The Sign at Six by Stewart Edward White
Chapter V. A Scientist in Pink Silk
The next morning promptly at eight o'clock Jack Warford, in response to a muttered invitation, burst excitedly into Percy Darrow's room. He found the scientist, draped in a pale-pink silk kimono embroidered with light-blue butterflies, scraping methodically at his face with a safety-razor. At the sight the young fellow came to an abrupt stop, as though some one had met him with a dash of cold water in the face.
"Hello!" said he, in a constrained voice. "Just up?"
Darrow cast a glance through his long silky lashes at the newcomer.
"Yes, my amiable young canine, just up."
Jack looked somewhat puzzled at the appellation, but seated himself.
"Helen said you wanted to see me," he suggested.
Darrow leisurely cleaned the component parts of his safety-razor, washed and anointed his face, and turned.
"I do," said he, "if you're game."
"Of course I'm game!" cried the boy indignantly.
Darrow surveyed his fresh, young, eager face and the trim taut bulk of him with dispassionate eyes.
"Are you?" he remarked simply. "Possibly. But you're not the man to be sure of it."
"I didn't mean it as bragging," cried Jack, flushing.
"Surely not," drawled Darrow, stretching out his long legs. "But no man can tell whether or not he's game until he's tried out. That's no reflection on him, either. I remember once I went through seeing my best friend murdered; being shot at a dozen times myself as I climbed a cliff; seeing a pirate ship destroyed with all on board, apparently by the hand of Providence; escaping from a big volcanic bust-up into a cave, and having the cave entrance drop down shut behind me. I was as cool as a cucumber all through it. I remember congratulating myself that, anyhow, I was going to die game."
"By Jove!" murmured Jack Warford, staring at him, fascinated. Evidently, the super-beautiful garment had been forgotten.
"Then a war-ship's crew rescued me; and I broke down completely, and acted like a silly ass. I wasn't game at all; I'd just managed to postpone finding it out for a while."
"It was just the reaction!" cried Jack.
"Well, if that sort of reaction happens along before the trouble is all over, it looks uncommonly like loss of nerve," Percy Darrow pointed out. "No man knows whether or not he's game," he repeated. "However," he smiled whimsically, "I imagine you're likely to postpone your reactions as well as the next."
"What's up? What do you want me to do?"
"Stick by me; obey orders," said Darrow.
"Did you notice anything in the papers this morning?"
"They're full of this electrical failure last night. Haven't you seen them?"
"Not yet. While I dress, tell me what they say."
"The worst was in the tubes--" Warford began, but Darrow interrupted him.
"I could tell you exactly what must have happened," said he, "if the failure was complete. Never mind that. Was the condition general, or only local? How far did it extend?"
"It seemed to be confined to New York, and only about to Highbridge."
"Long Island? Jersey?"
"Yes; it hit them, too."
"What are the theories?"
"I couldn't see that they had any--that I could understand," said Jack. "There's some talk of the influence of a comet."
"Rubbish! Who sprung that?"
"Professor Aitken, I think."
"He ought to know better. Any others?"
"I couldn't understand them all. There was one of polarizing the island because of the steel structures; and the--"
"No human agency?"
"No man or men are suspected of bringing this about?"
"Oh, no! You don't think--"
"No, I don't think. I only imagine; and I haven't much basis for imagining. But if my imaginations come out right, we'll have plenty to do."
"Where, now?" asked Jack, as the scientist finished dressing and reached for his hat. "Breakfast?"
"No, I ate that before I dressed. We'll make a call on the Atlas Building."
"All right," agreed Jack cheerfully. "What for?"
"To ask McCarthy if he hasn't a job for you in construction."
Jack came to a dead halt.
"Say!" he cried. "Look here! You don't quite get the humor of that. Why, McCarthy loves the name of Warford about the way a yellow dog loves a tin can to his tail."
"We'll call on him, just the same," insisted Darrow.
"I'm game," said Jack, "but I can tell you the answer right now. No need to walk to the Atlas Building."
"I have a notion the Atlas Building is going to be a mighty interesting place," said Darrow.
They debouched on the street. The air was soft and golden; the sun warm with the Indian summer. The clock on the Metropolitan tower was booming nine. As the two set out at a slow saunter down the backwater of the side street, Darrow explained a little further.
"Jack," said he abruptly, "I'll tell you what I think--or imagine. I believe last night's phenomena were controlled, not fortuitous or the result of natural forces. In other words, some man turned off the juice in this city; and turned it on again. How he did it, I do not know; but he did it very completely. It was not a question of wiring alone. Even dry-cell batteries were affected. Now, I can think of only one broad general principle by which he could accomplish that result. Just what means he took to apply the principle is beyond my knowledge. But if I am correct in my supposition, there occurs to me no reason why he should not go a step or so farther."
"I don't believe I follow," said Jack contritely.
"What I'm driving at is this," said Darrow; "this is not the end of the circus by any means. We're going to see a lot of funny things--if my guess is anywhere near right."