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Title: The Man Who Rocked the Earth
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The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Man Who Rocked the Earth, by
Arthur Train
Robert Williams Wood

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Title: The Man Who Rocked the Earth

Author: Arthur Train
Robert Williams Wood

Release Date: September 4, 2006 [EBook #19174]

Language: English

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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

[Illustration: INSTANTLY THE EARTH BLEW UP LIKE A CANNON--UP INTO THE
AIR, A THOUSAND MILES UP]




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!"

Thornton laid the knob on the piazza and inspected the front of the
house. The windows were thick with dust, the "yard" scraggly with weeds.
A piece of string held the latch of the gate together. Then
automatically, and without intending to do so at all, Thornton turned
the handle of the front door, assisting it coincidentally with a gentle
kick from his right toe, and found himself in the narrow cabbage-scented
hallway. The old, familiar, battered black-walnut hatrack of his student
days leaned drunkenly against the wall--Thornton knew one of its back
legs was missing--and on the imitation marble slab was a telegram
addressed to "Professor Benjamin Hooker." And also, instinctively,
Thornton lifted up his adult voice and yelled:

"O-o-h, ye-ay! Bennie Hooker!"

The volume of his own sound startled him. Instantly he saw the
ridiculousness of it--he, the senior astronomer at the Naval
Observatory, yelling like that----

"O-o-h, ye-ay!" came in smothered tones from above.

Thornton bounded up the stairs, two, three steps at a time, and pounded
on the old door over the porch.

"Go away!" came back the voice of Bennie Hooker. "Don't want any lunch!"

Thornton continued to bang on the door while Professor Hooker wrathfully
besought the intruder to depart before he took active measures. There
was the cracking of glass.

"Oh, damn!" came from inside.

Thornton rattled the knob and kicked. Somebody haltingly crossed the
room, the key turned, and Prof. Bennie Hooker opened the door.

"Well?" he demanded, scowling over his thick spectacles.

"Hello, Bennie!" said Thornton, holding out his hand.

"Hello, Buck!" returned Hooker. "Come in. I thought it was that
confounded Ethiopian."

As far as Thornton could see, it was the same old room, only now crammed
with books and pamphlets and crowded with tables of instruments. Hooker,
clad in sneakers, white ducks, and an undershirt, was smoking a small
"T. D." pipe.

"Where on earth did you come from?" he inquired good-naturedly.

"Washington," answered Thornton, and something told him that this was
the real thing--the "goods"--that his journey would be repaid.

Hooker waved the "T. D." in a general sort of way toward some
broken-down horsehair armchairs and an empty crate.

"Sit down, won't you?" he said, as if he had seen his guest only the day
before. He looked vaguely about for something that Thornton might smoke,
then seated himself on a cluttered bench holding a number of retorts,
beside which flamed an oxyacetylene blowpipe. He was a wizened little
chap, with scrawny neck and protruding Adam's apple. His long hair gave
no evidence of the use of the comb, and his hands were the hands of
Esau. He had an alertness that suggested a robin, but at the same time
gave the impression that he looked through things rather than at them.
On the mantel was a saucer containing the fast oxidizing cores of
several apples and a half-eaten box of oatmeal biscuits.

"My Lord! This is an untidy hole! No more order than when you were an
undergrad!" exclaimed Thornton, looking about him in amused horror.

"Order?" returned Bennie indignantly. "Everything's in perfect order!
This chair is filled with the letters I _have_ already answered; this
chair with the letters I've _not_ answered; and this chair with the
letters I shall _never_ answer!"

Thornton took a seat on the crate, laughing. It was the same old Bennie!

"You're an incorrigible!" he sighed despairingly.

"Well, you're a star gazer, aren't you?" inquired Hooker, relighting his
pipe. "Some one told me so--I forget who. You must have a lot of
interesting problems. They tell me that new planet of yours is full of
uranium."

Thornton laughed. "You mustn't believe all that you read in the papers.
What are you working at particularly?"

"Oh, radium and thermic induction mostly," answered Hooker. "And when I
want a rest I take a crack at the fourth dimension--spacial curvature's
my hobby. But I'm always working at radio stuff. That's where the big
things are going to be pulled off, you know."

"Yes, of course," answered Thornton. He wondered if Hooker ever saw a
paper, how long since he had been out of the house. "By the way, did you
know Berlin had been taken?" he asked.

"Berlin--in Germany, you mean?"

"Yes, by the Russians."

"No! Has it?" inquired Hooker with politeness. "Oh, I think some one did
mention it."

Thornton fumbled for a cigarette and Bennie handed him a match. They
seemed to have extraordinarily little to say for men who hadn't seen
each other for twenty-six years.

"I suppose," went on the astronomer, "you think it's deuced funny my
dropping in casually this way after all this time, but the fact is I
came on purpose. I want to get some information from you straight."

"Go ahead!" said Bennie. "What's it about?"

"Well, in a word," answered Thornton, "the earth's nearly a quarter of
an hour behind time."

Hooker received this announcement with a polite interest but no
astonishment.

"That's a how-de-do!" he remarked. "What's done it?"

"That's what I want you to tell _me_," said Thornton sternly. "What
_could_ do it?"

Hooker unlaced his legs and strolled over to the mantel.

"Have a cracker?" he asked, helping himself. Then he picked up a piece
of wood and began whittling. "I suppose there's the devil to pay?" he
suggested. "Things upset and so on? Atmospheric changes? When did it
happen?"

"About three weeks ago. Then there's this Sahara business."

"What Sahara business?"

"Haven't you heard?"

"No," answered Hooker rather impatiently. "I haven't heard anything. I
haven't any time to read the papers; I'm too busy. My thermic inductor
transformers melted last week and I'm all in the air. What was it?"

"Oh, never mind now," said Thornton hurriedly, perceiving that Hooker's
ignorance was an added asset. He'd get his science pure, uncontaminated
by disturbing questions of fact. "How about the earth's losing that
quarter of an hour?"

"Of course she's off her orbit," remarked Hooker in a detached way. "And
you want to know what's done it? Don't blame you. I suppose you've gone
into the possibilities of stellar attraction."

"Discount that!" ordered Thornton. "What I want to know is whether it
could happen from the inside?"

"Why not?" inquired Hooker. "A general shift in the mass would do it. So
would the mere application of force at the proper point."

"It never happened before."

"Of course not. Neither had seedless oranges until Burbank came along,"
said Hooker.

"Do you regard it as possible by any human agency?" inquired Thornton.

"Why not?" repeated Hooker. "All you need is the energy. And it's lying
all round if you could only get at it. That's just what I'm working at
now. Radium, uranium, thorium, actinium--all the radioactive
elements--are, as everybody knows, continually disintegrating,
discharging the enormous energy that is imprisoned in their molecules.
It may take generations, epochs, centuries, for them to get rid of it
and transform themselves into other substances, but they will inevitably
do so eventually. They're doing with more or less of a rush what all the
elements are doing at their leisure. A single ounce of uranium contains
about the same amount of energy that could be produced by the combustion
of ten tons of coal--but it won't let the energy go. Instead it holds on
to it, and the energy leaks slowly, almost imperceptibly, away, like
water from a big reservoir tapped only by a tiny pipe. 'Atomic energy'
Rutherford calls it. Every element, every substance, has its ready to be
touched off and put to use. The chap who can find out how to release
that energy all at once will revolutionize the civilized world. It will
be like the discovery that water could be turned into steam and made to
work for us--multiplied a million times. If, instead of that energy just
oozing away and the uranium disintegrating infinitesimally each year, it
could be exploded at a given moment you could drive an ocean liner with
a handful of it. You could make the old globe stagger round and turn
upside down! Mankind could just lay off and take a holiday. But _how_?"

Bennie enthusiastically waved his pipe at Thornton.

"How! That's the question. Everybody's known about the possibilities,
for Soddy wrote a book about it; but nobody's ever suggested where the
key could be found to unlock that treasure-house of energy. Some chap
made up a novel once and pretended it was done, but he didn't say _how_.
But"--and he lowered his voice passionately--"I'm working at it,
and--and--I've nearly--nearly got it."

Thornton, infected by his friend's excitement, leaned forward in his
chair.

"Yes--nearly. If only my transformers hadn't melted! You see I got the
idea from Savaroff, who noticed that the activity of radium and other
elements wasn't constant, but varied with the degree of solar activity,
reaching its maximum at the periods when the sun spots were most
numerous. In other words, he's shown that the breakdown of the atoms of
radium and the other radioactive elements isn't spontaneous, as Soddy
and others had thought, but is due to the action of certain extremely
penetrating rays given out by the sun. These particular rays are the
result of the enormous temperature of the solar atmosphere, and their
effect upon radioactive substances is analogous to that of the
detonating cap upon dynamite. No one has been able to produce these rays
in the laboratory, although Hempel has suspected sometimes that traces
of them appeared in the radiations from powerful electric sparks.
Everything came to a halt until Hiroshito discovered thermic induction,
and we were able to elevate temperature almost indefinitely through a
process similar to the induction of high electric potentials by means of
transformers and the Ruhmkorff coil.

"Hiroshito wasn't looking for a detonating ray and didn't have time to
bother with it, but I started a series of experiments with that end in
view. I got close--I am close, but the trouble has been to control the
forces set in motion, for the rapid rise in temperature has always
destroyed the apparatus."

Thornton whistled. "And when you succeed?" he asked in a whisper.

Hooker's face was transfigured.

"When I succeed I shall control the world," he cried, and his voice
trembled. "But the damn thing either melts or explodes," he added with a
tinge of indignation.

"You know about Hiroshito's experiments, of course; he used a quartz
bulb containing a mixture of neon gas and the vapour of mercury, placed
at the centre of a coil of silver wire carrying a big oscillatory
current. This induced a ring discharge in the bulb, and the temperature
of the vapour mixture rose until the bulb melted. He calculated that the
temperature of that part of the vapour which carried the current was
over 6,000 deg.. You see, the ring discharge is not in contact with the wall
of the bulb, and can consequently be much hotter. It's like this." Here
Bennie drew with a burnt match on the back of an envelope a diagram of
something which resembled a doughnut in a chianti flask.

Thornton scratched his head. "Yes," he said, "but that's an old
principle, isn't it? Why does Hiro--what's his name--call it--thermic
induction?"

"Oriental imagination, probably," replied Bennie. "Hiroshito observed
that a sudden increase in the temperature of the discharge occurred at
the moment when the silver coil of his transformer became white hot,
which he explained by some mysterious inductive action of the heat
vibrations. I don't follow him at all. His theory's probably all wrong,
but he delivered the goods. He gave me the right tip, even if I have got
him lashed to the mast now. I use a tungsten spiral in a nitrogen
atmosphere in my transformer and replace the quartz bulb with a capsule
of zircorundum."

"A capsule of what?" asked Thornton, whose chemistry was mid-Victorian.

"Zircorundum," said Bennie, groping around in a drawer of his work
table. "It's an absolute nonconductor of heat. Look here, just stick
your finger in that." He held out to Thornton what appeared to be a
small test tube of black glass. Thornton, with a slight moral
hesitation, did as he was told, and Bennie, whistling, picked up the
oxyacetylene blowpipe, regarding it somewhat as a dog fancier might gaze
at an exceptionally fine pup. "Hold up your finger," said he to the
astronomer. "That's right--like that!"

Thrusting the blowpipe forward, he allowed the hissing blue-white flame
to wrap itself round the outer wall of the tube--a flame which Thornton
knew could melt its way through a block of steel--but the astronomer
felt no sensation of heat, although he not unnaturally expected the
member to be incinerated.

"Queer, eh?" said Bennie. "Absolute insulation! Beats the thermos
bottle, and requires no vacuum. It isn't quite what I want though,
because the disintegrating rays which the ring discharge gives out break
down the zirconium, which isn't an end-product of radioactivity. The
pressure in the capsule rises, due to the liberation of helium, and it
blows up, and the landlady or the police come up and bother me."

Thornton was scrutinizing Bennie's rough diagram. "This ring discharge,"
he meditated; "I wonder if it isn't something like a sunspot. You know
the spots are electron vortices with strong magnetic fields. I'll bet
you the Savaroff disintegrating rays come from the spots and not from
the whole surface of the sun!"

"My word," said Bennie, with a grin of delight, "you occasionally have
an illuminating idea, even if you are a musty astronomer. I always
thought you were a sort of calculating machine, who slept on a logarithm
table. I owe you two drinks for that suggestion, and to scare a thirst
into you I'll show you an experiment that no living human being has ever
seen before. I can't make very powerful disintegrating rays yet, but I
can break down uranium, which is the easiest of all. Later on I'll be
able to disintegrate anything, if I have luck--that is, anything except
end-products. Then you'll see things fly. But, for the present, just
this." He picked up a thin plate of white metal. "This is the metal
we're going to attack, uranium--the parent of radium--and the whole
radioactive series, ending with the end-product lead."

He hung the plate by two fine wires fastened to its corners, and
adjusted a coil of wire opposite its centre, while within the coil he
slipped a small black capsule.

"This is the best we can do now," he said. "The capsule is made of
zircorundum, and we shall get only a trace of the disintegrating rays
before it blows up. But you'll see 'em, or, rather, you'll see the
lavender phosphorescence of the air through which they pass."

He arranged a thick slab of plate glass between Thornton and the thermic
transformer, and stepping to the wall closed a switch. An oscillatory
spark discharge started off with a roar in a closed box, and the coil of
wire became white hot.

"Watch the plate!" shouted Bennie.

And Thornton watched.

For ten or fifteen seconds nothing happened, and then a faint beam of
pale lavender light shot out from the capsule, and the metal plate swung
away from the incandescent coil as if blown by a gentle breeze.

Almost instantly there was a loud report and a blinding flash of yellow
light so brilliant that for the next instant or two to Thornton's eyes
the room seemed dark. Slowly the afternoon light regained its normal
quality. Bennie relit his pipe unconcernedly.

"That's the germ of the idea," he said between puffs. "That capsule
contains a mixture of vapours that give out disintegrating rays when the
temperature is raised by thermic induction above six thousand. Most of
'em are stopped by the zirconium atoms in the capsule, which break down
and liberate helium; and the temperature rises in the capsule until it
explodes, as you saw just now, with a flash of yellow helium light. The
rays that get out strike the uranium plate and cause the surface layer
of molecules to disintegrate, their products being driven off by the
atomic explosions with a velocity about equal to that of light, and it's
the recoil that deflects and swings the plate. The amount of uranium
decomposed in this experiment couldn't be detected by the most delicate
balance--small mass, but enormous velocity. See?"

"Yes, I understand," answered Thornton. "It's the old, 'momentum equals
mass times velocity,' business we had in mechanics."

"Of course this is only a toy experiment," Bennie continued. "It is what
the dancing pithballs of Franklin's time were to the multipolar,
high-frequency dynamo. But if we could control this force and handle it
on a large scale we could do anything with it--destroy the world, drive
a car against gravity off into space, shift the axis of the earth
perhaps!"

It came to Thornton as he sat there, cigarette in hand, that poor Bennie
Hooker was going to receive the disappointment of his life. Within the
next five minutes his dreams would be dashed to earth, for he would
learn that another had stepped down to the pool of discovery before him.
For how many years, he wondered, had Bennie toiled to produce his
mysterious ray that should break down the atom and release the store of
energy that the genii of Nature had concealed there. And now Thornton
must tell him that all his efforts had gone for nothing!

"And you believe that any one who could generate a ray such as you
describe could control the motion of the earth?" he asked.

"Of course, certainly," answered Hooker. "He could either disintegrate
such huge quantities of matter that the mass of the earth would be
shifted and its polar axis be changed, or if radioactive
substances--pitchblende, for example--lay exposed upon the earth's
surface he could cause them to discharge their helium and other products
at such an enormous velocity that the recoil or reaction would
accelerate or retard the motion of the globe. It would be quite
feasible, quite simple--all one would need would be the disintegrating
ray."

And then Thornton told Hooker of the flight of the giant Ring machine
from the north and the destruction of the Mountains of Atlas through the
apparent instrumentality of a ray of lavender light. Hooker's face
turned slightly pale and his unshaven mouth tightened. Then a smile of
exaltation illuminated his features.

