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Title: The Tachypomp and Other Stories Author: Edward Page Mitchell * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0602521h.html Edition: 1 Language: English Character set encoding: Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit Date first posted: July 2006 Date most recently updated: July 2006 This eBook was produced by: Richard Scott Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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THE SOUL SPECTROSCOPE
THE MAN WITHOUT A BODY
THE ABLEST MAN IN THE WORLD
THE SENATOR'S DAUGHTER
THE CRYSTAL MAN
THE CLOCK THAT WENT BACKWARD
A Mathematical Demonstration
There was nothing mysterious about Professor Surd's dislike for me. I was the only poor mathematician in an exceptionally mathematical class. The old gentleman sought the lecture-room every morning with eagerness, and left it reluctantly. For was it not a thing of joy to find seventy young men who, individually and collectively, preferred x to XX; who had rather differentiate than dissipate; and for whom the limbs of the heavenly bodies had more attractions than those of earthly stars upon the spectacular stage?
So affairs went on swimmingly between the Professor of Mathematics and the junior Class at Polyp University. In every man of the seventy the sage saw the logarithm of a possible La Place, of a Sturm, or of a Newton. It was a delightful task for him to lead them through the pleasant valleys of conic sections, and beside the still waters of the integral calculus. Figuratively speaking, his problem was not a hard one. He had only to manipulate, and eliminate, and to raise to a higher power, and the triumphant result of examination day was assured.
But I was a disturbing element, a perplexing unknown quantity, which had somehow crept into the work, and which seriously threatened to impair the accuracy of his calculations. It was a touching sight to behold the venerable mathematician as he pleaded with me not so utterly to disregard precedent in the use of cotangents; or as he urged, with eyes almost tearful, that ordinates were dangerous things to trifle with. All in vain. More theorems went on to my cuff than into my head. Never did chalk do so much work to so little purpose. And, therefore, it came that Furnace Second was reduced to zero in Professor Surd's estimation. He looked upon me with all the horror which an unalgebraic nature could inspire. I have seen the professor walk around an entire square rather than meet the man who had no mathematics in his soul.
For Furnace Second were no invitations to Professor Surd's house. Seventy of the class supped in delegations around the periphery of the professor's tea-table. The seventy-first knew nothing of the charms of that perfect ellipse, with its twin bunches of fuchsias and geraniums in gorgeous precision at the two foci.
This, unfortunately enough, was no trifling deprivation. Not that I longed especially for segments of Mrs. Surd's justly celebrated lemon pies; not that the spheroidal damsons of her excellent preserving had any marked allurements; not even that I yearned to hear the professor's jocose tabletalk about binomials, and chatty illustrations of abstruse paradoxes. The explanation is far different. Professor Surd had a daughter. Twenty years before, he made a proposition of marriage to the present Mrs. S. He added a little corollary to his proposition not long after. The corollary was a girl.
Abscissa Surd was as perfectly symmetrical as Giotto's circle, and as pure, withal, as the mathematics her father taught. It was just when spring was coming to extract the roots of frozen-up vegetation that I fell in love with the corollary. That she herself was not indifferent I soon had reason to regard as a self-evident truth.
The sagacious reader will already recognize nearly all the elements necessary to a well-ordered plot. We have introduced a heroine, inferred a hero, and constructed a hostile parent after the most approved model. A movement for the story, a Deus ex machina, is alone lacking. With considerable satisfaction I can promise a perfect novelty in this line, a Deus ex machina never before offered to the public.
It would be discounting ordinary intelligence to say that I sought with unwearying assiduity to figure my way into the stern father's good-will; that never did dullard apply himself to mathematics more patiently than I; that never did faithfulness achieve such meagre reward. Then I engaged a private tutor. His instructions met with no better success.
My tutor's name was Jean Marie Rivarol. He was a unique Alsatian-- though Gallic in name, thoroughly Teuton in nature; by birth a Frenchman, by education a German. His age was thirty; his profession, omniscience; the wolf at his door, poverty; the skeleton in his closet, a consuming but unrequited passion. The most recondite principles of practical science were his toys; the deepest intricacies of abstract science his diversions. Problems which were foreordained mysteries to me were to him as clear as Tahoe water. Perhaps this very fact will explain our lack of success in the relation of tutor and pupil; perhaps the failure is alone due to my own unmitigated stupidity. Rivarol had hung about the skirts of the University for several years; supplying his few wants by writing for scientific journals, or by giving assistance to students who, like myself, were characterized by a plethora of purse and a paucity of ideas; cooking, studying and sleeping in his attic lodgings; and prosecuting queer experiments all by himself.
We were not long discovering that even this eccentric genius could not transplant brains into my deficient skull. I gave over the struggle in despair. An unhappy year dragged its slow length around. A gloomy year it was, brightened only by occasional interviews with Abscissa, the Abbie of my thoughts and dreams.
Commencement day was coming on apace. I was soon to go forth, with the rest of my class, to astonish and delight a waiting world. The professor seemed to avoid me more than ever. Nothing but the conventionalities, I think kept him from shaping his treatment of me on the basis of unconcealed disgust.
At last, in the very recklessness of despair, I resolved to see him, plead with him, threaten him if need be, and risk all my fortunes on one desperate chance. I wrote him a somewhat defiant letter, stating my aspirations, and, as I flattered myself, shrewdly giving him a week to get over the first shock of horrified surprise. Then I was to call and learn my fate.
During the week of suspense I nearly worried myself into a fever. It was first crazy hope, and then saner despair. On Friday evening, when I presented myself at the professor's door, I was such a haggard, sleepy, dragged-out spectre, that even Miss Jocasta, the harsh-favored maiden sister of the Surd's, admitted me with commiserate regard, and suggested pennyroyal tea.
Professor Surd was at a faculty meeting. Would I wait?
Yes, till all was blue, if need be. Miss Abbie?
Abscissa had gone to Wheelborough to visit a school friend. The aged maiden hoped I would make myself comfortable, and departed to the unknown haunts which knew Jocasta's daily walk.
Comfortable! But I settled myself in a great uneasy chair and waited, with the contradictory spirit common to such junctures, dreading every step lest it should herald the man whom, of all men, I wished to see.
I had been there at least an hour, and was growing right drowsy.
At length Professor Surd came in. He sat down in the dusk opposite me, and I thought his eyes glinted with malignant pleasure as he said, abruptly:
"So, young man, you think you are a fit husband for my girl?"
I stammered some inanity about making up in affection what I lacked in merit; about my expectations, family and the like. He quickly interrupted me.
"You misapprehend me, sir. Your nature is destitute of those mathematical perceptions and acquirements which are the only sure foundations of character. You have no mathematics in you.
You are fit for treason, stratagems, and spoils.--Shakespeare. Your narrow intellect cannot understand and appreciate a generous mind. There is all the difference between you and a Surd, if I may say it, which intervenes between an infinitesimal and an infinite. Why, I will even venture to say that you do not comprehend the Problem of the Couriers!"
I admitted that the Problem of the Couriers should be classed rather without my list of accomplishments than within it. I regretted this fault very deeply, and suggested amendment. I faintly hoped that my fortune would be such-
"Money!" he impatiently exclaimed. "Do you seek to bribe a Roman senator with a penny whistle? Why, boy, do you parade your paltry wealth, which, expressed in mills, will not cover ten decimal places, before the eyes of a man who measures the planets in their orbits, and close crowds infinity itself?"
I hastily disclaimed any intention of obtruding my foolish dollars, and he went on:
"Your letter surprised me not a little. I thought you would be the last person in the world to presume to an alliance here. But having a regard for you personally"--and again I saw malice twinkle in his small eyes--"an still more regard for Abscissa's happiness, I have decided that you shall have her--upon conditions. Upon conditions," he repeated, with a half-smothered sneer."
"What are they?" cried I, eagerly enough. "Only name them."
"Well, sir," he continued, and the deliberation of his speech seemed the very refinement of cruelty, "you have only to prove yourself worthy an alliance with a mathematical family. You have only to accomplish a task which I shall presently give you. Your eyes ask me what it is. I will tell you. Distinguish yourself in that noble branch of abstract science in which, you cannot but acknowledge, you are at present sadly deficient. I will place Abscissa's hand in yours whenever you shall come before me and square the circle to my satisfaction. No! That is too easy a condition. I should cheat myself. Say perpetual motion. How do you like that? Do you think it lies within the range of your mental capabilities? You don't smile. Perhaps your talents don't run in the way of perpetual motion. Several people have found that theirs didn't. I'll give you another chance. We were speaking of the Problem of the Couriers, and I think you expressed a desire to know more of that ingenious question. You shall have the opportunity. Sit down some day, when you have nothing else to do, and discover the principle of infinite speed. I mean the law of motion which shall accomplish an infinitely great distance in an infinitely short time. You may mix in a little practical mechanics, if you choose. Invent some method of taking the tardy Courier over his road at the rate of sixty miles a minute. Demonstrate me this discovery (when you have made itl) mathematically, and approximate it practically, and Abscissa is yours. Until you can, I will thank you to trouble neither myself nor her."
I could stand his mocking no longer. I stumbled mechanically out of the room, and out of the house. I even forgot my hat and gloves. For an hour I walked in the moonlight. Gradually I succeeded to a more hopeful frame of mind. This was due to my ignorance of mathematics. Had I understood the real meaning of what he asked, I should have been utterly despondent.
Perhaps this problem of sixty miles a minute was not so impossible after all. At any rate I could attempt, though I might not succeed. And Rivarol came to my mind. I would ask him. I would enlist his knowledge to accompany my own devoted perseverance. I sought his lodgings at once.
The man of science lived in the fourth story, back. I had never been in his room before. When I entered, he was in the act of filling a beer mug from a carboy labelled aqua fortis.
"Seat you," he said. "No, not in that chair. That is my Petty Cash Adjuster." But he was a second too late. I had carelessly thrown myself into a chair of seductive appearance. To my utter amazement it reached out two skeleton arms and clutched me with a grasp against which I struggled in vain. Then a skull stretched itself over my shoulder and grinned with ghastly familiarity close to my face.
Rivarol came to my aid with many apologies. He touched a spring somewhere and the Petty Cash Adjuster relaxed its horrid hold. I placed myself gingerly in a plain cane-bottomed rocking-chair, which Rivarol assured me was a safe location.
"That seat," he said, "is an arrangement upon which I much felicitate myself. I made it at Heidelberg. It has saved me a vast deal of small annoyance. I consign to its embraces the friends who bore, and the visitors who exasperate, me. But it is never so useful as when terrifying some tradesman with an insignificant account. Hence the pet name which I have facetiously given it. They are invariably too glad to purchase release at the price of a bill receipted. Do you well apprehend the idea?"
While the Alsation diluted his glass of aqua fortis, shook into it an infusion of bitters, and tossed off the bumper with apparent relish, I had time to look around the strange apartment.
The four corners of the room were occupied respectively by a turning lathe, a Rhumkorff Coil, a small steam engine and an orrery in stately motion. Tables, shelves, chairs and floor supported an odd aggregation of tools, retorts, chemicals, gas receivers, philosophical instruments, boots, flasks, paper-collar boxes, books diminutive and books of preposterous size. There were plaster busts of Aristotle, Archimedes, and Comte, while a great drowsy owl was blinking away, perched on the benign brow of Martin Farquhar Tupper. "He always roosts there when he proposes to slumber," explained my tutor. "You are a bird of no ordinary mind. Schlafen Sie wohl."
Through a closet door, half open, I could see a humanlike form covered with a sheet. Rivarol caught my glance.
"That," said he, "will be my masterpiece. It is a Microcosm, an Android, as yet only partially complete. And why not? Albertus Magnus constructed an image perfect to talk metaphysics and confute the schools. So did Sylvester II; so did Robertus Greathead. Roger Bacon made a brazen head that held discourses. But the first named of these came to destruction. Thomas Aquinas got wrathful at some of its syllogisms and smashed its head. The idea is reasonable enough. Mental action will yet be reduced to laws as definite as those which govern the physical. Why should not I accomplish a manikin which shall preach as original discourses as the Reverend Dr. Allchin, or talk poetry as mechanically as Paul Anapest? My android can already work problems in vulgar fractions and compose sonnets. I hope to teach it the Positive Philosophy."
Out of the bewildering confusion of his effects Rivarol produced two pipes and filled them. He handed one to me.
"And here," he said, "I live and am tolerably comfortable. When my coat wears out at the elbows I seek the tailor and am measured for another. When I am hungry I promenade myself to the butcher's and bring home a pound or so of steak, which I cook very nicely in three seconds by this oxy-hydrogen flame. Thirsty, perhaps, I send for a carboy of aqua fortis. But I have it charged, all charged. My spirit is above any small pecuniary transaction. I loathe your dirty greenbacks, and never handle what they call scrip."
"But are you never pestered with bills?" I asked. "Don't the creditors worry your life out?"
"Creditors!" gasped Rivarol. "I have learned no such word in your very admirable language. He who will allow his soul to be vexed by creditors is a relic of an imperfect civilization. Of what use is science if it cannot avail a man who has accounts current? Listen. The moment you or any one else enters the outside door this little electric bell sounds me warning. Every successive step on Mrs. Grimler's staircase is a spy and informer vigilant for my benefit. The first step is trod upon. That trusty first step immediately telegraphs your weight. Nothing could be simpler. It is exactly like any platform scale. The weight is registered up here upon this dial. The second step records the size of my visitor's feet. The third his height, the fourth his complexion, and so on. By the time he reaches the top of the first flight I have a pretty accurate description of him right here at my elbow, and quite a margin of time for deliberation and action. Do you follow me? It is plain enough. Only the A B C of my science."
"I see all that," I said, "but I don't see how it helps you any. The knowledge that a creditor is coming won't pay his bill. You can't escape unless you jump out of the window."
Rivarol laughed softly. "I will tell you. You shall see what becomes of any poor devil who goes to demand money of me--of a man of science. Ha! ha! It pleases me. I was seven weeks perfecting my Dun Suppressor. Did you know"--he whispered exultingly--"did you know that there is a hole through the earth's center? Physicists have long suspected it; I was the first to find it. You have read how Rhuyghens, the Dutch navigator, discovered in Kerguellen's Land an abysmal pit which fourteen hundred fathoms of plumb-line failed to sound. Herr Tom, that hole has no bottom! It runs from one surface of the earth to the antipodal surface. It is diametric. But where is the antipodal spot? You stand upon it. I learned this by the merest chance. I was deep- digging in Mrs. Grimler's cellar, to bury a poor cat I had sacrificed in a galvanic experiment, when the earth under my spade crumbled, caved in, and wonder-stricken I stood upon the brink of a yawning shaft. I dropped a coal-hod in. It went down, down, down, bounding and rebounding. In two hours and a quarter that coal-hod came up again. I caught it and restored it to the angry Grimler. Just think a minute. The coal-hod went down, faster and faster, till it reached the center of the earth. There it would stop, were it not for acquired momentum. Beyond the center its journey was relatively upward, toward the opposite surface of the globe. So, losing velocity, it went slower and slower till it reached that surface. Here it came to rest for a second and then fell back again, eight thousand odd miles, into my hands. Had I not interfered with it, it would have repeated its journey, time after time, each trip of shorter extent, like the diminishing oscillations of a pendulum, till it finally came to eternal rest at the center of the sphere. I am not slow to give a practical application to any such grand discovery. My Dun Suppressor was born of it. A trap, just outside my chamber door: a spring in here: a creditor on the trap: need I say more?"
"But isn't it a trifle inhuman?" I mildly suggested. "Plunging an unhappy being into a perpetual journey to and from Kerguellen's Land, without a moment's warning."
"I give them a chance. When they come up the first time I wait at the mouth of the shaft with a rope in hand. If they are reasonable and will come to terms, I fling them the line. If they perish, 'tis their own fault. Only," he added, with a melancholy smile, "the center is getting so plugged up with creditors that I am afraid there soon will be no choice whatever for'em."
By this time I had conceived a high opinion of my tutor's ability. If anybody could send me waltzing through space at an infinite speed, Rivarol could do it. I filled my pipe and told him the story. He heard with grave and patient attention. Then, for full half an hour, he whiffed away in silence. Finally he spoke.
"The ancient cipher has overreached himself. He has given you a choice of two problems, both of which he deems insoluble. Neither of them is insoluble. The only gleam of intelligence Old Cotangent showed was when he said that squaring the circle was too easy. He was right. It would have given you your Liebchen in five minutes. I squared the circle before I discarded pantalets. I will show you the work--but it would be a digression, and you are in no mood for digressions. Our first chance, therefore, lies in perpetual motion. Now, my good friend, I will frankly tell you that, although I have compassed this interesting problem, I do not choose to use it in your behalf. I too, Herr Tom, have a heart. The loveliest of her sex frowns upon me. Her somewhat mature charms are not for Jean Marie Rivarol. She has cruelly said that her years demand of me filial rather than connubial regard. Is love a matter of years or of eternity? This question did I put to the cold, yet lovely Jocasta."
"Jocasta Surd!" I remarked in surprise, "Abscissa's aunt!"
"The same," he said, sadly. "I will not attempt to conceal that upon the maiden Jocasta my maiden heart has been bestowed. Give me your hand, my nephew in affliction as in affection!"
Rivarol dashed away a not discreditable tear, and resumed:
"My only hope lies in this discovery of perpetual motion. It will give me the fame, the wealth. Can Jocasta refuse these? If she can, there is only the trap-door and--Kerguellen's Land!"
I bashfully asked to see the perpetual-motion machine. My uncle in affliction shook his head.
"At another time," he said. "Suffice it at present to say, that it is something upon the principle of a woman's tongue. But you see now why we must turn in your case to the alternative condition--infinite speed. There are several ways in which this may be accomplished, theoretically. By the lever, for instance. Imagine a lever with a very long and a very short arm. Apply power to the shorter arm which will move it with great velocity. The end of the long arm will move much faster. Now keep shortening the short arm and lengthening the long one, and as you approach infinity in their difference of length, you approach infinity in the speed of the long arm. It would be difficult to demonstrate this practically to the professor. We must seek another solution. Jean Marie will meditate. Come to me in a fortnight. Good- night. But stop! Have you the money--das Geld?"
"Much more than I need."
"Good! Let us strike hands. Gold and Knowledge; Science and Love. What may not such a partnership achieve? We go to conquer thee, Abscissa. Vorwärts!"
When, at the end of a fortnight; I sought Rivarol's chamber, I passed with some little trepidation over the terminus of the Air Line to Kerguellen's Land, and evaded the extended arms of the Petty Cash Adjuster. Rivarol drew a mug of ale for me, and filled himself a retort of his own peculiar beverage.
"Come," he said at length. "Let us drink success to the TACHYPOMP."
"Yes. Why not? Tachu, quickly, and pempo, pepompa, to send. May it send you quickly to your wedding-day. Abscissa is yours. It is done. When shall we start for the prairies?"
"Where is it?" I asked, looking in vain around the room for any contrivance which might seem calculated to advance matrimonial prospects.
"It is here," and he gave his forehead a significant tap. Then he held forth didactically.
"There is force enough in existence to yield us a speed of sixty miles a minute, or even more. All we need is the knowledge how to combine and apply it. The wise man will not attempt to make some great force yield some great speed. He will keep adding the little force to the little force, making each little force yield its little speed, until an aggregate of little forces shall be a great force, yielding an aggregate of little speeds, a great speed. The difficulty is not in aggregating the forces; it lies in the corresponding aggregation of the speeds. One musket ball will go, say a mile. It is not hard to increase the force of muskets to a thousand, yet the thousand musket balls will go no farther, and no faster, than the one. You see, then, where our trouble lies. We cannot readily add speed to speed, as we add force to force. My discovery is simply the utilization of a principle which extorts an increment of speed from each increment of power. But this is the metaphysics of physics. Let us be practical or nothing.
