Turn Back the Clock
The impossible seems to be coming true—fifteen years drop from Ransom Peters like a cloak! But can he escape the fate of Dr. Murlain's other patients?
DR. JANET MANLY is thoroughly discouraged at the prejudice and obstacles a woman psychiatrist encounters in trying to build a practice in the small toten of Mi Heron, when she is called to her first case by
PRESTON PETERS, a young artist, who tells her excitedly that his wealthy, retired father has locked himself in the library and threatened to shoot himself. To shock him into a new interest in life Janet shouts through the door that she is going to marry his son.
RANSOM PETERS abandons suicide, but Dr. Manly realizes that his spirit has been broken by old age and retirement, his loss of youthful zest and power. He must find new interest and enthusiasm, but she is concerned when he becomes determined to try a rejuvenation treatment offered by an Austrian physician,
DR. KEDRIC MURLAIN. Janet knows that before moving to Milteron he treated several patients in another town, all of whom committed suicide after Dr. Murlain s “elixir of youth” had seemingly been successful. That there is some doubt these really were suicides, she learns from
PROFESSOR WAINRIGHT, who asks her to help the Medical Association investigate Dr. Murlain, suspected of being a fraud and possibly a dangerous criminal. Janet visits Dr. Murlain’s home, discovers that he has a wife who seems to dominate his dealings with his patients. Living with them is
SONIA LORIAT, an exceedingly attractive niece.
Janet arranges to bring her patient, Mr. Ransom, to see Dr. Murlain, despite her worry about the outcome of the previous treatments. Could those “suicides” have been murder?
(Second of Seven Parts)
JANET MADE a conscious effort to change her thoughts, and here her social experience was useful. Amusingly she told of the telephone conversation with Lily Marshal and her husband.
“Dr. Murlain will have our fortunes if all the middle-aged squires fall in line,” affirmed Ransom, with a laugh, “but I’m glad that I’m first, while the potency of the witch’s brew holds out. He may be forced to thin it out to get enough to go around.”
“This is giving me a new thought,” put in his son, Preston. “People who are young are often miserable enough. Youth seems more valuable when it is gone. Someone should teach young folks how envied they are by the very people they think of as having everything.” “It is in this country that the youth insistence is most wide spread. Maybe the movies have had something to do with it,” ventured Janet, “for there, extreme youth is more than genius. A child actor becomes mature at seventeen and retires. But look at the magazine advertisements. Be young! Or look young! Do this or that to appear youthful ! We are making a fetish of youth.”
“I hope you never lose it—and are put on the shelf,” said Ransom Peters, lightly, “but then there exist no ages for women any more. Grandmothers dance and paint as brightly as their grandchildren. Men, here, do not, as they once did in England, look forward to retirement as natural, inevitable, something to welcome. Put a man in the superannuated class and he is a miserable creature.”
“Not an artist,” put in Preston, “but then an artist never retires. Business is like a game to what we call big men. They are little dictators. Take ’em away from the push buttons and executives, the hubbub of importance, and the starch goes out of ’em. A man should be big in himself, not through extraneous things.”
“In an ideal world,” said his father. “Me, I would be a
stuffed shirt again—and at the controls. You know nothing of the taste of power, my lad.”
“1 don’t want to know,” said Preston stoutly. “I would rather try self-expression in an art.”
“Because I have made it possible for you to afford it.”
“Now, now,” put in Janet, “cut out this father and son tug of war, or I’ll give you a lecture on it, and that’ll Ixjre you stiff. Take me to the movies, and let me forget I’m a brainy female.”
And let us get off this subject that is obsessing us, too, she thought; and was pleased when Ransom called for a sedan to be brought around. He insisted upon driving, and Janet and Preston sat in the back seat.
The crowd down at the little theatre filled the lobby. They had missed the first show and must wait until the audience inside came out. Janet saw Grace Burke with a throng, nodded brightly to her. Then, near the boxoffice window, she caught sight of Mrs. Murlain and her niece. Yes, the girl was amazingly pretty, and displayed her charms in a manner that made them stand out. As if for sale, she reflected in a brittle manner, or rather, as if she modelled to advertise something other than herself, and acted a bit hard about it.
“Just see that beauty,” whispered Preston in her ear. “What price youth? There is a poster type, hits you right between the eyes. Not a local gal. I must know who who she is?”
“A niece of you know who,” Janet whispered back to him, and then she heard Ransom Peters gasp audibly, like a country bumpkin at his first fair.
“How perfectly lovely,” he murmured. “She makes the other women colorless in contrast. If I can take treatments with such youth as hers near to inspire me I’ll turn young again partly by sheer determination.”
Mrs. Murlain caught Janet’s eyes, and the two women nodded. Then the first show was released and they all scattered to seats.
Janet sat back to enjoy the news reels, the comic, and then the featured picture. She noticed that her companions, almost furtively, glanced around as if in an effort to locate where Sonia Loriat wras seated. But then the lights were dimmed and the show began. She knew that her notion was partly caused by a form of jealous resentment. That girl had what it took to make trouble —plenty of trouble.
She reminded herself to query Dr. Wainright in her next letter. Just how did Sonia Loriat enter into those first rejuvenations up in the Berkshires? Could she have had some connection with the so far unexplained suicides? That expression about feminine intuition was against her own mental beliefs. Sonia was a bonbon wrapped in high explosives. To another woman she emanated danger. Best place that to sex antagonism, and that the picture of possible disaster through Sonia was distorted by sheer envy.
It was difficult, Janet told herself, to be a natural person, with normal reactions, and a trained psychoanalyst to boot, for the one, so often, was at war with the other.
