Douglas Blake, millionaire, sat flat on the floor and gazed with delighted eyes at the unutterable beauties of a highly colored picture book. He was only fourteen months old, and the picture book was quite the most beautiful thing he had ever beheld. Evelyn Barton, a lovely girl of twenty-two or three years, sat on the floor opposite and listened with a slightly amused smile as Baby Blake in his infinite wisdom discoursed learnedly on the astonishing things he found in the book.
The floor whereon Baby Blake sat was that of the library of the Blake home, in the outskirts of Lynn. This home, handsomely but modestly furnished, had been built by Baby Blake’s father, Langdon Blake, who had died four months previously, leaving Baby Blake’s beautiful mother, Elizabeth Blake, heartbroken and crushed by the blow, and removing her from the social world of which she had been leader.
Here, quietly, with but three servants and Miss Barton, the nurse, who could hardly be classed as a servant — rather a companion — Mrs. Blake had lived on for the present.
The great house was gloomy, but it had been the scene of all her happiness, and she had clung to it. The building occupied relatively a central position in a plot of land facing the street for 200 feet or so, and stretching back about 300 feet. A stone wall inclosed it.
In Summer this plot was a great velvety lawn; now the first snow of the Winter had left an inch deep blanket over all, unbroken save the cement-paved walk which extended windingly from the gate in the street wall to the main entrance of the home. This path had been cleaned of snow and was now a black streak through the whiteness.
Near the front stoop this path branched off and led on around the building toward the back. This, too, had been cleared of snow, but beyond the back door entrance the white blanket covered everything back to the rear wall of the property. There against the rear wall, to the right as one stood behind the house, was a roomy barn and stable; in the extreme left hand corner of the property was a cluster of tall trees, with limbs outstretched fantastically.
The driveway from the front was covered with snow. It had been several weeks since Mrs. Blake had had occasion to use either of her vehicles or horses, so she had closed the barn and stabled the horses outside. Now the barn was wholly deserted. From one of the great trees a swing, which had been placed there for the delight of Baby Blake, swung idly.
In the Summer Baby Blake had been wont to toddle the hundred or more feet from the house to the swing; but now that pleasure was forbidden. He was confined to the house by the extreme cold.
When the snow began to fall that day about two o’clock Baby Blake had shown enthusiasm. It was the first snow he remembered. He stood at a window of the warm library and, pointing out with a chubby finger, told Miss Barton:
“Me want doe.”
Miss Barton interpreted this as a request to be taken out or permitted to go out in the snow.
“No, no,” she said, firmly. “Cold. Baby must not go. Cold. Cold.”
Baby Blake raised his voice in lusty protestation at this unkindness of his nurse, and finally Mrs. Blake had to pacify him. Since then a hundred things had been used to divert Baby Blake’s mind from the outside.
This snow had fallen for an hour, then stopped, and the clouds passed. Now, at fifteen minutes of six o’clock in the evening, the moon glittered coldly and clearly over the unbroken surface of the snow. Star points spangled the sky; the wind had gone, and extreme quiet lay over the place. Even the sound from the street, where an occasional vehicle passed, was muffled by the snow. Baby Blake heard a jingling sleigh bell somewhere in the distance and raised his head inquiringly.
“Pretty horse,” said Miss Balton, quickly indicating a splash of color in the open book.
“Pitty horsie,” said Baby Blake.
“Horse,” said Miss Barton. “Four legs. One, two, three, four,” she counted.
“Pitty horsie,” said Baby Blake again.
He turned another page with a ruthless disregard of what might happen to it.
“Pitty kitty,” he went on, wisely.
“Yes, pretty kitty,” the nurse agreed.
“Pitty doggie, ‘n’ pitty ev’fing, ooo-o-oh,” Baby Blake was gravely enthusiastic. “Ef’nit,” he added, as his eye caught a full page picture.
“Elephant, yes,” said Miss Barton. “Almost bedtime,” she added.
“No, no,” insisted Baby Blake, vigorously. “Pity ef’nit.”
Then Baby Blake arose from his seat on the floor and toddled over to where Miss Barton sat, plumping down heavily, directly in front of her. Here, with the picture book in his hands he lay back with his head resting against her knee. Mrs. Blake appeared at the door.
“Miss Barton, a moment please,” she said. Her face was white and there was a strange note in her voice.
A little anxiously, the girl arose and went into the adjoining room with Mrs. Blake, leaving Baby Blake with the picture book outspread on the floor. Mrs. Blake handed her an open letter, written on a piece of wrapping paper in a scrawly, almost indecipherable hand.
“This came in the late afternoon mail,” said the mother. “Read it.”
“‘We hav maid plans to kiddnap your baby,’” Miss Barton read slowly. “‘Nothig cann bee dun to keep us from it so it wont do no good to tel the polece. If you will git me ten thousan dolers we will not, and will go away. Advertis YES or NOA ann sin your name in a Boston Amurikan. Then we will tell you wat to do. (sined) Three. (3)’”
Miss Barton was silent a moment as she realized what she had read and there was a quick-caught breath.
“A threat to kidnap,” said the mother. “Evelyn, Evelyn, can you believe it?”
“Oh, Mrs. Blake,” and tears leaped to the girl’s eyes quickly. “Oh, the monsters.”
“I don’t know what to do,” said the mother, uncertainly.
“The police, I would suggest,” replied the girl, quickly. “I should turn it over to the police immediately.”
“Then the newspaper notoriety,” said the mother, “and after all it may mean nothing. I think perhaps it would be better for us to leave here tomorrow, and go into Boston for the Winter. I could never live here with this horrible fear hanging over me — if I should lose my baby, too, it would kill me.”
“As you say, but I would suggest the police, nevertheless,” the girl insisted gently.
“Of course the money is nothing,” she went on. “I would give every penny for the boy if I had to, but there’s the fear and uncertainty of it. I think perhaps it would be better for you to pack up Douglas’s little clothes tonight and tomorrow we will go to Boston to a hotel until we can make other arrangements for the Winter. You need not mention the matter to the others in the house.”
“I think perhaps that would be best,” said Miss Barton, “but I still think the police should be notified.”
The two women left the room together and returned to the library after about ten minutes, where Baby Blake had been looking at the picture book. The baby was not there, and Miss Barton turned and glanced quickly at Mrs. Blake. The mother apparently paid no attention, and the nurse passed into another room, thinking Douglas had gone there.
