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Title: The Heads of Cerberus
Author: Francis Stevens
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0607381.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: September 2006
Date most recently updated: September 2006

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The Heads of Cerberus
Francis Stevens



CHAPTER 1: "WELCOME, HOWEVER YOU COME!"



UPON a walnut bed in a small, plainly furnished room which dawn
had just begun grayly to illuminate, a man lay unconscious.

His thin face, indefinably boyish for all its gauntness, wore that
placid, uncaring look which death shares with complete insensibility.
Under him his right arm was doubled in an uncomfortable, strained
position, while the left hand, slender and well cared for, trailed
limp to the floor by the bedside. On his right temple there showed an
ugly wound, evidently made by some blunt, heavy instrument, for the
skin was burst rather than cut. His fair hair was plastered with blood
from the wound, and a good deal of blood had also run down over the
side of the face, lending a sinister and tragic aspect to his
otherwise not unpleasant countenance. Fully dressed in a rather shabby
blue serge, both appearance and attitude suggested that the man had
been flung down here and left brutally to die or revive, as he might.

The dawn light grew brighter, and as if in sympathy with its
brightening, the face of the man on the bed began to take on a look
more akin to that of life. That alien, wax-like placidity of one who
is done with pain slowly softened and changed. The features twitched;
the lips which had fallen slightly apart, closed firmly. With a sudden
contraction of the brows the man opened his eyes.

For several minutes he lay quiet, staring upward. Then he
attempted to withdraw his right hand from beneath him, groaned, and by
a considerable effort at last raised himself on one elbow. Gazing
about the room with bewildered, pain-stricken eyes, he raised his hand
to his head and afterward stared stupidly at the blood on his fingers.
He seemed like one who, having fallen victim to some powerful drug,
awakens in unfamiliar and inexplicable surroundings.

As he again looked about him, however, the expression changed.
What he saw, it seemed, had revived some memory that mingled with a
new and different bewilderment.

In a corner of the room, near the one window, stood a small, old-
fashioned, black steel safe. The door of it was swung wide open, while
scattered on the floor before it lay a mass of papers. From between
loose pages and folded, elastic-bound documents gleamed a few small
articles of jewelry. Two or three empty morocco cases had been
carelessly tossed on top of the pile.

With eyes fixed on this heap, the man swung his legs over the side
of the bed, and, staggering across to the safe, dropped on his knees
beside it. He ran his hand through the papers, uncovered a small
brooch which he picked up and examined with a curious frowning
intentness; then let it fall and again raised a hand to his head.

In another corner of the room was a doorway through which he
glimpsed a porcelain washbowl. Toward this the man dragged himself.
Wetting a towel that hung there, he began bathing the wound on his
temple. The cold water seemed to relieve the dizziness or nausea from
which he suffered. Presently he was able to draw himself erect, and
having contemplated his disheveled countenance in the small mirror
above the bowl, he proceeded with some care to remove the more obvious
traces of disaster. The blood fortunately had clotted and ceased to
flow. Having washed, he sought about the room, found his hat, a worn,
soft gray felt, on the floor near the bed, and, returning to the
mirror, adjusted it with the apparent intent to conceal his wound.

The effort, though attended by a grimace of pain, was successful,
and now at length the man returned his attention to that stack of
miscellanies which had been the safe's contents.

Ignoring the papers, he began separating from them the few bits of
jewelry. Beside the brooch there was a man's heavy gold signet ring, a
pair of cuff links set with seed pearls, a bar pin of silver and
moonstones, and a few similar trifles. He sorted and searched with an
odd scowl, as if the task were unpleasant, though it might equally
well have been the pain of his wound which troubled him.

As he found each piece he thrust it in his pocket without
examination, until the displacing of a small bundle of insurance
policies disclosed the first thing of any real value in the entire
collection.

With an astonished ejaculation the man seized upon it, scrutinized
it with wide, horrified eyes, and for a moment afterward knelt
motionless, while his pallid face slowly flushed until it was nearly
crimson in color.

"Good God!"

The man flung the thing from him as if it had burned his fingers.
In a sudden frenzy of haste he tore from his pockets the trinkets he
had placed there a few moments earlier, threw them all back on the
stack of papers, and without another glance for the safe or its
contents fairly ran across the room to the door. Flinging it open, he
emerged into a short, narrow passageway.

There, however, he paused, listening intently at the head of a
narrow stairway that led downward. Two other doors opened off the
passage; but both were closed. Behind those doors and throughout the
house below all was quiet. Ever and again, from the street, three
stories below, there rose the heavy rattle of a passing truck or cart.
Within the house there was no sound at all.

Assured of that, the man raised his eyes toward the ceiling. In
its center was a closed wooden transom. Frowning, the man tested the
transom with his finger tips, found it immovable, and, after some
further hesitation, began descending the narrow stairs, a step at a
time, very cautiously. They creaked under him, every creak startlingly
loud in that otherwise silent place.

Reaching the landing at the floor below, he was about to essay the
next flight downward, when abruptly, somewhere in the rear of the
ground floor, a door opened and closed. The sound was followed by
swift, light footfalls. They crossed the reception hall below, reached
the stair, and began to mount.

His face bathed in a sudden sweat of desperation, the man above
darted back along the second-floor hallway. One after the other he
swiftly turned the handles of three closed doors. One was locked, one
opened upon a closet stacked to overflowing with trunks and bags; the
third disclosed a large bedroom, apparently empty, though the bed had
evidently been slept in.

He sprang inside, shut the door softly, looked for a key, found
none, and thereafter stood motionless, his hand gripping the knob, one
ear against the panel.

Having ascended the stairs, the footsteps were now advancing along
the passage. They reached that very door against which the man stood
listening. They halted there. Some one rapped lightly.

With a groan the man inside drew back. Even as he did so he found
himself whirled irresistibly about and away from the door.

A great hand had descended upon his shoulder from behind. That
large hand, he discovered, belonged to a man immensely tall--a huge,
looming giant of a man, who had stolen upon him while he had ears only
for those footsteps in the passage.

The fellow's only garment was a Turkish robe, flung loosely about
his enormous shoulders. His black hair, damp from the bath, stood out
like a fierce, shaggy mane above a dark, savage face in which a pair
of singularly bright blue eyes blazed angrily upon the intruder. This
forceful and sudden apparition in a room which the latter had believed
unoccupied, was sufficiently alarming. In the little sharp cry which
escaped the intruder's throat, however, there seemed a note of emotion
other than terror--different from and more painful than mere terror.

"You-you!" he muttered, and fell silent.

"For the love of-" began the giant. But he, too, seemed suddenly
moved past verbal expression. As a somber landscape lights to the
flash of sunshine, his heavy face changed and brightened. The black
scowl vanished. Shaggy brows went up in a look of intense surprise,
and the fiercely set mouth relaxed to a grin of amazed but supremely
good-humored delight.

"Why, it is!" he ejaculated at length. "It surely is--Bob
Drayton!"

And then, with a great, pleased laugh, he released the other's
shoulder and reached for his hand.

The intruder made no movement of response. Instead, he drew away
shrinkingly, and with hands behind him stood leaning against the door.
When he spoke it was in the tone of quiet despair with which a man
might accept an intolerable situation from which escape has become
impossible.

"Yes, Trenmore, it's I," he said. Even as the words left his lips
there came another loud rapping from outside. Some one tried the
handle, and only Drayton's weight against the door kept it closed.

"Get away from there, Martin!" called the big man peremptorily.
"I'll ring again when I want you. Clear out now! It's otherwise
engaged I am."

"Very well, sir," came the muffled and somewhat wondering reply.

Staring solemnly at one another, the two in the bedroom stood
silent while the invisible Martin's steps receded slowly along the
hall and began to descend the stairs.

"And for why will you not take my hand?" demanded the giant with a
frown that was bewildered, rather than angry.

The man with the bruised head laughed. "I can't-can't-" Unable to
control his voice, he lapsed into miserable silence.

The giant's frown deepened. He drew back a little, hitching the
robe up over his bare shoulders.

"What is it ails you, Bobby? Here I'm glad to see you the way I
cannot find words to tell it and you will not take my hand! Did you
get my letter, and is this a surprise visit? You're welcome, however
you've come!"

But the other shrank still closer against the door, while his
pallid face grew actually gray. "May I--may I sit down?" he gasped. He
was swaying like a drunken man, and his knees seemed to have no
strength left in them.

"Sit down! But you may indeed." Trenmore sprang instantly to help
him to the nearest chair, one arm about his shoulder in a gentle,
kindly pressure. "Tell me now, did you really get my letter?"

"What letter?"

"Then you did not. What ails you, man? You're white as the banshee
herself! Is it bad hurt you are, and you not telling me?"

"No-yes. A trifle. It is not that."

"What, then? Have you been ill? Here, take a drop o' the brandy,
lad. That's it. A fool could see you're a deathly sick man this
minute."

Trenmore's voice was tender as only a woman's or an Irishman's can
be; but Drayton shrank away as if its kindness only hurt him the more.

"Don't speak that way!" he cried harshly, and buried his face in
his hands.

Very wonderingly, his host laughed and again put his arm about the
other's bowed shoulders. "And why not, then?" he asked gently. "I
should, perhaps, like to know why you bolt into my room in the early
morn, bang to my door behind yourself, and then try to repel my
hospitable reception; but you need tell me nothing. For me 'tis enough
that you're here at all, whom I've been wanting to see this long while
more than any other lad in the world."

"Stop it, I say!" cried Drayton, and raised his head abruptly. His
pale face had flushed deeply, and he seemed to flinch at the sound of
his own words. "I can't-can't take your welcome. I came here as a
thief, Terry Trenmore! And for no other reason."

The Irishman's blue eyes flashed wide.

"A thief?" He laughed shortly. "And pray what of mine did you wish
to steal, friend Bobby? Name the thing and it's yours!"

"Terry, I'm not off my head, as you think. Haven't any such
excuse. I tell you, I'm a thief. Plain, ugly t-h-i-e-f, thief. I
entered this particular house only because I found a way in. I didn't
know it was your house."

In the midst of speech Drayton paused and started suddenly to his
feet. "Good Lord!" he exclaimed. "I had half forgotten. Terry, I
wasn't the only-er-burglar here last night!"

"And what are you meaning now?"

"Your safe was opened!"

Ere he could finish the sentence Trenmore had turned, crossed the
room, and was pushing aside a silken curtain, hung from ceiling to
floor, near the bed. It disclosed a squared, nickeled-steel door, set
flush with the wall. After a moment's scrutiny he turned a freshly
bewildered face to his visitor. "Broken open? But it's not! My poor
boy, you are out of your mind this morning. It's a doctor you are
needing."

"No, no. I don't mean that one. I mean the safe upstairs, in the
small room at the front."

"Is there one there?" queried Trenmore. "I didn't know of it."

"What! This isn't your own place, then?"

The giant shook his head, smiling. "For why would you be expecting
to find Terence Trenmore tied to a house of his own? It belongs to my
cousin, on the mother's side, whom I'll be glad for you to know,
though he's not here now. But you say there's been robbery done above-
stairs?"

"I'm not exactly sure. There was something so strange about it
all. Come up there with me, Terry, and look for yourself."

Either because of the brandy he had swallowed, or because the
first shame and shock of confession were over, Drayton seemed to have
recovered some measure of strength. He led the way upstairs to the
front bedroom, and answered the Irishman's question with a slow
gesture toward the violated safe. Trenmore stood thoughtfully over the
neglected pile of papers and more or less valuable jewelry, hands
thrust deep in the pockets of his bathrobe, brows drawn in a
reflective scowl. "And what," he asked, "were they like, these queer
thieves that left their plunder behind them?"

"I didn't see them."

"What?"

Drayton's boyish, sensitive mouth quivered. "If you don't believe
me, I can't blame you, of course. By Heaven, I think it would be a
relief if you would call in the police, Terry, and end the whole
rotten affair that way. I wish with all my heart that they'd put me
where they put my partner, poor old Warren!"

"And where is that? It's riddles you're talking."

"First in jail and now in his grave," answered Drayton grimly.

The Irishman flung back his great, black-maned head angrily--

"Bobby, my boy, we've had enough of that make of talk! I can see
with half an eye that much has happened of which I know nothing, for
I've been back in old Ireland this two years past. But for what sort
of scoundrel do you take me, to throw over the man I've best liked in
my whole life, and just because he chances to be in a bit of trouble?
As I said before, 'tis a doctor you are needing, not a policeman. As
for this," he pointed to the rifled safe, "it was my thought that you
did things here last night of which you have now no memory. Others
here? 'Tis not in the bounds of reason that two different thieves--
pardon the word; it's your own--should honor this house in one night!"

By way of reply, Drayton removed his hat, and for the first time
Trenmore saw the ugly wound its low-drawn brim had concealed. "They
gave me that," said Drayton simply. "The room," he continued, "was
dark. I came over the roofs and down through the first transom I found
unfastened. I had just entered this room and discovered the safe when
they, whoever they were, came on me from behind and knocked me out."

Trenmore's lips drew in with a little sympathetic sound. "Ah, and
so that's why you're so white and all! But tell me, was the safe open
then?"

"No. They must have done the trick afterward. I was left lying on
that bed. And I may as well tell you that this morning, when I found
myself alone here and that stuff on the floor, I was going to--was
going to finish what they had begun."

"And what stopped you?" Trenmore eyed him curiously from beneath
lowered brows.

"This." Stooping, Drayton picked up the thing he had flung so
desperately away half an hour earlier. It was a thin gold cigarette
case, plain save for a monogram done in inlaid platinum.

Trenmore looked, and nodded slowly.

"Your own gift to me, Bobby. I think a power o' that case. But how
came it there, I wonder? The other day I mislaid it. Likely Jim found
it and put it here while I was in Atlantic City yesterday. When I
returned Jim had been called away. I wonder he did not put it in the
wall safe, though, that he lent me the use of; but all that's no
matter. What did you do after finding the case?"

"I tried to get out, but the transom had been fastened down from
above. So I made for the front door. Your servant intercepted me, and
I-I hid in your room, hoping he would pass on by."

"And that's the one piece of good luck you had, my boy!" cried
Trenmore. Grasping Drayton's shoulder with one great hand, he shook
him gently to and fro, as if he had been the child he seemed beside
his huge friend.

"Don't look like that now! I'm not so easy shocked, and if you've
seen fit to turn burglar, Bob Drayton, I'm only sure 'tis for some
very good cause. And let you arrive through the roof or by the front
door, it makes no difference at all. You're here now! Martin and I
have the place to ourselves for a couple of days. Jimmy Burford's a
jolly old bachelor to delight your heart, but he lives at his club
mostly and keeps but one man-servant, and him he took to New York with
him when he was called away. We'll do fine with Martin, though. The
man's a born genius for cooking."

"You mean that you are only visiting here?" asked Drayton
hesitantly. Trenmore seemed taking it rather for granted that he was
to remain as a guest, who had entered as a very inefficient burglar.

"Just visiting, the while Viola is enjoying herself with some
friends in Atlantic City. You know it's no social butterfly I am, and
too much of that crowd I will not stand, even for her sake. D'you mind
my ever speaking to you of my little sister Viola, that was in the
convent school near Los Angeles? But I'm a dog to keep you standing
there! Come down to my room while we fix that head of yours and I get
myself decently dressed. Then we'll breakfast together, and perhaps
you'll tell me a little of what's been troubling your heart? You need
not unless--"

"But I will, of course!" broke in Drayton impulsively as he at
last grasped the friendly, powerful hand which his innate and self-
denied honesty had prevented his taking except on a basis of open
understanding.

Gathering up the stuff on the floor in one great armful, Trenmore
bore it down to his own bedroom, followed by Drayton.

"I'll advise Jimmy to get him a new safe," chuckled Trenmore as he
tossed his burden on the bed. "If there's aught of value here he
deserves to be robbed, keeping it in that old tin box of a thing. But
perhaps I'm ungrateful. I never thought, so freely he offered it, that
he had to clear his own things out of this wall safe to give me the
use of it. I'll share it with him from this day, and if there's
anything missing from this lot I'll make the value up to him so be
he'll let me, which he will not, being proud, stiff-necked, and half a
Sassenach, for all he's my mother's third cousin on the O'Shaughnessy
side. So I'll do it in a most underhand and secretive manner and get
the better of him."

Still running along in a light, commonplace tone which denied any
trace of the unusual in the situation, he again rang for Martin, and
when that young man appeared bade him prepare breakfast for his guest
as well as himself. The servant did his best to conceal a not
unnatural amazement; but his imitation of an imperturbable English
man-servant was a rather forlorn and weak one.

He went off at last, muttering to himself: "How'd the fellow get
in? That's what I want to know! He wasn't here last night, and Mr.
Trenmore hasn't been out of his room or I'd have heard him, and I
never let his friend in, that's sure!"

Not strangely, perhaps, it did not occur to Martin that Mr.
Trenmore's mysterious friend might have come a-visiting through the
roof.



CHAPTER 2: DUST OF PURGATORY



LESS than an hour later, Robert Drayton, amateur burglar and so
shortly previous a desperate and hunted man, sat down at table in the
respectable Philadelphia residence he had fortunately chosen for his
first invasion. His wounded temple was adorned with several neatly
adjusted strips of plaster, and if his head ached, at least his heart
was lighter than it had been in many a day. This last, as it were, in
spite of himself. He felt that he should really be cringing under the
table--anywhere out of sight. But with Terence Trenmore sitting
opposite, his countenance fairly radiating satisfaction and good
cheer, Drayton could not for the life of him either cringe or slink.

The breakfast, moreover, proved Martin to be what his master had
boasted--an uncommonly good cook. Before the charms of sweet Virginia
ham, fresh eggs, hot muffins, and super-excellent coffee, Drayton's
misery and humiliation strangely faded into the background of
consciousness.

Trenmore was an older man than he, by ten years of time and thrice
their equivalent in rough experience. The two had first met in Chicago
during the strenuous period of a strike. Drayton, unwise enough to
play peaceful bystander at a full-grown riot, had found himself
involved in an embattled medley of muscular slaughter-house men and
equally muscular and better-armed police. He had stood an excellent
chance of being killed by one party or arrested by the other, and none
at all of extricating himself, when Trenmore, overlooking the fight
from the steps of a near-by building, and seeing a young, slender,
well-dressed man in a struggle in which he obviously had no place,
came to his aid and fought a way out for the two of them.

Later they had joined forces on a long vacation in the Canadian
woods. Drayton was then a rising young lawyer of considerable
independent means, high-strung, nervous, and with a certain
disposition toward melancholy. In the Irishman, with his tireless
strength and humorous optimism, he found an ideal companion for that
outdoor life, while Trenmore, well read, but self-educated, formed a
well-nigh extravagant admiration for the young lawyer's intellect and
character. And Terence Trenmore, his faith once given, resembled a
large, loyal mastiff; he was thenceforth ready to give at need all
that was his, goods, gains, or the strength of his great brain and
body.

Following those months in Canada, however, Drayton returned to
Cincinnati, his home. The two had kept up for some time a desultory
correspondence, but Trenmore's fortune, acquired in the Yukon,
permitted him to live the roving life which suited his restless
temperament. His address changed so frequently that Drayton found it
difficult to keep track of him, and as the latter became more and more
desperately absorbed in certain ruinous complications of his own
affairs, he had allowed his correspondence with Trenmore to lapse to
nothing.

Their appetites pleasantly quelled at last, and cigars lighted,
the two men adjourned to the library and settled themselves to talk
things out.

"You've been in Ireland, you say-" began Drayton, but the other
interrupted with raised hand.

"Let that wait. Do you not guess that I'm fair burning up with
curiosity? There, there, when you look like that you make me want to
cry, you do! Tell me the name of the scoundrel that's been driving you
and I'll-I'll obliterate him. But don't act like the world was all
black and you at your own wake. Sure, there's no trouble in life
that's worth it! Now, what's wrong?"

Drayton smiled in spite of himself. The big man's good humor was
too infectious for resistance. His face, however, soon fell again into
the tragic lines drawn there by recent events.

"It can be told quickly," he began. "You know we had a very fair
legal practice, Simon Warren and I. Up there in the woods I'm afraid I
talked a lot about myself, so I don't need to tell you of the early
struggles of a couple of cub lawyers. It was Warren, though, who made
us what we were. Poor Warren! He had married just before the crash,
and his young wife died three days after Simon was sentenced to a ten-
year term in the penitentiary."

"So? And what did your partner do to deserve all that?"

"That is the story. We had built up a good clientele among the
Cincinnati real-estate men and contractors. Simon specialized on
contracts, and I on the real-estate end. We had a pretty fair
reputation for success, too.

"Then Warren found out a thing about Interstate General
Merchandise which would have put at least five men behind the bars.
Unluckily for us they were big men. Too big for us small fry to
tackle, though we didn't quite realize that. They tried to settle it
amicably by buying us over. We were just the pair they were looking
for, they said. And both Warren and I could have cleared over twenty-
five thousand a year at the work they offered.

"Well, we'd have liked the money, of course--who wouldn't?--but
not enough to take it as blackmail. Simon stuck to his guns and laid
the affair before the district attorney. Before we could clinch the
matter, Interstate Merchandise came down on us like a triphammer on a
soft-boiled egg.

"Oh, yes, they framed us. They got Simon with faked papers on a
deal he wouldn't have touched with a ten-foot pair of tongs. Of course
we went down together. The disgrace killed his wife. Three weeks ago
Simon died in prison of tuberculosis. That or a broken heart--

"And I--well, you see me here. I got off without a jail term. But
I'd been disbarred for illegal practice, and what money I had was all
gone in the fight. After that--I don't know if it was for revenge or
that they were still afraid of me, but Terry, those Interstate devils
hounded me out of one job after another--broke me--drove me clean out
of life as I knew it.

"Yesterday I landed here in Philadelphia without a cent in my
pockets, hungry and with no hope or faith left in anything. Last night
I said, 'So be it! They have killed Simon, and they will not let me
live as an honest man. But, by God, I'll live!' And that's the way
criminals are created. I've learned it."

Drayton ended with a catch in his voice. His clear, honest eyes
were bright with the memory of that desperate resolve, so utterly
alien to his nature, and his long, sensitive fingers opened and closed
spasmodically.

Then Trenmore did a strangely heartless thing. Having stared at
his friend for a moment, he threw back his head and laughed--laughed
in a great Olympian peal of merriment that rang through the silent
house.

Drayton sprang to his feet. "By heavens, Terry, I wish I could see
the joke! But I'm damned if there's anything funny about what I've
been through!"

As abruptly as he had begun, his host stopped laughing and forced
his face into solemnity. But his blue eyes still twinkled dangerously.

"Sit down--sit down, man, and forgive me for a fool of an
Irishman! Should you kill me right here for laughing, I'd not be
blaming you and my heart aching this minute the way I can't wait to
get at the crooks that have ruined you, and as soon as may be we'll go
back to your home, you and I, and see what there is to be done.

"But, sure you're the most original criminal that ever tried to
rob a man! You get in, you locate the box--did you call it a box,
Bobby?--all in good form. And, by the way, were you thinking of
carrying the safe away in your pocket? Or had you a stick of dynamite
handy? Well, some obliging professional comes along and works the
combination for you and leaves the door open. You awaken from pleasant
dreams to find all that was inside, or most of it, lying right at your
feet. And what is it you do? You flee as if from the devil himself,
and if I hadn't stopped you you'd be straying about the streets this
minute as near starvation as you were before!"

Drayton forced a smile for his friend's good-natured raillery. He
could not be angry at ridicule so obviously meant to dissipate self-
condemnation in laughter. "I could hardly begin on you, Terry," he
said. "And speaking of that, I've already enjoyed more hospitality
than I have any right to. I'm cured of crime, Terry; but if you have
any idea that I am going to load myself down on you--"

Springing up with his usual impetuosity, the big Irishman fairly
hurled Drayton back into his chair.

"Sit down! Sit down there where you belong! Is it load yourself
you're talking of? It's to be loaded with me you are! Do you know that
my very life's been threatened?"

"Please don't joke any more, Terry," protested the other wearily.

"I've not gone into details, but all the fun has been crushed out
of me in the last year or so."

"Take shame to yourself, then! But this is no joke. You'll well
believe me it's not when you've heard it all. Stay here now a minute,
for I've a thing to show you."

In no little wonder, Drayton obeyed while Trenmore left the room
and ascended the stairs to his bedchamber. A few minutes later he
returned, and, drawing his chair close to Drayton, dropped into it and
disclosed the thing he had brought. It seemed to be a glass vial.
About six inches in length, it tapered to a point at one end, while
the other was capped with silver, daintily carved to the shape of
three dogs' heads. These heads, with savage, snarling jaws, all
emerged from one collar, set with five small but brilliant rubies. The
vial was filled to the top with some substance of the color of gray
emery.

"A pretty little thing," commented Drayton.

"Aye, 'tis a pretty little thing," the other assented, staring
down at the odd trifle with frowning brows. "Now what would you be
thinking it might be?"

"I could hardly say. It looks like a bottle for smelling salts.
What is that stuff inside?"

"Ah, now you're asking! And what do you think of the handsome
silver cap to it?"

"Really, Terry," replied Drayton with a touch of impatience, "I am
no judge of that sort of work. It is intended, I suppose, to represent
the three-headed dog, Cerberus--the one that guarded the gates of
Pluto's realm in the old mythology. The carving is beautiful."

Trenmore nodded. "It is that. And now I'll tell you how I came by
it. You know it's an ignorant, rude man I am; but hid away somewhere
inside me there's a great love for little, pretty, delicate things.
And though I've no real education like you, Bobby, I've picked up one
thing here and another there, and when I happen on some trifle with a
bit of a history it just puts the comether on me, and have it I must,
whether or no.

"Behind that small steel door you saw in the wall of my room I've
some amazing pretty toys that I'd not like to part with. I'll show you
them later, if you care, and tell you the tales that go with them. Did
you read in the paper last month how Thaddeus B. Crane was after dying
and all his great collection to go at auction?"

"I didn't notice."

"You wouldn't. You'd something worse to think of. But I did; so I
remembered this which I had heard the fame of, and to that auction I
went three days running until they came to the thing I wanted. 'The
Heads of Cerberus,' it's called, just as you named it like the clever
lad you are. It's old, and they say 'twas made in Florence centuries
ago. But I'll read you the bit of description Crane had for it."

He produced a sheet of time-yellowed paper. "'The Heads of
Cerberus,'" he read. "'Said to have been carved by Benvenuto Cellini
for his patron, the Duke of Florence. Its contents have never been
examined. The legend runs, however, that the gray dust within it was
gathered from the rocks at the gates of Purgatory by the poet Dante,
and that it was to contain this dust that the duke required the vial.
More probably, from a modern viewpoint, the contents are some sort of
poison, which a Florentine duke may well have carried in self-
protection or for the destruction of his enemies. The vial itself is
of rock crystal and the cap--closed with cement--a peculiarly
beautiful specimen of sixteenth century work. It is probably a genuine
Cellini. It passed into the hands-' But I'll not be reading the rest.
It tells the names of those who have owned it, and the astonishing
number of them that died violently or disappeared from the face of
God's earth, and no more trace left of them than a puff of smoke from
your cigar!"

Drayton's lips twisted to an involuntary smile.

"A very extraordinary history," he commented. "Dante, Benvenuto
Cellini, and Dust from the Rocks of Purgatory! May I ask what you
paid?"

"Only five hundred. There'd word got about that Crane was no good
judge and that there were more copies than originals in his
collections. The regular collectors bought shy, and I misdoubt Crane's
widow realized the half of what he'd spent on the lot. There was
little bidding for this. The tale's too extravagant, and most would
not believe it a true Cellini. However, no sooner had I got it and
walked out of the salesrooms than a gray-haired old party came running
after me and caught me by the sleeve.

"'And is it you that bought the Cerberus?' he demands. 'It's
myself that did,' I conceded him. 'And will you sell it again to me?'
'I will not,' says I. 'Not for twice what you paid for it?' inquires
he with a cunning look in his eye that I did not like. 'No, I'll not,'
says I. 'Nor for two or four times what I paid for it. I'm a gentleman
collector. I am not a dealer. I bought this for myself and I will keep
it. Good day to you, sir,' says I, and with that I walked on.

"But do you believe he would accept my polite rebuff? Not he. He
runs along by the side of me, taking three steps to my one. 'If you'll
not sell it me you'll be sorry,' he keeps on saying. 'It should be
mine. I went to buy it, but my chauffeur ran over a man on Broadway.
Confound the fool! The police took my chauffeur and delayed me till I
came too late for the bidding. I'd have had it if it cost me five
thousand, and that's what I'll give now, if you'll sell.'

"By then I'd taken a real dislike to the man with his persistence
and his sharp eyes. In plain words I told him if he'd not desist from
following me about I'd be calling an ambulance, for he'd be needing
one shortly. 'You can join in the hospital the poor devil your car
murdered,' says I. And at that he takes a squint up at me sideways,
like I was an elephant he'd just discovered himself to be walking with
and him thinking all along I was just a small pigling, and he turns
white and stops dead in his tracks. The poor midget! I'd not have laid
my little finger on him for fear of crushing him entirely. But for all
that he gets courage to shake his fist and call after me, 'You'll be
sorry for this. You don't know what you've bought and I do! I'll have
it yet!'

"Well, I thought no more of the silly madman that day. But on the
next I received a letter that came to me at the hotel where Viola and
me were then stopping. It said that if I'd not sell for ten thousand
I'd sell for worse than nothing, and to put an ad in the paper if I'd
changed my mind.

"Of course, I did nothing. But from that day I've had no peace at
all. Twice my baggage has been gone over, and last week two thugs
tried to hold me up in Jersey City. The poor devils are in the
hospital this minute; but they could not or would not tell the name of
the man who employed them.

"There have been two more letters which I'll show you presently,
and the last was addressed here, showing how the fellow has watched
and spied on my movements. In it he declares that my very life shall
not stand in the way, but he must have the Cerberus. I'm a man of
peace, and it's fair getting on my nerves.

"Last night they must have tried again, and it's a wonder I was
not murdered in my bed! You've come in the nick of time to save me
from nervous prostration, Bobby, lad, for it's little they can do
against the two of us, your brains and my brawn!"

Now it was Drayton's turn to laugh. The picture of Terence
Trenmore suffering from nervous collapse, or caring two straws for all
the crooks and madmen in America, was too much for his friend. He
laughed and laughed, while the Irishman stared at him in a grieved
surprise which only added fuel to his hysterical mirth.

"And why," demanded Trenmore indignantly, "why wouldn't I be
thinking of you when I want a lad at my side? Jimmy, my host here, is
a fine man, but not the one to consult on such a Mysterious matter,
life meaning to him just business, with his club for diversion, heaven
help him! And were he not a distant cousin of my own mother on the
O'Shaughnessy side, Jimmy and me would have never become acquainted.
And wasn't I meaning to go clear to Cincinnati next week, just to be
asking your advice? And does that list of folk who have had ill luck
from the Cerberus--does that mean nothing at all? I tell you, I need
your help and counsel, Bobby, and it's glad I am that you are here to
give it."

Drayton suddenly perceived that the Irishman had been entirely
serious throughout. The tale was not, as he had believed, a mere
excuse seized on with intent to delude him, Drayton, into feeling that
he might be of value as an ally. Hidden away in one secret corner of
his friend's giant heart there dwelt a small, imaginative and quite
credulous child. "Dust from the Rocks of Purgatory!" It was that which
had fascinated Trenmore, and it was that more than any dread of
midnight assassins which had driven him to appeal to his lawyer
friend. What he wished was moral, not physical, backing.

"But, Terry," said Drayton, sobered and really touched by this
unexpected demand upon him, "if the thing bothers you so much why not
sell and be rid of it?"

Trenmore's mouth set in a straight, obstinate line. "No, I'll
not," he declared. "They cannot bully a Trenmore, and Viola says the
same. But if I could I'd lay hands on the old villain that's after it
the way he'd trouble us no more, so I would!"

"Have you tried the police?"

"To be sure."

"How about the auction rooms where you bought it? If this
persecutor of yours is a collector, they might know him there by
description."

"That I tried myself before I troubled the police. One young
fellow remembered the old villain, and remembered him asking my name.
They keep a register at the salesrooms. But as for the villain's own
name, no one there seemed to know it."

"Well, then-" Drayton cast about in his mind somewhat vaguely.
Then an idea struck him. "By the way, Terry, have you opened the vial
and had the contents analyzed?"

Trenmore's blue eyes flashed wide. "I have not!" he exclaimed with
considerable energy. "For why would I be intruding on such a matter?
Surely, in the place where that Dust came from, they'd not be liking
me to meddle with it!"

Drayton firmly suppressed a smile. The price of friendship is
tolerance, and he was too grateful and too fond of his Irishman to
express ridicule. "I really believe," he said gravely, "that,
admitting the Purgatory part of the legend to be true, the Dust is too
far separated from its origin, and too many centuries have elapsed
since it was placed in this vial for any real danger to attach to it.
And who knows? There may be diamonds, or some other jewels, hidden in
that close-packed dust. If there is a question of the vial's
authenticity as a Cellini it can't be the vial itself that your
mysterious collector is ready to pay ten thousand for. Why not open
it, anyway, and find out exactly where you are?"

The Irishman scratched his head with a curious expression of
indecision. Physical dread was a sensation of which he was happily
ignorant; but he possessed a strong disinclination to meddle with any
affair that touched on the super-natural. He had bought the vial for
the sake of its reputed creator, Cellini. Then his attention had
become focused on the "Dust" and the uncanny description accompanying
it, and while obstinacy forbade him to let the thing go by force,
still it was to him a very uneasy possession. Had no one arisen to
dispute its ownership, Trenmore would probably have rid himself of the
Cerberus before this.

"Well," he said at length, "if you think opening it is the wise
way to be doing, then let us do it and get it over. But myself, I
dread it's a foolish trifling with powers we know little of!"

"Nonsense!" laughed Drayton. "That Dante Purgatory stuff has got
your goat, Terry. Not," he added hastily, "that I am ridiculing the
story, but you will admit that it is slightly--just slightly--
improbable. Here!" He snatched a newspaper from a near-by table and
spread it on the floor between them. "Give me that vial and I'll see
if it is possible to get the cap open without injury. We mustn't risk
any vandalism. It is a beautiful piece of work, Cellini or no
Cellini."

Feeling in his pocket, he drew out a serviceable penknife, opened
the large blade, and took the crystal vial from Trenmore's still
reluctant hand. As the description had stated, the hinged cover,
besides being fastened with a tiny hasp that formed the buckle of the
jeweled collar, was cemented down. The cement showed as a thin,
reddish line between silver and crystal. The lower sections of hinge
and hasp were riveted to the crystal.

Drayton ran the point of his blade cautiously around the red line.
"Hard as steel," he commented. "After all, perhaps we can't open it."

A flash of relief lighted Trenmore's heavy, anxious face. He
stretched a quick hand to reclaim the vial, but Drayton drew back.
Opening a thin small blade, he tried the cement from another angle.

"Aha!" said he triumphantly. "That does it. This stuff is old. I
can't cut it, but you see it's easy to separate the cement from the
crystal by running the blade underneath. And now--careful does it.
There! Let's see how the hasp works."

He fumbled with it for a moment. There came a little snap, and the
cover flew up as if propelled by a spring. At the same time a tiny
cloud of fine, grayish particles arose from the open vial. They
gleamed like diamond dust in the sunlight.

With a quick gasp, Trenmore sat back in his chair. Though the room
was cool, his face was shining with perspiration; but Drayton paid him
no heed. The ex-lawyer's curiosity was by this time fully aroused, and
it was unclouded by any wraith of the superstition which claimed for
the gray powder so unnatural an origin.

Without hesitation, he stooped and carefully emptied the vial upon
the paper at his feet. The Dust was so finely pulverized that he had
to proceed with the utmost care to prevent the stuff from rising into
the air. At last the vial was empty. A dark heap, resembling gray
flour or powdered emery, had been its sole contents.

"I was wrong," remarked Drayton, sitting up with the Cerberus in
his hand. "There was nothing there but the Dust."

Now it was strange that after all his nervous dread and horror of
the Dust, Trenmore should have done what he did. Perhaps, having seen
Drayton handle it without harm, he had lost this fear; or it might
have been the natural heedlessness of his impulsive nature. Whatever
the explanation, as Drayton ceased speaking his friend leaned over and
deliberately thrust two fingers into the powder, stirring it about and
feeling its soft fineness.

And then occurred the first of that series of extraordinary
incidents which were to involve both Trenmore and Robert Drayton in
adventures so weird, so seemingly inexplicable, that for a time even
Drayton came to share his friend's belief in the super-natural quality
of that which had been guarded by Cellini's Cerberus.

There sat the two friends in Burford's pleasant sunlit library.
Outside the frequent clang or rattle of passing traffic spoke of the
"downtown" district which had crept up about Jimmy Burford and some
other stubborn old residents of Walnut Street. There they sat, and the
city was all about them--commonplace, busy, impatient, and skeptical
of the miraculous as Drayton himself. Somewhere at the back of the
house Martin was whistling cheerily about his work.

Leaning back in his chair, Drayton's eyes were fixed on his
friend, a huge figure in his loose gray morning suit--a very monument
of material flesh, bone, and muscle. The sunlight fell full on him as
he bent above the Dust, bringing out every kindly line of his heavy,
dark face. Drayton saw him stir the Dust with his fingers. And Drayton
saw a small cloud of the stuff rise toward Trenmore's face, like a
puff of thin, gray smoke.

