“Now, Professor Lambert, tell us what you have done with the body of your assistant Miss Madge Crawford. Her car is outside your door, has stood there since early yesterday morning. There are no footprints leading away from the house and you can’t expect us to believe that an airplane picked her off the roof. It will make it a lot easier if you tell us where she is. Her parents are greatly worried about her. When they telephoned, you refused to talk to them, would not allow them to speak to Miss Crawford. They are alarmed as to her fate. While you are not the sort of man who would injure a young woman, still, things look bad for you. You had better explain fully.”
John Lambert, a man of about thirty-six, tall, spare, with black hair which was slightly tinged with gray at the temples in spite of his youth, turned large eyes which were filled with agony upon his questioners.
Lambert was already internationally famous for his unique and astounding experiments in the realm of sound and rhythm. He had been endowed by one of the great electrical companies to do original work, and his laboratory, in which he lived, was situated in a large tract of isolated woodland some forty miles from New York City. It was necessary for the success of his work that as few disturbing noises as possible be made in the neighborhood. Many of his experiments with sound and etheric waves required absolute quiet and freedom from interrupting noises. The delicate nature of some of the machines he used would not tolerate so much as the footsteps of a man within a hundred yards, and a passing car would have disrupted them entirely.
Lambert was terribly nervous; he trembled under the gaze of the stern detective, come with several colleagues from a neighboring town at the call of Madge Crawford’s frightened family. The girl, whose picture stood on a working table nearby, looked at them from the photograph as a beautiful young woman of twenty-five, light of hair, with large eyes and a lovely face.
Detective Phillips pointed dramatically to the likeness of the missing girl. “Can you,” he said, “look at her there, and deny you loved her?
And if she did not love you in return, then we have a motive for what you have done--jealousy. Come, tell us what you have done with her.
Our men will find her, anyway; they are searching the cellar for her now. You can’t hope to keep her, alive, and if she is dead--”
Lambert uttered a cry of despair, and put his face in his long fingers. “She--she--don’t say she’s dead!”
“Then you did love her!” exclaimed Phillips triumphantly, and exchanged glances with his companions.
“Of course I love her. And she returned my love. We were secretly engaged, and were to be married when we had finished these extremely important experiments. It is infamous though, to accuse me of having killed her; if I have done so, then it was no fault of mine.”
“Then you did kill her?”
“No, no. I cannot believe she is really gone.”
“Why did you evade her parents’ inquiries?”
“Because ... I have been trying to bring her ... to re-materialize her.”
“You mean to bring her back to life?”
“Couldn’t a doctor do that better than you, if she is hidden somewhere about here?” asked Phillips gravely.
“No, no. You do not understand. She cannot be seen, she has dematerialized. Oh, go away. I’m the only man, save, possibly, my friend Doctor Morgan, who can help her now. And Morgan--I’ve thought of calling him, but I’ve been working every instant to get the right combination. Go away, for God’s sake!”
“We can’t go away until we have found out Miss Crawford’s fate,” said Phillips patiently.
Another sleuth entered the immense laboratory. He made his way through the myriad strange machines, a weird collection of xylophones, gongs, stone slabs cut in peculiar patterns to produce odd rhythmic sounds, electrical apparatus of all sorts. Near Phillips was a plate some feet square, of heavy metal, raised from the floor on poles of a different substance. About the ceiling were studs thickly set of the same sort of metal as was the big plate.
One of the sleuths tapped his forehead, pointing to Lambert as the latter nervously lighted a cigarette.
The newcomer reported to Phillips. He held in his hand two or three sheets of paper on which something was written.
“The only other person here is a deaf mute,” said the sleuth to Phillips, his superior. “I’ve got his story. He writes that he takes care of things, cooks their meals and so on. And he writes further that he thinks the woman and this guy Lambert were in love with each other. He has no idea where she has gone to. Here, you read it.”
