Saturday, 6 April 2013
The Emperor of Darkness
For the Beginning of this serial, part 1 of 6, see here.
The Emperor of Darkness!
In the great World-Darkness, with Civilisation blinded and at a standstill, a Master-Mind is planning to make himself Ruler of all the Earth—and to make CAPTAIN JUSTICE & CO. his unwilling tools!
By MURRAY ROBERTS
From The Modern Boy, 2 June 34. This appears to be part 2 of 6 of the story, The World in Darkness and follows the beginning, Marcus the Mysterious. Digitized by Doug Frizzle April 2013.
Searching for Midge.
CAPTAIN JUSTICE was the first to reach the extreme end of the little South Atlantic island on which his magnificent all-electric yacht, Electra lay wrecked. The island tapered to a rugged spit of rock and sand, and climbing to the highest point of the promontory, the famous Gentleman Adventurer watched Dr. O'Mally and Len Connor converging towards him as they worked their way along the shelving beach, with the stranded yacht looming gauntly in the background.
They were all wearing strange-looking glasses specially designed by Justice's old friend and scientific adviser. Professor Flaznagel, to enable them to see in the awful blackness that had descended on the world, completely blotting out sun, moon. and stars, and destroying all light.
Justice found the cold, yellowish glare of the darkness-piercing glasses trying to the eyes. But he could see, and that was the main thing.
Beyond his field of vision solid walls of darkness hemmed in the sea, giving it the appearance of molten metal at the bottom of a vast dark crucible.
Flaznagel was the only man who had foreseen and prepared against the coming of the Black Menace, as the world-wide black-out was called. But Justice had no idea what those preparations were. Flaznagel had mysteriously disappeared six months ago, and just as mysteriously he had reappeared about an hour ago, coming aboard the stranded yacht and greeting them as casually as if the world was just as usual, and he'd popped in for breakfast. He had brought with him sight-giving glasses for each of the comrades.
Where and how he had come the comrades did not know. All he had mentioned was his headquarters, which he had vaguely referred to as Titanic Tower.
But all his casualness had vanished when Justice mentioned a mysterious ghostly ship that had dropped anchor off the island some time before. Now that ship was nowhere to be seen. Instantly the professor had connected it with a mysterious individual named Marcus, who, he declared, was seeking to take advantage of the universal darkness and make himself Emperor of the World!
Marcus had endeavoured to obtain Flaznagel's aid in his criminal scheme and had been scornfully told off. Now he was trying to locate Flaznagel’s headquarters—already he had stolen the secret of the darkness-piercing glasses.
Flaznagel was now impatient to return to his headquarters with Justice & Co. But red-headed young Midge, the third of Justice's staunch band of supporters, was missing. He had stolen away from the stranded yacht's control-room before the professor's arrival, intent on groping his way below in the terrible darkness, reaching the yacht's larder, and satisfying his terrific appetite.
Not a trace of him was to be found aboard the yacht, and now Justice, O'Mally, and Len were ashore, searching for him, leaving Flaznagel to repair the yacht's broken wireless, whilst Ham Chow, the Chinese cook, prepared a hasty meal.
"Any luck?'' called Justice to O'Mally, as his portly Irish second-in-command came nearer.
O'Mally shook his head gloomily.
"Not a sign of him," he replied. "Faith, it begins to look as if the poor lad must have wandered into the sea in this darkness, bad cess to it, and been drowned!"
He reached the captain's side and waited for Len Connor to join them. The young wireless operator had halted some distance away, and was ranging the narrow strip of beach like a hound seeking the lost scent of a fox.
Suddenly he shouted, waving his arms, and brandishing some object he had found close to the water's edge.
Justice raced to where Len was standing, O'Mally puffing and panting at his heels.
"Begob, 'tis young Midge's hat!" gulped the big Irishman, recognising the crumpled peaked cap that dangled from Connor's hand. "Faith, and where did ye find that?"
"Right here," replied Len, indicating the patch of sand beneath his feet. "And—look! Here's the mark of a boat's keel, drawn clear of the water, and several sets of footprints. They're comparatively fresh. They can't have been here very long."
Justice's lips tightened as he dropped to one knee and examined the stretch of trampled, moist soil that fringed the edge of the sea. He was a born scout. He could read a trail with the skill of a black tracker, and the message conveyed by the marks was as clear to him as a printed newspaper.
"You're quite right, Connor. A boat was beached here less than half an hour ago!" he exclaimed sharply. "The tide has ebbed since then, and here's the line of her keel. She carried three men or more, who landed at this point and walked inland. Here are their footprints, going and coming. Two wore rubber-soled shoes; the third had boots with pointed toes."
