Friday, November 28, 2014

"The Elixir of Invisibility" (1940) by Henry Kuttner, with Review

"The Elixir of Invisibility"

© 1940


Henry Kuttner 

Richard Raleigh sensed trouble the moment he entered the laboratory. His employer, Dr. Caspar Meek, looked far too pleased with himself. Either somebody was dead or else Meek had been pulling the wings off flies again. That was the way he was. A nice guy who would have got along swell with Torquemada or maybe Nero.

Besides, Raleigh was worrying about his frogs. They had vanished without trace. His bronzed, good-looking face wore an expression of bitterness as he sat down in a protesting chair and tried to marshal the innumerable things he wanted to say to Meek. After a while, he asked,


"Ah," said the scientist, whirling like a Buddha on his desk chair. -His bland, fat face shone in the sunlight. His bald spot glowed with an unholy light.

"Ah," he repeated, with more emphasis. "There you are. Rick. I — uh  — I have finally decided that the job you hold is unworthy of your talents."

"What do you mean, job?" Raleigh asked. "I'm assistant, cook, errand boy, bottle washer and general stooge. Five jobs at least."

Meek ignored the note of irony.

"I have at last decided to allow you to'aid me in niy experiments. You are promoted. We are' colleagues.  Your salary is' still the same," he hastened to add, "but what is money compared to the glory of serving science?"

Raleigh choked back.the impulse to remark that money would mean he could marry Binnie, Meek's lovely but slightly bird-brained daughter. How a heel like the Doc could have fathered such an angel as Binnie was an insoluble problem. It created its own problems too. For Binnie was an old-fashioned girl and wouldn't marry without her father's permission.

"Get Daddy to say 'yes'," she had murmured into her lover's ear, "and everything will be swell ... "

"Did you speak?" Meek inquired, breaking into his thoughts.

"'Frogs' was all I said," Raleigh grunted. "Two months I've been raising giant frogs to make some extra money, and now I find the frog pond empty." His gaze searched the room.

For some reason Meek chuckled.

"Never mind that. Look here."

He indicated several small glass vials that stood on his desk, some with red and some with green labels.

"Let's get to business. I expect some visitors shortly, and I want you to stay here till they go. Don't say anything. Jtist listen." - .

Raleigh stared at the vials.

"Oh. Your invisibility elixir. Who are the visitors?"


"Uh?" The young man goggled. "After what happened? After the gags the papers have been running—"

A singularly nasty gleam came into Meek's blue eyes.

"Yes. They called me a faker, I believe—a publicity-hunter. Well, I think they've changed their minds.

"Ah—there's the bell."

Raleigh sighed, got up, went into the outer office, opened the door. and was brushed on a wave of excited reporters. A dozen of them at least, yelping for Doctor Meek and with blood in their eyes. Vaguely hoping that they'd tear the scientist limb from limb, Raleigh let them enter.

Meek greeted them happily.

"Good morning, gentlemen. Have chairs."

There were only two chairs, but it was a minor point, unnoticed in the babble. A burly legman leaned over the desk and extended his hands. Either he was reaching for Meek's throat, or else he was tightly gripping something invisible.

"Frogs!" the reporter said hoarsely. "Invisible frogs!,, And me with a hangover. My God!"

He shuddered slightly and opened his hands. There was a slight plop! on the desk blotter, a scrambling sound, and a splash from the goldfish bowl in the corner. One of the reporters, a round-faced individual, emitted a faint, faraway sound and drank hurriedly from a brown bottle.

"I can stand a lot," said the first speaker. "Maybe you had justification. But in the name of God, couldn't you have proved your point in some other way? Look. A parcel comes addressed to me. I open it and it's empty. Then an invisible frog comes up and hits me in the face."

"A dirty trick," said the short, squat man with jet-black hair and a drooping eyelid.

A cry came from the corner. Richard Raleigh was touched to the quick.

"My frogs —" he began in a heartfelt voice. "Be careful where you step, you men."

Meek coughed warnihgly. "Gentlemen," he said loudly. "I apologize, of course. 1 had to insure your coming here to watch my little demonstration. As I wrote you before, I have invented a fluid' that causes invisibility by creating complete transparency in material objects.

" I don't know exactly how it works myself. I think some radiation is induced in the cellular or atomic struc-
ture — at least, it makes clothing invisible as well as flesh and blood. "This" — he picked up one of "the red-labeled vials— "is the invisibility elixir. The green-labeled ones are the antidote."

"Invisible frogs," said the first reporter dully. "I'm not going to write this if I vanish*myself. It's the d. t.'s."

"I had expected skepticism," Meek continued, "and so I shall give you complete proof. I want you gentlemen to station yourselves at various points around this block. Yoii" — he pointed at one — "will find your handkerchief stolen. You—^will lose your hat. You—"

"Not my wallet," said that one, hastily buttoning his hip pocket. "Yesterday was payday."

"I shall visit you invisibly and give you complete proof. I'll leave my card with you all." Meek extended his leather cardcase. "Will that convince you?"

"Yeah," a sad voice said. "It'll do more than that, I'm afraid. Frogs . . ."

There was a confused, hopeliess mumbling.

"Good," Meek said briskly, rublaing his hands. He shooed the reporters out like chickens. There was a momentary confusion; then the room was empty save for the scientist and Raleigh.

'The latter stood in a corner, eyeing the desk. He had a brief impression that some of the vials had vanished. Perhaps —

"Now!" Meek whirled on his assistant. "Take this cardcase, quick."

"Me?" Raleigh stammered, trying to back through the wall. "Bub-bub—"

The doctor snatched up a red-labeled vial and advanced, blood in. his eye.

"Drink this!"

Raleigh ducked. "I will," he said, "like hell! I have stood for a lot, but when it comes to being a guinea pig—"

Meek rubbed one of his chins thoughtfully.

"Now listen," he said in a placating tone. "You heard me tell the reporters my plan. They're stationed around the block now, waiting for an invisible man."

"They're waiting for you," the other pointed out.

"Well, if you're invisible, they won't know the difference," Meek said with perfect logic.

"It's the last straw! You steal my frogs and then —" Raleigh choked.

Only the image of Binnie restrained him from picking up Meek and battering him around the room.

"Yes," the doctor said unctuously. "Binnie. I have been thinking I'd take a trip to Mexico with her. I've also been thinking of firing you."

Raleigh writhed. But Meek held all the cards. Reluctantly he let the vial be thrust into his hand . . .

The door opened, admitting Binnie and an extroverted dog. The girl was not noteworthy, despite her prettiness, and Raleigh was deceiving himself when he saw wings sprouting from her back.

The dog, however, was worthy of notice.

For one thing, Angel was an exhibitionist. He was large and nondescript, with a tinge of bloodhound in his sinister ancestry. Angel was also an arrant coward, but showed his adequate teeth at every opportunity. A dog of good taste, he heartily disliked Meek.

The sight of Binnie caused a violent reaction within Raleigh. Some might call it love. At any event, knowing that his future depended on Dr. Meek's good will, Raleigh swallowed the elixir and immediately discovered that the missing frogs had taken up residence in his stomach.

They did it gradually and by stealth.

Down his gullet they went slipping and scrambling, to land with a succession of dull thuds in the stomach itself. Then they joined hands and danced a bolero.

Desperately Raleigh seized his head and held it in place just as it began to float off.

"Gwlg — nwhnk!" he observed.

Binnie turned, startled. "Wh — what was that? Did I hear something, Dad?"

"Not at all," Meek denied, smiling.

"Just something I — uh — was going to eat. Did you want me?"

The girl turned a rather lovely pink.

"I was looking for Rick. He — oh!"

A peculiar reaction seemed to have overtaken Binnie. Her eyes were lambent.

The doctor looked startled.

"What's wrong?"

The girl gulped and looked down.

"Nothing. It — felt like somebody kissed me. Isn't that silly?"

"Damned silly," Meek remarked grimly, glaring at empty air. "You must excuse me, Binnie. I have work to do I—"

He paused, his gaze riveted on the unusual antics of the extroverted dog.

Angel was in trouble. His nose was deceiving him. There was a ghost in the room — the ghost of a smell. It smelled like Raleigh, but that gentleman obviously wasn't present. Angel shook his ears away from his eyes and stared around in a baffled and hopeless manner. No Raleigh. But the smell remained.

Angel put his nose on the carpet and proceeded to drag himself after it, sniffing audibly. Abruptly he halted, with a muffled shriek. His nose had come  in violent contact with an invisible shoe.

It was a toss-up whether or not Angel would collapse. The unfortunate beast began to tremble in every limb. Raleigh, taking pity on the creature, bent down and stroked Angel's head.

That was the last straw. With a loud cry of distress the dog fainted.

Meek cleared his throat. Significantly he turned toward the door and opened it, allowing room for the invisible Raleigh to pass through. Under his breath he muttered,

"The cardcase?"

"Got it," came an almost inaudible whisper — and Raleigh was gone, leaving a slightly hysterical beast and a girl who, though puzzled, was rather pleased than otherwise.


The Robbery

Angel's recovery was swift. His bump of curiosity brought hirri back to consciousness. With canine instinct, he divined that the enigma had left the room, so Angel followed with frantic speed, almost upsetting Dr. Meek. There came the sound of a closing door, followed by quiet, vitriolic profanity spilling from the learned savant's lips.

He sent Binnie away and went back into his office, to. practice various positions before a full-length mirror. Some of the reporters had carried cameras.

Meanjvhile the invisible man was lying in the gutter outside the house, nursing a bruised knee. Trouble had been immediate. Raleigh's feet hadn't been where he imagined, and he had taken a nasty spill as a consequence. It was, in a way, like trying to walk with your eyes closed. Distances were too easily misgauged. Raleigh clambered erect, discovered that he had lost the card-case, and searched for it. It lay nearby, and vanished as he picked it up.

What now? He looked around, feeling oddly isolated and lonely. There were few passers-by. A street car rumbled past. One of the reporters was leaning against a lamp post not far away.

Reminded of his errand, Raleigh slowly began to walk toward the man.

He paused directly in front of him, waiting. The reporter made no sign.

Obviously he didn't see Raleigh.

The latter delicately reached out and snatched the handkerchief that protruded from the reporter's pocket.  So swiftly did it vanish that its disappearance went unnoticed. The reporter yawned, found a cigarette, arid lit a match on his thumbnail.

Raleigh grinned. This was going to be easy. He extracted a card from the case and slipped it into his victim's pocket in lieu of the handkerchief.

As he turned away, there came a loud sniff from behind him. Angel was on the trail, his bloodhound instincts fully aroused. His hopeless whine seemed to say,

"What the hell is this, anyhow?"

Fearing complications, Raleigh hurried off, There was another reporter halfway down the block, and he accornplished his errand there before the dog caught up with him. A third reporter was leaning against the granite wall of the Fifth Security Bank on the corner, and Raleigh got his cigarette case unnoticed. He was beginning to enjoy the feeling of power his invisibility gave him. If only that damned dog would keep its distance!

But Angel was dogged, in more than one way. People paused to stare at the odd antics of the creature, who was indulging in some sort of acrobatic dance.  He had again located Raleigh, and had decided to leap up and lick his friend's face. Since the man was invisible. Angel's antics looked decidedly peculiar.

A crowd gathered. "Hydrophoby," said a lean spinster wearing steel-rimmed glasses.

"Nuts," said a tall, cadaverous man with sad eyes. "The dog's drunk."

He paused, stared, and after brief consideration, added,

"No. I'm drunk. Or else mad. Look at that! Is that ghastly-looking dog actually floating in the air, or am I mad?"

The spinster did not answer, having collapsed in a faint. Cries of amazement rose from the gathering crowd.

There was reason.

As Angel sprang up, Raleigh automatically had seized the dog in order to prevent him from falling and hurting himself. To the onlookers it seemed as though Angel was hanging unsupported some four feet above the sidewalk, frantically scrambling and grunting as though trying to maintain the precarious position.

A policeman pushed his way through the group. His red face turned redder. "Break it up!" he commanded. "What's going on here, anyway?"

Nobody answered. It wasn't necessary. Patrolman Donovan compressed his lips firmly. A man of little imagination, he realized only that a dog was floating in the air and causing a disturbance. Ergo, the dog would have to come down.

Marching forward, Donovan placed his large hands on Angel's back and en; deavored to press the beast down to safer ground. Raleigh automatically pushed up. Compressed thus painfully, Angel gasped, cursed softly, and bit the policeman.

