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Title: The Crack of Doom
Author: Cromie, Robert, 1856-1907
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Crack of Doom" ***

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            THE CRACK OF DOOM


                   BY

              ROBERT CROMIE
 _Author of "A Plunge into Space," etc._


            _SECOND EDITION_


                 LONDON
            DIGBY, LONG & CO.
 18 BOUVERIE STREET, FLEET STREET, E.C.
                  1895



PREFACE


The rough notes from which this narrative has been constructed were
given to me by the man who tells the story. For obvious reasons I have
altered the names of the principals, and I hereby pass on the assurance
which I have received, that the originals of such as are left alive can
be found if their discovery be thought desirable. This alteration of
names, the piecing together of somewhat disconnected and sometimes
nearly indecipherable memoranda, and the reduction of the mass to
consecutive form, are all that has been required of me or would have
been permitted to me. The expedition to Labrador mentioned by the
narrator has not returned, nor has it ever been definitely traced. He
does not undertake to prove that it ever set out. But he avers that all
which is hereafter set down is truly told, and he leaves it to mankind
to accept the warning which it has fallen to him to convey, or await the
proof of its sincerity which he believes the end of the century will
produce.

                                                        ROBERT CROMIE.

BELFAST, _May, 1895_.



CONTENTS


  CHAP.                                  PAGE

     I. THE UNIVERSE A MISTAKE!             1

    II. A STRANGE EXPERIMENT               10

   III. "IT IS GOOD TO BE ALIVE"           21

    IV. GEORGE DELANY--DECEASED            32

     V. THE MURDER CLUB                    41

    VI. A TELEPATHIC TELEGRAM              51

   VII. GUILTY!                            62

  VIII. THE WOKING MYSTERY                 72

    IX. CUI BONO?                          81

     X. FORCE--A REMEDY                    93

    XI. MORITURI TE SALUTANT              104

   XII. "NO DEATH--SAVE IN LIFE"          111

  XIII. MISS METFORD'S PLAN               123

   XIV. ROCKINGHAM TO THE SHARKS          133

    XV. "IF NOT TOO LATE"                 146

   XVI. £5000 TO DETAIN THE SHIP          160

  XVII. "THIS EARTH SHALL DIE"            174

 XVIII. THE FLIGHT                        184

   XIX. THE CATASTROPHE                   197

    XX. CONCLUSION                        208



THE CRACK OF DOOM



CHAPTER I.

THE UNIVERSE A MISTAKE!


"The Universe is a mistake!"

Thus spake Herbert Brande, a passenger on the _Majestic_, making for
Queenstown Harbour, one evening early in the past year. Foolish as the
words may seem, they were partly influential in leading to my terrible
association with him, and all that is described in this book.

Brande was standing beside me on the starboard side of the vessel. We
had been discussing a current astronomical essay, as we watched the hazy
blue line of the Irish coast rise on the horizon. This conversation was
interrupted by Brande, who said, impatiently:

"Why tell us of stars distant so far from this insignificant little
world of ours--so insignificant that even its own inhabitants speak
disrespectfully of it--that it would take hundreds of years to telegraph
to some of them, thousands to others, and millions to the rest? Why
limit oneself to a mere million of years for a dramatic illustration,
when there is a star in space distant so far from us that if a telegram
left the earth for it this very night, and maintained for ever its
initial velocity, it would never reach that star?"

He said this without any apparent effort after rhetorical effect; but
the suddenness with which he had presented a very obvious truism in a
fresh light to me made the conception of the vastness of space
absolutely oppressive. In the hope of changing the subject I replied:

"Nothing is gained by dwelling on these scientific speculations. The
mind is only bewildered. The Universe is inexplicable."

"The Universe!" he exclaimed. "That is easily explained. The Universe is
a mistake!"

"The greatest mistake of the century, I suppose," I added, somewhat
annoyed, for I thought Brande was laughing at me.

"Say, of Time, and I agree with you," he replied, careless of my
astonishment.

I did not answer him for some moments.

This man Brande was young in years, but middle-aged in the expression of
his pale, intellectual face, and old--if age be synonymous with
knowledge--in his ideas. His knowledge, indeed, was so exhaustive that
the scientific pleasantries to which he was prone could always be
justified, dialectically at least, by him when he was contradicted.
Those who knew him well did not argue with him. I was always stumbling
into intellectual pitfalls, for I had only known him since the steamer
left New York.

