Old Crompton's Secret
by Harl Vincent
Tom tripped on a
wire and fell, with
his ferocious adversary
Two miles west of the village
of Laketon there lived an aged
recluse who was known only as
Old Crompton. As far back as
the villagers could remember he had
visited the town
regularly twice a
month, each time
tottering his lonely
with a load of
appeared to be
well supplied with funds, but purchased
sparingly as became a miserly
hermit. And so vicious was his tongue
that few cared to converse with him,
even the young hoodlums of the town
hesitating to harass him with the banter
usually accorded the other bizarre
characters of the streets.
The oldest inhabitants knew nothing
of his past history, and they had long
since lost their curiosity in the matter.
He was a fixture,
as was the old
town hall with
park. His lonely
cabin was shunned
by all who chanced
to pass along the
old dirt road that led through the
woods to nowhere and was rarely used.
His only extravagance was in the
matter of books, and the village book
store profited considerably by his purchases.
But, at the instigation of Cass
Harmon, the bookseller, it was whispered
about that Old Crompton was a
believer in the black art—that he had
made a pact with the devil himself and
was leagued with him and his imps.
For the books he bought were strange
ones; ancient volumes that Cass must
needs order from New York or Chicago
and that cost as much as ten and even
fifteen dollars a copy; translations of
the writings of the alchemists and astrologers
and philosophers of the dark
It was no wonder Old Crompton was
looked at askance by the simple-living
and deeply religious natives of the
small Pennsylvania town.
But there came a day when the hermit
was to have a neighbor, and the
town buzzed with excited speculation
as to what would happen.
The property across the road from
Old Crompton's hut belonged to
Alton Forsythe, Laketon's wealthiest
resident—hundreds of acres of scrubby
woodland that he considered well nigh
worthless. But Tom Forsythe, the only
son, had returned from college and his
ambitions were of a nature strange to
his townspeople and utterly incomprehensible
to his father. Something
vague about biology and chemical experiments
and the like is what he spoke
of, and, when his parents objected on
the grounds of possible explosions and
other weird accidents, he prevailed
upon his father to have a secluded laboratory
built for him in the woods.
When the workmen started the small
frame structure not a quarter of a mile
from his own hut, Old Crompton was
furious. He raged and stormed, but to
no avail. Tom Forsythe had his heart
set on the project and he was somewhat
of a successful debater himself.
The fire that flashed from his cold gray
eyes matched that from the pale blue
ones of the elderly anchorite. And the
law was on his side.
So the building was completed and
Tom Forsythe moved in, bag and baggage.
For more than a year the hermit studiously
avoided his neighbor, though,
truth to tell, this required very little
effort. For Tom Forsythe became almost
as much of a recluse as his predecessor,
remaining indoors for days
at a time and visiting the home of his
people scarcely oftener than Old
Crompton visited the village. He too
became the target of village gossip and
his name was ere long linked with that
of the old man in similar animadversion.
But he cared naught for the
opinions of his townspeople nor for the
dark looks of suspicion that greeted
him on his rare appearances in the public
places. His chosen work engrossed
him so deeply that all else counted for
nothing. His parents remonstrated
with him in vain. Tom laughed away
their recriminations and fears, continuing
with his labors more strenuously
than ever. He never troubled his mind
over the nearness of Old Crompton's
hut, the existence of which he hardly
noticed or considered.
It so happened one day that the old
man's curiosity got the better of
him and Tom caught him prowling
about on his property, peering wonderingly
at the many rabbit hutches, chicken
coops, dove cotes and the like which
cluttered the space to the rear of the
Seeing that he was discovered, the
old man wrinkled his face into a toothless
grin of conciliation.
"Just looking over your place, Forsythe,"
he said. "Sorry about the fuss
I made when you built the house. But
I'm an old man, you know, and changes
are unwelcome. Now I have forgotten
my objections and would like to be
friends. Can we?"
Tom peered searchingly into the
flinty eyes that were set so deeply in
the wrinkled, leathery countenance.
He suspected an ulterior motive, but
could not find it within him to turn the
old fellow down.
"Why—I guess so, Crompton," he
hesitated: "I have nothing against you,
but I came here for seclusion and I'll
not have anyone bothering me in my
"I'll not bother you, young man. But
I'm fond of pets and I see you have
many of them here; guinea pigs, chickens,
pigeons, and rabbits. Would you
mind if I make friends with some of
"They're not pets," answered Tom
dryly, "they are material for use in my
experiments. But you may amuse yourself
with them if you wish."
"You mean that you cut them up—kill
"Not that. But I sometimes change
them in physical form, sometimes cause
them to become of huge size, sometimes
produce pigmy offspring of normal
"Don't they suffer?"
"Very seldom, though occasionally a
subject dies. But the benefit that will
accrue to mankind is well worth the
slight inconvenience to the dumb creatures
and the infrequent loss of their
Old Crompton regarded him
dubiously. "You are trying to
find?" he interrogated.
