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Wrath of the Purple
By Howard Melvin Fast
It happens frequently that some marvelous discovery made by a brilliant scientist for the good of humanity proves fatal and catastrophic instead, but that fact is not going to prevent brilliant and enterprising scientists from continuing their painstaking search for something new and startling. How can any man foresee dire results from apparently innocent experiments?
It is strange how changed the aspect of a thing becomes when one looks at it in retrospect. Men laugh at a war which devastated the earth a generation before, and belittle a flood which brought doom and destruction upon half a nation. Thus it is not strange that the great catastrophe of 1939 should lose the place of prominence which it has occupied for the past decade.
It is only when one flies above the wasteland, above one of the fourteen states which the Purple Life devastated, that the full immensity of the catastrophe is realized. It is only then, when one sees with his own eyes the stark mountains from which the forest has been stripped, the scattered underbrush making futile efforts to cover the barren ground, and the countless ruins that were once prosperous hamlets, that a storm of wrath overtakes him and he curses the perpetrator of this horror. And he will curse, as millions before him have cursed, the name of Doctor Richard Carter.
I do not write this as an apology for Doctor Carter, nor as an eulogy. His was a crime, a crime against all humanity. But he also saved a world from doom, a doom which threatened to wipe from the face of the earth every living creature but one.
He is dead. He has paid the supreme penalty at the hands of a wrathful mob. Try to think kindly of him, to know him as I know him, as a great scientist and a humane man, as one of those many who gave their lives to humanity.
To his memory I dedicate this account of the happenings of the winter of 1939.
The Purple Life: strange, is it not, that that thing which caused destruction unparalleled in history should be called life? But it was life; that I have always insisted, although Doctor Carter thought differently. He said--but let me tell it all, from the night I received the message from Doctor Carter.
My acquaintance with Doctor Carter began at college. I was taking a pre-medical course. He was an instructor in biology, one of the youngest of the staff. He was my senior by only a few years and we struck up a fast friendship. We worked together quite frequently. His specialty was cellular research. I was interested in bacteriology. Our branches of work were closely enough related for us to be of assistance to each other. Then I graduated and went to Glasgow to complete my studies.
Upon my return to America, I set up a research laboratory in New York. Here again my work brought me into contact with Doctor Carter. During the next five years our friendship was renewed. We collaborated in several volumes upon cellular research. Then I received an offer as a government bacteriologist, which I accepted. My work took me to Washington and kept me there for seven years. It was as the beginning of my seventh winter there that the two events occurred that changed the entire course of my life.
I was appointed head of the government bacteriological staff, and I received the following telegram from Doctor Carter. The punctuation is added.
"Come at once. Matter of utmost importance. Threatens to involve entire nation. Cannot explain other than to say I have blundered upon something which may destroy civilization itself. Will be waiting at Duplex Hotel. Come at once."
To say the telegram surprised me would be to put it mildly. It certainly served to stifle my elation at the news of my appointment. The message itself was as unlike Doctor Carter as anything conceivable. He was essentially the scientist, coldly calculating and not given to emotional outburst. Only in a case of urgent necessity would he send such a message. He was not the man to magnify a trouble. If he said the matter was one of national importance, I could rest assured that it was. Only one course lay open to me. I wired that I would leave for New York immediately.
As head of the bacteriological staff my time would be much my own. Accordingly, I gave notice to my subordinates that I was leaving for New York upon official business, and that they could reach me at either the Duplex Hotel or the home of Doctor Carter.
I had seen Doctor Carter only three months before. The difference between his former hearty self and the man who met me in the magnificent lobby of the Duplex Hotel, was startling and almost unbelievable. He had aged twenty years in those three months. His hair was gray and his eyes dim and sunken. His face was haggard, drawn, as is the face of a man who has looked upon death and found it terrifying.
He was obviously relieved at my presence, and grasped my hand as a drowning man would a straw.
"Frank!" he cried. "You came, my boy! God, if you could only know what a relief it is to have you here, to have someone to talk openly to, to confide in. Frank, you will never know what I have gone through these past three weeks.
"But you must be starved. Come, we'll sup in the roof garden. Later you can have my story."
