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- The Gold of the Gods - 40/45 -


These, at least, were our last bonds with the great world that had wrapped a dark night about a darker mystery.

"There are many miles of wire--many miles of road. Which way shall we turn?"

Senora de Moche seemed to take a fiendish delight in the words as she said them. It was as though she challenged our helplessness in the face of a power that was greater than us all.

Lockwood flashed a look of suspicion in her direction. As for myself, I had never been able to make the woman out. To-night she seemed like a sort of dea ex machina, who sat apart, playing on the passions of a group of puppet men whom she set against each other until all should be involved in a common ruin.

It was impossible, in the silence of this far-off lonely place in the country, not to feel the weirdness of it all.

Once I closed my eyes and was startled by the uncanny vividness of a mind-picture that came unbidden. It was of a scrap of paper on which, in rough capitals was printed:

BEWARE THE CURSE OF MANSICHE ON THE GOLD OF THE GODS.

XXIII

THE ACETYLENE TORCH

Do you suppose he really had the dagger, or was that a lie?" I asked, with an effort shaking off the fateful feeling that had come over me as if some one were casting a spell.

"There is one way to find out," returned Craig, as though glad of the suggestion.

Though they hated him, they seemed forced to admit, for the time, his leadership. He rose and the rest followed as he went into Whitney's library.

He switched on the lights. There in a corner back of the desk stood a safe. Somehow or other it seemed to defy us, even though its master was gone. I looked at it a moment. It was a most powerful affair, companion to that in the office of which Whitney was so proud, built of layer on layer of chrome steel, with a door that was air tight and soup-proof, bidding defiance to all yeggmen and petermen.

Lockwood fingered the combination hopelessly. There were some millions of combinations and permutations that only a mathematician could calculate. Only one was any good. That one was locked in the mind of the man who now seemed to baffle us as did his strong-box.

I placed my hand on the cold, defiant surface. It would take hours to drill a safe like that, and even then it might turn the points of the drills. Explosives might sooner wreck the house and bring it down over the head of the man who attacked this monster.

"What can we do?" asked Senora de Moche, seeming to mock us, as though the safe itself were an inhuman thing that blocked our path.

"Do?" repeated Kennedy decisively, "I'll show you what we can do. If Lockwood will drive me down to the railroad station in his car, I'll show you something that looks like action. Will you do it?"

The request was more like a command. Lockwood said nothing, but moved toward the porte-cochere, where he had left his car parked just aside from the broad driveway.

"Walter, you will stay here," ordered Kennedy. "Let no one leave. If any one comes, don't let him get away. We shan't be gone long."

I sat awkwardly enough, scarcely speaking a word, as Kennedy dashed down to the railroad station. Neither Alfonso nor his mother betrayed either by word or action a hint of what was passing in their minds. Somehow, though I did not understand it, I felt that Lockwood might square himself. But I could not help feeling that these two might very possibly be at the bottom of almost anything.

It was with some relief that I heard the car approaching again. I had no idea what Kennedy was after, whether it was dynamite or whether he contemplated a trip to New York. I was surprised to see him, with Lockwood, hurrying up the steps to the porch, each with a huge tank studded with bolts like a boiler.

"There," ordered Craig, "set the oxygen there," as he placed his own tank on the opposite side. "That watchman thought I was bluffing when I said I'd get an order from the company, if I had to wake up the president of the road. It was too good a chance to miss. One doesn't find such a complete outfit ready to hand every day."

Out of the tanks stout tubes led, with stop-cocks and gauges at the top. From a case under his arm Kennedy produced a curious arrangement like a huge hook, with a curved neck and a sharp beak. Really it consisted of two metal tubes which ran into a sort of cylinder, or mixing chamber, above the nozzle, while parallel to them ran a third separate tube with a second nozzle of its own.

Quickly he joined the ends of the tubes from the tanks to the metal hook, the oxygen tank being joined to two of the tubes of the hook, and the second tank being joined to the other. With a match he touched the nozzle gingerly. Instantly a hissing, spitting noise followed, and an intense, blinding needle of flame.

"Now we'll see what an oxyacetylene blow-pipe will do to you, old stick-in-the-mud," cried Kennedy, as he advanced toward the safe, addressing it as though it had been a thing of life that stood in his way. "I think this will make short work of you."

Almost as he said it, the steel beneath the blow-pipe became incandescent. For some time he laboured to get a starting-point for the flame of the high-pressure torch.

It was a brilliant sight. The terrific heat from the first nozzle caused the metal to glow under the torch as if in an open-hearth furnace. From the second nozzle issued a stream of oxygen, under which the hot metal of the door was completely consumed.

The force of the blast, as the compressed oxygen and acetylene were expelled, carried a fine spray of the disintegrated metal visibly before it. And yet it was not a big hole that it made-- scarcely an eighth of an inch wide, but clean and sharp as if a buzz-saw were eating its way through a plank of white-pine.

With tense muscles Kennedy held this terrific engine of destruction and moved it as easily as if it had been a mere pencil of light. He was the calmest of all of us as we crowded about him, but at a respectful distance.

"I suppose you know," he remarked hastily, never pausing for a moment in his work, "that acetylene is composed of carbon and hydrogen. As it burns at the end of the nozzle it is broken into carbon and hydrogen--the carbon gives the high temperature and the hydrogen forms a cone that protects the end of the blow-pipe from being itself burnt up."

"But isn't it dangerous?" I asked, amazed at the skill with which he handled the blow-pipe.

"Not particularly--when you know how to do it. In that tank is a porous asbestos packing saturated with acetone, under pressure. Thus they carry acetylene safely, for it is dissolved and the possibility of explosion is minimized.

"This mixing chamber, by which I am holding the torch, where the oxygen and acetylene mix, is also designed in such a way as to prevent a flash-back. The best thing about this style of blow-pipe is the ease with which it can be transported and the curious purposes--like this--to which it can be put."

He paused a moment to test what had been burnt. The rest of the safe seemed as firm as ever.

"Humph!" I heard one of them, I think it was Alfonso, mutter. I resented it, but Kennedy affected not to hear.

"When I shut off the oxygen in this second jet," he resumed, "you see the torch merely heats the steel. I can get a heat of approximately sixty-three hundred degrees Fahrenheit, and the flame will exert a pressure of fifty pounds to the square inch."

"Wonderful!" exclaimed Lockwood, who had not heard the suppressed disapproval of Alfonso, and was watching, in undisguised admiration at the thing itself, regardless of consequences. "Kennedy, how did you ever think of such a thing?"

"Why, it's used for welding, you know," answered Craig, as he continued to work calmly in the growing excitement. "I first saw it in actual use in mending a cracked cylinder in an automobile. The cylinder was repaired without being taken out at all. I've seen it weld new teeth and build up worn teeth on gearing, as good as new."

He paused to let us see the terrifically heated metal under the flame.

"You remember when we were talking to the watchman down there at the station, Walter?" he asked. "I saw this thing in that complete little shop of theirs. It interested me. See. I turn on the oxygen now in the second nozzle. The blow-pipe is no longer an instrument for joining metals together, but for cutting them asunder.

"The steel burns just as you, perhaps, have seen a watch-spring burn in a jar of oxygen. Steel, hard or soft, tempered, annealed, chrome, or Harveyized, it all burns just about as fast, and just about as easily under this torch. And it's cheap, too. This attack--aside from what it costs to the safe--may amount to a couple of dollars as far as the blow-pipe is concerned--quite a difference from the thousands of dollars' loss that would follow an attempt to blow a safe like this one."


The Gold of the Gods - 40/45

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