The Dumb Gods Speak - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Dumb Gods Speak ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Opis

This mystery that takes place in 1947 in Nice about conflicting political goals between an American and a Chinese. Shortly thereafter, the granting of independence to the Philippine Islands by the United States, Japan attempts to seize them by force. When the Japanese attempt to invade the newly freed islands, their entire fleet is destroyed by a single battleship of the United States Navy using a weapon that concentrates and amplifies electric currents in the earth’s atmosphere. Much of the story concerns the current state of government of China and Russia, both of which are seen as lawless tyrannies. It is more than slightly ironic that the goal of the heroes is to use advanced technologies to restore the monarchy to these two countries, much in keeping with Oppenheim’s traditionalism.

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Liczba stron: 443

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Contents

FOREWORD

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER XXXIII

CHAPTER XXXIV

FOREWORD

Seven men were seated around a table in a magnificently proportioned but plainly furnished room on the topmost floor of the famous Humberstone Building. That they were men of consequence was evident by their appearance and general bearing. That they were assembled for a serious purpose was clearly apparent from the general atmosphere of gravity and suspense. They appeared to be mostly between the ages of thirty-five and fifty, except for one who might have been a few years older, and who was dressed in the sombre garb of an ecclesiastic of high rank. They sat in silence save for an occasional uneasy observation. They had all moved their chairs to a slight angle as though to be able to face one side of the room, into the wall of which had been set two large sheets of some sort of metal, the top sheet smooth, the lower one honeycombed with small interstices. Suddenly the man at the end of the oval table raised his finger.

“Humberstone is coming,” he announced.

They all turned towards the folding doors, which at that moment swung open. An invalid’s couch on rubber-tyred wheels was pushed quietly into the room by a tall, well-built young man of athletic appearance, but with strongly chiselled features and the fine high forehead of a student. Everyone seated in the room rose for a moment. The man upon the couch, who was propped up into an al most sitting posture, raised his hand in salutation. The couch was wheeled to a convenient position, from which its occupant could see every one of the seven men. His hungry eyes, still bright and powerful, deep-set in his worn face, familiar to the world through the ceaseless efforts of decades of photographers, swept around the table. He ad dressed the man directly opposite him, a man of middle-age and dignified presence. He spoke slowly and his voice was thin. Nevertheless it was marvellously distinct.

“I must conserve my words,” he said. “Digby Long, you are here to represent the President?”

“That is so, Mark,” was the friendly reply. “As Vice President of the United States I am empowered to sign any papers you may present, or to come to any agreement with you which I may consider desirable.”

“I must remind myself of the personality of each one of you,” the man on the couch went on. “I must satisfy my self that you are all here, for my physicians, who are wait ing outside, have issued their last warning.”

No one attempted any sort of conventional protest. There was, indeed, something grotesque in the idea of death venturing to lay its stranglehold upon a man who had defied and conquered so many of the elemental laws of nature. Words would have seemed utterly inadequate. They kept silent.

“You, General, I remember perfectly,” he continued, indicating the Vice President’s neighbour–a fine man of military appearance. “You are General Percheron, Commander in Chief of the Army.”

“That is so, sir,” was the quiet acknowledgment. “Glad you have not forgotten me.”

“Next to you,” Mark Humberstone proceeded, “I recognise Admiral Powers. You have just been appointed Admiral in Command of the entire Fleet.”

“That is so, sir.”

The speaker paused for a moment. He looked around at the others. There was no form of greeting in his gesture or speech. He seemed to recognise them, however, without difficulty.

“My fellow worker, Daniel Rathborne,” he continued thoughtfully, addressing his immediate neighbour. “Yes, it is right that you should be here. The work is finished but it must be held together. Phineas Laythrop, you are here as Secretary of State, and you, Martin Clough, are the newly appointed Secretary of War. Finally, there is my old friend, Dr. Felton, Bishop of New York.”

“You have named them all, sir,” the young man who had wheeled in the couch announced, leaning a little forward.

“I have, alas, no words to spare to bid you greeting or farewell,” Humberstone said, taking into his hand the black cylinder from the bracket attached to the side of the couch. “Will you please, the moment I touch this switch, turn towards the television receiver and listen to the loud speaker. Watch! Now, if you please.”

