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The dining room in Guildford had yellow wallpaper with little figures on it, and a heavy mahogany sideboard, and vases with flowers that Sam, in his carelessness, was allowing to die. The window was open as a relief against the heavy August heat, but the lace curtains barely stirred.

Sam’s gaze turned from the wallpaper to the sideboard to the window to the dying flowers. Each of them struck him as new, as astonishing. It was as if he had never seen any of them before.

Susy was peacefully released to-day.

The telegram was like a white flower in his hand, a flower offered to no one in particular. The paper had just been delivered to his front door, and because he’d left his pocket-knife somewhere, he’d come to the dining room for a knife to slit open the seal.

Sam blinked at the room again. It was brilliant in the summer sun, brilliantly new. A bell trilled outside the window, the telegraph messenger’s jaunty salute as he rode his bicycle away, a brief jingle that announced the birth of a new world.

It was a world without Sam’s daughter in it, a world completely altered from the world that had existed only a moment before. No wonder it seemed brand-new.

The last telegram had promised that Susy’s recovery was certain. It was clear enough that the old world— the one that had just vanished— was built on the uncertain foundation of that lie. The new world, the world without Susy, was a true world; but it was a world of emptiness, of devastation . . .

And then Sam thought, My God, Livy does not know! His wife was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, having left on the first home-bound steamer at the first news of Susy’s illness. There was no way to contact a steamship at sea . . . each ship was all alone, little isolated islands entirely on their own until they touched land.

Livy still lived in the old world, the world where Susy waited for her. All unknowing, she was steaming home to a parlor with a coffin in it, and pale Susy lying drawn and dead in a dark, suffocating room where the mirrors were covered in black draperies . . .

Liquid pattered on Sam’s hand. He looked down and saw his own tears falling. He opened his hand and let the telegram flutter like a wounded butterfly to the table.

He should have gone with Livy, he thought. But he had convinced himself that the news in the last cable was true, and that his presence would be unnecessary.

Cowardice, he thought. Sheer cowardice. He must have known, somehow, that Susy was dying. He had avoided his duty as a father because he had been afraid of what he would find the end of the return journey, and he had left his wife and his two surviving daughters to face it on their own.

He walked stiff-legged to the table and gazed out at the English street, the cobbles, the solid brick buildings with their chimneys and white window-frames, the two gentlemen in their bowler hats conversing in front of the public house . . .

Sights of the new world that had just come into being, the world without Susy. A world of desolation, of terror, of weakness. A world with the purpose drained clean out of it, a world of automata, of shadows.

A world in which Sam, blind, would have to grope his way.


MARK TWAIN WAS constipated again.

More correctly, it was Sam Clemens who suffered, but it was Mark Twain, the public man of letters, who would be obliged to travel downtown to Houston Street and beg for the remedy.

He disliked the necessity as he disliked himself. He did not seek to be such a banality, the grumpy, constipated old man barking at the world around him.

He was inclined to blame the banquets. In the last week he had spoken at a dinner given by the Players Club, at the annual meeting of the Directors of the YMCA, at a Gridiron Club dinner in Washington, and at a dinner in Princeton honoring the Presbyterian poet Henry Jackson Van Dyke. The quality of the meals had varied, but the outcome had not.

The disorder was not a novelty to Sam. He and constipation had a long and complex history together, and it was one of the few non-comic subjects which had inspired him to verse.

Constipation, O Constipation,

The Joyful sound proclaim

Till man’s remotest entrail

Shall praise its Maker’s name.

He had recited the poem on many public occasions, those at which an all-male audience encouraged him to flirt with subjects in questionable taste. He had not recited the poem before women— and most especially not before his wife, who had never entirely ceased her efforts to turn Sam into an angel. And it had to be said that for the most part Livy had succeeded— at least as long as she was in the room. When she was absent, Sam was inclined to veer from the path of the angels toward one marked more by the scent of brimstone.

But be he angel or devil, he was in distress. This evening he was scheduled to speak before a reunion of the New York Department of the Grand Army of the Republic. He could not do so in his current condition, and so he must find relief where he could.

He must visit Mr. Tesla.


SAM PUT ON his white summer suit and took the elevator to the Astoria’s lobby. Reporters lounged there waiting for him, a posse of men in shabby suits and derby hats who knew that Mark Twain was always good for a quote. He obliged them with a few comments.

“I wish to announce that I have patented myself,” he said. “And because it is necessary to go into business in order to protect a patent, I will be going into the cigar and whisky business.” He brandished one of his cigars. “Soon you will be able to buy Mark Twain rye and Mark Twain cigars, all made of ingredients so pure that even Upton Sinclair will enjoy a smoke and a tipple.”

Those two sentences were a good day’s work. They would get him headlines in most of the newspapers in the country, and a good many papers abroad.

He was the most quoted man in America, if not the entire world. On his white head rested the undisputed Crown of Column-inches. The fact was that there was no one, Emperor or President, who could equal him in the matter of quotability.

Though Lord knew, Mr. Roosevelt tried.

“What are you doing today, Mister Twain?” asked one reporter. He had a florid face and a jacket stained with chewing tobacco.

