The Ablest Man in the World
by E. P. Mitchell
It may or may not be remembered that in 1878 General Ignatieff spent
several weeks of July at the Badischer Hof in Baden. The public
journals gave out that he visited the watering-place for the benefit
of his health, said to be much broken by protracted anxiety and
responsibility in the service of the Czar. But everybody knew that
Ignatieff was just then out of favor at St. Petersburg, and that his
absence from the centres of active statecraft at a time when the peace
of Europe fluttered like a shuttlecock in the air, between Salisbury
and Shouvaloff, was nothing more or less than politely disguised
I am indebted for the following facts to my friend Fisher, of New
York, who arrived at Baden on the day after Ignatieff, and was duly
announced in the official list of strangers as “Herr Doctor Professor
Fischer, mit Frau Gattin und Bed. Nordamerika.”
The scarcity of titles among the travelling aristocracy of North
America is a standing grievance with the ingenious person who compiles
the official list. Professional pride and the instincts of hospitality
alike impel him to supply the lack whenever he can. He distributes
Governor, Major-General, and Doctor Professor with tolerable
impartiality, according as the arriving Americans wear a
distinguished, a martial, or a studious air. Fisher owed his title to
It was still early in the season. The theatre had not yet opened. The
hotels were hardly half full, the concerts in the kiosk at the
Conversationshaus were heard by scattering audiences, and the
shop-keepers of the Bazaar had no better business than to spend their
time in bewailing the degeneracy of Baden Baden since an end was put
to the play. Few excursionists disturbed the meditations of the
shrivelled old custodian of the tower on the Mercuriusberg. Fisher
found the place very stupid—as stupid as Saratoga in June or Long
Branch in September. He was impatient to get to Switzerland, but his
wife had contracted a table d’hôte intimacy with a Polish countess,
and she positively refused to take any step that would sever so
advantageous a connection.
One afternoon Fisher was standing on one of the little bridges that
span the gutterwide Oosbach, idly gazing into the water and wondering
whether a good sized Rangely trout could swim the stream without
personal inconvenience, when the porter of the Badischer Hof came to
him on the run.
“Herr Doctor Professor!” cried the porter, touching his cap. “I pray
you pardon, but the highborn the Baron Savitch out of Moscow, of the
General Ignatieff’s suite, suffers himself in a terrible fit, and
appears to die.”
In vain Fisher assured the porter that it was a mistake to consider
him a medical expert; that he professed no science save that of draw
poker; that if a false impression prevailed in the hotel it was
through a blunder for which he was in no way responsible; and that,
much as he regretted the unfortunate condition of the highborn the
Baron out of Moscow, he did not feel that his presence in the chamber
of sickness would be of the slightest benefit. It was impossible to
eradicate the idea that possessed the porter’s mind. Finding himself
fairly dragged toward the hotel, Fisher at length concluded to make a
virtue of necessity and to render his explanations to the Baron’s
The Russian’s apartments were upon the second floor, not far from
those occupied by Fisher. A French valet, almost beside himself with
terror, came hurrying out of the room to meet the porter and the
Doctor Professor. Fisher again attempted to explain, but to no
purpose. The valet also had explanations to make, and the superior
fluency of his French enabled him to monopolize the conversation. No,
there was nobody there—nobody but himself, the faithful Auguste of
the Baron. His Excellency, the General Ignatieff, his Highness, the
Prince Koloff, Dr. Rapperschwyll, all the suite, all the world, had
driven out that morning to Gernsbach. The Baron, meanwhile, had been
seized by an effraying malady, and he, Auguste, was desolate with
apprehension. He entreated Monsieur to lose no time in parley, but to
hasten to the bedside of the Baron, who was already in the agonies of
Fisher followed Auguste into the inner room. The Baron, in his boots,
lay upon the bed, his body bent almost double by the unrelenting gripe
of a distressful pain. His teeth were tightly clenched, and the rigid
muscles around the mouth distorted the natural expression of his face.
Every few seconds a prolonged groan escaped him. His fine eyes rolled
piteously. Anon, he would press both hands upon his abdomen and shiver
in every limb in the intensity of his suffering.
Fisher forgot his explanations. Had he been a Doctor Professor in
fact, he could not have watched the symptoms of the Baron’s malady
with greater interest.
