Part 5 out of 5
"Yes, they will want to hear," assented Darrow. "You've had Slade's story.
I'll take it up where he left off, and he'll check me. Mine's as
incredible as--as Slade's was. And it's as true."
THE MAKER OF MARVELS
As they had gathered to hear Ralph Slade's tale, so now the depleted mess
of the _Wolverine_ grouped themselves for Percy Darrow's sequel. Slade
himself sat directly across from the doctor's assistant. Before him lay a
paper covered with jotted notes. Trendon slouched low in the chair on
Slade's right. Captain Parkinson had the other side. Convenient to
Darrow's hand lay the material for cigarettes. As he talked he rolled
cylinder after cylinder, and between sentences consumed them in long,
"First you will want to learn of the fate of your friends and shipmates,"
he began. "They are dead. One of them, Mr. Edwards, fell to my hands to
bury, as you know. He lies beside Handy Solomon. The others we shall
probably not see: any one of a score of ocean currents may have swept them
far away. The last great glow that you saw was the signal of their
destruction. So the work of a great scientist, a potent benefactor of the
race, a gentle and kindly old heart, has brought about the death of your
friends and of my enemies. The innocent and the guilty ... the murderer
with his plunder, the officer following his duty ... one and the same
end ... a paltry thing our vaunted science is in the face of such tangled
fates." He spoke low and bitterly. Then he squared his shoulders and his
manner became businesslike.
"Interrupt me when any point needs clearing up," he said. "It's a blind
trail at best. You've the right to see it as plain as I can make it--with
Slade's help. Cut right in with your questions: There'll be plenty to
answer and some never will be answered....
"Now let me get this thing laid out clearly in my own mind. You first saw
the glow--let me see--"
"Night of June 2d," said Barnett.
"June 2d," agreed Darrow. "That was the end of Solomon, Thrackles & Co. A
very surprising end to them, if they had time to think," he added grimly.
"Surprising enough, from the survivor's viewpoint," said Slade.
"Doubtless. They've had that story from you; I needn't go over it. This
ship picked up the _Laughing Lass_, deserted, and put your first crew
aboard. That night, was it not, you saw the second pillar of fire?"
"So your men met their death. Then came the second finding of the empty
schooner.... Captain Parkinson, they must have been brave men who faced
the unknown terrors of that prodigy."
"They volunteered, sir," said the Captain, with simple pride.
Darrow bowed with a suggestion of reverence in the slow movement of his
head. "And that night--or was it two nights later?--you saw the last
appearance of the portent. Well, I shall come to that.... Slade has told
you how they lived on the beach. With us in the valley it was different.
Almost from the first I was alone. The doctor ceased to be a companion. He
ceased to be human, almost. A machine, that's what he was. His one human
instinct was--well, distrust. His whole force of being was centred on his
discovery. It was to make him the foremost scientist of the world; the
foremost individual entity of his time--of all time, possibly. Even to
outline it to you would take too much time. Light, heat, motive power in
incredible degrees and under such control as has never been known: these
were to be the agencies at his call. The push of a button, the turn of a
screw--oh, he was to be master of such power as no monarch ever wielded!
Riches--pshaw! Riches were the least of it. He could create them,
practically. But they would be superfluous. Power: unlimited, absolute
power was his goal. With his end achieved he could establish an autocracy,
a dynasty of science: whatever he chose. Oh, it was a rich-hued, golden,
glowing dream; a dream such as men's souls don't formulate in these stale
days--not our kind of men. The Teutonic mysticism--you understand. And it
was all true. Oh, quite."
"Do you mean us to understand that he had this power you describe?" asked
"In his grasp. Then comes a practical gentleman with a steel hook. A
follower of dreams, too, in his way. Conflicting interests--you know how
it is. One well-aimed blow from the more practical dreamer, and the
greater vision passes.... I'm getting ahead of myself. Just a moment."
His cigarette glowed fiercely in the dimness before he took up his tale
"You all know who Dr. Schermerhorn was. None of you know--I don't know
myself, though I've been his factotum for ten years--along how many varied
lines of activity that mind played. One of them was the secret of energy:
concentrated, resistless energy. Man's contrivances were too puny for him.
