The Dirigibles of Death
by A. Hyatt Verrill
Author of "The
Illustrated by MOREY
From Amazing Stories Quarterly, Winter 1930, digital capture November 2007, by Doug Frizzle
ONLY a few short years ago television was emphatically and positively dubbed "impossible" of realization. Today we not only know that it is very highly possible, but every effort is being put forth toward its perfection. If he doesn't give a blueprint plan of his invention in the story, Mr. Verrill does offer some exceedingly interesting suggestions, which might take root in some young scientist's mind and perhaps act as an inspiration for some inventive genius of the future. Television, however, is not the only subject dealt with in "The Dirigibles of Death." Our well-known author, being an ethnologist and archaeologist of note, indulges in other phases of science also—with very happy results. Those of our readers who know Mr. Verrill's works know well that he can always be depended on to do the unusual and to furnish instructive and thought-provoking stories, which are also absorbing fiction.
I WAS living in
"What be the drasted thing?" he demanded, without taking his eyes from the strange object.
Sudden realization came to me. "An airship!" I shouted to him. "A dirigible of some sort. Must have been forced down. Maybe persons injured or killed."
As I spoke I dashed to the street and ran towards the Antelope, my mind filled with visions of dead and injured persons in the gondola of the strange airship.
Old Tim came clumping at my heels, and as I passed Gilmore's house he too popped from the door and, instantly catching sight of the stranded balloon, came racing along with me. Whether it was the sounds of our running feet, whether we unconsciously shouted as we ran, or whether it was some inexplicable form of telepathy or intuition, I cannot say, but regardless of the early hour and the fact that ordinarily few persons are astir in the village before seven, everyone seemed to be up, everyone appeared to have seen the stranded dirigible. By the time I reached the Antelope I was leading a group of a dozen excited and curious people. The contraption was resting in an open pasture back of the inn, its rounded, slightly-swaying black mass rising perhaps twenty feet above the ridge of the inn. Apparently no one in the Antelope had noticed the strange arrival in the inn's backyard. Evidently old man Thorpe and the staff were still sleeping, for the windows were tightly shuttered, the doors closed and no sign of life showed about the premises. The gate in the inn wall was also closed and latched and some delay was caused by trying to open it. By this time a considerable crowd had gathered, and I was conscious of wondering how the inmates of the Antelope could sleep through the hubbub we were making. Then Bob Moore, the village constable, arrived on his bike and took official charge. I noticed, as I finally forced the gate and hurried to the rear of the inn, that someone was pounding lustily at the front door of the Antelope. Reaching the inn-yard, I had a clear view of the airship.
Although I am not at all familiar with the niceties of details of such contrivances, I realized at once that it was very different from anything of the sort I had ever before seen. The balloon or bag was perhaps 800 feet in length by forty feet in diameter, and appeared to be made of some metal. Below it, and forming an integral part of it, was a boat-shaped body or car that rested, slightly canted by the remains of a hay-rick under one side, at a sharp angle on the ground. Close at my elbow was the bobby, while the rest of the crowd swarmed into the inn-yard from all sides.
"Rum lookin' Zep Hi s'y," commented the representative of the law as we hurried forward towards the airship now but a few yards distant. "Queer, too ‘ow the blinkin’ thing got here. Wasn't 'ere when Hi parsed at three, Hi'll swear. Think'e, Doc, there'll be bodies 'urt into it?"
"Like as not," I replied. "Don't see anyone about. If they're not injured or dead they'd have let us know they were here long ago."
We had now reached the airship, and to my amazement I saw that the door of the body or car was wide open. Moore and I stepped close and peered inside, expecting to see dead or injured men, although looking back upon it I cannot understand why we should have thought the crew of the ship should be harmed when there was no sign of injury or even of an abrupt descent about the car. But we were so confident that we would find wounded occupants or bodies, that when we found it absolutely empty, we were completely flabbergasted.
I say the car was empty, but I must qualify that statement slightly. It was empty of human beings, of furnishings, but the floor was covered with a thick layer of filthy straw or hay.
"Lor' love me, hif it aint a blinkin' fly in' cow-shed!" exclaimed the constable.
Then, removing his helmet and scratching his red head reflectively: "No sign
"You might put it in the village pound," I suggested with a grin. "But, seriously, I imagine whoever arrived with it are within the Antelope. Having landed in an inn's yard the most natural thing would be for them to patronize the said inn. I suppose—"
My words were interrupted by a shout and someone yelling for the constable, and I turned to see a man standing in the rear entrance to the inn, his face pale, his eyes wide and evidently greatly frightened.
"Hi, constable!" he yelled again. "Ye're wanted. The's been murder done!"
Murder! At the dread word we dashed to the inn. "What, who's murdered?" demanded
"Everyone!" gasped the wild-eyed fellow at the door, who, I now saw, was Chris Stevens from over
We waited to hear no more. Into the hallway we rushed and came to an abrupt and sudden halt as we almost tripped over the body of Jerry the porter and man-of-all-work lying on the floor. I stopped and felt his pulse. He was dead, cold, and the pool of blood that surrounded his head had coagulated and hardened. Evidently he had been dead for several hours. Proceeding more cautiously, we passed through the bar-parlor to the room where old Jim Thorne had always slept. One glance was enough. Thorne's body lay sprawled on the floor, the face blood-covered, mutilated beyond recognition. The room was a mess. The bed-clothes were scattered about, chairs were upset, and it was obvious that a severe struggle had taken place. We hurried upstairs to find the body of Ellen, the bar-maid, a middle-aged woman, lying dead in the upper hallway, and gray-haired old Martha, the cook, stretched lifeless just within the door to her room.
"Hell's bells!" ejaculated
I shook my head. "Wholesale murder," I replied as I examined Martha's body. "And no sign of robbery or any motive. And the wounds! I've never seen any just like them. Look at poor old Martha's face, and at her chest—covered with cuts and slashes—cut to ribbons— as if she'd been hacked with a buzz-saw. And old Jim's face, did you notice it?"
"Did Hi!” exclaimed the constable. "Well, Hi should s'y! Looked 'e'd been chawed, 'e did; garstly, Hi call hit."
"Ellen, too," I remarked. "Her right hand and arm were torn to shreds. And that awful hole in Jerry's head! Whoever committed these crimes was a fiend— a giant in strength and used some strange weapon— perhaps a rake or a pitchfork. I should say, offhand, it was the work of a maniac—"
"Scarcely," I replied. "But it's damnably mysterious. And it surely is a remarkable coincidence that the airship should have descended in the inn-yard at or about the same time the murders were committed. And I'd like to know what became of the occupants of the dirigible. Anyhow,
A shout from downstairs cut my sentence in two and, not knowing what next to expect, we dashed down. Jared Dunne, the postman, was standing at the doorway surrounded by an eager, questioning, excited throng.
"T-t-there's a m-m-murder d-daown tha r-r-road," stuttered Jared. "I w-was a-c-comin’ up through C-C-Cobham an' I s-seen a G-Gypsy c-c-caravan b-beside the road. An' t-the G-Gypsies all l-lyin' raon'd d-d-deader'n N-N-Nelson."
"My God!" gasped poor
By this time word of the four murders in the inn and the murdered Gypsies had spread through the village and the place was in an uproar. Closing the inn door and cautioning the people to keep clear, Moore shooed them from the premises, deputized four men to keep guard over the airship, the inn-yard and the pasture, and having telephoned to Guildford for the coroner and to Scotland Yard for an inspector, he locked his cubbyhole of a police station, climbed into my car and we raced off towards Cobham.
We had no difficulty in finding the Gypsy caravan. It stood a few yards from the road at the edge of a spinney of birch and larch trees; a gaudy, high-wheeled red and gilt affair and even from the road we could see the huddled bundles of clothes that marked the dead owners of the van.
