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The Master Mystery (1919)
Arthur B Reeve and John W Grey


From Scenarios by Arthur B. Reeve
in Collaboration with John W. Grey and C.A. Logue




CHAPTER I


Peter Brent sat nervously smoking in the library of his great house,
Brent Rock.

He was a man of about forty-five or -six--a typical, shrewd business man.
Something, however, was evidently on his mind, for, though he tried to
conceal it, he lacked the self-assurance that was habitually his before
the world.

A scowl clouded his face as the door of the library was flung open and
he heard voices in the hall. A tall, spare, long-haired man forced his
way in, crushing his soft black hat in his hands.

"I _will_ see Mr. Brent," insisted the new-comer, as he pushed past the
butler. "Mr. Brent!" he cried, advancing with a wild light in his eyes.
"I'm tired of excuses. I want justice regarding that water-motor of
mine." He paused, then added, shaking his finger threateningly, "Put it
on the market--or I will call in the Department of Justice!"

Brent scowled again. For years he had been amassing a fortune by a
process that was scarcely within the law.

For, when inventions threaten to render useless already existing
patents, necessitating the scrapping of millions of dollars' worth of
machinery, vested interests must be protected.

Thus, Brent and his partner, Herbert Balcom, had evolved a simple method
of protecting corporations against troublesome inventors and inventions.
They had formed their own corporation, International Patents,
Incorporated.

Their method was effective--though desperate. It was to suppress the
inventor and his labor. They bought the sole rights from the inventor,
promising him glittering royalties. The joker was that the invention was
suppressed. None were ever manufactured. Hence there were no royalties
and the corporations went on undisturbed while Brent and Balcom
collected huge retainers for the protection they afforded them.

Thus Brent Rock had come to be hated by scores of inventors defrauded in
this unequal conflict with big business.

The inventor looked about at the library, richly paneled in oak and
luxuriously furnished. Through a pair of folding-doors he could see the
dining-room and a conservatory beyond. All this had been paid for by
himself and such as he.

"Sit down, sir," nodded Brent, suavely.

The man continued to stand, growing more and more excited. Had he been a
keener observer he would have seen that under Brent's suavity there was
a scarcely hidden nervousness.

Finally Brent leaned over and spoke in a whisper, looking about as
though the very walls might have ears.

"My dear fellow," he confided, "for some time I have been considering
your water-motor. I will return the model to you--release the patent to
the world."

He drew back to watch the effect on the aged inventor. Could it be that
Brent was lying? Or was it fear? Could it be that at last his seared
conscience was troubling him?

At that exact moment, up-stairs, in a private laboratory in the house,
sat a young man at a desk--a handsome, strong-faced, clean-cut chap. All
about him were the scientific instruments which he used to test
inventions offered to Brent.

A look of intent eagerness passed over his face. For Quentin Locke was
not testing any of Brent's patents just now. Over his head he had the
receivers of a dictagraph.

It was a strange act for one so recently employed as manager of Brent's
private laboratory. Yet such a man must have had his reasons.

One who was interested might have followed the wire from the
dictagraph-box in the top drawer of the desk down the leg of the desk,
through the very walls to the huge chandelier in the library below,
where, in the ornamented brass-work, reposed a small black disk about
the size of a watch. It was the receiving-end of the dictagraph.

Suddenly the young man's face broke out into a smile and without
thinking he stopped writing what the little mechanical eavesdropper was
conveying him from below. He listened intently as he heard a silvery
laugh over the wire.

"Oh, I didn't know you were busy. I thought these flowers--Well, never
mind. I'll leave them, anyway."

It was Eva Brent, daughter of the head of the firm, who had danced in
from the conservatory like a June zephyr in December.

"My dear," Locke could hear the patent magnate welcome, "it is all
right. Stay a moment and talk to this gentleman while I go down to the
museum."

Locke listened eagerly, glancing now and then at a photograph of Eva
Brent on his own desk, while she chatted gaily with the inventor. It was
evident that Eva had not the faintest idea of the hard nature of the
business of her father.

Meanwhile, Brent himself had left the library and passed through the
portièred door into the hall. He did not turn up the grand staircase in
the center of the wide hall, but hurried, preoccupied, to a door under
the stairs that opened down to the cellar.

He started to open it to pass down. As he did so he did not hear a light
footstep on the stairs as his secretary, Zita Dane, came down. But he
did not escape her watchful eye.

"Mr. Brent," she called, "is there anything I can do?"

Brent paused. "Wait a moment for me in the library," he directed, as he
turned again to enter the cellar.

He closed the door and Zita watched him with an almost uncanny interest,
then turned to the library to join Eva and the new-comer.

Down the cellar steps Brent made his way, and across the cellar floor,
pausing at the rocky wall of the foundation of the house blasted and
hewn out of the cliff on which it towered above the river. A heavy steel
door in the rock wall barred the way.

Brent whirled the combination and shot the bolts, and the door swung
ponderously open, disclosing a rock-hewn cavern. Three walls of the
cavern were lined with shelves containing inventions of all
kinds--telegraph and telephone instruments, engine models,
railroad-signaling and safety devices, racks of bottles containing
dangerous chemicals and their antidotes--all conceivable manner of
mechanical and scientific paraphernalia. It was literally a Graveyard of
Genius--harboring the ghosts of a thousand inventors' dead hopes.

Brent entered hastily and went directly to a shelf. There he picked up a
model of a motor. He blew the dust from it and examined it approvingly.

Suddenly he saw something that caused him to start. He looked down at
his feet. There was a piece of paper on the floor.

He picked it up and read it, and as he did so he started back,
frightened--then angry. He looked about at the rock-hewn cavern
walls--then read again:

  BRENT--This is my last warning. If you persist in your course you
  will be struck down by the Madagascar madness.
                                                             Q.

Under his breath, Brent swore. Again he looked about the cavern, then
turned hurriedly, picked up the motor, passed out the steel door,
clanged it shut, and locked it.

No sooner had Brent shut the door, however, than it seemed as if the
very face of the outer rocky wall of the cavern began to move--to tilt,
as if on hinges.

If a human eye had been in the Graveyard of Genius at that instant it
would have sworn that it perceived in the inky blackness of the tilting
rock a passage, and in the shadows of that passage a huge, weird,
grotesque figure peering in.

Then the tilting rock door closed again, as the figure disappeared down
the rocky passage on the opposite side--a menace and a threat to the
owner of Brent Rock, insecure even in his millions.



CHAPTER II


When Brent arrived back at the library he had quite recovered his poise,
at least to the eyes of those in the library. Zita had joined Eva with
the old inventor, Davis.

As Brent entered, Davis uttered an exclamation of joy at the sight of
his motor. For the moment Brent almost glowed.

"Along with your invention," he beamed, as he handed the model to the
old man, "I am going to release many others to the world."

All this not only Locke was noting, but Zita, too, appeared to be an
almost too interested listener.

The others were chatting when Zita heard a noise in the hall and hurried
out. She was just in time to see a rather hard-visaged man, with cruel,
penetrating eyes. It was Herbert Balcom, vice-president of the company.

Zita whispered to him a moment and Balcom's hard face grew harder.

"Go up-stairs--watch _him_," he ordered, passing down the hall.

Balcom entered the library just as Davis was about to leave, hugging
close to him his brain child. Davis clutched it a bit closer at sight of
the other partner.

A glance would have been sufficient to show that Brent was secretly
afraid of his partner, Balcom, and that Balcom dominated him.

"Go to the gate with him, my dear," whispered Brent to his daughter, who
was clinging to his arm, convinced of the goodness of her father,
ignorant of the very basis on which the Brent and Balcom fortune rested.

Balcom's mouth tightened as he came closer to Brent, menacing, the
moment they were alone.

"How long has this double crossing been going on?" sneered Balcom,
jerking his head toward the door through which Eva had just gone with
the inventor, and shoving his face close to Brent's.

"It's not double crossing, Balcom," Brent attempted to conciliate,
"but--"

"No 'buts,'" interrupted Balcom, with deadly coldness. "Keep on, and
you'll have the government down on us for violating the anti-trust law.
What's the matter? Have you lost your nerve?"

As Balcom almost hissed the question, up in the laboratory Locke was now
writing furiously in his note-book, when he was interrupted by a knock
at the door. He whipped the dictagraph receiver off his head and jumped
to his feet, hiding all traces of the dictagraph in the desk drawer.
Then he moved over to the door, unlocked it, and flung it open.

"Oh, I hope I haven't interrupted you in any important experiment,"
apologized Zita, innocently enough.

"Nothing important," camouflaged Locke.

Though Locke did not seem to notice it, another would have seen that
Zita cared a great deal for him.

"May I come in?" she asked, wheedling.

"Certainly. I am charmed, I assure you."

While Zita was gushingly effusive, Locke was correct and formally polite
as he bowed his acquiescence. Zita felt it.

For a moment she stood looking at a half-finished experiment on the
laboratory table, then finally she turned to Locke with a calculated
impulsiveness.

"Why do you treat me so coldly," she asked, "when you know I admire your
wonderful work?"

"Really, Miss Dane," he apologized, "I didn't mean to be rude."

Yet there was an air of constraint in his very tone.

"Do you know," she flashed, "I can't help feeling that you are so
brilliant--you must be something more than you seem."

Locke suppressed a quick look of surprise. Was she trying to worm some
secret from him? He masked his face cleverly.

"Indeed, you must be imagining things," he replied, quietly, turning and
strolling toward the window of his laboratory.

The moment his back was turned Zita picked up the photograph of Eva on
the desk. For a moment she stood glaring at it jealously.

Out of the window Locke smiled. For, down on the gravel path, walking
slowly toward the gate to the Brent Rock grounds, he could see Eva and
Davis.

The smile faded into a scowl. He had seen a young man enter the gate. It
was Paul Balcom, son of Herbert Balcom, and Paul was engaged to
Eva--thus giving Balcom a stronger hold over Brent.

Locke knew enough about Paul to dislike him thoroughly and to distrust
him. Had Locke been able to see over the hedge he would have confirmed
his suspicions. For Paul had actually driven up to Brent Rock in the
runabout of as notorious a woman as could have been found in the night
life of the city--one known as De Luxe Dora in the unsavory half-world
in which both were leaders. Had his dictagraph been extended to the
hedge he would have heard her voice rasp at Paul:

"Your father may make you pay attention to this girl, Paul, but
remember--you had not better double cross me."

Paul's protestations of underworld fidelity, would have added to Locke's
fury.

However, Locke had not seen or heard. Still, it was unbearable that this
fellow Paul should be engaged to a girl like Eva. Tall, dark, handsome
though he was, Locke knew him to be a man not to be trusted.

Paul hurried up to Eva, not a bit disconcerted at the near discovery of
his intimacy with Dora. And, whatever one may believe about woman's
intuition, there must have been something in it, for even at a distance
one could see that Eva mistrusted Paul Balcom, her fiancé. Locke scowled
blackly.

Paul thrust himself almost rudely between Davis and Eva. Again Davis
shrank, as he had from the young man's father, then bowed, excused
himself, and hurried off, hugging his motor to him, while Paul took
Eva's hand, which she was not any too willing to give him. Locke
watched, motionless, as the couple turned back to the house.

Somehow Eva must have felt his gaze. She turned and looked upward at the
laboratory window. As she saw Locke her face broke into a smile and she
waved her hand gaily. Paul saw it and a swift flush of anger crossed his
face. He pulled Eva abruptly by the arm.

"Let's go into the house," he said, almost angrily.

Seeing the action, Locke also turned from the window to encounter Zita,
still watching. Without a word he left the laboratory.

While this little quadrangle of conflicting emotions of Locke, Eva,
Paul, and Zita was being enacted the two partners in the library were
disputing hot and heavy. As they argued, almost it seemed as if Balcom's
very face limned his thoughts--that he desired Brent out of the way, as
a weakling in whom he had discovered some traces of conscience which, to
Balcom, meant weakness.

Balcom leaned forward excitedly. "I do not intend to let you wreck this
company because your conscience, as you call it, has begun to trouble
you," he hissed.

Brent's hand clutched nervously. He was afraid of Balcom--so much so
that he fought back only weakly.

Locke was down in the hallway just in time to meet Eva and Paul as they
entered.

"Oh--do you know, I'm so glad--I think my father is the most
kind-hearted of men," Eva trilled to Locke, as she recounted what had
happened in the library with Davis.

Locke listened with restrained admiration for the girl, whatever might
have been his secret opinion of her father or of the story he already
knew.

On his part, Paul did not relish the situation, nor did he take any
pains to conceal it. He shrugged and turned away.

"Come," he said, with a tone of surly authority, "I think I hear my
father in the library."

Eva looked back swiftly at Locke and smiled as Paul led her toward the
library door. But that, also, made Paul more furious.

"Why do you make me ridiculous before that fellow?" he demanded.

"I'm sorry," replied Eva, in surprise. "I didn't meant to do that."

Vaguely Paul understood. The girl was too unsophisticated to have meant
it. Somehow that made it worse. Though she did not know it, he did.
Unknown to herself, there was a response in the presence of Locke which
was not inspired in his own society. He hurried her into the library.

It was as though the entrance of Paul and Eva had been preconcerted. The
partners, in their dispute, stopped and turned as the young people
entered and moved over to a divan. Balcom lowered his voice and plucked
at Brent's sleeve as he nodded toward the couple.

"I could trust you better if they were married within a week," suggested
Balcom.

Brent recoiled, but Balcom affected not to notice.

"Then I will believe that you are dealing fairly with me," he
emphasized.

Brent studied a moment, then nodded assent. Balcom extended a cold,
commanding hand and the partners shook hands.

Outside, Locke had paused, about to enter the library. The pause had
been just long enough for him to hear--and it was a blow to him. He
watched, dazed, as the two older men walked over to the younger couple;
then he turned away, heart sick.

"My dear," began Brent, as he patted the shoulder of the girl, the one
spot of goodness that had shone in the otherwise blackness of his life,
making him at last realize the depth to which lust of money had made him
sink, "we were just saying that perhaps it would be advisable
to--er--hasten your marriage to Paul--say--perhaps next week."

The words seemed to stick in his throat.

As for Eva, she felt a shiver pass over her. Without knowing why, she
drew back from Paul, at her side, shrank even closer to her father,
trying not to tremble. Did Paul realize it?

Brent felt the shudder with a pang. He leaned over. "Promise to do
this--for my sake," he whispered, so low that there was no chance of the
others hearing. "By to-morrow all may be changed."

There was something ominous about the very words.



CHAPTER III


Brent had no intention of keeping the promise which Balcom had extracted
from him by a species of moral duress that afternoon.

In fact, already he had gone too far in his plans for restitution--or
was it self-preservation?--to turn back. It was late in the night that
he himself secretly admitted to the house a tall, dark-haired stranger
who evidently called by appointment.

"Well, Flint," he greeted, in a hushed tone, "what was it you asked to
see me about?"

Flint replied not a word, but impressively tapped a bundle which he
carried under his arm and began to undo the cord which bound it.

Brent looked startled, then caught himself. He had known Flint for some
time--an adventurer, more or less unscrupulous, who had been the foreign
representative of International Patents.

Flint took off his coat and threw it on a chair with an air of assurance
that seemed to increase Brent's anxiety, then began again to untie the
bulky package.

"Just a moment, Flint," cautioned Brent, stopping him.

With an air of uneasy secrecy Brent hurried to the door that led from
the dining-room to the conservatory and bolted it securely. Then he made
sure that the door to the library was bolted.

As he did so he did not see his secretary, Zita, watching in the hall,
for the footsteps of Locke, approaching, had caught her quick ear and
she had fled.

"Locke!" called Brent, hearing his laboratory, manager. "Under no
circumstances allow me to be disturbed to-night."

"Very well, sir," responded Locke.

Just then the light step of Eva was heard on the stairs.

"What's the matter, father?" she asked, still upset by the events of the
afternoon. "Is there anything wrong?"

"No, my dear, nothing," hastily replied Brent. "In the morning I shall
have something to say to you. Now run along like a good girl."

Dutifully Eva turned. Brent watched her out of sight. Then with a keen
look at Locke he pulled out a paper from his pocket and handed it to the
young scientist, who read:

  BRENT,--This is my last warning. If you persist in your course you
  will be struck down by the Madagascar madness.
                                                                 Q.

Locke looked up from the scrawl in alarmed perplexity.

"What does this mean?" he queried.

Brent merely shook his head cryptically.

"Study this message. I shall have something very important to tell you
in the morning."

As Brent turned back into the library he paused a moment and looked
after Locke, hesitating, as if he would call him back. Then he decided
not to do so, turned, and carefully locked the door from the dining-room
into the hallway.

Eva was waiting at the head of the stairs as Locke, perplexed by the
strange actions of his employer, came up.

"What _is_ the trouble?" she repeated, anxiously. "Please tell me. Is
there anything wrong?"

"No--nothing," reassured Locke, in spite of his own doubt. "Everything
is all right."

"I hope so." Eva lingered. "Good night."

Locke bowed admiringly. But there was the same restraint in his look
that had been shown in the afternoon.

"Good night," he murmured, slowly.

Eva quite understood, and there was a smile of encouragement on her face
as she turned away and flitted down the hall to her room.

Outside, Zita had hurried from the house to the nearest public
telephone-booth and was frantically calling Balcom at his apartment.

"Mr. Balcom," she repeated, breathlessly, as the junior partner
answered, "Flint has returned. I have seen him."

"The devil!" exclaimed Balcom, angrily, then checked himself before he
said any more. "Keep me informed."

Abruptly he hung up.

It was scarcely a moment later that Paul Balcom entered the Balcom
apartment, admitted by a turbaned black suggestive of the Orient.

Paul was surly and had evidently been drinking, for he shoved the
servant roughly out of the way as he strode toward his father.

Apparently outside Paul had overheard and had gathered the drift of what
Balcom had been saying. Or perhaps, from his own sources of information,
he already knew. At any rate, as Balcom turned from the telephone,
father and son faced each other angrily.

"Brent's lying," exclaimed Paul. "That marriage to me must take place
to-morrow."

Talking angrily, sometimes in agreement, at others far apart, the two
left the room.

Back in the dining-room by this time Brent had rejoined Flint and now
watched him eagerly as he took the last wrappings from the package which
he had carried so carefully.

As the last wrapping was stripped from it, on the table before them lay
a small steel model, perhaps three feet high--a weird-looking thing in
the miniature shape of a man, designed along lines that only a cubist
could have conceived--jointed, mobile, truly a contrivance at which to
marvel.

Brent gazed incredulously at the strange thing. "An automaton!" he
exclaimed.

"More than that," replied Flint, calmly.

Flint unrolled a chart of the human nervous system and spread it out on
the table. Pointing to the brain, he leaned over tensely, and whispered:

"This model is merely a piece of mechanism. But the real automaton
possesses a human brain which has been transplanted into it and made to
guide it."

For a moment Brent listened incredulously, then sat back in his chair
and laughed skeptically. But even Flint recognized that there was a
hollowness in the laughter.

"Do you mean to tell me," demanded Brent, "that a human brain has been
made to control a thing of no use except as a terrible engine of
destruction?"

"Not only possible," reiterated Flint, "but it is true."

"Oh, Flint," rallied Brent, with a sort of uneasiness, "you can't tell
_me_ that!"

"Believe it or not," insisted the adventurer, "I have been in Madagascar
and I know."

For a moment Brent paused at the vehemence of Flint's answer. What had
Flint to gain by misrepresentation? A thousand images of the past
flitted through Brent's brain. Then slowly a look of terror came over
Brent's face. Suppose it were indeed true--this Frankenstein, this
conscienceless inhuman superman? Brent gripped himself and composed his
features and his voice.

"But this thing," he rasped. "What does this prove?"

"Oh, this is merely automatic--a piece of mechanism--a model which I
stole. It works when it is wound up--not like the real one. Look."

Flint put a pencil in the little steel hand of the model and pressed a
lever as he held a piece of paper under the pencil. Brent leaned over,
fascinated.

Instantly the tiny hand began to trace on the paper one letter--the
simple letter "Q."

As the hand finished the tail of the "Q" Brent gripped the table for
support. His eyes bulged and stared wildly.

"My God!" burst from his lips. "It is the warning--Q!"

For minutes Brent strove to regain his composure.

Nor was Flint less impressed than the man before him.

What would have been the emotions of both if they had been able to
penetrate with the eye through the rocky cliffs on which the stately
mansion of Brent Rock stood would have been hard to say.

For, down in a rock-hewn cavern, not many hundred yards away and below
them, reached by a secret entrance from the shrubbery of the cliffs near
the shore, already had congregated several rough characters. They were
playing cards and drinking, now and then glancing furtively at the
passage entrance, as though they were expecting the arrival of some one
or something.

Suddenly came a dull metallic clank through the passage, strangely
echoing. At once all leaped to their feet, at attention, not unmixed
with awe and fear that sat strangely on their desperate features. What
was it that they, who feared neither God nor man, feared?

They strained their eyes, looking into the passage that led darkly away
into blackness.

Dimly down it now could be seen two gleaming spots of light, points in
the Cimmerian darkness. They seemed to be growing larger and coming
nearer as with each hollow reverberation the dull metallic thuds
increased.

Faintly now could be made out in the blackness a huge, stalking figure,
having the shape of a man, with gigantic, powerful shoulders, powerful
arms, a thick body, hips, and thighs that spelled terrific strength,
legs and feet that suggested irresistible force.

"The Automaton!" escaped involuntarily from all lips.

Slowly, irresistibly, the horrendous figure stalked forth into the dim
light. There it paused for a moment--a figure of steel, larger than most
men, yet not so large but that it might have incased a man. And yet its
motions, its every action, were like nothing mortal. Even these hardened
denizens of the underworld shuddered.

In its hand the Automaton carried a five-branched candlestick, for what
purpose none seemed to know. Yet all bowed and quaked at every pantomime
motion of the figure, ready to do the bidding of the least motion of
their inhuman master.

Still holding the candlestick with its five huge yellow candles before
him, the Automaton stalked forward to the table and impressively
deposited the candlestick on it, then stepped back a pace and waved his
ponderous hand at the assembled emissaries, who scarcely repressed their
own abject terror.



CHAPTER IV


At a motion from the Automaton a dark-skinned Madagascan stepped forward
and lighted the five candles. At once a dense smoke began drifting from
the candles.

The men looked at one another, showing an uncomfortable fear of what the
negro and the Automaton were doing. Even the negro edged away fearfully
and all crouched back, afraid of the fumes.

A moment later the Automaton, with a mighty blast of air, snuffed all
the candles at once, then, without a word, picked up the candlestick and
stalked off through the passage on the opposite side of the den from the
entrance, the passage that led to the Graveyard of Genius.

A few moments later the secret rock door from this passage into the
Graveyard swung open and the Automaton stalked in, going carefully,
noiselessly, now. Across the floor he walked to the steel door, which he
swung open, then on out into the cellar of Brent Rock and up the steps
to the door under the stairs that led to the hallway of the great house.

In the hall the Automaton halted beside a small stand on which stood a
candlestick exactly like the one he carried. Quickly he picked up the
original candlestick and replaced it by the one he carried. Then he set
the original back of the portières, and with a glance at the library
door turned back to the cellar, closing the door noiselessly behind him.

Down the steps he went, toward the open door of the Graveyard of Genius.
Beside the door was the fuse-box of the lighting system of the house.

The Automaton reached out and began rubbing sharply at the insulation of
the feed wires.

Up-stairs, in the dining-room, Brent had by this time flung off his coat
and was examining with Flint the curious model the adventurer had
brought from Madagascar. Brent was very excited and questioned Flint
eagerly.

"I tell you, Flint," cried Brent, at length, huskily, as he seized a pen
and dipped in into the ink, "the time has come for me to do what I have
long intended. I am going to do now what I should have done years ago."

Brent started to write feverishly:

  QUENTIN LOCKE,--I have done you a great injury about which you know
  nothing, but I am willing to--

His hand had scarcely traced the last word when the room was plunged
into absolute darkness.

Down in the cellar the Automaton had succeeded in rubbing off the
insulation of the feed wires. There was a flash of light as he laid his
steel hand over the two feed wires--then darkness.

In the dining-room Brent and Flint, already keyed to the highest pitch,
leaped to their feet with an exclamation of terror.

Late as it was, Locke was working in his laboratory on the second floor
of the house when the lights winked out. Surprised for the moment, he
ran out into the hall.

Already there was the butler, groping about with a candle.

"What's the matter, Quentin?" asked a breathless voice behind them.

It was Eva in a filmy dressing-gown. Locke turned to vision a creation
of loveliness in the candle-light which set his heart thumping.

"Nothing," he reassured. "Just the lights short-circuited, that's all.
I'll see."

Just then the dining-room door opened and Eva saw her father, disheveled
and preoccupied, stride out and take the five-branched candlestick from
the hall table. Nervously he began to light the candles. They sputtered
a bit and he turned quickly, still holding the candlestick, as the smoke
drifted away from them all.

"Fix the fuses in the cellar," he directed the butler.

"Is anything--really the matter--father?" implored Eva.

"No, no, my child," he answered, hastily. "Go back to bed. And, Locke,
please don't let us be disturbed."

He was about to say more, then decided not to do so, and turned back
into the dining-room.

Again Brent carefully locked the door to the dining-room and rejoined
Flint.

He had placed the candles on the table, not noticing in the half-light
that the smoke from them was growing denser as they burned down.

The smoke drifted over as the draught carried it. Flint coughed and
moved a bit, his hand at his throat.

Brent seized the pen again and was about to write, when the smoke from
the candles drifted into his own face. He, too, coughed.

Uneasy, Brent glanced over at Flint. Flint laughed, a bit hysterically.

"What the devil's the matter?" demanded Brent, with lowered brows, a
strange dryness in his throat.

Flint was now leaning forward on his elbows and laughing foolishly,
stupidly. It was a queer laugh, and struck terror into Brent as he
himself coughed and clutched involuntarily at his throat. Brent stared
at Flint.

"What is it?" he repeated, anxiously. "Have you suddenly gone mad, man?"

But there was no reply. Instead, Flint laughed all the more madly.

Brent was more than startled. If he could have seen himself in a glass
he would have seen that he was already wide-mouthed and disheveled.
Suddenly the smoke again blew in his face. He coughed again. His head
reeled.

Then, in a flash, it all dawned on him.

He shielded himself from the candles. But it was too late.

"My God!" he exclaimed, starting up. "The Madagascar madness!"

Brent looked about wildly. He rushed to Flint and shook him. But Flint
only laughed. He turned and moved toward the candles, reaching out for
them. But even as he did so his hand faltered.

He stopped and passed his hand across his tightening forehead. Slowly
over his face came a stupid expression. He felt himself going, without
power of retraining himself. His lips twitched and he swayed.

Then he began to laugh uncontrollably.

Flint rose and clapped him on the shoulder. Then both laughed foolishly,
loudly.

They were beyond help. It was the laughing madness.

Outside, in the hall, Eva and Locke had been standing, talking for a
moment, when suddenly, below, they heard a terrific noise in the cellar.
Involuntarily Eva's hand clutched Locke's arm. Locke drew a revolver
and, in spite of Eva's fearsome caution, hastened down the cellar
stairs.

About in the blackness of the cellar he groped until his foot touched
something soft, a mass on the floor. He bent over. It was the butler, in
a heap, unconscious, but still breathing.

There was not a sound, not another being in the cellar.

Together Eva and Locke helped the now half-conscious man to his feet and
pushed and pulled him up the stairs; as slowly he recovered his power of
speech.

"What was it--tell us?" urged Locke.

"I--I went down to fix the fuses--as the master ordered," muttered the
butler, incoherently. "A huge figure--steel hand--it flung me across the
floor--the last I remember."

He passed his hand over his head as though recollection even was too
horrible for description.

Locke listened a bit doubtfully, then sent the butler on his way to bed,
while Eva could scarcely restrain her fears.

Over to the dining-room door Locke strode and listened. There was
nothing but the sound of merriment inside, of uncontrollable laughter.
Could it be that Brent and Flint were drinking? He dared not betray a
fear to Eva. Instead he knocked.

At that moment he could hear the sound of some heavy body falling; then
more laughter as Brent in his hysteria struck the model of the automaton
to the floor.

With the model, unnoticed by Brent, now fluttered to the floor the
letter he had been writing. But the madman paid no attention to that now
as it sifted through the air and fluttered under the sideboard.

"Mr. Brent," called Locke, "please open the door."

Instead of an answer came a loud and insulting laugh, followed by an
incoherent mouthing of words. Eva looked startled, blanched. It was so
unlike her father. For the moment Locke was piqued. But he tried not to
show it as he turned away from the door.

"I am your father's employe," he said, sadly, "and it is his privilege,
I suppose, to laugh at me." He hesitated.

"Oh, but, Quentin--Mr. Locke--I'm--I'm so sorry. Surely he could not
have meant it."

At the head of the stairs Locke tried to smile.

"Don't worry," he said, repressing his feelings. "It will make no
difference between us. Good night."

They parted, Eva closing her door for a sleepless night, Locke to work
far into the night in his laboratory until sheer exhaustion overcame his
feelings.

Meanwhile, in the dining-room, the two men kept terrible vigil, hour
after hour, oblivious of time, in wild and wanton laughter--maniacal
abandon.

A terrible blow had been struck and Reason was tottering on her throne.

Two men had been stricken by an unknown hand--stark, stark mad.



CHAPTER V


"Father--please--open the door!"

It was early the following morning that the butler with frightened face
had called Eva Brent to tell her that her father and Flint had been
locked in the dining-room all night and were still laughing madly.

Eva had hurried down-stairs, encountering Zita as she ran. It was true.
She could hear the voices inside. Nor could she get any answer from the
two men.

"Oh--Zita--please--can't something be _done_?" Eva implored.

With a hasty word Zita hurried away just as Herbert Balcom himself
entered the house from the street.

In utter surprise Balcom nodded at Zita as she poured forth the story of
what had been discovered in the morning, then pushed past her in high
excitement.

"What's wrong?" he asked as he came upon the butler and Eva still
knocking excitedly at the dining-room door.

Eva was almost in a panic as she answered, "Father and Mr. Flint have
been in there laughing ever since last night."

Balcom tried to comfort her. But somehow his sympathy sent a cold
shudder through the poor girl.

Meanwhile Zita had encountered Locke hurrying down at the sound of the
commotion. To him she told the story, again hurt that his interest was
solely for Eva, not in herself.

Locke paused long enough to seize an umbrella from the rack, rip the
cover off, and break out a rib, to which he tied a piece of string while
he hurried to the group at the door.

"Break down the door and call the police," ordered Balcom.

The butler reached for a chair and was about to swing it over his head
to break down the door.

"Stop!" interrupted Locke.

The young scientist knelt down, inserted the umbrella steel through the
keyhole, and bent it by the string as he fished about with it on the
other side to find the bolt. Meanwhile the butler telephoned frantically
for the police.

It was at this height of excitement that Paul Balcom entered. A moment's
talk with Zita, and he, too, joined the group.

Sympathetically he spoke to Eva, but Eva scarcely responded in the
fashion of a girl to the man whom she was going to marry. Her attention
was riveted on Locke, who was kneeling before the door. Paul saw it and
an ominous scowl crossed his face.

Carefully Locke worked the umbrella steel and the string until he had
caught the bolt. Then he shot the bolt back and rose to his feet. All
watched him expectantly as he threw open the door.

Such a sight as met their eyes one could scarcely picture.

There were Brent and Flint at the table--laughing--laughing. The candles
had long since burned out. On the floor lay the automaton model.

"Father!" cried Eva, running to him.

But there was no look of recognition on Brent's face.

"Don't you know me? Speak to me! Father!"

Instead, Brent merely patted her shoulder and laughed hollowly. Eva, on
her knees by him, sobbed and smoothed his head by turns.

Locke, bending over Flint, found him in much the same condition.

Meanwhile, Balcom and Paul had picked up the model of the automaton and
exchanged a quick glance.

"This man Locke's actions are suspicious," exclaimed Balcom, hastily.
"He was in the house last night."

Outside they could hear the arrival of the detectives summoned by the
butler.

"Go to Eva," nudged Balcom to Paul.

A moment later the butler entered with the detectives.

At the sight of the automaton model in Balcom's hands the butler cried
out:

"That is what attacked me last night--only larger--much larger!"

All eyes were now on the butler. Quickly Balcom took advantage of the
situation thus created. Locke, also, left Flint and moved over to the
group examining the model. As he did so his eye caught a piece of paper
under the sideboard. He was about to pick it up when he realized that
all were looking at him. Quickly he covered his discovery and faced
them.

"This man is the stranger in the house," cried Balcom, in anger. "Arrest
him and make him explain."

It was the work of only an instant for the chief detective to step up to
Locke and slip the bracelets on his wrists.

"Don't!" cried Eva.

"Please--my dear--your father," remonstrated Paul.

At that instant Brent was seized with another violent fit of coughing
and laughter. Eva, distracted, was half fainting.

Thus, with Locke handcuffed, Balcom and Paul were triumphant.

Locke saw his chance. But the handcuffs prevented him from using his
hands. In the instant that all were diverted toward Brent, with
incredible deftness Locke slipped his hand from the cuffs, one link of
which fell open as if by magic, through a secret all his own. He reached
down and picked up the paper under the sideboard and read it. It was the
letter Brent had been writing and served only to increase his
perplexity. He read it again, then crushed it into his pocket, and
before any one had discovered his trick had slipped his hand back into
the cuffs and they were locked again.

At that very moment the telephone rang and the chief of the detectives
answered. As he did so a perplexed expression crossed his face and he
walked over quickly to Locke.

"I--beg your pardon," he apologized as he began to unlock the handcuffs.

"Here, my man, what are you doing?" interrupted Balcom.

"I know my business. You lay off," growled the detective.

A moment later Locke, with a slight smile on his handsome face, was
answering the telephone.

Not a soul save the detective, even yet, suspected the true identity of
Locke, even as he answered over the telephone with a respectful, "Yes,
sir."

The fact of the matter was that the message had come most opportunely.
It was from the chief of the Department of Justice himself, ordering
Locke to stay at the house until he had secured the evidence that would
allow the department to proceed against the company under the anti-trust
law. That, then, was the explanation of the secret dictagraph which
Locke had installed, the explanation of his apparent faithlessness to
his employer.

But weightier matters were now on Locke's mind. Here he was faced by the
case of his life, involving the happiness of the very girl whom he had
so soon come to love. His incentive was double--love and success:
triple--above all, justice.

By this time the household themselves were sufficiently calm to help
Brent to his bedroom and Flint to a guest-chamber.

Balcom was about to follow, when Locke, returning from the telephone,
touched him on the shoulder and shoved the threat message which Brent
had given him the night before under the face of the junior partner.

"Read that," he demanded.

Balcom read, controlling his features admirably, if control were
necessary.

"What's the meaning of this?" he demanded, coldly.

"Were you in Madagascar lately?" shot back Locke.

Locke could not be sure whether or not Balcom suppressed a start. At any
rate, he did not conceal anger at the insinuation.

"Certainly," he replied. "With my son I cruised through the Mozambique
Channel and touched at Madagascar last summer. Why?"

Locke nodded and the detective made a note of the reply.

"What do you mean to insinuate by that question?" demanded Balcom.

Without reply Locke shrugged nonchalantly and smiled.

Not ten feet away, in the conservatory door, Paul listened, and his face
darkened as he clenched his fists.

There was a murderous glare in Paul's eyes as Locke unconcernedly
withdrew, whispering to the detective, who nodded deferentially to the
young scientist who had been assigned by the Department of Justice,
strangely, to the very case which now he realized in some unknown way
must concern himself and the very mystery of his own identity.

So wore along the morning, with growing mystery and excitement.

It was not long before the Brent family physician was summoned, and
after a careful diagnosis pronounced Brent in a hopeless state as far as
his own science was concerned. Eva was by this time more than frantic.
The consolation of Paul seemed to add to her nervousness. She was almost
distracted when she heard Balcom and the doctor discussing the case in
low tones in her father's room.

"Don't you think, Doctor," she overheard, "that he would be far better
off in a sanitarium?"

She shuddered as the doctor agreed with Balcom, and Balcom sought to
persuade her that the course was best. Even the solicitations of Paul
annoyed her. Paul was more than vexed at this new repulse from his
bride-to-be. His anger knew no bounds as he caught sight of Locke, who
had overheard and showed his doubt over the whole proposal for the care
of Brent. He plucked at his father's sleeve and nodded toward Locke.

Balcom needed no prompting from his crafty son.

"I'll have you understand, Locke," he cried, his face growing apoplectic
red, "that I am in charge here now. Your services are no longer
required."