Within ten minutes the household was in an uproar — Baby Blake had disappeared. Miss Barton, the servants and the distracted mother raced through the roomy building, searching every nook and corner, calling for Douglas. No answer. At last Miss Barton and Mrs. Blake met face to face in the library over the picture book the baby had been admiring.
“I’m afraid it’s happened,” said the nurse.
“Kidnapped!” exclaimed the mother. “Oh,” and with waxen white face she sank back on a couch in a dead faint.
Regardless of the mother, Evelyn ran to the telephone and notified the police. They responded promptly, three detectives and two uniformed officers. The threatening letter was placed in their hands, and one of them laid its contents before his chief by ‘phone, a general alarm was sent out.
While the uniformed men searched the house again from attic to cellar the two other plain clothes men searched outside. Together they went over the ground, but the surface of the snow was unbroken save for their own footprints and the paved path. From the front wall, which faced the street, the detectives walked slowly back, one on each side of the house, searching in the snow for some trace of a footprint.
There was nothing to reward this vigilance, and they met behind the house. Each shook his head. Then one stopped suddenly and pointed to the snow which lay at their feet and spreading away over the immense back yard. The other detective looked intently then stopped and stared.
What he saw was the footprint of a child — a baby. The tracks led straight away through the snow toward the back wall, and without a word the two men followed them, one by one; the regular toddling steps of a baby who is only fairly certain of his feet. Ten, twenty, thirty feet they went on in a straight line and already the detectives saw a possible solution. It was that Baby Blake had wandered away of his own free will.
Then, as they were following the tracks, they stopped suddenly astounded. Each dropped on his knees in the snow and sought vainly for something sought over a space of many feet, then turned back to the tracks again.
“Well, if that —” one began.
The footprints, going steadily forward across the yard, had stopped. There was the last, made as if Baby Blake had intended to go forward, but there were no more tracks — no more traces of tracks — nothing. Baby Blake had walked to this point, and then —
“Why he must have gone straight up in the air,” gasped one of the detectives. He sank down on a small wooden box three or four feet from where the tracks ended, and wiped the perspiration from his face.
“All problems may be reduced to an arithmetical basis by a simple mental process,” declared Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, emphatically. “Once a problem is so reduced, no matter what it is, it may be solved. If you play chess, Mr. Hatch, you will readily grasp what I mean. Our great chess masters are really our greatest logicians and mathematicians, yet their efforts are directed in a way which can be of no use save to demonstrate, theatrically, I may say, the unlimited possibilities of the human mind.”
Hutchinson Hatch, reporter, leaned back in his chair and watched the great scientist and logician as he pottered around the long workbench beside the big window of his tiny laboratory. It was here that Professor Van Dusen had achieved some of those marvels which had attracted the attention of the world at large and had won for him a long list of honorary initials.
Hatch doubted if the Professor himself could recall these — that is beyond the more common ones of Ph. D., LL. D., M. D., and M. A. There were strange combinations of letters bestowed by French, Italian, German and English educational and scientific institutions, which were delighted to honor so eminent a scientist as Professor Van Dusen, so-called The Thinking Machine.
The slender body of the scientist, bowed from close study and minute microscopic observation, gave the impression of physical weakness — an impression which was wholly correct — and made the enormous head which topped the figure seem abnormal. Added to this was the long yellow hair of the scientist, which sometimes as he worked fell over his face and almost obscured the keen blue eyes perpetually squinting through unusually thick glasses.
“By the reduction of a problem to an arithmetical basis,” The Thinking Machine went on, “I mean the finding of the cause of an effect. For instance, a man is dead. We know only that. Reason tells us that he died naturally or was killed.
“If killed, it may have been an accident, design or suicide. There are no alternatives. The average mind grasps those possibilities instantly as facts because the average mind has to do with death and understands. We may call this primary reasoning instinct.
“In the higher reasoning which can only come from long study and experiment, imagination is necessary to supply temporarily gaps caused by absence of facts. Imagination is the backbone of the scientific mind. Marconi had to imagine wireless telegraphy before he accomplished it. It is the same with the telephone, the telegraph, the steam engine and those scores of commonplace marvels which are a part of our everyday life.
“The higher scientific mind is, perforce, the mind of a logician. It must possess imagination to a remarkable extent. For instance, science proved that all matter is composed of atoms — the molecular theory. Having proven this, scientific imagination saw that it was possible that atoms were themselves composed of more minute atoms, and sought to prove this. It did so.
“Therefore we know atoms make atoms, and that more minute atoms make those atoms, and so on down to the point of absolute indivisibility. This is logic.
“Applied in the other direction this imagination — really logic — leads to amazing possibilities. It would grade upward something like this: Man is made of atoms; man and his works as other atoms make cities; cities and nature as atoms make countries; countries and oceans as atoms make worlds.
“Then comes the supreme imaginative leap which would make worlds merely atoms, pin point parts of a vast solar system; the vast solar system itself merely an atom in some greater scheme of creation which the imagination refuses to grasp, which staggers the mind. It is all logic, logic, logic.”
The irritated voice stopped as the scientist lifted a graded measuring glass to the light and squinted for an instant at its contents, which, under the amazed eyes of Hutchinson Hatch, swiftly changed from a brilliant scarlet to a pure white.
“You have heard me say frequently, Mr. Hatch,” The Thinking Machine resumed, “that two and two make four, not sometimes, but all the time — atoms make atoms, therefore atoms make creations.” He paused. “That change of color in this chemical is merely a change of atoms; it has in no way affected the consistency or weight of the liquid. Yet the red atoms have disappeared, eliminated by the white.”
“The logic being that the white atoms are the stronger?” asked Hatch, almost timidly.
“Precisely,” said The Thinking Machine, “and also constant and victorious enemies of the red atoms. In other words that was a war between red and white atoms you just witnessed. Who shall say that a war on this earth is not as puny to the observer of this earth as an atom in the greater creation, as was that little war to us?”
Hatch blinked a little at the question. It opened up something bigger than his mind had ever struggled with before, and he was a newspaper reporter, too. Professor Van Dusen turned away and stirred up more chemicals in another glass, then poured the contents of one glass into another.
Hatch heard the telephone bell ring in the next room, and after a moment Martha, the aged woman who was the household staff of the scientist’s modest home, appeared at the door.
“Some one to speak to Mr. Hatch at the ‘phone,” she said.
