Adrift in the Unknown; or, Queer Adventures in a Queer Realm

Adrift in the Unknown; or, Queer Adventures in a Queer Realm

Author:
William Wallace Cook
Author:
William Wallace Cook
Format:
epub
language:
English

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Author: Cook, William Wallace, 1867-1933
Science fiction
Adrift in the Unknown; or, Queer Adventures in a Queer Realm

Adrift in the Unknown

OR,

Queer Adventures in a Queer Realm

By WILLIAM WALLACE COOK

Author of “The Paymaster’s Special,” “A Deep-sea Game,”

“In the Web,” “His Friend the Enemy,” etc.

STREET & SMITH CORPORATION

PUBLISHERS

79-89 Seventh Avenue, New York

A CARNIVAL OF ACTION

ADVENTURE LIBRARY

Splendid, Interesting, Big Stories

For the present the Adventure Library will be devoted to the
publication of stories by William Wallace Cook.

The fact that one man wrote all of these stories
in no way detracts
from their interest, as they are all very different
in plot and locality.

For example, the action in one story takes place in “The Land of
Little Rain;” another deals with adventure on the high seas; another
is a good railroad story; others are splendid Western stories; and
some are mystery stories. All of them, however, are stories of
vigorous adventure drawn true to life,
which gives them the thrill that
all really good fiction should have.

Copyright 1904-1906

By Frank A. Munsey Co.

Adrift in the Unknown

(Printed In the United States of America)

CONTENTS

  1. Lost, Strayed, or Stolen?

  2. An Uninvited Guest

  3. Professor Quinn’s Feat

  4. The Plutocrats Reconciled

  5. Traveling Sunward

  6. A Landing Effected

  7. Facing a Mercurial Storm

  8. The Mercurials

  9. Learning the Word-Box

  10. How We were Catalogued

  11. The Dilemma of Mr. Meigs

  12. Condemned to Death

  13. A Threatening Calamity

  14. Plan to Steal a Building

  15. Surveying our own Planet

  16. How Ill-Luck Overtook Me

  17. A Change of Heart

  18. How We Outwitted the King

  19. Back to Earth

ADRIFT IN THE UNKNOWN.

CHAPTER I.

LOST, STRAYED, OR STOLEN?

There could be no more fitting introduction to
this most amazing narrative from the pen of
James Peter Munn than that article in the
Morning Mercury.

Munn, it is no breach of confidence to inform
the reader, was a reformed burglar; although
the author of two books which achieved large
sales and were most favorably received by the
reviewers—”Forty Ways of Cracking Safes”
and “The Sandbagger’s Manual”—Mr. Munn
developed small skill with the pen, so that the
breathless interest aroused by his revelations
hangs more upon the matter than the style. The
Mercury article should do its mite toward
preparing the reader for what is to come.

In the first place, the story was what
newspaper men call a “scoop.”

The article in the first edition ran as follows:

QUINN’S CASTLE VANISHES.

AND SO DOES QUINN! WITH HOUSE AND BELONGINGS. THE
HARLEM SAGE DISAPPEARS IN A SINGLE HOUR. LEAVING NOT
A TRACE BEHIND.

What happened to Professor Quinn last night? And
what happened to the strange steel structure known
locally among Harlem residents as Quinn’s Castle?

For Quinn and his castle were snuffed out like a
candle-gleam some time between the hours of eleven
o’clock and midnight. Patrolman Casey, who travels a
beat in that part of Harlem, avers that he passed the
castle at eleven o’clock, and that it was there; he passed
its site again at twelve, and it was not there.

Considerably exercised, Patrolman Casey made search
for the castle, and although he beat up the country for a
dozen blocks in all directions, he failed to find it. And
what is more, Patrolman Casey declares that he took the
pledge when he went on the force and has been a total
abstainer ever since.

Corroboration of the officer’s report is not lacking.
Certain residents of the vicinity state that they saw the
professor’s weird dwelling yesterday evening; its
windows were aglow and it appeared evident that the
professor was entertaining friends. The first gray dawn this
morning showed a bare lot with the steel house missing.

Is it another case of Aladdin’s palace dissolving into
thin air at the “presto!” of some wonder worker? Or
is it a plain case of larceny undertaken on a gigantic
scale? A golden opportunity offers itself to a sleuth of
the Sherlock Holmes school; and for such a person the
Mercury presents the following facts:

First, the so-called castle was projectile-shaped, of
boiler-plate construction, and measured some twenty feet
in diameter, tapering to a point thirty feet above ground.
It was covered with a sort of paint that gave it the
appearance of frosted silver.

Second, there is much low shrubbery surrounding the
site of the castle, and if the castle had been blown down
and rolled from the ridge it stood on into the river there
would have been left evidences in plenty of such
disaster.

(Note: The castle certainly weighed five tons, possibly
five times that. Nothing short of a cyclone could
have budged it, and there was hardly a breath of air
stirring the whole night long.)