"When you have walked forward, on a moving train, from the rear car, toward the engine, did you ever think what you were really doing?"
"Why, yes, I have generally been going to the smoking car to have a cigar."
"Tut, tut--not that! I mean, did it ever occur to you on such an occasion, that absolutely you were moving faster than the train? The train passes the telegraph poles at the rate of thirty miles an hour, say. You walk toward the smoking car at the rate of four miles an hour. Then you pass the telegraph poles at the rate of thirty-four miles. Your absolute speed is the speed of the engine, plus the speed of your own locomotion. Do you follow me?"
I began to get an inkling of his meaning, and told him so.
"Very well. Let us advance a step. Your addition to the speed of the engine is trivial, and the space in which you can exercise it, limited. Now suppose two stations, A and B, two miles distant by the track. Imagine a train of platform cars, the last car resting at station A. The train is a mile long, say. The engine is therefore within a mile of station B. Say the train can move a mile in ten minutes. The last car, having two miles to go, would reach B in twenty minutes, but the engine, a mile ahead, would get there in ten. You jump on the last car, at A, in a prodigious hurry to reach Abscissa, who is at B. If you stay on the last car it will be twenty long minutes before you see her. But the engine reaches B and the fair lady in ten. You will be a stupid reasoner, and an indifferent lover, if you don't put for the engine over those platform cars, as fast as your legs will carry you. You can run a mile, the length of the train, in ten minutes. Therefore, you reach Abscissa when the engine does, or in ten minutes--ten minutes sooner than if you had lazily sat down upon the rear car and talked politics with the brakeman. You have diminished the time by one half. You have added your speed to that of the locomotive to some purpose. Nicht wahr?"
I saw it perfectly; much plainer, perhaps, for his putting in the clause about Abscissa.
He continued, "This illustration, though a slow one, leads up to a principle which may be carried to any extent. Our first anxiety will be to spare your legs and wind. Let us suppose that the two miles of track are perfectly straight, and make our train one platform car, a mile long, with parallel rails laid upon its top. Put a little dummy engine on these rails, and let it run to and fro along the platform car, while the platform car is pulled along the ground track. Catch the idea? The dummy takes your place. But it can run its mile much faster. Fancy that our locomotive is strong enough to pull the platform car over the two miles in two minutes. The dummy can attain the same speed. When the engine reaches B in one minute, the dummy, having gone a mile a-top the platform car, reaches B also. We have so combined the speeds of those two engines as to accomplish two miles in one minute. Is this all we can do? Prepare to exercise your imagination."
I lit my pipe.
"Still two miles of straight track, between A and B. On the track a long platform car, reaching from A to within a quarter of a mile of B. We will now discard ordinary locomotives and adopt as our motive power a series of compact magnetic engines, distributed underneath the platform car, all along its length."
"I don't understand those magnetic engines."
"Well, each of them consists of a great iron horseshoe, rendered alternately a magnet and not a magnet by an intermittent current of electricity from a battery, this current in its turn regulated by clock-work. When the horseshoe is in the circuit, it is a magnet, and it pulls its clapper toward it with enormous power. When it is out of the circuit, the next second, it is not a magnet, and it lets the clapper go. The clapper, oscillating to and fro, imparts a rotatory motion to a fly wheel, which transmits it to the drivers on the rails. Such are our motors. They are no novelty, for trial has proved them practicable.
"With a magnetic engine for every truck of wheels, we can reasonably expect to move our immense car, and to drive it along at a speed, say, of a mile a minute.
"The forward end, having but a quarter of a mile to go, will reach B in fifteen seconds. We will call this platform car number 1. On top of number 1 are laid rails on which another platform car, number 2, a quarter of a mile shorter than number 1, is moved in precisely the same way. Number 2, in its turn, is surmounted by number 3, moving independently of the tiers beneath, and a quarter of a mile shorter than number 2. Number 2 is a mile and a half long; number 3 a mile and a quarter. Above, on successive levels, are number 4, a mile long; number 5, three quarters of a mile; number 6, half a mile; number 7, a quarter of a mile, and number 8, a short passenger car, on top of all."
"Each car moves upon the car beneath it, independently of all the others, at the rate of a mile a minute. Each car has its own magnetic engines. Well, the train being drawn up with the latter end of each car resting against a lofty bumping-post at A, Tom Furnace, the gentlemanly conductor, and Jean Marie Rivarol, engineer, mount by a long ladder to the exalted number 8. The complicated mechanism is set in motion. What happens?"
"Number 8 runs a quarter of a mile in fifteen seconds and reaches the end of number 7. Meanwhile number 7 has run a quarter of a mile in the same time and reached the end of number 6; number 6, a quarter of a mile in fifteen seconds, and reached the end of number 5; number 5, the end of number 4; number 4, of number 3; number 3, of number 2; number 2, of number 1. And number 1, in fifteen seconds, has gone its quarter of a mile along the ground track, and has reached station B. All this has been done in fifteen seconds. Wherefore, numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 come to rest against the bumping-post at B, at precisely the same second. We, in number 8, reach B just when number 1 reaches it. In other words, we accomplish two miles in fifteen seconds. Each of the eight cars, moving at the rate of a mile a minute, has contributed a quarter of a mile to our journey, and has done its work in fifteen seconds. All the eight did their work at once, during the same fifteen seconds. Consequently we have been whizzed through the air at the somewhat startling speed of seven and a half seconds to the mile. This is the Tachypomp. Does it justify the name?"
Although a little bewildered by the complexity of cars, I apprehended the general principle of the machine. I made a diagram, and understood it much better. "You have merely improved on the idea of my moving faster than the train when I was going to the smoking car?"
"Precisely. So far we have kept within the bounds of the practicable. To satisfy the professor, you can theorize in something after this fashion: If we double the number of cars, thus decreasing by one half the distance which each has to go, we shall attain twice the speed. Each of the sixteen cars will have but one eighth of a mile to go. At the uniform rate we have adopted, the two miles can be done in seven and a half instead of fifteen seconds. With thirty-two cars, and a sixteenth of a mile, or twenty rods difference in their length, we arrive at the speed of a mile in less than two seconds; with sixty- four cars, each travelling but ten rods, a mile under the second. More than sixty miles a minute! If this isn't rapid enough for the professor, tell him to go on, increasing the number of his cars and diminishing the distance each one has to run. If sixty-four cars yield a speed of a mile inside the second, let him fancy a Tachypomp of six hundred and forty cars, and amuse himself calculating the rate of car number 640. Just whisper to him that when he has an infinite number of cars with an infinitesimal difference in their lengths, he will have obtained that infinite speed for which he seems to yearn. Then demand Abscissa."
I wrung my friend's hand in silent and grateful admiration. I could say nothing.
"You have listened to the man of theory," he said proudly. "You shall now behold the practical engineer. We will go to the west of the Mississippi and find some suitably level locality. We will erect thereon a model Tachypomp. We will summon thereunto the professor, his daughter, and why not his fair sister Jocasta, as well? We will take them a journey which shall much astonish the venerable Surd. He shall place Abscissa's digits in yours and bless you both with an algebraic formula. Jocasta shall contemplate with wonder the genius of Rivarol. But we have much to do. We must ship to St. Joseph the vast amount of material to be employed in the construction of the Tachypomp. We must engage a small army of workmen to effect that construction, for we are to annihilate time and space. Perhaps you had better see your bankers."
I rushed impetuously to the door. There should be no delay. "Stop! stop! Um Gottes Willen, stop!" shrieked Rivarol. "I launched my butcher this morning and I haven't bolted the-"
But it was too late. I was upon the trap. It swung open with a crash, and I was plunged down, down, down! I felt as if I were falling through illimitable space. I remember wondering, as I rushed through the darkness, whether I should reach Kerguellen's Land or stop at the center. It seemed an eternity. Then my course was suddenly and painfully arrested.
I opened my eyes. Around me were the walls of Professor Surd's study. Under me was a hard, unyielding plane which I knew too well was Professor Surd's study floor. Behind me was the black, slippery, haircloth chair which had belched me forth, much as the whale served Jonah. In front of me stood Professor Surd himself, looking down with a not unpleasant smile.
"Good evening, Mr. Furnace. Let me help you up. You look tired, sir. No wonder you fell asleep when I kept you so long waiting. Shall I get you a glass of wine? No? By the way, since receiving your letter I find that you are a son of my old friend, Judge Furnace. I have made inquiries, and see no reason why you should not make Abscissa a good husband."
Still I can see no reason why the Tachypomp should not have succeeded. Can you?
The Singular Materialism of a Progressive Thinker
PROFESSOR TYNDALL'S VIEWS MORE THAN JUSTIFIED BY THE EXPERIMENTS OF THE CELEBRATED PROFESSOR DUMMKOPT OF BOSTON, MASS.
BOSTON, December 13--Professor Dummkopf, a German gentleman of education and ingenuity, at present residing in this city, is engaged on experiments which, if successful, will work a great change both in metaphysical science and in the practical relationships of life.
The professor is firm in the conviction that modern science has narrowed down to almost nothing the border territory between the material and the immaterial. It may be some time, he admits, before any man shall be able to point his finger and say with authority, "Here mind begins; here matter ends." It may be found that the boundary line between mina and matter is as purely imaginary as the equator that divides the northern from the southern hemisphere. It may be found that mind is essentially objective as is matter, or that matter is as entirely Subjective as is mind. It may be that there is no matter except as conditioned in mind. It may be that there is no mind except as conditioned in matter. Professor Dummkopf's views upon this broad topic are interesting, although somewhat bewildering. I can cordially recommend the great work in nine volumes, Koerperliehegelswissenschaft, to any reader who may be inclined to follow up the subject. The work can undoubtedly be obtained in the original Leipzig edition through any responsible importer of foreign books.
Great as is the problem suggested above, Professor Dummkopf has no doubt whatever that it will be solved, and at no distant day. He himself has taken a masterly stride toward a solution by the brilliant series of experiments I am about to describe. He not only believes with Tyndall that matter contains the promise and potency of all life, but he believes that every force, physical, intellectual, and moral, may be resolved into matter, formulated in terms of matter, and analyzed into its constituent forms of matter; that motion is matter, mind is matter, law is matter, and even that abstract relations of mathematical abstractions are purely material.
In accordance with an invitation extended to me at the last meeting of the Radical Club--an organization, by the way, which is doing a noble work in extending our knowledge of the Unknowable--I dallied yesterday at Professor Dummkopf's rooms in Joy Street, at the West End. I found the professor in his apartment on the upper floor, busily engaged in an attempt to photograph smell.
"You see," he said, as he stirred up a beaker from which strongly marked fumes of sulphuretied hydrogen were arising and filling the room, "you see that, having demonstrated the objectiveness of sensation, it has now become my privilege and easy task to show that the phenomena of sensation are equally material. Hence I am attempting to photograph smell."
The professor then darted behind a camera which was leveled upon the vessel in which the suffocating fumes were generated and busied himself awhile with the plate.
A disappointed look stole over his face as he brought the negative to the light and examined it anxiously. "Not yet, not yet!" he said sadly, "but patience and improved appliances will finally bring it. The trouble is in my tools, you see, and not in my theory. I did fancy the other day that I obtained a distinctly marked negative from the odor of a hot onion stew, and the thought has cheered me ever since. But it's bound to come. I tell you, my worthy friend, the actinic ray wasn't made for nothing. Could you accommodate me with a dollar and a quarter to buy some more collodion?"
THE BOTTLE THEORY OF SOUND
I expressed my cheerful readiness to be banker to genius.
"Thanks," said the professor, pocketing the scrip and resuming his position at the camera. "When I have pictorially captured smell, the most palpable of the senses, the next thing will be to imprison sound--vulgarly speaking, to bottle it. Just think a moment. Force is as imperishable as matter; indeed, as I have been somewhat successful in showing, it is matter. Now, when a sound wave is once started, it is only lost through an indefinite extension of its circumference. Catch that sound wave, sir! Catch it in a bottle, then its circumference cannot extend. You may keep the sound wave forever if you will only keep it corked up tight. The only difficulty is in bottling it in the first place. I shall attend to the details of that operation just as soon as I have managed to photograph the confounded rotten-egg smell of sulphydric acid."
The professor stirred up the offensive mixture with a glass rod, and continued:
"While my object in bottling sound is mainly scientific, I must confess that I see in success in that direction a prospect of considerable pecuniary profit. I shall be prepared at no distant day to put operas in quart bottles, labeled and assorted, and contemplate a series of light and popular airs in ounce vials at prices to suit the times. You know very well that it costs a ten-dollar bill now to take a lady to hear Martha or Mignon, rendered in first-class style. By the bottle system, the same notes may be heard in one's own parlor at a comparatively trifling expense. I could put the operas into the market at from eighty cents to a dollar a bottle. For oratorios and symphonies I should use demijohns, and the cost would of course be greater. I don't think that ordinary bottles would hold Wagner's music. It might be necessary to employ carboys. Sir, if I were of the sanguine habit of you Americans, I should say that there were millions in it. Being a phlegmatic Teuton, accustomed to the precision and moderation of scientific language, I will merely say that in the success of my experiments with sound I see a comfortable income, as well as great renown.
A SCIENTIFIC MARVEL
By this time the professor had another negative, but an eager examination of it yielded nothing more satisfactory than before. He sighed and continued:
"Having photographed smell and bottled sound, I shall proceed to a project as much higher than this as the reflective faculties are higher than the perceptive, as the brain is more exalted than the ear or nose.
"I am perfectly satisfied that elements of mind are just as susceptible of detection and analysis as elements of matter. Why, mind is matter.
"The soul spectroscope, or, as it will better be known, Dummkopf's duplex self-registering soul spectroscope, is based on the broad fact that whatever is material may be analyzed and determined by the position of the Frauenhofer lines upon the spectrum. If soul is matter, soul may thus be analyzed and determined. Place a subject under the light, and the minute exhalations or emanations proceeding from his soul--and these exhalations or emanations are, of course, matter--will be represented by their appropriate symbols upon the face of a properly arranged spectroscope.
"This, in short, is my discovery. How I shall arrange the spectroscope, and how I shall locate the subject with reference to the light is of course my secret. I have applied for a patent. I shall exploit the instrument and its practical workings at the Centennial. Till then I must decline to enter into any more explicit description of the invention."
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DISCOVERY
"What will be the bearing of your great discovery in its practical workings?"
"I can go so far as to give you some idea of what those practical workings are. The effect of the soul spectroscope upon everyday affairs will be prodigious, simply prodigious. All lying, deceit, double dealing, hypocrisy, will be abrogated under its operation. It will bring about a millennium of truth and sincerity.
"A few practical illustrations. No more bell punches on the horse railroad. The superintendent, with a smattering of scientific knowledge and one of my soul spectroscopes in his office, will examine with the eye of infallible science every applicant for the position of conductor and will determine by the markings on his spectrum whether there is dishonesty in his soul, and this as readily as the chemist decides whether there is iron in a meteorolite or hydrogen in Saturn's ring.
"No more courts, judges, or juries. Hereafter justice will be represented with both eyes wide open and with one of my duplex self- registering soul spectroscopes in her right hand. The inmost nature of the accused will be read at a glance and he will be acquitted, imprisoned for thirty days, or hung, just as the Frauenhofer lines which lay bare his soul may determine.
"No more official corruption or politicians' lies. The important element in every campaign will be one of my soul spectroscopes, and it will effect the most radical, and, at the same time, the most practicable of civil service reforms.
"No more young stool pigeons in tall towers. No man will subscribe for a daily newspaper until a personal inspection of its editor's soul by means of one of my spectroscopes has convinced him that he is paying for truth, honest conviction, and uncompromising independence, rather than for the false utterances of a hired conscience and a bought judgment.
"No more unhappy marriages. The maiden will bring her glibly promising lover to me before she accepts or rejects his proposal, and I shall tell her whether his spectrum exhibits the markings of pure love, constancy, and tenderness, or of sordid avarice, vacillating affections, and post-nuptial cruelty. I shall be the angel with shining sword (or rather spectroscope] who shall attend Hymen and guard the entrance to his paradise.
"No more shame. If anything be wanting in the character of a mean, no amount of brazen pretension on his part can place the missing line in his spectrum. If anything is lacking in him, it will be lacking there. I found by a long series of experiments upon the imperfectly constituted minds of the patients in the lunatic asylum at Taunton-"
"Then you have been at Taunton?"
"Yes. For two years I pursued my studies among the unfortunate inmates of that institution. Not exactly as a patient myself, you understand, but as a student of the phenomena of morbid intellectual developments. But I see I am wearying you, and I must resume my photography before this stuff stops smelling. Come again."
Having bid the professor farewell and wished him abundant success in his very interesting experiments, I went home and read again for the thirty-ninth time Professor Tyndall's address at Belfast.
On a shelf in the old Arsenal Museum, in the Central Park, in the midst of stuffed hummingbirds, ermines, silver foxes, and bright- colored parakeets, there is a ghastly row of human heads. I pass by the mummied Peruvian, the Maori chief, and the Flathead Indian to speak of a Caucasian head which has had a fascinating interest to me ever since it was added to the grim collection a little more than a year ago.
I was struck with the Head when I first saw it. The pensive intelligence of the features won me. The face is remarkable, although the nose is gone, and the nasal fossae are somewhat the worse for wear. The eyes are likewise wanting, but the empty orbs have an expression of their own. The parchmenty skin is so shriveled that the teeth show to their roots in the jaws. The mouth has been much affected by the ravages of decay, but what mouth there is displays character. It seems to say: "Barring certain deficiencies in my anatomy, you behold a man of parts!" The features of the Head are of the Teutonic cast, and the skull is the skull of a philosopher. What particularly attracted my attention, however, was the vague resemblance which this dilapidated countenance bore to some face which had at some time been familiar to me--some face which lingered in my memory, but which I could not place.
After all, I was not greatly surprised, when I had known the Head for nearly a year, to see it acknowledge our acquaintance and express its appreciation of friendly interest on my part by deliberately winking at me as I stood before its glass case.
This was on a Trustees' Day, and I was the only visitor in the hall. The faithful attendant had gone to enjoy a can of beer with his friend, the superintendent of the monkeys.
The Head winked a second time, and even more cordially than before. I gazed upon its efforts with the critical delight of an anatomist. I saw the masseter muscle flex beneath the leathery skin. I saw the play of the glutinators, and the beautiful lateral movement of the internal playtsyma. I knew the Head was trying to speak to me. I noted the convulsive twitchings of the risorius and the zygomatie major, and knew that it was endeavoring to smile.
"Here," I thought, "is either a case of vitality long after decapitation, or, an instance of reflex action where there is no diastaltic or excitor-motory system. In either case the phenomenon is unprecedented, and should be carefully observed. Besides, the Head is evidently well disposed toward me." I found a key on my bunch which opened the glass door.
"Thanks," said the Head. "A breath of fresh air is quite a treat."
"How do you feel?" I asked politely. "How does it seem without a body?"
The Head shook itself sadly and sighed. "I would give," it said, speaking through its ruined nose, and for obvious reasons using chest tones sparingly, "I would give both ears for a single leg. My ambition is principally ambulatory, and yet I cannot walk. I cannot even hop or waddle. I would fain travel, roam, promenade, circulate in the busy paths of men, but I am chained to this accursed shelf. I am no better off than these barbarian heads--I, a man of science! I am compelled to sit here on my neck and see sandpipers and storks all around me, with legs and to spare. Look at that infernal little Oedieneninus longpipes over there. Look at that miserable gray-headed porphyric. They have no brains, no ambition, no yearnings. Yet they have legs, legs, legs, in profusion." He cast an envious glance across the alcove at the tantalizing limbs of the birds in question and added gloomily, "There isn't even enough of me to make a hero for one of Wilkie Collins's novels."
