with the
supplications of the exiles.

"Are these acknowledgments freely made and do they come from contrite
hearts," said the king, "or do they merely cloak a desire to escape
further privation at the expense of truth?"

The professor indignantly repelled the insinuation.  When he had
finished his vigorous remarks, I stepped to the front and made a
complete confession of my designs on the Bolla and the imperial
exchequer.  Quinn tried to stop me, but I would suffer no interference.

"Are you aware," said the king gravely, "that _lèse majesté_, felony,
and half a dozen other capital crimes are mixed up in your confession?"

"Am I less courageous than an ex-trust magnate?" cried I warmly.

"Their confessions free them from servitude and the inconveniences of
hunger and lack of raiment," responded the king; "yours condemns you to
a blast of zet that will consume and dissipate your body as though it
had never been."

Professor Quinn groaned and turned away with one hand over his eyes.  My
affection reached out for the good man then as it had never done before.

"Bring on the indexograph, Olox," commanded the king.  "We will see how
much of truth or falsehood it registers in the cases of these
gentlemen."

The indexograph was brought and test was made of all of us except the
professor.  The ideographs must have registered mightily in our favor,
for the king seemed more than convinced of our sincerity.

"Restore to the clothing trust man the apparel that is rightfully his,"
ordered his majesty; "allow the gentleman who would monopolize food to
partake of a sufficient supply to satisfy his hunger; free the person
who has been delving for my black blocks from further duty—and
incidentally confiscate the funds paid into the royal treasury for his
services, as well as for the services of the B.&B. traction power—for
Mr. Gilhooly’s sanity precludes his further use on the Interplanetary.
Be happy, gentlemen!  I feel that I must do some worthy deeds to
commemorate this the day that witnesses our departure for the
subjugation of Terra."

Quinn was rent with conflicting emotions, as was plainly apparent.  He
was glad the ex-plutocrats had fallen into royal favor, he was sorry to
have me yet under that ban, and he was greatly wrought up to learn that
the king meditated such an early start on his inter-stellar campaign.

"What of Mr. Munn, your highness?" he inquired.

"Oh, yes," returned the king, "I was forgetting him.  Olox, let him be
decorated with the Order of the Open Hand and see that he is inducted on
the morrow into the office of executioner-general.  We need an
executioner to fill the place of the late incumbent and I should have to
look far before I found so conscientious a person as Mr. Munn.  Leave
orders with a subordinate, Olox.  Neither you nor I will be here to
attend the ceremony.  My royal will shall be conveyed to the regent.

"And now," added the king as he rose from his seat, "while the treasurer
counts the kyicks and takes care of the Bolla, Olox, you and I will
proceed to the metal house, guarded by the Gaddbaizets and accompanied
by our alien friends."

Some preparations were necessary before a start for the car could be
made; and while these were going forward Meigs and Markham were led away
to receive the attention their condition demanded.

In an hour we were on the road.  Meigs and Markham were in jubilant
mood; Popham was optimistic but subdued, Gilhooly was silent and
thoughtful, and I was inclined to look at the future with reckless
indifference.

But Professor Quinn was bowed under a grievous load.  If this madcap
monarch carried out his scheme of conquest, Quinn felt that on him alone
would rest the responsibility.

"I am making my plans, Mr. Munn," he whispered hoarsely to me as we
proceeded on our journey to the car.  "If the king’s expedition gets
away, I shall have to accompany it; and I shall take care that neither
he nor his Gaddbaizets ever reach our native planet."

"But suppose we can outwit the king in some way," I returned, "and
escape in the car, leaving him and his subjects behind?"

"You and our other friends may go, if we can possibly manage it," said
Quinn, "but I have made up my mind to stay here."

I stopped short and stared at him.

"Surely you can’t mean that!" I exclaimed.

"I do mean it," he said firmly.  "For the good of Terra these creatures
of Njambai must be watched.  We have only a surface knowledge of them
and their resources.  What if they should bring forward other means of
spanning space besides our car?