As to myself, there is little to be told. My history prior to my
acquaintance with Brande was commonplace. I was merely an active,
athletic Englishman, Arthur Marcel by name. I had studied medicine, and
was a doctor in all but the degree. This certificate had been dispensed
with owing to an unexpected legacy, on receipt of which I determined to
devote it to the furtherance of my own amusement. In the pursuit of this
object, I had visited many lands and had become familiar with most of
the beaten tracks of travel. I was returning to England after an absence
of three years spent in aimless roaming. My age was thirty-one years,
and my salient characteristic at the time was to hold fast by anything
that interested me, until my humour changed. Brande's conversational
vagaries had amused me on the voyage. His extraordinary comment on the
Universe decided me to cement our shipboard acquaintance before reaching
port.

"That explanation of yours," I said, lighting a fresh cigar, and
returning to a subject which I had so recently tried to shelve, "isn't
it rather vague?"

"For the present it must serve," he answered absently.

To force him into admitting that his phrase was only a thoughtless
exclamation, or induce him to defend it, I said:

"It does not serve any reasonable purpose. It adds nothing to knowledge.
As it stands, it is neither academic nor practical."

Brande looked at me earnestly for a moment, and then said gravely:

"The academic value of the explanation will be shown to you if you will
join a society I have founded; and its practicalness will soon be made
plain whether you join or not."

"What do you call this club of yours?" I asked.

"We do not call it a club. We call it a Society--the _Cui Bono_
Society," he answered coldly.

"I like the name," I returned. "It is suggestive. It may mean
anything--or nothing."

"You will learn later that the Society means something; a good deal, in
fact."

This was said in the dry, unemotional tone which I afterwards found was
the only sign of displeasure Brande ever permitted himself to show. His
arrangements for going on shore at Queenstown had been made early in the
day, but he left me to look for his sister, of whom I had seen very
little on the voyage. The weather had been rough, and as she was not a
good sailor, I had only had a rare glimpse of a very dark and handsome
girl, whose society possessed for me a strange attraction, although we
were then almost strangers. Indeed, I regretted keenly, as the time of
our separation approached, having registered my luggage (consisting
largely of curios and mementoes of my travels, of which I was very
careful) for Liverpool. My own time was valueless, and it would have
been more agreeable to me to continue the journey with the Brandes, no
matter where they went.

There was a choppy sea on when we reached the entrance to the harbour,
so the _Majestic_ steamed in between the Carlisle and Camden forts, and
on to the man-of-war roads, where the tender met us. By this time,
Brande and his sister were ready to go on shore; but as there was a
heavy mail to be transhipped, we had still an hour at our disposal. For
some time we paced the deck, exchanging commonplaces on the voyage and
confidences as to our future plans. It was almost dark, but not dark
enough to prevent us from seeing those wonderfully green hills which
landlock the harbour. To me the verdant woods and hills were delightful
after the brown plains and interminable prairies on which I had spent
many months. As the lights of Queenstown began to speck the slowly
gathering gloom, Miss Brande asked me to point out Rostellan Castle. It
could not be seen from the vessel, but the familiar legend was easily
recalled, and this led us to talk about Irish tradition with its weird
romance and never failing pathos. This interested her. Freed now from
the lassitude of sea-sickness, the girl became more fascinating to me
every moment. Everything she said was worth listening to, apart from the
charming manner in which it was said.

To declare that she was an extremely pretty girl would not convey the
strange, almost unearthly, beauty of her face--as intellectual as her
brother's--and of the charm of her slight but exquisitely moulded
figure. In her dark eyes there was a sympathy, a compassion, that was
new to me. It thrilled me with an emotion different from anything that
my frankly happy, but hitherto wholly selfish life had known. There was
only one note in her conversation which jarred upon me. She was apt to
drift into the extraordinary views of life and death which were
interesting when formulated by her eccentric brother, but pained me
coming from her lips. In spite of this, the purpose I had contemplated
of joining Brande's Society--evoked as it had been by his own whimsical
observation--now took definite form. I would join that Society. It would
be the best way of keeping near to Natalie Brande.

