The thought left me sober. I paused in my pacing and looked at her. As though in answer to my gaze she glanced up and smiled so affectionately that it was all I could do to keep from leaping forward and taking her right into my arms.
I turned hastily, and to cover my confusion I began to hum a strain from the part of "Faust" to which I have referred. I hummed it through, and was beginning again, when I was startled to hear this from the girl: "Oh, then you are Hobart!"
I wheeled, to see her face filled with a wonderful light.
"Hobart," she repeated, as one might repeat the name of a very dear one. "That—that music you were humming! Why, I heard Harry Wendel humming that yesterday!"
I suppose we looked very stupid, the three of us, so dumbfounded that we could do nothing but gape incredulously at that extraordinary creature and her equally extraordinary utterance. She immediately did her best to atone for her sensation.
"I'm not sure that I can make it clear," she said, smiling dubiously, "but if you will use your imaginations and try to fill in the gaps in what I say you may get a fair idea of the place I have come from, and where Harry is."
We leaned forward, intensely alert. I shall never forget the pitiful eagerness in poor Charlotte's face. It meant more to her, perhaps, than to anyone else.
At the precise instant I heard a sound, off in the breakfast room. It seemed to be a subdued knocking, or rather a pounding at the door.
Frowning at the interruption, I stepped through the dining-room into the breakfast room, where the sounds came from. And I was not a little puzzled to note that the door to the basement was receiving the blows.
Now I had been the last to visit the basement and had locked the door—from force of habit, I suppose—leaving the key in the lock. It was still there. And there is but one way to enter that basement: through this one door, and no other.
"Who is it?" I called out peremptorily. No answer; only a repetition of the pounds.
"What do you want?"—louder.
"Open this door, quick!" cane a muffled reply.
The voice was unrecognisable. I stood and thought quickly; then shouted:
"Wait a minute, until I get a key!"
I motioned to Charlotte. She tip-toed to my side. I whispered something in her ear; and she slipped off into the kitchen, there to phone Miss Clarke and warn her to notify her colleagues at once. And so, as I unlocked the door, I was fortified by the knowledge that I would be assisted by the combined mind-force of a score of highly developed intellects.
I was little surprised, a second later, to see that the intruder was Rhamda Avec. What reason to expect anyone else?
"How did you get down there?" I demanded. "Don't you realise that you are liable to arrest for trespass?"
I said it merely to start conversation but it served only to bring a slight smile to the face of this professed friend of ours, for whom we felt nothing but distrust and fear.
"Let us not waste time in trivialities, Fenton," he rejoined gently. He brushed a fleck of cobweb from his coat. "By this time you ought to know that you cannot deal with me in any ordinary fashion."
I made no comment as, without asking my leave or awaiting an invitation, he stepped through into the dining-room and thence into the parlour. I followed, half tempted to strike him down from behind, but restrained more by the fact that I must spare him than from any compunctions. Seemingly he knew this as well as I, he was serenely at ease.
And thus he stood before Jerome and Ariadne. The detective made a single exclamation, and furtively shifted his coat sleeves. He was getting that infernal breast gun into action. As for Ariadne, she stared at the new arrival as though astonished at first.
When Charlotte returned, a moment later, she showed only mild surprise. She quietly took her chair and as quietly moved her hand so that the gem shone in full view of our visitor.
But he gave her and the stone only a single glance, and then rested his eyes upon our new friend. To my anxiety, Ariadne was gazing fixedly at him now, her expression combining both agitation and a vague fear.
It could not have been due entirely to his unusual appearance; for there was no denying that this grey-haired yet young-faced man with the distinguished, courteous bearing, looked even younger that night than ever before. No; the girl's concern was deeper, more acute. I felt an unaccountable alarm.
From Ariadne to me the Rhamda glanced, then back again; and a quick satisfied smile came to his mouth. He gave an almost imperceptible nod. And, keeping his gaze fixed upon her eyes, he remarked carelessly:
"Which of these chairs shall I sit in, Fenton?"
"This one," I replied instantly, pointing to the one I had just quit.
Smiling, he selected a chair a few feet away.
Whereupon I congratulated myself. The man feared me, then; yet he ranked my mentality no higher than that! In other words, remarkably clever though he might be, and as yet unthwarted, he could by no means be called omnipotent.
"For your benefit, Mr. Jerome, let me say that I phoned Miss Fenton and her brother a few days ago, and urged them to give up their notion of occupying this house or of attempting to solve the mystery that you are already acquainted with. And I prophesied, Mr. Jerome, that their refusal to accept my advice would be followed by events that would justify me.
"They refused, as you know; and I am here tonight to make a final plea, so that they may escape the consequences of their wilfulness."
"You're a crook! And the more I see of you, Avec, the more easily I can understand why they turned you down!"
"So you too, are prejudiced against me. I cannot understand this. My motives are quite above question, I assure you."
"Really!" I observed sarcastically. I stole a glance at Ariadne; her eyes were still riveted, in a rapt yet half-fearful abstraction, upon the face of the Rhamda. It was time I took her attention away.
I called her name. She did not move her head, or reply. I said it louder: "Ariadne!"
"What is it, Hobart?"—very softly.
"Ariadne, this gentleman possesses a great deal of knowledge of the locality from which you came. We are interested in him, because we feel sure that, if he chose to, he could tell us something about our friends who—about Harry Wendel." Why not lay the cards plainly on the table? The Rhamda must be aware of it all, anyhow. "And as this man has said, he has tried to prevent us from solving the mystery. It occurs to me, Ariadne, that you might recognise this man. But apparently—"
She shook her head just perceptibly. I proceeded:
"He is pleased to call his warning a prophecy; but we feel that a threat is a threat. What he really wants is that ring."
Ariadne had already, earlier in the hour, given the gem several curious glances. Now she stirred and sighed, and was about to turn her eyes from the Rhamda to the ring when he spoke again; this time in a voice as sharp as a steel blade:
"I do not enjoy being misunderstood, much less being misrepresented, Mr. Fenton. At the same time, since you have seen fit to brand me in such uncomplimentary terms, suppose I state what I have to say very bluntly, so that there may be no mistake about it. If you do not either quit this house, or give up the ring—NOW—you will surely regret it the rest of your lives!"
From the corner of my eye I saw Jerome moving slowly in his chair, so that he could face directly towards the Rhamda. His hands were ready for the swift, upward jerk which, I knew, would stifle our caller.
As for my sister, she merely turned the ring so that the gem no longer faced the Rhamda; and with the other hand she reached out and grasped Ariadne's firmly.
Avec sat with his two hands clasping the arms of his chair. His fingers drummed nervously but lightly on the wood. And then, suddenly, they stopped their motion.
"Your answer, Fenton," in his usual gentle voice. "I can give you no more time," I did not need to consult Charlotte or Jerome. I knew what they would have said.
"You are welcome to my answer. It is—no!"
As I spoke the last word my gaze was fixed on the Rhamda's eyes. He, on the other hand, was looking towards Ariadne. And at the very instant an expression, as of alarm and sorrow, swept into the man's face.
My glance jumped to Ariadne. Her eyes were closed, her face suffused; she seemed to be suffocating. She gave a queer little sound, half gasp and half cry.
Simultaneously Jerome's hands shot into the air. The room shivered with the stunning report of his breast gun. And every pellet struck the Rhamda and burst.
A look of intense astonishment came into his face. He gave Jerome a fleeting glance, almost of admiration; then his nostrils contracted with pain as the gas attacked his lungs.
Another second, and each of us were reeling with the fumes. Jerome started toward the window, to raise it, then sank back into his chair. And when he turned round—
He and I and Charlotte saw an extraordinary thing. Instead of succumbing to the gas, Rhamda Avec somehow recovered himself. And while the rest of us remained still too numbed to move or speak, he found power to do both.
"I warned you plainly, Fenton," as though nothing in particular had happened. "And now see what you have brought upon the poor child!"
I could only roll my head stupidly, to stare at Ariadne's now senseless form.
"As usual, Fenton, you will blame me for it. I cannot help that. But it may still be possible for you to repent of your folly and escape your fate. You are playing with terrible forces. If you do repent, just follow these instructions"—laying a card on the table—"and I will see what I can do for you. I wish you all good night."
And with that, pausing only to make a courtly bow to Charlotte, Rhamda Avec turned and walked deliberately, dignifiedly from the room, while the two men and a woman stared helplessly after him and allowed him to go in peace.
THE LIVING DEATH
As soon as the fresh air had revived us somewhat, we first of all examined Ariadne. She still lay unconscious, very pale, and alarmingly limp. I picked her up and carried her into the next room, where there was a sofa, while Jerome went for water and Charlotte brought smelling-salts.
Neither of these had any effect. Ariadne seemed to be scarcely breathing; her heart beat only faintly, and there was no response to such other methods as friction, slapping, or pinching of fingernails.
"We had better call a doctor," decided Charlotte promptly, and went to the phone.
I picked up the card which the Rhamda had left. It contained simply his name, together with one other word—the name of a morning newspaper. Evidently he meant for us to insert an advertisement as soon as we were ready to capitulate.