There was a murmur from the table. Everyone was leaning forward. The young man had taken his father’s wrist, the wrist of a child, into his hand. Upon the screen was suddenly depicted a river, and in the middle of the stream a huge man-of-war making apparently slow progress against a powerful tide.

“The battleship you see,” the man on the couch went on, “is the old City of Washington. She is making her way down the Hudson. You have her visualised?”

There was an affirmative chorus. Mark Humberstone moved an inch or two in his place, white and ghastly in the strong light, his eyes apparently devouring the screen. He leaned slightly to one side and touched the switch attached to the cylinder. For a moment there was a flash of scarlet light which darted around the room like an escaped ray. The Bishop started in his chair. The Vice President rose involuntarily to his feet. There was a faint staccato murmur of amazement.

“Continue to watch, if you please,” the still quiet voice from the couch insisted. “By this time I think you discover that the battleship is out of control. Watch. You see her swinging round in the tide? Already she is in process of disintegration…You observe the list?”

For the last time on earth, Mark Humberstone smiled as he watched their faces.

“She is helpless,” he told them. “She is four hundred and fifty miles away. It would have made no difference if she had been four thousand. I touch a switch and every electrical appliance which she possesses is dumb and nerve less. Our friend the Admiral there knows what that means. She is finished.”

There was a rumble of voices from around the table. Astonishment had given place to awe. Everyone was star ing at the tragedy depicted upon that shining plate of metal.

“Your whole attention, if you please, my friends,” the great scientist begged, and it was noticeable that his voice had become a shade weaker. “What you have seen taking place, the powers which I am handing over can bring about at any time from a battleship, a fort, an observatory. We believed that the discovery of radium itself was the greatest thing that had happened to the world in centuries. Be sides this combination of forces which I present to you, this amplification and concentration of those electric cur rents with which our atmosphere is filled, radium is of no more account than the sands of the desert. I am handing over to you who sit around that table the gravest responsibility that was ever placed upon the shoulders of mankind. The control of these new powers, in collaboration with a staff who know the secret only in sections, will be yours to deal with on these terms: You will each put your signature to the document which the Vice President has already in his hand, and you will swear by the honour of your country that you will never consent to these powers being put into operation except for the holy purpose of proving to the world, by illustration, that war be tween the nations is no longer a possible enterprise. Only if at any time the United States should be attacked by a foreign enemy will you make use of these secret controls, which I have sometimes thought in a nightmare I must have dragged up out of hell. Each one of you will appoint a successor to himself, next in rank and capacity, who will succeed him in the case of his death. Seven you are now, and seven you are to remain till the time of wars is past. This is understood?”

There was a murmur of assent, but not one of them could look away from the screen. The voice of the man who had passed on to them that awful secret had ceased. They watched like men paralysed. Not one of them realised that the miracle worker of his generation, the man who had helped to make his country almighty, was already facing the one insoluble problem.  

The date of the opening of this story is April the fourteenth, 1947, some years after the granting of independence to the Philippine Islands by the United States, and subsequent to the attempted seizure of these islands by Japan, a proceeding which was followed by the greatest naval débâcle in the world’s history, when the Japanese Fleet, at its full strength, was totally destroyed in the Pacific Ocean by a single battleship of the United States Navy, equipped with the full range of the Humberstone discoveries.

The characters in this story are entirely imaginary and have no relation to any living person.

CHAPTER I

At 10:43 on a morning when the deep blue sea of the Mediterranean was flecked with whitecaps and the clear outline of the Estérels suggested a mistral, Mr. Jonson stepped from his compartment in the Train Bleu and, with a suitcase in either hand, alighted upon the platform at Nice. Refusing with dogged politeness the clamorous offers of a crowd of blue-shirted porters, he carried his own bag gage, gave up his ticket at the barriers and summoned a small carriage.

“Le Café des Oiseaux Noirs, Number Seventeen, Avenue Laperle,” he told the cocher. “It is in the direction of the old town.”

