The elms which grew along the curb spread their branches until they drooped over the high brick wall of the estate, making of the avenue a sort of tunnel, into which the distant street lights sent hardly a single beam of light. In the deep shadow, Phillip Corrigan’s cigarette showed, just a tiny red spark held carefully in cupped hands, ready to extinguish it instantly if anyone should appear. Corrigan himself, dressed in assuming blue serge and with a black felt hat pulled well down over his brow, was quite invisible.
He had been standing there an hour now, and even on his arrival, the big old house had been dark. The last belated passer-by had picked his way uncertainly down the street, over forty-five minutes ago, and since then silence had spread its sway, undisputed, over the entire neighborhood.
Somewhere, city-ward, a church bell tolled two solemn notes. Two o’clock; and Corrigan roused himself to action. He took a final long pull at his cigarette, pinched it and ground it beneath his heel. He breathed deeply of the fresh air of the June night and, fumbling in his pocket, drew out a key. He stepped over a few paces to where a gray-painted door was set in the wall, and after a through the door in less time than it takes to tell it.
Once in, he shut the door silently, locked it, and turned to scrutinize the garden carefully. It was dark and so, of course, it was impossible to see much. But Corrigan trusted this very fact to assure him that the garden was deserted. The folk in the big house on the right were quite without suspicion, they had no cause to suspect midnight visitors such as he, and right now they were probably all sleeping soundly in their respective rooms. He turned to the left where a path ran, paralleling the wall; and strode down it, confidently. He knew the path well enough to proceed without a light, and when presently it turned and ended at another gate, he brought forth a second key and was through it without a moment’s hesitation.
He was in a big open field now. The ground was bare of grass or plant, it had apparently been tramped down by dozens of busy feet, and there and there planks were lying, scattered or ropes were coiled. Dim against the skyline, twenty or thirty yards away, loomed a vast, uncertain structure of girders and beams, surmounted by a huge formless blob of shadow—the object of Corrigan’s visit.
The interloper strode quickly and surely toward the shadows, He groped uncertainly for a moment, then found a ladder and ascended it. A minute or two later, his form arose, high above the ground, his feet planted firmly on the deck of— a submarine!
It was not a large vessel, probably some eighty feet long, and the beams and girders which had been visible beneath it were the ways on which it had been built. Here in the inland town, miles from the nearest river, the owner of that estate had built an eighty-foot submarine! Yet Corrigan had no doubts of the owner’s sanity, or even of his practical ability. Indeed, it was his confidence in that gentleman which had brought him here tonight.
He reached the conning tower, fumbled awhile and then lifter the hatch cover and lowered himself into the vessel. His feet once on the deck, for the first time he allowed himself the privilege of a light. A faint beam from a tiny flashlight swung about the room and presently fell on a group of controls at one end. He hurried over and began examining them.
Compressed air valves - - nothing interesting there. Periscope - - he knew all about that. A bank of DuPont cosmic concentrators - - hm-m - - maybe it would pay to look into those, presently. Ha- - what was this? Maybe this little gadget was what he had come to investigate. He studied the group of dials for a moment, looked carefully at the panel in which they were set and then, drawing a screw driver from his pocket, bean to remove the screws that held it into place. Laying the Bakelite plate carefully on the floor, he was instantly absorbed in the complicated group of wires and instruments which the removal of the panel had revealed. For a while he was puzzled, then a light broke over his face and he chuckled aloud.
“Why, ‘tis a variation of the Duffield-Shorring transmitters they are,” he whispered. “This is going to be easy. Ten to one, they’ll be having a bank of Ocugi storage batteries somewhere in the house.”
He slapped his thigh, and in a moment was restoring the panel to its place. Finished with that job, he flashed his light around the room again, pause puzzled before another large panel, hesitated, then shrugged.
“No use looking into that,” he thought. “I’ve got all I came for. A fool I’d be, to stick around now and court trouble.”
He snapped off the flashlight and ascended the ladder. He was just about to thrust back the hatch-cover when he paused, his hand half lifted. Somewhere, in the distance a voice had spoken, the accents coming clearly through the voice. It was the voice of the owner of the estate, the builder of the submarine.
Cautiously, Corrigan thrust back the hatch and peeked out. Lights had been turned on along the walk and, some distance away, Corrigan could see a party approaching the vessel. He cursed softly and closed the hatch silently, thanking his stars that the bolts which held it shut were adjustable from within as well as without. He locked the hatch, confident that the visitors would find nothing unusual, and dropped back into the control room. He had no doubt that the party was coming here, and if he didn’t find a hiding place, he would probably be caught like a rat. For a moment he hesitated about using his flashlight, the, in desperation he turned it on and swept it once about the room. He breathed a sigh of relief a he noticed a narrow opening between the two panels, the one he had investigated and the other, which he had ignored. He slipped in between them and was pleased to find a small place behind the Duffield-Shorring transmitters into which he could easily slip. It was rather cramping and uncomfortable, but he could at least stay here until this midnight inspection was over, and then escape without being seen.
He waited a full ten minutes in silence. He was beginning to get a little restless, and wondered if, after all, the party had decided not to enter the vessel. Then - - the hatch cover moved. Voices from above. A man’s legs appeared, then the rest of him. Short and stocky, keen-eyed and black-haired, with heavy brows and pudgy nose - - Emil Bruckman, the owner of the estate, scientist extraordinary and designer of the submarine. Emil Bruckman looked even younger than his forty-five years, but his work in atomic physics had made him a world figure long ago.
He hardly reached the deck of the room when another man appeared. He was a tall man, prematurely gray, an English type, high cheek bones and lean face, and Corrigan wondered what he was doing here. For he recognized the man, knew him to be David McCarren, Bruckman’s closest friend and a world-famous biologist.
Two more men followed- - the little Russian, Sergei Voranien, Bruckman’s co-worker, and Sam Stock, silent, burly, back-bearded Sam Stock, who had had charge, under Bruckman, of the building of the submarine, and the setting up in it of the various strange instruments that Bruckman had designed. And last of all - - Corrigan caught his breath as his eye fell upon her - - last of all came Laura Bruckman, Emil’s daughter. What in thunder was she doing here at this time of night? As far as that went, what were they all doing here at such an hour?
And then Bruckman spoke, and curiously enough, answered Corrigan’s question.
“I’m sorry your train was so late, David,” he said. “As I told you, Laura and I have been waiting at the depot at the depot since nine o’clock. I had hopes of getting you here before ten; but it must be nearer to three, now. But this stuff I’ve got here - - I just couldn’t wait to show it to you, in spite of the lateness of the hour.”
McCarren smiled wryly. “You’ve got me here now, anyhow. But what can possibly be so important that you must drag me halfway across the country and then start a demonstration at two in the morning?”
Bruckman laughed, a booming bass laugh that echoed in the confines of the little room. “David, he said, “When you see what I’ve got here, you’re going to be so tickled that you’ll forget sleeping, eating and everything else. Maybe you’ll think it funny, but my atomic investigations have produced something that’s right up your alley. You specialize in the study of protozoa, don’t you?”
