The Invisible Death by Victor Rousseau
A COMPLETE NOVELETTE
Out of the Hangman's Hands
ou speak," said Von Kettler, jeering, "as if you really believed
that you had the power of life and death over me."
With night-rays and darkness-antidote America strikes back
at the terrific and destructive Invisible Empire.
The Superintendent of the penitentiary frowned, yet there was
something of perplexity in the look he gave the prisoner. "Von
Kettler, I think it is time that you dropped this absurd pose of
yours," he said, "in view of the fact that you are scheduled to die by
hanging at eight o'clock to-morrow night. Your life and death are in
your own hands."
Von Kettler bowed ironically. Standing in the Superintendent's
presence in the uniform of the condemned cell, collarless,
bare-headed, he yet seemed to dominate the other by a certain poise,
"Your life is offered you in consideration of your making a complete
written confession of the whole ramifications of the plot against the
Federal Government," the Superintendent continued.
"Rather a confession of weakness, my dear Superintendent," jeered the
h don't worry about that! The Government has unravelled a good deal
of the conspiracy. It knows that you and your international associates
are planning to strike at civilized government throughout the world,
in the effort to restore the days of autocracy. It knows you are
planning a world federation of states, based on the principles of
absolutism and aristocracy. It is aware of the immense financial
resources behind the movement. Also that you have obtained the use of
certain scientific discoveries which you believe will aid you in your
"I was wondering," jeered the prisoner, "how soon you were coming to
"They didn't help you in your murderous scheme," the Superintendent
thundered. "You were found in the War Office by the night watchman,
rifling a safe of valuable documents. You shot him with a pistol
equipped with a silencer. You shot down two more who, hearing his
cries, rushed to his aid. And you attempted to stroll out of the
building, apparently under the belief that you possessed mysterious
power which would afford you security."
"A little lapse of judgment such as may happen with the best laid
plans," smiled Von Kettler. "No, Superintendent, I'll be franker with
you than that. My capture was designed. It was decided to give the
Government an object lesson in our power. It was resolved that I
should permit myself to be captured, in order to demonstrate that you
cannot hang me, that I have merely to open the door of my cell, the
gates of this penitentiary, and walk out to freedom."
"Have you quite finished?" rasped the Superintendent.
"At your disposal," smiled the other.
"Here's your last chance, Von Kettler. Your persistence in this absurd
claim has actually shaken the expressed conviction of some of the
medical examiners that you are sane. If you will make that complete
written confession that the Government asks of you, I pledge you that
you shall be declared insane to-night, and sent to a sanitarium from
which you will be permitted to escape as soon as this affair has blown
he United States Government has sunk pretty low, to involve itself
in a deal of this character, don't you think, my dear Superintendent?"
jeered Von Kettler.
"The Government is prepared to act as it thinks best in the interests
of humanity. It knows that the death of one wretched murderer such as
yourself is not worth the lives of thousands of innocent men!"
"And there," smiled Von Kettler, without abating an atom of his
nonchalance, "there, my dear Superintendent, you hit the nail on the
head. Only, instead of thousands, you might have said millions."
Von Kettler's aspect changed. Suddenly his eyes blazed, his voice
shook with excitement, his face was the face of a fanatic, of a
"Yes, millions, Superintendent," he thundered. "It it a holy cause
that inspires us. We know that it is our sacred mission to save the
world from the drabness of modern democracy. The people—always the
people! Bah! what are the lives of these swarming millions worth when
compared with a Caesar, a Napoleon, an Alexander, a Charlemagne?
Nothing can stop us or defeat us. And you, with your confession of
defeat, your petty bargaining—I laugh at you!"
"You'll laugh on the gallows to-morrow night!" the Superintendent
Again Von Kettler was the calm, superior, arrogant prisoner of before.
"I shall never stand on the gallows trap, my dear Superintendent, as I
have told you many times," he replied. "And, since we have reached
what diplomacy calls a deadlock, permit me to return to my cell."
The Superintendent pressed a button on his desk; the guards, who had
been waiting outside the office, entered hastily. "Take this man
back," he commanded, and Von Kettler, head held high, and smiling,
left the room between them.
he Superintendent pressed another button, and his assistant entered,
a rugged, red-haired man of forty—Anstruther, familiarly known as
"Bull" Anstruther, the man who had in three weeks reduced the
penitentiary from a place of undisciplined chaos to a model of law
and order. Anstruther knew nothing of the Superintendent's offer to
Von Kettler, but he knew that the latter had powerful friends outside.
"Anstruther, I'm worried about Von Kettler," said the Superintendent.
"He actually laughed at me when I spoke of the possibility of another
medical examination. He seemed confident that he could not be hanged.
Swore that he will never stand on the gallows trap. How about your
precautions for to-morrow night?"
"We've taken all possible precautions," answered Anstruther. "Special
armed guards have been posted at every entrance to the building.
Detectives are patrolling all streets leading up to it. Every car that
passes is being scrutinized, its plate numbers taken, and forwarded to
the Motor Bureau. There's no chance of even an attempt at
"He's insane," said the Superintendent, with conviction, and the words
filled him with new confidence. It had been less Von Kettler's
statements than the man's cool confidence and arrogant superiority
that had made him doubt. "But he's not too insane to have known what
he was doing. He'll hang."
"He certainly will," replied Anstruther. "He's just a big bluff, sir."
"Have him searched rigorously again to-morrow morning, and his cell
too—every inch of it, Anstruther. And don't relax an iota of your
precautions. I'll be glad when it's all over."
He proceeded to hold a long-distance conversation with Washington over
a special wire.
n his cell, Von Kettler could be seen reading a book. It was
Nietzsche's "Thus Spake Zarathusta," that compendium of aristocratic
insolence that once took the world by storm, until the author's
mentality was revealed by his commitment to a mad-house. Von Kettler
read till midnight, closely observed by the guard at the trap, then
laid the word aside with a yawn, lay down on his cot, and appeared to
fall instantly asleep.
Dawn broke. Von Kettler rose, breakfasted, smoked the perfecto that
came with his ham and eggs, resumed his book. At ten o'clock Bull
Anstruther came with a guard and stripped him to the skin, examining
every inch of his prison garments. The bedding followed; the cell was
gone over microscopically. Von Kettler, permitted to dress again,
smiled ironically. That smile stirred Anstruther's gall.
"We know you're just a big bluff, Von Kettler," snarled the big man.
"Don't think you've got us going. We're just taking the usual
precautions, that's all."
"So unnecessary," smiled Von Kettler. "To-night I shall dine at the
Ambassador grill. Watch for me there. I'll leave a memento."
Anstruther went out, choking. Early in the afternoon two guards came
for Von Kettler.
"Your sister's come to say good-by to you," he was told, as he was
taken to the visitors' cell.
This was a large and fairly comfortable cell in a corridor leading off
the death house, designed to impress visitors with the belief that it
was the condemned man's permanent abode; and, by a sort of convention,
it was understood that prisoners were not to disabuse their visitors'
minds of the idea. The convention had been honorably kept. The
visitor's approach was checked by a grill, with a two-yards space
between it and the bars of the cell. Within this space a guard was
seated: it was his duty to see that nothing passed.
s soon as Von Kettler had been temporarily established in his new
quarters, a pretty, fair-haired young woman came along the corridor,
conducted by the Superintendent himself. She walked with dignity, her
bearing was proud, she smiled at her brother through the grill, and
there was no trace of weeping about her eyes.
She bowed with pretty formality, and Von Kettler saluted her with an
airy wave of the hand. Then they began to speak, and the German guard
who had been selected for the purpose of interpreting to the
Superintendent afterward, was baffled.
It was not German—neither was it French, Italian, or any of the
Romance languages. As a matter of fact, it was Hungarian.
Not until the half-hour was up did they lapse into English, and all
the while they might have been conversing on art, literature, or
sport. There was no hint of tragedy in this last meeting.
"Good-by, Rudy," smiled his sister, "I'll see you soon."
"To-night or to-morrow," replied Von Kettler indifferently.
The girl blew him a kiss. She seemed to detach it from her mouth and
extend it through the grill with a graceful gesture of the hand, and
Von Kettler caught it with a romantic wave of the fingers and strained
it to his heart. But it was only one of those queer foreign ways.
Nothing was passed. The alert guard, sitting under the electric light,
was sure of that.
They searched Von Kettler again after he was back in the death house.
The other cells were empty. In three of them detectives were placed.
In the yard beyond the hangman was experimenting with the trap. He
himself was under close observation. Nothing was being left to chance.
t seven o'clock two men collided in the death-house entrance. One was
a guard, carrying Von Kettler's last meal on a tray. He had demanded
Perigord truffles and paté de foie gras, cold lobster, endive salad,
and near-beer, and he had got them. The other was the chaplain, in a
state of visible agitation.
"If he was an atheist and mocked at me it wouldn't be so bad," the
good man declared. "I've had plenty of that kind. But he says he's not
going to be hanged. He's mad, mad as a March hare. The Government has
no right to send an insane man to the gallows."
"All bluff, my dear Mr. Wright," answered the Superintendent, when the
chaplain voiced his protest. "He thinks he can get away with it. The
commission has pronounced him sane, and he must pay the penalty of his
By that mysterious process of telegraphy that exists in all penal
institutions, Von Kettler's boast that he would beat the hangman had
become the common information of the inmates. Bets were being laid,
and the odds against Von Kettler ranged from ten to fifteen to one. It
was generally agreed, however, that Von Kettler would die game to the
"You all ready, Mr. Squires?" the prowling Superintendent asked the
"Everything's O. K., sir."
The Superintendent glanced at the group of newspaper men gathered
about the gallows. They, too, had heard of the prisoner's boast. One
of them asked him a question. He silenced him with an angry look.
"The prisoner is in his cell, and will be led out in ten minutes. You
shall see for yourselves how much truth there it in this absurdity,"
e looked at his watch. It lacked five minutes of eight. The
preparations for an execution had been reduced almost to a formula.
One minute in the cell, twenty seconds to the trap, forty seconds for
the hangman to complete his arrangements: two minutes, and then the
thud of the false floor.
Four minutes of eight. The little group had fallen silent. The hangman
furtively took a drink from his hip-pocket flask. Three minutes! The
Superintendent walked back to the door of the death house and nodded
to the guard.
"Bring him out quick!" he said.
The guard shot the bolt of Von Kettler's cell. The Superintendent saw
him enter, heard a loud exclamation, and hurried to his side. One
glance told him that the prisoner had made good his boast.
Von Kettler's cell was empty!
aptain Richard Rennell, of the U. S. Air Service, but temporarily
detached to Intelligence, thought that Fredegonde Valmy had never
looked so lovely as when he helped her out of the cockpit.
Her dark hair fell in disorder over her flushed cheeks, and her eyes
were sparkling with pleasure.
"A thousand thanks, M'sieur Rennell," she said, in her low voice with
its slight foreign intonation. "Never have I enjoyed a ride more than
to-day. And I shall see you at Mrs. Wansleigh's ball to-night?"
"I hope so—if I'm not wanted at Headquarters," answered Dick, looking
at the girl in undisguised admiration.
"Ah, that Headquarters of yours! It claims so much of your time!" she
pouted. "But these are times when the Intelligence Service demands
much of its men, is it not so?"
"Who told you I was attached to Intelligence?" demanded Dick bluntly.
She laughed mockingly. "Do you think that is not known all over
Washington?" she asked. "It is strange that Intelligence should act
like the—the ostrich, who buries his head in the sand and thinks that
no one sees him because it is hidden."
Dick looked at the girl in perplexity. During the past month he had
completely lost his head and heart over her, and he was trying to view
her with the dispassionate judgment that his position demanded.
As the niece of the Slovakian Ambassador, Mademoiselle Valmy had the
entry to Washington society. The Ambassador was away on leave, and she
had appeared during his absence, but she had been accepted
unquestionably at the Embassy, where she had taken up her quarters,
explaining—as the Ambassador confirmed by cable—that she had sailed
under a misconception as to the date of his leave.
runette, beautiful, charming, she had a score of hearts to play with,
and yet Dick flattered himself that he stood first. Perhaps the others
"Of course," the girl went on, "with the Invisible Emperor threatening
organized society, you gentlemen find yourselves extremely busy. Well,
let us hope that you locate him and bring him to book."
"Sometimes," said Dick slowly, "I almost think that you know something
about the Invisible Emperor."
Again she laughed merrily. "Now, if you had said that my sympathies
were with the Invisible Emperor, I might have been surprised into an
acknowledgment," she answered. "After all, he does stand for that
aristocracy that has disappeared from the modern world, does he not?
For refinement of manners, for beauty of life, for all those things
men used to prize."
"Likewise for the existence of the vast body of the nation in
ignorance and poverty, in filth and squalor," answered Dick. "No, my
sympathies are with law and order and democracy, and your Invisible
Emperor and his crowd are simply a gang of thieves and hold-up men."
"Be careful!" A warning fire burned in the girl's eyes. "At least, it
is known that the Emperor's ears are long."
"So are a jackass's," retorted Dick.
He was sorry next moment, for the girl received his answer in icy
silence. In his car, which conveyed them from the tarmac to the
Embassy, she received all his overtures in the same silence. A frigid
little bow was her farewell to him, while Dick, struggling between
resentment and humiliation, sat dumb and wretched at the wheel.
Yet the idea that Fredegonde Valmy had any knowledge of the conspiracy
or its leaders never entered Dick's head. He was only miserable that
he had offended her, and he would have done anything to have
straightened out the trouble.
t seemed impossible that in the year 1940 the peace of the civilized
world could be threatened by an international conspiracy bent on
restoring absolutism, and yet each day showed more clearly the immense
ramifications of the plot. Each day, too, brought home to the
investigating governments more clearly the fact that the things they
had discovered were few in number in comparison with those they had
The headquarters of the conspirators had never been discovered, and it
was suspected that the powerful mind behind them was intentionally
leading the investigators along false trails.
The conspiracy was world-wide. It had been behind the revolution that
had recreated an absolutist monarchy in Spain. It had plunged Italy
into civil war. It had thrown England into the convulsions of a
succession of general strikes, using the communist movement as a cloak
for its activities.
But nobody dreamed that America could become a fertile field for its
insidious propaganda. Yet it was behind the millions of adherents of
the so-called Freemen's Party, clamoring for the destruction of the
constitution. Upon the anarchy that would follow the absolutist regime
was to be erected.
Already the mysterious powers had struck. Departments of State had
been entered and important papers abstracted. The Germania had
mysteriously disappeared in mid-Atlantic, and a shipping panic had
ensued. There were tales of mysterious figures materializing out of
nothingness. It was known that the conspirators were in possession of
certain chemical and electrical devices with which they hoped to
achieve their ends.
The Superintendent of the penitentiary had had in his pocket an
authorization to stop the execution of Von Kettler after he stood on
the trap. Dead, he would be a mere mark of vengeance: alive, he might
be persuaded to furnish some clue to the headquarters of the
nd behind the conspirators loomed the unknown figure that signed
itself the Invisible Emperor—in the communications that poured in to
the White House and to the rulers of other nations. In the threats
that were materializing with stunning swiftness.
Who was he? Rumor said that a former European ruler had not died as
was supposed: that a coffin weighted with lead had been buried, and
that he himself in his old age, had gone forth to a mad scheme of
world conquest with a body of his nobles.
It had been practically a state of war since the shipment of gold,
guarded by a detachment of police, had been stolen in broad daylight
outside Baltimore, the police clubbed and killed by invisible
assailants—as they claimed. The press was under censorship, troops
under arms, and it was reported that the fleet was mobilizing.
In the midst of it all, Washington shopped, danced, feasted, flirted,
like a swarm of may flies over a treacherous stream.
Intelligence was alert. As Dick started to drive away from the
Slovakian Embassy, a man stepped quickly to the side of the car and
thrust an envelope into his hand. Dick opened it quickly. He was
wanted by Colonel Stopford at once, not at the camouflaged
Headquarters at the War Department, but at the real Headquarters where
no papers were kept but weighty decisions were made. And to that
devious course the Government had already been driven.
Dick parked his car in a side street—it would have been under
espionage in any of the official parking places—and set off at a
smart walk toward his destination. Nobody would have guessed, from the
appearance of the streets, that a national calamity was impending. The
shopping crowds were swarming along the sidewalks, cars tailed each
other through the streets; only a detachment of soldiers on the White
House lawn lent a touch of the martial to the scene.
he building which Dick entered was an ordinary ten-story one in the
business section; the various legal firms and commercial concerns that
occupied it would have been greatly surprised to have known the
identity of the Ira T. Graves, Importer, whose name appeared in modest
letters upon the opaque glass door on the seventh story. Inside a
flapper stenographer—actually one of the most trusted members of
Intelligence's staff—asked Dick's name, which she knew perfectly
well. Not a smile or a flicker of an eyelid betrayed the fact.
"Mr. Rennell," said Dick with equal gravity.
The girl passed into an inner room, and a buzzer sounded. In a few
moments the girl came back.
"Mr. Graves will be here in a few minutes, Mr. Rennell, if you'll
kindly wait in his office," she said.
Dick thanked her, and walked through into the empty office. He waited
there till the girl had closed the door behind him, then went out by
another door and found himself again in the corridor. Opposite him was
a door with the words "Entrance 769" and a hand pointing down the
corridor to where the Intelligence service had established another
perfectly innocent front. Dick tapped lightly at this door, and a key
turned in the lock.
The man who stepped quickly back was one of the heads of the Civil
Service. The man at the flat-topped desk was Colonel Stopford. The man
on a chair beside him was one of the heads of the police force.
he Colonel, a big, elderly man, dressed in a grey sack suit, checked
Dick's commencing salutation. "Never mind etiquette, Rennell," he
said. "Sit down. You've heard about the man Von Kettler's escape last
night, of course?"
"It's known, then. We can't keep things dark. He vanished from his
cell in the death house, three minutes before the time appointed for
his execution, though, as a matter of fact, he wasn't going to be
hanged. Apparently he walked through the walls.
