Then Chick looked straight ahead. Far in the distance a great wall loomed skyward to a terrific height. So vast was it and so remote, at first it had escaped the eye altogether. An incredibly high range of mountains, glowing with a faint rose blush under the touch of the setting sun. Against the sky were many peaks, each of them tipped with curious and sparkling diamond-like corruscations. As Chick continued to gaze the rose began to purple.
The Jan Lucar put the craft to another upward climb. So high were they now that the Thomahlia below was totally lost from view; it was but a maze of lurking shadows. The sun was only a gash of amber—it was twilight down on the ground. And Watson watched the black line of the Thomahlian shadow climb the purple heights before him until only the highest crests and the jewelled crags flashed in the sun's last rays. Then, one by one, they flickered out; and all was darkness.
Still they ascended. Watson became uneasy, sitting there in the night.
"Where are we going?"
"To the Carbon Regions, my lord. It is one of the sights of the Thomahlia."
"On top of those mountains?"
"Beyond, my lord."
Whereupon, to Chick's growing amazement, the Geos went on to state that carbon of all sorts was extremely common throughout their world. The same forces that had formed coal so generously upon the earth had thrown up, almost as lavishly, huge quantities of pure diamond. The material was of all colours, as diamonds run, and considered of small value; for every day purposes they preferred substances of more sombre hues. They used it, it seemed, to build houses with.
"But how do they cut it?"
"Very easily. The material which drives this craft—Ilodium—will cut it like butter."
Later, Watson understood. He watched as the craft continued to climb; the Jan Lucar was steering without the aid of any outside lights whatever, there being only a small light illuminating his instruments. Chick presently turned his gaze outside again; whereupon he got another jolt.
He saw a NEGATIVE sky!
At first he thought his eyes the victims of an illusion; then he looked closer. And he saw that it was true; instead of the familiar starry points of light against a velvet background, the arrangement was just the reverse. Every constellation was in its place, just as Chick remembered it from the earth; but instead of stars there were jet-black spots upon a faint, grey background.
The whole sky was one huge Milky Way, except for the black spots. And from it all there shone just about as much total light as from the heavens he had known.
Of all he experienced, this was the most disturbing. It seemed totally against all reason; for he knew the stars to be great incandescent globes in space. How explain that they were here represented in reverse, their brilliance scattered and diffused over the surrounding sky, leaving points of blackness instead? Afterward he learned that the peculiar chemical constituency of the atmosphere was solely responsible for the inversion of the usual order of things.
All of a sudden the Jan Lucar switched the craft to a level. He held up one hand and pointed.
"Look, my lord, and the Rhamda! Look!"
Both men rose from their seats, the better to stare past the soldier. Straight ahead, where had been one of the corruscating peaks, a streak of blue fire shot skyward, a column of light miles high, differing from the beams of a searchlight in that the rays were WAVY, serpentine, instead of straight. It was weirdly beautiful. Geos caught his breath; he leaned forward and touched the Jan Lucar.
"Wait," he said in an awed tone. "Wait a moment. It has never come before, but we can expect it now." And even as he spoke, something wonderful happened.
From the base of the column two other streaks, one red and the other bright green, cut out through the blackness on either side. The three streams started from the same point; they made a sort of trident, red, green, and blue—twisting, alive—strangely impressive, suggestive of grandeur and omnipotence—holy.
Again the Rhamda spoke. "Wait!" said he. "Wait!"
They were barely moving now. Watson watched and wondered. The three streams of light ran up and up, as though they would pierce the heavens; the eye could not follow their ends. All in utter silence, nothing but those beams of glorified light, their reality a hint of power, of life and wisdom—of the certainty of things. Plainly it had a tremendous significance in the minds of the Geos and the Lucar.
Then came the climax. Slowly, but somehow inexorably, like the laws of life itself, and somewhere at a prodigious height above the earth, the three outer ends of the red and the green and the blue spread out and flared back upon themselves and one another, until their combined brilliance bridged a great rainbow across the sky. Blending into all the colours of the prism, the bow became— for a moment—pregnant with an overpowering beauty, symbolical, portentous of something stupendous about to come out of the unknown to the Thomahlians. And next—
The bow began to move, to swirl, and to change in shape and colour. The three great rivers of light billowed and expanded and rounded into a new form. Then they burst—into a vast, three- leafed clover—blue and red and green!
And Watson caught the startled words of the Geos:
"The Sign of the Jarados!"
THE VOICE FROM THE VOID
Even while that inexplicable heavenly pageant still burned against the heavens, something else took place, a thing of much greater importance to Chick. And, it happened right before his eyes.
In the front of the car was a dial, slightly raised above the level of the various controlling instruments. And all of a sudden this dial, a small affair about six inches across, broke into light and life.
First, there was a white blaze that covered the whole disc; then the whiteness abruptly gave way to a flood of colour, which resolved itself into a perfect miniature of the tri-coloured cloverleaf in the sky ahead. Chick saw, however that the positions of the red and green were just the obverse of what glowed in the distance; and then he heard the voice, strong and distinct, speaking with a slight metallic twang as from a microphone hidden in that little, blazing, coloured leaf:
"Listen, ye who have ears to listen!"
It was said in the Thomahlian tongue. The Geos breathed:
"The voice of the Prophet Jarados!"
But the next moment the unseen speaker began in another language— clear, silver, musical—in English, and in a voice that Chick recognised!
"Chick! You have done well, my boy. Your courage and your intuition may lead us out. Follow the prophecy to the letter, Chick; it MUST come to pass, exactly as it is written! Don't fail to read it, there on the walls of the Temple of the Bell, when you encounter the Bar Senestro on the Day of the Prophet!
"I have discovered many things, my boy, but I am not omnipotent. Your coming has made possible my last hope that I may return to my own kind, and take with me the secrets of life. You have done right to trust your instinct; have no fear, yet remember that if you—if we—make one false step we are lost.
"Finally, if you should succeed in your contest with the Senestro, I shall send for you; but if you fail, I know how to die.
"Return at once to the Mahovisal. Don't cross into the Region of Carbon. Take care how you go back; the Bars are waiting. But you can put full confidence in the Rhamdas."
Then the speaker dropped the language of the earth and used the Thomahlian tongue again: "It is I who speak—I, the Prophet; the Prophet Jarados!"
All in the voice of Dr. Holcomb.
The blazing leaf faded into blackness, and the talking ceased. Chick was glad of the darkness; the whole thing was like magic, and too good to believe. The first actual words from the missing professor! Each syllable was frozen into Watson's memory.
The Geos was clutching his arm.
"Did you understand, my lord? We heard the voice of the prophet! What did he say?"
"Yes, I understand. He used his own language—my language. And he said"—taking the reins firmly into his hands—"he said that we must return to the Thomahlia. And we must beware of the Bars."
There was no thought of questioning him. Without waiting the Geos' command, the Jan Lucar began putting the craft about. Watson glanced at the sky; the great spectacle was gone; and he demanded of the soldier:
"How can we get back? How do we find our way?"
For there was no visible light save the strange, fitful glow from that uncanny sky to guide them; no lights from the inky carpet of the Thomahlia, lights such as one would expect for the benefit of fliers. But the soldier touched a button, and instantly another and larger dial was illumined above the instruments.
It revealed a map or chart of a vast portion of the Thomahlia. On the farther edge there appeared an area coloured to represent water, and adjoining this area was a square spot labeled "The Mahovisal." And about midway from this point to the near edge of the dial a red dot hung, moving slowly over the chart.
"The red dot, my lord, indicates our position," explained the Jan. "In that manner we know at all times where we are located, and which way we are flying. We shall arrive in the Mahovisal shortly."
As he spoke the craft was gaining speed, and soon was travelling at an even greater rate than before. The red dot began to crawl at an astonishing speed. Of course, they had the benefit of the pull of gravity, now; apparently they would make the journey in a few minutes. But incredible though the speed might be, there was nothing but the red dot to show it.
The Geos felt like talking. "My lord, the sign is conclusive. It is a marvel, such as only the prophet could possibly have produced; with all our science we could not duplicate such splendour. Only once before has the Thomahlia seen it."
Already they were near enough to the surface to make out the clustered, blinking lights of the towns on the plain below. Ahead of them queer streamers of pale rays thrust through the darkness. Watson recognised them as the beams of the far-distant searchlights; and then and there he gave thanks for one thing, at least, in which the Thomahlians had seemingly progressed no further than the people of the earth.
Coming a little nearer, Chick made out a number of bright, glittering, insect-like objects, revealed by these searchlights. The Jan Lucar said:
"The Bars, my lord. They are waiting; and they will head us off if they can."
"The work of Senestro, I suppose. I thought he claimed to some honour."
"It is not the prince's work, my lord," replied the soldier. "His D'Hartian and Kospian followers, some of them, have no scruples as to how they might slay the 'false one', as they think you."
"Suppose," hazarded Watson, "suppose I WERE the false one?"
Both the Geos and the Jan smiled. But the Rhamda's voice was very sure as he replied:
"If you were false, my lord, I would slay you myself."
They were very near the Mahovisal now. Below was the unmistakable opalescence, somehow produced by powerful illumination, as intense as sunlight itself. The red dot was almost above the black square on the lighted chart. And directly ahead, the air was becoming alive with the beam-revealed aircraft. How could they get by in safety?
But Chick did not know the Jan Lucar. The soldier said:
"My lord is not uneasy?"
"Of course not," with unconcern. "Why?"
"Because I propose something daring. I am free to admit, my lord, that were the Geos and I alone, I should not attempt it. But not even the Bars," with magnificent confidence, "can stand before us now! We have had the proof of the Jarados, and we know that no matter what the odds, he will carry us through."
"What are you going to do?"
"I propose to shoot it, my lord." And without explaining the Jan asked the Geos: "Are you agreeable? The June Bug will hold; the prophet will protect us."
"Surely," returned the Rhamda. "There is nothing to fear, now, for those who are in the company of the chosen."