"He's done it!" he cried joyously. "He's done it on an engineering
scale. We pure-science dreamers turn up our noses at the engineers, but
I tell you the improvements in the apparatus part of the game come when
there is a big commercial demand for a thing and the engineering chaps
take hold of it. But _who_ is he and _where_ is he? I must get to him. I
don't suppose I can teach him much, but I've got a magnificent
experiment that we can try together."

He turned to a littered writing-table and poked among the papers that
lay there.

"You see," he explained excitedly, "if there is anything in the quantum
theory----Oh! but you don't care about that. The point is where _is_ the
chap?"

And so Thornton had to begin at the beginning and tell Hooker all about
the mysterious messages and the phenomena that accompanied them. He
enlarged upon Pax's benignant intentions and the great problems
presented by the proposed interference of the United States Government
in Continental affairs, but Bennie swept them aside. The great thing, to
his mind, was to find and get into communication with Pax.

"Ah! How he must feel! The greatest achievement of all time!" cried
Hooker radiantly. "How ecstatically happy! Earth blossoming like the
rose! Well-watered valleys where deserts were before. War abolished,
poverty, disease! Who can it be? Curie? No; she's bottled in Paris.
Posky, Langham, Varanelli--it can't be any one of those fellows. It
beats me! Some Hindoo or Jap maybe, but never Hiroshito! Now we must get
to him right away. So much to talk over." He walked round the room,
blundering into things, dizzy with the thought that his great dream had
come true. Suddenly he swept everything off the table on to the floor
and kicked his heels in the air.

"Hooray!" he shouted, dancing round the room like a freshman. "Hooray!
Now I can take a holiday. And come to think of it, I'm as hungry as a
brontosaurus!"

That night Thornton returned to Washington and was at the White House by
nine o'clock the following day.

"It's all straight," he told the President. "The honestest man in the
United States has said so."




XI


The moon rose over sleeping Paris, silvering the silent reaches of the
Seine, flooding the deserted streets with mellow light, yet gently
retouching all the disfigurements of the siege. No lights illuminated
the cafes, no taxis dashed along the boulevards, no crowds loitered in
the Place de l'Opera or the Place Vendome. Yet save for these facts it
might have been the Paris of old time, unvisited by hunger, misery, or
death. The curfew had sounded. Every citizen had long since gone within,
extinguished his lights, and locked his door. Safe in the knowledge that
the Germans' second advance had been finally met and effectually blocked
sixty miles outside the walls, and that an armistice had been declared
to go into effect at midnight, Paris slumbered peacefully.

Beyond the pellet-strewn fields and glacis of the second line of defence
the invader, after a series of terrific onslaughts, had paused,
retreated a few miles and intrenched himself, there to wait until the
starving city should capitulate. For four months he had waited, yet
Paris gave no sign of surrendering. On the contrary, it seemed to have
some mysterious means of self-support, and the war office, in daily
communication with London, reported that it could withstand the
investment for an indefinite period. Meantime the Germans reintrenched
themselves, built forts of their own upon which they mounted the siege
guns intended for the walls, and constructed an impregnable line of
entanglements, redoubts, and defences, which rendered it impossible for
any army outside the city to come to its relief.

So rose the moon, turning white the millions of slate roofs, gilding the
traceries of the towers of Notre Dame, dimming the searchlights which,
like the antennae of gigantic fireflies, constantly played round the city
from the summit of the Eiffel Tower. So slept Paris, confident that no
crash of descending bombs would shatter the blue vault of the starlit
sky or rend the habitations in which lay two millions of human beings,
assured that the sun would rise through the gray mists of the Seine upon
the ancient beauties of the Tuilleries and the Louvre unmarred by the
enemy's projectiles, and that its citizens could pass freely along its
boulevards without menace of death from flying missiles. For no shell
could be hurled a distance of sixty miles, and an armistice had been
declared.

       *       *       *       *       *

Behind a small hill within the German fortifications a group of officers
stood in the moonlight, examining what looked superficially like the
hangar of a small dirigible. Nestling behind the hill it cast a black
rectangular shadow upon the trampled sand of the redoubt. A score of
artisans were busy filling a deep trench through which a huge pipe led
off somewhere--a sort of deadly plumbing, for the house sheltered a
monster cannon reenforced by jackets of lead and steel, the whole
encased in a cooling apparatus of intricate manufacture. From the open
end of the house the cylindrical barrel of the gigantic engine of war
raised itself into the air at an angle of forty degrees, and from the
muzzle to the ground below it was a drop of over eighty feet. On a track
running off to the north rested the projectiles side by side, resembling
in the dim light a row of steam boilers in the yard of a locomotive
factory.

"Well," remarked one of the officers, turning to the only one of his
companions not in uniform. "'Thanatos' is ready."

The man addressed was Von Heckmann, the most famous inventor of military
ordnance in the world, already four times decorated for his services to
the Emperor.

"The labour of nine years!" he answered with emotion. "Nine long years
of self-denial and unremitting study! But to-night I shall be repaid,
repaid a thousand times."

The officers shook hands with him one after the other, and the group
broke up; the men who were filling the trench completed their labours
and departed; and Von Heckmann and the major-general of artillery alone
remained, except for the sentries beside the gun. The night was balmy
and the moon rode in a cloudless sky high above the hill. They crossed
the enclosure, followed by the two sentinels, and entering a passage
reached the outer wall of the redoubt, which was in turn closed and
locked. Here the sentries remained, but Von Heckmann and the general
continued on behind the fortifications for some distance.

"Well, shall we start the ball?" asked the general, laying his hand on
Von Heckmann's shoulder. But the inventor found it so hard to master his
emotion that he could only nod his head. Yet the ball to which the
general alluded was the discharging of a fiendish war machine toward an
unsuspecting and harmless city alive with sleeping people, and the
emotion of the inventor was due to the fact that he had devised and
completed the most atrocious engine of death ever conceived by the mind
of man--the Relay Gun. Horrible as is the thought, this otherwise normal
man had devoted nine whole years to the problem of how to destroy human
life at a distance of a hundred kilometres, and at last he had been
successful, and an emperor had placed with his own divinely appointed
hands a ribbon over the spot beneath which his heart should have been.

The projectile of this diabolical invention was ninety-five centimetres
in diameter, and was itself a rifled mortar, which in full flight,
twenty miles from the gun and at the top of its trajectory, exploded in
mid-air, hurling forward its contained projectile with an additional
velocity of three thousand feet per second. This process repeated
itself, the final or core bomb, weighing over three hundred pounds and
filled with lyddite, reaching its mark one minute and thirty-five
seconds after the firing of the gun. This crowning example of the human
mind's destructive ingenuity had cost the German Government five million
marks and had required three years for its construction, and by no means
the least of its devilish capacities was that of automatically reloading
and firing itself at the interval of every ten seconds, its muzzle
rising, falling, or veering slightly from side to side with each
discharge, thus causing the shells to fall at wide distances. The
poisonous nature of the immense volumes of gas poured out by the
mastodon when in action necessitated the withdrawal of its crew to a
safe distance. But once set in motion it needed no attendant. It had
been tested by a preliminary shot the day before, which had been
directed to a point several miles outside the walls of Paris, the effect
of which had been observed and reported by high-flying German aeroplanes
equipped with wireless. Everything was ready for the holocaust.

Von Heckmann and the general of artillery continued to make their way
through the intrenchments and other fortifications, until at a distance
of about a quarter of a mile from the redoubt where they had left the
Relay Gun they arrived at a small whitewashed cottage.

"I have invited a few of my staff to join us," said the general to the
inventor, "in order that they may in years to come describe to their
children and their grandchildren this, the most momentous occasion in
the history of warfare."

They turned the corner of the cottage and came upon a group of officers
standing by the wooden gate of the cottage, all of whom saluted at their
approach.

"Good evening, gentlemen," said the general. "I beg to present the
members of my staff," turning to Von Heckmann.

The officers stood back while the general led the way into the cottage,
the lower floor of which consisted of but a single room, used by the
recent tenants as a kitchen, dining-room, and living-room. At one end of
a long table, constructed by the regimental carpenter, supper had been
laid, and a tub filled with ice contained a dozen or more quarts of
champagne. Two orderlies stood behind the table, at the other end of
which was affixed a small brass switch connected with the redoubt and
controlled by a spring and button. The windows of the cottage were open,
and through them poured the light of the full moon, dimming the
flickering light of the candles upon the table.

In spite of the champagne, the supper, and the boxes of cigars and
cigarettes, an atmosphere of solemnity was distinctly perceptible. It
was as if each one of these officers, hardened to human suffering by a
lifetime of discipline and active service, to say nothing of the years
of horror through which they had just passed, could not but feel that in
the last analysis the hurling upon an unsuspecting city of a rain of
projectiles containing the highest explosive known to warfare, at a
distance three times greater than that heretofore supposed to be
possible to science, and the ensuing annihilation of its inhabitants,
was something less for congratulation and applause than for sorrow and
regret. The officers, who had joked each other outside the gate, became
singularly quiet as they entered the cottage and gathered round the
table where Von Heckmann and the general had taken their stand by the
instrument. Utter silence fell upon the group. The mercury of their
spirits dropped from summer heat to below freezing. What was this thing
which they were about to do?

Through the windows, at a distance of four hundred yards, the pounding
of the machinery which flooded the water jacket of the Relay Gun was
distinctly audible in the stillness of the night. The pressure of a
finger--a little finger--upon that electric button was all that was
necessary to start the torrent of iron and high explosives toward Paris.
By the time the first shell would reach its mark nine more would be on
their way, stretched across the midnight sky at intervals of less than
eight miles. And once started the stream would continue uninterrupted
for two hours. The fascinated eyes of all the officers fastened
themselves upon the key. None spoke.

"Well, well, gentlemen!" exclaimed the general brusquely, "what is the
matter with you? You act as if you were at a funeral! Hans," turning to
the orderly, "open the champagne there. Fill the glasses. Bumpers all,
gentlemen, for the greatest inventor of all times, Herr von Heckmann,
the inventor of the Relay Gun!"

The orderly sprang forward and hastily commenced uncorking bottles,
while Von Heckmann turned away to the window.

"Here, this won't do, Schelling! You must liven things up a bit!"
continued the general to one of the officers. "This is a great occasion
for all of us! Give me that bottle." He seized a magnum of champagne
from the orderly and commenced pouring out the foaming liquid into the
glasses beside the plates. Schelling made a feeble attempt at a joke at
which the officers laughed loudly, for the general was a martinet and
had to be humoured.

"Now, then," called out the general as he glanced toward the window,
"Herr von Heckmann, we are going to drink your health! Officers of the
First Artillery, I give you a toast--a toast which you will all remember
to your dying day! Bumpers, gentlemen! No heel taps! I give you the
health of 'Thanatos'--the leviathan of artillery, the winged bearer of
death and destruction--and of its inventor, Herr von Heckmann. Bumpers,
gentlemen!" The general slapped Von Heckmann upon the shoulder and
drained his glass.

"'Thanatos!' Von Heckmann!" shouted the officers. And with one accord
they dashed their goblets to the stone flagging upon which they stood.

"And now, my dear inventor," said the general, "to you belongs the
honour of arousing 'Thanatos' into activity. Are you ready, gentlemen? I
warn you that when 'Thanatos' snores the rafters will ring."

Von Heckmann had stood with bowed head while the officers had drunk his
health, and he now hesitatingly turned toward the little brass switch
with its button of black rubber that glistened so innocently in the
candlelight. His right hand trembled. He dashed the back of his left
across his eyes. The general took out a large silver watch from his
pocket. "Fifty-nine minutes past eleven," he announced. "At one minute
past twelve Paris will be disembowelled. Put your finger on the button,
my friend. Let us start the ball rolling."

Von Heckmann cast a glance almost of disquietude upon the faces of the
officers who were leaning over the table in the intensity of their
excitement. His elation, his exaltation, had passed from him. He seemed
overwhelmed at the momentousness of the act which he was about to
perform. Slowly his index finger crept toward the button and hovered
half suspended over it. He pressed his lips together and was about to
exert the pressure required to transmit the current of electricity to
the discharging apparatus when unexpectedly there echoed through the
night the sharp click of a horse's hoofs coming at a gallop down the
village street. The group turned expectantly to the doorway.

An officer dressed in the uniform of an aide-de-camp of artillery
entered abruptly, saluted, and produced from the inside pocket of his
jacket a sealed envelope which he handed to the general. The interest of
the officers suddenly centred upon the contents of the envelope. The
general grumbled an oath at the interruption, tore open the missive, and
held the single sheet which it contained to the candlelight.

"An armistice!" he cried disgustedly. His eye glanced rapidly over the
page.

     "_To the Major-General commanding the First Division of Artillery,
     Army of the Meuse:_

     "An armistice has been declared, to commence at midnight, pending
     negotiations for peace. You will see that no acts of hostility
     occur until you receive notice that war is to be resumed.

    "VON HELMUTH,
    "Imperial Commissioner for War."

The officers broke into exclamations of impatience as the general
crumpled the missive in his hand and cast it upon the floor.

"_Donnerwetter!_" he shouted. "Why were we so slow? Curse the
armistice!" He glanced at his watch. It already pointed to after
midnight. His face turned red and the veins in his forehead swelled.

"To hell with peace!" he bellowed, turning back his watch until the
minute hand pointed to five minutes to twelve. "To hell with peace, I
say! Press the button, Von Heckmann!"

But in spite of the agony of disappointment which he now acutely
experienced, Von Heckmann did not fire. Sixty years of German respect
for orders held him in a viselike grip and paralyzed his arm.

"I can't," he muttered. "I can't."

The general seemed to have gone mad. Thrusting Von Heckmann out of the
way, he threw himself into a chair at the end of the table and with a
snarl pressed the black handle of the key.

The officers gasped. Hardened as they were to the necessities of war, no
act of insubordination like the present had ever occurred within their
experience. Yet they must all uphold the general; they must all swear
that the gun was fired before midnight. The key clicked and a blue bead
snapped at the switch. They held their breaths, looking through the
window to the west.

At first the night remained still. Only the chirp of the crickets and
the fretting of the aide-de-camp's horse outside the cottage could be
heard. Then, like the grating of a coffee mill in a distant kitchen when
one is just waking out of a sound sleep, they heard the faint, smothered
whir of machinery, a sharper metallic ring of steel against steel
followed by a gigantic detonation which shook the ground upon which the
cottage stood and overthrew every glass upon the table. With a roar like
the fall of a skyscraper the first shell hurled itself into the night.
Half terrified the officers gripped their chairs, waiting for the second
discharge. The reverberation was still echoing among the hills when the
second detonation occurred, shortly followed by the third and fourth.
Then, in intervals between the crashing explosions, a distant rumbling
growl, followed by a shuddering of the air, as if the night were
frightened, came up out of the west toward Paris, showing that the
projectiles were at the top of their flight and going into action. A
lake of yellow smoke formed in the pocket behind the hill where lay the
redoubt in which "Thanatos" was snoring.

On the great race track of Longchamps, in the Bois de Boulogne, the vast
herd of cows, sheep, horses, and goats, collected together by the city
government of Paris and attended by fifty or sixty shepherds especially
imported from _les Landes_, had long since ceased to browse and had
settled themselves down into the profound slumber of the animal world,
broken only by an occasional bleating or the restless whinnying of a
stallion. On the race course proper, in front of the grandstand and
between it and the judge's box, four of these shepherds had built a
small fire and by its light were throwing dice for coppers. They were
having an easy time of it, these shepherds, for their flocks did not
wander, and all that they had to do was to see that the animals were
properly driven to such parts of the Bois as would afford proper
nourishment.

"Well, _mes enfants_," exclaimed old Adrian Bannalec, pulling a
turnip-shaped watch from beneath his blouse and holding it up to the
firelight, "it's twelve o'clock and time to turn in. But what do you say
to a cup of chocolate first?"