Her brother returned to us to say that the tender was about to leave the
ship. He had left us for half an hour. I did not notice his absence
until he himself announced it. As we shook hands, I said to him:

"I have been thinking about that Society of yours. I mean to join it."

"I am very glad," he replied. "You will find it a new sensation, quite
outside the beaten track, which you know so well."

There was a shade of half-kindly contempt in his voice, which missed me
at the moment. I answered gaily, knowing that he would not be offended
by what was said in jest:

"I am sure I shall. If all the members are as mad as yourself, it will
be the most interesting experience outside Bedlam that any man could
wish for."

I had a foretaste of that interest soon.

As Miss Brande was walking to the gangway, a lamp shone full upon her
gypsy face. The blue-black hair, the dark eyes, and a deep red rose she
wore in her bonnet, seemed to me an exquisite arrangement of harmonious
colour. And the thought flashed into my mind very vividly, however
trivial it may seem here, when written down in cold words: "The queen of
women, and the queen of flowers." That is not precisely how my thought
ran, but I cannot describe it better. The finer subtleties of the brain
do not bear well the daylight of language.

Brande drew her back and whispered to her. Then the sweet face, now
slightly flushed, was turned to me again.

"Oh, thank you for that pretty thought," she said with a pleasant smile.
"You are too flattering. The 'queen of flowers' is very true, but the
'queen of women!' Oh, no!" She made a graceful gesture of dissent, and
passed down the gangway.

As the tender disappeared into the darkness, a tiny scrap of lace waved,
and I knew vaguely that she was thinking of me. But how she read my
thought so exactly I could not tell.

That knowledge it has been my fate to gain.



CHAPTER II.

A STRANGE EXPERIMENT.


Soon after my arrival in London, I called on Brande, at the address he
had given me in Brook Street. He received me with the pleasant
affability which a man of the world easily assumes, and his apology for
being unable to pass the evening with me in his own house was a model of
social style. The difficulty in the way was practically an
impossibility. His Society had a meeting on that evening, and it was
imperative that he should be present.

"Why not come yourself?" he said. "It is what we might call a guest
night. That is, visitors, if friends of members, are admitted, and as
this privilege may not be again accorded to outsiders, you ought to come
before you decide finally to join us. I must go now, but Natalie" (he
did not say "Miss Brande") "will entertain you and bring you to the
hall. It is very near--in Hanover Square."

"I shall be very glad indeed to bring Miss Brande to the hall," I
answered, changing the sentence in order to correct Brande's too
patronising phrase.

"The same thing in different words, is it not? If you prefer it that
way, please have it so." His imperturbability was unaffected.

Miss Brande here entered the room. Her brother, with a word of renewed
apology, left us, and presently I saw him cross the street and hail a
passing hansom.

"You must not blame him for running off," Miss Brande said. "He has much
to think of, and the Society depends almost wholly on himself."

I stammered out that I did not blame him at all, and indeed my
disclaimer was absolutely true. Brande could not have pleased me better
than he had done by relieving us of his company.

Miss Brande made tea, which I pretended to enjoy in the hope of pleasing
her. Over this we talked more like old and well proven friends than mere
acquaintances of ten days' standing. Just once or twice the mysterious
chord which marred the girl's charming conversation was touched. She
immediately changed the subject on observing my distress. I say
distress, for a weaker word would not fittingly describe the emotion I
felt whenever she blundered into the pseudo-scientific nonsense which
was her brother's favourite affectation. At least, it seemed nonsense to
me. I could not well foresee then that the theses which appeared to be
mere theoretical absurdities, would ever be proven--as they have
been--very terrible realities. On subjects of ordinary educational
interest my hostess displayed such full knowledge of the question and
ease in dealing with it, that I listened, fascinated, as long as she
chose to continue speaking. It was a novel and delightful experience to
hear a girl as handsome as a pictorial masterpiece, and dressed like a
court beauty, discourse with the knowledge, and in the language, of the
oldest philosopher. But this was only one of the many surprising
combinations in her complex personality. My noviciate was still in its
first stage.