I did not exactly know how to console him in so delicate a manner, but ventured to hint that perhaps his condition had its compensations in immunity from corns and the gout.
"And as to arms," he went on, "there's another misfortune for you! I am unable to brush away the flies that get in here--Lord knows how--in the summertime. I cannot reach over and cuff that confounded Chinook mummy that sits there grinning at me like a jack-in-the-box. I cannot scratch my head or even blow my nose (his nose!) decently when I get cold in this thundering draft. As to eating and drinking, I don't care. My soul is wrapped up in science. Science is my bride, my divinity. I worship her footsteps in the past and hail the prophecy of her future progress. I-"
I had heard these sentiments before. In a flash I had accounted for the familiar look which had haunted me ever since I first saw the Head. "Pardon me," I said, "you are the celebrated Professor Dummkopf?"
"That is, or was, my name," he replied, with dignity.
"And you formerly lived in Boston, where you carried on scientific experiments of startling originality. It was you who first discovered how to photograph smell, how to bottle music, how to freeze the aurora borealis. It was you who first applied spectrW analysis to Mind."
"Those were some of my minor achievements," said the Head, sadly nodding itself--"small when compared with my final invention, the grand discovery which was at the same time my greatest triumph and my ruin. I lost my Body in an experiment."
"How was that?" I asked. "I had not heard."
"No," said the Head. "I being alone and friendless, my disappearance was hardly noticed. I will tell you."
There was a sound upon the stairway. "Hush!" cried the Head. "Here comes somebody. We must not be discovered. You must dissemble."
I hastily closed the door of the glass case, locking it just in time to evade the vigilance of the returning keeper, and dissembled by pretending to examine, with great interest, a nearby exhibit.
On the next Trustees' Day I revisited the museum and gave the keeper of the Head a dollar on the pretense of purchasing information in regard to the curiosities in his charge. He made the circuit of the hall with me, talking volubly all the while.
"That there," he said, as we stood before the Head, "is a relic of morality presented to the museum fifteen months ago. The head of a notorious murderer guillotined at Paris in the last century, sir."
I fancied that I saw a slight twitching about the corners of Professor Dummkopf's mouth and an almost imperceptible depression of what was once his left eyelid, but he kept his face remarkably well under the circumstances. I dismissed my guide with many thanks for his intelligent services, and, as I had anticipated, he departed forthwith to invest his easily earned dollar in beer, leaving me to pursue my conversation with the Head.
"Think of putting a wooden-headed idiot like that," said the professor, after I had opened his glass prison, "in charge of a portion, however small, of a man of science--of the inventor of the Telepomp! Paris! Murderer! Last century, indeed!" and the Head shook with laughter until I feared that it would tumble off the shelf.
"You spoke of your invention, the Telepomp," I suggested.
"Ah, yes," said the Head, simultaneously recovering its gravity and its center of gravity; "I promised to tell you how I happen to be a Man without a Body. You see that some three or four years ago I discovered the principle of the transmission of sound by electricity. My telephone, as I called it, would have been an invention of great practical utility if I had been spared to introduce it to the public. But, alas-"
"Excuse the interruption," I said, "but I must inform you that somebody else has recently accomplished the same thing. The telephone is a realized fact."
"Have they gone any further?" he eagerly asked. "Have they discovered the great secret of the transmission of atoms? In other words, have they accomplished the Telepomp?"
"I have heard nothing of the kind," I hastened to assure him, "but what do you mean?"
"Listen," he said. "In the course of my experiments with the telephone I became convinced that the same principle was capable of indefinite expansion. Matter is made up of molecules, and molecules, in their turn, are made up of atoms. The atom, you know, is the unit of being. The molecules differ according to the number and the arrangement of their constituent atoms. Chemical changes are effected by the dissolution of the atoms in the molecules and their rearrangements into molecules of another kind. This dissolution may be accomplished by chemical affinity or by a sufficiently strong electric current. Do you follow me?"
"Well, then, following out this line of thought, I conceived a great idea. There was no reason why matter could not be telegraphed, or, to be etymologically accurate, 'telepomped.' It was only necessary to effect at one end of the line the disintegration of the molecules into atoms and to convey the vibrations of the chemical dissolution by electricity to the other pole, where a corresponding reconstruction could be effected from other atoms. As all atoms are alike, their arrangement into molecules of the same order, and the arrangement of those molecules into an organization similar to the original organization, would be practically a reproduction of the original. It would be a materialization--not in the sense of the spiritualists' cant, but in all the truth and logic of stern science. Do you still follow me?"
"It is a little misty," I said, "but I think I get the point. You would telegraph the Idea of the matter, to use the word Idea in Plato's sense."
"Precisely. A candle flame is the same candle flame although the burning gas is continually changing. A wave on the surface of water is the same wave, although the water composing it is shifting as it moves. A man is the same man although there is not an atom in his body which was there five years before. It is the form, the shape, the Idea, that is essential. The vibrations that give individuality to matter may be transmitted to a distance by wire just as readily as the vibrations that give individuality to sound. So I constructed an instrument by which I could pull down matter, so to speak, at the anode and build it up again on the same plan at the cathode. This was my Telepomp."
"But in practice--how did the Telepomp work?"
"To perfection! In my rooms on joy Street, in Boston, I had about five miles of wire. I had no difficulty in sending simple compounds, such as quartz, starch, and water, from one room to another over this five- mile coil. I shall never forget the joy with which I disintegrated a three-cent postage stamp in one room and found it immediately reproduced at the receiving instrument in another. This success with inorganic matter emboldened me to attempt the same thing with a living organism. I caught a cat--a black and yellow cat--and I submitted him to a terrible current from my two-hundred-cup battery. The cat disappeared in a twinkling. I hastened to the next room and, to my immense satisfaction, found Thomas there, alive and purring, although somewhat astonished. It worked like a charm."
"This is certainly very remarkable."
"Isn't it? After my experiment with the cat, a gigantic idea took possession of me. If I could send a feline being, why not send a human being? If I could transmit a cat five miles by wire in an instant by electricity, why not transmit a man to London by Atlantic cable and with equal dispatch? I resolved to strengthen my already powerful battery and try the experiment. Like a thorough votary of science, I resolved to try the experiment on myself.
"I do not like to dwell upon this chapter of my experience," continued the Head, winking at a tear which had trickled down on to his cheek and which I gently wiped away for him with my own pocket handkerchief. "Suffice it that I trebled the cups in my battery, stretched my wire over housetops to my lodgings in Phillips Street, made everything ready, and with a solemn calmness born of my confidence in the theory, placed myself in the receiving instrument of the Telepomp at my Joy Street office. I was as sure that when I made the connection with the battery I would find myself in my rooms in Phillips Street as I was sure of my existence. Then I touched the key that let on the electricity. Alas!"
For some moments my friend was unable to speak. At last, with an effort, he resumed his narrative.
"I began to disintegrate at my feet and slowly disappeared under my own eyes. My legs melted away, and then my trunk and arms. That something was wrong, I knew from the exceeding slowness of my dissolution, but I was helpless. Then my head went and I lost all consciousness. According to my theory, my head, having been the last to disappear, should have been the first to materialize at the other end of the wire. The theory was confirmed in fact. I recovered consciousness. I opened my eyes in my Phillips Street apartments. My chin was materializing, and with great satisfaction I saw my neck slowly taking shape. Suddenly, and about at the third cervical vertebra, the process stopped. In a flash I knew the reason. I had forgotten to replenish the cups of my battery with fresh sulphuric acid, and there was not electricity enough to materialize the rest of me. I was a Head, but my body was Lord knows where."
I did not attempt to offer consolation. Words would have been mockery in the presence of Professor Dummkopf's grief.
"What matters it about the rest?" he sadly continued. "The house in Phillips Street was full of medical students. I suppose that some of them found my head, and knowing nothing of me or of the Telepomp, appropriated it for purposes of anatomical study. I suppose that they attempted to preserve it by means of some arsenical preparation. How badly the work was done is shown by my defective nose. I suppose that I drifted from medical student to medical student and from anatomical cabinet to anatomical cabinet until some would-be humorist presented me to this collection as a French murderer of the last century. For some months I knew nothing, and when I recovered consciousness I found myself here.
"Such," added the Head, with a dry, harsh laugh, "is the irony of fate!"
"Is there nothing I can do for you?" I asked, after a pause.
"Thank you," the Head replied; "I am tolerably cheerful and resigned. I have lost pretty much all interest in experimental science. I sit here day after day and watch the objects of zoological, ichthyological, ethnological, and conchological interest with which this admirable museum abounds. I don't know of anything you can do for me.
"Stay," he added, as his gaze fell once more upon the exasperating legs of the Oedienenius longpipes opposite him. "If there is anything I do feel the need of, it is outdoor exercise. Couldn't you manage in some way to take me out for a walk?"
I confess that I was somewhat staggered by this request, but promised to do what I could. After some deliberation, I formed a plan, which was carried out in the following manner:
I returned to the museum that afternoon just before the closing hour, and hid myself behind the mammoth sea cow, or Manatus Americanus. The attendant, after a cursory glance through the hall, locked up the building and departed. Then I came boldly forth and removed my friend from his shelf. With a piece of stout twine, I lashed his one or two vertebrae to the headless vertebrae of a skeleton moa. This gigantic and extinct bird of New Zealand is heavy-legged, full-breasted, tall as a man, and has huge, sprawling feet. My friend, thus provided with legs and arms, manifested extraordinary glee. He walked about, stamped his big feet, swung his wings, and occasionally broke forth into a hilarious shuffle. I was obliged to remind him that he must support the dignity of the venerable bird whose skeleton he had borrowed. I despoiled the African lion of his glass eyes, and inserted them in the empty orbits of the Head. I gave Professor Dummkopf a Fiji war lance for a walking stick, covered him with a Sioux blanket, and then we issued forth from the old arsenal into the fresh night air and the moonlight, and wandered arm in arm along the shores of the quiet lake and through the mazy paths of the Ramble.
It may or may not be remembered that in 1878 General Ignatieff spent several weeks of July at the Badischer Hof in Baden. The public journals gave out that he visited the watering-place for the benefit of his health, said to be much broken by protracted anxiety and responsibility in the service of the Czar. But everybody knew that Ignatieff was just then out of favor at St. Petersburg, and that his absence from the centers of active statecraft at a time when the peace of Europe fluttered like a shuttlecock in the air, between Salisbury and Shouvaloff, was nothing more or less than politely disguised exile.
I am indebted for the following facts to my friend Fisher, of New York, who arrived at Baden on the day after Ignatieff, and was duly announced in the official list of strangers as "Herr Doctor Professor Fischer, mit Frau Gattin and Bed. Nordamerika."
The scarcity of titles among the traveling aristocracy of North America is a standing grievance with the ingenious person who compiles the official list. Professional pride and the instincts of hospitality alike impel him to supply the lack whenever he can. He distributes governor, major-general, and doctor professor with tolerable impartiality, according as the arriving Americans wear a distinguished, a martial, or a studious air. Fisher owed his title to his spectacles.
It was still early in the season. The theatre had not yet opened. The hotels were hardly half full, the concerts in the kiosk at the Conversationshaus were heard by scattering audiences, and the shopkeepers of the bazaar had no better business than to spend their time in bewailing the degeneracy of Baden Baden since an end was put to the play. Few excursionists disturbed the meditations of the shriveled old custodian of the tower on the Mercuriusberg. Fisher found the place very stupid--as stupid as Saratoga in June or Long Branch in September. He was impatient to get to Switzerland, but his wife had contracted a table d'hôte intimacy with a Polish countess, and she positively refused to take any step that would sever so advantageous a connection.
One afternoon Fisher was standing on one of the little bridges that span the gutter-wide Oosbach, idly gazing into the water and wondering whether a good sized Rangely trout could swim the stream without personal inconvenience, when the porter of the Badischer Hof came to him on the run.
"Herr Doctor Professorl" cried the porter, touching his cap. "I pray you pardon, but the highborn the Baron Savitch out of Moscow, of the General Ignatieff's suite, suffers himself in a terrible fit, and appears to die."
In vain Fisher assured the porter that it was a mistake to consider him a medical expert; that he professed no science save that of draw poker; that if a false impression prevailed in the hotel it was through a blunder for which he was in no way responsible; and that, much as he regretted the unfortunate condition of the highborn the baron out of Moscow, he did not feel that his presence in the chamber of sickness would be of the slightest benefit. It was impossible to eradicate the idea that possessed the porter's mind. Finding himself fairly dragged toward the hotel, Fisher at length concluded to make a virtue of necessity and to render his explanations to the baron's friends.
The Russian's apartments were upon the second floor, not far from those occupied by Fisher. A French valet, almost beside himself with terror, came hurrying out of the room to meet the porter and the doctor professor. Fisher again attempted to explain, but to no purpose. The valet also had explanations to make, and the superior fluency of his French enabled him to monopolize the conversation. No, there was nobody there--nobody but himself, the faithful Auguste of the baron. His Excellency, the General Ignatieff, His Highness, the Prince Koloff, Dr. Rapperschwyll, all the suite, all the world, had driven out that morning to Gernsbach. The baron, meanwhile, had been seized by an effraying malady, and he, Auguste, was desolate with apprehension. He entreated Monsieur to lose no time in parley, but to hasten to the bedside of the baron, who was already in the agonies of dissolution.
Fisher followed Auguste into the inner room. The Baron, in his boots, lay upon the bed, his body bent almost double by the unrelenting gripe of a distressful pain. His teeth were tightly clenched, and the rigid muscles around the mouth distorted the natural expression of his face. Every few seconds a prolonged groan escaped him. His fine eyes rolled piteously. Anon, he would press both hands upon his abdomen and shiver in every limb in the intensity of his suffering.
Fisher forgot his explanations. Had he been a doctor professor in fact, he could not have watched the symptoms of the baron's malady with greater interest.
"Can Monsieur preserve him?" whispered the terrified Auguste.
"Perhaps," said Monsieur, dryly.
Fisher scribbled a note to his wife on the back of a card and dispatched it in the care of the hotel porter. That functionary returned with great promptness, bringing a black bottle and a glass. The bottle had come in Fisher's trunk to Baden all the way from Liverpool, had crossed the sea to Liverpool from New York, and had journeyed to New York direct from Bourbon County, Kentucky. Fisher seized it eagerly but reverently, and held it up against the light. There were still three inches or three inches and a half in the bottom. He uttered a grunt of pleasure.
"There is some hope of saving the Baron," he remarked to Auguste.
Fully one half of the precious liquid was poured into the glass and administered without delay to the groaning, writhing patient. In a few minutes Fisher had the satisfaction of seeing the baron sit up in bed. The muscles around his mouth relaxed, and the agonized expression was superseded by a look of placid contentment.
Fisher now had an opportunity to observe the personal characteristics of the Russian baron. He was a young man of about thirty-five, with exceedingly handsome and clear-cut features, but a peculiar head. The peculiarity of his head was that it seemed to be perfectly round on top-that is, its diameter from ear to ear appeared quite equal to its anterior and posterior diameter. The curious effect of this unusual conformation was rendered more striking by the absence of all hair. There was nothing on the baron's head but a tightly fitting skullcap of black silk. A very deceptive wig hung upon one of the bed posts.
Being sufficiently recovered to recognize the presence of a stranger, Savitch made a courteous bow.
"How do you find yourself now?" inquired Fisher, in bad French.
"Very much better, thanks to Monsieur," replied the baron, in excellent English, spoken in a charming voice. "Very much better, though I feel a certain dizziness here." And he pressed his hand to his forehead.
The valet withdrew at a sign from his master, and was followed by the porter. Fisher advanced to the bedside and took the baron's wrist. Even his unpractised touch told him that the pulse was alarmingly high. He was much puzzled, and not a little uneasy at the turn which the affair had taken. "Have I got myself and the Russian into an infernal scrape?" he thought. "But no--he's well out of his teens, and half a tumbler of such whiskey as that ought not to go to a baby's head."
Nevertheless, the new symptoms developed themselves with a rapidity and poignancy that made Fisher feel uncommonly anxious. Savitch's face became as white as marble--its paleness rendered startling by the sharp contrast of the black skull cap. His form reeled as he sat on the bed, and he clasped his head convulsively with both hands, as if in terror lest it burst.
"I had better call your valet," said Fisher, nervously.
"No, no!" gasped the baron. "You are a medical man, and I shall have to trust you. There is something-wrong-here." With a spasmodic gesture he vaguely indicated the top of his head.
"But I am not-" stammered Fisher.
"No words!" exclaimed the Russian, imperiously. "Act at once--there must be no delay. Unscrew the top of my headl"
Savitch tore off his skullcap and flung it aside. Fisher has no words to describe the bewilderment with which he beheld the actual fabric of the baron's cranium. The skullcap had concealed the fact that the entire top of Savitch's head was a dome of polished silver.
"Unscrew it!" said Savitch again.
Fisher reluctantly placed both hands upon the silver skull and exerted a gentle pressure toward the left. The top yielded, turning easily and truly in its threads.
"Faster!" said the baron, faintly. "I tell you no time must be lost." Then he swooned.
At this instant there was a sound of voices in the outer room, and the door leading into the baron's bed-chamber was violently flung open and as violently closed. The newcomer was a short, spare man, of middle age, with a keen visage and piercing, deepset little gray eyes. He stood for a few seconds scrutinizing Fisher with a sharp, almost fiercely jealous regard.
The baron recovered his consciousness and opened his eyes.
"Dr. Rapperschwyll!" he exclaimed.
Dr. Rapperschwyll, with a few rapid strides, approached the bed and confronted Fisher and Fisher's patient. "What is all this?" he angrily demanded.
Without waiting for a reply he laid his hand rudely upon Fisher's arm and pulled him away from the baron. Fisher, more and more astonished, made no resistance, but suffered himself to be led, or pushed, toward the door. Dr. Rapperschwyll opened the door wide enough to give the American exit, and then closed it with a vicious slam. A quick click informed Fisher that the key had been turned in the lock.
The next morning Fisher met Savitch coming from the Trinkhalle. The baron bowed with cold politeness and passed on. Later in the day a valet de place handed to Fisher a small parcel, with the message: "Dr. Rapperschwyll supposes that this will be sufficient" The parcel contained two gold pieces of twenty marks.
Fisher gritted his teeth. "He shall have back his forty marks," he muttered to himself, "but I will have his confounded secret in return."
Then Fisher discovered that even a Polish countess has her uses in the social economy.
Mrs. Fisher's table d'hôte friend was amiability itself, when approached by Fisher (through Fisher's wife) on the subject of the Baron Savitch of Moscow. Know anything about the Baron Savitch? Of course she did, and about everybody else worth knowing in Europe. Would she kindly communicate her knowledge? Of course she would, and be enchanted to gratify in the slightest degree the charming curiosity of her Americaine. It was quite refreshing for a blasée old woman, who had long since ceased to feel much interest in contemporary men, women, things and events, to encounter one so recently from the boundless prairies of the new world as to cherish a piquant inquisitiveness about the affairs of the grand monde. Ah! yes, she would very willingly communicate the history of the Baron Savitch of Moscow, if that would amuse her dear Americaine.
The Polish countess abundantly redeemed her promise, throwing in for good measure many choice bits of gossip and scandalous anecdotes about the Russian nobility, which are not relevant to the present narrative. Her story, as summarized by Fisher, was this:
The Baron Savitch was not of an old creation. There was a mystery about his origin that had never been satisfactorily solved in St. Petersburg or in Moscow. It was said by some that he was a foundling from the Vospitatelnoi Dom. Others believed him to be the unacknowledged son of a certain illustrious personage nearly related to the House of Romanoff. The latter theory was the more probable, since it accounted in a measure for the unexampled success of his career from the day that he was graduated at the University of Dorpat.
