The Doctor Disappears

: Other World Life

Hotep saw that he was ruined, and he went to fall down before Pharaoh

and beg for mercy. The monarch, not having the courage of his own

hard-heartedness, answered him,--

"I desire not to deal harshly with thee, O Hotep; for thou hast

struggled desperately against an unwilling soil and unpropitious

seasons. But thou knowest all my affairs are in the hands of Zaphnath,

without whom I do nothing. Therefore g
thou before him and do even as

he telleth thee."

And Hotep, having made an invoice of all his money, and slaves, and

mules, and cattle, took it before Zaphnath, saying,--

"Behold, O most merciful ruler of Kem, I have threescore-and-ten of the

great golden discs, and seven hundredweight of the coins of Kem

wherewith to repay the Pharaoh for the seed which the seasons have

stolen from me. But I have neither food for all the men, and mules, and

cattle which are the Pharaoh's, nor yet for mine own; wherefore I beg

of thee to take back his slaves and animals, and release me from feeding

them; and I will forfeit unto the Pharaoh all my working slaves, which

are thirty score, and all my mules, which are a thousand and one, and

all my cattle, which are an hundred score, and they shall be his for


"Methinks thou borrowest with a large hand and repayest like a very

miser," answered Zaphnath. "All the money thou namest will not buy a

thousand cargoes of grain, for behold, is not wheat worth iron money,

weight for weight? And to reimburse the Pharaoh for feeding all his men

and animals through the famine, which may continue, it is a rare

kindness in thee to desire to give him also all of thine to be fed and

nourished! What wilt thou do with all thy land when thou hast no men or

beasts to till it? And how wilt thou maintain thy proud palace, with

three hundred women, when thou hast no revenues left?"

"'Tis true, O Zaphnath; and if the Pharaoh covet them, take them

all--the palace, the women, the rich clothing and rare jewels, and even

the endless fields which have cursed me! For the days of Hotep's riches

are ended. Let him be acquit, and go from thee in peace!"

"Even with them all, thou knowest he is but poorly paid; yet it is I who

have prevailed upon him not to be harsh with thee. But if the famine

continue, what thinkest thou of doing to gain a living?"

"By my beard! Doth the Pharaoh wish to make a slave of me also?"

"Nay, Hotep; not a common slave. But hast thou a mind to starve? I have

besought him to give thee an honourable and luxuriant service, befitting

thy tastes and habits. He will make thee chamberlain of his palace."

"Is there no other thing thou canst think of or invent, O most merciful

Zaphnath? Lands, slaves, animals, money, women, jewels, palace, and even

my life and body for the gracious Pharaoh's service! Is that all? If so,

I beg thee declare the bargain made and all my undertakings fully


Hotep came to me the following day, with his beard shaven and the

Pharaoh's bird-wing on his brow. He wore the dress of the Pharaoh's

chamberlain, and he told me how it had all happened. He also told me

that the Pharaoh had now thrown wide open the doors of slavery, and

offered to feed all who surrendered themselves to his service for life.

And Zaphnath never ceased to itch for all the lands, and cattle, and

slaves of every one in Kem and her tributary countries, either in

exchange for the bare needs of life, or as pledges for seed which he

knew would only rot and ruin the borrower.

I went about my affairs on the plateau that day, wondering how long I

should continue there, or whether my threat had been effective in

silencing the enmity of the rulers. When I returned that evening, I did

not find the doctor at the house. My servant said that a messenger from

the chamberlain had summoned him on important business, soon after the

noon-day meal. I waited a little longer, and then I began to fear that

the chamberlain had been used to decoy the doctor into some trap. If he

was staying away of his own account, why did he not send me some word?

Messengers were plenty. At last I sent the servant to the palace to

inquire and search for him. After a long stay he returned, saying the

doctor was nowhere to be found. No one had seen or heard of him there

that day.

"And the chamberlain?" I demanded.

"He was not to be found in his rooms, and no one had seen him since


"Didst thou make inquiry for the messenger who summoned the doctor?" I


He had not thought of it; so I started to the palace myself. I had gone

but a few steps when it occurred to me to act with a little more

caution, and be prepared for some plot against myself. I turned back to

the house, and had the servant remove the heap of pillows where I slept.