"The secret of life!" Tom Forsythe's
eyes took on the stare of fanaticism.
"Before I have finished I shall know
the nature of the vital force—how to
produce it. I shall prolong human life
indefinitely; create artificial life. And
the solution is more closely approached
with each passing day."
The hermit blinked in pretended
mystification. But he understood perfectly,
and he bitterly envied the
younger man's knowledge and ability
that enabled him to delve into the mysteries
of nature which had always been
so attractive to his own mind. And
somehow, he acquired a sudden deep
hatred of the coolly confident young
man who spoke so positively of accomplishing
During the winter months that followed,
the strange acquaintance progressed
but little. Tom did not invite
his neighbor to visit him, nor did Old
Crompton go out of his way to impose
his presence on the younger man,
though each spoke pleasantly enough
to the other on the few occasions when
they happened to meet.
With the coming of spring they encountered
one another more frequently,
and Tom found considerable of interest
in the quaint, borrowed philosophy
of the gloomy old man. Old Crompton,
of course, was desperately interested in
the things that were hidden in Tom's
laboratory, but he never requested permission
to see them. He hid his real
feelings extremely well and was apparently
content to spend as much time as
possible with the feathered and furred
subjects for experiment, being very
careful not to incur Tom's displeasure
by displaying too great interest in the
Then there came a day in early
summer when an accident served
to draw the two men closer together,
and Old Crompton's long-sought opportunity
He was starting for the village when,
from down the road, there came a series
of tremendous squawkings, then a bellow
of dismay in the voice of his young
neighbor. He turned quickly and was
astonished at of a monstrous
rooster which had escaped and was
headed straight for him with head
down and wings fluttering wildly.
Tom followed close behind, but was
unable to catch the darting monster.
And monster it was, for this rooster
stood no less than three feet in height
and appeared more ferocious than a
large turkey. Old Crompton had his
shopping bag, a large one of burlap
which he always carried to town, and
he summoned enough courage to throw
it over the head of the screeching, over-sized
fowl. So tangled did the panic-stricken
bird become that it was a comparatively
simple matter to effect his
capture, and the old man rose to his
feet triumphant with the bag securely
closed over the struggling captive.
"Thanks," panted Tom, when he
drew alongside. "I should never have
caught him, and his appearance at large
might have caused me a great deal of
trouble—now of all times."
"It's all right, Forsythe," smirked the
old man. "Glad I was able to do it."
Secretly he gloated, for he knew this
occurrence would be an open sesame to
that laboratory of Tom's. And it
proved to be just that.
A few nights later he was awakened
by a vigorous thumping at
his door, something that had never before
occurred during his nearly sixty
years occupancy of the tumbledown
hut. The moon was high and he cautiously
peeped from the window and
saw that his late visitor was none other
than young Forsythe.
"With you in a minute!" he shouted,
hastily thrusting his rheumatic old
limbs into his shabby trousers. "Now
to see the inside of that laboratory," he
chuckled to himself.
It required but a moment to attire
himself in the scanty raiment he wore
during the warm months, but he could
hear Tom muttering and impatiently
pacing the flagstones before his door.
"What is it?" he asked, as he drew
the bolt and emerged into the brilliant
light of the moon.
"Success!" breathed Tom excitedly.
"I have produced growing, living matter
synthetically. More than this, I
have learned the secret of the vital
force—the spark of life. Immortality
is within easy reach. Come and see
They quickly traversed the short distance
to the two-story building which
comprised Tom's workshop and living
quarters. The entire ground floor was
taken up by the laboratory, and Old
Crompton stared aghast at the wealth
of equipment it contained. Furnaces
there were, and retorts that reminded
him of those pictured in the wood cuts
in some of his musty books. Then
there were complicated machines with
many levers and dials mounted on their
faces, and with huge glass bulbs of peculiar
shape with coils of wire connecting
to knoblike protuberances of their
transparent walls. In the exact center
of the great single room there was what
appeared to be a dissecting table, with
a brilliant light overhead and with two
of the odd glass bulbs at either end.
It was to this table that Tom led the
excited old man.
"This is my perfected apparatus,"
said Tom proudly, "and by its use I
intend to create a new race of supermen,
men and women who will always
retain the vigor and strength of their
youth and who can not die excepting
by actual destruction of their bodies.
Under the influence of the rays all
bodily ailments vanish as if by magic,
and organic defects are quickly corrected.
Watch this now."
He stepped to one of the many
cages at the side of the room and
returned with a wriggling cottontail in
his hands. Old Compton watched anxiously
as he picked a nickeled instrument
from a tray of surgical appliances
and requested his visitor to hold the
protesting animal while he covered its
head with a handkerchief.
