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Title: Mr. Hawkins' Humorous Adventures
Author: Franklin, Edgar
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mr. Hawkins' Humorous Adventures" ***

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Shell, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed


MR. HAWKINS’ HUMOROUS ADVENTURES

By Edgar Franklin


1904



[Illustration: “That’s enough, Hawkins,” I said, “come home.”]



CHAPTER I.


Hawkins is part inventor and part idiot.

Hawkins has money, which generally mitigates idiocy; but in his case it
also allows free rein to his inventive genius, and that is a bad thing.

When I decided to build a nice, quiet summer home in the Berkshires, I
paid for the ground before discovering that the next villa belonged to
Hawkins.

Had I known then what I know now, my country-seat would be located
somewhere in central Illinois or western Oregon; but at that time my
knowledge of Hawkins extended no farther than the facts that he resided
a few doors below me in New York, and that we exchanged a kindly smile
every morning on the L.

One day last August, having mastered the mechanism of our little steam
runabout, my wife ventured out alone, to call upon Mrs. Hawkins.

I am not a worrying man, but automobile repairs are expensive, and when
she had been gone an hour or so I strolled toward our neighbors.

The auto I was relieved to find standing before the door, apparently in
good health, and I had already turned back when Hawkins came trotting
along the drive from the stable.

“Just in time, Griggs, just in time!” he cried, exuberantly.

“In time for what?”

“The first trial of--”

“Now, see here, Hawkins--” I began, preparing to flee, for I knew too
well the meaning of that light in his eyes.

“The Hawkins Horse-brake!”, he finished, triumphantly.

“Hawkins,” I said, solemnly, “far be it from me to disparage your work;
but I recall most distinctly the Hawkins Aero-motor, which moted you to
the top of that maple tree and dropped you on my devoted head. I also
have some recollection of your gasolene milker, the one that exploded
and burned every hair off the starboard side of my best Alderney cow.
If you are bent on trying something new, hold it off until I can get my
poor wife out of harm’s way.”

Hawkins favored me with a stare that would have withered a row of hardy
sunflowers and turned his eyes to the stable.

Something was being led toward us from that direction.

The foundation of the something I recognized as Hawkins’ aged work
horse, facetiously christened Maud S. The superstructure was the most
remarkable collection of mechanism I ever saw.

Four tall steel rods stuck into the air at the four corners of the
animal. They seemed to be connected in some way to a machine strapped to
the back of the saddle.

I presume the machine was logical enough if you understood it, but
beyond noting that it bore striking resemblance to the vital organs of a
clock, I cannot attempt a description.

“That will do, Patrick,” said Hawkins, taking the bridle and regarding
his handiwork with an enraptured smile. “Well, Griggs, frankly, what do
you think of it?”

“Frankly,” I said, “when I look at that thing, I feel somehow incapable
of thought.”

“I rather imagined that it would take your eye,” replied Hawkins,
complacently. “Now, just see the simplicity of the thing, Griggs. Drop
your childish prejudices for a minute and examine it.

“Let us suppose that this brake is fitted to a fiery saddle-horse. The
rider has lost all control. In another minute, unless he can stop the
beast, he will be dashed to the ground and kicked into pulp. What does
he do? Simply pulls this lever--thus! The animal can’t budge!”

An uncanny clankety-clankety-clank accompanied his words, and the rods
dropped suddenly. In their descent they somehow managed to gather two
steel cuffs apiece.

When they ceased dropping, Maud S. had a steel bar down the back of
each leg, with a cuff above and a cuff below the knee. Hawkins was quite
right--so far as I could see; Maud was anchored until some well-disposed
person brought a hack-saw and cut off her shackles.

“You see how it acts when she is standing still?” chuckled the inventor,
replacing the rods. “Just keep your eyes open and note the suddenness
with which she stops running.”

“Hawkins,” I cried, despairingly, as he led the animal up the road,
“don’t go to all that trouble on my account. I can see perfectly that
the thing is a success. Don’t try it again.”

“My dear Griggs,” said Hawkins, coldly, “this trial trip is for my own
personal satisfaction, not yours. To tell the truth, I had no idea that
you or any one else would be here to witness my triumph.”

He went perhaps three or four hundred feet up the road; then he turned
Maud’s nose homeward and clambered to her back.

As I waited behind the hedge, I grieved for the old mare. Hawkins
evidently intended urging her into something more rapid than the walk
she had used for so many years, and I feared that at her advanced age
the excitement might prove injurious.

But Maud broke into such a sedate canter when Hawkins had thumped her
ribs a few times with his heels, and her kindly old face seemed to wear
such a gentle expression as she approached, that I breathed easier.

“Now, Griggs!” cried Hawkins, coming abreast. “Watch--now!”

He thrust one hand behind, grasped the lever, and gave it a tug. The
little rods remained in the air.

A puzzled expression flitted over Hawkins’ face, and as he cantered by
he appeared to tug a trifle harder.

This time something happened.

I heard a whir like the echo of a sawmill, and saw several yards of
steel spring shoot out of the inwards of the machine. I heard a sort of
frantic shriek from Maud S. I saw a sudden cloud of pebbles and dust in
the road, such as I should imagine would be kicked up by an exploding
shell--and that was all.

Hawkins, Maud, and the infernal machine were making for the county town
with none of the grace, but nearly all the speed, of a shooting star.

For a few seconds I stood dazed.

Then it occurred to me that Hawkins’ wife would later wish to know what
his dying words had been, and I went into the auto with a flying leap,
sent it about in its own length, almost jumped the hedge, and thus
started upon a race whose memory will haunt me when greater things have
faded into the forgotten past.

My runabout, while hardly a racer, is supposed to have some pretty
speedy machinery stored away in it, but the engine had a big undertaking
in trying to overhaul that old mare.

It was painfully apparent that something--possibly righteous indignation
at being the victim of one of Hawkins’ experiments--had roused a latent
devil within Maud S. Her heels were viciously threshing up the dirt at
the foot of the hill before I began my blood-curdling coast at the top.

How under the sun anything could go faster than did that automobile
is beyond my conception; yet when I reached the level ground again
and breathed a little prayer of thanks that an all-wise Providence had
spared my life on the hill, Hawkins seemed still to have the same lead.

That he was traveling like a hurricane was evidenced by the wake of
fear-maddened chickens and barking dogs that were just recovering their
senses when I came upon them.

I put my lever back to the last notch.

Heavens, how that auto went! It rocked from one side of the road to the
other. It bounded over great stones and tried to veer into ditches, with
the express purpose of hurling me to destruction.

It snorted and puffed and rattled and skidded; but above all, it went!

There is no use attempting a record of my impressions during that first
half mile--in fact, I am not aware that I had any. But after a time
I drew nearer to Hawkins, and at last came within thirty feet of the
galloping Maud.

Hawkins’ face was white and set, he bounced painfully up and down,
risking his neck at every bounce, but one hand kept a death-like grip on
the lever of the horse-brake.

“Jump!” I screamed. “Throw yourself off!”

Hawkins regarded me with much the expression the early Christians must
have worn when conducted into the arena.

“No,” he shouted. “It’s”--bump--“it’s all right. It’ll”--bump--“work in
a minute.”

“No, it won’t! Jump, for Heaven’s sake, jump!”

I think that Hawkins had framed a reply, but just then a particularly
hard bump appeared to knock the breath out of his body. He took a better
grip on the bridle and said no more.

I hardly knew what to do. Every minute brought us nearer to the town,
where traffic is rather heavy all day.

Up to now we had had a clear track, but in another five minutes a
collision would be almost as inevitable as the sunset.

I endeavored to recall the “First Aid to the Injured” treatment for
fractured skulls and broken backs, and I thanked goodness that there
would be only one auto to complete the mangling of Hawkins’ remains,
should they drop into the road after the smash.

Would there? I glanced backward and gasped. Others had joined the
pursuit, and I was merely the vanguard of a procession.

Twenty feet to the rear loomed the black muzzle of Enos Jackson’s
trotter, with Jackson in his little road-cart. Behind him, three
bicyclists filled up the gap between the road-cart and Dr. Brotherton’s
buggy.

I felt a little better at seeing Brotherton there. He set my hired man’s
leg two years ago, and made a splendid job.

There was more of the cavalcade behind Brotherton, although the dust
revealed only glimpses of it; but I had seen enough to realize that if
Hawkins’ brake did work, and Hawkins’ mare stopped suddenly, there was
going to be a piled-up mass of men and things in the road that for sheer
mixed-up-edness would pale the average freight wreck.

Maud maintained her pace, and I did my best to keep up.

By this time I could see the reason for her mad flight. When the
explosion, or whatever it was, took place in the brake machinery,
a jagged piece of brass had been forced into her side, and there it
remained, stabbing the poor old beast with conscientious regularity at
every leap.

I was still trying to devise some way of pulling loose the goad and
persuading Maud to slow down when we entered town.

At first the houses whizzed past at intervals of two or three seconds;
but it seemed hardly half a minute before we came in sight of the square
and the court house. We were creating quite an excitement, too. People
screamed frantically at us from porches and windows and the sidewalk.

Occasionally a man would spring into the road to stop Maud, think better
of it, and spring out again.

One misguided individual hurled a fence-rail across the path. It didn’t
worry Maud in the slightest, for she happened to be all in the air while
passing over that particular point, but when the auto went over the rail
it nearly jarred out my teeth.

Another fellow pranced up, waving a many-looped rope over his head. I
think Maud must have transfixed him with her fiery eye, for before he
could throw it his nerve failed and he scuttled back to safety.

Those who had teams hitched in the square were hurrying them out of
danger, and when we whirled by the court-house only one buggy remained
in the road.

That buggy belonged to Burkett, the constable. The town pays Burkett a
percentage on the amount of work he does, and Burkett is keen on looking
up new business.

“Stop, there!” he shouted, as we came up. “Stop!”

Nobody stopped.

“Stop, or I’ll arrest the whole danged lot of ye fer fast drivin’!”
 roared Burkett, gathering up reins and whip.

And with that he dashed into the place behind Enos Jackson and crowded
the bicyclists to the side of the road.

Our county town is a small one, and at the pace set by Maud it didn’t
take us long to reach the far side and sweep out on the highway which
leads, eventually, to Boston.

I began to wonder dimly whether Maud’s wind and my water and gasolene
would carry us to the Hub, and, if so, what would happen when we had
passed through the city.

Just beyond Boston, you know, is the Atlantic Ocean.

At this point in my meditations we started down the slope to the big
creamery.

The building is located to the right of the road. On the left, a rather
steep grassy embankment drops perhaps thirty feet to the little river.

On this beautiful sunny afternoon, the creamery’s milk cans, something
like a hundred in number, were airing by the roadside, just on the edge
of the embankment; and as we thundered down I smiled grimly to think of
the attractive little frill Maud might add to her performance by kicking
a dozen or two of the milk cans into the river as she passed.

Maud, however, as she approached the cans, kept fairly in the middle of
the road--and stopped!

Heavens! She stopped so short that I gasped for breath. All in a
twinkling the steel rods dropped into position beside her legs, the
cuffs snapped, and the Hawkins Horse-brake had worked at last!

Poor old Maud! She slid a few yards with rigid limbs, squealing in
terror, and then crashed to the ground like an overturned toy horse.

Hawkins shot off into space, and at the moment I didn’t care greatly
where he landed. I was vaguely conscious that he collided head-on with
the row of milk-cans, but my main anxiety was to shut off my power, set
the brake, point the auto into the ditch, and jump.

And I did it all in about one second.

After the jump, my recollection grows hazy. I know that one of my feet
landed in an open milk-can, and that I grabbed wildly at several others.
Then the cans and I toppled headlong over the embankment and went down,
down, down, while, fainter and fainter, I could hear something like:

“Whoa! Whoa! Gol darn ye! Ow! Stop that hoss! Bang! Rattle! Rattle!
Bang! Whoa! Stop, can’t ye?”

Then a peculiarly unyielding milk-can landed on my head and I seemed to
float away.

I have reason to believe that I sat up about two minutes later. The
crash was over and peace had settled once more upon the face of nature.

From far away came the sound of galloping hoofs, belonging, no doubt, to
some of the horses who had participated in the late excitement.

The embankment was strewn with men and milk-cans, chiefly the latter. No
one seemed to be wholly dead, although one or two looked pretty near it.

A few feet away, Burkett, the constable, was having a convulsion in his
vain endeavour to extricate his cranium from a milk-can. The sounds that
issued from that can made me blush.

Jackson was sitting up and staring dully at the river, while Dr.
Brotherton, with his frock-coat split to the collar, was fishing
fragments of his medicine case out of another can.

Others of the erstwhile procession were distributed about the embankment
in various conditions, but, as I have said, nobody seemed to have parted
company with the vital spark.

Hawkins alone was invisible, and as I struggled to my feet this fact
puzzled me considerably.

A pile of milk-cans balanced on the river’s edge, and on the chance
of finding the inventor’s remains, I tipped them into the stream.
Underneath, stretched on the cold, unsympathetic ground, his feet
dabbling idly in the water, his clothes in a hundred shreds, a great
lump on his brow, was Hawkins, stunned and bleeding!

As I turned to summon Brotherton, Hawkins opened his eyes.

I am not one to cherish a grudge. I felt that Hawkins’ invention had
been its own terrible punishment. So I helped him to his feet as gently
as possible, and waited for apologetic utterances.

“You see, Griggs,” began Hawkins, uncertainly--“you see, the--the
ratchet on the big wheel--stuck. I’ll put a new--a new ratchet there,
and oil--lots of oil--on the--the----”

“That’s enough, Hawkins,” I said.

“Come home.”

“Yes, but don’t you see,” he groaned, holding fast to his battered
skull as I helped him back to the road, “if I get that one little point
perfected--it--it will revol----”

“Let it!” I snapped. “Sit here until I see what’s left of my
automobile.”

Ten minutes later, Patrick having appeared to take charge of Maud S.,
Hawkins and I were making our homeward way in the runabout, which had
mercifully been spared.

Something in my face must have forbidden conversation, for Hawkins
wrapped the soiled fragments of his raiment about him in offended
dignity, and was silent on the subject of horse-brake.

Nor have I ever heard of the thing since. Possibly Mrs. Hawkins
succeeded in demonstrating the fallacy of the whole horse-brake theory;
in fact, from the expression on her face when we reached the house, I am
inclined to think that she did.

Mrs. Hawkins can be strong-minded on occasion, and her tongue is in no
way inadequate to the needs of her mind. At any rate, a friend of mine
in the patent office, whom I asked about the matter some time ago,
tells, me that the Hawkins Horse-brake has never been patented, so that
I presume the invention is in its grave. As a public spirited citizen, I
venture to add that this is a blessing.



CHAPTER II.


My wife is averse to widowhood. Lately she exacted my solemn pledge not
to assist Hawkins with any more of his diabolical inventions.

For a similar reason, his own good lady drew me aside a few evenings
since, and insisted upon my promising to use every means, physical force
included, which might prevent her “Herbert” from experimenting further
with his motor.

Hawkins hadn’t favored me with any confidences about the motor, and at
the first opportunity I indicated with brutal directness that none was
desired.

Hawkins inquired with frigid asperity as to my meaning; but the very
iciness of his manner satisfied me that he understood perfectly, and,
believing that he was sufficiently offended to keep entirely to himself
all details of his machine--whatever it might be--I breathed more
easily.

Some of these days one of Hawkins’ inventions is going to take him on a
personally conducted tour to a quiet little grave, and I have no wish to
learn the itinerary beforehand.

Now, bitter experience has taught me that eternal vigilance is the price
of freedom from complicity with the mechanical contrivances of Hawkins,
and I should have been suspicious. Yet when Hawkins appeared Sunday
morning and asked me to go for a little jaunt up the Hudson in his
launch, I accepted with guileless good faith.

His launch was--perhaps it is still--the neatest of neat little pleasure
boats, and when we left the house I anticipated several hours of keen
enjoyment.

Crossing Riverside Drive, it struck me that Hawkins was hurrying, but
the balmy air, the sunshine, and the beautiful sweep of the river filled
my mind with infinite peace, and it was not until we had descended to
the little dock that I smelled anything suggestive of rat.

Hawkins climbed into the launch, and I smiled benignly on him as I
handed down the lunch and our overcoats. I had just finished passing
them over when I stopped smiling so suddenly that it jarred my facial
muscles.

“Where has the engine gone?” I demanded.

“That engine, Griggs,” responded Hawkins, pleasantly, “has gone where
all other steam engines will go within the next two years--into the
scrap heap.”

“Which very cheerful prophecy means----”

“It means, my dear boy, that before you stands the first full-sized
working model of the Hawkins A. P. motor, patent applied for!”

The inventor flicked off a waterproof cover and exposed to view in the
stern of the launch what looked like an inverted wash-boiler. At first
glance it appeared to be merely a dome of heavy steel, bolted to a
massive bed-plate, but I didn’t spend much time examining the thing.

“There, Griggs,” began Hawkins, triumphantly, “in that small----”

“Hawkins,” I cried, desperately, “you get out of that boat! Get out of
it, I say! Come home with me at once. I’m not going to be mixed up in
any more of your wretched trial-trips. Come on, or I’ll drag you out!”

Hawkins eyed me coldly for a minute, admonished me not to be an ass, and
went on untying the launch.

He is stronger and heavier than I. Frankly, had I meditated such a
course seriously, I couldn’t have hoisted him out of his boat.

If I had ever studied medicine, I suppose I should have known how to
stun Hawkins from above without killing him, but I have never even seen
the inside of a hospital.

Again, could I have conjured up any plausible charge, I might have
called a policeman and requested him to incarcerate Hawkins; at the
moment, however, I was a bit too flustered for such refined strategy.

Obviously, I couldn’t prevent Hawkins testing his motor, but my heart
quaked at the idea of accompanying him.

On the other hand, it quaked quite as much before the prospect of
returning to his wife and admitting that I had allowed Hawkins to sail
away alone with his accursed motor.

If I went with him, a relatively easy death by drowning was about the
best I could expect. If I didn’t, his wife----

I stepped down into the launch.

“Coming, are you?” observed Hawkins. “Quite the sensible thing to do,
Griggs. You’ll never regret it.”

“God knows, I hope not,” I sighed.

“Now, in the first place, I may as well call your attention again to the
motor. The A. P. stands for ‘almost perpetual’--good name, isn’t it?
You don’t know much about chemistry, Griggs, or I could make the whole
proposition clear to you.”

“The great point about my motor, however, is that she’s run by a fluid
somewhat similar to gasolene--another of the distillation products of
petroleum, in fact--which, having been exploded, passes into my new
and absolutely unique catalytic condensers, where it is returned to its
original molecular structure and run back into the reservoir.”

“Hence,” finished Hawkins, dramatically, “the fuel retains its chemical
integrity indefinitely, and, as it circulates automatically through
the motor, the little engine will run for months at a time without a
particle of attention. Is that quite clear?”

“Perfectly,” I lied.

“All right. Now I’ll show you how she starts,” smiled the inventor,
opening with a key a little door in the wash-boiler and lighting a
match.

“Careful, Hawkins, careful,” I ventured, backing toward the cabin.

“My dear fellow,” he sneered, “can you not grasp that in an engine
of this construction, there is absolutely no danger of any kind of
explo----”

Just then a heavy report issued from the wash-boiler. A sheet of flame
seemed to flash from the little opening and precipitate Hawkins into my
arms.

At any rate, he landed there with a violent shock, and I clutched him
tightly, and tried to steady the launch.

“Leggo! Leggo!” he screamed. “Let me go, you idiot! It always does that!
It’s working now.”

He was right. The launch was churning up a peculiarly serpentine wake,
and the motor was buzzing furiously.

Hawkins dived toward his machinery, tinkered it with nervous haste for
a little, and finally managed to head the boat down-stream just as a
collision with the Palisades seemed inevitable.

“Really, Griggs,” he remarked, smoothing down his ruffled feathers, “you
mustn’t interfere with me like that again. We might have hit something
that time.”

“We did come near uprooting that cliff,” I admitted.

Hawkins thereupon ignored me for a period of three minutes. Then his
temper returned and he began a discourse on the virtues of his motor.

It was long and involved and utterly unintelligible, I think, to any one
save Hawkins. It lasted until we had passed the Battery and were in the
shadow of Governor’s Island.

Then it seemed time for me to remark:

“We’re going to turn back pretty soon, aren’t we, Hawkins?”

“Turn back? What for?”

“Well, if we’re going up the Hudson, we can’t run much farther in this
direction.”

“Hang the Hudson!” smiled the inventor. “We’ll go down around Sandy
Hook, eat our lunch, and be back in the city at two, sharp. Why, Griggs,
this is no scow. What speed do you suppose this motor can develop?”

“I give it up.”

“One hundred knots an hour!”

“Indeed?”

“Confound it! You don’t believe it, do you?” snapped Hawkins, who must
have read my thoughts. “Well, she can make it easy. I’ll just start her
up to show you.”

Argument with Hawkins is futile. I saved my breath on the chance of
finding better use for it later on.

Hawkins unlocked his little door, fished around in the machinery, and
fastened the door again with a calm smile.

Simultaneously, the launch seemed to leap from the water in its anxiety
to get ahead. For a few seconds it quivered from end to end. Then it
settled down at a gait that actually made me gasp.

I am not positive that we made one hundred knots to the hour, but I do
know that I never traveled in an express train that hastened as did that
poor launch when the Hawkins A. P. motor began to push it through the
water.

An account of our trip down the Narrows and into the Lower Bay would
be interesting, but extraneous. Hawkins sat erect beside his infernal
machine, looking like a cavalryman in the charge. I squatted in the
cabin and watched things flash past.

The main point is that we reached the open water without smashing
anything or smashing into anything.

“Well, I think we may as well swing around,” said Hawkins, glancing
at his watch. “It’s wonderful, the control I have over the launch now.
Every bit of the steering-gear is located in that steel dome, along with
the motor, Griggs. Nothing at all exposed but this little wheel.

“You observed, probably, that I set it a few moments ago, so that the
wind wouldn’t blow us about, and haven’t touched it since. Now note how
we shall turn back.”

Hawkins grasped his little wheel, puffed up his chest, and gave a
tremendous twist.

And the wheel snapped off in Hawkins’ hands!

“Why--why--why----” he stuttered, in amazement.

“Yes, now you’ve done it!” I rapped out, savagely. “How the dickens are
we to get back?”

“There, Griggs, there,” said Hawkins, “don’t be so childishly impatient.
I shall simply unlock this case again and control the steering-gear from
the inside. Certainly even you must be able to understand that.”

The calm superiority of his tone was maddening.

One or two of my sentiments defied restraint.

Heaven knows I didn’t suppose it would make Hawkins nervous to hear
them, but it did. His hands shook as he fumbled with the key of his
steel box, and at a particularly vicious remark of mine he stood erect.

“Well, Griggs, you’ve put us in a hole this time!” he groaned.

“How?”

“You made me so nervous that I snapped that key off short in the lock!”

“What!” I shrieked.

“Yes, sir. The motor’s locked up in there with fuel enough to keep her
going for three months. I can’t stop her or move the rudder without
getting into the case, and nothing but dynamite would dent that case!”

“Then, Hawkins,” I said, a terrible calm coming over me, “we shall have
to go straight ahead now until we hit something or are blown up. Am I
right?”

“Quite right,” muttered Hawkins, defiantly. “And it’s all your fault!”

I transfixed the inventor with a vindictive stare, until he abandoned
the attempt at bravado and looked away.

“We--we may blow back, you know,” he said, vaguely, addressing the
breeze.

“The chances of that being particularly favorable by reason of your
having set your miserable rudder to correspond with the present wind?” I
asked. “Can’t we tear up the woodwork and contrive some sort of rudder?”

“We could,” admitted Hawkins, “if it wasn’t all riveted down with my own
patented rivets, which can’t be removed, once they’re set.”

Hawkins’ rivets are really what they claim to be. Only one consideration
has delayed their universal adoption. They cost a trifle less than one
dollar apiece to manufacture and set.

But they stay where they are put, and I knew that if the launch’s
woodwork was held together by them, it wasn’t likely to come apart much
before Judgment Day.

“Real nice mess, isn’t it, Hawkins?” I said.

“It--it might be worse.”

“Far worse,” I agreed. “We might be wallowing helplessly around in those
heaving billows, or a gale might be tiring itself all out in the effort
to swamp us. But, as it is, we are merely careering gaily over the
sunlit waves at an unearthly speed. In a day or two, Hawkins, we shall
sight the French coast, barring accidents, go ashore, and----”

“By Jove, Griggs!” exclaimed the inventor, lighting up on the instant.
“Do you know, I hadn’t thought of that? Just let me see. Yes, my boy,
at this rate we shall be in the Bay of Biscay Monday night or Tuesday
morning, at the latest. Think of it, Griggs! Think of the fame! Think
of----”

I couldn’t bear to think of it any longer. I knew that if I thought
about it for another ten seconds, I should hurl Hawkins into the sea and
go to my own watery grave with murder on my hands.

The bow of the launch being the furthest possible point from its owner,
I gathered up my overcoat, cigars, and a sandwich, and crouched there,
keeping out of the terrific wind as much as possible, watching for
a possible vessel and munching the food with a growing wonder as to
whether I should ever return to the happy home wherein it was prepared.

