The Blind Spot - Homer Eon Flint, Austin Hall - ebook
Kategoria: Fantastyka i sci-fi Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1921

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Opis ebooka The Blind Spot - Homer Eon Flint, Austin Hall

What is 'The Blind Spot?' A room in San Francisco where strange things happened -- a doorway into another cosmos, a different world, perhaps a key to the past... or future?

Opinie o ebooku The Blind Spot - Homer Eon Flint, Austin Hall

Fragment ebooka The Blind Spot - Homer Eon Flint, Austin Hall

About
INTRODUCTION
PROLOGUE
Chapter 1 - RHAMDA AVEC
Chapter 2 - THE PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY
Chapter 3 - "NOW THERE ARE TWO"
Chapter 4 - GONE

About Flint:

Homer Eon Flint (1888 as Homer Eon Flindt –1924) was a writer of pulp science fiction novels and stories. He began working as a scenarist for silent films (reportedly at his wife's insistence) in 1912. In 1918 he published "The Planeteer" in All-Story Weekly. His "Dr. Kinney" stories were reprinted by Ace Books in 1965, and with Austin Hall he co-wrote the novel The Blind Spot. Reportedly he died as a result of an involvement in a bank robbery attempt. According to his granddaughter the only witness, was himself a gangster. Source: Wikipedia

Also available on Feedbooks Flint:
About Hall:

Austin Hall (c. 1885 - 1933) was an American short story writer and novelist. He began writing when, while working as a cowboy, he was asked to write a story. He wrote westerns, science fiction and fantasy for pulp magazines. Source: Wikipedia

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INTRODUCTION

THE LURE AND LORE OF "THE BLIND SPOT"

BY FORREST J ACKERMAN

The Blind Spot opens with the words: "Perhaps it were just as well to start at the beginning. A mere matter of news." Suppose I use them in the same sense:

A mere matter of news: The first instalment of this fabulous novel was featured in Argosy-All-Story-Weekly for May 14, 1921. Described as a "different" serial, it was introduced by a cover by Modest Stein. In the foreground was the profile of a girl of another dimension—ethereal, sensuous, the eternal feminine—the Nervina of the story. Filmy crystalline earrings swept back over her bare shoulders. Dominating the background was a huge flaming yellow ball, like our Sun as seen from the hypothetical Vulcan— splotched with murky, mysterious globii vitonae. There was an ancient quay, and emerging from the ultramarine waters about it a silhouetted metropolis of spires, domes, and minarets. It was 1921, and that generation thus received its first glimpse of the alien landscape of The Blind Spot and the baroque beauty of an immortal woman of fantasy fiction.

The authors? Homer Eon Flint was already a reigning favourite with post-World-War-I enthusiasts of imaginative literature, who had eagerly devoured his QUEEN OF LIFE and LORD OF DEATH, his KING OF CONSERVE ISLAND and THE PLANETEER. Austin Hall was well known and popular for his ALMOST IMMORTAL, REBEL SOUL, and INTO THE INFINITE.

Then came this epoch-making collaboration. When Mary Gnaedinger launched Famous Fantastic Mysteries magazine she early presented THE BLIND SPOT, and printed it again in that magazine's companion Fantastic Novels. These reprints are now collectors' items, almost unobtainable, and otherwise the story has long been out of print. Rumour says an unauthorised German version of THE BLIND SPOT, has been published in book form. There is another book called THE BLIND SPOT, and also a magazine story, and a major movie studio was to produce a film of the same title. However, here is presented the only hard-cover version of the only BLIND SPOT of consequence to lovers of fantasy.

Who wrote the story? When I first looked into the question, as a 15 year old boy, Homer Eon Flint (he originally spelled his name with a "d") was already dead of a fall into a canyon. In 1949 his widow told me: "I think Homer's father contributed that middle name"—the same name (with slightly different spelling) that the Irish poet George Russell took as his pen-name, which became known by its abbreviation AE. Mrs. Flindt said of Flint's father: "He was a very deep thinker, and enjoyed reading heavy material." Like father, like son. "Homer always talked over his ideas with me, and although I couldn't always follow his thoughts it seemed to help him to express them to another—it made some things come more clearly to him."

Flint was a great admirer of H. G. Wells (this little grandmother- schoolteacher told me) and had probably read all his works up to the time when he (Flint) died in 1924. He had read Doyle and Haggard, but: "Wells was his favourite—the real thinker."

Flint found a fellow-thinker in Austin Hall, whom he met in San Jose, California, while working at a shop where shoes were repaired electrically—"a rather new concept at the time." Hall, learning that Flint lived in the same city, sought him out, and they became fast friends. Each stimulated the other. As Hall told me twenty years ago of the origin of THE BLIND SPOT:

"One day after we had lunched together, I held my finger up in front of one of my eyes and said: 'Homer, couldn't a story be written about that blind spot in the eye?' Not much was said about it at the time, but four days later, again at lunch, I outlined the whole story to him. I wrote the first eighteen chapters; Homer took up the tale as 'Hobart Fenton' and wrote the chapters about the house of miracles, the living death, the rousing of Aradna's mind, and so forth, up to 'The Man from Space,' where once again I took over."

To THE BLIND SPOT Hall contributed a great knowledge of history and anthropology, while Flint's fortes were physics and medicine. Both had a great fund of philosophy at their command.

When I met Hall (about four years older than Flint) he was in his fifties: a devil-may-care old codger (old to a fifteen-year-old, that is) full of good humour and indulgence for a youthful admirer who had journeyed far to meet him. He casually referred to his 600 published stories, and I carried away the impression of one who resembled both in output and in looks that other fiction-factory of the time, Edgar Wallace.

