The Newton Enigma.  A novel by Linton Herbert

Chapter 9 b


Pilgrim Tract Society was founded by Julius Stone of the local Pilgrim Holiness church, now under a different name.  True to its original intents, it sent out tracts all over there world.  It was once housed in a two story wood building, but that building was destroyed by a bad fire and was replaced by a pale blue metal building.  There were some bushes by the front door.  The friends knocked, and a woman answered.


“Excuse us, ma’am,” said Hapgood.  “We are looking for information about Mother Shipton.  We were told Hellen might be able to help us.  With two l’s.”


“Two l’s would be me,” she said cheerily.  “My nickname was “El,” and my father was always making jokes about it.  Shouting ‘Give ‘em El’ when I played field hockey was the least of it.”


“What can you tell us about Mother Shipton?” 


“Come in and make yourselves comfortable.”


Inside the business of printing up their material was going on.  Jon, with an engineer’s interest, strolled over to where a young man was working at the keyboard of a complicated mechanical device powered by electric motors.  It sounded like a snare drum played with wire brushes.    


“An old linotype setter,” Jon said pleased.


The young man had one leg in a plaster cast.  He responded cheerfully.  “The only one to escape the fire.  And even then we had to take parts from a few others.  We are getting everything onto computer, but this still works.”


There were several columns containing brass molds.  As the young man hit keys, the brass molds would drop into a line.  When there was a line of print completed, the machine automatically cast a lead slug from the set.  It added the slug to a galley, and the brass letters went back up to cool and be recycled.  When the galley was complete, it would go off to be proofread. 


The machine was in less than perfect condition.  One leg had been broken, and that corner was propped up with a block of wood.  Lest someone accidentally kick the block out and tip the machine and its reservoir of molten lead onto straying feet, the block was braced by a one by four board between the two back corners.  So the block could not be kicked under the machine.  The concrete floor amplified the racket of the old linotype. 



“What’s with the leg?” asked James.


“Football injury.  It should be all right in a couple more months.”

Hellen led them to an office to get out of traffic and began in the tone of someone who has been over it many times but has never lost their enthusiasm, “Mother Shipton was what you would call a wise woman in Yorkshire, who lived from 1488 to 1561, which is a nice long life if you remember they were still burning wise women at the stake in those days.”


Jon said, “Newton lived from 1642 to 1727.  I wonder if he ever heard of her.” 


“There was a pamphlet published about her in 1645, and if he read a lot, he might have run across it.  There was another book published after Newton, in 1797, so they were still talking about her.  She was well loved by all who knew her, and highly respected for her prophesies.  Her maiden name was Ursula Southil.  She married, so I guess her prophesies didn’t scare all the men off.”


“There was a rhyme,” said Jon.


“Indeed there was,” said Hellen.  “Here is a copy of the information we send out.”  She produced a sheet of paper. 


Out of habit he began to look for patterns or grammatical oddities that might indicate that the text had been forced to accommodate some hidden message.  He did not read it in sequence.  There was a line foretelling that women would, “Ride astride with brazen brow,/ as witches do on broomsticks now.”  The sophistication of the internal rhyme and alliteration seemed to rule out a hidden code.  It was odd that what she described sounded so much like a motorcycle. 


“Brave woman,” he said.  “At her time and place and with her reputation to say so casually that witches really do ride broomsticks.”  He went on looking for hints of code, noticing things like the horseless carriage, instant communication worldwide, men living beneath the sea, a gold rush in the New World, iron boats, a glass palace, a united Europe, moving pictures, submarines, airplanes and a single disaster enveloping the whole world.  Then he saw the line that made his blood run cold.  He read aloud, “Nations wane as babes decrease.”


“Not too bad for almost five hundred years ago,” said Jon.  “No wonder Terra Lane wanted us to know about her.”   


Terra Lane, you knew him?” asked Hellen.  “He used to drop by here.  He had family in town.  Terrible about the skyscraper attack.”


“Yes.  He left a message that we should come here.”


“Are you Ivan?”


“I’m Ivan.”


“Then I have something for you.”  She went to a filing cabinet, pulled out an envelope and gave it to Ivan.  He opened it and laid it on a table:


/IttyeytYmoube ntteee admrtbftosDaolv cecrvWr,iasi z e                               

/ shfttfaDoairigfbaseadu  iocritsunvootdo oul rrmghixn  l aeoe iltot

/ aiWa ioeho ttenAec  poa eetogntal trti ?ortBl helhoteam h utum

/ weea aocceW Hlp rale  ibplhlsel eudy  fr asWeulisci idiciiee

/ gM  vhoat  ten sn biw o  sie xptneevhiesrssni lwoisiy os pnpo

/ ioeeauahrglsttote syenreana vieodotc.  u ,leniionmildmio se eynr

/ oe?izsoingez t ;ro sedsfr nsmymhi  inhsoh sf dbegHiv ke ho mwp

/  i glf eazliumoc dsr sdcdl meecls  adrm eoe sr  tgdee  tntkva

/ e r s emiornoleD.ltem aa  tnt l mete nsulia.hydeioue a aad altoeatpltc

/ othir d ic ghnes o ahbrunusawl;o ph pAsst hehy yudi ggtm vl owocnnccDlt

/ l gnii enor hofphylew tsot?eo igftroetcgt   a o hehast h e aokoc noe.

