Garrett P. Serviss.

The Moon Metal online

. (page 1 of 6)
Online LibraryGarrett P. ServissThe Moon Metal → online text (page 1 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Suzanne L. Shell, Joris Van Dael, and the
Online Distributed Proofreading Team


By Garrett P. Serviss



















When the news came of the discovery of gold at the south pole, nobody
suspected that the beginning had been reached of a new era in the
world's history. The newsboys cried "Extra!" as they had done a
thousand times for murders, battles, fires, and Wall Street panics,
but nobody was excited. In fact, the reports at first seemed so
exaggerated and improbable that hardly anybody believed a word of
them. Who could have been expected to credit a despatch, forwarded by
cable from New Zealand, and signed by an unknown name, which contained
such a statement as this:

"A seam of gold which can be cut with a knife has been found within
ten miles of the south pole."

The discovery of the pole itself had been announced three years
before, and several scientific parties were known to be exploring the
remarkable continent that surrounds it. But while they had sent home
many highly interesting reports, there had been nothing to suggest the
possibility of such an amazing discovery as that which was now
announced. Accordingly, most sensible people looked upon the New
Zealand despatch as a hoax.

But within a week, and from a different source, flashed another
despatch which more than confirmed the first. It declared that gold
existed near the south pole in practically unlimited quantity. Some
geologists said this accounted for the greater depth of the Antarctic
Ocean. It had always been noticed that the southern hemisphere
appeared to be a little overweighted. People now began to prick up
their ears, and many letters of inquiry appeared in the newspapers
concerning the wonderful tidings from the south. Some asked for
information about the shortest route to the new goldfields.

In a little while several additional reports came, some via New
Zealand, others via South America, and all confirming in every respect
what had been sent before. Then a New York newspaper sent a swift
steamer to the Antarctic, and when this enterprising journal published
a four-page cable describing the discoveries in detail, all doubt
vanished and the rush began.

Some time I may undertake a description of the wild scenes that
occurred when, at last, the inhabitants of the northern hemisphere
were convinced that boundless stores of gold existed in the unclaimed
and uninhabited wastes surrounding the south pole. But at present I
have something more wonderful to relate.

Let me briefly depict the situation.

For many years silver had been absent from the coinage of the
world. Its increasing abundance rendered it unsuitable for money,
especially when contrasted with gold. The "silver craze," which had
raged in the closing decade of the nineteenth century, was already a
forgotten incident of financial history. The gold standard had become
universal, and business all over the earth had adjusted itself to that
condition. The wheels of industry ran smoothly, and there seemed to be
no possibility of any disturbance or interruption. The common monetary
system prevailing in every land fostered trade and facilitated the
exchange of products. Travellers never had to bother their heads about
the currency of money; any coin that passed in New York would pass for
its face value in London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Madrid, St. Petersburg,
Constantinople, Cairo, Khartoum, Jerusalem, Peking, or Yeddo. It was
indeed the "Golden Age," and the world had never been so free from
financial storms.

Upon this peaceful scene the south polar gold discoveries burst like
an unheralded tempest.

I happened to be in the company of a famous bank president when the
confirmation of those discoveries suddenly filled the streets with
yelling newsboys. "Get me one of those 'extras'!" he said, and an
office-boy ran out to obey him. As he perused the sheet his face

"I'm afraid it's too true," he said, at length. "Yes, there seems to
be no getting around it. Gold is going to be as plentiful as iron. If
there were not such a flood of it, we might manage, but when they
begin to make trousers buttons out of the same metal that is now
locked and guarded in steel vaults, where will be our standard of
worth? My dear fellow," he continued, impulsively laying his hand on
my arm, "I would as willingly face the end of the world as this that's

"You think it so bad, then?" I asked. "But most people will not agree
with you. They will regard it as very good news."

"How can it be good?" he burst out. "What have we got to take the
place of gold? Can we go back to the age of barter? Can we substitute
cattle-pens and wheat-bins for the strong boxes of the Treasury? Can
commerce exist with no common measure of exchange?"