The most powerful engines he regarded as toys. For a time high explosives
claimed his attention. He wanted to harness them. Once he got to the point
of practical experiment. You can see the ruins yet: a hole in southern New
Jersey. Nobody ever understood how he escaped. But there he was on his
feet across a ten-foot fence in a ploughed field--yes, he flew the fence--
and running, running furiously in the opposite direction, when the dust
cleared away. Someone stopped him finally. Told him the danger was over.
'Yet, I will not return,' he said firmly, and fainted away. That disgusted
him with high explosives. What secrets he discovered he gave to the
government. They were not without value, I believe."
"They were not, indeed," corroborated Barnett.
"Next his interest turned to the natural phenomena of high energy. He
studied lightning in an open steel network laboratory, with few results
save a succession of rheumatic attacks, and an improved electric
interrupter, since adopted by one of the great telegraph companies. The
former obliged him to stop these experiments, and the invention he
considered trivial. Probably the great problem of getting at the secret of
energy led him into his attempts to study the mysterious electrical waves
radiated by lightning flashes; at any rate he was soon as deep into the
subject of electrical science as his countryman, Hertz, had ever been. He
used to tell me that he often wondered why he hadn't taken up this line
before--the world of energy he now set out to explore, waves in that
tremendous range between those we hear and those we see. It was natural
that he should then come to the most prominent radio-active elements,
uranium, thorium, and radium. But though his knowledge surpassed that of
the much-exploited authorities, he was never satisfied with any of his
"'Pitchblende; no!' he would exclaim. 'It has not the great power. The
mines are not deep enough, yet!'
"Then suddenly the great idea that was to bring him success, and cost him
his life, came to him. The bowels of the earth must hold the secret! He
took up volcanoes.... Does all this sound foolish? It was not if you knew
the man. He was a mighty enthusiast, a born martyr. Not cold-blooded, like
the rest of us. The fire was in his veins.... A light, please. Thank you.
"We chased volcanoes. There was a theory under it all. He believed that
volcanic emanations are caused by a mighty and uncomprehended energy,
something that achieves results ascribable neither to explosions nor heat,
some eternal, inner source.... Radium, if you choose, only he didn't call
it that. Radium itself, as known to our modern scientists, he regarded as
the harmless plaything of people with time hanging heavy on their hands.
He wasn't after force in pin-point quantities: he wanted bulk results. Yet
I believe that, after all, what he sought was a sort of higher power of
radium. The phenomena were related. And he had some of that concentrated
essence of pitchblende in the chest when we started. Oh, not much: say
about twenty thousand dollars' worth. Maybe thirty. For use? No; rather
for comparison, I judge.
"Yes, we chased volcanoes. I became used to camping between sample hells
of all known varieties. I got so that the fumes of a sulphur match seemed
like a draught of pure, fresh air. Wherever any of the earth's pimples
showed signs of coming to a head, there were we, taking part in the
trouble. By and by the doctor got so thoroughly poisoned that he had to
lay off. Back to Philadelphia we came. There an aged seafaring person,
temporarily stranded, mulcted the Professor of a dollar--an undertaking
that required no art--and in the course of his recital touched upon yonder
little cesspool of infernal iniquities. An uncharted volcanic island: one
that he could have all for his own; you may guess whether Dr. Schermerhorn
"'That iss for which we haf so-long-in-vain sought, Percy,' he said to me
in his quaint, link-chain style of speech. 'A leedle prifate volcano-
laboratory to ourselves to have. Totally unknown: undescribed, not-on-the-
chart-to-be-found. To-morrow we start. I make a list of the things-to-
"He began his list, as I remember, with three dozen undershirts, a gallon
of pennyroyal for insect bites, a box of assorted fish hooks, thirty
pounds of tea, and a case of carpet tacks. When I hadn't anything else to
worry over, I used to lie awake at night and speculate on the purpose of
those carpet tacks. He had something in mind: if there was anything on
which he prided himself, it was his practical bent. But the list never got
any further: it ceased short of one page in the ledger, as you may have
noticed. I outfitted by telegraph on the way across the continent.
