Astounding Stories of Super-Science May 1931, by Astounding Stories is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. The Exile of Time - Chapter VIII: The Murder of Major Atwood
Where nothing had been stood a cage.
PART TWO OF A FOUR-PART NOVEL
By Ray Cummings
WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE
"Let me out! Let me out!" came the cry.
"What's that, Larry? Listen!" I said to my companion.
We stopped in the street. We had heard a girl's scream: then her frantic, muffled words to attract our attention. Then we saw her white face at the basement window. It was on the night of June 8-9, 1950, when I was walking with my friend Larry Gregory through Patton Place in New York City. My name is George Rankin. In a small, deserted house we found the strange girl; brought her out; took her away in a taxi to an alienist for examination.
We thought she might be demented—this strangely beautiful girl, in a long white satin dress with a powdered white wig, and a black beauty patch on her cheek—for she told us that the deserted house had just a few minutes before been her house; and though we assured her this was the summer of 1935, she told us her name was Mistress Mary Atwood, that her father was Major Atwood of General Washington's staff, and that she had just now come from the year 1777!
We took her to my friend Dr. Alten and she told her strange story. A cage, like a room of shining metal bars, had materialized in her garden. A great mechanical monster—a thing of metal, ten feet tall and fashioned in the guise of a man—had captured her. She was whirled away into the future, in the cage; then she was released, the cage had vanished, and Larry and I had passed by the house and rescued her.
Captured by a Robot in a Time-traveling cage! We tried to fathom it. And why had she been captured? Had she some enemy? She could only think of a fellow called Tugh. He was a hideously repulsive cripple who had dared make love to her and had threatened vengeance against her and her father.
"Tugh!" exclaimed Alten. "A cripple? Why, he lived in New York City three years ago, in 1932!"
A coincidence? The Tugh whom Mary knew in 1777 seemed the same person who, in 1932, had gotten into trouble with the New York police and had vowed some weird vengeance against them and all the city. And, equally strange, this house on Patton Place where we had found the girl was owned by the same Tugh who now was wanted for the murder of a girl and could not be found!
With Dr. Alten, and Mary Atwood, Larry and I returned that same night to the house on Patton Place. Near dawn, in the back yard of the house, the Time-traveling cage appeared again! The Robot came from it. Alten, Larry and I attacked the monster, and were defeated. When the fight was over, Larry and Alten lay senseless. The mechanical thing seized Mary and me, shoved us in the cage and whirled us away into Time.
Larry presently recovered. He rushed into Patton Place, and in his path another, much smaller cage appeared. A man and a girl leaped from it; and, when Larry fought with them, they carried him off in their vehicle.
He learned they were chasing the larger cage. They were not hostile to Larry and presently made friends with him. They were Princess Tina and a young scientist named Harl, both of the world of 2930. The two cages had come from 2930. The larger one had been stolen by an insubordinate Robot named Migul—a pseudo-human mechanism running amuck.
Again Tugh, the cripple, was mentioned. In 2930 he was a prominent scientist! But Harl and Tina mistrusted him. Tugh and Harl had invented the Time-traveling cages. It was a strange Time-world, that 2930, which now was described to Larry. It was an era in which all work was done by mechanisms—fantastic Robots, all but human! And they were now upon the verge of revolt against their human masters! Migul was one of them. It had stolen one of the cages, gone to 1777 and abducted Mary Atwood; and now, with her and me in its power, was headed back for 1777 upon some strange mission. Was it acting for the cripple Tugh? It seemed so. Tina and Harl, with Larry, chased our cage and stopped in a night of the summer of 1777.
Simultaneously, from the house on Patton Place, in June of 1935, Robots began appearing. A hundred of them, or a thousand, no one knew. With swords and flashing red and violet light-beams they spread over the city in the never-to-be-forgotten Massacre of New York! It was the beginning of the vengeance Tugh had threatened! Nothing could stop the monstrous mechanical men. For three days and nights New York City was in chaos. The red beams were frigid. They brought a mid-summer snowstorm! Then the violet beams turned the weather suddenly hot. A crazy wild storm swept the wrecked city. Torrential hot rain poured down. Then, one dawn, the beams vanished; the Robots retreated into the house on Patton Place and disappeared; and New York was left a horror of death and desolation.
The vengeance of Tugh against the New York City of 1935 was complete.
"We are late," Tina whispered. It was that night in 1777 when she, Larry and Harl stepped from their Time-traveling cage; and again I am picturing the events as Larry afterward described them to me. "Migul, in the other cage, was here," Tina added. "But it's gone now. Exactly where was it, I wonder?"
"Mary Atwood said it appeared in the garden."