"Can’t you see," the professor went on passionately, "that my misguided
enthusiasm painted the wonders of Earth in such glowing colors that King
Gaddbai will strain every effort to gratify his cupidity and lust for
conquest?  I must remain here to combat him and hold him in check."

"Sir," said I in trepidation, "I think you take fright too easily.  Once
we leave Njambai in the car, it will be impossible for any of the
Baigadds to follow us.  You overestimate their possible resources."

"Whatever is possible cannot be overestimated. It may chance that I
alone shall stand between this resolute monarch and the welfare and
happiness of Terra.  To desert my post would be cowardice.  Do not seek
to argue with me, for I made up my mind to this last night."

The reckless indifference with which I had fared forth from the city
gave place to deep sorrow.  Professor Quinn observed this and continued:

"Do not exercise yourself over my fate, Mr. Munn.  I removed four rabid
enemies of the people from our planet and I give back to it four eminent
reformers.  My end has been accomplished beyond my fondest dreams if
this is brought to pass.

"And then, too, there is a work that I can do here, even if my dire
imaginings prove unfounded.  I can, after I know these Mercurials
better, lead them perhaps to a higher round in the ladder of
civilization.  With the pattern of our earthly institutions before my
eyes, I can choose the good, eliminate the evil, and build a fabric here
that will be a glory to whatever resources the orb may possess.  Is it
not a fair destiny for one who was laughed out of the Astronomical
Society because he dared to have convictions as I did?"

"It is a destiny, professor," said I, "which I intend to share with you.
You remain here, and so do I.  Possibly you may become prime minister; I
will be executioner-general.  Between us, we will have control of the
situation."

"That is not to be thought of," answered the professor hastily.  "If it
is possible for the exiles to escape in the car, you must accompany them
as the one cool-headed, resourceful man capable of guiding the car to
its destination.  I shall instruct you carefully and fully.

"And besides," he added, as I was about to demur, "you are a changed
man, Mr. Munn. There is work for you on the home planet, for your native
worth is to retrieve itself on the very scene of your unworthy exploits.
I trust you follow me?  Pardon me if I hurt your feelings by being too
frank."

He had, wittingly or unwittingly, touched the vital chord which made me
eager to regain the world I knew and loved.  To stand fair in the sight
of men who had known me at my worst was now my one consuming desire.

"Is this your wish, Professor Quinn?" I asked huskily.

"It is, Mr. Munn."

"Then I shall follow your instructions to the letter."

"Do so," he said, with one of his rare smiles. "And if our dear desires
compass fulfillment, open this packet when you have left Njambai and are
in the great void.  It will be my last word to you and your fellow
voyagers in space."

He handed a sealed packet to me and I placed it carefully in my breast
pocket.  Then a hand-clasp followed in which heart went out to heart as
it rarely does between man and man.

"Look, Mr. Munn!" exclaimed the professor, releasing my palm.  "We have
reached the car."



                            *CHAPTER XVIII.*

                      *HOW WE OUTWITTED THE KING.*


We had come to a point in the under-world which the reflected rays of
the sun reached but dimly.  There would have been semi-gloom but for an
unreflected glow that fell upon us from above.

The car, as has been brought out in the course of this narrative, had
been blown into the crater of a dead volcano.  This crater may be
likened to a deep basin, pierced with a huge hole at the bottom.

Through the hole fell daylight from the outer shell, bathing the car in
a soft radiance.  The projectile-shaped house was standing upright, and
appeared to have suffered no injury by its fall.

Professor Quinn had already explained to me how this might be possible.
The screens of the anti-gravity cubes had been left open by five
decrees.

The energy of the cubes lightened the house to an extent that made it
offer less than normal resistance to the tempest, and it also buoyed it
to withstand the shock of a tumble from the upper crust of the sphere.