A thousand and a half feet above New York, in a glass-topped conservatory, we had our dinner. The city sprawled at our feet. North, south, east, west--as far as eye could reach lay that pattern of blocks, relieved here and there by slim fingers of stone, glass, and metal. New York! New York the living, the pregnant, the imperishable! Never could I look at it without having that same thrill of achievement, of pride in all man has accomplished. And now it seemed more alive than ever; seemed to whisper to me and give me a message I could not translate. I turned to Carter.
He was leaning forward, regarding the city with the strange fascination of one who looks at tragedy, grim, stark tragedy. Then he shook himself and look about him, as if he were coming out of a stupor.
"Frank, look at it." His voice was low; it was like the voice of a man who speaks of death. "In a few weeks it will be gone, all gone, crushed, destroyed by that which I have created. For God's sake, Frank, help me; I need it."
I was convinced, somehow, that he spoke the truth, and pressed him for an explanation, but it was not until we were in his car, driving toward his home, that he gave me the story.
"You know, no doubt," he began, "why I changed my residence from New York to a mountainside in Ulster County. My work involved certain dissection and vivisection; it was work which I could not perform in a crowded community. Thus, I established my laboratory in one of the few remaining isolated sections within convenient driving distance of New York.
"There, for the past three years, I have been engaged upon cellular research in a seemingly futile quest for the secret of life. My ultimate object has been the restoration of organs of the human body.
"In the beginning, I confined myself to the grafting of limbs upon animals. Then a new thought occurred to me. I would search for the secret of life itself, would discover the basic organization of protoplasm. Once the idea had taken hold, it became an obsession with me. Life, I reasoned, had been originally created, either by accident or by design. What had been done once, might be done again.
"You have heard of the theory of spontaneous generation?"
"Yes," I replied. A theory long discarded."
"True. It has been discarded, but it has never been entirely disproved."
"But surely," I said, "you do not, in this age of exact science, accept spontaneous generation."
"Why not? That in all probability was the manner in which life came into being. And how do you account for new diseases, new bacteria, new protozoa? No! Not only do I believe in spontaneous generation, but I have seen it occur."
"You have seen it occur?" His awful earnestness held me.
"Yes. I have seen certain elements combined in correct quantities under given conditions assume that which we speak of as life."
My senses whirled. "You have overworked, old man. You need a rest." But I believed him in spite of myself. I tried to tell myself that he was mad, when I knew him to be sane, mercilessly sane.
"No," he said. "Would to God that I were mad, but I am not, unless you mean the madness of fear, of worry."
"Then you have done what man has dreamed of doing throughout the ages--you have created life?"
"Either life or something that resembles life more than anything man has heretofore produced."
"Why man," I cried, "do you realize what this will mean to humanity?"
"Yes," he said slowly, "it will mean death, ruin, destruction, and ultimate doom."
He spoke no more, but gave his attention to the road. Knowing Doctor Carter, I did not press him for further explanation, but turned over, in my mind, what he had just told me. Undoubtedly, he was preparing me for what was to come.
We were well out of New York now, and swirling along the new West Shore speed highway. A slight fall of snow had covered the ground, and the road, a bright white ribbon in the moonlight, stretched away before us.
It was almost midnight when he put his car up the last stretch of road, a rough lumber track which wound its way up a seemingly impassable mountainside. It was bitterly cold, and the snow upon the road made the going doubly difficult.
With a sigh of relief I sank into a commodious chair and stretched my feet toward the Doctor's blazing fire. After steaming tea had further fortified us against the bitterness of the night, we took our pipes to the library and the Doctor continued his story.
"Frank," he said, looking at me through the blue smoke that curled about his face and hair, "did you ever realize how greatly our imaginations are limited by what we know or have seen. What has man ever done that is truly creative? What has he ever conceived that is not a repetition of that which has existed before. True, he has introduced variety, but is he capable of imagining that which is a true departure from anything heretofore known? I do not think so.
"We know only one form of life, that which has the cell as a basis. Knowing only that form, we can conceive of no other. Frank, can you picture life with no cellular structure; life that is not protoplasm; life that is life in name only? Can you picture elements, energized so that they can absorb nourishment from the earth or the air, and yet having no discernible means of doing so? Can you picture such a thing doubling its size every three or four days and disintegrating all organic matter which it comes into contact with? Can you picture that thing, let loose upon a peaceful countryside, increasing its bulk at an unthought of rate, destroying, like some grim reaper, all in its path? Calculate its rate of increase and you will know what I know, that if that thing is not destroyed within thirty days, not only America, but the entire world is doomed."
