The Haunted Bell
It was a thing, trivial enough, yet so strangely mystifying in its happening that the mind hesitated to accept it as an actual occurrence despite the indisputable evidence of the sense of hearing. As the seconds ticked on, Franklin Phillips was not at all certain that it had happened, and gradually the doubt began to assume the proportions of a conviction. Then, because his keenly-attuned brain did not readily explain it, the matter was dismissed as an impossibility. Certainly it had not happened. Mr. Phillips smiled a little. Of course, it was—it must be—a trick of his nerves.
But, even as the impossibility of the thing grew upon him, the musical clang still echoed vaguely in his memory, and his eyes were still fixed inquiringly on the Japanese gong whence it had come. The gong was of the usual type—six bronze discs, or inverted bowls, of graduated sizes, suspended one above the other, with the largest at the top, and quaintly colored with the deep, florid tones of Japan’s ancient decorative art. It hung motionless at the end of a silken cord which dropped down sheerly from the ceiling over a corner of his desk. It was certainly harmless enough in appearance, yet—yet——
As he looked the bell sounded again. It was a clear, rich, vibrant note—a boom which belched forth suddenly as if of its own volition, quavered full‑toned, then diminished until it was only a lingering sense of sound. Mr. Phillips started to his feet with an exclamation.
Now, in the money-marts of the world, Franklin Phillips was regarded as a living refutation of all theories as to the physical disasters consequent upon a long pursuit of the strenuous life—a human antithesis of nerves. He breathed fourteen times to the minute and his heart-beat was always within a fraction of seventy-one. This was true whether there were millions at stake in a capricious market or whether he ordered a cigar. In this calm lay the strength which had enabled him to reach his fiftieth year in perfect mental and physical condition.
Back of this utter normality was a placid, inquiring mind; so now, deliberately, he took a pencil and tapped the bells of the gong one after another, beginning at the bottom. The shrill note of the first told him instantly that was not the one which had sounded; nor was the second, nor the third. At the fourth he hesitated and struck a second time. Then he tapped the fifth. That was it. The gong trembled and swayed slightly from the blow, light as it was, and twice again he struck it. Then he was convinced.
For several minutes he stood staring, staring blankly. What had caused the bell to ring? His manner was calm, cold, quiet, inquisitive—indomitable common-sense inspired the query.
“I guess it was nerves,” he said after a moment. “But I was looking at it, and——”
Nerves as a possibility were suddenly brushed ruthlessly aside, and he systematically sought some tangible explanation of the affair. Had a flying insect struck the bell? No. He was positive, because he had been looking directly at it when it sounded the second time. He would have seen an insect. Had something dropped from the ceiling? No. He would have seen that, too. With alert, searching eyes he surveyed the small room. It was his own personal den—a sort of office in his home. He was alone now; the door closed; everything appeared as usual.
Perhaps a window! The one facing east was open to the lightly stirring air of the first warm evening of spring. The wind had disturbed the gong! He jumped at the thought as an inspiration. It faded when he saw the window-curtains hanging down limply; the movement of the air was too light to disturb even these. Perhaps something had been tossed through the window! The absurdity of that conjecture was proven instantly. There was a screen in the window of so fine a mesh that hardly more than a grain of sand could pass through it. And this screen was intact.
With bewilderment in his face Mr. Phillips sat down again. Then recurred to him one indisputable fact which precluded the possibility of all those things he had considered. There had been absolutely no movement—that is, perceptible movement—of the gong when the bell sounded. Yet the tone was loud, as if a violent blow had been struck. He remembered that, when he tapped the bell sharply with his pencil, it swayed and trembled visibly, but the pencil was so light that the tone sounded far away and faint. To convince himself he touched the bell again, ever so lightly. It swayed.
“Well, of all the extraordinary things I ever heard of!” he remarked.
After a while he lighted a cigar, and for the first time in his life his hand shook. The sight brought a faint expression of amused surprise to his lips; then he snapped his fingers impatiently and settled back in his chair. It was a struggle to bring his mind around to material things; it insisted on wandering, and wove fantastic, grotesque conjectures in the drifting tobacco smoke. But at last common-sense triumphed under the sedative influence of an excellent cigar, and the incident of the bell floated off into nothingness. Business affairs—urgent, real, tangible business affairs—focused his attention.
Then, suddenly, clamorously, with the insistent acclaim of a fire-alarm, the bell sounded—once! twice! thrice! Mr. Phillips leaped to his feet. The tones chilled him and stirred his phlegmatic heart to quicker action. He took a long, deep breath, and, with one glance around the little room, strode out into the hall. He paused there a moment, glanced at his watch—it was four minutes to nine—then went on to his wife’s apartments.
Mrs. Phillips was reclining in a chair and listening with an amused smile to her son’s recital of some commonplace college happening which chanced to be of interest to him. She was forty or forty-two, perhaps, and charming. Women never learn to be charming until they’re forty; until then they are only pretty and amiable—sometimes. The son, Harvey Phillips, arose as his father entered. He was a stalwart young man of twenty, a prototype, as it were, of that hard-headed, masterful financier—Franklin Phillips.
“Why, Frank, I thought you were so absorbed in business that——” Mrs. Phillips began.
Mr. Phillips paused and looked blankly, unseeingly, as one suddenly aroused from sleep, at his wife and son—the two dearest of all earthly things to him. The son noted nothing unusual in his manner; the wife, with intuitive eyes, read some vague uneasiness.
“What is it?” she asked solicitously. “Has something gone wrong?”
Mr. Phillips laughed nervously and sat down near her.
“Nothing, nothing,” he assured her. “I feel unaccountably nervous somehow, and I thought I should like to talk to you rather than—than——”
“Keep on going over and over those stupid figures?” she interrupted. “Thank you.”
She leaned forward with a gesture of infinite grace and took his hand. He clenched it spasmodically to stop its absurd trembling and, with an effort all the greater because it was repressed so sternly, regained control of his panic‑stricken nerves. Harvey Phillips excused himself and left the room.
“Harvey has just been explaining the mysteries of baseball to me,” said Mrs. Phillips. “He’s going to play on the Harvard team.” Her husband stared at her without the slightest heed or comprehension of what she was saying.
“Can you tell me,” he asked suddenly, “where you got that Japanese gong in my room?”
“Oh, that? I saw it in the window of a queer old curio shop I pass sometimes on my charity rounds. I looked at it two or three months ago and bought it. The place is in Cranston Street. It’s kept by an old German—Wagner, I think his name is. Why?”
“It looks as if it might be very old, a hundred years perhaps,” remarked Mr. Phillips.
“That’s what I thought,” responded his wife, “and the coloring is exquisite. I had never seen one exactly like it, so——”
“It doesn’t happen to have any history, I suppose?” he interrupted.
“Not that I know of.”
“Or any peculiar quality, or—or attribute out of the ordinary?'”
Mrs. Phillips shook her head.
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” she replied. “The only peculiar quality I noticed was the singular purity of the bells and the coloring.”
Mr. Phillips coughed over his cigar.
“Yes, I noticed the bells myself,” he explained lamely. “It just struck me that the thing was—was out of the ordinary, and I was a little curious about it.” He was silent a moment. “It looks as if it might have been valuable once.”
“I hardly think so,” Mrs. Phillips responded. “I believe thirty dollars is what I paid for it—all that was asked.”
That was all that was said about the matter at the time. But on the following morning an early visitor at Wagner’s shop was Franklin Phillips. It was a typical place of its kind, half curio and half junk-store, with a coat of dust over all. There had been a crude attempt to enhance the appearance of the place by an artistic arrangement of several musty antique pieces, but, otherwise, it was a chaos of all things. An aged German met Mr. Phillips as he entered.