Finally: Several years ago, before I knew anything about the present volume, I had an unusual experience. (At that time I had no reason to think THE BLIND SPOT would ever become available as a book, for the location of the heirs proved a Herculean task by itself; publishers had long wanted to present this amazing novel but could not do so until I located Mrs. Mae Hall and Mrs. Mabel Flindt.) While, unfortunately, I did not take careful notes at the time, the gist of the occurrence was this:

I visited a friend whose hobby (besides reading fantasy) was the occult, who volunteered to entertain me with automatic writing and the ouija-board. Now, I share Lovecraft's scepticism towards the supernatural, regarding it as at best a means of amusement. When the question arose of what spirits we should try to lure to our planchette, the names of Lovecraft, Merritt, Hall, and Flint popped into my pixilated mind. So I set my fingers on the wooden heart and, since my host was also a Flint admirer, we asked about Flint's fatal accident. The ouija spelled out:

N-O A-C-C-I-D-E-N-T—R-O-B-B-E-R-Y

There followed something about being held up by a hitch-hiker. Then Hall (or at least some energy-source other than my own conscious mind) came through too, and when I asked if he had left any work behind he replied:

Y-E-S—T-H-E L-A-S-T G-O-D-L-I-N-G

Later I asked his son about this (without revealing the title) and Javen Hall told me of the story his father had been plotting when he died: THE HIDDEN EMPIRE, or THE CHILD OF THE SOUTHWIND. Whatever was pushing the planchette failed to inform me that when I found Austin Hall's son and widow, they would put into my hands an unknown, unpublished fantasy novel by Hall: THE HOUSE OF DAWN! Some day it may appear in print.

Meanwhile you are getting understandably impatient to explore that unknown realm of the Blind Spot. Be on your way, and bon voyage!

FORREST J ACKERMAN, Beverley Hills, Calif.


PROLOGUE

Perhaps it were just as well to start at the beginning. A mere matter of news.

All the world at the time knew the story; but for the benefit of those who have forgotten I shall repeat it. I am merely giving it as I have taken it from the papers with no elaboration and no opinion—a mere statement of facts. It was a celebrated case at the time and stirred the world to wonder. Indeed, it still is celebrated, though to the layman it is forgotten.

It has been labelled and indexed and filed away in the archives of the profession. To those who wish to look it up it will be spoken of as one of the great unsolved mysteries of the century. A crime that leads two ways, one into murder—sordid, cold and calculating; and the other into the nebulous screen that thwarts us from the occult.

Perhaps it is the character of Dr. Holcomb that gives the latter. He was a great man and a splendid thinker. That he should have been led into a maze of cheap necromancy is, on the face, improbable. He had a wonderful mind. For years he had been battering down the scepticism that had bulwarked itself in the material.

He was a psychologist, and up to the day the greatest, perhaps, that we have known. He had a way of going out before his fellows— it is the way of genius—and he had gone far, indeed, before them. If we would trust Dr. Holcomb we have much to live for; our religion is not all hearsay and there is a great deal in science still unthought of. It is an unfortunate case; but there is much to be learned in the circumstance that led the great doctor into the Blind Spot.


Chapter 1 RHAMDA AVEC

On a certain foggy morning in September, 1905, a tall man wearing a black overcoat and bearing in one hand a small satchel of dark- reddish leather descended from a Geary Street tram at the foot of Market Street, San Francisco. It was a damp morning; a mist was brooding over the city blurring all distinctness.

The man glanced about him; a tall man of trim lines and distinctness and a quick, decided step and bearing. In the shuffle of descending passengers he was outstanding, with a certain inborn grace that without the blood will never come from training. Men noticed and women out of instinct cast curious furtive glances and then turned away; which was natural, inasmuch as the man was plainly old. But for all that many ventured a second glance—and wondered.

An old man with the poise of twenty, a strange face of remarkable features, swarthy, of an Eastern cast, perhaps Indian; whatever the certainty of the man's age there was still a lingering suggestion of splendid youth. If one persisted in a third or fourth look this suggestion took an almost certain tone, the man's age dwindled, years dropped from him, and the quizzical smile that played on the lips seemed a foreboding of boyish laughter.

We say foreboding because in this case it is not mistaken diction. Foreboding suggests coming evil; the laughter of boys is wholehearted. It was merely that things were not exactly as they should be; it was not natural that age should be so youthful. The fates were playing, and in this case for once in the world's history their play was crosswise.

It is a remarkable case from the beginning and we are starting from facts. The man crossed to the window of the Key Route ferry and purchased a ticket for Berkeley, after which, with the throng, he passed the turnstile and on to the boat that was waiting. He took the lower deck, not from choice, apparently, but more because the majority of his fellow passengers, being men, were bound in this direction. The same chance brought him to the cigar-stand. The men about him purchased cigars and cigarettes, and as is the habit of all smokers, strolled off with delighted relish. The man watched them. Had anyone noticed his eyes he would have noted a peculiar colour and a light of surprise. With the prim step that made him so distinctive he advanced to the news-stand.

"Pardon me; but I would like to purchase one of those." Though he spoke perfect English it was in a strange manner, after the fashion of one who has found something that he has just learned how to use. At the same time he made a suggestion with his tapered fingers indicating the tobacco in the case. The clerk looked up.

"A cigar, sir? Yes, sir. What will it be?"