Donovan staggered back, gritting his teeth. He withdrew his nightstick and came on again, looking dangerous. Fearing complications, Raleigh acted.

The dog seemed to leap through the air, to come violently in contact with Donovan's face. The two, man and beast, collapsed on the sidewalk, but did not remain there. Angel seized the opportunity of biting his tormentor again, after which he fled, Donovan in hot pursuit. Seeing that the spectacle was ended, the crowd dispersed.

So did Raleigh. He glanced at his wrist-watch, discovered that he couldn't see it, and continued on his errand. It didn't take long.

Fifteen minutes later he stepped invisibly into Meek's outer office, using his key. Silently he went into the lab-
oratory, where the scientist still sat behind his desk.

"Okay," Raleigh said.

Meek had glanced up nervously.

"Oh, it's you. I was afraid — it wouldn't do for the reporters to come in yet. They mustn't know you were the invisible man instead of me. Everything all right?" He thrust a vial at Raleigh, who drank its contents.

A violent shock seized him and then let go. Meek's gaze, which had been wandering around the room, settled.

He nodded.

"Good. You're visible again. Well, what happened?"

"Everything went off fine." Raleigh put his loot on the desk. Then the bell rang.

"I'm relieved," Meek smiled. "I didn't know how the stuff would work on a human being. So far I used it only on frogs and lower animals."

Raleigh repressed an impulse to wring the scientist's neck. Instead, he . went to the door and admitted a horde of reporters. They emitted short, sharp cries and surrounded Meek's desk.

"You're jiist on time," said the latter. "Well? Are you satisfied?"

There were affirmative noises. A tall, cold-eyed man whom Raleigh did not recognize stepped forward.

"You made yourself invisible?" he asked.


"What a scoop!" chortled a reporter.

The cold-eyed man said, "Doctor Meek, you're under arrest."

In the stunned silence he exhibited a gleaming badge.

"Where's the money?"

Meek was a statue. But the reporters burst into a babble of excited questions. The detective quelled them.

"The Fifth Security Bank on the corner has just been robbed. So— "

"You're crazy!"Meek yelped. "I'll sue you for slander! I — I —"

"Listen," the detective said. "I saw the whole thing. Banknotes. Packages of them. Floating through the bank and out the door. Banknotes don't have wings. I wouldn't have guessed what happened if I hadn't got talking to the reporter who was waiting outside the bank. You didn't get away with it, Meek—and you'd better make it easy for yourself. Where's the dough?"

Raleigh turned green. He met Meek's accusing stare and winced. He knew what the scientist must be thinking.

Sure, Raleigh needed money to marry. It would have been easy for him to slip unobserved into the bank and —

"That's the man," Meek snarled, thrusting out a pudgy finger at his assistant. "I — I didn't make niyself invisible. He did it for me. I was here all the time."

"Can you prove that?" the detective asked. "I thought you couldn't. It won't work, pal. There's too much evidence against you. Every reporter in this room is a witness. You left your card with all of^'em. Where's the money?" r*

Meek snatched for a red-labeled vial on the desk before him. The detective forestalled him. Handcuffs clicked.

"If that's the way you want it, okay," the lawman grunted. "Come along."

"Raleigh!" screamed the trapped Meek. "I'll kill you for this!" '

The door burst open and Binnie appeared, dragging Angel after her.

"What —"

In brief, cogent syllables Dr. Meek explained the situation.

"Your boy friend robbed a bank and threw the blame on me. I —"

"Come on" said the detective, and dragged his protesting captive away. The reporters followed. Alone in the office, Binnie, Raleigh and Angel looked at one another.

The girl sobbed faintly and buried herself in Raleigh's arms.

"Oh, Rick, what's happened?"

He explained. "It wasn't my fault. You know that, Binnie, don't you?"

She hesitated. "Are you—sure?"

"Binnie 1 You know I wouldn't—"

"But it does look funny. I believe you, dear, but you have to admit — oh, can't we do something? Can't you do something?"

"What?" Raleigh asked hopefully. •

Binnie's lips tightened. "You've got to save Dad. He can't prove his innocence. He may be sent to prison. Then — then I simply couldn't marry you. Rick."

Raleigh grunted. "But how could it have happened? Money floated out of the bank, but I was the only invisible man in existence."

"Were you?"

There was a little silence. Raleigh said slowly,

"Uh-huh. I get it. Another invis-ible man—but how?"

He considered. "Somebody else might have invented an invisibility elixir, but that's too much of a coincidence. We'll take it for granted that those vials on the desk are the only ones in existence."

"No," Binnie said. "There's more in the safe." She nodded toward a large wall-safe in one comer.

"Okay, but that's locked. Only your father knows the combination. There's more of the elixir and the antidote in the safe — but we can forget about that just now. Those vials on the desk are important."

Raleigh's eyes widened. "Come tothink of it, I did have an idea that therewere less of them."


"After the reporters first arrived — Whoa! Listen to this, Binnie! Suppose one of that gang wasn't a reporter?"

"But —"

"No, listen! It's a perfect setup for a crook. Suppose he heard, somehow, what was going to happen today. Suppose he pretended to be a reporter, came in with the others, and swiped a couple of vials when nobody was looking. After he left, he could simply make himself invisible and rob the bank — and the blame would be thrown on your father."

"You've got it, I bet," Binnie agreed.

"But what can we do?"

"Wait a minute." Raleigh was counting the vials. "Uh-huh. -Two missing, besides the ones I used. One of the elixir and one of the antidote."

He shook his head. "I can't tell the police a story like that."

"Then you'll just have to get proof,"

Binnie said decidedly. "No, keep away from me. You get Dad out of this mess. You got him into it."

Touched to the' quick by the unfair accusation, Raleigh gasped. Then his lips tightened.

"Okay," he nodded. "But if I do - will you marry me?"

"Yes," said Binnie, and Raleigh hurried out of the office.


Tough Guy

Evidence.. That was the thing.

The whirlpool in Raleigh's brain gave little chance for coherent thought; but he knew, from the many detective stories he had read, that clues were vital. Where could he find them? At the bank, perhaps.

But it wasn't at the bank that Raleigh discovered a clue. It was across the street, near a vacant lot. And it consisted of small fragments of shat-tered glass, from which a subtle odor still rose.

Embedded in the glass was a soaked green label.

The antidote! Raleigh shut his eyes tightly, trying to visualize what had happened. Invisible, the crook had entered the bank and stolen the money. Then, fleeing, he had accidentally dropped the vial containing the antidote. That meant —

It meant that the culprit was still invisible. He'd have to remain invisible unless he could get more, of the antidote!

How to catch an unseen thief? Raleigh rubbed his aching head. Sight was useless. When he himself had been invisible, only Angel had detected his presence.

Angel . . . bloodhounds . . . that was it!, He'd set Angel on the trail. It was a long chance, but the only one.

It took Raleigh five seconds to get back to the house. Binnie was nowhere around. The office was emptyl

"Angel!" he called. "Here! Dinner!"

A violent blow caught Raleigh on the chest. He sat down painfully, while a limp, warm, wet object began to pass rapidly over his face. Angel, it seemed, was pleased by the prospect of dinner.

"Oh, my God," Raleigh groaned. "That damned dog's invisible too."

It was true. The floor was a shamb-les, consisting of objects which had once reposed on the desk. Glittering glass shards were everywhere. Pushing away the unseen dog, Raleigh began to scrabble among the wreckage. Finally he sat back, sighing deeply.

Only two vials remained unbroken. Both were red labeled — the invisibility elixir. No trace of. the antidote remained. But, Raleigh remembered, there was a good supply of it in the safe. He'd just get the combination from Meek and—

There was no time for that now. The scent might grow cold — perhaps was too cold already. He'd have to use an invisible bloodhound to track an invisible thief.


Raleigh secured Angel's collar and leash. By dint of much effort, he finally adjusted things to his satisfaction and stood up, holding the loop of the leash in his hand. His teeth began to chatter.

It wasn't a pleasant sight. The leash stood out rigidly from Raleigh's fingers, ending in a dog collar that hung unsupported in empty air, bouncing up and down slightly. It was impossible to believe that Angel was really there. Raleigh, on a mad impulse, tried to stick his hand through the nothingness inide the collar, and got nipped.

"Okay," Raleigh groaned. "Try and behave. Angel. Quiet. To heel."

He opened the door and departed, doing his best to ignore the collar and leash. It would have been easier to ignore an earthquake.

Luckily, the street was almost deserted. No one noticed anything amiss as Raleigh dragged the dog to his destination. There he pushed Angel's nose toward the broken vial on the sidewalk and muttered:

"Trail! Trail, stupid! Go get him!"

The bloodhound in the composite dog rose to the surface. With a deep bay Angel plunged away, snapping the leash out of Raleigh's hand. Then was seen an incredible sight which caused half a dozen people "to go mad and sent a curvaceous blonde screaming into a saloon with wild gestures.

"Double Scotch!" she gasped to the bartender. "Quick! I just saw a man chasing a snake down the street, and it was the damnedest snake I ever saw!"

The frantic collar and leash sped on.

Cursing softly, Raleigh pursued, his hand outstretched. Angel was on the trail. .. .

"A snake!" cried a uniformed policeman. He whipped out his service revolver and took steady aim, only to find the gun wrested from his hand by Raleigh. The cop tried to wrench free.

"Let go!" he shouted. "It'll bite somebody—"

"No, no!" Raleigh babbled. "It hasn't any teeth. It— it's an old snake. A pet. We've had it in the family for years. Don't shoot!"

There was a scuffle, terminated by Angel himself. A dog of honor, he had discovered that Raleigh was apparently in trouble. Giving up the trail momentarily, he returned and, waiting for an opportune moment, bit the policeman in the pants. This caused a distraction, and before the cop had recovered, Raleigh .was around the corner, the leash again safely in his hand.

"Ground glass," he promised the dog. "That's what you'll get for dinner. With arsenic on the side. I'll tear you apart with my bare hands — after you find the guy I'm looking for."

But Angel had stopped. He was sniffing at a closed door. Raleigh opened it, revealing a flight of stairs that led up into dimness. A cheap rooming house, from which odors of cooking drifted down not too enticingly.

Angel plunged madly up, dragging Raleigh. One flight. Two. Three. The top story — , ;

Before another door the dog halted.

He sniffed, glanced at Raleigh — something the man did not, of course, know — and barked shortly. Nothing happened.

Raleigh's stomach had turned into ice. Behind this door, he realized, washis quarry. So what?

Heartily he wished the policeman had followed him. Unarmed, he could do little against an invisible crook who no doubt packed a rod. Well — he'd have to get help. Cops. Lots of them. Hundreds of them, Raleigh hoped. He turned to tiptoe away. ^

Just then the door swung open. Angel, in a generous effort to help, had hurled his weight against the panel, and the ancient lock gave way with a grunt.

The door opened.

Raleigh's quick glance back showed him a cheaply furnished room, in the center of which stood a table set for one. A partially devoured steak lay on a platter. The room was empty.

Sweat burst out on Raleigh's fore-head. He tiptoed in. Then he stopped.

His stomach hurt. Something had jabbed him there.

"Don't move," said a low, deadly voice. "I mean, put up your hands. That's right."

"Ug — ug — I came to rent a room," Raleigh gasped.

"Yeah? You don't act surprised not to see me. I know you. Meek's sidekick. I saw you in his office. Now turn around and get into that room if you don't want a tunnel through you."

Raleigh obeyed. As he crossed the threshold, he dodged aside suddenly and cried,

"Angel! Get him!"

Nothing happened. From the table came a low grunt. The steak on the platter was vanishing in large bites.  Angel wasn't interested in crooks at the moment. It wasn't often that he got a bone with such delectable meat on it.

"My dinner," said the crook bitterly, closing the door. "Oh, well. I was hav-ing a hell of a time. Kept putting the fork in my eye. This invisibility isn't all it's cracked up to be."

A key turned in the lock and flew away to disappear, apparently into the robber's pocket.

"Sit down."

Raleigh sat down on a rickety couch. He felt unseen hands patting him.

"No gat. Okay. How'd you find me? Never mind. I can figure it out. Rudy Brant's no sucker."

"Rudy Brant, eh?"

"Yeah. What's your handle?"

Raleigh told him. Then, summoning his courage, he went on.

"You'd better come along quietly. I know you've lost the antidote. You've got to remain invisible —"

"I'm glad you dropped in," Brant interrupted. "I was going to pay you a call anyhow. This antidote — where can I get some more of it?"

"You can't."

