By A. Hyatt Verrill
Author of "The Astounding Discoveries of Dr. Mentiroso,”"Into the Green Prism,” etc.
Illustrated by MOREY
From Amazing Stories 1930 June – Digitized by Doug Frizzle 2007
WHAT is gravitation? Where does the earth's gravitation cease? Does it end abruptly—as though there were a gravitational wall to shut it in at some certain distance from our earth? In short, what do we know about gravitation? Very little, except its effects; its cause may be defined as the presence of matter. But why does matter produce it? It may be that if ever we find out what it is all about, some effective method for annihilating gravitation may be found. On the other hand, it may be that the secret of gravitation may be discovered only after some annihilating process is found. Mr. Verrill gives us here an extraordinary tide dealing with this theme, in which he tells about vortices that develop a strange phenomenon—the local annihilation of gravitation. And he gives us ingenious suggestions that simulate plausibility and proof.
CHAPTER I A Dual Personality
THOUGH we may not always realize the fact, men with dual personalities are many. Not necessarily Jekyll and Hyde characters; yet men with two natures as distinct and opposed to each other as were the two sides of the famed Doctor Jekyll. Many a man, counted by those who know him best as miserly and selfish, secretly gives great fortunes to charity. Many a man who professes to be an agnostic or even an atheist contributes to missions and builds churches, and many an old rounder who spends nights in riotous living is a staid, dry-as-dust scientist in his home town or among those who know him. Indeed, I truly believe that every man and woman possesses this duality of personalities—that in all of us there is a constant struggle for supremacy between two individualities, and that it is only a matter of degree or perhaps of self-control, or maybe fear, that differentiates those whose one personality dominates and those whose two personalities have equal play.
Such a man was my old friend Sir Esme McDonald. To the world at large, to the press, even to the majority of his most intimate friends, and most certainly to his matter-of-fact business associates, Sir Esme was a millionaire dilettante; a good sportsman, a high-living Scotch laird with thousands of acres of shooting in the Trossachs, a castle near Wirling, a fine ocean-going steam yacht on the Clyde, a hunting and a manor-house in the Midlands, and an ugly, curtain-windowed mansion just off Berkeley Square.
A fine figure of a man well over six feet, broad-shouldered, sturdy as one of his own beeches; florid-faced, active, energetic, keen-eyed—Sir Esme was the best type of Briton; reserved, hospitable, with the easy quiet assurance that only generations of breeding can produce; intense in his likes and his dislikes, a steadfast friend and, with his intimates, loquacious, enthusiastic, and unreserved. Yet I doubt if among all his friends there were more than a dozen who knew or suspected anything of his other personality. And I am sure that, aside from myself, not three of Sir Esme's most intimate friends—no, not even members of his own family—were aware of the prominent place he occupied in the scientific world; the remarkable discoveries he had made, the innumerable monographs and scientific articles he had written, nor that Sir Esme McDonald, Bart, was identical with Alexander Macdonald, the internationally known scientist.
One might have visited his Scotch castle, his Midlands home, his London residence, and nowhere, from cellars to roofs, have found a trace of any scientific instruments, scientific books or any object that would have led one to suspect that the millionaire, sporting laird was the least bit interested in anything save shooting, hunting, golf, fishing, horse racing and yachting. The books that filled the shelves of his libraries were the most expensive first editions and editions de luxe; his galleries were hung with priceless paintings by the most famous of old masters and modern artists. There were prints of sporting scenes, wild animal trophies, yachting, polo, racing and hunting cups and ribbons; mounted heads of deer, antelope, wild goats, buffalo, ibex and countless other antlered and horned beasts; stuffed record-breaking salmon, trout and deep-sea fish; there were albino pheasants, grouse, capercailzie and other game birds in cases, but never a retort, a telescope, a microscope nor an electrical or chemical device was in evidence.
Yet, tucked away in an old Georgian house off Earl's Court was perhaps the most perfectly equipped physical, chemical and electrical laboratory in the British Empire. The upper story housed three magnificent telescopes with complete astronomical photographic apparatus, celestial charts and every appliance known to modern astronomers—as well as to the ancients—with many that no one, aside from their owner and inventor, had ever seen. And here—when Sir Esme disappeared from his castle, his city home or his business for days or weeks (as he often did) or when he vanished for a night, Alexander Macdonald might be found, working over some new theory, carrying on involved and bewildering experiments in physics or chemistry, or studying the heavens.
Why Sir Esme should have taken me into his confidence, as he took few others, I cannot say with certainty. Possibly it was because, being an American, he felt that my status was different from that of any British friend; perhaps it was because of my extremely liberal views on much mooted scientific questions; or again it may have been because we were mutual friends of Dr. Thomson, who, I believe, shared Sir Esme's secret. But I prefer to think that it was solely because Sir Esme had implicit faith and trust in me and—I say it without egotism— because from the moment we met there sprang up a most intimate and delightful friendship.
If there is anything in the theory of auras or of magnetism between fellow men, then most assuredly Sir Esme's and my auras must have blended perfectly, for never have I taken such an instantaneous liking for any man and, as he himself admitted, Sir Esme took as great and as unaccountable a liking for me. Yet it was a longtime after we first met before he revealed the fact that he led a dual life, and that he was, to the scientific world, Alexander Macdonald. Possibly he might never have let me into his secret had we not, during a conversation, touched on a matter on which we both held very unorthodox views. As it was not a scientific matter and has nothing to do with this story there is no occasion for going into details. Suffice it to say that Sir Esme held very pronounced views in the course of the argument— in which, however, we agreed in many ways—he let slip a hint of a profound scientific knowledge that amazed me. In fact, I expressed my amazement that he, whose interests were so far outside those of scientists, should quote science and should be so familiar with matters usually known only to them. He seemed a bit put out for a moment, flushed, stammered and then with a hearty laugh declared he would astonish me still more, if, on an appointed evening, I would call at a certain house in Earl's Court.
Needless to say, when I was admitted by a sphinx-faced, gray-haired butler and led to a library or study that was redolent of science, I found Sir Esme in person. No, I cannot say in person, for he seemed to have altered his appearance with his personality. No longer was he the bluff, out-of-doors sportsman or the immaculately clad clubman. Instead, I saw a dignified, serious-faced man with slightly stooping shoulders, clad in a denim smock, with low-toned voice, who appeared far more like a college professor than a hard-riding, hard-shooting Scotch laird.
OF our first evening together, or of many subsequent evenings that we spent in his laboratories or his observatory, there is no need to speak, other than to state that I found the scientist, Alexander Macdonald, one of the most remarkable of men and possessing a most profound knowledge of nearly every branch of science. Astronomy was a hobby, chemistry a fad, physics a means to an end, but his obsession was electro-magnetism, or, to be exact, a force, which he claimed to have discovered, and fwhich had been confused with electro-magnetic force by all other investigators. As he put it, in trying to make his meaning clear to me, the new force bore much the same relation to electro-magnetic force as radium bears to uranium. And according to his theory, as borne out by his exhaustive researches and experiments, this force, which he alone had isolated, was the fundamental force that controlled the universe.
"It is," he declared long after our first meeting, "the force that, since the days of Newton, has been erroneously called gravitation. Scientists for years have been endeavoring to fit Sir Isaac's theory to actual facts or vice versa, but without success. Hundreds—I might even say thousands, of theories have been advanced, yet in every case these theories have failed to explain every condition. All have been wrong, yet in a measure—in some respects—all have been right, for the fact remains that there is such a thing as gravitation. Yet as man has been groping in the dark he has been woefully handicapped, and as is the case in so many branches of science, he has deduced theories to fit his own ideas or assumptions. Why, my dear sir, consider how universal is the belief that the solar system is built up on a basis of the attraction of gravitation; that, should our earth—any of the planets, in fact—move within the so-called radius of the Sim's gravitational attraction, we, or they, would be drawn to the sun; that an object projected into space beyond the earth's gravitational 'pull' would fly, let us say, to the moon. Yet can anyone, any scientist, offer a rational common sense explanation of why the various planets remain at their exact and proper distances apart?
Can anyone give a sane and sensible reason for the heavenly bodies rotating and following their orbits without being 'drawn' together? Can anyone explain why the supposed 'attraction' of our earth remains constant at any height from its surface that man has ever attained?" He laughed, "Where, may we ask these theorists, does the earth's 'gravitation' cease? Does it end abruptly—like a gravitational wall—at some certain distance from our earth? Does the man, the object that drops from a balloon or an airplane at twenty thousand feet in air, drop any more slowly? Does he feel less gravitational 'pull' than if he dropped from a height of five hundred or one hundred feet?"
I confess I could find no reply to these posers, but not being an expert in physics and never having given much thought to the phenomenon of gravitation. I could do little more than listen and admit my ignorance as well as my open mind.
But as we became better acquainted, and as Sir Esme, no, Alexander, gained more confidence and found an outlet for his pent-up and restrained scientific ardor in talking with me, I became not only intensely interested but absolutely amazed. And who could avoid being amazed if he should see a lump of lead when tossed in air remain poised midway between floor and ceiling? No, more. If he should actually see the metal move up and down, to right or left at will? And yet precisely that feat I witnessed with my own eyes in my friend's laboratory.
"But, good Lord!" I exclaimed, "you've conquered the air. If you can do that you can build an airship that will float anywhere, that can move in any direction, that cannot fall. Why on earth don't you make practical use of your discovery? Why not give it to the world?"
He smiled, and shook his head. . "No," he declared, "you are mistaken, and instead of benefitting the world, my discovery, if made public at this time, might result in irreparable damages—perhaps even in the annihilation of mankind. I have not 'conquered the air' as you put it. I have merely discovered the force that controls gravitation. I—"
"But," I objected, "I have always understood that if it were possible to overcome gravitation, to the extent of permitting a body to remain suspended in space, it would only be necessary to let the earth rotate on its axis while the floating object remained stationary in order to travel at a speed of approximately one thousand miles an hour without means of propulsion."
Sir Esme—no, Alexander Macdonald—burst into a peal of laughter. "What tommy-rot!" he cried good naturedly. "In the first place, my friend, the object—let us say the machine—even if relieved of the effect, or partially relieved, of the effect of gravitation, would still be in the earth's atmosphere, and as the atmosphere rotates with the earth, your floating airship would move with the air and would remain poised over the same spot on the earth's surface. And—"
"But suppose it floated in space—above the atmosphere?" I argued.
He snorted a bit contemptuously. "Even if that were possible—which it is not, owing to a dozen reasons I could present—your machine would not remain poised and stationary while the earth revolved beneath it. That is, not unless the gravitation was cut off over the entire surface of the earth, in which case everything would fly off and join your floating ship. And that, my friend, is why I say my discovery might prove a curse instead of a blessing. I can eliminate or perhaps better counteract the gravitation, for as a matter of fact the force I have isolated acts from the outer space downward or rather inward instead of from the earth outward as everyone has assumed. I can, I say, manipulate this force to a certain extent, as far as it affects any small body of certain substances, among which is lead. Possibly I can best make my meaning clear by comparing my newly discovered force to a beam of light.
"By means of a convex lens a beam of sunlight may be concentrated upon an object—let us say a bit of lead-so that the metal will melt, yet outside that concentrated beam the sunlight has no such effect upon other bits of lead. In other words, by means of my apparatus I can prevent a ray or a beam of force from acting upon a certain object, although everywhere about it—outside the sphere of effect of my apparatus—the force remains unchanged and objects remain in situ. And above a certain distance from the earth's surface my apparatus fails to control the force, just as the lens would fail to concentrate the light beam beyond its proper and established focus."
"Mmm," I mused, "I think I understand; but I saw you move the lead to right and left. Why can't you carry it a bit farther and move it to any extent? And why shouldn't your apparatus be set up in an airship and thus be used to nullify gravitation as it proceeds, even if it were compelled to remain at a fixed distance above the earth?"
Sir Esme smiled condescendingly. "All very well in theory," he said, "but not in practice. The effect of my device is—well, I might say, to create a hole in the gravitational force. If the apparatus were placed in a vessel as you suggest, this 'hole' would extend not only downward towards the earth but upward as well, and the result would be that your ship and its apparatus would remain in statu quo; in other words the reversed effect on one side would counteract the effect on the opposite side. In fact, I am not at all sure that the object might not be completely disintegrated; I must try that experiment. No, my dear sir, in order to operate, my device must be placed on the surface of the earth, and even then it must be insulated by means of an alloy I have discovered. And like many inventions and discoveries, this one is only successful on a small scale. I can raise that half pound piece of lead as you see; but I cannot budge a mass weighing ten pounds."
"Why can't you increase the power of your machine in proportion to the weight of the object?" I asked him,
He shook his head. "No use" he declared positively. "I've tried it and it doesn't work. No, the whole thing is in its experimental stage and it's a beastly dangerous thing to experiment with, unless the greatest care is used. If it were made public some consummate ass might succeed in eliminating gravitation over a considerable area. Think of the result in that case!"
"Well it's darned weird—downright uncanny," I said, staring at the bit of lead still poised midway between the table and ceiling. "And it seems to me there must be some use—some value to it."
"Eventually perhaps," he agreed, "but it would amaze you and many other laymen if you knew how many astonishing scientific discoveries are made, which are relegated to the limbo of forgotten things, merely because they cannot be put to any useful or valuable purpose. I could name dozens. In fact I have personally made dozens of such discoveries. But mainly they are made by scientists employed, by commercial firms who take no interest in any scientific discovery that fails to fulfill their requirements."
"Yes," I observed, "I suppose that's true. I've heard others say the same thing; but it seems to me this is a really big, an astonishing thing. And you said yourself it upset all existing theories and might revolutionize physics and other sciences."
He nodded. "Quite so," he agreed. "But"—with a sigh—"what use is revolution unless something is gained thereby? However—" he paused and gazed contemplatively at the floating piece of lead—"somehow I have a feeling, a hunch as you Americans would express it, that there is something back of it, that I am on the eve of a great discovery; a great truth that will startle the world."
''I should say that the discovery you have already made is quite startling enough," I told him.
CHAPTER II Harvey, an Enigma
SIR ESME'S lapses into his scientific personality-were very irregular, and often, for weeks at a time, the Earl's Court laboratory was dark and deserted and to all intents and purposes Alexander Macdonald ceased to exist. Again, Sir Esme McDonald would vanish quite as completely as if the earth had swallowed him up, and for days or weeks he would be lost to the world as he buried himself in his scientific researches. As I never knew when he would be at his laboratory, and as I had no wish to intrude myself upon him, it had been agreed that when he was in the Earl's Court house and wished my companionship, he would notify me. Among his other idiosyncrasies was a detestation of the telephone that amounted almost to a mania. Although for business and other reasons phones were necessary in his home, or rather in his various homes, he never permitted the instruments to be within his sight or hearing and never used them himself.
