Author: Adams, Samuel Hopkins, 1871-1958
Long Island (N.Y.) — Fiction
Pteranodon — Fiction
The Flying Death
THE FLYING DEATH
By Samuel Hopkins Adams
Copyright, 1905, by Samuel Hopkins Adams
Schuyler C. Brandt
in token of a friendship which,
begun at old Hamilton,
has endured and strengthened,
as only college friendships can,
for an unbroken twenty years,
this book is dedicated.
CHAPTER ONE—THE INSOMNIAC
CHAPTER TWO—THE VOICE IN THE NIGHT
CHAPTER THREE—THE SEA-WAIF
CHAPTER FOUR—THE DEATH IN THE BUOY
CHAPTER FIVE—THE CRY IN THE DUSK
CHAPTER SEVEN—THE WONDERFUL WHALLEY
CHAPTER EIGHT—THE UNHORSED NIGHTFARER
CHAPTER TEN—THE TERROR BY NIGHT
CHAPTER ELEVEN—THE BODY ON THE SAND
CHAPTER TWELVE—THE SENATUS
CHAPTER THIRTEEN—THE NEW EVIDENCE
CHAPTER FOURTEEN—THE EARLY EXCURSION
CHAPTER FIFTEEN—THE PROFESSOR ACTS
CHAPTER SIXTEEN—THE LOST CLUE
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN—THE PROFESSOR’S SERMON
CHAPTER NINETEEN—THE LONE SURVIVOR
CHAPTER ONE—THE INSOMNIAC
STANLEY RICHARD COLTON, M. D., heaved his powerful form to and fro in his bed and cursed the day he had come to Montant Point, which chanced to be the day just ended. All the world had been open to him, and his father’s yacht to bear him to whatsoever corner thereof he might elect, in search of that which, once forfeited, no mere millions may buy back, the knack of peaceful sleep. But his wise old family physician had prescribed the tip-end of Long Island. “Go down there to that suburban wilderness, Dick,” he had said, “and devote yourself to filling your lungs with the narcotic ocean air. Practise feeding, breathing and loafing, and forget that you’ve ever practised medicine.”
Too much medicine was what ailed Dick Colton. Not that he had been taking it. On the contrary he had been administering it to others. Amid the unbounded amazement of his friends, who couldn’t see why the heir of the great Colton interests should want to devote his energies otherwhere, he had insisted on graduating from medical school, and, with a fashionable practice fairly yearning for him, had entered upon the grimy and malodorous duties of a dispensary among the tenement-folk. There, because the chances of birth had given him a good intelligence which his own efforts had kept brightened and sharpened, because Providence had equipped him with a comely and powerful body, which his own manner of life had kept attuned to strength and vigour, and because Heaven had blessed him with the heart and the face of a boy, whereof his own fineness and enthusiasm had kept the one untainted and the other defiant of care and lines, he had become a power in the slums. It was only by eternal vigilance that he had kept himself from being elected an alderman from one of the worst districts in New York.
There came a week of terrible heat when the tenements vented forth their half-naked sufferers nightly upon the smoking asphalt, and the Angel of Death smote his daily hundreds with a sword of flame. Dick Colton fought for the lives of his people, and was already at the limit of endurance when Fate, employing as its dismayed instrument a contractor with liberal views on the subject of dynamite, reduced the dispensary outfit in one fell shock to a mass of shattered glass and a mephitic compound of tinctures, extracts and powders. Only one thing was to be done, and the young physician did it. He stocked up again, attending to all details himself, using his own money and his own energy freely, and proving to his own satisfaction that strong coffee and wet towels about the head would enable a man to live and toil on four hours’ sleep a night.
When, at length, a two days’ rain had drenched the fevered city to coolness, Dick Colton drew a deep breath and said: “Now I’ll go to sleep and sleep for a week.”
But the drugs which for so many weary days had filled his entire attention declined now to be evicted from his thoughts. Disposing themselves in neatly labelled bottles, all of a size, they marched in monotonous and nauseating files before his closed eyes, each individual of the passing show introducing itself by some outrageous and incredible title utterly unknown to the art and practice of pharmacy. To think upon sheep jumping in undulatory procession over a stone wall, so the wisdom of our forebears tell us, is to invite slumber. To contemplate misnamed medicine bottles interminably hurdling the bridge of one’s nose, operates otherwise. From the family doctor Colton had carried his vision to Montauk Point with him.