A jolting blow rocked Raleigh's head.

He saw stars. There was a knife edge of hysteria in Brant's voice as he snarled,

"Don't get smart with me, wise guy!  I — feel this." A sharp point dug painfully into Raleigh's stomach. "Feel that shiv? I can slice you up—"

"Don't," the other said faintly.

"Where's the cure?"

"Locked in Meek's safe. The rest of it got spilled."

"Yeah? That's what you say." The knife dug deeper.

"It's the truth," Raleigh gulped.

"Well—I guess so. That don't matter. You go open that safe. I'll be right behind you. I need the antidote — bad. I can't go on like this."

Raleigh found it difficult to speak.

"Sure, Brant. Glad to. Only — only I haven't got the combination. Wait a minute! Don't lose your head. Meek's the only man who knows how to open the safe."

Brant said slowly, "Where is he?"

"In jail — for bank robbery."

There was a low chuckle. "You're his stooge, huh? Well, get the combination from him and then open the safe. And don't get any funny ideas. I'll be right behind you." The knife wiggled a bit.

"Don't," Raleigh gurgled. "It tickles. I'll do it."


"Y — yes. Now."

"Well, what in hell are you waiting for?"

Raleigh got up and went to the door.

The key flashed into the lock and turned. He sighed and reached for the' handle...

A fine thing. At his heels was an invisible murderer. And one almost hysterical with fear, seemingly. Raleigh knew he was walking on quicksand. He dared not try to enlist aid. If he gave Brant the slightest reason for suspicion, it would be just too bad.

He'd have to wait his chance. Once he got inside the jail, to see Meek, things would be different. Surrounded by steel bars, the crook would be under a handicap.

Where was Angel? Raleigh whistled almost inaudibly, but there was no response. Probably the dog was still in the crook's room.

"Shut up," said a low voice.

"I was just — "

"Shut up and keep moving. Get a taxi."

Raleigh signalled for one. He got in, and the driver reached around and slammed the door. There was a muffled cry of pain, and Raleigh felt a body fall heavily against him. Profanity sizzled.

"Sorry, Mister," said the driver, turning a puzzled face. "Did I catch you in the door? I coulda sworn—"

"It's all right," Raleigh interrupted hastily. "The city jail. Hurry."


Angel Gabriel

The desk sergeant said Raleigh couldn't see Dr. Meek. Not yet, anyway. Then he turned away to glare at a small, wizened safe-cracker with a pious expression.

"The angels told me to bust that box," said the little man, apparently continuing with a long and lying story.

"Preacher Ben's a good name for you," the sergeant growled. "Angels — ha! You'll have plenty of time to see angels in the big house."

He swung on the protesting Raleigh.

"I said'no!' Get the hell out! You can see Meek tomorrow, maybe. Now scram."

Raleigh felt an invisible hand nudge him away. He was thinking desperately.

He had to see the scientist — there was no time to waste. At any moment Brant's over-tense nerves might snap under the strain, and then murder would result. But how —

Suddenly Raleigh remembered the two vials of invisibility elixir he had slipped into his pocket before leaving Meek's home. Surreptitiously he felt for them. They were still there. His heart leaped exultantly.

A perfect hiding place from Brant!

He'd make hirnself invisible; and then, in safety, he could slip into the jail and see Meek. After that, some plan could be worked out. But first of all, he had to escape from the murderous bank robber.

How could he manage to swallow the elixir unobserved?

There was a water cooler in the corner. Gingerly Raleigh walked toward it. His hand, hidden in his coat pocket, uncapped one of the vials. Palming the tiny tube, he took a paper cup from the container and filled it with water. Deftly he let the elixir spill into the cup.

No sound came from Brant. Had he noticed the stratagem?

Raleigh swallowed the water at a gulp. The familiar burning sensation raced down his gullet. Simultaneously he jumped aside, whirling.

The little safe-cracker before the bench let out a shrill cry.

"That guy! He's an angel! Now he's gone!"

For a second the sergeant's face was blank as he followed the prisoner's gesture. Then it cleared.

"Nuts," he remarked.. "He just walked out. Now—"

"You dirty double-crossing rat!" said a high-pitched voice. "I'll cut off your ears and make you eat 'em!"

"Who said that?" the sergeant bellowed.

"Angels," the safe-cracker explained helpfully.

Raleigh ignored the invisible Brant's threat. The bank robber had realized the trick, but too late to do anything about it. Invisible, he couldn't find another invisible man. Unless, Raleigh thought with a shudder, he used Angel, who was still locked up in Brant's room.

Well, it was necessary to work fast. Raleigh waited till the inner door was opened, and then slipped through. Quietly he made his way to the cell block. It didn't take him long to find Meek, who was sitting on the edge of his bunk, methodically ripping newspapers into tiny fragments. The scientist didn't look well in prison garments. The gleam in his eye was reptilian.

"Dr. Meek," Raleigh called softly.

The prisoner looked up, frowned, and went back to his paper-tearing.

"Doc! It's me—Raleigh. I'm invisible."

That interested Meek.. His jaw dropped. He sprang up, went to the bars and stared through.

"Raleigh? What—"

"Sh-h! If they hear us . : . Listen."

Swiftly he outlined what had happened.

"That's the set-up," Raleigh finished.

"Now, for God's sake, give me the combination of the safe so I can get the antidote."

But Meek hesitated. "Wait a minute. You've still got a vial of the elixir on you?"


"I've a better idea. Give it to me. If I'm invisible, I can get out of here."

Raleigh fumbled in his unseen pocket and brought out the vial. Held within his palm, it was invisible. He dropped it, as he thought, into Meek's out-stretched hand.

Cr-rack! Glass shattered on the ce-ment floor.

"You bungling idiot!" Meek howled. "You did that on purpose!"

Raleigh gurgled helplessly. He made futile groping motions.

The scientist calmed down — like a Gila monster.

"You think I'm safer in jail, eh? I never trusted you, Raleigh! Now —"

"There's more of the elixir in the safe," Raleigh suggested. "Give me the combination, quick. I'll bring you an-
other vial."

Meek breathed audibly. "And meanwhile this crook — Brant — will be invisibly snatching some of the antidote over your shoulder. Uh-huh. Once he's visible again, he can escape for good and all — and I'll stay here and rot. And that'll be all right with you."

The scientist's voice rose to a scream of fury.

"Like hell! You'll stay invisible till you get me out of this!"

There was little point in remaining, especially since guards were appearing from all directions. Raleigh returned to the room where he had left Brant. The desk sergeant, and the safe-cracker were still arguing fruitlessly about angels. There was only one other person in the room, a uniformed patrolman — unless Brant was present.

"The angels told me to do it," the prisoner contended. "I can open any safe in the world if they—"

"What?" The exclamation was ripped involuntarily from Raleigh's lips.

"Who said that?" the sergeant roared.

"Angels," the prisoner remarked.

Raleigh sent a swift glance at the outer, swinging door. Beyond it was the street. If he could somehow inanage to abduct the prisoner — the safe might be opened!

But how could he kidnap a rnan from the stronghold of the law?

Raleigh stealthily neared the patrolman, who was sitting in a corner, blinking. A stolid individual, yet per-
haps with some imagination. It would help. Raleigh put his mouth close to the man's ear and whispered softly,

"You're going to die!"

Results were more than satisfactory. The officer turned yellow and shook in every limb. He swiveled around, saw nothing behind him and begain to gurgle.

Raleigh laughed nastily. "Down you come to hell with me," he whispered.

The invitation proved unacceptable. At any rate, the policeman fainted, slipping down noiselessly under the row of chairs. His absence went unnoticed.

That left the sergeant, a somewhat tougher egg. Raleigh slipped up behind the man's chair. Deftly he put his hands about the sergeant's throat and squeezed, not much. Nothing happened.

The officer remained perfectly motionless, except that he stopped talking. Dead silence fell over the room.

It grew strained. Raleigh withdrew his hands. The sergeant suddenly unbuttoned his collar. He looked fixedly at his prisoner and licked dry lips.

The invisible man began to pat the sergeant's cheeks with his palms. Under certain circumstances, this gesture may prove pleasant—even a caress. Always assuming that the hands are . . . visible.

Raleigh put his palms over the sergeant's eyes. Naturally, this didn't obscure the latter's vision in the least. But when a gloating voice whispered, "Guess who! "the officer's nerves crumbled with an almost audible crash.

Shrieking, the sergeant rose and fled.

"Angels," said the safe-cracker, with satisfaction.

Raleigh didn't care whether he was nuts or not, as long as he could open safes: With one bound he leaped over the desk, seized the prisoner by neck and pants and propelled him through the door. Before the startled crook could protest, he found himself in a taxi headed uptown. '

Then Raleigh settled himself for the hysterical outburst he expected. He'd have to calm the little outlaw— explain to him, somehow, the circumstances.

What had the sergeant called him?

"Preacher Ben," Raleigh said gently.

Ben's wrinkled face twisted in a smile.

"Hello, Gabriel," he beamed. "I expected you."

"But — hold on, pal. I'm not the angel Gabriel —",

At this moment a truck.rushed precariously past the front bumpers, and the driver pressed the horn button. A hoarse blast sounded.

This occurrence confirmed Ben's suspicion.

"Horn and all," he nodded. "Good old Gabriel. Where are we going?"

Raleigh almost swore with irritation, but somehow he felt that it would be a mistake to say "Hell!" at this particular moment. Instead, he murmured, "I want you to open a safe for me."

Ben didn't seem surprised. "All right, Gabe. Do you mind me calling you Gabe? I feel like we're old friends, somehow."

"That's fine," Raleigh said, swallowing convulsively. "But about this safe —"

"Oh, I'll need tools. The poljce took mine away. But I can get them."

"How long will it take?"

"I dunno. Couple of hours, maybe."

"Swell," said Raleigh. "Here's the angle. I want you to fake a robbery. I'll show you where. I want you to open the safe and leave it open. Don't take anything. There's no money in it anyway. Got that?"

"Sure," said Preacher Ben. "Anything you say, Gabe."



After that things happened fast — but not fast enough. It took a long time to get the necessary articles for Ben. For some reason the stethoscope was the most difficult to secure. The job was finished at last, by noon the next day.

Raleigh slipped unnoticed into the house and found Binnie, telling her of the plan.

"Brant's watching this place, I'm sure," he said. "He knows I'll need the antidote for myself, and he expects your father gave me the combination to the safe. After Ben leaves, Brant will see the safe's open. Be sure and don't draw the curtains in the office."

"Dad's in court today," Binnie said sadly. "A preliminary hearing or something. I've got to go down and see what happens."

Something brushed up against Raleigh's leg. He jumped before hearing a familiar whine.

"Angel!" he said.

"Oh, yes. She came back."

The dog must have got out of Brant's room, then. Well, that helped.

Binnie left. Raleigh went into the office and waited. He glanced occasionally at the window, but saw nothing. Yet he felt sure that Brant was watching the house, which contained the crook's only means of salvation.

Glass tinkled from a distance.

Raleigh flattened himself against the wall and waited. The door was swinging open .. .

Preacher Ben walked in, smiling. His eyes lighted as he saw the safe. Without wasting a moment he came forward, opening a black bag he held.

He knelt and extracted a stethoscope which he clamped in his ears. Ten minutes later the door of the safe swung outward.

Obediently Preacher Ben reached in and pretended to pick up various non-existent objects. That was for Brant's benefit, if the crook were watching. Actually, Ben touched none of the dozens of little vials that lay scattered on the floor of the safe—^which was otherwise empty.

"Wait a minute," Raleigh whispered, and was busy carrying out a certain plan he had worked out in detail previously. At last he stepped back and breathed,

"Now. Shut it."

Ben closed the door, but didn't lock the safe. He got up and left the room, and after that the house. He did not reappear, but it is presumed that his after-life was gladdened by his one encounter with the angel Gabriel.

Meanwhile Raleigh waited. Ben had left the door ajar, unfortunately, but the chance of closing it could not be taken now. Brant might already be invisibly in the room. If he got away now with the antidote  .. .

Raleigh felt in his pocket for the handful of vials he had put there after the safe had been opened. That was okay. Well .. .

He wondered how Binnie was getting on. She was in court now, watching her father. Raleigh hoped the old coot was squirming.

He glanced sharply at the door. Had it moved, very slightly? Had Brant arrived? There was no way of telling. And Brant was—armed!

If the crook slipped from Raleigh's grasp, got out of the house with the antidote, it would be impossible to find him again.

Slowly the door of the safe opened.

