THE MADNESS OF PROFFSSOR PYE
A Serial Sensation
PROFESSOR PYE’S HOUSE was visible from one point on the Dorking-Guildford road as a cube of concrete rising above the dark foliage of a group of old yews. Standing upon the chalk ridge and reached only by a steep and flinty lane whose privacy was emphasized by a notice board, it suggested the isolation of an iceberg. Professor Pye's message to humanity carried no sense of uplift. His notice board did not challenge the casual crowd to climb the heights and speak of Plotinus and Einstein.
It was a rude and abrupt notice board. It said, or rather it snarled:
A serious hiker in shorts, shirt and spectacles, happening upon that notice board, remarked upon it to his mate. “That’s the sort of thing that puts my back up. Let’s do a trespass, Maisie.”
Maisie was less politically minded than her mate. It was a hot day, and the lane wras steep and stony.
“I don’t see any sense.
Fred, in climbing a hill just to have a row.”
“It’s one’s duty to have a row' with any kind of a fellow who dares to ” The lady fanned herself with a piece of bracken.
“Too many flies, and I want my tea.”
They passed on, but happening upon a roadman trimming a hedge, the young man in spectacles paused to ask questions.
“Excuse me, who lives up there? The fellow who put up that notice board, I mean.” The roadman ran a thumb along the edge of his swaphook.
“That there white house?"
“I suppose so. Sort of chap who owns the earth.”
The roadman grinned.
“Chap named Pye -Professor Pye. Very particular about his privacy."
“I should say so.”
“Down there in the village they call him Old Crusty.”
The hiker’s spectacles glimmered approvingly.
“Hit of a misanthrope, what !”
The roadman was not familiar with the word, but he divined its meaning.
“All crust and no apple.”
The hikers applauded this piece of rustic humor and continued along the village road in search of tea.
Now, Professor Pye was a very distinguished physicist, but to the public he was not even a name. As a scientist he had not received from his confrères the recognition that is acceptable to a philosopher, and when the simple things of life go wrong there can be no more unphilosophic person than your philosopher. Things had gone very wrong for Professor Pye. Someone had once described him as “a man whom nobody liked, a piece of cold flatfish which was both true and an exaggeration. There had been moments in his life when Alfred Pye had been furiously eager to lx* liked. As a man he had fallen in love with woman and friendship and success and the swagger of it. and all of them had flouted him. He jiossessed a great brain and an unfortunate exterior, a certain resemblance to an undersized grey he-goat.
Women actually shrank from him as from something that was both cold and unpleasantly libidinous. As a young man he had been shocked and wounded and enraged by this shrinking. He could remember sitting on a seat in a moonlit garden, burning to utter the words that other men could utter, and the girl had risen to her feet. Actually, she had shuddered.
‘T think it’s too cold out here.”
And poor Pye’s passion had flopped like a fallen angel into bitter and icy waters.
He was strangely repellent to anything with warm blood —women, children, dogs, his fellow men and at one period of his life he had. w ith bitter irony, made pets of a snake and a tortoise. These cold-blooded creatures had accepted him; they had fed out of his hands. He might have said that they recognized the brother reptile.
But one thing Professor Pye did possess, and that was money. The Pyes, father and grandfather, had been Birmingham men, successful manufacturers of hardware, and Alfred had been an only son. Being interested in pure science, he had sold the business on his father’s death and retired into his laboratory with two hundred thousand pounds in gilt-edged securities. He was somewhat sensitive about his money. He knew that though the world had no affection for Alfred Pye it would smile upon Alfred's pile of cash.
The making of a misanthrope may be a complex business, and if at the age of sixty Professor Pye hated humanity he had his reasons for this hatred. A man who has lived alone with himself for fifteen years can turn sour in the process, and Pye’s incontestable brilliancy made scorn easy. As a younger man he had carried out experimental work as a subordinate, only to have his very suggestive discoveries exploited by his senior. Professor Gasson, in claiming the younger man’s researches for the honor of a particular university, had seen to it that much of the honor had materialized as a personal halo. Professor Gasson had an international reputation. He was a facile writer, one of those men who can popularize the abstruse and the mysterious. He was now Sir Phillip Gasson.