“I am going to pay a call on Mister Tesla, the wizard,” Sam said. “I believe he has invented a process to electrify the streets, so that we may all fly along at fifteen miles per hour, without the benefit of streetcars— or perhaps he has established wireless communication with the inhabitants of Jupiter. I believe it is one of the two. I will have to study upon it.”

So there were two newspaper stories. The papers would use the first at once, and perhaps save the other for a slow day.

From the Astoria Sam took a cab down Fifth Avenue to Tesla’s workshop on Houston Street. The carriage was open, and as the horse clopped along Sam was forced to endure the stares of the crowd— a daily humiliation to which he had submitted himself, it seemed, for centuries. Men stared, women pointed him out to their children, newsboys waved and shouted and called him by his first name.

The newsboys had every reason to be grateful. He sold a lot of their papers for them.

For money, he martyred himself before audiences— but very well, that was how he earned his living. But to be stared at in the street, as he bounced along on a private errand in a private carriage in his brilliant white suit— this was a fate that did not befit a man, but rather an organ grinder’s monkey. It was a perpetual insult.

Disgusted though Sam Clemens might be, as Mark Twain he was professionally obliged to love the people; and so he smiled and waved at the crowd as long as he could stand it, and then lit his cigar and tried to hide behind clouds of smoke. But it was no use. It seemed that all New York had dropped their normal business and stopped to gawk at him. Even the campaign workers, draped in patriotic bunting for McKinley or Bryan, stopped their patter and waved their hats.

It was a brisk October day, and the wind funneled between the buildings and pierced the summer suit. Sam was indifferent to the cold— he was sixty-five, an age when he would as soon die of pneumonia as anything else. Besides, such a death would serve as atonement for the death of his son Langdon, who had died of Sam’s carelessness before his second birthday.

He had taken the boy on a ride in an open barouche in wintertime. Though the infant was wrapped warmly in furs, Sam had been careless: he had drifted off into a daydream, and by the time he returned to the house, Langdon was nearly frozen. He fell ill, and never recovered.

The doctor said it was diphtheria, but Sam knew better. He had killed his own child as surely as if he’d cut the boy’s throat. He had lived with the appalling knowledge for nearly thirty years, just as, for the last four, he was obliged to accept responsibility for Susy’s death.

The cab delivered Sam, shivering and miserable, to the door of Tesla’s workshop, where as Mark Twain he was obliged to smile and nod at the ladies and gentlemen on Houston Street, and to be seen giving the driver a large tip.


NIKOLA TESLA WAS a native of Serbia, and spoke something like a dozen languages. His English was almost without accent. He was a tower of a man, six feet four inches tall. Despite his height, his body was proportioned with a slim elegance. He was in his mid-forties, with hair sprouting like brushwood on either side of a center part. He had light-green eyes in a face made pale by the lack of sunlight. He wore a mustache, a pearl-gray suit, cravat, shiny shoes, white gloves and spats, and over this ensemble, for the sake of cleanliness, he wore an apron.

He wore no jewelry or metal, not even a ring or a watch-chain.

Sam bowed rather than offered to shake hands. In his ten years’ acquaintance with Tesla, he knew the man was wary of germs, and preferred never to touch another’s flesh if he could help it.

“I’m pleased to see you back from Colorado,” Sam said. “They say you shot lightning into the sky and set fire to the electric company’s biggest dynamo.”

“All true,” Tesla said in a voice that was surprisingly gentle. “Though we did repair the dynamo. Have you come to see my ultraviolet projector?”

“I would be honored to view it,” Sam said. “But if it is possible, I wonder if I might beg first to visit an— an older apparatus, a more familiar apparatus.”

A ghost of a smile touched Tesla’s lips. “Of course, Mister Clemens.”

Tesla led Sam through his workshop. The room was tall and spacious and supported by the fluted iron pillars that carried the weight of the entire building. The air smelled of metal and machine oil. Machinery loomed on either hand, massive creations gleaming with steel, polished iron, and copper— generators, transformers, oscillators, banks of controls, dials, and switches, and several variations of the famous Tesla coil. The room smelled of machine oil and electricity. The entire scene was illuminated by the ghostly light of giant fluorescent bulbs, some fixed to the ceiling, others simply lying on tables. It had been Tesla’s inspiration not only to invent a light bulb without a filament, but to light them without wires— the great ghostly bulbs received their power from electricity traveling invisibly through the air, via a process Mr. Tesla called “induction.”

Tesla’s assistants, nearly as well-dressed as he, turned from their tasks to salute Sam as he passed. Sam wished his business were not quite so public.

At length Tesla took him around a corner into an alcove, to a padded platform raised a few inches above the floor. Sam stood on the platform while Tesla threw the switches that activated the platform’s hydraulic mechanism. Tesla handed him a control connected to the platform by a wire.

“You may adjust the frequency to suit yourself,” Tesla said. “In the past I believe the peristaltic contractions were stimulated at a frequency of between thirteen and fourteen cycles per second.”

“I thank you, Mister Tesla,” Sam said, “from the bottom of my— ah— bowels.”