"There's a sequel to it, Rennell. It seems he had told the
assistant-superintendent, a man named Anstruther, that he'd meet him
at a restaurant in town that night. He promised to leave him a
memento. Anstruther happened to remember this boast of Von Kettler's,
and he surrounded the restaurant with armed detectives, on the chance
that the fellow would show up. Rennell, Von Kettler was there!"
"He went to this restaurant, sir?"
"He walked in, just before the place was surrounded, engaged a table,
and ordered a sumptuous meal. He told the waiter his name, said he
expected a friend to join him, walked into the wash-room—and
vanished! Two minutes later Anstruther and his men were on the job.
Von Kettler never came out of the wash-room, so far as anybody knows.
"In the midst of the hue and cry somebody pointed to the table that
Von Kettler had engaged. There was a twenty-dollar bill upon it, and a
scrap of paper reading: 'I've kept my word. Von K.'"
Colonel Stopford looked at Dick fixedly. "Rennell, we may be fools,"
he said, "but we realize what we're up against. It's a big thing, and
we're going to need all our fighting grit to overcome it. You're one
of the four men we're depending on. We're counting on you because of
your record, and because of your degree in science at Heidelberg. The
President wishes you to take charge of the whole Eastern Intelligence
District, covering the entire south-eastern seaboard of the United
States. You are to have complete freedom of action, and all civil,
military, and naval officials have received instructions to co-operate
"There goes Mrs. Wansleigh's ball," thought Dick, but he said nothing.
e're not the hunters, Dick Rennell," went on Colonel Stopford.
"We're hiding under cover, and I'm counting on you to turn the tables.
They even know my office is here. I had a long distance call from
Savannah this morning in mocking vein. They advised me to have the
White House watched to-night. I warned the President, and we've posted
guards all round it."
"They held the wire while you called up the President?" asked Dick.
"Damn it, no! They called me up from Scranton the instant he'd
finished speaking. They have the power of the devil, Rennell, with
that infernal invisibility invention of theirs. Rennell, we're
fighting unknown forces. Who this Invisible Emperor is, we don't even
know. But one thing we've found out. He has his headquarters somewhere
in your district. Somewhere along the south Atlantic seaboard. The
greater part of his activities emanate from there. But we're fighting
in the dark. The clue, the master clue that will enable us to locate
him—that's what we lack."
The sun had set, it was beginning to grow dark. Colonel Stopford
switched on the electric lamp beside his desk.
"What have you to say, Rennell?" he asked; and Dick was aware that the
two other men were regarding him attentively.
"It's evident," said Dick, "that Von Kettler possessed this means of
invisibility in his cell, and wasn't detected. He simply slipped out
when the guard came to fetch him."
"Invisibility? Yes! But invisible's not the same thing as
transparent," cried Stopford. "These folks have operated in broad
daylight. They're transparent, damn them! Not even a shadow! You know
what I mean, Rennell! What I'm thinking of! That crazy man you were in
touch with six months ago, who prophesied this! We turned him down! He
showed me a watch and said the salvation of the world was inside the
case! I thought him insane!"
ou mean Luke Evans, sir. That watch was his pocket model. He went
off in a huff, saying the time would come when we'd want him and not
be able to find him."
"But, damn him, he wanted to produce universal darkness, or some such
nonsense, Rennell, and I told him that we wanted light, not darkness."
"It wasn't exactly that, sir." Colonel Stopford was a man of the old
school: he had been an artillery officer in the Great War, and was
characteristically impatient of new notions. Dick began carefully:
"You'll remember, sir, old Evans claimed to have been the inventor of
that shadow-breaking device that was stolen from him and sold in
"To a moving picture company!" snorted Stopford. "I asked him what
moving pictures had to do with war."
"Evans was convinced that the invention would be applied to war. He
claimed that it made the modern methods of military camouflage out of
date completely. He said that by destroying shadows one could produce
invisibility, since visibility consists in the refraction of wave
lengths by material objects.
"When they stole his invention, he foresaw that it would be used in
war. He set to work to nullify his own invention. He told me that he
had unintentionally given to the enemies of the United States a means
of bringing us to our knees, since he believed that British motion
picture company was actually a subsidiary of Krupp's. He worked out a
method of counteracting it."
"You must get him, Rennell. Even if it's all nonsense, we can't afford
to let any chance go. If Evans's invention will counteract this damned
The telephone on the Colonel's desk rang. He picked it up, and his
face assumed an expression of incredulity. He looked about him, like a
man bewildered. He beckoned to the police official, who hurried to his
side, and thrust the receiver into his hand. The official listened.
"All right," he said. He turned to Dick and the Civil Service
"Gentlemen," he said, "the President has disappeared from his office
in the White House, and there are grave fears that he has been
In the White House
olonel Stopford's car had been parked around the corner of the
building, and within a minute the four men were inside it, Stopford at
the wheel, and racing in the direction of the White House. A nod to
the guard at the gate, and they were inside the grounds. At the
entrance a single guard, in place of the four who should have been
posted there, challenged sharply, and attempted to bar the way, not
recognizing Dick or Stopford in their civilian clothes.
"Where's your officer?" demanded Stopford sharply.
Half-cowed by the Colonel's manner, the young recruit hesitated, and
the four swept him out of the way and hurried on. The scene outside
the main entrance to the White House was one of indescribable
confusion. Soldiers were swarming in confused groups, some trying to
force an entrance, others pouring out. Every moment civilians,
streaming over the lawn, added to the number. Discipline seemed almost
abandoned. From inside the building came outbursts of screams and
cursing, the scuffling of a mob.
"Roscoe! Roscoe!" shouted Stopford. "Where's the President's
secretary? Who's seen him? Let us pass immediately!"
No one paid the least attention to him. But a short, bare-headed
civilian, who was struggling in the crowd, heard, and shouted in
answer, waved his arms, and began to force his way toward the four. It
was Roscoe, the secretary of President Hargreaves. The President was a
childless widower, and Roscoe lived in the White House with him and
was intimately in his confidence.
Roscoe gained Stopford's side. "Say—they've got him!" he panted.
"They've got him somewhere—inside the building. They're trying to get
him out! We've got to save him—but we can't see them—or him. They've
made him invisible too, curse them! I heard him crying, 'Help me,
Roscoe!' He saw me, I tell you—and I didn't know where he was!"
he little secretary was almost incoherent with fear and anger. The
five men, forming a wedge, hurled themselves forward. Out of the White
House entrance appeared a tall officer, revolver in hand. It was
Colonel Simpson, of the President's staff. Half beside himself, he
swept the weapon menacingly about him, shouting incoherently, and
clearing a passage, into which the five hurled themselves.
Stopford seized his revolver hand, and after a brief struggle Simpson
"He's in the building!" he shouted wildly. "Somewhere upstairs! I'm
trying to form a cordon, but this damned mob's in the way. Kick those
civilians out!" he cried to the soldiers. "Shoot them if they don't
go! Guard the windows!"
Stopford and Dick, at the head of the wedge, pushed past into the
White House. The interior was packed, men were struggling frantically
on the staircase; it seemed hopeless to try to do anything.
Suddenly renewed yells sounded from above, a scream of anguish, howls
of terror. There came a downward surge, then a forward and upward one,
which carried the two men up the stairs and into the President's
private apartments above.
In the large reception-room a mob was struggling at a window, beneath
a blaze of electric light. A soldier was standing there like a statue,
his face fixed with a leer of horror. In his hands was a rifle, with a
blood-stained bayonet, dripping upon the hardwood floor at the edge of
the rug. Upon the rug itself a stream of blood was spouting out of the
Dick looked at the sight and choked. There was something appalling in
the sight: it was the quintessence of horror, that widening pool of
blood, staining the rug, and flowing from an invisible body that
writhed and twisted, while moans of anguish came from unseen lips.
Colonel Stopford leaped back, livid and staring. "God, it's got
eyes—two eyes!" he shouted.
Dick saw them too. The eyes, which alone were visible, were about six
inches from the floor, and they were appearing and disappearing, as
they opened and shut alternately. It was a man lying there, a dying
man, pierced by the soldier's bayonet by pure accident, dying and yet
he mob had scattered with shrieks of terror, but a few bolder spirits
remained in a thin circle about that fearful thing on the rug. Dick
bent over the man, and felt the outlines of the writhing body. It was
a man, apparently dressed in some sort of uniform, but this was
covered, from the top of the head to the feet, with a sort of sheer
silken garment, bifurcating below the waist, and resembling a cocoon.
It seemed to appear and alternately to vanish.
Dick seized the filmy stuff in his fingers, rent it, and stripped it
away. Yells of terror and amazement broke from the throats of all.
Instantly the thin circle of spectators had become reinforced by a
struggling mass of men.
The half-visible cocoon clung to Dick's body like spider webs. But the
man who had been wearing it had sprung instantly into view beneath the
cluster of electric lights. He was a fair-haired young fellow of about
thirty years, his features white and set in the agony of death.
He was dressed in a trim uniform of black, with silver braid, and on
his shoulders were the insignia of a lieutenant. He opened his eyes,
blue as the skies, and stared about him. He seemed to understand what
had happened to him.
"Dogs!" he muttered.
Shrieks of fury answered him. The mob surged toward him as if to grind
his face to pieces under their feet—and then recoiled, mouthing and
gibbering. But it was at Dick that they were looking, not at the dying
He raised himself upon one elbow with a mighty effort. "His Majesty
the Invisible Emperor! Long be his reign triumphant!" he chanted. It
was his last credo. The words broke from his lips accompanied by a
torrent of red foam. His head dropped back, his body slipped down; he
was gone. And no one seemed to observe his passing. They were all
screaming and gibbering at Dick.
"Rennell! Rennell!" yelled Stopford. "Where are you, Rennell? God,
man, what's happened to your legs?"
Dick looked down at himself. For a moment he had the illusion that he
was a head and a trunk, floating in the air. His lower limbs had
become invisible, except for patches of trousering that seemed to
drift through space. The mob in the room had fallen back gaping at him
Then Dick understood. It was the invisible garment that had coiled
itself about him. He tore it from him and became visibly a man once
Shouts from another room! A surging movement of the crowd toward it.
The muffled sounds of an automatic pistol, fitted with a silencer!
"The devils are in there! They're murdering the soldiers!"
There followed a panic-stricken rush, more muffled firing, and then
the sharp roar of rifles, and the fall of plaster. Some one was
bawling the President's name. The rooms became a mass of milling human
beings, lost to all self-control.
A bedlam of noise and struggle. Men fought with one another blindly,
cursing soldiers fired promiscuously among the mob, riddling the
walls, stabbing at the air. The plaster was falling in great chunks
everywhere, filling the rooms with a heavy white cloud, in which all
choked and struggled. The yells of the civilian mob below, struggling
helplessly in the packed crowd that wedged the great stairway, made
babel. Outside the White House a dense mob that filled the lawns was
yelling back, and struggling to gain admittance. Suddenly the lights
"They've cut the wires!" rose a wild, wailing voice. "The devils have
cut the wires! Kill them! Kill everybody!"
His cry ended in a gurgle. Somewhere in that dark hell a struggle was
going on, a well defined struggle, different from the random, aimless
battling of the half-crazed soldiers and the civilians. President
Hargreaves was still within the walls of the White House, it was
known; it was physically impossible for him to have been carried away
when every foot of space was packed. And through that darkness the
invisible assailants were edging him, foot by foot, toward the
ick was on the edge of this silent battle. He sensed it. Bracing
himself against a bureau, while the mob surged past him, he tried to
pierce the gloom, to reinforce with his perceptions what his instinct
told him. A soldier, crazed with fear, came leaping at him, bayonet
leveled. He thrust with a grunt. Dick avoided the glancing steel by a
hand's breadth, and, as the impetus of the man's attack carried him
forward, caught him beneath the chin with a stiff right-hand jolt that
sent him sprawling.
From below the cries broke out again, with renewed violence: "They've
got the President! Get them! Get them! Close all doors and windows!"
But a door went crashing down somewhere, to the tune of savage yells.
The mob was pouring down the stairs. It was growing less packed above.
Dick heard Stopford's voice calling his name.
"Here, sir" he shouted back, and the two men collided.
"For God's sake do what you can, Rennell!" shouted the Colonel.
"They've got the President downstairs. They had him in this very room,
in the thick of it all. I heard him cry out, as if under a gag. They
put one of those damned cloths over him. God, Rennell, I'm going
The upper floor of the White House was almost empty now. Dick thrust
himself into the crowd that still jammed the stairs. He reached the
ground floor. It was lighter here, but a glance showed him that it was
impossible to attempt to restore any semblance of order. The big East
Room was jammed with a fighting, cursing throng. Dick stumbled over
the bodies of those who had fallen in the press, or had been shot
down. Outside the mob was thickening, swarming through the grounds and
screeching like madmen.
othing that could be done! Dick found himself caught once more in the
human torrent. Presently he was wedged up against a broken window. He
precipitated himself through the frame, dropped to the ground, stopped
for an instant to catch breath.
The yelling mob was congregated about the main entrance of the White
House, and on this side the grounds were comparatively empty. As Dick
stopped, trying desperately to form some plan of action, he heard
footsteps and low voices near him. Then two men came toward him,
followed by three or four others.
The men—but, though the light was faint, Dick realized instantly that
they were wearing invisible garments. He could see nothing of them; he
could see through where they seemed to be—the trees, the buildings of
the streets. Yet they were at his elbow. And they saw him. He heard
one of them leap, and sprang aside as the butt of a pistol descended
through the air and dropped where his head had been.
Yet no hand had seemed to hold it. It had been a pistol, reversed, and
flashing downward, to be arrested in mid-air six inches from his face.
But the men were not wholly invisible. Nearly six feet above the
ground, three or four pairs of eyes were staring malevolently into
Dick's. Only the eyes were there.
The two foremost men were breathing heavily. They were carrying
something. Grotesquely through a rent in the invisible garment Dick
saw a patch of trouser. He heard a muffled sigh. President Hargreaves,
in the hands of his abductors!
Dick's actions were reflex. As the pistol hung beside his face, he
snatched at it, wrested it away, struck with it, and heard a curse and
felt the yielding impact of bone and flesh. He had missed the head but
struck the shoulder. Next moment hands gripped the weapon, and a
desperate struggle began.
t was torn from Dick's grasp. He struck out at random, and his fist
collided with the chin of a substantial flesh and blood human being.
Invisible arms grasped him. He fought free. The pistol slashed his
face sidewise, the sight ripping a strip of flesh from the cheek. He
was surrounded, he was being beaten down, though he was fighting
"Kill the swine! Shoot! Shoot!" Dick heard one of his assailants
Out of the void appeared the blue muzzle of another automatic, with a
silencer on it. Dick ducked as a flame spurted from it. He felt the
bullet stir his hair. He grasped at the hand that held it, and missed.
Then he was held fast, and the muzzle swung implacably toward his head
again. Helpless, he watched it describe that arc of death. It was only
later that he wondered why he had fought all the while in silence,
instead of crying for help.
But of a sudden the pistol was dashed aside. A woman's voice spoke
peremptorily, in some language Dick did not understand. And he saw her
eyes among the eyes that glared at him. Dark eyes that he knew, even
if the voice had not revealed her identity. The eyes and voice of
Dick cried her name. He put forth all his strength in a final
struggle. Suddenly he felt a stunning impact on the back of the head.
He slipped, reeled, threw out his hands, and sank down unconscious on
the grass at the side of the path.
The Invisible Ambassador
redegonde Valmy implicated in the conspiracy! That was the first
thought that flashed into Dick's mind as he recovered consciousness.
He might have suspected it! But the idea that the girl he loved was
bound up with the murderous gang that was attacking the very
foundations of civilization chilled him to the soul.
Dick had been picked up a few minutes after he had been struck down,
identified by Colonel Stopford as he was about to be removed to a
hospital, and carried into the White House. Order had been restored by
the arrival of a detachment of troops from Fort Myers, the severed
cables located and mended, and by midnight the interior of the
Presidential home had been made habitable again.
President Hargreaves was gone—kidnapped despite the utmost efforts to
protect him; and it was impossible to conceal that fact from the
world. But the wheels of government still revolved. All night an
emergency council sat in the White House, and, deciding that in a time
of such grave danger heroic means must be adopted, with the consent of
such of the Congressional leaders as could be summoned, a Council of
Defence was organized.
The whole country east of the Mississippi was placed under martial
law. The fleet and army were put on a war footing. Flights of
airplanes were assembled at numerous points along the eastern
seaboard. To this Council Donald was attached as head of Intelligence
for the Eastern Division. Yet all this availed little unless the
location of the Invisible Empire could be ascertained, and, despite
telegraphic reports that came in hourly, alleging to have discovered
its headquarters, nothing had been achieved in this direction.
he garment taken from the slain soldier had been examined by a
half-dozen of the leading chemists of the East. Pending the arrival
from New York of the celebrated Professor Hosmeyer, it was deposited
under military guard in a dark closet. The result was unfortunate. The
garment exhibited to the assembled scientists was a mere bifurcated
The gas with which it had been impregnated, though it had been heavy
enough to adhere to the fabric for hours, had also been volatile
enough to have disappeared completely, leaving a residue which was
identified as a magnesium isotope.
Equally spectacular had been the disappearance of Mademoiselle
Fredegonde Valmy. A cable from the Slovakian Ambassador had arrived a
few hours later, denying her authenticity. And with her disappearance
came the discovery that she had been at the head of an espionage
system with ramifications in every state department, and in every
Three days passed with no sign from the enemy. The Council sat all
day. In the executive offices of the White House Dick toiled
ceaselessly, planning, receiving reports, organizing the flights of
airplanes at strategic points throughout his district. From time to
time he would be summoned to the Council. At night he threw himself
upon a cot in his office and slept a sleep broken by the constant
arrival of messengers. And still there was no clue to the location of
the headquarters of the marauders.