"It does indeed look serious," I assented.

"Serious! I tell you, it is the deluge!"

Thereat he clapped on his hat and hurried across the street to the
office of another celebrated banker.

His premonitions of disaster turned out to be but too well grounded.
The deposits of gold at the south pole were richer than the wildest
reports had represented them. The shipments of the precious metal to
America and Europe soon became enormous - so enormous that the metal
was no longer precious. The price of gold dropped like a falling
stone, with accelerated velocity, and within a year every money centre
in the world had been swept by a panic. Gold was more common than
iron. Every government was compelled to demonetize it, for when once
gold had fallen into contempt it was less valuable in the eyes of the
public than stamped paper. For once the world had thoroughly learned
the lesson that too much of a good thing is worse than none of it.

Then somebody found a new use for gold by inventing a process by which
it could be hardened and tempered, assuming a wonderful toughness and
elasticity without losing its non-corrosive property, and in this form
it rapidly took the place of steel.

In the mean time every effort was made to bolster up credit. Endless
were the attempts to find a substitute for gold. The chemists sought
it in their laboratories and the mineralogists in the mountains and
deserts. Platinum might have served, but it, too, had become a drug in
the market through the discovery of immense deposits. Out of the
twenty odd elements which had been rarer and more valuable than gold,
such as uranium, gallium, etc., not one was found to answer the
purpose. In short, it was evident that since both gold and silver had
become too abundant to serve any longer for a money standard, the
planet held no metal suitable to take their place.

The entire monetary system of the world must be readjusted, but in the
readjustment it was certain to fall to pieces. In fact, it had already
fallen to pieces; the only recourse was to paper money, but whether
this was based upon agriculture or mining or manufacture, it gave
varying standards, not only among the different nations, but in
successive years in the same country. Exports and imports practically
ceased. Credit was discredited, commerce perished, and the world, at a
bound, seemed to have gone back, financially and industrially, to the
dark ages.

One final effort was made. A great financial congress was assembled at
New York. Representatives of all the nations took part in it. The
ablest financiers of Europe and America united the efforts of their
genius and the results of their experience to solve the great
problem. The various governments all solemnly stipulated to abide by
the decision of the congress.

But, after spending months in hard but fruitless labor, that body was
no nearer the end of its undertaking than when it first assembled. The
entire world awaited its decision with bated breath, and yet the
decision was not formed.

At this paralyzing crisis a most unexpected event suddenly opened the



An attendant entered the room where the perplexed financiers were in
session and presented a peculiar-looking card to the president,
Mr. Boon. The president took the card in his hand and instantly fell
into a brown study. So complete was his absorption that Herr Finster,
the celebrated Berlin banker, who had been addressing the chair for
the last two hours from the opposite end of the long table, got
confused, entirely lost track of his verb, and suddenly dropped into
his seat, very red in the face and wearing a most injured expression.

But President Boon paid no attention except to the singular card,
which he continued to turn over and over, balancing it on his fingers
and holding it now at arm's-length and then near his nose, with one
eye squinted as if he were trying to look through a hole in the card.

At length this odd conduct of the presiding officer drew all eyes upon
the card, and then everybody shared the interest of Mr. Boon. In shape
and size the card was not extraordinary, but it was composed of
metal. What metal? That question had immediately arisen in Mr. Boon's
mind when the card came into his hand, and now it exercised the wits
of all the others. Plainly it was not tin, brass, copper, bronze,
silver, aluminum - although its lightness might have suggested that
metal - nor even base gold.

The president, although a skilled metallurgist, confessed his
inability to say what it was. So intent had he become in examining the
curious bit of metal that he forgot it was a visitor's card of
introduction, and did not even look for the name which it presumably

As he held the card up to get a better light upon it a stray sunbeam
from the window fell across the metal and instantly it bloomed with
exquisite colors! The president's chair being in the darker end of
the room, the radiant card suffused the atmosphere about him with a
faint rose tint, playing with surprising liveliness into alternate
canary color and violet.

