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DAVID WRIGHT O'BRIEN
(WRITING AS JOHN YORK CABOT)

THE CASE OF JONATHAN LANE

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Ex Libris

First published in Amazing Stories, August 1942

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2021-07-14

Produced by Paul Sandery, Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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Cover Image

Amazing Stories, August 1942, with "The Case of Jonathan Lane"



Illustration

From that basement laboratory strange waves went to the brain of Jonathan Lane.



It was a terrible injustice—but when Jonathan Lane found
another had stolen his body, he accepted the strangest trade.




WHEN I opened my eyes to stare bewilderedly at the cracked, filthy stretch of yellowed ceiling above me, and turned my aching head to one side, surveying the dingy, squalid surroundings of the little room in which I lay, some sixth sense made me instantly aware that this was not a dream.

I threw the coarse, thin blanket that had covered me quickly to one side and sat up sickly, unbelievingly, both hands gripping the rusted sides of my decrepit iron cot.

My brow was cold with sweat, and my heart hammered swiftly in some inexplicable excitement. I felt somehow, and the word does not precisely fit, as if I were alien to myself.

An elevated train clattered swiftly beneath the soot-covered single window of my room, shaking the very foundations of this ugly frame dwelling so that the cot on which I sat squeaked protestingly until it had passed.

I rose then, and moved almost dazedly to the washstand in the corner of the room. There was only one faucet, and its greenly discolored brass handle bore the faint, grease-caked legend "Cold."

It wasn't until I had turned on the faucet and splashed my burning face vigorously in the icy water that I had the courage at last to look full into the mottled square of mirror above the bowl.

I had never seen the reflection in that mirror before in my life. Never. I stared speechlessly, strickenly.

A stranger, open-mouthed and wide-eyed in horrified astonishment stared back at me from that mirror.

And now I knew—knew with nauseous certainty the hideous truth at which my sixth sense had hinted from the moment I'd opened my eyes to find myself in this utterly unfamiliar room.

I, Jonathan Lane, was not only inhabiting strange surroundings in a crawling room of some never-known tenement dwelling; I was living in the body of a stranger!

For an eternity I stood there weakly, clutching to the edge of the washbowl for support, while my mind teetered on the brink of unbridled insanity.

"This is a nightmare," I told myself, "a horribly realistic travesty of actual existence!"

And the choking whisper which came to mock my ears was the alien voice of this strange new body I now possessed.

"I am Jonathan Lane!" I cried hoarsely.

The very sound of this new voice derided my words. Even though my teetering sanity knew that just the night before I had been reading quietly in the study of my mansion estate....


IT had been close to midnight, and for the several preceding hours I'd been lost in a fascinating volume of philosophy.

Kermit, the butler who had served my father so faithfully through the years until his death—and who now watched over me with such constant, equally religious devotion, entered the study so quietly that I was unaware of his presence until he spoke.

"I have prepared your room, sir." I looked up, startled. Then I smiled. "Thank you, Kermit," I told him. "You quite disapprove of my burning the midnight oil, don't you?"

Kermit's tired old face registered mild rebuke.

"I was only thinking, sir—" he began.

"Of my own good, eh, Kermit?"

"For the last week or so, sir, you have had very little sleep," he began tactfully. "Rest is essential to anyone, sir."

I grinned. Little sleep was an understatement. Night clubs, cafes, bars and bistros, I'd made them all in an unceasing binge during the past two weeks. There'd been little time for sleep on that program. This night was the first one I'd spent at home, and its drastic contrast to the previous evenings marked a sudden dulling of my taste for the alcoholic hilarity of those rounds.

I turned another page and nodded to Kermit.

"Good enough, old fellow," I told him. "I'll be up to the restful comforts of my downy bed when I finish this chapter."

The solution, or compromise seemed suitable to Kermit, and he nodded, turning to leave.

"I've prepared a hot tonic dose for you, sir," he said. "I shall leave it by your bed."

I thanked him, then, but it was considerably longer than just another chapter by the time I finally went up to my bedroom. I think I must have read through at least another four, and by the time I entered my room, it was somewhere around three o'clock.

For all the fatigue I should have felt from the constant round of dissipation of the past two weeks. I was still unable to get directly to sleep.