But in those three days there had been no sign of them. Hope had
succeeded despair; in the rebound of confidence the populace was
beginning to ridicule the nation-wide precautions against what were
coming to be considered merely a gang of super-criminals. It was even
whispered that President Hargreaves had not been kidnapped at all. The
Freemen's Party accused the Government of a plot to subvert popular
ick received a summons on the third evening. Utterly worn out with
his work, he pulled himself together and made his way into the Blue
Room, where the Council was assembled. Vice-president Tomlinson, an
elderly man, was in the chair. A non-entity, pushed into a post it had
been thought he would adorn innocuously, he had been overwhelmed by
his succession to the chief office of State.
Tomlinson did not like Dick, or any of the hustling younger officers
who, unlike himself, realized the real significance of the danger that
overhung the country. He sat pompously in his leather chair, regarding
Dick as he entered in obedience to the summons.
"Well, Captain Rennell, what have you to report to us this evening?"
he inquired, as Dick saluted and stood to attention at the table.
"We're improving our concentrations, Mr. Vice-president. We've eight
flights of seaplanes scouring the coast in the hope of locating the
stronghold of the Invisible Emperor. We've—"
"I'm sick and tired of that title," shouted Tomlinson. He sprang to
his feet, his face flushed with anger. His nerves had broken under the
continuous strain. "I'll give you my opinion, Captain Rennell," he
said. "And that is that this so-called Invisible Emperor is a myth.
"A gang of thieves has invented a paint that renders them
inconspicuous, has created a panic, and is taking advantage of it to
terrorize the country. The whole business is poppycock, in my opinion,
and the sooner this bubble bursts the better. Well, sir, what have you
to say to that?"
"Have you ever seen any of these men in their invisible clothing, if I
may ask, Mr. Vice-president?" inquired Dick, trying to keep down his
anger. His nerves, too, were badly frazzled.
"No, sir, I have not, but my opinion is that this story is grossly
exaggerated, and that the persons responsible are the reporters of our
sensational press!" thundered Tomlinson.
e looked about him, a weak man proud of having asserted his
authority. Somebody laughed.
Tomlinson glared at Dick, his rubicund visage purpling. But it was not
Dick who had laughed. Nor any one at the council table.
That laugh had come from the wall beside the door. Again it broke
forth, high-pitched, cold, derisive. All heads turned as if upon
pivots to see who had uttered it.
"Good God!" exclaimed Secretary Norris, of the War Department, and
slumped in his chair.
Five feet eight inches from the floor a pair of grey eyes looked at
the Council members out of emptiness. Grey eyes, a man's eyes, cool,
contemptuous, and filled with authority, with a contemptuous sense of
superiority that left every man there dumb.
Dick was the first to recover himself. He stepped forward, not to
where the invisible man was standing, but to a point between him and
That cold laugh broke forth again. "Gentlemen, I am an ambassador from
my sovereign, who chooses to be known as the Invisible Emperor," came
the words. "As such, I claim immunity. Not that I greatly care, should
you wish to violate the laws of nations and put me to death. But,
believe me, in such case the retribution will be a terrible one."
Suddenly the envoy peeled off the gas-impregnated garments that
covered him. He stood before the Council, a fair-haired young man,
clad in the same fashion of trim black uniform as the bayonetted
soldier had worn upstairs three nights before.
He bowed disdainfully, and it was Tomlinson who shouted:
"Arrest that man! I know his face! I've seen it in the papers. He's
Von Kettler, the murderer who escaped from jail in an invisible suit."
"Oh, come, Mr. Vice-president," laughed Von Kettler, "are you sure
this isn't all very much exaggerated?"
Tomlinson sank back in his chair, his ruddy face covered with sweat.
Dick stared at Von Kettler. A suspicion was forming in his mind. He
had seen eyes like those before, dark instead of grey, and yet with
the same look of pride and breeding in them; the look of the face,
too, impossible to mistake—he knew!
Fredegonde Valmy was Von Kettler's sister!
ell, gentlemen, am I to receive the courtesies of an ambassador?"
inquired Van Kettler, advancing.
"You shall have the privileges of the gallows rope!" shouted
Tomlinson. "Arrest that man at once, Captain Rennell!"
"Pardon me, Mr. Vice-president," suggested the Secretary for the Navy
blandly, "but perhaps it would be more desirable to hear what he has
"Immunity for thieves, robbers, murderers!"
"Might I suggest," said Von Kettler suavely, "that, since the United
States has honored my master by placing itself upon a war footing, it
has accorded him the rights of a belligerent?"
"We'll hear you, Mr. Von Kettler," said the Secretary of State,
glancing along the table. Three or four nodded, two shook their heads:
Tomlinson only glared speechlessly at the intruder. Von Kettler
advanced to the table and laid a paper upon it.
"You recognize that signature, gentlemen?" he asked.
At the bottom of the paper Dick saw scrawled the bold and unmistakable
signature of President Hargreaves.
"An order signed by the President of your country," purred Von
Kettler, "ordering your military forces replaced upon a peace footing,
and the acceptance of our conditions. They are not onerous, and will
not interfere with the daily life of the country. Merely a little
change in that outworn document, the Constitution. My master rules
Somebody laughed: another laughed: but it was the Secretary of State
who did the fine thing. He took up the paper bearing what purported to
be President Hargreaves's signature, and tore it in two.
"The people of this country are her rulers," he said, "not an old man
dragooned into signing a proclamation while in captivity—if indeed
that is President Hargreaves's signature."
here came a sudden burst of applause. Von Kettler's face became the
mask of a savage beast. He shook his fist furiously.
"You call my master a forger?" he shouted. "You yourselves repudiate
your own Constitution, which places the control of army and navy in
the hands of your President? You refuse to honor his signature?"
"Listen to me, Mr. Von Kettler!" The voice of the Secretary of State
cut like a steel edge. "You totally mistake the temper of the people
of this country. We don't surrender, even to worthy adversaries, much
less to a gang of common thieves, murderers, and criminals like
yourselves. You have been accorded the privilege you sought, that of
an envoy, and that was straining the point. Show yourself here again
after two minutes have elapsed, and you'll go to the gallows—for
"Dogs!" shouted Von Kettler, beside himself with fury. "Your doom is
upon you even at this moment. I have but to wave my arm, and
Washington shall be destroyed, and with her a score of other cities. I
tell you you are at our mercy. Thousands of lives shall pay for this
insult to my master. I warn you, such a catastrophe is coming as shall
show you the Invisible Emperor does not threaten in vain!"
With complete nonchalance the Secretary of State took out his watch.
"One minute and fifteen seconds remaining. Captain Rennell," he said.
"At the expiration of that time, put Mr. Von Kettler under arrest. I
advise you to go back to your master quickly, Mr. Von Kettler," he
added, "and tell him that we'll have no dealings with him, now or
or a moment longer Von Kettler stood glaring; then, with a laugh of
derision and a gesture of the hands he vanished from view. And, though
they might have expected that denouement, the members of the Council
leaped to their feet, staring incredulously at the place where he had
been. Nothing of Von Kettler was visible, not even the eyes, and there
sounded not the slightest footfall.
Dick sprang forward to the door, but his outstretched arms encountered
only emptiness. In spite of the Secretary of State's instructions, he
was almost minded to apprehend the man. If he could get him!
The corridor was empty. A guard of soldiers was at the entrance, but
they did not block the entrance. Even now Von Kettler might be passing
them! Why didn't his feet sound upon the floor? How could a bulky man
glide so smoothly?
Perhaps because Dick was undecided what to do, Von Kettler escaped
him. By the time he reached the guards he knew he had escaped.
Suddenly there came an unexpected denouement. Somewhere on the White
House lawn a guard challenged, fired. The snap of one of the silenced
automatics answered him.
When Dick and the guards reached the spot, the man was lying in a
"An airplane," he gasped. "Invisible airplane. I—bumped into it.
Men—in it. The damned dogs!"
He died. Dick stared around him. There was no sign of any airplane on
the lawn, nothing but the tents of the guards, white in the moonlight,
and the grim array of anti-aircraft guns that Dick had placed there.
But behind the White House, in hastily constructed hangars, were a
half-dozen of the latest pursuit airships—beautiful slim hulls,
heavily armored, with armored turrets containing each a quick-firer
with the new armor-piercing bullets. One of these ships, Dick's own,
was kept perpetually warmed and ready to take the air.
ick raced across the lawn, yelled to the startled guard in charge.
The mechanics came running from their quarters. Almost by the time
Dick reached it the ship was ready.
He twirled the helicopter starter, and she roared and zoomed, taking
an angle of a hundred and twenty-five degrees upward off a runway of
twenty yards. Into the air she soared, into the moonlight, up like an
arrow for five hundred feet.
Dick pulled the soaring lever, and she hung there, buzzing like a bee
as her helicopters, counteracting the pull of gravity, held her
comparatively stable. He scanned the air all about him.
Washington lay below, her myriad lights gleaming. Immediately beneath
him Dick saw the guns and the tents of the soldiers, and the little
group that was removing the body of the murdered soldier on a
stretcher. But there were no signs of any hostile craft.
Had the murdered man really bumped into an invisible airship, or had
he only thought he had? Had those devils learned to apply the gas to
the surfaces of airplanes? There was no reason why they should not
have done so.
But surely the utmost ingenuity of man had not contrived to render a
modern plane, with its metalwork and machinery, absolutely
nd, again, how was it possible to have silenced the sound of engines,
the whir of a propeller, so that there should be no auditory
indication whatever of a plane's presence?
Dick looked all about him. Nothing was in the air—he could have sworn
it. He replaced the soaring lever and banked in a close circle, his
glance piercing the night. No, there was nothing.
Crash! Boom! The plane rocked violently, tossing upon gusts of air. A
huge, gaping hole of blackness had suddenly appeared in the middle of
the White House lawn. The tents were flat upon the ground. Through the
rising smoke clouds Dick saw tongues of flame.
No shell that, but a bomb, and dropped from the skies less than five
hundred feet from where Dick hovered. Yet there was nothing visible in
the skies save the round orb of the moon.
A rush of wind past Dick's face! One of the vanes of the helicopter
crumpled and fluttered away into the night. Dick needed no further
persuasion. The dead soldier had not lied.
Von Kettler had begun the fulfillment of his threat!
The Enemy Strikes
s Dick's airship veered and side-slipped, he kicked hard on the left
rudder and brought the nose around. Furiously he sprayed the air with
a leaden hail from his quick-firer. He heard a rush of wind go past
him, and realized that his unseen antagonist had all but rammed him.
Yet nothing was visible at all, save the moon and the empty sky. He
had heard the rush of the prop-wash, but he had seen nothing, heard
nothing else. Incredible as it seemed, the pilot was flying a plane
that had attained not merely invisibility but complete absence of all
Dick side-slipped down, pancaked, and crashed. He emerged from a plane
wrecked beyond hope of early repair, yet luckily with no injury beyond
a few minor bruises. He rushed toward the hangar, to encounter a bevy
of scared mechanics.
"Another plane! Rev one up quick!" he shouted.
Planes were already being wheeled out, pilots in flying suits and
goggles were striding beside them. Dick ordered one of them away,
stepped into his plane, and in a moment was in the air again.
In the minute or two that had elapsed since the encounter, the enemy
had been active. Crash after crash was resounding from various parts
of Washington. Buildings were rocking and toppling, débris strewed the
streets, fires were springing up everywhere. A thousand feet aloft,
Dick could see the holocaust of destruction that was being wrought by
the infernal missiles.
Bombs of such power had been the unattained ambition of every
government of the world—and it had been left to the men of the
Invisible Emperor to attain to them. Whole streets went into ruin at
each discharge and from everywhere within the city the wailing cry of
the injured went up, in a resonant moan of pain.
In the central part of the city, the district about F Street and the
government buildings, nothing was standing, except those buildings
fashioned of structural steel, and these showed twisted girders like
the skeletons of primeval monsters, supporting sections of sagging
floors. Houses, hotels had melted into shapeless heaps of rubble,
which filled the streets to a depth of a dozen yards, burying
everything beneath them. Yet here and there could be seen the forms of
dead pedestrians, motor-cars emerging out of the débris, lying in
every conceivable position; horses, horribly mangled, were shrieking
as they tried to free themselves. And yet, despite this ruin, the
general impression upon Dick's mind, as he beat to and fro, signaling
to his flight to spread, was that of a vast, empty desolation.
urther away: where the ruin had not yet fallen, thousands of human
beings were milling in a mass, those upon the fringes of the crowd
perpetually breaking away, other swarms approaching them, so that the
entire agglomeration resembled a seething whirlpool turning slowly
Then of a sudden the strains of the national anthem floated up to
Dick's ears. A band was playing in the White House grounds. The tune
was ragged, and the drum came in a fraction of a second late, but an
immense pride and elation filled Dick's soul.
"They'll never beat us!" he thought, intensely, "with such a spirit
He had signaled his flight to spread, and search the air. He could see
the individual ships darting here and there over the immensity of the
city, but none knew better than he how fruitless their effort was. And
the marauders had not ceased their deadly work.
A bomb dropped near the Washington Monument, sending up a huge spout
of dust that veiled it from his eyes. Instinctively Dick shot toward
the scene. Slowly the dust subsided, and then a yell of exultation
broke from Dick's lips. The noble shaft still stood, a slim taper
pointing to the skies.
It was an omen of ultimate success, and Dick took heart. No, they'd
never beat the grim, unconquerable tenacity of the American people.
Yet the damage was proceeding at a frightful rate. A bomb dropped
squarely on the Corcoran Gallery and resolved it into a heap of silly
stones. A bomb fell in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue, and the
houses on either side collapsed like houses of cards, falling into a
sulphurous, fiery pit. And still there was nothing visible but the sky
and the moon.
ick gritted his teeth and swore as he circled over the site of
destruction, out of which tiny figures were struggling. He heard the
clang of the fire bells as the motor trucks came roaring toward the
scene. Then crash! again. Five blocks northward another dense cloud of
dust arose, and the new area of destruction, spreading as swiftly as
ripples over a pond, joined the former one, leaving a huge, irregular
open space, piled up with masonry and brick in a number of flat-topped
Into this, houses went crashing every moment, with a sound like the
clatter of falling crockery, but infinitely magnified.
"The devils! The swine!" shouted Dick. "And we gave Von Kettler the
privileges of an ambassador!"
And Fredegonde was the sister of this devil! The remembrance of that
struck a cold chill to Dick's heart again. He tried to blot out her
picture from his mind, but he still saw her as she had appeared that
day after the air ride, flushed, smiling, radiant in her dark beauty.
A murderess and a spy! He cursed her as he banked and circled back. He
was helpless. He could do nothing. And all Washington would be
destroyed by morning, if the supply of bombs kept up. But there was
more to come. Suddenly Dick became aware that two of his flight, at
widely separated distances, were going down in flames. Flaming comets,
they dropped plump into the destruction below. Another caught fire and
was going down. No need to question what was happening.
The invisible enemy was attacking his flight and picking off his men
one by one!
He drove furiously toward two of his planes whose erratic movements
showed that they were being attacked. As he neared them he saw one
catch fire and begin its earthward swoop. Then the fuselage crackled
beside him, and his instrument board dissolved into ruin.
Instinctively he went round in a tight bank and loosed his
machine-gun. Nothing there! Nothing at all! Yet his right wing went
ragged, and his own furious blasts into the sky, their echoes drowned
by the roar of his propeller, were productive of nothing.
e shot past the uninjured plane, signalling it to descend. He wasn't
going to let his men ride aloft to helpless butchery. Nothing could be
done until some means was discovered of counteracting the enemy's
He darted across the heart of the city to where another of the flight
was circling, waggling his wings to indicate to it to descend. Then on
to the next plane and the next, shepherding them. Thank God they
understood! They were bunching toward the hangar. Yet another took
fire and dropped, a burning wreck. Half his flight out of commission,
and not an enemy visible!
He was aloft alone now, courting death—instant, invisible death. He
wouldn't descend until that carnival of murder was at an end. But it
was not at an end. Another crash, far up Pennsylvania Avenue, showed
an attempt upon the Capitol. Again—again, and a smoking hell wreathed
the noble buildings so that it was no longer possible to see them. A
lull, and then a crash nearer the city's heart. Crash! Crash!
Invisible though the enemy was, it was easy to trace the movements of
this particular plane by the successive areas of destruction that it
left behind it. It was coming back over Pennsylvania Avenue, dropping
its bombs at intervals. It was methodically wiping out an entire
section of Washington.
Dick drove his plane toward it. There was one chance in a thousand
that, if he could accurately gauge the progress of his invisible
antagonist, he could crash him and go down with him to death. If he
could get close enough to feel his prop-wash! A wild chance, but
Dick's mind was keyed up to desperation. He shot like an arrow toward
the scene, with a view to intercepting the murderer.
Then of a sudden he became aware of a curious phenomenon. A black beam
was shooting across the sky. A black searchlight! It came from the
flat top of a large hotel that had somehow escaped the universal
destruction, and, with its gaunt skeleton of structural steel showing
in squares, towered out of the ruin all about it like an island.
t was from here that the black beam started. It spread fanwise across
the sky. But it was not merely blackness. It was utter and
impenetrable darkness, cleaving the sky like a knife. Where it
passed, the rays of the moon were extinguished as fire is extinguished
A beam of absolute blackness, that pierced the air like a widening
cone, and made the night seem, by contrast, of dazzling brightness
along either dark border.
High into the air that dark beam shot, moving to and fro in the sky.
Dick, darting toward the spot where he hoped to find his invisible
enemy, found himself caught in it.
In utter, inextinguishable darkness! Like a trapped bird he fluttered,
hurling himself this way and that till suddenly he found himself
blinking in the dazzling light of the moon again, and the black beam
Crash! Another widening sphere of ruin as the invisible marauder
dropped a bomb. Dick cursed bitterly. Trapped in that black beam, he
had lost his direction. The invisible plane had shot past the point
where he had hoped to intercept it.
He flung his soaring lever, and hung suspended in the air. An easy
mark for the enemy, if he chose to take the opportunity. No matter.
