Mr. Hawkins' Humorous Adventures
Hawkins is part inventor and part idiot.
Hawkins has money, which generally mitigates idiocy; but in his case it also allows free rein to his inventive genius, and that is a bad thing.
When I decided to build a nice, quiet summer home in the Berkshires, I paid for the ground before discovering that the next villa belonged to Hawkins.
Had I known then what I know now, my country-seat would be located somewhere in central Illinois or western Oregon; but at that time my knowledge of Hawkins extended no farther than the facts that he resided a few doors below me in New York, and that we exchanged a kindly smile every morning on the L.
One day last August, having mastered the mechanism of our little steam runabout, my wife ventured out alone, to call upon Mrs. Hawkins.
I am not a worrying man, but automobile repairs are expensive, and when she had been gone an hour or so I strolled toward our neighbors.
The auto I was relieved to find standing before the door, apparently in good health, and I had already turned back when Hawkins came trotting along the drive from the stable.
"Just in time, Griggs, just in time!" he cried, exuberantly.
"In time for what?"
"The first trial of—"
"Now, see here, Hawkins—" I began, preparing to flee, for I knew too well the meaning of that light in his eyes.
"The Hawkins Horse-brake!", he finished, triumphantly.
"Hawkins," I said, solemnly, "far be it from me to disparage your work; but I recall most distinctly the Hawkins Aero-motor, which moted you to the top of that maple tree and dropped you on my devoted head. I also have some recollection of your gasolene milker, the one that exploded and burned every hair off the starboard side of my best Alderney cow. If you are bent on trying something new, hold it off until I can get my poor wife out of harm's way."
Hawkins favored me with a stare that would have withered a row of hardy sunflowers and turned his eyes to the stable.
Something was being led toward us from that direction.
The foundation of the something I recognized as Hawkins' aged work horse, facetiously christened Maud S. The superstructure was the most remarkable collection of mechanism I ever saw.
Four tall steel rods stuck into the air at the four corners of the animal. They seemed to be connected in some way to a machine strapped to the back of the saddle.
I presume the machine was logical enough if you understood it, but beyond noting that it bore striking resemblance to the vital organs of a clock, I cannot attempt a description.
"That will do, Patrick," said Hawkins, taking the bridle and regarding his handiwork with an enraptured smile. "Well, Griggs, frankly, what do you think of it?"
"Frankly," I said, "when I look at that thing, I feel somehow incapable of thought."
"I rather imagined that it would take your eye," replied Hawkins, complacently. "Now, just see the simplicity of the thing, Griggs. Drop your childish prejudices for a minute and examine it.
"Let us suppose that this brake is fitted to a fiery saddle-horse. The rider has lost all control. In another minute, unless he can stop the beast, he will be dashed to the ground and kicked into pulp. What does he do? Simply pulls this lever—thus! The animal can't budge!"
An uncanny clankety-clankety-clank accompanied his words, and the rods dropped suddenly. In their descent they somehow managed to gather two steel cuffs apiece.
When they ceased dropping, Maud S. had a steel bar down the back of each leg, with a cuff above and a cuff below the knee. Hawkins was quite right— so far as I could see; Maud was anchored until some well-disposed person brought a hack-saw and cut off her shackles.
"You see how it acts when she is standing still?" chuckled the inventor, replacing the rods. "Just keep your eyes open and note the suddenness with which she stops running."
"Hawkins," I cried, despairingly, as he led the animal up the road, "don't go to all that trouble on my account. I can see perfectly that the thing is a success. Don't try it again."
"My dear Griggs," said Hawkins, coldly, "this trial trip is for my own personal satisfaction, not yours. To tell the truth, I had no idea that you or any one else would be here to witness my triumph."
He went perhaps three or four hundred feet up the road; then he turned Maud's nose homeward and clambered to her back.
As I waited behind the hedge, I grieved for the old mare. Hawkins evidently intended urging her into something more rapid than the walk she had used for so many years, and I feared that at her advanced age the excitement might prove injurious.
But Maud broke into such a sedate canter when Hawkins had thumped her ribs a few times with his heels, and her kindly old face seemed to wear such a gentle expression as she approached, that I breathed easier.
"Now, Griggs!" cried Hawkins, coming abreast. "Watch—now!"
He thrust one hand behind, grasped the lever, and gave it a tug. The little rods remained in the air.
A puzzled expression flitted over Hawkins' face, and as he cantered by he appeared to tug a trifle harder.
This time something happened.
I heard a whir like the echo of a sawmill, and saw several yards of steel spring shoot out of the inwards of the machine. I heard a sort of frantic shriek from Maud S. I saw a sudden cloud of pebbles and dust in the road, such as I should imagine would be kicked up by an exploding shell—and that was all.
Hawkins, Maud, and the infernal machine were making for the county town with none of the grace, but nearly all the speed, of a shooting star.
For a few seconds I stood dazed.
Then it occurred to me that Hawkins' wife would later wish to know what his dying words had been, and I went into the auto with a flying leap, sent it about in its own length, almost jumped the hedge, and thus started upon a race whose memory will haunt me when greater things have faded into the forgotten past.
My runabout, while hardly a racer, is supposed to have some pretty speedy machinery stored away in it, but the engine had a big undertaking in trying to overhaul that old mare.
It was painfully apparent that something—possibly righteous indignation at being the victim of one of Hawkins' experiments—had roused a latent devil within Maud S. Her heels were viciously threshing up the dirt at the foot of the hill before I began my blood-curdling coast at the top.
How under the sun anything could go faster than did that automobile is beyond my conception; yet when I reached the level ground again and breathed a little prayer of thanks that an all-wise Providence had spared my life on the hill, Hawkins seemed still to have the same lead.
That he was traveling like a hurricane was evidenced by the wake of fear-maddened chickens and barking dogs that were just recovering their senses when I came upon them.
I put my lever back to the last notch.
Heavens, how that auto went! It rocked from one side of the road to the other. It bounded over great stones and tried to veer into ditches, with the express purpose of hurling me to destruction.
It snorted and puffed and rattled and skidded; but above all, it went!
There is no use attempting a record of my impressions during that first half mile—in fact, I am not aware that I had any. But after a time I drew nearer to Hawkins, and at last came within thirty feet of the galloping Maud.
Hawkins' face was white and set, he bounced painfully up and down, risking his neck at every bounce, but one hand kept a death-like grip on the lever of the horse-brake.
"Jump!" I screamed. "Throw yourself off!"
Hawkins regarded me with much the expression the early Christians must have worn when conducted into the arena.
"No," he shouted. "It's"—bump—"it's all right. It'll"—bump—"work in a minute."
"No, it won't! Jump, for Heaven's sake, jump!"
I think that Hawkins had framed a reply, but just then a particularly hard bump appeared to knock the breath out of his body. He took a better grip on the bridle and said no more.
I hardly knew what to do. Every minute brought us nearer to the town, where traffic is rather heavy all day.
Up to now we had had a clear track, but in another five minutes a collision would be almost as inevitable as the sunset.
I endeavored to recall the "First Aid to the Injured" treatment for fractured skulls and broken backs, and I thanked goodness that there would be only one auto to complete the mangling of Hawkins' remains, should they drop into the road after the smash.
Would there? I glanced backward and gasped. Others had joined the pursuit, and I was merely the vanguard of a procession.
Twenty feet to the rear loomed the black muzzle of Enos Jackson's trotter, with Jackson in his little road-cart. Behind him, three bicyclists filled up the gap between the road-cart and Dr. Brotherton's buggy.
I felt a little better at seeing Brotherton there. He set my hired man's leg two years ago, and made a splendid job.
There was more of the cavalcade behind Brotherton, although the dust revealed only glimpses of it; but I had seen enough to realize that if Hawkins' brake did work, and Hawkins' mare stopped suddenly, there was going to be a piled-up mass of men and things in the road that for sheer mixed-up-edness would pale the average freight wreck.
Maud maintained her pace, and I did my best to keep up.
By this time I could see the reason for her mad flight. When the explosion, or whatever it was, took place in the brake machinery, a jagged piece of brass had been forced into her side, and there it remained, stabbing the poor old beast with conscientious regularity at every leap.
I was still trying to devise some way of pulling loose the goad and persuading Maud to slow down when we entered town.
At first the houses whizzed past at intervals of two or three seconds; but it seemed hardly half a minute before we came in sight of the square and the court house. We were creating quite an excitement, too. People screamed frantically at us from porches and windows and the sidewalk.
Occasionally a man would spring into the road to stop Maud, think better of it, and spring out again.
One misguided individual hurled a fence-rail across the path. It didn't worry Maud in the slightest, for she happened to be all in the air while passing over that particular point, but when the auto went over the rail it nearly jarred out my teeth.
Another fellow pranced up, waving a many-looped rope over his head. I think Maud must have transfixed him with her fiery eye, for before he could throw it his nerve failed and he scuttled back to safety.
Those who had teams hitched in the square were hurrying them out of danger, and when we whirled by the court-house only one buggy remained in the road.
That buggy belonged to Burkett, the constable. The town pays Burkett a percentage on the amount of work he does, and Burkett is keen on looking up new business.
"Stop, there!" he shouted, as we came up. "Stop!"
"Stop, or I'll arrest the whole danged lot of ye fer fast drivin'!" roared Burkett, gathering up reins and whip.
And with that he dashed into the place behind Enos Jackson and crowded the bicyclists to the side of the road.
Our county town is a small one, and at the pace set by Maud it didn't take us long to reach the far side and sweep out on the highway which leads, eventually, to Boston.
I began to wonder dimly whether Maud's wind and my water and gasolene would carry us to the Hub, and, if so, what would happen when we had passed through the city.
Just beyond Boston, you know, is the Atlantic Ocean.
At this point in my meditations we started down the slope to the big creamery.
The building is located to the right of the road. On the left, a rather steep grassy embankment drops perhaps thirty feet to the little river.
On this beautiful sunny afternoon, the creamery's milk cans, something like a hundred in number, were airing by the roadside, just on the edge of the embankment; and as we thundered down I smiled grimly to think of the attractive little frill Maud might add to her performance by kicking a dozen or two of the milk cans into the river as she passed.
