Sunday, 7 April 2013
The Tower of Mysteries
The amazing New Headquarters of CAPTAIN JUSTICE, Gentleman Adventurer, surpasses in wonder and mystery anything previously conceived by mortal man. And it is the pivot-point in the fight for the Life and Liberty of young Midge!
By MURRAY ROBERTS
From The Modern Boy, 9 June 1934, Vol. 13, No. 331. Supplied by Keith Hoyt, Digitized by Doug Frizzle, April 2013. Part 3 of 6 of the story, The World in Darkness. Link to part 1, link to part 2.
Trouble for Midge.
THE big, black-bearded man's eyes were blazing with enthusiasm as he jumped from his seat and commenced to stride excitedly up and down the cabin of the ship in which he was holding Midge, the youngest of Captain Justice's band of supporters, a prisoner.
"No, this guy's not mad, but he's certainly got a screw loose!" decided Midge, wondering if it would be worth while making a dash for the door while this man Marcus' attention was distracted. "He's crazy on money and power—that's what's wrong with him—and he's struck a smart, get-rich-quick stunt. Any man who can see in this awful darkness and remain invisible himself could walk through London, Paris, or New York, helping himself to anything he wanted!"
It was an intriguing idea, this which the big, bearded man had been unfolding to him. Midge could imagine Marcus walking into the Bank of England, or any other bank, and helping himself calmly to notes and gold!
He pictured the cities of the world in utter darkness, without lights, food, or water; with buses and cars and lorries standing derelict in the streets, and starving, blinded souls floundering and groping helplessly in search of their homes and families.
It was not a pleasant thought. But it was a true one. For utter and prolonged darkness covered the Earth from pole to pole. The light of the sun, moon, and stars was completely shut off, and the whole world was in chaos.
Midge had been cruising with Captain Justice, Dr. O'Mally (Justice's Irish second-in-command), and Len Connor, the wireless expert, in Justice's all-electric yacht, Electra, when the Black Menace had come, leaving them absolutely sightless in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean.
Then had come a ray of hope. Professor Flaznagel, the one man who had foreseen and prepared against the coming of the Black Menace, had got in touch with them by wireless from his secret headquarters, which he had vaguely described as Titanic Tower, and had set them a course to steer to his unknown base. But a tidal wave had thrown the Electra on an island, completely wrecking it.
Flaznagel had been on his way to rescue them when Midge's insatiable appetite had got the better of him. He had braved the darkness of the stranded yacht in search of food—only to tumble headlong out of a hole in the Electra's side into the hands of this man who called himself Marcus, and who was planning to become Emperor of the World!
And now Marcus had just been outlining his plans to Midge. Under cover of this awful darkness he intended to rob the cities of the world of their treasures. And it seemed to Midge that nothing could stop him for whereas the peoples of the world were groping about in pitch darkness, Marcus could see. He had stolen from Professor Flaznagel the secret of the darkness-piercing glasses that the professor had invented.
But Marcus' plans for pillaging the world were not yet complete. He wanted the assistance of Flaznagel and Captain Justice—and he had captured Midge to hold him as hostage until Flaznagel and Justice gave in to his demands!
Midge glanced at the door, half rose from his seat, and sank back as Marcus towered over him, smiling as he tugged thoughtfully at his big beard.
"Well, and what do you think of my scheme?" he asked. "Is it not the kind of exploit that would appeal to the gallant, adventure-loving Captain Justice?"
"What, sneaking about in the dark, pinching and thieving like a third-rate pickpocket?" Midge's lips curled in utter contempt. "Why, you big ham. What sort of a guy do you suppose the captain is—a rotten crook like yourself?
"Can you imagine him stealing the pennies out of a blind man's tin—which is just about on a level with the dirty racket you've got in mind?
"The captain join you?" Midge drew a deep breath that almost split the seams of his coat, "I'll tell you what, Marcus, old bean—if Justice gets wind of this gold-looting, Emperor of the World stunt of yours, he'll be after you like—like—He'll come down on your tail like a ton of bricks!
"Join you? Great cats! He's more likely to take you to pieces and not trouble to put you together again! No wonder the professor turned you down and sent you away with a flea in your ear!"
Marcus' lips tightened and his eyes narrowed. Otherwise he paid no heed to the plucky youngster's scathing-words.