This was too much for a finite mind to quickly grasp. Either the man was mad--but no, his face gave no lie to his sanity. He spoke the truth.
"But come," I said, "take the funereal expression off your face. If such a thing exists, it is not invulnerable. We must act quickly and destroy it while it is yet small enough to control."
"Small enough to control!" He shook his head wearily. Slowly he got to his feet and passed a worn hand across his brow. Motioning me to follow, he led the way through the house to one of the rear rooms. Here he threw open a window, unlocked the storm shutters, and pointed up the hillside.
"There," he said, "does that look small enough to control?"
I drew back in surprise. From a point about two hundred yards above us to another point three hundred yards further up, the mountain side was dull purple. The silver rays of the full moon lit its surface with an unearthly radiance. Almost it seemed alive, like some great omnipotent monster lying in wait for its prey. In shape it was roughly circular, its height, as nearly as I could judge, was over thirty feet. Its strangest feature was the illusion of transparency it gave an observer. I imagined that I could see into it, deep into its violet core, and discern dull purple fires. I did not need the words of Doctor Carter to assure me that it was alive, potent.
Carter pointed to the center of the purple mass. "That was my laboratory."
Silently we returned to the library. I had a strange reluctance to speak, to discuss that thing upon the hillside. A feeling of lethargy, of futility had overtaken me. Wearily, I sank into a chair. The Doctor stood before the hearth, his drawn features outlined in the crimson glow of the flames.
"We have three days here--in this house. Then it will be gone." His voice was tired.
I said nothing. I was thinking, or rather trying to force my harassed brain to function. Now, looking back, I wonder that I did not suggest some plan of action, some method of attack. Perhaps it was due to the feeling of helplessness, of despair which the Purple exerts upon all who see it for the first time, or perhaps it was because I suddenly realized the vast responsibility which would rest upon me, as head of the government bacteriological staff.
The Doctor was speaking again. "My assistant slept in the laboratory. I left him there--with the Purple. In the morning he was dead--in the Purple. His body----"
His face was working, straining as he lived over that fatal morning, when we saw the first of its victims.
"Since then, I have attempted to destroy it. I tried everything--gas, heat, bacteria, dynamite, acid--all to no avail. Once, intense heat might have killed it. Now it is too late. It thrives upon cold. Acid makes almost no impression upon it. You could explode a thousand tons of dynamite in it and every minute fragment would live and grow. I have injected it with bacteria, with every obtainable species, yet they have less effect than they would have upon the earth itself. I have attempted to grow molds and fungus upon it. All was futile. It destroys all that is organic, acts as a powerful corrosive."
He held out his hands. The fingers were covered with the scars of recently healed sores.
"This," he said, "is the result of a first contact." Then he stood at the hearth, silently, while I gazed moodily into the fire. When he spoke again, it was not to me but to the swirling flames. "You will have to inform the authorities?"
"Yes," I answered. "That will be my duty."
He sighed, and his bowed shoulders slumped just a bit more. "I put it off as long as I could. I wanted you to know first, to see for yourself. And then, it is doubtful as to how the populace will react."
"You can reassure yourself upon that score," I said. "It will be kept from the public as long as possible."
"And how long do you think that will be, once it begins to cover farms and cities?"
"That will not be for some time."
Doctor Carter shook his head. "You do not realize the speed with which that thing increases itself. In a few days it will cover this house. A week or two more, and the entire valley will be inundated. In another month, New York; then the North Atlantic seaboard; then count the days, before North America becomes a sacrifice to this thing I have created.
But now, away from the brooding significance of the Purple, I was recovering my assurance. I cleared my throat and spoke more buoyantly than I had since I received Doctor Carter's telegram. "Something there is that will stop it; something that will destroy it, as remorselessly as it destroys all in its path. Tomorrow, we will leave for Washington. The entire resources of the government will be placed at your disposal. My staff will be constantly at your command. Surely, before the week is up, you will have discovered something, something with which to fight and destroy this menace."
The next morning I had my first intimate view of the Purple. It had increased appreciably since last night, and now, as I stood before it, I could feel it swell and grow. Its smooth gelatinous surface suggested, ironically enough, grape jelly. I had an insane desire to taste some of it, to plunge my hand into it and press it to my mouth.