McCarren nodded. “Ten years of it, Emil. Why”?”
“Wait and see, my boy. First I want to explain why I’ve gone crazy and built a submarine in my back-yard.” He led McCarran over to the larger panel and Corrigan squeezed himself farther back into his hiding place, his heart suddenly beating like a trip hammer.
“Know anything about the Hetherington collapse?” asked Bruckman, suddenly. He spoke so suddenly that Sam Stock, who ha been looking aimlessly out of the port-hole, wheeled startled, his fact contorted by an ugly scowl. McCarren hesitated, a little disconcerted.
“It has something to do with atomic engines, hasn’t it?” he asked uncertainly. “Something to do with the so-called ash elements?”
Bruckman nodded. “Tell him about it, Sergei. You’re better than I am with simplified explanations. I’d be too technical for Dave’s limited mind, I fear.”
The little Russian grinned and began: “You remember when the present atomic engines were developed? How they succeeded in breaking down certain elements of lower atomic weight and thus securing the energy released?”
“Of course,” nodded McCarren, and added sarcastically: “My limited mind is capable of running a Witherfield engine, at least.”
“Well,” went on Voranien. “One of the first things that was noticed in the use of these engines was that a very small percentage of the elements used for fuel refused to break down. When lead was used for fuel, to use a common illustration, it broke down into gold. But about one three-hundredth of one percent remained lead. Scientists were puzzled, and poor, unfortunate George Hetherington, then one of England’s finest atomists, undertook to find out why. After a lot of study and experimenting with ash elements, he announced the discovery that the remaining lead was noble, that is, like the noble gases, helium and neon and those others, it refused to combine with any other elements. At last, after more study, he succeeded in combining it with chlorine that had been left after breaking down a flask of normal chlorine. In other words, noble elements of this new type united with each other, but not with ordinary elements, which had no effect on them at all!”
Corrigan, in his place of concealment, was watching with surprise the big form of Sam Stock. At the mention of George Hetherington, a scowl had come over his face, the same sort of scowl that he had assumed when Hetherington’s name had been mentioned before. He had leaned forward as Voranien spoke, closer and closer to the Russian, but now, as though suddenly realizing his attitude he suddenly drew back, his face becoming a blank mask. McCarren was asking Voranien in a puzzled voice, just what all this had to do with this submarine.
“Patience, please,” the Russian begged. “Hetherington continued his investigations, began to study the atomic states of these strange elements, and finally announced that this so small percentage of atoms, instead of breaking up, as did almost all of the other atoms, had merely released, uniformly, a terrific quantity of pure energy, resulting in a shrinking of the entire atom, until, at the end state, these atoms were no more than one five-thousandth their original size! This collapse of the atom into a low energy state has since been known as the ‘Hetherington collapse’.
“Just how much Huntington might have found out, had he been able to continue his investigations, we’ll never know. About this time, his mind, like a too tightly stretched steel wire, began to waken, and the remainder of his work was seriously hampered by increasing vagaries and delusions. Four years ago, poor Hetherington, now a dangerous paranoiac, was incarcerated in an asylum, leaving others, less brilliant, to take up where he had left off.”
Corrigan gritted his teeth and wished he could stretch his muscles, This resume’ of Bruckman’s work bored him terribly and he was beginning to feel cramped in his close quarters. But the voice of Voranien went on: “About a year or so ago, Bruckman and I took up the abandoned work of George Hetherington. We investigated those atoms of low energy and decided that certain cosmic rays of a particular wave-length were responsible for their acting differently than the average atom. Experiment with Dupont cosmic concentrators and Moreno filters proved our theory, and further investigation has enabled us to break down all the atoms of a given specimen into low energy atoms. We long ago succeeded in taking a piece of wood, and, complicated as that is, chemically, we reduced it in size to one five-thousandth of the original.”
“Say, that’s remarkable!” ejaculated McCarren, stirred suddenly into greater attention. “Why, if a man could reduce himself to that size, without harm _ _”
“He’s got it, at last!” burst out Bruckman. “Now we’re coming around to his line of work. Exactly, Dave. If we, by our discoveries, could reduce this whole boat and everything in it to on five-thousandth - - wouldn’t that be fine for a certain biologist?”
“But surely you haven’t really succeeded?”
“Oh, but surely we have,” Bruckman aped McCarran’s incredulous tone as he answered. “In this submarine, we’re going to reduce our size until the whole damn boat is only a fifth of an inch long! Tie that, if you can, my fine-feathered friend.”
“But - - why, Emil, won’t it be dangerous? How’ll we regain our right size again? I’d sacrifice a lot for science, but I’d hate to spend the rest of my life no bigger than a - - an euglena, say.”
“It’s all been worked out, perfectly. We’ve reduced dogs to the low energy state and restored ‘em. We’ve built little houses, put animals in “em and shrunk “em, and then brought ‘em back to normal. Everything has been worked out to the last detail. I’ll show you in a minute how this thing runs. There are ways, outside, down which this boat will slide as it shrinks. They get smaller and smaller until at last they’re only a twenty-fifth of an inch wide. They run into that old pond back of the elm tree out there.”
“The pond where I got those algae last year?”
“Yes. And as we shrink, these Duffield-Shorring transmitters will collect the released energy, beam it to the house where it will be picked up and stored in cadmium storage batteries. You know, Ocugi batteries will absorb an incredible amount of energy. Well, they’ll hold the energy released, until we return.”
McCarren whistled. “They’ll have to hold a whale of a lot of energy.” He said.
“Its calculated.” said Bruckman reassuringly. “There’s a whole bank of ‘em. They’ll hold it all. We can make the ‘trip’ and return, without a bit of trouble.”
For the first time Laura Bruckman spoke up.
“If somebody stole those batteries while we were gone, we’d be in a pretty fix, wouldn’t’ we, dad?”
Bruckman snorted. “Who’d think to steal a bunch of cadmium batteries? What good would it do them?”
“There’ll be enough energy released to light and run New York City for several years.” Sam Stock commented. “Many a man would be tickled to death to steal and leave us to our fate, if he knew.”
Well, nobody knows. At least nobody but us and about half a dozen others. And I’ll swear to the honesty of Peck and Corrigan and the rest of the workers. Anyhow, we’ll probably not be gone more than ten hours or so. Back almost before we know it.”
“How long will it take to reduce ourselves?” asked McCarren, suddenly.
“About three hours. “Why?”
“Let’s go now! If there were any danger of robbery, nobody would dream about our going now, and we’d be back by noon, today”
Bruckman hesitated. “Well,” he muttered, glancing toward his daughter dubiously, “I’m willing, but - - How about it, Laura? Do you want to chance it?”
There was a gleam of interest in Laura’s back eyes.
“You know I’d love it, dad. I’ve been hoping you’d decide to take me. I don’t believe there’s any danger at all.”
