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The Man Who Rocked the Earth
by Arthur Train
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The MAN WHO ROCKED THE EARTH

By ARTHUR TRAIN AND ROBERT WILLIAMS WOOD



Reprint Edition 1974 by Arno Press Inc. A New York Times Company New York—1975

SCIENCE FICTION ADVISORY EDITORS R. Reginald Douglas Menville

Copyright (C) 1915 by Doubleday, Page & Company

All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign languages, including the Scandinavian

Reprinted by permission of Mrs. Robert W. Wood

Reprinted from a copy in The Library of the University of California, Riverside

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Train, Arthur Cheney, 1875-1945. The man who rocked the earth.

(Science fiction) Reprint of the ed. published by Doubleday, Page, Garden City, N. Y.

I. Wood, Robert Williams, 1868-1955, joint author. II. Title. III. Series. PZ3.T682Mak6 [PS3539.R23] 813'.5'2 74-16523 ISBN 0-405-06315-6



THE MAN WHO ROCKED THE EARTH

"I thought, too, of the first and most significant realization which the reading of astronomy imposes: that of the exceeding delicacy of the world's position; how, indeed, we are dependent for life, and all that now is, upon the small matter of the tilt of the poles; and that we, as men, are products, as it were, not only of earth's precarious position, but of her more precarious tilt."—W. L. COMFORT, Nov., 1914



PROLOGUE

By July 1, 1916, the war had involved every civilized nation upon the globe except the United States of North and of South America, which had up to that time succeeded in maintaining their neutrality. Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Switzerland, Poland, Austria Hungary, Lombardy, and Servia, had been devastated. Five million adult male human beings had been exterminated by the machines of war, by disease, and by famine. Ten million had been crippled or invalided. Fifteen million women and children had been rendered widows or orphans. Industry there was none. No crops were harvested or sown. The ocean was devoid of sails. Throughout European Christendom women had taken the place of men as field hands, labourers, mechanics, merchants, and manufacturers. The amalgamated debt of the involved nations, amounting to more than $100,000,000,000, had bankrupted the world. Yet the starving armies continued to slaughter one another.

Siberia was a vast charnel-house of Tartars, Chinese, and Russians. Northern Africa was a holocaust. Within sixty miles of Paris lay an army of two million Germans, while three million Russians had invested Berlin. In Belgium an English army of eight hundred and fifty thousand men faced an equal force of Prussians and Austrians, neither daring to take the offensive.

The inventive genius of mankind, stimulated by the exigencies of war, had produced a multitude of death-dealing mechanisms, most of which had in turn been rendered ineffective by some counter-invention of another nation. Three of these products of the human brain, however, remained unneutralized and in large part accounted for the impasse at which the hostile armies found themselves. One of these had revolutionized warfare in the field, and the other two had destroyed those two most important factors of the preliminary campaign—the aeroplane and the submarine. The German dirigibles had all been annihilated within the first ten months of the war in their great cross-channel raid by Pathe contact bombs trailed at the ends of wires by high-flying French planes. This, of course, had from the beginning been confidently predicted by the French War Department. But by November, 1915, both the allied and the German aerial fleets had been wiped from the clouds by Federston's vortex guns, which by projecting a whirling ring of air to a height of over five thousand feet crumpled the craft in mid-sky like so many butterflies in a simoon.

The second of these momentous inventions was Captain Barlow's device for destroying the periscopes of submarines, thus rendering them blind and helpless. Once they were forced to the surface such craft were easily destroyed by gun fire or driven to a sullen refuge in protecting harbours.

The third, and perhaps the most vital, invention was Dufay's nitrogen-iodide pellets, which when sown by pneumatic guns upon the slopes of a battlefield, the ground outside intrenchments, or round the glacis of a fortification made approach by an attacking army impossible and the position impregnable. These pellets, only the size of No. 4 bird shot and harmless out of contact with air, became highly explosive two minutes after they had been scattered broadcast upon the soil, and any friction would discharge them with sufficient force to fracture or dislocate the bones of the human foot or to put out of service the leg of a horse. The victim attempting to drag himself away inevitably sustained further and more serious injuries, and no aid could be given to the injured, as it was impossible to reach them. A field well planted with such pellets was an impassable barrier to either infantry or cavalry, and thus any attack upon a fortified position was doomed to failure. By surprise alone could a general expect to achieve a victory. Offensive warfare had come almost to a standstill.

Germany had seized Holland, Denmark, and Switzerland. Italy had annexed Dalmatia and the Trentino; and a new Slav republic had arisen out of what had been Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Servia, Roumania, Montenegro, Albania, and Bulgaria. Turkey had vanished from the map of Europe; while the United States of South America, composed of the Spanish-speaking South American Republics, had been formed. The mortality continued at an average of two thousand a day, of which 75 per cent. was due to starvation and the plague. Maritime commerce had ceased entirely, and in consequence of this the merchant ships of all nations rotted at the docks.

The Emperor of Germany, and the kings of England and of Italy, had all voluntarily abdicated in favour of a republican form of government. Europe and Asia had run amuck, hysterical with fear and blood. As well try to pacify a pack of mad and fighting dogs as these frenzied myriads with their half-crazed generals. They lay, these armies, across the fair bosom of the earth like dying monsters, crimson in their own blood, yet still able to writhe upward and deal death to any other that might approach. They were at a deadlock, yet each feared to make the first overtures for peace. There was, in actuality, no longer even an English or a German nation. It was an orgy of homicide, in which the best of mankind were wantonly destroyed, leaving only the puny, the feeble-minded, the deformed, and the ineffectual to perpetuate the race.



I

It was three minutes past three postmeridian in the operating room of the new Wireless Station recently installed at the United States Naval Observatory at Georgetown. Bill Hood, the afternoon operator, was sitting in his shirt sleeves with his receivers at his ears, smoking a corncob pipe and awaiting a call from the flagship Lincoln of the North Atlantic Patrol with which, somewhere just off Hatteras, he had been in communication a few moments before. The air was quiet.

Hood was a fat man, and so of course good-natured; but he was serious about his work and hated all interfering amateurs. Of late these wireless pests had become particularly obnoxious, as practically everything was sent out in code and they had nothing with which to occupy themselves. But it was a hot day and none of them seemed to be at work. On one side of his desk a tall thermometer indicated that the temperature of the room was 91 degrees Fahrenheit; on the other a big clock, connected with some extraneous mechanism by a complicated system of brass rods and wires, ticked off the minutes and seconds with a peculiar metallic self-consciousness, as if aware of its own importance in being the official timepiece, as far as there was an official timepiece, for the entire United States of America.

Hood from time to time tested his converters and detector, and then resumed his non-official study of the adventures of a great detective who pursued the baffling criminal by the aid of all the latest scientific discoveries. Hood thought it was good stuff, although at the same time he knew, of course, that it was rot. He was a practical man of little imagination, and, though the detective did not interest him particularly, he liked the scientific part of the stories. He was thrifty, of Scotch-Irish descent, and at two minutes past three had never had an adventure in his life. At three minutes past three he began his career as one of the celebrities of the world.

As the minute hand of the official clock dropped into its slot somebody called the Naval Observatory. The call was so faint as to be barely audible, in spite of the fact that Hood's instrument was tuned for a three-thousand-metre wave. Supposing quite naturally that the person calling had a shorter wave, he gradually cut out the inductance of his receiver; but the sound faded out entirely, and he returned to his original inductance and shunted in his condenser, upon which the call immediately increased in volume. Evidently the other chap was using a big wave, bigger than Georgetown.

Hood puckered his brows and looked about him. Lying on a shelf above his instrument was one of the new ballast coils that Henderson had used with the long waves from lightning flashes, and he leaned over and connected the heavy spiral of closely wound wire, throwing it into his circuit. Instantly the telephones spoke so loud that he could hear the shrill cry of the spark even from where the receivers lay beside him on the table. Quickly fastening them to his ears he listened. The sound was clear, sharp, and metallic, and vastly higher in pitch than a ship's call. It couldn't be the Lincoln.

"By gum!" muttered Hood. "That fellow must have a twelve-thousand-metre wave length with fifty kilowatts behind it, sure! There ain't another station in the world but this can pick him up!"

"NAA—NAA—NAA," came the call.

Throwing in his rheostat he sent an "O.K" in reply, and waited expectantly, pencil in hand. A moment more and he dropped his pencil in disgust.

"Just another bug!" he remarked aloud to the thermometer. "Ought to be poisoned! What a whale of a wave length, though!"

For several minutes he listened intently, for the amateur was sending insistently, repeating everything twice as if he meant business.

"He's a jolly joker all right," muttered Hood, this time to the clock. "Must be pretty hard up for something to do!"

Then he laughed out loud and took up the pencil again. This amateur, whoever he was, was almost as good as his detective story. The "bug" called the Naval Observatory once more and began repeating his entire message for the third time.

"To all mankind"—he addressed himself modestly—"To all mankind—To all mankind—I am the dictator—of human destiny—Through the earth's rotation—I control—day and night—summer and winter—I command the—cessation of hostilities and—the abolition of war upon the globe—I appoint the—United States—as my agent for this purpose—As evidence of my power I shall increase the length of the day—from midnight to midnight—of Thursday, July 22d, by the period of five minutes.—PAX."

The jolly joker, having repeated thus his extraordinary message to all mankind, stopped sending.

"Well, I'll be hanged!" gasped Bill Hood. Then he wound up his magnetic detector and sent an answering challenge into the ether.

"Can—the—funny—stuff!" he snapped. "And tune out—or—we'll revoke—your license!"

"What a gall!" he grunted, folding up the yellow sheet of pad paper upon which he had taken down the message to all mankind and thrusting it into his book for a marker. "All the fools aren't dead yet!"

Then he picked up the Lincoln and got down to real work. The "bug" and his message passed from memory.



