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Tales of Fantasy:
Edward Page Mitchell:
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Date first posted: Jan 2023
Most recent update: Jan 2023
This eBook was produced by Richard Scott, Matthias Kaether, Roy Glashan and Colin Choat
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EDWARD PAGE MITCHELL (1852–1927), who worked as an editor and story writer for the New York daily The Sun, is recognized as a major figure in the early development of the science fiction genre.
His works include stories about a time machine ("The Clock that Went Backward," 1881) and an invisible man ("The Crystal Man," 1881), both of which pre-date H.G. Wells' novels on these subjects (1895 and 1897).
Other works include stories about faster-than-light travel ("The Tachypomp," 1874), a cyborg ("The Ablest Man in the World," 1879), teleportation ("The Man without a Body", 1877), and mind-transfer ("Exchanging Their Souls," 1877).
Besides works of science fiction, Mitchell wrote stories in the fantasy and horror genres. RGL offers special compilations of tales in all three categories.
—Roy Glashan, 22 January 2023
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 there 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 table talk 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 meager 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 someday, 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 it!) 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 labeled 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 human-like 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 anyone 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 ABC 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 trapdoor 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 clockwork. 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 traveling 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?
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 mind 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, Körperliche Geisteswissenschaft, 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 sulphureted 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?"
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."
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."
"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 mummified 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 platsyma. I knew the Head was trying to speak to me. I noted the convulsive twitchings of the risorius and the zygomaticus 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 spectral 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 und 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 theater 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 Professor!" cried the porter, touching his cap. "I pray your 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 unpracticed 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 head!"
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 bedchamber 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 blasé 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 Vospitatelny 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 well-informed 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 Teufelsmühle, "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 marvelous 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 hurly-burly of his inferiors, who reason falsely, and await the inevitable result with the tranquility 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. Today 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 deathbed 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-gears, 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. Savitch 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.
Savitch 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 compliments 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.
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 bête 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 good-natured 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."
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 Mongol-Vegetarian 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 Puritan!" 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.
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 anyone 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 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 biliverdin and the reddish-yellow uroxacin, 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 Fröliker 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 acclivities 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 idyll 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 co-laborer 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 hand 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 [siege] 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 rape-seed 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.
THE colonel said:
We rode for several hours straight from the shore toward the heart of the island. The sun was low in the western sky when we left the ship. Neither on the water nor on the land had we felt a breath of air stirring. The glare was upon everything. Over the low range of hills miles away in the interior hung a few copper-colored clouds. "Wind," said Briery. Kilooa shook his head.
Vegetation of all kinds showed the effects of the long continued drought. The eye wandered without relief from the sickly russet of the undergrowth, so dry in places that leaves and stems crackled under the horses' feet, to the yellowish-brown of the thirsty trees that skirted the bridle path. No growing thing was green except the bell-top cactus, fit to flourish in the crater of a living volcano.
Kilooa leaned over in the saddle and tore from one of these plants its top, as big as a California pear and bloated with juice. He crushed the bell in his fist, and, turning, flung into our hot faces a few grateful drops of water.
Then the guide began to talk rapidly in his language of vowels and liquids. Briery translated for my benefit.
The god Lalala loved a woman of the island. He came in the form of fire. She, accustomed to the ordinary temperature of the clime, only shivered before his approaches. Then he wooed her as a shower of rain and won her heart. Kakal was a divinity much more powerful than Lalala, but malicious to the last degree. He also coveted this woman, who was very beautiful. Kakal's importunities were in vain. In spite, he changed her to a cactus, and rooted her to the ground under the burning sun. The god Lalala was powerless to avert this vengeance; but he took up his abode with the cactus woman, still in the form of a rain shower, and never left her, even in the driest seasons. Thus it happens that the bell-top cactus is an unfailing reservoir of pure cool water.
Long after dark we reached the channel of a vanished stream, and Kilooa led us for several miles along its dry bed. We were exceedingly tired when the guide bade us dismount. He tethered the panting horses and then dashed into the dense thicket on the bank. A hundred yards of scrambling, and we came to a poor thatched hut. The savage raised both hands above his head and uttered a musical falsetto, not unlike the yodel peculiar to the Valais. This call brought out the occupant of the hut, upon whom Briery flashed the light of his lantern. It was an old woman, hideous beyond the imagination of a dyspeptic's dream.
"Omanana gelaãl!" exclaimed Kilooa.
"Hail, holy woman," translated Briery.
Between Kilooa and the holy hag there ensued a long colloquy, respectful on his part, sententious and impatient on hers, Briery listened with eager attention. Several times he clutched my arm, as if unable to repress his anxiety. The woman seemed to be persuaded by Kilooa's arguments, or won by his entreaties. At last she pointed toward the southeast, slowly pronouncing a few words that apparently satisfied my companions.
The direction indicated by the holy woman was still toward the hills, but twenty or thirty degrees to the left of the general course which we had pursued since leaving the shore.
"Push on! Push on!" cried Briery. "We can afford to lose no time."
WE rode all night. At sunrise there was a pause of hardly ten minutes for the scanty breakfast supplied by our haversacks. Then we were again in the saddle, making our way through a thicket that grew more and more difficult, and under a sun that grew hotter.
"Perhaps," I remarked finally to my taciturn friend, "you have no objection to telling me now why two civilized beings and one amiable savage should be plunging through this infernal jungle, as if they were on an errand of life or death?"
"Yes," said he, "it is best you should know."
Briery produced from an inner breast pocket a letter which had been read and reread until it was worn in the creases. "This," he went on, "is from Professor Quakversuch of the University of Upsala. It reached me at Valparaiso."
Glancing cautiously around, as if he feared that every tree fern in that tropical wilderness was an eavesdropper, or that the hood-like spathes of the giant caladiums overhead were ears waiting to drink in some mighty secret of science, Briery read in a low voice from the letter of the great Swedish botanist:
"You will have in these islands," wrote the professor, "a rare opportunity to investigate certain extraordinary accounts given me years ago by the Jesuit missionary Buteaux concerning the Migratory Tree, the cereus fragrans of Jansenius and other speculative physiologists.
"The explorer Spohr claims to have beheld it; but there is reason, as you know, for accepting all of Spohr's statements with caution.
"That is not the case with the assertions of my late valued correspondent, the Jesuit missionary. Father Buteaux was a learned botanist, an accurate observer, and a most pious and conscientious man. He never saw the Migratory Tree; but during the long period of his labors in that part of the world he accumulated, from widely different sources, a mass of testimony as to its existence and habits.
"Is it quite inconceivable, my dear Briery, that somewhere in the range of nature there is a vegetable organization as far above the cabbage, let us say, in complexity and potentiality as the ape is above the polyp? Nature is continuous. In all her schemes we find no chasms, no gaps. There may be missing links in our books and classifications and cabinets, but there are none in the organic world. Is not all of lower nature struggling upward to arrive at the point of self-consciousness and volition? In the unceasing process of evolution, differentiation, improvement in special functions, why may not a plant arrive at this point and feel, will, act, in short, possess and exercise the characteristics of the true animal?"
Briery's voice trembled with enthusiasm as he read this.
"I have no doubt," continued Professor Quakversuch, "that if it shall be your great good fortune to encounter a specimen of the Migratory Tree described by Buteaux, you will find that it possesses a well-defined system of real nerves and ganglia, constituting, in fact, the seat of vegetable intelligence. I conjure you to be very thorough in your dissections.
"According to the indications furnished me by the Jesuit, this extraordinary tree should belong to the order of Cactaceae. It should be developed only in conditions of extreme heat and dryness. Its roots should be hardly more than rudimentary, affording a precarious attachment to the earth. This attachment it should be able to sever at will, soaring up into the air and away to another place selected by itself, as a bird shifts its habitation. I infer that these migrations are accomplished by means of the property of secreting hydrogen gas, with which it inflates at pleasure a bladder-like organ of highly elastic tissue, thus lifting itself out of the ground and off to a new abode.
"Buteaux added that the Migratory Tree was invariably worshiped by the natives as a supernatural being, and that the mystery thrown by them around its cult was the greatest obstacle in the path of the investigator."
"There!" exclaimed Briery, folding up Professor Quakversuch's letter. "Is not that a quest worthy the risk or sacrifice of life itself? To add to the recorded facts of vegetable morphology the proved existence of a tree that wanders, a tree that wills, a tree, perhaps, that thinks—this is glory to be won at any cost! The lamented Decandolle of Geneva—"
"Confound the lamented Decandolle of Geneva!" shouted I, for it was excessively hot, and I felt that we had come on a fool's errand.
IT was near sunset on the second day of our journey, when Kilooa, who was riding several rods in advance of us, uttered a quick cry, leaped from his saddle, and stooped to the ground.
Briery was at his side in an instant. I followed with less agility; my joints were very stiff and I had no scientific enthusiasm to lubricate them. Briery was on his hands and knees, eagerly examining what seemed to be a recent disturbance of the soil. The savage was prostrate, rubbing his forehead in the dust, as if in a religious ecstasy, and warbling the same falsetto notes that we had heard at the holy woman's hut.
"What beast's trail have you struck?" I demanded.
"The trail of no beast," answered Briery, almost angrily. "Do you see this broad round abrasion of the surface, where a heavy weight has rested? Do you see these little troughs in the fresh earth, radiating from the center like the points of a star? They are the scars left by slender roots torn up from their shallow beds. Do you see Kilooa's hysterical performance? I tell you we are on the track of the Sacred Tree. It has been here, and not long ago."
Acting under Briery's excited instructions we continued the hunt on foot. Kilooa started toward the east, I toward the west, and Briery took the southward course.
To cover the ground thoroughly, we agreed to advance in gradually widening zigzags, communicating with each other at intervals by pistol shots. There could have been no more foolish arrangement. In a quarter of an hour I had lost my head and my bearings in a thicket. For another quarter of an hour I discharged my revolver repeatedly, without getting a single response from east or south. I spent the remainder of daylight in a blundering effort to make my way back to the place where the horses were; and then the sun went down, leaving me in sudden darkness, alone in a wilderness of, the extent and character of which I had not the faintest idea.
I will spare you the history of my sufferings during the whole of that night, and the next day, and the next night, and another day. When it was dark I wandered about in blind despair, longing for daylight, not daring to sleep or even to stop, and in continual terror of the unknown dangers that surrounded me. In the daytime I longed for night, for the sun scorched its way through the thickest roof that the luxuriant foliage afforded, and drove me nearly mad. The provisions in my haversack were exhausted. My canteen was on my saddle; I should have died of thirst had it not been for the bell-top cactus, which I found twice. But in that horrible experience neither the torture of hunger and thirst nor the torture of heat equaled the misery of the thought that my life was to be sacrificed to the delusion of a crazy botanist, who had dreamed of the impossible.
On the second afternoon, still staggering aimlessly on through the jungle, I lost my last strength and fell to the ground. Despair and indifference had long since given way to an eager desire for the end. I closed my eyes with indescribable relief; the hot sun seemed pleasant on my face as consciousness departed.