“You will find me in the workshop,” Tesla said, and with a dainty twitch of his mustache he turned and walked away.

Fastidious, he no more relished what was to come than Sam himself.

Sam took a stable stance on the platform and turned the dial on the control. At once the platform began to vibrate with an audible hum. Sam felt a tingling in the soles of his feet. He turned the dial, and as the platform oscillated at different frequencies, he felt the waves move through different parts of his body. At one frequency his long bones sang harmony with the machine; at other frequencies, the various organs of his body. He felt a shimmer in his liver, a tremor in his kidneys. At one point his teeth began to rattle.

Eventually he felt a quaver in his large bowel. Sam made fine adjustments to the control, and then he gasped as lightning seemed to strike his entrails. He took a shuddering breath and tried to control the sudden tremor in his knees.

He was on the platform less than forty-five seconds before he shut down the mechanism and sprinted for the water closet.


TESLA STOOD AT a workbench holding another of his great glass tubes. He had a master glass-blower on the premises, to create the tubes and bulbs he wanted: electron tubes, Fleming valves, rectifying tubes, thermionic valves, the huge flourescents, tubes for creating Roentgen rays and for amplifying wireless transmission.

“This is your ultraviolet projector?” Sam asked. After his ordeal he felt as if he’d partly faded away, like a ghost in the sunlight, and he was happy to let his host do the talking.

“This is the projector, yes.” Tesla regarded his invention with paternal pride. “A projector of this size will suffice for experiments, though the final apparatus will have to be . . . perhaps not larger,” he judged, “but capable of withstanding higher energies.”

“Does it have a objective?” Sam asked. “Or is this creation intended to satisfy some private theory of yours?”

Sam was interested in science and mechanics, and had done a little inventing himself— he had invented a scrap book with the glue already attached; he had invented an improved type of suspender for his trousers and other garments. And of course he had dropped all his money into the damned typesetting machine of the swindler Paige, and afterwards became a bankrupt— and thus, when he was of an age when he should enjoy a peaceful retirement among his family, he had circled the world with long lecture tours in his attempt to win back a little of his lost fortune and salve his injured pride.

Perhaps he had a particle of Tesla’s inventing skill. Perhaps he had enough understanding of science to grope toward Tesla’s meaning when he explained himself.

Or perhaps he had not.

In any case, it was clear from his surroundings that his gift for freely spending his ready money did not come near that of Tesla, which was liberal almost beyond Sam’s imagination.

“Oh, there is a fine practical purpose in this.” Tesla placed the tube on a work bench, and gestured in the air. “You know of my interest in wireless power transmission.”

“Ain’t you succeeded in that?” Sam asked. He cast a glance at the glowing flourescent light overhead.

“Induction will illuminate a room,” Tesla said, “but is limited to a very modest range. I propose something grander— ” His eyes sparkled. “I wish to transmit power over great distances. To electrify, if I can, the entire Earth.”

Sam considered this. “Won’t it look a little odd,” he asked, “the whole population walking around with our hair standing on end?”

Tesla offered a benign smile at this, then continued his exposition. “High frequency is the key. High frequency and resonance. A few years ago— ” He looked up, his sharp eyes scanning the work benches. “Perhaps I can arrange a demonstration— ah, here.”

He led Sam past a pair of hulking dynamos, a disassembled turbine, and the Teleautomaton— a boat, controlled by wireless, that he had tried to sell to the Navy. The machine looked like an enclosed metal bathtub with a propeller at one end and a row of antennae down its back.

Sam himself, in his one business deal with Tesla, had acted as Tesla’s agent in Europe for the wireless-controlled boat, trying to sell it to the German and Russian navies. Unfortunately the matter had gone the way of most of Sam’s business deals— and here the boat sat in the lab, in perpetual dry dock.

Tesla walked to a wooden workbench, where he found a length of insulated wire. He stripped the insulation off either end of the wire, and attached one end to one of the terminals of a small electric motor, and the second end to a terminal of a knife switch. He threw the knife switch to the contact position, and the motor clattered into life, humming and chattering as its vibrations caused it to rattle around the table. There was a pronounced smell of electricity.

“You see there is only a single wire,” Tesla said. “I discovered that if the circuit was tuned to resonance and employed high frequency, the return wire is unnecessary.”

“The news will oppress the directors of Anaconda Copper,” Sam said. “They’ll be making that much less wire.”

Tesla opened the knife switch, and the motor’s clatter ceased.

“It occurred to me,” Tesla said, “that if only one conductor is necessary, the Earth might be that conductor. All that would be required would be to discover the resonant frequency of the Earth.”

Sam looked at Tesla in slowly dawning wonderment. Not an hour earlier he had laughed with reporters about Tesla electrifying the streets. He had meant the comment as a joking exaggeration of Tesla’s electrical miracles; but now it appeared the joke had been overtaken by reality. It would not be the streets that would be electrified, but the entire terraqueous globe.

“The question,” Tesla said, “ is whether the Earth would act as a conductor of finite or infinite dimensions. If infinite, nothing could be done, any power put into the Earth would simply fade away. But if finite, then the resonant frequency could be discovered by trial and error.”

