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Dr Hermann Anderwelt






Part of: Secrets of Space
From: Pharaoh's Broker

I had been busy all day trying to swarm the bees and secure my honey.
The previous day had been February 29th, a date which doesn't often
happen, and which I had especial reason to remember, for it had been the
most successful of my business career. I had made a long guess at the
shaky condition of the great house of Slater, Bawker & Co., who had been
heavy buyers of wheat. I had talked the market down, sold it down,
hammered it down; and, true enough, what nobody else seemed to expect
really happened. The big firm failed, the price of wheat went to smash
in a panic of my mixing, and, as a result, I saw a profit of more than
two hundred thousand dollars in the deal. But, in order to secure this
snug sum, I still had to buy back the wheat I had sold at higher prices,
and this I didn't find so easy. The crowd in the wheat pit had seen my
hand, and were letting me play it alone against them all.

After the session I hurried to my office to get my overcoat and hat,
having an engagement to lunch at the Club.

"If you please, Mr. Werner, there is a queer old gentleman in your
private office who wishes to see you," said Flynn, my chief clerk.

"Ask him to call again to-morrow; I am in a great hurry to-day," I said,
slipping on one sleeve of my overcoat as I started out.

"But he has been waiting in there since eleven o'clock, and said he very
much wished to see you when you had plenty of time. He would not allow
me to send on the floor for you during the session."

"Since eleven o'clock! Did he have his lunch and a novel sent up? Well,
I can hardly run away from a man who has waited three and a half hours
to see me;" and I entered my private office with my overcoat on.

Seated in my deep, leathern arm-chair was an elderly man, with rather
long and bushy iron-grey hair, and an uneven grey beard. His head
inclined forward, he breathed heavily, and was apparently fast asleep.

"You will pardon my awaking you, but I never do business asleep!" I
ventured rather loudly.

Slowly the steel-blue eyes opened, and, without any start or
discomposure, the old man answered,--

"And I--my most successful enterprises are developed in my dreams."

His features and his accent agreed in pronouncing him German. He arose
calmly, buttoned the lowest button of his worn frock-coat, and, instead
of extending his hand to me, he poked it inside his coat, letting it
hang heavily on the single button. It was a lazy but characteristic
attitude. It tended to make his coat pouch and his shoulders droop. I
remembered having seen it somewhere before.

"Mr. Werner, I have a matter of the deepest and vastest importance to
unfold to you," he began, rather mysteriously, "for which I desire five
hours of your unemployed time----"

"Five hours!" I interrupted. "You do not know me! That much is hard to
find without running into the middle of the night, or into the middle of
the day--which is worse for a busy man. I have just five minutes to
spare this afternoon, which will be quite time enough to tell me who you
are and why you have sought me."

"You do not know me because you do not expect to see me on this
hemisphere," he continued. "Nor did I expect to find you a potent force
in the commercial world, only three years after a literary and
linguistic preparation for a scholarly career. Why, the maedchens of
Heidelberg have hardly had time to forget your tall, athletic figure, or
ceased wondering if you were really a Hebrew----"

"You seem to be altogether familiar with my history," I put in with a
little heat. "Kindly enlighten me equally well as to your own."

"I gave you the pleasure of an additional year of residence at the
University of Heidelberg not long ago," he answered.

"I do not know how that can be, for to my uncle I owe my entire
education there."

"Perhaps an unappreciated trifle of it you owe to your instructors and
lecturers. Do you forget that I refused to pass your examinations in
physics, and kept you there a year longer?"

"You are not Doctor Anderwelt, then?"

"Hermann Anderwelt, Ph.D., at your service, sir," he replied somewhat
proudly.

"But when and why did you leave your chair at Heidelberg?"

"It is to answer this that I ask the five hours," he said slowly.

"Oh, come now, doctor, you used to tell me more in a two-hour lecture
than I could remember in a week," I answered, taking off my overcoat,
and touching an electric button at my desk. My office boy entered.

"Teddy, have I had lunch to-day?" This was my favourite question on a
busy day, and Teddy always answered it seriously.