Phillips took the sheets and continued: “‘Yesterday morning about ten o’clock I was passing the door of the laboratory on my way to make up Professor Lambert’s bed. Suddenly I noticed a queer, shimmering, greenish-blue light streaming down from the walls and ceiling of the laboratory. I was right outside the place and though I cannot hear anything, I was knocked down and I twisted and wriggled around like a snake. It felt like something with a thousand little paws but with great strength was pushing me every way. When there was a lull, and the light had stopped for a few moments, I staggered to my feet and ran madly for my own quarters, scared out of my head. As I went by the kitchen, I saw Miss Crawford at the sink there, filling some vases and arranging flowers as she usually did every morning.
“‘If she called to me, I did not hear her or notice her lips moving. I believe she came to the door.
“‘I was going to quit, when I recovered myself, angry at what had occurred; but then, I began to feel ashamed for being such a baby, for Professor Lambert has been very good to me. About fifteen minutes after I went to my room, I was able to return to the kitchen. Miss Crawford was not there, though the flowers and vases were. Then, as I started to work, still a little alarmed, Professor Lambert came rushing into the kitchen, an expression of terror on his face. His mouth was open, and I think he was calling. He then ran out, back to the laboratory, and I have not seen Miss Madge since. Professor Lambert has been almost continuously in the work-room since then, and--I kept away from it, because I was afraid.’”
Two more members of Phillips’ squad broke into the laboratory and came toward the chief. They had been working at physical labor, for they were still perspiring and one regarded his hands with a rueful expression.
“Any luck?” asked Phillips eagerly.
“No, boss. We been all over the place, and we dug every spot we could get to earth in the cellar. Most of it’s three-inch concrete, without a sign of a break.”
“Did you look in the furnace?”
“We looked there the first thing. She ain’t there.”
There were several closets in the laboratory, and Phillips opened all of them and inspected them. As he moved near the big plate, Lambert uttered a cry of warning. “Don’t disturb that, don’t touch anything near it!”
“All right, all right,” said Phillips testily.
The skeptical sleuths had classified Lambert as a “nut,” and were practically sure he had done away with Madge Crawford because she would not marry him.
Still, they needed better evidence than their mere beliefs. There was no corpus delicti, for instance.
“Gentlemen,” said Lambert at last, controlling his emotions with a great effort. “I will admit to you that I am in trepidation and a state of mental torture as to Miss Crawford’s fate. You are delaying matters, keeping me from my work.”
“He thinks about work when the girl he claims he loves has disappeared,” said Doherty, in a loud whisper to Phillips. Doherty was one of the sleuths who had been digging in the cellar, and the hard work had made his temper short.
“You must help us find Miss Crawford before we can let you alone,” said Phillips. “Can’t you understand that you are under grave suspicion of having injured her, hidden her away? This is a serious matter, Professor Lambert. Your experiments can wait.”
“This one cannot,” shouted Lambert, shaking his fists. “You are fools!”
“Steady now,” said Doherty.
“Perhaps you had better come with us to the district attorney’s office,” went on Phillips. “There you may come to your senses and realize the futility of trying to cover up your crime--if you have committed one. If you have not, why do you not tell us where Miss Crawford is?”
“Because I do not know myself,” replied Lambert. “But you can’t take me away from here. I beg of you, gentlemen, allow me a little more time. I must have it.”
Phillips shook his head. “Not unless you tell us logically what has occurred,” he said.
“Then I must, though I do not think you will comprehend or even believe me. Briefly, it is this: yesterday morning I was working on the final series of experiments with a new type of harmonic overtones plus a new type of sinusoidal current which I had arranged with a series of selenium cells. When I finally threw the switch--remember, I was many weeks preparing the apparatus, and had just put the final touches on early that morning--there was a sound such as never had been heard before by human ears, an indescribable sound, terrifying and mysterious. Also, there was a fierce, devouring verditer blue light, and this came from the plates and studs you see, but so great was its strength that it got out of control and leaped about the room like a live thing. For some moments, while it increased in intensity as I raised the power of the current by means of the switch I held in my hand, I watched and listened in fascination. My instruments had ceased to record, though they are the most delicate ever invented and can handle almost anything which man can even surmise.”
The perspiration was pouring from Lambert’s face, as he recounted his story. The detectives listened, comprehending but a little of the meaning of the scientist’s words.
