Read The Master Key Page 2

  "Oh, we have some great masters among us!" cried Rob, rather nettled atthis statement. "Now, there's Edison--"

  "Edison!" exclaimed the Demon, with a faint sneer; "what does he know?"

  "Lots of things," declared the boy. "He's invented no end of wonderfulelectrical things."

  "You are wrong to call them wonderful," replied the Demon, lightly."He really knows little more than yourself about the laws that controlelectricity. His inventions are trifling things in comparison withthe really wonderful results to be obtained by one who would actuallyknow how to direct the electric powers instead of groping blindly afterinsignificant effects. Why, I've stood for months by Edison's elbow,hoping and longing for him to touch the Master Key; but I can seeplainly he will never accomplish it."

  "Then there's Tesla," said the boy.

  The Demon laughed.

  "There is Tesla, to be sure," he said. "But what of him?"

  "Why, he's discovered a powerful light," the Demon gave an amusedchuckle, "and he's in communication with the people in Mars."

  "What people?"

  "Why, the people who live there."

  "There are none."

  This quiet statement almost took Rob's breath away, and caused him tostare hard at his visitor.

  "It's generally thought," he resumed, in an annoyed tone, "that Marshas inhabitants who are far in advance of ourselves in civilization.Many scientific men think the people of Mars have been trying tosignal us for years, only we don't understand their signals. Andgreat novelists have written about the Martians and their wonderfulcivilization, and--"

  "And they all know as much about that little planet as you doyourself," interrupted the Demon, impatiently. "The trouble with youEarth people is that you delight in guessing about what you can notknow. Now I happen to know all about Mars, because I can traverseall space and have had ample leisure to investigate the differentplanets. Mars is not peopled at all, nor is any other of the planetsyou recognize in the heavens. Some contain low orders of beasts, tobe sure, but Earth alone has an intelligent, thinking, reasoningpopulation, and your scientists and novelists would do better trying tocomprehend their own planet than in groping through space to unravelthe mysteries of barren and unimportant worlds."

  Rob listened to this with surprise and disappointment; but he reflectedthat the Demon ought to know what he was talking about, so he did notventure to contradict him.

  "It is really astonishing," continued the Apparition, "how little youpeople have learned about electricity. It is an Earth element that hasexisted since the Earth itself was formed, and if you but understoodits proper use humanity would be marvelously benefited in many ways."

  "We are, already," protested Rob; "our discoveries in electricity haveenabled us to live much more conveniently."

  "Then imagine your condition were you able fully to control this greatelement," replied the other, gravely. "The weaknesses and privations ofmankind would be converted into power and luxury."

  "That's true, Mr.--Mr.--Demon," said the boy. "Excuse me if I don't getyour name right, but I understood you to say you are a demon."

  "Certainly. The Demon of Electricity."

  "But electricity is a good thing, you know, and--and--"


  "I've always understood that demons were bad things," added Rob, boldly.

  "Not necessarily," returned his visitor. "If you will take the troubleto consult your dictionary, you will find that demons may be eithergood or bad, like any other class of beings. Originally all demons weregood, yet of late years people have come to consider all demons evil. Ido not know why. Should you read Hesiod you will find he says:

  'Soon was a world of holy demons made, Aerial spirits, by great Jove designed To be on earth the guardians of mankind.'"

  "But Jove was himself a myth," objected Rob, who had been studyingmythology.

  The Demon shrugged his shoulders.

  "Then take the words of Mr. Shakespeare, to whom you all defer," hereplied. "Do you not remember that he says:

  'Thy demon (that's thy spirit which keeps thee) is Noble, courageous, high, unmatchable.'"

  "Oh, if Shakespeare says it, that's all right," answered the boy. "Butit seems you're more like a genius, for you answer the summons of theMaster Key of Electricity in the same way Aladdin's genius answered therubbing of the lamp."

  "To be sure. A demon is also a genius; and a genius is a demon," saidthe Being. "What matters a name? I am here to do your bidding."