Pye had never forgotten or forgiven the ingenious fraud. It had taught him secretiveness, made him even more lone and aloof and scornful. He had withdrawn from the world of men, academic and otherwise. He had purchased thirty acres of land on the North Downs and built himself a kind of little concrete fortress, a strong place that was as complete and self-supporting as money and brains could make it. It contained a laboratory ; it possessed its own water supply, a powerful electric installation, a refrigerating plant, furnace and radiators, a wireless installation, an oil storage tank, a miniature observatory. Even Professor Pye’s dietary was eccentric. 1 íe drank nothing but water or strong coffee, and lived on grapefruit, oranges, apples, nuts, bread and cheese. Life in all its details was simplified and subordinated to his work. The laboratory' was his holy of holies and in it he functioned like a priest.
He possessed one temple servant, a curious creature named Hands, an ex-serviceman who had lost his hearing and half a face in the war. Life’s disfigurements and frustrations had made Hands as much a recluse as his master. He was a queer, sedulous slave who lived with a small mongrel dog in the kitchen, made beds, stoked the furnace, ran the oil engine and dynamo, controlled the stores, and pottered about in a very small garden of his own. There was nothing of the spy about Hands. A large, gentle, tame creature who
smoked a pipe and liked to feel his hands licked by his dog, he could resign himself to his environment. He attached himself like a neuter cat. So attached had he become to the solitary place on the downs that semi-suburban Surrey had become as wild to him as a jungle.
Between these two men there existed the kind of affection that had united Robinson Crusoe and Friday. Isolation held them together. Hands had a disfigured face, the professor a warped soul. Hands hated nothing; to the professor hatred of the world of
men had become a sinister inspiration. Pye was so malignantly sober in his scorn for all the follies and hypocrisies and conventions of the social scheme that he was too sober to be sane as casual man understands sanity. Year by year Pye was becoming nothing but a brain, a concentration of pure and merciless intelligence, hostile to his fellows.
If he had any affection for any creature it was for Hands. Hands could lip-read, and being deaf he never heard the rasp of Alfred Pye’s voice, nor did he feel the abruptness with which his master spoke to him.
“Hands, turn off that radiator.”
“Hands, more bread.”
“Hands, the oil’s too low in the storage tank. When are those fools coming to refill it?”
Hands would nod his head reassuringly.
He had a flat and toneless voice. His eyes were not unlike the eyes of his dog.
“Yes, sir. I’ll see to it, sir.”
According to trade union standards he was one of the most overworked men upon earth, a meek automaton with a curious capacity for devotion. He was sure that Professor Pye was a very wonderful person, a kind of superman. That, too, was Professor Pye’s conviction. The outer world was full of fools, monkeys, mountebanks, people who would be better dead. The professor’s egotism had grown like some monstrous fungus, or like a fantastic brain uncontrolled by any of the human reactions. In his younger days, like all normal men, he had wanted to be liked, and the world had not liked him. A bitter and solitary egotism cherished hate.
Sometimes on a summer day he would go up to the little white tower of his house and stand there looking down into that deep, green, beautiful valley. He could command a short strip of the road, and observe the procession of cars passing along the tarmac surface. To the satanic Pye upon his height they looked like tin toys, absurd little mechanisms that crawled and tooted.
So that was civilization—a procession of little standardized robots running around in their little machines, people who had no more originality than flies. An insect world, grubs that daily consumed the pulp of a popular press. Professor Pye’s scorn was cosmic. If he felt himself to be a creature living in a world of other dimensions to those clerks and shopmongers, he had some justification for his arrogance. He had a wonderful intelligence. He was living on the brink of catastrophic revelations. He had worked for years in that fascinating atmosphere where things physical melt into the seemingly miraculous. Like Professor Rutherford and his disciples, he had been analyzing the atom. His dream had been to dissociate the atom, and somewhere he had read that centuries would elapse before men could split and control atomic energy.