“All right, then. Take your post, Stock. Tell the truth, I’ve been hoping all along that you‘d suggest this, Dave. Let’s go.”
Corrigan had heard the latter part of the conversation with a growing panic. He had planned his visit carefully, he thought, and all the signs had pointed to quite a comfortable length of time before the actual voyage into smallness was to begin. Indeed, only a day or so before, Stock had told him that he expected it would be at least a week before Bruckman undertook his experiment. And he had hardly expected such a large party. His mind was in a quandary as to what he should do. If he remained concealed, he would be dragged off onto this incredible voyage; if he came out of his hiding place- - well, all chances of ever profiting from all his weeks of working and all his careful spying were over. And he might face prison too.
Then the ship lurched and tipped- - they were starting to move down the ways! And that meant that they were smaller than they had been, for the ways were constructed that they slid down them as their size contracted. Corrigan swore softly to himself and racked his brains for a solution to his predicament. And try as he might, none occurred to him. So at last, in desperation, he decided to have recourse to the outlaw’s last hope- - threat of violence. He arose and, drawing his revolver from his pocket, stepped out from his place of concealment.
Laura screamed and clapped her hand to her mouth, Bruckman gasped and McCarren turned in puzzled wonder. Voranien, whose back was toward Corrigan when he emerged, turned and gasped in his turn. Laura’s gasp turned into a startled cry of: “Phillip!” but Corrigan, ignoring her for the moment, barked a harsh command to the men: “Get away from that board and keep your hands up!”
They obeyed him at once, but Bruckman could not forbear a question.
“What the devil’s the meaning of this, Corrigan? What are you doing here, this time of night?”
Corrigan waved the question aside.
“You can guess why I’m here. Right now, your job is to stop this damn monkey business and get the boat back where it was. I’m getting out of here. Come on, snap into it.”
The boat gave another lurch. Through the port-hole, Corrigan saw an object move swiftly past. The others made no move; they still stood, hands aloft, and watched Corrigan.
“Come on, get busy. Don’t stand there like dummies, Stock, you can run this boat. Start it back.”
Emil Bruckman heaved a deep sigh. He gestured to Stock to remain where he was. A grin swept slowly over his face. “What if we don’t?” he asked slowly.
“I’ll tell you what, if you don’t.” Corrigan’s voice rang harsh through the room.”This thing in my hand is not wooden dummy. I’ve persuaded more than one man with it.”
Bruckman suddenly dropped his hands and moved toward the panel of the control board. Corrigan relaxed his tenseness with a sigh, but it changed to a snarl as Bruckman took hold of a lever which was already drawn partly down, and drew it down the rest of the way. Another lurch of the vessel, and it was quite apparent that its speed had been accelerated.
“Cut out that nonsense and stop this thing or …”
“Or what?” barked Bruckman, suddenly completely master of himself. “If I don’t stop this thing, what are you going to do? You idiot, don’t you realize that you’re entirely in our power? If you shoot me, you won’t have a Chinaman’s chance of ever getting back to normalcy. Know how big you are now? About one foot high!” He advanced toward Corrigan, threateningly. “Now put that gun down and talk!”
Corrigan hesitated, but still held the gun trained on the scientist. He stepped over to the port-hoe, careful not to lower his weapon, and glanced out. The sight made him gasp and look again.
The first traces of the early June dawn were already in the sky, and in the dim light, the field in which the submarine had been built was dimly visible, looming enormous. It was, it seemed, nearly a mile to the brick wall which ran along the street, and between here and there, and a half dozen vast trees towered to heights unthinkable.
Corrigan shuddered, and turned back to the room, visibly shaken. Bruckman stepped toward him with: “Put down that gun. It’s no good to you now. Com over here and tell us what you’re doing here and what this is all about.”
Corrigan, his mind awhirl from the sight that he had seen without, lowered his gun and obeyed.
“I don’t suppose there’s much use kidding myself any longer. Here’s the dope. In the first place, I am a thief. Been crooked for years. I learned something about your work from the popular science magazines and something from Stock here. I boarded at the same house he did. I saw a chance to break into something new, and took the job he offend me. I kept my eyes open, and having a lot better education than I pretended, I learned a lot.
“I figured to wait until you had shrunk down to a small size and then beat it with the batteries. You’d never have been able to return to normal size and you’d never have had a chance to get me. And I’d have been able to sell enough electric power to make me rich for life.
“I came here tonight to get a line on what kind of transmission you were going to use to get the released energy from the vessel to the house. And you butted in before I could get away. So here I am. What are you going to do about it?”
Bruckman chuckled. “Not quite so tough now, eh, Corrigan? Damn it, man, I’m surprised at you. I’d have bet my life you were honest. What do you think you’re going to make out of living the way you do?”
Corrigan smiled a wry smile. “If you’d’ve gotten here ten minutes later than you did, I’d have made millions. As it is…” he tossed his gun on the floor. “What are you going to do with me?”
Bruckman looked puzzled. “Darned if I know, exactly. You out to be turned over to the police, but—Look here, can I trust your word of haven’t you any sense of honor at all?”
Corrigan frowned angrily. “I’m not a hop-head or a cheap dip. For the matter of that, I’m not just a common thief. I’ve as good sense of honor as any man and - - Damn it all, I’m just Irish, that’s all. There ain’t enough zest, enough adventure, left in life to stimulate a real man. That’s why I’m crooked- - I want adventure, excitement! But ass to honor- - Yes, you can trust my word,” he ended, simply.
“All right, then. I’ll believe you. Now give me your word that you’ll play fair, won’t try any more funny tricks, and when we get back to normal size, you’ll leave us and not return. Do that and we’ll say no more.”
Corrigan nodded. “Agreed.” He promised, and held out his hand. Bruckman glanced at it and turned to the others. “Corrigan, here, is to be treated as one of us until we get back,” he announced. “Is that O.K. with you folks?” They nodded, and Corrigan, stung by Bruckman’s ignoring of his proffered hand, stood stiffly awaiting what was next. Bruckman noticed the strained attitudes in which all stood and broke the tension by suggesting that they take a look outside. The three scientists moved to the port-holes.
Corrigan was about to follow them when Laura turned and pulled him aside. “What in the world made you do it, Phillip? she whispered, drawing him to the far side of the room. “A man of your intelligence and brilliance. I was beginning to like you, Phillip. Oh, haven’t you any sense at all?” she went on, suddenly giving way to her suppressed emotion. You’re clever and smart- - you could easily do big things in the world, if you wanted to. Why, dad has been talking about making a place for you in the engine works, after this job was done. And here you go and spo8il it all with this silly robbery idea. Why did you do it?”
Corrigan felt sheepish, actually sheepish. Never before had he found it necessary to explain his way of life to anyone, much less a young woman who considered his dangerous vocation simply foolish. He hesitated, but: “Go on,” she urged. “Why don’t you say something?”
