The Copper Disc
Commencing a novel of mystery and intrigue by the man who wrote “Grain” and “The Smoking Flax"
MORLEY KENT, senior partner of the firm of Kent and Powers, electricians, looked up from his empty coffee cup and met the shrewd blue eyes of Vera Masters. They were understanding eyes— eyes that had followed him with sympathy and enthusiasm while he had discoursed upon the wireless transmission of power. For the hundredth time Vera had dined with Kent in the little Arcadia restaurant, where, after the drill of a heavy day in the shop, they talked over their plans and dreams together.
Kent’s dream it was, mostly—that vision of a key hidden somewhere just outside the border of established fact, a key which would unlock the secret of the transmission of power without the aid of wire or any metallic connection. The realization of that dream—properly protected, of course, by patents in all countries—meant fame and fortune beyond the wildest flight of imagination.
Working out his experiments, in the confidence only of his partner and Vera, Kent began to feel that his fingers were not far from the mystic key. Already a tiny airplane, suspended by a string from the ceiling of his office, buzzed all day long with power from a battery concealed beneath his desk. As it tugged at its slender moorings, it seemed to Kent the symbol of a new discovery, epochal in its possibilities, eager to be born into the world.
“I hope it all comes true,” the girl murmured, gently, wistfully. Vera’s interest in her employer embraced a bigger field than his inventions, epochal though they might prove to be.
“Come true? It can’t help coming true!” he assured her, and himself. “I tell you, Vee, we are just at the edge of something big—the biggest that has ever happened. If I can drive a toy airplane ten feet away, why can’t I drive a real airplane ten miles away? Ten hundred miles away? Why can’t I drive the automobiles in this street with power from Niagara, from the Saguenay, from the St. Lawrence? No more fear of a shortage of coal! No more need of synthetic gasoline! It’s all a question of power—properly directed power.” “And money,” the girl suggested.
“And money,” he repeated more soberly. “If I had ten thousand dollars—there’ll be millions when we don’t need it, but not ten thousand when we do. Well, we must find it somewhere, Vee. Who knows what Fortune may have up her sleeve?”
Kent hailed a taxi and showed his companion in. “Four six Corsigan Avenue,” he told the driver, giving him the number of Vera’s lodging-house.
Vera dropped into her seat, and they rode in silence. Kent had a sense of happy companionship as her shoulder touched his, and his arm slipped along the top of the cushion behind her. It never quite had dropped about her; he did not forget that the girl was a member of his staff—his whole staff, to be more accurate—and he imposed upon himself limits of endearment bounded on one side by an occasional pat on the hand, and on the other by the use of the brotherly pet name which he applied to her. Vera sometimes wished him a trifle less punctilious.
In a few minutes they drew up at the door of a red brick house which at one time had displayed some pretensions, but, like its neighbors along the street, had slipped down the social scale with the passage of years, until it had struck bottom in the status of a cheap but innocuous lodging-house. The very face of Forty-six
disarmed suspicion. The faded blinds and mildewed trimmings of the front windows blinked apologetically as the rays of a nearby street lamp cut through the falling rain, recalling, perhaps, memories of those brighter days before the drab force of circumstance had decreed for Corsigan Street its function of menial respectability.
Kent extended some unnecessary assistance to Vera as she got out of the taxi. For an instant he held her hand, and the girl’s faith in wireless transmission was perceptibly strengthened.
FOUR TWO SIX Eleventh Street,” said Kent, and the taxi whirred away again. They were running through a residential district where the traffic was light and the rain had cleared pedestrians from the street. Kent was aroused from reverie by a glimose of a large sandcolored roadster travelling fast t ward the intersection just ahead. Suddenly the roadster lurched, skidded on the wet pavement as the driver tried to make the turn, and crashed into the curb immediately in front of Kent’s taxi. There was a sound of wrenching spokes and the squeal of brakes as the taxi pulled up with a jerk to avoid collision.
The roadster sprawled partly on the pavement, partly on the grass boulevard alongside. The driver extricated himself, grinned rather sheepishly at the pair in the taxi, and began appraising the damage. The fascination of a wreck drew Kent out on the curb beside him.
“Might have been worse,” Kent observed. “A smashed wheel and crumpled fender. Your axles seem to be all right.”
“Lucky enough!” the other man agreed. “She just skated ’round the corner and that wheel buckled up like a crumpled doughnut.”
At that moment Kent’s attention was diverted from the car to a still more interesting subject. A girl was standing on the pavement beside him. She wore an evening gown of thin, pinkish stuff, in which the rain was making big splotches. Her arms and neck were bare to the weather; if she had cloak or umbrella she had forgotten it in the excitement of the accident. As Kent locked into her face in the lamplight he knew that Nature had done her share, even though a tell-tale streak of rain was furrowing the supplemental touch of Art.
The girl’s eyes met his, hesitated a moment, then her hands came forward in a frank little gesture.
“Oh, I wonder if you could ... if you would ...” She was plainly wrestling with her agitation. “I am in a great hurry to get home. Would it be too much . . .?”
Kent was conscious of a pleasant emotional disturbance. He was sure that even a great deal would not be too much.
“Why, no,” he assured her. “Take my taxi. Or, better still, let me drive you home.”
“Oh, I couldn’t do that!” the girl protested. Her thin gown was clinging to her in wet corrugations, but she seemed unconscious of the rain.
“Better go, Glad,” her companion advised, briefly. “I’ll have to get this wreck out of the street, and you’re approaching dissolution.”
For his observation she returned a fascinating little grimace.
“Glad,” said Kent to himself. “I must remember. Glad.”
She had turned to him. “Thank you very much,” she said simply.
“I will accept your kindness. It is an imposition, but I am really in a very great hurry to get home, and other taxis seem to have deserted the street.”
Kent swung his door open. “Jump in,” he cried. He gave her unnecessary assistance in, just as, a few minutes before, he had given Vera unnecessary assistance out.
“The address?” he asked her.
“Fifty-four Lake Boulevard, and please drive fast,” she added to the driver. “Good night, Gordon,” she called back, as the taxi was already in motion. “Sorry for all the trouble I have given you.”
When they had settled down in the cab, Kent introduced himself. “My name is Morley Kent, of the firm of Kent and Powers, 208 Eleventh Street.” He had a feeling that references were called for, and that this information should be reassuring.
“You are very kind, Mr. Kent,” she told him. “And you will believe, I hope, that I do not usually commandeer taxis and escorts in this manner. If I were not in such a hurry to get home! It was really that which led to the accident. I was urging Gordon to drive faster . . .”
“We will get you h 'me without a moment’s delay,” Kent promised her. “step on it, driver, but keep ’er on all fours.”
