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Unwittingly the preacher revealed the terrible secret oi the catalyst gas, and the menace of an artificial hell faced the world

The Strange Gas

PROBABLY nothing ever would have been known of the remarkable discovery made by Adam Arden and his fellow scientist, old Dr. Adolph Krantz, until some commercial nitrogen fertilizer company announced its wares, had not fate stepped in and given the matter a far more serious aspect than either had intended. For that discovery was a powerful catalyst—a composite acid gas—which caused the oxygen of the air to unite explosively with the nitrogen content to form a non-volatile oxide of nitrogen.1

1: A catalyst is a substance which is seemingly inert and yet by mere presence dictates what actions shall take place in a chemical solution. The peculiar feature is that the catalyst itself is unchanged in the process and may be used over and over again. Elements and chemicals used as catalysts are platinum, manganese, acetanilide, sulphuric acid, etc.—Ed.

The part fate played in the machine gun circumstances which ended disasterously for five of those involved, originated with old Dr. Krantz baiting a hell fire preacher who had been preaching in Cloverdale the previous summer.

Dr. Krantz, a confirmed atheist, badgered the man relentlessly. "Why," he declared with heat, "your hell might break loose any time now. Already am I perfecting a formula for making the air catch fire. What if it won't stop? Don't you see, you will burn up—all of us will burn up—without your flaunted day of judgment."

Then when the next day the old doctor had sought for the preacher to beg him to hold sacred the information given, the man had already gone to New York to preach. Hoping that no harm would come of it, he dismissed it from his mind.

Over in New York two men were at a secluded table in the rear of Joe's Place. Before them lay a gaudy handbill. While the two were talking in low tones, the smaller amused himself by poking a pin through the paper. Suddenly he fixed his gaze on the paper and stopped in the midst of a sentence.

"Herr Bock," he said, picking up the punctured paper, "look what this man says: '?Already artificial hell has been made. The air burns with terrific heat actually melting the ground. If man can do it, why doubt God': power to do the some thing. Come hear about it and believe.'"

The larger man—a middle aged fellow who might easily have been mistaken for a successful banker—frowned. "Well, what of it?" he asked uninterestedly.

"What of it? Himmel, man! Don't you see? What are we paid for? Is it not to save for the fatherland those things which will make us the only nation in the world?"

Bock studied a moment, frowning reflectively. Suddenly he put down his beer mug. "We will go," he announced.

Half an hour later the two sat in the rear of the hall. Up on the platform Vincent Stephen, evangelist extraordinary, was reading from his Bible the words of Peter:

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

The preacher closed the book and stepped forward.

"Now all of you are interested in this artificial hell I told you about," he began. "I will tell you briefly. It was first called to my attention last summer while I was preaching in Cloverdale. A very fine old gentleman, even if he is an atheist, told me of it. Then recently I chanced to go back there. Thinking I would call on this old gentleman, I made inquiry and found he stayed in a lonely old house in the very center of the wildest natural park I ever saw. Indeed, the people there seemed to think that something was queer about not only him but the owner of the property—Adam Arden—a man not much more than half as old as the old atheist, but who formerly had been considered of exceptional ability.

"Unfortunately, or fortunately, I lost my way in their jungle-park, and chanced to come out in a clearing at the rear of the house. It was dark, which accounts for why I got lost, and a light from a flashlight caught my eye. Then I recognized the voice of my old friend. His name, by the way, is Dr. Adolph Krantz.

"'What are we going to do, Adam,' he asked, 'if this should continue to burn, and burn, and burn spontaneously, once it ignites the air out in the open?'

"'One cubic inch cannot do very much harm, doctor,' the other replied. 'The uncombustible elements in the air should eventually dilute it until it loses its effectiveness.'

"'Ah, but those gasses will also diffuse, Adam,' the old doctor argued. 'What if it should reach the house and the many cubic feet we have ?asked there?'

"'I guess it would be the hell you refuse to believe in, doctor,' the younger man laughed. 'But go ahead; we've got to find out.'

"Somehow they ignited the small bag of gas on the top of a post out there in the open. I was unintentionally an eavesdropper, fearing to disturb their experiment, and too interested to realize I had no business watching. Then came the explosion like a gun, and a roaring like a huge furnace, and such ?re as I hope never again to feel.