Now, on this cool September midnight he rose, struck a light, and found himself facing two neat, little, beribboned perfume jars, representing the decorative ideas of little Mrs. Johnston, the hostess of Third House. It was too much. Resentment at this shabby practical joke of Fate rose in his soul. Seizing the pair of bottles, he hurled them mightily, one after the other, into outer darkness. The crash of the second upon the stone wall surrounding the little hotel was rather startlingly followed by an exclamation.
“I beg your pardon,” cried Colton, rather abashed. “Hope I didn’t hit you.”
“You did not—with the second missile,” said the voice dryly.
“It was very stupid of me. The fact is,” Colton continued, groping for an excuse, “I heard some kind of a noise outside and I thought it was a cat.”
“Where did you hear it?” interrupted the voice rather sharply. “Did it seem to be on the ground, or in mid-air?”
Colton’s frazzled nerves jumped all together, and in different directions. “Have I been sent to a private lunatic asylum?” he inquired of himself.
“Lest my manner of inquiry may seem strange to you,” continued the voice, “I may state that I am Professor Ravenden, formerly connected with the National Museum at Washington, D. C., and that your remark as to an unrecognised noise may have an important bearing upon certain phenomena in which I am scientifically interested.”
Dick Colton groaned in spirit. “Here I’ve told a polite and innocent lie to this mysterious pedant,” he said to himself, “and of course I get caught at it.” He leaned out of the window, when a broad, spreading flare of lightning from the south showed, on the lawn beneath him, the figure of a slight, compactly built man of fifty-odd, dressed with rigorous neatness in Norfolk jacket and knickerbockers, and carrying a broken lantern and a butterfly net. His thin, prim and tanned face was as indicative of character as his precise and meticulous mode of speech.
“Did I break your lantern?” asked the young doctor contritely.
“As I do not carry my lantern in the small of my back, you did not, sir,” returned the professor with an asperity which reminded Colton that he had put considerable muscle into his throw. “A loose rock which turned under my foot upset me,” he continued, “and the glass of my lantern was broken in the fall. The rising gale prevented my relighting it. Your opportune light, I may add, alone enabled me to locate the house.”
“Perhaps my unintended rudeness may be pardoned because of my involuntary service, then,” said Colton, with the courtesy which was natural to him.
There was a moment’s pause. Then, “If I may venture to impose upon your kindness,” said the man on the lawn, “will you put on some clothes and join me here? It is a matter of considerable possible importance—scientifically.”
“Anything to avoid monotony,” said the other, rather grimly. “I’m here for excitement, apparently.”
Worming his way into a sweater, trousers and shoes, he went downstairs and joined his new acquaintance on the veranda.
“My name is Colton, Dr. Stanley Colton,” he said. “What is it you want me for?”
“I wish the testimony of your younger eyes and ears,” said the other. “Would you object to a walk of a third of a mile?”
“Not at all,” returned the other, becoming interested. “Shall I see if I can rustle up a lantern?”
“No,” said the professor thoughtfully. “I think it would be better not. Yes; decidedly we are better without a light. Come.”
He led the way, swiftly and sure-footedly, though it was pitch-dark except when the lightning lent its swift radiance.
“I was out in search of a rare species of Catocala—a moth of this locality—when I heard the—the curious sound to which I hope to call your attention,” he paused to explain.
He hurried on in silence, Colton following in puzzled expectation. At the top of a mound they stopped, and were almost swept off their feet by a furious gust of wind which died down, only to be succeeded by a second, hardly less violent. In a glare of lightning that spread across the south, Colton saw the fretted waters of a little lake below them.
“We’re going to get that storm, I think,” he said.
No reply came from his companion. In silence they stood, for perhaps ten or fifteen minutes. Then the wind dropped temporarily. Colton was wondering whether courtesy to the peculiar individual who had haled him forth on this errand of darkness was going to cost him a wetting, when the wind dropped and the night fell silent.
“There! Did you hear it?” the professor exclaimed suddenly.
Colton had heard, and now he heard again, a strange sound, from overhead and seeming to come from a considerable distance; faintly harsh, and strident, with a metallic sonance.
“Almost overhead and to the west, was it not?” pursued the other. “Watch there for the lightning flash.”
The lightning came, in one of those broad, sheetlike flickers that seem to irradiate the world for countable seconds. Professor Ravenden’s arm shot out.
“Did you see?” he cried.
Darkness fell as the query was completed. “I saw nothing,” replied Colton. “Did you? What did you see?”
A clap of wind blew away the reply, if there was any. This time the wind rose steadily. They waited another quarter of an hour, the gale blowing without pause.
“This is profitless,” said Professor Eavenden, at length. “We had best go home.”