It was a long time before I learned the reason for this seemingly unreasonable prejudice against telephones, and I was at a total loss to account for such an apparently ridiculous attitude on the part of a man of Sir Esme's character and mentality until a mutual friend explained. Sir Esme's only son, the heir to his fortune and his title, (the Baronet was a widower) had been instantly killed in an airplane accident, and the tragic news' had been communicated to him by telephone. The shock was, of course, overwhelming, and I could well understand why, after such a harrowing experience, he could not bear the instruments that were constant reminders of the tragedy, and I could not blame him for his attitude. I mention this fact because it had a rather important bearing on the events that I am about to relate. Owing to this feeling on the part of my friend, it had been arranged that he should communicate with me through his man, Harvey, the old and trusted retainer who had admitted me to the Earl's Court laboratory on the occasion of my first visit to that place.
Harvey was a most remarkable personage, and as he played an important role in our adventures, a few words in regard to him are essential.
HE was, I should say, a man of sixty, about Sir Esme's own age, and had been picked up, lashed to a rude raft of wreckage in mid-ocean, by Sir Esme, who was cruising on his yacht. When rescued, the castaway had been unconscious. For days he had hovered on the verge of death, and when he eventually recovered his health and strength, his mind, as far as his past was concerned, was a total blank. He could not recall his own name, the name of the vessel that had gone down, how the accident occurred nor any other detail of the past. In vain Sir Esme and innumerable specialists tried to restore the man's lost memory, to reawaken his mind. To him life began with the hour of his recovery aboard the Loch Lovern, Sir Esme's ocean-going yacht, a splendid five-masted bark, for Sir Esme was a true sailor and had no use for steam.
But that the man had been at sea or was a seaman was soon evident. He seemed instinctively to know the name and location of every line, sheet, brace and halyard aboard the yacht; he could navigate, and every now and then flashes of past knowledge and experiences would come to him, surprising himself as much as others. For example: on one occasion, as the yacht was making a strange port, he cautioned the sailing-master to keep a trifle more to starboard as there was an unmarked rock on the port side of the channel. Another time, when running for shelter under double-reefed topsails in a typhoon, he declared that a safe harbor and secure anchorage lay behind a wooded point
At times, also, he exhibited a knowledge of matters and of an education that had no place in a seaman or a ship's officer, and that puzzled Sir Esme tremendously. Not that he could converse on such matters nor discuss them intelligently or at length. They were mere flickers, unconscious or perhaps better, subconscious, glimmers of things familiar to him in his former existence; fleeting memories gone almost as soon as they were formed. The naming of some strange bird, beast or plant; a reference to some important date or event of the past, a quotation from some classic or poem, the mention of some person or place, and on one occasion, when Sir Esme was puzzling over an abstruse mathematical problem of astronomy, the factor by which the problem was solved. He was, in fact, a man of mystery, and Sir Esme, as well as Harvey himself (a name he had taken by choice) had devoted days and weeks to searching the lists of crews and passengers on all vessels that had been wrecked or reported missing at the time when he had been picked up. No one who answered Harvey's description had been lost so far as could be determined, and the only vessel that had disappeared with all on board, and of which no complete list of passengers—if she carried any—and crew was obtainable, was the Santa Ines, Spanish vessel plying between Vigo and the Canaries and which, by no possibility, could have been within a thousand miles of the spot where Harvey had been found adrift upon his bit of wreckage.
It is almost impossible for a normal man to fully realize what Harvey's condition meant in life. He was like an infant transformed by magic to a fully developed man, like an untutored savage whisked by a miracle into the midst of civilization. Everything, even the commonest everyday matters were, to his mind, absolutely new, although I must qualify that statement somewhat. Though he could recall nothing of his past, though his life and world began—as far as his consciousness went—on the Loch Lovern, yet certain features of his past remained. He could read and write; he spoke several European languages fluently, and in his educational attainments he was the equal of the average high school boy. But such matters, as well as his knowledge of everyday affairs, food, clothes, behavior, etc., seemed instinctive. So, too, although he could not recall ever having seen them, railway trains, motor cars, all the modernities of our civilization seemed perfectly natural to him. But dates, events, the World War, the most important occurrences prior to his rescue, were absolutely unknown. At first he had been very sensitive in regard to his condition, he had avoided other men—though fairly worshiping Sir Esme —and had consequently developed a taciturnity, a shell of aloofness, of silence and of impassivity that surrounded and enveloped him like a coat of mail. Even to Sir Esme he was inarticulate.
He had insisted from the first upon being Sir Esme's servant, his very shadow. It was hopeless for the Baronet to attempt to dissuade him.
And as he was at a distinct disadvantage among the other servants on Sir Esme's estate or in his various establishments, the Baronet hit upon the plan of taking him, into his confidence, installing him as the sole servant in the secret laboratory and making Harvey the valet, butler, care-taker, guardian, assistant and general factotum of Alexander Macdonald.
He felt that with Harvey the secret of his dual personality was safe, and Harvey seemed to accept the anomalous condition of his master as perfectly natural. He never addressed the Baronet or referred to him as Sir Esme or My Lord. Always it was "Sir" or "Mr. Macdonald" or "Mr. Alexander!" And to Sir Esme's amazement, Harvey, without any instructions or suggestions, had been perfectly at home among the delicate and complicated scientific devices and apparatus in the laboratory and observatory. As though he had all his life been quite accustomed to such things, he knew the purpose, the use of everything, and when, out of curiosity and as a test, the Baronet—or as I should call him Alexander—gave him permission to make use of the equipment, he discovered to his utter astonishment that the memory-dead man possessed a subconscious and quite inexplicable knowledge of the sciences that was almost equal to his own. The thing was the more amazing as Harvey could not himself give any explanation of why or how he did this, that or the other. To him the word electron meant nothing, yet like an automaton or a man under hypnotic influence he produced a device by which he secured a photographic record of an electronic flow on a metal disc. When Sir Esme—no, Alexander—mentioned the constellation Aries, Harvey's face was a blank, yet he readily and unhesitatingly adjusted the telescope to precise position to bring Aries into the field of vision.
"He is the most amazing person in the world, really!" Sir Esme declared, when he told me of Harvey's history. "He must have been a man of the highest attainments in general science yet, as far as conscious knowledge is concerned, he is ignorant of the very rudiments of science. Do you know, I would really give a great deal if I possessed a knowledge of psychology, so I could devote myself to studying him. It is for all the world as if he were living in a dream—acting, moving, carrying on while asleep, yet talking, behaving, living his ordinary life as though wide awake."
But though I forbore to say so, for I was not quite sure of my friend's psychological condition or his knowledge of his own dual personality, Harvey to my mind was no greater mystery than his master. The one possessed two distinct personalities, each conscious, while the other possessed two egos the one conscious and the other sub-conscious. For that matter I was not, and even yet am not quite sure if the Baronet was fully conscious of the existence of his two selves. Never, while he was Alexander Macdonald, did he refer to Sir Esme McDonald save as another and wholly distinct individual. Even when he was telling me of Harvey's history he did not speak in the first person, but narrated the story exactly as if telling of some other man's experiences. He did not say "I picked him up at sea." He said, "He was picked up by Sir Esme McDonald." And when my friend was in the role of Sir Esme, never did he refer by so much as a word or a hint to Alexander Macdonald, the scientist. So, after all, perhaps of the two men, Sir Esme was the most amazing.
But to go back to where I stated that it had been agreed that Sir Esme—yes, I shall refer to him as Sir Esme—was to notify me that he would welcome my company at his laboratory.
It was several weeks after I had witnessed his amazing experiment with the bit of lead when Harvey rang my bell and announced that "Mr. Alexander" wished to see me at the Earl's Court house.
"Very well, Harvey," I said. "Tell him I'll be over in an hour or so. I have an appointment to meet some friends leaving Victoria station at ten. Then I'll go direct to the laboratory."
Harvey hesitated a moment, his sphinx-like face betraying nothing. Then; with a typical butler's cough. "I beg your pardon, sir," he said. "But I would suggest that you should come at once, sir. I—well, sir, to tell the truth, Mr. Alexander seemed greatly excited, sir, and most anxious for you to join him at the earliest possible opportunity, sir. I trust you will not consider me presumptuous, sir, but if you could find it convenient to see my master first, sir, and to keep your appointment later, sir, I would advise it, sir."
Now, never before had Harvey made such a long speech. Never had he offered a suggestion as to my or Sir Esme's actions, and I felt sure that some most important matter indeed must be afoot to have caused him to speak as he had. So, filled with intense curiosity to learn what had excited my friend and why my presence was so essential, I scrapped all my prearranged plans, stopped only long enough to phone my departing friends that I would be unable to see them off, and with Harvey, hurried to the Earl's Court laboratory.
CHAPTER III Positive Signs of Success
HARVEY had not exaggerated. Sir Esme was more than excited; in fact for a moment I feared that something serious had happened, that he was ill or deranged. He was wild-eyed, his hair was dishevelled, and he was pacing nervously, excitedly, up and down the hallway, puffing furiously at a huge pipe, and muttering, exclaiming to himself. But at my entrance he wheeled. His eyes lit up with pleased recognition. The next instant he was almost forcing me down the hallway and into his library.
"Thank heaven you're here!" he cried. If Id been compelled to keep this to myself much longer I would have gone mad. I must tell someone, and you're the only one I could think of, could depend upon, could trust. By Gad, no one else would believe it! But you—" he laughed hoarsely—"you're no scientist, so you'll believe. Your mind is open—free of hide-bound prejudice. Yet I can't yet believe it myself. It's too big; it has too many possibilities, and—damn it all, it's too uncanny!"
Each moment he was getting more and more excited. While excitement in some men might seem quite natural, in the case of Sir Esme, the most unemotional, unexcitable man I had ever known, this feverish, nervous excitement seemed almost terrible.
"What is it? What's the trouble?" I asked him.
He laughed, hoarsely; almost, I might say drunkenly. "I hardly dare tell even you," he declared. "It sounds too preposterous, and when I have told you, and if you believe it, you won't wonder I'm almost mad; in fact I do not blame you in the least if you think I am mad." Then, with a great effort calming himself: "It has to do with that same force," he said. "I've been experimenting, testing, but it was Harvey who gave me the real idea, the real suggestion—Harvey and you, my friend. Really I take no credit whatever for it. I—”
"The old story of fools rushing in, eh!" I laughed.
"Not fools," he retorted. "Harvey's no fool and—"
"I am," I interrupted.
He chuckled in the old way, and I thanked heaven his unnatural excitement had vanished. "Not a bit of it, by Jove!" he declared. "The scientists are the fools. But seriously, do you recall your remarks about my discovery? About objects flying off into space and so on?"
"And do you remember that I stated that I could lift an object only a certain distance? That I could lift only objects of definite weights? That my apparatus operated upon or repelled the force for only a certain distance, and over a definite, restricted area?"
Again I assented.
"I was the fool," he exclaimed. "But Harvey brought me to my senses. He was watching my experiments and muttered as if to himself 'vortex.' 'What do you mean?' I demanded. Poor Harvey winked his eyes, gulped and seemed to come out of a trance. He didn't even know he'd spoken. Then suddenly, like an inspiration it came to me. Vortex! Whirlpools! Whirlwinds! Like a flash I understood! The force I had discovered, the force that was the real source of gravitation, when repelled by my device acted like a vortex—a whirlpool—but a reversed vortex. Do you understand? Do you see? My instrument represented the apex, the point of the vortex, a disturbance of the force, that spread out like a cone as it ascended, like—well, like any other ray, like the beam thrown by a searchlight. You remember I compared my force to a beam of light when I showed you the floating piece of lead—" he laughed—"but 1 had no idea, no conception at that time of the exactness of my simile. And just as a ray, a beam of light—for that matter just as sound—thins out, becomes weak, in ratio to the square of the length of its radius from its origin, so this force or the area—the base of the inverted cone of influence— or the interrupted force I created, became thinner, fainter, less powerful in ratio to the square of the distance from its origin and its angle of—well, I might say focus. No wonder my lead rose to a definite height and remained there. No wonder I could not lift an object exceeding a certain weight. I—"
"Hold on!" I ejaculated. "You're getting too involved for me to follow. I grasp the cone idea, but I don't see why, if you used greater power or force or a larger apparatus or whatever you may call it, the cone or vortex would not be proportionately increased in force and hence a larger weight would be lifted to a greater height."
"Ah, but my dear sir, that was just the trouble," cried Sir Esme. "When I increased my power, as you call it, I merely created a more widely diffused disturbance of the force. It was analogous to using a more powerful light in the searchlight but also using a wider distributing lens. There is greater light to be sure, but it is spread by the lens to a wider angle and throws a beam no farther than the smaller light with the smaller lens."
I SHOOK my head in despair. "Now let me get this straight," I begged him. "One moment you compare your force, no, the area wherein the force is nullified, to a vortex or a cone. But the next moment you state that the objects affected rise or move away from the apex of the vortex. I thought, in the case of vortices, everything was drawn from the edges into the apex."
Sir Esme gazed at me pityingly and I knew he thought me the fool he had once denied me to be. But he was very patient, now that he had relieved his pent-up feelings by discussing the matter with me.
"I didn't intend to convey the idea that the affected area—the force-vacuum as I might express it, was rotating, whirling like a true vortex," he explained, "I have no reason to assume or to think that there is any such movement taking place. No, the very reverse is the case; the object affected is the moving object. Have you—of course you must have witnessed the feat of a motorcyclist driving at top speed around and around the interior of an inverted, conical track. Or, to put it even more simply, you know that a sharp curve on a road should always be banked. You must be familiar with so-called centrifugal forces, the tendency of a moving object to slide off to one side when traveling in a circle. That is what occurs when I operate my repelling device. The object affected races about the invisible circumference of the inverted cone of force-vacuum and so mounts upward, just as the motorcyclist rises swiftly towards the top of his conical enclosure. But—"
"But—" I interrupted him. "The lead most certainly did not move. It remained stationary. It rose straight up."
"I beg your pardon, but it most assuredly did not," he declared. "To your eyes, to mine it appeared to do so. But the human eye is incapable of registering motion beyond a certain—and very moderate—speed, just as the human ear cannot register sound above or below certain limits of vibratory waves." "You mean to say—" I began, but he checked me with a gesture.
"Exactly," he cried. "You cannot see a rifle ball passing through the air. You cannot distinguish the individual spokes of a rapidly moving wheel, yet you must have observed that in motion pictures the spokes of a wheel on a moving motor car often appear to be stationary or to move in the reverse direction. And if a disk or a ball is rotated extremely rapidly no human eye can determine whether it is stationary or is rotating. In this cast; —"
"Granted that I might not detect its motion if rotating on its own axis, I assuredly would have seen it if it had moved about the circumference of the cone-like area," I argued, "For had it moved about with sufficient speed to have rendered its travel invisible, the object itself would have been invisible."
Sir Esme chuckled. "Your reasoning is remarkable for a non-scientific man," he told me, "but you forget, or perhaps I forgot to state, that the cone of force-vacuum is so small—its diameter so small—that your argument does not hold. The diameter of the cone of affected space is, at the limit reached by the object, precisely that of the object, or at the most, only slightly larger than, the object itself. The moment the object attains to that point it mounts no higher. Consequently, as it races madly—probably thousands of times a second —around the circumference of a cone no larger than itself, it practically rotates upon its own axis and hence to our eyes it appears to be stationary. Ah, I know, for I very foolishly touched the piece of lead while poised in air and the thing shot off with centrifugal force with the speed and power of a bullet. Why, by jove, it smashed two beakers to atoms and penetrated an inch of deals! Thank God it had the good sense to fly away from me, or my experiments would have ended then and there."