It was foolish, she knew, to be taking so much upon her own slim shoulders. She would do what she could, but why accept responsibility for what was inevitable in the future?
r"FHE MORNING was brilliant, tangy and tart as a wild
plum, with banners brightly unfurled in nature’s stand against the winter that eventually would come and strip the landscape.
When Janet reached the breakfast table, Ransom Peters said his son had taken a cup of coffee, gone up to his attic studio in a huff. He had wanted to come along—that girl
had acted like a magnet. This wasn’t a sight-seeing party, or if so it would be an expensive one. Preston had been told to enjoy himself in self-expression and to stay out of all this.
The elder Peters was in a hard, set mood, hiding jumping nerves, perhaps?
He passed to Janet a photograph, framed, he had brought from the library. The picture showed him carrying a deer in the approved fashion. Sunlight through trees made a pattern, but his face showed clearly.
“Fifteen years ago that was taken,” he said, harshly, and Janet studied the photograph of the man who was.
She placed this exhibit on the table, ate her fruit and cereal. There was nothing to be said. If Dr. Murlain could cause Ransom Peters to revert to this virile figure, in a first stage, a big fee could be paid and everybody satisfied.
And then? Better not leap too far ahead—or too far back in youth renewal.
“You have been thinking of what Dr. Murlain will ask? That will be up to Mrs. Murlain, the business brains, anyway, of the couple.”
“I see, his manager. I hate business deals with women.”
“My idea is that the doctor will have his speech pat today. This isn’t his first deal.”
“You know something of his past deals—you spoke of suicides following successful rejuvenation. Can you tell me any more?”
“No, and what I have told you is in confidence. You have decided to go ahead.”
“Yes, certainly. But don’t hurry with your coffee. Me, I’m as skittish as a young colt in his first tryout. If I start to bolt pull nard on the reins.”
He took a handkerchief from his pocket, wiped moisture from his brow, and under his eyes, which shone feverishly. His hand shook as he lighted a cigar, turned his chair sideways as he smoked. The skin was as if bruised, at the temples, and the profile was marred by the wrinkled rolls of skin at the chin. Hope and fear, battling together, must have raised his blood pressure, she thought professionally, and then, as Janet Manly, not the doctor, she knew he felt keenly he must make a slightly ridiculous figure. If so, not to her. She could sympathize with the dream that had fired Ponce De Leon and his followers.
He sighed with relief as she arose .from the table, and admitted with a wry smile that he had been ready since dawn.
Ransom Peters drove the roadster at high speed until Janet told him it made her nervous.
The door at Dr. Murlain’s was opened today by a maid in uniform. They were ushered into the library, again, and Janet noticed the bookcases had been filled. She was about to examine the titles, curiously, when the door at the end of the room was opened. Dr. Kedric Murlain entered with his wife, and introductions were in order.
“I have told Mr. Peters of the first stage,” said Janet, “and he has brought a photograph showing him fifteen years ago.”
The framed photo was passed around.
“As a businessman this seems odd to you. Mr. Peters,” began Mrs. Murlain, “for you are in the habit of paying a physician after he performs his cure. Sometimes there is a verbal agreement, sometimes not. We wish one in writing, for my husband is giving too great a benefit, at too great a price, to leave anything in the air, so to speak.”
Ransom Peters had difficulty in speaking.
“How much must I pay to look—look as I did in that photo?”
“A hundred thousand dollars. Your age, sir?” “Fifty-nine. Oh, the truth is, sixty-two.”
“The first stage will take you to your appearance at forty-seven. The second stage will bring you as you were at thirty-two. That is as far as we feel it safe to attempt to go with a man of your present age. The cost of the second stage will be another hundred thousand dollars. But, of course, we will only contract one step at a time.”
“I agree,” said Ransom Peters. “Get me the contract, and bring witnesses.”
“My elixir vitae, the essential principle, the concentrated formula, must succeed, or no payment,” announced Dr. Murlain. “Radium was against all known principles of science. So is the renewing properties of my elixir, rejuvenating organs, tissues, arteries, the living man, with the greatest bodily change ever known to science. Let people scoff. All you want—”
“Results,” snapped Peters, biting upon the word. “I don’t want to understand—just be the being 1 once was. 1 can make a hundred thousand, two hundred thousand, again, and have the game beaten by half an average lifetime.”
"V/f RS. MURLAIN excused herself. She left the room, returning with her neice, Sonia Loriat, who was now formally introduced to Janet and the first Milteron patient.
A typewritten document, in duplicate, was given to Ransom Peters to read.
“I see this absolves you of all responsibility, as if I were undergoing an operation?”
“Just a formality,” returned Mrs. Murlain, smoothly. Ransom Peters had a fountain pen. He signed on his knee, then Janet and Sonia placed their names under his as witnesses. Each party to the contract took a copy.
“When—when will the treatment start?” asked Peters, anxiously.
“Today, if you can relax,” replied the doctor. “Sit over by the window, there by the little table, and play checkers with Miss Loriat for a while.”
To Janet’s surprise. Sonia took Ransom by the hand as if she might be a little girl, and smilingly led him toward the chairs and table, with checkerboard by the window. The artless little ingenue, thought Janet tartly; but a bit overdone, and a kind of throwing herself right at him. Only a beauty with supreme nerve could get away with that girlish trick and make it seem delightful to a man.
Dr. Murlain said he would retire to his laboratory for a few minutes; he kept certain mixtures at certain temperatures. He would allow hardening, now, into what would be taken as a pill.
Janet drew Mrs. Murlain to one side. “My dear, can I speak to you alone for a minute. Something very confidential.”