It must have been all of another hour that I lay there in the enormous teakwood fourposter, wide-eyed in the darkness, my mind refusing to heed the commands of a spent physical reservoir.

Nothing more than sheer exhaustion finally brought the dark curtain of sleep to me at last....


AND now I stood there, in this dingy room, surrounded by squalor and filth and poverty. Stood there in the body of a man I'd never seen before in my life. Stood there less than ten hours after I had retired to the luxurious comfort of my bedroom as Jonathan Lane, wealthiest young man in the Middle West.

Some unrealized courage now forced me to steady myself, to take hold before I gave way to utter hysteria.

With effort that brought forth renewed sweat to my forehead, I forced from my mind all but the immediate task in hand—an estimate of this nightmare in which I now found myself.

For several minutes I stared at the regular, clean-lined features of my new face. It was a face of a man about my own age before this transformation. It was not an unpleasing one. Keen gray intelligent eyes, a mouth both strong and capable of laughter. Blond hair. My own hair had been dark, almost ebon-black. The body was of medium size, sturdily built, not nearly as given to softness of muscle as my other body had been. There was a suppleness, a sense of dexterity in the fingers on the hands of my new body. They were strong, slim, brown hands. The hands of a skilled manual scientist rather than a mechanic.

Then, still forcing the grim implications of this incredible transformation from my mind, I set about examining the sordid little room.

There were clothes on a chair. Cheap clothes, frayed and worn to a pitiful shine. I quickly ascertained that these were the clothes that would have to adorn this new body of mine.

In one of the pockets of the miserable suit on the chair, I found a wallet. Opening it with hands that trembled, I saw that it contained three grubby-looking dollar bills, some eighteen cents in change, and several identification cards.

The first identification card was an employee's slip from a small chemical plant I'd never heard of. It was made out to the bearer, one Carl Gelsing.

The second was an identification slip from a currency exchange. It, too, was made out to a Carl Gelsing.

There was a snapshot half hidden behind the cards, and as I brought it out into the light, it proved to be a pose in which a smiling young man stood on a river bank with his arm around a pretty young girl. The expression on her lovely face as she looked up at him was clearly indicative of worshiping devotion. On the face of the young man, however, there was something behind his smile that showed no really answering devotion. Something that showed instead a fierce, burning, restless ambition before which no girl, no matter how lovely, could hope to stand.

I realized then, that the young man with his arm around the lovely girl was the one in whose very body I now stood!


I PLACED the picture gently back into the wallet, and returned the wallet to the suitcoat pocket. Then I searched relentlessly through the only remaining object of furniture in the little room, a low, scarred dresser in the corner.

My search revealed nothing but a clean, frayed shirt that had been mended several times beneath the arms, a few socks, underthings, handkerchiefs. Nothing more. Except that the laundry marks on the personal possessions were all "C. G."

I went to the window, then, and stared down at the elevated tracks running along endlessly in either direction less than fifteen feet below. I was aware, of course, that this was a tenement sector, but precisely where it was I had little idea.

Then I began to dress myself in the frayed garments of the person who had once inhabited the body I now possessed. My actions were instinctively designed to keep myself more concerned with the results of this incredible enigma than with the madly impossible fact itself.

Once dressed, I hesitated, and all my will power was suddenly inadequate against the rising surge of mad panic that claimed me.

I don't know what might have followed, what I might have done, if a knock hadn't sounded on the door at that instant. A knock followed by a light, feminine voice.

"Carl! Oh, Carl!" the voice cried cheerfully.

The tide of panic inside me seemed suddenly to ebb. That voice had given me a brief but vitally necessary link with sanity, with reality.

Somehow I managed to answer.

"Yes?"

I waited, heart hammering.

"It's Gloria, you idiot. Are you dressed yet?"

I took a deep breath.

"Yes," I said. "I'm dressed. Just a moment."

"Hurry. The restaurant will be too crowded to get service in another ten minutes," the feminine voice cried out once more.

I stepped over to the door and slid the bolt free. Then I opened it.

The lovely dark-haired girl of the wallet snapshot stood there smiling at me!

Foolishly, I stood there, groping for something to say, for any little action that would—Suddenly, and with no conscious realization of planning to do so, I bent and kissed the girl lightly on the mouth.