"Hmm," I observed. "But why doesn't the thing rise higher—up to the limits of the cone of—er, what you call force-vacuum?"
Sir Esme shook his head. "I am not quite certain myself," he admitted, "but I think it is because the friction or the resistance is greater than the lifting power of the affected area. It is in a reverse way somewhat akin to the phenomenon of a falling body. Theoretically, a falling body should increase its speed as it drops—that is, the farther it falls the faster it should fall, but as a matter of fact, owing to friction and resistance of the atmosphere, its speed, after a definite fall is reached, remains constant. But that, my friend, is where I have made the great discovery, the discovery that so excited me."
"Good Lord!" I exclaimed, "I thought what you have just told me was the discovery. You don't mean to tell me there is more coming!"
"This is merely the beginning," he assured me. "The real discovery came through a device by which the focus, if I may so term it, of the repellent area was intensified— exactly as you or I or anyone can focus the lens of a lantern or a stereopticon. And by increasing the focus or the intensity of my repellent beam as the object ascends, I can send the thing racing upward for an indefinite distance—for all I know into space itself."
"Then you could project a vessel or a device into space so the earth would rotate beneath it and the device—the vessel—would, in effect, travel westward at one thousand miles an hour," I exclaimed.
"No," he declared, "that is impossible. The repellent beam would have to follow the object to accomplish that, and the beam is fixed—it is projected straight-radially, from the earth and at right angles to the earth's surface. But—" Sir Esme paused, leaned forward and spoke impressively—"I have discovered a most astonishing and yet logical thing. If an object is lifted by my device to a great height above the earth, it either completely vanishes or returns to the earth at a spot some distance from where it started."
"What!" I ejaculated. "You mean you actually have well—er, blown things into space!"
"I cannot positively say," he replied. "But I do know that, in several instances, objects fell back to earth several feet—even a number of yards from the point where I projected them, while others, projected to a greater height, have never returned."
I laughed. "Pardon me," I cried, "but that does not prove that they actually vanished. In fact your statement that some fell back at a considerable distance from where you sent them soaring indicates to my mind that the others merely descended beyond your sight or hearing. But come, where and when did you make these tests? I'm mighty sorry I could not have seen them."
He grinned boyishly. "I—or rather we, for I must include Harvey—conducted them on Sir Esme McDonald's property in Yorkshire. There is quite a large lake in the midst of the moor—a lonely uninhabited spot—and once I discovered that the objects did not return to their starting point, I made use of the lake in order, if possible, to determine if they descended near and if so at what distances from the apparatus. You see, I thought at first it might be the result of wind or other simple causes. But I soon determined to my entire satisfaction that they fell always northwest of the point of departure, and that the distance varied in exact ratio to the intensity of the nullifying beam employed. So—"
"So that proves my contention," I interrupted. "Those that were sent highest fell proportionately farther away and out of your range."
He shook his head. "I thought so myself—at first," he said. "But the strange feature is this. I adjusted— or I might say graded—the focus so as to project the objects (in this case they were iron cubes) higher and higher by degrees. In each case the cubes fell back in the proper ratio of distances until a certain power or focus was used, whereupon none returned. Now, my dear sir, you must admit that if it was simply a matter of their falling so far distant that they were beyond our ken, there would have been intermediate falls, just as there were intermediate beams used. And—" Sir Esme leaned forward and tapped my knee for emphasis—"a number of the cubes—those that fell farthest away— were partially disintegrated—the corners, the edges were torn away! I am sure—I feel positive that the speed of rotation of the objects increases with the distance reached above the earth, and that at a certain distance the rotation speed becomes so great that the objects are completely disintegrated—blown to atoms. No doubt," he continued, "various substances lose their cohesion at various heights—they must of necessity, as their tensile strengths vary—and I intend to make exhaustive experiments covering this feature."
"Wonderful!" I declared, "but pardon me if I remind you of it. You stated that many wonderful discoveries possessed no real value. And personally I cannot see what value this discovery possesses, if, as you say, a thing is liable to go to pieces, and the most that can be done is to elevate an object and let it drop back to earth."
Sir Esme rose, stuck his hands in his trousers pockets, puffed once or twice at his pipe, and gazed steadily at me from under knitted brows.
"The value is," he announced in level tones, "that the discovery will, unless I am vastly mistaken, solve some of the greatest mysteries that continue to confront the human race."
CHAPTER IV Explaining Mysterious Disappearances
FOR a moment I stared at him, almost convinced that he was not quite himself. Then I laughed. "Of course!" I exclaimed, "the mysteries of gravitation, of why things on this old earth stay 'put' as I might say, the—"
"Nothing of that sort!" he interrupted impatiently— "Mysteries of gravitation, fiddlesticks! The force itself solves that. No, by Gad! what I mean are human mysteries—matters that touch us personally; not any abstruse, scientific piffle, but real, vital, human mysteries such as—well, the mystery of Harvey, for example."
I was absolutely amazed, thunderstruck to hear him, the intensely scientific student, speaking so scathingly of science, to hear him rating human interests higher than scientific truths, and his reference to his discovery solving the mystery of Harvey's past. I was by now almost certain he had become mentally unbalanced; on the other hand I thought it might be only the strain of hard work plus the excitement over his discoveries. He was not the excitable sort and I had never before seen him in his present obviously nervous and keyed-up state. But then such an epochal and revolutionary discovery as he had made was enough to key anyone up to the highest pitch.
"I confess I cannot conceive how your remarkable discovery and your most recent experiments have any bearing on Harvey's case," I said, speaking as if discussing a most ordinary matter. "How can—"
But he did not wait for me to complete my question. "Of course you wouldn't," he cried. "I didn't myself at first. But the reason it will solve the puzzle of his past— just as it will solve other riddles, other mysteries—is because it was the cause of them."
This was almost too much. "Caused the lapse of Harvey's memory!" I ejaculated. "How can that be possible? How can a force—a gravitational vacuum, as you call it—be responsible for the loss of a shipwrecked man's memory? Do you mean that by some mysterious means a human memory is whisked into space like your iron cubes or is shattered into atoms?"
He grinned and I thanked heaven for that grin, for it proved he was still sane and was not as nervously excited as I had thought.
"No, not quite that," he replied. "But—" he moved quickly to a chair, seated himself at his littered desk and reached for a sheet of paper, a pencil and a map that I had noticed lying open on the desk. "Just come here and I'll try to make it all clear to you," he said in quite his normal tones. "Of course," he added, "you think I'm mad as a March hare and I cannot blame you. But as a matter of fact it's all very simple—that is, the solution of the mysteries is simple. I admit the confounded force and the laws that govern it and the formation of those vortices are the very reverse of simple. But now I have the key to them—the fundamental idea as it were, I'm positive I can work out the details. But—well, let us start with Harvey's case. You remember I told you I picked him up at sea—" I started involuntarily and cast a covert glance at my friend, for never before when in his Alexander Macdonald ego, had he referred to himself in the person of Sir Esme. But he appeared oblivious of the slip and of my surprise, for he was busy jotting down figures and marking spots on the map.
"I picked him up right here," he continued, "yet, as you know, I searched all records and am positive that no vessel was wrecked within hundreds of miles of the spot—that is no vessel had been wrecked in that vicinity at that time or near it, and no vessel that by any possibility could have been in the vicinity had been reported as missing. Yet there he was, floating, lashed to a piece of wreckage and unquestionably shipwrecked not more than twenty hours previously—probably not more than three or four hours.
"Yet—" Sir Esme wheeled, his eyes half-shut under his bushy brows and his finger tapping out the words on his palm, "yet I have every reason to think that Harvey, as we know him, was actually wrecked more than one thousand miles distant from the spot where he was picked up!"
"What!" I ejaculated. "Why, why that's impossible! You say he could not have been in the sea more than a few hours and it is manifestly ridiculous to believe he could have drifted a thousand miles from—"
"Ridiculous! Impossible!" he cried, interrupting my words. "A short time ago, if I told you I could utterly eliminate the thing known as weight—that I could cause a lump of lead or a piece of iron to move away from the earth by the elimination of a force hitherto unknown, you would have declared my statements ridiculous and the feat impossible. Now, honestly, am I not right?"
I laughed. "Yes, I presume you are," I admitted. "But this, well, this is different."
"Is it?" he queried, raising his eyebrows. "I do not think so, for I feel convinced that Harvey was transported for more than one thousand miles by the same means by which the cubes of iron used in my tests were shot into the air and transported for considerable distances. In other words, my friend, I believe that, in nature, under certain conditions, in certain places and— thank God—very rarely, gravitational vortices are formed precisely like those my apparatus produces, but on a far larger scale. I do not pretend nor attempt to explain why or how these are formed, I do not have the faintest conception of why they should occur, what produces them, why they are not more common. But I do know that they do occur. And I base that assumption on two basic facts. First, what I know of the phenomena I have artificially produced, and second, because there is no other plausible theory to explain certain occurrences that we know take place and have taken place for ages— as far back as there is history. You have heard of the mystery of the Marie Celeste?" he demanded, suddenly altering his tone and abruptly changing the subject.
I nodded. "Certainly," I replied. "The vessel—a bark I believe—that was found, with all sails set, her boats at the davits, everything in order on board, but without the trace of a living soul."
"And no plausible explanation of the mystery," he observed. "Well, by Jove, the gravitational vortex explains that mystery. And it explains scores of others— the showers of fishes, of frogs so widely reported; whirlwinds, tornadoes, water-spouts. It explains the baffling but authenticated showers of stones in the West Indies and elsewhere, it explains the mysterious, the inexplicable and yet unquestionable disappearances of human beings—the bodily vanishing of men and women; it explains many of the seeming miracles of Biblical and other history; the missing ships and—" he leaned forward and spoke earnestly, impressively—"it explains something, that affects us of today more closely, far more vitally —the tragedies of the air—the airplanes that have vanished, leaving no trace on transoceanic flights, the—" his voice broke—"the crashes, without apparent reasons, that have caused the—the deaths of so many gallant and splendid young men."
FOR a moment he was silent, a pained expression on his face, and I knew that his thoughts were of his lost son. And then suddenly his face cleared, and to my amazement, my utter astonishment, it was Sir Esme and not the scientifically inclined Alexander who was speaking.
“My dear friend,” he said. "All the years that I have spent in scientific research have been with this one object in view. Long before that tragedy of my life of which I cannot even now bear to speak or even think, I became obsessed with the idea of solving what are to me the most mysterious occurrences that ever have taken place. Never have I believed in the supernatural and I have always felt convinced that there was nothing that could not be explained by natural causes provided we understand those causes.
"As Sir Esme McDonald it would have been impossible for me to have turned to scientific work and to have been taken seriously. Yet I longed to delve into the mysteries of research. So I invented Alexander Macdonald the scientist and—" he smiled and his eyes twinkled—"so thoroughly did I become Alexander, or perhaps I should say so thinly veneered was Alexander by Sir Esme, that in time I became, to all intents and purposes, two distinct personalities. But now, now that I am on the verge of solving those mysteries which have always interested me, Sir Esme and Alexander must merge, for the work I have in view can only be carried on by means of Sir Esme's wealth and Alexander's scientific knowledge combined." He laughed. "By Gad!" he cried, "I believe you're the only man who ever saw two men become one."
"Or one man become two," I observed. "But, frankly, though I am, of course, quite willing to be convinced, I do not even yet understand how this force you have discovered, or the absence of the force—and by the way, why not call it Esmeism— how this Esmeism or its absence can account for all the phenomena or the puzzles you have mentioned."
"Fine!" he ejaculated. "You've found a name for the force, and as it was not discovered by Sir Esme but by the studious Alexander. I can accept your name for it without feeling egotistical. But seriously, my friend, cannot you see how simple it is? For some reason, as yet inexplicable, an Esme-ismic vacuum—Jove, what an expression!—takes place over a certain spot on the surface of the earth or sea. And instantly everything in the area of that vortex of non-attraction—no, by Gad, of repulsion to the planet's surface, flies away from the earth."
"I can understand that," I admitted. "But if for the sake of argument such a vacuum or vortex happened to occur where a ship was afloat, the entire vessel would disappear, whereas, as in the case of the Marie Celeste, only the persons aboard were missing. And also, why would the earth or the water not follow?"
Sir Esme shook his head as if in despair. "Don't you remember," he queried, "that I explained that the weight of the object lifted or moved depended upon the size of the area where the force—no, confound it, the Esmeism, was absent or interrupted? The effect is precisely as if a magnet were suspended above a bit of iron or steel. The larger the magnet the larger the piece of metal it can lift, or perhaps I might better say for purposes of explanation that the same magnet that would lift twenty pounds, if within a few inches of the object, would not move that object if separated from it by a few feet. Or again I might compare the area of eliminated Esmeism to a beam of light as I have done before. A beam of light may be focussed to a point upon an object or it may be widely diffused over the same place, and so it is in the case of these inverted, cone-shaped areas or vortices of atmosphere freed, by some unknown means, of the force that is called gravitation. But with a great difference; whereas the diffused light is less powerful than the concentrated light, the reverse is the case with Esmeism. See—" he sketched rapidly upon a sheet of paper— "here we have two inverted cones, one with its apex just touching a plane, the other like an inverted, truncated cone with a considerable portion of its section touching the same plane. You readily see that in the first case only those objects directly under the apex of the cone would fly upwards, whereas in the second place all the objects that came within the area of the truncated cone's section would be affected.
"Now, in my experiments I have always, necessarily, been operating with a vortex whose apex represented my apparatus, and hence only very small objects directly in line with the apex were affected. But in nature, in the case of the phenomena that I am sure occur, a considerable area may be affected, and hence large—extremely cumbersome objects, such as entire ships may be relieved of all—well, gravitation, as it is called. And unquestionably, in nature, as in my experiments, the force, or rather the absence of force must vary."
"But," I objected, "Although I can quite understand all that, yet I cannot understand how a mystery such as that of the Marie Celeste, or of Harvey, or even the disappearance of a single human being, can be explained by your theory."
"Theory, bosh!" he exclaimed impatiently. "It's not a theory it's a demonstrable fact. And why, pray, are not those mysterious occurrences explicable by it?"
"Well," I said, "I'm not a scientist as you know, Sir Esme. But it seems to me that in any of the cases I mentioned, or in any similar case, the results do not fit the cause, if I may put it in that way. For example, the Mane Celeste was in perfect condition, not a thing disturbed aside from the fact that all human beings were missing. And in the case of a man or woman vanishing—as many have, I admit—how could one individual be whisked away from a populated spot without others being disturbed, without someone witnessing the marvelous occurrence and without the victim making an outcry? And as far as whirlwinds—tornadoes—waterspouts, showers of fish and such things are concerned, why they have been otherwise explained long ago."