"I quite understand," returned Locke, quietly. "We shall see."

Balcom stormed down from the room to the telephone, where, a moment
later, he telephoned to an asylum, asking them to send a conveyance with
nurses, keepers, and whatever paraphernalia was necessary to take care
of his partner, Brent.

"Is he violent?" demanded the doctor over the telephone.

"Yes. Bring a strait-jacket," snapped back Balcom. "And the sooner he is
under your care the better."

With that Balcom stamped out of the house.

In Brent's room, Paul was attempting still to ingratiate himself with
Eva, who was growing more distant toward him with every moment. Finally
Paul could stand it no longer. He turned on his heel and faced Locke
angrily in the hall.

"You'll regret this, confound you!" he ground out, as he swung out of
the room rapidly in a high state of feeling.

Unconcernedly Locke turned on his heel.

"Don't worry," he whispered to Eva. "I'll see that no harm comes to your
father."

For answer, her own heart too full for words, Eva pressed the hand of
the young scientist. It was reward enough for Locke.

Meanwhile, at Doctor Shaw's sanitarium, to which Balcom had telephoned
with the permission of the doctor, elaborate preparations had been
completed for the reception and transportation of Brent.

It was perhaps an hour later that the ambulance, with three
white-uniformed attendants, pulled out, carrying all those appurtenances
necessary for the care of the insane, including the strait-jacket which
Balcom had so testily suggested.

That same hour had seen intense activity in another quarter. In the den
of the Automaton, the hard-visaged emissaries had been already roused by
the entrance of the Automaton.

Hasty directions had been uttered by the metallic, phonograph voice of
the monster, and already four of the most desperate of the characters
had hurried through the entrance out on the cliffs. The Automaton
himself had turned toward the passage through the Graveyard of Genius to
Brent Rock itself.

Thus it happened that when the ambulance from Doctor Shaw's sanitarium
came bowling along the road to Brent Rock as fast as its motor would
permit, the driver was forced suddenly to put on the brakes to save
himself from being wrecked by a huge log that lay squarely across the
road.

No sooner had the attendants jumped out to remove the log than four
desperate men fell upon them from ambush, beat them, and left them
trussed up and unconscious, while they donned the jackets and uniforms
of Doctor Shaw's men, seized the ambulance, and swung off again at a
fast clip in the direction of Brent Rock.

Lulled into a false security, as her father slept now for a time under
an opiate, Eva was sitting beside him with loving care when she heard
the noise below of the arrival of the car from Doctor Shaw's sanitarium.
At once she was in wild alarm. Nor was Locke off his guard. While Zita
tried to reassure Eva, Locke met the men.

There were four of them, and as the first passed, Locke halted him. The
parley gave another a chance to push past, while Locke held three at
bay.

A moment later there was a scream from Eva, who had hurried from her
father's room at the sound of the high voices. The emissary had seized
her.

It was a signal for the other three, who leaped on Locke all at once.
With almost superhuman strength Locke seized one of them and flung him
over his head for a fall down the whole flight of steps as he fought the
other two single-handed.

Even then the third came back to the attack and Locke was forced to give
back step by step down the stairs.

Another scream from Eva.

In the heat of the fray Locke caught a glimpse of her battling on the
landing above with the first emissary. It gave him redoubled strength.

Flinging the two men off and eluding the third, he leaped to the
chandelier in the hall and with a giant swing wrapped his legs about the
fellow struggling with Eva. Literally throttling him, he pulled him
backward over the balcony railing for a fall clear to the lower hall.

At the moment when Locke was actually subduing all of his assailants the
door to the cellar suddenly opened and the huge figure of the Automaton
strode out.

With one blow of his steel fist the monster struck Locke senseless, then
turned and began ascending the grand staircase.

Almost paralyzed with fear, Eva screamed again and fled through the
nearest door, locking it. On strode the Automaton, crashing down the
door as if it had been a mere shell.

Meanwhile the emissaries had seized Locke, still unconscious and unable
to resist. Feverishly they began to bind him in the strait-jacket which
they had taken from the ambulance. Then they carried him and flung him
roughly on the floor of the library.

Still screaming, Eva fled to the next room, again bolting the door and
piling furniture frantically to barricade it. Again the Automaton rained
blow after blow on the door. It splintered, and his powerful fist began
breaking and overturning the barricade which the unfortunate girl had
improvised.

Wildly she looked about. Only a closet now offered refuge. The door was
splintered through. She could see the terrible face of the monster.

In the library, Locke, recovering by this time, began flopping and
twisting, spurred by the muffled screams from above-stairs as he worked
with miraculous dexterity to release himself from the strait-jacket.



CHAPTER VI


Locke struggled with superhuman effort to release himself from the
strait-jacket in which he was held prisoner. The throat-straps pressed
against the neck muscles and the strain on the straps could be heard
like pistol-shots as the leather stretched under his prodigous efforts.

With every nerve keyed up and his reflexes answering his keen brain, he
swayed backward and forward, rolled from side to side until his
shoulder-blades were thrown completely out of joint. The pain was
intense, but he summoned every ounce of strength at his command and
finally succeeded in getting one of his arms free by gradually working
his body toward a settee, where, with his elbow on the seat, he pushed
his disjointed arm over his head.

Agony was written all over his face as at last with a final effort he
extricated his arms and was in a position to loosen the straps which
bound them, with his teeth.

Nor was his labor over now. The canvas jacket cut into his flesh and the
buckles bruised his muscles. His body ached with weariness, yet he clung
to his task. Like a thing incarnate he toiled as he realized the danger
that confronted Eva.

Up-stairs, the monster was pursuing Eva. The heavy oaken doors were as
straws to him, and he plunged through them as a mad elephant dashes
through a canebrake. Destruction lay in his wake as he crashed through
the improvised barriers which Eva had constructed to delay his
onslaught. A crouching, desolate figure, she waited for what she knew to
be her end. There was only one barrier left between her and this engine
of destruction. It was only a moment now when she would be a crushed,
mangled mass. With terror in her heart she waited for the thing to crash
through the last remaining barrier, and even now she could hear his
ponderous step as he crossed the room toward the door which would only
momentarily stay his progress. Her lips moved in prayer as she waited
and the dread moments seemed eons to her.

Suddenly she heard a crash, and she could see the panels of sturdy oak
in the door give way as though they were egg-shells. The gigantic fist
of the monster crashed through and she could discern the dim outline of
the enormous head, and the glaring eyes of fire looking toward her. With
a shrill shriek she raised her arms above her head and fell swooning to
the floor just as a pistol-shot rang out.

Locke, disheveled and weak, had released himself from the strait-jacket,
and with the speed of a panther had ascended the stairs. He saw the
monster crashing through the last remaining barrier, and without
hesitation he fired at the thing as he closed in. His one thought was to
delay it or make it swerve in its course momentarily, with the hope that
by some chance Eva might have time to escape. Could he only accomplish
this, he thought his mission successful, regardless of the outcome as
far as he himself was concerned.

He pulled the trigger of his automatic again and again as he rushed
forward. By some strange trick of fate the figure reeled for a second
and one of its arms dropped swinging to its side. The bullet had entered
a joint. Had it in some way deranged the mechanism, causing the
Automaton to turn in its tracks and confront Locke as he charged
forward? Or was some human being concealed in the armored creature and
wounded?

Eva, in her semi-conscious state, saw the mass of metal charge toward
Locke, and closed her eyes so as not to be a witness to his end. She
waited, dumb and helpless with fright, and before her surged the meaning
of this man's great sacrifice for her. In the brief interval she
realized that men of his ilk were few. She realized that her interest in
the young chemist was more than a passing fancy and the truth was driven
home to her in his hour of peril. She closed her eyes and all before her
went blank.

As the Automaton faced Locke voices could be heard in the hall, and the
gardener of Brent Rock, who had summoned aid, came to Locke's
assistance. Armed with clubs and garden tools, the men charged the
monster. Like a lion at bay, the thing turned from its task of
destroying Locke to face its new enemies. _En masse_ they attacked the
Automaton, but it shook them off, one by one, as a terrier would rats,
and made its way toward the grand staircase. Some of the gardener's aids
suffered broken bones, while others were left unconscious as a result of
the conflict.

Locke picked himself up and rushed to Eva's side. He took the prostrate
form in his arms and looked down into her beautiful face. The room was
in ruins, and Eva slowly opened her eyes and looked up at him. Her hand
went out in a momentary caress, but as she fully recovered consciousness
she moved her hand away lest he really know. She looked up at him
gratefully, and Locke, a little confused, took his arm from around her
waist. With boyish bashfulness he hung his head and asked her if she was
all right. The sound of his own voice amid the ruins brought back his
composure.

"We must see about father. Perhaps something has happened to him," said
Eva, as she started toward the door.

Locke looked after the girl, then followed her.

Propped up in bed, Peter Brent presented a pitiable sight. His glassy
stare and shrill laugh like a coyote baying at the moon sent cold chills
down Eva's back as she entered the room. This man, at one time a power
in the business world, was only a shell of his former self, and his
inhuman laughter caused even Locke to shudder a little as he entered the
room.

Eva walked over to her father and put her hand to his brow, looking
wistfully in his eyes for some sign of recognition.

She kissed him on the forehead and called him, but he still stared
blankly ahead of him, unconscious of even her presence. Locke felt the
pulse of the patient and looked at the dilated pupils.

"There must be some antidote for this Madagascar madness, and I shall
move everything to find it," he said, as he looked at Eva with
determination.

She turned toward him eagerly as he spoke and his words gave her a
little cheer. Eva continued her caresses, but the demented man showed no
signs of recognizing even his own daughter.

From another room the shrill laughter of Flint could be heard as he
raved in delirium. Bereft of reason, he fought an unseen enemy.

"Q did it, I tell you--it's Q," he raved and shrieked in his insane way
as he rocked back and forth in bed. He was fighting his own conscience,
and kept pushing some unseen thing from him as he shook in a paroxysm of
fright.

The front-door bell rang and Balcom entered. He was suave in manner, but
this time he seemed a little excited as he gave his hat and stick to the
butler.

"Tell Miss Brent I must see her at once," he ordered.

As the butler turned to mount the stairs, Balcom reached his hand up and
rubbed his shoulder as though he were in pain. Perhaps the gesture meant
nothing, but a keen observer would have noticed that his arm did not
move with the freedom that one would expect of a man of his frame and
build. As he rubbed his shoulder his eyes followed the butler up the
stairs and his lips tightened. He watched him until he was out of sight,
then turned and entered the library.

As Balcom entered the library the door-bell rang and the three ambulance
men who had been overpowered by the emissaries of the Automaton entered.
Balcom approached them and hasty explanations were forthcoming. In his
suave manner he quieted the most noisy of the trio, who by this time had
found the strait-jacket from which Locke had just released himself.

"This looks like a put-up job to me," growled the driver, as he
confronted Balcom, holding the strait-jacket toward him. "And I believe
you know something about it."

"My dear man, I am the person who telephoned for you to come for my
stricken partner," said Balcom, "and I still insist that he is in dire
need of treatment."

As he spoke Eva entered the library in time to hear him. She was
followed by Locke.

"My father shall not be taken from this house," she cried, in reply to
Balcom's orders to the attendants.

As she spoke she turned toward Locke and looked at him for his
acquiescence. He quietly nodded toward her in an assuring manner, and as
he did so one might have noticed Balcom's face cloud up with evil
purpose. He was thinking of this young whipper-snapper and his
interference with his plans. As he stood meditating he noticed that
Locke was looking at him, so he turned toward the young chemist and his
whole expression changed. A bland smile crept across his face as he
spoke.

"I was only suggesting that my partner be taken to an institution,
because I believed that he would receive better treatment there." He
addressed Locke, but looked toward Eva as he did so. "Miss Brent should
have trust in me. I have only her interest at heart."

"It would be better for Mr. Brent to stay here," said Locke. "The
treatment his daughter can give will be better than that of an
outsider."

As he spoke he sauntered away with an air of finality, while Balcom
shrugged his shoulders and gave orders to the ambulance men to go.

Locke walked toward the dining-room, and there amid the candle drippings
and the wreckage of the night before espied the miniature automaton. He
picked it up and examined it minutely as Balcom strolled in.

Balcom's quick gaze caught what Locke was looking at, and he approached
the young chemist and sauvely said:

"It seems almost unbelievable, Mr. Locke, that a giant form like that
could be endowed with a human brain."

As he spoke he pointed toward the miniature automaton in Locke's hands.
Locke turned and faced him, his jaw tightening with a snap.

"Not unbelievable, but impossible, Mr. Balcom," he said. "I believe that
there is some one in this thing that attacks us and calls himself Q."

He eyed Balcom as he spoke, to see the effects of his words. But if
Balcom knew anything, he cunningly concealed it. Locke walked to the
table and closely examined the candles and other stuff strewn about. He
was looking for some clue to what had caused the madness of Brent and
Flint. The crumpled anatomy chart lay on the floor, and as Locke stooped
to pick it up Eva entered and came toward him. She shuddered slightly as
she passed the miniature of the monster, and Balcom, with an air of
satisfaction, noticed her fear. He turned and was about to go out, when
the butler entered with the duplicate candlestick in his hands.

"Mr. Locke, in cleaning the hall I found this behind the portières at
the entrance to below-stairs," he announced. "I was quite puzzled for a
moment, for I knew the master had taken it into the dining-room with him
last evening."

As he spoke he handed the candlestick to Locke, who quickly compared it
with the one on the dining-room table which contained the burnt candles.

In appearance the candelabra were identical. Locke with great care
examined every feature of them, looking for a clue. He took one of the
whole candles from the candlestick which the butler had brought in and
scraped the wax from in with his penknife. He examined the particles
carefully, then approached the candlestick which stood on the table the
fatal night, and very carefully removed the wax from the stumps of
candles which were still in the sockets.

"The Madagascar madness came from _that_ candlestick," he announced,
with assurance, as he pointed toward the one on the table.

While he was so busily engaged Balcom was eying him cunningly. He
watched his every move and was most intent in seeing just how the young
man would prove his contention.

"Good morning, every one!" came the clear voice of Paul as he entered
the room and crossed over to the side of his fiancée. He was particular
to ignore Locke in his greeting, and as he approached Eva he bent over
her hand and kissed it.

A close observer would have noticed that the girl rather drew her hand
back from his caress.

"I am so sorry about your father, Eva," whispered Paul. "I trust the
ailment is but temporary."

As he spoke Eva thanked him mechanically for his solicitations, while
Balcom glanced at his son in admiration.

Locke, who was still engaged in looking at the candle drippings through
his pocket magnifying-glass, paid slight attention to Paul, but glanced
up in time to see that there was a look of insincerity on his face.

Could it be that this young scion of the Balcom fortune could in any way
be connected with the Automaton? Could this man, this suave, polished
gentleman, have any motive for seeking the ruin or death of his fiancée?
Locke seemed to be busily engaged in his task, but he was making mental
notes on the conduct of young Balcom. He looked up finally and turned to
Eva.

"Miss Brent, I find minute particles of some foreign substance in the
wax of these candles," he announced. "They seem to be of organic origin
and I am certain that they contain the poison which has robbed your
father of his mentality. I am going to take them to a chemical
laboratory where there will be proper facilities to have them analyzed.
Perhaps there is an antidote that will restore your father's sanity."

As Locke spoke he carefully wrapped up the particles of drippings in a
piece of paper and put them in his pocket. As he did so, both Balcom and
Paul exchanged hurried glances, and Balcom left the group and started
toward the hall.

During all this procedure Zita, clad in a sumptuous morning frock hardly
befitting a secretary, was standing behind the portières in the hall and
listening intently to all she could hear within the dining-room. As she
heard Balcom's footsteps she hurriedly turned and seemed to be going up
the hall. He looked after her and then called.

She came toward Balcom with a nod of understanding, and, as she
approached, he led her to a corner of the hall and whispered to her.

"It is imperative that we get Flint out of the house to-night. I can
trust you to take care of this if I arrange the details?"

Zita quickly nodded acquiescence, looking furtively over her shoulder to
see if they were observed.

"I will get him to your apartment," she hurriedly said, as she looked up
at him for further instructions.

Balcom turned quickly from her, got his own hat and sack, and departed,
just as Locke came into the hall, bound for the chemist's shop. He
looked after the disappearing form of Balcom, and then turned and
noticed that he was being watched by Zita. Zita in turn hastily entered
the library, without looking over her shoulder.

"I wonder what her real position in this house can be," mused Locke, as
he took his hat and went toward the front door.

In the dining-room Paul was now standing close to Eva and had taken her
hand.

"You know it was your father's wish that we be married," he was saying,
"and I know that he would be happy if we had the ceremony performed at
once."

His eyes narrowed as he said this, but Eva was too preoccupied to see
it. With a shudder, ever so slight, she looked up at his handsome face
and spoke.

"I will not even speak of marriage until my father recovers, Paul, and I
don't know how you can ask me to at such a time."

She was not thinking so much of her father as of a certain young chemist
who had risked his life for her. Why had fate thrown him in her way, she
wondered. What was there about Quentin Locke that compelled her
attention--that made her feel secure when he was about? What was the
difference between the young chemist and Paul that she felt perfect
trust in the one whom she had known only a short time and distrust and
uncertainty in the other to whom she was about to be married?

She hung her head and went into the drawing-room, leaving Paul standing
there. He looked after her, and a slight smile crossed his face as he
thought of what a fool she was to think that he cared for her. His
self-assurance led him to believe that the reason that Eva was not
consenting to his proposal was indeed because of her father's condition,
for he little dreamed, nor would his egotism permit him to believe, that
anything else could be the case.

His mouth hardened in a subtle smile as he sauntered after Eva to bid
her farewell. He remembered that De Luxe Dora was waiting outside for
him in her speedster.

He had made this paramour of his take him to the very door of his
fiancée's home, and there wait until he had paid his respects to the
moneyed lady who would make happiness possible by supplying him with the
funds to pursue his pleasures and insure his father's hold on the
International Patents, Incorporated.

Paul looked at his watch, then, after a few words of condolence which
would hardly sound sincere from any one less gifted, made a hurried
departure toward the corner where the speedster was waiting.

"Who was the funny gink that hurried by a little while ago?" queried
Dora, in the vernacular of her calling. "He gave me the double O as
though he had something on me."

"That's a fellow we've got to look out for, kid," answered Paul, in the
same terms by which he was addressed, for, if nothing else, Paul could
be as much at home in the underworld as in a mansion on the Drive.
"Brent claimed that he was a chemist before he went 'bugs,'" continued
Paul, "but I have my doubts; in fact, I'm very leery of him because I
think he's a fly cop."

He took his place beside Dora, who started the car and headed down-town.

After Paul's departure Eva hurried to her father's room and tried to
comfort him. He was seated in a chair, staring blankly ahead of him. He
was quieter now, but his body twitched nervously from time to time.

The tears started to come to Eva's eyes as she saw her father's plight,
and she knelt down beside him and took his hand in hers. She stroked it
with her own hand and bent over and kissed it. As she knelt, crying
softly, she sobbed half-aloud:

"Why can't I confide in you, father? Why can't you advise me? I don't
love Paul Balcom and could never marry him. I know I love Quentin
Locke--I do--I do--"

As she sobbed she bent over his hand and pressed it to her lips.

Peter Brent sat staring into space, staring like a graven image.



CHAPTER VII


After her brief encounter with Balcom in the hallway Zita stealthily
mounted to Flint's room.

Flint's condition was unchanged. He lay sprawled out in a huge
arm-chair, his head swaying from side to side, as he muttered and
mumbled incoherently, while his leering smile caused even Zita to
shudder.

She was, however, alive to the importance of her mission. Steeling
herself, she raised Flint from the chair and steadied him with one hand
while she tried to smooth out the wrinkles of his clothing so that his
mad condition would not be too apparent when they went outdoors. It was
a hard task, but Zita soon accomplished it and, half supporting, she led
him through a door on the farther side of the room. They crept down a
back stairway and so away from the house.

At times Flint stumbled and almost fell, and once that insane laugh
startled a passer-by, who started after them, then changed his mind and
proceeded on his way. It was then that Zita's heart almost stopped
beating. She realized that the situation would be unexplainable to a
stranger and she urged the insane Flint on faster.

Renewed hope came to her with each step. She had almost relaxed her
precautions when, suddenly, from a clump of bushes, several men leaped
out. They seized Flint, who merely started babbling afresh. Zita,
ignorant of what was really happening, struck out right and left in the
hopeless encounter, until one of the men with a grin seized her wrist in
his powerful grasp and twisted it until she screamed with pain. Then she
realized for the first time that she had fallen into the hands of the
emissaries of the Automaton. Had Balcom planned it, or had that
mechanical monster taken advantage of what Balcom had ordered?

In the mean time, the other thugs, with Flint between them, made off
hurriedly. With a last push that almost threw Zita to the ground, the
last of them dashed into the shrubbery, and for several moments Zita
dazedly stood there as he crashed through the underbrush, making good
the escape and capture. Then she turned and ran back to Brent Rock.

Locke, in the mean time, had arrived at the laboratory of his old friend
Hadwell, the chemist, where he was warmly welcomed.

It was the usual dusty workshop of one devoted to one
idea--science--with no touches of comfort. Hadwell fairly lived amid
retorts, Bunsen burners, and reagents.

He was a man of profound research, rather than the commercial chemist,
and it was from him that Locke, in earlier days, had learned many
lessons so well that now his career was watched with interest by many
distinguished men of science.

Hadwell was delighted at the chance to examine the strange scrapings of
wax which Locke had dug out of the sockets of the candlestick, the more
so as they must contain some mysterious poison. First he studied them
under a powerful lens, then by chemical reactions, until he made visible
some peculiar crystals. Locke himself was amazed as his friend worked.

"You don't know it all--yet--my boy," smiled the aged professor.
"There's still something the old teacher can add to your education, and
I'm glad, Quentin, very glad, for it will draw you closer to me again. I
need you to carry on my work when I must lay it down. I'm not positive,"
he continued, "but I believe these crystals to be those of _Dhatura
stramonium_, and, as you say speed's the thing, we'll begin by noting
the effect of the stuff as a gas on that guinea-pig over there."

"Have you masks?" asked Locke, with true scientific caution.

"Yes--on the shelf. You're keen, Quentin. These fumes can penetrate the
tiniest aperture and, if my guess is right, without a mask, you would
quickly laugh yourself to death."

"Don't, Professor, don't joke, for there is no joy in that mad laughter.
It is horrible, maddening, even to the hearer. Let us get to work. The
father of the girl I love may even now be sinking to his death. We must
determine the nature of this deadly stuff, and then find an antidote."

The chemist brought out the cage in which the guinea-pig was placidly
munching a lettuce leaf, and placed it in a convenient spot on the
table. Then, after Locke, as well as the professor, had carefully
adjusted the masks, the latter lighted a Bunsen burner and applied the
flame to the deadly crystals. A pungent fume was given off and collected
in a rubber bag, or cone, from which a long tube protruded.

This tube the chemist introduced into the cage. For a moment there was
no perceptible change in the animal's actions. Then it stopped eating,
sniffed at the strange odor, and commenced to twitch violently. This
twitching continued for several minutes, when the creature started to
revolve in circles, like a Japanese dancing-mouse. Finally it became
subject to spasms, and, although the professor withdrew the tube, these
symptoms continued.

"I was right!" he cried. "It is an especially poisonous variety of that
almost unknown Oriental drug, _Dhatura stramonium_. I think I can find
an antidote to it, also. To work, my boy, to work!"

One experiment after another resulted in failure, however, and it was
while they were so engaged that the telephone bell rang and a feminine
voice inquired for Locke.

It was an excited Eva who called. "Quentin," she burst forth,
breathlessly, "what do you think has happened? The strangest thing!
Flint has escaped. Tell me what to do. Can't you come to me at once? I
need you."

Locke needed no further urging. Important though the work of finding the
antidote was, Eva's call was more imperative to him. He reassured her as
best he could over the wire, for he had no idea what had really
happened. Zita, as might have been expected, on her return to Brent Rock
had been far too clever to disclose the exact truth that Flint had been
abducted, and that while in her own charge.

When she arrived at Brent Rock she had mounted by the same stairway by
which she and Flint had departed. Entering Flint's room, she had raised
the alarm and had acted her part so well that Eva thought that she had
discovered Flint's absence at the precise moment at which Zita had cried
out and she had come running in answer to her call.

Locke gave Hadwell a brief outline of what had just occurred at Brent
Rock.

"Professor," he pleaded, "for Heaven's sake don't fail me. Try as you
never tried before to find the antidote for this strange combination of
poisons. Telephone me when you have it."

Locke seized his hat, and Hadwell redoubled his efforts to fathom the
toxic secret.

At Brent Rock, in the mean time, everything was in confusion, Eva was
almost distracted, and, to add to her discomfort, Paul took occasion to
call.

In the past few days her distrust of him, for she could call it by no
other name, had grown, and the furtive glances which he exchanged with
Zita, little trouble-maker, were not reassuring. But when Eva's maid,
motioning her aside, told her that she had been a witness to the
departure of Zita and Flint, Eva's suspicions from a vague misgiving
became a stern reality. She longed for Locke's return and protection
from the very man to whom she was engaged.

As Locke left the chemist's he noticed a light runabout across the
street, half hidden in the shadows. But he failed to notice the evil
face of De Luxe Dora peering at him from beneath the rim of a
well-pulled-down hat.

"Huh!" she muttered. "We'll get his number and here's where I go after
it."

Locke hailed a passing taxicab, gave a hurried direction to the
chauffeur, and jumped in. The taxi snorted, cut out open, and jumped
forward as the driver clumsily shifted the worn gears. But out of the
shadows there glided a low-hung runabout with a purling motor that
without effort kept Locke's taxi just in sight without seeming to be
following.

At the time that the emissaries abducted Flint he had been roughly
handled and some of his clothing had been torn. But as he had been
incapable of the slightest degree of real self-defense, the thugs had
soon desisted beating him up, with the result that he had escaped bodily
injury except for a few slight scratches.

The emissaries of the Automaton led him by devious winding paths down to
the shore, and, half walking, half running, pressing close to the high
cliffs, they urged him forward.

Soon they came to a cleft in the rock, and, with one hand using a
well-hooded electric torch to light the way, they dragged the poor
unfortunate into the cave entrance to the den.

This cave was a marvel of nature, hewn out of the solid rock by
countless tides, its dome lost in the darkness. It gave an impression of
immensity, while in many directions passageways gave off from what might
be called a main chamber.

Flint was roughly thrown on a rock, where, head in hands, he swayed
backward and forward, now moaning, now chuckling, now laughing outright.
The echo of that laugh resounded hollowly in the dismal place and must
have notified the supreme master of this underground world that his
domain had been invaded.

A metallic clanging in the distance, as of struck anvils, a crunching,
as the smaller rocks broke in twain under the enormous weight of the
iron monster, then far, far down the passageway two points of fire--the
eyes of the thing--and with arms swinging like flails, from out the
passageway there stalked--the Automaton.

Even the emissaries, slaves to this monster through fear, and seeing it
often, fell back in awe and consternation, so terrible was its menace.

It strode over to Flint and, pushing him backward, glared at him with
burning eyes that seemed to search his soul. The monster then turned to
one of the emissaries and, with a sweeping gesture, gave a command.

The emissary understood and immediately ran up one of the passageways,
returning in a few moments with a bottle which contained a purplish
mixture. At another sign from the Automaton the emissary took a
drinking-glass and poured out a portion of the purple fluid. Then he
forced the draught between Flint's clenched teeth.

A violent trembling shook Flint from head to foot, a shudder of so
exhausting a nature that after the spasm Flint, weakened, reclined
against the cold wall of the cave, his body in a clammy perspiration.
But gradually there came a change in his dazed, mad eyes. The iris
contracted and became more normal. Even the leaden hue of his face
slowly passed away. The face muscles relaxed and gradually the light of
reason appeared in his eyes.

In a questioning manner Flint gazed about him. He saw the cave with its
scintillating points of fire, as the man with the torch gesticulated. He
saw the emissaries, and the realization that his position was perilous
came to him. But it was only when he saw the towering form of the
Automaton that his blood froze with horror and he made a frantic effort
to escape the very thing which he had feared existed in Madagascar and
had attempted to betray to Brent on the fatal night.

It was useless. He was soon borne down by the thugs, who stationed two
of their number to guard him. Seeing the utter hopelessness of any
attempt to escape, Flint sat quietly, while his crafty mind schemed for
some other plan. Suddenly he saw the bottle, the contents of which had
restored his reason. Reaching out slyly, he turned it around until he
could read the label, and then, even in his predicament, he exulted over
his discovery. It was the antidote. Like a flash came to him a shrewd
scheme to use the knowledge.

An emissary who seemed to be a leader came over to him.

"Flint," he snarled, "you get one chance--see? Beat it back to Brent
Rock and see that you get that Brent girl to come to the place where we
will turn you loose. Understand? If you fail it means death. Think it
over."

Flint could only agree.

They bandaged his eyes and quickly led him back over the road by which
they had come.



CHAPTER VIII


Brent Rock was brilliantly lighted against Locke's coming. At the foot
of the great stairway a group of excited servants had gathered, as if
for mutual protection.

"Not another day will I stay in this house," quavered the cook. "What
with crazy laughing and the other carryings-on, I'm fair distracted."

"Take shame to yerself, Mary Dolan, for yer gab of quittin', with the
master and Miss Eva in sore trouble," answered the second girl. "But as
you say," she continued, shaking her head, "it's a gloomy old place, and
if it wasn't for Miss Eva I'd not be long in going myself."

"'Ave you no loyalty?" asked the butler, turning on them both.

"Hould yer jaw, Johnny Bull," threatened the cook. "Indade no foreigner
can tell Mary Dolan her duty."

So they wrangled back and forth, and the underlying cause of all the
discord was the old one--fear.

Nor was Eva exempt from its baneful influence. She was here, there,
everywhere, allaying one servant's apprehension, commanding another to
perform some task in order to occupy that servant's mind--but, for
herself, she knew that the strain would not lessen until Locke arrived.
She ran up-stairs and to a window from which she could obtain a better
view of the drive along which he must come.

In a very short time, which, nevertheless, seemed an age to her, Eva was
rewarded, and she fairly flew down the stairs, out of the house, and far
down the drive. Locke's taxi stopped, he leaped out, and, regardless of
the chauffeur, took Eva's hand.

"Tell me quickly what has happened?" he inquired.

From a distance Dora was a witness, exulting.

"Paul stands a swell chance with her," she sneered.

"Oh, I'm so glad you're here," confided Eva, letting down just a bit of
her restraint as, like a frightened child, she told of what she had
learned about the disappearance of Flint.

Locke dismissed the driver, and together they walked slowly toward the
house.

Not only Eva, but the entire household was relieved by Locke's presence.
The cook rushed forward and, with a "God bless you, sir!" would have
embraced him had he not stepped aside. Even the dignified old family
butler tried to take his hand, an unheard-of liberty on his part. For,
unknowingly, all had come suddenly to rely upon this quiet, unassuming
young man.

Locke immediately asked to be shown to Flint's room in the hope that
Flint might have left some clue behind. But, although they searched high
and low, no success met their efforts.

It was then that they faced their darkest moment. Feeling, as they did,
that they were encircled by hidden enemies, the very air they breathed
became a menace. Every attempt to find the thread that might unravel the
dark mystery proved futile. It was not to be wondered at that they
despaired. Even the weird laughter of Eva's stricken father, echoing
hollowly through the house, seemed to be mocking their efforts.

The Automaton's emissaries were anxious to do their job and return to
the cave, for, like rats, they preferred the security best found
underground. They did not lead Flint very far.

At the edge of the Brent estate there was an Italian marble fountain
decorated with bronze dolphins and water-nymphs disporting themselves.
It was at this fountain that the men halted Flint and, with a final
warning, left him.

For a few moments, such was his fear, Flint did not remove the bandage
from his eyes, but moved groping around until his hand came in contact
with the edge of the fountain. For a moment he stood quietly, listening
for sounds of the emissaries. Then, as he heard nothing, he tore the
bandage from his eyes, gazed wonderingly around him until his mind
grasped his exact location, then, with a bound, started to run toward
Brent Rock.

Had he noticed the bestial face of an emissary peering from the
shrubbery he would have been even more frightened. Retribution, he would
have known, would be swift and sure had he disregarded their commands
and moved in another direction.

As Flint left the fountain Balcom, suave and well groomed as usual, was
just giving his hat and stick to the butler when Locke and Eva,
returning from Flint's room, encountered him in the hallway.

"Oh, Mr. Balcom," exclaimed Eva, "Mr. Locke and I are at a loss to
account for Mr. Flint's disappearance! I told the gardeners, and they
have hunted for him all over the estate and beyond, but he has
disappeared as completely as though the ground had swallowed him."

Balcom expressed his utmost astonishment and at once insisted on going
to Flint's room to solve the mystery himself.

Eva and Locke went directly into the library, where Locke for the first
time had an opportunity to tell Eva the result of his visit to the
chemist. The fact that they had discovered the nature of the toxin was
in itself encouraging, and Eva felt that, even now, she could see the
glimmer of a silver lining to the clouds.

"If we can only locate Mr. Flint, Quentin," she murmured, "I feel that
much would be explained."

Hardly had the words passed her lips when, breathless and disheveled,
Flint staggered up the stairs from under the porte-cochère and into the
hallway. Balcom, just descending from his brief inspection of Flint's
room, hailed him.

"What has happened?" he demanded. "Don't go into the library."

"I've just escaped from the Automaton," shouted Flint, "and I've found
the antidote!"

Before Balcom could stop him he rushed into the library, Balcom
following in a towering rage. Eva gave a startled little cry at the wild
intrusion and Locke moved closer to her.

"Is the antidote that will restore your father's reason worth ten
thousand dollars to you?" demanded Flint; then, before Eva could reply,
added: "Speak quick! I've got to get out of the country to-night."

"Ten thousand!" gasped Eva. "Ten times ten thousand! Tell me what it
is."

"Show me the money first," haggled Flint, "and remember I must have the
hard cash."

"Just a moment, Eva," interrupted Locke. "Consider this thing well. We
can deal with this fellow as a final resort."

Eva looked from Locke to Balcom, her mind in a turmoil, as the
telephone-bell rang and Locke hurried to answer it.

In the room now there was a conflict of emotions and desires that fairly
electrified the place. Eva ardently craved her father's recovery at all
costs. Flint's avaricious mind wavered between a scheme nearing success
and the possibility of failure and the fear of the Automaton. Balcom
strained to hear the purport of the message that Locke was receiving.

At the sound of the chemist's voice Locke was tense with suppressed
excitement.

"I've found the antidote," hastened to report the professor.

With a cordial word of thanks Locke turned from the telephone and faced
the group in the room. As he made the announcement, Eva almost embraced
him in the flood of relief at the thought of her father restored.

"Eva," growled Balcom, "you forget yourself. As Paul's father, I cannot
countenance such actions."

"Mr. Balcom," interrupted Locke, "I am sure you will be kind in your
criticism of Miss Brent. She has merely overrated my service to her."

"Paul shall hear of this," stormed Balcom.

"If your son cares to take the matter up with me," returned Locke, now
on his dignity, "I am always to be found--here."

"Never mind," interposed Flint, who feared to see his chance slipping,
"I've got to get out of the country. Mr. Locke, your antidote is
probably valueless; mine is the certain one. Look at me, Miss Brent. Am
I not cured?"

"You miserable sneak," scowled Locke, stepping over to him, "we don't
need your assistance now."

"I'm dealing with Miss Brent," insisted Flint, insolently.

Eva, a bit nervous over Balcom's overbearing manner, interposed. "Mr.
Locke," she said, with just a touch of dignity for effect on Balcom,
"this is a matter of life and death, and I am not in favor of permitting
a proven antidote to be taken out of the country by this--this man. I
have every confidence in you, but suppose--just suppose--that your
chemist friend is mistaken."

Flint immediately saw his advantage and pressed it home. "Are you going
to let ten thousand dollars stand in the way of your father's recovery?"
he insinuated. "Here," he added, taking pencil and paper from his pocket
and writing hurriedly.

"Baker's dock," Eva read, as he handed her the paper, "until five
o'clock."

Flint bowed decently enough to her, glanced upward, and, as he thought
of Eva's father lying stricken with the Madagascar madness in the room
above, an evil leer came over his fox-like face. As he left he
completely ignored both Locke and Balcom, unless it was that the look in
his eyes meant a sort of sinister triumph.

Locke followed him out of the library, and for a few moments Eva and
Balcom were alone.