The others greeted the suggestion with approval, and going somewhere
underneath the grandstand, Bannalec produced a pot filled with water,
which he suspended with much dexterity over the fire upon the end of a
pointed stick. The water began to boil almost immediately, and they were
on the point of breaking their chocolate into it when, from what
appeared to be an immense distance, through the air there came a curious
rumble.

"What was that?" muttered Bannalec. The sound was followed within a few
seconds by another, and after a similar interval by a third and fourth.

"There was going to be an armistice," suggested one of the younger
herdsmen. He had hardly spoken before a much louder and apparently
nearer detonation occurred.

"That must be one of our guns," said old Adrian proudly. "Do you hear
how much louder it speaks than those of the Germans?"

Other discharges now followed in rapid succession, some fainter, some
much louder. And then somewhere in the sky they saw a flash of flame,
followed by a thunderous concussion which rattled the grandstand, and a
great fiery serpent came soaring through the heavens toward Paris. Each
moment it grew larger, until it seemed to be dropping straight toward
them out of the sky, leaving a trail of sparks behind it.

"It's coming our way," chattered Adrian.

"God have mercy upon us!" murmured the others.

Rigid with fear, they stood staring with open mouths at the shell that
seemed to have selected them for the object of its flight.

"God have mercy on our souls!" repeated Adrian after the others.

Then there came a light like that of a million suns....

Alas for the wives and children of the herdsmen! And alas for the herds!
But better that the eight core bombs projected by "Thanatos" through the
midnight sky toward Paris should have torn the foliage of the Bois,
destroyed the grandstands of Auteuil and Longchamps, with sixteen
hundred innocent sheep and cattle, than that they should have sought
their victims among the crowded streets of the inner city. Lucky for
Paris that the Relay Gun had been sighted so as to sweep the metropolis
from the west to the east, and that though each shell approached nearer
to the walls than its preceding brother, none reached the ramparts. For
with the discharge of the eighth shell and the explosion of the first
core bomb filled with lyddite among the sleeping animals huddled on the
turf in front of the grandstands, something happened which the poor
shepherds did not see.

The watchers in the Eiffel Tower, seeing the heavens with their
searchlights for German planes and German dirigibles, saw the first core
bomb bore through the sky from the direction of Verdun, followed by its
seven comrades, and saw each bomb explode in the Bois below. But as the
first shell shattered the stillness of the night and spread its
sulphureous and death-dealing fumes among the helpless cattle, the
watchers on the Tower saw a vast light burst skyward in the far-distant
east.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two miles up the road from the village of Champaubert, Karl Biedenkopf,
a native of Hesse-Nassau and a private of artillery, was doing picket
duty. The moonlight turned the broad highroad toward Epernay into a
gleaming white boulevard down which he could see, it seemed to him, for
miles. The air was soft and balmy, and filled with the odour of hay
which the troopers had harvested "on behalf of the Kaiser." Across the
road "Gretchen," Karl's mare, grazed ruminatively, while the picket
himself sat on the stone wall by the roadside, smoking the Bremen cigar
which his corporal had given him after dinner.

The night was thick with stars. They were all so bright that at first he
did not notice the comet which sailed slowly toward him from the
northwest, seemingly following the line of the German intrenchments from
Amiens, St.-Quentin, and Laon toward Rheims and Epernay. But the comet
was there, dropping a long yellow beam of light upon the sleeping hosts
that were beleaguering the outer ring of the French fortifications.
Suddenly the repose of Biedenkopf's retrospections was abruptly
disconcerted by the distant pounding of hoofs far down the road from
Verdun. He sprang off the wall, took up his rifle, crossed the road,
hastily adjusted "Gretchen's" bridle, leaped into the saddle, and
awaited the night rider, whoever he might be. At a distance of three
hundred feet he cried: "Halt!" The rider drew rein, hastily gave the
countersign, and Biedenkopf, recognizing the aide-de-camp, saluted and
drew aside.

"There goes a lucky fellow," he said aloud. "Nothing to do but ride up
and down the roads, stopping wherever he sees a pleasant inn or a pretty
face, spending money like water, and never risking a hair of his head."

It never occurred to him that maybe his was the luck. And while the
aide-de-camp galloped on and the sound of his horse's hoofs grew fainter
and fainter down the road toward the village, the comet came sailing
swiftly on overhead, deluging the fortifications with a blinding
orange-yellow light. It could not have been more than a mile away when
Biedenkopf saw it. Instantly his trained eye recognized the fact that
this strange round object shooting through the air was no wandering
celestial body.

"_Ein Flieger!_" he cried hoarsely, staring at it in astonishment,
knowing full well that no dirigible or aeroplane of German manufacture
bore any resemblance to this extraordinary voyager of the air.

A hundred yards down the road his field telephone was attached to a
poplar, and casting one furtive look at the Flying Ring he galloped to
the tree and rang up the corporal of the guard. But at the very instant
that his call was answered a series of terrific detonations shook the
earth and set the wires roaring in the receiver, so that he could hear
nothing. One--two--three--four of them, followed by a distant answering
boom in the west.

And then the whole sky seemed full of fire. He was hurled backward upon
the road and lay half-stunned, while the earth discharged itself into
the air with a roar like that of ten thousand shells exploding all
together. The ground shook, groaned, grumbled, grated, and showers of
boards, earth, branches, rocks, vegetables, tiles, and all sorts of
unrecognizable and grotesque objects fell from the sky all about him. It
was like a gigantic and never-ending mine, or series of mines, in
continuous explosion, a volcano pouring itself upward out of the bowels
of an incandescent earth. Above the earsplitting thunder of the eruption
he heard shrill cries and raucous shoutings. Mounted men dashed past him
down the road, singly and in squadrons. A molten globe dropped through
the branches of the poplar, and striking the hard surface of the road at
a distance of fifty yards scattered itself like a huge ingot dropped
from a blast furnace. Great clouds of dust descended and choked him. A
withering heat enveloped him....

It was noon next day when Karl Biedenkopf raised his head and looked
about him. He thought first there had been a battle. But the sight that
met his eyes bore no resemblance to a field of carnage. Over his head he
noticed that the uppermost branches of the poplar had been seared as by
fire. The road looked as if the countryside had been traversed by a
hurricane. All sorts of debris filled the fields and everywhere there
seemed to be a thick deposit of blackened earth. Vaguely realizing that
he must report for duty, he crawled, in spite of his bursting head and
aching limbs, on all fours down the road toward the village.

But he could not find the village. There was no village there; and soon
he came to what seemed to be the edge of a gigantic crater, where the
earth had been uprooted and tossed aside as if by some huge convulsion
of nature. Here and there masses of inflammable material smoked and
flickered with red flames. His eyes sought the familiar outlines of the
redoubts and fortifications, but found them not. And where the village
had been there was a great cavern in the earth, and the deepest part of
the cavern, or so it seemed to his half-blinded sight, was at about the
point where the cottage had stood which his general had used as his
headquarters, the spot where the night before that general had raised
his glass of bubbling wine and toasted "Thanatos," the personification
of death, and called his officers to witness that this was the greatest
moment in the history of warfare, a moment that they would all remember
to their dying day.




XII


The shabby-genteel little houses of the Appian Way, in Cambridge, whose
window-eyes with their blue-green lids had watched Bennie Hooker come
and go, trudging back and forth to lectures and recitations, first as
boy and then as man, for thirty years, must have blinked with amazement
at the sight of the little professor as he started on the afterward
famous Hooker Expedition to Labrador in search of the Flying Ring.

For the five days following Thornton's unexpected visit Bennie, existing
without sleep and almost without food save for his staple of
ready-to-serve chocolate, was the centre of a whirl of books,
logarithms, and calculations in the University Library, and constituted
himself an unmitigated, if respected, pest at the Cambridge Observatory.
Moreover--and this was the most iconoclastic spectacle of all to his
conservative pedagogical neighbours in the Appian Way--telegraph boys on
bicycles kept rushing to and fro in a stream between the Hooker
boarding-house and Harvard Square at all hours of the day and night.

For Bennie had lost no time and had instantly started in upon the same
series of experiments to locate the origin of the phenomena which had
shaken the globe as had been made use of by Professor von Schwenitz at
the direction of General von Helmuth, the Imperial German Commissioner
for War, at Mainz. The result had been approximately identical, and
Hooker had satisfied himself that somewhere in the centre of Labrador
his fellow-scientist--the discoverer of the Lavender Ray--was conducting
the operations that had resulted in the dislocation of the earth's axis
and retardation of its motion. Filled with a pure and unselfish
scientific joy, it became his sole and immediate ambition to find the
man who had done these things, to shake him by the hand, and to compare
notes with him upon the now solved problems of thermic induction and of
atomic disintegration.

But how to get there? How to reach him? For Prof. Bennie Hooker had
never been a hundred miles from Cambridge in his life, and a journey to
Labrador seemed almost as difficult as an attempt to reach the pole. Off
again then to the University Library, with pale but polite young ladies
hastening to fetch him atlases, charts, guidebooks, and works dealing
with sport and travel, until at last the great scheme unfolded itself to
his mind--the scheme that was to result in the perpetuation of atomic
disintegration for the uses of mankind and the subsequent alteration of
civilization, both political and economic. Innocently, ingeniously,
ingenuously, he mapped it all out. No one must know what he was about.
Oh, no! He must steal away, in disguise if need be, and reach Pax alone.
Three would be a crowd in that communion of scientific thought! He must
take with him the notes of his own experiments, the diagrams of his
apparatus, and his precious zirconium; and he must return with the great
secret of atomic disintegration in his breast, ready, with the
discoverer's permission, to give it to the dry and thirsty world. And
then, indeed, the earth would blossom like the rose!

A strange sight, the start of the Hooker Expedition!

Doctor Jelly's coloured housemaid had just thrown a pail of blue-gray
suds over his front steps--it was 6:30 A.M.--and was on the point of
resignedly kneeling and swabbing up the doctor's porch, when she saw the
door of the professor's residence open cautiously and a curious human
exhibit, the like of which had ne'er before been seen on sea or land,
surreptitiously emerge. It was Prof. Bennie Hooker--disguised as a
salmon fisherman!

Over a brand-new sportsman's knickerbocker suit of screaming yellow
check he had donned an English mackintosh. On his legs were gaiters, and
on his head a helmetlike affair of cloth with a visor in front and
another behind, with eartabs fastened at the crown with a piece of black
ribbon--in other words a "Glengarry." The suit had been manufactured in
Harvard Square, and was a triumph of sartorial art on the part of one
who had never been nearer to a real fisherman than a coloured fashion
plate. However, it did suggest a sportsman of the variety usually
portrayed in the comic supplements, and, to complete the picture, in
Professor Hooker's hands and under his arms were yellow pigskin bags and
rod cases, so that he looked like the show window of a harness store.

"Fo' de land sakes!" exclaimed the Jellys' coloured maid, oblivious of
her suds. "Fo' de Lawd! Am dat Perfesser Hookey?"

It was! But a new and glorified professor, with a soul thrilling to the
joy of discovery and romance, with a flash in his eyes, and the savings
of ten years in a large roll in his left-hand knickerbocker pocket.

Thus started the Hooker Expedition, which discovered the Flying Ring and
made the famous report to the Smithsonian Institution after the
disarmament of the nations. But could the nations have seen the
expedition as it emerged from its boarding-house that September morning
they would have rubbed their eyes.

With the utmost difficulty Prof. Bennie Hooker negotiated his bags and
rod cases as far as Harvard Square, where, through the assistance of a
friendly conductor with a sense of humour, he was enabled to board an
electric surface car to the North Station.

Beyond the start up the River Moisie his imagination refused to carry
him. But he had a faith that approximated certainty that over the Height
of Land--just over the edge--he would find Pax and the Flying Ring.
During all the period required for his experiments and preparations he
had never once glanced at a newspaper or inquired as to the progress of
the war that was rapidly exterminating the inhabitants of the globe.
Thermic induction, atomic disintegration, the Lavender Ray, these were
the Alpha, the Sigma, the Omega of his existence.

But meantime[3] the war had gone on with all its concomitant horror,
suffering, and loss of life, and the representatives of the nations
assembled at Washington had been feverishly attempting to unite upon the
terms of a universal treaty that should end militarism and war forever.
And thereafter, also, although Professor Hooker was sublimely
unconscious of the fact, the celebrated conclave, known as Conference
No. 2, composed of the best-known scientific men from every laud, was
sitting, perspiring, in the great lecture hall of the Smithsonian
Institution, its members shouting at one another in a dozen different
languages, telling each other what they did and didn't know, and
becoming more and more confused and entangled in an underbrush of
contradictory facts and observations and irreconcilable theories until
they were making no progress whatever--which was precisely what the
astute and plausible Count von Koenitz, the German Ambassador, had
planned and intended.

[Footnote 3: Up to the date of the armistice.]

The Flying Ring did not again appear, and in spite of the uncontroverted
testimony of Acting-Consul Quinn, Mohammed Ben Ali el Bad, and a
thousand others who had actually seen the Lavender Ray, people began
gradually, almost unconsciously, to assume that the destruction of the
Atlas Mountains had been the work of an unsuspected volcano and that the
presence of the Flying Ring had been a coincidence and not the cause of
the disruption. So the incident passed by and public attention
refocussed itself upon the conflict on the plains of Chalons-sur-Marne.
Only Bill Hood, Thornton, and a few others in the secret, together with
the President, the Cabinet, and the members of Conference No. 1 and of
Conference No. 2, truly apprehended the significance of what had
occurred, and realized that either war or the human race must pass away
forever. And no one at all, save only the German Ambassador and the
Imperial German Commissioners, suspected that one of the nations had
conceived and was putting into execution a plan designed to result in
the acquirement of the secret of how the earth could be rocked and in
the capture of the discoverer. For the _Sea Fox_, bearing the German
expeditionary force, had sailed from Amsterdam twelve days after the
conference held at Mainz between Professor von Schwenitz and General von
Helmuth, and having safely rounded the Orkneys was now already well on
its course toward Labrador. Bennie Hooker, however, was ignorant of all
these things. Like an immigrant with a tag on his arm, he sat on the
train which bore him toward Quebec, his ticket stuck into the band on
his hat, dreaming of a transformer that wouldn't--couldn't--melt at only
six thousand degrees.

When Professor Hooker awoke in his room at the hotel in Quebec the
morning after his arrival there, he ate a leisurely breakfast, and
having smoked a pipe on the terrace, strolled down to the wharves along
the river front. Here to his disgust he learned that the Labrador
steamer, the _Druro_, would not sail until the following Thursday--a
three days' wait. Apparently Labrador was a less-frequented locality
than he had supposed. He mastered his impatience, however, and
discovering a library presided over by a highly intelligent graduate of
Edinburgh, he became so interested in various profound treatises on
physics which he discovered that he almost missed his boat.

Assisted by the head porter, and staggering under the weight of his new
rod cases and other impedimenta, Bennie boarded the _Druro_ on Thursday
morning, engaged a stateroom, and purchased a ticket for Seven Islands,
which is the nearest harbour to the mouth of the River Moisie. She was a
large and comfortable river steamer of about eight hundred and fifty
tons, and from her appearance belied the fact that she was the
connecting link between civilization and the desolate and ice-clad
wastes of the Far North, as in fact she was. The captain regarded Bennie
with indifference, if not disrespect, grunted, and ascending to the
pilot house blew the whistle. Quebec, with its teeming wharves and
crowded shipping, overlooked by the cliffs that made Wolfe famous,
slowly fell behind. Off their leeward bow the Isle of Orleans swung
nearer and swept past, its neat homesteads inviting the weary traveller
to pastoral repose. The river cleared. Low, farm-clad shores began to
slip by. The few tourists and returning habitans settled themselves in
the bow and made ready for their voyage.

There would have been much to interest the ordinary American traveller
in this comparatively unfrequented corner of his native continent; but
our salmon fisherman, having conveniently disposed of his baggage,
immediately retired to his stateroom and, intent on saving time,
proceeded, wholly oblivious of the _Druro_, to read passionately several
exceedingly uninviting looking books which he produced from his valise.
The _Druro_, quite as oblivious to Professor Hooker, proceeded on her
accustomed way, passed by Tadousac, and made her first stop at the
Godbout. Bennie, finding the boat no longer in motion, reappeared on
deck under the mistaken impression that they had reached the end of the
voyage, for he was unfamiliar with the topography of the St. Lawrence,
and in fact had very vague ideas as to distances and the time required
to traverse them by rail or boat.