Then Drayton cried out loudly. He pushed back his chair so sharply
as to overset it, and sprang away from the newspaper and its burden.

Above the floor still hovered the thin gray cloud, growing thinner
every moment as the particles settled again through the draftless air.
But where was Trenmore?

There had been a quivering and a wavering of his great form, as if
Drayton saw him through a haze of heat. And with that, as easily and
completely as a wraith of smoke from his own cigar, the giant Irishman
had vanished!



CHAPTER 3: ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES



IN his first moments of stunned surprise it seemed to Drayton that
the end of all things had come. The maddest, most impossible surmises
flashed across his mind. He scarcely would have felt further amazement
had Lucifer himself, in all the traditional panoply of hoofs, tail,
and brimstone, risen sudden and flaming through the midst of that
dreary-hued heap of mysterious Dust. Had the tables and chairs begun
to move about the room on their own legs it would have appeared only
the natural sequel to such an event as had just transpired. Indeed, it
seemed strangely terrible that nothing more should occur. That Nature,
having broken her most sacred law, the indestructibility of matter,
should carry her sacrilege no further.

But had that law been broken? Was it possible that by some
unheard-of property the gray powder had noiselessly, without shock or
visible sign of explosion resolved the great body of his friend into
the component gases to which all matter may, in one way or another, be
reduced? Or was he, Robert Drayton, stark mad, and had the whole
absurd, horrible episode been a part of some delirious dream?

There lay the crystal vial on the floor, where he had dropped it
in his first dismay. There was the newspaper, with half of a bargain-
sale advertisement extending from beneath the gray heap. And now he
became aware that in the library a bell was ringing with regular,
monotonous persistence.

Scarcely knowing what he did, Drayton crossed the room and lifted
the telephone receiver from its hook.

"Hello, hello! What? Yes, this is James Burford's home. What's
that? Mr.-Mr. Trenmore? Yes; he's here. No-I-I mean, he was here a
moment ago. No; I don't know where he is or when he will be back. My
God, I wish I did! What's that? You are--whom did you say?... Oh, my
Lord!"

Drayton dropped the receiver and stood staring in blank horror.
After a while, leaving the receiver to dangle and click unheeded, he
turned and walked slowly back toward the chair on whose broad arm
Terence Trenmore's cigar still glowed behind a lengthening ash. With a
slight shudder he forced himself to pass his hands carefully over the
chair's entire inner surface, seat, arms, and back. The leather
covering retained a trace of warmth from its recent occupant; but it
was most indubitably empty.

The enormity, the unprecedented horror of the whole situation
swept up on Drayton like a rising tide, wiping out for a time all
thought of the telephone or the person to whom he had just been
speaking. With a dazed, sick look he again circled the newspaper and
its burden, righted his own chair, and sat down. He had a queer
feeling that some one had just played a particularly cruel practical
joke of which he was the victim.

And yet--what if that gray Dust had really possessed just the
terrific, unbelievable history with which Trenmore had credited it?

He strove to arrange his facts and premises in a logical and
reasonable order, but found himself continually returning to that one
scene--he, Drayton, sitting where he now sat; Trenmore opposite,
bending over the paper; the cloud that rose, gray and nebulous, and
hung in the air after his friend was gone.

Presently he was again roused from his stupor, and again by a
bell. The sound came faintly from the rear of the house. Drayton
waited, thinking to hear Martin pass through the reception hall on his
way to the front door. Again the bell rang, and this time in a long,
steady, insistent peal. Some one seemed to have placed a finger on the
button and determined that it should not be removed until the door
opened. Martin must be out, on an errand perhaps.

Half dazedly, as he had answered the phone, Drayton at length
responded to this new demand. As he unlocked the front door and opened
it a burst of summer sunshine rushed in and with it the small, angry
figure of a much perturbed young lady.

"Where is he? What has happened to my brother? Who was that man at
the telephone? Answer me instantly, I say! Where is my brother, Terry
Trenmore?"

The questions beat upon Drayton's ears like blows, rousing him to
some semblance of his normal self-possession.

"You are--you are Miss Trenmore?" he asked in turn, though a
sudden conscience-stricken remembrance smote him and assured him that
she was. He had terminated that telephone conversation so very
abruptly. No doubt the girl had run in from Atlantic City to see her
brother, called him up, and--

"I am Viola Trenmore, and I want my brother. Where is he?"

Drayton faced her with a feeling of helpless fright, though in
herself, Trenmore's sister was of no terrifying appearance. Nearly as
little as her brother was large, she looked even younger than the
seventeen years Drayton knew to be hers. She had her brother's eyes,
azure as an Italian sky, and her straight, fine brows and curling
lashes were black--beautifully so and in vivid contrast to the clear
white and rose of her eager face, flushed now like an excited child's.
Her small, modish hat, trim pumps, and tailored suit, all matched in
color the bright, clear hue of her eyes. Despite his desperate
preoccupation, Drayton's first sight of Viola Trenmore brought him the
same momentary flash of joy that comes with the sight of a bluebird in
springtime. She was like a bluebird, fluttering in from the sunshine.
His troubled mind scarcely recognized the thought, but always
afterward he remembered that first beauty of her as the flash of a
bluebird's wing.

"What have you done with him?" she demanded, while from those blue
eyes there blazed the very twin spirit of Terence Trenmore--Terence
the impetuous, angered and scorning all caution.

"I hardly know what to tell you, Miss Trenmore," began Drayton
hesitatingly. "Your brother is not here. He has gone. Oh, but I don't
myself know what has happened, or whether I am sane or crazy! Come in
here, Miss Trenmore, and you shall at least hear the story."

Puzzled now, and watching him with a sort of alert wariness, Viola
obeyed his gesture and entered the library. And there, in halting,
broken sentences, Drayton told his incredible tale. He showed her the
Dust on the paper, the empty crystal vial, the half-smoked cigar,
whose fire had expired some minutes since, like a last living trace of
the man who had lighted it.

And somehow, as Drayton talked, he knew that it was all true, and
that Trenmore was dead. Dead and dissipated to the elements as
thoroughly as if, instead of a bare half hour, ten thousand years had
slipped by since his going. Grief clutched Drayton's throat and he
finished his story in a hoarse, barely audible whisper.

"And so--he was gone! Like that. And nothing left. Nothing but
that infernal stuff there that--that murdered him--my friend!"

For one moment the girl stood silent, and Drayton thought that she
also was dazed, as he had been. But suddenly she flung back her head
with Trenmore's very gesture.

"I don't believe you!" she cried vehemently. "I don't believe you!
Did you expect me to believe you? Do you take me for an infant? Who
are you that are here in my cousin's house, answer his telephone and
his door, and meet me with this mad lie about Terry? I recognize that
vial! And I know that some one has been trying to steal it from my
brother. Are you that thief, and have you murdered Terry, as you
threatened you would?"

She advanced upon him, her eyes two pools of blue, indignant fire;
but the man stood his ground. "I am Robert Drayton," he said.

"Robert Drayton! But you can't be. Mr. Drayton is a good friend of
Terry's, though I've never met him, and some way you know that and
hope to deceive me! Mr. Drayton would not treat me like this. He would
not lie to me. He would not-" Sobbing at last, she broke off and
clenched her little hands fiercely. "I'll show you!" she cried. "I'll
show you what I think of you and your lies, and then I'll make you
tell me the true story!"

Before Drayton, springing forward with a cry of wild protest,
could prevent, she had dropped on her knees beside the heap of Dust.
Another instant and her white-gloved fingers had again raised that
ominous gray cloud.

It rose in a spiral swirl--

For a second Drayton still saw her as a vague, translucent blur of
blue shading into pink where her face had been. Then the air shimmered
and cleared, and once more the unfortunate young man stood alone in
Burford's pleasant library. This time not so much as a lighted cigar
remained to remind him of recent companionship.

Mr. Robert Drayton began to swear. Serious profanity had never
come easily to his lips. Now, however, he heard himself using phrases
and words which he had not even been aware that he knew; a steady,
low-voiced, earnest stream of expression whose utterance gave him the
strangest satisfaction and relief. He swore for two minutes without a
pause, then trailed off into silence. The superhuman tension had been
broken, however, and he could again think.

This abruptness and totality of disappearance, that left him not
so much as a corpse to mourn, awoke in him emotions different from any
he had ever experienced. He found that he could not think of Trenmore
and his sister as other than alive, nor rid himself of the idea that
in some way they were yet present in the library. Not though the very
clearest memory informed him that before his eyes those two had been
resolved to nothingness.

Pondering on what he should do, however, it came to him that in
honor only one course lay open. Had he been content to indulge
Trenmore's superstitious regard for that infernal Dust, he would have
been left confronting no such ghastly mystery. The fault, by this
reckoning, was his. Let him pay, then.

With a firm, resolute tread Drayton approached the sinister gray
pile, and of all its victims he alone loosed its deadliness
knowingly--or believing that he knew.

Ten seconds later the library was empty of human life.

On the mantelpiece stood a clock which then pointed to the hour of
nine-thirty. It ticked on solemnly, dutifully, wholly indifferent to
any wonder save the great and perpetual miracle of Time itself. Minute
by minute the long and the short hands crept over the dial, and on the
vast looms of Eternity thread by thread was added to the universal
fabric of the Past.

Ten-twenty-five, and Martin, out marketing among the stalls in the
Reading Terminal Market, was very cheerful over some exceptionally
large, juicy oranges. Mr. Trenmore liked oranges. He added two dozen
of the fruit to his order and started homeward.

Back there in the library the Cerberus still gleamed where Drayton
had flung it down. The Dust still lay on its newspaper, whose matter-
of-factness seemed to deride all mystery connected with divorce,
murder, or the wonderful cheapness of lace blouses and lingerie at
Isaac Fineheimer's Stock Clearance Sale.

And as Martin, on his return journey, crossed Juniper Street, five
blocks away, a caller arrived at a certain house on Walnut Street.

He was a short, rotund young gentleman. Attired in a suit of dark
green, neatly matched by socks, tie, and the ribbon on his wellblocked
hat, the one false note in his color scheme was struck by a pair of
bright, too-bright tan shoes.

Twice he had passed the house saunteringly; then boldly ascended
Mr. Burford's sedate white marble doorsteps. Boldly indeed he walked
up and in at the open door; but once inside his demeanor underwent a
change. No cat could have slunk more softly through vestibule and
hall; no hunting animal could have been more keenly alert for any
sound within the quiet, empty house.

He made straight for the stairs; but with one foot on the first
step he paused. Through a half-open door he could see part of a large,
book-lined room. Was it empty?

After short hesitation the rotund green gentleman stole over and
peered cautiously round the edge of that door!

An instant later, and he had darted across the library with a
silent, amazing celerity of movement. His attention, it seemed, had
been caught by the Cerberus' gleaming in the sunlight. Picking up the
vial, he examined it with swift care, thrust it in his pocket, and
turned to leave. His cherubic face now wore the look of one who has
achieved good fortune with almost suspicious ease; his pleased smile
was half doubtful, and as he moved softly toward the door his small,
darting eyes glanced from side to side quickly, thoughtful of hidden
danger.

Unluckily for him, however, the real danger in that room was not
bidden. It lay in full sight on a newspaper, flat on the floor between
two chairs that faced one another companionably.

Frequently curiosity has been proved a fatal weakness.

How far the extraordinary affair might have progressed, how many
of Philadelphia's citizens, innocent or otherwise, might have entered
that library and been tempted to investigate the harmless looking gray
peril on its floor, had not Martin been a careful and conscientious
individual, is a problem for speculation. Fortunately, however, Martin
was what he was. At exactly eleven o'clock he entered the library
seeking his employer. Finding the room empty, and having searched the
rest of the house in vain, he came to the natural and entirely correct
conclusion. Mr. Trenmore was not at home.

The front door had been left open. Martin closed it. Then he
returned to straighten the library and empty the ash trays.

Over the fatal Dust he hesitated. Was this gray, floury stuff
rubbish left here to be thrown out? Arbitrary and uninstructed action
never appealed to Martin. With wise caution--how wise he would have
been panic-stricken to learn--he folded the newspaper together, taking
pains that its contents be not scattered, made a neat packet of it,
and tied it with red tape from the table drawer. This packet he
carried upstairs and laid on Trenmore's chiffonier, where there could
be no question of its being overlooked.

After that Martin sought the lower regions to prepare luncheon for
Trenmore and his guest.

And in the library--that room of abominable and innocent looking
emptiness--the clock ticked solemnly on.



CHAPTER 4: WHERE THE GRAY DUST LED



WHAT Robert Drayton expected when, without one glance for the
world he felt himself to be forever leaving, he so deliberately
followed the two Trenmores, he scarcely knew. Death, probably.

As he bent above the Dust, his back to the sunlight and to life,
he was conscious of neither regret, fear, nor curiosity. He had
reached that blank wall which seems to rise in moments of great
crisis--a sense of nowness that cuts off past and future, leaving for
standing place only the present, an infinitesimal point.

Carefully copying the actions of those who had preceded him,
Drayton touched the Dust, first gently, then, in sudden haste for the
end, giving it one vigorous stir with his forefinger.

Had he been a conventional suicide tugging at a trigger the result
could have come no more promptly. As he had seen it rise before, so it
rose now--that grim cloud which to Drayton presaged dissolution.

It reached his face, was in his eyes, his nostrils. With it came
dizziness and a strong physical nausea. His mouth tasted sharply
bitter, as if he had swallowed quinine. Drayton shuddered and gasped.
He saw everything through a gray mist. The room was filled with it. It
was a mist composed of thin, concentric rings, swirling slowly with
himself for axis. The rings became thicker, denser--till he could
perceive nothing else--till he could not see his hands, when,
stretching them out to catch at a chair or table, they came in contact
only with the air.

The bitter taste and the sickness increased. His hand was on the
floor supporting him, and the floor felt strange; the carpet unlike
any weave of human making. Presently even the dizziness and nausea
were forgotten. He had attention only for that strange carpet. He
could have sworn that what he touched with cautious, investigatory
fingers was not carpet at all, but grass! Surely it was grass--long,
matted, a tangle of brittle-dry blades.

While he still explored this odd phenomenon, the blinding grayness
about him began to thin. All around him appeared the changing outlines
of shapes, gray and mutable as the mist itself, but still shapes of a
sort. Rapidly now these grew more coherent, solid, and acquired a more
than shadowy substance, until, all in a moment, the gray, swirling
veil was withdrawn.

Unless every sense of his body lied, Drayton was crouching on the
ground in open air. Those gray shapes he had glimpsed were the fallen
stones and broken walls of some old, ruined building.

Unspeakably bewildered, Drayton staggered to his feet. There
before him stretched the broad level of a wide green plain, across
which a low sun stared through a strata of reddened cloud. The ruins
near which he stood crowned the summit of a little hill, all overgrown
with that dry, tangled grass which had so puzzled him in the mist.
Here and there a few small trees had sprung up among the stones. He
heard their scant, yellowish foliage rustling stiffly in the slight
breeze.

Turning slowly, he perceived that the hill of the gray ruins was
the first of a low range of foothills, above whose summits in the east
loomed the white peaks of mountains.

Following amazement, Drayton's first impression was one of
intolerable loneliness. In the sky of this strange, wide world he had
invaded not a bird flew; mountain, hill, and plain lay desolate, empty
of any living creature; no sound broke the stillness save the gentle,
unhuman whisper of the warm breeze, blowing from the plain upward
across the hills.

And yet it was all very real; very convincing and earthlike. The
shadows of the ruins stretched long and dark away from the almost
level rays of the sinking sun. Stretching forth his hand, Drayton laid
it cautiously upon the stone of a broken wall. The rough granite felt
dusty and hot beneath his fingers. He broke off a bit of green-gray
lichen that grew there, and it was just that--lichen and no more.

If he were dead, if this were the world that awaits the soul when
the body perishes, why did he feel so uncommonly like his ordinary,
everyday, physical self? How could he feel at all, in any common
sense?

He was alive. His feet pressed the earth with the weight of a
quite material body. Why, his very clothing denied any spirituality in
this experience. There he stood, bareheaded, dressed in the same old
blue serge suit he had bought five years ago in Cincinnati, and which
now constituted his sole wardrobe. The sun was warm on his face; the
air breathed clear and sweet. Surely he was no spirit, but a living
man of flesh and blood.

Nowhere, however, was there hint or sign of other living humanity
than himself. He was alone in a land so empty that only the greenness
on hills and plain preserved it from utter desolation. The ruins spoke
of man, but of man dead and gone so many ages since that their stones
remembered his clean chisel strokes but vaguely.

What devilish nature had that Dust possessed, and where had it
seen fit to deposit his fellow victims?

Drayton flung out his arms in a gesture of despair. For a long
moment he stood so, a desolate figure in a vacant land. Then his hands
dropped limp at his sides, and he began an aimless, wandering walk
between the ruins.

Here, he thought with a faint flicker of interest, there had once
stood a fortress or castle. Centuries ago it had fallen. All that
remained were broken columns, heaps of rugged granite and portions of
the thick outer walls. Within the latter he could trace the shape of a
courtyard, still paved in places with crumbling flagstones.

Presently he came upon the remains of a gateway. The arch had
fallen in and upon one of its stones Drayton observed traces of
letters. He examined them curiously. Time, however, had done its work
too thoroughly, and all he could decipher were the first few letters
of two lines:

ULITH--

MC

There was no clue in that to his whereabouts.

In despair of learning more, he strayed on, vaguely wondering why
he should walk at all, until in the matted grass of the courtyard,
close to the inner side of the same wall by which he had first found
himself kneeling, his foot struck against something.

He stared downward. The sun was very low, the shadow of the wall
was dark, and he could see only that there was a long mound there,
under the tangled grass. But that soft, heavy resilience of the thing
he had stumbled on, coupled with the length and shape of the mound--
there was that in the combination which struck him unpleasantly.

He turned to leave it, then came back as if fascinated. Finally he
stooped, and with nervous, desperate fingers dragged and tore at the
network of dry, tangled fibers that covered the mound. At last he
uncovered something that looked and felt like a piece of cloth. But
the color of it--the color of it! Out of the dim shadow it gleamed at
him, bright, clear, bluest and purest of blues--the hue of a
bluebird's wing!

Frantically, with a growing sense of impending horror, Drayton
persisted in his task until his worst fears were confirmed.

Beneath that grass lay the body of a woman, face down. Though the
face was concealed, he knew her instantly. And she lay there, deathly
quiet, face down and the grass had grown over her.

How long--good God!--how long a time had passed since he had stood
face to face with this girl in James Burford's library? It had been
morning there. Here it was sunset. Sunset? How many suns had set since
that grass was young and began its task of shroud weaving?

Conquering a sudden and violent impulse to flee, Drayton turned
the body over and laughed a little wildly. After all, the grass was a
liar. Dead the girl might be--she lay still enough--but if dead she
was most recently so. Her face was pale and sweet and perfect as a
child's sleeping there in the shadow. The lids were closed softly over
her eyes, as if at any moment the curling lashes might quiver and
lift.

Scarcely breathing, Drayton knelt and laid his ear above her
heart. Surely that was a faint flutter he felt! Raising her head, he
sought some other sign of returning consciousness. There was none. He
laid a hand on her forehead. It was cool, but not with the chilling
coldness he dreaded.

Questioning no longer, but with a great hope in his heart, Drayton
sprang to his feet and paused. Where in this empty, houseless land
could he obtain any stimulant or even water to revive her? He must
have it--he must save her before that faint trace of life should
flicker out. Alone he had been nothing. With this small sister of
Trenmore's at his side he could face all the mysteries of the universe
with a cheerful carelessness. He loved her suddenly and joyously, not
because she was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen, but
simply because she was human!

Yet should he leave her to seek water the girl might die in his
absence. Better he had never found her than that! Despairing of other
means, Drayton was about to try what resuscitation the chafing of
wrists and forehead might effect when, glancing westward to judge how
much of day might be left him, he beheld an odd, unlooked-for thing.

On the side of the ruins toward the plain stood the longest and
highest fragment of the outer wall. On the left it rose in a jagged
slant from the old foundations to a height of six or seven feet,
extended level for a distance of four yards or so, then ended in an
abrupt vertical line that exactly bisected the red sun, now touching
the horizon. And from beyond its black silhouette, against the faint
pink of the western sky, a thin puff of smoke was ascending!

It was dissipated by the slight breeze from the plain. Another
puff and another followed it. Then the puffs ceased, to be succeeded
by a slow, thin column of mysterious vapor.

Who or what was behind that wall?

Standing there alone and weaponless beside the unconscious girl,
Drayton was swept by a terror deeper and more vivid than any dread he
had ever before experienced. Smoke! The most familiar sight known to
man. But in this strange, unhuman place? What vague demon might he not
discover if he dared look behind that wall?

Yet his very fear drove him. Night was on its way to lend terror
the cloak of invisibility. He must go while the sun befriended him.

Leaving the girl where she was, Drayton stumbled across the grass-
hidden stones between him and the fragment of wall. He caught at its
top with his hands and cautiously pulled himself up.

Just before his head cleared the ragged stones a voice began
speaking. It was a deep, vibrant voice, entirely harmonious with the
surroundings.

"Well," it declared, and the tone was somewhat plaintive, "and
that is the last of my last cigar. Sure, it's a fine sunset they have
here, but 'tis not my idea of Purgatory at all! 'Tis too dull, so it
is. I wish--"

"Terry Trenmore!" With joyful, scarce-believing eyes, Drayton was
staring over the wall. Then his muscles suddenly gave way and he
dropped back on his own side.

For an instant there was dead silence. When the voice was heard
again it was with an intonation of profound resignation.

"There now, it's begun at last! Sure, I never should have wished
for excitement! But the devils will find Terence Trenmore game.
Invisible voices shouting my own name! I wonder now, is that the best
they can do? I wonder had I better--"

"Trenmore, it's I--Bob Drayton!"

As Drayton appeared suddenly around the end of the wall, the
Irishman faced him calmly without rising. "I'm resigned," he said.
"You might take a worse shape than that. What is it you'd be about
now?"

Laughing outright, Drayton walked over and shook his giant friend
by the shoulder.

"You blessed old idiot! Don't you know me? Have you been sitting
here all this time while I mooned about thinking myself--By Heaven,
Terry, do you know that Viola is here, too?"

"Viola, is it? Now I tell you straight, my lad, if you're what I
suspect you of being you keep your tongue off my little sister or
there'll be one devil the less in these parts!"

"Trenmore, have you gone stark mad? I'm no devil! Here, take my
hand. Doesn't that feel like flesh and blood? I tell you, Viola is
here. She came to the house after--after you went. And before I could
prevent her she had stirred up that infernal gray powder."

"She did? Well, tell me then how you reached here yourself, and
perhaps I'll begin to believe you."

Drayton shrugged. "I followed, of course. The whole thing was my
fault. I thought you were both dead, and I could hardly do less than
follow."

Trenmore sprang up and wrung the other's hand with his customary
enthusiasm. "And now I do believe you!" he cried. "You're Bobby
Drayton and none other, for you've acted like the man I knew you to
be. But poor little Viola! And where is she now? Sure, if she's in
this place, I misdoubt it's the one I took it for, after all!"

"She is over among the ruins, and she seems to have fainted. I
found her all buried in grass. She mustn't be left alone another
instant. Have you any whisky or brandy about you?"

"I have not--bad luck to me!"

Disappointed, but still hopeful, Drayton led the way, eagerly
followed by his friend. The sun had sunk till it glowed like the half
of a great, round, red lantern above the horizon's rim. Drayton was
wondering what they should do if they failed to revive Viola before
night came on; but this anxiety was wasted.

As they crossed the grass-grown court a little figure in blue
dashed suddenly from behind a shattered column and flung itself bodily
into the arms of Trenmore.

"Terry--oh, Terry, my dear!"

"Little Viola! There, there now. Is it crying you are? And for
what?"

"Just for joy, Terry, dear. Don't mind me. There, I'll not cry any
more. I waked up--all alone--in the shadow. And Terry, darling, I'd
been dreaming that we both were dead!"



CHAPTER 5: THE WEAVER OF THE YEARS



WHEN the marvelous oversteps the bounds of known possibility there
are three ways of meeting it. Trenmore and his sister, after a grave
discussion of certain contingencies connected with the Catholic
religion and a dismissal of them on grounds too utterly Celtic and
dogmatic for Drayton to follow, took the first way. From that time on
they faced every wonder as a fact by itself, to be accepted as such
and let go at that.

Drayton, though all his life he had unconsciously so viewed such
accustomed marvels as electricity or the phenomenon of his own life,
could not here follow his Irish friends. He compromised on the second
way, and accepted with a mental reservation, as "I see you now, but I
am not at all sure that you are there or that I really believe in
you!"

Fortunately there was not one of the three so lacking in mental
elasticity as to discover the third way, which is madness.

"And what we should be thinking of," declared Viola presently, "is
not how did we come here, but how are we to find our way home?"

This was a truism too obvious for dispute. And yet, to Drayton at
least, it seemed that no amount of thinking or action either was
likely to be of great service. They were without food or water.
Without weapons or compass. Without the faintest glimmering of
knowledge as to their actual geographic position upon the earth.

Drayton strained his eyes toward the hills, already purple in the
sun's last rays. What hope was there among those desolate heights,
more than was offered by the empty flatness of the plain?

How many miles could be traversed by this frail-looking sister of
Trenmore's before those dainty, high-heeled pumps of hers were worn to
rags? Before she dropped exhausted? How many more miles could he and
Trenmore carry her if they found neither food nor water?

"We'll find food as we go," said Terence as if interpreting and
answering the thought. "I never did see a green country like this and
no sort of food in it. Viola, 'tis a plucky lass you've always been.
I've often promised that some day you'd go wandering with me. Let's be
starting. And, Bobby, lad, don't look so down-hearted. There's a way
out of everything, and aren't we just the three ones to find it,
wherever we are?"

Drayton realized that his gloomy countenance must be anything but
encouraging to Viola. Determined that henceforth he would be a model
adventurer at any cost, he smiled.

"I wasn't really worrying, old man. I was merely thinking--"

But what innocent fabrication he would have devised to account for
his despondency they never discovered. His sentence ended abruptly,
and the forced smile vanished.

The attention of all three had been caught by a strange, deep,
moaning sound. Reaching for his sister, Trenmore drew her close to his
side. They all stood very still and listened.

The moaning, which began at first faintly and in a low key, seemed
to emanate from a source immediately beneath their feet. Swiftly,
however, this source widened and spread outward, extending itself
beneath the empty plain and under the hills toward the mountain peaks.
As it spread the note rose in key and in volume until it was more than
anything else like the sound which might be thrown out by an immense
top, whirling with planetary speed.

The intense vibration became agonizing. The listeners clapped
their hands over their ears in a vain effort to shut it out. Drayton,
for his part, felt that in one more instant either his eardrums or his
brain must give way.

Even as he thought it, however, the last segment of the sun's red
periphery sank out of sight beneath the horizon. The terrible humming
died away, melting into the universal silence in which it had found
birth. With scarcely an intervening moment of twilight night swept
down.

At first it seemed absolute as blindness, or the end of all
created things. Then, as his pupils expanded, Drayton began dimly to
perceive his companions, while, on looking upward, he beheld a sky
powdered thick with clear, brilliant stars.

He drew a long breath, and heard it echoed by the others.

"They have a strange nightfall in this land," muttered Trenmore,
"and they do make a great noise over it!"

"Yes," replied Drayton, the observant, "but those stars look
familiar enough."

"Right as usual, Bobby. It's the same old stars they're using.
Look, Viola! There's the old bear and her cub!"

"And the Milky Way," said Viola.

Somehow, in spite of all that had occurred, the sight of those
familiar stars and constellations brought a feeling of almost-
security, of at-homeness and actuality.

"Your talk of Purgatory," laughed Drayton, "and that abominable
noise just now sent a few unearthly shivers down my back. Those stars
tell a different story. We are surely somewhere on earth. Different
longitude, perhaps, but in our own latitude, or nearly, even though
night did shut down with such tropical suddenness. If we were in the
tropics we should see a sky different from this--"

His astronomical observations were cut short by a low cry from
Viola. Dimly he glimpsed her arm, stiffly outstretched and pointing.

"And if this is our own earth," she cried, "is that our own moon?
And if it is, what is the moon doing over there? Will you tell me
that?"

There was pertinence in her question. From the exact point where
the sun had descended five minutes earlier the silver rim of a great
white moon was rising. Already the wide plain before it was invaded
and dimly illuminated by the flood of its elfin radiance. It was as
if, when the sun went down, the moon had been waiting there, and had
now slipped past to take his place in the sky.

"Surely a very singular moonrise--in the west!" murmured the ex-
lawyer. Inwardly he was more shocked by this apparent misplacement of
the lunar orb than by anything which had yet occurred. If the stars
had reassured him surely the moon had been prompt to undo their work.

"Is that thing a rock or an animal?"

Again it was Viola who spoke, and again her companions stared
where the girl was pointing. Fifteen feet to the right of them was a
large, dark object. It lay half in the black shadow of the ruined
arch, half in the steadily increasing moonlight.

"That is only a part of the old gateway," began Drayton in a
quiet, reassuring tone.

Even as he spoke, however, the dark thing seemed to rear itself
slightly from the ground.

Trenmore made a quick movement; but Viola caught his arm.

"Don't go! Don't go near it, Terry! It may be some savage wild
beast that's been hiding there!"

"And d'ye think I fear it then?" growled Trenmore.

"Don't be a fool, Trenmore!" Drayton spoke with a brusqueness born
of mingled horror and amazement. That uncanny, half-glimpsed thing now
appeared to be stretching itself upward, higher and higher in the
partial shadow where it stood. "Think of your sister," he cried, "and
help me get her away from this unspeakable place before it's too late.
Look-look there at that wall!"

The wall he referred to was the same behind which he had first
come upon Trenmore. Before their incredulous eyes it seemed to come to
life, to rise, and to grow upward.

"They're alive, these stones! They're alive!" cried Viola.

Trenmore held back no longer. Here was something with which even
his great strength was not fit to contend. All about them the fallen
rocks, the walls, the very flagstones beneath their feet were heaving,
moving, and the motion seemed all the more sinister and terrible
because of the silence which attended it.

Drayton reached desperately for Viola's arm or hand; but Terry
simply plucked her from the ground as one gathers up a child and began
running across the court in great leaps and bounds. In one spring he
cleared the nearest wall and ran on down the hill. Drayton followed at
a speed nearly as great, and only caught up with the Irishman at the
foot of the hill, where they both paused as by one impulse to look
back.

During his flight Drayton had been filled with a ghastly,
unnatural terror. He had feared that the ruins were coming after him,
lichenous, soil-incrusted, horribly animate! But now, looking back,
that fear at least was banished. The bare hillside, almost white in
the moonlight, was crowned still by its broken walls. But were they
broken now?

"By heaven, it's like-like--"

"Like a mirage," supplied Viola, who seemed suddenly to have
achieved a curious composure. "Put me down, Terry. No, put me down, I
say! I wish to see better. Yes, it's growing fast. In a few minutes we
shall see the whole castle as it used to be."

Her calm assurance struck Drayton as odd, but only for a moment.
After all, why shouldn't a castle grow up like a flower--like a flower
with a magic scent? Down here on the plain the grass was filled with
flowers and the air with their fragrance. There was something
peculiarly soothing and reassuring in the very odor of them.

Drayton no longer felt the least alarm--hardly, even, wonder. Not
though a miracle was occurring on the hilltop above.

Rising, ever rising in the white moonlight, the old fortress which
they had deemed fallen forever, was rebuilding itself. Up, up shot the
walls, battlemented now and perfect. Behind them, tower on tower,
pinnacle upon pinnacle, lifted into the clear silver radiance as the
white foam of a rising wave might lift--lifted and froze into perfect
form--till the vision or mirage or miracle--whatever this marvel might
be named--was consummate and growth ceased. Here and there a pennant
fluttered in the faint night breeze. From the highest tower of all a
great standard drooped, too heavy for so small a wind to raise.

And now it could be seen that close to where they stood a narrow
white road led upward from plain to castle, ending at a huge gateway
immediately above them. Suddenly the heavy, iron-studded doors of this
gateway opened inward and swung slowly back. Beyond them all was
darkness. Then came the first sound from the ghost castle--a heavy
stamping, a clash and jingle as of metal. Out of the inner darkness a
great horse strode into the moonlight. Upon its back sat a gleaming,
erect, armed figure. Five more riders followed. Then the gates slowly,
silently shut themselves. The company of six came riding down the pale
roadway.

Drayton, for his part, felt arising within him a vast curiosity--a
curiosity so great that he actually left his companions and walked
over to the roadside.

He had advanced with the deliberate intention of questioning those
mysterious riders. As they drew near, however, he turned and strode
quickly back to Trenmore and his sister.

"What is the matter?" queried Viola. "Why didn't you ask them who
they are and the name of the castle?"

Drayton's reply was voiced in a tense, fierce whisper.

"Look at them--only look at them, I tell you!"

His tone seemed to rouse his friends from the strange apathy into
which they had all more or less fallen since setting foot on the
plain.

They stood no more than eight or nine yards from the road, and
could see very well what Drayton had already perceived. The horses
were large, heavy brutes, of the type bred centuries ago for battle.
They were spirited in a clumsy sort of way, and came curveting and
prancing down the road. But the men on their backs--why, those were
not men, nor even the ghosts of men! They were mere empty shells of
gleaming armor.

The visors of all six were raised, and the watchers could see how
the moonlight shimmered inside the helmets.

The armor sat erect, six proud, plumed figures of chivalry, and
the joints rattled with a hollow clashing. They were past, and the
white moonlight of the plain had swallowed them up. They had melted
into it as a ship melts into the sea fog.

Glancing upward, Drayton half expected to see the castle itself
dissolve and fade as it had grown; but no such phenomenon occurred.
There it stood, massive, solid, dominating the hill.

With a slight shudder, Drayton turned to his companions.

"Somehow," he said, "I don't fancy the idea of asking hospitality
at that gate."

"'Twould be madness!" ejaculated Trenmore. "It's fortunate we were
to escape from that spook house before the walls grew too high!"

"Yes," conceded his friend simply.

"And what would we be doing now, do you think? Shall we stay here
till the sunrise again, or shall we go on?"

It really made very little difference what they did, thought
Drayton. Already that pleasant lassitude, from which sight of the
riding armor had momentarily shocked him, was returning. By a volition
which hardly seemed their own, however, the three of them presently
found themselves advancing across the wide green plain.

On the hill the grass had been dry, dead stuff, parched as from
long drought. The plain, however, was like a sweet, well-watered
meadow. A scent came up from it that told of flowers crushed beneath
their feet and growing everywhere in the midst of that lush greenness.
They were pale, small flowers, and very fragrant. Viola plucked a few.
So delicate were the blossoms that they withered instantly in her
hands.

The three walked slowly, for the night had brought warmth rather
than coolness. The sweet air breathed soft and languid. Now and then
one of them would glance back over his shoulder. The phantom castle
remained on the hilltop, as real in appearance as anything looks by
moonlight, which casts a veil over all that is not very near.

Now every one knows that moonshine is at best of an uncertain and
bewildering quality. Yet it seemed odd--or would have seemed so had
they not been past surprise--that in the beginning they had deemed the
plain deserted and bare of any moving thing since the empty armor had
ridden outward and vanished. For now, as they walked, they perceived
that all about them were forms and groups of forms, moving over and
through the sweet, flower-sprinkled grass in a weird and noiseless
dance, without music or apparent rhythm.

Presently they had blundered fairly into the midst of a group of
these shapes, which seemed indeed to form about them from the misty
light itself or rise up from the ground.

They were queer, bulky, clumsy-shouldered figures dressed in
tight-fitting clothes and hoods and gloves of smooth fur. At least so
appeared those directly ahead, black silhouettes against the moon. On
looking around, however, the travelers were somewhat startled to find
that what they had taken for hooded faces were not faces at all, but
just smooth, featureless expanses of fur. The back and the front of
the heads were exactly alike, save for one straight, black gash where
the mouth might be.

Joining hands, the creatures began to circle with a clumsy,
dancing motion. The wanderers, caught in the center of their ring,
could proceed no further without using force to break it. Soon the
swift, whirling dance began to make Drayton dizzy. Round and round and
round. And now over the plain he perceived that there were many other
circles like this. They all swung round and round and round. Why had
he thought the dance silent? There was music enough, and everywhere
the beat, beat of uncounted feet in perfect rhythm with a melody that
filled the world. It rose from the scented grass between the beating
feet; it flowed from the moon with the sorcery of her light; it
circled and circled in rhythmic rings. It caught his feet in a silver
snare. He was swept into the net of a great and passionate desire--to
dance and dance forever--now!

Before him Drayton saw the circle break apart, and there was just
the space for one to join them, to become a link in the mystic ring
and satisfy the calling melody. Almost without his will Drayton's feet
obeyed the call. His hand caught that of the monster nearest him. He
remembered afterward that it felt neither cold nor warm, but rather
like a fur glove stuffed with wool. Another hand caught him violently
by the shoulder and wrenched him backward.

Drayton cried out and struggled to escape, but Trenmore had him
fairly in the grip of his mighty arms. Even as the two strove together
all that moonlight madness of sound jarred, broke, and from discord
died to silence. The strength went out of Drayton's body. He leaned,
weak and panting for breath, against the Irishman's shoulder.