Professor Pye had smiled over that particular paragraph in a learned article.
He knew what he knew. The lightning was in his hands. He had but to discover how to control and to project it. And then? No Jove upon Olympus would be so powerful as this little grey man of sixty, alone upon his concrete tower.
The world had misliked him, ignored him, cheated him.
He would give the world thunder and lightning.
T HAPPENED on an afternoon in June. Hands had
carried an ancient basket chair into his piece of garden and was proposing to enjoy a pipe and a little relaxation. His dog lay at his feet and blinked up at him through the sunlight. It was a warm and gentle summer day, but for Hands it had been a day of toil and trial.
A lorry full of stores had arrived from Garrods. The professor purchased everything in bulk in London, and Hands had to deal with those stores and pack them away in the storeroom.
The oil-tanker had labored up the lane to refill the storage tank. Also it happened to be charging day, and the oil engine had behaved temperamentally. So, in fact, had the professor. When Hands had knocked at the door of the laboratory and attempted to inform his master that the stores had arrived and had been checked and put away, the professor, forgetting Hands’ deafness, had screamed at him:
“Get out! Don’t interrupt me!”
Not hearing the order, Hands had continued to knock at the locked door.
“I’ve had trouble with the engine, sir.”
And suddenly the door had flown open, and Professor Pye, red-lidded, wild as to the head, and in nothing but shirt and grey flannel trousers, had raged at him.
“Get out, you fool! Don’t come worrying here. I’m busy.”
The meek Hands, watching his master’s mouth, repeated his news about the engine.
“Accumulator’s low, sir.”
“I dare say I’ll get it going soon.”
The professor had gibbered at him.
“You’d better. Most important. Telephone to Guildford for a mechanic.”
“Oh, I’ll get it right, sir.”
“You had better.”
And Professor Pye had slammed the door and locked it.
Hands, sucking his pipe, felt pleasantly sleepy. After all, some gentlemen were funny, just as colonels and sergeantmajors had been funny in the army. But this life suited Hands. Professor Pye might be a little grey bit of wire and wisdom, with a tufted chin and red-lidded eyes, an irritable gentleman. But, after all, he was a great man. He paid Hands generously. There were days when the professor was as smooth as silk. The dog was asleep with his head resting against his master’s right foot, and Hands himself was on the brink of dozing.
Then something startled both man and dog. Hands straightened in his chair: the dog, up and quivering, gave three sharp barks, and stood whimpering. There had been no sound, but both dog and man had felt a curious vibration like an earth tremor. Hands could have sworn that his chair had moved under him.
He stood up, holding in his right hand a pipe that had gone out. I íe looked at the quivering dog.
“What was it, Jumbo?”
Jumbo, tail down, whimpered and looked up obliquely at his master.
“I don’t know,” he was saying, “but whatever it was I did not like it.”
Neither did Hands. He put his pipe away in his pocket. He stared at the white wall behind him. He was a man whose mind worked slowly.
“Anything wrong in there?”
He remembered reading somewhere that strange things sometimes happened to learned gentlemen who experimented in laboratories. Had anything happened to Professor Pye? The suggestion was a sufficient stimulus and Hands became the man of action. He rushed into the house and found himself staring at a glazed door at the end of the corridor. The glass in the door had been smashed, blown out upon the floor.
Hands pushed it back and, crunching broken glass, made for the laboratory. He sniffed the air. No, there was no strange smell. The door of the laboratory was painted white, and down the two upper panels ran dark seams. They were cracks where the panels had been split.
Hands rushed at the door, seized the handle and shook it.
“What’s happened, sir? Are you all right?”
Silence, an inevitable silence so far as Hands was concerned. The door was locked. He put his face close to one of the cracks, and tried to see into the laboratory. He could distinguish a table, and he realized that the table, a stout deal bench, was lying on its side. There was a foot visible beside it, or rather, a black boot, toe upturned and everted.