"A cigar?" Again the strange articulation. "Ah, yes, that is it. Now I remember. And it has a little sister, the cigarette. I think I shall take a cigarette, if—if—if you will show me how to use it."

It was a strange request. The clerk was accustomed to all manner of men and their brands of humour; he was about to answer in kind when he looked up and into the man's eyes. He started.

"You mean," he asked, "that you have never seen a cigar or cigarette; that you do not know how to use them? A man as old as you are."

The stranger laughed. It was rather resentful, but for all that of a hearty taint of humour.

"So old? Would you say that I am as old as that; if you will look again—"

The young man did and what he beheld is something that he could not quite account for: the strange conviction of this remarkable man; of age melting into youth, of an uncertain freshness, the smile, not of sixty, but of twenty. The young man was not one to argue, whatever his wonder; he was first of all a lad of business; he could merely acquiesce.

"The first time! This is the first time you have ever seen a cigar or cigarette?"

The stranger nodded.

"The first time. I have never beheld one of them before this morning. If you will allow me?" He indicated a package. "I think I shall take one of these."

The clerk took up the package, opened the end, and shook out a single cigarette. The man lit it and, as the smoke poured out of his mouth, held the cigarette tentatively in his fingers.

"Like it?" It was the clerk who asked.

The other did not answer, his whole face was the expression of having just discovered one of the senses. He was a splendid man and, if the word may be employed of the sterner sex, one of beauty. His features were even; that is to be noted, his nose chiselled straight and to perfection, the eyes of a peculiar sombreness and lustre almost burning, of a black of such intensity as to verge into red and to be devoid of pupils, and yet, for all of that, of a glow and softness. After a moment he turned to the clerk.

"You are young, my lad."

"Twenty-one, sir."

"You are fortunate. You live in a wonderful age. It is as wonderful as your tobacco. And you still have many great things before you."

"Yes, sir."

The man walked on to the forward part of the boat; leaving the youth, who had been in a sort of daze, watching. But it was not for long. The whole thing had been strange and to the lad almost inexplicable. The man was not insane, he was certain; and he was just as sure that he had not been joking. From the start he had been taken by the man's refinement, intellect and education. He was positive that he had been sincere. Yet—

The ferry detective happened at that moment to be passing. The clerk made an indication with his thumb.

"That man yonder," he spoke, "the one in black. Watch him." Then he told his story. The detective laughed and walked forward.

It was a most fortunate incident. It was a strange case. That mere act of the cigar clerk placed the police on the track and gave to the world the only clue that it holds of the Blind Spot.

The detective had laughed at the lad's recital—almost any one had a patent for being queer—and if this gentleman had a whim for a certain brand of humour that was his business. Nevertheless, he would stroll forward.

The man was not hard to distinguish; he was standing on the forward deck facing the wind and peering through the mist at the grey, heavy heave of the water. Alongside of them the dim shadow of a sister ferry screamed its way through the fogbank. That he was a landsman was evidenced by his way of standing; he was uncertain; at every heave of the boat he would shift sidewise. An unusually heavy roll caught him slightly off-balance and jostled him against the detective. The latter held up his hand and caught him by the arm.

"A bad morning," spoke the officer. "B-r-r-r! Did you notice the Yerbe Buena yonder? She just grazed us. A bad morning."

The stranger turned. As the detective caught the splendid face, the glowing eyes and the youthful smile, he started much as had done the cigar clerk. The same effect of the age melting into youth and—the officer being much more accustomed to reading men— a queer sense of latent and potent vision. The eyes were soft and receptive but for all that of the delicate strength and colour that comes from abnormal intellect. He noted the pupils, black, glowing, of great size, almost filling the iris and the whole melting into intensity that verged into red. Either the man had been long without sleep or he was one of unusual intelligence and vitality.

"A nasty morning," repeated the officer.

"Ah! Er, yes—did you say it was a nasty morning? Indeed, I do not know, sir. However, it is very interesting."

"Stranger in San Francisco?"

"Well, yes. At least, I have never seen it."

"H-m!" The detective was a bit nonplussed by the man's evident evasion. "Well, if you are a stranger I suppose it is up to me to come to the defence of my city. This is one of Frisco's fogs. We have them occasionally. Sometimes they last for days. This one is a low one. It will lift presently. Then you will see the sun. Have you ever seen Frisco's sun?"

"My dear sir"—this same slow articulation—"I have never seen your sun nor any other."

"Hum!"

It was an answer altogether unexpected. Again the officer found himself gazing into the strange, refined face and wonderful eyes. The man was not blind, of that he was certain. Neither was his voice harsh or testy. Rather was it soft and polite, of one merely stating a fact. Yet how could it be? He remembered the cigar clerk. Neither cigar nor sun! From what manner of land could the man come? A detective has a certain gift of intuition. Though on the face of it, outside of the man's personality, there could be nothing to it but a joke, he chose to act upon the impulse. He pulled back the door which had been closed behind them and re- entered the boat. When he returned the boat had arrived at the pier.

"You are going to Oakland?"

It was a chance question.

"No, to Berkeley. I take a train here, I understand. Do all the trains go to Berkeley?"

"By no means. I am going to Berkeley myself. We can ride together. My name is Jerome. Albert Jerome."

"Thanks. Mine is Avec. Rhamda Avec. I am much obliged. Your company may be instructive."

He did not say more, but watched with unrestrained interest their manoeuvre into the slip. A moment later they were marching with the others down the gangways to the trains waiting. Just as they were seated and the electric train was pulling out of the pier the sun breaking through the mist blazed with splendid light through the cloud rifts. The stranger was next to the window where he could look out over the water and beyond at the citied shoreline, whose sea of housetops extended and rose to the peaks of the first foothills. The sun was just coming over the mountains.