II

The following Thursday afternoon a perspiring and dusty stranger from St. Louis, who, with the Metropolitan Art Museum as his objective, was trudging wearily through Central Park, New York City, at two o'clock, paused to gaze with some interest at the obelisk known as Cleopatra's Needle. The heat rose in shimmering waves from the asphalt of the roadway, but the stranger was used to heat and he was conscientiously engaged in the duty of seeing New York. Opposite the Museum he seated himself upon a bench in the shade of a faded dogwood and wiped the moisture from his eyes. The glare from the unprotected boulevards was terrific. Under these somewhat unfavourable conditions he was occupied in studying the monument of Egypt's past magnificence when he felt a slight dragging sensation. It was indefinable and had no visual concomitant. But it was as though the brakes were being gently applied to a Pullman train. He was the only human being in the neighbourhood; not even a policeman was visible; and the experience gave him a creepy feeling. Then to his amazement Cleopatra's Needle slowly toppled from its pedestal and fell with a crash across the roadway. At first he thought it an optical illusion and wiped his eyes again, but it was nothing of the kind. The monument, which had a moment before pointed to the zenith, now lay shattered in three pieces upon the softening concrete of the drive. The stranger arose and examined the fragments of the monolith, one of which lay squarely across the road, barring all passage. Round the pedestal were scattered small pieces of broken granite, and from these, after looking about cautiously, he chose one with care and placed it in his pocket.

"Gosh!" he whispered to himself as he hurried toward Fifth Avenue. "That'll just be something to tell 'em at home! Eh, Bill?"

The dragging sensation experienced by the tourist from St. Louis was felt by many millions of people all over the world, but, as in most countries it occurred coincidently with pronounced earthquake shocks and tremblings, for the most part it passed unnoticed as a specific, individual phenomenon.

Hood, in the wireless room at Georgetown, suddenly heard in his receivers a roar like that of Niagara and quickly removed them from his ears. He had never known such statics. He was familiar with electrical disturbances in the ether, but this was beyond anything in his experience. Moreover, when he next tried to use his instruments he discovered that something had put the whole apparatus out of commission. About an hour later he felt a pronounced pressure in his eardrums, which gradually passed off. The wireless refused to work for nearly eight hours, and it was still recalcitrant when he went off duty at seven o'clock. He had not felt the quivering of the earth round Washington, and being an unimaginative man he accepted the other facts of the situation philosophically. The statics would pass, and then Georgetown would be in communication with the rest of the world again, that was all. At seven o'clock the night shift came in, and Hood borrowed a pipeful of tobacco from him and put on his coat.

"Say, Bill, did you feel the shock?" asked the shift, hanging up his hat and taking a match from Hood.

"No," answered the latter, "but the statics have put the machine on the blink. She'll come round all right in an hour or so. The air's gummy with ions. Shock, did you say?"

"Sure. Had 'em all over the country. Say, the boys at the magnetic observatory claim their compass shifted east and west instead of north and south, and stayed that way for five minutes. Didn't you feel the air pressure? I should worry! And say, I just dropped into the Meteorological Department's office and looked at the barometer. She'd jumped up half an inch in about two seconds, wiggled round some, and then come back to normal. You can see the curve yourself if you ask Fraser to show you the self-registering barograph. Some doin's, I tell you!"

He nodded his head with an air of importance.

"Take your word for it," answered Hood without emotion, save for a slight annoyance at the other's arrogation of superior information. "'Tain't the first time there's been an earthquake since creation." And he strolled out, swinging to the doors behind him.

The night shift settled himself before the instruments with a look of dreary resignation.

"Say," he muttered aloud, "you couldn't jar that feller with a thirteen-inch bomb! He wouldn't even rub himself!"

Hood, meantime, bought an evening paper and walked slowly to the district where he lived. It was a fine night and there was no particular excitement in the streets. His wife opened the door.

"Well," she greeted him, "I'm glad you've come home at last. I was plumb scared something had happened to you. Such a shaking and rumbling and rattling I never did hear! Did you feel it?"

"I didn't feel nothin'!" answered Bill Hood. "Some one said there was a shock, that was all I heard about it. The machine's out of kilter."

"They won't blame you, will they?" she asked anxiously.

"You bet they won't!" he replied. "Look here, I'm hungry. Are the waffles ready?"

"Have 'em in a jiffy!" she smiled. "You go in and read your paper."

He did as he was directed, and seated himself in a rocker under the gaslight. After perusing the baseball news he turned back to the front page. The paper was a fairly late edition, containing up-to-the-minute telegraphic notes. In the centre column, alongside the announcement of the annihilation of three entire regiments of Silesians by the explosion of nitroglycerine concealed in dummy gun carriages, was the following:

CLEOPATRA'S NEEDLE FALLS

EARTHQUAKE DESTROYS FAMOUS MONUMENT

SHOCKS FELT HERE AND ALL OVER U. S.

Washington was visited by a succession of earthquake shocks early this afternoon, which, in varying force, were felt throughout the United States and Europe. Little damage was done, but those having offices in tall buildings had an unpleasant experience which they will not soon forget. A peculiar phenomenon accompanying this seismic disturbance was the variation of the magnetic needle by over eighty degrees from north to east and an extraordinary rise and fall of the barometer. All wireless communication had to be abandoned, owing to the ionizing of the atmosphere, and up to the time this edition went to press had not been resumed. Telegrams by way of Colon report similar disturbances in South America. In New York the monument in Central Park known as Cleopatra's Needle was thrown from its pedestal and broken into three pieces. The contract for its repair and replacement has already been let. The famous monument was a present from the Khedive of Egypt to the United States, and formerly stood in Alexandria. The late William H. Vanderbilt defrayed the expense of transporting it to this country.

Bill Hood read this with scant interest. The Giants had knocked the Braves' pitcher out of the box, and an earthquake seemed a small matter. His mind did not once revert to the mysterious message from Pax the day before. He was thinking of something far more important.

"Say, Nellie," he demanded, tossing aside the paper impatiently, "ain't those waffles ready yet?"



III

On that same evening, Thursday, July 22d, two astronomers attached to the Naval Observatory sat in the half darkness of the meridian-circle room watching the firmament sweep slowly across the aperture of the giant lens. The chamber was as quiet as the grave, the two men rarely speaking as they noted their observations. Paris might be taken, Berlin be razed, London put to the torch; a million human beings might be blown into eternity, or the shrieks of mangled creatures lying in heaps before pellet-strewn barbed-wire entanglements rend the summer night; great battleships of the line might plunge to the bottom, carrying their crews with them; and the dead of two continents rot unburied—yet unmoved the stars would pursue their nightly march across the heavens, cruel day would follow pitiless night, and the careless earth follow its accustomed orbit as though the race were not writhing in its death agony. Gazing into the infinity of space human existence seemed but the scum upon a rainpool, human warfare but the frenzy of insectivora. Unmindful of the starving hordes of Paris and Berlin, of plague-swept Russia, or of the drowned thousands of the North Baltic Fleet, these two men calmly studied the procession of the stars—the onward bore of the universe through space, and the spectra of newborn or dying worlds.

It was a suffocatingly hot night and their foreheads reeked with sweat. Dim shapes on the walls of the room indicated what by day was a tangle of clockwork and recording instruments, connected by electricity with various buttons and switches upon the table. The brother of the big clock in the wireless operating room hung nearby, its face illuminated by a tiny electric lamp, showing the hour to be eleven-fifty. Occasionally the younger man made a remark in a low tone, and the elder wrote something on a card.

"The 'seeing' is poor to-night," said Evarts, the younger man. "The upper air is full of striae and, though it seems like a clear night, everything looks dim—a volcanic haze probably. Perhaps the Aleutian Islands are in eruption again."

"Very likely," answered Thornton, the elder astronomer. "The shocks this afternoon would indicate something of the sort."

"Curious performance of the magnetic needle. They say it held due east for several minutes," continued Evarts, hoping to engage his senior in conversation—almost an impossibility, as he well knew.

Thornton did not reply. He was carefully observing the infinitesimal approach of a certain star to the meridian line, marked by a thread across the circle's aperture. When that point of light should cross the thread it would be midnight, and July 22, 1916, would be gone forever. Every midnight the indicating stars crossed the thread exactly on time, each night a trifle earlier than the night before by a definite and calculable amount, due to the march of the earth around the sun. So they had crossed the lines in every observatory since clocks and telescopes had been invented. Heretofore, no matter what cataclysm of nature had occurred, the star had always crossed the line not a second too soon or a second too late, but exactly on time. It was the one positively predictable thing, foretellable for ten or for ten thousand years by a simple mathematical calculation. It was surer than death or the tax-man. It was absolute.

Thornton was a reserved man of few words—impersonal, methodical, serious. He spent many nights there with Evarts, hardly exchanging a phrase with him, and then only on some matter immediately concerned with their work. Evarts could dimly see his long, grave profile bending over his eyepiece, shrouded in the heavy shadows across the table. He felt a great respect, even tenderness, for this taciturn, high-principled, devoted scientist. He had never seen him excited, hardly ever aroused. He was a man of figures, whose only passion seemed to be the "music of the spheres."

A long silence followed, during which Thornton seemed to bend more intently than ever over his eyepiece. The hand of the big clock slipped gradually to midnight.

"There's something wrong with the clock," said Thornton suddenly, and his voice sounded curiously dry, almost unnatural. "Telephone to the equatorial room for the time."

Puzzled by Thornton's manner Evarts did as instructed.

"Forty seconds past midnight," came the reply from the equatorial observer.

Evarts repeated the answer for Thornton's benefit, looking at their own clock at the same time. It pointed to exactly forty seconds past the hour. He heard Thornton suppress something like an oath.

"There's something the matter!" repeated Thornton dumbly. "Aeta isn't within five minutes of crossing. Both clocks can't be wrong!"

He pressed a button that connected with the wireless room.

"What's the time?" he called sharply through the nickel-plated speaking-tube.

"Forty-five seconds past the hour," came the answer. Then: "But I want to see you, sir. There's something queer going on. May I come in?"

"Come!" almost shouted Thornton.

A moment later the flushed face of Williams, the night operator, appeared in the doorway.