How like an old friend that car looked!  My heart labored at the mere
sight of it.  It was to be our bridge through space, if so we could
contrive; although it might easily fall out to prove a bridge for the
king and the Gaddbaizets to the earth’s undoing.

After we had halted at the base of the car, the king approached the
professor.

"Your metal house is intact and uninjured," said his majesty, "save for
the door that gives admittance to it.  It was necessary to burn out the
lock with a draft of zet before the door could be opened.  The telescope
and the tub of white pigment have both been replaced, and you will, I
think, find all your goods and chattels intact.  How long before we can
start?"

"Let me first understand your arrangements, your majesty," the professor
answered.  "Are you, or Olox, to guide the car through space to your
intended destination?"

"You are to do that.  Neither I nor Olox could manage the car, I fear."

"Then I am to accompany you?"

"I have so decided."

"What of my friends?"

"They are to be left here.  You need not worry about them, however, as
they will be well cared for.  I have already given proof of my interest
in them."

"Before I can give you an answer as to when it will be well to start,"
Quinn remarked, after a little thought, "I shall have to go into the car
and make some calculations."

"We will go in with you," returned the king.

"I should prefer to take only Mr. Munn with me, sir."

The king became suspicious, and Olox got the royal ear and said
something in an undertone on his word-box.

"You and Munn may go in," the king said when Olox had finished, "but we
shall keep the rest of your friends with us while you are making your
calculations."

"Very well."

The professor and I thereupon entered the car, watched with some
apprehension by Meigs and the rest.  Possibly they feared that we were
about to desert them; if so, the look the professor gave them must have
set their fears at rest.

A survey of the interior of the car showed everything to be exactly as
we had left it.  The door at the top of the iron stairway had been
forced precisely as the other at the outside entrance had been, but this
was a matter of small importance.

The oxygen tank was intact, and the professor showed me how to
manipulate the lever that regulated the supply necessary for the car;
there was still plenty of water, of good quality, in the reservoir, and
of food, such as we were accustomed to, there was an abundance.
Everything appeared to be in proper order and just as it should be.

"We are very fortunate, Mr. Munn," said Quinn, seating himself on a box.
"I brought you in here with me less to have your help in examining the
interior of the car than to seize an opportunity for giving you a few
directions which you will find of use.

"When we left Earth we started at an hour which gave us a course that
angled sunward; when you leave Njambai, however, you must do so at an
hour when this part of the planet is turned away from the sun, and as
far away as possible.  That will cause the car to be hurled toward the
outer edge of the solar system and in the direction of the earth’s
orbit.

"I wish I could inform you as to the exact position the earth will be in
when you cross its orbit, but the king’s mad project was sprung so
suddenly, and he has acted upon his plan so quickly, that I have had no
time for calculations in that respect.

"Your business, however, will be to overhaul the Earth.  The telescope
will inform you of the planet’s position, and by properly regulating the
screens of the cubes you can hang in the orbit of Terra until it reaches
you; then, once within its influence, shut off the energy of the cubes
and suffer the car to fall to its surface.  Do I make myself plain?"

"Entirely so, professor," I replied.

"You understand the dangers of landing.  All you can do is to experiment
with the atmosphere while you are falling, exactly as we did when
landing here.  On your quickness and discretion will depend the lives of
yourself and the others who will be with you."

"It is a great responsibility, sir," said I, "but you can depend upon me
to do my utmost to avoid a disaster."

He pressed my hand to assure me of his confidence.

"Midnight to-night will be the hour to start. The crater of the volcano
will then be at its farthest from the sun.  I shall so inform the king
when we leave the car."

"Have you thought of any plan whereby we may outwit his majesty?" I
inquired.

"I have thought of it.  Prior to the moment, of embarking, I shall
request his majesty to allow you and the rest of our friends to come
aboard while I detain him and his followers outside for a few final
instructions.  The king will suspect nothing, for he will not imagine
that I would allow you to escape and leave me behind."

