19. A series of misadventures
With the advent of the guard, Hamar's assailant was dragged off him, and he was locked up in a separate compartment, "to be given in charge," so the indignant official announced, directly they got to Brighton. But Hamar ordained it otherwise. As soon as he had sufficiently recovered from the effects of the severe castigation the female furioso had inflicted on him, he became invisible, and when the train drew up at the Brighton platform, and a couple of policemen arrived to march him on, he was nowhere to be found! This was his first experiment with the newly acquired property. "In future," he said to himself, "before I try any tricks, I'll take very good care there are no Suffragettes about."
In London there was, of course, no need for him ever to pay fares. All he had to do, was to become invisible as soon as the taxi stopped, calmly step out of the vehicle, and walk away. As for meals, he was able to enjoy many—gratis. He simply walked into a restaurant, fed on the very best, and then disappeared. Of course, he could not repeat the trick in the same place, and cautious though he was, he was at last caught. It appears that a description of him had been circulated among the police, and that private detectives were employed to watch for him in the principal hotels and restaurants. Consequently, directly he entered the grill room at the Piccadilly Hotel, he was arrested and handcuffed before he had time to swallow a pill.
He was now in a most unpleasant predicament—the tightest corner he had ever been in. Supposing he could not escape—his sentence would be at the least two years' penal servitude—what would happen? Curtis and Kelson would never work the show without him. Curtis would give himself entirely up to eating and drinking, Kelson would marry Lilian Rosenberg; the compact with the Unknown would be broken; and after that—he dare not think. He must escape! He must get at the pills! The police took him away in a taxi, and all the time he sat between them, he struggled desperately to squeeze his hands through the small, cruel circle that held them. "It's all right for Curtis and Kelson!" he said to himself, "all right at least—now! They know nothing! They have never tried to think what the breaking of the compact means! Their weak, silly minds are entirely centred on the present! The present! Damn the present! They are fools, idiots, imbeciles who think only of the present—it's the future—the future that matters!" He scraped the skin off his wrists, he sweated, he swore! And it was not until one of the detectives threatened to rap him over the head, that he sullenly gave in and sat still.
The taxi drew up in front of the Gerald Road Police Station, and Hamar was conducted to an ante-room, prior to being taken before the inspector. Just as a policeman was about to search him, he made one last desperate effort.
"Look here," he said, "if I pledge you my word I'll not attempt to do anything, will you let me have my hands—or at least one of my hands—free a moment. Some grit has got in my eye and I cannot stand the irritation."
"That game won't work here," one of the detectives said, "you should keep your eyes shut when there's dust about, or else not have such protruding ones."
Hamar threatened to report him to the Home Secretary for brutal conduct, but the detective only laughed, and Hamar had to submit to the mortification of being searched.
"What are these?" a detective said, fingering the seaweed pills gingerly.
"Stomachic pills!" Hamar said bitterly, "they are taken as a digestive after meals. You look dyspeptic—have one."
"Now, none of your sauce!" the detective said, "you come along with me,"—and Hamar was hauled before the inspector.
"Can I go out on bail?" Hamar asked.
"Certainly not," the inspector replied.
"Then I shan't give you my name and address," Hamar said. "I shan't tell you anything."
The inspector merely shrugged his shoulders, and after the charge sheet was read over, Hamar was conducted to a cell.
"This is awful," he said, "what the deuce am I to do! To send for Curtis and Kelson will be fatal, and it will be equally fatal to leave them in ignorance of what has happened to me. I am, indeed, in the horns of a dilemma. I must get at those pills."
Up and down the floor of the tiny cell he paced, his mind tortured with a thousand conflicting emotions. And then, an idea struck him. He would ask to be allowed to see his lawyer.
"Cotton's the man," he said to himself, "he will get the pills for me!"
The inspector, after satisfying himself that Cotton was on the register, rang him up, and after an hour of terrible suspense to Hamar, the lawyer briskly entered his cell.
They conferred together for some minutes, and having arranged the method of defence, Cotton was preparing to depart, when Hamar whispered to him—
"I want you to do me a particular favour. In the top right hand drawer of the chest of drawers in my bedroom, in Cockspur Street, I have left a red pill-box. These pills are for indigestion. I simply can't do without them. Will you get them for me?"
"What, to-night?" the lawyer asked dubiously.
"Yes, to-night," Hamar pleaded. "I'll make it a matter of business between us—get me the pills before eight o'clock, and you have £1000 down. My cheque book is in the same drawer."
The lawyer said nothing, but gave Hamar a look that meant much!
Again there was a dreadful wait, and Hamar had abandoned himself to the deepest despair when Cotton reappeared. He shook hands with his client, slipping the pills into the latter's palm. Whilst the lawyer was pocketing his cheque, Hamar gleefully swallowed a pill, and crying out "Bakra—naka—takso—mana,"—vanished!