"Excuse me, sir," he stammered, "but something fierce must have happened! I thought you ought to know. The Eiffel Tower has been trying to talk to us for over two hours, but I can't get what he's saying."

"What's the matter—atmospherics?" snapped Evarts.

"No; the air was full of them, sir—shrieking with them you might say; but they've stopped now. The trouble has been that I've been jammed by the Brussels station talking to the Belgian Congo—same wave length—and I couldn't tune Brussels out. Every once in a while I'd get a word of what Paris was saying, and it's always the same word—'heure.' But just now Brussels stopped sending and I got the complete message of the Eiffel Tower. They wanted to know our time by Greenwich. I gave it to 'em. Then Paris said to tell you to take your transit with great care and send result to them immediately——"

The ordinarily calm Thornton gave a great suspiration and his face was livid. "Aeta's just crossed—we're five minutes out! Evarts, am I crazy? Am I talking straight?"

Evarts laid his hand on the other's arm.

"The earthquake's knocked out your transit," he suggested.

"And Paris—how about Paris?" asked Thornton. He wrote something down on a card mechanically and started for the door. "Get me the Eiffel Tower!" he ordered Williams.

The three men stood motionless, as the wireless man sent the Eiffel Tower call hurtling across the Atlantic:

"ETA—ETA—ETA."

"All right," whispered Williams, "I've got 'em."

"Tell Paris that our clocks are all out five minutes according to the meridian."

Williams worked the key rapidly, and then listened.

"The Eiffel Tower says that their chronometers also appear to be out by the same time, and that Greenwich and Moscow both report the same thing. Wait a minute! He says Moscow has wired that at eight o'clock last evening a tremendous aurora of bright yellow light was seen to the northwest, and that their spectroscopes showed the helium line only. He wants to know if we have any explanation to offer——"

"Explanation!" gasped Evarts. "Tell Paris that we had earthquake shocks here together with violent seismic movements, sudden rise in barometer, followed by fall, statics, and erratic variation in the magnetic needle."

"What does it all mean?" murmured Thornton, staring blankly at the younger man.

The key rattled and the rotary spark whined into a shriek. Then silence.

"Paris says that the same manifestations have been observed in Russia, Algeria, Italy, and London," called out Williams. "Ah! What's that? Nauen's calling." Again he sent the blue flame crackling between the coils. "Nauen reports an error of five minutes in their meridian observations according to the official clocks. And hello! He says Berlin has capitulated and that the Russians began marching through at daylight—that is about two hours ago. He says he is about to turn the station over to the Allied Commissioners, who will at once assume charge."

Evarts whistled.

"How about it?" he asked of Thornton.

The latter shook his head gravely.

"It may be—explainable—or," he added hoarsely, "it may mean the end of the world."

Williams sprang from his chair and confronted Thornton.

"What do you mean?" he almost shouted.

"Perhaps the universe is running down!" said Evarts soothingly. "At any rate, keep it to yourself, old chap. If the jig is up there's no use scaring people to death a month or so too soon!"

Thornton grasped an arm of each.

"Not a word of this to anybody!" he ground out through compressed lips. "Absolute silence, or hell may break loose on earth!"



IV

Free translation of the Official Report of the Imperial Commission of the Berlin Academy of Science to the Imperial Commissioners of the German Federated States:

The unprecedented cosmic phenomena which occurred on the 22d and 27th days of the month of July, and which were felt over the entire surface of the globe, have left a permanent effect of such magnitude on the position of the earth's axis in space and the duration of the period of the rotation, that it is impossible to predict at the present time the ultimate changes or modifications in the climatic conditions which may follow. This commission has considered most carefully the possible causes that may have been responsible for this catastrophe—(Weltunfall)—and by eliminating every hypothesis that was incapable of explaining all of the various disturbances, is now in a position to present two theories, either one of which appears to be capable of explaining the recent disturbances.

The phenomena in question may be briefly summarized as follows;

1. THE YELLOW AURORA. In Northern Europe this appeared suddenly on the night of July 22d as a broad, faint sheaf—(Lichtbuendel)—of clear yellow light in the western sky. Reports from America show that at Washington it appeared in the north as a narrow shaft of light, inclined at an angle of about thirty degrees with the horizon, and shooting off to the east. Near the horizon it was extremely brilliant, and the spectroscope showed that the light was due to glowing helium gas.

The Potsdam Observatory reported that the presence of sodium has been detected in the aurora; but this appears to have been a mistake due to the faintness of the light and the circumstance that no comparison spectrum was impressed on the plate. On the photograph made at the Washington Observatory the helium line is certain, as a second exposure was made with a sodium flame; and the two lines are shown distinctly separated.

2. THE NEGATIVE ACCELERATION. This phenomenon was observed to a greater or less extent all over the globe. It was especially marked near the equator; but in Northern Europe it was noted by only a few observers, though many clocks were stopped and other instruments deranged. There appears to be no doubt that a force of terrific magnitude was applied in a tangential direction to the surface of the earth, in such a direction as to oppose its axial rotation, with the effect that the surface velocity was diminished by about one part in three hundred, resulting in a lengthening of the day by five minutes, thirteen and a half seconds.

The application of this brake—(Bremsekraft), as we may term it—caused acceleration phenomena to manifest themselves precisely as on a railroad train when being brought to a stop. The change in the surface speed of the earth at the equator has amounted to about 6.4 kilometres an hour; and various observations show that this change of velocity was brought about by the operation of the unknown force for a period of time of less than three minutes. The negative acceleration thus represented would certainly be too small to produce any marked physiological sensations, and yet the reports from various places indicate that they were certainly observed. The sensations felt are usually described as similar to those experienced in a moving automobile when the brake is very gently applied.

Moreover, certain destructive actions are reported from localities near the equator—chimneys fell and tall buildings swayed; while from New York comes the report that the obelisk in Central Park was thrown from its pedestal. It appears that these effects were due to the circumstance that the alteration of velocity was propagated through the earth as a wave similar to an earthquake wave, and that the effects were cumulative at certain points—a theory that is substantiated by reports that at certain localities, even near the equator, no effects were noted.

3. TIDAL WAVES. These were observed everywhere and were very destructive in many places. In the Panama Canal, which is near the equator and which runs nearly east and west, the sweep of the water was so great that it flowed over the Gatun Lock. On the eastern coasts of the various continents there was a recession of the sea, the fall of the tide being from three to five metres below the low-water mark. On the western coasts there was a corresponding rise, which in some cases reached a level of over twelve metres.

That the tidal phenomena were not more marked and more destructive is a matter of great surprise, and has been considered as evidence that the retarding force was not applied at a single spot on the earth's surface, but was a distributed force, which acted on the water as well as on the land, though to a less extent. It is difficult, however, to conceive of a force capable of acting in such a way; and Bjoernson's theory of the magnetic vortex in the ether has been rejected by this commission.

4. ATMOSPHERIC DISTURBANCES. Some time after the appearance of the yellow aurora a sudden rise in atmospheric pressure, followed by a gradual fall considerably below the normal pressure, was recorded over the entire surface of the globe. Calculations based on the time of arrival of this disturbance at widely separated points show that it proceeded with the velocity of sound from a point situated probably in Northern Labrador. The maximum rise of pressure recorded was registered at Halifax, the self-recording barographs showing that the pressure rose over six centimetres in less than five minutes.

5. SHIFT IN DIRECTION OF THE EARTH'S AXIS. The axis of the earth has been shifted in space by the disturbance and now points almost exactly toward the double star Delta Ursae Minoris. This change appears to have resulted from the circumstance that the force was applied to the surface of the globe in a direction not quite parallel to the direction of rotation, the result being the development of a new axis and a shift in the positions of the poles, which it will now be necessary to rediscover.

It appears that these most remarkable cosmic phenomena can be explained in either of two ways: they may have resulted from an explosive or volcanic discharge from the surface of the earth, or from the oblique impact of a meteoric stream moving at a very high velocity. It seems unlikely that sufficient energy to bring about the observed changes could have been developed by a volcanic disturbance of the ordinary type; but if radioactive forces are allowed to come into play the amount of energy available is practically unlimited.

It is difficult, however, to conceive of any way in which a sudden liberation of atomic energy could have been brought about by any terrestrial agency; so that the first theory, though able to account for the facts, seems to be the less tenable of the two. The meteoric theory offers no especial difficulty. The energy delivered by a comparatively small mass of finely divided matter, moving at a velocity of several hundred kilometres a second—and such a velocity is by no means unknown—would be amply sufficient to alter the velocity of rotation by the small amount observed.

Moreover, the impact of such a meteoric stream may have developed a temperature sufficiently high to bring about radioactive changes, the effect of which would be to expel helium and other disintegration products at cathode-ray velocity—(Kathoden-Strahlen-Fortpflanzung-Geschwindigkeit)—from the surface of the earth; and the recoil exerted by this expulsion would add itself to the force of the meteoric impact.

The presence of helium makes this latter hypothesis not altogether improbable, while the atmospheric wave of pressure would result at once from the disruption of the air by the passage of the meteor stream through it. Exploration of the region in which it seems probable that the disturbance took place will undoubtedly furnish the data necessary for the complete solution of the problem." [Pp. 17-19.]



V

At ten o'clock one evening, shortly after the occurrences heretofore described, an extraordinary conference occurred at the White House, probably the most remarkable ever held there or elsewhere. At the long table at which the cabinet meetings took place sat six gentlemen in evening dress, each trying to appear unconcerned, if not amused. At the head of the table was the President of the United States; next to him Count von Koenitz, the German Ambassador, representing the Imperial[1] German Commissioners, who had taken over the reins of the German Government after the abdication of the Kaiser; and, on the opposite side, Monsieur Emil Liban, Prince Rostoloff, and Sir John Smith, the respective ambassadors of France, Russia, and Great Britain. The sixth person was Thornton, the astronomer.

[Footnote 1: The Germans were unwilling to surrender the use of the words "Empire" and "Imperial," even after they had adopted a republican form of government.]