Doctor Carter turned to me, a curious smile upon his face. He had changed visibly since the night, had thrown off the mantle of gloom which hung about him, and now he seemed a different man. He was as one who has been given a challenge and braces himself to meet it.
"Looks pretty harmless, doesn't it?" He held a walking stick in his hand, and now he plunged it into the jelly-like mass. For a moment, nothing happened, then the wood seemed to wilt and crumble away. Only then, when I saw that polished hardwood melt like butter, did I realize what we were facing.
Doctor Carter salvaged the remains of his stick and cast it away. "That is what happened to Johnson's body; this is what became of my laboratory; and that will be its effect upon every organic obstacle that bars its path. You see, then, that we are facing ultimate destruction."
I had phoned for the county sheriff and when we returned to the house, he was waiting for us. I explained to him the situation and the developments we expected. From his attitude, I could see that he thought we were either mad or the engineers of a huge hoax. It was only after I had shown him my credentials and had given him a first hand exhibition of the action of the Purple, that the twin lights of fear and belief appeared in his eyes.
I explained explicitly the developments that were expected in the three days I would be gone, and how to meet them.
He was to communicate with the state police and have the district within a radius of two miles put under martial law. He was to order complete evacuation of the district and under no circumstance was he to give any information to the public or the press. I assured him that I would return in three days or less, and that, until then, no measures, other than those I had given him, were to be taken against the Purple. And lastly, I warned him against the deadliness of the menace. Its stroke was quicker and more decisive than the sting of a rattler. It killed with more certainty than the deadliest infernal machine. And the death it dealt was crueler than any man had known. No living thing must touch its deadly surface. The growing fear in his little eyes assured me that the precautions would be well taken...
It was high noon when Doctor Carter and I stepped off the plane at Washington. We went first to the offices of the Secretary of the Interior and laid the entire story before him. Only after several hours' discussion did we convince him of its truthfulness. The samples of the Purple, which we had brought from New York, were the final factor in obtaining his belief. He was won over and asked us to present any plans which we had for the solution of the problem.
One of the strange features of those first few days was that no one of us connected with the battle against the Purple, excepting perhaps, Doctor Carter, realized the full imminence of this new menace. It was significant that the Secretary did not, at that time, reproach Doctor Carter. "We must," he said, "make great sacrifices in the name of science." And he was one of the men who later suggested hanging Doctor Carter as the perpetrator of one of the most terrible and destructive crimes against humanity. This, to show what panic will do to the most staid of mankind.
Firstly, I asked that all chemical and biological resources of the country be placed at the disposal of Doctor Carter, and secondly, that, temporarily at least, I should be placed in charge of all measures taken against the Purple.
The Secretary assured me that this could be done, at least for the time, and then asked what steps I proposed to take.
"I desire," I told him, "to test the effects of gas, electricity, and rays upon the Purple. Failing in that, I will attempt wholesale destruction by chemical flames.
"I also want you to use your influence to have the army and the navy placed at my disposal, and to grant me absolute authority within the area defined by a radius of five hundred miles from Ulster county."
The Secretary and Doctor Carter gasped in astonishment. What I was asking for was virtual dictatorship over the center of the country's industrial and commercial section.
The Secretary shook his head. "I am afraid," he said, that what you ask cannot be granted. Nor does the situation seem to warrant such drastic action. It would be more customary, in such a predicament as this, to place the authority in the hands of the army or the local authorities."
Inwardly, I cursed his narrow-mindedness.
"Can't you see," cried Doctor Carter, "that this is not an ordinary occasion; that this is an emergency unlike anything heretofore encountered by man. We must work quickly. In speed lies our only salvation, our only hope. We cannot wait for the official machinery to function. Both the army and the local authorities will be slow, entangled in the conventional red tape, as they are. If unchecked, even for weeks, the destruction wrought by this thing will make the Great War harmless by comparison. The fate of our nation, the United States of America, hangs in the balance. This is not a matter of politics, of territory, of state or city rights. It is a crisis in the existence of humanity itself."
"And what," asked the Secretary, "makes you believe that your colleague is the man for the dictatorship?"