Simultaneously Raleigh snapped,

"Sic him! Get him, Angel!"

He dived for the door as a guri blasted, ripping plaster from the wall, just behind where he had been standing.

Raleigh crouched on the threshold like a wrestler. There were noises coming from the safe, in the interior of which he had left Angel. Invisible man and invisible dog were having a dis-agreement. Suddenly a heavy weight cannoned into Raleigh, catching him by surprise despite himself.

There was an oath in Brant's high-pitched voice. Something exploded under Raleigh's chin, and he was flung back. A lucky blow—but it worked.

Brant tore free. His footsteps thudded across the carpet. The outer door was ripped open.

Sick with the realization of failure, Raleigh raced after the escaping crook. He burst out in the blazing sunlight of the street and stood looking around helplessly. Where was the invisible man?

Goiie! Gone without a trace, amid the throngs on the sidewalk. The street was crowded at this hour.

Raleigh's stomach took an elevator dive. Then it halted as a familiar sound came to his ears. Angel was barking.

Heads were turning as the disembodied barks raced past. The dog, using his nose rather than his eyes, was pursuing Brant!

Raleigh sprinted after the sound.

People went spinning as he tore into them. Cries of amazement and terror rose. A car swerved to the curb with a squealing of breaks.

"What's wrong?"

"Something hit me!"

A voice shouted, "That's Dr. Meek's house! The invisible man!"

"The invisible man!"

Through the tumult shrilled Angel's frantic barks. Raleigh plunged desperately in pursuit. Ignoring the red light at the corner, he darted into a stream of traffic. Not a car slowed. Their drivers saw nothing!

"The invisible man!"

The barks were louder. Raleigh heard a scuffle, saw a man topple sideward, yelling. Angel's cries were suddenly muffled.

A knife materialized out of thin air, clattering on the cement. Raleigh dived, kicking the weapon aside as he smashed into a bulky, unseen body.

Brant screamed an oath. A gun barked, the bullet breaking a plate-glass window nearby.

Angel's teeth snapped. Raleigh tried to locate the gun amid a squirming mass of invisible arms and legs. Then he saw it, a few feet away, out of reach.

Angel saw it too. The misguided dog freed himself and rushed over to the weapon, seizing it in his jaws. He brought it back.

Both men snatched for the gun at the same moment. Angel, always ready to play, danced back out of reach. The legs of the surrounding mob swallowed her. Somebody fell over Raleigh and rolled away, yelling.

Brant's fingers were feeling for his attacker's eyes. Raleigh tried to get hold of Brant's throat. He grabbed the man's ears, instead. Since the crook was undeirneath, Raleigh began to bang Brant's head against the sidewalk.

After that, the fight was over.

Raleigh got up dazedly, keeping his hand on his captive's coat collar. The crowd was growing. If he drank the antidote now, it would mean long explanations . . .

Angel barked. Raleigh said, "Sic 'em. Angel! Go get 'em."

Frantic with valor, the dog obeyed.

The crowd broke up into a riot. Invisible teeth were everywhere, nipping sharply. Raleigh slung Brant over his shoulder and departed.

He found a taxi, but hesitated. The driver would balk at invisible passengers. But luckily the man was in a nearby doorway, conversing with friends. Raleigh slung Brant's unconscious form into the cab, clambered under the steering wheel and started the car, heedless of the driver's sudden out-cry.

Thus a "driverless" taxicab moved rapidly along the street, to the shocked alarm of many.

Sirens began to scream. Motorcycles pursued. As the cab halted outside the city hall, officers surrounded it.

"It's empty!" said one.

And it was. Raleigh was already inside the building, carrying Brant.

He tried several court rooms before finding the right one, which was packeddue to the sensational nature of the case. Meek was on the stand, his round face choleric with rage at the questioning he had been undergoing. The judge, a skinny, bald old vulture, was peering through thick-lensed glasses and toy-
ing with his gavel.

The guard at the door was sent staggering aside. Raleigh sprinted down the aisle, halting only when he stood before the bench.

"Your Honor—" he began.

"Silence in ,the court!" the judge snapped, using his gavel. But Meek's eyes were glistening.

He sprang to his feet. "Rick! Is that you?"


The scientist thrust out an imploring hand.

"Wait, your Honor. My assistant's here."


"He's invisible," said Meek.

The judge poured water from a pitcher and drank it hastily.

"This—this is most irregular—"

He stopped. Beneath him, on the floor, a man was betoming visible.

He was a short, squat fellow, with a drooping eyelid and a day's growth of black beard. He was unconscious.

"I poured the antidote down his throat," a voice from empty air explained. "Now I'll take some myself."

Richard Raleigh reappeared, slightly battered, but grinning.

The judge drank more water. He said,

"So. It's true. Not just publicity. I'll be damned—silence in the court!"

The gavel could not hush the rising tumult.

Brant was stirring. Officers sprang forward to seize him. Raleigh explained to the judge,

"That's the real bank robber, your Honor. He —"

"Money!" one of the policemen said. "His pockets are stuffed with it!"

The judge used his gavel again.

"Calm down, please. You —" He pointed at Raleigh. "Take the stand. I want to ask you some questions . . ."

The questions were answered, though Raleigh could not keep his eyes off Binnie, who sat in the front row, looking more than ever like an angel. He scarcely realized it when the judge had finished and he was requested to step down.

Reporters were fleeing excitedly.

"Meek's name cleared! And Brant's got a record! What a scoop!"

Amid the commotion, Raleigh seized Binnie's hand and found Dr. Meek. The scientist was beaming in triumph. He even smiled at his assistant.

"Well, well. Thank you, Raleigh."

Suddenly the blue eyes went reptilian.

"What d'you want?"

"I want to marry Binnie—" '

The chandelier rocked. Dr. Meek had said "no" that emphatically.

Raleigh looked swiftly at the girl, who nodded. Two hands lifted as one.

And — quite suddenly and unexpectedly — Binnie Meek and^ Richard Raleigh disappeared.

"Come back here!" the doctor yelled.

He turned toward the bench. "Your Honor, I appeal—"

The judge was lifting his water glass to his lips. He did not notice a small vial hanging in empty air, emptying its contents into the water. He drank long and thirstily .. .

"Gosh!" said an awed voice. "Now the judge is gone too!"

It was a scene long remembered in the annals of the law. Newspapers featured it that night. Riot was an underestimate. Through the confusion Meek ploughed like a spitting cobra, his wild gaze vainly searching for people who weren't there any more.

".Where are they?" he shouted. "Where's my daughter? Where's that double-crossing assistant of mine?"

"Where's the judge?" asked a baffled clerk.

There was a lull in the noisy confusion. And it was at this point that practically everybody in the court room heard, from a distant corner, a disembodied voice which said benignly:

".. . I now pronounce you man and wife."

It was due to Dr. Meek's unrestrained remarks at that moment that he was subsequently fined fifty dollars for contempt of court.



Henry Kuttner (1915-1958) was a highly-versatile science fiction writer, who was both the husband and main writing partner of C. L. Moore.  From their marriage in 1940 to his death in 1958, they co-wrote and revised each others' work to the point that it is sometimes difficult to tell their work apart.  Some of their collaborate efforts were published under the names Lewis Padgett, Lawrence O'Donnell and C. H. Liddell.

Moore was the more powerful writer; Kuttner the more versatile one.  One type of tale Kuttner wrote but Moore almost never did was comedy.  "The Elixir of Invisiblity" is almost pure comic science fiction, and in my opinion, it's a pretty funny story.

It is genuine science fiction.  Kuttner postulates a technology (the elixir of invisibility), defines its parameters, and explores some of its second-order effects.  In this case, the funny ones.  Which are hilariously rendered, complete with slapstick and pratfalls.

The original exploration of the corrupting power of invisibility dates back to Plato's fable of the Ring of Gyges (told in the 4th century BC about something that supposedly happened in the 6th century BC).  Kuttner would have however been inspired more by H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man (1897), in which the chemist Griffin goes mad under the influence of his formula and turns to crime.  That novel was more recent to Kuttner in 1940 than the original Star Trek is to us today.  Notably, in "The Elixir of Invisibility" there is an antidote, which is part of what changes the concept from tragic to comic; the other reason why this is comedy, of course, is the characterization.

Dr. Caspar Meek, the scientist who discovers the invisibility elixir, is an anti-hero.  He is neither an evil mad scientist, nor a benign sage; he's not even an absent-minded professor.  He's greedy, rather nasty, and even petty.  His name is deliberately deceptive on the part of Kuttner; as the character is not "meek" but rather aggressive and unprincipled.

Richard Raleigh, the hero, is something of a parody of the normal hero of pulp tales.  On the surface, he could be one:  he's big, strong and fairly intelligent.  However, he's neither naturally-adventurous nor particularly skilled at combat; he gets swept up in a series of events that put him in increasing difficulty and danger -- and he doesn't enjoy it at all.  He is downright intimidated by Rudy Brant (at least at first), which makes sense:  nothing in Richard's background implies that he is used to confronting armed and dangerous criminals.  Richard is cunning and willing to use the Elixir of Invisibility to carry out some fairly cruel pranks, if necessary in pursuit of his goals.

He's in love with

Binnie Meek, who is the Scientist's Beautiful Daughter.  This sort of situation was already cliche by 1940, and Kuttner has fun with it.  Richard himself considers her "lovely but slightly bird-brained," an "old-fashioned girl," and wonders "how a heel like the Doc could have fathered such an angel as Binnie."

But we know from the narrator that Richard is to some extent deceiving himself.  For, in one of the few instances where Kuttner pulls back from limited into omniscient 3rd person, Kuttner flat-out states:

The girl was not noteworthy, despite her prettiness, and Raleigh was deceiving himself when he saw wings sprouting from her back.

and, with regard to Richard's feelings for her

The sight of Binnie caused a violent reaction within Raleigh. Some might call it love.

It is perhaps relevant to this characterization that Kuttner was about to marry C. L. Moore at the time that he wrote this tale, and that while Moore may well have been "lovely" (her surviving photographs suggest this, and no doubt Kuttner saw her as such), she was in no way, shape or form "bird-brained," slightly or otherwise.  Judging by her stories, she was a tough-minded and slightly cynical romantic of tremendous intelligence and imagination, and her most famous story, "Shambleau" (1933) is essentially about what seduction by mind-control feels like from the point of view of the victim.

Binnie is obviously not the Shambleau.  But then of course C. L. Moore had never actually met an alien psychic vampire that had mimicked human form in its evolution:  she probably got the idea for the Shambleau from actual human women she'd seen destroy men with a selfish and draining mockery of love (with a strong admixture of the effects of drug addiction).

Binnie seems to be manipulating both Raleigh and her father Dr. Meek, and in both cases with her air of sweet angelic innocence.  She wants a husband, and has fixed upon Raleigh in this role; but she also wants her father to approve, both because she's "old-fashioned" and because her father is obviously more prosperous than is young Raleigh, and she wants to make sure that however things turn out, she winds up with someone taking care of her.

Dr. Caspar Meek himself drives a lot of the comedy precisely because he violates the expectations for an Interwar Era pulp scientist.  Such personages usually came in two flavors:  Good, in which case they were Kindly Scientists and wished to Benefit All Mankind; or Evil, in which case they were Mad Scientists and wished to dominate or destroy all Mankind.  Kuttner teases the reader with these expectations the more so because he's otherwise set up the classic situation with Meek's Beautiful Daughter, who is supposed to either support the Kindly Scientist's benevolent goals or oppose the Mad Scientist's malevolent goals in the course of loving the hero.

But Dr. Meek has neither benevolent or malevolent goals.  He just wants to make money (and, as things spiral out of control, stay out of prison).  He's fairly ruthless -- among other things, perfectly willing to experiment on Raleigh -- but only in ways which he judges won't get him in trouble.  He's unethical rather than maniacally evil, and thus he is a thoroughly-believable character.  His relationship to Raleigh is that of employer, patron and (where Binnie is concerned) antagonist.

Meek's very name speaks of his being a character drawn against fictional expectations.  "Caspar" in 1940 would have brought to mind Caspar Milquetoast, protagonist of the newspaper comic strip The Timid Soul;  "Meek" of course describes Milquetoast's most memorable personality trait.  His appearance (fat, bland-faced, balding) is meant to suggest a mild and kindly man ...