"Gloria," I heard myself saying, "Gloria!"

Her arms were suddenly tightly twined around me, and her mouth pressed hard against mine. The faint perfume of her hair was somehow dizzying, and her lips intoxicatingly sweet.

"Carl," she sobbed. "Oh, Carl. Are you all right? Are you really all right? You haven't done anything, have you? You haven't planned anything foolish, have you?"

I held her back from me then.

"What do you mean?" I demanded. My voice was harsh with urgency.


THE girl seemed to falter. Her red lips parted as she groped for words. "It's just that, that last night you acted so strangely, Carl," she said. "You acted as if, as if you'd never see me again, or, or..." she couldn't finish. Tears came to her eyes.

"I'm here," I heard myself saying. "I'm here and nothing has happened, has it?" Oh God, I thought, nothing happened! That was richest irony!

The girl reached into her purse then, with a sudden gesture that was completely unexpected. She brought forth a key on a string.

"Here, Carl," she said. "Here is your key. You told me to hold it for you until morning. You told me to give it to you then, if, if, you were all right."

My bewilderment was genuine.

"My key?" I blinked.

"Your basement laboratory key," she said, frowning. "Don't you remember? Oh, I know you drank last night, Carl. But I didn't think you'd had so much you—"

I cut her off, not wishing to betray myself further.

"Of course," I said. "Now I recall. Thanks." I took the key.

She turned then, saying, "Come, we'll have to hurry."

"Hurry?" I said the word without thinking.

"Yes, if we want to catch coffee and rolls before work."

"Oh, yes," I managed. "Work. That's right."

The girl whirled suddenly to face me. Her lovely features perplexed.

"Carl," she demanded worriedly, "aren't you well? You seem so strange. You act as if something has—"

I couldn't let her continue.

"I'm not going to work today," I told her. "I-I'm going to do some more work in my laboratory."

The girl called Gloria looked anxious.

"Not again, Carl," she protested. "They'll fire you one of these days if you continue to miss work."

I shrugged.

"It's little enough I'd lose." I felt safe in that statement.

"But, Carl," the girl protested again, "if you didn't spend such small fortunes on the equipment for your, your hobby laboratory in the basement, you'd be able to get along a little better on what you make!"

I shook my head.

"I'm not going to work today."

And then the girl quite unwittingly supplied the information I so desperately wanted.

"If they come here to see if you're really sick," she said, "and they find you in the basement downstairs working on chemical matters they weren't aware of, it will mean your job."

I put my hands on her shoulders as gently as I could.

"Don't worry, Gloria," I said, "I'm staying here today. It will be the last time I'll spend in the laboratory."

The girl gave me a peculiar glance.

"You said that last night," she declared. Then she was gone.

I looked at the key in my hand, and again the trip-hammer beating of my heart was dizzying with the dread excitement of the unknown...


TWENTY minutes later I had finished my search of the basement laboratory of Carl Gelsing.

The evidence I had found there served only to heap further coals upon the burning, maddening questions for which I sought answers.

There were papers, hundreds of them, in a large file. Newspaper clippings, magazine notations, book references, rotogravure pictures, everything and anything pertaining to the life, friends, habits and secrets of—myself!

I, Jonathan Lane, found an unimaginably detailed personal history of myself in those files. Found a history of myself painstakingly compiled by one Carl Gelsing, the man whose body I now possessed instead of my own.

What equipment of a scientific nature there had been in the laboratory was now totally destroyed. The basement room was a litter of shattered tubes, broken slides and demolished apparatus.

In one corner of the room there was a small mound of ashes, indicating that a small pile of papers had been touched to flame there and deliberately burned.

Aside from a tattered laboratory smock, there was little else. Nevertheless I searched on for another five minutes in the desperate hope that I might unearth something else that might give some faint clarity to this maddening puzzle.

Then, as I stood there bewilderedly, hopelessly, while the insanely impossible facts whirled around and around in my brain like some mad parody of reason, I was conscious of the first, hideously fantastic glimmering truth.

It was wild, impossible, the deduction of a mind at the brink of insanity. But it bore the grim plausibility of madness itself. I determined to see it through. It was the only action remaining to me...