“Surely, but call me Velesta. Come up to my room with me. Mr. Peters will not miss you.”
She glanced toward the window. Ransom Peters, smiling, had his right palm open on the checkerboard. Sonia bent over it, tracing lines with her forefinger, giving him à palmistry reading, while he gazed at her with something like foolish rapture.”
“No, he won’t miss me,” said Janet, dryly.
She followed the woman upstairs, into a bedroom plainly furnished; and then Mrs. Murlain turned to her eagerly.
“I have the possibility of—of another wealthy patient,” began Janet, “but first I would like to know a little more. How long does this treatment take?”
“That cannot be exactly stated. It all depends upon the subject, although surface signs can be observed in a short time. You see, my dear, we haven’t yet scientific notation. But when years can retreat in months, at the most, the patient cannot but be satisfied.”
“Then—you really let the patient decide?”
Mrs. Murlain laughed. “Something like that. When we can afford a little private hospital, and a corp of assistants, and patients we pay, instead of them paying us—all for science—that will be different, and the findings will be read by my great husband before scientific audiences. But until then, we are selling youth, so to speak.”
“And very nicely sixiken. For the present the satisfaction of the patient with results is certainly enough.”
“This second possibility, my dear? Really, at this rate we must show our gratitude.”
Janet waved a reproving finger.
“You don’t know what you are saying. Doctors tremble at the mere whisper of fee splitting.”
“Very well, my dear.”
Janet unfolded what she thought best to tell about Thomas Marshal.
The other considered. “lie is married—no matter but aside from yourself no woman enters here. I lis wife will be wild enough when he becomes youthful again, but there will be no scenes in this place.”
“You do not like women, Velesta?”
“My niece, yes, a beautiful kitten. You a brainy young doctor, aiding us. Women in general I find grasping, unsatisfied, impossible to deal with. My husband needs quiet, a reposeful atmosphere. I can shield him where men are concerned, but you know women?”
Nodding, Janet was not cjuite so sure.
“You tel! Mr. Marshal to be waiting his time. It will not be long. We have found a jewel in you, Janet Manly. It is delightful, after mistrust and suspicion from the medical profession as a whole. We make no claims as yet, ask only to be left alone. Now my husband will be ready, let us join him.”
Janet returned with her to the library. There Ransom Peters was given a pill, tendered to him on a little white porcelain dish He was told to swallow it, with a little water, and then to lit* down upon a couch, at the end of the room, and utterly relax for half an hour. He did as he was ordered, and then Sonia brought over a little low chair, to sit beside him and prattle on artlessly.
The fabled fountain of youth, in modern terms of it, appeared very simple and prosaic. Was it for this little pill that Ransom Peters had taken that Spaniards of yore had battled through the wilds of Florida seeking the magical waters into which they might plunge and emerge transformed? This was something else again, and with the certainty that Ransom Peters would again be the man in the faded photographs came a sensation of incredulity.
Janet wondered, too, if rejuvenation was not intended to coincide with his infatuation for Sonia Loriat?
Her own idea of a scientific experiment was founded on the rigid tests, studied and controlled, in a modern laboratory. The picture before her did not mix with it. Ransom Peters lay in a relaxed pose, listening, perhaps, to what Sonia was telling him of the absurd school in the Berkshires she had attended, but certainly staring at her as if he desired to draw her youth to him with the very pleading of his eyes.
Meantime, while the formula was working, Dr. Murlain and his wife chatted with Janet on different topics, and finally turned on a little radio, tuning in a dance orchestra. And to this music the patient lying on the sofa began to throw off old age.
JANET sat before the mirror, frowned, then regarded herself with indifferent eyes. She had been busy with her case history. Ransom Peters had been nothing loath to go through all sorts of examinations. A chart was mapped to show changes, if any, in blood pressure, blood count, pulse, temperature, response to muscular and mental tests—and through it all he was the happy extrovert, the centre of pleasing attention.
Over on a desk lay what she had written for Dr. Wainright:
There are, unquestionably, signs of rejuvenation. I note erasure of wrinkles under the eyes.. Moistness and redness of the mucous is gone.
There is a new firmness of the facial muscles, previously somewhat flaccid.
I see a new sparkle in the eyes, a brightness of the cornea, covering iris and pupil, no longer deep set above black rings. Crow’s-feet at the outer edges are being smoothed out. The skin is ruddier and healthier in tone.
Deep ridges from nostrils to mouth are disappearing. The patient says he is beginning to feel like a transformed being, and there is unquestionably a new swing and urge in his movements as if he were being revitalized.
This morning Sonia brought Ransom Peters a mirror, as he lay on the sofa after taking his magic pill, as I think of it. She showed him how the lines on his face were being smoothed out. and how the skir was changing on the back of his hands so the veins no longer
showed through. This last she noticed before I did.
“It makes me young just to look at you,” he told her.
“We will soon be near the same age,” I heard her tell him in a low voice. I am sure that I was not meant to hear this. Peters is utterly infatuated with her. That is natural enough, but she could very readily obtain not only a rich man but also a naturally young one. Without being an alarmist I feel there is something sinister in this, as if foreplanned. Under the circumstances we can only wait and watch.
Here is a scientific test being made —and successfully to date that would upset all medical calculations ever made. You feel, and so do I, that there is a catch somewhere, for Dr. Murlain could sell his secret, outright, for millions, and remain the benefactor of the human race.
When we consider what happened to the patients in the Berkshires you told me about, I fear—and this is what wears me down—I do not know exactly what I fear.