“There isn’t much to say,” he muttered. “I’m a thief. I admit it. But I do think I’m a little better than the ordinary thief. I’m alive, I’ve got to have adventure, and excitement; and where can an honest man be finding excitement these days? If this moon business was an accomplished fact, a fellow might go exploring on the moon, or Mars, maybe. But there’s no adventure left on earth. Everything’s civilized. But a crook - -ah, that is, an adventurer who isn’t too honest - -can still get a thrill now and then.”
“There are plenty of thrills left in this old world,” Laura exclaimed scornfully. “You’re just too lazy to look for them, Philip Corrigan. I’ll admit that crime is the easiest way to get a thrill. But what man wants to get things the easiest way, if he’s really a man? Ask dad, if want to know about thrills. Ask David McCarren. Or even poor sickly Sergei, there. I’ll venture to say they enjoy life more, in one day, than you would in a month.”
Corrigan was about to answer but she waved his words aside.
“I was beginning to like you, Phillip. We‘ve had several mighty good times together. But as long as we’re on this trip, remember, that I know you for what you are - - a man that’s simply too indolent, to careless, to seek what he wants in a legitimate way.” She turned and joined the group at the window and Corrigan, perforce, followed her.
A glance out of the port-hole brought an involuntary exclamation to his lips. Above, the sky was all gray in the dawn. Below, incredibly far below, another sky seemed to stretch gray as the other. Around them, stretching away into the mists in the distance rose mighty, broad, flat pillars that rose from the mists below and stretched high, high into the vague sky above. One or two branched in a manner that was vaguely familiar. They were like - - Corrigan knew what they were. Cat-tails! Young rushes which, now that the ship had grown so small, towered, seemingly, miles into the air.
“We must be near the end of our trip, aren’t we?” he asked. Bruckman nodded. “Yep,” he turned to McCarren. “It won’t be long until you’ll be right in your won private little zoo, Dave. How’ll it feel to be able to mingle on equal terms with amoebae and paramecia?”
McCarren eyes glowed. “You’ll never know, Emil. Nobody could ever explain what this means to me.”
Bruckman chuckled. “Have you forgiven me, then, for dragging you from your home and bringing you here in the middle of the night?”
McCarren laughed. “Forget it. Look down there. Isn’t that the glint of water?”
“It is. We’ll soon be there. Get ready for a bump, folks.”
At his warning, they tensed themselves, braced their legs, and seized to stanchions or whatever else was handy to act as a support. For a moment nothing happened; the, as though to reward them for their anxiety, there was a crashing jolt that sent them end over end across the room to wind up in a pile on the far side. The floor rose at an absurd angle, the far wall slid down to take its place, and the boat began a steady rise and fall as though in the grip of a mighty ground swell. The entire party arose, with their feet on the new floor, and spent an anxious minute taking stock of their bruises.
“Well, this is a nice mess of things,” burst out Bruckman. “Looks as if I failed to allow for something. We must be in the water now, but what caused that jolt?”
Sam Stock suddenly rose on the rocking floor, and climbed to a position where he could look out of the periscope. Bruckman saw his intention and glanced out of the window at his feet, but only a gray expanse met his eyes.
“Come up here,” said Stock suddenly. We’re floating on the surface of the water. Worse than that. We’re lying on the surface.”
Bruckman started up, exclaiming incredulously, but McCarren suddenly laughed. “Surface tension!” he ejaculated.
“Eh? What’s that?” questioned Bruckman.
“I said, ‘surface tension.’ That’s what the matter with us is. Haven’t you ever seen the water-striders crawling on the surface of a pond? Haven’t you ever seen dust particles floating on the water? You can float a needle in a saucer of water if you place it on the surface carefully,. No wonder we didn’t sink. The submarine is so small that it can’t sink directly into the water. But it presents a problem. How are we going to break the ‘skin’ of the water and get through?”
Bruckman frowned. “It’s something overlooked, I’ll admit,” he growled. “But there must be some way.”
“Capillary attraction?” suggested McCarren. “Could we use that to get us under?’
Bruckman scratched his head. “Don’t know. Maybe. I should have brought a stick of dynamite to bread the water, I suppose. But no use crying over split milk. If we..” He was interrupted by another jolt, as violent as the first. Again they were thrown from their feet, the boat righted itself and lurched again, then slowly it righted again and a sinking feeling that assailed them assure them all that the boat was through the surface and sinking.
“We’re through, boys,” cried Bruckman as soon as he could gain this footing. “I don’t know what did it, but we’re through.”
“Probably we were smothered by the water from a crest of a wave.” suggested McCarren. “The water would be a little choppy due to the morning breeze. Anyway, we’re sinking now.”
“Yes, and we’ve sunk about as much as we ought to,” spoke up Voranien. “Let’s balance out and start cruising.”
Bruckman nodded and they turned to the panels. McCarren stepped to a port-hole and looked out and then beckoned to Corrigan and Laura.
“Look!” he said, and he spoke in italics. The others looked and the scene without made it plain why he had spoken with emphasis. For the ship was plowing its way through a welter of amazing life, of life utterly different from anything that Corrigan, at any rate, had ever imagined. Creatures of every conceivable size were there, form tiny blobs of jelly no bigger than Corrigan’s thumb to vast monsters seemingly fifteen feet or more in length. Some few, especially a type shaped like a large pale-green cigar, rose slowly from the depths toward the surface of the pond far above; others sank, as slowly; but the majority swam actively about, bumping now and then into each other, intent upon the business for which they were created.
Practically all of the creatures were as transparent as glass. Faint colors were observable in some. The cigar shaped creatures were pale green, and some of the others showed pinkish and yellowish tints, but these colors were not definite, but mere suggestions, It seemed to Corrigan that he looked out into a world of creatures blown from glass. Yet here, there and everywhere, they darted, rolled or swam – Corrigan gasped as a great shadowy form darted suddenly up and past the window, leaving a swirling current in its wake in which a thousand or more of the tinier creatures were swept.
“What - - what in thunder are they?” he stammered a last. “Am I seeing things or are they really there?”
McCarren smiled. “They’re there, all right. And nothing to really be amazed at. In every gallon of stagnant water, in every quiet pond or pool, literally billions of these creatures swarm. There are hundreds of species, indeed, whole families and orders of them. See those big flat fellows about four feet long, the ones that swim with a spiral motion? They’re paramecia. We’ll probably wee plenty of them. And the smaller whip-like string alongside of it? That’s euglena.”
He paused and pointed off to one side. “Look there!” he barked. “There’s a honey, Corrigan. Look off there.”
Corrigan looked and saw something that made him hasp again. The creature was over twelve feet in diameter, round, and armored with a great transparent shell. Out of the shell emerged two long lets that the creature apparently used for oars, in inside – The creature, like all the others, was as transparent as a window pane, and all its organs were plainly visible. Corrigan could see its heart beating, its mouth-parts vibrating and other parts, of which he was ignorant, moving spasmodically. The only dark spots on the entire creature were two eyes, which stared balefully from beneath short antennae.