Sir Esme burst into hearty laughter. "Of course they have!" he cried. "So has the matter of gravitation, of volcanic eruptions, of sun-spots, of electro-magnetic force and scores of others. But do you, does anyone, recall a single explanation that has not upset some prior explanation that had been accepted as incontrovertible fact? Not a bit of it. Man puzzles over some phenomenon in nature; he manufactures a theory, an explanation that seems to fit the facts, and until some other man discovers the truth—or hatches a more plausible theory— everyone swallows it and is satisfied.
"Because an apple fell on Sir Isaac Newton's head, his curiosity was aroused; apples, all other objects, dropped towards the earth, so naturally—he and his followers—argued that everything must be attracted by the earth, and they christened this purely theoretical attraction, gravitation. But it never occurred to any of them, that the same results would follow if the objects were impelled or pressed towards the earth from outer space. No, indeed, because man—yes, even scientific man—cannot readily conceive of anything earthly being subject to ex-terrestrial forces, everyone looked to poor old earth for the source of the force that caused the apple to fall. But that does not answer your questions, your doubts. Can you not conceive how, if you, if I, were walking along or standing still or were sitting here and one of those inverted vortices of interrupted force—no, Esmeism—should by chance form directly above you, so that its apex was poised directly over your head, you would lie sucked up as it were, without in the least affecting me, here within a few feet of you? And—"
"Yes, yes," I interrupted, glancing unconsciously upward as if half-fearing the tragedy might be hovering over me, "but would not my chair, the rug, the floor, even the earth directly underneath, also fly upward?"
SIR ESME shook his head. "Not necessarily," he declared. "If the apex of the vortex, as I must call it—though it is not a true vortex—if the point, the focal point, as I may say, was upon you, nothing beneath you would be disturbed any more than a beam of light concentrated upon a sheet of paper and burning a hole through the paper would burn objects beneath it and out of the focus of the light beam. But should the apex of the vortex be beneath you then, my friend, you, your chair, everything movable within the area of interrupted Esmeism would, as you say, go soaring upward."
"I'd get a nasty bump when I struck the ceiling," I observed, "or would a section of the ceiling and roof vanish and leave a clear exit for me?"
"No, that is a rather remarkable feature of the thing," he replied. "Only movable matter appears to be affected. As long as any object is attached or fixed to another object outside the sphere of the vacuum, if I may so refer to it, it remains in situ. I—"
"But surely if a ship —if a large heavy body would fly off the earth's surface, mere nails, screws, bolts or other fixtures could not hold things in place," I objected.
"It is not the strength of the fixtures," he said slowly and thoughtfully. "I have carried out some rather interesting tests to determine that. Yes, by Jove, damnably interesting and devilishly mystifying. With my device for creating a small area of Esmeism, I could lift lead, iron, any material, until it came into contact with some fixed object. There it stopped. And—well, this is the most amazing—but hold on, come into the laboratory and I'll demonstrate it. I'll show you something that will make everything you have seen, or that I have said, appear commonplace and simple."
Rising, he led the way into the room where I had first witnessed his astonishing demonstration, and having adjusted and arranged his apparatus I again gazed, almost as incredulously as on my first visit, at the piece of metal that floated, light as thistledown, into the air. But this time, instead of remaining poised, it shot with ever increasing speed upward, struck the ceiling with a resounding noise rebounded, swung up again and finally came to rest against the ceiling, where it remained as if glued in place.
"You observe," remarked Sir Esme, "that despite the fact that the Esmeism-free area extends above the ceiling, the iron cube cannot pass through the plaster and the rafters. And neither do the materials, of which the ceiling is composed, fly into space as, heretofore, all supporters of the gravitational theory would have us believe would be the case were gravitation to be suddenly cut off. And now I will give you an even greater surprise. As he spoke, he pressed a switch; the iron cube dropped back with a bang to the low table where it had originally rested, and Sir Esme produced a sheet of thin cardboard with long cords attached to the four corners. Fastening these to hooks in the waifs, he suspended the pasteboard sheet above the piece of metal."
"Now," he remarked, "if I produce an Esmeismic area to include both the iron cube and the suspended card, what do you imagine will occur?" I smiled. "Had you not already assured me that objects attached to other objects outside the sphere of influence are not affected? I should say without hesitation that the cardboard and the iron would rise to the ceiling. As it is, I cannot believe that those slender bits of twine can restrain the card acted upon by a force, or rather a lack of force, strong enough to levitate a block of solid iron." "Here is the answer!" he exclaimed.
CHAPTER V The Esmeismic Force
AS Sir Esme spoke, there was a sharp click and I gazed speechless with wonder, even though I had been somewhat prepared for what I saw.
Again the iron cube had flown upward as if hurled from a hidden spring and had struck the suspended cardboard. But instead of tearing through it, or snapping the strings that secured the card in' place, the piece of metal merely lifted the card a few inches and then remained, pressed against the fragile barrier as though the cardboard had been a sheet of steel!
Sir Esme grinned and chuckled triumphantly. "Now what do you think?" he cried exultantly.
"I'll he hanged if I know what to think," I admitted. "Why the deuce didn't the iron go through the card— or at least force it upward?"
"That's the identical question I asked myself," he replied. "And I can assure you that it amazed and puzzled me fully as much as it does you. Now watch closely and I'll show you another miracle."
Once again he allowed the iron to sink back to the table. "I am about to demonstrate to you the truth of my deductions in regard to the inverted cone or vortex," he informed me. As he spoke he was arranging a second sheet of cardboard suspended a few feet above the first. Then he stepped to the low table and placed several identical iron blocks upon it and a few inches from one another. "These," he observed, "might represent so many human beings and what you are about to witness will, I think, answer one of your queries, and will amply prove the truth of my assertions. This one," he indicated the cube he already had used, "is, as you will notice, resting upon a mark that represents the exact apex of the invisible vortex I am about to produce. The others are slightly outside the apex. Now," again he touched the switch and once more the iron soared upward and came to rest against the lower surface of the suspended card. But not another of the cubes moved. "You see," said he, "that only the cube at the apex of the cone was affected. Now if my deductions are correct, if the affected space is in reality an inverted cone, there will of necessity be a wider, a larger area of interrupted Esmeism on the suspended sheets of cardboard than upon the table. Do you grasp my meaning?"
I nodded. "Certainly," I assured him. "I can imagine an inverted cone, its apex resting upon the table and intersected by the two sheets of pasteboard. Naturally the uppermost sheet will bisect the imaginary cone where its diameter is greater than where it is bisected by the lower sheet"
"Precisely," he agreed. Again he permitted the levitated iron to drop back. Then he picked up the others and placed them at varying distances upon the first of the suspended sheets, marking with a pencil the position of each. "Now watch," he cautioned me, and once more set his concealed apparatus in motion. Now I had, I felt, begun to grasp the whole idea. I had begun to take the astonishing feats he performed as a matter of course, and what he had told me should have prepared me for the results that followed.
Yet I could not repress an exclamation of wonder as the first cube flew up and, at the same instant, three of the cubes upon the cardboard rose as if possessed with life until they rested against the upper sheet.
Sir Esme's eyes twinkled under his bushy brows. "Funny stunt, as you Americans say, isn't it?" he chuckled. "But do you notice that the three cubes resting against the second barrier are more widely separated than when they were placed upon the first?"
I had not noticed, but now that he drew my attention to it I saw he was right. "I'm sorry I cannot mark their precise positions," he said, "but the confounded thing is still too uncertain and in too much the experimental stage to permit me to insert my hand or any portion of my anatomy within the sphere of the vortex. I'm no coward but—"
"Don't try it, for heaven's sake!" I exclaimed.
"I have no intention of doing so—just at present," he assured me. "But as I was about to say, if I could mark the positions of the cubes, it would simplify matters for you. However there are more ways than one of skinning an eel—or was it a cat?—as the old saying goes."
Once more he caused the various suspended pieces of metal to resume their former positions. Then he removed them from the first sheet of cardboard and placed them at much wider distances apart upon the upper sheet, marking the position of each as before.
By now I was prepared for almost anything, and it did not greatly surprise me to see the cubes fly upward and strike the ceiling like a charge of exaggerated shot.
"I think you will agree that they are far more widely separated up there than when they rested upon the card," said Sir Esme, glancing up at the bits of iron dotting the plaster above us. "And" he continued, "you noticed that whereas only three left the first sheet and the others, a few inches further from the center, were not disturbed, all those that were resting on the second sheet were lifted, although several were twice the distance from the center of the sheet, as were the others. Now do you agree that I have proved my contentions in respect to the inverted cone or vortex?"
"I most assuredly do," I declared. "But for that matter I never questioned that contention. That was to me perfectly reasonable and logical. In fact, speaking as a layman and not as a scientist, I should have assumed that any force or rays projected from the surface of the earth in all directions—or focussed upon the earth's surface— would of necessity impinge or emanate at angles—that they would radiate like the spines of a sea-urchin or the spokes of a wheel, and hence if considered in small groups, would form what might be termed inverted cones."
"Hear! Hear!" cried Sir Esme delightedly. "A concise, a brilliant speech! But—" seriously—"all joking aside you have grasped the idea perfectly."
"However," I went on, "I do not yet see how you can account for such mysteries as Harvey's memory and the Marie Celeste by these amazing properties of your force. And I would like to know—provided you can explain it—why or how a sheet of cardboard stops lumps of iron from moving upward, why the sheets themselves are not lifted, and what is still more astonishing and inexplicable to me, why, if the cards stop the iron lumps and are not themselves moved, objects placed upon them rise."
"I'm very sorry to have to admit that I cannot fully account for that myself. But I think it a sort of 'grounding' if I may use the term. In other words I believe that any object connected, ever so lightly, with objects outside the sphere of the vortices, is, so to say, grounded to those outside and hence is not affected. And to a certain extent such objects are insulators.
"Although, as you saw, the cubes placed upon the cards were affected and rose upward, yet my tests have proved that the force or absence of force becomes less after passing through such objects—filtered as it were. In fact, had I placed a dozen or more sheets above my apparatus, the cubes, if placed upon the highest sheet, would scarcely have been affected. Now of course with the influence reversed, coming from outer space towards the earth, this might not be the case. Yet I am convinced that it is and I am convinced that it is due to these still mysterious and inexplicable laws of Esmeism that, in all cases of vanishing persons, ships, et cetera, all have taken place in the open air. I do not know of a single case of a human being vanishing when within a building."
"All very well and good, Sir Esme," I assented. "But I am still harping on the same subject. Can you give me a logical and lucid explanation of how or why the human beings on the Marie Celeste vanished without any portion of the ship being disturbed, provided they were, as you claim, carried off by one of your Esmeismic cones forming over the ship?"
"Of course I can!" he declared. "It's very simple. But I'd forgotten to mention that in the course of my tests and experiments I discovered that the susceptibility of various substances to the release of Esmeismic force varies greatly. Organic matter is affected much less than inorganic matter for example, and metals are affected more than wood and other substances.
"That fact has a great bearing upon the baffling mysteries you mention. Briefly then, my theory is this. The Marie Celeste passed through or came within the area of influence of one of these vortices—one of minor intensity or power, as I might say; but which was sufficiently powerful to cause all human beings on deck to be carried into space—together with the dog and cat (you remember they, too, were missing) And—"
"Hold on!" I interrupted. "How about the men below decks? And how about objects on deck?"
"No doubt," he continued, oblivious of my interruption, "any persons who may have been below deck came on deck owing to unwonted sounds or possibly cries, I feel sure these vortices move about, and it is quite possible that in this particular case the persons were not all lifted into air at once, but some were seen to vanish by their terrified comrades who, paralyzed with superstitious fear, made no attempt to escape a fate of which they were totally ignorant. And as regards articles upon deck! How do we know such objects did not vanish? It was reported that boats, deck fittings, hatch covers, etc., were undisturbed, but all objects attached or even lashed to the vessel would have remained, as I have demonstrated."
"IT seems utterly incredible." I declared, "Yet I admit it is no more incredible than the known facts and not as incredible as many of the theories advanced to explain the mystery. But granting it did occur as you say, how about Harvey and the other cases?"
"Harvey!" exclaimed Sir Esme. "I am convinced Harvey was upon that Spanish vessel that vanished, leaving no trace. I believe that the ship came within the area of an Esmeismic vortex; that it was swept upward, and that portions of it—including Harvey—were dropped back to the sea a thousand miles from the spot where the ship vanished."
I was absolutely dumbfounded at Sir Esme's words. That any sane man could propound such a wild impossible theory, even if his deduction in respect to the Marie Celeste and other mysteries were correct, seemed absolutely preposterous, yet Sir Esme seemed sane, normal and absolutely sincere. In fact he appeared to sense nothing very remarkable, and certainly nothing incredible in his amazing statements.
"Good Lord, man!" I gasped. "How could he—how could any man—survive such an experience?"
"Men have survived worse," he commented laconically. "And the very fact that he was nearly dead and had lost all memory proves he had undergone some terrible experience, something worse than mere immersion in a tropical sea for a few hours. Everything points to the truth of my deduction. Did I not tell you that the objects I projected to extreme heights always fell back to earth at some distance to the southwest of the spot whence they departed?
"And I have made careful calculations and am positive that a vessel, lifted or propelled or levitated—Whichever you prefer—at the position in which the Santa Ines was or should have been at the time of her disappearance, would have returned to the earth—in case she returned at all—in or very near the precise spot where I found Harvey floating on his bit of wreckage."
"But," I objected, "In that case why were there no others—no 'other bits of wreckage to be found? And why should the ship or anyone on her return to earth? Admitting, for the sake of argument that your theory is correct—that the Marie Celeste, the Santa Ines, any ships or other objects, were lifted, whisked into space by such a phenomenon, why should they or any portion of them return to earth? Why, Sir Esme, that would defeat your own arguments. If such were the case, why is it that none of the persons who have vanished—the crew of the Marie Celeste, for instance, have ever been found?" "Plenty of reasons and logical ones," he declared positively. "An object—even a ship, drawn or forced or whatever you may call it, into the air by one of these Esmeismic vortices if, in the center of the area, would no doubt be lifted so far that it never returned, or it might be completely disintegrated by its inconceivably rapid rotation; whereas, if the objects were near the outer edges of the vortex, so to say, or if the vortex were weak or, as very probably occurs, the area of Esmeism is merely temporary and of brief duration, then, in either case, the objects might be lifted for only a short distance and might be dropped back to earth. I can perhaps make my meaning clearer by calling your attention to the phenomena of a whirlpool. Although many objects may be drawn into its center and sucked down forever into its vortex, other objects are constantly thrown out, and even after being caught in the rotating currents, escape and drift safely away. Such—"
"But even if the objects that had been lifted did drop back they would be shattered by the impact with the earth or sea," I exclaimed, cutting off his words.
He smiled and shook his head. "On the contrary, objects levitated by the Esmeismic vacuum do not drop back with any force," he informed me. "You may not have noticed it, but if you had given the matter attention you would have observed that the iron blocks, the bits of lead that I caused to rise in the air fell back gently with no appreciable impact upon the table below them. That is a most remarkable feature of the action of the force.
"It appears to me that the area of Esmeism cannot be suddenly replaced by the normal force but regains its normal state rather slowly, thus allowing suspended or levitated objects to sink back almost as if they were being lowered by mechanical means."