Oh, I know Sonia Lariot can marry Ransom Peters any time she wishes. That is nothing. Men marrying young girls young enough to be their grandchildren doesn’t worry me. It does in this connection. It is as if I saw a black web being formed, with a design that would be revealing if only I could understand it.
1 know, doctor, this is not in the scientific spirit, but there is so much in this fountain of youth business alien to it.
I shall send you more notes on the development of time defeat as I get them, and if you have any advice kindly don’t deprive me of it.
In an earlier note she had told of her contacts with the Murlains, and how Tom Marshal was coming into the picture. But she was still an outsider, very far outside, she felt, of the inner ring.
Downstairs, she knew, plans were going on for a dinner with guests, the first in months. Tom Marshal and his wife had been invited, also Mrs. Murlain and her niece. Dr. Murlain still refused all social engagements.
Of Preston Peters she had seen very little, after a visit to his studio, during which she had failed to hide her knowledge of his third-class talent as a painter.
He had been hurt, not realizing art was an escape for him, softening the frustration of not being able to shape a career his father had chosen.
The two no longer even mentioned the fake engagement. That had been a prop, serving to save his father; and then,
Janet knew, ignobly, to feed her own vanity. So long as it had served to do away with the responsibility of an understanding with Grace Burke it had served a third purpose. She still wore the solitaire for no reason she cared to define.
Ready to go downstairs, Janet gave a last look at herself. Not bad, but there would be only one queen of the party. The door opened and she heard Lily Marshal’s shrill voice, with the forced gusto that had become machine-like as twenty marched to forty.
“My dear, you look lovely, your hair—”
“Woman’s crowning glory. I see the knockout hasn’t arrived.”
“I have been hearing of Miss Lariot.”
“Please call me Sonia,” said Janet, mimicing the voice of a three-year-old. “Oh. I’m a cat, but she is cute enough to boil in oil. Men think we are jealous. It isn’t that. She is so transparent with her little sex tricks, to us, and they think her simple and unaffected and ingenuous.”
“Do you fear for Preston, my dear?”
“We are washed up. but it is a secret, Lily. However, I’ll wear this ring as long as I like it.”
“Darling, I caught a glimpse of Ransom. He whisked Tom off to the library like a conspirator. Hé does look younger—much younger—as he did when we first came to Milteron. Tom is breaking blood vessels daily since you told him he must wait, with the one-patient-at-a-time gag. So far there hasn’t been a line in any New York column. I wish we could keep it all a secret from now on.”
A secret is something you respect only in the dictionary, thought Janet. There was the sound of tinkling laughter. The men returned. Mrs. Murlain trailed in, all in black, and sallower for it, and then Sonia Lariot, all in pink, her splendid shoulders, lovely neck, rose from a little froth of lace like something girlish and innocent, yet startling, for the eyes in the beautiful face had an olden wisdom in them. She gushed prettily upon being introduced. If you spanked her you’d be thought a monster, reflected Janet, yet she uses the baits of a man killer.
“Dr. Murlain sent his regrets. I laving no small talk he is stupid at social gatherings.”
This from the smiling wife.
“We could have set him next to Lily, and he wouldn’t have needed to talk,” said Janet, and Lily shot her a hard glance.
The two men were talking to Sonia. She gazed up at Tom and then Ransom, with a you-big-wonderful-man look, and then Preston joined them.
Lily laughed, and whispered: “She makes us appear
three old hags.”
Janet winced, remembering she was still only twenty-eight. But she could feel, as in a dream, that the three of them were slowly and surely fading into the linked flower designs on the walls. Or they were three candles, extinguished by a rush of wind, a breath of perfume, and a brilliant dazzling light. That, you see, is the effect on women, attractive in their own individual way, of dazzling, surpassing beauty. No wonder they hate and resent it unless footlights intervene.
rT'IIE DINNER was a great success— for Sonia.
At the end of it Ransom Peters arose, champagne glass in hand, and announced that he desired to give a toast.
“My friends, I am sure that I cannot possibly look to you the younger man that I feel, inside me. One with a new horizon, a new vision; and I owe it not only to Dr. Murlain, but to the living embodiment of youth from whom I have drawn inspiration, revivification, a renewal to spring in autumn. You see, I am even poetic, if halting, as one who finds himself unaccustomed to enthusiasm. My friends, I wish to give you a toast—the charming and beautiful little Sonia Lariot, who has promised to soon become my wife.”
“To the bride to be,” seconded Tom Marshal.
Lily gave a high laugh, shrill as a slate pencil squeaking over a blackboard.
Preston sucked in his breath, amazed and shocked.
Janet nodded; part of the pattern was clear to her, if the rest obscured.
Then everyone began talking at once, as if to cover embarrassment. Sonia Lariot smiled composedly, as if everybody had applauded and she had come out to take a bow. More wine was poured. Tom tried a joviality that sounded false. Indeed, only Sonia and the infatuated host seemed in key. Mrs.
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Murlain had the tact to act merely slightly surprised, then pleased, as she gave the couple her blessing.
“I am sure you will both be very happy,” she finished.
Yes, thought Janet, but for what purpose and for how long? This would be the postscript to her last as-yet-unmailed letter to Dr. Wainright.
Ransom Peters was urging Sonia to speak, and the girl shook her head appealingly.
Then her voice came husky and low: “I hope that I shall make Ransom very, very happy.”
“Indeed, tonight is the happiest night of my life,” he beamed.
Color flooded his face. I lis voice was strong with emotion. Tom Marshal wras as excited. Watching him intently, Lily Marshal’s features became somewhat pinched and sharp. Perhaps she was wondering if her husband’s interest would turn toward youth when his time arrived for rejuvenation.