They crept down the length of the field, just inside the picket fence. In a moment the trees and an intervening hillock of ground hid the dimly shining outline of their own cage from their sight. The dirt road leading to Major Atwood's home was on the other side of the fence.
"Wait," murmured Tina. "There is a light in the house. Someone is awake."
"When was Migul here, do you think?" Larry whispered.
"Last night, perhaps. Or to-night. It may be only an hour—or a few minutes ago."
The faint thud of horses' hoofs on the roadway made Tina and Larry drop to the ground. They crouched in the shadows of a tree. Galloping horses were approaching along the road. The moon went under a cloud.
From around a bend in the road a group of horsemen came. They were galloping; then they slowed to a trot; a walk. They reined up in the road not more than twenty feet from Larry and Tina. In the starlight they showed clearly—men in the red and white uniform of the army of the King. Some of them wore short, dark cloaks. They dismounted with a clanking of swords and spurs.
Their voices were audible. "Leave the steeds with Jake. Egad, we've made enough noise already."
"Here, Jake, you scoundrel. Stay safely here with the mounts."
"Come on, Tony. You and I will circle. We have him, this time. By the King's garter, what a fool he is to come into New York at such a time!"
"He wants to see his daughter, I venture."
"Right, Tony. And have you seen her? As saucy a little minx as there it in the Colonies. I was quartered here last month. I do not blame the major for wanting to come."
"Here, take my bridle, Jake. Tie them to the fence."
There was a swift confusion of voices; laughter. "If you should hear a pistol shot, Jake, ride quickly back and tell My Lord there was a fracas and you did not dare remain."
"I only hope he is garbed in the rebel white and blue—eh, Tony? Then he will yield like an officer and a gentleman; which he is, rebel or no."
They were moving away to surround the house. Two were left.
"Come on, Tony. We will pound the front knocker in the name of the King. A feather in our cap when we ride him down to the Bowling Green and present him to My Lord...."
The voices faded.
Larry gripped the girl beside him. "They are British soldiers going to capture Major Atwood! What can we—"
He never finished. A scream echoed over the somnolent night—a voice from the rear of the house. A man's voice.
The red-coated soldiers ran forward. In the field, close against the fence, Tina and Larry were running.
From the garden of the house a man was screaming. Then there were other voices; servants were awakening in the upper rooms. The screaming, shouting man rushed through the house. He appeared at the front door, standing between the high white colonial pillars which supported the overhead porch. A yellow light fell upon him through the opened doorway. An old, white-headed negro appeared. Larry and Tina, in the nearby field, stood stricken by the scene.
"The marster—the marster—" He shouted this wildly.
The British officers ran at him.
"You, Thomas, tell us where the major is. We've come for him; we know he's here! Don't lie!"
"But the marster—" He choked over it.
"A trick, Tony! Egad, if he is trying to trick us—"
They leaped to the porch and seized the old negro.
"Speak, you devil!" They shook him. "The house is surrounded. He cannot escape!"
"But the marster is—is dead! My girl Tollie saw it and then she swooned." He steadied himself. "He—the major's in the garden, Marster Tony. Lying there dead! Murdered! By a ghost, Tollie says. A great, white, shining ghost that came to the garden and murdered him!"
If you were to delve very closely into certain old records of Revolutionary New York City during the year 1777, you doubtless would find mention of the strange murder of Major Atwood, who, coming from New Jersey, is thought to have crossed the river well to the north of the city, mounted his horse—which, by pre-arrangement, one of his retainers had left for him somewhere to the south of Dykeman's farm—and ridden to his home. He came, not as a spy, but in full uniform. And no sooner had he reached his home when he was strangely murdered. There was only a negro tale of an apparition which had appeared in the garden and murdered the master.
Larry and I have found cursory mention of that. But I doubt if the group of My Lord Howe's gay young blades who were sent north to capture Major Atwood ever reported exactly what happened to them. The old Dutch ferryman divulged that he had been hired to ferry the homecoming major; this, too, is recorded. But Tony Green and his fellow officers, sent to apprehend the colonial major, found him inexplicably murdered; and by dawn they were back at the Bowling Green, white-faced and shaken.
They told some of what had happened to them, but not all. They could not expect to be believed, for instance, if they said that though they were unafraid of a negro's tale of a ghost, they had themselves encountered two ghosts, and had fled the premises!
Those two ghosts were only Larry and Tina!