"I have not finished with Justice or Professor Flaznagel yet," he said, an ugly note of menace in his deep voice. "I will be quite frank in telling you that I must have their assistance before I can proceed any further with my plan. That is where you will help me."
"Me?" yelped Midge indignantly. "I don't blinkin' well think!"
"That remains to be seen," said Marcus, with a quiet smile that was more intimidating than his frown. "Why do you think I have brought you here? Do you suppose I want to be bothered with a pesky, freckle-faced, red-headed little brat like you? In the ordinary way, I'd have knocked you on the head and slung you to the sharks, or dumped you in the chain locker to be torn to pieces first time we dropped anchor!"
"Oh, I see! So that's the sort of bloke you are," said Midge heavily. "I had a kind of idea you weren't exactly all there—couple of tiles missing off the roof. Wish I hadn't eaten your perishing sandwiches now!"
"Don't be too certain!" chuckled the man. "It may be the last food you'll get for a long time. It depends on how popular you are with your friends.
"You were kidnapped for a very definite purpose," he went on, flicking the ash from his long cigar. "Professor Flaznagel has proved as stubborn as a mule, and it is through you and Captain Justice that I hope to bring him to a more reasonable frame of mind."
"That's fine! Keep on hoping!" said Midge encouragingly. But he was feeling vaguely uneasy as he began to realise that this softly spoken man with the grey eyes and the blue-black beard was as merciless and cold-blooded as a snake.
He would allow no one to come between him and his unscrupulous scheme to make himself the richest and most powerful man in the world!
"Your value to Captain Justice is not to be estimated in terms of money," explained Marcus, "but I am sure that there are few sacrifices he would not make on your behalf, especially if he knew that you were in danger of losing your life."
"Since the moment you fell into my hands!" snapped the man, at last betraying signs of anger and impatience. "Unless Captain Justice consents to my terms, and is successful in persuading Professor Flaznagel to obey my orders, I shall be regretfully compelled to have you thrown to the sharks!"
Midge shivered. There was no doubt that Marcus was deadly serious. Yet he discussed brutal, deliberate murder as calmly and as dispassionately as if he were arranging the destruction of an aged pet dog. There was even a faint spark of sympathy in his grey eyes as he stared reflectively at the red-haired youngster.
"I hope such an unnecessary sacrifice of a youthful life can be averted," he said gently. "It will be to your advantage to convince Justice that your fate is in his hands. The same applies to the professor."
Midge swallowed hard, and squared his shoulders.
“Here, let's get this straight," he said bluntly. "What is it you're after? You can take it from me that neither the captain nor the professor will have anything to do with your crooked racket—not if they knew I was going to be boiled alive in oil, or blown from the mouth of a blinkin' cannon!”
"More fools they!" snapped Marcus scornfully. "I am offering them a chance that will never come their way again. However, it is not their active co-operation that I am seeking. My terms are quite simple. In exchange for your valuable person, intact and unharmed, Professor Flaznagel will consent to surrender to me the latest model of his airship—the Flying Cloud—that was completed and delivered to him a few days before this darkness decended on Earth."
Midge blinked, and rubbed his snub nose thoughtfully. He knew that the professor had designed and constructed numerous Flying Clouds, each one a vast improvement on its immediate predecessor. That another new model had been completed and delivered was news to him.
But it was no secret to Marcus. He was offering Midge's life in exchange for the huge airship, complete with all the latest developments, that would enable him to wing his way to all parts of the Earth, robbing, pillaging, and despoiling mankind of its richest treasures, under cover of the all-enveloping Black Menace.
It was a gigantic scheme, and Marcus seemed the type of man who could carry it through to success.
He was no idle dreamer, but a man of action, superbly confident, utterly fearless, and devoid of all sentiment, scruples, and consideration for anyone who stood between him and his quest of wealth and power.
There was only one flaw in his ambitious plan. He must obtain the use of Professor Flaznagel's great dirigible, the Flying Cloud, in order to travel far and wide, and make his savage raids on darkened, unprotected cities, where his power of vision would enable him to loot and pillage, unsuspected and unseen.
Midge was the medium through which he hoped to enforce his demands.
By Hook or by Crook!
"CRUMBS! So that's the blinkin' game!" The red-haired youngster stirred uneasily in his seat. "He's going to try to swap me for the professor's jolly old airship! And if there's nothing doing, I look like being put through the hoop!"