The detective watched. There was sincerity in the man's actions. It was not acting. When the light first broke he turned his eyes full into the radiance. It was the act of a child and, so it struck the officer, of the same trust and simplicity—and likewise the same effect. He drew away quickly: for the moment blinded.

"Ah!" he said. "It is so. This is the sun. Your sun is wonderful!"

"Indeed it is," returned the other. "But rather common. We see it every day. It's the whole works, but we get used to it. For myself I cannot see anything strange in the 'sun's still shining.' You have been blind, Mr. Avec? Pardon the question. But I must naturally infer. You say you have never seen the sun. I suppose—"

He stopped because of the other's smile; somehow it seemed a very superior one, as if predicting a wealth of wisdom.

"My dear Mr. Jerome," he spoke, "I have never been blind in my life. I say it is wonderful! It is glorious and past describing. So is it all, your water, your boats, your ocean. But I see there is one thing even stranger still. It is yourselves. With all your greatness you are only part of your surroundings. Do you know what is your sun?"

"Search me," returned the officer. "I'm no astronomer. I understand they don't know themselves. Fire, I suppose, and a hell of a hot one! But there is one thing that I can tell."

"And this—"

"Is the truth."

If he meant it for insinuation it was ineffective. The other smiled kindly. In the fine effect of the delicate features, and most of all in the eyes was sincerity. In that face was the mark of genius—he felt it—and of a potent superior intelligence. Most of all did he note the beauty and the soft, silky superlustre of the eyes.

We have the whole thing from Jerome, at least this part of it; and our interest being retrospect is multiplied far above that of the detective. The stranger had a certain call of character and of appearance, not to say magnetism. The officer felt himself almost believing and yet restraining himself into caution of unbelief. It was a remark preposterous on the face of it. What puzzled Jerome was the purpose; he could think of nothing that would necessitate such statements and acting. He was certain that the man was sane.

In the light of what came after great stress has been laid by a certain class upon this incident. We may say that we lean neither way. We have merely given it in some detail because of that importance. We have yet no proof of the mystic and until it is proved, we must lean, like Jerome, upon the cold material. We have the mystery, but, even at that, we have not the certainty of murder.

Understand, it was intuition that led Jerome into that memorable trip to Berkeley; he happened to be going off duty and was drawn to the man by a chance incident and the fact of his personality. At this minute, however, he thought no more of him than as an eccentric, as some refined, strange wonderful gentleman with a whim for his own brand of humour. Only that could explain it. The man had an evident curiosity for everything about him, the buildings, the street, the cars, and the people. Frequently he would mutter: "Wonderful, wonderful, and all the time we have never known it. Wonderful!"

As they drew into Lorin the officer ventured a question.

"You have friends in Berkeley? I see you are a stranger. If I may presume, perhaps I may be of assistance?"

"Well, yes, if—if—do you know of a Dr. Holcomb?"

"You mean the professor. He lives on Dwight Way. At this time of the day you would be more apt to find him at the university. Is he expecting you?"

It was a blunt question and of course none of his business. Yet, just what another does not want him to know is ever the pursuit of a detective. At the same time the subconscious flashing and wondering at the name Rhamda Avec—surely neither Teutonic nor Sanskrit nor anything between.

"Expecting me? Ah, yes. Pardon me if I speak slowly. I am not quite used to speech—yet. I see you are interested. After I see Dr. Holcomb I may tell you. However, it is very urgent that I see the doctor. He—well, I may say that we have known each other a long time."

"Then you know him?"

"Yes, in a way; though we have never met. He must be a great man. We have much in common, your doctor and I; and we have a great deal to give to your world. However, I would not recognise him should I see him. Would you by any chance—"

"You mean would I be your guide? With pleasure. It just happens that I am on friendly terms with your friend Dr. Holcomb."


Chapter 2 THE PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY

And now to start in on another angle. There is hardly any necessity for introducing Dr. Holcomb. All of us, at least, those who read, and, most of all, those of us who are interested in any manner of speculation, knew him quite well. He was the professor of philosophy at the University of California: a great man and a good one, one of those fine academic souls who, not only by their wisdom, but by their character, have a way of stamping themselves upon generations; a speaker of the upstanding class, walking on his own feet and utterly fearless when it came to dashing out on some startling philosophy that had not been borne up by his forebears.

He was original. He believed that the philosophies of the ages are but stepping stones, that the wisdom of the earth looked but to the future, and that the study of the classics, however essential, is but the ground work for combining and working out the problems of the future. He was epigrammatic, terse, and gifted with a quaint humour, with which he was apt, even when in the driest philosophy, to drive in and clinch his argument.

Best of all, he was able to clothe the most abstract thoughts in language so simple and concrete that he brought the deepest of all subjects down to the scope of the commonest thinker. It is needless to say that he was 'copy.' The papers about the bay were ever and anon running some startling story of the professor.

Had they stuck to the text it would all have been well; but a reporter is a reporter; in spite of the editors there were numerous little elaborations to pervert the context. A great man must be careful of his speech. Dr. Holcomb was often busy refuting; he could not understand the need of these little twistings of wisdom. It kept him in controversy; the brothers of his profession often took him to task for these little distorted scraps of philosophy. He did not like journalism. He had a way of consigning all writers and editors to the devil.