LEN CONNOR nodded. He could picture the scene—a strange craft creeping up under cover of darkness, to land her occupants on this bleak, barren island. But with what purpose? Who were the mysterious trio? Whence had they come, and where had they gone?
"They must have come ashore from the ship that was anchored off here an hour or so ago," muttered Justice, half to himself. "Now she's clean disappeared."
"And so has Midge," said Len Connor, in a strained voice. "But here's his hat—right on the spot where those fellows landed!"
O'Mally clenched his big fists. His eyes bulged behind the grotesque goggles that obscured the upper part of his round face.
"Faith, d'ye suppose the boy's been kidnapped? Are you certain that it is his hat?"
Len Connor was more than certain. Dumbly he held out the crumpled cap. Tucked away in the lining was a packet of chewing-gum, a piece of milk-chocolate, and a slab of toffee.
"Midge's iron rations," he said huskily. No further identification was necessary. It was the missing youngster's hat sure enough. He always had something in the way of food hidden away either in his hat or in his numerous pockets.
O'Mally swallowed hard, and made an unnecessary fuss of blowing his nose. The sight of the sticky chunk of toffee, so typical of the absent boy, brought a big lump to his throat.
It was impossible not to connect Midge's baffling disappearance with the mysterious strangers who had recently landed on the narrow strip of beach.
Justice stared grimly at the trampled sand, where he now read signs of a desperate struggle that would account for the hat Connor had found. His troubled gaze roved to the empty sea. and swept the barren expanse of the island that they had searched from end to end.
He knew that it would be useless seeking farther. Cold fury surged up in him at the thought of Midge helpless in the power of an unscrupulous enemy, whose motive in kidnapping the red-haired youngster was as vague as his identity.
Instinctively he was reminded of the professor's story of the sinister unknown man—Marcus the Mysterious— who was planning to terrorise and pillage the great cities of the world under cover of the Black Menace.
Was it Marcus whose ship had lain off the island? Was it Marcus into whose clutches Midge had fallen? Such were the questions that drummed in his mind as he squared his shoulders and met the puzzled, uneasy looks of his two companions.
"Bedad, and what d'ye suppose has become of the poor boy?" demanded O'Mally dejectedly. "And what are we going to do about it, captain?"
"We must consult the professor!" snapped Justice.
The words had scarcely left his lips when a wild howl of excitement drew their attention to the distant yacht. The lean figure of Professor Flaznagel was poised high in the bows of the stranded craft. His ragged beard was blowing in the breeze as he stood flourishing his long arms and beckoning frantically to his companions. His voice came faintly to their ears, but it was impossible to hear what he was saying.
"Faith, and what's bitten the old fellow now?" exclaimed O'Mally. " ‘Tis a fine stew he's in, capering about like a cat on hot bricks."
"May be news of Midge," suggested Len Connor eagerly. "I expect he's got the radio working, and picked up some sort of message."
"Or it may be an urgent call from his headquarters," jerked Justice, scrambling up the shelving beach and making a bee-line for the yacht. "Pick up your feet, you chaps!"
Len Connor frowned puzzledly as he pocketed Midge's cap and broke into a run. It had suddenly struck him that, though they had searched every yard of the island, they had discovered no trace of the conveyance— boat or plane—that had brought the professor from his secret base in mid-Atlantic!
How had he succeeded in reaching the island. He hadn't told them yet. It was only one of the many mysteries that remained to be solved, and which were to be revealed to Justice and his companions within the next few hours.
MIDGE was quite unaware of Professor Flaznagel's arrival on the wrecked yacht. It was some time before the old scientist's sudden and mysterious appearance out of the darkness that the red-haired youngster had succumbed to the demands of his appetite and decided on a foraging expedition into the black depths of the yacht.
"I've got to get hold of some grub!" was his determined conclusion. "If I don't have a meal very soon I shall be too blinkin' weak to eat anything at all. If I can't find my way down to the kitchen, I'll eat my blessed hat."
Despite, the pitch darkness that filled the control-room, he had no difficulty in locating the hatchway that led below decks and descending the rubber-covered steps.
The snoring of Dr. O'Mally, and the subdued voices of Justice and Len Connor faded in the distance. Midge chuckled to himself as he reached the foot of the shaft and turned in the direction of the main saloon. The utter blackness had no terrors for him. The pleasing aroma of a grilled sausage would have lured him through a dense African forest, infested with snakes, savage beasts, and bloodthirsty cannibals. For the sniff of a fried egg he would have cheerfully braved the horrors of a catacomb full of vampire bats and grinning skeletons.