While helping the girl in, Kent had switched on the light in the cab. He hesitated now to turn it off, and under its subdued rays he made a quick study of his companion. She wore a string of pearls—real or imitation—about her neck, and diamonds blazed from her wrist and fingers. Not from her engagement finger, Kent suddenly noted, and felt his heart give a pleasant little thump at this discovery. Remarkable, it seemed to him, that his heart should thump over something in which he was not in the remotest way concerned . . . She was young -younger than Vera; smaller, too, and fi»er in her features.
Kent appraised the pearls and diamonds, and marvelled that a girl so richly dressed should risk herself with a total stranger. She seemed to read his mind, for she suddenly smiled up into his face.
"You weren’t thinking of kidnapping me, were you?” There was laughter in her voice, as though fear of Kent, or anyone, were a very amusing idea.
“To be quite frank, I was,” he told her.
She seemed pleased with his answer. “Quite an adventure,” she mused. “But, you see, I am in a great hurry, and my intuition told me I would be safe with you. Do you believe in intuition, Mr. Kent?”
While Kent was debating whether to answer yes or no, a slight tremor ran through her frame.
“You’re cold,” he exclaimed.
“It’s nothing. Just the rain. Like a silly I left all
my things in Gordon’s car. All but my purse. I am clutching it here as though it held millions.”
“But you’re cold,” he repeated. For a moment he hesitated, then suddenly switched off the light and drew his coat from his shoulders.
“Here, get into this. It’s big and clumsy, but it will keep you warm.”
She protested, but Kent held the coat across her shoulders, and she slipped her slim arms into the sleeves.
“There, that’s better,” he told her. “Draw it together in front. If I had a pin—and I have!” He folded one side of the coat across the other, fumbling in the darkness.
“Better let me pin it,” she suggested. As he complied, his fingers touched hers.
They rode on for some distance in silence.
“You must think me a very selfish young woman,” she remarked at length. “First I requisition your car, then your coat. Fortunately we are near home.” And again she laughed her challenging laugh. “Unfortunately,” Kent corrected.
“Fortunately,” she insisted.
They were swinging up the drive to a fashionable house, set in grounds that were spacious for the highpriced Lake Boulevard district.
“Here we are,” she exclaimed, as the car stopped in front of a lighted doorway. “You have been'very kind, and very generous, Mr. Kent. If you will tell me the amount of the taxi fare ...”
But Kent would not hear of that. "You were my guest,” he said.
“The compulsion of circumstances which have left me very much their debtor.”
“Very well.” She slipped out of his coat. "At least you’ll take that. If I had not been in such a hurry ...”
"Then I would have missed a very happy experience.” For a moment she let her hand lie in his, then darted out of sight.
A S THE taxi retraced the route to Eleventh Street, Kent turned over in his mind the unusual events of the last twenty minutes. The girl had evidently been in a great hurry, the cause of which she had not seen fit to reveal. Yet she had also seemed quite composed, as if the hurry were something outside of, apart from, herself. Kent, too, was conscious of that same desire for haste, which seemed also to have infected the driver, as
they lurched along the slippery streets on the homeward run A
faint and delicious aroma came up from the coat which she had worn. It wreathed the young man in an atmosphere of happy romance. He must see more of Miss . . .
It was not until that moment that he realized he did not so much as know her name!
Kent paid his driver and went up in the elevator to his room on the seventh floor.
The block in which he had his domicile was devoted to shops on the street level, business offices up to the fifth story, and bachelor apartments above. Kent’s quarters consisted of two rooms, in one of which were his books, radio, gramophone, and a miscellany of electrical apparatus. Two armchairs with sagging upholstery, acquired at a second-hand store for a nominal consideration, and a table on which were pipes and tobacco, suggested simple comfort and companionship. A door in the partition opened into his bedroom, chaste of all trappings in its masculine severity. A
clothes closet and bath completed the apartment. Kent switched on the light, dropped his hat into one of the chairs, and himself into the other. He was possessed of a singular happiness which suggested meditation and a cigar before turning in. Presently he became aware that his coat was damp; he took it off, and caught again the aroma of the arms and shoulders it had so lately sheltered. For a moment he held it in his hands.
“Remarkable incident,” he soliloquized. “Remarkable girl. She was carrying enough jewels, if I’m any estimator, to . , . to . . . ” He stopped for a suitable figure of speech, and the need of money which was nearest his mind presented itself. “To finance my experiments ... to nail down my patents . . to make me rich.” This girl carried on her neck and fingers all that stood between him and fortune. “And yet she wasn’t afraid; seemed to trust me just as a matter of course. She was like a sort of fairy, flitting into my cab, my life, for a moment, and out again. I never will hear of her again, of course. Why should I?”
The conclusion seemed reasonable but not satisfactory. He started to take off his shoes. Already the glamor was fading away. He had been magnifying an incident into an event. He had merely extended a courtesy to a strange young woman, who had thanked him and passed on out of his life. Why should she care? Why should he?
He dropped his shoe on the floor. Its solid thump was reassuring. “Heigho, Morley. Go to bed and don’t be silly,” he adjured himself.
At that moment his telephone rang.
“This is Gladys Hensley,” said a voice which he recognized with an instantaneous thrill. “I didn’t tell you my name in the cab because . . . well, perhaps because you didn’t ask it. But I had yours, and was able to look up your number. I have troubled you so much already I hesitate ...”
She paused. “Please go on,” he urged. (Fancy her calling him up!) “If there is any way in which I can be of service”—Gladys Hensley! The name touched some chord in his memory, and a million little brain cells went clamoring to identify it—“please tell me.”
“Very well, if I’m not really troubling you too much,” the voice came over the wire. “The fact is, I left my purse in your taxi. I must have laid it down while I was putting on, or taking off, your coat.” A silvery laugh tinkled through the telephone. “There wasn’t much in it . . . only a few dollars and a little gold compact, if you know what that is. I thought perhaps you would have the taxi receipt, since you wouldn’t let me take it, and you could give me the number of the car.”
Kent found the receipt in his pocket. “Yes, I happen to have the number right before me, Miss Hensley,” he told her. “I will go down to the taxi office at once and make enquiry.”
She protested that there was no occasion for that; if he would just tell her the cab number she would have Gordon call for it in the morning. The mention of Gordon’s name decided Kent. He would go for it this very night. No saying what might happen if it were left there until tomorrow.
Enquiry revealed that a small silver mesh bag had been found in the cab. Kent was asked to describe the contents. He gave the necessary information, signed where he was told, and went home. “My busy night,” he observed to George, the elevator man, as he went up to his rooms.
Back in his quarters, it occurred to Kent that he should call Miss Hensley at once and set her mind at rest about the purse. Search in the telephone directory revealed one Angus Hensley as a subscriber at 54 Lake Boulevard. Kent rang the number.
“Miss Hensley has retired,” a strange voice replied. “If it is of importance I will connect you with her room.” “It is of some importance.”
There was a moment or two of delay; then the girl’s voice sounded in his ear.
“I have your purse, Miss Llensley,” Kent explained. “Hope I haven’t called you out of bed?”