I had not noticed this feature of the experiments he had made for my benefit, but now that he called it to my mind I remembered it was so. The lifted cubes of metal had struck the ceiling with quite an appreciable and forceful impact, but they had dropped back to the table with no noise, and as I recalled it, as lightly as though they had been bits of cotton. In that case why shouldn't a human being be projected upward and dropped back as gently as though attached to a parachute and uninjured? But to be carried a thousand miles before being dropped! That was too much. But Sir Esme was again speaking. "What's so remarkable about it?" he demanded, as if reading my thoughts. "There are plenty of authentic instances of men, of animals, even of young children being whirled into the air by cyclones or tornadoes, carried a mile or more and dropped unharmed. And if my conclusions are correct—and I am sure they are—cyclones, tornadoes, waterspouts are all merely the manifestations of these same Esmeismic vacuums. And if you or anyone else can suggest a more credible or a more reasonable hypothesis to account for the disappearance of the Marie Celeste's passengers and crew, I should like to hear it. It isn't as if her case were the only one. The same thing has occurred repeatedly, and when a mysterious, inexplicable thing of that sort is repeated, we may feel sure it is the result of some natural, if unknown law of nature. Can— "
"You mean to say there have been cases similar to that of the Marie Celeste" I interrupted. "I always thought hers a unique mystery."
"Not a bit of it," he declared. "Why only recently— less than two years ago—the crew of the Kobenhavn vanished in the same baffling manner. Didn't you ever hear of it?"
"I believe I read that such a vessel—she was a training ship for the Danish navy, was she not?—was lost with all hands."
"Exactly," he said. "And in that respect only did her case vary from that of the more famous Marie Celeste. The latter ship was picked up and towed into port whereas the Kobenhavn disappeared—foundered or went ashore—and was lost. But— "
"There doesn't appear to be anything mysterious in that," I observed. "I— "
"Not so fast!" he warned me. "The ship, as I say, was lost—but, long before she was lost she was seen, sailing, unharmed, without a soul on board."
"You mean—" I began, but he checked me with a gesture.
"On January the twenty-first, 1929, the Kobenhavn passed the island of Tristan da Cunha under single jib. foresail and lower topsails. She passed the island within a quarter of a mile from the shore. She was seen and watched by the islanders, several of whom possessed excellent glasses, and to their utter amazement not a living soul could be seen aboard and no man was at the ship's helm! She came very near striking a reef but was carried aside by a veering of the wind and the current and vanished in the mist. But all agreed that she was uninjured, her sails, as far as seen, were whole, her furled canvas was in perfect shape, her boats and deck fittings were in place, although she was slightly down by the stern. From that day to the present, no sign of the great ship nor of her crew of fifty naval cadets has ever been found. She left Montevideo on December 14th. On January 1st she radioed that all was well, and on January 21st, she was an abandoned but seaworthy vessel with sails and all intact. Had she been picked up she would have proved an even greater mystery than the Marie Celeste, but beyond doubt she went down soon after passing Tristan. An unmanned ship has little chance of surviving long. And there is another case I might mention—that of the steamship Eltham that sailed from Swansea in November, 1928.
"Ah! there was a case that in some respects resembles that of the Santa Ines and Harvey. A week before the Eltham sailed from Swansea, laden with coals, she was found ashore at Chapel Porth in Cornwall. Ashore within 200 yards of the beach. Not an unusual thing, you will say; but—there was not a soul on board; her boilers were cold; there were no papers, no log, nothing movable left in the cabins or on deck and there was not a ton of coal in her hold! Yet, aside from a hole knocked in her bottom by the rocks where she came ashore, she was uninjured and her boats were intact. But—here is the most amazing feature of all—the feature that I feel proves my conclusions. More than twenty vessels were anchored in the harbor during the night that preceded the discovery of the Eltham, yet not one had seen the ship enter or go ashore! I— "
"You mean you actually believe she had been carried up by one of those vortices and had been dropped on the Cornish coast?" I cried.
"Absolutely!" he replied. "Otherwise how can you account for a staunch six hundred ton Welsh collier, bound from Swansea to Rouen, dropping unseen into a cove on the coast of Cornwall? And how can you explain the absence of her crew, of every movable object aboard, even of her cargo? I am positive, certain as I am of anything, that the Eltham was hurled into space by coming in contact with an area of Esmeism, that she was carried for miles, to be dropped eventually on the Cornish Coast and that during her amazing journey her cargo dropped out or rather was carried away by the same phenomenon that lifted her from the sea."
I LEANED back utterly unable to voice my astonishment, hardly able to think sanely and connectedly. The facts faced us and, as Sir Esme had said, no credible hypothesis other than his seemed to fit the cases he had mentioned. And yet his theory was as incredible as the mysteries it purported to solve. For a few moments he busied himself with the map. Then he turned again to me.
"Those are merely examples," he observed. "I might also mention the unexplained disappearance of the Cyclops—the naval freighter of your country, that, laden with manganese from Brazil, vanished completely when off Barbadoes. And if we search through the maritime records, we will find hundreds, thousands of cases of vessels reported as missing, of which no trace ever has been found, and yet vessels that were staunch, sound and were not in the vicinity of storms when they disappeared. They— "
"Collisions might account for them or— "
"In which case the vessel in collision would have reported the accident," he reminded me. "And," he continued, "although I am very familiar with ships and shipping and maritime casualties, I do not recall a single instance where two vessels disappeared coincidently in the same vicinity, as would have been the case had there been a collision that sent both to the bottom. No, my friend, my theory, or rather my discovery is the only plausible explanation. And leaving ships aside for the time being. How else can you explain such mysterious disappearances as that of Dorothy Arnold, our countrywoman, who vanished in broad daylight in New York City, leaving no trace? There are scores of similar cases. I knew personally of one gentleman who vanished as completely and even more mysteriously in the West Indies, and who—now you may not believe this but I can readily verify my statements—was seen and spoken to by a policeman at a spot more than twenty miles from where he disappeared, within ten minutes after he vanished! And exactly as in Harvey's case, he seemed numbed in mind, dazed, completely out of his head. Unfortunately he disappeared the second time— though that was easily explicable, for he was seen at the verge of a treacherous lake and in his mentally chaotic condition no doubt was accidentally drowned. Moreover, on at least two occasions, I know from trustworthy observers, that people who vanished—actually one might say before their comrades' eyes—disappeared in whirlwind-like columns of sand and dust; exactly what might be expected as a result of one of the Esmeismic vortices."
"Good Lord!" I exclaimed. "Come to think of it one of my relatives vanished in much the same way. It was in Maine. He had left the house one winter's night to get a bucket of water from the well. No one ever saw him again. His footsteps led half way to the well and ended there. There was a fresh fall of snow on the ground and—now I recall the details as narrated by my father who was there at the time—there was a peculiar round depression in the snow just where the footprints ceased. If— "
"By Jove, a perfect case!" cried Sir Esme as triumphantly as though he had made a fresh discovery. "And," he added exultantly, "that helps me a great deal. It carries my sphere of occurrences a bit farther north than I had been able to trace it. I— "
"Your what?" I queried, unable to understand what he meant.
"Just what I said," he replied. "See here—" indicating the chart on the desk—"I have been marking down the locations of every occurrence that I have been able to attribute to the Esmeismic vortices. I have two as far north as New York, one in northern Ireland and now this one of yours in Maine. But as you will see, they are far more numerous in the tropical and semi-tropical areas than either north or south. That fact, I am sure, is most important."
I had been studying the chart as he spoke and noticed, as he said, that the marks—each of which was numbered —were far more numerous in the tropics than elsewhere, and that there were more marks on sea than on land.
"Evidently, if you are right in your belief, the phenomena take place more frequently on the ocean than elsewhere," I remarked.
"Hmm, so I assume," he said, "but in that I may be mistaken. Very possibly it is because we hear of practically every ship that vanishes, whereas we hear of only a portion of the human beings who disappear. Moreover, I have not marked all the tornadoes, cyclones, waterspouts, whirlwinds, and similar occurrences that are everyday happenings in many parts of the world, but I have indicated the areas in which they occur in greatest numbers and with the greatest frequency, and I have plotted their tracks as you see."
"Have you come to any conclusions regarding their occurrence?" I asked. "Do they appear to follow any definite laws or to recur repeatedly in or near the same spot? It seems to me that there should be some means of checking up and determining if they bear any relation to earlier phenomena such as sun-spots, air-currents, volcanic disturbances, the solstices or anything else."
"In a way I have," he informed me. "I am not at all sure that they do not remain constant or nearly constant at certain points. And I am positive that there are certain areas where they are very common. Such an area, I believe, lies about here," Sir Esme placed his finger on a shaded space in the south Atlantic, "and another here." He indicated a similar spot in the North Atlantic.
"Why do you assume that?" I asked. "I do not notice any of your numbers in this north Atlantic area."
Sir Esme turned to me and laid his hand impressively upon my arm. "That," said he in low but earnest tones, "is because no one knows! No living soul has ever returned from there to tell what took place. It—"
"Surely," I exclaimed, "ships must pass there. It is almost in the regular lanes of transatlantic shipping."
"Ships, yes," he admitted. "But I am not referring to ships. I am speaking of airplanes. Have you never wondered how or why so many airplanes, attempting to cross the Atlantic, have vanished? Have you never wondered why no traces of them have been found, why others—not better, not piloted by more capable men—have made the crossing safely? Here is the area where all those machines have vanished. Why? Because, if I am not vastly mistaken, it is an area where Esmeismic vortices abound—vortices whose presence does not affect the surface of the sea—or at most, only slightly— enough to produce waterspouts that abound in the area, but poised as it were, above the ocean—vast, terrible, invisible traps of certain death and destruction to all airplanes and aviators, who rush blindly, unwittingly into them."
"Pardon me if I seem to be a doubting Thomas” I said, "but honestly, is it necessary to account for missing airplanes by such a theory? Isn't it as reasonable to suppose that storms, fog, failing motors, structural faults or even air holes or similar causes accounted for the missing fliers?
"Airplanes come to grief over the land, and if the same accidents occurred at sea they would be among the missing,"
I could see that the subject was most painful to my friend, yet he controlled his feelings and spoke calmly.
"Do you know what percentage of aviation accidents and fatalities have never been explained?" he asked. "Why does a plane, in perfect condition, piloted by a skilled and competent man, flying in perfectly clear good weather, over a route it has traversed scores of times, suddenly crash without any apparent reason? Why does a trans-channel machine, that has made the crossing regularly and safely for months, suddenly turn, flutter like a wounded bird and fall? And what are these 'air holes' you mention? What are the so-called 'dead spots' in the air? There is one answer to all these questions: areas of Esmeism. And though you may not be aware of the fact, airplanes have vanished as completely over land as over sea. The only reason there are more mysterious disappearances at sea than ashore is because the oceans cover a greater area of the earth's surface than the land covers and because, as far as I can judge by this map and available data, the phenomena occur more frequently over water than over land."
"Can you suggest any reason for that?" I inquired, changing the subject of discussion.
"Possibly due to mountains, to forests, to many causes that exist on land and not on sea," he replied. "I am convinced that the vortices move about—travel from place to place—oftentimes with great speed, and in that case they may be interrupted, broken as it were, by mountain ranges. We know that tornadoes, cyclones, water-spouts, are thus broken and I am sure they are merely manifestations of the same phenomena. But—" he rose and almost glared at me—" I intend to learn the absolute truth of all these matters. I intend to put my theories, as you call them, to a crucial test, and if you wish you may have a part in my investigations. Within the week I sail on the Lock Lovern to cruise about these areas I have indicated, to learn, if it is possible to learn, if there are such areas. Would you care to accompany me?"
CHAPTER VI In Search of Vortices
FOR some reason—to this day I cannot explain exactly why—Sir Esme's announcement struck me as extremely ludicrous. It brought to my mind a fleeting vision of Don Quixote tilting with the windmills, and I burst out laughing. But at the half-injured, half-angry expression upon his face I controlled myself and had glibly in explanation of my ill-timed hilarity.
"Forgive me," I exclaimed. "I was not laughing at your surprising announcements, but at the thought of myself—something of an iconoclast regarding your theories—accompanying you. Of what earthly service would I be?"
"Sometimes," he remarked thoughtfully, "an iconoclast is far more useful than a true believer. As a matter of fact, my friend, your ignorance—pardon me for using such a crass word—of science and your common sense objections and queries, have already been of inestimable service to me. You have enabled me to see things from the layman's viewpoint, to note the weak points in my deductions, and you have repeatedly called my attention to details, or to facts, that I might well have overlooked in my intense interest in following along prescribed lines. You have been in short, a check or brake as it were. And you have been a most delightful skeptic as I might say, in our discussions. I shall be immensely pleased to have you with me on the cruise and while I may fail utterly in my efforts to locate and study the Esmeismic vortices—I can promise you a pleasant trip, possible excitement and, if all goes well, a unique experience and— danger."
"If all goes well!" I cried. "If all goes well, as you call it, we may share the fate of the crew of the Marie Celeste and the Kobenhavn, I suppose you mean!"
Sir Esme grinned. "Quite possibly," he admitted, "although I scarcely expect so. I am not going to beard the vortices in their dens, so to speak, without being duly prepared. Of what value to me, to the world, would my observations prove, if I vanish? No, I am providing for every contingency I can foresee—though when dealing with unknown or almost unknown forces it is difficult to foresee all contingencies that may arise—and I believe, I have confidence, that we will not meet with disaster. But— "
"But if we do," I supplied, "it will all be in the name of science, eh? Well, I for one have no desire to be a martyr to that cause I— "
"Then you will not accept my invitation?" he queried, and I could see he was disappointed.
"On the contrary, I shall," I assured him. "Frankly, I haven't yet been convinced of the truth of your theories or deductions. Mind, I do not for a moment question your discovery of the force I so glibly named Esmeism. Neither do I deny that you have proved much, in fact almost all that you claim, by means of experiments I have witnessed. But I do not admit that those tests or your discovery prove that similar phenomena occur in nature nor that the mysteries of disappearing human beings—nor of missing airships—can be attributed to such phenomena. Hence I haven't the least fear of being drawn or thrown or sucked, or whatever you may call it, into space. But I shall enjoy a deep water cruise. I shall enjoy your yacht, your excellent food, your unparalleled wines and liquors, your cigars and— most of all—your companionship. And if you should trail down one of your damnable old vortices, I shall be delighted to make its acquaintance, although I have no desire to emulate old Elijah, nor to duplicate Harvey's experience."
"Topping!" ejaculated Sir Esme. "I was perfectly positive you would go along. In fact I do not believe a word that you say in respect to your disbelief in my theory. You are just as firmly convinced of the truth as I am. And speaking of Elijah; he, too, I am sure, was the victim of one of the vortices. And if I am not mistaken, he is the only man who actually was seen to vanish by such means."
"Hmm," I observed, "I think you are wrong about that. Wasn't there an Aztec legend to the effect that Quetzalcoatl, the plumed-serpent, was borne heavenward by a whirlwind?"
"By Jove, you're right!" he cried. "I must put that down on my chart. That adds another area where the vortices have occurred."