"It burned the post, burned the ground about it, growing all the time bigger and fiercer. At first it was as large as a barrel, then it became almost as large as a room. The ground under it was actually melting. It blinded me and the heat forced me back into the bushes. Wind rushed past me straight towards the fire only to have the flames leap straight into the breeze. Then the mass suddenly appeared hollow. The next moment it was gone, leaving only the melting earth about where the post stood.2

2: This catalyst gas uniting with the air, caused a disruptive separation of the hydrogen and oxygen in the air, which ignited and burned furiously since both are an extremely inflammable and explosive element. Perhaps another way in which this gas might be ideal for practical use is in the propulsion of aircraft by means of rockets, if some means could be found to control the terrific heat. As for nitrogen separation, Dr. Krantz and Adam Arden have discovered an amazingly valuable fact, since the combustion of the oxygen and hydrogen would leave practically pure nitrogen except for minute quantities of the rarer gases of an inert nature, argon, neon, etc.-Ed.

"By the time I regained my vision, both men had returned to their home. Since the bushes had torn my coat, I decided not to call on them. But I tell you, if man can burn the air on a small scale, how about God?"

The two visitors from Joe's place arose from their rear seats and passed out onto the street. When they were safely out of hearing from any chance passerby, the larger man chuckled audibly.

"It is colossal!" he beamed. "It was an inspiration, your seeing that statement, Arno. Dunnervetter! Think of it—one cubic inch of gas capable of melting earth! But it is so scientific, so possible. Strange that it never has been done before."

"And strange that the pigs do not realize its tremendous possibilities," asserted his companion. "Why, with such a powerful agent at our command, what could we do to Paris? To London? To New York?"

"Ya, with an airplane. Ignition bombs—ten to a pound—a thousand pounds to the plane. One man, too high to see. He makes a circle about the city, the fires make a wall none can get through, then inside they roast like pigs. One city like that and what country would dare refuse to listen? Ah, what an honor they will heap upon us then!"

"Ach!" breathed the other, "It is so! Our names will ring on the lips of all our countrymen!"

Dr. Krantz Gets a Note

ONE seldom finds two men as close friends as Adam Arden, sole owner of Arden House in the outskirts of Cloverdale, and Dr. Adolph Krantz, retired science professor from the state university. For nine years they had lived and worked together.

This association had come about when Adam Arden, right after the death of his wife, sent their two children, Dale and Juno, to be cared for by relatives, then had a new wing added to his already-large house, and in the new wing the finest laboratory money could perfect. While furnishing this laboratory he met the old doctor and an immediate friendship sprang up.

Because of the nature of their unified efforts Cloverdale saw little of either man until at the end of nine years whispers had it that both of them were mad. This tended to throw them that much closer and cemented rather than disrupted their friendship. Indeed, it was more like father and son, since Adam was now only past forty-five while the old doctor was nearing eighty although as well preserved as a man of fifty.

Some time after the New York preacher gave his dynamic lecture, Adam Arden and Dr. Adolph Krantz were working later than usual in the laboratory. Adam was working out the details for a damper gas with which to quench the terrific fire caused by exploding air; Dr. Krantz was poring over a scientific magazine. Out in the other part of the house the only servant, a Japanese, was entertaining a friend. The door bell rang. The Japanese opened the door and a man handed him a sealed envelope.

"It is to go to Dr. Adolph Krantz," the man said. "Give it to him in person. You must make sure of that."

"Very truthfully, thank you; right away, thank you," and the servant, bowing, closed the door and locked it.

Adolph Krantz tore the letter open and glanced at it. Adam was pouring two fluids into a stopper vial.

"Mein Gott im Himmel!"

Adam looked up. "What's wrong, doctor?"

"Wrong? It is the devil let loose! Look! Read it."

As he said this, he shoved the sheet into Adam's hand. It was written in a cramped hand, evidently the work of some educated foreigner.

"Herr Dokter Krantz": began the note. "When this letter you receive all telephone will be cut and all around house will secret army be paraded. Do not try to escape. We mean business. All preparations are made strong. Alive you soon shall not be if instructions followed are not. Eleven o'clock it is now; in half an hour will come deadline. The burning of this paper with match in front window is signal. Let one man in front door. He will talk English like I write. (Signed) Dies Irae."

Adams looked up into the troubled eyes of the doctor. "What do you make of it, doctor? He signs himself, Days of Wrath. What do you suppose the fool wants?"

"Fool? Ach, mein son; that is not the work of a fool. I do not know, but I have a fear someone has learned about our nitroxy-catalysis gas. What else could it be?"

"Bosh! What would anyone want with that, unless, perhaps, some fertilizer company to produce chemical nitrogen. It will be worth a million for that, but it isn't something such a company could steal like this and hope to get away with it."