“Can Monsieur preserve him?” whispered the terrified Auguste.
“Perhaps,” said Monsieur, dryly.
Fisher scribbled a note to his wife on the back of a card and
dispatched it in the care of the hotel porter. That functionary
returned with great promptness, bringing a black bottle and a glass.
The bottle had come in Fisher’s trunk to Baden all the way from
Liverpool, had crossed the sea to Liverpool from New York, and had
journeyed to New York direct from Bourbon County, Kentucky. Fisher
seized it eagerly but reverently, and held it up against the light.
There were still three inches or three inches and a half in the
bottom. He uttered a grunt of pleasure.
“There is some hope of saving the Baron,” he remarked to Auguste.
Fully one-half of the precious liquid was poured into the glass and
administered without delay to the groaning, writhing patient. In a few
minutes Fisher had the satisfaction of seeing the Baron sit up in bed.
The muscles around his mouth relaxed, and the agonized expression was
superseded by a look of placid contentment.
Fisher now had an opportunity to observe the personal characteristics
of the Russian Baron. He was a young man of about thirty-five, with
exceedingly handsome and clear-cut features, but a peculiar head. The
peculiarity of his head was that it seemed to be perfectly round on
top—that is, its diameter from ear to ear appeared quite equal to its
anterior and posterior diameter. The curious effect of this unusual
conformation was rendered more striking by the absence of all hair.
There was nothing on the Baron’s head but a tightly fitting skull cap
of black silk. A very deceptive wig hung upon one of the bed posts.
Being sufficiently recovered to recognize the presence of a stranger,
Savitch made a courteous bow.
“How do you find yourself now?” inquired Fisher, in bad French.
“Very much better, thanks to Monsieur,” replied the Baron, in
excellent English, spoken in a charming voice. “Very much better,
though I feel a certain dizziness here.” And he pressed his hand to
The valet withdrew at a sign from his master, and was followed by the
porter. Fisher advanced to the bedside and took the Baron’s wrist.
Even his unpractised touch told him that the pulse was alarmingly
high. He was much puzzled, and not a little uneasy at the turn which
the affair had taken. “Have I got myself and the Russian into an
infernal scrape?” he thought. “But no—he’s well out of his teens, and
half a tumbler of such whiskey as that ought not to go to a baby’s
Nevertheless, the new symptoms developed themselves with a rapidity
and poignancy that made Fisher feel uncommonly anxious. Savitch’s face
became as white as marble—its paleness rendered startling by the
sharp contrast of the black skull cap. His form reeled as he sat on
the bed, and he clasped his head convulsively with both hands, as if
in terror lest it burst.
“I had better call your valet,” said Fisher, nervously.
“No, no!” gasped the Baron. “You are a medical man, and I shall have
to trust you. There is something—wrong—here.” With a spasmodic
gesture he vaguely indicated the top of his head.
“But I am not—” stammered Fisher.
“No words!” exclaimed the Russian, imperiously. “Act at once—there
must be no delay. Unscrew the top of my head!”
Savitch tore off his skull cap and flung it aside. Fisher has no words
to describe the bewilderment with which he beheld the actual fabric of
the Baron’s cranium. The skull cap had concealed the fact that the
entire top of Savitch’s head was a dome of polished silver.
“Unscrew it!” said Savitch again.
Fisher reluctantly placed both hands upon the silver skull and exerted
a gentle pressure toward the left. The top yielded, turning easily and
truly in its threads.
“Faster!” said the Baron, faintly. “I tell you no time must be lost.”
Then he swooned.
At this instant there was a sound of voices in the outer room, and the
door leading into the Baron’s bed-chamber was violently flung open and
as violently closed. The new-comer was a short, spare man of middle
age, with a keen visage and piercing, deep-set little gray eyes. He
stood for a few seconds scrutinizing Fisher with a sharp, almost
fiercely jealous regard.
The Baron recovered his consciousness and opened his eyes.
“Dr. Rapperschwyll!” he exclaimed.
Dr. Rapperschwyll, with a few rapid strides, approached the bed and
confronted Fisher and Fisher’s patient. “What is all this?” he angrily
Without waiting for a reply he laid his hand rudely upon Fisher’s arm
and pulled him away from the Baron. Fisher, more and more astonished,
made no resistance, but suffered himself to be led, or pushed, toward
the door. Dr. Rapperschwyll opened the door wide enough to give the
American exit, and then closed it with a vicious slam. A quick click
informed Fisher that the key had been turned in the lock.