Death was all that Dick craved. He had seen half his flight wiped out,
and a hundred thousand human beings hurled to destruction. He wanted
Then suddenly a wild shout came to his ears, as if all Washington had
gone mad with triumph. And Dick heard himself shouting too, before he
knew it, almost before he knew why.
or overhead, where the inky finger searched the sky, a luminous shape
appeared, a silvery cigar, riding in the void. The finger missed it,
and again there was only the moonlight. It caught it again—and again
the whole devastated city rang with yells of derision, hate, and anger
as the black beam held it.
It held it! To and fro that silvery cigar scurried in a frantic
attempt to avoid detection, and remorselessly the black beam held it
It held it down, and it outlined it as clearly as a figure on the
moving picture screen. Then suddenly there came a flash, followed by a
dull detonation, and a black cloud appeared, spreading into a flower
of death near the cigar, and at the edge of the black beam. The cheers
grew frantic. The anti-aircraft battery in the White House grounds had
grasped the situation, and was opening fire.
To and fro, like a trapped beast, the cigar-shaped airplane fled. Once
it seemed to escape. It faded from the edge of the black finger—faded
into nothingness amid a roar of execretion. Then it was caught and
Truncated, bounded by an arc of sky, the black finger followed the
murderer in his flight remorselessly. And all around him the
anti-aircraft guns were placing a barrage of death.
He was trapped. No need for Dick to rush in to battle. To do so might
call off that deadly barrage that held the murderer in a ring of
death. Hovering, Dick watched. And then, perhaps panic-stricken,
perhaps rendered desperate, perhaps through sheer, wanton courage that
might have commanded admiration under nobler circumstances, the
airship turned and drove straight in the direction of the battery,
dropping another bomb as she did so.
t fell in a crowded street, swarming with spectators who had
clambered upon the fallen débris, and it wrought hideous destruction.
But this time there was hardly a cry—no unison of despair such as had
come to Dick's ears before. The suspense was too tense. All eyes
watched the airship as, seeming to bear a charmed life, she drove for
the White House itself, through a ring of shells that widened and
contracted alternately, with the object of placing a last bomb
squarely upon the building before going down in death. And all the
while the black searchlight held it.
Dick Rennell was to experience many thrilling moments afterward, but
there was never a period, measurable by seconds, yet seeming to extend
through all eternity—never a period quite so fraught with suspense
as, hovering there, he watched the flight of that silvery plane
speeding straight toward the executive mansion while all around it the
shells bloomed and spread. It was over the White House grounds. The
archies had failed; they were being outmaneuvered, they could not be
swung in time to follow the trajectory of the plane. Dick held his
Then suddenly the silvery ship dissolved in a blaze of fire, a shower
of golden sparks such as fly from a rocket, and simultaneously the
last bomb that she was to drop broke upon the ground below.
Down she plunged, instantly invisible as she escaped the finger of the
black beam; but she dropped into the vortex of ruin that she herself
had created. Into a pit of blazing fire, criss-crossed by falling
trees, that had engulfed the battery and a score of men.
Then suddenly Dick understood. He flung home the soaring lever,
banked, and headed, not for the White House, but for the flat roof of
the hotel from which the black searchlight was still projecting itself
through the skies. He hovered above, and dropped, light as a feather,
upon the rooftop.
here was only one person there—an old man dressed in a shabby suit,
kneeling before a great block of stone that had been dislodged upward
from the parapet and formed a sort of table. Upon this table the old
man had placed a large, square box, resembling an exaggerated kodak,
and it was from the lens of this box that the black beam was
Dick sprang from his cockpit as the old man rose in alarm. He ran to
him and caught him by the arm.
"Luke Evans!" he cried. "Thank God you've come back in time to save
n the Blue Room of the White House the Council listened to old Luke
Evans's exposition of his invention with feelings ranging from
incredulity to hope.
"I've been at work all the time," said the old man, "not far from
here. I knew the day would come when you'd need me. I put my pride
aside for the sake of my country."
"Tell us in a few words about this discovery of yours, Mr. Evans,"
said Colonel Stopford.
Luke Evans placed the square black case upon the table. "It's simple,
like all big things, sir," he answered. "The original shadow-breaking
device that I invented was a heavy, inert gas, invisible, but almost
as viscous as paint. Applied to textiles, to inorganic matter, to
animal bodies, it adheres for hours. Its property is to render such
substances invisible by absorbing all the visible light rays that fall
upon it, from red to violet. Light passes through all substances that
are coated with this paint as if they did not exist."
"And this antidote of yours?" asked Colonel Stopford.
"Darkness," replied Luke Evans. "A beam of darkness that means
absolute invisibility. It can be shot from this apparatus"—he
indicated the box upon the table. "This box contains a minute portion
of a gas which exists in nature in the form of a black, crystalline
powder. The peculiar property of this powder is that it is the
solidified form of a gas more volatile than any that is known. So
volatile is it that, when the ordinary atmospheric pressure of fifteen
pounds to the square inch is removed, the powder instantly changes to
the gaseous condition."
"By pressing this lever"—Evans pointed at the box—"a vacuum is
created. Instantly the powder becomes a gas, which shoots forth
through this aperture with the speed of a projectile, taking the form
of a beam of absolute blackness. Or it can be discharged from
cylinders in such a way as to extend over a large area within a few
"But how does this darkness make the invisible airships luminous?"
asked Stopford. "Why does not your darkness destroy all light?"
"In this way, sir," replied the old inventor. "The shadow-breaking gas
with which the airships are painted confers invisibility because it
absorbs sunlight. But it does not absorb the still more rapid waves,
or oscillations which manifest themselves as radio-activity. On the
contrary, it gathers and reflects these.
"Now Roentgen, the discoverer of the X-ray, observed that if X-rays
are allowed to enter the eye of an observer who is in complete
darkness, the retina receives a stimulus, and light is perceived, due
to the fluorescent action of the X-rays upon the eyeball.
"Consequently, by creating a beam of complete darkness, I bring into
clear visibility the fluorescent gas that coats the airships; in other
words, the airships become visible."
"If a light ray is nullified upon entering the field of darkness, will
it emerge at the other edge as a perfect light ray again?" asked
"It will emerge unchanged, since the black beam destroys light by
slightly slowing down the vibrations to a point where they are not
perceived as light by the human eye. On emerging from the beam,
however, these vibrations immediately resume their natural frequency.
To give you a homely parallel, the telephone changes sound waves to
electric waves, and re-converts them into sound waves at the other
end, without any appreciable interruption."
"Then," said Stopford, "the logical application of your method is to
plunge every city in the land into darkness by means of this gas?"
"That is so, sir, and then we shall have the advantage of
invisibility, and the enemy ships will be in fluorescence."
"Damned impracticable!" muttered Stopford.
"You seriously propose to darken the greater part of eastern North
America?" asked the Secretary for War.
"The gas can be produced in large quantities from coal tar besides
existing in crystalline deposits," replied Luke Evans. "It is so
volatile that I estimate that a single ton will darken all eastern
North America for five days. Whereas the concentration would be made
only in specific areas liable to attack. The gas is distilled with
great facility from one of the tri-phenyl-carbinol coal-tar
Vice-president Tomlinson was a pompous, irascible old man, but it was
he who hit the nail on the head.
"That's all very well as an emergency measure, but we've got to find
the haunt of that gang and smash it!"
An orderly brought in a telegraphic dispatch and handed it to him. The
Vice-president opened it, glanced through it, and tried to hand it to
the Secretary of State. Instead, it fluttered from his nerveless
fingers, and he sank back with a groan. The Secretary picked it up and
glanced at it.
"Gentlemen," he said, trying to control his voice, "New York was
bombed out of the blue at sunrise this morning, and the whole lower
part of the city is a heap of ruins."
n the days that followed it became clear that all the resources of
America would be needed to cope with the Invisible Empire. Not a day
passed without some blow being struck. Boston, Charleston, Baltimore,
Pittsburg in turn were devastated. Three cruisers and a score of minor
craft were sunk in the harbor of Newport News, where they were
concentrating, and thenceforward the fleet became a fugitive force,
seeking concealment rather than an offensive. Trans-Atlantic
Meanwhile the black gas was being hurriedly manufactured. From
cylinders placed in central positions in a score of cities it was
discharged continuously, covering these centers with an impenetrable
pall of night that no light would penetrate. Only by the glow of
radium paint, which commanded fabulous prices, could official business
be transacted, and that only to a very small degree.
Courts were closed, business suspended, prisoners released, perforce,
from jails. Famine ruled. The remedy was proving worse than the
disease. Within a week the use of the dark gas had had to be
discontinued. And a temporary suspension of the raids served only to
accentuate the general terror.
There were food riots everywhere, demands that the Government come to
terms, and counter-demands that the war be fought out to the bitter
Fought out, when everything was disorganized? Stocks of food congested
all the terminals, mobs rioted and battled and plundered all through
"It means surrender," was voiced at the Council meeting by one of the
members. And nobody answered him.
Three days of respite, then, instead of bombs, proclamations
fluttering down from a cloudless sky. Unless the white flag of
surrender was hoisted from the summit of the battered Capitol, the
Invisible Emperor would strike such a blow as should bring America to
t was a twelve-hour ultimatum, and before three hours had passed
thousands of citizens had taken possession of the Capitol and filled
all the approaches. Over their heads floated banners—the Stars and
Stripes, and, blazoned across them the words, "No Surrender."
It was a spontaneous uprising of the people of Washington. Hungry,
homeless in the sharpening autumn weather, and nearly all bereft of
members of their families, too often of the breadwinner, now lying
deep beneath the rubble that littered the streets, they had gathered
in their thousands to protest against any attempt to yield.
Dick, flying overhead at the apex of his squadron, felt his heart
swell with elation as he watched the orderly crowds. This was at three
in the afternoon: at six the ultimatum ended, the new frightfulness
was to begin.
At five, Vice-president Tomlinson was to address the crowds. The old
man had risen to the occasion. He had cast off his pompousness and
vanity, and was known to favor war to the bitter end. Dick and his
squadron circled above the broken dome as the car that carried the
Vice-president and the secretaries of State and for War approached
along the Avenue.
Out of the blue sky streams of lead were poured into the assembled
multitudes. Instantly they had become converted into a panic-stricken
mob, turning this way and that.
Rat-a-tat-tat. Swaths of dead and dying men rolled in the dust, and,
as wheat falls under the reaper's blade, the mob melted away in lines
and by battalions. Within thirty seconds the whole terrain was piled
with dead and dying.
"My God, it's massacre! It's murder!" shouted Dick.
hey had not even waited for the twelve hours to expire. To and fro
the invisible airplanes shot through the blue evening sky, till the
last fugitives were streaming away in all directions like hunted deer,
and the dead lay piled in ghastly heaps everywhere.
Out of these heaps wounded and dying men would stagger to their feet
to shake their fists impotently at their murderers.
In vain Dick and his squadron strove to dash themselves into the
invisible airships. The pilots eluded them with ease, sometimes
sending a contemptuous round of machine-gun bullets in their
direction, but not troubling to shoot them down.
Two small boys, carrying a huge banner with "No Surrender" across it,
were walking off the ghastly field. Twelve or fourteen years old at
most, they disdained to run. They were singing, singing the National
Anthem, though their voices were inaudible through the turmoil.
Rat-tat! Rat-tat-a-tat! The fiends above loosed a storm of lead upon
them. Both fell. One rose, still clutching the banner in his hand and
waved it aloft. In a sudden silence his childish treble could be
My country, 'tis of thee
Sweet land of lib-er-ty—
The guns rattled again. Clutching the blood-stained banner, he dropped
across the body of his companion.
Suddenly a broad band of black soared upward from the earth. Those in
charge of the cylinders placed about the Capitol had released the gas.
A band of darkness, rising into the blue, cutting off the earth,
making the summit of the ruined Capitol a floating dome. But, fast as
it rose, the invisible airships rose faster above it.
A last vicious volley! Two of Dick's flight crashing down upon the
piles of dead men underneath! And nothing was visible, though the
darkness rose till it obliterated the blue above.
t dawn the Council sat, after an all-night meeting. Vice-president
Tomlinson, one arm shattered by a machine-gun bullet, still occupied
the chair at the head of the table.
Outside, immediately about the White House, there was not a sound.
Washington might have been a city of the dead. The railroad terminals,
however, were occupied by a mob of people, busily looting. There was
great disorder. Organized government had simply disappeared.
Each man was occupied only with obtaining as much food as he could
carry, and taking his family into rural districts where the Terror
would not be likely to pursue. All the roads leading out of
Washington—into Virginia, into Maryland, were congested with columns
of fugitives that stretched for miles.
Some, who were fortunate enough to possess automobiles, and—what was
rarer—a few gallons of gas, were trying to force their way through
the masses ahead of them; here and there a family trudged beside a
pack-horse, or a big dog drew an improvised sled on wheels, loaded
with flour, bacon, blankets, pillows. Old men and young children
trudged on uncomplaining.
The telegraph wires were still, for the most part, working. All the
world knew what was happening. From all the big cities of the East a
similar exodus was proceeding. There was little bitterness and little
It was not the airship raids from which these crowds were fleeing.
Something grimmer was happening. The murderous attack upon the
populace about the Capitol had been merely an incident. This later
development was the fulfilment of the Invisible Emperor's ultimatum.
Death was afield, death, invisible, instantaneous, and inevitable.
Death blown on the winds, in the form of the deadliest of unknown
n the Blue Room of the White House a score of experts had gathered.
Dick, too, with the chiefs of his staff, Stopford, and the army and
naval heads. Among them was the chief of the Meteorological Bureau,
and it was to him primarily that Tomlinson was reading a telegraphic
dispatch from Wilmington, South Carolina:
"The Invisible Death has reached this point and is working havoc
throughout the city, spreading from street to street. Men are dropping
dead everywhere. A few have fled, but—"
The sudden ending of the dispatch was significant enough. Tomlinson
picked up another dispatch from Columbia, in the same State:
"Invisible Death now circling city," he read. "Business section
already invaded. All other telegraphists have left posts. Can't say
And this, too, ended in the same way. There were piles of such
communications, and they had been coming in for eighteen hours. At
that moment an orderly brought in a dozen more.
Tomlinson showed the head of the Meteorological Bureau the chart upon
the table. "We've plotted out a map as the wires came in, Mr. Graves,"
he said. "The Invisible Death struck the southeast shore of the United
States yesterday afternoon near Charleston. It has spread
approximately at a steady rate. The wind velocity—?"
"Remains constant. Seventy miles an hour. Dying down a little,"
"The death line now runs from Wilmington, South Carolina, straight to
Augusta, Georgia," the Vice-president pursued. "Every living thing
that this gas has encountered has been instantly destroyed. Men,
cattle, birds, vermin, wild beasts. The gas is invisible and
inodorous. These gentlemen believe it may be a form of hydrocyanic
acid, but of a concentration beyond anything known to chemistry, so
deadly that a billionth part of it to one of air must be fatal,
otherwise it could not have traveled as it has done. Warnings have
been broadcasted, but there are no stocks of chemicals that might
counteract it. Flight is the only hope—flight at seventy miles an
is voice shook. "This gas has been loosed, as you told us, upon the
wings of the hurricane that came through the Florida Strait. What are
the chances of its reaching Washington?"
"Mr. Vice-president, if the wind continues, and this gas has
sufficient concentration, it should be in Washington within the next
eight hours." Graves replied. "If the wind changes direction,
however, this gas will probably be blown out to sea, or into the
Alleghanies, where it will probably be dissipated among the hills, or
by the foliage on the mountains. I'm not a chemist—"
"No, sir, and I am not consulting you as one," answered old Tomlinson.
"A death belt several hundred miles in length and three or four
hundred deep has already been cut across this continent. We are faced
with wholesale, unmitigated murder, on such a scale as was never known
before. But we are an integral part of America, and Washington has no
more right to expect immunity than our devastated Southern States. The
question we wish to put to you is, can you trace the exact course
taken by the hurricane?"
"I can, Mr. Vice-president," answered Graves. "It originated somewhere
in the West Indian seas, like all these storms. We've been getting our
reports almost as usual. Our first one came from Nassau, which was
badly damaged. The storm missed the Florida coast, as many of them do,
and struck the coast of South Carolina—in fact, we received a report
from Charleston, which must have almost coincided with your first
report of the gas."
"If the storm missed the Florida coast, it follows that the gas was
not discharged from any point on the American continent," said
Tomlinson. "From some point off Florida—from some island, or from a
plane or from a ship at sea."
"Not from a ship at sea, Mr. Vice-president," interposed the head of
the Chemical Bureau. "To discharge gas on such an extensive scale
would require more space than could be furnished by the largest
vessel, in my opinion."
"In all probability the gas was 'loaded,' so to say, onto the gale
somewhere in the Bahamas," said Graves. "That seems to me the most
ice-president Tomlinson nodded, and picked up one of the latest
telegraphic dispatches, as if absently.
"Gentlemen," he said, "the Invisible Death has already reached
He picked up another. "Reported Abaco Island, Bahamas, totally wrecked
by storm. All communication has ceased," he read. He turned to Dick
and spoke as if inspired. "Captain Rennell, there is your
destination," he thundered. "They've betrayed themselves. We've got
them now. You understand?"
"By God, sir! It's from Abaco Island, then, that those devils have
been carrying on their game of wholesale murder!"
Suddenly a contagion of enthusiasm seemed to sweep the whole
assemblage. Every man was upon his feet in an instant, white,
quivering, lips opened for speech that trembled there and did not
It was Secretary Norris spoke. "The Vice-president has hit the mark,"
he said, with a dramatic gesture of his arm. "Yes, they've betrayed
themselves. Their headquarters are on Abaco Island. It's one of the
largest in the Bahamas." He turned to the Secretary for the Navy. "You
can rush the fleet there, sir?" he asked.
"Within forty-eight hours I'll have every vessel that can float off
"I'll concentrate all airplanes. Take your flight, Captain Rennell.
We'll stamp out that nest of murderers if we blow Abaco Island to the
bottom of the sea. It can be done!"
"It can be done, sir—with Luke Evans and his invention," answered
On the Trail
hree hours later, about the time when the war council rose after
completing its plans, a sudden shift of the wind blew the poison gas
out to sea, just when it appeared certain that it would reach the
capital of the nation.
