George Griffith - Gambles With Destiny

GEORGE GRIFFITH

GAMBLES WITH DESTINY

First published by F.V. White & Co., London, 1899

THOSE who read, not only the lines of the stories which are here told, but
also between them, will see that, under other names, and under different
conditions of nationality and circumstances, it is the same man or, to be more
correct, the same virile principle which fights the battle with Destiny and
wins or loses, as the reader and the Fates may determine for themselves.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. Hellville, U.S.A.
First published in Pearson's Weekly, Aug 8, 1898

2. The Great Crellin Comet
First published in Pearson's Weekly, Christmas 1898

3. A Corner In Lightning
First published in Pearson's Magazine, Mar 1898

4. A Genius For A Year (writing as Levin Carnac)
First published in Pearson's Magazine, Jun 1896

5. The Plague-Ship "Tupisa"
First published in Pearson's Magazine (US), Jul 1899


1. HELLVILLE, U.S.A.

First published in Pearson's Weekly Aug 8, 1898

I. FATHER AND SON

"Then I am to understand definitely that you won't?"

"It isn't won't, dad; it's more like can't. It's no use. After all, you know,
there are some things in the world that are better than money—"

Stanley Raeburn senior threw himself back in his chair and stared, or it might
be more correct to say he glared, at his son, who was standing on the hearthrug
in front of an open fire-grate in the library of one of the big brown- stone
houses overlooking Central Park, New York.

It was a sentiment which would have been heresy from any one's lips, but
coming from those of his son it was simply flat blasphemy.

It meant not only the negation of his own life-lesson, a lesson which he had
learnt through much labour and strife from the days when he had thought ten
dollars a week a princely salary to those later ones in which his millions were
accumulating so rapidly that he couldn't always keep track even of the interest
on them. It was also an unmistakable notification of the utter failure of the
task that he had undertaken and prosecuted with only a little less interest
than that with which he had devoted himself to the piling-up of millions.

Ever since his son had reached what he considered to be reasoning years, he
had done everything that a man in command of practically unlimited resources
could do to make him a duplicate of himself to make the boy grow up into a man
whose first and only life-object should be the multiplication of the millions
that he would inherit and the increase of the power into which those millions
could be translated.

He himself had started out as a lawyer's office-boy in West 43rd Street on
three dollars a week. He was now a United States senator with money and
influence enough behind him to justify him in aspiring to the presidency
itself. Given, therefore, that his son began, as he might do, where he himself
left off, how far might he not go? And here he was talking of losing all this
for the sake of a pretty face and a pair of soft brown eyes with a gleam of
gold in them belonging to a girl in one of his own offices who worked a
typewriter for little more than double the salary he began on.

There were other things which, if possible, were even worse ridiculous
theories on social and political subjects, which somehow, in spite of all his
care, this prodigal son of his had managed to absorb; wild and impossible
dreams of what he called honesty and purity in public affairs; blank idiotcy
which would bring any respectably conducted state to ruin in a fortnight. But
these he, Raeburn senior, considered to be quite secondary to the other
disturbing cause, and it was just here, as subsequent events showed, that he
went absolutely wrong.

"Look here, Stanley, if you're going to talk like that, I'll have to ask you
to find another audience. There may be some things better than money, but Fd
like to know how you're going to get them without the money, unless you're
going to get other things with them in the way of shabby clothes and short
meals that you'd rather be without. You know, one has to pay a very long price
for true love and domestic felicity on a few dollars a week, and that's a price
you can't pay in cash, mind. You've got to pay it with your own life and the
lives of those you think you love.

"No, no, Stanley," he went on, his voice softening a little, "it won't do.
Those sort of things are all very well when they're made into poetry or slush
of that sort, but they're hard and ugly facts to knock your head against and
break your heart over in real life. There's time to turn back still. Won't you
do it, Stanley lad?"

"It isn't won't, dad, as I said before," he answered with a little break in
his voice; for this was almost the first time he could remember seeing this man
of iron and gold who called him son soften even for a moment. "It isn't won't;
it's can't. Even if I could give up Lucy to please you, that wouldn't make any
difference to my convictions; and you know, after all, a man can no more help
his convictions than he can help his appetite. Put it as low down as you like,
and you must still admit that you can no more help thinking a certain way at a
certain time than you can help being hungry at a certain time.

"You, for instance, think that money is everything, or at any rate essential
to everything worth having. Suppose you woke up tomorrow morning in a world
that had no use for money. You'd think it was a lunatic asylum, and for some
time you'd go on thinking as you do about money. You couldn't help it any more
than I can help my convictions about the worse than worthlessness of it when
it's used as it is here—"

"And everywhere else; don't forget that, young man."

Raeburn senior's voice was harder now than ever.

"Don't make any mistake about the size of the job you've taken in hand. It
isn't New York or the United States that you've got to reform; it's the whole
world and a trifle of fifteen hundred million human beings sitting tight on the
traditions of more centuries than the histories tell us anything about. It's a
big order even for a man who thinks himself a deputy Providence to take on."

The sarcasm stung Stanley a little, for he wasn't quite thirty yet, and his
moral skin was still thin and sensitive. He flushed slightly and pulled himself
up, and replied in a tone that was almost as hard and cutting as his father's
in fact, there was a curious sort of a family likeness in it

"If you'll allow me to take the frills off that last remark of yours and turn
the theory into fact, the United States is just now putting in a ruinous tender
for that self-same job; and you, I am sorry to say, are one of the boss
contractors."

"What the devil do you mean, sir? Have you forgotten that you're talking to
your father?"

"I hadn't; but I might do if you forget that you're speaking to your son. What
I mean is this—"

"I don't care a damn what you mean, sir!" his father almost shouted as he
sprang from his seat and faced him as a man faces another who has made him an
enemy for life. "What I mean is this: In this house there are millions for you,
and the possibility of all that those millions and your own brains can buy.
Outside there's the street and the clothes you stand up in. Here you're my son,
with a passport to the best society in the world. There you're an outcast, a
tramp without a dollar in your pocket, and with every door shut against you.
That's your choice, and you've got to take it right here. Will you go or stay?"

"I'll go, dad, not because I want to, but because I can't stop on those terms.
Good-bye."

He held out his hand, but his father turned his back on him, perhaps because
he wouldn't shake hands, possibly for another reason. Stanley put his hand in
his pocket and walked towards the door. As he opened it with his left hand, he
looked back. His father had gone to the window, and was staring out over the
park through a little mist that somehow obscured the brightness of the clear
winter day. If he had been looking the other way for the moment, many things of
great concern might never have happened. But the fates appeared to have made up
their minds, and the millionaire didn't look round until he heard the door
close. Then he took out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes, and reproached his
own and all other prodigal sons in language that would not have been tolerated
even in the United States Senate.

Then he turned to the window again, and as he did so he heard the front door
close with a very decided bang. He knew what had happened, but somehow he
couldn't get away from the window. His son walked past with his hands in the
pockets of his ulster.

That was all he had taken with him. He wasn't even carrying a handbag, and he
was looking straight in front of him.

"If he'd only look up even now!" the old man caught himself saying.

But no, the prodigal walked straight on without looking either up or back.

"Damn the boy!" said Stanley Raeburn senior under his breath, but with a stamp
on the floor that added considerable emphasis to the words. And then he turned
away and dropped into a big armchair by the fire, and presently he had taken
out his handkerchief again.

II. FROM WEALTH TO WORK

Stanley Raeburn's troubles had only just begun when he shut the door of his
father's house behind him. He knew that, of course, perfectly well; still, it
was rather a curious sensation. An hour ago he could have drawn his cheque for
fifty thousand dollars. Ten minutes ago a few words of submission would have
earned him five million dollars in hard cash, for that was the splendid price
which his father had offered him for his love and his convictions. Now he had
less than ten dollars in his pocket, and he had scruples about keeping even
that. He had a cheque-book, too, and a substantial sum to his credit at the
bank, but that was no longer his.

He didn't even know where he was going.

In point of fact, he had nowhere to go to, although his footsteps were
instinctively turning in the direction of his club. As this thought struck him,
his rebellious soul rose in even more fervent revolt. From this outside
standpoint, this chilly isolation which he had so suddenly reached, he could
look back and see how poor a creature he had really been a sort of gilt-edged
pensioner absolutely dependent for his necessaries and his luxuries on the
bounty of a man who made his money by methods which he himself considered
little short of criminal. True, that man was his father; but that didn't make
much difference, after all, especially as he was his father now in little more
than name.

Then there came a queer sort of exultation. He had grown up, as it were, in
the last few minutes. He would be a man soon, and he might as well set about
being so at once.

He went to his club and sat down in the writing-room. He took a long envelope
out of the case and put his half-used cheque-book into it. Then he took a sheet
of note-paper and wrote on it the ominous letters, "I.0.U." He next went
deliberately through his pockets, and when he had done this, he wrote, "Eight
dollars seventy-five cents" under the letters, and signed his name to it. He
put this in with the cheque-book, sealed the envelope, and addressed it to his
father. Just as he had done so, he heard a voice behind him saying, in a low
tone adjusted to the character of the room

"Morning, Raeburn! How do? You're out early. Is it too early for a cocktail?
I've got some fresh news about this European business for you when you've
finished."

"Ah, Sinclair, is that you?" said Raeburn, getting up and facing round with
the envelope still in his hand. "You are just the one man in all New York that
I wanted to see most. Cocktail? "Well, it's a bit early, but never mind. Come
along; I want to have a talk with you."

When they got in the smoking-room and were comfortably ensconced in a couple
of cosy, deep-seated armchairs, Raeburn felt another curious sort of thrill run
through his moral being. This was in all probability his last appearance on the
stage of life as a rich man, or at any rate as the son of one. To-morrow, that
afternoon, perhaps, he might be somebody's paid servant, possibly, indeed, as
he hoped, the subordinate of the man who was sitting opposite to him; for Frank
H. Sinclair was the news editor of the New York Tribune, and Stanley Raeburn,
ex-heir to the richest man in New York State, was going to ask him for a job.

"Let me pay for these," he said, as the boy brought the cocktails and put them
down on the table.

It was a survival of the involuntarily generous instinct of the rich man, and
as he gave it voice he took his last five-dollar bill out of his pocket.

"Not quite!" said Sinclair. "I think I mentioned cocktails first, didn't I?
Besides, what do you want to pay for? Don't you have a bar account?"

"Great Scott, so I have!" said Raeburn, looking up with quite a scared
expression on his face. At a rough-and-ready guess, the said bar account stood
somewhere between seventy and eighty dollars, and Sinclair's casual remark had
suddenly brought him face to face with the very awkward fact.

"Why, what's the matter?" said Sinclair. "You look like a man who has just had
a protested cheque given back to him."

The waiter had picked up the five-dollar bill and gone away with it, and so
Raeburn was able to say, without prejudice

"That's just it, Sinclair. You've got there in once. If I gave a cheque for
the amount of my bar account, it would be protested. See here," he went on,
holding up the envelope; "that contains my cheque-book and an I. 0. U. for
eight dollars seventy-five cents, and you see it's addressed to my father. The
cold-drawn truth of it is that the old man fired me this morning, and the
person that you see here in this chair is the latest and most up-to-date
edition of the Prodigal Son."

"You you don't mean that, Raeburn, do you ? You, the heir to the Lord only
knows how many millions, a prodigal! I'm< accustomed to pretty steep things,
you know, at the Tribune office, but really that—"

"But that is a solid, hard-boiled fact, I regret to say," replied Raeburn,
with a not very mirthful laugh.

"Things came to a head this morning, and the old man and I finally split up
over love and principle. In cold figures, he wanted me to swop them for so many
millions down and the prospect of more to come. And I couldn't. He said I
wouldn't, but the truth is I couldn't. He asked me to stop in the house and
pursue the pleasant avocation of a millionaire, or go out into the street. As
the result, I'm here, and now I am going to ask you for a job."

Sinclair looked at him steadily for a moment or two; then he bit the end of a
cigar, lit it, and got up. Raeburn was rather encouraged than the reverse at
seeing him start off for a walk to the other end of the room, for he knew him
of old for a man who thought best on his legs. The waiter brought back his
change, and with a further access of recklessness he pushed a quarter towards
him and told him to bring a cigar. By the time he had got it alight, Sinclair
plumped himself down in his chair, and said, with the abruptness of a man who
has got something to say and wants to get it said

"Look here, Raeburn, you know the attitude the Tribune has taken up on this
Imperial America business, and I know your views on the subject. They're the
best, soundest, and straightest I've heard, and they also happen to be the
Tribune's, or something like them. Now, you've not been much use, if you'll
excuse me saying so, as the heir-apparent to more millions than any man ought
to have, but I fancy you would be a good deal of use as a man who had to work
for his own living.

"I take it that you've got your heart pretty well in this business, or you
wouldn't have thrown away several tons of gold for the sake of it. Now, here's
your chance. I shall be on duty pretty nearly all night to-night. My rooms are
at your service. Go when you like and write us a leader on the situation. Never
mind about literary style or anything of that sort; just put your heart and
brain on paper, and you'll find that it will pan out all right so far as the
reading public's concerned. I've a pretty good sort of an idea of the stuff
that you'll turn out when you get warm, and stuff like that's worth money. If
you want a hundred dollars on account, you can have it now."

"It won't be worth that/' said Raeburn, "but I'll do the work, and be glad to
do it. In fact, I would, if I were still my father's heir; but as I do frankly
want some money, I'll take twenty to begin with, and you shall have the article
to-morrow. Then, if you think it's worth more, you can give me the balance. It
is very good of you to offer me the use of your room, but I don't think I'll be
able to accept that either.

"No, you needn't look offended. It isn't pride. You know," he went on with
something suspiciously like a blush, "Lucy's a typist, and she has a machine of
her own.

"I've got to go and see her and the old lady on the subject of the cataclysm,
and I think I can talk that article better than I could write it; so, you see,
as the old man will probably fire her as he has fired me, I may as well share
the job with her."

"Excellent!" said Sinclair, with a laugh. "There is a combination of
practicality and sentiment about that idea which augurs well for your future,
young man. What a pity you were born in the purple or the yellow I suppose we
should call it here. If you'd only had to earn your own living from the start,
you might have been doing something quite good by this time. Anyhow, you may be
some one pretty soon, and, by way of a start, if you do this article as I
expect you will do it, I guess you'll be able to consider yourself fixed on the
literary staff of the Tribune till you're looking around for a better job. Now
let us go down to Delmonico's and have a bite. We shall just get there about
lunch-time, and meanwhile I'll give you a few pointers about your new trade. To
tell you the truth, boy, I can't find it in my heart to feel sorry that this
has happened, and I'm glad to see that you don't seem very much broken up over
it. You've only been a man around town so far. Now you're going to be a man;
and there's a heap of difference between those two, I can tell you."

III. SOME STRAIGHT TALK

Miss Lucy Carlyle had received the tidings of the evil and the good that had
befallen the prodigal son from his own lips in chilly, troubled, and ominous
silence. Her mother had heard them with broken exclamations intermingled with
tears, not only for his sake, but for her daughter's, for she knew that Raeburn
senior would consider Lucy at least half as guilty as the prodigal, and act
accordingly. When he had finished his story, he paused for a moment or two, and
then he said, in a somewhat disconcerted tone

"Well, Lucy, little girl, haven't you anything of a comforting sort to say?
Don't you think I've done pretty well, considering ?"

Her reply was gentle in speech, but scarcely comforting in substance.

"I don't think any son can do well when he quarrels with his father, Stanley.
If your father thinks that I am one reason for what he is to some extent
justified in considering your obstinacy, you can write and tell him that that
reason no longer exists."

"What do you mean, Lucy?" he said, taking a quick couple of strides towards
her. "Surely you don't mean—"

"I mean, Stanley," she said, getting up from her chair and facing him with her
hands behind her back, "that a great deal of what you tell me your father said
is perfectly correct from his point of view, and I will not marry a man if that
marriage is to separate a father from his only son. The money is nothing
perhaps worse than nothing let him give it to charity, or found a university
with it. We can do without it, or, if we can't, we ought to; but if you want
me, you will only get me on the day that your father puts my hand into yours.
Don't you think I'm right, mother?"

"Yes, dear, quite right, I suppose," said Mrs. Carlyle, rather weakly, "but I
think it's very hard and unjust on both of you and all those millions, too!
When you're as old as I am, you'll know the value of them. But I suppose
there's no help for it."

"None, except that one, as far as I'm concerned," said Lucy, decidedly. "I'm
very sorry, Stanley," she went on more meltingly, and with a suspicion of mist
dimming the golden gleam of her brown eyes, "but I really couldn't. You know
that I shall never love any one else than you, and therefore I don't want to
marry any one else; but to know that by marrying you I had estranged you for
ever from your father would just make me miserable; and, you know, people don't
marry for that, at least not with their eyes open."

Stanley knew her well enough to feel quite certain that nothing could be
gained by pushing the point any further at present, so he took the wiser course
of seeming to bow to the inevitable, and said, more cheerfully than she had
quite expected "Well, Lucy, I must respect your sentiments, I suppose, however
little I like them, and somehow or other the old man will have to get
reconciled, that's all. But meanwhile, after what you have been merciful enough
to say, there needn't be any violent change in our present relations. We can
still be sweethearts, I suppose?"

She looked up at him in such a way that somehow the next moment she found
herself in his arms, and the provisional bargain was struck in a more decisive
fashion than by word of mouth. Then, when the matter was settled, he said

"Lucy, I want you to be something else—"

"It's impossible!" she said, drawing back from him. ldquo;Haven't I just told
you, and haven't I promised, at least till you're reconciled—"

"Oh, I don't mean that!" he said, with a laugh at her sudden change of manner.
"What I was going to say is, I want you to be my typist."

"What on earth do you mean, Stanley?"

"Exactly what I say. You see, it's this way. Pending the reconciliation, the
old man is practically certain to fire you out. That's him; he can't help it.
Meanwhile, I've got this work for the Tribune, and, from what Sinclair says, it
will be pretty well paid. Now, I feel pretty certain that I can talk it better
than I can write, and I can do more of it, too, in a given time. Your views and
mine are about the same on this general war question, and so the work oughtn't
to be distasteful to you. Now, I've promised to do this article to- night, so
you just get out your machine and start right away while I'm in the humour."

It was an eminently practical proposal, and as such commended itself very
strongly to Miss Lucy's sound intelligence, so without another word she just
went to her work-table, uncovered her typewriter, put the paper in the
carriage, and then looked up and said primly

"I'm quite ready, sir."

Something else happened before they got to work, but it didn't take very long,
and then Stanley began walking up and down the sitting-room, and Mrs. Carlyle
settled herself with a vague, wondering interest to listen to what was coming.
Presently it came. Stanley Raeburn's natural abilities had been trained and
developed by the finest education that money could buy, both in the New and the
Old World. He was naturally concise in thought, and fluent in speech, which is
just what a newspaper writer should be. Besides, both his heart and his head
were full of his subject; and when the article appeared in the columns of the
Tribune the next morning, its writer's reputation was already made.

Briefly described, it was an appeal to the American people to undertake the
reform of the United States, and it was the very model of what such an appeal
ought to have been. Where it appealed to the head, it was cold, terse, and
almost brutal in its ruthless outspokenness; and where it appealed to the
heart, the words burnt and the sentences palpitated with an emotion which rang
as true as the notes of an angel-song. It therefore reached the American head
as quickly as it reached the American heart, and the response was instantaneous.

The American head had known for a long time that the United States politics
were a mere matter of payment; that the millionaires could have any kind of
politics and even any kind of laws that they chose to pay for; and that the
United States politicians, from the President himself to the most lowdown Irish
municipal boss, were merely puppets who danced as the real rulers of the
country pulled the golden wires on which they were strung; but this was the
first time that the American heart had felt what the American head knew, and
the effect of this physiological conjunction was as startling as it was
momentous.

One or two brief quotations from this memorable article will not be out of
place here, marking as they do the beginnings of a popular upheaval second only
in importance, if even that, to the Civil War itself, and they will also show
something of the reasons for the startling events that were to follow their
publication.