The next morning Fisher met Savitch coming from the Trinkhalle. The
Baron bowed with cold politeness and passed on. Later in the day a
valet de place handed to Fisher a small parcel, with the message: “Dr.
Rapperschwyll supposes that this will be sufficient.” The parcel
contained two gold pieces of twenty marks.
Fisher gritted his teeth. “He shall have back his forty marks,” he
muttered to himself, “but I will have his confounded secret in
Then Fisher discovered that even a Polish countess has her uses in the
Mrs. Fisher’s table d’hôte friend was amiability itself, when
approached by Fisher (through Fisher’s wife) on the subject of the
Baron Savitch of Moscow. Know anything about the Baron Savitch? Of
course she did, and about everybody else worth knowing in Europe.
Would she kindly communicate her knowledge? Of course she would, and
be enchanted to gratify in the slightest degree the charming curiosity
of her Americaine. It was quite refreshing for a blasée old woman,
who had long since ceased to feel much interest in contemporary men,
women, things and events, to encounter one so recently from the
boundless prairies of the new world as to cherish a piquant
inquisitiveness about the affairs of the grand monde. Ah! yes, she
would very willingly communicate the history of the Baron Savitch of
Moscow, if that would amuse her dear Americaine.
The Polish countess abundantly redeemed her promise, throwing in for
good measure many choice bits of gossip and scandalous anecdotes about
the Russian nobility, which are not relevant to the present narrative.
Her story, as summarized by Fisher, was this:
The Baron Savitch was not of an old creation. There was a mystery
about his origin that had never been satisfactorily solved in St.
Petersburg or in Moscow. It was said by some that he was a foundling
from the Vospitatelnoi Dom. Others believed him to be the
unacknowledged son of a certain illustrious personage nearly related
to the House of Romanoff. The latter theory was the more probable,
since it accounted in a measure for the unexampled success of his
career from the day that he was graduated at the University of Dorpat.
Rapid and brilliant beyond precedent this career had been. He entered
the diplomatic service of the Czar, and for several years was attached
to the legations at Vienna, London, and Paris. Created a Baron before
his twenty-fifth birthday for the wonderful ability displayed in the
conduct of negotiations of supreme importance and delicacy with the
House of Hapsburg, he became a pet of Gortchakoff’s, and was given
every opportunity for the exercise of his genius in diplomacy. It was
even said in well-informed circles at St. Petersburg that the guiding
mind which directed Russia’s course throughout the entire Eastern
complication, which planned the campaign on the Danube, effected the
combinations that gave victory to the Czar’s soldiers, and which
meanwhile held Austria aloof, neutralized the immense power of
Germany, and exasperated England only to the point where wrath expends
itself in harmless threats, was the brain of the young Baron Savitch.
It was certain that he had been with Ignatieff at Constantinople when
the trouble was first fomented, with Shouvaloff in England at the time
of the secret conference agreement, with the Grand Duke Nicholas at
Adrianople when the protocol of an armistice was signed, and would
soon be in Berlin behind the scenes of the Congress, where it was
expected that he would outwit the statesmen of all Europe, and play
with Bismarck and Disraeli as a strong man plays with two kicking
But the countess had concerned herself very little with this handsome
young man’s achievements in politics. She had been more particularly
interested in his social career. His success in that field had been
not less remarkable. Although no one knew with positive certainty his
father’s name, he had conquered an absolute supremacy in the most
exclusive circles surrounding the imperial court. His influence with
the Czar himself was supposed to be unbounded. Birth apart, he was
considered the best parti in Russia. From poverty and by the sheer
force of intellect he had won for himself a colossal fortune. Report
gave him forty million roubles, and doubtless report did not exceed
the fact. Every speculative enterprise which he undertook, and they
were many and various, was carried to sure success by the same
qualities of cool, unerring judgment, far-reaching sagacity, and
apparently superhuman power of organizing, combining, and controlling,
which had made him in politics the phenomenon of the age.