... which Dr. Meek isn't.  He's an aggressive self-promoter with very little concern for the welfare of anybody else.  He will happily ride roughshod over Raleigh's feelings, the happiness of his daughter Binnie, and every other consideration in his quest for fame and fortune.  The main reason he's not an evil mad scientist is that he has no particular desire to hurt anyone -- he just wants to succeed, and doesn't much care if anyone else gets hurt in the process.

Raleigh really dislikes Dr. Meek (as we find out in the very first paragraph of the story), though Raleigh's description of Meek as sadistic is so far out of proportion to anything Meek actually does in the story (and remember, Meek is a cutting-edge scientist with access to a lot of potentially-destructive chemicals) that it calls into question Raleigh's narrative reliability.  However, the fact that someone who knows Meek as well as does Raleigh dislikes him so much makes it clear that Meek is not a nice guy.

In fact it's Dr. Meek's lack of villainy which makes this story a comedy.  Were Meek a hero or a villain, it would be either eucatastrophic or catastrophic drama or tragedy.  A heroic Meek would have some high purpose for his elixir and be trying to achieve it against the resistance of the short-sighted fools; a villainous Meek would have some dark plan which the heroes must thwart.  The Meek in the story is just trying to get rich off his discovery, which in the process attracts the real villain of the piece ...

Rudy Brant, an out-and-out bad guy.  Brant is a ruthless robber who is in it for loot.  He's not as smart as Dr. Meek, which is why he's pursuing a path (open criminality) which can only lead to prison or death.  But his motives are similar -- he wants money.  To Meek, the Elixir of Invisibility is something to market, and damn the consequences.  Brant is one of the consequences -- an invisibility formula is of obvious value to a thief.

Brant clearly has no compunction against killing, though Raleigh's opinion of him as a "murderer" may be extreme:  there's no evidence in-story that Brant has ever actually killed anyone.  He does, however, repeatedly threaten to do so, and hes definitely not a nice guy by any means.  One can tell he's not too bright when he unnecessarily tells Raleigh his true name at their very first encounter.

The plot in which a kindly scientist invents something which falls into the hands of a ruthless gangster, who uses it as a tool to commit crimes, was quite common in the pulp era -- this was almost the standard story arc of a Doc Savage novel, for instance, and Murray Leinster made frequent use of this story structure.  Rudy Brant here fits directly into the stereotype of the ruthless gangster.

What makes Brant comic is that he is very clearly human, despite his nature as a professional criminal.  He complains quite naturally when bad things happen to him, and suffers all the little indignities of being invisible just as does Raleigh.  Everything bad that happens in the story, to anyone, is primarily his fault.  But one can slightly sympathize with Brant, even though Kuttner never loses sight of his villainy.

And then there is ...

Angel, a part-bloodhound mutt who tries his best to be loyal to his friends and fearsome to their foes despite the fact that he's supposedly a coward. I say "supposedly," because Angel actually goes into some fairly dangerous situations, many of which would have been obviously dangerous even to his limited knowledge, and comes through rather heroically.  Happily, he survives the stupidity of the humans around him.


This story is very much about facades, about roles which the characters are expected to play and attempt to despite their possible lack of qualifications.  Each of the five main characters encounters situations which overwhelm them.

Richard Raleigh is supposed to be the hero, and he (mostly) has the courage, strength and wits for it, but several times in the story (such as when confronting the genuinely villainous Brant) he's clearly out of his depth.  He signally lacks moral courage -- he starts the story as Dr. Meek's obviously-exploited assistant, and though he revolts against Meek by the end, it seems fairly obvious that he will wind up wrapped around Binnie's little finger as a future henpecked husband.

Binnie Meek is supposed to be the heroine, and the evidence is that she's a reasonably nice girl.  But she's her father's daughter, and what she's mostly doing is gathering up the courage to make the transition from (outwardly) Good Daughter to (ourwardly) Good Wife.  She's naturally a dependent sort of woman, and she will go from being dependent on Dr. Meek to being dependent on Richard Raleigh.  Kuttner outright states that while she's "old-fashioned," she's not quite as nice as she seems.

Dr. Caspar Meek is supposed to be a Kindly Scientist, and such is the image he tries to project to the world.  He has several nasty qualities, but he's neither ruthless nor crazy enough to be a Mad Scientist either.  Really, he's just in it for himself, and while he's highly-intelligent, he does not always think things through -- due to his greed, he can be quite short-sighted.  He may well now be financially successful -- he's certainly generated a lot of publicity now -- but he loses his daughter to Richard Raleigh.

Rudy Brant is supposed to be the villain -- and he goes through all the motions.  But the portrayal of Brant as a ruthless gangster is unusually realistic in that he's not that smart -- which makes sense, as brilliant individuals do not normally turn to a life of crime through confrontational robbery.  Brant succeeds in robbing the bank but he bungles the follow-up -- he didn't realize he'd need an antidote, he tells Raleigh his full and real name on first encounter, and he doesn't anticipate how Raleigh can use the formula against himself.

Finally, Angel is the Wonder Dog canine companion.  And he's pretty competent for a dog.  But he is just a dog, with a dog's limited understanding of what's going on around him.  So though he tries to and sometimes succeeds in doing the right thing, often he just gets distracted -- for instance becoming distracted by Rudy Brant's steak and winding up trapped in Brant's apartment while Brant makes off with Raleigh.

All try to play their usual roles in this sort of story, but they're rather realistic characters caught in a pulp-adventure kind of story, and none of them are really up to the roles.

Conclusion:  "The Elixir of Invisibility" is a very funny story precisely because it explores the mismatch between plausible real people and a very-pulpy science fiction plot.  It deserves to be read, both for its insight into the fictional world of c. 1940, and for its own considerable comic merits.


Monday, November 10, 2014

"The Smiling Face" (1950) by Mary Elizabeth Counselman, with Notes and Review

“The Smiling Face”

© 1950

Mary Elizabeth Counselman

Sir Cedric Harbin, the British archaeologist, rolled his head from side to side irritably on the canvas cot.  It was the scream of a jaru – jaguar – that had waked him this time.  Two hours ago, it had been the chittering of night-monkeys, half an hour before that, some other weird jungle-noise.

From.the supine position in which he had been lying for eight sweltering nights already, he glared up at the young Chavante native who v/as fanning him with a giant fern, to keep away the mosquitoes and the tiny vicious little pmm flies that swarmed about him. At his look, the boy grinned apology and began to ply the "shoo-fly" with more energy, the capivara (1) tooth in his pierced lower lip bobbing furiously. Harbin cursed, blinking away the sweat that kept trickling down into his eyes. He tried to sit up despite the adhesive strapped over his bare chest like a cocoon, but sank back with a groan.

Instantly the tent flap opened and a girl hurried in out of the humid night.

“Darling? I thought I heard you groaning.  Are you in pain?”

“Not miich. Just — bored! And disgusted!  Haven't you gone to bed yet?”

Sir Cedric looked up at her wearily as she bent over him, jgently moppiqg the sweat from his face and neck. She was small and blonde and exquisite,.strikingly beautiful even in her rumpled shirt and jodhpurs. It was when she smiled, however, that one stopped seeing anything else. A quiet humor seemed to emanate from her broad sweetly-curved mouth and sparkling blue eyes, as though they invited one to share some joke that she knew and was about to tell. The Brazilian Indian boy beamed at her, visibly attracted. Harbin, her husband though he looked old enough to have been her father — caught at her hand gratefully.

“Diana,” he sighed, “my dearest. “How the devil you can be so bright and cheery, after the confounded mess I^ve made of this expedition? Walking into tliat boa constrictor like a — like a damned tourist who'd never set foot in the Matto Grosso interior!”

He scowled in self-condemnation. “Don't know why I ever let the Foundation talk meinto tliis jaunt, anyhow. On our hoiieymoon! What was I thinking of, dragging you out into this steaming hell?”

“Now, now, darling!” Diana Harbin laid two fingers over his mouth. She lifted his head tenderly, gave him a sip of herva matte through a bombilla (2) stuck in a gourd, tlien riffled through a month-old magazine.

“Here; do try to read_and relax.  You can't go hunting your precious Lost City with three broken ribs, and that's all there is to it. So stop fretting about it! Mario has. the situation well in hand.”

A look flashed over Sir Cedric's middle-aged face. It was gone before his wife observed it, but she did notice a peculiar tense note in his voice.

“Mario — Oh yes,” the archaeologist drawled.  “Our handsome and dashing young guide.”

“Handsome?” His wife laughed — so lightly that Sir Cedric gave her a quizzical look. “Is he? I hadn't noticed . . . Why, Cedric!” She returned his look, eyes twinkling. “I do believe you're jealous! Of Mario?” She half-closed her eyes, imitating the sultry attitude of a screen Romeo.

“ ‘Ah-h Senhora! You are like jongle orchid!’” she mimicked,_then_burst out Jaughing. "Darling, he's so corny!"

Harbin did not share her mirth.  His gray eyes iced over, and narrowed.

“The devil!” he exploded. “Did he really say that to you? Insolent half-breed swine! Send him in here; I'll sack him right now!”

“You'll do nothing of the kind!” his wife laughed,, kissing him on the forehead.

“Cedric, don't be absurd. All Brazilians makes passes at every North American girl they meet. It's—-it's part of the Good Neighbor Policy!” She gave him another sip of the nutritious tea, looking fondly amused.

“Mario,” she pointed out, "is a very efiicient guide. He's kept these war-happy Chavantes from traipsing off to start something with other tribes we've passed. He's kept: a supply of mandioca and rapadura (3), without trading half our equipment to get it. And he's the only guide in Belem (4) who had the vaguest idea how to reach that Lost City of yours – if there is one,” she reminded drily. “Remember,, all you have as that silly old paper in the Bibliotcca Nacional in Rio. Mario doesn't believe it  exists:”

“Mario!” the archaeologist snorted. “It Lt.-Cpl. Fawcett and his sons died trying to find it in 1925 (5), there must be something to — Oh, if only I were off this ridiculous cot!" he fumed. "We're only two days’ march-from the place; I'd stake my life on it! I —

“Oh well,” his pretty wife patted his arm soothingly. “There'll be other expeditions, dear. We'll try again; but right now you must get well'enough to be carried back to Belem. There may be internal injuries we don't,know about. Ugh, that horrible snake! Dropping on you, from that tree, crushing you —” She shuddered, then knelt beside him with a little sob, pressing his hand to her cool cheek. “Oh Cedric, you might have been killed!”

Harbin relaxed, caressing her long wheat-blond hair, the bitterness and frustration ebbing slowly from his face.

“My dearest,” he murmured, “I'll never understand what a lovely, little Yank like you ever saw in a crotchety, dried-up old — Limey like me! But my whole outlook was changed, that' night at the Explorers' Club in Rio, when you, turned away from that ass Forrester, and smiled. At me! When — when I first saw you smile, Diana, the most wonderful thing happened. It was as though the — the sun had come up for the first time in my — Oh, rubbish!” Sir Cedric broke off, embarrassed. “Never was much at expressing my feelings.”

“You're doing all right!” his wife whispered. “Remind me to tell yoii how I felt when I first met the famous Sir Cedric Harbin. Ah-ah!" She dodged his quick embrace. “Not now! After Mario and I get back from Matura with supplies. Darling, do go to sleep so I can! We're starting at daybreak, you know.” (6)

Harbin returned her smile of gentle humor with a hungry possessive look. “All right. But you'll hurry back? I mean — Oh, dash it!”

His wife bent over to kiss him once more lightly. “Of course I will,” she whispered.  “Next Thursday is our first anniversary; we've been married a whole month! You don't really think I'd spend that day withMario and a lot of grinning Tapirapes babbling ‘TJcanto! Ticanto!’ — which isn't my idea of a snappy conversation to put in my diary!"

Sir Cedric chuckled and lay still, his eyes following Diana as she left the tent to complete plans for the short journey at dawn.

The river village of Matura, he knew,was only a' few miles down the Rio das Mortes, the River of Death, which had once run red with the blood of a Portuguese party of mining engineers massacred by Indians. Now it boasted a small trading post, run by a fat one-eyed Dutchman. There, Diana could send a wireless message via Belem to the Foundation, saying — Harbin sighed bitterly—that he was crippled up; that he had made a complete botch of the expedition. There also Mario could replenish their dwindling stock of supplies—coffee, quinine (7), mandioca; perhaps even a few trinkets for the new native bearers Mario had recently added to their party. The Chavantes had not appeared to like it much, but even their capitao, their chief, Burity, could see his men could not carry both the equipment and the injured white explorer on their return trip.