"Heaven preserve us! What's become of you?" Cotton exclaimed, putting his hand to his forehead and leaning against the wall for support. "Am I ill or dreaming?"
"Anything wrong, sir?" a policeman inquired, opening the cell door and looking in. "Why, what have you done with the prisoner—where is he?"
"I have no more idea than you," the lawyer gasped. "He was talking to me quite naturally, when he suddenly left off—said something idiotic—and disappeared."
Hamar did not dally. He quietly slipped through the open door, and darting swiftly along a stone passage, found his way to the entrance, which was blocked by two constables with their backs to him.
"I'll give the brutes something to remember me by," Hamar chuckled, and, taking a run, he kicked first one, and then the other with all his might, precipitating them both into the street. He then sped past them—home.
Hamar, by astute inquiries, learned that the police had decided to hush up the affair, not being quite sure how they had figured, or, indeed, what had actually occurred. As to Cotton, the shock he had undergone, at seeing Hamar suddenly melt away before his eyes, was so great that he went off his head, and had to be confined in an asylum.
After this adventure Hamar shunned restaurants, and manipulating his new property sparingly, and with the utmost caution, warned Kelson and Curtis to do the same.
"I'll bet anything," he said to them, "it was a put-up job on the part of the Unknown—a cunning device to make us break the compact."
"Oh, we'll be careful enough as far as that goes," Curtis growled. "It's this vegetarian diet that I can't stick. Fancy living on beans and potatoes, and only milk and aerated water to wash them down. It was bad enough in San Francisco, when we hadn't the means even to smell meat cooking—but with the money literally burning a hole in one's pocket, it's ten times worse! Whatever the Unknown has in store for us it can't be a worse Hell than what I've got now. What say you, Matt?"
"The same! Precisely the same!" Kelson said. "Only it's love—not potatoes and beans that worries me. In the old days when I was penniless, I did get some consolation from knowing it was all hopeless—but now—now, when, as Ed says, 'the money's literally burning a hole in one's pocket,' and everything might go swimmingly—not to be allowed even to buy a bracelet—is more than human nature can endure. I certainly can't conceive a Hell to beat it."
"Don't be too sure," Hamar said, "and for goodness' sake don't let the Unknown give you an opportunity of comparing."
The night succeeding this conversation, Hamar, Curtis and Kelson introduced their new properties into the programme of their entertainment in Cockspur Street, and London got another big thrill. Hamar exhibited such startling proofs of his power of invisibility, that not only was the whole audience convinced, but from amongst certain prominent members of the Council of the Psychical Research Society, who were attending with the express purpose of unmasking Hamar, two had epileptic fits on the spot, and several, before they could get home, became raving lunatics.
At the commencement of the second part of the programme—the audience was still too flabbergasted to fully grasp what was happening. They saw on the stage a huge tank of water—with which they were told Mr. Curtis would experiment.
"What I am about to do," Mr. Curtis—who now walked on to the stage—informed his audience, "is quite simple. All you want is faith. Those of you who are Christian Scientists should be able to do it as easily as I. Say 'I will! I will walk on the water!' and your faith—your colossal faith—faith in your ability to do it will actually enable you to do it."
Curtis then repeated—in tones that could not be heard by the audience—the Atlantean cabalistic words—"Karma—nardka—rapto—nooman—K—arma—oola—piskooskte," and glided gracefully on to the surface of the water. Every now and then he sank slowly down to the bottom, where he strolled about, or sat, or lay down.
The audience was simply fascinated. Nothing they had hitherto seen tickled their fancy half as much. As an American, who was present, put it—"To live under the water like a fish is immense—so hygienic and economical."
Though the time apportioned to this part of the entertainment was half an hour, it was extended to over an hour, and even then the audience was not satisfied. They would have gone on watching Curtis—eating—drinking—jumping—skipping—singing and chasing gold fish—under the water all night, and when he was at length permitted to come out of the tank—exhausted and sulky—they gave him even heartier applause than they had given Hamar.
But the cup of their enjoyment was not yet full. The greatest treat of all was in store for them.
For the third and last part of the entertainment, a cage, containing a large Bengal tiger, was wheeled on to the stage.
"You look precious white," Curtis remarked, just as Kelson was about to go on.
"I guess you'd look the same," Kelson retorted, "if you had to hobnob with a tiger. The Unknown always gives me the nasty jobs."
"And in this case," Curtis said with a low, mocking laugh, "it also loads you with consolations. The house is full of ladies who adore you, and if you are eaten, just think of the sympathy welling up in their beautiful eyes! If that isn't sufficient compensation for you, I—" But the remainder of this encouraging speech was lost in a loud roar. The Bengal tiger shook its bars—the audience screamed, and Curtis flew.