Rapid and brilliant beyond precedent this career had been. He entered the diplomatic service of the Czar, and for several years was attached to the legations at Vienna, London, and Paris. Created a Baron before his twenty-fifth birthday for the wonderful ability displayed in the conduct of negotiations of supreme importance and delicacy with the House of Hapsburg, he became a pet of Gortchakoff's, and was given every opportunity for the exercise of his genius in diplomacy. It was even said in wellinformed circles at St. Petersburg that the guiding mind which directed Russia's course throughout the entire Eastern complication, which planned the campaign on the Danube, effected the combinations that gave victory to the Czar's soldiers, and which meanwhile held Austria aloof, neutralized the immense power of Germany, and exasperated England only to the point where wrath expends itself in harmless threats, was the brain of the young Baron Savitch. It was certain that he had been with Ignatieff at Constantinople when the trouble was first fomented, with Shouvaloff in England at the time of the secret conference agreement, with the Grand Duke Nicholas at Adrianople when the protocol of an armistice was signed, and would soon be in Berlin behind the scenes of the Congress, where it was expected that he would outwit the statesmen of all Europe, and play with Bismarck and Disraeli as a strong man plays with two kicking babies.
But the countess had concerned herself very little with this handsome young man's achievements in politics. She had been more particularly interested in his social career. His success in that field had been not less remarkable. Although no one knew with positive certainty his father's name, he had conquered an absolute supremacy in the most exclusive circles surrounding the imperial court. His influence with the Czar himself was supposed to be unbounded. Birth apart, he was considered the best parti in Russia. From poverty and by the sheer force of intellect he had won for himself a colossal fortune. Report gave him forty million roubles, and doubtless report did not exceed the fact. Every speculative enterprise which he undertook, and they were many and various, was carried to sure success by the same qualities of cool, unerring judgment, far-reaching sagacity, and apparently superhuman power of organizing, combining, and controlling, which had made him in politics the phenomenon of the age.
About Dr. Rapperschwyll? Yes, the countess knew him by reputation and by sight. He was the medical man in constant attendance upon the Baron Savitch, whose high-strung mental organization rendered him susceptible to sudden and alarming attacks of illness. Dr. Rapperschwyll was a Swiss-had originally been a watchmaker or artisan of some kind, she had heard. For the rest, he was a commonplace little old man, devoted to his profession and to the baron, and evidently devoid of ambition, since he wholly neglected to turn the opportunities of his position and connections to the advancement of his personal fortunes.
Fortified with this information, Fisher felt better prepared to grapple with Rapperschwyll for the possession of the secret. For five days he lay in wait for the Swiss physician. On the sixth day the desired opportunity unexpectedly presented itself.
Half way up the Mercuriusberg, late in the afternoon, he encountered the custodian of the ruined tower, coming down. "No, the tower was not closed. A gentleman was up there, making observations of the country, and he, the custodian, would be back in an hour or two." So Fisher kept on his way.
The upper part of this tower is in a dilapidated condition. The lack of a stairway to the summit is supplied by a temporary wooden ladder. Fisher's head and shoulders were hardly through the trap that opens to the platform, before he discovered that the man already there was the man whom he sought. Dr. Rapperschwyll was studying the topography of the Black Forest through a pair of field glasses.
Fisher announced his arrival by an opportune stumble and a noisy effort to recover himself, at the same instant aiming a stealthy kick at the topmost round of the ladder, and scrambling ostentatiously over the edge of the trap. The ladder went down thirty or forty feet with a racket, clattering and banging against the walls of the tower.
Dr. Rapperschwyll at once appreciated the situation. He turned sharply around, and remarked with a sneer, "Monsieur is unaccountably awkward." Then he scowled and showed his teeth, for he recognized Fisher.
"It is rather unfortunate," said the New Yorker, with imperturbable coolness. "We shall be imprisoned here a couple of hours at the shortest. Let us congratulate ourselves that we each have intelligent company, besides a charming landscape to contemplate."
The Swiss coldly bowed, and resumed his topographical studies. Fisher lighted a cigar.
"I also desire," continued Fisher, puffing clouds of smoke in the direction of the Teufelmfihle, "to avail myself of this opportunity to return forty marks of yours, which reached me, I presume, by a mistake."
"If Monsieur the American physician was not satisfied with his fee," rejoined Rapperschwyll, venomously, "he can without doubt have the affair adjusted by applying to the baron's valet."
Fisher paid no attention to this thrust, but calmly laid the gold pieces upon the parapet, directly under the nose of the Swiss.
"I could not think of accepting any fee," he said, with deliberate emphasis. "I was abundantly rewarded for my trifling services by the novelty and interest of the case."
The Swiss scanned the American's countenance long and steadily with his sharp little gray eyes. At length he said, carelessly:
"Monsieur is a man of science?"
"Yes," replied Fisher, with a mental reservation in favor of all sciences save that which illuminates and dignifies our national game.
"Then," continued Dr. Rapperschwyll, "Monsieur will perhaps acknowledge that a more beautiful or more extensive case of trephining has rarely come under his observation."
Fisher slightly raised his eyebrows.
"And Monsieur will also understand, being a physician," continued Dr. Rapperschwyll, "the sensitiveness of the baron himself, and of his friends upon the subject. He will therefore pardon my seeming rudeness at the time of his discovery."
"He is smarter than I supposed," thought Fisher. "He holds all the cards, while I have nothing--nothing, except a tolerably strong nerve when it comes to a game of bluff."
"I deeply regret that sensitiveness," he continued, aloud, "for it had occurred to me that an accurate account of what I saw, published in one of the scientific journals of England or America, would excite wide attention, and no doubt be received with interest on the Continent."
"What you saw?" cried the Swiss, sharply. "It is false. You saw nothing--when I entered you had not even removed the-"
Here he stopped short and muttered to himself, as if cursing his own impetuosity. Fisher celebrated his advantage by tossing away his half- burned cigar and lighting a fresh one.
"Since you compel me to be frank," Dr. Rapperschwyll went on, with visibly increasing nervousness, "I will inform you that the baron has assured me that you saw nothing. I interrupted you in the act of removing the silver cap."
"I will be equally frank," replied Fisher, stiffening his face for a final effort. "On that point, the baron is not a competent witness. He was in a state of unconsciousness for some time before you entered. Perhaps I was removing the silver cap when you interrupted me-"
Dr. Rapperschwyll turned pale.
"And, perhaps," said Fisher, coolly, "I was replacing it."
The suggestion of this possibility seemed to strike Rapperschwyll like a sudden thunderbolt from the clouds. His knees parted, and he almost sank to the floor. He put his hands before his eyes, and wept like a child, or, rather, like a broken old man.
"He will publish it! He will publish it to the court and to the world!" he cried, hysterically. "And at this crisis-"
Then, by a desperate effort, the Swiss appeared to recover to some extent his self-control. He paced the diameter of the platform for several minutes, with his head bent and his arms folded across the breast. Turning again to his companion, he said:
"If any sum you may name will-"
Fisher cut the proposition short with a laugh.
"Then," said Rapperschwyll, "if-if I throw myself on your generosity-- "
"Well?" demanded Fisher.
"And ask a promise, on your honor, of absolute silence concerning what you have seen?"
"Silence until such time as the Baron Savitch shall have ceased to exist?"
"That will suffice," said Rapperschwyll. "For when he ceases to exist I die. And your conditions?"
"The whole story, here and now, and without reservation."
"It is a terrible price to ask me," said Rapperschwyll, "but larger interests than my pride are at stake. You shall hear the story.
"I was bred a watchmaker," he continued, after a long pause, "in the Canton of Zurich. It is not a matter of vanity when I say that I achieved a marvellous degree of skill in the craft. I developed a faculty of invention that led me into a series of experiments regarding the capabilities of purely mechanical combinations. I studied and improved upon the best automata ever constructed by human ingenuity. Babbage's calculating machine especially interested me. I saw in Babbage's idea the germ of something infinitely more important to the world.
"Then I threw up my business and went to Paris to study physiology. I spent three years at the Sorbonne and perfected myself in that branch of knowledge. Meanwhile, my pursuits had extended far beyond the purely physical sciences. Psychology engaged me for a time; and then I ascended into the domain of sociology, which, when adequately understood, is the summary and final application of all knowledge.
"It was after years of preparation, and as the outcome of all my studies, that the great idea of my life, which had vaguely haunted me ever since the Zurich days, assumed at last a well-defined and perfect form."
The manner of Dr. Rapperschwyll had changed from distrustful reluctance to frank enthusiasm. The man himself seemed transformed. Fisher listened attentively and without interrupting the relation. He could not help fancying that the necessity of yielding the secret, so long and so jealously guarded by the physician, was not entirely distasteful to the enthusiast.
"Now, attend, Monsieur," continued Dr. Rapperschwyll, "to several separate propositions which may seem at first to have no direct bearing on each other.
"My endeavors in mechanism had resulted in a machine which went far beyond Babbage's in its powers of calculation. Given the data, there was no limit to the possibilities in this direction. Babbage's cogwheels and pinions calculated logarithms, calculated an eclipse. It was fed with figures, and produced results in figures. Now, the relations of cause and effect are as fixed and unalterable as the laws of arithmetic. Logic is, or should be, as exact a science as mathematics. My new machine was fed with facts, and produced conclusions. In short, it reasoned; and the results of its reasoning were always true, while the results of human reasoning are often, if not always, false. The source of error in human logic is what the philosophers call the `personal equation.' My machine eliminated the personal equation; it proceeded from cause to effect, from premise to conclusion, with steady precision. The human intellect is fallible; my machine was, and is, infallible in its processes.
"Again, physiology and anatomy had taught me the fallacy of the medical superstition which holds the gray matter of the brain and the vital principle to be inseparable. I had seen men living with pistol balls imbedded in the medulla oblongata. I had seen the hemispheres and the cerebellum removed from the crania of birds and small animals, and yet they did not die. I believed that, though the brain were to be removed from a human skull, the subject would not die, although he would certainly be divested of the intelligence which governed all save the purely involuntary actions of his body.
"Once more: a profound study of history from the sociological point of view, and a not inconsiderable practical experience of human nature, had convinced me that the greatest geniuses that ever existed were on a plane not so very far removed above the level of average intellect. The grandest peaks in my native country, those which all the world knows by name, tower only a few hundred feet above the countless unnamed peaks that surround them. Napoleon Bonaparte towered only a little over the ablest men around him. Yet that little was everything, and he overran Europe. A man who surpassed Napoleon, as Napoleon surpassed Murat, in the mental qualities which transmute thought into fact, would have made himself master of the whole world.
"Now, to fuse these three propositions into one: suppose that I take a man, and, by removing the brain that enshrines all the errors and failures of his ancestors away back to the origin of the race, remove all sources of weakness in his future career. Suppose, that in place of the fallible intellect which I have removed, I endow him with an artificial intellect that operates with the certainty of universal laws. Suppose that I launch this superior being, who reasons truly, into the burly burly of his inferiors, who reason falsely, and await the inevitable result with the tranquillity of a philosopher.
"Monsieur, you have my secret. That is precisely what I have done. In Moscow, where my friend Dr. Duchat had charge of the new institution of St. Vasili for hopeless idiots, I found a boy of eleven whom they called Stépan Borovitch. Since he was born, he had not seen, heard, spoken or thought. Nature had granted him, it was believed, a fraction of the sense of smell, and perhaps a fraction of the sense of taste, but of even this there was no positive ascertainment. Nature had walled in his soul most effectually. Occasional inarticulate murmurings, and an incessant knitting and kneading of the fingers were his only manifestations of energy. On bright days they would place him in a little rocking-chair, in some spot where the sun fell warm, and he would rock to and fro for hours, working his slender fingers and mumbling forth his satisfaction at the warmth in the plaintive and unvarying refrain of idiocy. The boy was thus situated when I first saw him.
"I begged Stépan Borovitch of my good friend Dr. Duchat. If that excellent man had not long since died he should have shared in my triumph. I took Stépan to my home and plied the saw and the knife. I could operate on that poor, worthless, useless, hopeless travesty of humanity as fearlessly and as recklessly as upon a dog bought or caught for vivisection. That was a little more than twenty years ago. To-day Stépan Borovitch wields more power than any other man on the face of the earth. In ten years he will be the autocrat of Europe, the master of the world. He never errs; for the machine that reasons beneath his silver skull never makes a mistake."
Fisher pointed downward at the old custodian of the tower, who was seen toiling up the hill.
"Dreamers," continued Dr. Rapperschwyll, "have speculated on the possibility of finding among the ruins of the older civilizations some brief inscription which shall change the foundations of human knowledge. Wiser men deride the dream, and laugh at the idea of scientific kabbala. The wiser men are fools. Suppose that Aristotle had discovered on a cuneiform-covered tablet at Nineveh the few words, 'Survival of the Fittest' Philosophy would have gained twenty-two hundred years. I will give you, in almost as few words, a truth equally pregnant. The ultimate evolution of the creature is into the creator. Perhaps it will be twenty-two hundred years before the truth finds general acceptance, yet it is not the less a truth. The Baron Savitch is my creature, and I am his creator--creator of the ablest man in Europe, the ablest man in the world.
"Here is our ladder, Monsieur. I have fulfilled my part of the agreement. Remember yours."
After a two months' tour of Switzerland and the Italian lakes, the Fishers found themselves at the Hotel Splendide in Paris, surrounded by people from the States. It was a relief to Fisher, after his somewhat bewildering experience at Baden, followed by a surfeit of stupendous and ghostly snow peaks, to be once more among those who discriminated between a straight flush and a crooked straight, and whose bosoms thrilled responsive to his own at the sight of the star- spangled banner. It was particularly agreeable for him to find at the Hotel Splendide, in a party of Easterners who had come over to see the Exposition, Miss Bella Ward, of Portland, a pretty and bright girl, affianced to his best friend in New York.
With much less pleasure, Fisher learned that the Baron Savitch was in Paris, fresh from the Berlin Congress, and that he was the lion of the hour with the select few who read between the written lines of politics and knew the dummies of diplomacy from the real players in the tremendous game. Dr. Rapperschwyll was not with the baron. He was detained in Switzerland, at the death-bed of his aged mother.
This last piece of information was welcome to Fisher. The more he reflected upon the interview on the Mercuriusberg, the more strongly he felt it to be his intellectual duty to persuade himself that the whole affair was an illusion, not a reality. He would have been glad, even at the sacrifice of his confidence in his own astuteness, to believe that the Swiss doctor had been amusing himself at the expense of his credulity. But the remembrance of the scene in the baron's bedroom at the Badischer Hof was too vivid to leave the slightest ground for this theory. He was obliged to be content with the thought that he should soon place the broad Atlantic between himself and a creature so unnatural, so dangerous, so monstrously impossible as the Baron Savitch.
Hardly a week had passed before he was thrown again into the society of that impossible person.
The ladies of the American party met the Russian baron at a ball in the New Continental Hotel. They were charmed with his handsome face, his refinement of manner, his intelligence and wit. They met him again at the American Minister's, and, to Fisher's unspeakable consternation, the acquaintance thus established began to make rapid progress in the direction of intimacy. Baron Savitch became a frequent visitor at the Hotel Splendide.
Fisher does not like to dwell upon this period. For a month his peace of mind was rent alternately by apprehension and disgust. He is compelled to admit that the baron's demeanor toward himself was most friendly, although no allusion was made on either side to the incident at Baden. But the knowledge that no good could come to his friends from this association with a being in whom the moral principle had no doubt been supplanted by a system of cog-gear, kept him continually in a state of distraction. He would gladly have explained to his American friends the true character of the Russian, that he was not a man of healthy mental organization, but merely a marvel of mechanical ingenuity, constructed upon a principle subversive of all society as at present constituted--in short, a monster whose very existence must ever be revolting to right-minded persons with brains of honest gray and white. But the solemn promise to Dr. Rapperschwyll sealed his lips.
A trifling incident suddenly opened his eyes to the alarming character of the situation, and filled his heart with a new horror.
One evening, a few days before the date designated for the departure of the American party from Havre for home, Fisher happened to enter the private parlor which was, by common consent, the headquarters of his set. At first he thought that the room was unoccupied. Soon he perceived, in the recess of a window, and partly obscured by the drapery of the curtain, the forms of the Baron Savitch and Miss Ward of Portland. They did not observe his entrance. Miss Ward's hand was in the baron's hand, and she was looking up into his handsome face with an expression which Fisher could not misinterpret.
Fisher coughed, and going to another window, pretended to be interested in affairs on the Boulevard. The couple emerged from the recess. Miss Ward's face was ruddy with confusion, and she immediately withdrew. Not a sign of embarrassment was visible on the baron's countenance. He greeted Fisher with perfect self-possession, and began to talk of the great balloon in the Place du Carrousel.
Fisher pitied but could not blame the young lady. He believed her still loyal at heart to her New York engagement. He knew that her loyalty could not be shaken by the blandishments of any man on earth. He recognized the fact that she was under the spell of a power more than human. Yet what would be the outcome? He could not tell her all; his promise bound him. It would be useless to appeal to the generosity of the baron; no human sentiments governed his exorable purposes. Must the affair drift on while he stood tied and helpless? Must this charming and innocent girl be sacrificed to the transient whim of an automaton? Allowing that the baron's intentions were of the most honorable character, was the situation any less horrible? Marry a Machine! His own loyalty to his friend in New York, his regard for Miss Ward, alike loudly called on him to act with promptness.
And, apart from all private interest, did he not owe a plain duty to society, to the liberties of the world? Was Savitch to be permitted to proceed in the career laid out for him by his creator, Dr. Rapperschwyll? He (Fisher) was the only man in the world in a position to thwart the ambitious programme. Was there ever greater need of a Brutus?
Between doubts and fears, the last days of Fisher's stay in Paris were wretched beyond description. On the morning of the steamer day he had almost made up his mind to act.
The train for Havre departed at noon, and at eleven o'clock the Baron Savitch made his appearance at the Hotel Splendide to bid farewell to his American friends. Fisher watched Miss Ward closely. There was a constraint in her manner which fortified his resolution. The baron incidentally remarked that he should make it his duty and pleasure to visit America within a very few months, and that he hoped then to renew the acquaintances now interrupted. As Savitch spoke, Fisher observed that his eyes met Miss Ward's, while the slightest possible blush colored her cheeks. Fisher knew that the case was desperate, and demanded a desperate remedy.
He now joined the ladies of the party in urging the baron to join them in the hasty lunch that was to precede the drive to the station. Saviteh gladly accepted the cordial invitation. Wine he politely but firmly declined, pleading the absolute prohibition of his physician. Fisher left the room for an instant, and returned with the black bottle which had figured in the Baden episode.
"The Baron," he said, "has already expressed his approval of the noblest of our American products, and he knows that this beverage has good medical endorsement." So saying, he poured the remaining contents of the Kentucky bottle into a glass, and presented it to the Russian.
Saviteh hesitated. His previous experience with the nectar was at the same time a temptation and a warning, yet he did not wish to seem discourteous. A chance remark from Miss Ward decided him.
"The baron," she said, with a smile, "will certainly not refuse to wish us bon voyage in the American fashion."
Savitch drained the glass and the conversation turned to other matters. The carriages were already below. The parting comphments were being made, when Savitch suddenly pressed his hands to his forehead and clutched at the back of a chair. The ladies gathered around him in alarm.
"It is nothing," he said faintly; "a temporary dizziness."
"There is no time to be lost," said Fisher, pressing forward. "The train leaves in twenty minutes. Get ready at once, and I will meanwhile attend to our friend."
Fisher hurriedly led the baron to his own bedroom. Savitch fell back upon the bed. The Baden symptoms repeated themselves. In two minutes the Russian was unconscious.