"The doctor didn't ask me whether I'd go. He took it for granted. That's
probably why I didn't back out. Nor did I tell him that the three life
insurance companies which had foolishly and trustingly accepted me as a
risk merely on the strength of a good constitution were making frantic
efforts to compromise on the policies. They felt hurt, those companies: my
healthy condition had ceased to appeal to them. What's a good constitution
between earthquakes? No, there was no use telling the doctor. It would
only have worried him. Besides, I didn't believe that the island was
there. I thought it was a myth of that stranded ancient mariner's
imagination. When it rose to sight at the proper spot, none were more
astounded than the bad risk who now addresses you.
"Yet, I must say for the island that it came handsomely up to
specifications. Down where you were, Slade. you didn't get a real insight
into its disposition. But in back of us there was any kind of action for
your money. Geysers, hell-spouts, fuming fissures, cunning little
craterlets with half-portions of molten lava ready to serve hot; more
gases than you could create in all the world's chemical laboratories: in
fact, everything to make the place a paradise for Old Nick--and Dr.
Schermerhorn. He brought along in his precious chest, besides the radium,
some sort of raw material: also, as near as I could make out, a sort of
cage or guardianship scheme for his concentrated essence of cussedness,
when he should get it out of the volcano.
"In the first seven months he puttered around the little fumers, with an
occasional excursion up to the main crater. It was my duty to follow on
and drag him away when he fell unconscious. Sometimes I would try to get
him before he was quite gone. Then he would become indignant, and fight
me. Perhaps that helped to lose me his confidence. More and more he
withdrew into himself. There were days when he spoke no word to me. It was
lonely. Do you know why I used to visit you at the beach, Slade? I suppose
you thought I was keeping watch on you. It wasn't that, it was loneliness.
In a way, it hurt me, too: for one couldn't help but be fond of the old
boy; and at times it seemed as if he weren't quite himself. Pardon me, if
I may trouble you for the matches? Thanks....
"Matters went very wrong at times: the doctor fumed like his little
craters; growled out long-winded, exhaustive German imprecations: wouldn't
even eat. Then again the demon of work would drive him with thong and
spur: he would rush to his craters, to his laboratories, to his ledger for
the purpose of entering unintelligible commentaries. He had some peculiar
contrivance, like a misshapen retort, with which he collected gases from
the craterlets. Whenever I'd hear one of those smash, I knew it was a bad
"Meantime, the volcano also became--well, what you might call
"It got to be a year and a quarter--a year and a half. I wondered whether
we should ever get away. My tobacco was running short. And the bearing of
the men was becoming fidgetty. My visits to the beach became quite
interesting--to me. One day the doctor came running out of his laboratory
with so bright a face that I ventured to ask him about departure.
"'Not so long, now, Percy,' he said, in his old, kind manner. 'Not so
long. The first real success. It iss made. We have yet under-entire-
control to bring it, but it iss made.'
"'And about time, sir,' said I. 'If we don't do something soon we may have
trouble with the men.'
"'So?' said he in surprise. 'But they could do nothing. Nothing.' He
wagged his great head confidently. 'We are armed.'
"'Oh, yes, armed. So are they.'
"'We are armed,' he repeated obstinately. 'Such as no man was ever armed,
are we armed.'
"He checked himself abruptly and walked away. Well, I've since wondered
what would have happened had the men attacked us. It would have been worth
seeing, and--and surprising. Yes: I'm quite certain it would have been
surprising. Perhaps, too, I might have learned more of the Great
Secret ... and yet, I don't know. It's all dark ... a hint
here ... theory ... mere glints of light.... Where did I put.... Ah,
For some moments Darrow sat gazing fixedly at the table before him. His
cigarette tip glowed and failed. Someone suggested drinks. The captain
asked Darrow what he would have, but the question went unnoted.