Thankful for the respite, the younger man rose from the little depression where he had crouched for shelter from the wind. With a thrill of surprised delight, he realised that he was healthily sleepy. The quick, hard walk, the unwonted exercise, and the soft, fresh sweetness of the air, had produced an anodyne effect. But was the air so sweet? Colton turned and sniffed up wind.
“Do you smell anything peculiar?” he asked his companion.
“Unfortunately I am troubled with a catarrh which deadens my sense of smell,” replied the scientist.
“There’s a peculiar reek in the air. I caught it with that last shift of wind. It’s like something I’ve come across before. There!”
“Can you not describe it?”
“Why, it’s—it’s a sickish, acid sort of odour,” said Colton hesitantly. “Where have I—— Oh, well, it’s probably a dead animal up to windward.”
As they reached the house, he turned to the other.
“What was it you thought you saw?” he asked bluntly. “What are you looking for?”
“I am not satisfied that I saw anything,” answered Professor Ravenden evasively. “Imagination is a powerful factor, when the eye must accomplish its search in the instantaneous revelation of a lightning flash. As for what I am seeking, you heard as much as I. I thank you for your help, and, if you will pardon me, I will bid you good-night here, as I wish to make a few notes before retiring.”
Leaving the professor busied by candle light at the desk in the main room, Dick Colton cautiously tiptoed up the stairs. At the top he stopped dead. From an open door at the end of the hall issued a shaft of light. In the soft glow stood a girl. Her face was toward Colton. Her eyes met his, but un-seeingly, for he was in the shadow, and her vision was dazzled by the light she had just made. Her face was softly flushed with sleep and her dark eyes were liquid under the heavy lids. She was dressed in some filmy, fluffy garment, the like of which Colton did not know existed. Nor had he realised that such creatures as this girl who had so suddenly stepped into his world, existed. He held his breath lest the sweetest, softest, most radiant vision that had ever met his eyes, should vanish. The Vision pushed a mass of heavy black hair back from its forehead, and spoke.
“Father,” it said.
“Father,” she said again. Then with a note of petulance in the soft, rippling voice. “Oh, Dad, you’re not going out again.”
“I beg your pardon,” said Colton in a husky voice that belonged to someone whom he didn’t know. “Your father is downstairs. I’ll call him.” But the Vision had flashed out of his range. The light was shut out, and all that remained to him was the echo of a soft, dismayed, frightened little exclamation.
Having delivered the message to Professor Ravenden, and received his absent-minded, “In a minute,” the insomniac returned to his room. Strangely enough, it was while he was striving to fix on the photographic lens of his brain every light and shadow of that radiant girl-figure, that the solution of the strange noise came, unsought, to him. He went to the foot of the stairs to tell the professor, who was still writing.
“I think I know what the sound was that we heard, Professor Ravenden,” he said. “It was very like the rubbing of one wire on another.”
“Very like,” agreed the professor.
“Probably a telegraph or telephone wire, broken and grating in the gale, against the others.”
The professor continued to write.
“Good-night,” said Colton.
“Good-night, Dr. Colton,” said the scientist quietly, “and thank you again. By the way, there is no wire of any kind within half a mile of where we stood.”
Two problems Dick Colton took with him as exorcisers of the processional medicine bottles, when he threw himself on his bed and closed his eye. It was not the sound in the darkness, however, but the face in the light that prevailed as he dropped to sleep.
CHAPTER TWO—THE VOICE IN THE NIGHT
BEFORE the dream had fairly enchained him Colton was buffeted back to consciousness by a slamming of doors and a general bustling about in the house. He sat up in bed, and looked out over the ocean just in time to see a fiery serpent writhe up through the blackness and thrust into the clouds a head which burst into wind-driven fragments of radiance, before the vaster glory of the lightning surrounded and wiped it out.
“A wreck, I fear,” said Professor Eavenden in the hall outside. “I shall go down to the shore, in case I can be of assistance.”
“Indeed you shall not!” came a quick contradiction from the room at the end of the hall. “Not until I’m ready to go with you.”
It was the voice of the Vision. Colton observed that, soft as the tones were, a certain quality of decisiveness inhered in them.
“Can’t Mr. Haynes bring you?” suggested the professor mildly. “I see a light in his room.”
“He’ll have his hands full with Helga. Please wait, Dad. I won’t be ten minutes.”