Fisher looked at his watch. He had three minutes to spare. He turned the key in the lock of the door and touched the knob of the electric annunciator.
Then, gaining the mastery of his nerves by one supreme effort for self-control, Fisher pulled the deceptive wig and the black skullcap from the baron's head. "Heaven forgive me if I am making a fearful mistake!" he thought. But I believe it to be best for ourselves and for the world." Rapidly, but with a steady hand, he unscrewed the silver dome. The Mechanism lay exposed before his eyes. The baron groaned. Ruthlessly Fisher tore out the wondrous machine. He had no time and no inclination to examine it. He caught up a newspaper and hastily enfolded it. He thrust the bundle into his open traveling bag. Then he screwed the silver top firmly upon the baron's head, and replaced the skullcap and the wig.
All this was done before the servant answered the bell. "The Baron Savitch is ill," said Fisher to the attendant, when he came. "There is no cause for alarm. Send at once to the Hotel de l'Athénée for his valet, Auguste." In twenty seconds Fisher was in a cab, whirling toward the Station St. Lazare.
When the steamship Pereire was well out at sea, with Ushant five hundred miles in her wake, and countless fathoms of water beneath her keel, Fisher took a newspaper parcel from his traveling bag. His teeth were firm set and his lips rigid. He carried the heavy parcel to the side of the ship and dropped it into the Atlantic. It made a little eddy in the smooth water, and sank out of sight. Fisher fancied that he heard a wild, despairing cry, and put his hands to his ears to shut out the sound. A gull came circling over the steamer--the cry may have been the gull's.
Fisher felt a light touch upon his arm. He turned quickly around. Miss Ward was standing at his side, close to the rail.
"Bless me, how white you are!" she said. "What in the world have you been doing?"
"I have been preserving the liberties of two continents," slowly replied Fisher, "and perhaps saving your own peace of mind."
"Indeed!" said she; "and how have you done that?"
"I have done it," was Fisher's grave answer, "by throwing overboard the Baron Savitch."
Miss Ward burst into a ringing laugh. "You are sometimes too droll, Mr. Fisher," she said.
I THE SMALL GOLD BOX
On the evening of the fourth of March, year of grace nineteen hundred and thirty-seven, Mr. Daniel Webster Wanlee devoted several hours to the consummation of a rather elaborate toilet. That accomplished, he placed himself before a mirror and critically surveyed the results of his patient art.
The effect appeared to give him satisfaction. In the glass he beheld a comely young man of thirty, something under the medium stature, faultlessly attired in evening dress. The face was a perfect oval, the complexion delicate, the features refined. The high cheekbones and a slight elevation of the outer corners of the eyes, the short upper lip, from which drooped a slender but aristocratic mustache, the tapered fingers of the hand, and the remarkably small feet, confined tonight in dancing pumps of polished red morocco, were all unmistakable heirlooms of a pure Mongolian ancestry. The long, stiff, black hair, brushed straight back from the forehead, fell in profusion over the neck and shoulders. Several rich decorations shone on the breast of the black broadcloth coat. The knickerbocker breeches were tied at the knees with scarlet ribbons. The stockings were of a flowered silk. Mr. Wanlee's face sparked with intelligent good sense; his figure poised itself before the glass with easy grace.
A soft, distinct utterance, filling the room yet appearing to proceed from no particular quarter, now attracted Mr. Wanlee's attention. He at once recognized the voice of his friend, Mr. Walsingham Brown.
"How are we off for time, old fellow?"
"It's getting late," replied Mr. Wanlee, without turning his face from the mirror. "You had better come over directly."
In a very few minutes the curtains at the entrance to Mr. Wanlee's apartments were unceremoniously pulled open, and Mr. Walsingham Brown strode in. The two friends cordially shook hands.
"How is the honorable member from the Los Angeles district?" inquired the newcomer gaily. "And what is there new in Washington society? Prepared to conquer tonight, I see. What's all this? Red ribbons and flowered silk hose! Ah, Wanlee. I thought you had outgrown these frivolities!"
The faintest possible blush appeared on Mr. Daniel Webster Wanlee's cheeks. "It is cool tonight?" he asked, changing the subject.
"Infernally cold," replied his friend. "I wonder you have no snow here. It is snowing hard in New York. There were at least three inches on the ground just now when I took the Pneumatic."
"Pull an easy chair up to the thermo-electrode," said the Mongolian. "You must get the New York climate thawed out of your joints if you expect to waltz creditably. The Washington women are critical in that respect."
Mr. Walsingham Brown pushed a comfortable chair toward a sphere of shining platinum that stood on a crystal pedestal in the center of the room. He pressed a silver button at the base, and the metal globe began to glow incandescently. A genial warmth diffused itself through the apartment. "That feels good," said Mr. Walsingham Brown, extending both hands to catch the heat from the thermo-electrode.
"By the way," he continued, "you haven't accounted to me yet for the scarlet bows. What would your constituents say if they saw you thus-- you, the impassioned young orator of the Pacific slope; the thoughtful student of progressive statesmanship; the mainstay and hope of the Extreme Left; the thorn in the side of conservative Vegetarianism; the bete noire of the whole Indo-European gang--you, in knee ribbons and florid extensions, like a club man at a fashionable Harlem hop, or a-"
Mr. Brown interrupted himself with a hearty but goodnatured laugh.
Mr. Wanlee seemed ill at ease. He did not reply to his friend's raillery. He cast a stealthy glance at his knees in the mirror, and then went to one side of the room, where an endless strip of printed paper, about three feet wide, was slowly issuing from between noiseless rollers and falling in neat folds into a willow basket placed on the floor to receive it. Mr. Wanlee bent his head over the broad strip of paper and began to read attentively.
"You take the Contemporaneous News, I suppose," said the other.
"No, I prefer the Interminable Intelligencer," replied Mr. Wanlee. "The Contemporaneous is too much of my own way of thinking. Why should a sensible man ever read the organ of his own party? How much wiser it is to keep posted on what your political opponents think and say."
"Do you find anything about the event of the evening?"
"The ball has opened," said Mr. Wanlee, "and the floor of the Capitol is already crowded. Let me see," he continued, beginning to read aloud: "'The wealth, the beauty, the chivalry, and the brains of the nation combine to lend unprecedented luster to the Inauguration Ball, and the brilliant success of the new Administration is assured beyond all question.'"
"That is encouraging logic," Mr. Brown remarked.
"'President Trimbelly has just entered the rotunda, escorting his beautiful and stately wife, and accompanied by ex-President Riley, Mrs. Riley, and Miss Norah Riley. The illustrious group is of course the cynosure of all eyes. The utmost cordiality prevails among statesmen of all shades of opinion. For once, bitter political animosities seem to have been laid aside with the ordinary habiliments of everyday wear. Conspicuous among the guests are some of the most distinguished radicals of the opposition. Even General Quong, the defeated Mongol-Vegetarian candidate, is now proceeding across the rotunda, leaning on the arm of the Chinese ambassador, with the evident intention of paying his compliments to his successful rival. Not the slightest trace of resentment or hostility is visible upon his strongly marked Asiatic features.'
"The hero of the Battle of Cheyenne can afford to be magnanimous," remarked Mr. Wanlee, looking up from the paper.
"True," said Mr. Walsingham Brown, warmly. "The noble old hoodlum fighter has settled forever the question of the equality of your race. The presidency could have added nothing to his fame."
Mr. Wanlee went on reading: "'The toilets of the ladies are charming. Notable among those which attract the reportorial eye are the peacock feather train of the Princess Hushyida; the mauve-'"
"Cut that," suggested Mr. Brown. "We shall see for ourselves presently. And give me a dinner, like a good fellow. It occurs to me that I have eaten nothing for fifteen days."
The Honorable Mr. Wanlee drew from his waistcoat pocket a small gold box, oval in form. He pressed a spring and the lid flew open. Then he handed the box to his friend. It contained a number of little gray pastilles, hardly larger than peas. Mr. Brown took one between his thumb and forefinger and put it into his mouth. "Thus do I satisfy mine hunger," he said, "or, to borrow the language of the opposition orators, thus do I lend myself to the vile and degrading practice, subversive of society as at present constituted, and outraging the very laws of nature."
Mr. Wanlee was paying no attention. With eager gaze he was again scanning the columns of the Interminable Intelligencer. As if involuntarily, he read aloud: "'-Secretary Quimby and Mrs. Quimby, Count Schneeke, the Austrian ambassador, Mrs. Hoyette and the Misses Hoyette of New York, Senator Newton of Massachusetts, whose arrival with his lovely daughter is causing no small sensation-'"
He paused, stammering, for he became aware that his friend was regarding him earnestly. Coloring to the roots of his hair, he affected indifference and began to read again: "'Senator Newton of Massachusetts, whose arrival with his lovely-"'
"I think, my dear boy," said Mr. Walsingham Brown, with a smile, "that it is high time for us to proceed to the Capitol."
II THE BALL AT THE CAPITOL
Through a brilliant throng of happy men and charming women, Mr. Wanlee and his friend made their way into the rotunda of the Capitol. Accustomed as they both were to the spectacular efforts which society arranged for its own delectation, the young men were startled by the enchantment of the scene before them. The dingy historical panorama that girds the rotunda was hidden behind a wall of flowers. The heights of the dome were not visible, for beneath that was a temporary interior dome of red roses and white lilies, which poured down from the concavity a continual and almost oppressive shower of fragrance. From the center of the floor ascended to the height of forty or fifty feet a single jet of water, rendered intensely luminous by the newly discovered hydrolectric process, and flooding the room with a light ten times brighter than daylight, yet soft and grateful as the light of the moon. The air pulsated with music, for every flower in the dome overhead gave utterance to the notes which Ratibolial, in the conservatoire at Paris, was sending across the Atlantic from the vibrant tip of his baton.
The friends had hardly reached the center of the rotunda, where the hydrolectric fountain threw aloft its jet of blazing water, and where two opposite streams of promenaders from the north and the south wings of the Capitol met and mingled in an eddy of polite humanity, before Mr. Walsingham Brown was seized and led off captive by some of his Washington acquaintances.
Wanlee pushed on, scarcely noticing his friend's defection. He directed his steps wherever the crowd seemed thickest, casting ahead and on either side of him quick glances of inquiry, now and then exchanging bows with people whom he recognized, but pausing only once to enter into conversation. That was when he was accosted by General Quong, the leader of the MongolVegetarian party and the defeated candidate for President in the campaign of 1936. The veteran spoke familiarly to the young congressman and detained him only a moment. "You are looking for somebody, Wanlee," said General Quong, kindly. "I see it in your eyes. I grant you leave of absence."
Mr. Wanlee proceeded down the long corridor that leads to the Senate chamber, and continued there his eager search. Disappointed, he turned back, retraced his steps to the rotunda, and went to the other extremity of the Capitol. The Hall of Representatives was reserved for the dancers. From the great clock above the Speaker's desk issued the music of a waltz, to the rhythm of which several hundred couples were whirling over the polished floor.
Wanlee stood at the door, watching the couples as they moved before him in making the circuit of the hall. Presently his eyes began to sparkle. They were resting upon the beautiful face and supple figure of a girl in white satin, who waltzed in perfect form with a young man, apparently an Italian. Wanlee advanced a step or two, and at the same instant the lady became aware of his presence. She said a word to her partner, who immediately relinquished her waist.
"I have been expecting you this age," said the girl, holding out her hand to Wanlee. "I am delighted that you have come."
"Thank you, Miss Newton," said Wanlee.
"You may retire, Francesco," she continued, turning to the young man who had just been her partner. "I shall not need you again."
The young man addressed as Francesco bowed respectfully and departed without a word.
"Let us not lose this lovely waltz," said Miss Newton, putting her hand upon Wanlee's shoulder. "It will be my first this evening."
"Then you have not danced?" asked Wanlee, as they glided off together.
"No, Daniel," said Miss Newton, "I haven't danced with any gentlemen."
The Mongolian thanked her with a smile.
"I have made good use of Francesco, however," she went on. "What a blessing a competent protectional partner is! Only think, our grandmothers, and even our mothers, were obliged to sit dismally around the walls waiting the pleasure of their high and mighty-"
She paused suddenly, for a shade of annoyance had fallen upon her partner's face. "Forgive me," she whispered, her head almost upon his shoulder. "Forgive me if I have wounded you. You know, love, that I would not-"
"I know it," he interrupted. "You are too good and too noble to let that weigh a feather's weight in your estimation of the Man. You never pause to think that my mother and my grandmother were not accustomed to meet your mother and your grandmother in society--for the very excellent reason," he continued, with a little bitterness in his tone, "that my mother had her hands full in my father's laundry in San Francisco, while my grandmother's social ideas hardly extended beyond the cabin of our ancestral san-pan on the Yangtze Kiang. You do not care for that. But there are others-'
They waltzed on for some time in silence, he, thoughtful and moody, and she, sympathetically concerned.
"And the senator; where is he tonight?" asked Wanlee at last.
"Papa!" said the girl, with a frightened little glance over her shoulder. "Oh! Papa merely made his appearance here to bring me and because it was expected of him. He has gone home to work on his tiresome speech against the vegetables."
"Do you think," asked Wanlee, after a few minutes, whispering the words very slowly and very low, "that the senator has any suspicion?"
It was her turn now to manifest embarrassment. "I am very sure," she replied, "that Papa has not the least idea in the world of it all. And that is what worries me. I constantly feel that we are walking together on a volcano. I know that we are right, and that heaven means it to be just as it is; yet, I cannot help trembling in my happiness. You know as well as I do the antiquated and absurd notions that still prevail in Massachusetts, and that Papa is a conservative among the conservatives. He respects your ability, that I discovered long ago. Whenever you speak in the House, he reads your remarks with great attention. I think," she continued with a forced laugh, "that your arguments bother him a good deal."
"This must have an end, Clara," said the Chinaman, as the music ceased and the waltzers stopped. "I cannot allow you to remain a day longer in an equivocal position. My honor and your own peace of mind require that there shall be an explanation to your father. Have you the courage to stake all our happiness on one bold move?"
"I have courage," frankly replied the girl, "to go with you before my father and tell him all. And furthermore," she continued, slightly pressing his arm and looking into his face with a charming blush, "I have courage even beyond that."
"You beloved little Puritanl" was his reply.
As they passed out of the Hall of Representatives, they encountered Mr. Walsingham Brown with Miss Hoyette of New York. The New York lady spoke cordially to Miss Newton, but recognized Wanlee with a rather distant bow. Wanlee's eyes sought and met those of his friend. "I may need your counsel before morning," he said in a low voice.
"All right, my dear fellow," said Mr. Brown. "Depend on me." And the two couples separated.
The Mongolian and his Massachusetts sweetheart drifted with the tide into the supper room. Both were preoccupied with their own thoughts. Almost mechanically, Wanlee led his companion to a corner of the supper room and established her in a seat behind a screen of palmettos, sheltered from the observation of the throne.
"It is nice of you to bring me here," said the girl, "for I am hungry after our waltz."
Intimate as their souls had become, this was the first time that she had ever asked him for food. It was an innocent and natural request, yet Wanlee shuddered when he heard it, and bit his under lip to control his agitation. He looked from behind the palmettos at the tables heaped with delicate viands and surrounded by men, eagerly pressing forward to obtain refreshment for the ladies in their care. Wanlee shuddered again at the spectacle. After a momentary hesitation he returned to Miss Newton, seated himself beside her, and taking her hand in his, began to speak deliberately and earnestly.
"Clara," he said, "I am going to ask you for a final proof of your affection. Do not start and look alarmed, but hear me patiently. If, after hearing me, you still bid me bring you a pâté, or the wing of a fowl, or a salad, or even a plate of fruit, I will do so, though it wrench the heart in my bosom. But first listen to what I have to say."
"Certainly I will listen to all you have to say," she replied.
"You know enough of the political theories that divide parties," he went on, nervously examining the rings on her slender fingers, "to be aware that what I conscientiously believe to be true is very different from what you have been educated to believe."
"I know," said Miss Newton, "that you are a Vegetarian and do not approve the use of meat. I know that you have spoken eloquently in the House on the right of every living being to protection in its life, and that that is the theory of your party. Papa says that it is demagogy--that the opposition parade an absurd and sophistical theory in order to win votes and get themselves into office. Still, I know that a great many excellent people, friends of ours in Massachusetts, are coming to believe with you, and, of course, loving you as I do, I have the firmest faith in the honesty of your convictions. You are not a demagogue, Daniel. You are above pandering to the radicalism of the rabble. Neither my father nor all the world could make me think the contrary."
Mr. Daniel Webster Wanlee squeezed her hand and went on:
"Living as you do in the most ultra-conservative of circles, dear Clara, you have had no opportunity to understand the tremendous significance and force of the movement that is now sweeping over the land, and of which I am a very humble representative. It is something more than a political agitation; it is an upheaval and reorganization of society on the basis of science and abstract right. It is fit and proper that I, belonging to a race that has only been emancipated and enfranchised by the march of time, should stand in the advance guard-- in the forlorn hope, it may be--of the new revolution."
His flaming eyes were now looking directly into hers. Although a little troubled by his earnestness, she could not hide her proud satisfaction in his manly bearing.
"We believe that every animal is born free and equal," he said. "That the humblest polyp or the most insignificant mollusk has an equal right with you or me to life and the enjoyment of happiness. Why, are we not all brothers? Are we not all children of a common evolution? What are we human animals but the more favored members of the great family? Is Senator Newton of Massachusetts further removed in intelligence from the Australian bushman, than the Australian bushman or the Flathead Indian is removed from the ox which Senator Newton orders slain to yield food for his family? Have we a right to take the paltriest life that evolution has given? Is not the butchery of an ox or of a chicken murder--nay, fratricide--in the view of absolute justice? Is it not cannibalism of the most repulsive and cowardly sort to prey upon the flesh of our defenseless brother animals, and to sacrifice their lives and rights to an unnatural appetite that has no foundation save in the habit of long ages of barbarian selfishness?"
"I have never thought of these things," said Miss Clara, slowly. "Would you elevate them to the suffrage--I mean the ox and the chicken and the baboon?"
"There speaks the daughter of the senator from Massachusetts," cried Wanlee. "No, we would not give them the suffrage--at least, not at present. The right to live and enjoy life is a natural, an inalienable right. The right to vote depends upon conditions of society and of individual intelligence. The ox, the chicken, the baboon are not yet prepared for the ballot. But they are voters in embryo; they are struggling up through the same process that our own ancestors underwent, and it is a crime, an unnatural, horrible thing, to cut off their career, their future, for the sake of a meal!"
"Those are noble sentiments, I must admit," said Miss Newton, with considerable enthusiasm.
"They are the sentiments of the Mongol-Vegetarian party," said Wanlee. "They will carry the country in 1940, and elect the next President of the United States."
"I admire your earnestness," said Miss Newton after a pause, "and I will not grieve you by asking you to bring me even so much as a chicken wing. I do not think I could eat it now, with your words still in my ears. A little fruit is all that I want."
"Once more," said Wanlee, taking the tall girl's hand again, "I must request you to consider. The principles, my dearest, that I have already enunciated are the principles of the great mass of our party. They are held even by the respectable, easygoing, not oversensitive voters such as constitute the bulk of every political organization. But there are a few of us who stand on ground still more advanced. We do not expect to bring the laggards up to our line for years, perhaps in our lifetime. We simply carry the accepted theory to its logical conclusions and calmly await ultimate results."
"And what is your ground, pray?" she inquired. "I cannot see how anything could be more dreadfully radical--that is, more bewildering and generally upsetting at first sight--than the ground which you just took."
"If what I have said is true, and I believe it to be true, then how can we escape including the Vegetable Kingdom in our proclamation of emancipation from man's tyranny? The tree, the plant, even the fungus, have they not individual life, and have they not also the right to live?"
