Episode 34 - THE MAGE of MENLO PARK!


          The mighty steamer Kiel proved fleet as her reputation augured; we entered New York harbor late upon the afternoon of December 30, 1899. Since my departure both the British and the Boers had rebuffed President McKinley's efforts at mediating a settlement. A journalist, Winston Churchill, jailed as a spy in Natal, had escaped from General Jouvert... plague had broken out in Bombay and Hungarians were in a panic owing to suspected ritual murder of children conducted by the Jews. "We in England do not much like the swarming and rapidly increasing Jewish element," proclaimed an editorial in the last issue of the Times I'd brought.

          Fortunately, I'd not spent five days with old newspapers for company, as Pixie Smith was also sailed to New York to find her fortune with a gallery owner and photographer, one Steiglitz, who'd arranged for her paintings to be shown after the New Year. "Are you certain this Steiglitz shall provide the shelter which he promised, as well as space on his wall?" I asked as our baggage was carried ashore.

          "If he does not, you may expect me to present myself upon your father's doorstop, a babe in a basket..."

          "And does this mean you shall accompany me to Mr. Morgan's midnight recital?"

          "I would not miss that for all of the tea in China. Mark Twain and Roger Fry declare his generosity to be without bounds once he sets his mind upon acquiring what he desires. Do you think he might covet a tarot of that place... Wall Street?"

          "I think such deck might have too many Fools and Devils at the expense of the lesser suits. Give me a kiss and we shall toast the new century tomorrow night at the Opera."

          The sun was sinking through the window of Richard Cameron's office by the time I arrived - my father as unfortunately apoplectic as on that day I was expelled from University once I'd had explained the reason for my return.

          "Your allegations upon the character and motives of Doctor Vartanian are sensational and are, moreover, unprogressive! All society has embraced this fellow... Edison is passe... Vartanian and his polyphasic current are of the century to come."

          "Because you think you can make more money from that man," I accused, quite losing my temper, "you overlook the threat his punitive current poses, not merely to New York but the world..."

          "Balderdash!" Father interrupted, "... psychic, psychotic rot! I sent you away to be educated, instead you have followed around rogue Theosophists like a little dog, sniffing sausages, then come back presuming to tell me how I must run my business? Get out!... in deference to your mother's memory, I shall allow you a key, no... this!" And he removed money from his waistcoat, hurling the bills downward so as to have the satisfaction of watching as I plucked them from the carpet. "I don't want it said that Richard Cameron cut off even so unworthy a heir without wherewithal to find a slum to hang his hat until he found useful employment. Perhaps you could join your precious Edison digging ditches... that's an occupation worthy of the both of you."

          "Father," I replied, letting the money lie, "I have passed through a season in the Old World among people who followed old, ignorant passions out of habit, of spite or out of principle... however misguided... but not until I returned did I observe how souls may sink below even the sub-basements of Hell for sheer avarice..."

          "Out!" he demanded. "You have always been nothing and shall hence be less... it is I who am the real victim of the loosening of the bonds of capacity; this trivial and traumatic generation that insinuates itself into society like mildew. It is we... the elders... who are true progressives; mankind's future lies with Vartanian currents, not Edison's dreams. Go... I extended only paternal charity... no more! And take that with you!" he waved, indicating the parcel I had brought over the Atlantic.

          "I'd sleep rough rather than beneath your roof," I declared. "But tonight I shall nap en route to Menlo Park!"

          So it was that at three in the morning... coincidentally, that hour at which Sarah Bernhardt once presented herself to Edison... I stood in a cold rain before the inventor's door holding two packages now, having recouped the newer of the twain from University before departing. Of course it was not the genius himself who answered my summons... as in Bernhardt's memory or the romance of Villiers... but a large, grim-faced butler.

          "Sir!" I appealed, "... my name is Cameron, Arthur Cameron, my father being one of those who finances Edison's rival, Dr. Vartanian. I have a message of grave importance... and evidence for your employer..." and I shook the damp packages so to emphasize my desperation.

          The butler stood unmoved. "You seem a madman!" he finally said. "Go... Mr. Edison's fortunes may be in temporary decline but he is still well regarded by the police hereabouts."

          So in desperation I made the sign of the Wolf... the butler arched an eyebrow.

          "Wait here!" he said, pointing downward. "Cross this threshold and you will be shot."

          I complied, shivering... but presently the inventor himself manifested... clad in a black silk robe and smoking a cigar.

          "You are the son of my enemy's patron?" Edison directed my attention downward to the pocket of his dressing gown. "Yes, I always carry a revolver. So speak truth, boy... or suffer the consequences!

          "Your enemy is plotting to corrupt the world-soul with his occult electricity..." I blurted out.

          "I have known that for a decade," the inventor shrugged "...Vartanian was once my Parisian agent. Oh he's a devil, yes, and worse... a common thief... but men such as Richard Cameron believe him to stand at the right hand of God. And yes, I have heard how he spreads the rumor he's from the moon or stars, and you begin to bore me..."

          "I have proof you can employ against him with my father and others in Wall Street," I objected, "even Mr. Morgan..."

          "All of society and finance have turned on me," Edison replied, "...there is no more left to say save that they shall receive a punitive current of ten, no... one hundred times the magnitude they wield against me for having embraced that quack! You've quite failed to interest me... boy... if you hurry you can make the first train back to New York."