The President had only succeeded in bringing this conference about after the greatest effort and the most skilful diplomacy—in view of the extreme importance which, he assured them all, he attached to the matters which he desired to lay before them. Only for this reason had the ambassadors of warring nations consented to meet—unofficially as it were.

"With great respect, your Excellency," said Count von Koenitz, "the matter is preposterous—as much so as a fairy tale by Grimm! This wireless operator of whom you speak is lying about these messages. If he received them at all—a fact which hangs solely upon his word—he received them after and not before the phenomena recorded."

The President shook his head. "That might hold true of the first message—the one received July 19th," said he, "but the second message, foretelling the lengthening of July 27th, was delivered on that day, and was in my hands before the disturbances occurred."

Von Koenitz fingered his moustache and shrugged his shoulders. It was clear that he regarded the whole affair as absurd, undignified.

Monsieur Liban turned impatiently from him.

"Your Excellency," he said, addressing the President, "I cannot share the views of Count von Koenitz. I regard this affair as of the most stupendous importance. Messages or no messages, extraordinary natural phenomena are occurring which may shortly end in the extinction of human life upon the planet. A power which can control the length of the day can annihilate the globe."

"You cannot change the facts," remarked Prince Rostoloff sternly to the German Ambassador. "The earth has changed its orbit. Professor Vaskofsky, of the Imperial College, has so declared. There is some cause. Be it God or devil, there is a cause. Are we to sit still and do nothing while the globe's crust freezes and our armies congeal into corpses?" He trembled with agitation.

"Calm yourself, mon cher Prince!" said Monsieur Liban. "So far we have gained fifteen minutes and have lost nothing! But, as you say, whether or not the sender of these messages is responsible, there is a cause, and we must find it."

"But how? That is the question," exclaimed the President almost apologetically, for he felt, as did Count von Koenitz, that somehow an explanation would shortly be forthcoming that would make this conference seem the height of the ridiculous. "I have already," he added hastily, "instructed the entire force of the National Academy of Sciences to direct its energies toward the solution of these phenomena. Undoubtedly Great Britain, Russia, Germany, and France are doing the same. The scientists report that the yellow aurora seen in the north, the earthquakes, the variation of the compass, and the eccentricities of the barometer are probably all connected more or less directly with the change in the earth's orbit. But they offer no explanation. They do not suggest what the aurora is nor why its appearance should have this effect. It, therefore, seems to me clearly my duty to lay before you all the facts as far as they are known to me. Among these facts are the mysterious messages received by wireless at the Naval Observatory immediately preceding these events."

"Post hoc, ergo propter hoc!" half sneered Von Koenitz.

The President smiled wearily.

"What do you wish me to do?" he asked, glancing round the table. "Shall we remain inactive? Shall we wait and see what may happen?"

"No! No!" shouted Rostoloff, jumping to his feet. "Another week and we may all be plunged into eternity. It is suicidal not to regard this matter seriously. We are sick from war. And perhaps Count von Koenitz, in view of the fall of Berlin, would welcome something of the sort as an honourable way out of his country's difficulties."

"Sir!" cried the count, leaping to his feet. "Have a care! It has cost Russia four million men to reach Berlin. When we have taken Paris we shall recapture Berlin and commence the march of our victorious eagles toward Moscow and the Winter Palace."

"Gentlemen! Gentlemen! Be seated, I implore you!" exclaimed the President.

The Russian and German ambassadors somewhat ungraciously resumed their former places, casting at each other glances of undisguised contempt.

"As I see the matter," continued the President, "there are two distinct propositions before you: The first relates to how far the extraordinary events of the past week are of such a character as to demand joint investigation and action by the Powers. The second involves the cause of these events and their connection with and relation to the sender of the messages signed Pax. I shall ask you to signify your opinion as to each of these questions."

"I believe that some action should be taken, based on the assumption that they are manifestations of one and the same power or cause," said Monsieur Liban emphatically.

"I agree with the French Ambassador," growled Rostoloff.

"I am of opinion that the phenomena should be the subject of proper scientific investigation," remarked Count von Koenitz more calmly. "But as far as these messages are concerned they are, if I may be pardoned for saying so, a foolish joke. It is undignified to take any cognizance of them."

"What do you think, Sir John?" asked the President, turning to the English Ambassador.

"Before making up my mind," returned the latter quietly, "I should like to see the operator who received them."

"By all means!" exclaimed Von Koenitz.

The President pressed a button and his secretary entered.

"I had anticipated such a desire on the part of all of you," he announced, "and arranged to have him here. He is waiting outside. Shall I have him brought in?"

"Yes! Yes!" answered Rostoloff. And the others nodded.

The door opened, and Bill Hood, wearing his best new blue suit and nervously twisting a faded bicycle cap between his fingers, stumbled awkwardly into the room. His face was bright red with embarrassment and one of his cheeks exhibited a marked protuberance. He blinked in the glare of the electric light.

"Mr. Hood," the President addressed him courteously, "I have sent for you to explain to these gentlemen, who are the ambassadors of the great European Powers, the circumstances under which you received the wireless messages from the unknown person describing himself as 'Pax.'"

Hood shifted from his right to his left foot and pressed his lips together. Von Koenitz fingered the waxed ends of his moustache and regarded the operator whimsically.

"In the first place," went on the President, "we desire to know whether the messages which you have reported were received under ordinary or under unusual conditions. In a word, could you form any opinion as to the whereabouts of the sender?"

Hood scratched the side of his nose in a manner politely doubtful.

"Sure thing, your Honour," he answered at last. "Sure the conditions was unusual. That feller has some juice and no mistake."

"Juice?" inquired Von Koenitz.

"Yare—current. Whines like a steel top. Fifty kilowatts sure, and maybe more! And a twelve-thousand-metre wave."

"I do not fully understand," interjected Rostoloff. "Please explain, sir."

"Ain't nothin' to explain," returned Hood. "He's just got a hell of a wave length, that's all. Biggest on earth. We're only tuned for a three-thousand-metre wave. At first I could hardly take him at all. I had to throw in our new Henderson ballast coils before I could hear properly. I reckon there ain't another station in Christendom can get him."

"Ah," remarked Von Koenitz. "One of your millionaire amateurs, I suppose."

"Yare," agreed Hood. "I thought sure he was a nut."

"A what?" interrupted Sir John Smith.

"A nut," answered Hood. "A crank, so to speak."

"Ah, 'krank'!" nodded the German. "Exactly—a lunatic! That is precisely what I say!"

"But I don't think it's no nut now," countered Hood valiantly. "If he is a bug he's the biggest bug in all creation, that's all I can say. He's got the goods, that's what he's got. He'll do some damage before he gets through."

"Are these messages addressed to anybody in particular?" inquired Sir John, who was studying Hood intently.

"Well, they are and they ain't. Pax—that's what he calls himself—signals NAA, our number, you understand, and then says what he has to say to the whole world, care of the United States. The first message I thought was a joke and stuck it in a book I was reading, 'Silas Snooks'——"

"What?" ejaculated Von Koenitz impatiently.

"Snooks—man's name—feller in the book—nothing to do with this business," explained the operator. "I forgot all about it. But after the earthquake and all the rest of the fuss I dug it out and gave it to Mr. Thornton. Then on the 27th came the next one, saying that Pax was getting tired of waiting for us and was going to start something. That came at one o'clock in the afternoon, and the fun began at three sharp. The whole observatory went on the blink. Say, there ain't any doubt in your minds that it's him, is there?"

Von Koenitz looked cynically round the room.

"There is not!" exclaimed Rostoloff and Liban in the same breath.

The German laughed.

"Speak for yourselves, Excellencies," he sneered. His tone nettled the wireless representative of the sovereign American people.

"Do you think I'm a liar?" he demanded, clenching his jaw and glaring at Von Koenitz.

The German Ambassador shrugged his shoulders again. Such things were impossible in a civilized country—at Potsdam—but what could you expect——

"Steady, Hood!" whispered Thornton.

"Remember, Mr. Hood, that you are here to answer our questions," said the President sternly. "You must not address his Excellency, Baron von Koenitz, in this fashion."

"But the man was making a monkey of me!" muttered Hood. "All I say is, look out. This Pax is on his job and means business. I just got another call before I came over here—at nine o'clock."

"What was its purport?" inquired the President.

"Why, it said Pax was getting tired of nothing being done and wanted action of some sort. Said that men were dying like flies, and he proposed to put an end to it at any cost. And—and——"

"Yes! Yes!" ejaculated Liban breathlessly.

"And he would give further evidence of his control over the forces of nature to-night."

"Ha! Ha!" Von Koenitz leaned back in amusement. "My friend," he chuckled, "you—are—the 'nut'!"

What form Hood's resentment might have taken is problematical; but as the German's words left his mouth the electric lights suddenly went out and the windows rattled ominously. At the same moment each occupant of the room felt himself sway slightly toward the east wall, on which appeared a bright yellow glow. Instinctively they all turned to the window which faced the north. The whole sky was flooded with an orange-yellow aurora that rivalled the sunlight in intensity.

"What'd I tell you?" mumbled Hood.

The Executive Mansion quivered, and even in that yellow light the faces of the ambassadors seemed pale with fear. And then as the glow slowly faded in the north there floated down across the aperture of the window something soft and fluffy like feathers. Thicker and faster it came until the lawn of the White House was covered with it. The air in the room turned cold. Through the window a large flake circled and lit on the back of Rostoloff's head.

"Snow!" he cried. "A snowstorm—in August!"

The President arose and closed the window. Almost immediately the electric lights burned up again.

"Now are you satisfied?" cried Liban to the German.

"Satisfied?" growled Von Koenitz. "I have seen plenty of snowstorms in August. They have them daily in the Alps. You ask me if I am satisfied. Of what? That earthquakes, the aurora borealis, electrical disturbances, snowstorms exist—yes. That a mysterious bugaboo is responsible for these things—no!"

"What, then, do you require?" gasped Liban.

"More than a snowstorm!" retorted the German. "When I was a boy at the gymnasium we had a thunderstorm with fishes in it. They were everywhere one stepped, all over the ground. But we did not conclude that Jonah was giving us a demonstration of his power over the whale."

