Chapter I The Tuft of Hair "Let's hope the horrible nightmare is over, dearest," whispered Ellen Estabrook to Lee Bentley as their liner came crawling up through the Narrows and the Statue of Liberty greeted the two with uplifted torch beyond Staten Island. New York's skyline was beautiful through the mist and smoke which always seemed to mask it. It was good to be home again. [Sidenote: Once more Lee Bentley is caught up in the marvelous machinations of the mad genius Barter.] Certainly it was a far cry from the African jungles where, for the space of a ghastly nightmare, Ellen had been a captive of the apes and Bentley himself had had a horrible adventure. Caleb Barter, a mad scientist, had drugged him and exchanged his brain with that of an ape, and for hours Bentley had roamed the jungles hidden in the great hairy body, the only part of him remaining "Bentley" being the Bentley brain which Barter had placed in the ape's skull-pan. Bentley would never forget the horror of that grim awakening, in which he had found himself walking on bent knuckles, his voice the fighting bellow of a giant anthropoid. Yes, it was a far cry from the African jungles to populous Manhattan. As soon as Ellen and Lee considered themselves recovered from the shock of the experience they would be married. They had already spent two months of absolute rest in England after their escape from Africa, but they found it had not been enough. Their story had been told in the press of the world and they had been constantly besieged by the curious, which of course had not helped them to forget. - - - "Lee," whispered Ellen, "I'll never feel sure that Caleb Barter is dead. We should have gone out that morning when he forgot to take his whip and we thought the vengeful apes had slain him. We should have proved it to our own satisfaction. It would be an ironic jest, characteristic of Barter, to allow us to think him dead." "He's dead all right, dear," replied Bentley, his nostrils quivering with pleasure as he looked ahead at New York, while the breeze along the Hudson pushed his hair back from his forehead. "He had abused the great anthropoids for too many years. They seized their opportunity, don't mistake that." "Still, he was a genius in his way, a mad, frightful genius. It hardly seems possible to me that he would allow himself to be so easily trapped. It's a reflection on his great mentality, twisted though it was." "Forget it, dear," replied Bentley, putting his arm around her shoulders."We'll both try to forget. After our nerves have returned to normal we'll be married. Then nothing can trouble us." The vessel docked and later Lee and Ellen entered a taxicab near the pier. "I'll take you to your home, Ellen," said Bentley. "Then I'll look after my own affairs for the next couple of days, which includes making peace with my father, then we'll go on from here." They looked through the windows of the cab as they rolled into lower Fifth Avenue and headed uptown. Newsies were screaming an extra from the sidewalks. "Excitement!" said Bentley enthusiastically. "It's certainly good to be home and hear a newsboy's unintelligible screaming of an extra, isn't it?" On an impulse he ordered the cabbie to draw up to the curb and purchased a newspaper. "Do you mind if I glance through the headlines?" Bentley asked Ellen. "I haven't looked at an American paper for ever so long." - - - The cab started again and Bentley folded the paper, falling easily into the habit of New Yorkers who are accustomed to reading on subways where there isn't room for elbows, to say nothing of broad newspapers. His eyes caught a headline. He started, frowning, but was instantly mindful of Ellen. He mustn't show any signs that would excite her, especially when he didn't yet understand what had caused his own instant perturbation. Had Ellen looked at him she might have seen merely the calm face of a man mildly interested in the news of the day, but she was looking out at the Fifth Avenue shops. Bentley was staring again at the newspaper story: "An evil genius signing his 'manifestoes' with the strange cognomen of 'Mind Master' gives the authorities of New York City twelve hours in which to take precautions. To prove that he is able to make good his mad threats he states that at noon exactly, to-day, he will cause the death of the chief executive of a great insurance company whose offices are in the Flatiron Building. After that, at regular stated periods, warnings to be issued in each case ten hours in advance, he will steal the brains of the twenty men whose names are hereto appended:" (There followed then a list of names, all of which were known to Bentley.) He understood why the story had startled him, too. "Mind Master!" Anything that had to do with the human brain interested him mightily now, for he knew to what grim uses it could be put at the hands of a master scientist. Around his own head, safely covered by his hair unless someone looked closely, and even then they must needs know what they sought, was a thin white line. It marked the line of Caleb Barter's operation on him that terrible night in the African jungles, when his brain had been transferred to the skull-pan of an ape, and the ape's brain to his own cranium. Any mention of the brain, therefore, recalled to him a very harrowing experience. It was little wonder that he shuddered. Ellen noticed his agitation. "What is it, dearest?" she asked softly, placing her hand in the crook of his arm. - - - He was about to answer her, desperately trying to think of something to say that would not alarm her, when their taxicab, with a sudden application of the brakes, came to a sharp stop. Bentley noticed that they were at the intersection of Twenty-second Street and Fifth Avenue. The lights were still green, but nevertheless all traffic was halted. And for a strange reason. From the west door of the Flatiron Building emerged a grim apparition of a man. His body was scored by countless bleeding wounds which looked as though they had been made by the fingernails of a giant. The man wore no article of clothing except his shoes. Apparently, his clothing had been ripped from his body by the same instrument which had turned his body into a raw, dripping horror. The man staggered, half-running, at times all but falling, toward the traffic officer at the intersection. As he ran he screamed, horrible, babbling screams. His lips worked