"I see you understand what I am driving at," chuckled Marcus, reading the lad's thoughts. "It will be to your advantage to convince your friends that they will have to meet my demands." Midge laughed defiantly.
"Some hopes!" he scoffed. "Why you big ham, you don't suppose you can bluff the professor into dancing to your tune?"
"Bluff!" The black-bearded despot showed his teeth viciously. "There is no bluff about it, my young friend. I would think no more of stringing you by the heels and using you as shark bait than I would of knocking the ash from this cigar. You arc only the means to an end. If you fail in that respect, I shall have no further use for you."
Midge remained silent, hoping Marcus would give him more information. He wanted to know what had happened to his friends aboard the wrecked yacht Electra since he had vanished, and Professor Flaznagel had joined them. Evidently it was Marcus' intention to communicate with them, if he had not already done so.
"Now you understand the position, said Marcus, with sinister frankness, I have already dispatched a radio message to Flaznagel, informing him that I am holding you prisoner, and that I am willing to negotiate for your release. He has promised to get in touch with me as soon as he arrives back at his headquarters."
Midge concealed a grin of satisfaction. He was glad to learn that his friends had abandoned the Electra, and were now on their way to the professor's mysterious mid-ocean base. He realised with a pang of regret, that it was his own fault that he was not with them.
"I've made a proper mess of things, mused the youngster gloomily. The captain won't half be wild, and I reckon old Flashnozzle'd sooner tear out his beard by the roots than part with the Flying Cloud."
"You think the professor won’t agree to my terms when he hears them?" suggested Marcus.
"Course he won't!" declared Midge. "You won't be able to exchange me for a couple of penny balloons, let alone a blinkin' airship."
"That would be unfortunate—for you. But I think you underestimate your own value, my lad. I know Captain Justice. Your life is of more account to him than a whole fleet of Flying Clouds."
Without flattering himself, Midge knew that the man was right. Justice was loyal to those who served him. No sacrifice was too great for him to make on their behalf. If it came to a crisis—well, Marcus' terms would be accepted! That must be prevented at all costs. Midge was not going to allow the professor to be robbed of one of his most treasured possessions in order to save his skin.
"My hat, no!" he vowed. "This is my own blinkin' funeral, and there's going to be no flowers by request. If I can't make a getaway off my own bat, may I never have another spot of grub for a month of pancake days."
Marcus glanced at an illuminated chart, and jerked several levers. The purr of motors ceased, and the ship gradually slowed down. The man laid a heavy hand on Midge's shoulder, pulling him to his feet, and marching him across the cabin. He opened a metal shutter, and extinguished the lights.
There was utter darkness. Midge could see nothing. Click! Marcus had pressed another switch. Instantly, a cold, strange, luminous beam, yellowish in colour, stretched before him, stabbing through the window and spreading for miles across the grey, heaving sea.
"Infra-orange rays," explained Marcus. "The only light than can penetrate this black fog. It enables us to see, but the beam itself is invisible to other eyes. Look! There is your friend the professor's tower!"
The professor's tower! Titanic Tower! The mysterious structure that Midge had heard so much about, but had never yet seen. He stared eagerly, his heart pumping with excitement, as the orange beam swept from side to side and finally came to rest.
It was like a tunnel of light driven through the clinging settled darkness. Far away in the distance, jutting straight up from the bed of the ocean, was a colossal, four-legged edifice, resembling a giant pylon, that gradually tapered and merged into a single massive column rising to such a dizzy height that its topmost peak was lost to view in the upper atmosphere.
Midge caught his breath. It was an amazing, impressive spectacle, terrifying in its formidable, majestic isolation—a metal monarch of the mid-ocean wastes.
It seemed impossible that such a colossal tower could have been erected by the hand of man in such a bleak, desolate spot. Yet Midge knew that Professor Flaznagel had the happy knack of achieving the seemingly impossible. The youngster's heart swelled with pride and admiration as he stared wonderingly at the old scientist's latest creation.
Its base occupied a square half-mile of space, absorbing four rugged islands, equidistant from one another, in which were embedded the four monster legs that supported the entire structure.
It was impossible to estimate the full height of the tower itself. The infra-orange ray revealed no more than two-thirds of its tapering length. The rest was hidden in the upper strata of the black layer that encircled the earth. Possibly it extended to the clear skies above, where the sun shone unobscured, and daylight still held reign. The professor had hinted as much in one of his vague messages.