Tesla stepped close to Sam. His green eyes glowed with intensity. “I needed more powerful equipment than I could possibly use in New York. My neighbors already complain about the noise produced by my million-volt Quarter-Wave Coil. And so— Colorado Springs!” He threw out an arm, as if revealing a view of Pike’s Peak. “We built a laboratory around a Magnifying Transmitter— a five-million-volt coil! It threw a thirty-foot spark. Five million volts, Mister Clemens!”

“That is a powerful clutch of volts,” Sam admitted. “Were you able to find the Earth’s frequency?”

Tesla dropped Sam’s arm and smiled ruefully. “My lovely Magnifying Transmitter was not necessary. I found my answer before we had even finished the assembly.” He threw out an arm. “Nature itself provided the solution, Mister Clemens! A thunderstorm passed overhead, and my assistant Lowenstein and I deployed our most sensitive detectors. When the lightning boomed, we detected stationary waves in the Earth! Nodes!” He waved a hand in triumph. “If the waves could be reflected in this manner, that means that a resonant condition can be created if the signal is powerful enough, and is tuned to the planet’s natural frequency! The electrical energy will not dissipate, but grow and grow until tapped.”

Sam had begun to crave a cigar. A cigar would help to generate the mental tranquility that would enable him to fully ponder these mysteries. But he knew that Tesla did not permit such an unsanitary habit in his workplace.

“So you shall electrify the whole Earth,” Sam said.

“If I can,” said Tesla. “It’s possible I may be able to only electrify a part of the planet before the energy dissipates.”

“That will be a prodigy either way,” Sam said. He paused, mentally lighting his cigar. “But may I ask the purpose?”

“The purpose?” Tesla was blank.

“Why do you wish to electrify the Earth with your standing waves?” Sam explained. “Or is it simply to prove it can be done?”

“Oh!” Tesla laughed. “I am sorry— I have explained it all so many times, I lose my place in my own narrative.” He cleared his throat. “I wish to electrify the Earth so that electricity may be drawn from any part of the planet. Any electric motor or appliance may be operated from anywhere, provided it is connected to, for example, a wire driven into the ground.” He laughed. “I have worked out a way to transmit power through the earth at five times the speed of light— perhaps even faster!”

Sam drew a cigar from his pocket. Tesla raised his hands in protest, but Sam cut him off.

“I’ll just chew on it, if I may,” he said. “It helps me think.”

Tesla made an odd little tapping gesture with his right hand, then repeated the gesture twice more.

“I understand,” he said. “I too have my own aids to concentration.”

Sam drew the cigar under his nose, inhaled the odor, then stuck the cigar between his teeth. Tesla gestured overhead. “I propose to electrify the upper atmosphere as well,” he said. “Gauss and Stewart have proposed the existence of a conductive layer to the atmosphere, and if that can be reached— ” He gave a low, satisfied laugh. “That is the purpose of my ultraviolet projector.”

“Ah.” Sam turned his attention toward the great tube lying on the work bench. “The famous projector. At last its purpose is revealed.”

“I tried to reach the conductive layer directly,” Tesla said. “From Colorado Springs I was able to fire a thirty-million-volt bolt of lightning straight into the sky. But the visible streamer was only a hundred feet long, though I’m sure it proceeded invisibly for a great deal farther.” He shook his head. “The atmosphere is too good an insulator,” he said.

“Lucky for the human race,” Sam said. “Otherwise your conductive layer would Southern-fry us like chicken in hot oil.”

Tesla seemed a little appalled by this simile. “Perhaps,” he said, doubtfully. “Still, I was determined to reach this layer. I initially proposed a series of tethered balloons capable of rising to thirty-five thousand feet, with wires delivering an electric charge into the atmosphere. But then I realized that all I needed was this.” He gave a graceful wave in the direction of the tube. “A stream of high-energy ultraviolet light will be projected straight into the sky from my generating station. This will strip the corpuscles from Mister Thomson’s atoms, and create a charged pathway along which a bolt of electricity will pass.”

“And this will bring power to the Earth?” Sam said. “Or do you plan to give electric appliances to the albatross?”

Tesla laughed and clapped his hands together. “Ah— that is another project altogether! That is the World System of wireless telegraphy!”

Sam took the cigar from his lips and rolled it in his tobacco-stained fingers. “You’ll have to forgive me,” he said. “Your schemes are so thick on the ground, I get them confused.”

“The World System will revolutionize communication,” Tesla said. “Marconi’s apparatus can’t even manage to send a message ten miles! My signals from Colorado Springs were detected six hundred miles away! And once I reach the conductive layer overhead, I can send messages over the entire world! The conductive layer itself shall be my medium. The telegraph will be obsolete overnight.”

“More bad news, then, for the Anaconda.”

“Just so.”

Sam nodded. “In your scheme, people will draw power from the Earth so that they can listen to your messages coming down from the sky.”

Tesla offered a little bow. “The World System,” he said.

Sam lowered his gaze to his cigar. Tesla was so tall that Sam developed an ache in his neck just looking at him.