"Not yet!" the three of us decided, after talking it over. And we waited as patiently as we could during the fifteen minutes that elapsed before the telephoning got results.
It brought Dr. Hansen, who, it may be remembered, was closely identified with the Chick Watson disappearance. He made a rapid but very careful examination.
"It has all the appearance of a mild electric shock. What caused it, Fenton?"
I told him. His eyes narrowed when I mentioned Avec, then widened in astonishment and incredulity as I related the man's inexplicable effect upon the girl, and his strange immunity to the poison gas. But the doctor asked nothing further about our situation, proceeding at once to apply several restoratives. All were without result. As a final resort, he even rigged up an electrical connection, making use of some coils which I had upstairs, and endeavoured to arouse the girl in that fashion. Still without result.
"Good Lord, Hansen!" I finally burst out, when he stood back, apparently baffled. "She's simply GOT to be revived! We can't allow her to succumb to that scoundrel's power, whatever it is!"
"Why not a blood transfusion?" I asked eagerly, as an idea came to me. "I'm in perfect condition. What about it? Go to it, doc!"
He slowly shook his head. And beyond a single searching glance into my eyes, wherein he must have read something more than I had said, he regretfully replied:
"This is a case for a specialist, Fenton. Everything considered, I should say that she is suffering from a purely mental condition; but whether it had a physical or a psychic origin, I can't say."
In short, he did not feel safe about going ahead with any really heroic measures until a brain specialist was called in.
I had a good deal of confidence in Hansen. And what he said sounded reasonable. So we agreed to his calling in a Dr. Higgins— the same man, in fact, who was too late in reaching the house to save Chick on that memorable night a year before.
His examination was swift and convincingly competent. He went over the same ground that Hansen had covered, took the blood pressure and other instrumental data, and asked us several questions regarding Ariadne's mentality as we knew it. Scarcely stopping to think it over, Higgins decided:
"The young woman is suffering from a temporary dissociation of brain centres. Her cerebrum does not co-act with her cerebellum. In other words, her conscious mind, for lack of means to express itself, is for the time being dormant as in sleep.
"But it is not like ordinary sleep. Such is induced by fatigue of the nerve channels. This young woman's condition is produced by shock; and since there was no physical violence, we must conclude that the shock was psychic.
"In that case, the condition will last until one of two things occurs; either she must be similarly shocked back into sensibility—and I can't see how this can happen, Fenton, unless you can secure the co-operation of the man to whom you attribute the matter—or she must lie that way indefinitely."
"Indefinitely!" I exclaimed, sensing something ominous. "You mean—"
"That there is no known method of reviving a patient in such a condition. It might be called psychic catalepsy. To speak plainly, Fenton, unless this man revives her, she will remain unconscious until her death."
I shuddered. What horrible thing had come into our lives to afflict us with so dreadful a prospect?
"Is—is there no hope, Dr. Higgins?"
"Very little"—gently but decisively. "All I can assure you is that she will not die immediately. From the general state of her health, she will live at least seventy-two hours. After that—you must be prepared for the worst at any moment."
I turned away quickly, so that he could not see my face. What an awful situation! Unless we could somehow lay hands on the Rhamda—
I hunted up Jerome. I said:
"Jerry, the thing is plainly up to you and me. Higgins gives us three days. Day after tomorrow morning, if we haven't got results by that time, we've got to give in and put that ad in the paper. But I don't mean to give in, Jerry! Not until I've exhausted every other possibility!"
"What're you going to do?" he asked thoughtfully.
"Work on that ring. I was a fool not to get busy sooner. As for the rest, that's up to you! You've got to get yourself on the Rhamda's trail as soon as you can, and camp there! The first chance you get, ransack his room and belongings, and bring me every bit of data you find. Between him and the ring, the truth ought to come out."
"All right. But don't forget that—" pointing to the unexplained spot on the wood of the doorway. "You've got a mighty important clue there, waiting for you to analyse it."
And he went and got his hat, and left the house. His final remark was that we wouldn't see him back until he had something to report about our man.
Five o'clock the next morning found my sister and me out of our beds and desperately busy. She spent a good deal of time, of course in caring for Ariadne. The poor girl showed no improvement at all; and we got scant encouragement from the fact that she looked no worse.
Not a sound escaped her lips; her eyes remained closed; she gave no sign of life, save her barely perceptible breathing. It made me sick at heart just to look at her; so near, and yet so fearfully far away.
But when Charlotte could spare any time she gave me considerable help in what I was trying to do. One great service she was rendering has already been made clear: she wore the ring constantly, thus relieving me of the anxiety of caring for it. I was very cautious not to have it in my possession for more than a few minutes at a time.
My first move was to set down, in orderly fashion, the list of the gem's attributes. I grouped together the fluctuating nature of its pale blue colour, its power of reproducing those who had gone into the Blind Spot, its combination of perfect solidity with extreme lightness; its quality of coldness to the touch of a male, and warmth to that of a female; and finally its ability to induct—I think this is the right term—to induct sounds out of the unknown. This last quality might be called spasmodic or accidental, whereas the others were permanent and constant.
Now, to this list I presently was able to add that the gem possessed no radioactive properties that I could detect with the usual means. It was only when I began dabbling in chemistry that I learned things.
By placing the gem inside a glass bell, and exhausting as much air as possible from around it, the way was cleared for introducing other forms of gases. Whereupon I discovered this:
The stone will absorb any given quantity of hydrogen gas.
In this respect it behaves analogously to that curious place on the door-frame. Only, it absorbs gas, no liquid; and not any gas, either—none but hydrogen.
Now, obviously this gem cannot truly absorb so much material, in the sense of retaining it as well. The simple test of weighing it afterwards proves this; for its weight remains the same in any circumstances.
Moreover, unlike the liquids which I poured into the wood and saw afterwards in the basement, the gas does not escape back into the air. I kept it under the Dell long enough to be sure of that. No; that hydrogen is, manifestly, translated into the Blind Spot.
Learning nothing further about the gem at that time, I proceeded to investigate the trim of the door. I began by trying to find out the precise thickness of that liquid-absorbing layer.
To do this I scraped off the "skin" of the air-darkened wood. This layer was .02 of an inch thick. And—that was the total amount of the active material!
I put these scrapings through a long list of experiments. They told me nothing valuable. I learned only one detail worth mentioning; if a fragment of the scrapings be brought near to the Holcomb gem—say, to within two inches—the scrapings will burst into flame. It is merely a bright, pinkish flare, like that made by smokeless rifle-powder. No ashes remain. After that we took care not to bring the ring near the remaining material on the board.
All this occurred on the first day after Ariadne was stricken. Jerome phoned to say that he had engaged the services of a dozen private detectives, and expected to get wind of the Rhamda any hour. Both Dr. Hansen and Dr. Higgins called twice, without being able to detect any change for the better or otherwise in their patient.
That evening Charlotte and I concluded that we could not hold out any longer. We must give in to the Rhamda. I phoned for a messenger, and sent an advertisement to the newspaper which Avec had indicated.
The thing was done. We had capitulated.
The next development would be another and triumphant call from the Rhamda, and this time we would have to give up the gem to him if we were to save Ariadne.
The game was up.
But instead of taking the matter philosophically, I worried about it all night. I told myself again and again that I was foolish to think about something that couldn't be helped. Why not forget it, and go to sleep?
But somehow I couldn't. I lay wide awake till long past midnight, finding myself growing more and more nervous. At last, such was the tension of it all, I got up and dressed. It was then about one-thirty, and I stepped out on the street for a walk.
Half an hour later I returned, my lungs full of fresh air, hoping that I could now sleep. It was only a hope. Never have I felt wider awake than I did then.
Once more—about three—I took another stroll outside. I seemed absolutely tireless.
Each time that I had turned back home I seemed to feel stronger than ever, more wakeful. Finally I dropped the idea altogether, went to the house, and left a note for Charlotte, then walked down to the waterfront and watched some ships taking advantage of the tide. Anything to pass the time.
And thus it happened, that, about eight o'clock—breakfast time at 288 Chatterton Place—I returned to the house, and sat down at the table with Charlotte. First, however, I opened the morning paper to read our little ad.
It was not there. It had not been printed.
AT THE ELEVENTH HOUR
I dropped the paper in dismay. Charlotte looked up, startled, gave me a single look, and turned pale,
"What—what's the matter?" she stammered fearfully.
I showed her. Then I ran to the phone. In a few seconds I was talking to the very man who had taken the note from the messenger the day before.
"Yes, I handed it in along with the rest," he replied to my excited query. Then—"Wait a minute," said he; and a moment later added: "Say, Mr. Fenton, I've made a mistake! Here's the darned ad on the counter; it must have slipped under the blotter."
I went back and told Charlotte. We stared at one another blankly. Why in the name of all that was baffling had our ad "slipped" under that blotter? And what were we to do?
This was the second day!
Well, we did what we could. We arranged for the insertion of the same notice in each of the three afternoon papers. There would still be time for the Rhamda to act, if he saw it.
The hours dragged by. Never did time pass more slowly; and yet, I begrudged every one. So much for being absolutely helpless.