Did a beautiful and gentle woman come to me while I lay unconscious, and take my head in her lap, and put her arms around me? Did she press her face to mine and in a whisper bid me have courage? That was the belief that filled my mind when it struggled back for a moment into consciousness; I clutched at the warm, soft arms, and swooned again.
Do not look at each other and smile, gentlemen; in that cruel wilderness, in my helpless condition, I found pity and benignant tenderness. The next time my senses returned I saw that Something was bending over me—something majestic if not beautiful, humane if not human, gracious if not woman. The arms that held me and drew me up were moist, and they throbbed with the pulsation of life. There was a faint, sweet odor, like the smell of a woman's perfumed hair. The touch was a caress, the clasp an embrace.
Can I describe its form? No, not with the definiteness that would satisfy the Quakversuches and the Brierys. I saw that the trunk was massive. The branches that lifted me from the ground and held me carefully and gently were flexible and symmetrically disposed. Above my head there was a wreath of strange foliage, and in the midst of it a dazzling sphere of scarlet. The scarlet globe grew while I watched it but the effort of watching was too much for me.
Remember, if you please, that at this time, physical exhaustion and mental torture had brought me to the point where I passed to and fro between consciousness and unconsciousness as easily and as frequently as one fluctuates between slumber and wakefulness during a night of fever. It seemed the most natural thing in the world that in my extreme weakness I should be beloved and cared for by a cactus. I did not seek an explanation of this good fortune, or try to analyze it; I simply accepted it as a matter of course, as a child accepts a benefit from an unexpected quarter. The one idea that possessed me was that I had found an unknown friend, instinct with womanly sympathy and immeasurably kind.
And as night came on it seemed to me that the scarlet bulb overhead became enormously distended, so that it almost filled the sky. Was I gently rocked by the supple arms that still held me? Were we floating off together into the air? I did not know, or care. Now I fancied that I was in my berth on board ship, cradled by the swell of the sea; now, that I was sharing the flight of some great bird; now, that I was borne on with prodigious speed through the darkness by my own volition. The sense of incessant motion affected all my dreams. Whenever I awoke I felt a cool breeze steadily beating against my face—the first breath of air since we had landed. I was vaguely happy, gentlemen. I had surrendered all responsibility for my own fate. I had gained the protection of a being of superior powers.
"The brandy flask, Kilooa!"
It was daylight. I lay upon the ground and Briery was supporting my shoulders. In his face was a look of bewilderment that I shall never forget.
"My God!" he cried, "and how did you get here? We gave up the search two days ago."
The brandy pulled me together. I staggered to my feet and looked around. The cause of Briery's extreme amazement was apparent at a glance. We were not in the wilderness. We were at the shore. There was the bay, and the ship at anchor, half a mile off. They were already lowering a boat to send for us.
And there to the south was a bright red spot on the horizon, hardly larger than the morning star—the Balloon Tree returning to the wilderness. I saw it, Briery saw it, the savage Kilooa saw it. We watched it till it vanished. We watched it with very different emotions, Kilooa with superstitious reverence, Briery with scientific interest and intense disappointment, I with a heart full of wonder and gratitude.
I clasped my forehead with both hands. It was no dream, then. The Tree, the caress, the embrace, the scarlet bulb, the night journey through the air, were not creations and incidents of delirium. Call it tree, or call it plant-animal—there it was! Let men of science quarrel over the question of its existence in nature; this I know: It had found me dying and had brought me more than a hundred miles straight to the ship where I belonged. Under Providence, gentlemen, that sentient and intelligent vegetable organism had saved my life.
At this point the colonel got up and left the club. He was very much moved. Pretty soon Briery came in, briskly as usual. He picked up an uncut copy of Lord Bragmuch's Travels in Kerguellon's Land, and settled himself in an easy chair at the corner of the fireplace.
Young Traddies timidly approached the veteran globetrotter. "Excuse me, Mr. Briery," said he, "but I should like to ask you a question about the Balloon Tree. Were there scientific reasons for believing that its sex was—"
"Ah," interrupted Briery, looking bored; "the colonel has been favoring you with that extraordinary narrative? Has he honored me again with a share in the adventure? Yes? Well, did we bag the game this time?"
"Why, no," said young Traddies. "You last saw the Tree as a scarlet spot against the horizon."
"By Jove, another miss!" said Briery, calmly beginning to cut the leaves of his book.
IN the days of content, when wants were few and well supplied, when New England rum was pure and cheap, and while the older generation still wore the knee breeches and turkey-tailed coats of colonial days, and Bailey, who kept a tollgate on the Hartford and Providence turnpike, died. For forty years after the Revolution, Bailey lived in the solitary little tollhouse, near the bridge over the turbulent Quinnebaug, and in all that time had never failed to answer the call to come and take toll; but one night he responded not, and they found him sitting in his chair with an open Bible on his knees, and his spirit gone to the country of which he had been reading.
So it happened that a few days after, the big coach left a tall young man at the Quinnebaug tollhouse, who brought with him his possessions encased in a handkerchief. The driver of the stage informed the young man that here was the scene of his future activities for the turnpike company, and added as he saw the young fellow staring at the board beside the door on which, at a long distant time, the rates of toll had been painted, "See here, Old Squids, you'd better chalk up some new figures. The old ones is about washed out."
The driver called him Old Squids, but aside from the fact that such a surname, if such it was, had never been heard before in that country, it was strange that he should have been called old. He was, in fact, a young fellow, not more than two or three and twenty, seemingly. Though his skin was bronzed, it was smooth, and though his beard was tangled, each hair at cross purposes, it had never known the razor, and was, therefore, silky. He was sinewy, though his joints were protuberant, and his broad shoulders were not erect. Yet, perhaps, they called him old because he was moderate in his way, not so much because of laziness as by inborn disposition.
When the coach rolled away Squids was left standing there, gazing with a perplexed expression at the toll board and abstractedly tugging at his beard. No wonder he was perplexed. There appeared only fragments of words on the board, for the rains had washed the paint away with bewildering irregularity. He could make nothing of it. The very first thing that Squids did, therefore, was to tear down the board and take it into the little cottage. Then, without any examination of his new home, he threw his bundle upon the bed and began to repair the damage that time had done to the board. But age had done its inevitable work with it, and as Squids held it on his knees it crumbled in his strong grasp and broke into fragments, as though the rude change, after forty years of unmeddled security on the door, had been too much for it.
Squids sorrowfully looked at the fragments at his feet, then gathered them up carefully, and gave them a decent interment in an old chest. For a week Squids labored to make a new toll board. Not that the board itself needed so much time, but, alas, the announcement on it did. For, skillful as Squids was with the hammer and saw and nails, his fingers were clumsy with the pencil and paintbrush. Hour after hour he worked, studying the printed card of rates which the company had given him, so that he might transfer those figures and letters intelligibly upon the board. One night he even dreamed how it should be done, and dreaming, awoke with delight, lighted his candle, and down on his knees he went, to transfer the dream to the board. But his fingers refused to respond to the picture in his mind, and, with a sigh, Squids returned to bed.
At last Squids gave it up. He simply painted upon the board something like this:
MAN 1 CT. HORSE 2 CT. CRITTERS ASK ME
The words and the spelling of them he slyly obtained from some passing stranger who wrote them out for Squids upon a shingle. This new board he hung up in the old place, and when he saw anyone, man or beast, approaching the gate, he brought out his tariff card in case anybody should ask him the toll.
The manager of the company passing by in the stage, though he smiled at the board, comforted Squids by saying that he had done well, and then the manager told his companion that Squids was odd, but faithful, and had given proof of his integrity to one of the company's directors. "He doesn't know any name but Squids," said the manager, "and we suppose he is some whaler's waif cast ashore in New London, and left to look out for himself. But he is faithful."
But Squids, while pacified by the manager's approval, was by no means content. "Someday," said he to himself, as he gazed sadly at his rather abortive effort, "I'll put one up that'll be a credit."
Squids seemed happy enough in his lonely home. He made few friends, for the spot was remote from the farms of that town. The stage drivers liked him, for he always gave each of them a glass of cool milk. Squids's only possession, besides his clothes, was a cow.
One day one of the drivers said to him: "See here, old Squids. I've been a drinking your milk, off and on, a year or more for nothing. What can I get for you up to Hartford that will sorter square it up?"
"You might bring me a spelling book," said Squids. "If you'll buy it and bring it, I'll pay what it costs: not more than a dollar, I guess."
On the next down trip the driver handed Squids a Webster's spelling book. His blue eyes sparkled as he received it, but he said nothing except to express his thanks. But when the stage rolled away, and Squids was alone, he opened the book haphazard, and then, standing before the billboard, said, with an accent of triumph in his tone and the gleam of victory in his eye. "By moy I can paint one and put it up that will be a credit."
Squids could spell two- and three-letter words, but beyond that he found himself mired in many difficulties very often. He struggled and wrestled manfully, but rather despairingly, with the two-syllabled words in the speller. "That's a B," he would say, "sure, and that's an A, and that spells Ba. But I don't quite get this 'ere yet. That's a K, that's an E, and that's an R. K is a K. E is an E. R is an R. Ker. That must be Keer. Bakeer. Now what kind of word is that?"
Thus Baker overthrew him and he was very despondent. One night, as he lay upon his bed, his eyes wide open and his brain throbbing with the misery of the mystery of Bakeer, a great light came to him. He arose, lighted a candle, and from his canvas bag drew forth ten copper pennies, which he placed conspicuously upon his table. Then he no sooner touched his pillow than he fell asleep.
In the morning the ten coppers were given to the driver, with the request that they should be exchanged at Hartford for ten peppermint bull's-eyes, streaked red and white. When Squids received the bull's-eyes he put them away on a plate in his cupboard and bided his time until the next Saturday afternoon. At that time, about an hour before sundown, he began to peer up the road toward the bend, for it was at such time that he knew that every Saturday a young lad came along with some good things from his father's farm for the minister's Sunday dinner at the parsonage, a mile away on the other side of the Quinnebaug. At last Squids caught sight of the boy, who bore a basket on his arm seemingly heavily laden. Squids, with a slyness born of some sense of shame, concealed himself in the tollhouse. Soon the lad was at the gate calling upon Squids to come out and pass him.
"Hulloo! It's you, is it, Ebenezer, going to the minister's? That basket must be heavy. Should think you'd want to rest a bit."
"'Tis heavy. There's a sparerib in it?"
"M'm. Want to know," said Squids, opening his eyes in surprise and sympathy well simulated. "Come in and sit down. Mebbe I can give you something kinder good."
"Now what's that air thing?" asked Squids, when he had Ebenezer in the house, holding up the monstrously tempting confection before the boy's eyes.
"Pepentink bull's-eyes," said the boy, delightedly.
"You like 'em. You shall have one." Here Squids seemed about to give Ebenezer the candy, but suddenly restrained himself.
"Hold on," he said. "You've got to earn it. Oh! You go to school?"
"Yes, in winter."
"H'm-m. How far have you got?"
"I've got to fractions and second reader."
"Sho! No! I wan't to know. Now let's see." Here Squids meditatively produced the Webster's speller from its place under his pillow, and opening it, said: "H'm-m. Let's see. Now, here, if you will read that colyumn down straight you shall have two bull's-eyes. Right here. Just to see how much you know."
