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Elusive Truth






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

It was the Chicago Tribune of June 13th, 189-, which contained this
paragraph under the head-line: "Big Broker Missing!"

"The friends of Isidor Werner, a young man prominent in Board of
Trade circles, are much concerned about him, as he has not been seen
for several days. He made his last appearance in the wheat pit as a
heavy buyer Tuesday forenoon. That afternoon he left his office at
Room 87 Board of Trade, and has not been seen since, nor can his
whereabouts be learned. He is six feet two inches high, of athletic
build, with black hair and moustache, a regular nose, and an
unpronounced Jewish appearance. His age is hardly more than
twenty-seven, but he has often made himself felt as a market force on
the Board of Trade, where he was well thought of."

But it was the Evening Post of the same date which prided itself on
unearthing the real sensation. A scare-head across the top of a first
page column read:


"A PLUNGER'S LAST PLUNGE!"

"The daring young broker who held the whole wheat market in his hands
a few months ago, amassing an independent fortune in three days, but
losing most of it gamely on subsequent changes in the market, has
made his last plunge. This time he has gone into the cold, kind bosom
of Lake Michigan. Isidor Werner evened up his trades in the wheat
market last Tuesday forenoon, and then applied for his balance-sheet
at a higher clearing house! No trace of him or clue to his
whereabouts was found, until the Evening Post, on the principle of
setting one mystery to solve another, sent its representative to
examine a strange steel rocket, discovered half-buried in the sands
of Lake Michigan, near Berrien Springs, two days ago. Our reporter
investigated this bullet-shaped contrivance and found an opening into
it, and within he discovered a scrap of paper on which were written
the words: 'Farewell to Earth for ever!' Werner's friends, when
interviewed by the Evening Post, all positively identified the
handwriting of this scrap as his chirography. It is supposed that he
took an excursion steamer to St. Joseph, Michigan, last Tuesday or
Wednesday afternoon, and walking down the shore toward Berrien
Springs, finally threw himself into the Lake. Neither Israel Werner,
with whom the dead man lived on Indiana Avenue, nor Patrick Flynn,
the chief clerk at his office, can give any reason for the suicide,
or explain the exact connection of the infernal machine (if such it
be) with the sad circumstance. But they both positively identify the
handwriting on the scrap of paper. We have wired our representative
to bring the mysterious machine to Chicago; and those who think they
may be able to throw any light upon the case, are invited to call at
the office of the Evening Post and examine it."

The Inter Ocean developed a theory that the suicide was only a
pretended one for the purpose of fraudulently collecting life insurance
policies. It was cited that Isidor Werner had insured his life for more
than $100,000, and this in spite of the fact that he had no family,
parents, brothers or sisters to provide for; but had taken the policies
in favour of his uncle, Israel Werner, and in case of his prior death,
in favour of a cousin, Ruth Werner. This theory gained but little
currency among those who knew the man best, and although the insurance
companies prepared to resist payment of the policies to the bitter end,
yet, as time went on, no one attempted to prove his death, nor to claim
the handsome sum which would result from it. Moreover, Israel Werner and
his daughter Ruth, the beneficiaries under the policies, persisted in
believing that their relative was yet alive, though they could give no
good reasons for so believing, nor explain his disappearance.

In its issue of June 15th the Tribune scouted the idea of suicide
altogether. It had a better and more plausible theory of the case.
Isidor Werner had a large sum of money in the Corn Exchange Bank,
drawing interest by the year. In case of either a premeditated or a
pretended suicide he would most certainly have withdrawn, and made some
disposition of, this money. In fact, he had, on the day of his
disappearance, drawn out five thousand dollars of it in gold. For this
coin the Tribune believed he had been murdered, and that they had a
clue to the murderer. The vanished man had several times been seen in
the company of a suspicious German, of intelligent but erratic
appearance. This queer character lived in a hotbed of socialism on the
West Side, and the young broker was supposed to be in his power. In
fact, it was known for certain that the erratic German had secured a
large sum of money from him, and that Werner had visited his rooms in
the slums of the West Side more than once. Moreover, the two had made a
secret railway journey together two days before the disappearance, and
on the very day that Werner was last seen, the German had fled his
lodgings without giving any explanation of his departure to his few
acquaintances. When the Tribune reporter called at these lodgings, the
landlord still had in his possession a gold eagle, with which the German
had paid his rent, and in the grate of the deserted room were the
charred remains of burnt papers. One of these was a rather firm, crisp
cinder, and had been a blue-print of a drawing. As nearly as could be
judged, from its shrivelled state, it appeared to be the plan of some
infernal machine. The name of the fugitive was Anderwelt, and he called
himself a doctor. Further investigations were being carried on by the
Tribune, which promised to prove beyond a doubt that he was the
murderer of Isidor Werner.