“Oh, we are much too modern for that. My telephone always stands within reach of my pillow . . . It is a very comfortable way to transact one’s business.”
For the life of him, Kent did not know why this information should seem so significant. Already the girl was like an old acquaintance; wearing his coat, speaking to him from her bed . . . Afterward he reflected that her great haste must have quickly evaporated.
While he was fumbling with his thoughts the girl spoke again.
“It was very kind of you to go to so much trouble for a stranger. Perhaps you can think of some place down town where you can leave the purse, and I will get it tomorrow.”
Kent took his courage in both hands. “I hope not quite a stranger,” he said. “At least, not now, and from now on. This purse contains quite a little money; at least, what seems to me like quite a little money, and I feel that I should like to place it in your own hands. I can do that tomorrow night, if you will let me.”
He waited for a moment, while the wire hummed emptily. Evidently she was deciding whether their chance acquaintanceship was to end where it began, or be allowed an opportunity to develop. It was a decision upon which all the future hung for both of them, and the young man felt his heart pounding as he waited.
Then the wire spoke again. “All right. Tomorrow night at nine, if that suits you.”
“Thank you. I shall be glad to come.”
“And I shall be glad to see you again. Good night.” He heard the receiver click on her telephone, and dropped back into his chair in a glow of happy experience. Why should this strange girl impress him so deeply? Why should he want to go to her house tomorrow night? Why should he care? Through the length of a cigar he could find no answer.
“But I do care,” he admitted to himself at length. “And, by Jove, so does she!”
rT"'HE next morning, while Kent was shaving, an A imperious knock sounded on his door.
“Come in,” cried Kent, straight-lipped behind his razor blade.
The body of a policeman filled the doorway. A big round head, close coupled to a big round body, turned slowly toward Kent. A mouth in the head opened.
“Are ye Mr. Kent?”
“Guilty,” said Kent. “What’s the charge?”
“\e’re to turn up at the coroner’s court at tin o’clock.”
Kent stuck his razor under the faucet. “Coroner’s court? Who’s dead?”
“That’s what he’ll be askin’ ye, no doubt. Will ye be there, or will I sarve ye a summons?”
“The only service that would appeal to me at the moment would be ham and eggs and a cup of coffee. Have you et?”
The broad face broadened a little wider still. “Is that contimpt av coort or an invitation?” it demanded.
Kent wiped his face and reached for his shirt. “You flatter me, captain,” he said. “Only rich men can afford contempt of court. But if we should eat together, and I should pick up both checks, there would be no habeas corpus about that, would there?”
A huge hand went up to the huge head and massaged it gently behind the ear. The long mouth tilted slightly upward at the ends.
“Now it’s peculiar, but that’s one point o’ law with which I’m partic’lar convarsant,” said the policeman. “Where do we eat?”
Over his smoking ham and eggs, Kent learned that he was wanted in connection with a taxi accident of the night before. The cab in which he had been riding, had skidded into the curb and killed a pedestrian. ^
“But I know nothing about % it,” he protested. “Sure. That’s why they want ye, I guess. And the young woman you was escoortin’, they’ve sent out for her, too. It ¿\ will be quite a rare party.” KL Kent’s last bite of ham \
narrowly escaped the wrong channel as his windpipe flopped from high into reverse.
“But she knows nothing about it, captain; less than I do; not a thing, honest.” l||pÍ
“Sure. That’s why they want her, too. Well, must be gettin’ along. Thanks, Mr. Kent.
You’ll be there?”
“Of course I’ll be there,” said Kent, for whom the inquest had suddenly taken on a vast importance.
“And say,” continued the officer,
“ye got a purse out o’ the taxi, didn’t ye? Bring it along. They may want it for Exhibit A.” He leaned over Kent’s shoulder and dropped his voice to a confidential note. “An’ if ye’re wantin’ anythin’, me name’s Murphy, Mr.
Kent,” he added.
Returning to his room for the purse,
Kent went early to the inquest in the hope that he might have a word with Gladys before the proceedings commenced. Seating himself in a convenient position, he kept a surreptitious eye on the door while maintaining an air of detached contemplation. Visitors began to arrive; a little, thin, black-eyed man who darted a quick glance in Kent’s direction and then seemed to forget his presence; a few friends of the taxi driver, or, perhaps, of the victim of the accident; curiosity seekers, idlers, a newspaper reporter or two.
Kent reflected without enthusiasm that this would remove the occasion for his evening call upon Miss Hensley . . . Unless some other occasion could be found.
One minute before ten the door admitted Gladys Hensley. She seemed taller and slimmer in her smart morning frock. Her brown eyes swept the room until they fell on Kent, when they seemed to take on a brighter sparkle, and her lips parted in a smile of recognition. Kent’s parted, too; partly in answer to her smile, partly in confirmation of the estimate of her beauty he had made the previous night.
By the side of the girl was another woman, whose only admission of age was in her hair, which was almost white.
Kent arose and stepped across the room to greet them. “Good morning, Miss Hensley. This is an unexpected development. I am afraid you will not be so ready to trust yourself to my taxi another time.” “Indeed, I am quite excited over it. Poor fellow! Don’t you think it is very sad? We never know what is going to happen, do we? Oh, mother, may I present Mr. Kent, who was so kind to me last night when Gordon’s car broke down?”
The elder woman bowed. “We are all indebted for any kindness shown my daughter, even though ...” She paused. “Even though it has such unforeseen results. But I am sure, Mr. Kent, you were not responsible for that.”
The evidence brought out that a few minutes after dropping Kent at 426 Eleventh Street the taxi, skidding on the wet pavement, had crushed a pedestrian against a lamp post, with instantly fatal results. The question of responsibility seemed to hinge upon the speed at which the car was travelling.
Kent was called for evidence.
“You are the gentleman who was using this car just before the accident?” he was asked. “Did you feel that the driver was proceeding with due caution, considering the state of the pavement?”
Kent hesitated. Miss Hensley’s insistent demand for speed rushed in upon him, and with it a desire to protect her from any embarrassing questions.
“Your hesitancy is perhaps the most convincing answer,” the coroner commented. “Did you, in view of the condition of the streets, remonstrate with the driver . . . request him to proceed with caution?” Kent shot a quick glance at Miss Hensley. The girl-was alert, as though ready to spring from her seat. For an instant their eyes met.
“No, I didn’t caution him,” the witness admitted. “You see, I was in a great hurry, and kept telling him to step on it.” “So! Tell us more of this, Mr. Kent. It is well known that when a driver has ,jibeen in what might
/be called a mood of high speed it takes him some time to settle down again to a more moderate pace. Every motorist must have observed that. Please proceed.”
Kent’s finger was looping his watchchain with great industry. “Well, you see, it was like this,” he resumed. “I was in a great hurry because ...”
“Indeed, it was I who was in the hurry,” came a sudden interruption from Gladys Hensley. “I will not sit here and let Mr. Kent take the blame. He let me have the use of his taxi, and it was I who urged the driver to greater speed ...” “Very well,” the coroner interrupted. “We shall hear your evidence, Miss Hensley.”