Hands put a shoulder to the door and heaved. It defied him. He drew back a yard and charged it. He was a heavy man. and the lock plate gave, and Hands and the door went in together. Recovering himself, he stood and stared. The laboratory looked as though a bull had been active in a glass and china shop. The windows were smashed; everything seemed on the floor.
Professor Pye was on the floor, surrounded by what appeared to be the glass and metal fragments of some complicated apparatus.
Hands bent over his master. Professor Pye’s face was the color of old vellum; his eyes were closed, and from his nostrils blood oozed. Hands had seen dead men in the war; Professor Pye looked like death, and Hands was frightened.
He knelt down, and put his head close to the professor’s chest. No, his master was breathing. And Hands lumbered up and off into the dining room. The professor did indulge occasionally in old French brandy. Hands extracted the bottle from the sideboard and hurried back.
But he paused in the laboratory doorway and stood staring. The professor was sitting up, looking bemused, ghastly and bewildered. The fingers of his right hand were stroking his forehead. He gazed at Hands, and his eyes were vacant.
“You gave me a shock, sir!”
The professor’s lips moved, mumbling something. He looked round the shattered room.
"What happened, sir? Something exploded? Have some brandy, sir.”
The professor looked at the brandy bottle, nodded, and allowed Hands to trickle some of the spirit between his lips. He gurgled, he spluttered, and suddenly, clutching Hands’ arm and shoulder, he struggled to his feet. He still looked ghastly, but his very ghastliness was exultant.
Hands blinked at him.
“Where shall I find it, sir? In your shaving cupboard?”
And suddenly Professor Pye laughed, a strange, creaking and discordant laugh.
“No, I’ve got it, Hands. I’ve got it.
WHEN THE masters of science speak of protons, electrons and neutrons, and describe strange bombardments, and streams of particles shooting at high speed through a substance that has every appearance of being solid, the plain man must listen and accept the strange things that these adepts tell him.
At home in the suburbs the plain man may fiddle with his wireless, and repeat some of the jargon of the technical press, but in the matter of knowledge he is but a child. His max* be the right to say, "Well. I'm darned! What will these scientific fellows do next?” The marvels of research may leave him gaping and feeling perhaps vaguely uncomfortable; and certainly had any John Citizen been allowed to peep into the mental workshop of Professor Pye he would have felt supremely uneasy.
For Professor Pye had taken a leap beyond his contemporaries. He had discovered and isolated a littlecreature that he called the “On.” It would not be possible for an untechnical scribbler to describe the manifestations and mysteries of this child of the atom. Professor Pye had brought a little stranger into the world of man’s awareness, and with a complex of glass tubes, electrical force, and certain chemicals had caused the On to manifest. That the On or congeries of Ons had nearly killed him was neither here nor there. Professor Pye, working ujx>n certain hypotheses, had taken risks.
His idea was not only to isolate the On, but to control and use it.
A minute manifestation of On-force had blown a screen of argonil to atoms., but the protecting tube of palmyrium had withstood the shock. Apparently palmyrium was impervious to the On. That, of course, had to be proved and tested with an increasing stress of On-force, but if a palmyrium box or tube could be produced that could contain and coniine the streams of Ons when Professor Pye's process produced them— then -!
Cont'd on page 41
The Madness of Professor Pye
Continued from page 7
Professor Pye, standing on his concrete tower and looking out across this peaceful English valley, smiled a truculent little smile and rubbed his beard. He. Alfred Pye. granted that his hypotheses were correct, would have under his hand a strange new force that could be controlled and projected into space. W hat its ultimate effects would be upon things organic and inorganic he could not yet say. but judging by his experience of a minute release of the On-force, a larger dose would be lethal to creatures of protoplasm. It would annihilate, silently and secretly. It might be potent over a thousand miles. The German gun that bombarded Paris would be a mere crude and barbaric toy compared with it.
For some time after the wrecking of the laboratory Jack Hands was worried and nervous. Apparently Professor Pye had been immensely excited over the result of some particular experiment, and it was probable that the experiment would be repeated. Hands, simple soul, was more worried about his dog than about himself. He spoke to the professor.