He faced the others defiantly; in his voice was mockery.

"You may retire, Mr. Hood," said the President. "But you will kindly wait outside."

"That is an honest man if ever I saw one, Mr. President," announced Sir John, after the operator had gone out. "I am satisfied that we are in communication with a human being of practically supernatural powers."

"What, then, shall be done?" inquired Rostoloff anxiously. "The world will be annihilated!"

"Your Excellencies"—Von Koenitz arose and took up a graceful position at the end of the table—"I must protest against what seems to me to be an extraordinary credulity upon the part of all of you. I speak to you as a rational human being, not as an ambassador. Something has occurred to affect the earth's orbit. It may result in a calamity. None can foretell. This planet may be drawn off into space by the attraction of some wandering world that has not yet come within observation. But one thing we know: No power on or of the earth can possibly derange its relation to the other celestial bodies. That would be, as you say here, 'lifting one's self by one's own boot-straps.' I do not doubt the accuracy of your clocks and scientific instruments. Those of my own country are in harmony with yours. But to say that the cause of all this is a man is preposterous. If the mysterious Pax makes the heavens fall, they will tumble on his own head. Is he going to send himself to eternity along with the rest of us? Hardly! This Hood is a monstrous liar or a dangerous lunatic. Even if he has received these messages, they are the emanations of a crank, as, he says, he himself first suspected. Let us master this hysteria born of the strain of constant war. In a word, let us go to bed."

"Count von Koenitz," replied Sir John after a pause, "you speak forcefully, even persuasively. But your argument is based upon a proposition that is scientifically fallacious. An atom of gunpowder can disintegrate itself, 'lift itself by its own boot-straps!' Why not the earth? Have we as yet begun to solve all the mysteries of nature? Is it inconceivable that there should be an undiscovered explosive capable of disrupting the globe? We have earthquakes. Is it beyond imagination that the forces which produce them can be controlled?"

"My dear Sir John," returned Von Koenitz courteously, "my ultimate answer is that we have no adequate reason to connect the phenomena which have disturbed the earth's rotation with any human agency."

"That," interposed the President, "is something upon which individuals may well differ. I suppose that under other conditions you would be open to conviction?"

"Assuredly," answered Von Koenitz. "Should the sender of these messages prophesy the performance of some miracle that could not be explained by natural causes, I would be forced to admit my error."

Monsieur Liban had also arisen and was walking nervously up and down the room. Suddenly he turned to Von Koenitz and in a voice shaking with emotion cried: "Let us then invite Pax to give us a sign that will satisfy you."

"Monsieur Liban," replied Von Koenitz stiffly, "I refuse to place myself in the position of communicating with a lunatic."

"Very well," shouted the Frenchman, "I will take the responsibility of making myself ridiculous. I will request the President of the United States to act as the agent of France for this purpose."

He drew a notebook and a fountain pen from his pocket and carefully wrote out a message which he handed to the President. The latter read it aloud:

"Pax: The Ambassador of the French Republic requests me to communicate to you the fact that he desires some further evidence of your power to control the movements of the earth and the destinies of mankind, such phenomena to be preferably of a harmless character, but inexplicable by any theory of natural causation. I await your reply.

"THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES."

"Send for Hood," ordered the President to the secretary who answered the bell. "Gentlemen, I suggest that we ourselves go to Georgetown and superintend the sending of this message."

Half an hour later Bill Hood sat in his customary chair in the wireless operating room surrounded by the President of the United States, the ambassadors of France, Germany, Great Britain, and Russia, and Professor Thornton. The faces of all wore expressions of the utmost seriousness, except that of Von Koenitz, who looked as if he were participating in an elaborate hoax. Several of these distinguished gentlemen had never seen a wireless apparatus before, and showed some excitement as Hood made ready to send the most famous message ever transmitted through the ether. At last he threw over his rheostat and the hum of the rotary spark rose into its staccato song. Hood sent out a few V's and then began calling:

"PAX—PAX—PAX."

Breathlessly the group waited while he listened for a reply. Again he called:

"PAX—PAX—PAX."

He had already thrown in his Henderson ballast coils and was ready for the now familiar wave. He closed his eyes, waiting for that sharp metallic cry that came no one knew whence. The others in the group also listened intently, as if by so doing they, too, might hear the answer if any there should be. Suddenly Hood stiffened.

"There he is!" he whispered. The President handed him the message, and Hood's fingers played over the key while the spark sent its singing note through the ether.

"Such phenomena to be preferably of a harmless character, but inexplicable by any theory of natural causation," he concluded.

An uncanny dread seized on Thornton, who had withdrawn himself into the background. What was this strange communion? Who was this mysterious Pax? Were these real men or creatures of a grotesque dream? Was he not drowsing over his eyepiece in the meridian-circle room? Then a simultaneous movement upon the part of those gathered round the operator convinced him of the reality of what was taking place. Hood was laboriously writing upon a sheet of yellow pad paper, and the ambassadors were unceremoniously crowding each other in their eagerness to read.

"To the President of the United States," wrote Hood: "In reply to your message requesting further evidence of my power to compel the cessation of hostilities within twenty-four hours, I"—there was a pause for nearly a minute, during which the ticking of the big clock sounded to Thornton like revolver shots—"I will excavate a channel through the Atlas Mountains and divert the Mediterranean into the Sahara Desert. PAX."

Silence followed the final transcription of the message from the unknown—a silence broken only by Bill Hood's tremulous, half-whispered: "He'll do it all right!"

Then the German Ambassador laughed.

"And thus save your ingenious nation a vast amount of trouble, Monsieur Liban," said he.



VI

A Tripolitan fisherman, Mohammed Ben Ali el Bad, a holy man nearly seventy years of age, who had twice made the journey to Mecca and who now in his declining years occupied himself with reading the Koran and instructing his grandsons in the profession of fishing for mullet along the reefs of the Gulf of Cabes, had anchored for the night off the Tunisian coast, about midway between Sfax and Lesser Syrtis. The mullet had been running thick and he was well satisfied, for by the next evening he would surely complete his load and be able to return home to the house of his daughter, Fatima, the wife of Abbas, the confectioner. Her youngest son, Abdullah, a lithe lad of seventeen, was at that moment engaged in folding their prayer rugs, which had been spread in the bow of the falukah in order that they might have a clearer view as they knelt toward the Holy City. Chud, their slave, was cleaning mullet in the waist and chanting some weird song of his native land.

Mohammed Ben Ali el Bad was sitting cross-legged in the stern, smoking a hookah and watching the full moon sail slowly up above the Atlas Range to the southwest. The wind had died down and the sea was calm, heaving slowly with great orange-purple swells resembling watered silk. In the west still lingered the fast-fading afterglow, above which the stars glimmered faintly. Along the coast lights twinkled in scattered coves. Half a mile astern the Italian cruiser Fiala lay slowly swinging at anchor. From the forecastle came the smell of fried mullet. Mohammed Ben Ali was at peace with himself and with the world, including even the irritating Chud. The west darkened and the stars burned more brilliantly. With the hookah gurgling softly at his feet, Mohammed leaned back his head and gazed in silent appreciation at the wonders of the heavens. There was Turka Kabar, the crocodile; and Menish el Tabir, the sleeping beauty; and Rook Hamana, the leopard, and there—up there to the far north—was a shooting star. How gracefully it shot across the sky, leaving its wake of yellow light behind it! It was the season for shooting stars, he recollected. In an instant it would be gone—like a man's life! Saddened, he looked down at his hookah. When he should look up again—if in only an instant—the star would be gone. Presently he did look up again. But the star was still there, coming his way!

He rubbed his old eyes, keen as they were from habituation to the blinding light of the desert. Yes, the star was coming—coming fast.

"Abdullah!" he called in his high-pitched voice. "Chud! Come, see the star!"

Together they watched it sweep onward.

"By Allah! That is no star!" suddenly cried Abdullah. "It is an air-flying fire chariot! I can see it with my eyes—black, and spouting flames from behind."

"Black," echoed Chud gutturally. "Black and round! Oh, Allah!" He fell on his knees and knocked his head against the deck.

The star, or whatever it was, swung in a wide circle toward the coast, and Mohammed and Abdullah now saw that what they had taken to be a trail of fire behind was in fact a broad beam of yellow light that pointed diagonally earthward. It swept nearer and nearer, illuminating the whole sky and casting a shimmering reflection upon the waves.

A shrill whistle trilled across the water, accompanied by the sound of footsteps running along the decks of the cruiser. Lights flashed. Muffled orders were shouted.

"By the beard of the Prophet!" cried Mohammed Ali. "Something is going to happen!"

The small black object from which the incandescent beam descended passed at that moment athwart the face of the moon, and Abdullah saw that it was round and flat like a ring. The ray of light came from a point directly above it, passing through its aperture downward to the sea.

"Boom!" The fishing-boat shook to the thunder of the Fiala's eight-inch gun, and a blinding spurt of flame leaped from the cruiser's bows. With a whining shriek a shell rose toward the moon. There was a quick flash followed by a dull concussion. The shell had not reached a tenth of the distance to the flying machine.

And then everything happened at once. Mohammed described afterward to a gaping multitude of dirty villagers, while he sat enthroned upon his daughter's threshold, how the star-ship had sailed across the face of the moon and come to a standstill above the mountains, with its beam of yellow light pointing directly downward so that the coast could be seen bright as day from Sfax to Cabes. He saw, he said, genii climbing up and down on the beam. Be that as it may, he swears upon the Beard of the Prophet that a second ray of light—of a lavender colour, like the eye of a long-dead mullet—flashed down alongside the yellow beam. Instantly the earth blew up like a cannon—up into the air, a thousand miles up. It was as light as noonday. Deafened by titanic concussions he fell half dead. The sea boiled and gave off thick clouds of steam through which flashed dazzling discharges of lightning accompanied by a thundering, grinding sound like a million mills. The ocean heaved spasmodically and the air shook with a rending, ripping noise, as if Nature were bent upon destroying her own handiwork. The glare was so dazzling that sight was impossible. The falukah was tossed this way and that, as if caught in a simoon, and he was rolled hither and yon in the company of Chud, Abdullah, and the headless mullet.

