Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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Starting with ancient Rome, Reggie worked
forward in time,
trying to change history. What chance had he to succeed?
THE package had been sent to Reggie Vliet at his club. It had, upon being opened by that amiable young playboy, presented quite an emotional jolt. Shock and nostalgia had been the prime essentials of his emotions. Shock at the realization that old Lowndes was dead; nostalgia at the recollection of what the small object had once meant to him.
The small object was a watch. Lowndes' watch. An extraordinary timepiece which gave the wearer the astounding ability to flip back, very much in the flesh, into any page of any historical era he might wish to visit.
The watch, in fact, was used to that advantage by Reggie himself several years previously. Used, thanks to the kindliness of the strange butler, Lowndes, to enable the young man to have a go at changing history.*
[*See Man Who Changed History, Amazing Stories, February, 1942. —Ed.]
Reggie hadn't changed history on that occasion. But he had succeeded, through his prowlings through the pages of Time, in bringing back from history enough evidence to force the cold- blooded old colonel, now his father-in-law, to permit him to marry the girl of Reggie's dreams.
At the time of the arrival of this strange timepiece Reggie was, and had been for several years, thank you, quite happily married to that girl. Married so happily, in fact, that it seemed years since—upon returning from the historic past and winning the girl—he had given the watch back to Lowndes.
And now, as he gazed at the watch and remembered it all more forcibly than he had ever recalled it since, he realized also that the arrival of the timepiece signified that Lowndes was dead. For Lowndes had told Reggie, back then, that his present to Reggie and his bride-to-be would be a provision in his will which would pass the watch on to Reggie, should the eccentric old butler ever go the way of all flesh.
Reggie felt sad to think that Lowndes was dead. So sad, in fact, that he almost quite forgot the watch as he mechanically, idly, strapped it to his wrist and fiddled with the dial. The explosion in Reggie's bean followed with terrifying immediacy, and for a second he thought he was losing consciousness. Then daylight returned.
Perplexed, Reggie shook his head. He noticed then, with some surprise, that his head showed no indication of exploding again. He shook it again, cautiously.
"Well, anyway," he said aloud, "I'm not drunk."
Then he remembered his fiddling with the watch. His heart turned a triple somersault and didn't quite right itself. Something very funny was going on in his stomach and now his head was hurting!
HE stared dazedly about a magnificent chamber. His brain was struggling to assimilate the evidence his eyes were presenting. It was monstrously unbelievable! Impossibly incredible! He shut his eyes desperately. It would all be gone when he opened his eyes. It had to be.
He opened his eyes again. A despairing moan trickled through his lips. Nothing had changed. The chamber was just as magnificent, just as real as ever.
Reggie began to tremble at the thought. The soft jelly-like surface of the wonderful bed trembled with him. He passed a hand over his suddenly damp forehead and noticed, for the first time since he had left the privacy of his club, the Time Machine strapped securely to his wrist. He peered at it closely. It was set for year minus one. Somehow it gave him a feeling of confidence.
If things got blackish he had merely to set the machine and Pip Pip! he'd be out of it. His nervousness began to fade away. His perky smile appeared again at the corners of his mouth.
He even felt a bit debonair, for he was still dressed as he had been in the library. Cutaway coat, striped trousers, buttonaire—neatly turned out.
Excitement and a delicious sense of adventure were stealing over him. He, Reggie Vliet, was again actually living in the past. He could enjoy it, relish it, admire it, and—change it. That was why he was here. To scramble the past, knock it off its customary track, blast it out of its timeworn groove.
The thought made him laugh delightedly. He thought of old Colonel Vanderveer, ancestry-ridden and heredity-conscious. Why, with an upheaval in history the old boy might turn up a beggar or a thief or a milkman or even a fifth columnist. Then let him object to the humble Vliet name. Reggie laughed louder. Why the old goat would probably be happy to have his daughter's name linked to the Vliets, or anybody for that matter.
"Fifth columnist," Reggie chortled, "or maybe even a congressman."
So engrossed was Reggie with these entrancing visions that he did not hear the soft footsteps behind him. He was cheerfully oblivious to all but his own happy contemplations. But not so oblivious that he failed to hear the smooth, liquid voice at his side say:
"Greetings, strangely attired one." The smile remained on Reggie's face through force of habit, but he started suddenly and toppled off the soft edge of the bed. He struck the floor in a confused heap of arms and legs and rolled over once. Then he climbed to his feet. The smile was still stuck on his face like a mask. He turned slowly to face a dark-haired, puzzled-looking girl, attired in a loose, flowing white garment that did little to conceal her lovely feminine contours.
The smile on Reggie's face began to thaw. Then, when his lips were manageable again, it widened.
He smoothed his hair and straightened his tie. "I say," he declared, "they didn't exaggerate about you at that. You're all they said, er—Miss Cleopatra, and then some."
The girl's frown deepened. "Cleopatra?" Her smooth voice was doubtful.
"Er—yes." Reggie cleared his throat. "You are Cleopatra, aren't you?"
THE girl's eyes lighted and then she smiled, a brilliant flashing smile that had a couple of dimples and a lot of white teeth mixed together very attractively. "Cleopatra," she said, and gestured about the room.
Reggie beamed. "We're getting on, aren't we?" He took her hand and seated her on the side of the bed, slumping himself next to her. "Now, Cleopatra," he said briskly, "what's all this I hear about you throwing yourself away on this mug, Anthony?"
The girl shook her head and glanced fearfully about the room.
"Now just relax, Cleo," Reggie said soothingly, "maybe I was too blunt about everything. I mean, we hardly know each other." He smiled and she smiled back at him rather uncertainly. Reggie congratulated himself modestly. A plan was buzzing around his head. If he could eliminate Cleopatra and Anthony it might have terrific repercussions down through time.
He smiled again at the girl. It'd be fun, too.
"Cleopatra..." His voice held a muted throb. His eyes closed soulfully. "How I've waited for this moment. I've lived for it, dreamed and hoped for it for centuries. To see the beauty, the glory, the incomparable loveliness that is you and you alone. To be near the immortal woman, whose life has fired the imagination—"
Reggie opened one eye cautiously to see how it was going.
He looked closer at the girl and opened the other eye. Something was wrong. She was staring over his shoulder transfixed, completely oblivious to him. The Vliet pride suffered.
"After all," he said peevishly, "you could at least listen."
Reggie became conscious, then, of another presence in the room. It wasn't anything he could hear or see or smell. It was as if the very air had been charged with some electric force that beat against him in prickling waves. He turned slowly.
Standing before him was a woman.
"Cleopatra," he breathed. He knew it instinctively. Just as a person wouldn't need an introduction to Niagara Falls, so Reggie needed no introduction to this magnificent woman.
"I beg forgiveness, mistress," the girl alongside Reggie said tearfully. "I found him when I came to draw your bath."
Cleopatra made a slight gesture with her hand. Her eyes burned steadily into Reggie's. The girl slipped away.
Reggie loosened his collar with his forefinger and stood up weakly. Very brilliant of him, he thought dazedly. Making his torrid play for Cleopatra's maid. He noticed uneasily that Cleopatra had crossed her arms and was regarding him with a smouldering intensity.
"Warm, isn't it?" He loosened his collar again and smiled enthusiastically. "For this time of the year, I mean."
Her lips curved slightly. Reggie looked at her closely, his fascination temporarily over-riding his feeling of fearful awkwardness. She was not tall, yet she created that impression. It was something in the way she held her head. Her features were ordinary except for a curiously alive, vibrant quality about her mouth and nose. Her hair was a splendid, thrilling crown that sparkled like, black diamonds as it cascaded in a tumbling stream down her back. But her eyes were a new experience to Reggie. They were green and then they were black and they danced and glittered like quicksilver. Reggie turned his eyes away and blinked. It was like looking too long at a flashing neon sign.
"It is warm," she said unexpectedly. Her voice was clear and yet it was the type of voice that can purr at times.
"Oh, oh yes," Reggie nodded vigorously, "warm."
Cleopatra moved toward him. She wore a cream-colored, mesh- like garment that buckled at her shoulders and ankles.
Reggie backed a step, bumped into the bed and sat down. Cleopatra moved languorously toward him, seated herself beside him.
"Where are you from, strange one?" she asked quietly.
Reggie was puzzled about the language. Either she was speaking English or he was speaking Egyptian. Anyway, they seemed to understand each other and he was satisfied.
CLEOPATRA was waiting for an answer. Reggie's reeling senses were beginning to right themselves. "It doesn't matter," he said soulfully. "How I've waited for this moment. I've lived for it, dreamed and hoped for it for centuries. To see—"
"I have heard that before," Cleopatra interrupted him coldly. "That is what you told my maid."
"Not to mention half the senior class at Vassar," Reggie said brightly, and then checked himself. Maybe Cleopatra lacked a sense of humor. "The words have been burned into my heart," he murmured brokenly. He risked a quick look at her, and breathed with more assurance. He took her hand gently, holding his breath. She was looking at his wrist.
"What is that?" She touched the Time Machine with her finger.
Reggie swallowed. "It's rather a long story. I don't—"
"Let me have it."
"Let me have it."
Reggie hesitated, then removed the watch. It wouldn't hurt as long as he stayed close to it. Also Cleopatra didn't look as if she had a lot of patience.