He could smell no sausage; but his imagination pictured scores of them, plump and brown, sizzling and spluttering in a frying-pan as big round as a wagon wheel.
Festoons of hams, stacks of cheeses, and mountains of tinned foods swam before his vision as he groped his way along the passage, avoiding the cabin doors that opened on either side of him.
"Pity I didn't tackle this job long ago," he muttered confidently, "Just a question of using one's nut, and—”
"Suffering cyclones!" A million stars danced before Midge's, eyes as his red head came in violent contact with some unexpected obstacle. Either he had grown considerably since he had last visited the saloon, or the ceiling had dropped.
The latter was the case. Rafters and girders had been crushed downwards when the yacht had been thrown with shattering force on the rugged island. The walls bulged outwards, and the floor was littered with debris. As Midge made his way across the dining-saloon where he had enjoyed so many luxurious meals, draughts of icy-cold air whistled through the yawning rents in the yacht's hull, numbing his ears, his bare hands, and the tip of his snub nose.
The youngster was half-inclined to regret that he had left the warmth and shelter of the upper turret. Finding his way to the kitchen was not such an easy task as he had imagined. He barked his shins, twisted one ankle, and came within an inch of dropping through a hole in the floor that gaped suddenly beneath his feet like a hungry mouth. Submerged in the clinging darkness, he eventually managed to locate the door he sought, leading to the cook's quarters.
But the door was jammed. It was a crushing blow to Midge's hopes. His heart seemed to sink down into his boots as he twisted the handle, and applied his shoulder to the stout panels that intervened between him and the means to satisfy his increasing hunger.
Finally he remembered that the door opened in the opposite direction to that in which he was directing his efforts. He uttered a cheer as it swung back on its hinges, and his snub nose was greeted with the familiar aroma of coffee, haunches of bacon, and recently cooked food.
"My hat, that smells good. Now we shan't be long!"
Midge was in his element, and the darkness was no longer a handicap now that he had reached the kitchen. Many a time he had raided the larder in the dead of night, fearing to switch on a light in case he should betray his presence to the watchful Ham Chow. But there was no danger to be feared in that quarter. The Chinese cook was safely out of the way. With the uncanny sixth sense of a somnambulist, Midge threaded his way between electric stoves, plate-washing machines, and other labour-saving devices that were bolted to the floor and had not been dislodged when the yacht had struck.
But the big electrically-cooled provision store was in a state of chaos and confusion. Goods were scattered all over the place. The floor was strewn with foodstuffs in tins, packets, and cases. Midge was entirely dependent on his senses of touch, taste, and smell.
"Like a blinkin' lucky-dip!” he muttered, foraging about in the darkness. "Here's a loaf of bread. That'll be something to go on with. Butter—cheese—my hat, some sort of a pie! Three rousing cheers! Sardines! Whoopee, what's this? Feels like a jolly old ham or a leg of mutton!"
The youngster proceeded to minister to his hunger.
"Feel a bit better now," decided Midge presently, loosening his belt a couple of holes. "Can't say I'm struck on eating in the dark, but it's a blinkin' sight better than not eating at all!"
Then he rested for a while, feeling very pleased with life, though a trifle distended and uncomfortable. The turret seemed a very long way off, and so far there was nothing to denote that his absence had been discovered.
"Nothing like a spot of grub to pull a chap together," he mused drowsily. "Wonder if old Flashnozzle's turned up yet? S'pose I ought to rustle some prog together and hike it upstairs. Be a bit of a surprise for 'em when I waltz home with the bacon and tell 'em what a slap-up feed I've had!"
Wearily Midge hoisted himself to his feet, and groped his way towards the exit from the store-room. It was at that moment that the stranded yacht gave a slight lurch as it settled more firmly on the rocks.
Midge felt the floor tilt, as it a giant foot had disturbed its level. There was a rustling noise in the darkness overhead. The red-haired youngster uttered a wild yell of alarm as some weighty object swooped down on his shoulders, and he was flattened to the floor with a grip of huge, hard, cold fingers fastened on the back of his neck!
At least, they felt like fingers; the finders of an enormous, clutching hand. Midge was not to know that it was merely a bunch of bananas, hung up to ripen, that had been dislodged from the roof, to drop squarely on top of him.
He was quite convinced that he had been attacked by some huge and ghastly monster—a denizen of the desert island—that had sought shelter in the wrecked yacht under cover of the weird world-darkness.
The snub-nosed youngster never moved quicker in his life. The touch of the ponderous, icy fingers on the nape of his neck stimulated him to action like a galvanic shock. On hands and knees, with hair on end, and his vocal organs paralysed with horror after that one wild yell, he scuttled into the darkness, neither knowing nor caring where he was going.