"If you're so fond of dancing," said the latter grimly, "you might
at least chose Viola or me for a partner. Are you mad, Bobby, to take
hands with those?"

Before Drayton could reply the circle of dancers stopped short in
their tracks. Each ungainly figure made a strange, wild gesture as of
wrath or despair. Then they separated, scattered, and went dancing
wildly away across the grass.

"Hss-ss-ss!"

It was a long-drawn, sibilant sound, and it seemed to come from a
little pile of rocks close by. In its black shadow they saw two
sparklike eyes gleam redly.

"Hss-ss-ss! Touch not the dancers--go not near them--speak not to
them! Strange things be abroad and stranger things be done in the
white moonlight of Ulithia! Hss-ss-ss! Go not near!"

"And who and what may you be?" demanded Trenmore, bending down;
but the sparklike eyes had vanished. An instant later they reappeared,
gleaming dimly through a white cobweb between two tall tufts of grass.

"Hss-ss-ss!" Again that snakelike hissing. "Beware! You have
escaped the everlasting dance--beware the Weaver and her song!"

"But who-what are you?" demanded Trenmore again rather wildly.

The red sparks flashed and faded from behind the silver web.

Only a dim voice trailed back to them:

"I am the Voice of Warning in a land of Illusion--beware!"

Drayton, somewhat recovered from his own queer experience, moved
as if to follow. Again Trenmore checked him.

"We'd best not traffic with that thing either," he recommended
gruffly. "We've no place in this world we've got into--no place at
all! And the very best we can do is to keep our own company till we
find a way out of it."

"What was it the thing said?" queried Drayton as he fell into step
again beside the other two. "Ulithia? That sounds some way familiar--"

Trenmore shook his head. "Not to me. I've traveled many a land,
and read not a few books, old and new; but nowhere have I heard that
name before."

"Nor I," said Viola.

Drayton was silent a moment, searching his memory. Then his face
fell. "I recall the association now," he observed discontentedly.
"It's no help. There were some letters--the first letters of that
name--carved on the ruins back there. I read them, while the ruins
were still ruins."

For a while they walked on in silence. With the breaking of that
one ring of dancing forms the plain seemed gradually to have cleared,
so that they were again alone with the moonlight and each other. Alone
until, long before they saw the White Weaver, they heard her singing.

That was a wondrous, murmurous, liquid song of hers, like shallow
summer brooks and rustling fields. They were not surprised to come
upon her at last, seated in the moon-frosted grass, tossing a weaver's
shuttle between her outstretched hands. They could see neither loom
nor thread nor web, however, save a thousand silver cobwebs on the
grass. All the plain was agleam with them.

This is the song she was singing, or as much of it as any of them
could afterward recall:

"The web lies broad in the weaving room.

(Fly, little shuttle fly!)

The air is loud with the clashing loom.

(Fly, little shuttle fly!)"

There was a brief pause in the melody, then:

"Year on year have I woven here.

Green earth, white earth, and autumn sere;

Sitting singing where the earth-props mold;

Weave I, singing, where the world grows old.

Time's a traitor, but the loom is leal--

Time's a liar, but the web is real!

Hear my song and behold my web!

(Fly, little shuttle--!)"

"But, madam, 'tis no web you have there," broke in Trenmore. "'Tis
naught but a little shuttle and no thread to it at all!"

At that the song ceased, and the woman raised her face. It was
beautiful as the moon's self, though her hair was silver and her face
without a trace of color. Her clear, pale eyes seemed to look through
and far beyond them.

"You are strangers," she said in a voice that might have come from
very far away, clear and sweet as a silver bell. "Yet your lives, too,
are in my web. Aye! They are mine--bound up fast in my web that you
see not. From here on go forward--go deeper! Heed not the mockings of
the dancing Shadow People. Heed not the voice of mine enemy, who would
keep you forever bound in the shallows of Ulithia. Go forward--go
deeper--go forward!"

With that she ceased speaking, and, taking up her song where she
had left it, she made the empty shuttle fly like a living thing from
hand to hand.

Drayton eyed his companions doubtfully. "If the lady would make
her advice a little clearer we might try to follow it. We have to go
on somewhere, you know, Terry."

But Viola shook her head, staring at the Weaver with hostile,
questioning glance. "Have you so soon forgotten?" she said. "'Beware
the Weaver and her song!'"

At that the Weaver again ceased singing. Her thin lips were curled
in a smile, but her eyes were like pale blue ice.

"Aye," she murmured, "beware of the Weaver--the White Weaver of
the Years--beware! But your feet are set in her web. The door opens
before you. There is no way out but on--and what is Ulithia, phantom
borderland of life, to such as you? Go forward--go deeper--go
forward!"

Trenmore took one step toward her, with what intent he himself
scarcely knew. But as he took it Drayton laughed with a touch of
weariness.

"You have frightened the lady away, Terry."

It was true. As Trenmore had stepped toward the "White Weaver"
that cold-eyed lady had vanished and taken her song and her shuttle
with her. As the three again proceeded Viola waved her hand in a wide
gesture, indicating the plain they traversed.

"Did either of you notice," she said, "that there were so many of
these white spider webs about--before we saw that woman?"

Her brother and Drayton merely stared stupidly, heavy-eyed.

"Before we met the White Weaver," murmured the girl dreamily,
"there was only a web here and there, woven between the grass stems.
Now it is like-like walking through a silver sea. And the moon. What
moon of earth was ever like this of Ulithia?"

"If it is a moon," said Trenmore with no great interest. "She's
taking an uncommon long time for her rising."

Blank as a silver shield, the moon, or what they had believed a
moon, still rested at the edge of the plain, its lower part bisected
by the horizon. More like an enormous archway than a moon it seemed--a
sort of celestial door, perhaps, in the edge of the sky.

They neared and neared, walking across a silver sea of web through
which the invisible flowers sent up their perpetually increasing
incense, almost too sweet now for pleasure. More and more like an arch
the moon appeared--an immense, light-filled archway, of the nearly
circular Moorish type. About it they began to perceive a certain dim
outline of dark substance, behind which the moon itself was just a
depth and a blinding expanse of light. Almost unconsciously they
hastened their steps. At last, heads swimming with the fragrance of
the plain, they had actually reached the splendid thing.

High, high above them curved the perfect arch of stone, black as
unpolished ebony and set in what seemed a solid wall of similar rock
stretching away to darkness on either hand. Through the opening they
could not see, for it was filled with a brilliant mist of pure white
light.

"Look!" said Drayton, leaning dizzily against the black stone to
which he pointed. "Here on the architrave. There are silver
characters--inlaid--aren't they? But they move and writhe like white
flame--"

Closing his eyes against the glare, he wished that a great wind
might arise--a great, clean wind that would sweep away cobwebs and
flowers together.

"Go forward, go deeper, go forward!" murmured a sweet, clear
voice. To Drayton it seemed to be Viola's, though with a distant
sound, like a far-off silver bell. "Your feet are in the web!" cried
the voice. "In the Web of the Weaver of Years. And why linger in the
shallows of Ulithia? Go forward--go deeper!"

"Why linger?" echoed Drayton softly.

His feet were in the shallows of a wide, white sea that was
carrying him outward--onward.



CHAPTER 6: A MATTER OF BUTTONS



WHEN Drayton and his friends walked through the Ulithian "moon,"
none of them were either quite unconscious nor entirely devoid of
sense. Drayton for instance, knew that Viola extended her hand to him;
that he took it and that her other hand was held by some one else, an
indistinct personality whose identity was of not the slightest
interest or importance.

They all knew that with the dizzying fragrance of a million
blossoms in their nostrils; with blinding radiance before them; with
behind them only silence and the silver plain, they three joined hands
and so passed beneath the black arch which had seemed a moon.

This dim apprehension, however, was wholly dreamlike, and
unmingled with thought or foreboding. They possessed no faint
curiosity, even, as to what might lie beyond that incredible archway.

Active consciousness returned like the shock of a thunderbolt.

They had emerged upon the sidewalk of a wide, paved street. They
were but three of a jostling, hurrying throng of very ordinary and
solid-looking mortals.

For several moments they experienced a bewilderment even greater
than had come upon them in passing from a prosaic house on Walnut
Street into the uncanny romance land which they knew as "Ulithia." The
roar and rattle which now assailed their ears deafened and dazed them.
Ulithia had been so silent, so unhuman and divorced from all familiar
associations, that in this abrupt escape from it they felt helpless;
unpoised as countryfolk who have never seen a city, and to whom its
crowds are confusing and vaguely hostile.

In this new place there was none of that bright, dazzling mist
which had filled the archway. Instead, it was well and more
satisfactorily illuminated by numerous arc lamps. With a thundering
clatter an electric train rushed past almost directly overhead.

Before them, the street was a tangle of dodging pedestrians, heavy
motor trucks loaded with freight and baggage, arriving and departing
autos, and desperately clanging street cars. Above, iron pillars and
girders supported an elevated railway system. Close to where they
stood a narrow moving stairway carried upward its perpetual stream of
passengers, bound for that upper level of traffic where the electric
train had passed.

Turning, the dazed wanderers saw behind them, not any vast expanse
of silver light, but the wall of a long, low building, pierced with
many windows and several doors. From one of those doors, apparently,
they had just emerged.

With some difficulty the three extricated themselves from the
throng. Finding a comparatively quiet spot by the wall of the building
they stood there, very close together.

Suddenly Viola gave a sharp exclamation.

"But this-this is Philadelphia! This is the entrance to the Market
Street Ferry in Philadelphia!"

Her brother slapped his thigh.

"And to think I did not recognize a place I've been at myself at
least three times! But who would have thought we'd get home so easy--
or at the other end of the city from where we started?"

Suddenly the melancholy ex-lawyer chuckled aloud.

"I never thought," he said, "that Philadelphia, city of homes or
not, would seem homelike to me. By George, I realize now what a
charming old place it is! Terry, couldn't you resign wandering and
settle down here for the rest of your life--right on this spot, if
necessary?"

The Irishman grinned cheerfully.

"I could that, so be there were not a few better spots to be got
at. Viola, I'm fair dead of hunger and so must you both be. Is there a
cafe in this elegant station building? Or shall we go home and trust
Martin? Heaven bless the boy! I never thought to see him again--trust
Martin to throw us together some sort of sustaining meal?"

"I'm hungry," confessed Viola frankly, "but it seems to me we
should go straight to Cousin Jim's house, rather than to a restaurant.
You know that gray powder was left there--"

Trenmore gave a great start and his smile faded.

"That devil dust!" he burst forth. "And all this time it's been
laying open and unguarded! Faith, after all we may not find poor
Martin to welcome us home!"

"My fault again," said Drayton grimly. "If anything has happened
to Martin, I am entirely to blame. In common justice I shall have to
follow him--"

Trenmore turned with a growl. "You will not follow him! Is it an
endless chain you would establish between this world and that
heathenish outland we've escaped from? You after Martin, and myself
after you, and Viola after me, I suppose--and there we'll all be
again, with nothing to eat and no one but spooks to converse with! No;
if Martin is in Ulithia this minute, may his wits and his luck bring
him out of it. At least, he's the same chance we had."

"Call a taxi," suggested Viola practically. "It's just possible
that Martin hasn't yet fallen into the trap."

"A very sensible suggestion, my dear," commended her brother.

By the curb stood an empty taxicab, its driver loafing near by.
The latter was a thin, underfed-looking fellow, clad in a rather
startlingly brilliant livery of pale blue and lemon yellow, with a
small gilt insignia on the sleeve. A languid cigarette drooped from
his lips. Beside his gaudy attire he wore that air of infinite
leisure, combined with an eye scornfully alert, with which all true
taxi drivers are born.

"Seventeen hundred Walnut Street, my man," directed Trenmore, "and
get up what speed you're able."

Drayton had started to open the cab door, since the chauffeur made
no move to do so. To his surprise, however, the latter sprang forward
and pushed his hand aside.

"You wait a minute, gentlemen!"

"Is this cab engaged? You have the 'Empty' sign out."

"No, we ain't engaged; but wait a minute!"

The fellow was eying them with a curiosity oddly like suspicion.
Surely there was little out of the way in their appearance. Viola's
attire was the picture of modern propriety. In crossing that ghostly
plain nothing had occurred to destroy the respectable appearance with
which they had all begun the journey.

"Wait!" ejaculated Trenmore. "And what for? Isn't this a public
cab?"

"Yes; it's a public cab, right enough. There ain't nothing the
matter with me nor my cab either. The trouble's with you. Why ain't
you wearin' your buttons?"

"Wearing our buttons?"

Terence glanced frantically down over himself. Had the rapid
transition from one world to another actually removed those necessary
adornments from his garments? Everything looked in order. He glanced
up angrily.

"Not wearing our buttons, is it? And what in the devil do you mean
by that, you fool? Is it fuddled with drink you are?"

The chauffeur's alert eye measured the Irishman. It's owner shrank
back against the cab.

"Don't you!" he cried. "Don't you hit me! I don't care who you
are, you haven't any right to go about that way. You hit me, and
you'll go to the pit for it! I've drove more than one of the Service
itself, and they won't stand fer nobody beatin' me up!"

Drayton caught the half-raised arm of his friend.

"Don't, Terry," he cautioned softly. "Why start a row with a
lunatic?"

Trenmore shook him off. He was doubly annoyed by Drayton's
assumption that he would attack a man of less than half his weight.
For an instant he felt inclined to quarrel with his friend on the
spot. Then the petty childishness of his irritation struck him, and
catching Viola's appealing and astonished glance, he laughed
shamefacedly.

"I left my temper behind the moon, Bobby," he grinned, as the
three started off down the sidewalk in search of another vehicle.
"Somewhere along here there's a bit of an office booth of the taxicab
company's. Isn't that it, beyond the escalator?"

"Yes," contributed Viola. "I remember there's a sign over it.
'Quaker City'--Why, but they've changed it to 'Penn Service!' Last
week it was the Quaker City Company."

Whether "Penn Service," however, meant taxi service or something
different they were not to learn just then. Before they reached the
wooden booth beneath that white-lettered signboard, a heavy hand had
grasped Drayton's arm from behind, whirling him about. The two others
also turned and found themselves confronted by a police officer. At a
safe distance in the rear their eccentric acquaintance, the chauffeur,
looked on with a satisfied grin.

"And what is this?" demanded Trenmore sternly.

Drayton said nothing at all. With the policeman's hand clutching
his arm, fear had him in a yet firmer grip. Was this another phase of
the persecution to which he had been recently subjected? Was he about
to suffer arrest, here in the presence of Viola Trenmore, upon some
such trumped-up charge as had sent his partner to prison and death?

In the bitter grasp of this thought, it was a moment before he
comprehended what the officer was replying to Trenmore's question.

"-and if you've lost your buttons, for why have you not reported
yourselves at the proper quarters? Sure, 'tis me duty to run ye in
without further argument; but 'tis a fair-spoken, soft-hearted man I
am. If you've a reason, give it me quick, now!"

Drayton grasped the fact that it was not himself alone who was
involved. Equally, it seemed, Trenmore and his sister were objects of
the man's absurd though apparently official attention. The lawyer in
him leaped to the fore. Here might be some curious local civic ruling
of which he, a stranger to the city, had heard nothing.

"What about the buttons, officer?" he queried. "Do you mean that
we should be wearing some sort of button as an insignia?"

"Is it crazy ye are all after being? What buttons, d'ye say? Why,
what should I be meaning, savin' yer identification buttons? What are
yer numbers now? At least ye can tell me that! Or are ye the
connections of a family?"

There was a moment's silence. Then Trenmore said heavily, as if in
some deep discouragement. "Faith, I myself was born in County Kerry,
but till this living minute I never knew the meaning of the words 'a
crazy Irishman!' Micky, or Pat, or whatever your name may be, we are
connected with families so good that your ignorance never heard tell
of them!

"And as for numbers, I do not doubt that you yourself have a
number! I do not doubt that the driver of the poor little jitney bus
yonder has a number! In jails men have numbers, and perhaps in the
lunatic asylum you both came from they have numbers and wear buttons
with those same numbers on them; but myself and my friend here and my
sister, we have no numbers!

"We have names, my lad, names. And 'tis my own name I'll send in
to the poor, unfortunate chief that has charge of you, and you'll find
that it is not needful for Terence Trenmore to be given a number in
order to have such as you discharged from the force your low
intelligence is now disgracing!"

As Trenmore delivered this harangue his voice gradually grew in
volume as his sentences grew longer, until it boomed out like the
blast of a foghorn. The two or three idlers who had already gathered
were reinforced by a rapidly increasing crowd. His last words were
delivered to an exceedingly curious and numerous audience.

The policeman, a man of no very powerful physique, quailed before
Trenmore's just wrath much as had the taxi driver. He, too, however,
had another resource than his unaided strength. His only reply to the
threat was a sharp blast on his whistle.

"You've done it now, Terry," groaned Drayton. "Never mind me. Get
your sister away from here, if you can--quick!"

The young lady mentioned set her lips.

"Terry shall do not such thing, Mr. Drayton. Officer, surely you
won't arrest three harmless people because of some foolish little
misunderstanding that could be set right in the twinkle of an eye?"

The policeman eyed her admiringly--too admiringly, in Drayton's
estimation.

"Sure, miss," he declared, "'tis myself is most reluctant to place
inconvenience on so pretty a lass; but what can I do? Ye know the
regulations."

"But indeed we do not," protested the girl truthfully.

Before more could be said on either side, there came an eddy and
swirl in the crowd, and two more policemen burst into view. One of
them, a sergeant by the stripes on his sleeve, came bustling forward
with an air of petty arrogance which Drayton prayed might not collide
with his huge friend's rising temper.

"What's this? What's all this, Forty-seven? What have these people
been up to? What? No buttons? What do you mean by going about without
your buttons? This is a very serious and peculiar offense, Forty-
seven! The first I've ever met in this ward, I am glad to say. Under
arrest? Certainly you are under arrest! The wagon will be here
directly. What did you expect? What are your numbers? What have you
done with your buttons, anyway?"

How long the sergeant could have continued this interlocutory
monologue, which he delivered at extraordinary speed and without pause
for answer or comment, it is impossible to say. He was interrupted by
a clanging gong and again the crowd swirled and broke. A motor patrol
drew up. Three more officers leaped down and stood at attention.

The accession of numbers drove from Drayton's brain any lingering
hope that Trenmore might pick his sister up under his arm and bear her
bodily from the shadow of this open disgrace.

That the exasperated Irishman had not acted was due partly to
reluctance to leave his friend in the clutches of the law; partly to a
rapidly increasing bewilderment. He could now observe that every
person in the front ranks of the staring crowd did indeed wear a large
yellow button, pinned below the left shoulder, and each bearing a
perfectly legible number in black.

He could also see that these numbers ran mostly into five, six and
even seven figures; but what those figures represented, or why the
wearers should be so adorned, or what bearing the ornamentation might
have upon their own liberty, was a puzzle before which the recent
mysteries of Ulithia faded.

"Button, button, who's got the button?" he muttered. "Faith, 'tis
a wild and barbarous land, this Philadelphia! Sergeant, are you really
going to run us in, just for not knowing what you and the rest are
talking of?"

The sergeant looked him up and down appreciatively.

"You know very well that I must. But Lord, man, you've nothing to
worry over with the contests coming off in a couple of days. Or
haven't you any muscle back of that size of yours?"

Distractedly, Trenmore clutched at his black, wild hair.

"Take us to the station, man!" he snarled. "And be quick, as you
value your poor, worthless life! Muscle? I've the muscle to pull you
to bits, and by all the powers I'll be driven to that act if you do
not take me to speak with some sane man this living minute!"



CHAPTER 7: A FEW SMALL CHANGES



THE ensuing patrol ride, while commonplace and uneventful from the
viewpoint of one accustomed to such jaunts, produced in the bosom of
at least one of the prisoners emotions of the most painful and
poignant nature. It was not for himself that Drayton suffered.

In the recent past he had been too thoroughly seared by the fires
of undeserved disgrace to be hurt by so trifling a touch of flame as
this. But that Viola Trenmore--Viola of the clear blue eyes and
innocent white brow--that she should be forced to enter a common
patrol wagon and be carried openly, like any pickpocket, through the
city streets, was an intolerable agony in whose endurance he
alternately flushed red with shame and paled with ineffective rage.

Trenmore the mighty also sat quiescent; but his was the quiescence
of a white-hot anger, held in check for a worthy occasion and object.
A pity to waste all that on mere underlings.

Having slowly ascended the short, steep incline where Market
Street descended to the ferry, the patrol drove on with increased
speed. A mile ahead, at the end of a long, straight, brilliantly
lighted perspective, reared the huge bulk of City Hall. The immense
building's lower part was sketched in lines of light; its tower
gleamed gray and pale against the black sky.

High upon that uttermost pinnacle there brooded a ghostly figure.
It was the enormous statue of William Penn, set there to bless the
children of his city, with outstretched, benevolent hand.

"Are you taking us to City Hall?" queried Drayton, turning to the
officer on his left.

The man nodded. "Your offense is too serious, of course, for a
branch temple."

"A--what?"

"A branch," said the man impatiently. "Headquarters will want to
handle this; eh, sergeant?"

"They will, but no more conversation, please. Everything you say,
my man, will be used against you."

"One would think we were murderers," reflected Drayton bitterly.
Of what real offense could they have been guilty? Beneath surface
absurdity he had begun to sense something secret and dangerous;
something upon which his mind could as yet lay no hold, but which
might be revealed to them at City Hall.

The night was fine; the hour eight-thirty by the clock in City
Hall tower; the streets well filled. Most of the stores seemed to be
open, and innumerable "movie" theaters, saloons and shooting galleries
each drew in and expelled its quota of people, like so many lungs
breathing prosperity for the owners.

There was a New York Bowery touch to the amusements and the crowds
which Drayton did not remember as characteristic of Market Street. The
thought, however, was passing and only half-formed.

The patrol clanged its way over the smooth pavement, attracting
the usual number of stares and fortunately unheard comments, and
presently swung off Market Street into Juniper. They had approached
City Hall from the east. Since the patrol entrance was on the western
side, it was necessary for them to pass half around the great building
to reach it.

As they passed the Broad Street entrance, Drayton chanced to
glance upward. Above the arch hung an emblem done in colored lights.
It seemed to be a sword crossing a bell. Above the emblem itself
glowed a number, consisting of four figures done in glowing red, white
and blue--2118.

The bell, thought Drayton, might represent the old Liberty Bell,
Philadelphia's most cherished possession; the numerals, however,
conveyed to him no more significance than had those on the yellow
buttons about which these police were so concerned.

Again turning, the patrol reached Market Street on the western
side. Shortly afterward it rolled beneath the portico of City Hall.

The Public Buildings, to use the more ancient name for
Philadelphia's proud edifice of administration and justice, are built
in the form of an irregular hollow square. The larger inner court may
be entered by means of any one of four short tunnels, placed at the
four cardinal points of the compass, and passing beneath the walls of
the building proper.

As the three prisoners recalled it, that inner court was squarish
in shape, paved with gray concrete, and of no very beautiful or
imposing appearance. Several old cannon, relics of past wars, adorned
the corners and stood at either side of the northward entrance. In the
northeast corner there was a sort of pavilion, where various free
civic exhibits were perennially on view.

As the center of the place was actually the intersection of those
two main arteries of the city, Broad Street and Market, two continuous
streams of pedestrians passed through there all day long.

Such was the interior of City Hall as the three prisoners
remembered it and into which they now expected to be carried.

While yet in the short, dark entrance tunnel, however, the patrol
halted. Rising from their seats, the officers hustled their prisoners
from the wagon. A moment later and they all stood together, halted
just within the rim of the inner arch.

And there the three received another of those wildly disturbing
shocks, of which they had suffered so many in the past few hours.

Instead of a bare gray courtyard, open to the sky, there stood
revealed an interior which might have been lifted bodily from an
Arabian Nights entertainment.

Above, rounding to a level with the top of the fourth story,
curved the golden hollow of a shallow but glorious dome. It seemed to
have been carved from the yellow metal itself. The entire under
surface was without a seam or trace of ornament, and was polished to
almost blinding brilliance.

Striking upward upon it from invisible sources at the sides, light
was reflected downward in a diffused glow, yellow as sunshine and
giving a curious, almost shadowless appearance to the great chamber
below. From the center of the dome, swung at the end of a twenty-foot
chain, depended a huge bell. This bell had either been enameled
smoothly, or was cast of some strange metal.

The color of it was a brilliant scarlet, so that it hung like an
enormous exotic blossom. Some change or repairs to the thing seemed to
be in progress for out to it from the southern wall extended narrow
suspension bridge of rough planking, that terminated in a partial
scaffolding about one side of the bell. No tongue or clapper was
within the bell, nor was there any visible means of ringing it.

As for the floor beneath, it was of common gray concrete no
longer. An exquisite pavement gleamed there, made of white porcelain
or some similar substance, seamless and polished. In it the blood-red
bell and certain colored panels of the golden walls were reflected as
in a pool of milk. Near the northern wall a design appeared in this
floor, set in as a mosaic of varicolored marbles.

Where had been the southern and eastern entrances, short flights
of green marble stairs led up to carved golden doors, Gothic in style
and all closed. The windowless walls, also of gold, were carved in
heavy bas-relief. At regular intervals appeared panels, done in bright
enamels, representing various weird figures resembling Chinese gods
and heroes. The entire color scheme of red, gold, green and white had
a peculiarly barbaric effect, itself entirely out of keeping with the
formerly staid and dignified old Public Buildings.

Trenmore, as he gazed, forgot even his anger, and stared open-
mouthed. They all had time to stare, for the sergeant, having pressed
an electric buzzer near the door, stood at ease, obviously waiting for
something or some one to answer the summons.

"And is this the place they have for a courthouse?" Trenmore
murmured. "I've seen the Taj Mahal, and I've seen the inside of
Westminster Abbey and St. Pauls, but never, never--"

"I can't understand it!" broke in Drayton desperately. Amazement
had given place to distress, as the enormity of the change came home
to him. "Why, but this is incredible; it's preposterous! I--"

"Here, here!" broke in the sergeant's brusque voice. "None of
that. What were you muttering there? Never mind. Be silent. Here comes
a gentleman who will dispose of your case in quick order."

At the south, a golden door had opened and a man was seen
descending the short flight of green marble steps before it. Even at a
distance, he seemed an impressive figure. Over a largely checked vest
he wore an exquisitely cut frock coat. His trousers were of a delicate
pearl-gray hue, and a pair of white spats surmounted immaculate
patent-leather pumps. On his head gleamed a shining silk hat.

Had the gentleman but carried a flag, or Roman candle, he might
creditably have adorned a political parade. A large bouquet would have
completed his costume for a Bowery wedding. Amid the barbaric splendor
which actually surrounded him, he seemed out of place, but happily
unconscious of that fact.

Slowly and with dignity he advanced, while in the gleaming
porcelain beneath an inverted, silk-hatted replica of him followed
every step. At last his majestic progress ceased. He had halted some
six paces from the group of prisoners and policemen. Without speaking,
he surveyed them with a slow, long, insolent gaze.

He was a small man, handsome in a weak, dissipated way; old with
the age of self-indulgence rather than years. His greenish-hazel eyes
were close-set and cunning. He possessed a little, pointed mustache,
and, in the opinion of the prisoners, an unjustifiably impertinent
manner.

Out of the corner of his eye Drayton saw that his Irish friend was
bristling anew. Well, if the outbreak had to come, he wished it would
burst now and annihilate this silk-hatted monstrosity. No man could
eye Viola in just the manner of this stranger and deserve continued
life!

The high-hatted one deigned to speak.

"Well, Fifty-three," he drawled languidly, addressing the
sergeant, "and why have you brought them here? The chief is in
attendance on His Supremity, and there's no one else about who cares
to be bothered. I myself came over to warn you that Penn Service is
tired of having these trivial cases brought to the Temple. Lately you
police chaps seem to consider the Temple a sort of petty court for
pickpockets!"

Trenmore passed the sergeant in one stride.

"You miserable, insolent, little whippersnapper!" he thundered in
a voice that was amazingly re-echoed from the golden dome above.

Instantly, as if sprung by a single trigger, the six policemen had
hurled themselves upon him. High-hat skipped back nimbly out of the
way. Drayton, seeing no alternative with honor, flung himself into the
combat, and was promptly knocked out by the blow of a policeman's
club.



CHAPTER 8: LEGAL PROCEDURE EXPEDITED



WHEN his senses returned, Drayton found himself sitting on the
polished white floor, his back propped against a golden pillar. He
became aware that his head ached horribly; that his wrists were
handcuffed behind him; and that his tempestuous Irish ally was no
better off than himself. Trenmore, in fact, lay stretched at full
length close by. Tears streaming down her face, Viola was wiping
ineffectively at his bloody countenance with her pathetic mite of a
handkerchief.

Two of the six policemen stood looking on with no evident
sympathy. The other four lay or sat about in attitudes of either
profound repose or extreme discomfort. Though Terence Trenmore had
gone down, he had taken his wounded with him.

"Get an ambulance, one of you chaps!" It was the voice of silk-
hatted authority. "You think we want the Temple cluttered up like an
accident ward? And bring those crazy prisoners of yours to the Court
of Common Pleas. Mr. Virtue is there now, and one court will do as
well as another for this sort. Look sharp, now!"

Saluting reverently, the two uninjured officers proceeded to
execute high-hat's various behests as best they could. They were
forced, however, to leave the wounded while they bore Trenmore across
to the southern door. Viola started to follow, then looked back
anxiously toward Drayton. High-hat, following her glance, beckoned
imperatively.

With some difficulty, Drayton gained his feet and staggered toward
the girl. He felt anything but fit, and he was keenly disappointed.
All that shindy had been wasted! The insufferable one yet lived--had
not even suffered the knocking off of his intolerable hat!

"Lean on me, Mr. Drayton," he heard Viola's voice, curiously far
away and indistinct. The absurdity of such a request moved him to a
wry smile; but he certainly did lean on some one, or he could never
have crossed that heaving, rocking, slippery floor without falling a
dozen times.

Presently blackness descended again, and he knew no more till the
strong taste and odor of brandy half-strangled and thoroughly aroused
him.

A policeman was holding a tumbler to Drayton's lips, and seemed
bent on pouring the entire contents down his throat. Twisting his head
away the prisoner sat up. The officer eyed him wonderingly, then
drained the glass himself and set it down.

"Feel better?" he queried.

"A little," muttered Drayton. He was seated on a leather-covered
couch in a small room, and his only companion was the policeman. "I
suppose," he added disconsolately, "that Trenmore was badly hurt.
Where are they now?"

The officer laughed. "If Trenmore is your big friend, he came
around sooner than you did. Lord, I wish't we had that guy on the
force! Can you walk yet?"

Drayton rose unsteadily. "I guess so. Have you put the others in
cells?"

"Hardly!" The officers stared at him. "They don't keep a case like
this waiting. Your friend won't go in no cell, nor you either. And as
for the girl-" He broke off, with a shrug.

"And the girl?" Drayton repeated sharply.

"I dunno. Mr. Mercy was looking her over. I doubt he'll let that
beauty go to the Pit. But come along, or we'll keep Mr. Virtue
waiting."

"Mr. Virtue!" What a very odd name, thought Drayton, as he walked
to the door, leaning heavily on his jailer. And Mr. Mercy, too. Had he
fallen into a chapter of Pilgrim's Progress? Had the whole world gone
mad while they wandered in Ulithia? And what of this amazing "Temple"
that had usurped the interior of City Hall?

On the streets outside, everything had appeared normal--except for
those infernal buttons. Surely this was Philadelphia that they had
returned to. Who that had ever visited the city could doubt its
identity? It was as distinctive as New York, though in a different
way. And all the familiar details--the Market Street Ferry, the outer
architecture of City Hall, Broad Street--oh, and above all that
benevolent, unforgettable statue of William Penn--

The door opened upon a long, low-ceilinged, windowless room,
illuminated by hidden lights behind the cornice. The ceiling was a
delicate rose-pink, and, like the golden dome, shed its color downward
upon a scene of Oriental splendor. Unlike the white-paved court,
however, this chamber was far from bare.

The dark, polished floor was strewn with silken rugs of
extravagant value and beauty. The many chairs and small tables
scattered here and there were of ebony carved in the Chinese fashion,
their cushions and covers of rose-pink velvet and silks gleaming
richly against the dark austerity of black wood.

Here and there the prevailing rosy tinge was relieved by a touch
of dull blue, or by a bit of carved yellow ivory. Several excellent
paintings, uniformly framed in dull black, showed well against the
unpatterned matte-gold of the walls.

Rather than a courtroom, indeed, this might have been the drawing-
room of some wealthy woman with a penchant for the outre in decorative
effects. At the chamber's upper end, however, was a sort of dais or
platform. There, enthroned on a wonderfully carved ivory chair, a man
was seated.

He wore a black gown and a huge white wig, like that of an English
justice. He was hawk-nosed, fat-jowled, coarse-featured and repellant.
If this was--and Drayton assumed it must be--Mr. Virtue, then his
appearance singularly belied his name.

Before the dais were gathered a group consisting of Drayton's
fellow-prisoners, a single policeman, and also the little man in the
silk hat and frock coat. From above them, Mr. Virtue stared down with
an insolent disdain beside which the high-hatted one's languid
contempt seemed almost courtesy.

"Come!" whispered Drayton's guardian. "Walk up there and bow to
his honor. They've begun the trial."

"The trial!" thought Drayton. There were present neither
witnesses, jury nor counsel.

Having no alternative, however, he obeyed, ranging himself beside
Viola and bowing as gracefully as his manacled condition would permit.
As a lawyer, though disbarred, he still respected the forms of law,
however strangely administered. His own demeanor should be beyond
reproach.

Glancing at Trenmore, he saw that the Irishman had suffered no
great damage in the recent unpleasantness, and also that he was eying
the enthroned judge in anything but a penitent spirit.

As for Viola, she stood with hands folded, eyes meekly downcast,
an ideal picture of maidenhood in distress. Drayton, however, caught a
sidelong blue flash from beneath her long lashes which hinted that the
Trenmores were yet one in spirit.

There was a further moment of awe-inspiring silence. Then the
judge, or magistrate, or whatever he might be, cleared his throat
portentously.

"Mr. Mercy," he said, "I believe there need be no delay here. From
your account and that of Sergeant Fifty-three--by the way, where is
Fifty-three?"

"In the hospital, your honor, having his wrist set."

"I see. He should have waited until conclusion of trial. His
presence, however, is not essential. As I was saying, from his account
and yours there can be no question of either verdict or sentence. In
view of the prisoners' conduct within these sacred precincts, there
will be no need to appoint counsel or investigate the case further.

"To conform, however, to the letter as well as spirit of the law,
and in the interests of purely abstract justice, I now ask you, Mr.
Mercy, as sole responsible witness of the worser outrage, if you can
bring forward any extenuating circumstances tending to mitigate their
obvious culpability and modify the severity of their sentence?"

Drayton wondered if the policeman's billy had addled what sense
Ulithia had left him. Had he really understood that speech? He seemed
to catch a phrase here and there, stamped with the true legal
verbosity. As a whole the speech was incomprehensible. And now Mr.
Mercy was replying.

"Your Honor, in the case of the male prisoners, I know of no
excuse. Not only have they appeared in public buttonless, but beneath
the very Dome of Justice, with their eyes, so to speak, fixed on the
scarlet Threat of Penn, they have assaulted and wounded the emissaries
of sacred Penn Service. For the third criminal, however--for this mere
girl-child--I do desire the mercy for which I am named! Separate her
from her evil companions, and who knows? She may become as innocent in
fact as in appearance?"

Mr. Mercy uttered this plea solemnly enough; but at the conclusion
he deliberately and languidly winked at the judge, and smiled upon the
girl prisoner in a way which made Drayton's blood surge to his wounded
head.

Were these proceedings in any degree serious? Or was this all part
of some elaborate and vicious joke? One hypothesis seemed as
impossible as the other. Once more Drayton bowed.

"Your Honor," he said, "surely, even at this preliminary hearing
you will permit us--"

But the judge interrupted him. "Preliminary hearing?" he repeated
scornfully. "No man within the jurisdiction of Penn Service can be so
ignorant of law as your words would indicate. Were there any shadow of
doubts as to your guilt, we, in our perfect justice, might grant you a
public trial. We might even permit you an appeal to Mr. Justice
Supreme himself. But in so obvious and flagrant a case of law-breaking
as yours, the Servants of Penn must decline to be further troubled!

"I now, therefore, condemn you, sir, and you, the big fellow
there--my soul, Mercy, did you ever see such an enormous brute? I
condemn you both to be immediately dropped into the Pit of the Past.
And may Penn have mercy on your probably worthless souls!"

Having delivered himself of this remarkable and abrupt sentence
his honor arose with a yawn, tossed aside the black robe and removed
his wig. Beneath the robe he was dressed in a costume similar to that
of their earlier acquaintance, Mr. Mercy. Descending from the dais,
Virtue paused to wave an insolent hand toward Viola Trenmore.

"You saw the girl first, Mercy," he addressed his silk-hatted
associate. "So I suppose she's yours. You always were a lucky dog!"