There I sat until sunset, and it was the latest sunset I have ever
observed. With dusk descending over the lonely ocean, I returned in
silence to Hawkins.

He was in bounding spirits. He chattered incessantly about the trip,
planned a lecture tour--“Across the Atlantic in Forty Hours”--formed a
stock company to manufacture his motor, offered me the London agency at
an incredible salary, and built a stately mansion just off Central Park
with his own portion of the proceeds.

Having babbled himself dry, Hawkins informed me that salt air invariably
made him sleepy, and crawled into the cabin for slumber.

And he slept. It passed my understanding, but the man had such utter
confidence in himself and his unintentional trip that he snored
peacefully throughout the night.

I didn’t. I felt that my last hours in the land of the living should be
passed in consciousness, and I spent that terrible time of darkness in
more or less prayerful meditation.

After ages, the dawn arrived. I lit another cigar, and wriggled wearily
to the bow of the boat and scanned the waters.

There was a vessel! Far, far away, to be sure, but steaming so that we
must cross her path in another fifteen minutes.

I tore off my overcoat, scrambled to the little deck, wound one arm
about a post, and waved the coat frantically.

Nearer and nearer we came to the steamer. More and more I feared that
the signal might be unnoticed, or noticed too late. But it wasn’t.

I have known some happy sights in my time, but I never saw anything
that filled me with one-half the joy I felt on realizing that the
steamer-people were lowering one of their boats.

They were doing it, there was no doubt about the matter. In five minutes
we should be near enough to their cutter to swim for it.

I dived to the stern to awaken Hawkins.

He was already awake. He stood there, tousled and happy, sniffing the
crisp air, and he had seen the approaching boat.

“Got it ready?” he inquired, placidly.

“Got what ready?”

“Why, the message,” exclaimed Hawkins, opening his eyes in astonishment.
“We’ll have to hustle with it, I reckon.”

“Hawkins, what new idiocy is this?” I gasped.

“Surely we’re going to give that steamer a few lines to tell the world
about our trip?”

Seconds passed, before the full, terrible significance of his words
filtered into my brain.

“Do you mean to say,” I roared, “that you are not going to swim for that
boat?”

“Certainly I do mean to say it,” he replied stiffly. “Let me have your
fountain pen, Griggs.”

I took one glance at the boat. I took another at Hawkins. Then I gripped
him about the waist and threw my whole soul into the task of pitching
him overboard.

Hawkins, as I have said, is heavier than I. He puffed and strained and
pulled and hauled at me, swearing like a trooper the while. And neither
of us budged an inch.

The cutter came nearer, nearer, always nearer. Thirty seconds more and
we should shoot by it forever. The thought of losing this chance of
rescue almost maddened me.

I had just gathered all my strength for one last heave when the middle
of my back experienced the most excruciating pain it has ever known.
Something seemed to lift me clear of the launch, with Hawkins in
my arms; I heard a dull report from somewhere, and then we dropped
together, right through the surface of the sparkling Atlantic Ocean!

Hawkins was picked up first. When I came to the surface, two
dark-skinned sailormen were dragging him in, struggling and cursing and
pointing wildly toward the horizon, where his launch was careering away
with the speed of the wind.

It was the French liner La France which had the honor of our rescue. She
deposited us in New York on Wednesday morning.

Over the rest of this tale hover some painful memories. I am not a
fighting man, but I am free to say that when my wife and Mrs. Hawkins
delivered to me their joint opinion on broken promises, their sex alone
saved them from personal damage.

It was upon me that the blame appeared to rest entirely. At least,
Hawkins didn’t come in for any of it at the time.

Just at the moment of that emotional interview, Hawkins was busy in his
work-shop--perfecting something.

It seems that the motor, after all, was our salvation. Hawkins says that
some of the power must have dribbled out of the machine proper and blown
the steel dome from its foundations.

Assuredly there was plenty of energy behind the thing when it struck me;
I have darting pains in that portion of my anatomy every damp day.

The launch has never been reported, which is probably quite as well.

Perhaps it has reached the open Polar Sea, and is butting itself into
flinders against the ice-cakes. Perhaps it is terrorizing some cannibal
tribe in the southern oceans by inflicting dents on the shoreline of
their island.

Wherever the poor little boat may be, it contains eleven of my best
cigars, the better part of a substantial meal, and, what is in my eyes
of less importance, the sole existing example of what Hawkins still
considers an ideal generator of power.



CHAPTER III.


We were sitting on my porch, smoking placidly in the sunset glow, when
Hawkins aroused himself from a momentary reverie and remarked:

“Now, if the body were made of aluminum it would be far lighter and just
as strong, wouldn’t it?”

“Probably, Hawkins,” I replied, “but it would also be decidedly stiff
and inconvenient. Just imagine how one’s aluminium knees would crackle
and bend going up and down-stairs, and what an awful job one would have
conforming one’s aluminum spinal column to the back of a chair.”

“No, no, no, no,” cried Hawkins, impatiently. “I don’t mean the human
body, Griggs; I----”

“I’m glad to hear it,” I said. “Don’t you go to inventing an aluminum
man, Hawkins. Good, old-fashioned flesh and bones have been giving
thorough satisfaction for the past few thousand years, and it would be
wiser for you to turn your peculiar talents toward----”

“There! there! That will do!” snapped the inventor, standing stiffly
erect and throwing away his cigar. “This is not the first time that that
mistaken humor of yours has prevented your absorbing new ideas, Griggs.
Incidentally, I may mention that I was referring to the body of an
automobile. Good-evening!”

Whereupon Hawkins stalked up the road in the direction of his summer
home, and I wondered for a minute if his words might not be prophetic of
future trouble.

Now, where any aspersion is cast upon his inventive genius, Hawkins is
quick to anger, but usually he is equally ready to forgive and
forget. Hence it astonished me that two whole weeks passed Without the
appearance of his genial countenance on my premises.

They were really two weeks of peace unbroken, but I had begun to think
that it might be better for me to stroll over and beg pardon for my
levity when one bright morning Hawkins came chug-chugging up the drive
in a huge, new, red automobile.

It was of the type so constructed that the two rear seats of the car may
be dropped off at will, converting it into a carriage for two, and the
only peculiar detail I noted was the odd-looking top or canopy.

“Well, what do you think of her?” demanded Hawkins with some pride.

“She’s all right,” I said, admiringly.

“Body’s built of aluminum,” continued the inventor. “Jump in and feel
the action of her.”

As I have said, barring the canopy, the thing appeared to be an
ordinary touring-car, and I was tired of lolling in the hammock. Without
misgiving, I climbed in beside Hawkins, and he turned back to the road.

The auto did run beautifully. I had never been in a machine that was so
totally indifferent to rough spots.

When we came to a hillock, we simply floated over it. If we reached an
uncomfortably sharp turn, the auto seemed to rise and cut it off with
hardly a swerve.

Once or twice I noticed that Hawkins deliberately steered out of the
road and into big rocks; but the auto, in the most peculiar manner, just
touched them and bounced over with never a jar.

In fact, after two miles of rather heavy going, I suddenly realized that
I hadn’t experienced the slightest of jolts.

“Hawkins,” I observed, “the man that made the springs under this thing
must have been a magician.”

“Well, well!” said the inventor. “On to it at last that there is
something out of the ordinary about this auto, are you? But it’s not the
springs, my dear boy, it’s not the springs!”

“What is it?”

“Griggs,” said Hawkins, beaming upon me, “you are riding in the first
and only Hawkins’ Auto-aero-mobile! That’s what it is!”

“Another invention!” I gasped.

“Yes, another invention. What the deuce are you turning pale about?”

“Well, your inventions, Hawkins--”

“Don’t be such a coward, Griggs. Except that I had the body built of
aluminum, this is just an ordinary automobile. The invention lies in the
canopy. It’s a balloon!”

“Is it--is it?” I said weakly.

“Yes, sir. Just at present it’s a balloon with not quite enough gas in
it to counterbalance the pull of gravitation on the car and ourselves.
I’ve got two cylinders of compressed gas still connected with it. When
I let them feed automatically into the balloon, and then automatically
drop the iron cylinders themselves in to the road, we shall fairly bound
over the ground, because the balloon will just a trifle more than carry
the whole outfit.”

“Well, don’t waste all that good gas, Hawkins,” I said hastily. “I
can--I can understand perfectly just how we should bound without that.”

“Don’t worry about the gas,” smiled Hawkins placidly. “It costs
practically nothing. There! One of the cylinders is discharging now.”

I glanced timidly above. Sure enough, the canopy was expanding slowly
and assuming a spherical shape.

Presently a thud announced that Hawkins had dropped the cylinder. Then
he pulled another lever, and the process was repeated.

As the second cylinder dropped, we rose nearly a foot into the air.
Still we maintained a forward motion, and that was puzzling.

“How is it, Hawkins,” I quavered, “that we’re still going ahead when we
don’t touch the ground more than once in a hundred feet?”

“That’s the propeller,” chuckled the inventor. “I put a propeller at
the back, so that the auto is almost a dirigible balloon. Oh, there’s
nothing lacking about the Hawkins Auto-aero-mobile, Griggs, I can tell
you.”

When I had recovered from the first nervous shock, the contrivance
really did not seem so dangerous.

We traveled in long, low leaps, the machine rarely rising more than a
foot from the ground, and the motion was certainly unique and rather
pleasant.

Nevertheless, I have a haunting fear of anything invented by Hawkins,
and my mind would insist upon wandering to thoughts of home.

“Not going down-town, are you, Hawkins?” I asked with what carelessness
I could assume.

“Just for a minute. I want some cigars.”

“Hawkins,” I murmured, “you are a pretty heavy man. When you get out of
this budding airship, it won’t soar into the heavens with me, will it?”

“It would if I got out,” said the inventor, with pleasant assurance.
“But I’m not going to get out. We’ll let the cigar man bring the stuff
to us.”

So it would rise if any weight left the car! That was food for thought.

Suppose Hawkins, who operated the auto according to the magazine
pictures of racing chauffeurs, leaning far forward, should topple into
the road? Suppose a stray breeze should tilt the machine and throw out
some part?

Up without doubt, we should go, and there seemed to be quite an open
space up above, through which we might travel indefinitely without
hitting anything that would stay our celestial journey.

“How do you let the gas out of the balloon, Hawkins?” I ventured
presently.

“Oh, the cock’s down underneath the machine,” said that gentleman
briefly. “Don’t worry, Griggs. I’m here.”

That, in a nutshell, was just what was worrying me, but there seemed to
be nothing more to say. I relapsed into silence.

We rolled or floated or bounced, or whatever you may choose to call it,
into town without accident or incident. People stared considerably at
the kangaroo antics of our car, and one or two horses, after their first
glance, developed _furor transitorius_ on the spot; but Hawkins managed
to pull up before his cigar store, which was in the outskirts of the
town, without kicking up any very serious disturbance.

The cigars aboard, I had hoped to turn my face homeward. Not so Hawkins.

“Now, down we go to the square,” he cried buoyantly, “do a turn before
the court house, float straight over the common, and then bounce away
home. I guess it’ll make the natives talk, eh, Griggs?”

“Your things usually do, Hawkins,” I sighed. “But why perform to-day?
This is only the first trial trip. Something might go wrong.”

“My dear boy,” laughed the inventor, “this is one of those trial trips
that simply can’t go wrong, because every detail is perfected to the
uttermost limit.”

That settled it; we made for the square.

The square, be it remarked, is in the center of the town. The court
house stands on one side, the post office on the other, and the square
itself is a beautifully kept lawn.

We were just in sight of the grass when I fancied that I detected a
rattle.

“What’s that noise, Hawkins?” I said.

“Give it up. Something in the machinery. It’s nothing.”

“But I seem to feel a peculiar shaking in the machine,” I persisted.

“You seem to feel a great many things that don’t exist, Griggs,”
 remarked Hawkins, with a touch of contempt.

“But----”

“Hey, mister!” yelled a small boy. “Hey! Yer back seat’s fallin’ off!”

“What did he say?” muttered Hawkins, too full of importance to turn his
head.

“Hey! Hey!” cried the youngster, pursuing us. “Dat back seat’s most fell
off!”

“What!” shrieked Hawkins, whirling about. “Good Lord! So it is! Catch
it, Griggs, catch it quick!”

I turned. The boy was right. The rear seats of the automobile had
managed to detach themselves.

In fact, even as we stared, they were hanging by a single bolt, and the
head of that was missing.

“Griggs! Griggs!” shouted Hawkins, wildly endeavoring to stop the
engine. “Grab those seats before they fall! I didn’t screw ‘em on with
a wrench--only used my hands--but I supposed they were fast. Heavens! If
they drop, we shall go----”

Just at that moment a sudden jolt sent the seats into the road.

Two hundred pounds of solid material had left the Hawkins
Auto-aero-mobile!

Hawkins didn’t have to finish the sentence.

It became painfully evident where we should go.

We went up!

Up, up, up! In the suddenness of it, it seemed to me that we were
shooting straight for the midday sun, that another thirty seconds would
see us frying in the solar flames.

As I gripped the cushions, I believe that I shrieked with terror.

But Hawkins, scared though he was, didn’t lose his head entirely. The
machine hadn’t turned turtle. It was ascending slowly in its normal
attitude, and as a matter of cold fact we hadn’t risen more than thirty
feet when Hawkins remarked, shakily:

“There, there, Griggs! Sit still! It’s all right. We’re safe!”

“Safe!” I gasped, when sufficient breath had returned. “It looks as if
we were safe, doesn’t it?”

“N-n-never mind how it looks, Griggs. We are. The propeller’s working
now.”

“What good does that do us?” I demanded.

“Good!” cried the inventor, pulling himself together. “Why, we shall
simply steer for the roof of a house and alight.”

“Always provided that this cursed contrivance doesn’t heave us out
first!”

“Oh, it won’t,” smiled Hawkins, settling down to his machinery once
more. “Dear me, Griggs, do look at the crowd!”

There was indeed a crowd. They had sprung up on the instant, and they
were racing along beneath us across the common, quite regardless of the
“Keep Off the Grass” signs.

“How they will stare when we step out on the roof, won’t they?” observed
Hawkins.

“If we don’t step out on their heads!” I snapped. “Steer away from those
telegraph wires, Hawkins.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” said the inventor, nervously regarding the
thirty or forty wires strung directly across our path. “Queer this thing
doesn’t respond more readily!”

“Well, make her respond!” I cried, excitedly, for the wires were
dangerously near.

“I’m doing my best, Griggs,” grunted the inventor, twisting this wheel
and pulling that lever. “Don’t worry, we’ll sail over them all right.
We’ll just--pshaw!”

With a gentle, swaying kind of bump, the auto stopped. We had grounded,
so to speak, on the telegraph wires.

“That’s the end of this trial trip!” I remarked, caustically. “The
epilogue will consist of the scene we create in distributing our brains
over that green grass below.”

“Oh, tut, tut!” said Hawkins. “This is nothing serious. I’ll just start
the propeller on the reverse and we’ll float off backward.”

“Well, wait a minute before you start it,” I said. “They’re shouting
something.”

“Don’t jump! Don’t jump!” cried the crowd.

“Who the dickens is going to jump?” replied Hawkins, angrily, leaning
over the side. “Fools!” he observed to me.

“The hook and ladder’s coming!” continued a stentorian voice.

[Illustration: “Don’t jump! Don’t jump!” cried the crowd.]

“Well, they’ll have their trouble for their pains,” snapped Hawkins. “We
shall be on the ground before they get here.”

“Why not wait?” I said. “We’ll be sure to get down safely that way, and
you don’t know what you may do by starting the machinery. The wires are
all mixed up in it, and they may smash and drag us down, or upset us,
Hawkins.”

“Croak! Croak! Croak!” replied Hawkins, sourly. “Go on and croak till
your dying day, Griggs. If any one ever offers a prize for a pessimistic
alarmist, you take my advice and compete. You’ll win. _I’m_ going to
start the engine and get out of this.”

He pulled the reverse lever, and the engine buzzed merrily. The auto
indulged in a series of unwholesome convulsive shivers, but it didn’t
budge.

“Hey! Hey!” floated up from the crowd.

“Oh, look and see what they’re howling about now,” growled Hawkins.

The cause of their vociferations was only too apparent.

Ping! Ping! Ping! One by one, sawed in two by the machine, the telegraph
wires were snapping!

“Stop it! Stop it, Hawkins!” I cried. “You’re smashing the wires!”

“Well, suppose I am? That’ll let us out, won’t it?”

“See here,” I said, sternly, “if an all wise Providence should happen to
spare us from being dragged down and dashed to pieces, consider the bill
for repairs which you’ll have to foot. You stop that engine, Hawkins, or
I’ll do it myself.”

“Well----” said the inventor, doubtfully. “There! Now be satisfied. I’ve
stopped it, and we’ll wait and be taken down the ladder like a couple of
confounded Italian women in a tenement house fire.”

Hawkins sat back with a sullen scowl. I drew a long breath of relief,
and began to scan the landscape for signs of the hook and ladder
company.

They were a long time in coming. Meanwhile, we were hanging in space, a
frisky balloon overhead, and below, Hawkins’ engine having considerately
left a little of the telegraph company’s property uninjured, six
telegraph wires and a gaping crowd.

But the ladders couldn’t be very far off now, and we seemed safe enough,
until--

“What’s that sizzling, Hawkins?” I inquired.

“I don’t know,” he replied, gruffly.

“Well, why don’t you try to find out?” I said, sharply. “It seems to me
that we’re resting pretty heavily on those wires.”

“Indeed?”

“Yes.” I glanced out at the balloon canopy. “Great Scott, Hawkins, the
balloon’s leaking!”

“Eh? What?” he cried, suddenly galvanized into action. “Where, Griggs,
where?”

“I don’t know. But that’s what is happening. See how the wires are
sagging--more and more every second.”

“Great Cesar’s ghost! Listen. Yes, the wires must have hit the escape
valve. Why, the gas is simply pouring out of the balloon. And the
machine’s getting heavier and heavier. And we’re just resting on those
six wires, Griggs! Oh, Lord!”

“And presently, Hawkins, we shall break the wires and drop?” I
suggested, with forced calm.

“Yes, yes!” cried the inventor. “What’ll we do, Griggs, what’ll we do?”

Frightened as I was, I couldn’t see what was to be gained by hysterics.

“I presume,” I said, “that the best thing is to sit still and wait for
the end.”

“Yes, but think, man, think of that awful drop! Forty feet, if it’s an
inch!”

“Fully.”

“Why, we’ll simply be knocked to flinders!”

“Probably.”

“Oh, the idiots! The idiots!” raged Hawkins, shaking his fists at the
crowd. “Why didn’t they bring a fire net? Why hasn’t one of them sense
enough to get one? We could jump then.”

Ping! The first of the six wires had snapped.

Ping! The second had followed suit.

The Hawkins Auto-aero-mobile was very delicately balanced now on four
slim wires, and the balloon was collapsing with heart-rending rapidity.
From below sounds of excitement were audible, here and there a groan and
now a scream of horror, as some new-comer realized our position.

“Hawkins,” I said, solemnly, “why don’t you make a vow right now that if
we ever get out of this alive----”

Ping! went the third wire. The auto swayed gently for a moment.

“You’ll never invent another thing as long as you live?”

“Griggs,” said Hawkins, in trembling tones, “I almost believe that you
are right. Where on earth can that hook and ladder be? Yes, you are
right. I’ll do--I’ll--can you see them yet, Griggs? I’ll do it! I
swear----”

Ping! Ping! Ping!

Still sitting upon the cushions, I felt my heart literally leap into my
throat. My eyes closed before a sudden rush of wind. My hands gripped
out wildly.

For one infinitesimal second, I was astonished at the deathly stillness
of everything. Then the roar of a thousand voices nearly deafened me,
the seat seemed to hurl me violently into the air, for another brief
instant I shot through space. Then my hands clutched some one’s hair,
and I crashed to the ground, with an obliging stout man underneath.

And I knew that I still lived!

Well, the auto had dropped--that was all. Ready hands placed me upon my
feet. Vaguely I realized that Dr. Brotherton, our physician, was running
his fingers rapidly over my anatomy.

Later he addressed me through a dreamland haze and said that not a
bone was broken. I recall giving him a foolish smile and thanking him
politely.

Some twenty feet away I was conscious that Hawkins was chattering
volubly to a crowd of eager faces. His own features were bruised almost
beyond recognition, but he, too, was evidently on this side of the River
Jordan, and I felt a faint sense of irritation that the Auto-aero-mobile
hadn’t made an end of him.

My wits must have remained some time aloft for a last inspection of the
spot where ended our aerial flight. Certainly they did not wholly return
until I found myself sitting beside Hawkins in Brotherton’s carriage.

We were just driving past a pile of red scrap-metal that had once been
the auto, and the wondering crowd was parting to let us through.

“Well, that’s the end of your aerothingamajig, Hawkins,” I observed,
with deep satisfaction.

“Oh, yes, experience is expensive, but a great teacher,” replied the
inventor, thickly, removing a wet cloth from his much lacerated upper
lip to permit speech. “When I build the next one----”

“You’ll have to get a divorce before you build the next one,” I added,
with still deeper satisfaction, as I pictured in imagination the lively
little domestic fracas that awaited Hawkins.

If his excellent lady gets wind of the doings in his “workshop,” Hawkins
rarely invents the same thing twice.

“Well, then, if I build another,” corrected Hawkins, sobering suddenly,
“I shall be careful not to use that rear arrangement at all. I shall
place the valve of the balloon where I can get at it more easily. I
shall----”

“Mr. Hawkins,” said Brotherton, abruptly, “I thought I asked you to keep
that cloth over your mouth until I get you where I can sew up that lip.”

Apart from any medical bearing, it struck me that that remark indicated
good, sound sense on Brotherton’s part.



CHAPTER IV.


There are some men to whom experience never teaches anything.

Hawkins is one of them; I am another.

As concerns Hawkins, I feel pretty sure that some obscure mental
aberration lies at the seat of his trouble; for my own part, I am
inclined to blame my confiding, unsuspicious nature.

Now, when the Hawkins’ cook and the Hawkins’ maid came “‘cross lots” and
carried off our own domestic staff to some festivity, I should have been
able to see the hand of Fate groping around in my locality, clearing the
scene so as to leave me, alone and unprotected, with Hawkins.

Moreover, when Mrs. Hawkins drove over in style with Patrick, to take my
wife to somebody’s afternoon euchre, and brought me a message from her
“Herbert,” asking me to come and assist him in fighting off the demon of
loneliness, I should have realized that Fate was fairly clutching at me.

By this time I should be aware that when Hawkins is left alone he
doesn’t bother with that sort of demon; he links arms with the old,
original Satan, and together they stroll into Hawkins’ workshop--to
perfect an invention.

But I suspected nothing. I went over at once to keep Hawkins company.

When I reached his place, Hawkins didn’t meet my eye at first, but
something else did.

For a moment, I fancied that the Weather Bureau had recognized Hawkins’
scientific attainments, and built an observatory for him out by the
barn. Then I saw that the thing was merely a tall, skeleton steel tower,
with a wind-mill on top--the contrivance with which many farmers pump
water from their wells.

“Well,” remarked Hawkins, appearing at this point, “can you name it?”

“Well,” I said, leaning on the gate and regarding the affair, “I imagine
that it is the common or domestic windmill.”

“And your imagination, as usual, is all wrong,” smiled Hawkins. “That,
Griggs, is the Hawkins Pumpless Pump!”

“What!” I gasped, vaulting into the road. “Another invention!”

“Now, don’t be a clown, Griggs,” snapped the inventor. “It is----”

“Wait. Did you lure me over here, Hawkins, with the fiendish purpose of
demonstrating that thing?”

“Certainly not. It is----”

“Just one minute more. Is it tied down? Will it, by any chance, suddenly
gallop over here and fall upon us?”

“No, it will not,” replied Hawkins shortly. “The foundations run twenty
feet into the ground. Are you coming in or not?”

“Under the circumstances--yes,” I said, entering again, but keeping a
wary eye on the steel tower. “But can’t we spend the afternoon out here
by the gate?”

“We cannot,” said Hawkins sourly. “Your humor, Griggs, is as pointless
as it is childish. When you see every farmer in the United States using
that contrivance, you will blush to recall your idiotic words.”

I was tempted to make some remark about the greater likelihood of memory
producing a consumptive pallor; but I refrained and followed Hawkins to
the veranda.

“When I built that tower,” pursued the inventor, waving his hand at it,
“I intended, of course, to use the regulation pump, taking the power
from the windmill.

“Then I got an idea.

“You know how a grain elevator works--a series of buckets on an endless
chain, running over two pulleys, just as a bicycle chain runs over two
sprockets? Very well. Up at the top of that tower I extended the hub of
the windmill back to form a shaft with big cogs. Down at the bottom of
the well there is another corresponding shaft with the same cogs. Over
the two, as you will see, runs an endless ladder of steel cable. Is that
clear?”

“I guess so,” I said, wearily. “Go on.”

“Well, that’s as far as I have gone. Next week the buckets are coming. I
shall hitch one to each rung of the chain, or ladder, throw on the gear,
and let her go.

“The buckets will run down into the well upside down, come up on the
other side filled, run to the top of the tower, and dump the water
into a reservoir tank--and go down again. Thus I pump water without a
pump--in other words, with a pumpless pump!