Third, Professor Quinn, ever since he erected his steel
house and moved into it, has been regarded as mildly
insane. Like Abou-ben-Adhem, he desired to be entered
on the angelic scroll as one who loved his fellow-men.

Last summer he read before the Astronomical Society
a paper entitled “The Mutability of Newtonian Law,”
and was laughed out of that honorable body for his
inconsistencies. Although adverted to as “The Harlem
Sage,” Professor Quinn is no Merlin, nor does he possess
the ring of Gyges that rendered its wearer invisible.

Yet where is he? And where is his castle? Until some
Vidocq appears and solves the mystery, echo can only
answer “Where?”

So much for the article in the first printing of
the paper. The bright young man who stood
sponsor for the “scoop” had meanwhile been very
busy with fresh details, and the second edition
contained the following addenda:

It has just been learned that Mr. Emmet Gilhooly, the
multimillionaire and president of the railroad combine,
was a guest of Professor Quinn last night, and must have
been in the castle at the very moment it faded into
oblivion.

Mr. Gilhooly did not return to his home and has not
since been heard from. His relatives are distracted and
leading railroad men of the country are in a panic.

His absence from affairs at the present moment jeopardizes
the traction interests of the entire country, and may
prove a deathblow to the success of the gigantic pool he
was forming.

This was startling news indeed, and sped
hither and yon throughout the city, the country,
and the civilized world. Appalling as the
information was, nevertheless it proved merely a
fractional part of the truth.

The bright reporter on the Mercury made
further discoveries, which were printed in the
third edition rushed from the presses of his
paper.

Not only was Mr. Emmet Gilhooly a guest of Professor
Quinn in the steel castle last night, but so also were
Hon. Augustus Popham, the coal baron; J. Archibald
Meigs, of Wall Street, late manipulator of the corner
in wheat and now engineering a corner in cotton, and
Hannibal Markham, well known as the instigator of a plot
to control the food supply of the United States.

What has become of these four millionaires and
Napoleons of finance? They have gone with Quinn and his
castle, disappearing as utterly as though the earth had
opened and swallowed them.

Fabulous rewards were offered by the
relatives of the missing millionaires for any
information relative to the fate that had overtaken
them. Foul play was suspected, and the financial
world stood aghast and dumbly wondered what
was to happen to the business of the country if
it really developed, beyond all peradventure, that
Gilhooly, Popham, Meigs, and Markham had
been eliminated from commercial affairs.

The influence of these four was vast and
far-reaching, and they were scheming to make their
grip on the republic’s resources even more
secure and relentless. If their plans carried, no man
could eat, or clothe himself, or warm his body
and drive his manufacturing engines, or travel
from place to place and ship the product of his
mills without paying tribute to Gilhooly, Popham,
Meigs, and Markham. Should those schemes,
titanic in conception, be worked out to their
manifest conclusion, four men would hold the
destiny of industrial America in the hollow of
their hands. Prosperity would wait upon their
pleasure, or at a mere nod would be paralyzed
and leave the country stranded on the reefs of
disaster.

It seemed an odd fatality that, at the very time
these commanders-in-chief of industry were
plotting to make their power complete, they should
have vanished as utterly as though they had been
engulfed by a tidal wave and swept into the broad
regions of the Atlantic. A few facts were
brought to light through the probing of skilled
detective minds, but these facts were in nowise
clues to the fate that had overtaken the millionaires.

Popham’s confidential aide reluctantly
admitted that his chief had accepted an invitation
from Quinn, and had gone to his “castle” for an
interview. Quinn professed to have made some
discovery or other which, he declared, would
make coal a useless commodity so far as human
needs were concerned. Popham, while laughing
at Quinn’s pretensions, was nevertheless secretly
worried. Anything that threatened the success
of the coup which was being engineered by
himself and his three confreres was to be dealt with
decisively and without loss of time.

In the case of Meigs, Markham, and Gilhooly
there was no confidential aide to offer testimony,
for these bright, particular stars of high finance
had placed a limit on the confidence reposed in
their secretaries. Nevertheless, the probing
minds at work on the case developed the extraordinary
fact that these men, no less than Popham,
had visited Quinn at the latter’s request. A spirit
of scoffing investigation animated them, but they
were prepared to see with their own eyes and
hear with their own ears whatever Quinn had to
show and to say. If anything that militated
against their projected
coup was brought before
them, they would proceed to lay the spectre forthwith.

Strangely enough, the shrewdest of the
detectives failed to connect the disappearance of
the millionaires with the comprehensive plans
they were forming, and which could not be
carried out except by the plotters in person.

Other rich men of the country, who were wont
to trim their sails in accordance with whatever
wind blew from the offices of The Four, in Wall
Street, were already shifting affairs to lay a
course that would give them the best headway
against the projected new order. This sudden
disappearance of the powers to which the lesser
rich looked for guidance left them becalmed in
an uncharted sea.