"Suffering skyscrapers!" exclaimed Midge, in an awed voice. "So that's where the old boy's been hanging out all this time—perched up there like a blinkin' owl on a telegraph pole. And that's where I should be now if I hadn't been such a chump as to land myself in this giddy mess!"
The red-headed youngster clenched his fists, a determined expression settling on his freckled face. By hook or by crook he would have to escape from Marcus and rejoin his companions.
He was on his mettle. Titanic Tower, the mystery headquarters of Professor Flaznagel, reared before him like a beckoning finger!
"Terms on Application!"
"WELL," said Captain Justice, with a resigned shrug of his shoulders, "that saves us the time and trouble of making a further search for young Midge!"
The captain stood in the control-room of his wrecked yacht, Electra. With him were Dr. O'Mally, Len Connor, and Professor Flaznagel.
The professor had arrived aboard mysteriously some little time before, bringing with him strange-looking darkness-piercing goggles for each of the comrades. They were wearing them now.
How the professor had come the comrades did not know. And they had had no time to ask him. Another and far more important matter was occupying their minds—Midge!
Wearing their darkness-piercing goggles, Justice, O'Mally, and Len explored the barren island in search of the missing youngster, whilst Flaznagel repaired the yacht's broken wireless, and Ham Chow, the Chinese cook, prepared a hasty meal.
All that Justice had found was Midge's cap close to the water's edge, and marks where a boat had been drawn up on the sand and afterwards pushed off again. They had been searching for further clues when Flaznagel had excitedly yelled for them to rejoin him on the yacht. Then he had told them his news.
"No use searching any further,” he had said grimly. "Midge is not on the island. I have just picked up a radio message to that effect. The boy has been captured and carried off by that scheming scoundrel Marcus!"
"Bedad, and there's some satisfaction in that!" exclaimed O'Mally, mopping his bald head. "Faith, and I was beginning to fear the young rascal had wandered into the sea, or been eaten by those ugly land-crabs. Bad cess to him for giving us all this worry and anxiety. 'Tis myself will be dusting the seat of his pants when next I get my hands on him!"
"Who exactly is this fellow Marcus?" demanded Len Connor, a savage look on his tanned face. "And what's his idea in kidnapping young Midge?"
His blunt, direct questions were addressed to Professor Flaznagel. The tall, gaunt, ragged-bearded old scientist adjusted the big, yellow-lensed goggles he was wearing and directed a grave glance at his companions.
It was only the invisible infra-orange rays contained in the weird, clumsy-looking goggles, worn by Captain Justice and his companions, as well as Flaznagel, that enabled them to see at all. Even then, their range of vision was limited.
“MARCUS is a dangerous man," answered the old scientist simply. "He is something of a genius, with a dash of the adventurer, and a great deal of the rogue in his composition. He is utterly fearless, absolutely unscrupulous, and ambitiously greedy for wealth and power."
"Sounds like a tough customer," muttered Len Connor.
"Or a dangerous lunatic, begob!" exclaimed O'Mally.
"A superman," suggested Justice dryly.
“Possibly each of you is right," said the professor, tugging thoughtfully at his ragged beard. "I am none too certain that the man is quite sane. He is a fanatic. I never heard of Marcus before the coming of the Black Menace. Since then he has made himself known to me in a variety of ways. By bribing one of my most trusted assistants he possessed himself of the secret of my infra-orange ray."
Justice started. He was reminded of the weird, faintly luminous vessel, like an uncanny ghost-ship, that had taken shape in the darkness several hours previously, and dropped her anchor off the island. She had since vanished, as stealthily as she had come.
"Marcus' ship!"' he decided intuitively. "That explains how Midge was spirited away."
"Yes, the blackguard stole the secret of my infra-orange ray!" snapped Flaznagel, his whiskers bristling with anger. "Later he had the infernal impudence to pester me with wireless messages, suggesting that we join forces and use Titanic Tower, my headquarters, as a joint base in operations."
"Join forces? Bedad, and what in?" asked O'Mally blankly.
"The most villainous scheme I have ever heard of," exploded the professor, stuttering in indignation. "When, six months ago, I predicted the approach from outer Space of a black cloud that would eventually plunge the whole world in darkness, Marcus was cunning enough to foresee how such a stupendous calamity could be turned to the advantage of anyone as unscrupulous and ambitious as himself.