Maud, however, as she approached the cans, kept fairly in the middle of the road—and stopped!
Heavens! She stopped so short that I gasped for breath. All in a twinkling the steel rods dropped into position beside her legs, the cuffs snapped, and the Hawkins Horse-brake had worked at last!
Poor old Maud! She slid a few yards with rigid limbs, squealing in terror, and then crashed to the ground like an overturned toy horse.
Hawkins shot off into space, and at the moment I didn't care greatly where he landed. I was vaguely conscious that he collided head-on with the row of milk-cans, but my main anxiety was to shut off my power, set the brake, point the auto into the ditch, and jump.
And I did it all in about one second.
After the jump, my recollection grows hazy. I know that one of my feet landed in an open milk-can, and that I grabbed wildly at several others. Then the cans and I toppled headlong over the embankment and went down, down, down, while, fainter and fainter, I could hear something like:
"Whoa! Whoa! Gol darn ye! Ow! Stop that hoss! Bang! Rattle! Rattle! Bang! Whoa! Stop, can't ye?"
Then a peculiarly unyielding milk-can landed on my head and I seemed to float away.
I have reason to believe that I sat up about two minutes later. The crash was over and peace had settled once more upon the face of nature.
From far away came the sound of galloping hoofs, belonging, no doubt, to some of the horses who had participated in the late excitement.
The embankment was strewn with men and milk-cans, chiefly the latter. No one seemed to be wholly dead, although one or two looked pretty near it.
A few feet away, Burkett, the constable, was having a convulsion in his vain endeavour to extricate his cranium from a milk-can. The sounds that issued from that can made me blush.
Jackson was sitting up and staring dully at the river, while Dr. Brotherton, with his frock-coat split to the collar, was fishing fragments of his medicine case out of another can.
Others of the erstwhile procession were distributed about the embankment in various conditions, but, as I have said, nobody seemed to have parted company with the vital spark.
Hawkins alone was invisible, and as I struggled to my feet this fact puzzled me considerably.
A pile of milk-cans balanced on the river's edge, and on the chance of finding the inventor's remains, I tipped them into the stream. Underneath, stretched on the cold, unsympathetic ground, his feet dabbling idly in the water, his clothes in a hundred shreds, a great lump on his brow, was Hawkins, stunned and bleeding!
As I turned to summon Brotherton, Hawkins opened his eyes.
I am not one to cherish a grudge. I felt that Hawkins' invention had been its own terrible punishment. So I helped him to his feet as gently as possible, and waited for apologetic utterances.
"You see, Griggs," began Hawkins, uncertainly—"you see, the—the ratchet on the big wheel—stuck. I'll put a new—a new ratchet there, and oil— lots of oil—on the—the——"
"That's enough, Hawkins," I said.
"Yes, but don't you see," he groaned, holding fast to his battered skull as I helped him back to the road, "if I get that one little point perfected—it—it will revol——"
"Let it!" I snapped. "Sit here until I see what's left of my automobile."
Ten minutes later, Patrick having appeared to take charge of Maud S., Hawkins and I were making our homeward way in the runabout, which had mercifully been spared.
Something in my face must have forbidden conversation, for Hawkins wrapped the soiled fragments of his raiment about him in offended dignity, and was silent on the subject of horse-brake.
Nor have I ever heard of the thing since. Possibly Mrs. Hawkins succeeded in demonstrating the fallacy of the whole horse-brake theory; in fact, from the expression on her face when we reached the house, I am inclined to think that she did.
Mrs. Hawkins can be strong-minded on occasion, and her tongue is in no way inadequate to the needs of her mind. At any rate, a friend of mine in the patent office, whom I asked about the matter some time ago, tells, me that the Hawkins Horse-brake has never been patented, so that I presume the invention is in its grave. As a public spirited citizen, I venture to add that this is a blessing.
My wife is averse to widowhood. Lately she exacted my solemn pledge not to assist Hawkins with any more of his diabolical inventions.
For a similar reason, his own good lady drew me aside a few evenings since, and insisted upon my promising to use every means, physical force included, which might prevent her "Herbert" from experimenting further with his motor.
Hawkins hadn't favored me with any confidences about the motor, and at the first opportunity I indicated with brutal directness that none was desired.
Hawkins inquired with frigid asperity as to my meaning; but the very iciness of his manner satisfied me that he understood perfectly, and, believing that he was sufficiently offended to keep entirely to himself all details of his machine—whatever it might be—I breathed more easily.
Some of these days one of Hawkins' inventions is going to take him on a personally conducted tour to a quiet little grave, and I have no wish to learn the itinerary beforehand.
Now, bitter experience has taught me that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom from complicity with the mechanical contrivances of Hawkins, and I should have been suspicious. Yet when Hawkins appeared Sunday morning and asked me to go for a little jaunt up the Hudson in his launch, I accepted with guileless good faith.
His launch was—perhaps it is still—the neatest of neat little pleasure boats, and when we left the house I anticipated several hours of keen enjoyment.
Crossing Riverside Drive, it struck me that Hawkins was hurrying, but the balmy air, the sunshine, and the beautiful sweep of the river filled my mind with infinite peace, and it was not until we had descended to the little dock that I smelled anything suggestive of rat.
Hawkins climbed into the launch, and I smiled benignly on him as I handed down the lunch and our overcoats. I had just finished passing them over when I stopped smiling so suddenly that it jarred my facial muscles.
"Where has the engine gone?" I demanded.
"That engine, Griggs," responded Hawkins, pleasantly, "has gone where all other steam engines will go within the next two years—into the scrap heap."
"Which very cheerful prophecy means——"
"It means, my dear boy, that before you stands the first full-sized working model of the Hawkins A. P. motor, patent applied for!"
The inventor flicked off a waterproof cover and exposed to view in the stern of the launch what looked like an inverted wash-boiler. At first glance it appeared to be merely a dome of heavy steel, bolted to a massive bed-plate, but I didn't spend much time examining the thing.
"There, Griggs," began Hawkins, triumphantly, "in that small——"
"Hawkins," I cried, desperately, "you get out of that boat! Get out of it, I say! Come home with me at once. I'm not going to be mixed up in any more of your wretched trial-trips. Come on, or I'll drag you out!"
Hawkins eyed me coldly for a minute, admonished me not to be an ass, and went on untying the launch.
He is stronger and heavier than I. Frankly, had I meditated such a course seriously, I couldn't have hoisted him out of his boat.
If I had ever studied medicine, I suppose I should have known how to stun Hawkins from above without killing him, but I have never even seen the inside of a hospital.
Again, could I have conjured up any plausible charge, I might have called a policeman and requested him to incarcerate Hawkins; at the moment, however, I was a bit too flustered for such refined strategy.
Obviously, I couldn't prevent Hawkins testing his motor, but my heart quaked at the idea of accompanying him.
On the other hand, it quaked quite as much before the prospect of returning to his wife and admitting that I had allowed Hawkins to sail away alone with his accursed motor.
If I went with him, a relatively easy death by drowning was about the best I could expect. If I didn't, his wife——
I stepped down into the launch.
"Coming, are you?" observed Hawkins. "Quite the sensible thing to do, Griggs. You'll never regret it."
"God knows, I hope not," I sighed.
"Now, in the first place, I may as well call your attention again to the motor. The A. P. stands for 'almost perpetual'—good name, isn't it? You don't know much about chemistry, Griggs, or I could make the whole proposition clear to you."
"The great point about my motor, however, is that she's run by a fluid somewhat similar to gasolene—another of the distillation products of petroleum, in fact—which, having been exploded, passes into my new and absolutely unique catalytic condensers, where it is returned to its original molecular structure and run back into the reservoir."
"Hence," finished Hawkins, dramatically, "the fuel retains its chemical integrity indefinitely, and, as it circulates automatically through the motor, the little engine will run for months at a time without a particle of attention. Is that quite clear?"
"Perfectly," I lied.
"All right. Now I'll show you how she starts," smiled the inventor, opening with a key a little door in the wash-boiler and lighting a match.
"Careful, Hawkins, careful," I ventured, backing toward the cabin.
"My dear fellow," he sneered, "can you not grasp that in an engine of this construction, there is absolutely no danger of any kind of explo——"
Just then a heavy report issued from the wash-boiler. A sheet of flame seemed to flash from the little opening and precipitate Hawkins into my arms.
At any rate, he landed there with a violent shock, and I clutched him tightly, and tried to steady the launch.
"Leggo! Leggo!" he screamed. "Let me go, you idiot! It always does that! It's working now."
He was right. The launch was churning up a peculiarly serpentine wake, and the motor was buzzing furiously.
Hawkins dived toward his machinery, tinkered it with nervous haste for a little, and finally managed to head the boat down-stream just as a collision with the Palisades seemed inevitable.
"Really, Griggs," he remarked, smoothing down his ruffled feathers, "you mustn't interfere with me like that again. We might have hit something that time."
"We did come near uprooting that cliff," I admitted.
Hawkins thereupon ignored me for a period of three minutes. Then his temper returned and he began a discourse on the virtues of his motor.
It was long and involved and utterly unintelligible, I think, to any one save Hawkins. It lasted until we had passed the Battery and were in the shadow of Governor's Island.
Then it seemed time for me to remark:
"We're going to turn back pretty soon, aren't we, Hawkins?"
"Turn back? What for?"
"Well, if we're going up the Hudson, we can't run much farther in this direction."
"Hang the Hudson!" smiled the inventor. "We'll go down around Sandy Hook, eat our lunch, and be back in the city at two, sharp. Why, Griggs, this is no scow. What speed do you suppose this motor can develop?"
"I give it up."
"One hundred knots an hour!"
"Confound it! You don't believe it, do you?" snapped Hawkins, who must have read my thoughts. "Well, she can make it easy. I'll just start her up to show you."
Argument with Hawkins is futile. I saved my breath on the chance of finding better use for it later on.
Hawkins unlocked his little door, fished around in the machinery, and fastened the door again with a calm smile.
Simultaneously, the launch seemed to leap from the water in its anxiety to get ahead. For a few seconds it quivered from end to end. Then it settled down at a gait that actually made me gasp.