  Familiarity with any great thing removes our awe of it. The greatgeneral is only terrible to the enemy; the great poet is frequentlyscolded by his wife; the children of the great statesman clamber abouthis knees with perfect trust and impunity; the great actor who iscalled before the curtain by admiring audiences is often waylaid at thestage door by his creditors.

  So Rob, having conversed for a time with the glorious Demon ofElectricity, began to regard him with more composure and less awe, ashis eyes grew more and more accustomed to the splendor that at firsthad well-nigh blinded them.

  When the Demon announced himself ready to do the boy's bidding, hefrankly replied:

  "I am no skilled electrician, as you very well know. My calling youhere was an accident. So I don't know how to command you, nor what toask you to do."

  "But I must not take advantage of your ignorance," answered the Demon."Also, I am quite anxious to utilize this opportunity to show the worldwhat a powerful element electricity really is. So permit me to informyou that, having struck the Master Key, you are at liberty to demandfrom me three gifts each week for three successive weeks. These gifts,provided they are within the scope of electricity, I will grant."

  Rob shook his head regretfully.

  "If I were a great electrician I should know what to ask," he said."But I am too ignorant to take advantage of your kind offer."

  "Then," replied the Demon, "I will myself suggest the gifts, and theywill be of such a character that the Earth people will learn thepossibilities that lie before them and be encouraged to work moreintelligently and to persevere in mastering those natural and simplelaws which control electricity. For one of the greatest errors they nowlabor under is that electricity is complicated and hard to understand.It is really the simplest Earth element, lying within easy reach of anyone who stretches out his hand to grasp and control its powers."

  Rob yawned, for he thought the Demon's speeches were growing rathertiresome. Perhaps the genius noticed this rudeness, for he continued:

  "I regret, of course, that you are a boy instead of a grown man, forit will appear singular to your friends that so thoughtless a youthshould seemingly have mastered the secrets that have baffled your mostlearned scientists. But that can not be helped, and presently you willbecome, through my aid, the most powerful and wonderful personage inall the world."

  "Thank you," said Rob, meekly. "It'll be no end of fun."

  "Fun!" echoed the Demon, scornfully. "But never mind; I must use thematerial Fate has provided for me, and make the best of it."

  "What will you give me first?" asked the boy, eagerly.

  "That requires some thought," returned the Demon, and paused forseveral moments, while Rob feasted his eyes upon the gorgeous rays ofcolor that flashed and vibrated in every direction and surrounded thefigure of his visitor with an intense glow that resembled a halo.

  Then the Demon raised his head and said:

  "The thing most necessary to man is food to nourish his body. He passesa considerable part of his life in the struggle to procure food, toprepare it properly, and in the act of eating. This is not right. Yourbody can not be very valuable to you if all your time is required tofeed it. I shall, therefore, present you, as my first gift, this box oftablets. Within each tablet are stored certain elements of electricitywhich are capable of nourishing a human body for a full day. All youneed do is to toss one into your mouth each day and swallow it. Itwill nourish you, s
atisfy your hunger and build up your health andstrength. The ordinary food of mankind is more or less injurious; thisis entirely beneficial. Moreover, you may carry enough tablets in yourpocket to last for months."

  Here he presented Rob the silver box of tablets, and the boy, somewhatnervously, thanked him for the gift.

  "The next requirement of man," continued the Demon, "is defensefrom his enemies. I notice with sorrow that men frequently have warsand kill one another. Also, even in civilized communities, man isin constant danger from highwaymen, cranks and policemen. To defendhimself he uses heavy and dangerous guns, with which to destroy hisenemies. This is wrong. He has no right to take away what he can notbestow; to destroy what he can not create. To kill a fellow-creatureis a horrid crime, even if done in self-defense. Therefore, my secondgift to you is this little tube. You may carry it within your pocket.Whenever an enemy threatens you, be it man or beast, simply point thetube and press this button in the handle. An electric current willinstantly be directed upon your foe, rendering him wholly unconsciousfor the period of one hour. During that time you will have opportunityto escape. As for your enemy, after regaining consciousness he willsuffer no inconvenience from the encounter beyond a slight headache."