“Simple! Efficient! Nothing to get out of order--no valves, no pistons,
no air-chambers--nothing whatever!” finished Hawkins triumphantly.

“Wonderful!” I said absently.

“Isn’t it?” cried the inventor. “Now, do you want to look over it,
to-day, Griggs, or shall we run through those drawings of my new loom?”

Hawkins has invented a loom, too. I don’t know much about machinery in
general, but I do know something about the plans, and from what I can
judge by the plans, if any workman was fool-hardy enough to enter the
room with Hawkins’ loom in action, that intricate bit of mechanism would
reach out for him, drag him in, macerate him, and weave him into the
cloth, all in about thirty seconds.

But an explanation of this to Hawkins would merely have precipitated
another conflict. I chose what seemed to be the lesser evil; I elected
to examine the pumpless pump.

“All right,” said the inventor happily. “Come along, Griggs. You’re the
only one that knows anything about this. In a week or two, when somebody
writes it up in the _Scientific American_, you’ll feel mighty proud of
having heard my first explanation of the thing.”

The pump was just as Hawkins had described--a thin steel ladder coming
out of the well’s black mouth, running up to and over the shaft, and
descending into the blackness again. When we reached its side, it was
stationary, for the air was still.

“There!” cried Hawkins. “All it needs is the buckets and the tank on
top. That idea comes pretty near to actual execution, Griggs, doesn’t
it?”

“Most of your ideas do come pretty near to actual execution, Hawkins,” I
sighed.

That passed over Hawkins’ head.

“Now, look down here,” he continued, leaning over the well with a calm
disregard of the frailty of the human make-up, and grasping one of the
rungs of the ladder. “Just look down here, Griggs. Sixty feet deep!”

“I’ll take your word for it,” I said. “I wouldn’t hold on to that
ladder, Hawkins; it might take a notion to go down with you.”

“Nonsense!” smiled the inventor. “The gear’s locked. It can’t move. Why,
look here!”

The man actually swung himself out to the ladder and stood there. It
made my blood run cold.

I expected to see Hawkins, ladder, and all shoot down into the water,
and I wondered whether Heaven would send wind enough to hoist him out
before he drowned.

But nothing happened. Hawkins himself stood there and surveyed me with
sneering triumph.

“You see, Griggs,” he observed caustically, “once in a while I do know
something about my inventions. Now, if your faint heart will allow it,
I should advise you to take a peep down here. So far as I know, it’s
the only well in the State built entirely of white tiles. Just steady
yourself on the ladder and look.”

Like a senseless boy taking a dare, I reached out, gripped the rung
above Hawkins, and looked down.

Certainly it was a fine well. I never paid much attention to wells, but
I could see at a glance that this one was exceptional.

“I had it tiled last week,” continued Hawkins. “A tiled well is
absolutely safe, you see. Nothing can happen in a tiled well, no----”

That was another of Hawkins’ fallacies. Something happened right then
and there.

A gentle breeze started the windmill. Slowly, spectacularly, the ladder
began to move--downwards!

“Why, say!” cried the inventor, in amazement, as he made one futile
effort to regain the ground. “Do you think----”

I wasn’t thinking for him, just then. All my wits were centered on one
great, awful problem.

Before I could realize it and release my hold, the ladder had dropped
far enough to throw me off my balance. The problem was whether to let
go and risk dashing down sixty feet, or to keep hold and run the very
promising chance of a slow and chilly ducking.

I took the latter alternative, threw myself upon the ladder, and clung
there, gasping with astonishment at the suddenness of the thing.

“Well, Hawkins?” I said, getting breath as my head sank below the level
of the beautiful earth.

“Well, Griggs,” said the inventor defiantly, from the second rung below,
“the gear must have slipped--that’s all.”

“Isn’t it lucky that this is a tiled well?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why,” I said, “a tiled well is absolutely safe, you see. Nothing can
happen in a tiled well, Hawkins.”

“Now, don’t stand there grinding out your cheap wit, Griggs,” snapped
Hawkins. “How the dickens are we going to escape being soaked?”

Down, down, down, down, went the ladder.

“Well,” I said, thoughtfully, “the bottom usually falls out of your
schemes, Hawkins. If the bottom will only fall out of the water
department of your pumpless pump within the next half-minute, all will
be lovely.”

“Oh, dry up!” exclaimed the inventor nervously. “Goodness! We’re halfway
down already!”

“Why not climb?” I suggested.

“Really, Griggs,” cried the inventor, “for such an unpractical man as
yourself, that idea is remarkable! Climb, Griggs, climb. Get about it!”

I think myself that the notion was rather bright. If the ladder was
climbing down into the well, we could climb up the ladder.

And we climbed! Good heavens, how we did climb! It was simply a
perpendicular treadmill, and with the rungs a full yard apart, a mighty
hard one to tread.

Every rung seemed to strain my muscles to the breaking point; but we
kept on climbing, and we were gaining on the ladder. We were not ten
feet from the top when Hawkins called out:

“Wait, Griggs! Hey! Wait a minute! Yes, by Jove, she’s stopped!”

She had. I noted that, far above, the windmill had ceased to revolve.
The ladder was motionless.

“Oh, I knew we’d get out all right,” remarked the inventor, dashing all
perspiration from his brow. “I felt it.”

“Yes, I noticed that you were entirely confident a minute or two ago,” I
observed.

“Well, go on now and climb out,” said Hawkins, waving an answer to the
observation. “Go ahead, Griggs.”

I was too thankful for our near deliverance to spend my breath on
vituperation. I reached toward the rung above me and prepared to pull
myself back to earth.

And then a strange thing happened. The rung shot upward. I shot after
it. One instant I was in the twilight of the well; the next instant I
was blinded by the sun.

Too late I realized that I had ascended above the mouth, and was
journeying rapidly toward the top of the tower. It had all happened
with that sickening, surprising suddenness that characterizes Hawkins’
inventions.

Up, up, up, I went, at first quickly, and then more slowly, and still
more slowly, until the ladder stopped again, with my eyes peering over
the top of the tower.

It was obliging of the ladder to stop there; it could have hurled me
over the top just as easily and broken my neck.

I didn’t waste any time in thanking the ladder. Before the accursed
thing could get into motion again, I climbed to the shaft and perched
there, dizzy and bewildered.

Hawkins followed suit, clambered to the opposite end of the shaft, and
arranged himself there, astride.

“Well,” I remarked, when I had found a comparatively secure seat on the
bearing--a seat fully two inches wide by four long--“did the gear slip
again?”

“No, of course not,” said the inventor. “The windmill simply started
turning in the opposite direction.”

“It’s a weak, powerless little thing, your windmill, isn’t it?”

“Well, when I built it I calculated it to hoist two tons.”

“Instead of which it has hoisted two--or rather, one misguided man, who
allowed himself to be enticed within its reach.”

“See here,” cried Hawkins wrathfully, “I suppose you blame me for
getting you into a hole?”

“Not at all,” I replied. “I blame you for getting me altogether too far
out of the hole.”

“Well, you needn’t. If it hadn’t been for your stupidity, we shouldn’t
be here now.”

“What!”

“Certainly. Why didn’t you jump off as we passed the mouth of the well?”

“My dear Hawkins,” I said mildly, “do you realize that we flitted past
that particular point at a speed of about seventy feet per second? Why
didn’t you jump?”

“I--I--I didn’t want to desert you, Griggs,” rejoined Hawkins weakly,
looking away.

“That was truly noble of you,” I observed. “It reveals a beautiful side
of your character which I had never suspected, Hawkins.”

“That’ll do,” said the inventor shortly. “Are you going down first or
shall I?”

“Do you propose to trust all that is mortal of yourself to that
capricious little ladder again?”

“Certainly. What else?”

“I was thinking that it might be safer, if slightly less comfortable,
to wait here until Patrick gets back. He could put up a ladder--a real,
old-fashioned, wooden ladder--for us.”

“Yes, and when Patrick gets back those women will get back with him,”
 replied Hawkins heatedly. “Your wife’s coming over here to tea.”

“Well?”

“Well, do you suppose I’m going to be found stuck up here like a
confounded rooster on a weather vane?” shouted the inventor. “No, sir!
You can stay and look all the fool you like. I won’t. I’m going down
now!”

Hawkins reached gingerly with one foot for a place on the ladder. I
looked at him, wondered whether it would be really wicked to hurl him
into space, and looked away again, in the direction of the woods.

My gaze traveled about a mile; and my nerves received another shock.

“See here, Hawkins!” I cried.

“Well, what do you want?” demanded the inventor gruffly, still striving
for a footing.

“What will happen if a breeze hits this infernal machine now?”

“You’ll be knocked into Kingdom Come, for one thing,” snapped Hawkins
with apparent satisfaction. “That arm of the windmill right behind you
will rap your head with force enough to put some sense in it.”

I glanced backward. He was right--about the fact of the rapping, at any
rate.

The huge wing was precisely in line to deal my unoffending cranium a
terrific whack, which would probably stun me, and certainly brush me
from my perch.

“There’s a big wind coming!” I cried. “Look at those trees.”

“By Jimminy! You’re right!” gasped the inventor, recklessly hurling
himself upon the ladder. “Quick, Griggs. Come down after me. Quick!”

When one of Hawkins’ inventions gets you in its toils, you have to
make rapid decisions as to the manner of death you would prefer. In
the twinkling of an eye, I decided to cast my fate with Hawkins on the
ladder.

Nerving myself for the task, I swung to the quivering steel cable,
kicked wildly for a moment, and then found a footing.

“Now, down!” shouted Hawkins, below me. “Be quick!”

That diabolical windmill must have heard him and taken the remark for a
personal injunction. It obeyed to the letter.

When an elevator drops suddenly, you feel as if your entire internal
organism was struggling for exit through the top of your head. As
the words left Hawkins’ mouth, that was precisely the sensation I
experienced.

Clinging to the ladder for dear life, down we went!

They say that a stone will drop sixteen feet in the first second,
thirty-two in the next, and so on. We made far better time than that.
The wind had hit the windmill, and she was reeling us back into the well
to the very best of her ability.

Before I could draw breath we flashed to the level of the earth,
down through the mouth of the well, and on down into the white-tiled
twilight.

My observations ceased at that point. A gurgling shriek came from
Hawkins. Then a splash.

My nether limbs turned icy cold, next my body and shoulders, and then
cracked ice seemed to fill my ears, and I still clung to the ladder, and
prayed fervently.

For a time I descended through roaring, swirling water. Then my feet
were wrenched from their hold, and for a moment I hung downward by my
hands alone. Still I clung tightly, and wondered dimly why I seemed to
be going up again. Not that it mattered much, for I had given up hope
long ago, but still I wondered.

And then, still clutching the ladder with a death-grip, with Hawkins
kicking about above me, out of the water I shot, and up the well once
more. An instant of the half-light, the flash of the sun again--and I
hurled myself away from the ladder.

I landed on the grass. Hawkins landed on me. Soaking wet, breathless,
dazed, we sat up and stared at each other.

“I’m glad, Griggs,” said Hawkins, with a watery smile--“I’m glad you had
sense enough to keep your grip going around that sprocket at the bottom.
I knew we’d be all right if you didn’t let go----”

“Hawkins,” I said viciously, “shut up!”

“But--oh, good Lord!”

I glanced toward the gate. The carriage was driving in. The ladies were
in the carriage. Evidently the afternoon euchre had been postponed.

“There, Hawkins,” I gloated, “you can explain to your wife just why you
knew we’d be all right. She’ll be a sympathetic listener.”

Said Hawkins, with a sickly smile:

“Oh, Griggs!”

Said Mrs. Hawkins, gasping with horror as Patrick whipped the horses to
our side----.

But never mind what Mrs. Hawkins said. This chronicle contains enough
unpleasantness as it is. There are remarks which, when addressed to one,
one feels were better left unsaid.

I think that Hawkins felt that way about practically everything his wife
said upon this occasion. Let that suffice.



CHAPTER V.


In the country, social intercourse between Hawkins’ family and my own is
upon the most informal basis. If it pleases us to dine together coatless
and cuffless, we do so; and no one suggests that a national upheaval is
likely to result.

But in town it is different. The bugaboo of strict propriety seems to
take mysterious ascendancy. We still dine together, but it is done in
the most proper evening dress. It seems to be the law--unwritten but
unalterable--that Hawkins and I shall display upon our respective bosoms
something like a square foot of starchy white linen.

I hardly know why I mention this matter of evening clothes, unless it
is that the memory of my brand-new dress suit, which passed to another
sphere that night, still preys upon my mind.

That night, above mentioned, my wife and I dined in the Hawkins’ home.

Hawkins seemed particularly jovial. He appeared to be chuckling with
triumph, or some kindred emotion, and his air was even more expansive
than usual.

When I mentioned the terrible explosion of the powder works
at Pompton--hardly a subject to excite mirth in the normal
individual--Hawkins fairly guffawed.

“But, Herbert,” cried his wife, somewhat horrified, “is there anything
humorous in the dismemberment of three poor workmen?”

“Oh, it isn’t that--it isn’t that, my dear,” smiled the inventor. “It
merely struck me as funny--this old notion of explosives.”

“What old notion?” I inquired.

“Why, the fallacy of the present methods of manipulating
nitro-glycerine.”

“I presume you have a better scheme?” I advanced.

“Mr. Griggs,” cried Hawkins’ wife, in terror that was not all feigned,
“don’t suggest it!”

“Now, my dear----” began Hawkins, stiffening at once.

“Hush, Herbert, hush! You’ve made mischief enough with your inventions,
but you have never, thank goodness, dabbled in explosives.”

“If I wanted to tell you what I know about explosives, and what I could
do----” declaimed Hawkins.

“Don’t tell us, Mr. Hawkins,” laughed my wife. “A sort of superstitious
dread comes over me at the notion.”

“Mrs. Griggs!” exclaimed Hawkins, eying my wife with a glare which
in any other man would have earned him the best licking I could give
him--but which, like many other things, had to be excused in Hawkins.

“Herbert!” said his wife, authoritatively. “Be still. Actually, you’re
quite excited!”

Hawkins lapsed into sulky silence, and the meal ended with just a hint
of constraint.

Mrs. Hawkins and my wife adjourned to the drawing-room, and Hawkins and
I were left, theoretically, to smoke a post-prandial cigar. Hawkins,
however, had other plans for my entertainment.

“Are they up-stairs?” he muttered, as footsteps sounded above us.

“They seem to be.”

“Then you come with me,” whispered Hawkins, heading me toward the
servants’ staircase.

“Where?” I inquired suspiciously.

There was a peculiar glitter in his eye.

“Come along and you’ll see,” chuckled Hawkins, beginning the ascent.
“Oh, I’ll tell you what,” he continued, pausing on the second landing,
“these women make me tired!”

“Indeed?”

“Yes, they do. You needn’t look huffy, Griggs. It isn’t your wife or my
wife. It’s the whole sex. They chatter and prattle and make silly jokes
about things they’re absolutely incapable of understanding.”

“My dear Hawkins,” I said soothingly, “you wrong the fair sex.”

“Oh, I wrong ‘em, eh? Well, what woman knows the first thing about
explosives?” demanded Hawkins heatedly. “Dynamite or rhexite or meganite
or carbonite or stonite or vigorite or cordite or ballistite or thorite
or maxamite----”

“Stop, Hawkins, stop!” I cried.

“Well, that’s all, anyway,” said the inventor. “But what woman knows
enough about them to argue the thing intelligently? And yet my wife
tells me--I, who have spent nearly half a lifetime in scientific
labor--she actually tells me to--to shut up, when I hint at having some
slight knowledge of the subject!”

“I know, Hawkins, but your scientific labors have made her--and
me--suffer in the past.”

“Oh, they have, have they?” grunted Hawkins, climbing toward the top
floor. “Well, come up, Griggs.”

I knew the door at which he stopped. It was that of Hawkins’ workshop
or laboratory. It was on the floor with the servants, who, poor things,
probably did not know or dared not object to the risk they ran.

“What’s the peculiar humming?” I asked, pausing on the threshold.

“Only my electric motor,” sneered Hawkins. “It won’t bite you, Griggs.
Come in.”

“And what is this big, brass bolt on the door?” I continued.

“That? Oh, that’s an idea!” cried the inventor. “That’s my new
springlock. Just look at that lock, Griggs. It simply can’t be opened
from the outside, and only from the inside by one who knows how to work
it. And I’m the only one who knows. When I patent this thing----”

“Well, I wouldn’t close the door, Hawkins,” I murmured. “You might faint
or something, and I’d be shut in here till somebody remembered to hunt
for me.”

“Bah!” exclaimed Hawkins, slamming the door, violently. “Really, for
a grown man, you’re the most chicken-hearted individual I ever met.
But--what’s the use of talking about it? To get back to explosives----”

“Oh, never mind the explosives,” I said wearily. “You’re right, and that
settles it.”

“See here,” said Hawkins sharply; “I had no intention of mentioning
explosives to-night, for a particular reason. In a day or two, you’ll
hear the country ringing with my name, in connection with explosives.
But since the subject has come up, if you want to listen to me for a few
minutes, I’ll interest you mightily.”

Kind Heaven! Could I have realized then the bitter truth of those last
words!

“Yes, sir,” the inventor went on, “as I was saying--or was I saying
it?--they all have their faults--dynamite, rhexite, meganite, carbonite,
ston----”

“You went over that list before.”

“Well, they all have their faults. Either they explode when you don’t
want them to, or they don’t explode when you do want them to, or they’re
liable to explode spontaneously, or something else. It’s all due, as
I have invariably contended, to impure nitro-glycerine or unscientific
handling of the pure article.”

“Yes.”

“Yes, indeed. Now, what would you say to an explosive----”

“Absolutely nothing,” I replied decidedly. “I should pass it without
even a nod.”

“Never mind your nonsense, Griggs. What would you--er--what would you
think of an explosive that could be dropped from the roof of a house
without detonating?”

“Remarkable!”

“An explosive,” continued Hawkins impressively, “into which a man might
throw a lighted lamp without the slightest fear! How would that strike
you?”

“Well, Hawkins,” I said, “I think I should have grave doubts of the
man’s mental condition.”

“Oh, just cut out that foolish talk,” snapped the inventor. “I’m quite
serious. Suppose I should tell you that I had thought and thought over
this problem, and finally hit upon an idea for just such a powder? Where
would dynamite and rhexite and meganite and all the rest of them be,
beside----”

He paused theatrically.

“Hawkinsite!”

“Don’t know, Hawkins,” I said, unable to absorb any of his enthusiasm.
“But let us thank goodness that it is only an idea as yet.”

“Oh, but it isn’t!” cried the inventor.

“Hawkins!” I gasped, springing to my feet. “What do you mean?”

“I mean just this: Do you see that little vat in the corner?”

I stared fearfully in the direction indicated. A little vat, indeed, I
saw. It stood there, half-filled with a sticky mess, through which an
agitator, run by the electric motor, was revolving slowly.

“That’s Hawkinsite, in the process of manufacture!” the inventor
announced.

A sickly terror crept over me. I made instinctively for the door.

“Oh, come back,” said Hawkins. “You can’t get out, anyway, until I undo
the lock. But there’s no danger whatever, my dear boy. Just sit down and
I’ll explain why.”

I had no choice about sitting down; a most peculiar weakness of the
knees made standing for the moment impossible. I drew my chair to the
diagonally opposite corner of the apartment, and sat there with my eyes
glued upon the vat.

“Now, when all these fellows go about nitrating their glycerine,” said
Hawkins serenely, “they simply overlook the scientific principle which I
have discovered. For instance, out there at Pompton the vat exploded in
the very act of mixing in the glycerine. That’s just what is being done
over in that corner at this minute----”

“Ouch!” I cried involuntarily.

“But it won’t happen here--it can’t happen here,” said the inventor
impatiently. “I am using an entirely different combination of chemicals.
Now, if there was any trouble of that sort coming, Griggs, the contents
of that vat would have begun to turn green before now. But as you
see----”

“Haw--Hawkins!” I croaked hoarsely, pointing a shaking finger at the
machine.

“Well, what is it now?”

“Look!” I managed to articulate.

“Oh, Lord!” sniffed the inventor. “I suppose as soon as I said that, you
began to see green shades appear, eh? Why--dear me!”

Hawkins stepped rapidly over to the side of his mixer. Then he stepped
away with considerably greater alacrity.

There was no two ways about it; the devilish mess in the vat was taking
on a marked tinge of green!

“Well--I--I guess I’ll shut off the power,” muttered Hawkins, suiting
the action to the word.

“When the agitator has stopped, Griggs, the mass will cool at once, so
you needn’t worry.”

“If it didn’t cool, would it--would it blow up?” I quavered.

“Oh, it would,” admitted Hawkins, rather nervously. “But as soon as the
mixing ceases, the slight color disappears, as you see.”

“I don’t see it; it seems to me to be getting greener than ever.”

“Well, it’s not!” the inventor snapped. “Five minutes from now, that
stuff will be an even brown once more.”

“And while it’s regaining the even brown, why not clear out of here?” I
said eagerly.

“Yes, we may as well, I suppose,” said Hawkins, with a readiness which
refused to be masked under his assumption of reluctance. “Come on,
Griggs.”

Hawkins turned the lever on his fancy lock, remarking again:

“Come on.”

“Well, open the door.”

“It’s op--why, what’s wrong here?” muttered the inventor, twisting the
lever back and forth several times.

“Oh, good heavens, Hawkins!” I groaned. “Has your lock gone back on you,
too?”

“No, it has not. Of course not,” growled the inventor, tugging at his
lever with almost frantic energy. “It’s stuck--a little new--that’s all.
Er--do you see a screw-driver on that table, Griggs?”

I handed him the tool as quickly as possible, noting at the same time
that despite the cessation of the stirring “Hawkinsite” was getting
greener every second.

“I’ll just take it off,” panted Hawkins, digging at one of the screws.
“No time to tinker with it now.”

“Why not? There’s no danger.”

“Certainly there isn’t. But you--you seem to be a little nervous about
it, Griggs, and----”

“Hawkins,” I cried, “what are those bubbles of red gas?”

“What bubbles?” Hawkins turned as if he had been shot. “Great Scott,
Griggs! There were no bubbles of red gas rising out of that stuff, were
there?”

“There they go again,” I said, pointing to the vat, from which a new
ebullition of scarlet vapor had just risen. “What does it mean?”

“Mean?” shrieked Hawkins, turning white and trembling in every limb.

“Yes, mean!” I repeated, shaking him. “Does it mean that----”

“It means that the cursed stuff has over-heated itself, after all.
Lord! Lord! However did it happen? Something must have been impure.
Something----”

“Never mind something. What will it do?”

“It--it--oh, my God, Griggs! It’ll blow this house into ten thousand
pieces within two minutes! Why--why, there’s power enough in that little
vat to demolish the Brooklyn Bridge, according to my calculations.
There’s enough explosive force in that much Hawkinsite to wreck every
office building down-town!”

“And we’re shut in here with it!”

“Yes! Yes! But let us----”

“Here! Suppose I turn the water into the thing?”

“Don’t!” shouted the inventor wildly, battering at the door with his
fists. “It would send us into kingdom come the second it touched! Don’t
stand there gaping, Griggs! Help me smash down this door! We must get
out, man! We must get the women out! We must warn the neighborhood!
Smash her, Griggs! Smash her! Smash the door!”

“Hawkins,” I said, resignedly, as a vicious “sizzzz” announced the
evolution of a great puff of red gas, “we can never do it in two
minutes. Better not attract the rest of the household by your racket.
They may possibly escape. Stop!”

“And stay here and be blown to blazes?” cried Hawkins. “No, sir! Down
she goes!”

He seized a stool and dealt a crashing blow upon the panel. It
splintered. He raised the stool again, and I could hear footsteps
hurrying from below. I opened my mouth to shout a warning, and----

Well, I don’t know that I can describe my sensations with any accuracy,
vivid as they were at the time.

Some resistless force lifted me from the floor and propelled me toward
the half shattered door. Dimly I noted that the same thing had happened
to Hawkins. For the tiniest fraction of a second he seemed to be
floating horizontally in the air. Then I felt my head collide with wood;
the door parted, and I shot through the opening.

I saw the hallway before me; I remember observing with vague wonder that
the gas-light went out just as it caught my eye. And then an awful flash
blinded me, a roar of ten thousand cannon seemed to split my skull--and
that was all.

My eyes opened in the Hawkins’ drawing-room--or what remained of it. Our
family physician was diligently winding a bandage around my right ankle.
An important-looking youth in the uniform of an ambulance surgeon was
stitching up a portion of my left forearm with cheerful nonchalance.

My brand new dress suit, I observed, had lost all semblance to an
article of clothing; they had covered me, as I lay upon the couch, with
a torn portiere.

[Illustration: “_I saw the figure of a policeman standing tiptoe upon a
satin chair_.”]

The apartment was strangely dark. Here and there stood a lantern, such
as are used by the fire department. In the dim light, I saw the figure
of a policeman standing tiptoe upon a satin chair, plugging with soap
the broken gaspipe which had once supported the Hawkins’ chandelier.

The ceiling was all down. The walls were bare to the lath in huge
patches. The windows had disappeared, and a chill autumn night wind
swept through the room.