At the Godbout the _Druro_ dropped a habitan or two, a few boatloads of
steel rods, crates of crockery and tobacco, and then thrust her bow out
into the stream and steered down river, rounding at length the Pointe
des Monts and winding in behind the Isles des Oeufs to the River
Pentecoute, where she deposited some more habitans, including a priest
in a black soutane, who somewhat incongruously was smoking a large
cigar. Then, nosing through a fog bank and breaking out at last into
sunlight again, she steamed across and put in past the Carousel, that
picturesque and rocky headland, into Seven Islands Bay. Here she
anchored, and, having discharged cargo, steamed out by the Grand Boule,
where eighteen miles beyond the islands Bennie saw the pilot house of
the old _St. Olaf_, of unhappy memory, just lifting above the water.

He had emerged from the retirement of his stateroom only on being asked
by the steward for his ticket and learning that the _Druro_ was nearing
the end of her journey. For nearly two days he had been submerged in
Soddy on The Interpretation of Radium. The _Druro_ was running along a
sandy, low-lying beach about half a mile offshore. They were nearing the
mouth of a wide river. The volume of black fresh water from the Moisie
rushed out into the St. Lawrence until it met the green sea water,
causing a sharp demarcation of colour and a no less pronounced conflict
of natural forces. For, owing to the pressure of the tide against the
solid mass of the fresh stream, acres of water unexpectedly boiled on
all sides, throwing geysers of foam twenty feet or more into the air,
and then subsided. Off the point the engine bell rang twice, and the
_Druro_ came to a pause.

Bennie, standing in the bow, in his sportsman's cap and waterproof,
hugging his rod cases to his breast, watched while a heterogeneous fleet
of canoes, skiffs, and sailboats came racing out from shore, for the
steamer does not land here, but hangs in the offing and lighters its
cargo ashore. Leading the lot was a sort of whaleboat propelled by two
oars on one side and one on the other, and in the sternsheets sat a
rosy-cheeked, good-natured looking man with a smooth-shaven face who
Bennie knew must be Malcolm Holliday.

"Hello, Cap!" shouted Holliday. "Any passengers?"

The captain from the pilot house waved contemptuously in Bennie's
general direction.

"Howdy!" said Holliday. "What do you want? What can I do for you?"

"I thought I'd try a little salmon fishing," shrieked Bennie back at
him.

Holliday shook his head. "Sorry," he bellowed, "river's leased. Besides,
the officers[4] are here."

[Footnote 4: Along the St. Lawrence and the Labrador coast a salmon
fisherman is always spoken of by natives and local residents as an
"officer," the reason being that most of the sportsmen who visit these
waters are English army officers. Hence salmon fishermen are universally
termed "officers," and a habitan will describe the sportsmen who have
rented a certain river as "_les officiers de la Moisie_" or "_les
officiers de la Romaine_."]

"Oh!" answered Bennie ruefully. "I didn't know. I supposed I could fish
anywhere."

"Well, you can't!" snapped Holliday, puzzled by the little man's curious
appearance.

"I suppose I can go ashore, can't I?" insisted Bennie somewhat
indignantly. "I'll just take a camping trip then. I'd like to see the
big salmon cache up at the forks if I can't do anything else."

Instantly Holliday scented something. "Another fellow after gold," he
muttered to himself.

Just at that moment, the tide being at the ebb, a hundred acres of green
water off the _Druro's_ bow broke into whirling waves and jets of foam
again. All about them, and a mile to seaward, these merry men danced by
the score. Bennie thrilled at the beauty of it. The whaleboat containing
Holliday was now right under the ship's bows.

"I want to look round anyhow," expostulated Bennie. "I've come all the
way from Boston." He felt himself treated like a criminal, felt the
suspicion in Holliday's eye.

The factor laughed. "In that case you certainly deserve sympathy." Then
he hesitated. "Oh, well, come along," he said finally. "We'll see what
we can do for you."

A rope ladder had been thrown over the side and one of the sailors now
lowered Bennie's luggage into the boat. The professor followed, avoiding
with difficulty stepping on his mackintosh as he climbed down the
slippery rounds. Holliday grasped his hand and yanked him to a seat in
the stern.

"Yes," he repeated, "if you've come all the way from Boston I guess
we'll have to put you up for a few days anyway."

A crate of canned goods, a parcel of mail, and a huge bundle of
newspapers were deposited in the bow. Holliday waved his hand. The
_Druro_ churned the water and swung out into midstream again. Bennie
looked curiously after her. To the north lay a sandy shore dotted by a
scraggy forest of dwarf spruce and birch. A few fishing huts and a mass
of wooden shanties fringed the forest. To the east, seaward, many miles
down that great stretch of treacherous, sullen river waited a gray bank
of fog. But overhead the air was crystalline with that sparkling,
scratchy brilliance that is found only in northern climes. Nature seemed
hard, relentless. With his feet entangled in rod cases Professor Hooker
wondered for a moment what on earth he was there for, landing on this
inhospitable coast. Then his eyes sought the genial face of Malcolm
Holliday and hope sprang up anew. For there is that about this genial
frontiersman that draws all men to him alike, be they Scotch or English,
Canadian habitans or Montagnais, and he is the king of the coast, as his
father was before him, or as was old Peter McKenzie, the head factor,
who incidentally cast the best salmon fly ever thrown east of Montreal
or south of Ungava. Bennie found comfort in Holliday's smile, and felt
toward him as a child does toward its mother.

They neared shore and ran alongside a ramshackle pier, up the slippery
poles of which Bennie was instructed to clamber. Then, dodging rotten
boards and treacherous places, he gained the sand of the beach and stood
at last on Labrador. A group of Montagnais picked up the professor's
luggage and, headed by Holliday, they started for the latter's house. It
was a strange and amusing landing of an expedition the results of which
have revolutionized the life of the inhabitants of the entire globe. No
such inconspicuous event has ever had so momentous a conclusion. And now
when Malcolm Holliday makes his yearly trip home to Quebec, to report to
the firm of Holliday Brothers, who own all the nets far east of
Anticosti, he spends hours at the Club des Voyageurs, recounting in
detail all the circumstances surrounding the arrival of Professor Hooker
and how he took him for a gold hunter.

"Anyhow," he finishes, "I knew he wasn't a salmon fisherman in spite of
his rods and cases, for he didn't know a Black Dose from a Thunder and
Lightning or a Jock Scott, and he thought you could catch salmon with a
worm!"

It was true wholly. Bennie did suppose one killed the king of game fish
as he had caught minnows in his childhood, and his geologic researches
in the Harvard Library had not taught him otherwise. Neither had his
tailor.

"My dear fellow," said Holliday as they smoked their pipes on the narrow
board piazza at the Post, "of course I'll help you all I can, but you've
come at a bad season of the year all round. In the first place, you'll
be eaten alive by black flies, gnats, and mosquitoes." He slapped
vigorously as he spoke. "And you'll have the devil of a job getting
canoe men. You see all the Montagnais are down here at the settlement
'making their mass.' Once a year they leave the hunting grounds up by
the Divide and beyond and come down river to '_faire la messe_'--it's a
sacred duty with 'em. They're very religious, as you probably know--a
fine lot, too, take 'em altogether, gentle, obedient, industrious,
polite, cheerful, and fair to middling honest. They have a good deal of
French blood--a bit diluted, but it's there."

"Can't I get a few to go along with me?" asked Bennie anxiously.

"That's a question," answered the factor meditatively. "You know how the
birds--how caribou--migrate every year. Well, these Montagnais are just
like them. They have a regular routine. Each man has a line of traps of
his own, all the way up to the Height of Land. They all go up river in
the autumn with their winter's supply of pork, flour, tea, powder, lead,
axes, files, rosin to mend their canoes, and castoreum--made out of
beaver glands, you know--to take away the smell of their hands from the
baited traps. They go up in families, six or seven canoes together, and
as each man reaches his own territory his canoe drops out of the
procession and he makes a camp for his wife and babies. Then he spends
the winter--six or seven months--in the woods following his line of
traps. By and by the ice goes out and he begins to want some society. He
hasn't seen a priest for ten months or so, and he's afraid of the
_loup-garou_, for all I know. So he comes down river, takes his Newport
season here at Moisie, and goes to mass and staves off the _loup-garou_.
They're all here now. Maybe you can get a couple to go up river and
maybe you can't."

Then observing Bennie's crestfallen expression, he added:

"But we'll see. Perhaps you can get Marc St. Ange and Edouard Moreau,
both good fellows. They've made their mass and they know the country
from here to Ungava. There's Marc now--_Venez ici_, Marc St. Ange." A
swarthy, lithe Montagnais was coming down the road, and Holliday
addressed him rapidly in habitan French: "This gentleman wishes to go up
river to the forks to see the big cache. Will you go with him?"

The Montagnais bowed to Professor Hooker and pondered the suggestion.
Then he gesticulated toward the north and seemed to Bennie to be telling
a long story.

Holliday laughed again. "Marc says he will go," he commented shortly.
"But he says also that if the Great Father of the Marionettes is angry
he will come back."

"What does he mean by that?" asked Bennie.

"Why, when the aurora borealis--Northern Lights--plays in the sky the
Indians always say that the 'marionettes are dancing.' About four weeks
ago we had some electrical disturbances up here and a kind of an
earthquake. It scared these Indians silly. There was a tremendous
display, almost like a volcano. It beat anything I ever saw, and I've
been here fifteen years. The Indians said the Father of the Marionettes
was angry because they didn't dance enough to suit him, and that he was
making them dance. Then some of them caught a glimpse of a shooting
star, or a comet, or something, and called it the Father of the
Marionettes. They had quite a time--held masses, and so on--and were
really cut up. But the thing is over now, except for the regular,
ordinary display."

"When can they be ready?" inquired Bennie eagerly.

"To-morrow morning," replied Holliday. "Marc will engage his uncle.
They're all right. Now how about an outfit? But don't talk any more
about salmon. I know what you're after--it's _gold_!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The moon was still hanging low over the firs at four o'clock the next
morning when three black and silent shadows emerged from the factor's
house and made their way, cautiously and with difficulty, across the
sand to where a canoe had been run into the riffles of the beach. Marc
came first, carrying a sheet-iron stove with a collapsible funnel; then
his Uncle Edouard, shouldering a bundle consisting of a tent and a
couple of sacks of flour and pork; and lastly Professor Hooker with his
mackintosh and rifle, entirely unaware of the fact that his careful
guides had removed all the cartridges from his luggage lest he should
shoot too many caribou and so spoil the winter's food supply. It was
cold, almost frosty. In the black flood of the river the stars burned
with a chill, wavering light. Bennie put on his mackintosh with a
shiver. The two guides quietly piled the luggage in the centre of the
canoe, arranged a seat for their passenger, picked up their paddles,
shoved off, and took their places in bow and stern.

No lights gleamed in the windows of Moisie. The lap of the ripples
against the birch side of the canoe, the gurgle of the water round the
paddle blades, and the rush of the bow as, after it had paused on the
withdraw, it leaped forward on the stroke, were the only sounds that
broke the deathlike silence of the semi-arctic night. Bennie struck a
match, and it flared red against the black water as he lit his pipe, but
he felt a great stirring within his little breast, a great courage to
dare, to do, for he was off, really off, on his great hunt, his search
for the secret that would remake the world. With the current whispering
against its sides the canoe swept in a wide circle to midstream. The
moon was now partially obscured behind the treetops. To the east a faint
glow made the horizon seem blacker than ever. Ahead the wide waste of
the dark river seemed like an engulfing chasm. Drowsiness enwrapped
Professor Hooker, a drowsiness intensified by the rythmic swinging of
the paddles and the pile of bedding against which he reclined. He closed
his eyes, content to be driven onward toward the region of his hopes,
content almost to fall asleep.

"Hi!" suddenly whispered Marc St. Ange. "_Voila! Le pere des
marionettes!_"

Bennie awoke with a start that almost upset the canoe. The blood rushed
to his face and sang in his ears.

"Where?" he cried. "Where?"

"_Au nord_," answered Marc. "_Mais il descend!_"

Professor Hooker stared in the direction of Marc's uplifted paddle. Was
he deceived? Was the wish father to the thought? Or did he really see at
an immeasurable distance upon the horizon a quickly dying trail of
orange-yellow light? He rubbed his eyes--his heart beating wildly under
his sportsman's suiting. But the north was black beyond the coming dawn.

Old Edouard grunted.

"_Vous etes fou!_" he muttered to his nephew, and drove his paddle deep
into the water.

Day broke with staccato emphasis. The sun swung up out of Europe and
burned down upon the canoe with a heat so equatorial in quality that
Bennie discarded both his mackintosh and his sporting jacket. All signs
of human life had disappeared from the distant banks of the river and
the bow of the canoe faced a gray-blue flood emerging from a wilderness
of scrubby trees. A few gulls flopped their way coast-ward, and at rare
intervals a salmon leaped and slashed the slow-moving surface into a
boiling circle; but for the rest their surroundings were as set, as
immobile, as the painted scenery of a stage, save where the current
swept the scattered promontories of the shore. But they moved steadily
north. So wearied was Bennie with the unaccustomed light and fresh air
that by ten o'clock he felt the day must be over, although the sun had
not yet reached the zenith. Unexpectedly Marc and Edouard turned the
canoe quietly into a shallow, and beached her on a spit of white sand.
In three minutes Edouard had a small fire snapping, and handed Bennie a
cup of tea. How wonderful it seemed--a genuine elixir! And then he felt
the stab of a mosquito, and putting up his hand found it blotched with
blood. And the black flies came also. Soon the professor was tramping up
and down, waving his handkerchief and clutching wildly at the air. Then
they pushed off again.

The sun dropped westward as they turned bend after bend, disclosing ever
the same view beyond. Shadows of rocks and trees began to jut across the
eddies. A great heron, as big as an ostrich, or so he seemed, arose
awkwardly and flapped off, trailing yards of legs behind him. Then
Bennie put on first his jacket and then his mackintosh. He realized that
his hands were numb. The sun was now only a foot or so above the sky
line.

This time it was Marc who grunted and thrust the canoe toward the
river's edge with a sideways push. It grounded on a belt of sand and
they dragged it ashore. Bennie, who had been looking forward to the
night with vivid apprehension, now discovered to his great happiness
that the chill was keeping away the black flies. Joyfully he assisted in
gathering dry sticks, driving tent pegs, and picking reindeer moss for
bedding. Then as darkness fell Edouard fried eggs and bacon, and with
their boots off and their stockinged feet toasting to the blaze the
three men ate as becomes men who have laboured fifteen hours in the open
air. They drank tin cups of scalding tea, a pint at a time, and found it
good; and they smoked their pipes with their backs propped against the
tree trunks and found it heaven. Then as the stars came out and the
woods behind them snapped with strange noises, Edouard took his pipe
from his mouth.

"It's getting cold," said he. "The marionettes will dance to-night."

Bennie heard him as if across a great, yawning gulf. Even the firelight
seemed hundreds of yards away. The little professor was "all in," and he
sat with his chin dropped again to his chest, until he heard Marc
exclaim:

"_Voila! Elles dansent!_"

He raised his eyes. Just across the black, silent sweep of the river
three giant prismatic searchlights were playing high toward the
polestar, such searchlights as the gods might be using in some monstrous
game. They wavered here and there, shifting and dodging, faded and
sprang up again, till Bennie, dizzy, closed his eyes. The lights were
still dancing in the north as he stumbled to his couch of moss.

"_Toujour les marionettes!_" whispered Marc gently, as he might to a
child. "_Bon soir, monsieur._"

The tent was hot and dazzling white above his head when low voices,
footsteps, and the clink of tin against iron aroused the professor from
a profound coma. The guides had already loaded the canoe and were
waiting for him. The sun was high. Apologetically he pulled on his
boots, and stepping to the sand dashed the icy water into his face. His
muscles groaned and rasped. His neck refused to respond to his desires
with its accustomed elasticity. But he drank his tea and downed his
scrambled eggs with an enthusiasm unknown in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Marc gave him a hand into the canoe and they were off. The day had
begun.