"That's easy," said Ebenezer. "I will read some harder ones."
Squids seemed a little perplexed. At length he said, "Let's try the easy ones first. It'll be so much easier to earn the bull's-eyes. Don't you see?" And Squids placed the point of his jackknife blade upon Baker.
"That's Baker," said Ebenezer.
"Baker," replied Squids, with the queerest accent in his voice. "Baker. Sho! so 'tis." Here Squids abstractedly combed his beard with his jackknife.
"Of course it's Baker. Ker don't spell keer. Anybody but a fool might a' known that. Let me write it down, Ebenezer."
Then Squids, somewhat to the astonishment of Ebenezer, brought forth a shingle, and on the smooth white side, with a piece of charcoal, spelled out the word B-a-k-e-r.
"What do you write it down for, Squids?" asked the boy.
"What for? Oh, only to see how many you get right," replied the cunning Squids.
Thus Squids mastered some ten or twelve words, and the boy received two bull's-eyes, and Squids made a covenant with him that he should stop there every Saturday afternoon and show Squids whether he could read rightly such words in Webster's speller as Squids showed him, for which he was to receive two or more bull's-eyes.
Thus Squids, taught by a bribed and unconscious teacher, mastered the speller and began to make preparations to build a new toll board on which he purposed to paint the tariff of prices in a manner that would be a credit.
But something happened that made the new toll board and the credit that it was to be seem of petty consequence to him. One evening in March, when the line storm was raging without, Squids, with his speller on the table between two candles, and a shingle on his knee, was painting out with almost infinite pains the word cattle, so that he might be schooled in printing it correctly and as artistically as possible upon the toll board.
Suddenly Squids paused in his work and listened. There was surely a knock upon his door. The sound was not made by the beating of the oak branches on the roof. Squids took a candle and opened the door. A gust of wind blew the light out, as well as the other one on the table, but Squids had seen a woman's form on the doorstep, and he put forth his hand and drew her within. He bade her be patient until he relighted the candle, but before he could do so he heard her staggering step, and then he knew that she had fallen.
When Squids at last with nervous fingers coaxed a spark into the tinder and lighted a candle, he saw that the woman seemed to have sunk to the floor. Her face, over which her hair had fallen and was matted by the rain, was pale, and her eyes, half-opened with unconscious stare, seemed to him like the eyes of the dead. Her head, having fallen back, rested against the door. Squids held the candle to her parted lips and saw that she was not dead, but faint, and even before he could apply the simple remedies that he had, she had somewhat recovered. She feebly rose, tottered to a chair, and then for the first time Squids saw that which startled him far more than her unconscious form had done. He saw in her arms the peaceful face of a sleeping infant.
She drank a glass of water, and Squids bustled about to prepare for her a cup of tea, for which he had made of great potency, so that, having taken it, she greatly revived.
"You're very wet," said Squids, and he threw some logs upon the hearth, urging her to draw near the fire. She did so, but with such manner of indifference that it seemed to Squids that she cared little whether she was wet or dry.
Though he had never touched the smooth, soft flesh of an infant before, Squids gently took this one from her unresisting arms and laid it upon his pillow. The child had not been wet by the storm, and Squids carefully tucked the quilt under the pillow. It did not even awaken under his unaccustomed touch, and as he looked upon the little sleeping one upon his pillow, with a chubby hand resting beside its cheek, Squids vowed that neither mother nor child should leave the house that night.
The woman watched him with the first sign of interest she had shown, and she said at length, "You are kind, very kind."
"That air's a cute little beauty," was all the reply Squids made. The woman told him an incoherent, rambling story about missing the stage and losing her way, and she begged that she might rest there until the next stage came. Squids urged her to make herself comfortable, and he set milk and bread before her. Then, with cautions respecting the need of thorough drying, Squids went away to the little loft. He listened as he lay upon an extemporized bed, but all was silent below, and when he was assured that the stranger was in comfort he fell asleep.
In the morning Squids knocked at the door, but there was no response. "She is tired: let her sleep," said Squids to himself.
But by and by there being no sound within, Squids ventured to knock again, and still getting no response opened the door. The room was vacant.
"She went away before I awoke," reasoned Squids, and he set about getting his breakfast.
Soon he heard that which caused him to stop and stand in utter amazement. He did not stir until he heard the sound again.
"Ma! Ma!" It came to him once more, and then, gently raising the bed-quilt, Squids's eyes met those of the baby.
The little thing put up its hands, chuckled, and bounced up and down upon the pillow.
"Mo! Mo!" it said.
"Mo! Mo!" said Squids. "That means moolly, moolly. It wants milk."
In an instant Squids was warming a basin of milk. "I calculate it'll like it sweet," he meditated. So he put in a heaping spoonful of sugar. Then, with the tenderness of a mother, Squids fed the little one, spoonful by spoonful, till at last it pushed the spoon away with its fat little hands, and, reaching up, clung with gentle yet firm grasp to Squids's long and silky beard, and then, tugging away, looked up into his eyes, and laughed and crowed.
"Seems as though it knowed me," said Squids. "I vum, the cute little rascal thinks it knows me," and two tears dropped from Squids' eyes right down upon the baby's cheek, and it lifted up one hand in sport, and as it felt of Squids's rough skin, it brushed away another tear or two with its frolicking. And Squids held his face down to it, and clucked and clucked, and spoke softly with all the instinct of paternity within him aroused. At last the little one's hands relaxed, and its eyelids drooped, and it fell asleep, and Squids stood there watching it, how long he knew not.
Thus Squids had a companion brought to him. He never knew why the mother, if such she was, left the baby there, or where she had gone, and as the days went by he began to have a secret terror lest she should sometime come and claim it. But she did not. No more thought had Squids for the new toll board, only as he set it before the child for a table whereon were gathered the marvelous toys that Squids whittled for it with his jackknife. Squids early discovered that the baby liked wheels above all things, and that it displayed wonderful cunning in the arrangement of them after he had whittled them out.
One day Squids found him gazing wonderingly at the Webster's speller, and though fearful of the lawlessness of those little hands, Squids bound the covers firmly together with cords and suffered him to play with the book. Then Squids called the baby Little Speller, and never by any other name. The little one tried hard to say Squids, but could only lisp "Thid," so that Squids came to like this diminutive as spoken by the child better than all other sounds.
"Someday you and me will rastle with this book, and I calculate we'll get the best of it, won't we, sir?" Squids would say to the child when it grew old enough to understand, and the little one would reply, "Yes we will, Thid."
Thus they lived, day by day, Little Speller content, while Squids—his happiness was a revelation of delight of which he had had no conception. By and by, when the little one was older, Squids would take him on his knee, and with the Webster speller and a new slate brought from Hartford, they would take up their tasks.
"That's A, sir. See how I make it. One line down, so, and another down, so, and one across, and that makes A." And Little Speller, with faltering fingers, would draw the lines and say, "That's A, Thid," and Squids would laugh and say, "We'll have a toll board by and by that will be a credit, and no mistake."
One day Squids spelled out horse on the slate, and Little Speller took the pencil and sketched a horse with very rectangular head and body and very wavy legs, and he said, "No, that's horse, Thid."
Squids roared, and got a shingle and made Little Speller spell horse in that way on it with a crayon. Then Squids nailed the shingle on the wall over the fireplace, and when anybody came in he would point proudly to it, saying, "See how Little Speller spells horse. He's a cute one!"
But before many months went by Squids found that the boy and he were exchanging places, for the teacher was becoming the taught and the scholar becoming the teacher. So Squids sent to Hartford and bought a first reader and an arithmetic, and great was their delight in pondering over the mysteries of these books and solving them.
"Little Speller," said Squids, one day, "you took to spelling natural, but you take to 'rithmetic more natural. But it's beyond me. After this you'll have to do the figgering and the spelling for me."
That the child had a talent for mathematics and mechanics Squids understood fully, though he could not express it in any other way than by saying: "He's mighty sharp at figgers and mighty cute with the jackknife."
One morning, as Squids was opening the tollgate, he astonished the traveler who waited to pass through by suddenly stopping and staring at the house. The stranger feared he had gone mad, or was carrying too much New England rum, till Squids, with triumphant utterance, said, "Look at that air. That's a credit at last," and he pointed to a new toll board neatly painted and accurately lettered. Then he rushed into the house and brought forth the lad.
"This is the boy that done it," said Squids, "unbeknown to me, and nailed her up unbeknown. Ain't that a credit? It is Little Speller, it is."
Then, when Little Speller grew older, he builded, with Squids's help, a marvelous tollgate that opened and shut automatically by the touching of a lever; and the fame of it spread, so that the manager even came, and wondered, too, and praised the lad, saying: "Squids, that boy is a genius, sure."
And Squids would watch Little Speller, when the lad knew it not, as an enthusiast studies a painting, and many and many a time did Squids in the night quietly arise from the bed, light a candle, and look, with something like awe in his glance, upon the face of the sleeping boy.
One day there came to the Quinnebaug tollgate some men, and they drove stakes and dug ditches, and builded a great dam across the river, half a mile above. Then they put up a building, larger than any Little Speller ever saw, and placed within it curious machines, and they put a huge wheel outside the building. Little Speller seemed entranced as he watched them day by day, and he caused the men to deal with him with great respect, because at a critical time in setting up the wheel, when it seemed as though something had gone wrong, they heard a little voice shouting peremptorily, "Loose your ropes, quick," and they did so, and the wheel settled properly in place. The men wondered how it was that that little fellow standing there on a rock could have shouted so commandingly that they trusted him. But they said: "He's got some gumption, sure."
When the big wheel was set agoing and the machines in the mill began to make a frightful clatter, then it was that Little Speller's enthusiasm and delight seemed to be greater even than such a little body as his could contain. He spent hours and hours in the mill watching the machines as they wove the threads of wool into cloth.
By and by Squids saw that Little Speller was silent, dreaming abstracted, and Squids became alarmed. "It's that air dreadful noise in the mill that's confusing his little head," reasoned Squids: and he urged the boy to go there less frequently, but Little Speller went as was his wont. At length, Squids saw that the boy was busying himself day and night with the jackknife and such other tools as were there, and Squids was pleased, though he could not comprehend what this strange thing was that Little Speller was building. The boy seemed absorbed by his work. When he ate, his great dreamy eyes were fixed abstractedly upon his plate; but he slept soundly, and Squids was not greatly alarmed.
"There's something in him that's working out," reasoned Squids, and when he saw the fierce energy and enthusiasm with which Little Speller cut and shaped and planed and fashioned the bits of wood, Squids was sure that whatever it was that was working out of him was working out well.
One day Little Speller said, as he put his hand on the thing he had made, "There, it's done, and it's all right. It's better than the ones they've got in the mill, only it's wood."
"What might it be, Little Speller?" asked Squids.
"It's a weaving machine."
"It's worked out of you. Part of you is in that thing, Little Speller, and it's a greater credit than the toll board or the gate."
Then Squids in great glee went and fetched the superintendent of the mill. "See," said he, when he had brought the man, "that air is worked out of Little Speller. Part of him is in it, and it's a credit."