"Ethyl chloride," explained Tom,
noting with amusement the look of distaste
on the old man's face. "We'll
just put him to sleep for a minute while
I amputate a leg."
The struggles of the rabbit quickly
ceased when the spray soaked the handkerchief
and the anaesthetic took effect.
With a shining scalpel and a surgical
saw, Tom speedily removed one
of the forelegs of the animal and then
he placed the limp body in the center
of the table, removing the handkerchief
from its head as he did so. At
the end of the table there was a panel
with its glittering array of switches
and electrical instruments, and Old
Crompton observed very closely the
manipulations of the controls as Tom
started the mechanism. With the ensuing
hum of a motor-generator from a
corner of the room, the four bulbs adjacent
to the table sprang into life, each
glowing with a different color and each
emitting a different vibratory note as
it responded to the energy within.
"Keep an eye on Mr. Rabbit now,"
From the body of the small animal
there emanated an intangible though
hazily visible aura as the combined effects
of the rays grew in intensity. Old
Crompton bent over the table and
peered amazedly at the stump of the
foreleg, from which blood no longer
dripped. The stump was healing over!
Yes—it seemed to elongate as one
watched. A new limb was growing on
to replace the old! Then the animal
struggled once more, this time to regain
consciousness. In a moment it
was fully awake and, with a frightened
hop, was off the table and hobbling
about in search of a hiding place.
Tom Forsythe laughed. "Never
knew what happened," he exulted,
"and excepting for the temporary limp
is not inconvenienced at all. Even that
will be gone in a couple of hours, for
the new limb will be completely grown
by that time."
"But—but, Tom," stammered the old
man, "this is wonderful. How do you
"Ha! Don't think I'll reveal my
secret. But this much I will tell you:
the life force generated by my apparatus
stimulates a certain gland that's
normally inactive in warm blooded animals.
This gland, when active, possesses
the function of growing new
members to the body to replace lost
ones in much the same manner as this
is done in case of the lobster and certain
other crustaceans. Of course, the
process is extremely rapid when the
gland is stimulated by the vital rays
from my tubes. But this is only one
of the many wonders of the process.
Here is something far more remarkable."
He took from a large glass jar the
body of a guinea pig, a body that was
rigid in death.
"This guinea pig," he explained, "was
suffocated twenty-four hours ago and
is stone dead."
"Yes. But quite painlessly, I assure
you. I merely removed the air from
the jar with a vacuum pump and the
little creature passed out of the picture
very quickly. Now we'll revive it."
Old Crompton stretched forth a skinny
hand to touch the dead animal, but
withdrew it hastily when he felt the
clammy rigidity of the body. There
was no doubt as to the lifelessness of
Tom placed the dead guinea pig on
the spot where the rabbit had been
subjected to the action of the rays.
Again his visitor watched carefully as
he manipulated the controls of the apparatus.
With the glow of the tubes and the
ensuing haze of eery light that surrounded
the little body, a marked
change was apparent. The inanimate
form relaxed suddenly and it seemed
that the muscles pulsated with an accession
of energy. Then one leg was
stretched forth spasmodically. There
was a convulsive heave as the lungs
drew in a first long breath, and, with
that, an astonished and very much alive
rodent scrambled to its feet, blinking
wondering eyes in the dazzling light.
"See? See?" shouted Tom, grasping
Old Crompton by the arm in a viselike
grip. "It is the secret of life and
death! Aristocrats, plutocrats and beggars
will beat a path to my door. But,
never fear, I shall choose my subjects
well. The name of Thomas Forsythe
will yet be emblazoned in the Hall of
Fame. I shall be master of the world!"
Old Crompton began to fear the glitter
in the eyes of the gaunt young man
who seemed suddenly to have become
demented. And his envy and hatred of
his talented host blazed anew as Forsythe
gloried in the success of his efforts.
Then he was struck with an idea
and he affected his most ingratiating
"It is a marvelous thing, Tom," he
said, "and is entirely beyond my poor
comprehension. But I can see that it
is all you say and more. Tell me—can
you restore the youth of an aged person
by these means?"
"Positively!" Tom did not catch the
eager note in the old man's voice. Rather
he took the question as an inquiry
into the further marvels of his process.
"Here," he continued, enthusiastically,
"I'll prove that to you also. My dog
Spot is around the place somewhere.
And he is a decrepit old hound, blind,
lame and toothless. You've probably
seen him with me."
He rushed to the stairs and whistled.
There was an answering
yelp from above and the pad of uncertain
paws on the bare wooden steps.
A dejected old beagle blundered into
the room, dragging a crippled hind leg
as he fawned upon his master, who
stretched forth a hand to pat the unsteady
"Guess Spot is old enough for the
test," laughed Tom, "and I have been
meaning to restore him to his youthful
vigor, anyway. No time like the present."