"I shudder to think of that part of it," I murmured.  "Will you not
reconsider your determination, professor?"

"No, Mr. Munn.  On that point I am adamant. The instant you enter the
car, hurry aloft and set loose the oxygen.  I will drop this bit of rope
near the door when we leave, and you will have to make use of it to tie
the door securely shut on the inside.  Mind what I tell you—do not pull
the lever until the door is securely closed."

"I will remember."

"The car is exactly under the crater opening, and you will have a clear
path aloft.  Therefore I would advise that you throw the lever to ninety
the instant the door is fastened."

I nodded.

"I think that is all.  Your work is simple enough, for in order to reach
Terra you have only to reduce or expand the energy of the anti-gravity
cubes.  We will now go below and rejoin the king."

"Just a few minutes more, professor," I begged.  "This may be our last
opportunity for a private talk, and there is something I wish to tell
you."

He turned back from the top of the iron stairway.

"Go ahead, Mr. Munn," said he.

"All of us whom you brought to Njambai," I proceeded, "are changed men.
To you alone we owe this, and I wish to go on record, here and now, for
giving you credit.  I see my past as I thought I never should see it,
and I realize how I have wasted a large part of my life.  I shall prove
a worthy citizen, if we succeed in getting back to Earth, and it is you
who have brought about my reformation."

A glow came to the professor’s face.  He held up one hand protestingly.

"It is the truth," I insisted.  "You have argued with me constantly ever
since we were thrown together, and it was while on the road to Baigol
that the truth of your arguments suddenly came home to me."

I stretched out my hand, but he held back.

"You are too shrewd a man, Mr. Munn," said he kindly, "to be so
deceived.  There have been times when your artlessness made me wonder,
but you have never aroused my wonder quite so much as you have now."

"Why is that?" I asked, puzzled.

"Answer me this, Mr. Munn," he went on. "How did it chance that Mr.
Gilhooly so suddenly recovered his reason?"

"He lost his wits suddenly, and crazed people have been known to regain
their sanity as quickly as they lost it.  It must have been so in
Gilhooly’s case."

"Indeed!" he said, smiling.  "And was it merely a coincidence that you
found your conscience, and Gilhooly his reason, at the same time?"

"Merely a coincidence," I replied.

He laughed, and it was his first happy laugh since King Gaddbai had
announced his coming campaign in the direction of Terra.

"Let us go further," he went on.  "What caused Markham, Popham and Meigs
to change their points of view so miraculously?  Was it the coal mines,
the lack of food and the need of decent clothing?"

"All that merely paved the way," I averred. "Your arguments did the
rest."

"You are blind, Mr. Munn!  It was not the sufferings our friends
endured, nor my arguments."

"Then what was it?" I demanded.

"The Bolla!"

I recoiled, staring blankly at the kindly face before me.

"Don’t let me part from you, Professor Quinn," I whispered hoarsely,
"feeling that I have left behind a man of unsound mind!  If I thought
that, I believe I should remain here with you at any cost."

"Unsound mind?" he returned.  "My dear Munn!  My brain was never
clearer, nor my reasoning more sound, than at the present moment. You
found the Bolla.  The moment you picked it up, every unworthy thought
vanished from your mind and you became morally the man you ought to be.
You did not understand the cause of your salvation, and you hurled the
stone from you.  Gilhooly picked it up.  What happened then?  Did he not
recover his senses and a true outlook upon life at one and the same
time?  Yet, as if this were not enough to prove a clear case for the
Bolla, note the change in Popham, Markham and Meigs when I asked them to
examine the stone.  All this, sir, should prove my contention beyond all
peradventure.  I am filled with wonder because you have gone so far
afield in trying to explain what has occurred."

