Solander's Radio Tomb

by Ellis Parker Butler

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: "Pigs Is Pigs" Butler quite surpasses himself in this story. The intricacies in radio are so great, and the changes occur so quickly that no one can afford to make a will wherein a radio provision figures. Once we thought of having a radio loud speaker installed in our coffin to keep us company and make it less lonesome. After reading this story we quickly changed our mind. The possibilities are too various.

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

I first met Mr. Remington Solander shortly after I installed my first radio set. I was going in to New York on the 8:15 A.M. train and was sitting with my friend Murchison and, as a matter of course, we were talking radio. I had just told Murchison that he was a lunkheaded noodle and that for two cents I would poke him in the jaw, and that even a pin-headed idiot ought to know that a tube set was better than a crystal set. To this Murchison had replied that that settled it. He said he had always known I was a moron, and now he was sure of it.

“If you had enough brains to fill a hazelnut shell,” he said, “you wouldn’t talk that way. Anybody but a half-baked lunatic would know that what a man wants in radio is clear, sharp reception and that’s what a crystal gives you. You’re one of these half-wits that think they’re classy if they can hear some two-cent station five hundred miles away utter a few faint squeaks. Shut up! I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want to listen to you. Go and sit somewhere else.”

Of course, this was what was to be expected of Murchison. And if I did let out a few laps of anger, I feel I was entirely justified. Radio fans are always disputing over the relative merits of crystal and tube sets, but I knew I was right. I was just trying to decide whether to choke Murchison with my bare hand and throw his lifeless body out of the car window, or tell him a few things I had been wanting to say ever since he began knocking my tube set, when this Remington Solander, who was sitting behind us, leaned forward and tapped me on the shoulder. I turned quickly and saw his long sheeplike face close to mine. He was chewing cardamon seed and breathing the odor into my face.

[Illustration: Outraged citizens were removing their dead.]

“My friend,” he said, “come back and sit with me; I want to ask you a few questions about radio.”

Well, I couldn’t resist that, could I? No radio fan could. I did not care much for the looks of this Remington Solander man, but for a few weeks my friends had seemed to be steering away from me when I drew near, although I am sure I never said anything to bore them. All I ever talked about was my radio set and some new hook-ups I was trying, but I had noticed that men who formerly had seemed to be fond of my company now gave startled looks when I neared them. Some even climbed over the nearest fence and ran madly across vacant lots, looking over their shoulders with frightened glances as they ran. For a week I had not been able to get any man of my acquaintance to listen to one word from me, except Murchison, and he is an utter idiot, as I think I have made clear. So I left Murchison and sat with Remington Solander.

In one way I was proud to be invited to sit with Remington Solander, because he was far and away the richest man in our town. When he died, his estate proved to amount to three million dollars. I had seen him often, and I knew who he was, but he was a stand-offish old fellow and did not mix, so I had never met him. He was a tall man and thin, somewhat flabby and he was pale in an unhealthy sort of way. But, after all, he was a millionaire and a member of one of the “old families” of Westcote, so I took the seat alongside of him with considerable satisfaction.

“I gather,” he said as soon as I was seated, “that you are interested in radio.”

I told him I was.

“And I’m just building a new set, using a new hook-up that I heard of a week ago,” I said. “I think it is going to be a wonder. Now, here is the idea: instead of using a grid----”

“Yes, yes!” the old aristocrat said hastily. “But never mind that now. I know very little of such things. I have an electrician employed by the year to care for my radio set and I leave all such things to him. You are a lawyer, are you not?”

I told him I was.

“And you are chairman of the trustees of the Westcote Cemetery, are you not?” he asked.

I told him I was that also. And I may say that the Westcote Cemetery Association is one of the rightest and tightest little corporations in existence. It has been in existence since 1808 and has been exceedingly profitable to those fortunate enough to hold its stock. I inherited the small block I own from my grandfather. Recently we trustees had bought sixty additional acres adjoining the old cemetery and had added them to it, and we were about ready to put the new lots on the market. At $300 apiece there promised to be a tremendous profit in the thing, for our cemetery was a fashionable place to be buried in and the demand for the lots in the new addition promised to be enormous.

“You have not known it,” said Remington Solander in his slow drawl, which had the effect of letting his words slide out of his mouth and drip down his long chin like cold molasses, “but I have been making inquiries about you, and I have been meaning to speak to you. I am drawing up a new last will and testament, and I want you to draw up one of the clauses for me without delay.”

“Why, certainly, Mr. Solander,” I said with increased pride. “I’ll be glad to be of service to you.”

“I am choosing you for the work,” Remington Solander said, “because you know and love radio as I do, and because you are a trustee of the cemetery association. Are you a religious man?”

“Well,” I said, a little uneasily, “some. Some, but not much.”

“No matter,” said Mr. Solander, placing a hand on my arm. “I am. I have always been. From my earliest youth my mind has been on serious things. As a matter of fact, sir, I have compiled a manuscript collection of religious quotations, hymns, sermons and uplifting thoughts which now fill fourteen volumes, all in my own handwriting. Fortunately, I inherited money, and this collection is my gift to the world.”

“And a noble one, I’m sure,” I said.

“Most noble,” said Mr. Solander. “But, sir, I have not confined my activities to the study chair. I have kept my eye on the progress of the world. And it seems to me that radio, this new and wonderful invention, is the greatest discovery of all ages and imperishable. But, sir, it is being twisted to cheap uses. Jazz! Cheap songs! Worldly words and music! That I mean to remedy.”

“Well,” I said, “it might be done. Of course, people like what they like.”

“Some nobler souls like better things,” said Remington Solander solemnly. “Some more worthy men and women will welcome nobler radio broadcasting. In my will I am putting aside one million dollars to establish and maintain a broadcasting station that will broadcast only my fourteen volumes of hymns and uplifting material. Every day this matter will go forth--sermons, lectures on prohibition, noble thoughts and religious poems.”

I assured him that some people might be glad to get that--that a lot of people might, in fact, and that I could write that into his will without any trouble at all.

“Ah!” said Remington Solander. “But that is already in my will. What I want you to write for my will, is another clause. I mean to build, in your cemetery, a high-class and imperishable granite tomb for myself. I mean to place it on that knoll--that high knoll--the highest spot in your cemetery. What I want you to write into my will is a clause providing for the perpetual care and maintenance of my tomb. I want to set aside five hundred thousand dollars for that purpose.”

“Well,” I said to the sheep-faced millionaire, “I can do that, too.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “And I want to give my family and relations the remaining million and a half dollars, provided,” he said, accenting the ‘provided,’ “they carry out faithfully the provisions of the clause providing for the perpetual care and maintenance of my tomb. If they don’t care and maintain,” he said, giving me a hard look, “that million and a half is to go to the Home for Flea-Bitten Dogs.”

“They’ll care and maintain, all right!” I laughed.

“I think so,” said Remington Solander gravely. “I do think so, indeed! And now, sir, we come to the important part. You, as I know, are a trustee of the cemetery.”

“Yes,” I said, “I am.”

“For drawing this clause of my will, if you can draw it,” said Remington Solander, looking me full in the eye with both his own, which were like the eyes of a salt mackerel, “I shall pay you five thousand dollars.”

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