I am not positive that we made one hundred knots to the hour, but I do know that I never traveled in an express train that hastened as did that poor launch when the Hawkins A. P. motor began to push it through the water.
An account of our trip down the Narrows and into the Lower Bay would be interesting, but extraneous. Hawkins sat erect beside his infernal machine, looking like a cavalryman in the charge. I squatted in the cabin and watched things flash past.
The main point is that we reached the open water without smashing anything or smashing into anything.
"Well, I think we may as well swing around," said Hawkins, glancing at his watch. "It's wonderful, the control I have over the launch now. Every bit of the steering-gear is located in that steel dome, along with the motor, Griggs. Nothing at all exposed but this little wheel.
"You observed, probably, that I set it a few moments ago, so that the wind wouldn't blow us about, and haven't touched it since. Now note how we shall turn back."
Hawkins grasped his little wheel, puffed up his chest, and gave a tremendous twist.
And the wheel snapped off in Hawkins' hands!
"Why—why—why——" he stuttered, in amazement.
"Yes, now you've done it!" I rapped out, savagely. "How the dickens are we to get back?"
"There, Griggs, there," said Hawkins, "don't be so childishly impatient. I shall simply unlock this case again and control the steering-gear from the inside. Certainly even you must be able to understand that."
The calm superiority of his tone was maddening.
One or two of my sentiments defied restraint.
Heaven knows I didn't suppose it would make Hawkins nervous to hear them, but it did. His hands shook as he fumbled with the key of his steel box, and at a particularly vicious remark of mine he stood erect.
"Well, Griggs, you've put us in a hole this time!" he groaned.
"You made me so nervous that I snapped that key off short in the lock!"
"What!" I shrieked.
"Yes, sir. The motor's locked up in there with fuel enough to keep her going for three months. I can't stop her or move the rudder without getting into the case, and nothing but dynamite would dent that case!"
"Then, Hawkins," I said, a terrible calm coming over me, "we shall have to go straight ahead now until we hit something or are blown up. Am I right?"
"Quite right," muttered Hawkins, defiantly. "And it's all your fault!"
I transfixed the inventor with a vindictive stare, until he abandoned the attempt at bravado and looked away.
"We—we may blow back, you know," he said, vaguely, addressing the breeze.
"The chances of that being particularly favorable by reason of your having set your miserable rudder to correspond with the present wind?" I asked. "Can't we tear up the woodwork and contrive some sort of rudder?"
"We could," admitted Hawkins, "if it wasn't all riveted down with my own patented rivets, which can't be removed, once they're set."
Hawkins' rivets are really what they claim to be. Only one consideration has delayed their universal adoption. They cost a trifle less than one dollar apiece to manufacture and set.
But they stay where they are put, and I knew that if the launch's woodwork was held together by them, it wasn't likely to come apart much before Judgment Day.
"Real nice mess, isn't it, Hawkins?" I said.
"It—it might be worse."
"Far worse," I agreed. "We might be wallowing helplessly around in those heaving billows, or a gale might be tiring itself all out in the effort to swamp us. But, as it is, we are merely careering gaily over the sunlit waves at an unearthly speed. In a day or two, Hawkins, we shall sight the French coast, barring accidents, go ashore, and——"
"By Jove, Griggs!" exclaimed the inventor, lighting up on the instant. "Do you know, I hadn't thought of that? Just let me see. Yes, my boy, at this rate we shall be in the Bay of Biscay Monday night or Tuesday morning, at the latest. Think of it, Griggs! Think of the fame! Think of——"
I couldn't bear to think of it any longer. I knew that if I thought about it for another ten seconds, I should hurl Hawkins into the sea and go to my own watery grave with murder on my hands.
The bow of the launch being the furthest possible point from its owner, I gathered up my overcoat, cigars, and a sandwich, and crouched there, keeping out of the terrific wind as much as possible, watching for a possible vessel and munching the food with a growing wonder as to whether I should ever return to the happy home wherein it was prepared.
There I sat until sunset, and it was the latest sunset I have ever observed. With dusk descending over the lonely ocean, I returned in silence to Hawkins.
He was in bounding spirits. He chattered incessantly about the trip, planned a lecture tour—"Across the Atlantic in Forty Hours"—formed a stock company to manufacture his motor, offered me the London agency at an incredible salary, and built a stately mansion just off Central Park with his own portion of the proceeds.
Having babbled himself dry, Hawkins informed me that salt air invariably made him sleepy, and crawled into the cabin for slumber.
And he slept. It passed my understanding, but the man had such utter confidence in himself and his unintentional trip that he snored peacefully throughout the night.
I didn't. I felt that my last hours in the land of the living should be passed in consciousness, and I spent that terrible time of darkness in more or less prayerful meditation.
After ages, the dawn arrived. I lit another cigar, and wriggled wearily to the bow of the boat and scanned the waters.
There was a vessel! Far, far away, to be sure, but steaming so that we must cross her path in another fifteen minutes.
I tore off my overcoat, scrambled to the little deck, wound one arm about a post, and waved the coat frantically.
Nearer and nearer we came to the steamer. More and more I feared that the signal might be unnoticed, or noticed too late. But it wasn't.
I have known some happy sights in my time, but I never saw anything that filled me with one-half the joy I felt on realizing that the steamer-people were lowering one of their boats.
They were doing it, there was no doubt about the matter. In five minutes we should be near enough to their cutter to swim for it.
I dived to the stern to awaken Hawkins.
He was already awake. He stood there, tousled and happy, sniffing the crisp air, and he had seen the approaching boat.
"Got it ready?" he inquired, placidly.
"Got what ready?"
"Why, the message," exclaimed Hawkins, opening his eyes in astonishment. "We'll have to hustle with it, I reckon."
"Hawkins, what new idiocy is this?" I gasped.
"Surely we're going to give that steamer a few lines to tell the world about our trip?"
Seconds passed, before the full, terrible significance of his words filtered into my brain.
"Do you mean to say," I roared, "that you are not going to swim for that boat?"
"Certainly I do mean to say it," he replied stiffly. "Let me have your fountain pen, Griggs."
I took one glance at the boat. I took another at Hawkins. Then I gripped him about the waist and threw my whole soul into the task of pitching him overboard.
Hawkins, as I have said, is heavier than I. He puffed and strained and pulled and hauled at me, swearing like a trooper the while. And neither of us budged an inch.
The cutter came nearer, nearer, always nearer. Thirty seconds more and we should shoot by it forever. The thought of losing this chance of rescue almost maddened me.
I had just gathered all my strength for one last heave when the middle of my back experienced the most excruciating pain it has ever known. Something seemed to lift me clear of the launch, with Hawkins in my arms; I heard a dull report from somewhere, and then we dropped together, right through the surface of the sparkling Atlantic Ocean!
Hawkins was picked up first. When I came to the surface, two dark-skinned sailormen were dragging him in, struggling and cursing and pointing wildly toward the horizon, where his launch was careering away with the speed of the wind.
It was the French liner La France which had the honor of our rescue. She deposited us in New York on Wednesday morning.
Over the rest of this tale hover some painful memories. I am not a fighting man, but I am free to say that when my wife and Mrs. Hawkins delivered to me their joint opinion on broken promises, their sex alone saved them from personal damage.
It was upon me that the blame appeared to rest entirely. At least, Hawkins didn't come in for any of it at the time.
Just at the moment of that emotional interview, Hawkins was busy in his work-shop—perfecting something.
It seems that the motor, after all, was our salvation. Hawkins says that some of the power must have dribbled out of the machine proper and blown the steel dome from its foundations.
Assuredly there was plenty of energy behind the thing when it struck me; I have darting pains in that portion of my anatomy every damp day.
The launch has never been reported, which is probably quite as well.
Perhaps it has reached the open Polar Sea, and is butting itself into flinders against the ice-cakes. Perhaps it is terrorizing some cannibal tribe in the southern oceans by inflicting dents on the shoreline of their island.
Wherever the poor little boat may be, it contains eleven of my best cigars, the better part of a substantial meal, and, what is in my eyes of less importance, the sole existing example of what Hawkins still considers an ideal generator of power.
We were sitting on my porch, smoking placidly in the sunset glow, when Hawkins aroused himself from a momentary reverie and remarked:
"Now, if the body were made of aluminum it would be far lighter and just as strong, wouldn't it?"
"Probably, Hawkins," I replied, "but it would also be decidedly stiff and inconvenient. Just imagine how one's aluminium knees would crackle and bend going up and down-stairs, and what an awful job one would have conforming one's aluminum spinal column to the back of a chair."
"No, no, no, no," cried Hawkins, impatiently. "I don't mean the human body, Griggs; I——"
"I'm glad to hear it," I said. "Don't you go to inventing an aluminum man, Hawkins. Good, old-fashioned flesh and bones have been giving thorough satisfaction for the past few thousand years, and it would be wiser for you to turn your peculiar talents toward——"
"There! there! That will do!" snapped the inventor, standing stiffly erect and throwing away his cigar. "This is not the first time that that mistaken humor of yours has prevented your absorbing new ideas, Griggs. Incidentally, I may mention that I was referring to the body of an automobile. Good-evening!"
Whereupon Hawkins stalked up the road in the direction of his summer home, and I wondered for a minute if his words might not be prophetic of future trouble.
Now, where any aspersion is cast upon his inventive genius, Hawkins is quick to anger, but usually he is equally ready to forgive and forget. Hence it astonished me that two whole weeks passed Without the appearance of his genial countenance on my premises.
They were really two weeks of peace unbroken, but I had begun to think that it might be better for me to stroll over and beg pardon for my levity when one bright morning Hawkins came chug-chugging up the drive in a huge, new, red automobile.
It was of the type so constructed that the two rear seats of the car may be dropped off at will, converting it into a carriage for two, and the only peculiar detail I noted was the odd-looking top or canopy.
"Well, what do you think of her?" demanded Hawkins with some pride.
"She's all right," I said, admiringly.
"Body's built of aluminum," continued the inventor. "Jump in and feel the action of her."
As I have said, barring the canopy, the thing appeared to be an ordinary touring-car, and I was tired of lolling in the hammock. Without misgiving, I climbed in beside Hawkins, and he turned back to the road.
The auto did run beautifully. I had never been in a machine that was so totally indifferent to rough spots.
