The Master of the World HTML version
Chapter 10. Outside The Law
Such was the letter addressed to the government of the United States. As to the person
who had placed it in the mail-box of the police, no one had seen him.
The sidewalk in front of our offices had probably not been once vacant during the entire
night. From sunset to sunrise, there had always been people, busy, anxious, or curious,
passing before our door. It is true, however, that even then, the bearer of the letter might
easily have slipped by unseen and dropped the letter in the box. The night had been so
dark, you could scarcely see from one side of the street to the other.
I have said that this letter appeared in facsimile in all the newspapers to which the
government communicated it. Perhaps one would naturally imagine that the first
comment of the public would be, "This is the work of some practical joker." It was in that
way that I had accepted my letter from the Great Eyrie, five weeks before.
But this was not the general attitude toward the present letter, neither in Washington, nor
in the rest of America. To the few who would have maintained that the document should
not be taken seriously, an immense majority would have responded. "This letter has not
the style nor the spirit of a jester. Only one man could have written it; and that is the
inventor of this unapproachable machine."
To most people this conclusion seemed indisputable owing to a curious state of mind
easily explainable. For all the strange facts of which the key had hitherto been lacking,
this letter furnished an explanation. The theory now almost universally accepted was as
follows. The inventor had hidden himself for a time, only in order to reappear more
startlingly in some new light. Instead of having perished in an accident, he had concealed
himself in some retreat where the police were unable to discover him. Then to assert
positively his attitude toward all governments he had written this letter. But instead of
dropping it in the post in any one locality, which might have resulted in its being traced to
him, he had come to Washington and deposited it himself in the very spot suggested by
the government's official notice, the bureau of police.
Well! If this remarkable personage had reckoned that this new proof of his existence
would make some noise in two worlds, he certainly figured rightly. That day, the millions
of good folk who read and re-read their daily paper could to employ a well-known
phrase, scarcely believe their eyes.
As for myself, I studied carefully every phrase of the defiant document. The hand-writing
was black and heavy. An expert at chirography would doubtless have distinguished in the
lines traces of a violent temperament, of a character stern and unsocial. Suddenly, a cry
escaped me a cry that fortunately my housekeeper did not hear. Why had I not noticed
sooner the resemblance of the handwriting to that of the letter I had received from