The superintendent glanced with some interest at the model, more to please the lad and Squids than for any other reason. "Show him how it works," said Squids.
Little Speller did so. It was rude, clumsy; but as the boy explained the working of it, the superintendent became excited. He fingered it himself. He worked at it. Great beads of sweat stood on his forehead, for he was intensely interested. At last he said: "That will revolutionize woolen mills. The thing's built wrong, but the idea is there. Where did you get that idea, Squids?"
"Me!" exclaimed Squids. "Me! 'Taint me. It worked out of Little Speller. It's been working out of him ever since the mill was built. Ain't it a credit?"
"Credit!" and the superintendent smiled. "What do you want for it?" he asked.
"I want to see one built and set to working in the mill," said Little Speller.
"Will you let me build it?"
"Oh, if you only will," begged Little Speller.
"Put that down in writing, and I'll promise you I'll fit the mill with them; yes, and a hundred mills."
Squids and Little Speller seemed dazed by this unexpected glory.
"He's going to put what's worked out of you into a hundred mills, Little Speller," said Squids, as he looked almost reverentially upon the boy.
It was as the superintendent had said. Seizing Little Speller's idea, he had properly handled it, builded machines, obtained patents, therefore, and had revolutionized the woolen mills that were then springing up throughout eastern New England, and had he opened a mine of gold there on the banks of the Quinnebaug, the superintendent could hardly have had more riches.
But Squids and Little Speller were content. They would go up to the mill and watch the new machine, weaving yards and yards of cloth, Little Speller with the most ecstatic delight, and Squids with a sense of awe. "That's you, Little Speller. That's you working. It ain't the machine. That's only wood and iron."
By and by Little Speller began to appear abstracted again, and he spent many hours watching the transmission of power from the water wheel to the machinery. "Something more is working out," reasoned Squids, but he held his peace.
One day Squids heard someone coming down the road. He went to open the gate. There were four or five men, and they were bearing a burden. When they were near, Squids saw that they moved gently and bore their burden tenderly and that their faces were very grave. They did not try to pass the gate, but instead entered Squids's little house and laid their burden upon his bed. Then Squids saw Little Speller's pale face, and a little red thread that was vividly tracing its way on the white cheek down from the temple, and the eyes were closed and the hand hung limp. Squids stood there motionless a long time, then, turning to the men, he said, with dull, phlegmatic speech and a veiled appearance of his eyes:
"Was he working it out?"
"He was," said one, "and he forgot himself and got too near the shafting and it—"
"Yes, yes. He was a-working it out," said Squids mechanically, and with no intelligence in his eyes. Then suddenly he darted fiercely to the bedside. Little Speller had opened his eyes. He saw Squids and knew him.
"Thid," he said.
Squids bent over him, but could not speak.
"Thid, I shall never work it out," he whispered.
Then he turned his eyes longingly to the old model across the room, and then looked imploringly at Squids. The gatekeeper read his wishes. He pushed the old model up to the bedside. Then Little Speller put one hand upon it, and with the other outstretched till the palm rested gently upon Squids's face, he looked up with one peaceful glance and the flicker of a faint smile, and then the light passed out of Little Speller's eyes forever.
The men saw what had happened and went quietly away, leaving Squids alone with Little Speller.
In the afterdays, Squids would sit by the old model, gently speaking to it, and affectionately causing its mechanism to be put in operation, and he would say, "Little Speller is in there. He is in a hundred mills. You can hear him, but I, when I look at this, I can see him, too."
I FIRST met Miss Borgier at a tea party in the town of R———, where I was attending medical lectures. She was a tall girl, not pretty; her face would have been insipid but for the peculiar restlessness of her eyes. They were neither bright nor expressive, yet she kept them so constantly in motion that they seemed to catch and reflect light from a thousand sources. Whenever, as rarely happened, she fixed them even for a few seconds upon one object, the factitious brilliancy disappeared, and they became dull and somnolent. I am unable to say what was the color of Miss Borgier's eyes.
After tea, I was one of a group of people whom our host, the Reverend Mr. Tinker, sought to entertain with a portfolio of photographs of places in the Holy Land. While endeavoring to appear interested in his descriptions and explanations, all of which I had heard before, I became aware that Miss Borgier was honoring me with steady regard. My gaze encountered hers and I found that I could not, for the life of me, withdraw my own eyes from the encounter. Then I had a singular experience, the phenomena of which I noted with professional accuracy. I felt the slight constriction of the muscles of my face, the numbness of the nerves that precedes physical stupor induced by narcotic agency. Although I was obliged to struggle against the physical sense of drowsiness, my mental faculties were more than ordinarily active. Her eyes seemed to torpify my body while they stimulated my mind, as opium does. Entirely conscious of my present surroundings, and particularly alert to the Reverend Mr. Tinker's narrative of the ride from Joppa, I accompanied him on that journey, not as one who listens to a traveler's tale, but as one who himself travels the road. When, finally, we reached the point where the Reverend Mr. Tinker's donkey makes the last sharp turn around the rock that has been cutting off the view ahead, and the Reverend Mr. Tinker beholds with amazement and joy the glorious panorama of Jerusalem spread out before him, I saw it all with remarkable vividness. I saw Jerusalem in Miss Borgier's eyes.
I tacitly thanked fortune when her eyes resumed their habitual dance around the room, releasing me from what had become a rather humiliating captivity. Once free from their strange influence, I laughed at my weakness. "Pshaw!" I said to myself. "You are a fine subject for a young woman of mesmeric talents to practice upon."
"Who is Miss Borgier?" I demanded of the Reverend Mr. Tinker's wife, at the first opportunity.
"Why, she is Deacon Borgier's daughter," replied that good person, with some surprise.
"And who is Deacon Borgier?"
"A most excellent man; one of the pillars of my husband's congregation. The young people laugh at what they call his torpidity, and say that he has been walking about town in his sleep for twenty years; but I assure you that there is not a sincerer, more fervent Chris—"
I turned abruptly around, leaving Mrs. Tinker more astonished than ever, for I knew that the subject of my inquiries was looking at me again. She sat in one corner of the room, apart from the rest of the company. I straightway went and seated myself at her side.
"That is right," she said. "I wished you to come. Did you enjoy your journey to Jerusalem?"
"Yes, thanks to you."
"Perhaps. But you can repay the obligation. I am told that you are Dr. Mack's assistant in surgery at the college. There is a clinic tomorrow. I want to attend it."
"As a patient?" I inquired.
She laughed. "No, as a spectator. You must find a way to gratify my curiosity."
I expressed, as politely as possible, my astonishment at so extraordinary a fancy on the part of a young lady, and hinted at the scandal which her appearance in the amphitheater would create. She immediately offered to disguise herself in male attire. I explained that the nature of the relations between the medical college and the patients who consented to submit to surgical treatment before the class were such that it would be a dishonorable thing for me to connive at the admission of any outsider, male or female. That argument made no impression upon her mind. I was forced to decline peremptorily to serve her in the affair. "Very well," she said. "I must find some other way."
At the clinic the next day I took pains to satisfy myself that Miss Borgier had not surreptitiously intruded. The students of the class came in at the hour, noisy and careless as usual, and seated themselves in the lower tiers of chairs around the operating table. They produced their notebooks and began to sharpen lead pencils. Miss Borgier was certainly not among them. Every face in the lecture room was familiar to me. I locked the door that opened into the hallway, and then searched the anteroom on the other side of the amphitheater. There were a dozen or more patients, nervous and dejected, waiting for treatment and attended by friends hardly less frightened than themselves. But neither Miss Borgier nor anybody resembling Miss Borgier was of the number.
Dr. Mack now briskly entered by his private door. He glanced sharply at the table on which his instruments were arranged, ready for use, and, having assured himself that everything was in its place, began the clinical lecture. There were the usual minor operations—two or three for strabismus, one for cataract, the excision of several cysts and tumors, large and small, the amputation of a railway brakeman's crushed thumb. As the cases were disposed of, I attended the patients back to the anteroom and placed them in the care of their friends.
Last came a poor old lady named Wilson, whose leg had been drawn up for years by a rheumatic affection, so that the joint of the knee had ossified. It was one of those cases where the necessary treatment is almost brutal in its simplicity. The limb had to be straightened by the application of main force. Mrs. Wilson obstinately refused to take advantage of anesthesia. She was placed on her back upon the operating table, with a pillow beneath her head. The geniculated limb showed a deflection of twenty or twenty-five degrees from a right line. As already remarked, this deflection had to be corrected by direct, forcible pressure downward upon the knee.
With the assistance of a young surgeon of great physical strength, Dr. Mack proceeded to apply this pressure. The operation is one of the most excruciating that can be imagined. I was stationed at the head of the patient, in order to hold her shoulders should she struggle. But I observed that a marked change had come over her since we established her upon the table. Very much agitated at first, she had become perfectly calm. As she passively lay there, her eyes directed upward with a fixed gaze, the eyelids heavy as if with approaching slumber, the face tranquil, it was hard to realize that this woman had already crossed the threshold of an experience of cruel pain.
I had no time, however, to give more than a thought to her wonderful courage. The harsh operation had begun. The surgeon and his assistant were steadily and with increasing force bearing down upon the rigid knee. Perhaps the Spanish Inquisition never devised a method of inflicting physical torture more intense than that which this woman was now undergoing, yet not a muscle of her face quivered. She breathed easily and regularly, her features retained their placid expression, and, at the moment when her sufferings must have been the most agonizing, I saw her eyes close, as if in peaceful sleep.
At the same instant the tremendous force exerted upon the knee produced its natural effect. The ossified joint yielded, and, with a sickening noise—the indescribable sound of the crunching and gritting of the bones of a living person, a sound so frightful that I have seen old surgeons, with sensibilities hardened by long experience, turn pale at hearing it—the crooked limb became as straight as its mate.
Closely following this horrible sound, I heard a ringing peal of laughter.
The operating table, in the middle of the pit of the amphitheater, was lighted from overhead. Directly above the table, a shaft, five or six feet square, and closely boarded on its four sides, led up through the attic story of the building to a skylight in the roof. The shaft was so deep and so narrow that its upper orifice was visible from no part of the room except a limited space immediately around the table. The laughter which startled me seemed to come from overhead. If heard by any other person present, it was probably ascribed to a hysterical utterance on the part of the patient. I was in a position to know better. Instinctively I glanced upward, in the direction in which the eyes of Mrs. Wilson had been so fixedly bent.
There, framed in a quadrangle of blue sky, I saw the head and neck of Miss Borgier. The sash of the skylight had been removed, to afford ventilation. The young woman was evidently lying at full length upon the fiat roof. She commanded a perfect view of all that was done upon the operating table. Her face was flushed with eager interest and wore an expression of innocent wonder, not unmingled with delight. She nodded merrily to me when I looked up and laid a finger against her lips, as if to warn me to silence. Disgusted, I withdrew my eyes hastily from hers. Indeed, after my experience of the previous evening, I did not care to trust my self-control under the influence of her gaze.
As Dr. Mack with his sharp scissors cut the end of a linen bandage, he whispered to me: "This is without a parallel. Not a sign of syncope, no trace of functional disorder. She has dropped quietly into healthy sleep during an infliction of pain that would drive a strong man mad."
