THE SIGN AT SIX
By Stewart Edward White
With four illustrations by M. Leone Bracker
I THE OWNER OF NEW YORK II THE SHADOW OF MYSTERY III THE MOVING FINGER WRITES IV DARKNESS AND PANIC V A SCIENTIST IN PINK SILK VI THE WRATH TO COME VII A WORLD OF GHOSTS VIII PERCY DARROW'S THEORY IX THE GREAT SILENCE X THE LIFTING OF THE SPELL XI THIRTY SECONDS MORE XII THE UNKNOWN XIII DARROW'S CHALLENGE XIV THE FEAR OF DANGER XV THE MASTER SPEAKS AGAIN XVI THE PROFESSOR'S EXPERIMENT XVII DRAWING THE NET XVIII CONFUSION WORSE CONFOUNDED XIX PERCY KEEPS VIGIL XX THE PLAGUE OF COLD XXI IN THE FACE OF ETERNITY XXII THE MAN NEXT DOOR XXIII HOW IT ALL WAS XXIV WHAT HAPPENED AFTERWARD
THE OWNER OF NEW YORK
Percy Darrow, a young man of scientific training, indolent manners, effeminate appearance, hidden energy, and absolute courage, lounged through the doors of the Atlas Building. Since his rescue from the volcanic island that had witnessed the piratical murder of his old employer, Doctor Schermerhorn, the spectacular dissolution of the murderers, and his own imprisonment in a cave beneath the very roar of an eruption, he had been nursing his shattered nerves back to their normal strength. Now he felt that at last he was able to go to work again. Therefore, he was about to approach a man of influence among practical scientists, from whom he hoped further occupation.
As the express elevator shot upward, he passed a long slender hand across his eyes. The rapid motion confused him still. The car stopped, and the metallic gates clanged open. Darrow obediently stepped forth. Only when the elevator had disappeared did his upward glance bring to him the knowledge that he had disembarked one floor too soon.
Darrow's eye fell on a lettered sign outside the nearest door. He smiled a slow red-lipped smile beneath his small silky mustache, drooped his black eyelashes in a flicker of reminiscence, hesitated a moment, then stepped languidly forward and opened the door. The sign indicated the headquarters of the very modest commissionership behind which McCarthy chose to work. McCarthy, quite simply, at that time owned New York.
As Darrow entered, McCarthy hung up the telephone receiver with a smash, and sat glaring at the instrument. After a moment he turned his small bright eyes toward the newcomer.
"Hello, Perc," he growled. "Didn't see you. Say, I'm so mad my skin cracks. Just now some measly little shrimp called me up from a public booth. What ye suppose he wanted, now? Oh, nothin'! Just told me in so many words for me to pack up my little trunk and sail for Europe and never come back! That's all! He give me until Sunday, too." McCarthy barked out a short laugh, and reached for the cigar box, which he held out to Darrow.
Percy shook his head. "What's the occasion?" he asked.
"Oh, I don't know. Just bughouse, I guess."
"So he wants you to go to Europe?"
"Wants me? Orders me! Says I got to." McCarthy laughed. "Lovely thought!"
He puffed out a cloud of smoke.
"Says if I don't obey orders he'll send me a 'sign' to convince me!" went on the boss. "He's got a mean voice. He ought to have a tag hung on him and get carried to the morgue. He give me the shivers, like a dead man. I never hear such a unholy thing outside a graveyard at midnight!"
Percy Darrow was surveying him with leisurely amusement, a slight smile playing over his narrow dark face.
"Talking to get back your nerve," he surmised cheerfully to the usually taciturn boss. "I'd like to know what it was got you going so; it isn't much your style."
"Well, you got yours with you," growled McCarthy, shifting for the first time from his solid attitude of the bulldog at bay.
"His 'sign' he promised is apt to be a bomb," observed Darrow.
"He's nutty, all right," McCarthy agreed, "but when he said that, he was doing the tall religious. He's got a bug that way."
"Your affair," said Darrow. "Just the same, I'd have an outer office."
"Outer office—rot!" said the boss. "An outer office just gets cluttered up with people waiting. Here they've got to say it right out in meeting—if I want 'em to. What's the good word, Perc? What can I do for you?"
Darrow smiled. "You know very well, my fat friend, that the only reason you like me at all is that I'm the one and only man who comes into this office who doesn't want one single thing of you."
"I suppose that's it," agreed McCarthy. The telephone rang. He snatched down the receiver, listened a moment, and thrust forward his heavy jowl. "Not on your life!" he growled in answer to some question. While he was still occupied with the receiver, Percy Darrow nodded and sauntered out.
THE SHADOW OF MYSTERY
Darrow walked up the one flight of steps to the story above. He found his acquaintance in, and at once broached the subject of his errand. Doctor Knox promised the matter his attention. The two men then embarked on a long discussion of Professor Schermerhorn's discovery of super-radium, and the strange series of events that had encompassed his death. Into the midst of the discussion burst McCarthy, his face red with suppressed anger.
"Can I use your phone?" he growled. "Oh, yes," said he, as he caught sight of the instrument. Without awaiting the requested permission, he jerked the receiver from its hook and placed it to his ear.
"Deader than a smelt!" he burst out. "This is a nice way to run a public business! Thanks," he nodded to Doctor Knox, and stormed out.
Darrow rose languidly.
"I'll see you again," he told Knox. "At present I'm going to follow the human cyclone. It takes more than mere telephones to wake McCarthy up like that."
He found the boss in the hall, his finger against the "down" button.
"That's three cars has passed me," he snarled, trying to peer through the ground glass that, in the Atlas Building, surrounded the shaft. "I'll tan somebody's hide. Down!" he bellowed at a shadow on the glass.
"Have a cigarette," proffered Percy Darrow. "Calm down. To the scientific eye you're out of condition for such emotions. You thicknecks are subject to apoplexy."
"Oh, shut up!" growled McCarthy. "There isn't a phone in order in this building two floors either way. I've tried 'em—and there hasn't been for twenty minutes. And I can't get a messenger to answer a call; and that ring-tailed, star-spangled ornament of a janitor won't answer his private bell. I'll get him bounced so high the blackbirds will build nests in his ear before he comes down again."
After trying vainly to stop a car on its way up or down, McCarthy stumped down a flight of stairs, followed more leisurely by the calmly unhurried Darrow. Here the same performance was repeated. A half dozen men by now had joined them. So they progressed from story to story until an elevator boy, attracted by their frantic shouts, stopped to see what was the matter. Immediately the door was slid back on its runners, McCarthy seized the astonished operator by the collar.
"Come out of that, you scum of the earth!" he roared. "Come out of that and tell me why you don't stop for your signals!"
"I ain't seen no signals!" gasped the elevator boy.
Some one punched the button, but the little, round, annunciator disk in the car failed to illuminate.
"I wonder if there's anything in order in this miserable hole!" snarled McCarthy.
"The lights is gone out," volunteered the boy; and indeed for the first time the men now crowding into the car noticed that the incandescents were dead.
While McCarthy stormed out to spread abroad impartial threats against two public utility concerns for interfering with his business, Percy Darrow, his curiosity aroused, interviewed the janitor. Under that functionary's guidance he examined the points of entrance for the different wires used for lighting and communication; looked over the private-bell installations, and ascended again to the corridor, abstractedly dusting his fingers. There he found a group of the building's tenants, among whom he distinguished Doctor Knox.
"Same complaint, I suppose—no phones, no lights, no bells," he remarked.
"Seems to be," replied Knox. "General condition. Acts as though the main arteries had been cut outside."
"Inside bells? House phones?" suggested Darrow.
The repair men came in double-quick time and great confidence. They went to work in an assured manner, which soon slackened to a slower bewilderment. Some one disappeared, to return with a box of new batteries. The head repair man connected a group of these with a small bell in the executive office. The instrument, however, failed to respond.
"Try your ammeter," suggested Darrow, who had followed.
The delicate needle of the instrument did not quiver.
"Batteries dead!" said the repair man. "Jim, what the hotel-bill do you mean by getting dead batteries? Go back and bring a new lot, and test 'em."
In due time Jim returned.
"These test to fifteen," said he. "Go to it!"
"Test—nothing!" roared the repair man after a moment. "These are dead, too."
Percy Darrow left the ensuing argument to its own warmth. It was growing late. In the corridor a few hastily-brought lamps cast a dim light. Percy collided against Doctor Knox entering the building.
"Not fixed yet?" asked the latter in evident disappointment. "What's the matter?"
"I don't know," said Darrow slowly; "it puzzles me. It's more than an ordinary break of connections or short-circuiting through apparatus. If one could imagine a big building like this polarized in some way—anyhow, the electricity is dead. Look here." He pulled an electric flash-light from his pocket. "Bought this fresh on my way here. Tested it, of course. Now, there's nothing wonderful about these toys going back on a man; but"—he pressed the button and peered down the lens—"this is a funny coincidence." He turned the lens toward his friend. The filament was dark.
THE MOVING FINGER WRITES
The condition of affairs in the Atlas Building lasted long enough to carry the matter up to the experts in the employ of the companies; that is to say, until about three o'clock the following morning. Then, without reason, and all at once, the whole building from top to bottom was a blaze of incandescent light.
One of the men, stepping to the nearest telephone, unhooked the receiver. To his ear came the low busy hum of a live wire. Somebody touched a bell button, and the head janitor, running joyfully, two steps at a time, from his lair, cried out that his bell had rung.
The little group of workmen and experts nodded in a competent and satisfied manner, and began leisurely to pack their tools as though at the successful completion of a long and difficult job.