The notion amazed, and, in a measure, disappointed me.  A black stone
had turned me from my evil course—a mere bit of insensate matter about
which clustered the traditions and superstitious veneration of all
Njambians!  My regeneration had come from without, and not from within,
and if there was no credit for the professor in my awakening, then there
was still less for myself.

Not the operations of my own mind, urged and guided by the friendly
counsels of the professor, but a stone which I had picked up to cast
away, had worked my transformation!

The fact still remained, and would always remain, but it was in no way
flattering to me. What was going on in my mind must have been divined by
the professor, for he stepped close and took the hand which he had a
moment before refused.

"The methods of Fate are inexplicable to us mortals, Mr. Munn," said he;
"but what matters it how a thing is brought to pass so long as it really
happens?  And why should we concern ourselves with a failure to
understand the underlying cause?  Great is the Bolla, my friend, even
though its powers pass our comprehension! I shall make it a point to see
that it is returned to King Golbai, during my probation here.  To
accomplish that, and at the same time keep watchful eyes on King
Gaddbai, will not let time hang heavy on my hands."

"And you will not reconsider——"

He knew what I was about to say, pressed my hand restrainingly and got
up from his seat.

Presently he removed a few feet of rope from a bale, and took a last,
long look around him. What his thoughts were I will not even hazard a
guess.

Cutting loose from every tie that held him to Earth, I knew very well
what my feelings would have been under the circumstances.  But I have
already stated that the professor was "queer" in his outlook upon life,
and in his grasp of ways and means, so my pen hesitates to attempt a
description of his emotions at this critical moment.

When we emerged from the steel shell, the king and his retainers crowded
close to hear what my companion had to say.  His majesty was greatly
disappointed on learning that the start was not to be made until some
hours had passed, but he smothered his impatience and busied himself
with a communication to the regent giving the exact hour the expedition
intended to take its departure.

The historian chosen to accompany the monarch and put into imperishable
ideographs the history he was to make transcribed the king’s message,
and it was dispatched by courier to the capital.  Following this
business, his majesty entertained us with a review of the Gaddbaizets
selected by Olox for the expedition.

The diminutive soldiers were well-drilled, well-equipped, and presented
a dazzling spectacle in their gilt war paint and yellow kirtles.

They were truly the flower of the country. Each carried a pair of
zetbais, filled to the white tip with a special supply of zet.

Quinn, now that his mind was made up to defeat the king and to remain on
Njambia, displayed much interest in the maneuvres, even going so far as
to applaud them.  Stores of prepared food had been collected in bales,
which were piled in a heap beside the car, ready for loading.

One bale was opened toward the close of day, and we used its contents
for our supper rations. Night fell, and the professor asked me to enter
the car and light the lamp on the table.  I did so, and in the glow that
came through the car windows we who were not gifted with the owl-sight
of the Njambaians were able to see a little of what went on around us.

As the night advanced, and King Gaddbai evinced his impatience and
excitement by walking back and forth in front of his picked guard,
strains of the national anthem were borne to us from a distance.  Louder
and louder swelled the tones of the word-boxes, and at last the regent
arrived, accompanied by a host from the town.

They were there to give their monarch a rousing send-off, and I smiled a
little as I thought of the disappointment that was likely to overtake
them.

While felicitations were being exchanged between the king and his
people, Professor Quinn asked me to consult my watch.  I found that we
were within fifteen minutes of midnight.

My timepiece was not strictly accurate, inasmuch as in the exciting
events of the morning I had neglected my usual custom of setting the
hand three minutes back.  However, the indicated time was close enough
for all practical purposes.

"Into the car with you, Mr. Munn," said the professor as calmly as
though his command were not going to separate him from his kind for all
eternity.  I would have taken his hand had he not observed the movement
and said quickly.

"Be careful!  We must not let these people suspect, by a word or
gesture, the sort of _coup_ we are planning.  Take the others with you—I
will speak to the king and cover your movements as I have already
outlined."