"And indeed," continued the Chinaman, not noticing the interruption, "who can say where vegetable life ends and animal life begins? Science has tried in vain to draw the boundary line. I hold that to uproot a potato is to destroy an existence certainly, although perhaps remotely akin to ours. To pluck a grape is to maim the living vine; and to drink the juice of that grape is to outrage consanguinity. In this broad, elevated view of the matter it becomes a duty to refrain from vegetable food. Nothing less than the vital principal itself becomes the test and tie of universal brotherhood. 'All living things are born free and equal, and have a right to existence and the enjoyment of existence.' Is not that a beautiful thought?"
"It is a beautiful thought," said the maiden. "But-I know you will think me dreadfully cold, and practical, and unsympathetic--but how are we to live? Have we no right, too, to existence? Must we starve to death in order to establish the theoretical right of vegetables not to be eaten?"
"My dear love," said Wanlee, "that would be a serious and perplexing question, had not the latest discovery of science already solved it for us."
He took from his waistcoat pocket the small gold box, scarcely larger than a watch, and opened the cover. In the palm of her white hand he placed one of the little pastilles.
"Eat it," said he. "It will satisfy your hunger."
She put the morsel into her mouth. "I would do as you bade me," she said, "even if it were poison."
"It is not poison," he rejoined. "It is nourishment in the only rational form."
"But it is tasteless; almost without substance."
"Yet it will support life for from eighteen to twenty-five days. This little gold box holds food enough to afford all subsistence to the entire Seventy-sixth Congress for a month."
She took the box and curiously examined its contents.
"And how long would it support my life--for more than a year, perhaps?"
"Yes, for more than ten--more than twenty years."
"I will not bore you with chemical and physiological facts," continued Wanlee, "but you must know that the food which we take, in whatever form, resolves itself into what are called proximate principles-- starch, sugar, oleine, flurin, albumen, and so on. These are selected and assimilated by the organs of the body, and go to build up the necessary tissues. But all these proximate principles, in their turn, are simply combinations of the ultimate chemical elements, chiefly carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen. It is upon these elements that we depend for sustenance. By the old plan we obtained them indirectly. They passed from the earth and the air into the grass; from the grass into the muscular tissues of the ox; and from the beef into our own persons, loaded down and encumbered by a mass of useless, irrelevant matter. The German chemists have discovered how to supply the needed elements in compact, undiluted form--here they are in this little box. Now shall mankind go direct to the fountainhead of nature for his aliment; now shall the old roundabout, cumbrous, inhuman method be at an end; now shall the evils of gluttony and the attendant vices cease; now shall the brutal murdering of fellow animals and brother vegetables forever stop--now shall all this be, since the new, holy cause has been consecrated by the lips I love!"
He bent and kissed those lips. Then he suddenly looked up and saw Mr. Walsingham Brown standing at his elbow.
"You are observed--compromised, I fear," said Mr. Brown, hurriedly. "That Italian dancer in your employ, Miss Newton, has been following you like a hound. I have been paying him the same gracious attention. He has just left the Capitol post haste. I fear there may be a scene."
The brave girl, with clear eyes, gave her Mongolian lover a look worth to him a year of life. "There shall be no scene," she said; "we will go at once to my father, Daniel, and bear ourselves the tale which Francesco would carry."
The three left the Capitol without delay. At the head of Pennsylvania Avenue they entered a great building, lighted up as brilliantly as the Capitol itself. An elevator took them down toward the bowels of the earth. At the fourth landing they passed from the elevator into a small carriage, luxuriously upholstered. Mr. Walsingham Brown touched an ivory knob at the end of the conveyance. A man in uniform presented himself at the door.
"To Boston," said Mr. Walsingham Brown.
III THE FROZEN BRIDE
The senator from Massachusetts sat in the library of his mansion on North Street at two o'clock in the morning. An expression of astonishment and rage distorted his pale, cold features. The pen had dropped from his fingers, blotting the last sentences written upon the manuscript of his great speech--for Senator Newton still adhered to the ancient fashion of recording thought. The blotted sentences were these:
"The logic of events compels us to acknowledge the political equality of those Asiatic invaders--shall I say conquerors?--of our Indo- European institutions. But the logic of events is often repugnant to common sense, and its conclusions abhorrent to patriotism and right. The sword has opened for them the way to the ballot box; but, Mr. President, and I say it deliberately, no power under heaven can unlock for these aliens the sacred approaches to our homes and hearts!"
Beside the senator stood Francesco, the professional dancer. His face wore a smile of malicious triumph.
"With the Chinaman? Miss Newton--my daughter?" gasped the senator. "I do not believe you. It is a lie."
"Then come to the Capitol, Your Excellency, and see it with your own eyes," said the Italian.
The door was quickly opened and Clara Newton entered the room, followed by the Honorable Mr. Wanlee and his friend.
"There is no need of making that excursion, Papa," said the girl. "You can see it with your own eyes here and now. Francesco, leave the house!"
The senator bowed with forced politeness to Mr. Walsingbam Brown. Of the presence of Wanlee he took not the slightest notice.
Senator Newton attempted to laugh. "This is a pleasantry, Clara," he said; "a practical jest, designed by yourself and Mr. Brown for my midnight diversion. It is a trifle unseasonable."
"It is no jest," replied his daughter, bravely. She then went up to Wanlee and took his hand in hers. "Papa," she said, "this is a gentleman of whom you already know something. He is our equal in station, in intellect, and in moral worth. He is in every way worthy of my friendship and your esteem. Will you listen to what he has to say to you? Will you, Papa?"
The senator laughed a short, hard laugh, and turned to Mr. Walsingham Brown. "I have no communication to make to the member of the lower branch," said he. "Why should he have any communication to make to me?"
Miss Newton put her arm around the waist of the young Chinaman and led him squarely in front of her father. "Because," she said, in a voice as firm and clear as the note of a silver bell "-because I love him."
In recalling with Wanlee the circumstances of this interview, Mr. Walsingham Brown said long afterward, "She glowed for a moment like the platinum of your thermo-electrode."
"If the member from California," said Senator Newton, without changing the tone of his voice, and still continuing to address himself to Mr. Brown, "has worked upon the sentimentality of this foolish child, that is her misfortune, and mine. It cannot be helped now. But if the member from California presumes to hope to profit in the least by his sinister operations, or to enjoy further opportunities for pursuing them, the member from California deceives himself."
So saying he turned around in his chair and began to write on his great speech.
"I come," said Wanlee slowly, now speaking for the first time, "as an honorable man to ask of Senator Newton the hand of his daughter in honorable marriage. Her own consent has already been given."
"I have nothing further to say," said the Senator, once more turning his cold face toward Mr. Brown. Then he paused an instant, and added with a sting, "I am told that the member from California is a prophet and apostle of Vegetable Rights. Let him seek a cactus in marriage. He should wed on his own level."
Wanlee, coloring at the wanton insult, was about to leave the room. A quick sign from Miss Newton arrested him.
"But I have something further to say," she cried with spirit. "Listen, Father; it is this. If Mr. Wanlee goes out of the house without a word from you--a word such as is due him from you as a gentleman and as my father--I go with him to be his wife before the sun rises!"
"Go if you will, girl," the senator coldly replied. "But first consult with Mr. Walsingham Brown, who is a lawyer and a gentleman, as to the tenor and effect of the Suspended Animation Act."
Miss Newton looked inquiringly from one face to another. The words had no meaning to her. Her lover turned suddenly pale and clutched at the back of a chair for support. Mr. Brown's cheeks were also white. He stepped quickly forward, holding out his hands as if to avert some dreadful calamity.
"Surely you would not-" he began. "But no! That is an absolute low, an inhuman, outrageous enactment that has long been as dead as the partisan fury that prompted it. For a quarter of a century it has been a dead letter on the statute books."
"I was not aware," said the senator, from between firmly set teeth, "that the act had ever been repealed."
He took from the shelf a volume of statutes and opened the book. "I will read the text," he said. "It will form an appropriate part of the ritual of this marriage." He read as follows:
"Section 7.391. No male person of Caucasian descent, of or under the age of 25 years, shall marry, or promise or contract himself in marriage with any female person of Mongolian descent without the full written consent of his male parent or guardian, as provided by law; and no female person, either maid or widow, under the age of 30 years, of Caucasian parentage, shall give, promise, or contract herself in marriage with any male person of Mongolian descent without the full written and registered consent of her male and female parents or guardians, as provided by law. And any marriage obligations so contracted shall be null and void, and the Caucasian so contracting shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and liable to punishment at the discretion of his or her male parent or guardian as provided by law.
"Section 7.392. Such parents or guardians may, at their discretion and upon application to the authorities of the United States District Court for the district within which the offense is committed, deliver the offending person of Caucasian descent to the designated officers, and require that his or her consciousness, bodily activities, and vital functions be suspended by the frigorific process known as the Werkomer process, for a period equal to that which must elapse before the offending person will arrive at the age of 25 years, if a male, or 30 years, if a female; or for a shorter period at the discretion of the parent or guardian; said shorter period to be fixed in advance."
"What does it mean?" demanded Miss Newton, bewildered by the verbiage of the act, and alarmed by her lover's exclamation of despair.
Mr. Walsingbam Brown shook his head, sadly. "It means," said he, "that the cruel sin of the fathers is to be visited upon the children."
"It means, Clara," said Wanlee with a great effort, "that we must part."
"Understand me, Mr. Brown," said the senator, rising and motioning impatiently with the hand that held the pen, as if to dismiss both the subject and the intruding party. "I do not employ the Suspended Animation Act as a bugaboo to frighten a silly girl out of her lamentable infatuation. As surely as the law stands, so surely will I put it to use."
Miss Newton gave her father a long, steady look which neither Wanlee nor Mr. Brown could interpret and then slowly led the way to the parlor. She closed the door and locked it. The clock on the mantel said four.
A complete change had come over the girl's manner. The spirit of defiance, of passionate appeal, of outspoken love, had gone. She was calm now, as cold and self-possessed as the senator himself. "Frozen!" she kept saying under her breath. "He has frozen me already with his frigid heart."
She quickly asked Mr. Walsingham Brown to explain clearly the force and bearings of the statute which her father had read from the book. When he had done so, she inquired, "Is there not also a law providing for voluntary suspension of animation?"
"The Twenty-seventh Amendment to the Constitution," replied the lawyer, "recognizes the right of any individual, not satisfied with the condition of his life, to suspend that life for a time, long or short, according to his pleasure. But it is rarely, as you know, that any one avails himself of the right--practically never, except as the only means to procure divorce from uncongenial marriage relations."
"Still," she persisted, "the right exists and the way is open?" He bowed. She went to Wanlee and said:
"My darling, it must be so. I must leave you for a time, but as your wife. We will arrange a wedding"--and she smiled sadly--"within this hour. Mr. Brown will go with us to the clergyman. Then we will proceed at once to the Refuge, and you yourself shall lead me to the cloister that is to keep me safe till times are better for us. No, do not be startled, my love! The resolution is taken; you cannot alter it. And it will not be so very long, dear. Once, by accident, in arranging my father's papers, I came across his Life Probabilities, drawn up by the Vital Bureau at Washington. He has less than ten years to live. I never thought to calculate in cold blood on the chances of my father's life, but it must be. In ten years, Daniel, you may come to the Refuge again and claim your bride. You will find me as you left me."
With tears streaming down his pale cheeks, the Mongolian strove to dissuade the Caucasian from her purpose. Hardly less affected, Mr. Walsingham Brown joined his entreaties and arguments.
"Have you ever seen," he asked, "a woman who has undergone what you propose to undergo? She went into the Refuge, perhaps, as you will go, fresh, rosy, beautiful, full of life and energy. She comes out a prematurely aged, withered, sallow, flaccid body, a living corpse--a skeleton, a ghost of her former self. In spite of all they say, there can be no absolute suspension of animation. Absolute suspension would be death. Even in the case of the most perfect freezing there is still some activity of the vital functions, and they gnaw and prey upon the existence of the unconscious subject. Will you risk," he suddenly demanded, using the last and most perfect argument that can be addressed to a woman "-will you risk the effect your loss of beauty may have upon Wanlee's love after ten years' separation?"
Clara Newton was smiling now. "For my poor beauty," she replied, "I care very little. Yet perhaps even that may be preserved."
She took from the bosom of her dress the little gold box which the Chinaman had given her in the supper room of the Capitol, and hastily swallowed its entire contents.
Wanlee now spoke with determination: "Since you have resolved to sacrifice ten years of your life my duty is with you. I shall share with you the sacrifice and share also the joy of awakening."
She gravely shook her head. "It is no sacrifice for me," she said. "But you must remain in life. You have a great and noble work to perform. Till the oppressed of the lower orders of being are emancipated from man's injustice and cruelty, you cannot abandon their cause. I think your duty is plain."
"You are right," he said, bowing his head to his breast.
In the gray dawn of the early morning the officials at the Frigorific Refuge in Cambridgeport were astonished by the arrival of a bridal party. The bridegroom's haggard countenance contrasted strangely with the elegance of his full evening toilet, and the bright scarlet bows at his knees seemed a mockery of grief. The bride, in white satin, wore a placid smile on her lovely face. The friend accompanying the two was grave and silent.
Without delay the necessary papers of admission were drawn up and signed and the proper registration was made upon the books of the establishment. For an instant husband and wife rested in each other's arms. Then she, still cheerful, followed the attendants toward the inner door, while he, pressing both hands upon his tearless eyes, turned away sobbing.
A moment later the intense cold of the congealing chamber caught the bride and wrapped her close in its icy embrace.
Rapidly turning into the Fifth Avenue from one of the cross streets above the old reservoir, at quarter past eleven o'clock on the night of November 6, 1879, I ran plump into an individual coming the other way.
It was very dark on this corner. I could see nothing of the person with whom I had the honor to be in collision. Nevertheless, the quick habit of a mind accustomed to induction had furnished me with several well-defined facts regarding him before I fairly recovered from the shock of the encounter.
These were some of the facts: He was a heavier man than myself, and stiffer in the legs; but he lacked precisely three inches and a half of my stature. He wore a silk hat, a cape or cloak of heavy woolen material, and rubber overshoes or arctics. He was about thirty-five years old, born in America, educated at a German university, either Heidelberg or Freiburg, naturally of hasty temper, but considerate and courteous, in his demeanor to others. He was not entirely at peace with society: there was something in his life or in his present errand which he desired to conceal.
How did I know all this when I had not seen the stranger, and when only a single monosyllable had escaped his lips? Well, I knew that he was stouter than myself, and firmer on his foot, because it was I, not he, who recoiled. I knew that I was just three inches and a half taller than he, for the tip of my nose was still tingling from its contact with the stiff, sharp brim of his hat. My hand, involuntarily raised, had come under the edge of his cape. He wore rubber shoes, for I had not heard a footfall. To an observant ear; the indications of age are as plain in the tones of the voice as to the eye in the lines of the countenance. In the first moment of exasperation of my maladroitness, he had muttered "Ox!" a term that would occur to nobody except a German at such a time. The pronunciation of the guttural, however, told me that the speaker was an American German, not a German American, and that his German education had been derived south of the river Main. Moreover, the tone of the gentleman and scholar was manifest even in the utterance of wrath. That the gentleman was in no particular hurry, but for some reason anxious to remain unknown; was a conclusion drawn from the fact that, after listening in silence to my polite apology, he stooped to recover and restore to me my umbrella, and then passed on as noiselessly as he had approached.
I make it a point to verify my conclusions when possible. So I turned back into the cross street and followed the stranger toward a lamp part way down the block. Certainly, I was not more than five seconds behind him. There was no other road that he could have taken. No house door had opened and closed along the way. And yet, when we came into the light, the form that ought to have been directly in front of me did not appear. Neither man nor man's shadow was visible.
Hurrying on as fast as I could walk to the next gaslight, I paused under the lamp and listened. The street was apparently deserted. The rays from the yellow flame reached only a little way into the darkness. The steps and doorway, however, of the brownstone house facing the street lamp were sufficiently illuminated. The gilt figures above the door were distinct. I recognized the house: the number was a familiar one. While I stood under the gaslight, waiting, I heard a slight noise on these steps, and the click of a key in a lock. The vestibule door of the house was slowly opened, and then closed with a slam that echoed across the street. Almost immediately followed the sound of the opening and shutting of the inner door. Nobody had come out. As far as my eyes could be trusted to report an event hardly ten feet away and in broad light, nobody had gone in.
With a notion that here was scanty material for an exact application of the inductive process, I stood a long time wildly guessing at the philosophy of the strange occurrence. I felt that vague sense of the unexplainable which amounts almost to dread. It was a relief to hear steps on the sidewalk opposite, and turning, to see a policeman swinging his long black club and watching me.
This house of chocolate brown, whose front door opened and shut at midnight without indications of human agency, was, as I have said, well known to me. I had left it not more than ten minutes earlier, after spending the evening with my friend Bliss and his daughter Pandora. The house was of the sort in which each story constitutes a domicile complete in itself. The second floor, or flat, had been inhabited by Bliss since his return from abroad; that is to say, for a twelvemonth. I held Bliss in esteem for for his excellent qualities of heart, while his deplorably illogical and unscientific mind commanded my profound pity. I adored Pandora.
Be good enough to understand that my admiration for Pandora Bliss was hopeless, and not only hopeless, but resigned to its hopelessness. In our circle of acquaintance there was a tacit covenant that the young lady's peculiar position as a flirt wedded to a memory should be at all times respected. We adored Pandora mildly, not passionately--just enough to feed her coquetry without excoriating the seared surface of her widowed heart. On her part, Pandora conducted herself with signal propriety. She did not sigh too obtrusively when she flirted: and she always kept her flirtations so well in hand that she could cut them short whenever the fond, sad recollections came.
It was considered proper for us to tell Pandora that she owed it to her youth and beauty to put aside the dead past like a closed book, and to urge her respectfully to come forth into the living present. It was not considered proper to press the subject after she had once replied that this was forever impossible.
The particulars of the tragic episode in Miss Pandora's European experience were not accurately known to us. It was understood, in a vague way, that she had loved while abroad, and trifled with her lover: that he had disappeared, leaving her in ignorance of his fate and in perpetual remorse for her capricious behavior. From Bliss I had gathered a few, sporadic facts, not coherent enough to form a history of the case. There was no reason to believe that Pandora's lover had committed suicide. His name was Flack. He was a scientific man. In Bliss's opinion he was a fool. In Bliss's opinion Pandora was a fool to pine on his account. In Bliss's opinion all scientific men were more or less fools.
That year I ate Thanksgiving dinner with the Blisses. In the evening I sought to astonish the company by reciting the mysterious events on the night of my collision with the stranger. The story failed to produce the expected sensation. Two or three odious people exchanged glances. Pandora, who was unusually pensive, listened with seeming indifference. Her father, in his stupid inability to grasp anything outside the commonplace, laughed outright, and even went so far as to question my trustworthiness as an observer of phenomena.
Somewhat nettled, and perhaps a little shaken in my own faith in the marvel, I made an excuse to withdraw early. Pandora accompanied me to the threshold. "Your story," said she, "interested me strangely. I, too, could report occurrences in and about this house which would surprise you. I believe I am not wholly in the dark. The sorrowful past casts a glimmer of light--but let us not be hasty. For my sake probe the matter to the bottom."
The young woman sighed as she bade me good night. I thought I heard a second sigh, in a deeper tone than hers, and too distinct to be a reverberation.
I began to go downstairs. Before I had descended half a dozen steps I felt a man's hand laid rather heavily upon my shoulder from behind. My first idea was that Bliss had followed me into the hall to apologize for his rudeness. I turned around to meet his friendly overture. Nobody was in sight.
Again the hand touched my arm. I shuddered in spite of my philosophy.