The southern half of Virginia had been swept over. Operators,
telegraph and telephone, staying at their posts had sent in constant
messages that had terminated with an abruptness which told of the
tragic sequel. Yet, at that distance from its source, the intensity of
the gas had been to some extent dissipated.
Poisonous beyond any gas known, so deadly as to make hydrocyanic gas
innocuous in comparison, still as it was swept northward on the wings
of the wind, there had been an increasing number of non-fatal
casualties. The most northernly point reached by the gas was Richmond,
and here some fifty per cent of those stricken had suffered paralysis
instead of death.
But a new element had been injected into the situation. Even the
heroic courage shown by the populace in the beginning had had its
limits. The morning after the news of the Invisible Death's advent was
made public mobs had gathered in all the large cities of the East,
The submerged elements of crime and disorder had come to the surface
at last. Committees were formed, with the avowed object of yielding to
the Invisible Emperor, and averting further disaster. In Washington, a
city of the dead, half the members of Congress and the Senators had
gathered in the ruined Capitol, to debate the situation.
There were rumors of an impending march on the White House, of a coup
he action of the Government was prompt. Five hundred loyalists were
enrolled, armed, and posted round the White House: every avenue of
approach was commanded by machine-guns. Meanwhile the news was spread
by radio that the headquarters of the Invisible Emperor had been
located, and that a strong bombing squadron was being dispatched to
The entire fleet was to follow, and it was confidently anticipated
that within a little while the Terror would be at an end.
Those at the white House were less sanguine. There was none but
realized the diabolical strength of their antagonists.
"Everything depends upon the outcome of the next forty-eight hours,
and everything depends on you, Rennell," said Secretary Norris to
Dick, as he stood beside his plane. Behind him his flight of a dozen
airships was drawn up.
"Find them," added the Secretary; "cover Abaco Island with the black
gas, and the navy and the marines will wipe up the mess that you leave
behind you. God help you—and all of us, Rennell!"
He gripped Dick's hand and turned away. Dick was very sober-minded as
he climbed into his cockpit. He knew to the full how much depended
upon himself and Luke Evans. Already the shouts of the insurgents were
to be heard at the ends of the barriers, commanded by the
machine-guns, and patrolled by the enlisted volunteers.
Negro mobs were building counter-barricades of their own with rubble
from the fallen edifices. Civil war might be postponed for
eight-and-forty hours, but after that unless there was news of
victory, the whole structure of civilization would be smashed
It was up to Dick and Luke Evans, and they had assumed such a
responsibility as rarely falls to the lot of man in war.
ick was to lead the flight in a two-seater Barwell plane. This was
one of the latest types, and had been hurriedly adapted to the purpose
for which it was to be used. Dick himself occupied the rear seat, with
its dual controls, and the gun in its armored casing. In front sat old
Luke Evans, in charge of the black gas projector.
His famous camera box, containing a minute quantity of gas in slow
combustion, and projecting the black searchlight, had been built into
the plane. In the rack beside him were a number of the black gas
bombs, each of which, dropped to earth, would release enough gas to
cover a considerable area with darkness. Both Luke and Dick wore
respirators filled with charcoal and sodium thio-sulphate, and beside
Dick a cage containing three guinea-pigs rested.
These little rodents were so sensitive to atmospheric changes that a
quantity of hydrocyanic acid too minute to affect a man would produce
instantaneous death on them.
From its hiding-place off the Virginia coast the American fleet was
steaming hotly southward toward Abaco Island, cruisers, destroyers,
submarines. That Abaco was British territory had simply not been
considered in this crisis of history.
The twelve airships that followed Dick's contained enough bombs to put
the headquarters of the Invisible Empire out of business for good. The
naval guns would complete the same business.
All day Dick and Luke Evans flew southwestward. At first glance,
everything appeared normal. The catastrophe that had fallen upon the
land was visible only in the shape of the lines of tiny figures,
extending for miles, that choked all the roads radiating out of the
principal cities. It was only when they were over the southern portion
of Virginia that the ravages of deadly gas became apparent.
Flying low, Dick could see the fields strewn with the bodies of dead
cattle. Here and there, at the doors of farmhouses, the inmates could
be seen, lying together in gruesome heaps, caught and killed
instantaneously as they attempted flight. Here, too, were figures on
the roads. But they were figures of dead men and women.
hey strewed the roads for miles, lying as they had been trapped—men,
women, children, horses, mules, and dogs. The spectacle was an
appalling one. Dick set his jaws grimly. He was thinking that the
Council had let Von Kettler escape. He was thinking of Fredegonde. But
he would not let himself think of her. She deserved no more pity than
the rest of the murderous crew.
Over the Carolinas the conditions were still more appalling. Here
deadly gas had struck with all its concentrated power. A city
materialized out of the blue distance, a factory town with all
chimneys spiring upward into the blue, a section of tall buildings
intersected by canyonlike streets, around it a rim of trim houses,
bungalows, indicative of prosperity and comfort. And it was a city of
For everywhere around it, on all the roads, the dead lay piled on top
of one another. For miles—all the inhabitants, rich and poor,
business men, factory hands, negroes. There had been a mad rush as the
fatal gas drove onward upon its lethal way, and all the fugitives had
been overwhelmed simultaneously.
Here were golf links, with little groups strewn on the grass and
fairways; here, at one of the holes, four men, their putters still in
their hands, crouched in death. Here was the wreckage of a train that
had collided with a string of freight cars at an untended switch, and
from the shattered windows the heads and bodies of the dead protruded
in serried ranks.
Dick looked back. His flight was driving on behind him. He guessed
their feelings. They had sworn, as he had sworn, that none of them
would return without stamping out that abomination from the earth
e signaled to the flight to rise, and zoomed upward to twelve
thousand feet. He did not want to look upon any more of those horrors.
At that height, the peaceful landscape lay extended underneath, in a
checker-board of farms and woodlands. One could pretend that it was
all a vile dream.
He avoided Charleston, and winged out above the Atlantic, striking a
straight course along the coast toward the Bahamas. The shores of
Georgia vanished in the west. Dick began to breathe more freely. His
mind shook off its weight of horror. Only the blue sea and the blue
sky were visible The aftermath of the gale remained in the shape of a
strong head breeze and white crests below.
Dick glanced at the guinea-pigs. They were busily gnawing their
cabbage and carrots. The gas had evidently been entirely dissipated by
Toward sunset the low jutting fore-land of Canaveral on the east coast
of Florida, came into view. Dick shifted course a little. Three hours
more should see them over Abaco.
His flight had explicit instructions. As soon as the black gas had
rendered visible the headquarters of the Invisible Emperor, they were
to circle above, dropping their bombs. When these were exhausted, the
machine guns would come into play. There was to be no attention paid
to signals of surrender. They were to wipe out the headquarters, to
kill every living thing that showed itself—and the navy and the
marines would mop up anything left over.
The sun went down in a blaze of gold and crimson. Night fell. The moon
began to climb the east. The black sea, stretching beneath, was as
empty as on the day when it was created. Nothing in the shape of
Two hours, three hours, and old Evans turned round in his cockpit and
pointed. On the horizon a black thread was beginning to stretch
against the sky. It was Abaco Island, in the Bahama group. They were
nearly at their destination. An hour more—perhaps two hours, and the
deadly menace that threatened America might be removed forever. Dick
breathed a silent prayer for success.
hey were over Abaco. A long, flat island, seventy miles or so in
extreme length, and fairly wide, covered with a dense growth of
tropical brush and forest, with here and there open spaces, near the
seacoast an occasional farm-house. Dick dropped to five thousand, to
three, to one. The moon made the whole land underneath as bright as
There were no evidence of destruction by the hurricane. The farmhouses
stood substantial and well roofed. If death had struck Abaco Island,
it had been the work of man, not Nature.
Dick zoomed almost to his ceiling, until, in the brilliant moonlight,
he could see Abaco Island from side to side. For the most part it was
heavily wooded with mahogany and lignum vitae: toward the central
portion there was open land, but there was not the least sign of any
Again he swooped, indicating to his flight to follow him. At a
thousand feet he examined the open district intently. Here, if
anywhere upon the island, the Invisible Emperor had his headquarters.
Was it conceivable that a gas factory, hangars, ammunition depots
could exist here invisibly, when he could look straight down upon the
Dick's heart sank. The hideous fear came to him that Graves had been
mistaken, that he had come on a wild-goose chase. This could not be
the place. It was quite incredible.
Again and again he circled, studying the ground beneath. Now he could
see that the tough grass and undergrowth marked curious geometrical
patterns. Here, for example, was an oblong of bare earth around which
the vegetation grew, and it was obviously the work of man.
Here were four squares of bare ground set side by side, with thin
strips of vegetation growing between them.
Then of a sudden Dick knew! Those squares and parallelograms of bare
ground indicated the foundations of buildings. He was looking down on
the very site of the Invisible Emperor's stronghold!
He shouted, and pointed downward. Luke Evans looked round and nodded.
He understood. He patted the camera-box with a grim smile on his old
The Magnetic Trap
pon those squares and oblongs of bare earth, incredible as it seemed,
rose the structures of the Invisible Empire, themselves both invisible
and transparent, so that one looked straight down through them and saw
only the ground beneath them.
Every interior floor and girder must have been treated with the gas.
They had been cunning. They must have discovered some permanent means
of charging paint with the shadow-breaking gas, so that the buildings
would remain invisible for months and years instead of hours.
But they had not been cunning enough. It had not occurred to them that
the foundations would still be visible underneath, for the simple
reason that grass does not grow without sunlight.
Dick saw old Luke Evans nodding and pointing downward. The old man
picked up his end of the speaking-tube, but Dick ignored the gesture.
He signaled to his flight to rise, and zoomed up, circling, and
studying the land beneath.
That oblong was evidently the central building. Those four squares
probably housed airplanes, and each would hold half a dozen. That
elliptical building might contain a dirigible. That round patch was
probably the gas factory.
Now Dick could see more patches of bare ground, extending in the
direction of the sea. He gunned his ship and followed the gap among
the trees to the ocean, a few miles distant. Yes, there were more
evidence of activity here. Beside the water, in what looked like a
deep natural harbor, was what seemed to be the foundations of a dock.
Perhaps even vessels of war floated on the phosphorescent Bahama sea.
e circled back, his flock wheeling like a flight of birds and
following him. He signaled to them to scatter. They had certainly been
observed; at any moment a hail of lead might assail them invisibly out
of the air. They must get to work quickly. But had they understood the
significance of those bare patches?
Dick saw Luke Evans still fidgeting impatiently with his end of the
speaking-tube, and picked it up.
"I'm thinking, Captain Rennell, we've got no time to lose if we want
to keep the upper hand of those devils," called the old man.
"Yes, you're right," Dick answered. "Lay a trail of gas bombs all
around those hangars and buildings, enough to hold them dark for some
time. And keep a bomb or two in reserve."
Luke Evans shouted back. The plane was again above the structures. The
old man dropped a bomb over the side, and Dick zoomed again, his
flight wheeling up behind him.
Higher and higher, banking and going round in a succession of tight
spirals, Dick flew. Every moment he expected the blow to fall. As he
rose, Luke Evans dropped bomb after bomb. A thousand feet beneath the
flight was taking up positions, hovering with the helicopters, looking
up to Dick for the signal, and waiting.
Then from beneath the cloud of black gas began to rise, as Luke Evans
dropped his bombs. It filled the lower spaces of the sky, blotting out
the land in impenetrable darkness. That darkness, above which Dick and
his flight were soaring, rose like a solid wall, built by some
prehistoric race that aimed to fling a tower into the heavens.
nd then—the miracle! Dick gasped in sheer delight as he realized
that he had made no mistake.
At first all he could see was a number of criss-crossing
phosphorescent lines that appeared shimmering through the blackness
underneath. They ran luminously here and there, forming no particular
pattern, much like the figures on the radium dial of a watch when
first they come into wavering visibility at night.
Then the lines began to intersect one another, to assume geometric
patterns and curves. And bit by bit they took meaning and
And suddenly the whole invisible stronghold lay revealed upon the
ground beneath, a shining, dazzling play of weaving light.
Buildings and hangars stood out, clearly revealed; the rounded vault
of a dirigible hangar, and the shining ribbon of a road that ran
through a pitch-dark tarmac, and was evidently constructed from some
gas-impregnated materials. On this tarmac was a flight of shining
airplanes, ready to take off. There were the odd, ovoid figures of the
aviators in their silken overalls. More figures appeared, running out
from the buildings. It was clear that the sudden raid had taken them
all by surprise.
Luke Evans yelled and pointed. "We've got them now, sir!" Dick heard
above the whine of the helicopter engine. "We've—"
But of a sudden the old man's voice died away, though his mouth was
Dick leaned out of his cockpit and fired a single red Very light, the
signal for the attack. And from each plane of his flight, beneath him,
a bomb slid from its rack and went hurtling down upon the gang below,
while the airplanes circled and hovered, each taking up its station.
ick was too late. By a whole minute he had missed his chance. He
realized that immediately, for before the red light had flared from
his pistol, the hostile planes were in the air. He had flown too low,
and given the alarm.
It meant a fight now, instead of a mad dog destruction, and Dick did
not underestimate the power of the enemy. But he felt a thrill of
furious satisfaction at the prospect of battle. From every plane the
bombs were falling. Underneath, ruin and destruction, and leaping
flames—and yet darkness, save for the phosphorescent outlines of the
And the lines of these were broken, converging into strange
criss-crosses of luminosity, as the beams fell in shapeless heaps.
Dark fire, sweeping through the headquarters of the Invisible Emperor,
a veritable hell for those below! A taste of the hell that they had
made for others!
Then a strange phenomenon obtruded itself upon Dick's notice. Nothing
was audible! The bombs were falling, but they were falling silently.
No sound came up from beneath. And, except for the throbbing of his
engine, Dick would have thought it had stopped. He could no longer
That terrific holocaust of death and destruction was inaudible.
Skimming the upper reach of the air, high above that wall of darkness,
Dick saw old Luke Evans pick up his end of the speaking-tube, and
mechanically followed suit. He could see the old man's lips moving.
But he heard nothing!
And now another phenomenon was borne in on his notice. His flight were
perhaps five hundred feet beneath him, hovering a little above the
barrage of black gas. But they were converging oddly. And there was no
sight of the airplanes that Dick had just seen taking off from the
ick fired two Very lights as a signal to his flight to scatter. What
were they doing, bunching together like a flock of sheep, when at any
moment the enemy planes might come swooping in, riddling them with
bullets? He thrust the stick forward—and then realized that his
controls had gone dead!
He thought for a moment that a wire had snapped. But the stick
responded perfectly to his hand, only it had no longer control over
his plane. He kicked right rudder, and the plane remained motionless.
He pushed home the soaring lever, to neutralize the helicopter and the
plane still soared.
Then he noticed that the needle of his earth-inductor
compass-indicator was oscillating madly, and realized that it was not
his plane that was at fault.
Underneath him, his flight seemed to be milling wildly as the ships
turned in every direction of the compass. But not for long. They were
nosing in, until the whole flight resembled an enormous airplane
engine, with twelve radial points, corresponding to their propellers,
and the noses pointing symmetrically inward, like a herd of game,
yarding in winter time.
And now the true significance came home to Dick. A vertical line of
magnetic force, an invisible mast, had been shot upward from the
ground. The airplanes were moored to it by their noses, as effectively
as if they had been fastened with steel wires.
And he, too, was struggling against that magnetic force that was
slowly drawing him, despite his utmost efforts, to a fixed position
five hundred feet above his flight.
or a few moments, by feeding his engine gas to the limit, Dick
thought he might have a chance of escaping. Her nose a fixed point,
Dick whirled round and round in a dizzy maze, attempting to break that
invisible mooring-chain. Then suddenly the engine went dead. He was
He saw old Evans gesticulating wildly in the front cockpit. The old
man hoisted himself, leaned over the cowling gibbered in Dick's ear.
The silent engine had ceased to throb, and the old man's shouts were
simply not translated into sound.
Suddenly the flight beneath jerked downward, just as a flag jerks when
it is hauled down a pole. They vanished into the dark cloud beneath.
At the same time there came a jerk that dropped Dick's plane a hundred
feet, and flung him violently against the rim of the cockpit.
Another followed. By drops of a hundred feet at a time, Dick was being
hauled down into the darkness underneath him.
It rushed up at him. One moment he was suspended upon the rim of it,
seeing the moon and stars above him; the next he had been plunged into
utter blackness. Blackness more intense than anything that could be
conceived—soundless blackness, that was the added horror of it.
Blackness of Luke Evans's contriving, but none the less fearful on
And yet, as Dick was jerked slowly downward, slowly a pale visibility
began to diffuse itself underneath. The black cloud was beginning to
roll away. The luminous lines began to fade, and in place of them
appeared little leaping tongues of fire. In front of him Dick saw Luke
Evans's form begin to pattern itself upon the darkness. He saw the
form move sidewise, and caught at Luke's arm as he was about to hurl
another gas bomb. "No!" he shouted—and heard no sound come from his
uke understood. He seemed to be replacing the bomb in the rack.
Beneath them now, as they were jerked downward, were fantastic swirls
of black mist, and, at the bottom, a pit of fire that was slowly
coming into visibility.
Dick uttered a cry of horror! Five hundred feet below his plane he saw
the dim forms of his flight, still bunched together, noses almost
touching. And they were dropping straight into that flaming furnace
of ruin underneath, which was growing clearer every instant.
Down, jerk by jerk. Down! The black cloud was fast dispersing from the
ground. The flight were hardly a thousand feet above the fire. Down—a
long jerk that one! Once more! The flames leaped up hungrily about the
doomed airships. Cries of mad horror broke from Dick's lips as he
witnessed the destruction of ships and men.
He could see almost clearly now. The twelve ships, still retaining
their nose-to-nose formation, were in the very heart of the fire.
Spurts of exploding gasoline thrust their white tongues upward. There
was only one consolation: for the doomed men, death must have come
From where he hung, Dick could feel the fierce heat of the flames
below. In front of him, old Luke Evans sat in his cockpit like one
petrified. He was feebly fumbling at his camera-box, as if he had some
idea of using it, and had forgotten that it was fixed to the plane,
but the old man seemed temporarily to have lost his wits.