Reggie watched her anxiously as she twirled it around on the leather strap. She made delighted, gurgling noises to herself which Reggie thought slightly out of character. Finally she slipped it on her wrist and held out her arm proudly, twisting it this way and that to catch the reflection from the light on its glistening surface.
"Very pretty," Reggie said diplomatically. "Now wouldn't you rather I kept it for you? Nice and safe, you know."
Cleopatra shook her head in a delighted negative. Her brilliantly lustrous hair swished back and forth past Reggie's face. He forgot about the Time Machine and captured her small soft hand.
"Cleopatra," he began.
"Cleopatra!" A mighty bull-like roar blasted through the room.
Reggie started. He heard heavy, dominant footsteps pounding closer.
"Cleopatra!" The tapestries billowed in the breeze.
The footsteps neared, a horrible sound of clanking armor accompanied them, and then a mightily muscled, flashing-eyed, be- plumed warrior strode into the room.
"Anthony!" Cleopatra's voice exclaimed.
Reggie swallowed hard. Anthony was advancing ominously toward him. His cruel, predatory nose was outthrust like an eagle's beak. His eyes sparked with green fire. His mighty hands clenched and unclenched spasmodically.
"Glad you could make it," Reggie said feebly. "Heh heh. Not much of a party without Anthony, Cleopatra was just saying. Yes sir."
Anthony paused and looked at Cleopatra.
"Who is this scrawny creature?" he rumbled.
"No one to worry about," Reggie interjected hastily, "Just stopped off to see how you love birds were getting along. Can't really stay a minute longer. So pip pip! And all that."
Anthony's huge hand stretched out and fastened on Reggie's shoulder. "Not so fast," he said ominously. His eyes sought Cleopatra's. "Who is he?"
Cleopatra leaned back on the bed and stared at him through lidded eyes. "Since you are really concerned," she murmured, "he is nothing but a poor traveling peddler. Look!" She held out her arm, displaying the Time Machine. "See the pretty bauble I received from him."
"Now wait a minute," Reggie cried. "You can't have that. I need it." He struggled helplessly in Anthony's grasp.
"Fun's fun," he said excitedly, "but give me back my—my watch."
"Silence!" Anthony thundered.
Reggie chose to ignore this excellent advice. With a shrill cry he lunged toward Cleopatra, his hand reaching desperately for the Time Machine, his only link with the future.
Something that felt like a fence post crashed into his head and he felt himself falling backward. Then something hard hit him in the back and Reggie knew he was on the floor.
"Guards!" he heard Anthony thundering, "take this man to the dungeons and chain him there! He attacked your Mistress!"
Reggie felt powerful hands on his arms, and then he was jerked to his feet. His dazed eyes focused on Anthony, the picture of rage incarnate, shaking a sword at him.
"You'll pay for this," Anthony bellowed, "you'll go to Rome to fatten our lions you miserable dog. I'll watch them tear you apart myself at the next arena games. Take him away guards...."
Reggie looked from Anthony to Cleopatra, who stared silently at him, a faint smile curving her full lips. His eyes gazed despairingly at the Time Machine on her wrist.
"Well," Reggie managed to croak, "all roads lead to Rome at that, don't they?"
Then something struck him on the head once more and he could feel himself being dragged away as a sea of darkness engulfed him....
DURING the vague black nightmare of the next hours, Reggie Vliet regained consciousness momentarily at three separate intervals. On the first of these, Reggie opened his eyes to see that he was lying in what appeared to be the scuppers of an ancient sailing vessel. He was chained and shackled, and there were others beside him who were held captive in like manner. His clothes had been taken and he now wore a dirty toga. From the smell of fresh sea air, and from the nauseating lurching of the deck beneath him, Reggie gathered that he was somewhere at sea. It was gratefully that he swooned into unconsciousness again.
On the second occasion that Reggie opened his eyes, he was being tossed about on some great landing dock by men in togas. Tossed about without any regard for the finer niceties of his physical self. Strong, bearded men were doing the tossing.
Reggie had time to ask himself: "Can this be Rome?" And then someone failed to catch his hurtling, hog-tied body, and his head crashed into a dock piling, blotting out consciousness again.
And then, to a confusion of sounds, a bedlam of roaring voices Reggie regained consciousness again. Opening one eye slyly this time, he found that he was in some sort of a cart or chariot—still shackled. And opening the eye a bit wider, he realized that the roaring came from huge hordes of toga-clad citizenry lining a narrow street along which he was being carried.
The roaring throngs along the street seemed in a gay and festive mood. Laughing men and women, obviously citizens of Caesar's Empire, cheered and yowled, and threw things at the slowly moving chariot. One of these gaily hurled missives—probably a paving brick—came directly at Reggie, catching him on the forehead and blotting out consciousness for the third time.
It was not a bright and beaming Reggie Vliet, consequently, who finally came out of a fog of nausea and pain to find himself, no longer shackled, herded in the corner of what seemed to be an ancient locker room some hours later.
Looking through red-rimmed eyes, Reggie observed that the same hapless-looking, long-haired gentry who had been shackled with him all this while, were still clustered around him. Reggie realized, now, that these poor devils were probably captives like himself.
So he spoke to the ape-like, beetle-browed fellow who sat directly beside him. "Well," Reggie observed, "where would you say they've taken us now, chum?"
The ape-like fellow shook his head dismally. "We are in the prisoners' room of the great Roman arena, friend." He sighed deeply. "In a little while we will be thrown to the lions."
Reggie mused. "Well," he said at last, "I've heard more cheerful opening lines than that. Are you sure we'll be turned into lion food?"
The ape-like fellow shrugged. "Not all of us."
Reggie took heart. "Capital, that's more like it. Then there is a chance that we may survive?"
"I didn't say that," the ape-like creature declared gloomily. "I said that all of us won't be tossed to the lions. Some of us will be given a net and a dagger, and sent out to face the gladiators of Caesar's legions."
Reggie gulped. "Ugh," he shuddered. "But still, that isn't as bad as the other fate eh?" His voice became even more enthusiastic, optimistic. "There'll be a chance in combat with another human."
The ape-like fellow appraised Reggie dourly. "Me," he said at last, "I'm praying that I get the lions instead. They're quicker."
Reggie's optimism drained like soup from a leaky tureen. He paled. He had been trying to keep the cold facts from his brain. But now he knew it was useless. The stark, numbing terror against which he had been fighting, returned a ghastly wave of cold sweat. He trembled uncontrollably.
There was no way out of this. Absolutely no way at all. For Cleopatra, wherever she was at the moment, had the Time Machine strapped about her lovely wrist. Reggie thought of the somber Lowndes and cursed him roundly. And then, of course, he thought of Sandra. At which point an overwhelming wave of anguish and remorse swept over him at the realization that he would never see her again. And worse than that she would never know what had happened to him. She would never know that he, like some gallant knight of old, had risked everything to step back into the past thousands of years, to tinker with Time so that they could be wed. Perhaps she would forget him.
SO Reggie wept in great emotion until he became so engrossed in a magnificent feeling of self-pity that he brightened somewhat. He swept aside the realization that he had never for an instant imagined he was running a risk when he'd decided to go back into the past. He felt suddenly and splendidly heroic.
"Reginald Vliet Risks All For Love," he declared. And the ape- like chap blinked in surprise at the words. And then, from the corridor outside the prisoners' room, there came a clanking of armor and swords.
A huge bearded Roman sentry entered the room. Behind him were other huge and bearded Romans. The first glowered fiercely at Reggie and at the rest of the prisoners.
"It is time for the contests" he announced malignantly.
In the back of Reggie's brain, a plan was forming. It was but the germ of an idea, but it grew more and more developed as Reggie and the rest of the unfortunates were herded to their feet and out of the room into the corridor.
As they marched along the corridor under the close guard of the Roman sentries Reggie turned again to the ape-like chap. "What was it that they call these contests?" he asked.
"A circus," the chap replied. "A Roman circus."
"What subtle senses of humor these Romans have," Reggie observed. And then the pointed edge of a sword caught him in the seat of his toga and he increased his pace...
ALL the prisoners, including Reggie were grouped in a terrified band in one corner of the open arena. They had been this way for half an hour, while the chariot races concluded. It was an occasion, Reggie had to admit, of magnificent spectacles.
The place was jammed. If there had been mass cheering, and goal posts, Reggie would have felt certain that he had stumbled upon a Rose Bowl game. Any promoter would have given his remaining eye-teeth to have managed the gate on the crowd that was packed into this ancient stadium.
Then a Roman sentry stood before the prisoners. "Which of you swine," he inquired pleasantly, "would prefer the lions to the contest?"
There was an instant clamoring, as all the prisoners including the ape-like fellow begged to be designated as lion meat for the afternoon's entertainment. Reggie blinked. Maybe there was truth and wisdom in the ape-like fellow's previous preference for the lions as against the gladiators. But Reggie held his ground. His plan entailed combat in the gladiatorial ring. He would go down fighting.
The Roman sentry frowned. "Are you all craven cowards? Will none of you face our gladiators? Do all of you prefer the lions?" Then his eye caught Reggie.
"Ahhhh, now," the sentry beamed ghoulishly. "Here's a brave fool!"