Watson wondering watched the Jan as he tilted the nose of the June Bug and began to climb at an all but perpendicular angle straight into the heavens. Mile after mile, in less than as many minutes, they hurtled towards the zenith, so that the lights of the city dimmed until only the searching shafts could be seen. Chick began to guess what they were going to do; that the Jan Lucar was nearly as reckless as he was handsome.
At last the soldier brought the craft to a level. They soared along horizontally for a while; the Jan kept his eye fixed on the red dot. And when it was directly above the black square he stated:
"It is considered a perilous feat, my lord. We are going to drop. If we make it from this height, not only will we break all records, but will have proved the June Bug the superior in this respect, as she is in speed. It is our only chance in any circumstances, but with the Jarados at our side, we need not fear that the craft will stand the strain. We shall go through them like stone; before they know it we shall be in the drome—in less than a minute."
"From this height?" Chick concealed a shudder behind a fair show of scepticism. "A minute is not much time."
"Does my lord fear the drop?"
"Why should I? I have in mind the June Bug; she might be set afire through friction, in dropping so quickly through the air." Watson had a vivid picture of a blazing meteorite, containing the charred bodies of three men, dropping out of—
"My lord need not be concerned with that," the Jan assured him. "The shell of the car is provided with a number of tiny pores, through which a heat-resisting fluid will be pumped during the manoeuvre. The temperature may be raised a little, but no more.
"You see this plug," touching a hitherto unused knob among the instruments. "By pulling that out, the mechanism of the craft is automatically adjusted to care for every phase of the descent. Nothing else remains to be done, after removing that plug, save to watch the red dot and prepare to step out upon the floor of our starting-place."
"Has the thing ever been done before?" Watson was sparring for time while he gathered his nerve.
"I myself have seen it, my lord. The June Bug has been sent up many times, weighted with ballast; the plug was abstracted by clockwork; and in fifty-eight seconds she returned through the open end of the drone, without a hitch. It was beautiful. I have always envied her that plunge. And now I shall have the chance, with the hand of the Jarados as my guide and protector!"
Chick had just time to reflect that, if by any chance he got through with this, he ought to be able to pass any test conceivable. He ought to be able to get away with anything. He started to murmur a prayer; but before he could finish, the Jan Lucar leaned over the dial-map for the last time, saw that the red dot was now exactly central over the square that represented the city, and unhesitatingly jerked out the plug.
Of what happened next Watson remembered but little. The bottom seemed to have dropped out of the universe. He was conscious of a crushing blur of immensity, of a silent thundering within him— then mental chaos and a stunned oblivion.
WHO IS THE JARADOS?
It was all over. Chick opened his eyes to see the Jan throwing open the plate on the side of the compartment. Neither the soldier nor the Rhamda seemed to have noted Chick's daze. As for the Jan, his blue eyes were dancing with dare-devilry.
"That's what I call living!" he grinned. "They can keep on looking for the June Bug all night!"
Chick looked out. They were inside the great room from which they had started; the trip was over; the plunge had been made in safety. Chick took a long breath, and held out a hand.
"A man after my own heart, Jan Lucar. I foresee that we may have great sport with the Senestro."
"Aye, my lord," cheerfully. "The presumptuous usurper! I only wish I could kill him, instead of you."
"You are not the only one," commented the Rhamda. "Half of the Rhamdas would cheerfully act as the chosen one's proxy."
And so ended the events of Chick Watson's first day beyond the Blind Spot, his first day on the Thomahlia; that is, disregarding the previous months of unconsciousness. He had good reason to pass a sleepless night in legitimate worry for the outcome of it all; but instead he slept the sound sleep of exhaustion, awakening the next morning much refreshed.
He reminded himself, first of all, that today was the one immediately preceding that of his test—the Day of the Prophet. He had only a little more than twenty-four hours to prepare. What was the best and wisest proceeding?
He called for the Geos. He told him what data he wanted. The Rhamda said that he could find everything in a library in that building, and inside a half-hour he returned with a pile of manuscripts.
Left to himself, Chick found that he now had data relating to all the sciences, to religion, to education and political history and the law. The chronology of the Thomahlians, Chick found, dates back no less than fifteen thousand years. An abiding civilisation of that antiquity, it need not be said, presented somewhat different aspects from what is known on the earth.
It seemed that the Jarados had come miraculously. That is, he had come out of the unknown, through a channel which he himself later termed the Spot of Life.
He had taught a religion of enlightenment, embracing intelligence, love, virtue, and the higher ethics such as are inherent in all great philosophies. But he did not call himself a religionist. That was the queer point. He said that he had come to teach an advanced philosophy of life; and he expressly stated that his teachings were absolute only to a limited extent.
"Man must seek and find," was one of his epigrams; "and if he find no more truths, then he will find lies." Which was merely a negative way of saying that some of his philosophy was only provisional.
But on some points he was adamant. He had arrived at a time when the unthinking, self-glorifying Thomahlians had all but exterminated the lower orders of creation. The Jarados sought to remove the handicap which the people had set upon themselves, and gave them, in the place of kindness which they had forgotten, how to use, a burning desire for a positive knowledge, where before had been only blind faith. Also, he taught good-fellowship, as a means to this end. He taught beauty, love, and laughter, the three great cleansers of humanity. And yet, through it all—
The Jarados was a mystic.
He studied life after a manner of his own. He was a stickler for getting down to the very heart of things, for prodding around among causes until he found the cause itself. And thus he learned the secret of the occult.
For so he taught. And presently the Jarados was recognized as an authority on what the Thomahlia called "the next world." Only he showed that death, instead of being an ushering into a void, was merely a translation onto another plane of life, a higher plane and a more glorious one. In short, a thing to be desired and attained, not to be avoided.
This put the Spot of Life on an entirely different basis. No longer was it a fearsome thing. The Jarados elevated death to the plane of motherhood—something to glory in. And Chick gathered that his famous prophecy—which he had yet to read, where it hung on the wall of the temple—gave every detail of the Jarados' profound convictions and teachings regarding the mystery of the next life.
And now comes a curious thing. As Chick read these details, he became more and more conscious of—what shall it be called?—the presence of someone or something beside him, above and all about him, watching his every movement. He could not get away from the feeling, although it was broad daylight, and he was seemingly quite alone in the room. Chick was not frightened; but he could have sworn that a very real personality was enveloping his own as he read.
Every word, somehow, reminded him of the miraculous sequence of facts as he knew them; the unerring accuracy with which he, quite unthinkingly and almost without volition, had solved problem after problem, although the chances were totally against him. He became more and more convinced that he himself had practically no control over his affairs; that he was in the hands of an irresistible Fate; and that—he could not help it—his good angel was none other than the prophet who, almost ninety centuries ago, had lived and taught upon the Thomahlia, and in the end had returned to the unknown.
But how could such a thing be? Watson did not even know where he was! Small wonder that, again and again, he felt the need of assurance. He asked for the Jan Lucar.
"In the first place," began Chick without preamble, "you accept me, Jan Lucar; do you not?"
"Absolutely, my lord."
"You conceive me to be out of the spiritual world, and yet flesh and blood like yourself?"
"Of course," with flat conviction.
That settled it. Watson decided to find out something he had not had time to locate in the library.
"The Rhamda may have told you, Jan Lucar, that I am here to seek the Jarados. Now, I suspect the Senestro. Can you imagine what he has done to the prophet?"
"My lord," remonstrated the other, "daring as the Bar might be, he could do nothing to the Jarados. He would not dare."
"Then he is afraid to run counter to the prophecy?"
"Yes, my lord; that is, its literal interpretation. He is opposed only to the broader version as held by such liberals as the Rhamda Avec. The Bars are always warning the people against the false one."
"And the Senestro is at their head," mused Chick aloud. "This brother of his who died—usually there are two such princes and chiefs?"
"Yes, my lord."
"And the Senestro plans to marry both queens, according to the custom!"
"My lord"—and the Jan suddenly snapped erect—"the Bar will do exceedingly well if he succeeds in marrying one of them! Certainly he shall never have the Aradna—not while I live and can fight!"
"Good! How about the Nervina?"
"He'll do well to find her first!"
"True enough. What would you say was his code of honour?"
"My lord, the Senestro actually has no code. He believes in nothing. He is so constituted, mentally and morally, that he cares for and trusts in none but himself. He is a sceptic pure and simple; he cares nothing for the Jarados and his teachings. He is an opportunist seeking for power, wicked, lustful, cruel—"
"But a good sportsman!"
"In what way, my lord?"
"Didn't he allow me the choice of combat?"
The Jan laughed, but his handsome face could not hide his contempt.
"It is ever so with a champion, my lord. He has never been defeated in a matter of physical prowess. It would be far more to his glory to overcome you in combat of your own selection. It will be spectacular—he knows the value of dramatic climax—and he would kill you in a moment, before a million Thomahlians."
"It's a nice way to die," said Watson. "You must grant that much."
"I don't know of any nice way to die, my lord. But it is a good way of living—to kill the Bar Senestro. I would that I could have the honour."
"How does it come that the Rhamdas, superintellectual as they are, can consent to such a contest? Is it not degrading, to their way of thinking? It smacks of barbarism."
"They do not look upon it in that light, my lord. Our civilisation has passed beyond snobbery. Of course there was a time, centuries ago when we were taught that any physical contest was brutal. But that was before we knew better."
"You don't believe it now?"
"By no means, my lord. The most wonderful physical thing in the Thomahlia is the human body. We do not hide it. We admire beauty, strength, prowess. The live body is above all art; it is the work of God himself; art is but an imitation. And there is nothing so splendid as a physical contest—the lightning correlation of mind and body. It is a picture of life."
"Do the Rhamdas think this?"
"Most assuredly. A Rhamda is always first an athlete."
"Perfection, my lord. A perfect mind does not always dwell in a perfect body, but they strive for it as much as possible. The first test of a Rhamda is his body. After he passes that he must take the mental test."