“Is this Mr. Wagner?” inquired the financier.
Extreme caution, amounting almost to suspicion, seemed to be a part of the old German’s business rťgime, for he looked at his visitor from head to foot with keen eyes, then evaded the question.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“I want to know if this is Mr. Wagner,” said Mr. Phillips tersely. “Is it, or is it not?”
The old man met his frank stare for a moment; then his cunning, faded eyes wavered and dropped.
“I am Johann Wagner,” he said humbly. “What do you want?”
“Some time ago—two or three months—you sold a Japanese gong——” Mr. Phillips began.
“I never sold it!” interrupted Wagner vehemently. “I never had a Japanese gong in the place! I never sold it!”
“Of course you sold it,” insisted Mr. Phillips. “A Japanese gong—do you understand? Six bells on a silken cord.”
“I never had such a thing in my life—never had such a thing in my shop!” declared the German excitedly. “I never sold it, so help me! I never saw it!”
Curiosity and incredulity were in Mr. Phillips’ eyes as he faced the old man.
“Do you happen to have any clerk?” he asked. “Or did you have three months ago?”
“No, I never had a clerk,” explained the German with a violence which Mr. Phillips did not understand. “There has never been anybody here but me. I never had a Japanese gong here—I never sold one! I never saw one here!”
Mr. Phillips studied the aged, wrinkled face before him calmly for several seconds. He was trying vainly to account for an excitement, a vehemence which was as inexplicable as it was unnecessary.
“It’s absurd to deny that you sold the bell,” he said finally. “My wife bought it of you, here in this place.”
“I never sold it!” stormed the German. “I never had it! No women ever came here. I don’t want women here. I don’t know anything about a Japanese gong. I never had one here.”
Deeply puzzled and thoroughly impatient, Mr. Phillips decided to forego this attempt at a casual inquiry into the history of the gong. After a little while he went away. The old German watched him cautiously, with cunning, avaricious eyes, until he stepped on a car.
As the cool, pleasant days of early spring passed on the bell held its tongue. Only once, and that was immediately after his visit to the old German’s shop, did Mr. Phillips refer to it again. Then he inquired casually of his wife if she had bought it of the old man in person, and she answered in the affirmative, describing him. Then the question came to him: Why had Wagner absolutely denied all knowledge of the bell, of its having been in his possession and of having sold it?
But, after a time, this question was lost in vital business affairs which engrossed his attention. The gong still hung over his desk and he occasionally glanced at it. At such times his curiosity was keen, poignant even, but he made no further effort to solve the mystery which seemed to enshroud it.
So, until one evening a wealthy young Japanese gentleman, Oku Matsumi, by name, son of a distinguished nobleman in his country’s diplomatic service, came to dinner at the Phillips’ home as the guest of Harvey Phillips. They were classmates in Harvard, and a friendship had grown up between them which was curious, perhaps, but explainable on the ground of a mutual interest in art.
After dinner Mr. Matsumi expressed his admiration for several pictures which hung in the luxurious dining-room, and so it followed naturally that Mr. Phillips exhibited some other rare works of art. One of these pictures, a Da Vinci, hung in the little room where the gong was. With no thought of that, at the moment, Mr. Phillips led the way in and the Japanese followed.
Then a peculiar thing happened. At sight of the gong Mr. Matsumi seemed amazed, startled, and, taking one step toward it, he bent as if in obeisance. At the same time his right hand was thrust outward and upward as if describing some symbol in the air.
• • • • • •
. . . Utter silence! A suppliant throng, bowed in awed humility with hands outstretched, palms downward, and yellow faces turned in mute prayer toward the light which fluttered up feebly from the sacred fire upon the stony, leering countenance of Buddha. The gigantic golden image rose cross‑legged from its pedestal and receded upward and backward into the gloom of the temple. The multitude shaded off from bold outlines within the glow of the fire to a shadowy, impalpable mass in the remotest corners; hushed of breath, immovably staring into the drooping eyes of their graven-god.
Behind the image was a protecting veil of cloth of gold. Presently there came a murmer, and the supplicants, with one accord, prostrated themselves until their heads touched the bare, cold stones of the temple floor. The murmur grew into the weirdly beautiful chant of the priests of Buddha. The flickering light for an instant gave an appearance of life to the heavy‑lidded, drooping eyes, then it steadied again and they seemed fixed on the urn wherein the fire burned.
After a moment the curtain of gold was thrust aside in three places simultaneously, and three silken‑robed priests appeared. Each bore in his hand a golden sceptre. Together they approached the sacred fire and together they thrust the sceptres into it. Instantly a blaze spouted up, illuminating the vast, high‑roofed palace of worship, and a cloud of incense arose. The sweetly sickening odor spread out, fanlike, over the throng.
The three priests turned away from the urn, and each, with slow, solemn tread, made his way to an altar of incense with the flaming torch held aloft. They met again at the feet of Buddha and prostrated themselves, at the same time extending the right hand and forming some symbol in the air. The chant from behind the golden veil softened to a murmur, and the murmur grew into silence. Then:
The name came from the three together—the tone was a prayer. It reverberated for an instant in the recesses of the great temple; then the multitude, with one motion, raised themselves, repeated the single word and groveled again on their faces.
Again the three priests spoke and again the supplicants moved as one, repeating the words. The burning incense grew heavy, the sacred fire flickered, and shadows flitted elusively over the golden, graven face of the Buddha.
“Sayka-muni, Son of Heaven!”
The moving of the multitude as it swayed and answered was in perfect accord. It was as if one heart, one soul, one thought had inspired the action.
“O Buddha! Wise One! Enlightened One!” came the voices of the priests again. “Oh, Son of Kapilavastu! Chosen One! Holy One who found Nirvana! Your unworthy people are at your feet. Omnipotent One! We seek your gracious counsel!”
The voices in chorus had risen to a chant. When they ceased there was the chill of suspense; a little shiver ran through the temple; there was a hushed movement of terrified anxiety. Of all the throng only the priests dared raise their eyes to the cold, graven face of the image. For an instant the chilling silence; then boldly, vibrantly, a bell sounded—once!
“Buddah has spoken!”
It was a murmurous whisper, almost a sigh, plaintive, awestricken. The note of the bell trembled on the incense‑laden air, then was dissipated, welded into silence again. Priests and people were cowering on the bare stones; the lights flared up suddenly, then flickered, and the semi‑gloom seemed to grow sensibly deeper. Behind the veil of gold the chant of the priests began again. But it was a more solemn note—a despairing wail. For a short time it went on, then died away.
Again the sacred fire blazed up as if caught by a gust of wind, but the glow did not light the Buddha’s face now—it was concentrated on a bronze gong which dropped down sheerly on a silken cord at Buddha’s right hand. There were six discs, the largest at the top, silhouetted against the darkness of the golden veil beyond. From one of these bells the sound had come, but now they hung mute and motionless. Only the three priests raised reverential eyes to it, and one, the eldest rose.
“O Voice of Buddha!” he apostrophized in a moving, swinging chant—and the face of the graven-god seemed swallowed up in the shadows— “we, your unworthy disciples, await! Each year at the eleventh festival we supplicate! But thrice only hast thou spoken in the half-century, and thrice within the eleventh day of your speaking our Emperor has passed into the arms of Death and Nirvana. Shall it again be so, Omnipotent One?”
The chant died away and the multitude raised itself to its knees with supplicating hands thrust out into the darkness toward the dim‑lit gong. It was an attitude of beseeching, of prayer, of entreaty.