Balcom had been quick to realize that it would not further his plans if
he continued to antagonize this high-spirited girl. He took another
course. The kind and fatherly manner which he could assume so readily
was now apparent.

"Eva, my dear child," he ingratiated, "I am really sorry for the hasty
way in which I spoke, but, aside from our duty to International Patents,
your marriage to my son has been my greatest hope and ambition."

"I can't see why you should wish a daughter-in-law of whose actions you
disapprove," retorted Eva, pointedly.

It was a facer for Balcom and he quickly guided the conversation into
less dangerous channels.

Eva's candid nature could not comprehend treachery of any kind in
others, and yet, although she was unable to put a name to it, she had a
vague feeling of insecurity in dealing with her father's partner. This
feeling had been heightened by Balcom's actions. In speaking of the
proposed marriage to Paul he had come quite close to her. She shuddered,
for, out of the corner of her eye, only a few moments before, she
remembered him in the same position when Flint had handed her the
address, and she knew that Balcom had surreptitiously read it. Why had
he taken that underhand method when, if he had only asked frankly to see
the paper, she would have handed it to him without hesitation or
suspicion.

Eva started to leave the library, but Balcom stopped her with a gesture.
"My dear," he said, "your father is stricken with a deadly malady. His
affairs are in your hands to protect his interests. I must urge that you
marry Paul at the earliest possible moment."

Eva scarcely knew what to say. "I can't," she blurted out, then tried to
cover her confusion and made it worse, "only--as a last resort--to save
my father--Oh--good-by!" And she almost ran from the room.



CHAPTER IX


Meanwhile, as Flint left Brent Rock, his fear of the Automaton returned
to him with redoubled force. He had been false to his mission. Nor had
he even succeeded in his treachery. A few minutes he had been certain
that Eva would come to Baker's dock at the time set, but now doubts
began to assail him. With her obvious faith in Locke, she might decide
on the chemist's antidote, and there was always a possibility that it
might restore Brent, in which case Flint realized that his life would be
forfeit to the Automaton.

Nor were his fears unfounded. He had barely passed the fountain where,
half an hour before, he had been set free, when an emissary came out
from behind a neighboring tree and took up his trail.

De Luxe Dora also had waited only long enough to see Eva and Locke enter
Brent Rock, when she turned her runabout around and drove rapidly back
to Professor Hadwell's. She arrived there just in time to meet an
automobile coming from the opposite direction and containing three
emissaries of the Automaton.

In answer to an inquiry, Dora pointed out the chemist's house to them.
They piled out, and their leader knocked at the door, while Dora drove
off.

The chemist answered, and the leader produced a vial, glibly lying as he
handed it over.

"The Williams Drug Company sent me to have this stuff analyzed," said
the leader. "I'll wait."

As the professor admitted him he did not see the other two men pressed
close to the wall on either side of the door. The moment the professor's
back was turned they slinked after their leader into the house. In a
dark corner of the hallway they crouched as their leader went into the
laboratory with the chemist.

The professor sniffed at the vial, which contained nothing but pure
water, and in surprise turned to the emissary for an explanation. But it
was too late. The emissary dealt him a blow with a blunt instrument that
stunned him and, as he reeled back and grasped at a table, the other
thugs rushed from the hall and rained blow after blow on his venerable
head and beat him to the floor. A convulsive shudder--a long-drawn-out
sigh--and he lay still.

With barely a glance at him the emissaries set to work to smash all the
paraphernalia of the place, sparing nothing in order to make sure that
the antidote would be destroyed. Glass tubes, retorts, bottles, even
furniture were smashed to bits in their orgy of ruin--and there, in the
midst of the debris, his life's work finished, lay the old chemist,
dead.

Tiring of their own efforts, the murderers at last desisted. One of them
went to the street door and peered out, but in a moment was back with
the others.

"Quick--that fellow Locke is coming."

He was right. Locke had immediately quit Brent Rock and had come
directly to the chemist's in the hope of forestalling any further
attempt by Flint to inveigle Eva into dealing with him.

The door had been left ajar and, although he thought it strange, Locke
was without suspicion and entered the hallway. He called to his old
friend, but the dead lips could not answer and the emissaries would not.

Greatly alarmed now, Locke strode to the laboratory. For a moment he
stood as though petrified as the horrid scene burst upon his vision. He
ran to the chemist and knelt beside his battered body.

With a rush the emissaries darted from their hiding-place and were upon
him.

Although taken unawares, Locke was, in a measure, ready for them. One he
grabbed in a clever jiu-jitsu hold and sent him hurtling through the air
to crash in a heap in a far corner of the room. Leaping to his feet, he
beat another to the floor. The third villain was of tougher fiber. Up
and down the laboratory they battled, stumbling over broken furniture,
now falling to the floor, where they rolled over and over, first one,
then the other gaining the mastery, while the broken glass with which
the floor was littered cut their clothing to ribbons and bit into their
flesh.

Locke was slowly gaining the upper hand when the thug whom he had thrown
over his head recovered. The brute took the situation in at a glance,
saw his pal in trouble, and, sneaking treacherously behind Locke, dealt
him a terrific blow with the butt of a revolver. Locke dropped to the
floor as if pole-axed and lay still.

One of the thugs kicked him as he lay defenseless, and then, spying a
row of coat-hooks in an inner hallway, with fiendish ingenuity directed
the others who had joined him. They strung Locke up by his thumbs so
that he hung, half suspended, with his toes just off the floor.

As one of them searched him Locke was still unconscious. They found
nothing but a few bank-notes and the automatic revolver that Locke
always carried.

Slowly Locke regained his senses. The agony of his strained thumbs was
almost unbearable. But he was not the man to give up.

By this time two of the emissaries had gone, leaving one, who seated
himself quite close to Locke, where he was examining the revolver. With
the stoicism of an Indian, Locke manfully tried to evolve a plan by
which he might escape. Like a flash it came to him, but it was a plan so
fraught with the possibility of failure that he would not have decided
on it except for the agony of the strain on his thumbs.

Directly opposite him and at a distance of four or five feet was a door
leading to a back alley. This door the emissary now guarding him had
locked as a precaution against surprise and had carefully placed the key
in his vest pocket.

Locke weighed each detail of his plan and then, bracing his feet firmly
against the wall, he suddenly shot his lower limbs forward and, like the
closing of a pair of giant shears, he wrapped his legs about the neck of
the emissary and immediately exerted enormous pressure with his knees.

The emissary, taken totally by surprise, struggled to break the hold,
and Locke's thumbs were almost wrenched from their sockets. But he held
on grimly. Soon the thug's struggles subsided, Locke released him, and
he slipped to the floor.

Locke was wearing a low-cut shoe. Strange that a man's life may hinge on
such a slight detail, but this fact enabled him to work off his right
shoe and his sock. He extended his bare foot, and with his toes searched
the pocket of the emissary for the key to the door. Finally he found it.

Locke held the key as firmly as he might between his toes and,
projecting his body by a muscular effort far away from the wall, he
managed to insert the key in the lock. He turned it. The door was
unlocked now. A swift downward movement of his foot against the knob and
the door swung open.

He braced himself against its edge and, with his back firmly pressed
against the wall, relieved the strain on his thumbs. He rested a moment
and then, as it were, walked up the edge of the door until his feet
reached the top. Swinging one leg over the door, by patient effort he
was enabled to release one swollen thumb, then the other. An instant
later he dropped down and leaned exhaustedly against the wall.

While Locke was held in the room things had happened which would have
set him nearly crazy with anxiety. Eva, having heard nothing from him,
had become alarmed and had telephoned to the chemist. This was at
quarter to five, and she had supposed that it was the chemist who
answered her. In reality it had been an emissary, and he had told her
that the final experiment to find an antidote for her father's malady
had been really a failure and that Locke had left some time before.

After all that she had endured, this was almost the final blow to Eva.
She thought of Flint and Baker's dock and five o'clock. There was no
time to lose if she were to save her father. So she pulled herself
together, seized her hat and cloak, and started for the door.

Here Zita stopped her and offered to accompany her, but she declined.
She hastily asked the direction of Baker's dock from the butler, and
then ran out of the house and sprang to the steering-wheel of her
waiting car. With a whir of the starter she was away.

Flint had arrived at the dock long before and was now slinking in and
out among the crates and boxes as he sought diligently for a safe
hiding-place. But his nerves, none too strong at the best, were now
running riot, and nowhere could he feel a sense of security so that he
could remain quiet.

It was while he was sneaking from one pile of bales to another that an
emissary hailed him.

"Are you Flint?" he demanded.

"Y-e-s," came quaveringly from Flint.

"Well, there's a lady in the office asking for you."

Such was the fascination of any of the emissaries of the Automaton over
Flint by this time that he followed the man without question,
particularly as he felt that he would be spared, since the lady in the
office could be none other than Eva.

Together they walked toward the entrance and, with an order to wait, the
emissary halted Flint close to a pile of crates and left him. Flint
dared not move. A premonition of impending disaster must have come over
him, for his knees shook and a clammy sweat broke out on his forehead.

Without sound a gigantic iron hand and arm protruded from behind a crate
and, for a moment, hung suspended over Flint's head. Then, with a swift
encircling movement, that hooklike arm wrapped itself around Flint's
neck and drew him into the shadow. The mighty form drew the victim
close--and it was over.

The Automaton picked up the body as though it had been a mere
feather-weight and stalked out to the waiting emissaries. A trap-door
was opened and Flint's body was dashed into the river. Thus it was that
all his scheming came to an end and his secret from Madagascar, which he
had told Brent, but which now lay locked in that mad-man's mind, was
stilled with Flint's dead lips.

At the chemist's shop Locke was by this time recovering from the
terrible ordeal through which he had passed. He bathed his swollen
thumbs, and by rubbing them was able somewhat to restore the
circulation. Then he stepped to the telephone and gave the Brent Rock
number.

It was Zita who answered him.

"Eva has gone alone to Baker's dock," she answered to his inquiry, in
half-triumphant jealousy.

Locke did not wait to hear more. There was not a moment to be lost. He
rushed out, disheveled as he was, into the street, slamming the door
after him. It seemed hours before he could find a taxicab.

"Baker's dock!" he yelled. "And twenty dollars if you make it in ten
minutes."

He did not know that the emissaries had robbed him of everything, nor
would it have made any difference, for he could easily have fixed it
with the driver through his police and Secret Service connections.

In the mean time Eva's car had met with misfortune, and she had been
compelled to stop. She jumped out and busied herself with a missing
cylinder.

Locke's taxi was running smoothly and arrived at the dock well within
the time he had ordered. Locke jumped out and started to pay. It was
then that he discovered that he was without money. The driver became
angry and hard to pacify with the story of the robbery, but Locke
finally convinced him that all was right with the Department of Justice.

Locke walked through the gates to the dock and for a moment stood
nonplussed. This dock had none of the turmoil and bustle naturally
associated with docks when a steamer is about to leave.

He cautiously proceeded between the piles of merchandise toward the end
of the wharf. Of one thing he was now certain and a prayer of relief
came to his lips. He was there before Eva and able to guard her from any
danger that might arise.

His eyes were keen, but he failed to notice the emissaries who, from
behind crates and bales, were watching his every move. Nor did he see
that fiend of iron, the Automaton, which, standing rigid, glared at him
from behind an enormous packing-case.

He continued down the wharf as, slinking like coyotes, those sinister
forms glided from hiding-place to hiding-place and were never far from
his heels. He reached the end of the wharf and gazed up and down the
dark river. Here and there he could distinguish the colored lights that
marked a tugboat or some other small craft, but of a large steamer there
was no sign. It is rarely that a boat warps into a dock just a few
moments before leaving for foreign parts, and it flashed upon Locke's
mind that Flint had deceived them about his leaving for Madagascar that
night.

He was still wondering what it could all mean when the emissaries leaped
upon him. Although weakened by his previous battle, Locke proved no easy
customer for them. Time after time he struggled free from them and with
arms working like piston-rods for a while he kept them at a distance.
But, like a pack of wolves, they were not to be denied, and they finally
succeeded in holding him firmly.

One of them brought leg-irons which he snapped around Locke's ankles.
Once again Locke managed to get one of his arms free and, before they
could prevent him, two emissaries lay prostrate on the wharf. But that
effort marked his last, for the Automaton, stalking up behind him,
pinioned his arms as though he was a baby.

An emissary now placed a pair of handcuffs on his wrists and, to bind
him more securely, fastened a chain that extended from the handcuffs to
the leg-irons.

Two of the thugs now carried him to the edge of the wharf, while a third
attached a heavy weight to Locke's feet. Locke realized his
helplessness, realized that his death was imminent. But he determined to
rid the world of at least one murderer. By a mighty effort he shook off
his captors and, as one rushed forward, he grabbed him in his manacled
hands and leaped with him into the river as they grappled.

At the shore end of the wharf an emissary was leading Eva, as she
thought, to Flint.

Locke and the thug sank immediately to the bottom of the river and,
under water, there ensued a terrific battle. Locke, semi-helpless
because of his shakles, had the greatest difficulty in preventing the
thug from breaking loose. But he was determined that the fellow at least
would pay for his crimes with his life.

The thug's struggles gradually became more feeble. Air bubbles rose from
his bestial lips and he became limp in Locke's grasp. Locke released him
and, feet first, he floated upward, dead.

Locke's lungs were almost bursting now as he struggled at his chains;
his senses reeled; he thought of Eva, and redoubled his efforts. If he
could only get rid of that great weight that was holding him down. A
singing came in his ears.



CHAPTER X


As Eva hurried down the dock, looking for the renegade, Flint she found
herself cornered between the emissary and the terrible Automaton
himself. With a scream of terror she ran until she came to a door that
divided the dock into fireproof sections. Through it she darted, the
Automaton following relentlessly.

Meanwhile Locke, his lungs almost bursting and the blood surging to his
head, had managed to free himself from his shackles and had floated to
the surface of the water. As he came up he swam to the piles of the dock
just as several boatmen saw him and hurried to his aid.

They heard the screams of Eva, and all started running up the dock, but
not in time to capture the Automaton, who, warned by the emissaries,
crashed through the side of the dock house nearest the shore and
escaped.

A moment later Locke, searching through the piles of boxes, bales, and
crates, found Eva, just recovering from her fright, and in the joy of
having saved her by his timely return forgot, for the moment, to pursue
the terrible villain, who managed to reach a waiting closed car and was
whisked away.

Thus it was that after their return to Brent Rock, on the following day
Eva was ministering to her father, still hopelessly insane through the
failure to discover the antidote to the madness.

While Eva was engaged in her ministrations up-stairs Locke was finishing
some experiment in his laboratory. Down-stairs, Balcom had just arrived
in the hall, where he was met by Zita with a report of what had happened
the day before.

"Tell it to me in the strong-room while I place this package there,"
Balcom whispered, indicating the package which he had brought.

Together Balcom and Zita descended to the cellar and made their way to
the Graveyard of Genius as Zita poured forth her story, unmindful of the
fact that the butler had seen them go down and was watching very
skeptically. In the Graveyard Balcom unwrapped a small model of a motor
and placed it on the shelf.

Eva, having left her father, came upon Locke in the hall, and there they
stood talking for a moment, when the butler approached apologetically.

"Begging your pardon, Miss Brent," he reported, "but I just saw Mr.
Balcom go down to the strong-room with Miss Zita, and I thought you
might like to know."

"Thank you," nodded Eva, dismissing the butler and trying to show no
concern in the matter.

But Locke shot a quick glance at her as the servant left, and it was
evident that both felt the same suspicion, for Locke immediately excused
himself and hurried down-stairs.

In the Graveyard Balcom and Zita were talking in subdued tones as Zita
whispered.

"I suppose you know," she nodded, "that before Mr. Brent went mad he
wrote a confession with a list of these inventions which International
Patents has suppressed?"

Balcom could scarcely conceal his rage. "Yes, I know it," he replied,
savagely. "That confession would cause a great deal of trouble."

Low as they were talking, they would have been even more careful had
they known that Locke was listening outside and that, even as they
turned to leave the strong-room, he had sidled out of the way and was
rejoining Eva in the library.

Locke had scarcely told Eva what he had heard when she moved over to the
safe and would have tried to open it had he not stopped her. For he had
heard the other two coming from the cellar, and even as it was they were
at the hall door.

"My dear," remarked Balcom as he entered and went to Eva, "since your
father is not likely to recover, I must ask you to transfer all the
company papers from his private safe to the office of the company."

Eva did not respond to the fatherly manner assumed by Balcom. Instead
she almost point-blank refused to do as he had requested.

Just then Locke, whom Balcom had almost ignored up to the present, heard
the noise of some one coming through the conservatory. It was Paul
Balcom, his coat on his arm, his sleeves rolled up, and a tennis-racquet
in his hand, as he had come just from the courts.

Paul glanced surlily at Locke, who bowed pleasantly to him, as well he
might, considering their relative positions in Eva's real affections.
Catching sight of his father with Eva, Paul paused a moment.

It was just at that instant that Balcom had been saying to her: "Why
don't you marry Paul, as you promised your father and me? That would
settle all the difficulties."

Paul had suspected the nature of the conversation, though he approached
as if ignorant of it. Apparently catching the drift, he deftly urged
her, but Eva tactfully changed the subject, greatly to Paul's chagrin
and his father's ill-suppressed anger.

The suspense of the situation was relieved for Eva by the nearer
approach of Locke, who must have had some inkling of what was going on.
Paul and his father exchanged glances as the young chemist and detective
joined Eva, and it was evident that no love toward him was wasted by
either.

"Excuse me," she apologized, walking away with Locke, "but there is
something very important that I must attend to for my father's
interests."

Locke and Eva walked to the safe, while Balcom and Paul watched like
hawks.

A moment later Eva was kneeling before the safe, after giving Locke a
paper which contained the combination numbers to open the bolts. Locke
glanced at it, then held it where Eva could read:

  Combination of Safe
  Turn once left to 40
  Three right to 18
  Once left to 40

As Locke held the paper and Eva's slender hand spun the combination
lock, Balcom and Paul moved silently forward. Although Locke was holding
the paper with the combinations for Eva, he heard them come up behind
him and knew that they were watching. With a quiet smile to himself he
moved the paper over so that they could see it, nor were they slow to
take advantage of the chance. Locke's mind was working fast, and he had
a purpose in what seemed to be carelessness or even foolishness.

A moment later Eva opened the safe and from it she took a typewritten
document of many pages.

It read:

  BOARD OF DIRECTORS,

  International Patents, Inc.,
  New York.

  GENTLEMEN,--In view of the government's anti-trust investigation,
  I have prepared this list of inventions we have suppressed.
  I think we should discuss at our annual meeting
  the advisability of surrendering our rights to these inventions,
  no matter what may happen to the corporations we have
  been protecting.

  Very truly yours,

  PETER BRENT.

Following this letter was a bulky paper, or rather set of papers, which
detailed the inventions and their history, exposing some of the
nefarious operations of the corporation.

Balcom, as he read the top letter, showed great agitation. As Locke took
the package from Eva, Balcom interrupted:

"That's very dangerous," he said. "If it gets out, the corporations are
ruined."

Locke scarcely replied. Instead, he very ostentatiously replaced the
document in the safe, refusing to intrust it either to Balcom or to
Paul, who withdrew sullenly, leaving Eva alone with Locke in the library
as Locke whirled the combination of the closed safe door.

It was perhaps half an hour later in the secret den of the Automaton in
the rock-hewn foundation of Brent Rock that the emissaries were watching
the arched and dark passage. Suddenly there was the warning clank, and
the huge steel monster strode in.

For some time he stood before the table, giving his instructions by
means of mysterious, cryptic motions.

Meantime, above in Brent Rock, Locke had been busy, for he had conceived
an entirely new plan to capture the Automaton. It was nothing short of
an electric trap, and deadly in its simplicity.

From the wall switch Locke had led wires carrying the house current.
Already, also, he had let Eva in on his secret plan, and she was all
eagerness as he planted his trap.

Before the safe, now, Locke paused, and there for a moment twisted the
combination so that he could get his correct position. That done, he
noted the place where he had been standing, and removed a mat from the
floor in front of the safe. At that place he set in on the floor a
fairly large iron plate. To this iron plate he attached a wire, then
replaced the rug, but in such a way that a part of the plate was
exposed, though it would never be noticed.

"If the Automaton attempts to open the safe," he remarked to Eva, as he
worked, "he will complete the electric circuit and it will hold him
until we capture him."

"How clever!" Eva exclaimed, involuntarily.

"Now for making my signaling connection to the laboratory," continued
Locke. "Then I must get some of my men up here from the department."

However, while Locke and Eva were busy arranging this electric trap,
they did not notice that they were being watched by Zita, who had stolen
into the conservatory and was eying them eagerly from the protection of
the fronds of a palm. Zita, moreover, was greatly excited, as she
gathered with her quick perception just what it was that they were
doing. Nor did she wait to see the work finished, but stole out of the
door and away hurriedly.

Locke had finished his preparations, and as he and Eva were discussing
the possibilities of what he had devised, he remarked, in answer to her
eager inquiry about his suspicions, "I am sure we shall prove that there
is a man inside the terrible machine that attacks us."

"Then you don't think it is really an automaton?" asked Eva, with great
respect for Locke's opinion, though it was sufficiently in evidence that
she was not at all convinced that the monster was not really of steel
and controlled by something that resembled a human brain.

Locke was non-committal. "This trap will tell us," was all that he would
say.

Zita, hurrying out from the conservatory, and wishing to waste not an
instant in notifying Balcom, sought a near-by telephone pay-station, and
there in frantic haste she demanded Balcom's number.

It was some moments before Central could make the connection, and then
it was only to Zita's disappointment and growing fear. The Madagascan
servant of Balcom answered in the absence of his master.

"Is Mr. Balcom there?" asked Zita, adding, "Or Mr. Paul?"

The black shook his head. "Neither Mr. Balcom nor Mr. Paul is at home,"
he replied.

Zita was now thoroughly alarmed. Had she some connection with the
Automaton? Or was it her fear that either Balcom or Paul might know more
than they would care to have the authorities know? Or was the Automaton
really an iron monster, after all?

That and many other questions were surging through the minds of all who
had encountered this unique mystery.



CHAPTER XI


It was midnight when, far down in the rock-hewn cavern in which the
Automaton had his secret den, the steel monster and one of his men
stalked out through the arched passage that led to the very cellar of
the house above them.

A few moments later the swinging rock door in the Graveyard of Genius
tilted and the two entered the strong-room, passing across the room and
out through the steel door into the cellar. Up the cellar steps they
proceeded until they reached the hall, then noiselessly they crossed
into the library. With his human companion the monster approached the
safe deliberately. Just as deliberately the Automaton reached out to
turn the handle of the combination.

There was a flash as the current passed through the arm of steel to the
foot of steel resting on the plate Locke had set in the floor. A
suppressed cry escaped from the henchman. As for the monster, he strove
with superhuman force to wrench himself away from the electric trap.

Meanwhile, up in his laboratory in the house, Locke and four men from
the Department of Justice had been waiting.

"The Department expects us to get this evidence _right_," he had
emphasized as he gave them their instructions.

Hardly had he finished when a signal light which Locke had arranged on
the wall flashed, giving the information that the trap had worked.

Out of the laboratory all piled, running down the hall, Locke paused
only a second to tap on Eva's door, as she had asked, if anything
happened, so that she might be present at the capture. An instant and
Eva, too, had joined the pursuit.

Down in the library the Automaton struggled with the current. As the rug
was kicked aside, the emissary saw the wire from the plate and quickly
traced it to its source.

The result was that in a few seconds the emissary had found a wall
switch and pulled it. Instantly the Automaton was released from the
power that held him.

Quickly the man of steel raised and lowered his arms, as though to be
sure that he could do so, at the same time indicating orders to his
follower, who leaped to guard the entrance to the room. Then the
Automaton turned to open the safe, making swift use of the remaining
seconds before the alarm might bring interference.

In almost no time he had the safe open, reached in, and seized a packet
of precious papers, apparently. Then he turned and was gone, regardless
of the man whom he had sent to guard him.

In the hall, Locke's sharp ears had detected the approach of the
emissary. Not knowing whether it might be the villain himself, he
cautioned the men to wait an instant. The emissary, coming along,
crouching and listening, did not see Locke, and thus Locke was able to
seize him and with a spectacular throw project him literally into the
hands of the law in the person of one of his own men, who snapped the
bracelets on the astonished thug as Locke, followed by Eva and the rest,
ran on to the library.

No one was in the library as Locke ran in and looked about. He turned
toward the door to the hallway where the portières were drawn. As he was
standing there, looking about, the portières moved behind him. Suddenly
they were jerked aside from their fastenings and flung over his head. As
this happened, the ponderous hand of the Automaton descended on Locke's
head and he sank to the floor as the portières wrapped about him.

When the department agents with Eva arrived, they were merely in time to
untangle Locke from the curtains. The Automaton had fled safely.

Although his head was still reeling from the blow, Locke started to
question the prisoner, but gave it up as a bad job and hurried over to
examine the safe, followed by Eva.

Their dismay was mutual. Not only was the safe door open, but the paper
was gone.

Question the emissary as they would, they could get nothing out of him.
Such men have keenly developed the gang instinct of silence. They would
sooner die than squeal.

Even a night in jail failed to break the reticence of the emissary,
although he had been subjected to the most strenuous third degree.

Not only had his spirit not been broken, but the fellow was keenly alert
and planning a way to secure his own release.

As a prison guard was taking the emissary back to his cell, after a
thorough quizzing by Locke in the warden's office, the emissary
whispered:

"Want to make a piece of change--safe?"

The guard looked about, saw that the coast was clear to speak, but
before he could do so the emissary spoke again.

"Give me a piece of paper and a pencil."

Quickly the thug scratched away at a note.

"Deliver that," he said to the guard, handing him the note he had
written, "and you'll get something worth while."

The guard nodded as he shoved the thug into his cell and locked the
door, then walked off, while the fellow watched eagerly through the
bars.

Locke in the warden's office, unsuccessful in making the prisoner talk,
had evolved another scheme.

"Put me in the cell next to him," decided Locke. "I have a plan."

It was while the false guard was reading the address on the note that
Locke and the warden entered the cell row. The guard hastily stuffed the
message in his pocket as Locke and the warden passed up toward the empty
next cell.

Locke went through all the actions of one who was being thrown into a
cell, and the emissary in his own cell listened without suspecting
anything. Locke had arranged with the warden to leave the cell unlocked,
but no sooner had the warden left than the guard, who had been
observing, moved over and shot the bolts.

Here, then, was a predicament. Locke could not give the alarm without
putting the emissary in the next cell on guard. Rapidly Locke revolved
in his head scheme after scheme. He was an expert on bolts and knew that
at any moment he could release himself. Should he do so now? Instead he
concluded to wait until the guard returned, for by the man's actions
Locke was sure that something queer was going on, although, naturally,
he did not know what it was. Accordingly Locke lay down on the bunk in
the cell and decided to wait.

Some time later, at a deserted house not far from the rock-hewn den of
the Automaton, the false prison guard might have been seen delivering
the message which the prisoner had written to two other emissaries of
the Automaton.

After a hasty conference they decided on their course of action. Not
only did he receive the money the prisoner had promised him, but the
emissaries gave him minute instructions regarding the rescue which they
planned. A cap and a pair of goggles for the prisoner were given to the
guard and he was sent on his way.

Scarcely had he gone when the Automaton himself entered the deserted
house, and under his direction one of the emissaries wrote a note which
he addressed to Eva. For, with Locke out of the way, it was a splendid
time to take advantage of the poor girl.

The note read simply: "Our prisoner has confessed. Meet me at the Cliff
House at eight o'clock," and bore the signature of Locke.

Thus, with their plans carefully laid, the Automaton and his emissaries
plotted, and soon a messenger was on his way to Eva with the faked
message.

Meanwhile, as the day wore on, the treacherous guard returned on duty at
the prison, and at the first opportunity made his way to the cell in
which the emissary was locked. In a hoarse whisper he told the fellow of
the success of his mission and of the plan, slipping to him the cap and
goggles through the bars.

Locke had been waiting for hours impatiently on his bunk, but now was
all attention, though he was careful not to betray it. As the guard left
and the emissary was trying on the cap and goggles, Locke came to his
cell door. Now was the time to act.

He began working noiselessly and swiftly with the bolts, deftly
determining just how the tumblers fell until he was able to slip the
bolt. He peered into the next cell. The emissary had retired to his own
bunk to await the time of rescue. Locke saw his chance, and at once
began unlocking the cell door. As the emissary heard him, he concluded
that it was the guard come to release him, and sprang from his bunk just
as Locke entered. He suspected nothing until a stray ray of light fell
on Locke's face. But then it was too late either for him to put up much
of a fight or to make an outcry. For with a swift blow Locke disposed of
him and carried the fellow, unconscious, into his own cell, where he
locked the door again, hurrying back to the emissary's cell, where he
donned the fellow's clothes, of which he had stripped him, and
appropriated the cap and goggles. Then Locke waited for the rescue that
was to lead, he was sure, straight to the villains he wished to capture.

At Brent Rock, the faked telegram from Locke had been delivered and Eva
was overjoyed to learn of his seeming success. As it happened, Zita was
in the library when the butler brought the message in, and, all
animation, was eager to accompany Eva to the meeting-place. But Eva
would not listen to it.

So, not many moments before eight that night, while Locke was waiting in
the jail for the rescuers, Eva climbed into her speedster, eager to keep
the appointment which she was convinced would clear up the mystery.

In the darkness outside the jail, by this time, was waiting the false
turnkey when an open car drove up with its motor silenced. He had been
expecting it and so was ready when a heavily goggled man climbed out and
signaled to him. In the back of the car was another man, also goggled,
while the chauffeur, alone, had his face also well hidden by a cap over
his eyes and his collar pulled up.

Understanding perfectly, the guard hurried into the jail, making sure
that the coast was clear, and down the cell row to the cell where Locke
was waiting impatiently, now dressed and hunched up in a perfect
imitation of the emissary. The turnkey opened the door and whispered to
Locke, who nodded gruffly, and together they sneaked quietly out.

With scarcely another word, outside, Locke leaped into the waiting car
and the four were off, leaving the false turnkey chuckling over his
cleverness and ready to make a get-away.

Locke glanced furtively from the driver to the other two passengers in
the car as it sped along in the direction of the cliffs. So far
everything had gone fine. When would they begin to suspect the
substitution he had played on them? He revolved rapidly in his mind just
what he would do under various circumstances.

"Well, old pal," exclaimed one, clapping him on the shoulders, "how does
it seem to be out?"

Locke replied with gruff heartiness, and the others now began to remove
their goggles. Locke, however, did not do the same. They exchanged a
glance.

Already Eva had arrived at the Cliff House, had left her car, and was
approaching on foot, just as Locke with the now thoroughly aroused
emissaries swung into sight.

With a shout to the driver, the two in the back of the car leaped at
Locke at once, and, as the car stopped, the chauffeur joined them.

Even prepared as he was, Locke was no match for three of them, and,
fighting furiously, all four combatants rolled over and over as they
came closer to the door of an old acid-mill that adjoined the Cliff
House.

"We must keep him from saving the girl," panted the leader of the
emissaries to the others.

Inside the old building stood some huge tanks of acid, and as they
rolled nearer and nearer to them it became evident that Locke was in
their power.

Suddenly one emissary reached out and secured a coil of rope, which he
unwound quickly. The others, too, saw their chance. It was fiendish.
Round and round they wound the rope until they had Locke well-nigh
helpless. Then one of them cast the end of the coil over a beam, all
seized the end as it fell on the other side, and Locke found himself
dangling head downward from the beam, suspended over the vat of acid.

They were about to drop him into it when one, more alert and more
fiendish than the rest, cried out, "Look!"

Through a window now they could see Eva, and back of her the terrible
figure of the Automaton, stalking. She had walked directly into the
trap, but the fight with Locke had delayed the emissaries. Wildly now
Eva was running over the lawn, full in the direction of the acid-room
from the Cliff House.

"Quick!" directed the emissary. "She'll come in that door. Fasten the
rope on it. Then his own sweetheart will drop him into the acid!"

It was only a matter of seconds, as the screams of Eva came closer and
closer, for the emissaries to carry the rope and jam it into the door
through which pretty soon Eva would run to take refuge from the pursuing
Automaton. Then they slunk back through a rear door, with muttered
taunts to Locke, who struggled in the tangle of rope as he felt the
stinging fumes of the acid below.

Outside, Eva, who had realized at last that it was a trap and had no
thought that Locke might be anywhere about, fled toward the acid-room,
while the emissaries hid, ready to seize her as she opened the door
which was to plunge her lover into a horrible death in the acid seething
below him.



CHAPTER XII


Locke's case seemed at last hopeless. The cruel ropes bit into his flesh
and increased his agony, while the acrid fumes from the seething acid
were slowly stupefying that keen brain of his.

Backward and forward like a huge pendulum his body swayed, and in an
agony of suspense he watched the fatal rope. With writhing body he
swayed far out, and then he saw just one chance.

The emissaries had thrown the rope over a beam which was far above
Locke, and it seemed an impossibility for him to reach it. For one less
resourceful or with a physique less perfectly developed, even to try
would have been useless. But there was one chance in a thousand, and he
grasped it eagerly.

Alternately contracting and relaxing his muscles, Locke succeeded in
swinging himself in an ever-widening arc. Nearer he swung--back--and
again nearer. Could he make it? Back again and a terrific effort. He was
gaining.

There came to him the sound of running feet. In his fear and agony he
could have shrieked, but from his parched throat there issued no sound.
Friend or foe, for him it meant the same fate--one touch on that knob
and a torturing death by fire.

With bursting muscles he redoubled his efforts. In a long sweep his body
swayed out and up. Would he be in time? Those pattering feet, they were
coming nearer and nearer. There were now but a few yards between them
and that knob.

A mighty swing, a monstrous heave, his fingers crooked talon-like, and
he touched the rafter, clutched--and missed.

Downward and backward, his mind now reeling in black despair. He had
tried and failed. This was the end. The sound of footsteps had ceased.
Well he knew that some one was at the door. He tried to pray and
then--he crashed against the rafter. Mechanically he grasped at it and
clung.

The door flew open, and there stood Eva. All the horrors of imminent
death, even the pain of sorely tried muscles, were momentarily forgotten
in his relief at seeing her safe and having saved himself. But not yet
was he free. The emissaries had been thorough in their work, but it was
not many moments before the last knot was loose and he dropped to the
floor.

Locke peered stealthily about. To all appearances everything was clear.
He placed his arm about Eva and they started to steal out. Well they
knew that, with such enemies, not for a moment would they dare relax
their caution. For them every angle and nook was a temporary haven.
Slowly they drew away from the dread spot, and soon came to a more
populous locality where the lights of honest shops and peaceful homes
gave them a sense of greater security and brought a feeling of unreality
to the horrors through which they had passed.

A taxi-driver hailed them, and in a short time they were rolling along
the Cliff Drive and had arrived at Brent Rock.

It was the following day that the old butler handed Locke a letter
addressed to International Patents, Incorporated, from the Diving and
Salvage Company. Locke was about to read it, when Eva entered and they
read it together.

"We are reliably informed," read the letter, "that the Under Seas
Corporation is trying to obtain possession of the self-liberating
diving-suit which you control in our interest. This must be prevented."

Locke was immediately interested. At once it occurred to him that here
was a patent which the company had suppressed which might prove of
incalculable value.

"This suit might be very valuable to the government," he exclaimed to
Eva. "I am going to try it myself."

"Please don't," pleaded Eva. "It isn't worth it. It's not worth the
risk."

Locke, however, realized that here was something of extreme importance,
and as he visualized to Eva the helplessness of a deep-sea diver, his
air-line cut, struggling in vain to release himself and rise to the
surface, he began to win her over.

At the moment when Quentin and Eva were in the library, Zita was taking
advantage and was ransacking Locke's laboratory, not with any definite
purpose in mind, but searching in every nook for some clue which might
tell her what he was about.

The speed with which she worked was extraordinary. Yet, before she moved
an instrument, a retort, a book, its position was minutely studied, so
that she could restore it to its former place without any one suspecting
that it had ever been moved.

It was while she was thus occupied that her eye fell upon an instrument
which aroused in her an excited interest. It was very like the headpiece
used by operators of telephones, and she hastened to adjust it. In a
moment it was as though she were in the library. She could hear Locke's
earnest laugh and in it Zita could detect an undercurrent of tenderness.
Her lips compressed and her eyes hardened as she listened. Locke was
speaking about a letter and it seemed to be something important. Zita
was all ears.