He led his trembling pet to the table
of the remarkable tubes and lifted him
to its surface. The poor old beast lay
trustingly where he was placed, quiet,
save for his husky asthmatic breathing.
"Hold him, Crompton," directed Tom
as he pulled the starting lever of his
And Old Crompton watched in fascinated
anticipation as the ethereal luminosity
bathed the dog's body in response
to the action of the four rays.
Somewhat vaguely it came to him that
the baggy flesh of his own wrinkled
hands took on a new firmness and color
where they reposed on the animal's
back. Young Forsythe grinned triumphantly
as Spot's breathing became
more regular and the rasp gradually
left it. Then the dog whined in pleasure
and wagged his tail with increasing
vigor. Suddenly he raised his head,
perked his ears in astonishment and
looked his master straight in the face
with eyes that saw once more. The low
throat cry rose to a full and joyous
bark. He sprang to his feet from under
the restraining hands and jumped
to the floor in a lithe-muscled leap that
carried him half way across the room.
He capered about with the abandon of
a puppy, making extremely active use
of four sound limbs.
"Why—why, Forsythe," stammered
the hermit, "it's absolutely incredible.
Tell me—tell me—what is this remarkable
His host laughed gleefully. "You
probably wouldn't understand it
anyway, but I'll tell you. It is as simple
as the nose on your face. The spark
of life, the vital force, is merely an extremely
complicated electrical manifestation
which I have been able to duplicate
artificially. This spark or force
is all that distinguishes living from inanimate
matter, and in living beings
the force gradually decreases in power
as the years pass, causing loss of health
and strength. The chemical composition
of bones and tissue alters, joints
become stiff, muscles atrophied, and
bones brittle. By recharging, as it
were, with the vital force, the gland
action is intensified, youth and strength
is renewed. By repeating the process
every ten or fifteen years the same degree
of vigor can be maintained indefinitely.
Mankind will become immortal.
That is why I say I am to be master of
For the moment Old Crompton forgot
his jealous hatred in the enthusiasm
with which he was imbued. "Tom—Tom,"
he pleaded in his excitement,
"use me as a subject. Renew my youth.
My life has been a sad one and a lonely
one, but I would that I might live it
over. I should make of it a far different
one—something worth while. See,
I am ready."
He sat on the edge of the gleaming
table and made as if to lie down on its
gleaming surface. But his young host
only stared at him in open amusement.
"What? You?" he sneered, unfeelingly.
"Why, you old fossil! I told
you I would choose my subjects carefully.
They are to be people of standing
and wealth, who can contribute to
the fame and fortune of one Thomas
"But Tom, I have money," Old
Crompton begged. But when he saw
the hard mirth in the younger man's
eyes, his old animosity flamed anew
and he sprang from his position and
shook a skinny in Tom's
"Don't do that to me, you old fool!"
shouted Tom, "and get out of here.
Think I'd waste current on an old cadger
like you? I guess not! Now get
out. Get out, I say!"
Then the old anchorite saw red.
Something seemed to snap in his soured
old brain. He found himself kicking
and biting and punching at his host,
who backed away from the furious onslaught
in surprise. Then Tom tripped
over a wire and fell to the floor with a
force that rattled the windows, his ferocious
little adversary on top. The
younger man lay still where he had
fallen, a trickle of blood showing at
"My God! I've killed him!" gasped
the old man.
With trembling fingers he opened
Tom's shirt and listened for his heartbeats.
Panic-stricken, he rubbed the
young man's wrists, slapped his cheeks,
and ran for water to dash in his face.
But all efforts to revive him proved
futile, and then, in awful fear, Old
Crompton dashed into the night, the
dog Spot snapping at his heels as he
Hours later the stooped figure of
a shabby old man might have
been seen stealthily re-entering the
lonely workshop where the lights still
burned brightly. Tom Forsythe lay
rigid in the position in which Old
Crompton had left him, and the dog
Averting his gaze and circling wide
of the body, Old Crompton made for
the table of the marvelous rays. In
minute detail he recalled every move
made by Tom in starting and adjusting
the apparatus to produce the incredible
results he had witnessed. Not a
moment was to be wasted now. Already
he had hesitated too long, for
soon would come the dawn and possible
discovery of his crime. But the invention
of his victim would save him from
the long arm of the law, for, with youth
restored, Old Crompton would cease to
exist and a new life would open its
doors to the starved soul of the hermit.
Hermit, indeed! He would begin life
anew, an active man with youthful vigor
and ambition. Under an assumed
name he would travel abroad, would
enjoy life, and would later become a
successful man of affairs. He had
enough money, he told himself. And
the police would never find Old Crompton,
the murderer of Tom Forsythe!
He deposited his small traveling bag
on the floor and fingered the controls
of Tom's apparatus.
He threw the starting switch confidently
and grinned in satisfaction as
the answering whine of the motor-generator
came to his ears. One by one he
carefully made the adjustments in exactly
the manner followed by the now
silenced discoverer of the process.