"Moral first. The most rigid, perhaps of all; he must be a man above suspicion. The honour of a Rhamda must never be questioned. He must be upright and absolutely unselfish. He must be broad- minded, human, lovable, and a leader of men. After that, my lord, comes the intellectual test."
"He must be a learned man?"
"Not exactly, your lordship. There are many very learned men who could not be Rhamdas; and there are many who have had no learning at all who eventually were admitted. The qualifications are intellectual, not educational; the mind is put to a rigid test. It is examined for alertness, perception, memory, reason, emotion, and control. There is no greater honour in all the Thomahlia."
"And they are all athletes?"
"Every one, my lord. In all the world there is no finer body of men, I myself would hesitate before entering a match with even the old Rhamda Geos."
"How about the Rhamda Avec?"
"Nor he, either; in the gymnasium he was always the superior, just as he topped all others morally and mentally."
Did this explain the Avec's physical prowess, on the one hand, and the fact that he would not stoop to take that ring by force, on the other?
"Just one more thing, Jan Lucar. You have absolutely no fear that I may fail tomorrow?"
"Not the slightest, my lord. You cannot fail!"
"I have already said—because you are from the Jarados."
And Chick, facing the greatest experience of his life, submerged in a sea wherein only a few islands of fact were visible, had to be content with this: his only friends were those who were firmly convinced of something which, he knew only too well, was a flat fraud! All this backing was based upon a misled faith.
No, not quite. Was there not that strange feeling that the Jarados himself was at his back? And had he not found that the prophet had been real? Did he not feel, as positively as he felt anything, that the Jarados was still a reality?
Chick went to bed that night with a light heart.
THE TEMPLE OF THE BELL
It was hard for Chick to remember all the details of that great day. Throughout all the morning and afternoon he remained in his apartments. Breakfast over, the Rhamdas told him his part in certain ceremonies, such as need not be detailed here. They were very solicitous as to his food and comfort, and as to his feelings and anticipations. His nonchalance pleased them greatly. Afterward he had a bath and rub-down.
A combat to the death, was it to be? Suits me, thought Watson. He was never in finer form.
The Jan Lucar was particularly interested. He pinched and stroked Chick's muscles with the caressing pride of a connoisseur. Watson stepped out of the fountain bath in all the vigour of health. He playfully reached out for the Lucar and tripped him up. He sought to learn just what the Thomahlians knew in the art of self- defence.
The brief struggle that ensued taught him that he need expect no easy conquest. The Jan was quick, active and the possessor of a science peculiarly effective. The Thomahlians did not box in the manner of the Anglo-Saxons; their mode was peculiar. Chick foresaw that he would be compelled to combine the methods of three kinds of combat: boxing, ju-jitsu, and the good old catch-as-catch-can wrestling. If the Senestro were superior to the Jan, he would have a time indeed. Though Watson conquered, he could not but concede that the Jan was not only clever but scientific to an oily, bewildering degree. The Lucar paused.
"Enough, my lord! You are a man indeed. Do not overdo; save yourself for the Senestro."
Clothes were brought, and Chick taken back to his apartment. The time passed with Rhamdas constantly at his side.
The Geos was not present, nor the little queen. Chick sought permission to sit by the window—permission that was granted after the guards had placed screens that would withhold any view from outside, yet permit Chick to look out.
As far as he could see, the avenues were packed with people. Only, this time the centres of the streets were clear; on the curbs he could see the opposing lines of the blue and crimson, holding back the waiting thousands. In the distance he could hear chimes, faint but distinct, like silver bells tinkling over water.
At intervals rose strange choruses of weird, holy music. The full sweep of the city's domes and minarets was spread out before him. From eaves to basements the rolling luxuriance of orchidian beauty; banners, music, parade; a day of pageant, pomp, and fulfilment.
He could catch the excitement in the air, the strange, laden undercurrent of spiritual salvation-something esoteric, undefinable, the ecstasy of a million souls pulsing to the throb of a supreme moment. He drew back, someone had touched him.
"What is it?"
It was one of the Rhamdas. He had in his hand a small metal clover, of the design of the Jarados.
"What do I do?" asked Watson.
"This," said the Rhamda, "was sent to you by one of the Bars."
"By a Bar! What does it mean?"
The other shook his head. "It was sent to you by one who wished it to be known by us that he is your friend, even though a Bar."
Just then Watson noted something sticking out of the edge of one of the clover leaves. He pulled it out. It was a piece of paper. On it were scrawled words IN ENGLISH.
The writing was pencil script, done in a poor hand and ill-spelled, but still English. Chick read:
"Be of good cheer; there ain't a one in this world that can top a lad from Frisco. And it's Pat MacPherson that says it. Yer the finest laddie that ever got beyond the old Witch of Endor. You and me, if we hold on, is just about goin' to play hell with the haythen. Hold on and fight like the divil! Remember that Pat is with ye!
"We're both spooks.
Said Watson: "Who gave you this? Did you see the man?"
"It was sent up my lord. The man was a high Bar in the Senestro's guard."
Watson could not understand this. Was it possible that there were others in this mysterious region besides himself? At any rate, he wasn't wholly alone. He felt that he could count upon the Irishman—or was this fellow Scotch? Anyhow, such a man would find the quick means of wit at a crucial moment.
Suddenly Watson noted a queer feeling of emptiness. He looked out of the window. The music had ceased, and the incessant hum of the throngs had deadened to silence. It was suspended, awesome, threatening. At the same time, the Jan Lucar came to attention, at the opposite door stood the Rhamda Geos, black clad, surrounded by a group of his fellows.
"Come, my lord," he said.
The crimson guard fell in behind Watson, the black-gowned took their places ahead, and the Jan Lucar and the Geos walked on either side. They stepped out into the corridor. By the indicator of a vertical clock, Chick noted that it was nine. He did not know the day of the year other than from the Thomahlian calendar; but he knew that it was close to sunset. He did not ask where they were going; there was no need. The very solemnity of his companions told him more than their answers would have. In a moment they were in the streets.
Watson had thought that they would be taken by aircraft, or that they would pass through the building. He did not know that it was a concession to the Bar Senestro; that the Senestro was but playing a bit of psychology that is often practised by lesser champions. If Watson's nerve was not broken it was simply because of the iron indifference of confident health. Chick had never been defeated. He had no fear. He was far more curious as to the scenes and events about him than he was of the outcome. He was hoping for some incident that would link itself up into explanation.
At the door a curious car of graceful lines was waiting, an odd affair that might be classed as a cross between a bird and a gondola, streaming with colours and of magnificent workmanship and design. On the deck of this the three men took their places; on the one side the Rhamda Geos, tall, sombre, immaculate; on the other, the magnificent Jan Lucar in the gorgeous crimson uniform, gold-braided and studded with jewels; on his head he wore the shako of purple down, and by his side a peculiar black weapon which he wore much in the manner of a sword.
In the centre, Watson—bareheaded, his torso bare and his arms naked. He had been given a pair of soft sandals, and a short suit, whose one redeeming feature in his eyes was a pocket into which he had thrust the automatic that he valued so much. It was more like a picture of Rome than anything else. Whatever the civilisation of the Thomahlians, their ritual in Watson's eyes smacked still of barbarism.
But he was intensely interested in all about him. The avenues were large. On either side the guards were drawn up eight deep, holding back the multitude that pressed and jostled with the insistence of curiosity. He looked into the myriad faces; about him, splendid features, of intelligent man and women.
Not one face suggested the hideous; the women were especially beautiful, and, from what he could see, finely formed and graceful. Many of them smiled; he could hear the curious buzz of conjecturing whispers. Some were indifferent, while others, from the expression of their faces, were openly hostile.
Chick was in the middle of a procession, the Rhamdas marching before and the crimson guard bringing up the rear. A special guard: the inner one, Rhamdas, the outer one of crimson surrounding them all.
The car started. There was no trace of friction; it was noiseless, automatic. Chick could only conjecture as to its mechanism. The black column of Rhamdas moved ahead rhythmically, with the swing of solemn grandeur. For some minutes they marched through the streets of the Mahovisal. There was no cheering; it was a holy, awesome occasion. Chick could sense the undercurrent of the staring thousands, the reverence and the piety. It was the Day of the Prophet. They were staring at a miracle.
The column turned a corner. For the first time Watson was staggered by sheer immensity; for the first time he felt what it might be to see with the eyes of an insect. Had he been an ant looking up at the columns of Karnak, he would still have been out of proportion. It was immense, colossal, beyond man. It was of the omnipotent—the pillared portal of the Temple of the Bell.
Such a building a genius might dream of, in a moment of unhampered, inspired imagination. It was stupendous. The pillars were hexagonal in shape, and in diameter each of about the size of an ordinary house. Dropping from an immense height, it seemed as if they had originally poured out in the form of molten metal from immense bell-like flares that fell from the vaulted architrave. Such was the design.
Chick got the impression that the top of the structure, somehow, was not supported by the foundation, but rather the reverse—the floor was suspended from the ceiling. It was the work of the Titans—so high and stupendous that at the first instant Watson felt numb with insignificance. What chance had he against men of such colossal conception.
How large the building was he could not see. The Gargantuan facade itself was enough to smother comprehension. It was laid out in the form of a triangle, one end of which was open towards the city; the two sections of the facade met under a huge, arched opening— the door itself. Watson recognised the structure as the one he had seen from the June Bug on the outskirts of the Mahovisal. The enormous plaza was packed with people, leaving only a narrow lane for the procession; and as far back as Chick could see crowds in the streets converged towards this vast space. Their numbers were incalculable.
The car stopped. The guards, both crimson and blue, formed a twenty-fold cordon. Watson could feel the suspended breath of the waiting multitude. The three men stepped out—the Geos first, then the Jan Lucar, and Watson last. Chick caught the Lucar's eye; it was confident; the man was springing with vigour, jovial in spite of the moment.
They passed between two of the huge pillars, and under the giant arch. For a few minutes they walked through what seemed, to Chick, a perfect maze of those titanic columns. And every foot was marked by the lines of crimson and blue, flanking either side.