"He realised the terror, chaos, and blind panic that was bound to ensue when the sun was blotted out and there was not a glimmer of light in any part of the globe. A body of determined men, equipped with the power of vision—the infra-orange ray!—and a suitable type of powerful, long-distance aircraft, could dominate the whole world, travelling unseen from continent to continent, and city to city, looting and pillaging the treasure-houses of the nations.
"That is the scheme in which he invited me to join him, and which he is still determined to put into operation!"
" Christopher Columbus!" exploded Len Connor.
"Bedad, and it sounds like the dream of a madman," gulped O'Mally.
"A dream that might come true!" said Captain Justice solemnly. "It is not so preposterous and far-fetched as it sounds."
"But 'tis crazy, all the same," insisted the Irishman. "Faith, and what use is all the money in the world to anyone when there's no means of spending it, and not a glimmer of light anywhere at all? Bless my old grandfather's wooden leg, there's many a millionaire at this very minute would be giving half his fortune for a pair of these outlandish goggles that we're wearing!"
"True," agreed the professor, proud of his latest remarkable invention that had overcome the chief horror of the Black Menace—the loss of sight. "But the infra-orange ray is not for sale. When I have surmounted certain constructional difficulties, it will be placed at the disposal of my fellow men.
"Marcus is looking ahead," explained Flaznagel. "He knows as well as I do that this condition of utter darkness is not permanent. The centrifugal force of the Earth on its axis is bound to disperse it in time. Eventually, the light of the sun will be with us again. When, I cannot definitely say. It will be a gradual clearing of the atmosphere. It may take weeks, months—perhaps a year.
"And when it comes, Marcus hopes to find himself the richest man in the world; the possessor of hundreds of millions of pounds of stolen gold that cannot possibly be traced to him. Wealth means power, and that is what he is aiming at!"
There was a prolonged silence.
Then O'Mally suddenly crimsoned, puffed out his cheeks, and smacked his great hands together with a report like a tyre burst.
"Bad cess to all this foolish blether!" he roared. "And what about young Midge, may I ask? Have you all forgotten about him? What will we be doing about him? And why in the name of the Widdy O'Mulligan's prize pig has he been kidnapped, abducted, and snatched away from us by this crazy spalpeen Marcus?"
JUSTICE'S' lips tightened. A hard glint crept into the grey eyes behind the grotesque, yellow goggles.
"O'Mally's right," he snapped. "We're wasting time, professor. What of this message you received from Marcus? What is the gist of it?"
Flaznagel snatched a slip of paper from the wireless table.
''Here are his exact words: 'Red-haired brat answering to the name of Midge, and apparently on the verge of starvation, now in my custody. Am willing to negotiate for his release. Terms on application!"
O'Mally snorted indignantly.
"Red-haired brat, bedad. Confound his impudence."
"Verge of starvation! That's a good 'un," smiled Len Connor, mindful of the huge meal Midge had consumed when he had raided the ship's larder just prior to his disappearance.
"Willing to negotiate—" Captain Justice frowned as he scanned the words scribbled on the slip of paper. "Sounds vaguely like a threat. What do you make of it, professor?"
The old scientist sighed and shook his shaggy head gloomily.
"It is very regrettable that the boy should have fallen into Marcus' hands," he said slowly. "I am afraid he will use him as a means to forcing extortionate demands on us. He may insist that we lend him our co-operation in the rascally scheme I have just explained to you."
Justice bit his lip. He was beginning to realise that Marcus held the whip-hand. His capture of the diminutive Midge was either a shrewdly planned coup or a colossal slice of luck. In either case he was in a position to make his own terms. Justice would willingly cut off his right hand sooner than have the red-haired youngster suffer the slightest harm.
What ever concession or sacrifice Marcus demanded would have to be granted, unless they could find some other means of outwitting the man and securing Midge's release.
"Terms," muttered O'Mally. "Begob, and what are the thieving scoundrel's terms? What answer did ye give him, professor?"
"I told him that I would communicate with him in one hour—allowing us ample time to get back to headquarters. And the sooner we start the better. We can serve no purpose by remaining here how that we know the boy is no longer in the yacht or on the island."
Flaznagel Springs a Surprise!