“Why, that’s a kind of a - - kind of a crawfish, isn’t it” asked Corrigan in an awed voice.
“Yes, it is,” answered McCarren. “Chidoris and I’m not mistaken.”
“But it must be awfully small; it seems no bigger than that to us.”
“You’re right. It is small. There are a good many species of crustacean that are no bigger than a good -sized protozoon. Yet they have limbs and organs, nerve systems and musculature as complicated as their bigger brothers.”
“Good gosh!” ejaculated Corrigan, and again became silent, lost in the wonders without. Presently he turned, at a sharp word from Bruckman.
“Look here, Dave,” the latter spoke. “It’s time I was springing my surprise on you. Come here.” He led the way to a door at one end of the room, and flung it open. Within, hanging on the walls, were four diving suits, their helmets lying on the floor before them.
“Emil!” McCarran’s delight was boundless. “Say, this really is a surprise. Why, we can go outside!”
Bruckman’s eyes were twinkling. “it really is Stock’s surprise,” he admitted “he was the one that suggested having these suits included. Think a trip without will be safe? Think we can go out among those galliwampuses without getting devoured?”
McCarren was glowing with excitement. “It’ll be safe enough, I expect. Most of these creatures have certain types of food, and won’t eat anything else. They live largely on decaying vegetation. I wouldn’t tempt members of the crustacean too far, but if we leave them alone, they’ll probably do the same for us.”
“Then let’s go.” Bruckman exclaimed enthusiastically, but was immediately quieted by a remark from Stock: “Somebody has to stay on the boat. “We can’t all go”.
“Say, that’s right,” Bruckman frowned. “You’d better stay, Sam. And- - let’s see, there’s onl6y four suits. Hm-mm Corrigan can’t stay. He’d try to knock out Sam and get back to normalcy where he could steal our energy “
“Say, I gave you my word ….”Corrigan began heatedly, but Bruckman waved him to silence and went on: “Of course, you’ll go, Dave. And you, Laura. Corrigan, you get into a suit, too. And- - oh, well, you to Sergei. After all, the idea originated in your head. So go ahead. Sam and I will stay behind”.
Sergei Voranien bowed. “Thanks, Emil, I appreciate it. But you shouldn’t say the idea originated with me. After all, if poor Hetherington had kept his mind, it would certainly have been him, instead of us, who first undertook this sort of a journey.”
Bruckman nodded as he turned away. “Poor old George,” he murmured. “It’s too bad he couldn’t have been with us to see this carrying out of his discoveries.”
He moved out into the control room and the four who had been chose to make the trip outside busied themselves with donning the diving suits. The suits, Corrigan noticed, were of the latest model, radio-equipped and carrying Donovan hydroclasts, apparatus which broke up the water seeping through them into hydrogen and oxygen, so that one was entirely independent of the ship, and had good breathable air wherever and for however long a time one as gone. Another thing he noticed, with slight misgivings - - the body of his suit was composed of synthetic rubber and cloth, as though the suits were made for shallow water wear.
“Say,” he commented to McCarren. “Won’t there be a lot pressure, this far below the surface? Will these suits hold up?”
McCarren smiled. “Way down here? You forget, my friend, that this pond is only about six or seven inches deep. The pressure won’t bother us any more than it would in a bath tub.”
He arose as he spoke and donned his helmet. Then, the others being ready, too, he snapped on the radio communication system, and Corrigan heard his voice coming metallically through the head-phones.
“All ready, folks?” Corrigan answered affirmatively and heard Laura and Voranien answer likewise. McCarren called to Bruckman and the latter entered and seeing them ready:
“I’ve had a door built into the side of the sub here,” he announced, shouting so that he might be heard through the helmets, “A sort of valve system such as they use in tunnels you know.” He opened the door as he spoke and disclosed a little cubby-hole with another door beyond.
“That far door rolls up from the bottom by turning his wheel.” He gave brief instructions, the party went through, and he closed the door behind them. He gave a signal that the door was tight and McCarren started the pump that was supposed to fill the room with water.
Nothing happened. The gray-haired biologist stood uncertain for a moment, the speeded up the pumps. At the mouth of the water inlet a globe of water began to form. It grew until it was over two feet in diameter, a huge round glistening object; then suddenly it broke and instead of falling and spreading itself over the floor, then spread rapidly and smoothly over the wall and a part of the ceiling. Corrigan heard McCarran’s chuckle in his head-phones.
“Surface tension again,” remarked the biologist. “And capillary action to, now. Well, it saves us some work.”
Without more ado, he began to open the door. As he did so, the water bulged in as though it were held back by a thick skin of celluloid or flexible glass. Even when the door was entirely open the floor still stood, quite dry, and stared at the wall of water in front of them. Presently McCarren spoke.
“Well, let’s go, folks,” he said, and stepping over to the bulging film of water, he struck an arm through it, then a foot, and suddenly he was jerked violently into the fluid and they saw him disappear slowly downward.
“It’s all right,” came his voice in the phone.”Come on in. The water’s fine.”
Corrigan advanced and followed McCarran’s actions. A moment later he was followed by Voranien and Laura, and they were all safely out of the submarine and on their own.
All about them, as they swam, they could see the tumult of protozoan life they had glimpsed from the window. The creatures darted, swam, rolled sluggishly or lay quietly waiting, all seemingly intent upon the one business that had absorbed all water creatures from the beginning of time- -that of eating forever eating.
Corrigan, whose knowledge of animalculae had been confined to an acquaintance through science articles with the common amoeba, was surprised to find that most of these animals had very definite shapes, a well as organs or a sort. In all of them the darkish spot which he recognized as the nucleus was present, but many had other, less familiar markings. And many were covered with short bristly hairs which, constantly in motion, carried the creature along through the water like tiny oars.
Far above, a great black shadow, huge as an ocean liner, hung. McCarren eyed it for moment, and then: “That’s probably a bit of twig” he announced. “Must be two or three inches long, judging from the apparent size of it. Let’s go up there; they’ll be a lot of things around it. Things we haven’t seen.”
They started up, and had swum nearly halfway when Laura suddenly cried out, and pointed down to the right. “Look, Dr. McCarren! What is it?
They all glanced down, somewhat fearful, but Corrigan heard McCarren’s reassuring laugh. “Don’t worry, Laura, it won’t hurt you. It’s a plant. Volvox globator, we call it”.
Corrigan was staring at the huge thing as it rose past them. To him, it seemed over ten feet in diameter and though it was as transparent as the other creatures that swam all around it, there was a green tinge to it that was quite noticeable. It was a perfect globe, a hollow globe composed of hundreds of units, little things about the size and shape of a goose egg. Each one of these units had two hair-like filaments growing out of it, and these filaments kept up a constant vibrating, which sent the creature rolling over and over in the direction it desired to go.
Within the globe were six smaller globes, tiny replicas of the big one. Corrigan looked at them and then: “Are those little globes the you?” he asked incredulously.
“I thought you said it was a plant”, said Laura.