Which was vastly amusing to the reporters. Once they had him going they poised their pens in glee and began splashing their venomous ink. It was tragic; the great professor standing at bay to his tormentors. One and all they loved him and one and all they took delight in his torture. It was a hard task for a reporter to get in at a lecture; and yet it was often the lot of the professor to find himself and his words featured in his breakfast paper.

On the very day before this the doctor had come out with one of his terse startling statements. He had a way of inserting parenthetically some of his scraps of wisdom. It was in an Ethics class. We quote his words as near as possible:

"Man, let me tell you, is egotistic. All our philosophy is based on ego. We live threescore years and we balance it with all eternity. We are it. Did you ever stop and think of eternity? It is a rather long time. What right have we to say that life, which we assume to be everlasting, immediately becomes restrospect once it passes out of the conscious individuality which is allotted upon this earth? The trouble is ourselves. We are five-sensed. We weigh everything! We so measure eternity. Until we step out into other senses, which undoubtedly exist, we shall never arrive at the conception of infinity. Now I am going to make a rather startling announcement.

"The past few years have promised a culmination which has been guessed at and yearned for since the beginning of time. It is within, and still without, the scope of metaphysics. Those of you who have attended my lectures have heard me call myself the material idealist. I am a mystic sensationalist. I believe that we can derive nothing from pure contemplation. There is mystery and wonder in the veil of the occult. The earth, our life, is merely a vestibule of the universe. Contemplation alone will hold us all as inapt and as impotent as the old Monks of Athos. We have mountains of literature behind us, all contemplative, and whatever its wisdom, it has given us not one thing outside the abstract. From Plato down to the present our philosophy has given us not one tangible proof, not one concrete fact which we can place our hands on. We are virtually where we were originally; and we can talk, talk, talk from now until the clap of doomsday.

"What then?

"My friends, philosophy must take a step sidewise. In this modern age young science, practical science, has grown up and far surpassed us. We must go back to the beginning, forget our subjective musings and enter the concrete. We are five-sensed, and in the nature of things we must bring the proof down into the concrete where we can understand it. Can we pierce the nebulous screen that shuts us out of the occult? We have doubted, laughed at ourselves and been laughed at; but the fact remains that always we have persisted in the believing.

"I have said that we shall never, never understand infinity while within the limitations of our five senses. I repeat it. But that does not imply that we shall never solve some of the mystery of life. The occult is not only a supposition, but a fact. We have peopled it with terror, because, like our forebears before Columbus, we have peopled it with imagination.

"And now to my statement.

"I have called myself the Material Idealist. I have adopted an entirely new trend of philosophy. During the past years, unknown to you and unknown to my friends, I have allied myself with practical science. I desired something concrete. While my colleagues and others were pounding out tomes of wonderful sophistry I have been pounding away at the screen of the occult. This is a proud moment. I have succeeded. Tomorrow I shall bring to you the fact and the substance. I have lifted up the curtain and flooded it with the light of day. You shall have the fact for your senses. Tomorrow I shall explain it all. I shall deliver my greatest lecture; in which my whole Me has come to a focus. It is not spiritualism nor sophistry. It is concrete fact and common sense. The subject of my lecture tomorrow will be: 'The Blind Spot.'"

Here begins the second part of the mystery.

We know now that the great lecture was never delivered. Immediately the news was scattered out of the class-room. It became common property. It was spread over the country and was featured in all the great metropolitan dailies. In the lecture- room next morning seats were at a premium; students, professors, instructors and all the prominent people who could gain admission crowded into the hall; even the irrepressible reporters had stolen in to take down the greatest scoop of the century. The place was jammed until even standing room was unthought of. The crowd, dense and packed and physically uncomfortable, waited.

The minutes dragged by. It was a long, long wait. But at last the bell rang that ticked the hour. Every one was expectant. And then fifteen minutes passed by, twenty—the crowd settled down to waiting. At length one of the colleagues stepped into the doctor's office and telephoned to his home. His daughter answered.

"Father? Why he left over two hours ago."

"About what time?"

"Why, it was about seven-thirty. You know he was to deliver his lecture today on the Blind Spot. I wanted to hear it, but he told me I could have it at home. He said he was to have a wonderful guest and I must make ready to receive him. Isn't father there?" "Not yet. Who was this guest? Did he say?"

"Oh yes! In a way. A most wonderful man. And he gave him a wonderful name, Rhamda Avec. I remember because it is so funny. I asked father if he was Sanskrit; and he said he was much older than that. Just imagine!"

"Did your father have his lecture with him?"

"Oh, yes. He glanced over it at breakfast. He told me he was going to startle the world as it had never been since the day of Columbus."

"Indeed."

"Yes. And he was terribly impatient. He said he had to be at the college before eight to receive the great man. He was to deliver his lecture at ten. And afterward he would have lunch at noon and he would give me the whole story. I'm all impatience."

"Thank you."

Then he came back and made the announcement that there was a little delay; but that Dr. Holcomb would be there shortly. But he was not. At twelve o'clock there were still some people waiting. At one o'clock the last man had slipped out of the room—and wondered. In all the country there was but one person who knew. That one was an obscure man who had yielded to a detective's intuition and had fallen inadvertently upon one of the greatest mysteries of modern times.


Chapter 3 "NOW THERE ARE TWO"

The rest of the story is unfortunately all too easily told. We go back to Jerome and his strange companion.

At Centre Street station they alighted and walked up to the university. Under the Le Conte oaks they met the professor. He was trim and happy, his short, well-built figure clothed in black, his snow-white whiskers trimmed to the usual square crop and his pink skin glowing with splendid health. The fog had by this time lifted and the sun was just beginning to overcome the chilliness of the air. There was no necessity for an introduction.