But Locke's next words which she heard were his decision to test the
diving-suit, and as she listened she became tense, for this information
she knew was important. The continued note of tenderness in Locke's
voice more infuriated Zita. She removed the headpiece of the dictagraph,
slammed it back into the desk drawer from which she had taken it, and
hurried out.

In the library, Locke, having persuaded Eva, left her and went down into
the Graveyard of Genius, where he touched the secret spring and the
massive door flew open. He entered the gloomy place and went at once to
the shelf upon which lay the self-liberating diving-suit. He took the
suit down and examined its every detail minutely. As he did so he became
more and more enthusiastic and he could find no fault with any of its
features.

"It's entirely practical," he exclaimed to himself. "I'm going to try it
to-day."

He closed the great door and remounted the stairs, carrying the suit
with him. But had he noticed the fiery eyes that had watched him through
the secret rock door of the cavern he would not have been so eager to
try the test he had in mind.

By this time Eva had called her car, and together Locke and Eva drove to
the near-by cove, where there was a little launch which he planned to
use.

Out into the river they sailed, Eva at the wheel, while Locke busied
himself over the sputtering engine. Soon they arrived at a spot which
was suitable for the test of the suit.

Locke had brought along the full equipment, and, while Eva took charge
of the air-pump, Locke donned the diving-suit. Soon all was ready and
Locke descended over the side, after carefully instructing Eva in each
detail. Eva started pumping, while with her other hand she carefully
paid out the air-line and signal-cord.

But in their close attention to the task in hand, neither had noticed a
low, knifelike launch that had followed them and that was now hovering a
short distance off.

Locke was now walking over the shell-strewn bottom, examining curious
objects here and there. The tide was setting in strongly and at times it
was with difficulty that he kept his feet.

He had become satisfied that this particular suit filled all the
requirements of a first-class diving-suit, and he was about to try its
special, self-liberating feature, when his attention was arrested by a
vague mass which seemingly moved against the current.

This was so extraordinary that his first thought was of a shark. He
stopped in his tracks and became motionless, for it is a well-known fact
that these sea tigers rarely see an object unless it is in motion.
Still, the vague form slowly took on more distinctness as in its course
it gradually drew nearer to him. It was then that Locke was almost
overcome with surprise. For there, groping his way toward him, was a
diver, like himself.

What was this strange being doing there on the bottom of the sea? Whence
had he come? Locke could not guess. For, like Eva, he had not noticed
the other launch. It seemed impossible to him. Still, to him, apart from
curiosity at the appearance of the other diver, the incident had no
other interest. What had he to fear from any man at the bottom of a
peaceful harbor? Locke moved nearer.

The stranger allowed him to approach, stopped, even, as though he were
himself amazed at Locke's appearance, and Locke made gestures to
reassure the man of his good intentions.

Locke was quite close now, and through the glass gate in the other's
helmet he could see his eyes. But in those eyes he could see no
responding friendliness. There was a murderous hate instead. He tried to
step back and place himself in a position for defense, but he was too
late. For, with a movement amazingly rapid for one under water, the
stranger leaped upon him, at the same time drawing a long knife. There,
under the sea, commenced a battle royal.

Locke was unarmed and so from the start was at a disadvantage. The
stranger seemed not so anxious to stab him as to come to close quarters,
and before Locke could prevent him he had done so. With his left hand he
grabbed Locke's lines, while with the other, in which was the keen
knife, he slashed murderously.

Locke tried to break his grip. But the other was not to be denied. With
one stroke he cut through both lines, pushing Locke backward and himself
springing free at the same time.

Immediately Locke's helmet filled with sea water, while the pressure
became enormous. Locke tried to hold his breath, while his hand searched
for the liberating knob. He gave it one twist. It worked perfectly.
Locke's suit, including the helmet, simply opened and fell from him.

Propelled as much by the pressure that the water exerted as by his own
powerful strokes, Locke shot to the surface.

The day was perfect and the bay was calm. For a few seconds Locke
floated, drawing the air into his starving lungs. Then he raised himself
and gazed about him. At first glance everything seemed the same except
for the fact that, whereas before his own boat had been alone, there
were now two. Then Locke heard an agonizing call for help--from Eva.

After he had gone over the side of their launch Eva was naturally very
intent upon keeping him plentifully supplied with air. He had been down
some time before, glancing about, she had spied the other launch. But at
the time she had thought little of it. For her, all thought of danger
was centered on the man who was now risking his life many fathoms
beneath her from pure motives of patriotism.

It was only, some minutes later, when she heard the grating of another
boat against the side of her own that she realized that she herself
stood in danger. But even at that moment her thoughts were of Quentin,
who now for the first time was wholly dependent on her efforts alone.
She looked up fearfully, and what she saw fairly congealed the blood in
her veins. Directing a murderous emissary to board Eva's launch, in the
cockpit of the other boat stood the Automaton!

Not for an instant did Eva cease her efforts at the pump. But she
shrieked with terror again and again. Now, to add to that terror, the
pressure on the air-pump suddenly ceased. From the depths myriads of
bubbles of air arose.

Knife in hand, the emissary leaped aboard and came toward her.
Automatically, frantically, she still turned the useless pump, while
with her free arm she tried to ward off the poised knife.

Again her shriek for help echoed across the water--and this time her
call was answered.

Had she gone mad? The voice that answered her was the voice of the man
she loved. Her brain reeled and she fell at the feet of the murderous
thug.

Other cries, then shouts were now heard, for some fisher folk were
putting out off shore to discover what all the tumult was about.

The Automaton made a hasty gesture to the emissary, who sprang back from
his victim and leaped to his own launch, where, with his assistance,
there was barely time to haul aboard the chief thug, who had been sent
below to attack Locke. The launch cast off and with ever-increasing
speed headed down the river.

Locke was the first to arrive and climb over the side of the boat.
Dripping though he was, he took Eva in his arms and bathed her face,
while by this time other craft arrived and friendly hands did all they
could to care for them both.

It was some minutes before Eva was restored and all headed again to the
shore, eager to help Locke.

As he assisted Eva to land, and they waited for a carriage, Locke
hastily offered a boatman a liberal reward for the discovery of the
precious diving-suit, for it had been his intention to present the
patent to the government.

Meanwhile some strange things had happened. Paul and his father had
quarreled over money, over De Luxe Dora, over Paul's manner of life and
his ill luck in winning Eva's affections.

At the same time Dora had become more insistent in her demands for money
to meet her extravagances, and Paul conceived an idea of selling one of
the patents to a rival company. Strange to say, it had been the
self-liberating diving-suit and the rival company was the Under Seas
Company.

All this took place some time after the disappearance of the Automaton
and his precious crew.

Some hours later that evening a telephone message came for Locke from
the boatman that the diving-suit had been recovered and was being held
by him.

Locke replied that he would be down in an hour. But during that hour
other strange things occurred. For no sooner had the boatman hung up his
receiver than a pleasant voice hailed him and he left his house to
investigate. It was Paul Balcom.

It was in a clever, insinuating, affable manner that Paul approached the
real object of his visit. His appeal was cleverly worded, cleverly
presented. The sole object was to awaken the poor boatman's cupidity.

The sum mentioned, no less a sum than five thousand dollars, would mean
luxury to the poor man. And all for what? Simply to call up a stranger,
a Mr. Locke, to tell him that the boatman demanded more money since he
had telephoned before, that the cash was to be placed by him in an old
packing-case from which a stationary engine had been removed that
morning. It was just an exchange. That was all.

"Sure I'll do that," the boatman told Paul, and Paul, smiling craftily,
gave him his hand to seal the bargain.

The boatman went back to his quarters and again called Brent Rock,
making his new demands. Locke was tremendously indignant, but he wanted
the suit quickly to prevent its falling into unscrupulous hands. He
agreed and immediately started for the dock.

The boatman turned from his telephone and, picking up the suit, regarded
it curiously. "Five thousand dollars," he muttered. "Five thousand
dollars." And he shook his head wonderingly.

He was standing near an open window and was commencing to fold the suit
preparatory to taking it to the end of the dock where lay the
engine-case, when, without the slightest warning, three emissaries of
the Automaton, who had appeared just a moment before on the dock, leaped
through the window and felled him to the floor. He struggled feebly, but
it was no use, and a final blow left him unconscious.

The emissaries next grabbed the diving-suit and left hurriedly by the
way they had come. But they had not completed what it was they sought to
do.

The old boatman was not as badly hurt as it seemed and was able to drag
himself across the floor with just strength enough to pull the telephone
from the table and call Brent Rock. Then as weakness again overcame him
he managed to blurt out a message to Eva, who answered.

"Don't let Mr. Locke come to the dock," he managed to gasp. "He'll be
killed." Then he collapsed and fainted.

Eva tried frantically to get the boatman again on the wire, but it was
useless. Quickly a plan formed in her mind.

If she could only intercept Locke before he reached the dock!

She dashed out to the garage, realizing that it was almost hopeless,
since Locke had been gone some time. Hoping against hope, she jumped
into her speedster and swung out and down the road.

The fact was that even as she sped along toward the cove Locke was
passing the arched gate of the dock.

He called at the boatman's little shack. Of course there was no reply.
To all appearances it was deserted. Thinking to find him at the very end
of the dock where he had been told to place the money, he proceeded to
the engine-case.

He was slightly surprised at not finding the boatman there, but as that
was no part of the agreement it engaged his attention for only a moment.
He started to withdraw the money from his pocket, groping at the same
time to see if the diving-suit was actually in the case.

He was bending over when suddenly there was a rush of men behind him and
a blackjack in the hands of one of the ruffians just missed his head.

He fought, but their numbers were overwhelming. Like a pack of wolves
they pulled him down.

Locke was quickly bound with ropes and forced into the engine-case. The
cover was put on and they nailed it down solidly. To make it doubly sure
this time the case was then lashed with ropes and they were knotted.

Next the emissaries carried the case to a sloping landing stage,
preparatory to casting it into the river.

It was at this moment that Eva came running down the dock in wild search
to intercept Locke. Wide-eyed, in the moonlight, she paused at what she
saw.

The emissaries had given the packing-case its final shove. Scraping, it
slid down the incline and toppled overboard. There was a great splash as
it struck the water and immediately began to sink in the depths.

The engine exhaust had evidently protruded from the case, as there was a
hole in its side slightly larger than a man's hand. To Eva's horror,
though she had half expected it, she saw actually a hand thrust forth
from this hole as if waving frantically.

The box sank lower as it rapidly filled with water.

Eva knew not what to do. Instinctively she knew that it was Locke. It
was as though he had waved a last farewell.

Only the hand now showed above the surface. Finally that, too,
disappeared beneath the waves.

Despairingly she turned to see if there was anything on the dock with
which she might help Locke--and she saw the Automaton himself advancing
from the shore toward her. She turned. The emissaries on the other end
of the dock cut off any chance in that direction.

Without a moment's hesitation Eva poised herself a moment on the edge of
the dock and leaped far out into the blackness of the river.



CHAPTER XIII


The box that held Locke a prisoner was now undoubtedly resting on the
slimy bottom. Eva had totally disappeared. The Automaton, convinced that
at last he had rid himself of his victims, waved away the emissaries and
departed.

Except for the tiny lights of ships on the river and the staccato
exhaust of a tugboat, the river flowed with nothing to remind one of the
two tragedies of only a few seconds ago.

As far as the eye could see, the surface of the water was unbroken.
Then, suddenly, the scene changed. For from out the water, as though
hurled up by a catapult, shot a man's body.

It was Locke.

By what miracle had he escaped from the watery grave?

From the time he was a small boy the study of locks and bolts, of knots
and strait-jackets, of anything that could restrain or bind a man, had
held a marvelous fascination for him, until now he was recognized as one
of the world's greatest experts on these subjects. The great lock
concerns often sent for him to test new inventions, and invariably he
could point to any flaw in the constructions of them that existed. As he
came to manhood his knowledge had grown apace until to many he seemed a
veritable sorcerer.

It was by a trick known only to himself that he had been able to
extricate himself from his desperate plight at the river's bottom. True,
his flesh was lacerated. True, he was on the verge of total collapse.
But he lived.

He made his way slowly toward the dock and was resting against one of
the piles when he heard a faint cry. He strained his ears to locate the
direction whence it came. Once again that feeble call floated across the
water, and in it there sounded something vaguely familiar.

He was more rested now and he swam farther under the dock. Again came
the cry. With a thrill now he recognized the voice.

"Eva!" he called, again and again.

"Here I am," came back the echo.

With a powerful stroke he breasted the current and in a moment he was
supporting her half-fainting body. Precarious though their position was,
Locke felt the thrill of her words. The effect was to spur him on to
fresh efforts.

Eva had become stronger now. For a few moments he swam, in order, if
possible, to find some means by which they might escape from the water
and reach the dock.

They had no way of knowing but that the Automaton and his emissaries
might still be lurking above, ready to thrust them back into the water
or to reserve for them some even more terrible fate. But it was a risk
that they realized must be taken and at once. An attempt to swim to
another dock could end only disastrously.

Locke soon returned with the cheering news that he had discovered a
ladder that came even to the surface of the water, a landing for small
boats. More than that, he had mounted the ladder, and from a short
survey he had seen no sign of their enemies.

Carefully aiding Eva, Locke swam to this ladder and soon they stood upon
the dock, safe.

With great caution they moved toward the street and, without harm,
finally passed beneath the arched gates again and were in the city
street.

Eva went at once to her father's room. His condition was one of great
weakness. The laughing madness had abated in so far that the poor victim
was so weak that the spasms could not maintain a very violent form.

Eva practised all those little kindnesses which are known only to women,
and tears were in her eyes as she stroked his poor gray head.

How terrible was it that, after all they had attempted, all that they
had suffered, they should still stand defeated in their aim to get the
antidote that would cure her father's malady. However, the brave girl
was not one to admit herself beaten, and even as she sat there she was
planning new ways to discover who were her terrible adversaries and to
bring defeat to them.

At Brent Rock the next morning an aged inventor named Winters arrived
before Locke was down-stairs, and was shown into the library to wait.

Locke soon descended from the laboratory and went into the room to meet
him. But Winters was so agitated that at first he could hardly speak. It
was some moments before he gained control.

"What can I do for you, sir?" inquired Locke, although he knew the man
must be one wronged by the patents company.

"One of my inventions was returned to me, when I protested once," the
man replied, "but nothing has been done about two others."

"Please try to have a little further patience," pleaded Locke.
"Everything is being done to assure justice to all."

"But, Mr. Locke," the man persisted, "I must insist on the return or the
immediate marketing of the two inventions now in the possession of
International Patents or I will--"

He paused, for Eva had entered and was overhearing what Winters was
demanding.

"I am sure that, as my father returned one of your inventions," she
interrupted, "he would wish me to return the other two, and I shall do
so at once. Mr. Locke, will you be so kind as to get them?"

Locke immediately left the room and descended to the Graveyard of Genius
for the two models.

In the laboratory above were Balcom and Zita, for she had told him of
her discovery of the dictagraph. Balcom had the headpiece firmly clamped
over his head and was drinking in the purport of the conversation down
in the library.

Zita was almost beside herself with curiosity, as Balcom repeated only
scraps of the conversation that went on below, but finally the real
subject of the whole matter was repeated to her and she was satisfied at
last. A peculiar look came into her eyes. As for Balcom, one would have
thought that a whole world's treasure had suddenly been placed within
his grasp. Yet each was cautious not to betray too much to the other.

Over the dictagraph came the words spoken by Eva, "Mr. Locke and I will
come to your workshop at eight this evening to complete the
transaction."

Locke in the mean time had brought the two models into the library and
the inventor had almost danced with joy at seeing the children of his
brain again.

Sent down by Balcom, Zita had been ordered to spy on Eva and Locke. She
had been nearly caught by Locke as he was returning from the Graveyard
of Genius, but had slipped behind a pair of portières at the end of the
hall and had emerged only when Locke had entered the library. She had
crept close to the door and was listening.

She, too, now heard the inventor exact a promise from Eva and Locke not
to fail to be at his workshop at eight that night.

Zita had but a second to glide backward from the door as the inventor
came out into the hallway where she stood. He gazed at her in such a
strange, fixed manner that an uncanny feeling came over her. Then he
passed out, just as Balcom came down the stairs.

"Why did that man look at me in such a strange manner?" she queried of
Balcom.

A moment Balcom considered her, as though undecided to speak, then made
up his mind.

"Because," he replied, slowly, "he knows the secret of your birth, knows
who you really are."

Zita had no further chance to question Balcom, for at this instant Eva
and Locke, still carrying the inventions, were leaving the library.
Locke turned down again toward the stairway leading to the Graveyard of
Genius, while Eva, nodding pleasantly to Zita and Balcom, mounted the
stairs leading to her father's room.

Zita turned questioningly again to Balcom.

"Half of everything that girl possesses rightfully belongs to you," he
whispered.

Zita apparently did not understand. "What shall I do to obtain my
rights?" she asked.

"Do as I say," returned Balcom, as he left quickly.

It was some hours later that in the dark corner of the Graveyard of
Genius the huge rock slowly swung outward. There was a clanging and
clanking of metal. Two fiery eyes gleamed through the aperture and out
stalked the hideous monster, the Automaton. With strange ominousness it
went directly to the two models which Locke had returned, took them,
turned and went back through the great gap in the wall from which it had
come. Again slowly the huge rock swung back into place.

Locke, with some sort of intuition, had deduced that young Paul Balcom
by his very absence might have played a leading part in all the events
in which both Eva and himself had been thwarted and almost killed.
Accordingly he determined to find and trail Paul.

It was some time after the models had been stolen in his absence that,
in a taxicab, Locke, having gone from place to place which he knew Paul
frequented, at last caught sight of him leaving a dance-hall of very ill
repute. Paul was just stepping into a car which whisked him off rapidly
and Locke gave an order to his own driver to follow him.

They wove in and out of various streets and finally turned up the Drive,
where, after a few minutes, Paul's car came to a stop before a palatial
apartment-house and Paul alighted. Looking up and down the Drive and
seeing nothing to cause him suspicion, Paul entered the house.

Locke carefully noted the address, then leaned back in his cab to await
developments.

Paul was taken to the third floor and there was admitted to a gorgeous
apartment.

"I thought you'd never get here," languidly greeted the feline De Luxe
Dora.

She led him to a chaise-longue seductively, taking care, however, that
he should see a pile of unpaid bills that lay upon a table near it.

Paul was not entirely at his ease and wasted no time in coming to the
point.

"Look here, Dora," he began; "I know you can't run this shack on air. I
got your note this morning. I've been busy and I've got an idea. I've
made up my mind to take a couple of those inventions the company owns
and sell them. It means coin."

Dora's eyes gleamed avariciously.

"Be patient," Paul added, "and I'll have you swimming in gold."

At this juncture three young fellows of the cabaret type, better known
as "lounge lizards," were admitted to the apartment.

Paul cast a glance at Dora which clearly spelled jealousy and reproach.
He knew the fellows. In fact, there were few denizens of the underworld
whom he did not know. Concealing his vexation, he tried to greet them
easily.

The fellows returned the salutation hastily.

"Say, Balcom," hastened one of them, "some one is on your trail,
shadowing you."

Paul was startled and furious, but in this emergency it was Dora who
thought out the plan of action.

"In a taxicab?" she repeated, as the others told what they had seen
outside. "Listen to me, Paul. Go to the window and show yourself. Then
leave the house. This fellow Locke will investigate--and we'll tend to
the rest."

Paul moved to the window, opened it, and stepped out on a small balcony.
Dora slipped to his side and for a moment they stood there gazing
apparently at the view of the river. Then they re-entered the apartment.

"Now go, Paul," said Dora. "Whoever this fellow is, we'll handle him."

Paul started to get his hat, then stopped and from his pocket drew out a
small package.

"I was going to use this elsewhere," he said, "but it might come in
handy to--"

Dora reached for the package, but Paul withdrew it hastily.

"Careful, Dora," he admonished. "There's a small gas-bomb inside."

The five now conferred a bit and it was agreed that this time the
inquisitive Mr. Locke would surely trouble them no more.

"With Locke out of the way," promised Paul to Dora, "the road to our
fortune is clear."

A moment later Paul left the apartment, descended in the elevator, and
jumped into a taxicab and was off.

Locke from his cab had, of course, seen all this, had seen Paul and Dora
on the balcony and the departure. But he knew nothing of the three men
who had gone to the same apartment.

He waited until Paul passed out of sight, then stepped out of his cab,
making a careful calculation as to the exact location of the woman's
apartment, for he had determined to find out about her. From the hall
boy he learned that it was De Luxe Dora, of whom he knew, and it was
only a matter of seconds when he was admitted.

Dora swept over graciously toward him.

"Will you answer me one question?" he asked, in answer to a query from
her.

She nodded assent.

"How long have you known Mr. Balcom's son?"

"He is an old friend," she replied. "I'm expecting him to return at any
moment. Won't you be seated? Please excuse me just a moment."

Before Locke could say a word she had left the room. Left alone himself,
Locke took in all the details of the room and again and again his eye
wandered to a Louis XIV desk.

Feeling certain that this woman was without doubt connected in some way
with the plots, he felt justified in opening the desk to obtain
evidence. He tiptoed over to it and tried to open it. It stuck at first,
but after one or two silent, well-directed blows which he so well knew
how to administer the sliding panel stood unlocked.

He glanced around. There was no one to be seen. He moved back the panel.
There was a flash and a tiny puff of smoke. Locke coughed once, clutched
at his throat, and lay gasping on the floor.

Immediately the three men rushed out, carrying ropes and holding
handkerchiefs to their nostrils. One ran to the window and threw it wide
open, admitting gusts of air to clear away the fumes. The others began
to bind Locke as De Luxe Dora appeared in the doorway and calmly
directed operations.

On the roof of the apartment several moments later in the just-gathering
dusk five figures might have been seen. Three men and a woman were
conferring, while at their feet was a man tightly bound and unconscious.

In the background was a huge water-tank, with a ladder leading to its
brim.

Suddenly the conspirators straightened up. They had come to a decision.
The three men lifted the unconscious figure and bore it up the ladder.
The tank was empty. One of the men jumped down into it, while the others
lowered their victim after him. Then they passed down ropes.

There were two spouts at the bottom of the tank through which water was
pumped. Also there were pipes running upward. To these pipes they tied
Locke. Then the men climbed out and, as their last fiendish act, turned
the water on.

With a sneer Dora turned and led the way down-stairs again.

"They'll find his body when they have to clean the tank again," she
exclaimed.

At Brent Rock, during the absence of Locke, Eva had donned her street
clothes, since it was nearing the hour of eight when she and Locke were
due to be at the inventor's workshop to render the restitution. She went
down-stairs and asked the butler about Locke. But the man replied that
Mr. Locke had not yet returned.

Eva was very uneasy by this time, and, thinking to save time, was about
to go down to the Graveyard of Genius to get the models of the two
inventions, when Zita came down the hall carrying a fair sized package
which she tried hard to conceal. Eva greeted her and continued down to
the cellar, as Zita, with a sort of grim smile, left the house.

Eva came to the great door, pushed the secret spring, and in a moment
was inside the gloomy place. She went directly to the spot where the two
inventions had been kept. They were gone.

Alarmed, she rushed up-stairs.

Still Locke did not return. Nor did any word come from him. It was now
very near to eight. Eva decided to go, for surely Locke would be there.

When Zita arrived at the inventor's, in her hands was still the
mysterious package. She carried it gingerly, then raised it to her ear.
From within it there came a faint ticking sound. What was it inside?

She looked at her wrist-watch. It was still some minutes before eight.
She knocked at the inventor's door.

The inventor at once admitted her. It was a neat little workshop in
which every detail had been thought out with care--the home, one might
say, of a methodical workman.

The inventor manifested some surprise at seeing Zita, but politely asked
her to enter, and offered her a chair. Zita declined and plainly showed
her nervousness.

"Will you please give this package to Mr. Locke and Miss Brent when they
come at eight?" she asked.

Winters agreed and accepted the package, looking quizzically at her as
he did so, just as he had earlier in the day.

Zita, unable to control her curiosity, burst out with the question
uppermost on her mind.

"Why do you look at me in such a strange manner?" she queried.

The inventor merely turned his gaze away and shrugged.

"Mr Balcom tells me that you know the secret of my birth," pressed Zita.

The inventor looked up quickly. "Who did Mr. Balcom say you were?" he
asked.

"He told me that I was Brent's daughter," replied Zita, keenly watching
the aged face.

"Balcom lied to you," hastened the inventor.

Already there was a ponderous tread on the stairs, but Winters did not
seem to notice it.

"You are not Brent's daughter," he pursued, more slowly.

The door opened swiftly and an emissary stood framed there, a knife
poised in his hand. Behind him stood the Automaton.

"You are--"

At that instant the inventor caught sight of the intruders. With a look
of horror in his eyes he threw out his hands to protect himself, but he
was too late. The knife whizzed through the air and a second later
pierced his throat. He fell to the floor--dead.

At the moment when the emissary, followed by the Automaton, entered,
Zita, watching her chance, managed to escape from the room, stumbled,
and almost half-fell down the stairs.

Already, in the huge water-tank that stood on the roof of the apartment
of Dora, Locke had revived as he felt the water and had found himself
already half submerged, with the water rapidly pouring in. At first he
could not grasp his terrible predicament, but before long the full
horror of it burst on him and he struggled madly to free himself. Since
his body was stretched at full length, it was impossible to use the
ordinary tricks of which he was master. His arms were bound, and he well
knew that to release one of them constituted his sole chance of escape.

He contracted his muscles and, inch by inch, he worked his right arm
free. By this time the water had risen until he was fairly beneath its
surface. Could he last long enough to free himself?

He worked frantically. Finally, with his lungs almost bursting, he
managed to free the other arm, then the rope that bound his neck. To
release his feet was, to him, child's play, and he stood up.

But the water had risen almost to the top of the tank before he was able
to grasp its brim and draw himself out.

Once on the roof, there was only one thought in his mind. It was nearing
eight o'clock, and if Eva kept the appointment at the inventor's he knew
his adversaries well enough to be sure that they would take advantage of
his absence.

He dashed down the stairs and out of the building. Dora and her evil
band could wait. He must reach the inventor's shop. As the seconds sped,
so increased his premonition that all would not be well there.

It was at the moment that Zita came flying down-stairs that Locke burst
into the hallway to the inventor's.

Zita saw him. Above, she knew was the terrible Automaton and his
bloodthirsty emissary. More horrible yet, she had her fears of the
package that had been given her by Balcom to deliver.

"You must not go up there!" she cried, impulsively, flinging her arms
about Locke's neck.

Locke tried to remove her arms as he questioned her. But Zita either
would not or could not tell more. Instead she merely clung to him.

Thus it was that Eva, determined at keeping her appointment with the
inventor at all costs, entered the hallway at just this unpropitious
moment. To her it looked as if Locke and Zita were very familiar. Could
it be that Quentin was such a cad? She could not deny the evidence of
her eyes.

Indignantly she brushed past them and rushed up the stairs. Locke called
after her, but she refused to heed him. He flung off the arms of Zita
and dashed after her. But Eva was too quick for him. She opened the door
to the inventor's and went in, slamming it behind her. The lock snapped.
In an instant Eva saw what she had fled into. There was the Automaton,
near him the emissary with the knife--and on the floor their victim in a
pool of blood. She shrieked and tried to escape. But the lock had
snapped. Besides, the emissary, now directed by the monster, blocked her
retreat.

Outside, Locke pounded on the door, but could not open it. It was of
stout oak and would take some moments to break down.

The emissary circled in one direction. Eva turned, and there was the
Automaton advancing on her from the other side of the room.

On the table the clock-work bomb, delivered by Zita, whether with full
knowledge or not, ticked out the last few seconds before its timing at
precisely eight!



CHAPTER XIV


Eva flattened herself against the door at her back. She could feel and
hear Locke pounding on the other side. She thought that she would die of
sheer terror.

The Automaton raised his mighty fist, and Eva instinctively ducked under
the monster's arm. There was an inner room. Could she reach it in time?
Would the door be unlocked? At most she could only try.

The emissary tried to catch her, but she proved too quick for him. She
reached the door. It opened, and she flew into the room, slamming and
bolting it behind her.

Now she could hear the thunderous blows of the Automaton raining against
the door. One huge fist of the monster crashed through the panel. Eva
crouched down in a far corner and closed her eyes. At that instant the
time bomb exploded and the house was rocked to its foundations.

Everything was demolished. One entire side of the house was blown out.
The door leading to the workshop which a moment before Locke had been
vainly striving to open crashed full upon him and felled him,
half-stunned, to the floor.

The force of the explosion had dazed Eva. As for the Automaton and the
emissary, they had both been blown through a gaping aperture in the wall
to land in the garden beneath. Only Zita, in the lower hallway, was
totally untouched by the catastrophe.

Locke, dazed, crawled from under the door and made his way into the
demolished room in search of Eva, a cold fear gripping his heart. How
could any living thing have lived after such an occurrence? But in
another instant he saw her, as she half swooned and staggered into the
room.

"Quentin!" she gasped.

He caught her in his arms. But the next moment she remembered what she
had witnessed in the hallway below and she drew herself away from him.

"Go to the girl you really love," she scorned.

"The girl--I really love?" repeated Locke; then there ran through his
mind what had happened, as though it had been ages ago.

He protested and tried to explain. But protestations and explanations
only made matters worse, as usual. Had she not with her own eyes seen
Locke in Zita's arms?

"Eva," he persisted, manlike, "I swear that she was only trying to save
my life. I cannot help it if she--"

Locke saw that his defense was only making an innocent matter worse, and
checked himself. His mind recalled that some one had once said that a
jealous woman believes a man guilty until he proves himself innocent;
when he has proved himself innocent she merely still suspects. Eva's
manner was very constrained.

At that moment a policeman, followed by Zita, entered, and Zita, running
up to Locke, cried, anxiously, "You're not hurt--are you?"

Locke answered in an annoyed negative.

The policeman now questioned them very closely and examined the dead
inventor's body. Then he entered their names and addresses in his
note-book.

Next the officer lead the entire group down to the garden. There the
horribly injured emissary was trying miserably to crawl away.

The Automaton had totally disappeared.

Eva immediately ordered that the injured man be taken to Brent Rock in
her car. Then she turned sharply to Zita.

"How did you come to be here?" she demanded.

Zita was startled and confused. It lasted only a minute. Then, her mind
made up, she replied, defiantly:

"I came here to discover the secret of my birth. I have been told that I
am Mr. Brent's daughter."

Eva was stricken dumb with astonishment at this startling claim, but
Locke laughed outright.

"What nonsense!" he scoffed. "Eva, don't listen to it."

Zita glared at him and with a haughty nod to Eva swept out of the
garden.

Eva was still frightfully indignant with Locke and insisted on going
home alone. However, they arrived at Brent Rock at about the same time.

The emissary had been placed on a lounge in the library and a doctor was
called. The case was quite hopeless and they merely hoped to obtain a
confession before he passed away.

When Eva arrived she went directly to her father's room, but, as he was
receiving every attention from a trained nurse and she could do nothing
further to aid him, she returned to the library.

Locke, too, after changing his clothes, still wet from the water-tank on
the top of the apartment, also went to the library.

At his entrance the doctor glanced at him in a manner to indicate that
there was no hope of saving the man's life. Locke went over to examine
him. He was struck by the sly rascality of the professional criminal,
but he thought little of it at the time. He tried to question the
emissary, but, except for a labored breathing, could extract no
response.

There were voices in the hallway. For a moment the dying man showed some
signs of returning consciousness. A crafty look came over his face. What
was he contemplating?

The door opened and Balcom and his son Paul entered. Balcom walked
jauntily, but with a suavity of manner that was always his. Paul looked
at his best, except for the fact that he carried his left arm in a
silken sling.

Balcom greeted them all, and at his voice the dying man actually showed
a sort of agitation. A strong shudder seemed to pass through his body,
then, like a spring suddenly uncoiled, he sat up.

He was fully conscious now and strove to rise to his feet. It was a
tremendous effort, but he succeeded, and stood confronting Balcom, while
the ominous light of hatred that gleamed from his eyes as they
encountered those of Balcom made even that well-poised man recoil and
shudder.

With the muscles of his face working convulsively the dying thug tried
to speak. All those standing in the library realized that it was to
accuse, to denouce.

However, the effort proved too great, and with a groan that was ghastly
the man fell backward on the couch, dead.

Murdering brute that he had been, still to Eva and Locke he now
represented nothing but a stricken human being, with a human soul,
blackened and warped. But Balcom and Paul seemed to show unmistakable
signs of joy and relief. It was so evident, Locke thought, that he
turned to them.

"Your coming seemed to have an unfortunate effect," he hinted. "The man
seemed to know one of you--at least."

"Nothing of the kind," retorted Balcom, nettled.

Locke turned to Paul and regarded his injured arm questioningly. Paul,
however, never lost his accustomed aplomb.

"I was hurt in an automobile accident," he explained, though with what
seemed to be a trifle of nervousness.

Locke turned to the doctor. He was rubbing his hands, and smiling, with
great unction, an action very unbecoming, to say the least, in a medical
man who had just lost a patient. Taken all in all, Locke felt he could
now sense the web of conspiracy tightening around him. The cards were
still in the hands of his enemies.

He determined to incur any risk, to leave no stone unturned in order to
bring the criminal to justice, whoever he might be. One thing encouraged
him. The events seemed to have mollified Eva. He made an almost
imperceptible signal to Eva, who left the room to dress for the street.

Meanwhile Locke left the library and went to a private telephone that
connected the garage to the house. He ordered the chauffeur to have a
fast runabout ready for instant call. Then, at the other telephone, he
notified the coroner's office of the death of the emissary.

By this time Balcom, Paul, and the doctor came out of the library, the
doctor in high good humor, for had he not received a huge fee? He left
in his car.

Balcom and Paul, however, were slower in going, and paced the hallway in
earnest conversation. Once they came to a dead halt close to the
stairway leading down to the Graveyard of Genius. They listened
intently. Evidently they came to a decision on something, for they left
the house very hurriedly.

Immediately Locke called for the runabout. Eva came running down-stairs
and in a moment they took up the trail of the Balcom car.

It seemed as if they traveled for miles, and Locke was commencing to
think that it was merely a wild-goose chase, when Balcom's car came to a
halt in one of the lower quarters of the city, before a house that was
apparently tenantless.

To avoid discovery, Locke backed his car around a corner, got out, and
watched their movements from a safe distance.

He saw Balcom, senior, alight, but Paul did not leave the car. Locke was
in some quandary what to do. To attempt to enter the house without
Paul's seeing him and raising the alarm would, he realized, be
impossible. Therefore he waited for nearly half an hour before his
patience was rewarded by seeing Balcom come out of the house, jump into
the car, and drive off hurriedly with Paul.

Locke walked to the house and looked closely over the exterior. It was
little different from others in the same street. Then he walked
thoughtfully back to Eva and they argued pro and con about the
advisability of attempting to enter.

Locke insisted on entering alone, but Eva would not hear of it.
Therefore, it was decided that they would go in together.

When Balcom had alighted from his car half an hour before he had merely
stood for a moment in front of the door of the house when, mysteriously,
the door had opened.

There was no one in sight. But he was so familiar with the house that it
might have been his own. He descended a flight of stairs and stood
before another door, where the same door-opening process was repeated.

Balcom entered a darkened room and for a moment seemed quite alone. Then
from out the shadows, with a little half run, half lope, a strange
figure of man came toward him.

He was in reality large of frame, but stooped and bent with age. An old
frock-coat was wrapped about him. But the most remarkable things about
the man were a pair of weirdly fascinating eyes with a mad glint in them
and an enormous full beard, snow white, that fell almost to his waist.

At times the man talked rationally, in fact with the forcefulness of a
great savant. Then, abruptly, he would leave off and the rest of his
conversation was that of a babbling child. He was seldom at rest,
scampering here and there, not unlike a bird-dog on a fresh scent.
Seeking--always seeking--what?

Balcom grasped his arm in order to arrest his attention.

"Doctor Q," he addressed him, "you can have the revenge you have sought
so long. Have you prepared everything?"

The old man chuckled and wagged his head in senile fashion. Balcom
grabbed both his shoulders so that the old man was facing him, and shook
him slightly.

"Your enemies are here," he emphasized. "Have you prepared for their
reception?"

And then the haze beclouding the old man's brain seemed to pass away and
his next moments were lucid.

"Ah, it's you, Balcom. You were just saying--"

Balcom explained that Locke and Eva had tracked him and on his departure
would undoubtedly enter to investigate the place. Doctor Q, for such was
his odd name, understood now, and an evil grimace distorted his wrinkled
face.