The effect upon the company of clear-headed financiers was extremely
remarkable. The unknown metal appeared to exercise a kind of mesmeric
influence, its soft hues blending together in a chromatic harmony
which captivated the sense of vision as the ears are charmed by a
perfectly rendered song. Gradually all gathered in an eager group
around the president's chair.

"What can it be?" was repeated from lip to lip.

"Did you ever see anything like it?" asked Mr. Boon for the twentieth

None of them had ever seen the like of it. A spell fell upon the
assemblage. For five minutes no one spoke, while Mr. Boon continued to
chase the flickering sunbeam with the wonderful card. Suddenly the
silence was broken by a voice which had a touch of awe in it:

"It must be the metal!"

The speaker was an English financier, First Lord of the Treasury,
Hon. James Hampton-Jones, K.C.B. Immediately everybody echoed his
remark, and the strain being thus relieved, the spell dropped from
them and several laughed loudly over their momentary aberration.

President Boon recollected himself, and, coloring slightly, placed the
card flat on the table, in order more clearly to see the name. In
plain red letters it stood forth with such surprising distinctness
that Mr. Boon wondered why he had so long overlooked it.


"Tell the gentleman to come in," said the president, and thereupon the
attendant threw open the door.

The owner of the mysterious card fixed every eye as he entered. He was
several inches more than six feet in height. His complexion was very
dark, his eyes were intensely black, bright, and deep-set, his
eyebrows were bushy and up-curled at the ends, his sable hair was
close-trimmed, and his ears were narrow, pointed at the top, and
prominent. He wore black mustaches, covering only half the width of
his lip and drawn into projecting needles on each side, while a spiked
black beard adorned the middle of his chin.

He smiled as he stepped confidently forward, with a courtly bow, but
it was a very disconcerting smile, because it more than half resembled
a sneer. This uncommon person did not wait to be addressed.

"I have come to solve your problem," he said, facing President Boon,
who had swung round on his pivoted chair.

"The metal!" exclaimed everybody in a breath, and with a unanimity and
excitement which would have astonished them if they had been
spectators instead of actors of the scene. The tall stranger bowed and
smiled again:

"Just so," he said. "What do you think of it?"

"It is beautiful!"

Again the reply came from every mouth simultaneously, and again if the
speakers could have been listeners they would have wondered not only
at their earnestness, but at their words, for why should they
instantly and unanimously pronounce that beautiful which they had not
even seen? But every man knew he had seen it, for instinctively their
minds reverted to the card and recognized in it the metal referred
to. The mesmeric spell seemed once more to fall upon the assemblage,
for the financiers noticed nothing remarkable in the next act of the
stranger, which was to take a chair, uninvited, at the table, and the
moment he sat down he became the presiding officer as naturally as if
he had just been elected to that post. They all waited for him to
speak, and when he opened his mouth they listened with breathless

His words were of the best English, but there was some peculiarity,
which they had already noticed, either in his voice or his manner of
enunciation, which struck all of the listeners as denoting a
foreigner. But none of them could satisfactorily place him. Neither
the Americans, the Englishmen, the Germans, the Frenchmen, the
Russians, the Austrians, the Italians, the Spaniards, the Turks, the
Japanese, or the Chinese at the board could decide to what race or
nationality the stranger belonged.

"This metal," he began, taking the card from Mr. Boon's hand, "I have
discovered and named. I call it 'artemisium.' I can produce it, in the
pure form, abundantly enough to replace gold, giving it the same
relative value that gold possessed when it was the universal

As Dr. Syx spoke he snapped the card with his thumb-nail and it
fluttered with quivering hues like a humming-bird hovering over a
flower. He seemed to await a reply, and President Boon asked:

"What guarantee can you give that the supply would be adequate and

"I will conduct a committee of this congress to my mine in the Rocky
Mountains, where, in anticipation of the event, I have accumulated
enough refined artemisium to provide every civilized land with an
amount of coin equivalent to that which it formerly held in gold. I
can there satisfy you of my ability to maintain the production."