About Dr. Rapperschwyll? Yes, the countess knew him by reputation and
by sight. He was the medical man in constant attendance upon the Baron
Savitch, whose high-strung mental organization rendered him
susceptible to sudden and alarming attacks of illness. Dr.
Rapperschwyll was a Swiss—had originally been a watchmaker or
artisan of some kind, she had heard. For the rest, he was a
commonplace little old man, devoted to his profession and to the
Baron, and evidently devoid of ambition, since he wholly neglected to
turn the opportunities of his position and connections to the
advancement of his personal fortunes.
Fortified with this information, Fisher felt better prepared to
grapple with Rapperschwyll for the possession of the secret. For five
days he lay in wait for the Swiss physician. On the sixth day the
desired opportunity unexpectedly presented itself.
Half way up the Mercuriusberg, late in the afternoon, he encountered
the custodian of the ruined tower, coming down. “No, the tower was not
closed. A gentleman was up there, making observations of the country,
and he, the custodian, would be back in an hour or two.” So Fisher
kept on his way.
The upper part of this tower is in a dilapidated condition. The lack
of a stairway to the summit is supplied by a temporary wooden ladder.
Fisher’s head and shoulders were hardly through the trap that opens to
the platform, before he discovered that the man already there was the
man whom he sought. Dr. Rapperschwyll was studying the topography of
the Black Forest through a pair of field glasses.
Fisher announced his arrival by an opportune stumble and a noisy
effort to recover himself, at the same instant aiming a stealthy kick
at the topmost round of the ladder, and scrambling ostentatiously
over the edge of the trap. The ladder went down thirty or forty feet
with a racket, clattering and banging against the walls of the tower.
Dr. Rapperschwyll at once appreciated the situation. He turned sharply
around, and remarked with a sneer, “Monsieur is unaccountably
awkward.” Then he scowled and showed his teeth, for he recognized
“It is rather unfortunate,” said the New Yorker, with imperturbable
coolness. “We shall be imprisoned here a couple of hours at the
shortest. Let us congratulate ourselves that we each have intelligent
company, besides a charming landscape to contemplate.”
The Swiss coldly bowed, and resumed his topographical studies. Fisher
lighted a cigar.
“I also desire,” continued Fisher, puffing clouds of smoke in the
direction of the Teufelmühle, “to avail myself of this opportunity to
return forty marks of yours, which reached me, I presume, by a
“If Monsieur the American physician was not satisfied with his fee,”
rejoined Rapperschwyll, venomously, “he can without doubt have the
affair adjusted by applying to the Baron’s valet.”
Fisher paid no attention to this thrust, but calmly laid the gold
pieces upon the parapet, directly under the nose of the Swiss.
“I could not think of accepting any fee,” he said, with deliberate
emphasis. “I was abundantly rewarded for my trifling services by the
novelty and interest of the case.”
The Swiss scanned the American’s countenance long and steadily with
his sharp little gray eyes. At length he said, carelessly:
“Monsieur is a man of science?”
“Yes,” replied Fisher, with a mental reservation in favor of all
sciences save that which illuminates and dignifies our national game.
“Then,” continued Dr. Rapperschwyll, “Monsieur will perhaps
acknowledge that a more beautiful or more extensive case of trephining
has rarely come under his observation.”
Fisher slightly raised his eyebrows.
“And Monsieur will also understand, being a physician,” continued Dr.
Rapperschwyll, “the sensitiveness of the Baron himself, and of his
friends upon the subject. He will therefore pardon my seeming rudeness
at the time of his discovery.”
“He is smarter than I supposed,” thought Fisher. “He holds all the
cards, while I have nothing—nothing, except a tolerably strong nerve
when it comes to a game of bluff.”
“I deeply regret that sensitiveness,” he continued, aloud, “for it had
occurred to me that an accurate account of what I saw, published in
one of the scientific journals of England or America, would excite
wide attention, and no doubt be received with interest on the
“What you saw?” cried the Swiss, sharply. “It is false. You saw
nothing—when I entered you had not even removed the——”
Here he stopped short and muttered to himself, as if cursing his own
impetuosity. Fisher celebrated his advantage by tossing away his
half-burned cigar and lighting a fresh one.