And again, as it hung motionless, the bell sounded. The tone rolled out melodiously, clearly—Once! Twice! Thrice! Those who gazed at the miracle lowered their eyes lest they be stricken blind. And the bell struck on—Four! Five! Six! A plaintive, wailing cry was raised; the priests behind the veil of gold were chanting again. Seven! Eight! Nine! The people took up the rolling chant as they groveled, and it swelled until the ancient walls of the temple trembled. Ten! Eleven!
Utter silence! A supplicant throng, bowed in awed humility, with hands outstretched, palms downward, and yellow faces turned in mute prayer toward the light which fluttered up feebly from the sacred fire upon the stony, leering countenance of Buddha! . . .
• • • • • •
Mr. Matsumi straightened up suddenly to find his host staring at him in perturbed amazement.
“Why did you do that?” Mr. Phillips blurted uneasily.
“Pardon me, but you wouldn’t understand if I told you,” replied the Japanese with calm, inscrutable face. “May I examine it, please?” And he indicated the silent and motionless gong.
“Certainly,” replied the financier wonderingly.
Mr. Matsumi, with a certain eagerness which was not lost upon the American, approached the gong and touched the bells lightly, one after another, evidently to get the tone. Then he stooped and examined them carefully—top and bottom. Inside the largest bell—that at the top—he found something which interested him. After a close scrutiny he again straightened up, and in his slant eyes was an expression which Mr. Phillips would have liked to interpret.
“I presume you have seen it before?” he ventured.
“No, never,” was the reply.
“But you recognized it!”
Mr. Matsumi merely shrugged his shoulders.
“And what made you do that?” By “that” Mr. Phillips referred to Mr. Matsumi’s strange act when he first saw the bell.
Again the Japanese shrugged his shoulders. An exquisite, innate courtesy which belonged to him was apparently forgotten now in contemplation of the gong. The financier gnawed at his mustache. He was beginning to feel nervous—the nervousness he had felt previously, and his imagination ran riot.
“You have not had the gong long?” remarked Mr. Matsumi after a pause.
“Three or four months.”
“Have you ever noticed anything peculiar about it?”
Mr. Phillips stared at him frankly.
“Well, rather!” he said at last, in a tone which was perfectly convincing.
“It rings, you mean—the fifth bell?”
Mr. Phillips nodded. There was a tense eagerness in the manner of the Japanese.
“You have never heard the bell ring eleven times?”
Mr. Phillips shook his head. Mr. Matsumi drew a long breath—whether it was relief the other couldn’t say. There was silence. Mr. Matsumi closed and unclosed his small hands several times.
“Pardon me for mentioning the matter under such circumstances,” he said at last, in a tone which suggested that he feared giving offence, “but would you be willing to part with the gong?”
Mr. Phillips regarded him keenly. He was seeking in the other’s manner some inkling to a solution of a mystery which each moment seemed more hopelessly beyond him.
“I shouldn’t care to part with it,” he replied casually. “It was given to me by my wife.”
“Then no offer I might make would be considered?”
“No, certainly not,” replied Mr. Phillips tartly. There was a pause. “This gong has interested me immensely. I should like to know its history. Perhaps you can enlighten me?”
With the imperturbability of his race, Mr. Matsumi declined to give any information. But, with a graceful return of his former exquisite courtesy, he sought more definite knowledge for himself.
“I will not ask you to part with the gong,” he said, “but perhaps you can inform me where your wife bought it?” He paused for a moment. “Perhaps it would be possible to get another like it?”
“I happen to know there isn’t another,” replied Mr. Phillips. “It came from a little curio shop in Cranston Street, kept by a German named Johann Wagner.”
And that was all. This incident passed as the other had, the net result being only further to stimulate Mr. Phillips’ curiosity. It seemed a futile curiosity, yet it was ever present, despite the fact that the gong still hung silent.
On the next evening, a balmy, ideal night of spring, Mr. Phillips had occasion to go into the small room. This was just before dinner was announced. It was rather close there, so he opened the east window to a grateful breeze, and placed the screen in position, after which he stooped to pull out a drawer of his desk. Then came again the quick, clangorous boom of the bell—One! Two! Three! Four! Five! Six! Seven!
At the first stroke he straightened up; at the second he leaned forward toward the gong with his eyes riveted to the fifth disc. As it continued to ring he grimly held on to jangling nerves and looked for the cause. Beneath the bells, on top, all around them he sought. There was nothing! nothing! The sounds simply burst out, one after another, as if from a heavy blow, yet the bell did not move. For the seventh time it struck, and then with white, ghastly face and chilled, stiff limbs Mr. Phillips rushed out of the room. A dew of perspiration grew in the palms of his quavering hands.
It was a night of little rest and strange dreams for him. At breakfast on the following morning Mrs. Phillips poured his coffee and then glanced through the mail which had been placed beside her.
“Do you particularly care for that gong in your room?” she inquired.
Mr. Phillips started a little. That particular object had enchained his attention for the last dozen hours, awake and asleep.
“Why?” he asked.
“You know I told you I bought it of a curio dealer,” Mrs. Phillips explained. “His name is Johann Wagner, and he offers me five hundred dollars if I will sell it back to him. I presume he has found it is more valuable than he imagined, and the five hundred dollars would make a comfortable addition to my charity fund.”
Mr. Phillips was deeply thoughtful. Johann Wagner! What was this new twist? Why had Wagner denied all knowledge of the gong to him? Having denied, why should he now make an attempt to buy it back? In seeking answers to these questions he was silent.
“Well, dear?” inquired his wife after a pause. “You didn’t answer me.”
“No, don’t sell the gong,” he exclaimed abruptly. “Don’t sell it at any price. I—I want it. I’ll give you a cheque for your charity.”
There was something of uneasiness in her devoted eyes. Some strange, subtle, indefinable air which she could not fathom was in his manner. With a little sigh which breathed her unrest she finished her breakfast.
On the following morning still another letter came from Johann Wagner. It was an appeal—an impassioned appeal—hurriedly scrawled and almost incoherent in form. He must have the gong! He would give five thousand dollars for it. Mrs. Phillips was frankly bewildered at the letter, and turned it over to her husband. He read it through twice with grimly-set teeth.
“No,” he exclaimed violently; “it sha’n’t be sold for any price!” Then his voice dropped as he recollected himself. “No, my dear,” he continued, “it shall not be sold. It was a present from you to me. I want it, but”—and he smiled whimsically—“if he keeps raising the price it will add a great deal to your charity fund, won’t it?”
Twice again within thirty-six hours Mr. Phillips heard the bell ring—once on one occasion and four on the other. And now visibly, tangibly, a great change was upon him. The healthy glow went from his face. There was a constant twitching of his hands; a continual, impatient snapping of his fingers. His eyes lost their steady gaze. They roved aimlessly, and one’s impression always was that he was listening. The strength of the master spirit was being slowly destroyed, eaten up by a hideous gnawing thing of which he seemed hopelessly obsessed. But he took no one into his confidence; it was his own private affair to work out to the end.
This condition was upon him at a time when the activity of the speculative centres of the world was abnormal, and when every faculty was needed in the great financial schemes of which he was the centre. He, in person, held the strings which guided millions. The importance of his business affairs was so insistently and relentlessly thrust upon him that he was compelled to meet them. But the effort was a desperate one, and that night late, when a city slept around him, the bell sounded twice.
When he reached his downtown office next day an enormous amount of detail work lay before him, and he attacked it with a feverish exaltation which followed upon days and nights of restlessness. He had been at his desk only a few minutes when his private telephone clattered. With an exclamation he arose; comprehending, he sat down again.
Half-a-dozen times within the hour the bell rang, and each time he was startled. Finally he arose in a passion, tore the desk-telephone from its connecting wires and flung it into the waste-basket. Deliberately he walked around to the side of his desk and, with a well-directed kick, smashed the battery-box. His secretary regarded him in amazement.