Doctor Carter leaned forward. "Sir," he said with grim earnestness, "forget, for once, about your army, your navy, your police, about all means of force. Science has created this thing and only science can destroy it." He pointed to me. "He is a man of science." The calm assurance of his words seemed to quell the Secretary's last doubts. He was won over.
The Secretary was to return to New York with me. Doctor Carter remained at my Washington laboratories. He was convinced that all my efforts would be futile. Before I left he had a few words with me, alone.
"Frank," he said, "once I thought I created life; now I know differently. We call it life because we can conceive of no other name for it. But it is not life. Nor is it lifeless. Perhaps there has been a certain change within the very atoms themselves. Perhaps we have chanced upon something so different that we cannot venture a thought as to its identity. The human mind is very finite. This thing is too big for me. It leaves me bewildered and terrified.
"But Frank, I have the formula and I have the method. What I once did, I can do again. There must be a reagent which will destroy this thing. From a strange world, I drew the Purple, and from the same world I will draw its doom."
I clutched at his arm. "For God's sake, Doctor, leave that formula alone. Burn it, destroy it, but don't chance letting loose another menace such as this upon the world."
"Frank," he retorted, "unless the Purple is destroyed, there will be no world of man to let loose another menace upon. No Frank, we must fight this thing with a weapon yet unknown to man. It is our only hope..."
The next afternoon the Secretary and I left for New York. His special plane touched the waters of the Upper Bay in less than an hour.
Immediately after landing, we directed our steps toward the City Hall, and were closeted for several hours with the Mayor. He was already cognizant of the situation, having received daily reports from the up-state officials. It seemed that the thing had increased at an unbelievable rate, far beyond anything which the Doctor or I had expected.. We explained to the Mayor what developments might be expected, and asked him to be prepared to take measures to evacuate the city. The Secretary then asked that all resources of the City be placed at my disposal. At a time like this State and City rights must be submerged to a common good.
We were leaving the City Hall, when the first blow fell. The voice of a news boy was bawling through the street. "Wuxtry! Read all about the Purple Menace! Wuxtry!" I bought a copy and stared in bewilderment at the heavy black type.
"Country Doomed By Purple Menace!" it read. And beneath that, sprawled over the face of the page, was the entire story of the Purple Life. And the papers had spared no efforts to make it sensational. Maps, covered with circles to show the advance of the Purple; first hand pictures of the Purple itself; pictures of the land before and after the Purple had wrought its wrath; yes, those papers certainly saw their point and played to it. Forty days existence were given to the United States.
The Secretary tore the paper from my hands, and turned blue as he read it. "Someone will pay for this," he roared. "I'll break their damned sheet."
I shrugged my shoulders. After all, this was to be expected. According to the papers, the thing was over two miles in diameter. Nothing of that size could be kept from the public. And perhaps it was best that the populace should be warned when the thing was yet comparatively small; it might avoid later panics.
We planned our campaign. The Secretary would return to Washington. He would have to confer with the President as to the mobilization of the nation's forces. He left me with full authority to undertake those measures which I had suggested, and even went to the trouble of chartering a plane for my own use.
Blasé New York took the matter calmly. People discussed it at their dinner tables, and it became a subject for intellectual controversy, but they held little doubt as to the ability of the authorities to control it.
I made provision for the transportation of the chemicals and the gas, and then took a taxi to Curtis Field. There, I obtained the planes needed in the work and provided for the establishment of a base in the vicinity of the Purple.
Then I flew to the scene of the action. The fact that the place was under martial law did not serve to dispel the crowds of the curious. One of the small country towns had already been partly buried by the gelatinous mass. The State Police were attempting to clear the streets and the houses of angry citizens. One old lady protested that she had lived in that village for sixty years and was not prepared to move before a pile of grape jelly. That little incident cast a shadow of coming troubles. Would millions of people part with their most cherished possessions willingly? Would they be passive, or would we witness mob revolt unprecedented in history? I wondered.
One glance at that quivering violet pile convinced me of the futility of my efforts. A solid wall of purple, perhaps a hundred feet in height, stretched away upon either side. Its movement was clearly perceptible now, and like some grim monster, it came on, destroying all before it. I thought of that glacier, which was some day to cover the earth with a blanket of unending ice. Ruefully, I reflected that the story was not far from consummation, only this time it was not ice.
