The Heads of Cerberus, by Francis Stevens

Chapter 20

Transferred Home

TRENMORE fell but not into the empty void created when the Red Bell dissolved itself, its temple and its world.

He struck feet first on some kind of hard surface, jarred in every bone and nerve by the impact. As light flashed up all around him, he staggered against a man.

The next incident can only be explained by the fact that Trenmore was still “seeing red.” The fight had been by no means knocked out of him by the recent catastrophe. He grasped one fact and one only. The man against whom he had stumbled wore a black coat and a silk hat, accursed insignia of Penn Service. Promptly grappling with this individual, they went to the pavement together. While Terry reached for his adversary’s throat, the latter let out yell after yell of terror and dismay.

It was fortunate that the Irishman had been so thoroughly shaken by his fall that his customary efficiency was somewhat impaired. Two scandalized policemen dashing upon the struggling pair were able to pull him off before he could inflict more than a bad fright upon his victim.

Dragged to his knees, Trenmore shook his head like an angry bull of the wild Irish breed. He got his feet under him and rose so suddenly that the policemen lost their grip, thrown off like a couple of terriers.

Then would bloody battle have raged indeed in the very precincts of law and order, had not a new figure rushed up and fairly flung itself into Trenmore’s arms. It was a small figure to quell so huge an adversary. Even the maddest of Irishmen, however, could hardly go on fighting while a pair of slim arms reached for his neck, a soft cheek pressed against his coat, and a loved voice cried softly:

“Look about you! Terry, oh, Terry! Look about you!”

Folding an arm about Viola, Trenmore dashed a hand across his eyes and at last did look. On four sides rose the gray, irregular, many-windowed walls of a huge building. Beneath his feet lay a pavement of uneven gray concrete. The place was bright with the white glare of electric lights. Where had been the four doors of the temple, he saw through open archways to the streets beyond.

Above was no golden dome, but the open starlit sky. Up toward it pointed a high, gray tower, almost white in the rays of a searchlight somewhere on the lower walls. The tower was surmounted by the foreshortened but identifiable statue of William Penn, not falling but very solid and majestically beneficent as usual. Then Trenmore became aware of a nasal, high-pitched voice.

“I tell you I’ve got to catch my train!” it wailed. “Arrest that lunatic or let him go, just as you please. But if you make me miss that train, you’ll regret it! Your own men there will testify that I did nothing. I was simply hurrying through the public buildings on my way to Broad Street Station. Then that wild man jumped on me from behind. Chief Hannigan is my brother-in-law. If you make me miss that last train I’ll get your stripes for it, or I’m a Dutchman!”

Viewing the speaker with new eyes, Trenmore perceived him to be a tall, thin man; who had already rescued his hat from where it had rolled, and retrieved a small black suit case. He was handing his card to the sergeant. That officer promptly capitulated.

“Beg your pardon, Mr. Flynn. Meant no offense, I’m sure. Trying to catch the ten-five? You can get it yet!”

Making no reply, the man fled so precipitately toward Broad Street Station that his coat tails stood out behind.

“That’s Mr. Charles Flynn, the undertaker,” observed the sergeant to a group of four or five policemen who had now gathered and were regarding Trenmore with mingled wonder and menace. “He lives out at Media. Now, my man, you come along quietly. What were you trying to do — provide Mr. Flynn as a corpse for one of his own funerals?”

The jest brought a laugh from his subordinates. Trenmore was silent. He had lost all desire to fight, and the smallest policeman there could have led him away by one hand. But Viola’s quick wits again saved the situation. Releasing herself gently from her brother’s arm, she addressed the sergeant with quiet dignity.

“Officer, this gentleman is my brother. He is subject to epileptic seizures. Just now he became separated from me and from his-his attendant. The fit came on him and he fell against the other gentleman. He is ill, and all he needs is to be taken home and put to bed. Mr. Drayton, here, is his nurse. Please, sergeant! You wouldn’t arrest my poor brother?”

Trenmore perceived that Drayton had indeed taken his place at his other side. Over the heads of the police he saw Arnold Bertram and Miss Skidoo!