crazily, his eyes rolled. He was frightened beyond the comprehension of ordinary mortals. His screams began and ended on the high shrill notes of utter dementia, and as he ran he pawed the air with his bleeding hands as though he fought out on all sides against invisible demons seeking to drag him down. "Oh, my God!" said Ellen. "Even here!" What had caused her to speak the last two words? Did she also have a premonition of grim disaster? Did she also feel, deep down inside her, as Bentley did, that the nightmare through which they had passed was not yet ended? Bentley now sat unmoving, his eyes unblinking, as he saw the naked man stagger over to the traffic officer. The color drained from his face. He looked at his watch. It was exactly noon. Even without further consideration Bentley knew that this gruesome apparition had some direct connection with the newspaper story he had just read. - - - Unobtrusively, trying to make it seem a preoccupied action, he folded the newspaper again and thrust it down at the end of the seat cushion. But Ellen was watching him, a haunting fear gradually coming into her eyes. She quickly reached past him and snatched the paper before he realized her intent. The item he had read came instantly under her eyes because of the way he had automatically folded the paper. She read it with staring eyes. "So, Lee," she said, "you think there's a connection with--with--well, withus?" "Absurd!" he said heartily, too heartily. "Caleb Barter is dead." "But I have never been sure," insisted Ellen. "Oh, Lee, let's get away from here! Let's take the first boat for Bermuda--anywhere to escape this terrible fear." "No!" he retorted harshly. "If our suspicions are correct, and I think we're unwarrantedly keyed up because of our recent experiences, the officials of New York may need my help." "Your help? Why?" "I know more about Caleb Barter than any other living man, perhaps." "Then you do have doubts that he is dead!" Bentley shrugged his shoulders. "Ellen," he said, "drive on home without me. I'm going to drop off and find out all I can. If we're in for it in any way it's just as well to know it at once." "You'll come right along?" "Just as soon as I can make it. And I hope I'll be able to report our fears groundless." Bentley stepped from the cab. He ordered the chauffeur to turn right into Twenty-second Street and to proceed until Ellen gave him further directions. Then Bentley hurried through the congestion of automobiles toward the traffic officer who was fighting with the naked man, trying to subdue him. Other men were running to the officer's assistance, for it could be seen that he alone was no match for the lunatic. Bentley, however, was first to arrive. "Give me a hand!" gasped the officer. "I can't handle 'im without usin' my club and I don't wanna do that. The poor fella don't know what he's a-doin'." - - - Bentley quickly sprang to the patrolman's assistance. Between them they soon reduced the stranger to a squirming bundle and dragged him to the sidewalk; another officer was phoning for an ambulance. The stricken man was now mumbling, babbling insanely. Blood trickled from the corners of his lips. The sight of one eye had been destroyed. Bentley watched him, sprawled now on the sidewalk, surrounded by a group of men. The man was dying, no question about that. The talons, which had scored him, had bitten deeply and he was destined to bleed to death soon even if the wounds were not otherwise mortal. Bentley noticed something clutched tightly in the man's right hand--something that sent a chill through his body despite the heat of a mid-July noon. The officer, apparently, had not noticed it. Soon a clanging bell announced the arrival of an ambulance, and as the crowd stepped aside to clear the way, Bentley bent over the dying man. The man's lips were parted and he was trying with a mighty effort of will to speak. Bentley put his ear close to the bleeding lips through which words strove to bubble. He heard parts of two words: "...ind ...aster...." Bentley suddenly knew what the man was trying to say. The half-uttered words could mean only--"Mind Master." Bentley suppressed a shudder and extended his hands to the closed right hand of the dying man. Carefully he removed from between the fingers three tufts of thick brown hair, coarse and crude of texture. There was a rattle in the naked man's throat. Five minutes later the ambulance intern hastily scribbled in his record the entry, "Dead on Arrival." Bentley, more frightened than he had ever been before, entered a taxicab as soon as the body had been removed and the streets cleared. He stared closely at the tufts of hair in his hand. Maybe he had been wrong in taking them before detectives arrived on the scene, but he had to know, and he felt that these hairs proved his mad suspicions. Caleb Barter was alive! The hairs came from the shaggy coat of a giant anthropoid ape or a gorilla. Chapter II Ultimatum How terribly far-fetched it seemed! It was unbelievable enough that Bentley had once reposed in the body of an ape. That had been in the African wilds. But the idiocy of the thing now rested in Bentley's belief that here, immediately upon landing, he was again facing something just as horrible. But the coincidences were too clear. The palaver about "brains," and "Mind Master"--and those ape hairs in Bentley's hands. He wished he knew all that had led up to that story he had read in the paper just prior to the appearance of the naked man from the west door of the Flatiron Building. However, the killing would get front page position now, due to the importance of the dead man--Bentley never doubted it was the man whom, in the paper, the "Mind Master" had promised to slay. Great apes in the heart of New York City! It sounded silly, preposterous. Yet, before he had gone through that dread experience with the mad Barter, Bentley would have sworn that brain transplantation was impossible. Even now he was not sure that it hadn't all been a terrible dream. Should Bentley go at once to the police to give them the benefit of whatever knowledge he might have of Caleb Barter? He wasn't sure. Then he decided that sooner or later he must come out into the open. So he caught a cab and went to police headquarters. "I wish," he said, "to talk to someone about the Mind Master!" If he had said, "I have just come from Mars," he could scarcely have caused a greater sensation.