"How I passed the next six months I could hardly tell you," he began
again, quite abruptly. "At times I was bored--fearfully bored. Yet the
element of mystery, of uncertainty, of underlying peril, gave a certain
zest to the affair. In the periods of dulness I found some amusement in
visiting the lower camp and baiting the Nigger. Slade will have told you
about him; he possessed quite a fund of bastard Voodooism: he possessed
more before I got through with him. Yes; if he had lived to return to his
country, I fancy he would have added considerably to Afro-American witch-
lore. You remember the vampire bats, Slade? And the devil-fires? Naturally
I didn't mention to you that the devil-fire business wasn't altogether as
clear to me as I pretended. It wasn't, though. But at the time it served
very well as an amusement. All the while I realised that my self-
entertainment was not without its element of danger, too: I remember
glances not altogether friendly but always a little doubtful, a little
awed. Even Handy Solomon, practical as he was, had a scruple or two of
superstition in his make-up, on which one might work. Only Eagen--Slade, I
mean--was beyond me there. You puzzled me not a little in those days,
"Did I say that I was sometimes annoyed by the doctor's attitude? Yes: it
seemed that he might have given me a little more of his confidence; but
one can't judge such a man as he was. Among the ordinary affairs of life
he had relied on me for every detail. Now he was independent of me.
Independent! I doubt if he remembered my existence at times. Even in his
blackest moods of depression he was sufficient unto himself. It was
strange.... How he did rage the day the chemicals from Washington went
wrong! I was washing my shirt in the hot water spring when he came bolting
out of the laboratory and keeled me over. I came out pretty indignant.
Apologise? Not at all. He just sputtered. His nearest approach to
coherence seemed to indicate a desire that I should go back to Washington
at once and destroy a perfectly reputable firm of chemists. Finally he
calmed down and took it out in entering it in his daily record. He was
quite proud of that daily record and remembered to write in it on an
average of once a week.
"Then the chest went wrong. Whether it had rusted a bit, or whether the
chemicals had got in their work on the hinges, I don't know; but one day
the Professor, of his own initiative, recognised my existence by lugging
his box out in the open and asking me to fix it. Previously he had emptied
it. It was rather a complicated thing, with an inner compartment over
which was a hollow cover, opening along one rim. That, I conjectured, was
designed to hold some chemical compound or salt. There were many minor
openings, too, each guarded by a similar hollow door. My business was with
the heavy top cover.
"'It should shut and open softly, gently,' explained the Professor. 'So.
Not with-a-grating-sound-to-be-accompanied,' he added, with his curious
effect of linked phraseology.
"Half a day's work fixed it. The lid would stand open of itself until
tipped at a considerable angle, when it would fall and lock. Only on the
outer shell was there a lock: that one was a good bit of craftsmanship.
"'So, Percy, my boy,' said the doctor kindly. 'That will with-sufficient-
safety guard our treasure. When we obtain it, Percy. When it entirely-
finished-and-completed shall be.'
"'And when will that be?' I asked.
"'God knows,' he said cheerfully. 'It progresses.'
"Whenever I went strolling at night, he would produce his curious lights.
Sometimes they were fairly startling. One fact I made out by accident,
looking down from a high place. They did not project from the laboratory.
He always worked in the open when the light was to be produced. Once the
experiment took a serious turn. The lights had flickered and gone. Dr.
Schermerhorn had returned to his laboratory. I came up the arroyo as he
flung the door open and rushed out. He was a grotesque figure, clad in an
undershirt and a worn pair of trousers, fastened with an old bit of tarred
rope in lieu of his suspenders, which I had been repairing. About his
waist flickered a sort of aura of radiance which was extinguished as he
flung himself headforemost into the cold spring. I hauled him out. He
seemed dazed. To my questions he replied only by mumblings, the burden of
"'I do not understand. It is a not-to-be-comprehended accident.' It
appears that he didn't quite know why he had taken to the water. Or if he
did, he didn't want to tell.
"Next day he was as good as new. Just as silent as before, but it was a
smiling, satisfied silence. So it went for weeks, for months, with the
accesses of depression and anger always rarer. Then came an afternoon
when, returning from a stalk after sheep, I heard strange and shocking
noises from the laboratory. Strict as was the embargo which kept me
outside the door, I burst in, only to be seized in a suffocating grip. Of
a sudden I realised that I was being embraced. The doctor flourished a
hand above my head and jigged with ponderous steps. The dismal noises
continued to emanate from his mouth. He was singing. I wish I could give
you a notion of the amazement, the paralysing wonder with which.... No,
you did not know Dr. Schermerhorn: you would not understand....