Underneath was a loosened stone of the floor, and below it we kept the

rifles, revolvers, and ammunition hidden. I carefully loaded all of

them, and put all the remaining cartridges into our two old belts. I

thought of strapping one of these about me, but reflected that this

would have a hostile and treasonable appearance, so I contented myself

with concealing one revolver in my coat, and then I carefully covered up

all the rest, and had the servant pile the pillows over the stone slab


Then I went out and walked to the palace. Leaping the wall, I questioned

every one I saw about the doctor, the chamberlain, and his messenger. No

one had seen anything of them. The messenger was absent from his

lodging, as well as the chamberlain. Either they were all gone somewhere

secretly together, or they had all suffered a common mysterious fate.

Unable to do anything more, I returned home full of apprehension.

I slept fitfully a few hours, and then I had a most realistic dream,

which began among my old surroundings on Earth: the wheat pit, the

closing of a turbulent session, the drive through the parks till I came

suddenly in sight of the great spherical cactus design of the World in

Washington Park. As I approached this, it seemed to leave its pedestal

and move freely through space toward me. I seized one of its meridians,

and, clinging tightly, was carried off over the park, over the lake,

over seas of ice, through an ocean of sparkling light, faster and

farther every moment, until presently my little globe refused to hold me

longer, and repelled me through a long, giddy, awful fall which filled

me with terror. But I landed in the dark chamber of a Gnomon, waist-deep

in loose wheat. It seemed gradually to grow deeper about me, rose to my

shoulders, to my chin; and as I looked up I saw Slater pouring in wheat

in a steady stream. He meant to smother and choke me with it. Ah, if I

only had a thousand, aye, ten thousand mouths to eat it, he could never

do it. I could keep even with him. But it gradually rose past my mouth,

past my nose; it covered my head and was smothering me. What an awful

thing was too much food, after all! And then I wakened to find my head

covered with pillows until I was half-choked for breath.

It was all so vivid I could not rid my mind of it. It seemed really to

have happened but a moment ago. My mind was palpitating afresh with

those Earthly scenes which had for years been fading out of it. What

could it all mean? Then I thought of the doctor. Perhaps they were

smothering him in one of the Gnomons. It seemed hardly probable, but the

idea took a strange hold on me. The chambers were all full and sealed,

but one; it had been opened, and wheat was daily being used out of it;

none was at hand to be poured in. It was foolish to do so, but I could

not rest until I had gone to the Gnomons to see. Of course I would find

nothing there, but I should not be content till I had tried. At least,

the night air and the gently falling feathers of darkness would restore

my calmness again.

I had the precaution to take my revolver again, and after a very short

walk I stood face to face with the great stone gate, barred and locked

to confine all others within the city. The fact that it was fastened on

the inside proved that the doctor's captors were not outside, or, at

least, did not expect to return till after daylight. With a brisk jump I

cleared the wall easily, and walked rapidly to the plateau. There was no

sign of life there. I mounted the only unsealed Gnomon and shouted down

into its cavernous depths. Of course there was no answer. I was now so

wide awake it seemed to me quite silly to follow the promptings of a

dream, so I began to return in a leisurely walk.

The night scene all about me, how different it was from those to which I

had been accustomed on Earth! Out of a pink sky flakes of frozen dew

were gently falling, starching the arid, verdureless soil with a

glistening coat of evanescent white. Along the river bank, tall,

slender, lightly-rooted trees reached far up into the breathless air,

but there was never the movement of a bough or the rustle of a leaf,

except from the flutter of birds. Jungles of spindling reeds also

towered from waste marshes, in testimony to the easy struggle which

vegetable sap had been able to accomplish over a weak gravity.

Everything was eloquent with the reminder that I was on a different

world; but yet, when I looked up at the starry heavens, they were the

same. All the familiar constellations, changing their positions through

the night with the same stately dignity, were there. The Pleiades,

Orion, the Great Bear, with his nose constantly pointed at the Pole

Star, made me feel that, at least in the heavens, I was at home! Only

the colour of the night, the two little moons, and the planets looked

different. Great Jupiter, king of the Martian night, whose brilliancy,

if not his size, outrivalled the pale moons; Saturn, with his tilted

ring, was visible to the naked eye; and yon pearly blue star, just

rising to announce the morning, was Earth. Earth, which I had so

unwillingly left, would I ever see her again as anything but a

Sun-attending star? Would I ever walk her familiar paths, and know my

brother creatures there again?