"Fertilizer?" The doctor was still too excited to keep his voice calm. "Oh, Mein Gott im Himmel! Do you forget so soon? Have I not pointed out to you ein million times that one cubic meter of it will utterly wipe out any city? Adam, mein goot friend, it is not for fertilizer it is wanted; it is for war! "

Adam frowned. "But who?" he questioned.

"Who?" cried the doctor. "Look at that script, Adam. It is European. Only the words are English."

"Yes," Adam admitted, "you are right. But I still can't see how anyone could have learned about it. Can you?"

For a moment the old man sat in deep study. His clear eyes seemed to be looking at nothing, and his sparse white hair was rumpled. Suddenly he wilted. Pain swept across his face.

"What is it?" Adam asked, suddenly apprehensive.

"That preacher," the doctor said abruptly. "It must have been he. Once I was so excited in argument with him I tried to scare him by telling him we were working on a formula to create artificial hell. But he didn't scare. When next day I tried to see him to warn him not to reveal the secret which my rash words disclosed, he was gone already to New York to preach there."

Adam shook his head sadly. "A preacher of all people!" he exclaimed. "Doctor, doctor, when will you ever grow up? No, I shall not get angry with you; you are too good a friend. But just the same, it puts us in a tough spot. What are we going to do about this note?"

The doctor studied it a moment. Adam saw, however, that his eyes looked far beyond it. "I have caused this, if it is as we fear," he said with sudden decision, "now I alone must suffer, if suffer either of us must. If only we had more time."

Adam looked at his watch. "Only ten minutes left," he said.

"Which is little enough. I tell you; take the note and go to the front as it states. Remain there until the time arrives. Then when the man comes to the door, say you are owner of the house and try to keep him arguing."

"And you?"

"Me? I will stay here. Into some of those fiber bladders I shall place gas. In one day, or two, the acids in the gas will eat up the bladders and, puff! Where will their gas be?"

"It sounds good, if it will work."

"Work? Of course it will work. Now go; for I must do it."

A Tremendous Weapon

WHEN Adam left the laboratory, old Dr. Krantz closed and locked the door behind him. This done he prepared the bladders he had mentioned and replaced the great flask of nitroxy-catalysis gas from which he drew the smaller amounts. Hardly had he completed this task when steps came down the hall outside. He went to the door, unlocked it, then returned to his seat.

Adam opened the door and stood holding it. Through it walked a smallish man. Furtively the fellow's eyes darted from object to object about the room, finally fixing upon the doctor.

"He refused to talk to me, doctor," Adam explained, closing the door.

"That is right," the fellow spoke up. "I want only to speak with Dokter Adolph Krantz—the scientist."

The old doctor smiled. Ordinarily he would have corrected the man, but under the circumstances he chose to let him remain ignorant of the fact that Adam Arden was even more of a scientist than he, and the real discoverer of the powerful nitroxy-catalysis gas. But his smile masked the real doctor inside.

"I am Dr. Adolph Krantz," he said, rising from his bench stool but not offering his hand. "Have a seat on the stool there, and we can talk. What do you want, and who are you?"

The fellow took the stool. His face cracked to the tiniest smile, more ?aunt than friendliness.

"Who I am does not you concern," he said, caustically. "I am here to take with me a certain invention—a gas which causes air to burn spontaneously."

"Oh, you are," Adam spoke up. "And how do you propose to take it? Intend to buy it?"

The fellow's eyes narrowed. A curl snarled his lip. "In war one takes without buying," he replied.

"What do you mean—war?" Adam demanded.

"Did you not read the note? Around this place march a hundred men. Each is a soldier sworn to obey his captain. My country wants the gas you have perfected, and what we want, we take."

"And if we refuse?" Adam demanded.

"That would not be wise!" the fellow retorted.

"Ya, my boy; that would not be wise," the old doctor spoke up. "Now you must let me talk. I will deal with the gentleman."

Adam noticed the voice was exceptionally mild and conciliatory. He glanced sharply at the old man. The face was a benign mask now—a mask no one could read.

"Which country is your country?" the doctor asked.

"That, Herr Dokter, is my secret."

"And I suppose you want it to make commercial fertilizer—the use for which it was perfected, no?" the doctor went on, stealing a sly look at Adam as he mentioned fertilizer.

"Fertilizer!" the fellow laughed with contempt. "Yes, my good dokter, fertilizer of the armies who try to resist ours. But we waste time. I demand you give me at once the gas. If you do not, then I will give the sign and my men will close in on this house. That will not be pleasant. I have no more time for talk."

The doctor's voice came back, still calm and conciliatory. "Ah, but you must not get excited, my friend. Did I not tell you I will deal with you? Just how shall we give you this gas?"