From downstairs rose a banging of doors, a tramping of feet and the gruff voice of Johnston, the host, mingled with the gentle remonstrances of his wife, in which a certain insistence upon rubber boots was discernible. On the other side of Colton there was a swishing and thumping, as of one in hasty search for some article that had declined to stay put. “Where the devil is that sweater?” came in a sort of growling appeal to whatever Powers of Detection might be within hearing.
“Don’t swear, Mr. Haynes,” sounded in tones of soft gaiety from the end room, and the sweaterless one responded: “The half of it hath not been told you. Got a sweater to lend a poor man with a weak chest, Miss Ravenden?”
“I’m just getting into my one and only garment of the kind,” was the muffled answer.
A second woman’s voice, low, but with a wonderful, deep, full-throated sonance in it, broke in:
“My dream has come true,” it said gravely. “The ship is coming in on Graveyard Point. How long, Petit Père?”
“With you in a minute, Princess. Just let me get into my boots,” returned the voice of the seeker, but so altered by a certain caressing fellowship that Colton was half-minded to think he heard a new participant.
“Are you dressed already, Helga?” demanded Miss Ravenden. “How do you do it?”
“I hadn’t undressed, Dolly,” said the other girl, gravely. “I knew—I felt that something——”
“Helga’s dreams always come to pass, you know,” said the man of the elusive sweater half banteringly. “What infernal kind of a knot has that shoe lace tied itself into?”
“Pray God this dream doesn’t come to pass,” said the girl outside, under her breath as she passed Colton’s door.
Another rocket and a third pierced the night and the response came, in a rising glow of light from the beach. “The life-savers are at hand,” observed the professor below. “Make haste, daughter. If we are—”
A burst of thunder drowned him out.
“This,” said Colton with conviction, as he dove into his heavy jersey jacket and seized a cap from a peg, “is going to be a grand place for an insomnia patient! I can see that, right at the start.”
As he ran out of his door he collided violently with a small, dark, sinewy man who had hurriedly emerged from the opposite room.
“Don’t apologise, and I won’t,” said Colton as they clutched each other. “My name is Colton. Yours is Haynes. May I go to the shore with you? I don’t know the way.”
“Apparently you don’t know the way to the stairs,” returned the other a trifle tartly. Looking at his keen, pallid and deeply lined face, the young doctor set him down as a rather irritable fellow, and suspected dyspepsia. “Everybody will be going to the beach,” he added. “If you follow along you’ll probably get there.”
“Thanks,” said Dick undisturbedly. It was a principle of his that the ill-temper of others was no logical reason for ill-temper in himself. In this case his principle worked well, for Haynes said with tolerable civility:
“You just came in this evening, didn’t you?”
“Yes. I seem to have met the market for excitement.”
By this time they had reached the large living-room, where they found Mrs. Johnston presiding with ill-directed advice over the struggles of her grey-bearded husband to insert himself into a pair of boots of insufficient calibre.
“Twenty-five years o’ service in the life-savin’ corps an’ ain’t let to go out now without these der-r-r-ratted contraptions!” he fumed.
A splendid, tawny-haired girl in an oilskin jacket stood looking out into the night, her eyes vivid with a brooding excitement. She turned as Haynes came in.
“Are you ready, Petit Père? I’m smothering in these things.”
Expressively she passed her hands down along the oilskins, which covered her dress without concealing the sumptuous beauty of her young figure.
Filled as was Colton’s mind with the image of another face, he looked at her with astonished admiration. Such, thought he, must have been the superb maids in whose inspiration the Vikings fought and conquered.
“If you knew what a gallant wet-weather figure you make,” Haynes answered her (Colton wondered how he could ever have thought the face disagreeable, so complete was the change of expression), “your vanity would keep you comfortable.”
“Dinna blether,” returned the girl, smiling with affectionate comradeship, and slipping her arm through his to draw him to the door. “Father’s boots are on at last.”
“We’re to have company,” said Haynes. “Mr. Colton—I think you said your name was Colton—wants to come along.”
“I’m sorry that you should have been awakened,” said the girl, turning to him. “You don’t mind rough weather?”
“At least I’m not likely to blow away,” returned the young man good-humouredly, looking down at her from his six-feet-one of height. Inwardly he was saying: “You are never the daughter of that weather-beaten old shore man and that mild and ancient hen of a woman.”
Haynes, who had caught up a lantern and was moving toward the door, turned and said to him: “You had better keep between Mr. Johnston and myself. What are you waiting for?”
“Aren’t there others coming? I thought I heard someone upstairs speak of it.” He paused in some embarrassment, as he realised the intensity of his own wish to see that dark and lovely face again.
“Oh, Dolly Ravenden. Her father will bring her,” said