/  siw uh tgfttosholpedkotsy dsnme?ebiaebh uo  wpze hiwcih? oClgcmIi

/ ankewe  htuiuhagrt bmilaEless ii   eryot enr  cuiibr  rttiyitn  gnoenIes

/ ol  tfhoehsnacry rh  ba  l .     eaziyvdro anomrf  ?p c sohsoczcit

/ ciy g nhtbWr p?ec tfmeo h ansed ,hd w os osanlg mpyiT tezsi

/ ecaneneeewj utoc?papnte niWad?shtge eheeo aeBoai uWetrg caP

/ uwbhm t t ne e ioonhai a db.ini  merhu loli iveti?gelhu  ith? t aafl

/ llrcmnath ht skyhgrauoapo /


Jon looked at all the question marks and said, “It looks like this may ask more questions than it answers.  This one may take a little time to crack.” 


Tracy put her hand to her head, as if it would help her think.  Suddenly she took in a great hissing breath.


Jon said, “I imagine the reason that Julius Stone took an interest in this was the obvious reference to the apocalypse.  Do you have anything else of the same sort?”


Hellen said, “Terra Lane was interested in things like the Rennes le Chateau mystery, the lost Ark of the Covenant, the Templars and the Holy Grail, but we don’t have that sort of thing.  I think he used to go to Miriam’s Book Store in Boston when he wanted books and ideas.”


Tracy laid something on the table.  She laid a finger to her lips, calling for silence.  Then she indicated she needed pencil and paper.  She wrote, “It was clipped in my hair.”


The others looked at the object in dismay.  Ivan wrote, “It’s got to be a bug, a microphone.”  He took it and wrapped it in one big hand.


Jon said aloud, “Well you have been a great help.  Thanks, but we’ve got to be running.”


As they hurried out, Jon whispered, “Why are you bringing the damn thing?  Let’s smash it.”


At the next corner, they laid the little object on the curb and Ivan crushed it with the corner of the briefcase.  Two blocks away, there was an explosion as the engine of the van blew up.


James said, “That’s gonna leave a mark.”


Now they were pelting back to the society building.


Ivan said, “They’ve been listening to us for two days.  They must know everything.” 


“One of those goons was smarter than I thought,” said Tracy.  “Sorry about the car, James.”


As they got inside Jon said, “Probably bugged with more transmitting power than Tokyo Rose, anyway.” 


People looked up at the unceremonious return.  “Is there a back way out?” asked Ivan.  Mercenaries started pouring in the door behind them. 


Hapgood decided that turning the other cheek could wait and threw a jab at the first one, who caught Hap’s fist in his hand and wrapped his other arm around Hap.  Hapgood did his best to use a heel, but to little avail.


Tracy landed two good kicks and backed away defiant.  Two mercenaries followed her, one jabbing at her face with his extended fingers and the other slashing at her kidneys with the edge of his hand, but she retreated with short jerks.  They were reluctant to get too close, and she kept moving just out of their reach.


James decked one with a solid punch to the jaw and bull rushed a second bowling him over.  He caught one with an elbow and then took a kick to the chest.  He shook out the cobwebs and managed to get to Hapgood and pry him loose. 


Jon was attacked by one man and went into a defensive posture, holding the open palms of his hands forward to fend off strikes as he backed slowly.


There was a major brawl going on around Ivan, who stood heedlessly at full height, picked up a mercenary and flung him into the general traffic.  He picked up a second and dropped him onto the concrete floor.


The people of the Society mostly stood stunned.  The young football player got up, leaning on the linotype machine, and moved around behind it.  Surreptitiously he prized the one by four board loose with his cast.


The swirling fight had come well in from the door, and the five defenders stood with their backs together giving each other flank cover and keeping the mercenaries back, but they were tiring fast and had no direction to retreat.


Suddenly there was a kick from behind the linotype machine and the supporting block of wood went flying.  Six hundred pounds of steel machinery tipped over onto the concrete, sending parts scattering and hurling the reservoir of melted lead forward.


As has been proven from many an embattled wall, molten lead is a real attention getter.  Men screamed as the hot silver drops spattered them.  That would only cause minor if spectacular burns, but one man slipped in the liquid metal and went down screaming onto the concrete.  That opened a hole in the ring of mercenaries, which the five were not slow to exploit.  Hapgood jumped onto the wooden block and then past the lead, kicking the block away behind him.  Tracy stepped on the body of the fallen man.  The others jumped and made it.


As they ran past the football player, he slapped keys into James’s hand and said, “Grand National,” pointing toward the back door.


While they sprinted out, Tracy said, “Ivan, give me your shirt.”  He stripped it off and handed it to her on the fly.  Meanwhile the young man fetched his crutch, expecting further trouble, but the mercenaries had picked up their fallen comrade and were squeezing out the front door.


In back, they found the black car.  Tracy put Ivan’s shirt over the license plate and in seconds the car was gunning its way around the house.  As they reached the street, three white vans were already in motion to intercept them, but the Grand National expanded its mighty lungs and ran away to the south.


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