"No, sir, you have an engagement to lunch at the Standard Club," he
replied.

"Telephone to Gus at the Club that I can't come up to-day. Also send
over to the Grand Pacific for a good lunch for two. Have some beer in
it--real Munchner, and in steins," I directed, and then I reclined on
a long leather lounge, and motioned to the doctor to have a chair. He
declined, however, and walked slowly back and forth before me as he
talked, keeping his right hand inside his coat, and with the left he
occasionally ploughed up his heavy hair, as if to ventilate his brain.

"A year ago I gave up theoretical physics for applied physics; I
resigned my chair at Heidelberg, and came to this progressive city. I
brought with me a working model of the greatest invention of this
inventive age. Yet it was then neither perfect in design nor complete in
detail. But now I have hit on the plan that makes it practicable and
certain of success. I need only a little money to build it, and the
world will open its eyes!"

"But you must pardon me if instead of opening mine I shut them," I
interrupted, seeing the point quickly, and losing no time in dodging. "I
have no money to invest in patent rights; but still, you must stay to
lunch with me."

Just here the doctor seemed to find it necessary to diverge from the
orderly course of his lecture as he had prepared it, and interject a few
impromptu observations.

"Events are difficult to forecast, but the capabilities of a youth are
harder to divine. One educates his son in all the fine arts, and he
turns out a founder of pig iron. One's nephew is apprenticed to a
watchmaker, and in a few years, behold, he is a great barrister. Your
uncle educated you thoroughly in the old Hebrew and Chaldee of the
rabbis, and, lo! you are now the ursa major of the wheat market.

"Just now you are in the centre of the kaleidoscope of success. Slater,
Bawker & Co. were there a month ago, but now they are only bits of
broken glass in the bottom of the heap! And you? you are really a
twisted bit of coloured glass like the rest, but you chance to be thrown
to the middle. The mirrors of public opinion multiply your importance
half a dozen times, and behold you are reflected into the whole picture.
But the kaleidoscope turns, and the pieces of glass are shifted. Other
broken chips now at the bottom of the heap will soon be filling the
centre!

"Permit me to change my figure of speech. You are sweeping back the
waves of the sea while the tide is falling, and the wide-mouthed public
looks on, and whispers about that your broom makes all the waves obey,
and drives them back at will. Just when you begin to believe it yourself
the tide may turn, and neither brooms nor all the powers on earth can
then sweep it back.

"Isidor Werner, you believe yourself rich; but your wealth is like
molasses in a sieve. If you do not dip in your finger and taste the
sweet occasionally, you will have nothing to show for your pains in the
end. I shall ask you for but a taste of the sweet now, so that I may
preserve a little of it against that day which may come, when the sieve
will be bright and clean and empty again!"

There was a knock at the door.

"Come in!" I shouted. "Nothing but this lunch can save me from your
eloquence. You have already ruined me in three similes!"

The waiter arranged a bountiful and tempting luncheon on a writing
table. I commenced on it at once, but the doctor, though repeatedly
urged, persistently refused. He took a long draught at a stein of
Munich beer, and continued:--

"My invention proposes to navigate the air and the ether beyond, as well
as the interplanetary spaces," he said impressively.

"Flying machine, eh?" I sneered, between bites of planked whitefish.

"Indeed no!" he growled, as if he detested this name. "My invention is
not a machine but a projectile. It is not self-propelling, because if it
depended upon its own propelling apparatus, it could not in thousands of
years navigate the interplanetary spaces. It is a gravity projectile,
and will travel at a rate of speed almost incalculable. It does not fly,
but its manner of travelling is more nearly like falling."

I gave the doctor a quick searching look to see if I could discover any
signs of incipient insanity. I met a firm, steady gaze; an earnest,
convincing look. Somehow, I felt there was something real and true and
wonderful about to come from the great scholar before me, and that I
must hear it and hear it all; that I must lend a serious and thoughtful
attention. My eyes were rivetted upon the doctor's for fully a minute in
silence.

"Go on," I said at last; "I am all attention."





Next: The Gravity Projectile

Previous: Elusive Truth



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