But every man jack of them knew perfectly well that the electrical apparatus of the building was now in exactly the same condition as it had been the evening before. No repair work had followed a futile investigation.
As the group moved toward the outer air, the head repair man quietly dropped behind. Surreptitiously he applied the slender cords of his pocket ammeter to the zinc and carbon of the dead batteries concerning whose freshness he and his assistant had argued. The delicate needle leaped forward, quivered like a snake's tongue, and hovered over a number.
"Fifteen," read the repair man; and then, after a moment: "Hell!"
The daily business, therefore, opened normally. The elevators shot from floor to floor; the telephones rang; the call-bells buzzed, and all was well. At six o'clock came the scrub-woman; at half past seven the office boys; at eight the clerks; a little later some of the heads; and precisely at nine Malachi McCarthy, as was his invariable habit.
As the bulky form of the political boss pushed around the leaves of the revolving door, the elevator starter glanced at his watch. This was not to determine if McCarthy was on time, but to see if the watch was right.
McCarthy had recovered his good humor. He threw a joke at the negro polishing the brass, and paused genially to exchange a word with the elevator starter.
"Worked until about three o'clock," the latter answered a question. "Got it fixed all right. No, they didn't say what was the matter. Something to do with the wires, I suppose."
"Most like," agreed McCarthy.
At this moment an elevator dropped from above and came to rest, like a swift bird alighting. The doors parted to let out a young man wearing the cap of the United Wireless.
"Good morning, Mr. McCarthy," this young man remarked in passing. "Aren't going into the sign-painting business, are you?" He laughed.
"What ye givin' us, Mike?" demanded McCarthy.
The young man wheeled to include the elevator starter in the joke.
"Air was full of dope most of last night from some merry little jester working a toy, home-made. He just kept repeating the same thing—something about 'McCarthy, at six o'clock you shall have a sign given unto you. It works,' over and over all night. Some new advertising dodge, I reckon. Didn't know but you were the McCarthy and were getting a present from some admiring constituent."
He threw back his head and laughed, but McCarthy's ready anger rose.
"Where did the stuff come from?"
"Out of the fresh air," replied the operator. "From most anywhere inside the zone of communication."
"Couldn't you tell who sent it?"
"No way. It wasn't signed. Come from quite a distance, though."
"How can you tell that?"
"You can tell by the way it sounds. Say, they ought to be a law about these amatoors cluttering up the air this way. Sometimes I got to pick my own dope out of a dozen or fifteen messages all ticking away in my headpiece at once."
"I know the crazy slob what sent 'em, all right, all right," growled McCarthy. "He's nutty for fair."
"Well, if he's nutty, I wish you'd hurry his little trip to Matteawan," complained the operator, turning away.
The boss went to his office, where he established himself behind his table-top desk. There all day he conducted a leisurely business of mysterious import, sitting where the cool autumn breeze from the river brought its refreshment. His desk top held no papers; the writing materials lay undisturbed. Sometimes the office contained half a dozen people. Sometimes it was quite empty, and McCarthy sat drumming his blunt fingers on the window-sill, chewing a cigar, and gazing out over the city he owned.
There were two other, inner, offices to McCarthy's establishment, in which sat a private secretary and an office boy. Occasionally McCarthy, with some especial visitor, retired to one of these for a more confidential conversation. The secretary seemed always very busy; the office boy was often in the street. At noon McCarthy took lunch at a small round table in the cafe below. When he reappeared at the elevator shaft, the elevator starter again verified his watch. Malachi McCarthy had but the one virtue of accuracy, and that had to do with matters of time. At five minutes of six he reached for his hat; at three minutes of six he boarded the elevator.
"Runs all right to-day, Sam," he remarked genially to the boy whom he had half throttled the evening before.
He stood for a moment in the entrance of the building, enjoying the sight of the crowds hurrying to their cars, the elevated, the subway, and the ferries. The clang and roar of the city pleased his senses, as a vessel vibrates to its master tone. McCarthy was feeling largely paternal as he stepped toward the corner, for to a great extent the destinies of these people were in his hands.
"Easy marks!" was his philanthropic expression of this sentiment.
At the corner he stopped for a car. He glanced up at the clock of the Metropolitan tower. The bronze hand pointed to the stroke of six. As he looked, the first note of the quarter chimes rang out. The car swung the corner and headed down the street. McCarthy stepped forward. The sweet chimes ceased their fourfold phrasing, and the great bell began its spaced and solemn booming.
One!—Two!—Three!—Four!—Five!—Six! McCarthy counted. At the recollection of a crazy message from the Unknown, he smiled. He stepped forward to hold up his hand at the car. Somewhat to his surprise the car had already stopped some twenty feet away.
McCarthy picked his way to the car.
"Wonder you wouldn't stop at a crossing," he growled, swinging aboard.
"Juice give out," explained the motorman.
McCarthy clambered aboard and sat down in a comfortably filled car. Up and down the perspective of the street could be seen other cars, also stalled. Ten minutes slipped by; then Malachi McCarthy grew impatient. With a muttered growl he rose, elbowed his way through the strap-hangers, and stepped to the street. A row of idle taxicabs stood in front of the Atlas Building. Into the first of these bounced McCarthy, throwing his address to the expectant chauffeur.
The man hopped down from his box, threw on the coil switch and ran to the front. He turned the engine over the compression, but no explosion followed. He repeated the effort a dozen times. Then, grasping the starting handle with a firmer grip, he "whirled" the engine—without result.
"What's the matter? Can't you make her go?" demanded McCarthy, thrusting his head from the door.
"Will you please listen, sir, and see if you hear a buzz when I turn her over?" requested the chauffeur.
"I don't hear nothing," was the verdict.
"I'm sorry, but you'll have to take another cab," then said the man. "My coil's gone back on me."
McCarthy impatiently descended, entered the next taxi in line, and repeated the same experience. By now the other chauffeurs, noticing the predicament of their brethren, were anxiously and perspiringly at work. Not an engine answered the call of the road! A passing truck driver, grinning from ear to ear, drove slowly down the line, dealing out the ancient jests rescued for the occasion from an oblivion to which the perfection of the automobile had consigned them.
McCarthy added his mite; he was beginning to feel himself the victim of a series of nagging impertinences, which he resented after his kind.
"If," said he, "your company would put out something on the street besides a bunch of retired grist-mills with clock dials hitched on to them, you might be able to give the public some service. I've got lots of time. Don't hurry through your afternoon exercise on my account. Just buy a lawn-mower and a chatelaine watch apiece—you'd do just as well."
By now every man had his battery box open, McCarthy left them, puzzling over the singular failure of the electrical apparatus, which is the nervous system of the modern automobile.
He turned into Fifth Avenue. An astonishing sight met his eyes.
The old days had returned. The center of the long roadway, down which ordinarily a long file of the purring monsters of gasoline creep and dash, shouldering aside the few hansoms and victorias remaining from a bygone age, now showed but a swinging slashing trot of horses.
Hansoms, hacks, broughams; up-raised whips, whirling in signal; the spat spat of horses' hoofs; all the obsolescent vehicles that ordinarily doze in hope along the stands of the side streets; it was a gay sight of the past raised again for the moment to reality by the same mysterious blight that had shadowed the Atlas Building the night before.
Along the curbs, where they had been handpushed under direction from the traffic squad, stood an unbroken line of automobiles. And the hood of each was raised for the eager tinkering of its chauffeur. Past them streamed the horses, and the faces of their drivers were illumined by broad grins.
McCarthy looked about him for a hansom. There was none unengaged. In fact, the boss soon determined that many others, like himself, were waiting for a chance at the first vacant one. Reluctantly he made up his mind to walk. He glanced up at the tower of the Metropolitan Building; then stared in astonishment. The hands of the great dial were still perpendicular—the hour indicated was still six o'clock!
DARKNESS AND PANIC
Probably the only men in the whole of New York who accepted promptly and unquestioningly the fact that the entire electrical apparatus of the city was paralyzed were those in the newspaper offices. These capable citizens, accustomed to quick adaptations to new environments and to wide reaches of the imagination, made two or three experiments, and accepted the inevitable.
Within ten minutes the Despatch had messenger boys on tap instead of bells, bicycles instead of telephones, and a variety of lamps and candles in place of electricity. Everybody else in town was speculating why in blazes this visitation had struck them. The Despatch was out after news.
Marsden, city editor, detailed three men to dig up expert opinion on why it had all happened.
"And if the scientific men haven't any other notions, ask 'em if it's anything to do with the earth passing through the tail of the comet," he told them.
The rest of the staff he turned out for stories of the effects. His imagination was struck by the contemplation of a modern civilized city deprived of its nerve system.
"Hunt up the little stuff," said he; "the big stuff will hunt you up—if you scatter."
After covering the usual police-station, theater and hotel assignments, he sent Hallowell to the bridge; Longman to the Grand Central; Kennedy, Warren and Thomas to the tubes, subways and ferries. The others he told to go out on the streets.
They saw a city of four million people stopped short on its way home to dinner! They saw a city, miles in extent, set back without preparation to a communication by messenger only! They saw a city, unprepared, blinking its way by the inadequate illuminations of a half-century gone by!
Hallowell found a packed mass of humanity at the bridge. Where ordinarily is a crush, even with incessant outgoing trains sucking away at the surplus, now was a panic—a panic the more terrible in that it was solid, sullen, inert, motionless. Women fainted, and stood unconscious, erect. Men sank slowly from sight, agonized, their faces contorted, but unheard in the dull roar of the crowd, and were seen no more. Around the edges people fought frantically to get out; and others, with the blind, unreasoning, home instinct, fought as hard to get in.
