From the method of progress employed by the Lambert family, one
would have gained the impression that the correct way to approach
an explosion was on tiptoe. There was something reverential yet
subduedly daring about the small procession as it silently moved
down the long hallway leading to the laboratory. It was as if its
members were preparing themselves to gaze upon the face of an
important but erratic corpse.
Daphne alone of the expedition's personnel was sincerely
concerned about the safety of her uncle. She had no desire to find
him scattered all over the place. Daphne was fond of her uncle. He
constituted the larger part of her world—the more inhabitable part.
Without him she would be thrust back into the narrow confines of
her immediate family. Under such circumstances, she felt, life
would hardly be worth the effort. Hunter Hawk was for her an escape
and a revelation. He appealed to her imagination and added a small
dash of colour to her rather empty days. She entertained for him
the healthily selfish devotion of her twenty-one years, the
majority of which, she decided, had been shamefully wasted—the
years before she had been brought to live in Hunter Hawk's home.
Yet she was well aware of the fact that he was not much of an
uncle. He was neither whimsical, dashing, nor debauched, one of
which, at least, she had gained from her voracious reading, an
uncle had to be, or else he was hardly any sort of an uncle at all.
It was only on rare occasions that this uncle of hers realized she
was alive. For the most part he went silently about his wondering
way and did strange and mysterious things with impossible looking
instruments in the privacy of his laboratory. Occasionally he
indulged in an explosion. Daphne had come to believe that what a
periodical binge meant to some men these explosions meant to her
uncle. They served to relieve his feelings, and she was surprised
at his moderation in confining them to only one section of the
house. Quite frequently Daphne Lambert felt like blowing up the
entire neighbourhood, especially that part of it which at the time
chanced to be inhabited by her mother, father, and brother.
Sometimes she would catch her uncle looking at her with an
expression of mild astonishment in his dark, biting, and invariably
delving eyes. Whenever this occurred, the girl for some
inexplicable reason experienced a sensation of inner elation. There
was always something maliciously challenging in his gaze, some
derogatory reservation. She more than a little suspected that since
the ruthless incursion of her family he had dimly felt that his
home had been more or less taken away from him and that this side
of bloodshed he was unable to figure out just what to do about it.
Also she suspected that Hunter Hawk almost constantly carried about
with him great quantities of violent yet unexpressed exasperation
engendered by his sister, her husband, and their son. The three of
them were enough to do terrible things to the most loosely
constructed system of nerves.
Between her grandfather and her uncle there seemed to exist a
sort of acrimonious bond of sympathy. True enough, the old man
would have gladly seen him dead and welcomed the occasion as a
pleasant interlude in the monotonous march of time. However, this
meant nothing. The old man would have welcomed virtually anyone's
death with the exception of his own. His son, his daughter-in-law,
and the horrid results of their combined efforts to create an heir
in the semblance of man he heartily detested. He had been forced to
listen to their conversation for too many years. For Daphne he
entertained the envious regard of the unregenerate and senile male.
This young lady now paused with her hand on the knob of the
'Perhaps we should have brought a basket,' she suggested as she
grimly surveyed the expectant faces.
'How can you!' exclaimed her mother in a tremulous voice.
The girl threw open the door, and the four of them stood gazing
in upon the wreck of the laboratory. It was a long, high-raftered
apartment filled with more than enough instruments and
paraphernalia to satiate the lust for descriptive detail of an
avalanche of Sinclair Lewises.
There were several long tables supporting innumerable objects
only remotely connected with life. Much of the equipment Hunter
Hawk had been forced to devise himself. There were test tubes,
Bunsen burners, pressure tanks, dynamos, mixing slabs, and all
sorts of electrical appliances. In fact, almost everything seemed
to be in that laboratory except a vacuum cleaner and Hunter Hawk
himself. Most of the objects now lay smashed and twisted on the
floor. It was like the disintegration of a bad dream. All of the
windows were shattered, and innumerable jars and bottles carpeted
the floor with their fragments. Heavy, evil-smelling clouds of
gaseous vapour drifted casually about the room, while through these
clouds from time to time appeared various bits of wreckage.
At the far end of the room a small but intense white light
streaming from a huge wire-filled glass tube was splashing its rays
against a silver ball about the size of an adult pea. From the
other end of this tube a green light of equal intensity was
treating another little silver ball in a like manner. These balls
were poised about one foot from the floor at the ends of two thin
rods. How they retained their positions during the violence of the
explosion remains one of the many mysteries that Hunter Hawk never
saw any occasion to elucidate.
