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McIlvaine's Star   By: (1909-1971)

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By August Derleth

[Illustration: McIlvaine sat down to his machine, turned the complex knobs, and a message flamed across the void. ]

Old Thaddeus McIlvaine discovered a dark star and took it for his own. Thus he inherited a dark destiny or did he?

"Call them what you like," said Tex Harrigan. "Lost people or strayed, crackpots or warped geniuses I know enough of them to fill an entire department of queer people. I've been a reporter long enough to have run into quite a few of them."

"For example?" I said, recognizing Harrigan's mellowness.

"Take Thaddeus McIlvaine," said Harrigan.

"I never heard of him."

"I suppose not," said Harrigan. "But I knew him. He was an eccentric old fellow who had a modest income enough to keep up his hobbies, which were three: he played cards and chess at a tavern called Bixby's on North Clark Street; he was an amateur astronomer; and he had the fixed idea that there was life somewhere outside this planet and that it was possible to communicate with other beings but unlike most others, he tried it constantly with the queer machinery he had rigged up.

"Well, now, this old fellow had a trio of cronies with whom he played on occasion down at Bixby's. He had no one else to confide in. He kept them up with his progress among the stars and his communication with other life in the cosmos beyond our own, and they made a great joke out of it, from all I could gather. I suppose, because he had no one else to talk to, McIlvaine took it without complaint. Well, as I said, I never heard of him until one morning the city editor it was old Bill Henderson then called me in and said, 'Harrigan, we just got a lead on a fellow named Thaddeus McIlvaine who claims to have discovered a new star. Amateur astronomer up North Clark. Find him and get a story.' So I set out to track him down...."

It was a great moment for Thaddeus McIlvaine. He sat down among his friends almost portentously, adjusted his spectacles, and peered over them in his usual manner, half way between a querulous oldster and a reproachful schoolmaster.

"I've done it," he said quietly.

"Aye, and what?" asked Alexander testily.

"I discovered a new star."

"Oh," said Leopold flatly. "A cinder in your eye."

"It lies just off Arcturus," McIlvaine went on, "and it would appear to be coming closer."

"Give it my love," said Richardson with a wry smile. "Have you named it yet? Or don't the discoverers of new stars name them any more? McIlvaine's Star that's a good name for it. Hard a port of Arcturus, with special displays on windy nights."

McIlvaine only smiled. "It's a dark star," he said presently. "It doesn't have light." He spoke almost apologetically, as if somehow he had disappointed his friends. "I'm going to try and communicate with it."

"That's the ticket," said Alexander.

"Cut for deal," said Leopold.

That was how the news about McIlvaine's Star was received by his cronies. Afterward, after McIlvaine had dutifully played several games of euchre, Richardson conceived the idea of telephoning the Globe to announce McIlvaine's discovery.

"The old fellow took himself seriously," Harrigan went on. "And yet he was so damned mousy about it. I mean, you got the impression that he had been trying for so long that now he hardly believed in his star himself any longer. But there it was. He had a long, detailed story of its discovery, which was an accident, as those things usually are. They happen all the time, and his story sounded convincing enough. Just the same, you didn't feel that he really had anything. I took down notes, of course; that was routine. I got a picture of the old man, with never an idea we'd be using it.

"To tell the truth, I carried my notes around with me for a day or so before it occurred to me that it wouldn't do any harm to put a call in to Yerkes Observatory up in Wisconsin. So I did, and they confirmed McIlvaine's Star... Continue reading book >>

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