The little dark man got up and went out, quietly, as though wishing not to attract attention.
Miss Hensley told about the accident to the car she had been driving in, and how, in an emergency, Kent had placed his taxi at her disposal.
“Were you previously acquainted with Mr. Kent?”
“Then he is a total stranger to you?” “Yes, sir. That is, he was, until last night.”
“Quite so. The point I am getting at is that you appealed, in an emergency, to a total stranger.”
“Which would indicate that it was quite—shall I say—a serious emergency?” “Yes, sir.”
“In short, you were in a great hurry. May we be informed as to the occasion of your haste? It may, or may not, have a bearing on this case.”
Kent gnashed his teeth in silent impotence. This man was sleuthing for something with “a bearing on the case.” Why didn’t he ask her where she had been, what she wore, how old she was . . . ?
Miss Hensley hesitated. “That is the strange part of it,” she said. “I really don’t know what it was all about.”
The coroner looked incredulous. “You mean you don’t know why you were in a hurry?”
“That is just it. While I was with Mr. Brace I was suddenly seized with what you have described as a mood of haste.
I urged him to drive me home with all possible speed. We skidded and broke a wheel. Then as Mr. Kent came along in his taxi I appealed to him, and I hurried his driver. You see, I am to blame, but I don’t know why. When I reached home there was no reason for haste. I can’t explain it at all.”
“Very strange, very strange,” the coroner mused. “Your position, your family, Miss Hensley, preclude the supposition, which otherwise would be almost irresistible, that you are trifling with this court.”
“Oh, I assure you, I am not,” the girl exclaimed with unquestionable sincerity. “I just can’t explain it, that’s all.”
The coroner, also, began looping his watch-chain.
“Have you had any conversation with Mr. Kent on this subject since the accident?”
“No, sir. That is, I called him up about my purse. You see, I left the purse in the taxi, and he got it for me.”
“Has the purse been produced?” Murphy, still under the beneficent effects of a second breakfast, signalled to Kent, and the purse was laid on the table. “Do you identify the purse?”
"It looks like it.”
“You are not sure?”
“Not at this distance.”
The coroner ordered that the purse be placed in Miss Hensley’s hands. It was a dainty thing of silver mesh. She opened it gravely, took out some bank notes, a few pieces of change, and a small gold compact.
“Yes, it is my purse,” she said. “Oh, if only Mr. Kent had not come along!” Kent hesitated to believe his ears. Was she saying, if only he had not come along?
The coroner, also, seemed nonplussed. “You led the court, a few minutes ago, to believe that this young man had done you a favor. Do you wish to change that impression?”
Kent looked up hopefully, but the girl avoided his glance. The frankness seemed tcf have gone out of her eyes; she was looking downward, and a strange color was mounting in her cheeks.
“It would have been better if he had
not stopped,” she said at length. “It was a strange thing for him to do.”
“But you appealed to him, did you not?”
“Suppose I did! . And then, in the taxi, he turned out the light! And I was just in my evening gown, and I was cold! Oh, I can’t say any more! I won’t say any more! Do you hear me, I won’t say any more!”
She was obviously at the point of hysteria.
“I shall overlook the tone of your last remark,” said the coroner. “It does not seem that anything more is to be gained by your evidence, which, I must say, has taken a most unexpected turn. The point is established that either you, or Kent, or both, urged the driver to a high rate of speed. Anything else which may have occurred in that taxi is not under enquiry by this court.”
The girl flushed under the coroner’s rebuke. She stood for a moment, hesitant. Then: “May I have my purse?”
“I see no reason why you should not have the purse,” the coroner answered, his tone grown suddenly cold. “But I observe that you were not too offended by Mr. Kent to ask him to do you a further service. You may go, Miss Hensley.”
With burning cheeks she turned and, accompanied by her mother, without looking at Kent, brushed out of the room. Soon afterward, Kent also was excused, and left the place, bewildered by the sudden turn events had taken.
In the little office behind the shop of Kent and Powers, he discussed the incident with his partner. “Now what do you make of that?” he demanded, when he had finished his story.
But Powers had jumped from his chair. “Hensley, did you say? Glad. Hensley! Why, man, you’ve been sheltering angels unawares! Don’t you know who Glad. Hensley is?”
“Who—and why the sudden agitation?” “Only daughter of old Angus Hensley, the radio king, that’s all ! With more millions in her line of descent than we’ve got washers in the tool-box. Say, old man, you’ve just got to patch up this damage, whatever it costs. Go and apologize to her. Tell her mother it was a case of mistaken identity. Line it up some way. Get Angus Hensley interested in you, even if you have to marry his daughter, because that’s where we’re going to get the money to put over our experiments.” “Oh, are we? Well, we’ve made a great
“No worse than I’d expect. Why in the world did fate choose you for that job instead of me? But you’re elected, and you’ve got to come through. You owe it to the firm—and to posterity.” He was pacing about the little room, a-thrill with the possibilities of the situation.
But Kent failed to catch any of his partner’s enthusiasm. “You don’t seem to realize that she gave me an awful flop this very morning,” he remarked.
“Don’t worry over that. She’ll give you a boost tomorrow. Women are that way. I know. I made a study of ’em. You’ll see.”
Kent’s dejection carried him home early. In the mail box of his door he found a small envelope addressed in a woman’s hand. As he held it a familiar odor touched his nostrils.
With a strange tremor running through his frame, he cut the envelope open and drew out a little note:
You must think me absolutely horrid. I’m not really. Can you possibly forgive my unaccountable behavior? I assure you it is as unaccountable to me as it must have been to you. I shall be home all
evening to receive your forgiveness.— G. H.
For a moment Kent held the note before him, more puzzled than ever. Then he opened a closet door and took out his only suit of evening clothes.
T/'ENT presented himself at 54 Lake Boulevard and was shown into a large room luxuriously furnished. Subdued music issued from a radio set ingeniously concealed; Kent’s ear had not yet located it when Gladys entered, slim and radiant, and moved toward him.
He appraised her quickly and appreciatively as she advanced under the softlycolored lights of the Hensley reception hall. If, the previous night he had thought her overdressed, he found no ground for that criticism now. Her costume was modest to the point of severity; a single short string of pearls encircled her white neck, and the pink in her cheeks was the glow of her girlish health artfully accentuated by the shades on the electric chandeliers.
“This is coals of fire,” she said, as she took his hand; “I hardly believed anyone could be so generous.”
“I came because you asked me and because I’m puzzled,” he told her frankly. He had decided to be firm; her behavior demanded explanation; but his eyes feasted on her as he spoke.
Her lips melted into a smile. “I know you are going to be very severe,” she said, contritely. “You have a right to be. Shall we sit here? This room is so large.” She led him, willing enough, into a smaller room at the rear, with windows commanding the lake, now splashed with sunset gold and copper. For a moment she paused to drink in the evening beauty.