As soon as released from my duties in the lecture room, I made my way to the roof of the building. As I emerged through the scuttle-way, Miss Borgier scrambled to her feet and advanced to meet me without manifesting the slightest discomposure. Her face fairly beamed with pleasure.
"Wasn't it beautiful?" she asked with a smile, extending her hand. "I heard the bones slowly grinding and crushing!"
I did not take her hand. "How came you here?" I demanded, avoiding her glance.
"Oh!" said she, with a silvery laugh. "I came early, about sunrise. The janitor left the door ajar and I slipped in while he was in the cellar. All the morning I spent in the place where they dissect; and when the students began to come in downstairs I escaped here to the roof."
"Are you aware, Miss Borgier," I asked, very gravely, "that you have committed a serious indiscretion, and must be gotten out of the building as quickly and privately as possible?"
She did not appear to understand. "Very well," she said. "I suppose there is nothing more to see. I may as well go."
I led her down through the garret, cumbered with boxes and barrels of unarticulated human bones; through the medical library, unoccupied at that hour; by a back stairway into and across the great vacant chemical lecture room; through the anatomical cabinet, full of objects appalling to the imagination of her sex. I was silent and she said nothing; but her eyes were everywhere, drinking in the strange surroundings with an avidity which I could feel without once looking at her. Finally we came to a basement corridor, at the end of which a door, not often used, gave egress by an alleyway to the street. It was through this door that subjects for dissection were brought into the building. I took a bunch of keys from my pocket and turned the lock. "Your way is clear now," I said.
To my immense astonishment, Miss Borgier, as we stood together at the end of the dark corridor, threw both arms around my neck and kissed me.
"Good-by," she said, as she disappeared through the half-opened door.
When I awoke the next morning, after sleeping for more than fifteen hours, I found that I could not raise my head from the pillow without nausea. The symptoms were exactly like those which mark the effects of an overdose of laudanum.
I HAVE thought it due to myself and to my professional reputation to recount these facts before briefly speaking of my recent testimony as an expert, in the Ratcliff murder trial, the character of my relations with the accused having been persistently misrepresented.
The circumstances of that celebrated case are no doubt still fresh in the recollection of the public. Mr. John L. Ratcliff, a wealthy, middle-aged merchant of Boston, came to St. Louis with his young bride, on their wedding journey. His sudden death at the Planters' Hotel, followed by the arrest of his wife, who was entirely without friends or acquaintances in the city, her indictment for murder by poisoning, the conflict of medical testimony at the trial, and the purely circumstantial nature of the evidence against the prisoner, attracted general attention and excited public interest to a degree that was quite extraordinary.
It will be remembered that the state proved that the relations of Mr. and Mrs. Ratcliff, as observed by the guests and servants of the hotel, were not felicitous; that he rarely spoke to her at table, habitually averting his face in her presence; that he wandered aimlessly about the hotel for several days previous to his illness, apparently half stupefied, as if by the oppression of some heavy mental burden, and that when accosted by anyone connected with the house he started as if from a dream, and answered incoherently if at all.
It was also shown that, by her husband's death, Mrs. Ratcliff became the sole mistress of a large fortune.
The evidence bearing directly upon the circumstances of Mr. Ratcliff's death was very clear. For twenty-four hours before a physician was summoned, no one had access to him save his wife. At dinner that day, in response to the polite inquiry of a lady neighbor at table, Mrs. Ratcliff announced, with great self-possession, that her husband was seriously indisposed. Soon after eleven o'clock at night, Mrs. Ratcliff rang her bell, and, without the least agitation of manner, remarked that her husband appeared to be dying, and that it might be well to send for a physician. Dr. Culbert, who arrived within a very few minutes, found Mr. Ratcliff in a profound stupor, breathing stertorously. He swore at the trial that when he first entered the room the prisoner, pointing to the bed, coolly said, "I suppose that I have killed him."
Dr. Culbert's testimony seemed to point unmistakably to poisoning by laudanum or morphine. The unconscious man's pulse was full but slow; his skin cold and pallid; the expression of his countenance placid, yet ghastly pale; lips livid. Coma had already supervened, and it was impossible to rouse him. The ordinary expedients were tried in vain. Flagellation of the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet, electricity applied to the head and spine, failed to make any impression on his lethargy. The eyelids being forcibly opened, the pupils were seen to be contracted to the size of pinheads, and violently turned inward. Later, the stertorous breathing developed into the ominously loud rattle of mucous in the trachea; there were convulsions, attended by copious frothings at the mouth; the under jaw fell upon the breast; and paralysis and death followed, four hours after Dr. Culbert's arrival.
Several of the most eminent practitioners of the city, put upon the stand by the prosecution, swore that, in their opinion, the symptoms noted by Dr. Culbert not only indicated opium poisoning, but could have resulted from no other cause.
On the other hand, the state absolutely failed to show either that opium in any form had been purchased by Mrs. Ratcliff in St. Louis, or that traces of opium in any form were found in the room after the event. It is true that the prosecuting attorney, in his closing argument, sought to make the latter circumstance tell against the prisoner. He argued that the disappearance of any vessel containing or having contained laudanum, in view of the positive evidence that laudanum had been employed, served to establish a deliberate intention of murder and to demolish any theory of accidental poisoning that the defense might attempt to build; and he propounded half a dozen hypothetical methods by which Mrs. Ratcliff might have disposed, in advance, of this evidence of her crime. The court, of course, in summing up, cautioned the jury against attaching weight to these hypotheses of the prosecuting attorney.
The court, however, put much emphasis on the medical testimony for the prosecution, and on the calm declaration of Mrs. Ratcliff to Dr. Culbert, "I suppose that I have killed him."
Having conducted the autopsy, and afterward made a qualitative analysis of the contents of the dead man's stomach, I was put upon the stand as a witness for the defense.
Then I saw the prisoner for the first time in more than five years. When I had taken the oath and answered the preliminary questions, Mrs. Ratcliff raised the veil which she had worn since the trial began, and looked me in the face with the well-remembered eyes of Miss Borgier.
I confess that my behavior during the first few moments of surprise afforded some ground for the reports that were afterward current concerning my relations with the prisoner. Her eyes chained not only mine, but my tongue also. I saw Jerusalem again, and the face framed in blue sky peering down into the amphitheater of the old medical college. It was only after a struggle which attracted the attention of judge, jury, bar, and spectators that I was able to proceed with my testimony.
That testimony was strong for the accused. My knowledge of the case was wholly post-mortem. It began with the autopsy. Nothing had been found that indicated poisoning by laudanum or by any other agent. There was no morbid appearance of the intestinal canal; no fullness of the cerebral vessels, no serous effusion. Every appearance that would have resulted from death by poison was wanting in the subject. That, of course, was merely negative evidence. But, furthermore, my chemical analysis had proved the absence of the poison in the system. The opium odor could not be detected. I had tested for morphine with nitric acid, permuriate of iron, chromate of potash, and, most important of all, iodic acid. I had tested again for meconic acid with the permuriate of iron. I had tested by Lassaigne's process, by Dublane's, and by Flandin's. As far as the resources of organic chemistry could avail, I had proved that, notwithstanding the symptoms of Mr. Ratcliff's case before death, death had not resulted from laudanum or any other poison known to science.
The questions by the prosecuting counsel as to my previous acquaintance with the prisoner, I was able to answer truthfully in a manner that did not shake the force of my medical testimony. And it was chiefly on the strength of this testimony that the jury, after a short deliberation, returned a verdict of not guilty.
Did I swear falsely? No; for science bore me out in every assertion. I knew that not a drop of laudanum or a grain of morphine had passed Ratcliff's lips. Ought I to have declared my belief regarding the true cause of the man's death, and told the story of my previous observations of Miss Borgier's case? No; for no court of justice would have listened to that story for a single moment. I knew that the woman did not murder her husband. Yet I believed and knew—as surely as we can know anything where the basis of ascertained fact is slender and the laws obscure—that she poisoned him, poisoned him to death with her eyes.
I think that it will be generally conceded by the profession that I am neither a sensationalist nor prone to lose my self-command in the mazes of physico-psychologic speculation. I make the foregoing assertion deliberately, fully conscious of all that it implies.
What was the mystery of the noxious influence which this woman exerted through her eyes? What was the record of her ancestry, the secret of predisposition in her case? By what occult process of evolution did her glance derive the toxical effect of the papaver somniferum? How did she come to be a Woman—Poppy? I cannot yet answer these questions. Perhaps I shall never be able to answer them.
But if there is need of further proof of the sincerity of my denial of any sentiment on my part which might have led me to shield Mrs. Ratcliff by perjury, I may say that I have now in my possession a letter from her, written after her acquittal, proposing to endow me with her fortune and herself; as well as a copy of my reply, respectfully declining the offer.
Interesting Particulars Respecting the Translations of the Assyrian Tablets in the British Museum—Newly Discovered Facts About the Flood and Noah, Together with Some Light on the History of the Senator from Maine and the Settlement of Brooklyn.
BOSTON, April 26— Mr. Jacob Rounds of London, one of the assistant curators of the British Museum, in a private letter to a distinguished Orientalist of this city, gives some interesting particulars regarding the progress which has been made in the arrangement and translation of the sculptured tablets and lateres coctiles brought from Assyria and Chaldea by Mr. George Smith. The results of the past three or four months are gratifying in the extreme. The work, which was begun three quarters of a century ago by Grotefend, and pursued by archaeologists such as Rask, St. Martin, Klaproth, Oppert, and the indefatigable Rawlinson, each of whom was satisfied if he carried it forward a single step, has been pushed far and fast by Mr. George Smith and his scholarly associates. The Assyrio-Babylonian cuneiforms, the third and most complicated branch of the trilogy, may fairly be said to have found their Oedipus.
The riddles of Accad and of Sumir are read at last. The epigraphs on tablets dug from the earth and rubbish of the Ninevite mounds are now translated by Mr. George Smith as readily as Professor Whitney translates Greek, or a fifth-term schoolboy, the fable of the man and the viper.
It is not many years since the learned Witte declared that these sphenographic characters, arranged so neatly upon the slabs of gray alabaster, or the carefully prepared surface of clay—like specimen arrowheads in the museum of some ancient war department—were entirely without alphabetic significance, mere whimsical ornaments, or perhaps the trail of worms! But their exegesis has been perfected. The mounds of Nimroud, and Kouyunjik, and Khorsabad, and Nebbi Yunus have yielded up their precious treasures, and are now revealing, page by page, the early history of our globe.
Mr. Smith and Mr. Rounds are both confirmed in the belief, first entertained by Westergaarde, that the cuneiform character is closely akin to the Egyptian demotic; and also that its alphabet—which contains over four hundred signs, some syllable, some phonetic, and some ideographic—is of the most complicated and arbitrary nature. As already intimated, the inscriptions which Mr. Smith and his co-laborers have deciphered are in the primitive or Babylonian character, which is much more obscure than either of its successors and modifications, the so-called Persian and Median cunei.
THE slabs of the greatest interest and importance were those found buried in the famous Kouyunjik mound, first opened in 1843 by M. Paul Emile Botta, and subsequently explored by Layard himself.