Everything operated precisely as it
had during the preceding experiments.
Odd that he should have anticipated
some such necessity! But something
had told him to observe Tom's movements
carefully, and now he rejoiced
in the fact that his intuition had led
him aright. Painfully he climbed to
the table top and stretched his aching
body in the warm light of the four huge
tubes. His exertions during the struggle
with Tom were beginning to tell
on him. But the soreness and stiffness
of feeble muscles and stubborn joints
would soon be but a memory. His
pulses quickened at the thought and he
breathed deep in a sudden feeling of
The dog growled continuously
from his position at the head of
his master, but did not move to interfere
with the intruder. And Old
Crompton, in the excitement of the momentous
experience, paid him not the
His body tingled from head to foot
with a not unpleasant sensation that
conveyed the assurance of radical
changes taking place under the influence
of the vital rays. The tingling
sensation increased in intensity until
it seemed that every corpuscle in his
veins danced to the tune of the vibration
from those glowing tubes that
bathed him in an ever-spreading radiance.
Aches and pains vanished from
his body, but he soon experienced a
sharp stab of new pain in his lower jaw.
With an experimental forefinger he
rubbed the gum. He laughed aloud as
the realization came to him that in
those gums where there had been no
teeth for more than twenty years there
was now growing a complete new set.
And the rapidity of the process amazed
him beyond measure. The aching area
spread quickly and was becoming really
uncomfortable. But then—and he
consoled himself with the thought—nothing
is brought into being without
a certain amount of pain. Besides, he
was confident that his discomfort
would soon be over.
He examined his hand, and found
that the joints of two fingers long crippled
with rheumatism now moved freely
and painlessly. The misty brilliance
surrounding his body was paling and
he saw that the flesh was taking on a
faint green fluorescence instead. The
rays had completed their work and
soon the transformation would be fully
effected. He turned on his side and
slipped to the floor with the agility of
a youngster. The dog snarled anew,
but kept steadfastly to his position.
There was a small mirror over
the wash stand at the far end of
the room and Old Crompton made haste
to obtain the first view of his reflected
image. His step was firm and springy,
his bearing confident, and he found
that his long-stooped shoulders
straightened naturally and easily. He
felt that he had taken on at least two
inches in stature, which was indeed the
case. When he reached the mirror he
peered anxiously into its dingy surface
and what he saw there so startled him
that he stepped backward in amazement.
This was not Larry Crompton,
but an entirely new man. The straggly
white hair had given way to soft,
healthy waves of chestnut hue. Gone
were the seams from the leathery countenance
and the eyes looked out clearly
and steadily from under brows as thick
and dark as they had been in his youth.
The reflected features were those of an
entire stranger. They were not even
reminiscent of the Larry Crompton of
fifty years ago, but were the features
of a far more vigorous and prepossessing
individual than he had ever seemed,
even in the best years of his life. The
jaw was firm, the once sunken cheeks
so well filled out that his high cheek
bones were no longer in evidence. It
was the face of a man of not more than
thirty-eight years of age, reflecting exceptional
intelligence and strength of
"What a disguise!" he exclaimed in
delight. And his voice, echoing in the
stillness that followed the switching
off of the apparatus, was deep-throated
and mellow—the voice of a new man.
Now, serenely confident that discovery
was impossible, he picked up his
small but heavy bag and started for the
door. Dawn was breaking and he
wished to put as many miles between
himself and Tom's laboratory as could
be covered in the next few hours.
But at the door he hesitated. Then,
despite the furious yapping of Spot,
he returned to the table of the rays and,
with deliberate thoroughness smashed
the costly tubes which had brought
about his rehabilitation. With a pinch
bar from a nearby tool rack, he wrecked
the controls and generating mechanisms
beyond recognition. Now he was
absolutely secure! No meddling experts
could possibly discover the secret
of Tom's invention. All evidence
would show that the young experimenter
had met his death at the hands
of Old Crompton, the despised hermit
of West Laketon. But none would
dream that the handsome man of means
who was henceforth to be known as
George Voight was that same despised
He recovered his satchel and left the
scene. With long, rapid strides he
proceeded down the old dirt road toward
the main highway where, instead
of turning east into the village, he
would turn west and walk to Kernsburg,
the neighboring town. There, in
not more than two hours time, his new
life would really begin!
Had you, a visitor, departed from
Laketon when Old Crompton did
and returned twelve years later, you
would have noticed very little difference
in the appearance of the village.
The old town hall and the little park
were the same, the dingy brick building
among the trees being just a little
dingier and its wooden steps more
worn and sagged. The main street
showed evidence of recent repaving,
and, in consequence of the resulting increase
in through automobile traffic;
there were two new gasoline filling stations
in the heart of the town. Down
the road about a half mile there was a
new building, which, upon inquiring
from one of the natives, would be
proudly designated as the new high
school building. Otherwise there were
no changes to be observed.