Hatch went to the ‘phone. At the other end was his city editor bursting with impatience.
“A big kidnapping story,” the city editor said. “A wonder. I’ve been looking for you everywhere. Happened tonight about 6 o’clock — It’s now 8:30. Jump up to Lynn quick and get it.”
Then the city editor went on to detail the known points of the mystery, as the police of Lynn had learned them; the child left alone for only two or three minutes, the letter threatening kidnapping, the demand for $10,000 and the footsteps in the snow which led to — nothing.
Thoroughly alive with the instinct of the reporter Hatch returned to the laboratory where The Thinking Machine was at work.
“Another mystery,” he said, persuasively.
“What is it?” asked The Thinking Machine, without turning.
Hatch repeated what information he had and The Thinking Machine listened without comment, down to the discovery of the tracks in the snow, and the abrupt ending of these.
“Babies don’t have wings, Mr. Hatch,” said The Thinking Machine, severely.
“I know,” said Hatch. “Would — would you like to go out with me and look it over?”
“It’s silly to say the tracks end there,” declared The Thinking Machine aggressively. “They must go somewhere. If they don’t, they are not the boy’s tracks.”
“If you’d like to go,” said Hatch, coaxingly, “we could get there by halfpast nine. It’s halfpast eight now.”
“I’ll go,” said the other suddenly.
An hour later, they were at the front gate of the Blake home in Lynn. The Thinking Machine saw the kidnappers’ letter. He looked at it closely and dismissed it apparently with a wave of his hand. He talked for a long time to the mother, to the nurse, Evelyn Barton, to the servants, then went out into the back yard where the tiny tracks were found.
Here, seeing perfectly by the brilliant light of the moon, The Thinking Machine remained for in hour. He saw the last of the tiny footprints which led nowhere, and he sat on the box where the detective had sat. Then he arose suddenly and examined the box. It was, he found, of wood, approximately two feet square, raised only four or five inches above the ground. It was built to cover and protect the main water connection with the house. The Thinking Machine satisfied himself on this point by looking inside.
From this box he sought in every direction for footprints — tracks which were not obviously those of the detectives or his own or Hatch’s. No one else had been permitted to go over the ground, the detectives objecting to this until they had completed their investigations.
No other tracks or footprints appeared; there was nothing to indicate that there had been tracks which had been skillfully covered up by whoever made them.
Again The Thinking Machine sat down on the box and studied his surroundings. Hatch watched him curiously. First he looked away toward the stone wall, nearly a hundred feet in front of him. There was positively no indentation in the snow of any kind so far as Hatch could see. Then the scientist looked back toward the house — one of the detectives had told him it was just forty-eight feet from the box — but there were no tracks there save those the detectives and Hatch and himself had made.
Then The Thinking Machine looked toward the back of the lot. Here in the bright moonlight he could see the barn and the clump of trees, several inside the enclosure made by the stone wall and others outside, extending away indefinitely, snow laden and grotesque in the moonlight. From the view in this direction The Thinking Machine turned to the other stone wall, a hundred feet or so. Here, too, he vainly sought footprints in the snow.
Finally he arose and walked in this direction with an expression of as near bewilderment on his face as Hatch had ever seen. A small dark spot in the snow had attracted his attention. It was eight or ten feet from the box. He stopped and looked at it; it was a stone of flat surface, perhaps a foot square and devoid of snow.
“Why hasn’t this any snow on it?” he asked Hatch.
Hatch started and shook his head. The Thinking Machine, bowed almost to the ground, continued to stare at the stone for a moment, then straightened up and continued walking toward the wall. A few feet further on a rope, evidently a clothes line, barred his way. Without stopping, he ducked his head beneath it and walked on toward the wall, still staring at the ground.
From the wall he retraced his steps to the clothes line, then walked along under that, still staring at the snow, to its end, sixty or seventy feet toward the back of the enclosure. Two or three supports placed at regular intervals beneath the line were closely examined.
“Find anything?” asked Hatch, finally.
The Thinking Machine shook his head impatiently.
“It’s amazing,” he exclaimed petulantly, like a disappointed child.
“It is,” Hatch agreed, cheerfully.
The Thinking Machine turned and walked back toward the house as he had come, Hatch following.
“I think we’d better go back to Boston,” he said tartly.
Hatch silently acquiesced. Neither spoke until they were in the train, and The Thinking Machine turned suddenly to the wondering reporter.
“Did it seem possible to you that those are not the footprints of Baby Blake at all, only the prints of his shoes?” he demanded suddenly.
“How did they get there?” asked Hatch, in turn.
The Thinking Machine shook his head.
On the afternoon of the next day, when the newspapers were full of the mystery, Mrs. Blake received this letter, signed “Three” as before:
“We hav the baby and will bring him bak for twenny fiv thousan dolers. Will you give it. Advertis as befour dereckted, YES or NOA.”
When Hutchinson Hatch went to inform The Thinking Machine of the appearance of this second letter late in the afternoon, he found the scientist sitting in his little laboratory, finger tips pressed together, squinting steadily at the ceiling. There was a little puzzled line on the high brow, a line Hatch never saw there before, and frank perplexity was in the blue eyes.
The Thinking Machine listened without changing his position as Hatch told him of the letter and its contents.
“What do you make of it all, professor?” asked the reporter.
“I don’t know,” was the reply — one which was a little startling to Hatch. “It’s most perplexing.”
“The only known facts seem to be that Baby Blake was kidnapped, and is now in the possession of the kidnappers,” said Hatch.
“Those tracks — the footprints in the snow, I mean — furnish the real problem in this case,” said the other after a moment. “Presumably they were made by the baby — yet they might not have been. They might have been put there merely to mislead anyone who began a search. If the baby made them — how and why do they stop as they do? If they were made merely with the baby’s shoes, to mislead investigation, the same question remains — how?
“Let’s see a moment. We will dismiss the seeming fact that the baby walked on off into the air and disappeared, granting that those tracks were made by the baby. We will also dismiss the possibility that the baby was with anyone when it made the tracks, if it did make them. There were certainly no other footprints but those. There were no footprints leading from or to that point where the baby tracks stopped.
“What are the possibilities? What remains? A balloon? If we accept the balloon as a possibility we must at the same time relinquish the theory of a preconceived plan of abduction. Why? Because no successful plan could have been arranged so that that baby, of its own will, would have been in that particular spot at that particular moment. Therefore a balloon might have been floated over the place a thousand times without success, and balloons are large — they attract attention, therefore are to be avoided.