The police were unavailing. They could not penetrate to break the center. Across the bridge streamed a procession of bruised and battered humanity, escaped from or cast forth by the maelstrom. The daylight was fading, and within the sheds men could not see one another's faces.
Longman at the Grand Central observed a large and curious crowd that filled the building and packed the streets round about. They waited for their trains, and the twilight gathered. For ten minutes trains continued to enter the shed. This puzzled Longman until he remembered that gravity would bring in those this side of Harlem. None went out. The waiting throng was a hotbed for rumors. Longman collected much human-interest stuff, and was quite well satisfied with his story—until he saw what it had meant elsewhere.
For in the subways and tubes the stoppage of the trains had automatically discontinued the suction ventilation. The underground thousands, in mortal terror of the non-existent third-rail danger, groped their way painfully to the stations. With inconceivable swiftness the mephitic vapors gathered. Strong men staggered fainting into the streets. When revived they told dreadful tales of stumbling over windrows of bodies there below.
Through the gathering twilight of the streets, dusky and shadowy, flitted bat-like the criminals of the underworld. What they saw, that they took. Growing bolder, they progressed from pocket-picking to holdups, from holdups to looting. The police reserves were all out; they could do little. Favored by obscurity, the thieves plundered. It would have needed a solid cordon of officers to have protected adequately the retail district. Swiftly a guerrilla warfare sprang up. Bullets whistled. Anarchy raised its snaky locks and peered red-eyed through the darkened streets of the city.
Here and there fire broke out. Men on bicycles brought in the alarms; then, as twilight thickened, men on foot. Chief Croker promptly established lookouts in all the tall towers, as watchmen used a hundred years ago to watch the night.
And, up-town, Smith cursed the necessity of reading his evening paper by candle-light; and Mary, the cook, grumbled because she could not telephone the grocery for some forgotten ingredient; and Jones' dinner party was very hilarious over the joke on their host; and men swore and their wives worried because they had perforce to be very late to dinner.
At eight o'clock, two hours after the inception of the curious phenomena, the condition suddenly passed. The intimation came to the various parts of the city in different ways. Strangely enough, only gradually did the lights and transportation facilities resume their functions. Most of the dynamos were being inspected by puzzled experts. Here and there the blazing of a group of lights, the ringing of a bell, the response of a volt or ammeter to test, hinted to the masters of the lightnings that their rebellious steeds again answered the bit.
Within a half-hour the city's illuminations again reflected softly from the haze of the autumn sky; the clang of the merry trolley, the wail of the motor's siren again smote the air.
Malachi McCarthy, having caught a ride on a friendly dray, arrived home. At eight ten his telephone bell for the first time jangled its summons. McCarthy answered it.
"I'm Simmons, the wireless operator," the small voice told him. "Say! There's a lot of these fool messages in the air again. You know what they said last night about six o'clock, and what happened."
"Let's have 'em," growled McCarthy.
"Here she is: 'McCarthy, will you do as I tell you? Answer. Remember the sign at six o'clock.' It's signed 'M.'"
"Where did that come from?" asked the boss.
"Can't tell, but somewheres a long ways off."
"How do you know that?"
"By the sound."
"Might be anywhere."
"Can you get an answer back?"
"I think so. Can't tell whether my spark will reach that far. I can send out a call for 'M.'"
"Well, send this," said McCarthy. "'Go to hell.'"
On the evening of the phenomena afore mentioned, Percy Darrow had returned to his apartments, where he had dressed unusually early, and by daylight. This was because he had a dinner engagement up-town. It was an informal engagement for a family dinner at seven o'clock; but Percy had been requested by one of the members to come at about six. This was because the other members would presumably be dressing between six and seven.
The young man found a fire blazing on the hearth, although the evening was warm. A graceful girl sat looking into the flames. She did not rise as the scientist entered, but held out her hand with an air of engaging frankness.
"Sit down," she invited the guest. "This is a fearful and wonderful time to ask you to venture abroad in your dress clothes, but I wanted to see you most particularly before the rest of the family comes down."
"You are a singularly beautiful woman," observed Darrow in a detached manner, as he disposed his long form gracefully in the opposite armchair.
The girl looked at him sharply.
"That is intended as an excuse or explanation—not in the least as a compliment," Darrow went on.
"You would not be so obliging, if I were not—beautiful?" shot back the girl. "That is indeed not complimentary!"
"I should be exactly as obliging," amended Darrow lazily, "but I should not feel so generally satisfied and pleased and rewarded in advance. I should have more of a feeling of virtue, and less of one of pleasure."
"I see," said the girl, her brows still level. "Then I suppose you are not interested in what I might ask you as one human being to another!"
"Pardon me, Helen," interrupted Darrow, with unusual decision. "That is just what I am interested in—you as a human being, a delicious, beautiful, feminine, human being who could mean half the created universe to a lucky man."
"But not the whole—"
"No, not the whole," mused Darrow, relaxing to his old indolent attitude. "You see," he roused himself to explain, "I am a scientist, for instance. You could not be a scientist; you have not the training."
"Nor the brains," interposed Helen Warford, a trifle bitterly.
"Nor the kind of brains," amended Darrow. "I have enough of that sort myself," he added. He leaned forward, a hunger leaping in the depths of his brown eyes. "Helen," he pleaded, "can't you see how we need each other?"
But the girl shut both her eyes, and shook her head vigorously.
"Unless people can be everything to each other, they should be nothing—people like us," said she.
Darrow sighed and leaned back.
"I feel that way, but the devil of it is I can't think it," said he. Then after a pause: "What is it you want of me, Helen? I'm ready."
She sat up straight, and clasped her hands.
"It's Jack," said she.
"What's the matter with Jack?"
"Everything—and nothing. He's just out of college. This fall he must go to work. Father wants him to go into an office. Jack doesn't care much, and will drift into the office unless somebody stops him."
"Well?" said Darrow.
"An office will ruin him. He isn't in the least interested in the things they do in offices; and he's too high-spirited to settle down to a grind."
"He's like you in spirit, Helen," said Darrow. "What is he interested in?"
"He's interested in you."
"What!" cried Darrow. "Wish it were a family trait."
"He thinks you are wonderful, and he knows all about all your adventures and voyages with Doctor Schermerhorn. He admires the way you look and act and talk. I suspect him of trying to imitate you." Helen's eyes gleamed with amusement.
Darrow smiled his slow and languid smile.
"The last time I saw Jack he stood six feet and weighed about one hundred and eight-five pounds," he pointed out.
"The imitation is funny," admitted Helen, "but based on genuine admiration."
"What do you want me to do with him?" drawled Darrow.
"I thought you could take him in with you; get him started at something scientific; something that would interest and absorb him, and something that would not leave all his real energies free for mischief."
Darrow leaned his head against the back of the chair and laughed softly. So long did his amusement continue that Helen at length brought him rather sharply to account.
"I was merely admiring," then exclaimed Darrow, "the delicious femininity of the proposal. It displays at once such really remarkable insight into the psychological needs of another human being, and such abysmal ignorance of the demands of what we are pleased to call science."
"You are the most superior and exasperating and conceited man I know!" cried Helen. "I am sorry I asked you. I'd like to know what there is so silly in my remarks!"
"Jack is physically very strong; he is most courageous; he has a good disposition, a gentleman's code, and an eager likable nature. I gather further that he does me the honor of admiring me personally. He has received a general, not a special, college education."
"Well!" challenged Helen.
"Barring the last, these are exactly the qualifications of a good bull-terrier."
"Oh!" cried the girl indignantly, and half rising. "You are insulting!"
"No," denied Darrow. "Not that—never to you, Helen, and you know it! I'm merely talking sense. Leaving aside the minor consideration that I am myself looking for employment, what use has a scientist for a bull-terrier? Jack has no aptitude for science; he has had none of the accurate training absolutely essential to science. He probably wouldn't be interested in science. At the moment he happens to admire me, and I'm mighty glad and proud that it is so. But that doesn't help. If I happened to be a saloon man, Jack would quite as cheerfully want to be a barkeeper. I'd do anything in the world to help Jack; but I'm not the man. You want to hunt up somebody that needs a good bull-terrier. Lots do."
"I hate such a cold-blooded way of going at things!" cried the girl. "You show no more interest in Jack than if—than if—"
Darrow smiled whimsically. "Indeed I do, Helen," he said quietly; "that is why I don't want to touch his life. Science would ruin him quicker than an office—in the long run. What he wants is a job of action—something out West—or in the construction of our great and good city. Now, if I had a political pull, instead of a scientific twist, I could land Jack in a minute. Why don't you try that?"
But Helen slowly shook her head.
"Father and McCarthy are enemies," she said simply. She arose with an air of weariness. "How dark it's getting!" she said, and pressed the electric button in the wall.
The light did not respond.
"That's queer," she remarked, and pulled the chain that controlled the reading light on the table. That, too, failed to illuminate. "Something must be wrong with those things at the meter—what do you call them?"
"Fuses," suggested Darrow.
"Yes, that's it. I'll ring and have Blake screw in another."
Darrow was staring at a small object he had taken from his pocket. It was the electric flash-light he habitually carried to light his way up the three dark flights at his lodgings.
"Let me call him for you," he suggested, rising.
"I'll ring," said Helen.
But Darrow was already in the hall.
"Blake!" he called down the basement stairway. "Bring lamps—or candles."
The man appeared on the word, carrying a lamp.
"I already had this, sir," he explained. "The lights went out some time ago."
"Did you look at the—fuses?" asked Helen.
"Well, telephone to the electric company at once. We must have light."
Percy Darrow had taken his place again in the armchair by the fire.