Troops were arriving in a steady stream, and I could hear the low hum of planes. Several loud detonations came from the Purple and making out a squadron of bombers, I remembered Doctor Carter's words. "You could explode a thousand pounds of dynamite in it and every minute fragment would live and grow."
Futile, I thought, all is futile. No efforts of man can destroy that bulk.
When the chemicals and gas came, I proceeded with my experiments. The pitiful insignificance of my materials chilled my heart. It was all so useless, so terribly futile. As I expected, the Purple remained unaffected. Tear gas, mustard gas, chlorine, hydrogen, helium--all were tried and all failed. On the morrow I would proceed with my plan of chemical combustion. The Secretary had pulled the wires well. Thousands of tons of combustibles were arriving hourly. But no hope rose in my breast. The Purple was too great, too powerful. The chill about my heart increased.
Before dark I took an observation flight over the Purple. One speaks easily of three or four miles, but it was not until I had seen the Purple from above, had seen that livid blot upon the peaceful landscape, that I realized how very much land could be included in a circle of that diameter.
In the dark of the night I was awakened by a trooper. The Purple had increased at a rate beyond that which we had expected. It was at our very bedsides. I slept no more that night.
In the gray of the dawn we commenced operations. Plane after plane circled above the Purple and dropped continually a living stream of fire. Soon the face of the Purple had become a leaping mass of flames. For two hours operations continued and then the supply of chemicals was exhausted.
It was a last crushing blow to look upon that unruffled purple surface. If the flames had done any harm, it was too insignificant to be noticed. Life, then, seemed very, very hopeless.
The next days were reminiscent of the retreat of some defeated army. Step by step we gave ground to the Purple. To what purpose the government massed their troops about the Purple, I do no know. It is strange that in times of stress man's first thoughts are of force. But the troops only sat by their guns, although now and again they moved in orderly retreat.
Water was a last futile hope. Would the advancing purple tide cross the Hudson River? Anxiously we waited and then we saw--saw our last hope dashed to pieces. The Purple overtook the stream, and, like a monster animal rolling its bulk in some tiny water hole, dispersed it.
Then the Nation awoke to the crisis. Not yet with panic, but with the grim seriousness of a country going into war. And like a nation going into war, they mobilized their forces of relief and opposition. Then, I was proud of my country.
I need not weary you with a detailed account of that which you know so well; the advance of the Purple through New York State. Sufficient to say that I aged a lifetime in the next week. In my dreams I live over those days, and often I wake, cold and wet, to see again those proud cities smothered beneath the mass of the Purple. Arrogant in its omnipotent wrath, it crept down the Hudson River, overwhelming and destroying, one by one, the cities that had arisen upon her banks. Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, Tarrytown, Irvington, Yonkers, each in turn surrendered to the unhalting mass.
I was in New York when the great exodus began. New York was being abandoned. New York the great, the jewel of America, the most magnificent metropolis of a world, was spread upon the altar, a sacrifice to the Purple.
From the tower of the old Empire State Building we watched the advance of the Purple. It seemed that notwithstanding the efforts of the police to clear the city, the greater part of the populace had delayed their departure until the last moment. Now, like crawling streams of ants, the cars and people poured over the bridges that were the outlets of Manhattan. Now one of the lines threw itself into a tangle. Women screamed, whistles shrilled, automobile horns sounded, and the cars and people piled up in an ever increasing mass. The streets were black with people for blocks around, with a shrieking, groaning, fear-ridden mob. Later, we learned that almost a thousand lives had been snuffed out in that mad scramble to leave the doomed city. The bridges and streets were still choked with frightened humanity, when the first of the Purple came into sight.
Slowly, majestically, like some deliberate stream of water, the Purple poured over the city. Reluctantly, as though loath to part with what had so long been its heritage, the city gave over its countless dwellings to the irresistible tide. First to yield was the residential sections of Bronx and Manhattan. Easily, the Purple made its conquest there. More stubborn were the skyscrapers of midtown. Even after the Purple had passed them, they held themselves aloft, cried that they would not bow, that they were New York the eternal. Silently we watched it until the Purple was beneath our very feet. The city was dead now, cleared of all humanity, except a few observers who retreated before the Purple. We were the last to leave that silent place. Step by step we gave ground to that rolling tide.