“There is a possibility — a bare one — that a balloon with a trailing anchor or hook did pass over the place, and that this hook caught up the baby by its clothing, lifting it clear of the ground. But in that event it was not kidnapping — it was accident. But here against the theory of accident we have the kidnappers’ letters.
“If not a balloon, then an eagle? Hardly possible. It would take a bird of exceptional strength to have lifted a fourteenmonth child, and besides there are a thousand things against such a possibility. Certainly the winged man is not known to science, yet there is every evidence of his handiwork here. Briefly, the problem is — granting that the baby itself made the tracks — how was a baby lifted out of the relative centre of a large yard?
“Consider for a moment that the baby did not make the tracks — that they were placed there by some one else. Then we are confronted by the same question — how? A person might have fastened shoes to a long pole and rigged up some arrangement of the sort, and made the tracks for a distance say of twenty feet out into the snow, but remember the tracks run out forty-eight feet to the box you say.
“If it would have been possible for a person to stand on that box without leaving a track to it or from it, he might have finished the tracks with the shoes on a pole, but nobody went to that box.”
The Thinking Machine was silent for several minutes. Hatch had nothing to say. The Thinking Machine seemed to have covered the possibilities thoroughly.
“Of course, it might have been possible for a person in a balloon to have put the tracks there, but it would have been a senseless proceeding,” the scientist went on. “Certainly there could have been no motive for it strong enough to make a person invite discovery by sailing about the house in a balloon even at night. We face a stone wall, Mr. Hatch — a stone wall. It is possible for the mind to follow it only to a certain point as it now stands.”
He arose and disappeared into an adjoining room, returning in a few minutes with his hat and overcoat.
“Of course,” he said to Hatch, “if the baby is alive and in the possession of the kidnappers, it is possible to recover it, and we’ll do that, but the real problem remains.”
“If it is alive?” Hatch repeated.
“Yes, if,” said the other shortly. “There are in my mind grave doubts on that point.”
“But the kidnappers’ letters?” said Hatch
“Let’s go find out who wrote them,” said the other, enigmatically.
Together the two men went to Lynn, and there for half an hour The Thinking Machine talked to Mrs. Blake. He came out finally with a package in his hand.
Miss Barton, with eyes red, apparently from weeping, and evident sorrow imprinted on her pretty face, entered the room almost at the same moment.
“Miss Barton,” the scientist asked, “could you tell me how much the baby Douglas weighed — relatively, I mean?”
The girl gazed at him a moment as if startled. “About thirty pounds, I should say,” she answered.
“Thanks,” said The Thinking Machine, and turned to Hatch. “I have twenty-five thousand dollars in this package,” he said.
Miss Barton turned and glanced quickly toward him, then passed out of the room.
“What are you going to do with it?” asked Hatch.
“It’s for the kidnappers,” was the reply. “The police advised Mrs. Blake not to try to make terms — I advised her the other way and she gave me this.”
“What’s the next step?” Hatch asked.
“To put the advertisement ‘Yes’ signed by Mrs. Blake in the newspaper,” said The Thinking Machine. “That’s in accordance with the stipulations of the letters.”
An hour later the two men were in Boston. The advertisement was inserted in the Boston American as directed. The next day Mrs. Blake received a third letter.
“Rapp the munny in a ole nuspaipr ann thow it onn the trash heape at the addge of the vakant lott one blok down the street frum wear you liv,” it directed. “Putt it on topp. We wil gett it ann yore baby wil be in yore armms two ours latter. Three (3).”
This letter was immediately placed in the hands of The Thinking Machine. Mrs. Blake’s face flushed with hope, and believing that the child would be restored to her, she waited in a fever of impatience.
“Now, Mr. Hatch,” instructed The Thinking Machine. “Do with this package as directed. A man will come for it some time. I shall leave the task of finding out who he is, where he goes and all about him to you. He is probably a man of low mentality, though not so low as the misspelled words of his letter would have you believe. He should be easily trapped. Don’t interfere with him — merely report to me when you find out these things.”
Alone The Thinking Machine returned to Boston. Thirty-six hours later, in the early morning, a telegram came for him. It was as follows:
“Have man located in Lynn and trace of baby. Come quick, if possible, to — Hotel. HATCH.”
The Thinking Machine answered the telegraphic summons immediately, but instead of elation on his face there was another expression — possibly surprise. On the train he read and reread the telegram.
“Have trace of baby,” he mused. “Why, it’s perfectly astonishing.”
White-faced from exhaustion, and with eyes drooping from lack of sleep, Hutchinson Hatch met The Thinking Machine in the hotel lobby and they immediately went to a room, which the reporter had engaged on the third floor.
The Thinking Machine listened without comment as Hatch told the story of what he had done. He had placed the bundle, then hired a room overlooking the vacant lot and had remained there at the window for hours. At last night came, but there were clouds which effectively hid the moon. Then Hatch had gone out and secreted himself near the trash pile.
Here from six o’clock in the evening until four in the morning he had remained, numbed with cold and not daring to move. At last his long vigil was rewarded. A man suddenly appeared near the trash heap, glanced around furtively, and then picked up the newspaper package, felt of it to assure himself that it contained something, and then started away quickly.
The work of following him Hatch had not found difficult. He had gone straight to a tenement in the eastern end of Lynn and disappeared inside. Later in the morning, after the occupants of the house were about, Hatch made inquiries which established the identity of the man without question.
His name was Charles Gates and he lived with his wife on the fourth floor of the tenement. His reputation was not wholly savory, and he drank a great deal. He was a man of some education, but not of such ignorance as the letters he had written would indicate.
“After learning all these facts,” Hatch went on, “my idea was to see the man and talk to him or to his wife. I went there this morning about nine o’clock, as a book agent.” The reporter smiled a little. “His wife, Mrs. Gates, didn’t want any books, but I nearly sold her a sewing machine.
“Anyway, I got into the apartments and remained there for fifteen or twenty minutes. There was only one room which I didn’t enter, of the four there. In that room, the woman explained, her husband was asleep. He had been out late the night before, she said. Of course I knew that.
“I asked if she had any babies and received a negative. From other people in the house I learned that this was true so far as they knew. There was not and has not been a baby in the apartments so far as anyone could tell me. And in spite of that fact I found this.”