Reggie gulped uncertainly at the dubious compliment. Then he squared his slim shoulders, brushed his blond hair from his forehead, and stepped up. "You can give me a dagger and a net," he declared, his voice sounding surprisingly like someone else's.
The Roman sentry slapped Reggie delightedly on the shoulder. "A fine fellow. Somewhat puny—but courageous."
Reggie picked himself up from the ground, where the gay slap had knocked him, and grinned frozenly. He heard a voice—that of the ape-like fellow—hissing at him from behind.
"You fool!" warned his fellow prisoner, "it is a captive's right to choose what form of death he desires. Insist on that right. Choose the lions!"
Reggie weakened for but an instant. Then he squared his shoulders once more. "Give me a dagger," he ordered, "and a net!"
So while the sentry led him off to get his weapons, and an announcer in the center of the arena told the howling mobs that only one captive would face a gladiator, Reggie went over his sketchy plan again. It was rather simple, although he hadn't worked in the details as yet. Reggie had about given up all hope of getting out of this mess alive. He had also given up hope of ever returning to Sandra and 1944. This being the case, he had decided that there was but one thing to do—make a gallant and glorious end of it.
Reggie was here because he had dared to challenge history, because he had been foolish enough to endeavor to change it. And now he was caught, and there was no way out. But inside his fluttery heart, Reggie had made one vow. Before he left, before he died, he was going to alter history in some fashion. He would somehow justify his having come here. He would somehow embellish the name of Vliet on the pages of history before he died. He was going to personally assassinate Julius Caesar!
FOR Reggie had realized, even as he was being taken from the prisoner's room, that the great Caesar was always present at the Roman circuses. The great Caesar was undoubtedly here today, occupying one of the better boxes near the center of the arena.
Reggie had a hunch that, should Caesar be assassinated ahead of time, history would change completely through the rest of its pages. And after all, what did he, Reggie, have to lose?
"Nothing," Reggie told himself, while his thighs were strapped in protective leather. "Nothing at all. I'm a dead duck anyway." And then they put a dagger in his right hand, and a huge, cumbersome net in his left. Someone shoved him to the center of the vast arena, and the noise from the crowd was deafening—drowning out the knocking of the Vliet knees.
Reggie Vliet, Broadway playboy, stood awaiting the arrival of his gladiator opponent. Stood and shivered, a tiny dot in the center of the gigantic arena, while the mighty, blood-lusting voice of thousands roared buffetingly down upon him!
Sweat trickled down Reggie's brow, and the dagger-hilt in his hand felt slippery and damp, while terror drained his strength until he could scarcely hold the heavy net in his other hand.
"Perhaps," Reggie told himself beneath the roar of the multitude and the loud thumping of his heart, "perhaps I have been a bit hasty."
And then, to the terrific explosion of sound from the crowd, the gladiator whom Reggie was to face marched into the arena!
Reggie Vliet, gazing strickenly at the advancing gladiator, had but one impulse. He wanted to run like hell.
But the very blanket of bedlam from the crowd pressed in on Reggie like something alive, holding him rooted, terrified, motionless. Unable, even, to gulp away the cotton that had somehow filled his mouth. And the gladiator came warily, yet confidently, closer!
The gladiator was wearing a thick iron helmet that came down over his face, covering everything but his eyes. The eyes glared savagely from behind a metal visor, sending the blood running chill along Reggie's spine. Every vital part of the fellow's body was covered by thick iron armor, all except his arms, which seemed as thick and knotted as the trunk of oak trees. The gladiator was almost seven feet tall and, Reggie could swear, just about that wide.
Looking hysterically down at the heavy net in his hand, Reggie wondered what in the hell he was supposed to do with it. Perhaps, he thought wildly, he was supposed to hide behind it.
But it had holes. So Reggie discarded that possibility.
The gladiator was less than ten feet away. Reggie felt morally certain that he meant to pounce, and so promptly retreated ten feet, dragging his net behind him.
Reginald Vliet had faced irate traffic policemen. Reginald Vliet had braved the perils of cafeteria food. Reginald Vliet had even faced creditors. But he had never faced anything like this.
The roar of the mob, although climbing to an ever increasing pitch of wild confusion, was forgotten by now. Reggie had but one thought in mind, and it was basic: Self-Preservation.
There was something horribly business-like in the manner of the gladiator as he continued to advance. Something definitely frightened in the manner Reggie continued to retreat.
Reggie thought of dropping the net, but he found that his hand had somehow slipped through the mesh, and the thing was determinedly attached to him. While trying to free his hand, Reggie looked up at the gladiator, baring his teeth in a glare such as a rabbit might shoot at a boa-constrictor. But it had no effect. The gladiator continued to move cautiously inward.
The gladiator was so close to Reggie that he could see the lower—and exposed—half of the fellow's face. The part where the iron visor ended. The part revealing mouth and chin.
And if Reggie had felt squeamish about his immediate prospects of living, a moment before, he now had no doubt about the fate awaiting him. For that jaw protruding below the iron part of the visor helmet could belong to no one but a Vanderveer!
This menacing hulk, then, was undoubtedly one of Colonel Horatio Vanderveer's ancestors!
REGGIE squealed in terror, backing sharply away, still tugging at the net, cursing his inability to free himself from it's meshing. The gladiator, the Vanderveer forebearer, bellowed once and charged in.
At precisely that instant, Reggie tugged desperately on the net. And in precisely the following instant, the gladiator, the Vanderveer, did a neat somersault and landed on his head. The net, over which he had charged, had flipped him over just as if it had been a rug jerked sharply from under his feet!
Roaring wildly into his ears, Reggie felt the tumultuous applause of the galleries. Dazed, groggy, Gladiator Vanderveer was rising to his feet, a thin ribbon of blood trickling from his helmet.
Gladiator Vanderveer waved his huge sword in mighty arcs, making sounds like a maddened bull ape.
Reggie gulped, almost swallowing his tongue. "What is there about me," he whispered to himself, "that the males in the Vanderveer line don't like?"
And then, somehow, his hand was freed of the tangling net. Reggie wasted no time. He turned, dashing away from the trumpeting figure of the gladiator like a startled whippet. Reggie's hand had been freed, but not his feet. Seven strides, and his foot was jerked out from under him, spilling him to the ground. The net meshings had tripped him up!
Reggie's nose was in the dirt of the arena. A fact which wasn't enhanced by the blood that covered the ground, and the fact that his small dagger had been knocked from his hand in the fall.
And in that horrible instant, while Time held its breath, Reggie remembered his resolve. He had to get to the box of Julius Caesar. He had to mess up Time in some slight fashion before he was slain by the gladiator!
Reggie clambered hastily to his feet. He felt the hot breath of Gladiator Vanderveer on his neck and dodged quickly, as the gigantic warrior thundered by him. Then, looking wildly around, Reggie spied the gala trappings of an ornate box along the side of the arena. There were no other boxes decorated in such lavish fashion.
Instantly Reggie knew that if he were to get to Julius Caesar, he would find him in that box. Gladiator Vanderveer, probably Tiberius Vanderveer, had pulled up to a stop, panting like some huge elephant, and was heading again for Reginald Vliet.
Reggie streaked to the side of the Arena. Streaked for the gaily covered box where the dignitaries of Rome were watching. Behind him, bellowing terribly, followed Gladiator Vanderveer.
As he raced madly toward the box, Reggie realized that he would have to choke Caesar to death, inasmuch as he was now without his dagger. The thought was repulsive to him. He had never killed a man. But Caesar was due to die sooner or later anyway. And what the hell—this was Vliet's Last Stand, Reginald's Final Act!
Three feet from the box, Reggie broke his stride into a magnificent leap—which was definitely unsuccessful, since the box was a full ten feet from the ground!
Reggie had the infinitely painful sensation of badly barked shins and bruised elbows. Then he was flat on his back, gasping skyward, the breath knocked out of him completely.
And then a heavy foot landed on his chest, and he was gazing in terror at the glowering features of Gladiator Vanderveer who was looking down at him. Caught!
WHILE the crowds gave vent to their blood-screams, Reggie's swimming eyes brought into focus the gala-colored box for the first time. And for the first time, looking despairingly at the faces of those who sat there, Reggie saw that Julius Caesar was not present.
This was the payoff, the final irony. His mad dash, culminated by failure, and topped off by the fact that the mighty Caesar was absent—probably home with a cold!
Gladiator Vanderveer was making grunting noises, while bringing his heavy foot down again and again on Reggie's chest. And as gladiator thumped with his foot, he waved his huge sword and looked to the gaily covered box. And then Reggie remembered.
The gladiator was asking whether it would be thumbs up or thumbs down—an old Roman custom!
A girl rose in the box. Reggie had noticed her vaguely while searching for Caesar, but now her features became clear for the first time. She was Cleopatra!
It came to Reggie, in a sudden wave of horror, that as guest of honor in the arena, it was Cleopatra's privilege to point her pretty thumb upward or downward over fallen gladiatorial contestants. It was her privilege to say whether he would live or die.
Anthony was beside her, Reggie saw this too from his place on the ground. And Anthony, face black with wrathful scorn, was whispering in Cleopatra's ear.
"It isn't fair!" Reggie bleated muffledly. "Influencing a referee's decision!"