'It must have blown the poor chap clean through one of the
windows,' remarked Mr Lambert at last, in an awed but hopeful
voice. 'No man could have lived through such a shock as that must
'Poor, poor Hunter,' murmured the exploded one's sister. 'We did
everything we could to discourage him, but he would persist. I knew
this would happen one day.'
She hesitated and looked apprisingly about the long room. An
acquisitive light was growing in her eyes.
'This place could easily be made into a perfectly charming
lounge and breakfast room,' she unconsciously mused aloud. 'Long
yellow drapes and the right sort of furniture. We might even try
this modern stuff for a change.'
'Make a bang-up billiard room,' commented Alfred Lambert, with a
trace of wistfulness in his voice. 'I could entertain my friends
'Say, Mom,' demanded Junior, his tongue growing thick with
anticipation, 'does it all come to us—the house and the money and
'Everything,' replied Mrs Lambert with crisp finality. 'All. I
am his next of kin.'
'You're his only next of kin, aren't you?' her husband demanded
in sudden alarm.
'I am,' said Mrs Lambert complacently. 'The poor boy's only
sister. Of course, there's Daphne and Junior.'
'Then that settles that,' said Mr Lambert with obvious relief.
'No legal complications. Lucky for us he never married, eh, my
Mr Lambert slapped his son jovially on the back.
'Lucky for some poor girl,' was Junior's bright reply.
A sound like a strangled sob, only more frustrated and
inarticulate, drifted weirdly through the room.
'Did anyone hear that?' Alice Lambert demanded with a startled
light in her eyes.
Apparently no one had.
'Must have been the wind,' replied her husband impatiently. 'Now
what about the size of his estate, roughly speaking?'
Daphne had been peering through the various broken windows in
the hope of finding her uncle or some part of her uncle.
'Of course,' she remarked, sensing the drift of the conversation
as she approached the self-congratulatory little group, 'it will be
necessary for you to produce the body before you can claim the
estate. Anyone who knows his R. Austin Freeman even sketchily must
realize that corpus delicti is one of the first
'My God!' Alfred exclaimed. 'Daphne's right. We've forgotten all
about the body.'
'And perhaps there still flickers within it a small glimmer of
life,' said Daffy. 'What then?' At this uncongenial suggestion
Alfred's cheerful face darkened perceptibly.
'He couldn't possibly have lived through this,' he replied, as
if striving to reassure himself. 'It wouldn't be normal.'
'He never was normal,' Mrs Lambert observed gloomily.
A furious chattering sound suddenly broke out above in the
smoke-draped rafters. It was almost animal in its inability to
express the full burden of its emotions.
Daphne's heart skidded round several sharp corners and came up
with a thump against her ribs. A triumphant smile lighted up her
face as she gazed aloft. Her mother, father, and brother stood
looking at one another in guilty desolation. Each was trying to
recall exactly what had been said and exactly who had said it. A
heavy reluctance now weighted their tongues which only a moment ago
had wagged so glibly. With an effort they brought themselves to
follow the direction of Daffy's delighted gaze. A gas cloud drifted
away revealing the long, lean, angular body of Hunter Hawk
precariously draped on a rafter. It was like the unveiling of a
statue of impotent rage. The man's mouth was opening and shutting
without any apparent reason. Every time he endeavoured to bring
gesticulation to the aid of speech he lost his balance and nearly
fell from his perch. The frantic clutching necessary to restore his
equilibrium served only to increase the violence of his anger.
Exhausted at last by the uselessness of his efforts he fell face
forward on the rafter and lay panting.
His straight black hair fell in a dark shingle over his left
eye. He made no effort to remove the obstruction but gazed
balefully down at them with his free one. It was big, black, and
smouldering. An expression of utter weariness lay across his
tanned, deeply lined face. Sweat beaded his forehead. His hollow
cheeks were unbecomingly dappled with dark smudges. There was a
large rent in the right sleeve of his jacket. It hung down over his
hand and interfered with his grip on the rafter. This had added to
his irritation. He had now abandoned all effort to keep the sleeve
up and was grasping the rafter through it. His large, ungainly nose
showed evidence of having recently bled. In his present state of
disrepair he looked many years over the thirty-seven that
rightfully belonged to him.
'Oh, Hunter,' his sister began with a desperate rush. 'You've
made us all so anxious. We were just—'
'Yellow drapes,' he gritted.
'Yes, my boy,' Alfred cut in throatily. 'Thank God you're alive
and safe. I was beginning to fear—'
'Billiards! Billiards!' Hawk spluttered. 'Ha!'
He fixed Junior with his one clear eye and proceeded to bore
into the very marrow of that uneasy youth.