Contemplating his cigar, Sam tried to absorb Tesla’s revelation. Sam had lived most of his life in a world in which even great cities were dark at night— now they blazed with light. He remembered riverboats being replaced by locomotives, the telegraph tying the nation and then the continents together, the early demonstrations of the telephone, with ghostly chamber music rising from speakers placed between buzzing transformers. He had seen the West tamed, had seen ladies with parasols strolling along shady avenues where once vaqueros and Navajos rode free.

Now Tesla was promising an advance more revolutionary than all of these together. He would illuminate the globe, current rising from the earth, messages pulsing down from above.

Sam had to admit that this all was well beyond his scope. He understood mechanics well enough. He could comprehend a steam engine, a trolley car, an ocean liner. He understood printing presses, telephones, repeating rifles. He understood, to his sorrow, why a mechanical typesetter was both necessary and desirable. He approved of progress, generally, as something that relieved human misery.

But Tesla— towering above him, eyes alight with the spirit of invention— made him feel old.

He wondered if any of Tesla’s inventions would change Sam Clemens. He wondered if he would he enjoy his cigar less, if the relationships within his family would change as his daughters felt at more at home in Tesla’s world than he. He wondered if Tesla’s apparatus would bring Sam’s audience closer, or drive them away as they sought more modern amusements than an old man jabbering away on a podium.

He wondered if the throb of electricity rising from the center of the world would help to erode the iron core of despair that lurked in Sam’s heart, or whether it might increase the burden that was his humanity.

Sam lifted his eyes from his cigar, and then his heart gave a little skip as he saw Tesla’s expressionless face. The jaw was slack, the pale green eyes seemed to gaze off into nowhere.

“Are you all right, Tesla?” Sam asked.

Tesla spoke, but not in answer to Sam’s question. His eyes remained fixed on the wall, his face was expressionless, and his voice was a mere whisper.

“A coil will be set into oscillation at its resonant frequency by an external power source. During the zero-point portion of its cycle the coil will appear as one plate of a capacitor . . . ”

“Mister Tesla?” Sam asked. He touched Tesla’s arm. Tesla gave no response.

“As the voltage across the coil increases, the amount of charge it can siphon will increase. The energy that is taken into the coil through the small energy window is the essential factor . . . ”

Sam glanced around the room with a practiced eye. His daughter Jean suffered from epilepsy, and he had some experience in dealing with fits. There were too many sharp-edged tables in Tesla’s vicinity, where he would injure himself if he fell. Sam was too small and old to wrestle with the giant Serb. Frantically he looked around the lab for aid.

Being Mark Twain helped. Sam saw a plump man in an apron looking at him in the way people on the street gaped at Mark Twain. Sam waved him over as Tesla’s ghastly whisper continued.

The plump man glanced at Tesla and understood the problem at once.

“Ach,” he said, and continued in a strong German accent. “The boss is inventing again.” He looked at Sam. “If you will assist, Mister Twain.”

The two of them took Tesla’s arms and maneuvered him toward his desk. Tesla cooperated in a clumsy way but otherwise paid them no attention, and the whisper continued to speak of zero-points, energy sinks, and something called a “magnetic quake.”

Tesla didn’t have an actual office, at least on this floor, but had a desk in a part of the room devoted to clerical tasks. Sam and the plump German managed to get Tesla into his seat, a tall leather-padded swivel chair that must have been custom-made for someone of Tesla’s height. Tesla took no notice as he was manhandled across the room, but continued his monologue a while, and then his head fell back and his eyes closed. Sam heard regular breathing.

“He’s all right now,” the German said. “He’ll wake up in a little while with a new idea.”

Sam looked at the stricken inventor in wonder. “Is this normal?” he asked.

The answer was jaunty. “Nothing is normal here, Mister Twain.” The German regarded his employer for a moment, then looked at Sam. “By the way— in my opinion Tom Sawyer is the best book ever written.”

“I’m gratified to find we are in agreement,” Sam said. The words came automatically: it was his stock answer to another’s praise.

The German laughed, loudly. Tesla remained unconscious. The German looked at his employer, then back at Sam.

“I will leave you with the boss,” he said. “I have to finish an armature by the end of the day.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mister— ”

“Czito, sir.” The German bowed and left.

“Mister Czito. Pleased to meet you.”

Sam settled himself into a straight-backed wooden chair, turned to his patient, and received a shock. Tesla’s face was drawn and strained, as if some other face entirely was trying to break through the skin into the world. Tesla’s eyes stared into his, the green irises lit as if by electricity, the expression strangely cunning and feral.

Tesla’s lips writhed as if he they were questing for a word. Finally he spoke.

“I . . . am . . . perfection,” he hissed. “I . . . am . . . inevitable.”

Sam’s heart tottered into his throat. Tesla’s green gaze held Sam’s for another moment, and then with a visible reluctance the eyes closed, and Tesla’s long frame relaxed. His head lolled onto one shoulder.

Sam stared, heart lurching, his cigar clenched between his teeth. He looked over his shoulder to find if anyone else had seen this, if anyone else could offer advice. No one seemed to be paying attention.

He turned to Tesla again and wondered if the inventor had epilepsy. But Sam knew epilepsy, and he’d never seen anything like this. He wondered if there was even a name for this disorder.