When we came to a hillock, we simply floated over it. If we reached an uncomfortably sharp turn, the auto seemed to rise and cut it off with hardly a swerve.
Once or twice I noticed that Hawkins deliberately steered out of the road and into big rocks; but the auto, in the most peculiar manner, just touched them and bounced over with never a jar.
In fact, after two miles of rather heavy going, I suddenly realized that I hadn't experienced the slightest of jolts.
"Hawkins," I observed, "the man that made the springs under this thing must have been a magician."
"Well, well!" said the inventor. "On to it at last that there is something out of the ordinary about this auto, are you? But it's not the springs, my dear boy, it's not the springs!"
"What is it?"
"Griggs," said Hawkins, beaming upon me, "you are riding in the first and only Hawkins' Auto-aero-mobile! That's what it is!"
"Another invention!" I gasped.
"Yes, another invention. What the deuce are you turning pale about?"
"Well, your inventions, Hawkins—"
"Don't be such a coward, Griggs. Except that I had the body built of aluminum, this is just an ordinary automobile. The invention lies in the canopy. It's a balloon!"
"Is it—is it?" I said weakly.
"Yes, sir. Just at present it's a balloon with not quite enough gas in it to counterbalance the pull of gravitation on the car and ourselves. I've got two cylinders of compressed gas still connected with it. When I let them feed automatically into the balloon, and then automatically drop the iron cylinders themselves in to the road, we shall fairly bound over the ground, because the balloon will just a trifle more than carry the whole outfit."
"Well, don't waste all that good gas, Hawkins," I said hastily. "I can—I can understand perfectly just how we should bound without that."
"Don't worry about the gas," smiled Hawkins placidly. "It costs practically nothing. There! One of the cylinders is discharging now."
I glanced timidly above. Sure enough, the canopy was expanding slowly and assuming a spherical shape.
Presently a thud announced that Hawkins had dropped the cylinder. Then he pulled another lever, and the process was repeated.
As the second cylinder dropped, we rose nearly a foot into the air. Still we maintained a forward motion, and that was puzzling.
"How is it, Hawkins," I quavered, "that we're still going ahead when we don't touch the ground more than once in a hundred feet?"
"That's the propeller," chuckled the inventor. "I put a propeller at the back, so that the auto is almost a dirigible balloon. Oh, there's nothing lacking about the Hawkins Auto-aero-mobile, Griggs, I can tell you."
When I had recovered from the first nervous shock, the contrivance really did not seem so dangerous.
We traveled in long, low leaps, the machine rarely rising more than a foot from the ground, and the motion was certainly unique and rather pleasant.
Nevertheless, I have a haunting fear of anything invented by Hawkins, and my mind would insist upon wandering to thoughts of home.
"Not going down-town, are you, Hawkins?" I asked with what carelessness I could assume.
"Just for a minute. I want some cigars."
"Hawkins," I murmured, "you are a pretty heavy man. When you get out of this budding airship, it won't soar into the heavens with me, will it?"
"It would if I got out," said the inventor, with pleasant assurance. "But I'm not going to get out. We'll let the cigar man bring the stuff to us."
So it would rise if any weight left the car! That was food for thought.
Suppose Hawkins, who operated the auto according to the magazine pictures of racing chauffeurs, leaning far forward, should topple into the road? Suppose a stray breeze should tilt the machine and throw out some part?
Up without doubt, we should go, and there seemed to be quite an open space up above, through which we might travel indefinitely without hitting anything that would stay our celestial journey.
"How do you let the gas out of the balloon, Hawkins?" I ventured presently.
"Oh, the cock's down underneath the machine," said that gentleman briefly. "Don't worry, Griggs. I'm here."
That, in a nutshell, was just what was worrying me, but there seemed to be nothing more to say. I relapsed into silence.
We rolled or floated or bounced, or whatever you may choose to call it, into town without accident or incident. People stared considerably at the kangaroo antics of our car, and one or two horses, after their first glance, developed furor transitorius on the spot; but Hawkins managed to pull up before his cigar store, which was in the outskirts of the town, without kicking up any very serious disturbance.
The cigars aboard, I had hoped to turn my face homeward. Not so Hawkins.
"Now, down we go to the square," he cried buoyantly, "do a turn before the court house, float straight over the common, and then bounce away home. I guess it'll make the natives talk, eh, Griggs?"
"Your things usually do, Hawkins," I sighed. "But why perform to-day? This is only the first trial trip. Something might go wrong."
"My dear boy," laughed the inventor, "this is one of those trial trips that simply can't go wrong, because every detail is perfected to the uttermost limit."
That settled it; we made for the square.
The square, be it remarked, is in the center of the town. The court house stands on one side, the post office on the other, and the square itself is a beautifully kept lawn.
We were just in sight of the grass when I fancied that I detected a rattle.
"What's that noise, Hawkins?" I said.
"Give it up. Something in the machinery. It's nothing."
"But I seem to feel a peculiar shaking in the machine," I persisted.
"You seem to feel a great many things that don't exist, Griggs," remarked Hawkins, with a touch of contempt.
"Hey, mister!" yelled a small boy. "Hey! Yer back seat's fallin' off!"
"What did he say?" muttered Hawkins, too full of importance to turn his head.
"Hey! Hey!" cried the youngster, pursuing us. "Dat back seat's most fell off!"
"What!" shrieked Hawkins, whirling about. "Good Lord! So it is! Catch it, Griggs, catch it quick!"
I turned. The boy was right. The rear seats of the automobile had managed to detach themselves.
In fact, even as we stared, they were hanging by a single bolt, and the head of that was missing.
"Griggs! Griggs!" shouted Hawkins, wildly endeavoring to stop the engine. "Grab those seats before they fall! I didn't screw 'em on with a wrench— only used my hands—but I supposed they were fast. Heavens! If they drop, we shall go——"
Just at that moment a sudden jolt sent the seats into the road.
Two hundred pounds of solid material had left the Hawkins Auto-aero-mobile!
Hawkins didn't have to finish the sentence.
It became painfully evident where we should go.
We went up!
Up, up, up! In the suddenness of it, it seemed to me that we were shooting straight for the midday sun, that another thirty seconds would see us frying in the solar flames.
As I gripped the cushions, I believe that I shrieked with terror.
But Hawkins, scared though he was, didn't lose his head entirely. The machine hadn't turned turtle. It was ascending slowly in its normal attitude, and as a matter of cold fact we hadn't risen more than thirty feet when Hawkins remarked, shakily:
"There, there, Griggs! Sit still! It's all right. We're safe!"
"Safe!" I gasped, when sufficient breath had returned. "It looks as if we were safe, doesn't it?"
"N-n-never mind how it looks, Griggs. We are. The propeller's working now."
"What good does that do us?" I demanded.
"Good!" cried the inventor, pulling himself together. "Why, we shall simply steer for the roof of a house and alight."
"Always provided that this cursed contrivance doesn't heave us out first!"
"Oh, it won't," smiled Hawkins, settling down to his machinery once more. "Dear me, Griggs, do look at the crowd!"
There was indeed a crowd. They had sprung up on the instant, and they were racing along beneath us across the common, quite regardless of the "Keep Off the Grass" signs.
"How they will stare when we step out on the roof, won't they?" observed Hawkins.
"If we don't step out on their heads!" I snapped. "Steer away from those telegraph wires, Hawkins."
"Yes, yes, of course," said the inventor, nervously regarding the thirty or forty wires strung directly across our path. "Queer this thing doesn't respond more readily!"
"Well, make her respond!" I cried, excitedly, for the wires were dangerously near.
"I'm doing my best, Griggs," grunted the inventor, twisting this wheel and pulling that lever. "Don't worry, we'll sail over them all right. We'll just—pshaw!"
With a gentle, swaying kind of bump, the auto stopped. We had grounded, so to speak, on the telegraph wires.
"That's the end of this trial trip!" I remarked, caustically. "The epilogue will consist of the scene we create in distributing our brains over that green grass below."
"Oh, tut, tut!" said Hawkins. "This is nothing serious. I'll just start the propeller on the reverse and we'll float off backward."
"Well, wait a minute before you start it," I said. "They're shouting something."
"Don't jump! Don't jump!" cried the crowd.
"Who the dickens is going to jump?" replied Hawkins, angrily, leaning over the side. "Fools!" he observed to me.
"The hook and ladder's coming!" continued a stentorian voice.
"Well, they'll have their trouble for their pains," snapped Hawkins. "We shall be on the ground before they get here."
"Why not wait?" I said. "We'll be sure to get down safely that way, and you don't know what you may do by starting the machinery. The wires are all mixed up in it, and they may smash and drag us down, or upset us, Hawkins."
"Croak! Croak! Croak!" replied Hawkins, sourly. "Go on and croak till your dying day, Griggs. If any one ever offers a prize for a pessimistic alarmist, you take my advice and compete. You'll win. I'm going to start the engine and get out of this."
He pulled the reverse lever, and the engine buzzed merrily. The auto indulged in a series of unwholesome convulsive shivers, but it didn't budge.
"Hey! Hey!" floated up from the crowd.
"Oh, look and see what they're howling about now," growled Hawkins.
The cause of their vociferations was only too apparent.
Ping! Ping! Ping! One by one, sawed in two by the machine, the telegraph wires were snapping!
"Stop it! Stop it, Hawkins!" I cried. "You're smashing the wires!"
"Well, suppose I am? That'll let us out, won't it?"
"See here," I said, sternly, "if an all wise Providence should happen to spare us from being dragged down and dashed to pieces, consider the bill for repairs which you'll have to foot. You stop that engine, Hawkins, or I'll do it myself."
"Well——" said the inventor, doubtfully. "There! Now be satisfied. I've stopped it, and we'll wait and be taken down the ladder like a couple of confounded Italian women in a tenement house fire."
Hawkins sat back with a sullen scowl. I drew a long breath of relief, and began to scan the landscape for signs of the hook and ladder company.
They were a long time in coming. Meanwhile, we were hanging in space, a frisky balloon overhead, and below, Hawkins' engine having considerately left a little of the telegraph company's property uninjured, six telegraph wires and a gaping crowd.
