The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Infra-Medians, by Sewell Peaslee Wright
Title: The Infra-Medians
Author: Sewell Peaslee Wright
Release Date: March 17, 2007 [eBook #20838]
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE INFRA-MEDIANS***
E-text prepared by Greg Weeks, Tamise Totterdell,
and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team
This etext was produced from “Astounding Stories” December 1931. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
The others fell back instantly.
By Sewell Peaslee Wright
Into a land of shadows and lost
souls goes Pete Grahame in search
of his hapless friends.
There was no sense to the note. There was no sense to anything that Vic Butler did, for that matter. Where he hid away his vast scientific knowledge in that rattle-brained, red-haired head of his has always been a mystery to me. The note read:
If you get this, I’m in a jam that promises some action.
Drive out, if plane-peddling is palling on you, and bust into the lab. I’m leaving another note there for you, old son, and after you read it you can let your conscience be your guide.
Bring a gat along, and plenty of ammo. Hope’s away, at Aunt Cleo’s, so don’t get in touch with her and spoil her visit.
I had a hot prospect lined up for a demonstration that morning, but I didn’t even stop to give him a ring. Vic and I had been buddies ever since we were kids—and, besides, he was Hope’s brother.
Vic’s place was out on the river, about ten miles from town, and that little tan roadster of mine made it in just about ten minutes. The traffic in the business district slowed me up a bit.
There was nothing at all pretentious about the place; it was a rambling, lazy-looking house built largely of native stone, stretching its length comfortably in the shade of the big maples. Perrin, Vic’s man-of-all-work, came hurrying out of the house to greet me as I locked my wheels on the drive before the door.
“I’m glad you’re here, sir!” he exclaimed breathlessly. “I was just about to phone for the police; I was for certain, sir. Such goings on, I don’t know what to think!”
“What’s the matter, Perrin? Where’s Mr. Butler?”
“That’s it, sir! That’s exactly it. Where’s Mr. Butler? And—”
“Just a moment, please! Cut it short, Perrin. What’s happened?”
“I don’t know. Yesterday afternoon Mr. Butler leaves a letter for me, which I’m to mail early this morning, special delivery. It’s to you. I reckon you got it, sir?”
“That’s why I’m here. Go on.”
“Well, after that, he locks himself up in his workroom, so Mrs. Perrin says, she being housekeeper, as you know, sir, leaving word not to disturb him for dinner.
“We don’t think so much of that, Mr. Butler being took with streaks of working at all hours, as you know. But when Miss Hope came home unexpected this morning—”
“She cut her visit a few days short, her aunt having other house guests turn up unexpected like, and Miss Hope arrives first thing this morning, being here when I return from town after mailing the letter to you, sir.
“Mrs. Perrin had just told her about the master, and Miss Hope looks into his room. He isn’t there, and the bed hasn’t been slept in. ‘The poor dear,’ she says, ‘he’s worked himself half to death, and dropped off on that horrible cot he keeps in his laboratory,’ says Miss Hope. ‘I’ll let him sleep.’
“But just a few minutes ago, just before you arrived, sir, she became nervous like, and rapped on the door. There wasn’t a sound. So she went up to the master’s room and found a key, and went in. And now she don’t answer, and we were just about ready to call the police!”
“Let’s go inside!” I hurried by Perrin and through the cool, quiet hall to the broad door that opened into the big room at the back of the house, which was Vic’s laboratory.
Vic! Hope!” I pounded as hard as I could, shouting their names. There was no response.
“Is there another key, Perrin?” I snapped.
“No, sir; none that I know of. The master was mighty fussy about his workroom.”
“Can we get in through the windows?”
“No. They’re barred, if you remember rightly, and fitted with this frosted glass, so you can’t see in, even.”
“Then get me an ax!” I commanded. “Quick!”
“An ax?” hesitated Perrin.
“An ax—and be quick about it!”
Perrin mumbled a protest and hurried away. I turned to Mrs. Perrin, who had come up to determine the result of my shouting.
“How long is it since Miss Hope went in there?”
“How long, sir? I’d say about twenty minutes before you came. Maybe twenty-five. I wasn’t paying any particular attention, sir. She just got the key and went in. After a few minutes I heard something buzzing in there, and I thought maybe Mr. Butler was showing her some new gadget of his, like he was always doing. Then there was a telephone call for him, and I couldn’t make neither of them answer; that’s when Mr. Perrin and I began to get worried.”
“I see.” Perrin came hurrying up with the ax, and I motioned them aside. I swung the ax, and the head of the weapon crashed against the lock. The knob dropped to the floor with a clatter, but the door gave not at all.
I brought the ax down again, and something cracked sharply. The third blow sent the door swinging wide.
Cautiously, fearing I know not what, I entered the familiar room. Nothing, apparently, had been disturbed. There was no sign of disorder anywhere. The blankets on the narrow cot in the corner of the room had not been unfolded.
But neither Vic nor Hope were anywhere in sight.
You and Mrs. Perrin stay there by the door,” I suggested. “I don’t know what’s wrong here, but something’s happened. There’s no need for all of us entering.”
My second glance around the room was more deliberate. To my right were the big generators and the switchboards, gleaming with copper bus-bar, and intricate with their tortuous wiring. Directly before me was the long work-bench that ran the full length of the room, littered with a dozen set-ups for as many experiments. At my left was a sizable piece of apparatus that was strange to me; on a small enameled table beside it was a rather large sheet of paper, weighted down with a cracked Florence flask.
In a sort of panic, I snatched up the paper. Vic had said in his note, that he would leave another note for me here. This was it, for in a bold scrawl at the top was my name. And in hardly decipherable script, below, was his message:
First of all, let me say that you’ve no particular call to do anything about this. If I’m in a jam, it’s my own doing, and due to my bull-headedness, of which you have so often reminded me.
Knowing your dislike for science other than that related to aeronautics, I’ll cut this pretty short. It’ll probably sound crazy to you, anyway.
You know that there’s