“Don’t you love the sunset?” she asked, her voice low and near, as though it expressed her reverence at the bedside of the dying day. “We chose this place partly because it opens to the sunset.” Kent felt his demand for explanations slipping away. For the moment they could wait. He was conscious of being under the spell of a very delightful presence.
“I was born in the country,” he told her, “where they have sunsets every night.” She laughed gently. “You have no idea how I miss them in the city.”
Her quick eyes were turned to his. They were brown, he saw, but in them seemed to lie some deeper color. It might, he thought, be the glow from the lake. He must study them under other conditions of light.
“I am glad you love the sunset,” she was telling him, “because people who love the sunset love beauty, or whatever it is in one’s soul that cannot be understood. I am going to tell you something that cannot be understood; at least, that I cannot understand. That is why I asked you to come tonight. Perhaps you can explain it; if not, it may help you at least to make allowances.”
Twilight had crept into the room. The girl pressed a button and filled it with a yellow glow. She selected a chair and indicated another nearby.
“I suppose you have seen the evening papers?” she asked, when they were seated. “Dad has a good deal of influence on account of the advertising done by the Hensley Radio Corporation—you know, his company—and they let us down as light as possible. At that, it’s bad enough.”
Kent had not thought of the papers. He had enjoyed always the immunity of the unimportant.
“I didn’t think of the papers,” he said. She smiled on him the smile of benevolent maturity upon a child.
“We always have to think of the
papers—first,” she explained. “So as soon as I realized the mischief I had done, I got dad on the telephone to straighten it out. They gave up their juicy story grudgingly, like a dog parts with a bone. That is what they called it—‘a juicy story.’ You realize, Mr. Kent, I suppose, that I placed both you and myself in a rather unenviable light?”
“Yes, I am able to follow it that far,” Kent admitted, rather grimly. “What I can’t understand is why.”
“That is what I cannot understand either. That is why I told you, a moment ago, there is something that cannot be understood.”
He looked at her, a faint play of incredulity about his lips.
“Do you mean that you don’t know why you said those things in your evidence?”
"No more than I know why I was in a hurry last night, and I don’t know that. I am a puzzle to my family, to my friends; most of all, to myself. I do things without understanding why. My mood changes without an apparent glimpse of cause. It may change tonight in an hour, in a minute. I don’t know.” She glanced at a clock on the mantelpiece. The hands were at one minute to nine.
“Before the clock strikes I may be as hostile to you as I now am friendly,” she continued. She dropped her voice a little on the last word.
“Remarkable,” Kent mused.
“It is a matter of moods imposed on me from some external source,” she went on, as though repeating a formula.
“Can you tell the mood from your real self?”
Kent took a plunge. “And which is your real self—toward me?” he asked.
Her eyes smiled, but she gave him no answer.
“I was telling you of the newspapers,” she resumed. “You may as well know the worst.”
She pressed a button and a maid entered.
“The evening papers, Florence, please.” The woman returned in a moment and laid the papers before her. Gladys leafed them over and held out a sheet to Kent. As he took it his fingers touched hers, and again that wireless current went tingling through his veins.
There was a two column cut of Miss Gladys Hensley, and a heading, “Society Girl at Inquest Quizz.” Kent’s eye ran down the half-column of reading matter in which his own name appeared two or three times. He gathered that the taxi driver had not been held responsible for the accident. As he read on, the color rose in his cheeks. His ride with Gladys Hensley had become public property. He stopped at the sentence:
Miss Hensley’s evidence intimated that Kent’s gallantry in placing his taxi at her disposal had not been wholly disinterested, but the coroner did not pursue this aspect of the case.
Kent sprang to his feet. “The blackguards,” he exclaimed. “They should be prosecuted for that.”
She motioned him back to his seat. “I’m sorry,” she said, contritely. “You see, it is entirely my fault. The evidence justified all they printed, and more. Indeed, they let us down easy, but even dad’s influence couldn’t keep that sentence out. But it did prevent them using your photograph.”
“Yes. Someone had snapped you, and they gave it up, as I said, like a surly dog gives up his bone. I’m so sorry.”
She was a picture of genuine distress. Kent let his eyes rest on her, completely puzzled. He could not doubt her sincerity. And yet ...
“You are waiting for me to explain,” she read his thought, when silence became oppressive. “That is the unfortunate part of it. I can’t explain, except that my moods change, apparently without any reason. They are certainly beyond my control. What do you think is the cause of moods, Mr. Kent?”
“Well—I have always associated them with the liver.”
She laughed. “Yes, but I have checked that.”
“Of course. Dr. Alstice tells me my health is perfect. You see, Mr. Kent, it is a very serious matter, and I really have been trying to get to the bottom of it. I shall soon not have any friends at all if this continues.”
“Oh, I assure you ...”
“Don’t. It was very decent of you to come tonight, but you wouldn’t keep on coming if I embarrassed you many times as I did today. I hoped perhaps you might think of some explanation.”
“Yes. You are an inventor—an experimentor—of some sort, aren’t you? Doesn’t this subject seem interesting enough to warrant your investigation?”
He looked for banter in her voice, but it was evident she was quite in earnest.
“Yes, indeed, the subject does interest me,” he told her. “I will be glad to help, if I can. May I ask questions?”
Kent had his share of the passion for scientific research, but he was conscious now of a subtle stimulus not usually associated with science. The problem invited his mind, but the girl herself, the instrument in which the problem was expressed, drew him with a powerful attraction.
“Have you always been subject to these moods?” he asked.
“Oh, no. Just for the last month or so.” “Then the influence, wherever it comes from, is quite recent. That should help to locate it. Did anything unusual happen about the time you first came under the spell—I suppose we may call it that? Think hard.”
She was resting her chin in her hands, a picture of concentration. “No, I can’t place any. I just began to do things I didn’t mean to do.”
“You spoke of losing friends. Have you lost any friends as a result of this—this peculiar behavior?”
He sensed her hesitation. “Don’t tell me unless you wish to,” he added gently.
“Yes, I will tell you. I believe you are trying to help me. You know the young man I was with last night, Mr. Gordon Brace? I feel that he is so—so uncertain about me, he doesn’t know what to do. You see, he is not a student like you. With Gordon things either are or they aren’t, if you understand. And I am afraid I have him utterly baffled. He doesn’t know what to make of me. No wonder. I don’t know what to make of myself. Neither do my parents. They are as puzzled as any of us. After my evidence this morning, mother was hotly indignant at you, until I made her understand I was in another of my tantrums. Now^she is so mortified she may not come in to meet you tonight at all.”
Kent recalled Mrs. Hensley’s lack of cordiality at the inquest, but he tried to be gallant.
“I hope she will not deny me that pleasure,” he managed to say, although he had a feeling that the enquiry could be carried on better without her assistance.