CHAPTER 9: THE PIT OF THE PAST



BENEATH the golden Dome of Justice, directly under the blood-red
bell, where looking downward they saw the latter's crimson reflection
as in a pool of milk, stood the three prisoners. That Viola was there
had been the result of pleadings so passionate that even Mercy the
pitiless and Virtue the gross were moved to grant them.

As to why any of them were there, however, or what the queer
sentence of that still queerer judge might actually imply, they were
yet ignorant.

This was their own world to which the white moon gate of Ulithia
had returned them; and yet in some dreadful manner they had been
betrayed. Some mighty change had taken place during their brief
absence. How brief had that absence been?

Beneath the bell, Drayton and his companions had at least a few
moments alone together. Their isolation offered no chance of escape.
The three doors of the great chamber were shut and locked, while
across the old patrol entrance at the west a grate of heavy golden
bars had been lowered.

"Viola, my dear," said Trenmore, "my heart aches for you! Whatever
this 'Pit' of theirs may be, they've not condemned you to it along
with us. I fear 'tis for an ill reason that they have spared you. My
own folly and violence have brought me where I can no longer protect
you, little sister; but for all you're so young and--and little--
you're a Trenmore, Viola. You know what to do when I'm gone? Oh, must
I tear out my very heart to be telling you?"

Viola shook her head, smiling bravely.

"I'll never shame you, Terry. When you go, dear, life will be a
small thing that I'll not mind to be losing. And, Terry, I've a
thought that this world we've come back to is our world no longer.
We've no more place here than we had in Ulithia."

Drayton started slightly.

"Then you believe--"

"You must end this now," broke in a languid voice. Mr. Mercy had
come up behind them unawares. Back of him appeared the figures of four
other men, apparently convicts. They were dressed in loose, ill-
fitting costumes, yellow in color and barred with broad black stripes.
Their ugly heads were close cropped; their faces stupid and bestially
cruel.

"Awfully sorry to interrupt," continued Mercy, fanning himself
lazily with a folded newspaper he carried. "But we can't keep the Pit
Guard waiting forever, you know. Don't cry, little one! I'll look
after you."

Viola turned upon him with flashing, tearless eyes. When roused
her temper was as tempestuous as her brother's.

"You insignificant rat of a man!" she stormed fiercely. "Do you
believe I would have endured the sight of you even this long, were it
not for my brother here, and Mr. Drayton? Do you believe I'll remain
alive one hour after they are gone?"

Mercy looked a trifle surprised.

"Do you know, my dear," he drawled, "I think you're devilish
ungrateful! If Virtue and I were not so soft-hearted you wouldn't be
here now. Oh, well, I like a girl with a spark of temper about her.
You'll get over it. If you really wish to see the last of your
heavyweight brother and his pal, come along."

Turning, he strolled off toward that mosaic emblem, set in the
northward pavement. The four convicts closed about the prisoners. A
moment later, having escorted them a short distance in Mercy's wake,
the guard drew aside. The handcuffed prisoners now found themselves
standing at the very edge of the mosaic.

The colored marbles, beautifully inlaid, represented a huge
chained eagle, pierced with arrows, and reaching vainly with open beak
after a flying dove in whose bill appeared the conventional olive
branch. On a scroll beneath three words were inscribed in scarlet
letters:

"Sic semper tyrannis."

They were the words of Booth, when he bestowed the martyr's crown
upon Lincoln. "Thus ever to tyrants!" Incidentally, they were also the
motto of a State; but the State was Virginia, not Pennsylvania. What
could be their meaning here? And where was this "Pit of the Past" into
which the prisoners were to be thrown?

The last question was immediately answered. On the far side of the
emblem, Virtue, Mercy and their attendant bluecoats had grouped
themselves. Now Virtue stooped, clumsily because of his fat, and
pressed a spatulate thumb upon the round eye of the mosaic dove.

Instantly the whole emblem began to sink. It seemed hinged on the
base of the scroll. A moment later and there was just a hole in the
pavement, shaped like the emblem, and up from which struck a strange,
reddish glare.

Edging cautiously closer, Drayton peered downward. Viola and her
brother joined him. They stood motionless, the ruddy light striking
upward upon their shocked, fascinated faces.

What they saw was a straight-sided pit, some thirty-five feet in
depth. From top to bottom the walls were lined with tiny, ruby-colored
electric bulbs. At the very bottom sat a squat gigantic thing.

With shoulders and head thrown back, the face of it glared up at
them. The mouth distended to an opening of some six feet across, was
lined with sharp steel spikes, slanting upward. The tongue was a keen,
curved edge of steel. In its taloned hands the monster held two spears
upright. A tail, also spiked, reared itself at one side, and the
narrow forehead bore two needle-pointed horns of steel.

So the space at the bottom of the Pit was filled. Anything falling
there must of necessity be impaled--if not fatally, so much the worse
for the thing.

Trenmore growled in his throat.

"For sure," said he at last, "you murderers have gone to needless
trouble! Why do you not cut our throats with your own hands? The deed
would fit your natures!"

Virtue and Mercy only smiled complacently.

"Sorry you aren't amused," drawled the latter gentleman. "This
little joke was not invented for your special benefit. Do you know who
that is down there?"

"The statue of the devil you worship!" hazarded Trenmore
viciously.

"Oh, no indeed! Quite the contrary. The statue of the devil you
worship, my bellicose friend. That is the God of War, and as he can no
longer stride loose about the world, we have made it convenient for
his devotees to drop in on him. In other words, break the Peace of
Penn, and you'll get more of war than you like. 'Sic semper tyrannis!'
Any man who assaults another is a tyrant by intent, at least, so down
you go."

"It was your police who attacked me!" accused Trenmore hotly.

Mercy's brows lifted.

"Was it? I had rather forgotten. That does spoil my parable, eh?
But we shan't let it interfere with your invaluable opportunity to
worship the God of War."

"Do you actually throw people--living people--into that vile
trap?" Drayton's voice was incredulous. So theatrical, so tawdry
seemed this Pit of theirs: like a stage dragon at which one may
shudder, but not sincerely.

"We most assuredly do," smiled Virtue. He continued speaking, but
his words were drowned and rendered indistinguishable by a great
rattling roar, which seemed to rise from the open Pit itself. The
prisoners instinctively sprang back from the edge.

There was nothing vocal in the noise, but if a bronze demon like
that below should start into hungry life, just such a mechanical,
reverberating roar might issue from its resounding throat.

The sound died away. "What was that?" demanded Trenmore sharply.

Mercy laughed.

"The subway, of course. The trains pass under the Temple
foundations. You are the most curiously ignorant crooks that were ever
brought in here. Where have you been living?"

Virtue glanced at his watch. "Mercy, if you are interested in
their histories, would you mind obtaining them from the young lady
later on? I'm due at a banquet in half an hour and I'm not dressed."

"Go ahead," shrugged Mercy. "We can finish without you."

Frowning, the judge shook his head. "His Supremity demands
regularity in these affairs, and you know very well that the presence
of the condemning judge is required here." Then he added in a lower
tone, which nevertheless carried across the Pit, "I tell you frankly,
Mercy, that he didn't like that business last week. You are growing
too careless of his opinion, my dear fellow."

"Oh, he's an old--Hello; there comes Lovely. Now we shall have to
hold the execution till she has looked the prisoners over. If we
don't, she'll be deeply offended."

"A lot I care," muttered Virtue. Nevertheless, he lowered his
hand, raised as if in direction to the guard.

A woman was approaching from the doorway beyond the open Pit.
Tall, slender, a striking blonde in hair and complexion, she was
dressed in an evening gown of soft, droopy lines, sea-green and deeply
slitted to show slender limbs clad in pale gold.

At first glance and at a distance, Drayton fancied that "Lovely"
well deserved her name. But as she drew near two facts became
painfully apparent. The color in her cheeks was not the kind limited
by nature, and her golden hair, waved back under a jade-green net, was
of that suspicious straw gold, easily bought but very seldom grown.
Her features, however, were regular and clean-cut, and her eyes really
beautiful. They were large, well-shaped, and almost the very green of
her gown.

Smiling sweetly upon Mr. Virtue, the lady extended her hand to Mr.
Mercy, and afterward swept the prisoners across the Pit with a cold,
indifferent gaze. When it rested upon Trenmore, however, her
expression changed. A sudden light leaped into the sea-green eyes. The
pupils expanded darkly.

"What a perfectly gorgeous giant, Virty!" she exclaimed, turning
to the judge. "Where on earth did you get him? Surely, you were not
about to waste that on the Pit?"

"Why not?" His Honor bestowed another covert, annoyed glance upon
his watch.

"He has already beaten up four of our blue boys," laughed Mercy.

"Indeed? How so?"

Mercy related the incident briefly, giving Trenmore full credit
and even exaggerating his feats for narrative effect. The lady
laughed, a silvery peal of light-hearted merriment.

"And you meant to throw all that away in the Pit! How extravagant
you boys are. It's fortunate I came out here. Now, what I should like
to know is this. Why hasn't at least that one," she pointed at
Trenmore, "taken condemned right and entered for the contests day
after to-morrow? Why didn't you, Number-Number, whatever your number
may be?"

Trenmore eyed her, frowning.

"Madam, I can't so much as guess at your meaning. If there's some
way out of this murderous business for my sister, my friend and
myself, we'd take it more than kindly if you'll explain."

"Lovely," Virtue protested, snapping shut his watch, "I really
must leave here immediately."

"Just a minute," she flung him, and called across to Trenmore.
"You must know the laws!"

Believing that their fate hung in a delicate balance, Drayton
intervened.

"We are strangers here. They haven't allowed us to speak or defend
ourselves, but we certainly do not understand the laws, and we have
not offended intentionally."

"Strangers! Strangers in Philadelphia?"

"Certainly. This gentleman only recently arrived from Ireland; his
sister has spent the last few years in the West, and I myself am from
Cincinnati."

The woman shook her head, looking more puzzled than before.

"Those names mean nothing. If you are really from outside the
boundaries, how did you get in?"

Drayton hesitated. A diplomatic answer to that was, under the
circumstances, difficult. Before he could frame a sentence
sufficiently noncommittal, a new figure had thrust its way through the
police guard and walked to the woman's side.

He was a man of about thirty-five, sharp-featured, cunning-eyed,
and with a thin-lipped mouth which closed tight as a trap. Unlike
Virtue and Mercy, the newcomer was attired in full evening dress. A
light cloak, black and lined with flame-colored silk, was flung across
one arm.

Without troubling to salute her companions, and without the
slightest evidence of interest in the meaning of the scene in general,
he addressed the green-clad woman.

"Lovely," he demanded in barely repressed impatience, "are you
intending to go out this evening or not? If you don't wish to dance,
for heaven's sake, say so! I can take some one else."

She turned upon him a glance of indolent scorn.

"Do that, if you think best. All my life I've been looking for a
full-grown man to share my responsibility under Penn Service. Now that
I have found one, do you think I will let him be lost in the Pit?"

At this speech Mr. Virtue gave a sharp exclamation, and Mercy
laughed outright.

"So that's what you're up to, Lovely! Cleverest, I'm sorry for
you! Goodnight!"

The thin lips of "Cleverest" parted in an unpleasant smile.

"I always knew you'd throw me over if you found a chance, Lovely.
You mean to enter your protege for Strongest, I suppose?"

"Certainly."

"And you believe he will be able to supplant the present
incumbent?"

"I know he will!"

"Ah, well, I shan't despair. You may close the Pit now, but it can
also be opened again after the contests. And what of these other
prisoners?"

The woman laughed defiantly.

"They shall have their chance, too! Virty, I don't often question
your decisions, do I? But this time I wish you to close your ugly old
Pit and," with a glance of disdain, "not oblige Clever by reopening
it."

Mr. Virtue glanced very dubiously toward the thin-lipped man. He
appeared not at all enthusiastic. Mercy scowled.

"Don't forget me, please, Virty! I've a very personal interest in
this execution, and even Lovely shan't do me out of it!"

"Oh, shut up, Mercy," broke in the woman impatiently. "I can
imagine what your interest is. You're afraid this girl's brother won't
let you have her. But the law is the law and they have their contest
right. You never think of any one but yourself Virty, turn these
people loose and I'll be responsible for their appearance Wednesday."

"Cleverest, are you going to stand for this?" demanded Mercy
angrily.

But Cleverest, who had himself been eying Viola, now smiled a
strange, fox-like, tight-lipped smile.

"Why not?" he asked simply. "If Lovely prefers the fellow's
strength to my brains, what can I do but gracefully withdraw?"

The woman looked at him with a trace of suspicion.

"Such amiability is really touching, Clever. But I'll take you up
on it. That thin chap can go in for Swiftest, I think, and as for the
girl-" She frowned at Viola with a look of mingled dislike and
reluctant admiration. "Oh, well," she finished, "the girl can enter
the contest for Domestic Excellence."

Slapping his fat thigh, Virtue burst into a sudden roar of
laughter.

"Splendid, Lovely! You have it all arranged, eh? Mercy, you and
Cleverest are down and out! Take 'em--take your charming proteges,
Lovely, my child; and shut up the Pit. Old War must go hungry to-
night. And now you'll excuse me, Lovely. You've already made me miss
at least one full course!"

"It would do you no harm to miss more than that," she retorted
with a disparaging glance at his waist-line; but Virtue only chuckled
without taking offense and hurried away.



CHAPTER 10: THE FOURTH VICTIM



THE three quondam prisoners, seated about a table where they had
done full justice to an excellent repast, were alone. The scene about
them was no longer of barbaric magnificence, but presented the more
comfortable and familiar luxury of a good hotel. Lovely, or rather
Loveliest, for such they had discovered the lady's full title to be,
had done her work with surprising thoroughness and munificence. Having
made herself responsible for their custody, she had ordered the two
men freed, carried them all in her own motor car to a large hotel on
South Broad Street, and there engaged for them a suite consisting of
bedrooms, private baths and a large parlor.

Her exact standing in this new Philadelphia, so like the old and
so unlike, was as yet unknown to them. So far as their needs were
concerned, she seemed to possess a power of command practically
unlimited.

The hotel in itself presented no apparent difference to any other
large, metropolitan hostelry. Drayton, in fact, who had once before
stopped at this identical hotel, could have sworn that even the
furnishings were the same as upon his former visit. The clerk at the
desk was perhaps a trifle too obsequious for a normal hotel clerk.
Otherwise, their introduction had been attended by no bizarre
circumstance. Having seen them comfortably established, having begged
them to send out for anything they might require and have the price
charged to "Penn Service"--that mysterious, ubiquitous Service
again!--their odd protectress had assured Trenmore that she would look
in on them early next day and departed.

The lady had whirled them so rapidly through this period of change
in their fortunes that they had been able to ask no questions, and
though she had talked almost incessantly, the monologue had conveyed
little meaning. They found themselves continually bewildered by
references, simple in themselves, and yet cryptic for lack of a key to
them.

The conclusion of their late dinner, served in their own rooms, at
least found them more comfortable than at any time since that fatal
hour when the Cerberus was uncapped. If they were still under police
surveillance, there was no evidence to show it. By common consent,
however, they had abjured for the present any idea of escape.
Precarious though their position might be, such an attempt in their
state of ignorance was predoomed to failure.

The meal finished, and the servant having departed for the last
time, Drayton asked a question which had been in the back of his head
for two hours past.

"Miss Viola, what were you saying about Ulithia when Mercy
interrupted? Before the pit was opened, I mean, while we stood beneath
the Red Bell?"

"I remember. It was merely a notion of mine, Mr. Drayton."

"But tell it," urged her brother.

"When we meddled with that strange dust," the girl said softly, "I
think we intruded upon that which was never meant for mortals. The
White Weaver said it--she said we had no place in Ulithia. And she
told us to go forward, go deeper, and that the door was open before
us."

"Yes, she did," sighed Drayton.

"And so," continued the girl, "we escaped from Ulithia, but went
forward. Just how far is what we have yet to discover."

"You mean," said the ex-lawyer slowly, "that some six hours ago by
my watch--which has not been wound by the way, yet is still running--
we practically stepped out of space and time as we know them into a
realm where those words have no meaning? And that when we passed
through the moon gate, we returned into space at almost the place from
which we started, but into time at a point perhaps many years later?"

"Yes. You say it better than I, but that is what I believe."

Drayton shook his head, smiling. "Something like that occurred to
me, Miss Viola, but the more I think of it the more impossible it
seems."

"And why, Bobby?" queried Trenmore impatiently. "Sure, 'tis the
only moderately reasonable explanation of all the unreasonability we
have met!"

"Because if enough years had passed to so completely change the
laws, the customs, even the value of human life, why is it that Time
has left costumes, language, even buildings, except for City Hall,
exactly as we have always known them? Why, this very hotel has not so
much as changed the livery of its bell boys since I was here three
years ago!"

"That is a difficulty," admitted Viola. Then she added quickly,
"How very stupid I am! Terry, won't you ring for one of those same
bell boys and ask him to bring us an evening paper?"

So obvious a source of information and so easily obtainable!
Drayton and Trenmore sprang as one man for the push button. Just as
they reached it, however, there came a loud crash, as of something
heavy and breakable falling upon a bare floor. The sound issued from
the bedroom assigned to Trenmore. A moment later that gentleman had
flung open the door. The chamber within was dark, save for what light
entered it from the parlor. Peering uncertainly, Trenmore stood poised
for a moment. Then he had hurled himself through the doorway. There
was another crash, this time of an overturned chair.

Drayton, following, ran his hand along the wall inside the door.
An instant later he had thrown on the light. The illumination
disclosed the Irishman clasping a kicking man to his bosom with both
mighty arms. Though the fellow fought desperately, he might as well
have contended with an Alaskan bear. Trenmore simply squeezed the
tighter. The breath left the captive's lungs in a despairing groan,
and he was tossed, limp as a wrung rag, upon the bed.

By now Viola was in the room. "I hope you haven't hurt him,
Terry," she cried. "The man might be a policeman in plain clothes!"

"If he is, he might better have watched us openly," growled
Trenmore. "Here, you! Why were you after hiding in my bedroom? Was it
eavesdropping you were?"

The figure on the bed sat up weakly.

"You can bet your sweet life I'd of been somewhere else, if I'd
knowed you was around, chum! Why not tackle a guy your own size?"

Drayton burst out laughing, and after a moment Terence joined him.

The man on the bed could hardly have been over five feet in
height, but what he lacked in length was made up in rotundity. His
round face was smooth-shaven and wore an expression of abused
innocence which would have done credit to an injured cherub. Though
disheveled, the captive's dark-green suit was of good material and
irreproachable cut. Socks and tie matched it in color. His one false
color note was the glaring yellow of a large identification button,
pinned duly beneath the left shoulder, and the too-brilliant tan of
his broad-soled Oxfords.

"I say," repeated Trenmore, "what are you doing in my room? Or did
you but come here to break the cut-glass carafe, and the noise of it
betrayed you?"

"I came here-" The man on the bed hesitated, but only for a
moment. "I came here," he announced with great dignity, "because I
believed this to be my own room, sir. The numbers in this corridor are
confusing! I shall speak to the management in the morning. If I have
disturbed you, I'm sorry."

The little fellow had assumed a quaint dignity of manner and
phraseology which for a moment took them all aback. Then Trenmore
walked over to the outer door and tried it. The door was locked.

"And how's this?" demanded Terence, his blue eyes twinkling.

"I-er-locked it, sir, when I entered."

"Yes? And have you the key, then?"

The man made a pretense of searching his pockets; then smiled
wryly and threw up his hands.

"Ob, what's the use? You got me! I came in through the window."

"Just so. Well, Bobby, 'tis the same old world, after all. Take a
glance through the lad's pockets, will you? Something of interest
might be there."

Catching the man's wrists he twisted them back and held the two
easily in one hand. This time Trenmore's victim knew better than to
struggle. He stood quiet while Drayton conducted the suggested search.

Viola wondered why the lawyer's face was suddenly so red. She had
been told nothing of the episode at the house on Walnut Street; but
Drayton had remembered, and the memory sickened him. The parallel to
be drawn between this sneak thief and himself was not pleasant to
contemplate.

His search was at first rewarded by nothing more interesting than
a silk handkerchief, a plain gold watch, some loose change and a bunch
of rather peculiar-looking keys. Then, while exploring the captive's
right-hand coat pocket, Drayton came on a thing which could have
shocked him no more had it been a coiled live rattlesnake.

"Why-why-" he stammered, extending it in a suddenly tremulous
hand. "Look at this, Terry. Look at what I found in his pocket!"

"'Tis the Cerberus! The Cerberus vial itself!" The Irishman's
voice was no more than awed whisper.

"Where did you get this?" Drayton uttered the demand so fiercely
that the captive shrank back. "Where?" cried Drayton again,
brandishing the vial as though intending to brain the man with it.

"Where did you get it?"

"Don't hit me! I ain't done nothing! I picked it up in street."

Trenmore twisted him around and glared in a manner so fiendishly
terrifying that the little man's ruddy face paled to a sickly greenish
white.

"The truth, little rat! Where did you get it?"

"I-I-Leggo my arm; you're twisting it off! I'll tell you."

Terence, who had not really meant to torture the little round man,
released him but continued to glare.

"I got it over in a house on Walnut Street."

"You did? When?"

The man glanced from one to the other. His cherubic face assumed a
look of sudden, piteous doubt, like a child about to cry.

"Well, as near as I can make things out, it was about two hundred
years ago I done that! But I'd of took oath it was no later than this
morning! Now send me to the bughouse if you want. I'm down and out!"

"Two-hundred-years!" This from Drayton. "Terry, I begin to see
daylight in one direction, at least. My man, where did you acquire
that yellow button you are wearing?"

The captive glanced down at his lapel. "I lifted it off a guy that
had been hittin' up the booze. Everybody else in town was wearing one,
and I got pinched for not; but I shook the cop and then I got in
style." He grinned deprecatingly.

"I thought the button was obtained in some such manner. Terry,
this fellow is the crook, or one of the crooks, who were hired by your
unknown collector friend to steal the Cerberus! He is here by the same
route as ourselves." He whirled upon the thief. "Did you or did you
not pass through a kind of dream, or place, or condition called
Ulithia?"

"Say," demanded the prisoner in turn, "is either of you fellows
the guy that owns that bottle? Are you the guys that left that gray,
dusty stuff laying on a newspaper on the floor?"

"We are those very identical guys," retorted Drayton solemnly.

"Suppose we all compare notes, Mr. Burglar," suggested Viola.
"Perhaps we can help each other."

It was after three a.m. before the suggested conference ended. Any
animosity which might have existed between robber and robbed was by
then buried in the grave of that distant, unregainable past from which
all four of them had been so ruthlessly uprooted. From the moment when
the three first-comers became assured that Arnold Bertram--self-
introduced, and a very fine name to be sure, as Trenmore commented--
was actually a man of their own old, lost world, they welcomed him
almost as a brother. There was surprising satisfaction and relief in
relating their recent adventures to him. So far as they knew, Bertram
was the only man living in whom they could confide, unbranded as
outrageous liars. Bertram understood and believed them, and Bertram
had good reason to do so. At the conclusion of their story, he frankly
explained about the vial.

"I was near down and out," said he. "Nothing doing for weeks, and
whatever I put my hand to fizzling like wet firecrackers. Then an old
guy comes along and says to me and Tim--Tim's my sidekick--'Boys,
there's a little glass bottle with three dogs' heads on the top. A guy
named Trenmore stole it off me. Get it back and there's two thousand
bucks layin' in the bank for each of you!' Well, he didn't put that
'stole it' stuff over on me and Tim. We're wise, all right, but most
anybody'd crack a box for two grand, and he let on the job was an easy
one. So we tried it that night and the old boy with us. He would come
along, but we wished later we'd made him stay behind. We was going to
jimmy the trap off the roof, but when we got to your house, Mr.
Trenmore, darned if the trap wasn't open. Down we go, the old guy
making a noise like a ton of brick; but nobody wakes up. Then we seen
the light of a bull's-eye in the front bedroom on the top floor. We
sneaks in quiet. There's a guy and his torch just showin' up the
neatest kind of an easy, old-fashioned safe. So we knocks this
convenient competition on the noggin, and opens the box. There's some
ice there, but no bottle. Me an' Tim, we was satisfied to take the
ice; but what does this old guy that brung us there do? Why, he
flashes a rod, and makes us beat it and leave the stuff layin' there!"

Here Trenmore glanced quizzically at his friend, and again Drayton
blushed. Viola, however, was far too intent on the burglar's tale to
give heed.

"That must have happened before my brother and Mr. Drayton opened
the vial," she observed. "How did you come--"

"I'll get to that in a minute, lady. We'd missed the bottle some
way, and the old guy was scared to look any further that night. Next
day, though, I goes back on my own, just for a glance around, and
there was the front door of your house, Mr. Trenmore, standing wide
open. 'Dear me, but these people are friendly,' thinks I. 'Come at it
from the roof or the street, it's Welcome Home!' So up I goes, and
once inside I seen this here bottle, right out in the middle of the
floor. Things seem most too easy, but I picks it up, and then, like
the nut I am, I have to go meddling with the gray stuff on the floor,
wondering what it is and does the boss want that, too. He'd let on the
bottle was full of gray powder.

"Next thing I knowed the room went all foggy. Then I found I was
somewhere else than I ought to be, and hell--beg pardon, lady--but
honest, if what I went through didn't send me off my nut nothin' ever
will!"

It seemed he had almost exactly trod in their footsteps so far as
the Market Street Ferry. Beyond that, however, Bertram's adaptable
ingenuity had spared him a duplication of their more painful
adventures. Though arrested soon after his arrival, he had escaped
with proud ease, legalized his status with the "borrowed"
identification button, and shortly thereafter a newspaper filched from
a convenient pocket had furnished him with a date. "It put me down for
the count," said Bertram, "but it give me the dope I needed." That
date had been September 21st, 2118.

"Two centuries!" interpolated Drayton in a sort of groaning
undertone.

"Yep. Twenty-one eighteen! Old Rip had nothin' on us eh?"

Recovering from the shock, Bertram had determined to recoup his
fortunes. Hence, very naturally, the incident of the fire escape, the
open window, and Terence Trenmore's hotel bedroom.

"And now," he concluded, "I've come clean; but hell!--beg pardon,
lady--what I want to know is this: What was that gray stuff you guys
left layin' on the floor?"

"I'll tell you," responded Drayton gravely. "It was dust from the
rocks of Purgatory, gathered by the great poet Dante, and placed in
this crystal vial by a certain Florentine nobleman. Any other little
thing you'd like to learn?"

"I guess not!" The burglar's eyes were fairly popping from his
head. "Gee, if I'd heard about that Purgatory stuff, I wouldn't have
touched the thing with a ten foot pole!"

"Don't let Mr. Drayton frighten you," laughed Viola. "He has no
more idea than yourself what that dust is--or was. That's a foolish
old legend, and even Terry doesn't really believe in it."

The Irishman shook his head dubiously. "And if it was not that,
then what was it, Viola, my dear?"

Drayton sprang to his feet.

"If we continue talking and thinking about the dust, we shall all
end in the madhouse! We are in a tight spot and must make the best of
it. Before I for my part can believe that this is the year A.D. 2118,
some one will need to explain how the Hotel Belleclaire has remained
the Hotel Belleclaire two centuries, without the change of a button on
a bell-hop's coat. But that can wait. I move that we spend what's left
of the night in sleep. Perhaps"--he smiled grimly--"whichever one of
us is dreaming this nightmare will wake up sane to-morrow, and we'll
get out of it that way!"



CHAPTER 11: MINE AND COUNTERMINE



DREAMING or not, they all slept late the following morning, and
would probably have slept much later had not Trenmore been roused
shortly after nine by the house phone. After answering it, he awakened
first Viola, then Drayton and Bertram.

"The foxy-faced gentleman--the one they name the Cleverest--he'll
be calling on us it seems. Will you dress yourselves? This is a
business that no doubt concerns us all."

Five minutes later, Terence emerged to find their tight-mouthed,
cunning-eyed acquaintance awaiting him in their private parlor.

"'Tis a fine morning," greeted the Irishman cheerfully. After the
few hours' rest, he had risen his usual optimistic, easy-going self,
sure that A.D. 2118 was as good as any other year to live in. "Will
you be seated, sir," he suggested, "and maybe have a bit of breakfast
with the four of us?"

"Thank you, no. I have already eaten and shall only detain you a
few minutes. Did I understand you to say there are four of you? I was
informed of only three."

Trenmore's bushy brows rose in childlike surprise.

"Four," he corrected simply. "Myself and my sister, my friend
Bobby Drayton and Mr. Arnold Bertram. Here they are all joining us
now. Viola, my dear, this gentleman is Mr. Cleverest, and--"

The man checked him with upraised, deprecating hand.

"Not Mr. Cleverest I am only a Superlative as yet. But I am
charmed to meet you-er-Viola. What a delightful title! May I ask what
it signifies in your own city?"

Trenmore frowned and scratched his head.

"We shall never get anywhere at this rate!" he complained.

Drayton came to the rescue. "It might be better, sir, if we begin
by making allowances for entirely different customs, here and where we
came from. 'Viola' is a given name; it is proper to address the lady
as Miss Trenmore. My own name is Robert Drayton; that gentleman is Mr.
Terence Trenmore, and this is Mr. Arnold Bertram."

Cleverest bowed, though still with a puzzled expression.

"I admit that to me your titles appear to have no meaning, and
seem rather long for convenience. As you say, however, it may be best
to leave explanations till later. Time presses. Forgive me for
dragging you out of bed so early, but there is something you should
know before Her Loveliness plunges you into difficulties. She is
likely to be here at any moment. May I ask your attention?"

The man was making a patent effort to appear friendly, though
after a somewhat condescending manner.

"You are very kind," said Viola, speaking for the first time, "to
put yourself out for us, Mr.--How would you wish us to call you, sir?"

"Just Cleverest--or Clever, to my friends," he added with a smirk
of his traplike mouth. "I believe my presence and errand are
sufficient proof that I wish you for friends. It is well enough for
you, Mr.-er-Trenmore, to enter the contest for Strongest. Lovely knows
her own hand in that respect. There will be no question of failure.
But for you, Miss Trenmore, it is a different pair of shoes. Have you
any idea of the duties connected with the position of Superlatively
Domestic?"

"We know nothing," interpolated Trenmore, "about your system of
government or your customs at all. 'Tis ignorant children we are, sir,
in respect of all those matters."

The man regarded him with narrow, doubting eyes.

"It seems incredible," he murmured. "But your being here at all is
incredible. However, I shall take you at your word. You must at least
have observed that all our citizens wear a numbered mark of
identification?"

"We have that," conceded Trenmore grimly. "I also observe that you
yourself wear a red one, that is blank of any number."

"Oh, I am a Superlative." The man smiled tolerantly. "We
officials, like the Servants themselves, have our own distinctive
insignia. But the commonalty, who have no titles and are known only as
numbers, must conform to the law. Otherwise we should have anarchy,
instead of ordered government. From what Mr. Mercy has told me, I
gather that you considered the penalty for dereliction in this respect
too severe. But our people need to be kept under with a strong hand,
or they would turn on us like wolves. They have their opportunity to
be of those who make the laws. Most of them, however, are far too lazy
or vicious to compete.

"Now these competitions--the Civic Service Examinations, as they
are properly named--are conducted on a perfectly fair basis. It is a
system as democratic as it is natural and logical. The Superlatives
are chosen from the people according to fitness and supreme merit.
Thus, our legal fraternity is ruled by the Cleverest--my unworthy
self. The Quickest has command of the police force. The Sweetest
Singer conducts the civic music. So on through all the offices. Above
all, under Penn Service, the Loveliest Woman rules, with a consort who
may be at her option either the Cleverest or Strongest of men. The
system is really ideal, and whoever originated it deserves the
congratulations of all good Philadelphians. You, sir," turning to
Drayton, "if you pass as Swiftest, will have control of the City
Messenger Service."

"And the Most Domestic?" queried Viola, smiling in spite of
herself at this odd distribution of offices.

"Ah, there we come to the rub. The Superlatively Domestic is
nominally Superintendent of Scrubwomen and City Scavengers. In
practice, she is expected to take a very active and personal part in
the Temple housekeeping, while the administrative work really falls to
the department of police. When I tell you that the office is at
present unfilled, and that the latest incumbent died some time ago
from overwork, you will agree with me that you, Miss Trenmore, are
unfitted for such a post. Your social position would be intolerable.
The other Superlatives would ignore you, while as for the common
Numbers, I, for one, would never dream of permitting you to associate
with that ill-bred herd!"

"And yet," thought Drayton, "by his own account he must once have
been only a Number himself!"

"Now, I," continued the Superlative, "have a very different and
more attractive proposal to submit."

"And that is?"

Leaning forward, Cleverest's eyes became more cunningly eager.

"I propose that you, Miss Trenmore, supplant the Loveliest
herself! It is perfectly feasible. She only holds the position--I
mean, there is no chance of your being defeated. Let the woman go to
the pit! Her beauty is a thing outworn years ago. But you--Listen: she
threw me over for you, Mr. Trenmore, because she is so sure of herself
that she believes she cannot be supplanted. But she is like every
other woman; her skill at politics is limited by her own self-esteem
and vanity. She has dallied along for years, putting off her choice of
a male consort for one excuse or another, but really because she likes
her selfish independence and prefers to keep her very considerable
power to herself.

"At one time she was a great favorite with His Supremity, and in
consequence more or less deferred to by even the Service. At present,
however, Mr. Virtue is the only real friend she has among the
Servants, and he is growing rather tired of it. Without realizing it,
she has for three years been walking on the very thin ice of His
Supremity's tolerance. It is true that six months ago she pledged
herself to me, which shows that even she is not quite blind. But that
was a contract which I, for my part, have never intended to fulfill. I
had almost despaired, however, of discovering any really desirable
candidate to take her place. Last night when I looked across the Pit I
could hardly trust my eyes, Miss Trenmore. You seemed too good to be
true. No, really you did! If she had thought about it at all, Lovely
would have guessed then that her day was over. Your friends, Miss
Trenmore, are my friends, and if you will follow my advice, you and I
will end by having this city under our thumbs--like that!"

He made a crushing gesture, which somehow suggested an ultimate
cruelty and tyranny beyond anything which Drayton, even, had
encountered in his own proper century.

"The Penn Service will give you a free hand," continued the man.
"I can promise that as no other living man save one could do. I am--
But never mind that now. Will you take me on as a friend?"

Viola was eying him curiously.

"And this Loveliest--you say she must take her choice in marriage
of just those two, Strongest or Cleverest? But Terry will be one of
those, and he is my brother!"

"I am not your brother," said Cleverest insinuatingly.

Drayton sprang to his feet, and Trenmore, already standing, made a
sudden forward motion. But to their surprise Viola herself waved them
to be quiet and smiled very sweetly upon this foxy-faced and cold-
blooded suitor.

"I think I may thank you, sir, and accept your alternative. If you
are sure that I shall win in this strange competition. And now I am
thinking, what do you do with the people who lose their high office? I
suppose they go back among the Numbers again?

The man laughed. "That would never do. Penn Service could never
allow that. Any one who fails at a competition, whether he is a
candidate or an actual incumbent of office, goes into the pit!"

"Gee!" muttered Bertram succinctly. Then aloud, "Say, Mister, I
shouldn't think these here Super-what-you-may-call-'em jobs would ever
get to be real popular!"

"We are not exactly crowded with applicants," acknowledged the
Superlative. "But do not allow yourselves to be troubled on that
score. I have excellent reasons for prophesying your success. And now
I had best leave you, before her worn-out Loveliness catches me here.
She might just possibly upset the apple cart yet! May I rely on you?"

He looked from one to the other with a shifty, yet piercing gaze.

"I think you may." Again Viola smiled upon him in a way that made
Drayton writhe inwardly. What hidden side of this beautiful, innocent,
girl-child's nature was now being brought to the surface? Did she
realize the implications of this thing to which she was so sweetly
agreeing? Her brother stood glum and silent, eyes fixed on the floor.
Cleverest, however, his ax having been produced and successfully
ground, extended a thin, cold hand to Viola.

"It is refreshing," he declared, "to find brains and the faculty
of decision in conjunction with such beauty!"

Viola accepted the hand and the crude compliment with equal
cordiality. "May we hope to see you soon again?"

"As early as circumstances allow. Don't let Lovely suspect what's
in the wind. Just let her imagine that everything is drifting her way.
I'll look after you. Be sure of that!"

And the Superlative departed, leaving behind him a brewing storm
which broke almost as quickly as the door closed on his retreating
back.

"Viola," growled her brother, and it said much for his anger that
there was no endearment in his tone, "is it crazy you have gone? Or is
it your intention to offer me that for a brother-in-law? Can you not
see--"

"Now, just a minute, Terry. What is the title and position of the
pleasant-faced gentleman who was here?"

"Cleverest, of course, the cunning-eyed rat! And he said he was at
the head of the lawyers, bad luck to the lot of them--begging your
sole pardon, Bobby, my boy!"

"Exactly. And is there no one of us who is better fitted for that
same office than he that was just now here? Who is it that you've told
me was the cleverest lad you ever met, Terry, and the prince of all
lawyers?" She smiled mischievously at Drayton. "And why," she
continued, "should Loveliest be the only one to receive a surprise on
Wednesday? Let Mr. Drayton try for the office he's best trained for. I
have faith that this Cleverest of theirs is not the man to win against
him."

"I might try-" began Drayton. Then as the full inference struck
him he started, staring with incredulous eyes at Trenmore's sister.