An immense sea of people rose high into the forest of pillars as far as his eye could reach. He had never been in such a concourse of humanity.
They passed through an inner arch, a smaller and lower one, into what Chick guessed was the temple proper. And if Chick had thought the anteroom stupendous, he saw that a new word, one which went beyond all previous experience, was needed to describe what he now saw.
It was almost too immense to be grasped in its entirety. Gone was the maze of columns; instead, far, far away to the right and to the left, stood single rows of herculean pillars. There were but seven on a side, separated by great distances; and between them stretched a space so immense, so incredibly vast, that a small city could have been housed within it. And over it all was not the open sky, but a ceiling of such terrific grandeur that Chick almost halted the procession while he gazed.
For that ceiling was the under side of a cloud, a grey-black, forbidding thundercloud. And the fourteen pillars, seven on either side, were prodigious waterspouts, monster spirals of the hue of storm, with flaring sweeps at top and bottom that welded roof and floor into one terrific whole. Sheer from side to side stretched that portentous level cloud; it was a span of an epoch; and on either side it was rooted in those awful columns, seemingly alive, as though ready at any instant to suck up the earth into the infinite.
By downright will-power Watson tore his attention away and directed it upon the other features of that unprecedented interior. It was lighted, apparently, by great windows behind the fourteen pillars; windows too far to be distinguishable. And the light revealed, directly ahead something that Chick at first thought to be a cascade of black water. It leaped out of the rear wall of the temple, and at its crest it was bordered with walls of solid silver, cut across and designed with scrolls of gold and gem work; walls that swooped down and ended with two huge green columns at the base of that fantastic fall.
As they approached a swarm of tiny bronze objects, silver winged, fluttered out through the temple—tiny birds, smaller than swallows, beautiful and swift-winged, elusive. They were without number; in a moment the air of the temple was alive with flitting, darting spots of glinting colour.
Then Chick saw that there were two people sitting high on the crest of that cascade. Wondering, Chick and the rest marched on through the silent crowd; all standing with bared heads and bated breaths. The worshipping Thomahlians filled every inch of that enormous place. Only a narrow lane permitted the procession to pass towards that puzzling, silent, black waterfall.
They were almost at its base when Chick saw the vanguard of the Rhamdas unhesitatingly stride straight against the torrent, and then mount upon it. Up they marched; and Chick knew that the black water was black jade, and that the two people at its crest were seated upon a landing at the top of the grandest stairway he had ever seen.
Up went the Rhamdas deploying to right and left against the silver walls. The crimson and blue uniformed guards remained behind, lining the lane through the throng. At the foot of the steps Chick stopped and looked around, and again he felt numb at the sheer vastness of it all.
For he was looking back now at the portal through which the procession had marched; a portal now closed; and above it, covering a great expanse of that wall and extending up almost into the brooding cloud above, was spread a mighty replica of the tri- coloured Sign of the Jarados.
For the first time Chick felt the full significance of symbolism. Whereas before it had been but an incident of adventure, now it was the symbol of mystic revelation. It was not only the motif for all other decoration upon the walls and minor elements of the temple; it was the emblem of the trinity, deep, holy, significant of the mystery of the universe and the hereafter. There was something deeper than mere fatalism; behind all was the fact- rooted faith of a civilisation.
But at that moment, as Chick paused with one foot on the bottom step of the flight, something happened that sent quivers of joy and confidence all through him. Someone was talking—talking in English!
Chick looked. The speaker was a man in the blue garb of the Senestro's guard. He was standing at the end of the line nearest the stair, and slightly in front of his fellows. Like the rest, he was holding his weapon, a black, needled-pointed sword, at the salute. Chick gave him only a glance, then had the presence of mind to look elsewhere as a man said, in a low, guarded voice:
"Y' air right, me lad; don't look at me. I know what ye're thinkin'. But she ain't as bad as she looks! Keep yer heart clear; never fear. You an' me can lick all Thomahlia! Go straight up them stairs, an' stand that blackguard Senestro on his 'ead, just like y'd do in Frisco!"
"Who are you?" asked Watson, intent upon the great three-leafed clover. He used the same low, cautious tone the other had employed. "Who are you, friend?"
"Pat MacPherson, of course," was the answer. "An' Oi've said a plenty. Now, go aboot your business."
Watson did not quibble. There was no time to learn more. He did not wish it to be noticed; yet he could not hide it from the Jan Lucar and the Rhamda Geos, who were still at his side. They had heard that tongue before. The looks they exchanged told, however, that they were gratified rather than displeased by the interruption. Certainly all feelings of depression left Chick, and he ascended the stairs with a glad heart and a resilient stride that could not but be noticed.
He was ready for the Senestro.
Reaching the top of the jade steps, Chick found the landing to be a great dais, nearly a hundred feet across. On the right and left this dais was hedged in by the silver walls, on each of which was hung a huge, golden scrollwork. These scrolls bore legends, which for the moment Chick ignored. At the rear of the dais was a large object like a bronze bell.
The floor was of the usual mosaic, except in the centre, where there was a plain, circular design. Chick took careful note of this, a circle about twenty feet across, as white and unbroken as a bed of frozen snow. Whether it was stone or not he could not determine. All around its edge was a gap that separated it from the dais, a gap several inches across. Chick turned to Geos:
"The Spot of Life?"
"Even so. It is the strangest thing in all the Thomahlia, my lord. Can you feel it?"
For Watson had reached out with his toe and touched the white surface. He drew it back suddenly.
"It has a feeling," he replied, "that I cannot describe. It is cold, and yet it is not. Perhaps it is my own magnetism."
"Ah! It is well, my lord!"
What the Rhamda meant by that Chick could not tell. He was interested in the odd white substance. It was as smooth as glass, although at intervals there were faint, almost imperceptible, dark lines, like the finest scratches in old ivory. Yet the whiteness was not dazzling. Again Watson touched it with his foot, and noted the inexplicable feeling of exhilaration. In the moment of absorption he quite forgot the concourse about him. He knew that he was now standing on the crux of the Blind Spot.
But in a minute he turned. The dais was a sort of nave, with one end open to the stairway. Seated on his left was the frail Aradna, occupying a small throne-like chair of some translucent green material. On the right sat the Bar Senestro, in a chair differing only in that its colour was a bright blue. In the centre of the dais stood a third chair—a crimson one—empty.
The Senestro stood up. He was royally clad, his breast gleaming with jewels. He was certainly handsome; he had the carriage of confident royalty. There was no fear in this man, no uncertainty, no weakness. If confidence were a thing of strength, the Senestro was already the victor. In his heart Chick secretly admired him.
But just then the Aradna stood up, She made an indication to Watson. He stepped over to the queen. She sat down again.
"I want to give you my benediction, stranger lord. Are you sure of yourself? Can you overcome the Senestro?"
"I am certain," spoke Watson. "It is for the queen, O Aradna. I know nothing of the prophecy; but I will fight for you!"
She blushed and cast a furtive look in the direction of the Senestro.
"It is well," she spoke. "The outcome will have a double interpretation—the spiritual one of the prophecy, and the earthly, material one that concerns myself. If you conquer, my lord, I am freed. I would not marry the Senestro; I love him not. I would abide by the prophet, and await the chosen." She hesitated. "What do you know of the chosen, my lord?"
"Nothing, O Aradna."
"Has not the Rhamda Geos told you?"
"Partly, but not fully. There is something that he is withholding."
"Very likely. And now—will you kneel, my lord?"
Watson knelt. The queen held out her hand. Behind him Chick could hear a deep murmur from the assembled multitudes. Just what was the significance of that sound he did not know; nor did he care. It was enough for him that he was to fight for this delicately beautiful maiden. He would let the prophecy take care of itself.
Besides these three on the dais there were only the Rhamda Geos and the Jan Lucar. These two remained on the edge nearest the body of the temple, the edge at the crest of the stair. The empty chair remained so.
Suddenly Chick remembered the warning of Dr. Holcomb: "Read the words of the Prophet." And he took advantage of the breathing- spell to peruse the legends on the great golden scrolls:
THE PROPHECY OF THE JARADOS
Behold! When the day is at hand, prepare ye!
For, when that day cometh, ye shall have signs and portents from the world beyond. Wisdom cometh out of life, and life walketh out of wisdom. Yea, in the manner of life and of spirit ye shall have them, and of substance even like unto you yourselves.
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that we shall be on guard. By these signs ye shall know them; even by the truths I have taught thee. The way of life is an open door; wisdom and virtue are its keys. And when the intelligence shall be lifted to the plane above—then shalt thou know!
Mark ye well the Spot of Life! He that openeth it is the precursor of judgment. Mark him well!
And thus shall the last days come to pass. See that ye are worthy, O wise ones! For behold in those last days there shall come among ye—
The chosen of a line of kings. First there shall be one, and then there shall be two; and the two shall stay but the one shall return.
The false ones. Them ye shall slay!
The four footed: The call to humility, sacrifice and devotion, whom ye shall hold in reverence even as you hold me, the Jarados.
And on the last day of all—I, the Jarados!
Beware ye of sacrilege! Lest I take from ye all that I have given ye, and the day be postponed—beware ye of sacrilege!
And if the false ones cometh not, ye shall know that I have held them. Know ye the day!
Sixteen days from the day of the prophet, shall come the day of the judgment; and the way shall be opened, on the last day, the sixteenth day of the Jarados.
Hearken to the words of the Jarados, the prophet and mouthpiece of the infinite intelligence, ruler of justice, peace, and love! So be it forever!
Chick read it a second time. Like all prophecies, it was somewhat Delphic; but he could get the general drift. In that golden script he was looking into the heart of all Thomahlia—into its greatness, its culture, its civilisation itself. It was the soul of the Blind Spot, the reason and the wherefore of all about him.
He heard someone step up behind him, and he turned. It was the Senestro, going over the words of the prophecy.
"Can you read it, Sir Phantom?" asked the handsome Bar. His black eyes were twinkling with delight. "Have you read it all?"