The river narrowed somewhat and the shores grew more rocky. At noon they
lunched on another sand-spit. At sunset they saw a caribou. Night came.
"Always the marionettes." Thus passed nine days--like a dream to Bennie;
and then came the first adventure.

It was about four o'clock on the afternoon of the tenth day of their
trip up the Moisie when Marc suddenly stopped paddling and gazed
intently shoreward. After a moment he said something in a low tone to
Edouard, and they turned the canoe and drove it rapidly toward a small
cove half hidden by rocks. Bennie, straining his eyes, could see nothing
at first, but when the canoe was but ten yards from shore he caught
sight of the motionless figure of a man, lying on his face with his head
nearly in the water. Marc turned him over gently, but the limbs fell
limp, one leg at a grotesque angle to the knee. Bennie saw instantly
that it was broken. The Indian's face was white and drawn, no doubt with
pain.

"_Il est mort!_" said Marc slowly, crossing himself.

Edouard shrugged his shoulders and fetched a small flask of brandy from
the professor's sack. Forcing open the jaws, he poured a few drops into
the man's mouth. The Indian choked and opened his eyes. Edouard grunted.

"_La jeunesse pense qu'elle sait tout!_" he remarked scornfully.

Thus they found Nichicun, without whom Bennie might never have
accomplished the object of his quest. It took three days to nurse the
half-dead and altogether starved Montagnais back to life, but he
received the tenderest care. Marc shot a young caribou and gave him the
blood to drink, and made a ragout to put the flesh back on his bones.
Meanwhile the professor slept long hours on the moss and took a
much-needed rest; and by degrees they learned from Nichicun the story of
his misfortune--the story that forms a part of the chronicle of the
expedition, which can be read at the Smithsonian Institution.

He was a Montagnais, he said, with a line of traps to the northeast of
the Height of Land, and last winter he had had very bad luck indeed.
There had been less and less in his traps and he had seen no caribou. So
he had taken his wife, who was sick, and had gone over into the Nascopee
country for food, and there his wife had died. He had made up his mind
very late in the season to come down to Moisie and make his mass and get
a new wife, and start a fresh line of traps in the autumn. All the other
Montagnais had descended the river in their canoes long before, so he
was alone. His provisions had given out and he saw no caribou. He began
to think he would surely starve to death. And then one evening, on the
point just above their present camp, he had seen a caribou and shot it,
but he had been too weak to take good aim and had only broken its
shoulder. It lay kicking among the boulders, pushing itself along by its
hind legs, and he had feared that it would escape. In his haste to reach
it he had slipped on a wet rock and fallen and broken his leg. In spite
of the pain he had crawled on, and then had taken place a wild, terrible
fight for life between the dying man and the dying beast.

He could not remember all that had occurred--he had been kicked, gored,
and bitten; but finally he had got a grip on its throat and slashed it
with his knife. Then, lying there on the ground beside it, he drank its
blood and cut off the raw flesh in strips for food. Finally one day he
had crawled to the river for water and had fainted.

The professor and his guides made for the Indian a hut of rocks and
bark, and threw a great pile of moss into the corner of it for him to
lie on. They carved a splint for his leg and bound it up, and cut a huge
heap of firewood for him, smoking caribou meat and hanging it up in the
hut. Somebody would come up river and find him, or if not, the three men
would pick him up on their return. For this was right and the law of the
woods. But never a word of particular interest to Prof. Bennie Hooker
did Nichicun speak until the night before their departure, although the
reason and manner of his speaking were natural enough. It happened as
follows: but first it should be said that the Nascopees are an ignorant
and barbarous tribe, dirty and treacherous, upon whom the Montagnais
look down with contempt and scorn. They do not even wear civilized
clothes, and their ways are not the ways of _les bons sauvages_. They
have no priests; they do not come to the coast; and the Montagnais will
not mingle with them. Thus it bespoke the hunger of Nichicun that he was
willing to go into their country.

As he sat round the fire with Marc and Edouard on that last night,
Nichicun spoke his mind of the Nascopees, and Marc translated freely for
Bennie's edification.

No, the injured Montagnais told them, the Nascopees were not nice; they
were dirty. They ate decayed food and they never went to mass. Moreover,
they were half-witted. While he was there they were all planning to
migrate for the most absurd reason--what do you suppose? Magic! They
claimed the end of the world was coming! Of course it was coming some
time. But they said now, right away. But why? Because the marionettes
were dancing so much. And they had seen the Father of the Marionettes
floating in the sky and making thunder! Fools! But the strangest thing
of all, they said they could hunt no longer, for they were afraid to
cross something--an iron serpent that stung with fire if you touched it,
and killed you! What foolishness! An iron serpent! But he had asked them
and they had sworn on the holy cross that it was true.

Bennie listened with a chill creeping up his spine. But it would never
do to hint what this disclosure meant to him. Between puffs of his pipe
he asked casual, careless questions of Nichicun. These Nascopees, for
instance, how far off might their land be? And where did they assert
this extraordinary serpent of iron to be? Were there rivers in the
Nascopee country? Did white men ever go there? All these things the
wounded Montagnais told him. It appeared, moreover, that the Rassini
River was near the Nascopee territory, and that it flowed into the
Moisie only seven miles above the camp. All that night the marionettes
danced in Bennie's brain.

Next morning they propped Nichicun on his bed of moss, laid a rifle and
a box of matches beside him, and bade him farewell. At the mouth of the
Rassini River Prof. Bennie Hooker held up his hand and announced that he
was going to the Nascopee country. The canoe halted abruptly. Old
Edouard declared that they had been engaged only to go to the big cache,
and that their present trip was merely by way of a little excursion to
see the river. They had no supplies for such a journey, no proper amount
of ammunition. No, they would deposit the professor on the nearest
sandbar if he wished, but they were going back.

Bennie arose unsteadily in the canoe and dug into his pocket, producing
a roll of gold coin. Two hundred and fifty dollars he promised them if
they would take him to the nearest tribe of Nascopees; five hundred if
they could find the Iron Serpent.

"_Bien!_" exclaimed both Indians without a moment's hesitation, and the
canoe plunged forward up the Rassini.

Once more a dreamlike succession of brilliant, frosty days; once more
the star-studded sky in which always the marionettes danced. And then at
last the great falls of the Rassini, beyond which no white man had gone.
They hid the canoe in the bushes and placed beneath it the iron stove
and half their supply of food. Then they plunged into the brush,
eastward. Bennie had never known such grueling work and heartbreaking
fatigue; and the clouds of flies pursued them venomously and with
unrelenting persistence. At first they had to cut their way through
acres of brush, and then the land rose and they saw before them miles of
swamp and barren land dotted with dwarf trees and lichen-grown rocks.
Here it was easier and they made better time; but the professor's legs
ached and his rifle wore a red bruise on his shoulder. And then after
five days of torment they came upon the Iron Rail. It ran in almost a
direct line from northwest to southwest, with hardly a waver, straight
over the barrens and through the forests of scrub, with a five-foot
clearing upon either side. At intervals it was elevated to a height of
eight or ten inches upon insulated iron braces. Both Marc and Edouard
stared at in wonder, while Bennie made them a little speech.

It was, he said, a thing called a "monorail," made by a man who
possessed strange secrets concerning the earth and the properties of
matter. That man lived over the Height of Land toward Ungava. He was a
good man and would not harm other good men. But he was a great
magician--if you believed in magic. On the rail undoubtedly he ran
something called a gyroscopic engine, and carried his stores and
machinery into the wilderness. The Nascopees were not such fools after
all, for here was the something they feared to cross--the iron serpent
that bit and killed. Let them watch while he made it bite. He allowed
his rifle to fall against the rail, and instantly a shower of blue
sparks flashed from it as the current leaped into the earth.

Bennie counted out twenty-five golden eagles and handed them to Edouard.
If they followed the rail to its source he would, he promised, on their
return to civilization give them as much again. Without more ado the
Indians lifted their packs and swung off to the northwest along the line
of the rail. The stock of Prof. Bennie Hooker had risen in their
estimation. On they ploughed across the barrens, through swamps, over
the quaking muskeg, into the patches of scrub growth where the short
branches slapped their faces, but always they kept in sight of the rail.

       *       *       *       *       *

The extraordinary announcement, transmitted from various European news
agencies, that an attempt had been made by the general commanding the
First Artillery Division of the German Army of the Meuse to violate the
armistice, had caused a profound sensation, particularly as the attempt
to destroy Paris had been prevented only by the sudden appearance of the
same mysterious Flying Ring that had shortly before caused the
destruction of the Atlas Mountains and the flooding of the Sahara Desert
by the Mediterranean Sea.

The advent of the Flying Ring on this second occasion had been noted by
several hundred thousand persons, both soldiers and non-combatants. At
about the hour of midnight, as if to observe whether the warring nations
intended sincerely to live up to their agreement and bring about an
actual cessation of hostilities, the Ring had appeared out of the north
and, floating through the sky, had followed the lines of the
belligerents from Brussels to Verdun and southward. The blinding yellow
light that it had projected toward the earth had roused the soldiers
sleeping in their intrenchments and caused great consternation all along
the line of fortifications, as it was universally supposed that the
director of its flight intended to annihilate the combined armies of
France, England, Germany, and Belgium. But the Ring had sailed
peacefully along, three thousand feet aloft, deluging the countryside
with its dazzling light, sending its beams into the casemates of the
huge fortresses of the Rhine and the outer line of the French
fortifications, searching the redoubts and trenches, but doing no harm
to the sleeping armies that lay beneath it; until at last the silence of
the night had been broken by the thunder of "Thanatos," and in the
twinkling of an eye the Lavender Ray had descended, to turn the village
of Champaubert into the smoking crater of a dying volcano. The entire
division of artillery had been annihilated, with the exception of a few
stragglers, and of the Relay Gun naught remained but a distorted puddle
of steel and iron.

Long before the news of the horrible retribution visited by the master
of the Ring upon Treitschke, the major-general of artillery, and the
inventor, Von Heckmann, had reached the United States, Bill Hood,
sitting in the wireless receiving station of the Naval Observatory at
Georgetown, had received through the ether a message from his mysterious
correspondent in the north that sent him hurrying to the White House.
Pax had called the Naval Observatory and had transmitted the following
ultimatum, repeating it, as was his custom, three times:

     "_To the President of the United States and to All Mankind:_

     "I have put the nations to the test and found them wanting. The
     solemn treaty entered into by the ambassadors of the belligerent
     nations at Washington has been violated. My attempt by harmless
     means to compel the cessation of hostilities and the abolition of
     war has failed. I cannot trust the nations of the earth. Their
     selfishness, their bloodthirstiness, and greed, will inevitably
     prevent their fulfilling their agreements with me or keeping the
     terms of their treaties with one another, which they regard, as
     they themselves declare, merely as 'scraps of paper.' The time has
     come for me to compel peace. I am the dictator of human destiny and
     my will is law. War shall cease. On the 10th day of September I
     shall shift the axis of the earth until the North Pole shall be in
     the region of Strassburg and the South Pole in New Zealand. The
     habitable zone of the earth will be hereafter in South Africa,
     South and Central America, and regions now unfrequented by man. The
     nations must migrate and a new life in which war is unknown must
     begin upon the globe. This is my last message to the human race.

     "PAX."

The conference of ambassadors summoned by the President to the White
House that afternoon exhibited a character in striking contrast with the
first, at which Von Koenitz and the ambassadors from France, Russia, and
England had had their memorable disagreement. It was a serious,
apprehensive, and subdued group of gentlemen that gathered round the
great mahogany table in the Cabinet chamber to debate what course of
action the nations should pursue to avert the impending calamity to
mankind. For that Pax could shift the axis of the earth, or blow the
globe clean out of its orbit into space, if he chose to do so, no one
doubted any longer.

And first it fell as the task of the ambassador representing the
Imperial German Commissioners to assure his distinguished colleagues
that his nation disavowed and denied all responsibility for the conduct
of General Treitschke in bombarding Paris after the hour set for the
armistice. It was unjust and contrary to the dictates of reason, he
argued, to hold the government of a nation comprising sixty-five
millions of human beings and five millions of armed men accountable for
the actions of a single individual. He spoke passionately, eloquently,
persuasively, and at the conclusion of his speech the ambassadors
present were forced to acknowledge that what he said was true, and to
accept without reservation his plausible assurances that the Imperial
German Commissioners had no thought but to cooperate with the other
governments in bringing about a lasting peace such as Pax demanded.

But the immediate question was, had not the time for this gone by? Was
it not too late to convince the master of the Flying Ring that his
orders would be obeyed? Could anything be done to avert the calamity he
threatened to bring upon the earth--to prevent the conversion of Europe
into a barren waste of ice fields? For Pax had announced that he had
spoken for the last time and that the fate of Europe was sealed. All the
ambassadors agreed that a general European immigration was practically
impossible; and as a last resort it was finally decided to transmit to
Pax, through the Georgetown station, a wireless message signed by all
the ambassadors of the belligerent nations, solemnly agreeing within one
week to disband their armies and to destroy all their munitions and
implements of war. This message was delivered to Hood, with instructions
for its immediate delivery. All that afternoon and evening the operator
sat in the observatory, calling over and over again the three letters
that marked mankind's only communication with the controller of its
destiny:

     "PAX--PAX--PAX!"

But no answer came. For long, weary hours Hood waited, his ears glued to
the receivers. An impenetrable silence surrounded the master of the
Ring. Pax had spoken. He would say no more. Late that night Hood
reluctantly returned to the White House and informed the President that
he was unable to deliver the message of the nations.

And meantime Prof. Bennie Hooker, with Marc and Edouard, struggled
across the wilderness of Labrador, following the Iron Rail that led to
the hiding-place of the master of the world.

       *       *       *       *       *

The terrible fate of the German expeditionary force is too well known to
require comment. As has been already told, the _Sea Fox_ had sailed from
Amsterdam twelve days after the conference in the War Office at Mainz
between General von Helmuth and Professor von Schwenitz. Once north of
the Orkneys it had encountered fair weather, and it had reached Hamilton
Inlet in ten days without mishap, and with the men and animals in the
best of condition. At Rigolet the men had disembarked and loaded their
howitzers, mules, and supplies upon the flat-bottomed barges brought
with them for that purpose. Thirty French and Indian guides had been
engaged, and five days later the expedition, towed by the powerful motor
launches, had started up the river toward the chain of lakes lying
northwest toward Ungava. Every one was in the best of spirits and
everything moved with customary German precision like clockwork. Nothing
had been forgotten, not even the pungent invention of a Berlin chemist
to discourage mosquitoes. Without labour, without anxiety, the fourteen
barges bored through the swift currents and at last reached a great lake
that lay like a silver mirror for miles about them. The moon rose and
turned the boats into weird shapes as they ploughed through the gray
mists--a strange and terrible sight for the Nascopees lurking in the
underbrush along the shore. And while the men smoked and sang "Die Wacht
am Rhein," listening to the trill of the ripples against the bows, the
foremost motorboat grounded.

The momentum of the barge immediately following could not be checked,
and she in turn drove into what seemed to be a mud bank. At about the
same instant the other barges struck bottom. Intense excitement and
confusion prevailed among the members of the expedition, since they were
almost out of sight of land and the draft of the motorboats was only
nineteen inches. But no efforts could move the barges from where they
were. All night long the propellers churned the gleaming water of the
lake to foam, but without result. Each and every barge and boat was hard
and fast aground, and when the gray daylight came stealing across the
lake there was no lake to be seen, only a reeking marsh, covered for
miles with a welter of green slime and decaying vegetable matter across
which it would seem no human being or animal could flounder. As far as
the eye could reach lay only a blackish ooze. And with the sun came
millions of mosquitoes and flies, and drove the men and mules frantic
with their stings.