AT any other time Justice and his companions would have been bubbling over with excitement at the prospect of paying their first, long-promised, and long-delayed visit to Titanic Tower, the mysterious base that Professor Flaznagel had established in the heart of the Atlantic, hundreds of miles from land, and far removed from the usual shipping routes.
But the disappearance of Midge, and the question of his future safety, had flung a cloud of depression over everyone. The fiery-haired youngster with the freckled face, the unceasing flow of merry chatter, and the insatiable, much-discussed appetite was sadly missed.
Altogether, it was scarcely an occasion for rejoicing.
Justice's lips twitched as he stepped from the metal turret and threw a last glance along the Electra's crazily tilted, debris-strewn decks. He was an ex-Naval officer, and had spent most of his life afloat. Abandoning ship was ever a painful ordeal. Always it was as if he were leaving a part of himself behind.
Presently the four comrades, with Ham Chow, the Chinese cook, were swarming over the wreck's side, exposed to icy-cold wind as they stood on a rugged ridge of wet, black rock, peering around through the big yellow goggles, without which they would have been as sightless as deep-sea fish that had never glimpsed the light of day.
"Bedad, and what do we do now?" inquired Dr. O'Mally, with pardonable curiosity, for there was no sign of any vessel that was to convey them to their unknown destination. "Sure, and how did ye get here, professor? Were ye blown on a cloud, or did ye swim?”
The old scientist smiled mysteriously as he led the way down the slope and halted on the verge of the sea, where two big boulders provided a prominent landmark.
"My hat, the old boy's going to whistle a taxi," exclaimed Len Connor, as the professor fumbled in his pocket and produced a short metal tube. This he submerged in the water, held it there for several moments, and straightened up with a nod of satisfaction.
"Faith, 'tis a thermometer, and he's taking the temperature of the sea!" declared O'Mally, rubbing his bald head in bewilderment. "Begorrah, 'tis not myself is going swimming or paddling on a night like this, wid the wind cold enough to freeze the whiskers on a Polar bear. How much longer will it be before we're starting for home, professor?"
Flaznagel pointed placidly to a peculiar disturbance in the sea, some fifty yards distant from the shore. The water was violently agitated, boiling and bubbling as if some huge marine monster was rising up from the depths.
Len Connor caught a glimpse of a dark, moving object crawling along the shelving bed of the ocean and gradually working its way towards the strip of beach where they stood.
"Faith, 'tis a whale with as many feet as a centipede!" vowed the big Irishman, craning his neck, while the Chinese cook crouched behind him, his short, black pigtail bristling with alarm.
A series of choppy waves, caused by the under-water turmoil, broke on the beach, spattering them with spray. Huge bubbles rose and burst. With a final fierce rush, the strange black shape reached the shallow water, breaking the surface with a dull roar of sound and flinging its wet, gleaming bulk clear up on the expanse of yellow sand.
Professor Flaznagel stepped forward and slapped the rounded side of the queer-looking craft. It was almost the same size and shape as the fuselage of a giant air-liner, but there the resemblance ceased. It was mounted on narrow caterpillar-wheels that had enabled it to negotiate the rough bed of the sea. Lateral diving fins projected from its sides. Twin-screws showed on either side of the short, blunt, fishlike tail. "A subaquaplane," explained the professor shortly, as if the name alone was sufficient description of the extraordinary craft, which Justice and his comrades were surveying with undisguised interest and astonishment. "It combines the utilities of a tank, a submarine, and a hydroplane. On land it can travel at fifty miles per hour. Submerged, it can do thirty-five. As a hydroplane it can manage a hundred at a pinch. Also, it can travel on the ocean floor and remain submerged for several weeks at a time.
"More of an experiment than anything else," added Flaznagel casually. “I used her for deep-sea survey work when I was selecting the site for the foundations of Titanic Tower. That was a ticklish job. You've got to have pretty sound and substantial foundations to support a half-million tons of metal forming a structure over a mile in height!"
Meanwhile, a door in the side of the subaquaplane had slid open and a man in blue uniform, with a black patch over one eye, dropped a collapsible flight of steps.
Bingley was the professor's head mechanic, a man of few words and great abilities. He nodded to Captain Justice, rolled his solitary eye over the assembly, and curtly inquired after the missing Midge.
In silence he heard the bad news, a look of concern deepening on his rugged face.
"Tough luck! We'll get him back!'" he said simply.