“She may. You see, it is customary to hold one responsible for his moods, isn’t it? You can’t just square yourself for bad behavior by saying you were in the grip of a mood, can you? Sensible people I are not supposed to give way to their
moods, although everyone does, more or less. Mr. Kent, you know all about wave lengths, I suppose?”
“Not all, by any means. Something, perhaps.”
“Do you believe that people have wave lengths— that each person has a different wave length?”
“It is possible, although I don’t know that it has been scientifically established.” “But it is possible, isn’t it? And that is why we respond so readily to some people, while others simply rile our static. Do you think every brain is, after all, just a human radio set, gathering emotions, ideas, thoughts, out of the ether, according as it is tuned?”
“Possibly. Possibly, also, a broadcasting station, sending out emotions, thoughts, ideas.”
“Or perhaps just relaying them?” “Perhaps. I don’t know.”
She was vivid with interest, but she wanted tobe sure she was not outrunning Kent’s sense of reasonableness.
“You see,” she explained, “I live in an atmosphere of radio. Father is steeped in it. Our guests are usually radio people. Inventors from everywhere, with every kind of theory—some of them too wild for words—come to see my father, to interest him in their ideas; usually, too, to get him to finance their experiments. I think every crank in the world must have dad’s address. He is continually bringing them to the house, because, as he says, you never know where you will pick up an idea that’s worth a million. And, again, sometimes I sing on the radio. It has become part of my life. And it opens up such possibilities that I wonder if it may not even have something to do with this problem.”
Kent patted a hand which had fallen into his. “I think you are suffering from extreme nervous tension,” he told her. “If you had not assured me that you have already consulted your doctor, I should have known what course to advise.” Her eyelids dropped, and little crystal points began to gather at the inner corners. They filled and coursed slowly down her cheeks.
She rose suddenly, her hand still in his. “Excuse me,” she begged, “I am very silly,” and, withdrawing herself from him, she hurried out of the room.
While he waited for her return, Kent gazed at a symbolical painting that hung on the wall, representing the harnessing of the forces of electricity. That was part of the problem to which he was devoting his life. A partial success in the harnessing of those mysterious powers had made Angus Hensley many times a millionaire, and his only child one of the richest prizes in the matrimonial market. But there was nothing sordid in Kent’s appraisal of the girl who had come so unexpectedly into his life. She was confronted with a unique and distressing problem, and his one desire at the moment was to help her toward a solution.
“Such eyes,” he told himself irrelevantly. “Did ever I see such eyes!”
At that moment Miss Hensley returned, again plainly mistress of her feelings. She carried the little silver mesh purse that had already played a part in their strange experience.
“Remember it?” she asked, as she held it in extended hands toward Kent. “It is my constant companion, not so much for itself as for this.” She snapped it open and drew out a small gold compact. “We girls are quite lost, you know, without this piece of equipment.”
IS YOUR SUBSCRIPTION DUE? Subscribers receiving notice of the approaching expiration of their subscriptions are reminded of the necessity of sending in their renewal orders promptly. The demand for copies to fill new orders is so great that we cannot guarantee the mailing of even a single issue beyond the period covered by your subscription. To avoid disappointment, your renewal order should be mailed to us promptly when you receive the “expiration” notice.
She opened the compact and Kent caught again the faint and delicious aroma he had noticed the previous evening in the taxi. She pressed a touch of the delicate powder to her cheeks, and even as she did so her eyes grew wide and rounded, and her face seemed to harden into an expression of acute horror. She was so obviously in distress that Kent sprang to her side and would have supported her, but she pressed him away with her hands, she beat upon his chest like a prisoner seeking escape. Along with his surprise at the sudden turn of events, Kent felt a strange sense of the eerie and inexplicable creep up his spine. He almost wondered if the girl was mad. Her eyes seemed to have entirely changed.
Then, as suddenly as it had come, the tension broke. Her features relaxed; the horror faded from her eyes. “Oh,” she cried, as one who has received a stunning blow. She swayed before him and he seized her in his arms. She had gone limp and unconscious.
"pOR a moment Kent stood stupidly holding the limp form of Gladys Hensley in his arms before he realized that here was a situation calling for a definite and immediate line of action. A couch occupied part of one end of the room; he carried her to it, and laid her down as gently as a child. Then, with a hand over her heart, he assured himself that it was still beating.
He remembered that Gladys had pressed a button near her chair when summoning a maid to bring the evening paper. He found it, and almost instantly the domestic addressed as Florence entered the room. She was a woman of about forty, so he judged, of solid and competent appearance, and yet with something in her manner or personality that stirred his distrust.
“Miss Hensley has had a turn; I think she is in a faint,” said Kent. “Will you summon her mother, and perhaps a doctor?”
The woman ran out through another passage, but not before she had given Kent a look that baffled and puzzled him. It was a look, not of surprise or concern, but rather of satisfaction, of triumph. It seemed to say she had expected just what had happened, and it was all very gratifying.
“I guess she is not my wave length,” Kent ruminated, the suggestion which Gladys had raised still fresh in his mind. He turned to the girl, took her hands in his, rubbed them between his palms.
In another moment Mrs. Hensley entered. If the maid’s face had lacked concern, the mother’s did not. She hurried to her daughter’s side, and took from Kent the hands he had been massaging. With a quick order she sent Florence, who had followed her into the room, for spirits and smelling salts.
Kent -hesitated between a sense of delicacy and a desire to be of service. “Can I help, Mrs. Hensley?” he offered.
“It’s just a faint, I think,” the mother returned. “You might lower her head — remove the cushion from under it.”
Kent raised her head gently in one hand, the brown bobbed hair falling about his fingers, drew out the cushion, and lowered her as instructed.
“That’s better, thank you,” Mrs. Hensley approved. “The poor child has been overwrought. Perhaps you will wait in the other room, Mr. Kent, and we will call you if necessary.”
Kent waited. The concealed radio was still humming music, but above its subdued tones he was presently able to distinguish the voice of Gladys in the adjoining room. With difficulty he resisted the desire to rush in and see with
his own eyes that the girl was out of danger.
A little later Mrs. Hensley joined him alone. “We are so distressed over her,” she confided. “She has not of late been her real self at all. That is, at times. At other times she is all right. I presume she made her apologies to you for the embarrassing position in which she placed you this morning? To whatever amends she may have made I must add my own regret and that of Mr. Hensley.”
Kent thought her very dignified and beautiful with her white hair, her face still youthful in its freshness, and her eyes grave with concern for her child. Her aloofness of the morning had been replaced by an unmistakable manner of friendship.
“Oh, that is all right,” he assured her. “I only wish I could help.”
“You are very generous. And—who knows?—perhaps you can. This is a matter for investigation from all angles. It is no ordinary illness, and no outbreak of tantrums. Naturally, we have tried to keep it from the public, even from our friends. Now that it has come to your knowledge, I feel sure I can trust your good judgment, Mr. Kent.”