But as we drew closer and had a nearer view of the bodies, even Moore—who was the most unemotional of men—drew back with an exclamation of horror. And though, in my profession, I am constantly facing grew-some sights, and in the World War became callous of death in its most horrible forms, I could not repress a shudder and a sensation of nausea as I looked at the dead Gypsies sprawled upon the dew-sprinkled grass. There were five of them—two men, a woman and two children, and with the exception of one of the men, all had been mutilated in the most horrible and revolting manner. The woman's head had been torn—actually torn, not cut—from her body, and one of her arms had been stripped of flesh, leaving only shreds adhering to the bloody bones.
The man beside her was almost as awful. His eyes had been gouged from their sockets, his lips and nose torn off, and in his bared chest was a ragged opening through which his heart had been removed. The bodies of the two children were scarcely recognizable. They appeared as if gnawed and devoured by famished wolves. But terrible as were these revolting sights, I scarcely noticed them at the time, for my eyes were staring incredulously at another body, the body of a creature—no, I cannot call it a man—that lay with a long bladed Gypsy knife sticking in its breast. Never would I have believed it possible that anything in human form could have been so repulsively loathsome, so grewsomely horrible. Instantly I realized that this dead thing was the murderer, that by a lucky stroke the last Gypsy to die had plunged his knife in the fiend's heart before he, too, expired. Words cannot adequately describe the horrible creature lying there with ghastly face upturned to the sky. He, it, the thing, was of gigantic size; he must have stood well over six feet and weighed fully eighteen stone or two hundred and fifty two pounds; with enormously long gorilla-like arms ending in knotted claw-like fingers whose nails—reeking with blood and human flesh, were veritable talons. His face was that of a Caliban, a distorted, flat, blob of pasty white where not smeared with blood, with loose, flabby, pendulous lips that exposed protruding yellow teeth. He had no nose; the forehead was almost nonexistent, and the tousled, straw-colored hair grew from the eyebrows ever the misshapen skull that was that of an idiot. But even these repulsive physical characters paled beside the inexpressibly loathsome and revolting appearance of his body, that was almost nude. Everywhere it was covered with festering open ulcers, that I instantly recognized as those of the terrible tropical disease known as the Yaws.
Even in my horror, my amazement at the thing, I felt positive that it must have arrived in the mysterious airship, that it or its fellows, for I had a premonition that there was more than one of the murderers, had rushed upon the inmates of the Antelope and had ruthlessly murdered them, and that with the others still at large no one was safe. Yet somehow it seemed so unreal, so incredible that such things could be taking place in this quiet, peaceful bit of suburban
"Hi will, will Hi!" cried the constable. "Not by the blinkin' hell Hi will. Lor' love me, Doc, hit's too awrful. An' that blond gorilla! Gord, did never a body see such a 'orrible-lookin' beast? 'E's the blinkin' murderer Hi'll s'y. An' now 'e's gone west there'll be no more bloomin’ murders. Let's clear hout o' 'ere, Doc. No use stayin’, Nobody's goin' to meddle with these corpuses."
"Very well," I assented. "But don't flatter yourself Moore, that there won't be any further murders. In my opinion that homicidal maniac—for that's what he unquestionably was—is only one of the crew that arrived on the airship. Of course he may have been the only murderer, but unless there's something most mysterious and horrible afoot, why didn't the others make themselves known? Why didn't they notify the authorities that this beastly creature was at large? No, Moore, there's something back of this—something uncanny, weird, terrible, deep; something of which we have no conception, at which I cannot even guess."
Little did I dream how far short of the reality were my fears, my suspicions, my words.
The coroner had arrived when we reached Eipley and a few moments later Inspector Maidstone arrived from
By midday the entire country had been aroused. Somewhere at least four murderous, horrible beings were at large. No one felt safe, and the countryside was in a state of terror. Yet far worse was to come.
Major Stephen Leighton, R.A.F., Takes Up the Story
THE extra editions of the press carrying the astonishing news of the appearance of a mysterious airship at Ripley, and describing the grewsome murders at the Antelope Inn and those of the Gypsies, aroused my intense interest. Although Doctor Grayson's description of the airship was most inadequate and superficial, even he had noticed that it was of a new type, and this was borne out by the little he mentioned in regard to its construction. Having specialized on dirigibles of the rigid type I was, of course, most keen on examining this strange ship and I immediately sent for my car and dashed off to Ripley.
JUST beyond Cobham we passed the Gypsy caravan surrounded by quite a throng of morbidly curious persons, and we found Ripley as crowded as though a fair were being held in the village. Constable Moore, Doctor Grayson and the police sent from
The gas-container was, as Doctor Grayson had surmised, of metal, although of what metal I could not imagine. But the doctor had erred considerably in his statements regarding the other features of the ship. The car or gondola, instead of being an integral portion of the whole, as he had described it, was attached to the balloon by means of short, rigid struts, and between the top of the gondola and the lower surface of the blunt-ended, almost elliptical balloon, a cylindrical tube of metal extended the entire length of the ship, bearing, at each end, a four-bladed propeller. Obviously, I thought, the motive power was contained within this tube, and I marveled that a motor of sufficient size to drive the ship could be contained within such a small space. The horizontal and vertical rudders were similar to those of conventional design, but were attached to a rigid framework on the gondola instead of on the balloon itself, and were in duplicate, one set on each end of the ship. I also noticed that a peculiar grid-like affair of wire-somewhat resembling the counterpoise of a radio receiver—was stretched between the cylinder I have mentioned and the top of the gondola, but I assumed that this, no doubt, was some form of radio antennae. The gondola, of some undetermined metal or metallic composition, contained nothing aside from the filthy straw mentioned by Doctor Grayson, several demijohnlike vessels and a number of beef bones. It looked far more like the den of wild beasts than the quarters of human beings, and as it smelled to high heaven I wasted no time in examining it in detail. Borrowing a ladder, I mounted to the top of the gondola for the purpose of examining the motive plant of the ship. But to my chagrin I discovered that the tube within which it evidently was contained, was tightly sealed, the plates of which it was constructed being bolted down, and that tools would be required to remove them. Securing my tool-kit from my car I again climbed to the roof of the gondola, accompanied by Doctor Grayson who had just emerged from the inn where he had been attending the inquest with the
And as I took the trouble to explain to Doctor Grayson, while I busied myself with a spanner and loosened the nuts on the tube's plates, such evidently uncouth, thug-like beings could not possibly have handled and navigated the airship. Someone, some intelligent, skilled man or men must have been aboard, and this fact added greatly to the mystery of the whole affair. Thought of this feature caused me to marvel at the fact that, as far as I had seen, there were no controls to the ship. There was no cockpit, no bridge, no instrument-board, no levers nor wheels, no dials—nothing that hinted at controlling the vessel—and I forgot everything else in my amazement at this discovery. But I had an even greater surprise awaiting me. As I at last removed the plate and peered within the cylinder, expecting to see the motors of the ship, I uttered a sharp cry of astonishment. There were no motors visible!
Instead, I saw a complex arrangement of wires, magnets, switches and other electrical apparatus. For a moment I was non-plussed, and then it dawned upon me that the ship was propelled by electric motors. Filled with curiosity I called to my chauffeur—an excellent mechanic and a really clever electrician—and together we proceeded to open up the cylindrical container throughout its entire length. While occupied with this task I was aware of some excitement in the crowd that now completely blocked all traffic in the street. Presently Doctor Grayson returned and informed me that a party of picnickers at Netley Heath had been attacked by three fiends who answered the description given by the farmer from
THE details of the affair were far too horrible and loathsome to repeat, and so terrible was their experience that both women had lost their reason and were now raving maniacs. The wounded man, however, had been able to give a very good description of the creatures. They were, he declared, almost nude, were covered with sores or ulcers, and were as horrible in appearance as fields from the pit. All were huge, powerful creatures, all had deformed, horrible features and all had the heads of idiots. Two of them, he declared, were negroes or blacks of some sort, and one, he had noticed, had a great cavity eaten into one side of the face as if by some powerful acid. He also told, shuddering and sobbing with horror at the memory, of having seen one of the creatures fall upon the body of his companion, and with its teeth tear the reeking flesh from the limbs and actually devour it.
