The Man Who Ended War

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Chapter 20

 

" You don't mean that literally," exclaimed Tom.

Regnier nodded quietly. " I mean that I believe my memory was deliberately taken from me by the man who stopped all war, when he found I was on the track of his secret. But it's rather a long story, and it's well on towards morning. Shall we have it now, or put off the tale till to-morrow ? "

" To-night, by all means," answered Tom. " That is, providing you feel up to it."

" I feel perfectly fit now," said Regnier, " so if you all want to hear it, I'll go back to the very beginning and tell it all."

We settled down to listen. Tom threw some coal, with a lavish hand, into the small firepot of the great Dutch stove.

" Now this is cosy. Go ahead, Dick, with your yarn."

Dorothy beside me on the big settle gave my hand one squeeze, and echoed Tom's words. " Go ahead, Dick."

All the lights had been lowered, save for a single bracket lamp, which shone on Regnier's melancholy but expressive face. As he began, the storm changed its key, and came in steady, driving force rather than in great gusts.

" It really began that night at Mrs. Hartnell's," he said reflectively. " I was tremendously impressed by that second letter which came out from beneath the visible one and, try as I would, I could not shake off a feeling that the message was true; that the man who wrote possessed some strange and awful power, which would make it possible for him to do what he threatened. When I left you that night, I could not sleep. I looked at the problem from every side, and finally analyzed it down to this. If ' the man ' is to do this, he must either be a great scientist himself, or have obtained his secret from some great scientist. I went further. I made up my mind that the most probable line of work to produce such a destroying agent would be along the lines of radio-active experiments. In consequence, I went directly to work, and with the help of two assistants, I reviewed all the literature of radio-active matter which had appeared in the last five years, and made a digest of the papers, their subjects and their authors. Then came my time of sailing for abroad, and I took the digest with me. I spent most of my time on the way over in a systematic sorting out of the men who had made the greatest advances, and who would be the most likely to obtain some great result. I finally narrowed my choice down to five. One of the five was Heidenmuller. He had published his last paper in the Zeitschrift fur Physicalische Chemie in April, 19—, and had published nothing since. As soon as I landed I hastened to get a file of the magazine, and found that in a somewhat deeply-technical paper he had spoken of the possibility that a radio-active agent, powerful enough to give an ultimate resolution of any metal, might be obtained. That was enough for me; I started straight for London and Heidenmuller. As you know, I found him dead, but I heard the story of his death and I knew by that time that if he had possessed the secret, he must have passed it on to some one else. So I went to work. I did not look up Swenton because I found that Heidenmuller's first assistant, Griegen, had gone as wireless operator on one of the big yachts then at Cowes. So I went down there, chartered a small yacht, and spent a week hunting for Griegen. I think I wrote you from there," he said to Dorothy.

" You did," she replied.

Regnier went on. " Well, to cut that short, I hired Griegen to come back to London with me, to make a thorough search of Heidenmuller's laboratories, which I had hired just as they stood. We hunted for two days without avail when, one afternoon, I went down to the city to do some errands. I came back to my lodgings to find Griegen there greatly excited. He had found the secret panel in the inner locked room which you found empty, but when he discovered it the drawers held pamphlets and manuscripts. He had not examined them, as I had given him strict orders not to do so, and his training in the German army had made him ready to obey the orders of his superiors absolutely. I felt that I was on the road to victory, and I wished to read those papers alone, so I told Griegen I should go up there at once, and that he might be free for the evening. After dinner, I was delayed for an hour or two, and reached the laboratory only as darkness was setting in. In my excitement, I must have forgotten to lock the door after me. I went at once to the inner room, turned on the incandescents, which I had had installed, found the panel easily, pressed the spring, opened the little door whose lock Griegen had already broken, and saw before me a set of four drawers. They were filled with manuscripts. I began at the top and read the titles one by one. Through three drawers filled with the record of various researches in radioactive matter and energy I passed. I opened the fourth. There was what I sought. Written in crabbed German script, on the top first page of the series, was the title. Translated, it read thus: ' A determination of a new type of radio-active energy which effects the ultimate decomposition of matter.' I seized the papers eagerly and, as I knelt there, began the preamble. I had hardly read a dozen words, when the lights suddenly went out. I started up, the manuscript in my hands, but, as I rose, I was struck down and half stunned by a blow in the head. To my dazed brain a giant seemed towering far above me, as the room opened to immeasurable distances, and I heard what seemed a sonorous voice, but what was probably the low tones of the man who stopped all war. ' It is not safe to have the secret in other hands than mine. For this mission was I doomed,' and I smelt a strange odor, faintly recalling some of the anaesthetics which belong to the higher orders of the methane series. Then I knew no more.