“Since you compel me to be frank,” Dr. Rapperschwyll went on, with
visibly increasing nervousness, “I will inform you that the Baron has
assured me that you saw nothing. I interrupted you in the act of
removing the silver cap.”
“I will be equally frank,” replied Fisher, stiffening his face for a
final effort. “On that point, the Baron is not a competent witness. He
was in a state of unconsciousness for some time before you entered.
Perhaps I was removing the silver cap when you interrupted me——”
Dr. Rapperschwyll turned pale.
“And, perhaps,” said Fisher, coolly, “I was replacing it.”
The suggestion of this possibility seemed to strike Rapperschwyll like
a sudden thunderbolt from the clouds. His knees parted, and he almost
sank to the floor. He put his hands before his eyes, and wept like a
child, or, rather, like a broken old man.
“He will publish it! He will publish it to the court and to the
world!” he cried, hysterically. “And at this crisis——”
Then, by a desperate effort, the Swiss appeared to recover to some
extent his self control. He paced the diameter of the platform for
several minutes, with his head bent and his arms folded across the
breast. Turning again to his companion, he said:
“If any sum you may name will——”
Fisher cut the proposition short with a laugh.
“Then,” said Rapperschwyll, “if—if I throw myself on your
“Well?” demanded Fisher.
“And ask a promise, on your honor, of absolute silence concerning what
you have seen?”
“Silence until such time as the Baron Savitch shall have ceased to
“That will suffice,” said Rapperschwyll. “For when he ceases to exist
I die. And your conditions?”
“The whole story, here and now, and without reservation.”
“It is a terrible price to ask me,” said Rapperschwyll, “but larger
interests than my pride are at stake. You shall hear the story.
“I was bred a watchmaker,” he continued, after a long pause, “in the
Canton of Zurich. It is not a matter of vanity when I say that I
achieved a marvellous degree of skill in the craft. I developed a
faculty of invention that led me into a series of experiments
regarding the capabilities of purely mechanical combinations. I
studied and improved upon the best automata ever constructed by human
ingenuity. Babbage’s calculating machine especially interested me. I
saw in Babbage’s idea the germ of something infinitely more important
to the world.
“Then I threw up my business and went to Paris to study physiology. I
spent three years at the Sorbonne and perfected myself in that branch
of knowledge. Meanwhile, my pursuits had extended far beyond the
purely physical sciences. Psychology engaged me for a time; and then I
ascended into the domain of sociology, which, when adequately
understood, is the summary and final application of all knowledge.
“It was after years of preparation, and as the outcome of all my
studies, that the great idea of my life, which had vaguely haunted me
ever since the Zurich days, assumed at last a well-defined and perfect
The manner of Dr. Rapperschwyll had changed from distrustful
reluctance to frank enthusiasm. The man himself seemed transformed.
Fisher listened attentively and without interrupting the relation. He
could not help fancying that the necessity of yielding the secret, so
long and so jealously guarded by the physician, was not entirely
distasteful to the enthusiast.
“Now, attend, Monsieur,” continued Dr. Rapperschwyll, “to several
separate propositions which may seem at first to have no direct
bearing on each other.
“My endeavors in mechanism had resulted in a machine which went far
beyond Babbage’s in its powers of calculation. Given the data, there was no limit to the possibilities in this direction. Babbage’s
cogwheels and pinions calculated logarithms, calculated an eclipse. It
was fed with figures, and produced results in figures. Now, the
relations of cause and effect are as fixed and unalterable as the laws
of arithmetic. Logic is, or should be, as exact a science as
mathematics. My new machine was fed with facts, and produced
conclusions. In short, it reasoned; and the results of its reasoning
were always true, while the results of human reasoning are often, if
not always, false. The source of error in human logic is what the
philosophers call the ‘personal equation.’ My machine eliminated the
personal equation; it proceeded from cause to effect, from premise to
conclusion, with steady precision. The human intellect is fallible; my
machine was, and is, infallible in its processes.
“Again, physiology and anatomy had taught me the fallacy of the
medical superstition which holds the gray matter of the brain and the
vital principle to be inseparable. I had seen men living with pistol
balls imbedded in the medulla oblongata. I had seen the hemispheres
and the cerebellum removed from the crania of birds and small animals,
and yet they did not die. I believed that, though the brain were to be
removed from a human skull, the subject would not die, although he
would certainly be divested of the intelligence which governed all
save the purely involuntary actions of his body.
