GENERISIS presents THE GOLDEN DAWN
Episode 2 - THE POLYPHASIC CURRENT!
"Where is that skull?" my father repeated in his offices in Wall Street, downtown. "Just give it back to them and things will go a whole lot easier upon you..."
"I lost it," I repeated for perhaps the fifth time that morning. "I was struggling in the night with a madman who'd already killed once and meant to have me for dessert. It must have rolled away. By and by someone'll find it."
"But you've been suspended," Father answered, "Gates informs me that documents of expulsion are being drawn up. Nothing of this sort has ever happened in our family."
"Well murder hasn't either... a week ago it seemed that those Sheriffs meant to send me to the gallows, but truth prevailed and so it will again." How righteous and glib I could be in those days!
"You escaped thanks to the testimony of a town harlot and newfangled scientific folderol," grunted my father, "and it cost a pretty penny to have that fellow brought down from Albany. Convicting or clearing a man by the whorls on his fingers... it seems un-American, but it's done."
"If it's the money, don't trouble yourself about that. What fee did Sievers charge for fingerprint analysis? I'll pay it. I'll dig ditches, drive cattle; now would be the perfect time to go West." Actually, late autumn would have been the worst of all times for such travels, but we took Horace Greeley seriously in those days. Have I said that I was very young, and very foolish?
"Don't give me ideas. Arthur, the University is willing to forgive and forget, if you simply give the fraternity back its skull. They're evil things... fraternities... those Odd Fellows, Shriners and the insurance lodges, worst of all. And while I concede that wicked Socialist, Jefferson, I do not believe Washington had anything to do with Masonry, certainly not Lincoln. Thank God that Fillmore, the only competent executive this poor nation has ever had, put an end to such abominations seventy years back. Secret societies! They're like flies! Nonetheless that redman’s skull is their property... give it back and all of this stands behind us."
I could not help but reply, even then, that I rather thought that old head the property of the Wampanoag Tribe. "Nonetheless the matter is no longer material," I maintained. "I lost it during the struggle. Perhaps one of the policemen claimed it for a souvenir or Viereck is hiding it so as to do me dirt. He would still have had me hanged if he could, since they expelled him too, for immorality... he will have to go overseas but the rest of the Bonesmen, I hear, have sworn an oath upon my ruin."
"And they'd not be without confederates in that. As it is you have ruined yourself in society to the extent, I've been advised," and Father took a deep breath, "that you complete your schooling at... the public university!"
I replied I was rather considering going abroad, too, knowing more or less the result of such comment.
"That again! Were it not for the nearness of a rope of your own... or of one of those devices I understand Mr. Morgan's client to have perfected... that sort of divan for killing prisoners with electric current, I think... I would not put it past you to have cooked up this whole scrape as a means of getting off to the Continent."
I replied that I respected his estimate of my cunning, but such complicated planning was certainly beyond my capacities. "Have you heard anything further of the investigation?" I asked.
"Only that the murdered man was a Professor of Physics and it seems Mr. Edison is quite put out over this... he relied greatly upon the fellow. Which reminds me," Richard Cameron added, and not pleasantly, "isn't there some place you must now go? I would not wish you here to remind Mr. Morgan of the incident. It has something to do with his client, also Westinghouse and against the Belmonts. It would ruin me if it came out you had done anything to advance the cause of Jews - I mean bad Jews, not Solomons or the Rothschilds or Mr. Nordau. I must give you his book... that will set you straight about Europe."
"Do I detect, however grudgingly, the inkling of consent?" But before Father could reply his man, Gates, poked his gray head through the door...
"Sir... Mr. Morgan and his client have arrived."
"Damn! Show them in... too late for you to disappear, but try to remain inconspicuous. We'll discuss the matter at a better time.
"Very well," I replied, though unable to leave the matter lie without a final remark. "You might know that Solomon is considered something of a patriarch to secret societies... and Mr. Morgan did serve as one of the senior Belmont's pallbearers."
"As I also would have done, if invited. He was dead, wasn't he?"
