The buttons blazed in golden fire. His trousers had a bluish, incandescent color, with glowing stripes of crimson braid. His vest was gorgeous with all the colors of the rainbow blended into a flashing, resplendent mass. In feature he was most majestic, and his eyes held the soft but penetrating brilliance of electric lights.
It was hard to meet the gaze of those searching eyes, but Rob did it, and at once the splendid apparition bowed and said in a low, clear voice:
"I am here."
"I know that," answered the boy, trembling, "but WHY are you here?"
"Because you have touched the Master Key of Electricity, and I must obey the laws of nature that compel me to respond to your summons."
"I--I didn't know I touched the Master Key," faltered the boy.
"I understand that. You did it unconsciously. No one in the world has ever done it before, for Nature has hitherto kept the secret safe locked within her bosom."
Rob took time to wonder at this statement.
"Then who are you?" he inquired, at length.
"The Demon of Electricity," was the solemn answer.
"Good gracious!" exclaimed Rob, "a demon!"
"Certainly. I am, in truth, the Slave of the Master Key, and am forced to obey the commands of any one who is wise and brave enough--or, as in your own case, fortunate and fool-hardy enough--to touch it."
"I--I've never guessed there was such a thing as a Master Key, or--or a Demon of Electricity, and--and I'm awfully sorry I--I called you up!" stammered the boy, abashed by the imposing appearance of his companion.
The Demon actually smiled at this speech,--a smile that was almost reassuring.
"I am not sorry," he said, in kindlier tone, "for it is not much pleasure waiting century after century for some one to command my services. I have often thought my existence uncalled for, since you Earth people are so stupid and ignorant that you seem unlikely ever to master the secret of electrical power."
"Oh, we have some great masters among us!" cried Rob, rather nettled at this statement. "Now, there's Edison--"
"Edison!" exclaimed the Demon, with a faint sneer; "what does he know?"
"Lots of things," declared the boy. "He's invented no end of wonderful electrical things."
"You are wrong to call them wonderful," replied the Demon, lightly. "He really knows little more than yourself about the laws that control electricity. His inventions are trifling things in comparison with the really wonderful results to be obtained by one who would actually know how to direct the electric powers instead of groping blindly after insignificant effects. Why, I've stood for months by Edison's elbow, hoping and longing for him to touch the Master Key; but I can see plainly he will never accomplish it."
"Then there's Tesla," said the boy.
The Demon laughed.
"There is Tesla, to be sure," he said. "But what of him?"
"Why, he's discovered a powerful light," the Demon gave an amused chuckle, "and he's in communication with the people in Mars."
"Why, the people who live there."
"There are none."
This great statement almost took Rob's breath away, and caused him to stare hard at his visitor.
"It's generally thought," he resumed, in an annoyed tone, "that Mars has inhabitants who are far in advance of ourselves in civilization. Many scientific men think the people of Mars have been trying to signal us for years, only we don't understand their signals. And great novelists have written about the Martians and their wonderful civilization, and--"
"And they all know as much about that little planet as you do yourself," interrupted the Demon, impatiently. "The trouble with you Earth people is that you delight in guessing about what you can not know. Now I happen to know all about Mars, because I can traverse all space and have had ample leisure to investigate the different planets. Mars is not peopled at all, nor is any other of the planets you recognize in the heavens. Some contain low orders of beasts, to be sure, but Earth alone has an intelligent, thinking, reasoning population, and your scientists and novelists would do better trying to comprehend their own planet than in groping through space to unravel the mysteries of barren and unimportant worlds."
Rob listened to this with surprise and disappointment; but he reflected that the Demon ought to know what he was talking about, so he did not venture to contradict him.