He put a hand on Chick's shoulder. It was a careless act, almost friendly. Either he had the heart of a devil or the chivalry of a paladin. He pointed to a line:
"'The false ones. Them ye shall slay.'"
"And if I were the false one, you would slay me?" asked Watson.
"Aye, truly!" answered the splendid prince. "You are well made and good to look upon. I shall hold you in my arms; I shall hear your bones crack; it shall be sweeter music than that of the temple pheasants, who never sing but for the Jarados. I shall slay you upon the Spot, Sir Phantom!"
Watson turned on his heel. The ethics of the Senestro were not of his own code. He was not afraid; he stood beside the Jan Lucar and gazed out into the body of the temple. As far as he could see, under and past the fourteen great pillars and right up to the far wall, the floor was a vast carpet of humanity.
It was become dark. Presently a new kind of light began to glow far overhead, gradually increasing in strength until the whole place was suffused with a sun-like illumination. The Rhamda Geos began to speak.
"In the last day, in the Day of Life. We have the substance of ourselves, and the words of the prophet. The Jarados has written his prophecy in letters of gold, for all to see. 'The false ones. Them ye shall slay.' It is the will of the Rhamdas that the great Bar Senestro shall try the proof of the occult. On this, the first of the Sixteen Days, the test shall be—on the Spot of Life!"
He turned away. The Bar Senestro stripped off his jewels, his semi-armour, and stood clad in the manner of Watson. They advanced and met in the centre of the dais, two athletes, lithe, strong, handsome, their muscles aquiver with vitality and their skins silken with health. Champions of two worlds, to wrestle for truth!
A low murmur arose, increasing until it filled the whole coliseum. The silver-bronze pheasants flitted above the heads of all, flashing like fragments of the spirit of light. And all of a sudden—
One of them fluttered down and lit on Watson's shoulder.
The murmur of the throng dropped to a dead silence. Next moment a stranger thing happened. The little creature broke forth in full- throated song.
Watson instantly remembered the words of the Bar Senestro: "They sing but for the Jarados." He quietly reached up and caught the songster in his hand, and he held it up to the astonished crowd. Still the song continued. Chick held him an instant longer, and then gave him a toss high into the air. He shot across the temple, a streak of melody, silver, dulcet, to the far corner of the giant building.
But the thing did not jar the Senestro.
"Well done, Sir Phantom! Anyhow, 'tis your last play! I would not have it otherwise. I hope you can die as prettily! Are you ready?"
"Ready? What for?" retorted Watson. "Why, should I trouble myself with preparations?"
But the Rhamda Geos had now come to his side.
"Do your best, my lord. I regret only that it must be to the death. It is the first death contest in the Thomahlia for a thousand circles (years). But the Senestro has challenged the prophecy. Prove that you are not a false one! My heart is with you."
It was a good word at a needed moment. Watson stepped over onto the circular Spot of Life.
They were both barefooted. Evidently the Thomahlians fought in the old, classic manner. The stone under Watson's feet was cool and invigorating. He could sense anew that quiver of magnetism and strength. It sent a thrill through his whole body, like the subtle quickening of life. He felt vital, joyous, confident.
The Senestro was smiling, his eyes flashing with anticipation. His muscled body was a network of soft movement. His step was catlike.
"What will it be?" inquired Watson. "Name your choice of destruction."
But the Bar shook his head.
"Not so, Sir Phantom. You shall choose the manner of your death, not I. Particular I am not, nor selfish."
"Make it wrestling, then," in his most off-hand manner. He was a good wrestler, and scientific.
"Good. Are you ready?"
"Very well, Sir Phantom. I shall walk to the edge of the Spot and turn around. I would take no unfair advantage. Now!"
Chick turned at the same moment and strode to his edge. He turned, and it happened; just what, Chick never knew. He remembered seeing his opponent turn slowly about, and in the next split second he was spinning in the clutch of a tiger. Even before they struck the stone, Chick could feel the Senestro reaching for a death-hold.
And in that one second Watson knew that he was in the grip of his master.
His mind functioned like lightning. His legs and arms flashed for the counterhold that would save him. They struck the Spot and rolled over and over. Chick caught his hold, but the Senestro broke it almost instantly. Yet it had saved him; for a minute they spun around like a pair of whirligigs. Watson kept on the defensive. He had not the speed and skill of the other. It was no mere test to touch his shoulders; it was a fight to the death; he was at a disadvantage. He worked desperately.
When a man fights for his life he becomes superhuman. Watson was put to something more than his skill; the sheer spirit of the Bar broke hold after hold; he was like lightning, panther-like, subtle, vicious. Time after time he spun Chick out of his defense and bore him down into a hold of death. And each time Chick somehow wriggled out, and saved himself by a new hold. The struggle became a blur—muscle, legs, the lust for killing—and hatred. Twice Watson essayed the offensive; first he got a hammer lock, and then a half-Nelson. The Bar broke both holds immediately.
Whatever Chick knew of wrestling, the Senestro knew just a bit more. It was a whirling mass of legs and bodies in continuous convulsion, silent except for the terrible panting of the men, and the low, stifled exclamations of the onlookers.
Watson grew weak. He tried once more. They spun to their feet. But before he could act the Senestro had caught him in the same flying rush as in the beginning, and had whirled him off his feet. And when he came down the Bar had an unbreakable hold.
Chick struggled in vain. The Bar tightened his grip. A spasm of pain shot through Chick's torso; he could feel his bones giving way. His strength was gone; he could see death. Another moment would have been the end.
But something happened. The Senestro miraculously let go his hold. Chick felt something soft brush against his cheek. He heard a queer snapping, and shouts of wonder, and a dreadful choking sound from the Bar. He raised dizzily on one arm. His eyes cleared a bit.
The great Bar was on his back; and at his throat was a snarling thing—the creature that Chick had seen in the clover leaf of the Jarados.
It was a living dog.
PAT MACPHERSON'S STORY
To Watson it was all a blur. He was too weak and too broken to remember distinctly. He was conscious only of an uproar, of a torrent of multitudinous sound. And then—the deep, enveloping tone of a bell.
Some time, somewhere, Chick had heard that bell before. In his present condition his memory refused to serve him. He was covered with blood; he tried to rise, to crawl to this snarling animal that was throttling the Senestro. But something seemed to snap within him, and all went black.
When he opened his eyes again all had changed. He was lying on a couch with a number of people about. It was a minute before he recognized the Jan Lucar, then the Geos, and lastly the nurse whom he had first seen when he awoke in the Blind Spot. Evidently he was in the hands of his friends, although there was a new one, a red-headed man, clad in the blue uniform of a high Bar.
He sat up. The nurse held a goblet of the green liquid to his lips. The Bar in blue turned.
"Aye," he said. "Give him some of the liquor; it will do him good. It will put the old energy back in his bones."
The voice rang oddly familiar in Watson's ears. The words were Thomahlian; not until Chick had drained his glass did he comprehend their significance.
"Who are you?" he asked.
The Bar with the red hair grinned.
"Whist, me lad," using Chick's own tongue. "Get rid of these Thomahlians. 'Tis a square game we're playin', but we're takin' no chances. Get 'em out of the way so we kin talk."
Watson turned to the others. He made the request in his adopted tongue. They bowed, reverently, and withdrew.
"Who are you?" Chick asked again.
"Oi'm Pat MacPherson."
"How did you get here?"
The other sat on the edge of the bed. "Faith, how kin Oi tell ye? 'Twas a drink, sor; a new kind av a high-ball, th' trickery av a friend an' th' ould Witch av Endor put togither."
Obviously Watson did not understand. The stranger continued: "Faith, sor, an' no more do Oi. There's no one as does, 'cept th' ould doc hisself."
"The old doc! You mean Dr. Holcomb?"
Watson sat up in his bed. "Where is he?"
"In a safe place, me lad. Dinna fear for th' doctor. 'Twas him as saved ye—him an' your humble sarvant, Pat MacPherson, bedad."
"He—and you—saved me?"
"Aye—there on th' Spot of Life. A bit of a thrick as th' ould doc dug oot o' his wisdom. Sure, she dinna work jist loike he said it, but 'twas a plenty t' oopset th' pretty Senestro!"
Watson asked, "What became of the Senestro?"
"Sure, they pulled him oot. Th' wee doggie jist aboot had him done for. Bedad, she's a good pup!"
"What kind of a dog?"
"A foine wan, sor, wit a bit stub av a tail. An' she's that intelligent, she kin jist about talk Frinch. Th' Thomahlians all called her th' Four-footed, an' if they kape on, they'll jist aboot make her th' Pope."
Watson was still thick headed. "I don't understand!"
"Nor I laddie. But th' ould doc does. He's got a foine head for figgers; and' he's that scientific, he kin make iron oot o' rainbows."
"Iron out of—what?"
"Rainbows, sor. Faith, 'tis meself thot's seen it. And he's been watchin' over ye ever since ye came. 'Twas hisself, lad, that put it into your head t' call him th' Jarados."
"You don't mean to say that the professor put those impulses into my head!"
"Aye, laddie; you said it. He kin build up a man's thoughts just like you or me kin pile oop lumber. 'Tis that deep he is wit' th' calculations!"
Watson tried to think. There was just one superlative question now. He put it.
"I dinna know if he's th' Jarados," was the reply. "But if so be not, then he's his twin brother, sure enough."
"Is he a prisoner?"
"I wouldna say that, though there's them as think so. But if it be anybody as is holdin' him, 'tis the Senestro an' his gang o' guards."
Watson looked at the other's uniform, at the purple shako on his head, the jewelled weapon at his side, and the Jaradic leaf on his shoulder—insignia of a Bar of the highest rank.
"How does it come that you're a Bar, and a high one at that?"
The other grinned again. He took off his shako and ran his hand through his mop of red hair.
"'Tis aither th' luck of th' Irish, me lad, or of th' Scotch. Oi don't ken which—Oi'm haff each—but mostly 'tis th' virtoo av me bonny red hair."