This earsplitting racket continued, he says, without interruption for two days. Abdullah says it was several hours; the official report of the Fiala gives it as six minutes. And then it began to rain in torrents until he was almost drowned. A great wind arose and lashed the ocean, and a whirlpool seized the falukah and whirled it round and round. Darkness descended upon the earth, and in the general mess Mohammed hit his head a terrific blow against the mast. He was sure it was but a matter of seconds before they would be dashed to pieces by the waves. The falukah spun like a marine top with a swift sideways motion. Something was dragging them along, sucking them in. The Fiala went careening by, her fighting masts hanging in shreds. The air was full of falling rocks, trees, splinters, and thick clouds of dust that turned the water yellow in the lightning flashes. The mast went crashing over and a lemon tree descended to take its place. Great streams of lava poured down out of the air, and masses of opaque matter plunged into the sea all about the falukah. Scalding mud, stones, hail, fell upon the deck.

And still the fishing-boat, gyrating like a leaf, remained afloat with its crew of half-crazed Arabs. Suffocated, stunned, scalded, petrified with fear, they lay among the mullet while the falukah raced along in its wild dance with death. Mohammed recalls seeing what he thought to be a great cliff rush by close beside them. The falukah plunged over a waterfall and was almost submerged, was caught again in a maelstrom, and went twirling on in the blackness. They all were deathly sick, but were too terrified to move.

And then the nearer roaring ceased. The air was less congested. They were still showered with sand, clods of earth, twigs, and pebbles, it is true, but the genii had stopped hurling mountains at each other. The darkness became less opaque, the water smoother. Soon they could see the moon through the clouds of settling dust, and gradually they could discern the stars. The falukah was rocking gently upon a broad expanse of muddy ocean, surrounded by a yellow scum broken here and there by a floating tree. The Fiala had vanished. No light shone upon the face of the waters. But death had not overtaken them. Overcome by exhaustion and terror Mohammed lay among the mullet, his legs entangled in the lemon tree. Did he dream it? He cannot tell. But as he lost consciousness he thinks he saw a star shooting toward the north.

When he awoke the falukah lay motionless upon a boundless ochre sea. They were beyond sight of land. Out of a sky slightly dim the sun burned pitilessly down, sending warmth into their bodies and courage to their hearts. All about them upon the water floated the evidences of the cataclysm of the preceding night—trees, shrubs, dead birds, and the distorted corpse of a camel. Kneeling without their prayer rugs among the mullet they raised their voices in praise of Allah and his Prophet.



VII

Within twenty-four hours of the destruction of the Mountains of Atlas by the Flying Ring and the consequent flooding of the Sahara, the official gazettes and such newspapers as were still published announced that the Powers had agreed upon an armistice and accepted a proposition of mediation on the part of the United States looking toward permanent peace. The news of the devastation and flood caused by this strange and terrible dreadnought of the air created the profoundest apprehension and caused the wildest rumours, for what had happened in Tunis was assumed as likely to occur in London, Paris, or New York. Wireless messages flashed the story from Algiers to Cartagena, and it was thence disseminated throughout the civilized world by the wireless stations at Paris, Nauen, Moscow, and Georgetown.

The fact that the rotation of the earth had been retarded was still a secret, and the appearance of the Ring had not as yet been connected with any of the extraordinary phenomena surrounding it; but the newspaper editorials universally agreed that whatever nation owned and controlled this new instrument of war could dictate its own terms. It was generally supposed that the blasting of the mountain chain of Northern Africa had been an experiment to test and demonstrate the powers of this new demoniacal invention, and in view of its success it did not seem surprising that the nations had hastened to agree to an armistice, for the Power that controlled a force capable of producing such an extraordinary physical cataclysm could annihilate every capital, every army, every people upon the globe or even the globe itself.

The flight of the Ring machine had been observed at several different points, beginning at Cape Race, where at about four A.M. the wireless operator reported what he supposed to be a large comet discharging earthward a diagonal shaft of orange-yellow light and moving at incredible velocity in a southeasterly direction. During the following day the lookout on the Vira, a fishguard and scout cruiser of the North Atlantic Patrol, saw a black speck soaring among the clouds which he took to be a lost monoplane fighting to regain the coast of Ireland. At sundown an amateur wireless operator at St. Michael's in the Azores noted a small comet sweeping across the sky far to the north. This comet an hour or so later passed directly over the cities of Lisbon, Linares, Lorca, Cartagena, and Algiers, and was clearly observable from Badajoz, Almaden, Seville, Cordova, Grenada, Oran, Biskra, and Tunis, and at the latter places it was easily possible for telescopic observers to determine its size, shape, and general construction.

Daniel W. Quinn, Jr., the acting United States Consul stationed at Biskra, who happened to be dining with the abbot of the Franciscan monastery at Linares, sent the following account of the flight of the Ring to the State Department at Washington, where it is now on file. [See Vol. 27, pp. 491-498, with footnote, of Official Records of the Consular Correspondence for 1915-1916.] After describing general conditions in Algeria he continues:

We had gone upon the roof in the early evening to look at the sky through the large telescope presented to the Franciscans by Count Philippe d'Ormay, when Father Antoine called my attention to a comet that was apparently coming straight toward us. Instead, however, of leaving a horizontal trail of fire behind it, this comet or meteorite seemed to shoot an almost vertical beam of orange light toward the earth. It produced a very strange effect on all of us, since a normal comet or other celestial body that left a wake of light of that sort behind it would naturally be expected to be moving upward toward the zenith, instead of in a direction parallel to the earth. It looked somehow as if the tail of the comet had been bent over. As soon as it came near enough so that we could focus the telescope upon it we discovered that it was a new sort of flying machine. It passed over our heads at a height no greater than ten thousand feet, if as great as that, and we could see that it was a cylindrical ring like a doughnut or an anchor ring, constructed, I believe, of highly polished metal, the inner aperture being about twenty-five yards in diameter. The tube of the cylinder looked to be about twenty feet thick, and had circular windows or portholes that were brilliantly lighted.

The strangest thing about it was that it carried a superstructure consisting of a number of arms meeting at a point above the centre of the opening and supporting some sort of apparatus from which the beam of light emanated. This appliance, which we supposed to be a gigantic searchlight, was focused down through the Ring and could apparently be moved at will over a limited radius of about fifteen degrees. We could not understand this, nor why the light was thrown from outside and above instead of from inside the flying machine, but the explanation may be found in the immense heat that must have been required to generate the light, since it illuminated the entire country for fifty miles or so, and we were able to read without trouble the fine print of the abbot's rubric. This Flying Ring moved on an even keel at the tremendous velocity of about two hundred miles an hour. We wondered what would happen if it turned turtle, for in that case the weight of the superstructure would have rendered it impossible for the machine to right itself. In fact, none of us had ever imagined any such air monster before. Beside it a Zeppelin seemed like a wooden toy.

The Ring passed over the mountains toward Cabes and within a short time a volcanic eruption occurred that destroyed a section of the Atlas Range. [Mr. Quinn here describes with considerable detail the destruction of the mountains.] The next morning I found Biskra crowded with Arabs, who reported that the ocean had poured through the passage made by the eruption and was flooding the entire desert as far south as the oasis of Wargla, and that it had come within twelve miles of the walls of our own city. I at once hired a donkey and made a personal investigation, with the result that I can report as a fact that the entire desert east and south of Biskra is inundated to a depth of from seven to ten feet and that the water gives no sign of going down. The loss of life seems to have been negligible, owing to the fact that the height of the water is not great and that many unexpected islands have provided safety for the caravans that were in transitu. These are now marooned and waiting for assistance, which I am informed will be sent from Cabes in the form of flat-bottomed boats fitted with motor auxiliaries.

Respectfully submitted,

D. W. QUINN, Jr., Acting U. S. Consul.

The Italian cruiser Fiala, which had been carried one hundred and eighty miles into the desert on the night of the eruption, grounded safely on the plateau of Tasili, but the volcanic tidal wave on which she had been swept along, having done its work, receded, leaving too little water for the Fiala's draft of thirty-seven feet. Four launches sent out in different directions to the south and east reported no sign of land, but immense quantities of floating vegetable matter, yellow dust, and the bodies of jackals, camels, zebras, and lions. The fifth launch after great hardships reached the seacoast through the new channel and arrived at Sfax after eight days.

The mean tide level of the Mediterranean sank fifteen inches, and the water showed marked discoloration for several months, while a volcanic haze hung over Northern Africa, Sicily, Malta, and Sardinia for an even longer period.

Though many persons must have lost their lives the records are incomplete in this respect; but there is a curious document in the mosque at Sfax touching the effect of the Lavender Ray. It appears that an Arab mussel-gatherer was in a small boat with his two brothers at the time the Ring appeared above the mountains. As they looked up toward the sky the Ray flashed over and illuminated their faces. They thought nothing of it at the time, for almost immediately the mountains were rent asunder and in the titanic upheaval that followed they were all cast upon the shore, as they thought, dead men. Reaching Sfax they reported their adventures and offered prayers in gratitude for their extraordinary escape; but five days later all three began to suffer excruciating torment from internal burns, the skin upon their heads and bodies began to peel off, and they died in agony within the week.



VIII

It was but a few days thereafter that the President of the United States received the official note from Count von Koenitz, on behalf of the Imperial German Commissioners, to the effect that Germany would join with the other Powers in an armistice looking toward peace and ultimately a universal disarmament. Similar notes had already been received by the President from France, Great Britain, Russia, Italy, Austria, Spain, and Slavia, and a multitude of the other smaller Powers who were engaged in the war, and there was no longer any reason for delaying the calling of an international council or diet for the purpose of bringing about what Pax demanded as a ransom for the safety of the globe.