Those were Professor Quinn’s last words to me.  My final glimpse of him
showed me his resolute face and slender form drifting away into the
gloom in the direction of King Gaddbai.

I felt as though I must run after him and drag him into the car whether
he would or no.  How I succeeded in fighting down the mad impulse has
ever since been a mystery to me; but I did, and a word to Popham, Meigs,
Markham, and Gilhooly, who had already been informed that they were to
expect a startling dénouement, brought them after me into the steel
structure.

I heard Olox give a loud command for us to turn back, but his word-box
was suddenly quieted, and I presumed that the professor had already gone
far enough with his part of the ruse to lull any suspicions that had
arisen.

"Rope that steel door on the inside, Gilhooly!" I cried as I bounded up
the iron stairs.

Gilhooly did not know what had been planned, but leaped instantly to the
task.  With a quick pull of the lever I opened the oxygen tank and
dashed below once more.

Something had gone wrong outside—I did not know what, and do not know to
this day. The mysterious violet fire which accompanied a discharge of
the zetbais was rolling all around the steel wall that hemmed us in, and
a perfect tumult of shrieks and cries came frantically to our cars.

Violent hands were laid on the door, pushing it inward against the rope
made fast by Gilhooly. Gilhooly and the others hurled themselves at the
portal and flung it back, holding it so by main strength.

"We’ll be killed!" shouted Meigs.

"No," I yelled, and jumped to the switch board.

The next instant the switch was thrown, and the billows of fire faded
from the car windows as if by magic.

We were saved!  Again had we plunged into space, and behind us—living or
dead I knew not—we had left Professor Quinn.

Sinking down on my knees I buried my face in my hands.



                             *CHAPTER XIX.*

                            *BACK TO EARTH.*


I have heard some one say that life is only a dream, and that when we
awaken in the other country we shall find it so.  Far be it from me to
dispute this or affirm it, yet I know, of my own experience, that our
waking moments furnish events that seem as illusory as the stuff that
dreams are made of.

Of all our strange adventures, the flight from Njambai has been the one
that I recall with most vividness, and, at the same time, as seeming the
most unreal.  The tension of my nerves at the moment may account for
this.

As I stated somewhere close to the beginning of this narrative, what I
set out to write was a description of the planet Mercury in so far as my
limited abilities for observation enabled me to gather knowledge.  In
looking back over my manuscript, I find I have made it more of an
adventurous tale than I intended.

Now, when near the close, I can hold more closely to my text and deal
only generally with our return trip to Terra.  It is needless to dwell
upon the way we missed and mourned the professor.  At every turn some
want developed which he could easily have satisfied had he been with us.

However, his wisdom had started us correctly, and we had perforce to
make shift and get along without him as best we could.  As captain of
the car, the weight of a great responsibility rested on me.  I was
almost constantly at the telescope, and I kept Gilhooly—in whom I had
the most confidence—about as constantly at the switch board.

We were menaced by frequent dangers during the trip, our course being
literally strewn with meteoroids which it required much deft maneuvring
to evade; but we came safely out of these perils, and, as if to
compensate us for them, we formed a most happy juncture with the Earth’s
orbit at a time when that planet was approaching and nearly upon us.

With Gilhooly at the lever, and myself at the telescope, we accomplished
a very successful landing.  So evenly balanced did the car hang between
the cubes and the drawing power of gravity that the last thousand feet
of our descent was merely a floating earthward, and we alighted with so
slight a shock that none of us experienced a particle of inconvenience.

The land that claimed us was a deserted island in mid-Pacific, where we
remained for two weeks, living off our food supply and keeping a sharp
lookout for a sail.

We had not been more than a day on the island before I remembered the
document Professor Quinn had given me.  I had been directed to open it
while on our way through the great void, but I had been so burdened with
responsibilities during that time that I had not once thought of the
packet.

With my four companions as auditors, I read aloud one of the papers
inclosed in the packet, which was addressed to all of us jointly.