Doctor Grayson paled and his voice shook as he told me these details. "I cannot imagine who or what these fiends incarnate are," he declared. "The body we found at the Gypsy caravan was afflicted with Yaws— a terribly virulent and contagious malady of the tropics. These three evidently were suffering from the same disease, and the fact that two were blacks would indicate they were all from some tropical country. And I am now convinced that the one we found dead was also a negro—an albino. Thank heaven, now we know where or near where they are we can soon apprehend them or destroy them. And thank God there cannot be more than four. The entire countryside is aroused, all available police, and posses of citizens are scouring the woods, the heaths and the parks, and I expect at any moment to learn of the capture of the fiends. But even so I have most dire misgivings, Major. If the creatures have not spread their loathsome disease, it will be by the merest chance they have not. Beyond any question the two women who were attacked will contract it; I have no doubt that this poor wounded chap will be afflicted with it, and I should not be at all surprised if the two boys who were held up on the Hogback had been infected when scratched by their assailants."
"Rotten," I commented. "But are you sure it's the Yaws? And is there nothing to be done to cure it—to prevent it from spreading?"
Doctor Grayson shook his head. "In my younger days," he informed me, "I was attached to the Department of Research of Tropical Diseases in the West Indies, and later in
"By Jove!" I cried. "It is a pretty how-de-do. By the way, did you learn anything from the body of the beast killed on the Hogback?"
"I haven't examined it personally," replied the doctor, "but Doctor Mell of Guildford was conversing with me a few moments ago and he tells me it was that of a mulatto or octoroon, that the cranium—or rather what was left of it after it had received both barrels of a twenty-gauge shotgun at close range—appeared to be that of a maniac, and that the creature was afflicted with some sort of ulcerated sores. Evidently all are alike in these features."
"Bally rotten, the whole business," I exclaimed. "Looks as if some insane asylum was dumping its ulcerated, homicidal maniacs on poor old
Doctor Grayson shook his head. "God alone knows the answer to a lot of questions," he replied. "But—"
An exclamation from Rawlins, my mechanic, interrupted his words, and I hurried to Rawlins' side. He had removed the plates from a large section of the tube and had exposed the powerful compact motors that operated the propellers. But it was not these that had aroused his most intense interest and excitement.
"This ship was operated by radio, sir," he announced in almost awed tones. "See here, sir. Yonder's the relays; there are the selective devices."
For a moment I studied the intricate mechanism intently, filled with interest. I had, of course, witnessed demonstrations of radio-controlled and operated vessels, airships and even an airplane. But in no case had the tests been very successful, and in no case had it been possible to control a mechanism at any considerable distance from the transmitting station. Yet if Rawlins was right, and if Doctor Grayson was not mistaken, this ship had come a great distance—perhaps thousands of miles—by means of radio control from some far distant station. It seemed impossible, incredible, and the more I examined the mechanism, the more I was convinced that Rawlins was mistaken. To be sure, there was no question that the propellers were driven by motors which, superficially at least, appeared like electric motors. And at first sight the objects he had pointed out did seem to be relays and selective devices, but I could detect none of the appliances that are typical of radio control. The thing needed real study, expert examination and a complete investigation such as could not be conducted here in the open air. So, instructing Rawlins to replace the cover plates, I climbed to the earth and telephoned to
Almost coincident with their arrival, word was received by Inspector Maidstone, who was still in Ripley, informing him that the savage being—obviously the survivor of the pair that had attacked the motorists on the Hogback—had been surrounded in a thicket near
As I was thereafter most busily engaged in superintending the examination of the airship's mechanism at
By this time the entire country had become thoroughly aroused. The police had been armed in all rural districts, all citizens who went about the country were in constant fear and trembling of an attack, and everyone who could secure firearms went prepared to shoot down the terrible fiendish beings on sight. Fortunately those who had—supposedly—arrived in the ship that landed at
By the morning of the third day, more than a dozen of the strange aircraft had dropped upon English soil, and each had vomited its crew of maniacal negro murderers. Some had landed on the
IN the meantime we had dissected the complicated machinery of the first arrived airship, and although no one—not even Sir Bertram Fielding, the greatest living authority on radio-controlled vessels—could make head or tail of the apparatus, all—including Sir Bertram —agreed that it was not actuated by radio as we knew it, but was operated and controlled by some unknown form of vibratory wave akin to the electro-magnetic waves but quite distinct. With so many of the vessels available, we could afford to tear them to bits, and we went at it with a will, for, as far as we could see, our only hope of preventing the things from landing, or of destroying them, was to learn the secrets of their mechanisms and to install some device for controlling them from our end so as to deflect them and force them to drop into the sea. Possibly I have not made my meaning clear, for being so accustomed to writing in purely technical terms, I find it a bit difficult to express myself in ordinary popular language. What I mean to say is this: we all (meaning the officials of the Air Ministry and of the R. A. F.) were convinced that the damnable ships with their living cargoes of fiends were being sent with devilish ingenuity and intention to England; that they were being dispatched from some one point abroad, by some enemy of the British, and were of course propelled and directed by some form of vibratory wave. Hence, if we could learn the secret of these waves; if we could, by intensive study and observation, discover how to transmit them, and how to operate the ships from our station, we could—being nearer them—divert them, and then, when over the sea, force them down. It must not, however, be assumed that we had gone about solving this problem without taking every precaution and availing ourselves of every resource to combat and destroy the things before they dropped on
Several that were spotted and chased outdistanced our fastest scout planes as if they had been standing still, and Captain Morris, who sighted one of the things over Maidstone and gave chase in his Napier Rocket (capable of traveling more than three hundred miles an hour), reported that the dirigible gained on him rapidly and soon vanished in the darkness.
The two that had been brought down were destroyed more by accident than by design. The one over Deal had been sighted by an anti-aircraft crew and by a very lucky shot had been brought down to fall into the sea. The other had been spotted by a bomber, whose crew, by the merest chance, had dropped a bomb upon the thing as it had flashed, at terrific speed, beneath the plane.
But even though the dirigible crashed to the earth in a deserted part of the
Our only hope then, lay in either tracing the dirigibles to their source or in discovering their secrets, both matters that would necessitate slow, patient, unremitting study, and that would require a great deal of time. And time was most important, for nightly more and more of the things were landing, daily more and more people were being murdered, mutilated. Although, by the end of the first week, the fiendish maniacs who arrived in the night seldom remained alive more than a few hours—so well was the country patrolled by police, armed citizens and the army—still, in the few hours they were at large they murdered hundreds of people, wounded hundreds more and committed every conceivable atrocity.
AS Doctor Grayson and Major Leighton have mentioned, I was called to Ripley in
I arrived at Ripley to find Doctor Richard Morrison, the
It seemed a very simple affair from the detective's point of view. We knew, or assumed we knew, who the murderers were, one of them (of course, at that time we had no means of knowing if there were others) was dead and we had merely to trail the others (if any), arrest them and the whole affair was at an end. In fact, the greatest mysteries to be solved appeared to be the origin and identity of the dirigible and the identity of the murderers, also why they had arrived and from where. But I soon found that to trace the murderers and to arrest them were far from easy tasks. I had thought that strangers, so easily recognized, so remarkable in appearance as these must be (judging from the one whose body had been found by Doctor Grayson) would be easily traced. And I assumed that once they were located it would be a simple matter to place them under arrest. So accustomed are we of the British police to meeting with little or no resistance, the average British citizen having an inborn respect for the representatives of the law, that it did not occur to me that we would have any difficulties in this respect. Neither did I (at the time) take into consideration that the men we had to deal with were (as far as we could judge by the one killed by the Gypsies) maniacs, and hence would not recognize the police as such and would not be subject to the same regard for the police authority as sane persons. And I was very soon to learn that the only traces of their presence left by these malefactors were in the form of heinous crimes. Before I had even time to call up headquarters and set the machinery of the law in motion, Benjamin Butler, a farmer of West Clandon, arrived in Ripley and reported having been attacked by the maniacs near East Clandon.