"It is useless," said he, quietly.
"Useless!" echoed Helen. "What do you mean?" Blake stood quietly at attention.
"You will find your telephone also out of order."
Helen darted from the room, only to return after a moment, laughing.
"You are a true wizard," she said. "Tell me, how did you know? What has happened?"
"A city," stated Percy didactically, "is like a mollusk; it depends largely for its life and health on the artificial shell it has constructed. Unless I am very much mistaken, this particular mollusk is going to get a chance to try life without its shell."
"I don't understand you," said Helen.
"You will," said Percy Darrow.
Mr. and Mrs. Warford descended soon after. They sat down to dinner by the light of the table candles only. Darrow hardly joined at all in the talk, but sat lost in a brown study, from which he only roused sufficiently to accept or refuse the dishes offered him. At about eight o'clock the telephone bell clicked a single stroke, as though the circuit had been closed. At the sound Darrow started, then reached swiftly into his pocket for his little flash-light. He gravely pressed the button of this; then abruptly rose.
"I must use your telephone," said he, without apology.
He was gone barely a minute; then returned to the table with a clouded brow. Almost immediately after the company had arisen from the board, he excused himself and left.
After he had assumed his coat, however, he returned for a final word with Helen.
"Where is Jack this evening?" he asked.
"Dining out with friends. Why?"
"Will you see him to-night?"
"I can if necessary."
"Do. Tell him to come down to my room as near eight o'clock to-morrow morning as he can. I've changed my mind."
"Oh!" cried Helen joyously. "Then you've concluded I'm right, after all?"
"No," said Darrow; "but if this thing carries out to its logical conclusion, I'm going to need a good bull-terrier pup!"
A SCIENTIST IN PINK SILK
The next morning promptly at eight o'clock Jack Warford, in response to a muttered invitation, burst excitedly into Percy Darrow's room. He found the scientist, draped in a pale-pink silk kimono embroidered with light-blue butterflies, scraping methodically at his face with a safety-razor. At the sight the young fellow came to an abrupt stop, as though some one had met him with a dash of cold water in the face.
"Hello!" said he, in a constrained voice. "Just up?"
Darrow cast a glance through his long silky lashes at the newcomer.
"Yes, my amiable young canine, just up."
Jack looked somewhat puzzled at the appellation, but seated himself.
"Helen said you wanted to see me," he suggested.
Darrow leisurely cleaned the component parts of his safety-razor, washed and anointed his face, and turned.
"I do," said he, "if you're game."
"Of course I'm game!" cried the boy indignantly.
Darrow surveyed his fresh, young, eager face and the trim taut bulk of him with dispassionate eyes.
"Are you?" he remarked simply. "Possibly. But you're not the man to be sure of it."
"I didn't mean it as bragging," cried Jack, flushing.
"Surely not," drawled Darrow, stretching out his long legs. "But no man can tell whether or not he's game until he's tried out. That's no reflection on him, either. I remember once I went through seeing my best friend murdered; being shot at a dozen times myself as I climbed a cliff; seeing a pirate ship destroyed with all on board, apparently by the hand of Providence; escaping from a big volcanic bust-up into a cave, and having the cave entrance drop down shut behind me. I was as cool as a cucumber all through it. I remember congratulating myself that, anyhow, I was going to die game."
"By Jove!" murmured Jack Warford, staring at him, fascinated. Evidently, the super-beautiful garment had been forgotten.
"Then a war-ship's crew rescued me; and I broke down completely, and acted like a silly ass. I wasn't game at all; I'd just managed to postpone finding it out for a while."
"It was just the reaction!" cried Jack.
"Well, if that sort of reaction happens along before the trouble is all over, it looks uncommonly like loss of nerve," Percy Darrow pointed out. "No man knows whether or not he's game," he repeated. "However," he smiled whimsically, "I imagine you're likely to postpone your reactions as well as the next."
"What's up? What do you want me to do?"
"Stick by me; obey orders," said Darrow.
"Did you notice anything in the papers this morning?"
"They're full of this electrical failure last night. Haven't you seen them?"
"Not yet. While I dress, tell me what they say."
"The worst was in the tubes—" Warford began, but Darrow interrupted him.
"I could tell you exactly what must have happened," said he, "if the failure was complete. Never mind that. Was the condition general, or only local? How far did it extend?"
"It seemed to be confined to New York, and only about to Highbridge."
"Long Island? Jersey?"
"Yes; it hit them, too."
"What are the theories?"
"I couldn't see that they had any—that I could understand," said Jack. "There's some talk of the influence of a comet."
"Rubbish! Who sprung that?"
"Professor Aitken, I think."
"He ought to know better. Any others?"
"I couldn't understand them all. There was one of polarizing the island because of the steel structures; and the—"
"No human agency?"
"No man or men are suspected of bringing this about?"
"Oh, no! You don't think—"
"No, I don't think. I only imagine; and I haven't much basis for imagining. But if my imaginations come out right, we'll have plenty to do."
"Where, now?" asked Jack, as the scientist finished dressing and reached for his hat. "Breakfast?"
"No, I ate that before I dressed. We'll make a call on the Atlas Building."
"All right," agreed Jack cheerfully. "What for?"
"To ask McCarthy if he hasn't a job for you in construction."
Jack came to a dead halt.
"Say!" he cried. "Look here! You don't quite get the humor of that. Why, McCarthy loves the name of Warford about the way a yellow dog loves a tin can to his tail."
"We'll call on him, just the same," insisted Darrow.
"I'm game," said Jack, "but I can tell you the answer right now. No need to walk to the Atlas Building."
"I have a notion the Atlas Building is going to be a mighty interesting place," said Darrow.
They debouched on the street. The air was soft and golden; the sun warm with the Indian summer. The clock on the Metropolitan tower was booming nine. As the two set out at a slow saunter down the backwater of the side street, Darrow explained a little further.
"Jack," said he abruptly, "I'll tell you what I think—or imagine. I believe last night's phenomena were controlled, not fortuitous or the result of natural forces. In other words, some man turned off the juice in this city; and turned it on again. How he did it, I do not know; but he did it very completely. It was not a question of wiring alone. Even dry-cell batteries were affected. Now, I can think of only one broad general principle by which he could accomplish that result. Just what means he took to apply the principle is beyond my knowledge. But if I am correct in my supposition, there occurs to me no reason why he should not go a step or so farther."
"I don't believe I follow," said Jack contritely.
"What I'm driving at is this," said Darrow; "this is not the end of the circus by any means. We're going to see a lot of funny things—if my guess is anywhere near right."
THE WRATH TO COME
"Did you ever meet McCarthy?" asked Darrow, as the elevator of the Atlas sprang upward.
"Well, no matter what he says or does, I want you to say nothing—nothing."
"Correct," said Jack. "I'll down-charge."
"That's right," Darrow approved. "First of all, wait outside until I call you."
McCarthy was already at his desk, and in evil humor. When Darrow entered, he merely looked up and growled.
"Good morning," Darrow greeted him easily. "Any wireless this morning?"
McCarthy threw back his heavy head.
"That damn operator's been leaking!" he cried.
"So there are 'wireless'," observed Darrow. "No, your operator didn't leak. Who is he?"
"If he didn't leak, what did you say that for?"
"I'm a good guesser," replied Darrow enigmatically. "They say anything about a 'sign' being sent, and such talk?"
"You've been gettin' the dope yourself out of the air," returned McCarthy sullenly.
"Look here, my fat friend," drawled Darrow, his eyes half closing, "I'm getting nothing from anywhere except in my own gray matter. What do your messages have to say?"
"Why should I tell you?"
"Because I'm interested—and because I know who sent 'em."
"So do I," snarled McCarthy, in a gust of temper.
"And I'm beginning to suspect he's a man to look out for. And I doubt if you'll ever find him. Of course, he's responsible for the row last night—as well as for the trouble in the Atlas Building the night before."
"I don't know whether he is or not."
"Oh, yes, you do; and I do; and the wireless man does. We're the only three. The rest of them are still figuring on comets."
"I don't suppose there's any real doubt left in your mind but that this man can turn the juice off again, if he wants to?"
"I don't know as he did it," persisted McCarthy stoutly.
"Now, how long do you suppose you'd last if the public should get on to the fact that this hidden power was going to exert itself again unless you left town?"
A slight moisture bedewed McCarthy's forehead.
"Not all your police, nor all your power could save you, if the general public once became thoroughly convinced that it was to go through another experience like last night's unless it ousted you. Why, a mob of a million men would gather against you in an hour You see," drawled Percy Darrow, "why you'd better look after that wireless man of yours—and me."
"And you," repeated McCarthy. "What do you want?"
"I want to see those wireless messages, first of all," said Darrow, reaching out his hand.
McCarthy hesitated; then swiftly thrust forward the flimsies. Darrow, a slight smile curving his full red lips, held them to the light. They read as follows:
"McCarthy: A sign was promised you at six o'clock. It has been sent. Repent and beware! Go while there is yet time.
There were four of these, couched in almost identical language. The fifth and last message was shorter:
"McCarthy: Flee from the wrath to come.
"What," said Darrow, "is to prevent the other operators who must have caught this message from giving it to the public? What, indeed, is to prevent M.'s appealing direct to the public?"
"I don't know," confessed McCarthy miserably. "Do you?"
"Not at this moment. Will you send for the operator who took these?"
McCarthy snatched down the telephone receiver, through which presently he spoke a message.
"What have you got to do with this?" he demanded, after he had hung up the hook.
"I want something," said Percy, "of course."
"Sure," growled McCarthy, once more back on familiar ground, and glad of it. "What is it?"