It was a long speech for Bingley. His conversation was generally restricted to nods and grunts.
Fussily Flaznagel shepherded his companions up the steps and in the doorway. There was plenty of room in the main cabin, which was fitted with a dozen metal-framed, rubber-padded seats, a folding table, and numerous other adjuncts to comfort.
The pilot sat in the bows before a switchboard that was no bigger than a teatray. The powerful electric motors in the tail of the craft took up less room than a couple of suitcases. Justice caught a last glimpse of the wrecked yacht as the door was snapped shut. Motors commenced to hum, and a flood of orange light relieved them of the necessity of wearing their cumbersome goggles.
There was a slight jerk, a smooth, easy sense of motion, and a faint hiss of water against the sleek hull. The needle of the speedometer swung up to the seventy miles per hour mark. The strange craft was skimming across the dark ocean like a flying fish. At last they were en route for the professor's secret headquarters!
The Work of a Genius!
“WE shall be there in ten minutes," informed the professor, switching on the Q-ray, which made the walls of the strange vessel transparent.
"Marcus' ship must be somewhere in the vicinity. But he knows better than to approach too near to Titanic Tower!"
It was an ominous remark. Evidently his great mid-ocean tower was adequately protected against undesirable visitors.
Dr. O'Mally blew his nose vigorously and rubbed his eye to dislodge an imaginary speck of dust. He was thinking of Midge as he surveyed the empty seats. The red-haired youngster's absence left a big gap in their ranks.
"Bedad, 'tis the boy's confounded appetite has landed him in trouble again," he muttered gloomily. "If it wasn't for wanting to fill his greedy stomach, he'd be here with us now." The rugged island, with its painful memories, faded and slid over the horizon. A waste of empty waters stretched bleakly in all directions to where distant walls of darkness arched up over the sky.
There was no sign of any other craft, and no sound save the gentle-hum of the powerful motors.
The professor suddenly touched Justice on the shoulder and pointed straight ahead. The captain felt his heart jump as he leaned forward in his seat and caught his first glimpse of the amazing structure that towered up from the sea in graceful, tapering lines.
It was a staggering, stupendous spectacle, one that baffled imagination and almost beggared description. Compared with Flaznagel's gigantic edifice, the Eiffel Tower would have been dwarfed to the size of a match-stick placed alongside an ordinary telegraph-pole.
The tower's four supporting legs formed as many spans, each straddling across half a mile of open sea. The massive metal pylons each reared up from a rocky island at an angle of sixty degrees. They inclined towards a central point, extending and reaching out until they met and joined in a single column that gradually tapered as it stretched higher and higher into the emptiness above.
Justice's gaze travelled upwards, but it was impossible to estimate the full height of the grim, imposing structure. No more than two-thirds its length was visible. The remaining third, forming the pinnacle of the tower, was lost to view in the upper darkness, beyond the extreme range of the probing infra-orange ray. That it extended to the stratosphere above the zone of the Black Menace, where the sun still shone, the captain was quite prepared to believe.
"Bedad, 'tis a miracle, sure, and it knocks the seven wonders of the world into a cocked hat!" declared O'Mally, rubbing his incredulous eyes.
"The professor has certainly eclipsed himself this time," said Len Connor, in an awed voice. "I never thought he'd produce anything to beat the Flying Cloud or the Solar Express; but he's done the trick with Titanic Tower. Phew, it's a knockout! It—it's colossal, and that's a long way short of what I want to say. Must have taken years to construct a thing like that!"
Professor Flaznagel shook his head, smiling proudly as he noted his friends' amazement and their reaction to his latest creation.
"Titanic Tower was designed and planned a long while ago," he informed them. "But it was not until I first observed the approach of the Black Menace that I seriously tackled the actual work of construction, which was carried out under conditions of strict secrecy and at a cost of four million pounds.
"The tower was made in sections in workshops in various parts of the world, so that none knew what the various parts were intended for. They might have formed the framework of a super-skyscraper, a gigantic powerhouse, or a great bridge.
"The structure contains over two hundred and fifty thousand tons of tranzelonite. My own fleet of ships conveyed the sections to this isolated spot, where the foundations were already prepared. The tower itself was assembled and erected, under my personal supervision, by five thousand skilled Japanese mechanics and engineers, with a leavening of my own trusted operatives."