Harbin sipped his matte, and thought about the new porters. They were ugly stunted little Indians — the four Mario had hired—their loin cloths dirty and i ragged, their greasy black hair hanging long and snaky under their braided headbands (8). They were Urubus — Sir Cedric frowned, trying to recall what the Inspector of Indians at Belem had said about that tribe;.the “Vulture People,” he had called them. Was it something about a history of cannibalism?

Harbin could not remember. All four of the Urubus had been fully armed — with bows and five-foot-arrows, with spears, and with blowguns — when the Brazilian guide had happened across their hunting party. In fact, a poisoned blowgun dart (presumably aimed at a silver and black iguana) had barely missed his shoulder, Mario had. reported uncomfortably.

“And good riddance!” Harbin muttered half-aloud, glowering up at the patched roof of the tent.  “Never did trust those pretty-boys where a woman's concerned!  Not one as lovely as Diana—so young and romantic and impressionable.”

“Hanh? Senhor speak?",The Chavante boy startled him, waving his fern rapidly and flashing white teeth in a dark brown Mongoloid face (9). 

“What? Oh! Nothing. Just talking to myself,” Harbin snapped. “Swat thatdamned tarantula over my head, will you?  It's going to drop on me.”

Si, senhor!!” The boy hastened to obey, his solicitude born of the fact that Diana had promised him a pair of her husband's cufflinks for his pierced ears.

Harbin closed his eyes, now lulled by the throbbing hum of frogs and cicada, now startled awake by the moaning hiss of a near-by anaconda or the splash of .an alligator in tke river washing sluggishly against the sandbank where they had made camp.  Presently, in spite of the pium flies. Sir Cedric drifted into a troubled slumber — and a recurrent dream in which his lovely young wife was lost in a tangle of undergrowth and looped lianas. She kept calling him, calling and laughing, somewhere just ahead, just out of reach. And he slashed away helplessly at the green wall of jungle with a facao, a. cutlass-like machete, which kept turning to flimsy rubber in his hand-

When he awoke, torpid and head-achey, the tent was steamy with mid-morning heat. The Chavante boy was setting his tray of breakfast-—roast crane, fannha gruel-sweetened with the toftee-like rapadura, and coffee with fermented sugar-cane. Harbin rnade a wry face, and squinted at the boy, whose black eyes were gleaming with a curious excitement. His calm voice; however, betrayed nothing.

Bon dia! Senhor durmjou bein?(10) he ,inquired politely. ,

Muita hem,” Harbin grunted, yawning.

“Where's the Senhora? She had her breakfast yet?”

The boy smiled brightly, his face an inscrutable mask now, mysterious and unreadable as the jungle itself.

Senhora pe, pe,” he announced, then elaborated in a painful combination of Portuguese and English. “Senhora es agone. Senhora, Senhor Mario. Es agone. Say let you esleep, you seeck, no wake.”

“Oh! Gone already, have they?” Sir Cedric looked disappointed, then shrugged.

“Well — they should be back by tomorrow at sundown. Matura's only a few miles down the river. They — ” He broke off, puzzled again by the sly look of amusement on the Chavante boy's face. “Eh? What are you grinning about?” he demanded.

For answer, the boy ran to the. door of the tent and beckoned. An older, nervous-
looking Chavante — possibly the boy's father or older brother — entered warily, braced as to dash out again if the. white man appeared angry.

Senhor? Pliz?” the man stammered; he was Burity, the chief; Harbin recognized him suddenly from the dried palm frond stuck in' his pierced lower lip, like a spiky beard from his hairless cliin. “Senhor?" he began again. "Geev present? Geev present if Burity tell?”

“Tell what, you gibbering ape?” Sir Cedric snapped. He tried to prop himself up on his elbows, a sense of foreboding suddenly -knotting his stomach muscles.

“Yes? A;; right, all right — a present! Speak up!”

The Chavante chief sway.ed, steadying himself against the tentpole. He was drunk, Harbin perceived; a strong whiff of fiery native rum reached his nostrils. Twice Burity started to speak, blinked and grinned foolishly, then blurted out: .

Senhora. Senhora et Senhor Mario. Es no go. down no, es go op. No go Matura. Es take boys—" He held up one finger, then two vaguely. "Es ron away, go Goyaz. Es no come bock.”

“What!” Harbin wrenched himself to a sitting posture, oblivious of the pain that knifed through his broken ribs. “You're lying!” he roared. “I'll — I'll beat you to a pulp, you lying scum! I'll cut your tongue out for saying a thing like that!” (11)

Burity cringed, shaking his head violently. "No lie! No lie, Capitao! Es atruth!  Senhor zangado? No be zangado for Burity.  Me no do nada, me manso — good Indian!"

Sir Cedric glanced about wildly for something to throw at him. But the Chavante whirled and darted out of the tent,, followed by the explorer's angry curses...

Harbin fell back on his cot, breathing hard. Pain clutched at his chest under the strapping; he had probably torn loose those half-mended ribs again. The fury of complete helplessness wracked him for a moment. That Indian was lying; of course  he was lying! Diana would no more desert him in this condition than — than — Or, would she? Could a middle-aged husband ever really be sure of a young and beautiful wife?

Sir Cedric forced himself to lie still, teeth clenched, fists knotted at his sides. The Chavante boy crawled out from behind a trunk where he had hidden, and began timidly fanning him again. Harbin waved him away irritably, then called him back.

“Boy —?” He hesitated, flushing at his own lack of reserve. “Boy, did you —? Do you happen to know which way my — the Senhor Mario went? Up river, or down?”

“No, Capitao.” The Indian boy lowered his eyes respectfully, but Harbin could detect a secret contempt in his impassive face.

“Is there anyone who could find out for me? A tracker? A tracker could tell wliich way the bataloa took off, couldn't he?” Sir Cedric pressed.

“A tracker, Capitao?” The Chavante was standing before him, still outwardly respectful. “Yes; tracker tell. But — Brujo know more better. Ask Brujo look upon Senhora's batalao. Brujo see all theengs — today, yesterday, tomorrow.”

“Bru—? Oh yes. Quite.”

Sir Cedric suppressed a smile. This was not the first time he had heard marvelous powers attributed to the Brujos, the witch-doctors of these Matto Grosso native tribes.

The Inspector of Indians had advised him to take one along on this expedition — as arbiter, medico, and general adviser to his Chavante bearers. Brujos were usually old men with wrinkled faces and mystic eyes — half-crazed from addiction to yage, the deadly topaz-green drug brewed from liana pulp. Murika, the Brujo of his Cliavantes, was no exception.

But Murika, Harbin considered swiftly, would know about Diana and that sneaky Brazilian, if anyone would. All rumors, all remnants of local gossip, found their way quickly to those wise old ears — to be palmed off later on the credulous as knowledge gleaned from supernatural sources.

“Of course, Murika!” Sir Cedric nodded eagerly, snapping his fingers at the Indian boy. “Well? Go fetch him! At once!”

The young Chavante nodded and dashed out of the tent. He dashed back presently, but more reverently, holding the tent flap aside for a wizened old Indian to enter.

Murika was a very small man, for a Chavante, most of whom stood well above six feet. But there was something about his erect bearing, about the serene wrinkled face under its feathered headdress, that commanded respect. The old man's face and chest were heavily pigmented with red and black, blue-black stain from the gempapo fruit and ted from the urukti berry. A jaguar skin, with the tail dragging, was wrapped around his skiilny loins, and a great deal of stolen copper telegraph wire coiled around his arms from wrist to elbow. In his pierced lower lip was a rather large bone froni a howler monkey, which affected his speech but slightly. He evidently knew no English at all, but spoke perfect Portuguese, probably learned at a Christian mission school before he took to black magic.  His voice was deep and mellow like the music of a distant oboe, and Sir Cedric was impressed in spite of the smile that twitched at the corners of his mouth.

"Murika?" he greeted the old Indian haltingly. “I — I called you here to — to —“

The aged Brujo nodded matter-of-factly,stuffing somes kind of fibre shreds into his cigar-holder-like pipe. He sat down cross-legged beside the explorer's cot and leaned back comfortably against the tentpole.  Without a word he closed his eyes, puffing slowly at the pipe. A peculiar acrid odor filled the tent, making Sir Cedric feel suddenly light-headed and queer. He frowned, annoyed.

“Now, see here,” he said. “I've no time for a lot of mumbo-jumbo. Just.tell me if you know which way my —”

The Chavante boy hissed sharply, shaking his head and making a silencing gesture. On the opposite side of Harbin's cot, he whispered in obvious awe:

Senhor — do not espeak! Brujo esraoke the ayahuasca. The drug of second sight —”

“Oh!” Sir Cedric snorted, impatient. “I've heard of that — damned lot of nonsense. Or,” he smiled wryly, “maybe it isn't. Maybe it works something like sodium pentothal. Releases the subconscious mind. Helps dig out, facts the conscious mind's forgotten. Hmmp!” He rolled over on his side, wincing, to watch the old man as he sat, swaying and smoking, in utter silence.

Presently, however, the Brujo's eyes opened. They had a weird doped look staring unseeingly at Harbin as though they gazed through him, through the stained tent walls, and farther, much father, through the matted jungle outside. Very slowly the old witch-doctor began to speak, chanting a curious singsong now in Chavante, now in Portuguese. Harbin made out the Portuguese with an effort, but the Indian was beyond him.

“… They go toward the rising sun. The batalao moves slowly. There are three bearers, Chavantes. The Smiling One sleeps under the toldo. The man watches … Now he shoots the gun, killing a blood-red crara. He brings the feathers to the Senhora. She laughs, thanking him and putting the feathers in her golden hair.”

Sir Cedric cursed, heaving himself upright again furiously. It was all a lot of silly patter, meaningless and without any foundation on truth, he told himself sickly.

Or, was it?  ‘Toward the rising sun,’ the old man had said. Then the batalao was being paddled east toward Goyaz, just as Burity had said; not west to Matura. Did the Brujo know for certain, from tracks he had found along the riverbank amid a network of other spoors—the round cuplike tracks of jaguars, the broad three-toed marks of a tapir, the splayed track of the capivara, those sheep-sized water-guinea-pigs of the jungle? Or was he only guessing? -

". . . Now she sings," Murika droned abruptly. "She sings this song, it is plain to hear ... " He began to hum. And Harbin's scalp 'prickled as he recognized the halting strains of Noel Coward's "Never-Try to Bind Me," an old favorite of Diana's.

The very tune she had been dancing to,with young Forrester, at the Explorer's Club that night — tliat night —- Amazingly, unbelievably, Murika was even singing the words now, although he knew not a phrase of English (13):

Never try to hold .. .
Never try to bind me,
Take me as you find me.
Love and let me go . . ,

The sound of those words, their import so obviously meaningless to that wrinkled Chavante singer, stabbed at Sir Cedric like a knife thrust.

"Stop!" he yelled furiously. "That's — it's a lot of damned nonsense! How - how could you possibly hear them, if they set off down the river — or up the river, as you say — four or live hours ago?"

The old Brujo closed his eyes, for answer.  In a few moments,, when he opened them and looked at the white man again, their weird faraway look was gone. He rose from his cross-legged position and stood quietly beside Harbin's cot, waiting. Sir Cedric glowered at him, then shrugged and thrust a cheap plug of tobacco at the old Indian, who took it with a gracious air of bestowing a gift rather tlian of receiving one.

"Is there more which you wish to know, Capitao?" he asked softly. "Murika has looked into the past—-and has seen the padre in Rio speaking the rharriage vows.  The Capitao drops the ring, in his eagerness to place it on the Smiling One's finger.  A man with a golden mustache picks it up and gives it back to—-."

Harbin started, his scalp prickling again.  "Kimball!" he murmured. "He^-he was my best man. And I did drop the ring . . . How could you possibly know . . .? Did you ever overhear Diana and myself . . .?  That must be it," he broke off, surreptitiously mopping at his forehead. "Of course.  Nothing . . . supernatural about it!" (14)

Murika's bland expression did not change.  He merely stood quietly, waiting, looking more sure of himself than Harbin had ever felt in his whole life. In fact, the quiet wisdom in that wrinkled, face made him feel more unsure of himself now than ever.

"Do you desire that I shall look into the future, Capitao?" the old Chavante asked gently., "The ayahtiasca sends, the eyes in all directions. One is able to see what was, what is, and what is to be." (15)

"The devil you can!" Sir Cedric snorted, more to convince himself than to scoff at Murika. "All right!" he snapped. "What is to be? My wife's run off with a damned Brazilian, you say. Is she coming back?"