Feeling remarkably foolish, he began to wonder if what Viola was saying might not be actual fact. Could it be that he had been ill — mad — and had dreamed that whole wild vision of the year 2118?

Fortunately Viola’s pleadings, in which Drayton presently joined, proved effective. With a number of good-natured warnings that she “keep her crazy brother at home, or at least under better restraint,” the sergeant wrote down the name and address and called off his myrmidons.

Robert Drayton and the two Trenmores were free at last to walk quietly out of the southern entrance into Broad Street. They hastened to do so. They had, in fact, seen quite enough of Philadelphia city hall, in any century. Behind followed Bertram and his companion.

It was then a little after ten, and the street was by no means crowded. Nevertheless, as Drayton and Trenmore were more than a little disheveled, the party were glad to turn off from brightly lighted Broad into the comparative emptiness and gloom of Sansom Street. Just before they did so, Drayton paused for one glance backward at the enormous pile of gray masonry terminating the short vista of Broad Street. Had they really, as he hopefully surmised, returned into the safe protection of their own day and age?

High above, like a white ghost in the searchlight, brooded the giant figure of that old Quaker, his stony hand outstretched in petrified blessing. And below him, across the face of the yellow-lighted clock, a wraith of vapor drifted, obscuring the figures. What difference was there between it all as he saw it now and as he had seen it that very morning, as it seemed to him? The difference stared him in the face.

There was still an emblem above the southern arch. That morning it had been the ominous, sword-crossed Red Bell. Now it was a shield with the city colors, pale yellow and blue; above it glowed a huge “Welcome” and the letters “A. A. M. W.” beneath it the one word “TRUTH.”

“Associated Advertising Men of the World,” he muttered half aloud, “and their convention was here — I mean is here. Yes, we’re back in our own century again.”

Half a block farther they all walked, in the silence of prisoners too suddenly released to believe their own good fortune. Then Trenmore abruptly halted. Bertram and Miss Skidoo coming up, they all stood grouped in the friendly shadow of an awning.

“Viola,” exclaimed Trenmore, “tell me the facts and don’t spare me! Was that thing you said to the policemen back there — was it really so?”

Her eyes opened wide. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that if I’ve been crazy, dreaming —”

“Then we’ve all been dreaming together,” broke in Drayton soberly. “I was never more astounded in my life than when that gorgeous temple suddenly dissolved, melted, and reformed as the old familiar public buildings. It’s lucky for us that there were only a few people passing through at the time. We must have dropped into the scene like figures in one of these faked movie reels. It’s a wonder no one noticed!”

“An’ me,” put in Bertram. “I’ve been talkin’ my head off tryin’ to explain to the kid here how she’s got back about two hundred years before she was born. I know it by that ‘Welcoming Advertising Men’ thing over the city hall entrance. ‘Truth.’ it says under it. Gee, it’s mighty hard to make some folks believe the truth!”

“Miss Skidoo!” ejaculated Terence. Again he brushed his eyes with his hand, staring blankly at that bewildered but defiant young lady.

“Yes,” she retorted sharply, “and you can’t kid me, neither! Sump’n certainly happened, but it couldn’t be what Bert said. Why, I know this place where we’re standing like it was my own kitchen!”

There she stood, certainly, green hat, silk sweater, and all. The yellow button, insignia of the enslaved Numbers of a future age, glared like a nightmare eye from her lapel. Yet how, granting that all the rest was so — that they had actually lived through some forty-eight hours in a century yet unborn — how had she survived the oblivion which had swallowed her fellow citizens? Servants, Superlatives, police, Numbers, and all had dissolved and vanished. But No. 23000 had made the two-century jump unscathed. Could it be that future, past, and present were all one, as he had once read in some book, tossed aside after ten minutes of incredulous attention?

“Let’s get home,” exclaimed Trenmore abruptly. “I feel my reason is slipping. And let’s walk, for it’s not far and ’tis agreeable to be loose in a sane world again. At least,” Terry corrected himself after a moment’s sober reflection, “a comparatively sane world. Yes, let’s be moving, friends, for I’m thinking we need a good meal and a night’s sleep to save our own sanity!”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30