In the files of the State Department at Washington there is secreted the only record of the diplomatic correspondence touching these momentous events, and a transcript of the messages exchanged between the President of the United States and the Arbiter of Human Destiny. They are comparatively few in number, for Pax seemed to be satisfied to leave all details to the Powers themselves. In the interest of saving time, however, he made the simple suggestion that the present ambassadors should be given plenary powers to determine the terms and conditions upon which universal peace should be declared. All these proceedings and the reasons therefore were kept profoundly secret. It began to look as though the matter would be put through with characteristic Yankee promptness. Pax's suggestion was acceded to, and the ambassadors and ministers were given unrestricted latitude in drawing the treaty that should abolish war forever.

Now that he had been won over no one was more indefatigable than Von Koenitz, none more fertile in suggestions. It was he who drafted with his own hand the forty pages devoted to the creation of the commission charged with the duty of destroying all arms, munitions, and implements of war; and he not only acted as chairman of the preliminary drafting committee, but was an active member of at least half a dozen other important subcommittees. The President daily communicated the progress of this conference of the Powers to Pax through Bill Hood, and received daily in return a hearty if laconic approval.

"I am satisfied of the sincerity of the Powers and with the progress made. PAX."

was the ordinary type of message received. Meantime word had been sent to all the governments that an indefinite armistice had been declared, to commence at the end of ten days, for it had been found necessary to allow for the time required to transmit the orders to the various fields of military operations throughout Europe. In the interim the war continued.

It was at this time that Count von Koenitz, who now was looked upon as the leading figure of the conference, arose and said: "Your Excellencies, this distinguished diet will, I doubt not, presently conclude its labours and receive not only the approval of the Powers represented but the gratitude of the nations of the world. I voice the sentiments of the Imperial Commissioners when I say that no Power looks forward with greater eagerness than Germany to the accomplishment of our purpose. But we should not forget that there is one menace to mankind greater than that of war—namely, the lurking danger from the power of this unknown possessor of superhuman knowledge of explosives. So far his influence has been a benign one, but who can say when it may become malignant? Will our labours please him? Perhaps not. Shall we agree? I hope so, but who can tell? Will our armies lay down their arms even after we have agreed? I believe all will go well; but is it wise for us to refrain from jointly taking steps to ascertain the identity of this unknown juggler with Nature, and the source of his power? It is my own opinion, since we cannot exert any influence or control upon this individual, that we should take whatever steps are within our grasp to safeguard ourselves in the event that he refuses to keep faith with us. To this end I suggest an international conference of scientific men from all the nations to be held here in Washington coincidently with our own meetings, with a view to determining these questions."

His remarks were greeted with approval by almost all the representatives present except Sir John Smith, who mildly hinted that such a course might be regarded as savouring a trifle of double dealing. Should Pax receive knowledge of the suggested conference he might question their sincerity and view all their doings with suspicion. In a word, Sir John believed in following a consistent course and treating Pax as a friend and ally and not as a possible enemy.

Sir John's speech, however, left the delegates unconvinced and with the feeling that his argument was over-refined. They felt that there could be no objection to endeavouring to ascertain the source of Pax's power—the law of self-preservation seemed to indicate such a course as necessary. And it had, in fact, already been discussed vaguely by several less conspicuous delegates. Accordingly it was voted, with but two dissenting voices,[2] to summon what was known as Conference No. 2, to be held as soon as possible, its proceedings to be conducted in secret under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences, with the president of the Academy acting as permanent chairman. To this conference the President appointed Thornton as one of the three delegates from the United States.

[Footnote 2: The President of the United States also voted in the negative.]

The council of the Powers having so voted, Count von Koenitz at once transmitted, by way of Sayville, a message which in code appeared to be addressed to a Herr Karl Heinweg, Notary, at 12^{BIS} Bunden Strasse, Strassburg, and related to a mortgage about to fall due upon some of Von Koenitz's properties in Thueringen. When decoded it read:

"To the Imperial Commissioners of the German Federated States:

"I have the honour to report that acting according to your distinguished instructions I have this day proposed an international conference to consider the scientific problems presented by certain recent phenomena and that my proposition was adopted. I believe that in this way the proceedings here may be delayed indefinitely and time thus secured to enable an expedition to be organized and dispatched for the purpose of destroying this unknown person or ascertaining the secret of his power, in accordance with my previous suggestion. It would be well to send as delegates to this Conference No. 2 several professors of physics who can by plausible arguments and ingenious theories so confuse the matter that no determination can be reached. I suggest Professors Gasgabelaus, of Muenchen, and Leybach, of the Hague.

"VON KOENITZ."

And having thus fulfilled his duty the count took a cab to the Metropolitan Club and there played a discreet game of billiards with Senor Tomasso Varilla, the ex-minister from Argentina.

Von Koenitz from the first had played his hand with a skill which from a diplomatic view left nothing to be desired. The extraordinary natural phenomena which had occurred coincidentally with the first message of Pax to the President of the United States and the fall of Cleopatra's Needle had been immediately observed by the scientists attached to the Imperial and other universities throughout the German Federated States, and had no sooner been observed than their significance had been realized. These most industrious and thorough of all human investigators had instantly reported the facts and their preliminary conclusions to the Imperial Commissioners, with the recommendation that no stone be left unturned in attempting to locate and ascertain the causes of this disruption of the forces of nature. The Commissioners at once demanded an exhaustive report from the faculty of the Imperial German University, and notified Von Koenitz by cable that until further notice he must seek in every way to delay investigation by other nations and to belittle the importance of what had occurred, for these astute German scientists had at once jumped to the conclusion that the acceleration of the earth's motion had been due to some human agency possessed of a hitherto unsuspected power.

It was for this reason that at the first meeting at the White House the Ambassador had pooh-poohed the whole matter and talked of snowstorms in the Alps and showers of fish at Heidelburg, but with the rending of the northern coast of Africa and the well-attested appearances of "The Ring" he soon reached the conclusion that his wisest course was to cause such a delay on the part of the other Powers that the inevitable race for the secret would be won by the nation which he so astutely represented. He reasoned, quite accurately, that the scientists of England, Russia, and America would not remain idle in attempting to deduce the cause and place the origin of the phenomena and the habitat of the master of the Ring, and that the only effectual means to enable Germany to capture this, the greatest of all prizes of war, was to befuddle the representatives of the other nations while leaving his own unhampered in their efforts to accomplish that which would make his countrymen, almost without further effort, the masters of the world. Now the easiest way to befuddle the scientists of the world was to get them into one place and befuddle them all together, and this, after communicating with his superiors, he had proceeded to do. He was a clever man, trained in the devious ways of the Wilhelmstrasse, and when he set out to accomplish something he was almost inevitably successful. Yet in spite of the supposed alliance between Kaiser and Deity man proposes and God disposes, and sometimes the latter uses the humblest of human instruments in that disposition.



IX

The Imperial German Commissioner for War, General Hans von Helmuth, was a man of extraordinary decision and farsightedness. Sixty years of age, he had been a member of the general staff since he was forty. He had sat at the feet of Bismarck and Von Moltke, and during his active participation in the management of German military affairs he had seen but slight changes in their policy: Mass—overwhelming mass; sudden momentous onslaught, and, above all, an attack so quick that your adversary could not regain his feet. It worked nine times out of ten, and when it didn't it was usually better than taking the defensive. General von Helmuth having an approved system was to that extent relieved of anxiety, for all he had to do was to work out details. In this his highly efficient organization was almost automatic. He himself was a human compendium of knowledge, and he had but to press a button and emit a few gutturals and any information that he wanted lay typewritten before him. Now he sat in his office smoking a Bremen cigar and studying a huge Mercatorial projection of the Atlantic and adjacent countries, while with the fingers of his left hand he combed his heavy beard.

From the window he looked down upon the inner fortifications of Mainz—to which city the capital had been removed three months before—and upon the landing stage for the scouting planes which were constantly arriving or whirring off toward Holland or Strassburg. Across the river, under the concealed guns of a sunken battery, stood the huge hangars of the now useless dirigibles Z^{51~57}. The landing stage communicated directly by telephone with the adjutant's office, an enormous hall filled with maps, with which Von Helmuth's private room was connected. The adjutant himself, a worried-looking man with a bullet head and an iron-gray moustache, stood at a table in the centre of the hall addressing rapid-fire sentences to various persons who appeared in the doorway, saluted, and hurried off again. Several groups were gathered about the table and the adjutant carried on an interrupted conversation with all of them, pausing to read the telegrams and messages that shot out of the pneumatic tubes upon the table from the telegraph and telephone office on the floor below.

An elderly man in rather shabby clothes entered, looking about helplessly through the thick lenses of his double spectacles, and the adjutant turned at once from the officers about him with an "Excuse me, gentlemen."

"Good afternoon, Professor von Schwenitz; the general is waiting for you," said he. "This way, please."

He stalked across to the door of the inner office.

"Professor von Schwenitz is here," he announced, and immediately returned to take up the thread of his conversation in the centre of the hall.

The general turned gruffly to greet his visitor. "I have sent for you, Professor," said he, without removing his cigar, "in order that I may fully understand the method by which you say you have ascertained the place of origin of the wireless messages and electrical disturbances referred to in our communications of last week. This may be a serious matter. The accuracy of your information is of vital importance."

The professor hesitated in embarrassment, and the general scowled.

"Well?" he demanded, biting off the chewed end of his cigar. "Well? This is not a lecture room. Time is short. Out with it."

"Your Excellency!" stammered the poor professor, "I—I——The observations are so—inadequate—one cannot determine——"

"What?" roared Von Helmuth. "But you said you had!"

"Only approximately, your Excellency. One cannot be positive, but within a reasonable distance——" He paused.

"What do you call a reasonable distance? I supposed your physics was an exact science!" retorted the general.

"But the data——"

"What do you call a reasonable distance?" bellowed the Imperial Commissioner.

"A hundred kilometres!" suddenly shouted the overwrought professor, losing control of himself. "I won't be talked to this way, do you hear? I won't! How can a man think? I'm a member of the faculty of the Imperial University. I've been decorated twice—twice!"