The two men apparently recognised each other at once. So we have it from the detective. There was sincerity in the delight of their hand-clasp. A strange pair, both of them with the distinction and poise that come from refinement and intellectual training; though in physique they were almost opposite, there was still a strange, almost mutual, bond between them. Dr. Holcomb was beaming.

"At last!" he greeted. "At last! I was sure we could not fail. This, my dear Dr. Avec, is the greatest day since Columbus."

The other took the hand.

"So this is the great Dr. Holcomb. Yes, indeed, it is a great day; though I know nothing about your Columbus. So far it has been simply wonderful. I can scarcely credit my senses. So near and yet so far. How can it be? A dream? Are you sure, Dr. Holcomb?"

"My dear Rhamda, I am sure that I am the happiest man that ever lived. It is the culmination. I was certain we could not fail; though, of course, to me also it is an almost impossible climax of fact. I should never have succeeded without your assistance."

The other smiled.

"That was of small account, my dear doctor. To yourself must go the credit; to me the pleasure. Take your sun, for instance, I— but I have not the language to tell you."

But the doctor had gone in to abstraction.

"A great day," he was beaming. "A great day! What will the world say? It is proved." Then suddenly: "You have eaten?"

"Not yet. You must allow me a bit of time. I thought of it; but I had not quite the courage to venture."

"Then we shall eat," said the other man. "Afterward we shall go up to the lecture-room. Today I shall deliver my lecture on the Blind Spot. And when I am through you shall deliver the words that will astonish the world."

But here it seems there was a hitch. The other shook his head kindly. It was evident that while the doctor was the leader, the other was a co-worker who must be considered.

"I am afraid, professor, that you have promised a bit too much. I am not entirely free yet, you know. Two hours is the most that I can give you; and not entirely that. There are some details that may not be neglected. It is a far venture and now that we have succeeded this far there is surely no reason why we cannot go on. However, it is necessary that I return to the house on Chatterton Place. I have but slightly over an hour left."

The doctor was plainly disappointed.

"But the lecture?"

"It means my life, professor, and the subsequent success of our experiment. A few details, a few minutes. Perhaps if we hurry we can get back in time."

The doctor glanced at his watch. "Twenty minutes for the train, twenty minutes for the boat, ten minutes; that's an hour, two hours. These details? Have you any idea how long, Rhamda?"

"Perhaps not more than fifteen minutes."

"We have still two hours. Fifteen minutes; perhaps a little bit late. Tell you what. I shall go with you. You can get on the boat."

We have said that the detective had intuition. He had it still. Yet he had no rational reason for suspecting either the professor or his strange companion. Furthermore he had never heard of the Blind Spot in any way whatsoever; nor did he know a single thing of philosophy or anything else in Holcomb's teaching. He knew the doctor as a man of eminent standing and respectability. It was hardly natural that he should suspect anything sinister to grow out of this meeting of two refined scholars. He attached no great importance to the trend of their conversation. It was strange, to be sure; but he felt, no doubt, that living in their own world they had a way and a language of their own. He was no scholar.

Still, he could think. The man Rhamda had made an assertion that he could not quite uncover. It puzzled him. Something told him that for the safety of his old friend it might be well for him to shadow the strange pair to the city.

When the next train pulled out for the pier the two scholars were seated in the forward part of the car. In the last seat was a man deeply immersed in a morning paper.

It is rather unfortunate. In the natural delicacy of the situation Jerome could not crowd too closely. He had no certainty of trouble; no proof whatever; he was known to the professor. The best he could do was to keep aloof and follow their movements. At the ferry building they hailed a taxi and started up Market Street. Jerome watched them. In another moment he had another driver and was winding behind in their wheel tracks. The cab made straight for Chatterton Place. In front of a substantial two-story house it drew up. The two men alighted. Jerome's taxi passed them.

They were then at the head of the steps; a woman of slender beauty with a wonderful loose fold of black hair was talking. It seemed to the detective that her voice was fearful, of a pregnant warning, that she was protesting. Nevertheless, the old men entered and the door slammed behind them. Jerome slipped from the taxi and spoke a few words to the driver. A moment later the two men were holding the house under surveillance.

They did not have long to wait. The man called Rhamda had asked for fifteen minutes. At the stroke of the second the front door re-opened. Someone was laughing; a melodious enchanting laugh and feminine. A woman was speaking. And then there were two forms in the doorway. A man and a woman. The man was Rhamda Avec, tall, immaculate, black clad and distinguished. The woman, Jerome was not certain that she was the same who opened the door or not; she was even more beautiful. She was laughing. Like her companion she was clad in black, a beautiful shimmering material which sparkled in the sun like the rarest silk. The man glanced carelessly up and down the street for a moment. Then he assisted the lady down the steps and into the taxi. The door slammed; and before the detective could gather his scattered wits they were lost in the city.

Jerome was expecting the professor. Naturally when the door opened he looked for the old gentleman and his companion. It was the doctor he was watching, not the other. Though he had no rational reason for expecting trouble he had still his hunch and his intuition. The man and woman aroused suspicion; and likewise upset his calculation. He could not follow them and stay with the professor. It was a moment for quick decision. He wondered. Where was Dr. Holcomb? This was the day he was to deliver his lecture on the Blind Spot. He had read the announcement in the paper on the way back, together with certain comments by the editor. In the lecture itself there was mystery. This strange one, Rhamda, was mixed in the Blind Spot. Undoubtedly he was the essential fact and substance. Until now he had not scented tragedy. Why had Rhamda and the woman come out together? Where was the professor?