About ten o'clock the next morning—that is to say, today; I am writing this the same evening—the front door bell rang. Charlotte answered and in a moment came back with a card. It read:
SIR HENRY HODGES
I nearly upset the table in my excitement. I ran into the hall. Who wouldn't? Sir Henry Hodges! The English scientist about whom the whole world was talking! The most gifted investigator of the day; the most widely informed; of all men on the face of the globe, the best equipped, mentally, to explore the unknown! Without the slightest formality I grabbed his hand and shook it until he smiled at my enthusiasm.
"My dear Sir Henry," I told him, "I'm immensely glad to see you! The truth is, I've been hoping you'd be interested in our case; but I didn't have the nerve to bother you with it!"
"And I," he admitted in his quiet way, "have been longing to take a hand in it, ever since I first heard of Professor Holcomb's disappearance. Didn't like to offer myself; understood that the matter had been hushed up and—"
"For the very simple reason," I explained, "that there was nothing to be gained by publicity. If we had given the public the facts, we would have been swamped with volunteers to help us. I didn't know whom to confide in, Sir Henry; couldn't make up my mind. I only knew that one such man as yourself was just what I needed."
He overlooked the compliment, and pulled out the newspaper from his pocket. "Bought this a few minutes ago. Saw your ad, and jumped to the conclusion that matters had reached an acute stage. Let me have the whole story, my boy, as briefly as you can."
He already knew the published details. Also, he seemed to be acquainted—in some manner which puzzled me—with much that had not been printed. I sketched the affair as quickly as I could, making it clear that we were face to face with a crisis. When I wound up by saying that it was Dr. Higgins who gave Ariadne three days, ending about midnight, in which she might recover if we could secure Rhamda Avec, he said kindly:
"I'm afraid you made a mistake, my boy, in not seeking some help. The game has reached a point where you cannot have too many brains on your side. Time is short for reinforcements!"
He heartily approved of my course in enlisting the aid of Miss Clarke and her colleagues. "That is the sort of thing you need! People with mentality; plenty of intellectual force!" And he went on to make suggestions.
As a result, within an hour and a half our house was sheltering five more persons.
Miss Clarke has already been introduced. She was easily one of the ten most advanced practitioners in her line. And she had the advantage of a curiosity that was interested in everything odd, even though she labelled it "non-existent." She said it helped her faith in the real truths to be conversant with the unreal.
Dr. Malloy was from the university, an out-and-out materialist, a psychologist who made life interesting for those who agreed with William James. His investigations of abnormal psychology are world-acknowledged.
Mme. Le Fabre, we afterwards learned, had come from Versailles especially to investigate the matter that was bothering us. She possessed no mediumistic properties of her own but was a staunch proponent of spiritualism, believing firmly in immortality and the omnipotence of "translated" souls.
Professor Herold is most widely known as the inventor of certain apparatus connected with wireless. But he is also considered the West's most advanced student of electrical and radio-active subjects.
I was enormously glad to have this man's expert, high-tension knowledge right on tap.
The remaining member of the quintet which Sir Henry advised me to summon requires a little explanation. Also, I am obliged to give him a name not his own; for it is not often that brigadier- generals of the United States army can openly lend their names to anything so far removed apparently from militarism as the searching of the occult.
Yet we knew that this man possessed a power that few scientists have developed; the power of co-ordination, of handling and balancing great facts and forces, and of deciding promptly how best to meet any given situation. Not that we looked for anything militaristic out of the Blind Spot; far from it. We merely knew not what to expect, which was exactly why we wanted to have him with us; his type of mind is, perhaps, the most solidly comforting sort that any mystery-bound person can have at his side.
By the time these five had gathered, Jerome had neither returned nor telephoned. There was not the slightest trace of Rhamda Avec; no guessing as to whether he had seen the ad. It was then one o'clock in the afternoon. Only six hours ago! It doesn't seem possible.
So there were eight of us—three women and five men—who went upstairs and quietly inspected the all but lifeless form of Ariadne and afterwards gathered in the library below.
All were thoroughly familiar with the situation. Miss Clarke calmly commented to the effect that the entire Blind Spot affair was due wholly and simply to the cumulative effects of so many, many subjects; the result, in other words, of error.
Dr. Malloy was equally outspoken in his announcement that he proposed to deal with the matter from the standpoint of psychic aberration. He mentioned dissociated personalities, group hypnosis, and so on. But he declared that he was open to conviction, and anxious to get any and all facts.
Sir Henry had a good deal of difficulty in getting Mme. Le Fabre to commit herself. Probably she felt that, since Sir Henry had gone on record as being doubtful of the spiritistic explanation of psychic phenomena, she might get into a controversy with him. But in the end she stated that she expected to find our little mystery simply a novel variation on what was so familiar to her.
As might be supposed, General Hume had no opinion. He merely expressed himself as being prepared to accept any sound theory, or portions of such theories as might be advanced, and arrive at a workable conclusion therefrom. Which was exactly what we wanted of him.
Of them all, Professor Herold showed the most enthusiasm. Perhaps this was because, despite his attainments, he is still young. At any rate, he made it clear that he was fully prepared to learn something entirely new in science. And he was almost eager to adjust his previous notions and facts to the new discoveries.
When all these various viewpoints had been cleared up, and we felt that we understood each other, it was inevitable that we should look to Sir Henry to state his position. This one man combined a large amount of the various, specialised abilities for which the others were noted, and they all knew and respected him accordingly. Had he stood and theorised half the afternoon, they would willingly have sat and listened. But instead he glanced at his watch, and observed:
"To me, the most important development of all was hearing the sound of a dog's bark coming from the ring. As I recall the details, the sound was emitted just after the gem had been submitted to considerable handling, from Miss Fenton's fingers to her brother's and back again. In other words, it was subjected to a mixture of opposing animal magnetisms. Suppose we experiment further with it now."
Charlotte slipped the gem from her finger and passed it around. Each of us held it for a second or two; after which Charlotte clasped the ring tightly in her palm, while we all joined hands.
It was, as I have said, broad daylight; the hour, shortly after one. Scarcely had our hands completed the circuit than something happened.
From out of Charlotte's closed hand there issued an entirely new sound. At first it was so faint and fragmentary that only two of us heard it. Then it became stronger and more continuous, and presently we were all gazing at each other in wonderment.
For the sound was that of footsteps.
DIRECT FROM PARADISE
The sound was not like that of the walking of the human. Nor was it such as an animal would make. It was neither a thud nor a pattering, but more like a scratching shuffle, such as reminded me of nothing that I had ever heard before.
Next moment, however, there came another sort of sound, plainly audible above the footsteps. This was a thin, musical chuckle which ended in a deep, but faint, organ-like throb. It happened only once.
Immediately it was followed by a steady clicking, such as might be made by gently striking a stick against the pavement; only sharper. This lasted a minute, during which the other sounds ceased.
Once more the footsteps. They were not very loud, but in the stillness of that room they all but resounded.
Presently Charlotte could stand it no longer. She placed the ring on the table, where it continued to emit those unplaceable sounds.
"Well! Do—do you people," stammered Dr. Malloy, "do you people all hear THAT?"
Miss Clarke's face was rather pale. But her mouth was firm. "It is nothing," said she, with theosophical positiveness. "You must not believe it—it is not the truth of—"
"Pardon me," interrupted Sir Henry, "but this isn't something to argue about! It is a reality; and the sooner we all admit it, the better. There is a living creature of some kind making that sound!"
"It is the spirit of some two-footed creature," asserted Mme. Le Fabre, plainly at her ease. She was on familiar ground now. "If only we had a medium!"
Abruptly the sounds left the vicinity of the ring. At first we could not locate their new position. Then Herold declared that they came from under the table; and presently we were all gathered on the floor, listening to those odd little sounds, while the ring remained thirty inches above, on the top of the table!
It may be that the thing, whatever it was, did not care for such a crowd. For shortly the shuffling ceased. And for a while we stared and listened, scarcely breathing, trying to locate the new position.
Finally we went back to our chairs. We had heard nothing further. Nevertheless, we continued to keep silence, with our ears alert for anything more.
"Hush!" whispered Charlotte all of a sudden. "Did you hear that?" And she looked up toward the ceiling.
In a moment I caught the sound. It was exceedingly faint, like the distant thrumming of a zither. Only it was a single note, which did not rise and fall, although there seemed a continual variation in its volume.
Unexpectedly the other sounds came again, down under the table. This time we remained in our seats and simply listened. And presently Sir Henry, referring to the ring, made this suggestion:
"Suppose we seal it up, and see whether it inducts the sound then as well as when exposed."
This appealed to Herold very strongly; the others were agreeable; so I ran upstairs to my room and secured a small screw-top metal canister, which I knew to be airtight. It was necessary to remove the stone from the ring, in order to get it into the opening in the can. Presently this was done; and while our invisible visitor continued his scratchy little walking as before, I screwed the top of the can down as tightly as I could.
Instantly the footsteps halted.
I unscrewed the top a trifle. As instantly the stepping was resumed.