“Once more: a profound study of history from the sociological point of
view, and a not inconsiderable practical experience of human nature,
had convinced me that the greatest geniuses that ever existed were on
a plane not so very far removed above the level of average intellect.
The grandest peaks in my native country, those which all the world
knows by name, tower only a few hundred feet above the countless
unnamed peaks that surround them. Napoleon Bonaparte towered only a
little over the ablest men around him. Yet that little was everything,
and he overran Europe. A man who surpassed Napoleon, as Napoleon
surpassed Murat, in the mental qualities which transmute thought into
fact, would have made himself master of the whole world.
“Now, to fuse these three propositions in to one: suppose that I take
a man, and, by removing the brain that enshrines all the errors and
failures of his ancestors away back to the origin of the race, remove
all sources of weakness in his future career. Suppose, that in place
of the fallible intellect which I have removed, I endow him with an
artificial intellect that operates with the certainty of universal
laws. Suppose that I launch this superior being, who reasons truly,
into the hurly burly of his inferiors, who reason falsely, and await
the inevitable result with the tranquillity of a philosopher.
“Monsieur, you have my secret. That is precisely what I have done. In
Moscow, where my friend Dr. Duchat had charge of the new institution of St. Vasili for hopeless idiots, I found a boy of eleven whom they
called Stépan Borovitch. Since he was born, he had not seen, heard,
spoken or thought. Nature had granted him, it was believed, a fraction
of the sense of smell, and perhaps a fraction of the sense of taste,
but of even this there was no positive ascertainment. Nature had
walled in his soul most effectually. Occasional inarticulate
murmurings, and an incessant knitting and kneading of the fingers were
his only manifestations of energy. On bright days they would place him
in a little rocking-chair, in some spot where the sun fell warm, and
he would rock to and fro for hours, working his slender fingers and
mumbling forth his satisfaction at the warmth in the plaintive and
unvarying refrain of idiocy. The boy was thus situated when I first
“I begged Stépan Borovitch of my good friend Dr. Duchat. If that
excellent man had not long since died he should have shared in my
triumph. I took Stépan to my home and plied the saw and the knife. I
could operate on that poor, worthless, useless, hopeless travesty of
humanity as fearlessly and as recklessly as upon a dog bought or
caught for vivisection. That was a little more than twenty years ago.
To-day Stépan Borovitch wields more power than any other man on the
face of the earth. In ten years he will be the autocrat of Europe, the
master of the world. He never errs; for the machine that reasons
beneath his silver skull never makes a mistake.”
Fisher pointed downward at the old custodian of the tower, who was
seen toiling up the hill.
“Dreamers,” continued Dr. Rapperschwyll, “have speculated on the
possibility of finding among the ruins of the older civilizations some
brief inscription which shall change the foundations of human
knowledge. Wiser men deride the dream, and laugh at the idea of
scientific kabbala. The wiser men are fools. Suppose that Aristotle
had discovered on a cuneiform-covered tablet at Nineveh the few words,
‘Survival of the Fittest.’ Philosophy would have gained twenty-two
hundred years. I will give you, in almost as few words, a truth
equally pregnant. The ultimate evolution of the creature is into the
creator. Perhaps it will be twenty-two hundred years before the truth
finds general acceptance, yet it is not the less a truth. The Baron
Savitch is my creature, and I am his creator—creator of the ablest
man in Europe, the ablest man in the world.
“Here is our ladder, Monsieur. I have fulfilled my part of the
agreement. Remember yours.”
After a two months’ tour of Switzerland and the Italian lakes, the
Fishers found themselves at the Hotel Splendide in Paris, surrounded
by people from the States. It was a relief to Fisher, after his
somewhat bewildering experience at Baden, followed by a surfeit of
stupendous and ghostly snow peaks, to be once more among those who
discriminated between a straight flush and a crooked straight, and
whose bosoms thrilled responsive to his own at the sight of the
star-spangled banner. It was particularly agreeable for him to find at
the Hotel Splendide, in a party of Easterners who had come over to see
the Exposition, Miss Bella Ward, of Portland, a pretty and bright
girl, affianced to his best friend in New York.