Where indeed?

At the end of a half-hour Jerome ventured across the street. He noted the number 288. Then he ascended the steps and clanged at the knocker. From the sounds that came from inside, the place was but partly furnished. Hollow steps sounded down the hallway, shuffling, like weary bones dragging slippers. The door opened and an old woman, very old, peered out of the crack. She coughed. Though it was not a loud cough it seemed to the detective that it would be her last one; there was so little of her.

"Pardon me, but is Dr. Holcomb here?"

The old lady looked up at him. The eyes were of blank expressionless blue; she was in her dotage.

"You mean—oh, yes, I think so, the old man with the white whiskers. He was here a few minutes ago, with that other. But he just went out, sir, he just went out."

"No, I don't think so. There was a man went out and a woman. But not Dr. Holcomb."

"A woman? There was no woman."

"Oh, yes, there was a woman—a very beautiful one."

The old lady dropped her hand. It was trembling.

"Oh, dear," she was saying. "This makes two. This morning it was a man and now it is a woman, that makes two."

It seemed to the man as he looked down in her eyes that he was looking into great fear; she was so slight and frail and helpless and so old; such a fragile thing to bear burden and trouble. Her voice was cracked and just above a shrill whisper, almost uncanny. She kept repeating:

"Now there are two. Now there are two. That makes two. This morning there was one. Now there are two."

Jerome could not understand. He pitied the old lady.

"Did you say that Dr. Holcomb is here?"

Again she looked up: the same blank expression, she was evidently trying to gather her wits.

"Two. A woman. Dr. Holcomb. Oh, yes, Dr. Holcomb. Won't you come in?"

She opened the door.

Jerome entered and took off his hat. Judicially he repeated the doctor's name to keep it in her mind. She closed the door carefully and touched his arm. It seemed to him that she was terribly weak and tottering; her old eyes, however expressionless, were full of pitiful pleading. She was scarcely more than a shadow.

"You are his son?"

Jerome lied; but he did it for a reason. "Yes."

"Then come."

She took him by the sleeve and led him to a room, then across it to a door in the side wall. Her step was slow and feeble; twice she stopped to sing the dirge of her wonder. "First a man and then a woman. Now there is one. You are his son." And twice she stopped and listened. "Do you hear anything? A bell? I love to hear it: and then afterward I am afraid. Did you ever notice a bell? It always makes you think of church and the things that are holy. This is a beautiful bell—first—"

Either the woman was without her reason or very nearly so: she was very frail.

"Come, mother, I know, first a bell, but Dr. Holcomb?"

The name brought her back again. For a moment she was blank trying to recall her senses. And then she remembered. She pointed to the door.

"In there—Dr. Holcomb. That's where they come. That's where they go. Dr. Holcomb. The little old man with the beautiful whiskers. This morning it was a man; now it is a woman. Now there are two. Oh, dear; perhaps we shall hear the bell."

Jerome began to scent a tragedy. Certainly the old lady was uncanny; the house was bare and hollow; the scant furniture was threadbare with age and mildew; each sound was exaggerated and fearful, even their breathing. He placed his hand on the knob and opened the door.

"Now there are two. Now there are two."

The room was empty. Not a bit of furniture; a blank, bare apartment with an old-fashioned high ceiling. Nothing else. Whatever the weirdness and adventure, Jerome was getting nowhere. The old lady was still clinging to his arm and still droning:

"Now there are two. Now there are two. This morning a man; now a woman. Now there are two."

"Come, mother, come. This will not do. Perhaps—"

But just then the old lady's lean fingers clinched into his arm; her eyes grew bright; her mouth opened and she stopped in the middle of her drone. Jerome grew rigid. And no wonder. From the middle of the room not ten feet away came the tone of a bell, a great silvery voluminous sound—and music. A church bell. Just one stroke, full toned, filling all the air till the whole room was choked with music. Then as suddenly it died out and faded into nothing. At the same time he felt the fingers on his arm relax; and a heap was at his feet. He reached over. The life and intelligence that was so near the line was just crossing over the border. The poor old lady! Here was a tragedy he could not understand. He stooped over to assist her. He was trembling. As he did so he heard the drone of her soul as it wafted to the shadow:

"Now there are two."


Chapter 4 GONE

Jerome was a strong man, of iron nerve, and well set against emotion; in the run of his experience he had been plumped into many startling situations; but none like this. The croon of the old lady thrummed in his ears with endless repetition. He picked her up tenderly and bore her to another room and placed her on a ragged sofa. There were still marks on her face of former beauty. He wondered who she was and what had been her life to come to such an ending.

"Now there are two," the words were withering with oppression. Subconsciously he felt the load that crushed her spirit. It was as if the burden had been shifted; he sensed the weight of an unaccountable disaster.

The place was musty and ill-lighted. He looked about him, the dank, close air was unwashed by daylight. A stray ray of sunshine filtering through the broken shutter slanted across the room and sought vainly to dispel the shadow. He thought of Dr. Holcomb and the old lady. "Now there are two." Was it a double tragedy? First of all he must investigate.

The place was of eleven rooms, six downstairs and five on the upper story. With the exception of one broken chair there was no furniture upstairs; four of the rooms on the lower floor were partly furnished, two not at all. A rear room had evidently been to the old lady the whole of her habitation, serving as a kitchen, bedroom, and living-room combined. Except in this room there were no carpets what-ever. His steps sounded hollow and ghostly; the boards creaked and each time he opened a door he was oppressed by the same gloom of dankness and stagnation. There was no trace of Dr. Holcomb.