Preston, at Janet’s left, had been tongue-tied. Now he turned to her.
“Was it for this we saved my father? It’s a nightmare.”
“Nightmare or not, your father looks — and is to himself younger. You may not believe him, but you cannot go against the evidence of your own eyes.”
“When I see her and what was my old ! dad —” His hands gestured to express the I inexpressible.
And then the excitement died down, and slowly the party fell apart. Each member of it was altogether too contained in his or her own thoughts. Janet w'as glad when farewells were said, and the host went out with Sonia Loriat and Mrs. Murlain.
Lily shook Janet by the shoulders. “If nothing stops this unnatural thing— heaven help me.”
The other could not comfort her. Tom Marshal was impatient at being forced to wait his turn at renewed youth.
“Youth will be served—a second time,” Lily said, bitterly. “We spoke in fun, but now I can see him regarding me as a painted and passe old fright. No fool like I an old fool, but what about an old fool turned young? Oh, it’s terrible.
Janet turned as Tom Marshal returned, explaining that their host had gone along in the car.
“He has it bad, and can you blame him? I’ve watched men see a lovely young I thing and say, ‘If I were only twenty years ; younger.’ They knew they’d be chumps to be taken just for what they had. Even then at times they fall. Ransom has had his cake—now he’ll eat it, too, all over again, the lucky fellow.”
“It is time to go, darling.”
“Yes, fat and too far over fifty. Good I night, Janet. So long, Preston.”
The couple trailed out, Lily taking her husband’s arm possessively.
JANET excused herself, but she had hardly reached her room when she heard a knock upon the door.
“May I come in for a minute?” asked Preston, pleadingly. “I can’t bear to see my father again tonight.”
His mussed hair fell over his brow, and his eyes were desperate.
She nodded and he stepped inside, but stood with his back against the closed door.
“My father has ruined my individuality by trying to shape it, ever since I left college. And now,” he faltered, “he will be stronger and more dominant than ever. I couldn’t bear it—that wonderful imp of a girl here as my stepmother. It revolts me. I can’t bear it.”
“Real revolt would be good for you. If you wish to transfer your problem to me, you must do as I say. My advice is to
leave here, strike out for yourself, even as a sign painter with an outdoor advertising company. You must beat your frustration yourself.”
“That sounds easy,” he said, bitterly.
“Not even the start. You cannot win a fight financially dependent on your father. The situation soon will be more impossible.”
“But I’m hideously fascinated by the travesty of youth assuming shape. I haven’t been thinking of Marlowe’s Faust, but of Ben Jonson’s Alchemist, we thought such a lark at college, putting on several scenes at a stag party of the part when he is sure to obtain the philosopher’s stone, to give Epicure Mammon all his desires—youth, love, victory, everything. How we laughed at what Mammon thought he could ixissess, and 1 felt quite a comedian reciting. Tonight my father reminded me of Mammon, but then I remembered that poor old fool was foiled, while this is a nightmare come awake and true.”
“Either be ready to face more reality, or leave on your own.”
“I’m making a clinical record of your father’s case.”
“Is anything ever more than a case to you?”
Janet felt herself (lushing. “You haven’t the right to be personal. You knocked for me to try solving your problem, remember. But I shall tell you that I think you will stay—
“Till the new Mrs. Peters sees us both out.”
“Don’t soften it for me— kicks both of us out. Now, quite aside from the proprieties, I think you’d better go.”
“I’m disappointed in you, Janet.”
“Because I don’t go maternal and let you mentally sob on my shoulder. A woman can’t do that unless she is the type, worse luck, to whom weakness appeals, as once did a broken doll. I’m trying to buck you up.”
Preston smiled, a twist of the lips. “You are darned hard, Doctor Manly.”
He nodded good night, opened the door, closed it softly behind him.
She went to her dressing table and began to comb her hair.
You used your brain, the best of your training, talked man to man, and this was the thanks you got.
nrilE FOLLOWING evening, after dinner, Janet announced that she was going to take a drive by herself. Neither Ransom Peters nor his son were interested enough to comment. The two men were lost in distinctly separate musings.
She went to the garage, got out her runabout, and started a ten-mile ride across the state border. Just as she had arisen that morning a long distant telephone call had reached her. She had immediately recognized Dr. Wainright’s voice. He asked her to meet him after nine o’clock at night in the lobby of the Montfort Inn. She had said yes, and he rang off.
A mile from town she turned into Route 10. In no time she parked her car in the space beside the hotel. Dr. Wainright was waiting inside. I íe made a courtly bow and asked her to join him in something in the grillroom. She made for the one booth the other side of a great fireplace. He ordered a glass of port and she took a cordial, blackmail for a little privacy.
“You are tired, my dear girl.”
“Too much youth and near-youth,” she said, flippantly. “How do you like my clinical report?”
“Very comprehensive. What you report on the stopping of the degenerative processes, and the reversal of them, with quantitative measures of brain and nerve vigor restoral, is very exact. But what
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have you learned about Dr. Murlain and
wife, and the young Sonia?”
“Just as little as is possible, with politeness. ”
“You know, as things are, I cannot check on them abroad.”
“Well, they insist they are not refugees, and politically are uninterested. However Mrs. Murlain says her husband shifted a small fortune to this country before trouble mounted in Austria. He was a professor at one time, I believe, in the University of Vienna. The niece lost her parents, but she doesn’t need any—she can take care of herself.”
“Strange, her engagement to Ransom Peters. You’d think that couple could get enough from him to be satisfied.”
“But that isn’t what you brought me here to tell me.”