But the ladders couldn't be very far off now, and we seemed safe enough, until—
"What's that sizzling, Hawkins?" I inquired.
"I don't know," he replied, gruffly.
"Well, why don't you try to find out?" I said, sharply. "It seems to me that we're resting pretty heavily on those wires."
"Yes." I glanced out at the balloon canopy. "Great Scott, Hawkins, the balloon's leaking!"
"Eh? What?" he cried, suddenly galvanized into action. "Where, Griggs, where?"
"I don't know. But that's what is happening. See how the wires are sagging —more and more every second."
"Great Cesar's ghost! Listen. Yes, the wires must have hit the escape valve. Why, the gas is simply pouring out of the balloon. And the machine's getting heavier and heavier. And we're just resting on those six wires, Griggs! Oh, Lord!"
"And presently, Hawkins, we shall break the wires and drop?" I suggested, with forced calm.
"Yes, yes!" cried the inventor. "What'll we do, Griggs, what'll we do?"
Frightened as I was, I couldn't see what was to be gained by hysterics.
"I presume," I said, "that the best thing is to sit still and wait for the end."
"Yes, but think, man, think of that awful drop! Forty feet, if it's an inch!"
"Why, we'll simply be knocked to flinders!"
"Oh, the idiots! The idiots!" raged Hawkins, shaking his fists at the crowd. "Why didn't they bring a fire net? Why hasn't one of them sense enough to get one? We could jump then."
Ping! The first of the six wires had snapped.
Ping! The second had followed suit.
The Hawkins Auto-aero-mobile was very delicately balanced now on four slim wires, and the balloon was collapsing with heart-rending rapidity. From below sounds of excitement were audible, here and there a groan and now a scream of horror, as some new-comer realized our position.
"Hawkins," I said, solemnly, "why don't you make a vow right now that if we ever get out of this alive——"
Ping! went the third wire. The auto swayed gently for a moment.
"You'll never invent another thing as long as you live?"
"Griggs," said Hawkins, in trembling tones, "I almost believe that you are right. Where on earth can that hook and ladder be? Yes, you are right. I'll do—I'll—can you see them yet, Griggs? I'll do it! I swear——"
Ping! Ping! Ping!
Still sitting upon the cushions, I felt my heart literally leap into my throat. My eyes closed before a sudden rush of wind. My hands gripped out wildly.
For one infinitesimal second, I was astonished at the deathly stillness of everything. Then the roar of a thousand voices nearly deafened me, the seat seemed to hurl me violently into the air, for another brief instant I shot through space. Then my hands clutched some one's hair, and I crashed to the ground, with an obliging stout man underneath.
And I knew that I still lived!
Well, the auto had dropped—that was all. Ready hands placed me upon my feet. Vaguely I realized that Dr. Brotherton, our physician, was running his fingers rapidly over my anatomy.
Later he addressed me through a dreamland haze and said that not a bone was broken. I recall giving him a foolish smile and thanking him politely.
Some twenty feet away I was conscious that Hawkins was chattering volubly to a crowd of eager faces. His own features were bruised almost beyond recognition, but he, too, was evidently on this side of the River Jordan, and I felt a faint sense of irritation that the Auto-aero-mobile hadn't made an end of him.
My wits must have remained some time aloft for a last inspection of the spot where ended our aerial flight. Certainly they did not wholly return until I found myself sitting beside Hawkins in Brotherton's carriage.
We were just driving past a pile of red scrap-metal that had once been the auto, and the wondering crowd was parting to let us through.
"Well, that's the end of your aerothingamajig, Hawkins," I observed, with deep satisfaction.
"Oh, yes, experience is expensive, but a great teacher," replied the inventor, thickly, removing a wet cloth from his much lacerated upper lip to permit speech. "When I build the next one——"
"You'll have to get a divorce before you build the next one," I added, with still deeper satisfaction, as I pictured in imagination the lively little domestic fracas that awaited Hawkins.
If his excellent lady gets wind of the doings in his "workshop," Hawkins rarely invents the same thing twice.
"Well, then, if I build another," corrected Hawkins, sobering suddenly, "I shall be careful not to use that rear arrangement at all. I shall place the valve of the balloon where I can get at it more easily. I shall——"
"Mr. Hawkins," said Brotherton, abruptly, "I thought I asked you to keep that cloth over your mouth until I get you where I can sew up that lip."
Apart from any medical bearing, it struck me that that remark indicated good, sound sense on Brotherton's part.
There are some men to whom experience never teaches anything.
Hawkins is one of them; I am another.
As concerns Hawkins, I feel pretty sure that some obscure mental aberration lies at the seat of his trouble; for my own part, I am inclined to blame my confiding, unsuspicious nature.
Now, when the Hawkins' cook and the Hawkins' maid came "'cross lots" and carried off our own domestic staff to some festivity, I should have been able to see the hand of Fate groping around in my locality, clearing the scene so as to leave me, alone and unprotected, with Hawkins.
Moreover, when Mrs. Hawkins drove over in style with Patrick, to take my wife to somebody's afternoon euchre, and brought me a message from her "Herbert," asking me to come and assist him in fighting off the demon of loneliness, I should have realized that Fate was fairly clutching at me.
By this time I should be aware that when Hawkins is left alone he doesn't bother with that sort of demon; he links arms with the old, original Satan, and together they stroll into Hawkins' workshop—to perfect an invention.
But I suspected nothing. I went over at once to keep Hawkins company.
When I reached his place, Hawkins didn't meet my eye at first, but something else did.
For a moment, I fancied that the Weather Bureau had recognized Hawkins' scientific attainments, and built an observatory for him out by the barn. Then I saw that the thing was merely a tall, skeleton steel tower, with a wind-mill on top—the contrivance with which many farmers pump water from their wells.
"Well," remarked Hawkins, appearing at this point, "can you name it?"
"Well," I said, leaning on the gate and regarding the affair, "I imagine that it is the common or domestic windmill."
"And your imagination, as usual, is all wrong," smiled Hawkins. "That, Griggs, is the Hawkins Pumpless Pump!"
"What!" I gasped, vaulting into the road. "Another invention!"
"Now, don't be a clown, Griggs," snapped the inventor. "It is——"
"Wait. Did you lure me over here, Hawkins, with the fiendish purpose of demonstrating that thing?"
"Certainly not. It is——"
"Just one minute more. Is it tied down? Will it, by any chance, suddenly gallop over here and fall upon us?"
"No, it will not," replied Hawkins shortly. "The foundations run twenty feet into the ground. Are you coming in or not?"
"Under the circumstances—yes," I said, entering again, but keeping a wary eye on the steel tower. "But can't we spend the afternoon out here by the gate?"
"We cannot," said Hawkins sourly. "Your humor, Griggs, is as pointless as it is childish. When you see every farmer in the United States using that contrivance, you will blush to recall your idiotic words."
I was tempted to make some remark about the greater likelihood of memory producing a consumptive pallor; but I refrained and followed Hawkins to the veranda.
"When I built that tower," pursued the inventor, waving his hand at it, "I intended, of course, to use the regulation pump, taking the power from the windmill.
"Then I got an idea.
"You know how a grain elevator works—a series of buckets on an endless chain, running over two pulleys, just as a bicycle chain runs over two sprockets? Very well. Up at the top of that tower I extended the hub of the windmill back to form a shaft with big cogs. Down at the bottom of the well there is another corresponding shaft with the same cogs. Over the two, as you will see, runs an endless ladder of steel cable. Is that clear?"
"I guess so," I said, wearily. "Go on."
"Well, that's as far as I have gone. Next week the buckets are coming. I shall hitch one to each rung of the chain, or ladder, throw on the gear, and let her go.
"The buckets will run down into the well upside down, come up on the other side filled, run to the top of the tower, and dump the water into a reservoir tank—and go down again. Thus I pump water without a pump—in other words, with a pumpless pump!
"Simple! Efficient! Nothing to get out of order—no valves, no pistons, no air-chambers—nothing whatever!" finished Hawkins triumphantly.
"Wonderful!" I said absently.
"Isn't it?" cried the inventor. "Now, do you want to look over it, to-day, Griggs, or shall we run through those drawings of my new loom?"
Hawkins has invented a loom, too. I don't know much about machinery in general, but I do know something about the plans, and from what I can judge by the plans, if any workman was fool-hardy enough to enter the room with Hawkins' loom in action, that intricate bit of mechanism would reach out for him, drag him in, macerate him, and weave him into the cloth, all in about thirty seconds.
But an explanation of this to Hawkins would merely have precipitated another conflict. I chose what seemed to be the lesser evil; I elected to examine the pumpless pump.
"All right," said the inventor happily. "Come along, Griggs. You're the only one that knows anything about this. In a week or two, when somebody writes it up in the Scientific American, you'll feel mighty proud of having heard my first explanation of the thing."
The pump was just as Hawkins had described—a thin steel ladder coming out of the well's black mouth, running up to and over the shaft, and descending into the blackness again. When we reached its side, it was stationary, for the air was still.
"There!" cried Hawkins. "All it needs is the buckets and the tank on top. That idea comes pretty near to actual execution, Griggs, doesn't it?"
"Most of your ideas do come pretty near to actual execution, Hawkins," I sighed.
That passed over Hawkins' head.
"Now, look down here," he continued, leaning over the well with a calm disregard of the frailty of the human make-up, and grasping one of the rungs of the ladder. "Just look down here, Griggs. Sixty feet deep!"
"I'll take your word for it," I said. "I wouldn't hold on to that ladder, Hawkins; it might take a notion to go down with you."
"Nonsense!" smiled the inventor. "The gear's locked. It can't move. Why, look here!"
The man actually swung himself out to the ladder and stood there. It made my blood run cold.
I expected to see Hawkins, ladder, and all shoot down into the water, and I wondered whether Heaven would send wind enough to hoist him out before he drowned.
But nothing happened. Hawkins himself stood there and surveyed me with sneering triumph.
"You see, Griggs," he observed caustically, "once in a while I do know something about my inventions. Now, if your faint heart will allow it, I should advise you to take a peep down here. So far as I know, it's the only well in the State built entirely of white tiles. Just steady yourself on the ladder and look."