Hours later my plane circled over New York. It was a vast tombstone, a city that was dead. Where streets and houses had been, where traffic had roared and millions of people slept, only the purple tide eddied. Now and then a faint crash would mark the yielding of another proud skyscraper to the weight of the Purple. A noble city had died.
All America unselfishly joined in the relief work. Millions were homeless. The task of feeding and housing them was one to stagger the stoutest of nations. And, added to those were the millions daily made homeless by the advance of the Purple. Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, one and all they felt the relentless grip of the Purple Life.
The world was first awakening to the imminence of the new menace, and it was with the wild fearfulness of the cornered hart, who sees the hunters approaching but is kept at bay by the dogs. A wave of panic swept the world. There was talk of an exodus to Mars or Venus in the new rocket ships. Others suggested digging vast caverns into which the people would retreat after the Purple had conquered the world. Fanatical preachers screamed of the Judgment Day, while gray-haired scientists shook their heads in despair. A worldwide panic, which dwarfed into insignificance the depression of nineteen thirty-two, gripped the financial world.
Then began the great American emigration. One thought superseded all others: that America was doomed. Thousands fled to Europe, until the European nations threw up immigration barriers and forbade further refuge upon their shores. Then they turned to Canada. At first refuge was not denied; then when the Canadians saw the Purple approach their border, they forbade immigration. Troops were thrown along the border and in places pitched battles were fought. There would have been war then, were war not so futile in the face of that greater menace, the Purple. In Mexico the situation was different. At first, Mexican troops were thrown along the border. Then the Southwesterners grew desperate. They stormed the border and in parts broke through, although those that did, were wiped out as soon as they were in Mexico proper. The world from an orderly group of nations, became an uncalculating mob. Rioting grew in all countries. Two thousand years of civilization were forgotten. Pandemonium reigned.
And then a voice above the others cried out against the perpetrator of this crime. And the cry was taken up by the masses until the name of Doctor Carter was cursed in every country upon the face of the earth. A second Judas they called him--a man who had not only betrayed his master but humanity itself.
And then I received a message from Doctor Carter--the first since we parted at Washington. "Am on the track," it read. "Come quickly if possible." I left at once. Anything was better than to watch the Purple in its remorseless advance.
When Washington fell beneath the Purple, the Government moved to Columbus, Ohio. There, in the building that had been set aside for our use, I met Doctor Carter. He had changed, changed in more ways than one. His hair was white and his face was thin to emaciation. But the difference lay in his eyes. They were bright, shining, as are the eyes of man who has been snatched from the jaws of death. And in them was hope, such as I had not seen in the eyes of any man for days.
"Frank," he said, "these past days have gone badly with you. You have worked hard, too hard." It was typical of Doctor Carter that at a time when he was prepared to disclose a secret that gave life to man, he should inquire as to my health. He was ever thus, thinking little of himself and much of others.
"There will be no rest," I answered gloomily, "until the Purple is gone or the earth becomes a place of dead memories."
Doctor Carter was smiling now, the first smile I had seen for many long days. "And it will be gone, Frank, as soon as we can manufacture enough rays to destroy it."
"Rays, rays?" I shook my head. "Destroy it?" Again I shook my head. Something in the scheme of things was wrong, radically wrong. I should not be here, listening to wild speculation; I should not be gathering hope; I should be back there, back with the Purple, fighting it, building futile barriers, lighting pitiful fires, fighting, always fighting. I should not be here. I should not hope. There was no hope, no hope, only the Purple, the Purple. Suddenly the room flashed with a thousand fires. Purple flames darted about and above me. All was Purple! Purple everywhere! Then the Doctor was bending above me.
Half-laughing, half-crying, he led me into his study. He gave me a drink and it served to bring me to my senses. Things began to right themselves and the Purple flames died away. He shook his head reassuringly. Just a simple reaction, he said; the news was too much and too good, after the terrific mental tension. I sighed and dropped back in the chair.
Then, suddenly, I sat up and looked at him. "You weren't fooling me, you weren't jesting! Tell me you weren't jesting."
He shook his head. "I was not," he said slowly. Then he walked to the center of the room and laid his hand upon a small replica of one of those great power-lights they use on landing fields. "This," he said, "is our salvation."