He encountered numerous invisible obstacles, bruising his limbs and bumping his head painfully. Presently he became aware that the weight was removed from his back and the giant hand no longer clasped his neck. The bunch of bananas had dropped off and lay where it had fallen in the middle of the kitchen.
PANTING and breathless, half-ashamed of his blind panic, Midge came to a halt, squatting in the dense gloom while he slowly collected his scattered wits. There were no sounds of pursuit. All he could hear was the muffled pounding of his own heart.
Fright passed; common sense reasserted itself.
"Blinkin' idiot, that's what I am!" muttered the youngster disgustedly. "Scared of my own shadow! Something dropped on top of me from one of the shelves. Might have been a string of sausages or some chunks of frozen meat. Hand be blowed! Crumbs, it felt mighty like one, though! Eugh!"
Midge shivered, and fondled the back of his neck. The only injuries he had suffered were sundry bumps and abrasions collected in the course of his mad flight. He felt a sudden desire for the shelter of the turret and the company of his friends. The sooner he rejoined them the better.
HE scrambled to his feet, and it was not until that moment that the youngster realised he had lost his bearings. He had not the vaguest idea where he was. He was completely lost in the black depths of the wrecked yacht.
"Suffering cats, this has properly put the lid on it!" Midge sucked in his breath in a gulp of dismay. He was not afraid, but he knew that he was in a tight corner. He might wander about for hours without being lucky enough to find the narrow shaft and stairs leading to the control-room on the upper deck. And the more he wandered about the more likely he was to get trapped amid the debris, or topple through some hole in the floor.
"Steady! Keep your nut, my lad!" he muttered stoutly. "No use getting windy. If only I can find my way back to the blinkin' kitchen I shall know where I am. I am sure to run up against something that'll be a bit of good to the jolly old bump of locality. Here goes!"
With groping hands, he commenced his exploration of the immediate darkness. He ran up against many things that failed to give him any clue to his whereabouts, but added several painful protuberances to his baffled bump of locality.
"Crumbs, I shall be all blinkin' bumps by the time I've finished," he grunted, as he banged his head for the tenth time against some unseen projection. "I never knew there were so many passages and steps in this blessed ship and doors that won't open."
Most of the doors and bulkhead communications had become hopelessly jammed when the yacht had struck the rocks, crumpling and crushing her slender hull like an eggshell.
The next twenty minutes were like a nightmare to Midge. He had lost all sense of time and everything else. He seemed to have been wandering about for hours, encountering nothing save walls, barriers of twisted ironwork, and invisible obstacles that tripped his feet and ripped his clothes. Finally he slithered down a flight of steps, and knew by the mingled smells of lubricating oil, rubber, and fused insulated cables that he had blundered into the engine-room, with its compact but powerful electric motors. They were out of action, but the possibility of running up against a live terminal that would reduce him to a cinder in a fraction of a second was not a pleasant one.
"Suffering snakes, this is no place for me," he decided uneasily. "I've taken the wrong blinkin' turning. I ought to be going up, not down."
He sought the stairs, but they eluded him. Attracted by a current of cold air, he suddenly stepped into space and realised, with a shock, that he had walked through a gaping hole in the yacht's side.
There was a sickening sensation of falling, and a violent shock that jarred every bone in the youngster's body and drove all the breath from his lungs. But Midge was unharmed. He knew that he had not dropped from any great height.
He was lying on a bed of cold, damp sand that had helped to break his fall. The darkness was as thick as ever, but he sensed that he was no longer in the yacht. He was in the open air, with an invisible sky overhead and a soundless sea lapping the fringes of the island where the Electra had run aground.
"Crumbs, I've fallen overboard!" was Midge's wondering remark as he sat up, stretching his arms and legs to make certain no bones were broken. "Well, I do know where I am, and that's something to be thankful for. Blinkin' sight better to be out here than crawling about inside the old barge like a blind beetle. All I've got to do is to climb up on deck and I— Jumping jellyfish, what's that?"
There was a stealthy rustling in the surrounding darkness, a harsh rasp of breathing, and swift, swooping movements of invisible bodies that descended on Midge like a human avalanche.
He had no time or chance to utter a sound. A big muscular hand, tough as leather and strong as steel, clamped itself over his mouth. Other hands, dozens of them it seemed, attached themselves to all parts of his body, gripping his arms and legs and lifting him clear of the ground.
Midge was as helpless as a roped steer at a western rodeo. There was no glimmer of light, yet he sensed fierce eyes glaring down at him and was amazed to hear a deep voice exclaim exultantly.
"Ha, here's a stroke of luck. It's Captain Justice's precious cub—the red-haired brat!"