"Ah!" cried Herold. "It's a question of radioactivity, then! Remember Le Bon's experiments, Sir Henry?"
But Miss Clarke was sorely mystified by this simple matter, and herself repeated the experiments. Equally puzzled was Mme. Le Fabre. According to her theory, a spirit wouldn't mind a little thing like a metal box. Of them all, Dr. Malloy was the least disturbed; so decidedly so that General Hume eyed him quizzically.
"Fine bunch of hallucinations, doctor."
"Almost commonplace," retorted Malloy.
Presently I mentioned that the Rhamda had come from the basement on the night that Ariadne had materialised; and I showed that the only possible route into the cellar was through the locked door in the breakfast room, since the windows were all too small, and there was no other door. Query: How had the Rhamda got there? Immediately they all became alert. As Herold said:
"One thing or the other is true; either there is something downstairs which has escaped you, Fenton, or else Avec is able to materialise in any place he chooses. Let's look!"
We all went down except Charlotte, who went upstairs to stay with Ariadne. By turns, each of us held the ring. And as we unlocked the basement door we noted that the invisible, walking creature had reached there before us.
Down the steps went those unseen little feet, jumping from one step to the next just ahead of us all the way. When within three or four steps of the bottom, the creature made one leap do for them all.
I had previously run an extension cord down into the basement, and both compartments could now be lighted by powerful electric lamps. We gave the place a quick examination.
"What's all this newly turned earth mean?" inquired Sir Henry, pointing to the result of Jerome's efforts a few months before. And I explained how he and Harry, on the chance the basement might contain some clue as to the localisation of the Blind Spot, had dug without result in the bluish clay.
Sir Henry picked up the spade, which had never been moved from where Jerome had dropped it. And while I went on to tell about the pool of liquids, which for some unknown reason had not seeped into the soil since forming there, the Englishman proceeded to dig vigorously into the heap I had mentioned.
The rest of us watched him thoughtfully. We remembered that Jerome's digging had been done after Queen's disappearance. And the dog had vanished in the rear room, the one in which Chick and Dr. Holcomb had last been seen. Now, when Jerome had dug the clay from the basement under this, the dining-room, he had thrown it through the once concealed opening in the partition; had thrown the clay, that is, in a small heap under the library. And—after Jerome had done this the phenomena had occurred in the library, not in the dining-room.
"By Jove!" ejaculated General Hume, as I pointed this out. "This may be something more, you know, that mere coincidence!"
Sir Henry said nothing, but continued his spading. He paid attention to nothing save the heap that Jerome had formed. And with each spadeful he bent over and examined the clay very carefully.
Miss Clarke and Mme. Le Fabre both remained very calm about it all. Each from her own viewpoint regarded the work as more or less a waste of time. But I noticed that they did not take their eyes from the spade.
Sir Henry stopped to rest. "Let me," offered Herold; and went on as the Englishman had done, holding up each spadeful for inspection. And it was thus that we made a strange discovery.
We all saw it at the same time. Embedded in the bluish earth was a small, egg-shaped piece of light-coloured stone. And protruding from its upper surface was a tiny, blood-red pebble, no bigger than a good-sized shot.
Herold thrust the point of his spade under the stone, to lift it up. Whereupon he gave a queer exclamation.
"Well, that's funny!" holding the stone up in front of us. "That little thing's as heavy as—as—it's HEAVIER than lead!"
Sir Henry picked the stone off the spade. Immediately the material crumbled in his hands, as though rotting, so that it left only the small, red pebble intact. Sir Henry weighed this thoughtfully in his palm, then without a word handed it around.
We all wondered at the pebble. It was most astonishingly heavy. As I say, it was no bigger than a fair-sized shot, yet it was vastly heavier.
Afterward we weighed it, upstairs, and found that the trifle weighed over half a pound. Considering its very small bulk, this worked out to be a specific gravity of 192.6 or almost ten times as heavy as the same bulk of pure gold. And gold is heavy.
Inevitably we saw that there must be some connection between this unprecedentedly heavy speck of material and that lighter-than-air gem of mystery. For the time being we were careful to keep the two apart. As for the unexplained footsteps, they were still slightly audible, as the invisible creatures moved around the cellar.
At last we turned to go. I let the others lead the way. Thus I was the last to approach the steps; and it was at that moment that I felt something brush against my foot.
I stooped down. My hands collided with the thing that had touched me. And I found myself clutching—
Something invisible—something which, in that brilliant light, showed absolutely nothing to my eyes. But my hands told me I was grasping a very real thing, as real as my fingers themselves.
I made some sort of incoherent exclamation. The others turned and peered at me.
"What is it?" came Herold's excited voice.
"I don't know!" I gasped. "Come here."
But Sir Henry was the first to reach me. Next instant he, too, was fingering the tiny, unseen object. And such was his iron nerve and superior self-control, he identified it almost at once.
"By the lord!"—softly. "Why, it's a small bird! Come here."
Another second and they were all there. I was glad enough of it; for, like a flash, with an unexpectedness that startles me even now as I think of it—
The thing became visible. Right in my grasp, a little fluttering bird came to life.
It was a tiny thing, and most amazingly beautiful. It could not have stood as high as a canary; and had its feathers been made of gleaming silver they could not have been lovelier. And its black- plumed head, and long, blossom-like tail, were such as no man on earth ever set eyes on.
Like a flash it was gone. Not more than a half a second was this enchanting apparition visible to us. Before we could discern any more than I have mentioned, it not only vanished but it ceased to make any sounds whatever. And each of us drew a long breath, as one might after being given a glimpse of an angel.
Right now, five or six hours after the events I have just described, it is very easy for me to smile at my emotions of the time. How startled and mystified I was! And—why not confess it?— just a trifle afraid. Why? Because I didn't understand! Merely that.
At this moment I sit in my laboratory upstairs in that house, rejoicing in having reached the end of the mystery. For the enigma of the Blind Spot is no more. I have solved it!
Now twenty feet away, in another room, lies Ariadne. Already there is a faint trace of colour in her cheeks, and her heart is beating more strongly. Another hour, says Dr. Higgins, and she will be restored to us!
The time is seven p.m. I didn't sleep at all last night; I haven't slept since. For the past five hours we have been working steadily on the mystery, ever since our finding that little, red pebble in the basement. The last three hours of the time I have been treating Ariadne, using means which our discoveries indicated. And in order to keep awake I have been dictating this account to a stenographer.
This young lady, a Miss Dibble, is downstairs, where her typewriter will not bother. Yes, put that down, too, Miss Dibble; I want people to know everything! She has a telephone clamped to her ears, and I am talking into a microphone which is fixed to a stand on my desk.
On that desk are four switches. All are of the four-way two-pole type; and from them run several wires, some going to one end of the room, where they are attached to the Holcomb gem. Others, running to the opposite end, making contact with the tiny heavy stone we found in the basement. Other wires run from the switches to lead bands around my wrists. Also, between switches are several connections—one circuit containing an amplifying apparatus. By throwing these switches in various combinations, I can secure any given alteration of forces, and direct them where I choose.
For there are two other wires. These run from my own lead bracelets to another room; a pair clamped around the wrists of Ariadne.
For I, Hobart Fenton, am now a living, human transforming station. I am converting the power of the Infinite into the Energy of Life. And I am transmitting that power directly out of the ether, as conduced through these two marvellous stones, back into the nervous system of the girl I love. Another hour, and she will Exist!
It was all so very simple, now that I understand it. And yet— well, an absolutely new thing is always very hard to put into words.
To begin with, I must acknowledge the enormous help which I have had from my friends: Miss Clarke, Mme. Le Fabre, General Hume, Dr. Malloy, and Herold. These people are still in the house with me; I think they are eating supper. I've already had mine. Really, I can't take much credit to myself for what I have found out. The others supplied most of the facts. I merely happened to fit them together; and, because of my relationship to the problem, am now doing the heroic end of the work.
As for Harry—he and Dr. Holcomb, Chick Watson and even the dog—I shall have them out of the Blind Spot inside of twelve hours. All I need is a little rest. I'll go straight to bed as soon as I finish reviving Ariadne; and when I wake up, we'll see who's who, friend Rhamda!
I'm too exuberant to hold myself down to the job of telling what I've discovered. But it's got to be done. Here goes!
I practically took my life in my hands when I first made connection. However, I observed the precaution of rigging up a primary connection direct from the ring to the pebble, running the wire along the floor some distance away from where I sat. No ill effects when I ventured into the line of force; so I began to experiment with the switches.
That precautionary circuit was Herold's idea. His, also, the amplifying apparatus. The mental attitude was Miss Clarke's, modified by Dr. Malloy. The lead bracelets were Mme. Le Fabre's suggestion; they work fine. Sir Henry was the one who pointed out the advantage of the microphone I am using. If my hands become paralysed I can easily call for help to my side.
Well, the first connection I tried resulted in nothing. Perfectly blank. Then I tried another and another, meanwhile continually adjusting the amplifier; and as a result I am now able, at will, to do either or all of the following:
(1) I can induct sounds from the Blind Spot; (2) I can induct light, or visibility; or (3) any given object or person, in toto.