          "But I... I..." I stammered, "I seek only he who has made a prisoner of echoes..."

          Edison had reached to close the door, but turned back with a smile. "You've read Villiers?" he said. "No man has translated his opus into English, so you must have been to Paris... you're rather young to have known him..."

          "I only knew of him," I admitted, "...he is now gone, of course, but his memory survives in those who were his comrades and his pupils!"

          "Of course! Now L'Eve Futur... I return to it now and again when at the door of despair... a state I find myself nearing often, these days. Come, come in! Why do you stand out in the rain... Hamilton!"

          The butler appeared... flexing his wrists as if for some muscular duty of eviction.

          "This is... is... a friend, perhaps, we shall see," Edison added with a still questioning inclination of the elbow that held the revolver in his robe. "Bring him dry clothes and something warm to drink... are you temperate?"

          "Seldom..." I confessed.

          "Good!" replied Edison. "Two decades ago I joined a group of Theosophists with Colonel Olcott, Bill James and Doubleday... whose baseball game has recently gained such favor... but I confess to having lapsed since the passing of Madame. We used to have grand conversations... which I conceive in memory as tiny particles whirring through the aether in eternal combat, a parliament of tiny intelligences that added up to genius in those days when the right prevailed."

          "Did Vartanian ever participate in these discussions?" I was moved to ask.

          "Where thesis and antithesis cannot be resolved," the inventor allowed, "their host is apt to go mad..."

          "Are you speaking of Vartanian?" I asked, "or Villiers?"

          "Exactly!" Edison responded. "The one a thief, the other a poet of the streets who fixed upon me as a vision afar, but attributed inventions that still tax my capacities. My reality still falls short of his dream, yet I struggle onwards."

          Hamilton returned with a flask and robe, leading me to a bath where I could wipe and comb my madman's hair besides shedding my wet clothes. I returned to take the chair Edison offered.

          "Now... you have proven yourself Adept... so how may I help you?"

          "The issue, sir, is rather how we together can help save the world from itself... and from Vartanian!" Edison winced at the name, nodding to the butler to hurry at his publican's duty. "Fortunately I have brought a cinematographic reel from Monsieur Melies..."

          "I know that man," Edison sat up, " of those magicians of Paris. Moving pictures were once a preoccupation of mine, but I have turned over my interests to Mr. Porter in order to focus my resources on the phonograph..."

          "But if cinema and phonograph were married to create talking pictures and... more... a document that would expose and destroy Vartanian?"

          "Go on..." said Edison, fully alert now.

          "Morgan is throwing a grand fete tomorrow night at the Opera to mark the passage of the old century into the new... a gala of singers, declaimers... and moving pictures..."

          "I anticipate your suggestion, sir... I have agents within Morgan's empire to accomplish this. You're quite correct," said Edison, "...Vartanian's a menace who must be stopped by any means, foul or fair."

          And the inventor accepted my offer of the flatter of the satchels, scrutinizing the package within.

          "So this is a moving picture that speaks... with the help of one of my cylinders?"

          "If these simple instructions which Monsieur Melies has included are followed, it shall not merely speak sir... nor even accuse, it shall condemn!"

          "Good... but what is... this?" Unbidden, Edison had helped himself to my other parcel, opening it and turning pale with fright.

          "That was not meant for you," I said, " is an ancient obligation I must fulfill this morning before my return..."

          Edison sat back warily. "I shall have my man take you wherever you desire tomorrow. Hamilton... prepare a bed for young Mr. Cameron. We have much to do... and little time! But perhaps Vartanian will prove one of Bulwer-Lytton's spectres after all... 'if we manfully walk up to the phantom, stretch our hands to seize it, lo! it fades into thin air, the cheat of our eyesight dispelled and we shall never be ghost-ridden again!' Do you know that, sir?"

          "Kenelm Chillingly," I replied having learned, if nothing else through my European adventures, every salient remark in Lord Lytton's index.

          "Exactly! I foresee the ruin of our Balkan rival... you know, don't you, those who help me bring this about do so because they fear his polyphasic current will damage their trusts in copper and rubber..."

          "I would accept the hand of the Devil himself to see an end to Vartanian. Perhaps," I added, "I already have."

          Through Edison's hospitality I enjoyed several hours' sleep, a light breakfast and then Hamilton conveyed me, in one of Mr. Ford's carriages, to a small general store at a New Jersey crossroads... the haunt of the surviving Wampanoag. An Indian in shabby Western dress approached suspiciously...

          "I've come to return to you the remains of your chief," I said, extending the parcel...

          Suspicion turned to wonder... half a dozen red Indians gathered, speaking rapidly in their ancestral tongue... as the one who appeared to be their spokesman removed the skull of Wampanoag which I had taken from its place of concealment... between the stone loins of a stone General's nameless horse.

          "He has had a strange journey, this fellow, but now I can return him to you... his family," I said to the Indians without revealing the indignities Wampanoag had suffered in the interim.

          "In families hope becomes," said the Indian, "and in hope the realizing of many dreams..."

          "Someone who considers himself learned said that in dreams begin responsibilities... well, that is one less of those for me."

          "We thank you, stranger," the Red Indian said and, upon an impulse, I made the sign of the Wolf... which he returned. Then Hamilton drove me to the terminal.


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