Though a slow flush mounted in her delicate cheeks, she returned
his gaze unwaveringly.

"And why not, Mr. Drayton? Would you have me give myself to the
present incumbent of that office? And I am asking of you only the
protection betrothal would offer me until we may escape from these
unkindly folk. Are you not my brother's trusted friend, and may I not
trust you also?"

"Before Heaven, you may, Miss Viola," said Drayton simply, but
with all the intensity of one taking a holy vow. "Terry, are you
willing that I should attempt this thing?"

Trenmore nodded. "As a possible brother-in-law, Bobby, I do
certainly prefer you to the other candidate. And by the powers, 'twill
be worth all the troubles we've had to see that sly rat's face when
you oust him from his precious job!"

"If I oust him," corrected Drayton.

"You'll do it. You've the brains of three of him packed in that
handsome skull of yours. But Bertram, man, wherever did you get that
watch? 'Tis a beautiful timepiece and all, but never the one you had
last night!"

"It is, though." The most recent addition to their party turned
away, at the same time sliding the watch in his pocket.

"It is not! Let me see it." The Irishman held out his hand with a
peremptory gesture.

Somewhat sullenly the little round man obeyed the command. It was,
as Trenmore had said, a beautiful watch; a thin hunting-case model and
engraved "J. S. to C. June 16, 2114." The watch was attached to a
plain fob of black silk, terminating in a ruby of remarkable size and
brilliance, set in platinum. Trenmore looked up from his examination
sternly.

"Who is 'C'? Never mind. I can guess! I remember how you brushed
against the man as you went to open the door for him to go out."

"Well, and what if I did?" grumbled Bertram. "That Cleverest guy
ain't no real friend of yours, is he?"

To Drayton's surprise, Viola laughed outright. "Mr. Burglar, you
should change your habits once in two thousand years at least! Had you
looked into that pit of theirs, as we did, you'd not be lifting things
from a man who can send you there. Terry, how would it do to let Mr.
Bertram try for the office of Quickest? He is that, by this piece of
work, and on the police force he'd be--"

Her brother drowned the sentence in a great shout of mirth.

"You've the right of it, little sister! 'Tis the very post for
him. Bertram, my round little lad, would that keep you out of
mischief, do you think?"

Bertram grinned sheepishly. "It ain't such a bad idea," he
conceded. "They tell me there's lots of graft to be picked up on the
force. And say, it would be some fun to be ordering a bunch of cops
around! I'm on, Mr. Trenmore!"



CHAPTER 12: THE NEW CITY



BY the evening of that day the four castaways of Time had acquired
a better knowledge of the city, its odd customs and odder laws, than
had been theirs during Cleverest's morning call. The Loveliest had
kept her word and more than kept it. She had called for them in her
car, amiably accepted their rather lame excuses for Bertram's
presence, and insisted on an immediate shopping expedition to supply
their more pressing needs in the way of clothing and toilette
necessities.

On leaving the hotel she bestowed upon each of her proteges a
plain green button. These, she explained, denoted that the wearer was
of the immediate family of a Superlative. She had arranged with
"Virty" to stretch a point for convenience sake, and so protect her
wards pro tempore. Connections of Penn Servants, it seemed, wore
similar buttons, but purple in color. No wearer of a button of either
hue, she assured them, would ever be troubled by the police unless at
the direct command of a Servant. This seemed a sweeping assertion, but
they assumed that it did not cover such a person in the commission of
actual crime. Later they were not so sure.

The most curious impression which Drayton received upon this brief
expedition was that of the intense, commonplace familiarity of
everything he saw, complicated by a secret undercurrent of differences
too deep to be more than guessed at. The stores--most of them--were
the same. The streets were the same. The people were not quite the
same. Not only did both men and women appear to have undergone
positive physical deterioration, but the look in their eyes was
different.

These nameless, yellow-tagged Numbers who thronged the streets had
a hangdog, spiritless appearance, as if caring little what their labor
or their goings to and fro might bring them.

Everywhere the most profound, even slavish, respect was accorded
to the Loveliest and her party. Evidently she was well known
throughout the city.

Before entering the stores, she took them to luncheon and played
the part of munificent hostess so well that all of them, save perhaps,
Mr. Bertram, were more than half ashamed of their secret alliance with
her jilted betrothed, the Cleverest.

One thing she did later, however, which cleared Viola's
conscience. At one of the larger department stores, she insisted on
purchasing for the girl a great supply of gingham aprons and plain,
practical house dresses.

"You will need them, my dear," she assured affectionately. "Now,
don't object! If you are to keep up your position as Superlatively
Domestic you will require at least four dozen of each!"

Viola, more amused than annoyed, let the woman have her way. "Just
picture me," she murmured aside to Drayton. "Picture poor little me
cleaning the whole inside of City Hall! Isn't she the dear, though?"

Everything was to be charged, they discovered, to that benevolent
institution "Penn Service." Trenmore, who made it a practice to carry
a considerable amount of money about him, wished to pay. The woman
scoffed at the notion.

"You'll soon get over the idea of paying for anything," she
declared. "But tell me; how do you come to have money? I thought you
said you had just reached the city. Is it money you brought with you?
May I see it?"

Trenmore handed her some silver and a ten-dollar bill.

"Why, what curious little medals--and how pretty they are! Would
you mind giving me these as a keepsake?"

"Not at all, madam," Trenmore responded gravely. Despite her
obvious efforts to please, the woman's company and her open devotion
to himself were becoming increasingly distasteful. As he complained to
Drayton, he did not like the green eyes of her! "I suppose your own
coins are different?" he queried.

"We don't use coins--is that what you call them?--for exchange.
The common Numbers have their certificates of labor, somewhat like
this piece of paper of yours. They are not green and yellow, though,
but red, stamped with the number of hours in black. They are free to
spend these as they please. But the Servants of Penn and we
Superlatives charge everything to the Service."

"You mean the city pays?"

"Oh, no. These stores must do their part toward the government
upkeep. That is only just. We levy on all the people equally--on the
merchant and property-holder for goods; on the laborer for a portion
of his time, if we require it. Penn Service makes no exceptions."

She said this with an air of great virtue, but Drayton commented,
"That must be rather hard on any merchant or worker you particularly
favor--especially a man of small capital or large family."

"It keeps them in line," she retorted, with a somewhat cruel set
to her thin red lips.

"But," objected Drayton, harking back to the matter of money, "if
your currency is not based on gold or silver, how does it possess any
stability?"

"I don't know what you mean. The Service sets a valuation on the
different sorts of labor. For instance, if an expert accountant and a
street cleaner each work one hour, the accountant will receive credit
for ten hours and the scavenger credit for half an hour. I suppose you
might say the system is based on working time."

"And the value is not set by either employer or employed?"

Her eyes widened. "Let the Numbers say how much a man's labor is
worth? Whoever heard of such a thing! Why, they would grind each other
into the ground."

"They are at least free to work for each other or not as they
please, I suppose?"

"Certainly. Why, they are perfectly free in every way. They even
own all the property except the Temple itself and the officials'
private residences."

Drayton was hopelessly at sea. Was this system a tyranny, as he
had indefinitely suspected, or was it the freest and most orderly of
governments?

"Forgive my stupidity," he apologized. "I don't even yet
understand. Instead of the dollar you make an hour's labor the unit
and then set a fixed schedule of labor value. But the work of two men
at the same job is hardly ever of equal worth. How do you--"

"Wait," she broke in impatiently. "When you are yourself one of
us, sir, you may understand these arrangements better. Penn Service
owns practically nothing; but it rules everything. It is perfectly
impartial. One man's labor is as good as another's. Any one who
refused to give or take a certificate would have the Service to deal
with."

"And yet the Service itself never pays for anything and takes what
it likes of goods or labor. But according to that your whole
population are mere slaves, and their ownership of property a mockery!
Who are these Servants of Penn that hold such power?"

She stared at him, a hard look in her green eyes.

"The Masters of the City," she retorted briefly. "It is not
suitable that we discuss them here and now. Wait until to-morrow. Then
you yourself will become, I hope, a Superlative, and as such will
receive all the necessary information."

The ex-lawyer accepted the snub meekly, but dared one further
question.

"Are Mercy and Judge Virtue Servants of Penn?"

"Mr. Mercy and Mr. Virtue are both of the Inner Order. You will do
very well not to cross their path-er-Drayton."

He made no further comment, but determined to use every
opportunity to get at the true inwardness of this singular system and
the toleration of it by the so-called "Numbers." Were all other cities
like this? They must be, he thought, or no one would choose this one
to live in.

The Loveliest herself seemed strangely devoid of curiosity
regarding her proteges' past lives and histories. Indeed, twice she
checked Trenmore when he would have volunteered information along this
line. "You must not tell me these things," she declared. "Even we
Superlatives are not permitted to learn of other places and customs--
are not supposed to know that such exist!"

At this preposterous statement Bertram, who had been going about
with an air of pained boredom, became interested.

"Say, lady, don't you folks ever go traveling anywheres?"

Had he suggested something indelicate, she could have looked no
more horrified.

"Traveling outside of Philadelphia? I should hope not! Besides,
such an outrage would never be permitted, I assure you."

"But you must have some communication with the outer world?"
puzzled Viola. "We saw the trains and the passengers at the ferry. And
where do all these things come from that we see in the stores?"

"My dear, we have many local trains, of course, but the interstate
commerce is entirely in the hands of Penn Service. Our laborers here
manufacture certain articles; our farmers raise certain produce. These
things are turned over to the Service who reserve a share to
themselves for expense. Then they exchange it outside the boundaries;
but it is all done by the secret agents and I have never bothered my
head about it. The matter is outside the province of my
administration."

"How long has this sort of thing gone on?" persisted Drayton.

"My dear sir, and all of you, why will you ask such absurd and
impossible questions? Can't you understand that we Philadelphians have
no concern either with the past or with anything outside our own
boundaries? The law says, let every good citizen live his own life. It
is forbidden that he should do more than that."

"Do you mean to tell us," gasped the lawyer, "that you know
nothing of this city's history?"

"Certainly I mean that. Most of these people that you see would
not understand your meaning should you ask them such a question. I was
educated privately by one of the Servants of Penn." She said it as one
might boast of having been brought up by the King of England in
person. "I am able to converse intelligently, I hope, on any
reasonable subject. But even I never received such absurdly needless
instruction as that."

"But what are the children taught in your schools?"

"The natural, useful things. Cooking, carpentry, weaving--all the
necessary trades. What use would any more be to them? It would only
make them dissatisfied, and goodness knows they are already
dissatisfied and ungrateful enough!"

"Well," sighed Trenmore, "whoever has done these things to your
people has certainly hit a new low in autocratic government."

Half playfully, she shook her head at him.

"Big man," she rebuked, "I don't altogether understand you, but
take care of your words. I like you too well to wish to see you die!
Penn Service is sacred. Never speak against it, even when you believe
yourself alone or in the safest company. It has a million eyes and a
million ears, and they are everywhere. And now, let me take you back
to the Belleclaire. After to-morrow I will see you more suitably
lodged. To-night, however, you must put up as best you may with its
inconvenience and bareness."

Its "inconvenience and bareness," however, amounted to luxury in
the eyes of these benighted wanderers from another age. They were very
well content to have one more evening alone together. The Loveliest,
it seemed, was attending an important social function to which, until
they had actually claimed their laurels in the approaching
competition, she could not take them.

"Nobody is anybody here," she said, "except the Servants
themselves, the Superlatives and the family connections of each. There
are only three or four hundred of us, all told, but we manage to keep
the social ball rolling. I can promise you a gay winter. Now, don't
attempt to go out on the streets."

Trenmore frowned. He had a secret desire to visit a certain house
on Walnut Street and of course he wouldn't find the place unchanged,
and the dust still lying there on the library floor. But he wished to
look, at least. "Why not?" he inquired.

"Because I am responsible for your appearance at the contests to-
morrow. Don't be offended. Should anything happen to you it would not
only make me very unhappy, but might cause me serious trouble. The
competitions are held in the Temple to-morrow at high noon. I'll call
for you early and see to it that everything goes through just right.
You've no idea what a pleasant future lies in store for you, big man!"

"Oh, haven't I, though?" muttered Trenmore as he stood with the
others in the lobby and watched her retreating back. "Madam Green-
eyes, it's yourself has a pleasant surprise on its way to you, and I'm
the sorry man to see trouble come to any woman, but it's yourself
deserves it, I'm thinking--and anyway, I couldn't let my little sister
Viola be made the slave you'd gladly see her, or I've misread the
green eyes of you!"

"What's that you're saying, Terry?" queried Drayton.

"Just a benediction on the kind-hearted lady, Bobby. Bertram,
where are you off to? Didn't you hear herself saying we are all to
stop inside?"

"Aw, say, boss, I'm fair smothered. That doll would talk the hind
wheel off a street car. It wasn't me she went bail for and I won't get
into trouble."

"See that you don't, then," counseled Trenmore, and let him go.



CHAPTER 13: PENN SERVICE



THEIR day had been so fully occupied that none of the three had
found time to seek that purveyor of plentiful information, the
newspaper. Indeed, now that he thought of it, Drayton could not recall
having seen any newsboy or news stands, and on consulting his friends
they, too, denied any such memory. Yet that papers were still
published in the city was certain. Mercy had carried one in the golden
Court of Justice. Bertram had accounted for his knowledge of the date
by reference to a "borrowed" newspaper.

Drayton went to the house phone and made his request. Something
seemed wrong with the wire. While he could perfectly hear the girl at
the other end, that young lady appeared unable to catch his meaning.
Suddenly she cut him off, and though he snapped the receiver hook
impatiently, it produced no further response.

"Ring for a boy, Bobby," suggested Trenmore. As he said it,
however, there came a rapping at the door. Trenmore opened it and
there stood a dignified gentleman who bowed courteously and stepped
inside.

"I am the assistant manager," he explained. "There was some
trouble over the phone just now. The management desires, of course,
that guests of Penn Service shall receive every attention. What were
you trying to make that stupid operator understand?"

"Nothing very difficult," smiled Drayton. "I asked for an evening
paper."

"I beg your pardon. A--what?"

"A paper--a newspaper," retorted the lawyer impatiently. "But, my
dear sir! Surely you can't mean to make such an extraordinary request!
Or--perhaps you have a special permit?"

A dazed silence ensued. "Are you telling me," burst forth Terence,
"that in this God-forsaken place you need a permit to read the news of
the day?"

"Every one knows," protested the manager placatingly, "that only
Servants or their families are permitted to read the newspaper issued
for their benefit."

Trenmore made a violent forward movement, and Drayton, after one
glance at the giant's darkening countenance, hastily pushed the
manager into the hall, assured him that their request was withdrawn
and closed the door.

Not five minutes later, Cleverest was again announced. He followed
the phone call so closely that Drayton had hardly hung up the receiver
before he was at the door. He entered with a frown and a very pale
face.

"See here," he began without greeting or preamble, "are you people
trying to commit suicide? How can you expect protection if you persist
in running foul of every law in the city?"

"Why the excitement?" queried Drayton coolly.

"The excitement, as you call it, is of your making. How dare you
attempt to pry among the secret affairs of Penn Service?"

Drayton shook his head. "Can't imagine what you mean. We've not
been out of this suite since the Loveliest brought us back to the
hotel."

"That may be. But you were trying to bribe the manager to supply
you with a copy of the Penn Bulletin!"

Enlightenment dawned in the minds of his three hearers.

"And is that all?" asked Trenmore scornfully. "As for bribe, we
never offered the lad a cent. Did he claim we tried to bribe him?"

"He hinted at it. He met me at the door, and by Jove, it was a
good thing he did! He was on his way to report you at the Temple!"

"Is it a capital crime, then, to wish to read a paper?"

Still frowning, Cleverest sank into a chair.

"What you need is a little common or kindergarten instruction. A
bit more and you'll have us all in the pit for conspiracy. To begin,
then, are you aware that no one in this city, barring those born in
Penn Service or the officials under their control, is allowed to read
any literature more informing than a sign post, an instruction
pamphlet or a telephone directory? The only books, the only papers,
the only manuscripts in existence are circulated and confined strictly
to the Temple and the Temple people. The Supreme Servant himself is
the only man having access to the more important documents and books,
although there is a lesser library open to officials who care for
study.

"Furthermore, the City of Philadelphia having reached a state of
perfection under the beneficent power of Penn, his Servants have made
it their business to keep it so. Advance or retrogression would be
alike objectionable. That is obvious and logical. Everything is most
exquisitely standardized. To change so much as a syllable of the
language, a style in garments, the architecture or interior
arrangement of a building, is rightly regarded as a capital offense.
No man, saving the Servants or their emissaries, is allowed to pass
outside city limits. No stranger in my time or knowledge has ever
crossed them from without. You yourselves are the sole exceptions."

"But," puzzled Drayton, "how does Penn Service keep the city in
subjection? We come from a place of far different customs and spirit,
where innumerable armed troops would be required for such a business.
You have only the usual police."

The man laughed. "There is a fear more restraining than the fear
of bullets. Penn, the mighty All-Father, stands behind his Servants
and justifies their acts." The Superlative spoke reverently, but it
was a threadbare reverence through which gleamed more than a hint of
mockery. "Do you recall," he continued, "that great Red Bell which
hangs beneath the golden Dome of Justice? There is a saying in this
city, 'When the Bell strikes, we die.' It is named the Threat of Penn.
The people believe implicitly that should the Servants become incensed
and strike that Bell, the city, the people, the very earth itself
would dissolve into air like thin smoke! I myself can't tell you how
this supersti--I should say, this faith originated. But it is a very
deep-rooted and convenient one. Have you any other questions?"

"One more, and it is this. During the day I have heard Penn
Service referred to as sacred. Last night the judge spoke of the
'sacred precincts.' What we called City Hall you call the Temple. Just
now you referred to 'Penn, the mighty All-Father.' Is Penn Service a
religious organization?"

The other stared. "Religious? That is a word I have never before
heard. Penn is the All-Father. The Numbers worship and pray to him.
Immobile and benevolent he stands, high above our petty affairs,
speaking to none save his Servants. Through his wisdom they, the
twelve great Servants of Penn, are the Supreme and only power--the
Masters of his City!"

Drayton sighed deeply. "We are indebted to you, sir, for your
frankness. In future we will certainly try to keep out of trouble."

"I trust you will." Cleverest rose to take his departure. "I've
set my heart on upsetting Lovely's little game. By the way, where is
that other chap--Bertram, you call him?"

"He went out. He'll be back soon. We had thought of entering
Bertram for Quickest--that is, if you have no objection?"

The Superlative looked startled, then smiled oddly.

"Oh, no possible objection, of course. Good day to you all. And to
you, dearest lady! I shall be first at your side when you reach the
Temple to-morrow."

Speaking of Bertram, however, had recalled something to Viola.
"Just a moment, Mr. Cleverest. I beg your pardon. Cleverest, then.
Terry, have you that watch?"

"Did I lose it here?" Cleverest's eyes lighted as Trenmore
extended the expensive timepiece.

"It fell from your pocket perhaps?" suggested Viola demurely.

"I am a thousand times obliged to you, Miss Trenmore. That watch
was given me by my uncle, Mr. Justice Supreme. The old gentleman would
never have forgiven me if I had lost it."

"So, he's the nephew of Mr. Justice Supreme, is he?" murmured
Viola, when the Superlative had at last departed. "Now I wonder if
that relationship is the card he has up his sleeve?"

"Viola, if you've an inkling of further mystery, save it till I'm
rested from what we've had," protested her brother. "Let's ring for
the servant the way we'll be having our suppers. I think we do need
them!"



CHAPTER 14: THE THREAT OF PENN



THAT night Mr. Arnold Bertram did not return to the Hotel
Belleclaire. Moreover, Trenmore discovered with some annoyance that
the Cerberus was again missing. He had thrust the thing in his pocket
and forgotten it. Now the vial was gone, either lost in the streets,
or, more probably, again confiscated by their rotund and assimilative
friend the burglar.

Morning came, but no Bertram. Drayton was first dressed, and he
was waiting in the parlor when the others appeared. A moment of
silence was followed by a sudden deep chuckle from Trenmore and a
little shriek from Viola.

"Why, you two absurd men!" she cried. "You're wearing exactly the
same things as yesterday! You haven't even had them pressed! Terry,
your trousers look as if you'd slept in them--not a sign of a crease.
What will your true love be thinking?"

Trenmore flung back his head with a comical look of defiance. "Let
her think what she likes. I've no liking for goods no better than
stole, Penn Service or no Penn Service! I pay for my clothes, or I'll
wear none. But you've no cause to be talking, Viola. Where's the
pretty new gown you were to be wearing? And Bobby, what about those
fine ash-grays you were choosing so carefully yesterday?"

"I meant to wear them. If we intended to keep faith with the lady
who provided them, I should certainly have worn them. As it is-"
Drayton shrugged.

"And I," confessed Viola, "couldn't bring myself to touch anything
that woman gave me. She must take us as we are or not at all. It's ten
o'clock--and there's the telephone. I expect that is my Lady Green-
eyes."

It was. She looked disappointed and more than a trifle hurt when
she saw their costumes and learned their intention not to change. She
herself was resplendent in a gown of pale-yellow satin, under a
magnificent fitted coat of Irish lace. Trenmore placated her for their
shabby appearance as best he could, and dropping that subject, though
with obvious annoyance, the Loveliest inquired for the missing
Bertram.

"We've no idea at all where he is, madam. He went out last night,
though I argued it with him, and we've seen neither hide nor hair of
the lad since that time."

She seemed little concerned. "He will probably show up at the
Temple. If he has lost his green button and got himself arrested, he
is sure to be there. Shall we go now?"

Descending to the lady's car, they found Broad Street crowded with
an immense and mostly stationary throng. Narrow lanes had been cleared
by the police for such pedestrians and motor cars as might prefer
moving along. A few cars belonging, they were informed, to various
officials, were parked in the middle of the street.

"What are they all waiting for?" queried Viola.

"For the competitions. They don't often take so much interest.
This time the Numbers have a candidate for musical director, and they
are waiting for blocks around until the result is announced."

Drayton wondered why such a large percentage of the population
were concerned over an apparently unimportant office; but he made no
comment.

The run from the hotel to the former City Hall was a short one. As
the car swung into the open traffic lane, Drayton looked ahead. There,
closing the brief vista, loomed that huge gray bulk of masonry which
is the heart--the center--the very soul, as one might say, of the
ancient Quaker City.

From the street no sign of the golden dome was visible, nor any
exterior hint of the vast innovations within. There rose the tower
upon whose pinnacle, visible for many a mile around, stood the giant
figure of that good old Quaker, his vast hand forever outstretched in
gentle blessing. There he stood, as he had stood for troublous
centuries. Below him was the familiar clock and a wraith of white mist
obscured its face. Drayton remembered how, on previous visits to
Philadelphia, that wraith of mist had prevented him from seeing the
time. The wind was perpetually blowing it across. And Broad Street--he
had once been here through a city election. All Broad Street had been
crowded, just as it was crowded now, with people in fixed masses
before the bulletin boards. The bulletins were missing now, but what
other difference was there in appearance?

A yellow multiplicity of numbered buttons and yes, the emblem
displayed above the Public Building's southern entrance. Then it had a
huge replica of the Knight Templar insignia, with "Welcome K. T." in
varicolored bulbs. Now the emblem was a sword-crossed bell. Above it
gleamed four ominous figures--2118. That was the difference.

Drayton emerged from his homesick comparisons to find that the car
was drawing up at the curb. Where had once been an open archway were
doors of studded iron. A traffic policeman hurried forward and hustled
the crowd aside. He used his stick freely, but the crowd did not even
growl. It sickened Drayton--not so much the blows, as the spirit in
which they were taken. Had the backbone of this people been entirely
softened in the vinegar of even two centuries of oppression? And these
were his own people, or their descendants--his fellow Americans! That
hurt.

Doubtless, however, as he became adjusted to new usages, the
injustice and oppressions of the year A.D. 2118 would seem no more
intolerable than the tyrannies and injustices of the twentieth
century.

The iron doors swung wide and closed silently behind the little
party. They found themselves in a long corridor, walled and floored
with polished red marble, artificially lighted and lined with doors,
paneled with frosted glass. "Part of the administrative section,"
explained the Loveliest, as she hurried them along the passage. "These
are all offices of the different departments. Would you care to see
the crowd under the Dome from the balcony?"

Without waiting for assent, she led the way up a short flight of
red marble stairs. Suddenly they emerged from beneath a low arch and
looked out into the space beneath the Dome of Justice. They stood upon
a little balcony. Out from it extended a narrow bridge of planking to
the rough scaffold that hung about the Red Bell.

Beneath the Dome the milk-white floor was no longer visible. They
looked down upon a sea of heads. The people were packed so closely
that had there come one of those swaying motions common to crowds many
must inevitably have been trampled. Only at the northern side was a
space cleared and roped off. In the center of this space was the eagle
and dove symbol that hid the pit. At the far side a throne of carved
and jeweled gold had been set on a high dais, draped with pale blue
and yellow banners. Throne and dais were empty, but close about the
roped-off space was drawn a cordon of uniformed police. Save for these
who wore their regulation caps, not a head in the great hall was
covered. Silent, patient, bareheaded, they stood--the despised
"Numbers," packed too tightly for even the slight relief of motion,
waiting.

Drayton wondered what it was about them that seemed so strange--so
unearthly. Then it came to him. They were silent. Except for a faint
rustling sound, like dry leaves in a breeze, the space beneath the
golden dome was entirely silent. One could have closed one's eyes and
fancied oneself alone.

Said Trenmore, "Are they dumb, these people of yours?"

Low though he had spoken, his voice reverberated from the shallow
Dome as from a sounding board. The dark sea of heads became flecked
with white, as faces were turned toward the balcony. Leaning her
gloved elbows on the golden rail, the Loveliest looked indifferently
down.

"They are not permitted to speak within the sacred precincts. Most
of them have stood these three hours past, and they have another two
hours to wait. They are all so lazy that I don't imagine they mind.
Anything, rather than to be at work!"

"Some of those women have babies in their arms," observed Viola
pityingly.

The Loveliest shrugged. "Don't ask me why they are here. It's a
foolish old custom, and I am glad to say this is the last of it. Mr.
Justice Supreme has ordered that hereafter the competitions shall be
held in private. We had best go around to the north side now. I'll
find out if Mr. J. S. is ready to receive you. I persuaded Virty to
arrange for a presentation. Mr. J. S. is just a trifle difficult in
his old age, but he won't interfere."

Interfere with what? Drayton wondered. Then the question slipped
from his mind as his eye lighted on a curious thing at the back of the
balcony.

It was a sword; a huge, unwieldy weapon, fully seven feet in
length. The broad blade was of polished blue steel, inlaid to the hilt
with gold. The grip, such of it as could be seen, was of gold studded
with rough turquoise. Too large and heavy, surely, for human wielding,
the sword was held upright in the grip of a great bronze hand, the
wrist of which terminated in the wall at about the height of a man's
chest from the floor.

"And what weapon is that?" inquired Trenmore.

"That? Oh, that is part of the Threat. You see the hand that holds
it? That is the so-called 'Hand of Penn.' From the tower above, his
hand is extended in blessing. Down here it grasps the sword. It is
attached to a sort of mechanical arm, long enough to pass halfway
across the Hall of Justice. The arm runs back through the wall there,
between the ceiling of the corridor and the floor above. It is
controlled by a mechanism to which only the Servants hold a key."

"And what happens when the queer machine is used?" asked Trenmore.
It seemed a useless invention, on the face of it.

"It isn't used," she replied with an amused smile. "If it ever
were, the hand would drop so that the sword was level; then shoot out
and the sword's point would strike the edge of that Red Bell and
recoil. Of course, it couldn't strike now, because of the scaffolding.
Mr. J. S. has an idea that the bell will look well with a ring of red
electric lamps around it. They are wiring it for that."

"The sword is a kind of elaborate gong-striking device then,"
commented Drayton. He recalled Cleverest's description of the singular
dread in which the Red Bell was held by the Numbers. "What would
happen if it were used?" he queried in turn.

"Oh, the city would go up in smoke, I suppose." The woman laughed
as she said it. Clearly she herself had no great faith in the
probability of such a catastrophe.

"But how do your people imagine that a miracle of that sort could
be brought about?" persisted Drayton.

"You do ask such questions! By a special dispensation of our Lord
Penn, I suppose. Will you come with me, please? Under no circumstances
must His Supremacy be kept waiting."

They followed her, back into the red corridor, and thence through
a long series of luxurious living apartments, smoking, lounging, and
drawing-rooms, each furnished in a style compatible only with great
wealth or the system of "credit" peculiar to Penn Service. Crossing
the old patrol entrance, they at last reached that part of the Temple
which was held consecrate to the use of the highest Servant, Mr.
Justice Supreme. While possessing several residences in various
pleasant locations, he preferred, the lady informed them, to live
almost entirely in the Temple. To the visitors, this "Temple," with
its more or less resident "Servants" bore a close resemblance to a
clubhouse for luxury-loving millionaires.

They waited in an anteroom with their guide, who had given her
card and a penciled message to one of the half-dozen uniformed page
boys who lounged there. The lad returned with a verbal message to the
effect that Mr. Justice Supreme begged to be excused.

At almost the same moment Cleverest emerged from the door leading
to the inner sanctum. He came straight to them with a smile of welcome
which made him look almost good humored. Close behind appeared the
plethoric Mr. Virtue.

"I declare, Virty, it's too bad!" began Loveliest indignantly.
"You promised that you would arrange a presentation."

Mr. Virtue, looking worried and more than a little annoyed, shook
his head. "I can't help it. I couldn't see him myself, Lovely.
Clever's been with him all morning. Ask him what the trouble is!"

She turned a glance of sharp suspicion upon her fellow
Superlative. "Did you have anything to do with this, Clever? If you
did--"

"To do with what?" inquired Cleverest blandly. "His Supremity is
somewhat indisposed, and is conserving his strength for the
ceremonies. You have no cause for anxiety. I explained things to him
myself. There will be no trouble. You really owe me a debt of
gratitude, Lovely. The dear old gentleman has always been rather fond
of the present Strongest. I had quite a little job persuading him that
your candidate was in every way more deserving."

She watched him with a puzzled frown. Then her brow cleared, her
eyes opened wide with that dark distension of the pupils which was a
trick of theirs.

"Why, Clever," she beamed, "I'm tremendously obliged to you. I
never thought you really cared enough to do anything like that for me.
Particularly now!"

He smiled, with a barefaced assumption of hurt tenderness which
would have deceived none but the most vain and assured of women.

"You've never done me justice Lovely. Don't thank me until the
competitions are over. When the job's done I shall feel more worthy!
Come along to the Green Room. Nearly every one else is there."

The "Green Room" proved to be a long, wide chamber with windows on
one side only, opening out upon the Hall of Justice. In the center of
that side, level with the pavement, opened the northern door, which
varied from the other two in being of the same scarlet hue as the Red
Bell. The room itself was done entirely in green, a thick velvet
carpet of that color covering the floor like moss, and the walls being
decorated in a simulation of foliage. The place was well filled. By
the law, it seemed, every Superlative physically able to be present
must appear at the Civic Service Examinations, held once in four
years. Most of them had brought members of their families.

All wore the green or red buttons of Superlativism, and all were
dressed with a gayety which verged--in many cases more than verged--on
distinct vulgarity. For some reason of etiquette none of the Servants'
womenfolk were present. The three visitors were therefore unable to
pass judgment on those greatest of great ladies. The gathering
present, however, represented if not the cream, at least the top milk
of twenty-second century society. Though it was morning, the only
women present whose gowns were not almost painfully decollate were
Viola Trenmore, Loveliest, and two or three very young girls. Colors
shrieked at one another, or were gagged to silence by an overpowering
display of jewelry. Some of the older and plainer ladies were quite
masked in the enamel of their complexions.

The Loveliest took her proteges about the room, presenting them to
the various officials and their wives. She seemed on the most familiar
terms with the men, but the women, while they addressed her with
formal respect, cast glances at her back tinged with anything but
affection.

The only Superlative not present was the Swiftest, Chief of the
Messenger Service. "Laid up with another bad attack of rheumatism,"
Mr. Virtue explained sympathetically.

"He'll be laid up with worse than that after the contests,"
grinned Cleverest, with a meaning wink at Drayton.

The latter smiled back, but the effort was mechanical. They
boasted of the fair and open nature of these contests, and at the same
time talked of the results as a foregone conclusion. One ex-lawyer
wondered what ghost of a chance he had to supplant this man, nephew of
Justice Supreme, and so sure of his ability to undermine Loveliest,
herself a person of influence and evident power. He had the ghastly
feeling of a man walking on a thin crust above unknown fires. There
was too little that they understood; too much that hinted of
subterranean movements and powers which at any moment might writhe and
cast them all into that theatrical, deadly pit, beneath the Dove of
Peace.

Then he heard the green-eyed lady's voice again, speaking in the
silkiest of tones. "And this, my friends, is our Chief of Contractors,
the Strongest. Stringy, let me make you acquainted with Mr. Trenmore.
And Miss Trenmore. This little lady is to try her hand at domesticity,
Stringy. I don't imagine there will be any competition--not for that
office."

The official whom she disrespectfully misaddressed as "Stringy"
fitted his nickname better than his real title of Strongest. He was a
tall, long-limbed, lean man, with a very red face and sunburned neck.
He glanced pityingly at Viola. From her his gaze turned anxiously to
the huge giant of a man with whom he was shortly to contend not only
for continuance in office, but life itself. He started to say
something, choked, and, turning abruptly, hurried off to lose himself
in the crowd of his more fortunate fellows.

"Somebody has tipped Stringy off," laughed Mr. Virtue. "Hi, there,
Merry! Whither away?"

But the ineffable Mr. Mercy jerked roughly from his friend's
detaining hand and without a glance for the rest of the party passed
on through the door leading to the inner sanctuary.

"He's sore, too," growled Virtue. "Lovely, you're getting me in
bad all around."

"Merry will get over it," she replied indifferently. "He never
thinks of any one but himself. Outside of that he's a good sort. I'll
square things for you, Virty, once this examination is over. What was
it you said, Mr. Drayton?"

"Is there any objection," repeated Drayton, "to my wandering about
a bit? The decorative schemes of these rooms are wonderful. I used to
be interested in such things, as a boy. You don't mind?"

"Not at all. Go over toward the eastern side, though, away from
Mr. J. S.'s sanctum. And be back here within the half hour."

"I will. Terry, you don't mind if I leave you?"

"Go ahead," assented the Irishman, and Viola nodded abstractedly.
She was staring out at that pathetically silent multitude in the Hall
of Justice.

As a matter of fact, the lawyer craved solitude for thought. The
more time he spent in this Temple of Justice, the more he became
convinced of the puerility of their own light-hearted schemes.

Viola's reflections, had he known it, were no shade less gloomy
than his own. Quick-brained, intuitive to a degree, the psychic
atmosphere of the place, combined with hints picked up here and there,
had shaken her assurance to its foundations. She could think of
nothing but Drayton's well-nigh certain failure and its inevitable
toll of disaster. She herself would then be the promised bride of a
man she instinctively loathed, while Drayton--but there she halted,
unable to contemplate the hideous fate which once more threatened.

Her reverie was interrupted by her brother. The Loveliest had
deserted him temporarily and was engaged with some of her friends
across the room. The two Trenmores conversed for some time
undisturbed; then Terry drew out his watch.

"Viola, it's 11:45 and Bobby is not yet back. Where can the lad be
lingering, do you think?"

Before the girl could reply, Loveliest hurried over to them.

"You must go out into the hall now, big man. You, too, my dear."

"Not without Mr. Drayton," stipulated Viola firmly. "He has not
returned!"

Loveliest frowned. "We certainly cannot wait for him! I warned him
to be back here by half past eleven."

"I'll go look for him," volunteered Trenmore; but Lady Green-eyes
checked him.

"I can send an officer if you really can't get along without him.
He is probably lost somewhere in the corridors. Here comes Mr. Justice
Supreme. I told you it was late!"

A green baize door at the end of the room had swung open. Through
it filed several men, all attired in the same frock coats, light
trousers, patent-leather pumps and spats which distinguished Mercy and
Virtue from the common herd. They also possessed similar silk hats,
and wore them, though they and the police were the only male persons
within the Temple with covered heads. The hats, evidently, were
further marks of distinction, like a bishop's miter or the splendid
crown of royalty.

Having passed through the door, they divided into two ranks, the
last man at the end on each side holding wide the two halves of the
door. There followed a pause, during which a solemn hush settled
throughout the Green Room.

Through the open doorway emerged the figure of a very old man. He
was bent, shaking, decrepit with a loathsome senility. His face was
shaven and his clothes the apotheosis of dandyism. His coat curved in
at the waist, his shoes were two mirrors, his hat another. He wore a
yellow chrysanthemum as a boutonniere, and from his eyeglasses
depended a broad black ribbon. His vest was of white flowered satin.
His hands were ungloved yellow claws, and in one of them he carried an
ivory-headed ebony cane. With the latter he felt his way like a blind
man, and supported himself in his slow and tremulous progress.

His face! It was lined and scarred by every vice of which Clever's
younger countenance had hinted. His pale-blue eyes, rheumy and red-
rimmed, blinked evilly above purple pouches. Over ragged yellow teeth
his mouth worked and snarled, as though mumbling a continuous, silent
curse against life and all mankind.