"By the American people is here to be understood everything that is strong,
sound, and good between the Canadian boundary and the Gulf of Mexico. On the
other hand, what the outside world understands by the United States is only a
political expression the label of an organization of capital and corruption
which has got itself firmly planted in the cab of the locomotive America, and,
while the engine does all the real work, drives it whithersoever it pleases,
and at any speed it likes."

"So-called American newspapers, with about as much real patriotism in them as
you find with a microscope in the columns of the Irish World, have been
shouting about ' the Nation/ about its armies and its fleets, its glorious
traditions, and its ability and willingness to take entire charge of the
Western Hemisphere, together with as much of the Eastern as it can lay hold of,
and to cut up into very small pieces any nation or alliance of nations which is
not prepared to hold the New Monroe Doctrine a little higher in authority than
the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. So far, the American people
have allowed themselves to be amused, and, to a certain extent, misled by all
this portentous cackling. It tickled the so-called national vanity, and, as the
rest of the world only took notice of it in newspaper paragraphs, it did not
come very expensive.

"But within the last few months, as you know, a tremendous change has been
wrought. We have fought Spain and crushed her not, perhaps, a feat to be very
proud of, but still a fact, and one that has been achieved only at the cost of
many thousands of American lives and with victory has come disillusion. When
the war began, our rulers solemnly affirmed that we were fighting only to free
the oppressed Cuban, and that, Cuba once free, we would retire. We were
fighting in the cause of humanity, and not as aggressors greedy for spoil and
territory. But we have freed the Cubans only to find that they never deserved
to be free save under the government of the strong hand. We have taken Cuba,
Porto Kico, the Canaries, and the Philippines, and are going to keep them. As a
consequence, the world has found us out. It is plain now that we did not fight
Spain to free the victims of her tyranny, but to take her territory from her by
force. In short, to do a vulgar steal.

"In other words, let our politicians and newspaper men call it what they like,
after entering into a quarrel that was not our own, and shedding the blood of
thousands of men to humiliate a proud nation which was only standing up for its
own rights, we have forgotten our professions of humanity, and embarked on a
career of foreign conquest which, if continued as these men would continue it,
must inevitably bring us into collision with the armed millions of Europe, with
an alliance of the greatest military and naval Powers of the world Powers with
hundreds of warships and millions of men at their command, to which we can only
oppose our score or so of battleships and cruisers and our levies of untrained
men.

"There are those who think that Great Britain should, and would, stand by us
in our defiance of Europe. Great Britain knows better, and so do we. In defence
of common rights, the Anglo-Saxon race would stand shoulder to shoulder against
any combination, but to expect England to plunge her millions of subjects into
war for the sake of helping us to make foreign conquests, which we solemnly
promised we would never make, is to expect her rulers to commit an
international crime, for which defeat and ruin would not be too light a
punishment.

"We have fought Spain and conquered her, we have given freedom to the
oppressed, and we have the right and the power to say and secure that there
shall be no more oppression throughout the Western Hemisphere. Let us be
content with that and such material recompense as we can get without becoming
oppressors ourselves.

"As a people, we have no just quarrel with any other on the face of the earth.
No one has injured us, no one has insulted us. If any one had, why then we
should have fought that some one rightly and justly to the last man in the
field and the last dollar in the treasury. But this is not the case now, and
what we have to ask ourselves is whether the American people is going to allow
the United States to brag and swagger and bounce it into a war in which it
could only win curses by victory, and ridicule by defeat.

"In a word, are the American people prepared to fight half the Powers of the
world single-handed for the sake of maintaining a principle which they have
continuously and consistently denied and repudiated ever since they became a
nation?"

IV. PRESIDENT RAEBURN

By nightfall, Stanley Raeburn was the most famous man between the Atlantic and
the Pacific. His voice had rung like a trumpet-blast throughout the length and
breadth of the land. At his bidding the American people had awakened from the
dream of subjection to the capitalists at home and empty defiance of the world
abroad.

With those two terrible words, "universal war," ringing in its ears, it had
opened its eyes and seen the red gulf of battle yawning at its feet. It had
looked down into that awful chaos of blood and flame and misery and disaster,
out of which it was impossible that it could take either honour or profit; and
then it turned round and quietly but steadfastly refused to allow either its
politicians to goad it or its Spread-Eagle paragraphists to cajole it into
taking the fatal step which, once taken, could never be retraced save through
unspeakable shame and dishonour.

In a word, it had grasped Stanley Raeburn's single, simple argument firmly,
and had determined to abide by it.

It saw very clearly that the reverse was not only impossible, but ridiculous,
and it saw it all the more clearly when that night a second message went forth
over the wires from the Tribune office calling upon the American people to ask
the United States whether they seriously considered themselves strong enough to
sweep the united fleets of Europe off the sea, and, having done that, to invade
the Continent vid Spain, and annex the Old World?

Incidentally, the message reminded them that there would be about five hundred
ships of war and some ten millions of men to be dealt with, and these would not
be mobs of amateur soldiers such as had confronted each other in the Civil War,
but armies of highly trained professional soldiers with generations of warfare
behind them, and commanded by the ripest military genius that the world could
produce.

It was in vain that the politicians raved themselves speechless about the
"imperial destinies" of the American people, and it was equally in vain that
the Spread-Eagle editors howled their battle-cries and danced their war-dances
to the last limits of the scarehead's capabilities. The American people had got
its facts solid, and the next day, with something like a sixty million voice-
power, it told the United States in unmistakable tones to come down. And the
United States came down just as the French, German, and Eussian ministers were
preparing to leave Washington.

It so happened, not by any means unnaturally, that this national cataclysm,
for it was really nothing else, occurred at the same time as the nominations
for the presidency. It had, in fact, been arranged to come off then, just as
Mr. Cleveland's Venezuelan message had been engineered; but it also chanced
that the day on which the decision was arrived at was Stanley Raeburn's
thirtieth birthday, and this fact made him eligible for nomination. In the then
state of American feeling and opinion there was no one else possible, and so
the Young Tribune of the People, as he had already come to be called, was
nominated in such fashion as promised an overwhelming majority at the election.

But by this time he had begun another crusade which already threatened to
involve the country in something like revolution. It was not a wild-cat hunt of
the sort in which a Bryan or a Henry George would have involved the country for
the sake of personal notoriety and the profits of office. It was a sober,
steady, earnest fight against that cuttlefish organization of capital which was
sucking the life-blood out of the nation; that monster of monopoly which had
made American politics a scoff and a byword among the nations of the earth, and
American law and justice the names of things that could be bought and sold.

In his nomination address, he had said "I am neither a socialist nor a silver
crank. I believe in every man getting and having that which his hands or his
brains can win for him. I believe in every man getting just as rich as he can
by honest and legitimate methods. I believe in the survival of the fittest, but
I want them to be the fittest, and I want the fittest to mean the best, not the
worst. I want an open field, and no favour for any one. I want the race to be
to the swift, and the battle to the strong; but I also want the race to be run
fairly, and the battle to be fought within the four corners of the law. I have
as great a horror of mob-rule as I have of purse-rule, and I want to make both
of them impossible within the boundaries of what I hope will soon be truly
called the United States."

The meeting at which this speech was delivered was signalized by an
extraordinary incident which practically assured the election of the Young
Tribune. At the end of the speech, his own father mounted the platform and
opposed him. It was the first time they had met since the interview in the
library.

It was also notable as the first occasion on which a multi-millionaire Trust-
king had come out into the open to defend his order and the principle on which
it was founded. What prompted him to do it, he himself didn't know. But he did
it, and the result of the discussion on the public mind was simply terrific.

"This is my father. I claim a hearing for him!" Raeburn shouted through the
storm of hoots and howls that greeted the appearance of the too well-known
monopolist, and almost instantly the tempest was stilled. Then the old man
stated his case clearly, calmly, and decisively. When he had done, Stanley
refused to make any reply whatever, but his chairman got up and read out a
statement showing with pitiless accuracy the sources of his colossal fortune,
and ended by saying, without any attempt at oratorical flourish

"This is the fortune that Mr. Raeburn's son and heir had in the hollow of his
hand. The amount of it proves better than any words could do how sincerely he
hated the methods by which it has been accumulated, and why he left his
father's home to become, for all he knew then, an outcast and a beggar."

When the tempest of applause which followed had died away, Stanley Raeburn
senior went up to his son and held out his hand, and said

"You may be a dreamer or a fool, or both, but now I see that you are trying to
ruin me as well as yourself. I've got to admit that you're an honest man. Let
the battle be to the strong, then! Those are the lines I have fought on all my
life. Euin me if you like, and if you can. On the day that you're President of
the United States, I'll forgive you. Will you shake on that, Stanley?"

"I will," he said, springing to his feet and taking his father's hand. "I'm
not going to ruin you, dad. I'm only going to try and get you to make money
that will be cleaner, even if you don't have quite so much of it than what you
have now."

Then they shook hands.

After this, the election was a foregone conclusion. The Young Tribune was, in
fact, the only man possible. The Democratic and Eepublican candidates dropped
out of the hopeless contest when Tammany and kindred institutions had bribed
themselves almost into bankruptcy. The Silverite and Populist candidates
shouted themselves speechless and disappeared after them, leaving as the Young
Tribune's only opponent the nominee of the Irish-American party, and as he,
appropriately enough, was an ex-convict and dynamitard who had been all too
leniently released from Her Majesty's prison at Portland, he didn't matter very
much.

As every one expected, the day of Stanley Raeburn's inauguration as President
of the United States was the beginning of troubles for the dollar- despots of
America. Within the next few weeks, senator after senator and member after
member of the House of Representatives was impeached on the ground of bribery
and corruption, and either unseated or forced to resign; and then gradually,
and for the first time since the Civil War, politics in America became possible
for respectable people. Men who a year before would have considered a
nomination as an affront to their personal honour came forward and were elected
to the vacancies thus created in the midst of a popular quiet and decorum which
boded very ill for the old order of things.

The first act of the Raeburn Administration was the enactment of a new and far
more stringent Anti-Trust Law, and this was immediately enforced with such
ruthless and undiscriminating severity that the Trust-kings speedily found
themselves confronted by a choice between fair trading and open markets and
outlawry seasoned with confiscation.

The President's own father was, of course, among them, but he stuck to his
bargain like a man, and the result of an interview on the night after the
election was that Miss Lucy Carlyle was easily persuaded to make such change in
her name and estate as enabled her to take her place as mistress of the White
House.

Most of the other millionaires, however, arrogant in their conviction that the
dollar was still almighty, if you only had enough of it, determined not to
yield their more than royal supremacy without a struggle, even if in that
struggle they had to strike at the very foundations of the state itself.

A committee was formed, which was in reality a Trust Defence League, with
uncounted millions of capital behind it, and a campaign of wholesale bribery
and secret violence was immediately inaugurated. "No instrument was too vile
for use, and it was not very long before all the worst elements of the
population became aware that good times for the tramp and the criminal, the
loafer and the enemy of society, were at hand.

The Irish scented revolution and a return to the old system of corruption on
which they had fattened. The foreign socialists and anarchists saw a breakdown
of the social machine and plunder of some sort.

In short, all that was bad, idle, and greedy, all the human refuse that was to
be had for the buying, was at the disposal of the Trust League. And what the
League paid for, it had.

Five attempts on the President's life were made in three months, with the
result that he had his left arm broken and his scalp ploughed up with revolver
bullets. Small armies of lowdown Irish, discharged policemen, tramps, and other
mean products collected in different parts of the country. Anarchism suddenly
became rampant in the cities, and the enemies of all society rejoiced to see
the forces of the law and order confronted by those of capital, and told each
other, when the row was over, there might be something left for them.

It was a serious situation, but President Raeburn was more than equal to it.
He said, in his next message to Congress:

"You see, and the American people will now see, the true nature of those who
would have goaded this country into war with the world. They never were its
friends. Now they are its declared enemies, and I shall consider it my duty as
Chief Magistrate of the State to employ against them the same force as they
would have used in their futile and dishonourable struggle against a world in
arms."

To this, America said, in so many words
"Go ahead!"

And the President went ahead, with the result that something very like civil
war followed. There were riots which differed very little from pitched battles;
there were dynamite outrages which did more damage than bombardments of the
Spanish forts by the American fleet; and in out-of-the-way districts there were
murders and burnings and plunderings of which no foreign invading force could
have been guilty without bringing the penalties of international law and the
execration of civilized mankind down upon it.

The long-smouldering hate between black and white, too, burst into a flame of
active frenzy which burnt like a very torch of destruction. In short, the long-
expected social war had broken out, and the issue at stake was the choice
between cosmos and chaos.

V. SINCLAIR'S IDEA

The revolt, as might have been expected, centred in and round Chicago, and
there the queerly allied forces of capitalism, anarchism, socialism, and all
sorts of economic nihilism and good-for-nothingism gradually concentrated as
the social war went on. Chicago had had an anarchist governor before, and now
she had one again. He was a naturalized German named Saltzmann, who had been a
captain in the Kaiser's army, and had got himself cashiered for dishonourable
conduct. It was he who had finally and formally raised the standard of revolt,
and transformed a series of riots and outrages into definite and deliberate
civil war. In Chicago itself there had been wholesale murders and "executions"
of such loyal citizens of the state as had not been able to escape. But
vengeance for these and the other crimes of the revolt came very speedily. The
armies of the Republic closed round the city on its landward side, and steamers
armed with machine and quick-firing guns played havoc along the Lake Front, and
prevented all escape by water. There was a week of bombardment and butchery, of
desperate sallies and fierce and bloody repulses. Then, an hour before the
bugles were to have sounded for the general assault, the white flag went up,
and the remnant of the rebels surrendered at discretion. This one blow crushed
the rebellion as the President had intended that it should; and as soon as it
was over, he lost no time in setting the Bepublic's house in order. Such of the
rebels against whom definite charges of murder, arson, or treasonable
conspiracy could be brought home, were either hung or shot, ex-Governor
Saltzmann himself having the honour of a special gibbet planted on the roof of
the tallest building in Chicago. Those of the Trust-kings whose complicity with
the revolt was proved either by the confession of their tools and dupes, or by
other sufficient evidence, were sentenced to confiscation of all their American
property, and perpetual banishment from American soil. The rest were told that
they were at liberty to go on with their money-making, and to pile up as many
millions as they pleased, as long as they kept within the four corners of the
present law.

So far so good, but now a very curious situation developed itself, and the
Government found that it was confronted by a problem which was unique in the
history of national jurisprudence.

During the progress of the revolt from isolated riots to civil war, the
country had gradually been cleared by the regular forces, the loyal police, and
the vigilance societies, and so the surviving off-scourings of American society
had gradually concentrated in Chicago. The consequence was, that when the city
surrendered, the Government found itself with several thousand hard and
hopeless cases left on its hands. The country, in short, had been purged of its
human waste-products, and here was the result of the general sweeping-up. Then
the question arose: What was to be done with them?

A couple of hundred years ago, or even less, this question would have been
answered by general hangings, shootings, and drownings, but nowadays, whatever
expediency might say to the contrary, this was impossible. Wholesale
banishment, too, was equally not to be thought of, for not even England, that
common dumping-ground of international refuse, could be expected to admit such
dangerous rubbish as this. To allow it to scatter through the country again
would have been as great a crime as the emptying of a tube of cultivated yellow
fever or cholera bacilli into a city reservoir would have been, and as for
locking them up, there weren't anything like prisons enough in the States to
hold them as well as the normal criminal population. Besides, such a mixture
could only have led to another revolt, this time on the part of the regular or
professional criminals who had so long had the right to consider themselves the
spoiled darlings of Uncle Sam.

Altogether it was a problem well calculated to tax the ingenuity of the most
capable of legislatures, and the Government was getting sorely puzzled over it,
when one night Sinclair, who was now Secretary for Foreign Affairs, called at
the White House and found the President discussing the situation with his
father, who had loyally and philosophically accepted the new order of things,
and was now busily engaged amending his commercial ways on a bare pittance of a
couple of million dollars or so.

The rest his son had ruthlessly confiscated to the purposes of the state as
having been illegally acquired even under the old Trust Law. Sinclair had come
on some business connected with his own office, but this was soon disposed of;
and when he had finished it, he lit a fresh cigar, and said

"Look here, Mr. President, and you too, Mr. Raeburn, I've been thinking over
this surplus wastrel business, and I've worked out a scheme that I'd like your
opinion on."

"If it is anything like practicable, Sinclair, I shall be only too delighted
to hear it, and I don't see how you could have thought out anything that wasn't
workable," said the President. "I can assure you it is troubling me more than
the whole revolt did."

"In fact, my son seems to think that people who can't make money at all are
almost as great a curse to the country as people who make too much," said
Raeburn senior, with a dry sort of smile.

"And a trifle worse, perhaps," said Sinclair, "though some people have an idea
that those who make too much were in a sort of way responsible for the
existence of those who make too little," he continued. "The question is, we've
got an army of twenty or thirty thousand of the worst and most useless men and
women in this or perhaps any other country on our hands. What are we going to
do with them? We can't kill them. We can't banish them. We can't lock them up,
and you might as well think of boiling a nigger white as think of reforming
them. Well, as far as I can see, there is only one other thing to do. We've got
Indian reservations. Why shouldn't we have a Hard Case reservation?"

"By the good Lord, Sinclair, I believe you've hit it. A reservation, and keep
them in it! The very thing. Why on earth did none of us think of that before ?"

"That's always what genius gets when it makes the egg stand up!" laughed
Sinclair. "But, anyhow, there's the idea, and I think it'll work. You know, for
instance, that we have scores of deserted boom- cities lying useless around the
country. A good many of them only want a bit of fixing up to make them quite
fit for habitation too good, in fact, for a rabble like this.

"Well, now, suppose the Government picks out the likeliest looking of these,
and turns its prisoners of war loose in them. Let them shift for themselves,
subject to certain regulations. Let them get what living they can out of the
soil, and see if Nature and her hunger-whip can't make them work. Of course we
can't let them starve, so for the first year we'd have to find them in rations
and stock the land. Once there, let them stop there. Build a cordon of forts
round them if necessary, and let it be understood that the penalty of escape is
sudden death. Then leave them to themselves, and let's see what happens."

"Of course you're not forgetting, Mr. Sinclair," said Raeburn senior, after a
little silence, "that there are several ex- millionaires among them, and
therefore they would very soon have everything that was worth having; and,
well, wouldn't that be perpetuating the evils of the old order under Government
sanction?"

"If you mean that for a general piece of satire, dad," said the President,
gently, "I think I should be justified in saying that that would only be poetic
justice. The idea of a millionaire with no money cornering grain, and meat, and
greenstuff, and dry goods in a community like that, and dying of anxiety before
some one knocked his brains out to burst the corner up would be distinctly
picturesque. But anyhow, Sinclair, that is a real good idea of yours. In fact,
it's the only good one on the subject. We'll go into it fully to-morrow, and
see what can be done."

The result of the deliberations which followed this conversation was the
adoption of Sinclair's idea practically in its entirety. A very conveniently
situated boom-city was found in Arizona in a fairly good state of repair, and
possessing the advantage of standing in the midst of a fairly fertile region,
some twelve miles by ten, almost completely surrounded by barren hills and
desert country.

It had been called Halleyville after one Halley, an enterprising speculator
who had bought the land for a few dollars an acre, and managed to produce
apparently conclusive evidence that the hills were full of minerals, mostly
gold. The rush and the boom had been excellently engineered, and so Halleyville
was a well-built and quite considerable city, which simply needed a few repairs
and a new coat of paint to make it look most respectable.

It was, of course, inevitable that the putting of such a population into a
place with such a name should instantly inspire the American humorists with the
idea of contracting the name to the shorter and more appropriate form by which
the American City of the Plain very shortly became known to the world; and it
must be admitted that its new inhabitants were not long in justifying the
abbreviation.