“What has this to do with Miss Crawford?” asked Doherty impatiently.
Phillips held up his hand to silence the other sleuth. “Let him finish,” he ordered. “Go on, professor.”
“The sensations which I was undergoing became unendurable,” went on Lambert, in a low, hoarse voice. “I was forced to cry out in pain and confusion.
“Miss Crawford evidently heard my call, for a few moments later, just as the terrific unknown force reached its apex, she dashed into the laboratory, and stepped across the plate you see there.
“I was powerless. Though I shut off the current by a superhuman effort, she--she was gone!”
Lambert put his face in his hands, a sob shook his broad shoulders.
“Gone?” repeated Phillips. “What do you mean, gone?”
“She disappeared, before my very eyes,” said the professor shakily.
“Torn into nothingness by the fierce force of the current or sound.
Since then, I have been trying to reproduce the conditions of the experiment, for I wish to bring her back. If I cannot do so, then I want to join her, wherever she has gone. I love her, I know now that I cannot possibly live without her. Will you please leave me alone, now, so that I can continue?”
Doherty laughed derisively. “What a story,” he jeered.
“Keep quiet, Doherty,” ordered Phillips. “Now, Professor Lambert, your explanation of Miss Crawford’s disappearance does not sound logical to us, but still we are willing to give you every chance to bring her back, if what you say is true. We cannot leave you entirely alone, because you might try to escape or you might carry out your threat of suicide. Therefore, I am going to sit over there in the corner, quietly, where I can watch you but will not interfere with your work.
We will give you until midnight to prove your story. Then you must go with us to the district attorney. Do you agree to that?”
Lambert nodded, eagerly. “I agree. Let me work in peace, and if I do not succeed then you may take me anywhere you wish. If you can,” he added, in an undertone.
Doherty and the others, at Phillips’ orders, filed from the laboratory. “One thing more, professor,” said Phillips, when they were alone and the professor was preparing to work. “How do you explain the fact, if your story is true, that Miss Crawford was killed and made to disappear, while you yourself, close by, were uninjured?”
“Do you see these garments?” asked Lambert, indicating some black clothes which lay on a bench nearby. “They insulated me from the current and partially protected me from the sound. Though the force was very great, great enough to penetrate my insulation, it was handicapped in my case because of the garments.”
“I see. Well, you may go on.”
Phillips moved in the chair he had taken, from time to time. He could hear the noises of his men, still searching the premises for Madge Crawford, and Professor Lambert heard them, too.
“Will you tell your men to be quiet?” he cried at last.
There were dark circles under Lambert’s eyes. He was working in a state of feverish anxiety. When the girl he loved had dematerialized from under his very eyes, panic had seized him; he had ripped away wires to break the current and lost the thread of his experiment, so that he could not reproduce it exactly without much labor.
The scientist put on the black robes, and Phillips wished he too had some protective armor, even though he did believe that Lambert had told them a parcel of lies. The deaf mute’s story was not too reassuring. Phillips warned his companions to be more quiet, and he himself sat quite still.
Lambert knew that the sleuths thought he was stark mad. He was aware of the fact that he had but a few hours in which to save the girl who had come at his cry to help him, who had loved him and whom he loved, only to be torn into some place unknown by the forces which were released in his experiment. And he knew he would rather die with her than live without her.
He labored feverishly, though he tried to keep his brain calm in order to win. His notes helped him up to a certain point, but when he had made the final touches he had not had time to bring the data up to the moment, being eager to test out his apparatus. It was while testing that the awful event had occurred and he had seen Madge Crawford disappear before his very eyes.
Her eyes, large and frightened, burned in his mind.
The deaf mute, Felix, a small, spare man of about fifty, sent the professor some food and coffee through one of the sleuths. Lambert swallowed the coffee, but waved away the rest, impatiently. Phillips, watching his suspect constantly, was served a light supper at the end of the afternoon.
There seemed to be a million wires to be touched, tested, and various strange apparatus. Several times, later on in the evening. Lambert threw the big switch with an air of expectancy, but little happened.