"We polkaed into the open. There he cast me loose. He stopped singing and
burst into a rhapsody of disjointed words. Mostly German, it was--a
wondrous jumble of the scientific and poetic. 'Eureka' occurred at
intervals. Then he would leap in the air. It was weird, it was
distressing. Crazy? Oh, quite. For the time, you understand. If any of us
should suddenly become the most potent individual in the world, wouldn't
he be apt to lose balance temporarily? One must make allowances. There was
excuse for the doctor. He had reached the goal.
"'Percy, you shall be rewarded,' he said. 'You haf like-a-trump-card stuck
by me. You shall haf riches, gold, what you will. You are young; your
blood runs red. With such riches nothing is beyond you. You could the
ancient-tombs-of-Egypt explore. It is open to you such collections-as-
have-never-been-gathered to make. What shall it be? Scarabs? Missals?
Prehistoric implements? Amuse yourself, _mein kind_. We shall be able the-
bills-with-usurious-interest to pay. What will you haf?'
"I said I'd like a vacation, if convenient.
"'Presently,' he replied. 'There yet remains the guardianship to be
perfected. Then to-a-world-astonished-and-respectful we return. To-night
we celebrate. I play you a rubber of pinochle.'
"We played. With the greatest secret of science resting at our elbows, we
played. The doctor won; my mind was not strictly on the game. In the
morning the doctor sang once more.... I shall never hear its like again.
Was it a week, or a month, after that?... I cannot remember. I fancy I was
excited. Then, too, there was something in the atmosphere about the
laboratory ... I don't know; imagination, possibly. Once we had a little
manifestation: the night that the Nigger and Slade were terrified by the
rock fires. Days of excitement and pleasant work, with the little volcano
grumbling more sulkily all the time ... I have spent worse days.
"Such indifference as the doctor displayed toward the volcano I have never
known. If I ventured to warn him he would assure me that there was no
cause for alarm. I think he regarded that little hell's kitchen as merely
a feed-spout for his vast enterprise. He felt a sort of affection toward
it; he was tolerant of its petty fits of temper. That he completed his
work before the destruction came was sheer luck. Nothing else. The day
before the outburst he came to me with a tiny phial of complicated design.
"'Percy, I will at-a-reasonable-price sell this to you,' he said.
"'How much?' I inquired, responding to his playfulness.
"'A bargain,' he cried gaily. 'Five millions dollars. No! Shall I upon-a-
needy-friend hard-press? Never. One million. One little million dollars.'
"'I haven't that amount with me,' I began.
"'Of no account,' he declared airily. 'Soon we shall haf many more times
as that. Gif me your C.O. D.'
"'My I. O. U.?' I inquired.
"'It makes no matter. See. I will gif it to you gratis.'
"He handed me the metal contrivance. It was closed.
"'Inside iss a little, such a very little. Not yet iss it arranged the
motive-power to give-forth. One more change-to-be-made that shall require.
But the other phenomena are all in this little half-grain comprised. Later
I shall tell you more. Take it. It iss without price.' He laid his hand on
my shoulder. 'Like the love of friends,' he said gently."
Feeling in his upper waistcoat pocket, Darrow brought out a phial, so tiny
that it rolled in the palm of his hand. He contemplated it, lost in
"Radium?" queried Barnett, with the keen interest of the scientist.
"God knows what it is," said Darrow, rousing himself. "Not the perfected
product; the doctor said that when he gave it to me. If I could remember
one-tenth of what he told me that night! It is like a disordered dream, a
phantasmagoria of monstrous powers, lit up with an intolerable, almost an
infernal radiance. This much I did gather: that Dr. Schermerhorn had
achieved what the greatest minds before him had barely outlined. Yes, and
more. Becquerel, the Curies, Rutherford--they were playing with the
letters of the Greek alphabet, Alphas, Gammas, and Rhos, while the simple,
gentle old boy that I served had read the secret. From the molten
eruptions of the racked earth he had taken gases and potencies that are
nameless. By what methods of combination and refining I do not know, he
produced something that was to be the final word of power. Control--
control--that was all that lacked.