"I'll tell you when I'm sure whether I can do anything for you in this matter."
"If this fellow didn't leak, how did you know about them wireless?" demanded McCarthy again. "How do you know who's doin' this?"
"The man who can control the juice as this man has is a scientific expert with a full scientific equipment. If he communicated at all, it would be by wireless, as that is the easiest way to cover his trail. I remembered your telephone message from the fanatic about sending a 'sign'. Immediately after, the Atlas Building experienced on a small scale what next day the city experienced on a larger scale. It was legitimate inference to connect one with the other. Of course, if our telephone friend was the man who had brought these things about, he had done it to force you to do what he demanded. But he would lose the effect of his lesson unless you understood his connection with the matter. Hence, I concluded that you must have received messages—by wireless—and that they must have repeated the warning as to a 'sign' being sent. It was very simple."
"You're smart, all right," conceded McCarthy.
After a moment the wireless operator came in.
"Simmons," said McCarthy, "answer this man's questions."
"They will be in regard to these messages," said Darrow. "Where are they from?"
"Somewhere in the one-hundred to two-hundred-mile circles, depending on the power of the sending instrument," replied the operator promptly.
"Are you sure?"
"I know my instruments pretty well; and I've had experience enough so I can tell by the sound of the sending about how far off they come from."
"And this was from somewhere about one to two hundred miles away, you think?"
"Do you know whether any other instruments caught this?"
"No, only mine." He was very positive.
"How do you know?"
"Mr. McCarthy had me inquire."
"How do you account for it?"
"I don't know, except that maybe my instrument happened to be just tuned to catch it. That's another reason I know it was from far off. The farther away the sending instrument, the nearer exactly it has to be tuned to the receiving instrument. If it was nearer, 'most anybody'd get it."
Percy Darrow nodded.
"That's all, I guess. No, hold on. Did any of these come between six and eight last evening?"
For the first time the operator smiled.
"No, sir; my instrument was dead."
He went out.
"Well?" growled McCarthy.
"I don't know; but I can see more trouble."
"Let him turn off his juice," blustered the boss; "we'll be ready, next time."
Percy Darrow smiled.
"Will you?" he contented himself by saying. Then, after a moment's pause, he added, "I'll agree to stop this fellow if you'll give me an absolutely free hand. I'll even agree to find him."
"What do you want?"
"I want a job, a good engineering-construction job, for a friend of mine."
"What can he do?"
"He can learn. I want a good honest place where he can learn under a good man."
"Who is he?"
"I'll bring him in."
A moment later Jack, in answer to a summons, entered the office.
McCarthy stared at him. "What kind of a job?" he growled.
"Something active and out of doors," Darrow answered for him; "streets, water, engineering."
"It's a holdup," said McCarthy sullenly drawing a tablet toward himself, and thrusting the stub of a pencil into his mouth.
"A beneficent and just holdup," added Darrow; "the first of its kind in this city."
McCarthy glared at him malevolently.
"It don't go unless you deliver the goods," he threatened.
"Understood," agreed Darrow.
"What's his name?" demanded McCarthy, withdrawing the pencil stub, and preparing to write.
"His name," answered Darrow, "is John Warford, Junior."
McCarthy started to his feet with a bellow of rage, his face turning purple.
"Of all the infernal—!" he roared, and stopped, as though stricken dumb. For two or three words further his mouth and throat went through the motions of speech. Then an expression of mingled fear and astonishment overspread his countenance. He sank back into his chair. Percy Darrow nodded twice and smiled.
A WORLD OF GHOSTS
A deathly stillness had all at once fallen like a blanket, blotting out McCarthy's violent speech. The rattling typewriter in the next room was abruptly stilled. The roar of the city died as a living creature is cut by the sword—all at once, without the transitionary running down of most silences. Absolute dense stillness, like that of a sea calm at night, took the place of the customary city noises. In his astonishment McCarthy thrust a heavy inkstand off the edge of his desk. It hit the floor, spilled, rolled away; but noiselessly, as would the inkstand in a moving picture.
To have one's world thus suddenly stricken dumb, to be transported orally from the roar of a city to the peace of a woodland or a becalmed sea is certainly astonishing enough.
But this silence was particularly terrifying to both McCarthy and Jack Warford, though neither would have been able to analyze the reason for its weirdness. For silence is in reality a composite of many lesser noises. In a woodland almost inaudible insects hum, breezes blow, leaves and grasses rustle; at sea the tiny waves lap the sides and equally tiny breaths of air stir the cordage; within the confines of the human shell the mere physical acts of breathing, swallowing, winking, the mere physical facts of the circulation of the blood, the beating of the heart, produce each its sound.
Even a man totally deaf feels the subtle influence of these latter physical phenomena. And underneath all sound, perceptible alike to those who can hear and those who can not, are the vibrations that accompany every activity of nature as the manifestations of motion or of life. An ordinary deep silence is not so much an absence of sound as an absence of accustomed or loud sound. And in that unusual hush often for the first time a man becomes acutely aware of the singing of the blood in his ears.
But this silence was absolute. All these minor sounds had been eliminated.
For a moment Boss McCarthy stared; then shoved back his chair with a violent motion, and rose. He was like a shadow on a screen. The filching from the world of one element of its every-day life had unexpectedly rendered it all phantasmagoric.
As McCarthy shouted, and no sound came; as he moved from behind his desk, and no jar accompanied his heavy footfall, he appeared to lose blood and substance, to become unreal. As no sound issued from his contorted face, So it seemed that no force would follow his blow, were he to deliver one.
He stumbled forward, dazed and groping as though he were in the dark, instead of merely in silence; a striking example in the uncertainty of his movements of how closely our senses depend on one another.
Jack spoke twice, then closed his lips in a grim straight line. He held his elbows close to his sides, and looked ready for anything.
A look of mild triumph illumined Percy Darrow's usually languid countenance. He stepped quickly to the wall, and turned the button of the incandescent globe. The light instantly glowed. At this he nodded twice more. From his pocket he drew a note-book and pencil, wrote in it a few words, and handed it to the dazed and uncertain boss.
"I was right," Darrow had scrawled. "This proves it. It's by no means the end. Better be good."
McCarthy's bulldog courage had recovered from its first daze. He began to see that this visitation was not entirely personal, but extended also to his two companions. This relieved his mind, for he had suspected some strange new apoplexy.
"Did you expect this?" he wrote.
Together the three ghosts left the phantom office, and glided down the phantom halls. Other ghosts in various stages of alarm were already making their way down the stairs. Some of them spoke, but no sound came. One woman, her eyes frightened, reached out furtively to touch her neighbor, apparently to assure herself of his reality. Urged by an uncontrollable impulse, a man thrust his hand through the ground glass of an office door. The glass shivered, and crashed to the tile floor. The pieces broke—silently. It was as though the man had been the figure in a cinematograph illusion. He stared at his cut and bleeding hand. The woman who had touched the man suddenly threw back her head and screamed. They could see her eyes roll back, her face change color, could discern the straining of her throat. No sound came.
At this a panic seized them. They rushed down the stairs, clambering over one another, pushing, scrambling, falling. A mob of a hundred men fought for precedence. Blows were struck. No faintest murmur of tumult came from their futile heat. It might have been the riot of a wax-works in a vacuum.
They fell into the lower hallway, and fought their way to the street, and stood there dazed and staring, a strange, wild-eyed, white-faced, bloody crew. The hurrying avenue stopped to gaze on them curiously, gathering compact in a mob that blocked all traffic. Policemen pushed their way in and began roughly to question—and to question in real audible words.
But for the space of a full minute these people stood there staring upward, drinking in the blessed sound that poured in on them lavishly from the life of the street; drinking deep gulps of air, as though air had lacked.
Darrow, and with him Jack Warford, had descended more leisurely. Before leaving the building Darrow placed the flat of his hands over his ears, and motioned Jack to do the same. Thus they missed the stunning effect of receiving the world of noise all at once; as a man goes to a bright light from a dark room. Furthermore, Darrow returned several times from the sound to the silence, trying to determine where the line of demarcation was drawn. Then, motioning to Jack, he began methodically to make his way through the crowd.
This proved to be by no means an easy task. Rumors of all sorts were afoot. Some bold spirits were testing a new sensation by venturing into the corridor of the building. The police were undecided as to what should be done. One or two reporters were already at hand, investigating. McCarthy, his assurance returned, was conversing earnestly with a police captain.
Percy Darrow, closely followed by Jack, managed to worm his way through the crowd, and finally debouched on Broadway.
"What was it? What struck us?" demanded Jack. "Do you know?"
"I can guess; in essence," said Percy. "I was pretty sure after last evening's trouble; but this underscores it, proves it. Also, it opens the way."
"What do you mean?"
"Along the lines of these phenomena there are two more things possible. Possible, I say. They might be called certain, were we dealing only with theory; but there is still some doubt how the practical side of it may work out."
"I suppose you know what you're talking about," said Jack resignedly. "I don't."
"You don't need to, yet. But here's what I mean. If my theory is correct, we are likely to be surprised still further."
Jack ruminated; then his engaging young face lighted up with a smile.
"All right," said he; "I'm enlisted for the war. What have you got to do with it?"
"I'll explain this much," said Darrow; "more I'll not tell at present, even to you. If one breath should get out that any one suspected—well, this is a man-hunt."
"Who's the man?"
"An enemy of McCarthy."
"Whom you are going to find for him?"
"And you were putting up that job for me as part of your pay!"
Percy Darrow smiled slowly.
"As all of my pay—from McCarthy," said he. "I was just bedeviling him."