With much less pleasure, Fisher learned that the Baron Savitch was in
Paris, fresh from the Berlin Congress, and that he was the lion of the
hour with the select few who read between the written lines of
politics and knew the dummies of diplomacy from the real players in
the tremendous game. Dr. Rapperschwyll was not with the Baron. He was
detained in Switzerland, at the deathbed of his aged mother.
This last piece of information was welcome to Fisher. The more he
reflected upon the interview on the Mercuriusberg, the more strongly
he felt it to be his intellectual duty to persuade himself that the
whole affair was an illusion, not a reality. He would have been glad,
even at the sacrifice of his confidence in his own astuteness, to
believe that the Swiss doctor had been amusing himself at the expense
of his credulity. But the remembrance of the scene in the Baron’s
bedroom at the Badischer Hof was too vivid to leave the slightest
ground for this theory. He was obliged to be content with the thought
that he should soon place the broad Atlantic between himself and a
creature so unnatural, so dangerous, so monstrously impossible as the
Hardly a week had passed before he was thrown again into the society
of that impossible person.
The ladies of the American party met the Russian Baron at a ball in
the New Continental Hotel. They were charmed with his handsome face,
his refinement of manner, his intelligence and wit. They met him again
at the American Minister’s, and, to Fisher’s unspeakable
consternation, the acquaintance thus established began to make rapid
progress in the direction of intimacy. Baron Savitch became a frequent
visitor at the Hotel Splendide.
Fisher does not like to dwell upon this period. For a month his peace
of mind was rent alternately by apprehension and disgust. He is
compelled to admit that the Baron’s demeanor toward himself was most
friendly, although no allusion was made on either side to the incident
at Baden. But the knowledge that no good could come to his friends
from this association with a being in whom the moral principle had no
doubt been supplanted by a system of cog-gear, kept him continually in
a state of distraction. He would gladly have explained to his American
friends the true character of the Russian, that he was not a man of
healthy mental organization, but merely a marvel of mechanical
ingenuity, constructed upon a principle subversive of all society as
at present constituted—in short, a monster whose very existence must
ever be revolting to right-minded persons with brains of honest gray
and white. But the solemn promise to Dr. Rapperschwyll sealed his
A trifling incident suddenly opened his eyes to the alarming character
of the situation, and filled his heart with a new horror.
One evening, a few days before the date designated for the departure
of the American party from Havre for home, Fisher happened to enter
the private parlor which was, by common consent, the headquarters of
his set. At first he thought that the room was unoccupied. Soon he
perceived, in the recess of a window, and partly obscured by the
drapery of the curtain, the forms of the Baron Savitch and Miss Ward
of Portland. They did not observe his entrance. Miss Ward’s hand was
in the Baron’s hand, and she was looking up into his handsome face
with an expression which Fisher could not misinterpret.
Fisher coughed, and going to another window, pretended to be
interested in affairs on the Boulevard. The couple emerged from the
recess. Miss Ward’s face was ruddy with confusion, and she immediately
withdrew. Not a sign of embarrassment was visible on the Baron’s
countenance. He greeted Fisher with perfect self-possession, and began
to talk of the great balloon in the Place du Carrousel.
Fisher pitied but could not blame the young lady. He believed her
still loyal at heart to her New York engagement. He knew that her
loyalty could not be shaken by the blandishments of any man on earth.
He recognized the fact that she was under the spell of a power more
than human. Yet what would be the outcome? He could not tell her all;
his promise bound him. It would be useless to appeal to the generosity
of the Baron; no human sentiments governed his exorable purposes. Must
the affair drift on while he stood tied and helpless? Must this
charming and innocent girl be sacrificed to the transient whim of an
automaton? Allowing that the Baron’s intentions were of the most
honorable character, was the situation any less horrible? Marry a
Machine! His own loyalty to his friend in New York, his regard for
Miss Ward, alike loudly called on him to act with promptness.
And, apart from all private interest, did he not owe a plain duty to
society, to the liberties of the world? Was Savitch to be permitted to
proceed in the career laid out for him by his creator, Dr.
Rapperschwyll? He (Fisher) was the only man in the world in a position
to thwart the ambitious programme. Was there ever greater need of a
Between doubts and fears, the last days of Fisher’s stay in Paris were
wretched beyond description. On the morning of the steamer day he had
almost made up his mind to act.