This time the hand gently pulled at my coat sleeve, as if to invite me upstairs. I ascended a step or two, and the pressure on my arm was relaxed. I paused, and the silent invitation was repeated with an urgency that left no doubt as to what was wanted.
We mounted the stairs together, the presence leading the way, I following. What an extraordinary journey it was! The halls were bright with gaslight. By the testimony of my eyes there was no one but myself upon the stairway. Closing my eyes, the illusion, if illusion it could be called, was perfect. I could hear the creaking of the stairs ahead of me, the soft but distinctly audible footfalls synchronous with my own, even the regular breathing of my companion and guide. Extending my arm, I could touch and finger the skirt of his garment--a heavy woolen cloak lined with silk.
Suddenly I opened my eyes. They told me again that I was absolutely alone.
This problem then presented itself to mind: How to determine whether vision was playing me false, while the senses of hearing and feeling correctly informed me, or whether my ears and touch lied, while my eyes reported the truth. Who shall be arbiter when the senses contradict each other? The reasoning faculty? Reason was inclined to recognize the presence of an intelligent being, whose existence was flatly denied by the most trusted of the senses.
We reached the topmost floor of the house. The door leading out of the public hall opened for me, apparently of its own accord. A curtain within seemed to draw itself aside, and hold itself aside long enough to give me ingress to an apartment wherein every appointment spoke of good taste and scholarly habits. A wood fire was burning in the chimney place. The walls were covered with books and pictures. The lounging chairs were capacious and inviting. There was nothing in the room uncanny, nothing weird, nothing different from the furniture of everyday flesh and blood existence.
By this time I had cleared my mind of the last lingering suspicion of the supernatural. These phenomena were perhaps not inexplicable; all that I lacked was the key. The behavior of my unseen host argued his amicable disposition. I was able to watch with perfect calmness a series of manifestations of independent energy on the part of inanimate objects.
In the first place, a great Turkish easy chair wheeled itself out of a corner of the room and approached the hearth. Then a square-backed Queen Anne chair started from another corner, advancing until it was planted directly opposite the first. A little tripod table lifted itself a few inches above the floor and took a position between the two chairs. A thick octavo volume backed out of its place on the shelf and sailed tranquilly through the air at the height of three or four feet, landing neatly on top of the table. A finely painted porcelain pipe left a hook on the wall and joined the volume. A tobacco box jumped from the mantlepiece. The door of a cabinet swung open, and a decanter and wineglass made the journey in company, arriving simultaneously at the same destination. Everything in the room seemed instinct with the spirit of hospitality.
I seated myself in the easy chair, filled the wineglass, lighted the pipe, and examined the volume. It was the Handbuch der Gewebelehre of Bussius of Vienna. When I had replaced the book upon the table, it deliberately opened itself at the four hundred and forty-third page.
"You are not nervous?" demanded a voice, not four feet from my tympanum.
This voice had a familiar sound. I recognized it as the voice that I heard in the street on the night of November 6, when it called me an ox.
"No," I said. "I am not nervous. I am a man of science, accustomed to regard all phenomena as explainable by natural laws, provided we can discover the laws. No, I am not frightened."
"So much the better. You are a man of science, like myself"--here the voice groaned--"a man of nerve, and a friend of Pandora's."
"Pardon me," I interposed. "Since a lady's name is introduced it would be well to know with whom or with what I am speaking."
"That is precisely what I desire to communicate," replied the voice, "before I ask you to render me a great service. My name is or was Stephen Flack. I am or have been a citizen of the United States. My exact status at present is as great a mystery to myself as it can possibly be to you. But I am, or was, an honest man and a gentleman, and I offer you my hand."
I saw no hand. I reached forth my own, however, and it met the pressure of warm, living fingers.
"Now," resumed the voice, after this silent pact of friendship, "be good enough to read the passage at which I have opened the book upon the table."
Here is a rough translation of what I read in German:
As the color of the organic tissues constituting the body depends upon the presence of certain proximate principles of the third class, all containing iron as one of the ultimate elements, it follows that the hue may vary according to well-defined chemico-physiological changes. An excess of hematin in the blood globules gives a ruddier tinge to every tissue. The melanin that colors the choroid of the eye, the iris, the hair, may be increased or diminished according to laws recently formulated by Schardt of Basel. In the epidermis the excess of melanin makes the Negro, the deficient supply the albino. The hematin and the melanin, together with the greenish-yellow biliverdine and the reddish-yellow urokacine, are the pigments which impart color character to tissues otherwise transparent, or nearly so. I deplore my inability to record the result of some highly interesting histological experiments conducted by that indefatigable investigator Fröliker in achieving success in the way of separating pink discoloration of the human body by chemical means.
"For five years," continued my unseen companion when I had finished reading, "I was Fröliker's student and laboratory assistant at Freiburg. Bussius only half guessed at the importance of our experiments. We reached results which were so astounding that public policy required they should not be published, even to the scientific world. Fröliker died a year ago last August.
"I had faith in the genius of this great thinker and admirable man. If he had rewarded my unquestioning loyalty with full confidence, I should not now be a miserable wretch. But his natural reserve, and the jealousy with which all savants guard their unverified results, kept me ignorant of the essential formulas governing our experiments. As his disciple I was familiar with the laboratory details of the work; the master alone possessed the radical secret. The consequence is that I have been led into a misfortune more appalling than has been the lot of any human being since the primal curse fell upon Cain.
"Our efforts were at first directed to the enlargement and variation of the quantity of pigmentary matter in the system. By increasing the proportion of melanin, for instance, conveyed in food to the blood, we were able to make a fair man dark, a dark man black as an African. There was scarcely a hue we could not impart to the skin by modifying and varying our combinations. The experiments were usually tried on me. At different times I have been copper-colored, violet blue, crimson, and chrome yellow. For one triumphant week I exhibited in my person all the colors of the rainbow. There still remains a witness to the interesting character of our work during this period."
The voice paused, and in a few seconds a hand bell upon the mantel was sounded. Presently an old man with a close-fitting skullcap shuffled into the room.
"Käspar," said the voice, in German, "show the gentleman your hair."
Without manifesting any surprise, and as if perfectly accustomed to receive commands addressed to him out of vacancy, the old domestic bowed and removed his cap. The scanty locks thus discovered were of a lustrous emerald green. I expressed my astonishment.
"The gentleman finds your hair very beautiful," said the voice, again in German. "That is all, Käspar."
Replacing his cap, the domestic withdrew, with a look of gratified vanity on his face.
"Old Käspar was Fröliker's servant, and is now mine. He was the subject of one of our first applications of the process. The worthy man was so pleased with the result that he would never permit us to restore his hair to its original red. He is a faithful soul, and my only intermediary and representative in the visible world.
"Now," continued Flack, "to the story of my undoing. The great histologist with whom it was my privilege to be associated, next turned his attention to another and still more interesting branch of the investigation. Hitherto he had sought merely to increase or to modify the pigments in the tissues. He now began a series of experiments as to the possibility of eliminating those pigments altogether from the system by absorption, exudation, and the use of the chlorides and other chemical agents acting on organic matter. He was only too successful!
"Again I was the subject of experiments which Fröliker supervised, imparting to me only so much of the secret of this process as was unavoidable. For weeks at a time I remained in his private laboratory, seeing no one and seen by no one excepting the professor and the trustworthy Käspar. Herr Friiliker proceeded with caution, closely watching the effect of each new test, and advancing by degrees. He never went so far in one experiment that he was unable to withdraw at discretion. He always kept open an easy road for retreat. For that reason I felt myself perfectly safe in his hands and submitted to whatever he required.
"Under the action of the etiolating drugs which the professor administered in connection with powerful detergents, I became at first pale, white, colorless as an albino, but without suffering in general health. My hair and beard looked like spun glass and my skin like marble. The professor was satisfied with his results, and went no further at this time. He restored to me my normal color.
"In the next experiment, and in those succeeding, he allowed his chemical agents to take firmer hold upon the tissues of my body. I became not only white, like a bleached man, but slightly translucent, like a porcelain figure. Then again he paused for a while, giving me back my color and allowing me to go forth into the world. Two months later I was more than translucent. You have seen floating those sea radiates, the medusa or jellyfish, their outlines almost invisible to the eye. Well, I became in the air like a jellyfish in the water. Almost perfectly transparent, it was only by close inspection that old Käspar could discover my whereabouts in the room when he came to bring me food. It was Käspar who ministered to my wants at times when I was cloistered."
"But your clothing?" I inquired, interrupting Flack's narrative. "That must have stood out in strong contrast with the dim aspect of your body."
"Ah, no," said Flack. "The spectacle of an apparently empty suit of clothes moving about the laboratory was too grotesque even for the grave professor. For the protection of his gravity he was obliged to devise a way to apply his process to dead organic matter, such as the wool of my cloak, the cotton of my shirts, and the leather of my shoes. Thus I came to be equipped with the outfit which still serves me.
"It was at this stage of our progress, when we had almost attained perfect transparency, and therefore complete invisibility, that I met Pandora Bliss.
"A year ago last July, in one of the intervals of our experimenting, and at a time when I presented my natural appearance, I went into the Schwarzwald to recuperate. I first saw and admired Pandora at the little village of St. Blasien. They had come from the Falls of the Rhine, and were traveling north; I turned around and traveled north. At the Stern Inn I loved Pandora; at the summit of the Feldberg I madly worshiped her. In the Höllenpass I was ready to sacrifice my life for a gracious word from her lips. On Hornisgrinde I besought her permission to throw myself from the top of the mountain into the gloomy waters of the Mummelsee in order to prove my devotion. You know Pandora. Since you know her, there is no need to apologize for the rapid growth of my infatuation. She flirted with me, laughed with me, laughed at me, drove with me, walked with me through byways in the green woods, climbed with me up aeclivities so steep that climbing together was one delicious, prolonged embrace; talked science with me, and sentiment; listened to my hopes and enthusiasm, snubbed me, froze me, maddened me--all at her sweet will, and all while her matter-of- fact papa dozed in the coffee rooms of the inns over the financial columns of the latest New York newspapers. But whether she loved me I know not to this day.
"When Pandora's father learned what my pursuits were, and what my prospects, he brought our little idyl to an abrupt termination. I think he classed me somewhere between the professional jugglers and the quack doctors. In vain I explained to him that I should be famous and probably rich. 'When you are famous and rich,' he remarked with a grin, 'I shall be pleased to see you at my office in Broad street' He carried Pandora off to Paris, and I returned to Freiburg.
"A few weeks later, one bright afternoon in August, I stood in Fröliker's laboratory unseen by four persons who were almost within the radius of my arm's length. Käspar was behind me, washing some test tubes. Fröliker, with a proud smile upon his face, was gazing intently at the place where he knew I ought to be. Two brother professors, summoned on some pretext, were unconsciously almost jostling me with their elbows as they discussed I know not what trivial question. They could have heard my heart beat. 'By the way, Herr Professor,' one asked as he was about to depart, 'has your assistant, Herr Flack, returned from his vacation?' This test was perfect.
"As soon as we were alone, Professor Fröliker grasped my invisible hand, as you have grasped it tonight. He was in high spirits.
"'My dear fellow,' he said, 'tomorrow crowns our work. You shall appear--or rather not appear--before the assembled faculty of the university. I have telegraphed invitations to Heidelberg, to Bonn, to Berlin. Schrotter, Haeckel, Steinmetz, Lavallo, will be here. Our triumph will be in presence of the most eminent physicists of the age. I shall then disclose those secrets of our process which I have hitherto withheld even from you, my colaborer and trusted friend. But you shall share the glory. What is this I hear about the forest bird that has flown? My boy, you shall be restocked with pigment and go to Paris to seek her with fame in your hands and the blessings of science on your head.'
"The next morning, the nineteenth of August, before I had arisen from my cot bed, Käspar hastily entered the laboratory.
"'Herr Flack! Herr Flack!' he gasped, 'the Herr Doctor Professor is dead of apoplexy.'"
The narrative had come to an end. I sat a long time thinking. What could I do? What could I say? In what shape could I offer consolation to this unhappy man?
Flack, the invisible, was sobbing bitterly.
He was the first to speak. "It is hard, hard, hard! For no crime in the eyes of man, for no sin in the sight of God, I have been condemned to a fate ten thousand times worse than hell. I must walk the earth, a man, living, seeing, loving, like other men, while between me and all that makes life worth having there is a barrier fixed forever. Even ghosts have shapes. My life is living death; my existence oblivion. No friend can look me in the face. Were I to clasp to my breast the woman I love, it would only be to inspire terror inexpressible. I see her almost every day. I brush against her skirts as I pass her on the stairs. Did she love me? Does she love me? Would not that knowledge make the curse still more cruel? Yet it was to learn the truth that I brought you here."
Then I made the greatest mistake of my life.
"Cheer up!" I said. "Pandora has always loved you."
By the sudden overturning of the table I knew with what vehemence Flack sprang to his feet. His two hands had my shoulders in a fierce grip.
"Yes," I continued; "Pandora has been faithful to your memory. There is no reason to despair. The secret of Fröliker's process died with him, but why should it not be rediscovered by experiment and induction ab initio, with the aid which you can render? Have courage and hope. She loves you. In five minutes you shall hear it from her own lips."
No wail of pain that I ever heard was half so pathetic as his wild cry of joy.
I hurried downstairs and summoned Miss Bliss into the hall. In a few words I explained the situation. To my surprise, she neither fainted nor went into hysterics. "Certainly, I will accompany you," she said, with a smile which I could not then interpret.
She followed me into Flack's room, calmly scrutinizing every corner of the apartment, with the set smile still upon her face. Had she been entering a ballroom she could not have shown greater self-possession. She manifested no astonishment, no terror, when her hand was seized by invisible hands and covered with kisses from invisible lips. She listened with composure to the torrent of loving and caressing words which my unfortunate friend poured into her ears.
Perplexed and uneasy, I watched the strange scene.
Presently Miss Bliss withdrew her hand.
"Really, Mr. Flack," she said with a light laugh, "you are sufficiently demonstrative. Did you acquire the habit on the Continent?"
"Pandora!" I heard him say, "I do not understand."
"Perhaps," she calmly went on, "you regard it as one of the privileges of your invisibility. Let me congratulate you on the success of your experiment. What a clever man your professor--what is his name?--must be. You can make a fortune by exhibiting yourself."
Was this the woman who for months had paraded her inconsolable sorrow for the loss of this very man? I was stupefied. Who shall undertake to analyze the motives of a coquette? What science is profound enough to unravel her unconscionable whims?
"Pandora!" he exclaimed again, in a bewildered voice. "What does it mean? Why do you receive me in this manner? Is that all you have to say to me?"
"I believe that is all," she coolly replied, moving toward the door. "You are a gentleman, and I need not ask you to spare me any further annoyance."
"Your heart is quartz," I whispered, as she passed me in going out. "You are unworthy of him."
Flack's despairing cry brought Käspar into the room. With the instinct acquired by long and faithful service, the old man went straight to the place where his master was. I saw him clutch at the air, as if struggling with and seeking to detain the invisible man. He was flung violently aside. He recovered himself and stood an instant listening, his neck distended, his face pale. Then he rushed out of the door and down the stairs. I followed him.
The street door of the house was open. On the sidewalk Käspar hesitated a few seconds. It was toward the west that he finally turned, running down the street with such speed that I had the utmost difficulty to keep at his side.
It was near midnight. We crossed avenue after avenue. An inarticulate murmur of satisfaction escaped old Käspar's lips. A little way ahead of us we saw a man, standing at one of the avenue corners, suddenly thrown to the ground. We sped on, never relaxing our pace. I now heard rapid footfalls a short distance in advance of us. I clutched Käspar's arm. He nodded.
Almost breathless, I was conscious that we were no longer treading upon pavement, but on boards and amid a confusion of lumber. In front of us were no more lights; only blank vacancy. Käspar gave one mighty spring. He clutched, missed, and fell back with a cry of horror.
There was a dull splash in the black waters of the river at our feet.
A row of Lombardy poplars stood in front of my great-aunt Gertrude's house, on the bank of the Sheepscot River. In personal appearance my aunt was surprisingly like one of those trees. She had the look of hopeless anemia that distinguishes them from fuller blooded sorts. She was tall, severe in outline, and extremely thin. Her habiliments clung to her. I am sure that had the gods found occasion to impose upon her the fate of Daphne she would have taken her place easily and naturally in the dismal row, as melancholy a poplar as the rest.
Some of my earliest recollections are of this venerable relative. Alive and dead she bore an important part in the events I am about to recount: events which I believe to be without parallel in the experience of mankind.
During our periodical visits of duty to Aunt Gertrude in Maine, my cousin Harry and myself were accustomed to speculate much on her age. Was she sixty, or was she six score? We had no precise information; she might have been either. The old lady was surrounded by old- fashioned things. She seemed to live altogether in the past. In her short half-hours of communicativeness, over her second cup of tea, or on the piazza where the poplars sent slim shadows directly toward the east, she used to tell us stories of her alleged ancestors. I say alleged, because we never fully believed that she had ancestors.
A genealogy is a stupid thing. Here is Aunt Gertrude's, reduced to its simplest forms:
Her great-great-grandmother (1599-1642) was a woman of Holland who married a Puritan refugee, and sailed from Leyden to Plymouth in the ship Ann in the year of our Lord 1632. This Pilgrim mother had a daughter, Aunt Gertrude's great-grandmother (1640-1718). She came to the Eastern District of Massachusetts in the early part of the last century, and was carried off by the Indians in the Penobscot wars. Her daughter (1680-1776) lived to see these colonies free and independent, and contributed to the population of the coming republic not less than nineteen stalwart sons and comely daughters. One of the latter (1735- 1802) married a Wiscasset skipper engaged in the West India trade, with whom she sailed. She was twice wrecked at sea--once on what is now Seguin Island and once on San Salvador. It was on San Salvador that Aunt Gertrude was born.
We got to be very tired of hearing this family history. Perhaps it was the constant repetition and the merciless persistency with which the above dates were driven into our young ears that made us skeptics. As I have said, we took little stock in Aunt Gertrude's ancestors. They seemed highly improbable. In our private opinion the great- grandmothers and grandmothers and so forth were pure myths, and Aunt Gertrude herself was the principal in all the adventures attributed to them, having lasted from century to century while generations of contemporaries went the way of all flesh.
On the first landing of the square stairway of the mansion loomed a tall Dutch clock. The case was more than eight feet high, of a dark red wood, not mahogany, and it was curiously inlaid with silver. No common piece of furniture was this. About a hundred years ago there flourished in the town of Brunswick a horologist named Cary, an industrious and accomplished workman. Few well-to-do houses on that part of the coast lacked a Cary timepiece. But Aunt Gertrude's clock had marked the hours and minutes of two full centuries before the Brunswick artisan was born. It was running when William the Taciturn pierced the dikes to relieve Leyden. The name of the maker, Jan Lipperdam, and the date, 1572, were still legible in broad black letters and figures reaching quite across the dial. Cary's masterpieces were plebeian and recent beside this ancient aristocrat. The jolly Dutch moon, made to exhibit the phases over a landscape of windmills and polders, was cunningly painted. A skilled hand had carved the grim ornament at the top, a death's head transfixed by a two-edged sword. Like all timepieces of the sixteenth century, it had no pendulum. A simple Van Wyck escapement governed the descent of the weights to the bottom of the tall case.
But these weights never moved. Year after year, when Harry and I returned to Maine, we found the hands of the old clock pointing to the quarter past three, as they had pointed when we first saw them. The fat moon hung perpetually in the third quarter, as motionless as the death's head above. There was a mystery about the silenced movement and the paralyzed hands. Aunt Gertrude told us that the works had never performed their functions since a bolt of lightning entered the clock; and she showed us a black hole in the side of the case near the top, with a yawning rift that extended downward for several feet. This explanation failed to satisfy us. It did not account for the sharpness of her refusal when we proposed to bring over the watchmaker from the village, or for her singular agitation once when she found Harry on a stepladder, with a borrowed key in his hand, about to test for himself the clock's suspended vitality.