In his dilapidated chair in the untidy
office he had occupied for nearly thirty
years, sat Asa Culkin, popularly known
as "Judge" Culkin. Justice of the
peace, sheriff, attorney-at-law, and
three times Mayor of Laketon, he was
still a controlling factor in local politics
and government. And many a
knotty legal problem was settled in
that gloomy little office. Many a dispute
in the town council was dependent
for arbitration upon the keen mind and
understanding wit of the old judge.
The four o'clock train had just puffed
its labored way from the station when
a stranger entered his office, a stranger
of uncommonly prosperous air. The
keen blue eyes of the old attorney appraised
him instantly and classified him
as a successful man of business, not yet
forty years of age, and with a weighty
problem on his mind.
"What can I do for you, sir?" he
asked, removing his feet from the battered
"You may be able to help me a great
deal, Judge," was the unexpected reply.
"I came to Laketon to give myself up."
"Give yourself up?" Culkin rose to
his feet in surprise and unconsciously
straightened his shoulders in the effort
to seem less dwarfed before the tall
stranger. "Why, what do you mean?"
"I wish to give myself up for murder,"
answered the amazing visitor,
slowly and with decision, "for a
murder committed twelve years ago. I
should like you to listen to my story
first, though. It has been kept too
"But I still do not understand."
There was puzzlement in the honest old
face of the attorney. He shook his
gray locks in uncertainty. "Why
should you come here? Why come to
me? What possible interest can I have
in the matter?"
"Just this, Judge. You do not recognize
me now, and you will probably
consider my story incredible when you
hear it. But, when I have given you
all the evidence, you will know who I
am and will be compelled to believe.
The murder was committed in Laketon.
That is why I came to you."
"A murder in Laketon? Twelve
years ago?" Again the aged attorney
shook his head. "But—proceed."
"Yes. I killed Thomas Forsythe."
The stranger looked for an expression
of horror in the features of his
listener, but there was none. Instead
the benign countenance took on a look
of deepening amazement, but the smile
wrinkles had somehow vanished and
the old face was grave in its surprised
"You seem astonished," continued
the stranger. "Undoubtedly you were
convinced that the murderer was Larry
Crompton—Old Crompton, the hermit.
He disappeared the night of the crime
and has never been heard from since.
Am I correct?"
"Yes. He disappeared all right. But
Not by a lift of his eyebrow did Culkin
betray his disbelief, but the stranger
sensed that his story was somehow
not as startling as it should have been.
"You will think me crazy, I presume.
But I am Old Crompton. It was my
hand that felled the unfortunate young
man in his laboratory out there in West
Laketon twelve years ago to-night. It
was his marvelous invention that transformed
the old hermit into the apparently
young man you see before you.
But I swear that I am none other than
Larry Crompton and that I killed
young Forsythe. I am ready to pay
the penalty. I can bear the flagellation
of my own conscience no longer."
The visitor's voice had risen to the
point of hysteria. But his listener
remained calm and unmoved.
"Now just let me get this straight,"
he said quietly. "Do I understand that
you claim to be Old Crompton, rejuvenated
in some mysterious manner, and
that you killed Tom Forsythe on that
night twelve years ago? Do I understand
that you wish now to go to trial
for that crime and to pay the penalty?"
"Yes! Yes! And the sooner the better.
I can stand it no longer. I am
the most miserable man in the world!"
"Hm-m—hm-m," muttered the judge,
"this is strange." He spoke soothingly
to his visitor. "Do not upset yourself,
I beg of you. I will take care of this
thing for you, never fear. Just take a
"You may call me Voight for the
present," said the stranger, in a more
composed tone of voice, "George
Voight. That is the name I have been
using since the mur—since that fatal
"Very well, Mr. Voight," replied the
counsellor with an air of the greatest
solicitude, "please have a seat now,
while I make a telephone call."
And George Voight slipped into a
stiff-backed chair with a sigh of relief.
For he knew the judge from the old
days and he was now certain that his
case would be disposed of very quickly.
With the telephone receiver pressed
to his ear, Culkin repeated a number.
The stranger listened intently during
the ensuing silence. Then there came
a muffled "hello" sounding in impatient
response to the call.
"Hello, Alton," spoke the attorney,
"this is Asa speaking. A stranger has
just stepped into my office and he
claims to be Old Crompton. Remember
the hermit across the road from your
son's old laboratory? Well, this man,
who bears no resemblance whatever to
the old man he claims to be and who
seems to be less than half the age of
Tom's old neighbor, says that he killed
Tom on that night we remember so
There were some surprised remarks
from the other end of the
wire, but Voight was unable to catch
them. He was in a cold perspiration
at the thought of meeting his victim's
"Why, yes, Alton," continued Culkin,
"I think there is something in this
story, although I cannot believe it all.