Like a senseless boy taking a dare, I reached out, gripped the rung above Hawkins, and looked down.
Certainly it was a fine well. I never paid much attention to wells, but I could see at a glance that this one was exceptional.
"I had it tiled last week," continued Hawkins. "A tiled well is absolutely safe, you see. Nothing can happen in a tiled well, no——"
That was another of Hawkins' fallacies. Something happened right then and there.
A gentle breeze started the windmill. Slowly, spectacularly, the ladder began to move—downwards!
"Why, say!" cried the inventor, in amazement, as he made one futile effort to regain the ground. "Do you think——"
I wasn't thinking for him, just then. All my wits were centered on one great, awful problem.
Before I could realize it and release my hold, the ladder had dropped far enough to throw me off my balance. The problem was whether to let go and risk dashing down sixty feet, or to keep hold and run the very promising chance of a slow and chilly ducking.
I took the latter alternative, threw myself upon the ladder, and clung there, gasping with astonishment at the suddenness of the thing.
"Well, Hawkins?" I said, getting breath as my head sank below the level of the beautiful earth.
"Well, Griggs," said the inventor defiantly, from the second rung below, "the gear must have slipped—that's all."
"Isn't it lucky that this is a tiled well?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why," I said, "a tiled well is absolutely safe, you see. Nothing can happen in a tiled well, Hawkins."
"Now, don't stand there grinding out your cheap wit, Griggs," snapped Hawkins. "How the dickens are we going to escape being soaked?"
Down, down, down, down, went the ladder.
"Well," I said, thoughtfully, "the bottom usually falls out of your schemes, Hawkins. If the bottom will only fall out of the water department of your pumpless pump within the next half-minute, all will be lovely."
"Oh, dry up!" exclaimed the inventor nervously. "Goodness! We're halfway down already!"
"Why not climb?" I suggested.
"Really, Griggs," cried the inventor, "for such an unpractical man as yourself, that idea is remarkable! Climb, Griggs, climb. Get about it!"
I think myself that the notion was rather bright. If the ladder was climbing down into the well, we could climb up the ladder.
And we climbed! Good heavens, how we did climb! It was simply a perpendicular treadmill, and with the rungs a full yard apart, a mighty hard one to tread.
Every rung seemed to strain my muscles to the breaking point; but we kept on climbing, and we were gaining on the ladder. We were not ten feet from the top when Hawkins called out:
"Wait, Griggs! Hey! Wait a minute! Yes, by Jove, she's stopped!"
She had. I noted that, far above, the windmill had ceased to revolve. The ladder was motionless.
"Oh, I knew we'd get out all right," remarked the inventor, dashing all perspiration from his brow. "I felt it."
"Yes, I noticed that you were entirely confident a minute or two ago," I observed.
"Well, go on now and climb out," said Hawkins, waving an answer to the observation. "Go ahead, Griggs."
I was too thankful for our near deliverance to spend my breath on vituperation. I reached toward the rung above me and prepared to pull myself back to earth.
And then a strange thing happened. The rung shot upward. I shot after it. One instant I was in the twilight of the well; the next instant I was blinded by the sun.
Too late I realized that I had ascended above the mouth, and was journeying rapidly toward the top of the tower. It had all happened with that sickening, surprising suddenness that characterizes Hawkins' inventions.
Up, up, up, I went, at first quickly, and then more slowly, and still more slowly, until the ladder stopped again, with my eyes peering over the top of the tower.
It was obliging of the ladder to stop there; it could have hurled me over the top just as easily and broken my neck.
I didn't waste any time in thanking the ladder. Before the accursed thing could get into motion again, I climbed to the shaft and perched there, dizzy and bewildered.
Hawkins followed suit, clambered to the opposite end of the shaft, and arranged himself there, astride.
"Well," I remarked, when I had found a comparatively secure seat on the bearing—a seat fully two inches wide by four long—"did the gear slip again?"
"No, of course not," said the inventor. "The windmill simply started turning in the opposite direction."
"It's a weak, powerless little thing, your windmill, isn't it?"
"Well, when I built it I calculated it to hoist two tons."
"Instead of which it has hoisted two—or rather, one misguided man, who allowed himself to be enticed within its reach."
"See here," cried Hawkins wrathfully, "I suppose you blame me for getting you into a hole?"
"Not at all," I replied. "I blame you for getting me altogether too far out of the hole."
"Well, you needn't. If it hadn't been for your stupidity, we shouldn't be here now."
"Certainly. Why didn't you jump off as we passed the mouth of the well?"
"My dear Hawkins," I said mildly, "do you realize that we flitted past that particular point at a speed of about seventy feet per second? Why didn't you jump?"
"I—I—I didn't want to desert you, Griggs," rejoined Hawkins weakly, looking away.
"That was truly noble of you," I observed. "It reveals a beautiful side of your character which I had never suspected, Hawkins."
"That'll do," said the inventor shortly. "Are you going down first or shall I?"
"Do you propose to trust all that is mortal of yourself to that capricious little ladder again?"
"Certainly. What else?"
"I was thinking that it might be safer, if slightly less comfortable, to wait here until Patrick gets back. He could put up a ladder—a real, old-fashioned, wooden ladder—for us."
"Yes, and when Patrick gets back those women will get back with him," replied Hawkins heatedly. "Your wife's coming over here to tea."
"Well, do you suppose I'm going to be found stuck up here like a confounded rooster on a weather vane?" shouted the inventor. "No, sir! You can stay and look all the fool you like. I won't. I'm going down now!"
Hawkins reached gingerly with one foot for a place on the ladder. I looked at him, wondered whether it would be really wicked to hurl him into space, and looked away again, in the direction of the woods.
My gaze traveled about a mile; and my nerves received another shock.
"See here, Hawkins!" I cried.
"Well, what do you want?" demanded the inventor gruffly, still striving for a footing.
"What will happen if a breeze hits this infernal machine now?"
"You'll be knocked into Kingdom Come, for one thing," snapped Hawkins with apparent satisfaction. "That arm of the windmill right behind you will rap your head with force enough to put some sense in it."
I glanced backward. He was right—about the fact of the rapping, at any rate.
The huge wing was precisely in line to deal my unoffending cranium a terrific whack, which would probably stun me, and certainly brush me from my perch.
"There's a big wind coming!" I cried. "Look at those trees."
"By Jimminy! You're right!" gasped the inventor, recklessly hurling himself upon the ladder. "Quick, Griggs. Come down after me. Quick!"
When one of Hawkins' inventions gets you in its toils, you have to make rapid decisions as to the manner of death you would prefer. In the twinkling of an eye, I decided to cast my fate with Hawkins on the ladder.
Nerving myself for the task, I swung to the quivering steel cable, kicked wildly for a moment, and then found a footing.
"Now, down!" shouted Hawkins, below me. "Be quick!"
That diabolical windmill must have heard him and taken the remark for a personal injunction. It obeyed to the letter.
When an elevator drops suddenly, you feel as if your entire internal organism was struggling for exit through the top of your head. As the words left Hawkins' mouth, that was precisely the sensation I experienced.
Clinging to the ladder for dear life, down we went!
They say that a stone will drop sixteen feet in the first second, thirty-two in the next, and so on. We made far better time than that. The wind had hit the windmill, and she was reeling us back into the well to the very best of her ability.
Before I could draw breath we flashed to the level of the earth, down through the mouth of the well, and on down into the white-tiled twilight.
My observations ceased at that point. A gurgling shriek came from Hawkins. Then a splash.
My nether limbs turned icy cold, next my body and shoulders, and then cracked ice seemed to fill my ears, and I still clung to the ladder, and prayed fervently.
For a time I descended through roaring, swirling water. Then my feet were wrenched from their hold, and for a moment I hung downward by my hands alone. Still I clung tightly, and wondered dimly why I seemed to be going up again. Not that it mattered much, for I had given up hope long ago, but still I wondered.
And then, still clutching the ladder with a death-grip, with Hawkins kicking about above me, out of the water I shot, and up the well once more. An instant of the half-light, the flash of the sun again—and I hurled myself away from the ladder.
I landed on the grass. Hawkins landed on me. Soaking wet, breathless, dazed, we sat up and stared at each other.
"I'm glad, Griggs," said Hawkins, with a watery smile—"I'm glad you had sense enough to keep your grip going around that sprocket at the bottom. I knew we'd be all right if you didn't let go——"
"Hawkins," I said viciously, "shut up!"
"But—oh, good Lord!"
I glanced toward the gate. The carriage was driving in. The ladies were in the carriage. Evidently the afternoon euchre had been postponed.
"There, Hawkins," I gloated, "you can explain to your wife just why you knew we'd be all right. She'll be a sympathetic listener."
Said Hawkins, with a sickly smile:
Said Mrs. Hawkins, gasping with horror as Patrick whipped the horses to our side——.
But never mind what Mrs. Hawkins said. This chronicle contains enough unpleasantness as it is. There are remarks which, when addressed to one, one feels were better left unsaid.
I think that Hawkins felt that way about practically everything his wife said upon this occasion. Let that suffice.
In the country, social intercourse between Hawkins' family and my own is upon the most informal basis. If it pleases us to dine together coatless and cuffless, we do so; and no one suggests that a national upheaval is likely to result.
But in town it is different. The bugaboo of strict propriety seems to take mysterious ascendancy. We still dine together, but it is done in the most proper evening dress. It seems to be the law—unwritten but unalterable—that Hawkins and I shall display upon our respective bosoms something like a square foot of starchy white linen.
I hardly know why I mention this matter of evening clothes, unless it is that the memory of my brand-new dress suit, which passed to another sphere that night, still preys upon my mind.
That night, above mentioned, my wife and I dined in the Hawkins' home.
Hawkins seemed particularly jovial. He appeared to be chuckling with triumph, or some kindred emotion, and his air was even more expansive than usual.
When I mentioned the terrible explosion of the powder works at Pompton—hardly a subject to excite mirth in the normal individual—Hawkins fairly guffawed.
"But, Herbert," cried his wife, somewhat horrified, "is there anything humorous in the dismemberment of three poor workmen?"
"Oh, it isn't that—it isn't that, my dear," smiled the inventor. "It merely struck me as funny—this old notion of explosives."