The cocher glanced a trifle curiously at his passenger, whipped up his steed and drove off. The latter leaned back amongst the frowsy cushions, produced a cigarette from a neat black metal case and commenced to smoke it with enjoyment. Nice was, he reflected, looking around him, a handsome, populous place, worthy to have become the head quarters of the great institution with whose operations he hoped presently to be connected. The cocher turned round and addressed him.

“Monsieur understands without a doubt that the Avenue Laperle is outside the radius?”

His client grinned.

“Monsieur understands nothing of the sort,” he replied. “Monsieur intends to pay the sum indicated upon the dial, with a suitable pourboire, and any dispute upon arrival will be referred to the nearest gendarme.”

The cocher flicked the air with his whip and turned surlily around. There was something about the brusque air of the small, rosy-cheeked man who had taken possession of his voiture which made it doubtful whether argument would be worth the trouble.

“We shall see,” was all he muttered. “Oh, yes, we shall see.”

Without undue haste on the part of anyone concerned, with many wheezes from the horse, creakings of the ancient vehicle, hoarse encouragements and flicks in the air with his whip from the unsavoury looking cocher, the end of the journey arrived at last. It was without a doubt an unprepossessing neighbourhood. There was little to be discerned of the beauty of one of the Riviera’s principal watering places. The building before which they had stopped was solidly built but was a somewhat sinister-looking tenement house, the ground floor of which was occupied by an apparently low-class café. The pavement was squalid. A sluggish canal, a turgid depository of filth, loomed unpleasantly near on the other side of the way. The cocher pointed to the dial.

“For the voyage itself, monsieur,” he announced, “one demands three francs and forty centimes. To return one must ascend the hill. It is an awkward neighbourhood. Monsieur will remember that in granting the pourboire.”

Mr. Jonson counted out five francs with great care.

“In the matter of pourboires,” he said, “I am a generous fellow. Take that and drive your crazy vehicle off to hell. May I never see it again! It smells. It pleases me not. Be off!”

Mr. Jonson grasped his bags and stepped out. The cocher, suddenly dumb, accepted his money and, with a carefully thought-out mixture of argument and abuse absolutely unuttered, drove off.

“A type,” he muttered to himself. “I wonder!”

The man was perhaps wise. It was one of the worst quarters of Nice and the flap of his passenger’s hip pocket drawn somewhat tightly over his rotund limbs pronounced the fact that he was not a man who took risks. The cocher drove off, but it took him the rest of the day to forget his fare.  

Mr. Jonson seated himself in a discreet corner at a three-legged table of unsavoury appearance, with a bag on either side of him, and summoned a waiter. The latter, dressed in a shabby pullover and a worn pair of trousers with shoes which gapingly displayed the absence of socks, came wearily up. He showed no surprise at the sight of a client obviously of better circumstances than the few others scattered about the place and, though his eyes dwelt for a moment upon the bags, curiosity seemed a dead impulse in him.

“Monsieur désire?” he muttered.

For answer Mr. Jonson tore off a marginal strip of paper from the journal which, wrapped round its stick, lay on a neighbouring table. With a stump of lead pencil which he produced from his pocket he traced a number–1009–and passed it to the man. The latter glanced at it, took the paper, and crumpled it in the palm of his hand.

“Monsieur désire?” he repeated.

“Un café simple,” Mr. Jonson replied.

The waiter departed. On his way he stopped before one of the receptacles for ashes which stood in the place. The crumpled and torn fragments of the scrap of paper which had been handed to him were added to its contents. After wards the man lumbered on and disappeared round an angle of the café. Mr. Jonson disposed himself to wait. As a matter of fact he waited for a very short time. Within five minutes a woman approached his table bearing a tray. She set the contents before him–a metal coffee pot, a single cup, and saucer.

“It is what Monsieur desires?”

He looked at her curiously. She was a stout woman but her black stuff dress was neat and in good repair. Her enormous bosoms were forced back in their place by the tightness of her bodice. She had magnificent black hair smoothly brushed and a faint moustache upon her upper lip. Her eyes were hard and bright. She might have been any age between twenty-five and forty-five.

“Monsieur chooses a strange place to drink his coffee,” she remarked.

Monsieur smiled.

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