" I woke here in Holland, without memory of my name, without the slightest knowledge of where I was. Here I have remained, till you came to bring me back to life and to my senses once more."

He ended, and as fitting climax to his strange tale, the lamp flickered out, and the continuous long roll of the storm surged in once more in the fierce tattoo of its full fury.

We sat silent for some time, our only light the red ends of our cigars. Then Tom spoke.

" Anyway, I devoutly trust it's all over now. The end has been accomplished, and the world will be the better for it in the end. Yet it has been at a fearful cost."

" Yes," said Regnier, " but a single great war would have meant the death of many thousands more."

" One thing I should like to know," said Tom reflectively, " How do you account for your loss of memory ? "

" I'm not sure," answered Regnier, " but, if you remember, there was a paper published by some Germans a while ago, which discussed the properties of an anaesthetic which produced a loss of memory. It was one of the hydrocarbon compounds, and from the odor which came to me, I think my loss of memory may have come that way."

" That's a possible solution," said Tom. " At least it will do, unless we strike a better. But, confound it all, we haven't got ' the man ' who has been at the bottom of all this."

" Well, the search isn't over yet," interrupted Dorothy. " We can go on with it, now."

" We will go on with it," I broke in. " But I think we can do it much better from New York for a while."

Tom laughed. " Yes," he said. " There is no question that as long as Dorothy has made up her mind to be married in New York, New York is the one place from which to conduct the search for the present. Anyway, I'm not going to Tokio. I imagine ' the man ' will come right back home now."

" The Denckel apparatus was the means that stopped ' the man,' after all," I said musingly. " It has done so much, that I hope it will do the final thing of all, and discover ' the man.' "

Dorothy rose. " I hope it will," she remarked. " But, anyway, we've sat long enough. Now the thing I want to know is what our host has to say of the way Dick came here."

That was the question of the next morning, but the innkeeper could tell us little. Regnier had arrived in the company of an Englishman who had paid his board for three months, had told them to take especial care of the patient, and had left a package for him. That was all he knew. Regnier seized the package given him, and opened it eagerly. Two inner envelopes came next, and from the innermost he drew a package of five pound notes. He counted them.

" ' The man ' didn't intend to have me starve," he said. " Here's two hundred pounds. He must have given them to me, for I didn't have five pounds in my pocket that night."

When the messenger came from the city with the morning papers, we read them with avidity. ' The man ' had kept his word. Every government had received a wireless message couched in practically the same words as that which he had sent us. The world might rest easy, as long as peace reigned. We met in the wireless room after breakfast.

" May as well go to work taking this thing down," said Tom.

Our work at The Hague was over, and we hastened to pack our belongings and made ready to return to London by the Hook of Holland.

To the Savoy we went, a company of four. Regnier wished to get back into the world and to learn of the state of his affairs. We were anxious to get back to New York by the first steamer we could reach. I was especially anxious, for Dorothy had agreed, after much urging, to marry me a month after we reached New York. There were no relatives to hinder, and Tom, good old chap, seemed almost as glad of our approaching marriage as ourselves. I wanted to get back for another reason, too. I had been too long out of the writing game, and I felt that I could not afford to lose the momentum which my work with regard to the man who stopped all war had given me. So we secured passage on a boat leaving Liverpool three days after we reached London.

The day before we sailed, I found a letter in my mail with the royal arms. It was an invitation to James Orrington, Esq., to be present at the mustering out of the last regiments of the British army in Hyde Park that morning.

" We'll go," said Dorothy.

As she spoke, a waiter came to my side. " Gentleman to see you, sir."

I smiled as I rose. " That's not so thrilling a message now, sweetheart, as it has been any time these last months." Outside in the corridor was a gentleman of rather distinguished appearance, whom I had not seen before.

" Mr. James Orrington ? " he said inquiringly.

I responded affirmatively.

" I am Sir Arthur Braithwaite, one of the King's equerries," he said. " He sent you this by me," and he handed me a package and withdrew. I turned away to find Tom and Dorothy just passing. I showed them the package.

" Come up to my rooms," said Dorothy eagerly. " We'll open it there. This is just like getting Christmas presents."