"But how do we know that this metal of yours will answer the purpose?"

"Try it," was the laconic reply.

"There is another difficulty," pursued the president. "People will not
accept a new metal in place of gold unless they are convinced that it
possesses equal intrinsic value. They must first become familiar with
it, and it must be abundant enough and desirable enough to be used
sparingly in the arts, just as gold was."

"I have provided for all that," said the stranger, with one of his
disconcerting smiles. "I assure you that there will be no trouble with
the people. They will be only too eager to get and to use the
metal. Let me show you."

He stepped to the door and immediately returned with two black
attendants bearing a large tray filled with articles shaped from the
same metal as that of which the card was composed. The financiers all
jumped to their feet with exclamations of surprise and admiration, and
gathered around the tray, whose dazzling contents lighted up the
corner of the room where it had been placed as if the moon were
shining there.

There were elegantly formed vases, adorned with artistic figures,
embossed and incised, and glowing with delicate colors which shimmered
in tiny waves with the slightest motion of the tray. Cups, pins,
finger-rings, earrings, watch-chains, combs, studs, lockets, medals,
tableware, models of coins - in brief, almost every article in the
fabrication of which precious metals have been employed was to be seen
there in profusion, and all composed of the strange new metal which
everybody on the spot declared was far more splendid than gold.

"Do you think it will answer?" asked Dr. Syx.

"We do," was the unanimous reply.

All then resumed their seats at the table, the tray with its
magnificent array having been placed in the centre of the board. This
display had a remarkable influence. Confidence awoke in the breasts of
the financiers. The dark clouds that had oppressed them rolled off,
and the prospect grew decidedly brighter.

"What terms do you demand?" at length asked Mr. Boon, cheerfully
rubbing his hands.

"I must have military protection for my mine and reducing works,"
replied Dr. Syx. "Then I shall ask the return of one per cent, on the
circulating medium, together with the privilege of disposing of a
certain amount of the metal - to be limited by agreement - to the public
for use in the arts. Of the proceeds of this sale I will pay ten per
cent. to the government in consideration of its protection."

"But," exclaimed President Boon, "that will make you the richest man
who ever lived!"

"Undoubtedly," was the reply.

"Why," added Mr. Boon, opening his eyes wider as the facts continued
to dawn upon him, "you will become the financial dictator of the whole

"Undoubtedly," again responded Dr. Syx, unmoved. "That is what I
purpose to become. My discovery entitles me to no less. But, remember,
I place myself under government inspection and restriction. I should
not be allowed to flood the market, even if I were disposed to do
so. But my own interest would restrain me. It is to my advantage that
artemisium, once adopted, shall remain stable in value."

A shadow of doubt suddenly crossed the president's face.

"Suppose your secret is discovered," he said. "Surely your mine will
not remain the only one. If you, in so short a time, have been able to
accumulate an immense quantity of the new metal, it must be extremely
abundant. Others will discover it, and then where shall we be?"

While Mr. Boon uttered these words, those who were watching Dr. Syx
(as the president was not) resembled persons whose startled eyes are
fixed upon a wild beast preparing to spring. As Mr. Boon ceased
speaking he turned towards the visitor, and instantly his lips fell
apart and his face paled.

Dr. Syx had drawn himself up to his full stature, and his features
were distorted with that peculiar mocking smile which had now returned
with a concentrated expression of mingled self-confidence and disdain.

"Will you have relief, or not?" he asked in a dry, hard voice. "What
can you do? I alone possess the secret which can restore industry and
commerce. If you reject my offer, do you think a second one will

President Boon found voice to reply, stammeringly:

"I did not mean to suggest a rejection of the offer. I only wished to
inquire if you thought it probable that there would be no repetition
of what occurred after gold was found at the south pole?"

"The earth may be full of my metal," returned Dr. Syx, almost
fiercely, "but so long as I alone possess the knowledge how to extract
it, is it of any more worth than common dirt? But come," he added,
after a pause and softening his manner, "I have other schemes. Will
you, as representatives of the leading nations, undertake the
introduction of artemisium as a substitute for gold, or will you not?"