Rushing flames surrounded the burning airships, reducing them to a
solid, welded mass of incandescent metal. Dick looked down, waiting
for the next jerk that would summon him to join his men. At the moment
he was not conscious of either fear or horror, only intense rage
against the murderers and regret that he could never bring back the
news of victory.
he cloud had almost dissipated. In place of the phosphorescence,
electric lights had appeared, making the ground beneath perfectly
visible. Dick could see a number of men grouped together at the
entrance to a large building, part of which had been wrecked by a
bomb, though there were no evidences of fire. Other structures had
been dismantled and knocked about, but what remained of them had not
been charred by fire. Evidently they had been fireproofed. Perhaps the
gas itself was incombustible. Only in the middle of the tarmac, where
the remnants of the airplanes blazed, was there any sign of fire.
There were three machines resembling dynamos, placed one at each
corner of the tarmac, equidistant from the central holocaust. A
half-dozen men were grouped about each of them, and by the light from
the huge reflector over each Dick saw that they were whirring busily.
At the time it did not occur to him that these were the machines that
were sending out the electrical force that had held the airplanes
But as he looked, his mind still a turmoil of hate and hopeless anger,
he saw one of the three machines cease whirring. The group about it
dispersed, the light above went out. And now his plane, as if drawn by
the power of the two remaining machines, began to move jerkily again,
not down toward the burning wreckage, but sidewise, away from it.
Straight out toward the side of the tarmac it moved jerked downward
diagonally, until it rested only a few feet above the ground.
Then suddenly Dick felt the plane quiver, as if released from the
power of the force that had held it. It nosed down and crashed, rolled
over amid the wreckage of a shattered wing. The concussion shot Dick
from the cockpit clear of the smashed machine.
He landed upon his head, and went out instantly.
The Invisible Emperor
t was the sound of his name, spoken repeatedly, that brought Dick
back to consciousness. He opened his eyes, blinking in broad daylight.
He stared about him, and the first thing he saw was Luke Evans,
regarding him anxiously from a little distance away. He saw that it
was Luke who had spoken.
He had heard the old man distinctly. The condition of inaudibility was
Not that of invisibility. Dick stared about him in bewilderment. For a
moment, before he quite realized what had happened to him, he thought
he had lost his mind. Underneath him was a thick rug, beneath his head
a pillow; he could feel both of them, and yet all he could see was the
open country, a clearing with shrubbery on either side, and, beyond
that, a luxurious growth of tropical trees. Under him, to all visual
appearance, was the bare ground.
He moved, and heard the clank of chains. He looked down at himself.
His wrists were loosely linked to a chain that seemed to stretch tight
into vacancy and end in nothing. His ankles were bound likewise.
And both chains appeared to be of solid silver, but thick enough to
give them the strength of iron!
Then he perceived that old Evans was bound in the same way.
"Rennell! Rennell!" repeated the old man in a sort of whimper. "Thank
God you've come out of it! I was afraid you were dead."
"What's happened?" asked Dick. "Where are we? Didn't they get us?"
"They've got us, damn them!" snarled old Evans. "All the rest burned
to cinders, those fine fellows, Rennell! You were thrown unconscious,
but none of my tough old bones were hurt. They pulled us out of the
wreckage and brought us in here and tied us with these silver chains."
"In here? But where are we?" demanded Dick, trying to pass his hand
across his aching forehead, and realizing that the chain, though it
seemed fastened to nothing, was perfectly taut.
n one of their damned invisible houses," whimpered the old man.
"They're fireproof. Nearly all our bombs fell on the tarmac, and they
did hardly any damage at all. One of those devils was bragging about
it to me. I couldn't see anything but his eyes. And they've taken away
my gas-box," wailed old Luke.
Dick cursed comprehensively and was silent. The burning rage that
filled him left him incapable of other utterance. Silver chains! They
must be madmen—yes, that was the only explanation. Madmen who had
escaped from somewhere, obtained possession of scientific secrets, and
banded themselves together to overcome the world. If he could get the
chance of a blow at them before he died!
He heard a door swing open—a door somewhere out on the prairie. Two
men sprang into sudden visibility and approached him. There was
nothing invisible about these men, though they had seemed to have
materialized out of nothing. They wore the same black, trimly fitting
uniform that Dick had seen in the White House. They were flesh and
blood human beings like themselves.
"I congratulate you upon your recovery, Captain Rennell," remarked one
of them with ironical politeness. "Also upon your shrewd coup.
Needless to say, it had no chance of success, but we were misinformed
as to the hour at which you might be expected. We thought it would
take the fools at Washington a little longer to puzzle out our
location—and then we did not put quite sufficient force into our
hurricane. Quite an artificial one, Captain."
Dick, glaring at them, said nothing, and the one who had spoken turned
to his companion, laughing, and said something in a foreign language
that he did not recognize.
"His Majesty the Emperor commands your presence, and that of this old
fool," said the first man. "Do not attempt to escape us. Death will be
instantaneous." He drew a glass rod from his pocket, the tip of which
glowed with a pale blue light.
gain he spoke to his companion, who moved apparently a few feet
distant out on the prairie. Suddenly Dick saw old Evans' chain
slacken: then Dick's slackened too. He understood that he was unbound,
though his wrists and ankles were still loosely fastened.
The second man took his station beside Luke Evans and motioned to him
to rise. The first man beckoned to Dick to do the same. The two
prisoners got upon their feet, trailing each a length of clanking
chain. Each of the two guards covered his captive with the glass rod
and motioned to him to precede him.
Choking with fury, Dick obeyed. He had taken a dozen steps with his
guard uttered a sharp command to halt, at the same time shouting some
word of command.
The edge of a door appeared, also seeming to materialize out of space.
It widened, and Dick realized that he was looking at the unpainted
inner side of a door whose outside was invisible. Beyond the door
appeared a flight of steps.
Dick passed through and descended them. He counted fifteen. He emerged
into a timbered underground passage, well lit with lamps, filled with
what seemed to be mercury vapor. Behind him walked his guard: behind
the guard he heard Luke Evans shambling. Both chains were clinking,
and again Dick's fury almost overcame him.
He controlled himself. He had no hope or desire for life, but he meant
to strike some sort of blow before he died, if it were possible.
They turned out of the timbered passage, Dick's guard now walking at
his side, the glass rod menacing his back. Dick found himself in a
large subterranean room of extraordinary character. The walls were not
merely timbered, but paneled. Pictures hung upon them, there were soft
rugs underfoot, there was antique furniture. Everything was in plain
here was a door at the farther end, from beyond which came the murmur
of voices. Two guards in the same black uniform, but without the
ornamental silver braid, stood to attention, long halberds in their
hands. One spoke a challenge.
The guard at Dick's side answered. The two men stepped backward, each
about two feet, and pulled the two cords on either side of a curtain
behind the open door. Dick passed through.
He stopped in sheer amazement. The gorgeousness of this larger room
into which he entered was almost stupefying. It seemed to have been
lifted bodily from some European palace. Mirrors with gilt edges ran
along the side. On the floor was a single huge rug of Oriental weave.
At the farther end was a throne of gilt, lined with red velvet in
which sat a man. An old man, of perhaps eighty years, with a grey
peaked beard and fierce, commanding features. On his head was a gold
crown glittering with gems. About him were gathered some twoscore men
and a few women.
Those ranged on either side of the throne wore, like its occupant,
robes of red, lined with ermine. The rank behind wore shorter robes,
less decorative, but no less extraordinary. They might all have
stepped out of some medieval court.
Behind this second line, and half-encircling them, were officers in
the black uniform with the silver braid.
There had been chattering, but as Dick passed through into the room it
was succeeded by complete silence. Dick fixed his eyes upon the old
man on the throne.
He knew him! Knew him for a once famous European ruler who had lost
his throne in the war. A man always of unbalanced mentality, who,
after living for years in exile, had been reported dead three years
before. A madman who had vanished to make this last attempt upon the
world, aided and abetted by the secret group of nobles who had
surrounded him in the days of his pomp and power.
ld men, all of those in the first line! Madmen too, perhaps, as
madness begets madness. Behind them, younger men, infected by the
strange malady, and enthusiastic for their desperate cause.
Yes, Dick knew this Invisible Emperor, lurking here in his underground
palace. He knew Von Kettler, too, in the second line, close to the
Emperor's throne. And, among the women in their robes, grouped
picturesquely about that throne, he knew Fredegonde Valmy.
Dark-haired beneath her coronet, of radiant beauty, she fixed her eyes
upon Dick's. Not a muscle of her face quivered.
Then only did Dick see something else, which he had not hitherto
observed, owing to its concealment by the robes of those grouped about
the Emperor, and the sight of it sent such a thrill of fury through
him that he stood where he was, unable to speak or move a muscle.
The throne was set on a sort of dais, with three steps in front of it.
The lowest of these steps was hollow. Within this hollow appeared the
head and shoulders of a man.
An elderly man clothed in parti-colored red and yellow, the
time-honored garment of court fools. He was on his hands and knees,
and the round of his back fitted into the hollow of the step, and had
a flat board over it, so that the Emperor, in ascending his throne,
would place his foot upon it.
He was kept in that position with heavy chains of what looked like
gold, which passed about his neck and arms, and fitted into heavy gold
staples in the wood. And the old man was President Hargreaves of the
he President of the American Republic, chained as a footstool for the
Invisible Emperor, the madman who defied the world. Dick stood
petrified, staring into the mild face of the old man, still incapable
of speech. Then a herald, carrying a long trumpet, to which a square
banner was attached, strode forward from one side of the grotesque
"Dog, on your knees when His Majesty deigns to admit you to the
Presence!" he shouted.
The guard at Dick's side prodded him with his glass rod.
Then the storm of mad fury in Dick's heart released limbs and voice.
The cry that came from his lips was like nothing human. He leaped upon
the guard with a swift uppercut that sent him sprawling.
The glass rod slipped from his hands to the rug, striking the edge of
his shoe, and broke to fragments. A single streak of fire shot from
it, blasting a black streak across the Oriental rug.
Dick leaped toward the throne, and the assemblage, as if paralyzed by
his sudden maneuver, remained watching him without moving. Then a
woman screamed, and instantly the picturesque gathering had dissolved
into a mob placing itself about the person of the Emperor, who sprang
from his throne in agitation.
Dick was almost at the steps. But it was not at the Emperor that he
leaped. He sprang to Hargreaves's side. "Mr. President, I'm an
American," he babbled. "We've located this gang, we'll blow them off
the face of the earth. In chains—God, in chains, sir—"
Dick stumbled over the length of his own chain that he had been
dragging behind him—stumbled and fell prone upon the floor. Before he
could regain his feet they were upon him.
dozen men were holding him, despite his mad, frenzied struggles, and
as, at length, he paused, exhausted, one of them, covering his head
with a glass rod, looked up at the Emperor, who had resumed his seat.
Dick calmed himself. Still gripped, he straightened his body, and gave
the mad monarch back look for look. For a moment the two men regarded
each other. Then a peal of laughter broke from the Invisible Emperor's
lips. And any one who heard that peal—any one save those accustomed
to him—might have known that it was a madman's laughter.
He flung back his head and laughed, and the whole crowd laughed too.
All those sycophants roared and chuckled—all except Fredegonde. It
was not till afterward that Dick remembered that.
He stood up. "Dog of an American," he roared, "do you know why you
were brought here? It was because I wanted one Yankee to live and see
the irresistible powers that I exercise, so that he can go back and
report on them to those fools in Washington who still think they can
defy me, the messenger of the All-Highest.
"I tell you that the things I have done are nothing in comparison with
the things that I have yet to do, if your insane government of
pig-headed fools persists in its defiance. It is my plan to send you
back to tell them that their President lies bound in gold chains as my
footstool. That the hurricane which spread the gas through southern
America was a mere summer zephyr in comparison with the storm that I
shall send next.
ll the resources of Nature are at my command thanks to the
illustrious chemists who have been secretly working for the past ten
years to serve me. I, the All-Highest, have been commanded by the
Almighty to scourge the world for its insolence in rejecting me, and
especially the pig-race of Yankees whose pride has grown so great.
Mine is the divinely appointed task to cast down your ridiculous
democracies and re-establish the divine world-order of an Emperor and
"That is why I have chosen, to permit so mean a thing as you to live.
As for the old fool beside you, who thought to stay my power with his
box of tricks—his gas-box is already being analyzed by my chemists,
and in a few hours the trivial secret will be at my disposal."
"And that's just where you're wrong," piped old Luke Evans in his
cracked voice. "That gas can't be analyzed, because it contains an
unknown isotope, and, as for yourself, you're nothing but a daft old
fool, with your tin-horn trumpery!"
For a moment the Emperor stood like a statue, staring at old Luke. The
expression on his face was that of a madman, but a madman through
whose brain a straggling ray of realization has dawned. It was the
look upon his face that held the whole assemblage spellbound. Then
suddenly came intervention.
Through a doorway in the side of the hall came one of the officers in
black. He advanced to the foot of the throne and made a deep, hurried
bow, speaking rapidly in some language incomprehensible to Dick.
The Emperor started, and then a peal of laughter left his lips.
"Pig of a Yankee," he shouted to Dick, "your contemptible navy's now
approaching our shores, with a dirigible scout above it. You shall now
see how I deal with such swine!"
The Tricks of the Trade
e barked a command, and instantly Dick was seized by two of the
guards, one of whom—the one Dick had knocked down—took the occasion
to administer a buffeting in the process of overcoming him. For the
sight of the honored President of the United States—that kindly old
man straining his eyes to meet Dick's own—in the parti-colored garb
of red and yellow, and chained like a beast below the madman's throne,
again filled Dick with a fury beyond all control.
It was only when he had been half-stunned again by the vicious blows
of his captors, delivered with short truncheons of heavy wood, that at
length he desisted from his futile struggle.
With swimming eyes he looked upon the gathering about the throne,
which, again taking its cue from the madman, way roaring with laughter
at his antics. And again Dick's eyes encountered those of Fredegonde
The girl was not smiling. She was looking straight at him, and for a
moment it seemed to Dick as if he read some message in her eyes.
Only for an instant that idea flashed through his mind. He was in no
mood to receive messages. As he stood panting like a wild beast at
bay, suddenly a filmy substance was thrown over his head from behind.
Then, as his face emerged, and the rest of his body was swiftly
enveloped, he realized what was happening.
They had thrown over him one of the invisible garments. He could feel
the stuff about him, but he could no longer see his own body or limbs.
From his own ken, Dick Rennell had vanished utterly. Where his legs
and feet should have been, there was only the rug, with the burn from
the glass tube. He raised one arm and could not see arm or fingers.
In another moment invisible cords had been flung around him. Dick's
efforts to renew the struggle were quickly cut short. Trussed
helplessly, he could only stand glaring at the madman rocking with
laughter upon his tinsel throne. Beside him, similarly bound, stood
Luke Evans, but Dick was only conscious of the old man's presence by
reason of the short, rasping, emphatic curses that broke from his
he Emperor turned on his throne and beckoned to Von Kettler, who
approached with a deferential bow.
"Nobility, we charge you with the care of these two prisoners," he
addressed him. "Have the old one removed to the laboratory, and give
orders that he shall assist our chemists to the best of his power in
their analysis of the black gas. As for the other, take him up to the
central office, and show him how we deal with Yankees and all other
pigs. Show him everything, so that he may take back a correct account
of our irresistible powers when we dismiss him."
"Come!" barked one of the guards in Dick's ear.
Dick attempted no further resistance. Convinced of its futility, sick
and reeling from the blows he had received, he accompanied his captors
quietly. There was nothing more that he could do, either for President
Hargreaves or for old Luke, but he still imagined the possibility of
somehow warning the approaching fleet or the occupants of the
He was led along the passage, past the guards, and up the stairs
again. The top door opened upon vacancy; it closed, and vanished. Dick
felt the rugs beneath his feet, but he was to all appearances standing
on a square of bare earth in the middle of a prairie.
"Come!" barked the guard again, and Dick accompanied him, trailing his
silver chain. Behind came Von Kettler.
"Here are steps!" said the guard, after they had proceeded a short
Dick stumbled against the lowest step of an invisible flight. The
breeze was cut off, showing that they had entered a building.
Underneath was a large oval of bare ground. Dick found a handrail and
groped his way up around a spiral staircase, four flights of it.
"Here is a room!"
ick saw that widening edge of door again. The room inside was
perfectly visible, though it seemed to be supported upon air. It was a
spheroid, of huge size, with a number of large windows set into the
walls, and it was filled with machinery. About a dozen workmen in
blue blouses were moving to and fro, attending to what appeared to be
a number of enormous dynamos, but there were other apparatus of whose
significance Dick was ignorant. The dynamos were whirring with intense
velocity, but not the slightest sound was audible.
Von Kettler stepped to a switch attached to a stanchion of white
metal, surmounted by a huge opaque glass dome, and threw it over.
Instantly the hum and whir of machinery became audible, the sound of
footsteps, the voices of the workmen, and the creak of boards beneath
"You see, we have discovered the means of destroying sound waves as
well as shadows, and it was a much simpler feat," said Von Kettler
with a sneer. "Tell them that when you get back to Washington, Yankee
pig. Also you might be interested to know that most of your bombs fell
on camouflaged structures that we had erected with the intention of
He gestured to Dick to precede him, and halted him at a plain round
iron pipe or rod that rose up through the floor and passed through the
roof. It was surrounded by a mesh of fine wire. Attached to it were
various gauges, with dials showing red and black numbers.
"This is perhaps our greatest achievement, swine," remarked Von
Kettler, affably. "You shall see its operations from above." He
pointed to a narrow spiral staircase rising at the far end of the
room. "It is the practical application of Einstein's gravitation and
electricity in field relation. It is by means of this, and the three
dynamos on the ground that we were able to neutralize your engines
last night and bring them down where we wanted them. You must be sure
to tell the Washington hogs about that."
e motioned to Dick to cross the room and ascend the spiral staircase.