“Are there going to be any more explosions, sir?"
For Professor Pye was working far into the nights. Hands, worried and restless, had seen the laboratory windows lit up at two in the morning, and fear is more fearful at night.
“You see. I could put Jumbo to sleep in the tool-house.”
Alfred Pye had no sense of humor or any feeling for pathos. Moreover, he was becoming more and more the little megalomaniac, swollen with a sense of imminent and catastrophic power. In fact. Professor Pye was not quite sane in that he represented pure and pitiless intelligence divorced from all emotion and the social urges. He spoke curtly to Hands.
“Don’t be a fool, man. Bring me my lunch in here.”
Professor Pye was in apron and shirt sleeves, and standing by his electric furnace. Hands could see that some queer apparatus was in process of construction, for Pye had so great a contempt for his man’s intelligence that he let him stand and stare. The professor was not only an inspired physicist but an expert mechanic. He had small, strong, delicate lingers, hands of infinite dexterity and precision. He was capable of manufacturing a watch or turning out the most sensitive of instruments. Being a separatist and secretive, he had trained himself to do these things.
Hands went for the professor’s lunch an apple, six dry biscuits and two wedges of Swiss Gruyere cheese. He was placing the tray on a laboratory table when the professor. who had quick ears, heard the sound of a car in the little courtyard behind the house.
1 lands, of course, had heard nothing. Pye. who was beginning to nourish acute suspicion now that his researches were nearing fruition, went to one of the laboratory windows. It was a high window, and Pye had to stand on a stool to look out.
“A woman in a car. Go and see what she wants.”
THE PROFESSOR pulled down the blinds on the side next the courtyard, and Hands hurried out to interview the visitor. She was elderly, plump and pleasant. She looked compassionately at Hands’ disfigured face and produced a little book.
“I am sure you will excuse my calling at this hour, but could I see Professor Pye?” Hands, with his eyes watching her lips, explained somewhat apologetically that the professor was not easy of approach. The lady smiled upon Hands.
“But won’t you go and ask him to see me?”
“What name, m’am?”
Hands returned to the laboratory where Pye. sitting on a stool, was eating cheese and biscuit.
“A lady named Millard, sir. Her compliments and would you ?”
“What does she want?”
“I don’t know, sir. She’s got a little book.” “A journalist ! Go and tell her to go to Hands did not deliver the message as he had received it from Professor Pye. He explained that the professor was busy in his laboratory and could not be disturbed.
Mrs. Millard smiled her social-service smile.
“I quite understand. I called to see if Professor Pye would subscribe to the S. P. C. C. I’m collecting subscriptions for our committee.”
Hands was puzzled but wishing to be helpful.
“The S. P. C. C.. m’am?”
“Yes. the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children.”
Hands took the book and ventured once more into the laboratory.
“The lady wants a subscription, sir." “A subscription?”
“’»'es. sir. to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.”
The professor was eating his apple. His face registered a curious, twisted little smirk. He cackled, and the sound was sinister.
“Quite superfluous. Sadism is an interesting human trait. Well. I’ll give her something. Pass me my coat.”
Hands fetched it from the hook on the laboratory door.
"She’s quite a nice lady, sir.”
“That’s not unusual. Hands, when they are after favors.”
Professor Pye picked a pound note from his wallet and passed it to Hands.
‘‘i'.ive her that. No. 1 don’t want to put my name in her wretched little book. Get rid of her.”
Hands w'ent out to announce the news to the nice lady, and Professor Pye resumed the eating of his apple. I lis nostrils expressed scorn.
"Prevention of Cruelty to Children! Better that most of the little wretches shouldn’t be born. Cruelty! Is an earthquake cruel? Can my intelligence lx: cruel - to ants?”
DURING THE WHOLE of that summer Professor Pye was at work upon what may be described as his atomic gun. Externally it consisted of a tube of palmyrium mounted on a triix»d stand, and in appearance not unlike a machine gun. Its mouth could be closed by a diaphragm of palmyrium. and to the centre of the tube electric leads were attached. The interior of the apparatus could have been described only by Professor Pye himself, and the description was set down in cipher in a notebook which he kept locked in a safe.