The negro babbled of a shining cage appearing in the garden. That, of course, was undoubtedly set down as nonsense. Tony Green and his friends went to the garden and examined the body of Major Atwood. What had killed him no one could say. No bullet had struck him. There were no wounds, no knife thrust, no sword slash. Tony held the lantern with its swaying yellow glow close to the murdered man's body. The August night was warm; the garden, banked by trees and shrubbery, was breathless and oppressively hot; yet the body of Atwood seemed frozen! He had been dead but a short while, and already the body was stiff. More than that, it was ice cold. The face, the brows were wet as though frost had been there and now was melted!
Tony Green's hand shook as he held the lantern. He tried to tell his comrades that Atwood had died from failure of the heart. Undoubtedly it was that. He had seen what he supposed was an apparition; something had frightened him; and a weak heart had brought his death.
Then, in another part of the garden, one of the searching officers found a sheet of parchment scroll with writing on it. Yet it was not parchment, either. Some strange, white, smooth fabric which crumpled and tore very easily, the like of which this young British officer of Howe's staff had never seen before. It was found lying in a flower bed forty or fifty feet from Atwood's body. They gathered in a group to examine it by the light of the lantern. Writing! The delicate script of Mary Atwood! A missive addressed to her father. It was strangely written, evidently not with a quill.
Tony read it with an awed, frightened voice:
"Father, beware of Tugh! Beware of Tugh! And, my dear Father, good-by. I am departing, I think, to the year of our Lord, 2930. Cannot explain—a captive—good-by—nothing you can do—
Strange! I can imagine how strange they thought it was. Tugh—why he was the cripple who had lived down by the Bowling Green, and had lately vanished!
They were reading this singularly unexplainable missive, when as though to climax their own fears of the supernatural they saw themselves a ghost! And not only one ghost, but two!
Plain as a pikestaff, peering from a nearby tree, in a shaft of moonlight, a ghost was standing. It was the figure of a young girl, with jacket and breeches of black and gleaming white. An apparition fantastic! And a young man was with her, in a long dark jacket and dark tubular pipes, for legs.
The two ghosts with dead white faces stood peering. Then the man moved forward. His dead, strange voice called:
"Drop that paper!"
My Lord Howe's red-coated officers dropped the parchment and fled.
And later, when Atwood's body was taken away to be given burial as befitted an enemy officer and a gentleman, that missive from Mary Atwood had disappeared. It was never found.
Tony Green and his fellows said nothing of this latter incident. One cannot with grace explain being routed by a ghost. Not an officer of His Majesty's army!
Unrecorded history! A supernatural incident of the year 1777!
Undoubtedly in the past ages there have been many such affairs: some never recorded, others interwoven in written history and called supernatural.
Yet why must they be that? There was nothing supernatural in the events of that night in Major Atwood's garden.
Is this perchance an explanation of why the pages of history are so thronged with tales of ghosts? There must, indeed, be many future ages down the corridors of Time where the genius of man will invent devices to fling him back into his past. And the impressions upon the past which he makes are called supernatural.
Whether this be so or not, it was so in the case of these two Time-traveling vehicles from 2930. Larry and I think that the world of 1935 is just now shaking off the shackles of superstition, and coming to realize that what is called the supernatural is only the Unknown. Who can say, up to 1935, how many Time-traveling humans have come briefly back? Is this, perchance, what we call the phenomena of the supernatural?
Larry and Tina—anything but ghosts, very much alive and very much perturbed—were standing back of that tree. They saw the British officers reading the scrap of paper. They could hear only the words, "Mary," and "from Mistress Atwood."
"A message!" Larry whispered. "She and George must have found a chance to write it, and dropped it here while the Robot murdered Major Atwood!"
Larry and Tina vehemently wanted to read the note. Tina whispered:
"If we show ourselves, they will be frightened and run. It is nearly always so where Harl and I have become visible in earlier Times."
"Yes. I'll try it."
Larry stepped from the tree, and shouted, "Drop that paper!"
And a moment later, with Mary's torn little note scribbled on a scrap of paper thrust in his pocket, Larry ran with Tina from the Atwood garden. Unseen they scurried back through the field. Under a distant tree they stopped and read the note.
"2930!" Larry exclaimed. "The Robot is taking them back to your world, Tina!"
"Then we will go there. Let us get back to Harl, now."
But when they reached the place where they had left the cage, it was not there! The corner of the field behind the clump of shadowing trees was empty.
"Harl! Harl!" Larry called impulsively. And then he laughed grimly. What nonsense to try and call into the past or the future to their vanished vehicle!
"Why—why, Tina—" he said in final realization.
They stared at each other, pale as ghosts in the moonlight.
"Tina, he's gone. And we are left here!"
They were marooned in the year 1777!
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Various. 2009. Astounding Stories of Super-Science, May 1931. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/30532/30532-h/30532-h.htm#The_Exile_of_Time
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