"What old notion?" I inquired.
"Why, the fallacy of the present methods of manipulating nitro-glycerine."
"I presume you have a better scheme?" I advanced.
"Mr. Griggs," cried Hawkins' wife, in terror that was not all feigned, "don't suggest it!"
"Now, my dear——" began Hawkins, stiffening at once.
"Hush, Herbert, hush! You've made mischief enough with your inventions, but you have never, thank goodness, dabbled in explosives."
"If I wanted to tell you what I know about explosives, and what I could do——" declaimed Hawkins.
"Don't tell us, Mr. Hawkins," laughed my wife. "A sort of superstitious dread comes over me at the notion."
"Mrs. Griggs!" exclaimed Hawkins, eying my wife with a glare which in any other man would have earned him the best licking I could give him—but which, like many other things, had to be excused in Hawkins.
"Herbert!" said his wife, authoritatively. "Be still. Actually, you're quite excited!"
Hawkins lapsed into sulky silence, and the meal ended with just a hint of constraint.
Mrs. Hawkins and my wife adjourned to the drawing-room, and Hawkins and I were left, theoretically, to smoke a post-prandial cigar. Hawkins, however, had other plans for my entertainment.
"Are they up-stairs?" he muttered, as footsteps sounded above us.
"They seem to be."
"Then you come with me," whispered Hawkins, heading me toward the servants' staircase.
"Where?" I inquired suspiciously.
There was a peculiar glitter in his eye.
"Come along and you'll see," chuckled Hawkins, beginning the ascent. "Oh, I'll tell you what," he continued, pausing on the second landing, "these women make me tired!"
"Yes, they do. You needn't look huffy, Griggs. It isn't your wife or my wife. It's the whole sex. They chatter and prattle and make silly jokes about things they're absolutely incapable of understanding."
"My dear Hawkins," I said soothingly, "you wrong the fair sex."
"Oh, I wrong 'em, eh? Well, what woman knows the first thing about explosives?" demanded Hawkins heatedly. "Dynamite or rhexite or meganite or carbonite or stonite or vigorite or cordite or ballistite or thorite or maxamite——"
"Stop, Hawkins, stop!" I cried.
"Well, that's all, anyway," said the inventor. "But what woman knows enough about them to argue the thing intelligently? And yet my wife tells me—I, who have spent nearly half a lifetime in scientific labor—she actually tells me to—to shut up, when I hint at having some slight knowledge of the subject!"
"I know, Hawkins, but your scientific labors have made her—and me—suffer in the past."
"Oh, they have, have they?" grunted Hawkins, climbing toward the top floor. "Well, come up, Griggs."
I knew the door at which he stopped. It was that of Hawkins' workshop or laboratory. It was on the floor with the servants, who, poor things, probably did not know or dared not object to the risk they ran.
"What's the peculiar humming?" I asked, pausing on the threshold.
"Only my electric motor," sneered Hawkins. "It won't bite you, Griggs. Come in."
"And what is this big, brass bolt on the door?" I continued.
"That? Oh, that's an idea!" cried the inventor. "That's my new springlock. Just look at that lock, Griggs. It simply can't be opened from the outside, and only from the inside by one who knows how to work it. And I'm the only one who knows. When I patent this thing——"
"Well, I wouldn't close the door, Hawkins," I murmured. "You might faint or something, and I'd be shut in here till somebody remembered to hunt for me."
"Bah!" exclaimed Hawkins, slamming the door, violently. "Really, for a grown man, you're the most chicken-hearted individual I ever met. But—what's the use of talking about it? To get back to explosives——"
"Oh, never mind the explosives," I said wearily. "You're right, and that settles it."
"See here," said Hawkins sharply; "I had no intention of mentioning explosives to-night, for a particular reason. In a day or two, you'll hear the country ringing with my name, in connection with explosives. But since the subject has come up, if you want to listen to me for a few minutes, I'll interest you mightily."
Kind Heaven! Could I have realized then the bitter truth of those last words!
"Yes, sir," the inventor went on, "as I was saying—or was I saying it?—they all have their faults—dynamite, rhexite, meganite, carbonite, ston——"
"You went over that list before."
"Well, they all have their faults. Either they explode when you don't want them to, or they don't explode when you do want them to, or they're liable to explode spontaneously, or something else. It's all due, as I have invariably contended, to impure nitro-glycerine or unscientific handling of the pure article."
"Yes, indeed. Now, what would you say to an explosive——"
"Absolutely nothing," I replied decidedly. "I should pass it without even a nod."
"Never mind your nonsense, Griggs. What would you—er—what would you think of an explosive that could be dropped from the roof of a house without detonating?"
"An explosive," continued Hawkins impressively, "into which a man might throw a lighted lamp without the slightest fear! How would that strike you?"
"Well, Hawkins," I said, "I think I should have grave doubts of the man's mental condition."
"Oh, just cut out that foolish talk," snapped the inventor. "I'm quite serious. Suppose I should tell you that I had thought and thought over this problem, and finally hit upon an idea for just such a powder? Where would dynamite and rhexite and meganite and all the rest of them be, beside——"
He paused theatrically.
"Don't know, Hawkins," I said, unable to absorb any of his enthusiasm. "But let us thank goodness that it is only an idea as yet."
"Oh, but it isn't!" cried the inventor.
"Hawkins!" I gasped, springing to my feet. "What do you mean?"
"I mean just this: Do you see that little vat in the corner?"
I stared fearfully in the direction indicated. A little vat, indeed, I saw. It stood there, half-filled with a sticky mess, through which an agitator, run by the electric motor, was revolving slowly.
"That's Hawkinsite, in the process of manufacture!" the inventor announced.
A sickly terror crept over me. I made instinctively for the door.
"Oh, come back," said Hawkins. "You can't get out, anyway, until I undo the lock. But there's no danger whatever, my dear boy. Just sit down and I'll explain why."
I had no choice about sitting down; a most peculiar weakness of the knees made standing for the moment impossible. I drew my chair to the diagonally opposite corner of the apartment, and sat there with my eyes glued upon the vat.
"Now, when all these fellows go about nitrating their glycerine," said Hawkins serenely, "they simply overlook the scientific principle which I have discovered. For instance, out there at Pompton the vat exploded in the very act of mixing in the glycerine. That's just what is being done over in that corner at this minute——"
"Ouch!" I cried involuntarily.
"But it won't happen here—it can't happen here," said the inventor impatiently. "I am using an entirely different combination of chemicals. Now, if there was any trouble of that sort coming, Griggs, the contents of that vat would have begun to turn green before now. But as you see——"
"Haw—Hawkins!" I croaked hoarsely, pointing a shaking finger at the machine.
"Well, what is it now?"
"Look!" I managed to articulate.
"Oh, Lord!" sniffed the inventor. "I suppose as soon as I said that, you began to see green shades appear, eh? Why—dear me!"
Hawkins stepped rapidly over to the side of his mixer. Then he stepped away with considerably greater alacrity.
There was no two ways about it; the devilish mess in the vat was taking on a marked tinge of green!
"Well—I—I guess I'll shut off the power," muttered Hawkins, suiting the action to the word.
"When the agitator has stopped, Griggs, the mass will cool at once, so you needn't worry."
"If it didn't cool, would it—would it blow up?" I quavered.
"Oh, it would," admitted Hawkins, rather nervously. "But as soon as the mixing ceases, the slight color disappears, as you see."
"I don't see it; it seems to me to be getting greener than ever."
"Well, it's not!" the inventor snapped. "Five minutes from now, that stuff will be an even brown once more."
"And while it's regaining the even brown, why not clear out of here?" I said eagerly.
"Yes, we may as well, I suppose," said Hawkins, with a readiness which refused to be masked under his assumption of reluctance. "Come on, Griggs."
Hawkins turned the lever on his fancy lock, remarking again:
"Well, open the door."
"It's op—why, what's wrong here?" muttered the inventor, twisting the lever back and forth several times.
"Oh, good heavens, Hawkins!" I groaned. "Has your lock gone back on you, too?"
"No, it has not. Of course not," growled the inventor, tugging at his lever with almost frantic energy. "It's stuck—a little new—that's all. Er—do you see a screw-driver on that table, Griggs?"
I handed him the tool as quickly as possible, noting at the same time that despite the cessation of the stirring "Hawkinsite" was getting greener every second.
"I'll just take it off," panted Hawkins, digging at one of the screws. "No time to tinker with it now."
"Why not? There's no danger."
"Certainly there isn't. But you—you seem to be a little nervous about it, Griggs, and——"
"Hawkins," I cried, "what are those bubbles of red gas?"
"What bubbles?" Hawkins turned as if he had been shot. "Great Scott, Griggs! There were no bubbles of red gas rising out of that stuff, were there?"
"There they go again," I said, pointing to the vat, from which a new ebullition of scarlet vapor had just risen. "What does it mean?"
"Mean?" shrieked Hawkins, turning white and trembling in every limb.
"Yes, mean!" I repeated, shaking him. "Does it mean that——"
"It means that the cursed stuff has over-heated itself, after all. Lord! Lord! However did it happen? Something must have been impure. Something——"
"Never mind something. What will it do?"
"It—it—oh, my God, Griggs! It'll blow this house into ten thousand pieces within two minutes! Why—why, there's power enough in that little vat to demolish the Brooklyn Bridge, according to my calculations. There's enough explosive force in that much Hawkinsite to wreck every office building down-town!"
"And we're shut in here with it!"
"Yes! Yes! But let us——"
"Here! Suppose I turn the water into the thing?"
"Don't!" shouted the inventor wildly, battering at the door with his fists. "It would send us into kingdom come the second it touched! Don't stand there gaping, Griggs! Help me smash down this door! We must get out, man! We must get the women out! We must warn the neighborhood! Smash her, Griggs! Smash her! Smash the door!"
"Hawkins," I said, resignedly, as a vicious "sizzzz" announced the evolution of a great puff of red gas, "we can never do it in two minutes. Better not attract the rest of the household by your racket. They may possibly escape. Stop!"
"And stay here and be blown to blazes?" cried Hawkins. "No, sir! Down she goes!"