IT took me a little more than an hour to get to my suburban mansion from the metropolitan slum section in which I'd found myself. And when at last I arrived at the sprawling, wide-lawned estate that had been mine less than twenty-four hours before, a feverish hysteria was again surging through me.

I stood there a moment at the big gates leading into the long gravel roadway gazing wordlessly at the vast stone mansion set back among the trees. Stood there, while the hammering of my heart and the choking in my throat became almost more than I could stand.

Kermit admitted me, moments later, to the huge stone mansion. His tired old face was impassive as I told him I wanted to speak with Jonathan Lane.

For an instant, when my eyes had first met those of my old servant, I had been certain that he would recognize me, would somehow realize what had happened.

But there had been no glimmer of recognition in the old butler's appraising glance. He told me merely to wait in the reception room, while he saw if Mr. Lane desired to talk to me.

"And your name, sir?" Kermit asked.

I'd hesitated a moment. Hesitated, then said, "Carl Gelsing."

"Mr. Lane expects you, sir?" he inquired.

Again I hesitated.

"I think perhaps he does," I said. "And I feel certain the name will be familiar to him."

Kermit left me in the reception room. And when he reappeared again at last, he motioned toward the hallway leading to the study.

"Mr. Lane said for you to step into his study, sir. He'll be down in a moment."

There are no words to describe my emotions as I walked down that hallway to what had been my own study but hours before. No words quite apt enough to depict the sick excitement that flooded me as I took a chair in that study and waited for the entrance of the person who now owned my body.

Minutes passed, and the cold sweat on my forehead and half-terror in my heart grew stronger with every second of them. I tried to keep my eyes from straying to the old familiar objects around the room. The books I prized, the paintings, the curios on the desk.

And then I heard the voice—my voice, the voice belonging to the body of Jonathan Lane!

"Hello, Gelsing. I rather expected you'd come here."

I rose, wheeling, and faced the physical manifestation of what had been myself less than twenty-four hours ago. I stared open-mouthed wordlessly, as my body smiled tauntingly at me from the doorway.

"You are Gelsing," I managed at last. "You are Carl Gelsing. What horrible madness did you—"


GELSING, the man who had stolen my body and given me his, smiled again and waved his hand at my chair.

"Sit down," he said. "Sit down, and don't get excited. I'd hate to have you thrown out of here before we got a chance to talk this thing over."

Weakly, I slumped back into my chair, my eyes following him as he moved around behind the desk and sat down.

The silence hung heavily for a moment, while Gelsing, the man who now lived in my body, smiled appraisingly at me.

"You must have a very strong mind," he said at last, fingering a paper-knife on the desk. "I had taken into consideration the possibility of your going mad on discovering what had happened to you." The smile became a smirk.

"You must be insane!" I gasped.

He shook his head.

"Quite the contrary," he declared. He waved his hand to indicate the room.

"I am now one of the wealthiest young men in the nation," he said. "And with the wealth which you never seemed to be able to utilize constructively, I will soon be one of the most powerful men in the world. No," he smirked, "I don't quite think I am insane."

"Then this was deliberately planned, devilishly exe—" I began.

He broke in again.

"It was quite cunningly planned," he said. "Undoubtedly you found the files on yourself in my laboratory. I began collecting them almost two years ago, when I realized that a discovery I had stumbled on would enable me to accomplish this some day.

"I chose your body, your wealth and station as the one I could best utilize," he went on. "From that day forward I obtained every last scrap of data about you, your history, your personal habits, friends, acquaintances, everything I could learn.

"And while I did so," he declared, "I continued to live in my miserable, poverty stricken surroundings, continued to slave night after night in that wretched basement laboratory, perfecting, testing, toiling over the power of mind-transference which I had first discovered quite unwittingly. From the very moment that I made my selection, chose your body as the one which I would take over, the transformation you woke to find completed this morning was inevitable.

"Yes, indeed, you were an ideal choice for me. You were young, had enormous wealth, and exceedingly few domestic ties." He paused. "And now my initial plans are realized. The transference is made. I now have your body, and with it your life and fortune. You, my friend, have received in return my body, and the squalid life that goes with it."