"Midge!" jerked another voice. "We couldn't have made a better haul, unless it was Justice himself. This kid'll be easier to handle than young Connor, or that fat slob, O'Mally. Off you go! We want to get clear of this place before the professor trims up. The stubborn fool's got a big surprise coming to him."
Midge's brain was spinning with bewilderment as he felt himself swung in midair and borne jolting away across the slippery rocks and patches of wet sand that surrounded the stranded yacht. Who, he wondered, were those mysterious strangers? Why had they taken him captive, and—queerest point of all—how had they managed to detect and recognise him in this black fog that had blinded the whole world?
They were invisible to him. Yet they walked surely and certainly in the darkness, without falter or stumble as they negotiated the rugged ground, and neared the beach. There they halted. The keel of a boat grated harshly on sand and shingle.
Suddenly, Midge remembered the silent, sinister ship, glowing with a ghostly radiance that he and his friends aboard the Electra had seen drop anchor off the island shortly after the yacht had struck!
He commenced to struggle, writhing and twisting like a wildcat. A blow with clenched fist knocked the hat from his head and set his ears ringing. Roughly he was dumped down in the well of the boat.
An electric motor commenced to vibrate with noiseless power. Midge lay dazed and silent in the darkness as the craft sped away across the tide.
"My aged Aunt Agatha, I haven't half landed myself in a mess this journey!" thought the plucky youngster. "If I hadn't gone down below to scout round for a bit of grub, this wouldn't have happened.
"I wonder where the professor's got to? I wonder what the captain'll say when he finds I'm missing? And I wonder who these blighters are, and what sort of a queer game they're playing?"
The Man at the Chart-Table!
"BLESSED if I can understand it at all!" said Midge, with a puzzled shake of his red head. "It's got me absolutely beat. What with this awful darkness, and Professor Flaznagel hiding himself away in some sort of thumping great tower in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and the Electra wrecked on a desert island, with Captain Justice, Len Connor, and Dr. O'Mally aboard her, I thought we had quite enough trouble to go on with. And now this has happened! Suffering cats, it's enough to send a fellow off his rocker. What's it mean? What's it all about? What am I doing here? That's what I want to know!"
Midge glared fiercely around. There was no reply to his words, and no reason why he should expect one. He was talking to himself. He was alone in the tiny ship's cabin, with its grey, steel walls, chromium-plated metal furnishings, rubber floor covering, and a light fixture suspended from the ceiling that emitted a queer, yellowish glow.
The narrow door was locked and bolted on the outer side. The round porthole, set in one wall, was too small for even him to utilise as an avenue of escape. In any case, it was securely screwed shut, and all that could be seen through the thick plate-glass was utter darkness, like a circle of dull ebony.
Midge tramped up and down the twelve feet by eight of confined space with his hands jammed in his pockets, and a black scowl on his freckled face.
He had no idea why he had been taken prisoner, or who was responsible for the fact that he was a prisoner. The men who had effected his capture were completely unknown to him.
There was a great deal of sound sense stowed away in Midge's red head. He could always face an emergency. The fact that he was now a prisoner did not alarm him in the least.
But he was curious to learn where he was, why he had been kidnapped, and who was responsible for the operation of separating him from his friends aboard the Electra.
If he worried about anything at all, it was the natural bewilderment and anxiety that would be created when it was discovered that he had disappeared.
"They won't know where the dickens I've mizzled to," mused the youngster. "And they won't be able to search the yacht, unless old Flaznagel trickles along with some sort of light."
There was a sense of motion—a continuous, gentle vibration, and an occasional tilting of the floor beneath his feet—that told him the mystery ship was under way, ploughing through the darkness like a sleek, searching hound of the seas.
"Blinkin' body-snatchers, that's what they are," growled Midge, referring to his unknown captors. "I'd like to get a crack at the brutes. The first one that shoves his face in here'll get a sock in the jaw he won't forget in a hurry. I'll show 'em. I'll jolly well—"
He suddenly pricked up his ears, scowling and clenching his fists as a key rasped in the lock, bolts slid back, and the door crashed open.
"My hat!" Midge's eyes bulged, and his jaw sagged in consternation as he caught his first glimpse of his mysterious kidnappers. The man who loomed in the doorway, filling it from side to side, was one of the biggest and ugliest ruffians he had ever set eyes on. He had the chest and limbs of a gorilla, and the battered face of a retired pugilist. Any attempt to sock him in the jaw would be an act of suicide.
The newcomer grunted and glared. He wore blue uniform and a sailor's cap. In one huge hand he held a tray with covered dishes. In the other was a black automatic, thrust within a foot of Midge's snub nose.