  "That's fine!" said Rob, as he took the tube. It was scarcely sixinches long, and hollow at one end.

  "The busy lives of men," proceeded the Demon, "require them to moveabout and travel in all directions. Yet to assist them there are onlysuch crude and awkward machines as electric trolleys, cable cars, steamrailways and automobiles. These crawl slowly over the uneven surface ofthe earth and frequently get out of order. It has grieved me that menhave not yet discovered what even the birds know: that the atmosphereoffers them swift and easy means of traveling from one part of theearth's surface to another."

  "Some people have tried to build air-ships," remarked Rob.

  "So they have; great, unwieldy machines which offer so much resistanceto the air that they are quite useless. A big machine is not neededto carry one through the air. There are forces in nature which may bereadily used for such purpose. Tell me, what holds you to the Earth,and makes a stone fall to the ground?"

  "Attraction of gravitation," said Rob, promptly.

  "Exactly. That is one force I refer to," said the Demon. "The forceof repulsion, which is little known, but just as powerful, is anotherthat mankind may direct. Then there are the Polar electric forces,attracting objects toward the north or south poles. You have guessedsomething of this by the use of the compass, or electric needle.Opposed to these is centrifugal electric force, drawing objects fromeast to west, or in the opposite direction. This force is created bythe whirl of the earth upon its axis, and is easily utilized, althoughyour scientific men have as yet paid little attention to it.

  "These forces, operating in all directions, absolute and immutable, areat the disposal of mankind. They will carry you through the atmospherewherever and whenever you choose. That is, if you know how to controlthem. Now, here is a machine I have myself perfected."

  The Demon drew from his pocket something that resembled an open-facedwatch, having a narrow, flexible band attached to it.

  "When you wish to travel," said he, "attach this little machine to yourleft wrist by means of the band. It is very light and will not be inyour way. On this dial are points marked 'up' and 'down' as well as aperfect compass. When you desire to rise into the air set the indicatorto the word 'up,' using a finger of your right hand to turn it. Whenyou have risen as high as you wish, set the indicator to the point ofthe compass you want to follow and you will be carried by the properelectric force in that direction. To descend, set the indicator to theword 'down.' Do you understand?"

  "Perfectly!" cried Rob, taking the machine from the Demon withunfeigned delight. "This is really wonderful, and I'm awfully obligedto you!"

  "Don't mention it," returned the Demon, dryly. "These three gifts youmay amuse yourself with for the next week. It seems hard to entrustsuch great scientific discoveries to the discretion of a mere boy; butthey are quite harmless, so if you exercise proper care you can not getinto trouble through their possession. And who knows what benefits tohumanity may result? One week from to-day, at this hour, I will againappear to you, at which time you shall receive the second series ofelectrical gifts."

  "I'm not sure," said Rob, "that I shall be able again to make theconnections that will strike the Master Key."

  "Probably not," answered the Demon. "Could you accomplish that, youmight command my services forever. But, having once succeeded, you areentitled to the nine gifts--three each week for three weeks--so youhave no need to call me to do my duty. I shall appear of my own accord."

  "Thank you," murmured the boy.

  The Demon bowed and spread his hands in the form of a semi-circle. Aninstant later there was a blinding flash, and when Rob recovered fromit and opened his eyes the Demon of Electricity had disappeared.



  There is little doubt that had this strange experience befallen a grownman he would have been stricken with a fit of trembling or a sense ofapprehension, or even fear, at the thought of having faced the terribleDemon of Electricity, of having struck the Master Key of the world'sgreatest natural forces, and finding himself possessed of three suchwonderful and useful gifts. But a boy takes everything as a matterof course. As the tree of knowledge sprouts and expands within him,shooting out leaf after leaf of practical experience, the successionof surprises dulls his faculty of wonderment. It takes a great deal tostartle a boy.