'Go on!' he said in a dead voice. 'Go on, you little nit. Make
your speech. It's your turn. Tell me some more about that lucky
girl I didn't marry.'
Junior dropped his gaze and became absorbed in contemplating the
extreme tips of his collegiate sport shoes.
'Don't know what you're driving at,' he mumbled.
'I'll drive at you if I ever get down from this rafter,' said
Daffy grinned her appreciation. Her uncle darted a one-eyed
glance at her, then disconcertingly closed that eye. It immediately
snapped open again and came to rest on his sister.
'Now don't start in on Junior,' she began defensively. 'You've
upset us enough as it is for one day—you and your silly explosions.
The whole neighbourhood is talking about it. Isn't it about time
you gave up this sort of thing?'
'Yes, Hunter,' spoke up Alfred, emboldened by his wife's words.
'You're subjecting us all to danger, you know. My boy here says his
friends are laughing at him now—the nephew of a mad uncle.'
'Oh-o-o-o-o,' mouthed Mr Hawk, unable to form words.
'Oh-o-o-o—down—down I wanna—at him.'
His poorly expressed wish was almost granted. Mrs Lambert
uttered a little cry as he swayed perilously on his rafter. Junior
placed a hand on his father's arm and tried to strike an attitude
of outraged youth. The room became quiet save for the gasping of
its presiding deity on the rafter. He rallied gamely, however, and
made an effort to pull himself together.
'Oh, shut up,' he said at last, somewhat inanely, inasmuch as no
one was saying a thing at the moment. 'Shut up and go away
somewhere. Go soak your heads. Get the hell out of here, or I'll
blow the whole damn house up. Daffy, you stay with me.'
'Well, I must say this is hardly the treatment one would expect
after all our trouble and anxiety,' Mrs Lambert announced
'Yellow drapes,' shouted her brother. 'Modern furniture. Bah!
Nothing goes to you. Not a plugged nickel.'
His sister hastily swallowed a projected retort and, closely
accompanied by her son and husband, sailed majestically from the
room. They were altogether too wise in the ways of life to attempt
to enrol the sympathies of Daphne or to coerce her to join the
ranks of the insulted and injured. After all, Hunter Hawk was
tremendously wealthy in his own name, and he did seem to be rather
fond of his niece, the least lovable member of the family. It was
just like him. Now, if only it had been Junior…
'Hello, aloft,' called Daffy as soon as the door was closed, 'do
you want me to get you a ladder? I know where one lives. A long
one. Betts could help.'
'A ladder,' repeated Mr Hawk, blinking down at her. 'I don't
like ladders. I don't trust ladders. And if Betts gets a look at
this room he'll make remarks. I can stand no more remarks. No. No
ladder. Don't need one.'
'Would you care to have some dinner flung up at you and a couple
of sheets for to-night?'
'I'm coming down directly.'
'Listen,' said the scientist ingratiatingly. 'It's all very
simple. There's no occasion for any excitement or rushing about. I
hate excitement and rushing about.'
'I suppose being blown about is an entirely different
'It is. I don't choose to be blown about, you know. In spite of
what the rest of your family says, I really have no fondness for
explosions. They are merely the less agreeable results of
'Don't be an old hypocrite. You know perfectly well you couldn't
get along without your explosions.'
'I'm afraid I won't be able to get along very much longer with
them. But, listen. I've figured it all out. It's simplicity itself.
All you have to do is to come over here and stand directly beneath
this rafter. Then I'll drop my feet down to your shoulders… '
'And then?' inquired Daffy.
'And then?' here a rather vague, covering note crept into his
voice. 'And then we'll manage to get down the rest of the way
without the aid of the ladder.'
'What do you mean by "we"? You're the one on a rafter, not
'I realise that,' said her uncle amicably. 'And I'm depending on
you to do something constructive about it. Come on over here,
Daffy. You're a great, strong, strapping young girl. You can get me
down somehow. Come on over.'
Daffy, with the resignation of one accustomed to temporize with
inebriates, children, and maniacs, placed herself beneath the
rafter occupied by her uncle.
'I hope to God your divine confidence isn't misplaced,' she
'Everything will be all right,' Mr Hawk assured her as, with the
reckless abandon of a man who has little left to live for, he
heavily drooped his large feet upon Daphne's shrinking shoulders
and released his hold on the rafter. The celerity with which this
manoeuvre was performed took the girl entirely by surprise.
'What goes on? What goes on?' she managed to get out as she
strove to keep her knees from buckling beneath her.
'Stop prancing about like that,' the man of science complained.
'This is no time for larking.'