Again he shook his head. "I cannot explain. I hardly understand it myself. You remember that it was with a ray that I brought about the change in matter that created the Purple. That ray did something to the atoms, changed some part of their inner structures. I have been experimenting with that same ray, attempting to create life again, attempting to find something that would destroy the Purple. Then I thought of varying the wave length of the ray and chanced upon this." He pointed to the thing in the center of the room.
"But what is it?" I exclaimed, "what use is it?"
He made no answer, but turned to a large cabinet. He swung open the door, and I started back in surprise. There was the Purple, throbbing and glowing in all its malignancy. He swung the ray projector about until its lens faced the cabinet. Then he touched a button upon its surface. There was a blue flash, a rush of air, and where the Purple was, showed only the metal sides of the cabinet. Holes gaped from its rear panel and the wall behind it was similarly scarred.
The Doctor turned to me and smiled, for I was still gazing at the spot where the Purple had been. "It is very dangerous," he said. "Had I left it on for another moment, the house would be down upon our heads."
I was speechless. I could only gasp, "What is it, what is it?"
The Doctor turned to the projector. "A practical disintegration ray..."
It is said that we are possessed of a certain sixth sense, an intuition. Perhaps it was this that made the Doctor so carefully instruct me in the manufacture and use of the ray. He warned me not to delay, but to strike at once. Time was precious. Each hour, thousands of people were being made homeless. The whole country must turn to the manufacture of the ray projectors. "Hurry," he urged me, "time is precious."
And then from without there came a murmur; like the rising power of the surf, it rose and swelled. A rattle of stones sounded against the broad windows. The Doctor and I stepped towards them. A huge mob of homeless men and women had gathered in the court, and now they surged back and forth, calling out Doctor Carter's name.
The Doctor turned to me, a strange smile upon his face. "I will tell them," he cried, "we are sure of success; let them be happy too." And before I could move to stop him, he stepped out upon the tiny stone balcony.
He raised his arms for silence. There was something dynamic in his presence, something which quieted the mob, as oil quiets troubled waters. Then he began to speak.
His voice was powerful, musical with suppressed gladness. Slowly he spoke, begging them to forgive him, to forgive him for what he had done and now had the power to undo. Then, from somewhere in the mob, there was a shot. Doctor Carter crumpled back into the room, hands clenched at his breast. The mob, caught with sudden fear, melted away.
I knelt beside him and lifted his head. He murmured a few words about the ray projector, and died. I knelt there, warm tears rolling down my cheeks.
The next day the nation, from depths of despair, was lifted to heights of wildest exultation. They had a martyr and they had a cure. Life again was good. But I could think only of my friend, lying before that window, dead.
What need to tell more? What need to tell of those next days, days through which I moved as does one who is in the grip of a nightmare, and always with the face of that white-haired scientist before me. But they are part of this chronicle, and happy days they were; happiness that, to me, was mixed with grief, grief over him who was my friend.
As an individual, the nation turned to the manufacture of the ray projectors. Every available factory ran day and night. The projectors poured forth in an unending stream, Day and night the blue flames crackled; day and night men fought the Purple. Foot by foot it gave ground. More projectors came forth, more blue flames darted against the Purple, and more ground came from beneath its grasp. It was a hard fight, but not a losing one. Each new bit of ground that emerged gave the fighters further hope. Then, twenty-one days after the day on which I first saw the Purple, the last of that dread menace disappeared into nothingness. The world took a deep breath and sighed...
There are those who say that good came of the Purple Life. Perhaps that is so. Perhaps nothing God ordains is without good, yet----
"The old order changeth, giving place to the new."
The Purple Life devastated fourteen states and a good portion of Canada, destroying the very flower of North American civilization. The mighty New York of the past, the rich cities of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, and the great ports of the North Atlantic Seaboard, are gone.
But in their place has risen a new civilization, a new New York mightier than its predecessor, a new and better East, an East that man has long dreamed of. A harried nation is righting itself after a great crisis.
They honor me for what I have done in halting that devastating tide, but the praise hurts.
For upon a little hillside in Ulster County is a stone. It is a rough stone, unpolished and hard, and often, as I stand there, looking up the bleak mountainside, I think of him who lies beneath it, and then, the words graven upon its face mean more than the praise of a nation.
It reads thus:
THE SAVIOR OF A NATION.
MAY HE REST IN PEACE."