But obviously Anthony had done just that. For Cleopatra's pretty white hand lifted, thumb extended, and the thumb then pointed sharply downward!
The jerk of her hand was hard, sharp, positive. Death to Reggie Vliet, misplaced gladiator!
The voice of the crowd became a sudden wild scream.
Reggie closed his eyes, waiting for the sword to descend, to sever his head from his body. Nothing happened. Gladiator Vanderveer seemed to be hesitating. Reggie opened his eyes and saw why.
In Cleopatra's sharp gesture with her thumb, two rings and a bauble had slid from her wrist and fingers, had fallen to the dust of the arena. Gladiator Vanderveer, gallant to the core, had taken his shoes from Reggie's chest and was bending to retrieve them before getting them bloody with a death stroke.
Catching the gleam of the bauble which had fallen from her wrist, Reggie's heart turned cartwheels. It was the wrist-watch- like Time Machine. With a squeal, he was struggling to his feet, diving toward the gleaming, clocklike bauble.
He got his hands on it by a superb dive, like a halfback recovering a fumble. Got his hands on it as he heard Gladiator Vanderveer bellow in astonishment and rage. Reggie closed his eyes, turning the dial on the tiny Time Machine, pressing the button at the same instant.
He thought he heard the swish of a sword above his head, and then he felt that familiar dropping sensation.
The rushing, roaring torrent of sound swept around him instantly. For a shocked, split second he saw Cleopatra's deep liquid eyes widen incredulously. Then oblivion claimed him....
WHEN Reggie opened his eyes again it was in strong sunlight. He blinked owlishly and peered about. He was seated on the summit of a grass-covered hill. At the foot of the hill, miles away, he could see a majestic city, impressive and mighty, sprawled under the clear blue sky.
Understanding came to Reggie in big chunks. He glanced quickly at his time machine, set for the year 410 A.D. It had saved him, with seconds to spare from the wrath of the Vanderveer gladiator.
Reggie shivered in the warm air. He thought of Cleopatra and Anthony and his sad failure to change the history of their lives. It occurred to him suddenly that they were both dead for centuries by this time. Dead, and already the history of their love had been recorded and nothing he or anyone else could do would change it.
"Pretty much of a flop on that deal," Reggie muttered to himself. "If I don't do better pretty soon I might as well give up the ghost. I've got only four more chances." He wiped his hand over his forehead and suddenly he started trembling. A horrible thought had burst upon him. He had almost been killed in the arena. If Cleopatra hadn't dropped the Time Machine right in front of his nose he'd have been a goner.
Reggie wiped his suddenly damp hands on the abbreviated toga he was wearing. It had all happened five hundred years ago but that was still too close for comfort. He climbed unsteadily to his feet, still trembling nervously from his narrow escape. He couldn't forget the fact, however, that he had failed. Failed miserably to reroute the course of history by so much as one historical inch. He was as far away from his goal as when he started back into time.
A great feeling of futility stole over Reggie as he thought about the Vanderveer gladiator, with the unmistakable Vanderveer jaw. It was slightly encouraging to realize that the Vanderveer family tree had its share of sour apples but it was damned discouraging not to be able to do something about it.
Reggie squared his shoulders. The stern gritty stuff in him came to the fore.
"I won't miss the next time," he vowed grimly, "I'll disrupt things so badly that they'll have to rewrite America's Sixty Families from cover to cover to keep up with me."
He looked down at the magnificent metropolis spread out beneath him. Why—that's Rome, he realized excitedly. Mighty Rome, Mistress of the Mediterranean, Ruler of the known World, at the height of her wealth and power.
He wheeled and shaded his eyes with his hand. Off in the opposite distance from Rome his questing gaze was rewarded. There spread over acres of ground was a sprawling, barbaric camp. Even at that great distance, Reggie could recognize wild Asiatic horses, tethered in herds away from the numberless tents that dotted the ground.
Reggie trembled with excitement. He knew he was looking at the savage armies and retinue of Alaric, the mighty Gothic warrior, who had sacked and destroyed Rome in the year—his heart leaped—in the year 410! He remembered the date from his school days. It was said that the sacking of Rome and the dissolution of the Roman Empire was one of the most significant events in all history.
Reggie's heart began to thump faster. Supposing—supposing he could change that—prevent Alaric from sacking Rome? It would change the entire course of the world. Hope began to burn again in Reggie's heart. A change of such consequence would unhorse the Vanderveer's, for all time, from their snobbish seats of heredity and background.
Reggie spat on his hand and squared his jaw.
"Alaric," he muttered, "here I come!"
THE distance to Alaric's camp was farther than it looked, and, by the time Reggie reached its outskirts, the sun was dropping like a brass ball on the horizon.
Reggie approached the camp cautiously. He debated whether he should barge right in or whether it might be wiser to slip in quietly. Before he could make up his mind, however, the decision was taken out of his hands.
He heard a furious, hungry yapping behind him. He looked and saw two massive slavering dogs charging toward him, their blood- thirsty baying growing louder by the second.
A hero or an imbecile might have accepted their definitely unfriendly approach as something in the nature of a challenge to be faced and rebuffed; but, fortunately for Reggie, he was neither of the above.
He wheeled and ran. His torn and dusty toga stretched out behind him as his thin legs went into action. Down the short stretch leading to Alaric's camp, he raced. The baying grew behind him. Other mastiffs, entering the spirit of the thing, were joining the chase. Reggie risked a terrified glance behind him, saw that the drooling fangs of the nearest dog were but inches from his flying heels.
"Help!" he screeched. "Help!"
He was streaking into the camp proper now, a round dozen hounds yapping at his heels. From the corners of his rolling eyes, Reggie caught a confused blur of bearded men emerging from tents, weapons clutched in their fists. A crescendo of sound rose from the camp as the screams of the women and the yowlings of the dogs blended into a mad unholy cacophony.
In spite of his frantic efforts to remove himself from the dog's menu as a supper special, Reggie was able to realize that he had not chosen the most ideal manner in which to creep into Alaric's heart.
He glanced desperately over his shoulder. The dogs were almost upon him. It was at that precise instant that something gave way in Reggie's overworked knees. He wasn't conscious of falling. One minute he was racing along and the next instant his face was plowing into the dust.
He heard shouts and angry barking intermingled horribly. He buried his head in his hands. "This is the fitting end for a hot- dog addict," he thought fleetingly. But the barks came no closer.
Reggie remained in his ostrich-like position for several dark seconds and then he cautiously raised his head. The dogs were a scant ten feet away, snarling and growling at him, but venturing no closer. Then Reggie saw the reason for this.
A tall, magnificent woman, dressed in a very unconcealing leather garment, was slashing at them with a short blunt whip and shouting angrily.
Reggie stared at her, fascinated. Muscles rippled up and down her bare back as her sinewy arm rose and fell with the whip. The dogs were slinking away under her onslaught and Reggie didn't blame them.
In a matter of seconds it was all over.
REGGIE stood up and tried to brush himself off. A score or so of bearded barbarians watched him with impassive eyes but the woman who had driven the dogs away was openly curious.
"Where you from?" she asked with commendable directness.
Reggie looked into her strong handsome face and into her childlike brown eyes and smiled. "Oh, nowhere in particular." He glanced up the road he had just been chased. "Kind of sporty course you got here. Does everybody get a crack at it. Or is it reserved for specials?"
The girl spread her lips in imitation of Reggie's smile. Then she walked to his side and took his arm. "Come," she said, "I like you."
Reggie shrugged. It might be a good idea to ingratiate himself with this girl. She might be some chieftain's daughter. "Sure thing, old kid," he said brightly. He patted himself mentally on the back. This kid might be the daughter of Alaric himself. "Lead on," he said.
She led him to her tent. It was a larger tent than the others and was comfortably lined with cured pelts. Heavy bear- and wolf-pelts covered the dirt floor and in one corner of the tent a pot was suspended over a smouldering fire.
"Neat," Reggie said appreciatively, "but not gaudy."
The girl motioned him to sit on the floor and she turned to the steaming kettle and poured a ladle full of greenish soup into a copper bowl. This she placed in front of Reggie.
"Say," Reggie said, "what's this Alaric like?"
The girl looked at him intently and then shrugged her shoulders. "You will see," she answered listlessly.
"Now look," Reggie said, "what about this raid he's thinking of pulling on Rome? Is it all set?"
The girl's brow knitted. "No, no," she said. "No bother Rome."
Reggie smiled knowingly. "That's what you think. I happen to know it's going to be pulled off pretty soon."
The girl struggled to grasp his words. Then she shook her head again.
Reggie frowned, puzzled. History very definitely recorded the sacking of Rome by Alaric, yet this girl knew nothing of it. Maybe Alaric was the strong, silent type who kept everything to himself.
"When do I get to meet Alaric?" he asked between sips of soup.
"Soon," the girl answered, "he be home soon."
"That's nice," Reggie said absently, "but where's his home?"
"Here. Here home."
"Here?" Reggie repeated. "Why then you must be his daughter."
The girl shook her head. "No. Wife."
Reggie strangled on a mouthful of soup. "Wife?" he sputtered. "Why didn't you tell me? What'll he think if he finds me here?"
The girl shook her head dolefully. "He won't like."
"Oh my God," Reggie cried. He scrambled to his feet. "Anthony... and now Alaric." He turned beseechingly to the girl. "What'll I do? You've got to help me."