But I wish you would accompany us
and visit the laboratory. Will you?"
"Lord, man, not that!" interrupted
the judge's visitor. "I can hardly bear
to visit the scene of my crime—and in
the company of Alton Forsythe.
Please, not that!"
"Now you just let me take care of
this, young man," replied the judge,
testily. Then, once more speaking into
the mouthpiece of the telephone, "All
right, Alton. We'll pick you up at
your office in five minutes."
He replaced the receiver on its hook
and turned again to his visitor. "Please
be so kind as to do exactly as I request,"
he said. "I want to help you,
but there is more to this thing than
you know and I want you to follow unquestioningly
where I lead and ask no
questions at all for the present. Things
may turn out differently than you expect."
"All right, Judge." The visitor resigned
himself to whatever might
transpire under the guidance of the
man he had called upon to turn him
over to the officers of the law.
Seated in the judge's ancient
motor car, they stopped at the
office of Alton Forsythe a few minutes
later and were joined by that red-faced
and pompous old man. Few words
were spoken during the short run to
the well-remembered location of Tom's
laboratory, and the man who was
known as George Voight caught at his
own throat with nervous fingers when
they passed the tumbledown remains
of the hut in which Old Crompton had
spent so many years. With a screeching
of well-worn brakes the car stopped
before the laboratory, which was now
almost hidden behind a mass of shrubs
"Easy now, young man," cautioned
the judge, noting the look of fear
which had clouded his new client's features.
The three men advanced to the
door through which Old Crompton had
fled on that night of horror, twelve
years before. The elder Forsythe spoke
not a word as he turned the knob and
stepped within. Voight shrank from
entering, but soon mastered his feelings
and followed the other two. The
sight that met his eyes caused him to
cry aloud in awe.
At the dissecting table, which seemed
to be exactly as he had seen it last but
with replicas of the tubes he had destroyed
once more in place, stood Tom
Forsythe! Considerably older and
with hair prematurely gray, he was still
the young man Old Crompton thought
he had killed. Tom Forsythe was not
dead after all! And all of his years
of misery had gone for nothing. He
advanced slowly to the side of the wondering
young man, Alton Forsythe and
Asa Culkin watching silently from just
inside the door.
"Tom—Tom," spoke the stranger,
"you are alive? You were not dead
when I left you on that terrible night
when I smashed your precious tubes?
Oh—it is too good to be true! I can
scarcely believe my eyes!"
He stretched forth trembling fingers
to touch the body of the
young man to assure himself that it
was not all a dream.
"Why," said Tom Forsythe, in astonishment.
"I do not know you, sir.
Never saw you in my life. What do
you mean by your talk of smashing my
tubes, of leaving me for dead?"
"Mean?" The stranger's voice rose
now; he was growing excited. "Why,
Tom, I am Old Crompton. Remember
the struggle, here in this very room?
You refused to rejuvenate an unhappy
old man with your marvelous apparatus,
a temporarily insane old man—Crompton.
I was that old man and I
fought with you. You fell, striking
your head. There was blood. You
were unconscious. Yes, for many hours
I was sure you were dead and that I
had murdered you. But I had watched
your manipulations of the apparatus
and I subjected myself to the action of
the rays. My youth was miraculously
restored. I became as you see me now.
Detection was impossible, for I looked
no more like Old Crompton than you
do. I smashed your machinery to avoid
suspicion. Then I escaped. And, for
twelve years, I have thought myself a
murderer. I have suffered the tortures
of the damned!"
Tom Forsythe advanced on this remarkable
visitor with clenched fists.
Staring him in the eyes with cold appraisal,
his wrath was all too apparent.
The dog Spot, young as ever, entered
the room and, upon observing the stranger,
set up an ominous growling and
snarling. At least the dog recognized
"What are you trying to do, catechise
me? Are you another of these
alienists my father has been bringing
around?" The young inventor was furious.
"If you are," he continued, "you
can get out of here—now! I'll have
no more of this meddling with my affairs.
I'm as sane as any of you and I
refuse to submit to this continual persecution."
The elder Forsythe grunted, and
Culkin laid a restraining hand on his
arm. "Just a minute now, Tom," he
said soothingly. "This stranger is no
alienist. He has a story to tell. Please
permit him to finish."
Somewhat mollified, Tom Forsythe
shrugged his assent.
"Tom," continued the stranger, more
calmly now, "what I have said is the
truth. I shall prove it to you. I'll tell
you things no mortals on earth could
know but we two. Remember the day
I captured the big rooster for you—the
monster you had created? Remember
the night you awakened me and
brought me here in the moonlight? Remember
the rabbit whose leg you amputated
and re-grew? The poor guinea
pig you had suffocated and whose life
you restored? Spot here? Don't you
remember rejuvenating him? I was
here. And you refused to use your
process on me, old man that I was.