"Have you not got it in a container?"

"Ah, yes; a container. Yes, it is in containers. But now for the terms. Do not get hasty, for one false move and we all may die. What good would your country get from that? For you know, my friend, my name is Krantz. Have you not heard of such a name before?" Now the doctor laughed a slight chuckle. "So perhaps you would not be so rash as to deny me also the right of helping out OUR fatherland, no?"

Adam was dumbfounded. What did the old doctor mean? He searched the masked face in vain. Aside from a strange glint in the eyes the face was as placid as oil. Now he had openly declared himself in sympathy with his fatherland which meant he was a traitor to his adopted country. But was he? Suddenly Adam knew better. The doctor must have some deeper scheme—too deep to see on the surface.

The fellow was more disturbed than had the doctor resisted. He frowned. "Then you will cause no trouble," he said finally.

"My friend, why should I cause trouble?" the doctor protested.

The fellow was blunt. "Because we looked you up; you are an American citizen. If your heart is right, then all will be well; if it is not right, then you will have no chance to be unfaithful: we take no chances, see?"

Adam saw swift anger tint the doctor's face momentarily, but it was quickly controlled. When he spoke no trace of it was in his voice.

"Of course, of course! I would not have you take chances. Now I will show you the containers of gas. See, in this cupboard—those four bladders in the cupboard with the glass door."

The man moved over and opened the cupboard. With his left hand he reached in and brought the bladders out. Eyeing them cynically, he turned towards the doctor:

"How shall I know this is the right gas?" he demanded.

"Know? By testing it, my friend," offered the doctor. "See, this quartz oven," and he showed a cumbersome affair made of quartz plates reinforced with heavy metal. "Inside this oven is a simple spark plug. A small amount of the gas introduced through this petcock spigot when mingled with the air inside the oven will ignite instantly. Let me show you. Hand me one of the bladders."

The man passed one of the bladders to the doctor. He fitted the neck over the spigot, unclasped the bladderneck, then opened the petcock for just an instant. Again he clasped the neck carefully.

"Now I will ignite it with this spark," he went on, and pressed the electric button.

Inside the oven an explosion consumed every trace of air in it. Then he reached out and turned again the petcock.

"See," he explained, "through this window. The inrushing air from the outside makes a jet of ?re like a gas jet on a gas burner. Since the air inside is all consumed, only a hot vacuum is in there; so we have the outer air flowing in. For an hour or more that will burn—will burn until the metal of the oven glows red with the heat from it. There, you have the proof."

Already the oven was glowing, but the doctor turned off the petcock and the fire winked out.

"It is enough," the man announced. "Now you must give me the formula. Then if the gas cannot be analyzed, the formula can be followed."

The doctor permitted a slight smile. "Ah, but the gas can be analyzed. Nevertheless I will gladly give you the formula. It is in this safe under the bench."

So saying he stooped and began turning the combination. Adam watched him. Now there could be no question of the doctor's intentions. The doctor opened the safe and took out a long treatise on a subject which had turned out negative—a formula as worthless as the formula for water, but far more intricate. He handed it to the fellow.

"It is very precious," he urged. "Guard it well."

A Battle of Wits

AS the fellow tucked the document into an inner pocket, his face became suddenly hard. Now he deliberately reached into his right hand pocket. Seeing this the doctor leaned against the wall and tapped the light switch idly with one finger.

"Now both of you are to accompany me," the fellow announced bruskly. "Outside we have automobiles. Into—"

"Wait!" The doctor's voice was a bark. Now his face was no longer a mask, but rather a study in passion. "Your gun is not frightening me, mein friend. Let me talk. Kill me you might, but then we all die together. Are we fools to be unprepared for such as you? Ha! ha! ha! Of course, we are not. This is as you think, a light switch. Ya, so it is disguised. But no one except us two ever come in here, and so it is safest to make it look like a light switch. Instead it is a safety device. Make one move with that gun and—"

The fellow's face turned as white as the doctor's hair. For one moment he showed uncertainty. Then bravado leaped into him.

"But you forget the army outside," he snarled.

"Ah, but I do not forget that," the doctor retorted. "But what good will an army do for a dead man, nein? Now let me talk. You may take me, ya, but not this my friend. He must remain here safe. If that is a promise, then I accompany you freely; if it is not, then I poke this button. What do you say?"

Adam was surprised at the sheer. nerve of the doctor. He saw the fellow forced against his will to give in. His hand left the gun in his pocket. "All right," he said gruffly, although a crafty look showed in his eyes. "I will take only you, Herr Dokter."