Only one man, Ludwig Helmer, a gun driver from Potsdam, survived. Half
mad with the flies and nearly naked, he found his way somehow across the
quaking bog, after all his comrades had died of thirst, and reached a
tribe of Nascopees, who took him to the coast. A great explosion, they
told him, had torn the River Nascopee from its bed and diverted its
course. The lakes that it fed had all dried up.

       *       *       *       *       *

Blinded by perspiration, sweltering under the heavy burden of their
outfit, goaded almost to frenzy by the black flies and mosquitoes,
Hooker and Marc and Edouard staggered through the brush, following the
monorail. They had already reached the summit of the Height of Land and
where now working down the northern slope in the direction of Ungava.
The land was barren beyond the imagination of the unimaginative Bennie.
Small dwarfed trees struggled for a footing amid the lichen-covered
outcroppings and sun-dried moss of the hollows. The slightest rise
showed mile upon mile of great waste undulating interminably in every
direction. The heat shimmering off the rocks was almost suffocating. At
noon on September 10th they threw themselves into the shade of a narrow
ledge, boiled some tea, and smoked their pipes, wildly fanning the air
to drive away the swarms of insects that attacked them.

Hooker was half drunk from lack of sleep and water. Already once or
twice he had caught himself wandering when talking to Marc and Edouard.
The whole thing was like a horrible, disgusting nightmare. And then he
suddenly became aware that the two Indians were staring intently through
the clouds of mosquitoes over the tree tops to the eastward. Through the
sweat that trickled into his eyes he tried to make out what they could
see. But he could discern nothing except mosquitoes. And then he thought
he saw a mosquito larger than all the others. He waved at it, but it
remained where it was. A slight breeze momentarily wafted the swarm
away, and he still saw the big mosquito hovering over the horizon. Then
he heard Marc cry out:

"_Quelque chose vol en l'air!_"

He rubbed the moisture out of his eyes and stared at the mosquito, which
was growing bigger every minute. With the velocity of a projectile, this
monstrous insect, or whatever it was, came sweeping up behind them from
the Height of Land, soaring into the zenith in a great parabola, until
with a shiver of excitement Bennie recognized that it was the Flying
Ring.

"It's him," he chattered emphatically, if ungrammatically.

Marc and Edouard nodded.

"_Oui, oui!_" they cried in unison. "_C'est celui que vous cherchez!_"

"_Il retourne chez lui_," said Marc.

And then Bennie, without offering any explanation, found himself dancing
up and down upon the rocks in the dizzying sun, waving his hat and
shouting to the Father of the Marionettes. What he shouted he never
knew. And Marc and Edouard both shouted, too. But the master of the Ring
heard them not, or if he heard he paid them no attention. Nearer and
nearer came the Ring, until Bennie could see the gleaming cylinder of
its great steel circle. At a distance of about two miles it swept
through the air over a low ridge, and settled toward the earth in the
direction of Ungava.

"He only goes ten mile maybe," announced Marc confidently. "_Un petit
bout de chemin._ We get there to-night."

On they struggled beside the Rail, but now hope ran high. Bennie sang
and whistled, unmindful of the mosquitoes and black flies that renewed
their attacks with unremitting ferocity. The sun lowered itself into the
pine trees, shooting dazzling shafts through the low branches, and then
sank in a welter of crimson-yellow light. The sky turned gray in the
east; faint stars twinkled through the quivering waves that still shook
from the overheated rocks. It turned cold and the mosquitoes departed.
Hugging the Rail, they staggered on, now over shaking muskeg, now
through thickets of tangled brush, now on great ledges of barren rock,
and then across caribou barrens knee-deep in dry and crackling moss.
Darkness fell and prudence dictated that they should make camp. But in
their excitement they trudged on, until presently a pale glow behind the
dwarfed trees showed that the moon was rising. They boiled the water,
made tea, and cooked some biscuits. Soon they could see to pursue their
way.

"'Most there now," encouraged Marc.

Presently, instead of descending, they found the land was rising again,
and forcing their way through the undergrowth they struggled up a rocky
hillside, perhaps three hundred feet in height. Marc was in the lead,
with Bennie a few feet behind him. As they reached the crest the Indian
turned and pointed to something in front of him that Bennie was unable
to distinguish.

"_Nous sommes arrivees_," he announced.

With his heart thumping from the exertion of the climb, Bennie crawled
up beside his guide and found himself confronted by a strong barbed-wire
entanglement affixed to iron stanchions firmly imbedded in the rocks.
They were on the top of a ridge that dropped away abruptly at their feet
into a valley, perhaps a mile in width, terminating on the other side in
perpendicular cliffs, estimated by Bennie to be about eight hundred or a
thousand feet in height. Although the entanglement was by no means
impassable, it was a distinct obstacle and one they preferred to tackle
by daylight. Moreover, it indicated that their company was undesired.
They were in the presence of an unknown quantity, the master of the
Flying Ring. Whether he was a malign or a benevolent influence, this
Father of the Marionettes, they could not tell.

With his back propped against a small spruce Bennie focused his glasses
upon dim shapes barely discernible in the midst of the valley. He was
thrilled by a deep excitement, a strange fear. What would he see? What
mysteries would those vague forms disclose? The shadows cast by the
cliffs and a light mist gathering in the low ground made it difficult to
see; and then, even as he looked, the moon rose higher and shone through
something in the middle of the valley that looked like a tall, grisly
skeleton. It seemed to have legs and arms, an odd mushroom-shaped head,
and endless ribs. Below and at its feet were other and vaguer
shapes--flat domes or cupolas, bombproofs perhaps, buildings of some
sort--Pax's home beyond peradventure.

As he looked through the glasses at the skeleton-like tower Bennie had
an extraordinary feeling of having seen it all before somewhere. As in a
long-forgotten dream he remembered Tesla's tower near Smithtown, on Long
Island. And this was Tesla's tower, naught else! It is a strange thing,
how at great crises of our lives come feelings of anticipatory
knowledge. There is, indeed, nothing new under the sun; else had Bennie
been more afraid. As it was, he saw only Tesla's Smithtown tower with
its head like a young mushroom. And at the same time there flashed into
his memory: "Childe Harold to the Dark Tower Came." Over and over he
repeated it mechanically, feeling that he might be one of those of whom
the poet had sung. Yet he had not read the lines for years:

    _Burningly it came on me all at once,
    This was the place!...
    What in the midst lay but the Tower itself?_

His eyes searched the shadows round the base of the tower, for his ears
had already caught a faint, almost inaudible throbbing that seemed to
grow from moment to moment. There certainly was a dull vibration in the
air, a vibration like the distant hum of machinery. Suddenly old Edouard
touched Bennie upon the shoulder.

"_Regardez!_" he whispered.

Some transformation was happening in the hood of the tower. From a black
opaque object it began to turn a dull red and to diffuse a subdued glow,
while the hum turned into a distinct whir.

Bennie became almost hysterical with excitement.

Soon the hood of the tower had turned white and the glow had increased
until the whole valley was lit up with a suffused and gentle light. The
Ring could be distinctly seen about half a mile away, resting upon a
huge circular support.

"_C'est le feu!_" grunted Marc. "_C'est ainsi que l'on fait danser les
marionettes!_"

There was no doubt that the hood of the tower was in fact white hot, for
the perpendicular cliffs of the mountain across the valley sharply
reflected the light that it disseminated. The humming whir of the great
alternator rose gradually into a scream like the outcry of some angry
thing. And then unexpectedly a shaft of pale lavender light shot out
from the glowing hood and lost itself in the blackness of the midnight
sky. Now appeared a wonderful and beautiful spectacle: immediately above
the point where the rays disappeared into the ether hundreds of points
of yellow fire suddenly sprang into being in the sky, darting hither and
thither like fireflies, some moving slowly and others with such speed
they appeared as even, luminous lines.

"_Les marionettes! Les marionettes!_" Marc cried trembling.

"Not at all! Not at all! They are meteorites!" answered Bennie, entirely
engrossed in the scientific phase of the matter and forgetting that he
did not speak the other's language. "Space is jammed full of meteoric
dust. The larger particles, which strike our atmosphere and which ignite
by friction, form shooting stars. The Ray--the Lavender Ray--reaching
out into the most distant regions of space meets them in countless
numbers and disintegrates them, surrounding them with glowing
atmospheres. By George, though, if he starts in playing the Ray upon
that cliff we've got to stand from under! Look here, boys," he shouted,
"stuff something in your ears." He seized his handkerchief, tore it
apart, and, making two plugs, thrust them into the openings of his ears
as far as the drums. The others in wonderment followed his example.

"He's going to rock the earth!" cried Bennie Hooker. "He's going to rock
the earth again!"

Slowly the Lavender Ray swung through the ether, followed by its
millions of meteorites, dipping downward toward the northern side of the
valley and sinking ever lower and lower toward the cliff. Bennie threw
himself flat on his stomach upon the ridge, pressing his hands to his
ears, and the others, feeling that something terrible was going to
happen, followed his example. Nearer and nearer toward the ridge dropped
the Ray. Bennie held his breath. Another instant and there came a
blinding splash of yellow light, a crash like thunder, and a roar that
seemed to tear the mountain from its base. The earth shook. Into the
zenith sprang a flame of incandescent vapour a mile in height. The
tumult increased. Vivid blue flashes of lightning shot out from the spot
upon which the Ray played. The air was filled with thunderings, and the
ground beneath them rose and fell and swung from side to side. Then came
a mighty wind, nay, a cyclone, and gravel and broken branches fell upon
them, and suffocating clouds of dust filled their eyes and shut out from
time to time what was occurring in the valley. The face of the cliff
glowed like the interior of a furnace, and the blazing yellow blast of
glowing helium shot over their heads and off into space, making the
night sky light as day.

For a moment they all lay stunned and sightless. Then the discharge
appeared to diminish both in volume and in intensity. The air cleared
somewhat and the ground no longer trembled. The burst of flame slowly
subsided, like a fountain that is being gradually turned off. Either the
Ring man wasn't going to rock the earth or he had lost control of his
machinery.

Something was clearly going wrong. Showers of sparks fell from the hood
and occasionally huge glowing masses of molten metal dropped from it.
And now the Lavender Ray began slowly to sweep down the face of the
cliff; and the yellow blast of helium gradually faded away until it was
scarcely visible. The roar of the alternator died down, first to a hum
and then to a purr.

"Something's busted," thought Bennie, "and he's shut it off."

The Ray had now reached the bottom of the cliff and was sweeping across
the ground toward the base of the tower, its path being marked by a
small travelling volcano that hurled its smoke and steam high into the
air. It was evident to Bennie that the hood of the tower was slowly
turning over, and that the now fast-fading Ray would presently play upon
its base and the adjacent cupola in which the master of the Ring was
probably attempting to control his recalcitrant machinery.

And then Bennie lost consciousness.

       *       *       *       *       *

A splash of rain. He awoke, and found himself lying by the barbed-wire
fence in the graying light of dawn. His muscles were stiff and sore, but
he felt a strange sense of exhilaration. A mist was driving across the
valley and enshrouding the scene of the night's debacle. Through the
rain gusts he could see, still standing, the wreck of the tower, with a
fragment of melted inductor drooping from its apex--and a long way off
the Ring. The base of the tower and its surroundings were lost in mist.
He crawled to his knees and looked about him for Marc and Edouard, but
they had disappeared. His field glasses lay beside him, and he picked
them up and raised himself to his feet. Like stout Cortes, silent upon
his peak in Darien, he surveyed the Pacific of his dreams. For the Ring
was still there! Pax might be annihilated, his machinery destroyed, but
the secret remained--and it was his, Bennie Hooker's, of Appian Way,
Cambridge, Massachusetts! In his excitement, in getting over the fence
he tore a jagged hole in what was left of his sporting suit, but in a
moment more he was scrambling down the ridge into the ravine.

He found it no easy task to climb down the jagged face of the cliff, but
twenty minutes of stiff work landed him in the valley and within a
thousand yards of the stark remains of the tower. Between where he stood
and the devastation caused by the culminating explosion of the night
before, the surface of the earth showed the customary ledges of barren
rock, the scraggy scattering of firs, and stretches of moss with which
he had become so familiar. Behind him the monorail, springing into space
from the crest of the hill, ended in the dangling wreckage of a trestle
which evidently had terminated in a station, now vanished, near the
tower. From his point of observation little of the results of the
upheaval was noticeable except the debris, which lay in a film of
shattered rock and gravel over the surface of the ground, but as he ran
toward the tower the damage caused by the Ray quickly became apparent.

At the distance of two hundred yards from the base he paused astounded.
Why anything of the tower remained at all was a mystery, explicable only
by reason of the skeleton-like character of its construction. All about
it the surface had been rent as by an earthquake, and save for a
fragment of the dome or bombproof all trace of buildings had
disappeared. A glistening lake of leperous-like molten lead lay in the
centre of the crater, strangely iridescent. A broad path of destruction,
fifty yards or so in width, led from the scene of the disruption to the
precipice against which the Ray had played. The face of the cliff itself
seemed covered with a white coating or powder which gave it a ghostly
sheen. Moreover, the rain had turned to snow and already the entire
aspect of the valley had changed.

Bennie stood wonderingly on the edge of this inferno. He was cold,
famished, horror-stricken. Like a flash in a pan the mechanism which had
rocked the earth and dislocated its axis had blown out; and there was
now nothing left to tell the story, for its inventor had flashed out
with it into eternity. At his very feet a conscious human being, only
twelve short hours before, had by virtue of his stupendous brain been
able to generate and control a force capable of destroying the planet
itself, and now----! He was gone! It was all gone! Unless somewhere hard
by was hovering amid the whirling snowflakes that which might be his
soul. But Pax would send no more messages! Bennie's journey had gone for
naught. He had arrived just too late to talk it all over with his
fellow-scientist, and discuss those little improvements on Hiroshito's
theory. Pax was dead!

He sat down wearily, noticing for the first time that his ears pained
him. In his depression and excitement he had totally forgotten the Ring.
He wondered how he was ever going to get back to Cambridge. And then as
he raised his hand to adjust his Glengarry he saw it awaiting
him--unscathed. Far to the westward it rested snugly in its gigantic
nest of crossbeams, like the head of some colossal decapitated Chinese
mandarin. With an involuntary shout he started running down the valley,
heedless of his steps. Nearer and higher loomed the steel trestlework
upon which rested the giant engine. Panting, he blindly stumbled on,
mindful only of the momentous fact that Pax's secret was not lost.

Fifty feet above the ground, supported upon a cylindrical trestle of
steel girders, rested the body of the car, constructed of aluminum
plates in the form of an anchor ring some seventy-five feet in diameter,
while over the circular structure of the Ring itself rose a skeleton
tower like a tripod, carrying at its summit a huge metal device shaped
like a thimble, the open mouth of which pointed downward through the
open centre of the machine. Obviously this must be the tractor or
radiant engine. There, too, swung far out from the side of the ring on a
framework of steel, was the thermic inductor which had played the
disintegrating Ray upon the Atlas Mountains and the great cannon of Von
Heckmann. The whole affair resembled nothing which he had ever conceived
of either in the air, the earth, or the waters under the earth, the
bizarre invention of a superhuman mind. It seemed as firmly anchored and
as immovable as the Eiffel Tower, and yet Bennie knew that the thing
could lift itself into the air and sail off like a ball of thistledown
before a breeze. He knew that it could do it, for he had seen it with
his own eyes.

A few steps more brought him into the centre of the circle of steel
girders which supported the landing stage. Here the surface of the earth
at his feet had been completely denuded and the underlying rock exposed,
evidently by some artificial action, the downward blast of gas from the
tractor. Even the rock itself had been seared by the discharge; little
furrows worn smooth as if by a mountain torrent radiating in all
directions from the central point. More than anything it reminded Bennie
of the surface of a meteorite, polished and scarred by its rush through
the atmosphere. He paused, filled with a kind of awe. The most wonderful
engine of all time waited his inspection. The great secret was his
alone. The inventor and his associates had been wiped out of existence
in a flash, and the Flying Ring was his by every right of treasure
trove. In the heart of the Labrador wilderness Prof. Benjamin Hooker of
Cambridge, Massachusetts, gave an exultant shout, threw off his coat,
and swarmed up the steel ladder leading to the landing stage.

