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Title: The Great Brown-Pericord Motor
Author: Arthur Conan Doyle
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0601911.txt
Edition: 1
Language: English
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Date first posted: June 2006
Date most recently updated: June 2006

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Title: The Great Brown-Pericord Motor
Author: Arthur Conan Doyle




It was a cold, foggy, dreary evening in May. Along the Strand blurred
patches of light marked the position of the lamps. The flaring shop
windows flickered vaguely with steamy brightness through the thick and
heavy atmosphere.

The high lines of houses which lead down to the Embankment were all
dark and deserted, or illuminated only by the glimmering lamp of the
caretaker. At one point, however, there shone out from three windows
upon the second floor a rich flood of light, which broke the sombre
monotony of the terrace. Passers-by glanced up curiously, and drew
each other's attention to the ruddy glare, for it marked the chambers
of Francis Pericord, the inventor and electrical engineer. Long into
the watches of the night the gleam of his lamps bore witness to the
untiring energy and restless industry which was rapidly carrying him
to the first rank in his profession.

Within the chamber sat two men. The one was Pericord himself--hawk-faced
and angular, with the black hair and brisk bearing which spoke of his
Celtic origin. The other--thick, sturdy, and blue-eyed--was Jeremy
Brown, the well-known mechanician. They had been partners in many an
invention, in which the creative genius of the one had been aided by the
practical abilities of the other. It was a question among their friends
as to which was the better man.

It was no chance visit which had brought Brown into Pericord's
workshop at so late an hour. Business was to be done--business which
was to decide the failure or success of months of work, and which
might affect their whole careers. Between them lay a long brown table,
stained and corroded by strong acids, and littered with giant carboys,
Faure's accumulators, voltaic piles, coils of wire, and great blocks
of non-conducting porcelain. In the midst of all this lumber there
stood a singular whizzing, whirring machine, upon which the eyes of
both partners were riveted.

A small square metal receptacle was connected by numerous wires to a
broad steel girdle, furnished on either side with two powerful
projecting joints. The girdle was motionless, but the joints with the
short arms attached to them flashed round every few seconds, with a
pause between each rhythmic turn. The power which moved them came
evidently from the metal box. A subtle odour of ozone was in the air.

"How about the flanges, Brown?" asked the inventor.

"They were too large to bring. They are seven foot by three. There is
power enough there to work them, however. I will answer for that."

"Aluminium with an alloy of copper?"

"Yes."

"See how beautifully it works." Pericord stretched out a thin, nervous
hand, and pressed a button upon the machine. The joints revolved more
slowly, and came presently to a dead stop. Again he touched a spring
and the arms shivered and woke up again into their crisp metallic
life. "The experimenter need not exert his muscular powers," he
remarked. "He has only to be passive, and use his intelligence."

"Thanks to my motor," said Brown.

"_Our_ motor," the other broke in sharply.

"Oh, of course," said his colleague impatiently.

"The motor which you thought of, and which I reduced to practice--call
it what you like."

"I call it the Brown-Pericord Motor," cried the inventor with an angry
flash of his dark eyes. "You worked out the details, but the abstract
thought is mine, and mine alone."

"An abstract thought won't turn an engine," said Brown, doggedly.

"That was why I took you into partnership," the other retorted,
drumming nervously with his fingers upon the table. "I invent, you
build. It is a fair division of labour."

Brown pursed up his lips, as though by no means satisfied upon the
point. Seeing, however, that further argument was useless, he turned
his attention to the machine, which was shivering and rocking with
each swing of its arms, as though a very little more would send it
skimming from the table.

"Is it not splendid?" cried Pericord.

"It is satisfactory," said the more phlegmatic Anglo-Saxon.

"There's immortality in it!"

"There's money in it!"

"Our names will go down with Montgolfier's."

"With Rothschild's, I hope."

"No, no, Brown; you take too material a view," cried the inventor,
raising his gleaming eyes from the machine to his companion. "Our
fortunes are a mere detail. Money is a thing which every heavy-witted
plutocrat in the country shares with us. My hopes rise to something
higher than that. Our true reward will come in the gratitude and
goodwill of the human race."

Brown shrugged his shoulders. "You may have my share of that," he
said. "I am a practical man. We must test our invention."

"Where can we do it?"

"That is what I wanted to speak about. It must be absolutely secret.
If we had private grounds of our own it would be an easy matter, but
there is no privacy in London."

"We must take it into the country."

"I have a suggestion to offer," said Brown. "My brother has a place in
Sussex on the high land near Beachy Head. There is, I remember, a
large and lofty barn near the house. Will is in Scotland, but the key
is always at my disposal. Why not take the machine down tomorrow and
test it in the barn?"

"Nothing could be better."

"There is a train to Eastbourne at one."

"I shall be at the station."

"Bring the gear with you, and I will bring the flanges," said the
mechanician, rising. "Tomorrow will prove whether we have been
following a shadow, or whether fortune is at our feet. One o'clock at
Victoria." He walked swiftly down the stair and was quickly reabsorbed
into the flood of comfortless clammy humanity which ebbed and flowed
along the Strand.