And now to tell how. No, I'm just sleepy, not weak.
Let's see; where was I? Oh, yes; those connections. They've got to be done just right, with the proper tension in the coils, and the correct mental attitude, to harmonise. I wish I wasn't so tired!
One moment! No, no; I'm all right. I—Queer! By Jove, that's a funny thing just now! I must have got an inducted current from another wire, mixed with these! And—I got a glimpse into the Blind Spot!
A great—No; it's a—What a terrific crowd! Wonder what they're all—By Jove, it's—Good Lord, it's he! And Chick! No, I'm not wandering! I'm having the experience of my life!
Now—THAT'S the boy! Don't let 'em bluff you! Good! Good! Tell 'em where to head in! That's the boy! Rub it in! I don't know what you're up to, but I'm with you!
Er—there's a big crowd of ugly looking chaps there, and I can't make it out—Just a moment—a moment. What does it mean, anyway? Just—I—
DANGER, by Heaven! THAT'S what it means!
No; I'm all right. The—thing came to an end, abruptly. That's all; everything normal again; the room just the same as it was a moment ago. Hello! I seem to have started something! The wire down on the floor has commenced to hum! Oh, I've got my eye on it, and if anything—
Miss Dibble! Tell Herold to come! On the run! Quick! Did you? Good! don't stop writing! I—
There's Chick! CHICK! How did you get here? What? YOU CAN'T SEE ME! Why—
Chick! Listen! Listen, man! I've gone into the Blind Spot! Write this down! The connection—
That's Herold! Herold, this is Chick Watson! Listen, now, you two! The—the—I can hardly—it's from No. 4 to—to—to the ring—then—coil—
Both switches, Chick! Ah! I've—
NOTE BY MISS L. DIBBLE.—Just as Mr. Fenton made the concluding remark as above, there came a loud crash, followed by the voice of Mr. Herold. Then, there came a very loud clang from a bell; just one stroke. After which I caught Mr. Fenton's voice:
"Herold—Chick can tell you what IT wants us to do—"
And with that, his voice trailed off into nothing, and died away. As for Mr. Fenton himself, I am informed that he has utterly disappeared; and in his stead there now exists a man who is known to Dr. Hansen as Chick Watson.
THE MAN FROM SPACE
Before starting the conclusion of the Blind Spot mystery it may be just as well for the two publicists who are bringing it to the press to follow Hobart Fenton's example and go into a bit of explanation.
The two men who wrote the first two parts were participants, and necessarily writing almost in the present tense. While they could give an accurate and vivid account of their feelings and experiences, they could only guess at what lay in the future, at the events that would unravel it all.
But the present writers have the advantage of working, of seeing, of weighing in the retrospect. They know just where they are going.
The coming of Chick Watson brought new perspective. Hitherto we had been looking into the darkness. Whatever had been caught in the focus of the Spot had become lost to our five senses.
Yet, facts are facts. It was no mere trickery that had caught Dr. Holcomb in the beginning. One by one, men of the highest standards and character had been either victims or witness to its reality and power.
So the coming of Watson may well be set down as one of the deciding moments of history. He who had been the victim a year before was returning through the very Spot that had engulfed him. He was the herald of the great unknown, an ambassador of the infinite itself.
It will be remembered that of all the inmates of the house, Dr. Hansen was the only one who had a personal acquaintance with Watson. One year before the doctor had seen him a shadow—wasted, worn, exhausted. He had talked with him on that memorable night in the cafe. Well he remembered the incident, and the subject of that strange conversation—the secret of life that had been discovered by the missing Dr. Holcomb. And Dr. Hansen had pondered it often since.
What was the force that was pulsing through the Blind Spot? It had reached out on the earth, and had plucked up youth as well as wisdom. THIS was the first time it had ever given up that which it had taken!
It was Watson, sure enough; but it was not the man he had known one year before. Except for the basic features Hansen would not have recognized him; the shadow was gone, the pallor, the touch of death. He was hale and radiant; his skin had the pink glow of alert fitness; except for being dazed, he appeared perfectly natural. In the tense moment of his arrival the little group waited in silence. What had he to tell them?
But he did not see them at first. He groped about blindly, moving slowly and holding his hands before him. His face was calm and settled; its lines told decision. There was not a question in any mind present but that the man had come for a purpose.
Why could he not see? Perhaps the light was too dim. Some one thought to turn on the extra lights.
It brought the first word from Watson. He threw up both arms before his face; like one shutting out the lightning.
"Don't!" he begged. "Don't! Shut off the lights; you will blind me! Please; please! Darken the room!"
Sir Henry sprang to the switch. Instantly the place went to shadow; there was just enough light from the moon to distinguish the several forms grouped in the middle of the room. Dr. Hansen proffered a chair.
"Thank you! Ah! Dr. Hansen! You are here—I had thought—This is much better! I can see fairly well now. You came very near to blinding me permanently! You didn't know. It's the transition." Then: "And yet—of course! It's the moon! THE MOON!"
He stopped. There was a strange wistfulness in the last word. And suddenly he rose to his feet. He turned in gladness, as though to drink in the mellow flow of the radiance.
"The moon! Gentlemen—doctor—who are these people? This is the house of the Blind Spot! And it is the moon—the good old earth! And San Francisco!"
He stopped again. There was a bit of indecision and of wonder mixed with his gladness. The stillness was only broken by the scarcely audible voice of Mme. Le Fabre.
"Now we KNOW! It is proven. The sceptics have always asked why the spirits work only in the half light. We know now."
Watson looked to Dr. Hansen. "Who is this lady? Who are these others?"
"Can you see them?"
"Perfectly. It is the lady in the corner; she thinks—"
"That you are a spirit!"
Watson laughed. "I a spirit? Try me and see!"
"Certainly," asserted Mme. Le Fabre. "You are out of the Blind Spot. I know; it will prove everything!"
"Ah, yes; the Spot." Watson hesitated. Again the indecision. There was something latent that he could not recall; though conscious, part of his mind was still in the apparent fog that lingers back into slumber.
"I don't understand," he spoke. "Who are you?"
It was Sir Henry this time. "Mr. Watson, we are a sort of committee. This is the house at 288 Chatterton Place. We are after the great secret that was discovered by Dr. Holcomb. We were summoned by Hobart Fenton."
Consciousness is an enigma. Hitherto Watson had been almost inert; his actions and manner of speech had been mechanical. That it was the natural result of the strange force that had thrown him out, no one doubted. The mention of Hobart Fenton jerked him into the full vigour of wide-awake thinking; he straightened himself.
"Hobart! Hobart Fenton! Where is he?"
"That we do not know," answered Sir Henry. "He was here a moment ago. It is almost too impossible for belief. Perhaps you can tell us."
"Exactly. Into the Blind Spot. One and the other; your coming was coincident with his going!"
Chick raised up. Even in that faint light they could appreciate the full vigour of his splendid form. He was even more of an athlete than in his college days, before the Blind Spot took him. And when he realised what Sir Henry had said he held up one magnificent arm, almost in the manner of benediction:
"Hobart has gone through? Thank Heaven for that!"
It was a puzzle. True, in that little group there was represented the accumulated wisdom of human effort. With the possible exception of the general, there was not a sceptic among them. They were ready to explain almost anything—but this.
In the natural weakness of futility they had come to associate the aspect of death or terror with the Blind Spot. Yet, here was Watson! Watson, alive and strong; he was the reverse of what they had subconsciously expected.
"What is this Blind Spot?" inquired Sir Henry evenly. "And what do you mean by giving thanks that Fenton has gone into it?"
"Not now. Not one word of explanation until—What time is it?" Watson broke off to demand.
They told him. He began to talk rapidly, with amazing force and decision, and in a manner whose sincerity left no chance for doubt.
"Then we have five hours! Not one second to lose. Do what I say, and answer my questions!" Then: "We must not fail; one slip, and the whole world will be engulfed—in the unknown! Turn on the lights."
There was that in the personality and the vehemence of the man that precluded opposition. Out of the Blind Spot had come a dynamic quality, along with the man; a quickening influence that made Watson swift, sure, and positive. Somehow they knew it was a moment of Destiny.
Watson went on:
"First, did Hobart Fenton open the Spot? Or was it a period? By 'period' I mean, did it open by chance, as it did when it caught Harry and me? Just what did Hobart do? Tell me!"
It was a singular question. How could they answer it? However, Dr. Malloy related as much as he knew of what Hobart had done; his wires and apparatus were now merely a tangled mass of fused metals. Nothing remained intact but the blue gem and the red pebble.
"I see. And this pebble: you found it by digging in the cellar, I suppose."
How did he know that? Dr. Hansen brought that curiously heavy little stone and laid it in Watson's hand. The newcomer touched it with his finger, and for a brief moment he studied it. Then he looked up.
"It's the small one," he stated. "And you found it in the cellar. It was very fortunate; the opening of the Spot was perhaps a little more than half chance. But it was wonderfully lucky. It let me out. And with the help of God and our own courage we may open it again, long enough to rescue Hobart, Harry, and Dr. Holcomb. Then—we must break the chain—we must destroy the revelation; we must close the Spot forever!"