Bric-a-brac there was none, although here and there, in the mass of
plaster on the floor, gleamed bits of glass and china which might once
have been parts of ornaments. Hawkinsite had evidently not been quite
as powerful as its inventor had imagined, but it had certainly contained
force enough to blow about ten thousand dollars out of Hawkins’ bank
account.

From the street came the hoarse murmur of a crowd. I twisted my head and
my eyes fell upon two firemen in the hallway. They were dragging down a
line of hose from somewhere up-stairs.

Across the room sat my wife and Mrs. Hawkins, disheveled, but alive and
apparently unharmed. Hawkins himself leaned wearily back upon a divan, a
huge bandage sewed about his forehead, one arm in a sling, and a police
sergeant at his side, notebook in hand.

I felt a fiendish exultation at the sight of that official; for one fond
moment I hoped that Hawkins was under arrest, that he was in for a life
sentence.

“He’s conscious, doctor,” said the ambulance surgeon.

“Ah, so he is,” said my own medical man, as the ladies rushed to my
side. “Now, Mr. Griggs, do you feel any pain in the----”

“Oh, Griggs!” cried Hawkins, staggering toward me. “Have you come
back to life? Say, Griggs, just think of it! My workshop’s blown to
smithereens! Every single note I ever made has been destroyed! Isn’t it
aw----”

In joyful chorus, my wife, Mrs. Hawkins and I said:

“Thank Heaven!”

“But think of it! My notes! The careful record of half a----”

“Herbert!” said his--considerably--better half. “That--will--do!”

“It--oh, well,” groaned the inventor disconsolately, limping back to the
divan and the somewhat astonished sergeant of police. Hawkins must have
had some sort of influence with the press. Beyond a bare mention of the
explosion, the matter never found its way into the newspapers.

After I got around again I tried in vain to spread the tale broadcast. I
had some notion that the notoriety might cure Hawkins.

But, after all, I don’t know that it would have done much good. I cannot
think that a man whose inventive genius will survive an explosion of
Hawkinsite is likely to be greatly worried by mere newspaper notoriety.



CHAPTER VI.


The name and the precise location of the hotel are immaterial. If you
happened to be there that night you know very nearly all that occurred;
if not, you have in all probability never heard of it, for I understand
that the proprietors took every precaution against publicity.

Let it suffice, then, that the hotel is a prominent and a fashionable
one, located somewhere between the Battery and the Bronx, and that
Hawkins and I sat at a table in the restaurant on that particular
evening and feasted.

The inventor had called at my office and dragged me away to dine with
him, rather to my surprise, for I believed him to be somewhere in the
South with his wife.

You see, after a certain explosion in their home, a month or two of
reconstruction had been necessary; and I opine that Mrs. Hawkins had
thought best to remove her husband while the repairs were being made.
If he had been there it is dollars to doughnuts he would have invented a
new bricklayer or a novel plastering machine and wrecked the whole place
anew.

It was in reply to my query as to his presence in New York that Hawkins
said:

“Well, you know, Griggs, it impressed me as very foolish from the
first--that idea of my wife’s of getting out of town while the place was
being rebuilt.”

“She may have had her reasons, Hawkins,” I suggested.

“Possibly, although I fail to see what they were. When a man’s own
home is being built--or rebuilt--his place is on the spot, to see that
everything is done right. Now, how, for instance, could I, away down
in Georgia, know that those workmen were properly fitting up my new
workshop?”

“Workshop?” I gasped. “Are you having another one built?”

“Certainly,” snapped Hawkins. “I didn’t mention it to Mrs. Hawkins, for
she seems foolishly set against my continuing my scientific labors. But
I fixed it on the sly with the architect. It’s all finished now--has
been for a week and over--power and everything else.”

“Hawkins,” I said, sadly, “are you going right on with your
experimenting?”

“Of course I am,” replied the inventor, rather warmly. “It’s altogether
beyond your poor little brain, Griggs, but scientific work is the very
breath of my life! I can’t be happy without it; I’m not going to try.
Why, all those seven weeks down South one idea simply roared in my head.
I had to come home and perfect it--and I did. I’ve been in New York
nearly three weeks, working on it,” concluded Hawkins, complacently.

“And you’ve managed to perfect another accursed----” I began.

Just then I ceased speaking and watched Hawkins. His ears had pricked
up like a horse’s. I, too, listened and heard what seemed to be a
heavy automobile outdoors; at any rate, it was the characteristic
chugg-chugg-chugg of a touring car, and nowadays a commonplace sound
enough.

But it affected Hawkins deeply. An ecstatic smile overspread his face,
and he drew in his breath with a long, happy:

“A-a-a-a-a-ah!”

“Been buying a new auto, Hawkins?” I asked, carelessly.

“Auto be hanged!” replied the inventor, energetically. “Do you imagine
that an automobile is making that noise? I guess not! That’s my new
invention, Griggs!”

“What!” I cried. “Here? In this hotel?”

“Right here in this hotel--right under our feet,” said Hawkins, proudly.
“That noise comes from the Hawkins Gasowashine!”

I think I stared open-mouthed at Hawkins for a moment or two; I know
that I leaned back and shook with as violent mirth as might be permitted
in so solemnly proper a resort.

“Well, does that impress you as particularly humorous?” demanded
Hawkins, angrily.

“Hawkins,” I said, “why don’t you start in and write nonsense verse?
There’s a fortune waiting for you.”

“I must say, Griggs,” rejoined the inventor, sourly, “that you have very
little comprehension of the advertising value of a good name. Who under
the sun would ever remember the ‘Hawkins Gasolene Washing Machine,’ if
they saw it in a magazine? But--‘The Gasowashine’!”

“So it’s a washing machine?”

“Of course. It’s the one perfect contrivance for washing and drying
dishes; and let me tell you the basic principle of that machine breathes
genius, if I do say it. Why, Griggs, just think! You can pile in three
or four hundred dishes, simply start the motor, and then sit down while
the clean, dry dishes are piled neatly on the table.”

“And they’re really using it here? It--it works?” I asked, wonderingly.

“Well, they’re going to use it,” said Hawkins, rising. “I have consented
to allow them to try my model. It arrived here just before we did.”

“Hawkins, have we been sitting right over that thing all this time?”

“Don’t try to be comic, Griggs,” said the inventor, bruskly. “I’m going
down to see who’s fooling with that motor. It should not have been
touched, although I must say it’s a satisfaction to sit in a first-class
place like this and hear my own machinery running. Are you coming?”

I will admit that I was curious about the contrivance. I followed
Hawkins through the crowded dining-room to a door in the back.

Then, dodging a dozen hurrying waiters, we made our way down an incline
into the kitchen and through that apartment, past steam tables and
ranges and pots and kettles and other paraphernalia of the cuisine.

At the farther end of the room stood a massive affair of oak. It looked,
as nearly as it resembled any other thing on earth, like a piano box;
but on each side, near the top, was a huge fly-wheel, the two being
apparently fastened to the ends of an axle.

For the rest of the mechanism, it was all concealed. I rightly surmised
the monstrosity to be the Gasowashine.

The fly-wheels were revolving slowly, and this seemed to irritate
Hawkins.

“Good-evening, Mr. Macdougal,” he said to a puzzled looking gentleman,
who stood eying the affair. “Mr. Griggs, Mr. Macdougal, the manager. So
some one started it, did he?”

“One of the ‘buses happened to touch it, and it started itself,” replied
the manager, gazing on the contrivance. “It’s quite safe to have about,
is it not, Mr. Hawkins?”

“Safe? Certainly it is safe.”

“I mean to say, it won’t injure the dishes?” the gentleman continued,
with a doubtful smile. “You see, we have filled the main compartment
with hot water, as you directed, and put in three hundred pieces of our
best crockery.”

“Mr. Macdougal,” said Hawkins icily, “if one dish is broken, I’ll pay
for it and make you a present of the machine, if you say so. If you do
not wish to make the test, doubtless there are other hotel men in New
York who will appreciate its advantages.”

“Not at all, not at all,” cried the manager. “I appreciate fully----”

“All right,” said Hawkins shortly. “Now, the dishes are all in, are
they? Very well. I’ll explain the thing to Mr. Griggs and then start it.
You see, Griggs, the dishes are in here.”

He tapped the side of the big box.

“When I turn on the power, they are thoroughly rubbed and soused by my
Automatic Scrubber--a separate patent, by the way--and then they reach
this spot.”

He rapped upon the box near the end.

“Here they are forced against a continuous dish-towel, which runs across
rollers all the time. Just think of it! Sixty yards of dish-towel,
rolling over and over and over! After that--but you shall see how they
look after that. I’ll start her.”

He twisted a valve of some sort. The chugg-chugging became more
pronounced, and the fly-wheels revolved with very perceptibly increased
rapidity.

From somewhere inside the thing emanated a gentle rattle and swish of
crockery and suds. Hawkins stood back and regarded it proudly.

“There’s another great point about the Gasowashine, too,” he said. “As
you see, it’s too heavy to shove from place to place. What do we do?”

“Leave it where it is,” I hazarded.

“Not at all. We simply invert it! The whole business is water-tight.
Every door fits so closely that it’s impossible for a drop to escape.
Now, if I wished to move it to the other end of this room, I should
simply turn the Gasowashine upside down, allow it to rest upon the
fly-wheels, which keep on revolving of course, and steer it wherever I
desired.”

“And so you might go a little better and put on a saddle and a
steering-wheel and take a ride around the Park while you were washing
dishes?” I suggested, somewhat to the manager’s amusement.

“Possibly you think it’s impracticable?” Hawkins rapped out. “Perhaps
you don’t realize that there’s a five horsepower motor running that?”

“There, there, Hawkins,” I said soothingly, “if you say that
Washy-washine is good for a trans-kitchen on a transcontinental tour,
I’ll take your word for it.”

“You don’t have to!” cried the inventor wrathfully. “I’ll demonstrate
it. See here, you!”

This to a corpulent French gentleman in white, who had just flipped an
omelette to a platter and sent it upon its way. “Come and give me a hand
here. Just help turn this thing over.”

“_Comme cela?_” inquired the astonished cook, making pantomime with his
hands.

“Exactly. That’s right. Catch hold of the other side and don’t let go
until I tell you.”

The cook complied. Really, the Gasowashine seemed to turn more easily
than might have been expected from its huge bulk.

A strain or two, a puffed command from Hawkins, an ominous sliding about
of hidden dishes, and the machine lurched forward, poised a moment on
its edge and turned quite gently, so that the wheels approached the
floor.

“Now, easy! Easy!” cried Hawkins. “Don’t let the wheels down until
I tell you, and don’t let go till I give the word. Now down! Down!
Gently.”

The cook seemed to be feeling for a new grip.

“Here! What are you doing?” cried the inventor. “Don’t touch any of
those handles.”

“It is that I seek a place for ze hand,” murmured the cook
apologetically.

“Well, find it and let her down. Got your grip?”

“Aha! I have eet!” announced the Frenchman, clutching one of the brass
knobs.

“All right. Down!”

Down went the Gasowashine. And a very small fraction of one second later
things began to happen.

Each of Hawkins’ inventions possesses a latent devil. You have only to
brush against the handle or the valve or the string, or whatever it may
be that connects him with the outer world, and the demon awakes.

In this case, the cook must have pinched the tail of the devil of the
Gasowashine, for he sprang into action with a rush.

“Is it to release the hold?” asked the Frenchman as the wheels touched
the floor.

“No, not till I--hey!” cried Hawkins, starting back in amazement.

“Our--our dishes!” ejaculated the manager breathlessly.

The Gasowashine and the cook were traveling across the kitchen together.
The Frenchman, with remarkable presence of mind, was behind the machine
and dragging back with all his might; but as well could he have hauled
to a standstill the locomotive of the Empire State Express.

The Gasowashine, puffing heavily as any racing auto, had plans of its
own and was executing them to the accompaniment of a simply appalling
rattle of crockery.

“Don’t let go! Don’t let go!” cried Hawkins. “Keep hold, my man!”

“I do! I do! _Mais, mon Dieu!_” called the Frenchman jerkily.

“But, Mr. Hawkins,” gasped the manager as we hurried after, “what will
become of our china?”

“The devil take your china!” snapped Hawkins, forgetful of his recent
guarantee. “If they run into the wall, it’ll break the motor!”

They were not going to run into the wall. The Gasowashine approached
the side of the apartment, swerved easily to the left, and made for the
incline which led to the hotel dining-room.

“Good gracious!” screamed the manager. “Not up there! Knock that thing
over on its side, Henri!”

“Don’t you do it, Henri,” cried Hawkins. “If you do it’ll smash.”

“Let it smash!” roared the manager. “Throw it over, Henri!”

“But I cannot,” gasped the Frenchman as the Gasowashine sets its wheels
upon the incline.

“Here! Somebody get in front of that thing!” commanded Macdougal. “Don’t
let it go up. Knock it over!”

“If you knock that over!” stormed Hawkins, springing to the side of his
contrivance and feeling excitedly for the valve which should shut off
the supply of gasolene.

Two or three waiters, having in mind that their jobs depended upon
Macdougal’s approbation rather than Hawkins’ strove to obey the former’s
injunction. They ran to the fore end of the Gasowashine and seized it
and pushed back upon it and sideways.

And did the Gasowashine mind? Hardly.

It bowled the first man over so neatly that he fell squarely beneath one
of his fellows, who was descending loaded with dishes. It rolled one of
its wheels across the toes of the next antagonist, and drew from him a
shriek which sent people in the dining-room to their feet.

After that _coup_, the Gasowashine had things all its own way on the
incline.

The French cook still maintained his hold. Hawkins pranced alongside and
fumbled feverishly, first with that knob, then with this little wheel.

Several of them he managed to move, but to no good end. Whether
excitement had confused Hawkins’ mind on the details of his invention I
cannot say; but certainly, far from controlling the Gasowashine, he made
matters worse.

The machine puffed harder, the wheels revolved more rapidly, and the
whole affair climbed steadily toward the dining-room, dragging the
tenacious cook along the incline in a sitting posture.

Thus was made the first public appearance of the Gasowashine, to the
utter amazement of some hundred diners.

Bursting through the doors, it snorted for a moment, and seemed to be
considering the long rows of tables before it. Several waiters, gasping
with astonishment at the uncouth apparition, ran to check its progress.

That seemed to stir the Gasowashine anew. It emitted a sharp puff of
rage and plunged headlong forward.

Hawkins pranced along by its side, half turning as he ran to cry:

“Now, just--just make way, ladies and gentlemen, please. It’s not at all
dangerous. Just make way.”

They made way, without losing any undue amount of time.

One or two women fainted unostentatiously.

Most of them, men and women, scrambled away from the main aisle,
which seemed to have been selected by the Gasowashine for its further
performances.

“Hawkins,” I panted when I had managed to regain breath, “why don’t you
knock the cursed thing over?”

“There, there, there, Griggs,” sizzled Hawkins, dashing the perspiration
from his eyes. “I’ve almost control of it now. I’ll just shut off
this----”

He gave a powerful twist at one of the handles.

“That’ll----” he began.

“Pouff!” roared the Gasowashine, rearing up and lunging wildly from side
to side for a moment.

Then it started down the aisle in earnest. Bang! Bang! Bang! echoed
from the crockery inside. Puff! Puff! Puff! said the motor, driving its
hardest.

[Illustration: “_I shall let go? Yes?_”]

“_Ciel!_” wailed the cook “I shall let it go? Yes?”

“No!” shouted Hawkins, running beside the unhappy man. “In just a second
it’ll----”

It did, although not perhaps what Hawkins expected.

I saw a little door in the side of the infernal machine flip open. I
perceived a shower of finely subdivided crockery hanging over the cook
for a moment.

Then the bits of china and some two or three gallons of greasy water
descended upon the Frenchman and the door flipped to once more. The
Gasowashine had dislodged the cook and was free to pursue its wanderings
unhindered.

And certainly it made the most of the opportunity.

For three or four yards it bumped along, ramming its top-heavy nose
into the carpet and seeming to become more and more enraged at its
slow progress. Then it paused a moment and pawed at the floor with its
whizzing wheels.

I fancied that I could upset it then, and sprang forward to do so,
regardless of Hawkins.

I might have known better. I was within perhaps ten feet of the
Gasowashine when another door, this time a smaller one toward the front,
squeaked for a moment and then flew open. Simultaneously a bolt of
something white shot forth and made for my head.

Regardless of appearances, I dropped flat to the floor and wriggled out
of the danger zone.

When I arose, I realized what new disaster had taken place. It was the
sixty yards of dish-towel this time!

Presumably, a roller had smashed and released the thing; at any rate,
there it was, yard after yard of it, trailing after the Gasowashine as
it thumped energetically toward the street door.

And that was not the worst. The end of the toweling entwined itself
about one of the dining-tables and held there. The table went over,
collided with the next and emptied that, too.

Then the next followed and the next, each new crash echoed by the
frightened squeals of the guests, now lined up against the opposite
walls.

The tenth table, with its load of crockery and glassware, had been
sent to destruction before Macdougal, the manager, finally gained the
dining-room. Tears rose to his eyes as he made a rapid survey of the
havoc, but he kept his wits and shouted:

“Knock it over! Somebody knock it over!” A big military-looking man in
evening clothes sprang forward. I offered a prayer for him and held my
breath. He rushed to the Gasowashine, seized it with his mighty arms,
and gave a shove.

“M-m-m-mister,” quavered Hawkins, wriggling from under one of the
tables, “don’t do that! The g-g-g-gasolene tank!”

But it was done. With a dull crash, the only perfect machine for washing
and drying dishes fell to its side. The big man smiled at it.

And then--well, then a sheet of flame seemed to envelope the
unfortunate. A heavy boom shook the apartment, the big glass door
splintered musically and fell inward, the lights in that end of the room
were extinguished.

Then followed the screams of the terrified guests, the patter of
numberless fragments of crockery and countless drops of filthy dishwater
as they reached the floor. And then the big man picked himself up
some twenty feet from the spot where he had dared the wrath of the
Gasowashine.

And Hawkins standing majestically in the wreck of a table, with one
foot in a salad bowl and the other oozing nesselrode pudding, while an
unbroken stream of mayonnaise dressing meandered down the back of his
coat--Hawkins, standing thus, shook his fist at the big man and, above
the turmoil, shouted at him:

“I told you so!”

Such was the fate of the first, last, and only Gasowashine.

Bellboys, clerks, and waiters pelted with hand grenades its smoldering
remains and squirted chemical fire-extinguishers upon it; but the
Gasowashine’s day was done. Its turbulent spirit had passed to another
sphere.

Later, when some measure of order had been restored to the dining-room,
when the door had been boarded up and the inquisitive police satisfied
and the street crowd dispersed; when a sympathetic waiter had partially
cleansed Hawkins, and that gentleman had suggested that we might as well
depart, he received a peremptory invitation to call upon the proprietor
in his private office.

The proprietor was a calm, cold man. He viewed Hawkins with an
inscrutable stare for some time before he spoke.

“I hardly know, Mr. Hawkins,” he said at last, “whom to blame for this.”

“Well, I know! That hulking lummox who knocked over my----”

“At any rate, the machine was yours, I fear you will have to pay for the
damage.”

“I will, eh?” blustered Hawkins. “Well, I told your man Macdougal that
if one dish was broken I’d pay for it. Here’s the dollar for the dish!
Come, Griggs.”

“Um-um. So you refuse to settle?” smiled the proprietor.

“Absolutely and positively!” declared Hawkins.

“Well, I think that, pending a suit for damages, I can have you held
on a charge of disorderly conduct,” mused the calm man. “Mr. Macdougal,
will you kindly call an officer?”

Hawkins wilted at that. His checkbook came forth, and the string of
figures he was compelled to write made my heart bleed.

When he had exchanged the slip for a receipt, Hawkins and I made for the
side door and slunk out into the night.

The Gasowashine, I presume, or such combustible fragments as remained,
found an inglorious grave next day in the ranges of the same kitchen
which had witnessed the start of its short little life.



CHAPTER VII.


Perhaps some of the blame should rest upon the barbaric habit of having
Sunday dinner in the middle of the afternoon.

Had it been evening when Hawkins and his better half sat down to
dinner with us, it would not, naturally, have been daylight; and much
unpleasantness might have been avoided, for the gas had not yet been
turned on in the modeled Hawkins residence, and an inspection would have
been impossible.

Again, I may have started the trouble myself by bringing up the subject
of the renovations.

“Yes, the work’s all done,” said Hawkins, with a more genial air than he
usually exhibited when that topic was touched. “I tell you, it’s a model
home now.”

“Particularly in containing no new inventions by its owner,” added Mrs.
Hawkins.

“Oh, those may come later,” said the gifted inventor, casting a
complacent wink in my direction.

“Not if I have anything to say about it,” replied the lady rather
tartly. “We escaped with our lives when the house was wrecked, but next
time----”

“Madam,” flared Hawkins, “if you knew what that house----”

Just here my wife broke in with a spasmodic remark anent the doings of
the Russians in Manchuria, and a discussion of the merits of Hawkins’
inventions was happily averted.

But the spunky light didn’t die out of Hawkins’ eye. He appeared to
be nursing something beside wrath, and when we arose from the table he
remarked shortly:

“Come up to the house, Griggs, and smoke a cigar while we look it over.”

“And note the charm of the inventionless home,” supplemented his wife.

“Inventionless fiddlestick!” snapped Hawkins as he slammed the door
behind us. “It’s a wonder to me that women weren’t created either with
sense or without tongues.”

I made no comment and we walked in silence to the Hawkins house.

It had been done over in a style which must have made Hawkins’ bank
account look like an Arabian grain field after a particularly bad locust
year; but beyond noting the general beauty of the decorations, I found
nothing remarkable until we reached the second floor.

There, as we gazed from the back windows, it struck me that something
familiar had departed, and I asked:

“What’s become of the fire-escape?”

“Don’t you see, eh?” said the inventor, with a prodigiously mysterious
smile.

“Hardly. Have you made it invisible?”

“No and yes,” chuckled Hawkins. “What would you say, Griggs, to a
fire-escape that you kept indoors until it was needed?”

“I should say ‘nay, nay,’ if any one wanted me to use it.”

“No, I mean--oh, come up-stairs and I’ll show it to you at once.”

“Show me what, Hawkins?” I cried, detaining him with a firm hand. “Is it
another contrivance? Has it a motor? Does it use gasolene or gunpowder
or dynamite?”

“No, it does not!” said the inventor gruffly, trudging toward the top of
the house.

“There!” he exclaimed when we had reached the upper floor. “That’s it.
What do you think of it?”

It was a device of strange appearance. It seemed to be a huge
clothes-basket, such as is used for transportation of the family “wash,”
 and it was piled with what appeared to be the remains of as many white
sun-umbrellas as could have been collected at half a dozen seaside
resorts.

“What is it?” I said with a blank smile. “Junk?”

“No, it’s not junk. That mass of ribs and white silk which looks like
junk to your unaccustomed eye constitutes a set of aeroplanes or wings.”

“But the other thing is merely the common or domestic variety of
wash-basket, is it not?”

“Well--er--yes,” admitted Hawkins with cold dignity. “That happened to
be the most suitable thing for my purpose in this experimental model.
Now, you see, when the wings are spread the basket is suspended beneath
just as the car of a balloon is suspended from a gas-bag, and----”

“Aha! I see it all now!” I cried. “You fill the basket, point it in the
right direction, and it flaps its wings and flies away to the washlady!”

“That, Griggs,” sneered Hawkins, “is about the view a poor little brain
like yours, permeated with cheap humor, would take. Really, I don’t
suppose you could guess the purpose or the name of that thing if you
tried a week.”

“Candidly, I don’t think I could. What is it?”

“It’s the Hawkins Anti-Fire-Fly!” said the inventor.

“The Hawkins--what?” I ejaculated.

“The Anti-Fire-Fly!” repeated Hawkins enthusiastically. “Say, Griggs,
how that will sound in an advertisement: ‘Fly Away From Fire With The
Anti-Fire-Fly!’ Great, isn’t it?”

“So it’s a fire escape?”

“Certainly,” chuckled Hawkins, digging around among the ribs and
bringing into tangible shape what looked like several sets of huge
bird-wings. “No more climbing down red-hot ladders through belching
flames! No more children being thrown from fifth story windows! No,
siree! All we have to do now is to place the Anti-Fire-Fly on the
window-sill, spread the wings, jump into the basket, push her off,
and----”

“And drop to instant death!”

“And float gently away from the fire and down to the earth!” concluded
Hawkins, opening the window and shoving out the basket until it fairly
hung over the back yard. “Just watch me.”

“See here!” I cried. “You’re not going to get into that thing?”

“I’m not, eh? You watch me!”

Hawkins had clambered into the basket before I could lay a hand on him.

“Now!” he cried, giving a push with his foot.

My breathing apparatus seemed to go on strike. Hawkins, basket, wings,
and all dropped from the window.

For an instant they went straight toward the earth; then, like a
parachute opening, the wings spread gracefully, the descent slackened,
and Hawkins floated down, down, down--until he landed in the center of
the yard without a jar.

Really, I was amazed. It seemed to be either a special dispensation of
Providence or an invention of Hawkins’ which really worked.

A minute or two later he had labored back to my side, up the stairs,
with the aerial fire-escape on his back.