Kent was in a mood to make commitments. “I shall regard it as a most sacred confidence,” he said. “You can trust me, Mrs. Hensley.”
“Thank you.” She extended her hand. “I believe you are an honest young man. Angus and I will be glad to have you in our home from time to time. But now, will you let me say good night on my daughter’s behalf? I thought it better that she should go at once to her room without seeing you again in her present disturbed frame of mind.”
Thus dismissed, Kent found himself in the fragrant air which sweeps up from the lake and floods the fashionable district, herding the city odors back into the commercial and manufacturing sections. The night was inviting, and he decided to walk home. All the way to Eleventh Street he carried with him the peculiar puzzle of Gladys Hensley. That the girl was under some strange and unwelcome influence he was fully convinced, and that she should have taken him into her confidence in a matter so intimate flattered his young masculine vanity. And Mrs. Hensley had been very cordial. He resolved not only to respect her confidence, but to unearth by every means at his command the source of the strange influence which had come over her daughter. This, of course, would involve frequent visits to the Hensley home, and much association with Gladys. The prospect was alluring.
It came to him with something of a start that their acquaintance dated back only twenty-four hours. Already they were as old friends. He had quite forgiven the morning incident—even the newspaper story. Indeed, there was something delectable in having his name associated with that of Gladys Hensley. He meant to clip that paper and file it away as a memento of a very pleasant experience.
XT’ERA MASTERS laid the mail on " Kent’s desk the following morning with an air of professional detachment. Her eyes, if Kent had looked into them, were heavy with a restless night, but she had summoned all her woman’s resolution to give him no hint of the concern she felt. A dozen times she had read that infamous newspaper story, and the innuendo of a single sentence had burned into her heart.
“He will tell me about it in the morning,” she assured herself. “It is all a hideous mistake.”
But the morning wore on, consumed in the routine duties of shop and office, and Kent volunteered no explanation. He was walking out at noon when something pathetic in her attitude as she sat at her typewriter halted him. Vera seemed suddenly to have grown older. Kent knew very well that Vera was twenty-six —almost the same age as himself—but never before had he quite realized that her girlhood was slipping away. After all, twenty-six is very young when surveyed from the altitude of superior years, but it marks the turn of the first quarter of a century and brings to Youth a sudden and overwhelming realization that its days are numbered.
Vera knew that Kent was looking at her, and she pounded her keys industriously, but they blurred and reeled before her.
Afterward the letter had to be rewritten.
When Kent returned to his rooms he found a letter addressed to him in a woman’s handwriting. It was not the hand of Gladys, and yet his heart perceptibly speeded its beat as he cut the envelope open. The note was from Mrs. Hensley.
“Dear Mr. Kent,” he read, “may we hope to have the pleasure of your company at dinner tomorrow night? Mr. Hensley and I are having a few friends, and we will be glad if you can join us. My husband is interested in everything which has to do with electricity, and no doubt you will find something in common. Do come. I would like you to know that we are not really so rude or hysterical as you would be justified in supposing.
Hopefully, Julia Hensley.
P.S. Gladys is quite well again today. It was another of those unaccountable occurrences.”
Kent read the message a second time without moving from where he stood, but his decision was instantly taken. He wrote a brief note of acceptance, and went out for a stroll in the evening air. He spoke to the elevator man as he went down, to the girl at the cigar counter in the corridor, to a newsboy at the door. He was in a cordial mood toward the world. Life seemed very much worth living, even without a solution of the great problem of wireless transmission of power . . . Even that might come of it. Angus Hensley was a good man to know . . .
Kent dressed for the Hensley dinner with as much care as his limited wardrobe permitted, called a taxi, and in a few minutes whirred up to the doors of the Hensley mansion. He was shown into the smoking-room, where Angus Hensley, a youthful-looking grey-haired man, shook his hand warmly.
“Mighty glad to meet you, Mr. Kent; mighty glad to meet you.” The radio king held his hand with unaffected cordiality. “I know something about your experiments. Oh, don’t ask me. Developments in the electrical world have a way of leaking out and winding up in the ear of Angus Hensley. We’re just at the beginning of things, Mr. Kent, and I’m always glad to meet a man who is doing his bit at rolling back the map of the unknown. Besides, I understand that my daughter is indebted to you for certain courtesies, and what my daughter owes I owe—and that’s true in more ways than one.” Mr. Hensley laughed pleasantly over his implied liabilities, as a man with triple A rating is entitled to laugh on such subjects.
A tall young man with a small dark mustache and eyes to match detached himself from the little knot of guests.
“I think we have met before, Mr. Kent,” he said, extending his hand, “but you may be excused for not recognizing me. The light was not good, and I do not remember that we were formally introduced. I am Gordon Brace.”
The two young men eyed each other as they clasped hands, and both seemed to sense that they would come to grips in more ways than one.
“I am glad to meet you,” Kent man-
aged to say. “I hope your car was not | much the worse.”
“Just a smashed wheel. And now, when we have a moment together, I want to thank you for your courtesy to Miss Hensley and to me. You were very kind.”
“Oh, it was a great pleasure,” Kent assured him.
They were interrupted by Angus Hensley.
“Mr. Kent, I want you to meet Professor Martin Herzton. Professor Herzton is associated with the Hensley Radio Corporation; in fact, he is a good deal of ¡ the power behind the scenes. Whenever ' we want a new invention or discovery— something that will put our competitors ¡ out of the running for another year or two—we say to the professor, ‘Think up something new, Herzton,’ and, by George he does it! If you’ve got any big ideas in the back of your head, Kent, keep ’em under cover when you’re talking with Herzton.” With this jocular warning Hensley turned to his other guests.
Professor Martin Herzton was a man to command attention. Tall, spare, and scholarly in appearance, he had about him a suggestion of extreme agility of both body and mind. In a razor-ridden age he had the courage to defy convention to the extent of a small, black, tapered beard, in which threads of grey were showing. It had the effect of bringing his face to a point and adding to the incisiveness of his general appearance. His hair was black, with an occasional thread of grey; a good mat of it, carefully parted and brushed back over his long, sharp ears. His nose, too, was sharp, and his eyes had a snap in them that was not unfriendly, but which suggested that here was a man in whom the head very conspicuously controlled the heart.
“I have heard something of you, Mr. Kent,” Herzton was saying in his deep, authoritative voice. “You are interested in wireless transmission of power, unless I am misinformed. A great field—a very great field. I can only regret that there are but twenty-four hours in a day, and the demands of the Hensley Radio Corporation—somewhat exacting—have kept me from dabbling in it. Fancy the time when our motor cars will be propelled by power generated at a central station with no more visible connection than there now is between the broadcasting antenna and that radio receiving set in the next room !”
“Then you think it possible, Professor Herzton? You don’t count it just a fool’s dream?”