McCarren nodded. “It is” he answered.
“But- - it moves around like an animal!” objected the girl.
McCarren chuckled. “A lot of the simpler forms of vegetation do.” He said. To my mind Volvox is interesting because it is not, like these others, a single celled creature. It represents one of the first attempts of Nature to produce a many-celled organism. These little egg-shaped things of which the globe is composed are each are each individual cells.”
They turned and studied the globe as it rose past them, watching it with an increased interest. “Say!” said Corrigan, suddenly struck with a new idea. “All these green things are rising.”
“They’re heliotropic,” explained McCarren. “During the night they sink to rest on the bottom, but they have a sort of instinct (tropism, it’s called), to move in the direction of light. So with the coming of the sun, in the morning, they all rise toward the top of the pond.”
By this time, the globe had passed on, and the party and almost reached the bit of twig they had set out to explore. They came suddenly on a mass of thick greenish cables, growing in the wildest profusion, and almost completely blocking their further progress.
“Spirogyra,” announced McCarren. “You can find this stuff in almost any still pond. It’s very common and sometimes grows very dense. We’re just lucky that we haven’t encountered a whole jungle of it.” He batted aside an insistent paramecium that had been spinning around him and went on: “This is vegetable, too. If we can’t work our way through this mess, we’ll see if we can’t swim around it.”
Eventually they made their way to the twig and climbed up on a portion of it. It was not at all the sort of place that Corrigan had pictured it in his mind’s eye. The twig had become water-soaked and the bark was beginning to flake off; the flakes, to them, appearing as great sheets eighteen to twenty feet in length. A jelly-like scum covered most of the surface and from the scum rose threads and filaments that waxed out into the water to be mumbled and pecked and devoured by the thousands of creatures that swam there. They made their way to one fairly clear flake of bark and climbed up on it. Corrigan heard Laura give a sudden cry of delight.
“Look, everybody, what a beautiful flower!” They turned, and even as they did so, they heard her cry in dismay. Her head turned, she looked about in all directions, and then again came McCarren’s laugh.
“Look down at your feet, Laura,” he said, and the girl stopped and then laughed in her turn. Corrigan and Voranien looked and saw a thing resembling a big tulip-shaped glass vase. Beneath it a stem, coiled in a tight spiral, attached it to the decaying bark of the twig. All around the lip of the vase, a fine circle of hairs grew, and these kept up the usual constant vibration.
Laura was plainly puzzled. “It was growing on a long stem,” she complained “It was as tall as my face. It looked so beautiful; I couldn’t help trying to pick it. But as soon as I touched it, it disappeared!”
While she was speaking, the stem had loosened its tight spiral, and now it slowly relaxed until, in another moment it was quite straight and extended over five feet long. “Watch,” said McCarren, and reached over and touched the fine hairs on the tip of the cup, lightly. With a suddenness that was amazing, the stem coiled again, and the cup was jerked downward, away from McCarren’s hand.
“There you are,” said McCarren. “That’s one way for an attached creature to avoid its enemies. Nature has certainl7y worked out a lot of experiments in this particular laboratory of hers. This is a Vorticella.”
“Well,” said Corrigan. “At least, this plant is a little more like normal vegetation that the Volvox was. It has a stem and its rooted to something, anyway.”
“Yes, you’re right, except in one respect. This isn’t a plant, it‘s an animal. In the earlier stages of its life it has no stem and is free-swimming.”
For the next hour or two the party continued their exploration in a vicinity of the twig. Space utterly forbids a description of all the remarkable creatures they saw. McCarren soon became so interested in the structure of the various creature that he totally forgot the rest of the party and spent his time absorbed in the study of this thing or that, leaving the others to speculate as best they could on the things that came beneath their notice. At last they all grew tired and decided to drop once more to the submarine.
They swam cheerfully down through the water and had, almost reached the vessel when Laura gave an exclamation of surprise.
“Look, Dr. McCarren!” came her voice through their earphones. “They’ve closed the door we came out of.” Corrigan noticed the fact almost as soon as she began speaking and a vague sense of impending trouble touched his Gaelic soul.
“There’s something gone wrong,” he stated emphatically. “If there had been any reason to close that door before, they’d have done it as soon as we left. Look in that port and see what’s going on inside.”
The party hurried to the window and crowded around to peer inside. For a moment, their eyes refused to analyze the vague forms visible within, then there was a second of shocked surprise at the sight they beheld. For within, Emil Bruckman lay upon the floor, bound round and round with ropes, had so his sides, perfectly helpless, while, seated on the little stool before the control panels was Sam Stock, his face covered with lather, calmly shaving off his big black beard!
Laura could not withhold a scream. Voranien cried out: “Stock!” in horrified tones, and the mechanic, evidently noticing their forms in the circular window, glanced up, waved derisively, and went on shaving. In spite of their pounding on the glass, shouting and even at last kicking the sides of the vessel, he paid no further attention to them, unconcernedly finishing his shaving. He wiped his face on a towel, stooped over and picked up a head set which he donned, and then, flipping a switch, turned to address them. Voranien gave a startled cry of frightened recognition.
“Hetherington!” he exclaimed. “George Hetherington!
“Hetherington, indeed!” came a voice from within the vessel. “George Hetherington, come to claim his own from the conspirators that would have cheated him of his rightful honor.”
He approached the p[ort-hole and glared at them savagely.
“Did you think your pitiful little plot would always be successful? Did you think you could keep me cooped up in that asylum forever? I tell you, you cursed savages, when you buck up against George Hetherington; you’ve started more than you can finish. I’ve been patient, haven’t I? And clever, too. I’ve waited and waited, planned and planned - - and now at last my turn has come.”
McCarren spoke softly, as if hoping he might be heard by his companions without being heard by the man within.
“He’s a dangerous lunatic, folks. Be careful. Humor him if possible, or we’re likely to find ourselves in a pretty dangerous fix.”
Herrington laughed. “I hear you, McCarren. I hear you, and I tell you there’s no use keeping up the sham any longer. I’m master now, and your game is up. That clever plot of Bruckman and his 0poor dupe, Voranien, has failed.
“I never was crazy, and you all know it. I was incarcerated so that Bruckman might steal my discoveries and announce them to the world as his own. For three years I’ve worked and planned to escape, and all that time I kept informed of Bruckman’s progress. That was one of your mistakes, letting the asylum people give me the scientific papers. I pretended to be subdued, very subdued; and at last I managed to get away. And then I came here, care as Sam Stock, with a big beard so that Bruckman wouldn’t know me. And now Hetherington is triumphant again, and you, you miserable worms, I’ve got you right where I want you.”
Corrigan had listened to this outburst with an uncertain mind. Was it possible that there was some truth in this astounding statement? It seemed to tie together pretty well. Hetherington, as Stock, had never seemed at all insane, in the weeks that Corrigan had known him. Moody, perhaps, and self-centered, but certainly not insane. Perhaps,– his thoughts were interrupted as the madman finished his statement and went off into the storm of pointless invective that gave even Corrigan no room for doubt that the man was quite insane. Hetherington calmed himself after of moment and went on speaking.