“There!” he exclaimed. “What do you think of that?”

“It certainly seems to be a success.”

“Well, rather! Now come up to the roof and have a drop with me. We’ll go
into the street this time, and----”

“Thank you, Hawkins,” I said, positively. “Don’t count me in on that.
I’ll wait for the fire before dabbling with your Anti-Fire-Fly.”

“Oh, well, come with me, anyway. I’m going down once more. You’ve no
idea of the sensation.”

It was a considerable feat of engineering to persuade the Anti-Fire-Fly
into passing through the scuttle, but Hawkins finally accomplished it,
and pushed the contrivance to the edge of the roof.

“Now that thing will carry a small family with ease and safety,” he said
proudly. “Just sit down in the basket and feel the roominess. Oh, don’t
be afraid. I’ll come, too.”

“Yes, it’s very nice,” I said somewhat nervously, after crouching beside
him for a moment. “I think I’ll get out now.”

“All ri--oh! Here! Wait!” cried Hawkins, grabbing my coat and pulling me
back. “Sit down!”

“What for?”

“The--the--the wings!” stuttered the inventor. “The--the wind!”

“Great Scott!” I shouted as a sudden breeze caught the wings and tilted
the basket far to one side. “Let me out!”

“No, no!” shrieked Hawkins wildly. “You’ll break your neck, man! We’re
right on the edge of the roof now, and----”

And we were over the edge!

There was the street--miles below! Sickening dread choked me. I closed
my eyes and gripped the basket as the accursed thing swayed from side to
side and threatened every instant to precipitate us on the hard stones.

But it grew steadier presently. I looked about.

There was Hawkins hanging on for dear life, and white as death, but
still serene. There, also, were numerous graveled roofs--some twenty
feet below.

We were going up! Also, I was startled to note that the high wind was
driving us down-town at a rapid pace.

“See here, Hawkins!” I said. “What does this mean?”

“M-m-means that a big wind has caught us,” replied the inventor with a
sickly smile.

“And when do you suppose it’s going to let go of us?”

“Well--we--we may be able to catch one of those high roofs over there,”
 murmured Hawkins with assurance that did not reassure. “You--you know we
can’t go up very far, Griggs. This thing was not built for flying.”

“For anything that wasn’t made for the purpose, it’s doing wonders,” I
retorted. Then a sudden puff sent us up fully ten feet. “Heavens! There
goes our chance at those roofs!”

“Dear me! So it does!” muttered the inventor as we sailed gracefully
over the chimney-tops. “How unfortunate!”

“It’ll be a lot more unfortunate when we pitch down into the street!” I
snarled.

“Now, Griggs,” said Hawkins argumentatively as we sped down-town on the
steadily rising wind, “why do you always take this pessimistic view of
things? Can’t you see--is it beyond your little mental scope to realize
that we have fairly fallen over a great discovery, something that men
have been seeking for ages? Don’t you comprehend, from the very fact of
our being up here and still rising that these wings accidentally embody
the vital principles of the dirigible----”

“Oh, dry up!” I growled as we flitted swiftly past a church steeple.

Hawkins regarded me sadly, and I sadly regarded the street below and
tried to assimilate the fact that we were two hundred feet above
the ground and rising at every puff of wind; that we were in a crazy
clothes-basket, suspended from a crazier pair of wings, absolutely at
the mercy of the breeze and likely at any moment to drop to eternal
smash!

I did realize, without any effort, that my lower limbs were developing
excruciating shooting pains from the cramped position.

The time passed very slowly. The houses below passed with astounding
rapidity.

I thought of our wives, sitting calmly in my home, ignorant of our
plight. I wondered what their sentiments would be when some kindly
ambulance surgeon had brought home such fragments of Hawkins and me as
might have been collected with a dust-pan and brush.

I wondered whether the accursed Anti-Fire-Fly would dump us out and
flutter away into eternity, to leave our fate unexplained, or whether it
would accompany us to our doom and be found gloating over the respective
grease-spots that would represent all that was mortal of Hawkins and
myself.

And at about this point in my meditations, I noted that we were sailing
over Union Square.

“Isn’t it fine?” cried Hawkins enthusiastically. “You never came
down-town like this before, Griggs.”

“I never expect to again, Hawkins,” I sighed.

“Why not? Why, Griggs, this thing is only the nucleus of my future
airship, and yet see how it floats! Oh, I’ve thought it all out in the
last five minutes. It’s astonishing that it never occurred to me before.
Now, these wings, you see, are so constructed----”

“See here, Hawkins,” I said, “do you mean to say that you expect to get
out of this thing alive?”

“Certainly,” replied the inventor in astonishment. “There’s no danger. I
can see that now, although I was a trifle startled at first. It’s only
a matter of minutes when we shall go near enough to one of those big
office buildings to grab it and stop ourselves.”

“And clamber down the side--twenty or thirty stories?”

“And even if we can’t land, we shan’t fall. The construction of these
wings is such----”

“Oh, hang the construction of your wings!” I cried. “We’re going right
toward the bay--suppose the wind dies down and lets us into the water?”

“Well, these wings are water-proof, you know,” said Hawkins. “They
might----”

“Yes, and the bay might dry up, so that we could walk back if we escaped
being broken in pieces, Hawkins,” I sneered.

Hawkins subsided. The breeze did not.

It was one of the most impolitely persistent breezes I have ever
encountered. It seemed bent on landing us in New York harbor, and before
many minutes we were suspended high above that expansive, and in some
circumstances, charming body of water.

[Illustration: “_Before many minutes we were suspended high above that
expansive, and in some circumstances charming, body of water_.”]

Furthermore, having wafted us something like a quarter of a mile from
shore, it proceeded to die out in a manner which was, to say the least,
disheartening.

Hawkins grew paler by perceptible shades as we progressed, ever nearer
the water and farther from hope; and it was not until I opened my mouth
to vent a few last invidious criticisms of him and his methods that the
inventor’s face brightened.

“By Jove, Griggs! Look! That ferry-boat! That fellow on the roof! He’s
got a boat-hook! Hey! Hey! Hey! you!”

The individual gazed aloft and nearly collapsed with astonishment.

“Catch us!” bawled the inventor frantically. “Catch the basket with that
hook! We want to come aboard! Hurry up!”

The boat was going in our direction and rather faster. The man on the
roof seemed to comprehend. He reached up with his hook. He leaped a
couple of times in vain.

And then we felt a shock which told of our capture! I breathed a long,
happy sigh.

In dealing with Hawkins’ inventions, long, happy sighs are premature
unless you are positive that your entire anatomical structure is
complete, and likewise certain that the contrivance lies at your feet in
a condition of total wreck.

The basket was suspended from a thin, steel frame, from which several
dozen stout cords rose to that idiotic pair of wings. When we were
fairly caught, Hawkins cried:

“Now, Griggs, stand up and catch the frame and pull the whole business
down with us. And you, down there, pull hard! Pull hard, now!”

I seized the steel frame on one side, Hawkins on the other, and we
pulled. And the man with the boat-hook pulled. And at the psychological
moment the wind rose afresh and pulled at the wings with a mighty pull!

Some seconds of dizzy swirling in the air, and the clothes-basket
portion of the Anti-Fire-Fly lay on the roof of the ferry-boat, while
Hawkins and I hung far above, entangled in the cords and clutching them
wildly and rising steadily once more!

“Great Caesar’s ghost!” gurgled the inventor. “This is awful!”

“Awful!” I gasped when breath had returned. “It’s--it’s----”

“Lord! Lord! We’re going straight for Staten Island. Don’t move,
Griggs.”

“I can’t,” I said. “I’m caught tight here. Good-by, Hawkins.”

“We’re--we’re not done for yet,” quavered that individual. “We may hit
land. But isn’t--isn’t it terrible?”

“Oh, no,” I groaned. “It’s all right. No more climbing down red-hot
ladders through belching flames! No more throwing children from----”

“Don’t joke, Griggs,” wailed Hawkins. “I will say I’m sorry I got you
into this.”

“Thank you, Hawkins,” I said, nearly strangled by a cord which persisted
in twisting itself about my neck. “So am I.”

Conversation lagged after that. For my part, I was too dazed and too
firmly enmeshed in the cords to say much.

I fancy that the same applied to Hawkins, but he happened to be facing
ahead, and now and then he called back bulletins of our progress.

“Getting nearer the island,” he announced after some ten minutes of the
agony.

A little later: “Thank Heaven! We’re almost over land!”

And still later, when I had been choked and twisted almost into
insensibility by the eccentric dives of the affair and the consequent
tightening of the cords, he revived me with:

“By George, Griggs, we’re sinking toward land!”

I managed to look downward. Hawkins had told the truth. The wind was
indeed going down, and with it the remains of the Anti-Fire-Fly.

Beneath appeared a big factory, its chimney belching forth black smoke
in disregard of the Sabbath, and we seemed likely to land within its
precincts.

“I knew it! I knew it!” Hawkins cried joyfully. “We’re safe, after all,
just as I said. We’ll drop just outside the fence.”

“Thank the Lord,” I murmured.

“No! No! We’ll drop right on that heap of dirt!” predicted Hawkins
excitedly. “Yes, sir, that’s where we’ll drop. D’ye see that fellow
wheeling a wheelbarrow toward the pile? Hey!”

The man glanced up in amazement.

“Farther down every minute!” pursued Hawkins. “I knew we’d be all right!
Maybe the Anti-Fire-Fly isn’t such a bad thing after all, eh?”

“Maybe not,” I sighed. “But I’ll take the red-hot ladder.”

“Go ahead and take it,” chattered the inventor. “We’re not thirty feet
from the ground and steering straight for that dirt-pile. Yes, sir, the
wind’s gone down completely. Hooray!”

“Hey, youse!” shouted the man with the wheelbarrow, somewhat excitedly.

“Well?” bawled Hawkins.

“Steer away from it!” continued the workman, waving his arms at the
pile.

“We can’t steer,” replied Hawkins cheerfully. “But it’s all right.”

“The poile! The poile! Sure, we’ve just drew the foire, an’ thim’s the
hot coals! Be careful o’ the cinder poile!”

“What did he say?” asked Hawkins superciliously.

“‘Be careful of the cinder pile,’ I think.”

“Oh, we won’t hurt your old cinder pile!” called the inventor jocosely,
as the wreck of the Anti-Fire-Fly swooped down with a rush.

“But the cinders!” howled the man. “Bedad! They’re into it! Mike! Mike!
Bring the hose! The hose!”

And we _were_ into it.

A final rush of air and we struck the pile with a thud. And for my part,
I had no sooner landed than I bounced to my feet with a shriek, for
that cinder pile was about the hottest proposition it has ever been my
misfortune to meet.

The cords were all about me, and as I pulled wildly in one direction, I
could feel Hawkins pulling as wildly in the opposite.

“Let go! Let go, Griggs!” he screamed. “Come my way! Lord! I’m all
afire! Come, quick!”

“I’m not going to climb back over that infernal heap!” I shouted. “You
come this way!”

“But my feet! They’re burning, and----”

A mighty stream of water knocked me headlong to the ground. Sizzling,
steaming on the red-hot cinders, it caught Hawkins and hurled his
panting person to the other side, Anti-Fire-Fly and all. Mike had
arrived with the hose.

After a period of wallowing in water and mud I regained my feet.

Hawkins was already standing a little distance away, torn, scorched,
drenched, black with cinders and staring wild-eyed about him.

“Why--why--Griggs,” he mumbled, “what--did--we----”

“Oh, we flew away from fire with the Anti-Fire-Fly!” I said.

Such was the end of the Anti-Fire-Fly.

Attired in such of our own raiment as had survived the cinder pile and
the hose, and in other bits of clothing contributed by kindly factory
workmen, we took the next boat for New York, and a cab thereafter.

We reached home in time to see the ladies mounting the Hawkins’ steps,
presumably to investigate the reason for our prolonged inspection.

For a few moments they seemed quite incapable of speech. Mrs. Hawkins
was the first to regain the use of her tongue.

“Herbert,” she said in an ominously calm tone, “what was it this time?”

Hawkins smiled foolishly.

“It was the Hawkins Anti-Fire-Fly,” I said spitefully. “Fly away
from fire with the Anti-Fire-Fly, you know. Tell your wife about it,
Hawkins.”

Then Mrs. Hawkins addressed her husband and said--but let that pass.

We have all the essential facts of the case as it is. Moreover, a
successful author told me last week that unhappy endings are in the
worst possible taste just now.



CHAPTER VIII.


Hawkins and his wife had been just one month in their new house.

My memory on that point is particularly clear, for the Executive
Committee of the Ladies’ Missionary Society met at Hawkins’ home the
very day they moved in officially; and it had been hanging over me, more
or less, that the next assembly of that body was to be held at my own
residence.

Not that I am in any way unsympathetic as to church work and benighted
savages and such matters; but when half a dozen women get together and
discuss a few heathen and a great many hats and similar things, the
solitary man in the house is apt to feel----

At any rate, when I saw Mrs. Hawkins enter my door that evening, the
first of the Executive Committee to arrive, I experienced a sinking
sensation for the moment. Then I secured my hat, mumbled a few excuses,
and disappeared, to see how Hawkins was spending the evening.

The inventor himself answered my ring.

“Ah, Griggs,” he remarked. “Committee talk you out of the house?”

“Something of the sort,” I admitted.

“Glad you came in. There’s something I want to--but hang up your hat.”

“Hawkins,” I said, closing the door, “why do you pay a large overfed
English gentleman to stand around the premises if it’s necessary for you
to answer the bell? I’m not much on style, you know, but----”

“William? Oh, it’s his night out,” laughed Hawkins. “I believe the cook
and the girls have gone, too, for that matter.”

“Then we’re altogether alone?”

“Yes,” said the inventor comfortably, pushing forward one of the big
library chairs for my accommodation, “all alone in the house.”

“And it’s a mighty nice house,” I mused, gazing into the next apartment,
the dining-room. “That’s a splendid room, Hawkins.”

“Isn’t it?” smiled Hawkins, drawing back the heavy curtains rather
proudly. “Most of the little wrinkles are my own ideas, too.”

“That sideboard?” I asked, indicating a frail-looking but artistic bit
of furniture built into the wall.

“That, too--combination of sideboard and silver-safe.”

“Safe!” I laughed. “You don’t keep the silver in there?”

“Why not?”

“My dear man, any one could pry that door off with a pen-knife.”

“Admitted. But supposing your ‘any one’ to be a burglar, he’d have to
get to the door before he could pry it off, would he not, Griggs?”

“Burglars do not, as a rule, find great difficulty in entering the
average house,” I suggested.

“Aha! That’s just it--the average house!” cried the inventor. “This
isn’t the average house, Griggs. The burglar who tries to get into this
particular house is distinctly up against it!”

“Indeed?”

“Yes, sir! The crook that attempts a nocturnal entrance here has my
sincere and heartfelt sympathy.”

“Hawkins’ Patent Automatic Burglar Alarm?” I suggested.

“What the deuce are you sneering at?” snapped the inventor. “No, there’s
no patent burglar alarm in this house.”

“Hawkins’ Steel Dynamite-Proof Shutters?”

Hawkins ignored the remark and busied himself lighting a cigar.

“Hawkins’ Triple-Expansion Spring-Gun?” I hazarded once more.

“Oh, drop it! Drop it!” cried Hawkins. “Positively, Griggs, your efforts
at humor disgust one. In some ways, you are as bad as a woman. Go back
and sit with the Executive Committee.”

“What’s the connection?”

“Why, the thing I expected to show you in a few minutes is the very same
one which my wife fought against for two weeks, before she let me put
it into operation peacefully!” Hawkins burst out. “There’s where the
connection comes in between your degenerate little wits and those of the
generality of women.”

“If it was an invention, I don’t blame your wife one little bit,
Hawkins,” I said. “I can see just how she must have felt about----”

“There’s the evening paper, if you want to read,” spat forth the
inventor, poking the sheet across the library table.

Therewith he turned his back squarely upon me and settled down to a
book.

It wasn’t polite of Hawkins.

Indeed, after a short space the situation waxed distinctly
uncomfortable; and although I am pretty well accustomed to the
inventor’s moods, I must admit that in another five minutes I should
have cleared out had it not been for a rather unexpected happening.

Hawkins was sitting near the window--in fact, his chair brushed the
hangings. As I sat gazing pensively at the back of his neck, a sudden
breeze swayed the curtains above him.

There was an undue amount of swishing overhead, it seemed to me.
Something near the top of the window, and concealed by the hangings,
rattled distinctly; simultaneously a gong struck sharply somewhere
up-stairs.

Hawkins whirled about, a most remarkable expression on his lately sullen
countenance. As nearly as I could analyze it, it was a mixture of joy,
excitement, and trembling expectancy.

“One!” he exclaimed.

The bell struck again.

“Two!” cried Hawkins. “By Jove! That’s----”

Crash!

Out of the curtains something dropped heavily on the inventor!

For an instant it held the appearance of a grain sack, but there
was something distinctly solid about it, too, for it dealt Hawkins a
resounding whack upon his cranium before it rolled to the floor.

“Phew!” he gasped, sinking back into his chair caressing the bump with
an unsteady hand. “That--that did startle me, Griggs!”

“I shouldn’t wonder,” I smiled. “What on earth did you have concealed up
there?”

“Aha! You’d never guess,” remarked Hawkins, his ill-humor departed.

“No, I don’t believe I should,” I mused, staring at the pile of canvas
on the floor. “Did the painters leave it?”

“They did not,” replied Hawkins coldly. “That, Griggs, is the Hawkins
Crook-Trap!”

“Hawkins--Crook-Trap!” I repeated.

“That’s what I said,” pursued the gentleman. “Possibly--now--it may
not be past your understanding to grasp why I feel so secure about that
flimsy little silver-safe.”

“I think I see. The burglar, presumably, comes in at the window, is
knocked senseless by your trap, and next morning you find and capture
him as you go down to breakfast?”

“Nothing of the sort. Look here.” Hawkins picked up the affair.

As he grasped the end, the thing hung downward and showed itself to be
a long canvas bag, fully large enough to contain the upper half of
the average man. It was distended, too, by ribs, and appeared to be of
considerable weight.

“There she is--just a bag, telescoped and hung on a frame above the
window. The burglar steps in, the bag is released, drops over him, these
circular steel ribs contract and clutch his arms like a vise--and there
you are! How’s that for an idea, Griggs?”

“Looks good,” I assented.

“Moreover, the same spring which releases the ribs breaks a bottle of
chloroform,” continued the inventor enthusiastically. “It runs into a
hood, is pressed against the burglar’s nose, and two minutes later the
man is stark and stiff on the floor!

“Meanwhile the annunciator bell tells me what window has been opened.
I ring up the police--and it’s all over with the man who tried to break
in.”

“It sounds all right,” I admitted. “Why didn’t it do all that just now?”

“Just now? Oh--you mean--just now?” stammered the inventor. “Well, it
did do practically all of that, didn’t it? The window wasn’t opened,
anyway--it was the breeze that knocked down the thing. Furthermore, the
ones on this floor aren’t adjusted yet--I only got them from the fellow
who made them to-day.

“But up-stairs they’re all fixed--chloroform and all, ready for the
burglar. I tell you, Griggs, when this crook-trap of mine is on every
window in New York City, there’ll be a sensation in criminal circles!”

“Very likely. How much does it cost?”

“Um--well--er--well it cost me about--er--one hundred dollars a window,
Griggs, but----”

“About twenty windows to the average house,” I murmured. “Two thousand
dollars for----”

“Well, it won’t cost a tenth of that when I’m having the parts turned
out in quantities,” cried Hawkins, with considerable heat. “Why under
the sun do you always try to throw a wet blanket over everything?
Suppose it does cost two thousand dollars to equip a house with my
crook-trap? If a man has ten thousand dollars’ worth of silverware,
he’ll be willing enough to spend----”

I laughed. It wasn’t meant for a nasty laugh at all--it was simply
amusement at the inventor’s emotionalism. But it riled Hawkins.

“Where the devil does the joke come in?” he thundered. “If I----”

“Hush!” I cried.

“I won’t hush! I----”

“Two!” I counted. “Be quiet.”

Hawkins calmed down on the instant.

“Was--was it the bell?” he whispered.

Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!

The gong up-stairs had chimed six times and stopped.

I stared at Hawkins, and Hawkins at me, and the inventor’s countenance
went white.

Far above, the evening calm was disturbed by a stamping and threshing
noise, punctuated now and then by a muffled shout.

“There!” cried the inventor. There was a wealth of satisfaction in that
one word.

“Well, somebody’s caught,” I said.

“You bet he is!” replied Hawkins, with a nervous chuckle. “Six
bells--that’s the top story back--one of the servants’ rooms. Somebody
must have thought the house deserted and come in from the roof.”

Bang! Bang! Bang! The intruder wasn’t submitting to the caresses of the
crook-trap without a struggle. Also, from the volume and vigor of
the racket, it was painfully clear that the intruder was a robust
individual.

“Well?” said Hawkins, still staring at me with a rigid smile.

“Well?”

“Well, we’ve got to go up there and capture him,” announced the
inventor, gathering himself for the task. “Come on.”

“Not just yet, thank you. We’ll let the chloroform get in its work
first.”

“But don’t you want to see the thing in actual operation?”

“Hawkins, if any one could have less curiosity about anything than I
have about seeing your crook-trap in operation----”

“All right, stay down here if you like. I’m going up.”

“Suppose your burglar gets loose?” I argued. “Suppose he has a big,
wicked revolver, and learns that you’re responsible for the way he’s
been handled?”

Hawkins walked resolutely and silently toward the stairs. As for me,
curiosity as to his fate bested my judgment. I followed.

As we neared the top of the house, the thumping and hammering grew
louder and more vicious; and when we finally stood outside the door, the
din was actually deafening.

“That’s--that’s either William’s room or the cook’s,” said Hawkins, with
a slight quaver in his tones. “He’s going it, isn’t he?”

“He certainly is. Let’s stay here, Hawkins.”

“No, sir. I’m going in to watch it. He’s not loose, that’s sure.”

Hawkins opened the door very gently.

Inside, the room was dark--not pitch dark, but that semi-gloom of a city
room whose only light comes from an arc lamp half a block away.

The air was heavy and sickening with the fumes of chloroform. They
fairly sent my head a-reeling, but their effect upon the burglar seemed
to have been nil.

Over by the window a huge form was hurling itself to and fro, from wall
to wall and back again, in the frantic endeavor to gain freedom. The bag
enveloped his head and shoulders, but a mighty pair of arms within the
bag were straining and tearing at the fabric, and a couple of long,
muscular legs kicked madly at everything within reach.

Every few seconds, too, a puffed oath added spice to the excitement, as
the captive wrenched and strained.

On the whole, the scene was a bit too gruesome to be humorous. As a rule
I can see the funny side of Hawkins’ doings; but the fun departed
from this particular mess at the thought of what would happen when the
colossus finally emerged from the bag and commenced operations upon
Hawkins and myself--neither of us athletes.

“He’s caught, isn’t he, Griggs?” stuttered Hawkins, clutching my arm.

“For the moment,” I replied. “But come--let’s get an officer. If that
canvas gives----”

“Gives!” sneered the inventor. “Why that canvas----”

“Gawd! If I gets yer!” screamed the man in the bag.

“Oh, great Caesar!” gulped Hawkins. “It’s--it’s getting horrible, isn’t
it?”

“Aha! I heard yer then, ye cur!” roared the captive.

Hawkins’ hand on my arm shook violently.

“We--we’ll have to do something with him,” he whispered. “What shall it
be? We’ve got to subdue him, somehow or other.”

“Why not let the chloroform work while we go out and get a couple of
policemen?”

“Well, you see, it doesn’t seem to be working, Griggs. Don’t know why,
but--phew! Did you hear that rip?”

I had heard it. I had also seen the silhouette of a long arm appear
against the dim light of the window.

“Oh, Lord!” gasped Hawkins. “It’s given somewhere! We’ll have to squelch
him now inside of ten seconds or--what the deuce shall I do, Griggs?”

“Take a chair and stun him,” I replied. “That’s all I can suggest. And
personally I don’t care for the job.”

“Well--somebody’s got to do something,” groaned the inventor, seizing
one of the bedroom chairs. “If ever he gets loose--say, where are you
going, Griggs?”

“Just into the hall,” I said. “I’m going to light the gas and watch the
battle from a safe distance.”

Hawkins clutched his chair and stared at me like a man in a nightmare.
His expression reminded me of the day when, as a boy on the farm, I took
the hatchet and started out to kill my first chicken. I felt just as
Hawkins looked that evening in the dark doorway of the bedroom.

“D’ye suppose it’ll kill him?” he choked. “Griggs, do you think----”

A long rip resounded from the darkness. A triumphant shout followed.

Hawkins turned swiftly, raised his chair, and darted toward the man in
the bag.

There was a crash, a shout, a dull blow, and a heavy fall--and just then
I managed to light the gas.

Literally, I caught my breath and rubbed my eyes. For a few seconds
the scene dumfounded me past action; but shortly I hurried into the
apartment and struck another light.

Hawkins was stretched upon the floor groaning. His entire face seemed to
have suffered violent impact with some unyielding body, and both hands
covered his nose, from which the life-blood flowed freely.