"Here—look slippy. Take this!"
"Eh? Oh, I see. Much obliged-old bean." Midge made a snatch at the pistol, but the man was too quick for him.
"None of your tricks!'' he snarled, jerking the weapon away. "Try to be funny with me and I'll take you to pieces. Grab hold of this grub. Eat it."
"Grub!" Doubtfully the youngster accepted the tray. "What's wrong with it— poisoned?" he asked suspiciously. "Here, half a tick—"
The man withdrew, slamming and bolting the door.
"Talkative sort of bloke, I don't think!" muttered Midge, placing the tray on the folding table, and lifting the covers from the dishes. The sight was a pleasing one.
Midge's eyes glistened. At least, his captors did not intend to let him starve. He was touched by this kindly consideration for his appetite; if it was intended as such. It was unlikely that there was anything wrong with the food. If his kidnappers wished to dispose of him there was no necessity to use trickery or subterfuge. The human ape that had just visited him could have wiped him out of existence with a single blow of his great fist.
"Crumbs, not half a bad spread," commented the youngster, sampling the soup with great gusto, and transferring his attentions to the rest of the meal. “Strikes me they do themselves pretty well in this old hooker!"
It didn't take him many minutes to polish off the meal that was as welcome as it was unexpected. Then he started again to wonder what his friends were doing aboard the stranded Electra, and whether the professor had as yet made his promised appearance in order to conduct them to his mystery headquarters in mid-Atlantic. Midge could expect no help from them. How were they to know that he had been kidnapped under cover of the darkness, and forcibly removed to the strange ship that had lain at anchor off the island?
Even if they guessed the truth, they would find the ship missing when they came to search for their absent chum.
"If I'm going to get out of this blinkin' jam, it's a dead certainty I've got to do it off my own bat," decided the youngster, with a determined jerk of his red head. "And it's going to be a tough job!"
It was going to be a tough job. Any glorious and ambitious ideas Midge may have had of overcoming the crew and capturing the vessel single-handed, were immediately dispelled as he remembered the gigantic, gorilla-like ruffian who had visited him. If he was a fair specimen of the gang that held him prisoner, it would require a regiment of soldiers, armed with machine-guns and bombs, to crush resistance and seize the ship.
"I dunno that I'd be much better off if I did manage to break out of this dump," mused the youngster, surveying his cramped quarters with pensive eyes. "Being a prisoner aboard a boat is different from being prisoner on land. If I got out o' here I could only jump overboard, or prowl around until I was nabbed again!"
The idea of jumping overboard in the pitch darkness was not particularly attractive. But the freedom of the ship might enable him to determine the identity of the unknown enemy, or to locate the wireless-room and radio an SOS to Professor Flaznagel.
"Crumbs, here's Little Willie again."
Again the door had opened, and the hulking, barrel-chested, beetle-browed ruffian glared into the cabin, revolver clutched in one hand. There was nothing in the other, much to Midge's disappointment. He had half expected another relay of food.
“Lummy, you ain't left much!" remarked the man, eyeing the empty dishes in astonishment. "'Must have an appetite like a perishing shark! Quite sure you've had enough?"
"Enough your grandmother's ear-trumpet!" snapped Midge scornfully. "Call that a meal? I reckon the mice must have been at it before you brought it along to me. Tell the manager I want to see him!"
The man grinned unpleasantly, and waved his pistol menacingly.
"Get up on your hind legs, and no funny business!" he ordered gruffly. "The boss wants to see you, so be on your best behaviour, or you'll get a crack on the dome from this gun as'll put you to sleep for a few hours!"
Midge jumped to his feet, his eyes sparkling, an eager look on his freckled face. This was the moment he had been waiting for. At last he was to learn something definite about his mysterious kidnappers and the sinister ship carrying lights that enabled it to penetrate even the blinding mist of the Black Menace.
"Lead on, Horace!" he invited cheerfully. "Yon needn't be scared of me. I don't feel in a fighting mood just at the moment. Here, steady on with that blinking cannon!”
He was forced to take the lead, with his hands clasped on top of his carroty head, and the cold hard muzzle of the automatic thrust against his spine.
He and his escort walked the length of a bare, white-walled corridor, mounted a short flight of steps, and passed through a doorway into an apartment that reminded him of the control-tower of the ill-fated Electra. He caught a glimpse of gleaming machinery, banks of switches, levers, radio apparatus, and a blank television screen.
Then his gaze fixed itself on the man seated at the chart-table, tilted back in a swing-chair, with a blue cloud of tobacco smoke swirling about his head and shoulders. Two fierce grey eyes, hard and cold as steel ball-bearings, glared at Midge from over a powerful hooked nose, like the beak of a condor or some other evil bird of prey.