"Fiddlesticks!" returned the general, amused in spite of himself. "Don't be absurd. I merely wish you to hurry. Have a cigar?"

"Oh, your Excellency!" protested the professor, now both ashamed and frightened. "You must excuse me. The war has shattered my nerves. May I smoke? Thank you."

"Sit down. Take your time," said Von Helmuth, looking out and up at a monoplane descending toward the landing in slowly lessening spirals.

"You see, your Excellency," explained Von Schwenitz, "the data are fragmentary, but I used three methods, each checking the others."

"The first?" shot back the general. The monoplane had landed safely.

"I compared the records of all the seismographs that had registered the earthquake wave attendant on the electrical discharges accompanying the great yellow auroras of July. These shocks had been felt all over the globe, and I secured reports from Java, New Guinea, Lima, Tucson, Greenwich, Algeria, and Moscow. These showed the wave had originated somewhere in Eastern Labrador."

"Yes, yes. Go on!" ordered the general.

"In the second place, the violent magnetic storms produced by the helium aurora appear to have left their mark each time upon the earth in a permanent, if slight, deflection of the compass needle. The earth's normal magnetic field seems to have had superimposed upon it a new field comprised of lines of force nearly parallel to the equator. My computations show that these great circles of magnetism centre at approximately the same point in Labrador as that indicated by the seismographs—about fifty-five degrees north and seventy-five degrees west."

The general seemed struck with this.

"Permanent deflection, you say!" he ejaculated.

"Yes, apparently permanent. Finally the barometer records told the same story, although in less precise form. A compressional wave of air had been started in the far north and had spread out over the earth with the velocity of sound. Though the barographs themselves gave no indication whence this wave had come, the variation in its intensity at different meteorological observatories could be accounted for by the law of inverse squares on the supposition that the explosion which started the wave had occurred at fifty-five degrees north, seventy-five degrees west."

The professor paused and wiped his glasses. With a roar a Taube slid off the landing stage, shot over toward the hangars, and soared upward.

"Is that all?" inquired the general, turning again to the chart.

"That is all, your Excellency," answered Von Schwenitz.

"Then you may go!" muttered the Imperial Commissioner. "If we find the source of these disturbances where you predict you will receive the Black Eagle."

"Oh, your Excellency!" protested the professor, his face shining with satisfaction.

"And if we do not find it—there will be a vacancy on the faculty of the Imperial University!" he added grimly. "Good afternoon."

He pressed a button and the departing scholar was met by an orderly and escorted from the War Bureau, while the adjutant joined Von Helmuth.

"He's got him! I'm satisfied!" remarked the Commissioner. "Now outline your plan."

The bullet-headed man took up the calipers and indicated a spot on the coast of Labrador:

"Our expedition will land, subject to your approval, at Hamilton Inlet, using the town of Rigolet as a base. By availing ourselves of the Nascopee River and the lakes through which it flows, we can easily penetrate to the highland where the inventor of the Ring machine has located himself. The auxiliary brigantine Sea Fox is lying now under American colours at Amsterdam, and as she can steam fifteen knots an hour she should reach the Inlet in about ten days, passing to the north of the Orkneys."

"What force have you in mind?" inquired Von Helmuth, his cold gray eyes narrowing.

"Three full companies of sappers and miners, ten mountain howitzers, a field battery, fifty rapid-fire standing rifles, and a complete outfit for throwing lyddite. Of course we shall rely principally on high explosives if it becomes necessary to use force, but what we want is a hostage who may later become an ally."

"Yes, of course," said the general with a laugh. "This is a scientific, not a military, expedition."

"I have asked Lieutenant Muenster to report upon the necessary equipment."

Von Helmuth nodded, and the adjutant stepped to the door and called out: "Lieutenant Muenster!"

A trim young man in naval uniform appeared upon the threshold and saluted.

"State what you regard as necessary as equipment for the proposed expedition," said the general.

"Twenty motor boats, each capable of towing several flat-bottomed barges or native canoes, forty mules, a field telegraph, and also a high-powered wireless apparatus, axes, spades, wire cables and drums, windlasses, dynamite for blasting, and provisions for sixty days. We shall live off the country and secure artisans and bearers from among the natives."

"When will it be possible to start?" inquired the general.

"In twelve days if you give the order now," answered the young man.

"Very well, you may go. And good luck to you!" he added.

The young lieutenant saluted and turned abruptly on his heel.

Over the parade ground a biplane was hovering, darting this way and that, rising and falling with startling velocity.

"Who's that?" inquired the general approvingly.

"Schoeningen," answered the adjutant.

The Imperial Commissioner felt in his breast-pocket for another cigar.

"Do you know, Ludwig," he remarked amiably as he struck a meditative match, "sometimes I more than half believe this 'Flying Ring' business is all rot!"

The adjutant looked pained.

"And yet," continued Von Helmuth, "if Bismarck could see one of those things," he waved his cigar toward the gyrating aeroplane, "he wouldn't believe it."



X

All day the International Assembly of Scientists, officially known as Conference No. 2, had been sitting, but not progressing, in the large lecture hall of the Smithsonian Institution, which probably had never before seen so motley a gathering. Each nation had sent three representatives, two professional scientists, and a lay delegate, the latter some writer or thinker renowned in his own country for his wide knowledge and powers of ratiocination. They had come together upon the appointed day, although the delegates from the remoter countries had not yet arrived, and the Committee on Credentials had already reported. Germany had sent Gasgabelaus, Leybach, and Wilhelm Lamszus; France—Sortell, Amand, and Buona Varilla; Great Britain—Sir William Crookes, Sir Francis Soddy, and Mr. H. G. Wells, celebrated for his "The War of the Worlds" and The "World Set Free," and hence supposedly just the man to unravel a scientific mystery such as that which confronted this galaxy of immortals.

The Committee on Data, of which Thornton was a member, having been actively at work for nearly two weeks through wireless communication with all the observatories—seismic, meteorological, astronomical, and otherwise—throughout the world, had reduced its findings to print, and this matter, translated into French, German, and Italian, had already been distributed among those present. Included in its pages was Quinn's letter to the State Department.

The roll having been called, the president of the National Academy of Sciences made a short speech in which he outlined briefly the purpose for which the committee had been summoned and commented to some extent upon the character of the phenomena it was required to analyze.

And then began an unending series of discussions and explanations in French, German, Dutch, Russian, and Italian, by goggle-eyed, bushy-whiskered, long-haired men who looked like anarchists or sociologists and apparently had never before had an unrestricted opportunity to air their views on anything.

Thornton, listening to this hodgepodge of technicalities, was dismayed and distrustful. These men spoke a language evidently familiar to them, which he, although a professional scientist, found a meaningless jargon. The whole thing seemed unreal, had a purely theoretic or literary quality about it that made him question even their premises. In the tainted air of the council room, listening to these little pot-bellied Professoren from Amsterdam and Muenich, doubt assailed him, doubt even that the earth had changed its orbit, doubt even of his own established formulae and tables. Weren't they all just talking through their hats? Wasn't it merely a game in which an elaborate system of equivalents gave a semblance of actuality to what in fact was nothing but mind-play? Even Wells, whose literary style he admired as one of the beauties as well as one of the wonders of the world, had been a disappointment. He had seemed singularly halting and unconvincing.

"I wish I knew a practical man—I wish Bennie Hooker were here!" muttered Thornton to himself. He had not seen his classmate Hooker for twenty-six years; but that was one thing about Hooker: you knew he'd be exactly the same—only more so—as he was when you last saw him. In those years Bennie had become the Lawson Professor of Applied Physics at Harvard. Thornton had read his papers on induced radiation, thermic equilibrium, and had one of Bennie's famous Gem Home Cookers in his own little bachelor apartment. Hooker would know. And if he didn't he'd tell you so, without befogging the atmosphere with a lot of things he did know, but that wouldn't help you in the least. Thornton clutched at the thought of him like a falling aeronaut at a dangling rope. He'd be worth a thousand of these dreaming lecturers, these beer-drinking visionaries! But where could he be found? It was August, vacation time. Still, he might be in Cambridge giving a summer course or something.

At that moment Professor Gasgabelaus, the temporary chairman, a huge man, the periphery of whose abdomen rivalled the circumference of the "working terrestrial globe" at the other end of the platform, pounded perspiringly with his gavel and announced that the conference would adjourn until the following Monday morning. It was Friday afternoon, so he had sixty hours in which to connect with Bennie, if Bennie could be discovered. A telegram of inquiry brought no response, and he took the midnight train to Boston, reaching Cambridge about two o'clock the following afternoon.

The air trembled with heat. Only by dodging from the shadow of one big elm to another did he manage to reach the Appian Way—the street given in the university catalogue as Bennie's habitat—alive. As he swung open the little wicket gate he realized with an odd feeling that it was the same house where Hooker had lived when a student, twenty-five years before.

"Board" was printed on a yellow, fly-blown card in the corner of the window beside the door.

Up there over the porch was the room Bennie had inhabited from '85 to '89. He recalled vividly the night he, Thornton, had put his foot through the lower pane. They had filled up the hole with an old golf stocking. His eyes searched curiously for the pane. There it was, still broken and still stuffed—it couldn't be!—with some colourless material strangely resembling disintegrating worsted. The sun smote him in the back of his neck and drove him to seek the relief of the porch. Had he ever left Cambridge? Wasn't it a dream about his becoming an astronomer and working at the Naval Observatory? And all this stuff about the earth going on the loose? If he opened the door wouldn't he find Bennie with a towel round his head cramming for the "exams"? For a moment he really imagined that he was an undergraduate. Then as he fanned himself with his straw hat he caught, on the silk band across the interior, the words: "Smith's Famous Headwear, Washington, D.C." No, he was really an astronomer.

He shuddered in spite of the heat as he pulled the bell knob. What ghosts would its jangle summon? The bell, however, gave no sound; in fact the knob came off in his hand, followed by a foot or so of copper wire. He laughed, gazing at it blankly. No one had ever used the bell in the old days. They had simply kicked open the door and halloed: "O-o-h, Bennie Hooker!"

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