And at that, Father rose to greet the incoming Morgan and his guest. John Pierpont Morgan was then at the height of his career and influence... some years after these matters of the Golden Dawn transpired, mutterings arose that he had abandoned his genius companion because, considering his rubber interests and Guggenheim's copper, more profit would have been turned with Edisonian current. And perhaps that may have played a part but... as shall be seen... only a part.
"John, I am honored," my father had said at that time. "And this would be Dr. Vartanian?"
I confess I must have stared bug-eyed at the esteemed Engineer. Vartanian was a few years younger than his patron, middle forties at the time, well over eight feet tall counting the high silk hat... even after removing it, he'd had to incline slightly to pass through Father's door. It has been my experience that many tall men slouch somewhat but, rather than conceal his height, the master of the Polyphasic Current actually extended it through those curious cork-lined shoes that he wore... heels arched as if on little stilts (I later learned this was also precaution against accidental electrocution which the inventor feared, apparently, even when walking the streets of lower New York). A hungry looking falcon perched on the shoulder of his formal magician's evening coat - the features of the bird bearing an uncanny resemblance to those of its master. Vartanian nodded but did not offer his hand, nor even remove his gloves and he promptly replaced the tall hat with an intimidating smirk... after a moment's hesitation, Richard Cameron bid both be seated.
"This is my son Arthur," he said with all due polity, "who shall be with us in New York for a time until going overseas to finish his education."
In such asides are fortunes made, dreams realized... and perils beyond number courted!
"What I wouldn't give to be young again!" Morgan waxed, "and on the continent! Have you determined which of its colleges you shall attend?"
Fortunately I had given the matter quite a bit of thought in the four days since the report of the fingerprint analyst Sievers upon the dagger induced the police to dismiss the murder charges against me. "I have considered Oxford and Cambridge of course or… on the Continent… Ingolstadt would be the most obvious choice, as I plan to pursue scientific studies."
Vartanian, having deposited hat in lap, regarded me with such contempt as I had not seen since being booked into the filthy New Jersey prison. "Unlike Mr. Morgan, I bear no fond recollections, either of youth or for the Old World. I was raised in that corner of Europe known as the Balkans - people there despised me, so I despise them also. The further you are from Europe the better it shall go for you... but as you clearly have little sense, if any, the situation improves markedly as one travels from east to west. Thus, one of the British schools would be the least harmful decision you could make."
"Then to England I shall go." I did not necessarily mean so at the time, but the last thing I wished was for the discussion to escalate into a dispute.
" It will certainly save you difficulties with the language," Morgan chipped in. "Although the most unfortunate Professor Pfleuger was able to learn a passable English, so I suppose it could work the other way round. Let him stay, Richard..." for Father had made a rather obvious motion of dismissal in my direction, "...whether engineering or finance is his destiny, this lad should learn something by what we have to say."
Father relented with a philosophical nod; few contradicted J. P. Morgan's whims in those days.
"Richard," said the investor, "this incident has put all of us in somewhat of a bind. I do not exaggerate by saying millions, nay... billions eventually will change hands based upon the question of whether the generating systems of Edison or Dr. Vartanian are implemented. Billions… I speak, of course, over a period of decades, even centuries. To men such as ourselves with some understanding of engineering, but lacking the subtle judgment of professionals, we are obligated to fall back upon men and on resources. Pflueger, although largely unknown, was one on whom Edison depended... his loss means a grievous delay in the electrification of the Americas, according to his system." (And the giant scowled, again, at the word system.) "Financially, can we afford further delays? I still have not made my own mind up and, frankly, would not do so without first consulting colleagues, men like yourself. Edison used to be almost a demigod, yes, but the Doctor, here, made an impressive demonstration at Niagara Falls. He is present to respond to your questions, Richard. We do not have much time, there are only three months... less!... until the dawn of the new century. Ask Vartanian what you will!"
Richard Cameron rubbed his chin suspiciously, I saw his eyes darting between those of the inventor and of the predatory bird still perched on the inventor's shoulder.
"Very well, Doctor," my father said, "...I do not pretend to be a scientist myself, so why don't you just try to define... simply... the difference between your system and that of Edison. And their costs, of course!"