Justice and his companions listened in fascinated silence to the professor's brief description of one of the greatest feats of constructional engineering that had ever been accomplished in the history of man. The harnessing of the Nile, the bridging of the Victoria Falls, and the making of the Cape to Cairo railway were child's play compared with the professor's latest enterprise.
"The tower was completed in less than six months," continued the old scientist. "It attains a height of over a mile above sea-level. The Q-ray renders it practically invisible, yet it can display a light that would be visible to the human eye from a distance of three hundred miles. At its base there is a harbour that would accommodate all the ships of the British Navy.
"Between the four supporting pylons, five hundred feet in the air, you will find a landing-platform for aircraft that covers an area of several acres, complete with hangars, repair-shops, and petrol-stores.
"Titanic Tower is a complete city in itself. It has its own electrical generating plant; radio and television stations; workshops, observatory, meteorological survey bureau, to determine the weather conditions in any part of the world, and a hundred and one other up-to-date appliances that I have recently installed, and which you will see for yourselves during the next few hours."
"Bedad, 'tis a snug little place ye seem to have built for yourself," remarked O'Mally, unable to find any stronger terms in which to express his astonishment as he peered up at the huge structure. "And how many stairs d'ye have to be climbing if ye sleep on the top floor?"
"There are lifts, and other methods of ascent," said the professor shortly. "The extreme top of the tower is generally utilised as a landing-mast for the Flying Cloud and other dirigibles."
He went into other figures and details that were too vast and technical for the others to grasp. They were dazed by the immensity and grandeur of the great metal pylon that towered above them as if supporting the very firmament itself. Flaznagel had surpassed himself. The new headquarters that he had prepared for Captain Justice and his fellow-adventurers were the work of a man who had often proved to be a genius.
The giant tower was still many miles away, but it loomed larger and clearer as the fleet, graceful subaquaplane skimmed its way across the flat, grey sea.
"By Jove!" exclaimed Len Connor, as he looked at the amazing structure and tried to grasp all that the professor had told him concerning it. "You're a—a giddy knock-out, professor! I'm simply dying to see all these marvels you've been telling us about. Have you any more up your sleeve that you have not mentioned?"
"One or two," chuckled the professor. "And one that will appeal specially to you as a wireless expert, young man."
"What is it?" asked Len.
"Something absolutely new in television apparatus," replied Flaznagel. "It is the 'eye' of Titanic Tower. I haven't the time to explain its working before we reach headquarters, but I will demonstrate it to you at the first opportunity."
"Bedad," broke in O'Mally, "'tis delighted I should be at the thought that I'm soon to view all these wonders—but 'tis a sad man I am!
"And all because that greedy young spalpeen, Midge, has let his stomach land him in trouble and isn't here with us. I shan't know a moment's peace till the boy's with us again, professor.
"You must lose no time in getting into touch with that scoundrel Marcus—bad cess to him!—and arranging for the boy's release.
"Confound this darkness!" he added. "But for that the Electra would never have been wrecked, and Midge—bless his red hair and snub nose!—would still be with us."
"Yes, yes," said the professor. "Rest assured I will get in communication with Marcus as soon as we reach headquarters, find out his terms, and arrange for the boy's release.
"I deplore the loss of the Electra," he added, shaking his shaggy head regretfully as he mentioned the wrecked and abandoned yacht. "Still, she has served her purpose. You will find everything you may require at our journey's end, captain. If you so wished you could spend the remainder of your days on Titanic Tower, in security and comfort, and surrounded with every luxury."
Justice smiled faintly. Such a prospect did not appeal to a man of his restless, roving disposition. His was a life of action, travel, and constant seeking after fresh thrills and adventures. He had numerous depots in various parts of the world, but a headquarters such as the professor had described would certainly provide an ideal base of future operations.
But there could be no thought of further exploits until the missing Midge had been rescued and restored to his friends. The Black Menace that held all humanity in thrall of darkness and terror, was of minor importance compared with the red-haired youngster's safety and well-being!
New excitements crowd thickly around the comrades in Next Saturday's magnificent story. Murray Roberts is right at the very top of his form!
- ► 2016 (74)
- ► 2015 (35)
- ► 2014 (55)
- ▼ April (10)
- ► 2012 (88)
- ► 2011 (104)
- ► 2010 (43)
- ► 2009 (40)
- ► 2008 (48)
- 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.