With a desperate attempt to look calm, Kelson, clutching the red laryx stone in his left hand, walked on to the stage, whilst the tiger, rearing on its hind legs tried to reach him with its paws.
There were loud cries of "Oh! Oh!" from the audience, and Kelson's heart beat quicker, when a girl with wavy, fair hair and big, starry eyes, screamed out "Don't go near it! Don't go near it!"
As soon as there was comparative quiet Kelson spoke.
"As you can see, ladies and gentlemen," he said, "this animal is genuinely savage! It is not like the tigers one sees in menageries, drugged and deprived of their natural weapons—teeth and claws. It comes direct from India, where its reputation as a man-eater is widespread. I am not, however, intimidated—its growls merely amuse me."
Quaking all over, he approached the cage, and staring fixedly into the tiger's face, made the prescribed passes. In an instant, the whole attitude of the great cat changed. Dropping on to its fore-legs, it rubbed its head against the bars and purred. A low buzz of astonishment burst from the audience, and Kelson, now assured that the spell had worked, waved his disengaged hand, in the most gallant fashion, at the audience, and strutted into the cage. He shook paws with the tiger, patted it on the back, sat down by its side, and, whilst pretending to be on the most familiar terms with it, took every precaution to avoid coming in too close contact with its teeth and claws.
The audience was charmed—the men cheered, the ladies waved handkerchiefs, and the only disappointed persons present were a few belligerent and bloodthirsty boys, and a Suffragette, who severally, and for diverse reasons, would have relished the performances of a savage tiger, but had little sympathy with the performance of a tame one.
The next surprise that Mr. Kelson had for his audience, was the announcement that he could interpret the language of animals. At his invitation, a dozen members of the audience came on to the platform and stood near the cage. Looking steadily at the tiger he then pronounced the mystic words "Meta—ra—ka—va—avakana," holding up his right hand, with the thumb turned down and stretched right across the palm, and the little finger extended to the utmost. In an instant the great secret—the secret that Darwin had studied so strenuously for years—was revealed to him. The language of animals was olfactory. The tiger spoke to him through the sense of smell—through his nose instead of his ears. It regulated and modified the odour it gave off from its body, and which worked its way out through the pores of its skin, just as human beings regulate and modify the intonations of their voices. Indeed, so delicate are the olfactory organs of animals that the faintest of these language smells makes an impression on them, which impression is at once interpreted by the brain. If an animal wishes to leave a message behind it, it merely impregnates some article—a leaf or a root, or a clump of grass—or merely the ether with a brain smell, and any other animal, happening to pass by the spot, within a certain time (in favourable weather), will at once be attracted by the smell, and be able to interpret it. That is the reason one so often sees an animal suddenly stop at a spot and sniff it—it is reading some message left there by some other animal. All this, and more, Kelson explained to his audience, who were exceedingly interested, many of them getting up to ask him questions. He also reported to them the tiger's conversation, which consisted chiefly of complaints against the management with regard to its food.
"To be everlastingly fed on scraps of horse-flesh," it said, "when there were dozens of plump young women sitting in the stalls, under its very nose, was tantalizing to a degree. Would Mr. Kelson kindly speak to whoever was responsible for such cruelty and negligence?"
A bear and a crocodile having been tamed in the same manner, and their remarks interpreted to the audience, the entertainment concluded.
The next day the papers were full of it.
The Planet, under the startling announcements—
"Recovery of the Lost Senses.
More Extraordinary Feats in Cockspur Street.
Leon Hamar becomes invisible at will,"
—narrated all that had occurred.
The Monitor—if anything more sensational—declared—
"The Language of Animals Discovered at Last!
The Problem of Breathing under Water—SOLVED!
Dematerialization at Will established!"
And even the Courier—the steady, ever cautious old Courier, England's premier paper, created a precedent by the use of a quite conspicuously large type; vide the following—
"THE AGE OF MIRACLES REVIVED!
Actual Case of Subduing and Conversing with Wild Animals.
Recovery of the Properties of Invisibility; of Walking on Water, and of Breathing under Water."
As before, there were innumerable cases of imitation, many of them, unhappily, resulting in the death of the imitator. At Dover, for instance, a Congregationalist Minister convinced that he had the requisite amount of faith, announced from the pulpit, that he intended walking on the water, in the Harbour, after service. Thousands flocked to see him, but despite the fact that he said "I will! I will!" with the greatest emphasis, the unkind waves would not support him. Indeed, since they swallowed him, it might almost be said that the Rev. S—— supported the waves.
For two whole days there was regular stampedes of experimenters to Hyde Park and Regent's Park, and the banks of their respective waters resounded with the words, "I will walk! I will walk!" succeeded by splashes and cries for help.