The inscriptions are mostly upon clay, and seem to have constituted the walls of the great library of Assurbanipal in Sennacherib's palace. Sennacherib was probably a monarch of a nautical turn of mind, for a large portion of the inscriptions illustrate the history of the flood and the voyage of Noah, or of Nyab, his Assyrian counterpart, who also corresponds, in some particulars, with the Deucalion of the Grecian myths. Piece by piece and fragment by fragment the diluvian narrative has been worked out, until it stands complete, a distinct episode in the vast epic which Mr. George Smith is engaged in reconstructing. Mr. Rounds may certainly be pardoned for the naturally enthusiastic terms in which he speaks of these labors.
And well may he be proud. These men in the British Museum are successfully compiling, brick by brick, what they claim to be a complete encyclopedia of sacred and profane history, beginning with the conception of matter and the birth of mind. Their extraordinary researches have placed them upon a pedestal of authority, from which they now gravely pronounce their approval of the Holy Scriptures, and even stoop to pat Moses on the head and to tell him that his inspired version was very nearly correct.
So graphic is the account of the adventures of Nyab, or Noah as he may more conveniently be called; so clear is the synopsis of his method of navigation; so startling are the newly discovered facts regarding the Ark and its passengers, that I am tempted to avail myself of the kind permission of the Boston savant who has the honor to be Mr. Rounds's esteemed correspondent, and to transcribe somewhat in detail, for the benefit of your readers, the extraordinary story of the flood as told by the Assyrian cuneiforms—cryptograms for four thousand years until the genius of a Smith unveiled the mystery of their meaning.
MR. SMITH ascertains from these inscriptions that when Noah began to build his Ark and prophesy a deluge, the prevailing opinion was that he was either a lunatic or a shrewd speculator who proposed, by his glowing predictions and appearance of perfect sincerity, so to depreciate real estate that he might buy, through his brokers, to any extent at prices merely nominal.
Even after the lowlands were submerged, and it was apparent that there was to be a more than usually wet season, Noah's wicked neighbors were accustomed to gather for no other purpose than to deride the ungainly architecture of the Ark and to question its sailing qualities. They were not wanting who asserted that the Thing would roll over at the first puff of wind like a too heavily freighted tub. So people came from far and near to witness and laugh at the discomfiture of the aged patriarch.
But there was no occasion for ridicule. The Ark floated like a cork. Noah dropped his center board and stood at the helm waving graceful adieus to his wicked contemporaries, while the good vessel caught a fresh southerly breeze and moved on like a thing of life. There is nothing whatever in the Assyrian account to confirm the tradition that Noah accelerated the motion of the Ark by raising his own coattails. This would have been an unnecessary as well as undignified proceeding. The tall house on deck afforded sufficient resistance to the wind to drive the Ark along at a very respectable rate of speed.
AFTER the first novelty of the situation had worn off, and there was no longer the satisfaction of kindly but firmly refusing applications for passage, and seeing the lately derisive people scrambling for high land, only to be eventually caught by and swallowed up in the roaring waters, the voyage was a vexatious and disagreeable one. The Ark at the best was an unwieldy craft. She fell off from the wind frightfully, and almost invariably missed stays. Every choppy sea hammered roughly upon her flat bottom, making all on board so seasick as to wish that they too had been wicked, and sunk with the crowd.
Inside the miserable shanty which served for a cabin, birds, beasts, and human beings were huddled promiscuously together. One of the deluge tablets says, not without a touch of pathos: "It was extremely uncomfortable [amakharsyar] to sleep with a Bengal tiger glaring at one from a corner, and a hedgehog nestled up close against one's bare legs. But it was positively dangerous when the elephant became restless, or the polar bear took offense at some fancied slight."
I will not anticipate Mr. Smith's detailed account of the cruise of the Ark. He has gathered data for a complete chart of Noah's course during the many months of the voyage. The tortuous nature of the route pursued and the eccentricity of Noah's great circle sailing are proof that the venerable navigator, under the depressing influence of his surroundings, had frequent recourse to ardent spirits, an infirmity over which we, his descendants, should drop the veil of charity and of silence.
THE most astounding discovery of all, however, is a batch of tablets giving an actual and literal transcript from Noah's logbook. The journal of the voyage—which Noah, as a prudent navigator, doubtless kept with considerable care—was probably bequeathed to Shem, eldest born and executive officer of the Ark. Portions of the log, it may be, were handed down from generation to generation among the Semitic tribes; and Mr. Rounds does not hesitate to express his opinion that these tablets in the British Museum were copied directly from the original entries made in the ship's book by Noah or Shem.
He sends to his Boston correspondent early proofs of some of the lithographic facsimiles which are to illustrate Mr. Smith's forthcoming work, An Exhaustive History of the Flood and of the Noachic Voyage. They should bear in mind that the inscription reads from left to right, and not, like Arabic and numerous other Semitic languages, from right to left.
Expressed in the English character, this inscription would read as follows:
...dahyarva saka ormudzi...fraharram athura uvatish...kia rich thyar avalna nyasadayram okanaus mana frabara ...gathava Hambl Hamin khaysathryam nam Buhmi...pasara ki hi baga Jethyths paruvnam oazarka... Rhsayarsha ...
Such progress has been made in the interpretation of the Aramaic dialects that it is comparatively an easy matter for Mr. Rounds to put this into our vernacular, which he does as follows, supplying certain hiatuses to the inscription where the connection is obvious:
SCOW "AHK," LATITUDE 44° 15', LONGITUDE... Water falling rapidly. Ate our last pterodactyl yesterday... Hambl Hamin [Hannibal Hamlin!] down with scurvy. Must put him ashore... THURS, 7TH. Bitter ale and mastodons all gone. Mrs. Japheth's had another pair of twins. All well.
The importance of this scrap of diluvian history can hardly be overestimated. It throws light on three or four points which have been little understood hitherto. Having viewed the subject in all its bearings, and having compared the extract here quoted with numberless other passages which I have not time to give, Mr. Smith and Mr. Rounds arrive at the following
I. When this entry was made in the logbook by Noah (or Shem ) the Ark was somewhere off the coast of Maine. The latitude warrants this inference; the longitude is unfortunately wanting. Parallel proof that Noah visited the shores of North America is to be found in the old ballad, founded on a Rabbinical tradition, where mention is made of Barnegat. The singular error which locates Ararat just three miles south of Barnegat is doubtless due to some confusion in Noah's logarithms—the natural result of his unfortunate personal habits.
II. "Ate our last pterodactyl yesterday...Bitter ale and mastodons all gone." There we have a simple solution of a problem which has long puzzled science. The provisions stowed away in the Ark did not prove sufficient for the unexpectedly protracted voyage. Hard-pressed for food, Noah and his family were obliged to fall back on the livestock. They devoured the larger and more esculent animals in the collection. The only living specimens of the icthyosaurus, the dodo, the silurian, the pleisosaurus, the mastodon, were eaten up by the hungry excursionists. We can therefore explain the extinction of certain species, which, as geology teaches us, existed in antediluvian times. Were this revelation the only result of Mr. Smith's researches he would not have dug in vain. Mr. Rounds justly observes that the allusion to bitter ale affords strong presumptive evidence that this entry in the log was made by the hand of no other than Noah himself!
III. The allusion to the interesting increase of Japheth's family shows that woman—noble woman, who always rises to the occasion—was doing her utmost to repair the breaches made in the earth's population by the whelming waters. The phrase hi baga may possibly signify triplets; but Mr. Smith, with that conservatism and repugnance to sensation which ever characterize the true archaeologist, prefers to be on the safe side and call it twins.
IV. We now come to a conclusion which is as startling as it is inevitable. It connects the Honorable Hannibal Hamlin with the diluvian epoch, and thus with the other long-lived patriarchs who flourished before the flood. Antiquarians have long suspected that the similarity between the names Ham and Hamlin was something more than a coincidence. The industry of a Smith has discovered among the Assyrian ruins the medial link which makes the connection perfectly apparent. Ham, the second son of Noah, is spoken of in these records from Kouyunjik as Hambl Hamin; and no candid mind can fail to see that the extreme antiquity of the senator from Maine is thus very clearly established!
"Hambl Hamin down with the scurvy. Must put him ashore." Buhmi literally signifies earth, dirt: and the phrase nam Buhmi is often used in these inscriptions in the sense of to put in the earth, or bury. This can hardly be the meaning here, however, for the Ark was still afloat. Nam Buhmi can therefore hardly be construed otherwise than "put ashore."
Note the significance. The Ark is beating up and down, off the coast of Maine, waiting for a nor'west wind. Poor Ham, or Hambl Hamin, as he should properly be called, has reason to regret his weakness for maritime excursions and naval junketing parties. The lack of fresh vegetables, and a steady diet of corned mastodon, have told upon his system. Poor Hambl! When he was collector of a Mediterranean port just before the flood, he was accustomed to have green peas and asparagus franked him daily from the Garden of Eden. But now the franking privilege has been abrogated, and the Garden of Eden is full forty fathoms under the brine. Everything is salt. His swarthy face grows pale and haggard. His claw-hammer coat droops upon an attenuated frame. He chews his cheroot moodily as he stands upon the hurricane deck of the Ark with his thumbs in his vest pocket, and thinks that he can hold office on this earth but little longer. His gums begin to soften. He shows the ravages of the scurvy. And Noah, therefore, after considerable argument—for Hambl is reluctant to get out of any place he has once got into—nam Buhmi's him—puts him ashore.
We have no further record of Hambl Hamin, but it is perfectly reasonable to assume that after being landed on the rocky coast of Maine he subsisted upon huckleberries until sufficiently recovered from the scurvy, then sailed up the Penobscot upon a log, founded the ancient village of Hamden, which he named after himself, and was immediately elected to some public position.
IN Mr. Rounds's long and profoundly interesting communication I have, I fear, an embarras de richesses. From the many curious legends which Mr. Smith has deciphered, I shall select only one more, and shall deal briefly with that. It is the story of an opposition ark.
At the time of the flood there lived a certain merchant named Brith, who had achieved a competence in the retail grocery business. In fact, he was an antediluvian millionaire. Brith had been converted from heathenism by the exceedingly effective preaching of Noah, but had subsequently backslidden. When it began to thunder and lighten, however, and to grow black in the northeast, Brith professed recurring symptoms of piety. He came down to the gangway plank and applied for passage for himself and family. Noah, who was checking off the animals on the back of an old tax bill, sternly refused to entertain any such idea. Brith had recently defeated him for the Common Council.
The worthy grocer's money now stood him in good stead. He did the most sensible thing possible under the circumstances. He built an ark for himself, painted in big letters along the side the words: "The Only Safe Plan of Universal Navigation!" and named it the Toad. The Toad was fashioned after the model of the Ark, and there being no copyright in those days, Noah could only hope that it might prove unseaworthy.
In the Toad, Brith embarked his wife Briatha, his two daughters, Phessar and Barran, his sons-in-law, Lampra and Pinnyish, and a select assortment of beasts hardly inferior to that collected by Noah himself. Lampra and Pinnyish, sly dogs, persuaded fifty of the most beautiful women they could find to come along with them.