Murika took another puff at the pipe, his eyes again taking on that opaque drugged look, the pupils widening until the iris had disappeared. Harbin watched him, fascinated, trying to feel amused and scornful, trying to deny that hollow sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Murika, opened his eyes wide, swaying.  His voice sounded very thin and echoing as he spoke, like the voice of one shouting down a mine shaft.

"I see . . . " he intoned. "I hear .. . the Smiling One . . . screaming. It is written in the stars . . . that the Capitao may keep before him, for all the rest of his days, the smiling face of his senhora (16). But . . ."

"Yes.''" Harbin urged tensely, as the

Brujo paused. "Yes?"

"But it is also written in the stars," Murika said thinly, "that the sight of it will drive the Capitao into madness. This I see, and no more."

Sir Cedric expelled a quivering breath.

Rubbish, all of this, sheer rubbish. And yet . . . That bit about the Noel Coward song, and the dropped ring. And Kimball's blond mustache—he and Diana had certainly never mentioned that in Murika's hearing, though it might have been only a clever bit of guesswork (17). Still—

He lay back on his cot, battling for self-control. At his sides his hands were clenched so tightly that his nails bit into his palms.

Two drops of blood oozed from the broken flesh and ran down his wrists, unfelt. But Murika noticed them, and' approached the white man's cot. He made a few curious passes in the air with a monkey skull produced from somewhere under the folds of his jaguar skin, then laid the skull gently on Harbin's forehead.

"Capitao," the old rnah said. "Forgiveness is better than vengeance . . . " (18)

The archaeologist jerked his head away savagely, the monkey skull bumping hollowly to the ground as he glared up at Murika.

"Get out of here!" he grated, sweat popping out on his forehead and upper lip.

"What are you trying to do to me, lying here trussed up? Are you trying to drive me crazy? Get out!" . ''

He wrenched himself up again, panting and cursing.  The Chavante boy dodged behind his trunk again, but the old Brujo merely bowed slightly and backed toward the tent opening.

"Jealousy," he said in his soft mellow Portuguese, "is like a poison, Capitao. The Senhor stands where the trail forks. Think well!"

"Get out!" Harbin roared, hurling his gourd of matte at the old Indian's head.

The missile described a peculiar curve as it neared its target, however, and fell harmlessly to the floor. Again the white man shivered; he had heard before how a Brujp can deflect the flight of^\ an arrow or a blow-gun dart. Impossible, of course.

He fell back, gritting his teeth against the pain of his ribs. Sweat poured from his forehead now; the tent was like a steam cabinet. From outside he could hear the faint splashing of an alligator somewhere upriver, the dismal hiss of a flock of ciganas, the mew of a hawk sailing enviously above where some of the bearers were shooting fish with their short bows and five-foot arrows barbed witli the tails of arrays—sting-rays. Harbin's mind sailed upstream, following a batalao where a lovely blond girl and. a handsome young man sat very close together under the palm-thatched toldo awning. Perhaps they were kissing now; perhaps only clinging together, in the way of young lovers.

A groan escaped him, half rage, half pain. Diana, Diana. Of course it had been too good to be true. The first handsome, virile young idiot to come along, and she had left him — the glamor of his reputation worn thin, now that she had seen him make such a botch of this expedition. He would never hold her again, never see that dazzling good-humored smile of hers that had caused the Chavantes to call her Rjssante; the Smiling One.

Harbin's eyes chilled. Dammit, she was always smiling!. Had she actually been cheerful and courageous, or was she merely laughing at him? These American girls, they were so light-hearted, so unconventional — unlike all the strait-laced British women he had known (19).. Perhaps she had merely married him for a lark, planning all along to leave him when she became bored! Leave him to face all these grinning natives, to get back to Belem the best way' he could — without a guide.

At the thought of Mario, Sir Cedric's face hardened. Damned insolent Brazilian! If he could follow them, if he could only get his hands around that tanned neck! His fingers flexed with the desire to kill, and suddenly he let out a roared command:

"Boy! Boy! Where the devil are you hiding?" The Chavante lad scrambled out frorn behind his trunk, quaking. "Get me Burity again!" Harbin snapped, then shook his head. "No, no — he wouldn't go. It's Urubu country. Ah—!" His eyes glittered. "Those new porters! Send them to me. Now!"

The Indian boy dashed off to obey, eager to placate and worried about that gift of cufflinks.  He was back with the four squat Urubus in five minutes, and Harbin looked them over, still quivering with rage; He blurted his order in Portuguese, then in a few halting words of Chavante, but the Vulture Men shook their heads, grinning foolishly (20). Harbin scowled, resorting to sign-language.

"Senhora . . ." He drew the form of.a woman in the air. "Understand? I want you to . . . bring her back," he made scooping motion toward himself.

The leader of the .Urubus, a stocky evil-eyed Indian with deep scars cut from eye-corners to mouthcorners, nodded suddenly, and jabbered a few words to the other three.

They nodded eagerly, gabbling — and sounding for all the world, Harbin thought with a shudder, like the nauseous, hideous-looking birds they worshipped. The leader edged forward, beady eyes gleaming.

"Turi?" he asked slyly, then brought up an English word, pointing to Harbin, then vaguely out into the jungle. "Mon?"

"Oh — the white man? Mario?" Harbin's face was contorted. "The devil with Mario!" he growled. "I don't care what you do to him!" He made a broad gesture of dismissal, at which the Urubu chief grinned delightedly, nodding and replying with a throat-cutting gesture. His face held the unholy delight of a child given permission to pull the wings off a fly.

Then' they were gone, like a flock of. gabbling seavenger-birds, and Harbin lay back on his' cot, closing his eyes wearily.

In a day or so the Urubus, in a light fast monlaria, could overtake the other, slower boat. And well, if they were cannibals, if that was what the Inspector of Indians had warned him; the devil with Mario! Luring a man's, wife away from him as he lay helpless, unable to follow! Diana, they would bring back with them, and — well, he could take it from there (21).

Tears of reproach seeped from between Harbin's closed lids.  Diana—:how could she have done this to him?  But she was such a child, easily impressed, overly romantic. Forgiveness? What was it old Murika had said about forgiveness being better tlian vengeance? Sir Cedric smiled wryly. Well, after a time, perhaps he would forgive her.  They could build a life together, even with the memory of her having run off with that handsome guide standing like an impenetrable wall of 'jungle between them. It wouldn't, really. Harbin's smile became peaceful, almost eager. He was a civilized man, he told himself.  (22) The daily sight of his wife's smiling face would not, as Murika predicted, "drive him into madness." Probably, after he forgave, her for this outrageous escapade, she would love him all the more, really love him.

"Acu!" one of the Chavarites in the river-shallows was shouting; he had evidently speared a pirara — or else been bitten on the bare leg by-a man-eating piranha, those murderous little fish that could strip a man's skeleton in a few minutes (23). "Acu!" they were forever shouting, these savages — the word meaning "Hello!," or "Hooray!," or merely "Ouch!" according to the events of the moment. Harbin smiled at their simplicity.

Sighing, settling himself to wait and to forgive, the archaeologist drifted into a restless slurnber, with the Chavante. boy plying his giant fern once more timidly. His eyes on Harbin's sleeping' face were wide and shocked, and warily respectful now (24),

All night Sir Cedric dreamed of his lovely wife. All the next day, and the next two following, he lay docilely on his cot, taking the last of the quinine and eating what was brought him without a murmur.  A hundred times, sentimentally, he made up speeches to chide Diana, ever so uhderstandingly, for her unfaithfulness. She would cry, then fling her' arms around his neck and beg him to forgive her. Which he would, Harbin told himself wearily, humbly. All he wanted was to have her back, smiling at him, smiling in the old way as if none of this had ever happened. A small prickle of conscience nagged him now and then, thinking of the Urubu's gesture when he spoke of Mario. Suppose Diana loved the blighter? Had he any right to — But what sort of life would she lead with a jungle guide? Harbin snorted. Whatever the rotter was going to get, he richly deserved! Killing a man, or having him killed, for seducing your wife was the accepted thing, here in hot-tempered Brazil. Besides — Sir Cedric gave a hard laugh — he could say he hadn't really given that order to the Urubu chief; that the Indian had misunderstood him (25).

On the fifth day after the Vulture Menhad set out, old Murika walked silently into his tent. He stood for a moment, staring curiously at the supine white man, then walked slowly over to him.

"Capitao," he said softly, "you have given an order to the Urubu men, and it is not good. The Senhor stood at the forked trail, and he has taken the wrong turning."

Harbin started. Had the old blighter been hovering outside his tent, eavesdropping?  He scowled, ordering the Brujo to leave with an impatient gesture. Arrogant old devil! 'Give them an inch and they'd take a mile!

But Murika did not leave. His large vague eyes were troubled, and. again they had that faraway look. Again Harbin's nose wrinkled as he smelled the acrid odor of ayahuasca, from the Brujo's pipe. Murika was staring at him—and through him.

"I see . . ." the mellow voice intoned. " see .... a Lost City, which the jungle has eaten. There are great blocks of stone, carven with strange writing. The Smiling One stands before it, while the man takes her picture."

""The devil you say!" Sir Cedric pulled himself erect, glaring. "So the rotter's not only stolen my wife', but he's jumped the gun on my expedition, eh? Going to claim the credit for finding my —" His eyes glittered coldly. "Well, then — it's good enough for him, whatever they'll do to him!" he muttered under his breath.  "I'm glad I sent them! I'm glad!"

Murika said nothing, but shook his head very slowly.

"They are but children," he said quietly.  "Do not condemn the forest people, Capitao, if 1 they do not understand. "They go only to do the Senhor's bidding."

Harbin nodded impatiently, eyes narrowed. "All right. So I told them to kill him! What's it to you, you shriveled-up old fool?" he snapped, waving Murika from his tent. "Get out of here! They should be back here with my wife by tomorrow at sundown—and that's all I want!" he muttered.  "I—I'll never let her out of my sight again, and that's certain! Romantic child. Doesn't know her own mind."

He reached for his gourd of matte, sipped at it, then lay still. Through the long sweltering jungle-night he lay, sleeping little, his heart pounding with eagerness. Through the steaming day he waited, trying to peruse the old magazine he had read through twice already. The pain in his ribs had subsided now; the broken ends of bone were knitting again. Well, the devil take his confounded ribs! Tomorrow he'd have the bearers lift him into the boat, and he and Diana would go back to civilization. They'd follow the river, even if it took longer. He'd not keep her here in this green hell another day longer than necessary. Back at Belem, in a decent hotel, he'd rnake her forget all about Mario. He'd shower her with presents, make subtle love to her,

Abruptly, a cry reached his ears. He had been straining for the sound, praying for it to come. The Urubus were back. Now, darting to the tent opening, his Chavante boy turned and nodded, wide-eyed and subdued.

"Capitdo?" he announced, in a respectful whisper; almost as he addressed the Brujo,

Harbin noted with a grin of self-satisfaction. " "Capitao? The — the Senhor Mario is not with them. The three bearers of our tribe were slain, or escaped. But — the. Smiling Oiie,-they have brought back as the Senhor ordered."

"Oh? Good, good!" Sir Cedric, mopped at his face, nervous and eager. "Have they landed? Send here. Hutryl Hurry!"

He braced himself for the sight of his wife, perhaps being dragged angrily in between two grinning Urubus.. But the chief came in alone, to present him with a crumpled sheet of paper. Harbin frowned,,reading it swiftly. His heart leaped. It was a note Diana had evidently been writing to him when the Vulture Men overtook them at the Lost City; a note proving her innocence,-her loyalty, the love he had doubted.

Flushing, miserably ashamed but grateful, Harbin's lips moved, reading:

My darling —

I'm sending this message.back by one of the Chavantes. By now you must know we didn't go .to Matura, and never planned to go. I persuaded Mario to take me on to your Lost City, so your expedition need not be a flop. My dear, it seemed to mean so much to you, and I couldn't bear to see you looking so disgusted with yourself. I didn't tell you because I knew you'd stop me from trying it alone.

Mario has taken some pictures, and I've copied a few hieroglyphics off the stones, also some pottery. Darling, you and Lieutenant Colonel Fawcett and your silly paper in Rio were right. There's a sort of temple here,, Inca, I believe. The altar stone, for sacrifice, is inlaid with gold and silver — I wish you could see it.  But I've made maps, and we can come back after your ribs ha—

The note broke oflf, significantly. Sir Cedric raised his eyes, looking up at the grinning Urubu beaming down at him like an evil stunted child of some forest-demon. Again he nodded happily,' pleased to have carried out the Capitao's orders so well. Again he made the throat-cutting gesture  — and suddenly, like a cold hand on his heart, Sir Cedric remembered what the Inspector of Indians had said about the Urubu tribe. Not a history of cannibalism. Of head-hunting!