He knew that Tesla had subjected himself to colossal electric shocks, running high-frequency currents over his skin in order to demonstrate the safety of his systems. Perhaps he had damaged himself in some way, or perhaps the wireless system he used to electrify the laboratory could affect the mind of anyone exposed to the invisible currents for any length of time.

Tesla gave a little snort, and his eyelids fluttered. Sam watched with interest. A white-gloved hand came up to touch the head, perhaps to make certain his hair was not in disarray. Slowly the pale green eyes opened, then turned to Sam. Recognition entered Tesla’s eyes.

“Mister Clemens,” he said.

“Mister Tesla.” Sam nodded.

“Did I speak?” Tesla asked. “Did you understand anything?”

“Something about a magnetic quake,” Sam said.

“Ah.” Tesla tapped his forehead with his finger. “That is correct.” He rose from his chair. Sam stood and readied himself in case Tesla swayed and threatened to fall, but the Serb seemed perfectly steady.

“I hope you will excuse me,” Tesla said. “I have a great deal of work to do.”

Sam rose. “Won’t you be needing to rest?” he asked.

“There will be time to rest,” said Tesla, “when my work is done.” He looked down at the papers on his desk, and then a thought struck him, and he looked up.

“I’m sorry for my poor hospitality today,” he said. “Will you dine with me tomorrow?”

“I can’t. I’m going home to Riverdale tomorrow morning.”

“Breakfast, then?”

Sam bowed. “I’d be very happy.”

“Where are you staying? I have an apartment at the Waldorf.”

“I’m across the street at the Astoria.”

Tesla laughed. “A happy accident! And I’m delighted to report that Oscar is one of the few chefs in New York to maintain the most perfect hygiene— I can recommend his breakfasts to anyone.”

“Oscar keeps a clean kitchen?” Sam said in mock surprise. “Has someone told Upton Sinclair?” And then, ruefully, “Lord knows I need something to aid my digestion. Maybe sanitation will do the job.”

Tesla bowed. “Enjoy your cigar, Mister Clemens.”

“Thank you.” Bowing again. “I shall.”

But, once he left the workshop and stood on Houston Street sheltering his match from the blustering wind, he found he couldn’t enjoy his cigar at all. He had nearly chewed it to pieces.

He tossed it in the gutter and went in search of a cab.


“I SEE FROM the papers that General Otis has killed another clutch of Filipinos,” Sam said. “I have high hopes that if the tally of dead women and children gets much higher, we may yet take first place in the art of the massacre.” He showed them his teeth, and let one eye droop in a lazy wink. “If this keeps up,” he said, “we may hope even to surpass the French.”

The reporters laughed, even those from the imperialist newspapers— which, it has to be admitted, was most of them.

Sam tipped his cigar ash into a cuspidor and made his way into the long corridor of the Astoria known as Peacock Alley. He was reasonably certain that the quote would find its way into the papers. The imperialist press was intent on covering up the wholesale butchery of the Filipino people by the American army, but Sam had made a joke of it, and that perhaps would take the sting away. Before the public could taste the truth, he knew, the bitterness had to be hidden beneath a dollop of honey.

Sam had helped to found the Anti-Imperialist League to protest American actions in the Philippines and elsewhere. The obvious course was to support William Jennings Bryan against McKinley in next month’s election, but the League hadn’t quite managed to do that. Instead the League had split over the issue of free silver, and all their hopes had been crushed.

Filipinos were being butchered, but at least the gold standard would be safe. The situation made Sam vibrate with rage. It made him want to set up a guillotine on the Washington Mall and perpetrate a massacre all on his own account.

Sam crossed the street to the Waldorf— it and the Astoria were under the same management, but were two separate buildings separated by Thirty-Third Street. He looked up and was surprised to see Tesla walking toward him. The inventor seemed equally surprised to see Sam. He was dressed superbly as always, pale gray gloves and spats, a dark-gray overcoat with a fur collar, a homburg, and a stick of polished ebony. Because Tesla did not carry metal, the knob on top of the cane wasn’t brass or silver, but carved ivory.

Sam approached Tesla and bowed. “Did you come to fetch me?” he asked. “I hadn’t thought I was late.”

Tesla returned the bow. “It is I who should apologize, Mister Clemens. I am a little late— I usually take a little walk before meals, and I’ve just set off.”

“I’ll accompany you, then.”

Tesla raised his eyebrows at Sam’s white summer suit. Though there was no wind as yet, the morning was chill. “You won’t be cold?”

“I’m indifferent to the weather.”

“Then please join me.”

Sam fell into step alongside the taller man. People stared at Mark Twain, or Tesla, or both; but the two were walking quickly, and no one had a chance to stare for long. A newsboy on the corner was yelping in triumph about General Otis’ latest butchery.

“Last night I spoke to a convention of the Grand Army of the Republic,” Sam said. “Fine old fellows— genuine heroes, many of them. Forty years ago they fought for the freedom of the slave, and they have my purest admiration.