Small wonder that they couldn't understand what he meant. Dr. Hansen thought to cut in with a practical question:
"My dear Chick, what's inside the Spot? We want to know!"
But it was not Watson who answered. It was Mme. Le Fabre.
"Spirits, of course."
Watson gave a sudden laugh. This time he answered:
"My dear lady, if you know what I know, and what Dr. Holcomb has discovered, you would ask YOURSELF a question or so. Possibly you yourself are a spirit!"
"What!" she gasped. "I—a spirit!"
"Exactly. But there is no time for questions. Afterwards—not now. Five hours, and we must—"
Someone came to the door. It was Jerome. At the sight of Watson he stopped, clutching the stub of his cigar between his teeth. His grey eyes took in the other's form from head to shoe leather.
"Back?" he inquired. "What did you find out, Watson? They must have fed you well over yonder!"
And Jerome pointed toward the ceiling with his thumb. It wasn't in his dour nature to give way to enthusiasm; this was merely his manner of welcome. Watson smiled.
"The eats were all right, Jerome, but not all the company. You're just the man I want. We have little time; none to spare for talk. Are you in touch with Bertha Holcomb?"
The detective nodded.
Watson took the chair that Fenton had so strangely vacated and reached for paper and pencil. Once or twice he stopped to draw a line, but mostly he was calculating. He referred constantly to a paper he took from his pocket. When he was through he spread his palm over what he had written.
"You are no longer connected with headquarters, I presume. But— can you get men?"
"If need be."
"You will need them!" Just then Watson noticed the uniform of General Hume. "Jerome, can you give this officer a bodyguard?"
It was both unusual and lightning-sudden. Nevertheless, there was something in Watson's manner that called for no challenge; something that would have brooked no refusal. And the general, although a sceptic, was acting solely from force of habit when he objected:
"It seems to me, Watson, that you—"
Those who were present are not likely to forget it. Some men are born, some rise, to the occasion; but Watson was both. He was clear-cut, dominant, inexorable. He levelled his pencil at the general.
"It SEEMS to you! General, let me ask you: If your country's safety were at stake, would you hesitate to throw reinforcements into the breach?"
"All right. It's settled. Take care of your red tape AFTERWARDS."
He wheeled to the detective. "Jerome, this is a sketch of the compartments of Dr. Holcomb's safe. Not the large one in his house, but the small one in his laboratory. Go straight to Dwight Way. Give this note," indicating another paper, "to Bertha Holcomb. Tell her that her father is safe, and that I am out of the Blind Spot. Tell her you have come to open the laboratory safe. I've written down the combination. If it doesn't work use explosives; there's nothing inside which force can harm. In the compartment marked 'X' you will find a small particle about the size of a pea, wrapped in tin-foil, and locked in a small metal box. You will have to break the box. As for the contents, once you see the stone you can't mistake it; it will weigh about six pounds. Get it, and guard it with your life!"
Jerome put Watson's instructions in his wallet, at the same time glancing about the room.
"Where is Fenton?" he asked.
It was Watson who answered. He gave us the first news that had ever come from the Blind Spot. He spoke with firm deliberation, as though in full realisation of the sensation:
"Hobart Fenton has gone through the Blind Spot. Just now he is right here in this room."
Sir Henry jumped.
"In this room! Is that what you said, Watson?"
The other ignored him.
"Jerome, you haven't a minute to lose! You and the general; bring that stone back to this house at ANY cost! Hurry!"
In another moment Jerome and Hume were gone. And few people, that day, suspected the purport of that body of silent men who crossed over the Bay of San Francisco. They were grim, and trusted, and under secret orders. They had a mission, did they but know it, as important as any in history. But they knew only that they were to guard Jerome and the general at all hazards. One peculiarly heavy stone, "the size of a pea"! How are we ever to calculate its value?
As for the group remaining with Watson, not one of them ever dreamed that any danger might come out of the Blind Spot. Its manifestations had been local and mostly negative. No; the main incentive of their interest had been simply curiosity.
But apparently Watson was above them all. He paid no further attention to them for a while; he bent at Fenton's desk and worked swiftly. At length he thrust his papers aside.
"I want to see that cellar," he announced. "That is, the point where you found that red pebble!"
Down in the basement, Sir Henry gave the details. When he came to mention the various liquids which Fenton had poured into the woodwork upstairs Watson examined the pool intently.
"Quite so. They would come out here—naturally."
Sir Henry could not understand. His perplexity was reflected in the faces of Herold, the two physicians, Dr. Malloy, Miss Clarke, and Mme. Le Fabre—and Charlotte spoke for them all:
"Can't you explain, Mr. Watson? The woodwork had nothing whatever to do with the cellar. There was the floor between, just as you see it now."
"Naturally," Watson repeated. "It could be no other place! It was on its way to the other side, but it could go only half-way. Simply a matter of focus, you know. I beg pardon; you must hold your curiosity a little longer."
He began measuring. First he located the line across the floorjoists overhead, where rested the partition separating the dining-room from the parlour. Finding the middle of this line, he dropped an improvised plumb-line to the ground; and from this spot as centre, using a string about ten feet long, he described a circle on the earth. Then, referring to his calculations, he proceeded to locate several points with small stakes pressed into the soil. Then he checked them off and nodded.
"It's even better than the professor thought. His theory is all but proven. If Jerome and Hume can deliver the other stone without accident, we can save those now inside the Spot." Then, very solemnly: "But we face a heavy task. It will be another Thermopylae. We must hold the gate against an occult Xerxes, together with all his horde."
"The hosts of the dead!" exclaimed Mme. Le Fabre.
"No; the living! Just give me time, Madame, and you will see something hitherto undreamed of. As for your theory—tomorrow you may doubt whether you are living or dead! In other words, Dr. Holcomb has certainly proved the occult by material means. He has done it with a vengeance. In so doing he has left us in doubt as to ourselves; and unless he discovers the missing factor within the next few hours we are going to be in the anomalous position of knowing plenty about the next world, but nothing about ourselves."
He paused. He must have known that their curiosity could not hold out much longer. He said:
"Now, just one thing more, friends, and I can tell you everything, while we are waiting for Jerome and the general to return. But first I must see the one who preceded me out of the spot."
"Ariadne!" from Charlotte, in wonder.
"Ariadne!" exclaimed Watson. He was both puzzled and amazed. "Did you call her—Ariadne?"
"She is upstairs," cut in Dr. Higgins.
"I must see her!"
A minute or two later they stood in the room where the girl lay. The coverlet was thrown back somewhat revealing the bare left arm and shoulder, and the delicately beautiful face upon the pillow. Her golden hair was spread out in riotous profusion. The other hand was just protruding from the coverlet, and displayed a faint red mark, showing where Hobart's bracelet had been fastened at the moment he disappeared.
Charlotte stepped over and laid her hand against the girl's cheek. "Isn't she wonderful!" she murmured.
But Dr. Higgins looked to Watson.
"Do you know her?"
The other nodded. He stooped over and listened to her breathing. His manner was that of reverence and admiration. He touched her hand.
"I see how it must have happened. Precisely what I experienced, only—" Then: "You call her Ariadne?"
"We had to call her something," replied Charlotte. "And the name— it just came, I suppose."
"Perhaps. Anyhow, it was a remarkably good guess. Her true name is the Aradna."
"THE Aradna? Who—what is she?"
"Just that: the Aradna. She is one of the factors that may save us. And on earth we would call her queen." Then, without waiting for the inevitable question, Watson said:
"Your professional judgment will soon come to the supreme test, Dr. Higgins. She is simply numbed and dazed from coming through the Spot." Charlotte had already described to him the girl's arrival. "The mystery is that she was permitted an hour of rationality before this came upon her. I wonder if Hobart's vitality had anything to do with it?"—half to himself. "As for the Rhamda"—he smiled—"he is merely interested in the Spot; that is all. He would never harm the Aradna; he had nothing whatever to do with her condition. We were mistaken about the man. Anyway, it is the Spot of Life that interests us now."
"The Spot of Life," repeated Sir Henry. "Is that—"
"Yes; the Blind Spot, as it is known from the other side. It overtops all your sciences, embraces every cult, and lies at the base of all truth. It is—it is everything." ^
Watson turned to the head upon the pillow. He ventured to touch the cheek, with a trace of tenderness in his action and of wistfulness near to reverence. It was not love; it was rather as one might touch a fairy. In both spirit and substance she was truly of another world. Watson gave a soft sigh and looked up at the Englishman.
"Yes, I can explain. Now that I know she is well, I shall tell you all I know from the beginning. It's certainly your turn to ask questions. I may not be able to tell you all that you want to know; but at least I know more than any other person this side of the Spot. Let us go down to the library."
He glanced at a clock. "We have nearly five hours remaining. Our test will come when we open the Spot. We must not only open it, but we must close it at all costs."
They had reached the lower hall. At the front door Watson paused and turned to the others.
"Just a moment. We may fail tonight. In case we do, I would like one last look at my own world—at San Francisco."
