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Chapter I
 The Maker of Moons
 by Robert W. Chambers
I am myself just as much evil as good, and my nation
is — And I say there is in fact no evil;
(Or if there is, I say it is just as important to you, to
the land, or to me, as anything else.)
Each is not for its own sake;
I say the whole earth, and all the stars in the sky are
for Religion’s sake.
I say no man has ever yet been half devout enough;
None has ever adored or worshipped half enough;
None has begun to think how divine he himself is, and
how certain the future is. — WALT WHITMAN
I have heard what the Talkers were talking — the talk
Of the beginning and the end;
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
Chapter I
Concerning Yue–Laou and the Xin I know nothing more than you shall know. I am miserably anxious to clear the matter up. Perhaps what I write may save the United Stares Government money and lives, perhaps it may arouse the scientific world to action; at any rate it will put an end to the terrible suspense of two people. Certainty is better than suspense.
If the Government dares to disregard this warning and refuses to send a thoroughly equipped expedition at once, the people of the State may take swift vengeance on the whole region and leave a blackened devastated waste where to-day forest and flowering meadow land border the lake in the Cardinal Woods.
You already know part of the story; the New York papers have been full of alleged details.
This much is true: Barris caught the “Shiner,” red handed, or rather yellow handed, for his pockets and boots and dirty fists were stuffed with lumps of gold. I say gold, advisedly. You may call it what you please. You also know how Barris was — but unless I begin at the beginning of my own experiences you will be none the wiser after all.
On the third of August of this present year I was standing in Tiffany’s, chatting with George Godfrey of the designing department. On the glass counter between us lay a coiled serpent, an exquisite specimen of chiselled gold.
“No,” replied Godfrey to my question, “it isn’t my work; I wish it was. Why, man, it’s a masterpiece!”
“Whose?” I asked . . . “Now I should be very glad to know also,” said Godfrey. “We bought it from an old jay who says he lives in the country somewhere about the Cardinal Woods. That’s near Starlit Lake, I believe —”
“Lake of the Stars?” I suggested.
“Some call it Starlit Lake — it’s all the same. Well, my rustic Reuben says that he represents the sculptor of this snake for all practical and business purposes. He got his price too. We hope he’ll bring us something more. We have sold this already to the Metropolitan Museum.”
I was leaning idly on the glass case, watching the keen eyes of the artist in precious metals as he stooped over the gold serpent.
“A masterpiece!” he muttered to himself fondling the glittering coil; “look at the texture! whew!” But I was not looking at the serpent. Something was moving — crawling out of Godfrey’s coat pocket — the pocket nearest to me — something soft and yellow with crab-like legs all covered with coarse yellow hair.
“What in Heaven’s name,” said I, “have you got in your pocket? It’s crawling out — it’s trying to creep up your coat, Godfrey!”
He turned quickly and dragged the creature out with his left hand.
I shrank back as he held the repulsive object dangling before me, and he laughed and placed it on the counter.
“Did you ever see anything like that?” he demanded.
“No,” said I truthfully, “and I hope I never shall again. What is it?”
“I don’t know. Ask them at the Natural History Museum — they can’t tell you. The Smithsonian is all at sea too. It is, I believe, the connecting link between a sea-urchin, a spider, and the devil. It looks venomous but I can’t find either fangs or mouth. Is it blind? These things may be eyes but they look as if they were painted. A Japanese sculptor might have produced such an impossible beast, but it is hard to believe that God did. It looks unfinished too. I have a mad idea that this creature is only one of the parts of some larger and more grotesque organism — it looks so lonely, so hopelessly dependent, so cursedly unfinished. I’m going to use it as a model. If I don’t out-Japanese the Japs my name isn’t Godfrey.”
The creature was moving slowly across the glass case towards me. I drew back.
“Godfrey,” I said, “I would execute a man who executed any such work as you propose. What do you want to perpetuate such a reptile for? I can stand the Japanese grotesque but I can’t stand that — spider —”
“It’s a crab.”
“Crab or spider or blind-worm — ugh! What do you want to do it for? It’s a nightmare — it’s unclean!”
I hated the thing. It was the first living creature that I had ever hated.
For some time I had noticed a damp acrid odour in the air, and Godfrey said it came from the reptile.
“Then kill it and bury it,” I said; “and by the way, where did it come from?”
“I don’t know that either,” laughed Godfrey; “I found it clinging to the box that this gold serpent was brought in. I suppose my old Reuben is responsible.”
“If the Cardinal Woods are the lurking places for things like this,” said I, “I am sorry that I am going to the Cardinal Woods.”
“Are you?” asked Godfrey; “for the shooting?”
“Yes, with Barris and Pierpont. Why don’t you kill that creature?”
“Go off on your shooting trip, and let me alone,” laughed Godfrey . . . I shuddered at the “crab,” and bade Godfrey good-bye until December.