And across the room, sitting against the wall, his large person
decorated by sundry steel hoops and shreds of canvas, sat--William, the
Hawkins’ butler, staring dazedly into space!

Between them lay the chair.

“Oh, Griggs, Griggs, Griggs!” moaned the inventor. “Come quick! Get my
wife! I’m done for this time! He’s finished me!”

“Hawkins!” I cried, shaking him. “Did he----”

“Never mind him--let him escape,” replied Hawkins, faintly. “Just get my
wife before I go. Good-by, old friend, good-by.”

“Mr.--‘Awkins!” gasped the butler, his senses returning.

“What!” shrilled the inventor, sitting bolt upright, black eyes, swelled
face, and all completely forgotten. “Is that you, William?”

“Yes, sir,” stammered the man. “Was--was it you I hit, sir?”

“Was it!” yelled Hawkins, struggling to his feet. “Look at this face!
What the deuce did you mean by it?”

“Beg--beg pardon, sir, but did you--did you sorter strike me with a
chair, sir?”

“I--well, yes, William, I did.”

“Well, I, not knowing of course as it was you, sir, I sorter hit back.
But have you got the thief, sir?”

“The what?”

“Indeed, yes, sir. There’s one in the house. I was attacked here--right
in this here very room. See here, sir, this bag! Just as I opened the
window, he kem behind me, sir, threw it over my head, and tried to
chloroform me, sir--you can smell it, sir.”

“Yes. All right,” said Hawkins, briefly, with what must have seemed to
the man a strange lack of interest.

“You see, sir, whoever the rascal was, he must ‘a’ known as I intended
going out this evening, sir, and that the house would be empty like. So
in he sneaks from the roof, bag and all, and waits. And when I kem up
the stairs, instead of going out, sir----”

“All right. That’ll do. I understand,” muttered Hawkins. “No one threw
a bag over you. It was a new--er--sort of burglar alarm--just had it put
up to-day.”

“Burglar alarm!” cried the butler, staring at the remnants from which he
was slowly extricating himself.

“Yes!” snapped Hawkins. “And don’t stand there mumbling over it,
William!”

“Yes, sir.”

“Here,” said the inventor, “is a--er--twenty-dollar note. You will
immediately forget everything that has happened within the last half
hour.”

“Yes, sir,” responded the butler, with a wide smile.

Hawkins led the way down-stairs. In the bathroom he paused to lave his
much abused features; and by the time he had finished, my own features
had had a chance to regain something like composure.

Once more in the library, which we had deserted some twenty minutes
before, Hawkins threw himself rather limply into a chair.

“Well, well, well!” he muttered. “Now, who under the sun could have
foreseen that?”

I forebore remarks.

“William ought to be in the prize-ring,” continued the inventor sadly.
“But he’s a bright chap. He’ll keep his mouth shut. Lucky--er--nobody
else was in the house, wasn’t it?”

“How are you going to account to Mrs. Hawkins for those black eyes?”

“Oh--we can say that we were boxing and you hit me. That’s easy.”

“She’ll believe that, too, Hawkins,” I said, gazing at the battered
countenance. “You look more as if you’d had a collision with an express
train.”

“Oh, she’ll believe it, all right,” said the inventor cheerily. “For
once--just for once, Griggs--something has happened which my better half
won’t be on to. You’ll see I’m right. There isn’t a clue.”

“Well, perhaps,” I sighed.

“And now let’s have some of that old Scotch. I feel a little weak.”

We loitered into the next apartment--the dining-room. We turned
our footsteps toward the sideboard. We stopped--both of us--as if
transformed to stone.

The door was off the silver-safe. The drawers lay about the floor.
And the little safe itself was as empty as the day it left the
cabinet-maker!

“D-d-d’you see it, too?” cried Hawkins in a scared, husky voice.

“Yes,” I replied, stooping to look into the safe. “It must have been a
sneak-thief, Hawkins. Every vestige of your beautiful service is gone!”

The inventor glared long at the wreck.

“And now that’s got to be explained,” he muttered at last, continuing
his journey to the sideboard. “How can I get around it?”

He poured out a generous dose of the Scotch, imbibed it at a swallow,
and shuffled drearily back to the library, where he dropped once more
into a chair and stared through fast-swelling eyes at the glazed tile
fire-place.

And I? Well, just then I heard Mrs. Hawkins’ step on the vestibule
flooring without; she had returned for the minutes of the last meeting.

The bell rang. I walked quickly upstairs to call up the police and
notify them. It wasn’t my place to answer that bell, with William in the
house.



CHAPTER IX.


The gathering at the Hawkins’ home that night was, I suppose, in the
nature of a house-warming.

The Blossoms, the Ridgeways, the Eldridges, the Gordons were there, in
addition to perhaps a dozen and a half other people whom I had never
met. Also, Mr. Blodgett was there.

Old Mr. Blodgett is Hawkins’ father-in-law. There is a Mrs. Blodgett,
too, but she is really too sweet an old lady to be placed in the
mother-in-law category.

Blodgett, however, makes up for any deficiencies on his wife’s part in
the traditional traits. He seems to have analyzed Hawkins with expert
care and precision--to have appraised and classified his character and
attainments to a nicety.

Consequently, Hawkins and Mr. Blodgett are rarely to be observed
wandering hither and thither with their arms about each other’s waists.

Finally, I was there myself with my wife.

It seems almost superfluous to mention my presence. Whenever Hawkins
is on the verge of trouble with one of his contrivances, some esoteric
force seems to sweep me along in his direction with resistless energy.

Sometimes I wonder what Hawkins did for a victim before we met--but let
that be.

Dinner had been lively, for the guests were mainly young, and the
wines such as Hawkins can afford; but when we had assembled in the
drawing-room, conversation seemed to slow down somewhat, and to pass
over to a languid discussion of the house as a sort of relaxation.

Then it was that a pert miss from one of the Oranges remarked:

“Yes, the frescoing is lovely--almost all of it. But--whoever could have
designed that frieze, Mr. Hawkins?”

“Er--that frieze?” repeated the inventor, a little uncomfortably,
indicating the insane-looking strip of painting a foot or so wide which
ran along under the ceiling.

“Yes, it’s so funny. Nothing but dots and dots and dots. Whoever could
have conceived such an idea?”

“Well, I did, Miss Mather,” Hawkins replied. “I designed that myself.”

“Oh, did you?” murmured the inquisitive one, going red.

Hawkins turned to me, and the girl subsided; but old Mr. Blodgett had
overheard. He felt constrained to put in, with his usual tactful thought
and grating, nasal voice:

“It’s hideous--simply hideous. I don’t see--I can’t see the sense in
spending that amount of money in plastering painted roses and undressed
young ones all over the ceiling, Herbert.”

“No?” said Hawkins between his teeth.

“Folly--pure folly,” grunted the old gentleman. “No reason for it--no
reason under the sun.”

Hawkins at least reserves family dissensions for family occasions. He
held his peace and his tongue.

“Yes, sir,” persisted Blodgett, “everything else out of the question,
the house might catch fire to-night, and your entire stock of painted
babies go up in smoke. Then where’d they be? Eh?”

“See here,” said Hawkins, goaded into speech, “you just keep your mind
easy on that score at least, will you, papa, dear?”

“What’s that? What’s that?”

“This house isn’t going up in smoke,” went on the inventor tartly. “You
can take my word for it.”

“Isn’t, eh?” jeered the elderly Blodgett with his nasty sneering little
chuckle. “And how do you know it’s not? Eh? Smarter men than you, my
boy, and in better built houses have----”

“Look here! This particular place isn’t going to burn, because----”
 Hawkins rapped out.

“What isn’t going to burn, Herbert?” inquired Mrs. Hawkins, with a cold,
warning glance at her husband as she perceived that hostilities were in
progress. “Is he teasing you again, papa?”

“Teasing me!” sniffed Blodgett with an unpleasant leer at Hawkins.

“Teasing that antiquity!” Hawkins growled in my ear. “Say, isn’t that
enough to----”

“Don’t whisper, Herbert--it isn’t polite,” continued Mrs. Hawkins, the
playfulness of her manner somewhat belied by the glitter in her eye.
“Let us all into the secret.”

“Oh, there’s no secret,” said the inventor shortly.

“No dance, either,” pouted the girl from Jersey, who was an intimate of
the family.

It was the signal for the light fantastic business to begin. Hawkins is
notoriously out of sympathy with dancing. He took my arm and guided me
stealthily from the drawing-room.

“Phew!” remarked the inventor when we had settled ourselves up-stairs
with a couple of cigars. “Say, Griggs, do you still wonder at crime?”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning dear papa Blodgett,” snapped Hawkins. “Honestly, do you believe
it would be really wicked to lure that old human pussy-cat down cellar
and sort of lose him through the furnace-door?”

“Don’t talk nonsense, Hawkins,” I laughed.

“It isn’t nonsense. It’s the way I feel. But I’ll get square on that
spiteful tongue of his some day--and when I do! There isn’t anything
sweeter waiting for me in Heaven than to feel myself emptying a pan of
dishwater on that old reprobate from one of the upper windows.

“Why, Griggs, sometimes in the night I dream I have him on the floor,
that I’m just getting even for some of the things he’s said to me and
about me, and I wake up in a dripping perspiration and----”

“Stop, Hawkins!” I guffawed.

“Strikes you funny, too, does it?” the inventor cried angrily. “I
suppose you think it’s all right for him to talk as he does? Criticise
my decorations, tell me they’ll all burn up some day, and all that?”

“Well, but they might.”

“They might not!” shouted Hawkins in a fury. “You don’t know any more
about it than he does. You couldn’t burn up this house if you soaked
every carpet in it with oil!”

“Why not?”

“Aha! Why not? That’s just the point. Why not, to be sure? Because it’s
all prepared for ahead of time.”

“Private wire to the engine-house?” I queried.

“Private wire to Halifax! There’s no private wire about it. See here,
Griggs, do you suppose that poor little brain of yours could comprehend
a truly great idea?”

“It could try,” I said meekly.

“Then listen. You remember those dots on the frieze all through the
house? You do? All right. Just close your eyes and conceive a little
metal tube running back into the wall. Imagine the little tube opening
into a large supply pipe in the wall.

“Is that clear? Then conceive that the supply pipe in each room connects
with a supply pipe in the rear of the house, and that the big pipe
terminates--or rather begins--in a big tank on the top floor!”

“But what on earth is it all?”

“It’s the Hawkins Chemico-Sprinkler System!” announced the inventor.

“For the Lord’s sake!” I gasped.

“Yes, sir! It’s something like the sprinkling system you see in
factories, but all concealed--perfectly adapted to private house
purposes! Every one of those dots is simply a little hole in the wall
through which, in case of fire, will flow quart after quart of my
chemical fire-extinguisher? How’s that?”

“Er--is the tank full?” I asked, gliding hurriedly away from the wall.

“Of course it is. Oh, sit where you were, Griggs, don’t drag in that
asinine clownishness of yours. Or, better still, come up with me and see
the business end of the thing--the tank and all that.”

“The stuff isn’t inflammable, is it? We’re smoking, you know.”

“An inflammable fire-extinguishing liquid!” cried Hawkins. “Why, can’t
you understand that--bah!”

He laid a course to the upper regions and I followed.

“Out here in the extension,” he explained, when we reached the top
floor. “There!”

We stood in a bare room, whose emptiness was accentuated by the cold,
electric light.

Furnishings it had none, save for the big tank in the center. This was a
wooden affair, lined with lead.

Over the top, and some two feet above the tank proper, the heavy cover
was suspended by a weird system of pulleys and electric wires. To the
under side of the cover was fastened a big glass sphere filled with
white stuff.

It was a remarkable contrivance.

“There--that’s simple, isn’t it?” said Hawkins, with a happy smile.

“It may be if you understand it.”

“Why, just look here. See that big glass ball? That’s full of marble
dust--carbonate of lime, you know. The tank is filled with weak
sulphuric acid. When the ball drops into the acid--what happens?”

“You have a nasty job fishing it out again?”

“Not at all. It smashes into flinders, the marble dust combines with the
sulphuric acid, and forms a neutral liquid, bubbling with carbonic acid.
Even you, Griggs, must know that carbonic acid gas will put out any
fire, without damaging anything. There you are.”

“I see. You smell fire, rush up here and knock that ball into the tank,
and the house is flooded through the dots in your frieze. Remarkable!”

“Oh, I don’t even have to come up here,” smiled Hawkins. “See that?”

“That” was a little strand of platinum wire in a niche in the wall.

“That’s just a test fuse, so that I can see that she’s all in working
order,” pursued the inventor, leaning his cigar against it. “There’s
half a dozen of them in every room in the house. As soon as the heat
touches them, they melt and set off my electric release--and down drops
the cover of the tank--ball and all. The ball breaks, the valve at
the bottom opens automatically--and down goes the tank, full of
extinguisher.”

“Well, I must say it looks practical.”

“It is!” asserted Hawkins. “Some night--if the night ever comes--when
you see a roaring blaze in one of these rooms subdued in ten seconds by
the gentle drizzle that comes out of that frieze, you will----”

“Mr. Hawkins, sir,” interrupted Hawkins’ butler at the door.

“Well, William?”

“Mrs. Hawkins, sir, she says as how your presence is desired
down-stairs.”

“Oh, all right,” said the inventor wearily. “I’ll be down directly.”

“No rest for the wicked,” he commented to me. “Come on, Griggs, we’ll
have to dance.”

The festivity was in full swing when we descended.

Mrs. Hawkins came over to us and remarked in low tones to her spouse:

“Now just try to make yourself agreeable, Herbert. It’s not nice for you
to steal away and smoke.”

“I’m not smoking.”

“Mr. Griggs is.”

“So I am,” I said, suddenly realizing the fact. “William, will you
dispose of this, please?”

“Now go right in, both of you,” Mrs. Hawkins began. Then she was called
away.

“Griggs!” muttered Hawkins, thoughtfully tapping his forehead.

“Yes?”

“What--what the deuce did I do with my cigar?”

“I’m sure I don’t know.”

“But I had it up-stairs. We were both smoking.”

“So you did,” I said. “The last I saw of it you leaned it against that
fuse thing----”

“Great Scott! That’s what I did!” gasped the inventor, turning white.

“Well, what of it?”

“Why, suppose the infernal thing has burned down to the fuse!” cried
Hawkins hoarsely. “Suppose it melts through the wire and sends down that
top!”

“Will it start the stuff running?”

“Start it! Of course it’ll start it. Gee whizz! I’m going up there now,
Griggs!”

Hawkins made for the stairs. I smiled after him, for he seemed rather
worked up.

I turned back to the dancers. It was a pretty scene. To the rhythm of a
particularly seductive waltz, the guests were gliding about the floor.
I noted the gay colors of the ladies’ gowns, the flowers, the sparkling
diamonds.

And then--then I noted the frieze!

My eyes seemed instinctively to travel to that stretch of ugliness--they
fastened upon the dots with a kind of fascination. And none too soon.

From one of the dots spurted forth what looked like a tiny stream of
water. Another followed and another and yet another. The whole multitude
of dots were raining liquid upon the dancers from all sides of the room!

The streams came from north, east, south, and west. They came from the
hallway behind me--a hundred of them seemed to converge upon my devoted
back. I was fairly soaked through in a second.

The panic can hardly be fancied. Men and women shrieked together in the
utter amazement of the thing. They laughed aloud, some of them. Others
cried out in terror.

They leaped and sprang back and forth, to this side and that, in the
vain endeavor to dodge the innumerable streams. Some slipped and almost
fell, carrying down others with them. And all were doused.

Then, as suddenly as it had started, the flood ceased.

“Well, God bless my soul!” ejaculated Mr. Blodgett, putting up a hand to
wring his collar. “What in Heaven’s name happened?”

“Great Caesar’s ghost!” said Hawkins’ voice behind me.

He had returned from his trip to the top floor extension.

“It’s all right,” he called with cheery indifference to the contrary
sentiments of two dozen people. “There’s no danger. It won’t hurt you.”

“But it does. It bites!” cried the girl from Jersey. “What is it? Where
did it come from?”

“Yes, it does bite! It smarts awfully! By Jove! The stuff’s eating me!
What is it, Hawkins? Oh, Mr. Hawkins, wherever did it come from? Why,
it ran out of those dots--I saw it! What is it?” echoed from different
parts of the room.

“It’s only my sprinkler--my fire-extinguisher,” Hawkins explained. “It
went off by accident, you see. There’s nothing in it to hurt you. It’s
perfectly neutral. It can’t bite--that’s imagination.”

“But it does!” cried Mrs. Gordon. “It stings like acid. It actually
seems to be eating my skin!”

“Bite! I should say it did!” growled Mr. Blodgett. “It’s chewing my
hands off--I believe it’s carbolic acid. I do--I’ll swear I do. No
smell--but it’s been deodorized. That’s it--carbolic acid!”

“Carbolic fiddlesticks!” said Hawkins.

Then a puzzled expression came into his eyes. He raised one of his wet
hands and tasted it--and spat violently.

“Say! Hold on! Wait a minute!” he cried.

Hawkins darted off up-stairs. I could hear him bounding along, two steps
at a time, until he reached the top.

Silence ensued for a few seconds, save for an exclamation here and
there, as one or another of the guests discovered that his or her neck
or ear or arm was smarting.

Then the servants piled up from below. They, too, were wet and
frightened. They, too, had discovered that the liquid emitted by the
Hawkins Chemico-Sprinkler System bit into the human epidermis like fire.

“Phat is it? Phat is it?” the cook was drearily intoning, when hurrying
footsteps turned my attention once more to the stairs.

Hawkins was coming down at a gallop. In his arms he carried a keg, which
dribbled white powder over the beautiful carpet.

“Say,” he shouted to me. “That ball didn’t bust!”

“It didn’t?” I cried.

“No! There’s no marble dust in the stuff!” said the inventor, landing
on the floor with a final jump and tearing into the parlor. “It’s pure,
diluted sulphuric acid!”

“Acid!” shrieked a dozen ladies.

“Yes!” groaned Hawkins, depositing his keg on the floor. “But we’ll get
the best of it. William, bring up a wash-tub full of water! Mary, go get
all the washrags in the house! Quick!”

The homely household articles arrived within a minute or two.

“Now,” continued Hawkins, dumping half the keg into the tub. “That’s
baking soda. It’ll neutralize the acid. Here, everybody. Dip a rag in
here and wash off the acid.

“Oh, hang propriety and decency and conventionality and all the rest of
it!” he vociferated as some of the ladies, quite warrantably hung back.
“Get at the acid before it gets at you! Don’t you--can’t you understand?
It’ll burn into your skin in a little while! Come on!”

There was no hesitation after that. Men and women alike made frantically
for the tub, dipped cloths in the liquid, and laved industriously hands
and arms and cheeks that were already sore and burning.

Picture the scene: a dozen women in evening dress, a dozen men in
“swallow-tails,” clustered around a wash-tub there in Hawkins’ parlor,
working for dear life with the soaking cloths.

[Illustration: “_It was just the sort of thing that could happen under
Hawkins’ roof, and nowhere else_.”]

Ludicrous, impossible, it was just the sort of thing that could happen
under Hawkins’ roof and nowhere else--barring perhaps a retreat for the
insane.

Later the excitement subsided. The ladies, disheveled as to hair,
carrying costumes whose glory had departed forever, retired to the
chambers above for such further repairs as might be possible. The men,
too, under William’s guidance, went to draw upon Hawkins’ wardrobe for
clothes in which to return home.

The inventor, Mr. Blodgett, and myself were left together in the
drawing-room.

That amiable old gentleman’s coat--he is bitterly averse to undue
expenditure for clothes--had turned to a pale, rotting green.

“Well, it’s a good thing that was diluted acid instead of strong, isn’t
it, Griggs?” remarked Hawkins. “Originally I had intended using the
strong acid, you know, for the reason----”

“Aaaah!” cried Mr. Blodgett. “So that was more of your imbecile
inventing, was it? Fire-extinguisher! Bah! I thought nobody but you
could have conceived the idea like that! What under the sun did you let
off your infernal contrivance for?”

“Oh, I just did it to spite you, papa,” said Hawkins, with weary
sarcasm.

“By George, sir, I believe you did!” snapped the old gentleman. “It’s
like you! Look at my coat, sir! Look at----”

I was edging away when Mrs. Hawkins entered. She was clad in somber
black now, and her cheeks flamed scarlet with mortification.

“Well!” she exclaimed.

“Well, my dear?” said Hawkins, bracing himself.

“A pretty mess you’ve made of our house-warming, haven’t you? You and
your idiotic fire-extinguisher!”

“Madam, my Chemico-Sprinkler System is one----”

“And not only the evening spoiled, and half our friends so enraged
at you that they’ll never enter the house again, but do you know what
you’ll have to pay for? Miss Mather’s dress alone, I happen to know,
cost two hundred dollars! And Mrs. Gordon’s gown came from Paris last
week--four hundred and fifty! And I was with Nellie Ridgeway the day she
bought that white satin dress she had on. It cost----”

“Glad of it!” interposed Blodgett, with a fiendish chuckle. “Serves him
jolly well right! If you’d listened to me fifteen years ago, Edith, when
I told you not to marry that fool----”

“Griggs! W-w-w-where are you going?” Hawkins called weakly.

“Home!” I said decidedly, making for the hall. “I think my wife’s ready.
And I’m afraid my hair’s loosening up, too, where your fire-extinguisher
wet it. Good-night!”



CHAPTER X.


“It’s a good while since you’ve invented anything, isn’t it, Hawkins?” I
had said the night before.

“Um-um,” Hawkins had murmured.

“Must be two months?”

“Ah?” Hawkins had smiled.

“What is it? Life insurance companies on to you?”

“Um-ah,” Hawkins had replied.

“Or have you really given it up for good? It can’t be, can it?”

“Oh-ho,” Hawkins had yawned, and there I stopped questioning him.

Satan himself must have concocted the business which sent me--or started
me--toward Philadelphia next morning. Perhaps, though, the railroad
company was as much to blame; they should have known better.

The man in the moon was no further from my thoughts than Hawkins as I
stepped ashore on the Jersey side of the ferry to take the train. Yet
there stood Hawkins in the station.

He seemed to be fussing violently as he lingered by the door of one of
the offices. Unperceived, I came close enough to hear him murmur thrice
in succession something about “blamed nonsense--devilish red-tape.”

Surely something had worked him up. I wondered what it was.

As I watched, an apologetic-looking youth appeared in the door of the
office and handed Hawkins an official-appearing slip of paper.

The inventor snatched it impolitely and turned his back, while the youth
gazed after him for a moment and then returned to the office.

“Set of confounded idiots!” Hawkins remarked wrathfully.

Then, ere I could disappear, he spied me.

“Aha, Griggs, you here?”

“No, I’m not,” I said flatly. “If there’s any trouble brewing, Hawkins,
consider me back in New York. What has excited you?”

“Excited me? Those fool railroad officials are enough to drive a man to
the asylum. Did you see how they kept me standing outside that door?”

“Well, did you want to stand inside the door, Hawkins?”

“I didn’t want to stand anywhere in the neighborhood of their infernal
door! The idea of making me get a permit to ride on an engine! Me!”

“I don’t know how else you’d manage it, Hawkins, unless you applied for
a job as fireman. Why on earth do you want to ride on a locomotive?”

“Oh, it’s not a locomotive, Griggs. You don’t understand. Where are you
bound for?”

“Philadelphia.”

“Ten:ten?” Hawkins cried eagerly.

“Ten:ten,” I said.

“Then, by George, you’ll be with us! You’ll see the whole show!”

Hawkins caught my coat-sleeve and dragged me toward the train-gates.

“See, here,” I said, detaining him, “what whole show?”

“The--oh, come and see it before we start.”

“No, sir!” I said firmly. “Not until I know what it is. Are you going to
play any monkey-shines with the locomotive, Hawkins? What is it?”

“But why don’t you come and see for yourself?” the inventor cried
impatiently. “It’s--it’s----”

He paused for a moment.

“Why, it’s the Hawkins Alcomotive!” he added.

“And what under heavens is the Hawkins----”

“Well, you don’t suppose I’m carrying scale drawings of the thing on me,
do you? You don’t suppose that I’m prepared to give a demonstration with
magic lantern pictures on the spot? If you want to see it, come and see
it. If not, you’d better get into your train. It’s ten:three now.”

I knew no way of better utilizing the remaining seven minutes. I walked
or rather trotted--after Hawkins, through the gates, down the platform,
and along by the train until we reached the locomotive--or the place
where a decent, God-fearing locomotive should have been standing.

The customary huge iron horse was not in sight.

In its place stood what resembled a small flat-car. On the car
I observed an affair which resembled something an enthusiastic
automobilist might have conceived in a lobster salad nightmare.

It was, I presume, merely an abnormally large automobile engine; and
along each side of it ran a big cylindrical tank.

“There, Griggs!” said Hawkins. “That doesn’t look much like the
old-fashioned, clumsy locomotive, does it?”

“I should say it didn’t.”

“Of course it’s a little rough in finish--just a trial Alcomotive, you
know--but it’s going to do one thing to-day.”

“And that is?”

“It’s going to sound the solemn death-knell of the old steam
locomotive,” said Hawkins, evidently feeling some compassion for the
time-honored engine.