    "MY DEAR FRIENDS: When you read this, I trust that the plans of
    myself and Mr. Munn will have proved so far successful that an
    impassable gulf will stretch between you and the undersigned—and
    I write this out of a desire to have you speeding on your return
    to our native planet, not because I would willingly separate
    myself from you were circumstances here different from what we
    have found them.

    "As long as I live, I shall stand between King Gaddbai and any
    monstrous plan he may form, and attempt to carry out, looking to
    the subjugating of the world we know and love so well. I am
    convinced that the king has resources of which we know nothing,
    and it shall be my aim to fathom the resources of Njambai and
    assist in their development along other and more peaceable
    lines.  This is to be my work, and I enter upon it with a
    tranquil soul.

    "No doubt I took what you gentlemen may think was an unwarranted
    liberty in luring four of your number to my castle and casting
    it adrift in the unknown.  As for myself, I believe I had ample
    warrant for doing what I did; I will not dwell on that motive,
    as it is already familiar to you.

    "The experience each of you has had on Njambai has been most
    salutary.  You have undergone a change of heart, and reform has
    wrought its great work.  Had I not been assured of this, none of
    you would ever have left this sphere for that other one which
    has been the cradle of your pet schemes in speculation.

    "You are not the same men you were.  As reformers, you will do
    your share to preserve our noble country from dire calamities
    that threaten it.  That is your mission, and see to it that you
    fail not in its performance.

    "It is my prayerful hope that you will reach your destination in
    safety, and with Mr. Munn at the helm I am prone to think that
    this result will be achieved.  If a civilized country claims
    you, immediately upon landing it is my wish that you give full
    power to the anti-gravity cubes and send the car into space; it
    is my wish that none of you give a record of his experiences to
    the papers, either wholly or in part, until five years have
    passed, and then that this duty devolve upon Mr. Munn; and it is
    my final wish that Mr. Munn accept the enclosed deed to my
    Harlem lot, and the enclosed check making payable to him all the
    funds I have in bank.  I would have him return to the other four
    of you an equivalent for the funds and valuables stolen the
    night we left Earth in the car.

    "My second wish, as to the revelations you gentlemen could make,
    is born of a desire to save the earth dwellers any unnecessary
    fear on the score of King Gaddbai and his undertakings. If he
    has not invaded Terra with his terrifying zetbais by the time
    five years have elapsed, it is my conviction that the danger
    will be done away with forever.

    "Gentlemen, adieu.  As you read this, I give you hail from
    Njambai.  QUINN."

A fortnight after the reading of the above document, we sighted a sail
on the horizon, and, by means of a rope reaching from the switch board
through a window, the lever was pulled and Professor Quinn’s castle shot
into the clouds and vanished for all time.  Three hours later we were
picked up by a whale boat, conveyed to the tramp steamer _Mollie O.,_
and in a month sailed through the Golden Gate into San Francisco harbor.

                     *      *      *      *      *

The five years have passed, and I have set my hand to the foregoing.
Gilhooly and Meigs have crossed to the great majority, but the strenuous
work they did in the interests of the people is an imperishable monument
to their memory.  Popham and Markham are still laboring for the good of
the cause.

The return to home and friends of these four, long given up for dead,
caused a sensation throughout the country.  True to the expressed wish
of Professor Quinn, none of them has breathed a whisper of the marvelous
things he saw, or of the weird experiences that fell to his lot while
journeying to and from Njambai, and while sojourning upon that planet.

So far as I am concerned, my life since my return to Earth has been as
spotless as a thorough reformation could make it.  As far as I could, I
have reimbursed those from whom I took what was not rightfully mine, I
have pleaded the cause of the poor man, and helped him liberally out of
the generous fortune bestowed upon me by Professor Quinn, and I intend
to pursue this line of action until the last day of my life.

Could a reformed burglar have a more suitable occupation?



                                THE END.



           *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *



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