He noticed a shadow, a large shadow fell across the tent.
"It is late, too late," the girl said, sighing, "I like you too."
"You mean," Reggie babbled, "that—"
He wheeled as the flap of the tent opened and a heavy-set figure stalked into the tent. The new arrival was a squat, massive character with thick, inch-long brows and savage pig-like eyes. It was Alaric!
Reggie stared. Not at the powerful muscles, not at the savage, hot eyes but at something far more stunning, far more astounding.
He stared at Alaric's jaw. It was square and solid and massive. It was as wide and flat as a shovel. In short, it was a Vanderveer jaw!
"Incredible," Reggie breathed, "another Vanderveer."
ALARIC breathed noisily through a flat nose and his Vanderveer jaw hardened. His hot gaze swept from his wife to Reggie. They stopped on Reggie, riveted themselves there.
His huge hand closed over an ax in his leather belt.
"I kill!" he growled.
Reggie had never gotten along with a Vanderveer in his entire life and he was not exactly surprised at Alaric's lack of cordiality. Nonetheless, he protested. "Really," he said nervously, "you're being awfully hasty. Maybe we could kind of talk this thing over."
"Kill!" Alaric growled again, and this time his voice was trembling with rage.
Reggie had vast respect for the Vanderveer temper and he realized that he was facing the great-grand-daddy of all Vanderveer outbursts.
"Now—" he started, but he got no farther.
Alaric's arm rose in the air and at the same instant a strong pair of arms hurled Reggie to the floor. He squirmed his neck just in time to see the ax hurtle through the air and rip through the wall of the tent. Crawling to his feet, he dodged Alaric's first maddened rush. He ducked to one side and collided with the make-shift stove in the corner of the tent. The heavy kettle of boiling soup swung precariously. Reggie grabbed the handle to keep it from spilling.
He was in that position as Alaric rushed him the second time. Reggie was hardly conscious of lifting the kettle from the rack; hardly conscious of swinging it in a circle over his head and letting it fly.
But he was conscious of Alaric's maniacal screams some tenth of a second later as a gallon or so of boiling soup baptized him.
He was conscious of the girl pulling his arm, jerking him to the rent in the tent caused by Alaric's ax. "Go," she said tensely. "I think he might get a little mad now."
"You think?" Reggie cried, "I know!"
He scrambled through the hole in the tent and raced into the darkness. Back in the tent he could hear Alaric bawling at the top of his voice and he could hear shouts and cries arising from all sides, as the men hurried to the voice of their leader. Dogs, yapping and yowling, added to the din, but over it all he could hear the shrill terrified neigh of the wild horses.
It was toward this sound that Reggie hurried. The whole camp was aroused now. He could still hear Alaric's voice trumpeting like an enraged elephant. Flares were visible now, as the barbarians tramped about in search of him.
Reggie reached the horses not a second too soon. Three Goths rounded a corner and began bawling loudly as they sighted him. Reggie untied a champing stallion and vaulted onto its back. The horse reared and plunged like a demon but Reggie clamped his long arms around the animal's neck and clung like a burr.
"N—n—ice h—ho—horsey," he panted into the jolting horse's ear, "t—take i—it easy."
Either the horse recognized Reggie's plight and decided to lend a helping hand or it just needed exercise for it suddenly plunged into the street, steadied its stride into a ground-eating gallop and left Alaric's camp like an arrow from a bow.
Reggie's heart felt a glow of hope, but seconds later it was thoroughly quenched. Risking his life and limb on a glance over his shoulder he saw a body of horsemen racing after him, and in back of them, he could see hundreds of shadowy figures mounting and preparing to ride. The whole camp was awakening. A harsh bugle signal sounded and Reggie's last glimpse of Alaric's camp showed him a scene of frantic and feverish activity. All for him.
"This is your party," Reggie told the horse desperately, "I'm just along for the ride."
IT was a ride he never forgot. Over the rutted narrow roads and through the thick knee-high grass his horse galloped swiftly; but behind him, Alaric's screaming horsemen inched closer and closer.
In a glance Reggie saw that Alaric was leading his men, mounted on a splendid white stallion. In that terrified glance Reggie could see Alaric's face twisted in rage and fury and he could see the infamous Vanderveer jaw clamped like an excavation shovel. The hoarse, savage cries of his pursuers brought the short hairs up on Reggie's neck.
Reggie licked his dry lips. He'd have to ride this one out. He could escape with his Time Machine but he'd lose forever his chance of preventing Alaric from sacking Rome.
The horse was laboring now as they charged up the grass- covered hill overlooking Rome. From its summit, Reggie had a panoramic view of the mighty city, gleaming palely in the moonlight. Then he was clinging frantically for dear life as his charger thundered down the side of the hill toward the slumbering city. Behind him he heard the savage screams of Alaric's hordes as they breasted the hill and charged down after him.
The rest of the ride was a jumbled, hideous nightmare, comprised of screaming barbarians behind him, a jolting bundle of dynamite beneath him and the sanctuary of Rome far ahead.
But miraculously, incredibly, he made it. With his horse trembling from fatigue and heaving with exertion, Reggie swept into a hard-packed boulevard that led into the heart of Rome. Toga-clad citizens stared wildly at him, and then fled in terror as they beheld the fearsome horde of barbarians who were pouring into the city like a wild flood.
Reggie dug his heels into the flanks of his mount and was rewarded with a last burst of speed. He charged toward the center of the city, aware that the yells and screams of the barbarians were growing fainter as he pulled away from them.
Thanking his lucky stars fervently, Reggie turned his mount off the main boulevard and raced up a side street that led to the outskirts of the city.
Everywhere he saw fleeing citizens, madly plunging horses, excited soldiers of the Roman legions.
Racing on, Reggie soon left Rome behind him. But he still did not feel secure, and it wasn't until he reached a small hill a mile or so from the city that he was able to relax and rein his spent horse. He slid from the horse, his knees trembling, his breath surging in and out like a tide. He mopped his damp forehead with a shuddering hand. "That," he said wearily, "beats anything Tom Mix ever did."
Then he looked toward Rome. His knees buckled at the sight.
Rome was in flames! Half of the city was burning and by the leaping flames Reggie could see the savage, bearded horsemen of Alaric, charging through the streets of the city, slaughtering, pillaging, burning everything in their path.
Reggie's knees gave way completely and he sank to a sitting position. The destruction was immeasurable; the holocaust was complete. Slowly to his stunned brain came understanding.
He was witnessing the sacking of Rome!
There could be no doubt of it. It was going on before his very eyes. This was the invasion and destruction of Rome by Alaric the Goth that history had recorded.
Reggie groaned, a heart-felt, heartsick groan that came from deep inside him. For another sickening realization was forced onto his brain.
The sacking of Rome, that historians made so much of, was nothing but an accident caused by Reggie Vliet. Alaric had followed him into the city, but once there, his men had fallen on the inhabitants in barbaric frenzy.
Reggie shuddered. He was responsible for the sacking of Rome! If he had just left everything alone it would never have happened, the course of world history would have been different, the Vanderveer's would be different and Sandra Vanderveer would have been his.
On that tiny hill overlooking the burning city of Rome, Reggie's spirits sank to their lowest ebb. He had botched everything, so far, messed up the whole works. There was only one consolation that presented itself to his haggard hopes.
He still had, roughly speaking, sixteen centuries ahead of him, in which to change the course of world history. This thought renewed his confidence, flagged and fanned his expiring hopes, to a slight extent.
He looked at his Time Machine and his eyes gleamed. The fifteenth century looked promising. Reggie set the machine firmly, with determination. He looked down at the conflagration that was Rome and his lips tightened. A man couldn't be wrong all the time. Or could he?
"Columbus," he muttered, "here I come!"
REGGIE set the machine unhurriedly. There was a new quality of deliberation and purpose in his actions. This popping about in Time had been something of a lark at first something whimsical and comical; but now the Vliet mood had changed. Grim efficiency was replacing his former slipshodiness. The episode with Alaric had done something to him, made him see things in a new light. If he were going to succeed in re-arranging history he'd have to be more business-like about it. He had three chances left now. No more shenanigans, no more slip-ups. Efficiency? Pip pip! Pronto!
With this high resolve burning in his heart, Reggie's hand moved to the send-off button. "Columbus," he thought to himself, "your Genoese goose is cooked!"
Then he pressed the button.
The sensations of speed and sound enveloped him immediately. Blackness rushed in on him like a swelling tidal wave. Then—oblivion....
Reggie opened his eyes and beheld two beady eyes, set in a sharp brown face, stared down at him. Reggie blinked twice and then he saw that the eyes and the face were attached to a grinning, gnome-like man dressed in quaint comical clothes and a sweeping be-plumed hat. The ludicrous appearance of the hat made Reggie think wistfully of Sandra, and reminded him of the purpose of it all.
"What-ho," Reggie said by way of greeting. Then he sat up and peered around him. He was seated on what looked to be an unused wharf, facing a vast expanse of water. The sun was chinning itself on the horizon and its long brilliant lances of light were striking the incredibly blue water and glancing up into his eyes.
"Well, I'll be," Reggie cried in delighted recognition, "That's the Mediterranean. And this must be near Genoa, the home of Christopher Columbus."