Looking neither to right nor left, he hobbled between the ranks of
the lesser Servants. Promptly, as he passed, they closed in behind and
followed him on and across the Green Room toward the door which led to
his great golden throne, set in the Hall of Justice.

And the people in the room bowed very reverently as he passed by--
bowed and looked relieved that he had gone without a word to them.

Staring fascinated, Viola and her brother were startled by a
whisper at their shoulders.

"Old J. S. has had a bad night. He looks grouchier than usual!"

It was the irrepressible Loveliest. "Come over to the window," she
continued as the door closed behind the last of the Servants. "I'll
tell you exactly who's who. You see that man helping His Supremity up
the steps of the dais? That is Mr. Courage, his right-hand man. And
just behind is Mr. Kindness. That short, thin one is Mr. Power; the
old fellow that drags one leg is Mr. Purity. Then come Mr. Pity, Mr.
Contentment, and Mr. Love. And there goes good old Virty, looking as
if his last friend had died; just because Mercy cut him, I suppose,
and he blames me for it. But they're all alike--they never think of
any one but themselves. I suppose Merry is sulking somewhere, too.

"Those are all the Servants who are here to-day. There are twelve
altogether. And now you really must go to your places. I've sent a man
to look for your friend and I'll have him brought out to you as soon
as he is found. I have to stay here with the other Superlatives until
my place is called; but of course that is merely a formality. The only
candidates up are yourselves, and that boy the Numbers are trying to
wedge in as Musical Director. Here, Fifty-three," she addressed their
old acquaintance, the police sergeant, "look after my friends, will
you? Well the nerve of him! Will you look at Clever? He's gone right
up on the dais with the Servants! I don't care if Mr. J. S. is his
uncle, Clever has no right to push himself forward like that--not
while he's holding a Superlative office!"

She was still talking as they left her, but so obviously to
herself that they felt guilty of no discourtesy. Following Sergeant
Fifty-three, they were led to a place at one side of the roped-off
enclosure. No one else was there, save a slim, graceful boy of about
nineteen or twenty. This was the Numbers' candidate for Musical
Director. He was plainly, though not shabbily dressed, and his face
was of such unusual beauty that Viola was really startled. As she said
afterward, that face was the first thing she had seen in the city
which reminded her that somewhere still there really was a Heaven.



CHAPTER 15: THE JUSTICE OF PENN SERVICE



THE Supreme Servant had already seated himself on his throne of
gold. His virtuous subordinates occupied lesser seats to his right and
left, while the chairs on the pavement, at either side of the dais,
were by now pretty well filled, mostly by the womenfolk of the
Superlatives. The Numbers still waited in their silent, terrible
patience. When Mr. Justice Supreme took his seat they had knelt and
again risen, a feat only possible because it was done as one surging
motion. Here and there a cry or groan, quickly stifled, gave testimony
that, even so, the weaker folk must have suffered.

Between the candidates and the front ranks of the crowd ran the
enclosing plush rope. Against it, on the outside, the police guard had
now faced about toward the dais. None of the Numbers, save those
immediately behind the police, could hope to see what went on before
the dais. They could hear, however, and for that privilege they had
stood five hours, silent.

Trenmore glanced at his watch. It pointed to eleven fifty-nine.

And now Courage, whom the Loveliest had designated as Mr. Justice
Supreme's right-hand man, arose and walked to the front of the
platform. In his hands he held a document from which depended the red
ribbons of an official seal. Without a preliminary word the Servant
began reading:

"To all whom it may concern: Be it known by these presents that I,
Justice Supreme and Spiritual Director of the City of Philadelphia
under our dread lord, Penn, do hereby decree that upon the twenty-
third day of September, in the year twenty-one hundred and eighteen,
there shall be held in the sacred temple of Penn, beneath the Golden
Dome of Justice, a series of examinations by which--"

The document proceeded to enumerate the various offices for which
candidates might contest, related in detail the ghastly penalty of
failure, and concluded abruptly with the signature and seal of Mr.
Justice Supreme.

Mr. Courage--and Trenmore thought it must have required
considerable courage to read a document of that nature, with its
numerous references to "this democratic and blessed institution, the
bulwark of your liberties!"--finished and resumed his seat. There was
a moment's pause. Then Pity took the place of Courage on the platform.

"The first examination will be held in the superlative quality of
Kindness."

A short, stocky, heavily built man emerged from behind the dais
and took his place, standing fairly upon the eagle and dove symbol
that covered the pit. Either his features or his title, in Trenmore's
opinion, must be misleading. Those thin, cruel lips, narrow-set eyes,
and low, slightly protruding forehead indicated several possible
qualities; but benevolence was hardly of the number. As agreeably as
his facial limitations would permit, the gentleman smiled up toward
Mr. Pity.

"Is there any other candidate for this office?" droned the latter
in his high, singsong voice. "It entails the management and control,
under Penn Service, of the Bureau of Penn Charities for Philadelphia
and environing suburbs. Any candidate? There is no other candidate for
Kindest! Present incumbent of the office may retire."

Having reached this foregone conclusion, Pity returned Kindness'
smile, and the latter did retire, as far as the chairs at one side,
where he sat down beside a very fleshy, be-diamonded and prosperous
looking lady whom Viola remembered to be his wife.

Three other offices followed: the Wisest, appropriately
superintendent of the Board of Education; the Bravest, chief of the
Electrical Bureau; and Most Ingenious, this latter holding the curious
office of providing entertainment for the Servants of Penn themselves.
The holders of these positions came out one by one, stood upon the
fatal symbol, and retired, their right to superlativism unquestioned.

"The fifth quality upon my list is Sweetness of Voice. This office
carries with it the honor, duties, and emoluments of Director of Civic
Music."

Out to the eagle with assured tread waddled a mountain of flesh,
crowned by a head of flowing black hair which Svengali might have
envied, with a beard of astounding proportions, and somewhere between
hair and beard a pair of small, piglike eyes.

"Is there any candidate for this office?" droned the bored voice
of Mr. Pity. "Is there any other candidate for this--"

"Go on out there, boy," muttered Trenmore, giving the Numbers'
candidate a friendly push. As they waited, he, like Viola, had
conceived a strong sympathy for this solitary, youthful champion of
the despised Numbers.

"Go on out, boy! Go out and give 'em hell!" was the Irishman's
ambiguous encouragement.

The candidate, however, cast him a grateful glance, sensing the
spirit behind the words. As Mr. Pity uttered the third and last call
for candidates, the young man advanced boldly into the arena. He was
greeted by a low, thunderous mutter of applause, starting at the front
ranks of the crowd and spreading backward in a resonant wave. Mr.
Justice Supreme grasped the arms of his throne-like chair and half
arose.

"Silence!" he snarled. "Silence, my children! You are committing
sacrilege! Do you know the penalty?"

His answer was the silence he had commanded, and the faces in the
front rows went very white. Their vantage point was uncomfortably
close to the pit.

"Mr. Pity," muttered the old man, sinking back, "will you kindly
proceed?"

Bowing, the master of ceremonies turned once more to the
contestants.

"Candidate, what is your number, place of residence, employment,
and age? Answer in order, please, and speak clearly." He held a
fountain pen poised over the list in his hand.

"My number is 57403. My-my-I live at 709 Race Street." The boy's
clear tenor, faltering at first, grew firmer. "I am a carpenter's
apprentice. I was nineteen years old in June."

"Nineteen years and four months, odd." Mr. Pity wrote it down
forthwith. He capped his pen, replaced it in his vest pocket, and
smiled down upon the young carpenter with such a friendly look that
Viola's heart gave a leap. Perhaps, after all, the boy was to have a
fair chance.

"Very well, young man." In Mr. Pity's tone was a distinct note of
encouragement and approval. "If you have the best voice in
Philadelphia, now is the time to prove it. Sing your best. Don't be
afraid of hurting any one's feelings."

He smiled wickedly upon the fat man, who suddenly lost his
composure and glanced downward rather anxiously at the deadly trap
under his feet.

"As you know," continued Pity, "you must sing without notes or
accompaniment, as must your opponent. His Supremity is waiting. Penn,
the august, will decide through him this free and democratic contest!
Sing!"

There was a second's pause. Then the boy, standing above Death and
before the Throne of Justice, raised his clear young voice and sang.
His was a ballad of the people, unwritten, passed from mouth to mouth.
It redounded in rhymes of "love" and "dove," "thee," and "me." It was
sentiment--crass, vulgar, common sentiment--but the air had a certain
redeeming birdlike lilt.

The tenor rose to its final high note, held it, and died away. No.
57403 bowed, stepped back one pace, and folded his arms. His face was
flushed, alight, and his clear eyes looked fearlessly upward to his
judge. No cheering followed, but a great sigh rose from the Numbers--a
long, simultaneous exhalation, as if each man and woman had been
holding breath throughout that last high, sweet note.

"Very good!" exclaimed Mr. Pity, again smiling. "There might be
some criticism of your selection, but to give it is not in my
province. And now, having heard this high-voiced young candidate, let
us listen to his rival, our present esteemed musical director." He
bowed to the hairy mountain. "His Supremity is waiting. Penn, the
benevolent All-Father, will through him decide this contest. Sing!"

Straightway an aperture appeared in the black beard. White teeth
flashed. A burst of sound ascended to the golden dome and rebounded
therefrom, assaulting the ears of the multitude beneath. It was a
cannonade in bass; the roar of awakened hungry lions; the commingled
tumult of a hundred phonographs all playing bass records with rasping
needles--a song intensified past endurance by a gigantic sounding
board, and also--alas!--hopelessly off key. With an inaudible cry
Viola clapped her small hands over her music-loving ears. She saw
Sergeant 53 grinning at her, saw his lips move, but he might as well
have talked in a Kansas cyclone.

The roar crescendoed to a terrible disharmonic laugh. At last
Viola recognized the music he was murdering. Of all selections he had
chosen the "Serenade of Mephistopheles," from Counoud's "Faust," a
number demanding the most refined, sardonic, and genuinely superlative
of voices for an endurable rendering.

Before he ended, Viola was sure she must fall upon the porcelain
floor and writhe in anguish. Fortunately her powers of endurance were
greater than she believed possible. The final burst of demoniac mirth
died an awful death, and Viola's endurance received its reward.
Henceforth she could appreciate the bliss of silence.

Looking around, the girl half expected to see the audience flat,
like a field of wheat after a wind storm; but though even the
policemen wore a somewhat chastened appearance, they still stood. She
glanced toward the dais. Mr. Pity, with a pained, faraway expression,
was scribbling at his list. Mr. Justice Supreme opened his eyes with a
start, like a man unexpectedly relieved from torment. He snarled
incoherently and flapped a yellow hand at Mr. Pity. The bull of Basban
stood his ground, his eyes blinking, his beard once more a dark,
unbroken jungle. As the two Trenmores learned later, his complacence
was not without foundation. His wife was a third cousin of Mr. Justice
Supreme, and he himself was distantly connected with the family of Mr.
Purity, of the dragging leg.

The master of ceremonies lifted up his own thin, piercing voice,
like the piping of a reed after the bellow of thunders.

"Sir, His Supremity thanks you for your wonderful rendering of-er-
sound." He turned to the throne. "Mr. Justice Supreme, the contestants
in all humility submit their respective merits to the high decision of
our lord and father, Penn!"

The old dandy dragged himself to his feet. The audience was more
than hushed; it wasn't even breathing now. No. 57403 cast a pitying
glance at the bearded mountain and fearlessly eyed his judge.

"Children of Penn," began that snarling, senile voice, "in due
legal and sacred form two contestants have striven before the father
and protector of us all. One is young. He should have further
perfected his attainments before presuming to air them in this sacred
Hall. Yet his very youth excuses him, and Penn the All-Father is
merciful. He can forgive even presumption. For the magnificent bass
voice which we have just been privileged to--hm!--enjoy, in a
rendering of the work of a great composer, so exalted above the
paltry, sentimental balderdash of the other contestant--I-I--words
fail me!"

Mr. Justice Supreme glared down at the contestant he was praising
with eyes so malevolent that the mountain actually cringed--if a
mountain can be said to cringe.

"The decision of Penn," snarled Mr. Justice Supreme, "is that No.
57403 be dropped into the Pit of the Past. Mercy may extend to his
immortal soul, but not to his presumptuous body! And the present
musical director will continue in office."

Dropping back on his throne with a gasp of exhaustion, he
recovered sufficiently to rasp out: "Go! And Penn bless you!" to the
victorious contestant.

Then, with the air of one who has got through a tedious but
necessary duty, he let his ancient, villainous body relax and his
bleared eyes close.

The mountain removed itself with suspicious alacrity. If the look
in its porcine eyes went for anything, that musical director valued
the "blessing of Penn" less than the permission to vacate an
unexpectedly dangerous neighborhood.

But for poor No. 57403 no such retreat was possible. For an
instant he seemed unable to believe his ears. He reddened and glanced
uneasily about, as if to question others of this injustice, this
incredible decision. Then the color faded, he drew himself to his
slender height and bowed to the condemning judge with a dignity worthy
of some classic young Greek.

Viola clutched at Terry's arm in frantic appeal, but one mightier
even than Terence Trenmore was present there--a giant crushed,
betrayed, bound down in fetters of ignorance; but a giant none the
less. A low growl was the first intimation that he had awakened. It
was the voice of the Numbers; a warning protest against this blackest
wrong. They surged forward. It was a little motion--half a step--but
before it the police were crushed irresistibly back against the plush
rope. Alarmed, they faced about with threatening clubs. The eyes of
the enthroned figure on the dais snapped open.

"Silence!" he snarled. "Guard, open the pit!"

A crouching, striped form stole forth, leaned over the Dove, and
the symbol dropped. But the young man did not drop with it as
ordained. He had, quite instinctively and naturally, stepped backward
from the danger.

"In with him!"

"No-no-no!" This time it was a roaring negative from hundreds of
throats. Heedless now of sacrilege, the Numbers again surged. The
plush rope stretched and broke. In an instant clubs were rising and
falling desperately. The police might as well have attempted to dam
Niagara with a toothpick. A few Numbers in the front ranks went down,
it is true, but over their bodies came their fellows, pushed
irresistibly by the mass behind.

The former enclosure disappeared. A series of piercing shrieks cut
the uproar like knife stabs. They came from below, and Viola,
shuddering in her brother's arm, knew that some unfortunate had been
pushed into the Pit of the Past.

Mr. Pity, finding himself confronted by a myriad of upturned,
glaring eyes, retreated precipitately. But the dais was not stormed--
not yet. Too many years of ground-in teaching, too thorough a dread of
the awful power of Penn Service held them back.

"Go to it--go to it, boys!" yelled Trenmore, holding Viola in one
arm and shaking his other fist excitedly. "Down with the murdering
hounds! Scrape the platform like a dirty dish!"

His great voice merged indistinguishably with the swelling roar
beneath the echoing dome. The police were down, or helplessly packed
in. One more surge and the wave would have broken over the platform,
performing the very feat suggested by Trenmore. But in that fatal
instant of superstitious hesitance the blare of a bugle rang high
above the din. It was followed by a rattling, crashing sound, mingled
with shrieks, screams, and horrible, echoing sounds of pain and fear
unutterable.

Turning its eyes from the dais, the mob knew that its moment of
power was past. Each one of those colored panels in the walls,
enameled with the figures of strange gods or demons, had slid to one
side. Each had hidden the muzzle of a machine gun. Three of them were
already in action, spitting curses that killed. There were women and
even babies there, but what cared Penn Service for that? They were
merely Numbers. And Numbers in revolt must be crushed--massacred if
need be.

The growl of the giant was transmuted into frantic prayer. Those
close to the dais flung themselves on their knees and stretched
supplicating hands toward the throne they had all but overturned.

A moment Mr. Justice Supreme waited, while the guns still spat and
swore. Then both his hands went up, palms outward. The crashing rattle
ceased. Only the prayers and shrieks continued, increased, and echoed
from the Dome of Justice to the wail of a great city, sacked and full
of bloody wrongs.

Again the old man raised his yellow, skinny hands, this time with
a silencing, pacifying gesture, and silence followed, spreading from
before the dais as the first growl had spread. Even the wounded, so
great is the power of life-long submission, ceased presently to
shriek. Only the occasional wail of some infant, too young to
recognize the supremacy of ruthless force, broke the ghastly quiet.

"My children," began the High Priest of Evil, "you have sinned
grievously." The excitement had invigorated and ennobled his voice, so
that it was no longer a snarl, but a dreadful threat. "You have been
punished a little," he cried. "Beware lest the great and tender
patience of Penn be strained to breaking and you be punished past any
power to remedy!"

He pointed solemnly upward at the Red Bell. A shivering groan
swept the hall.

"You have broken the sacred silence. Beware that it be not broken
by a voice more awful! Beware that it be not broken by a tongue at
whose speaking you and your sons and your daughters, your women and
your men, shall fall into the ignoble dust from which you sprang!
Ungrateful Children of Penn, gather up your wounded and your dead.
Depart from this temple which you have desecrated. Go home, and on
your knees thank the old and faithful servant who intercedes for you--
even you, the graceless children of a kind and merciful father! But
first yield up the body of that young man whose vanity and presumption
have caused your sorrow and his. Yield him, I say! Where is he?"

Mr. Justice Supreme actually tottered forward to the platform
edge. Like a bloodthirsty old ferret, questing some particular tender
rabbit, he scanned the faces nearest him. The crowd gave back. Here
and there the head and blue shoulders of a policeman bobbed into view.
But No. 57403 was not produced.

"Give him up!" yelled the old man. Dignity forgotten, he
brandished his ebony cane like a sword. "Yield him up, you--whoever is
concealing him! Or the guns shall talk to you!"

He was answered by a low mutter, then silence. The Numbers stood
with set, dogged faces, staring back at their oppressor.

Trenmore gave Viola a sudden squeeze. "Powers o' darkness!" he
whispered exultantly. "The pups have the makings of men in them, after
all! They'll not give him up, their sweet-voiced lad. They'll die by
the guns, men, women, and babes, but--"

"Surrender him!" The high priest's voice crackled ominously. "I'll
give you while I count three. One-two-th-ree! Oh, very well there!"

His right hand started slowly up, palm out. A second more and the
guns would resume their devilish chatter. There came a swirl in the
crowd, a struggle, and out into the little open area by the pit sprang
the singer, disheveled but triumphant.

"Don't shoot!" he cried. "Don't shoot! Friends, I thank you for
everything--what you wished for me, what you have given, and what you
would give if I would let you! But you," he turned upon Justice
Supreme with the look and face of a deathless young god, unfearing and
scornful, "you I do not even hate! You poor wreck of what was one time
a man, you are already dead and damned in the rottenness of your vile
body and viler spirit! If you are the servant of Penn, then I am his
enemy. I go to tell him so!"

And before any man could stir a hand the boy had dived, head
foremost, into the pit.

A moaning sigh rose, echoed, and fell. Those nearest the pit
turned aside and covered their ears with their hands; but the shriek
they dreaded never came. Presently one of the pit guard, lurking out
of sight behind the dais, sneaked cautiously around, crept to the pit,
and looked down. Then he raised his eyes to the purple, raging face of
Mr. Justice Supreme. The high priest made a gesture with his cane. A
moment later and the eagle and dove symbol swung into place again.



CHAPTER 16: DISASTER



IN barely thirty minutes the hall was emptied, cleansed of blood
and debris, and the ceremony of the "examinations" resumed.

Mr. Justice Supreme had waited, dozing, on his throne. The lesser
servants perforce waited also, albeit impatiently and with much
glancing at watches and sotto voce complaint about the delay.

Sad, silent, and defeated, the Numbers had retired, bearing with
them their injured and their dead. When the hall was at last cleared
the lovely, milk-white pavement resembled more nearly the pit of a
slaughter house than the floor of a temple. It was smeared and slimy
with trampled blood, fragments of clothing, and other fragments less
pleasant to contemplate. The temple force of "white wings," however,
made short work of it. They dragged out a few lengths of hose, turned
on a powerful water pressure and in less than five minutes the blood
and debris were washed down three drains to which the pavement
imperceptibly sloped. The wet floor gleamed whiter than ever, and the
Red Bell and wonderful walls were reflected with redoubled glory. A
corps of scrubwomen went to work on hands and knees to dry and polish
the cleansed floor, while Mr. Pity, with a final glance at his watch,
again rose and advanced to the platform edge.

"The next superlative quality on my list," droned the master of
ceremonies, disregarding the fact that he addressed only the bent
backs of five inattentive scrubwomen, "is that of Quickest. This
office entails management and control, under Penn Service, of the
Department of Police, involving responsibility for the keeping of
peace in Philadelphia and outlying suburbs."

A slim, alert-looking man of about forty-five advanced to the pit.

"Is there any other candidate for this office? Any other
candidate?"

Came the click of hurrying heels, and round the dais appeared a
small, rotund figure, surmounted by a cherubic but troubled
countenance. Trenmore growled disappointedly. He had hoped for
Drayton, not Bertram. What misadventure was keeping his friend away?

Bertram came up just as the master of ceremonies commenced his
stereotyped conclusion: "No other candidate for this office. Present
holder may--"

"Wait a minute there!" cried Trenmore, and thrust Bertram forward.
"Go on--go on in, you fat rascal!" he added in a forceful whisper.
"Here's the contest for Quickest now. You've not quite missed it. Go
on!"

Though Bertram struggled vainly to face about, the Irishman still
pushed him forward. He was not wasting such an opportunity to delay
the proceedings in his absent friend's interest.

"I-I've changed my mind!" the burglar protested.

"Are we to understand," cut in Mr. Pity, "that this person does or
does not wish to compete? Just a minute, chief. I don't know whether
or not you have a rival."

"Certainly not!" spluttered Bertram.

"Certainly he does!" Trenmore's affirmative drowned out the
burglar's plaintive negative. "If you don't," he added in his victim's
ear, "I'll wring the round head off you!"

Mr. Arnold Bertram succumbed. Between two dangers, he chose the
pit.

"Very well, y'r honor," he stammered. "I-I guess I'll have a go at
it."

"Come forward then," snapped the master of ceremonies impatiently.
"What is your number, place of residence, occupation, and age? Answer
in order and speak clearly, please."

"My-Say, I ain't got no number."

"What?" Pity glanced frowningly at Bertram's lapel, and saw the
green button with which Loveliest had supplied him. "With whose family
are you connected?"

Just then Cleverest, who had been sitting quietly among the
servants, rose and strolled to the front. He looked Bertram over; then
turned to the throne.

"Your Supremity, this is one of those four strangers of whom you
are already informed. Is it permitted that the usual questions be
omitted?"

Both Mr. Pity and the Superlative seemed to interpret the
inarticulate snarl which replied as assent. The latter gentleman,
after giving Viola an encouraging smirk, sauntered back to his seat.

"Very well," said Pity. "But I must call you something you know.
Haven't you any title?"

"Me name's Bertram," conceded the burglar.

"Well-er-Bertram, you now have an opportunity to prove yourself
the quickest man in the city. Bring around that machine there."

At the word a thing like a penny-in-the-slot scales were trundled
over the porcelain by two pit guards. They brought it to a halt just
before Mr. Pity. Following it came Mr. Virtue, who drew the chief of
police aside, whispered earnestly to him, and stepped back.
Suspiciously Bertram eyed the contrivance, with its platform and large
dial.

"Now, Bertram, place yourself on that platform and grasp the lever
at the right. That's it. Now. Raise your left hand and snap finger and
thumb nine times!"

With a dazed look the burglar obeyed. The needle on the dial
jerked, swept around once, quivered, and stopped. By the servant's
instructions, Bertram performed a number of similar feats, all equally
trivial. Each time the needle made its mysterious record. At last Mr.
Pity seemed satisfied.

"Very good. Mr. Virtue, would you mind making a note of that
percentage? You may step off, Bertram."

Still dazed, Bertram again obeyed.

"You next, chief. Thank you."

The mysterious rites of the grasped lever and foolish-looking
calisthenics were repeated.

"What is the comparison, Mr. Virtue?"

The servant figured for a moment on the back of an envelope.

"Ninety-eight for friend Bertram; ninety-five for the chief.
Congratulations to you, my man! Sorry, chief. I fear you're getting
old!"

The alert man who had been so unceremoniously superseded stepped
off the little platform. He did not look particularly concerned,
thought Trenmore--not at all like a man condemned to lose both means
of living and life.

"It's all in the game, Mr. Virtue," he observed cheerfully. "Tell
the boys to send lilies of the valley. When's the funeral?"

"Some other time, chief," retorted Virtue with equal jocosity.
"The pit is not working right to-day."

"The cheerful liar!" muttered Trenmore. "Now tell me, Viola,
what's the meaning of yonder small comedy?"

The girl, white-lipped and sick at heart, laughed mirthlessly.
"What does it matter? At least, neither Bertram nor the other is to be
murdered. Terry, if Mr. Drayton does not return soon, what shall we do
when our time comes?"

"He will return--he must--but now what's wrong with the little
round man?"

It was evident that Bertram was in a difficulty of some sort. The
displaced chief of police had him firmly by the collar. Mr. Virtue was
glaring at him with an expression of incredulous wrath, while
Cleverest strode toward them, anxiety in every line of his sharp
features.

Terence and Viola were at that time unable to understand the
disgrace of Bertram and his immediately subsequent condemnation. It
appeared only that during their three minutes' conversation with one
another the burglar had committed some act so unpardonable that even
the intercession of Cleverest did not avail him. Apparently the act
had been witnessed by every one present save the two remaining
candidates. The accusation was not even formulated in words.

"In three hours' time let him be cast into the pit," came the
inexorable judgment from the throne. "Let him have that three hours to
consider and repent of his sacrilege. Penn is just and all-merciful.
Take the prisoner away! Let the former chief resume his official
duties."

The chief celebrated his rehabilitation by dragging his
presumptuous successor off the scene, the latter still sputtering and
expostulating, his captor wearing an expression of serene amusement.

"What next?" questioned Viola hopelessly.

The next arrived with great promptness. Mr. Pity had no more than
glanced at his list, after the prisoner's removal, when there came the
tramp of feet and the sound of an excited voice.

"Bring him along, men," it commanded. "Drag the sacrilegious beast
before the throne! Let his Supremity judge the dog!"

Then appeared the triumphant Mr. Mercy, waving on a cohort of four
policemen. In their midst was another and much disheveled prisoner.

"'Tis Bobby!" groaned the Irishman.

Loveliest appeared, crossed behind the guarded prisoner, and
defiantly took her stand beside Trenmore. Evidently the downfall of
two of her four proteges had alarmed the woman. As much occasion for
formality had vanished with the Numbers' exit, she had chanced the
anger of the throne and come to her "big man's" assistance. Once more
Mr. Justice Supreme was roused from somnolence.

"Well, well," he demanded crossly of Mercy. "What's all this
about? Are we never to have a moment's peace to finish these
examinations? Who is that fellow you have there?"

Mr. Mercy bowed gracefully, silk hat for once removed and pressed
to his triumphant bosom. He cast one glance of joyous malice at
Loveliest, and addressed the throne:

"Your Supremity, I have a well-nigh unbelievable charge to lay
against this prisoner. Because of the magnitude, the incredible
audacity of his crime, and because one--I might say two--of our own
number have actually stood his sponsor--because of these things, I
say, I have presumed to interrupt the proceedings of this Board of
Examiners in the full faith that--"

"Get to the point--get to the point, man," cut in the high priest
petulantly. "What has be done?"

Again Mercy bowed. "Your Supremity, to waste no words, this mad
and audacious stranger, this insolent abuser of Your Supremity's
hospitality, who now faces the very throne with such brazen
effrontery--"

"Well-well? Mr. Mercy, if you can't tell it, step aside, please,
and allow me to question the prisoner himself!"

"He has invaded the holy Library of Penn," retorted Mercy, "and
perused the sacred books!"

There was a general movement of interest among the bored servants.
Several of the women auditors rose from their chairs and walked
forward to obtain a better view of the prisoner. Even His Supremity
was aroused. His face purpled with a rage greater than that awakened
by the presumptuous Numbers, his mouth worked horribly, and it was
some moments before he could sufficiently control his voice to speak.
"How do you know this?" he at last enunciated hoarsely.

"Because I caught him at it," replied Mercy unguardedly.

"You? You found him? What were you doing in the library?"

Mr. Mercy started and gasped at the trap in which he had caught
himself. "Why-I-I was passing by and the door was open. I looked in
and--and--"

"Your Supremity, have I permission to speak?"

The interrupter was one of the police officers holding Drayton.
Mercy turned upon him with furious face, but Justice Supreme waved him
to silence. "You may speak, Forty-five. Mr. Mercy, I am conducting
this inquiry. Kindly refrain from intimidating the witness."

"Your Supremity, two hours ago or thereabouts, Mr. Mercy come to
me and says 'Forty-five, is the door of the library locked to-day?' I
says, no, I thought not, as Your Supremity had been in there reading.
On days when you cared to read, you very seldom kept it locked. No one
would ever dare go in there, anyway. Then he says--"

"Wait a minute!" came a voice of repressed fury from the throne.
"Mr. Pity, will you take this down, please?"

Pity drew forth his fountain pen and a small blank book. He began
to scribble furiously.

"'Your Supremity,' he says then, 'is the door actually open?' I
didn't believe so, but I walked over into Corridor 27 just to have a
look. Of course the door was shut. Mr. Mercy, he followed right along
behind. 'If I were you,' he says, 'I'd open that door and turn on the
fan at the end of the corridor. His Supremity was complaining to me it
was that stifling in the library it pretty near made him sick.' Well,
I thought it was a queer thing Your Supremity hadn't spoke to me if
you wished the room ventilated. But Mr. Mercy, being one of the Inner
Order, and of such high authority--"

"I understand," snapped the high priest. "Get on. You opened it?"

"I did, Your Supremity, with Mr. Mercy looking on. Then I went to
turn on the fan, and Mr. Mercy strolled off. Without meaning to spy on
him, I followed. My rubber soles don't make much noise, of course, and
I guess he didn't hear me. He went around a corner. Just before I
reached it myself I heard him speaking. Thinking he would blame me if
he thought I was spying on him, I stopped where I was. He was talking
to this prisoner here, as I found out later. First he says, 'Were you
looking for some one, Mr. Drayton?' The prisoner, he says no; he was
merely strolling around and got lost and can't find his way back to
the Green Room. 'I'll take you there myself,' says Mr. Mercy. 'But
have you seen the library?'"

At this a sort of gasp came from Mercy. He staggered slightly
where he stood. He dared not interrupt, however, and the policeman
continued.

"This Mr. Drayton says, no, he ain't saw it, but he'd be real glad
to--in fact, there wasn't anything much he'd rather see. So Mr. Mercy
says, 'You go on around that corner straight along the corridor and
you'll come to it. The door is open and you can go right in.' This Mr.
Drayton says he's understood strangers was not allowed in there. Mr.
Mercy says, 'Oh, you're as good as a Superlative already. This library
is open to officials.'

"The gentleman thanked him and come on around the corner and past
me, but Mr. Mercy he goes the other way."

Mr. Justice Supreme interrupted, "Why did you not stop this man?
Do you mean you allowed him to enter without any protest?"

"I did, Your Supremity. Mr. Mercy is my superior, sir, and while I
intended reporting to Your Supremity--as I am doing now--it wasn't for
me to interfere with his commands or permissions. The stranger, he
went in the library. I stuck around, thinking I'd keep my eye on him,
at least, to see that he didn't remove none of the books. That would
be going it a little too strong. But he stayed and stayed. Once or
twice I strolled by, and there he was, reading for all he was worth.

"Then, a while ago, Mr. Mercy comes hurrying along again. He stops
short, like he was surprised. 'Haven't you got that door shut yet?' he
snaps at me. Before I could answer he runs to the door, looks in, and
shouts, 'What's that fellow doing in there? Forty-five, go in there
and get that man! Did you know he was there?' Before I had a chance to
say anything he blows his whistle. Twenty-seven and Seventy-nine comes
on the run. Sixty-three got there later. We go in and grab this Mr.
Drayton. He seems surprised like, and starts to say something about
Mr. Mercy telling him to go right in and read. Mr. Mercy tells him to
shut up, if he don't want rough handling, and he shuts up. Then Mr.
Mercy orders us to bring the man here. That's all I have to say, Your
Supremity. If I have taken a liberty in reporting just at this time--"

"Don't be a fool," snarled His Supremity. "You are about the only
honest man on the force and the one man I have never caught in a lie.
Mr. Mercy, have you any defense?"

"Simply that this is a fabrication on the part of No. 45," drawled
Mercy. Having passed through the various stages of rage, surprise, and
fear, he had emerged in a mood of dangerous calm. "I had occasion to
discipline the fellow recently. This, I presume, is his revenge."

Mr. Justice Supreme glared at him. His next words showed that
while the servants as a body might be "Masters of the City," Mr.
Justice Supreme was in turn their very arbitrary tyrant. Whether he
held this power because of his own malignant personality, or because
of hereditary authority, it was power absolute. No. 45 had made no
mistake when he braved the certain wrath of Mr. Mercy and thereby
gained the favor of His Supremity.

"Mr. Mercy," said the latter with snarling bluntness, "you are a
liar and No. 45 is not! Again and again you have recently overstepped
the mark, thinking, perhaps, that I have no eyes and no ears but my
own, and that they are growing defective with old age. We will go into
your case fully at a more appropriate time and try to correct that
impression. You will find that the exposing of state secrets to help
along some petty intrigue of your own is not the light offense you
appear to believe it.

"Let this prisoner be held as a witness--no, I do not care to have
him held. One who has desecrated the realm of sacred knowledge cannot
die too quickly. Cast him into the pit!"

A trifle pale, but entirely self-possessed, Drayton had stood
silent. Even now, hearing that by-this-time monotonous decree, be made
no attempt to defend himself. Indeed he found composure for a certain
whimsical reflection. Twice before he had been condemned to the pit--
once, two days ago, by Judge Virtue, in this very temple; once, in a
distant place and age, before a tribunal whose proceedings, though
less promptly fatal, were strangely similar in spirit. And of the two,
Penn Service was the kindlier. Its condemned neither endured
imprisonment nor had time to suffer the bitterness of unjust disgrace.

Breaking from her brother's sustaining arm, Viola Trenmore pushed
her way between the police and caught Drayton's cold hand in hers.

"Mr. Justice Supreme," she called, "may I make an appeal?"

Drayton turned with a gesture of protest. "Viola," he said
earnestly, "go back to your brother. You can do nothing for me."

"And do you think we would let you die alone?" she whispered
fiercely.

Mr. Justice Supreme gazed down upon her, and as he looked his
loose old mouth spread in a ghastly smile. A gleam brightened his
lecherous old eyes.

"Are you the young lady who is destined to assume the title of
Loveliest? My nephew has spoken to me of you. He spoke very highly--
very highly indeed. My own eyes confirm his claims for your fitness.
Your examination is next on the list, I believe, and I assure you that
you need fear nothing from your rival. You will make many friends, my
child, and you must count me as one of the first."

At the words, Lady Green-eyes, standing by Trenmore, gasped and
turned very white beneath her rouge. Even before the high priest had
finished, however, her green eyes were flashing. A surge of real color
backed the artificial on her thin cheeks. With catlike quickness she
had comprehended the situation. As though he had grown suddenly
loathsome, she drew away from Trenmore.

"So!" she spat out. "You were planning to betray me, were you?
After all I have done for you, you meant to put that sly puss of a
sister of yours in my place! You were planning to have me thrown in
that very pit I saved you from such a little while ago! And I thought
you were honest. Because you were so big and strong I took you for a
real man! Bah! You are no better than the rest of these swine--you are
no better than Mercy or Clever or any of the others!"

Her voice had steadily risen until every eye in the hall was
focused upon them.

Trenmore could say nothing. His face was suffused by a deep,
burning flood of painful color. At this moment what had looked right
and just enough when Cleverest proposed it appeared in a different
light. No matter if the woman had planned a disagreeable future for
Viola, she had also unquestionably saved the girl from a choice
between death and dishonor; saved himself and Drayton from immediate
destruction.

What miasma of treachery existed in this ancient city that he, who
prided himself on his loyalty, had become so horribly infected?

Up went his head in that old gesture of defiant decision. He
strode to his sister's side, sweeping two policemen out of his way,
and flung an arm about Viola and his friend together.

"Your honor," he thundered, "that lady yonder is right! We have
been in danger of making ourselves no better than the Servants of
Penn, Heaven judge them for their sins and their murderings! No better
than your honor's self, and I take shame to admit it! But that is
over. We three want no favors. We want nothing at all from any of you,
save to go our way clean and straight. If you choose to murder us,
then we will go by way of that pit you're so infatuated with. Terence
Trenmore has been mad these two days past, but he's sane again now,
thank Heaven, and can speak for himself and his own!"

Viola drew a long breath, and stood up proudly between the two
men. She had meant making a desperate plea for Drayton's life, and if
that failed she had meant to die with him. But this was far better--
that they three go together, not forced, but proudly and avoiding
shame. From her eyes also the scales had been swept away. She knew now
that this ending had been inevitable--that she could never have stood
by and seen another woman, however hateful, murdered that she might go
safe.

The semi-amiable expression on the High Priest's face twisted back
to its habitual snarl. Cleverest stood glowering like a thundercloud.

"Nephew," said Mr. Justice Supreme, "your clemency and kindness
have been thrown away. Do you still wish to raise this girl to your
side?"