"Because, leastways, in th' Thomahlia, there's always a dhrop av royalty in th' red-headed. Me bonnie top-knot has made me a fortune. Ye see, 'tis th' mark av th' royal Bars themselves; no ithers have it."
Watson said: "If you have come from Dr. Holcomb, then you must have a message from him to me."
"Ye've said it; you an' me, an' a few Rhamdas, an' mebbe th' wee queen is goin' t' take a flight in th' June Bug. We're goin' afther th' ould doc; an' ye kin bet there'll be as pretty a scrap as ever ye looked on. An' afther thot's all over, we're goin' t' take anither kind of a flight—into good old Frisco."
Chick instantly asked Pat if he knew where San Francisco might be.
"Faith, 'tis only th' ould doc knows, laddie. But when we git there, 'tis Pat MacPherson that's a goin' for Toddy Maloney."
"I don't know that name."
"Bedad, I do. Him it was thot give me th' dhrink."
Th' dhrink thot done it. Twas a new kind av cocktail. Ye see, I'd jist got back from Melbourne, an' I was takin' in th' lights that noight, aisy like, whin I come t' Toddy's place. I orders a dhrink av whuskey.
"'Whist, Pat,' says he, 'ye don't want whuskey; 'twill make ye dhrunk. Why don't ye take somethin' green, like th' Irish?'
"'Green," says I. ''Tis a foine colour. I dinna fear anything thot comes fra' a bottle. Pass'er oot!'
"An' thot he did. 'Twas 'creme de menthay' on th' bottle. 'An',' says he, ''Twon't make ye dhrunk.' But he was a liar, beggin' yer pardin.
"For by an' by Oi see his head a growin' larger an' larger, until Oi couldn't see annything but a few loights on th' cailing, an' a few people on th' edges, loike. An' afther thot Oi wint oot, an' walked till Oi come to a hill. An' there was a moon, an' a ould hoose standin' still, which th' moon was not. So Oi stood still to watch it, but bein' tired an' weary an' not havin' got rid o' me sea-legs, Oi sat me doon on th' steps av th' hoose for a bit av a rest, an' t' watch th' moon, thinkin' mebbe she'd stand still by an' by.
"Well, sor, Oi hadn't been there more'n three 'r four minits, whin th' door opened, an' oot steps a little ould lady, aboot th' littlest an' ouldest Oi iver see in 'Frisco.
"'Good avenin', Mother Machree,' says Oi, touchin' me hat.
"'Mother Machree!' says she, an' gives me a sharp look. Also she sniffs. 'Ye poor man,' says she. 'Ye'll catch yer death o' cold, out here. Ye better coom in an' lie on me sofy.'
"Now, sor, how was Oi to ken, bein' a sailor an' ingorant? She was only a ould lady, an' withered. How was Oi to ken thot she was th' ould Witch o' Endor?"
Watson's memory was at work on what he knew of the house at Chatterton Place, especially regarding its occupants at the beginning of the Blind Spot mystery. The Bar's old remark caught his attention.
"The Witch of Endor?"
"Aye; thot she were. Whin Oi woke up, there was nary a hoose at all, nor th' ould lady, nor Toddy Maloney's, nor 'Frisco. 'Twas a strange place I was, sor; a church loike St. Peter's, only bigger, th' same bein' harrd to belaive. An' th' columns looked loike waterspoots, an' th' sky above was full av clouds, the same bein' jest aboot ready to break into hell an' tempest. But ye've been there yerself, sor.
"Well, here was a man beside me, dressed in a kilt. An' he spakes a strange language, although Oi could undershtand; and' he says, says he:
"'My lord,' was what he says.
"'My lord!' says Oi. 'Oi dinna ken what ye mane at all, at all.'
"'Are ye not a Bar?' says he.
"'Thot Oi am not!' says Oi, spakin' good English, so's to be sure he'd understand. 'Oi'm Pat MacPherson.'
"But he couldn' ken. Thin we left th' temple an' wint out into the street. An' a great crowd of people came aroun' an' began shoutin'. By an' by we wint into anither buildin'.
"'For why sh'd iverybody look at me whin we crossed th' street jest noo?' I asked.
"'Tis y'r clothes,' says he.
"Now, Oi don't enjoy pooblicity, sor; wherefore th' wily Scotch in me told me what to do, an' th' Irish part of me did it. I stood him on his head, an' took his clothes off an' put them on meself. An' then no one noticed me. Thot is, until Oi took me hat off."
"You mean, that shako?"
"Yis; th' blaemd heavy thing—'tis made o' blue feathers. Well, whin it got so hot it made me scalp sweat, Oi took it off; an' then they called me—'My lord' an' 'your worship,' jest loike Oi were a king.
"'Pray God,' says Oi, 'that me head dinna get bald.'
"Well, sor, Oi had a toime that was fit for th' Irish. Oi did iverything 'cept git drunk; there was nothin' to git drunk with. But afther a while I ran across anither, wit' jest as red hair as I had. He was a foine man, av coorse, an' all surrounded by blue guards. He took me into a room himself an' begin askin' questions.
"An' I lied, sor. Av coorse, 'twas lucky thot Oi had me Scotch larnin' an' caution to guide me; but whin Oi spoke, Oi wisely let th' Irishman do all th' talkin'. An' th' great Bar liked me.
"'Verily,' says he, most solemnly, 'thou art of th' royal Bars!' An' he made me a high officer, he did."
"Was he the Bar Senestro?" asked Watson.
"Nay; 'twas a far better man—Senestro's brother, that died not long after. When Oi saw th' Senestro, Oi had sinse enough to kape me mouth shut. An' now Oi'm a high Bar—next to th' Senestro hisself! What's more, sor, there's no one alive kens th' truth but yerself an' th' ould doctor."
It was a queer story, but in the light of all that had gone before, wonderfully convincing. Watson began to see light breaking through the darkness. "Now there are two," the old lady at 288 Chatterton Place had said to Jerome, when the detective came looking for the vanished professor. Had she referred to Holcomb and MacPherson? Two had gone through the Blind Spot, and two had come out—the Rhamda Avec and the Nervina. "Now there are two," she had said.
"Tell me a little more about Holcomb, Pat!"
"'Tis a short story. Oi can't tell ye much, owin' to orders from the old gent hisself. He came shortly after th' death of the first Bar, Senestro's brother. Seems there was some rumpus aboot th' old Rhamda Avec, which same Oi always kept away from—him as was goin' to prove th' spirits! Annyhow, we was guardin' th' temple awaitin' th' spook as was promised. An' thot's how we got th' ould doc.
"But th' Rhamdas niver saw him. Th' Senestro double-crossed 'em, an' slipped th' doctor oop to th' Palace av Light."
"The Palace of—what?"
"The Palace av light, sor. Tis th' home av th' Jarados. 'twas held always holy by th' Thomahlians; no man dared go within miles av it; since the Jarados was here, t'ousands of years ago, no one at all has been inside av it.
"But the Senestro knew that th' doctor was th' real Jarados, at least he t'ought so; an' he wasna afraid o' him. He's na coward, th' Senestro. He put th' doctor in th' Jarados' home! Only th' Prophecy worries him at all."
At last Watson was touching firm ground. Things were beginning to link up—the Senestro, the professor, the Prophecy of the Jarados.
"Well, sor, we Bars have kept th' ould doctor prisoner there iver since he come, wit' none save me to give him a wee bit word av comfort. But it dinna hurt th' old gent. Whin he finds all them balls an' rainbows an' eddicated secrets, he forgets iverything else; he's contint wit 'his discovery. 'Tis th' wise head th' doctor has; an' Oi make no doobt he's th' real Jarados."
The red-haired man went on to say that the professor knew of Chick's coming from the beginning. He immediately called in MacPherson and gave him some orders, or rather directions, which the Irishman could not understand. He knew only that he was to go to the Temple of the Leaf and there touch certain objects in a certain way; also, he was to arrange to get near Chick, and give him a word of cheer.
"But it dinna work as he said it, sor; he had expected to catch th' Senestro. Instead, 'twas th' dog got th' Bar. A foine pup, sor; she saved yer loife."
"Where's the dog now?"
"She's on th' Spot av Life, sor. She willna leave it. Tis a strange thing to see how she clings to it. Th' Rhamdas only come near enough to feed her."
Thus Chick learned that, as soon as he got well, he and MacPherson were to seek the doctor, and help him to get away with the secrets he had found, the truths behind the mystery of the Spot.
"An' 'tis a glorious fight there'll be, lad. Th' Senestro's a game wan; he'll not give up, an' he'll not let go th' doctor till he has to."
This was not unwelcome news to Chick. A battle was to his liking. It reminded him of the automatic pistol which he still had in his pocket—the gun he had not thought to use in his desperate struggle with the Bar Senestro.
"Pat," said he, with a sudden inspriation, "when you came through, did you have a firearm?"
MacPherson reached into his pocket and silently produced a thirty- two calibre pistol, of another make than Chick's but using the same ammunition. From another pocket he drew out a package carefully bound with thread. He unrolled the contents. It was an old clay pipe!
"Oi came through," he stated plaintively, "wit' two guns; an' nary a bit av powder for ayther!"
Chick smiled. He searched his own pockets. First he handed over his extra magazine full of cartridges, and then a full package of smoking tobacco.
"Wirra, wirra!" shouted MacPherson. "Faith, an' there's powder for both!" His hands shook as he hurried to cram the old pipe full of tobacco. The cartridges could wait. He struck a light and gave a deep sigh of content as he began to puff.
THE HOME OF THE JARADOS
Chick had been grievously hurt in the contest with the Senestro, but thanks to the Rhamdas he came round rapidly. It was a matter of less than a week.
Things were coming to a climax; Chick needed no lynx's eye to see that the die had been cast between the Bars and the Rhamdas. Soon the Senestro must make a bold move, or else release the professor.
Chick had not long to wait. It came one evening. Once again he found himself in the June Bug, accompanied by the Geos, the Jan Lucar, and—the little Aradna herself. Their departure was swift and secret.