Brith was not so good a sailor as Noah. He put to sea full forty days too soon. He lost his dead reckoning and beat around the ocean for the space of seven years and a quarter, living mostly upon the rats that infested the Toad. Brith had foolishly neglected to provision his craft for a long voyage.
After this protracted sailing, the passengers and crew of the Toad managed to make a landing one rainy evening and took ashore, with themselves, their baggage and a coon and dromedary, the sole surviving relics of their proud menagerie. Once on terra firma, the three men separated, having drawn up a tripartite covenant of perpetual amity and divided up the stock of wives. Brith took eighteen, Lampra took eighteen, and Pinnyish, who seems to have been an easygoing sort of fellow, too lazy to quarrel, had to be satisfied with the seventeen that remained.
Tablets from Nebbi Yunus throw some light on the interesting question as to the landing place of this party. Khayarta certainly means island, and Dyinim undeniably signifies long. Perhaps, therefore, Mr. Rounds is justified in his opinion that the Toad dropped anchor in Wallabout Bay, and that Brooklyn and the Plymouth society owe their origin to this singular expedition.
THE red wine of Affenthal has this quality, that one half-bottle makes you kind but firm, two make you talkative and obstinate, and three, recklessly unreasonable.
If the waiter at the Prinz Carl in Heidelberg had possessed a soul above drink-money, he might have calculated accurately the effect of the six half-bottles of Affenthaler which he fetched to the apartment of the Reverend Dr. Bellglory at the six o'clock dinner for three. That is to say, he might have deduced this story in advance by observation of the fact that of the six half-bottles one was consumed by Miss Blanche Bellglory, two went to the Reverend Doctor, her father, while the remaining moiety fell to the share of young Strout, remotely of New York and immediately of Professor Schwank's psycho-neurological section in the university.
So when in the course of the evening the doctor fell asleep in his chair, and young Strout took opportunity to put to Miss Blanche a question which he had already asked her twice, once at Saratoga Springs and once in New York city, she returned the answer he had heard on two former occasions, but in terms even more firm, while not less kind than before. She declared her unalterable determination to abide by her parent's wishes.
This was not exactly pleasing to young Strout. He knew better than anybody else that, while approving him socially and humanly, the doctor abhorred his opinions. "No man," the doctor had repeatedly said, "who denies the objective verity of knowledge derived from intuition or otherwise by subjective methods—no man who pushes noumena aside in his impetuous pursuit of phenomena can make a safe husband for my child."
He said the same thing again in a great many words and with much emphasis, after he awoke from his nap, Miss Blanche having discreetly withdrawn.
"But, my dear Doctor," urged Strout, "this is an affair of the heart, not of metaphysics; and you leave for Nuremberg tomorrow, and now is my last chance."
"You are an excellent young man in several respects," rejoined the doctor. "Abjure your gross materialism and Blanche is yours with all my heart. Your antecedents are unexceptionable, but you are intellectually impregnated with the most dangerous heresy of this or any other age. If I should countenance it by giving you my daughter, I could never look the Princeton faculty in the face."
"It appears to me that this doesn't concern the Princeton faculty in the least," persisted Strout. "It concerns Blanche and me."
Here, then, were three people, two of them young and in love with each other, divided by a question of metaphysics, the most abstract and useless question that ever wasted human effort. But that same question divided the schools of Europe for centuries and contributed largely to the list of martyrs for opinion's sake. The famous old controversy was now taken up by the six half-bottles of Affenthaler, three of them stoutly holding ground against the other three.
"No argument in the world," said the doctor's two half-bottles, "can shake my decision;" and off he went to sleep again.
"No amount of coaxing," said Miss Blanche's half-bottle, two hours later in the evening, "can make me act contrary to Papa's wishes. But," continued the half-bottle in a whisper, "I am sorry he is so stubborn."
"I don't believe it," retorted Strout's three half-bottles. "You have no more heart than one of your father's non-individualized ideas. You are not real flesh and blood like other women. You are simply Extension, made up of an aggregate of concepts, and assuming to be Entity, and imposing your unreal existence upon a poor Devil like me. You are unreal, I say. A flaw in logic, an error of the senses, a fallacy in reasoning, a misplaced premise, and what becomes of you? Puff! Away you go into all. If it were otherwise, you would care for me. What a fool I am to love you! I might as well love a memory, a thought, a dream, a mathematical formula, a rule of syntax, or anything else that lacks objective existence."
She said nothing, but the tears came into her eyes.
"Good-by, Blanche," he continued at the door, pulling his hat over his eyes and not observing the look of pain and bewilderment that clouded her fair face—"Heaven bless you when your father finally marries you to a syllogism!"
STROUT went whistling from the Prinz Carl Hotel toward his rooms in the Plöckstrasse. He reviewed his parting with Blanche. "So much the better, perhaps," he said to himself. "One dream less in life, and more room for realities." By the clock in the market place he saw that it was half-past nine, for the full moon hanging high above the Königstuhl flooded the town and valley with light. Up on the side of the hill the gigantic ruin of the old castle stood boldly out from among the trees.
He stopped whistling and gritted his teeth.
"Pshaw!" he said aloud, "one can't take off his convictions like a pair of uncomfortable boots. After all, love is nothing more nor less than the disintegration and recombination of certain molecules of the brain or marrow, the exact laws governing which have not yet been ascertained." So saying, he ran plump into a portly individual coming down the street.
"Hallo! Herr Strout," said the jolly voice of Professor Schwank. "Whither are you going so fast, and what kind of physiology talk you to the moon?"
"I am walking off three half-bottles of your cursed Affenthaler, which have gone to my feet, Herr Professor," replied Strout, "and I am making love to the moon. It's an old affair between us."
"And your lovely American friend?" demanded the fat professor, with a chuckle.
"Departs by the morning train," replied Strout gravely.
"Himmelblitzen!" exclaimed the professor. "And grief has blinded you so that you plunge into the abdomens of your elders? But come with me to my room, and smoke yourself into a philosophic frame of mind."
Professor Schwank's apartments faced the university buildings in the Ludwigplatz. Established in a comfortable armchair, with a pipe of excellent tobacco in his mouth, Strout felt more at peace with his environment. He was now in an atmosphere of healthful, practical, scientific activity that calmed his soul. Professor Schwank had gone further than the most eminent of his contemporaries in demonstrating the purely physiological basis of mind and thought. He had gotten nearer than any other man in Europe to the secrets of the nerve aura, the penetralia of the brain, the memory scars of the ganglia. His position in philosophy was the antipodes of that occupied by the Reverend Dr. Bellglory, for example. The study reflected the occupations of the man. In one corner stood an enormous Ruhmkorff coil. Books were scattered everywhere—on shelves, on tables, on chairs, on the floor. A plaster bust of Aristotle looked across the room into the face of a plaster bust of Leibnitz. Prints of Gall, of Pappenheim, of Leeuwenhoek, hung upon the walls. Varnished dissections and wet preparations abounded. In a glass vessel on the table at Strout's elbow, the brain of a positivist philosopher floated in yellow alcohol: near it, also suspended in spirits, swung the medulla oblongata of a celebrated thief.
The appearance of the professor himself, as he sat in his armchair opposite Strout, serenely drawing clouds of smoke from the amber mouthpiece of his long porcelain pipe, was of the sort which, by promising sympathy beforehand, seduces reserve into confidential utterances. Not only his rosy face, with its fringe of yellow beard, but his whole mountainous body seemed to beam on Strout with friendly good will. He looked like the refuge of a broken heart. Drawn out in spite of himself by the professor's kindly, attentive smile and discreet questions, Strout found satisfaction in unbosoming his troubles. The professor, smoking in silence, listened patiently to the long story. If Strout had been less preoccupied with his own woes he might, perhaps, have discovered that behind the friendly interest that glimmered on the glasses of the professor's gold-bowed spectacles, a pair of small, steel-gray eyes were observing him with the keen, unrelenting coldness of scientific scrutiny.
"You have seen, Herr Professor," said Strout in conclusion, "that the case is hopeless."
"My dear fellow," replied the professor, "I see nothing of the kind."
"But it is a matter of conviction," explained Strout. "One cannot renounce the truth even to gain a wife. She herself would despise me if I did."
"In this world everything is true and nothing is true," replied the professor sententiously. "You must change your convictions."
"That is impossible!"
The professor blew a great cloud of smoke and regarded the young man with an expression of pity and surprise. It seemed to Strout that Aristotle and Leibnitz, Leeuwenhoek, Pappenheim, and Gall were all looking down upon him with pity and surprise.
"Impossible did you say?" remarked Professor Schwank. "On the contrary, my dear boy, nothing is easier than to change one's convictions. In the present advanced condition of surgery, it is a matter of little difficulty."
Strout looked at his respected instructor in blank amazement. "What you call your convictions," continued the savant, "are matters of mental constitution, depending on adventitious circumstances. You are a positivist, an idealist, a skeptic, a mystic, a what-not, why? Because nature, predisposition, the assimilation of bony elements, have made your skull thicker in one place, thinner in another. The cranial wall presses too close upon the brain in one spot; you sneer at the opinions of your friend, Dr. Bellglory. It cramps the development of the tissues in another spot; you deny faith a place in philosophy. I assure you, Herr Strout, we have discovered and classified already the greater part of the physical causes determining and limiting belief, and are fast reducing the system to the certainty of science."
"Granting all that," interposed Strout, whose head was swimming under the combined influence of Affenthaler, tobacco smoke, and startling new ideas, "I fail to see how it helps my case. Unfortunately, the bone of my skull is no longer cartilage, like an infant's. You cannot mold my intellect by means of compresses and bandages."
"Ah! there you touch my professional pride," cried Schwank. "If you would only put yourself into my hands!"
"And what then?"
"Then," replied the professor with enthusiasm, "I should remodel your intellect to suit the emergency. How, you ask? If a blow on the head had driven a splinter of bone down upon the gray matter overlaying the cerebrum, depriving you of memory, the power of language, or some other special faculty, as the case might be, how should I proceed? I should raise a section of the bone and remove the pressure. Just so when the physical conformation of the cranium limits your capacity to understand and credit the philosophy which your American theologian insists upon in his son-in-law. I remove the pressure. I give you a charming wife, while science gains a beautiful and valuable fact. That is what I offer you, Herr Strout!"
"In other words—" began Strout.
"In other words, I should trephine you," shouted the professor, jumping from his chair and no longer attempting to conceal his eagerness.
"Well, Herr Professor," said Strout slowly, after a long pause, during which he had endeavored to make out why the pictured face of Gall seemed to wear a look of triumph "—Well, Herr Professor, I consent to the operation. Trephine me at once—tonight."
The professor feebly demurred to the precipitateness of this course. "The necessary preparations," he urged.
"Need not occupy five minutes," replied Strout. "Tomorrow I shall have changed my mind."
This suggestion was enough to impel the professor to immediate action. "You will allow me," asked he, "to send for my esteemed colleague in the university, the Herr Dr. Anton Diggelmann?"
Strout assented. "Do anything that you think needful to the success of the experiment."