He heard a shrill, spontaneous giggle behind him as he finished speaking. He turned and saw the comically dressed little man laughing uproariously. His monkey-like face was convulsed with merriment and tears of mirth were trickling down his brown cheeks.
Reggie scratched his head in bewilderment. "What's the joke?" he asked, slightly nettled. "What's so terribly funny?"
The little man stopped laughing long enough to wipe his eyes. "I am so sorry," he said, his voice trembling with suppressed laughter, "but I cannot help it. You say Christopher's name and—" here the little fellow's voice broke and giggles began to trickle from his lips—"and I cannot help it. I am so sorry." He began to laugh again, slapping his sides in unrestrained glee. "It is so very, very funny," he choked at last.
"Must be," Reggie said dryly. "Would you mind letting me in on it?"
"Oh I am so sorry," the little man gurgled, "I am being rude, no? My name is Giuseppe. And you, my friend are—?" He paused.
"Vliet—Reggie Vliet," Reggie answered. "I'm from America."
"America?" Giuseppe pronounced the word gingerly and his brows knitted together in a frown. "Where is that?"
"Oh, I forgot," Reggie said. "You wouldn't know anything about that. It hasn't been discovered yet. And," he added to himself, "it never will be if I can get to this guy Columbus."
Giuseppe, he noticed, was looking at him rather queerly. Reggie's eyes dropped to his torn dusty toga and to his frayed Roman sandals. He smiled reassuringly. "Kinda silly clothes," he said. "Do you think you could find me something a little more appropriate?"
"You want to change your clothes, no?" Giuseppe asked.
"I want to change my clothes, yes," Reggie answered.
HE crawled to his feet, then, and stood up. Looking around, he saw a small square, bounded by stone railings, and beyond that he saw Genoa. He knew it immediately. It was just like a scene from a costume movie. Crooked cobbled streets twisted their way through a maze of ridiculous pointed houses with narrow long windows. Early rising vendors and peddlers pushed their carts before them; and off in the distance, Reggie could see church spires rising against the cold blue background of the Italian sky. For a fleeting instant Reggie thought of the barbarian Alaric and his miserable failure to prevent the sacking of Rome. A feeling of discouragement, of futility grew in him but he shoved it resolutely from his mind. This was a new chance, a new world, and a new Reggie Vliet. He wouldn't fail, he couldn't. For Sandra and himself he must succeed.
"Never mind the clothes," he said firmly, "just lead me to this fellow Christopher Columbus."
"Please, p-please," Giuseppe's voice was cracking again, "that name—it does things to me. I can't help myself. Please—" His voice crescendoed helplessly into a shrill hysterical cackle. He doubled over, clutching his sides, his face reddening like a tomato. Finally, breathless and weak, he straightened up. "You must excuse me," he giggled, "but I am unable to control myself."
"So I see," Reggie said. "What's the gag? Why do you start laughing like a hyena when you hear that name?"
"I will try to explain to you," Giuseppe said, controling his voice with an obvious effort. "I will tell you why I laugh. I will tell you why all Genoa she laugh too. I will tell you and then, you and me, we will laugh together until we are too weak to laugh anymore."
"Go on," Reggie said uneasily. "I'll try and keep my head."
"All right, then listen to me." Giuseppe moved closer, a shadow of a laugh dancing in his voice. "This Christopher Columbus, he live here in Genoa all his life. He good boy. But listen, now, what he thinks. He think—" Giuseppe's hands pressed against his sides—"he thinks and he says and he argue with everybody that—that the earth, she is round." Giuseppe roared gleefully. "There I have told you. Is it not crazy? Is it not fantastic? This crazy boy cries that the earth is round and he says he will prove it. Is it not something to laugh at? Laugh, my friend! Laugh with all Genoa at this crazy Christopher Columbus!"
Reggie essayed a feeble grin. Then he chuckled. Then he laughed. Finally, transported by merriment, he sank to the ground, clutching his sides, laughing frenziedly at the ludicrous idea of a round earth.
"It's wonderful," he gasped, minutes later, "positively wonderful. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't heard it with my own ears."
"You see," Giuseppe gurgled. "I told you you would laugh with all Genoa."
"Yes indeed," Reggie chortled. "A round earth! the very idea! Why that's the most—" Reggie's voice died away, his smile faded. A sudden thought had occurred to him. The earth was round!
"Look, Giuseppe," he cried, "Columbus is right. We're wrong. The earth is round."
This sent Giuseppe off into fresh roars of delirious mirth. "You make good joke!" he cried, when the attack was over. "Very good joke."
"It's no joke," Reggie said glumly. "Now look, Giuseppe, take me to Columbus."
A thought was bobbing around in Reggie's head. If everyone thought Columbus was a bit touched for thinking the world round, it wouldn't do for Reggie Vliet to run around saying the same thing. Wouldn't do at all. He'd wind up in the local nut house with Columbus.
"Yes sir," he said "good joke of mine. This boy Columbus must be quite a card, yes indeed. Thinks the world is round, does he? Well sir, I'd like to meet him. Yes sir."
Giuseppe looked at him a trifle doubtfully, Reggie thought, but finally he bobbed his head. "I take you," he said, "I take you to this crazy Columbus who thinks the world is round." Giuseppe threw his head back and started laughing all over again. Reggie joined in heartily....
Giuseppe led Reggie through miles of labyrinthine streets, past dozens of shops and dwellings, and finally stopped in front of a weatherbeaten building with crooked windows and a sagging, worn-looking door.
"Columbus lives here," Giuseppe confided, "Go in. He is always happy to tell someone about his plans to prove the world is round. Even you," Giuseppe said, with another long glance at Reggie's curious raiment, "would be welcome."
"Well, thanks a lot," Reggie said. Impulsively, he stretched out his hand and clasped Giuseppe's. "You'll never know how much this means to me." Then he turned and knocked on the door of Columbus' house. In a few short minutes the door was opened by a tall, moody, dark-haired young man, who stared glumly at Reggie. Reggie heard a chuckle behind him and he turned in time to see Giuseppe staggering down the street, roaring with laughter.
"What-ho," Reggie said to the tall young man. "Know anything about this chap Columbus?"
"I am Christopher Columbus," the young man answered sadly. "Who seeks me?"
"I do," Reggie answered. "I'd like to talk to you. May I come in?"
Columbus shrugged. Without answering, he stepped aside and Reggie entered the house. It was dark inside, but he could see maps and compasses strewn about a large table and various instruments of navigation attached to the walls. Columbus waved him wearily to a rickety-looking chair and seated himself on a stool before the long work table. He rested his chin forlornly on his hands. "What did you want to talk to me about?" he muttered unenthusiastically.
"Well, now—" Reggie hitched his chair a little closer—"it's about this nonsense of the world being round. I understand you've got some silly idea about that. First of all, I want to tell you that you're absolutely, positively barking up the wrong tree."
"What?" Columbus looked closer at him.
"Just a manner of speaking," Reggie said hurriedly, "let's get back to the point. The earth is not round. It can't be. Any fool can see that. Now, look. If the earth is round, it must have a top and a bottom. Now, if that were true everybody on the bottom of the earth would be standing on their heads. Now, seriously, doesn't that sound pretty ridiculous?"
"But the sails disappear over the horizon," Columbus cried. "How can you explain that? Oh, I'm so confused and discouraged. Maybe you're right. The whole world can't be wrong. Everyone has laughed at me and derided me ever since I first conceived the dream of a western route to the Indies. It is not possible that I am right and everyone else is wrong. But—" Columbus' eyes traveled longingly to a large map pinned to the wall. "Will I never know what mysteries lie behind the horizon of our own knowledge?"
"Don't worry about those things, Chris old boy." Reggie hurried on, taking advantage of Columbus' disheartened attitude. "Pick out a nice cuddly girl for yourself and settle down here in good old Genoa. Your friends are here, your family is here and you couldn't find a better spot on the globe to raise your own family. What do you say, Chris, forget these wild ideas of yours and put your roots down here."
Columbus stood up and clenched his fists. His eyes focused on the huge wall map with a burning glare. "You have decided me," he whispered tensely. "My work has been a tragic failure. I go now to the dock."
"You mean," Reggie said hopefully, "you're—you're going to end it all?" Columbus threw a coat over his shoulder, placed a beplumed hat on his dark head.
"Accompany me," he said darkly. "You will see what your words have done."
Reggie jumped to his feet. "I'm sorry you feel that I've driven you to commit suicide, Chris; but maybe it's the best way after all."
COLUMBUS jerked open the door and strode into the morning sunlight, Reggie trotting happily at his heels. Through the now bustling streets they moved swiftly. Reggie was experiencing the delightfully intoxicating elixir of success. He felt a slight pang of conscience as he looked at Columbus' youthful, brooding, determined face but he shrugged mentally. You couldn't change history without causing a little trouble along the line. The thought that he was to be present at Columbus' suicide buoyed him up, filled him with a sense of importance.
"I think you've got a great idea," he said breathlessly, as they wended their way through the crowds. "Just don't change your mind, that's all. After all, it will all be over in a few minutes."