Hatch drew something from his pocket and spread it on his open hand. It was a baby stocking of fine texture. The Thinking Machine took it and looked at it closely.
“Baby Blake’s?” he asked.
“Yes,” replied the reporter. “Both Mrs. Blake and the nurse, Miss Barton, identify it.”
“Dear me! Dear me!” exclaimed the scientist, thoughtfully. Again the puzzled expression came into his face.
“Of course, the baby hasn’t been returned?” went on the scientist.
“Of course not!” said Hatch.
“Did Mrs. Gates behave like a woman who had suddenly received a share of twenty-five thousand dollars?” asked The Thinking Machine.
“No,” Hatch replied. “She looked as if she had attended a mixed ale party. Her lip was cut and bruised and one eye was black.”
“That’s what her husband did when he found out what was in the newspaper,” commented The Thinking Machine, grimly.
“It wasn’t money, at all, then?” asked Hatch.
Neither said anything for several minutes. The Thinking Machine sat idly twisting the tiny stocking between his long, slender fingers with the little puzzled line in his brow.
“How do you account for that stocking in Gates’s possession?” asked the reporter at last.
“Let’s go talk to Mrs. Blake,” was the reply. “You didn’t tell her anything about this man Gates getting the package?”
“No,” said the reporter.
“It would only worry her,” explained the scientist. “Better let her hope, because —”
Hatch looked at The Thinking Machine quickly, startled.
“Because, what?” he asked.
“There seems to be a very strong probability that Baby Blake is dead,” the other responded.
Pondering that, yet conceiving no motive which would cause the baby’s death, Hatch was silent as he and the scientist together went to the house of Mrs. Blake. Miss Barton, the nurse, answered the door.
“Miss Barton,” said The Thinking Machine, testily as they entered, “just when did you give this stocking,”— and he produced it —“to Charles Gates?”
The girl flushed quickly, and she stammered a little.
“I— I don’t know what you mean,” she said. “Who is Charles Gates?”
“May we see Mrs. Blake?” asked the scientist. He squinted steadily into the girl’s eyes.
“Yes — of course — that is, I suppose so,” she stammered.
She disappeared, and in a few minutes Mrs. Blake appeared. There was an eager, expectant look in her face. It was hope. It faded when she saw the solemn face of The Thinking Machine.
“What recommendations did Miss Barton have when you engaged her?” he began pointedly.
“The best I could ask,” was the reply. “She was formerly a governess in the family of the Governor–General of Canada. She is well educated, and came to me from that position.”
“Is she well acquainted in Lynn?” asked the scientist.
“That I couldn’t say,” replied Mrs. Blake. “If you are thinking that she might have some connection with this affair —”
“Ever go out much?” interrupted her questioner.
“Rarely, and then usually with me. She is more of a companion than servant.”
“How long have you had her?”
“Since a week or so after my baby”— and the mother’s lips trembled a little —“was born. She has been devoted to me since the death of my husband. I would trust her with my life.”
“This is your baby’s stocking?”
“Beyond any doubt,” she replied as she again examined it.
“I suppose he had several pairs like this?”
“I really don’t know. I should think so.”
“Will you please have Miss Barton, or someone else, find those stockings and see if all the pairs like this are complete,” instructed The Thinking Machine.
Wonderingly, Mrs. Blake gave the order to Miss Barton, who as wonderingly received it and went out of the room with a quick, resentful look at the bowed figure of the scientist.
“Did you ever happen to notice, Mrs. Blake, whether or not your baby could open a door? For instance, the front door?”
“I believe he could,” she replied. “He could reach them because the handles are low, as you see,” and she indicated the knob on the front door, which was visible through the reception hall room where they stood.
The Thinking Machine turned suddenly and strode to the window of the library, looking out on the back yard. He was debating something in his own mind. It was whether or not he should tell this mother his fear of her son’s death, or should hide it from her until such time as it would appear itself. For some reason known only to himself he considered the child’s death not only a possibility, but a probability.
Whatever might have resulted from this mental debate was not to be known then, for suddenly, as he stood staring out the rear window overlooking the spot where the baby’s tracks had been seen in the snow — now melted — he started a little and peered eagerly out. It was the first sight he had had of the yard since the night he had examined it by moonlight.
“Dear me, dear me,” he exclaimed suddenly.
Turning abruptly he left the room, and a moment later Hatch saw him in the back yard. Mrs. Blake at the window watched curiously. Outside The Thinking Machine walked straight out to the spot where the baby’s tracks had been, and from there Hatch saw him stop and stare at the slightly raised box which covered the water connections.
From this box the scientist took five steps toward a flat-topped stone — the one he had noticed previously — and Hatch saw that it was about ten feet. Then from this he saw The Thinking Machine take four steps to where the sagging clothes-line hung. It was probably eight feet. Then the bowed figure of The Thinking Machine walked on out toward the rear wall of the enclosure, under the clothes-line.
When he stopped at the end of the line he was within fifteen feet of the dangling swing which had been Baby Blake’s. This swing was attached to a limb twenty feet above — a stout limb which jutted straight out from the tree trunk for fifteen feet. The Thinking Machine studied this for a moment, then passed on beyond the tree, still looking up, until he disappeared.
Fifteen minutes later he returned to the library where Mrs. Blake awaited him. There was a question in Hatch’s eyes.
“I’ve got it,” snapped The Thinking Machine, much as if there had been a denial. “I’ve got it.”
On the following day, by direction of The Thinking Machine, Mrs. Blake ordered the following advertisement inserted in all Boston and Lynn newspapers, to occupy one quarter of a page.
“Your names, residence and place of concealment of Douglas Blake, fourteen months old, and the manner in which he came into your possession are now known. Mrs. Blake, the mother, does not desire to prosecute for reasons you know, and will give you twenty-four hours in which to return the baby safely to its home in Lynn. Any attempt to escape of either person concerned will be followed instantly by arrest. Meanwhile you are closely watched, and will be for twenty four hours, at which time arrest and prosecution will follow. No questions will be asked when the child is returned and your names will be fully protected. There will also be a reward of $1,000 for the person who returns the baby.”
Hutchinson Hatch read this when The Thinking Machine had completed it and had stared at the scientist in wonderment.
“Is it true?” he asked.
“I am afraid the child is dead,” repeated The Thinking Machine evasively. “I am very much afraid of it.”
“What gives you that impression?” Hatch asked.