Nor was the water feat the only one that induced imitators. Crowds flocked to the Zoological Gardens, and the various houses were literally packed with people trying to get into conversation with the animals; these attempts being also marked by a large proportion of fatal results. One old gentleman—a Fellow of the Royal Society—carried away in his enthusiasm to talk with a tiger, after making what he thought to be the correct signs, slipped his nose through the bars of the tiger's cage, and had it promptly bitten off—whilst a girl, in her endeavours to sniff the crocodiles, and so get in conversation with them, fell in their midst, and was torn to pieces before help arrived.
However, these fatalities only served as an advertisement to the firm, and hundreds of people, for whom there was not even standing room, were turned away from the house nightly.
But later on there were hitches. Curtis, whose dislike to vegetarian diet steadily increased, when dining one evening at his club, could no longer withstand the sight of roast beef. The smell of it tickled his palate unmercifully.
"Take this infernal mess away!" he said, pushing a plate of nut steak from him in disgust, "and let me have a full course—entrée, soup, fish, meat, everything you've got—chartreuse and a liqueur, and bring it quick—I'm famished."
He ate and ate, and drank and drank, until it was as much as he could do to rise from the table. And then, in excellent spirits, he repaired to Cockspur Street.
How he got on to the stage he could never tell. Everything was in a haze around him, until there was a dull crash in his ears, and he suddenly found himself drowning. No one, at first, noticed his helpless condition, but attributed his antics to part of the programme; and he most certainly would have been drowned, had it not been for Lilian Rosenberg, who, being quite by chance, in front of the house, perceived he was drunk, the moment he came on the stage. She flew to the wings, and, just in the nick of time, got two of the supers to haul him out of the tank. Of course, it was announced—with a pretty apology—by Mr. Hamar, that Mr. Curtis had been taken ill. Kelson immediately came on with his animals, and the audience departed without the slightest suspicion as to the truth.
Hamar was furious.
"You idiot!" he said to Curtis, "that all comes of your making a beast of yourself—you would sacrifice Matt and me, for your insatiable craving for meat and alcohol. Can't you see it was a trick of the Unknown to make us break the compact? Had you been drowned, the partnership, would, of course, have been dissolved—and it would have been your fault! You must obey your injunctions! Damn it, you must!" And Hamar spoke so fiercely that Curtis was for once in a way cowed, and solemnly promised that he would not repeat the offence.
Kelson was the next culprit; and his misdoings were indirectly associated with the foregoing incident. Lilian Rosenberg's action in saving Curtis's life, thrilled him to the core, and called into play all his ardent passion. He had seen her sitting in the front of the house, and had come upon the scene just as she was urging the supers to go to Curtis's assistance; and he then thought she had never looked so lovely.
"Come out with me to-morrow afternoon," he whispered. "Hamar's going out of town!" And before she could stop him he had kissed her.
Kelson hardly expected Lilian Rosenberg would accept his invitation, but on arriving at the place he had named, he was delighted beyond measure to find her there.
Nor could anyone have been nicer to him. No girl, he told himself, who did not in some degree at least, reciprocate his sentiments, could have allowed him to stare into her eyes as she did, or squeeze her hands, as he did. He took her to the ladies' drawing-room of his club, where there were plenty of quiet, secluded nooks, and there, whilst she poured out tea for him, he once more related to her all his early deeds and ailments—real and imaginary—and all his ideals and aspirations.
Lilian Rosenberg was most sympathetic.
"You should have been a poet," she said. "There is something about you that is quite Byronic."
And Kelson, who had never even heard of Byron, was immensely flattered.
"Will you come to the jeweller's with me," he said, "and choose whatever you like best. Those fingers of yours are made for rings—rings of all sorts!" and he gave them a gentle pressure.
She let him escort her to Bond Street, and followed him gaily into Raymond's; but when it came to accepting a ring from him, she laughingly refused, and chose, instead, the most expensive diamond bracelets and pendants in the shop. Some of these she wore—the rest—unknown to him of course—she sold; sending the proceeds, anonymously, to Shiel Davenport—who was starving.
When Kelson went on the stage, that evening, his thoughts were so far away—planning for his honeymoon—that he entered the cage of a newly imported lion without having made the necessary signs, and would most certainly have been mangled out of recognition, had not one of the supers, perceiving how matters lay, rushed to his assistance, and kept the lion at bay with a pole, till further help could be procured. It had been a narrow squeak, and to Kelson the bare idea of continuing his performance was appalling. His nerves were, as he himself put it, anyhow, and he preferred retiring for the rest of the evening.
But Hamar would not hear of it.
"This is the second bungle we have had," he said, "and the reputation of the firm is seriously at stake. You must go on again and retrieve it."
And Kelson, trembling all over, was obliged to reappear.
After it was all over, and he had bowed himself out into the wings, Hamar led him aside.
"Don't look so damned pleased with yourself," he said, "I don't half like the look of things. This is the third time the Unknown has tried to trap us—the fourth time it may be successful! Take care!"