Soon they were nearing the water front. Columbus' strides were longer, his jaw harder as they marched side by side down the last hundred feet that separated them from the blue water. There was a small ship just embarking from the dock and a small crowd of cheering Italians waved and shouted on the dock. Through these, Columbus shoved his way, with Reggie bringing up the rear. Columbus turned at the edge of the dock, gripped Reggie's hand. "Goodbye," he said. "Your words have done this to me. Your words have given me the courage to face death itself."
"Well, old boy," Reggie said cheerfully, "hurry along, don't waste any time y'know. Make up your mind and strike while the iron is hot. Pip! Pip! old fellow."
"Farewell!" Columbus said sorrowfully. Then he wheeled swiftly and jumped—a long, arching jump that deposited him with a thump on the deck of the departing sailing ship!
Reggie's mouth dropped open. "Wait a minute!" he yelled. "You can't do that. Where do you think you're going?"
"To Spain," Columbus shouted exultantly, "to borrow money from Isabella. My success I will owe to you. When you referred to this earth as a globe, something in my mind came alive again. I started for the dock, but without your encouragement I would have turned back, as I have on countless other occasions. Thank you, noble stranger, and may you be blessed to the end of your days."
"Come back!" Reggie yelled frantically. His mind was a wild maelstrom of despair and chagrin. Columbus was leaving, escaping to borrow the necessary money from Isabella. Reggie acted with the desperation of an inspired fanatic. He dashed back into the crowd, wheeled and raced for the edge of the dock.
"You won't get away from me!" he yelled. Then he was flying through the air. It was a noble effort, a splendid, magnificent effort. His thin body hurtled through the ozone, the tattered toga flying behind him like the tail of a kite. His grasping fingers, distended like the talons of an eagle, grabbed for the rail. Grabbed—and missed!
Reggie clawed frantically at the side of the boat. But it was a futile gesture. The next instant his twisting body dropped with a painful splash into the murky water.
Reggie's first sensation was a bitter galling sense of failure. His next was hardly more comforting. He couldn't swim! He realized that as he sank for the first time. It was demonstrated to him as he sank for the second time. Sputtering, gasping, strangling, Reggie started down for the third time.
With his last desperate strength he groped for his Time Machine. He tried to set the machine for the Revolutionary War but his eyes were filmed with water and he could hardly see his hands. He was sinking into the greenish water as he made the last frantic adjustment. Then he pressed the button. A pounding, roaring noise filled his ears but whether this was heralding his escape or his death he didn't know. Then a smothering blackness descended upon him....
THE black, whirling feeling of flying through Time had become common to Reggie, and so it was without surprise or shock that he woke to find himself reclining on the floor of a long veranda.
It was night. The cold gloomy blackness that settled over him matched the condition of the Vliet soul. He sat up and tasted the ashes of despair and futility in his mouth. Off a way, he saw an ice-locked river glinting in the moonlight. It was, he knew, the Delaware and that meant that he was now in Trenton during the Revolution.
"Trenton," Reggie muttered. "Bah!"
He glanced at his Time Machine. If the thingumajig was still working, he must be right in the thick of the Revolutionary War. Reggie thought about this for a while. The Revolutionary War was quite a biggish thing in history. And he hoped to fix it so England would win instead of—
"Oh, what's the use?" he groaned.
He had botched everything he had touched, so far. Anthony and Cleopatra! Alaric! Chris Columbus! He had tried to change the history of these immortals and had merely made history.
He was a hopeless, dismal failure. He had lost Sandra through his own sloppiness and inability. Still—the thought buzzed in his head like a persistent gadfly—there was yet a chance for him if he could disrupt the course of the Revolutionary War. If he could do that—the Vliet optimism was rising to the fore—it might rectify all his past mistakes.
Reggie stood up, his cheeks flushed. "Try, try again," he whispered jubilantly to the darkness. Peering about, he saw a pair of swinging doors a dozen feet from him. A pale flickering light shone through these onto the floor of the veranda. Listening closely, Reggie could hear muted voices from within the structure.
He still wore his tattered Roman toga. Entering the house cautiously he discovered a hall clothes closet. Fumbling in the dark he found clothes and donned a suit blindly. Then he reentered the hall.
Reggie squared his shoulders, strode to the inner doors, shoved them open and entered. In spite of the poor illumination, Reggie could see that the room was large and well-furnished. A half dozen soldiers who were lounging against the wall sprang to their feet and saluted smartly.
"My General," one of them said breathlessly, "we did not know you would make an inspection on Christmas Eve."
Reggie tried to cover his surprise. "Well, now, didn't you?" he said. "And what made you think I wouldn't?"
The soldier, a phlegmatic, stolid fellow peered closely at Reggie. "What is this?" he muttered. "You are not our commander, yet you wear the uniform of a general."
Before he finished speaking he had grabbed Reggie by the arm and dragged him unceremoniously into the circle of light cast by the one lighted lantern in the room.
"Comrades," he exclaimed. "This man wears the uniform of France! What does this mean? Rumor has it that France is ready to declare war against England."
There was a ominous growl from the men encircling Reggie.
"Now, just a minute," Reggie put in hastily. "Who are you fellows?"
"We are Hessians," their spokesman answered, "fighting in the cause of England. The report is being circulated that your government, the Government of France, is ready to throw their aid to the colonies in their fight against England. If that is true, then you must be a spy. The penalty for that you well know."
REGGIE glanced about the circle of unfriendly faces. Everything he did seemed to get him into more trouble. It was the only thing he did well. But the realization that almost all of his stopping places in Time had been used up, put new starch in his back-bone. This was his fourth stop. He only had five. He was perilously close to the end of his rope. If he didn't pull the cat out of the fire they'd be throwing him into it.
"Listen, boys," he said, in what he hoped was a chummy tone of voice, "if I were a spy, do you think I'd come marching in here like this?" Taking advantage of their momentary hesitation he rushed on. "And furthermore, that talk about France helping the colonies is a lot of bunk. As a French officer—I can say that with authority."
The soldiers appeared doubtful. "If what you say is true," one of them put in, "it is the first encouraging news we have had since we were torn from our homes months ago. We hear so many depressing rumors and always there is the General Washington to scare us out of our wits. We do not wish to fight but we are made to. That is why we are so gloomy this Christmas Eve. Instead of fun and frolic, we wait for Washington to strike. And if he doesn't Cornwallis will make us smoke him out." The soldier shuddered. "To smoke out Washington is like trying to drive a tiger from his cave."
"I know what's the trouble with you fellows," Reggie snapped. "You haven't got any spirit. No morale. What's the matter with you? You're quitting before you've started to fight. You haven't got that old college try in you."
Reggie realized, even as he spoke, that he had hit the nail on the head—but definitely. The only thing wrong with the soldiers fighting for England was that they lacked spirit, courage and zip! England had been defeated—or would be defeated—by that very lack of enthusiasm and morale. Why, this was going to be a snap! All that was needed was someone who could inspire and encourage these gloomy, spineless Hessians. Once that was done, the war would certainly take a decidedly different turn. Reggie rubbed his hands in anticipation. He, Reginald Vliet, was just the boy for that job.
"Now look, boys," he cried jubilantly. "The team that won't be licked can't be licked! Remember that! You're not licked! You can't be licked! Let's have a little spirit, now. Turn up the lights, bring out the wine. Let's have a real celebration in honor of the victories to come!"
Reggie had not served his trick as a college cheerleader in vain. His words brought new life to the weary, despondent mercenaries. Their mouths split wide in confident grins and they crowded about Reggie, slapping him on the back and cheering into his ear.
Lanterns were lighted, wicks turned up and the gloomy shadows of the huge room receded into the corners. Along one wall, Reggie beheld a sight that brought a delighted gleam to his eye. A magnificently carved and heavily stocked bar!
"Hurray for Christmas!" Reggie shouted. "The drinks are on the house. Get your friends, come one, come all!"
The soldiers surged to the bar and soon bottles were passing from hand to mouth and the sounds of raucous merriment were swelling in a happy chorus to the ceiling. More soldiers, attracted by the sounds of gayety, poured into the room and soon it was jam-packed with happy, wildly cheering Hessians.
Reggie, obeying a strong but nameless impulse, climbed to the top of the bar and executed a neat, unrestrained clog dance. For some reason he felt wildly happy. Maybe it was the bottle of brandy that he had drained, or maybe it was the realization that he was finally succeeding in his task of rearranging history. He beamed proudly upon the lustily singing Hessians. With this kind of spirit and enthusiasm they couldn't be stopped. They'd make short work of the colonists, and then the whole outcome of American history would be changed and Sandra at last would be within his reach.
"Have a drink!" he bellowed happily. "Jush a lil' drink to lil' Sandra."
"To lil' Sandra!" the Hessians chorused, delighted. "To lil' Sandra."
THE bottles were dropping to the floor now as the men drained them and clamored insistently for more. Reggie jumped behind the bar and dragged case after case of dusty, spiderwebbed bottles, forth, setting them within reach of the straining hands. He crawled laboriously to the top of the bar again, a fresh bottle of brandy in his hand. It was the most delightful beverage he had ever tasted. Smooth as silk and strong as steel.
"Yippeee!" he yelled. "Hurray for Princeton!"
Somewhere, men were shouting, but it was a vague, blurred echo that drifted into the hall of merriment. Reggie started to dance again, but this time something was wrong. His legs were each apparently possessed with a mind of its own, with a very firm and diametrically opposed conviction as to how this dance should be executed.