'Larking,' came painfully from between the girl's clenched
teeth. 'Lolling about, why don't you say?'
After this there was no more conversation for some moments,
packed with intense anxiety for the fluctuating Mr Hawk. The
silence of the room was broken only by the sound of unsteadily
shuffling feet, a flight of staccato grunts, and several long,
'Well,' gasped Daffy bitterly. 'What are you going to do, live
'Damn it all, what can I do? You've got a strangle-hold on both
my ankles.' Hawk's voice was equally bitter. 'Can't you crouch down
'Oh, God, what a man,' groaned his niece and collapsed
unconditionally to the wreck-strewn floor of the laboratory beneath
yard after yard of unupholstered uncle.
'Didn't hurt me at all,' he announced triumphantly as he
uncoiled great lengths of himself from the small of Daffy's back.
'How did you make out?'
'Not at all well,' replied Daffy. 'Rather poorly, if you must
know. But I'm glad it didn't hurt you. Would you like to try it
'It saved all the bother of getting the ladder, anyway.'
'You certainly must loathe ladders to subject another human
being to such brutal punishment,' replied the girl. 'Did you ever
get into any trouble with a ladder?'
With another unladylike grunt she rolled over and struggled to a
sitting position beside her uncle.
'Well,' she observed, surveying him critically, 'you must be a
tough son of a gun to have come through that alive.'
'Do I look all mussed?' asked Mr Hawk.
'You're not quite at your best,' she replied.
'I'd like to see you after an explosion,' said Hawk.
'You see enough of me as it is,' answered Daffy. 'After a thing
like that you'd see too much.'
Hunter Hawk gazed about the laboratory with professional
'This is about the best yet,' he remarked philosophically.
'It is, Hunter. It is. You should feel greatly encouraged. This
is about the biggest thing you've done so far in the way of
'Thanks, Daffy. Wonder what became of Blotto? The poor beast was
here when the thing happened.'
'If it blew you up to the rafters, Blotto must be well on his
way to Mars.'
'Hate to have anything happen to Blotto,' said Hunter. 'Here,
boy, where are you? Blotto you dumb clown!'
From a corner of the room came the sound of diligent scraping.
Presently the head of an animal not totally unlike a dog, yet far
from being the living image of one, cautiously appeared above the
rim of a table. With deep suspicion two black beady eyes studied
the pair on the floor. A moist nose quivered delicately as it
sniffed the malodorous air. One tan ear pointed starchily aloft.
The other, a soiled white, was not doing nearly so well. The
farthest north it was able to achieve was a rakishly tilted flop.
As the dog shifted his gaze and looked about the laboratory
something like an expression of dismay came into its eyes.
'He doesn't like it at all,' commented Hunter. 'Come here,
Blotto, for a minute.'
Blotto placed two putty-like paws on the edge of the table, let
go of them, and allowed their weight to drag his rump into view. It
was a most disreputable-looking rump, shaggy, unenterprising, and
hurriedly patched here and there with odd scraps of black and tan.
There was a large tail on the extreme end of it, a willowy object
composed chiefly of hair and burrs. Originally it had been
When Blotto had finally surmounted the obstruction he undulated
across the room and stood looking inquiringly into his master's
face. Hunter took the dog in his arms and felt him carefully, while
Blotto, with his tongue sprawling out, gazed from his inverted
position at Daffy, the whites of his eyes unpleasantly displayed.
Releasing the low-geared, supine creature, Hawk arose and stretched
his long legs.
'No bones broken,' he announced.
'All bones broken,' said Daffy, 'and flesh bruised.'
She followed his example.
Blotto, as if trying to satisfy himself as to exactly what had
happened, ranged busily about the room. His tour of inspection
completed, he stood at the far end of the laboratory and wagged his
tail in appreciation of the fact that he was still alive. Suddenly
and most disconcertingly for everybody concerned, but much more so
for Blotto, of course, the mop-like appendage refused to wag. For
one brief moment it had dipped its extreme tip into the rays of
white light on its blinding passage to the little silver ball.
'Look!' exclaimed Daffy, pointing at the dog. 'Something has
happened to Blotto.'
Something had happened to Blotto. To be exact, something had
happened to Blotto's tail, but just what it was the astounded dog
was unable to figure out. Concentrating what little power he had on
this recalcitrant member, he strove desperately to make it perform
its proper functions. Not a wag. Not even a quiver. An expression
of sharp anxiety sprang into Blotto's eyes. He cocked his head over
his shoulder and thoughtfully scrutinized his tail. Yes. He could
tell at a glance that there was something radically wrong with it.
