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Whispers at Dawn; Or, The Eye By Roy J. Snell Characters: 8514

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Late that afternoon Captain Burns' car came to a stop before the "House of Magic."

"Hop in," he said to Johnny when the boy appeared. "Want to take you somewhere. Been working on clues all day. Tired. Need rest. Need good company. Come along."

Johnny, who had spent a quiet day with Felix, being led further into the magic of the electric eye, but being told nothing at all about the mysteries that most intrigued him, was ready enough to go.

"Queer boy, that Felix," he said to the Captain as the car sped on through the city. "Didn't really tell me a thing I wanted to know.

"Oh, yes," he corrected himself, "he did say that the light about the place was made by neon tubes set in the walls and that the light entered the room through a million pin-pricks in the canvas covering of the walls; also that this light came in slowly because it was filtered through bulbs very like radio tubes."

"Interesting, but not so terribly important," the Captain rumbled.

"Same with that business of my room getting tall and short," Johnny went on. "Seems his father thinks there's a lot of waste space in modern homes. Bed chambers stand empty all day, living-rooms all night, and there is never enough air space in either. So he's experimenting on floors built like elevators. You flatten out the bedroom furniture and raise the floor; that gives you a tall living-room during the day. By lowering the same floor at night you get a tall bedroom."

"In any case," the Captain laughed, "you're not likely to bump your head."

"Seems," Johnny concluded, "I had a room intended in the beginning for a sort of parlor. They needed the space above, so they let down the floor. Not a bad arrangement, only they ought to have let a fellow know. These inventors' heads are so full of things, they forget."

They were now well out of the city, speeding along a country road.

Thirty miles from the heart of the city they swung through a gateway and came to a stop before a small, low-roofed cottage.

It was now dark. The place seemed cold and deserted.

"You'll not find any ceilings falling on you here," Captain Burns chuckled. "This was my boyhood home."

"Your boyhood home!" Johnny surveyed the narrow yard surrounded by ancient maples. He looked at the insignificant dwelling towered over by a giant cottonwood tree.

"And you rose from this," he said in an awed whisper.

"No, Johnny," the Captain replied quickly. "I didn't rise. No one ever rises above his boyhood home. It is the grandest place on earth. Come on in."

The place they entered was the kitchen. It had a low ceiling. In a corner stood a small wood-burning kitchen range with a top that was warped and cracked.

"That's the very stove," the Captain said proudly, touching a match to shavings and watching yellow flames spread. "I cut wood for it more than thirty years ago.

"I was away from this place a long, long time, Johnny. When I got some money I bought it for a sort of retreat. When I am poor again it shall be the last of my treasured possessions to go-my boyhood home!" he ended reverently.

"When I think-" There was a rumble in the Captain's throat as he began to speak after some moments of silence. "When I think of the good, simple, happy times we had here, I wonder-" He did not finish, but sat smiling and looking at the glowing hearth of the little, old, cracked kitchen stove.

"I was raised in this one small room," he began once more. "Oh, yes, we slept upstairs. No fire up there, not a spark. Cold!" He chuckled. "Twenty below sometimes.

"But this room, it was home to us. Home." He said it softly. "I can see it now. The table there and the yellow glow of a kerosene lamp. Father dozing by the fire. Brother Tom reading. He was a scholar, Tom was. Made a fine man, he would, if-" Once more he did not finish.

"Father was a pious man," he rumbled on after a time. "Wonder how many sons of truly pious men make their mark in the world? Many of them, I believe.

"We always had prayers on our knees before we went upstairs. Father's prayer was always much the same. One sentence I remember well: 'We thank Thee, our Father, that it is well with us as it is.' It wasn't very well with us all the time. But we had peace. The doors

were never locked. Precious little to steal, and no one to steal it.

"Peace!" he mused. "Sometimes I wonder whether this eternal struggle is worth the cost. When I got older and went out with my father to help with the work, when we came rattling home in the dark in our old lumber wagon, we had peace. No one wanted to kill us. But now-"

Once again he did not finish. There was no need. Full well Johnny knew that there were those who wished this faithful officer beneath the sod.

"But when the city gets you-" The Captain's tone had changed. "When it gets you, there's no turning back. The noise, the rush, the excitement of life that flows on and on like a torrent-it gets you, and you never, never turn back.

"Remember the story of poor old Lot?"

"Yes, I remember." Johnny knew that great old book.

"I've always felt sorry for Lot." The Captain chuckled. "Country chap come to the city to live. Got his wife turned to salt, he did. Lost about all he had. But he couldn't help it. City got him. Sodom got him. Chicago's got you and me, Johnny. And Chicago won't let us go until they bring us out to some spot like the one we passed a mile from here, and put us away where the hemlocks sing and sigh over the marble that is white in the moonlight.

"So we'll fight on, Johnny." He prodded the fire. "We won't accomplish much. No one ever does. But we'll do our bit-do it like men.

"But, Johnny-" He rose and stretched himself. "It helps to come out here now and then where I have known so much peace. Just to sit by this old, cracked stove, to listen to the whisper of the wind, the song of the tree toads and the whoo-whooting of some owl, and dream I am a boy again, just a boy. Ah, son, that's good.

"We'll go back to the city in a little while," he went on after a time. "Get a good bed somewhere in town.

"And that reminds me, Johnny. I want you out here on Christmas Eve. We'll make up a party and stay all night. Hang up our stockings just as we boys used to do. We'll bring out Drew and Tom, Joyce Mills, Mrs. LeClare and Alice; yes, and Spider-only we'll have a whole turkey for Spider," he chuckled. "We-we'll have a grand time Christmas Eve and all day Christmas. And such a dinner! I've bought a turkey, twenty-five pounds, Johnny.

"Come in here." He took up a kerosene lamp and led the way into a second small room.

"This was our parlor. Only lit the fire on Sundays. Such Sundays as those were! Happy days, Johnny! Happy days!"

"But what's this?" Johnny asked suddenly. "Surely this does not belong to those days."

"No." There was a queer look on the Captain's face. "Fellow I know, man I would trust with my life, asked permission to put that in here." They were looking at a two-foot wide reflector such as was to be found in Johnny's room in the "House of Magic."

"He said," the Captain went on, "that if the time came when I was badly needed in the city, a message would come to me through that thing. How? I can't say. Up until now it hasn't uttered a squawk. It-"

Suddenly Johnny held up a hand. There was no need. The Captain was listening with all his ears, for, into that room there on the lonely prairie, had stolen a whisper.

"Captain Burns!" The words were very distinct. "I wish to inform you that a packet of stolen bonds you are seeking have been sold to Joseph Gregg of 3200 South Kemp Street. Gregg is an honest man. But back of him-" The whisper faded.

"That," exclaimed the Captain, "is all I need to know!"

Racing for his coat and hat, he led the way to his car. A moment more and they were speeding back to the city.

"Johnny," said the Captain, "do you believe that whisper came all the way from the city?"

"I am sure of it."

"A broadcast?"

"No, not a broadcast. I feel sure no one in the world, save us, heard it."

"Wonderful, if true-a revolutionary idea!" the Captain exclaimed.

"I think," said Johnny, "that I could name the very spot from which that message came-the top of the Sky Ride tower." He told the Captain of his discovery regarding the whisper he had heard that morning.

"We'll have to look into that," was the Captain's only comment.

That very night Johnny attempted to "look into that," with such results as you shall see.

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