Also, during the whole of August, he kept the laboratory locked, and Hands, brooding over his exclusion, was both a little grieved and tempted. Moreover. Professor Pye's temper had become like the English weather, absolutely unpredictable in its moods and phases. He was extraordinarily taciturn. He emerged from the laboratory to munch his biscuits and apples in the dining room, and the laboratory key was in his pocket.
Hands, who. after all, was human, did make one attempt to play Peeping 'Pom one day while the professor was at lunch. Undoubtedly, the old boy was up to something. and Hands had not escaped the world’s passion for sensationalism. Since the laboratory door was locked and the key in the professor’s pocket, he would have to attempt the windows, but when Hands sneaked round with an empty grocery box for a stool he found that the windows were shut and the blinds drawn. Obviously, Professor Pye had something to hide and was not taking any chances.
And Hands wondered. He was not without education in the matter of lurid literature. Like many simple souls and children, he had a fantastic fancy. Now, just what would a very ingenious gentleman create in a lonely and a sexless spot like this? Sex and its bitter and baffled urges vexed Hands not a little. Supposing an old man like the professor had dreamed amorous dreams and was proposing to create a sort of mechanical Venus?
‘‘Dam it,” said Hands, “why not?”
The fantastic notion piqued him. He even chortled over it. Certainly, this would be a species of creation that a man like Professor Pye would keep draped and screened. And then Hands had a feeling that somehow his carnal fancy had overstepped the bounds of decency. Eminent scientists should be allowed to transcend the erotic. Professor Pye might be planning to fly to the moon.
Hands felt bothered by a certain personal turgidity, and when the flesh vexed him he dug hard in his garden or took Jumbo for a walk. On occasions he would ramble along the downs for miles, finding solace and solitude, while Jumbo discovered rabbits, imaginary and otherwise. To Hands his dog was a dumb but eloquent preceptor. The little beast had attached himself to a lone man to the exclusion of all canine calls.
“Marvellous!” Hands would exclaim. “Jumbo, you can teach me something.”
It was a Thursday in September when Hands asked Professor Pye to grant him leave of absence for the afternoon, and though he did not know it, the request toned with the professor’s plans. He was in a state of concealed excitement. He had been wanting to get rid of Hands for the afternoon.
“I’d like to take the dog for a walk, sir.”
Pye was affable.
“Certainly, Hands, certainly. You can have the whole afternoon. By the way, you haven’t had a holiday since you’ve been here.”
"You must take a holiday. Hands. Have you any relations?”
“I’ve a brother in Brighton, sir.”
“Well, arrange to take a holiday. I may be going to stay at my London club for a week.”
“Holidays aren’t much in my line, sir. You see—”
The professor was emphatic.
“Everybody needs a holiday sometimes. Change of environment. You must go for a holiday. Hands.”
Hands took Jumbo out on the downs toward Dorking. Now, just what was the old fellow at? Was he really going to London, or did he desire Thomas Hands’ absence for a period? Hands had taken a thermos with him, and a parcel of bread and butter and cake. The professor allowed him grocer’s cake, the yellow stuff with cherries in it, but on that day Jumbo consumed most of the cake. Hands was feeling strangely depressed. Almost, he seemed to be suffering from some unpleasant premonition.
NOT SO Professor Pye. He carried that four-foot tube of alloy with its tripod to the top of the observation tower, and linked it to a power plug by long flexes that ran from one of the laboratory windows and were raised by a cord to the top of the little concrete tower. It was a serene and perfect September day, windless and golden, but Professor Pye had no eyes for the beauty of the landscape. His hands trembled as he attached the wires to the apparatus. He was face to face with his crisis, and he was facing more than a critical experiment. He was confronting death, personal annihilation. He could regulate his current and release what he might estimate to be a small charge of On-force, but he could not swear that the new force would not shatter the apparatus and kill its creator.