Then Lambert would go to work again, testing, testing--adjusting this and that till Phillips swore under his breath.
“Only an hour more, professor,” said Phillips, who was bored to death and cramped from trying to obey the professor’s orders to keep still.
A circle of cigarette-ends surrounded the sleuth.
“Only an hour,” agreed Lambert. “Will you please be quiet, my man?
This is a matter of my fiancée’s life or death.”
Phillips was somewhat disgruntled, for he felt he had done Lambert quite a favor in allowing him to remain in the laboratory for so long, to prove his story.
“I wish Doctor Morgan were here; I ought to have sent for him, I suppose,” said Lambert, a few minutes later. “Will you allow me to get him? I cannot seem to perfect this last stage.”
“No time, now,” declared Phillips. “I said till midnight.”
It was obvious to Lambert that the detective had become certain during the course of the evening that the scientist was mad. The ceaseless fiddling and the lack of results or even spectacular sights had convinced Phillips that he had to do with a crank.
“I think I have it now,” said Lambert coolly.
“What?” asked Phillips.
“The original combination. I had forgotten one detail in the excitement, and this threw me off. Now I believe I will succeed--in one way or another. I warn you, be careful. I am about to release forces which may get out of my control.”
“Well, now, don’t get reckless,” begged Phillips nervously. The array of machines had impressed him, even if Lambert did seem a fool.
“You insist upon remaining, so it is your own risk,” said Lambert coolly.
Lambert, in the strange robes, was a bizarre figure. The hood was thrown back, exposing his pale, black-bearded face, the wan eyes with dark circles under them, and the twitching lips.
“If you find yourself leaving this vale of tears,” went on the scientist, ironically, to the sleuth, “you will at least have the comfort of realizing that as the sound-force disintegrates your mortal form you are among the first of men to be attuned to the vibrations of the unknown sound world. All matter is vibration; that has been proven. A building of bricks, if shaken in the right manner, falls into its component parts; a bridge, crossed by soldiers in certain rhythmic time, is torn from its moorings. A tuning fork, receiving the sound vibrations from one of a similar size and shape begins to vibrate in turn. These are homely analogies, but applied to the less familiar sound vibrations, which make up our atomic world, they may help you to understand how the terrific forces I have discovered can disintegrate flesh.”
The scientist looked inquiringly at Phillips. As the sleuth did not move, but sat with folded arms, Lambert shrugged and said, “I am ready.”
Lambert raised his hood, and Phillips said, in a spirit of bravado,
“You can’t scare me out of here.”
“Here goes the switch,” cried Lambert.
He made the contact, as he had before. He stood for a moment, and this time the current gained force. The experimenter pushed his lever all the way over.
A terrible greenish-blue light suddenly illuminated the laboratory, and through the air there came sound vibrations which seemed to tear at Phillips’ body. He found himself on the floor, knocked from his chair, and he writhed this way and that, speechless, suffering a torment of agony. His whole flesh seemed to tremble in unison with the waves which emanated from the machines which Lambert manipulated.
After what seemed hours to the suffering sleuth, the force diminished, and soon Phillips was able to rise. Trembling, the detective cursed and yelled for help in a high-pitched voice.
Lambert had thrown back his hood, and was rocking to and fro in agony.
“Madge, Madge,” he cried, “what have I done! Come back to me, come back!”
Doherty and the others came running in at their chief’s shouts.
“Arrest him,” ordered Phillips shakily. “I’ve stood enough of this nonsense.”
The detectives started for Lambert. He saw them coming, and swiftly threw off the protective garments he wore.
“Stand back!” he cried, and threw the switch all the way over. The verditer green light smashed through the air, and the queer sound sensations smacked and tore them; Doherty, who had drawn a revolver when he was answering Phillips’ cries, fired the gun into the air, and the report seemed to battle with the vibrating ether.
Lambert, as he threw the switch, leaped forward and landed on the metal plate under the ceiling studs, in the very center of the awful disturbance and unprotected from its force.