Jack Warford started to say something, but the scientist cut him short.
"This is bigger than McCarthy," he said decisively. "We are the only people in this city who suspect a human origin of these phenomena. Other men are yet working, and will continue to work, on the supposition that they are the results of some unbalanced natural conditions. The phenomena are, as yet, harmless. It will not greatly injure the city, once it is prepared, to be without electricity or without sound for limited periods. I doubt very much whether the Unknown can continue these phenomena for longer than limited periods. But conceivably this man may become a peril. He has, if I reason correctly, four arrows in his quiver; the fourth is dangerous. It is our duty to find him before he uses the fourth arrow—if indeed he has discovered the method of doing so. That is always in doubt."
Jack's eyes were shining.
"Bully!" he cried.
"He may conceivably possess the power to launch the fourth and dangerous arrow, but may withhold it unless he believes himself suspected or close pressed. His probable mental processes are obscure. At present he directs himself solely against McCarthy." Percy Darrow had been thinking aloud, and realized it with a smile. "This is one of your jobs, fellow detective," said he. "You've got to be a mark for me to think at."
"I wish you'd think a little more clearly," observed Jack. "It sounds interesting, but jumbled. I feel the way I did when I began to read Greek."
"McCarthy's incidental," observed Darrow in his detached tone.
"Oh, I thought we might as well worry McCarthy by asking him for that job on the side. It's amusing."
"What do you want me to do?" asked Jack.
"This," said Darrow, with an unusual rapidity of utterance. "See that thick-set, quick man in gray clothes? He's a policeman. In a moment he'll arrest me."
"Arrest you—why?" demanded Jack, in tones of great astonishment.
"I reason that McCarthy will come to that conclusion. He is beginning to think I have something to do with what he calls his annoyances. I saw it in his eyes. This last curious manifestation came along too pat. You remember, it cut off the dressing-down he was going to give me." Darrow chuckled in appreciation. "Didn't the humor of that strike you?"
"Me? Oh, I was scared," admitted Jack.
"I want you to go home and tell Helen just what happened in the Atlas Building. Do not tell her that I believe the phenomena are due to any human agency. Say simply that if it is repeated, and she happens to be within the zone of its influence, to keep calm, and wait. It will pass, and it is not to be feared. Tell her I said so."
"Lord!" cried Jack. "You don't think it's going to happen again!"
"Within the next twenty-four hours," said Darrow.
"Oughtn't we to warn the people?"
"And let our hidden antagonist know we are aware of his existence?" inquired Darrow.
"No—yes. Buy a gun. If I bring you into any trouble, I'll see you clear. You understand?"
"I rely on your being game."
"To the limit," said Jack. "Here comes your friend. Won't this arrest ball things up? Shall I rustle bail?"
"No," said Darrow. "I want to think. All I need is all the papers. I'll be out by ten to-morrow morning, sure."
"Why are you sure of that?"
"Because by that hour McCarthy will have disappeared," said Percy Darrow.
The man in the gray suit, having finished his scrutiny, lounged forward.
"You are Mr. Darrow," he stated.
"Sure I am, my amiable but obvious sleuth," drawled that young man. "Lead on." He nodded a farewell to Jack, and linked his arm in that of the officer. After a few moments he burst into an irrepressible chuckle.
"The fat, thick-necked, thick-witted, old fool!" said he.
PERCY DARROW'S THEORY
Percy Darrow in the police station, where he had been assigned an unused office instead of a cell, amused himself reading the newspapers, of which he caused to be brought in a full supply. Theories had begun to claim their share of the space which, up to now, the fact stories had completely monopolized. Darrow, his feet up, a cigarette depending from one corner of his mouth, read them through to the end. Then he indulged the white walls of his little apartment with one of his slow smiles. The simplest of the theories had to do with comets. The most elaborate traced out an analogy between the "blind spot" in vision and a "point of rest" in physical manifestations—this "point of rest" had just now happened to drift to a crowded center, and so became manifest.
"Ingenious but fantastic youth," was Percy Darrow's tribute to the author, Professor Eldridge of the university.
The "human-interest" stories of both the evening before and those in the extras describing the latest freak in the Atlas Building, Darrow passed over with barely a glance. But certain figures he copied carefully into his notebook. When he had found all of these, and had transcribed them, they appeared about as follows:
Atlas—Wednesday, 5:25. 3:00 (about): 9 hr. 35 min.
General—Thursday, 6:00. 7:56 (exact): 1 hr. 56 min.
Atlas—Friday, 10:10. 10:48 (exact): 38 min.
On the basis of these latter figures he made some calculations which, when finished, he looked on with doubtful satisfaction.
"Need more statistics," said he to himself, "before I can pose as a prophet. Just now I'm merely a guesser."
By now it was afternoon. An official came to announce visitors, and a moment later Helen and her brother came in. As Percy's case was merely one of detention, or for some other obscurer reason, known only to those who took their orders from McCarthy, the three were left alone to their own devices.
At the sight of Helen's trim tailor-clad figure Percy's expression brightened to what, in his case, might almost be called animation. He swept aside the accumulation of papers, and made room for both. After the first greetings and exclamations, Helen demanded to know particulars and prospects.
"All right, I'll tell you," agreed Darrow. "I'm thought out; and I want to hear it myself."
Jack looked about him uneasily.
"Is it wise to talk here?" he asked. "I don't doubt they have arrangements for overhearing anything that is said."
"I don't think they care what we say," observed Darrow. "They are merely detaining me on some excuse or another that I haven't even taken the trouble to inquire about."
"That must astonish them some," said Jack.
"And if they do overhear, I don't much care. Now," said he, turning to Helen, "we have here three strange happenings comprising two phenomena—the cutting off of the electricity, first in the Atlas Building, second in the city at large; and the cutting off of sound in the Atlas. Although we are, of course, not justified in generalizing from one instance, what would you think by analogy would be the next thing to expect?"
"That sound would be cut off in the city," said Helen; "but Jack has already delivered me your warning or advice," she added.
"Precisely. Now as to theories of the ultimate cause. Naturally this must have been brought about either by nature or by man. If by nature, it is exceedingly localized, not to say directed. If by man, he must have in some way acquired unprecedented powers over the phenomena of electricity and sound. These he can evidently, at will, either focus, as on the Atlas Building, or diffuse, as over the city. For the moment we will adopt the latter hypothesis."
"That it is a man in possession of extraordinary powers," said Helen, leaning forward in her interest. "Go on."
"We have, completed, only the phenomena of electricity," continued Darrow; "the phenomena of sound remain to be completed. We observe as to that (a)"—he folded back his forefinger—"the Atlas manifestation lasted about nine and a half hours; and (b)"—he folded his middle finger—"the city manifestation was a little less than two hours."
"Yes," cried Jack, "but then this second—"
"One minute," interrupted Darrow; "let me finish. Now, let us place ourselves in the position of a man possessed of a new toy, or a new power which he has never tried out! What would he do?"
"Try it out," said Jack.
"Certainly; try it out to the limit, to see just what it could do in different circumstances. Now, take the lapses of time I have mentioned, and assume, for the sake of argument, that these powers are limited."
"Just how do you mean—limited?" asked Helen.
"I mean exhaustible, like a watering-pot. You can water just so much, and then you have to go back and fill up again. In that case, we can suppose this man's stream will last nine hours and a half when he dribbles it down on one spot, like the Atlas Building; but it will empty itself in about two hours when he turns her upside down over a whole city. There remains only the length of time necessary to refill the water-pot to round out our hypothesis. That is something more than nine hours and something less than fifteen."
"How do you get those figures?" demanded Jack.
"The Unknown is anxious, after the Atlas success, to try out his discovery on the larger scale. He will naturally do so at the first opportunity after his water-pot is refilled. But he wishes to do so at the first effective opportunity. What is the most effective moment? The rush hours. What are the rush hours? From eight to ten, and at six. Since he did not pull off his show in the morning, we are fairly justified in concluding, tentatively, that the water-pot was not full by then, and, as the Atlas phenomena subsided at three of the morning before, the inference is obvious."
"But isn't the most effective time at night, anyway, on account of the lights?" asked Jack.
"Good boy!" approved Darrow. "He might have waited for that. But the city-wide phenomena ceased at eight the night before; and the Atlas sound phenomena did not occur until ten the next morning—fourteen hours. Now, the most effective time to scare McCarthy was any time after nine. McCarthy arrives as the clock strikes."
Jack shook his head.
"Oh, it's not proof; it's idle hypothesis," admitted Darrow. "We shall have to test it. But let's go on with it, anyway, and see how it works out."
"What's McCarthy got to do with it?" demanded Helen.
"That's so, you aren't in touch there." Darrow sketched briefly the situation as it affected the boss. Helen's eyes were shining with interest.
"Now," continued Darrow, "having tried out his new power to the limit, our friend would begin to use it only as he needed it. There is now no reason to empty the water-pot entirely. All he wanted to do this morning was to scare McCarthy, and impress the public. He did that in thirty-eight minutes. On the basis of fourteen hours to fill the water-pot, it is evident that he would be rehabilitated, ready for business, in an hour. Therefore, all he is waiting for now is the most effective moment to try out his city-wide experiment of silence. I imagine that will be about six."
"Sounds reasonable," admitted Jack.
"Reasonable! It's certain!" cried Helen.
Darrow smiled. "No, only a wild hypothesis."
"It'll scare people to death," observed Jack.
"They're scared already; and they're somewhat prepared by the performance this morning. Besides, I don't see yet that human agency is suspected."
"Don't you think you'd better warn people what is going to happen, and tell them there's nothing to be frightened of?" pleaded Helen.