“No, Pve been going over a history of the treatments, with the scant records at our command. At the end of the first stage there is a lapse of treatment before the second stage begins. During the rest period in between, is, I believe, the danger period. It is quite near.”
“Well, we cannot kidnap Ransom Peters and hold him under lock and key, for study, even for his own good.”
“But that is exactly my idea—you are very quick. It is my belief, assuming these past suicides what they seemed, that the patients suffer some kind of emotional explosion. If that can be proved we have something to work on.”
“Oh, it could be made legal enough. I have enough influence to obtain commitment papers and have him sent to a sanitarium for observation. But in a neighboring state this is all easier--and it can be kept a secret. No one will know where he is, hence there can be no effort toward his release. So my idea is to bring several trusted orderlies, and an ambulance, pick up Ransom Peters swiftly, the night after the first stage is finished. You can phone me here. If not that night, the next, that he is out, and when you expect he will return.”
“That sounds like drastic measures, doctor.”
“Not if it means saving his life, and giving us the right to clamp down on Dr. Murlain. It stands to reason there must be something inevitably wrong with his treatment or he would have at least one man, once aged, now transformed to a youth, to point to as evidence of his miraculous powers.”
“And the world at his feet,” said Janet, dryly.
“If it hadn’t proved true that scientific experiments often sound ridiculous, and are jeered at, and then prove their worth, there should be a law against them. Simple ratiocination tells us there must be a fatal flaw in this modern rejuvenation. We have the timing. I can’t think of anything save a study of the patient.”
“He will be in a frenzy. And Sonia. And the Murlains.”
“Young Peters, what of him?”
“A weak stick. He needs a wife who will be a backbone, a nurse, and a substitute for a mother. Even with all that, she might fail. The competitive system in this country has made many young men weaker than their sisters. Neither the Vienna nor Swiss school of psychoanalysis, with talk about the Oedipus complex, or father fixation, accounts for this.”
“You didn’t mention this type in your little book, ‘American Types And Characteristics.’ ”
“No, I hadn’t studied it. In this country we can’t, as Freud and Jung did, trace everything to sex. Preston couldn’t be like lfis father, is jealous of him, yet won’t cut adrift. It is financial fear and helplessness.
I wouldn’t dream of telling him anything.” “Ordinary reasoning tells us as much, without bringing in slang of psychology,” he said, gruffly.
“Sure, and did you ever hear yourself give the technical slang of how you performed an operation?”
“Touché. Now of course you understand I want you clear of our little plot. I trust Mr. Peters will be returned to his home, with apologies, ready for the second stage of rejuvenation. Then there waits your friend, Tom Marshal, in the offing.” “I don’t see that I’m being of much help.”
“ATore than you realize, for you are our contact. A week from tonight you will phone me here—asking for John Carter— if Peters has gone out, and we will be over awaiting his return. If not that night the next, or the next.”
“You are determined, doctor.”
“Yes, because there is more here than merely unmasking a charlatan. This man has touched the fringe of a great mystery, and I believe death, with it. I shall use every means to understand what has taken place, to stop further tragedy.”
T-JE GAVE her a fierce glance, and Janet had the delightful feeling of a conspiratorseeing the orderlies grab Ransom Peters and carry him away in the night. Only she would know of the kidnapping. Sonia and Preston, Dr. Murlain and his wife—how interesting to be present, wickedly, and note their reactions !
“Do you know,” said Dr. Wainright. suddenly, “I’ve just thought why you haven’t found some good man to marry and keep on tenterhooks.”
“Why, doctor, you’ve startled me from our plotting. But I bite; just what’s the reason.”
“You’ve developed a bit of the scientific spirit, and a woman, not used to it, can’t throw it off after working hours as a man can. People are normal or abnormal mental types to you. So, you don’t really meet individuals with life histories, but case histories.”
“Perhaps I haven’t met the right individual to make me other than the dispassionate student,” Janet said, slowly.
She disliked remarks such as that, for it indicated the speaker’s opinion she was not quite feminine and emotionally receptive. She knew that was untrue; and that she was both; only the next time she would be very sure.
“Doctor, I’ve given you a full report,” she went on, “but you will simply be obliged to meet Sonia. You will dye your beard, wear a wig, and have your face lifted, anything to be in the running.” “You don’t believe that, my child?” “No, and you don’t believe that I am a chilly diagnostician.”
“Of course not, but you look so much sweeter than your conversation.”
“I thought we were discussing crime. If you’ll call the waiter I shall be getting back. You may come as far as the car, Mr. John Carter, and I hope to be calling you a week from today.”
The other sighed. “I visioned a romance between you and young Peters. I belong to the old sentimental school, but one day I am determined to see you in love.”
“Like a form of female punishment,” smiled Janet.
As he followed her out she heard him muttering to himself, something about a wig and a dyed beard. Well, she had given as good as she had received.
When she returned to the Peters home all windows were dark, but the front door was never locked and she went quietly to her room.
TNSTEAD of dropping, the sands of time were drawn back, slowly yet surely, as they had never been drawn before. At long last Dr. ATurlain’s treatment had an effect on Ransom Peters’ physical being for all the world to see. If was as if, from within, something was pushing aside an aged mask, with sags and wrinkles, and bringing clear to view strength and purpose that went with chiseled features, given a brighter, more youthful tone.
Ransom Peters had been patient. Janet never forgot the glee in his voice as he turned to her, one morning at breakfast, a man happy beyond wildest dreams.
“I am as I was fifteen years ago,” he
stated. “We shall go and take the last treatment of the first stage. Friend Murlain gets my check.”
“Then comes the layoff of a week.”