But the Evening Post still held the palm for sensations, and I copy
verbatim from its columns of June 15th:

"It is rare that a newspaper, dealing strictly in facts, has to
record anything so closely bordering on the supernatural and
mysterious as that which we must now relate. The following facts,
however, are vouched for by the entire editorial department of the
Evening Post, and many of them by several hundred witnesses. We
begin by apologising to the hundreds who have called at this office
and have been unable to see the Werner infernal machine. We gave it
that name in a thoughtless jest, but its subsequent actions have more
than justified the title. Our reporter brought it from Berrien
Springs, as directed, and deposited it in the court of the Evening
Post building. As is quite generally known, this court is a central
well in the building, affording ventilation and light to the interior
offices, from every one of which can be seen what goes on in it. The
well is spanned by a glass roof above the eighth storey. In this
court, at eleven o'clock this morning, the entire editorial and a
large part of the business staff of this paper, repaired, to examine
the mysterious rocket-like thing. A little lid was opened, showing
the recess where the tell-tale scrap of paper, written by Werner, had
been found. Inside there seemed to be a pair of peculiar battery
cells, whose exact nature was hidden by the outer shell. Outside
there were several thumb-screws, which were turned both ways without
any apparent effect. While making this examination the machine had
been set up on its lower end, and when it was again laid down it
refused to lie on its side, but persisted in standing erect of its
own accord. This was the more wonderful because the lower end was
not flat, so that it would afford a good base, but was pointed. More
than a hundred people saw it stand up on this sharp tip, saw it lift
up light weights which were placed upon it to hold it on its side,
and saw it quickly right itself when it was placed vertically but
wrong end down.

"Thinking this queer property had been contributed to it in some way
by loosening the thumb-screws, they were next all set down as tightly
as possible, to see if this tendency to erectness would be lost.
Then, to the astonishment of every one in the court, and of several
hundred people who were by this time watching from the interior
windows, this infernal machine, without any explosion, burning of
gases, or any apparent force acting upon it, slowly rose from the
ground, and then, travelling more swiftly, shot through the roof of
glass and vanished from sight! Nor has the most diligent search
enabled us to recover it. Does it possess the secret of Isidor
Werner's death?"

But the Chicago Herald had been working thoroughly and saying little
until its issue of June 16th, when it claimed the credit of solving the
whole mystery. Its long article lies before me as I write: There had
been no suicide; there had been no murder; there had been no infernal
machine. Doctor Anderwelt was a learned man, and the warm personal
friend of Isidor Werner. Both men had shared the same fate; they might
yet be alive, but they were certainly at the bottom of Lake Michigan
together! They were imprisoned there in a sunken submarine boat, which
was the invention of Doctor Anderwelt, and was built with funds
furnished by the young broker. The foundryman who had constructed the
big torpedo-shaped contrivance had been interviewed. He knew both men,
and they were on the most friendly terms. In a moment of confidence
Doctor Anderwelt had told him the machine was for submarine exploration;
had explained the four-winged rudder, which would make it dive into the
water, rise to the surface, or direct it to right or to left. Moreover,
there were closed living compartments, around which were chambers
containing a supply of air. He himself had pumped them full of
compressed air, and it was so arranged that foul air could be let out
when used and new air admitted. When all had been finished the
foundryman had shipped the new invention, via the Michigan Southern
Railway, to the shore of the Lake near Whiting, Indiana. Next the
Herald had sought and found the conductor whose train had hauled it to
Whiting. He remembered switching off the flat-car there, and he was
surprised on his return trip next morning to see the heavy thing already
unloaded and gone.

Undoubtedly, the two men had made an experiment with the diving boat
under the surface of the water; and its failure to operate as hoped had
resulted in its sinking to the bottom, with the two men imprisoned in
it. On no other hypothesis could its disappearance, and that of the two
men, be so plausibly accounted for. But as they had stores of air, and
probably of food, there was a possibility that they were still alive
inside the thing in the bottom of the Lake! Only three days had elapsed
since it had been launched, and the Herald was willing to head a
subscription to drag the Lake and send divers to search for and rescue
the two unfortunate men!

All this serves to illustrate the untiring energy of newspaper
investigation, as well as the remarkable fertility of journalistic
imagination; for none of these clever theories hit at the real truth, or
explained the correct bearing of the astonishing facts which the
newspapers had so industriously unearthed.

And if the mystery of the disappearance of Isidor Werner was uncommonly
deep and wonderful, the explanation and final solution of it is not less
marvellous. After a delay of more than six years, it has just now come
into my hands whole and perfect. It is in no less satisfactory form than
a complete manuscript written by the very hand of Isidor Werner! I came
strangely into possession of it, and it relates a story of interest and
wonder, compared with which the mystery of his disappearance pales into
insignificance. But the reader may judge for himself, for here follows
the story exactly as he wrote it. Upon his manuscript I have bestowed
hardly more than a proof-reader's technical revision.





Next: Dr Hermann Anderwelt

Previous: Dead World



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