But he needed a target, something protoplasmic and obvious upon which he could train the atomic gun. He stood looking down over the low parapet and the target offered itselfsome cows in a field in the hollow of the valley. These cows belonged to Mr. Honniset of Fox Farm, and they were pastured in two different fields separated by a strip of arable. One of the fields was less than four hundred yards away, the other more than a quarter of a mile. Professor Pye trained the gun on the farther field and stood back behind it with his foot on the contact-maker.
For one moment he hesitated. There was a faint click as a flexible wire operated the diaphragm, a second click as his foot pressed the make and break. The palmyrium tube remained motionless; there was no sound, no suggestion of vibration. Professor Pye stood with his eyes fixed on the apparatus. He had been prepared for a possible catastrophe-blackness, oblivion.
Apparently, nothing that could be registered by the senses had happened. Professor Pye kept his foot on the contact-maker for three seconds, released it and closed the diaphragm. A curious little grin seemed to trickle into his beard. What had happened? Had anything happened? He was conscious of furious excitement and a feeling of personal reprieve. He had let the thing loose, and he was alive.
He walked to the parapet and looked down into the valley. The cows in the farther field had been grazing in a group, and every beast in that field was down. Dead? The animals were lying on their sides, legs and heads extended. The cows in the near field were still grazing. Professor Pye’s face expressed a kind of demoniac exultation. His hair stood up like the crest of a cockatoo. But were those cows dead, or merely shocked and temporarily helpless? He dashed downstairs for a pair of fieldglasses, returned and, crouching behind the parapet, focused his glasses on the field.
He realized that he was looking at carcases. The flaccid, inert posture of the bodies was unmistakable. He watched them intently for five minutes, and not one of the animals gave any sign of life.
Professor Pye stood up. His face was the face of a man who was not quite sane. It might have been the face of a Biblical Satan, or of a mischievous, malignant and amoral boy who had perpetrated some cunning outrage and gloated over its success. What were a few cows compared with the discovery that he could kill, silently, swiftly, secretly? He possessed power; power such as no other man had ever commanded. He had evolved •that power. It was his.
BUT IT WAS not merely a question of dead cows.
The beasts in the near field had not been touched, and Professor Pye, reflecting upon that fact, realized that for some unknown reason there was a non-lethal zone surrounding his gun. Queer, that! The area of the dispersion of the On-force would have to be studied and tabulated.
What was its range?
His gaze travelled beyond the farther field, and then it was that Professor Pye realized that something unusual was happening down there in the valley. The projected line of force had traversed the strip of highroad that was visible from the tower, and in the roadway, or rather in the hedges, the professor could distinguish what appeared to be the wreckage of motor cars. One of them was alight and burning brightly. He raised his glasses and crouched.
Other cars were piling upon the road to left and right of the wreckage. Little figures were active. A man could be seen, squirting the burning car with a fire extinguisher. Another man joined him.
And then Professor Pye understood, and drew swift and stark conclurions. The On-force had caught those two cars, killed the drivers, and the machines had run off the road and crashed. For a moment his face showed bleak and sharp, lips retracted, nostrils pinched. He crouched there. He had killed more than a few cows. And what exactly had he killed? How far had the force travelled? Had it sped for miles and left a death track behind it? If ever a man was taken to a high place by the Satan that is self and tempted, Professor Pye was that man. He crouched between compassion and the consciousness of unrestrained and intoxicating power. He w as tempted, perhaps as few men of science have been tempted. He could bless or he could curse. But whereas most men of science are also social men, Professor Pye was not a social creature. He was one of the world’s paranoiacs, a man who had cherished a sense of his own infinite significance, and the conviction that the world had persecuted him and denied him greatness. His was a case in which a malignantly sane intelligence was socially insane. He was a little, venomous Jove looking down upon the world of men and finding it vile and hateful.
He stood up. He extended his arms like some prophet cursing his generation. Almost, his face was maniacal. He slavered into his beard.
“You legion of swine! Mine is the power. It shall not spare you !”
To be continued