The morning was bright and spring-like. A pale blue sky arched over
London, with a few gauzy white clouds drifting lazily across it. At
eleven o'clock Brown might have been seen entering the Patent Office
with a great roll of parchment, diagrams, and plans under his arm. At
twelve he emerged again smiling, and, opening his pocket-book, he
packed away very carefully a small slip of official blue paper. At
five minutes to one his cab rolled into Victoria Station. Two giant
canvas-covered parcels, like enormous kites, were handed down by the
cabman from the top, and consigned to the care of a guard. On the
platform Pericord was pacing up and down, with long eager step and
swinging arms, a tinge of pink upon his sunken and sallow cheeks.

"All right?" he asked.

Brown pointed in answer to his baggage.

"I have the motor and the girdle already packed away in the guard's
van. Be careful, guard, for it is delicate machinery of great value.
So! Now we can start with an easy conscience."

At Eastbourne the precious motor was carried to a four-wheeler, and
the great flanges hoisted on the top. A long drive took them to the
house where the keys were kept, whence they set off across the barren
Downs. The building which was their destination was a commonplace
white-washed structure, with straggling stables and out-houses,
standing in a grassy hollow which sloped down from the edge of the
chalk cliffs. It was a cheerless house even when in use, but now with
its smokeless chimneys and shuttered windows it looked doubly dreary.
The owner had planted a grove of young larches and firs around it, but
the sweeping spray had blighted them, and they hung their withered
heads in melancholy groups. It was a gloomy and forbidding spot.

But the inventors were in no mood to be moved by such trifles. The
lonelier the place, the more fitted for their purpose. With the help
of the cabman they carried their packages down the footpath, and laid
them in the darkened dining-room. The sun was setting as the distant
murmur of wheels told them that they were finally alone.

Pericord had thrown open the shutters and the mellow evening light
streamed in through the discoloured windows. Brown drew a knife from
his pocket and cut the pack-thread with which the canvas was secured.
As the brown covering fell away it disclosed two great yellow metal
fans. These he leaned carefully against the wall. The girdle, the
connecting-bands, and the motor were then in turn unpacked. It was
dark before all was set out in order. A lamp was lit, and by its light
the two men continued to tighten screws, clinch rivets, and make the
last preparations for their experiment.

"That finishes it," said Brown at last, stepping back and surveying
the machine.

Pericord said nothing, but his face glowed with pride and expectation.

"We must have something to eat," Brown remarked, laying out some
provisions which he had brought with him.

"Afterwards."

"No, now," said the stolid mechanician. "I am half starved." He pulled
up to the table and made a hearty meal, while his Celtic companion
strode impatiently up and down, with twitching fingers and restless
eyes.

"Now then," said Brown, facing round, and brushing the crumbs from his
lap, "who is to put it on?"

"I shall," cried his companion eagerly. "What we do to-night is likely
to be historic."

"But there is some danger," suggested Brown. "We cannot quite tell how
it may act."

"That is nothing," said Pericord, with a wave of his hand.

"But there is no use our going out of our way to incur danger."

"What then? One of us must do it."

"Not at all. The motor would act equally well if attached to any
inanimate object."

"That is true," said Pericord, thoughtfully.

"There are bricks by the barn. I have a sack here. Why should not a
bagful of them take your place?"

"It is a good idea. I see no objection."

"Come on then," and the two sallied out, bearing with them the various
sections of their machine. The moon was shining cold and clear though
an occasional ragged cloud drifted across her face. All was still and
silent upon the Downs. They stood and listened before they entered the
barn, but not a sound came to their ears, save the dull murmur of the
sea and the distant barking of a dog. Pericord journeyed backwards and
forwards with all that they might need, while Brown filled a long
narrow sack with bricks.

When all was ready, the door of the barn was closed, and the lamp
balanced upon an empty packing-case. The bag of bricks was laid upon
two trestles, and the broad steel girdle was buckled round it. Then
the great flanges, the wires, and the metal box containing the motor
were in turn attached to the girdle. Last of all a flat steel rudder,
shaped like a fish's tail, was secured to the bottom of the sack.

"We must make it travel in a small circle," said Pericord, glancing
round at the bare high walls.

"Tie the rudder down at one side," suggested Brown. "Now it is ready.
Press the connection and off she goes!"

Pericord leaned forward, his long sallow face quivering with
excitement. His white nervous hands darted here and there among the
wires. Brown stood impassive with critical eyes. There was a sharp
burr from the machine. The huge yellow wings gave a convulsive flap.
Then another. Then a third, slower and stronger, with a fuller sweep.
Then a fourth which filled the barn with a blast of driven air. At the
fifth the bag of bricks began to dance upon the trestles. At the sixth
it sprang into the air, and would have fallen to the ground, but the
seventh came to save it, and fluttered it forward through the air.
Slowly rising, it flapped heavily round in a circle, like some great
clumsy bird, filling the barn with its buzzing and whirring. In the
uncertain yellow light of the single lamp it was strange to see the
loom of the ungainly thing, flapping off into the shadows, and then
circling back into the narrow zone of light.