He seized a stool and dealt a crashing blow upon the panel. It splintered. He raised the stool again, and I could hear footsteps hurrying from below. I opened my mouth to shout a warning, and——
Well, I don't know that I can describe my sensations with any accuracy, vivid as they were at the time.
Some resistless force lifted me from the floor and propelled me toward the half shattered door. Dimly I noted that the same thing had happened to Hawkins. For the tiniest fraction of a second he seemed to be floating horizontally in the air. Then I felt my head collide with wood; the door parted, and I shot through the opening.
I saw the hallway before me; I remember observing with vague wonder that the gas-light went out just as it caught my eye. And then an awful flash blinded me, a roar of ten thousand cannon seemed to split my skull—and that was all.
My eyes opened in the Hawkins' drawing-room—or what remained of it. Our family physician was diligently winding a bandage around my right ankle. An important-looking youth in the uniform of an ambulance surgeon was stitching up a portion of my left forearm with cheerful nonchalance.
My brand new dress suit, I observed, had lost all semblance to an article of clothing; they had covered me, as I lay upon the couch, with a torn portiere.
The apartment was strangely dark. Here and there stood a lantern, such as are used by the fire department. In the dim light, I saw the figure of a policeman standing tiptoe upon a satin chair, plugging with soap the broken gaspipe which had once supported the Hawkins' chandelier.
The ceiling was all down. The walls were bare to the lath in huge patches. The windows had disappeared, and a chill autumn night wind swept through the room.
Bric-a-brac there was none, although here and there, in the mass of plaster on the floor, gleamed bits of glass and china which might once have been parts of ornaments. Hawkinsite had evidently not been quite as powerful as its inventor had imagined, but it had certainly contained force enough to blow about ten thousand dollars out of Hawkins' bank account.
From the street came the hoarse murmur of a crowd. I twisted my head and my eyes fell upon two firemen in the hallway. They were dragging down a line of hose from somewhere up-stairs.
Across the room sat my wife and Mrs. Hawkins, disheveled, but alive and apparently unharmed. Hawkins himself leaned wearily back upon a divan, a huge bandage sewed about his forehead, one arm in a sling, and a police sergeant at his side, notebook in hand.
I felt a fiendish exultation at the sight of that official; for one fond moment I hoped that Hawkins was under arrest, that he was in for a life sentence.
"He's conscious, doctor," said the ambulance surgeon.
"Ah, so he is," said my own medical man, as the ladies rushed to my side. "Now, Mr. Griggs, do you feel any pain in the——"
"Oh, Griggs!" cried Hawkins, staggering toward me. "Have you come back to life? Say, Griggs, just think of it! My workshop's blown to smithereens! Every single note I ever made has been destroyed! Isn't it aw——"
In joyful chorus, my wife, Mrs. Hawkins and I said:
"But think of it! My notes! The careful record of half a——"
"Herbert!" said his—considerably—better half. "That—will—do!"
"It—oh, well," groaned the inventor disconsolately, limping back to the divan and the somewhat astonished sergeant of police. Hawkins must have had some sort of influence with the press. Beyond a bare mention of the explosion, the matter never found its way into the newspapers.
After I got around again I tried in vain to spread the tale broadcast. I had some notion that the notoriety might cure Hawkins.
But, after all, I don't know that it would have done much good. I cannot think that a man whose inventive genius will survive an explosion of Hawkinsite is likely to be greatly worried by mere newspaper notoriety.
The name and the precise location of the hotel are immaterial. If you happened to be there that night you know very nearly all that occurred; if not, you have in all probability never heard of it, for I understand that the proprietors took every precaution against publicity.
Let it suffice, then, that the hotel is a prominent and a fashionable one, located somewhere between the Battery and the Bronx, and that Hawkins and I sat at a table in the restaurant on that particular evening and feasted.
The inventor had called at my office and dragged me away to dine with him, rather to my surprise, for I believed him to be somewhere in the South with his wife.
You see, after a certain explosion in their home, a month or two of reconstruction had been necessary; and I opine that Mrs. Hawkins had thought best to remove her husband while the repairs were being made. If he had been there it is dollars to doughnuts he would have invented a new bricklayer or a novel plastering machine and wrecked the whole place anew.
It was in reply to my query as to his presence in New York that Hawkins said:
"Well, you know, Griggs, it impressed me as very foolish from the first—that idea of my wife's of getting out of town while the place was being rebuilt."
"She may have had her reasons, Hawkins," I suggested.
"Possibly, although I fail to see what they were. When a man's own home is being built—or rebuilt—his place is on the spot, to see that everything is done right. Now, how, for instance, could I, away down in Georgia, know that those workmen were properly fitting up my new workshop?"
"Workshop?" I gasped. "Are you having another one built?"
"Certainly," snapped Hawkins. "I didn't mention it to Mrs. Hawkins, for she seems foolishly set against my continuing my scientific labors. But I fixed it on the sly with the architect. It's all finished now—has been for a week and over—power and everything else."
"Hawkins," I said, sadly, "are you going right on with your experimenting?"
"Of course I am," replied the inventor, rather warmly. "It's altogether beyond your poor little brain, Griggs, but scientific work is the very breath of my life! I can't be happy without it; I'm not going to try. Why, all those seven weeks down South one idea simply roared in my head. I had to come home and perfect it—and I did. I've been in New York nearly three weeks, working on it," concluded Hawkins, complacently.
"And you've managed to perfect another accursed——" I began.
Just then I ceased speaking and watched Hawkins. His ears had pricked up like a horse's. I, too, listened and heard what seemed to be a heavy automobile outdoors; at any rate, it was the characteristic chugg-chugg-chugg of a touring car, and nowadays a commonplace sound enough.
But it affected Hawkins deeply. An ecstatic smile overspread his face, and he drew in his breath with a long, happy:
"Been buying a new auto, Hawkins?" I asked, carelessly.
"Auto be hanged!" replied the inventor, energetically. "Do you imagine that an automobile is making that noise? I guess not! That's my new invention, Griggs!"
"What!" I cried. "Here? In this hotel?"
"Right here in this hotel—right under our feet," said Hawkins, proudly. "That noise comes from the Hawkins Gasowashine!"
I think I stared open-mouthed at Hawkins for a moment or two; I know that I leaned back and shook with as violent mirth as might be permitted in so solemnly proper a resort.
"Well, does that impress you as particularly humorous?" demanded Hawkins, angrily.
"Hawkins," I said, "why don't you start in and write nonsense verse? There's a fortune waiting for you."
"I must say, Griggs," rejoined the inventor, sourly, "that you have very little comprehension of the advertising value of a good name. Who under the sun would ever remember the 'Hawkins Gasolene Washing Machine,' if they saw it in a magazine? But—'The Gasowashine'!"
"So it's a washing machine?"
"Of course. It's the one perfect contrivance for washing and drying dishes; and let me tell you the basic principle of that machine breathes genius, if I do say it. Why, Griggs, just think! You can pile in three or four hundred dishes, simply start the motor, and then sit down while the clean, dry dishes are piled neatly on the table."
"And they're really using it here? It—it works?" I asked, wonderingly.
"Well, they're going to use it," said Hawkins, rising. "I have consented to allow them to try my model. It arrived here just before we did."
"Hawkins, have we been sitting right over that thing all this time?"
"Don't try to be comic, Griggs," said the inventor, bruskly. "I'm going down to see who's fooling with that motor. It should not have been touched, although I must say it's a satisfaction to sit in a first-class place like this and hear my own machinery running. Are you coming?"
I will admit that I was curious about the contrivance. I followed Hawkins through the crowded dining-room to a door in the back.
Then, dodging a dozen hurrying waiters, we made our way down an incline into the kitchen and through that apartment, past steam tables and ranges and pots and kettles and other paraphernalia of the cuisine.
At the farther end of the room stood a massive affair of oak. It looked, as nearly as it resembled any other thing on earth, like a piano box; but on each side, near the top, was a huge fly-wheel, the two being apparently fastened to the ends of an axle.
For the rest of the mechanism, it was all concealed. I rightly surmised the monstrosity to be the Gasowashine.
The fly-wheels were revolving slowly, and this seemed to irritate Hawkins.
"Good-evening, Mr. Macdougal," he said to a puzzled looking gentleman, who stood eying the affair. "Mr. Griggs, Mr. Macdougal, the manager. So some one started it, did he?"
"One of the 'buses happened to touch it, and it started itself," replied the manager, gazing on the contrivance. "It's quite safe to have about, is it not, Mr. Hawkins?"
"Safe? Certainly it is safe."
"I mean to say, it won't injure the dishes?" the gentleman continued, with a doubtful smile. "You see, we have filled the main compartment with hot water, as you directed, and put in three hundred pieces of our best crockery."
"Mr. Macdougal," said Hawkins icily, "if one dish is broken, I'll pay for it and make you a present of the machine, if you say so. If you do not wish to make the test, doubtless there are other hotel men in New York who will appreciate its advantages."
"Not at all, not at all," cried the manager. "I appreciate fully——"
"All right," said Hawkins shortly. "Now, the dishes are all in, are they? Very well. I'll explain the thing to Mr. Griggs and then start it. You see, Griggs, the dishes are in here."
He tapped the side of the big box.
"When I turn on the power, they are thoroughly rubbed and soused by my Automatic Scrubber—a separate patent, by the way—and then they reach this spot."
He rapped upon the box near the end.
"Here they are forced against a continuous dish-towel, which runs across rollers all the time. Just think of it! Sixty yards of dish-towel, rolling over and over and over! After that—but you shall see how they look after that. I'll start her."
He twisted a valve of some sort. The chugg-chugging became more pronounced, and the fly-wheels revolved with very perceptibly increased rapidity.
From somewhere inside the thing emanated a gentle rattle and swish of crockery and suds. Hawkins stood back and regarded it proudly.
"There's another great point about the Gasowashine, too," he said. "As you see, it's too heavy to shove from place to place. What do we do?"
"Leave it where it is," I hazarded.
"Not at all. We simply invert it! The whole business is water-tight. Every door fits so closely that it's impossible for a drop to escape. Now, if I wished to move it to the other end of this room, I should simply turn the Gasowashine upside down, allow it to rest upon the fly-wheels, which keep on revolving of course, and steer it wherever I desired."