This time Watson was not worried over height, or any other sensation of flight. The doctor's safety alone was of moment. He said to the Rhamda:
"Are we alone? Where is the Bar MacPherson?"
"He is somewhere near; we are not alone, my lord. Several other machines are flying nearby also; they carry many of the Rhamdas and the crimson guard of the queen. The MacPherson will arrive first. We are going straight to the Palace of Light, my lord."
"Are we to storm the place?" thinking of the fight MacPherson had predicted.
"Yes, my lord. Many shall die; but it cannot be helped. We must free the Jarados, although we commit sacrilege."
"That depends, my lord. We know not just what may be done." He gave no explanation.
They had climbed to a tremendous height. The indicator showed that they were bearing east. The darkness was modified only by the faint glow from that star-dusted sky. Looking down, Chick could see nothing whatever. His companions kept silence; only the Aradna, sitting forward by the side of Jan Lucar showed any perturbation. They climbed higher and higher still, until it seemed that they must leave the Thomahlia altogether. Always the course was eastward. At last the Jan said to the Geos:
"We are now over the Region of Carbon, sir. Shall I risk the light? His lordship might like to see."
"Follow your own judgment."
"Oh," exclaimed the Aradna; "do it by all means! There is nothing so wonderful as that!"
The Jan touched a small lever. Instantly a shaft of light cut down through the blackness. Far, far below it ended in a patch on the ground. Watson eagerly followed its movements as it searched from side to side, seeking he knew not what. And then—
There was a flash of inverted lightning, a flame of white fire, a blinding, stabbing scintillation of a million coruscations. Watson clapped a hand to his eyes, to cut off the sight. It was stunning.
"What is it?" he cried.
"Carbon," answered the Geos, calmly.
"Carbon! You mean—diamond?"
"Yes, my lord. So it interests you? I did not know. Later you shall see it under more favourable conditions." Then, to the Jan: "Enough."
Once again they were in darkness. For some minutes silence was again the rule. Watson watched the red dot moving across the indicator, noting its approach to a three cornered figure on one edge. Suddenly there appeared another dot; then another, and another. Some came from below, others from above; presently there were a score moving in close formation.
"They are all here," said the Jan to the Geos.
The other nodded, and explained to Chick: "It's the Rhamdas and the Crimson guards. The MacPherson is just ahead. We shall arrive in three minutes."
And after a pause he stated that the ensuing combat would mark the first spilling of blood between the Bars and the Rhamdas. At a pinch the Senestro might even kill the Jarados, to gain his ends. "His wish is his only law, my lord."
The red dots began to descend toward the three-cornered figure. One minute passed, and another; then one more, and the June Bug landed.
With scarcely a sound the Lucar brought the craft to a full stop. In a moment he was assisting the Aradna to alight. As for the Geos, he took from the machine two objects, which he held out to the Aradna and to Chick.
"Put these on. The rest of us fight as we are."
They were cloaks, made of a soft, light, malleable glass, or something like it. Watson asked what they were for.
"For a purpose known only to the Jarados, my lord. There are only two of these robes. With them he left directions which indicated plainly they are for your lordship and the Aradna."
Wondering, Chick helped the Aradna don her garment and then slipped into his own. Nevertheless, he pinned more faith in the automatic in his pocket. He did not make use of the hood which was intended to cover his head.
"Pardon me," spoke the queen. She reached over and extended the hood till it protected his skull. "Please wear it that way, for my sake. Nothing must happen to you now!"
Chick obeyed with only an inward demur. What puzzled him most was the isolation. Seemingly they were quite alone; there was nothing, no one, to oppose them.
But he had merely taken something for granted. He, being from the earth, had assumed that strife meant noise. It was only when the Aradna caught him by the arm, and whispered for him to listen, that he understood.
It was like a breeze, that sound. To be more precise, it was like the heavy passage of breath, almost uninterrupted, coming from all about them. And presently Chick caught a queer odour.
"What is it?" he breathed in the Aradna's ear.
"It is death," she answered. "Cannot you hear them—the deherers?"
She did not explain; but Watson knew that he was in the midst of a battle which was fought with noiseless and terribly efficient weapons—so efficient that there were no wounded to give voice to pain. Before he could ask a question a familiar voice sounded out of the darkness at his side.
"Where is the Geos?"
"Here, Bar MacPherson," answered the Rhamda.
"Good! It is well you came, sir. We were discovered a few minutes ago; already we have lost many men. Just give us the lights, so that we can get at them! It is a waste of men, with the advantage all on their side."
Then, lapsing into English for Chick's benefit: "'Tis welcome ye are! Ivery mon helps, how."
"What are these sounds? You say they are fighting?"
"'Tis the deherers ye hear, lad. They fight with silent guns. Don't let 'em hit ye, or ye'll be a pink pool in the twinklin' of yer eyelid. 'Tis no joke.
"Are they more powerful than firearms?"
"I dinna say, lad. But they're th' devil's own weapon for fightin'."
Chick did not answer—he had heard a low command from the Geos. Next instant the space before them was illuminated by clear white light, in the form of a circle—bright as day. In the centre shimmered an object like a mist of blue flame, a nimbus of dazzling, actinic lightning. There was no sign of man or life, no suggestion of sound—nothing but the nimbus, and the brilliant space about it. The whole phenomenon measured perhaps three hundred feet across.
They were in darkness. Chick took a step forward, but he was held back by MacPherson.
"Nay, lad; would ye be dyin' so soon? 'Tis fearful quick. See—"
He did not finish. A red line of soldiers had rushed straight out of the blackness into the circle of light. It seemed that they were charging the nimbus. They were stooping now, discharging their queer weapons; about three hundred of them—an inspiring sight. They charged in determined silence.
Then—Watson blinked. The line disappeared; the thing was like a miracle. It took time for Chick to realise that he was looking upon the "pink death" MacPherson had warned him against—the work of the deherers, whatever the word meant. For where had been a column of gallant guards there was now only a broad stream of pink liquid trickling over the ground. It was annihilation itself—too quick to be horrible—inexorable and instantaneous. Chick involuntarily placed himself in front of the Aradna.
"The blue thing in the middle," observed the Irishman, coolly, "is th' Palace av Light; 'tis held by th' Senestro jest now. An' all we got to do is get th' ould doc out." "But I see no building!"
"'Tis there jest the same. Ye'll see it whin th' doctor gits time off his rainbows. 'Tis absent-minded he gets when he's on a problem, which same is mostly always, sor. We stay roight here till he gets ready to drop on th' Senestro."
Watson waited. He knew enough now to cling to the shadow, there with MacPherson, the Geos, and the Aradna. In the centre of the great light-circle the nimbus of blue stood out like a vibrating haze, while all about, in the darkness, could be heard the weird sound made by the passage of life.
"When will the Jarados act?" inquired the Geos of the Irishman. But he got no reply. MacPherson spoke to Watson: "Get yer gun ready, lad; get yer gun ready! Look—'tis th' ould boy himself, now! I wonder what the Senestro thinks of that?"
For the nimbus had suddenly dissolved, and in its place there appeared one of the quaintest, yet most beautiful buildings that Watson had ever seen. It was a three-cornered structure, low-set, and of unspeakably dazzling magnificence; a building carved and chiselled from solid carbon. Chick momentarily forgot the doctor.
In front of it stood a line of Blue Guards, headed by the Senestro. Their confusion showed that something altogether unexpected had happened. They were ducking here and there, seemingly bewildered by the sudden vanishing of that protecting blue dazzle. The Senestro was trying to restore order; and in a moment he succeeded. He led the way toward a low, triangular platform, at the entrance—a single white door—to the palace.
Pat MacPherson's automatic flashed and barked. Next instant Watson was in action. The Bar next to the Senestro staggered, then collapsed against his chieftain. Another rolled against his feet, causing him to stumble; an act that probably saved his life, for the platform in a second was covered with writhing, bleeding, dying Bars.
The Senestro managed to reach the doorway. MacPherson cursed.
"Come on!" he yelled to Watson. "Well git him alive!" Watson remembered little of that rush. There stood the great Bar at the doorway, surrounded by his dying and panic-stricken men. The cloak given Chick by the Geos impeded his progress; with a quick movement he threw it off and ran unprotected alongside the Irishman. The Blue guards saw them coming; they levelled their weapons. But before they could discharge them they met the same fate as had the Reds. A tremor in the air, and they were gone, leaving only a pink pool on the ground.
Senestro alone remained untouched. He was about to open the white door; for a second he posed, defiant and handsome. Then the great Bar ducked swiftly and almost with the same motion dodged into the building. Chick and Pat were right after him.
Inside was darkness. Chick ran head on against the side wall; turning, he bumped into another. The sudden transition from brilliance to blackness was overwhelming. He stopped and felt about carefully—momentarily blind. What if the Senestro found him now?
He called MacPherson's name. There was no reply. He tried to feel his way along, finding the wall irregular, jagged, sharp cornered. But the way must lead somewhere. He reached a turn in the passage; it was still too dark for him to see anything. He proceeded more cautiously, wondering at those craggy walls. And then—
Chick slapped his hands to his eyes. It was as if he had been shot into the core of the sun—the obsidian darkness flashed into light—a light beyond all enduring. Chick staggered, and cried in pain. And yet, reason told him just what it was, just what had happened. It was the carbon; he was in the heart of the diamond; the Senestro had led him on and on, and then—had flashed some intense light upon the vast jewel. Watson knew the terrible helplessness of the blind. His end had come!
And so it seemed. Next instant someone came up to him—someone he could hear if he could not see. It was the Senestro.
"Hail, Sir Phantom! Pardon my abrupt manner of welcome. I suppose you have come for the Jarados?" And he laughed, a laugh full of mockery and triumph. "Perhaps you think I intend to kill you?"
Watson said no word. He had been outwitted. He awaited the end. But the Senestro saw fit to say, with an irony that told how sure he was:
"However, I am opposed to killing in cold blood. Open your eyes, Sir Phantom! I will give you time—a fair chance. What do you say—shall we match weapon against weapon?"