“Mr. Camp,” directed the financier sharply, “please instruct the office operator not to ring another telephone-bell in this office—ever.”
The secretary went out and he sat down to work again. Late that afternoon he called on his family physician, Doctor Perdue, a robust individual of whom it was said that his laugh cured more patients than his medicine. Be that as it may, he was a successful man, high in his profession. Doctor Perdue looked up with frank interest as he entered.
“Hello, Phillips!” was his greeting. “What can I do for you?”
“Nerves,” was the laconic answer.
“I thought it would come to that,” remarked the physician, and he shook his head sagely. “Too much work, too much worry and too many cigars; and besides, you’re not so young as you once were.”
“It isn’t work or cigars,” Phillips replied impatiently. “It’s worry—worry because of some peculiar circumstances which—which——”
He paused with a certain childish feeling of shame, of cowardice. Doctor Perdue regarded him keenly and felt of his pulse.
“What peculiar circumstances?” he demanded.
“Well, I—I can hardly explain it myself,” replied Mr. Phillips, between tightly-clenched teeth. “It’s intangible, unreal, ghostly—what you will. Perhaps I can best make you understand it by saying that I’m always—I always seem to be waiting for something.”
Doctor Perdue laughed heartily; Mr. Phillips glared at him.
“Most of us are always waiting for something,” said the physician. “If we got it there wouldn’t be any particular object in life. Just what sort of thing is it you’re always waiting for?”
Mr. Phillips arose suddenly and paced the length of the room twice. His under jaw was thrust out a little, his teeth crushed together, but in his eyes lay a haunting, furtive fear.
“I’m always waiting for a—for a bell,” he blurted fiercely, and his face became scarlet. “I know it’s absurd, but I awake in the night trembling, and lie for hours waiting, waiting, yet dreading the sound as no man ever dreaded anything in this world. At my desk I find myself straining every nerve, waiting, listening. When I talk to any one I’m always waiting, waiting, waiting! Now, right this minute, I’m waiting, waiting for it. The thing is driving me mad, man, mad! Don’t you understand?”
Doctor Perdue arose with grave face and led the financier back to his seat.
“You are behaving like a child, Phillips!” he said sharply. “Sit down and tell me about it.”
“Now, look here, Perdue,” and Mr. Phillips brought his fist down on the desk with a crash, “you must believe it—you’ve got to believe it! If you don’t, I shall know I am mad.”
“Tell me about it,” urged the physician quietly.
Then haltingly, hesitatingly, the financier related the incidents as they had happened. Incipient madness, fear, terror, blazed in his eyes, and at times his pale lips quivered as a child’s might. The physician listened attentively and nodded several times.
“The bell must be—must be haunted!” Mr. Phillips burst out in conclusion. “There’s no reasonable way to account for it. My common-sense tells me that it doesn’t sound at all, and yet I know it does.”
Doctor Perdue was silent for several minutes.
“You know, of course, that your wife did buy the bell of the old German?” he asked after a while.
“Why, certainly, I know it. It’s proved absolutely by the letters he writes trying to get it back.”
“And your fear doesn’t come from anything the Japanese said?”
“It isn’t the denial of the German; it isn’t the childish things Mr. Matsumi said and did; it’s the actual sound of the bell that’s driving me insane—it’s the hopeless, everlasting, eternal groping for a reason. It’s an inanimate thing and it acts as if—it acts as if it were alive!”
The physician had been sitting with his fingers on Mr. Phillips’ wrist. Now he arose and mixed a quieting potion which the other swallowed at a gulp. Soon after his patient went home somewhat more self-possessed, and with rigid instructions as to the regularity of his life and habits.
“You need about six months in Europe more than anything else,” Doctor Perdue declared. “Take three weeks, shape up your business and go. Meanwhile, if you won’t sell the gong or throw it away, keep out of its reach.”
Next morning a man—a stranger—was found dead in the small room where the gong hung. A bullet through the heart showed the manner of death. The door leading from the room into the hall was locked on the outside; an open window facing east indicated how he had entered and suggested a possible avenue of escape for his slayer.
Attracted by the excitement which followed the discovery of the body, Mr. and Mrs. Phillips went to investigate, and thus saw the dead man. The wife entered the room first, and for an instant stood speechless, staring into the white, upturned face. Then came an exclamation.
“Why, it’s the man from whom I bought the gong!” She turned to find her husband peering over her shoulder. His face was ashen to the lips, his eyes wide and staring.
“Johann Wagner!” he exclaimed.
Then, as if frenzied, he flung her aside and rushed to where the gong hung silent and motionless. He seemed bent on destruction as he reached for it with gripping fingers. Suddenly he staggered as if from a heavy blow in the face, and covered both eyes with his hands.
“Look!” he screamed.
There was a smudge of fresh, red blood on the fifth bell. Mrs. Phillips glanced from the bell to him inquiringly.
He stood for a moment with hands pressed to his eyes, then laughed mirthlessly, demoniacally.
Here a small brazier spouting a blue flame, there a retort partially filled with some purplish, foul-smelling liquid, yonder a sinuous copper coil winding off into the shadows, and moving about like an alchemist of old, the slender, childlike figure of Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, Ph. D., LL. D., F. R. S., M. D., etc., etc. A ray of light shot down blindingly from a reflector above and brilliantly illuminated the laboratory table. The worker leaned forward to peer at some minute particle under the microscope, and for an instant his head and face were thrown out against the darkness of the room like some grotesque, disembodied thing.
It was a singular head and face—a head out of all proportion to body, domelike, enormous, with a wilderness of straw-yellow hair. The face was small, wizened, petulant even; the watery blue eyes, narrow almost to the disappearing point, squinted everlastingly through thick spectacles; the mouth drooped at the corners. The small, white hands which twisted and turned the object-glass into focus were possessed of extraordinarily long, slender fingers.
This man of the large head and small body was the undisputed leader in contemporaneous science. His was the sanest, coldest, clearest brain in scientific achievement. His word was the final one. Once upon a time a newspaperman, Hutchinson Hatch, had dubbed him The Thinking Machine, and so it came about that the world at large had heard of and knew him by that title. The reporter, a tall, slender young man, sat now watching him curiously and listening. The scientist spoke in a tone of perpetual annoyance; but a long acquaintance had taught the reporter that it was what he said and not the manner of its saying that was to be heeded.
“Imagination, Mr. Hatch, is the single connecting link between man and the infinite,” The Thinking Machine was saying. “It is the one quality which distinguishes us from what we are pleased to call the brute creation, for we have the same passions, the same appetites, and the same desires. It is the most valuable adjunct to the scientific mind, because it is the basis of all scientific progress. It is the thing which temporarily bridges gaps and makes it possible to solve all material problems—not some, but all of them. We can achieve nothing until we imagine it. Just so far as the human brain can imagine it can comprehend. It fails only to comprehend the eternal purpose, the Omnipotent Will, because it cannot imagine it. For imagination has a limit, Mr. Hatch, and beyond that we are not to go—beyond that is Divinity.”
This wasn’t at all what Hatch had come to hear, but he listened with a sort of fascination.
“The first intelligent being,” the irritated voice went on, “had to imagine that when two were added to two there would be a result. He found it was four, he proved it was four, and instantly it became immutable—a point in logic, a thing by which we may solve problems. Thus two and two make four, not sometimes, but all the time.”
“I had always supposed that imagination was limitless,” Hatch ventured for a moment, “that it knows no bounds.”
The Thinking Machine squinted at him coldly.