"Let them come," he growled. "I am prepared. Why, I have even improved
certain features of the Chair of Death."

He led Balcom into an inner room where many electric bulbs were dimly
glowing. At their entrance two brutal-looking men straightened up from
their task and saluted Balcom with great deference. Then they resumed
their tasks as electricians.

"Want to see her work, sir?" one of the pair asked.

Stepping around a partition that separated the knife-switch from the
room in which stood the electric chair, Balcom watched.

The chair was of practically the same construction as the chairs used in
prisons for the supreme penalty, with electrodes to connect at the head,
arms, and legs of the man to be electrocuted.

"Stand back, sir," called one of the men as he shot the switch home.

Instantly a snapping sound was heard as the current surged through, and
the crackling sound such as the now familiar wireless makes as the long
sparks leap from pole to pole. It was Force.

A satisfied look came into Balcom's eyes and he warmly congratulated the
mad inventor, who followed him to the door and watched him as he mounted
the stairs to depart with his son.

Soon after the departure Doctor Q went to a strange-looking instrument
that seemed to have many of the characteristics of the periscope. He
pulled a lever, a panel opened, and immediately the space directly in
front of his street door was revealed to him. He stood there, watching
intently, much as a spider watches for a fly.

Soon Locke and Eva showed in the panel above. He next pressed a button
and saw the two enter. Then he went to a huge divan on the other side of
the room and whipped off a covering that was concealing some gigantic
thing beneath.

It was the Automaton, prostrate, at full length, without motion. At
least it seemed so.

The madman glanced around, and then glided into an inner room from the
larger one. He was just in time, for a moment later Locke and Eva
entered.

They, too, glanced around fearfully. They saw the dread form of the
Automaton and, although it did not move, Locke would have admitted he
was ready to beat a retreat.

It was uncanny, weird. In the dim light the monster seemed to assume
gigantic proportions. But he lay so still that their jangling nerves
became quieted. They even approached him, Locke with automatic in hand
in case the iron terror were shamming. But there was no sign of life--or
whatever it was that animated this thing.

Locke, handing his gun to Eva, determined to investigate further. He
went to the inner door and listened. But he could hear no sound. He
turned the knob and entered. He was amazed at what he saw. But, as there
was apparently no living thing about, he took courage and entered
farther. He took note of the switches, saw the deadly chair, and was
about to test the apparatus to see if it could be possible that a
practical electric chair existed in the heart of a peaceful city, when
he heard Eva shriek in heart-rending terror.

He rushed madly back to where he had left her. But as he passed through
the door some one dealt him a blow on the head, and as though pole-axed
he dropped to the floor.

After Locke had left her to go into the inner room Eva's fears revived
and she wished to follow him. But she was ashamed to have him think her
a coward. She forced herself to remain rooted to the spot.

Her eyes had followed Locke through the doorway and her ears were
strained to hear the faintest sound from the other room. In her anxiety
about Locke's safety she even forgot the Automaton, and, in turning the
better to watch the doorway, she drew nearer to the divan upon which the
monster lay.

It was this action that had brought her into peril. Slowly one of the
monster's arms commenced to move, and before Eva could spring away she
was enfolded in his deadly embrace. It was that that made her shriek
madly, wildly, in utter terror.

Then she saw Locke running through the door to her, saw him struck from
behind, and she fainted.

The Automaton, evidently thinking Eva dead, let her limp body slip to
the floor. For a moment it towered over her, as though contemplating
whether to trample on her or no. At this juncture an emissary distracted
its attention and the terror left her lying there without further
injury.

The Automaton now assumed command of Locke's electrocution.

Under its direction the emissaries picked up Locke's body and placed it
in the electric chair. They slit his trousers so that the deadly
electrodes might form a better contact with his flesh. His sleeves were
rolled back for the same reason. Next the headpiece was firmly adjusted.
Now all the straps were tightly clinched.

The Automaton waved his arm.

A man stepped to the switch.



CHAPTER XV


There was a moan from the front room. Eva was recovering from her faint.
The Automaton indicated to the emissary at the switch to do nothing
until he had found out what was going on.

Locke had, meanwhile, recovered consciousness and realized his awful
position. Here was a situation which, on its face, seemed unescapable.
Yet Locke would not give in.

Straining every effort, he tried to extricate himself before the deadly
current could sever the thread of life. Seconds seemed ages. Still he
tried.

With a mighty effort he strained every muscle of his gigantic chest and
the very straps that held him groaned from the force of his muscular
exertion. Even now the death-man was at the switch and it was barely a
question of seconds or heart-beats between him and death.

With a quick twist of his giant shoulder he threw his whole weight
against the chest strap and it parted. Lurching forward, he freed his
head and neck from the cruel straps, which snapped and parted.

The death-man paused for a fraction of a second to see what caused the
commotion in the chair. To that pause Locke owed his life. With a final
supreme effort he threw himself on the floor just as the knife-switch
swung into position and the wicked blue flame of death leaped across the
head electrodes.

Once freed, he catapulted himself across the room and with a vicious
upper-cut sent the emissary sprawling unconscious to the floor. Without
a thought of himself he rushed into the next room where Eva now stood in
panic, glued to the spot, in fear of the Frankenstein monster that would
crush her in its grasp.

With murderous mien the thing crossed the room slowly, until only the
table stood between her and destruction.

Like a wild animal Locke hurled himself into the room and with a master
stroke of quick wit flung the heavy oaken table over at the monster.
Then he seized Eva, and before the monster could turn in its tracks,
half dragged, half carried her from the room.

In the hall further difficulty confronted Locke, for the place was well
guarded. Several henchmen darted forth from dark corners of the murky
place and would have intercepted him.

As the first approached, Locke, with a quick jiu-jitsu thrust, hurled
him for a fall that would have broken the back of a less hardy man. The
next one was just turning the top of the stairs, and Locke, quick to
take advantage of the situation, adopted the only means of escape.

He seized the man bodily about the waist and, lifting him over his head,
threw him upon his other oncoming foe. The result was that the two were
flung down the stairs.

"Run!" he cried to Eva in a voice that was a command.

Without waiting he picked her up and carried her over the sprawling mass
of legs and arms to safety below.

Once outside, he felt a little embarrassed at having the beautiful girl
in his arms and he half murmured an apology as he placed her feet gently
on the ground.

Life at Brent Rock was far from monotonous.

Like a great game of checkers, the various members of the establishment
were being moved about, guided by some strange hand, it seemed.

Now one, then another seemed to gain the advantage, and as each strove
for control of the vast fortune, the battle of wits surged back and
forth.

Balcom was playing a game, it was plain. But to what extent? Sometimes
it seemed as though Zita was his aide and would stop at nothing to
succeed. Again it was that Zita played the game alone, still fostering
her secret but hopeless love for Locke. Again it seemed as if Paul were
playing the game, either alone or with some one else.

Just now it was apparent that Balcom and Zita, for their own ends,
whatever might be the identity of the Automaton, planned a coup for
themselves.

During one of Locke's absences Zita had secured access to his
laboratory, and while looking around had discovered the dictagraph
hidden in the desk drawer. Often Balcom and Zita, either together or
alone, had taken advantage of the discovery.

It was at a time when both were using the mechanical eavesdropper on
Locke and Eva in the library that Locke suddenly decided to return to
the laboratory, without saying anything about it.

Zita's quick ear heard him down the hall.

"Quick!" she warned. "Some one is coming!"

She sprang toward the closet door, which stood ajar, and in an instant
Balcom was with her. The two were concealed in the closet as the
laboratory door opened and Locke entered.

Locke walked to his table of test-tubes and picked up one containing
mercury. What prompted this action he did not know. Perhaps it was his
fascination for the elusive metal. Perhaps it was some subconscious
feeling. At any rate, he held it aloft and gazed at it in the light. As
he did so a strange thing happened. Reflected in its surface on the
glass, yet distorted like a convex mirror, he could see the door of the
closet open just a crack and the evil faces of Balcom and Zita peer out.

He did not move nor did he in any way betray what he saw, but
nonchalantly set the tube of precious metal down and pretended to seek
something from the table. He turned slowly and retraced his steps to the
library below, where he entered, holding his fingers to his lips in
warning to Eva not to speak. He walked quickly over to a writing-desk,
took a pencil, and began to write.

"Balcom and Zita are listening on the dictagraph. Pretend to quarrel
with me."

Eva read in amazement as he wrote. Quickly she comprehended. Then they
walked silently until they were almost under the chandelier which held
the transmitter of the dictagraph.

"I have something I want to say to you, Mr. Locke," began Eva, with a
wink and a smile at him, "and it grieves me to say it."

"What is it?" asked Locke, with distinct anxiety, winking back.

"I am afraid I shall have to dispense with your services," continued
Eva, as she reached out her hand and gave Locke's a little squeeze.

Up-stairs, Balcom and Zita listened intently, their heads close together
so that each could catch every word. Balcom was nodding with
satisfaction. Each looked at the other as though they could hardly
believe their ears.

"But I have tried to serve and protect you," protested Locke, as his
face wreathed in smiles at Eva, who was carrying the deception off
perfectly. Then he added, plaintively, "I am sorry that I have failed."

"Your protection has led me into danger," returned Eva, in her best
voice to denote anger, "and your seeming interest is out of place--and,
besides, _Mr._ Locke, Paul Balcom does not like your being here. You
know he is the man I am to marry."

As she said this, Eva looked roguishly at him. Locke's face clouded a
little, although he knew it was only in a joke.

"But, Miss Brent," he continued to protest, "I had hoped--"

"Not another word, Mr. Locke," interrupted Eva, as she edged very close
to him and gazed into his eyes. "Please leave this house at once--I hate
you!" And, not suiting the action to the word, she reached out and gave
his hand a squeeze that told more than words what her true thoughts in
the matter were.

Locke leaned over and was on the point of kissing her when she held up
her hand and pointed to the receiver above in the chandelier as if it
really had eyes as well as ears. He looked up and was forced to check a
laugh lest it be heard by the listeners above.

In the laboratory, Balcom had heard enough. He turned to Zita, and with
a hurried command told her to go down-stairs.

"Keep an eye on him and tell me where he goes," was the parting
instruction of Balcom as the two separated on the stairs at the very
time that Paul blustered in the front door.

"Morning, Governor," nodded Paul, as he gave his hat to the butler.

"A very good morning, Paul," emphasized Balcom, quite unctuously, as he
went on to tell his son of the supposed quarrel between Eva and Locke
which he had overheard.

A light of triumph came into Paul's eyes. Eva's happiness, even her
life, meant nothing to him. She was merely a means to his own evil ends
and he now felt sure that he held her in his grasp. Besides, in so far
as such a selfish nature can care for another human being, Paul cared
for De Luxe Dora. There was a fascination for him in her tigerish,
unscrupulous nature that a good woman could never inspire.

And now, as he eagerly listened to his father, he visualized new
motor-cars, a yacht, rivers of champagne, a life of mad gaiety with his
favorite pals, men and women.

Locke, in the library, was laughing quietly with Eva over the success of
the ruse. But there was, notwithstanding, an undercurrent of seriousness
running through their thoughts. For, although they had scored against
their adversaries in misleading them as to their intentions, both
realized that Balcom was a tremendously clever man, astute and wise
beyond the average in the ways of the world, and that the slightest lack
of caution, the smallest flaw in the acting of the parts they had
elected to play, would inevitably lose for them the advantage they had
gained.

They went into the most minute details of the plans they had formulated,
and they realized that in order to keep the wool pulled over Balcom's
and Paul's eyes it was necessary that they separate, at least
apparently, for a few days. Locke gave out that he was to seek evidence
in the lower quarters of the city, while Eva was to play the game at
home. It was to Eva that the more difficult role fell.

Locke bade her an affectionate farewell and left by a door opposite to
the one leading to the main hallway, where the voices of Paul and his
father were now audible.

Eva opened the hallway door and greeted Paul, feigning delight and
chiding him for his long absence--which had not been even a
day--intimating that there must be some woman in whom he was interested.
She made a pretty show of jealousy.

Paul, wearing his vanity on his sleeve, was delighted and his eyes shone
with satisfaction. He took a step forward and attempted to take Eva in
his arms. But she evaded him playfully, while he pursued her. Finally
she could bear no more. The game revolted her. She made the excuse that
she must attend her father, and ran up-stairs.

So a day or two passed, days which were sheer torture to Eva. Paul
called every day, bringing her little gifts, and it must be acknowledged
that he showed exquisite taste.

They took long walks together. On horseback they cantered all over the
country. Friends called, and it was at such times that Eva found her
only relief from Paul's attentions. Many a rubber of bridge she played
just to escape being alone with him.



CHAPTER XVI


At last, late one afternoon, the faithful old butler announced to Eva
privately that Locke was on the wire and wished to speak to her.

Eva almost ran to the telephone, and her hand shook with sheer joy as
she took the receiver.

"Yes, everything is moving along even more rapidly than I expected,"
replied Locke to her eager inquiry. "Whenever Paul leaves Brent Rock he
goes directly to a miserable café and there I see him with a number of
people of the underworld. He seems to have a great deal of influence
over them. I'm sifting all the clues, and as soon as I unmask him I will
send for you."

Eva gave him a brief outline of how she had fared in his absence and an
account of her father's condition, which was now very bad. Everything
the doctor had done seemed to be without effect.

Locke assured her that he hoped soon to lay hands on the antidote that
would restore Brent to health and sanity, and begged Eva to be brave in
the mean time.

When the conversation was over Eva felt certain that no one had
overheard what she and Quentin had said. But she was mistaken, as she
was to learn at her cost. For, far down in the bowels of the earth, in
the den of the Automaton, an emissary had tapped in on the telephone
wire and had heard every word.

Down-town, among the haunts of Paul, on the west side, was the Black Tom
Café. Every attempt had been made to make the place bizarre. About the
walls were palings that represented a back fence, along which crawled
painted black cats in every conceivable state--a rather odd conceit for
a cabaret.

Although the sun had not yet set, the electric lights were already
agleam. On a raised platform three weary-eyed musicians were pounding
and thumping out the latest Broadway hit.

There were not half a dozen people in the place, and these were
obviously denizens of this quarter of the town. They were listless and
weary, mere shells of human beings. And yet it was such as these that
the slumming parties at night romantically dubbed bohemians.

They showed scant interest as De Luxe Dora, unaccompanied for once,
swept into the place. Dora was gorgeously and flashily dressed and
fairly scintillated with jewels. She seated herself not far from the
door and ordered a cocktail. Then she whistled a bar of music
suggestively to the piano-player, who immediately caught it, and the
"orchestra" with a show of animation strummed out her suggestion. She
sent over drinks for them and was rewarded with more song hits.

Jauntily now Paul came in. A couple of men roused themselves and
slouched over to him. They held a whispered conversation, and Paul was
insistent on some point. He evidently had his way, for the men slunk
back to their places and, sprawling out, were in a moment as listless as
before.

Paul nodded to Dora in greeting, but she turned her back. He gave a low
whistle of astonishment and went over to her.

"Say, Dora, why the grouch?" he asked.

For a moment she disdained to answer and glared at him witheringly. Then
she blurted out, "You're throwing me down for that baby face with the
money!"

Paul gave a short laugh and shrugged his shoulders. "Don't be silly," he
laughed. "She'll be our meal-ticket."

He sat down, and over a couple more cocktails he had Dora quite
mollified.

A few moments later Locke entered and slipped quickly into a chair,
since he did not wish to be seen. In his hand he carried a newspaper
which he now unfolded and held up in front of him so that it hid his
face. Next he poked a hole through the center of the sheet so that he
could see without being seen.

At this moment, seemingly in all earnestness, Paul and Dora resumed
their quarrel, and Dora's strident voice echoed through the café.

"If you throw me down you'd better look out," she bawled.

Paul jumped up, and for a moment it looked as though he would strike
her. But he changed his mind, cursed her, and finally stalked out of the
café.

Locke folded his paper, paid his bill to the sleepy waiter, and started
after Paul. At the entrance he stopped, thought a moment, and then went
directly to Dora's table and sat down.

"Why, what are you doing here?" she gasped, in great surprise. "Don't
you know that you may be _killed_?"

"It's a risk that I must run," replied Locke. "But tell me--you tried to
kill me once--why?"

"Because I was a fool, controlled by my love for Paul Balcom--the beast!
I hate him!"

Dora drank viciously, then, with jealous venom, leaned over to Locke,
and asked, "If that girl, Eva Brent, finds out about him, will she throw
him over?"

Locke played the game diplomatically, and apparently succeeded in
further incensing Dora against her lover, for, suddenly she jumped up.

"Meet me here in an hour. I'll have everything arranged to spoil Paul
Balcom's game," she whispered, as she swept out of the café with
demi-mondaine majesty.

Locke was elated at the thought of having won so powerful an enemy to
his side. But, had he heard Dora's remark to Paul as she met him around
a convenient corner, his elation would have given way to caution.

Paul eagerly questioned her with a glance as she approached.

"Well, he fell for it," she announced, toughly, then added, "just as you
fell for his dictagraph game with the girl."

There was just a bit of jealousy yet in the tone of Dora. She was not
yet convinced of her complete triumph over Eva.

At the same time Locke left the café and entered a telephone-booth, from
which he called up Eva.

"Come to the Black Tom immediately," he said. "Dora is now on our side
and we'll learn the truth, she promises."

Eva at once started to get ready so that she would arrive at the time
Locke had fixed, while he loitered in the neighborhood, waiting until
the hour agreed upon with Dora was almost gone.

Dora was already waiting for him outside the place when he returned to
the Black Tom.

"How is everything?" inquired Locke.

"All arranged. You'll get Paul right."

Just then a man slouched past.

"Follow that fellow," whispered Dora.

Locke nodded and did so.

The man proceeded into the café and Locke followed. But instead of
sitting down in the main room the man passed through into an inner room.
Locke followed. He looked about. It seemed to be a sort of storeroom, as
nearly as he could make out.

His guide pressed a secret panel and, stepping through an aperture,
beckoned Locke to follow. Locke drew his automatic and went ahead in the
inky blackness that lay beyond the panel. The next moment the very floor
under his feet seemed to give way. He felt himself thrown down bodily
into a sort of subcellar.

Locke was immediately pounced upon by lurking emissaries who seized him
after a terrific battle and held him firmly.

"Where's a rope?" growled one.

There was no answer as the men struggled. The question was repeated.
Apparently one of them looked about.

"Use the wire," he growled.

The questioner gave a grunt of brutal satisfaction. There in this
storeroom lay a huge roll of barbed wire. Coil after coil of this barbed
wire was wound about Locke as he struggled, but ever more feebly, for
with each coil now the barbs began to cut cruelly into his flesh.

Some one lighted a candle and by its light he saw many carboys of acid
standing in a row.

Directly behind them, so that there could be no doubt of the horrible
fate in store for him, stood the Automaton.

Already at the entrance to the Black Tom Café Eva's speedy runabout came
to a stop. Dora was at the curb to meet her and was all winning smiles.

Instinctively Eva shrank from this overdressed woman. But it had been
Locke's desire that she come to this place, and she decided to follow
the woman, for would it not lead to the unmasking of Paul, whom she
hated?

Once or twice on the descent into the café Eva hesitated, but was gently
urged on by Dora.

Eva was utterly disgusted by the flotsam and jetsam in human guise that
she found sprawling at the tables, but she decided to brave the place.

"Wait a moment and I'll get Mr. Locke," smiled Dora.

For a moment, the better to blot out the distasteful scene, Eva closed
her eyes.

When she opened them again it was to look into the ferocious, bestial
face of the giant emissary who, with fingers clutched like the talons of
some foul bird, was reaching toward her to grasp her by the throat.

In the noisome cellar Locke lay as though fascinated by the dread form
that confronted him, as well as by its more dreadful purpose.

The Automaton drew back its massive foot and deliberately kicked over
one after another of the carboys.

A pungent odor at once permeated the cellar air as the acid ate into the
floor.

Its purpose accomplished, the Automaton stalked toward Locke, and stood
towering above him.

Would it crush out Locke's life under its ponderous heel? Or would it
leave him to a death more horrible?

Like writhing serpents, the rivulets of seething, burning acid crept
closer, closer.



CHAPTER XVII


The Automaton and its emissaries left the cellar. In the distance a door
slammed and Locke was left to his terrible fate.

Except for the gurgling of the flowing acid and the scampering of the
rats all was silent.

Locke tried to move. But the sharp barbs of the wire cut into his flesh,
a torture to test the fortitude of a stoic.

Moreover, Locke had barely recovered from the shock of his fall into the
cellar. Thus for a few seconds that seemed to him to be ages he lay
there watching the fiery death creep closer. Then the will to live
surged through him and he struggled furiously to escape from the deadly
path of the acid. Gone now was his flinching and shrinking as the sharp
barbs lacerated his tender flesh. Gone was the calmness that denoted
surrender and the acceptance of his fate.

With bunching muscles he writhed inch by inch to one side, out of the
path of the flow of the acid. He was just in time, for, at his last
mighty effort, the consuming fluid flowed past, not an inch from his
face.

To extricate himself from the coils of the wire was a slow and painful
task. Wounded with a hundred wounds, with each movement of his body
adding a further injury, many times Locke was forced to desist in his
efforts to free himself. However, he persisted, though, strong man that
he was, the tears of agony burned his eyes and beads of cold sweat stood
on his brow even before the first coil was loosened.

He could not, even to save his own life, have persisted in this
self-inflicted torture had it not been for the thought of Eva hurrying
to this dreadful den. That thought almost drove him mad and spurred him
to furious effort.

It was well that it did. For at this very moment the beastly emissary in
the café above was closing in on her.

Locke gave a final heave and tugged at the last strands of the wire that
held him prisoner. His clothes ripped to tatters and his flesh torn and
lacerated, he at last stood free.

Without an instant's pause he collected packing-cases and even barrels.
He stacked them one upon the other, pyramiding them under the trap-door
through which he had fallen into the cellar. Then he climbed upon them,
leaped, and tried to grasp the edge of the floor above him, but fell
short and came tumbling down amid the boxes and barrels, only to start
stacking them up all over again.

Finally he managed to grasp the edge of the floor with one hand and draw
himself up. For a few moments he lay panting on the floor, then groped
for the panel through which he had entered not half an hour before. It
was locked, but a shrewd kick above the lock opened it to him and he
rushed through the storeroom and out into the now brilliantly lighted
café.

He was barely in time.

The emissary already had Eva in his grasp and was choking her into
unconsciousness. The foul habitués of the resort, far from aiding the
poor girl, seemed for the first time that day to be showing interest and
to be thoroughly enjoying the brutal sight.

With a shout Locke charged. His right swing landed just behind the
emissary's ear and the man dropped, pulling Eva down with him. But Locke
had her up and behind him in a second.

Three other emissaries appeared as though by magic and attacked him on
all sides.

Locke's automatic had been lost when he fell into the cellar.
Consequently he grabbed up one of the café chairs, which he wielded like
a club.

One emissary had worked around until he was at one side of Locke and
almost behind him, a blackjack raised in his hand. But Eva warned Locke
in time. Whirling about, he made a full swing with the chair and caught
the emissary full in the face with it. The man went down and stayed
down.

"Run quick as you can," panted Locke to Eva. "Get the car started."

She was reluctant to leave him, and Locke saw that delay was dangerous.
He hurled what remained of the chair into the faces of the last two
emissaries, then turned and rushed up the steps, carrying Eva along with
him.

A whir of the starter, the throbbing of the engine as the gas in the
cylinders ignited, and they were streaking toward Brent Rock, safe.

In a still fashionable, but older, part of the town, the elder Balcom
had his quarters. They were spacious and furnished in Oriental style,
with many a suggestion of the Indian Ocean.

Balcom was evidently annoyed, and seriously so. He was striding up and
down the apartment, scowling and puffing furiously at a black cigar. In
his hand was a letter, and from time to time he halted and glanced at
it, then fell back to his quick walking again, while a sinister light
came into his eyes. Yet the contents of the note were hardly such as
would have seemed likely to cause a man of honest purpose any agitation.

  MR. HERBERT BALCOM,

  International Patents, Inc.

  DEAR SIR,--A special meeting of the executive board of
  International Patents, Inc., will be called at Brent Rock
  this afternoon to determine the future policies of this company.

  [Signed] EVA BRENT.

Balcom had read the notice for the tenth time when a negro servant
entered and announced that his son Paul wished to see him.

"Show him in--then," growled Balcom to the servant.

Paul entered. He was evidently somewhat chagrined and crestfallen. Nor
did his father's next words tend to cheer him up.

"I suppose you'll acknowledge that you've made a miserable mess of it,"
accused the older man. "When will you stop mixing women with business?"

Paul was silent. Indeed there was nothing that he could say.

"And now look at this note," pursued Balcom, in growing rage. "It brings
things to a head. What can we do?"

He thrust the note at Paul, who read it. Balcom himself reread it,
crumpled it in anger, tore it, and threw the pieces in violence on the
floor.

This time it was to be Paul who was to formulate a plan. It was of such
a dark and criminal nature that even Herbert Balcom, hardened as he was
himself, was for the moment appalled at his son's temerity. But as he
listened to Paul's words they fascinated him and he leaned forward the
better to take in the scheme.

As Paul and his father planned, it seemed that here was power unlimited,
wealth beyond all counting and without the possibility of discovery.
For, like most men of his caliber, the approbation of the community was
dear to Balcom.

"Good, Paul!" approved Balcom. "Go to it at once."

Paul looked keenly at his father.

"Haven't you anything to add?"

"No, I have nothing to advise. The scheme is perfect, and as you
conceived it you can also execute it. The best of luck to you, my boy."

A few moments later Paul went out, his dark face beaming at being
reinstated in his father's good graces. He was full of his plan.

Down in one of the city's worst sections and near the river-front there
stood an old ramshackle building. Why it had not been condemned by the
building inspectors was a mystery. But it stood in all its squalid
ugliness. The door and the windows were locked and shuttered. One could
see at a glance that the building had been long unused.

There was an alley strewn with tin cans and other refuse leading to the
back of the house, and it was down a flight of broken brick steps that
Old Meg, the fortune-teller, had her den where through the superstitions
of those inhabiting the neighborhood she managed to eke out a miserable
existence. The interior of the den was unspeakably filthy. The furniture
consisted of a broken-down couch, a chest of drawers in a like
condition, a card-table, a few kitchen chairs, and some boxes. Most of
the panes in the windows had been broken and the empty spaces had been
covered with old newspapers. Consequently, a candle thrust into an old
wine-bottle supplied the only real light.

At the table, idly shuffling a pack of grimy cards, sat Old Meg, a
horrible old hag, wrinkled in face like a mummy, with only the stumps of
teeth which had more the appearance of tusks. Her unkempt hair was
matted and ugly wisps of it hung down over her bleary eyes. For clothes
she wore an old-fashioned faded gingham wrapper and around her shoulders
a dirty torn shawl. On her feet was a pair of man's shoes, many sizes
too large, which had evidently been cast away as useless by some former
owner, himself squalid. These she managed to keep on by tying the tops
with wrapping-cord. A more unlovely human being it would have been hard
to find in all the great city. There she sat, crooning a ballad to
herself in a high, cracked voice. It sounded like an incantation.

A step sounded in the alley and Old Meg looked up and listened intently.
The sound came nearer. She got up and retreated into a dark corner, for
she knew the neighborhood well, and many a time some thug, brutal with
drink, had entered her den and wrung her last few pennies from her.

But it was no inhabitant of this quarter of the town who entered this
time. It was Paul Balcom.

The hag grinned in a horrible way at him, for it was not unusual for
people of his kind to visit her and it always meant money. With her
apron she dusted off the chair that stood at the table and begged him to
be seated. Then she shuffled the cards and cut, shuffled and cut, and
then as though at last satisfied she laid them face downward on the
table and spoke.

"Wish, my handsome gentleman, and may your wish come true."

"Go ahead with the hocus-pocus," growled Paul.

Mother Meg picked up one card after another and her cracked voice was
evidently following a set formula.

"If the queen of spades comes between the king of clubs and the queen of
hearts--"

Paul listened with a strained intentness as the hag singsonged on and
on. Then a look of satisfaction came into his eyes and he smiled
happily. Next his look changed to a nasty look of determination, and he
abruptly got up, tossing a bank-note on the table which Old Meg grabbed
with avidity, calling down Heaven's blessings on the handsome gentleman
until Paul, running up-stairs, could hear no more.

Paul returned immediately to his father's apartment, where Balcom was
impatiently waiting for him. He described minutely Old Meg, her
eagerness for money, and the squalid quarters in which she lived. The
elder Balcom seemed satisfied and they left the apartment together.

"Paul," directed Balcom, "get out to Brent Rock as soon as you can while
I make arrangements with this Old Meg."

Balcom stepped into his own car, while Paul hailed a taxicab, and a few
minutes later Balcom alighted before the house of Old Meg. He walked
down the alley and descended into the den.

As before, Meg was in hiding in a dark corner until she could ascertain
just who her visitor might be. Seeing Balcom, she came out and
courtesied and scraped as she had for Paul.

Balcom announced the object of his visit immediately, and while he was
speaking he fingered a roll of bills which he had taken from his pocket
the better to arouse the old hag's avariciousness.

It had the desired effect and her eyes fairly gleamed with the craving
of possession.

"Do as I tell you, Meg," directed Balcom, "and I'll make you rich. Do
you understand? Rich!" he emphasized, rolling out the last word silkily
on his tongue.

Old Meg's last scruples, had she ever had even one, fell before this
temptation and she became almost the slave of Balcom.

Balcom now gave a command and the old hag sidled to the door of an inner
room.

"Jimmy! Jimmy!" she called. "Come here to me."

In a moment a boy slunk into the room. He was sharp-faced, pinched for
food, and in tatters, as disreputable-looking as the hag herself. Meg
whispered something to him, and, as though galvanized by an electric
current, the boy shot up-stairs. He was soon back again with two
brutal-looking men who looked suspiciously at Balcom and then shuffled
into a corner, where they conferred eagerly with Old Meg.

At first it was plain to be seen that they were refusing to do her
bidding, but Meg made a movement as though she were counting money.
After that it was equally plain that they agreed.

Meg sidled over to Balcom and he unwrapped a few bills of large
denomination and handed them to her. She immediately hid them in her
dress, with many a furtive look toward her accomplices.

Balcom's eyes followed those of the old hag, and, realizing that his
whole conspiracy might fail unless the men were assured of further
reward on the completion of their task, he approached them smoothly.

"Of course," he insinuated, "you understand that if you three follow
instructions to the letter I'll double that amount." Then he left the
place, brushing his coat with his handkerchief as he did so. "Brent
Rock," he said to his chauffeur, curtly, as he stepped into his car.



CHAPTER XVIII


Eva and Locke were seated at a long table in the library of Eva's home.
Before them were many ledgers of International Patents, Incorporated.
Eva was reading certain entries in the books, while Locke was making
notes to be used at the coming directors' meeting.

Eva closed the ledger from which she had been reading and announced, "I
intend, at the meeting, to insist that the patents held in the Graveyard
of Genius be released to the world."

"It is the only honorable thing to do," agreed Locke. "You will
undoubtedly meet with violent opposition from Balcom and some few who
owe their fortunes to him, but in the end you will win."

"If we could only have found the antidote," sighed Eva, "and my father
could only be again in control of things."

"All we can do is to act as we think he would have acted if he were in
control," soothed Locke.

"May I speak to you a moment, Mr. Locke?" interrupted a voice.

It was Zita who had entered noiselessly and now stood well within the
room.

How long had she been there? How much had she overheard? Both Eva and
Quentin exchanged worried glances.

Locke rose and went over to Zita, who spoke to him in a whispered
undertone.

The matter was so trivial that it hardly warranted her intrusion. Locke
was puzzled. But he was a man and, therefore, did not understand. For,
as Zita continued, there was a world of longing in her eyes. She even
went so far as to finger the lapel of his coat.

Eva understood only too well, and her face crimsoned. She bit her lips,
and in vexation at Zita her finger-nails pressed into her palms. Paul's
entrance at this moment was a distinct relief, much as she despised the
man.

"What's all the fuss about?" he inquired.

Paul had a gaiety of manner that he could slip on like a coat, and it
was this quality that made him dangerous. He was popular and attractive.

Paul took Eva's hand and managed to hold it just the fraction of a
second longer than was necessary to convey friendship. Then Eva withdrew
her hand, but not before Locke saw it and scowled.

It was not long before the elder Balcom also arrived.

"Good afternoon, my children," he greeted, jovially. "I'm just a bit
ahead of time, I imagine. But why you children don't leave dry matters
of business to us older heads I'm blessed if I know."

"Mr. Balcom," retorted Eva, keenly, "the older head that would protect
my interests and the interests of those poor inventors lies stricken, as
you know, in the room above. In his absence the children, as you are
pleased to call us, will do their best."

Balcom glared, while Zita with a strange glance toward Eva left Locke
and joined Balcom in a far corner of the room.

"Zita," Balcom whispered, "the time has arrived to take you out of this
false position."

Zita trembled with suppressed excitement as she heard this, and followed
Balcom back toward the table, where the others were already seating
themselves.

It was approaching the hour, when Eva rose and was about to speak.
Balcom motioned and stopped her with a gesture.

"One moment, please, Miss Brent," he interrupted. "Before the others
arrive I am going to establish Zita's real position in this house."

All at the table looked at one another in openly expressed astonishment.
Zita, with eyes cast down, hands clasped in her lap, seemed almost
demure, though about her mouth played a faint smile.

Even Paul did not understand this phase of the conspiracy and looked at
his father as much as to say, "I wonder what the old man is up to now?"

Locke was the first to recover his coolness. "Just what, Mr. Balcom, do
you mean?" he asked.

"I mean--" began Balcom, then stopped. "But first I will produce a
witness who can vouch for all the facts which I am about to relate."

Balcom went to the door and opened it. There, bobbing her head and
smirking mechanically, stood that loathsome creature, Old Meg. In these
rich surroundings her frightful squalor was all the more accentuated.
Those at the table drew back in utter disgust as she tottered into the
room. As she passed Zita she paused.

"I held you in these arms when you were but a wee baby," she muttered,
hideously.

Zita drew away from her and looked at Balcom questioningly. Balcom now
leaned far over the table and spoke impressively.

"Twenty years ago Brent was secretly married to his secretary. There was
a child. But Brent craved money, and power that the money would bring.
Saddled with a wife and child, he was barred from his ambition, which
was to marry some rich woman. So he made a hell on earth for his wife
until, in desperation, she consented to an annulment of their marriage."

The room was breathlessly quiet as Balcom continued.

"Years passed and then his conscience smote him. He made his own child
his secretary." Then he turned to Zita, pointing at her. "There she
sits," he exclaimed, "and half of the voting power of this company
belongs to her--Zita Brent, Zita Dane _Brent_."

Instantly Locke was on his feet.

"Balcom, you lie!" he rasped.

"Lie or no lie," retorted Balcom, "as vice-president of the company I
refuse to permit any action to be taken until Zita's position is legally
established."

Locke turned to Eva. "Miss Brent," he asked, with a bow, "may I speak
for you?"

Eva nodded.

"Then, Balcom," remarked Locke, "we shall carry the proposed motion over
your head. You cannot produce sufficient proofs to retard our action."

"My protests," sneered Balcom, as he strode toward the door, "will be
entered in the minutes of this meeting."

Zita, in the excitement, had already disappeared. Paul bowed to Eva and
Locke mockingly and followed his father.

Old Meg squeezed herself against the walls of the library and was trying
to get out of the room without being detected. But Locke was too alert
for her and caught her by the shoulder, detaining her. She tried to
fight him off with her feeble arms. Again and again he tried to question
her.

"The story is true, I tell you, gospel true," Meg repeated over and over
again.

Locke let her go and she started toward the door. Then the habit of a
lifetime overcame her and she turned.

"If you would know the truth, my pretty," she croaked at Eva, "come to
Old Meg." Then she hobbled out.

Eva was naturally perturbed, although Locke tried to comfort her. Yet
she could not forget what had happened between him and Zita just before
the meeting, and, woman-like, she now held aloof.

"Eva," pleaded Locke, "won't you trust me? Things are in such a critical
state that we must not have any misunderstanding."

But Eva merely tossed her pretty head. "I don't care for Zita or her
actions," she replied, petulantly.

Locke diplomatically changed the subject. "I believe," he said, slowly,
"that that old hag is in the pay of either Paul or his father, and I
mean to find out which it is."

Locke had started across the hallway when Eva called him back.