  Rob was full of delight at his unexpected good fortune; but he did notstop to consider that there was anything remarkably queer or uncannyin the manner in which it had come to him. His chief sensation was oneof pride. He would now be able to surprise those who had made fun ofhis electrical craze and force them to respect his marvelous powers. Hedecided to say nothing about the Demon or the accidental striking ofthe Master Key. In exhibiting to his friends the electrical devices hehad acquired it would be "no end of fun" to mark their amazement andleave them to guess how he performed his feats.

  So he put his treasures into his pocket, locked his workshop and wentdownstairs to his room to prepare for dinner.

  While brushing his hair he remembered it was no longer necessary forhim to eat ordinary food. He was feeling quite hungry at that moment,for he had a boy's ravenous appetite; but, taking the silver box fromhis pocket, he swallowed a tablet and at once felt his hunger as fullysatisfied as if he had partaken of a hearty meal, while at the sametime he experienced an exhilarating glow throughout his body and aclearness of brain and gaiety of spirits which filled him with intensegratification.

  Still, he entered the dining-room when the bell rang and found hisfather and mother and sisters already assembled there.

  "Where have you been all day, Robert?" inquired his mother.

  "No need to ask," said Mr. Joslyn, with a laugh. "Fussing overelectricity, I'll bet a cookie!"

  "I do wish," said the mother, fretfully, "that he would get over thatmania. It unfits him for anything else."

  "Precisely," returned her husband, dishing the soup; "but it fits himfor a great career when he becomes a man. Why shouldn't he spend hissummer vacation in pursuit of useful knowledge instead of rompingaround like ordinary boys?"

  "No soup, thank you," said Rob.

  "What!" exclaimed his father, looking at him in surprise, "it's yourfavorite soup."

  "I know," said Rob, quietly, "but I don't want any."

  "Are you ill, Robert?" asked his mother.

  "Never felt better in my life," answered Rob, truthfully.

  Yet Mrs. Joslyn looked worried, and when Rob refused the roast, she wasreally shocked.

  "Let me feel your pulse, my poor boy!" she commanded, and wondered tofind it so regular.

  In fact, Rob's action surprised them all. He sat calmly throughout themeal, eating nothing, but apparently in good health and spirits, whileeven his sisters regarded
him with troubled countenances.

  "He's worked too hard, I guess," said Mr. Joslyn, shaking his headsadly.

  "Oh, no; I haven't," protested Rob; "but I've decided not to eatanything, hereafter. It's a bad habit, and does more harm than good."

  "Wait till breakfast," said sister Helen, with a laugh; "you'll behungry enough by that time."

  However, the boy had no desire for food at breakfast time, either, asthe tablet sufficed for an entire day. So he renewed the anxiety of thefamily by refusing to join them at the table.

  "If this goes on," Mr. Joslyn said to his son, when breakfast wasfinished, "I shall be obliged to send you away for your health."

  "I think of making a trip this morning," said Rob, carelessly.

  "Where to?"

  "Oh, I may go to Boston, or take a run over to Cuba or Jamaica,"replied the boy.

  "But you can not go so far by yourself," declared his father; "andthere is no one to go with you, just now. Nor can I spare the money atpresent for so expensive a trip."

  "Oh, it won't cost anything," replied Rob, with a smile.

  Mr. Joslyn looked upon him gravely and sighed. Mrs. Joslyn bent overher son with tears in her eyes and said:

  "This electrical nonsense has affected your mind, dear. You mustpromise me to keep away from that horrid workshop for a time."

  "I won't enter it for a week," he answered. "But you needn't worryabout me. I haven't been experimenting with electricity all this timefor nothing, I can tell you. As for my health, I'm as well and strongas any boy need be, and there's nothing wrong with my head, either.Common folks always think great men are crazy, but Edison and Teslaand I don't pay any attention to that. We've got our discoveriesto look after. Now, as I said, I'm going for a little trip in theinterests of science. I maybe back to-night, or I may be gone severaldays. Anyhow, I'll be back in a week, and you mustn't worry about me asingle minute."