“I know now how the child was taken from that back yard, if we grant that the child itself made the tracks,” was the rejoinder. “And knowing how it was taken away makes me more fearful than I have been that it is not alive; in fact, that it may never be seen again.”
“How did the child leave the yard?”
“If the child does not appear within twenty-four hours,” was the reply, “I shall tell you. It is a hideous story.”
Hatch had to be content with that statement of the case for the moment. None knew better than he how useless it would be to question The Thinking Machine.
“Did you happen to know, Mr. Hatch,” The Thinking Machine asked, “that in the event of the death of Douglas Blake, his fortune of nearly three million dollars left in trust by his father would be divided among four relatives of Mrs. Blake?”
“What?” asked Hatch, a little startled.
“Suppose for instance, Baby Blake was never found, as seems possible,” went on the other. “After a certain number of years, I believe, in a case of that kind there is an assumption of death and property passes to heirs. You see then, there was a motive, and a strong one, underlying this entire affair.”
“But, surely there wouldn’t be murder?”
“Not murder,” responded The Thinking Machine tartly. “I haven’t even suggested murder. I said I believe the child is dead. If it is not dead who would benefit by his disappearance? The four whom I named. Well, suppose Baby Blake fell into the hands of those people. It would be comparatively an easy matter for them to lose it in some way — not necessarily kill it — have it adopted in some orphan asylum, place it anywhere to hide its identity. That’s the main thing.”
Hatch began to see light faintly, he thought.
“Then this advertisement is to the people who may be holding the child now?” he asked.
“It is so addressed,” was the other’s reply.
“But, but —” Hatch began.
“Once upon a time a noted wit, who was of necessity a student of human nature,” The Thinking Machine began, “declared there was one thing carefully hidden in every man’s life which would ruin him should it be known, or land him in prison. He volunteered to prove this, taking any man whose name was suggested. An eminent minister of the gospel was named as the victim. The wit sent a telegram to the minister, who was attending a banquet: ‘All is discovered. Flee while there is opportunity,’ signed ‘Friend.’ The minister read it, arose and left the room, and from that day to this he has never been seen again.”
Hatch laughed, and The Thinking Machine glanced at him with an annoyed expression on his face.
“I had no intention of arousing your laughter,” he said sharply. “I merely intended to illustrate the possible effect of a guilty conscience.”
When the flaming advertisement in the newspapers was called to the attention of the police, they were first surprised, then amused. Then they grew serious. After a while an officer went to Mrs. Blake and asked what it meant. She informed him that she had acted at the suggestion of Professor Van Dusen. Then the police were amused again; they are wont to feign an amusement which they never feel in the presence of a superior mind.
That afternoon, Hatch, who by direction of The Thinking Machine, was on watch again near the Blake home, received a strange request from the scientist by telephone. It was:
“Go to the Blake home immediately, see the picture book which Baby Blake was looking at just before his disappearance, and report to me by ‘phone just what’s in it.”
“The picture book?” Hatch repeated.
“Certainly, the picture book,” said the scientist, irritably. “Also find out for me from the nurse and Mrs. Blake if the baby cried easily, that is from a slight hurt or anything of that kind.”
With these things in his mind Hatch went to the Blake house, had a look at the picture book, asked the questions as to Baby Blake’s propensity to weep on slight provocation, and returned to the ‘phone. Feeling singularly foolish, he enumerated to The Thinking Machine the things he had seen in the picture book.
“There’s a horse, and a cat with three kittens,” he explained. “Also a pale purple rhinoceros, and a dog, an elephant, a deer, an alligator, a monkey, three chicks, and a whole lot of birds.”
“Any eagle?” queried the other.
“Yes, an eagle among them, with a rabbit in its claws.”
“And the monkey. What is it doing?”
“Hanging by its tail to a blue tree with a coconut in its hands,” replied the reporter. The humor of the situation was beginning to appeal to him.
“And about the baby crying?” the scientist asked.
“He does not cry easily, both the mother and nurse say,” replied Hatch. “They both describe him as a brave little chap, who cries sometimes when he can’t have his own way, but never from fright or a minor hurt.”
“Good,” he heard The Thinking Machine say. “Watch in front of the Blake house tonight until half past eight. If the child returns it will probably be earlier than that. Speak to the person who brings him, as he leaves the house, and he will tell you his story I think, if you can make him understand that he is in no danger. Immediately after that come to my home in Boston.”
Hatch was treading on air; when The Thinking Machine gave positive directions of that sort it usually meant that the final curtain was to be drawn aside. He so construed this.
Thus it came to pass that Hutchinson Hatch planted himself, carefully hidden so he might command a view of the front of the Blake home, and waited there for many hours.
Mrs. Blake, the mother of the millionaire baby, had just finished her dinner and had retired to a small parlor off the library, where she reclined on a couch. It was ten minutes of seven o’clock in the evening. After a moment Miss Barton entered the room.
The girl heard a sob from the couch and impulsively ran to Mrs. Blake, who was weeping softly — she was always weeping now. A few comforting words, a little consolation such as one woman is able to give to another, and the girl arose from her knees and started into the library, where a dim light burned.
As she was entering that room again, she paused, screamed and without a word sank down on the floor, fainting. Mrs. Blake rose from the couch and rushed toward the door. She screamed too, but that scream was of a different tone from that of the girl — it was a fierce scream of mother-love satisfied.
For there on the floor of the library sat Baby Blake, millionaire, gazing with enraptured eyes at his brilliantly colored picture book.
“Pitty hossie,” he said to his mother. “See! See!”
It was an affecting scene Hutchinson Hatch witnessed in the Blake home about halfpast seven o’clock. It was that of a mother clasping a baby to her breast while tears of joy and hysteria streamed from her eyes. Baby Blake struggled manfully to free himself, but the mother clung to him.
“My boy, my boy,” she sobbed again and again.
Miss Barton sat on the floor beside the mother and wept too. Hatch saw it, and received some thanks, heartfelt, but broken with a little sobbing laughter. Then he had to dry his eyes, too, and Hutchinson Hatch was not a sentimental man.
“There will be no prosecution, Mrs. Blake, I suppose?” he asked.
“No, no, no,” was the half laughing, half tearful reply. “I am content.”
“I would like to ask a favor, if you don’t mind?” he suggested.
“Anything — anything for you and Professor Van Dusen,” was the reply.
“Will you lend me the baby’s picture book until tomorrow?” he asked.