"Reduced to its simplest terms, it meant this: the doctor had something as
much greater than radium as radium is greater than the pitchblende of
which a thousand tons are melted down to the one ounce of extract. And the
incredible energies of this he proposed to divide into departments of
activity. One manifestation should be light, a light that would illuminate
the world. Another was to make motive power so cheap that the work of the
world could be done in an hour out of the day. Some idea he had of healing
properties. Yes; he was to cure mankind. Or kill, kill as no man had ever
killed, did he choose. The armies and navies of the powers would be at his
mercy. Magnetism was to be his slave. Aerial navigation, transmutation of
metals, the screening of gravity--does this sound like delirium? Sometimes
I think it was.
"That night he turned over to me the key of the large chest and his
ledger. The latter he bade me read. It was a complete jumble. You have
seen it.... We were up a good part of the night with our pet volcano. It
was suffering from internal disturbances. 'So,' the doctor would say
indulgently, when a particularly active rock came bounding down our way.
'Little play-antics-to-exhibit now that the work iss finished.'
"In the morning he insisted on my leaving him alone and going down to give
the orders. I took the ledger, intending to send it aboard. It saved my
life possibly: Solomon's bullet deflected slightly, I think, in passing
through the heavy paper. Slade has told you about my flight. I ought to
have gone straight up the arroyo.... Yet I could hardly have made it.... I
did not see him again, the doctor. My last glimpse ... the old man--I
remember now how the grey had spread through his beard--he was growing
old--it had been ageing labour. He stood there at his laboratory door and
the mountain spouted and thundered behind.
"'We will a name-to-suit-properly gif it,' he said, as I left him. 'It
shall make us as the gods. We will call it celestium.'
"I left him there smiling. Smiling happily. The greatest force of his
age--if he had lived. Very wise, very simple--a kind old child. May I
trouble you for a light? Thanks."
"Nothing remained but to search for his body. I was sure they had killed
him and taken the chest. I had little expectation of finding him, dead or
alive. None after I saw the stream of lava pouring into the sea. One saves
his own life by instinct, I suppose. There I was. I had to live. It did
not matter much, but I continued to do it by various shifts. That last day
on the headland the fumes nearly got me. You may have noted the rather
excited scrawl in the back of the ledger? Yes, I thought I was gone that
time. But I got to the cave. It was low tide. Then the earthquake, and I
was walled in.... Mr. Barnett's very accurate explosives--Slade's
insistence--your risking your lives as you did, mites on the crust of a
red-hot cheese--I hope you know how I feel about it all. One can't thank a
man properly for the life....
"Oh, the pirates. Necessarily it must be a matter of theory, but I think
we have it right. Slade and I built it up. For what it's worth, here it
is. Let me see: you sighted the glow on the night of the 2d. Next day came
the deserted ship. It must have puzzled you outrageously."
"It did," said Captain Parkinson, drily.
"Not an easy problem, even with all the data at hand. You, of course, had
none. On Slade's showing, Handy Solomon and his worthy associates thought
they had a chest full of riches when they got the doctor's treasure;
believed they owned the machinery for making diamonds or gold or what-not
of ready-to-hand wealth. It's fair to assume a certain eagerness on their
part. Disturbed weather keeps them busy until they're well out from the
island. Then to the chest. Opening it isn't so easy: I had the key, you
know." He brought a curious and delicately wrought skeleton from his
pocket. "Tipped with platinum," he observed. "Rather a gem of a key, I
think. You see, there must have been some action, even through the
keyhole, or he wouldn't have used a metal of this kind. But the crew was
rich in certain qualities, it seems, which I failed, stupidly, to
recognise in my acquaintance with them. Both Pulz and Perdosa appear to
have been handy men where locks were concerned. First Pulz sneaks down and
has his turn at the chest. He gets it open. Small profit for him in that:
the next we know of him he is scandalising Handy Solomon by having a fit
on the deck."