The man wore a square-cut beard; thick, bluish-black, and glossy. He was a handsome, powerful, aggressive-looking brute, with the dominating, confident air of a master of men.
His face was familiar. Midge frowned, and racked his brains.
"Crumbs, when have I seen that guy before?" he wondered. And then he remembered. Here, in the flesh, was the mysterious, black-bearded individual who had jammed the Electra's wireless and had obtruded himself on Justice's television screen shortly after the Black Menace had swept over the world, and when Professor Flaznagel had been attempting to get in communication with his friends aboard the yacht.
"Suffering saveloys, it's old Black-beard, the pirate, the skipper of that blinking ghost ship!" breathed Midge. "I've been wondering when he'd pop up again. Now we are getting somewhere. This is the bloke old Flashnozzle was trying to warn us against before the yacht ran aground and our wireless conked out!"
Riches and Power!
THE man at the chart-table showed his teeth in a mirthless grin, and flicked grey ash from the end of a cigar that was nearly a foot in length. He examined Midge as if he were some strange insect that had crept in under the door.
"You know me?" His voice was deep and melodious, like the lingering echo of a brass gong.
"Know you? I'm bust if I do!" answered Midge promptly. "Where have I seen you before? The Zoo, or the Chamber of Horrors? Who are you, anyhow?"
"My name," said the man impressively, "is Marcus—Master of the Darkness and future Emperor of the World!"
"Crumbs, he's batty!" muttered the red-headed youngster uneasily. "Clean off his rocker! Perhaps it's this black fog has sent him loopy. Just my blinkin' luck to get mixed up with the only crackpot in the whole Atlantic Ocean!"
The man's next words were not those of a demented madman, or of a person suffering from delusions.
"You are one of Captain Justice's gang," he challenged—"the ginger-haired kid they call Midge?"
“My name," corrected the diminutive red haired youngster, with great dignity, and little truth, "is Nelson Wellington Midge. You will find an automatic machine, erected in commemoration of my birth, just outside the main entrance to Waterloo Station. And if you care to—Ouch!"
The man at his back gave Midge a warning jab in the ribs with the barrel of his pistol.
"Leave the boy alone!" snapped Marcus, with a wave of his big cigar. "He mustn't be harmed. He is a valuable hostage, and may be worth ten times his weight in gold to us."
“Suffering salamanders!" gulped
Midge, astounded at this computation of his worth. "If this guy isn't scatty, then I'm a Dutchman. Go gently with that gun, Tarzan. Didn't you hear what the boss said? You bust one of my ribs, and it'll cost you a couple of million quid. Worth my weight in gold, I am! Corks!"
"I said you may be worth your weight!" corrected the bearded man. "It depends on the value Captain Justice places on you, and what influence he has over Professor Flaznagel."
Midge blinked his eyes in bewilderment. Perhaps he was mistaken in his first impression of his captor. Marcus might be eccentric, but he certainly did not look, act, or speak like a lunatic.
"Has this youngster had anything to eat?" were his next words.
"Blinkin' little!" Midge said hastily and hopefully. “Hardly worth talking about, the miserable bite of grub I've had. I—I'll bet I've lost a couple of pounds in weight since I was brought aboard this darned scow. I'm used to regular meals; one every couple of hours—sometimes more."
Marcus smiled, and made a gesture of dismissal to the armed guard.
"You may go, Amish. Tell the cook to send along a plateful of fresh sandwiches. Take a seat, Midge."
Amish vanished. Warily Midge perched himself on one of the steel-frame chairs, and shot a sharp glance at his companion. The latter's genial air and friendly smile were suspicious in themselves, and Midge did not intend to fall for any trickery. He was the first to come down to brass tacks.
"Look here, what's the blinkin' game, Mister Emperor Marcus?" he demanded bluntly, a defiant expression on his freckled face as he confronted the big, bearded man across the chart-table. "What's the idea in this kidnapping stunt? What are you after?"
"Riches and power," was the calm answer.
Midge sniffed contemptuously.
"You've picked a rum time to start that sort of racket, with the whole world in darkness, and—"
"I have picked the right time," retorted Marcus, with an arrogant smile. "It is the time I have been waiting for—ever since Professor Flaznagel predicted the coming of the Black Menace, six months ago."
Midge frowned, and ran his fingers puzzledly through his tousled red hair. Undoubtedly this man was no lunatic. He radiated power, authority, and confidence. He was a deep and shrewd schemer; a man who had applied himself to some task that he was determined to accomplish.
"Huh, and why kidnap me?" Midge asked curiously.