"If you keep on, and credit every old legend and myth and allegory, you'll find they occur everywhere," I told him. "In which case, why go to sea chasing the confounded things? Why not wait here in London until one comes along? And by the way, has one ever performed any of its stunts in or about London?"
"Not as far as I can learn; at least not within, well— two hundred years," he replied. "Nor has any happening that can be attributed to the vortices ever been reported from the black country of the Midlands or from any colliery district. I believe—in fact I am fairly certain—that smoke and fog are the greatest preventives of the vortices. In fact I depend for our safety—in case I locate a vortex—upon smoke-screens. Of course, it is, in a way, negative evidence, but I feel that is one reason why the preponderance of occurrences that I attribute to the phenomena have taken place in portions of the world where fog and smoke are non-existent or nearly so. I— "
"If you could only catch one of them and train it to hover over London at just the right distance above the city, you would be conferring a real boon on your fellow men," I told him. "I should imagine that it might prove the most efficient of fog and smoke eliminators."
"On the contrary," he informed me, "a London fog or London smoke would eliminate the vortices."
"Gosh!" I ejaculated, as a sudden idea flashed across my mind. "Isn't it possible you've got the cart before the horse? Isn't it possible that the prevalence of fog over London and other localities is due to the absence of your vortices instead of vice versa? Nobody ever has been able satisfactorily to explain why some places are foggy and others not—at least not to my satisfaction. Do you know, there are a lot of possibilities in your theory, Sir Esme—if a man could only believe in it."
"If there were not, I should not bother with it," he assured me dryly. "And the possibilities—I might even say the probabilities—are far greater than you, or even I, imagine. I am not at all sure that static, sun-spots, a score, no, better—hundreds—of natural phenomena are not all caused by, or at least do not have a direct relation to Esmeism and Esmeismic vortices."
"Well, here's hoping we'll make their better acquaintance," I said, rising to go. "But like yourself, I shall prepare for emergencies. If there is any truth in your deductions, it appears to me that your inverted cones of non-existent gravitation are about as dangerous to monkey with as the proverbial buzz-saw. I think I shall see my solicitor in the morning and have him draw up my last will and testament. But"—with a laugh—"I'm afraid it would be a difficult matter for him to prove my demise if I vanish. And wouldn't the old bird have a jolt if I should come sailing down past his window and drop into Lincoln's Inn Fields some fine morning!"
"The chances are that if you did you would not know where you were or who you were," he said. "You'd probably be in much the same mental state as poor Harvey, for I believe the action of the Esmeismic vacuum has a serious and inexplicable effect upon the human mind."
"That's comforting," I retorted. "But it might be interesting—and even convenient—to forget the past and start life as a new individual."
Sir Esme shook his head in despair. "I'm afraid you never will take the matter seriously," he lamented. "But before we are done you may find it serious enough. Good night, my friend. I hope to leave Portsmouth next Wednesday. But I shall see you again before then."
I SAW Sir Esme several times during the week that followed. And having, as he had surmised, been more than half convinced of the truth of his remarkable theory, I abandoned my flippant, scoffing attitude and became intensely interested in his work, and especially in his preparations for locating possible vortices and in safeguarding his vessel and ourselves from their action. Very largely he depended upon two things for safety. One was the insulating material that he had invented, or I might say had discovered, and which, as he had told me, was an essential part of his appliance for creating artificial or synthetic areas free of the Esmeism. The second was smoke, to be produced instantaneously and in immense volume by devices he was having manufactured according to his own design.
As he took pains—and patience—to explain to me, he was not absolutely certain that either device would prove a safeguard. He was dealing with a new force, with unknown conditions, and very largely everything was theory and guesswork. But he had made exhaustive tests with smoke and had proved beyond question that his appliance was incapable of creating the so-called gravitational vacuum or of lifting objects when the area above was filled with even a small amount of smoke. As he explained it, the smoke—composed of course of impalpable motes of carbon—acted as a sort of coherer or binder to retain the Esmeism, although he frankly admitted this explanation was mere theory. The insulator, on the other hand, served as a sort of condenser or shield.
It was a most difficult matter for a layman to understand, for he was dealing with the absence of a force instead of its presence, and while I could conceive of a ray, a wave, almost anything being reflected from an object or absorbed by it, my mind could not adapt itself to the absence of a force, a vacuum as it were, being reflected, absorbed or acted upon in any way. The trouble was that my mind—although I knew better—would insist upon retaining the impression that the areas where Esmeism was non-existent were areas of actual vacuum—nothingness—whereas, as a matter of fact, they were identical with the rest of the atmosphere, except that within them there was no gravitational pull (I must thus express it, although it was no pull but rather a push, according to Sir Esme) and they might be compared to shadowy areas where there were no light waves or areas of atmosphere where electro-magnetic waves were absent. But revolutionary matters that upset all preconceived ideas are always difficult for the ordinary non-scientific mind to grasp, especially when our senses— sight or hearing—cannot be brought into play. But as Sir Esme very pointedly and succinctly put it: it didn't make any difference whether or not I understood the matter as long as he did.
Also, he had collected—from what sources or how, the Lord alone knows—dozens, hundreds of authentic records of inexplicable disappearances, happenings and accidents which he attributed to his discovery. He had secured data of every cyclone, tornado and water-spout that had been recorded by the meteorological bureaus of the United States and foreign governments, innumerable excerpts from ships' logs, and he had delved into tradition and history, searching out accounts of similar phenomena.
All these he had correlated, tabulated and arranged, and had indicated them upon his chart until it was covered with dots and numbers. He was as delighted as a child with a new toy to find that his theories were being borne out by all this; that they were, so he assured me, portions of the sea and of the land where his areas of Esmeism were so numerous and of such frequent occurrence as to be almost constant, whereas in other sections they were practically non-existent, and he had worked out, and plotted by curves that made his map resemble a weather chart, their movements, for he was now positive that he was correct in his assumption that the areas did move. Not only that; he had, being intensely interested in astronomy, worked out a theory that the areas had a direct relation to planetary conditions, and he absolutely astounded me when, a day or two before we were to sail, he declared, apparently in all seriousness, that in his opinion the phenomena were not natural but were produced by the inhabitants of another planet.
"Why not?" he demanded when I derided this idea. "What do we know of the other planets or their inhabitants? It is absolute piffle to assume that any of them are not habitable. Why, damn it, the moon might be inhabited for all we know, or Venus or Mercury or Saturn—even the sun."
"Come, come," I cried, "that's going too far, Sir Esme. How could a mass of flaming gas, or a dead planet with no atmosphere, or a frozen sphere, be inhabited? Such ideas are merely phantasmal."
He snorted. "Why?" he again demanded. "I'll tell you why you and others assume such a stand: merely because you are judging or rather imagining all intelligence, all life, by the life on earth and by the intelligence of man.
"What is intelligence? Nobody can answer; but as it is not an organic nor a concrete thing, how can it be affected by heat, cold, atmosphere? In the case of man, it is, I grant. Why? Because man's intelligence ends with his life, can manifest itself only by means of a chemical organic thing we call a body. But does that prove that equal or far greater intelligence might not exist without anything we would recognize as a body? Because we humans—in our terrestrial life—require certain conditions, certain chemicals and elements—certain temperatures in order to exist, we jump to the conclusion that the same rules and laws hold throughout the universe.
"For all we know an intelligent inhabitant of the moon might feel the same way about us. He might argue that because he and his fellows needed no atmosphere as we know it, needed what to us would be inconceivable cold, intelligent life was impossible on our planet because of its envelope of atmosphere, which would smother such life with its comparatively terrific heat. Why, confound it all, man, an inhabitant of Mercury, or even of the sun, might argue that our old earth is dead and cold, compared to his abode, as the moon appears dead and cold to us. Or, vice versa, beings—intelligences—upon one of the cold planets might regard the earth as an uninhabitable glowing mass in comparison with the conditions he would require for existence. You smile! Very well. Let me tell you some actual facts.
"An ordinary fly—any ordinary insect, even microbes or germs, as well as plant life—die instantly if immersed in boiling water. Can we leap to the conclusion that no life, plant or animal, can exist in boiling water? Not a bit of it. In the West Indies, in various parts of our world, there are insect larva;, as well as plants, that not only exist in but actually require boiling water. I myself have seen bubbling, boiling, steaming, sulphur-impregnated pools and geysers fairly swarming with insect larva: and filled with water plants. To them, water of normal temperature would be as cold as ice water or solid ice to everyday forms of aquatic life. Take the other extreme. We have insects—a dozen species at least —as well as plants, that exist, thrive in snow, and that shrivel and die if exposed to temperatures above freezing. And if one form of life can dwell in boiling water, and another requires freezing temperatures right here on earth, what right have we to assume that nature—the Creator—did not people the planets with forms of intelligent life adapted to the conditions there? I—"
"BUT you forget that here on earth we have atmosphere—oxygen, nitrogen, water—regardless of the temperature, whereas—"
"Whereas," he burst in, "on the moon there is no air, no water. Piffle! Because we—because earthly forms of life—need certain combinations of certain elements, you argue that there can be no life, no intelligence without them. Just as well argue that because man, horses— any land animals—must have air, there cannot be life in the sea, or because fish die when taken from the water, no life can exist on land. No, no, my friend, the trouble is man is such a damnably self-centered, egotistical, self-sufficient creature that he cannot—save in rare instances—conceive of anything, no, not of any condition, that is totally foreign, in complete opposition to his own surroundings and existencey. Why, man alive, he—you—no man can visualize or imagine an intelligent being totally, absolutely unlike anything we ever have seen. Take stories of interplanetary travel for example. did you ever read such a story? Did you ever see a picture illustrating such a story—wherein the author—even Wells or Verne—described or pictured the inhabitants of another planet as wholly unlike anything on earth? Of course not. Always there is something familiar about them. They are semi-human or semi-mechanical or semi-bestial, or a combination of all, but never an entirely new and distinct creation. It is impossible that they should be so I maintain that all the planets—even the stars—are inhabited, and I still adhere to my belief that these areas of Esmeism are produced by the intelligences on some other planet."
'For what purpose?" I asked, unable and unwilling to prolong the argument. "Do you mean you believe they are produced in order to injure us here?"
"How should I know?" he ejaculated. "Very possibly. But on the other hand, they may merely be the result of accident—the result of activities on the other planet. Very possibly the force—Esmeism—is of vital importance to the inhabitants up there. Very possibly they have been using it for inconceivable periods—drawing it, extracting it from the space or from the other planets, just as we humans extract nitrates from the air."
"Something like boring for oil," I suggested.
Sir Esme nodded. "A rather far-fetched simile and yet excellent," he said.
I laughed at a rather quaint conceit that occurred to me. "Your theoretical Martians or Venerians or Mer-curians, or whoever they are, must have been everlastingly surprised if one of their gushers brought up human beings or ships or planes," I hazarded.
"Do you know," he said, speaking quite seriously, "I've had that same idea in my mind—though not exactly as it occurred to you. I have been wondering if it is not possible that that is exactly what has occurred. But not by chance. If the beings who are responsible for these phenomena did not produce them with the purpose of securing specimens from our planet—er, well—something after the manner in which we dredge strange specimens from the depths of the sea."
"Surely," I cried, "you are joking. Even if it were possible for an object from the earth to be hurled, no, lifted, to the nearest planet, it would require years, ages, for it to travel such a distance."
"You forget," he reminded me, "that time is nonexistent in space. Today here may be a thousand—ten thousand—years in the past or the future on another planet. For that matter, if you were to be hurled through space on an interplanetary trip, you could not possibly tell whether your journey lasted ten minutes or ten centuries, if it were not that your body, your organs, accustomed to food and sleep at definite intervals, would warn you of the passage of what we call time”
I threw up my hands in despair. "It's all quite beyond me," I declared. "I can never grasp these relativity and fourth dimensional ideas. Let's get back to earth. What, in every-day language, do you hope to accomplish by your cruise? What is your purpose? Even if you find the darned things, what are you going to do about them?"
"My purposes are manifold," he replied. "First — " tapping them off with his fingers, "I hope to prove beyond discussion that the areas of Esmeism, or nonexistent gravitation, actually exist. Second: I hope to learn something of the laws that govern them; whether they are, as I assume, confined to certain localities; whether they are permanent or transient; whether they move about on defined courses or whether they merely occur in sequences along such routes. Third: I wish, if possible, to determine—at least to my own satisfaction— whether they are natural or are artificially produced. Fourth; If they are responsible for all the mysterious occurrences attributed to them. And finally—if I succeed in my other aims—I hope to be able to evolve some means by which they may be avoided, nullified or offset. I may be wholly unsuccessful, of course. I may not be fortunate enough to locate one of the areas."
"Or unfortunate enough," I suggested. "But aren't you undertaking a trifle too much to endeavor to checkmate such phenomena?"
"Possibly," he admitted. "But by study and observation man has learned to minimize the dangers of earthquakes and hurricanes, even though he has not been able to prevent them. If I could learn the laws, the actual facts regarding these areas, why mightn't it be possible to prophesy where and when they are likely to occur and thus enable others to avoid them?"
"That," said I, "sounds like the most sensible and comprehensible idea you have propounded. Admitting the existence of the areas—and I must confess I am beginning to believe in them, even if I can't quite swallow the idea of their being produced with malice aforethought by beings on another sphere—the common sense thing would be to learn all that is possible regarding them. Do you know I'm beginning to—well, almost to hope we do run across one of the devilish things."
CHAPTER VII Caught in a Vortex
WHEN I boarded the Loch Lovern for that memorable voyage that was destined to end in such an amazing and incredible manner, I found that the yacht had been completely transformed. She had been a most luxuriously appointed craft, a floating palace almost, provided with every device and accessory for amusement, comfort and whiling away idle hours and days. But now I found her—although outwardly no different than before—stripped of all superfluous fittings, a floating laboratory in fact, and equipped with scientific instruments utterly bewildering to me and that must have cost Sir Esme a fortune. Sir Esme was not one to do anything by halves. Once he had merged his personality and his life with that of the fictitious Alexander Macdonald, nothing, it appeared, mattered, aside from this one obsession to learn all it was humanly possible to learn in regard to his suppositious areas of Esmeism. I say suppositious, for while I had become a convert to the theory in a way, and regarded the existence of Esmeism as proven beyond question, still I did not feel that there was as yet any proof of the actual existence of the areas Sir Esme was about to hunt for.
And I am free to confess that, had I been convinced of their existences—or had I dreamed there was the remotest chance of our locating them—I most assuredly would not have accompanied Sir Esme on his remarkable and—as I considered it at the time—Quixotic cruise. Not that I consider myself less courageous than the average man, and certainly not because I overvalue my life or go out of my way to avoid risks. On the contrary I have always been something of a fatalist, and in my years spent in wild and savage places risks had been as much a part of the day's work as meals or sleep. But it requires something more than mere physical courage to face some unknown, mysterious, almost uncanny and supernatural danger, and few men, I believe—and I know personally I would not—would knowingly rub elbows with a tornado or a water-spout merely in order to study its habits or idiosyncrasies. And if Sir Esme's non-gravitational areas existed, they were a thousand times more dangerous, more uncertain and yes, more uncanny, than any tornado or water-spout that ever existed.