“Certainly,” and in her happiness the mother forgot to note the strangeness of the request.
Hatch’s purpose in borrowing the book was not clear even to himself; in his mind had grown the idea that in some way The Thinking Machine connected this book with the disappearance of the child, and he was burning with curiosity to get the book and return to Boston, where The Thinking Machine might throw some light on the mystery. For it was still a mystery — a perplexing, baffling mystery that he could in no way grasp, even now that the baby was safe at home again.
In Boston the reporter went straight to the home of The Thinking Machine. The scientist was pottering about the little laboratory and only turned to look at Hatch when he entered.
“Baby back home?” he asked, shortly.
“Yes,” said the reporter.
“Good,” said the other, and he rubbed his slender hands together briskly. “Sit down, Mr. Hatch. It was a little better after all than I hoped for. Now your story first. What happened when the baby was brought back home?”
“I waited as you directed from afternoon until a few minutes to seven,” Hatch explained. “I could plainly see anyone who approached the front gate of the Blake place, although I could not be seen well, remaining in the shadow of the building opposite.
“I saw two or three people go up to the gate and enter the yard, but they were tradespeople. I spoke to them as they came out and ascertained this for myself. At last I saw a man approaching carrying something closely wrapped in his arms. He stopped at the gate, stared up the path a moment, glanced around several times and entered the yard. He was carrying Baby Blake. I knew it instinctively.
“He went to the front door of the house and there I lost him in the shadow for a moment. Subsequent developments showed that he opened this front door, which was not locked, put the baby down and closed the door softly. Then he came rapidly down the path toward the gate. An instant later I heard two screams from the house. I knew then that the baby was there, dead or alive — probably alive.
“The man who had brought it also heard the screams and accelerated his pace somewhat, so that I had to run. He heard me coming and he ran, too. It was a two-block chase before I caught him, and when I did he turned on me. I thought it was to fight.
“‘There was a promise of no arrest or prosecution,’ he said.
“I assured him hurriedly, and then walked on down the street beside him. He told me a queer story — it might be true or it might not, but I believe it. This was that the baby had been in his and his wife’s care from about halfpast six o’clock of the evening it disappeared until a few minutes before when he had returned it to its home.
“The man’s name is Sheldon — Michael Sheldon — and he is an exconvict. He served four years for burglary, and at one time had a pretty nasty record. He told me of it in explanation of his reasons for not turning the baby over to the police. Now he has reformed and is leading a new life. He is a clerk in a store here in Lynn, and despite his previous record is, I ascertained, a trusted and reliable man.
“Now here comes the queer part of the story. It seems that Sheldon and his wife live on the third floor of a tenement in northern Lynn. Their dining room has one window, which leads to a fire escape. He and his wife were at supper about halfpast six — in other words, a little more than half an hour from the time the baby disappeared from the Blake home.
“After awhile they heard a noise — they didn’t know what — on the fire escape. They paid no attention. Finally they heard another noise from the fire escape — that of a baby crying. Then Sheldon went to the window and opened it. There on the fire escape was Baby Blake. How he got there no human being knows.”
“I know now,” said The Thinking Machine. “Go on.”
“Puzzled and bewildered they took the child off the iron structure, where only the barest chance had prevented it from falling and being killed on the pavement below. The baby was apparently uninjured save for a few bruises, but his clothing was soiled and rumpled, and he was terribly cold. The wife, mother-like, set out to warm the little fellow and make him comfortable with hot milk and a steaming bath. The husband, Sheldon, says he went out to find how it was possible for the baby to have reached the fire escape. He knew no baby lived in the building.
“He looked long and carefully. There was no possible way by which a man could have climbed the fire escape to the third floor, and therefore certainly no way by which a fourteenmonth-old baby could climb there. There is a fence there which is pretty tall, say six feet, but even standing on this a man would have had to leap straight up in the air for five feet, and nobody I know could do it with a baby in his arms, particularly when the snow was there and everything was so slippery a person could hardly hold on.
“It seems that then Sheldon made inquiries of some of his neighbors, occupants of the house, but no one could throw any light on the subject. He did not tell them then of the baby, indeed, never told them. First, from the fine quality of the clothing, there had been an idea in his mind that the baby was one of a well-to-do family, and he remained quiet that night hoping that next day he might be able to learn something and possibly get a reward for the return of the child. He had given up the problem of how it got where he found it.”
Hatch paused a moment and lighted a cigar.
“Well, next day,” he went on, “Sheldon and his wife both saw the newspaper account of the mysterious disappearance of Baby Blake. The photographs of the missing child convinced them that Baby Blake was the child they had — the child they had really saved from death. Then came the question of returning the child to its home or turning it over to the police.
“Instantly the fact that a threat had been made to kidnap the child and a demand for ten thousand dollars made was borne in on Sheldon he became frightened. Remember he had a bad record. He was afraid of the police. He did not believe that he — however innocent he might be-could go to the police, turn over the baby and make them believe the strange story. I readily see how some wooden-headed department officials would have made his life a burden. I know the police. It is ninety-nine dollars to a cent they would have made him a prisoner and perhaps railroaded him for the kidnapping.”
“Yes, I see,” interrupted The Thinking Machine.
“So then he and his wife tried to devise a method of getting the baby back home. They thought of all sorts of things, but none satisfied them entirely. And they were still debating this point and considering it when your advertisement promised immunity. As a matter of fact it scared Sheldon. He imagined that you knew, and knew if he were even remotely connected with the matter it would get him in trouble. Then he resolved to take the baby back home on the promise of immunity.”
There was a little pause. The Thinking Machine sat staring steadily at the ceiling.
“Is that all?” he asked at last.
“I think so,” replied Hatch. “And now how — how in the name of all that’s good or evil did that baby disappear from the middle of its own back yard and then suddenly appear on a fire escape three blocks away, to be taken in by strangers?”
“It’s quite the most remarkable thing I have ever come across,” The Thinking Machine said. “A balloon anchor, which picked up the child by its clothing, through accident, and then dropped it safely on the fire escape might answer the question in a way. But it does not fully answer it. The baby was carried there.
“Frankly I will say that I could see no possible explanation of the affair until the day you and I were talking to Mrs. Blake and I stood looking out of the library window. Then it all flashed on me instantly. I went out and satisfied myself. When I returned to the library I was satisfied in all reason that Baby Blake was dead; I had had such an idea before. I was firmly convinced the child was dead when I put those advertisements in the newspapers. But there was still a chance that he was not.