"Yes!" came the prompt reply. The trap mouth clicked shut on the
bare affirmative.

"You do?"

"I do, Your Supremity. As a personal favor, I ask that Miss
Trenmore be urged to speak for herself and that her brother be not yet
condemned. That woman whom we have tolerated too long as one of us has
insulted him so grossly that I cannot wonder at his taking umbrage. I
ask that she"--he leveled a thin forefinger at the indignant
Loveliest--"be removed beyond further power to poison with her venom,
and that this girl and her brother be given time to consider before
they hurl themselves to destruction. I even ask that you grant this
other stranger--this Drayton--reprieve that he may bid his friends
farewell. It cannot be that he would wish so young and lovely a girl
to share his fate. If he is a man he will urge his friends to accept
the life, wealth, and high honors which Penn Service can bestow. Your
Supremity, may I hope that my prayer is granted?"

The high priest bowed his head. It was clear that Cleverest had a
tremendous influence with his uncle and a hold on Penn Service far
stronger than was indicated by his official position.

"You ask a great deal, my boy, but you always did that. After all,
there can be no harm in granting your wish. The girl is too pretty to
be the bride of the old war god. If, however"--and his voice rose to
the shrill impatience of the aged--"if after due respite they still
refuse your kindness, then I decline to be troubled any further. If
they refuse they shall all die, and that green-eyed she-cat with them.
I'm tired of seeing the painted fool about."

"Take these three people away. Lock them all up together and let
them make up their minds once for all. At ten to-morrow morning they
may either die or accept. No great matter which. Hold that other man--
Bertram--for the same hour. Take them away! And now, Mr. Pity, there
are no further candidates. You may omit the rest of the proceedings. I
want my luncheon. I'm an old man, Clever, and all this excitement is
bad for my heart. If you ever had any consideration for anyone but
yourself--"

His snarling whine was shut from their ears as the three prisoners
passed into the Green Room, and the red door closed behind the last of
their guards.



CHAPTER 17: THEIR LAST CHANCE



WHEN Justice Supreme commanded that the former candidates for
Superlativism be "all locked up together," the police evidently
construed the command as including Bertram. It was into the bare,
steel-walled room where that rotund gentleman awaited his fate that
Trenmore, his sister, and Robert Drayton were presently escorted. They
were little surprised at this. What did amaze them was to find their
fellow victim not alone. Seated on the floor with his back to the
wall, he was engaged in earnest conversation with a small female
person, enthroned upon the only chair in the room. Moreover, the
latter was wagging an admonitory finger at Bertram as if delivering a
"curtain lecture" of the most approved domestic type.

The chair comprised the entire furnishing of the cell. There was
not even the moldy straw, without which no medieval dungeon was
complete. It might be merely a detention cell; or perhaps prisoners of
the Temple passed to their doom too swiftly to require sleeping
accommodations.

In costume Bertram's companion emulated the rainbow for color. Her
large hat was bright green, lined with pink. She wore an old rose silk
sweater over a soiled lace blouse, and crumpled blue linen skirt; her
hosiery was golden yellow, and her down-at-heel pumps had once been
very elegant green buckskins. As the door clanged shut behind the
newcomers, she turned upon them large inquiring eyes, whose size was
accentuated by the thinness of her face. Her complexion, however, was
as fine as Viola's own. The yellow button displayed upon her old-rose
lapel bore the number 23000.

Bertram's first expression of surprise changed to one of genuine
concern.

"Say, boss," he questioned Trenmore. "What's up? Did they frame
you, too? Or have you come to kiss your old college chump good-by?"

"We'll be saying good-by this day the way we'll be troubled with
no more farewells at all," retorted Trenmore grimly.

"Are you really in bad, all of you?"

"We are that. And who's the lady, Bertram?"

"A pal of mine," replied the burglar. Taking the small person's
hand, he forthwith presented her. "Skidoo, these here are the three
friends of mine I was telling you about. Miss Trenmore and Mr.
Trenmore and Mr. Drayton. Gents and lady, let me make you acquainted
with the brightest, best-hearted, prettiest kid in this bughouse burg.
Her Number is 23000, but that ain't no handle for a lady. I call her
Miss Skidoo."

His round face shone with such whole-hearted pride in the human
rainbow; he was so clearly assured of her cordial reception by any one
possessing brains and eyes that Viola, who had at first hung back a
trifle, extended her hand.

"We are very glad to meet you, Miss Skidoo," she said gravely,
"but sorry it has to be in such a place."

Terry's eyes were twinkling. He followed his sister's lead,
however, as did Drayton. "Any friend of Mr. Bertram's," Terry
contributed, "is bound to be most interesting. 'Tis charmed we all
are, Miss Skidoo!"

"Same here," responded No. 23000, eying them with a sort of
childlike solemnity. "Bert's been talking about you folks ever since I
met him. But, gee! The lookout's bad for this bunch, ain't it?"

"I fear it is about as bad as possible," sighed Viola. "At least
for four of us here."

"Count me in," announced the girl. "They drug me in, just for
comin' to the Temple with Bert. I ain't done nothin'."

"I couldn't help it," Bertram defended himself. "I wasn't going to
fall for the game, but Mr. Trenmore here, he says I must. Say, won't
you tell the kid that I didn't want to go in the game? She won't
believe anything I say."

The Irishman, somewhat conscience-stricken, hastened to assure No.
23000 that the blame for Bertram's downfall lay entirely on his
shoulders. "He appeared to have no desire at all for it, but I did not
and do not yet understand what happened."

"Aw, I didn't do anything to get sent up for," said the burglar
disgustedly. "I did cop a medal thing one of them guys was wearing on
his watch chain, but I was going to give it right back to him. That
weighing machine of theirs was a crazy way to test speed. I wanted to
show 'em what quick really meant. So I copped this medal thing off the
one they call Mr. Virtue. Then I flashed it, and was going to explain.
They didn't give me no chance. They just jumped on me and said I'd
been and done sacri-sacri-something or other, and that was all."

"They was just waitin' for a chance to land you," commented Miss
Skidoo wisely. "They didn't mean you should have that job really.
Sooner or later they'd have framed you. Say, folks, let's set on the
floor and fight this thing out right."

Acquiescing willingly enough, Terence and Viola between them
related the various events occurring between Drayton's departure from
the Green Room and his return in the custody of Mercy. The story of
cold-blooded cruelty, the hints of internecine warfare among the
Servants and Superlatives--united only against their common enemy, the
Numbers--was interesting and startling enough to call forth many
exclamations from Drayton and Bertram. Miss Skidoo, however, listened
with the bored look of one who hears an oft-told and wearisome tale.

"Say," she commented at the end, "a ordinary person like you or
us"--indicating herself and Bertram--"got no business mixing in with
that gang of highbinders. They're always layin' for each other an'
scrapping among themselves; but say, a snowball's got a better chance
in a bucket of hot water than a straight guy or a plain Number around
this joint. As I've been telling Bert here--"

"Pardon me," interrupted Drayton curiously, "but where did you
happen to meet Mr. Bertram?"

She flushed so red that Drayton wished he had not asked the
question. Catching the look in the lawyer's eye, Bertram bristled
instantly.

"Say," he blurted, "I want you to know that Miss Skidoo here is a
straight, nice kid. I was in a movie last night, and she was there
with her dad. I got talking to the old man. He says, come along and
get some home cooking; them hotels ain't no good. I stayed so late--
talkin' and playin' seven-up--that they let me bunk out in the spare
room. That's all. Straight, decent folks, just like there used to be,
even if they are tagged with numbers instead of proper monikers. Get
me?"

They got him. Drayton apologized silently with his eyes for the
equally unvoiced suspicion.

It seemed that Bertram had bragged to these chance acquaintances
of his pull with the Superlative, Cleverest. Miss Skidoo had warned
him earnestly against any attempt to supersede the chief of police, no
matter what his pull might be. The present Quickest, it seemed, like
the musical director and most of the other Superlatives, was a distant
connection of "Penn Service." She revealed to him many facts regarding
that "democratic institution," Superlativism--how every man of the
Superlatives, save Cleverest, held his job by pure favor, aided by the
pull he could exercise through family connections.

"Cleverest, he's a Servant by birth," the girl explained. "He only
took on that Superlative job because the next Justice Supreme can't be
chose from the Servants in office. He's the old man's nephew. When the
old man dies Cleverest will chuck the law and run this city. He was
aimin' to marry Loveliest because he wants to be high man anywhere he
is, and the Loveliest's husband, when she has one, is supposed to run
this town, outside of the Service. But I guess he meant to chuck her
as soon as the old man passes over.

"Them Servants, they keep the Service itself right in their own
families, father to son like. Only Mr. J. S. as is, he ain't got no
son. Say, me sister's a scrublady an' she's got a swell job scrubbin'
floors right here in the temple. Course, she don't get paid nothing,
but she's fed good, and as for clothes, the ladies round here gives
her a lot. That's how I get these glad rags I'm wearin'--from sis. But
I tell you a job like hers is great for gettin' wiser. Folks don't
take much more notice of a scrublady than if she was a chair or
sump'n. She's told me a lot o' things.

"Servants of Penn! Say, I reckon if that big image o' Penn could
get a peep at what goes on under his feet he'd jump right down on top
of the dome and smash the bell and everything else!"

The flow of her eloquence was interrupted by Drayton, who had been
listening with even greater interest than the others. "Tell me, Miss
Skidoo, have you or any of your friends an idea of who William Penn
really is, or rather was?"

"I don't know nothin' about that Will-thing. Penn is the All-
Father. He runs heaven and hell just like the Servants run us. I don't
believe in him no more. I think there ain't nothing but Philadelphia,
and when you die you stay dead?"

"Well, religion aside," said Drayton, "I myself have learned a
great deal since this morning. The Penn Service library was really
most informing. If its doors could be thrown open to the Numbers, I
believe they are men enough yet to overthrow this government of false
priests and their sycophants and come into their own. It would be
worth living, just to see it done." He sighed. "However, that is not
to be. We can help the sorrow of this age no more than we could cure
the grief of our own."

"Get on with it, Bobby," said Trenmore. "Sure, I've a load of
curiosity I'd hate to die burdened with!"

"I'll tell it as briefly as I can. There are big gaps in the story
as I collated it, but the general run is clear enough. I became so
absorbed that I forgot the time and the competitions and everything
else. Remember, this is their history.

"It seems that after the close of the World Wars there followed a
few years of respite. Then Communism had its way of Europe. Class war,
which spells social chaos, ensued.

"The U.S.A. very sensibly and hastily declined to be further
involved, but unfortunately did not stop there. The country had been
largely militarized; but this new European outbreak swung the
pacifists back into the saddle. You know the delirious possibilities
which may spring from the brain of a full-fledged pacifist. The
president then in office was a weakling, a dreamer, and completely
under the influence of a man named Andrew Power. I'll tell you more of
that later. Congress--I don't know what they were thinking of, but
they backed this sawdust president, or rather the man behind his
chair. According to the records, it appeared to all these wise rulers
that the only safety lay in complete severance of relations with mad-
dog Europe. So they severed them. They deliberately stopped all
traffic and communication between the United States and Europe. Later,
in logical sequence, they dropped communication with our nearest
neighbors, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America."

"Why, Mr. Drayton!" exclaimed Viola incredulously. "How could
they?"

"They did. I am telling you what I read in books and old
newspapers of those times. Now this man I spoke of, this Andrew Power,
who stood behind the presidential chair, seems to have been a sort of
sublimified madman. His personality was of the Napoleonic order raised
to the nth power. He was a madman, but he was a reasoning madman.
Taking the theories and work of the pacifists, he carried them to a
logical conclusion.

"The trouble with the world, he said, was that its communities,
its nations, had grown too bulky and unwieldy. He pointed to the case
of Switzerland, a small, therefore manageable, republic, with its
efficient, well-equipped army, its contented people and high rate of
wealth per capita. The United States was a republic, but it could
never be like that. It was too big. All the really big countries, he
said, were ill-balanced, ill-governed, and with a high percentage of
poor and unemployed. The ideal nation would consist of not over three
or four million souls, with a democratic government. It should be
completely isolated from the world in a space compelling it to keep
the population within that limit of three or four million. Each State
in the Union, he argued, was a potential ideal republic, given the
isolation which was apparently--but only apparently--impossible."

"But," cried Viola, her eyes wide and incredulous, "that was a
hundred times worse than the secession of the South from the North!"

"I have told you," replied Drayton wearily, "that this man was
mad. The whole world, I think, was mad. In this country, too,
Communism had been lifting its disorganizing clamor. The madman
carried the mad people with him. State by State, it seemed, they might
handle what was daily becoming more ungovernable. If some States were
rotten, let them rot alone; not infect the others. It was necessary to
redistribute the population, but that does not appear to have troubled
their maniacal energy. There were riots and battles. What sane people
remained objected strenuously to the whole scheme. But Power--this
Andrew Power, who stood behind the president--had the majority with
him. I think that many clever, wealthy men foresaw opportunities for
absolute despotism under open colors. At any rate, the scheme was
carried out, each State accepting a population within its powers to
feed."

"But that meant the end of civilization, the end of exchange!"
"Oh, they arranged for exchange of products in a limited degree, but
all other intercommunication, all exchange of ideas or moving about of
people from one State to another, was cut off under heavy penalty."

"Their coast line, man--their coast line?" broke in Trenmore.
"What was Europe doing then?"

"I don't know. The history of the world ends in that library with
the isolation of Pennsylvania. For all I know, the nations of Europe
may have emulated the Kilkenny cats and devoured one another, or
perhaps they are still fighting. Anyway, what these people call
'Philadelphia and its environing suburbs' really includes the whole of
Pennsylvania.

"They began here under a sort of commission government, but the
'contractor gang'--Philadelphia was always you know, peculiarly--"

He never told them, however, what it was that Philadelphia was
peculiar in. There came a sound at the door. The heavy bolts slid
back, and a man entered, partly closing the door behind him. The man
was Cleverest. For an instant he stood, arms folded, glaring
majestically upon them.

The captives rose and faced him with more or less composure. Had
the high priest's nephew come to announce an advance of execution or
to offer them further terms?

"You've stared long enough," said Trenmore brusquely. "What is it
you want with us?"

"A little fair and decent treatment perhaps," snapped Cleverest.
"Do you realize what a very unpleasant position you have placed me in?
Every man in the Temple is laughing at me behind his hand for standing
by a gang of beggars and getting insulted for my pains!"

Viola interposed quietly. "You are mistaken, sir. None of us has
ever said a word to or about you that could be construed as an
insult."

"Your brother meant to include me in his tirade addressed to my
uncle," the man retorted gloomily.

Terry eyed him in obstinate dislike. "You led me to forget my
honor, sir, and conspire against a woman. I'm not blaming you so much
as myself; but 'twas a dirty deal, and well you know it!"

"You were ready enough at the time," sneered Cleverest with more
truth than was pleasant. "However, matters are not yet too late to
mend. Your death won't help Loveliest now. My uncle has settled that
once for all. You've blundered and blundered until the best I can do
is to save you and your sister. Miss Trenmore"--he eyed the girl with
a coldly calculating eye--"I love you. I am offering you more than any
other man in this city could offer. I desire a beautiful and
accomplished wife, and you are better qualified than any one I have
met. If you marry me you will be not merely Loveliest, which is in one
sense an empty title, but the future Mrs. Justice Supreme!"

"Unless," replied Viola very coolly and not at all impressed, "you
should see fit to depose me before your uncle's death. You could do
that, couldn't you?"

His face expressed surprise, mingled with a kind of vulpine
admiration. "You knew all the time," he exclaimed with a laugh, "and
hid it from me! No danger, my dear. You play fair with me and I'll
stick to you. I've never seen a woman yet that could touch you for
looks, brains, or manner. As an added inducement, remember that I
offer your brother's life!"

Viola looked from Drayton to Terry and back again at Drayton.

"Terry!" she whispered at last. "I-I can't. Oh, forgive me, Terry!
Yes, I'll do it for you. But he must save Mr. Drayton, too!"

"You'll do no such thing!" stormed the Irishman. "I'd rather see
you dead, Viola, than wedded to that fox!"

"Don't consider me, Miss Viola," put in Drayton. "Save yourself if
you wish and can. But not--for Heaven's sake, not in that way--not for
my sake!"

The girl and the lawyer were looking into each other's eyes. The
faint rose of Viola's cheeks brightened to a livelier hue. Cleverest
saw, and jumped at the conclusion most natural to a born Servant of
Penn.

"Oh, is that it?" he demanded angrily. "Is this man your reason
for declining my offers? Perhaps I have been a bit hasty, after all.
The wife of Justice Supreme can have had no former lovers, dead or
living!"

Viola uttered a little, horrified cry. The pink flush became a
burning flood of color. Drayton sprang, but Terry was before him. One
second later the Superlative's body crashed against the steel wall of
the cell and dropped in a limp heap to the floor.

At the sound of his fall, the door was again flung open. The
occupants of the cell found themselves covered by four leveled rifle
barrels. Cleverest had not come here alone, and it looked as if the
guards were in a mood to fire upon them and clear the cell of life
forthwith. But finding, upon examination, that their superior was
merely stunned and had suffered no broken bones, they decided to leave
punishment to their masters. With many threats they retired, bearing
the insensible Cleverest with them.

"That settles it!" said Drayton. "Nobody can ever mistake your
feelings toward them, Terry!"

"I only wish that I'd killed him," growled the Irishman.

It was seven p.m., and they were beginning to wonder if Penn
Service wasted not even bread and water on condemned prisoners, when
the door bolts again clicked smoothly.

"Our supper at last!" commented Terry with satisfaction.

He was mistaken. No food-bearing jailer appeared, but the chief of
police himself, alert and smiling. Behind him the light glinted on a
dozen rifle barrels. They were taking no further chances, it appeared,
with the Trenmore temper.

"I have come to make a rather unpleasant announcement," began
Quickest. He spoke with quiet courtesy, but firmly and as one prepared
for an outbreak. "You were to have been passed to the All-Father in
the morning, I believe. His Supremity has instructed that the time be
advanced. Will you accompany me without resistance? If so, you may go
unfettered."



CHAPTER 18: THE SWORD AND THE BELL



IT was with a dull feeling of despair that Drayton, recovering
from the first momentary shock, heard Trenmore accept the chief's
condition for the freedom of their limbs.

"We'll go with you quietly, chief, to the very door of your bloody
slaughter-house. You've the word of Terence Trenmore for every one of
us."

And then Trenmore had looked from one to the other of his friends
with a fiery glance that commanded their obedience. He was first to
leave the cell, not even taking Viola's hand, which she stretched out
like a small child, brave but knowing its own helplessness.

Drayton went to her, and then, in the face of such near death he
did what he would not have permitted himself to do had fate been more
kind. He remembered that look in her eyes, before Terry had flung
Cleverest across the cell, and putting his arm about the little sister
of Trenmore, he drew her to him.

"Viola," he said, very softly and with a great, quiet tenderness,
"I love you, dear, so much that death with you is mere happiness!"

And she answered, "You are my world, Bobby Drayton! If death was
needed to show us this love, then death can never rob us of it!"

"Skidoo," said Bertram the burglar to the young lady he designated
by that name. "I guess our numbers are up. I meant right by you, kid,
and I'm darned sorry!"

"It ain't your fault," retorted Miss Skidoo, of the solemn,
childlike eyes. "I guess I got a right to die with a good, straight
guy like you!"

With ironical politeness, the chief of police broke in. "His
Supremity might be willing to wait if he knew how much sad romance is
going on here, but my own time is valuable. Two abreast, please--
that's right. You can continue your farewells as you walk. I guess I
can stand it! Twenty-nine, turn out that light before you close the
door."

In front, between two of the rifle-bearing guards, marched Terence
Trenmore. His dark, heavy face was sullen. His lids drooped over
narrowed, fire-blue eyes. When his guards brushed against him, in a
narrow passage, he shuddered away from them as one in mortal fear.
They laughed, and one of them murmured, "The bigger they are the
harder they fall, eh, Forty-nine?"

Having passed through two steel-lined corridors, the party of
guards and prisoners came presently to a stair, ascended one flight
and so reached the red marble passage of the administrative offices on
the southern side. Tramping along this, they passed the open door of
Mr. Virtue's darkened "courtroom," and came to the southern entrance
of the Hall of Justice.

Quickest, who was now in the lead, laid his hand on the door to
push it open. As he did so Trenmore, standing between his guards,
spoke for the first time since leaving the cell. "Chief, before we go
in I've a word for your ear alone."

The chief shook his head, smiling. "Sorry, but I have no time to
listen, my man." And he pushed at the door so that it opened a trifle.

"I'll say it aloud, then!" snapped Trenmore. "You can listen or
not as you please. I gave my promise just now that I'd come
unresisting to the very door of your slaughter pen. There is the door
and here am I to take my word back again!"

For all his bulk, Trenmore had the speed of a springing tiger. He
was on the chief before any one realized that he had begun to move. He
had swung that startled official before him with one arm about his
chest. His right hand dragged from the holster at his captive's side a
revolver of pleasantly efficient caliber. He clapped the muzzle to the
chief's head, behind the ear.

"Shoot now and be damned to you, you scum of the earth!" Trenmore
roared. "But the first finger that crooks at a trigger, I'll scatter
this scut's brains the way he'll be dead before any of us!"

Twelve astonished and dismayed guards stood agape, with rifles
half raised. After a moment two of them turned their weapons on
Drayton and Bertram. The other prisoners, however, as much taken by
surprise as the guards, were quiet enough.

The chief was quiet, too. He was helpless as in the grip of a
gorilla, and he could feel the cold nose of his own weapon nuzzling
behind his ear. He was not smiling now.

"You've a grain of sense after all," observed Trenmore
approvingly. "And now the chief and myself will be taking a bit of a
walk. Just don't interfere. And don't you harm the hair of a head of
one of my friends there--mind that now!"

He began sidling along the wall, still holding his human shield
before him. In a moment more he had regained the red corridor and
begun backing down it. After him came the guards. One of them, on a
sudden thought, dashed back to the golden door and through it.

"Your friend's gone for help," said Trenmore to the chief
conversationally. "He's a bright lad and I'd counsel you to advance
him. You need help the way you'd sell your mouse of a soul to get it;
don't you, my fine policeman? Don't you? Answer me, you scum!"

"Y-yes!" gasped the chief.

The breath was half squeezed out of him, and his feet stumbled and
dragged as he backed with his relentless captor along the corridor.
And still the guards followed, step for step, rifles half raised, and
in their midst the prisoners.

A minute and Trenmore had reached a break in the red wall. Beyond
it was a short flight of stairs. Terry backed around the corner. With
a little rush, the pursuing guard came after. They found him halfway
up the flight, still dragging their reluctant chief. He had reached
the landing at the top. Behind it was an arched doorway, of which the
heavy bronze doors stood open, fastened back flat to the wall.

Feeling with his foot for the floor catch, Trenmore found it and
trod down. The door, released, swung out a trifle. Standing to one
side and again feeling backward with his foot, Terry caught the edge
with his toe and gave the door a pull. It moved easily on well-oiled
hinges. Next instant, without once having turned his back on the
guard, he was able to get his shoulder behind the door and push it to.
The other door he treated in the same way, leaving an aperture
between.

Then, without warning and with lightning speed, he lowered the
gun, stooped, picked the chief up by the ankles and collar, gave him
one mighty swing and pitched him headlong down upon his allies.

The hurtling body struck two of the foremost, knocking them
backward. There were shouts, and somebody's rifle exploded
accidentally. Another guard fired intentionally toward the stair head.
But the space there was empty. The bullet splashed on the innocent
bronze nose of a cupid in bas-relief, flying across a door shut tight
and already bolted from the inside.

Trenmore, panting on the little balcony of the Threat of Penn,
congratulated himself that earlier in the day he had observed those
doors and those strangely placed inner bolts. Already men were banging
and shouting outside; but Trenmore only chuckled.

"They'll need dynamite for that little job," he murmured happily.
"I'm thinking the Servants put those doors there for just the purpose
they're now serving. Sword, you were made for the hand of a man, not
the grip of this cold metal thing!"

He was examining the bronze fist that held the great sword
upright. Though the heavy door shook and clanged to the besiegers'
futile blows, he was cool as if alone in the Temple. He had not yet
even glanced down into the Hall of Justice.

Across the knuckles of the Hand of Penn ran a tiny line, green-
edged with verdigris. It was a flaw, a crack in the age-old bronze.

His inspection completed, Trenmore sprang into action with the
sudden wholeheartedness which was a disconcerting factor in his make-
up. Throwing off his coat he removed a large handkerchief from the
pocket, wadded it in his right hand and grasped the blade high up.
Seizing the pommel in his left hand, slowly but with gathering force,
he twisted at the sword. It did not move. His white shirt stood out in
bulging lumps over his laboring shoulders. His face went dark red. The
purple veins rose and throbbed on a forehead beaded with great drops
of perspiration. He did not jerk or heave at the thing. He merely
twisted and the leverage was terrific.

There came a loud crack, like the report of a pistol. Within the
wall something dropped clanging, and the sword gave way so suddenly
that Trenmore was hurled to the floor. Picking himself up, he calmly
resumed his coat and stooped for the famous weapon. Not only had the
bronze hand fallen in two pieces, freeing the grip, but the whole
wrist had broken loose from the wall, leaving only a blank black hole.

Trenmore was not concerned for the mechanism so ruthlessly
shattered. He cared only for the shining prisoner he had released. He
raised it with both hands to the roughened grip. As he did so the
yellow light from the dome slid flamelike down the long blade. It was
a weight for any two ordinary men to carry; but the Irishman swung it
up and over his shoulder with hardly an effort.

"You're a heavy one, my beauty, and no mistake," he muttered.
"Even Terence Trenmore would not care to swing you many times
together. But that which you struck would never strike back, I'm
thinking."

And then at last, with the sword on his shoulder, he turned and
looked down from the railing. The blows on the door had ceased. He now
perceived the reason. Midway across the hall, with upturned faces and
raised rifles, waited every man of the prison guard he had so
successfully eluded. Trenmore's appearance was greeted with shouts and
a scattering volley. Unhurt but considerably startled, he skipped
back.

"Powers o' darkness!" he gasped. "I'm a fool or I'd have expected
it. And now what am I to do, will you tell me that, Sword of Battle?"

But the sword was silent.

He was safe where he now stood, for the balcony was high enough
and deep enough to be out of range from any place on the floor. And it
was made of metal too heavy for bullets to penetrate.

"They'll not use those machine guns," reflected Trenmore, "for
they couldn't and not hit the bell. But if they've the brains of a
rat--and they have just about that--they'll send riflemen up where the
guns are placed and pick me off like a cat on a wall. Before they do
that, we'll rush it, Sword o' Beauty. And if they fire on us after--
well, they'll hit their own bell, and that's a thing I don't think
they'll want. Now, then!"

Balancing the sword on his shoulder, he dashed at the rail and
vaulted to the narrow plank bridge left by the electricians. Though it
bent and swayed sickeningly under the double weight of Trenmore and
the huge sword, he ran its length as if it were a brick causeway. A
moment later he brought up clinging to the scaffold about the bell.
His speed had not averted another volley, but all the harm done was to
the golden carvings on the wall around the balcony.

"You're but poor marksmen," growled Trenmore between his teeth.
"You've a beautiful target now, though. The question is, will you dare
shoot at it?"

The guard scattered and spread out. Several men aimed at Trenmore
on the bell, but a sharp command caused them to lower their weapons.
The word came from none other than the chief himself, who now walked
to a place whence he could look up at Trenmore and Trenmore down at
him. If the chief's fall had injured him he showed no signs of it.

"Praise Heaven, your neck wasn't broke at all, chief," called the
Irishman cheerfully. "I was afeared for you so I could scarce do my
work; but I got me a pretty plaything for all that!"

That the chief might see, he raised the sword and balanced it in
his hands.

"Where-How did you get that?"

"From the Hand of Penn," came the Irishman's gay reply. "Sure, for
all he was a Quaker, Penn's the kind-hearted old gentleman that would
never withhold a weapon from a lad in a tight place!"

And he swung the sword about his head till it glittered like a
wheel of fire. "'Twill make a world o' noise when it strikes the bell.
Eh, my little policeman?"

"You must not--you dare not!" shrieked Quickest. The last shred of
his composure had dropped off like a torn cloak. He at least seemed to
share the superstition of the Numbers with regard to the old Threat of
Penn.

Trenmore, however, felt that he had given the police sufficient
attention. He was casting for bigger fish than they. Why had his bait
not yet been taken? The bell, scaffolding and all, swung alarmingly
against the electricians' tethering ropes; but Trenmore cautiously
made his way a step or so along the planking.

There was the dais, and before it yawned the pit, open again and
glaring upward like a red eye set in the milk-white floor. Close by,
under guard, stood his four companions watching the bell with anxious
eyes.

Drayton and Viola greeted Terry's appearance with a cheer and
waved their hands encouragingly. In response Terry raised the sword,
called a hearty greeting, and looked at the dais.

On the throne sat that decrepit, hateful figure, Mr. Justice
Supreme. There sat also every one of the Servants who had witnessed
the examinations, earlier in the day, including Mr. Mercy, looking
depressed but interested. Cleverest was there, too, standing beside
his uncle.

Then Trenmore spoke, with the great voice of an Angel of Doom.

"You devils below there!" he shouted. "Take heed to my words! I've
a warning to give you."

There came a deafening roar behind him. Glancing over his shoulder
he saw a billowing, greenish cloud issuing from the balcony. It
cleared slowly, revealing a pair of explosion-shattered doors, sagging
from their hinges. A crowd of his enemies poured through the aperture
and on to the balcony. At the rail, however, they paused, glaring
across at Trenmore.

"Sword o' Battle," he murmured softly, "do you not wish they may
try to cross on our bridge? Do you not hope it, little sword?"

Between his men the Quickest pushed his way to the railing. He had
secured another revolver and he leveled it at Trenmore. "Surrender, my
man, or you'll be shot where you stand!" came his terse command.

"Surrender is it? And why don't you shoot me, then? Sure, am I not
a condemned man, chief, darling?"

"His Supremity has instructed me to grant you a reprieve if you
will surrender. There has already been damage enough done."

Said Trenmore, "I'll wager my life against your marksmanship,
chief. Shoot now! And see if you can kill Terence Trenmore before he
can strike the bell!" Once more he heaved up the sword.

The chief turned pale and lowered his own weapon. "You are a
madman!" he shouted. "Strike that bell and your friends and you will
perish with the rest of us!"

"A quick death and a happy one! In dying we'll rid the earth of
its worst scum, if all they say is true. No, no, little man. I'll not
come over to you. And if you shoot, you'll strike the bell yourself in
a small way--or cause me to do it in earnest. I've no time to be
exchanging pleasantries. I'll just guard my back and go on with my
business."

He brought the sword crashing down on the frail bridge. With a
splintering sound it broke loose. Trenmore's end fell to the floor,
carrying with it some of the scaffolding. Trenmore barely saved
himself from going down. Regaining his footing neatly, he waved a hand
at the furious chief and climbed around the bell to a place where it
partly shielded him from the balcony. Thence he could face his more
important enemies on the dais.

"You'll pardon me," he shouted. "There was a small interruption.
Now, tell me, you old scoundrel on the throne there, have I the upper
hand, or have I not?"



CHAPTER 19: TRENMORE STRIKES



IT was Cleverest who replied, scornfully and with no sign of fear.

"You fool," he cried, "strike the bell if you like. Do you think
we care for that? We are waiting for you to be brought down here to
die with these other vermin!"

"And is that the way you regard it?" inquired Trenmore with a
laugh, but his heart sank. He was bluffing on a large and glorious
scale, and if the bluff was to be called, he might as well leap from
his place and be done with it. However, the Irishman was a firm
believer in the motto: Fight to a finish whatever the odds! "Then I'll
strike and settle the matter," he added defiantly.

Just beyond where he stood, the Red Bell was naked of scaffolding.
He swung up the sword for a great blow. But there was at least one man
in the hall whose faith was equal to that of the Numbers themselves.
That man was Mr. Justice Supreme, High Servant of Penn.

As the sword flashed up, the old man leaped from his chair. With
galvanic energy and upraised, clawlike hands, he stumbled to the edge
of the dais. "No, no, no!" he shrieked. "Don't strike! For mercy's
sake don't strike the bell; don't strike--"

The words died on his lips. The yellow claws clutched at his heart
and he flung back his head, mouth open. As his knees sagged under him,
Cleverest barely saved his uncle from falling to the pavement below.
Holding the limp form in his arms, he felt for the old man's heart.
Then be laid him down on the dais and turned to the Servants.

"Gentlemen," he said very solemnly. "Mr. Justice Supreme has
passed to the arms of Penn!"

Every man on the platform rose and gravely removed his high hat;
then, with the utmost tranquility, reseated himself. Full tribute to
the dead having been rendered, business might proceed as before.

Cleverest turned again and shook his fist at Trenmore. "It is you
who have done this!" he cried. "It is you who shall pay for it!
Gentlemen"--he whirled to his seated fellows--"have you any
objection--any fear of this world or the next--which causes you to
dread the striking of that bell?"

They all smiled. One or two laughed outright. Mr. Pity arose in
his place. "Mr. Justice Supreme," he said, "Pardon me if I forestall
your ordination under that title, but this is an uncommon emergency.
Your Supremity, I am sure I speak for all of us when I say that the
gentleman on the bell is welcome to hammer at it all night, if that
will relieve his feelings. He gives us credit for an uncommonly large
slice of his own superstition!"

"You hear?" yelled Cleverest at the Irishman. "Strike if you
please! For every stroke you will see one of your friends here dropped
screaming down the pit!"

This was checkmate with a vengeance. Trenmore hesitated, feeling
suddenly rather foolish. If he struck, they would throw Viola in
first. Already she had been dragged to the very edge by a burly tiger
of a pit guard. A dozen men had their hands on the other prisoners. If
he did not strike, they would still be thrown in. This was the end.

A sickening weariness replaced the exaltation which had upheld
Trenmore till this moment. He let the sword sink slowly, until its
point rested on the edge of the Red Bell.

Cleverest smiled sneeringly and half turned. He meant to seat
himself on the throne and thenceforward give his orders from the place
he had long coveted. Then an earnest, ringing voice arose from the
group below him.

"Terry--Terry! For the love of Heaven, don't give up! That man is
wrong! They are all wrong! Only that old man knew the truth. Strike
that bell and no man in all the city will be alive one moment after!
Strike, I say! Kill us and avenge us with one blow!"

"Stop that man's mouth!" cut in Cleverest savagely. "Proceed with
the executions!"

But now his fellow Servants intervened. Perhaps they remembered
that for all their pride they were only mortal men; or perhaps they
were merely curious. At least, several of them rose in open protest.

"No! Wait a minute, Clever--beg pardon, Your Supremity, I should
say. Let's hear what the fellow has to say."

"Wait!" This from Mr. Courage, the former High Priest's
lieutenant. He was a dignified man with cold gray eyes and features
which indicated a character of considerable determination. "Remember,
sir, that until the ordination, the Council of Twelve holds power. Let
the man speak!"

"Let him speak!"

The chorus was too unanimous for even Cleverest to overlook. With
a scowl he stalked to the throne. "Very well, gentleman," he snapped.
"Have your way, but no good will come of it. Bring that man up here!"

Leaning on the sword Trenmore looked on with renewed hope in his
optimistic soul. "I wonder," thought he, "does the boy know some real
secret about this red thing here? Or is he bluffing? If he is, good
luck and a power of invention to the tongue of him!"

Drayton was escorted around to the dais steps by two blue-clad
policemen. When he stood before the throne, Cleverest gestured
impatiently.

"I have no wish to question this man. Gentlemen, since you have
taken the matter on yourselves, will you kindly conclude it?"

"We will." The imperturbable Mr. Courage turned to Drayton. "Young
man, what is it that you know about the Threat of Penn which we, the
Servants of Penn, do not already know?"

"It's history," retorted Drayton boldly. He spoke up loudly, so
that Trenmore also might hear. "To be convincing I must go back a long
way in the history of Philadelphia--back to the very beginning of her
isolation from the rest of the United States. You know nothing of
that?"

Leaning from his throne, Cleverest whispered in the ear of Mr.
Courage. The latter nodded.

"Stick to the bell itself, please," he said sternly. "We are not
interested in the history of Philadelphia."

"I'll try to but you won't understand. Well, then, in that distant
age there was a certain group of men practically, though not openly in
control of this city. They were called 'grafters,' 'the contractor
gang,' and 'the gang.' Those were titles of high honors then--like
Servants and Superlatives, you know."

Here, Trenmore, on the bell, almost dropped the sword for sheer
delight.

"These grafters," continued Drayton, "got hold of a man who had
made a certain discovery. He was professor of physics in a university
here. You know--or rather probably you don't know--that all matter in
its atomic structure vibrates, and that different sorts of energy
waves can affect that vibration. I am no physicist myself, and I can't
tell you this in scientific terms. As I understood it, however, he
discovered a combination of metals which, when treated in a certain
way, would give off sound waves of the exact length of the vibration
not of atoms, but of the electrons. That is to say--"

"This is madness," broke in Cleverest impatiently. "It is a jargon
of senseless words!"

"Tell us about the bell," seconded Mr. Courage, and "Yes, the
bell--the bell!" came from half a dozen other Servants.