Sir Esme, however, although absolutely convinced of their actuality, possessed the true scientist's sublime courage when it came to delving into the mysteries of the unknown. And his one consuming desire was to locate one or more of the areas.
Oddly enough, too, he had no assistants—if I except Harvey—although knowing him and knowing the egotism of all great scientists, it was not so strange after all. Frankly—and I have had no inconsiderable experience with them—I have yet to meet the true scientist who is not inordinately jealous, suspicious and fearful of some one appropriating his ideas or discoveries. They guard their work and their experiments as if they were the most priceless and coveted riches, and yet, in the end, give them to the public without recompense. And in Sir Esme's case there was another reason. Like many men he was extremely sensitive to ridicule. He would take my humorous observations, my flippant treatment of his theories and reasonings in good part because he regarded me as more or less of a fool; because I made no claim to being a scientist. And yet, at times, I quite innocently and unconsciously wounded his feeling by my attitude. And I am quite certain that had he been ridiculed or scoffed at by a real scientist, it would have been more than he could have endured. Moreover, he had Harvey, and Harvey was more than an assistant, more a co-worker, I might say, quite efficient scientific to his fingertips, ever suggesting and aiding.
For the first few days after we left port the two were busy arranging and adjusting there instruments and equipments, testing them, unpacking cases and getting everything in readiness for use, while I—being passionately fond of the sea—enjoyed the ship and trip as I had promised Sir Esme I would; enjoyed his cigars and his liquors and enjoyed the excellent means, for Sir Esme's mania for science did not extend so far as to interfere with his fondness for good living. Though the yacht had been stripped of non-essential luxuries in fittings, no changes had been made in the steward's department.
To be sure, I offered to aid him and Harvey with the scientific stuff, but my offer was politely declined. So, having nothing better to do, I passed the time, as the Loch Lovern sailed steadily towards the Canaries, in keeping a journal of the voyage and in writing—while it was still fresh m my mind—a brief account of the incidents and events that had transpired—a work which has formed the foundation for the present narrative.
Until we sighted Teneriffe the cruise was without any particular interest—nothing unusual occurred and, somewhat to my surprise, Sir Esme did not as far as I know make any attempts to locate the areas for which he was in search. But on the seventh day out he had the yacht stopped and throughout the day he buried himself amid his instruments. I saw little of him except at meal times, when he informed me that we were on or near the verge of one of the localities where the phenomena might be expected. But to his obvious disappointment and somewhat to my relief, nothing came of it and we again began to cruise.
It was on the tenth day that, seated on the after-deck smoking and lazily watching the soaring man-o'-war birds, the sky suddenly was blotted out by a dense cloud of smoke that poured from a row of pipes that projected from the deck-houses. Almost instantly the vessel was enveloped in almost total darkness and at the same instant I felt a distinct shock, a shudder of the vessel, as if she had struck some bit of floating wreckage, or perhaps better, as if she had been proceeding under power and her engines had suddenly been reversed.
Instantly realization came to me. The smoke could mean but one thing: that Sir Esme had detected the presence of one of his Esmeismic areas and was attempting to safeguard the yacht and those upon her by means of his smoke-screen. And as I realized this a strange gripping fear came over me. I felt cold shivers chasing up and down my spine and I sat tense, every nerve strained and on edge, waiting I knew not what.
It is difficult to describe my sensations, difficult to put into cold print the feelings that raced through my brain as I sat there in that semi-darkness upon the yacht's deck with the heavy smoke-pall blotting out sea, sky, even the masts above me; in a silence that seemed uncanny, and knowing that close at hand, perhaps hovering over my head, was the strange, mysterious, incredible vortex that might at any instant sweep the ship with all on board into space. I felt like one who, having scoffed at ghosts, is suddenly confronted by one. It was more than fear, more than ordinary terror of something tangible. I had not believed in the things; I had not admitted—even to myself—that they actually existed, and I had not for a moment expected Sir Esme to succeed in his quest. And now, though it outraged common sense, though my mind could not fully grasp the actuality, the impossible had occurred and we were in the presence of the mysterious, invisible phenomenon. I felt, I knew, that everything depended upon the smoke-screen and yet I could not feel sure that it could be relied upon. It was all guesswork, all experiment, and I mentally cursed myself for being such a fool to have taken part in such a hare-brained, mad undertaking.
ALL this flashed through my consciousness in an instant. The next moment I had leaped up and was dashing headlong through the twilight obscurity towards Sir Esme's laboratory. But I checked myself in time. Even in my excitement I realized that to burst in upon him, to interrupt him at his work might result in disaster. Yet I was mad, filled with an overpowering desire to learn the truth, to know what was taking place. How long I stood there white-faced, trembling, striving to force myself to be calm, I cannot say. It seemed hours, yet it could not have been more than minutes. I was brought to my senses by a burst of sunlight, by seeing the pall of smoke vanish, and the next moment Sir Esme appeared. Never had I seen him so excited, so keyed up. Yet his face was radiant, his eyes fairly sparkled. Triumph was in his voice as he spoke.
"Congratulate me!" he cried. "I was right! The areas exist! And the smoke counteracts them, destroys them! Did — "
"Thank God!" I exclaimed fervently. "But — "
"Everything worked out exactly as I had surmised, as I had deduced," he continued, heedless of my interruption. "Did you feel the shock—the lift of the ship? It was marvelous! According to my instruments the entire vessel was lifted—drawn up nearly two inches before the smoke-screen became efficient. Think of it, my friend! And yet is was a comparatively small area and we were not at the exact apex. And"—with a note of real regret in his tones—"it was completely dissipated by the smoke. What a pity! How can I study the phenomena if I am forced to avoid disaster by using smoke and when, by using smoke, I destroy the phenomena?"
"Damned if I know!" I ejaculated. "But thank Heaven the confounded thing was destroyed. It was bad enough as it was. And if that was a weak area, may the Lord keep us away from a strong one. And yet— yet now it is over, I can't really believe it. I — "
"Believe it or not, it's a fact," he assured me. "And best of all it proves I was right about the localities where the areas exist. Do you know we are in almost the precise spot where I tentatively placed the Marie Celeste at the time her company vanished?"
I gasped. The calm manner in which he made the announcement was simply amazing, and, unconsciously, I cast anxious, half-terrified glances at the sparkling sea, as if expecting to see some visible manifestations of the phenomenon.
"For heaven's sake, let's get away from here," I cried. "You've proved your case, you've learned how to counteract the effects of the uncanny things. What more do you want?"
He laughed. "I've only begun," he declared. "I must learn if this was mere chance, if there are others, if they are constant, and I must investigate conditions in other localities—in the vicinity of the spot where the Kobenhavn was last reported, in that area where so many airplanes have vanished. I — "
"Look here," I interrupted. "You're taking a great risk, Sir Esme. Suppose you ran across one of the things at night, or when you were not prepared to throw off the smoke-screen. Why, before you could say 'Boo!' we would all be done for forever. It's deucedly hard for me to believe the things exist and yet I'm convinced there's something out here, some uncanny, mysterious business going on. And I admit I don't like the idea of monkeying with it. And how about your crew—what do they think of this matter? Sailors are usually a superstitious lot. Aren't they scared?"
"Why should they be?" he countered. "Captain Isbister has perfect confidence in me, and I warned him before starting that we might experience some rather disturbing occurrences. But of course I have not attempted to explain what they really are. He and the crew imagine it all a matter of scientific experiments— meteorological, in fact—and to their minds the slight jar they felt was produced by me. Besides"—he chuckled at the idea—"they have confidence in me. No doubt they argue that I must value my life and safety, and so there can be no danger. And anyway, they're all Scots and—I can say it without undue egotism—old retainers who regard their laird as little less than divine. They'd follow me into Hell without a question."
There is no use in repeating all the conversation, all the arguments I employed in my endeavor to induce Sir Esme to abandon his, to my mind, mad and suicidal intentions. He was obsessed with the idea, his first experience—which I hoped and prayed was mere chance and would never be repeated — had merely whetted his desire for more, and when he finally lost his patience and sarcastically offered to set me ashore if I feared to go on, I retorted that if he imagined I possessed less courage than he, Harvey or his Scotch seamen, he was vastly mistaken, and if he was bound to commit suicide and lose his ship or be whisked off into space by tempting Fate and fooling with things he didn't know anything about, he'd find me making an ass of myself along with him. Then, suddenly realizing that we'd both lost our tempers and had acted childishly, we grinned, had a drink, told each other we were damned fools, and, once more as friendly and agreeable as ever continued on the cruise.
Whether Sir Esme's calculations and deductions were at fault, whether the areas were no-existent, whether by chance we missed them, I cannot say, but days passed and despite his constant application, his constant observations and tests. Sir Esme was unable to locate a second Esmeismic disturbance. We cruised back and forth, sailed in wide circles, drifted idly over a glassy sea, passed and repassed the localities where, according to Sir Esme's deductions, the phenomena should be most numerous, but there was no trace of them. It began to look as if our first experience was to be the only one, and I am sure that Sir Esme himself was becoming discouraged and I could not blame him. He had made a great, a monumental discovery; he had evolved an elaborate, an amazing hypothesis; he had devoted years of research and a fortune to his efforts, and now, after all his preparations, his hopes and his optimistic expectations, he had found only one of the strange Esmeismic areas and had been unable to study it or to learn anything of value in regard to it. No, I should not say that, for as I told him, I felt that he had learned the most valuable and important fact of all, namely that the dread things could be nullified, rendered perfectly harmless. He smiled when I called his attention to this fact
"Quite true, to a certain extent," he agreed, "but absolutely valueless. You forget that, in order to make use of the smoke-screen, one must know when and where the phenomenon is about to occur. I, being constantly on watch and equipped with the most delicate of devices for detecting its presence, was thus enabled to use the smoke to advantage. But you will recall that, even so, I came very near complete failure. What chance then would a ship or an airplane have? By the time the area was detected it would be too late to nullify it. No ship has ever had time to send an SOS before being overwhelmed, much less an opportunity of producing a screen of smoke."
I had to admit he was right. As matters stood his discovery did not amount to anything as a safeguard.
Sir Esme possessed the proverbial British slick-to-it-iveness and it began to look as if the cruise might continue forever and the Loch Lovern might become a second Flying Dutchman. We were in the doldrums at that time, and for day after day the ocean stretched as smooth as a sheet of burnished silver under a cloudless sky. It was beastly hot; time began to hang rather heavily on my hands, and I had become firmly convinced— in my own mind—that the supposed area of Esmeism we had met had been nothing but an atmospheric disturbance and that the things did not actually exist.
I had, in fact, returned to my original point of view. I thought what a superstitious fool I had been to have been terrified by an imaginary danger that unquestionably existed only in my friend's mind, and I was dead sick and tired of the whole fruitless search. I tried fishing. I dipped up buckets of the floating sargassum and amused myself examining the strange crabs, fish and other marine creatures that inhabited it, and I searched the horizon until my eyes ached, hoping vainly for the glimpse of a distant sail or smudge of smoke to tell me we were not the only ship afloat upon that vast, limitless expanse of sea.
IT was while thus sweeping the horizon with my glasses one morning that I descried a low dark object breaking the sea's rim. For a moment I thought it a whale. Then I decided it was a floating log. Yet it did not appear exactly like a water-logged tree and, my curiosity aroused, I hurried aloft for a better view. Then as I focussed my glasses upon the thing, I discovered it was a derelict, the almost submerged hull of some wrecked ship. Almost at the same instant the captain discovered it and verified my observations. There is always something tragic, something exciting about sighting a derelict and soon all aboard the Loch Lovern, who were not otherwise engaged, had gathered on deck, their eyes fixed upon the distant wreck. Slowly we moved towards it; each minute it became nearer, clearer, and a couple of hours after I had first caught sight of the thing it was in plain view: the hull of a wooden vessel, with the jagged stumps of masts projecting above the decks that were almost awash, with shattered, splintered bulwarks, and so weather-beaten, so overgrown with seaweed that showed each time the hulk rose or fell to the long, almost invisible swell, that it obviously had been floating about for a long time.
Something, some whim tempted me to visit the wreck, and Sir Esme ordered a boat lowered and manned, although he declined to join me, declaring that if he deserted his instruments it would be just like his luck to miss detecting the presence of one of his confounded areas. "Well, if one comes along, shunt it off from the derelict," I laughed as I jumped into the waiting boat. "You see, we haven't any smoke-screen devices on her."
As we pulled away I saw Sir Esme turn and enter the laboratory where Harvey had remained on duty, and I regretted having spoken so flippantly, for he looked a bit hurt and I knew how mortified he felt at the failure of his plans. But a moment later the boat was alongside the hulk and with some difficulty, for everything was covered with slime and I dared not trust to the dangling remnants of rotted cordage, I managed to scramble to the deck. There really was nothing much to see. The decks, where not washed by the water, were white with the droppings of sea birds. The deck houses were crushed in as if by falling spars, and a glance within the remains of the cabin revealed only black, ill-smelling water. But the hatches were still in place and I surmised that it must be the air within the hold that kept the wreck afloat. Now that I was upon the derelict all the lure of the unknown, ali the fascination of the ocean waif was lost, and I was on the point of calling to the men to bring the boat alongside when one of them called out that a portion of the wreck's name was still legible upon the stern.
"Can you make it out?" I asked, peering over the remains of the after-rail. "We ought to report her if we can find out what she is."
"Pretty well weathered, sir," he answered, "and only shows when she rolls a bit to sta'bo'd. Looks to me like a foreign name, sir. Yes, sir, that's what 'tis. Dago o' some sort, sir. Rum sort o' name I'd say, begins with a S an' ends with a S, if — "
At that instant I felt a sudden rush of air. There was a peculiar gurgling, moaning sound from behind me.
Startled, fearing that the wreck was about to sink beneath me, I whirled, tense, ready to leap into the sea and swim for my life. As I did so, there was a sharp, terrified shout from the men: "Gawd, the Loch Lovern!" But I had already seen. Never will I forget what my horrified eyes saw. I seemed frozen, glued to the spot, paralyzed. From beneath the yacht's keel a great column of water rose up. A foaming, whirling, roaring geyser. And upon its summit—rocking, pitching, spinning like a teetotum was the Loch Lovern.
It was so terrible, so unreal, so uncanny, I could not believe my senses, I seemed in a nightmare, a ghastly-dream. And it seemed all the more dreamlike, all the more incredible and unreal because on every side the sea stretched calm, unruffled by the faintest breeze, and overhead the brilliant sun blazed down from a flawless sky of blue.
Up and up, faster and yet faster, rose the yacht, while below her the water boiled and roared like an inverted whirlpool. And then, between her keel and the maelstorm below, my incredulous eyes saw vacant space. The Loch Lovern was floating in air! She was poised, gyrating madly, fully fifty feet above the sea, and with a numbing shock realization came to me. She was caught in one of the Esmeismic vortices, she was being lifted, projected into space!
It had all happened in an instant—perhaps in the fraction of a second—yet to me it seemed minutes, hours, as I gazed, almost bereft of my senses, at the yacht being lifted bodily into the air by-that unseen terrible force.