Never, perhaps, in the history of the world had so many elements of evil been
brought together in one spot. There was not a human being in the place who was
not a criminal of some sort, actual or potential, and within their own little
territory they were left free to do as they pleased, it being seen that mutual
extermination was neither a remote nor an undesirable eventuality.

But they were permitted to have no communication whatever with the outside
world, save such as was necessary for the delivery of the monthly dole of
Government stores. Within the first week or so after the final location took
place, some two hundred were shot in attempting to get back to that society
which had cast them off for ever; but as the weeks went by, the attempts and
the shootings grew fewer and fewer, till at length they stopped altogether.
Forts had been planted at every available outlet, patrols and bloodhounds
guarded both hill and desert, and at length Hellville became convinced that the
Government was implacable, and so it turned its attention inward and began to
prey upon itself.

VI

From the practical and strictly economic point of view, Hellville was a
distinct and striking success. Thanks to the wise, if hard, provision of
absolute seclusion, there was only one channel through which news of its
internal doings could reach the outside world, and this was, of course, the
depot through which the provisions, seeds, and agricultural implements provided
by the Government were distributed among the inhabitants.

The officials charged with this duty made reports to the criminal department,
and although it was intended that these should be kept strictly secret, the
American reporter, as usual, proved himself too much for the authorities, and
gradually the papers began to publish dark and gruesome stories of what was
going on within the borders of the American Gomorrah. It is quite possible that
these were exaggerated, or, at any rate, embroidered by the luxuriant fancy of
their writers; but, still, they were strictly in accordance with the logical
possibilities of the unique situation, and so the world accepted them, not
without some reason, as being generally true.

According to them, there was no known form of human wickedness that the
inhabitants of Hellville did not revel in, and it was further suggested that
they had invented several new ones to keep themselves from stagnating.

There had at first been an attempt to set up a sort of elected government,
which was to call itself, after its French revolutionary model, the Committee
of Public Safety. The election took the shape of a massacre; but, still, a few
who, in the outside world, had been Trust-kings and electioneering bosses, had
managed to get elected somehow, and had passed certain enactments for the
regulation of the city.

But the moment any attempt was made to put these enactments into force, the
executive was promptly clubbed to death, and the members of the committee were
burnt out of their houses. This experiment clearly proved that anarchy pure and
simple was the only social or anti-social system possible in such a community.

And so anarchy it was anarchy, social, moral, and physical, and the stench of
its iniquities rose up to heaven, foul as the smoke of the burnt- offerings of
Moloch.

Hellville was, in short, working out its own destiny consistently and with
perfectly logical precision. By the time it had been in existence a
twelvemonth, its original population had decreased by more than half, and the
remainder consisted only of the strongest, the vilest, and the most cunning.
The temperance societies had succeeded in getting alcohol absolutely prohibited
to them in the vain hope that this would give a chance of reformation. Instead
of this, their wickedness had become of a cold-blooded, deliberate, calculating
sort, a hundred-fold more hideous than the crimes of excess and intoxication.

They did no work, and lived entirely on the Government rations. Every man and
woman loathed and suspected every other, going in constant fear for life and
limb. There were no children now, for they, being the weakest and the simplest,
had been the first to disappear. And this perhaps, all things considered, was
just as well.

Every stealable article of property had been stolen and restolen so many times
that there was now practically nothing but common property. There were no
pleasures save the indescribable, and the principal pastimes were the torture
of those who had made too many enemies, faction fights, and the burning of
people out of their houses when they were asleep. When this was done, the
spectators were accustomed to make a ring round the burning building, and
derive intense amusement from the fights with the flames.

Naturally, under such circumstances, the fame of Hellville spread far and wide
over the earth, and from north, south, east, and west, tourists began to flock
towards it, so that from the nearest permissible spots they could look upon it
through telescopes set up in favourable situations, the owners of which made
very considerable revenues, running as high, in the cases of the more powerful
instruments, as five dollars for as many minutes' enjoyment of the spectacle.

This, of course, was only to be expected. In one sense, Hellville was
distinctly the most interesting spot on earth the one place where human
wickedness could be as wicked as it liked, and where human depravity could be
as depraved as it liked, on the sole condition that it kept to itself, and hurt
no one but itself.

Another somewhat curious and unexpected outcome of the situation was, by the
way, a very considerable decrease in outside crime, for the unspeakable horrors
of Hellville had struck such universal terror into the hearts of the criminal
classes that the mere threat of banishment to it proved a greater deterrent
than the severest sentence under the ordinary law.

One man who had committed a peculiarly atrocious murder was given his choice
between Hellville and electrocution. He tried Hellville for a month. Then he
came to the depot and begged on his knees to be taken away and killed, as he
put it, in a decent, civilized sort of way.

Now, if the President and his executive had been allowed to have their own
way, the probability is that some day the report would have come that the last
two inhabitants of Hellville had either killed each other outright, or wounded
each other to death; or when it would have been possible to hang the last
inhabitant for the murder of the last but one. They had fully made up their
minds, now they had got the essence of the cancerous virus of crime
concentrated in one place, that they would keep it there, so that it should
prey solely upon itself, and not, as heretofore, strike its roots into the
breast of Society, and poison the whole body-corporate of the state.

Who in his senses would think of letting several thousand of physical lepers
loose when they had once been isolated in one spot? Surely, would it not then
be as great an act of criminal folly to do the same with such social lepers as
these?

But, sound and all as were the theories of the President and the Executive
from the practical point of view, there was a good deal to be said against them
from the moral standpoint, and on this the churches and philan thropic
societies preached and lectured until they succeeded, rightly or wrongly, in
rousing the American Conscience to revolt against the American Executive.

However debased and vile the remaining inhabitants of Hellville of whom there
were now about ten thousand left still, they were human beings, and they had
immortal souls to lose or save. What right had the Government to arrogate to
itself the prerogatives of Eternal Justice and doom these wretches, not only to
a fate of unutterable horror upon earth, but to everlasting perdition
hereafter? What would the verdict of Eternal Justice itself be upon a nation
which had inaugurated such an impious experiment and carried it through with
such pitiless severity? Did the President wish to make himself as God that he
should do this thing?

So thundered the pulpits and so stormed the platforms on the one side. On the
other was the cold, dry logic of facts. Society had the right to protect itself
at all hazards against the moral contagion of crime. Why should not crime feed
upon itself and so poison itself?

Never had American society been so pure, so honest, and so free from crime of
all sorts as it was now. True, there was that one plague-spot, but it was fast
decreasing, and no infection from it was possible. Curiously enough, too, this
view was supported by certain religious sects of the grimmer sort, who turned
up their Old Testaments and drew lurid morals from the story of the Cities of
the Plain.

But in the end the churches and the platforms gained the victory, and that for
the very simple and sufficient reason that they succeeded in winning over the
most powerful ally that they could have, and this ally was the American Woman.
There were women still in Hellville, and the churches called upon the American
Woman to rescue them. It was no use publishing incontrovertible proofs that
these women of Hellville were the vilest where all was vile. The American
Woman's own pure soul was aflame, and she said that they should be rescued, and
that she herself would do it. And that was enough. The reaction had come, and,
whatever the result, it would have to take its course.

Then one morning, about fifteen months after the beginning of the experiment,
President Raeburn received a blow which, for the first time, shook him in the
course which until now he had pursued so inflexibly; and, for the first time
since he had left his father's house on that memorable morning, he had cause to
regret he had ever devoted himself to the salvation of his country. Without any
previous warning or private intimation of her intentions, his wife came to the
White House, at the head of a deputation of the most influential women in
Washington, to make a formal request for the necessary powers to organize a
Woman's Mission to Hellville, and calmly announced her own intention of
devoting her life to the work, and leading the first body of missionaries into
the modern Gomorrah.

VII. SACRIFICE

"But surely, dear, in the name of everything that's I won't say sensible, but
possible, you can't mean what you say. You and other women, at any rate nearly
as good as you, are to go in all your white purity and innocence into that
inferno of all conceivable crime and wickedness, a place that has only too
fearfully earned the name that it is known by all over the world! No, no, Lucy;
you've allowed yourself to be carried away by pulpit eloquence and your own
good heart and merciful soul, but for all that it's impossible. I can't believe
it, and I wouldn't if I could. Come now, little woman, tell me that all this
isn't true, or at any rate tell me that you've thought better of it. Do, dear,
unless you want me to believe that the dream of my whole life is going to be
turned into a nightmare just when I am going to realize the highest of my
ideals/'

It was the evening of the day of the deputation, and the President was at
length alone with his wife. This was the end of an appeal that he had made to
her infinitely more eloquent in its purely natural force and the intensity of
its genuine emotion than any he had ever made to the thousands whom he had held
hanging breathless on the spell of his eloquence an appeal so earnest that, if
he had been pleading for his own life yes, or even for hers, it could not have
been more impassioned.

She had listened to it sitting in a deep armchair by the fire, with her chin
resting on her hand, while he had been striding about the room, and every now
and then stopping in front of her, as it were, to emphasize one of his
arguments. For all the sign that she had given of understanding him, or of
interest in what he was saying, she might have been asleep.

The truth was, as Raeburn had yet to learn, one cannot violently disturb any
existing order of things, whether good or bad, without producing very
unexpected developments, and of these his wife's sudden and apparently
inexplicable resolve was one. No one has yet been able to account, either upon
the grounds of philosophy or upon those of common sense, for the spirit which,
in the later centuries of the Age of Faith, made a gentle, loving mother
capable of taking her children by the hand and leading them quietly to the
stake at which all were to be burnt alive together; and the present state of
Lucy Raeburn's mind was quite as incomprehensible and yet as indubitable a fact
as this.

She seemed, in spirit, to have travelled back to the days when physical
martyrdom was considered the crown of spiritual sacrifice. She must have known
that there was hardly a chance in a thousand of her or any of her devoted
companions coming back alive out of Hellville. The first essential of their
mission was that they should go unprotected. She knew she had but to ask, and
ten thousand armed men would have gone each one with his life in his hand, if
necessary, to protect her. But this would have been the mission of force, not
of mercy and love. What would be the use of seeking to bring sinners back into
the way of righteousness surrounded by loaded rifles and naked sabres?

Her husband had offered this protection nay, he had implored her to take it,
if really in the end she went on this mad mission. But she had refused,
knowing, as she well did, that her only strength must be her weakness, and her
only protection her utter helplessness. It was, in short, an enthusiasm, a
fanaticism that had suddenly taken hold of her. The same spirit which nearly
two thousand years before had made the noble Roman maiden choose shame and
torment in the arena rather than wedded love and the luxury of a patrician home
at the price of sprinkling a few grains of incense on the altar of Diana, had
somehow come to possess her, a daughter of America, at the end of the
nineteenth century.

To her husband it was an agonized awakening to the possibility nay, almost to
the realization, of an issue which he could never have thought even
conceivable. With the purest and most honest intentions, and, as he considered,
in the best interests to the state to whose service he had devoted his life,
he, like a nineteenth-century Frankenstein, had created a monster to which all
that was best and dearest to him in the world was to be sacrificed, and
willingly sacrificed, too. That was the peculiar horror of it. All that he had
hoped for of real happiness in life had been bound up with, and contained in,
this one and only love of his. And now, just in the very first flush of that
love's fruition, he was to lose it. In other words, he was doomed to stand by
and see the one woman who in all the world was the woman for him deliberately
walk over the brink of a Tophet-pit of utter and hopeless vileness and
corruption, and vanish into it without one chance in a thousand of ever
emerging from it again.

These were the thoughts which formed the rack on which his very soul was being
torn asunder, and it was this that he had been trying to tell her in words
which seemed to him, in comparison with his desperate longing to turn her from
her fatal purpose, as idle and meaningless as a wind blowing wreaths and wisps
of sand about over a desert.

"I'm afraid it's no use, dear," she replied, looking up at him half wearily.
"My mind is made up or rather, perhaps, I ought to say that I am firmly
convinced that this is a mission that has been laid upon me by Heaven itself.
If not, why should such a purpose ever have come to me? Why should every woman
worth the name in America have suddenly felt the thrill of revolt so
irresistibly against this purpose of yours; and since they have felt it, is not
my own feeling a token of what is, perhaps, a Divine appointment to lead them?"

"But don't you think no, surely you must have thought of all that you leave
behind you of the vows that you took with me at the altar, of the long life of
real honour and usefulness that may lie before us, of the children that may be
born to us, and of all that their lives may contain in the future! Would not
this be a nearer and dearer duty than this incomprehensible martyrdom of yours?
for, as I believe there's a God above us, I believe that it will be this and
nothing less for you and for me too!"

If anything could have shaken her resolve, it would have been these last four
words, spoken as they were; but she had already passed the confines of human
reason and emotion into that strange exaltation which for the ordained martyr
takes the place of both. She rose quickly from her seat and came and put her
two hands on his shoulders and looked him straight in the eyes. As he returned
her glance, he saw, to his despair, that hers were shining with a light that he
had never seen in them before. If she had been any one else, he would have
called it the light of madness.

"Those are sacred duties, Stanley, I think," she said in a voice whose utter
calmness shocked him more than the wildest outburst of passion could have done.
"They are sacred, and they are holy, and they are full of glorious promise here
on earth; but that is no reason why there should not be others higher and
holier and more sacred. Do you not remember that story of the Huguenot woman
who, rather than recant, left her home to go to the stake, although she knew
that her Catholic husband and her children would be forced to witness her
torture and death?"

"Yes, yes," he said; "but that was a matter of religion. That was different;
and, besides, I'm not asking you to recant anything. I am only asking you to
give up a project which every one who knows anything of the circumstances has
declared to be utter madness, and to stop here at home with me and do the work
that God has put nearest to your hand."

"Yes, you are!" she said, drawing herself back an inch or so. ldquo;You are
asking me to recant a belief, a faith a faith in God's infinite mercy, and the
belief that, even through such poor instruments as I am myself and those who
are going with me, He will work the salvation of those poor wretches in that
hell-on-earth which your heartless, economic science has shown you how to
create out yonder in Arizona. No, Stanley dear, I must go; and I will, for I
firmly believe that God Himself has called me to do this work. The greater must
come before the less, and the higher before the lower; but, never fear, I shall
go and do the work, and come back again—"

"No, never!" he said in a voice that was broken by something very like a sob.
"Once you go into that hell-on-earth, as you rightly call it, you are lost to
me for ever, so far as this world is concerned. No, Lucy, no! By all that I
hold holy, you shan't go! No, you shan't, not even if I have to keep you back
by force until this madness of yours is over. You shan't! You shan't! I love
you too much, and I want you too much, and I'll keep you, however I have to do
it!"

Then he crushed her up in his arms and kissed her with a fierceness that
seemed to have something more than passion in it. She submitted without
resistance or response, and then she drew back and looked at him again, and
said, in a cold, impersonal sort of tone

"You can keep me, if you like, Stanley, because you have strength and the law
on your side, but you'll keep me as a slave, not as a wife; as a woman who
remains with you because she is chained to you, not because she loves you; for,
if you did that, I could never think of you as anything else but my master; not
as my husband."

"Then I suppose you must go," he said with a harsh, almost savage ring in his
voice, "and God forgive you and help me when you have gone! I suppose there is
nothing more to say after that?"

"No, nothing!" she said, still in the same quiet, trance-like voice. ldquo;At
least nothing now, I think."

He let her go and walked towards the door without another word. Halfway he
stopped and looked back at her still standing there, white and beautiful and
impassive. He took a half-stride back towards her, then stopped and turned
again. She never seemed to see him leave the room, but as she heard the door
close she raised her hands to her temples, looked once round the room, and
found it empty, and then, where she had stood, she sank in a white, motionless
heap on the floor.

VIII. VENGEANCE

So far from being turned from her purpose, the days as they passed only
strengthened Lucy Raeburn's resolve to perform what she and her sister-
missionaries had thoroughly convinced themselves was a Divine mission. The
President had accepted her rejection of his appeal as final; and although he
looked upon the day appointed for the setting out of the mission as the day of
his wife's death, he nevertheless took every precaution that was possible to
strengthen the appallingly slender chance of her returning to the world.

Messages were sent into Hellville telling the inhabitants what was about to
happen, and on the day before the appointed one, the President himself went to
the dep&t and had an interview with some of the principal citizens, if such a
term could be used of a community which had sunk to one common level of
vileness and degradation. It was the first glimpse that he had so far had of
the result of his own work, and it horrified and appalled him, as he confessed
afterwards, beyond his powers of expression.

They had at least been men of a sort when they went in. Now they were rather
human incarnations of evil spirits or lost souls that had escaped for awhile
from their place of their torment, and been permitted to revisit the world in
some semblance of the form they had worn in it. They were neither men nor
animals; they were something else, and that something else was indescribable.

To use an Oriental form of speech, Stanley Raeburn's heart turned to water
within him when he saw them and thought of what was going to happen the next
day. Still, he nerved himself sufficiently to conquer for the time being both
his horror and his agony, and told them, in a few quiet, well-chosen words,
what the women of America had undertaken to do through the agency of his own
wife and her sister- missioners. Then he caught himself, by a force of habit,
appealing to them as men to respect the splendid courage and devotion which had
led them to undertake such a noble task. At the word "men," a ghastly laugh
went round, and one of them said

"There are no men in Hellville now, President. Do we look like men? There are
no women, either; only just a lot of males and females animals, I suppose, some
would call us; but if you turned a menagerie loose in this place, I guess the
animals would scoot the first show they got to save their morals getting
corrupted. Oh, it's a sweet-scented place, I can tell you! Perhaps you'd like
to come along with your good lady and spend a week amongst us."

Even the voice was hardly human. It sounded more like that of a beast endowed
with the faculty of speech, and the President and all his escort started at the
sound of it.

"If I had my way," he replied, "I would come and bring ten thousand men with
me to see that you behave yourselves; but if you have any manhood left in you,
you will remember that these noble women have refused the protection of even a
single armed man, and you will respect them. But, mind," he went on in a
sterner tone, "if you don't, if any harm befalls them, and if every one of them
doesn't return unscathed ten days from now, the next day you shall find a ring
of cannon round these hills, and twenty-four hours after that there will be no
Hellville. I shall hold the life of every man and woman in the place in pledge
for their safety. Forget this, and God forgive you, for America won't!"

"You needn't threaten, President," said the man who had spoken before. "We can
guess pretty well what you'd do; and if we meant mischief, we shouldn't much
mind that. We don't take much stock of life in Hellville just now, but you
needn't be afraid. There may be some good left in some of us, and the ladies
are welcome to come and find it if they can. There'll be no harm done to them."

So the day came, and the devoted little band led by Lucy Raeburn passed
through the dep6t from the outer world into Hellville. There is no need to
describe here the scenes which attended their going, even if that were
possible, and so it is better to leave them to be mentally pictured by those
who are able to understand the true meaning of a situation that was absolutely
unique in the history of the world. Suffice it to say that they went the
incarnation of all that was pure and beautiful and devoted in American
womanhood out of world which was the darker for their going into a Gehenna of
infamy which might, perhaps, be made brighter and better for their coming.

The week passed, as it had been expected to do, without word or sign from
those who had thus vanished out of the light into the darkness. The whole
western world, and a great part of the eastern, meanwhile wrote and talked and
thought of little else than this marvellous return of the genius of the
nineteenth century to the ways and the faiths of the fourteenth. Those who were
connected by the ties of love and kinship or affection and friendship with the.
Sisters now most justly called of Mercy waited, some in an agony of regret and
apprehension, and some in a perfect calm of faith, undisturbed by a single
flutter of fear, until the eighth day had passed.

The ninth came, and still no news; and then President Raeburn, on his own
initiative, gave orders for ten thousand troops to be under arms and entrained
that night, and for twelve batteries of field artillery of six guns, each
supplemented by fifty Maxim and Maxim-Nordenfeldt machine-guns, to concentrate
with all possible despatch on Hellville. The order was obeyed with an alacrity
that was quickened by enthusiastic delight. The whole nation was by this time
feeling like one huge spring which for eight days had been held back by an
unbreakable cable. This order was the cutting of the cable, and that instant
the manhood of America leapt full-armed to its feet, burning with white-hot
ardour to save or avenge the fairest flower of its womanhood.