“I suppose you’re wondering now what I’m going to do, eh? Getting ready to beg for mercy, aren’t you? Of course you are. Poor simple-minded fools,. I can read your very thoughts. But don’t expect to wheedle mercy from me. I’ll have no more mercy from me. I’ll have no more mercy than you had when you hurled me into that asylum to waste away my life. Do you know what I’m going to do?” He pressed his face against the glass of the port-hole and grinned. “I’m going to leave you here. I’m going to send this boat back to normalcy, and get out and go! Free as the air I’ll be, then. I can take another name, re-enter scientific circles, and finally announced the very discoveries that you have cheated me of.”
He turned to Corrigan. “I’m sorry for you, Corrigan. I don’t more than half believe you had anything to do with this. But I can’t risk letting you back into the boat. You have no idea how infernally clever these enemies of mine are. If I opened the door for you, they’d be on me before I knew it. I can’t take chances, Corrigan. I’m sorry.”
Corrigan turned to the others. “Let’s get away from here,” he said. “Something’s got to be done. And we can’t plan anything here.”
The others evidently agreed with him, for, as he turned away from the ship, they followed. At once they heard Hetherington’s voice in their ears: “Come back. I have more to tell you!!”
McCarren and Voranien hesitated, but Laura snapped: “He just wants to gloat over us. Come on.” So they turned again and followed Corrigan.
They approached and seated themselves on a small raft-like bit of vegetation, far enough away that their little transmitters would be out of range of the radio in the vessel, but near enough to watch what went on outside. They expected, any minute, to see the door open and Bruckman thrust out, but apparently Hetherington was spending a while gloating over the vanquished scientist, for nothing of the sort happened. McCarren spoke.
“We can’t do anything unless we get inside the vessel,” he said. “We’ve got to plan a way to get inside.”
“Think we could flatter him into letting us in?” asked Corrigan. “Or maybe convince him that he ought to save me? He seemed to sort of regret leaving me.”
McCarren shook his head. ‘A crazy man is the hardest person in the world to change. It’s almost impossible to argue on into a change of mind. Let’s think now . . .There are two ways of getting into the boat, the side door and the hatch on the conning tower.”
“If we tried to get in through the upper hatch, the water would pour into the boat.” objected Corrigan. “We can’t hope to get in that way.”
McCarren suddenly jumped to his feet, the impulse sending him off into the water several yards.
“We can do that, Corrigan. We can get in that way!”
The all looked at him dubiously, but he went on, “Surface tension. And air pressure. The water won’t pour down through the hatch any more than it poured in through the door when we went out! Corrigan, we’ve got him.”
Corrigan pondered, uncertainly. He remembered, though, that the hatch cover was constructed so that it could be opened from either within or without, and so after a moment, he nodded.
“I believe it can be done,” he announced.”We’d better hurry, though, before he thinks of it himself.”
They leaped from the raft and swam high over the submarine. The intentionally swam upward until they were sure that Hetherington could not see them from the port-hole, then they dived down and landed on the top of the vessel. The inspected the hatch cover and ascertained that their ideas regarding it were right. McCarren started to speak, but Corrigan silenced him with a gesture, pointing to his ears and down into the submarine. They were close enough for Hetherington to hear them if they spoke now.
McCarren nodded and made signs. They would open the hatch now, if possible, and he would go in first - - Corrigan dissented, violently. His motions indicated that he must go first, He was only a common thief, he told them (business of slapping his chest, pointing his finger like a gun, and so forth), and if he was conquered or even killed by Hetherington, it would be a small loss, so he was the one who should go in first.
Laura objected, insistently, but Corrigan paid no attention. He unlocked the hatch cover, drew it cautiously aside and, climbing, up, threw a leg over and pushed it through the water. He had expected, remembering his previous queer experience on entering the water, to be able to climb right out of the water and enter the ship almost entirely dry. But to his surprise, the water clung to him like thick glue, it required all his strength to push through, and when at last he descended the ladder and stood upon the floor, he was completely covered with a gummy adhesive mass of liquid that hampered his every movement. He looked around, wondering why Hetherington had not already attacked him, but neither the madman nor Bruckman was visible. Not being in the control room, however, left only one place for them to be and that was the little room where the diving suits and hung, the room that led to the door in the side. As fast as the clinging, viscous mass of water would let him, Corrigan hastened to the door of the room.
He entered, not a moment too soon. Hetherington was just in the act of opening the door to thrust the bound and helpless Bruckman out. He turned and saw Corrigan, and uttering a startled cry, flung himself upon him. An idea struck Corrigan even as the other lunged and as Hetherington struck at him, he seized the madman and hugged him like a bear.
The viscous mass of water instantly flowed to encompass the attacking lunatic. For a moment, Corrigan to gain the upper hand if possible, Hetherington, it seemed, more to throw off the surprising and encumbering mass of water. Corrigan succeeded in throwing the other to the floor, but this almost proved his undoing, for once on the floor, as they rolled from side to side, the water was gradually wiped off of them, clinging in huge globes to the floor and those parts of the wall which they toughed. Presently enough had been removed to allow Hetherington to scramble to his feet. He glanced about wildly, seized a lever from the side of one of the panels and, with a terrific wrench, tore it from its socket. As his opponent struggled to his feet, he brought it down resoundingly or Corrigan’s helmet.
The blow, of course, did Corrigan no particular harm, but the crash of sound dazed him for a second. Hetherington was quick to pursue his advantage and with a fury almost unbelievable he leaped upon Corrigan, raining blows upon the metal helmet as fast as he could swing the lever. Corrigan realized that it would be but a moment until he would think of breaking the glass face-plate, and fearing that this would give Hetherington entirely too great an advantage, he seized the other and fell to the deck.
Even as he fell, he saw above him, on the ladder leading from the conning tower, the water-covered lets of one of his companions. He hoped that he could engage Hetherington for another minute at least, and with this hope, he renewed his effort to get his hands on Hetherington’s throat. But the madman was far too clever for that, twisting and squirming in Corrigan’s grasp in a vain effort to het his hand loose so that he might swing his lever again.
In his headphones, Corrigan heard McCarren’s voice: “Hold him just a minute longer, Corrigan. I’m coming.” Corrigan rolled over, attempting to get on top of Hetherington. His effort was in vain, however, the latter was too quick for him. Hetherington suddenly worked his arm loose and swung his lever again. This time he swung for the face[plate, and Corrigan heard his snarl of triumph, and shut his eyes instinctively as the glass shattered and dropped in a hundred pieces, some within, as well as without, his helmet. Hetherington swung his lever for another blow.