As Doctor Grayson has described, Butler escaped, and I at once got into communication with the constables at East and West Clandon, Clandon Park, Merrow, Albury, Gomshall, Westcott, Dorking, Mickleham, Plesdon, and East Horsley, thus completely encircling the district with patrols and (so I thought) making certain that the murderous thugs would be apprehended within an hour or two. I had scarcely finished giving my instructions when word came of the attack on the motorists on the Hogback, and I at once communicated with the constabulary of all towns and villages in that vicinity. Feeling now confident that the net had been spread for the quarry, I interrogated Doctor Grayson at greater length, interviewed
It was, I admit, a high-handed proceeding, but I considered that the conditions warranted it; but as usual certain meddlesome individuals with a mawkish sentiment for all criminals got me into very hot water, indeed. No sooner had news of my actions been spread, than extra papers blared the facts in glaring headlines, and within half an hour I was peremptorily summoned to
It seemed that a tremendous uproar had been created in certain circles, and Scotland Yard had been swamped with protests, denunciations and appeals—all in no measured terms, voicing opinions of an Inspector of Police who would order irresponsible, helpless maniacs shot down in cold blood. In vain I protested that these men were red-handed, vicious, terrible murderers; that they were beyond all pale of the law or common humanity; that to attempt to capture them would result in the deaths of honest, innocent men, and that any citizen meeting them and not killing them on sight would (in all likelihood) be killed (or worse) himself. No, the law gave me no authority to order any man killed (except in self-defense). That was a matter for judge and jury. My duty was to capture them (even if by so doing lives were sacrificed). I was severely reprimanded and requested to resign from the force. Cut before I could reply, my chief answered a telephone call, and instantly his expression changed. "My God!" I heard him mutter, "It's terrible, horrible!"
He replaced the instrument and turned to me. "From Hawley," he exclaimed, "three of the—the maniacs raided the village not fifteen minutes ago. They killed sixteen people and wounded a dozen more. And—God, Inspector, it's too horrible—the fiends were seen eating—actually devouring—the bodies! And they got clean away."
"Sorry," I said tersely. "If my orders had not been countermanded, this could not have happened, but as the murderers—cannibals—are poor, deluded, helpless maniacs not responsible for their acts, I suppose we can afford to permit useful citizens to be destroyed in the name of humanity."
The chief's fist struck the desk with a bang. "By the Lord, No!" he shouted. "Not by a long shot! Get back on your job,
The telephone bell interrupted me. "Thank Heaven!" I heard the chief say, relief in his voice. Then, as he hung up, "It's over," he informed me. "The three brutes are dead—literally cut to ribbons. The villagers, aroused, infuriated, gave chase with any weapons they could grasp and chopped the things to pieces with bill-hooks, scythes and hay-knives. Thank God that accounts for all of them—if only six were at large."
"We'll soon know," I replied. "If any of the beasts still live we'll soon have reports of more outrages."
But as no further attacks were reported, we felt confident all the maniacs had been destroyed. Little did we know what was in store; and had we known I doubt if we could have done a great deal to have stopped the terrible calamity that was to fall upon
Doctor Grayson Resumes His Story
AFTER my short conversation with Major Leighton, who was ripping open the portion of the dirigible that contained its machinery, I drove off towards Cobham and joined the coroner, who had just completed his inquest on the bodies of the murdered Gypsies and the dead albino negro. "If you have no objection," I said, "I would like permission to remove the body of the murderer. I feel that it is essential that we determine absolutely and beyond question the exact nature of the disease with which he was afflicted—that I conduct a thorough microscopic bacterial examination."
"Nonsense!" he ejaculated. "You diagnosed it as the Yaws. You know far more of tropical diseases than I do and I'm willing to take your word for it."
"Thank you for your appreciation of my knowledge," I smiled. "But in my tropical experience I learned that the one important fact—the one fact that impressed me the most—is that we know practically nothing of tropical diseases, especially of those of filarial origin. I have known of dozens of cases of malignant, advanced leprosy that were diagnosed as Yaws, and of as many, if not more, cases of Yaws that were classed as leprosy. And there are scores of diseases that—superficially—resemble either Yaws or leprosy, but are quite distinct; diseases of which we know little or nothing, but which are most malignant, virulent and contagious. Only by a bacterial study of the blood or pus is it possible to arrive at any definite diagnosis—and even then we are often at a loss. And if, as I fear, these creatures have spread disease throughout this district, it is most important that we have definite knowledge of its character, so that we may warn the public of the symptoms and prepare to combat it."
"H-mm," observed the coroner. "So you really think there may be danger of an epidemic. I cannot say I agree with you. Whatever it is, it is a tropical malady and would not develop in our climate. Why, man, I've known of cases of tropical diseases that, here in
"Quite true," I agreed, interrupting him. "But I think you will find that in such cases the patients arrived during the winter, or remained here over the winter. Our summers are warm enough to encourage tropical diseases, and, quite frequently, tropical diseases appear to become more virulent and to progress with far greater rapidity in the north than in the tropics. At all events I shall not rest easy nor feel that I have done my duty until I have assured myself of the identity of the disease with which this creature —and probably his fellows—is afflicted."
"Have it your own way, Grayson!" he exclaimed. "It matters nothing to me. You have my permission to make any disposition you wish of the body."
As I possessed no adequate facilities in my Ripley home for conducting the post-mortem and the exhaustive examinations I planned, I had the cadaver sent to
During this time most alarming and terrible events were taking place, but as Major Leighton has already given a very comprehensive résumé of these developments I need not repeat them, but will confine myself to my own personal activities and discoveries.
As I had suspected, the deceased man had been suffering from a most malignant form of Yaws, but in addition he had been afflicted with leprosy, Ryndal's disease and some disease that I could not identify. Cultures and inoculations tested on guinea-pigs, rabbits and monkeys proved that the latter was even more contagious and more rapid in its development than the terrible Ryndal's disease, which, as is well known, utterly destroys all sense of morality and humanity and results in producing a homicidal mania in its victims, and which, though not contagious by ordinary means or personal contact, and which as far as known, has no insect-carriers, may yet be transmitted readily through the slightest abrasion of the skin. Hence I felt certain that every person who had been wounded or scratched by the maniacal creatures would, almost inevitably, develop this most terrible of tropical maladies. Fortunately, however, I had, while working in the West Indies, discovered, or I may better say, had developed, in company with Doctor Sir Ian Maxwell, an antitoxin that, administered in time, prevented the dreaded disease from developing beyond its primary stages and eventually eliminated it from the system. But to produce the antidote in sufficient quantities to inoculate all the victims injured by the ever-increasing number of infected maniacs, who were dropping nightly from the skies, required time, and to be efficacious, it was essential that it should be used within forty-eight hours after the germs of Ryndal's disease had been transmitted.
Needless to say, every resource of the Royal Laboratories was placed at my disposal, once my report had been made, and the antitoxin was being produced as rapidly as possible. As fast as it was made it was being distributed throughout the districts that had been cursed by the murderous beings arriving in the strange and still inexplicable airships. But there were certain discoveries that I made during my examinations of the cadaver that in some respects overshadowed my determination of the several diseases.
To my amazement I found, upon dissecting the brain of the creatures, that the abnormality of that organ was not due to natural causes or to disease, but had been artificially produced. In other words, the creature had been operated upon during youth, or at least several years previous to my examination, and a portion of the cerebellum had been removed. There was no question of this. The incision (perfectly healed to be sure) in the skull was plain, and the scar in the brain itself was readily distinguishable.