He had ascended about halfway when a voice echoed among the girders. A
red face was peering down at him over the edge of the platform.

"Hello!" said the face. "I'm all right, I guess."

Bennie gripped tight hold of the ladder, stiff with fear. He thought
first of jumping down, changed his mind, and, shutting his eyes,
continued automatically climbing up the ladder.

Then a hand gripped him under the arm and gave him a lift on to the
level floor of the platform. He steadied himself and opened his eyes.
Before him stood a man in blue overalls, under whose forehead, burned
bright red by the Labrador sun, a pair of blue eyes looked out vaguely.
The man appeared to be waiting for the visitor to make the next move.
"Good morning," said Bennie, sparring for time. "Well"--he
hesitated--"where were you when it happened?"

The man looked at him stupidly. "What?" he mumbled. "I--I don't seem to
remember. You see--I was in--the condenser room building up the
charge--for to-morrow--I mean to-day--sixty thousand volts at the
terminals, and the fluid clearing up. I guess I looked out of the window
a minute--to see--the fireworks--and then--somehow--I was out on the
platform." He shaded his eyes and looked off down the valley at the
half-shattered, wrecked tower. "The wind and the smoke!" he muttered.
"The wind and the smoke--and the dust in my eyes--and now it's all gone
to hell! But I guess everything's all right now, if you want to fly." He
touched his cap automatically. "We can start whenever you are ready,
sir. You see I thought you were gone, too! That would have been a mess!
I'm sure you can handle the balancer without Perkins. Poor old Perk! And
Hoskins--and the others. All gone, by God! All wiped out! Only me and
you left, sir!" He laughed hysterically.

"Bats in his belfry!" thought Bennie. "Something hit him!"

Slowly it came over him that the half-stunned creature thought that he,
Bennie Hooker, was Pax, the Master of the World!

He took the fellow by the arm. "Come on inside," he said. A plan had
already formulated itself in his brain. Even as he was the man might be
able to go through his customary duties in handling the Ring. It was not
impossible. He had heard of such things, and the thought of the long
marches over the frozen barrens and the perilous canoe trip down the
coast, contrasted with a swift rush for an hour or two through the
sunlit air, gave the professor the courage which might not have availed
him otherwise. At the top of a short ladder a trapdoor opened inward,
and Bennie found himself in a small compartment scarcely large enough to
turn around in, from which a second door opened into the body of the
Ring proper.

"It's all right--to-day," said the man hesitatingly. "I fixed--the
air-lock--yesterday, sir. The leak--was here--at the hinge--but it's
quite tight--now." He pointed at the door.

"Good," remarked Bennie. "I'll look around and see how things are."

This seemed to him to be eminently safe--and allowing for a program of
investigation absolutely essential at the moment. Once he could master
the secret of the Ring and be sure that the part of the fellow's brain
which controlled the performance of his customary duties had not been
injured by the shock of the night before, it might be possible to carry
out the daring project which had suggested itself.

Passing through the inner door of the air-lock he entered the chart room
of the Ring, followed stumblingly by his companion. It was warm and
cozy; the first warmth Hooker had experienced for nearly a month. It
made him feel faint, and he dropped into an armchair and pulled off his
Glengarry. The survivor of the explosion, standing awkwardly at his
side, fumbled with his cap. Ever and anon he rubbed his head.

Bennie sank back into the cushions and looked about him. On the opposite
wall hung a map of the world on Mercator's Projection, and from a spot
in Northern Labrador red lines radiated in all directions, which formed
great curved loops, returning to the starting-point.

"The flights of the Ring," thought Bennie. "There's the one where they
busted the Atlas Mountains," following with his eyes the crimson thread
which ran diagonally across the Atlantic, traversed Spain and the
Mediterranean, and circling in a narrow loop over the coast of Northern
Africa turned back into its original track. Visions came to him of
guiding the car for an afternoon jaunt across the Sahara, the gloomy
forests of the Congo, into the Antarctic, and thence home in time for
afternoon tea, via the Easter Islands, Hawaii, and Alaska. But why stop
there? What was to prevent a trip to the moon? Or Mars? Or for that
matter into the unknown realms outside the solar system--the fourth
dimension, perhaps--or even the fifth dimension----

"Excuse me," said the machinist suddenly, "I just forgot--whether you
take--cigars or cigarettes. You see I only acted as--table
orderly--once--when Smith had that sprain." His hands moved uncertainly
on the shelves, beyond the map. The heart of Professor Hooker leaped.

"Cigars!" he almost shouted.

The man found a box of Havanas and struck a match.

The bliss of it! And if there was tobacco there must be food and drink
as well. He began to feel strangely exhilarated. But how to handle the
man beside him? Pax would certainly never ask the questions that he
wished to ask. He smoked rapidly, thinking hard. Of course he might
pretend that he, too, had forgotten things. And at first this seemed to
be the only way out of the difficulty. Then he had an inspiration.

"Look here," he remarked, rather severely. "Something's happened to you.
You say you've forgotten what occurred yesterday? How do I know but you
have forgotten everything you ever knew? You remember your name?"

"My name, sir?" The man laughed in a foolish fashion. "Why--of course I
remember--my name. I wouldn't--be likely--to forget--that:
Atterbury--I'm Atterbury--electrician of the _Chimaera_." And he drew
himself up.

"That's all right," said Bennie, "but what were we doing yesterday? What
is the very last thing that you can go back to?"

The man wrinkled his forehead. "The last thing? Why, sir, you told us
you were going--to turn over the pole a bit--and freeze up Europe. I was
up here--loading the condenser--when you cut me off from the alternator.
I opened the switch--and put on the electrometer to see--if we had
enough. Next--everything was clouded, and I went--over to the window to
see--what was going on."

"Yes," commented Bennie approvingly, "all right so far. What happened
then?"

"Why, after that, sir, after that, there was the Ray of course, and
er--I don't seem to remember--oh, yes, a short circuit--and I ran--out
on the platform--forgot all about the danger! After that, everything's
confused. It's like a dream. Your coming up--the ladder--seemed--to wake
me up." The machinist smiled sheepishly.

The plan was working well. Professor Hooker was learning things fast.

"Do you think that the two of us can fly the _Chimaera_ south again?" he
asked, inspecting the map.

"Why not?" answered Atterbury. "The balancer is working--better
now--and--doesn't take--much attention--and you can lay the course--and
manage--the landing. I was going to put a fresh uranium cylinder in the
tractor this morning--but I--forgot."

"There you go, forgetting again!" growled Bennie, realizing that his
only excuse for asking questions hung on this fiction. And there were
many, many more questions that he must ask before he would be able to
fly. "You don't seem quite right in your coco this morning, Atterbury,"
he said. "I think we'll look things over a bit--the condenser first."

"Very well, sir." Atterbury turned and groped his way through a doorway,
and they passed first into what appeared to be a storage-battery room.
Huge glass tanks filled with amber-coloured fluid, in which numerous
parallel plates were supported, lined the walls from floor to ceiling.

An ammeter on the wall caught Bennie's attention. "Weston Direct Reading
A. C. Ammeter," he read on the dial. Alternate current! What were they
doing with an alternating current in the storage-battery room? His eyes
followed the wires along the wall. Yes, they ran to the terminals of the
battery. It dawned upon him that there might be something here undreamed
of in electrical engineering--a storage battery for an alternating
current!

The electrician closed a row of switches, brought the two polished brass
spheres of the discharger within striking distance, and instantly a
blinding current of sparks roared between the terminals. He had been
right. This battery not only was charged by an alternating current, but
delivered one of high potential. He peered into the cells, racking his
brain for an explanation.

"Atterbury," said he meditatively, "did I ever tell you why they do
that?"

"Yes," answered the man. "You--told me--once. The two metals--in the
electrolyte--come down--on the plates--in alternate films--as--the
current changes direction. But you never told me--what the electrolyte
was--I don't suppose--you--would be willing to now, would you?"

"H'm," said Bennie, "some time, maybe."

But this cue was all that he required. A clever scheme! Pax had formed
layers of molecular thickness of two different metals in alternation by
the to-and-fro swing of his charging current. When the battery
discharged the metals went into solution, each plate becoming
alternately positive and negative. He wondered what Pax had used for an
electrolyte that enabled him to get a metallic deposit at each
electrode. And he wondered also why the metals did not alloy. But it
would not do for him to linger too long over a mere detail of equipment.
And he turned away to continue his tour of inspection, a tour which
occupied most of the morning, and during which he found a well-stocked
gallery and made himself a cup of coffee.[5]

[Footnote 5: He even climbed with Atterbury to the very summit of the
tractor, where he discovered that his original guess had been correct
and that the car rose from the earth rocket fashion, due to the back
pressure of the radiant discharge from a massive cylinder of uranium
contained in the tractor. Against this block played a disintegrating ray
from a small thermic inductor, the inner construction of which he was
not able to determine, although it was obviously different from his own,
and the coils were wound in a curious manner which he did not
understand. There might be something in Hiroshito's theory after all.
The cylinder of the tractor pointed directly downward so that the blast
was discharged through the very centre of the Ring, but it could be
swung through a small angle in any direction, and by means of this
slight deflection the horizontal motion of the machine secured. Perhaps
the most interesting feature of the mechanism was that the Ring appeared
to have automatic stability, for the angle of the direction in which the
tractor was pointed was controlled not only by a pair of gyroscopes
which kept the Ring on an even keel, but also by a manometric valve
causing it to fly at a fixed height above the earth's surface. Should it
start to rise, the diminished pressure of the atmosphere operating on
the valve swung the tractor more to one side, and the horizontal
acceleration was thus increased at the expense of the vertical.]

But the more he learned about the mechanism of the Ring the greater
became his misgivings about undertaking the return journey alone with
Atterbury through the air. If they were to go, the start must be made
within a few days, for the condenser held its charge but a comparatively
short time, and its energy was necessary for starting the Ring. When
freshly charged it supplied current for the thermic inductor for nearly
three minutes, but the metallic films, deposited on the plates,
dissolved slowly in the fluid, and after three or four days there
remained only enough for a thirty-second run, hardly enough to lift the
Ring from the earth. Once in the air, the downward blast from the
tractor operated a turbine alternator mounted on a skeleton framework at
the centre of the Ring, and the current supplied by this machine enabled
the Ring to continue its flight indefinitely, or until the cylinder of
uranium was completely disintegrated.

Yet to trek back over the route by which he had come appeared to be
equally impossible. There was little likelihood that the two Indians
would return; they were probably already thirty miles on their way back
to the coast. If only he could get word to Thornton or some of those
chaps at Washington they might send a relief expedition! But a ship
would be weeks in getting to the coast, and how could he live in the
meantime? There were provisions for only a few days in the Ring, and the
storehouse in the valley had been wiped out of existence. Only an
aeroplane could do the trick. And then he thought of Burke, his
classmate--Burke who had devoted his life to heavier-than-air machines,
and who, since his memorable flight across the Atlantic in the _Stormy
Petrol_, had been a national hero. Burke could reach him in ten hours,
but how could _he_ reach Burke? In the heart of the frozen wilderness of
Labrador he might as well be on another planet, as far as communication
with the civilized world was concerned.

A burst of sunlight shot through the window and formed an oval patch on
the floor at his feet. The weather was clearing. He went out upon the
platform. Patches of blue sky appeared overhead. As he gazed
disconsolately across the valley toward the tower, his eye caught the
glisten of something high in the air. From the top of the wreckage five
thin shining lines ran parallel across the sky and disappeared in a
small cloud which hung low over the face of the cliff.

"The antennae!" exclaimed Bennie. "A wireless to Burke." Burke would
come; he knew Burke. A thousand miles overland was nothing to him.
Hadn't he wagered five thousand dollars at the club that he would fly to
the pole and bring back Peary's flag--with no takers? Why, Burke would
take him home with as little trouble as a taxicab. And then, aghast, he
remembered the complete destruction in the valley. The wireless plant
had gone with the rest. He ran back into the chart room and called
Atterbury.

"Can we get off a message to Washington?" he demanded. "The wires are
still up, and we have the condenser."

"We might, sir, if it's not--a long one, though you've always said there
was danger in running the engine with the car bolted down. We did it the
time the big machine burnt out a coil. I can throw--a wire--over the
antennae with a rocket--and join up--with the turbine machine. It will
increase--our wave length, but they ought to pick us up."

"We'll try it, anyway," announced Bennie.

He inspected the chart and measured the distance in an airline from
Boston to the point where the red lines converged. It was a trifle less
than the distance between Boston and Chicago. Burke had done that in
nine hours on the trial trip of his trans-Atlantic monoplane. If the
machine was in order and Burke started in the morning he would be with
them by sunset, if he didn't get lost. But Bennie knew that Burke could
drive his machine by dead reckoning and strike within a few leagues of a
target a thousand miles away.

A muffled roar outside interrupted his musings, and running out on the
platform again he found Atterbury attaching the cord of the aluminum
ribbon, which the rocket had carried up and over the antennae, to one of
the brush bars of the alternator.

"Nearly ready, sir," he said. "We'd best--lock the storm bolts--to hold
her down--in case we have--to crowd on the power. We've got to
use--pretty near the full lift--to get the alternator up--to the proper
speed."

A chill ran down Bennie's spine. They were going to start the engine! In
a moment he would be within twenty feet of a blast of disintegration
products capable of lifting the whole machine into the air, and it was
to be started at his command, after he had worked and pottered for two
years with a thermic inductor the size of a thimble! He felt as he used
to feel before taking a high dive, or as he imagined a soldier feels
when about to go under fire for the first time. How would it turn out?
Was he taking too much responsibility, and was Atterbury counting on him
for the management of details? He felt singularly helpless as he
reentered the chart room to compose his message.

He turned on the electric lamp which hung over the desk, for in the
fast-gathering dusk the interior of the Ring was in almost total
darkness. How should his message read? It must be brief: it must tell
the story, and, above all, it must be compelling.

He was joined by the electrician.

"I think--we are all--ready now," stammered the latter. "What will you
send, sir?"

Bennie handed him a scrap of yellow paper, and Atterbury put on a pair
of dark amber glasses, to protect his eyes from the light of the spark.

     "_Thornton, Naval Observatory, Washington:_

     "Stranded fifty-four thirty-eight north, seventy-four eighteen
     west. Have the Ring machine. Ask Burke come immediately. Life and
     death matter.

     "B. HOOKER."

Atterbury read the message and then gazed blankly at Hooker.

"I--don't--understand," he said.

"Never mind, send it. I'll explain later." Together they went into the
condenser room.

Atterbury mechanically pushed the brass balls in contact, shoved a
bundle of iron wires halfway through the core of a great coil, and
closed a switch. A humming sound filled the air, and a few seconds later
a glow of yellow light came in through the window. A cone of luminous
vapour was shooting downward through the centre of the Ring from the
tractor. At first it was soft and nebulous, but it increased rapidly in
brilliancy, and a dull roar, like that of a waterfall, added itself to
the hum of the alternating current in the wires. And now a third sound
came to his ears, the note of the turbine, low at first, but gradually
rising like the scream of a siren, and the floor of the Ring beneath his
feet throbbed with the vibration.

Bennie forgot the dynamometer, forgot his message to Burke, was
conscious only that he had wakened a sleeping volcano. Then came the
crack of the sparks, and the room seemed filled with the glare of the
blue lightning, for Atterbury, with his telephones at his ears, staring
through his yellow glasses, was sending out the call for the Naval
Observatory.

"NAA--NAA--P--A--X."

Over and over again he sent the call, while in the meantime the
condenser built up its charge from the overflow of current from the
turbine generator. Then the electrician opened a switch, and the roar
outside diminished and finally ceased.

"We can't listen--with the tractor running," he fretted. "The
static--from the discharge--would tear--our detector--to pieces." He
threw in the receiving instrument. For a few moments the telephones
spoke only the whisperings of the arctic aurora, and then suddenly the
faint cry of the answering spark was heard. Bennie watched the words as
the electrician's pencil scrawled along on the paper.