Following him, he flung another switch similar to the first one, and
instantly all sound within the room was cut off.
They ascended the winding flight and emerged upon a floor or platform.
Dick felt it under his feet, but he could see nothing except the
ground, far beneath him. He seemed to be suspended in the void. He
stopped, groping, hesitating to advance. Von Kettler's jarring laugh
grated on his ears.
"Don't be afraid, swine," he jeered. "This place is enclosed. There is
a shadow-breaking device on every floor, which renders us complete
masters of camouflage."
A switch snapped. Dick found himself instantly in a rotunda, roofed
with glass, sections of which were raised to a height of three or four
feet from the wooden base, admitting a gentle breeze. Three or four
men were moving about in it, but these wore the black uniform with the
silver braid, and Von Kettler's manner was deferential as he addressed
them, jerking his hand contemptuously toward Dick. Grins of derision
and malice appeared on all the faces.
Save one, an elderly officer, apparently of high rank, who came
forward and raised his hand to the salute.
"Captain Rennell," he said, "we are at war with your nation, but we
are also, I hope, gentlemen." He turned to Von Kettler. "Is it
seemly," he asked, "that an officer of the American army should be
brought here in chains and cords?"
"Excellency, it is His Majesty's command," responded Von Kettler, with
a servile smirk that hardly concealed his elation. "Moreover, the
American is to witness the forthcoming destruction of the Yankee
The elderly officer reddened, turned away without replying. Dick
looked about him.
here was less machinery in this room. The iron pillar that he had
seen came through the floor and terminated some five feet above it in
another of the opaque glass domes, filled with iridescent fire. About
it was a complicated arrangement of dials and gauges.
In the centre of the room was a sort of camera obscura. A large hood
projected above a flat table, and an officer was half-concealed
beneath it, apparently studying the table busily.
"Come, American, you shall see your navy on its way to destruction,"
said Von Kettler, beckoning Dick within the hood.
The officer stepped from the table, whose top was a sheet of silvered
glass, leaving Von Kettler and Dick in front of it. Dick looked. At
first he could see nothing but the vast stretch of sea; then he began
to make out tiny dots at the table's end, terminating in minute blurs
that were evidently smoke from the funnels.
"Your ships," said Von Kettler, smiling. "This is the dirigible." He
pointed to another dot that came into sight and disappeared almost
instantly. "They are a hundred and fifty miles away. Explain to your
friends in Washington that our super-telescopic sights are based upon
a refraction of light that overcomes the earth's curvature. It is
simple, but it happens not to have been worked out until my Master
Dick watched those tiny dots in fascination, mentally computing. At an
average speed of fifty knots an hour, the squadron's steaming rate,
they should be off the coast within three hours. The dirigible would
take two, if it went ahead to scout, as was almost certain.
ick stepped back from beneath the hood and glanced about him. If only
his arms were not bound, he might do enough damage within a few
seconds to put the deadlier machinery out of commission, if only the
silvered mirror. He glanced about him. Von Kettler, interpreting his
thought, smiled coolly.
"You are helpless, my dear Yankee pig," he said. "But there is more
to see. Oblige me by accompanying me up to the top story."
He pointed to a ladder running up beside the iron pillar through an
opening in the roof, and Dick, with a shrug of the shoulders,
complied. He emerged upon a small platform, apparently protruding into
vacancy. Far underneath he saw the clearing, and two airplanes on the
tarmac, the aviators looking like beetles from that height. He looked
out to sea and saw no signs of the fleet.
"You have heard of St. Simeon Stylites, Yankee?" purred Von Kettler.
"The gentleman who spent forty years of his life upon a tall pillar,
in atonement for his sins? It is His Majesty's desire that you spend,
not forty years, but two or three hours up here, meditating upon his
grandeur, before returning to earth. It is also possible that you will
witness something of considerable interest. Look out to sea!"
Dick turned his head involuntarily. He heard Von Kettler's laugh,
heard the snap of a switch—then suddenly he was alone in the void.
At that snap of the switch, everything had vanished from view behind
him, the building, even the platform on which he stood. His feet
seemed to rest on nothing. Yet below him he could still see the
airplanes, and more being wheeled out.
sense of extreme physical nausea overcame him. He reeled, then
managed to steady himself. He, too, was invisible to his own eyes.
Involuntarily he cried out. No sound came from his lips. He stood
there, invisible in an invisible, soundless void.
For what seemed an unending period he occupied himself with
endeavoring to obtain the sense of balance. Then, with a great effort,
he managed to loosen the cords that bound his right arm to his side. A
mighty wrench, and he had slipped them up above his elbow. His right
lower arm was free.
He extended it cautiously, and his hand encountered a railing.
Instantly he felt more at ease. He began moving slowly around in a
widening circle, and discovered that the platform was enclosed. The
further side was, however, open, and he began sliding forward, foot by
foot, to locate himself. Once his foot slipped over the edge, and he
drew back hastily. He felt on the other side, and discovered that he
was upon what seemed a plank walk, perhaps a hundred and fifty feet
above the ground, with no rail on either side, and some six feet wide.
Very cautiously he shuffled his way along it. It was solid enough,
although invisible, but more than once Dick walked perilously close to
one edge or the other. At length he went down on his hands and knees,
and proceeded, crawling, until his movements were arrested by what was
unmistakably a door.
The plank bridge, then, connected the top stories of two buildings,
but what the second was, there was no means of knowing. The door was
barred on the other side, and did not yield an iota to Dick's cautious
pressure. Dick felt the frame. Beyond was glass, reinforced with iron
on the outside, the latter metal forming a sort of lattice work.
Cautiously Dick began to crawl up the rounded dome.
oot by foot he made his way, clinging to the iron bars, until he felt
that he had reached the point of the dome's maximum convexity. He
wedged his feet against a bar and rested. Only now was it brought home
to him that it would be impossible for him to find his way back to the
A long time must have passed, for, looking out to sea, he could see
the squadron now, minute points on the horizon, exuding smudges of
smoke. The dirigible was still invisible. The airplanes had either
left the tarmac or had been wrapped in the gas-impregnated cloth, for
both they and the aviators had vanished.
Suddenly Dick had an odd sensation that the iron was growing warm.
In another moment or two he had no doubt of it. The iron bar he
clutched was distinctly warm; it was growing hot. He shifted his grasp
to the adjacent bar and even in that moment the heat had increased
Suddenly there came a vibration, a sense of movement. Dick was being
swung outward. The whole dome seemed to be dropping into space. He dug
his feet and fingers under the hot rods, and felt himself sliding over
on his back.
Back—back, till he was lying horizontally in space, and clutching
desperately at the iron bar, which was growing hotter every moment.
The sliding movement ceased. It was as if the whole upper section of
the glass dome had opened outward. But the heat of the bars was
becoming unbearable, and gusts of hot air seemed to be proceeding from
Hot or not, Dick's only alternative was to work his way back to the
stable portion of the dome, or to frizzle until he dropped through
Clinging desperately to the bars, he began working back, reaching from
bar to bar with his right hand and dragging his feet, with the
clanking chain attached, from bar to bar also.
ow he gained the base of the dome he was never able afterward to
understand. The heat had grown intolerable; his hands were blistering.
Somehow he reached it. He rested a moment despite the heat. But to
find the plank walk was clearly impossible. In another minute he must
drop. Better that than to fry there like St. Lawrence on his griddle.
And then, just when he had resigned himself to that last drop, there
came an unexpected diversion. Almost beside him a window was hung
back. A man looked out. Dick saw one of the workmen in the blue
blouses, and, behind him, within the dome, what seemed like an empty
Dick was slightly above the man. As his head and shoulders appeared,
he let himself go, landing squarely across his back. He slid down his
shoulders through the open window into the interior of the dome.
The man, flung against the frame of the window by the shock, uttered a
piercing cry. Before he could recover his stand, or take in what had
happened to him, Dick had gained his feet and leaped upon him. His
right hand closed upon his throat. He bore him to the floor and choked
him into insensibility.
In the Laboratory
ot until the man's struggles had ceased, and he lay unconscious,
panting, and blue in the face, did Dick release him. Then he looked
Save for the workman, he was alone in a rotunda, open to the sky, and,
as he had supposed, the whole upper portion of the dome had been flung
back, leaving an immense aperture into which the sun was shining,
flecking the interior with shafts of light. The temperature, despite
the opening of the dome, must have been in excess of a hundred and
There was nothing except an immense central shaft, up which ran a
hollow pole of glass, cut off by the invisible paint at the summit of
the dome. The inside of this glass pole was glowing with colored
fires, and it was from this that the intolerable heat came, though its
function Dick could not imagine.
One thing was clear: It was growing hotter each moment. To remain in
that rotunda meant death within a brief period of time.
And there was no way out! Dick glared around him, searching the
glass walls in vain. No semblance of a stairway or ladder, even. Yet
the workman must have entered by some ingress—if only Dick could
He began running round the interior of the dome in the brilliant
sunshine, searching frantically for that ingress. And it was growing
hotter! The sweat was pouring down his face beneath the invisible
Dick was vaguely aware that the silence switch had been thrown in the
room, for his feet made no sound, but the knowledge was latent in his
mind. Two or three times he circumnavigated the interior of the dome,
like a rat in a trap.
Then suddenly he saw a section of the flooring rise in a corner, and a
workman in a blue blouse appear out of the trap door.
e stood there, his face muscles working as he shouted for his
companion, but no sound came from his lips. He looked about him, and
saw the unconscious man beside the window. He started in his
With a shout, Dick hurled himself toward him. And he checked himself
even as he was about to leap. For he realized that the second workman
neither saw nor heard him.
Yet some subconscious impression of danger must have reached his mind,
for the workman stopped too, instinctively assuming an attitude of
defense. Dick gathered a dozen links of his wrist-chain in his right
hand, leaped and struck.
The workman crumpled to the floor, a little thread of blood creeping
from his right temple.
It was the thing upon which Dick looked back afterward with less
satisfaction than any other, leaving the two unconscious men in that
room of death. Yet there was nothing else he could have done. He ran
to the trap, and saw a ladder leading down. In a moment he had swung
himself through and closed the trap behind him.
The material that lined the walls below must have had almost perfect
insulating qualities, for the temperature here was no hotter than in
the Bahamas on a hot summer day. Dick scrambled down the ladder and
found himself in a machine-shop. Nobody was there, and tools of all
sorts were lying about, as well as machinery whose purpose he did not
understand. A pair of heavy pliers and a vise were sufficient to rid
Dick of his wrist and ankle chains in a minute or two. With a knife he
slashed the cords of invisible stuff that bound him. He stood up,
cramped, but free.
He picked up an iron bar that was lying loose on a table beside a
machine, and advanced to the staircase in one corner of the shop. As
he approached it, another workman came running up.
ick stood aside in an embrasure in the wall partly occupied by a
machine. The man passed within two feet of him and never saw him. Only
then did Dick quite realize that he was actually invisible.
The moment the man had passed him, Dick ran to the staircase. He
descended one flight; he was half way down another when a yell of pain
and imprecation came to his ears. He knew that voice: it was Luke
With three bounds Dick reached the bottom of the stairs. He saw a
large room in front of him. No mistaking the nature of this room; it
was an ordinary laboratory, fitted out with the greatest elaboration,
and divided into two parts by paneling. And sight and sound were on.
In the part nearer Dick three men were grouped about a large dynamo,
which was sending out a high, musical note as it spun. Levers and
dials were all about it, and above it was the base of the glass tube
that Dick had seen above. In the other part were five or six men.
Three of them were testing some substance at a table; three more were
gathered about old Luke Evans, whose silver chains had been removed
and replaced by ropes, which bound his limbs, and also bound him to a
heavy chair, which seemed to be affixed to the ground. One of the
three had a piece of metal in a pair of long-handled pliers. It was
white hot, and a white electric spark that shot to and fro between two
terminals close by, showed where it had been heated.
Dick started; he recognized one of the three men as Von Kettler. He
moved slowly forward, very softly, his feet making no sound on the
fiber matting that covered the floor.
id that feel good, American swine?" asked Von Kettler softly, and
Dick saw, with horror, a red weal on the old man's forehead. "Now you
are perhaps in a more gracious mood, Professor? The unknown isotope in
that black gas of yours—you are disposed to give us the chemical
"I'll see you in hell first," raved old Luke Evans, writhing in his
Von Kettler turned to the man holding the white-hot metal, and nodded.
But at that moment a door behind Evans's chair opened, and Fredegonde
Valmy appeared in the entrance. Von Kettler turned hastily, snatched
the pliers from the man's hand, and laid the metal in a receptacle.
But the girl had seen the action. She looked at the weal on Luke's
forehead, and clenched her hands; her eyes dilated with horror.
"You have been torturing him, Hugo!" she cried.
"Freda, what are you doing in here? Oblige me by withdrawing
immediately!" cried Von Kettler.
"Where is Captain Rennell?" the girl retorted. "I will know!"
"He is upstairs, watching the approaching Yankee fleet, and waiting to
see its destruction," returned the other.
"You are lying to me! He has been killed, and this old man has been
tortured!" cried Fredegonde. "I tell you, Hugo Von Kettler, you are no
longer a half-brother of mine! I am through with you!"
"Unfortunately," sneered Von Kettler, "it is not possible to dispose
of a family relationship so easily."
t is cheap to sneer," the girl retorted. "But you sang a very
different song when you were in the penitentiary, in terror of death,
and you begged me to come and throw you the invisible robe through the
bars. You promised me then that you would abandon this mad enterprise
and come away with me. You swore it!"
"I have sworn allegiance to my Emperor, and that comes first,"
retorted Von Kettler. "Oblige me by retiring."
"I shall do nothing of the sort," cried the girl hysterically. "When
you used me as a tool in your enterprises in Washington, you played
upon my patriotism for my conquered country. I thought I was
undertaking a heroic act. I didn't dream of the villainy, the
cold-blooded murder that was to be wrought.
"You've kept me here virtually a prisoner," she went on, with rising
violence, "an attendant upon that old madman, your Emperor, and his
sham court, while more murder is being planned. Where is Captain
Rennell, I say?" She stamped her foot. "I demand that he and this old
man be set at liberty at once. Hugo," she pleaded, "come away with me.
Don't you see what the end must be? This is no heroic enterprise, it
is wholesale murder that will arouse the conscience of civilized
mankind against you! Order that the vortex-ray be turned off," she
went on, looking through the opening in the partition toward the
dynamo. "That gas—you cannot be so vile as to send it forth again, to
destroy the American ships?"
"My dear Freda," retorted the young man coolly, "the vortex-ray is
already charged with the gas, and at a height of twenty thousand feet
it is now creating a vacuum that will send the gas upon the wings of a
hurricane straight up the Atlantic seaboard. It will obliterate every
living thing on board the battleships, from men to rats, and this time
we mean to reach New York.
"As for that swine Rennell," he went on, "you heard His Majesty
announce his intention of sending him back to Washington with the
information of our irresistible power. Of course I know you are in
love with him, and that these qualms of conscience are due to that
ut Dick hardly heard the latter part of Von Kettler's remarks.
Suddenly the significance of the dynamo and the superheated room above
had come home to him. He had read of such a project years before, in
some newspaper, and had forgotten about it until that moment.
By sending a high-tension current almost to the limits of the earth's
atmosphere, the article had said, a vortex or vacuum could be set up
which would create a hurricane.
The tremendous pressure of the in-rushing air would make a veritable
cyclone, which, taking the course of the prevailing winds, would rush
forth on a mission of widespread disaster.
And on this hurricane would go the deadly gas, infinitely diluted, and
yet deadly to all life in its infinitesimal proportion to the
And the American fleet was now approaching the Bahama shores.
Dick forgot Luke Evans, everything else, as the significance of that
mechanism in the next room came home to him. He ran like a madman
through the space in the partition, and, raising the bar aloft,
brought it thudding down upon the dials, twisting and warping them.
He struck at the hollow pole, but, glass or not, it defied all his
efforts. He seized a heavy lever and flung it into reverse—and two
Yelling, the three attendants broke and ran. Out of the laboratory the
six came running, collided with the three. Behind them Dick could see
Fredegonde Valmy, a knife in her hand, slashing at Luke Evans's bonds.
Dick swung his bar and brought it crashing down on a head, felling the
man like a log. He saw Von Kettler pull one of the glass rods from
his pocket and fire blindly. The discharge struck a second attendant,
and the man dropped screeching, his clothes ablaze.
Somebody yelled, "He's there! Look at his eyes!" and pointed at Dick's
ick leaped aside and swung the rod again, felling a third man. The
others turned and ran. Von Kettler in the van, broke through the door
behind Luke Evans's chair, and disappeared.
Dick ran back to where the old man was standing beside the girl, the
discarded ropes at his feet. He flung his hood back. "Luke, don't you
know me?" he shouted.
It was creditable to Luke Evans's composure that, though Dick must
have presented the aspect of nothing more than a face floating in the
air, he retained his composure.
"Sure I know you, Rennell," replied the old man. "And you and me's
going to best them devils yet."
"But the fleet—it's approaching Abaco," Dick cried. "I've got to warn
Fredegonde seized him by the arm.
"Come with me," she cried. "If they find you here, they'll kill you."
Dick hesitated only a moment, then followed the girl as she dashed for
another door on the same side of the laboratory as that by which Von
Kettler and his men had fled. They dashed down the staircase, and a
corridor disclosed itself at the bottom. The girl stopped.
"There is a private way—the Emperor's," she panted. "He had it
constructed—in case of necessity. I got the keys. I was
planning—something desperate—to stop these murders; I didn't know
Dick seized her by the arm. "What keys?" he demanded. "The key to the
place where President Hargreaves is?"
"We must get him. Where is he?"
"In a cell beneath the throne room. That's overhead. But they'll
"Which is the key?" asked Dick.
The girl produced three or four keys, fumbled with them, handed one to
Dick. "This way!" she cried.
hey ran along the corridor. Two guards appeared, moving toward them
under the electric lights. At the sight of the girl running, and Luke
Evans, they stopped in surprise.