“I believe so, but I shall not be idle. There are a thousand things I want to do.” As the two drove to Dr. Murlain’s, Ransom Peters elaborated.
“I feel like a man who has been pardoned—pardoned from the sentence of old age. All the pride of a man had been taken away from me. While active, I had always looked with contempt upon the has-been, the once-was, the fellow pushed aside by younger men. All of a sudden it seemed, why, that was Ransom Peters, the reins taken from his hands, himself pushed in the back seat with the old ladies, the cripples, and the misfits.”
“American life brings no philosophy to meet such a situation.” said Janet. “We do not taper off, so to speak, to retirement. It causes a typically American neurosis that actually brings on physical atrophy and death. Sigmund Freud, in Vienna, never even heard of it.”
“Well, everything was taken from me.” “Yes, all stimuli, if you thought so. As you think, so you are. Before the war the British and the French took retirement as something natural, even pleasant, with a proper income. They needed less, perhaps, the continual feeding of the ego with power.”
“I feel like something under a glass slide when you discuss me. But through this miracle that is all over. I can resume mv rightful position again, in business, sport, possess self-respect again. I am as at forty-five now. Think of it—I’m promised real youth, myself at thirty-two. It is enough to make one drunk with the very vision. I can’t wait; I am afraid that I shall awaken before it actually happens.” Janet said nothing. She wanted to guard him, as if he might be a man blindfolded, walking toward the brink of a precipice.
It was a glorious autumn morning, the fields and hills riotous with color, russet and green and gold brilliant enough to abash a painter and his mere colors and canvas. Ransom drove quickly, his hands strong and steady upon the wheel.
AT DR. MURLAIN’S the atmosphere had a certain tenseness. Sonia was absent during the treatment, so was not there to see Ransom open his billfold and silently hand a cheque to Mrs. Murlain.
“I don’t have to compare with any photograph. I am satisfied,” he stated.
The woman nodded. “And now there will be a lapse of a week before the second stage.”
“I’ll try to be patient. It will be wonderful to continue going backward and backward in time. Old Father Time has been defeated by the doctor. I hope he takes no revenge.”
“You jest, sir. I assume you will stay in Milteron?”
“We go to New York for a few days, motoring in the morning. Sonia asks to be excused until this evening. She tells me you will take her for a ride after dinner.” Ransom nodded, and shortly Janet and he left the house. It was as if a chapter had been closed. Both were silent on the trip back.
Janet was not surprised at the date for a ride, for it was the only way open to Ransom to be alone with Sonia. Now she would have the proper information to telephone Dr. Wainright. The abductors, with legal rights, could be waiting in good time.
Entering the grounds she wondered just how the waylaying would take place? Probably, she thought, the car with the doctor and his orderlies would wait parked, with headlights gleaming, directly in the centre of the turn in the driveway. Peters would leave his car to investigate . .
Once across the state line, and in a sanitarium, Peters would be continually under observation, well treated, but given no chance to do himself any possible harm.
There should be no difficulty in taking and holding Ransom Peters, for his own good, during a week’s time.
Janet had tried various imaginary possibilities to account for those suicides, after success of the treatment, and had each time banged up against a blank cloud. Men kill themselves when dreams turn to ashes, not when the dreams come true. There was, of course, to be considered that something in the brain strained and snapped. Physical results had been noted. She thought Ransom Peters’ brain had been stimulated, perhaps, but he was normal, if unduly excited and joyful, and who would think that unnatural? However, you never knew, until one experiment after another, the course of a new technic. Here, lacking all data from Dr. Murlain, no assumption meant anything.
That evening, before dinner, Janet called the Montfort Inn, asked for John Carter. In a few seconds the voice of Dr. Wainright came to her.
“He is going out for a drive, will leave Sonia at home, and be back by eleven tonight, I believe.”
“If you can get young Preston to retire early it might help.”
“I’ll tell him soothing bed-time stories. Good luck.”
“Contact me here, again, same time, tomorrow. It should all go smoothly being expertly handled.”
There was a click on the other end, and Janet resumed dressing for dinner.
CUE FOUND Ransom Peters in un^ usually high spirits, his son glum and silent.
Janet was tired, tired of both of them, and the problem that was to be removed from her responsibility. She announced that she would go back to her old home in the morning, for a week anyway, but to her surprise Preston begged that she stay on. Ransom seconded him. She’d decide tomorrow, she told them, somewhat pleased, though it was foolish to be vain about each man needing her in a particular way. After the way she had talked to Preston he might well have grown to dislike her; obsessed with Sonia, her company could mean little to the other. It just showed that you never could tell; maybe you weren’t quite the flop of a person that you considered yourself.
Ransom Peters left directly after dinner. She listened to the radio, with Preston, for a time, then they played rummy until bored with the game. The two said good night before eleven o’clock. Janet went to her room in the back of the house, but did not undress, just sat waiting, waiting . . .
What did she expect—a wild scream for help in the night? She did not know, but she felt uncomfortable. Yes, it was for his own good, but now it seemed rather a dirty trick they were playing upon her host. For good or evil there was something one shrank from in depriving a man of his liberty. He must have said a fond lover’s farewell to Sonia by now. Half past eleven. She opened the window. Now and again she could hear a car in the distance, but no nearby sound of an engine running. Twelve o’clock.
One o’clock. She found a little flashlight, left her room and went downstairs, feeling like a burglar. She opened the door to the porch. Faint moonlight, and the trees ghostly. Ransom must have returned and been “snatched”—wasn’t that the word—by now, but she felt uneasy, as if something had gone wrong. Nerves, to be sure. Best go to bed. There was no sense in staying up all night.