"No," said Darrow, "I do not. It would confuse the phenomena, and they must be unconfused in order that I can either prove or disprove my hypothesis. If this lasts about two hours, the fact will go far to prove me right. If the next manifestation comes at about ten the next morning, we shall have established a periodicity, at least. But if the man realizes that his existence is suspected, he will purposely vary in order to mix me up."
"The next manifestation!" cried Helen. "Then you think they will continue—"
"Why not," smiled Darrow, "until he has scared McCarthy out?"
"Which will it be next time, do you think?"
"Whatever happens, don't be frightened," said Darrow enigmatically.
"It seems to me there is something absurd about all this," said Helen. "A man with such a discovery, such powers, using them in such a manner, for such a petty purpose!"
"He is, of course, crazy," Darrow said quietly; "the methodical logical lunatic—the most dangerous sort."
"What is it he has discovered?" asked Jack.
"I do not know, yet."
"But you suspect?"
Darrow nodded, but would not explain.
"What will be the outcome?"
"I am going to cut loose from science and guess wildly," said Darrow, after a moment. "To-morrow morning, somewhere about ten, McCarthy will disappear."
"You said that before!" cried Jack.
"Well, I say it again," drawled Darrow.
THE GREAT SILENCE
Percy Darrow sat quite calmly, though a little hungrily, through the first of the two hours of the Great Silence. As it fell, he looked at his watch; then went on reading. Strangely terrified faces flitted by the open door of his little room. About seven o'clock Darrow, struck by a sudden idea, arose, walked down the corridor outside, and quite deliberately set to work to force the light door. As has been intimated, either by direct order of McCarthy or because of some vagueness of the orders, the young man had been confined, not in the jail proper, but in one of the living apartments of the wing.
Few realize how important a role sound plays in what might be called the defensives of our every-day life. Sight is important, to be sure, but it is more often corroborative than not; it is more often used to identify the source of the alarm that has been communicated through other channels. When we are told of the hero—or the villain—that he stood "with every sense alert", our mental picture, in spite of the phrasing, is that of a man listening intently for the first intimations of what may threaten.
So it is in prison. The warders can, of necessity, remain within actual view of but a few of the prisoners a small proportion of the time. But through those massive and silent corridors sound stands watch-dog for them. The minute scratch of a file, the vibrations attendant on the most cautious attempts against the stone structure, the most muffled footfall reports to the jailer that mischief is afoot. Instantly he is on the spot to corroborate by his other faculties the warnings of the watch-dog of the senses.
Now the watch-dog was asleep. Percy Darrow reflected that, were it not for the terror of these unexplainable hours, the prisoners within or their friends without could assail their confines boldly and formidably, even with dynamite, and none would be the wiser if only none happened to be within actual visual range of the operations. He himself quite coolly used the iron side piece to his bed as a battering-ram to break the locks of the door. Then he walked down the long corridor and out through the police station, bowing politely to the bewildered officers. The latter did not attempt to stop him.
The people in the streets were, for the most part, either standing stock-still, or moving slowly forward in a groping sort of fashion. Darrow, for the second time, noticed how analogous to the deprivation of sight was the total deprivation of hearing and feeling vibration.
Traffic was at a standstill. People's faces were bewildered, for the most part; though here and there one showed contorted with the hysteria of fright, or exalted with some other, probably religious, emotion. The same impression of ghostliness came to Darrow here as in the Atlas Building. Visual causes were not producing their wonted aural effect.
On the street corner a peanut vender's little whistle sent aloft bravely its jet of steam; the bells on a ragpicker's cart swung merrily back and forth on their strap; a big truck, whose driver was either undaunted or drunk, banged and clattered and rattled over the rough cobbles of a side street—but no sound came from any one of them.
This complete severance of one cause and effect was sufficient to discredit all natural laws. No other cause and effect was certain. Everywhere people were touching things to see if they were solid, or wet, or soft, or hard, as the case might be. Even Darrow felt, absurdly enough, that it would not be greatly serious to jump off the top of any building into the street.
Darrow swung confidently enough down the street. He was the only person, with the exception of the drunken truck driver, who moved forward at a natural and easy gait. The effect was startling. Darrow seemed to be the only real human being of the lot. All the rest were phantasmagoric.
But as he proceeded down-town the spell was beginning to break. People were communicating with one another by means of pencil and paper. Darrow was amused, on crossing the park, to see against the lighted windows on Newspaper Row the silhouetted forms of activity. Evidently, the newspaper men were already at work on this fresh story.
Near the corner of the park Darrow saw standing a policeman of his varied acquaintance. The scientist walked up to this man, who was standing in the typical vacant uncertainty, smiled agreeably, clapped him on the back, and shook his hand. The patrolman grasped Darrow's hand, but the look of groping uncertainty deepened on his face.
Darrow slipped his note-book from his pocket, and scribbled a few lines, which he showed to the officer. The latter read, inwardly digested for a moment, and smiled.
"Keep your hair on," ran Darrow's screed. "This will pass in a few minutes, and it won't hurt you, anyway. Don't look like all these other dubs."
He stood there companionably by the patrolman. They looked about them. All at once, with this touch of normal, unafraid, human companionship, the weird horror of the situation fell away. Darrow and his companion were seeing humanity disjointed from its accustomed habit, as one looks on a stage full of men hypnotized into belief of an absurdity.
Where the blotting out of electricity had been tragic, this, as soon as its utter harmlessness was realized, became comic. All about through the park men were meeting the situation according to the limited ideas developed by a crustacean life of absolute dependence on the shell of artificial environment. A considerable number of all sorts had fallen on their knees and were praying. One fat man in evening dress, with a silk hat and a large diamond stud showing between the lapels of a fur-lined coat, was particularly fervent. By force of habit Darrow remarked on this individual.
"I'll bet he hasn't been to church since he was a kid," he observed, of course inaudibly.
The policeman caught the direction of his look, however, and grinned with understanding.
Some stood frozen to one spot, their faces agonized, as a man would stand still were the earth likely to yawn anywhere. Darrow would have liked to reassure these, for their eyes expressed a frantic terror. One red-faced individual with white side-whiskers, looking exactly like the comic-paper caricatures of the trusts, had evidently refused to accept any arbitrary dictates of natural forces. Probably he had never accepted any dictates of any kind. He was going from one taxicab to another, trying to command a driver to take him somewhere, talking vehemently and authoritatively, his face getting more and more purple with anger. The taxicab drivers merely stared at him stupidly.
"That old boy's kept his nerve," Darrow remarked, of course inaudibly, to his companion. "But he'll die of apoplexy if he doesn't watch out."
Again the policeman caught the direction of Darrow's glance, and grinned in understanding. He reached his huge gloved hand for the young man's pencil and paper, on which he wrote the name of a man high in railroad circles, and grinned again with evident relish.
At this moment an entirely self-possessed young man swung across the street. He surveyed the two men sharply a moment, then approached, producing a sheaf of yellow paper as he did so.
"Professor Darrow?" he wrote.
The young man pointed to himself, then to the Despatch Building.
"Cause?" he wrote, and waved his hand.
Darrow shook his head.
Darrow shook his head again.
The reporter was about to add another question, when Darrow reached for the paper. It was thrust eagerly into his hand. Darrow consulted his watch.
"If," he wrote, "you will wait here four minutes, I'll give you an interview."
The reporter read this, and nodded.
"You're on!" he added to the written dialogue. Then he produced a cigarette, lighted it, and joined the other two men in their amused survey of the public's performances.
During the four minutes that ensued Darrow examined the reporter speculatively. Finally his eye lighted up with recollection.
THE LIFTING OF THE SPELL
The spell lifted. The city broke into a roar. People sprang into rapid and violent motion, as though released from a physical lethargy.
"All over?" asked the reporter. He asked it in a loud shout.
"All over," replied Darrow. "You don't need to yell. I'm not deaf."
The reporter grinned.
"I guess that's what everybody else in town is doing," he surmised.
Certainly this remark was justified by the sample in the square. Every man was shouting at his neighbor to the lung-straining limit of his ability. Three exhorters, their eyes ablaze with fanaticism, began to thunder forth dire warnings of the wrath to come—and gained a hearing. Men rushed to and fro aimlessly. The gentleman with the side-whiskers, who looked like the caricatures of the trusts, having at last succeeded in making his imperial wishes known, clambered into a taxicab, and sat back, apparently unimpressed. After a moment the driver recovered sufficiently to fall into the habit of obedience, and so drove away.
While the three men watched, a burly individual with a red face came hurtling directly at them. If they had not dodged hastily to one side, they would have suffered a collision.
"The end of the world is at hand!" this man was shrieking. "Repent! Repent!"
"That's Larry Mulcahey," remarked the reporter, with a grin. "He keeps bar."
"I'm hungry," observed Darrow. "Haven't eaten since noon."
"Free lunch," suggested the reporter practically. "You won't be able to get any service anywhere. How about that interview? Got anything to say?"
"You're the busy little bee to-night," said Darrow. "But I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll give you a tip. Be at the Atlas Building at not later than nine to-morrow morning, and stay at least until ten. If you can fix it, be on the tenth floor. Hunt up the United Wireless man and make him talk. Then come to me."
"That's afternoon paper stuff—unless it's exclusive," said the reporter instantly.
"If you'll obey my orders the most important part of it will be exclusive," said Darrow.
The reporter eyed him keenly.
"Why?" he asked.
"You're Hallowell, aren't you? I thought I wasn't mistaken. I saw you at work on that Duane Street murder case. Your work was good. Besides, I like the Despatch—and the afternoon papers are too soon for what I want."