That night, Pierpont, Barris, and I sat chatting in the smoking-car of the Quebec Express when the long train pulled out of the Grand Central Depot. Old David had gone forward with the dogs; poor things, they hated to ride in the baggage car, but the Quebec and Northern road provides no sportsman’s cars, and David and the three Gordon setters were in for an uncomfortable night.
Except for Pierpont, Barris, and myself, the car was empty. Barris, trim, stout, ruddy, and bronzed, sat drumming on the window ledge, puffing a short fragrant pipe. His gun-case lay beside him on the floor.
“When I have white hair and years of discretion,” said Pierpont languidly, “I’ll not flirt with pretty serving-maids; will you, Roy?”
“No,” said I, looking at Barris.
“You mean the maid with the cap in the Pullman car?” asked Barris.
“Yes,” said Pierpont.
I smiled, for I had seen it also.
Barris twisted his crisp grey moustache, and yawned.
“You children had better be toddling off to bed,” he said. “That lady’s-maid is a member of the Secret Service.”
“Oh,” said Pierpont, “one of your colleagues?”
“You might present us, you know,” I said; “the journey is monotonous.”
Barris had drawn a telegram from his pocket, and as he sat turning it over and over between his fingers he smiled. After a moment or two he handed it to Pierpont who read it with slightly raised eyebrows.
“It’s rot — I suppose it’s cipher,” he said; “I see it’s signed by General Drummond —”
“Drummond, Chief of the Government Secret Service,” said Barris.
“Something interesting?” I enquired, lighting a cigarette.
“Something so interesting,” replied Barris, “that I’m going to look into it myself —”
“And break up our shooting trio —”
“No. Do you want to hear about it? Do you, Billy Pierpont?”
“Yes,” replied that immaculate young man.
Barris rubbed the amber mouth-piece of his pipe on his handkerchief, cleared the stem with a bit of wire, puffed once or twice, and leaned back in his chair.
“Pierpont,” he said, “do you remember that evening at the United States Club when General Miles, General Drummond, and I were examining that gold nugget that Captain Mahan had? You examined it also, I believe.”
“I did,” said Pierpont.
“Was it gold?” asked Barris, drumming on the window.
“It was,” replied Pierpont.
“I saw it too,” said I; “of course, it was gold.”
“Professor La Grange saw it also,” said Barris; “he said it was gold.”
“Well?” said Pierpont.
“Well,” said Barris, “it was not gold.”
After a silence Pierpont asked what tests had been made.
“The usual tests,” replied Barris. “The United States Mint is satisfied that it is gold, so is every jeweller who has seen it. But it is not gold — and yet — it is gold.”
Pierpont and I exchanged glances.
“Now,” said I, “for Barris’ usual coup-de-théatre: what was the nugget?”
“Practically it was pure gold; but,” said Barris, enjoying the situation intensely, “really it was not gold. Pierpont, what is gold?”
“Gold’s an element, a metal —”
“Wrong! Billy Pierpont,” said Barris coolly.
“Gold was an element when I went to school,” said I.
“It has not been an element for two weeks,” said Barris; “and, except General Drummond, Professor La Grange, and myself, you two youngsters are the only people, except one, in the world who know it — or have known it.”
“Do you mean to say that gold is a composite metal?” said Pierpont slowly.
“I do. La Grange has made it. He produced a scale of pure gold day before yesterday. That nugget was manufactured gold.”
Could Barris be joking? Was this a colossal hoax? I looked at Pierpont. He muttered something about that settling the silver question, and turned his head to Barris, but there was that in Barris’ face which forbade jesting, and Pierpont and I sat silently pondering.
“Don’t ask me how it’s made,” said Barris, quietly; “I don’t know. But I do know that somewhere in the region of the Cardinal Woods there is a gang of people who do know how gold is made, and who make it. You understand the danger this is to every civilized nation. It’s got to be stopped of course. Drummond and I have decided that I am the man to stop it. Wherever and whoever these people are — these gold-makers — they must be caught, every one of them —— caught or shot.”
“Or shot,” repeated Pierpont, who was owner of the Cross–Cut Gold Mine and found his income too small; “Professor La Grange will of course be prudent; — science need not know things that would upset the world!”
“Little Willy,” said Barris laughing, “your income is safe.”
“I suppose,” said I, “some flaw in the nugget gave Professor La Grange the tip.”
“Exactly. He cut the flaw out before sending the nugget to be tested. He worked on the flaw and separated gold into its three elements.”
“He is a great man,” said Pierpont, “but he will be the greatest man in the world if he can keep his discovery to himself.”
“Who?” said Barris.
“Professor La Grange.”
“Professor La Grange was shot through the heart two hours ago,” replied Barris slowly.
 


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