“But now,” he said, “their own grandchildren are fighting to crush the freedom of the Filipinos. We paused in the slaughter this year in order to cross to China and kill the people there, but now the Boxers are defeated, and we’ve gone back to our proper occupation of looting China and butchering Filipinos.” He shook his head. “Those poor people will be the slaves of the Astors and the Morgans.”

“President McKinley says that we will civilize them,” Tesla said mildly. “No doubt the Turks said the same thing about us Serbs when they laid waste to our country.”

“That was the justification for the slavery of the Africans,” Sam growled. He felt his anger rising, its heat flashing in his blood. “We civilized the African by turning the women into concubines and by working the men to death in the cane fields. I don’t imagine it will be any different in the Philippines.” He wanted to gnash his teeth. “But I can’t tell the public what I think! If I spoke aloud what everyone in my audience knows to be the absolute gospel truth, I would be put in an asylum or hounded from the country.”

“You could put it in a book,” Tesla said. “But you could set it in the past— in the time of the Romans, for example.”

“Yes,” Sam said bitterly. “I could do that. That would be acceptable.”

“I will look forward to reading it.”

“It is my curse,” Sam said, “that any lie I tell will be believed absolutely, but when I speak the truth I am looked upon as if I were a lunatic.”

Tesla seemed amused. “You and I are alike in this,” he said. “When I speak simple, scientific facts— when I explain my World System, and what it will do and why it will work— I have a very hard time convincing my audience that I am not some kind of confidence trickster. But if I speak of spirits, or telepathy, or of communication with the dead, then I am believed at once.”

Sam cocked an eyebrow at him. “Do you communicate with the dead? Have you ever met a ghost?”

“No. I spoke by way of illustration. But many people seem to think that because I am an inventor, and work with mysterious forces like electricity, that I must be conversant with psychic phenomena. But in fact, to me electricity is not mysterious at all. It is part of the great machine that is the cosmos, and all the cosmos can be laid open to the investigator.”

They turned the corner, and a blast of chill wind blew open Sam’s coat. He buttoned it and began to wonder if he had been a little overconfident in going out without an overcoat.

“I had a psychic experience,” Sam said as he turned up his collar. “Years ago.”

“Have you?”

“It was in June ’58, and I was in New Orleans. My younger brother Henry had just left on the Pennsylvania boat, heading North. I had a startling dream— I dreamed that he was dead in a metal coffin. That he was dressed in my suit, and that he had a pile of roses on his breast.

“I got a boat North the next day, and soon every boat coming down river told us that the Pennsylvania had blown up near Memphis. When I arrived at the city I found that my brother had been badly injured, but had recovered well and was expected to survive— and then the medical students who were looking after him accidentally gave him too great a dose of morphine, and he died. I was with him at the end, and after he passed I left to take some rest.

“While I was gone Henry was dressed in one of my suits, and put into a metal coffin that some of the Memphis ladies had donated. I arrived at the death house to find that my dream had been nearly fulfilled— and then one of the ladies walked in and very courteously placed a bouquet of roses on his breast. And so my dream came true in all its strange detail.”

Tesla listened with grave attention. “That is very sad,” he said. “And very interesting.”

That was sad, Sam thought, indeed. But how much worse was it to lose a son and a daughter? Langdon had lived only twenty-two months before dying of Sam’s carelessness, and Susy had lived twenty-four years before dying of meningitis while Sam hid himself away in England.

His heart was still filled with bitterness at the knowledge that he had betrayed Susy by his absence. But if he had been present— if he’d had to watch the sad progress of the disease, the first sickness, the recovery, the relapse, the brain-fever, the delirium and the blindness, the awful long decline . . . if he’d seen it with his own eyes, he would have gone mad. He would have gone up to the roof of the house in Hartford, gibbered, and thrown pine-knots at the neighbors.

Assuming of course that he had survived at all.

“Up go the trolley cars for Mark Twain’s daughter,” Susy had sung, sitting by the window in her delirium. “Down go the trolley cars for Mark Twain’s daughter.”

Sam felt tears spring to his eyes. Two of his children had died, and he had been responsible for both, and he had failed in that responsibility. By all rights he should be roasting now in the Hell in which he did not believe.

“I too lost a brother,” said Tesla’s gentle voice. Sam jerked out of his reverie, and for a moment wondered what had prompted Tesla’s remark— and then he remembered that their conversation hadn’t been about Susy at all, but about Sam’s brother Henry.

“My brother was thrown by a horse when he was eighteen,” Tesla said. “They brought him to the house and I watched him die. I was five years old.”

“That was hard,” Sam said.

“Dane was much more intelligent than I,” Tesla said. “A genius without peer. By far the most brilliant of the family.” Sam looked at Tesla in surprise. He had never heard the inventor laud the intelligence of anyone else.

“My parents,” Tesla added, “never ceased to reproach me. They told me on many occasions that they wished it had been I who had died, and not my brother.”

The story made Sam want to spit into the gutter. “That is horrible,” he said.

Tesla shook his head sadly. “You didn’t know Dane.”

They had come to Thirty-third Street again, and Sam realized they’d walked completely around the block. He made ready to turn into the hotel, but Tesla kept walking on, and Sam made a little run to catch up.