Janet returned to her room, undressed, and slipped between the covers. Still she could not go to sleep. Hours, she was certain, must have passed while she lay staring into the darkness.
Suddenly there was a knock upon the door.
“One minute.” She almost yelled; jumped into her mules, reached for a dressing gown, turned on the light.
The door unlocked, Preston stood in the
hallway, open-mouthed. “I couldn’t sleep —waited for father to return. lie went out the back way, you know. I lis room is next to mine. It is two-thirty, now. I felt as if ants were crawling over me. I went to his room; the door was half open, the place is in confusion, drawers of the chest half ojien, the clothes closet open, and a suitcase he used for week-end trips gone. I—”
The telephone down in the library rang loudly.
Janet held out her flashlight, told him to go down and answer it. She heard the shrill ringing until he reached the telephone.
Only the wait of a few minutes until his return.
“A call from my father,” he stammered. “He and Sonia eloped tonight. They awakened a Justice of the Peace up at Hammerville and he married them. They’re off on a honeymoon, won’t be back for a week. Seems a lousy, headstrong way to act. I was like a man scared at a microphone. I stumbled all over myself I trying to congratulate them. Now I must make jilans to get out on my own. Haven’t you seen it, I’m crazy myself, about that girl.”
She only half heard him. She was thinking of well-laid jilans gone astray. Out there in the darkness Dr. Wainright I and his orderlies were waiting, for one who had slijijied from their possible grasp.
Finally she managed to quiet Preston, who was half hysterical, make him go back to his room., and bed, if not to sleejx
She dressed fully. Again she went down to the porch, but now she walked up the drive until she reached a point where it turned out into the main highway. There, at the right, her jiencil point of light found the bulk of a long black car. She walked toward it.
“Dr. Wainright,” she called.
“That you, Janet? What’s up? It is j nearly three o’clock. News of an accident?”
“No, not an accident, except to your jilans. Ransom Peters phoned his son he eloped with Sonia Loriat tonight. They awakened a justice in Hammerville. Must have had the license in advance. They were married and are off—goodness knows where—on a honeymoon. To be back in a week.”
The doctor swore in good forecastle fashion.
“You’d think this was timed to—what’s the phrase?—foil me. Dammit all, girl, he may be dead in a week—with only a lying yarn of that Sonia creature to check ui) with.”
“I was going back home in the morning. Now I had better stay and hold the fort.”
“It will only be for a week,” Wainright I. told her, harshly. “Mark the words of an I old jackass who didn’t act in time.”
“The young adventuress was quick enough,” said Janet, dryly. “Isn’t this what’s called holding the bag?”
j A FTER breakfast Janet went up to her I room and packed. There existed several reasons why she should return to the Black place, the most imjxirtant being there was sure to be a newspaper leak on the elopement. A break on the rejuvenation angle would make a sensation. She wasn’t really engaged to Preston and, in any case, shrank from any pubheity.
Preston wore such an expression she felt as if she were leaving a poor neglected dog.
“I’ll be lost without you, Janet. I’m kind of used to having you about.”
“You must learn to stop leaning on anyone,” she said, with a smile.
Afterward he followed her to the car, told her he, too, would leave upon his father's return, his position imjiossible with such a stepmother.
Janet drove off with a feeling of relief. She had been close to the Peters family long enough; now that the rejuvenation case was jxistponed for a week it would be delightful to have no constant calls on time and attention. Dr. Wainright had
agreed there was nothing possible to do until the newlyweds finished their honeymoon.
In the following days she purchased all the New York papers, looking vainly for any news of the elopement. On the seventh day she phoned Preston. No, he had received no word. He would let her know when his father and Sonia came home. He had told the Marshals, and other friends, that Ransom was away on a business trip. Let the latter be the one to publicly announce his marriage.
During the week she visited the Murlains twice. They were reticent, incommunicative, on the second stage in the rejuvenation of Mr. Peters, after the rest interval of a week.
Exactly that period after elopement night, Janet was seated by the radio, listening to a news commentator who went on at ten o’clock.
Suddenly the telephone ring sounded above the voice. She turned the dial low.
“Oh, Janet, I'm glad. You must come right over. I know something dreadful has happened. I just came home when I heard a shot in the library. I’ve pounded on the locked door and yelled. Not a further sound. Sonia is up in your room, drugged or something. I can’t wake her.”
“I’ll be over right away.”
She hung up and then asked the operator to get her quickly the State Police substation in the village.
“Hello, State Police?”
“Lieutenant Morris speaking.”
“This is Dr. Janet Manly. I’ve been j called just now to the Peters place. You know it? Ransom Peters just came home. 1 His son heard a shot in a locked room. We fear his father has killed himself. His wife is upstairs in a comatose condition. Yes,
I’ll meet you there.”
She raced to her roadster, reached the Peters place as a grey car pulled in beside her.
“You’re Dr. Manly?” asked the officer. “Yes. Let’s get going.”
They brushed aside Preston Peters. Janet led the way to the library door. The trooper pounded upon it, after trying the knob. Was there any other entrance? Anyone know of a second key? The housekeeper once had one. She said her master had taken it from her some weeks ago.
The trooper asked everyone to stand aside. These old locks snapped quickly sometimes. He drew back a few paces, dashed at the door sideways, throwing all his weight; a sharp click and he almost fell into the room. Janet and Preston followed, slowly.
The body of Ransom Peters lay, relaxed, in a seat facing the fire place. A sawed-off shotgun had fallen to the floor. He had aimed at his head. The face was an unrecognizable horror of torn flesh and blood. Death must have come instantly, j Janet confirmed that.
To be Continued