"It was not actually my intention to kidnap you.” informed Marcus obligingly, "I was after the professor, knowing he was on his way to the island to take you and your pals off the wrecked yacht.
"But Flaznagel gave me the slip. I didn't see him arrive, and we were scouting round the Electra when you dropped plump into our hands like a ripe apple. I realised that you were a valuable hostage; almost as valuable as the professor would have been. And now here you are—my guest, prisoner—just as you please. Ah, here come the sandwiches. Help yourself, my lad."
Mechanically Midge accepted the invitation, and in an amazingly short time the plate was empty, Marcus smiled, and lit a fresh cigar.
"As I was saying," he remarked, "you are likely "to prove a valuable hostage."
MIDGE gave a hollow laugh of disdain as he swallowed the remains of the last sandwich. "Valuable be Mowed!" he scoffed. "If you're kidding yourself you're going to bluff the captain into shelling out umpteen thousands of pounds to get me back, you've got another guess coming!
"Where do you suppose the captain's going to lay hands on any cash to ransom me now the yacht's wrecked? We're thousands of miles from the nearest bank, and the whole world's as black as the inside of o nigger's hat!"
"Cash!" Marcus lifted his bushy eyebrows. "I have made no mention of the word 'cash.' It is not my intention to demand a farthing from Captain Justice. It is his assistance I want—not his money—his co-operation and support in one of the most gigantic and ambitious enterprises known in the history of man. Professor Flaznagel is a doddering, narrow-minded old crank. I offered to take him into partnership, and promised him a half-share in a hundred million pounds; but he turned me down. Perhaps Justice will prove more reasonable when he knows you are my—er—guest!"
Midge was no fool. He rubbed his snub nose, and scowled thoughtfully.
"So old Flashwoggle turned your scheme down. I suppose there's something crooked about it?"
Marcus flushed, and bit his lip. A fanatical gleam crept into his cold grey eyes, and the veins on his hands swelled as he hammered his clenched fists on the chart-table.
"Crooked? Bah! It depends on what you call crooked!" he said harshly. "This world darkness has altered everything. It has thrown civilisation back a thousand years. There is no light of any kind. Everything is at a standstill.
"And there are hundreds of millions of pounds of gold lying idle, unprotected, and temporarily useless, in the banks of all the great cities of America, Europe, and England."
Midge caught his breath. He was beginning to realise what this strange, bearded giant was driving at, and how he hoped to achieve domination of the world by taking advantage of the panic, confusion, helplessness, and horrors of the plague of darkness that had temporarily blinded all the inhabitants of Earth!
"Both Flaznagel and I," continued Marcus, more calmly, as he relaxed in his seat, "possess the secret of the infra-orange ray, a beam of light that enables us to see in the midst of this seemingly impenetrable belt of black fog."
He pointed to the yellowish bulb that illuminated the cabin in which they were seated.
"Equipped with this power of vision —known to no one save ourselves—the professor and I have all the treasures of the world at our mercy," continued Marcus. "We can travel where we please, unseen and unhindered, helping ourselves to whatever we choose to
"And what'd be the use of all that gold to you?" asked Midge. "You couldn't spend it. It wouldn't buy you anything. It's got no value at all while this blinkin' darkness lasts."
“Exactly! But this darkness is not going to last," declared Marcus confidently. "It is only transitory, not permanent. It may remain for another few weeks, another few months, or possibly a couple of years. But eventually the centrifugal force of the earth's rotations is bound to throw off and disperse this clinging belt of dense black gases.”
"Meanwhile "—the bearded man chuckled deeply, expelling a great cloud of cigar-smoke—" meanwhile, we will not ‘gather hay while the sun shines,' but we will reap the golden harvest of the world's riches while the Black Menace holds sway. And when it has gone and the light of the sun is with us again, then I, Marcus, and all those who choose to join me in this colossal enterprise, will possess riches and power greater than any other living men!"
A cold shiver ran down Midge's spine as the self-styled Emperor of the World fell silent and looked at him gloatingly.
What did the future hold for him, a prisoner in this man's hands? And what part was he to play in forcing Justice to aid the man's criminal schemes? Whatever that part was, he realised that it would go hard with him if Justice refused to join Marcus.
"Cheer up!" muttered the youngster to himself. "Never say die till you're dead! While the captain's about there's hope. So, Midge, my lad, you've got to keep a stiff upper lip and take what's coming to you with a smile!"
Midge little knows what the Future holds for him and the comrades from whom he has been forcibly taken! And it's just as well he doesn't, for even his cheery spirit would quail! Get Next Saturday's MODERN BOY bright and early and see what happens to the Gallant Adventurers!
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.