For a few moments, Lambert felt racking pain, as though something were tearing at his flesh, separating the very atoms. The scientist saw the wriggling figures of the sleuths, in various strange positions, but his impressions were confused. His head whirled round and round, he swayed to and fro, and, finally, he thought he fell down, or rather, that he had melted, as a lump of sugar dissolves in water.
In the heart of nothingness was Lambert, his body torn and racked in a shrieking chaos of sound and a blinding glare of iridescent light which seemed too much to bear.
His last conscious thought was a prayer, that, having failed to bring back his sweetheart, Madge Crawford, he was undergoing a step toward the same destination to which he had sent her.
John Lambert came to with a shudder. But it was not a mortal shudder.
He could sense no body; had no sense of being confined by matter. He was in a strange, chilly place--a twilight region, limitless, without dimensions.
Yet he could feel something, in an impersonal way, vaguely indifferent. He had no pain now.
He was moving, somehow. He had one impelling desire, and that was to discover Madge Crawford. Perhaps it was this thought which directed his movements.
Intent upon finding the girl, if she was indeed in this same strange world that he was, he did not notice for some time--how long, he had no way of telling--that there were other beings which tried to impede his progress. But as he grew more accustomed to the unfamiliar sensations he was undergoing, he found his path blocked again and again by queer beings.
They were living, without doubt, and had intelligence, and evinced hostility toward him. But they were shapeless, shapeless as amoebas.
He heard them in a sort of soundless whisper, and could see them without the use of eyes. And he shuddered, though he could feel no body in which he might be confined. Still, when he pinched viciously with invisible fingers at the spot where his face should have been, a twinge of pain registered on the vague consciousness which appeared to be all there was to him.
He was not sure of his substance, though he could evidently experience human sensations with his amorphous body. He did not know whether he could see; yet, he was dodging this way and that, as the beings who occupied this world tried to stop him.
They gave him the impression of gray shapes, and in coppery shadows things gleamed and closed in on him.
He seemed to hear a cry, and he knew that he was receiving a call for help from Madge Crawford. He tried to run, pushed determinedly toward the spot, impelled by his love for the girl.
Now, as he hurried, he occasionally was stopped short by collision with the formless shapes which were all about him. He was hampered by them, for they followed him, making a sound like wind heard in a dream. Whatever medium he was in was evidently thickly inhabited by the hostile beings who claimed this world as their own. Though he could not actually feel the medium, he could sense that it was heavy.
He leaped and ran, fighting his way through the increasing hosts, and the roar of their voice-impressions increased in his consciousness.
Yet there seemed to be nothing, nothing tangible save vagueness. He felt he was in a blind spot in space, a place of no dimensions, no time, where beings abhorred by nature, things which had never developed any dimensional laws, existed.
The cry for help struck him, with more force this time. Lambert, whatever form he was in, realised that he was close to the end of his journey to Madge Crawford.
He tried to speak, and had the impression that he said something reassuring. He then bumped into some vibrational being which he knew was Madge. His ears could not hear, nor could his flesh feel, but his whole form or cerebrum sensed he held the woman he loved in his arms.
And she was speaking to him, in accents of fear, begging him to save her.
“John, John, you have come at last. They have been torturing me terribly. Save me.”
“Darling Madge, I will do everything I can. Now I have found you, and we are together and will never part. Can you hear me?”
“I know what you are thinking, and what you wish to say. I can’t exactly hear; it all seems vague, and impossible. Yet I can suffer.
They have been hitting me with something which makes me shudder and shake--there, they are at it again.”
Lambert felt the sensations, now, which the girl had made known to him. He felt crowded by gray beings, and his existence was troubled by spasms of pain-impressions. He knew Madge was crying out, too.
He could not comprehend the attacks, or guess their meaning. But the situation was unendurable.
Anger shook him, and he began to fight, furiously but vaguely. They were closely hemmed in, but when Lambert began to strike out with hands and legs, the beings gave way a little. The scientist tried to shout, and though he could actually hear nothing, the result was gratifying. The formless creatures seemed to scatter and draw back in confusion as he yelled his defiance.
“They hate that,” Madge said to him. “I have screamed myself hoarse and that is why they have not killed me--if I can be killed.”