Professor Schwank rang. "Fritz," said he to the stupid-faced Black Forester who answered the bell, "run across the square and ask Dr. Diggelmann to come to me immediately. Request him to bring his surgical case and sulphuric ether. If you find the doctor, you need not return."
Acting on a sudden impulse, Strout seized a sheet of paper that lay on the professor's table and hastily wrote a few words. "Here!" he said, tossing the servant a gold piece of ten marks. "Deliver this note at the Prince Carl in the morning—mind you, in the morning."
The note which he had written was this:
When you receive this I shall have solved the problem in one way or another. I am about to be trephined under the superintendence of my friend Professor Schwank. If the intellectual obstacle to our union is removed by the operation, I shall follow you to Bavaria and Switzerland. If the operation results otherwise, think sometimes kindly of your unfortunate
Ludwigplatz; 10:30 p.m.
Fritz faithfully delivered the message to Dr. Diggelmann, and then hied toward the nearest wine shop. His gold piece dazed him. "A nice, liberal gentleman that!" he thought. "Ten marks for carrying the letter to the Prinz Carl in the morning—ten marks, a thousand pfennig; beer at five pfennig the glass, two hundred glasses!" The immensity of the prospect filled him with joy. How might he manifest his gratitude? He reflected, and an idea struck him. "I will not wait till morning," he thought. "I will deliver the gentleman's letter tonight, at once. He will say, 'Fritz, you are a prompt fellow. You do even better than you are told.'"
STROUT was stretched upon a reclining chair, his coat and waistcoat off. Professor Schwank stood over him. In his hand was a hollow cone, rolled from a newspaper. He held the cone by the apex: the broad aperture at the base was closely pressed against Strout's face, covering all but his eyes and forehead.
"By long, steady, regular inspiration," said the professor, in a soothing, monotonous voice. "That is right; that is right; that is—right—there—there—there!"
With every inhalation Strout drew in the pleasant, tingling coldness of the ether fumes. At first his breathing was forced: at the end of each inspiration he experienced for an instant a sensation as if mighty waters were rushing through his brain. Gradually the period of the rushing sensation extended itself, until it began with the beginning of each breath. Then the ether seemed to seize possession of his breathing, and to control the expansions and contractions of his chest independently of his own will. The ether breathed for him. He surrendered himself to its influence with a feeling of delight. The rushings became rhythmic, and the intervals shorter and shorter. His individuality seemed to be wrapped up in the rushings, and to be borne to and fro in their tremendous flux and reflux. "I shall be gone in one second more," he thought, and his consciousness sank in the whirling flood.
Professor Schwank nodded to Dr. Diggelmann. The doctor nodded back to the professor.
Dr. Diggelmann was a dry little old man, who weighed hardly more than a hundred pounds. He wore a black wig, too large for his head. His eyes were deep set under corrugated brows, while strongly marked lines running from the corners of his nostrils to the corners of his mouth gave his face a lean, sardonic expression, in striking contrast with the jolly rotundity of Professor Schwank's visage. Dr. Diggelmann was taciturn but observant. At the professor's nod, he opened his case of surgical instruments and selected a scalpel with a keen curved blade, and also a glittering piece of steel which looked like an exaggerated auger bit with a gimlet handle. Having satisfied himself that these instruments were in good condition, he deliberately rolled up the sleeves of his coat and approached the unconscious Strout.
"About on the median line, just behind the junction of the corona' and sagittal sutures," whispered Professor Schwank eagerly.
"Yes. I know—I know," replied Diggelmann.
He was on the point of cutting away with his scalpel some of the brown hair that encumbered operations on the top of Strout's head, when the door was quickly opened from the outside and a young lady, attended by a maid, entered without ceremony.
"I am Blanche Bellglory," the young lady announced to the astonished savants, as soon as she had recovered her breath. "I have come to—"
At this moment she perceived the motionless form of Strout upon the reclining chair, while the gleaming steel in Dr. Diggelmann's hand caught her alert eyes. She uttered a little shriek and ran toward the group.
"Oh, this is terrible!" she cried. "I am too late, and you have already killed him."
"Calm yourself, I beg you," said the polite professor. "No circumstance is terrible to which we are indebted for a visit from so charming a young lady."
"So great an honor!" added Dr. Diggelmann, grinning diabolically and rubbing his hands.
"And Herr Strout," continued the professor, "is unfortunately not yet trephined. As you entered, we were about beginning the operation."
Miss Bellglory gave a sob of relief and sank into a chair.
In a few well-chosen words the professor explained the theory of his experiment, dwelling especially upon the effect it was expected to have on the fortunes of the young people. When he finished, the American girl's eyes were full of tears, but the firm lines of her mouth showed that she had already resolved upon her own course.
"How noble in him," she exclaimed, "to submit to be trephined for my sake! But that must not be. I can't consent to have his poor, dear head mutilated. I should never forgive myself. The trouble all originates from my decision not to marry him without Papa's approval. With my present views of duty, I cannot alter that decision. But don't you think," she continued, dropping her voice to a whisper, "that if you should trephine me, I might see my duty in a different light?"
"It is extremely probable, my dear young lady," replied the professor, throwing a significant glance at Dr. Diggelmann, who responded with the faintest wink imaginable.
"Then," said Miss Blanche, arising and beginning to remove her bonnet, "please proceed to trephine me immediately. I insist on it."
"What's all this?" demanded the deep voice of the Reverend Dr. Bellglory, who had entered the room unnoticed, piloted by Fritz. "I came as rapidly as I could, Blanche, but not early enough, it appears, to learn the first principles of your singular actions."
"My papa, gentlemen," said Miss Bellglory.
The two Germans bowed courteously. Dr. Bellglory affably returned their salutation.
"These gentlemen, Papa," Miss Blanche explained, "have kindly undertaken to reconcile the difference of opinion between poor George and ourselves by means of a surgical operation. I don't at all understand it, but George does, for you see that he has thought best to submit to the operation, which they were about to begin when I arrived. Now, I cannot allow him to suffer for my obstinacy; and, therefore, dear Papa, I have requested the gentlemen to trephine me instead of him."
Professor Schwank repeated for Dr. Bellglory's information the explanation which he had already made to the young lady. On learning of Strout's course in the matter, Dr. Bellglory was greatly affected.
"No, Blanche!" he said, "our young friend must not be trephined. Although I cannot conscientiously accept him as a son-in-law while our views on the verity of subjective knowledge differ so widely, I can at least emulate his generous willingness to open his intellect to conviction. It is I who will be trephined, provided these gentlemen will courteously substitute me for the patient now in their hands."
"We shall be most happy," said Professor Schwank and Dr. Diggelman in the same breath.
"Thanks! Thanks!" cried Dr. Bellglory, with genuine emotion.
"But I shall not permit you to sacrifice your lifelong convictions to my happiness, Papa," interposed Blanche. The doctor insisted that he was only doing his duty as a parent. The amiable dispute went on for some time, the Germans listening with indifference. Sure of a subject for their experiment at any rate, they cared little which one of the three Americans finally came under the knife. Meanwhile Strout opened his eyes, slowly raised himself upon one elbow, vacantly gazed about the room for a few seconds, and then sank back, relapsing temporarily into unconsciousness.
Professor Schwank, who perceived that father and daughter were equally fixed in their determination, and each unlikely to yield to the other, was on the point of suggesting that the question be settled by trephining both of them, when Strout again regained his senses. He sat bolt upright, staring fixedly at the glass jar which contained the positivist's brain. Then he pressed both hands to his head, muttering a few incoherent words. Gradually, as he recovered from the clutch of the ether one after another of his faculties, his eyes brightened and he appeared to recognize the faces around him. After some time he opened his lips and spoke.
"Marvelous!" he exclaimed.
Miss Bellglory ran to him and took his hand. The doctor hurried forward, intending to announce his own resolution to be trephined. Strout pressed Blanche's hand to his lips for an instant, gave the doctor's hand a cordial grasp, and then seized the hand of Professor Schwank, which he wrung with all the warmth of respectful gratitude.
"My dear Herr Professor," he said, "how can I ever repay you? The experiment is a perfect success."
"But—" began the astounded professor.
"Don't try to depreciate your own share in my good fortune," interrupted Strout. "The theory was yours, and all the triumph of the practical success belongs to you and Dr. Diggelmann's skill."
Strout, still holding Blanche's hand, now turned to her father.
"There is now no obstacle to our union, Doctor," he said. "Thanks to Professor Schwank's operation, I see the blind folly of my late attitude toward the subjective. I recant. I am no longer a positivist. My intellect has leaped the narrow limits that hedged it in. I know now that there is more in our philosophy than can be measured with a metric ruler or weighed in a coulomb balance. Ever since I passed under the influence of the ether, I have been floating in the infinite. I have been freed from conditions of time and space. I have lost my own individuality in the immensity of the All. A dozen times I have been absorbed in Brahma; a dozen times I have emanated from Brahma, a new being, forgetful of my old self. I have stood face to face with the mystic and awful Om; my world-soul, descending to the finite, has floated calmly over an ocean of Affenthaler. My consciousness leaped back as far as the thirtieth century before Christ and forward as far as the fortieth century yet to come. There is no time; there is no space; there is no individual existence; there is nothing save the All, and the faith that guides reason through the changeless night. For more than one million years my identity was that of the positivist in the glass jar yonder. Pardon me, Professor Schwank, but for the same period of time yours was that of the celebrated thief in the other jar. Great heavens! How mistaken I have been up to the night when you, Herr Professor, took charge of my intellectual destiny."
He paused for want of breath, but the glow of the mystic's rapture still lighted up his handsome features. There was an awkward silence in the room for considerable time. Then it was broken by the dry, harsh voice of Dr. Diggelmann.
"You labor under a somewhat ridiculous delusion, young gentleman. You haven't been trephined yet."
Strout looked in amazement from one to another of his friends; but their faces confirmed the surgeon's statement.
"What was it then?" he gasped.
"Sulphuric ether," replied the surgeon, laconically.
"But after all," interposed Dr. Bellglory, "it makes little difference what agent has opened our friend's mind to a perception of the truth. It is a matter for congratulation that the surgical operation becomes no longer necessary."
The two Germans exchanged glances of dismay. "We shall lose the opportunity for our experiment," the professor whispered to Diggelmann. Then he continued aloud, addressing Strout: "I should advise you to submit to the operation, nevertheless. There can be no permanent intellectual cure without it. These effects of the ether will pass away."
"Thank you," returned Strout, who at last read correctly the cold, calculating expression that lurked behind the scientist's spectacles. "Thank you, I am very well as I am."
"But you might, for the sake of science, consent—" persisted Schwank.
"Yes, for the sake of science," echoed Diggelmann.
"Hang science!" replied Strout, fiercely. "Don't you know that I no longer believe in science?"
Blanche also began to understand the true motives which had led the German professor to interfere in her love affair. She cast an approving glance at Strout and arose to depart. The three Americans moved toward the door. Professor Schwank and Dr. Diggelmann fairly gnashed their teeth with rage. Miss Bellglory turned and made them a low curtsey.
"If you must trephine somebody for the sake of science, gentlemen," she remarked with her sweetest smile, "you might draw lots to see which of you shall trephine the other."
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