The railways and transport companies made unheard-of efforts to help on the
concentration. All day and all night troops marched, batteries rumbled, and
trains loaded with living valour and anger thundered over the rails towards the
devoted Place of Sin.

The morning of the tenth day dawned, and found the batteries in position, and
the troops ready to go in with rifle, revolver, and bayonet to clear Hellville
off the face of the earth. As the day wore on, patrols were sent in from the
depot, but none came back. Six o'clock, the appointed hour for the return of
the martyrs as all now believed them to be came and went, and then President
Raeburn, inwardly half mad with the torture of his now realized fears, but
outwardly calm with the calmness of despair, issued the order for the troops to
stand to their arms and make ready to march in. Then the night came down swift
and dark.

What had happened during those ten fateful days, no one knew, and it was
destined that no one ever should know. The President had pledged his word to
his wife that no assault should be made before daybreak on the eleventh day;
but as midnight approached, and still no tidings came out of the black gulf, in
the midst of which the distant lights of Hellville gleamed and twinkled, he so
far yielded to the entreaties of his ministers and the friends of those whose
unspeakable fate no one now had any doubts of as to order an advance, with the
object of peaceably occupying the city until morning.

But meanwhile, as some said afterwards, Heaven itself had wearied of the
ghastly experiment and the awful sacrifice that it had entailed. It was the
month of November, and the earth was passing on its annual way through the
meteoric swarms. That night, just a little after twelve, the skies of Arizona
were literally ablaze with shooting stars. Then, as though with one accord, and
deliberately guided by some avenging hand, several of the streams ran together
and met on the zenith of Hellville.

The President, standing on the highest of the hills beside one of the most
powerful batteries, looked up with white face and straining eyes, and cried, as
though in a moment of inspiration

"'Vengeance is Mine, saith the Lord; I will repay.' God's will be done!"

The already moving troops stopped in their tracks as though some mysterious
influence had conveyed the President's words to them. For a few moments the
midmost heaven was a sea of leaping, darting flames. Then out of this fell
patches and splashes and white, tangled streams of fire; and then in an instant
all the air for twenty miles around was filled with a hissing, screaming,
roaring tumult, through which thundered out the crashes of explosions such as
no earthly cannonade had ever rivalled.

Straight down from heaven to earth the blazing, shrieking storm descended, too
swift for human eyes to follow. Then, as it came, so it passed, and the rest of
the shining visitants sped noiselessly through the upper regions of the
atmosphere, and lost themselves in the darkness and silence of outer space.

With the earliest glimmer of dawn, the troops marched in towards what had once
been the site of Hellville, but they found no trace either of the city or its
inhabitants. They could not even penetrate into the plain on which it had
stood, so thickly was it strewn with innumerable meteorites and fragments
weighing only a few ounces to great blocks that must have weighed tons, and all
these were blue-hot still.

It was manifest that when they had reached the earth, they must have been
white-hot, and there were thousands upon thousands of them, from which may,
without much difficulty, be deduced the fashion in which the last dwellers in
Hellville had passed away from a world which had found that it had no use for
them.

Later on, thousands of the meteorites were built up into a vast pyramid, and
on the top of this was placed a great cross of plain white stone. It bore no
inscription. The dead needed no epitaph, since of the evil who had died there
none could say evil enough to do them justice; and of the good who had died
with them, no human words could have said good enough; but as long as good and
evil remain in the world, the white cross standing on its pyramid built of
Heaven's own missiles of vengeance will continue to tell the story of
Hellville, and point its fateful moral to all future generations of men.


2. THE GREAT CRELLIN COMET

First published in Pearson's Weekly, Christmas 1898

I

In the first place, perhaps it had better be said at once that the greatest
and most imminent peril that the planet Terra has ever been threatened with
since it became a world suited to the habitation of men and monkeys, would
never have been averted if, in the first place, Mr. Emerson G. Crellin had not
made a practically uncountable and ever-increasing pile of dollars by almost
every one of the multifarious methods known to the dollar-piling genius of the
Great Eepublic; and if, in the second place, he had not been possessed of two
hobbies, upon either of which he was prepared to spend the last dollar in his
bottomless pockets.

As it would be difficult to say which of these hobbies was to him the more
important, we may take as the first of them that which was calculated to bulk
most largely in the eyes of the world. This was astronomy. Among the many
millionaire countrymen of his who have so magnificently endowed the temples of
this noblest of the sciences, Emerson G. Crellin was determined not to be the
least. But what he had done for astronomy was done, not in his native land, but
amidst the sylvan beauties of the Surrey hills, and it was here that his second
hobby came in. He had a daughter, whom he had somewhat boldly but, as the event
proved, justifiably, christened Auriole, and his twin ambition to that of
finding the means of making wider and longer excursions into the realms of
space than any one else had done was to see the glitter of a coronet none of
your new-creation, bobbed-up-with-the-last-social-earthquake coronets, as he
put it, but one that dated back at least to the days when the world had not yet
been enriched by the addition of what was some day to be the United States
shining on the brow of his darling Auriole.

It was this that had brought him with his millions and his motherless daughter
to the country in which circumstances were most favourable to the making of
such an investment, and this was also the reason why the famous Crellin
Observatory and the immortal Crellin Eeflector with its sixty-four-inch object-
glass was located on the Surrey hills instead of on the Alleghanies or the
slopes of the Kockies. The observatory was built on the summit of Leith Hill,
which had been acquired by the further acquisition and gift in perpetuity to
the nation of an addition of about a thousand acres to Hurtwood Common.
Leithhill Place had been included in the purchase and exchange, and here dwelt
the millionaire and his daughter with another< member of the household who may
as well be introduced at once.

This was Arthur Lennox, a man still in the early thirties, who had not only
been first of his year in mathematics at London and Cambridge which is the same
thing as saying he was Gold Medallist and Senior Wrangler but he had so far
distinguished himself in original astronomical research that he had gone
straight from Cambridge to Greenwich, and he had already made himself one of
the most distinguished of the Astronomer Eoyal's assistants, when Mr. Emerson
G. Crellin offered him the seductive prospect of becoming chief of the Crellin
Observatory at an almost dazzling salary, and having the finest telescope and
one of the best collections of astronomical instruments in the world absolutely
at his disposal.

He was a staid, quiet, strong-faced and strong-limbed man, with not much of
the student apparent about him save the squareness of his head, the breadth of
his brows, and a certain suspicion of dreaminess lurking in the clear grey eyes
that looked out from beneath them. But underneath the gravity and chilliness of
his scientific exterior there lay the nature of an entirely human man; and this
being the case, it was hardly to be expected that he should live for months
together under the same roof and in almost constant companionship with one of
the most delightful products of the union of the East and the West, the old and
the new Anglo-Saxondom, or, in other words, one of the fairest daughters of the
Imperial Race of earth, without knowing it as such a man might be expected to
know it.

But he also knew the purpose which had brought her to England, and had so
given him at once the pleasure and the pain of her acquaintance. His own
private opinion of this purpose was by no means an exalted one, but, then, it
was a biassed opinion, and he knew it. He knew also that his business at Leith
Hill had only just as much to do with this world as was included within the
fence which encircled the Observatory buildings. The rest was extra-
terrestrial. He recognized, in short, that his proper place was far away in the
fields of Space, among planets and suns and stars, star-mists and nebulae; and
that he had a great deal more concern with the eccentricities of the orbits of
comets than he had with that of human nature complicated by attractions far
more difficult of calculation than that of gravity.

He saw all this clearly, and accepted the situation with perfect loyalty. He
did not even admit to himself how powerful this attraction was for him. He only
recognized that, to use an astronomical simile, conjunction was an
impossibility, and that, so far as human probabilities went, it was not his
destiny ever to become the companion of this radiant star, already as far
removed from him in one sense as the stars which he could only see with the
help of his huge telescope, were in another.

As regards Miss Auricle herself, she also, to all appearances, accepted the
situation in the most perfectly sensible fashion. She, too, knew her destiny,
and didn't appear to have the slightest objection to it. All that she
stipulated for, as she had an absolute and admitted right to do, was that the
possessor of the coronet should be, as she put it, a man as well as a lord; and
that, as far as possible, she should herself have the unfettered choosing of
him. Subject always to this paramount consideration, she and the young
astronomer were the very best of friends and even companions, and nothing was
more delightful to her quick and comprehensive intelligence than the excursions
which they took together from the top of Leith Hill into the star- strewn
fields of immensity, wandering among the radiant worlds which make their
eternal march along the Milky Way, or visiting planet after planet of the Solar
System a proceeding which, in comparison with their wider travels, seemed
almost to resemble the making of a series of calls at the houses of their
friends on the countryside.

It was a little after four o'clock one cloudless morning in July that the
Professor, as Mr. Crellin took a sort of ceremonious pride in styling his chief
astronomer, came out of the Equatorial House and locked the door behind him.

When he had done so, he looked up to the eastward, where the Morning Star hung
flashing like a huge white diamond in splendid solitude against the brightening
background of the sky. His strong face looked somewhat pale and drawn, his lips
were tightly pressed together, and his eyes, which had hardly known three
hours' sleep in as many nights, had a look in them that was not to be
altogether accounted for by mere weariness.

And yet, tired as he undoubtedly was, he did not take the path which led down
to the house after he had let himself out of the inclosure. His work was over
for the night, and he might have gone to bed till lunch-time had he chosen. But
instead of that, after another long look up at the Morning Star, he turned away
with a sigh that might have been one of weariness or something else, and with
his hands thrust deep into his trouser pockets, he began to walk with downbent
head and slow, irregular strides westward towards Hurtwood Common.

When he sat down to breakfast that morning at half-past eight, Mr. Crellin
said to him in the half-paternal, half-deferential tone in which he usually
addressed him: "Say, Professor, I guess I shall have to lock that observatory
up and send you over to see how they're getting on with their star- finding and
comet—hunting in the States. You're just wearing yourself out body and brain
over this new comet of yours. Of course it's very satisfactory that the Crellin
Eeflector should have got hold of it before any one else has a notion that
there is such a thing knocking around; but still, you know, we can't have its
discoverer wearing himself to a shadow before the time comes to take the glory
of it."

"No, indeed; that's not to be talked about," said Miss Auriole, looking with a
just perceptible admiration at the still fairly substantial frame of the
shadow; and as she did so, it seemed to her, whether rightly or wrongly, that
there was just a suspicion of a stoop in the broad shoulders, and ever so
slight a falling forward of the well-poised, erectly carried head. "I do
believe, Professor, that this is about the third night that you have had no
sleep; and here, instead of getting in forty winks during the day, you've been
blinding yourself over those wildernesses of figures and tangling your brain up
with equations and cube roots and things. I know something about them, for I
shall never forget my struggles with them at Vassar. Would it be impertinent to
ask how much longer you are going to make yourself a martyr to science in this
way?"

"Perhaps until the end of the Good Heavens! what nonsense I am talking!" said
the Professor, suddenly looking up from his plate with the expression of a man
just awakened from a dream. "I really do think I have been going too long
without sleep, and I must try to get some to-day. You see, the man who
discovers a new comet is like one of the old discoverers the first time he
sighted the shore of a new continent. The temptation to go on is irresistible,
and one is apt to forget that, after all, a brain is something else than a
machine. Still, I don't think you need have any anxiety about me. You know, I
have learnt to take my sleep as a Eed Indian takes his meals, and when I have
settled the question of this precious comet, I shall probably go to bed and
stop there the best part of a week."

"The question?" echoed Mr. Crellin. "What's that? I didn't know there was any
question about it. You have discovered it, haven't you, Professor?"

"I have made a discovery, Mr. Crellin," he replied, speaking rather more
seriously than the circumstances seemed to warrant; "but whether I have found a
hitherto unknown comet or not is another matter. What I have done is this:
Thanks to that magnificent instrument of yours, I have seen a comet in a part
of the heavens where no comet ought to be just now, according to the
calculations of all the known orbits and periods; but whether it is a new one
or a known one, which, by one cause or another, has been deflected from its
orbit and started off on a new course, is the question of which I spoke just
now. That I have not yet been able to decide; but, of course, in any case," he
went on, with a smile which Miss Auriole thought somewhat lacking in
spontaneity, "the discovery will be an important one very important, I fear
that is to say, of course, I expect and the honour of the Crellin Eeflector
cannot fail to be duly vindicated."

"And also that of the discoverer," corrected Miss Auricle; "for, after all,
however good the telescope is, it's only a mechanical sort of eye that it needs
a brain to use properly, and if the brain doesn't take care of itself, the eye
won't be much use; so I want you to promise me just now, Professor, that you
are going to lie down the moment breakfast's done, and sleep straight on to
lunch-time. "You know," she added, colouring ever so slightly, "we're having a
garden-party this afternoon, and Lord Westerham and his mother are coming, and
I was going to ask you to do the honours of the Observatory, if you hadn't
anything else very particular to do."

"I can promise that easily," he replied, looking, as she thought, a trifle
earnestly at her out of his tired eyes, "as it is exactly what I was going to
do. I shall not have to be at the telescope till nearly eleven to- night, so I
shall have plenty of time to get a good nap and do what I can in the way of
helping to entertain your friends and and his lordship, whom, by the way, I
don't think I've told you before, was rather a chum of mine when we were at
Trinity together. Westerham's about as good a specimen of the very falsely
styled effete aristocracy of this country as a man would wish to call a friend
or a woman well, something else."


II

The garden-party was both socially and scientifically a great success, and
even the young Professor appeared to enjoy it in his usual quiet, grave
fashion. The great Eeflector was, of course, the supreme object of interest,
though nothing was said about the new comet which had been discovered swimming
in space far outside the confines of all known systems, for that was still a
secret, and was to remain so until all calculations had been completed, and
Arthur Lennox was able to tell his brother astronomers, all over the world, how
they were to point their telescopes in order to observe the newly arriving
stranger from the unknown regions beyond the worlds.

Lennox, as has already been mentioned, had been at Trinity with Lord
Westerham, and they had remained good friends since. In fact, it was partly
through his lordship's influence as well as his own talents that the young
astronomer had got to Greenwich. But even these circumstances hardly seemed to
warrant a very direct and intimate question which he put point-blank to him as
they were walking together to Ockley Station after the party.

"Westerham," he said, suddenly stopping and looking him straight in the eyes,
"I am going to ask you a question which you will probably think a very
impertinent one; and, further, whether you answer it or not, I am going to ask
you not to ask me why I ask it. There now, there are a good many ' asks ' in
that, but I wanted to put it plainly, even at the expense of a little
tautology."

Lord Westerham was one of the frankest and most openminded of men, and he
stared in a somewhat puzzled fashion at Lennox as he replied "My dear fellow,
you are at perfect liberty to ask me what question you like; and, if I can,
I'll answer it without asking any more questions; but look here, old man," he
broke off with a sudden change in his voice, "I hope it's nothing well,
unpleasant nothing that's going to bring any trouble upon you, for instance
for, 'pon my word, I never saw even you look quite as serious as you do now.
But, at any rate, whatever it is, out with it; you can't offend me even if you
tried."

"You are about the only man, I think, I should find it possible to ask such a
question," Lennox replied, speaking hesitatingly and rather awkwardly, "for
it's it's a precious awkward one for any man to ask another. To put it as
shortly as I can, it is just this: Have you made up your mind to marry Miss
Crellin; and, if so, is the matter irrevocable?"

Lennox, feeling very like a man in the dock who has just heard the fatal
"guilty" spoken by the foreman of the jury, waited with a very plainly depicted
expression of mingled apology and apprehension on his slightly flushed face.
Lord Westerham's eyes and mouth opened together, but it was a smile that opened
his mouth, and there were strong symptoms of a laugh in his honest blue eyes.
Then he took a step forward, and his hand fell with a slap on Lennox's shoulder.

"My dear fellow," he said, "why, don't you know—"

"Know what?" said Lennox, with something like a gasp. "You're not—"

"No," said his lordship, shaking his head and trying to look serious, "no, I'm
not engaged to her. What I was going to say was, don't you know that I have
been engaged to my cousin Lilian Northcote ever since she was old enough well
to understand the difference between being kissed by a girl and by a boy? No,
no; you needn't have any fears of me, old man. Not even Miss Auriole's beauty,
with all the glitter of the old gentleman's millions as a halo, would tempt me
from that allegiance; and then, you know, happily the Westerham coronet doesn't
want regilding. But now that I know what your question is, I am rather sorry
that I promised not to ask why you asked it. Still, I dare say I can give a
pretty good guess at it, so I suppose I must be content with that."

"A pretty good guess at it!" said Lennox to himself about half an hour later,
when he was striding back alone. "A pretty good guess! Good God, if he only
could, I wonder what he would think! He with all his splendid prospects and, as
he believes, a whole long life of happiness in front of him; and thirteen
months to-day yes, almost to this very hour well, for the present, ignorance is
bliss.

"And now, I wonder what the old gentleman will say. Anyhow, that's one load
off my mind. There won't be anything mean about it. He or she, or both of them,
may say ' Yes ' or ' No; ' but, after all, neither of them will be able to
think there is anything dishonourable in it. A world for a girl! It sounds
quite romantic. Fancy me as a hero of a romance, and one, too, if it only comes
off, that will put Jules Verne and Flammarion somewhat in the shade! Ah, well!
'sufficient unto the day,' etc. I think I'll tackle the old man first. No, I
don't think I will. It is the conventional way, of course; but the
circumstances are anything but conventional, and if she won't have anything to
do with me, well, there's an end of it and possibly of the world too. Seems a
rather selfish way to put it. In fact, some exalted moralists might call it a
bit mean, but ah! ten o'clock."

He stopped suddenly as the soft chime of an old church clock came drifting
along the valley. He listened to the four chimes, and then to the ten slow,
clear strokes that tolled out upon the still air of the July evening. At the
tenth he started, and a shudder ran through his well-knit, muscular frame.
Then, turning his face upwards towards the well-known constellations that were
growing brighter in the darkening sky, he began his walk and his reverie again.

"Just fancy! A year and a month from to-day that very clock may be sounding
the death-knell of the human race, striking the hour of Doom, in fact; and
forty-six minutes and thirty-eight seconds later—Phew!

it isn't a pleasant thing even for the callously scientific mind to
contemplate. It seems almost wrong to tell her anything about it, but rubbish!
what an ass I am! It's got to be known, and as soon as the Lick and the Yerkes
people get on to it, it won't take them very long to work out the orbit and
period; and wouldn't they just score nicely over the discoverer of the Crellin
Comet? No, I shall tell her myself; and I may as well tell her to-night as any
other time. It's rather lucky I made that promise to show it to her to-night
for the first time. I couldn't have a better opportunity."

The result of this resolution was that a little after half-past eleven Miss
Auriole was looking wonderingly into the eye-piece of the great Eeflector,
watching a tiny little patch of mist, somewhat brighter towards one end than
the other, like a little wisp of white smoke rising from a very faint spark,
that was apparently floating across an unfathomable sea of darkness. She seemed
to see this darkness through, and behind a swarm of stars of all sizes and
colours. They appeared very much more wonderful and glorious and important than
the little spray of white smoke, because she hadn't yet the faintest conception
of its true import to her and every other human being on earth; but she was
very soon to know now.

While she was watching it in breathless silence, in which the clicking of the
mechanism which kept the great telescope moving so as to exactly counteract the
motion of the machinery of the universe sounded like the blows of a sledge-
hammer on an anvil, Arthur Lennox stood beside her, wondering should he begin
to tell her, and what he should say.

At last she turned away from the eye-piece, and looked up at him with
something like a scared expression in her pretty eyes, and said

"It's very wonderful, isn't it, that one should be able to see all that just
by looking into a little bit of a hole like that? And you tell me all those
great big bright stars around your comet are so far away that if you look at
them in the ordinary way you don't even see them and there they look almost as
if you could put out your hand and touch them. It's very wonderful, isn't it?
And just a little bit awful, too!" she added, with a little shiver.