"That is what I couldn't figure out to save my life," said Slade eagerly.
"If you recollect, I told you of the Professor's plunge in the cold
spring, in a sort of paroxysm, one day," said Darrow. "That was the
physiological action of the celestium. At other times, I have seen him
come out and deliberately roll in the creek, head under. Once he explained
that the medium he worked in caused a kind of uncontrollable longing for
water; something having none of the qualities of burning or thirst, but an
irresistible temporary mania. It worried him a good deal; he didn't
understand it. That, then, was what ailed Pulz. When he opened the chest
there was, as I surmise, a trifling quantity of this stuff lying in the
inner lid. It wasn't the celestium itself, as I imagine, but a sort of by-
product with the physiological and radiant effects of the real thing, and
it had been set there on guard, a discouragement to the spirit of
investigation, as it were. So, when the top was lifted, our little
guardian gets in its work, producing the light phenomenon that so puzzled
Slade, and inspiring Pulz with a passion for the rolling wave, which is
only interrupted by Handy Solomon's tackling him. As he fled he must have
pulled down the cover."
"He did," said Slade. "I heard the clang. But I saw the radiance on the
clouds. And the whole thickness of a solid oak deck was in between the sky
and the chest."
"Oh, a little thing like an oak deck wouldn't interrupt the kind of rays
the doctor used. He had his own method of screening, you understand.
However, this inconsiderable guardian affair must have used itself up,
which true celestium wouldn't have done. So when Perdosa sets his genius
for lock-picking to the task, the inner box, full of the genuine article,
has no warning sign-post, so to speak. Everything's peaceful until they
raise the compound-filled hollow layer of the inner cover, which serves to
interrupt the action. Then comes the general exit and the superior
"That's when the rays ran through the ship," said Slade. "It seemed to
follow the deck-lines."
"The stuff had a strange affinity for tar," said Darrow. "I told you of
the circle of fire about Professor Schermerhorn's waist the day he gave me
such a scare. That was the celestium working on the tarred rope he wore
for a belt. It made a livid circle on his skin. Did I tell you of his
experiments with pitch? It doesn't matter. Where was I?"
"At the place where we all jumped," said Slade.
"Oh, yes. And you dove into the small boat, trying to reach the water."
"Wait a bit," said Barnett. "If that was the exhibition of radiance we
saw, it died out in a few minutes. How was that? Did they close the chest
before they ran?"
"Probably not," replied Darrow. "Slade spoke of Pulz taking to the maintop
and being shaken out by the sudden shock of a wave. That may have been a
volcanic billow. Whatever it was, it undoubtedly heeled the ship
sufficiently to bring down both lids, which were rather delicately
"Yes, for Billy Edwards found the chest closed and locked," said Barnett.
"Of course; it was a spring lock. You sent Mr. Edwards and his men aboard.
No such experts as Pulz or Perdosa were in your crew. Consequently it took
longer to get the chest open. When at length the lid was raised, there was
a repetition of the tragedy. Mr. Edwards and his men leaped. Probably they
were paralysed almost before they struck the water. Your bos'n, whom Slade
picked up, was the only one who had time even to grab a life preserver
before the impulse toward water became irresistible. There was no element
of fright, you understand: no desertion of their post. They were dragged
as by the sweep of a tornado." Darrow spoke direct to Captain Parkinson.
"If there is any feeling among you other than sorrow for their death, it
is unjust and unworthy."
"Thank you, Mr. Darrow," returned the captain quietly.
"We found the chest closed again when the empty ship came back," observed
"Being masterless, the schooner began to yaw," continued Darrow. "The
first time she came about would have heeled her enough to shut the chest.
Now came the turn of your other men."
"Ives and McGuire," said the Captain, as Darrow paused.
"The glow came again that night, and the next day we picked up Slade,"
"You know what the glow meant for your companions," said Darrow.
"But the ship. The _Laughing Lass_, man. She's vanished. No one has seen
"You are wrong there," said Darrow. "I have seen her."
In a common impulse the little circle leaned to him.