But to make assurance doubly sure, I secured the crania of several more of the maniacs, and in each case found precisely the same conditions. Moreover, I found that, beyond any question, the beings had been inoculated with the diseases from which they were suffering. Only one conclusion could result from these astounding discoveries. The murderous creatures—I cannot bring myself to call them men—had purposely been transformed to maniacs; they had been coldbloodedly inoculated with Ryndal's disease in order to insure their becoming potential murderers, and had been inoculated with the two most loathsome and little known of contagious diseases with the devilish idea of spreading these diseases. The whole thing was a plot, a deep-laid, unspeakably fiendish plot, that must have required years to consummate, and that was aimed at the inhabitants of
I shuddered and felt sick at the mere thought of thousands of our citizens becoming raving, homicidal maniacs, of thousands—tens of thousands—suffering the awful living death of lepers, of hundreds of thousands covered with the loathsome ulcers of the Yaws. Far more fortunate were those who died at the hands and teeth of these brainless, horrible, death-dealing machines in human form. But now that I had in a small measure solved the mystery of the murderers and their purpose, my duty was clear. I must devote every energy, every effort to minimizing the spread of the diseases— I did not flatter myself that they could be completely checked—and must leave the rest to the government. I hurried to
"The swine!" he commented. "The most damnable, utterly fiendish and amazing plot to destroy a nation that the world has ever known. No war ever held such horrible, dastardly means of destruction. Gas, submarines, bombs—all are humane, insignificant, merciful, compared with this. And why, why, why?
Jimmy Nash Takes Up the Tale
HONESTLY I don't know just how to begin. After reading all that Doctor Grayson and Major Leighton and Inspector Maidstone have written, there doesn't seem much more for me to say. And there isn't anything that happened that they have told, that I knew as much about as they did, anyway.
Everything was kept pretty secret, and about all anyone knew of what was going on was that the black airships were dropping down here, there and everywhere in
In the first place I'm an American, and so I wouldn't have had the chance to know what was going on that an English chap would, anyway. And in the second place, the part I took in the thing was all by accident and no thanks to me or my brains. I was over here partly on business and partly on pleasure; my business being the bee in my bonnet over a new kind of light that a pal of mine had invented.
You see he'd been associated with one of the big radio companies and had got interested in radio television and had been carrying on a lot of experiments. I don't know how far he got with that end of the business, but I used to go to his laboratory and watch him and now and then I'd ask some questions or make some suggestion and we'd have a lot of fun trying out my crazy ideas. Sometimes they'd work and sometimes they wouldn't, but being a professional photographer and knowing something about that business, he used to depend a lot on me when it came to matters that had anything to do with lenses or sensitive plates and so on. You see, Bob was working along new lines. He didn't have much faith in the Baird method or any of the others that had been invented. He claimed that even when pictures were sent by radio by those methods they weren't in natural colors and that even when they did show color they had to be sent from a special place all fixed up with certain kinds of light and surroundings. What he was after was a scheme for broadcasting scenes and people just as they were naturally, here, there and the other place. That is, to say, with his device—that is, the way he imagined it—a man could set up a machine in the street or anywhere else and set the thing going and the receiver at the other end would get the picture, just as he saw it, with the sounds all there. It would be like a talky-movie without a film, only better, and Bob thought the only way to get it would be with a combination camera-radio outfit of some sort.
That's why he got me interested in his work and depended on me to help him out on the photography end of it. Well, to make a long story short, we began to get results. I can't say just how it was arranged, because Bob hasn't perfected it yet and hasn't got out his patents and I might spill the beans if I went into details. Anyhow, it was a great day when we set up the machine he'd made and pointed it out of the window at the street and adjusted the receiver over at the other end of the laboratory. Bob was to operate the taking machine and I was to look into the receiver and see what happened.
Well, I was just about knocked out when he started things going and there before me on the screen I saw the motor cars go whizzing by and folks walking on the sidewalks and a newsie handing a Telegram to an old man on the corner, and I heard the honking claxons and the traffic-cop's whistle and all. It was just like looking at a talkie, because there wasn't any color, but just all black and white. Bob was mighty disappointed. But I thought it wonderful and told him so. But he said he'd failed and his invention wasn't any better than the others, and natural colors were what he was after, and if he couldn't get them, he'd junk the whole thing. Well, of course, I could see that colors would be a lot better, so we got busy again. About that time I'd been doing a lot of work with color-screens and I'd been reading up on color photography and everything I could get hold of on color. One of the things that impressed me was that according to what I'd read there really wasn't any such thing as color anyhow. It was all a matter of waves. Light was just vibratory waves like radio waves and heat was another kind of waves, and heat waves could be made into light waves and vice-versa. It was all just a matter of the length of the waves whether a thing was blue or green or red or any other color. But, of course, everyone knows that, so it's just wasting time to talk about it. Well, anyhow, I hadn't known it before and it seemed a wonderful thing to me and set me thinking.
I laid awake pretty near all night thinking about it. If a fellow could make a piece of black iron into red iron, or even white iron, just by heating it until the heat waves became visible as color waves, then why couldn't a fellow make some sort of device for changing any kind of color waves into some other kind of color waves? And by reasoning backward, what was it in Bob's machine that picked up the color waves and changed them so they were just black and white? Of course, I knew the reason that color waves striking a sensitized film or plate were recorded in black and white was because the chemicals on the film were that kind, and could only turn black and not into colors. But Bob's arrangement wasn't like that. It wasn't a chemical thing like a plate, but the real thing shown on a screen. That is, the original rays—all in colors— were picked up and transformed to radio waves and then picked up by the receiver and changed back to light-waves.
But somewhere in the process they must have been changed, because when they were changed back from radio-waves to light-waves they'd lost all the variations that meant color. That was what I kept thinking all night. It was just as if the picture had been viewed through some sort of screen that cut out the color effect. You know how, when you look through a smoked glass, the colors sort of disappear, and if you look through a green or red glass how some colors look black and others gray and you lose the color values. Well, the effect of Bob's machine was like that. Only, of course, there wasn't any red or green or smoked effect so far as you could see.
THEN I began to think about the effect of color-screens used in taking pictures and how a yellow screen cut out the blue light and brought out color value on the plate, and I began to wonder if Bob couldn't rig up some sort of screen in front of his machine and solve the problem. I guess I went to sleep then, for the next thing I knew it was daylight. Well, I lay there in bed a while thinking over all I'd thought about in the night, and I noticed a ray of sunshine shining in through a chink in the shade and striking on my bed. All of a sudden I got interested. The ray of light looked yellow all right, but where it hit the sheet it made a blue patch. Gosh, I thought to myself, that's funny. What's changed that light ray to a blue ray? Well, of course, it was as simple as two and two. The light was reflected from the edge of a glass on my dresser, but the glass was red, not blue, and it took me a long time to figure out how the blue rays were bent off and hit the bed while the red rays were shot through the glass.
I couldn't see that it had anything to do with Bob's puzzle though, but when I told Bob about all I'd been thinking about and the sunlight and everything he jumped up in the air and yelled.
"Hurrah!" he shouted. "You're the right man in the right place, Jimmy! I believe you've struck the nail on the head."