He nodded, rather pitifully, to Morgan who appeared to nod back without actually doing so.
"The costs! Very much when I talk to men of the money. So!... you count your precious pennies, but if I were Edison, even Planck, that has-done in Berlin... all of those dollars and deutschmarks as you wish. Millions!"
Father always had a dangerous temper... well-banked when conversing with Morgan of course, but he so loved putting people in their place... especially foreigners... that he sometimes forgot his situation. I do not think his was the selectivity of bigots... Jews and Italians, Englishmen and Germans and his fellow New Yorkers above all, all of these he treated as if they were out to rob him. Most probably were. On this afternoon, his eyes distinctly narrowed as if compressing the inventor and his bird down to manageable size.
"You did, I understand, more or less blow up the state of Colorado!"
"Idi do Davola!" Vartanian replied, as if the human mask had been dropped to reveal some Balkan wolf slavering therein... "there is nothing in that state worth saving in the first place save rocks, some few of which hold useful minerals and so benefit from polyphasic disassociation."
"The Doctor means that in so large a state, a modicum of damage may be tolerated... whereas in New York you would be more thorough. That's a joke, Dick - our friend is utterly without humor, a characteristic I find refreshing. It may be attributed to his birthplace far away, among the stars!"
Vartanian, amazingly, did not seem to understand he was being humoured. "Could genius such as mine be of the earthbound origin?" he asked. "I was left atop the highest mountain in Serbia by Secret Chiefs for to blaze paths for struggling humanity - but if I am not courted by Americans," he added, and rather menacingly, "perhaps I shall find a less hostile reception from the Czar.
"Well I hear Nicolas is receptive to all sorts of odd stuff," and then, perhaps recognizing that an insult to Vartanian might rub off on his patron, Father returned to practicality. "Nonetheless, sir, what would we realize from our investment?
"Control!" Vartanian shot back, with such intensity of purpose as I'd later happen across in Grein and in Scotland, "...not of mere power houses, such as Edison conceives, but of the vital magnetism of the universal forces which manifest in health, the weather, sterilization against dangerous microbes and other components of what the English speaking amateurs shall call Utopian. My polyphasic current, unlike the crude slug-a-bits of Planck and Edison, correct world-tonality and will improve the species at once, rather than over centuries of centuries as Darwin speaks."
"Doctor Vartanian claims never to have read Lytton," Morgan interjected, "although his projects are directed precisely at channeling of those vril-forces which his predecessor Mesmer dedicated his career towards recreating. When polyphasic current is enacted, I suppose that any one of us... even the young gentleman there..." he added with a shrug in my direction, "could illuminate this whole room simply by holding an electric lamp between his teeth."
"I leave such humor... and occultism of Mr. Lytton's sort..." added Vartanian, "to Mr. Morgan. I am... and first!... a scientist."
"Well spoken!" my father replied. "And, as I am an investment banker, may I ask you both whether Dr. Vartanian's proposals have been answered by a commitment of funds from our colleagues."
Morgan took up the challenge. "Well there are the Belmonts, eager to bite off the largest share for themselves and their friends in Dublin and Washington through Perry..."
Later, in private, Father was pleased to explain this arcana to me... one of those many accidents of history that leave whole peoples, nations even, in their wake. "Old Belmont snagged the Commodore's daughter Caroline before the troubles between states began," he told me, with his inimitable crudity. "To show what happens when Jews and Papists dip their heads together, all the Commodore's men support Herzl, now, while dark little Rothschilds can be found marching in Fenian parades."
"World's turned upside down..." is all that he said in the presence of Morgan, "but that is old news. What else?"
"The Astors intend to participate in any venture that achieves the status of respectability," Morgan insinuated.
"Now that," Father declared, "is useful. John, you may consider my firm also an interested party on that basis, contingent, of course, upon submission of a budget and program.
"I would expect no less. By years' end, I anticipate a combination of perhaps twelve; investors of a diverse and...”