"Quentin," she said, earnestly, "I trust you--absolutely." Then she hid
her face in her hands and almost ran into the dining-room.

Had she been a moment sooner she would have caught that mysterious
person, Doctor Q, who had entered the house some time before, and, on
overhearing heated words coming from the library, had remained with his
ear glued to the keyhole, absorbing every word that was said until
Balcom left. But he had shuffled away before she ran in.

Back in Old Meg's den some time later the little gutter rat who, a few
hours before, had brought the two thugs back to Balcom and Old Meg was
coiled up in a corner, asleep.

With light footsteps that did not awaken the sleeping boy, a strange
little figure now came scurrying down the brick stairs. The figure
hesitated a moment, then entered the foul den.

In tatters, like the sleeping street gamin, this other boy still had
something winsome, something elusively handsome, about him, a certain
refinement of features. However, a black patch over one eye showed that
this gamin was manly enough, evidently, when it came to fighting. He
stirred the sleeping boy with his foot, and the boy, cursing volubly and
beyond his years, roused himself.

They talked excitedly in whispers and the boy who had just entered gave
the street arab some money. Then together they tiptoed into the other
room and down a flight of rickety steps into the cellar. This cellar
connected with another cellar of large size that was used as a
storehouse.

The boys barely spoke and, when it was necessary, only in whispers. They
came to a pile of cotton bales, found a convenient space between the
bales, crawled in, and lay still.

Night was coming fast as the hag, trailed by Locke, left Brent Rock. She
walked fast for so old a woman, but, finally, coming to a street-car
line, she took the first car that came along. Locke had had the
foresight to have himself followed by one of the numerous Brent cars and
so was able to keep the street-car in sight until the old woman alighted
in her squalid quarter of town. Locke got out of his machine and
followed her on foot, keeping close to the walls of the buildings to
avoid having her see him.

Old Meg turned the corner that ran alongside her dwelling, and there,
for the first time, gave an indication that she was aware that she was
being followed. She chuckled to herself, gave a few stumbling capers
which might have been an imitation of a dance step, then waved her hand.
Was it a signal?

Locke was never to reach the alley. Old Meg had whipped around the
corner so quickly that for a moment he was puzzled as to just where she
had disappeared. He stopped with his back half turned to a flight of
stairs leading down to the cellar entrance of a big warehouse. Suddenly
he was sent stumbling forward to his knees, half dazed by a treacherous
blow dealt from behind.

He was up again in an instant and was defending himself from the attack
of half a dozen thugs. He put up a splendid fight, but the odds were too
great, and in a few minutes he was down on the ground, unconscious and
bound.

The emissaries of the Automaton, for such they were, carried him down
the steps and into the warehouse cellar.

Already, on leaving Brent Rock, Paul Balcom had not been idle. He had
been immediately driven to a telegraph-office, where, after having used
nearly an entire pad of blanks, he succeeded in composing the following
message:

  DEAREST QUENTIN,--Have proofs that Old Meg spoke the
  truth. Meet me immediately at her place.

  ZITA.

The message was addressed to Locke at Brent Rock and was marked
"Important."

"That ought to fetch her!" muttered Paul, as he left the office.

Twenty minutes or so later the telegram was delivered to the butler at
Brent Rock, who brought it at once to Eva.

At first she was loath to open a message addressed to some one else. But
Quentin's affairs and her own were so intertwined by this time that she
felt that the telegram would, in all probability, concern her as well as
Locke. She tore it open.

"Dearest Quentin," she read and for a minute could get no farther, for
it seemed as if a mist had formed before her eyes. She clutched at the
balustrade. Then pride, jealousy, and a certain anger surged up within
her and she finished reading the telegram.

Eva was in a quandary what to do. She paced up and down the hallway,
biting her lips and repressing the tears.

Could it be possible, after all, that Locke was faithless? Was this the
man who had been so kind, who had saved her from a thousand dangers? At
any rate, she would find out once and for all.

Faint and heart-sick, she gave orders to have her runabout brought
around. It was a long drive from Brent Rock, but Eva's fast speedster
covered the ground quickly. Twice policemen tried to stop her and,
failing, probably took the number of her car. Nothing could deter her.
And, as the cool evening wind lashed her face, faith in Locke revived
and the suspicion came that she might be rushing into danger. But no
thought of herself entered her mind as she stepped on the accelerator
and the car shot forward. Her single thought was of speed, more speed,
to get to Locke quickly.

She was appalled at the squalor of the neighborhood in which she finally
found herself. Disgusted and revolted at the filth of Old Meg's abode,
still not for an instant did she falter or hesitate. She ran down the
steps to Old Meg's home.

The old hag was evidently awaiting her, for this time she did not hide
at the sound of approaching footsteps, but came forward, courtesying and
mumbling greetings, while her eyes gleamed with a satisfaction that was
positively hellish.

"Mr. Locke--where is he?" Eva gasped.

"All in good time, my pretty, all in good time," mumbled the hag.
"You're to wait for him here."

But Eva insisted on seeing Locke at once and the old hag lied volubly.
He had been here, and had stepped out for a moment. No, she did not know
where--to get a cigar, maybe. Would the pretty lady hear her fortune
told while she waited?

As there was apparently nothing that she could do until Locke returned,
Eva sat at the card-table while Old Meg droned her old fortune-telling
rigamarole.

In spite of her growing fear and agitation Eva became interested. There
was something calming in the monotonous voice of the old crone.

"When the queen of spades comes between the jack of hearts and the king
of diamonds and the--a--the--"

A door directly behind Eva silently and slowly opened. Stealthily a
boy's head was thrust out. On the young face was a world of deadly
hatred. As the sputtering candle burned brighter for a moment,
startlingly, a vague change was noticeable in the lineaments of the
features.

It was the same gamin who had given the sleeping boy money. But now, in
the candle-light, with only the head showing, it was no boy who glared
malevolently at Eva, but a woman--and that woman was the implacable
Zita!

The head disappeared to give place to the visages of two
horrible-looking men, the same brutes who were present when Balcom had
spread the net of his conspiracy.

"When the jack of clubs," droned the witch, "and the--"

With barely a sound the two thugs entered the room behind Eva. In the
hand of one was an old gunny sack.

"--and the queen of hearts--"

Eva was so interested now that she leaned far over the table, her eyes
fastened on the cards as they fell.

A thug stumbled. Eva, startled, sat back quickly and tried to rise. But
the next instant she felt herself struggling in the heavy folds of the
grimy gunny sack.

The emissaries, carrying Locke, had staggered with their burden into the
warehouse cellar until, coming to a closed door, one of them rapped on
it in a peculiar manner that was evidently a signal. An instant, and the
door opened.

Through it stalked the Automaton.

The monster gazed intently at Locke as though to determine whether it
were indeed he, then waved the emissaries on to the shaft of a huge
freight elevator.

In the shaft, directly under the elevator platform, they now cast
Locke's unconscious body.

"Are you sure the watchman's still up above?" asked one.

"Sure."

"Then give a ring for the basement."

A thug pressed the button that signaled. In a moment, creaking and
groaning, the massive elevator started to descend.

A shuffling of feet was heard and down the stairs leading from Old Meg's
quarters came the two thugs carrying Eva. A few feet behind them, still
in boy's clothes, was Zita.

The jar to his body as the emissaries threw him on the concrete floor
had tended to bring Locke back to consciousness. For a moment he lay
still. Then the sound of the descending elevator attracted his
attention. He gazed upward and dimly saw the slowly moving platform. In
a flash he realized his danger.

Locke struggled fiercely to dislodge his bonds. He contorted his body,
expanded his powerful chest in an effort to break the ropes that held
him a prisoner.

At this moment the thugs that were carrying Eva passed by, followed by
others. Apparently they took no notice of him, but continued on their
way with the helpless girl.

Locke, his own danger forgotten, became frantic with apprehension for
her and tore savagely at the restraining ropes.

Zita stopped. Her face was a study of conflicting emotions as she saw
Locke struggling at the bottom of the shaft.

Floor by floor, inch by inch, the enormous elevator, that would crush
out Locke's life as though he were an insect, continued to descend.

Zita stepped to an electric switch. That switch would stop the elevator
immediately and save Locke's life.

She raised her hand--and then, looking after the retreating thugs and
emissaries, she saw Eva again. Zita's lips formed a cruel line and a
flinty hardness came into her eyes.

Her hand dropped.

There were only a few feet between Locke and the descending elevator.
Locke was struggling frenziedly to escape and rescue Eva.

Zita's hand went out again and grasped the handle of the switch.

She hesitated, hate on her face.

Would she, for love of Locke, who had not returned her love, save him?

Could she bring herself to save this man--for a woman she hated, who had
won him from her?

If she saved him it would be only to lose him to the other woman.

With a great creaking the massive elevator was within only a few short
inches of Locke.



CHAPTER XIX


Every fiber of Zita's body was galvanized into action as she threw the
whole weight of her body against the elevator emergency-control switch.

There was a sputtering of blue flame as the connection was made, and
Zita closed her eyes. With a shudder she heard the great elevator strike
the cellar floor and then rebound.

She dared not open her eyes. The last thing that she had seen was Locke
struggling frantically to escape from under the elevator that was only a
few inches above him and seemed destined to crush out his life.

Slowly, fearfully, she opened her eyes. Locke's body lay motionless at
her feet, separated almost literally by only the breadth of a hair from
the shaft.

The relief, the reaction from her terrible emotions, made Zita half
hysterical. Trembling in every limb, she made her way to Locke and fell
on her knees by him. She wrapped her arms about him and held his head
up.

It was thus that she was holding him when his eyes slowly opened and
gazed questioningly into her own, his brow knitted in perplexity.

Then, with a rush, it all came back to him--the descending elevator,
Zita standing at the switch, while his life hung in the balance, his
last frantic effort to escape just before the descending elevator had
grazed his head, rendering him unconscious. That Zita, at the last
moment, had attempted to save his life he did not know, nor why she now
gazed at him frankly with eyes of love.

It was all inexplicable to him.

Another instant and he had wrenched himself loose from Zita's arms and
was struggling with the ropes that still bound him even after he had
managed to roll out from under the elevator in the last nick of time.

He had suddenly realized that the sight of Eva being carried off by the
emissaries had not been a hideous dream, but a terrible actuality, and
that at this very moment she was probably in the most imminent danger.

Zita realized that he wanted freedom to rush to Eva's assistance. Had
she dared, she would have refused to release him from her arms, would at
least have hindered his untying his bonds. But there was a masterful
something about his silent demand to be released that would admit of no
refusal.

In a few seconds Locke completed the freeing of himself and was dashing
madly toward the door through which the gang, carrying Eva, had passed.

The door was unlocked, and, hesitating not an instant, Quentin dashed
through and into a large room.

Eva, the gunny sack removed and still unconscious, lay on the floor. The
emissaries were grouped around her. In the background, dimly visible,
stood the iron monster.

Startled, they looked up as Locke rushed into the room. But before they
could do more, Locke had whipped out his automatic and, point-blank, was
blazing away at the murderous crew. Two emissaries fell dead or mortally
wounded. The others scattered.

Only the Automaton, man of iron that he was, showed no sign of fear.
Instead, he advanced ponderously upon Locke.

The automatic barked again, but did not succeed in deterring the
monster. Locke realized the futility of using this puny weapon against
such a foe.

He dashed toward Eva. It was the work of only an instant to snatch her
up, practically from under the monster's feet, to turn, and to carry her
through the door by which he had been brought in. Holding her in one
arm, he slammed the door shut and shot the bolt.

He was just in time, for the next instant the door bulged out beneath
the dead weight of the Automaton as it hurled its massive form against
the other side.

Zita vas still waiting at the elevator shaft when Locke, carrying Eva in
his arms, entered. At the sight Zita's whole body expressed her
unquenched hatred of the unconscious girl. Her eyes narrowed, her lips
became livid, and her hands clenched as though she would like to strike
the helpless Eva.

"Zita," demanded Locke, suspiciously, "why did you hesitate to save my
life?"

"Because," she replied--and her voice indicated the force of her answer
whether it were really the truth or not--"I love you, and would not save
you--for _her_."

Zita turned and ran up the stairs leading to Old Meg's as Locke turned
to try to revive Eva.

But the hammer blows of the monster resounded throughout the cellar. At
any moment the door might come crashing down and Locke and Eva might
again be at the mercy of the iron fiend.

Locke caught up Eva in his arms again and, groping, sought the exit of
the warehouse.

He dared not follow Zita through Old Meg's den. Love that could for any
reason hesitate or injure the one loved was incomprehensible to him. He
felt that the hag's den might now be but an ambush and that Zita might
have run ahead to warn the uninjured emissaries of his coming.

By a lucky chance he found the path leading directly to the warehouse
steps and the street. Eva's speedster had not been moved or tampered
with and he placed Eva gently in the seat, climbed in, and started the
motor. As he did so three emissaries came running out of the alley
leading to Old Meg's. But shooting the gears into high speed, Locke
easily evaded them and turned up the first corner.

He was going to take Eva to the first doctor's or a drug-store, but it
proved not to be necessary. The rush of the air as the car moved rapidly
revived her, and in a few moments she was quite herself again, eagerly
questioning him about her rescue.

Although they were thankful for their escape, still they could not blind
themselves to the fact that all their efforts had been in vain, that
they stood no nearer to their great desire, and that, at least until
now, their enemies had proved too wily and too strong for them.

But they were young, courageous, and resourceful, and as they drew up
before Brent Rock they were busily engaged with plans for the future.

It was the following afternoon in the Chinese quarter. The Celestials
were celebrating one of their numerous feasts. Long multicolored banners
and streamers were hanging from every window and balcony and were even
strung across the narrow street, almost brushing the faces of the motley
throng that passed beneath. Tom-toms and cymbals beat and clashed, while
from the Chinese theater came the shrill piping of reeds and the
high-pitched chanting voices of Chinamen.

Street venders cried their wares and the windows of the Oriental shops
were gaily bedecked for the holiday.

Through the dense happy throng a man made his way. He, too, was an
Oriental, but of a different race. A giant in size, he calmly pushed and
shoved the smaller Celestials out of his path, and, although they
chattered angrily at him, their resentment went no farther, for his size
and the menace of his swarthy face made them pause.

Before the entrance of a curio-shop he halted and consulted a card.
Then, satisfied that he had found his destination, he picked up a wicker
carrying-case that for the moment he had placed on the curb and entered
the shop.

A Chinaman stepped forward, scrutinized him closely, and, nodding
significantly, bade the new-comer follow him.

They went to the back of the shop. The Chinese clapped his hands, and a
panel in the wall slid back, disclosing a stairway. The new-comer
stepped through the aperture and the panel closed behind him. He mounted
the stairs and came to a room, magnificent in its Oriental splendor.

Priceless rugs covered the floor and walls, while on wonderfully carved
teakwood stands reposed ancient porcelains, specimens of bygone
dynasties, antique arms and armor cunningly wrought, jades and ivories
marvelously fashioned by master craftsmen long since dead. Seen through
the filmy haze of rising incense, the room was a veritable
treasure-house of Oriental art.

On low settees a few richly clad Chinese were reclining, and in a far
corner, gazing intently into a globe of crystal, sat a man of the same
race as the new-comer, a Madagascan.

Startled at the entrance of the giant, he left off his shadow-gazing and
came hastily forward, cringing as he did so.

The giant, in an impressive, booming voice, now spoke for the first
time.

"I, the Strangler, have come from Madagascar with the Great Torture."

A door opened and Doctor Q entered the room, his head wagging from side
to side.

As he caught sight of the Madagascan he stopped short and put his hand
to his head with a gesture of perplexity, striving piteously to place
the stranger. He could not succeed. With a half-running, half-stumbling
gait he withdrew to a corner of the room and furtively watched the two
Madagascans.

There came the sound of a gong. A panel slid back, and into the room
there majestically swept a Chinaman of pure Mongolian type.

He was gorgeously clad in flowing silks and wore the princely cap with a
button. At a glance his piercing eye took in every detail of the room.
Then he went directly to the Madagascan, whose overbearing air of
assurance immediately forsook him at the Chinaman's approach.

He bowed low and reverently, for it was Long Fang to whom he made
obeisance, Long Fang, leader of a great Tong, and implacable foe to all
others, a Chinese whose tentacles of power reached into every corner of
the underworld, spreading terror.

In an incisive, icy voice that sent a chill through the big man's frame,
he now spoke.

"You have been overlong on your journey and we have been waiting for
you." Then with a menace in his voice he snarled, "It is well for you
that you came at last."

The big man shuddered and remained silent. Long Fang crossed to Doctor
Q.

"The instrument of torture is here," he said. "The Madagascan has just
brought it. He is an unrivaled strangler."

"Let him approach," commanded Doctor Q.

Long Fang beckoned, and the Strangler came forward. His eyes had been
fixed on the Chinese, but now they roved to the figure of Doctor Q, and
he fell back in consternation, clutching the other Madagascan by the
shoulder and gasping in awestruck tones.

"In our country his magic is supreme!"

With difficulty he controlled himself and bowed low, his forehead almost
touching the floor. Then he looked away, cringing.

"I see that you recognize me," Doctor Q chuckled, fiendishly. "Good! You
will not be so foolish as to fail me."

"No, no, master, I swear it by--"

"Never mind your oath. My power is my guaranty. Go--follow Long Fang. He
will direct you to the torture-chamber."

Doctor Q turned on his heel and hobbled out of the room.

Long Fang and the Strangler were about to proceed to the torture-chamber
when footsteps were heard on the stairway that led to the curio-shop
below. Long Fang and the Madagascan stopped and listened.

Another moment and De Luxe Dora and Paul Balcom stepped into the room.
With a curt command Paul called Long Fang to him and the Chinaman,
important as he was, hastened to obey.

What was this strange power that Paul, at will, could exercise
throughout the underworld?

With a few terse questions Paul ascertained the exact condition of
affairs.

"You say, Long Fang, that all is ready?"

"All, master. We only awaited your coming."

Then with a graceful gesture he asked, "Will you so far honor your
humble servant?" as he indicated the way into another room.

Dora, followed by Paul and the Chinese, stepped through the portal and
came to a Chinese temple.

It was a large room and the decorations, although equally well executed
as those in the room they had just left, were actually terrifying.
Flying dragons and serpents done in bronze hung from the ceiling, while
on a raised dais at the farther end of the room was an enormous
squatting figure of the seven-handed god. Before it, in braziers, fire
gleamed, giving off a heavy, pungent odor that was almost overpowering
to Occidental nostrils.

On either side of the huge image hung silken curtains, in all
probability covering doorways into yet other chambers.

For the first time Dora showed signs of interest. With the shop and the
first chamber she was already familiar, but this was something new,
something to give the spur to her satiated, _blasé_ nature. She moved
about the place, fingering the rare tapestries, contemplating probably
what gorgeous hangings they would make for her own apartment.

Dora's preoccupation gave Long Fang his opportunity to confer with Paul
alone and he moved closer to him.

"Master," he nodded, "why not use the beautiful lady to lure the other
one into our power?"

Paul shook his head negatively. He knew that Eva was aware that Dora was
her enemy.

"But, master," persisted the Chinese, "you told me that this Miss Brent
loves her father, and that she would do anything for his recovery. Let
this lady tell her that the Madagascan has brought an antidote that will
restore his reason. She will come here and we shall trap her."

For a moment Paul stood in deep thought, then called to Dora.

At first she laughed at the idea that Eva would even listen to her. But
Dora was clever and conceited and in the end she agreed that at least
she would make the attempt.

At this moment in another quarter of town Paul's father was ready to
leave his apartment, yet from his nervousness it could readily be seen
that he was waiting for some one. A Madagascan servant entered and
salaamed.

"Master," he announced, "the Strangler has arrived from Madagascar."

Balcom's face lighted up with intense satisfaction and cunning at the
news. He waved the servant away, picked up his hat and stick, and
hurried out.

In the library at Brent Rock Eva and Locke were having an earnest
conversation. Locke had on his motoring togs and was on the point of
going out.

"By elimination," he was saying, "I will prove that either Paul or his
father is the Automaton. I am going to trap Paul."

"Quentin," cautioned Eva, "for my sake be careful."

Locke strove to quiet her fears, pointing out that his scheme was
necessary in order to save her father, and in the end Eva reluctantly
consented.

She went with him to the porte-cochère where his car was already
waiting.

"Good luck!" she tried to call cheerfully, in spite of her misgivings.

Long after his car had disappeared in the distance she stood there
gazing after it, a world of anxiety in her eyes.



CHAPTER XX


Darkness had settled down upon Brent Rock, following the departure of
Locke, when a trim runabout drew up under the porte-cochère and Dora
stepped lightly out of it.

She paused for a moment and looked about curiously. For some time she
hesitated. In this house lived the girl whom in her heart Dora hated
bitterly.

What sort of reception might she expect? Yet Paul and his
underworldlings had played on Dora's pride until they had prevailed on
her to undertake the mission. As she looked about all her old assurance
came back to her and Dora turned and approached the door boldly.

Eva was just about to go up-stairs to her room when she heard the butler
at the door and a woman's voice asking whether Miss Brent was at home.
Eva paused a moment.

There was evidently a slight altercation between the butler and the
new-comer as the latter raised her voice sharply.

"You will tell Miss Brent I must see her," reiterated Dora.

There was a pause, during which the butler was heard to murmur
something, and then the woman's voice was heard again.

"Tell Miss Brent that if she refuses to see me she will regret it all
her life."

Eva was intensely interested now, for she recognized the voice of De
Luxe Dora. But with her interest there came a feeling of repulsion with
which this woman always inspired her, and her first impulse was to have
Dora shown out of the house.

The very nature of the danger with which they were all surrounded,
however, prohibited such a drastic course. Yet how dare that woman enter
Brent Rock?

Still, the very fact of her so daring pointed to some serious matter
which Eva felt she ought to know. At any rate, there could be no harm to
listen to Dora's reason for coming, and there would probably be much to
be learned.

Eva called to the butler and he stepped aside, and Dora, all smiles now,
and with her hand extended in greeting, advanced toward Eva, who ignored
her extended hand.

"Need I tell you," remarked Eva, coldly, "that I am astounded at your
presumption in coming here?"

"Miss Brent," replied Dora, "believe me, nothing but my present mission
could have induced me to do so. There are wheels within wheels which
have made it appear that I am your enemy. But that is far from being the
truth, as my present mission to you will prove."

Dora was clever and played her cards cleverly. However, Eva was on
guard.

"Please come to the point," she insisted. "Tell me exactly why you have
come."

Dora paused a moment, then replied, impressively, "I have come to save
your father's life."

Eva caught herself almost gasping in astonishment as Dora covertly
watched the effect of her words. "You have the antidote, then?" asked
Eva, breathlessly.

"Not exactly that," replied Dora, quickly. "But I can take you where you
can obtain it. A man has arrived from Madagascar who has it in his
possession."

"What shall I do?" almost wailed the poor girl. "How can I know that you
speak the truth?"

Dora's voice now assumed a cold decisiveness. "That is for you to
decide," she said merely. "Refuse to come with me and your father will
surely die of his madness. Consent--and he may live."

Eva could hesitate no longer. Bidding Dora wait, she ran up the stairs,
returning in a few moments garbed for the street.

They left the house together, but not before the butler had
surreptitiously slipped a large automatic into Eva's hand-bag.

In the Chinese temple, or Joss-house, the last devotee had departed. The
hanging lights had been dimmed and now the fantastic shapes with which
the place was decorated, seen in the subdued light, stood out in all
their shadowy weirdness.

From the raised dais, the seven-handed god assumed an added majesty and
awfulness, while, deep-seated as though from a smoldering caldron, two
points of fire gleamed from the god's eyes with utmost malevolence.

Slowly a panel in the wall slid back and the bestial visage of the
Strangler peered out.

After making sure that there was no one about, with noiseless tread he
glided into the temple.

Like a shadow, a second figure, that of a Chinaman, followed him. The
two made a complete circuit of the temple, stopping now and again to
examine some object which arrested their attention. Then, as if by a
prearranged signal, they both prostrated themselves before the fire god.

After making many obeisances they got to their feet and, as mysteriously
as they entered, slipped away in the same manner that they had come. A
panel closed behind them, but not the same panel.

The inner room in which they now found themselves was divided by a
partition that extended a few feet out into the temple room itself.

This room was vividly painted with weird figures depicting Chinese forms
of torture, a veritable charnel-house of what in Europe would be called
the Dark Ages. There were plenty of evidences that at no very distant
date this chamber had been in use to punish horribly those who had
offended against the fire god or the commands of the Tong leaders.

On one side of the partition was a large iron wheel to which was
attached a rope extending through the partition and forming a loop or
noose on the other side. The purpose of this device was only too
apparent. Once the neck of a victim was in the noose, a few turns of the
wheel, the noose would tighten, and the victim would be inevitably
strangled to death. In a slightly changed form it was the
garroting-machine of old Spain.

The Strangler tested the rope, twisted the wheel, while his companion
occupied himself by watching the effect of the wheel on the noose on the
other side of the partition.

Apparently satisfied that the machine was in good working order, the
Madagascan straightened up and waved his companion out of the room.

The Chinaman returned by means of the sliding panel into the temple
again.

As she left Brent Rock behind, Eva's fears increased. Speeding through
the night with this woman whom she instinctively dreaded, whom she had
every reason to distrust, many times on the trip Eva wished herself back
at her home.

On the other hand, to remain inactive while there was a chance to save
her father's life was unthinkable. And so, for his sake, she kept on and
the car sped ahead.

Dora, on the contrary, anxious to allay Eva's fears, was very voluble,
expressing many sentiments which even to a young girl of little worldly
experience were palpably at variance with the woman's character.

In and out of the narrow streets of the city's lower quarter the car
twisted and turned, and at last entered gaily decked Chinatown, where it
came to a halt.

If Eva was afraid before she was now doubly so. The strange Oriental
faces which seemed to leer at her from street and curb seemed to be
almost of another world, and she thought of the many tales she had
heard, of their treachery and cunning.

Dora, sensing what was passing through her mind, kept up a patter of
small talk as she urged Eva forward.

By another entrance than the one that led through the Chinese curio-shop
they entered the Joss-house and came to the worshiping-room of the
temple.

Eva gazed fearfully about her now at all the fantastic decorations with
which she was surrounded. Her only comfort was the handle of the
automatic that the butler had pressed on her as she was leaving home.

"This Madagascan with the antidote," asked Eva, tremulously, "where is
he?"

"Don't worry, dearie," quieted Dora. "Wait a moment here and I will
bring him."

Dora turned on her heel and left the temple by the door leading into the
beautiful lounging-room beyond.

Eva stood transfixed by the solemn awfulness of the place and the grim
visage of the fire god. Why had she been brought to such a place? What
new terrors awaited her here?

She seemed alone--yet was she?

She felt a thousand eyes regarding her, as though a thousand dangers
lurked to destroy her just beyond those fearful walls.

She was staring now at the god. What made his eyes gleam so banefully?

She thought she heard a sound!

Was the wall at the right of the statue moving? Or was it merely her
heightened imagination?

Fascinated, she watched.

Yes, she was sure now. Slowly, slowly a portion of that wall was
actually sliding back.

Now she saw a hand. Then an arm followed. With a slow, gliding movement
that even to Eva's strained ears was noiseless, a man, his back toward
her, slid into the room.

Eva, shrinking back, wanted to shriek. But instead she whipped out the
automatic and in an instant had the man covered.

The man was still evidently unconscious of her presence. But suddenly he
must have heard Eva move. For he wheeled around, and instinctively his
hands went above his head.

As for Eva, the cry that she had suppressed at his appearance was
suppressed no longer, for the man whom she held at her mercy was--Locke!

"How did you come here?" gasped Eva.

Hurriedly he told her his story--how he felt that the clue that would
lead to the unraveling of this mystery was now to be found in Chinatown,
how he had made his way, therefore, to the Chinese quarter, how he had
tracked the Madagascan.

Knowing the futility of trying to enter any private place of the
Orientals, much less their temple, in Occidental garb, he had waylaid a
Chinaman in an alley, had stripped him, and had changed clothes with
him.

Disguised thus, Locke had managed to enter, to observe, and was only now
on his way to summon assistance. For he had decided to have the place
raided. Only now he was stricken almost dumb with astonishment at being
confronted by Eva.

There was no time for more. Before Eva could explain her own presence
there the door burst open, the panels slid back, and a horde of
emissaries and Chinamen swarmed about them.

Eva fired her automatic again and again, but could not stay the rush.

Locke fought with the courage of despair. But they were too many and
soon bore him down.

As they carried Locke into the chamber of torture the last thing he saw
was Eva surrounded by her foes, who were closing in on the poor girl.

Towering above them all, he saw the gigantic form of the Automaton.

In the torture-chamber Locke was shackled hand and foot to the
partition, while the noose of the garroting-machine was placed about his
neck.

The Madagascan supervised this work, then waved the emissaries out of
the room. They were alone there now, these two--the professional
murderer and his victim.

With a sneer the Madagascan turned and went to the other side of the
partition where the wheel was by which the noose was tightened,
strangling the victim.

But the Strangler little knew with whom he had to deal, for already
Locke was struggling at his shackles.

With almost incredible dexterity Locke succeeded in loosening them, one
after the other, so that, as the Madagascan started to turn the wheel,
Locke, with a marvelous effort, bracing his feet against the wall and
grasping the staples to which the shackles had been attached, managed to
pin-wheel his body around and around, as the Strangler turned the iron
wheel that tightened the noose which was to stifle out his life.

Fortunately the Madagascan turned slowly, so that Locke managed to turn
his body faster than the wheel was being turned, thus gaining on the
noose and at each revolution loosening it a trifle.

Another quick turn of his body, the pressure against his neck had become
less!

Yet another complete circle, and, tearing at the noose, he managed to
get his head free.

It was the work of only an instant to dash around the partition and beat
the Strangler to the floor. Another instant, and he had torn back the
panel into the temple.

The sight that confronted him was sickening.

Two fiends were holding Eva close to the floor, while now from the fire
god's eyes a blinding glare of flame blazed forth, the two rays
converging and scorching the very ground as they traveled slowly nearer
and nearer, in their fatal focus, to the helpless girl.

With a wild shout, Locke charged on them all.

Taken by surprise, the brutes holding Eva were easy to handle, for the
others had gone.

Fortunately, the automatic which Eva had been carrying was lying,
neglected, on the floor. Locke snatched it up and, shooting one of the
thugs, managed to cower the other.

Half supporting Eva, he retreated through the torture-chamber into an
outer room. There was no time to lose. Already the alarm had been spread
to the other emissaries and Chinamen, and it was only a matter of
seconds when all the murderous crew would again be piling after them.

Locke looked about in desperation. There was a window. He flung it open.
Below, the air-shaft or court was blind. But there was a balcony by
which he could reach an adjoining low roof. He had no idea where it
might lead, but any unknown danger was preferable to the known dangers
that threatened behind him.

Through the window he passed with Eva, and so across balconies and roofs
until they came to a fire-escape, which they descended.

In another moment they were free of Chinatown.

Many a curious glance was cast at them, a young girl, well gowned, and a
disheveled white man in Chinese garb.

Locke hailed a night-hawk cabman and they were soon speeding on their
way back to safety and Brent Rock.



CHAPTER XXI


At the cove fishing-village, set on the extreme outskirts of the town,
there stood an old fisherman's shack that was shunned by all the good
folk of the city.

While there was nothing definite that could be said of the evil deeds of
the inhabitants, there was much shaking of heads and wagging of tongues
to the effect that all was not as it should be at the cove.

The owner of the old shack, Old Tom, was an ill-favored, taciturn man
who would have naught to do with any of his neighbors, and asked only
that they keep out of his path and leave him alone. He even evinced an
aversion to dogs and to little children, driving them away from his
shack whenever he found them near it.

The threat that "Old Tom will catch you" would make a cove
fishing-village tractable at any time.

Old Tom rarely put to sea, and when he did it was more often than not
after nightfall, a time when the good folk of the village were preparing
for a night's rest.

It was stated by one old crony that often at night other men came to Old
Tom's shack, that they entered slyly, and that well into the morning
revelry, and often oaths and brawls, could be heard from within.

Some hinted that Old Tom was a smuggler; others, even, that he was a
wrecker. True it was that often strange lights were seen to flicker
outside the bar to the cove.

Also there had been wrecks, and often, in the morning, when the
fishermen put out to a wreck, after a storm, it would be discovered that
some one had been there before them, since valuable and readily portable
parts of the wreck were frequently missing.

But while suspicion pointed to Old Tom and the strange men that
frequented his place, proofs positive of a crime were invariably
lacking, and so the village tolerated Old Tom's presence and predicted
his bad end.

It was to this shack that there came very early one morning, before the
break of day, a wounded man assisted by a woman. The woman gave a
peculiar rap at the door. There was a quick scurry inside, as of
fast-moving feet, then silence.

The woman rapped again, and this time with more force. After a moment a
sash was raised and a querulous voice demanded what was wanted.

"It's De Luxe Dora and Paul Balcom, and he's wounded. Quick, open the
door!"

There was a rush to open the door now and rough hands gently assisted
the wounded man to a seat inside.

While Paul was not perhaps so dangerously wounded, yet it was easy to be
seen that the wound was not to be trifled with, for the cut had been
severe and the blood flowed copiously.

Dora, whatever her attitude toward others, had a true solicitude for
Paul, and all the womanliness of her nature came to the surface as she
tenderly bathed Paul's head and attempted to bind the wound with the
rough bandages at hand.

There were several tough-looking men standing about, and from their
ready sympathy, real or feigned, it was easy to be seen that these men,
too, like the others of the underworld, stood ready to do Paul's
slightest bidding, to guard him with their lives if need be.

What was this strange power that this man, scarcely more than a youth,
wielded over these outlawed men?

"Quick!" exclaimed Dora. "Watch the window. We've probably been
followed."

A grim-visaged man moved lumberingly over to the window and glued his
head against the pane, straining his eyes as he peered out.

For a long time he did not move, while, with the others grouped around,
Dora tried to stanch the flow of blood from Paul's injured head.

Suddenly the watcher at the window turned and shouted, "Man comin' up
the lane!"

Instantly there was confusion within the shack. The men scattered in all
directions, while one old hag, the only woman in the shack besides Dora,
hobbled over to a stool and took up the mending of a huge net where she
had left off.

Old Tom ambled over to Dora and for a moment they talked hurriedly.
Finally Dora came to a decision, as she pointed to the old rickety
stairway to an attic above.

"Carry him to the attic," she directed. "He can be well hidden there. As
for the rest of you, remember, no one has come here to-night."

Two of the men lifted Paul, who, while not in an absolutely unconscious
condition, was much too weak by this time from loss of blood to assist
himself.

They carried him up the stairs and into an old, disused room to which
Dora followed, and when the two men had descended the stairs she
remained, alternately ministering to Paul and listening for what might
happen below.

Paul and Dora had left the main room of the shack not a moment too soon.
For barely had the two men who had carried Paul to the attic returned
when a face was momentarily seen outside, while a pair of eyes peered
into the room.

A moment later there was a peremptory knock at the door.

"Come in!" growled Old Tom.

With eyes that scanned every cranny and nook and searched every face,
Locke stepped into the shack.

The men came forward a step, then halted. There was something in Locke's
face that showed that he was in deadly earnest and not to be trifled
with.

Locke looked from one to the other, then turned to Old Tom. "The wounded
man who was brought here," he demanded, "where is he?"

"There 'ain't been no wounded man brought here," retorted Old Tom.

The men crowded a little closer, all denying vehemently that any one had
entered.

At this instant a drop of blood fell on Locke's sleeve from the ceiling
above. Quickly he checked the impulse to look up, although he was
startled by it. He recovered himself on the instant and waited until
under a pretext he could divert their attention to something else. Then
he glanced hastily upward, as they looked in another direction. There,
forming slowly, was another drop of blood, and it was about to fall.

Locke had gained his object. As surely as though he had been brought
face to face with Paul, he knew that he was lying on the floor of the
attic above.

Single-handed, against so many and in this shack, Locke realized that he
could do nothing. He apologized gruffly for his intrusion, conveying the
impression that he felt he had made a mistake, and backed his way to the
door.

In an instant the door to the attic stairs was flung open and Dora
rushed into the room.

"You fools!" she snarled at the surprised men who were just
congratulating themselves on how they had put one over on Locke. "I tell
you he's wise. He saw the blood. Look up above you. Now go get him."

But the fishermen had no desire for this outside work and hung back,
while Dora raved at them.

From the ceiling, drop by drop, blood was falling, forming a little pool
on the floor. Paul could not be moved now. They must make the best of it
and be ready for any raid Locke might prepare.