I told him I didn't see how, and asked him to explain. Well, the way he explained it was this. What he needed was a light ray of some sort. In transforming lightwaves to radio-waves, they lost their relative lengths and all had the same length, so they became white light-waves. Then he went into a long rigamarole about infra-red rays and X-rays, and so on, that I couldn't follow, but the upshot of it was that there must be something in existence that we didn't see and didn't know about that controlled the light-waves' lengths, but was lost when they were changed to radio-waves. And he felt cocksure that it was some sort of wave or ray. Well, he spent about ten days reading everything he could find on rays and he, filled up a dozen notebooks with notes on chemical-rays, and death-rays and poison-rays and every kind of ray, real or imaginary, that had ever been invented or made or discovered or faked. He was just ray-crazy, and he spent all the money he had—which wasn't such a lot at that—on apparatus and chemicals and what not. And the things he did! Gee, I never saw anything like it. He made one ray that looked like a white light, but that would burn paper half-way across the room. And he made one that you couldn't see, but when he turned it on a colored thing the thing changed color. He'd focus it on a red thing, and, believe it or not, the thing would be bright blue; if he turned it on a green thing it would be purple, and so on. He called it an interference ray and explained how it worked, but Gosh, I don't remember now, and anyhow it doesn't have a bearing on the case. Well, I couldn't see as he was getting any nearer to solving his puzzle, but he thought he was, and one morning when I came in he was ready to dance he was so excited.
"I believe I've struck it at last," he yelled. "Hurry up, get over back of the receiver and we'll test it."
"Great jumping jiminy crickets!" I yelled, when he turned on the machine. It was just like looking at the street through the wrong end of a field glass. Everything perfect and natural colors, but reduced, and all the sounds perfect as could be. There was only one trouble. The sounds were too loud for the picture. It didn't seem right to hear a motor-car half an inch long toot a horn that could be heard all over the room, or to hear a tiny figure of a traffic-cop blow a speck of a whistle so loud it made your ears ring. But Bob didn't mind that. He said he could enlarge the picture to suit the sounds or reduce the sounds to harmonize with the picture, and he was as near crazy over what he'd done as I ever expect to see anybody. But he wouldn't tell me much about his ray. As a matter of fact, I don't believe he knew much about it himself. All I could get out of him was that he passed a sort of X-ray through a grid or screen treated with some radio-active composition and got the results. He said it was analogous (I got that word from him just as he said it) to passing the electrons from the filament of a radio tube to the plate through a grid. Not knowing a darned thing about radio, except that the family which rooms below me in Earl's Court keeps the darned radio going so I can't sleep, Bob's explanation didn't mean much. But the idea I got was that it sort of straightened out the wave-lengths of colors so they came through 0. K.
"But, Jimmy, that’s not the half of it," he said. "This new ray's got properties that are going to revolutionize a lot of things. And it will interest you because with it you can take photographs in the dark."
"Tell me another," I came back at him. "Don't try to kid me on photography just because I'm a dumbell on radio."
"I'm not trying to kid you," he says. "I can prove it to you. Just you darken this room."
"Go to it," I told him.
Well, the long and short of it was that we darkened the room as well as we could (and it was plenty dark at that) and I set up my camera and Bob turned on his ray machine. Well, I sure laughed. It didn't show any light at all; just a sort of pale, pinkish glow like a firefly under a red glass in the machine.
"He who laughs last laughs best," Bob reminded me. "Now Jimmy, shut off your lens and develop your plate and see what you see."
And believe it or not. Bob was right. I'd got as good a negative of the inside of the laboratory as though I'd given it a time exposure in broad daylight.
"You win," I told him. "But how did you know? You're no photographer."
He laughed. "I tried my machine last night after dark, and everything came through as if it had been light outside," he told me. "And so I knew the ray would in all probability have the same effect on your photographic plate."
Well, now that Bob had the ray, he was all for trying all sorts of tests to see how far he could send his pictures. Of course, he kept things secret, for he wanted to be sure, and he hadn't taken out patents. Well, it was away ahead of anything he had expected. I went out to
"If we can do that," said Bob, "I'll take out patents and launch the thing right away. But if we can't, I'm going to hold on until we can. If I don't, some other guy will come along and make some improvement so transatlantic pictures can be transmitted and I'll be out of it." Well, that's how I happened to be over here, as I said when I started to write, and it seems to me it's taken an awful lot of time and paper to say it. Gee, if It takes all this space and all this writing just to tell how I happened to be over here in London, how the devil and all do these fellows get all they have to say into a book, I wonder.
Well, just as soon as I got here I began making tests and Bob cabled back they came through pretty fair, but not good enough, and he wrote saying he was working on an improvement he'd send over, and to stay on here until it arrived. So that's why I was here partly on pleasure, as I said, for while I was waiting for the dinkus he mentioned, I had nothing to do but to enjoy myself.
It was while I was doing
Of course, they didn't mean much to me. In the first place, as I said, everything was kept quiet and I only knew what the papers were allowed to print, and in the second place, none of them came near
WELL, in about ten days I got the dinkus Bob had made, and a long letter telling me how to use it. I studied it till I got the idea, and then set up the machine and gave it a test, and back came Bob's cable saying, "Wonderful. Results perfect. Try night shot."
Well, I decided the best night shot I could try, as a real good test, was a shot across London from my room, because I knew if I set up the thing on the street I'd have a crowd around and some polite-speaking bobby asking me what it was all about and perhaps I'd have to explain and give my friend's secret away.
Then while I was getting the machine ready, I heard an airplane buzzing away somewhere up in the sky, and I got a sudden idea that it would be great to get a shot that would show the bird. So when he seemed about where I was pointing the transmitter, I started it going. For about a minute everything ran along fine and I was just about to shut it off when the whole sky seemed to burst into flame, the buildings and trees in the park stood out black in the glare, and there was a terrific explosion somewhere up aloft. The next minute all was the same as before, only people were running and shouting in the streets.
Well, of course, I thought the plane had gone up and I wondered if Bob got the shot that must have been a corker. So I packed the things away and waited to hear what he'd say. But Bob didn't wait to cable. A "buttons" came up to tell me I was wanted on the phone, and who do you suppose was on the wire but Bob talking from
"Say, for the love of Mike, what's happening over there?" he says. "I got the shot—
"Ask me another," I called back. "You're forgetting it was all black here and I couldn't see the planes or the blimps. But I saw and heard the explosion. The papers'll be full of it tomorrow, and I'll cable you if you don't get it there before we do here. So long."
Well, I hadn't any more than hung up and got back to my room ready to go out for a pleasant hour or two, when someone knocked at my door and I called "Come in," thinking it one of the maids or maybe the valet or some of the staff.
Instead I saw a nice-looking chap in a tweed suit and carrying a stick, and with a close-clipped moustache.
"I beg your pardon, are you Mr. James Nash?" he asks.
"The same," says
"Possibly a great deal," he says with a smile. "May I have a few moments' conversation with you?"
"Sure," I told him. "Sit down and be comfortable."
"If I am not mistaken, you are an American, Mr. Nash," he began.
"Surest thing you know," I told him.
"And a photographer by profession?" he continued.
I told him he was right again.
"And may I take the liberty of inquiring who it was who, a few moments before I arrived, was conversing with you by telephone from
"You can take the liberty of asking," says I, getting a bit peeved at a stranger butting in and asking personal questions. "But whether or not I tell you is my business."
He grinned the sort of grin that Englishmen know how to grin. "I cannot blame you for resenting my seemingly impertinent questions," he said. "I should have introduced myself." He handed me a card. "Hubert Landon" was the name, but I hardly saw that, because what he said just about put me on the mat for the count.
"I come from Scotland Yard," he said, as calm as you please, "and I trust you will see fit to reply to my questions, Mr. Nash."
"You bet I will," I told him. "Though why the devil Scotland Yard or the police are interested in me or my pal over in
"Hm, and may I ask what he referred to when he spoke of your 'shot' and how he happened to know that airplanes were cruising over
Well, what could I do, I ask you, but tell him the whole works after first getting him to promise that he wouldn't give away Bob's invention.
For a time he didn't seem to believe it, but I showed him the machine and explained the way I'd taken photos at night with the ray, and showed him some I'd taken at night about London.