With this thought came over me an unspeakable sense of loneliness, a

depressing home-sickness, an aching yearning for that life, tempestuous

as it had been. And how I despised the monotony and lowness of the

Martian life; how I loathed the spreading misery of the famine, and the

vile and dreadful pestilences which it was begetting! How could I ever

endure the four more slow years of it which I confidently expected to

ensue? What would I not give to leave it all and return!

I had retraced my steps, leapt the wall again, and as I approached our

house was surprised to see, in the dim light of the coming morning, a

figure standing guard at the doorway. He was a soldier, and on closer

approach I saw that he wore a beard, which showed him to be a captain.

But what surprised me far more was that he held awkwardly in his arms

one of our loaded rifles. Here was certain treachery. Since he stood

guard, he doubtless had soldiers within; and if they had found one

firearm they must have found the others also. But how had they succeeded

in finding them? A mere search never would have revealed their secret

place. Some one who knew of their location must have disclosed it. Could

it have been the doctor? Had they brought him back, and forced him to

produce the arms?

In that case, now was my chance to liberate him. Fortunately they did

not know how to use the arms they had captured, and I had one revolver

with five good loads in it. With five telling shots I ought to be able

to create panic enough to enable the doctor to get possession of another

gun and help me rout them.

All this flashed through my mind in a twinkling, and just as I drew out

my revolver the captain caught sight of me. He quickly shifted the rifle

in his hands and tugged at the hammer. He knew nothing of the necessity

of taking aim, or of the use of the trigger. It would only be by the

merest chance if he hit me. I had half drawn the trigger, and was just

correcting my aim, when a long flash of flame from the rifle startled

me, and unconsciously I fired wild. By lifting the hammer of the rifle

and letting it snap back, the captain had exploded one cartridge at

random. But my careful aiming had now taught him a trick; I saw him

attempting the same arm's-length aim with the rifle. He did it awkwardly

enough, and pulled up the hammer with the other hand. It fell with a

snap on the discharged cartridge. He could be relied on never to learn

the trick of ejecting them and reloading with the sixteen that lay ready

up the length of the barrel. Therefore, instead of firing again, I

rushed at him to capture the rifle. But he was too quick for me, for

thrusting it inside the house with a quick command, the other was handed

out to him. I was now at such extremely close range that his awkward aim

covered me; but I was quicker on the trigger than he was on the hammer,

and with a cry the first Martian to suffer by gunpowder fell to the

ground. I sprang for his rifle just as some one from inside snatched it

away and pointed it at me again. Whoever had it, stood half behind the

door and out of range. But I aimed at his fingers on the rifle barrel,

and by a lucky chance I hit them, for the rifle dropped and the body

staggered into full view. Another quick shot sent this fellow to the

ground, but as I reached for his rifle, it was snatched away again.

Now I saw the absolute necessity of possessing myself of another

firearm, for I had but one load left in the revolver. I felt little fear

of their awkward aim, therefore I made bold to rush inside on the chance

of seizing the first gun I could lay my hands on. At the same time I

would be able to see the position of the doctor. He must be gagged, for

he had made no answer to my frequent cries to him in English. Once

inside, I saw that the room was full of soldiers--twenty at least. They

had a prisoner, true enough, but not the doctor. It was my servant, whom

they had forced to disclose the location of the arms.

The soldiers quickly blocked the door and began closing in on me. One

seized me by each arm, but with a quick shake I threw them off. Then a

third fellow clutched my left arm so tightly I could not loosen him. Had

I taken my eyes or my revolver off the crowd in front, they would have

been upon me in a body; yet with my left arm I was able slowly to turn

the clinging soldier around in front of me and to bring him gradually

within close range of my revolver. When he saw its gleaming muzzle, he

broke from me and fled to the others.

Little did they know that I could not afford to sacrifice my remaining

load to kill a single man. I must use it to capture the other revolver,

for rifles were of no use at such short range. I man[oe]uvred cautiously

to keep most of the soldiers in front of me, and stealthily backed

toward the door, where a soldier stood guard with the other weapon. I

was reckoning on the cowardice of most of those in front of me, but I

had failed to count on the men I had shot. As I now backed quickly

towards the door, I suddenly felt the arms of the fallen man about my

legs, and I stumbled backwards over him. In a twinkling the whole crowd

was upon me, my revolver was seized, my arms were pinned to the ground,

and the dying soldier clutched my legs in his last frenzy. I expected no

better than to be shot immediately by a rifle held against my head, but

their orders were evidently different. My arms were securely bound with

rough fibrous thongs, and then they marched me to the palace just as the

sun was rising.