One August night, after we had grown out of boyhood, I was awakened by a noise in the hallway. I shook my cousin. "Somebody's in the house," I whispered.
We crept out of our room and on to the stairs. A dim light came from below. We held breath and noiselessly descended to the second landing. Harry clutched my arm. He pointed down over the banisters, at the same time drawing me back into the shadow.
We saw a strange thing.
Aunt Gertrude stood on a chair in front of the old clock, as spectral in her white nightgown and white nightcap as one of the poplars when covered with snow. It chanced that the floor creaked slightly under our feet. She turned with a sudden movement, peering intently into the darkness, and holding a candle high toward us, so that the light was full upon her pale face. She looked many years older than when I bade her good night. For a few minutes she was motionless, except in the trembling arm that held aloft the candle. Then, evidently reassured, she placed the light upon a shelf and turned again to the clock.
We now saw the old lady take a key from behind the face and proceed to wind up the weights. We could hear her breath, quick and short. She rested a band on either side of the case and held her face close to the dial, as if subjecting it to anxious scrutiny. In this attitude she remained for a long time. We heard her utter a sigh of relief, and she half turned toward us for a moment. I shall never forget the expression of wild joy that transfigured her features then.
The hands of the clock were moving; they were moving backward.
Aunt Gertrude put both arms around the clock and pressed her withered cheek against it. She kissed it repeatedly. She caressed it in a hundred ways, as if it had been a living and beloved thing. She fondled it and talked to it, using words which we could hear but could not understand. The hands continued to move backward.
Then she started back with a sudden cry. The clock had stopped. We saw her tall body swaying for an instant on the chair. She stretched out her arms in a convulsive gesture of terror and despair, wrenched the minute hand to its old place at a quarter past three, and fell heavily to the floor.
Aunt Gertrude's will left me her bank and gas stocks, real estate, railroad bonds, and city sevens, and gave Harry the clock. We thought at the time that this was a very unequal division, the more surprising because my cousin had always seemed to be the favorite. Half in seriousness we made a thorough examination of the ancient timepiece, sounding its wooden case for secret drawers, and even probing the not complicated works with a knitting needle to ascertain if our whimsical relative had bestowed there some codicil or other document changing the aspect of affairs. We discovered nothing.
There was testamentary provision for our education at the University of Leyden. We left the military school in which we had learned a little of the theory of war, and a good deal of the art of standing with our noses over our heels, and took ship without delay. The clock went with us. Before many months it was established in a corner of a room in the Breede Straat.
The fabric of Jan Lipperdam's ingenuity, thus restored to its native air, continued to tell the hour of quarter past three with its old fidelity. The author of the clock had been under the sod for nearly three hundred years. The combined skill of his successors in the craft at Leyden could make it go neither forward nor backward.
We readily picked up enough Dutch to make ourselves understood by the townspeople, the professors, and such of our eight hundred and odd fellow students as came into intercourse. This language, which looks so hard at first, is only a sort of polarized English. Puzzle over it a little while and it jumps into your comprehension like one of those simple cryptograms made by running together all the words of a sentence and then dividing in the wrong places.
The language acquired and the newness of our surroundings worn off, we settled into tolerably regular pursuits. Harry devoted himself with some assiduity to the study of sociology, with especial reference to the round-faced and not unkind maidens of Leyden. I went in for the higher metaphysics.
Outside of our respective studies, we had a common ground of unfailing interest. To our astonishment, we found that not one in twenty of the faculty or students knew or cared a sliver about the glorious history of the town, or even about the circumstances under which the university itself was founded by the Prince of Orange. In marked contrast with the general indifference was the enthusiasm of Professor Van Stopp, my chosen guide through the cloudiness of speculative philosophy.
This distinguished Hegelian was a tobacco-dried little old man, with a skullcap over features that reminded me strangely of Aunt Gertrude's. Had he been her own brother the facial resemblance could not have been closer. I told him so once, when we were together in the Stadthuis looking at the portrait of the hero of the siege, the Burgomaster Van der Werf. The professor laughed. "I will show you what is even a more extraordinary coincidence," said he; and, leading the way across the hall to the great picture of the siege, by Warmers, he pointed out the figure of a burgher participating in the defense. It was true. Van Stopp might have been the burgher's son; the burgher might have been Aunt Gertrude's father.
The professor seemed to be fond of us. We often went to his rooms in an old house in the Rapenburg Straat, one of the few houses remaining that antedate 1574. He would walk with us through the beautiful suburbs of the city, over straight roads lined with poplars that carried us back to the bank of the Sheepscot in our minds. He took us to the top of the ruined Roman tower in the center of the town, and from the same battlements from which anxious eyes three centuries ago had watched the slow approach of Admiral Boisot's fleet over the submerged polders, he pointed out the great dike of the Landscheiding, which was cut that the oceans might bring Boisot's Zealanders to raise the leaguer and feed the starving. He showed us the headquarters of the Spaniard Valdez at Leyderdorp, and told us how heaven sent a violent northwest wind on the night of the first of October, piling up the water deep where it had been shallow and sweeping the fleet on between Zoeterwoude and Zwieten up to the very walls of the fort at Lammen, the last stronghold of the besiegers and the last obstacle in the way of succor to the famishing inhabitants. Then he showed us where, on the very night before the retreat of the besieging army, a huge breach was made in the wall of Leyden, near the Cow Gate, by the Walloons from Lammen.
"Why!" cried Harry, catching fire from the eloquence of the professor's narrative, "that was the decisive moment of the siege."
The professor said nothing. He stood with his arms folded, looking intently into my cousin's eyes.
"For," continued Harry, "had that point not been watched, or had defense failed and the breach been carried by the night assault from Lammen, the town would have been burned and the people massacred under the eyes of Admiral Boisot and the fleet of relief. Who defended the breach?"
Van Stopp replied very slowly, as if weighing every word:
"History records the explosion of the mine under the city wall on the last night of the siege; it does not tell the story of the defense or give the defender's name. Yet no man that ever lived had a more tremendous charge than fate entrusted to this unknown hero. Was it chance that sent him to meet that unexpected danger? Consider some of the consequences had he failed. The fall of Leyden would have destroyed the last hope of the Prince of Orange and of the free states. The tyranny of Philip would have been reestablished. The birth of religious liberty and of self-government by the people would have been postponed, who knows for how many centuries? Who knows that there would or could have been a republic of the United States of America had there been no United Netherlands? Our University, which has given to the world Grotius, Scaliger, Arminius, and Descartes, was founded upon this hero's successful defense of the breach. We owe to him our presence here today. Nay, you owe to him your very existence. Your ancestors were of Leyden; between their lives and the butchers outside the walls he stood that night."
The little professor towered before us, a giant of enthusiasm and patriotism. Harry's eyes glistened and his cheeks reddened.
"Go home, boys," said Van Stopp, "and thank God that while the burghers of Leyden were straining their gaze toward Zoeterwoude and the fleet, there was one pair of vigilant eyes and one stout heart at the town wall just beyond the Cow Gate!"
The rain was splashing against the windows one evening in the autumn of our third year at Leyden, when Professor Van Stopp honored us with a visit in the Breede Straat. Never had I seen the old gentleman in such spirits. He talked incessantly. The gossip of the town, the news of Europe, science, poetry, philosophy, were in turn touched upon and treated with the same high and good humor. I sought to draw him out on Hegel, with whose chapter on the complexity and interdependency of things I was just then struggling.
"You do not grasp the return of the Itself into Itself through its Otherself?" he said smiling. "Well, you will, sometime."
Harry was silent and preoccupied. His taciturnity gradually affected even the professor. The conversation flagged, and we sat a long while without a word. Now and then there was a flash of lightning succeeded by distant thunder.
"Your clock does not go," suddenly remarked the professor. "Does it ever go?"
"Never since we can remember," I replied. "That is, only once, and then it went backward. It was when Aunt Gertrude-"
Here I caught a warning glance from Harry. I laughed and stammered, "The clock is old and useless. It cannot be made to go."
"Only backward?" said the professor, calmly, and not appearing to notice my embarrassment. "Well, and why should not a clock go backward? Why should not Time itself turn and retrace its course?"
He seemed to be waiting for an answer. I had none to give.
"I thought you Hegelian enough," he continued, "to admit that every condition includes its own contradiction. Time is a condition, not an essential. Viewed from the Absolute, the sequence by which future follows present and present follows past is purely arbitrary. Yesterday, today, tomorrow; there is no reason in the nature of things why the order should not be tomorrow, today, yesterday."
A sharper peal of thunder interrupted the professor's speculations.
"The day is made by the planet's revolution on its axis from west to east. I fancy you can conceive conditions under which it might turn from east to west, unwinding, as it were, the revolutions of past ages. Is it so much more difficult to imagine Time unwinding itself; Time on the ebb, instead of on the flow; the past unfolding as the future recedes; the centuries countermarching; the course of events proceeding toward the Beginning and not, as now, toward the End?"
"But," I interposed, "we know that as far as we are concerned the-"
"We know!" exclaimed Van Stopp, with growing scorn. "Your intelligence has no wings. You follow in the trail of Compte and his slimy brood of creepers and crawlers. You speak with amazing assurance of your position in the universe. You seem to think that your wretched little individuality has a firm foothold in the Absolute. Yet you go to bed tonight and dream into existence men, women, children, beasts of the past or of the future. How do you know that at this moment you yourself, with all your conceit of nineteenth-century thought, are anything more than a creature of a dream of the future, dreamed, let us say, by some philosopher of the sixteenth century? How do you know that you are anything more than a creature of a dream of the past, dreamed by some Hegelian of the twenty-sixth century? How do you know, boy, that you will not vanish into the sixteenth century or 2060 the moment the dreamer awakes?"
There was no replying to this, for it was sound metaphysics. Harry yawned. I got up and went to the window. Professor Van Stopp approached the clock.
"Ah, my children," said he, "there is no fixed progress of human events. Past, present, and future are woven together in one inextricable mesh. Who shall say that this old clock is not right to go backward?"
A crash of thunder shook the house. The storm was over our heads.
When the blinding glare had passed away, Professor Van Stopp was standing upon a chair before the tall timepiece. His face looked more than ever like Aunt Gertrude's. He stood as she had stood in that last quarter of an hour when we saw her wind the clock.
The same thought struck Harry and myself.
"Hold!" we cried, as he began to wind the works. "It may be death if you-"
The professor's sallow features shone with the strange enthusiasm that had transformed Aunt Gertrude's.
"True," he said, "it may be death; but it may be the awakening. Past, present, future; all woven together! The shuttle goes to and fro, forward and back-"
He had wound the clock. The hands were whirling around the dial from right to left with inconceivable rapidity. In this whirl we ourselves seemed to be borne along. Eternities seemed to contract into minutes while lifetimes were thrown off at every tick. Van Stopp, both arms outstretched, was reeling in his chair. The house shook again under a tremendous peal of thunder. At the same instant a ball of fire, leaving a wake of sulphurous vapor and filling the room with dazzling light, passed over our heads and smote the clock. Van Stopp was prostrated. The hands ceased to revolve.
The roar of the thunder sounded like heavy cannonading. The lightning's blaze appeared as the steady light of a conflagration. With our hands over our eyes, Harry and I rushed out into the night.
Under a red sky people were hurrying toward the Stadthuis. Flames in the direction of the Roman tower told us that the heart of the town was afire. The faces of those we saw were haggard and emaciated. From every side we caught disjointed phrases of complaint or despair. "Horseflesh at ten schillings the pound," said one, "and bread at sixteen schillings." "Bread indeed!" an old woman retorted: "It's eight weeks gone since I have seen a crumb." "My little grandchild, the lame one, went last night." "Do you know what Gekke Betje, the washerwoman, did? She was starving. Her babe died, and she and her man-"
A louder cannon burst cut short this revelation. We made our way on toward the citadel of the town, passing a few soldiers here and there and many burghers with grim faces under their broad-brimmed felt hats.
"There is bread plenty yonder where the gunpowder is, and full pardon, too. Valdez shot another amnesty over the walls this morning."
An excited crowd immediately surrounded the speaker. "But the fleet!" they cried.
"The fleet is grounded fast on the Greenway polder. Boisot may turn his one eye seaward for a wind till famine and pestilence have carried off every mother's son of ye, and his ark will not be a rope's length nearer. Death by plague, death by starvation, death by fire and musketry--that is what the burgomaster offers us in return for glory for himself and kingdom for Orange."
"He asks us," said a sturdy citizen, "to hold out only twenty-four hours longer, and to pray meanwhile for an ocean wind."
"Ah, yes!" sneered the first speaker. "Pray on. There is bread enough locked in Pieter Adriaanszoon van der Werf's cellar. I warrant you that is what gives him so wonderful a stomach for resisting the Most Catholic King."
A young girl, with braided yellow hair, pressed through the crowd and confronted the malcontent. "Good people," said the maiden, "do not listen to him. He is a traitor with a Spanish heart. I am Pieter's daughter. We have no bread. We ate malt cakes and rapeseed like the rest of you till that was gone. Then we stripped the green leaves from the lime trees and willows in our garden and ate them. We have eaten even the thistles and weeds that grew between the stones by the canal. The coward lies."
Nevertheless, the insinuation had its effect. The throng, now become a mob, surged off in the direction of the burgomaster's house. One ruffian raised his hand to strike the girl out of the way. In a wink the cur was under the feet of his fellows, and Harry, panting and glowing, stood at the maiden's side, shouting defiance in good English at the backs of the rapidly retreating crowd.
With the utmost frankness she put both her arms around Harry's neck and kissed him.
"Thank you," she said. "You are a hearty lad. My name is Gertruyd van der Wert."
Harry was fumbling in his vocabulary for the proper Dutch phrases, but the girl would not stay for compliments. "They mean mischief to my father"; and she hurried us through several exceedingly narrow streets into a three-cornered market place dominated by a church with two spires. "There he is," she exclaimed, "on the steps of St. Pancras."
There was a tumult in the market place. The conflagration raging beyond the church and the voices of the Spanish and Walloon cannon outside of the walls were less angry than the roar of this multitude of desperate men clamoring for the bread that a single word from their leader's lips would bring them. "Surrender to the King!" they cried, "or we will send your dead body to Lammen as Leyden's token of submission."
One tall man, taller by half a head than any of the burghers confronting him, and so dark of complexion that we wondered how he could be the father of Gertruyd, heard the threat in silence. When the burgomaster spoke, the mob listened in spite of themselves.
"What is it you ask, my friends? That we break our vow and surrender Leyden to the Spaniards? That is to devote ourselves to a fate far more horrible than starvation. I have to keep the oath! Kill me, if you will have it so. I can die only once, whether by your hands, by the enemy's, or by the hand of God. Let us starve, if we must, welcoming starvation because it comes before dishonor. Your menaces do not move me; my life is at your disposal. Here, take my sword, thrust it into my breast, and divide my flesh among you to appease your hunger. So long as I remain alive expect no surrender."
There was silence again while the mob wavered. Then there were mutterings around us. Above these rang out the clear voice of the girl whose hand Harry still held-unnecessarily, it seemed to me.
"Do you not feel the sea wind? It has come at last. To the tower! And the first man there will see by moonlight the full white sails of the prince's ships."
For several hours I scoured the streets of the town, seeking in vain my cousin and his companion; the sudden movement of the crowd toward the Roman tower had separated us. On every side I saw evidences of the terrible chastisement that had brought this stout-hearted people to the verge of despair. A man with hungry eyes chased a lean rat along the bank of the canal. A young mother, with two dead babes in her arms, sat in a doorway to which they bore the bodies of her husband and father, just killed at the walls. In the middle of a deserted street I passed unburied corpses in a pile twice as high as my head. The pestilence had been there-kinder than the Spaniard, because it held out no treacherous promises while it dealt its blows.
Toward morning the wind increased to a gale. There was no sleep in Leyden, no more talk of surrender, no longer any thought or care about defense. These words were on the lips of everybody I met: "Daylight will bring the fleet!"
Did daylight bring the fleet? History says so, but I was not a witness. I know only that before dawn the gale culminated in a violent thunderstorm, and that at the same time a muffled explosion, heavier than the thunder, shook the town. I was in the crowd that watched from the Roman Mound for the first signs of the approaching relief. The concussion shook hope out of every face. "Their mine has reached the wall!" But where? I pressed forward until I found the burgomaster, who was standing among the rest. "Quick!" I whispered. "It is beyond the Cow Gate, and this side of the Tower of Burgundy." He gave me a searching glance, and then strode away, without making any attempt to quiet the general panic. I followed close at his heels.
It was a tight run of nearly half a mile to the rampart in question. When we reached the Cow Gate this is what we saw:
A great gap, where the wall had been, opening to the swampy fields beyond: in the moat, outside and below, a confusion of upturned faces, belonging to men who struggled like demons to achieve the breach, and who now gained a few feet and now were forced back; on the shattered rampart a handful of soldiers and burghers forming a living wall where masonry had failed; perhaps a double handful of women and girls, serving stones to the defenders and boiling water in buckets, besides pitch and oil and unslaked lime, and some of them quoiting tarred and burning hoops over the necks of the Spaniards in the moat; my cousin Harry leading and directing the men; the burgomaster's daughter Gertruyd encouraging and inspiring the women.
But what attracted my attention more than anything else was the frantic activity of a little figure in black, who, with a huge ladle, was showering molten lead on the heads of the assailing party. As he turned to the bonfire and kettle which supplied him with ammunition, his features came into the full light. I gave a cry of surprise: the ladler of molten lead was Professor Van Stopp.
The burgomaster Van der Werf turned at my sudden exclamation. "Who is that?" I said. "The man at the kettle?"
"That," replied Van der Werf, "is the brother of my wife, the clockmaker Jan Lipperdam."
The affair at the breach was over almost before we had had time to grasp the situation. The Spaniards, who had overthrown the wall of brick and stone, found the living wall impregnable. They could not even maintain their position in the moat; they were driven off into the darkness. Now I felt a sharp pain in my left arm. Some stray missile must have hit me while we watched the fight.
"Who has done this thing?" demanded the burgomaster. "Who is it that has kept watch on today while the rest of us were straining fools' eyes toward tomorrow?"
Gertruyd van der Werf came forward proudly, leading my cousin. "My father," said the girl, "he has saved my life."
"That is much to me," said the burgomaster, "but it is not all. He has saved Leyden and he has saved Holland."
I was becoming dizzy. The faces around me seemed unreal. Why were we here with these people? Why did the thunder and lightning forever continue? Why did the clockmaker, Jan Lipperdam, turn always toward me the face of Professor Van Stopp? "Harry!" I said, "come back to our rooms."
But though he grasped my hand warmly his other hand still held that of the girl, and he did not move. Then nausea overcame me. My head swam, and the breach and its defenders faded from sight.
Three days later I sat with one arm bandaged in my accustomed seat in Van Stopp's lecture room. The place beside me was vacant.
"We hear much," said the Hegelian professor, reading from a notebook in his usual dry, hurried tone, "of the influence of the sixteenth century upon the nineteenth. No philosopher, as far as I am aware, has studied the influence of the nineteenth century upon the sixteenth. If cause produces effect, does effect never induce cause? Does the law of heredity, unlike all other laws of this universe of mind and matter, operate in one direction only? Does the descendant owe everything to the ancestor, and the ancestor nothing to the descendant? Does destiny, which may seize upon our existence, and for its own purposes bear us far into the future, never carry us back into the past?"
I went back to my rooms in the Breede Straat, where my only companion was the silent clock.
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