Watson slowly opened his eyes. The blinding light had dimmed to a soft glow. They were in a sort of gallery whose length was uncertain; between him and the outlet, about ten feet away, stood the confident, ever-smiling Bar.
"You or I," said he, jauntily. "Are you ready to try it? I have given you a fair chance!"
He raised his dagger-like weapon, as though aiming it. At the same instant Chick pulled the trigger from the hip, snap aim.
The gun was empty.
Another second, and Watson would have been like those spots of colour on the ground outside. He breathed a prayer to his Maker. The Senestro's weapon was in line with his throat.
But it was not to be. There came a flash and a stunning report; the deherer clattered against the wall, and the Senestro clutched a stinging hand. He was staring in surprise at something behind Chick—something that made him turn and dart out of sight.
Right behind him stood the familiar form of the Jan Lucar; and a few feet beyond, a figure from which came a clear, cool, nonchalant voice;
"I would have killed that fellow, Chick, but he's too damned handsome. I'm going to save him for a specimen."
Watson peered closer. He gave a gasp, half of amazement, half of delight. For the words were in English, and the voice—
It was Harry Wendel.
DR. HOLCOMB'S STORY
If there was the least doubt in Chick's mind that this was really Harry, it was dispelled by the sight of the person who the next moment stepped up to his side. It was none other than the Nervina.
"Harry Wendel!" gasped Watson. It was too good to be true!
"Surest thing you know, Chick. It's me, alive and kicking!" as they grabbed one another.
"How did you get here?"
"Search me! Ask the lady; I'm just a creature of circumstance. I merely act; she does all the thinking."
The Nervina smiled and nodded. Her eyes were just as wonderful as Chick remembered them, full of elusiveness, of the moonbeam's light, of witchery past understanding.
"Yes," she affirmed. "You see, Mr. Watson, it is the will of the Prophet. Harry is of the Chosen. We have come for the great Dr. Holcomb—for the Jarados!"
And she led the way. Watson followed in silent wonder; behind him came the Geos and the rest, quiet and reverent. The soft glow still held, so that they seemed to be walking through the walls of cold fire. At the end of the passage they came to a door.
The Nervina touched three unmarked spots on the walls. The door opened. The queen stood aside, and motioned for Chick and Harry to enter.
It was a long room, pear-shaped, and fitted up like the most elaborate sort of laboratory. And at the far end, seated in the midst of a strange array of crystals, retorts and unfamiliar apparatus, was a man whom the two instantly recognised.
It was the missing professor, looking just as they remembered him from the days when they sat in his class in Berkeley. There was the same trim figure, the same healthy cheeks, pleasant eyes and close-cropped white beard. Always there had been something imperturbable about the doctor—he had that poise and equanimity which is ever the balance of sound judgment. Neither Chick nor Harry expected any rush of emotion, and they were not disappointed.
Holcomb rose to his feet, revealing on the table before him a queer, dancing light which he had been studying. He touched something; the light vanished, and simultaneously there came an unnameable change in the appearance of certain of those puzzling crystals. The doctor stepped forward, hand extended, smiling; surely he did not look or act like a prisoner.
"Well, well," spoke he; "at last! Chick Watson and Harry Wendel! You're very welcome. Was it a long journey?"
His eyes twinkled in the old way. He didn't wait for their replies. He went on:
"Have we solved the Blind Spot? It seems that my pupils never desert me. Let me ask: have you solved the Blind Spot?"
"We've solved nothing, professor. What we have come for is, first, yourself; and second, for the secrets you have found. It is for us to ask—what is the Blind Spot?"
The professor shook his head.
"You were always a poor guesser, Mr. Wendel. Perhaps Chick, now—"
"Put me down as unprepared," answered Chick. "I'm like Harry—I want to know!"
"Perhaps there are a lot of us in the same fix," laughed Holcomb. "We, who know more than any men who ever lived, want to know still more! It may be, after all, that we know very little; even though we have solved the problem." His eyes twinkled again, aggravatingly.
"Tell us, then!" from Harry, on impulse as always. "What is the Blind Spot?"
But Holcomb shook his head. "Not just now, Harry; we have company." The Geos and the Jan had entered. "Besides, I am not quite ready. There remain several tangles to be unravelled."
As he shook hands with the Geos, he spoke in the Thomahlian tongue. "You are more than welcome."
The Rhamda bent low in reverence and awe. His voice was hushed. He spoke:
"Art thou the Jarados, my lord?"
"Aye," stated the doctor. "I am he; I am the Jarados!"
It was a stagger for both young men. Neither could reconcile the great professor of his schooldays with this strange, philosophic prophet of the occult Thomahlians. What was the connection? What was the fate that was leading, urging, compelling it all?
"Professor, you will pardon our eagerness. Both Harry and I have had adventures, without understanding what it was all about. Can't you explain? Where are we? And—why?" And then:
"Your lecture on the Blind Spot! You promised it to us—can you deliver it now?"
The professor smiled his acknowledgement.
"Part of it," he said; "enough to answer your questions to some extent. Had I stayed in Berkeley I could have delivered it all, but"—and he laughed—"I know a whole lot more, now; and, paradoxically, I know far less! First let me speak to the Geos." He learned that the struggle outside had terminated successfully for the Rhamda and his men. All was quiet. The Senestro had made his escape in safety back to the Mahovisal. The doctor ordered that he was not to be molested.
The Geos and the others left the room, escorting the Aradna, who was too exhausted for further experiences. There remained with the doctor, Chick, Harry, and the Nervina.
"I will reduce that lecture to synopsis form," began the professor. "I shall tell you all that I know, up to this moment. First, however, let me show you something."
He indicated the table from which he had risen. Chief among the objects on its top were fragments of minerals, some familiar, some strange. Above and on all sides were the crystal globes or, at least, what Chick named as such—erected upon as many tripods. One of these the professor moved toward the table.
Simultaneously a tiny dot appeared on a small metal plate in the centre of the table. At first almost invisible, it grew, after a minute or so, to a definite bit of matter.
The professor moved the tripod away. Nearby crystals, inside of which some dull lights had leaped into momentary being, subsided into quiescence. And the three observers looked again and again at the solid fragment of material that had grown before their eyes on that table.
Something had been made out of nothing!
The doctor picked it up and held it unconcernedly in his fingers.
"Can anybody tell me," asked he, "what this is?"
There was no answer. The professor tossed the thing back on the table. It gave forth a sharp, metallic sound.
"You are looking at ether," spoke he. "It is the ether itself— nothing else. You call it matter; others would call it iron; but those are merely names. I call it ether in motion—materialised force-coherent vibration.
"Like everything else in the universe it answers to a law. It has its reason—there is no such thing as chance. Do you follow? That fragment is simply a principle, allowed to manifest itself through a natural law!
"Try to follow me. All is out of the ether—all! Variety in matter is simply a question of varying degrees of electronic activity, depending upon a number of ratios. Life itself, as well as materiality and force, comes out of the all-pervading ether.
"This object here," touching the crystal, "is merely a conductor. It picks up the ether and sends it through a set degree of vibrational activity. Result? It makes iron!
"If you wish you may go back to our twentieth century for a parallel—by which I mean, electricity. It is gathered crudely; but the time will come when it will be picked up out of the air in precisely the same manner that men pick hydrocarbons out of petroleum, or as I sift the desired quality of ether through that globe.
"This, I am convinced, is one of the fundamental secrets of the Blind Spot. Is there any question?"
Wendel managed to put one.
"You said, 'back in the twentieth century.' Is it a question of time displacement, sir?"
"Suppose we forgo that point at present. You will note, however, that the Thomahlian world is certainly far in advance of our own."
"Professor," asked Watson, "is it the occult?"
"Ah," brightening; "now we are getting back to the old point. However, what is the occult?" He paused; then—"Did it ever occur to you, that the occult might prove to be the real world, proving that life we have known to be merely a shadow?"
Silence greeted this. The professor went on:
"Let me ask you: Are you living in a real world now, or an unreal one?" There was no response. "It is, of course, a reality; just as truly as if you were in San Francisco. So," very distinctly, "perhaps it is merely a question of viewpoint, as to which is the occult!"
"Just what we want to know," from Harry.
"And that," tossing up his hands, "is exactly what I cannot tell you. I have found out many things, but I cannot be sure. I left certainty in Berkeley.
"Today I feel that there is some great fate, some unknown force that defies analysis, defies all attempts at resolution—a force that is driving me through the role of the Jarados. We are all a part of the Prophecy!
"We must wait for the last day for our answer. That Prophecy must and will be fulfilled. And on that day we shall have the key to the Blind Spot—we shall know the where of the occult."
He took a sip from a tumbler of the familiar green fluid.
"Now that I have told you this much, I am going back to the beginning. I, too, have had adventures.
"How did I come to discover the Blind Spot?
"It was about one year prior to my last lecture at the university. At the time I had been doing much psychic-research work, all of which you know. And out of it I had adduced some peculiar theories. For example:
"Undoubtedly there is such a thing as a spirit world. If all the mediums but one were dishonest, and that one produced the results that couldn't be explained away by psychology, then we must admit the existence of another world.
"But reason tells us that there is nothing but reality; that if there were a spirit world it must be just as real, just as substantial as our own. Moreover—somewhere, somehow, here must be a definite point of contact!
"That was approximately my theory. Of course I had no idea how close I had come to a great truth. To some extent it was pure guesswork.
"Then, one day Budge Kennedy brought me the blue stone. He told me its history, and he maintained that it was lighter than air, which of course I disbelieved until I took it out of the ring and saw for myself.
"I went at once to the house at 288 Chatterton Place. There I found an old lady who had lived in the house for some time. I asked to see the cellar where the stone had been unearthed. Understand, I had no idea of the great discovery I was about to make; I merely wanted to see. And I found something almost as impossible as the blue stone itself-a green one, heavier than any known mineral, answering to no known classification but of an entirely new element. It was no larger than a pea, but of incredible weight.