"Mr. Nash," he exclaimed, "your statement is astounding, most astounding and most extraordinary. But, if what you say is true—and personally I am convinced it is—the entire British nation will be in your debt. Would you mind accompanying me to Scotland Yard? I would like to have you repeat your statements to those who are my superiors."
Well, to cut a long story short, I went along and took the machine with me and Mr. Landon took me to see the Chief, and after I'd told him my story and had shown him the photos, he took me over to a big place in Whitehall, where I met Sir Kenyon McDonald —Gosh, I wonder if these British chappies never sleep, but work all night—and told him the same story all over again. Well, Sir Kenyon was mighty nice and so was the Chief and they asked if I'd mind taking another shot after calling Bob by phono and telling him I was going to try it, and I did, and he phoned back it was okay, and everyone was as excited as Englishmen can be.
But all the time I was worrying over Bob's secret getting out and I told Sir Kenyon about that. But he told me that I could rest easy on that score. He would answer personally for the secret of Bob's being safeguarded, he said. In fact, he promised that in view of the great service Bob and I had rendered England (though I didn't get what at the time) he would secure a Letters Patent for Bob free of all expense, if Bob would send on a description and drawings of his invention.
Well, that's about all I can tell. Only it seemed that by using the ray Bob had discovered they could photograph the sky at night and spot the blimps. But there was something else they didn't get until I asked them what had caused the two blimps to blow up.
"By Jove!" exclaimed Sir Kenyon, and "By Jove!" cried the Chief, and "By Jove!" said Mr. Landon, all in one breath.
Then—"Mr. Nash," says Sir Kenyon, "I have always been a great admirer of Yankee ingenuity and brains, but I have never hitherto had such a convincing demonstration as at the present moment. The explosion! By Jove! Of course—it was the ray! Mr. Nash, you and your associate, Mr. Johnson have, I believe, saved
Major Leighton Resumes
I WAS still working day, and most of the night, on the mechanisms of the dirigibles, without having gotten much nearer a solution of their puzzles than ever, when—about eleven o'clock one night—I was ordered to report in London with all possible speed.
Within the hour I was in
"Ah! Here you are!" exclaimed General Brassington, scarcely acknowledging my salute, and leaping to his feet. "Lost no time en route, I see. Good! Major Leighton, let me introduce Mr. Nash of
I stared at the fellow, Nash, in amazement. What, I wondered, was Sir Edward talking about? What was all this about this youngster saving
“Now, Major," continued Sir Edward, "take a cigar and a chair and listen to the most amazing thing that's happened yet, eh, Sir Kenyon?"
Sir Kenyon nodded and the general cleared his throat
"As you know," he began, "we've been keeping a strict censorship on all outgoing and incoming mails, cables, radio and telephone messages. In doing so, we came upon several communications addressed to Mr. Nash which, to us, appeared a bit suspicious and puzzling. Among them a cable mentioning 'shots' and advising Nash to 'try a night shot.' Quite naturally we kept a pretty sharp eye on our young friend here. Detective Sergeant Landon being assigned to his case. No use in going into irrelevant details, but suffice to say that this evening—no, last evening—Nash was seen to place some sort of a mechanism in his window. It resembled a cinema camera, but Landon, who was watching from a distance, observed that it emitted a faint pinkish glow. The next instant there was a terrific detonation from the sky. As Landon had noted that one of our scouts was patrolling overhead, his first thought was that the airplane had blown up, but to his amazement the hum of the motor continued. Feeling certain that Nash and his machine had some connection with the explosion, Landon hurried to the nearest call-station to report, and then dashed off to Nash's place—a residential hotel in Earl's Court. He was informed that Nash had been called by telephone from
"As a result, Sergeant Landon interviewed Mr. Nash at once and learned that the mechanism was a newly-invented apparatus for transmitting radio television, that Nash had been testing it out, and that, owing to a newly discovered light or ray, the device could transmit night scenes as clearly as though they were in daylight. In proof of this he exhibited several photographs that he had taken—so he declared—at night by means of the ray. It was all most extraordinary and amazing, but Landon was convinced of the truth of the astonishing story, for he had heard the voice in New York stating that the scene had been received and mentioning three planes and the two explosions, which could not, by any possibility, have been known to him, if he had not received the transmitted view as Nash claimed. At all events, Nash brought the apparatus to Sir Kenyon here, and had explained the entire device to us both, and we are both fully convinced that not only does this seemingly magical ray have the power of rendering visible these objects that otherwise are invisible in the darkness, but that it also possesses some inexplicable, but nevertheless actual power to destroy the damnable enemy's airships at a distance. You can see, Major Leighton, what a tremendously important thing it is. Not only can we now detect all the ships arriving during the night, determine where they are about to land and thus be in readiness to give them a warm reception, but we can do more—we can annihilate them—destroy them utterly in the air. Do you not agree with me that the British nation owes Mr. Nash an inestimable debt of gratitude?"
"I can understand that the invention will prove of real value in revealing the whereabouts of the airships," I replied. "But I do not have any faith in the device exploding the ships. You see, Sir Edward, they are filled with helium gas which, as everyone knows, is non-explosive."
"By Jove!" he exclaimed. "By Jove! But in that case. Major, how do you account for the explosion over
"Probably merely a coincidence," I replied. "I don't believe this little device"—I indicated the apparatus standing near—"had anything to do with it. I cannot believe a tiny light—no brighter than a radio tube— could possibly have any effect upon an object thousands of feet distant."
General Brassington smiled and stroked his moustache, and his eyes twinkled with amusement. "H-mm, but my dear Major Leighton, if helium gas is non-explosive, how could the blasted things explode even if they were not affected by Mr. Nash's device, but went off merely by coincidence?"
I flushed. The general had me in a bit of a corner, so to say. "Perhaps," I suggested, "those particular ships were not filled with helium gas. Possibly the makers are running short of helium and are resorting to hydrogen. And with such a mass of electrical devices liable to produce a spark or a short circuit, a hydrogen-filled ship would be exceedingly likely to go off."
"I cannot say that I agree with you," he stated. "But at all events we are simply wasting valuable time by discussing theories and suppositions. What I desire is a positive test—that is why I sent for you, Major. I want you to take Mr. Nash and his device to the vicinity of the nearest of the recently arrived ships— the one that came down two days ago near Chiselhurst is the most accessible I believe, and determine once and for all if it can be exploded by his ray. Have him set up the device at a safe distance—say a thousand yards —and start it going. If no result follows, we will know it had no connection with the explosion last night; but if, on the other hand—off with you, Major, for I shall remain here until you return and I'm getting damnably sleepy."
I must confess that I felt a bit excited as we stopped the car about eight hundred yards from the dirigible, whose dim bulk could be seen against the sky looming above the alder thicket in which it had landed. It was an excellent subject for our tests, for there were no houses in the vicinity and it was fully a half-mile from the main road with no chances of any human beings being in the vicinity. For that matter, no one ever went near one of the things—everyone gave them a wide berth, for the dread of disease and their gruesome character kept everyone off.
YOUNG Nash seemed perfectly cocksure of himself and chattered on in his extraordinary slangy way as he set up the device upon which so much depended. I really liked the lad, he was so effervescent and friendly, and throughout our trip from town, he had kept me jolly well laughing all the time with his quaint observations and original comments on his experiences in
There was a faint pinkish glow in the front of the apparatus, a low hum like a badly tuned-in radio and then—a volcano seemed to burst into eruption, the entire earth seemed to shake, the whole country was lit up with a vivid glare, and I was deafened by the terrific detonation as the airship exploded with the report of a sixteen-inch gun. Then silence, darkness. Awed and astounded, I remained for a moment gazing transfixed with amazement at the spot where, a moment before, the ovoid form of the ship had loomed against the sky. Not a trace of it remained; the alder thicket had vanished. Nash's voice broke the spell.
"Some bust-up, I'll tell the cock-eyed world," he remarked. "Well, Major, what do you know about the little old ray now?"