At this admission, the doctor stepped over so he could swing the door open. The man moved over beside it. Adam still stood beside the workbench in the center of the room.

"Well, I will say goodby, Adam," the doctor said a bit wistfully. "If never I see you again, all my belongings, which are few, you may have to do with as you wish. I am old—very old—and a long journey may mean the last of me, you know."

Adam was too full of emotion to answer. Better than the words he spoke he understood the old , doctor. He choked out a hoarse goodby, then the door closed behind his old friend—forever.

Old Doctor Krantz hesitated as the laboratory door closed between him and Adam.

"Go ahead—move on!" ordered the man, "and say no word."

Slightly ahead of the other, he moved down the hall. At the coat rack he took his great coat, put it on, then went to the door. Opening it but making sure by a glance that the night lock was on, he moved out on the porch, his conductor right behind. When the other fellow failed to close the door he darted back and gave it a quick pull, closing it.

So swiftly did he do this that the door was closed before the fellow could protest. "You just forgot to close the door," the doctor said amiably. "Now which way do we go?"

"Down the driveway, away from the town. And keep two paces ahead of me."

As the doctor walked down the overgrown driveway he caught fleeting glimpses of dark forms peering at him. What the man had said about an army was true. He was taking no chances.

Just beyond the edge of the park the driveway opened out into a little used country road. They had barely come in sight of two automobiles parked there when a man stepped out from the bushes and saluted.

"You will halt," the doctor's conductor said. Then reverting to a whisper he addressed the man who had saluted. "

The heels of the other clicked. "I understand; your orders shall be obeyed," and he saluted.

"Advance," now came the command, and the doctor started on. But suddenly the weight of all his years seemed to press down. There was no doubt of the meaning of the whisper; he had ordered the complete destruction of everything left behind. And with the army hidden in the trees it would be a simple matter. And once the house was ?red, the tube of gas inside it would destroy not only the house, but the entire park if not the town itself.

They reached the edge of the park and then the road. Here the doctor saw that the two cars were standing, facing away from town, with the width of the dirt driveway marked by passing wheels between them. In this roadway three men waited. One of these, a huge, pompous fellow, stepped forward. He was smoking a huge cigar.

"You got only one, Bruno?"

"Ya, the other I could not bring without a fight."

"Then you did right. I see you got the real doctor. And I suppose you have the formula?"

"Yes, and the gas itself. It is in these toy balloons. See, I have four of them."

Bock reached out and took one of them. As he did so, he took his cigar out with his other hand, brushed the ashes from it, then returned it to his mouth.

"You are certain it is the right stuff?" he questioned.

"I saw it tested, Herr Bock."

Dr. Krantz saw the other two men step forward and each took one of the bladders of gas. But most of all he watched the glowing tip of Bock's cigar. It seemed to fascinate him. There they were, gloating over the most deadly possession any ruthless dictator could hope to acquire. They must not get away with it!

He stepped forward and took one of the bladders into his own hand so swiftly they didn't think to stop him. Then a cry of protest from the man" Bruno. But it was too late. Already the doctor's fingers were closing down on the fragile bladder. One instant its sides seemed to hold. Angry, futile hands reached for his, clutching, desperate. His fingers tightened. The balloon burst with a sharp pop.

Adam heard his old friend pass down the hall with a stronger sense of loss at each step. Nothing since the death of his wonderful wife had so affected him as this. His whole world went dark. And if the old man should really be lost—

Suddenly a terrific explosion shook the place. White light flooded the entire park. In its glow frightened faces raced for cover, scurrying like mice from a freshly lighted grainery.

Instantly Adam knew what had happened. Racing back to the laboratory he picked up his half-filled fiask and slamming the door behind him, he passed out the front door and down the lane.

Half way to where the roaring inferno glowed like an arc light large as a sky scraper he could go no farther. The heat was terrific in spite of the rushing wind that passed him going towards it.

"The wind!" he exclaimed aloud.

"It might do it. I will try."

As he spoke he hurled the ?ask as far as he could down the driveway. It crashed into a thousand pieces and its contents splashed into spray.

Towards town the ?re engine screamed closer. It was the first time he had heard it. Then something seemed to hit the ?re. Twice it coughed, then snuffed out. His damper gas was a success.

When the fire truck roared up, he was already there, tears running down his blistered cheeks. On the glowing surface of the country road two puddles of still molten metal marked the places where two automobiles had stood. Between these puddles five heaps of human ashes lay—ashes as unrecognizable as any ashes ever turned out by a crematory.