At Brent Rock Eva was conversing with her lawyer. Matters had reached
such a state in the affairs of International Patents that it was
evident, even to her, that some drastic action must be taken, and at
once.

In a corner of the room, coiled up in a big armchair, Zita was
apparently reading a new magazine, but was, in reality, listening
intently to every word that was being uttered.

Finally Eva and the lawyer were in full accord, and she accompanied the
elderly attorney to the door. As they parted, Zita strained her ears to
hear the last words. She did not get it all, but quite enough to tell
her what they had decided upon.

"As my lawyer," she overheard Eva say, "I wish you to have Mr. Locke
appointed receiver."

There was some more she missed, but that was quite enough for Zita. She
got out of the chair quickly and left the room without being observed,
and a few moments later she had left the house.

In a telephone-booth, not far from the cove fishing-village, Locke by
this time had his chief of the Department of Justice on the wire.

"I've located him, Chief," he telephoned, excitedly, "but it will take
four good men to capture him."

"I'll send them at once," the chief replied, as both hung up their
receivers hurriedly.

Meanwhile, in Herbert Balcom's sumptuous, semi-Oriental apartment two
men were in earnest conversation. One was the owner, Balcom, the other
that strange, half-demented being, Doctor Q, whose mind now, for the
moment, seemed to be lucid.

The matter under discussion was undoubtedly a weighty one, for both men
sat with knitted brows, and for the moment, at least, seemed in a
quandary about something.

Suddenly there came a hurried ringing at the outside-door bell and
Balcom leaped to his feet. They could hear the door opened, quick
footsteps in the hallway, and then, without ceremony, the door was flung
open and Dora burst into the room.

Balcom scowled a welcome, for he hated this woman, who had, as he
thought, spoiled the chances of his son with Eva. But Dora did not wait
for the threatened outburst.

"Hurry!" she cried. "You must do something. Paul has been wounded--never
mind how--but he lies in a fishing-shack down at the cove--and they are
going to arrest him--Locke is!"

For the moment both men seemed to be stricken dumb, while Dora, in a
state of wild excitement, pleaded for them to do something--anything to
save the one person she loved.

It was at this juncture that the door opened again, admitting another
woman. It was Zita, very agitated, though, of course, under better
control than Dora. Besides, Zita did not know what had happened to Paul,
nor did she love him. It was merely that she felt that things could be
made to play into her own hands if the news she brought were immediately
acted upon.

Hastily she told what she had overheard about the proposed receivership,
and all four now--Balcom, Doctor Q, Dora, and Zita--talked excitedly.

But it was plainly Balcom who was in command of the situation. Although
livid with rage at the news he had heard, yet he maintained control of
the others, directing what they should do with a decisiveness that was
truly remarkable. It showed the mental force of the man, demonstrating
how greatly he was to be feared by any bold enough to be his enemy. For
Balcom loved that spoiled son of his and would hesitate at no act, not
even at a crime, to save him from even what he justly deserved.

At last their plan was formed, and all four departed their several ways
to execute it.

Balcom had decided upon going directly to Brent Rock. His ire had not
abated one iota during the trip, either, and, as he almost ran up the
steps to the mansion, he pushed the astounded butler to one side as
though he were merely a piece of furniture.

"Tell Miss Brent I want to see her at once," he threatened.

The butler raised a hand deprecatingly at Balcom's tone, but Balcom,
beside himself, smashed it down and strode toward the library just as
Eva, hearing the voices, was coming out. For an instant she drew back in
apprehension and amazement as Balcom advanced on her, still snarling.

"See here, Eva," he hissed, "if Locke tries to arrest my son--he'll be
killed."

For the instant Eva was stunned. What did the man mean? But as Balcom
showed no signs of regaining control of himself, and every moment became
more abusive and violent, indignation gave place to every other
sentiment, and she sharply ordered Balcom to leave the house.

Threatening dire things and hinting even more if there were a
receivership, Balcom strode out.

Eva stood for a long time shocked into inaction. Then, slowly, fears for
Locke's safety came uppermost and she paced back and forth the length of
the hall.

Finally the old butler came to her deferentially.

"And did you notice, ma'am," he asked, "that during his tirade he
mentioned about a cove fishing-village? Might I suggest that that is
where Mr. Paul is and Mr. Locke will not be found far off?"

Eva thought a moment, recognized the sound sense of the remark, and
ordered that her car be brought. A few moments later she had taken the
wheel and was soon out of sight of Brent Rock.

Close pressed against a wall of a back lane of the cove fishing-village,
Locke was standing, waiting for the men whom his chief had promised to
send.

Finally they came to him, first making their coming known to Locke by a
peculiar low whistle.

"The other two will be along directly," whispered one of the pair.
"Thought it better not to come in a bunch."

As Locke laid his plans, the other two came from out of the shadows.

The entire party now moved cautiously toward Old Tom's shack. Just
before they arrived one of the men said that he could see two figures
entering the place. But as Locke had seen nothing, no attention was paid
to the remark.

Locke now placed one of his men on either side of the door. The other
two he sent to the rear, so that they could surround the gang.

He knocked at the door. This time it was immediately opened. Followed by
the detectives with revolvers drawn, Locke rushed boldly into the shack,
while his other two men closed in from the rear.

The emissaries, finding themselves surrounded, would have capitulated,
probably without a struggle, had not the old hag, to whom no one had
paid much attention, picked up a small anchor and thrown it at Locke and
the advancing detectives.

As it was, the anchor struck Locke a glancing blow and he stumbled
backward against one of his own men, upsetting him. That, of course,
gave the advantage to the thugs, and they advanced, attacking savagely.

It was at too close quarters, in the midst of such a mêlée, to use guns
without danger of getting one of one's own party. Thus it was a
primitive battle of brute force.

Locke and the detectives were trained men, however, and were surely
gaining the upper hand, so much so that Locke managed to tear himself
loose and dash for the door leading to the attic. He opened it, and
there, with revolver leveled at his head, stood De Luxe Dora.

It was the work of only an instant to disarm her, however, and he rushed
up the stairs, Dora after him.

There was a body lying on the floor--Paul, undoubtedly, thought Locke.

He took it by the shoulder and turned it over, then fell back in
amazement, for there, smiling mockingly at him, was Zita!

"You think you're pretty clever, don't you?" jeered Dora.

But it was no time to bandy words, and Locke left them and rushed down
the stairs just as a horde of emissaries swarmed up to meet him,
reinforcements to the fisher thugs.

For in some way the Automaton had been warned of Locke's presence, and
with all the emissaries it could summon had hastened to Old Tom's shack.

Most unfortunate of all, the Automaton and its men had arrived just
behind the car bearing Eva, and she, not suspecting the danger, had
entered the shack.

Although she did not see Locke, she was overjoyed to see that the
detectives held the upper hand. She had started to search for him, when
there came a terrifying crash at the door and more emissaries, followed
by the Automaton, came into the room.

The detectives were almost instantly overpowered, and the mob made for
the stairs just as Locke was descending.

In that narrow space a most terrible battle took place. Man after man
Locke hurled against his fellows, and they went crashing down, only to
rise again and attack.

Finally they came to hand-grips, and Locke, lunging furiously to free
himself, threw his body against the partition of the stairway and it
came crashing down, hurling Locke and the emissaries to the floor below.

Locke was badly stunned, and before he could rise the emissaries had
swathed him in the huge net that the old hag had been mending. Next they
bound him with ropes until he was utterly helpless in the meshes of the
net.

Eva, half crazed with horror, was in a far corner, and the Automaton was
advancing upon her. She was paralyzed with fear.

What fate was in store for her--what for Locke?



CHAPTER XXII


The sharp crack of an automatic echoed through the shack. The detective
known as Jim had come back to consciousness, and now, from behind an
overturned table where he had fallen, he started to fire shot after shot
into the mob of emissaries.

He had fallen in a far corner and could be reached only after an attack
of some paces, and even the emissaries, numerous as they were, hesitated
to advance on a determined man placed in such an advantageous position.
Furthermore, the diversion caused by the shots had other effects. The
sound of the shots brought Locke fully out of his stunned condition and
he started to struggle frantically in the meshes of the net that held
him prisoner.

The Automaton, for the moment, ceased to follow Eva, and moved over to
its men in order to take command and to direct their movements, while
yet another detective came to his senses and began to threaten the mob.

Locke was threshing about and was slowly but surely freeing himself. An
emissary threw a chair, and for a moment Locke lay still in pain. But in
another moment he was working even more frantically at the ropes and the
net that held him.

Eva started over to help him, but he shouted to her to stand back, since
that would bring her in line with the detectives' fire. The shots were
flying over Locke's body as he struggled. Some of the emissaries went
down; others found places of refuge behind which they hid.

Finally Locke managed to kick his feet free of the net and, rolling and
tossing, managed to work the meshes up about his shoulders and neck,
thus releasing his hands. It was the work of an instant only, now, to
slip the enveloping net over his head and he was free.

Locke rolled out of the direction of the revolver-shots and toward Eva,
who was now standing before a huge open fireplace.

He was none too soon, for the moment that the Automaton saw that Locke
had escaped the iron terror left the men and stalked ponderously over to
crush out Locke's life.

The two detectives fired point-blank at the monster and both shots took
effect with a ringing, metallic sound. But they did not halt the
Automaton an instant. Locke, reaching the fireplace, seized a pair of
old tongs and threw firebrand after firebrand in the path of the
advancing terror.

To the Automaton fire was evidently quite another affair from mere puny
bullets, for it not only paused, but came to a full stop, looking around
as though in a quandary as to what to do against such a defense.

This moment of hesitation gave Locke and Eva their opportunity. Calling
to the detectives to cease firing a moment, they passed between friends
and foes, dashed over to and up the attic stairs.

As they reached the attic above they were just in time to see Zita,
still dressed in Paul's clothes, and Dora, jump from the attic window.

Although it was a low, rambling building, still it was a high jump, even
for a man, and Locke was astounded that they should attempt such a
thing, even in their undoubted state of panic.

However, it gave Locke a splendid idea, which he acted upon immediately.
Hooking his feet on the window-frame, he took hold of Eva's wrists
firmly and swung her far out of the window. Held in this way, Eva was
only a few feet from the ground, and when Locke released her she landed
safely and almost without a jar.

For Locke, always in perfect training, the jump offered no difficulties.
In an instant he had rejoined her and they were running away from the
shack toward Eva's waiting car.

Locke had an almost overpowering desire to return to assist his
detectives, whom he realized might be in sore straits, but he also
realized that his first duty was to this girl who was in his charge, on
whom the events through which they had just passed had had a
nerve-racking effect. Again, he reflected, as he saw people coming down
the beach, that the Automaton and his men would soon be outnumbered and
glad to flee.

Quentin and Eva had almost reached the motor which Eva had left at some
distance from Old Tom's shack, and were passing a low clump of bushes,
when a low moan fell upon their ears.

At first Locke thought that it might be a trap and was for paying no
attention to the sound, but Eva, woman-like, insisted. He investigated.
Reclining on the ground, and looking more like a little boy in man's
clothes, lay Zita.

She was holding one ankle and her face showed that she must be in great
pain.

"Help me," she moaned. "When I jumped from the window I sprained my
ankle. Dora helped me to this place and then she left me and drove
away."

Although this girl was his enemy, no thought of leaving her in this
condition entered Locke's mind. Gently raising her from the ground, with
the help of Eva, Locke supported her to the car.

Locke still held Zita to ease her pain, while Eva took the wheel, and,
although they could hear shouts and even shots behind them, Eva drove
slowly in order not to add to Zita's misery. It showed the sympathy of
their characters that, much as Locke and Eva felt that Zita had injured
them, nevertheless, pausing in a flight from deadly peril, they found it
in their hearts to be kind to an enemy.

Arriving at Brent Rock, they carried Zita to her room and the family
physician was sent for. He pronounced the injury slight and more of a
strain than a sprain.

While the doctor was at the house he also paid a visit to Brent, who,
while his mental condition had remained as apparently hopeless as ever,
had gained much in strength, owing to the diet and restful care. He was
now able to sit up, fully dressed. As it was a case of drug poisoning,
the doctor had thought it best not to allow the patient to relax too
completely. But, whatever the strange drug that had stolen away Brent's
reason, the effect showed no signs of departure, and they were as much
in the dark as to the antidote as ever.

A few moments after the doctor had left, when he made his morning call
the next day, the counsel of the corporation was announced. He was shown
into the library immediately and it was there that Locke and Eva went
into conference with him.

The attorney had brought with him many share-holders' proxies, and these
he handed over to Eva.

"These proxies," he was declaring, "give you absolute control, Miss
Brent. With them you can force Mr. Balcom completely out of
International Patents."

"What's that you say?"

It was Balcom himself who spoke. How the man had got past the butler,
who certainly had no love for him, was mystifying. Yet here he was,
ready and eager to defend his interests.

"I was just telling Miss Brent," informed the lawyer, coldly, "that with
these proxies which I have obtained and just handed to her, she was in
complete control of the company."

"And you, Mr. Balcom," interposed Locke, stepping forward, "will play no
further part in the activities of the company. Miss Brent desires your
resignation, to take effect immediately."

"Why--why--this is unheard of--absurd!" sputtered Balcom. "I'll--I'll--"
And his rage got the better of him.

"No, Mr. Balcom," again interrupted Locke, "you will do nothing. It is I
who will give you twenty-four hours to arrange your affairs with the
company before I order your removal--or arrest."

Balcom tried to remonstrate, to plead his innocence of any wrong-doing.
Finding no sympathy by taking this attitude, his manner changed abruptly
and he attempted to bluster.

A decisive movement toward the telephone on the part of Locke checked
this and, chameleon-like, Balcom's usual suave manner came to the fore.
He bowed himself out.

"It will, of course, be as you say." He smiled oilily.

Once in the hall, however, his manner changed again, and, darkly
scowling and biting his thin lips, he was about to quit the place, when
Zita, limping only slightly, intercepted him.

"Mr. Balcom," she pleaded, "come out the back way. I must see you alone
a moment."

They tiptoed out to the grounds, and, behind a hedge where they could
not be observed from the house, talked.

"Tell me what has happened," demanded Zita.

"Happened?" repeated Balcom. "Why, they've thrown me out of the
company--at least, they think they have."

His mind was working quickly, and after a pause he turned to Zita
sharply. "Can you get Brent out of the house and bring him to me here
behind this hedge at eight o'clock to-night?"

Zita nodded an eager acquiescence and left him, returning to the house.

That evening Locke, returning from a stroll around the grounds, noticed
a movement in some shrubbery at the side of the foot-path. He went
closer to investigate, and a rough-looking individual broke from cover
and ran away through the underbrush as fast as he could go. It was too
dark to follow and Locke hastened his steps to the house, fearing some
new deviltry on the part of the Automaton or his emissaries.

He had just entered the darkened hallway when, much to his surprise, he
saw the figure of a man, leaning heavily on the arm of a woman,
descending the stairs.

He stepped behind some portières and waited until they reached the foot
of the stairway. Then he stepped out and confronted them.

Zita gave a startled cry, and would have fled had not Locke caught and
held her. As for poor Brent, he simply stood there, swaying from side to
side and smiling foolishly.

Eva heard the commotion and came running down the stairs. She was amazed
until Locke explained the situation to her. Then her indignation knew no
bounds. Putting her arms around her father, she turned to Zita.

"How dare you?" she demanded, scathingly. "For doing this you will leave
this house immediately and--never return."

Zita, for a moment, was on the verge of breaking down, but recovered
herself and, with an angry retort on her lips, went out, slamming the
door behind her.

Zita slipped around the house and to the hedge designated by Balcom as
their meeting-place.

She was surprised but relieved when she did not find him there, and
glanced at her wrist watch, which stood at a few minutes past eight. She
was about to turn around when she caught sight of a bit of paper. Taking
it, she read:

  Bring him to my rooms.

That was all, and the message was unsigned.

Zita greatly feared Balcom's wrath at her failure, but, nevertheless,
she started for his apartment.

At that moment Balcom and the mysterious Doctor Q were talking in the
latter's dingy laboratory. Doctor Q's mind, for the time being, at
least, seemed perfectly clear, and he had formulated a daring plan.

"Send Locke word that you will give yourself up," he was saying, "but
tell him that he must come to your apartment to get you. I will do the
rest."

Balcom left hurriedly and was driven directly home, where he got Locke
on the telephone and repeated the instructions that Doctor Q had
suggested.

"Am I to understand that you intend to turn state's evidence?"
questioned Locke, doubtfully.

"Assuredly," hastened Balcom.

"Then I'll be right over."

As Balcom hung up the receiver he chuckled sardonically. He was just
turning to an antique brazier to arrange for Locke's reception when Zita
was announced and at once admitted.

"I've failed, Mr. Balcom," she apologized, "failed miserably. Locke took
Mr. Brent away from me--and they ordered me never to return to the
house."

"You little idiot!" Balcom almost hissed. "I'll not tolerate a failure,
either. Get out!"

Although Zita almost went on her knees in her pleading to him, Balcom
was adamant, and finally she left in utter despair.

Outside, she telephoned to Paul to see if she might induce him to use
his influence in reinstating her in his father's good graces.

As soon as Zita was gone Balcom busied himself with the ancient brazier
and was standing before a small image of Buddha. He took a small package
and from it poured a powder into the bowl of the brazier. Then, going to
the table, he wrote a short note, after which he went to a divan and
awaited Locke's coming.

Balcom had not long to wait. A ring came at the door and Balcom leaped
to his feet and lighted the powder in the brazier. Then he adjusted a
gas-mask that Doctor Q had given him, and, returning to the divan, lay
down, pulling a camel's-hair coverlet well over himself as he awaited
results.

There was a rap at the door and a peremptory demand for entrance--a
pause--and a whispered consultation outside.

"Open the door!" cried Locke, again.

As there was no answer, heavy blows were rained upon the door, and
finally it gave way.

Three men stumbled into the room. They stared about, then started to
search the place. One by one they started to cough. Locke, who was the
farthest away from the brazier, seemed to be the least affected.

Finally he spied the note on the table and snatched it up. By the dim
light he read:

  You will never live to capture me. The deadly gas is
  even now killing you.

Locke gasped. There was the sound of a heavy fall behind him. He turned
and saw that one of his men was down.

He took a step forward, when the other pitched on his face.

Locke tried to rescue them, but by this time the deadly fumes had
reached him and he, too, fell to the floor, coughing his life away.

At that moment Balcom got up from the divan and, stepping over Locke's
prostrate body, left the place, forgetting to close the door behind him.

When Zita telephoned Paul, Paul made an immediate appointment for her to
meet him at Doctor Q's, and when she arrived there Paul was already in
conference with the doctor.

Over the telephone Zita had already given Paul a brief account of what
had happened, and thus the two men were prepared with a plan when she
arrived.

"Get Eva to the hypnotist's on River Street," instructed Doctor Q. "Tell
her that I have been hypnotized and that under the spell I will tell
all."

It was a desperate thing for Zita to attempt, after treating the Brents
so shamelessly. But there was no alternative. For she knew well that,
with Balcom, only a success would offset her miserable failure earlier
in the evening. Besides, were not her fortunes tied up with Balcom--or
perhaps with Paul? She did not demur, but left immediately for Brent
Rock to make the attempt, revolving in her mind how she was to do it.

Zita had difficulty in persuading Eva to see her at all, but, once she
had succeeded, the possibility that all the mystery might be cleared up
appealed strongly to Eva. For Zita had framed her story cleverly and was
playing desperately.

"Then I'll meet you at the hypnotist's in about half an hour," agreed
Eva, after Zita had told her how friendless she herself was and how both
Balcom and Paul had refused her aid.

Zita left Brent Rock alone and was passing a dark corner when a hand
reached out and grasped her by the arm and she heard a voice that she
recognized.

"Your failure has made me redouble my efforts," it hissed. "I have just
killed Locke in my apartment and I--"

It was Balcom. But Zita waited to hear no more. Secretly she had always
loved Locke. Though she had worked against him, the very thought that he
might be dead shocked her. She tore herself from the grasp of Balcom
before she could hear more and ran like a deer toward the apartment.

Fortunately, it was not far. She tore up-stairs and through the door
that Balcom had left open.

Everything was as Balcom had left it, except that now the three men lay
quite still. Zita staggered over to a window and threw it open.

Next she got water and extinguished the still smoldering powder. Then,
falling on her knees, she tried to help the stricken men.

Not much time did she spend with the others, but to Locke with great
tenderness she gave most of her attention. Tenderly she bathed his brow
and frantically tried even to breathe her breath into his burning lungs.

Finally she was rewarded by seeing him open his eyes and gaze around. He
looked up at her.

"I'll atone for all the wrong I've done," she sobbed, "only--"

She would have asked him to love her, but she knew that it was useless
and the thought of Eva, caused the words to stick in her throat.

Locke did not understand, and the look on his face showed it.

"I didn't want to give you up," wailed Zita, now forgetting herself. "I
loved you. To prove it--I will help you now. The--the girl you love is
in terrible danger--you must hurry."

It was only too true. Eva had driven immediately to the hypnotist's, and
he had been instructed about her coming. At his door she had knocked,
and an old, evil-visaged man, in flowing robes which were marked in
cabalistic signs, had opened the door. In true fakir fashion he salaamed
almost to the floor while in flowery language he bade her enter.

Fearfully Eva stepped within. Signs of the zodiac, of cross-bones and
skulls, on walls and ceiling met her gaze everywhere. In an alcove Eva
could see a noosed rope hanging, for what purpose she knew not. But its
presence she felt was sinister.

"I--I was told that a Doctor Q would be here," Eva faltered. "I do not
see him."

"Gracious lady," bowed the hyponotist, "I will bring him at once. Pray
be seated."

Eva seated herself before a table upon which there stood a curious
stand, supporting many mirrors. She examined it closely, and as she did
so they all began to move. Each mirror moved on its own axis and she
watched with fatal curiosity. For now a bright light was cast from
behind her on the revolving mirrors and they formed a scintillating
kaleidoscope that was bewildering in its intricacy.

Eva quickly became fascinated. Then she was conscious of a drowsy
feeling stealing over her. She strove to rise, but her knees refused to
support her and she fell back in her chair.

The hypnotist now shut off the machine and, stepping before Eva, made
several passes with his hands.

Eva's eyes closed. The hypnotist turned and made a signal. Several
panels opened simultaneously and into the room there came a number of
emissaries, who crept upon the now completely hypnotized girl.

Nor was that all. A sound, as of the clanking of chains, was heard, and
through an aperture in the wall larger than the others there stalked the
Automaton.

At this very instant Locke and Zita burst into the room and rushed
toward Eva.

The hypnotist slipped around them both and in a moment had caught Zita
in his arms. She struggled to escape, beating him with her little fists
in a fury of rage and fear. But he held her, and an emissary, bringing
ropes, with his help bound her securely.

As for Locke, he made a frantic attempt to reach Eva, but his way was
blocked by a score of emissaries and the Automaton himself. Desperately
Locke dashed at the iron monster, only to be hurled to the floor as
though he were a tiny child.

In another moment the emissaries had bound him and carried him to the
alcove in which hung the noosed rope.

The hypnotist now pulled a lever and the method of the death intended
for Locke was revealed. Directly under the suspended rope was a
trap-door, which opened. Locke gazed down into blackness, nothingness.
An emissary threw some small, heavy object into the yawning hole. For a
long time nothing was heard. Then finally, far, far below there came to
their ears the sound of a distant splash.

The fiendish plan was simple--to hang him and then to cut the rope. His
body would go hurtling down to the subterranean river below and be
carried out to sea.

The hypnotist reversed the lever. The trap-door closed. Locke was
dragged beneath the rope and it was adjusted around his neck.

Even in this awful moment his sole thought was of Eva. Would they throw
her, unconscious, down the same yawning trap?

Powerless, he stood bound, fascinated, as he saw three emissaries seize
her. But instead of dragging her to the trap, they dragged her toward
one of the panels in the wall.

What nameless torture was in store for her?

He struggled furiously to get free to rush to her, but the noose only
tightened on his neck.

The hypnotist stepped to the lever that operated the trap under Locke's
feet and began to pull the lever down.



CHAPTER XXIII


With a crash the hypnotist dropped unconscious to the floor as the
hypnotic machine started to revolve rapidly. The emissaries turned from
Locke and were dazzled by the blinding flashes from the whirling
mirrors.

It was Zita who caused all the commotion. Unnoticed by the thugs, who
were intent on sending Locke to his death and dragging Eva through the
panel, Zita had managed to free herself from her bonds and, true to her
promise to Locke that she would help him, she had risked all for his
sake.

Once free from the ropes, she had seized a heavy bronze vase and, at
just the critical moment of danger, had hurled it at the hypnotist's
head, striking him a terrific blow that had felled him and left him
unconscious on the floor before he could spring the trap. She had then
set the mechanical hypnotic machine in motion, and, standing behind it,
was herself practically invisible. It all happened so quickly that it
seemed like a miracle.

Locke, his hope revived, swiftly grasped the one chance for life that
was left to him. By contracting his muscles he was able to slip out of
the ropes which bound his arms. But since the noosed rope around his
neck held him so that his toes barely touched the floor of the trap, he
could not, try as he might, manage to get the noose free.

Suddenly a plan flashed across his mind. Hanging from the ceiling a few
feet in front of him he could see an enormous chandelier. Throwing his
hands above his head, he grasped the rope, thus relieving the strain on
his neck. Then, snapping his body backward, his feet came in contact
with the wall. With tremendous force he kicked out, causing his body to
swing in an arc toward the chandelier.

It was not until he had wrapped his legs about the branches of the
chandelier that the emissaries noticed what he was doing, so fascinated
were they by the revolving mirrors. Even then they could scarcely resist
the auto-hypnotic powers of the contrivance. Finally, however, with a
shout they came to the attack.

Locke was now hanging head downward. With one hand he succeeded in
loosening the noose from about his neck, while with the other he struck
out, hitting an emissary a fearful swinging blow that sent the fellow
staggering backward, to fall against the lever controlling the
trap-door.

With a crash the trap was sprung, with the pit yawning beneath it.
Struggling, striking, grappling with his assailants, Locke managed to
hurl three of them to their deaths in the underground river below.

Horror-stricken at the fate of their companions, the other emissaries
stepped back, when, to add to their confusion, Zita, with remarkable
strength for so frail a girl, lifted the stand of mirrors and hurled it
among them.

Locke somersaulted to the floor and, seizing the broken stand, used it
as a weapon with deadly effect.

The emissaries turned and fled.

An instant later Locke started to the panel through which Eva had been
dragged, when he heard steps from the other side. It was the emissaries
who had seized Eva, coming back to see what all the rumpus was about.
Locke, forewarned, slipped close to the wall, and, as they passed
through the panel, one at a time, he was able to fell them to the floor.

Then he rushed through the panel just in time to see Eva, pursued by the
Automaton, running toward him.

The very strangeness of her terrible adventure had brought Eva out of
the hypnotic state into which she had been thrown and she clung to Locke
as though she were a child.

Locke took her in his arms and, swiftly evading the slow-moving monster,
dashed back to the hypnotic room, calling to Zita to run to the street.
Thus all three were able to make good their escape.

Eva had purposely left her motor turning over, and therefore it was
barely an instant after they were in the street before they were
streaking out of that quarter of the town.

Zita was now overwhelmed by her feelings, but it was Eva herself who
spoke first.

"Forgive me, Zita," begged Eva, in the rush of her emotions forgetting
all that Zita had done. "But for you, both of us would now be dead."

For some moments Zita could not reply in her silent sadness at seeing
the joy of Locke with this girl.

"I--I forgive you?" she murmured, at length. "It is for you to forgive
me." She paused a moment and choked back a sob; then added, bravely,
"I--I can even wish for your happiness, my dear; my hope is dead."

Only Locke understood, and as he watched Zita he resolved to do all he
could for her, realizing that some one else had made her a victim of her
love and jealousy.

All breathed a sigh of relief when at last they came again in sight of
the lights of Brent Rock.

There was just the trace of a shadow to cloud the momentary happiness at
their safe arrival, as, on the steps, Zita refused to enter.

"I--I must say good-by," she murmured, wistfully, turning to go out into
the night alone.

Nothing that either Locke or Eva could say seemed to swerve her purpose.

"Can't you see?" she exclaimed, finally, turning to Locke. "Balcom,
Paul, and Doctor Q all trust me now. I can help you solve the mystery
better if I leave the house."

This was so evident that Locke and Eva were forced to consent. They took
her back to the city, leaving her where she could be unobserved, then
returned in a very hopeful mood again to Brent Rock.

"I think she can and will help us," declared Eva, intuitively.

"Yes," agreed Locke, slowly, "and if Zita finds the record of her birth
I believe we shall solve the mystery."

Worn out with the terrors through which she had passed, Eva bade Locke
an affectionate good-night and went to her room, while he went to the
laboratory and tried again to find an antidote for the Madagascar
madness, a work that kept him up late and to which he returned again
early the following morning.

It was on that following day, in the River Road apartment of De Luxe
Dora, that Paul and she were having a demi-monde lovers' quarrel. Paul
was intoxicated, and Dora may have been angry about that. Or it may have
been that she was jealous of some other woman. However, they were
quarreling fiercely when there came a knock at the door.

"You open it," flashed Dora to Paul.

He demurred a moment, then, changing his mind, consented and crossed to
the door, while Dora ran to her own room and hid.

Paul was very much surprised to find that the visitor was Zita, much
excited.

"I want you to help me on something of great importance," she exclaimed,
almost before she had entered.

"Why, certainly! Anything you desire!" hiccoughed Paul. "Come on in."

Zita entered the apartment and they crossed over to the chaise-longue,
where Zita made her direct plea.

"Help me find the record of my birth," she begged.

Paul pulled his wandering wits together and thought a moment; then a
particularly crafty look came into his eyes as he detached a key from
his key-ring.

"Here, take this," he directed. "It's the key to my father's apartment.
The records you want are there. He and I have quarreled and you can go
as far as you like."

Zita took the key eagerly, thanked Paul profusely, and started for the
door.

She had barely passed the threshold before Dora, who had heard all, was
at the telephone in her own room and was angrily calling up Balcom at
his apartment.

Balcom, assisted by his Madagascan servant, was at the moment packing a
trunk, perhaps preparatory to a hasty flight, should that become
necessary. The moment the telephone rang he picked up the receiver and
nearly choked with anger as he heard Dora's whispered voice over the
wire.

"Paul has given Zita the key to your apartment," Dora hastened, "and she
is coming over to steal the record of her birth."

"She is--eh? Well, I'll take care of that," growled Balcom, as he rang
off.

Balcom went to a drawer in the table and from it took a large book.
Rapidly he turned over the pages until he found what he wanted. Then he
made an erasure and an entry and replaced the book in the drawer. Next
he called the servant.

"When she comes, you make her a prisoner," he directed. "Understand?"

The Madagascan nodded and raised one of Balcom's hands to his own
forehead as a sign of his fidelity.

Balcom went out and the servant stepped into the empty trunk to await
the arrival of Zita.

But it was a very different person with whom the Madagascan had to
contend in the end.

On leaving Dora's apartment, Zita telephoned Brent Rock, and Locke
answered immediately. Locke readily agreed to make the search of
Balcom's apartment in Zita's stead.

When the Madagascan heard a key in the door he stealthily peeped from
his hiding-place and saw, instead of Zita, Locke.

Locke's back was turned, and the Madagascan, undaunted, sprang from the
trunk and leaped, catlike, on Locke's back. But he had not reckoned on
his antagonist. Locke, always on guard, was not taken quite by surprise.
He caught the savage in a jiu-jitsu hold, throwing him over his head to
land in a far corner of the room.

In spite of the fall, the Madagascan bounded to his feet, like a rubber
ball, but a few stiff jabs from Locke soon took all the fight out of him
and he lay still, completely knocked out.

Locke made a hurried but systematic search of the room, and finally
found the book that he sought, taking it and returning to Eva at Brent
Rock.

After telephoning, Zita went directly to Doctor Q's laboratory, to which
she was admitted after he had seen her through his periscope
annunciator.

The doctor was fumbling with a test-tube, from which some heavy fumes
were issuing. He motioned her to a chair, near a table upon which were
many papers which looked to Zita as though they might be of importance.
Always quick to act, Zita raised her hand as if to arrange her hair, and
as she did so she purposely knocked the test-tube out of the doctor's
hand. The acid spattered on some of the papers, quickly setting them
afire.

Doctor Q, wildly excited, started to beat out the flames, and in so
doing allowed several unseared letters to flutter to the floor. One in
particular arrested Zita's attention. It was a drawing, a plan of some
sort, and was marked, "Plan of Den."

Zita placed her foot on it, and, while Doctor Q was engaged with the
small blaze, she reached down and, hastily folding it, thrust it into
one of the low shoes she was wearing. Then she went to Doctor Q's
assistance and in a jiffy the fire was out. The doctor was furiously
angry at her, and, feeling that she had accomplished all that she might
expect, she expressed her regrets for the accident and went out before
his anger became any worse.

Thus it was that Zita arrived at Brent Rock only a few moments after
Locke, whom she found in the library with Eva, turning over the pages of
the record he had secured at Balcom's.

The record purported to be a record of marriages of Wallace County, New
York, and Locke finally found an entry that read, "Peter Brent and Rita
Dane."

For a moment Zita was stunned. It was her mother's name.

Locke smiled. "Yes, Zita," he said, quietly, "for a moment Eva and I
were surprised, too. But it's a palpable forgery. Balcom has tried to
prove that you and Eva are half-sisters, but look."

He handed her a powerful magnifying-glass and through it the clumsy
forgery stood out in all its crudeness, showing plainly where other
names had been erased and these inserted.

Zita was greatly disappointed, for she had thought that at last she
would establish her identity. Then she remembered the paper she had
hidden in her shoe. She slipped the paper out and handed it to Locke,
who was greatly excited over its importance.

They were still studying it when Locke heard a strange noise, as of
shuffling feet, in the hallway. He jumped to the door, and there, in the
dim light of the stairway leading down to the Graveyard of Genius, he
saw a knot of men carrying another man, who was evidently helpless.
Locke started forward, but they were gone.

Eva hurried up-stairs to her father's room, fearing something was wrong.

"Father's gone!" she cried, despairingly.

Locke threw himself full against the door at the head of the cellar
stairs which the men had slammed shut. He tried to batter it down, but
it was too strongly built. Then he drew his revolver and with the barrel
started to push out the pins from the hinges. He worked feverishly and
succeeded in driving the top pin out. Then, using it as a lever, he was
able to pull the door from its frame.

He dashed down the stairs, but was late by only the fraction of a
second, as a metal hand was just closing the huge door to the Graveyard
of Genius. He fumbled at the secret combination, and as he was doing so
Eva and Zita joined him.

The door swung open and they rushed through. But the place was deserted.

"They've carried your father through some secret passage," exclaimed
Locke. "That would explain much that is strange that has happened about
the house, too."

Just then Zita stepped forward with the plan in her hand. "See," she
cried, "there is a secret passage marked on this."

Locke studied the plan for some time, but whoever had drawn it had
carefully concealed both the exact location of the passage and the
method by which it was reached. As he searched, however, an idea
occurred to Locke.

"I'll rig a trap with a camera," he decided, finally.

A few minutes later he returned to the room with his special
quick-shutter camera, a flash-bag, and a ball of light twine. Carefully
he focused the camera on the wall where the plan showed the secret
passage to be. Then he rigged up the flash-bag and connected the whole
with the twine, which he strung all about the Graveyard of Genius, so
that, should any part of the wall move, it would cause the twine to
break which in turn would at the same time release the shutter of the
camera and explode the powder of the flashlight. Thus, without any
direct human agency, a photograph would be taken.

Next he attached wires and ran them to the library above, where he
installed an annunciator, the needle of which would indicate when the
trap was sprung and the picture taken. Fascinated, the two girls
watched. Eva was almost fainting with grief at the terrible fate that
had overtaken her father. Even in his sickness, at least she had had
him. But now he was gone--to what she could only guess. Locke tried to
console her as they paced the library above, even though he realized
that such consolation was hollow.

It was perhaps half an hour later when suddenly the needle of the
annunciator began to vibrate rapidly. All leaped to their feet and ran
down the stairs to the Graveyard.

At once Locke rushed to the camera, put in a slide, and took out the
plate-holder. Then they hurried up to his laboratory.

There Locke procured a developing-bag and started to work. Nervously and
impatiently Eva and Zita watched him at his task.

At last the negative was ready and Locke drew it from the bag and held
it to the light.

There, glaring out of the plate, was the devilish face of Balcom!