It neither looked the same nor felt the same. Instead of the white,
fluffy brush in which he was wont to take so much pride, the tail
was now a formidable, implacable-looking club. Not one hair that
contributed its quota of glory to the tout ensemble even
so much as stirred. It might as well have been a thing of stone,
bereft of life and purpose. And the affair was heavy, decidedly
heavier than could be conveniently managed. Obviously it was no
sort of tail to go carrying about with one. Apart from the
ill-conceived merriment it would evoke, there was the question of
fatigue. Would he be forced to remain in one place because of an
abnormal tail? Were his amorous excursions at an end? Competition,
God knows, was close enough, but with such a tail—impossible!
Unwilling to entertain this tragic thought, the overwrought
Blotto made a final effort. This time he completely reversed the
familiar order of the operation. Instead of wagging his tail he
violently wagged himself. Behind him the tail swung ponderously, so
ponderously in fact that Blotto was thrown off his balance and was
forced to do some pretty clever footwork to keep from falling over.
This was just a little too much for the dog. He sat down heavily
and washed his hands of the tail. But Blotto was to discover that
no dog can completely wash its hands of its tail. His, for example,
clattered noisily on the floor behind him. The dog looked seriously
disturbed. He stealthily curved his head back over his shoulder and
approached his shrinking nose to the tail. Then with a great effort
he touched it with the extreme tip of his tongue. To his horror he
discovered that it was as cold and unresponsive as a stone. He
suspected it was a stone.
It speaks well for the dog's strength of character that in spite
of his obvious disinclination to have anything further to do with
that tail he pursued his investigations to the end. With a
tentative paw he reached back and gently pushed the unnatural
manifestation. The noise it made as it scraped across the floor
caused him hurriedly to avert his eyes. Blotto was sweating. His
gaze sought his master. If he wanted a dog with a stone tail it was
up to him to do something about it—put it on wheels or something.
Blotto could do no more.
'By all the gods,' said Hawk in a hushed voice, 'I believe I've
done it at last, Daffy.'
'What have you done now?'
'Turned that dog's tail into a statue, or, at least, a part of a
'I never knew that turning the tails of dogs into statues was
one of your aims in life.'
'You don't quite understand. I have succeeded in achieving
complete cellular petrification through atomic disintegration.'
'You mean Blotto has.'
'Observe,' continued Hawk, seizing the outraged dog and holding
him upside down. 'Isn't it a beauty? Regard that tail. As if carved
by a sculptor's hand. The white ray turns it to stone. The green
one changes it back to its normal state. I can now make both rays
invisible and retain the same action.'
'I think Blotto would appreciate a slight dash of green,' said
Daffy. 'I know I would, under the circumstances.'
'I'll fix him up in a minute,' said Hawk enthusiastically.
He turned and dipped the dog's tail into the green ray.
Instantly, and to Blotto's intense relief, the tail returned to its
former unlovely state. Hawk then set the dog on its legs. For a
moment Blotto regarded his restored member reproachfully. What had
the damn thing been doing with itself anyway—trying to make its
owner look foolish? Then Blotto did a very silly thing. He
viciously bit his tail. The sudden yelp of pain and indignation
arising from this short-sighted attempt at retaliation eloquently
testified to the complete success of the restoration. Then, with a
sudden revulsion of spirit for which he was noted, Blotto bounded
to his feet and performed hitherto unachieved altitudes in the line
of wagging. It would be just as well, he decided, to register his
satisfaction with his tail as it was, or else the same misfortune
might overtake it again.
Thus did Blotto, a dog of low and irregular birth, contribute to
one of the most spectacular discoveries of modern science.
'I hate to seem to fly so unceremoniously into your ointment,'
remarked Daffy, 'but now that you've got it what are you going to
do with it?'
For a moment Hunter Hawk's face went perfectly blank. 'What am I
going to do with it?' he repeated slowly. 'Why, I hadn't thought
'Well, you'd better begin to think about it.'
'Right off, for one thing,' he said, his face clearing and a
malicious light gleaming in his dark eyes, 'we can have a bit of
fun with it.'
'Nice man,' remarked Daffy, for the first time permitting
herself to smile. 'Lovely character. And just for a bit of fun
you've been cheerfully blowing yourself to pieces for God knows how
Mr Hawk looked at her broodingly.
'You know what happened to Blotto's tail?' he asked her.
'I'll never quite forget,' replied Daffy. 'Neither will
'Well,' continued Hawk, looking warningly at what he was
thinking about, 'if you don't want to chip when you sit down you'd
better keep a respectful tongue in your head, or I'll splash yours
with a dash of white.'
'Sweet scientist,' said Daffy. 'Lofty mind.'