''No, no,'' interrupted the man, stepping out of the line. ''Indeed I don't, sir. But who are you?''
The professor introduced himself. ''Ernest Smalley, a chemist.''
The down-and-outer bowed in acknowledgement. ''Bill Dunn, gentlemen of the road, at your service!''
SMALLEY HAD no difficulty inducing Dunn to enter his car. When he drove off, something within him sang exultantly. In a few minutes he would be started upon the experiment which, he was sure, would bring most startling results. For now that he had secured a human subject, Smalley would see at first hand how his chemical would react upon the subject when taken internally.
All unwitting of the professor's sinister intentions Dunn sat beside him, complimenting himself upon his extraordinary luck.
Some time previous Smalley had secured a fragment of a meteor and upon subjecting to a chemical analysis found the presence of what he suspected to be a new element. Upon further investigation he had learned that it exerted a strange influence upon the laboratory animals to whom it was administered. Only a few grains of the precious substance were left. Dunn was going to be the recipient of one half of them, though he was not aware of that.
At length the professor drew up before his house. He hurried into it, followed by Dunn.
Smalley instructed the butler to furnish Dunn with one of the professor's suits.
When Dunn next met Smalley he seemed a far cry from the ragged stranger who had uneasily entered the house. For the first time in weeks his face was cleanshaven. Clean, faultlessly pressed clothes had replaced his frayed garments. There was an air of confidence about him that surprised Smalley.
The professor greeted him with a warm smile. "What a great transformation! It seems impossible that you are the same man!"
Dunn nodded. ''Yes, it is possible for me to look respectable. Somehow it's hard for me to believe that you're doing this just out of the kindness of your heart. I've received too many hard knocks, I guess.''
Smalley's genial grin vanished and his eyes hardened. Did the man suspect——?
Dunn continued awkwardly. ''But I believe I've finally come up against what I doubted existed.''
Once more Smally was smirking.
''You said something about a meal,'' hinted Bill Dunn. ''I haven't eaten for several days.''
At once the professor was the perfect host. ''Pardon me for my forgetfulness. Be seated, please.''
He hurried from the room, and could Bill have seen the triumphant look upon his face, he would have had cause to worry.
IN A moment Smalley returned, pushing a small stand before him. On the rolling platform was a platter of steaming food. ''Help yourself,'' he invited.
Dunn lost no time in accepting. He did away with fancy preliminaries and got down to business at once. He ate his food like a famished creature. Convention was forgotten. He swallowed a large sandwich in four gigantic bites.
The professor's eyes smoldered queerly as Dunn gulped from his coffee. For the great experiment had begun! Smalley's chemical preparation had been placed in that coffee.
Not much later Dunn leaned back in his chair, a frown upon his face. ''Feel dizzy,'' he complained. ''Must have eaten too much.''
''Perhaps you'd better retire,'' advised Smalley soliciously. ''I can talk to you in the morning about a position I plan to offer you. One moment, while I summon the butler. I'll be right back.''
Though his mind whirled under a terrific pressure, Dunn sensed the aura of evil triumph surrounding the professor. It occurred to him for the first time that Smalley might have made him the unwitting subject of some sinister and terrible experiment. As the professor left the room, he was filled with a mild desire to flee. His roving, frantic eyes fastened themselves upon a window.
When Smalley returned to the room with the butler, Dunn was not in sight. With a smug satisfaction within him, Smalley concluded that Dunn had collapsed upon the floor. But when he scanned the floor and found no trace of his victim, then searched the room with mounting alarm and horror, he knew positively that something had gone