The train for Havre departed at noon, and at eleven o’clock the Baron
Savitch made his appearance at the Hotel Splendide to bid farewell to
his American friends. Fisher watched Miss Ward closely. There was a
constraint in her manner which fortified his resolution. The Baron
incidentally remarked that he should make it his duty and pleasure to
visit America within a very few months, and that he hoped then to
renew the acquaintances now interrupted. As Savitch spoke, Fisher
observed that his eyes met Miss Ward’s, while the slightest possible
blush colored her cheeks. Fisher knew that the case was desperate, and
demanded a desperate remedy.
He now joined the ladies of the party in urging the Baron to join them
in the hasty lunch that was to precede the drive to the station.
Savitch gladly accepted the cordial invitation. Wine he politely but
firmly declined, pleading the absolute prohibition of his physician.
Fisher left the room for an instant, and returned with the black
bottle which had figured in the Baden episode.
“The Baron,” he said, “has already expressed his approval of the
noblest of our American products, and he knows that this beverage has
good medical endorsement.” So saying, he poured the remaining contents
of the Kentucky bottle into a glass, and presented it to the Russian.
Savitch hesitated. His previous experience with the nectar was at the
same time a temptation and a warning, yet he did not wish to seem
discourteous. A chance remark from Miss Ward decided him.
“The Baron,” she said, with a smile, “will certainly not refuse to
wish us bon voyage in the American fashion.”
Savitch drained the glass and the conversation turned to other
matters. The carriages were already below. The parting compliments
were being made, when Savitch suddenly pressed his hands to his
forehead and clutched at the back of a chair. The ladies gathered
around him in alarm.
“It is nothing,” he said faintly; “a temporary dizziness.”
“There is no time to be lost,” said Fisher, pressing forward. “The
train leaves in twenty minutes. Get ready at once, and I will
meanwhile attend to our friend.”
Fisher hurriedly led the Baron to his own bedroom. Savitch fell back
upon the bed. The Baden symptoms repeated themselves. In two minutes
the Russian was unconscious.
Fisher looked at his watch. He had three minutes to spare. He turned
the key in the lock of the door and touched the knob of the electric
Then, gaining the mastery of his nerves by one supreme effort for
self-control, Fisher pulled the deceptive wig and the black skull-cap
from the Baron’s head. “Heaven forgive me if I am making a fearful
mistake!” he thought. “But I believe it to be best for ourselves and
for the world.” Rapidly, but with a steady hand, he unscrewed the
silver dome. The Mechanism lay exposed before his eyes. The Baron
groaned. Ruthlessly Fisher tore out the wondrous machine. He had no
time and no inclination to examine it. He caught up a newspaper and
hastily enfolded it. He thrust the bundle into his open
travelling-bag. Then he screwed the silver top firmly upon the Baron’s
head, and replaced the skull-cap and the wig.
All this was done before the servant answered the bell. “The Baron
Savitch is ill,” said Fisher to the attendant, when he came. “There is
no cause for alarm. Send at once to the Hotel de l’Athénée for his
valet, Auguste.” In twenty seconds Fisher was in a cab, whirling
toward the Station St. Lazare.
When the steamship Pereire was well out at sea, with Ushant five
hundred miles in her wake, and countless fathoms of water beneath her
keel, Fisher took a newspaper parcel from his travelling-bag. His
teeth were firm set and his lips rigid. He carried the heavy parcel to
the side of the ship and dropped it into the Atlantic. It made a
little eddy in the smooth water, and sank out of sight. Fisher fancied
that he heard a wild, despairing cry, and put his hands to his ears to
shut out the sound. A gull came circling over the steamer—the cry may
have been the gull’s.
Fisher felt a light touch upon his arm. He turned quickly around. Miss
Ward was standing at his side, close to the rail.
“Bless me, how white you are!” she said. “What in the world have you
“I have been preserving the liberties of two continents,” slowly
replied Fisher, “and perhaps saving your own peace of mind.”
“Indeed!” said she; “and how have you done that?”
“I have done it,” was Fisher’s grave answer, “by throwing overboard
the Baron Savitch.”
Miss Ward burst into a ringing laugh. “You are sometimes too droll,
Mr. Fisher,” she said.