“Are we not going into the hotel?” he asked.

“I can’t,” Tesla said. He offered an apologetic smile. “I must walk around the block three times.”

Sam raised his eyebrows. “Why?” he asked.

“Because it’s the smallest number divisible by three.”

Which, Sam thought, was as good as no answer at all. He realized that he was breathing hard, and that he was tiring himself trying to match the pace set by Tesla’s long legs.

“Maybe I’ll get a table for us,” he said.

“I have a table reserved at the Palm Room,” Tesla said.

“Very well,” Sam gasped. He halted for a moment to catch his breath, and watched Tesla’s back recede into the crowd.

He became aware that he was being stared at. “Confound it,” he muttered to himself, and crossed the street to the Astoria.

The Palm Room was the most sumptuous restaurant of the city, probably of the age— beautifully paneled, its decor enhanced with statues, paintings, frescoes, and costly wall hangings. Porcelain vases filled with torrents of fresh flowers suffused the room with their scent— and of course something called the Palm Room must also feature palm trees in buckets. The restaurant was so popular and so often crowded that Oscar, the maitre d’hotel, had invented a red plush rope with which to bar the entrance until he had a table ready. Now all the other fine restaurants, like Sherry’s and Delmonico’s, were getting up their own red plush ropes. The innovation made dining less interesting, since it kept people from wandering in from the street or the bar and visiting from table to table.

On the other hand, it kept the gawkers away. Probably, Sam thought, it was a positive development.

Sam was surprised to see Oscar himself in the restaurant. Oscar of the Waldorf went by his first name because Americans couldn’t pronounce his surname— the closest Sam could come was “Jerky.” He was maitre d’ of both hotels, the head of catering, as well as the singular genius who supervised the chefs in the hotels’ dozen or so restaurants. It was a ridiculous amount of work for a single person, though it had to be said that he stood up under the responsibility with remarkable sang-froid.

Oscar was a Swiss with a plain, kindly face. The restaurant was not crowded this early in the day, and the famous red velvet rope hung open from its brass ring. Sam asked for Tesla’s table.

“Of course,” Oscar said. “We’ve been expecting you.”

“You catered the GAR banquet last night, didn’t you?” Sam asked. “Why are you here this early, and not in bed like a sensible soul?”

“Mister Tesla is very particular about his diet,” said Oscar. “I always have to see to his meals personally.”

Oscar guided Sam to the table and held his chair for him as he sat. There was a preposterous amount of linen on the table, and a great deal of silverware, as if the table were being used for storage, and Sam expected Oscar to sweep it away; but instead Oscar bowed and walked away. He was back a few moments later with a tray, and he poured Sam a cup of coffee and another cup of hot chocolate. Again Sam expected the pile of linen to be taken away, but it was not, and after a few words Sam was left alone with his thoughts.

A waiter brought rolls, butter, and honey. Sam buttered a roll as he glanced around the room. The Astoria’s clientele generally rose later in the morning, and often ordered breakfast brought to their rooms— this “room service,” as it was called, was another of Oscar’s innovations. There were few people in the Palm Room: some louche young men, still in evening dress, who nursed their hangovers with champagne or cocktails; and a few salesmen forking down vast amounts of food in preparation for their long day of tramping from one office to the next. There was an old lady dressed in black satin who sipped tea while reading the newspaper through a lorgnette. Sam knew none of them, and— for a wonder— none of them seemed interested in him.

He sipped his coffee and longed for a cigar. By and by his attention was drawn to the heap of linen on the table, and he counted three piles of three napkins each.

Divisible by three. Tesla had a very singular mind.

After ten minutes Oscar brought Tesla to the table and refilled Sam’s coffee cup.

“Will you have the usual, sir?” Oscar asked Tesla.

Tesla nodded. Oscar turned to Sam.

Sam knew that if he left it up to Oscar, he’s have a breakfast lasting eight or ten courses, so he ordered a far more modest breakfast of sliced pears, deviled lobster, curried eggs, and lamb cutlets.

Tesla, in the meanwhile, was inspecting the tablecloth, which apparently he found free of blemish. He then picked up one of the napkins and began polishing the silver with it. He used one napkin for each bit of silver, and then handed each used napkin to Oscar. Oscar collected them, his face set in its usual expression of benign interest, and then, when Tesla was done, took them away. Tesla was left with three napkins for himself.

“Why must the napkins be divisible by three?” Sam asked.

Tesla was amused. “Why do you wear white?” he said.

“White is more cheerful than black or gray,” Sam said. “I’m an old man and I could use cheering.”

“I thought perhaps it was so that you could see any contamination from the environment,” Tesla said. He seemed perfectly serious.

“It’s good for that, too,” said Sam.

A waiter brought coffee and chocolate for Tesla. Tesla looked at the cream in the pitcher suspiciously, sniffed it, and drank the coffee black. He sipped, then settled back in his chair.

“While I was walking I had some thoughts about psychic phenomena,” he said.

“I’m happy to hear them.”

“The naive might think that I am susceptible to some kind of psychic influence,” Tesla said. “You saw, for example, yesterday— when I had my little episode.”

* * *


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