The two men stood for a while in silence. Then Pericord threw his long
arms up into the air.

"It acts!" he cried. "The Brown-Pericord Motor acts!" He danced about
like a madman in his delight. Brown's eyes twinkled, and he began to
whistle.

"See how smoothly it goes, Brown!" cried the inventor. "And the
rudder--how well it acts! We must register it tomorrow."

His comrade's face darkened and set. "It _is_ registered," he said,
with a forced laugh.

"Registered?" said Pericord. "Registered?" He repeated the word first
in a whisper, and then in a kind of scream. "Who has dared to register
my invention?"

"I did it this morning. There is nothing to be excited about. It is
all right."

"You registered the motor! Under whose name?"

"Under my own," said Brown, sullenly. "I consider that I have the best
right to it."

"And my name does not appear?"

"No, but--"

"You villain!" screamed Pericord. "You thief and villain! You would
steal my work! You would filch my credit! I will have that patent back
if I have to tear your throat out!" A sombre fire burned in his black
eyes, and his hands writhed themselves together with passion. Brown
was no coward, but he shrank back as the other advanced upon him.

"Keep your hands off!" he said, drawing a knife from his pocket. "I
will defend myself if you attack me."

"You threaten me?" cried Pericord, whose face was livid with anger.
"You are a bully as well as a cheat. Will you give up the patent?"

"No, I will not."

"Brown, I say, give it up!"

"I will not. I did the work."

Pericord sprang madly forward with blazing eyes and clutching fingers.
His companion writhed out of his grasp, but was dashed against the
packing-case, over which he fell. The lamp was extinguished, and the
whole barn plunged into darkness. A single ray of moonlight shining
through a narrow chink flickered over the great waving fans as they
came and went.

"Will you give up the patent, Brown?"

There was no answer.

"Will you give it up?"

Again no answer. Not a sound save the humming and creaking overhead. A
cold pang of fear and doubt struck through Pericord's heart. He felt
aimlessly about in the dark and his fingers closed upon a hand. It was
cold and unresponsive. With all his anger turned to icy horror he
struck a match, set the lamp up, and lit it.

Brown lay huddled up on the other side of the packing-case. Pericord
seized him in his arms, and with convulsive strength lifted him
across. Then the mystery of his silence was explained. He had fallen
with his right arms doubled up under him, and his own weight had
driven the knife deeply into his body. He had died without a groan.
The tragedy had been sudden, horrible, and complete.

Pericord sat silently on the edge of the case, staring blankly down,
and shivering like one with the ague, while the great Brown-Pericord
Motor boomed and hurtled above him. How long he sat there can never be
known. It might have been minutes or it might have been hours. A
thousand mad schemes flashed through his dazed brain. It was true that
he had been only the indirect cause. But who would believe that? He
glanced down at his blood-spattered clothing. Everything was against
him. It would be better to fly than to give himself up, relying upon
his innocence. No one in London knew where they were. If he could
dispose of the body he might have a few days clear before any
suspicion would be aroused.

Suddenly a loud crash recalled him to himself. The flying sack had
gradually risen with each successive circle until it had struck
against the rafters. The blow displaced the connecting-gear, and the
machine fell heavily to the ground. Pericord undid the girdle. The
motor was uninjured. A sudden strange thought flashed upon him as he
looked at it. The machine had become hateful to him. He might dispose
both of it and the body in a way that would baffle all human search.

He threw open the barn door, and carried his companion out into the
moonlight. There was a hillock outside, and on the summit of this he
laid him reverently down. Then he brought from the barn the motor, the
girdle and the flanges. With trembling fingers he fastened the broad
steel belt round the dead man's waist. Then he screwed the wings into
the sockets. Beneath he slung the motor-box, fastened the wires, and
switched on the connection. For a minute or two the huge yellow fans
flapped and flickered. Then the body began to move in little jumps
down the side of the hillock, gathering a gradual momentum, until at
last it heaved up into the air and soared off in the moonlight. He had
not used the rudder, but had turned the head for the south. Gradually
the weird thing rose higher, and sped faster, until it had passed over
the line of cliff, and was sweeping over the silent sea. Pericord
watched it with a white drawn face, until it looked like a black bird
with golden wings half shrouded in the mist which lay over the waters.

In the New York State Lunatic Asylum there is a wild-eyed man whose
name and birth-place are alike unknown. His reason has been unseated
by some sudden shock, the doctors say, though of what nature they are
unable to determine. "It is the most delicate machine which is most
readily put out of gear," they remark, and point, in proof of their
axiom, to the complicated electric engines, and remarkable aeronautic
machines which the patient is fond of devising in his more lucid
moments.


THE END





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