He remembered the bell and sought vainly on both floors for anything that would give him a clue to the sound. There was nothing. The only thing he heard was the echoing of his own creaking footsteps and the unceasing tune that dinned in his spirit, "Now there are two."

At last he came to the door and looked out into the street. The sun was shining and the life and pulse was rising from the city. It was daylight; plain, healthy day. It was good to look at. On the threshold of the door he felt himself standing on the border of two worlds. What had become of the doctor and who was the old lady; and lastly and just as important, who was the Rhamda and his beautiful companion?

Jerome telephoned to headquarters.

It was a strange case.

At the precise minute when his would-be auditors were beginning to fidget over his absence, the police of San Francisco had started the search for the great doctor. Jerome had followed his intuition. It had led him into a tragedy and he was ready to swear almost on his soul that it was twofold. The prominence of the professor, together with his startling announcement of the day previous and the world-wide comment that it had aroused, elevated the case to a national interest.

What was the Blind Spot? The world conjectured, and like the world has been since beginning, it scoffed and derided. Some there were, however, men well up in the latest discoveries of science, who did not laugh. They counselled forbearance; they would wait for the doctor and his lecture.

There was no lecture. In the teeth of our expectation came the startling word that the doctor had disappeared. Apparently when on the very verge of announcing his discovery he had been swallowed by the very force that he had loosened. There was nothing in known science outside of optics, that could in any way be blended with the Blind Spot. There were but two solutions; either the professor had been a victim of a clever rogue, or he had been overcome by the rashness of his own wisdom. At any rate, it was known from that minute on as "THE BLIND SPOT."

Perhaps it is just as well to take up the findings of the police. The police of course never entertained any suggestion of the occult. They are material; and were convinced from the start that the case had its origin in downright villainy. Man is complex; but being so, is oft overbalanced by evil Some genius had made a fool of the doctor.

In the first place a thorough search was made for the professor. The house at No. 288 Chatterton Place was ransacked from cellar to attic. The records were gone over and it was found that the property had for some time been vacant; that the real ownership was vested in a number of heirs scattered about the country.

The old lady had apparently been living on the place simply through sufferance. No one could find out who she was. A few tradesman in the vicinity had sold her some scant supplies and that was all. The stress that Jerome placed upon her actions and words was; given its due account. There were undoubtedly two villains; but there were two victims. That the old lady was such as well as the professor no one has doubted. The whole secret lay in the gentleman with the Eastern cast and complexion. Who was Rhamda Avec?

And now comes the strangest part of the story. Ever, when we re- count the tale, there is something to overturn the theories of the police. It has become a sort of legend in San Francisco; one to be taken with a grain of salt, to be sure, but for all that, one at which we may well wonder. Here the supporters of the professor's philosophy hold their strongest point—if it is true. Of course we can venture no private opinion, never having been a witness. It is this:

Rhamda Avec is with us and in our city. His description and drawn likeness have been published many times. There are those who aver that they have seen him in reality of the flesh walking through the crowds of Market Street.

He is easily distinguished, tall and distinctive, refined to a high degree, and with the poise and alertness of a gentleman of reliance and character. Women look twice and wonder; he is neither old nor young; when he smiles it is like youth breaking in laughter. And with him often is his beautiful companion.

Men vouch for her beauty and swear that it is of the kind that drives to distraction. She is fire and flesh and carnal—she is more than beauty. There is allurement about her body; sylph-like, sinuous; the olive tint of her complexion, the wonderful glory of her hair and the glowing night-black of her eyes. Men pause; she is of the superlative kind that robs the reason, a supreme glory of passion and life and beauty, at whose feet fools and wise men would slavishly frolic and folly. She seldom speaks, but those who have heard her say that it is like rippling water, of gentleness and softness and of the mellow flow that comes from love and passion and from beauty.

Of course there is nothing out of the ordinary in their walking down the streets. Anybody might do that. The wonder comes in the manner in which they elude the police. They come and go in the broad, bright daylight. Hundreds have seen them. They make no effort at concealment, nor disguise. And yet no phantoms were ever more unreal than they to those who seek them. Who are they? The officers have been summoned on many occasions; but each and every time in some manner or way they had contrived to elude them. There are some who have consigned them to the limbo of illusion. But we do not entirely agree.

In a case like this it is well to take into consideration the respectability and character of those who have witnessed. Phantoms are not corporeal; these two are flesh and blood. There is mystery about them; but they are substance, the same as we are.

And lastly:

If you will take the Key Route ferry some foggy morning you may see something to convince you. It must be foggy and the air must be grey and drab and sombre. Take the lower deck. Perhaps you will see nothing. If not try again; for they say you shall be rewarded. Watch the forward part of the boat; but do not leave the inner deck. The great Rhamda watching the grey swirl of the water!

He stands alone, in his hands the case of reddish leather, his feet slightly apart and his face full of a great hungry wonder. Watch his features: they are strong and aglow with a great and wondrous wisdom; mark if you see evil. And remember. Though he is like you he is something vastly different. He is flesh and blood; but perhaps the master of one of the greatest laws that man can attain to. He is the fact and the substance that was promised, but was not delivered by the professor.

This account has been largely taken from one of the Sunday editions of our papers. I do not agree with it entirely. Nevertheless, it will serve as an excellent foundation for my own adventures; and what is best of all, save labour.