Then is when I went mad and attacked
you. Do you believe me, Tom?"
Then a strange thing happened.
While Tom Forsythe gazed in growing
belief, the stranger's shoulders sagged
and he trembled as with the ague. The
two older men who had kept in the
background gasped their astonishment
as his hair faded to a sickly gray, then
became as white as the driven snow.
Old Crompton was reverting to his
previous state! Within five minutes,
instead of the handsome young stranger,
there stood before them a bent,
withered old man—Old Crompton beyond
a doubt. The effects of Tom's
process were spent.
"Well I'm damned!" ejaculated Alton
Forsythe. "You have been right
all along, Asa. And I am mighty glad
I did not commit Tom as I intended.
He has told us the truth all these years
and we were not wise enough to see it."
"We!" exclaimed the judge. "You,
Alton Forsythe! I have always upheld
him. You have done your son a
grave injustice and you owe him your
apologies if ever a father owed his son
"You are right, Asa." And, his aristocratic
pride forgotten, Alton Forsythe
rushed to the side of his son and
The judge turned to Old Crompton
pityingly. "Rather a bad ending for
you, Crompton," he said. "Still, it is
better by far than being branded as a
"Better? Better?" croaked Old
Crompton. "It is wonderful, Judge. I
have never been so happy in my life!"
The face of the old man beamed,
though scalding tears coursed
down the withered and seamed cheeks.
The two Forsythes looked up from
their demonstrations of peacemaking
to listen to the amazing words of the
"Yes, happy for the first time in my
life," he continued. "I am one hundred
years of age, gentlemen, and I now look
it and feel it. That is as it should be.
And my experience has taught me a
final lasting lesson. None of you know
it, but, when I was but a very young
man I was bitterly disappointed in love.
Ha! ha! Never think it to look at me
now, would you? But I was, and it
ruined my entire life. I had a little
money—inherited—and I traveled
about in the world for a few years, then
settled in that old hut across the road
where I buried myself for sixty years,
becoming crabbed and sour and despicable.
Young Tom here was the
first bright spot and, though I admired
him, I hated him for his opportunities,
hated him for that which he had that
I had not. With the promise of his invention
I thought I saw happiness, a
new life for myself. I got what I wanted,
though not in the way I had expected.
And I want to tell you gentlemen
that there is nothing in it. With developments
of modern science you may
be able to restore a man's youthful vigor
of body, but you can't cure his mind
with electricity. Though I had a
youthful body, my brain was the brain
of an old man—memories were there
which could not be suppressed. Even
had I not had the fancied death of
young Tom on my conscience I should
still have been miserable. I worked.
God, how I worked—to forget! But I
could not forget. I was in
business and made a lot of money.
I am more independent—probably
wealthier than you, Alton Forsythe, but
that did not bring happiness. I longed
to be myself once more, to have the
aches and pains which had been taken
from me. It is natural to age and to
die. Immortality would make of us
a people of restless misery. We would
quarrel and bicker and long for death,
which would not come to relieve us.
Now it is over for me and I am glad—glad—glad!"
He paused for breath, looking beseechingly
at Tom Forsythe.
"Tom," he said, "I suppose you have
nothing for me in your heart but
hatred. And I don't blame you. But I
wish—I wish you would try and forgive
me. Can you?"
The years had brought increased understanding
and tolerance to young
Tom. He stared at Old Crompton and
the long-nursed anger over the destruction
of his equipment melted into a
strange mixture of pity and admiration
for the courageous old fellow.
"Why, I guess I can, Crompton," he
replied. "There was many a day when
I struggled hopelessly to reconstruct
my apparatus, cursing you with every
bit of energy in my make-up. I could
cheerfully have throttled you, had you
been within reach. For twelve years
I have labored incessantly to reproduce
the results we obtained on the night of
which you speak. People called me insane—even
my father wished to have
me committed to an asylum. And, until
now, I have been unsuccessful. Only
to-day has it seemed for the first time
that the experiments will again succeed.
But my ideas have changed with
regard to the uses of the process. I
was a cocksure young pup in the old
days, with foolish dreams of fame and
influence. But I have seen the error of
my ways. Your experience, too, convinces
me that immortality may not be
as desirable as I thought. But there
are great possibilities in the way of relieving
the sufferings of mankind and
in making this a better world in which
to live. With your advice and help I
believe I can do great things. I now
forgive you freely and I ask you to remain
here with me to assist in the work
that is to come. What do you say to
At the reverent thankfulness in the
pale eyes of the broken old man who
had so recently been a perfect specimen
of vigorous youth, Alton Forsythe blew
his nose noisily. The little judge
smiled benevolently and shook his head
as if to say, "I told you so." Tom and
Old Crompton gripped hands—mightily.