Harbin swallowed on a -dry throat.  What had he caused his young wife to witness, what horrible rites? Would she ever forgive him, ever look at him again without a shiver of revulsion? Would she ?

"Rissante?" he asked hoarsely. "Where's — Where's my wife?" He made the sign of a woman's body in the air hurriedly, pointing to himself. "Tell her to come in! Bring her here! Quickly!"

The Urubu grinned evilly, nodding several times like a small boy proud of the homework he was handing in to Teacher. He called out a few words of his dialect, and one of the other Indians entered, carrying a small wicker basket.

Even before he jerked off the lid and saw the shrunken thing inside —-lips stitched together in a hideous travesty pf a smile, the long blond hair unbound and carefully brushed clean of blood-flecks — Harbin began to scream. . . .



(1) – “Capivara” is an old variant spelling for “capybara.”  Capybaras are the largest rodents in the world, averaging around 100 lbs, and dwell in wetlands.

(2) – “Herva matte” is a variant spelling for the beverage now generally just called “mate,” a tea-like beverage made by adding hot (but not boiling) water to the finely-grated leaves of the yerba mate plant.  It is rich in caffeine and vitamins.  The bombilla is a metal straw.  These are, incidentally, the Spanish names for them, not the Portuguese.

(3) – “Mandioca” is a variant spelling for manioc or cassava, a starchy poisonous root out of which (once the cyanide is removed by preparation) is made flour and bread.  “Rapadura” is the Portuguese name for unrefined whole cane sugar, generally stored and consumed in blocks.

(4) – A northern city of Brazil, capital of Para, 100 miles upriver from the mouth of the Amazon and a major shipping port.

(5) – Lt. Col. Percival Harrison Fawcett (1867-1925), British Royal Artillery, and his son Jack (1903-1925) both disappeared searching for the lost city of “Z,” which may be identical with the ruins of Kuhikugu, discovered around 2000 by Heckenberger in the area where Fawcett disappeared.

(6) – Harbin’s ability to “embrace” her with three broken ribs would have been limited, anyway – tough Explorer Hero or not!

(7) – Quinine is a medicine made from tree-bark which is useful against malaria.

(8) – This is a standard of this sort of Golden Age adventure story – the apposition of the reasonably-trustworthy native tribe, often described in Noble Savage or at least neutral terms; to the treacherous native tribe, who are described as being almost subhuman.  There’s some justification for this, as cutures or subcultures who are poor at playing positive-sum games are often careless of their appearance as well.  Still, it usually comes off as Beauty Equals Goodness, and often with a strong racialist element as well.

(9) – “Mongoloid” here meaning “East Asian like” rather than referring to Down’s Syndrome.  This is semi-accurate, as Amerindian populations are descended from East Siberian peoples, but the fission between the two groups occurred before the evolution of the epicanthic eyelid fold.

(10) – “Good day!  Did Sir sleep well?”  Note the difference between the Chavante’s halting English and his relatively-fluent Portuguese.  This is good writing – a poor writer of this era would have assumed that the native was merely stupid because he spoke poor English.

(11) – At this point, you will have noticed that Cedric is a prick.  This is partially-excusable by his frustrating and enraging situation – he’s close to the object of his search, unable to proceed any further because of a painful injury, and he’s worried that his beloved and much-younger wife may have run off with the young, handsome guide.  But only partially-excusable.  Even by 1950 standards, Cedric is being harsh and abusive to Burity – and for telling him a truth that Cedric didn’t want to hear.

(12) –  A real song.  You can listen to it here.  Beautiful, isn't it?

(13) Cedric and Murika are presumably conversing in Portuguese, mostly rendered into English for the English-literate magazine readership.

(14) The skepticism of the Man of Science is here almost obligatory in this sort of tale.  It is meant to indicate that the supernatural element is true given the lack of any plausible mechanism for it to be false.

(15) Or, in modern Western terms, Murika is claiming the powers of retrocognition, clairvoyance and precognition.

(16) "... the Capitao may keep before him, for all the rest of his days, the smiling face of his senhora ..."  The term for this is Exact Words, and it is frequently a driver for horror stories:  compare with the mother's wish in "The Monkey's Paw." (W. W. Jacobs, 1902).  The point is irony:  the letter of the wish or prophecy is fulfilled, but most definitely not the spirit.  This is most certainly the case here.

(17) Cedric is reaching here:  most of the people Murika would have seen would have been brown or black-haired.  If Murika had guessed "blonde" he presumably would have been reasoning by analogy with Diana's own hair..

(18) Ironically, the pagan witch-doctor is here schooling Cedric in a Christian philosophy.  This is less improbable than it seems:  real Latin American Indians frequently practice a combination of Roman Catholicism and various native faiths and Murika is a fluent Portuguese-speaker, so he was probably educated to some extent by European-descended Brazilians.

(19) This apposition of American honesty and playfulness with British hypocrisy and stuffiness was a very old theme in American literature, most famously in the works of Henry James but actually far older (it's in Our American Cousin, the play that President Lincoln didn't get to finish watching in 1865, and was already a cliche by then) .  It was based to some extent on truth, and to some extent on an American misunderstanding of British customs.  It would in 1949-50 have been recently reinforced by the experiences of American servicemen in Britain during World War II, who found British girls simultaneously standoffish and absurdly easy in part because of divergences in courtship customs between the Mother Country and her former colony over the last century and three-quarters.

(20) The Urubus are of course grinning in embarrassment at their inability to understand what Sir Cedric is saying.  This should be a warning to Cedric that he should not attempt to give them complex orders on any crucial matter.  He's too angry to grasp this.

(21) Sir Cedric is very much not thinking this through.  Even if the Urubus had understood what he actually wanted them to do, what sort of a marriage would he have had if his suspicions had been correct and he had murdered her lover and taken her back by force?

(22) Rather ironically, as this "civilized man" has just essentially ordered his savage mercenaries to murder his wife's lover and drag his wife back to camp by main force.  At least, that's what he meant to do.

(23) Piranha are over-rated as threats to Mankind.  Humans are smart and agile enough, and piranha sufficiently small, that it is hard for them to do major damage to a man before he jumps out of the water, and consequently there are no verified reports of them actually killing anyone who wasn't first incapacitated for some other reason.  But really, how could one write a pulp story set in the Amazon without at least mentioning them?  Piranha are traditional in such tales -- and they are nasty little creatures.

(24) There is serious irony here.  Sir Cedric laughs at the "simplicity" of the Chavantes, and the Chavante boy is shocked and "respectful" of him, in Cedric's own perception.  But, actually, what's going on is that the Chavantes have a much better idea of what the Urubus are going to do than does Sir Cedric, and the Chavante boy is utterly horrified that Cedric has given such orders regarding his own wife, whom the Chavantes adore.

(25) Deep, deep irony here.  The Urubu chief has really "misunderstood" Cedric, in a way which Cedric would never have wanted.


This is psychological horror, set right at the intersection between magical and mundane adventure; after reading it I had difficulty classifying it properly.  In terms of genre it is actually fairly close to modern "magical realism," though its political assumptions would horrify most present-day writers of such.  It is interesting both as a story in its own right, and in terms of what it reveals about the attitudes regarding the world which were common 65 years ago.

The major fantasy element is, of course, Murika's psychic powers.  This is almost not fantasy, since we modern Westerners were and are fairly credulous about the magical abilities of native shamans.  The reason why the element makes it fantasy is that it is key to the internal logic of the story; without it Cedric would not have important information regarding Diana's actions.  The reason why it is still almost not fantasy is that it is included essentially for dramatic purposes and the mechanism is very cursorily explored Murika inhales a drug concentrates, and does magic.

The obvious comparison is with one of the Shakespeare plays that incorporates what we would call "fantasy" elements such as the Three Witches in Macbeth.  Arguably, such elements were almost science-fictional in Shakespeare, because witchcraft and socrery were part of the Elizabethan / Jacobean world view:  to them, black magic seemed as serious a threat as (say) bio-terrorism does to us.  That black magic doesn't really work, while bio-warfare does, is irrelevant to an analysis of the shared assumptions of author and audience..

In 1600, black magic seemed real to most Westerners.  350 years later it did not.  But of course this is a weird tale, and the reality of native shamanistic powers was by 1950 a common assumption in this kind of story.  In the more explicitly-fantastic tales of the Cthulhu Mythos this would usually be explained as survivals of some sort of alien super-science; in this more mundane weird tale, it is just accepted as part of the trappings of the jungle tale, as much as the vines or the anacondas.
 The next thing one will notice in the story is Sir Cedric's situation.  He's an older man, madly in love with his younger wife, and in a situation where he must prove himself to his colleagues by finding Fawcett's Lost City of Z.  And he has been -- most frustratingly -- checked of his ambition when he was within a few days' march of his objective, by the injuries he suffered in an anaconda attack.

What's more, he fears that his wife -- to whom he's been married only a month -- has now realized from his physical weakness that she has wed a broken-down old man and is having an affair with their guide Mario, who is young and handsome.  This is a reasonable fear, though unfair given Diana's loving and loyal personality (well-shown in the the first part of the story).  It's easy to sympathize with Cedric in this situation.

From a modern perspective, what is most offensive about Sir Cedric's attitude is his unremitting racism.  He treats the natives as almost subhuman savages, sees no problem with breaking his word to Burity (which is rather foolish, as Burity is the chief among his bearers, on whom he is now greatly dependent given his injuries) and even behaves disrespectfully to Murika, who consistently displays kindness and wisdom.

Sir Cedric is being less racist by the standards of 1950 than he would be by today's standards.  But he is being racist even by the standards of 1950.  No Edgar Rice Burroughs hero would have behaved thus, and Cedric is not meant by Counselman to be seen as behaving heroically or well when he abuses his own bearers.  It is very obvous from the conversation between Cedric and Murika, in which Murika warns him of the poison of jealousy, and Cedric reacts with irrational rage, that the author was very much aware of the flaws she wrote into her protagonist.

In his rage at his wife's imagined betrayal, and contempt for his friendly Chavantes, he makes the mistake of giving an ambiguous and poorly-thought-out order to the truly savage Urubus.  The consequences are tragic, and in a manner common to both epic and real history ("Who shall rid me of this troublesome priest?").  But that is the nature of anger and hate:  they may miscarry and strike the target one least wants to harm.

This is a true tragedy.  Sir Cedric must have been an admirable man in the beginning, both to have chosen such a demanding form of archaeology and to have won such a woman as Diana.  But, laid up by the anaconda's attack, his ambition and determination festers until he rages at the Chavantes and issues terrible orders to the Urubus, orders more terrible than he realizes.

As I said, this is psychological horror, about Man's inhumanity to Man.  And not simply the savagery of a primitive people, but rather of a representative of the upper class of what in 1950 would have been considered by the readers to be the most civilized nation on the Earth -- Sir Cedric, a highly-educated English gentleman.

It is true that that the actual atrocity is committed by the Urubus, the least sympathetic of the five cultural groups (Americans, Britons, Brazilians, Chavantes and Urubus) represented in this tale.  But this provides no easy moral out for Sir Cedric.  For it is he who has hired the Urubus (against the advice of the Brazilians and Chavantes).  And it is he who gives them the order that sends them on their lethal course.  Cruel though the Urubus are represented as being in this story, they would have done his party no harm had he not loosed them on them himself.

It is true that Sir Cedric did not intend them to murder his wife.  But he gave orders to people with whom he had no language in common, people whom he knew were cruel in combat.  And he meant them to kill Mario.  Much as Cedric values Diana more than Mario (and so would the male, American or British, reader of Weird Tales), this is not a moral judgement.

What is more, both of them were innocent.  Diana was actually trying to save the expedition and her husband's academic reputation.  Mario obviously admired her, but had done nothing worse than flirt with her.  Sir Cedric would have discovered this, had he been able to control his temper.  Instead, he lost his temper, and with it everything he cared about.  Even if he's now able to find the City of Z, his victory will be ashes in his mouth he's lost the true love who could have comforted him in his old age.  In fact, the story implies that he goes insane.

This is, essentially a cautionary tale about anger and suspicion, and it succeeds powerfully at this objective.