"Yes," he said, speaking slowly and even more gravely than she thought the
subject warranted, "yes, it is both wonderful and, in a way, awful. Do you know
that some of those stars you have seen in there are so far away that the light
which you see them by may have left them when Solomon was king in Jerusalem?
They may be quite dead and (lark now, or reduced into fire-mist by collision
with some other star. And then, perhaps, there are others behind them again so
far away that their light has not even reached us yet, and may never do while
there are human eyes on earth to see it."

"Yes, I know," she said, smiling. "You don't forget that I have been to
college and light travels about a hundred and eighty- six thousand miles a
second, doesn't it? But come, Professor, aren't you what they call stretching
the probabilities a little when you say that the light of some of them will
never get here, as far as we're concerned ? I always thought that we had a few
million years of life to look forward to before this old world of ours gets
worn out."

"There are other ends possible for this world besides wearing out, Miss
Auriole," he answered, this time almost solemnly. "Other worlds have, as I say,
been reduced to fire-mist. Some have been shattered to tiny fragments to make
asteroids and meteorites stars and worlds, in comparison with which this bit of
a planet of ours is nothing more than a speck of sand, a mere atom of matter
drifting over the wilderness of immensity. In fact, such a trifle is it in the
organism of the universe, that if some celestial body collided with it say a
comet with a sufficiently solid nucleus and the heat developed by the impact
turned it into a mass of blazing gas, an astronomer on Neptune, one of our own
planets, wouldn't even notice the accident, unless he happened to be watching
the earth through a powerful telescope at the time."

"And is such an accident, as you call it, possible, Professor?" she asked,
jumping womanlike, by a sort of unconscious intuition, to the very point to
which he was so clumsily trying to lead up. "I thought you spoke rather queerly
about this comet of yours at breakfast this morning. I hope there isn't any
chance of its getting on to the same track as this terrestrial locomotive of
ours. That would be just awful, wouldn't it? Why, what's the matter, Professor?
You are going to be real ill, I know! You had better get down to the house, and
go to bed. It's want of sleep, isn't it? You'll be driving yourself mad that
way. Come to the couch and lie down for a moment. You look as if you are going
to fall. Shall I call Mr. Sandheim?"

A sudden and terrible change had come over him while she was speaking. It was
only for the moment, and yet to him it was an eternity. It might, as she said,
have been the want of sleep, for insomnia plays strange tricks sometimes with
the strongest of intellects; or, more probably, it might have been that and the
horror of his secret working on the great love that he had for this girl who
was sitting there alone with him in the silence of that dim room and in the
midst of the glories and the mysteries of the universe.

His eyes had grown fixed and staring, and looked sightlessly at her, and his
face shone ghastly pale in the dim light of the solitary shaded lamp.
Certainly, one of those mysterious crises which are among the unsolved secrets
of psychology had come upon him like some swift access of delirium.

He no longer saw her sitting there by the telescope, calm, gracious, and
beautiful. He saw her as, by his pitiless calculations, he must do that time
thirteen months to come with her soft grey eyes starting, horror-driven, from
their orbits, staring blank and wide and hideous at the overwhelming hell that
would be falling down from heaven upon the devoted earth. He saw her fresh
young face withered and horror-lined and old, and the bright-brown hair grown
grey with the years that would pass in those few final moments. He saw the
sweet red lips that had tempted him so often to wild thoughts parched and
black, wide open and gasping vainly for the breath of life in the hot, burnt-
out atmosphere.

Then he saw no, it was only a glimpse; and with that the strange trance-
vision ended. What must have come after that would in all certainty have driven
him mad there and then, before his work had even begun; but at that moment,
swiftly severing the darkness that was falling over his soul, there came to him
an idea, bright, luminous, and lovely as an inspiration from Heaven itself, and
with it came back the calm sanity of the sternly disciplined intellect,
prepared to contemplate not only the destruction of the world he lived in, but
even the eternal loss of the woman he loved the only human being who could make
that world beautiful or even tolerable to him.

The vision was blotted out from the sight of his soul, the darkness cleared
away from his eyes, and he saw her again as she still was. It had all passed in
a few moments, and yet in them he had been down into hell, and he had come back
to earth and her presence.

Almost by the time she had uttered her last word, he had regained command of
his voice, and he began clearly and quietly to answer the question which was
still echoing through the chambers of his brain.

"It was only a little passing faintness, thank you, and something else which
you will understand when I have done, if you have patience to hear me to the
end," he said, looking straight at her for a moment, and then beginning to walk
slowly up and down the room past her chair. "I am going to surprise you,
perhaps to frighten you, and very probably to offend you deeply," he began
again in a quiet, dry sort of tone, which somehow impressed her against all her
convictions that he didn't much care whether or not he did any or all of these
things; but there was something else in his tone and manner which held her to
her seat silent and attentive, although she was conscious of the distinct
desire to get up and run away.

"Your guess about the comet, or whatever it may prove to be, is quite correct.
I don't think it is a new one. From what I have seen of it so far, I have every
reason to believe that it is Gambart's comet, which was discovered in 1826, and
became visible to the naked eye in the autumn of 1833. It then crossed the
orbit of the earth one month after the earth had passed the point of
intersection. After that, some force divided it in two, and in '46 and '52 it
reappeared as two twin comets constantly separating. Now it would seem that the
two masses have come together again; and, as they are both larger in bulk and
greater in density, it would appear that, somewhere in the distant fields of
space, they have united with some other and denser body; and the result is,
that what is practically a new comet, with a much denser nucleus than any
hitherto seen, is approaching our system; and, unless a miracle happens, or
there is a practically impossible error in my calculations, it will cross the
orbit of the earth thirteen months from to-day, precisely at the moment that
the earth itself arrives at the point of intersection."

So far Auriole had listened to the stiff scientific phraseology with more
interest than alarm; but now she took advantage of a little pause, and said

"And the consequences, Professor? I mean the consequences to us as living
beings. You may as well tell me everything now that you've gone so far."

"I am going to," he said, stopping for a moment in his walk. "And I am going
to tell you something more than that. Granted that what I have said happens,
one of two things must follow. If the nucleus of the comet is solid enough to
pass through our atmosphere without being dissipated, it will strike the
surface with so much force that both it and the earth will probably be
transformed into fiery vapour by the conversion of the motion of the two bodies
into heat. If not, its contact with the oxygen of the earth's atmosphere will
produce an aerial conflagration which, if it does not roast alive every living
thing on earth, will convert the oxygen by combustion into some irrespirable
and poisonous gas, and so kill us by a slower, but no less fatal, process."

"Horrible!" she said, shivering this time. "You sound like a judge pronouncing
sentence of death on the whole human race. I suppose there is no possibility of
reprieve? Well, go on, Professor; is there anything else?"

"Yes," he said, "there is something else. Those are the scientific facts, as
far as they go. I am going to tell you the chances now, and something beside.
There is just one chance one possible way of averting universal ruin from the
earth, and substituting for it nothing more serious than an unparalleled
display of celestial fireworks. All that will be necessary is perfect
calculation and unstinted expenditure of money ."

"Well," she said, "can't you do the calculations, Professor? and hasn't dad
got millions enough? How could he spend them better than saving the whole human
race from being burnt alive ? There isn't anything else, is there?"

"There was something else," he said, stopping in front of her again. She had
risen to her feet as she said the last words, and the two stood facing each
other in the dim light, while the mechanism of the telescope kept on clicking
away in its heedless mechanical fashion, and kept the aperture of the great
instrument constantly in such a position that the image of the comet still
hovered unseen in the mirror of the Keflector.

"Yes, there was something else, and I may as well tell you, after all; for
even if you never see or speak to me again, it won't stop the work being done
now. I could have kept this discovery to myself till it would have been too
late to do anything, for no other telescope without my help would even find the
comet for four months to come, and even now there is hardly a day to be lost,
if the work is to be done in time; and then well, I suppose I must have gone
mad for the time being, for I thought you will hardly believe me, I suppose
that I could make you the price of the world's safety.

"From that, you will see how much I love you, however mad I may have been.
Losing you, I would have lost the world with you.

If my love lives, I thought, the world shall live; if not, the world shall
die. But, just now, when you thought I was taken ill, I had a sort of vision,
and I saw you yes, you, Miss Auriole as, if my one chance fails, you must
infallibly be this night thirteen months hence. I didn't see any of the other
millions who would be choking and gasping for breath and writhing in the
torture of the universal fire I only saw you and my own baseness in thinking
even for a moment that such a bargain would be possible. That is all.';

She had not interrupted him even by a gesture, but as she listened a thousand
signs and trifles, which alone had meant nothing to her, now seemed to come
together and make one clear and definite revelation. His plainly, almost
brutally, spoken words had done the rest. This strong, reserved, silent man had
all the time loved her so desperately that he was going mad about her so mad
that, as he had said, he had even dreamed of weighing the possession of her
single, insignificant self against the safety of the whole world, with all its
innumerable millions of people mostly as good in their way as she was.

Well, it might be that the love of such a man was a thing worthy to weigh even
against a coronet not in her eyes, for there was no question of that now, but
in her father's. But that was a matter for future consideration. She drew
herself up a little stiffly, and said, in just such a tone as she might have
used if what he had just been saying had had no personal interest for her had,
in fact, been about some other girl

"I think it's about time to be going down to the house, Professor, isn't it? I
am quite sure a night's rest won't do you any harm. No, I'm not offended, and I
don't think I'm even frightened yet. It somehow seems too big and too awful a
thing to be only frightened at too much like the Day of Judgment, you know. I
am glad you've told me yes, everything and I'm glad that what you call your
madness is over. You will be able to do your work in saving the world all the
better, only don't tell dad anything except well just the scientific and
necessary part of it. You know, saving a world is a very much bigger business
than winning a woman at least it is in one particular woman's eyes and I've
learnt somewhere in mathematics something about the greater sometimes including
the less. And now, don't you think we had better be going down into the house?
It's getting quite late."


III

It was about two months later, when Professor Lennox had verified and
reverified every figure in his calculations, and made a good many more besides,
that he at last sent the news of his discovery to the principal observatories
of the world, coupled with the request that his own figures should be checked
and any possible errors pointed out.

The results of this ominous communication were instantaneous and terrific.
With one accord every powerful telescope in the world was turned upon that
portion of the distant fields of space out of which the strange and terrible
visitant was rushing at a speed of thousands of miles an hour to that awful
trysting-place where it and the planet Terra were to mingle in fiery union.
Every astronomer, from California to Greenwich, and from Pike's Peak to
Melbourne, set himself to work out the orbit and period of the comet, and a few
days later the awful news flashed over the wires of the world, "Lennox figures
absolutely correct. Collision with Crellin Comet apparently inevitable.
Consequences incalculable." This was the intelligence which the civilized
nations of the earth found in their newspapers on the morning of the first of
September. It was followed by digests of the calculations, and these again with
speculations of various sorts, some solemn and deliberate, others wild beyond
the dreams of phantasy. Those who had for more than a generation made handsome
incomes by prophesying the end of the world to occur at about an average of
every seven years, gambled with absolute certainty on the shortness of the
public memory, revised their figures, and proved to demonstration that this was
the very thing they had been foretelling all along.

First there came blank incredulity; then a sort of stupor, which meant that
the popular mind was veering round; then panic, wild, universal, and
uncontrollable. The earth had only another twelvemonth or so to live ! The
whole human race was doomed to death by fire ! What did it matter what anybody
did what could anybody do, in fact?

So the planet was in distinct danger of becoming one colossal lunatic asylum,
when one morning it was the fifteenth of September the Daily Mail came out with
a double-barrelled interview with Professor Lennox, who was now by far the most
famous man in the world, and Mr. Emerson G. Crellin, proprietor of the great
Crellin Eeflector, and godfather, as it were, of the approaching destroyer.

It was far and away the most interesting communication that had ever appeared
in a newspaper, for it informed the world that the discoverer of the worst
peril which had ever threatened the human race, and the man whose wealth and
devotion to science had made the discovery possible, had all this time been
quietly laying their heads together and elaborating a scheme which, as they
both confidently asserted, offered the only hope of saving humanity from the
impending peril, and would most probably achieve that object.

The idea was simply stupendous, and it lost none of its magnificence by the
modesty with which the Professor described it to the interviewer.

"There is nothing new about the idea/' he said, "except its application to the
present circumstances. Of course you have read Jules Verne's ' Journey to the
Moon '? Well, my plan is simply to do the same thing on a much bigger scale,
only instead of firing men and dogs and chickens out of my cannon, I am going
to fire something like a ton and a half of explosives. The danger is in the
contact of the nucleus of the comet with the earth's atmosphere. If that can be
prevented, there is no further cause for alarm, so, to put the matter quite
shortly, my projectile will have an initial velocity of ten miles a second, and
therefore a range that is practically infinite, for that velocity would, if
necessary, carry it beyond the sphere of the earth's attraction.

"Hence, if the gun is properly trained and fired at precisely the right
moment, and if the fuse does its work, the projectile will pass into the
nucleus of the comet, and before the heat has time to melt the shell, the
charge will explode and the nucleus the only dangerous part will either be
blown to fragments or dissipated in gas. Therefore, instead of what I might be
allowed to call a premature Day of Judgment, we shall simply have a magnificent
display of celestial fireworks, which will probably amount to nothing more than
an unparalleled shower of shooting stars, as they are popularly called. The
details of the experiment will be practically the same as those which Jules
Verne describes I mean as regards the making and firing of the cannon only, as
we haven't time to get a big-enough hole dug, we have bought a colliery in
Durham which has a perpendicular shaft nearly a mile deep, and which' is
happily exactly in the right latitude and longitude. Everything is arranged,
and we shall begin work at once."

Even the Daily Mail interviewer was for a few moments paralyzed by the quiet
and yet stupendous audacity of the scheme; and when he had got his breath back,
he turned to Mr. Crellin and said because just then he could think of nothing
else to say

"And your share in this wonderful work, sir, I presume—"

"Just finding the dollars, sir; that's all," replied the old gentleman
soberly. "If we can put the business through, they couldn't be better used; and
if we can't, I reckon they won't be much use to me or any one else. Other
people can come in, if they like; but, if not, I figure that I can foot the
bill myself. It'll be worth the dollars, anyhow, if it's only to show what New-
World enterprise combined with Old-World brains can do in the way of bringing
off a real big thing. I guess we'll give the planet Terra a new satellite, even
if we don't stop the comet; and if we all have to go to glory through a
transformation scene of blue blazes, I for one shall go with the comforting
knowledge that I've done something to enrich the Solar System. You see, we
can't lose much, if the Professor's figures are right, and we do stand in to
win something like eternal glory and that's good enough for me."

The sale of the Daily Mail that morning ran far above its own best records,
and by noon the news was all over the world, which promptly went mad again, but
after a different and more cheerful fashion. Every existing copy of the
"Journey to the Moon" was bought up within an hour; Camille Flammarion's
wonderful story, "The End of the World," had already been translated into every
civilized language, and was selling by millions; while Mr. H.G. Wells's even
more extraordinary "War of the Worlds," although it had no actual bearing on
the great subject, was bought up in colossal editions with almost equal avidity.

The moment that the Professor's project was made public, money began to flow
in from all parts of the world. The iron and steel industries of the north of
England were practically bought up for the time being; whole armies of workmen
toiled night and day in relays at the preliminary work of making the great
cannon. America, not to be behind in the good work of saving the world from its
approaching peril, set to work to build an even bigger weapon with which to
bombard the still invisible assailant of the earth.

International jealousies and hatreds vanished all the world over; mankind
became united in the confronting of the common and the universal menace, and
nothing that hands or brains could do to make the great experiment a triumphant
success was left undone.

At length, on the first of July, the long and feverishly-awaited word went
forth. If the sky on the night of the fourth was clear of clouds, the Crellin
Comet, as it was now universally called, would become visible to the naked eye
at forty-six minutes and thirty-eight seconds past ten that is to say,
precisely four weeks before the moment at which its nucleus would come into
collision with the earth, provided always that the Professor's projectile
failed to do its work.

Of course, it had been for some months within range of the tens of thousands
of telescopes which had been directed towards it. Photographs of it had been
published broadcast over the world, and practically every civilized, and a
great many uncivilized, human beings were familiar with its appearance, but
this did not diminish the universal interest in the announcement.

While it could only be seen through telescopes or in photographs, there was
still a sort of air of unreality about it. It might be coming, but it was still
very far away. None but savages now doubted that it was really coming; but
civilized humanity as a mass wanted something more than this, and this was
supplied on that momentous night when, as the world rolled round, bringing each
meridian of longitude within view of that one spot in the skies, millions after
millions of eyes were turned upwards and saw the stars shining through a pale,
yellow, luminous mist spread out in two vast wings, between which there was a
speck of deeper and yellower light.

It was very far away still, but there it was. There could be no doubt now,
even in the minds of the most ignorant. Months and months before, the
astronomers had prophesied its appearance, and there it was! Henceforth there
were but three points of interest for the human race one, by night, was the
comet; the others, by day, were the Hetton Colliery in Durham and the Pittsburg
Works.

So the last few remaining days and nights passed. Every night the threatening
shape in the heavens grew clearer and bigger and brighter, and every day the
newspapers published the most minute details of the progress of the mighty
weapons upon which the hopes of humanity, so far as this world was concerned,
now rested.

Soon the nucleus of the comet became visible in broad daylight; then the two
wings came into view morning and evening, making it look like some colossal
bird of prey swooping down from its eerie, somewhere in the heights of space,
upon the trembling and terrified world. The professional prophets naturally
said, with the assurance of absolute conviction, that it was nothing less awful
than the Destroying Angel in proprid persond.

At length, when excitement had passed into frenzy, and frenzy into an almost
universal delirium, two cablegrams crossed each other under the Atlantic. One
was to say that the Pittsburg gun was ready; the other, that the loading of the
Lennox gun would commence the following morning. This was just a week before
the fatal night; and when the sun set on the evening of the fourth of August,
and when many millions had looked upon it, as they thought, for the last time,
the Professor set all the wires of the world thrilling with the news that the
operation of loading had been carried out with complete success; that the huge
projectile with its thirty hundred-weight of Lyddite was resting quietly in its
place in the potential volcano, which at the touch of a woman's hand was to
hurl it through space and into the heart of the swiftly advancing enemy of
humanity.

At forty-six minutes past ten exactly the cannon would be fired. Ten seconds
later the projectile would strike the nucleus of the comet at a point just one
hundred miles above the muzzle of the gun, and the eleventh second would see
the fate of the world decided. The mouth of the pit-shaft, which was now the
case, as it were, of the colossal weapon which was about to do battle for
humanity, lay almost in the middle of a wide oval valley surrounded by ranges
of hills. No living thing was permitted to come within five miles of the huge
ring of metal out of which that terrific charge was soon to be vomited.

Two electric wires led from the ring over separate rows of poles to the top of
a hill five miles away, and ended in two instruments standing side by side on a
table. On the same table there were also two chronometers beating time together
to the thousandth part of a second.

On all the hills and scattered over the country for miles around was the
greatest concourse of human beings that had ever been gathered together on one
portion of the earth's surface.

It was numbered by millions, and included nearly every nationality under the
sun; and, as the supreme moment drew near, every voice was hushed; and as every
eye turned upwards to where the shape of the comet, now vast, menacing, and
awful, overspanned the sky, every heart seemed to beat in unison, as though
counting off what might be the last seconds of human life on earth.

Grouped about the table on which stood the two instruments was gathered a
concourse of people amongst whom were nearly all the greatest and most
celebrated men and women in the world. But rank and honours were already things
of the past. In the presence of that appalling menace which flamed across the
heavens, all men and women were equal, since within the next few seconds all
might be reduced at the same instant to the same dust and ashes.

The ghastly orange-green glare which had now completely obliterated the
moonlight shone down alike on the upturned face of monarch and peasant, the
good and the bad, the noble and the base, and tinged them all with its own
sickly and hideous hue.