“On the contrary,” he declared, “it has a boundary beyond which the mind of man merely reels, staggers, collapses. I’ll take you there.” He spoke as if it were just around the corner. “By aid of a microscope of far less power than the one there, the atomic or molecular theory was formulated. You know that—it is that all matter is composed of atoms. Now, imagination suggested and logic immutably demonstrates that the atoms themselves are composed of other atoms, and that those atoms in turn are composed of still others, ad infinitum. They are merely invisible, and imagination—I am not now stating a belief, but citing an example of what imagination can do—imagination can make us see the possibility of each of those atoms, down to infinity, being inhabited, being in itself a world relatively as distant from its fellows as we are from the moon. We can even imagine what those inhabitants would look like.”
He paused a minute; Hatch blinked several times.
“But the boundary lies the other way—through the telescope,” continued the scientist. “The most powerful glass ever devised has brought no suggestion of the end of the universe. It only brings more millions of worlds, invisible to the naked eye into sight. The stronger the glass, the more hopeless the task of even conjecturing the end, and here, too, the imagination can apply the atomic theory, and logic will support it. In other words, atoms make matter, matter makes the world, which is an inconceivably tiny speck in our solar system, an atom; therefore, all the millions and millions of worlds are mere atoms, infinitesimal parts of some far greater scheme. What greater scheme? There is the end of imagination! There the mind stops!”
The immensity of the conception made Hatch gasp a little. He sat silent for a long time, awed, oppressed. Never before in his life had he felt of so little consequence.
“Now, Mr. Hatch, as to this little problem that is annoying you,” continued The Thinking Machine, and the matter-of-fact tone was a great relief. “What I have said has had, of course, no bearing on it, except in so far as it demonstrates that imagination is necessary to solve a problem, that all material problems may be solved, and that, in meeting them, logic is the lever. It is a fixed quantity; its simplest rules have enabled me to solve petty affairs for you in the past, so——”
The reporter came to himself with a start. Then he laid before this master brain the circumstances which cast so strange a mystery about the death by violence of Johann Wagner, junk-dealer, in the home of Franklin Phillips, millionaire. But his information was only from the time the police came into the affair. Mr. Phillips, Doctor Perdue and Mr. Matsumi alone knew of the ringing of the bell.
“The blood-spot on one of the bells,” Hatch told the scientist in conclusion, “may be the mark of a hand, but its significance doesn’t appear. Just now the police are working on two queer points which they developed. First, Detective Mallory recognized the dead man as ‘Old Dutch’ Wagner, long suspected of conducting a ‘fence’—that is, receiving and disposing of stolen goods; and second, one of the servants in the Phillips’ household, Giles Francis, has disappeared. He hasn’t been seen since eleven o’clock on the night before the body was found, and then he was in bed sound asleep. Every article of his clothing, except a pair of shoes, trousers, and pajamas, was left behind.”
The Thinking Machine turned away from the laboratory table and sank into a chair. For a long time he sat with his enormous yellow head thrown back and his slender, white fingers pressed tip to tip.
“If Wagner was shot through the heart,” he said at last, “we know that death was instantaneous; therefore he could not have made the blood-mark on the bell.” It seemed to be a statement of fact. “But why should there be such a mark on the bell?”
“Detective Mallory thinks that——” began the reporter.
“Oh, never mind what he thinks!” interrupted the other testily. “What time was the body found?”
“About half-past nine yesterday morning.”
“Nothing. The body was simply there, the window open and the door locked, and there was the blood-mark on the bell.”
There was a pause. Cobwebby lines appeared on the broad forehead of the scientist and the squint eyes narrowed down to mere slits. Hatch was watching him curiously.
“What does Mr. Phillips say about it?” asked The Thinking Machine. He was still staring upward and his thin lips were drawn into a straight line.
“He is ill, just how ill we don’t know,” responded the newspaper man. “Doctor Perdue has, so far, not permitted the police to question him.”
The scientist lowered his eyes quickly.
“What’s the matter with him?” he demanded.
“I don’t know. Doctor Perdue has declined to make any statement.”
Half an hour later The Thinking Machine and Hatch called at the Phillips’ house. They met Doctor Perdue coming out. His face was grave and preoccupied; his professional air of jocundity was wholly absent. He shook hands with The Thinking Machine, whom he had met years before beside an operating-table, and reŽntered the house with him. Together the three went to the little room—the scene of the tragedy.
The Japanese gong still swung over the desk. The crabbed little scientist went straight to it, and for five minutes devoted his undivided attention to a study of the splotch on the fifth bell. From the expression of his face Hatch could gather nothing. What the scientist saw might or might not have been illuminating. Was the splotch the mark of a hand? If it were, Hatch argued, it offered no clew, as the intricate lines of the flesh were smeared together, obliterated.
Next The Thinking Machine critically glanced about him, and finally threw open the window facing east. For a long time he stood silently squinting out; and, save for the minute lines in his forehead, there was no indication whatever of his mental workings. The little room was on the second floor and jutted out at right angles across a narrow alley which ran beneath them to the kitchen in the back. The dead-wall of the next building was only four feet from the Phillips’ wall, and was without windows, so it was easily seen how a man, unobserved, might climb up from below despite an arc-light above the wide front door of an apartment-house across the street, visible in the vista of the alley.
“Do you happen to know, Perdue,” asked The Thinking Machine at last, “if this west window was ever opened?”
“Never,” replied the physician. “Detective Mallory questioned the servants about it. It seems that the kitchen is beneath, somewhat to the back, and the odors of cooking came up.”
“How many outside doors has this house?”
“Only two,” was the reply: “the one you entered, and one opening into the alley below us.”
“Both were found locked yesterday morning?”
“Yes. Both doors have spring‑locks, therefore each locks itself when closed.”
“Oh!” exclaimed the scientist suddenly.
He turned away from the window, and, for a second time, examined the still and silent gong. Somewhere in his mind seemed to be an inkling that the gong might be more closely associated than appeared with the mystery of death, and yet, watching him curiously, Doctor Perdue knew he could have no knowledge of the sinister part it had played in the affair. With a penknife The Thinking Machine made a slight mark on the under side of each bell in turn; then squinted at them, one after another. On the inside of the top bell—the largest—he found something—a mark, a symbol perhaps—but it seemed meaningless to Hatch and Doctor Perdue, who were peering over his shoulder.
It was merely a circle with three upward rays and three dots inside it.
“The manufacturer’s mark, perhaps,” Hatch suggested.
“Of course, it’s impossible that the bell could have had anything to do——” Doctor Perdue began.
“Nothing is impossible, Perdue,” snapped the scientist crabbedly. “Do not say that. It annoys me exceedingly.” He continued to stare at the symbol. “Just where was the body found?” he asked after a little.
“Here,” replied Doctor Perdue, and he indicated a spot near the window.
The Thinking Machine measured the distance with his eye.
“The only real problem here,” he remarked musingly, after a moment, as if supplementing a previous statement, “is what made him lock the door and run?”
“What made—who?” Hatch asked eagerly.
The Thinking Machine merely squinted at him, through him, beyond him with glassy eyes. His thoughts seemed far away and the cobwebby lines in his forehead grew deeper. Doctor Perdue was apparently at the moment too self-absorbed to heed.
“Now, Perdue,” demanded The Thinking Machine suddenly, “what is really the matter with Mr. Phillips?”
“Well, it’s rather——” he started haltingly, then went on as if his mind were made up: “You know, Van Dusen, there’s something back of all this that hasn’t been told, for reasons which I consider good ones. It might interest you, because you are keen on these things, but I doubt if it would help you. And besides, I should have to insist that you alone should hear it.”
He glanced meaningly at Hatch, whom he knew to be present only in his capacity as reporter.
“There’s something else—about the bell,” said The Thinking Machine quickly. It was not a question, but a statement.
“Yes, about the bell,” acquiesced the physician, as if a little surprised that the other should know. “But as I said it——”
“I undertook to get at the facts here to aid Mr. Hatch,” explained The Thinking Machine; “but I can assure you he will print nothing without my permission.”
Doctor Perdue looked at the newspaperman inquiringly; Hatch nodded.
“I guess perhaps it would be better for you to hear it from Phillips himself,” went on the physician. “Come along. I think he would be willing to tell you.”
Thus the scientist and the reporter met Franklin Phillips. He was in bed. The once masterful financier seemed but a shadow of what he had been. His strong face was now white and haggard, and lined almost beyond recognition. The lips were pale, the hands nervously clutched at the sheet, and in his eyes was horror—hideous horror. They glittered at times, and only at intervals reflected the strength, the power which once lay there. His present condition was as pitiable as it was inexplicable to Hatch, who remembered him as the rugged storm-centre of half a dozen spectacular financial battles.
Mr. Phillips talked willingly—seemed, indeed, relieved to be able to relate in detail those circumstances which, in a way, accounted for his utter collapse. As he went on volubly, yet coherently enough, his roving eyes settled on the petulant, inscrutable face of The Thinking Machine as if seeking, above all things, belief. He found it, for the scientist nodded time after time, and gradually the lines in the dome-like forehead were dissipated.
“Now I know why he ran,” declared the scientist positively, enigmatically. The remark was hopelessly without meaning to the others. “As I understand it, Mr. Phillips,” he asked, “the east window was always open when the bell sounded?”
“Yes, I believe it was, always,” replied Mr. Phillips after a moment’s thought.
“And you always heard it when the window was open?”
“Oh, no,” replied the financier. “There were many times when the window was open that I didn’t hear anything.”
A fleeting bewilderment crossed the scientist’s face, then was gone.
“Of course, of course,” he said after a moment. “Stupid of me. I should have known that. Now, the first time you ever noticed it the bell rang twice—that is, twice with an interval of, say, a few seconds between?”
“And you had had the gong, then, two or three months?”
“About three months—yes.”
“The weather remained cool during that time? Late winter and early spring?”
“I presume so. I don’t recall. I know the first time I heard the bell was an early, warm day of spring, because my window had not previously been opened.”
The Thinking Machine was dreamily squinting upward. As he stared into the quiet, narrow eyes a certain measure of confidence seemed to return to Mr. Phillips. He raised himself on an elbow.
“You say that once you heard the bell ring late at night—twice. What were the circumstances?”
“That was the night preceding a day of some important operations I had planned,” explained Mr. Phillips, “and I was in the little room for a long time after midnight going over some figures.”
“Do you remember the date?”
“Perfectly. It was Tuesday, the eleventh of this month,”—and, for an instant, memory called to Mr. Phillips’ face an expression which financial foes know well. “I remember, because next day I forced the market up to a record price on some railway stocks I control.”
The Thinking Machine nodded.
“This servant of yours who is missing, Francis, was rather a timid sort of man, I imagine.”
“Well, I could hardly say,” replied Mr. Phillips doubtfully.
“Well, he was,” declared The Thinking Machine flatly. “He was a good servant, I dare say?”
“Would it have been within his duties to close a window which might have been left open at night?”
“Rather a big man?”
“Yes, six feet or so—two hundred and ten pounds, perhaps.”
“And Mr. Matsumi was, of course, small?”
“Yes, small even for a Japanese.”
The Thinking Machine arose and placed his fingers on Mr. Phillips’ wrist. He stood thus for half a minute.
“Did you ever notice any odor after the bell rang?” he inquired at last.
“Odor?” Mr. Phillips seemed puzzled. “Why, I don’t see what an odor would have to do——”
“I didn’t expect you to,” interrupted The Thinking Machine crustily. “I merely want to know if you noticed one.”
“No,” retorted Mr. Phillips shortly.
“And could you explain your precise feelings?” continued the scientist. “Did the effect of the bell’s ringing seem to be entirely mental, or was it physical? In other words, was there any physical exaltation or depression when you heard it?”
“It would be rather difficult to say—even to myself,” responded Mr. Phillips. “It always seemed to be a shock, but I suppose it was really a mental condition which reacted on my nerves.”
The Thinking Machine walked over to the window and stood with his back to the others. For a minute or more he remained there, and three eager pairs of eyes were fixed inquiringly on the back of his yellow head. Beneath the irritated voice, behind the inscrutable face, in the disjointed questioning, they all knew intuitively there was some definite purpose, but to none came a glimmer of light as to its nature.
“I think, perhaps, the matter is all clear now,” he remarked musingly at last. “There are two vital questions yet to be answered. If the first of these is answered in the affirmative, I know that a mind—I may say a Japanese mind—of singular ingenious quality conceived the condition which brought about this affair; if in the negative, the entire matter becomes ridiculously simple.”
Mr. Phillips was leaning forward, listening greedily. There was hope and fear, doubt and confidence, eagerness and a certain tense restraint in his manner. Doctor Perdue was silent; Hatch merely waited.
“What made the bell ring?” demanded Mr. Phillips.
“I must find the answer to the two remaining questions first,” returned The Thinking Machine.
“You mentioned a Japanese,” said Mr. Phillips. “Do you suspect Mr. Matsumi of any connection with the—the mystery?”
“I never suspect persons of things, Mr. Phillips,” said The Thinking Machine curtly. “I never suspect—I always know. When I know in this case I shall inform you. Mr. Hatch and I are going out for a few minutes. When we return the matter can be disposed of in ten minutes.”
He led the way out and along the hall to the little room where the gong hung. Hatch closed the door as he entered. Then for the third time the scientist examined the bells. He struck the fifth violently time after time, and after each stroke he thrust an inquisitive nose almost against it and sniffed. Hatch stared at him in wonderment. When the scientist had finished he shook his head as if answering a question in the negative. With Hatch following he passed out into the street.
“What’s the matter with Phillips?” the reporter ventured, as they reached the sidewalk.
“Scared, frightened,” was the tart rejoinder. “He’s merely morbidly anxious to account for the bell’s ringing. If I had been absolutely certain before I came out I should have told him. I am certain now. You know, Mr. Hatch, when a thing is beyond immediate understanding it instantly suggests the supernatural to some minds. Mr. Phillips wouldn’t confess it, but he sees back of the ringing of that bell some uncanny power—a threat, perhaps—and the thing has preyed upon him until he’s nearly insane. When I can arrange to make him understand perfectly why the bell rings he will be all right again.”
“I can readily see how the ringing of the bell strikes one as uncanny,” Hatch declared grimly. “Have you an idea what causes it?”
“I know what causes it,” returned the other irritably. “And if you don’t know you’re stupid.”
The reporter shook his head hopelessly.
They crossed the street to the big apartment-house opposite, and entered. The Thinking Machine inquired for and was shown into the office of the manager. He had only one question.
“Was there a ball, or reception, or anything of that sort held in this building on Tuesday night, the eleventh of this month?” he inquired.
“No,” was the response. “There has never been anything of that sort here.”
“Thanks,” said The Thinking Machine. “Good-day.”
Turning abruptly he left the manager to figure that out as best he could, and, with Hatch following, ascended the stairs to the next floor. Here was a wide, airy hallway extending the full length of the building. The Thinking Machine glanced neither to right nor left; he went straight to the rear, where a plate‑glass window enframed a panorama of the city. From where they stood the city’s roofs slanted down toward the heart of the business district, half a mile away.
As Hatch looked on The Thinking Machine took out his watch and set it two and a half minutes forward, after which he turned and walked to the other end of the hall. Here, too, was a plate-glass window. For just a fraction of an instant he stood staring straight out at the Phillips’ home across the way; then, without a word, retraced his steps down the stairs and into the street.
Hatch’s head was overflowing with questions, but he choked them back and merely trailed along. They reŽntered the Phillips’ house in silence. Doctor Perdue and Harvey Phillips met them in the hallway. An expression of infinite relief came into the physician’s face at the sight of The Thinking Machine.
“I’m glad you’re back so soon,” he said quickly. “Here’s a new development and a singular one.” He referred evidently to a long envelope he held. “Step into the library here.”
They entered, and Doctor Perdue carefully closed the door behind them.
“Just a few minutes ago Harvey received a sealed envelope by mail,” he explained. “It inclosed this one, also sealed. He was going to show it to his father, but I didn’t think it wise because of—because——”
The Thinking Machine took the envelope in one slender hand and examined it. It was a perfectly plain white one, and bore only a single line written in a small, copper-plate hand with occasional unexpected angles:
“To be opened when the fifth bell rings eleven times.”
Something as nearly approaching complacent satisfaction as Hatch had ever seen overspread the petulant countenance of The Thinking Machine, and a long, aspirated “Ah!” escaped the thin lips. There was a hushed silence. Harvey Phillips, to whom nothing of the mystery was known beyond the actual death of Wagner, sought to read what it all meant in Doctor Perdue’s face. In turn Doctor Perdue’s eyes were fastened on The Thinking Machine.
“Of course, you don’t know whom this is from, Mr. Phillips?” inquired the scientist of the young man.
“I have no idea,” was the reply. “It seemed to amaze Doctor Perdue here, but, frankly, I can’t imagine why.”
“You don’t know the handwriting?”
“Well, I do,” declared The Thinking Machine emphatically. “It’s Mr. Matsumi’s.” He glared at the physician. “And in it lies the key to this affair of the bell. The mere fact that it came at all proves everything as I saw it.”
“But it can’t be from Matsumi,” protested the young man. “The postmark on the outside was Cleveland.”
“That means merely that he is running away to escape arrest on a charge of murder.”
“Then Matsumi killed Wagner?” Hatch asked quickly.
“I didn’t say it was a confession,” responded the scientist curtly. “It is merely a history of the bell. I dare say——”
Suddenly the door was thrown open and Mrs. Phillips entered. Her face was ashen.
“Doctor, he is worse—sinking rapidly!” she gasped. “Please come!”
Doctor Perdue glanced from her pallid face to the impassive Thinking Machine.
“Van Dusen,” he said solemnly, “if you can do anything to explain this thing, do it now. I know it will save a man’s reason—it might save his life.”
“Is he conscious?” inquired the scientist of Mrs. Phillips.
“No, he seems to have utterly collapsed,” she explained. “I was talking to him when suddenly he sat up in bed as if listening, then shrieked something I didn’t understand and fell back unconscious.”
Doctor Perdue was dragged out of the room by the wife and son. The Thinking Machine glanced at his watch. It was three and a half minutes past four o’clock. He nodded, then turned to Hatch.
“Please go into the little room and close the window,” he instructed. “Mr. Phillips has heard the bell again, and I imagine Doctor Perdue needs me. Meanwhile, put this envelope in your pocket.” And he handed to Hatch the mysterious sealed packet.
It was twenty minutes past nine o’clock that evening. In the little room where the gong hung were Franklin Phillips, pale and weak, but eager; Doctor Perdue, The Thinking Machine, Harvey Phillips and Hatch. For four hours Doctor Perdue and the scientist had labored over the unconscious financier, and finally a tinge of color returned to the pale lips; then came consciousness.
“It was my suggestion, Mr. Phillips, that we are here,” explained The Thinking Machine quietly. “I want to show you just why and how the bell rings, and incidentally clear up the other points of the mystery. Now, if I should tell you that the bell will sound a given number of times at a given instant, and it should sound, you would know that I was aware of the cause?”
“Certainly,” assented Mr. Phillips eagerly.
“And then if I demonstrated tangibly how it sounded you would be satisfied?”
“Yes, of course—yes.”
“Very good.” And the scientist turned to the reporter: “Mr. Hatch, ’phone the Weather Bureau and ask if there was a storm about midnight preceding the finding of Wagner’s body; also if there was thunder. And get the direction and velocity of the wind. I know, of course, that there was thunder, and that the wind was either from the east, or there was no wind. I know it, not from personal observation, but by the pure logic of events.”
The reporter nodded.
“Also I will have to ask you to borrow for me somewhere a violin and a champagne-glass.”
There happened to be a violin in the house. Harvey Phillips went for it, and Hatch went to the ’phone. Five minutes later he reappeared; Harvey Phillips had preceded him.
“Light wind from the east, four miles an hour,” Hatch reported tersely. “The storm threatened just before midnight. There was vivid lightning and heavy thunder.”
To prosaic Doctor Perdue these preliminaries smacked a little of charlatanry. Mr. Phillips was interested, but impatient. The Thinking Machine, watch in hand, lay back in his chair, squinting steadily upward.
“Now, Mr. Phillips,” he announced, “in just thirty-three and three-quarter minutes the bell will ring. It will sound ten times. I am taking pains to reproduce the exact conditions under which the bell has always sounded since you have known it, because if I show you there can be no doubt.”
Mr. Phillips was leaning forward, gripping the arms of his chair.
“Meanwhile, I will reconstruct the events, not as they might have happened, but as they must have happened,” continued The Thinking Machine. “They will not be in sequence, but as they were revealed to me by each added fact, for logic, Mr. Phillips, is only a sum in arithmetic, and the answer based on every known fact must be correct as inevitably as that two and two make four—not sometimes, but all the time.
“Well, a man was found dead here—shot. His mere presence indicated burglary. The open window showed how he probably entered. Considering only these superficial facts, we see instantly that more than one person might have entered that window. Yet it is hardly likely that two thieves entered, and one killed the other before they got their booty, for nothing was stolen, and it is still less likely that one man came here to commit suicide. What then?
“The blood mark on the bell. It was made by a human hand. Yet a man shot instantly dead could not have made it. Therefore we know there was another person. The door locked on the outside absolutely confirmed this. Ordinarily, I dare say, the door is never locked? No? Then who locked it? Certainly not a second thief, for he would not have risked escaping through the house after a shot which, for all he knew, had aroused every one. Ergo, some one in the house locked the door. Who?
“One of your servants, Giles Francis, is missing. Did he hear some one in the room? No, for he would have alarmed the household. What happened to him? Where is he? There is, of course, a chance that he ran out to find an officer and was disposed of in some way by an outside confederate of the man inside. But remember, please, the last we know of him he was asleep in bed. The vital point, therefore, is, what aroused him? From that we can easily develop his subsequent actions.”
The Thinking Machine paused and glanced casually at his watch, then toward the east window, which was open with the screen in.
“We know,” he resumed, “that if Francis had been aroused by burglars, or by a sound which he attributed to burglars, he would have awakened other servants. We must suppose he was awakened by some noise. What is most probable? Thunder! That would account for his every act. So let’s say for the moment that it was thunder, that he remembered this window was open, partially dressed himself and came here to close it. This was, we will also presume, just before midnight. He met Wagner here, and in some way got Wagner’s revolver. Then the fatal shot was fired.
“From this point, as the facts developed, Francis’ acts became more difficult of comprehension. I could readily see how, when Wagner fell, Francis might have placed his hand over the heart to see if he were dead, and thus stained his hands; but why did Francis then smear blood on the fifth bell of the gong, leave this room, locking the door behind him, and run into the street? In other words, why did he lock the door and run?