The middle class, long accustomed to being
mulcted right and left, accepted the astonishing
situation with equanimity. So far as they were
concerned, Gilhooly, Popham, Meigs, and
Markham were abstract generalities—merely names to
conjure with. For years the middle class had
paid for the conjuring, and had been taught to
look calmly into the eyes of what they had come
to believe was the inevitable. If their annual
outing to the seashore or the mountains cost too
much, they could stay at home; if the butcher,
the baker, and the grocer ran prices too high,
some of the luxuries could be cut out; if
anthracite went to $20 a ton, they would heat fewer
rooms; and if clothing became too expensive,
there would be fewer suits and gowns to wear.
By a little self-denial, the middle class also could
trim their sails to any gale that blew. They were
used to it.

With the poor it was different. They were
already down to bed-rock in the way of
self-denial. No sooner had it drifted through their
brains that the influence of Gilhooly, Popham,
Meigs, and Markham had been blotted out than
they lifted their voices in praise of the blessed
event. Their situation had been bad enough, and
any change among the vaguely understood
causes presiding over their affairs could hardly
be for the worse.

The detectives, feeling that they were at work
on a particularly complex case, hampered
themselves by looking for complex causes. At first,
they believed it was a matter of sequestration
and that presently a ransom in seven or eight
figures would be called for. However, a delving
into Quinn’s past failed to reveal any lawless
actions that would point to a ransom in his present
line of endeavor. The detectives, growing more
complex as the ambiguities closed them in,
overlooked entirely the simplicity of Quinn’s character.

Anyhow, one analytical mind would demand
of another, what had Quinn’s intentions to do
with the disappearance? That was a positive
reality. And, although it was surmised, it was
not definitely known that Quinn himself had had
anything to do with it.

Such was the situation confronting the
country and with which the police department of New
York City was called upon to deal. But the
keenest reasoning, inductive or deductive, was
powerless to find even a clue.

The tremendous mystery might have remained
a mystery until this day, had it not been for the
narrative of James Peter Munn, now for the
first time given to the world.

CHAPTER II.

AN UNINVITED GUEST.

I used to be one of those who claimed that
the world owed him a living, and I went out
with a drill and a “jimmy” to collect it.

Where was the difference, I argued, between
the man who cracks your strong box and removes
a few paltry bills or coins, and the nabob who
skulks behind a “trust” and takes his tax on
the necessities of life?

This was pure sophistry, of course, but I
became wedded to it in early life, and that I escaped
a suit of stripes and measurement on the Bertillon
system, is due entirely to my experiences with
Professor Quinn.

‘Twas a blessed night that sent me to his castle
with the view of mulcting it of treasures I felt
to be there. Quinn was a queer one. I do not
mean to say that he was unhinged, as some
thought, but he was queer in his outlook upon
life, and in resources which fall under the head
of “ways and means.”

His castle claimed my professional attention.
For why should a man build a big steel vault and
live in it unless he had portable property worth a
burglar’s while? I reconnoitered the place for
a week before I considered myself possessed of
sufficient knowledge for my undertaking. In
view of what transpired at the time of my visit,
a brief description of the castle, taken from my
memorandum book, will prove of interest.

The structure was cigar-shaped, twenty-nine
feet from base to apex and twenty feet in diameter
through its largest part. It was divided into
two stories by means of a steel floor, leaving
head-room of ten feet in the lower story.

Four windows pierced the circular walls of
the nether room, and two gave light to the room
above; these six openings being guarded on the
outer sides with latticework of steel.

The door was an oblong piece of boiler plate—the
entire building was a shell composed of
plates riveted together—hinged heavily and
provided with a strong lock. As I had yet to find
a lock which I could not pick, if given time
enough, my designs naturally centred about the
door.

I had hit upon the somewhat early hour of
ten in the evening for my call at the professor’s.
Unless business kept him abroad I knew that he
was usually in bed long before that time. If he
chanced to be out, so much the better for the
success of my foray.

After the patrolman had passed, I crept
through the bushes and was soon busy with the
lock on the steel door. It yielded with much less
resistance than I had anticipated, and I was
quickly within, flashing my bull’s-eye lantern
about me.

A circular seat upholstered in leather ran
around the wall, and a table bearing an unlighted
oil lamp stood in the centre of the floor. I had
barely completed a hasty survey when a crunch
of footsteps on the graveled walk without smote
on my ears.

Without loss of a moment I snapped the lantern
shut and darted up the iron stairway to the
room above. It is needless to say that I was very
much put out because of the interruption. I
was a hard man in those days, and such an
occurrence was apt to anger me and make me say
things.

Lying flat on the floor with my face to the
stair opening, I had a fairly good view of the
circular chamber below. The professor had been
abroad and not in bed, for he appeared now,
ushering in callers.

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