The time to set out for the meeting arrived all too soon for my
inclination. We decided to walk, the evening being fine and not too
warm, and the distance only a ten minutes' stroll. At a street crossing,
we met a crowd unusually large for that neighbourhood. Miss Brande
again surprised me. She was watching the crowd seething and swarming
past. Her dark eyes followed the people with a strange wondering,
pitying look which I did not understand. Her face, exquisite in its
expression at all times, was now absolutely transformed, beatified.
Brande had often spoken to me of mesmerism, clairvoyance, and similar
subjects, and it occurred to me that he had used his sister as a medium,
a clairvoyante. Her brain was not, therefore, under normal control. I
determined instantly to tell him on the first opportunity that if he did
not wish to see the girl permanently injured, he would have to curtail
his hypnotic influence.

"It is rather a stirring sight," I said so sharply to Miss Brande that
she started. I meant to startle her, but did not succeed as far as I
wished.

"It is a very terrible sight," she answered.

"Oh, there is no danger," I said hastily, and drew her hand over my arm.

"Danger! I was not thinking of danger."

As she did not remove her hand, I did not infringe the silence which
followed this, until a break in the traffic allowed us to cross the
street. Then I said:

"May I ask what you were thinking of just now, Miss Brande?"

"Of the people--their lives--their work--their misery!"

"I assure you many are very happy," I replied. "You take a morbid view.
Misery is not the rule. I am sure the majority are happy."

"What difference does that make?" the girl said with a sigh. "What is
the end of it all--the meaning of it all? Their happiness! _Cui Bono?_"

We walked on in silence, while I turned over in my mind what she had
said. I could come to no conclusion upon it save that my dislike for her
enigmatic aberrations was becoming more intense as my liking for the
girl herself increased. To change the current of her thoughts and my
own, I asked her abruptly:

"Are you a member of the _Cui Bono_ Society?"

"I! Oh, no. Women are not allowed to join--for the present."

"I am delighted to hear it," I said heartily, "and I hope the rule will
continue in force."

She looked at me in surprise. "Why should you mind? You are joining
yourself."

"That is different. I don't approve of ladies mixing themselves up in
these curious and perhaps questionable societies."

My remark amused her. Her eyes sparkled with simple fun. The change in
her manner was very agreeable to me.

"I might have expected that." To my extreme satisfaction she now looked
almost mischievous. "Herbert told me you were a little--"

"A little what?"

"Well, a little--you won't be vexed? That is right. He said a
little--mediæval."

This abated my appreciation of her sense of humour, and I maintained a
dignified reticence, which unhappily she regarded as mere sullenness,
until we reached the Society's room.

The place was well filled, and the company, in spite of the
extravagantly modern costumes of the younger women, which I cannot
describe better than by saying that there was little difference in it
from that of ordinary male attire, was quite conventional in so far as
the interchange of ordinary courtesies went. When, however, any member
of the Society mingled with a group of visitors, the conversation was
soon turned into a new channel. Secrets of science, which I had been
accustomed to look upon as undiscoverable, were bandied about like the
merest commonplaces of education. The absurdity of individuality and the
subjectivity of the emotions were alike insisted on without notice of
the paradox, which to me appeared extreme. The Associates were
altruistic for the sake of altruism, not for the sake of its
beneficiaries. They were not pantheists, for they saw neither universal
good nor God, but rather evil in all things--themselves included. Their
talk, however, was brilliant, and, with allowance for its jarring
sentiments, it possessed something of the indefinable charm which
followed Brande. My reflections on this identity of interest were
interrupted by the man himself. After a word of welcome he said:

"Let me show you our great experiment; that which touches the high-water
mark of scientific achievement in the history of humanity. It is not
much in itself, but it is the pioneer of many marvels."

He brought me to a metal stand, on which a small instrument constructed
of some white metal was placed. A large number of wires were connected
with various portions of it, and these wires passed into the side-wall
of the building.

In appearance, this marvel of micrology, so far as the eye-piece and
upper portions went, was like an ordinary microscope, but its magnifying
power was to me unbelievable. It magnified the object under examination
many thousand times more than the most powerful microscope in the world.

I looked through the upper lens, and saw a small globe suspended in the
middle of a tiny chamber filled with soft blue light, or transparent
material. Circling round this globe four other spheres revolved in
orbits, some almost circular, some elliptical, some parabolic. As I
looked, Brande touched a key, and the little globules began to fly more
rapidly round their primary, and make wider sweeps in their revolutions.
Another key was pressed, and the revolving spheres slowed down and drew
closer until I could scarcely distinguish any movement. The globules
seemed to form a solid ball.