"Last reason accepted. Others received and placed on file."
"All right," agreed Darrow. "Have it your own way—only obey orders." He entered the door of the bar and advanced on the lunch counter.
THIRTY SECONDS MORE
At nine o'clock the following morning five men grouped in McCarthy's office, talking earnestly. Darrow and Jack Warford had been the first to arrive. McCarthy did not seem surprised to see them; nor did he greet them with belligerence.
"Well?" he demanded.
"Well?" repeated Darrow, sinking gracefully to one corner of the table. "You're an old fool, McCarthy. What good did you think it would do you to arrest me?"
"I intended to sweat you," confessed the boss frankly, "but I was too busy."
"Sweat me, eh?" demanded Darrow, with some amusement. "So you decided not to, did you—hence the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the police in effecting my recapture. You didn't imagine I caused all this, did you?"
"I don't know," growled McCarthy. "But if you, or the other fellow, or whoever or whatever it is, think you can bluff me out, you or he or it's left! That's all!"
"So you've been getting more wireless, have you?" surmised Darrow.
McCarthy cast a surly glance toward Jack, whom previously he had ignored.
"Yes," he admitted grudgingly.
Darrow held out his hand. After a moment's hesitation McCarthy thrust forward a single yellow paper, and Darrow read aloud in spite of the boss' warning gesture:
"McCarthy: The sign has been sent you and sent your people. You are stubborn, but it shall not avail you. You must go; and within twenty-four hours. It will not avail you unless you go. The Celtic leaves to-morrow at noon. You must go on that ship. I shall know whether or not you obey me. Once more I shall warn you; one more sign shall I send. Then I shall strike!"
"He's getting garrulous," remarked Darrow reflectively; "but he's relieved my mind. You'd better go."
"Go!" cried McCarthy, half starting to his feet. "Not on your life!"
Darrow surveyed him calmly.
"You're getting rattled," said he, "and it doesn't pay you particularly to try to bluff me. A jack-rabbit of average firmness could stampede you in your present state of mind."
"You think so?" sneered McCarthy.
"I know so. And you're quite right. If you attempt the game too long, he'll destroy you."
"How?" demanded McCarthy.
"Take my word for it, he can do it!" replied Darrow.
McCarthy ruminated, drumming his thick fingers on the desk.
"Find him," said he, at last.
"I intend to," replied Darrow.
"That'll be all right about your friend's job," conceded McCarthy, with a nod toward Jack.
"I fancy you won't have anything to do with it," returned Darrow pleasantly.
At this moment the door opened and Hallowell entered. He nodded to Darrow, and greeted McCarthy.
"Nothing for you," growled the latter.
Darrow glanced at his watch.
"He will have in about five minutes," said he to the reporter.
The fifth member of the party now entered in the person of Simmons, the United Wireless operator. On seeing the number gathered in McCarthy's office he came to a halt.
Darrow immediately detached himself from the group and approached this man.
"Anything new?" he inquired in a low voice.
Simmons glanced toward McCarthy.
"New about what?" he demanded stolidly.
"Any more messages from our mysterious friend out in the ether to our equally mysterious friend at the desk?"
"I don't know what you mean."
Darrow surveyed him reflectively.
"This is a pretty big story," he said at last, "and affects a lot of people. If you really haven't leaked—well, he"—with a jerk of his head toward McCarthy—"must bribe high, or have a strangle hold on you for fair."
He looked around to see the boss' eye fixed intently on him, smiled pleasantly, and moved to one side. Simmons stepped forward, handed McCarthy a paper, and went out. The boss read the message slowly, and turned a little pale. After a moment or so he surreptitiously drew out his watch. Percy Darrow smiled. He, too, held his watch in his hand.
"Thirty seconds more—about," he remarked pleasantly. The boss looked up startled. The last thing he saw was the faintly smiling, triumphant face of the young scientist. Then absolute blackness fell on him.
For several seconds astonishment held the inmates of the room chained to their places; and for that space of time no sound broke the deathly stillness. Then Percy Darrow spoke, in his natural voice.
"Well, Jack," he remarked, "it worked out, to a second, almost. Now I'm certain."
As though this breaking of the silence had released a force hitherto held in repression, the room filled with tumult and clamor, with crashing, banging and scurrying of heavy bodies. A final concussion shook the air, and then, again abruptly, silence fell.
"Say!" Hallowell's voice spoke up, a trifle uncertainly. "I'll stand for most any kind of a dark seance, but this particular spook business is getting on my nerves. Are you there, Darrow?"
"Yes, I'm here," answered the scientist.
"Well, can you explain that phenomenon?"
"That," drawled Darrow, a slight note of laughter in his voice, "was that extraordinary upheaval of natural forces known as Brother McCarthy going away from here—hastily."
"He hit me on the way out," remarked that young man. "I'll testify he was a solid spook."
The reporter was methodically striking match after match, but without result. After a moment the acrid smell of burning woolen rose in the air.
"Are you dropping those matches?" asked Darrow.
"Sure; they're no good."
"Well, they're good enough to burn holes in McCarthy's rugs. Stamp around a little to put them out; and quit it."
"What next; and how long?" asked Jack. "What is it? Have we gone blind, or is it a total eclipse, or what?"
"I don't know how long," came back Darrow's voice calmly. "Next we will get out of the building. I want to make some observations. Get hold of my hand; we'll have to grope our way out."
"If we could only get a light," muttered Hallowell.
"You can't," stated Darrow.
They felt their way down the ten flights of stairs like blind men. A few inmates of the building they jostled, or passed, or picked up on the way.
"This settles it," one remarked profanely. "My lease quits. They can sue and be damned. I decline to have anything more to do with any freak-lined skyscraper of this description."
In the lower corridors Darrow halted them.
"Here's another thing," said he: "if I'm right, we should run out of this just eleven feet beyond the last elevator cage."
He felt his way along the grill, made four paces forward, and uttered a little cry of satisfaction. The two men followed him blindly. As though stepping from one room to another they emerged into glaring daylight!
Both involuntarily looked back. The darkness hung there like a curtain, just inside the outer walls of the building. Already a crowd had gathered to observe this new and strange phenomenon of the now celebrated Atlas Building. It was a curious and a facetious crowd, but not awestricken, as it had been at the first manifestations of this freakish upset of natural forces.
A man observing the flight of an aeroplane for the first time loses his sense of strangeness inside of a few minutes; and yet flying has been since the days of Icarus considered one of the impossible achievements. So the general public of Manhattan were becoming accustomed to reversals of form in the affairs of the physical world. The frivolous majority, having discovered nothing to be apprehended from the phenomena save a few hours' helplessness of a sort, and much to be gained through the savor of novelty, were inclined to an amused or irritated attitude, depending on the extent to which its occupations were interfered with. The minority took to religious meetings and interpretations.
Darrow's exit, and that of his companions, was greeted uproariously.
"'Please go 'way an' let me sleep!'" sang one, at the blinking men.
"Here's another!" shrilled a gamin. "Get up! The porter wants to make up your berth!"
Several of the crowd, pending the usual arrival of the police to clear the corridor, had ventured through the wide portals, and were experimenting with this strange palpable quality of darkness. One or two popped inside the curtain, but emerged quickly, looking a little scared.
A bright youth made the discovery that if one lighted a match and stepped within the blackness, the match was immediately extinguished, but that upon emerging into daylight the flame came up again. Some one happened along with a plumber's gasoline torch. Immediately this was lighted and the experiment repeated. The bearer of the torch, astonished at the instant extinguishment of the flame, felt with his hand to see what could be the matter. Instantly he uttered a yelp of pain, and leaped outside, displaying a badly burned palm.
"There wasn't no flame; I swear it!" he explained excitedly, "but she burned, just the same!" He rushed about from one to another, displaying his injured palm to whoever would look.
Darrow paid little attention to this gathering crowd. First of all, he scanned a paper he held in his hand; then plunged back again into the blackness.
Jack Warford and Hallowell, left together, hesitated uncertainly.
"He'll be back," the reporter decided finally, "and he's the man to tie to."
While waiting, he proceeded to pick up what information he could from the bystanders. It seemed that the first intimation of anything wrong was followed very shortly by the emergence of McCarthy, disheveled, hatless, staring, gasping. The boss had stumbled into the street, hesitated, then started south on a run. Before any one could stop him, he had turned a corner and disappeared. The excitement at the Atlas Building had distracted attention from him. Nobody wondered at his getting rattled and running away. The few tenants remaining in the building had stumbled forth, vowing never to return to such a—assorted adjectives—building. That was all there seemed to be to say.
In the meantime the crowd had increased from a few hundred to thousands. Police appeared. The corridors were cleared of all but a few. Among these were Hallowell and Jack Warford; the former as a reporter, the latter as the reporter's companion. Doctor Knox and Professor Eldridge arrived shortly. After a time Darrow reappeared, sauntering quite calmly from the pall of darkness, as though emerging from behind a velvet curtain.
It will now become necessary to glance in passing at the personal characteristics of Professor Eldridge. This man was in about his fortieth year, tall, spare, keenly intellectual in countenance, cold, possessed of an absolute reliance on the powers of science, beyond which his mental processes did not stray. His manner was distinguished by a stiff unbending formality; his expression by a glacial coldness of steel-gray eyes and a straight-line compression of thin lips; his dress by a precise and unvarying formalism, and his speech by a curious polysyllabic stiffness.
This latter idiosyncrasy would, in another, have seemed either priggish or facetiously intended. With Professor Eldridge it was merely a natural method of speech. Thus, arriving once at the stroke of the dinner hour, he replied to compliments on his punctuality by remarking: