The World MastersGeorge Chetwynd Griffith / Science Fiction
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THE WORLD MASTERS
_BY THE SAME AUTHOR_
SIDELIGHTS ON CONVICT LIFE
_With numerous Illustrations taken from Life_
Crown 8vo, Cloth Gilt, 6s.
JOHN LONG, PublisherLONDON
THE WORLD MASTERS
AUTHOR OF_The Angel of the Revolution_, _Brothers of the Chain_,_The Justice of Revenge_, _A Honeymoon in Space_,_Captain Johnnie_, _etc. etc._
LondonJohn Long13 and 14 Norris Street, Haymarket1903[_All Rights Reserved_]
THE WORLD MASTERS
THE MOMENT OF TRIUMPH
High above the night-shrouded street, whose silence was only broken bythe occasional tramp of the military patrol or the gruff challenges ofthe sentries on the fortifications, a man was walking, with jerky,uneven strides, up and down a vast attic in an ancient houseoverlooking the old Fisher's Gate, close by where the River Ill leavesthe famous city of Strassburg.
The room, practically destitute of ordinary furniture, was fitted upas a chemical and physical laboratory, and the man was Doctor EmilFargeau, the most distinguished scientific investigator that the lostprovince of Alsace had produced--a tall, spare man of about sixty,with sloping, stooping shoulders and forward-thrown head, thinlycovered with straggling iron-grey hair. It was plain that he was inthe habit of shaving clean, but just now there was a short whitestubble both on his upper lip and on the lean wrinkled cheeks whichshowed the nervous workings of the muscles so plainly. In fact, hiswhole appearance was that of a man too completely absorbed by anover-mastering idea to pay any attention to the small details of life.
And such was the exact truth--for these few mid-night minutes whichwere being ticked off by an ancient wooden clock in the corner werethe most anxious of his life. In fact, a few more of them would decidewhether the Great Experiment, for which he had sacrificed everything,even to his home and his great professional position, was to be asuccess or a failure.
On the long, bare, pine table, beside which he was pacing up and down,stood a strange fabric about three feet high. It was round, and aboutthe size of a four-gallon ale jar. It was covered completely by aclosed glass cylinder, and rested on four strong glass supports.From the floor on either side of the table a number of twisted,silk-covered wires rose from two sets of storage batteries. Within thefour supports was a wooden dish, and on this lay a piece of brightsteel some four inches square and about an inch thick, just under acircle of needles which hung down in a circle from the bottom of themachine.
A very faint humming sound filled the room, and made a somewhatuncanny accompaniment to the leisurely tick of the clock and theirregular shuffling of the doctor's slippered feet.
Every now and then he stopped, and put his ear near to the machine,and then looked at the piece of steel with a gleam of longinganticipation in his keen, deep-set, grey eyes. Then he began his walkagain, and his lips went on working, as though he were holding aninaudible conversation with himself. At last there came a faint whirrfrom the clock, a little window opened, and a wooden bird bobbed outand said Cuckoo once. The doctor stopped instantly, took out hiswatch and compared it with the clock.
Now, let us see! he said, quietly, in his somewhat guttural AlsatianFrench, for in this supreme moment of his life he had gone back to thepatois of his boyhood, which he had spoken in the days before theTeuton's iron hand had snatched his well-loved native land from Franceand begun to rule it according to the pitiless doctrine of Blood andIron.
He pulled the platter out from under the machine, picked up a littlewooden mallet from the table, and, with a trembling hand, struck thesteel plate in the centre. It splintered instantly to fragments, asthough it had only been a thin sheet of glass. The doctor dropped themallet, lifted his hand to the window that looked out over the rivertowards the citadel, and said:
It is done! And so, Germany, stealer of our land and oppressor of mypeople, will I break the great fabric of your power with one touch ofthis weak old hand of mine!
Then he threw open one of the old-fashioned dormer windows that lookedout over the northern part of the city towards France, and began tospeak again in a low, intense tone which rose and fell slightly as hisdeep breaths came and went.
But France, my beautiful mother France, thou shalt know soon that Ihave done more than given thee the power to turn on thy conqueror andcrush him. I can make thee queen and mistress of the world, and I willdo it. The other nations shall live and prosper only at thy bidding,and they shall pay thee tribute for the privilege of being somethingmore than the savages from which they came.
Those who will not pay thee tribute shall go back to the Stone Age,for I will show thee how to make their metals useless. Only with thypermission shall their steam-engines work for them, or theirtelegraphs record their words; for I have found the Soul of the World,the Living Principle of Material Things, and I will draw it out of thefabric of Nature as I have done out of that block of steel. And I willgive it into thy hands, and the nations shall live or die according tothy pleasure.
And you, Adelaide, daughter of our ancient line of kings, descendantof the Grand Monarch, you shall join hands with my Victor after he hasflung off the livery of his servitude, and together you shall raise upthe throne of Saint Louis in the place where these usurpers andRepublican canaille have reigned over ruined France. The Prince ofConde shall sit in the seat of his ancestors, and after him Adelaidede Montpensier--and Victor, my son, shall stand beside her, ruler ofthe world!
A miracle, and yet 'tis true! Possible, for I have made it possible.It is only for France to believe me and spend her millions--millionsthat will buy her the Empire of the Earth, and it is done--done aseasily as I worked that seeming miracle just now. I have riskedmuch--all--for I have hazarded even honour itself; but my faith isjustified, and I have won--and now, let me see how I stand before theworld for the present.
He went and sat down before the only piece of ordinary furniture thatthe laboratory contained, an old oak bureau, on which stood a littleshaded reading-lamp. He unlocked a drawer, and took out a littlewash-leather bag. He undid it and emptied it into his hand. There wereten twenty-mark pieces--just ten pounds and a few pence in Englishmoney. In his pocket he had perhaps twenty-five marks more.
It is not much, he whispered, as he looked at the gold in his hand;not much at the end of a life's work, as the world would call it. Butthe world knows nothing of that! he went on, half-turning his headtowards the machine on the table. As the world takes wealth, this isall that is left of fortune, lands, and savings. Everything is gonebut this, and that--ay, and more also. Yes, it was a hard fate thatforced me to do that. Still, science showed me how to alter thefigures so that not even the filthy Jew Weinthal himself could tell ifhe had the draft in his hand. That he will never have; for it has amonth to run, and before that France will have made me rich. It wasnot right, but the scoundrel only gave me half what the last farm wasworth, and I had to have more to finish my work. Yet, is it nothonourable even to sin in such a cause! Well, well, it is over now. Ihave triumphed, and that atones for all; and so to bed and gooddreams, and to-morrow to Paris!