“Fool’s dream !” The professor laughed a robust, subterranean laugh. “The only people indulging in fool’s dreams now, Mr. Kent, are those who think that anything is impossible. Why, a couple of centuries ago they would have hanged a man—and probably have quartered him to boot—for even saying that the things we now do every day were possible. The telephone, the motor car, the airplane, radio—if these things had even been conceived they would have been condemned as not only immoral, but atheistic. Suppose a hundred years ago I had stood on London bridge and said, ‘One hundred years from now a man will speak in London, and at that same moment another man in America will hear his words, and not only his words, but the minutest intonations of his voice,’ do you think I would have got off with a mere ducking in the Thames? Or suppose that in May, 1827, I had stood in the outskirts of Paris and said, ‘One hundred years from this day a man will rise from the solid earth in America like a bird and alight at this spot,’ would I not at least have been adjudged insane? Well, we’ve got past that, Mr. Kent, but we have still a large static public which imagines that the great inventions have all been invented; perhaps I shouldn’t put it that way; their imaginations are too constricted to project themselves forward into even the more obvious discoveries of the future.”
At that moment came a summons to the dining room, and Kent, promising himself more conversation with the professor later, turned to the business immediately in hand.
He found himself seated beside Gladys Hensley; across the table from her was Gordon Brace. As the meal and the conversation progressed, he began to identify the other guests, classify them, and get them tucked away in his memory. There was Doctor Alstice, family physician to the Hensleys, and Marion Alstice, his wife, who, being married to a doctor, was in a position to treat with contempt the somewhat obvious necessity of dieting; the Reverend Eugene Rogers, pastor of Lake Boulevard Central Church, and Mrs. Rogers; the three Hensleys, Gordon Brace, Professor Herzton, and himself. It was part of Kent’s philosophy of a reasonably happy existence to guard against exaggerating his own importance, and he was well aware that no accomplishment of his offered an explanation of his admittance into this small and intimate group. The explanation must lie in Gladys Hensley, or her mother, or both; it could lie nowhere else.
Gladys gave most of her conversation to Gordon Brace, but when once Kent’s hand touched hers under the edge of the table he did not immediately remove it.
In and out of the room moved the maid, Florence Manners, whose expression had so puzzled Kent on the evening when Gladys had fainted in his arms. She seemed to be a sort of chief of the Hensley staff. Instinctively he watched her movements and her gestures. This woman, he was convinced, knew more about the influences working on Gladys than did the other members of the family. When Kent suddenly found her unquestionably exchanging glances with Professor Herzton, the discovery added interest, but not light, to an already baffling situation.
Discussion at the table, after flitting about like a bee tasting flowers, eventually settled down to feast upon the inexhaustible subject of radio. Compliments by Dr. Alstice on the singing of Gladys, recently broadcast from one of her father’s stations opened the way for a short dissertation by the doctor on his favorite theory—that every human mind is a radio receiving and broadcasting station.
“And the artists?” queried Professor Herzton.
“Ah, that is the point,” the doctor agreed. “Do we think, or do we just think we think? Does the mind generate thought, or does it merely relay it? I shall not attempt ta answer that question. But I will say we know this, Mr. Rogers— turning to the Reverend Eugene Rogers, as though invoking the concurrence of the Church—I will say we know that the mind, whatever it is and wherever it is, is quite distinct from the brain. The brain is merely the mechanism for storage and reproduction, as the phonograph and the phonograph record are. The mind is something quite different. The brain, for example, dies. But the mind—what becomes of the mind, Mr. Rogers?”
The Reverend Mr. Rogers was about to make a statement on the subject when Mrs. Hensley, no doubt remembering that she already had listened to one sermon from him that week, intimated that the meal was finished.
“We generally dance after the men have smoked,” Gladys remarked to Kent in a low voice as they rose from the table. “Do you dance, or are you one of those serious young men too absorbed in a future to be interested in the present?”
Kent looked in her eyes, full now of a deep glow which strangely attracted him. “If you will be my partner,” he said gallantly, “I hope I shall never be so foolish as to prefer anything the future may have to offer.”
She smiled agreement, and her lips parted to speak, hut closed again as Professor Herzton joined them.
“I should like a little exploratory conversation with you, Mr. Kent,” the professor announced, “but I know how Miss Hensley detests shop. Perhaps you would honor me by a visit to my laboratory. Any time?”
Kent thanked him. It was just the invitation he wanted.
Professor Herzton bowed himself away. His movement and conduct were above criticism, and yet he impressed Kent as one working through some kind of formula—perhaps carrying out some hidden experiment.
“I am hoping for the first dance with you,” Kent whispered to his companion.
“I should be glad,” she answered.
Kent joined the other men in the smoking room. The conversation swung to politics, in which he had little interest, and he toyed with his cigar, thinking of Gladys and the strange turn in events which had brought her into his life. It was just seventy-two hours since he had met her. Seventy-two hours ago he did not know of her existence, and already the world seemed to rotate about her. He awaited with impatience the summons to the ballroom.
After a few minutes Professor Herzton excused himself, saying he wished to use the telephone. But down a corridor Kent was sure he caught a glimpse of him in conversation with Florence Manners. He returned presently, his pointed face more foxlike than ever, and quickly picked up his place in the conversation.
The summons came at length. Mrs. Hensley appeared in the doorway.
“Haven’t you men completed your fumigation?” she enquired. “Youth and beauty—to use a figure of speech—await your pleasure.”
“A figure of speech, perhaps, but certainly no hyperbole,” the Reverend Mr. Rogers gallantly rejoined, as the men filed into the ballroom.
As befitted his business, Angus Hensley insisted that orchestras were no longer a necessity in any private home. He adjusted the dials of a radio receiver and in a few minutes syncopated strains were pulsing through the room. Almost before Kent realized what was happening, he saw Professor Herzton approach Gladys in his most captivating manner, and, almost with an air of proprietorship, request the honor of her company. To Herzton’s surprise and Kent’s unreasonable delight, the girl excused herself. A moment later she was in Kent’s arms. Discovery of the secret of wireless transmission could not have set his heart pounding with more abandon.
Gladys distributed her favors among the men of the company, but even a casual observer could not have failed to notice where her preference seemed to lie. Certainly it was obvious to Professor Herzton, who, pleading pressure of business matters which required attention that night, took his departure at an early hour.
Kent, meanwhile, continued in high spirits. He ventured a suggestion that the last dance of the evening should be his.
“You are too gallant,” she murmured.
“Not gallant. Selfish ...”
Her eyes met his and seemed to give consent.
But when he came to claim the dance she received him icily. “You are almost a stranger here, Mr. Kent,” she said. “Older friends have a claim on me.”
Had it not been for making a scene, Kent, in his chagrin, would have gone straight home. But he kept himself in hand enough to remember that other things were to be won in the Hensley home besides the favor of the fickle Gladys. The half-hour which remained he spent sharing the cigars and conversation of the president of the Hensley Radio Corporation.
As he was about to say good night, Gladys met him with a contrite face.
“I’m sorry, Morley,” she whispered. “I couldn’t help it. I was under the spell.”