He opened the door. The rest hung back; though they could not understand, they could sense, vaguely, the emotion of this strange man of brave adventure. The scene, the setting, the beauty, were all akin to the moment. Watson, stood bareheaded, looking down at the blinking lights of the city of the Argonauts. The moon in a starlit sky was drifting through a ragged lace of cloud. And over it all was a momentary hush, as though the man's emotion had called for it.
No one spoke. At last Watson closed the door. And there was just the trace of tears in his eyes as he spoke:
"Now my friends—" And led the way into the parlour.
THE OCCULT WORLD
"In telling what I know," began Watson, "I shall use a bit of a preface. It's necessary, in a way, if you are to understand me; besides, it will give you the advantage of looking into the Blind Spot with the clear eyes of reason. I intend to tell all, to omit nothing. My purpose in doing this is that, in case we should fail tonight, you will be able to give my account to the world."
It was a strange introduction. His listeners exchanged thoughtful glances. But they all affirmed, and Sir Henry hitched his chair almost impatiently.
"All right, Mr. Watson. Please proceed."
"To begin with," said Watson, "I assume that you all know of Dr. Holcomb's announcement concerning the Blind Spot. You remember that he promised to solve the occult; how he foretold that he would prove it not by immaterial but by the very material means; that he would produce the fact and the substance.
"Now, the professor had promised to deliver something far greater than he had thought it to be. At the same time, what he knew of the Blind Spot was part conjecture and part fact. Like his forebears and contemporaries, he looked upon man as the real being.
"But it's a question, now, as to which is reality and which is not. There is not a branch of philosophy that looks upon the question in that light. Bishop Berkeley came near and he has been followed by others; but they all have been deceived by their own sophistry. However, except for the grossest materialists, all thinkers take cognizance of a hereafter.
"No one dreamed of a Blind Spot and what it may lead to, what it might contain. We are five-sensed; we interpret the universe by the measure of five yardsticks. Yet, the Blind Spot takes even those away; the more we know, it seems, the less certain we are of ourselves. As I said to Mme. Le Fabre, it is a difficult question to determine, after all, just who are the ghosts. At any rate, I KNOW"—and he paused for effect—"I know that there are uncounted millions who look upon us and our workings as entirely supernatural!
"Remember that what I have to tell you is just as real as your own lives have been since babyhood.
"It was slightly over a year ago that my last night on the earth arrived.
"I had gone out for the evening, in the forlorn hope of meeting a friend, of having some slight taste of pleasure before the end came.
"For several days I had been labouring under a sort of premonition, knowing that my life was slowly seeping away and that my vitality was slipping, bit by bit, to what I thought must be death. Had I then known what I know now, I could have saved myself. But if I had done it, if I had saved myself, we would never have found Dr. Holcomb.
"Perhaps it was the same fate that led me to Harry, that night. I don't know. Nevertheless, if there is any truth in what I have learned on the other side of the Blind Spot, it would seem that there is something higher than mere fate. I had never believed in luck; but when everything works out to a fraction of a breath, one ceases to be sceptical on the question of destiny and chance. I say, everything that happened that night was FORCED from the other side. In short, my giving that ring to Harry was simply a link in the chain of circumstances. It just had to be; the PROPHECY would not have had it otherwise."
Without stopping to explain what he meant by the word "prophecy," Watson went on:
"That's what makes it puzzling. I have never been able to understand how every bit has dovetailed with such exactness. We— you and I—are certainly not supernatural; and yet, on the other side of the Spot, the proof is overwhelmingly convincing.
"I was very weak that night. So weak that it is difficult for me to remember. The last I recollect was my going to the back of the house; to the kitchen, I think. I had a light in my hands. The boys were in the front room, waiting. One of them had opened a door some yards away from where I stood.
"Coming as it did, on the instant, it is difficult to describe. But I knew it instinctively for what it was: the dot of blue on the ceiling, and the string of light. Then, a sensation of falling, like dropping into space itself. It is hard to describe the horrifying terror of plunging head on from an immense height to a plain at a vastly lower level.
"And that's all that I remember—from this side." [Footnote: NOTE.—In justice to Mr. Watson, the present writers have thought it best at this stage to transpose the story from the first to the third person. Any narrative, unless it is negative in its material, is hard to give in the first person; for where the narrator has played an active, positive part, he must either curb himself or fall under the slur of braggadocio. Yet, the world wants the details exactly as they happened; hence the transposition. EDITORS.]
Watson opened his eyes.
The first thing was light and a sense of great pain. There was a pressure at the back of the eyeballs, a poignant sensation not unlike a knife-thrust; that, and a sudden fear of madness, of drivelling helplessness.
The abrupt return of consciousness in such a condition is not easy to imagine. After all he had gone through, this strange sequel must have been terribly puzzling to him. He was a man of good education, well versed in psychology; in the first rush of consciousness he tried, as best he could, to weigh himself up in the balance of aberration. And it was this very fact that gave him his reassurance; for it told him that he could think, could reason, could count on a mind in full function.
But he could not see. The pain in his eyeballs was blinding. There was nothing he could distinguish; everything was woven together, a mere blaze of wonderful, iridescent, blazing coloration.
But if he could not see, he could feel. The pain was excruciating. He closed his eyes and fell to thinking, curiously enough, that the experience was similar to what he had gone through when upon learning to swim, he had first opened his eyes under the water. It had been under a blazing sun. The pain and the colour—it was much the same, only intensified.
Then he knew that he was very tired. The mere effort of that one thought had cost him vitality. He dropped back into unconsciousness, such as was more insensibility than slumber. He had strange dreams, of people walking, of women, and of many voices. It was blurred and indistinct, yet somehow not unreal. Then, after an unguessable length of time—he awoke.
He was much stronger. The lapse may have been very long; he could not know. But the pain in his eyes was gone; and he ventured to open the lids again in the face of the light that had been so baffling. This time he could see; not distinctly, but still enough to assure him of reality. By closing his eyes at intervals he was able to rest them and to accustom them gradually to the new degree of light. And after a bit he could see plainly.
He was on a cot, and in a room almost totally different from any that he had ever seen before. The colour of the walls, even, was dissimilar; likewise the ceiling. It was white, in a way, and yet unlike it; neither did it resemble any of the various tints; to give it a name that he afterward learned—alna—implies but little. It was utterly new to him.
Apparently he was alone. The room was not large; about the size of an ordinary bedroom. And after the first novelty of the unplaceable colour had worn off he began to take stock of his own person.
First, he was covered by the finest of bed clothing, thick but exceedingly light. There was no counterpane, but two blankets and two sheets; and none of them corresponded to any colour or material he had ever known. He only knew that their tints were light rather than dark.
Next, he moved his hands out from under the coverings, and held them up before his eyes. He was immensely puzzled. He naturally expected to see the worn, emaciated hands which had been his on that dramatic night; but the ones before him were plump, normal, of a healthy pink. The wrists likewise were in perfect condition, also his arms. He could not account for this sudden return to health, of the vigour he had known before he began to wear the ring. He lay back pondering.
Presently he fell to examining his clothes. There were two garments made of a silk-like textile, rather heavy as to weight, but exceedingly soft as to touch. They were slightly darker than the bed clothing. In a way they were much like pyjamas, except that both were designed to be merely slipped into place, without buttons or draw-strings. That is, they were tailored to fit snugly over the shoulders and waist, while loose enough elsewhere.
Then he noticed the walls of the room. They were after a simple, symmetrical style; coved—to use an architectural expression—or curved, where the corner would come with a radius much larger than common, amounting to four or five feet; so that a person of ordinary height could not stand close to the wall without stooping. Where the coved portion flowed into the perpendicular of the wall there was a broad moulding, like a plate rail, which acted as a support for the hanging pictures.
Watson counted four of these pictures. Instinctively he felt that they might give him a valuable clue as to his whereabouts. For, while his mind had cleared enough for him to feel sure that he had truly come through the Spot, he knew nothing more. Where was he? What would the pictures tell?
The first was directly before his eyes. In size perhaps two by three feet, with its greater length horizontal, it was more of a landscape than a portrait. And Watson's eagerness for the subject itself made him forget to note whether the work was mechanically or manually executed.
For it revealed a girl—about ten or twelve—very slightly draped, enjoying a wild romp with a most extraordinary creature. It was this animal that made the picture amazing; there was no subtle significance in the scene—there was nothing remarkable about the technique. The whole interest, for Watson, was in the animal.
It was a deer; perfect and beautiful, but cast in a Lilliputian mould. It stood barely a foot high, the most delicate thing he had ever looked upon. Mature in every detail of its proportion, the dainty hoofs, the fragile legs, smooth-coated body, and small, wide-antlered head—a miniature eight-pointer—made such a vision as might come to the dreams of a hunter.
Chick rose up in bed, in order to examine it more closely. Immediately he fell back again slightly dizzy. He closed his eyes.