Then, to the utter surprise of Corrigan, and doubtless of Hetherington too, a shot rang out. Hetherington have a cry and started back, to fall on the floor at McCarren’s feet. Corrigan looked up in wonder, to see McCarren standing, a queer figure, entirely covered with the clinging, gluey water; holding in his had a smoking revolver. It was Corrigan’s won weapon, thrown to the floor when the journey first began. It had lain there, forgotten, through all the rest of the adventure, and McCarren, through great good luck, had spied it as he entered the room!
“Man, you weren’t a minute too soon.” Breathed Corrigan, a little shakily. He was panting from the exertions of the last five minutes and as he rose to his feet a wave of vertigo swept over him and he almost fell. McCarren seized him and steadied him until the feeling passed.
When his mind cleared, he noticed that Voranien and Laura had lowered themselves through the hatch-way and were struggling to rid themselves of as much of the encumbering water as possible. He heard Laura’s cry: “Is my father safe, Phil”? and remembered for the first time in as many minutes the bound and helpless Bruckman in the other room. The scientist was unbound and brought out, and stood chafing his wrists to restore the circulation and grinning at them sheepishly.
“That adventure wasn’t included in the expected excitement of the trip.” He said, obviously trying to pass off the episode as lightly as possible. “I never dreamed of suspecting Stock. He clipped me with that wrench before I ever suspected and I was so dazed that he had me tied up before I even knew what was going on.”
He turned to Corrigan. “It seems I owe you something for saving my life Corrigan. We’ll talk about that, when I get back to normalcy. Right now we had better look for Hetherington.”
McCarren approached the still figure which lay inertly where it had fallen. Blood was trickling from the unconscious man’s scalp, but little more that a glance was needed to show that the wound was superficial.
“Slight concussion,” announced McCarren “I grooved his skull. He may be unconscious for hours, but I hardly think he’s seriously hurt. We’d better tie him up. He might snap out of it, any minute.”
“Well tie him up and then restore this boat to normal size.” Spoke up Bruckman. “I think we’ve all had enough of this business to last us for the present. We can come again.” He added hastily, noticing the disappointed look on McCarren’s face “This won’t be the last time we’ll do this. And the next time, we’ll take a good big group of biologists with us, and lots of apparatus.”
McCarren’s face brightened and he offered no objection when Voranien, after removing his diving suit, turned to the panels and began assisting Bruckman in the operation that was to bring them back again to their familiar world.
It was nearly two hours later. Already, out of the port-holes a familiar scene was forming. The grayness was disappearing; forms were looming up in the distance, forms that one might speculate on, and wonder what they were. Laura and Corrigan were standing at one of the port-holes talking quietly.
“You saved my father’s life, Phillip, “Laura was saying. “I think you saved the lives of all of us,. And—I don’t know how to thank you.”
“Forget it, “muttered Corrigan. He knew that Laura meant her words just as she said them. She really was at a loss as to how to show her thanks for what he had done. And so he said “forget it”, and meant what he said, too. As a matter of fact, Corrigan was thinking, as he had never done before; thinking things which had never entered his head before, and Laura’s remarks disturbed his train of though. Bt she was thinking, too, and unfortunately, thinking aloud and to him.
“I really mean, I don’t know how to thank you,” she went on. “If you were such a person as Dr. McCarren, or Sergei, I could understand, but being what you are …” she stumbled and broke off abruptly, her face coloring. Corrigan scowled and turned his face away, and Laura, noticing the effect her words had had, seized his hand and swung him around to face her.
“Phillip, don’t misunderstand me. You, yourself, told us that you – you weren’t honest. Don’t you see that that draws a line between us, an insurmountable barrier? If you were honest, if you were straight- - if that barrier weren’t there, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do to show my gratitude.”
Corrigan suddenly seized her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes.
“Gratitude, is it, Laura?” he demanded. “Is it nothing but gratitude you have?
The girl’s eyes dropped. She said nothing for a moment, then: “No!” very softly.
Corrigan threw back his shoulders and heaved a big sigh. And somehow Laura thought of Christian, in “Pilgrim’s Progress”, when the load slipped from his back.
“Listen to me, Laura,” said Corrigan soberly. “I’ve been thinking since this journey first began. I told you before, and I say it again, there’s an excess of energy in this body of mine. I need excitement, adventure, absorbing interests, to burn it up. I thought that action, the clash of wills and bodies, was the only thing that could hive me the release I sought.
“But Laura, I’ve learned different, this night. There are worlds I never dreamed of, here in this world, waiting to be explored. It isn’t necessary to go to the moon or Mars to find new worlds. They’re all around us. Why should I lead a life of crime, when I can get a bigger thrill out of seeking these other worlds? Laura, listen to me. This I’ve found out, this night, and know it for the truth. There is more adventure, more excitement, to be found in a single drop of water under a microscope slide than there is in a whole life of crime. And for the rest of my life, if God wills, I’m going to seek it.”
Laura made no answer to this avowal. She only leaned closer to him, and Corrigan thought he heard a sob choke her. He might have taken her in his arms then, but Bruckman suddenly gave a shout and they heard the levers kick home in their neutral sockets.
“We’re back, folk.” called the scientist.” All the energy has returned. We’ve regained our right size.”
Like children. The whole group turned to the port-holes and looked out. The scene was familiar, though now they were at the far end of the lot, the big vessel resting in a sloppy puddle of mud, where the pond had been. Bruckman hastened to the hatchway, followed eagerly by the others. They left the boat and all hurried to the house, but at they doorway, Bruckman turned to Corrigan, a little awkwardly.
“I’ve never knowingly entertained a crook before,” he said. “I try to be a decent, law-abiding citizen. Corrigan, I’ll get in touch with you and try to reward you in some way for what you’ve done. But—I can’t ask you to come in.”
Corrigan smiled. His mind was made up, now, and at ease. “I’m not asking you to, now,” he said, and there was no trace of rancor or resentment in his voice. “As for rewarding me- - Bruckman, you’ve done more for me than I could ever do for you, in all the rest of my life. I’ll be leaving no, but some day; maybe years from now, I’m coming back. And you’ll welcome me, as an equal then.
“For my days of crookedness are over. I’ll find a place in the world of science, somehow, if I have to spend the rest of my life hunting for it. And when I have such a place, you’ll welcome me, I’ve no doubt. Until then, goodbye.”
He turned to go, but little Voranien seized him by the shoulder and spun him around. He held out his hand. “Goodbye, Phillip,” he said.
Corrigan squeezed the Russian’s hand and felt his other had clasped by McCarren. There was a quizzical, twinkling light in Bruckman’s eyes, and when Voranien released Corrigan’s hand, Bruckman stepped forward.
“I might hold you back with a word now, my boy,” he said “But I won’t. Goodbye and good luck to you.” He, too, suddenly clasped Corrigan’s hand, gave a single brief squeeze and released it.
“Good luck to you and- - you might write a line now and then to Laura, to let us know how you’re getting along.” He turned as he finished speaking and strode into the house, followed by the other men.
And Corrigan turned and strode down the walk to the street, and as he went his heart was singing, for Laura was leaning in the door waving him as he went.