Eva and Zita both uttered a cry of astonishment and consternation. Even
Locke was amazed. But the strongest feeling he had was anger as he
turned to them.

"You two take this plan," he exclaimed. "It shows a den with an exit
indicated. Get some one to go with you; find the place and wait for me
there. I can find the secret entrance from the Graveyard from this
negative--and I'm going through it."

Balcom, in the passageway between the Graveyard of Genius and the
Automaton's den, was livid with fury. He realized that his picture had
been taken, surmised that the secret passage would be found and that
some assault on the den would be attempted. But he had had no time to
locate the camera, which Locke had hidden well, nor had he dared to
search longer for it when he heard Locke bounding down the stairs from
the library.

Accordingly, he had retreated and hastened back through the passageway
into the Automaton's den.

"Quick!" he shouted to the horde of emissaries in the place. "Bring
dynamite, electric wires, and a rack-bar. They think they have us
trapped. But if they try to follow me here, I tell you it will mean
certain death to them."

The emissaires hastened to obey him. They brought the explosive and the
means to detonate it, and carried the stuff into the passageway, where
they made the connections. An emissary stepped forward and volunteered
to use the rack-bar when the time came, but Balcom waved him away.

"No," he growled. "No one can take my revenge from me. I'll do the
killing."

The emissaries fell back and went into the den.

Balcom was making some final adjustments when the great rock separating
the passageway from the Graveyard of Genius swung slowly on its balanced
hinges.

Startled from his work, even though he had expected the thing, Balcom
looked up, and in the passageway caught a glimpse of the dim outline of
his arch-enemy, Locke.

Balcom had been right. Locke had found the clue to the secret entrance
to the tunnel.

He worked feverishly to complete the final connection, but almost before
he finished Locke charged and the battle was on.

Up and down the passageway they fought. Although Locke was the younger
man, yet in Balcom he found a giant of strength.

It was a fight between these two alone, for no emissary, no Automaton,
now entered that passage of death.

Neither uttered a sound. Neither had a weapon. It was the primitive
struggle of man to man for life.

But now Locke's youth and clean living began to tell in his favor and he
sensed that his adversary was weakening. He redoubled his efforts.

After a particularly vicious blow from Locke, Balcom threw up his hands
and toppled over backward--in the direction of the rack-bar itself.

Locke tried to throw Balcom's body out of the way. It was too late. With
a thud Balcom crashed full upon the plunger, driving it home.

There was a blinding flash, a dull roar, and the earth rocked. Huge
boulders were tossed about like feathers and the roof of the passage
caved in.

Balcom was killed instantly. Locke, with better fortune, had been hurled
to the ground, where the earth and rocks, in falling, had formed a sort
of arch over his body.

He was alive, though barely conscious. He knew that soon a search would
be made for him. But, buried under tons of earth and rock, could any
rescuers reach him in time? Was this the end?



CHAPTER XXIV


For a long time Locke lay quite still. The shock to his nervous system
had been terrific, and, although physically almost uninjured, he had
lost his usual grip on himself and felt very helpless.

He felt terribly tired. The thought came to him that he had done enough,
reached his limit of endurance. He craved sleep, a long sleep, and
forgetfulness.

But youth and the undying desire for life and accomplishment won over
this deadly mood and he began to take note of his position. His mind
became clearer and the ringing in his ears, caused by the explosion,
gradually passed away.

Then, like a flash, the question entered his mind of how he was able,
buried under tons of debris, to breathe so freely. Why was the air not
vitiated?

He tried to move slowly and quietly so as not to dislodge any of the
rocks that formed an arch over his body. He succeeded beyond his
expectations, for his body was in a sort of natural pocket and not one
of his limbs was inextricably bound. Thus, twisting his body, he managed
to draw himself into what seemed to be an even more open space.

He hardly dared to breathe, so fearful was he that any moment he might
reach a point where further progress would be impossible. He moved
slowly, gropingly, then suddenly he recoiled in horror, for his hand had
come in contact with something which he recognized to be a man's face.

In his shaken condition it was some seconds before he could control the
wild jangling of his nerves. Then he searched his pockets and, finding a
match, lighted it. There, covered to the armpits by dirt and rocks, was
the body of Balcom, whose last act before his own death had been an
attempt to murder Locke.

Locke shuddered and redoubled his efforts to escape from the gruesome
place. There still remained a small hole through which he must climb.
But he negotiated it successfully, and in another moment he was
aboveground and free.

Eva and Zita had followed Locke's instructions, but had not waited to
find any one to go with them to the exit from the den. Nor did they wait
at the exit more than a few minutes.

Eva had taken a small electric torch with her, and, becoming impatient
at the non-appearance of Locke, she flashed it about as she followed the
lines and marks indicated on the plan of the den.

She and Zita were surprised at the magnitude of the entrance passageway
they uncovered. They had had to make a detour in order to reach the
beach at a point where it was indicated that the exit of the den would
be found, and even with the plan, which they consulted at every step,
they almost missed their objective, for the cleft in the rocks slanted
inward and was difficult to see even when one was standing directly in
front of it.

They had peered into the cavern and were waiting when they heard the
explosion. They gazed at each other questioningly and with apprehension.

"What do you think it is?" asked Eva, questioningly.

Zita could, of course, offer no explanation and did not try.

Impulsively both girls took a very foolish chance. Both had thought of
Locke and they started to run into the cave entrance and toward the
sound of the explosion.

Zita was in the lead, and it was at this moment that the panic-stricken
emissaries came tumbling and fighting their way from the den. Zita
shrieked to Eva to save herself, and Eva, although unwilling to leave
her, knew that now she could do nothing to save Zita, and took her only
chance of escape.

As for Zita, the emissaries were too frightened to pay any attention to
her. But behind them came the iron monster, without nerves, it seemed.
The Automaton saw her and pinned her to the rock wall until she was
unconscious. Then, picking her up as though she were a feather, it
carried her out to the beach.

Locke, the moment he freed himself from the hole which had so nearly
been his grave, ran staggering toward the beach, for he felt
instinctively that Eva and Zita were in danger.

Eva and Locke must have started at about the same time, she in her
flight away from the Automaton, and Locke to find the den exit, for they
met on the cliffside.

"Thank God you are safe!" exclaimed Eva.

Locke impulsively threw his arms about her and kissed her as they
related their narrow escapes.

Locke resolved to follow the trail of the Automaton and to rescue Zita.
Also he had hopes of rescuing Eva's father at the same time. Eva wished
to accompany him, but he would not think of it, and insisted that she
return to Brent Rock and keep all the doors barricaded. In fact, he
followed her almost to the house and saw that she entered safely, then
hurried back to the beach.

With the aid of Eva's electric torch, which she had given him, it was no
difficult task to trace the huge footsteps of the Automaton, though, one
by one, the footprints of the emissaries took divergent directions,
probably for the very purpose of confusing just such a pursuit.

He followed the main track, however, until he came to the banks of a
small stream, and there the trail was completely lost, for the monster
had stepped into the water. Locke waded to the other bank and hunted for
further tracks, but there were none to be found. The Automaton had
undoubtedly waded up-stream to the point where he had decided to dispose
of Zita.

Nothing daunted, Locke started wading upstream. This stream ran in a
gully between the rocks and the cliffs on either side, which were very
high. Time and time again Locke thought of turning back for more
searchers. But he hated to return to Eva without at least some news, and
therefore he persisted.

He was at last rewarded, for just as he was about to turn to the right
where the stream made a bend, he thought he heard a low laugh. He
stopped dead in his tracks. Again the sound of the broken laughter came
to him.

Cautiously Locke moved slowly forward until he could see around the
bend.

It was a strange sight that met his gaze. Under an enormous overhanging
rock he saw about fifteen men standing, while against the cliff he could
distinguish the form of a girl. It was undoubtedly Zita. Sitting on a
rock and quite close to her was Peter Brent.

The emissaries were clustered around the central figure, which was
waving its arms of steel and indicating what they should do. As the
Automaton gesticulated, tiny points of fire gleamed from its eyes.

Seen in the light of the lanterns held by the emissaries, the Automaton
never looked more terrifying. Even Locke himself, who had encountered
the monster so often, felt a cold chill as he watched him and his men.

Locke turned noiselessly, for well he knew that alone he could do
nothing. He started to retrace his steps to Brent Rock, and no sooner
had he arrived there than he told Eva that her father still lived and
was uninjured, and that Zita was safe in the new den of the Automaton
which he had discovered. Then he telephoned to his chief to send
officers immediately to Brent Rock.

After the explosion that had killed Balcom and had come so near to
killing Locke, when he had finally rescued himself and had drawn himself
out of the hole, there was one who watched him.

It was none other than that mysterious being, Doctor Q. What twist of
that disordered brain had brought him to the spot was not at once
evident. However, as soon as Locke had left to go toward Eva, Doctor Q
came from his hiding-place, madly smiling and wagging his head. He
peered into the hole and, seeing nothing, lighted a match and thrust it
far down into the darkness.

There was a sharp intake of his breath, for the match revealed to him
the dead face of Herbert Balcom.

Doctor Q drew back and stood erect.

"Dead!" he muttered, as he ran his fingers through his hair dazedly.

"Dead!"

A strange thing happened. The mad light fled from the eyes of Doctor Q
and the twisted brain seemed to become clear.

Suddenly in the very field the old man knelt down and prayed a thankful
prayer for his recovery.

What was the strange power which Balcom had wielded over him, which
death had snapped?

The officers arrived at Brent Rock and Locke was ready. The party left
immediately to go to the rescue of Brent and Zita, and it took them only
a short time to reach the spot which Locke had located.

Disposing some of his force below the hanging rock, Locke and some
others went farther upstream. The two parties looked at their watches,
waiting a certain time agreed on.

Then the two parties moved toward each other. As they came in sight of
the spot, Locke experienced a keen disappointment. He could see no one.
Advancing farther, he discovered Brent still on the same rock. Guarding
him were three emissaries. That was all. Zita, the Automaton, and the
other emissaries were gone.

The three emissaries, seeing the numbers opposed to them, did not even
offer to resist. They were placed under arrest, but nothing could induce
them to tell where the others had gone.

To fail Zita after she had so nobly saved his life in the lair of the
hypnotist was an unwelcome thought to Locke, and he resolved to rescue
her at any risk. But first he felt he must restore Brent to his
daughter, and therefore the party returned to Brent Rock.

Eva was beside herself with joy at the safe return of her father, and
led him tenderly to his room and sent immediately for the doctor in
order that he might not suffer from his exposure.

While this was going on at Brent Rock, Paul Balcom was rifling his
father's papers in the apartment where Balcom had lived. He had
unceremoniously thrown letters and documents all over the floor in his
mad search for something. Finally he found what he was looking for, and,
smiling triumphantly as he read the paper, he thrust it into his pocket
and hurriedly left the place, not stopping even to pick up the papers
scattered all about.

Zita had evidently been watching the house, for no sooner had he left
than she ran up the front steps of the Balcom apartment.

In some way she had procured a key and let herself in. Then began a
feverish search very similar to that which Paul had instituted. Only,
this time Zita picked up all the papers, arranging them and placing them
back in the drawers, after scanning their contents.

She had almost finished when a small book lying in a distant corner of
the room caught her eye.

At a glance she saw that it was a diary. Turning the pages rapidly, she
finally came to one over which she fairly gloated, for its information,
sold to the proper parties, might make her independent for life.

Even as she was gloating over her find there came the sound of many feet
in the front hallway. Zita had no time to run out of the room before the
door opened, giving entrance to six emissaries, surrounding her.

The emissaries locked all the doors and tramped out. Only their leader
remained for a moment to throw a parting shot.

"Remember," he threatened, "this house is watched. See that you act
accordingly. You will, if you know what's good for you."

Then he slammed the door and locked it behind him.

For a long time Zita sat there, too despairing to move. Then her ear
caught the sound of stealthy footsteps in the hall, and she ran and hid
behind the portières. The door opened slowly and Paul stole again into
the room.

Having nothing to fear from him, Zita came from her hiding-place and
confronted him. Paul was startled for a moment at her sudden appearance,
but recovered himself on seeing that it was Zita.

The paper that he had stolen from his father's desk had proved to him
that Zita had become highly desirable, and he was not one to miss such
an opportunity.

As he questioned her, Zita told him briefly her story, or, rather, such
portions of it as she thought it desirable for him to know. Paul, in
turn, assured her of his undying friendship and something more. His
earnestness almost made it seem true, and he talked in his most
fascinating and attractive manner. He finally ended his conversation
with a direct proposal of marriage. But he had overstepped the mark and
Zita was not to be fooled.

"Paul"--she laughed scornfully now--"you should be on the stage. It
needed only this proposal to prove to me that I am really Peter Brent's
daughter."

"Peter Brent's daughter!" he exclaimed. "No, not his daughter--the
daughter of Doctor Q."

"Impossible!" recoiled Zita, astounded at the assertion.

"True, Zita," he asserted, "absolutely true. Here, look at this paper."

With hands that trembled, Zita took the paper and read an amazing table.
Unless the paper lied, she was indeed the daughter of Doctor Q.

There was only one thing to do and that was to confront Doctor Q at once
and force him to a full explanation.

In order not to antagonize Paul, Zita was now particularly nice to him.
Her object was to get him to consent to her escape, so that she could
inform Locke and Eva of her discovery and all three confront Doctor Q
and wrest from him the story.

At first Paul would not let her go unless she consented to marry him,
but Zita played him skilfully, so that finally he unlocked the door.

Then Zita flew down the stairs and to a telephone around the corner,
where she called up Locke, to whom she told as much as she dared over
the wire.

Locke told her that he and Eva would meet her within an hour in the
lobby of one of the city's largest hotels, and Zita hastened there,
where she waited impatiently until they arrived.

Doctor Q admitted them immediately, and they noticed with astonishment
the wonderful change for the better that had taken place in the man. For
with the restoration of his mind all the evil lines of his face had been
obliterated, as it were, and in the place of the doddering half-imbecile
they found a genial, kindly, and distinguished gentleman who, with the
utmost hospitality, brought chairs and begged them to be seated.

Zita, in her anxiety to know the truth, could hardly contain her
impatience. Tossed from pillar to post, dominated once by the strong,
evil mind of Balcom, Zita had run the gamut of human emotions before she
had barely passed her girlhood.

Seeing her agitation, Locke undertook to interrogate the doctor.

"Doctor Q," he began, "I believe you know the perpetrator of the crimes
to which we have all been subjected, and we have come to you in all
friendliness to ask you to clear this mystery up for us. Balcom is
dead," added Locke, pointedly.

"Yes, I know that," interrupted Doctor Q.

"You know?" all asked. "How do you know?"

The doctor told of having seen Balcom's body. But at first he could not
explain why he was in the spot at the time.

Then Locke went on to tell him of the document that Paul had shown to
Zita.

Doctor Q sank heavily into a chair.

"That document that Paul Balcom showed Zita," he exclaimed, after a
moment, "told the truth."

All were startled. Zita would have risen with a cry had not Locke gently
touched her arm.

"Tell us the story," demanded Locke of Q.

For some moments Doctor Q seemed to be collecting his scattered
thoughts, as though still a haze hung over his mind. Then he began to
speak, becoming more certain of his strange story.

"It was many years ago," he began, as all drew closer about him,
listening breathlessly to his narrative, "and all these years I have
been quite mad. The man now lying dead, Balcom, was the cause of all
these years of misery."

The old man passed his hand over his head as though to wipe away a
recollection of hate and fear, then resumed:

"I was an inventor in those days, and very successful. I had built up a
great fortune, had built a great house, and in that house I had a
beautiful wife and two of the loveliest children, a boy and a girl, that
ever man had."

He paused again, then went on:

"One day, a man entered my life and proposed to put my inventions on the
market very advantageously. He was suave, polished, and apparently a
gentleman. At any rate, I trusted him. You all knew him. It was Herbert
Balcom.

"At the time I did not know that in order to give my inventions a clear
field the inventions of hundreds of poor inventors were to be
suppressed. I know now, Miss Brent, that your own father was led along
in the scheme, even as I was. Balcom possessed the master mind and we
were all as children in his hands."

Doctor Q stopped a moment. It was evident that he was speaking with
restraint when it came to Peter Brent, perhaps glossing over what the
man had done. Though he did not say so, the mere fact that at last Brent
had seen the light and had planned a wholesale restitution weighed
supremely in Doctor Q's mind.

"One day," he resumed, "Balcom came to me in what I know now was merely
feigned excitement and fear. 'They're after us!' he cried. 'Brent and I
have done our best--but the government is after you, and we can't
protect you any longer.'

"Then for the first time Balcom told me of the real purposes of the
company, told me that he had been drawn into it by Brent. It was all a
tissue of lies--lies that drove me from my home and country. I hated
your father with an undying hate, Miss Brent.

"Well, to make the sad story short, I took my wife and children and
sailed secretly for the farthermost parts of the world. Off the coast of
Madagascar, in the Straits, a typhoon came up. The vessel was driven on
the rocks and wrecked. I was cast ashore, and I vaguely remember how,
for days and weeks, I patrolled that beach, subsisting on shell-fish,
imploring God, day and night, to restore my wife and children to me.
Then my mind gave way.

"The natives took me in, thinking me a god. They took me many miles
inland. Savages, the world over, are superstitious about the demented,
and so they treated me kindly. They installed me in a thatched hut of my
own and made me a leader.

"How many months, years, I stayed with them I do not know. But, true to
my mechanical instinct, I rigged up a forge and improved many of the
crude instruments of the natives, principally those of agriculture.

"But transcending every other feeling, I hated Brent. In my madness, I
conceived the idea that I would construct an iron giant that, upon its
completion, if I could only procure the brain of a man who had died of a
lightning stroke or other electric agency, I could, by installing this
brain in the brain cavity of the giant, give it volition, make it a
superman without feeling or conscience. It was a mad idea--but I was
mad.

"At about this time Balcom came to Madagascar. He found me and, knowing
my intense hatred of Peter Brent, he cruelly added fuel to the fire.
Already he must have known that Brent was coming to his senses and
planning his great restitution to genius.

"He promised me that if I would come to New York with him he would
secure an electrocuted brain so that I could perfect my steel automaton
and obtain my revenge. I was easily persuaded and I sailed with Balcom,
bringing the iron monster with me."

A strange light gleamed in the old man's eyes as he spoke, not the light
of madness, but of kindliness now.

"Children," he said, at length, "I have, during these lucid moments,
watched you all closely. Call it instinct if you will, but you, Zita,
and you, Quentin, seem to be particularly dear to me now. To-day,
returning from the scene of the explosion, with every faculty not only
clear, but rather sharpened by long disuse, I pieced the years, the
months, even the days together. I searched in an old trunk and I
found--this."

It was a list of those rescued from the steamer _Magnifique_, and with
amazement they read the names among the passengers:

  QUENTIN LOCKE
  ZITA LOCKE

There was a short note at the bottom of the list, to the effect that no
trace of either the father or the mother of the two children had been
found.

Paper after paper which Doctor Q had found, where they had been
preserved by Balcom, proved the identification and the story.

Locke's head was in a whirl at the sudden change in relationships, but
not more so than Zita's. Finally Zita could stand the strain no longer.
What had been a hopeless love was now explained.

"My--my brother!" she sobbed, as she buried her head on Quentin's
shoulder.

Both turned to Doctor Q--Doctor Q no longer, but really Quentin Locke,
senior, whence had come the "Q."

His eyes filled with tears and his voice choked.

"My--children," he murmured, "I see that it is not too late for me to
find happiness, after all. Our enemy is dead. It was Balcom, of course,
who was in that frame of armor, who used that terrible poison that stole
away Brent's mind. The iron monster will walk no more. Henceforth Peter
Brent and Miss Eva and you, Quentin--will--"

Doctor Q had not time to finish the sentence.

The door burst inward.

The Automaton, its eyes aflame, stalked in among them!



CHAPTER XXV


As the Automaton crashed its way into the room all sprang back
terrified, aghast.

For this monster, they had felt sure, was now nothing but an inanimate
shell of armor, since Balcom was dead.

Yet here it was, stalking toward them and evidently as bent on
destruction as ever.

What did it mean?

In an instant Locke had helped Eva through an open window and turned to
assist Zita. But Doctor Q forestalled him and had already taken her in
his arms and had fled with her into another room.

For the moment Locke was surprised to see that the Automaton totally
ignored him. Instead, it stalked to the door and wrenched it open.
There, cowering in the hall, in abject terror, was De Luxe Dora.

How and why she had come there was a mystery. But the Automaton did not
hesitate. It raised its hands and, as it did so, long flashes of blue
flame leaped from the steel finger-tips toward the unfortunate woman.
Once she shrieked, then crumpled and fell dead.

The monster then turned its attention to Locke, striding toward him with
a menacing gesture. But the diversion due to Dora had given all just the
time they needed to make good their flight. Locke threw a chair to
impede the progress of the monster, and then, as he saw that all the
others were safe, he lightly vaulted out of the window himself, to find
them waiting for him in the little yard below.

"What do you make of it now--father?" asked Locke of Doctor Q. "Balcom
is dead. Who is now in the iron man?"

Doctor Q shrugged. It was a mystery to him as much as ever, and he
seemed unable to throw any light on it.

"But De Luxe Dora," queried Zita. "What had she come for? Why was she
struck down--first?"

Again Doctor Q shook his head.

From the yard they could hear the Automaton's heavy tread in the room
and, as there was nothing to be gained by remaining, they left the yard
and hurried away out of the neighborhood.

They had not gone far, however, when Doctor Locke came to a full stop.

"I must go back," he exclaimed.

For a moment all thought he had again taken leave of his senses. Yet he
was obdurate.

"Miss Brent--Eva," he explained, "you know that a grievous wrong has
been done your father through me. He lies ill of that most terrible of
diseases, the laughing madness. I alone possess the antidote, and it is
in the laboratory that we have just left. I pray that that iron beast
has not destroyed it."

At the mere words Locke turned as if to go back for it.

"No, Quentin," remonstrated his father. "You must remain to guard Eva."

"Then I will go," insisted Zita. "I am not afraid now. Even when the
monster carried me off I overcame my fear, watched my chance, and
escaped from his den, where he left me. I will go."

Finally Doctor Locke agreed that Zita might return with him, remain
outside, and give the alarm if anything happened to him. Thus, after
many remonstrances, it was agreed, and Eva and Quentin went on to Brent
Rock.

No one had molested Brent in the mean time. The terror caused by the
explosion, as well as the loss of Balcom, for the time, at least, had
evidently cowed the emissary band.

While Eva made Brent comfortable, Locke went immediately to the
laboratory, where he had something which he considered very important.

"Quentin," remarked Eva, as she joined him, "your father spoke the
truth, I believe, when he said that it was Balcom in the Automaton, But
if that was the case, who is in it now?"

Locke shook his head dubiously. "I give it up," he replied. "It's too
deep for me. But whoever it is, he won't trouble us long, I'll wager.
I've been perfecting a special gun and an explosive-gas bullet. No one
can shoot the monster. Nothing seems to stop it. But this weapon, I
think, will at last prove a match for it."

Eva, who had always had the deepest interest in Quentin's work, listened
attentively as he explained in detail the working of the new weapon.

"And now we come to the actual loading of these asphyxiating-poison
bullets," concluded Quentin. "I really must ask you, Eva, to go into
another room, for it is dangerous work and you must not risk your life
here."

"But, Quentin," remonstrated Eva, "we've risked our lives so often
together that I have ceased to be afraid of anything."

Quentin was insistent, and finally Eva agreed.

As Doctor Q and Zita neared the former's laboratory, they saw that all
the lights in the house were out. Doctor Locke, against Zita's advice,
insisted on going in, and told his daughter to wait outside. It was then
that Zita disobeyed her father for the first time, for she flatly
refused to be left behind.

"No," she insisted. "I found a father to-night and what we must risk we
risk together. It is no worse than the peril from which I once escaped."

There was no reasoning with Zita, and they let themselves into the
little yard and went up the back steps. When they came to the door of
the laboratory they listened intently.

There was no sound. Then they mustered up courage and cautiously entered
the room. For a long time they stood quite still, not daring to move.
Finally Doctor Q suddenly lighted a match.

The room was in terrible confusion, as though cyclone-swept.

Doctor Locke turned on an electric bulb and the room was flooded with
light.

Everywhere there were traces of the Automaton. But the monster itself
had left the place. Doctor Locke crossed to the other door. There was a
sight that made them shudder. The body of De Luxe Dora was still huddled
in a heap on the floor. She was quite dead.

But Doctor Locke had no time now to waste. Moments were precious. At any
instant they might again be attacked. Feverishly he began to search for
the bottle containing the antidote.

At last he found it, carefully hidden, and in a bottle fortunately not
broken.

They left everything as it was and hurriedly left the place, on their
way to Brent Rock.

Meanwhile, in one of the worst quarters of the city, down in the cellar
of a huge warehouse, a mob of emissaries were gathered. They were
discussing the things that had led up to the explosion in the
Automaton's den, Balcom's death, and the arrest of their three pals.
Plans for the future they discussed, but, with their leader gone, these
hardened men were still as helpless as children.

Suddenly above the din of voices a strange, familiar sound was heard, a
sound as of clanking chains, and the blood froze in the veins of every
man present. Then with wild shouts of terror they scattered in every
direction, for the Automaton was stalking toward them.

Balcom, the man who had given the iron man life, was dead. And yet the
Automaton was among them!

That night, in the holds of many vessels and on the brake-beams of many
trains pulling away from the city, emissaries who once were slaves of
the Automaton were fleeing the city in every direction.

When Zita and her father arrived at Brent Rock, Locke was still working
at his new gas-gun. Eva was in the library, but when she heard the
voices in the hallway she ran to welcome them.

"Oh, I'm so glad you've both returned safe," she cried. Then, unable to
withstand the suspense longer, she asked, "Have you brought it--the
antidote?"

When Doctor Locke told her that the bottle that contained it was safely
stowed in his pocket Eva sank, overwrought, into a chair and cried with
simple relief and joy.

In a moment, however, she had gained control of herself, dashed the
tears from her eyes, and almost seized the bottle from Doctor Locke.

"Bring him down here, my dear," cautioned the doctor, still holding the
bottle. "You would not know how to administer it."

Eva ran to her father's room, stopping only long enough to summon
Quentin, then together they led Brent down-stairs.

Brent's condition was still pitiable. His mind was a total blank. These
people--Doctor Q, Zita, Quentin, even his own daughter--meant nothing to
him. He lived and breathed. But no ray of light entered the poor brain.

They guided his halting steps into the library as if he had been
something less than a child, and placed him in the same big armchair on
which he had sunk the fatal morning that the fumes from the candles had
overcome him.

Doctor Q drew out the bottle and, telling Zita to bring a glass of
water, measured out a few drops of the antidote, pouring them into the
glass. Then he moved over to Brent and tried to get him to drink it. For
a long time Brent merely clenched his teeth, but, once he was induced to
taste the mixture, he drank it eagerly.

For ages, it seemed to those watching, Brent sat as before, vacantly
gazing straight ahead of him--so long, in fact, that a terrible fear
entered Eva's heart that, perhaps, after all, the antidote would fail
and that her father would remain without reason until the day of his
death.

Then slowly a change was noticeable in his eyes, and all leaned forward
with overpowering intentness. What they were watching was like a
miracle. Slowly, very slowly, they saw the soul creep back into those
poor, mad eyes.

Brent had been staring directly at his daughter as she watched him
anxiously. Now a puzzled look came over his face and, raising a hand, he
rubbed his forehead.

Then a wonderful light seemed to shine from his eyes and he held out his
arms to Eva.

With a sob of excited happiness Eva rushed to embrace him.

As Locke stood behind him, Zita and Doctor Q walked to the other end of
the room, turning sidewise to the group.

Suddenly Brent turned his eyes away from Eva and noticed Doctor Q for
the first time.

"Who is that?" he asked Eva.

"Why, father, that is--"

At the sound of voices Doctor Q had turned around.

"You!" gasped Brent, as he sank back into his chair.

The look on his face was strange, perhaps half fear, half shame.

Doctor Q came no nearer for a moment, while Eva hastened to explain what
had happened. Then unsteadily Brent rose and walked over to the doctor.

"You are alive!" he exclaimed. "You have come again into my life so that
at last I can make restitution. My daughter has explained to me all that
you have suffered. Believe me it was through my own weakness. It seems
incredible that any man could be so infamous, so utterly without moral
scruples, as was Balcom. I believed the villain implicitly. That is, and
can be, my only excuse."

The doctor placed his hand on Brent's shoulder.

"I can understand only too well," he remarked, "for I, too, believed in
Balcom. You were a reticent man and so my dealings were all with him. I
was gullible, an inventor, not a business man. I should have come to you
before I fled the country, I suppose. Say no more about it, for I
forgive you from the bottom of my heart."

But Brent insisted on explaining that at least he had had a desire to
right the great wrongs.

"I can remember it all now," he continued. "I was about to make
restitution when a man connected with the company--I am sure now that he
was an adventurer, a crook, in the pay of Balcom, although Balcom
probably tried to hide it--came to me. His name, as I remember it, was
Flint. I was about to write a letter that showed that it was my
intention to right a wrong, when--something interrupted me and--the rest
I can't remember."

Quentin, who had been standing behind the chair, now drew from his
pocket a piece of paper which he handed to Brent.

"Yes--that is it," cried Brent, excitedly, taking it, and spreading it
out before them. "See!"

It was a note addressed to Quentin Locke and read:

  I have done you a great wrong about which you know
  nothing, but for which I will make amends--

"It was broken off," exclaimed Brent, making a sad effort to recollect
what had happened. "I don't remember how. But this Flint had been
telling me something about an iron monster. He had a model--said he had
seen the real thing in Madagascar, that it had a human brain, that it
walked and fought, that it had strength and life--but no conscience. He
hinted that the thing would do me harm if I persisted in a course that I
had determined for myself of giving back to inventors we had robbed the
things of which we had robbed them. I did not believe him. I thought the
thing absurd, and started to write the note, going a step farther than I
had ever threatened Balcom."

Quentin, Doctor Q, and Zita exchanged glances as Eva's father resumed
his narrative.

"Then I felt a choking sensation at my throat. I remember the effrontery
of Flint's laughing at me, in a maudlin sort of way, and then--a blank.
The next I recall was just now--Eva gazing at me with a worried
expression in her dear eyes. I called to her and kissed her, tried to
comfort her. Then I saw you, Locke, and Zita."

Peter Brent, from the time he and Flint had been overcome by the fumes
from the candelabra until he received the antidote and recognized his
daughter, had not known a thing!

As they talked there were many matters the two aged men discovered while
they pieced together the happenings of years.

Each had been duped by the same man. Each had suffered great trouble
through this man's machinations and duplicity.

As they talked, the attention of both turned to the younger Quentin
Locke, who seemed overjoyed at the recovery of his former employer.

Brent had a very great feeling of affection and respect for the younger
man, for had he not really brought him up?

As all questioned one another, they asked Brent much about the past, and
he told them all.

He told how he had become finally suspicious of Balcom, of how he
insisted upon instituting a search for the doctor, his wife, and
children. He told how Balcom had opposed him up to the last moment. Then
he described his sailing half the world over in search of them, how at
times he found a trail, only to lose it again.

Finally he told how at last he had found that the mother had been lost,
but the children saved.

"I was in Bombay," he continued, "in despair that I would ever find any
of you. At that time I was an old man before my time, for my conscience
gave me no rest. I went down to the quay to purchase a ticket for my
return to New York, and, true to the habit I had formed, I asked the
ticket-seller if he had ever heard anything of the survivors of the
steamer _Magnifique_.

"'Do I know anything of it?' repeated the ticket-seller. 'No, but
there's a man working on this dock now who never talks of anything else.
He was a sailor on the ship and one of the few who survived.'

"You can believe me when I tell you that I ran down that dock and found
the man. He remembered you all well, remembered you children when you
were taken up with some other survivors, and he said he thought that
some family had taken you to Hong-Kong.

"I canceled my passage to Liverpool and immediately sailed for China.
Still, my troubles were not over, for it was weeks before I finally
located you babies, Quentin and Zita.

"I won't burden you with the difficulties I encountered before the
English family, the Danes, with whom I found you, would consent to give
you up. Nor will I take time to tell of our return to New York through
San Francisco.

"Let it suffice for you to know that we arrived safely after I had
completely circled the world. I sent you to good schools, and when Zita
was old enough I made her my secretary so that I could watch over her.
Quentin, being older, I had not dared to have around at first. I feared
he might question me too closely. And what answer could I give him?
Could I tell him that International Patents had driven his father into
exile, that I had been partly the cause, the indirect cause, it is true,
but still the cause of his mother's death? I never found the courage to
do that and so I sent him to a preparatory school and later to college.
Years wiped out his childhood recollections and when he came here he
came as a stranger employed in the company's laboratory. I make no
defense, but I assure you all that my own sufferings have atoned for all
the wrongs I have done."

Brent broke down and was almost weeping, when Quentin and Eva moved over
to his side and reassured him.

As soon as Brent had recovered from his weakness he wanted to know all
that had happened since he had been unconscious under the drug, and as
he listened he was aghast at the Automaton and Balcom's villainy.

"I've something here that will stop him, though," added Quentin, as he
showed the new gas-gun he had invented and explained its deadly
properties. "Bring him on again--I'm ready."

"Quentin--please don't joke about that terrible monster," shivered Eva.
"It has injured us so often--I don't even want to talk about it--or
about the government that asked you to come here and set things right.
Let us forget--now that all is right."

Quentin smiled at her and his quick mind saw that the time had come to
guide the conversation into pleasanter channels. He moved close to
Brent.

"It looks, Mr. Brent," he said, quietly, "as though we all were at about
the end of our troubles. But there are two of us here who are not quite
happy--yet. Mr. Brent, I am going to claim a reward."

"Anything, my dear Locke, anything I have is yours."

"Then I may as well tell you that Eva and I love each other and I want
your consent to our marriage."

Brent beamed.

"That, Quentin, is the dearest wish my heart can have."

Quentin turned to Eva to take her in his arms when there was a terrific
crash of glass in the conservatory, the splintering of wood, and the
Automaton, arms swinging like flails, charged like a mad thing into the
room.

Its terrorizing eyes were agleam, its one desire destruction. A large
table stood in its way and it demolished it as though it were matchwood.

The interruption came so abruptly that Brent, who in his right mind had
never seen the fiend and was now seeing it for the first time, was
paralyzed with horror. He tried to rise from his chair, but in his weak
condition fell back, helpless.

Quentin made a flying leap over the demolished table and placed himself
directly in front of Brent and in the path of the monster. Doctor Q,
Zita, and Eva started for Locke's side, but he waved them back
frantically.

Locke reached into his pocket and drew out his gas-pistol. The Automaton
was almost upon him when he raised his arm and fired.

There was a blinding flash and a dull report. The Automaton stopped in
his tracks and, raising one mighty hand to its chest, staggered
backward. Again Quentin fired, and the Automaton slowly crumpled,
sinking to one knee. There was no need to fire again, for suddenly the
monster crashed to the floor and lay still.

Locke started forward, but Eva shrieked for him to stand back. She had
not forgotten that once she had thought the monster dead and it had
suddenly seized her and almost crushed out her life.

There was, however, nothing to fear this time. Quentin reassured her
that the gas fumes had passed away, then knelt by the iron terror. He
tried to remove the steel headpiece, but before he could accomplish it
the doctor came forward and in a moment had unfastened the bolts.

As they were doing so a thick voice from inside could be distinguished,
muttering words about the capture of Brent and Zita just before Balcom
was killed, the escape of Zita, the rescue of Brent, the killing of
Dora, who had evidently come to betray something in jealousy. It was all
incoherent and Doctor Q and Quentin hastened to uncasque the man within.

They lifted off the helmet and there was the contorted and dying face of
Paul Balcom, who had, in desperation, taken his father's place in a vain
hope to secure the fortune for himself.

The poison was too strong, and as the girls turned, sickened, away, the
evil features froze, more evil than ever they had been in his evil life.

       *       *       *       *       *

A few days later a brilliant wedding took place at Brent Rock, which
itself was a present to the bride and groom.

After the guests had thinned out, Quentin and Eva strolled into the
garden, no longer in fear of attack from the steel Automaton.

Eva glanced at her ring, musing.

"After all the things from which you have escaped, dear," she murmured,
a bit timidly, "I am afraid nothing in the world can hold you."

Quentin drew her into his arms, while her hand rested on his shoulder,
and kissed the little golden ring that encircled her finger.

"Nothing but that band of love," he smiled.



THE END





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