Shortly he began examining the other pictures. Two of these were simple flower studies. Watson scarcely knew which puzzled him most; the blossoms or their containers. For the vases were like large-sized loving cups, broad as to body, and provided with a handle on either side. Their colours were unfamiliar. As for the blossoms—in one study the blooms were a half-dozen in number, and more like Shasta daisies than anything else. But their colour was totally unlike, while they possessed wide, striped stamens that gave the flowers an identity all their own. In the other vase were several varieties, and every one absolutely unrecognisable.
On the opposite side of the room was something fairly familiar. At first glance it seemed a simple basket of kittens, done in black and white—something like crayon, and yet resembling sepia. Alongside the basket, however, was a spoon, one end resting on the edge of a saucer. And it was the size of the spoon that commanded Chick's attention; rather, the size of the kittens, any one of which could have curled up comfortably in the bowl of the spoon! Judging relatively, if it were an ordinary tablespoon, then the kittens were smaller than the smallest of mice.
Chick gave it up. Presently he began speculating about the time. He decided that, whatever the hour might be, it was still daylight. In one wall of the room was a large, oval window, of a material which may as well be called glass, frosted, so as to permit no view of what might lie outside. But it allowed plenty of light to enter.
Cut in the opposite wall was a doorway, hung with a curtain instead of a door. This curtain was a gauzy material, but its maroonlike shade completely hid all view of whatever lay beyond.
Chick waited and listened. Hitherto he had not heard a sound. There was not even that subtle, mixed hum from the distance that we are accustomed to associate with silence. He felt certain that he was inside the Blind Spot; but as to just where that locality might lie, he knew as little as before. He knew only that he in a building of some sort. Where, and what, was the building?
Just then he noticed a cord dangling from the ceiling. It came down to within six inches of his head. He gave it a pull.
Whereupon he heard a faint, musical jangling in the distance. He tried to analyse the sound. It was not bell-like; perhaps the word "tinkling" would serve better. Provisionally, Chick placed the key at middle D.
A moment later he heard steps outside the curtain. They were very soft and light and deliberate; and almost at the same instant a delicate white hand moved the curtain aside.
It was a woman. Chick lay back and wondered. Although not beautiful she was very good to look at, with large blue eyes of a deep tenderness and sympathy, even features, and a wonderful fold of rich brown hair held in place by a satiny net.
She started when she saw Chick's wide open eyes; then smiled, a motherly smile and compassionate. She was dressed in a manner at once becoming and odd, to one unaccustomed, in a gown that draped the entire figure, yet left the right arm and shoulder bare. Chick noticed that arm especially; it was white as marble, moulded full, and laced with fine blue veins. He had never seen an arm like that. Nor such a woman. She might have been forty.
She came over to the bed and placed a hand on Chick's forehead. Again she smiled, and nodded.
"How do you feel?" she asked.
Now this is a strange thing; Watson could not account for it. For, although she did not speak English, yet he could understand her quite well. At the moment it seemed perfectly obvious; afterward, the fact became amazing.
He answered in the same way, his thoughts directing his lips. And he found that as long as he made no conscious attempt to select the words for his thought, he could speak unhesitatingly.
"Where am I?"
She smiled indulgently, but did not answer.
"Is this the—Blind Spot?"
"The Blind Spot! I do not understand."
"Who are you?"
"Your nurse. Perhaps," soothingly, "you would like to talk to the Rhamda."
"Yes. The Rhamda Geos."
The woman left him. For a while Chick reflected upon what she had said. In full rush of returning vigour his mind was working clearly and with analytical exactness.
For the first time he noticed a heaviness in the air, overladen, pregnant. He became aware of a strange, undercurrent of life; of an exceedingly faint, insistent sound, pulse-like and rhythmical, like the breathing undertones of multitudes. He was a city man, and accustomed to the murmuring throbs of a metropolitan heart. But this was very different.
Presently, amid the strangeness, he could distinguish the tinkle of elfin bells, almost imperceptible, but musical. The whole air was laden with a subdued music, lined, as it were, with a golden vibrancy of tintinnabulary cadence—distant, subdued, hardly more than a whisper, yet part of the air itself.
It gave him the feeling that he was in a dream. In the realms of the subconscious he had heard just such sounds—exotic and unearthly—fleeting and evanescent.
The notion of dreams threw his mind into sudden alertness. In an instant he was thinking systematically, and in the definite realisation of his plight.
The woman had spoken of "the Rhamda." True, she had added a qualifying "Geos," but that did not matter. Whether Geos or Avec, it was still the Rhamda. By this time Watson was convinced that the word indicated some sort of title—whether doctor, or lord, or professor, was not important. What interested Chick was identity. If he could solve that he could get at the crux of the Blind Spot.
He thought quickly. Apparently, it was Rhamda Avec who had trapped Dr. Holcomb. Why? What had been the man's motive? Watson could not say. He only knew the ethics of the deed was shaded with the subtleness of villainy. That behind it all was a purpose, a directing force and intelligence that was inexorable and irresistible.
One other thing he knew; the Rhamda Avec came out of the region in which he, Watson, now found himself. Rather, he could have come from nowhere else. And Watson could feel certain that somewhere, somehow, he would find Dr. Holcomb.
In that moment Watson determined upon his future course of action. He decided to state nothing, intimate nothing, either by word or deed, that might in any manner incriminate or endanger the professor. It was for him to learn everything possible and to do all he could to gain his points, without giving a particle of information in return. He must play a lone hand and a cautious one—until he found Dr. Holcomb.
The fact of his position didn't appall him. Somehow, it had just the opposite effect. Perhaps it was because his strength had come back, and had brought with it the buoyancy that is natural to health. He could sense the vitality that surrounded him, poised, potential, waiting only the proper attitude on his part to become an active force. Something tremendous had happened to him, to make him feel like that. He was ready for anything.
Five minutes passed. Watson was alert and ready when the woman returned, together with a companion. She smiled kindly, and announced:
"The Rhamda Geos."
At first Chick was startled. There was a resemblance to Rhamda Avec that ran almost to counterpart. The same refinement and elegance, the fleeting suggestion of youth, the evident age mingled with the same athletic ease and grace of carriage. Only he was somewhat shorter. The eyes were almost identical, with the peculiar quality of the iris and pupil that suggested, somehow, a culture inherited out of the centuries. He was dressed in a black robe, such as would befit a scholar.
He smiled, and held out a hand. Watson noted the firm clasp, and the cold thrill of magnetism.
"You wish to speak with me?"
The voice was soft and modulated, resonant, of a tone as rich as bronze.
"Yes. Where am I—sir?"
"You do not know?"
It seemed to Watson that there was real astonishment in the man's eyes. As yet it had not come to Chick that he himself might be just as much a mystery as the other. The only question in his mind at the moment was locality.
"Is this the Blind Spot?"
"The Blind Spot!"—with the same lack of comprehension that the woman had shown. "I do not understand you."
"Well, how did I get here?"
"Oh, as to that, you were found in the Temple of the Leaf. You were lying unconscious on the floor."
"A temple! How did I get there, sir? Do you know?"
"We only know that a moment before there was nothing; next instant—you."
Watson thought. There was a subconscious sound that still lingered in his memory; a sound full-toned, flooding, enveloping. Was there any connection—
"'The Temple of the Leaf,' you call it, sir. I seem to remember having heard a bell. Is there such a thing in that temple?"
The Rhamda Geos smiled, his eyes brightening. "It is sometimes called the Temple of the Bell."
"Ah!" A pause, and Watson asked, "Where is this temple? And is this room a part of the building?"
"No. You are in the Sar-Amenive Hospital, an institution of the Rhamdas."
The Rhamdas! So there were several of them. A sort of society, perhaps.
"In San Francisco?"
"No. San Francisco! Again I fail to understand. This locality is known as the Mahovisal."
"The Mahovisal!" Watson thought in silence for a moment. He noted the extremely keen interest of the Rhamda, the ultra-intelligent flicker of the eyes, the light of query and critical analysis. "You call this the Mahovisal, sir? What is it: town, world or institution?"
The other smiled again. The lines about his sensitive mouth were susceptible of various interpretations: emotion, or condescension, or the satisfying feeling that comes from the simple vindication of some inner conviction. His whole manner was that of interest and respectful wonder.
"You have never heard of the Mahovisal? Never?"
"Not until this minute," answered Watson.
"You have no knowledge of anything before? Do you know WHO YOU ARE?"
"I"—Watson hesitated, wondering whether he had best withhold this information. He decided to chance the truth. "My name is Chick Watson. I am—an American."
The Rhamda pronounced the word with a roll of the "r" that sounded more like the Chinese "Mellican" than anything else. It was evident that the sounds were totally unfamiliar to him. And his manner was a bit indefinite, doubtful, yet weighted with care, as he slowly repeated the question:
"An American? Once more I don't understand. I have never heard the word, my dear sir. You are neither D'Hartian nor Kospian; although there are some—materialists for the most part—who contend that you are just as any one else. That is—a man."
"Perhaps I am," returned Watson, utterly confounded. He did not know what to say. He had never heard of a Kospian or a D'Hartian, nor of the Mahovisal. It made things difficult; he couldn't get started. Most of all, he wanted information; and, instead, he was being questioned. The best he could do was to equivocate.