The outer layers off showed a square white box. I pressed the spring. Within lay a golden cigarette case. Its top held an inscription in exquisitely carved letters. " To James Orrington, Esquire. He served the State before Himself." I lifted the case from its bed. Below was a brief note in the King's own hand. Beside the address and signature, it bore these words: " I have never forgotten the service you did to England, to the world, and to me.”

I looked up. Dorothy's eyes were veiled in a mist of tears. She came to me and kissed me. " Dear, I'm so glad, so proud of every bit of recognition. You deserve all of it," and Tom wrung my hand with his old numbing grip, crying, " Bully for you, old man. That's the first bit of furniture for the new house."

There was just time for us to reach Hyde Park before the review, and we all three crowded into a hansom and sped away. Thousands surrounded the reviewing field, and it was only with difficulty that we found our way through. Our card of invitation worked wonders, however, and with that marvellous command of crowds which the London police possess, we finally came through and found ourselves at the reviewing stand, just as the band announced the coming of the troops. The Foot Guards first, with that strange downthrust of the foot, relic of the marching step of many decades ago, then the Scots, and then regiment after regiment, till the whole field was covered with the pride of Britain's troops in their most gorgeous panoply of war. The King, in field marshal's uniform, stood at the centre. What thoughts must have racked his brain as he stood there silent, erect, immobile ! What visions of the long line of English sovereigns ! What memories of the thousands of reviews of centuries past, when Britain's soldiers left for wars of conquest, or returned, bearing new laurels, offering new lands to the great island empire ! The music ceased. As if by one accord, the ensigns of the regiments, bearing the old flags, torn by shot and shell, revealing in golden scroll the record of British prowess, came to the front and centre. Then, in one long line, forward came the colors. The King saluted, and they turned and formed a compact mass of brilliant color on the right. I heard a whispered question and answer.

" What is to be done with the colors ? " "They are to go to the Abbey for a chapel of the flags."

I watched the pageant, breathless. A hoarse command and the troops stacked arms; another and the music started up. Proudly, defiantly, in perfect formation, the troops wheeled and started the march past, their empty hands swaying at their sides. As they passed, the King saluted with raised hand, the officers' swords rising and falling with regular rhythm. As they passed the gleaming mass of color where stood the flags, they saluted once more. I could see the tears streaming from the rugged cheeks of many a war-worn veteran, and my own throat contracted at the spectacle. The King stood motionless at the salute. As they formed after the march, and stood for the last time in those ranks which had so often faced the foe, the general commanding turned and raised his sword. Cheer upon cheer broke forth for the King, and I found myself with Tom, good Americans as we were, cheering wildly, though with dry throats. The King raised his hand and the sound ceased.

He said but a single sentence. " Soldiers of the British Empire ! My soldiers, farewell!" Once more the cheering broke forth, but through the sound came music, and troop by troop, they wheeled and marched away. Not till the last man had gone did the King move, and when he turned I could see his face white and drawn with the agony of the hour. He walked heavily to his carriage and drove away, lifting his hat mechanically in response to the salutation of the crowd.

That night Regnier dined with us. I had never seen him so gay, so brilliant. He was full of his plans for an expedition to the Ural Mountains in search of some new deposits of platinum, for which he had obtained a grant from the Russian government. He was the life of our party, and we parted from him with regret. As he left, I walked out into the courtyard with him. He turned suddenly.

" Orrington," he said, " you've got the finest girl in the world to be your wife. You're not good enough for her. Nobody is, but I'm sure you'll make her happy. I've loved her for five years. I knew from the very first I had no chance. Goodbye, and God bless you both."

I stood and watched him till he passed through the arch and was lost in the roaring tide of the Strand.

" Poor chap," I said musingly, as I turned away. " Poor chap."

The voyage home was uneventful. The month before the wedding we spent chiefly in making plans for our new home, which was to be a country home. Slowly dragged the days before the wedding, twenty days, fifteen, ten, five. At last it came.

As Tom and I came up to the church on the wedding day, the snow was lying on the narrow lawn, crusting the roof and eaves with glittering crystals, and turning the ivy to a soft, clinging cloud. The flooding sunlight, transmitted through the two great windows of the tower, threw strange hues on the white tapestry and carpet of late winter. From within sounded the full diapason of the organ, breaking into rivers and floods of melody as the organist practised his prelude to the wedding march.

We swung back the door to find ourselves in the midst of a group of ushers, who fell upon me with one last volley of cheering and jeering remarks as I hurried through. I hastened by them, laughing, and passed with Tom to the tiny room beside the organ, where we were to wait till the moment that Dorothy came. After much discussion, it had been determined that Dorothy's uncle should give her away, while Tom acted as best man.