“But will that thing pull a train? Is that the notion?”

“Notion! It’s no notion--it’s a simple, mathematical certainty, my dear
Griggs. In that Alcomotive--it’s run by vapors of alcohol, you know--we
have sufficient power to pull fifteen parlor cars, twelve loaded
day-coaches, twenty ordinary flat-cars, eighteen box-cars, or
twenty-seven----”

“‘Board for Newark, Elizabeth, Trenton, Philadelphia, and all points
south,” sang out the man at the gates.

He was lying, but he didn’t know it.

“Well, I guess it’s--it’s time to start,” Hawkins concluded rather
nervously.

“Well, may the Lord have mercy on your soul, Hawkins,” I said feelingly.
“Good-by. I’ll be along on the next train--whenever that is.”

“What! You’re coming on the Alcomotive with me!”

“Not on your life, Hawkins!” I cried energetically. “If this railroad
wishes to trust its passengers and rolling-stock and road-bed to your
alcohol machine, that’s their business. But they’ve got a hanged sight
more confidence in you than I have.”

“Well, you’ll have confidence enough before the day’s over,” said the
inventor, grabbing me with some determination. “For once, I’ll get the
best of your sneers. You come along!”

“Let go!” I shouted.

“Here,” said Hawkins to the mechanic who was warily eying the
Alcomotive, “help Mr. Griggs up.”

Hawkins boosted and the man grabbed me. In a second or two I stood on
the car, and Hawkins clambered up beside me.

Had I but regained my breath a second or two sooner--had I but collected
my senses sufficiently to jump!

But I was a little too bewildered by the suddenness of my elevation to
act for the moment. As I stood there, gasping, I heard Hawkins say:

“What’s that conductor waving his hands for?”

“He--he wants you to start up,” tittered the engineer. “We are two
minutes late as it is.”

“Oh, that’s it?” said Hawkins gruffly. “He needn’t get so excited about
it. Why, positively, that man looks as if he was swearing! If I----”

“Well, say, you better start up,” put in the engineer. “I may get blamed
for this.”

Hawkins opened a valve--he turned a crank--he pulled back a lever or
two.

The Alcomotive suddenly left the station. So, abruptly, in fact, did the
train start that my last vision of the end brakeman revealed him rolling
along the platform in a highly undignified fashion, while the engineer
sat at my feet in amazement as I clutched the side of the car.

“Well, I guess we started enough to suit him!” observed Hawkins grimly,
as we whizzed past towers and banged over switches in our exit from the
yard.

We certainly were started. Whatever subsequent disadvantages may have
developed in the Alcomotive, it possessed speed.

In less time than it takes to tell it, we were whirling over the
marshes, swaying from side to side, tearing a long hole in the
atmosphere, I fancy; and certainly almost jarring the teeth from my
head.

“How’s this for time?” cried the inventor.

“It’s all right for t-t-t-time,” I stuttered. “But----”

“Yes, that part’s all right,” yelled the engineer, who had been
ruthlessly detailed to assist. “But say, mister, how about the
time-table?”

“What about it?” demanded Hawkins.

“Why, the other trains ain’t arranged to give with this
ninety-mile-an-hour gait.”

“They should be. I told the railroad people that I intended to break a
few records.”

“But I guess they didn’t know--we may smash into something, mister,
and----”

“Not my fault,” said the inventor. “If we do by any chance have a
collision, the railroad people are to blame. But we won’t. I can stop
this machine and the whole train in two hundred feet. That’s another
great point about the Alcomotive, Griggs--the Alcobrakes. You see, when
I shut off the engine proper, all the power goes into the brakes. It is
thus----”

“Hey, mister,” the engineer shouted again, “here’s Newark!”

“Why, so it is!” murmured Hawkins, with a pleased smile. “Really, I had
no notion that we’d be here so soon.”

I will say it for Hawkins that he managed to stop the affair at Newark
in very commendable fashion. It seems so remarkable that one of his
contrivances should have exhibited that much amenity to control that it
is worthy of note.

Some of the passengers who alighted to be sure, exhibited signs of hard
usage. There were visible bruises in several cases, due, presumably, to
the slightly startling suddenness with which our trip began.

But Hawkins was blind to anything of that sort.

“Now, wasn’t that fine?” he said proudly.

“Well--we’re here--and alive,” was about all I could say.

“I wonder how it feels to be back in the cars. Let’s try it,” proposed
Hawkins.

“But say, mister,” said the engineer, “who’s going to run the darned
machine, if you’re not here?”

“Why, you, my man. You understand an engine of this sort, don’t you? But
of course you do. Here! This is the valve for the alcohol--this is the
igniter--here are the brakes--this is the speed control. See? Oh, you
won’t find any difficulty in managing it. The Alcomotive is simplicity
on wheels.”

“Yes, but I’ve got a wife and family----” the unhappy man began.

“Well,” said Hawkins, icily.

“And if the thing should balk----”

“Balk! Rats! Come, Griggs. It’s time you started, my man. I’ll wave my
hand when we reach the car.”

Frankly, I think that it was a downright contemptible trick to play on
the defenceless engineer. Had I been able to render him any assistance,
I should have stayed with him.

But Hawkins was already trotting back to the cars, and, with a murmured
benediction for the hapless mechanic who stood and trembled alone on the
platform of the Alcomotive, I followed.

We took seats in one of the cars.

“Well, why doesn’t he start?” muttered the inventor.

“Maybe the fright has killed him,” I suggested. “It’s enough----”

Bang!

The Alcomotive had sprung into action once more. People slid out of
their seats with the shock, others toppled head over heels into the
aisle, the porter went down unceremoniously upon his sable countenance
and crushed into pulp the plate of tongue sandwich he had been carrying.

But the Alcomotive was going--that was enough for Hawkins. He sat back
and watched the scenery slide by kinetoscope fashion.

“Lord, Lord, where’s the old locomotive now?” he laughed pityingly.

“Don’t shout till you’re out of the wood, Hawkins,” I cautioned him. “We
haven’t reached Philadelphia yet.”

“But can’t you see that we’re going to? Won’t that poor little mind of
yours grapple with the fact that the Hawkins Alcomotive is a success--a
_success?_ Can’t you feel the train shooting along----”

“I can feel that well enough,” I said dubiously; “but suppose----”

“Suppose nothing! What have you to croak about now, Griggs? Actually,
there are times when you really make me physically weary. See here! The
Alcomotive supersedes the locomotive first, in point of weight; second,
in point of speed; third, in economy of operation; fourth, it is
absolutely safe and easy to manage.

“No complicated machinery--nothing to slip and smash at critical
moments--perfect ease of control. Why, if that fellow really wished to
stop--here, now, at this minute----”

Whether the fellow wished it or not, he stopped--there, then, at that
minute!

We stopped with such an almighty thud that it seemed as if the cars must
fly into splinters. They rattled and shook and cracked. The passengers
executed further acrobatic feats upon the floor; they clutched at things
and fell over things and swore and gurgled.

“Well, by thunder!” ejaculated Hawkins. That was about the mildest
remark I heard at the time. “What do you suppose he did?”

“Give it up,” I said, caressing the egg-like eminence that had appeared
upon my brow as if by magic. “Probably he fell into the infernal thing,
and it has stopped to show him up.”

“Nonsense! We’ll have to see what’s happened. Come, we’ll go through the
cars. It’s quicker.”

We ran through the coaches until we had reached the front of the train.
Hawkins went out upon the platform.

The Alcomotive was apparently intact. The engineer stood over the
machinery, white as chalk, and his lips mumbled incoherently.

“What is it?” cried Hawkins.

“How’n blazes do I know?” demanded the engineer.

“But didn’t you stop her?”

“Certainly not. She--she stopped herself.”

“What perfect idiocy!” cried the inventor “You must have done
something!”

“I did not!” retorted the engineer. “The blamed thing just stood
stock-still and near bumped the life out of me! Say, mister, you come up
here and see what----”

“Oh, it’s nothing serious, my man. Now, let me think. What could have
happened? Er--just try that lever at your right hand.”

“This one?”

“Yes; pull it gently.”

“Hadn’t we better git them people out o’ the train first?” asked the
engineer. “You know, if anything happens, people just love to sue a
railroad company for damages, and----”

“Pull that lever!” Hawkins cried angrily.

The man took a good grip, murmured something which sounded like a
prayer, and pulled.

Nothing happened.

“Well, that’s queer!” muttered Hawkins. “Doesn’t it seem to have any
effect?”

“Nope.”

“Well, then, try that small one at your left. Pull it back half way.”

The man obeyed.

For a second or two the Alcomotive emitted a string of consumptive
coughs. One or two parts moved spasmodically and seemed to be reaching
for the engineer. The man dodged.

Then the Alcomotive began to back!

“Here! Here! Something’s wrong!” cried Hawkins, as the accursed thing
gathered speed. “Push that back where it was.”

“Nit!” yelled the engineer, picking up his coat and running to the
side of the car. “I ain’t going to make my wife a widow for no darned
invention or no darned job! See?”

“You’re not going to jump?” squealed the inventor.

“You bet I am!” replied the mechanic, making a flying leap.

He was gone.

The Alcomotive was now without any semblance of a controlling hand.

There was no way for Hawkins to reach the contrivance, for the car was
four or five feet distant from the train proper, and to attempt a leap
or a climb to the Alcomotive, with the whole affair rocking and swaying
as it was, would simply have been to pave the way for a neat “Herbert
Hawkins” on the marble block of their plot in Greenwood Cemetery.

“Well, what under the sun----” began Hawkins.

“Good heavens! This train! The people!” I gasped.

“Well--well--well--let us find the conductor. He’ll know what to do!”

“Yes, but he can’t stop the machine--and we’re backing along at
certainly fifty miles an hour; and any minute we may run into the next
train behind.”

“Come! Come! Find the conductor!”

We found him very easily.

The conductor was running through the train toward us as we reached the
second car, and his face was the face of a fear-racked maniac.

“What’s happened?” he shrieked. “Why on earth are we backing?”

“Why, you see----” Hawkins began.

“For God’s sake, stop your machine! You’re the man who owns it, aren’t
you?”

“Certainly, certainly. But you see, the mechanism has--er--slipped
somewhere--nothing serious, of course--and----”

“Serious!” roared the railroad man. “You call it nothing serious for us
to be flying along backwards and the Washington express coming up behind
at a mile a minute!”

“Oh! oh! Is it?” Hawkins faltered.

“Yes! Can’t you stop her--anyway?”

“Well, not that I know--why, see here!” A smile of relief illumined
Hawkins’ face.

“Well? Quick, man!”

“We can have a brakeman detach the Alcomotive!”

“And what good’ll that do, when she’s pushing the train?”

“True, true!” groaned the inventor. “I didn’t think of that!”

“I’m going to bring every one into these forward cars,” announced the
conductor. “It’s the only chance of saving a few lives when the crash
comes.”

“Lives,” moaned Hawkins dazedly. “Is there really any danger of----”

The conductor was gone. Hawkins sank upon a seat and gasped and gasped.

“Oh, Griggs, Griggs!” he sobbed. “If I had only known! If I could have
foreseen this!”

“If you ever could foresee anything!” I said bitterly.

“But it’s partly--yes, it’s all that cursed engineer’s fault!”

People began to troop into the car. They came crushing along in droves,
frightened to death, some weeping, some half-mad with terror.

Hawkins surveyed them with much the expression of Napoleon arriving in
Hades. The conductor approached once more.

“They’re all in here,” he said resignedly. “Thank Heaven, there are two
freight cars on the rear of the train! That may do a little good! But
that express! Man, man! What have you done!”

“Did he do it? Is it his fault?” cried a dozen voices.

“No, no, no, no!” shrieked the inventor. “He’s lying!”

“You’d better tell the truth now, man,” said the conductor sadly. “You
may not have much longer to tell it.”

“Lynch him!” yelled some one.

There was a move toward Hawkins. I don’t know where it might have
ended. Very likely they would have suspended Hawkins from one of the
ventilators and pelted him with hand satchels--and very small blame to
them had there been time.

But just as the crowd moved--well, then I fancied that the world had
come to an end.

There was a shock, terrific beyond description--window panes clattered
into the car--the whole coach was hurled from the tracks and slid
sideways for several seconds.

Above us the roof split wide open and let in the sunlight. Passengers
were on the seats, the floor, on their heads!

Then, with a final series of creaks and groans, all was still.

Hawkins and I were near the ragged opening which had once been a door.
We climbed out to the ground and looked about us.

Providence had been very kind to Hawkins. The Washington express was
standing, unexpectedly, at a water tank--part of it, at least. Her huge
locomotive lay on its side.

Our two freight cars and two more passenger cars with them were piled up
in kindling wood. Even the next car was derailed and badly smashed.

The Alcomotive, too, reclined upon one side and blazed merrily, a
fitting tailpiece to the scene.

But not a soul had been killed--we learned that from one of the groups
which swarmed from the express, after a muster had been taken of our own
passengers. It was a marvel--but a fact.

Hawkins and I edged away slowly.

“Let’s get out o’ this!” he whispered hoarsely. “There’s that infernal
conductor. He seems to be looking for some one.”

We did get out of it. In the excitement we sneaked down by the express,
past it, and struck into the hills.

Eventually we came out upon the trolley tracks and waited for the car
which took us back to Jersey City.

Now, there is really more of this narrative.

The pursuit of Hawkins by the railroad people--their discovery of him at
his home that night--the painful transaction by which he was compelled
to surrender to them all his holdings in that particular road--the
commentary of Mrs. Hawkins.

There is, as I say, more of it. But, on the whole, it is better left
untold.



CHAPTER XI.


I may have mentioned that it was customary for Hawkins and myself to
travel down-town together on the elevated six days in the week.

So far as that goes, we still do so; for it has come over me recently
that any attempt to dodge the demoniac inventions of Hawkins is about
as thankless and hopeless a task as seeking to avoid the setting of the
sun.

For two or three mornings, however, I had been leaving the house some
ten or fifteen minutes earlier than usual.

There had lately appeared the old, uncanny light in Hawkins’ eye; and
if trouble were impending, it was my fond, foolish hope to be out of its
way--until such time, at least, as the police or the coroner should call
me up on the telephone to identify all that was mortal of Hawkins.

Three days, then, my strategy had been crowned with success. I had
eluded Hawkins and ridden down alone, the serene enjoyment of my paper
unpunctuated by dissertations upon the practicability of condensing
the clouds for commercial purposes, or the utilization of atmospheric
nitrogen in the manufacture of predigested breakfast food.

But upon the fourth morning a fuse blew out under the car before we
left the station; and as I sat there fussing about the delay, in walked
Hawkins.

He was beaming and cheerful, but the glitter in his eye had grown more
intense.

“Ah, Griggs,” he exclaimed, “I’ve missed you lately!”

“I hope you haven’t lost weight over it?”

“Well, no. I’ve been busy--very busy.”

“Rush of business?”

“Um--ah--yes. Griggs!”

It was coming!

“Hawkins,” I said hurriedly, “have you followed this matter of the
Panama Canal?”

Hawkins stared hard at me for a moment; then I gave him another push,
and he toppled into the canal and wallowed about in its waters until the
ride was over.

Unhappily, my own place of business is located farther down upon the
same street with the Blank Building, where Hawkins has--or had--offices.
There was no way of avoiding it--I was forced to walk with him.

But the suppressed enthusiasm in Hawkins didn’t come out, and I felt
rather more easy. Whatever it was, I fancied that he had left the
material part of it at home, and home lay many blocks up-town. I was
safe.

“Good-by,” I smiled when we reached his entrance.

“Not much,” Hawkins responded. “Come in.”

“But, my dear fellow----”

“You come,” commanded the inventor. “There’s something in here I want
you to see.”

He led me in and past the line of elevators.

So we were not going up to his offices! We seemed to be heading for the
cigar booth, and for a moment I fancied that Hawkins had discovered a
new brand and was going to treat me; but he piloted me farther, to a
door, and opened it and we passed through.

Then I perceived where we were. The Blank Building people had been
constructing an addition to their immense stack of offices; we stood in
the freshly completed and wholly unoccupied annex.

“There, sir!” said Hawkins, extending his forefinger. “What do you see,
Griggs?”

“Six empty barrels, about three wagon-loads of kindling wood, a new
tiled floor, and six brand-new elevators,” I replied.

“Oh, hang those things! Look--where I’m pointing!”

“Ah! somebody’s left a packing-box in one of the elevator-shafts, eh?”

Certainly, more than anything else, that was what it resembled.

At the first glance it appeared to be nothing more than a crude wooden
case about the size of an elevator car, standing in one of the shafts
and contrasting unpleasantly with the other new, shining polished cars.

“Packing--ugh!” snapped the inventor “Do you know what that is?”

“You turned down my first guess,” I suggested humbly.

“Griggs, what appears to you as a packing-box is nothing more nor less
than the first and only Hawkins Hydro-Vapor Lift!”

“The which?”

“The--Hawkins--Hydro--Vapor--Lift!”

“Hydro-Vapor?” I murmured. “Whatever is that? Steam?”

“Certainly.”

“And lift, I presume, is English for elevator?”

“The words are synonymous,” said Hawkins coldly.

“Then why the dickens didn’t you call it a steam elevator and be done
with it? Wasn’t that sufficiently complicated?”

“Oh, Griggs, you never seem able to understand! Now, a steam
elevator--so called--is an old proposition. A Hydro-Vapor Lift is
entirely new and sounds distinctive!”

“Yes, it sounds queer enough,” I admitted.

“Just examine it,” said the inventor joyously, leading me to the box.

There was not much to be examined. Four walls, a ceiling and a
floor--all of undressed wood--that was about the extent of the affair;
but in the center of the floor lay a great circular iron plate, some
two feet across and festooned near the edge with a circle of highly
unornamental iron bolt heads.

Beside the plate, a lever rising perpendicularly from the floor
constituted the sole furnishing of the car.

“Now, you’ve seen a hydraulic elevator?” Hawkins began. “You know how
they work--a big steel shaft pushed up the car from underneath, so that
when it is in operation the car is simply a box standing on the end of a
pole, which rises or sinks, as the operator wills.”

“I believe so,” I assented. “I think it’s time now for me to be go----”

“That principle is fallacious!” the inventor exclaimed. “Consider what
it would mean here--a steel shaft sixteen stories high, weighing tons
and tons!”

“Well?”

“Well, sir, I have reversed that idiotic idea!” Hawkins announced
triumphantly. “I have had a hole dug sixteen stories deep, and put the
steel shaft down into it.”

It was about what one might have expected from Hawkins; but despite my
long acquaintance with his bizarre mental machinery, I stood and gasped
in sheer amazement.

“Now, then,” pursued the inventor. “I have had a steel tube made, a
little longer than the shaft, you understand.”

“What! Even longer than sixteen stories?”

“Of course. The tube fits the shaft exactly, just as an engine cylinder
fits the plunger. The elevator stands upon the upper end of the tube.
We let steam into the tube by operating this lever, which controls my
patent, reversible steam-release. What happens? Why, the tube is forced
upward and the elevator rises. I let out some of the steam--and the tube
sinks down into the ground! That iron plate which you see is the
manhole cover of the tube, as it were--it corresponds, of course, to the
cylinder-head on an engine.”

As the novelist puts it, I stood aghast.

It overwhelmed me utterly--the idea that in a great, sane city like New
York an irresponsible maniac could be permitted to dig a hole sixteen
stories deep under a new office building and then fill up that hole with
a shaft and a tube such as Hawkins had just described.

“And the people who own this place--did they allow you to do it, or have
you been chloroforming the watchman and working at night?” I inquired.

“Don’t be absurd, Griggs,” said Hawkins. “I pay a big rent here. The
owners were very nice about it.”

They must have been--exceedingly so, I thought; nice to the point of
imbecility. Had they known Hawkins as I know him, they would joyfully
have handed him back his lease, given him a substantial cash bonus to
boot, and even have thrown in a non-transferable Cook’s Tour ticket to
Timbuctoo before they allowed him to embark on the project.

It would have been a low sort of trick upon Timbuctoo, but it would have
saved them money and trouble.

“Well,” Hawkins said sharply, breaking in upon my reverie. “Don’t stand
there mooning. Did you ever see anything like it before?”

“Once, when I was a child,” I confessed, “I fell while climbing a
flagpole, and that night I dreamed----”

“Bah! Come along and watch her work.”

“No!” I protested. “Oh, no!”

“Good Lord, why not?” cried Hawkins.

“My wife,” I murmured. “She cannot spare me, Hawkins, you know--not
yet.”

“Why, there isn’t the slightest element of danger,” the inventor argued.
“Surely, Griggs, even you must be able to grasp that. Can’t you see that
that is the chief beauty of the Hydro-Vapor Lift? There are no cables to
break! That’s the great feature. This car may be loaded with ton after
ton; but if she’s overloaded, she simply stops. There are no risky
wire-ropes to snap and let down the whole affair.”

“I know, but there are no wire-ropes to hold her up, either, and----”

Hawkins snorted angrily. Then he grabbed me bodily and forced me along
toward the door of his Hydro-Vapor Lift.

“Actually, you do make me tired,” he said. “You seem to think that
everybody is conspiring to take your wretched little life!”

“But what have you against me?” I asked mournfully. “Why not let me out
and do your experimenting alone?”

“Because--Lord knows why I’m doing it, you’re not important enough to
warrant it--I’m bound to convince you that this contrivance is all that
I claim!”

Oh, had I but spent the days of my youth in a strenuous gymnasium! Had
I but been endowed with muscle beyond the dreams of Eugene Sandow, and
been expert in boxing and wrestling and in the breaking of bones, as are
the Japanese!

Then I could have fallen upon Hawkins from the rear and tied him into
knots, and even dismembered him if necessary--and escaped.

But things are what they are, and Hawkins is more than a match for me;
so he banged the door angrily and grasped the lever.

“Now, observe with great care the superbly gentle motion with which she
rises,” he instructed me.

I prepared for that familiar
head-going-up-and-the-rest-of-you-staying-below sensation and gritted my
teeth.

Hawkins pulled at the lever. The Hydro-Vapor Lift quivered for an
instant. Then it ascended the shaft--and very gently and pleasantly.

“There! I suppose you’ve trembled until your collar-buttons have worked
loose?” Hawkins said contemptuously, turning on me.

“Not quite that,” I murmured.

“Well, you may as well stop. In a moment or two we shall have reached
the top floor; and there, if you like, you can get out and climb down
sixteen flights of stairs.”

“Thank you,” I said sincerely.

“This, of course, is only the slow speed,” Hawkins continued. “We can
increase it with the merest touch. Watch.”

“Wait! I like it better slow!” I protested.

“Oh, I’ll slacken down again in a moment.”

Hawkins gave a mighty push to the controlling apparatus. A charge of
dynamite seemed to have been exploded beneath the Hydro-Vapor Lift!

Up we shot! I watched the freshly painted numbers between floors as they
whizzed by us with shuddering apprehension: 9--10--11--12----

“We’re going too fast!” I cried.

Hawkins, I think, was about to laugh derisively. His head had turned to
me, and his lips had curled slightly--when the Hydro-Vapor Lift stopped
with such tremendous suddenness that we almost flew up against the roof
of the car.

That was the law of inertia at work. Then we descended to the floor
with a crash that seemed calculated to loosen it. That was the law of
gravitation.

I presume that Hawkins figured without them.

I was the first to sit up. For a time my head revolved too rapidly for
anything like coherent perception. Then, as the stars began to fade
away, I saw that we were stuck fast between floors; and before my
eyes--large and prominent in the newness of its paint--loomed up the
number 13.

It looked ominous.

“We--we seem to have stopped,” I said.

“Yes,” snapped Hawkins.

“What was it? Do you suppose anything was sticking out into the shaft?
Has--can it be possible that there is anything like a mechanical error
in your Hydro-Vapor Lift?”

“No! It’s that blamed fool of an engineer!”

“What!” I exclaimed. “Do you blame him?”

“Certainly.”

“But how was it his fault?”

“Oh--you see--bah!” said the inventor, turning rather red. “You wouldn’t
understand if I were to explain the whole thing, Griggs.”

“But I should like to know, Hawkins.”

“Why?”

“I want to write a little account of the why and the wherefore, so that
they can find it in case--anything happens to us.”

Hawkins turned away loftily.

“We’ll have to get out of this,” he said.

He pulled at his lever with a confident smile. The Hydro-Vapor Lift did
not budge the fraction of an inch.

Then he pushed it back--and forward again. And still the inexorable 13
stood before us.

“Confound that--er--engineer!” growled the inventor.

Just then the Hydro-Vapor Lift indulged in a series of convulsive
shudders.

It was too much for my nerves. I felt certain that in another second we
were to drop, and I shouted lustily:

“Help! Help! Help!”

“Shut up!” cried Hawkins. “Do you want to get the workmen here and have
them see that something’s wrong?”

I affirmed that intention with unprintable force.

“Well, I don’t!” said the inventor. “Why, Griggs, I’m figuring on
equipping this building with my lift in a couple of months!”

“Are--are they going to allow that?” I gasped.

“Why, nothing’s settled as yet; but it is understood that if this
experimental model proves a success----”

But my cry had summoned aid. Above us, and hidden by the roof of the
car, some one shouted:

“Hallo! Phat is it?”