There was only one distinction left among all the hosts of men; only one man
stood higher than any one else, and this was he upon whom the hopes of the
peoples rested.

He stood on one side of the table facing one of the instruments, and opposite
to him at the other stood the woman to whom he had first confided the terrible
secret of the world's approaching end.

He had honestly kept the unspoken pact that had been made thirteen months
before in the observatory on Leith Hill. Neither word nor look of love had, to
her knowledge, passed his lips or lighted his eyes, and even now as he stood
opposite to her, scanning her upturned face by that awful light, his eyes were
as steady and impassive as they had ever been at the eye-pieces of his
instruments.

Auriole had a forefinger already resting on a little white button ready to
send the kindling spark into the mighty mass of explosives which lay buried
nearly a mile down at the bottom of the giant tube.

Lennox, too, had his finger on the button in front of him, but his left hand
was in his coat pocket, and his left forefinger was on the trigger of a loaded
and cocked revolver.

Auriole knew nothing of this. She only remembered that a few minutes before it
seemed like several weeks ago already he had promised that, if the worst
happened, she at least should be spared the universal agony.

Lord and Lady Westerham were standing close by the table, and his lordship
also had a revolver in his pocket.

The chronometers ticked off the seconds, each one seeming more like eternity
than the one before it. The comet grew bigger and bigger, and its flaming
nucleus blazed out brighter and brighter. A vague, low, wailing sound seemed to
be running round the circle of the hills. It was the first utterance of the
unendurable agony of the multitudes.

At last Lennox looked up from his chronometer at Auriole, and said in a quiet,
dry voice

"Ten seconds!"

Then he began to count: "Nine eight seven six five four three two now!"

Their two fingers went down at the same instant and completed the circuits.
The next, the central fires of the earth seemed to burst loose. Such a roar as
had never deafened human ears before shook earth and air with a concussion that
seemed like the loosening of the foundations of the world, and a mighty column
of pale flame sprang up to the zenith over which the nucleus of the comet was
now exactly impending.

Then came ten more seconds of mute and agonized suspense; and then, such a
sight as no other human eyes will ever see, saving only those which, in the
fulness of time, may look upon the awful pageantry of the Last Day.

High up in the air there was a shrill, screaming sound following the roar of
the great gun. Something like a white flash of light streamed upwards straight
at the heart of the descending destroyer.

Then the whole heavens were illumined by a blinding glare of unearthly light.
The nucleus of the comet seemed to fling out long rays of many-coloured light,
and then, like some vast globe of electric fluid, it burst into myriads of
atoms.

The watching millions on earth instinctively clasped their hands to their
ears, expecting such a sound as would deafen them for ever; but none came, for
the explosion had taken place beyond the limits of the earth's atmosphere. The
whole sky was now filled from zenith to horizon with a pale, golden, luminous
mist, and through this the moon and stars began to shine dimly.

Then a blast of burning air swept shrieking and howling across the earth, for
now the planet Terra was rushing at her headlong speed of nearly seventy
thousand miles an hour through the ocean of fire-mist into which the shattered
comet had been dissolved. Then this passed; the cool wind of night followed it,
and the moon and stars shone down once more undimmed through the pure and
cloudless ether.

So far there had been silence; but now there rose from earth to heaven such a
burst of triumphant thanksgiving as had never welled up from human hearts
through human lips before.

A north-country miner with a mighty baritone voice had somewhere started the
Old Hundredth Psalm, and away it went, rolling through the now still night over
hill and vale, echoing from village to village, and from town to town, until
the whole United Kingdom was with one voice giving thanks for the Great
Deliverance.

But the man who, under Providence, had wrought it, heard nothing of this. He
only felt a soft, trembling clasp closing round his right hand, and he only
heard Auricle's voice whispering a single word and that word was his own name.

The next moment a stronger grip pulled his left hand out of his coat pocket
bringing the revolver with it and the somewhat hard, practical voice of Emerson
G. Crellin, for the first and only time shaken by emotion in public, said

"We may thank God and you, Professor, that there is still a world here with
living men and women on it and there's one woman who's going to live henceforth
for you and no one else. She told me all about it last night. You've won her
fair and square, and you're going to have her. I did have other views for her;
but I've changed my mind and, anyhow, you're the biggest man on earth just now."

Before daybreak the next morning there was put into the Professor's hand a
cablegram from Pittsburg, worded as follows:

"Lennox, England.

"Well aimed! As you left no pieces for us to shoot at, we have sent our
projectile to take its chance in space. No use for it here. Hope it will hit
and stop next comet of same sort coming this way. America thanks you. Any terms
you like for lectures."

Arthur Lennox so far accepted the invitation as to spend his honeymoon in a
triumphal progress through the States and Canada; but not even the Crellin
Reflector has been able to discover anything of the whereabouts of the famous
Pittsburg Projectile. Probably it is still speeding on its lonely way through
the silent fields of space for it left the earth endowed with the enormous
initial velocity of fifteen miles a second and it is within the limits of
possibility that, at some happy moment in the future, and somewhere far away
beyond the ken of human vision, its gigantic charge of explosives may do for
some other threatened world what the Lennox Projectile did for this one when it
shattered the nucleus of the now happily vanished Crellin Comet.


3. A CORNER IN LIGHTNING

First published in Pearson's Magazine, March 1898
I

They had been dining for once in a way tête-à-tête, and she—that is to say,
Mrs. Sidney Calvert, a bride of eighteen months' standing—was half lying, half
sitting in the depths of a big, cosy, saddle-bag armchair on one side of a
bright fire of mixed wood and coal that was burning in one of the most improved
imitations of the mediaeval fireplace. Her feet—very pretty little feet they
were, too, and very daintily shod—were crossed, and poised on the heel of the
right one at the corner of the black marble curb.

Dinner was over. The coffee service and the liqueur case were on the table,
and Mr. Sidney Calvert, a well set-up young fellow of about thirty, with a
handsome, good-humoured face which a close observer would have found curiously
marred by a chilly glitter in the eyes and a hardness that was something more
than firmness about the mouth, was walking up and down on the opposite side of
the table smoking a cigarette.

Mrs. Calvert had just emptied her coffee cup, and as she put it down on a
little three-legged console table by her side, she looked round at her husband
and said:

"Really, Sid, I must say that I can't see why you should do it. Of course it's
a very splendid scheme and all that sort of thing, but, surely you, one of the
richest men in London, are rich enough to do without it. I'm sure it's wrong,
too. What should we think if somebody managed to bottle up the atmosphere and
made us pay for every breath we drew? Besides, there must surely be a good deal
of risk in deliberately disturbing the economy of Nature in such a way. How are
you going to get to the Pole, too, to put up your works?"

"Well," he said, stopping for a moment in his walk and looking thoughtfully at
the lighted end of his cigarette, "in the first place, as to the geography, I
must remind you that the Magnetic Pole is not the North Pole. It is in Boothia
Land, British North America, some 1500 miles south of the North Pole. Then, as
to the risk, of course one can't do big things like this without taking a
certain amount of it; but still, I think it will be mostly other people that
will have to take it in this case.

"Their risk, you see, will come in when they find that cables and telephones
and telegraphs won't work, and that no amount of steam-engine grinding can get
up a respectable amount of electric light—when in short, all the electric plant
of the world loses its value, and can't be set going without buying supplies
from the Magnetic Polar Storage Company, or, in other words, from your humble
servant and the few friends that he will be graciously pleased to let in on the
ground floor. But that is a risk that they can easily overcome by just paying
for it. Besides, there's no reason why we shouldn't improve the quality of the
commodity. 'Our Extra Special Refined Lightning!' 'Our Triple Concentrated
Essence of Electric Fluid' and 'Competent Thunder- Storms delivered at the
Shortest Notice' would look very nice in advertisements, wouldn't they?"

"Don't you think that's rather a frivolous way of talking about a scheme which
might end in ruining one of the most important industries in the world?" she
said, laughing in spite of herself at the idea of delivering thunder-storms
like pounds of butter or skeins of Berlin wool.

"Well, I'm afraid I can't argue that point with you because, you see, you will
keep looking at me while you talk, and that isn't fair. Anyhow I'm equally sure
that it would be quite impossible to run any business and make money out of it
on the lines of the Sermon on the Mount. But, come, here's a convenient
digression for both of us. That's the Professor, I expect."

"Shall I go?" she said, taking her feet off the fender.

"Certainly not, unless you wish to," he said; "or unless you think the
scientific details are going to bore you."

"Oh, no, they won't do that," she said. "The Professor has such a perfectly
charming way of putting them; and, besides, I want to know all that I can about
it."

"Professor Kenyon, sir."

"Ah, good evening, Professor! So sorry you could not come to dinner." They
both said this almost simultaneously as the man of science walked in.

"My wife and I were just discussing the ethics of this storage scheme when you
came in," he went on. "Have you anything fresh to tell us about the practical
aspects of it? I'm afraid she doesn't altogether approve of it, but as she is
very anxious to hear all about it, I thought you wouldn't mind her making one
of the audience."

"On the contrary, I shall be delighted," replied the Professor; "the more so
as it will give me a sympathiser."

"I'm very glad to hear it," said Mrs. Calvert approvingly. "I think it will be
a very wicked scheme if it succeeds, and a very foolish and expensive one if it
fails."

"After which there is of course nothing mare to be said," laughed her husband,
"except for the Professor to give his dispassionate opinion."

"Oh, it shall be dispassionate, I can assure you," he replied, noticing a
little emphasis on the word. "The ethics of the matter are no business of mine,
nor have I anything to do with its commercial bearings. You have asked me
merely to look at technical possibilities and scientific probabilities, and of
course I don't propose to go beyond these."

He took another sip at a cup of coffee that Mrs. Calvert had handed him, and
went on:

"I've had a long talk with Markovitch this afternoon, and I must confess that
I never met a more ingenious man or one who knew as much about magnetism and
electricity as he does. His theory that they are the celestial and terrestrial
manifestations of the same force, and that what is popularly called electric
fluid is developed only at the stage where they become one, is itself quite a
stroke of genius, or, at least, it will be if the theory stands the test of
experience. His idea of locating the storage works over the Magnetic Pole of
the earth is another, and I am bound to confess that, after a very careful
examination of his plans and designs, I am distinctly of opinion that, subject
to one or two reservations, he will be able to do what he contemplates."

"And the reservations what are they?" asked Culvert a trifle eagerly.

"The first is one that it is absolutely necessary to make with regard to all
untried schemes, and especially to such a gigantic one as this. Nature, you
know, has a way of playing most unexpected pranks with people who take
liberties with her. Just at the last moment, when you are on the verge of
success, something that you confidently expect to happen doesn't happen, and
there you are left in the lurch. It is utterly impossible to foresee anything
of this kind, but you must clearly understand that if such a thing did happen
it would ruin the enterprise just when you have spent the greatest part of the
money on it—that is to say, at the end and not at the beginning."

"All right," said Calvert, "we'll take that risk. Now, what's the other
reservation?"

"I was going to say something about the immense cost, but that I presume you
are prepared for."

Calvert nodded, and he went on:

"Well, that point being disposed of, it remains to be said that it may be very
dangerous—I mean to those who live on the spot, and will be actually engaged in
the work."

"Then, I hope you won't think of going near the place, Sid!" interrupted Mrs.
Calvert, with a very pretty assumption of wifely authority.

"We'll see about that later, little woman. It's early days yet to get
frightened about possibilities. Well, Professor, what was it you were going to
say? Any more warnings?"

The Professor's manner stiffened a little as he replied:

"Yes, it is a warning, Mr. Calvert. The fact is I feel bound to tell you that
you propose to interfere very seriously with the distribution of one of the
subtlest and least-known forces of Nature, and that the consequences of such an
interference might be most disastrous, not only for those engaged in the work,
but even the whole hemisphere, and possibly the whole planet.

"On the other hand, I think it is only fair to say that nothing more than a
temporary disturbance may take place. You may, for instance, give us a series
of very violent thunderstorms, with very heavy rains; or you may abolish
thunderstorms and rain altogether until you get to work. Both prospects are
within the bounds of possibility, and, at the same time, neither may come to
anything."

"Well, I think that quite good enough to gamble on, Professor," said Calvert,
who was thoroughly fascinated by the grandeur and magnitude, to say nothing of
the dazzling financial aspects of the scheme. "I am very much obliged to you
for putting it so clearly and nicely. Unless something very unexpected happens,
we shall get to work on it at once. Just fancy what a glorious thing it will be
to play Jove to the nations of the earth, and dole out lightning to them at so
much a flash!"

"Well, I don't want to be ill-natured," said Mrs. Calvert, "but I must say
that I hope the unexpected will happen. I think the whole thing is very wrong
to begin with, and I shouldn't be at all surprised if you blew us all up, or
struck us all dead with lightning, or even brought on the Day of judgment
before its time. I think I shall go to Australia while you're doing it."


II

A little more than a year had passed since this after-dinner conversation in
the dining-room of Mr. Sidney Calvert's London house. During that time the
preparations for the great experiment had been swiftly but secretly carried
out. Ship after ship loaded with machinery, fuel, and provisions, and carrying
labourers and artificers to the number of some hundreds, had sailed away into
the Atlantic, and had come back in ballast and with bare working crews on board
of them. Mr. Calvert himself had disappeared and reappeared two or three times,
and on his return he had neither admitted nor denied any of the various rumours
which gradually got into circulation in the City and in the Press.

Some said that it was an expedition to the Pole, and that the machinery
consisted partly of improved ice-breakers and newly-invented steam sledges,
which were to attack the ice-hummocks after the fashion of battering rams, and
so gradually smooth a road to the Pole. To these little details others added
flying machines and navigable balloons. Others again declared that the object
was to plough out the North-West passage and keep a waterway clear from
Hudson's Bay to the Pacific all the year round, and yet others, somewhat less
imaginative, pinned their faith to the founding of a great astronomical and
meteorological observatory at the nearest possible point to the Pole, one of
the objects of which was to be the determination of the true nature of the
Aurora Borealis and the Zodiacal Light.

It was this last hypothesis that Mr. Calvert favoured as far as he could be
said to favour any. There was a vagueness, and, at the same time, a distinction
about a great scientific expedition which made it possible for him to give a
sort of qualified countenance to the rumours without committing himself to
anything, but so well had all his precautions been taken that not even a
suspicion of the true object of the expedition to Boothia Land had got outside
the little circle of those who were in his confidence.

So far everything had gone as Orloff Markovitch, the Russian Pole to whose
extraordinary genius the inception and working out of the gigantic project were
due, had expected and predicted. He himself was in supreme control of the
unique and costly works which had grown up under his constant supervision on
that lonely and desolate spot in the far North where the magnetic needle points
straight down to the centre of the planet.

Professor Kenyon had paid a couple of visits with Calvert, once at the
beginning of the work and once when it was nearing completion. So far not the
slightest hitch or accident had occurred, and nothing abnormal had been noticed
in connection with the earth's electrical phenomena save unusually frequent
appearances of the Aurora Borealis, and a singular decrease in the deviation of
the mariner's compass. Nevertheless, the Professor had firmly but politely
refused to remain until the gigantic apparatus was set to work, and Calvert,
too, had, with extreme reluctance, yielded to his wife's intreaties, and had
come back to England about a month before the initial experiment was to be
begun.

The twentieth of March, which was the day fixed for the commencement of
operations, came and went, to Mrs. Calvert's intense relief, without anything
out of the common happening. Though she knew that over a hundred thousand
pounds of her husband's money had been sunk, she found it impossible not to
feel a thrill of satisfaction in the hope that Markovitch had made his
experiment and failed.

She knew that the great Calvert Company, which was practically himself, could
very well afford it, and she would not have regretted the loss of three times
the sum in exchange for the knowledge that Nature was to be allowed to dispose
of her electrical forces as seemed good to her. As for her husband, he went
about his business as usual, only displaying slight signs of suppressed
excitement and anticipation now and then, as the weeks went by and nothing
happened.

She had not carried out her threat of going to Australia. She had, however,
escaped from the rigours of the English spring to a villa near Nice, where she
was awaiting the arrival of her second baby, an event which she had found very
useful in persuading her husband to stop away from the Magnetic Pole. Calvert
himself was so busy with what might be called the home details of the scheme
that lie had to spend the greater part of his time in London, and could only
run over to Nice now and then.

It so happened that Miss Calvert put in an appearance a few days before she
was expected, and therefore while her father was still in London. Her mother
very naturally sent her maid with a telegram to inform him of the fact and ask
him to come over at once. In about half-an-hour the maid came back with the
form in her hand bringing a message from the telegraph office that, in
consequence of some extraordinary accident, the wires had almost ceased to work
properly and that no messages could be got through distinctly.

In the rapture of her new motherhood Kate Calvert had forgotten all about the
great Storage Scheme, so she sent the maid back again with the request that the
message should be sent off as soon as possible. Two hours later she sent again
to ask if it had gone, and the reply came back that the wires had ceased
working altogether and that no electrical communication by telegraph or
telephone was for the present possible.

Then a terrible fear came to her. The experiment had been a success after all,
and Markovitch's mysterious engines bad been all this time imperceptibly
draining the earth of its electric fluid and storing it up in the vast
accumulators which would only yield it back again at the bidding of the Trust
which was controlled by her husband! Still she was a sensible little woman, and
after the first shock she managed, for her baby's sake, to put the fear out of
her mind, at any rate until her husband came. He would be with her in a day or
two, and, perhaps, after all, it was only some strange but perfectly natural
occurrence which Nature herself would set right in a few hours.

When it got dusk that night, and the electric lights were turned on, it was
noticed that they gave an unusually dim and wavering light. The engines were
worked to their highest power, and the lines were carefully examined. Nothing
could be found wrong with them, but the lights refused to behave as usual, and
the most extraordinary feature of the phenomenon was that exactly the same
thing was happening in all the electrically lighted cities and towns in the
northern hemisphere. By midnight, too, telegraphic and telephonic communication
north of the Equator had practically ceased, and the electricians of Europe and
America were at their wits' ends to discover any reason for this unheard of
disaster, for such in sober truth it would be unless the apparently suspended
force quickly resumed action on its own account. The next morning it was found
that, so far as all the marvels of electrical science were concerned, the world
had gone back a hundred years.

Then people began to awake to the magnitude of the catastrophe that had
befallen the world. Civilised mankind had been suddenly deprived of the
services of an obedient slave which it had come to look upon as indispensable.

But there was something even more serious than this to come. Observers in
various parts of the hemisphere remembered than there hadn't been a thunder-
storm anywhere for some weeks. Even the regions most frequently visited by them
had had none. A most remarkable drought had also set in almost universally. A
strange sickness, beginning with physical lassitude and depression of spirits
which confounded the best medical science of the world was manifesting itself
far and wide, and rapidly assuming the proportions of a gigantic epidemic.

In the physical world, too, metals were found to be afflicted with the same
incomprehensible disease. Machinery of all sorts got "sick," to use a technical
expression, and absolutely refused to act, and forges and foundries everywhere
came to a standstill for the simple reason that metals seemed to have lost
their best properties, and could no longer be utilised as they had been.
Railway accidents and breakdowns on steamers, too, became matters of every day
occurrence, for metals and driving wheels, piston rods and propeller shafts,
had acquired an incomprehensible brittleness which only began to be understood
when it was discovered that the electrical properties which iron and steel had
formerly possessed had almost entirely disappeared.

So far Calvert had not wavered in his determination to make, as he thought, a
colossal amount of money by his usurpation of one of the functions of Nature.
To him the calamities which, it must be confessed, he had deliberately brought
upon the world were only so many arguments for the ultimate success of the
stupendous scheme. They were proof positive to the world, or at least they very
soon would be, that the Calvert Storage Trust really did control the
electricity of the Northern Hemisphere. From the Southern nothing had yet been
heard beyond the news that the cables had ceased working.

Hence, as soon as he had demonstrated his power to restore matters to their
normal condition, it was obvious that the world would have to pay his price
under penalty of having the supply cut off again.