"My calves," Reggie punned drunkenly, "are mooin' at each other!"
This, he thought, was pretty funny, and its poor reception irritated him. He shouted something over the din of the mob and then he was lying on his back on the floor, tangled in a mass of happily threshing legs. Struggling to his feet, Reggie pieced events together.
"Why," he thought angrily, "I must have fallen off the bar."
Somewhere in his dive, he had lost his bottle, so there was nothing to do but fight his way to the bar and uncork another. This he tilted and tried to drain at a gulp, but at least a pint of the strong liquor splashed down his braided chest.
He sagged against the bar and stared moodily about the room. Some of the noise was dying out as the soldiers collapsed against the wall in drunken weariness. Others sprawled on the floor, still nursing bottles in tight grips.
The shouting he had noticed was growing louder, and suddenly the swinging doors crashed open and a breathless sentry stumbled into the room.
"To your stations!" he shouted. "They're coming. Up, do you hear me? The colonists are coming across the ice. Get on your feet! We must be ready to face them!"
A loud chorus of jeers and hoots arose from the drunken soldiers.
"Go 'way!" one of them bawled. "We're goin' win thish war, y'hear? The team that won't be licked won't be licked, I guesh. Have a drink to lil' Sandra."
"To lil' Sandra!" the Hessians bellowed, "to lil' Sandra!"
"To lil' Sandra," Reggie added, somewhat solemnly. "For she's a jolly good—" he stopped to throw his voice into high, then continued—"fel-loooooooow, which noooobooody can denyyyyy."
"I tell you, they're coming!" the sentry cried distractedly. "Get to your battle stations, or all our supplies and munitions will fall into the enemies' hands!"
One of the Hessians started to cry softly. "Auf Wiedersehen, little munitions, we will miss you."
The sentry, with one last wild look at the sodden, slumbering Hessians, fled from the room.
Reggie shrugged. Then, unable to stifle his drunken curiosity, he staggered across the floor, stepping gingerly over the recumbent Hessians.
He collapsed against the door and lurched through onto the veranda where he sprawled helplessly on his face.
"Must've tripped," he muttered, as he crawled laboriously to his feet. Straightening his hat on his head, he peered foggily toward the river. Dozens of figures were climbing out of beached boats and assembling themselves in military formation on the uneven, ice-locked shore.
REGGIE blinked and passed an unbelieving hand over his eyes. The soldiers were shouldering their muskets and marching rapidly toward him. By the pale light of the moon, Reggie had a clear view of their leader.
A staunch, stout figure with a stern, noble face framed by long white hair. He wore the uniform of a commander and in his right hand he carried a sword.
Reggie staggered back as if he had been kicked in the stomach by a Kentucky mule. For he knew who the grimly determined leader of the colonists was. He knew—and the knowledge turned his knees to jelly—that he was none other than the Father of the United States, George Washington!
Other facts were coming to him. This was the famous Christmas Eve raid on the carousing Hessian soldiers at Trenton. This was the historic night that Washington crossed the ice-locked Delaware River and plundered the English storehouses of munitions and supplies. Munitions and supplies that were to give the revolutionary forces new life and courage and enable them to eventually fight the English to a standstill.
Reggie thought of the drunken, helpless Hessians, made drunk and helpless by that prize ass of all ages, Reggie Vliet! He thought of what they might have done to repel the troops of Washington if he hadn't gotten them blindly drunk. Tears of despair oozed from his bleary eyes and trickled down his cheeks.
The soldiers of the revolution were closer and suddenly Reggie realized his own danger. For a moment he was tempted to remain where he was and be shot for disturbing the peace, or something, but he thought of Sandra and changed his mind. She, poor deluded girl, was depending on him. He had wasted four of his precious opportunities in Time, and now only one remained. One chance to change the history of the world. If he failed in this last attempt, everything he held dear would be irretrievably lost.
Reggie wheeled and ran staggeringly along the veranda, plunged over a low railing and landed up to his neck in prickly bushes. Extricating himself, he staggered along the side of the house as muskets began to explode behind him. Balls blasted past his head singeing his hair with their passage. But, miraculously, he rounded the last corner in an unperforated condition. His eyes, handicapped by the fumes of brandy, tried vainly to penetrate the darkness. He was searching for the stables—there must be stables. Where his eyes left off, his nose took up. It guided him, weavingly but unerringly, to the horses.
Revolutionary soldiers raced around the corner of the building before Reggie could climb onto a horse. They advanced cautiously, holding their fire until they could gain a clear, unobstructed shot at their target. Reggie experienced a foggy sort of terror. With his last sober strength he climbed awkwardly to the bony back of a horse. Then he slapped it wildly with his hat. The animal bolted forward like a shot from a cannon. Reggie saw something flashing toward him but he didn't duck in time. A beam of the stable struck him a stunning blow across the head, and the next instant the floor smashed him athwart the skull. He rolled aside frantically as a slug blasted into the floor next to him. He could hear the triumphant shouts of the colonists as his hand groped for the Time Machine.
He spun the indicator wildly, while his mind sought for an idea where he might go to make his last bid for a chance to change history. But the sight of a uniformed member of the Continental Army, his bearded face twisted with satisfaction as he drew a bead on the Vliet right eye, was too much for Reggie. Already the soldier's heavy forefinger was tightening on the musket trigger.
Heedless of the pointer's location, he pressed the button on the watch—just as the roar of the musket filled his ears with thunder and his eyes with fire. There was a prolonged sensation of falling, and Reggie Vliet knew no more....
CONSCIOUSNESS returned to him very slowly on this occasion, and there was a horrible, throbbing ache above his left ear that had not been there before. He was lying on his right side on a brown carpet with a very thick pile, and there seemed to be a conglomeration of metal wheels and springs and shattered glass about him.
There was but one thought in his mind by the time he had recovered sufficiently to think at all. "This," Reggie muttered, "is my fifth chance—my last chance! If I fail to change history this time, Sandra is lost to me—forever!"
"He's coming around," said a shaky, masculine voice.
Something cold and wet—very wet—enveloped the pain above his left ear. And then a slim, very lovely, brunette girl dropped to her knees before him, holding a dripping towel.
"Oh Reggie, darling," she gasped. "Are you all right?"
It, Reggie realized with a pang, was Sandra Vanderveer!
"No!" he said loudly. "It's all wrong, darling! I've made a mess of everything! The five chances are gone! I haven't changed history, Sandra; now we can never be married!"
"But Reggie," wailed the girl. "We are married!"
"Oh, you poor dear! That crack on the head knocked what little sense you—I mean," she corrected hastily, "that it—it... well, I'm going to sue this club for a million dollars! Letting a heavy grandfather's clock tip over and fall on one of the members..."
And then everything was crystal clear to Reggie Vliet. Why, of course! Sandra and he had been married for years. That blankety clock had finally tumbled down from the landing leading to the club's second floor, just as he had often predicted it would. And of course, he would be the one it struck! That, too, would account for the pile of wheels and springs around him.
Several pairs of hands helped him to his feet. Reggie teetered there uncertainly, while his newly formed explanation for his recent journey into the past began to totter.
For Lowndes' Time Machine actually was strapped to his wrist! And he had fumbled with the mechanism; had pushed the button that operated it.
The falling grandfather's clock had nothing to do with that fact.
"Do you feel all right now, my sweet?" Sandra was saying solicitously. "I suppose it's all my fault," she babbled on, "for being so insistent that you meet me here at exactly five o'clock. I was so emphatic that it be five, and not a second later, that you arrived here an hour ahead of time so's not to disappoint me..."
Five, thought Reggie. Five. Five. And he had had only five chances of changing history, thereby winning Sandra. Had his clock-stricken brain seized on that number and woven it into the weird dream he had just come through?
"But the Time Machine!" he said, loudly and violently. "I pushed the button. I must have gone back in Time. It couldn't have been a dream!"
Sandra's worried blue eyes regarded him tenderly. "You'll be all right soon, darling. Please stop babbling.... Why, Reggie!" she exclaimed suddenly, "where in the world did you get the odd wristwatch?"
BEFORE Reggie could prevent, she reached out and took hold of his arm, bringing the watch to where she could see it more clearly.
"It's certainly a queer looking timepiece," she continued. "What's this little button here?"
In utter horror, Reggie watched her set a finger on the button.
"No, Sandra!" he tried to scream, but it was hardly more than a croak.
Too late! Under the finger's pressure, the button was already fully depressed!
And nothing happened!
In the brief period of stunned silence that followed Reggie's choked protest, the young man dazedly lifted the Time Machine to his ear.
It was supposed to tick. All the time. But it was silent.
So gusty was the sigh of relief that swished between Reggie's parted lips that the frills on Sandra's waist wavered in the breeze. With a quick motion he slipped the watch from his wrist and dropped it into a pocket.
"Now, darling," he said crisply, "let's get on with this five o'clock appointment you're so keen about."
"Oh Reggie!" gurgled Sandra, relieved. "Now you're acting like your old self again!"
"Righto." Reggie tucked her tiny hand under one of his arms and they started toward the club's outer door. "Shall we be off?"
"Speaking for you," Sandra said, "I hope it's no further off than usual!"
"Pip pip!" said Reginald Vliet.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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