     "Waiting for you. Why don't you send? N.A.A."

"They must have--called us before--while the discharge--was running
down," muttered Atterbury. "I think we can send--with the
condenser--now."

He picked up the scrap of yellow paper, read it over, and threw out into
space the message which he did not understand.

"O. K. Wait. Thornton," came in reply.

Two hours later came a second message:

     "P--A--X. Burke starts at daybreak. Expects reach you by nine P. M.
     Asks you to show large beacon fire if possible.

     "THORNTON, N. A. A."

"Hurrah!" cried Bennie. "Good for Burke! Atterbury, we're saved--saved,
do you hear! Go to bed now and don't ask any questions. And say, before
you go see if you can find me a glass of brandy."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was decided that Burke must land on the plateau above the cliff, and
here the material for the fire was collected. There was little enough of
it and it was hard work carrying the oil up the steep trail. At times
Bennie was almost in despair.

"It won't burn half an hour," said he, surveying the pile. "And we ought
to be able to keep it going all night. There's plenty of stuff in the
valley, but we can't have him come down there, with the tower, the
antennae, and all the rest of the mess."

"We might--show him--the big Ray," ventured Atterbury. "The thing--can
be pointed up--and I can--keep the turbine running. You can start--the
fire--as soon as you--hear his motors--and I'll shut down--as soon as I
see your fire."

"Good idea!" agreed Bennie. "Only don't run continuously. Show the Ray
for a minute every quarter of an hour, and on no account start up after
you see the fire. If he thought the vertical beam was a searchlight and
flew through it----" Bennie shuddered at the thought of Burke driving
his aeroplane through the Ray that had shattered the Atlas Mountains.

So it was arranged. Half an hour after sunset Atterbury shut himself up
in the Ring, and while Bennie climbed the trail leading to his post on
the plateau, he heard the creaking of the great inductor as it slowly
turned on its trunions.

It was pitch dark by the time he reached the pitifully small pile of
brush which they had collected, and he poured some of the oil over it
and sat down, drawing a blanket around his shoulders. He felt very much
alone. Suppose the inductor failed to work? Suppose Atterbury turned the
Ray on him? Suppose.... But his musings were shattered by a noise from
the valley, a sound like that of escaping steam, and a moment later the
Lavender Ray shot up toward the zenith. Bennie lay on his back and
watched it, mindful of the night before the last when he had watched the
Ray from the tower descending upon the cliff. He wondered if he should
see any meteorites kindle in its path, but nothing appeared and the Ray
died down, leaving everything in darkness again. Fifteen minutes passed
and again the ghostly beam shot up into the night sky. Bennie looked at
his watch. It was nearly half-past eight. The cold made him sleepy. He
drew the blanket about him....

Two hours later through his half-dreams he caught the faint sound for
which he had been listening. At first he was not sure. It might be the
turbine alternator of the Ring running by its own inertia for some time
after the discharge had ceased. But no, it was growing louder
momentarily, and appeared to come from high up in the air. Now it died
away to nothingness, and now it swelled in volume, and again died away.
But at each subsequent recurrence it was louder than before. There was
no longer any doubt. Burke was coming! It was time to start the brush
pile. He lit match after match, only for the wind to blow them out. Yet
all the time the machine in the air was coming nearer, the roar of its
twin engines beating on the stillness of the Labrador night. In despair
Bennie threw himself flat on his face by the brush pile and made a tent
of the blanket, under which he at last succeeded in starting a blaze
among the oil-soaked twigs. Then he pushed the half-empty keg into the
fire, arose and stared up at the sky.

The machine was somewhere directly above him--just where he could not
say. Presently the motors stopped. He shouted feebly, running up and
down with his eyes turned skyward, and several times nearly fell into
the fire. He wondered why it didn't appear. It seemed hours since the
motors stopped! Then unexpectedly against the black background of the
sky the great wings of the machine appeared, illuminated on their
underside by the light of the fire. Silently it swung around on its
descending spiral, instantly to be swallowed up in the darkness again, a
moment later reappearing from the opposite direction, this time low down
and headed straight for him. He jumped hastily to one side and fell
flat. The machine grounded, rose once or twice as it ran along the
ground, and came to a stop twenty yards from the fire. A man climbed
out, slowly removed his goggles, and shook himself. Bennie scrambled to
his feet and ran forward waving his hat.

"Well, Hooker!" remarked the man. "What th' hell are you doing _here_?
You sure have some searchlight!"

       *       *       *       *       *

How Hooker and Burke, under the guidance of Atterbury, who gradually
regained his normal mental status, explored and charted the valley of
the Ring is strictly no part of this tale which deals solely with the
end of War upon the Earth. But next day, after several hours of
excavation among the debris of the smelter, where Pax had extracted his
uranium from the pitch blend mined at the cliff, they uncovered eight
cylinders of the precious metal weighing about one hundred pounds
apiece--the fuel of the Flying Ring. Now they were safe. Nay, more:
universal space was theirs to traffic in.

Curious as to the reason why Pax had isolated himself in this frozen
wilderness, they next examined the high cliffs which shut in the valley
on the west and against the almost perpendicular walls of which he had
played the Lavender Ray. These cliffs proved, as Bennie had already
suspected, to be a gigantic outcrop of pitchblende or black oxide of
uranium. He estimated that nature had stored more uranium in but one of
the abutments of this cliff than in all the known mines of the entire
world. This radioactive mountain was the fulcrum by which this modern
Archimedes had moved the earth. The vast amount of matter disintegrated
by the Ray and thrown off into space with a velocity a thousandfold
greater than the blast of a siege gun produced a back pressure or recoil
against the face of the cliff, which thus became the "thrust block" of
the force which had slowed down the period of the earth's rotation.

       *       *       *       *       *

The day of the start dawned with a blazing sun. From the landing stage
of the Ring Bennie could see stretching away to the east, west, and
south, the interminable plains, dotted with firs, which had formed the
natural barrier to the previous discovery of Pax's secret. Overhead the
dome of the sky fitted the horizon like an enormous shell--a shell
which, with a thrill, he realized that he could crack and escape from,
like a fledgling ready for its first flight. And yet in this moment of
triumph little Bennie Hooker felt the qualm which must inevitably come
to those who take their lives in their hands. An hour and he would be
either soaring Phoebus-like toward the south, or lying crushed and
mangled within a tangled mass of wreckage. Even here in this desolate
waste life seemed sweet, and he had much, so much to do. Wasn't it,
after all, a crazy thing to try to navigate the complicated mechanism
back to civilization? Yet something told him that unless he put his fate
to the test now he would never return. He had the utmost confidence in
Burke--he might never be able to secure his services again--no, it was
now or never. He entered the air-lock, closing and bolting the door, and
passed on into the chart room.

At all events, he thought, they were no worse off than Pax when he had
made his first trial flight, and they were working with a proven
machine, tuned to its fullest efficiency, and one which apparently
possessed automatic stability. Atterbury had gone to the condenser room
and was waiting for the order to start, while Burke was making the final
adjustment of the gyroscopes which would put the Ring on its
predetermined course. He came through the door and joined Bennie.

"Hooker," he said, "we're sure going to have some experience. If I can
keep her from turning over, I think I can manage her. The trouble will
come when we slant the tractor. I'm not sure how much depends on the
atmospheric valve, and how much on me. Things may happen quickly. If we
turn over we're done for."

He held out his hand to Bennie, who gripped it tremulously.

"Well," remarked the aviator, tossing away his cigarette, "we might as
well die now as any time!"

He walked swiftly over to the speaking-tube which communicated with the
condenser room and blew sharply into it.

"Let her go, _Gallagher_!" he directed.

"My God!" ejaculated Bennie. "Wait a second, can't you?"

But it was too late. He grabbed the rail, trembling. A humming sound
filled the air, and the gyroscopes slowly began to revolve. He looked up
through the window at the tractor, from which shot streaks of pale
vapour with a noise like escaping steam. Somehow it seemed alive.

The Ring was throbbing as if it, too, was impregnated with life. The
discharge of the tractor had risen to a muffled roar. Shaking all over,
Bennie crossed to the inside window and looked across the inner space of
the Ring. As yet the yellow glow of the discharge was scarcely visible,
but the steel sides of the Ring danced and quivered, undulating in
waves, and, as the intensity of the blast increased and the turbine
commenced to revolve, everything outside went suddenly blurred and
indistinct.

Dropping to his knees, Bennie looked down through the observation window
in the floor. A blinding cloud of yellow dust was driving out and away
from the base of the landing stage in the form of a gigantic ring. The
earth at their feet was hidden in whirls of vapour; and ripples of light
and shade chased each other outward in all directions, like shadows on
the bottom of a sandy pond rippled by a breeze. It made him dizzy to
look down there, and he arose from the window. Burke stood grimly at the
control, unmindful of his associate. Bennie crossed to the other side,
and as he passed the gyroscopes, the air from the swiftly spinning discs
blew back his hair. He could see nothing through the tumult that roared
down through the centre of the Ring, like a Niagara of hot steam shot
through with a pale yellow phosphorescent light. The floor quivered
under his feet, and ominous creaking and snapping sounds reverberated
through the outer shell, as the steel girders of the landing stage were
gradually relieved of its weight. Just as it seemed to him that
everything was going to pieces, suddenly there was silence, save for the
purr of the machinery, and Bennie felt his knees sink under him.

"We're off!" cried Burke. "Watch out!"

The floor swayed as the Ring, lifted by the tractor, swung to and fro
like a pendulum. Bennie threw himself upon his stomach. The earth was
dropping away from them like a stone. He felt a sickening sensation.

"Two thousand feet already," gasped Burke. "The atmospheric valve is set
for five thousand. I'll make it ten! It will give us more room to
recover in--if anything--goes wrong!"

He gave the knob another half turn and laid his hand lightly on the
lever which controlled the movements of the tractor. Bennie, flattened
against the window, gazed below. The great dust ring showed indistinctly
through a blue haze no longer directly beneath them, but a quarter of a
mile to the north. Evidently they were not rising vertically.

The valley of the Ring looked like a black crack in a greenish-gray
desert of rock and moss, the landing stage like a tiny bird's nest. The
floor of the car moved slightly from side to side. Burke's face had gone
gray, and he crouched unsteadily, one hand gripping a steel bracket on
the wall.

"My Lord!" he mumbled with dry lips. "My Lord!"

Bennie, momentarily expecting annihilation, crawled on all fours to
Burke's side.

The needle of the manometer indicated nine thousand five hundred feet,
and was rapidly nearing the next division. Suddenly Burke felt the lever
move slowly under his hand as though operated by some outside
intelligence, and at the same moment the axis of one gyroscope swung
slowly in a horizontal plane through an angle of nearly ninety degrees,
while that of the other dipped slightly from the vertical. Both men had
a ghastly feeling that the ghost of Pax had somehow returned and assumed
control of the car. Bennie rotated the map under the gyroscope until the
fine black line on the dial again lay across their destination. Then he
crept back to his window again. The earth, far below and dimly visible,
was sliding slowly northward, and the dust ring which marked their
starting-point now lay as a flattened ellipse on the distant horizon.
Beneath and behind them in their flight trailed a thin streak of pale
bluish fog--the wake of the Flying Ring.

They were now searing the atmosphere at a height of nearly two miles,
and the car was flying on a firm and even keel. There was no sound save
the dull roar of the tractor and a slight humming from the vibration of
the light steel cables. Bennie no longer felt any disagreeable
sensation. A strange detachment possessed him. Dark forests, lakes, and
a mighty river appeared to the south--the Moisie--and they followed it
as a fishhawk might have done, until the wilderness broke away before
them and they saw the broad reach of the St. Lawrence streaked with the
smoke of ocean liners.

And then he lost control of himself for the first time and sobbed like a
woman--not from fear, nor weariness, nor excitement, but for joy--the
joy of the true scientist who has sought the truth and found it, has
achieved that for mankind which but for him it would have lacked,
perchance, forever. And he looked up at Burke and smiled.

The latter nodded.

"Yes," he remarked prosaically, "this is sure a little bit of all right!
All to the good!"




EPILOGUE


Meanwhile, during the weeks that Hooker had been engaged in finding the
valley of the Ring, unbelievable things had happened in world politics.
In spite of the fact that Pax, having decreed the shifting of the Pole
and the transformation of Central Europe into the Arctic zone, had
refused further communication with mankind, all the nations--and none
more zealously than the German Republic--had proceeded immediately to
withdraw their armies within their own borders, and under the personal
supervision of a General Commission to destroy all their armaments and
munitions of war. The lyddite bombs, manufactured in vast quantities by
the Krupps for the Relay Gun and all other high explosives, were used to
demolish the fortresses upon every frontier of Europe. The contents of
every arsenal was loaded upon barges and sunk in mid-Atlantic. And every
form of military organization, rank, service, and even uniform, was
abolished throughout the world.

A coalition of nations was formed under a single general government,
known as the United States of Europe, which in cooeperation with the
United States of North and South America, of Asia, and of Africa,
arranged for an annual world congress at The Hague, and which enforced
its decrees by means of an International Police. In effect all the
inhabitants of the globe came under a single control, as far as language
and geographical boundaries would permit. Each state enforced local
laws, but all were obedient to the higher law--the Law of
Humanity--which was uniform through the earth. If an individual offended
against the law of one nation, he was held to have offended against all,
and was dealt with as such. The international police needed no treaties
of extradition. The New York embezzler who fled to Nairobi was sent back
as a matter of course without delay.

Any man was free to go and live where he chose, to manufacture, buy, and
sell as he saw fit. And, because the fear and shadow of war were
removed, the nations grew rich beyond the imagination of men; great
hospitals and research laboratories, universities, schools, and
kindergartens, opera houses, theatres, and gardens of every sort sprang
up everywhere, paid for no one quite knew how. The nations ceased to
build dreadnoughts, and instead used the money to send great troops of
children with the teachers travelling over the world. It was against the
law to own or manufacture any weapon that could be used to take human
life. And because the nations had nothing to fear from one another, and
because there were no scheming diplomatists and bureaucrats to make a
living out of imaginary antagonisms, people forgot that they were French
or German or Russian or English, just as the people of the United States
of America had long before practically disregarded the fact that they
came from Ohio or Oregon or Connecticut or Nevada. Russians with weak
throats went to live in Italy as a matter of course, and Spaniards who
liked German cooking settled in Muenich.

All this, of course, did not happen at once, but came about quite
naturally after the abolition of war. And after it had been done,
everybody wondered why it had not been done ten centuries before; and
people became so interested in destroying all the relics of that
despicable employment, warfare, that they almost forgot that the Man Who
Rocked the Earth had threatened that he would shift the axis of the
globe. So that when the day fixed by him came and everything remained
just as it always had been--and everybody still wore linen-mesh
underwear in Strassburg and flannels in Archangel--nobody thought very
much about it, or commented on the fact that the Flying Ring was no
longer to be seen. And the only real difference was that you could take
a P. & O. steamer at Marseilles and buy a through ticket to Tasili
Ahaggar--if you wanted to go there--and that the shores of the Sahara
became the Riviera of the world, crowded with health resorts and
watering-places--so that Pax had not lived in vain, nor Thornton, nor
Bill Hood, nor Bennie Hooker, nor any of them.

The whole thing is a matter of record, as it should be. The
deliberations of Conference No. 2 broke up in a hubbub, just as Von
Helmuth and Von Koenitz had intended, and the transcripts of their
discussions proved to be not of the slightest scientific value. But in
the files of the old War Department--now called the Department for the
Alleviation of Poverty and Human Suffering--can be read the messages
interchanged between The Dictator of Human Destiny and the President of
the United States, together with all the reports and observations
relating thereto, including Professor Hooker's Report to the Smithsonian
Institute of his journey to the valley of the Ring and what he found
there. Only the secret of the Ring--of thermic induction and atomic
disintegration--in short, of the Lavender Ray, is his by right of
discovery, or treasure trove, or what you will, and so is his patent on
Hooker's Space-Navigating Car, in which he afterward explored the solar
system and the uttermost regions of the sidereal ether. But that shall
be told hereafter.


THE END





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Robert Williams Wood

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