It was now getting towards the end of May. On the 1st of June, according to
arrangement, Markovitch would stop his engines and permit the vast accumulation
of electric fluid in his storage batteries to flow back into its accustomed
channels. Then the Trust would issue its prospectus, setting forth the terms
upon which it was prepared to permit the nations to enjoy that gift of Nature
whose pricelessness the Trust had proved by demonstrating its own ability to
corner it.

On the evening of May 25th Culvert was sitting in his sumptuous office in
Victoria Street, writing by the light of a dozen wax candles in silver
candelabra. He had just finished a letter to his wife, telling her to keep up
her spirits and fear nothing; that in a few days the experiment would be over
and everything restored to its former condition, shortly after which she would
be the wife of a man who would soon be able to buy up all the other
millionaires in the world.

As he put the letter into the envelope there was a knock at the door, and
Professor Kenyon was announced. Culvert greeted him stiffly and coldly, for he
more than half guessed the errand he had come on. There had been two or three
heated discussions between them of late, and Culvert knew before the Professor
opened his lips that he had come to tell him that he was about to fulfil a
threat that he had made a few days before. And this the Professor did tell him
in a few dry, quiet words.

"It's no use, Professor," he replied, "you know yourself that I am powerless,
as powerless as you are. I have no means of communicating with Markovitch, and
the work cannot be stopped until the appointed time."

"But you were warned, sir!" the Professor interrupted warmly. "You were
warned, and when you saw the effects coining you might have stopped. I wish to
goodness that I had had nothing to do with the infernal business, for infernal
it really is. Who are you that you should usurp one of the functions of the
Almighty, for it is nothing less than that? I have kept your criminal secret
too long, and I will keep it no longer. You have made yourself the enemy of
Society, and Society still has the power to deal with you—'

"My dear Professor, that's all nonsense, and you know it!" said Calvert,
interrupting him with a contemptuous gesture: "If Society were to lock me up,
it should do without electricity till I were free. If it hung one it would get
none, except on Markoviteh's terms, which would be higher than mine. So you can
tell your story whenever you please. Meanwhile you'll excuse me if I remind you
that I am rather busy."

Just as the Professor was about to take his leave the door opened and a boy
brought in an envelope deeply edged with black. Calvert turned white to the
lips and his hand trembled as he took it and opened it. It was in his wife's
handwriting, and was dated five days before, as most of the journey had to be
made on horseback. He read it through with fixed, staring eyes, then he crushed
it into his pocket and strode towards the telephone. He rang the bell
furiously, and then he started back with an oath on his lips, remembering that
he had made it useless. The sound of the bell brought a clerk into the room
immediately.

"Get me a hansom at once!" he almost shouted, and the clerk vanished.

"What is the matter? Where are you going?" asked the Professor.

"Matter? Read that!" he said, thrusting the crumpled letter into his hand. "My
little girl is dead—dead of that accursed sickness which, as you justly say, I
have brought on the world, and my wife is down with it, too, and may be dead by
this time. That letter's five days old. My God, what have I done? What can I
do? I'd give fifty thousand pounds to get a telegram to Markovitch. Curse him
and his infernal scheme! If she dies I'll go to Boothia Land and kill him!
Hullo! What's that? Lightning—by all that's holy —and thunder!"

As he spoke such a flash of lightning as had never split the skies of London
before flared in a huge ragged stream of flame across the zenith, and a roar of
thunder such as London's ears had never heard shook every house in the vast
city to its foundation. Another and another followed in rapid succession, and
all through the night and well into the next day there raged, as it was
afterwards found, almost all over the whole Northern hemisphere, such a
thunderstorm as had never been known in the world before and never would be
again.

With it, too, came hurricanes and cyclones and deluges of rain; and when,
after raging for nearly twenty-four hours, it at length ceased convulsing the
atmosphere and growled itself away into silence, the first fact that came out
of the chaos and desolation that it had left behind it was that the normal
electrical conditions of the world had been restored—after which mankind set
itself to repair the damage done by the cataclysm and went about its business
in the usual way.

The epidemic vanished instantly and Mrs. Calvert did not die. Nearly six
months later a white-haired wreck of a man crawled into her husband's office
and said feebly:

"Don't you know me, Mr. Calvert? I'm Markovitch, or what there is left of him."

"Good heavens, so you are!" said Calvert. "What has happened to you? Sit down
and tell me all about it."

The whole works suddenly burst into white flame. "It is not a long story,"
said Markovitch, sitting down and beginning to speak in a thin, trembling
voice. "It is not long, but it is very bad. Everything went well at first. All
succeeded as I said it would and then, I think it was just four days before we
should have stopped, it happened."

"What happened?"

"I don't know. We must have gone too far, or by some means an accidental
discharge must have taken place. The whole works suddenly burst into white
flame. Everything made of metal melted like tallow. Every man in the works died
instantly, burnt, you know, to a cinder. I was four or five miles away, with
some others, seal shooting. We were all struck down insensible. When I came to
myself I found I was the only one alive. Yes, Mr. Culvert, I am the only man
that has returned from Boothia alive. The works are gone. There are only some
heaps of melted metal lying about on the ice. After that I don't know what
happened. I must have gone mad. It was enough to make a man mad, you know. But
some Indians and Eskimos, who used to trade with us, found me wandering about,
so they told me, starving and out of my mind, and they took me to the coast.
There I got better and then was picked up by a whaler and so I got home. That
is all. It was very awful, wasn't it?"

Then he reeled backward. Then his face fell forward into his trembling hands,
and Culvert saw the tears trickling between his fingers. Then he reeled
backward, and suddenly his body slipped gently out of the chair and on to the
floor. When Culvert tried to pick him up he was dead. And so the secret of the
Great Experiment, so far as the world at large was concerned, never got beyond
the walls of Mr. Sidney Culvert's cosy dining-room after all.


4. A GENIUS FOR A YEAR

First published in Pearson's Magazine, Jun 1896

I

"It's no use, Sturman, I shall never get it finished at least, to my liking
and Sylvia's. It's five years now since I made the first sketch for it, and
there it is, complete in every detail as far as manual skill and technical
knowledge can make it, and yet it's not a picture. There's something wanting
that only genius can give it. The figures are correct, but they're not alive.
There's no sight in their eyes, no movement in their limbs. No; it's not a
picture, and I'm not an artist only a successful illustrator, and that's all
there is to be said about it."

"Except that Carlyle's definition of genius would hardly fit your case; for if
ever mortal man had an infinite capacity for taking pains, you have, March."

"Yes, Sydney would certainly be a genius if Carlyle had been right. I think
the Fates have made a most aggravating division of the talents between us. They
have given him the faculty of recreation and almost perfect skill in execution;
while they have given me the tormenting gift of dreams, and denied me utterly
the power of reproduction. Now, if instead of being brother and sister we could
just be rolled into one, either Sydney would be a great artist, or I should be
well, able to write as well as dream, and then I should live in a heaven of my
own creation."

"In which you would yourself be the brightest angel !"

The words slipped out almost before John Sturman knew that he had spoken them.
His lips had of their own mere motion echoed what he was saying in his soul at
the moment. They brought a just perceptibly deeper colour into Sylvia March's
cheeks, and a faint flush into the deep grey eyes that were looking at his from
under the straight, dark, finely drawn eyebrows. Her brother saved her from the
awkwardness of replying to such a speech from a man she had only lately
refused, albeit in the friendliest fashion, to marry, by saying

"That's not at all badly put for you, Sturman, though it seems to sound a bit
queer from a man who defines poetry as the pearl of literature because it is
the result of disease."

"I'm quite consistent," said Sturman, half smiling and half serious. "What I
ought not to have said just now was the result of disease heart disease."

"Now you've made it worse," said Sylvia, gravely.

"What? The disease? That couldn't be worse."

"Suppose we change the subject or get back to our muttons," said Sylvia,
looking more serious than her words. "Now tell me, have you ever heard a
satisfactory definition of this something that Sydney and I seem to want so
badly, this mysterious gift of the gods that people call genius without knowing
what they are talking about?"

"No, I haven't; and if I did hear one, it would probably be so far above my
head that I should not understand it."

"That's only your vanity, Sturman," said March. "I think I've told you before
that these aggressive assertions of mediocrity savour somewhat strongly of the
pride that apes humility. But, to come to the concrete, I think there's
something very like genius in this new book of Marcus Algar's that I'm
illustrating. That fellow has a great future before him, if his twenty pounds a
thousand words doesn't make him greedy and start him off writing himself out,
as it has done with one or two others one could name."

"Or if he doesn't get the notion that he has a mission, and tries to preach
instead of telling stories," said Sylvia. "By the way, I suppose you haven't
forgotten, Sydney, that the new genius is coming to tea this afternoon to
discuss those last sketches of yours?"

"No, I haven't forgotten. Don't go, Sturman. No, you really mustn't. I
particularly want you to meet Algar. Sylvia, tell him to sit down and behave
himself. Ah! there he is. * Talk of an angel,' etc."

A ring and a well-composed fantasia on the knocker sounded as he spoke, and a
few moments later the door of the studio opened. As Sturman rose, he saw Sydney
go forward with outstretched hand to greet a tall, slightly built, perfectly
dressed young fellow, fair-haired and dark-eyed, with the complexion of a boy
and the face of a woman at least it would have been a woman's face, he thought,
but for a certain strength of brow and chin, and two little perpendicular lines
between the eyebrows, which would not have quite become a woman.

This was Marcus Algar, le succes de Fheure, as they would have called him in
France the writer, unknown the day before yesterday, whose first book was
selling in thousands, despite the fact that it didn't even hint at the Seventh
Commandment, and hadn't a chapter that either the British Matron or the Young
Person could condemn openly with a view to dwelling fondly on it in secret.

The reviewers already called their notices of his work "appreciations," and
were almost falling over each other in their haste not to be last or least loud
in his praise. Far-seeing editors were competing for his unwritten works, and
literary agents were scheming subtly for the honour and profit of standing
between him and them.

In a word, Marcus Algar was the man of the hour, as other men and women had
been of previous hours. The Vagabonds had entertained him, and the Authors had
dined him and John Sturman knew all this; and if he had had all the wealth of
Kimberley, he would have given it cheerfully to stand in his shoes, for he did
not possess that priceless gift of literary expression, that God-given,
unlearnable art, the want of which meant to him the difference between Sylvia's
friendship, which had been his for years, and her love, which, as she had told
him, could be given only to the twin soul for whose advent hers was waiting,
the ideal she had not yet met, unless and as he looked at Marcus Algar and
thought of that wonderful book of his, all the evil spirits that lurk behind
the rose-bushes in the Garden of Love seemed to come out of their hiding-
places and take possession of his soul.

He made his excuses, and got away as soon as he decently could, because he
wasn't the sort of man who could chatter cheerful trivialities when his soul
was full of bitterness, and while the earth's base seemed stubble and the
pillars of the firmament rottenness to him.

He was a strong, straightforward, clean-hearted, clear-headed man, rich, well
read, and well educated, but with no more romance in his being than was
inspired by his almost life-long and now hopeless love for the sister of his
old schoolfellow and friend, Sydney March, this girl with the soft chestnut
hair and big dreamy grey eyes whom he had worshipped as a boy and loved as a
man, in his own plain, honest, manly fashion, only to learn, as he had learned
but a few days before, that that wretched, transcendental soul-theory of
matrimony of hers was to condemn him to stand by and see her give herself to
some one else just because he lacked the one faculty that she placed above all
others.

It was maddening to be so near and yet so far, for, with the confidence born
of their life-long friendship, she had even told him that she liked him so much
"in other ways" that she really would have tried to love him if she could; and
she had said this so innocently and so sweetly that it had hurt him more than
the most scornful refusal could have done, for it did not even leave him the
poor consolation of getting angry either with her or with himself.

If Mephistopheles had come to his side just then, as he was walking home from
March's studio in Edith Villas, West Kensington, to the big house in Bolton
Gardens which he had made so beautiful in the hope that Sylvia would one day
reign over it and offered him that one gift of Marcus Algar's in exchange for
everything else on the usual terms, he would have struck the bargain there and
then, cottte que cottte, for Sylvia's sake; and yet, if he had only known it,
Mephistopheles was a good deal nearer to his elbow just then than he had any
idea of his being.

Altogether, his walk home was anything but a pleasant one, for, do what he
would, he couldn't keep his thoughts from wandering back to March's studio, and
picturing Sylvia and Algar wandering together in that magical Garden of
Komance, which he could only look at over the fast-closed gate that only the
key of Genius can unlock.

But when he got home, there were two letters waiting for him, which speedily
sent the lover into the background, and brought the man of affairs to the
front. One was from Brindisi, and the other from Calcutta, but both had come by
the same mail. The first was from his younger brother Cecil, who had been for
the last three years in the Calcutta branch of the great firm of which John
Sturman was the head, to tell him that he was coming home invalided; and the
second was from a doctor who had attended Cecil.

There were four large pages of foreign note-paper closely covered; and when he
got to the end, he turned back and read it over again, and then he put it down
and sat for nearly half an hour without moving a muscle, staring straight
before him into the fire, and conscious of nothing but a single sentence, which
he could no more get out of his brain than he could have helped hearing it if
Mephistopheles himself had been whispering it into his ear

"Perhaps the most extraordinary property of the drug is the unmistakable power
that it has of altering either the mental or moral character, and sometimes
both, of its victims, and making those under its influence the exact opposite
of what they are in a normal state !"


II

It was a curious and perhaps more than usually merciless irony of Fate that
Mephistopheles should come to John Sturman in the guise of his younger brother;
and yet such was literally the case. The plain facts, as represented in the
doctor's letter, were that Cecil had become a victim to the haschisch habit,
and as soon as he had discovered this he had sent him straight home, knowing,
as he did, that if he was to have a chance of rescue, he must be almost
constantly under the eye of some one for whom he had both affection and respect.

He had himself suggested his elder brother, the only near relation he had
left, as soon as the matter had been put plainly before him, and he had been
told that his one chance of life and sanity depended on his placing himself
unreservedly in the hands of some one who could bring a strong, healthy mind
and an unimpaired will to the task of supervising the gradual diminution of
doses which, as it were, marked the milestones along the only possible road to
a cure.

The doctor's letter had consisted for the most part of precise instructions as
to the course of treatment to be pursued, and if it had not been for that one
fatal sentence which had set John Sturman thinking so hard the afternoon he
read it, all might have been well.

But there it was, and the work that it had begun was rapidly completed by the
inevitable conversations which he had with Cecil on the subject of haschisch
and its works. He kept the drug safely in his own care, measuring out the doses
with scrupulous exactness, and noting with a fatally growing interest their
effects on his patient.

Cecil would come down to breakfast dull and languid and headachy. He would
take his three doses each one ever so little smaller than the previous one at
ten, two, and six. At lunch he would be well and cheerful, and at dinner and
all through the evening brilliant in thought and expression; and then they
would sit over the fire in the library and smoke, and Cecil would tell him of
his visions, and weave stories splendid with all the gorgeous imagery of
Eastern life; and then, when Cecil had gone to bed, he would sit on alone and
think, and, unconsciously to himself, and before an atom of the drug had passed
his lips, the subtle poison worked, and at last the struggle ended, and he
yielded, almost before he knew that it had begun, in deadly earnest.

He had been to tea that afternoon at the studio, and though nothing direct or
positive had been said, he had intuitively felt that Sylvia was fast coming to
the belief that in Marcus Algar she had at last met the twin soul, the
incarnate ideal for which hers had been waiting, and, from a remark or two
dropped, perhaps purposely and with the kindliest intentions, by Sydney, that
the young genius seemed also to have found his own ideal in Sylvia.

Nay, he had even at the last minute put back the publication of his new book,
and, with a few deft and masterly touches, had recreated his heroine in the
living likeness of Sylvia, and in a few days more all the world would be at her
feet, drawn there by the master-hand which had painted this other self of hers
so perfectly that henceforth she would live two lives her own and the greater
and brighter one which Algar's genius had given her.

It was this that had brought his struggle to an end. His rival, as he perforce
regarded him, had drawn the magic circle of his genius round his darling, and
so, in a sense, had already made her his own. What did it matter then to him
what became of the life that was henceforth to be a desert for him?

The enchantment of his hopeless love turned all the strength of nature which
should have saved him against him; and where a weaker man might have resisted
through fear, he took the fatal step, impelled by his own perverted strength.

The night after Cecil had gone to bed, he went to his cabinet and took what
was, for a beginner, a heavy dose of haschisch. Then he locked the door and sat
down in his easy-chair by the fire to await results.

Soon a delightful languor began to steal over his physical senses. He closed
his eyes, and his mind seemed to become detached from his body. A great
unearthly light shone into the darkness of the despair which had been clouding
all his life, and, as the darkness vanished, the chains that had bound his
intellect down to the commonplace were loosed, and it rose at a leap into the
long-forbidden, glowing realms of Eomance.

Then his eyes opened, and he saw a strange vision. One of those dream- stories
of Sylvia's, which she had told to him in her halting, imperfect way, and which
she would almost have given her life to be able to set forth in worthy
language, came to him, brilliant and vivid, instinct with the poetry of the
most exquisite realism. The characters sprang into incarnate being before him
with such life-likeness that he seemed to see and recognize them as though they
had been old acquaintances, as they moved and spoke amidst the scenes that
Sylvia had imagined for them without being able to reproduce them; and all was
so real and vivid and beautiful that it seemed as though he were actually
living in that vision-world which she would have painted if she could.

Why should he not paint it for her, since he saw it so plainly before him?
There was his writing-table by the wall ready for him. In his early clerking
days he had learned shorthand as a convenience, and he had kept it up since as
a hobby, and, however swiftly the glowing sentences might come to him, his
pencil would keep pace with them.

He made an effort to rise from his chair and go to his table, but, before he
reached it, it seemed to him that he was already there. It was curious, but he
put it down to the effects of the drug, and caught himself wondering what was
going to happen next. He saw himself sitting in the chair, and he went and
looked over his own shoulder and saw the pencil already flying over the paper.
Sheet after sheet he read as it was finished and thrown aside, and hour after
hour he stood there reading and wondering what it all meant, until at last it
was finished, and his other self got up and looked at him.

He saw now that his face was ashen grey and deep-scored with the lines drawn
by intense mental effort. Beads of sweat were standing out thickly on his brow,
and his eyes were burning with a fierce light that might have been either
insanity or genius.

Then he saw his lips move into a faint and almost ghastly smile, and heard his
own voice say to him, as though speaking from a distance

"Well, that's a good night's work, and I think it's about time to go to bed
Good-night!"

Then his two beings seemed to fuse together again and become one. He lit his
hand-lamp as usual, turned the gas out, and went to bed, and scarcely was his
head on the pillow than he fell into a deep, heavy, dreamless sleep.

When he woke the next morning, all that remained to him of his experiment in
visions was a slight tightness across his forehead and a dim recollection of
having dreamed a very wonderful dream. That the dream was a reality never
occurred to him for a moment.

He got up half an hour later than usual, feeling a trifle repentant and
perhaps just a little ashamed of himself, but thinking that, after all, he had
got pretty cheaply out of what seemed to him now to be the greatest danger of
his life.

He had breakfast with Cecil, as usual, and then went to the library. He found
the door locked, a circumstance which struck him as being rather strange, and
mechanically put his hand into his pocket for the key. It was there, and he
opened the door and went in. On the threshold he stopped and started slightly,
and then he looked round to see if any one had seen him come into the room.

Then he went in and locked the door again behind him. His writing-table and
the floor beside it were littered with sheets of paper.

He crossed the room and picked one of them up with a hand that was not very
steady, and began to read it. There could be no doubt as to what it was. It was
a fragment of one of Sylvia's dream-stories written by a master- hand. He read
the page through, and then picked up some more at random, and went and sat down
in his armchair by the ashes of last night's fire, and read page after page,
disconnected as they were, and yet most evidently parts of one beautiful whole.