I grasped his hand, patted him on the back, fairly waltzed him about in the delirium of my delight. Helium or not, whatever was in that huge metal container had been exploded by the invisible force emanating from the tiny pink glow in the machine.
I drove back to
Very evidently my face told the story, for the general grinned and rose.
"Aha!" he exclaimed. "So helium gas is explosive after all, Major! I can see the test was most successful. Now if you'll excuse me I'm off to get an hour or two of sleep. I'm not as young as I was once, and I find late hours—no—" with a laugh—"early hours— tell on me. Good night—er, rather, good morning, Sir Kenyon and Major Leighton, and—er—Mr. Nash."
Tired as I was and late—or early—as was the hour, I slept little, for my mind was filled with what I had witnessed and was busy planning the campaign to follow. Of course, the most essential and all-important matter was to manufacture tens of thousands of the ray-producing devices. But here we were, literally up a tree, as the Americans say. Nash himself hadn't the most remote idea of how the ray was produced or the chemicals used in its production. It was in fact, a secret known only to his friend, Johnson, and Johnson was in
It would be at least four days before he could arrive, but the time would not be entirely wasted by any means. Although we did not know the secrets of the ray, for we dared not permit Johnson to divulge them over the telephone or by any other form of message that might be intercepted, yet the mechanical portions of the device were obvious, and orders had been issued for every available factory to commence immediately the production of such parts of the apparatus as could be duplicated, and to work night and day to full capacity.
By the time Johnson arrived we had a stupendous supply of the devices completed and all ready and waiting for the installation of the ray-producing materials. Fortunately there was an abundant supply of the necessary chemicals and minerals on hand, and two days after Johnson reached
In one way this made the installation of our destructive ray machine easier, but on the other hand, it made the work more difficult, a seemingly paradoxical statement to be sure, but plain enough when one comes to think of it. As we could feel reasonably certain that none of the things would descend near the large cities or in their suburbs, we could leave such areas unprotected. In fact, as General Brassington pointed out, to bring down or to explode such of the ships as might be passing over a city en route elsewhere would be highly dangerous to the city and its inhabitants. On the other hand, the fact that no two ever landed in the same spot made it impossible for us to foresee where the next ones would appear.
Of course, this problem was a problem only during those few days when our supply of ray machines was limited. But within a very short time we had so many thousands of the devices that a complete screen of invisible rays was spread over the entire southern half of
BUT despite the tremendous success of the rays and their inestimable value as a protection to our country and our people, still it did not get at the root of the matter, the question of whence came the damnable black dirigibles with their frightful cargoes, the solution of the mystery of the identity of the enemy who had resorted to the diabolical plan of destroying a nation. I mentioned this to Sir Kenyon one day and asserted that, in my opinion, more energetic steps should be taken to determine who was our invisible and unknown enemy.
For a time he remained silent, deep in thought, pondering on the matter, his bushy brows drawn together, his fingers tapping on the desk before him.
Finally he glanced up, smiled and lit a cigar. "Possibly, Major Leighton, you are not fully cognizant of all that transpires in my department," he observed. "In fact," he continued, "I should consider I had completely failed in my duty and in the trust reposed in me if you, or anyone else, knew all or even a small portion of what took place in the department under my supervision. But I am now in a position to assure you that we are very near the point of descending upon the arch-enemy—or better, the arch-fiend—who has brought this dire calamity upon England, but which, thanks to God and our loyal people and—yes, I must not forget them—those two remarkable young Americans, Nash and Johnson, has not succeeded to the extent our enemy expected, and which, I trust, will soon be nullified completely.
"Try and think, Major, what enemy it could be. What enemy have we who could have put this horrible idea into practice? What enemy has reason to wish to reduce our man-power, to so disrupt our organization at home that we could not defend our possessions, much less dream of sending expeditionary forces elsewhere, could not even fulfill international pledges as allies nor give heed to matters transpiring overseas? What country possesses helium gas? What enemy could secure thousands, tens of thousands of negroes for his hellish purpose? Use a process of elimination and see if you cannot answer some of those questions, Major Leighton."
I racked my brains. "Obviously it is a tropical country whence the ships come," I replied. "Evidently some spot inhabited by a tremendous negroid population. Only two localities on earth, as far as known, possess helium gas in any quantities—the
Sir Kenyon smiled. "In the game of policies and politics there are endless wheels within wheels," he informed me. "Andaya, to be sure, is a tiny principality, a buffer state, as we might say, with limited resources and, as you say, tucked away in the heart of
"My God!" I exclaimed. "Then it must be Andaya! But why haven't you crushed the damnable place, taken possession of it and put a stop to these accursed attacks long ago?"
Sir Kenyon smiled condescendingly. "We had to be positive of our deductions and suspicions," he explained. "And to send properly equipped and competent spies to Andaya, and to receive their reports, requires time. You, as an officer of our Air Force will undoubtedly think: why not send planes and see what is going on? But you forget that at the first sign of a plane the Andayans would have become suspicious, and it is reasonable to assume that if they are capable of producing radio-propelled and directed aircraft that travel faster than our fastest planes, they undoubtedly possess air vessels that could overtake and destroy any planes we possess. Moreover, our government desired to get at the bottom of it, to secure evidence of the master mind of the underhanded attacks, and to be in a position to take drastic measures that for all time would prevent the suspected Power from carrying out its dreams of dominating Europe and—eventually—the world. But the end is very near. Within the next twenty-four hours, I expect to hear that Andaya is in the hands of the British troops and that the Power that ever since the World War has been a menace to the peace of the world, will be trembling and cringing in the face of the demands of England and the United States."
By Gen. Sir Edward Brassington, Bart.
I HAVE perused with a great deal of interest the various accounts of the sequence of events that transpired during those black weeks when England appeared to be at the mercy of an unknown, inhuman and dastardly foe intent upon destroying our population by the most diabolical means ever devised by man. In the main, the statements by Doctor Grayson, by Major Leighton, by Inspector Maidstone and the others are so accurate, so concise and yet so comprehensive that I can discover nothing omitted that is of any real interest or consequence. But in reading over the extraordinary statement of James—no, "Jimmy"—Nash, I have found more amusement than I have ever obtained from a perusal of my beloved Punch. Never, 'pon my word, have I met such an extraordinary young man. And the statement he has written is so typical of himself that I would not, for worlds, alter a single word or line. Really, he has been a revelation. In the first instance, I had always pictured the American of his type—that is the—er, well, I might say, flippant young type—as only too willing to toot his own tooter, to aggrandize himself, so to speak. But Jimmy, by Jove, is the most modest and retiring chap I ever came across. Why, the young scalawag doesn't even mention that he was knighted, that he and his partner, as he called him— Johnson, no, Sir Robert Johnson, were given such an ovation as England seldom bestows upon any man, that they were the idols of the Empire, that they were received by His Majesty and showered with every possible honor. And, really, I chuckle to myself even now, as I think of it, when, in order to express in some manner the obligation that England felt towards him, I, as his most intimate acquaintance and mentor, was requested to inquire what position he would care to accept, what do you suppose the extraordinary chap said? He wanted the appointment as Court Photographer, by Jove! And he got it.
Of course it is unnecessary to state that Johnson's process of television is now in universal use and has brought both its inventor and Sir James Nash immense fortunes. Neither is it essential that I should recall the events that followed closely upon the successful establishment of the Johnson ray screen over afflicted
I do not think—I have not the exact figures available —that two hundred persons altogether became infected with any of the diseases to such an extent that lasting ill effects followed; and I know positively that not fifty cases of insanity or death resulted.
Taken altogether, the casualties resulting from the attacks were far under what might have been expected. To be sure the total number of deaths amounted to more than fifty thousand, but despite the appalling figure, economically—that is in proportion to the entire population—the loss of human lives was insignificant.
But, most gratifying of all, neither