“Hallo!” I returned.

“Air ye in the box?” said the voice, its owner evidently astonished.

“Yes! Get an ax!”

“Phat?”

“An ax!” I repeated. “Get an ax and chop out the roof of this beastly
thing so that we can climb out, and----”

Hawkins clapped a hand over my mouth, and his scowl was sinister.

“Haven’t you a grain of sense left?” he hissed.

“Yes, of course, I have. That’s why I want an ax to----”

“Tell that crazy engineer I want more steam!” bawled Hawkins, drowning
my voice.

“More steam?” said the person above. “More steam an’ an ax, is it?”

“No--no ax. Tell him I want more steam, and I want it quick! He’s got so
little pressure that we’re stuck!”

We heard the echo of departing footsteps.

“Now, you’d have made a nice muddle, wouldn’t you?” snarled the
inventor. “We’d have made a nice sight clambering out through a hole in
the top of this car!”

“There are times,” I said, “when appearance don’t count for much.”

“Well, this isn’t one of them,” rejoined the inventor sourly.

I did not reply. There was nothing that occurred to me that wouldn’t
have offended Hawkins, so I kept silence.

We stood there for a period of minutes, but the Hydro-Vapor Lift seemed
disinclined to move either up or down.

Once or twice Hawkins gave a push at his lever; but that part of the
apparatus seemed permanently to have retired from active business.

“Shall we move soon?” I inquired, when the stillness became oppressive.

“Presently,” growled Hawkins.

Another long pause, and I hazarded again:

“Isn’t it growing warm?”

“I don’t feel it.”

“Well, it is! Ah! The heat is coming from that plate!” I exclaimed,
as it dawned upon me that the big iron thing was radiating warm waves
through the stuffy little car. “Your Hydro-Vapor Lift will be pleasant
to ride in when the thermometer runs up in August, won’t it?”

Hawkins did not deign to reply, and I fell to examining the plate.

“Look,” I said, “isn’t that steam?”

“Isn’t what steam?”

“Down there,” I replied, pointing to the plate.

A fine jet of vapor was curling from one point at its edge--a thin spout
of hot steam!

“That’s nothing,” said Hawkins. “Little leak--nothing more.”

“But there’s another now!”

“Positively, Griggs, I think you have the most active imagination I ever
knew in an otherwise----”

“Use your eyes,” I said uneasily. “There’s another--and still another!”

Hawkins bent over the plate--as much to hide the concern which appeared
upon his face as for any other reason, I think.

He arose rather suddenly, for a cloud of steam saluted him from a new
spot.

“Well,” he said, “she’s leaking a trifle.”

“But why?”

“The plate isn’t steam-tight, of course; and the engineer’s sending us
more pressure.”

His composure had returned by this time, and he regarded me with such
contemptuous eyes that I could find no answer.

But Hawkins’ contempt couldn’t shut off the steam. It blew out harder
and harder from the leaky spots. The little car began to fill, and the
temperature rose steadily.

From a comfortable warmth it increased to an uncomfortable warmth; then
to a positively intolerable, reeking wet heat.

I removed my coat, and a little later my vest. Hawkins did likewise. We
both found some difficulty in breathing.

The steam grew thicker, the car hotter and hotter. Perspiration was
oozing from every pore in my body. Sparkling little rivulets coursed
down Hawkins’ countenance.

“Hawkins,” I said, “if you’d called this thing the Hydro-Vapor Bath
instead of Lift----”

“Don’t be witty,” Hawkins said coldly.

“Never mind. It may be a bit unreliable as an elevator, but you can let
it out for steam-baths--fifty cents a ticket, you know, until you’ve
made up whatever the thing cost.”

Bzzzzzzzzzz! said the steam.

“I’m going to shout for that ax again,” I said determinedly. “Ten
minutes more of this and we’ll be cooked alive!”

“Now----” began the inventor.

“Hawkins, I decline to be converted into stew simply to save your
vanity. He----”

“Hey!” shouted Hawkins, dancing away from his lever into a corner of the
car and regarding the iron plate with round eyes.

“What is it, now?” I asked breathlessly.

A queer, roaring noise was coming from somewhere. The Hydro-Vapor affair
executed a series of blood-curdling shakes. From the edges of the plate
the steam hissed spitefully and with new vigor.

“That--that jackass of an engineer!” Hawkins sputtered. “He’s sending
too much steam!”

For a moment I didn’t quite catch the significance; then I faltered with
sudden weakness:

“Hawkins, you said that this plate corresponded to the cylinder-head of
an engine? Then the tube beneath us is full of steam?”

“Yes, yes!”

“And if we get too much steam--as we seem to be getting it--will the
plate blow off?”

“Yes--no--yes--no, of course not,” answered Hawkins faintly. “It’s
bolted down with----”

“But if it should,” I said, dashing the streaming perspiration from my
eyes for another look at the accursed plate.

“If it should,” the inventor admitted, “we’d either go up to Heaven on
it, or we’d stay here and drop!”

“Help!” I screamed.

“Look out! Look out! Hug the wall!” Hawkins shrieked.

A mighty spasm shook the Hydro-Vapor Lift. I fell flat and rolled
instinctively to one side. Then, ere my bewildered senses could grasp
what was occurring, my ears were split by a terrific roar.

The roof of the car disappeared as if by magic, and through the opening
shot that huge, round plate of iron, seemingly wafted upon a cloud of
dense white vapor. Then the steam obscured all else, and I felt that we
were falling.

Yes, for an instant the car seemed to shudder uncertainly--then she
dropped!

I can hardly say more of our descent from the fatal thirteenth story. In
one second--not more, I am certain--twelve spots of light, representing
twelve floors, whizzed past us.

I recall a very definite impression that the Blank Building was making
an outrageous trip straight upward from New York; and I wondered how the
occupants were going to return and whether they would sue the building
people for detention from business.

But just as I was debating this interesting point, earthly concerns
seemed to cease.

In the cellar of the Blank Building annex a pile of excelsior and
bagging and other refuse packing materials protruded into the shaft
where once had been the Hawkins Hydro-Vapor Lift. That fact, I suppose,
saved us from eternal smash.

At any rate, I realized after a time that my life had been spared, and
sat up on the cement flooring of the cellar.

Hawkins was standing by a steel pillar, smiling blankly. Steam, by the
cubic mile, I think, was pouring from the flooring of the Hydro-Vapor
Lift and whirling up the shaft.

I struggled to my feet and tried to walk--and succeeded, very much to
my own astonishment. Shaken and bruised and half dead from the shock I
certainly was, but I could still travel.

I picked up my coat and turned to Hawkins.

“I--I think I’ll go home,” he said weakly. “I’m not well, Griggs.”

We ascended a winding stair and passed through a door at the top, and
instead of reaching the annex we stepped into the lower hall of the
Blank Building itself.

The place was full of steam. People were tearing around and yelling
“Fire!” at the top of their lungs. Women were screaming. Clerks were
racing back and forth with big books.

Older men appeared here and there, hurriedly making their exit with cash
boxes and bundles of documents. There was an exodus to jig-time going on
in the Blank Building.

Above it all, a certain man, his face convulsed with anger, shouted at
the crowd that there was no danger--no fire. Hawkins shrank as his eyes
fell upon this personage.

“Lord! That’s one of the owners!” he said. “I’m going!”

We, too, made for the door, and had almost attained it when a heavy hand
fell upon the shoulder of Hawkins.

“You’re the man I’m looking for!” said the hard, angry tones of the
proprietor. “You come back with me! D’ye know what you’ve done? Hey?
D’ye know that you’ve ruined that elevator shaft? D’ye know that a
thousand-pound casting dropped on our roof and smashed it and wrecked
two offices? Oh, you won’t slip out like that.” He tightened his grip
on Hawkins’ shoulder. “You’ve got a little settling to do with me, Mr.
Hawkins. And I want that man who was with you, too, for----”

That meant me! A sudden swirl of steam enveloped my person. When it had
lifted, I was invisible.

For my only course had seemed to fold my tents like the Arabs and as
silently steal away; only I am certain that no Arab ever did it with
greater expedition and less ostentation than I used on that particular
occasion.



CHAPTER XII.


I had intended it for a peaceful, solitary walk up-town after business
on that beautiful Saturday afternoon; and had in fact accomplished the
better part of it. I was inhaling huge quantities of the balmy air and
reveling in the exhilaration of the exercise.

But passing the picture store, I experienced a queer sensation--perhaps
“that feeling of impending evil” we read about in the patent medicine
advertisements.

It may have been because I recalled that in that very shop Hawkins had
demonstrated the virtues of his infallible Lightning Canvas-Stretcher,
and thereby ruined somebody’s priceless and unpurchasable Corot.

At any rate my eyes were drawn to the place as I passed; and like a
cuckoo-bird emerging from the clock, out popped Hawkins.

“Ah, Griggs,” he exclaimed. “Out for a walk?”

“What were you doing in there?”

“Going to walk home?”

“Settling for that painting, eh?”

“Because if you are, I’ll go with you,” pursued Hawkins, falling into
step beside me and ignoring my remarks.

I told Hawkins that I should be tickled to death to have his company,
which was a lie and intended for biting sarcasm; but Hawkins took it in
good faith and was pleased.

“I tell you, Griggs,” he informed me, “there’s nothing like this early
summer air to fill a man’s lungs.”

“Unless it’s cash to fill his pockets.”

“Eh? Cash?” said the inventor. “That reminds me. I must spend some this
afternoon.”

“Indeed! Going to settle another damage suit?”

“I intend to order coal,” replied Hawkins frigidly.

He seemed disinclined to address me further; and I had no particular
yearning to hear his voice. We walked on in silence until within a few
blocks of home.

Then Hawkins paused at one of the cross-streets.

“The coal-yard is down this way, Griggs,” he said. “Come along. It won’t
take more than five or ten minutes.”

Now, the idea of walking down to the coal-yard certainly seemed
commonplace and harmless. To me it suggested nothing more sinister than
a super-heated Irish lady perspiring over Hawkins’ range in the dog
days.

At least, it suggested nothing more at the time, and I turned the corner
with Hawkins and walked on, unsuspecting.

Except that it belonged to a particularly large concern, the coal-yard
which Hawkins honored by his patronage was much like other coal-yards.
The high walls of the storage bins rose from the sidewalk, and there
was the conventional arch for the wagons, and the little, dingy office
beside it.

Into the latter Hawkins made his way, while I loitered without.

Hawkins seemed to be upon good terms with the coal people. He and the
men in the office were laughing genially.

Through the open window I heard Hawkins file his order for four tons of
coal. Later some one said: “Splendid, Mr. Hawkins, splendid.”

Then somebody else said: “No, there seems to be no flaw in any
particular.”

And still later, the first voice announced that they would make the
first payment one week from to-day, at which Hawkins’ voice rose with a
sort of pompous joy.

I paid very little heed to the scraps of conversation; but presently
I paid considerable attention to Hawkins, for while he had entered the
coal office a well-developed man, he emerged apparently deformed.

His chest seemed to have expanded something over a foot, and his nose
had attained an elevation that pointed his gaze straight to the skies.

“Good gracious, Hawkins, what is it?” I asked. “Have they been inflating
you with gas in there?”

“I beg pardon?”

“What has happened to swell your bosom? Is it the first payment?”

“Oh, you heard that, did you?” said the inventor, with a condescending
smile. “Yes, Griggs, I may confess to some slight satisfaction in that
payment. It is a matter of one thousand dollars--from the coal people,
you know.”

“But what for? Have you threatened to invent something for them, and now
are exacting blackmail to desist?”

“Tush, Griggs, tush!” responded Hawkins. “Do make some attempt to subdue
that inane wit. I fancy you’ll feel rather cheap hearing that that
thousand dollars is the first payment on something I have invented!”

“What!”

“Certainly. I am selling the patent to these people. It is the Hawkins
Crano-Scale!”

“Crano-Scale?” I reflected. “What is it? A hair tonic?”

“Now, that is about the deduction your mental apparatus would make!”
 sneered the inventor.

“But can it be possible that you have constructed something that
actually works?” I cried. “And you’ve sold it--actually sold it?”

“I have sold it, and there’s no ‘actually’ about it!”

And Hawkins stalked majestically away through the arch and into the yard
beyond.

The idea of one of Hawkins’ inventions actually in practical operation
was almost too weird for conception. He must be heading for it; and if
it existed I must see it.

I followed.

Hawkins strode to the rear of the yard without turning. About us on
every side were high wooden walls, the storage bins of the company.

Up the side of one wall ran a ladder, and Hawkins commenced the
perpendicular ascent with the same matter-of-fact air that one would
wear in walking up-stairs.

“What are you doing that for? Exercise?” I called, when he paused some
twenty-five feet in the air.

“If you wish to see the Crano-Scale at work, follow me. If not, stay
where you are,” replied Hawkins.

Then he resumed his upward course; and having put something like
thirty-five feet between his person and the solid earth, he vanished
through a black doorway.

Climbing a straight ladder usually sets my hair on end; but this one I
tackled without hesitation, and in a very few seconds stood before the
door.

In the semi-darkness, I perceived that a wide ledge ran around the wall
inside, and that Hawkins was standing upon it, gazing upon the hundreds
of tons of coal below, and having something the effect of the Old Nick
himself glaring down into the pit.

“There she is!” said the inventor laconically, pointing across the gulf.

I made my way to his side and stared through the gloom.

Something seemed to loom up over there.

Presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the change, I perceived the arm
of a huge crane, from which was suspended an enormous scoop.

“You mean that mastodonic coal-scuttle?” I inquired.

“Precisely. That’s the Hawkins Crano-Scale.”

“And what does she do when she--er--crano-scales things, as it were?”

“You’ll be able to understand in a moment. That coal-scuttle, as you
call it, is large enough to hold four tons. See? Well, the people in the
yard are going to want two tons of coal very shortly. What do they do?”

“Take it out, weigh it, and send it,” I hazarded.

“Not at all. They simply adjust the controlling apparatus to the two-ton
point, and set the Crano-Scale going. The scoop dips down, picks up
exactly two tons of coal, and rises automatically as soon as the two
tons are in. After that the crane swings outward, dumps the coal in the
wagon, and there you have it--weighed and all! It has been in operation
here for one month,” Hawkins concluded complacently.

“And no one killed or maimed? No Crano-Scale widows or orphans?”

“Oh, Griggs, you are--Ha! She’s starting!”

The Crano-Scale emitted an ear-piercing shriek. The big steel crane was
in motion.

I watched the thing. Gracefully the coal-scuttle dipped into the pile of
coal, dug for a minute, swung upward again. It turned, passed through
a big doorway in the side, and we could hear the coal rattling into the
wagon.

The Crano-Scale returned and swung ponderously in the twilight.

“There!” cried Hawkins triumphantly.

“It works!” I gasped.

“You bet it works!”

“But it must cost something to run the thing,” I suggested.

“Well--er--I’m paying for that part,” Hawkins acknowledged, “until I’ve
finished perfecting a motor particularly adapted for the Crano-Scale,
you see.”

I smiled audibly. I think that Hawkins was about to take exception to
the smile, but a voice from without bawled loudly:

“Two--tons--nut!”

“Ah, there she goes again!” said the inventor rapturously.

This time the Crano-Scale executed a sudden detour before descending.
Indeed, the thing came so painfully near to our perch that the wind was
perceptible, and when the giant coal-scuttle had passed and dropped, my
heart was hammering out a tattoo.

“I don’t believe this ledge is safe, Hawkins,” I said.

“Nonsense.”

“But that thing came pretty close.”

“Oh, it won’t act that way again. Watch! She’s dumping into the wagon
now! Hear it?”

“Yes, I hear it. I see just what a beautiful success it is,
Hawkins--really. Let’s go.”

“And now she’s coming back!” cried the inventor, his eyes glued to the
remarkable contrivance. “Observe the ease--the grace--the mechanical
poise--the resistless quality of the Crano-Scale’s motion! See, Griggs,
how she swings!”

I did see how she was swinging. It was precisely that which sent me
nearer to the ladder.

The Crano-Scale was returning to position, but with a series of erratic
swoops that seemed to close my throat.

The coal-scuttle whirled joyously about in the air--it was receding--no,
it was coming nearer! It paused for a second. Then, making a bee-line
for our little ledge, it dived through the air toward us.

“Look out, there, Hawkins!” I cried, hastily.

“It’s all right,” said the inventor.

“But the cursed thing will smash us flat against the wall!”

“Tush! The automatic reacting clutch will----”

The Crano-Scale was upon us! For the merest fraction of a second it
paused and seemed to hesitate; then it struck the wall with a heavy
bang; then started to scrape its way along our ledge.

The wretched contraption was bent on shoving us off!

“What will we do?” I managed to shout.

“Why--why--why--why--why----” Hawkins cried breathlessly.

But, my course of action had been settled for me. The scoop of the
Crano-Scale caught me amidships, and I plunged downward into the coal.

That there was a considerable degree of shock attached to my landing may
easily be imagined.

But small coal, as I had not known before, is a reasonably soft thing to
fall on; and within a few seconds I sat up, perceived that I was soon to
order a new suit of clothes, and then looked about for Hawkins.

He was nowhere in the neighborhood, and I called aloud.

“We--ll?” came a voice from far above.

“Where are you?”

“Hanging--to--the--scoop!” sang out the inventor.

And there, up near the roof, I located him, dangling from the
Crano-Scale coal-scuttle!

“What are you going to do next?” I asked, with some interest.

“I--I--I can’t--can’t hang on long here!”

“I should say not.”

“Well, climb out and tell them to lower the crane!” screamed Hawkins.

I looked around. Right and left, before and behind, rose a mountain
of loose coal. I essayed to climb nimbly toward the door which the
Crano-Scale had used, and suddenly landed on my hands and knees.

“Are--you--out?” shrieked Hawkins. “I can’t stick here!”

“And I can’t get out!” I replied.

“Well, you--ouch!”

There was a dull, rattling whack beside me; bits of coal flew in all
directions. Hawkins had landed.

“Well!” he exclaimed, sitting up. “I honestly believe, Griggs, that
no man was ever born on this earth with less resourcefulness than
yourself!”

“Which means that I should have climbed out and informed the people of
your plight?”

“Certainly.”

“Well, you try it yourself, Hawkins.”

The inventor arose and started for the door with a very convincing and
elaborate display of indomitable energy. He planted his left foot
firmly on the side of the coal pile--and found that his left leg had
disappeared in the coal in a highly astonishing and undignified fashion.

“Humph!” he remarked disgustedly, struggling free and shaking something
like a pound of coal dust from his person. “Perhaps--perhaps it’s more
solid on the other side.”

“Try it.”

“Well, it is better to try it and fail than to stand there like a
cigar-store Indian and offer fool suggestions!” snapped the inventor,
making a vicious attack at the opposite side of the pile.

It really did seem more substantial. Hawkins, by the aid of both hands,
both feet, his elbows, his knees, and possibly his teeth as well,
managed to scramble upward for a dozen feet or so.

But just as he was about to turn and gloat over his success, the
treacherous coal gave way once more. Hawkins went flat upon his face and
slid back to me, feet first.

When he arose he presented a remarkable appearance.

Light overcoat, pearl trousers, fancy vest--all were black as ink.
Hawkins’ classic countenance had fared no better. His lips showed some
slight resemblance of redness, and his eyes glared wonderfully white;
but the rest of his face might have been made up for a minstrel show.

“Yes, it’s devilish funny, isn’t it?” he roared, sitting down again
rather suddenly as the coal slid again beneath his feet.

“Funny isn’t the word. What’s our next move to be?”

“Climb out, of course. There must be some place where we can get a
foothold.”

“Why not shout for help?”

“No use. Nobody could hear us down here. Go on, Griggs. Make your
attempt. I’ve done my part.”

“And you wish to see me repeat the performance? Thank you. No.”

“But it’s the only way out.”

“Then,” I said, “I’m afraid we’re slated to spend the night here.”

“Good Lord! We can’t do that!”

“I have a notion, Hawkins,” I went on, “that we not only can, but shall.
You say we can’t attract any one’s attention, and I guess you’re right.
Hence, as there is no one to pull us out, and we can’t pull ourselves
out, we shall remain here. That’s logic, isn’t it?”

“It’s awful!” exclaimed the inventor. “Why, we may not get out
to-morrow----”

“Nor the next day, nor the one after that. Exactly. We shall have to
wait until this wretched place is emptied, when they will find our
bleaching skeletons--if skeletons can bleach in a coal bin.”

Hawkins blinked his sable eyelids at me.

“Or we might go to work and pile all the coal on one side of the bin,” I
continued. “It wouldn’t take more than a week or so, throwing it over
by handfuls; and when at last they found that your crano-engine wouldn’t
bring up any more from this side----”

“Aha!” cried the inventor, with sudden animation. “That’s it! The
Crano-Scale!”

“Yes, that’s it,” I assented. “Away up near the roof. What about it?”

“Why, it solves the whole problem,” said Hawkins. “Don’t you see, the
next time they need nut-coal, they’ll set the engine going and the
scoop----”

“Four--tons--nut, Bill!” said a faraway voice. “Yep! Four ton. Start up
that blamed machine!”

“What? What did he say?” cried the inventor.

“Something about starting the engine.”

“That’s what I thought. They’re going to use the Crano-Scale, Griggs!
We’re saved! We’re saved!”

“I fail to see it.”

“Why, when the thing comes down, be ready. Ah--it’s coming now! Get
ready, Griggs! Get ready! Be prepared to make a dash for it!”

“And then?”

“And then climb in, of course. There won’t be much room, for they’re
going to take on four tons, and the thing will be full; but we can
manage it. We can do it, Griggs, and be home in time for dinner.”

“And you’re a fine looking object to go to dinner,” I added.

Hawkins’ countenance fell somewhat, but there was no time for a reply.
The coal-scuttle of the Crano-Scale was hovering above us, evidently
selecting a spot for its operations.

“Here! We’re right under it!” Hawkins shouted. “This way, Griggs! Quick!
Lord! It’s coming down--it’ll hit you! Quick!”

And I dived toward Hawkins as he was struggling for a foothold, and
then----

       *       *       *       *       *

A line of asterisks is the only way of putting into print my state of
mind--or absence of any state of mind--for the ensuing quarter of an
hour.

My first idea was that some absent-minded person had built a three-story
house upon my unhappy body; but I was joggling and bouncing up and down,
so that that hypothesis was manifestly untenable.

The weight of the house was there, though, and all about was stifling
blackness.

I tried to turn. It was useless. I couldn’t move.

The house had me pinned down hard and fast.

Then I wriggled frantically, and something near me wriggled frantically
as well. Then one of my hands struck something that yielded, and there
came a muffled voice from somewhere in the neighborhood.

“Griggs!” it said.

“Yes?”

“W-w-w-where are we? This isn’t the coal bin. Are you hurt?”

“I give it up. Are you?”

“I think not. Why, Griggs, this must be one of the big coal carts!”

“I shouldn’t wonder,” I assented vaguely.

“But--how----”

“Your miserable coal-scuttle must have stunned us, picked us up and
dumped us in with the coal!” I exclaimed, suddenly enlightened.

“Do--you--think,” came through the blackness. “Huh! It’s stopped!”

For a long, long time, as it seemed, there was silence. The weight of
coal pressed down until I was near to madness. Hawkins was grunting
painfully.

I was speculating as to whether he was actually succumbing--whether I
could stand the strain myself for another minute--when everything began
to slide. The coal slid, I slid, Hawkins slid--the world seemed to be
sliding!

We landed upon the sidewalk. We struggled and beat and threshed at the
coal, and finally managed to rise out of it--pitch black, dazed and
battered.

And the first object which confronted us was the home of Hawkins! We had
been delivered at his door, with the four tons of nut-coal.

“They’ll have to sign for us on the driver’s slip,” I remember saying.

That person let off one shriek and vanished down the street. Then the
door of the Hawkins home opened, and Mrs. Hawkins emerged, followed by
my wife.

That numerous things were said need not be stated. Mrs. Hawkins said
most of them, and they were luminous.

Mrs. Griggs limited herself to ruining a fifty-dollar gown by weeping on
my coal-soiled shoulder as she implored me never again to tread the same
street with Hawkins.

It was a solemn moment, that; for I saw the light. I realized how many
bumps and bruises and pains and duckings and scorchings might have been
spared me, had I taken the step earlier.

But it is never too late to mend. Probably I had still a few years in
which to enjoy life.

I turned to Hawkins--a chopfallen, cowering huddle of filth, standing
upon two pearl-and-black legs--and said:

“Hawkins, when in the course of human events it becomes necessary for
one man to sever those friendly bands which have connected him with
another, and to assume a station apart, a decent respect for the
opinions of the latter usually make it necessary to declare the cause
of that separation. It is not so in this case. You know mighty well what
you’ve put me through in the past. There’s no need of going into it.

“But this Crano-Scale business is my limit--my outside limit,” I went
on, “and you’ve passed it. If you ever attempt to address another word
to me, or ride in the same elevated train, or even sit in the same
theatre, I’ll have you arrested as a suspicious person--and locked up
for life, if money’ll do it! Hawkins, henceforth we meet as strangers!”

And Hawkins, piloted by the unhappy woman who bears his name, walked up
the steps, turned and stared stupidly at me, and then stumbled into the
house and out of my life--forever.





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