Dick had pulled the hood back over his head. He ran toward them,
wielding the iron bar. A mighty swing sent the two toppling over, one
unconscious, the other bruised and yelling loudly.
"Here! Here!" gasped Fredegonde, stopping before a door.
Dick fitted the key to the lock and turned it. Inside, upon a quite
visible bed, sat President Hargreaves, unchained. He looked up
inquiringly as the three entered.
"Mr. President," said Dick, throwing back his hood, "I'm an American
officer, and I want to save you. There's not much chance, but, if
you'll come with me—"
Hargreaves got up and smiled. "I'm not a military man, sir," he
answered, "but I'm ready to take that chance rather than—"
He did not complete the sentence. Shouts echoed along the corridor
behind them. Dick replaced his hood, handed the keys back to the girl.
"Take Mr. Hargreaves to any place of temporary safety you can," he
said. "And Mr. Evans. I'll hold them!"
"It's right here. This door!" panted the girl, indicating a door at
the end of the passage.
The three ran toward it. Dick turned. Five or six guards with Von
Kettler at their head, were running toward him. They saw the three
fugitives and set up a shout.
Dick had a quick inspiration. He dashed back into the cell, seized the
light bed, and dragged it through the doorway into the passage, just
in time to send Von Kettler and two others sprawling. He brought down
the bar upon the head of one of them, shouting as he did so.
Then he became aware that the passage was flooded with sunshine.
Fredegonde had got the door open.
He darted back, passed through in the wake of the three, and slammed
it shut. Fredegonde turned the key. Instantly Dick found himself with
his three companions upon the prairie. Not a vestige of the buildings
was apparent anywhere, except for the patches of brown earth.
Von Kettler's End
redegonde took command, repressing her agitation with a visible
effort. "They cannot break down that door," she said, "and they dare
not ask for another key. It will take them a minute or two to go back
and reach us around the building. But there may be a score of people
watching us. Let us walk quietly toward the thickets. If I am present,
they will not suspect anything is wrong."
But Dick stood still, driven into absolute immobility by the
conflicting claims of duty. For overhead, high in the blue, was an
And at his side was the President of the United States. One or other
of them he must sacrifice.
He chose. He ran forward without answering. Those squares of brown
earth, set side by side, were the airplane hangars, and he meant to
seize an airplane, if he could find one beneath its coat of
invisibility, and fly to warn the dirigible and the fleet.
A curious wind was blowing. It seemed to come swirling downward, as no
wind that Dick had ever known. It was growing in violence each moment,
beating upon his face.
As he ran, he was aware of Luke beside him. He heard shouting all
about them. Luke had been seen. Not only Luke, but Hargreaves, who was
running after Luke, with Fredegonde trying in vain to change his
intentions. At the edge of the first brown patch Dick collided
violently with the wall of the invisible hangar, and went reeling
back. The shouts were growing louder.
"Wait!" gasped Luke Evans. He had something like a large watch in his
hand. He held it out like a pistol, and from it projected a beam of
the black gas.
Then Dick remembered Colonel Stopford's words: "He showed me a watch
and said the salvation of the world was inside the case. I thought him
nsane or not, old Luke Evans had concealed the tiny model of the
camera-box to good purpose. As he swept the black beam around him, the
whole mass of buildings sprang into luminosity, the figures of a score
of men, grouped together, and advancing in a threatening mass, some
distance away—and more.
Two airplanes, standing side by side upon the tarmac, just in front of
the hangar—not mere pursuit planes, but six-seaters, formidably
armed, with central turrets and bow and rear guns, and propellers
Two mechanics stood staring in the direction of the little group.
"I'm with you," gasped Hargreaves. "I'm not a military man, but I've
got fighting blood, and I come of a fighting race."
Dick leaped and once more swung the iron bar. The nearer of the two
mechanics went down like lead, the second, seeing his companion
bludgeoned out of the air, turned and ran.
Dick shouted, pointing. Fredegonde jumped into the plane, and the
President scrambled in behind her. The group, dismayed by the black
beam, which Luke Evans was now turning steadily upon them, had halted
irresolutely. But suddenly a head appeared, moving swiftly through the
air toward the plane. It was Von Kettler, with hood flung back, the
face distorted with rage and fury.
At his yells, the whole crowd started forward. Dick leaped into the
central cockpit, swung the helicopter lever. Something spitted past
his face, and a long streak appeared on the turret, where the
gas-paint had been scored. But he was rising, rising into that
e heard a yell of triumph behind him. And that yell of Von Kettler's
was his undoing. There is the telepathy between close friends, but
there is also telepathic sympathy between enemies, and in an instant
Dick understood what that shout of triumph portended.
He was rising into the line of magnetic force that would anchor his
airplane helplessly, and leave it to be jerked down and held at Von
He released the helicopter lever and opened throttle wide. For an
instant the heavy plane hung dangerously at its low elevation,
threatening to nose over. Then Dick regained control, and was winging
away toward the sea, while yells of baffled fury from behind indicated
the chagrin of his enemies.
He glanced up. Thank heaven the dirigible had not approached the trap.
It was apparently circling overhead. Of course the observers had seen
nothing, had no conception that the headquarters of the Invisible
Empire lay below.
And yet it seemed to be drifting aimlessly back toward the
fleet—erratically, as if not under complete control. And Dick could
see the ships about a mile offshore, apparently drifting too. They
were moving as no American squadron ever moved since the day the first
hull was launched, for some of them, turned bow inward toward others,
seemed upon the point of collision, while others were lagging on the
edge of the formation, as if pointing for home.
Then suddenly the awful truth dawned upon Dick. The occupants of
ships and dirigible alike had been overcome by the deadly gas.
ick banked, turned, leaned forward and shouted to Luke Evans, and,
when the old man turned his head, indicated to him to sweep the tarmac
with his ray.
The thread of black, broadening into a truncated cone, revealed
nothing save the luminous outlines of the buildings. Apparently the
tarmac was deserted. It was queer, too, that the silence of the night
before was gone. Dick shouted again, to assure himself of what he knew
already, and heard his own voice again.
Something had happened, something unexpected——or perhaps the crew of
the Invisible Emperor, satisfied with the effects of the deadly gas,
had not thought it necessary to go to any further trouble.
Suddenly Dick discovered that he was almost within the circle of the
line of magnetic force. Hurriedly he threw over the stick and kicked
rudder. It was not till he was again approaching the seashore that it
occurred to him that the force, too, was not in operation.
He opened throttle wide and shot seaward. He must ascertain what had
happened, and, if not too late, give warning without delay.
Then suddenly the vicious rattle of gunfire sounded in Dick's ears,
and, materializing out of the sky, came Von Kettler's face. Startled
for an instant, Dick quickly realized that it was Von Kettler in his
plane, with his hood thrown back.
And Dick realized that his own hood was thrown back. Two faces and
nothing else, were the whole visible setting for battle.
But that look upon Von Kettler's face was even more demoniacal than
before. Mad with rage at the prospective escape of his prey, and
infuriated by his half-sister's appearance in the plane, Von Kettler
had thrown all caution to the winds. In his insane hatred he was
prepared to shoot down Dick's plane and send Fredegonde to destruction
f Dick chose to replace his hood he would have the madman at his
mercy. And, if he had thought about it, he would have done so, with
Fredegonde sitting behind him. But the idea did not enter his mind.
Consumed with rage almost equal to Von Kettler's, he only saw there
the face of one of those who had inflicted an unspeakable outrage upon
the President of his country.
The memory of old Hargreaves, chained before the mock-Emperor's
throne, enraged Dick more than the holocaust of lives taken by the
He shouted a wild answer to Von Kettler's challenge as his plane sped
by, and banked. At that moment there came a roaring concussion that
shook the plane from prop to tail.
Dick turned his head. Somehow, President Hargreaves had contrived to
get the rear gun into action, and now he was staring at it as if he
could not believe that he had fired it.
And that action heartened Dick wonderfully. As Von Kettler's face
appeared again, he loosed his turret gun in a sweeping blast, and
heard Von Kettler's gun roar futilely.
Again they crossed each other's path, and again and again, two faces,
only able to gauge roughly the position of their planes. Neither man
had succeeded in injuring the other.
Once old Lake turned his black ray upon Von Kettler, and for, a moment
the plane stood out luminously in the blackness, but Dick leaned
forward and yelled to the old man to desist.
And once Dick looked back and saw Fredegonde crouched in her cockpit
with eyes wide with terror. And yet he read in her eyes the same
determination she had expressed in the laboratory. She was through
with her half-brother.
ll this while the wind had been increasing, making it difficult to
maneuver the heavy plane; but now, of a sudden there came a dead lull,
and then, with a whining sound, the wind rushed in again.
But this was a wind still more unlike any that Dick had ever known. A
mighty gale that revolved circularly, but downward too, like a vortex,
catching the plane and sweeping it into an ever tightening circle.
A man-made gale, upon whose wings the poison gas would spread
northward again, carrying unlimited destruction with it. Dick fought
in vain to free himself.
He was revolving as in a whirlpool, and it required the utmost
presence of mind and watchfulness to hold the plane steady. Round and
round he spun—and then, suddenly, out of the void materialized Von
Von Kettler, helpless too, was spinning round upon the opposite side
of the vortex. Thus each airship was upon the tail of the other, and
it was a matter of chance which would get the other within the
ringsights of the turret gun.
Von Kettler was so near that his shouts of fury came fitfully to
Dick's ears as the wind carried them. Dick, working the controls, knew
that not for an instant could he direct his attention from them in
order to fire his gun, and the moment Von Kettler attempted to do so,
he was doomed.
Round and round, struggling, battling in vain—and once more the
concussion of the rear gun shook the plane. And a shout from the
President reached Dick's ears.
Dick turned his head for an instant, long enough to see Von Kettler
spinning down through the vortex. And he was going down afire.
President Hargreaves, "no military man," had got him, the second time
he had ever aligned a gun-barrel upon a target.
"Bravo, sir, bravo!" Dick shouted.
And desperately he flung the stick forward and nosed down.
o gale, man-made or heaven-made, could carry on its wings
three-quarters of a ton of armored, turreted airship. Swirling like a
leaf, the plane broke through the clutch of the blast. Instantly it
grew calm. Outside that vortex, hardly a breath of air was stirring.
It was as if the whole fury of the air was concentrated within that
The ground came rushing up. Once more Dick tried to head seaward. With
flying speed lost, he was calculating the exact moment in his downward
rush when he could hope to resume control. Would that moment come
before he crashed?
At less than a hundred feet he partly regained control. For a moment
the plane seemed to fly on an even keel. Then her nose went down as
her speed slackened. And this time there was no salvation.
Working desperately to save her, Dick saw the ground loom up before
him. He heard the crash as the plane broke into splintering ruin ...
he had a last vision of old Luke clutching his precious watch: then
everything was dissolved in darkness....
You Can't Down the Marines
e's pulling out of it! Keep it up, Gotch!"
Dick heard the words and opened his eyes. He stared in amazement at
the faces about him. Honest American faces under tropical helmets and
above a uniform that he had never expected to see again. It couldn't
be real. And yet it was. One word broke from his lips:
"He's got it. Don't let him slip, Gotch.", grinned one of the friendly
faces, and the man named Gotch, who presumably had some qualifications
for his job, continued what was meant to be a gentle massage of the
nerve centers along Dick's spine.
"I'm all right." Dick muttered, beginning to realize his
surroundings. He was lying on a strip of prairie near the beach, on
which the waves were breaking in low ripples about a motorboat that
was drawn up.
He sat up. The world was swimming about him, but he seemed to have no
broken bones. Not far away was the wrecked plane, an incongruous mass
of streaks where the fabric had ripped through the gas-paint. "Where
are the others?" Dick muttered.
Then he was aware of Fredegonde Valmy lying with a white face under a
shrub. Her eyes were open, and turned toward him.
He heard Luke Evans's voice. The old man hobbled round from Dick's
back, one arm in a bandage.
"She's hurt rather bad, Rennell, but we won't know how bad till we can
get her away," he said. "You've been lying here about an hour, since
we crashed. President Hargreaves made them take him to the fleet in
the other motorboat to see what he could do. He's assumed command.
"You see, Rennell, that damn gas caught the fleet and put pretty near
every man out of commission for good. But these fellows wasn't going
to give up. So, since all their officers were gone, they took two of
the boats and their arms and equipment, and came ashore to settle
accounts. And they won't believe there's anybody on the island or any
buildings. And I can't make 'em believe it. God, Rennell, those
invisible devils may attack us at any moment. I don't understand what
they're waiting for."
Gotch spoke: "We know you're Captain Rennell, sir. And this gentleman,
we know him too, but he seems a bit queer in his head. Talking of the
Invisible Emperor's headquarters on this island, a mile or so inland.
The only invisible thing we've found is that piece of a garment we
pulled off you."
"I broke my watch ray machine in the fall, and I can't make them
believe, Rennell," almost wept old Evans. "Tell them I'm not crazy."
Dick got upon his feet with an effort, staggered a little, then made
his way to Fredegonde. He kneeled down beside the girl. She was
conscious, and smiled faintly, but she could not speak. He pressed her
hand, rose, and came back. "Mr. Evans is not crazy," he said. "The
headquarters of the gang is over there." He pointed. "Didn't President
Hargreaves tell you?"
"He was kind of incoherent, sir." The marines looked at one another,
wondering. Was Captain Rennell crazy too?
"We've had scouts out through the jungle, sir. There's nothing within
five miles of here. They had a clear view through to the sea from the
top of a hill."
"I've been there." Dick spoke with conviction. "I must tell you
they've got devices that make them practically irresistible. That gas
and other things. And they're invisible. But if you boys are willing
to follow me, I'll lead you. It means death. I don't know what they're
waiting for. But—are you willing to follow me?"
"We'll follow you, sir"—after a pause, during which Dick read in
their eyes the desire to humor a crazy man. "We'll follow to hell,
sir—if that gang's really there."
"Take your arms, then!" Dick pointed to the stacked rifles.
A minute later the twenty-odd Marines, forming an open line that
extended from one side of the clearing to the other, were on their way
toward the headquarters of the gang. And Dick, leading them, though
his head was reeling, felt as if his own reason was slipping from him.
Had he only dreamed all this? Was it possible that the headquarters of
the Invisible Emperor existed on this desolate prairie? If it was
true, why had they suddenly become silent, inert? Why had they not
long ago wiped out these few Marines? And the gale—was it now
sweeping northward on its mission of destruction?
alf an hour passed. Then the brown patches of the foundations came
into view upon the open ground. Here were the hangers, here was the
central building with the Emperor's headquarters. And nothing was
visible, nothing stirred, yet at any moment Dick expected the rattle
of machine-gun bullets or some more terrific method of destruction.
"Halt!" The line stood still. "I am going forward ahead or you. You'll
follow at a distance of twenty paces. When you see me stop, feel for
the door in the wall, and if I disappear, follow me. You understand?"
The Marines assented cheerfully. No harm in humoring this poor devil
of an officer who had crashed and lost his wits. Like Luke Evans,
shambling up through the line to Dick's side. Dick advanced. At any
moment now the concentrated fire of the Emperor's men should blast
them all to smithereens. Nothing happened.
And it was no dream, for Dick's outstretched hand encountered the
exterior wall of the building. He had gauged his way accurately, too,
for a step or two brought him to the door. He stepped inside. He was
inside the private door that led to the Emperor's quarters, through
which he had passed with Fredegonde, Hargreaves, and Luke Evans in
their flight. It had been broken down, contrary to the girl's
predictions, and the deserted passage within was perfectly visible to
Stupefied, the Marines bumped and jostled with each other as they
crowded in. If they had been anything but Marines, their own heads
might have been turned at the discovery of this sudden materialization
of a building out of nothingness.
Being Marines, they only grinned sheepishly, and followed along the
he first human being they saw was one of the guards, in a black
tunic. He was leaning against a wall, and he was a human being no
longer. He looked as if he was asleep, but he was stone dead, with a
placid look on his face.
Two more dead guards lay across each other, with smiles on their
faces: and there was a workman in a blue blouse who had been in a
tremendous hurry to get somewhere, from his appearance, and had never
got there. He had fallen asleep instead, and never wakened.
Dick found a stairway and led the way up. He thought it ran up to the
laboratory, but, instead, the room into which he emerged was the
ante-room of the Invisible Emperor's audience hall. Six dead guards
lay in a heap in front of the curtain, and they had died as
unconcerned as their fellows, to judge by the pacific expressions on
Dick passed through into the throne room. The Marines, behind him, for
the first time uttered exclamations of awe—of pity.
The terrific scene that met Dick's eyes would be burned into his brain
till his last day.
Upon his throne, head flung back, sat the Invisible Emperor, his
features set in a sardonic leer of death. And all about him, some
sitting, some lying, supporting one another, were his court, officers
in black uniforms with the silver braid, and women in court dress. And
all were dead too. But they had not known they had died. They had
fallen asleep—upon the instant that their own volatile gas reached
guess that's the explanation, sir," said old Luke Evans. "Those
devils made the whirlwind and charged it with the gas. But when you
reversed that lever, you reversed the process. Instead of projecting
the force outwardly, you made a suction, and every atom of the gas
that hadn't travelled beyond the radius came rushing back and filled
the building. If we'd entered a half-hour later, we'd have been dead
ones ourselves, but the gas was volatile enough to disperse through
the chinks and crannies. Anyway, it's all over now."
Yes, it was all over, Dick thought, as he sat in his deck chair upon
the cruiser that was bearing him northward. The menace to world
government had been destroyed and with it all who had been behind it.
There would be a new order in the world, a new and kindlier
government. Men would feel closer to one another than in the past.
Half the personnel of the fleet had escaped the invisible death, and
only one cruiser and the dirigible had been lost in the confusion.
There would be a great reception when they put into Charleston.
Dick bent over Fredegonde, who was asleep in her chair beside him. The
ship's surgeon had promised recovery for her. She shouldn't suffer for
her half-voluntary part in the business, Dick said to himself. It was
going to be his task to help her to forget.