"But you can't do this!" I protested. "You're mad. You don't know what you are doing!"

The smile left his face.

"Can't I?" he asked. "Or, shouldn't we say haven't I?"

"You have," I admitted thickly, desperately. "God knows you have, in some incredible fashion accomplished this impossible madness. But it can't go on. You must return both of us to where we belong!"


HE shrugged. "Even if I were fool enough to do so," he declared, "it would no longer be possible. You saw the smashed equipment in the basement laboratory. You viewed the ashes that remained of the formulae notations I worked from. I deliberately destroyed every last bridge back. There is no possibility of change any longer!"

My mouth was open in horrified astonishment. Sickly, I tried to speak. Words refused to come from my lips. He grinned gloatingly at me.

"There is little need to be so alarmed," he declared. "There is no reason to feel that your life is at an end. Quite the contrary. A new, a very different life is just beginning for you." He laughed unpleasantly.

Still I fought for words.

He continued. "You'll find this new life very much in contrast to the one I've taken from you," he said. "Where once you had measureless wealth, you will now have grubbing poverty. Where once you knew nothing but luxury, now you will have little but toil and misery.

"But," he paused before going on, "there will be compensations." Scorn underlined the last word. "You will know the dubious thrill of struggle for existence. You will find that the lot of the little man, though not replete with comfort, has the compensation of dignity in poverty, honor in squalor. You will learn the beaten weariness of the man who fights against his fate. You will have despair, sorrow, bitter disappointment. And through it all your life will be one hell of stark struggle to stay alive."

I watched him reach into a humidor at his elbow and bring forth one of the unusually expensive cigars I had smoked. His eyes regarding me behind the flame of the match for a moment of mocking derision, he lighted the cigar and spoke again.

"But you will have love," he said, and the scornful mockery in his voice was even stronger now.

"That girl," I found myself saying, scarcely aware that speech had returned, "that girl who knocked at your door this morning. You—"

He cut me off.

"She is very much in love with me," he said smirkingly, "or with what once was me. She is part of the sublime and simple life I leave to you. She need never know. I want no more of her. She's part of the nightmare of squalor and poverty that I've forever left behind me."

I thought of her sweet warm lips, the perfume from her lovely ebon hair, the adoration shining from her eyes in that worn snapshot I'd found in the wallet.

"You swine!" I said hoarsely. "You mad, rotten swine!"

His face went suddenly white in instant rage.

"Hold your tongue, Gelsing!" he snapped. "Hold your tongue or I'll have you tossed out of here instantly!"


I WAS thinking, still, of the girl, Gloria. I was thinking of her words when, unknowing, she had looked at me that morning, saying, "You acted as if, as if you'd never see me again" I was thinking of the tears in her lovely eyes as she said those words.

Suddenly I rose, taking a step toward the desk where my usurper sat. He rose, too, wrathfully.

"Stay where you are!" he blazed. "Don't move a step closer!"

I shook my head.

"I've no intention of harming you," I told him. "As a matter of fact, I'm just leaving. I'm going back to the life you gave me. I'm returning to the love of the beautiful girl you gave me. I'm going to take my chances at carving a new destiny out of the clay you've given me. I think it will be more than worth the battle. I think perhaps I will enjoy it."

The rage was still stamped whitely on his face.

"That's fine," he grated. "Now get the hell out of here!"

Quite suddenly, then, the white wrath on his face went sickly yellow. He clutched at his heart, his breathing suddenly gasping, loud. He reeled and swayed on his feet.

"You'd better sit down," I told him quietly. "You'd better learn not to excite yourself during the next three months. You see, there's something about me that you didn't find out, something I myself learned only three weeks ago."

Sweat was on his brow as he slumped to the chair behind the desk. A wild fear was growing in his eyes.

"What do you mean?" he gasped. "For God's sake, what do you mean?"

I smiled then.

"You see, three weeks ago my physician advised me that I had but four months more, at the utmost, to live. He told me that there was absolutely nothing in medical science which my money could buy to save me."

I turned then, moving to the door of the study. There I paused an instant.

"I came here hoping to save you from your folly. But, as you pointed out, that is no longer possible. Goodbye, Jonathan Lane. May your last three months be pleasant ones."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.