"I am telling you of the bell," protested Drayton. "But you are
too ignorant to grasp even a simple idea of it. Perhaps you can
understand if I put it another way. This man--this professor had
discovered a secret power by which metal, reverberating to a blow,
might destroy not only other metal but human flesh, clothes, wood,
marble, the very air you breathe! And these grafters, of whom you
yourselves are the lineal descendants, forced the man to use his
discovery for their benefit.

"With refined irony they took the old Liberty Bell. They had it
recast. They made this professor recast the Liberty Bell itself, with
other metal and in his new secret way--recast it as a much larger
bell. It came out red as blood. Then they built this dome. They said
Philadelphia should have the most glorious city hall in the world.
They hung the bell there and they put the sword there. And then they
set guards at the doors, and guns behind those panels. They invited
the leading citizens to a demonstration. They forced the professor to
play showman to his discovery, but they betrayed him so that his
precautions for his own safety were annulled at the critical moment.
Before the citizens' horrified eyes the professor, and the little gong
he used for the experiment, and all the solid matter around it
dissolved, disintegrated, vanished. He stood right there, where your
pit yawns now. When he was gone there was a hole in the pavement as if
made by a great explosion.

"And they--the grafters--set themselves up as masters of the city
under threat of its complete destruction. They called themselves the
Servants of Penn. They curtailed the education of the people as
needless and too expensive. When the people complained, they placated
them by abolishing all grades above the primary and turning the
schools into dance halls and free moving-picture theaters. City hall
they remodeled into a luxurious clubhouse where they themselves lived
and reveled.

"Two generations later--generations of unschooled, iron-ruled
citizens--and Penn had become a god. The poor, good old Quaker! His
Servants made him the god of Lust, of Vice, of Drunkenness, of every
sort of foul debauchery. The Servants were his priests and this his
temple. In mockery they named themselves for the cardinal virtues--
Mercy, Pity, Justice, Love. But they were tyrants without mercy,
revelers in vice--"

"Stop!"

The command came from a livid, furious Cleverest, and the hand of
a policeman cut off Drayton's flow of eloquence effectively. Cleverest
was not the only angry man present. Drayton faced eight Servants who
would have cheerfully torn him to pieces.

"Mr. Courage," Cleverest turned whitely to his uncle's lieutenant,
"are you satisfied now, or do you desire further insult from this--
this lying dog who would blacken the name of Penn and of Penn
Service?"

"You were right, sir," conceded Courage. "I had not supposed that
the brain of a human being could compass such a tissue of lies and
blasphemy! We cannot be too quickly rid of the whole sacrilegious
horde!"

Now was Cleverest's hour of triumph. With sickening certainty,
Drayton realized that he had carried his tirade too far. He had not
convinced; only enraged. Nothing but death remained. He wrenched his
face away from the officer's hand.

"Strike, Terry!" he shouted. "I have spoken only the truth!
Strike!"

Then did Terence Trenmore raise the Sword of Penn in good earnest.
The fury that had been in him this hour past rose in his heart like
boiling lava. Though be believed, no more than the Servants, he must
strike at something. He could reach nothing human. There was the Red
Bell!

As the sword swung up, even the disbelieving Servants stared
fascinated. The police and pit guards dropped their prisoners and
raised one beastlike wail of fear.

Up whirled the sword and descended, a yellow flash of flame. It
rose again.

A strange reverberation shook the air. It was not like the note of
a bell, nor of a gong, nor of any man-made thing. It was more than
sound--worse than sound. It was a feeling; an emotion; the sickening
pang of a spirit wrenching itself from a body racked with pain.

Every living being in that great place save one dropped where he
was, and lay writhing feebly beneath the awful, echoing dome.

But Trenmore, standing against the bell itself, did not fall.
Perhaps he was too close to be affected. Perhaps the scaffolding which
pressed on the bell, preventing its full reverberation, broke the
sound waves for him. At least he still stood; and now he seemed to be
peering through a crimson haze of fury. Though after that first blow
he might have brought even Penn Service to terms, he cared not to
temporize. He cared only to destroy. Again he brought down the sword
with all his terrible strength.

His foothold sagged beneath him. Looking upward he beheld an awe-
inspiring thing. The golden Dome of Justice was sinking; crumpling
inward. It was growing transparent, like a sheet of gold leaf beaten
too thin. A moment later and he could see through it on upward.

He saw the high, gray-white tower, with its illuminated clock
face, and still above that the circle of white lights about the feet
of Penn. He saw the huge statue sway and stagger like a drunken man.
Beneath it the tower began to bend like a tallow candle set in an oven
thrice heated.

A warning quiver shot through the scaffold. With one yell of
sheer, savage delight, Trenmore heaved up the sword. For the third and
last time it smote the blood-red Threat of Penn!

Then the air was sucked out of his lungs; sight was wiped from his
eyes. His muscles relaxed and he lost all power to feel; but he knew
in the deathless soul of him that his body was falling and that the
created world had dissolved, disintegrated into formless chaos!



CHAPTER 20: TRANSFERRED HOME



TRENMORE fell but not into the empty void created when the Red
Bell dissolved itself, its temple and its world.

He struck feet first on some kind of hard surface, jarred in every
bone and nerve by the impact. As light flashed up all around him, he
staggered against a man.

The next incident can only be explained by the fact that Trenmore
was still "seeing red." The fight had been by no means knocked out of
him by the recent catastrophe. He grasped one fact and one only. The
man against whom he had stumbled wore a black coat and a silk hat,
accursed insignia of Penn Service. Promptly grappling with this
individual, they went to the pavement together. While Terry reached
for his adversary's throat, the latter let out yell after yell of
terror and dismay.

It was fortunate that the Irishman had been so thoroughly shaken
by his fall that his customary efficiency was somewhat impaired. Two
scandalized policemen dashing upon the struggling pair were able to
pull him off before he could inflict more than a bad fright upon his
victim.

Dragged to his knees, Trenmore shook his head like an angry bull
of the wild Irish breed. He got his feet under him and rose so
suddenly that the policemen lost their grip, thrown off like a couple
of terriers.

Then would bloody battle have raged indeed in the very precincts
of law and order, had not a new figure rushed up and fairly flung
itself into Trenmore's arms. It was a small figure to quell so huge an
adversary. Even the maddest of Irishmen, however, could hardly go on
fighting while a pair of slim arms reached for his neck, a soft cheek
pressed against his coat, and a loved voice cried softly:

"Look about you! Terry, oh, Terry! Look about you!"

Folding an arm about Viola, Trenmore dashed a hand across his eyes
and at last did look. On four sides rose the gray, irregular, many-
windowed walls of a huge building. Beneath his feet lay a pavement of
uneven gray concrete. The place was bright with the white glare of
electric lights. Where had been the four doors of the temple, he saw
through open archways to the streets beyond.

Above was no golden dome, but the open starlit sky. Up toward it
pointed a high, gray tower, almost white in the rays of a searchlight
somewhere on the lower walls. The tower was surmounted by the
foreshortened but identifiable statue of William Penn, not falling but
very solid and majestically beneficent as usual. Then Trenmore became
aware of a nasal, high-pitched voice.

"I tell you I've got to catch my train!" it wailed. "Arrest that
lunatic or let him go, just as you please. But if you make me miss
that train, you'll regret it! Your own men there will testify that I
did nothing. I was simply hurrying through the public buildings on my
way to Broad Street Station. Then that wild man jumped on me from
behind. Chief Hannigan is my brother-in-law. If you make me miss that
last train I'll get your stripes for it, or I'm a Dutchman!"

Viewing the speaker with new eyes, Trenmore perceived him to be a
tall, thin man; who had already rescued his hat from where it had
rolled, and retrieved a small black suit case. He was handing his card
to the sergeant. That officer promptly capitulated.

"Beg your pardon, Mr. Flynn. Meant no offense, I'm sure. Trying to
catch the ten-five? You can get it yet!"

Making no reply, the man fled so precipitately toward Broad Street
Station that his coat tails stood out behind.

"That's Mr. Charles Flynn, the undertaker," observed the sergeant
to a group of four or five policemen who had now gathered and were
regarding Trenmore with mingled wonder and menace. "He lives out at
Media. Now, my man, you come along quietly. What were you trying to
do--provide Mr. Flynn as a corpse for one of his own funerals?"

The jest brought a laugh from his subordinates. Trenmore was
silent. He had lost all desire to fight, and the smallest policeman
there could have led him away by one hand. But Viola's quick wits
again saved the situation. Releasing herself gently from her brother's
arm, she addressed the sergeant with quiet dignity.

"Officer, this gentleman is my brother. He is subject to epileptic
seizures. Just now he became separated from me and from his-his
attendant. The fit came on him and he fell against the other
gentleman. He is ill, and all he needs is to be taken home and put to
bed. Mr. Drayton, here, is his nurse. Please, sergeant! You wouldn't
arrest my poor brother?"

Trenmore perceived that Drayton had indeed taken his place at his
other side. Over the heads of the police he saw Arnold Bertram and
Miss Skidoo!

Feeling remarkably foolish, he began to wonder if what Viola was
saying might not be actual fact. Could it be that he had been ill--
mad--and had dreamed that whole wild vision of the year 2118?

Fortunately Viola's pleadings, in which Drayton presently joined,
proved effective. With a number of good-natured warnings that she
"keep her crazy brother at home, or at least under better restraint,"
the sergeant wrote down the name and address and called off his
myrmidons.

Robert Drayton and the two Trenmores were free at last to walk
quietly out of the southern entrance into Broad Street. They hastened
to do so. They had, in fact, seen quite enough of Philadelphia city
hall, in any century. Behind followed Bertram and his companion.

It was then a little after ten, and the street was by no means
crowded. Nevertheless, as Drayton and Trenmore were more than a little
disheveled, the party were glad to turn off from brightly lighted
Broad into the comparative emptiness and gloom of Sansom Street. Just
before they did so, Drayton paused for one glance backward at the
enormous pile of gray masonry terminating the short vista of Broad
Street. Had they really, as he hopefully surmised, returned into the
safe protection of their own day and age?

High above, like a white ghost in the searchlight, brooded the
giant figure of that old Quaker, his stony hand outstretched in
petrified blessing. And below him, across the face of the yellow-
lighted clock, a wraith of vapor drifted, obscuring the figures. What
difference was there between it all as he saw it now and as he had
seen it that very morning, as it seemed to him? The difference stared
him in the face.

There was still an emblem above the southern arch. That morning it
had been the ominous, sword-crossed Red Bell. Now it was a shield with
the city colors, pale yellow and blue; above it glowed a huge
"Welcome" and the letters "A. A. M. W." beneath it the one word
"TRUTH."

"Associated Advertising Men of the World," he muttered half aloud,
"and their convention was here--I mean is here. Yes, we're back in our
own century again."

Half a block farther they all walked, in the silence of prisoners
too suddenly released to believe their own good fortune. Then Trenmore
abruptly halted. Bertram and Miss Skidoo coming up, they all stood
grouped in the friendly shadow of an awning.

"Viola," exclaimed Trenmore, "tell me the facts and don't spare
me! Was that thing you said to the policemen back there--was it really
so?"

Her eyes opened wide. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that if I've been crazy, dreaming--"

"Then we've all been dreaming together," broke in Drayton soberly.
"I was never more astounded in my life than when that gorgeous temple
suddenly dissolved, melted, and reformed as the old familiar public
buildings. It's lucky for us that there were only a few people passing
through at the time. We must have dropped into the scene like figures
in one of these faked movie reels. It's a wonder no one noticed!"

"An' me," put in Bertram. "I've been talkin' my head off tryin' to
explain to the kid here how she's got back about two hundred years
before she was born. I know it by that 'Welcoming Advertising Men'
thing over the city hall entrance. 'Truth.' it says under it. Gee,
it's mighty hard to make some folks believe the truth!"

"Miss Skidoo!" ejaculated Terence. Again he brushed his eyes with
his hand, staring blankly at that bewildered but defiant young lady.

"Yes," she retorted sharply, "and you can't kid me, neither!
Sump'n certainly happened, but it couldn't be what Bert said. Why, I
know this place where we're standing like it was my own kitchen!"

There she stood, certainly, green hat, silk sweater, and all. The
yellow button, insignia of the enslaved Numbers of a future age,
glared like a nightmare eye from her lapel. Yet how, granting that all
the rest was so--that they had actually lived through some forty-eight
hours in a century yet unborn--how had she survived the oblivion which
had swallowed her fellow citizens? Servants, Superlatives, police,
Numbers, and all had dissolved and vanished. But No. 23000 had made
the two-century jump unscathed. Could it be that future, past, and
present were all one, as he had once read in some book, tossed aside
after ten minutes of incredulous attention?

"Let's get home," exclaimed Trenmore abruptly. "I feel my reason
is slipping. And let's walk, for it's not far and 'tis agreeable to be
loose in a sane world again. At least," Terry corrected himself after
a moment's sober reflection, "a comparatively sane world. Yes, let's
be moving, friends, for I'm thinking we need a good meal and a night's
sleep to save our own sanity!"



CHAPTER 21: THE LAST OF THE GRAY DUST



AT ten-thirty, five tired and hungry people ascended the steps of
No. 17 Walnut Street and rang the bell. It was not immediately
answered. Then Drayton noticed that the door was not latched. They all
entered and became aware that in the library on the right something
unusual was going on. A gurgling, choking noise was punctuated by
several thumps, followed by the crash of furniture violently
overthrown.

Trenmore was first at the door. He flung it open and rushed
inside. The room seemed empty. As the noises continued, however,
Trenmore passed around the big reading table and stooping over plucked
his man, Martin, from the prostrate body of an unknown antagonist. He
did it with the air of one who separates his bull pup from the mangled
corpse of the neighbor's Pomeranian. With a sad, disgusted face Terry
glanced from the pugnacious one to the figure on the floor.

"Ah now, boy," he demanded, "are you not ashamed to be choking a
man old enough to be your own grand-dad?" Then he dropped Martin, with
an exclamation. "Sure, 'tis my old friend the little collector man!"

"Mr. Trenmore," began Martin in excited self-defense, "he come in
here and he--"

"Never mind what he did till I count what's left of the pieces, my
boy. I take back what I said, though. Be he alive or dead, the old
rascal's got no more than was coming to him."

Kneeling down, while the rest gathered in an interested group, he
put his hand to the man's heart. He was an elderly, smooth-shaven,
gray-haired person, with sharp, clean-cut features. The forehead was
high and sloping, the mouth thin and tight-pressed even in
unconsciousness. He was well dressed, and a gold pince-nez lay on the
floor near by, miraculously unbroken.

"He's all right," announced Trenmore. "Martin, a drop of liquor
now and we'll have the old scoundrel up and able for an explanation."

His prophecy proved correct. Five minutes later the gray-haired
collector sat in an armchair, shaken but able to talk and be talked
to.

"And now," said Trenmore, "I'll ask you, Martin, to tell your
share in this, and then you'll go out and you'll get everything in the
house that is eatable and you'll set it out in the dining room, for
it's starved to death we are, every one of us."

"Yes, Mr. Trenmore, I'll tend to it. This old man broke in on me
about half an hour ago. He asked for you, Sir. I told him you'd been
out since this morning--"

"This morning!" The exclamation broke from three pairs of lips
simultaneously. Martin stared.

"Never mind," said Terry hastily. "And then?"

"He wanted to know where you were. I said I didn't know, as you
didn't say anything to me. And then we got talking and--I'm sorry,
sir--but I let out that it seemed mighty queer, your going that way.
And then he asked me questions about where I'd last seen you and all
that. I told him about finding this gray stuff--it's wrapped up in
that newspaper on the table, sir--and not knowing what it was or
whether you wanted it kept or thrown out.

"And then--honest, I don't know how he did it, but he got me to
show it to him. I brought it in here. And then he said I'd never see
you again, and would I sell him the stuff. I said no, of course. Then
he pulled a gun on me--here it is--and I jumped on him--and then you
came in. I didn't want to hurt the old guy, but he got me wild and--"

"That's all right, Martin. You did very well, but don't ever be
doing any of it again. Now hurry up that supper. What's coming next
would likely strain your poor brain. Get along with you."

Reluctantly, Martin vanished kitchenward. The rest of the company
pulled up chairs and made themselves comfortable. For a time they
found the captive of Martin's prowess inclined to an attitude of
silent defiance. Upon Terry's threat, however, to turn him over to the
police on charges of housebreaking, he expressed a willingness to
listen to reason. Bertram's presence had a very chastening effect. He
knew the burglar for one of the men he had hired to steal the
Cerberus, and realized that should his former accomplice go on the
stand, his testimony, together with the attack on Martin, would mean
penitentiary stripes for himself.

"By the way," Drayton broke in, picking up the newspaper package
which contained the Dust of Purgatory and weighing it in his hand,
"did you ever ask Bertram, Terry, if he knew what had become of the
vial this was in?"

The burglar started and flushed. "Say, I done a mean trick then. I
didn't mean to keep the thing, but you left it laying on your bureau
that day at the Belleclaire, Mr. Trenmore, and I--well, I took it
along. I give it to Skidoo here for a keepsake. I didn't have anything
else pretty to give her. But she's a straight girl and I shouldn't've
done it. Skidoo, have you got that bottle I give you for bath salts?"

"Sure." No. 23000 promptly produced it from her sweater pocket.
"Why, Bert, wasn't it yours?"

Bertram admitted that it was not. With a reproachful glance for
Bertram, she extended the Cerberus vial to Trenmore. Trenmore reached
for it and took it in his hand. In the flash of an eye the space
before him was empty. Miss Skidoo had vanished more abruptly than he
had himself disappeared, upon his first experience with the dust!

With a startled yell, Terence leaped to his feet and flung the
Cerberus across the room. His feelings were shared by all present,
save the old collector, who put up a thin, protesting hand.

"Now, don't--I beg of you, don't become excited! Mr. Trenmore, my
nerves are not in shape to stand this sort of thing. There is no harm
done--unless the beautiful little curio is broken, which would be a
pity. Tell me, did that violently costumed young lady come here from--
well, from the place you have been in since this morning?"

"She did that!"

"Then she has simply returned there," announced the collector and
he settled placidly back in his chair.

But Bertram, who had been stricken temporarily dumb and paralyzed
by the abrupt vanishment of his beloved "kid," gave vent to one
anguished cry of grief and rage. Springing upon Drayton, he wrenched
from him the newspaper packet.

"What the deuce are you doing?" exclaimed the lawyer.

"You lemme alone!" panted the burglar, backing away. "I want a
dose of this dust, that's what. I'm goin' after Skidoo, I am!"

"You are not!"

Trenmore pounced on him and recovered the dangerous package. "You
poor little maniac," he said. "Do you think that I rang the Red Bell
in that temple for nothing? Don't you realize that the place where we
were isn't anywhere now, wherever it was before?"

A moment the burglar stood cogitating this puzzling statement, his
face the picture of woe. Then he sank slowly into a chair and dropped
his head in his hands.

"The brightest kid!" he muttered despairingly. "The best kid and
now she's nothing! Hell--beg pardon, lady, but this's fierce! I don't
care what happens now!"

They all sincerely pitied him. As, however, there is no known
remedy for the loss of a sweetheart who has melted into the
circumambient atmosphere, and as he repulsed their sympathy with
almost savage impatience, they once more turned their attention to the
gray-haired collector.

Trenmore began by asking his name.

The old fellow fumbled in his pockets a moment. "I find I have
left my card case," he said, "but I am Phineas Dodd Scarboro. By
profession I am an oculist. I am willing to tell you the history and
nature of that dust. In order that I may do so intelligently, however,
I must ask that you first relate your own experience with it."

There seemed nothing unreasonable in this request. Beginning with
the first uncapping of the vial, they unfolded their remarkable
narrative. Long before that tale was done, Martin had announced
supper. The collector adjourned with them to the dining room. Bertram,
however, declined, saying that he had no appetite and preferred to
stay where he was. So he was left alone, hunched over in his chair, a
figure of sorrow inconsolable. Trenmore took the precaution of
bringing the packet of dust into the dining room.

"And so," concluded Trenmore over the coffee cups, "we got back to
our own day again, and a very good job it was. I'd sooner put up with
any hardships of our own time, than live out my life in the year
2118!"

Phineas Scarboro sniffed scornfully at Terry's last remark.

"The year fiddlesticks!" he exclaimed impatiently. "You might, if
you had used that powder intelligently, have reached a plane where the
vibration was so rapid that a year there was the equivalent of one day
here. That, however, is the only form of trick you could play with
time. To talk of time as a dimension through which one might travel is
the merest nonsense. Time is not a dimension. It is a sequence, or
rather a comparative sequence, of vibrations."

Trenmore threw up his hand. "Man, man, don't confuse us that way;
we'll be worse off than we are now!"

"The sun rose and set at least twice while we were there," said
Drayton.

"And if it was not the year 2118, then what was it and where were
we?" This from Viola.

Scarboro placed his fingers together, tip to tip. He contemplated
them for a moment without replying.

"Perhaps," he said at last, "I had best begin where your
adventures began--with the Dust of Purgatory. In my freshman year at
Harvard I made the acquaintance of a young man destined to influence
my life in a very remarkable manner. His name was Andrew Power. You
appear startled. That was the name, was it not, which you, Mr.
Drayton, encountered in the temple library as the man who had carried
out the scheme for state isolation? The appearance of that name is one
of those inexplicable circumstances which in my own investigations
have often obtruded themselves.

"Andrew Power, then, was a young man of very unusual abilities. He
was, in fact, a theorist along lines so novel that he became persona
non grata to more than one member of the faculty. In those days they
were convinced that science had achieved her ultimate victories. Any
one who pointed out new worlds to conquer was a heretic or worse.
Finding no sympathy in his instructors, Power brought his theories to
me and to Thaddeus B. Crane, who was then my roommate. The three of us
struck up one of those intense friendships of boyhood. On many a night
we argued and wrangled into the small hours over subjects of whose
very existence Thaddeus and I would scarcely have been aware, save for
Andrew Power.

"His chief interest lay in the fields of the occult, which he
approached from the angle of sheer materialism. To expound his
theories even in brief would require more time than you, I am sure,
would care to expend in listening. Enough that he was deeply
interested in the Eastern religions--he was born in India, by the way,
and had studied under some of their greatest pundits--and contended
that their mysticism was based on scientifically demonstrable facts."

In spite of himself, Trenmore yawned. Was the man never going to
reach the dust?

"In his own words," continued Scarboro, "Power believed it
possible to 'reduce psychic experiences to a material basis! You
smile"--They hadn't--"but Andrew Power, whom we secretly considered a
mad theorist, proved himself far more practical than Crane and I, who
merely talked. The faculty objected to experiments along any line not
in the regular curriculum. Power, however, had set up for himself a
small private laboratory.

"One night he came to us ablaze with excitement. In his hand was a
glass specimen jar, half filled with this gray, powdery stuff.
'Fellows,' he said, 'I've done the thing at last. I've precipitated
RI.' Though we hadn't the vaguest idea what he was talking about, we
managed not to give ourselves away. We led him on to explanation. This
powder, he said, was of a substance more magical than the fabled
philosopher's stone, which could at most but transmute one element
into another. Taken into the system of a living creature this
substance so altered the vibrations of the electrons--he called them
atomic corpuscles, but electrons is the modern term--of not only the
body but of any other matter within the immediate radius of its
magnetism that these vibrations were modified to function on an
entirely different plane from this with which we are familiar from
birth. This other world, or rather these worlds, lie within or in the
same place as our own. The old axiom, that two bodies cannot exist
simultaneously in the same place, was, according to Power, an axiom no
more. Two bodies, a hundred bodies, could by inter-vibration exist in
precisely the same place. And therein lay the explanation of every
materialization, every 'miracle,' every 'super-natural' wonder since
the world began. Mediums, clairvoyants, prophets, and yogis, all had
their occasional spiritual glimpses of these hidden planes or worlds.
What Power desired--what he had accomplished--was the actual physical
entry.

"Needless to say, we scoffed. We angered Power to the point where
he was ready to actually demonstrate. Later we learned from his notes
that he had only translated an unlucky cat or so to these secret
realms, and was personally inexperienced. Driven, however, by our
laughter, Power took about ten grains of the powder and placed it on
his tongue. He disappeared. From that day to this no one, not even I,
who have many times gone the same road and returned, has ever seen
Andrew Power.

"We two escaped arrest only because our unfortunate friend had not
been seen coming to our rooms that night. There was a great fuss made
over his supposed murder, and the country for miles around was
searched for days. Thaddeus and I, two frightened boys, kept still.
The first day or so we had access to his laboratory, where we read his
notes in the hope of being able to reverse his disastrous experiment
on himself. Then everything was locked up and later his effects were
shipped to his only living relative, an uncle in Delhi. But the
formula for the dust was not among them. That, before my eyes and in
the face of my frantic protest, Thaddeus Crane had destroyed.

"He would have destroyed the powder also, had I not persuaded him
that it was our moral duty to hold it in case of Andrew Power's
return. He was always a bit afraid of Andrew. In the face of that
contingency he suddenly saw his arbitrary act with the formula in its
true light. So Crane and I divided the powder between us, promising
each other to hold it in case Power should ever return.

"But Crane had had enough and more than enough. He would never
afterward discuss even with me the theories which had cost humanity
that great and daring mind. I think Crane privately considered that
the devil had taken his own. He became very religious, a rigid church
member, and died in a firm conviction of grace.

"But I was of different stuff. Power's notes had given me a few
ideas of my own. For fifteen years, though I followed the profession
for which I had trained myself, I worked, studied, and experimented.
At last I felt that I, too, had solved a problem, not of this dust,
the secret of which passed with its creator, but of a means to recover
the original vibratory rhythm after it had been altered by the dust,
that is, a means to return to our own world.

"I am proud to say that I had the courage to make the trial. I
too, have wandered across the wide Ulithian plain. I, too, have passed
the Gateway of the Moon into places and amid peoples more strange than
even you can dream. The thought of those wanderings became to me an
obsession. I was like a drug fiend, who can neither rest nor sleep
unless he knows that the means are at hand to rebuild his dream
castles--reanimate his wondrous and seductive houris.

"But the time came when my share of the dust was at last
exhausted. Naturally I went to Crane. I think I hinted to you that he
was a superstitious fool. He had bought that vial, the Cerberus, and
he dumped out the absurdly impossible relic of Dante, replacing it
with Power's stuff. 'Dust from the Rocks of Purgatory' appealed to
him, I suppose, as better applicable to this powder than to the very
earthy dust the vial had before contained.

"Well, I found Crane utterly unapproachable on the subject. I
begged, pleaded, threatened, offered him all in my power to give; but
he would not let me have it. At his death I was wild with rage when I
learned of its sale to a mere collector of curios. You know the rest
of that episode. Can you blame me now?

"To-day science herself is steadily approaching the magic
boundaries of those realms which were once my familiar playground.
Soon she can no longer ignore the actual, material existence of the
'astral plane' as it has been misnamed by investigators who only
recognize it as a Psychical possibility.

"But I--in the flesh, I have known such adventures as only you in
all the world would credit! There, ever changing, continually forming,
are born the nuclei of events, conditions, inventions, ideas, which
later 'break through' as it were and recreate this more stable world
to which we are born. The inspiration of the poet, the philosopher, or
the inventor, is no more than a flicker from that swifter, different
vibration within our own.

"And those lands have their monsters--devils, even. The spirit can
at times attune itself and in our world a prophet arises. But let him
beware! They are wild realms which he glimpses, neither good nor bad,
but alive with their own never-ceasing, half-aimless, half-purposeful
activities. I know them as no other man save Andrew Power alone. Many
times have I sought him there. Many times has his name come up in some
such fantastic connection at it came to you. I have seen, as it were,
the shadow of his thought sketched in the tangible phantasmagoria
which surrounded me. But either he eludes me purposely, or he is dead,
and only his mind endures as an invisible force. But if he still lives
and we meet, he can make this stuff that I can't make; I can show him
the way back to our own world; and after that the door will be open
for all to pass!

"Think of the discoveries that will be hastened--the miracles that
may be wrought by knowledge acquired at first hand across that
threshold! I could almost kill myself for sheer rage when I think how
I wasted glorious opportunities in the pursuit of mere unprofitable
adventure! Why, you yourselves brought back at least one idea--the
idea of matter-destroying sound waves. Had it been Andrew Power or I,
we would have searched those archives until we found the formula by
which the Red Bell was made. We would have brought that back, instead
of the bare and useless idea!"

"And a fine lot of good that would have been to the world!"
exploded Trenmore. "I'd as soon give matches to a child and bid it go
play in the nice powder mill, as turn loose the men of this world in
that one we've come from, if all you say is true. This dust here I'll
toss in the river, so no man shall go that road again. 'Tis not right
nor decent, Mr. Scarboro, that one should so thrust oneself into the
very workshop of the Almighty!"

By the gleam in Scarboro's eye hostilities threatened.

Drayton intervened. "Before we discuss the ultimate fate of the
dust, Mr. Scarboro, won't you run over our own experience and explain
a few little things? Now, in the first place you say that Andrew Power
placed the powder on his tongue and disappeared! I am sure none of us
even tried to taste the stuff."

"I said," corrected Scarboro, "that it must enter the system of a
living creature! It is equally effective when breathed into the lungs.
That is the way every one of you went. As to what you found, Ulithia
is a place, or rather a condition, which is the one invariable prelude
to every adventure I have had. Its phantasmagoria are well-nigh as
fixed in their nature as what we please to call 'reality.' But of the
character of its inhabitants or of the laws which govern its various
phenomena, I can tell you but little.

"After living in this commonplace world of ours so many thousand
centuries, mankind stands blank-faced before its greater mysteries.
How can I, then, who have but one lifetime, and of that have spent but
a small proportion in this other world, be expected to explain
Ulithia? It is there. Every one present has seen it. We have seen its
starry sky that is like our own sky; its sun that is not our sun; its
moon that is a mystic gateway. While in our world the sun set once,
you passed three days and two whole nights in Ulithia and the next
inner world. Our astronomy is not theirs, however much it may resemble
it in appearance. And we have all talked with Ulithia's ghostly,
phantasmal inhabitants. Spirits? Demons? Elves? I do not know. That
they are more familiar with our nature than we with theirs is certain.
In Ulithia they recognize our alien passing. As the whim pleases them,
they speed or hinder us. But, just as happened to all of you, one
always does finally pass through there.

"What lies beyond varies. Those worlds are real. Their matter is
solid while it lasts. But the form passes. 'The hills are shadows and
they flow from form to form and nothing stands. They melt like mists,
the solid lands; like clouds they shape themselves and go!' That was
written of earth as we know it. How much better it applies to those
inner, wilder realms!

"To one who knows the conditions, who has power to go and come at
will, their perils are negligible; their wonder and delight
inexhaustible. But 'woe to the stranger in the Hollow Lands!' You
people were singularly fortunate. By a millionth chance, when the
great Red Bell dissolved the astral vibrations, you were restored to
your own. The distance which you had moved through space, even the
direction was the same. In traversing Ulithia you actually traversed
Philadelphia. When you went through the moon gate, you turned inward
upon another plane and came back through the false city as if it were
the real one. Thus, because your temple occupied the same space as the
real city hall, it was there you finally found yourselves.

"That girl who returned with you came because she was temporarily
in contact with a thing of this world--the Cerberus. When contact with
that particular object ceased she went. I say 'she,' but she was
nothing--a phantasm--the materialized figment of a dream. All those
phantasmagoria which you met, touched, which might and would have
slain you had not the Red Bell been one of them--they were the
changing forms of a world which may be created and recreated in a
single day.

"A prophecy of the actual future of this city and nation? Perhaps.
More likely some one of the forces that rule there, for its own
sardonic amusement, twisted the fluent astral matter into a distorted
and mocking reflection of the real city. Oh, yes, there are forces
there, as here, at whose nature we can only guess. Matter does not
form or vivify itself, either in those worlds or in this.

"As to the general moral tone of your Philadelphia in the year
A.D. 2118--pardon me--but that moral tone seems to have been a
distinct reflection of your own. At least, you met guile with
treachery, and the inference is not hard to draw!"

At this gratuitous and unexpected insult, Drayton flushed
uncomfortably, Viola drew herself up with great dignity, and Trenmore
rose from the table so violently that his chair crashed over.

"You old scalawag--"

Just here the door was flung open. There stood Martin, panting and
stammering incoherently.

"What is it now?" demanded his employer.

"Is it Mr. Bertram, Martin?" queried Viola, turning quite pale. A
vision had flashed up of the disconsolate burglar, lying in a pool of
blood, slain by his own hand in excessive grief for the loss of his
phantasmal sweetheart.

"Y-yes, ma'am! At least, I guess so. Was Mr. Bertram that other
party that didn't want supper?"

By now Viola's fears had communicated themselves to her brother
and Drayton. Without pausing, all three pushed past Martin and reached
the library. Bertram's chair was empty. His body was nowhere in sight.

Trenmore turned on Martin. "Where is he, then?"

"I don't know, sir. I'm not saying anything against a guest of
yours, Mr. Trenmore, but all I know is he went upstairs a while back
and I just now went to your room, sir, to lay out your pajamas, and-
and the safe's open, sir--and--"

But Trenmore waited for no more. He bounded up the stairs three
steps at a time. Martin's tale proved only too true. The silk curtain
was pushed back, the steel door in the wall swung wide, and the floor
was as littered as that of the third-floor bedroom upon Drayton's
first awakening in this much-burglarized house.

"The money," moaned Martin, wringing his hands. "All the money I
saw you put in there yesterday--it's gone!"

Trenmore was rapidly running over the leather boxes, trays, and
the like which were scattered about. He rose with a sigh of relief.
"At least, he's taken nothing else. The money was only a couple of
hundred that I can spare; but these trinkets of mine I could not
easily replace."

"I don't believe it was Bertram," broke in Viola, with the eager
loyalty of youth for one who has been, if not a friend, at least a
companion. "He couldn't rob you, Terry, after all we've been through
together!"

"What's this?" Drayton had picked up a folded scrap of paper from
the dresser. "Why it's addressed to you, Terry!"

The Irishman took the paper, hastily opened it, and read:

"Dear Mr. Trenmore, I heard what Mr. Scarboro said. Skidoo wasn't
anything. Then I ain't anything either. I was goin' to go straight but
what's the use. I need this money worse than you. Goodby. B."

To the astonishment of all present, Trenmore's face suddenly
cleared and with a whoop of joy he rushed toward the door.

"Moral tone, is it? Wait till I show this to the old scalawag
below there. Now whom will he blame for the moral tone, when he reads
this letter? And I never thought of Bertram, the thievin' little
crook!"

Waving the missive triumphantly, he thundered down the stairs.
Viola burst into almost hysterical laughter and Drayton was forced to
laugh with her. "That shot of Scarboro's rankled," he said. "Let's go
down and hear them argue it out."

In the dining room, however, yet another surprise awaited them.
Terry was there, a picture of chagrin, but no Scarboro.

"The old villain skipped out," he said disgustedly, "while we were
tearing about after the other scoundrel! And what's worse, he took the
dust with him! Well, I'd not chase after either of them if 'twas to
win me a kingdom."

Very thoughtfully the three made their way to the library. Drayton
picked up the crystal vial which Trenmore had flung away. One of its
silver heads was dented to a yet more savage expression. Otherwise the
Cerberus was unharmed. He offered it to Trenmore, but his friend waved
the vial aside.

"I don't want it," he said grimly. "Sure, Bobby my lad, I think
I'll just give the thing to yourself and Viola for a wedding present--
if you fear no ill luck from it."

"A wedding present!" stammered Drayton. "See here, Terry, I--
Viola, child, I love you too well to marry you! You don't know of the
disgrace into which I have fallen, nor, far worse, of the infamy of
which I discovered myself capable. On the edge of death and in those
strange surroundings, it didn't seem to matter so much; but we are
back in a real world again and--and by heaven! I think for me the
other was the better place!"

Viola went to him and with her two hands on his arm looked up into
his face. "Bobby," she said, "I know what you mean. My brother told me
of your sorrows and griefs, while we stood waiting for the
examinations to begin, in the Green Room of the temple. He told me
everything. Do you think I love you the less that you have suffered?"

"You don't understand" he said hoarsely. Somehow he held himself
from taking her in his arms. He looked to Trenmore, but that large,
discreet gentleman had wandered over to the window and was staring out
into the night. Drayton choked. "You might as well marry that thief
Bertram!" he forced out.

"Marry Bertram!" She laughed softly and hid the flush of her cheek
against his coat. "Why, but so I would marry Bertram did I love him as
I love you, Bobby, darling!"

No attempt to persuade him of his own moral innocence could have
had the least effect. That last naive assertion, however, was too much
for Drayton. His arms swept about her.

Trenmore, looking over his shoulder, grinned and hastily resumed
his scrutiny of the empty pavement outside.

"And so," he murmured, "we'll just take our worlds as we find
them, Bobby, my lad! And we'll see what can be done out there in
Cincinnati. The scoundrels that downed him have gold. But I've gold
myself. We'll give them a chance to down a fighting Irishman. And
maybe--who knows?--there's a Red Bell hung for them, too, in the Dome
of Justice. Aye, we'll go spy out the land and think well and then
strike hard! The way they'll be wishing they'd crept in their holes
and stayed there."

And with a smile of pleased anticipation for that Olympian battle
he sniffed afar, Trenmore turned to the immediate and more difficult
task of exerting his Celtic wit and eloquence to persuade Robert
Drayton to let him undertake it.



THE END



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