“Several seemingly unanswerable questions faced me when I found the end of the baby’s footprints in the snow. I instantly saw that if the baby had made those tracks it had been lifted suddenly from the ground, but by what? From where? How had it been taken away? The balloon I could not consider seriously, although as I say it offered a possible solution. An eagle? I could not consider that seriously. Eagles are rare; eagles powerful enough to lift a baby weighing thirty pounds are extremely rare, practically unknown save in the far West; certainly I never heard of one doing such a thing as this. Therefore I passed the eagle by as an improbability.
“I satisfied myself that there were no other footsteps save the baby’s in the yard. Then — what? It occurred to me that someone standing on the little box might have reached over and lifted the child out of its tracks. But it was too far away, I thought, and if someone did stand there and lift the child that someone could not have leaped from that box over the stone wall, which was approximately a hundred feet away in all directions.
“I saw the stone ten feet away. Could a man stand on the box and leap to the stone? Generally, no. And from the stone, where could he have gone? Obviously nowhere. I considered this matter not minutes, but hours and days, and no light came to me. I was convinced, though, that the box was the starting point if the baby had made the tracks. I was now fairly certain that the baby did make the tracks. He wanted to get out in the snow, was left alone, opened the front door and wandered out.
“Then it all occurred to me in a new light. What living animal could have stood on the box and lifted the child clear four feet away, then leaped from there to the stone, and from the stone where? The clothes line is eight feet or so from the stone. It is a pretty sturdy rope and capable of bearing a considerable weight, supported as it is.”
He stopped and turned his eyes toward Hatch, who listened eagerly.
“Do you see it now?” he asked.
The reporter shook his head, bewildered.
“The thing that lifted Baby Blake from the snow stood on the box, leaped from there to the stone, from there to the clothes line, along which it climbed to the end. From the wooden support at the end it is a clear distance of fifteen feet to the nearest thing — the swing. This thing made that leap, climbed the swing rope, disappeared into the trees, moving through the branches freely from one tree to another, and dropped to the ground nearly a block away.”
“A monkey?” suggested Hatch.
“An orang-outang,” nodded The Thinking Machine.
“An orang-outang?” gasped Hatch, and he shuddered a little. “I see now why you were positive the child was dead.”
“An orang-outang is the only living thing within the knowledge of man which could have done all these things — therefore an orang-outang did them,” said the other emphatically. “Remember a full-sized orang-outang is nearly as tall as a man, has a reach relatively a third longer than a very tall man would have, and a strength which is enormous. It could have made the leaps and probably would have made them rather than step in the snow. They despise snow, being from the tropics themselves, and will not step in it unless they are compelled to. The leap of fifteen feet to the swing rope from the clothes line would have been comparatively easy, even with a child in its arms.
“Where could it have come from? I don’t know. Possibly escaped from a ship, because sailors have strange pets; might have gotten away from a menagerie somewhere, or a circus. I only knew that an orang-outang was the actual abductor. The difficulties of a man climbing the fire escape where the baby was found were nothing to an orang-outang. There it would have merely been a leap up of five feet.”
The Thinking Machine stopped as if he had finished. Hatch respected this silence for a moment, but he had questions yet to be answered.
“Who wrote the kidnapping letters demanding money?” was the first.
“You found him — Charles Gates,” was the reply.
“And the letter written after the abduction demanding twenty-five thousand dollars?”
“Was written by him, of course — but this was a bluff. This poor deluded fool imagined that someone would actually go out and toss $25,000 on a trash-heap where he could find it, and then he could escape. That was his purpose. He knew nothing of the whereabouts of the baby. He beat his wife when he found, instead of money, I had put some good advice in the newspaper bundle for him.”
“But the stocking in his room, and your question to Miss Barton?”
“This man did write a letter threatening kidnapping before the baby disappeared. It was perfectly possible that after the kidnapping he stole the little stocking and two or three other things from the laundry, for Miss Barton noticed they were missing, or got someone to do so for him. And, the baby being gone, he was intending to send these to the mother, one at a time, I imagine, to make her believe he had the child. That is transparent. I asked Miss Barton the question about giving them to Gates to see if she did — her manner would have told me. I instantly saw she did not — had never even heard of him, as a matter of fact. I also dropped that remark about there being $25,000 in the package to see what effect it would have on her.”
“And the facts you had about the baby’s fortune going to relatives of Mrs. Blake in the event of the baby’s death?”
“I got from her, by a casual question as to the succession of the estate. There was still a possibility that the baby was in their hands despite the manner of its disappearance. As it transpired they had nothing whatever to do with it. The advertisement I put in the paper was a palpable trick — but it had the desired effect. It touched a guilty conscience. The guilty conscience feared it was trapped and acted accordingly.”
“It seems perfectly incomprehensible that the baby should have come out of it alive,” mused Hatch. “I had always imagined orang-outangs to be extremely ferocious.”
“Read up on them a bit, Mr. Hatch,” said The Thinking Machine. “You will find they are of strangely contradictory and mischievous natures. Where this child was permitted to escape safely others might have been torn limb from limb.”
There was silence for a time. Hatch considered the matter all explained, until suddenly the picture book occurred to him.
“You ‘phoned to me to see the picture book and tell you what’s in it,” he said. “Why?”
“Suppose there was a picture of a monkey in it,” rejoined the other. “I merely wanted to know if the baby would know a monkey, in other words an orang-outang, if it saw one. Why? Because if the baby knew one it would not necessarily be afraid of one in the flesh, and would not of necessity cry out when the orang-outang picked it up. As a matter of fact no one heard it scream when taken away.”
“Oh, I see,” said Hatch. “There was a picture of a monkey in the book. I told you.” He took out the book and looked at it. “Here,” and he extended it to the scientist who glanced at it casually, and nodded.
“If you want to prove this just as I have told it,” said The Thinking Machine, “go to the Blake home tomorrow, put your finger on that picture and show it to Baby Blake. He will prove it.”
It came to pass that Hatch did this very thing.
“Pitty monkey,” said Baby Blake. “Doe, doe.”
“He means he wants to go,” Miss Barton exclaimed to Hatch.
Hatch was satisfied.
Two days later the Boston American carried a dispatch from a village near Lynn stating that a semi-tame orang-outang had been killed by a policeman. It had belonged to a sailor, from whose vessel it had escaped more than two weeks before.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54