Then he laid them on the floor beside him, and strove to collect his thoughts
so that he might read the riddle, and bit by bit the remembered fragments of
his vision came together and took shape, and then the truth dawned upon him.

What the Calcutta doctor had said about the drug was true. Under its influence
he had been the exact reverse of his normal mental self, and the net result of
his experiment, as far as he could see, had been the division of his being into
two separate entities, one of which was still the sober, practical, commonplace
man of affairs, and the other the dreamer of gorgeous dreams, the genius
dowered with the supreme gift of literary expression in its highest form and
most perfect capacity and yet, for all that, an unreality, a spectre that came
out of the darkness of a drug-induced slumber to work its wondrous spells, and
then vanish back into the shadows.

Only too clearly did he see this, for the more he read of his own work the
more horribly apparent became the truth that, not to save his soul alive, could
he in his natural self put two of those glowing, perfectly worded sentences
together.

He got up and collected the sheets, and put them in order, and then read the
story through from beginning to end. He had learned enough of the art by
reading to see that it was a literary gem, enough even of itself to found a
reputation upon, and this was his work or at least the work of that other self
of his which the potent magic of the drug had called into being!

And if it had done this once, why should it not do it many times? Here was
Sylvia's own story glorified into a splendid reality, and by him! Was not this
a proof that this other self of his was in truth that twin soul which hers had,
by her own confession, been waiting to meet and mate with?

He folded up the sheets and put them into his pocket. At eleven his brougham
came as usual to the door, and he took them to the city and gave them to his
confidential clerk to transcribe on his typewriter. That evening he paid a
visit to the studio, and asked Sylvia to read his first essay in fiction.


III

Not quite a year had passed since John Sturman had made his first experiment
in visions, and during those swiftly passing months he had lived on earth and
in heaven, and not infrequently he had descended into the nethermost hell of
human suffering. He had carried on his business affairs as of second nature,
yet with an ever-lessening interest in them.

That spectre-genius of his had won him fame with all its intoxicating
accompaniments, and he had no cause to envy Marcus Algar now, either in his new
art or his old love, for his own fame was fresher and brighter than his; and
Sylvia, all innocent of its terrible origin, had welcomed the awakening of his
long-dormant genius as a Heaven-sent revelation; and so his latest wooing had
not been in vain.

Sydney's picture, finished at last under his inspiration, was hanging on the
line at Burlington House, the wonder and admiration of the thousands who had
read the marvellous romance which he had woven round it, and for him the whole
earth had been transfigured until one of those inevitable hours came when he
stood alone with his own reproachful and accusing soul on the edge of the deep,
black, unbridgeable gulf at which the flower-strewn path of his love and fame
must some day infallibly end, for that spectral other self of his had to be fed
every day with ever-increasing doses of the poison which ere long must slay
both it and him and then what of Sylvia?

They were to be married in a month, and meanwhile he was finishing the novel
for which all the world was waiting. What was to happen? Would the remnant of
his manhood and self-control compel him to save his darling from himself while
yet there was time, or would he take her hand irrevocably in his, and lead her
for awhile along that enchanted path, knowing as he did what the end of the
brief journey must be ?

What his own answer to the inexorable question might have been there is no
telling, neither is there any need to guess at it, for the Fates themselves
answered it in their own way.

One night he sat down to write the last pages of his book. For awhile the
ideas came bright and thronging as ever, wedding themselves in harmonious union
of sound and sense with the words which flowed so easily from his pen. Then,
just on the threshold of the last scene, his pen stopped. The splendid vision,
whose realization was to have been the crowning glory of his work, grew dim and
blurred and dull as the night-clouds from which the glory of the sunset has
faded away. He stared about him, dazed and wondering, like a man suddenly
awakened from a dream.

Then he turned back and read the pages he had just written, and could not even
recognize his own work. He saw that it was beautiful, but it was utterly
strange to him. Who had written it? And how did it come there on his table with
the ink scarcely dry on the paper ? He had forgotten.

Then his eye fell upon a few little greenish-brown lozenges lying at his
elbow. A swift gleam of remembrance shone through the darkness that was falling
on his mind like a lightning flash through sudden night. Behind him lay the
path of his brief, dear-bought glory, strewn with flowers that now were
withered, and before him the gulf, and beyond that a black infinity.

He gathered up the lozenges and swallowed them all at a gulp. Soon the fast-
fading fires leaped up into a blaze of light, wild, lurid, and dazzling.
Visions of chaotic splendour chased each other in headlong haste through the
death-dance of his expiring senses. He had a dim consciousness of seizing his
pen and driving it over the paper as though he were writing for his very life,
and more. Then, like the falling of a black pall before his eyes, came darkness
darker than night, and he felt himself falling, bound and blinded, into
immeasurable depths, through an eternity compressed into moments, and moments
stretched out into eternities.

* * * * *

When Cecil, now cured and hale and sane, came and found him in the morning, he
was dead. The writing-table was strewn with pages filled with the most piteous
nonsense, and under the hand which still held his pen was the last page of all,
half covered with an unintelligible scrawl, and ending in a long, wavering
line, which was the most eloquent of all the lines his pen had ever traced.


5. THE PLAGUE-SHIP "TUPISA"

First published in Pearson's Magazine (US), Jul 1899

The ride from Magdalena to San Pablo is one of the most wearisome on the
journey from Pacasmayo, the coast town, into the Interior, as it is always
called in Peru, that is to say, the eastern slopes of the Andes, where the
fertile Montana region stretches away in range after range of magnificently
wooded mountains, until the mountains become hills, and the hills melt softly
away in the boundless plains of the Amazon.

First, a slow, toilsome ascent of three or four thousand feet; then an even
more toilsome descent into the next valley, out of which the next ridge towered
up, cutting a clear edge against the sky. At last, however, San Pablo hove in
sight a cluster of white houses in the middle of a green patch far away across
an enormous valley three parts up the side of a great ridge about eleven
thousand feet high, the last that had to be crossed before the giants of the
Andes proper came in sight.

It looked a lovely spot from the distance, but when four hours' more riding
brought me to it, I found it just as forlorn and shabby and smelly as all the
interior towns of Peru are. It was just about the last place on earth in which
I should have expected to stumble across as tragic a sea-yarn as I have heard
in the course of somewhat extensive wanderings; and if my man Patricio had not
had what he called una familia, by which he meant relations, there, I should
have gone by another and less difficult route, and the story which is set out
hereafter might never have been retold in English. I carried a recommendation,
or letter of introduction, to the cura, or parish priest, of San Pablo, which
Patricio had secured for me from the governor of the town we had slept at the
night but one before, Magdalena. This cost me an advance of two dollars, which
went to entertain the familia, and Patricio did it in such style that the next
day he was quite unfit to travel. So, too, as it happened, was my mule, which
was suffering from a gall consequent on the constant shifting of the saddle in
the ascents and descents. And that is how I came to spend the day with the cura.

Now, the cura of a pueblo, or township, in the interior of Peru is not, as a
rule, the sort of person I should choose for a host. He is usually dirty,
dissipated, and degraded little better, indeed, than his Indian flock, a goodly
proportion of whose blood often flows in his veins. But this man was a
gentleman, evidently a descendant of one of the old Spanish families which
lorded it in Peru in the days of the Viceroys. He was of fair height and good
carriage, with a grave, strong face, and, although he did not strike me as
being much past middle age, his tonsure was perfectly white. His house was only
a four-roomed cottage, built of mud and thatched with maize straw, but it was
newly white-washed, and it was very clean; in fact, it was the only really
clean house that I entered during my fourteen days 7 journey. It stood a little
way from the village in a pretty, neatly kept garden, and on one side of it
there was a piazza commanding a view of simply indescribable grandeur.

By the second evening we had become quite good friends, and he allowed me,
after many gentle protestation's, to add a bottle of Moquegua, the Burgundy of
Peru, to our modest supper. As we sat out on the piazza afterwards, finishing
this and smoking our ever-succeeding little brown cigarettes in the delicious
coolness of the early evening, we somehow got back into a previous conversation
on the Chilian war, which, by the way, seemed to be the last of the world's
events that my host had any clear knowledge of.

"The Chilenos were guilty of some terrible cruelties during that war, I have
been told," I said, after a little pause.

The remark was really a sort of feeler, for I knew that there were many dark
stories told about that bitter struggle, and perhaps this sad-faced, white-
haired exile might know some. It was just the time and place, too, for a story,
for the moon was getting up and making the mountains look dim and ghostly, and
the fireflies were flashing in the shadows under the edges.

"Yes, seiior. That is true; but war is war, you know, and Spanish blood is
hot. It is fire when it is pure, but it is molten lava when it is mixed with
the Indian. Yes, truly there were many horrible things done. I was down yonder
then," he went on, motioning with his hand toward the faraway coast across the
dim ridges below.

"And therefore, perhaps, you saw some of them?" I said insinuatingly, as I
refilled his glass. "You know, Señor Padre, I am a story-teller by trade, and

"And therefore," he said, with one of his grave, gentle smiles, "when you meet
any one on your travels who knows any stories, you like to hear them, eh? Well,
yes, that is good. You know, we Spaniards are great story-tellers, and we would
rather hear stories than read them. Yes, as I told you, I was down yonder in
the war time, and I saw some things and heard of others things that you could
write much about if you knew them. Let me think, now."

He looked out over the mountains, and up at the big bright stars which seemed
to hang in clusters down from the firmament, as they always do at considerable
altitudes in very clear air. I thought I saw his face harden in the dim light,
and his placid brow wrinkle into something like a frown. Then he turned to me,
and said rather abruptly

"Señor, have you ever heard the story of the plague-ship that came from Panama?"

I had heard some vague rumours of the sinking of a plague-stricken steamer off
the coast when I was down in Lima, but either no one that I met knew much about
it, or no one cared to talk of it, so I said, without any attempt to conceal
the curiosity he had aroused

"I have heard such a thing mentioned once or twice at some of the ports, but I
have never heard the story, if, as you say, there is one."

"Yes," he said, "there is; and, as you have nothing else to do just now but
listen, I will tell it to you, if you please; and when you go back to England
you can write it, and it will show the English people that even in poor,
ruined, despised Peru there are born men who know their duty, and can do it, no
matter what the cost. Now, this is the story of the plague-ship

"It was nearly the end of the war, and the Chilian fleet had captured or
destroyed nearly all the poor little navy that Peru had, but there was one
vessel which had so far escaped scot free. She was the Huarura, a fast merchant
steamer which had been armed as a cruiser with good guns, both heavy and light,
and, thanks to her speed and good handling, she had done not a little damage to
the Chilian shipping and coast towns. She was commanded by a captain of the
Peruvian navy, Eiccardo Caldera, a man who was then about thirty.

"I must tell you, for the sake of the story, that his father's brother was a
merchant in Valparaiso. His own home was in Lima, and before the war Eiccardo
had often visited his uncle. Now, at his house, about three years before what I
am going to tell you about happened, he had become acquainted with the daughter
of another Chilian merchant, Seiiorita Carmen de Salta. To be short, she was
very beautiful, and the two fell in love. Her parents were well pleased, for
his blood was good and his family rich. Many Peruvians, you know, were still
rich before the war.

"But Dona Carmen was still very young, and they insisted that there should be
no talk of marriage until she had been to Paris to finish her education, as you
know many sons and daughters of our good families here do. To this, of course,
Caldera consented gladly, though the parting was sorrowful. She went, and then
came the war, and Caldera saw the clouds of battle rise up between him and his
hopes of happiness; for war is war between the South American peoples, you
know, and the hatred that it leaves is bitter.

"Well, the war went on, as every one knows, all to poor Peru's disadvantage,
both on land and sea, until Caldera's ship remained the only one that still
flew the Peruvian flag. One day, when she was cruising off the southern coast,
well away from the land, towards which she only approached at night-fall, she
sighted a steamer chasing a sailing-vessel. Caldera put on steam, and ranged up
close to the steamer. The sailing-ship hoisted Peruvian colours as he passed,
and the steamer hoisted Chilian. That was enough for him. He opened fire as
soon as he came within range, and so they fell to.

"The Chilian was a vessel something like his own, a passenger-ship made into a
cruiser, and in the end he sank her; but just as she was going down she fired a
parting shot after the sailing-vessel, which, by an unhappy mischance, tore a
great hole in her stern, and caused her, too, to begin to sink. Almost the last
shot before this had damaged the propeller of the Huarura, but she could still
steam, though slowly, and Caldera at once went to the help of the sailing-ship.

"He found that she was from Islay, and that she had over a hundred fugitives,
mostly women and children, on board, who had fled from Islay when the Chilians
destroyed Mollendo, and were hoping to make their way to Panama. He took these,
with the crew, out of the sinking ship on board the Huarura, and promised to
carry them to Panama himself, since the Chilians held all the coast now, and,
having no orders from the Government, he felt free to do what he thought best
for his countrymen in distress.

"So, as there was no possibility for him to get the damage to his propeller
made good nearer than Panama, he set out northwards at such speed as he could
make with his rescued countrymen on board. This had happened early in the
morning, and towards the middle of that afternoon he sighted the smoke of a
steamer coming southward, keeping far out as he was for fear of the war-
vessels on the coast. He kept on in his course towards her, trusting to his
guns in case she should be an enemy, since he had now no more speed left. When
the strange vessel came within clear view, he saw that she was a small old
passenger-steamer of the Chilian line, which he recognized as one called the
Tupisd. But there was no flag flying on her, nor, as they came closer, was any
attempt made to hoist one.

'He thought this strange, but he saw something stranger still as he came
closer, for then, from the bridge through his glasses, he could see that there
were people fighting on her decks, some forward and some aft, and he saw that
some one in the forward part on the upper deck was trying to hoist a flag, and
others were trying to prevent him; but he could see no signs of guns, and so he
steered close in, and then he saw a man and a young girl with revolvers in
their hands, keeping back a small throng of men, while another man fastened on
the flag and dragged it up.

"As soon as the wind took it, it opened out, for it was not tied up as flags
usually are but that, of course, I need not tell you and when it opened out, he
saw that it was yellow. It was the flag of plague, and as it went up the men
made a rush forward at it, crying horribly, as if to pull it down again, and
the girl and the man fired two or three times each, and drove them back. And
then the other man, when he had pulled up the, flag, ran into the wheelhouse,
and presently dragged out a big blackboard, and held it up on the rail. Caldera
turned his glasses on it, and saw the dreadful word "Verole" in big white
letters on it. Then the two ships came very near together. The girl, after she
had fired away all the shots from her revolver, turned round towards the
Huarura, and spread her arms out and screamed

"' Verole! Verole!* We are plague-stricken, nearly all of us! Keep away! Some
hope to escape, and would board you! Keep away! '

"Then, agonized as the voice was, Caldera, stricken with wonder and horror,
recognized it. He turned his glasses on the girl, and recognized her too. It
was Carmen, his own Carmen, his promised wife, there on the plague- ship. How
she came there, of course he knew not; but she was there, and that was true
enough and horrible enough for him.

[ * Smallpox. ]

"Then she saw him standing on the bridge of the Huarura, and screamed out again

"' Riccardo! Riccardo caro! Keep away from us! Do not try to rescue any! The
verole came on board at Guayaquil. The ship is a pest-house. Keep away! If you
cannot, then sink us, for we must die/

"Now, senor, you will easily see that no man could well have been placed in a
more dreadful position than poor Caldera was by these words. He was a gentleman
with pure Castilian blood in his veins, and he was also a patriotic son of
Peru. He loved this heroic girl as only a Spaniard can love, and he saw her
now, in this awful situation, for the first time for three years. He would have
given his life nay, his soul, to save her, but he had a hundred women and
children dear to others and his own gallant crew to guard. If the ships
touched, the stricken ones would leap on board, bringing horrible disease and
death with them. Nay, if even a boat passed from one to the other, the
infection would come with it.

"He had seen, too, that the Tupisd, slow as she was, was faster a little, a
very little, than his own half-crippled ship, and that if he sought to escape
her, she must sooner or later overtake him. What hope was there, then, for
those under his care save in the last awful resort to the guns?

"Still, even now, he could not bring himself to give the word to fire.
Instead, he altered the course of the Huarura, and steamed away, shouting back
to Carmen

"Throw yourself overboard, Carmen mia, you and those who are still clean, and
we will save you. You others, keep off, or, by the holy saints, I will fire! I
would save you if I could, but I have women and children here, and I dare not/

"Seeing that the Huarura was trying to get away, those who had taken the
Tupisd changed her course and steamed after her. Then Caldera gave the order,
and the guns, large and small, swung round, and the muzzles went down. Again he
and his officers shouted their warning, and, to show that they were in earnest,
a shot was fired across the Tupisd, but too high to do any harm. Still she came
on, slowly gaining on the Huarura. Carmen had fled up on to the bridge, where
two or three men, and among them the one who had put out the blackboard, were
keeping back the crowd with revolvers, but they could not steer the ship from
the wheelhouse, because the mutineers had broken the connection, and were
steering with the after-wheel.

"At last, when the Tupisd was getting very close, those on the bridge had
fired all their cartridges away, and so they, too, began to shout to Caldera to
fire because of what he had said about the women and children. They were brave
men, you see, senor men who would rather die themselves than bring death on the
innocent. And Carmen cried out, too, praying her lover, by the love he bore
her, and by all things holy, to forget his< love and do his duty. And while she
was crying out thus, there was a rush from the deck to the bridge a rush of men
with faces horrible to behold. There was a fierce fight a fight with living
death for awhile and then Caldera, his heart torn with agony and his brain
reeling with despair, saw one of those deaths in human shape seize Carmen and
clap his hand over her mouth.

"The same moment the word ' Fire! ' left his lips. The great guns roared out,
and a shell burst right under the bridge of the Tupisd, blowing it and all on
it to fragments. Another pierced her side, and tore a great hole down to the
water-line, and at the same time the shot and bullets from the smaller guns
fell like a hailstorm on her decks, striking down the already stricken, men and
women alike, for there were women also on the Tupisd, since she was a passenger-
ship horrible work, seiior work, you would think, for devils, not for men; yet
what would you what else could be done?"

"Nothing, I suppose," I said, speaking for the first time since the cura had
begun. "It was a hideous situation; but, after all, Captain Caldera did his
duty. Of course, the Tupisd went down?"

"I am glad you think that, senor," he said very softly; "I am glad you think
that. Yes, the Tupisd sank, and every soul with her. Some of the stricken
wretches swam for the lives they had already lost. They were shot in the water
that their agony might not be too long; and then the Huarura went on to Panama.
That is all."

"You have told me a strange and terrible story, Señor Padre," I said, "and I
will tell it again on the other side of the world for the sake of the heroes
who did their duty, and of that brave girl who did hers so well."

I should have stopped there, but I didn't, and I said

"But, if you will pardon my curiosity, Señor Padre, you have told the story as
only an eye-witness could have told it. May I ask if that is true?"

"Yes, senor, that is true," he said, rising from his seat and holding out his
hand. "I was one of those on board the Huarura. Now, buenos noches! We have sat
late, and you have far to ride to-morrow."

Then I saw the mistake that I had made, and said "Good-night," and went to bed.

At sunrise the next morning the cura brewed me a cup of tea with his own
hands, and when I had drank this and the usual copa as stirrup-cup, he gave me
his blessing, and I started out, with Patricio looking red-eyed and repentant,
on my way to scale the pass over which Pizarro and the Conquerors had marched
three hundred and sixty years before to seize the last of the Incas in the
midst of his victorious host.

Three months afterwards I was sitting with my friend Major Harris on the
verandah of the English Club at Callao, telling him of the cura and his story.

"Yes," he said, when I had done, "that is quite true. Señorita de Salta went
on board the Tupisd at Panama. She was on her way home from Paris. That was
found out after the war from the agent's passenger- list. When the war was
over, Caldera resigned his commission and entered the Church. I heard
afterwards that he devoted himself to teaching the Indians in the Interior, and
from what you tell me, I have no doubt that you heard the story from his own
lips."

THE END