"Can we not have time for deliberation?" asked President Boon.

"Yes, one hour. Within that time I shall return to learn your
decision," replied Dr. Syx, rising and preparing to depart. "I leave
these things," pointing to the tray, "in your keeping, and,"
significantly, "I trust your decision will be a wise one."

His curious smile again curved his lips and shot the ends of his
mustache upward, and the influence of that smile remained in the room
when he had closed the door behind him. The financiers gazed at one
another for several minutes in silence, then they turned towards the
coruscating metal that filled the tray.



Away on the western border of Wyoming, in the all but inaccessible
heart of the Rocky Mountains, three mighty brothers, "The Big Tetons,"
look perpendicularly into the blue eye of Jenny's Lake, lying at the
bottom of the profound depression among the mountains called Jackson's
Hole. Bracing against one another for support, these remarkable peaks
lift their granite spires from 12,000 to nearly 14,000 feet into the
blue dome that arches the crest of the continent. Their sides, and
especially those of their chief, the Grand Teton, are streaked with
glaciers, which shine like silver trappings when the morning sun comes
up above the wilderness of mountains stretching away eastward from the

When the first white men penetrated this wonderful region, and one of
them bestowed his wife's name upon Jenny's Lake, they were intimidated
by the Grand Teton. It made their flesh creep, accustomed though they
were to rough scrambling among mountain gorges and on the brows of
immense precipices, when they glanced up the face of the peak, where
the cliffs fall, one below another, in a series of breathless
descents, and imagined themselves clinging for dear life to those
skyey battlements.

But when, in 1872, Messrs. Stevenson and Langford finally reached the
top of the Grand Teton - the only successful members of a party of nine
practised climbers who had started together from the bottom - they
found there a little rectangular enclosure, made by piling up rocks,
six or seven feet across and three feet in height, bearing evidences
of great age, and indicating that the red Indians had, for some
unknown purpose, resorted to the summit of this tremendous peak long
before the white men invaded their mountains. Yet neither the Indians
nor the whites ever really conquered the Teton, for above the highest
point that they attained rises a granite buttress, whose smooth
vertical sides seemed to them to defy everything but wings.

Winding across the sage-covered floor of Jackson's Hole runs the
Shoshone, or Snake River, which takes its rise from Jackson's Lake at
the northern end of the basin, and then, as if shrinking from the
threatening brows of the Tetons, whose fall would block its progress,
makes a detour of one hundred miles around the buttressed heights of
the range before it finds a clear way across Idaho, and so on to the
Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean.

On a July morning, about a month after the visit of Dr. Max Syx to the
assembled financiers in New York, a party of twenty horsemen,
following a mountain-trail, arrived on the eastern margin of Jackson's
Hole, and pausing upon a commanding eminence, with exclamations of
wonder, glanced across the great depression, where lay the shining
coils of the Snake River, at the towering forms of the Tetons, whose
ice-striped cliffs flashed lightnings in the sunshine. Even the
impassive broncos that the party rode lifted their heads inquiringly,
and snorted as if in equine astonishment at the magnificent spectacle.

One familiar with the place would have noticed something, which, to
his mind, would have seemed more surprising than the pageantry of the
mountains in their morning sun-bath. Curling above one of the wild
gorges that cut the lower slopes of the Tetons was a thick black
smoke, which, when lifted by a passing breeze, obscured the precipices
half-way to the summit of the peak.

Had the Grand Teton become a volcano? Certainly no hunting or
exploring party could make a smoke like that. But a word from the
leader of the party of horsemen explained the mystery.

"There is my mill, and the mine is underneath it."

The speaker was Dr. Syx, and his companions were members of the
financial congress. When he quitted their presence in New York, with
the promise to return within an hour for their reply, he had no doubt
in his own mind what that reply would be. He knew they would accept

1 3 4 5 6

Online LibraryGarrett P. ServissThe Moon Metal → online text (page 1 of 6)