“I had already attached considerable importance to the gong, primarily because of the blood, and had examined the bells closely. I even scratched them to assure myself that they were bronze and not a precious metal which would attract thieves. Then, Mr. Phillips, I heard your story, and instantly I knew why Francis locked the door and ran. It was because he was frightened—horribly, unspeakably frightened. Naturally there was a nerve-racking shock when he found he had killed a man. Then as he stood, horror-stricken perhaps, the bell rang. It affected him as it did you, Mr. Phillips, but under circumstances which were inconceivably more terrifying to a timid man. The bell rang six, seven, eight—perhaps a dozen times. To Francis, looking down upon a man he had killed, it was maddening, inexplicable. He placed his hand on it to stop the sound, then, crazed with terror, ran out of the room, locking the door behind him, and out of the house. The outer door closed with a spring-lock. He will return in time, because, of course, he was justified in killing Wagner.”
Again The Thinking Machine glanced at his watch. Eighteen minutes of the specified thirty-three had elapsed.
“Now, as to the bell itself,” he went on, “its history is of no consequence. It’s Japanese and we know it’s extremely old. We must assume from Mr. Matsumi’s conduct that it is an object of—of, say, veneration. We can imagine it hanging in a temple; perhaps it rang there, and awed multitudes listened. Perhaps they regarded it as prophetic. After its disappearance from Japan—we don’t know how—Mr. Matsumi was naturally amazed to see it here, and was anxious to buy it. You refused to listen to him, Mr. Phillips. Then he went to Wagner and offered, we’ll say, several thousand dollars for it. That accounts for Wagner’s letters and his presence here. He came to steal the thing which he couldn’t buy. His denial of all knowledge of the bell is explained readily by Detective Mallory’s statement that he had long been suspected of handling stolen goods. He denied because he feared a trap.
“I may add that I attributed an ingenuity of construction to the bell which it did not possess. When I asked if you ever noted any odor when it sounded, Mr. Phillips, I had an idea that perhaps your present condition had been brought about by a subtle poison in which the gong had once been immersed, particles of which, when the bell sounded, might have been cast off and drawn into the lungs. I can assure you, however, that there was no poison. That is all, I think.”
“But the sealed letter——” began Doctor Perdue.
“Oh, I opened that,” was the casual rejoinder; but Doctor Perdue, as he looked, read a warning in the scientist’s face. “It related to another matter entirely.”
Doctor Perdue gazed at him a moment and understood. Unconsciously Hatch felt of the pocket where he had placed the letter. It was still there. He, too, understood. The Thinking Machine arose, glanced out of the window, then turned to the reporter.
“Now, Mr. Hatch,” he requested, “please go across the street to the apartment-house, and open the rear window in the hall where we were. See that it remains open for twenty minutes; then return here. Keep out of the hall while the window is open, and if possible, keep others out.”
Without a word or question, Hatch went out. The Thinking Machine dropped back into his chair, glanced at his watch, then scribbled something on a card which he handed to Doctor Perdue.
“By the way,” he remarked irrelevantly, “there’s an excellent compound for nervous indigestion I ran across the other day.”
Doctor Perdue read the card. On it was:
“Letter dangerous. Probably predicts death. Has religious significance. Would advise Phillips not be informed.”
“I’ll try it some time,” remarked Doctor Perdue.
There was a silence of two or three minutes. The Thinking Machine was idly twirling his watch in his slender fingers; Mr. Phillips sat staring at the bell, but there was no longer fright in his manner; it seemed rather curiosity.
“In just three minutes,” said The Thinking Machine at last. A pause. “Now, two!” Again a pause. “Now, one! Be perfectly calm and listen!” Another pause, then suddenly: “Now!”
“Boom!” rang the bell, as if echoing the word. Despite himself, Mr. Phillips started a little, and the scientist’s fingers closed on his pulse. “Boom!” again came the note. The bell hung motionless; the musical clangor seemed to roll out methodically, rhythmically. Three! Four! Five! Six! Seven! Eight! Nine! Ten!
When the last note sounded, The Thinking Machine was staring into Mr. Phillips’ face, seeking understanding. He found only bewilderment, and with quick impatience picked up the violin and bow.
“Here!” he exclaimed curtly. “Watch the champagne glass.”
He tapped the fragile glass, and it sang shrilly. Then, on the violin, he sought the accompanying chord. Four times he drew the bow across the strings, and the glass was silent. Then the violin caught the pitch and the glass, three or four feet away, sang with it. Louder and louder the violin note grew, then suddenly, with a crash, the thin receptacle collapsed, shattered, tumbled to pieces before their eyes. Mr. Phillips stared in the utmost astonishment.
“A little demonstration in natural philosophy,” explained The Thinking Machine. “In other words, vibration. Vibration sounded the glass, just as vibration sounded the bell on the gong there. You saw me sound the glass; the note which sounds the bell is a clock on a direct line half a mile away due east.”
Mr. Phillips stared first at the shattered glass, then at the scientist. After a moment he understood, and an inexpressible feeling of relief swept over him.
“But the bell didn’t always sound when the window was open,” objected Doctor Perdue, after a moment.
“The bell can only sound when this window and both hall windows on the second floor across the way are open—on warm nights, for instance,” replied The Thinking Machine. “Then, too, the wind must be from the east, or else there must be none. A gust of air, a person passing through the hall, any one of a dozen things would interrupt the sensitive sound-waves and prevent all strokes of the clock reaching the bell here, while some of them might. Of course, any bell on the gong may be sounded with a violin, or, if they are true notes, with a piano, and I knew this at first. But Mr. Phillips had once heard the bell long after midnight—say two o’clock in the morning. Pianos and violins are not going so late, except perhaps at a ball. There was no ball across the street that night; therefore we came to the obvious remainder—a clock. It is visible from the rear window of the second-floor hall over there. It’s all logic, logic!”
There was a pause. Doctor Perdue, looking into the face of his patient, was reassured by what he saw there, and something of his own professional jocundity asserted itself.
“Instead of being a thing to make you nervous, Phillips,” he said at last with a smile, “it seems to me that the bell is an excellent and reliable timepiece.”
Mr. Phillips glanced at him quickly and the drawn, white face was relieved by a slight smile. After a while Hatch returned and for some time the little party sat in the room talking over the affair. Their conversation was interrupted at last by the clangor of the bell, and every person present rose and stared at it anew with the exception of The Thinking Machine. His squint eyes were still turned upward—he didn’t even alter his position. There were eleven strokes of the bell, then silence.
“Eleven o’clock,” remarked The Thinking Machine placidly. “You left the windows open over there, Mr. Hatch.”
Mr. Phillips was in bed sleeping when Doctor Perdue and The Thinking Machine, accompanied by Hatch, went away.
“Suppose we drop in at my place and look at that letter?” suggested the doctor.
The Thinking Machine, in Doctor Perdue’s office, took the sealed packet from the reporter and opened it. Doctor Perdue was peering over his shoulder. The scientist squinted down the page with inscrutable face, then crumpled up the letter, struck a match and ignited it.
“But—but——” protested Doctor Perdue quickly, and Hatch saw that some strange pallor suddenly overspread his face, “it said that—that eleven strokes meant—meant——”
“You’re a fool, Perdue!” snapped The Thinking Machine, and he glared straight into the physician’s eyes. “Didn’t I show why and how the bell rang? Do you expect me to account for every barbaric superstition of a half-civilized race regarding the bell.”
The paper burned, and The Thinking Machine crumpled up the ashes and dropped them in a waste-basket.
• • • • • •
Two days later Franklin Phillips was himself again; on the fourth day he appeared at his office. On the sixth the market began to feel the master’s clutch; on the eighth Francis was taken into custody and related a story identical with that told by The Thinking Machine to account for his disappearance; on the eleventh Franklin Phillips was found dead in bed. On his forehead was a pallid, white spot, faintly visible. It was a circle with three dots inside and three rays extending out from it.