Then suddenly yacht, sky, that fearful ominous cone of swirling sea, seemed blotted out. Where, a moment before they had been was a dense black cloud. Then to our ears came the sounding of a rending crash. Waves came rushing towards us from the writhing, rolling cloud of black. The derelict rocked sluggishly, the boat pitched and tossed, water hissed across the decks about my feet. I gasped, caught my breath, seemed choking, as I watched, still incapable of movement, striving to penetrate that pall of blackness where the Loch Lovern had vanished. Yet my mind was working, my brain was functioning. I knew what had happened. Sir Esme had released his smoke-screen. The gravitation had been restored, the yacht had fallen back into the sea. But too late. The yacht crashing back from such a height must has been shattered, battered, and Sir Esme, Harvey and the others must have been killed.
Slowly the smoke thinned, drifting away. With a hoarse shout I came to life, leaped into the boat, shouted, swore at the men to bend to their oars. Frantically they pulled for the wrecked and shattered yacht that was sinking rapidly beneath the sea.
CHAPTER VIII The Re-Establishment of Personalities
AS we reached the scene of the terrible disaster and the boat bumped against fragments of wreckage, the splintered topmasts of the Lock Lovern vanished and only the litter of floating wood, a shattered boat, the deck fittings of the yacht and odds and ends of flotsam remained as evidences of the tragic fate of Sir Esme's ship.
Standing in the stern of the boat I searched among the wreckage for possible survivors, hoping against hope that some one—Sir Esme, Harvey, members of the yacht's crew—might have escaped instant death. Within a dozen yards of the boat a body floated, and the next moment we were lifting the unconscious form of Harvey into our boat. I thanked Heaven that he still lived, and save for an ugly gash across one cheek and a bruise on his forehead he seemed unhurt.
A moment later we were beside another body. The uniform identified it as Captain Isbister, but the face and head were crushed beyond recognition. Two other dead and mutilated bodies floated among the wreckage, and then, half-hidden in the tangled debris, we found Sir Esme. And as we lifted him gently I fervently thanked God, for he was alive and, though unconscious, appeared to have escaped unharmed. But we were in a desperate plight. We were afloat in a small boat in mid-Atlantic, burdened with two unconscious men, hundreds of miles from the nearest land, far out of the track of ships, and our only food and water were the meagre supplies with which the small boats were always provided. Yet I was so busy striving to restore Sir Esme and Harvey to consciousness that I scarcely realized the situation until the quartermaster in charge of the boat's crew spoke.
"Beggin' your pardon, sir," he said, "we're in a rum fix, what with the bite o' biscut an' the keg o' water aboard, sir. Maybe, sir, if I may be so bold as to suggest it, sir, we'd best have a look about an' see can we pick something from the wreckage, sir. And there's that other stove boat, sir. Maybe the biscuit an' water in her's all right, sir."
"Yes, by all means," I agreed, "but be quick about it. We must get Sir Esme and Harvey to the derelict. It's our only refuge for the present."
Luck was with us. Not only did we find the biscuit and water in the wrecked boat still intact, but among the debris we picked up a cask half full of water, a case of wine, a keg of ship's beef and an unopened box of cheese. There was no danger of dying of thirst or starvation for some time, and even as we rowed towards the derelict, I was forming vague plans for salvation.
Even the waterlogged derelict seemed welcome and safe, in comparison to the cockle-shell of a boat, and, having transferred Sir Esme and Harvey to the cleanest and driest portion of the deck we devoted all our efforts to reviving them. Both men evidently had been stunned and rendered unconscious before falling into the sea, a most fortunate thing, for they had drawn but little water into their lungs. Rubbing them, slapping them, rolling them on the decks, forcing the welcome and providential wine down their throats, we worked at them. Harvey was the first to regain consciousness. He opened his eyes, took a deep breath, blinked and gazed about. "What—what's happened?" he whispered. "Where am I? Where's Captain Mendoza? And who are you? I don't recognize you. How did you get here?"
Then, before I could reply, before I could recover from my astonishment at his failure to recognize me and my dread that he had received a blow that had deranged him, he continued, "Of course! Now I remember. The Santa Ines was wrecked, struck by some sort of a cyclone. But I thought—I must have imagined it—I was blown, sucked from her. But of course you picked me up. Where are the others? Who is the poor chap yonder?" He indicated Sir Esme.
I was so amazed that for a moment I could not speak. He remembered he had been on the Santa Ines. His memory had returned. But how was it possible he did not know Sir Esme; that he did not know me or the quartermaster? Then, before I could frame a question, Sir Esme drew a deep breath, sighed, and opening his eyes, sat up with a jerk.
"Thank Heaven you've recovered!" I exclaimed. "I —”
"What the deuce has happened?" he ejaculated. "What the devil am I doing here? Where's — "
"Don't you remember?" I asked anxiously, a numbing chill at my heart, for fear he had received some serious injury to his brain. "The yacht was wrecked— hurled into the air by one of the vortices. But thank God you used the smoke in time to save your life and that of Harvey. And you're on the derelict. I picked you both up. It — "
"Yacht! Wreck! Vortices!" he cried. "What the devil are you talking about? What do you mean by smoke? What derelict are you referring to?"
My worst fears, I felt, were borne out. Sir Esme was raving. He must be out of his head. But perhaps, I thought, it was merely the effects of shock, a temporary loss of memory.
"It will all come back to you in a short time," I assured him. "No wonder you cannot get your wits together or your memory working right away. It's the same with Harvey; he didn't recognize me at first. But thank God we are all safe for the present, though poor Isbister and the rest are lost"
Sir Esme was frowning, his bushy brows knit, obviously striving to recall the details of the catastrophe.
"I remember being on the yacht," he said at last, speaking slowly and as if voicing each detail as it returned to him. "And I recall that you were with me. and Harvey, of course. But what the devil we were doing, what happened, is all a blank. Sorry to hear old Isbister's gone. I suppose we must have run into this hulk, eh? Funny thing, that; he was a good seaman. Must have been in the night, I presume. But I can't grasp what you meant by the Loch Lovern being hurled into the air by some devilish thing you call a vortex, unless you mean we were hit by a water-spout. But what's to be done next? Can't stop here on a half-sunken wreck forever."
I shook my head. Sir Esme spoke rationally, sanely, but evidently he could not recall the tragedy. And if— my thoughts were interrupted by Harvey who, having apparently regained nearly his normal strength, had been sitting up, staring with a puzzled expression at Sir Esme and myself.
"Pardon me, but are you Sir Esme McDonald?" he asked.
Sir Esme wheeled. "What?" he exclaimed. "By Gad, are we all crazy? Of course I am. I might just as well ask you if you're Harvey."
"Well, I'm not," was the amazing reply. "Who's Harvey? I never heard of him. I'm Professor Archibald Humiston of Langford. I recognized you from pictures I've seen and I am interested and glad to know you on account of your excellent article in the Sportsman on the preservation of wild game. I'm intensely interested in the subject. But what, may I ask, brought you here, Sir Esme? I was not aware that there was a vessel in sight when the Santa Ines ran into that terrific whirlwind. And now here you are with these other strangers aboard; all that's left of the poor old Santa. And if you wish to know what I was doing on a Spanish ship, I was returning from the Canaries, where my yacht had gone on the rocks."
Sir Esme's jaw gaped; he was gazing at the man we had known as Harvey as though he had been a ghost, and I, too, was staring at him, speechless with astonishment. The fellow's lost memory had been miraculously restored. He remembered who he was, where he had been when disaster overtook him, but—judging from his words—he could recall nothing that had occurred subsequent to the loss of the Santa Ines.
Sir Esme was the first to speak. "By Jove!" he cried, "either you're as crazy as a mad hatter or I am. You may be Professor Humiston— I'll admit you might be the King of Dahomey or the President of Argentina, for all I know to the contrary. But to me you're Harvey, the chap I picked up drifting, damn near drowned, off the West Indies. And do you mean to tell me you never met me before? Why, by Gad, you've been with me, my man, for—for — "
"You're mad!" the other burst out, cutting Sir Esme's sentence short. "Picked me up over by the Antilles. Me your valet! Hang it all, you may be Sir Esme McDonald, Baronet, but you're stark, staring mad if you say such things. Why, good Lord, man, here I am, still wet from my immersion, still on all that's left of the Santa Ines, and you have the monumental nerve to tell me that you picked me up a thousand miles from here. You — "
"Gentlemen, please, please wait a bit," I begged them, as I saw Sir Esme's face flushing with anger. "Let me try to explain."
In as few words as possible I tried to make them understand. But it was hopeless to try to awaken their memories. Harvey—no, Professor Humiston had, by some freak of mind, perhaps through shock, perhaps through some strange, mysterious effect of the Esmeismic area, been restored to full and complete memory of his life up to the time when the Santa Ines had met with disaster, which, I was now firmly convinced, had been caused by a non-gravitational vortex exactly as the Loch Lovern had been wrecked. But all subsequent events, his rescue, his service with Sir Esme, his life as the mysterious Harvey, had all been wiped completely from his memory.
On the other hand. Sir Esme, through the same shock or the same effects of the force that had destroyed his yacht, had lost all memory of the events leading up to the disaster, and as I soon discovered he had not the faintest recollection of having discovered Esmeism, of having set out on a voyage to locate the Esmeismic areas. More, and most amazing of all, he did not remember anything whatsoever about his scientific work. Science, scientific terms conveyed no meaning to him. He knew less of science or at least no more on the subject than did Hobson, the quartermaster. All the months, the years he had devoted to scientific work were a blank to him. His other personality, Alexander Macdonald, had ceased to exist even as a memory, and only Sir Esme remained.
INDEED, both he and Professor Humiston scoffed openly at my attempts to convince them of the truth. They both regarded me as having become mentally deranged from my experiences, and each looked upon the other as a bit mad and regarded himself as the only really sane member of our shipwrecked party. Nevertheless they became good friends and presently ceased arguing and turned their attention to the more pressing and important matter of evolving some means of rescuing ourselves from our precarious position. Very probably we might all have succumbed to thirst, starvation or other causes had it not been for Hobson, who remembered the yacht's position when he had last been at the wheel. And being an unusually observant fellow for a common sailor, and with ambitions to become a navigator, he had noticed that the chart showed a group of small islands about two to three degrees south and a degree and a half west of our position. To attempt to traverse nearly two hundred miles of ocean in a small boat, whose only means of propulsion was oars, was a somewhat dangerous undertaking, not to mention the hardships it would entail. But with a seaworthy, well-built boat and in the calmest portion of the ocean, it was a far less hazardous matter than to remain upon a drifting derelict, that might never be sighted by a passing ship. Moreover, we had no choice in the matter.
That same night a long, slow swell came rolling out of the east, the waterlogged hulk rose and fell sluggishly, water washed over its all but submerged decks, and when dawn burst in a blaze of glory over the vast expanse of sea, we found that the derelict's hours were numbered. During the night she had settled appreciably. At any moment the hatches might give way and she would then plunge like a plummet to the bottom of the ocean. So, having breakfasted on crackers, cheese and wine, we clambered into the small boat and pushed off from the pathetic hulk that, within the next few hours, would vanish forever.
And we were not a moment too soon. Scarcely were we clear of the wreck when there was a rending, tearing explosion; fragments of timbers and hatch covers flew high in air, water poured in torrents over the rent decks and into the yawning hold, and suddenly lifting her stern in air she plunged beneath the waves. But in that moment that her battered counter had been raised clear of the sea, her name, painted amid ornate scrolls across her stern, had been revealed, and with incredulous eyes I had read: "Santa Ines, Barcelona"! It seemed impossible, incredible, utterly beyond belief. Harvey—no, Professor Humiston—had been right!
By some freak of fate he, we, had found refuge upon the hulk of the ship from which he had been cast into the sea. Of course he didn't appear in the least surprised, for he was utterly unaware that nearly two years had passed since the Santa Ines had been left, a battered, hopeless wreck, by the phenomenon that had destroyed her and had carried him— yes, I was forced to believe it— hundreds of miles across the ocean. The Lord only knows what the effect might have been had Sir Esme read the derelict's name, but fortunately his head was turned at the time and it escaped him. But as he recalled nothing of his theories and merely knew he had rescued Professor Humiston from the sea in a distant part of the ocean, in all probability the revelation of the derelict's name would merely have confirmed his belief in Harvey's—no, the Professor's—mental delusions.
There is little more to tell. In due time we reached the islands, little the worse for our long, hazardous and uncomfortable voyage. They were uninhabited, univiting, rocky islets, but with some vegetation, the homes of countless sea-fowl, and capable of supporting the lives of such castaways as ourselves indefinitely. But we were not doomed to remain for long marooned upon the Frailes, as they were called. A week after we had landed, a Portuguese whaling schooner passed within sight; she saw our signals, tacked in close to shore, and an hour later we were all safe aboard and bound for Fayal, where we arrived without other adventures.
Professor Humiston and Sir Esme are still on friendly terms, but each still feels that the other is a bit off, though they never mention nor allude to the matter. All references to their strange experiences are tabooed, but on the subject of wild game preservation they are entirely in accord. And as neither remembers anything whatsoever in regard to that strange, mysterious force we called Esmeism, and, as all of its discoverer's records, instruments, data and other material were lost with the Loch Lovern, the world has never learned the truth. Sir Esme still believes his yacht was destroyed by a terrific atmospheric disturbance—a local cyclone or tornado—and Professor Humiston is convinced that the same whirlwind wrecked the Santa Ines. And never, since that first day when we had taken refuge on the derelict, have I attempted to disabuse their minds of their hallucinations nor have I tried to recall the past to them.
And sometimes, when I am with my two friends, I begin to have doubts myself. I begin to have most disturbing thoughts and to wonder if, by any possibility, it is I who have the hallucinations; if the whole memory of Sir Esme's weird and amazing experiments, the search for the Esmeismic areas, the fate of the yacht, are not all figments of my imagination, the result of the strain of my experiences. Always, when such half-formed doubts assail me, I seek out Hobson, who is now a paunchy, prosperous waterman at Great Marlowe on the Thames, where he does an excellent business renting punts and canoes. And over glasses of ale in the cozy little pub he keeps beside the river, we talk over old times and the loss of the Loch Lovern, and I feel vastly relieved and quite reassured when Hobson confirms my memory of what we saw.
"Lor' love ye!" he exclaims. "Didn' I see her with me own eyes, aflyin' 'round an' 'round like a carousel at a fair, with a hill o' water 'neath her keel, an' nigh onto a cable's length o' thin air twixt her an' the sea? Aye, sir, a rum sight as ever was, though I ne'er mentions of it to no one, bein’, as did I, they'd be callin' of me a bloomin' liar an' laughh’ at it for a sailor's yarn. But me an' you knows what we seen, sir, an' no denyin' of it. An' 'twas that as made me give up the sea an' tyke up with this here. That an' mem'ry o' Cap'n Isbister an' me mates gone to Davy Jones in that devil's own giddy-go-round. And how's Sir Esme, sir, an' yon professor chap what was Harvey afore the Loch Lovern come to a end, sir?"The End