"Yes, I have seen her. I wish I had not. Let me bring my story back to the
cave on the island. After the volcanic gases had driven me to the refuge,
I sat near the mouth of the cave looking out into the darkness. That was
the night of the 7th, the night you saw the last glow. It was very dark,
except for occasional bursts of fire from the crater. Judge of my
incredulous amazement when, in an access of this illumination, I saw
plainly a schooner hardly a mile off shore, coming in under bare poles."
"Under bare poles?" cried Slade.
"The halliards must have disintegrated from some slow action of the
celestium. It could be destructive: terrifically destructive. You shall
judge. There was the schooner, naked as your hand. Possibly I might have
thought it a hallucination but for what came after. Darkness fell again. I
supposed then that Handy Solomon's crew were managing--or mismanaging--the
_Laughing Lass_ without the aid of their leader, whom I had satisfactorily
buried. I hoped they would come ashore on the rocks. Yes I was
vengeful ... then.
"Of a sudden there sprang from the darkness a ship of light. You have all
seen those great electric effects at expositions. Someone touches a
button ... you know. It was like that. Only that the piercingly brilliant
jewelled wonder of a ship was set in the midst of a swirl of vari-coloured
radiance such as I can't begin to describe. You saw it from a distance.
Imagine what it was, coming close upon you that way--dead on, out of the
night. A living glory, a living terror...."
His voice sank. With a shaking hand he fumbled amid his cigarette papers.
"It came on. A human figure, glowing like a diamond ablaze, leaped out
from it; another shot down from the foremast. I don't know how many I saw
go. It was like a theatric effect, unreal, unconvincing, incredible. The
end fitted it."
Darrow's eye roved. It fell upon a quaintly modelled ship, hung above the
"What's that?" he cried.
"Fool thing some Malay gave me," grunted Trendon. "Pretended to be
grateful because I cut his foot off. No good. Go on with the story."
"No good? You don't care what happens to it?"
"Meant to heave it overboard before now," growled the other.
Someone handed it down to Darrow.
"If I had something to hold enough water," muttered he, "I'd like to float
it. I'd like to see for myself how it worked out. I'd like to see that
devil-work in action."
He spoke feverishly.
"Boy, fill the portable rubber tub in Mr. Forsythe's cabin and bring it
here," ordered the captain.
"That will do." said Darrow, recovering himself.
He floated the model in the tub.
"Now, I don't know how this will come out," he said. "Nor do I know why
the _Laughing Lass_ met her fate under Ives and McGuire, and not before.
Perhaps the chest lay open longer ... long enough, anyway. We'll try it."
From his pocket he took a curious small phial.
"Is that what Dr. Schermerhorn gave you?" asked Slade.
"Yes," said Darrow. He set it carefully inside the little model and
slipped a lever. Slade quietly turned down the light.
A faint glow shot up. It grew bright and eddied in lovely, variant
colours. As if set to a powder train, it ran through the ship. The pale
faces of the spectators shone ghastly in its radiance. From someone burst
a sudden gasp.
"There is not enough for danger," said Darrow, quietly.
"As a point of interest," grunted Trendon.
Everyone looked at his outstretched hand. A little pocket compass lay in
the palm. The needle spun madly, projecting blue, vivid sparklings.
"My God!" cried Slade, and covered his eyes for a moment.
He snatched away his hands as a suppressed cry went up from the others.
"As I expected," said Darrow quietly.
The little craft opened out; it disintegrated. All that radiance dissolved
and with its going the substance upon which it shaped itself vanished. The
last glow showed a formless pulp, spreading upon the water.
"So passed the _Laughing Lass_," said Darrow solemnly.
"And the chest is at the bottom of the sea," said Barnett.
"Good place for it," muttered Trendon.
"In all probability it closed as the ship dissolved around it," said
Darrow. "Otherwise we should see the effects in the water."
"It might be recovered," cried Slade, excitedly.
"Could you chart it, Darrow? Think of the possibilities--"
"Let it lie," said the captain. "Has it not cost enough? Let it lie."
The water in the tub fumed and sparkled faintly and was still. Darkness
fell, except where Darrow's cigarette point glowed and faded.