The financier's recitation was cut short in a gasp as Vartanian's falcon dived from its master's shoulder, seizing a rat that had dared to insolently creep across the floor of Father's office. Returning to the inventor's outstretched sleeve with the squealing prey in its talons, it awaited Vartanian's affirmation and then, the inventor making only a slight gesture of assent, gobbled the rodent almost whole, leaving only its head to bounce along the floor between my father and Morgan.
"Impressive!" Father admitted. "Doctor... will this all-purpose ray, your..."
"Polyphasic current... " Vartanian hurried him...
"Yes, could that be adapted for purposes of pest control?
The tall inventor now seemed pleased for the chance to demonstrate his authority. "I see no negative aspect," Vartanian responded, warming... if such word could be uttered as applicable to such a glacial intellect, "... it would be a matter of manipulating frequencies harmful to rodents but without effect on men or useful domestic creatures. There would be two settings... one pulse to simply to drive away the vermin, a stronger signal to kill them..."
"Well that might be extremely useful. These old buildings attract pests in the most deplorable numbers..." Father acknowledged.
"Don't feel ashamed," Morgan replied unctuously. "Last month President McKinley invited me to dine with one or another of those Princes Japan throws forth, and the presence of rats in the White House was unmistakable to anybody with a working nose... or eye. As you see Vartanian's current has innumerable applications - and the good Doctor is a piper quite without designs upon our children..."
And the inventor, of course, wholly misunderstood Morgan's reference. "Children are the product of rampant emotionalism," Vartanian said, "and we Overmen must castrate our emotions to leave a mind at peace with logic..."
"You see?" Morgan allowed, "the perfect humor is no humor at all. Doctor, I desire a word with Mr. Cameron, a financial word and confidential so if you and... the bird does not have a name, our friend does not believe in naming his pets..."
"But it is not my pet," Vartanian protested, "rather my double it is, to be - the window of my soul that reflects its nobler aspects... nonetheless I do as you ask. Shall I wait outside, or at Delmonico's?"
Morgan made a charade of pretending to check his watch. "Why not go to Delmonico's; I shall join you in fifteen minutes."
So Vartanian departed, inclining his head, this time, so as not to knock off his silk hat. I would see him on one more occasion in that century... after, well our paths crossed on occasion but never at my desire. Morgan shrugged on that afternoon, more to myself than to Father. There were those who said he had a power of clairvoyance; that might explain certain of his business triumphs.
"Genius! Its ways and vehicles are not as those of our own modest talents, nor would I change places with the good Doctor," Morgan said. A clear head is necessary in business but too much austerity is bears seed of madness. 'Man delighted him not, nor woman either.' Also from Lord Lytton."
This I recognized and spoke up before Father could wave me off. "Kenelm Chillingly..."
If I expected recognition, I received instead scrutiny... no insect writhing under the pin could have suffered such attention as Pierpont Morgan paid me at that moment... after Boleskine and two wars I still delegate relations with that House to others. "Perhaps a year overseas will improve the lad. And even if it doesn't, one's entitled to a fling when one is young... the world catches up to you soon enough and its talons are no less sharp than those of the good Doctor's bird. Dick, I shall have materials prepared for you, and do give my regards to Helen... I trust we shall have the opportunity of meeting during the holiday season. Young man!"
Morgan tipped his hat by way of farewell... I chanced to observe Father's attention fixed upon that bloody little head still grinning on his floor.
"Well I'm no man to stand against the advice of John Pierpont Morgan," he finally acknowledged. "Go! have your European adventure... I estimate that in the end it shall make you a better American for all; I shall have a list of useful persons drawn up whom you may visit before taking your studies up. Only... Arthur..."
"Father?" I replied. He seemed almost pleading... and I was alert, was further opportunity at the door?
He coughed. "I would appreciate if you would not mention what has occurred today to your mother."
"Because you are inclined to place the family's reputation and the fortunes of your investors in the hands of a lunatic... however he might style himself as a genius?" I chanced.
"Yes... that..." Father said with evident annoyance, "but also that my office has been infested with rats. You know how she worries!"
I had to admit that I did...
"And we shall both hope that you do not give her more than reasonable cause for worry, once you've gone abroad!"
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To be Continued.
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