" It gives me rather more of a share in the proceedings," he said, — "I always like to have something doing."

The body of the church was hidden from our sight, but just before us rose the altar, lit by brazen candelabra which rested upon the altar cloth, hanging in heavy folds, and reached to the great mullioned window overhead, from which the Christ looks down in silent benediction. As we sat waiting, I breathed a silent prayer that I might be worthy, that our life together might be consecrated to loving service, that we might — Tom's voice broke in on my half-formulated thoughts. "

" See the Alpha and Omega embroidered on the altar cloth ? "

I nodded.

" And the Alpha of the whole thing came that day in Washington when you read the letter from ' the man.' Here's a part of the Omega. The beginning and the end. How little you could dream of all that has come when you left your office to look up some stupid transports, — or Dorothy imagine it when she went down to standardize that radium. But the end will never be complete till we find 'the man.' While he roams the earth with his secret the world is never wholly safe."

So the thread that had bound Dorothy and me together wove into our wedding hour. Our conversation ended there however, for at that moment a low bell tinkled, the first bars of the march began, and I started forward to meet my bride.

Quietly, reverently, happily, Dorothy and I took up our life together. Dorothy was never more beautiful, never more womanly and sweet than when she said " I do " in her low voice, and turned towards me with a look of loving confidence.

We had two weeks in the South, and then came back by special request to the Haldane house on the Long Island shore, where Tom had set up the wave-measuring machine in a laboratory which he had built on a bluff just above the beach and in which he was still at work on new ideas.

The morning after we arrived, Dorothy and I went out after breakfast to find Tom, who was bending over an inner cylinder of the machine, while the belt of metal quietly revolved.

" Got the whole thing set up, just as we used to have it, haven't you ? " I said.

" Yes," said Tom. " I'm always on the lookout for ' the man,' and then, too, I've got a notion that I can make some changes in the recording apparatus that will make computation easier."

" Has the man been experimenting at all lately with his high waves ? " asked Dorothy.

. " Yes," answered Tom. " I leave the machine adjusted for them every day, but I've only heard from him twice. I always keep two or three uncharged reflectoscopes on hand, as well. Some day he may go to experimenting where I can get hold of something."

I stood looking lazily out of the window. A large yacht lay just offshore, her white sides glistening in the morning sun. There was a touch of spring in the winter air. Suddenly, before my horror-stricken eyes, the yacht changed to a confused mass of boards which rose and fell on the tide. I heard a cry from Tom and Dorothy. "The man ! "

I turned. The golden ribbons of the reflectoscopes once more stood stiffly separate and the moving belt stood still. The beam of light was just fluttering to rest almost on the zero.

" Out there ! Right out there ! " I shouted. " Come! " and throwing open the door, I rushed towards the beach, followed by the others. I pointed to the mass of wreckage rising and falling on the tide. " There ! there ! " I shouted. " He just destroyed that yacht."

" There's a survivor," cried Tom, as we ran stumbling on over the rocks and sand towards a plank which bore a living man towards shore. Just as we came to him, he struck bottom and groped forward on his hands and knees through the waves. He reached the dry sand, rose and walked towards us. I looked at the man in amazement. I knew those features, yet they were so strangely drawn and fixed, so dominated by the dread-compelling power of the eyes that I paused. Then it came to me. " John King," I cried in amazement. King came steadily onward. A lightning flash illumined my brain.

" Are you the man who stopped all war ? " I cried eagerly.

Dorothy reached my side and clung to me as John King advanced with hesitating steps.

" I am," he answered slowly.

" Then why — then why did you destroy the yacht ? " shouted Tom, stammering in his excitement. " How — how have you lived when the others perished ? "

" The time to end had come," said John, in muffled, solemn tones. " I alone am immune; I did not think I was." As he spoke a still more awful change began to pass over his features. He staggered, stopped, and put his hand to his brow. "I — am — the — last — victim," he went on falteringly. " I — pay — the — final — price." The last words came in a thick gasp, "My secret is safe."

As he said that, he fell, and when we reached him he lay dead. The expression of his face had changed again. The sombre, awful majesty which had illumined it was gone. He looked once more like the young lad I had known and loved in years gone by, whose face so well expressed his noble spirit, ever impatient of injustice and wrong. After the weary struggle, his soul was once more poised and at rest. The world and the man who stopped all war were both at peace.

THE END.

 

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