"Attend now!" Brande exclaimed.

He tapped the first key sharply. A little grey cloud obscured the blue
light. When it cleared away, the revolving globes had disappeared.

"What do you think of it?" he asked carelessly.

"What is it? What does it mean? Is it the solar system or some other
system illustrated in miniature? I am sorry for the misadventure."

"You are partly correct," Brande replied. "It is an illustration of a
planetary system, though a small one. But there was no misadventure. I
caused the somewhat dangerous result you witnessed, the wreckage not
merely of the molecule of marsh gas you were examining--which any
educated chemist might do as easily as I--but the wreckage of its
constituent atoms. This is a scientific victory which dwarfs the work of
Helmholtz, Avogadro, or Mendelejeff. The immortal Dalton himself" (the
word "immortal" was spoken with a sneer) "might rise from his grave to
witness it."

"Atoms--molecules! What are you talking about?" I asked, bewildered.

"You were looking on at the death of a molecule--a molecule of marsh
gas, as I have already said. It was caused by a process which I would
describe to you if I could reduce my own life work--and that of every
scientific amateur who has preceded me since the world began--into half
a dozen sentences. As that would be difficult, I must ask you to accept
my personal assurance that you witnessed a fact, not a fiction of my
imagination."

"And your instrument is so perfect that it not only renders molecules
and atoms but their diffusion visible? It is a microscopic
impossibility. At least it is amazing."

"Pshaw!" Brande exclaimed impatiently. "My instrument does certainly
magnify to a marvellous extent, but not by the old device of the simple
microscope, which merely focussed a large area of light rays into a
small one. So crude a process could never show an atom to the human eye.
I add much to that. I restore to the rays themselves the luminosity
which they lost in their passage through our atmosphere. I give them
back all their visual properties, and turn them with their full etheric
blaze on the object under examination. Great as that achievement is, I
deny that it is amazing. It may amaze a Papuan to see his eyelash
magnified to the size of a wire, or an uneducated Englishman to see a
cheese-mite magnified to the size of a midge. It should not amaze you
to see a simple process a little further developed."

"Where does the danger you spoke of come in?" I asked with a pretence of
interest. Candidly, I did not believe a single word that Brande had
said.

"If you will consult a common text-book on the physics of the ether," he
replied, "you will find that one grain of matter contains sufficient
energy, if etherised, to raise a hundred thousand tons nearly two miles.
In face of such potentiality it is not wise to wreck incautiously even
the atoms of a molecule."

"And the limits to this description of scientific experiment? Where are
they?"

"There are no limits," Brande said decisively. "No man can say to
science 'thus far and no farther.' No man ever has been able to do so.
No man ever shall!"



CHAPTER III.

"IT IS GOOD TO BE ALIVE."


Amongst the letters lying on my breakfast-table a few days after the
meeting was one addressed in an unfamiliar hand. The writing was bold,
and formed like a man's. There was a faint trace of a perfume about the
envelope which I remembered. I opened it first.

It was, as I expected, from Miss Brande. Her brother had gone to their
country place on the southern coast. She and her friend, Edith Metford,
were going that day. Their luggage was already at the station. Would I
send on what I required for a short visit, and meet them at eleven
o'clock on the bridge over the Serpentine? It was enough for me. I
packed a large portmanteau hastily, sent it to Charing Cross, and spent
the time at my disposal in the park, which was close to my hotel.

Although the invitation I had received gave me pleasure, I could not
altogether remove from my mind a vague sense of disquietude concerning
Herbert Brande and his Society. The advanced opinions I had heard, if
extreme, were not altogether alarming. But the mysterious way in which
Brande himself had spoken about the Society, and the still more
mysterious air which some of the members assumed when directly
questioned as to its object, suggested much. Might it not be a
revolutionary party engaged in a grave intrigue--a branch of some
foreign body whose purpose was so dangerous that ordinary disguises were
not considered sufficiently secure? Might they not have adopted the
jargon and pretended to the opinions of scientific faddists as a cloak
for designs more sinister and sincere? The experiment I witnessed might
be almost a miracle or merely a trick. Thinking it over thus, I could
come to no final opinion, and when I asked myself aloud, "What are you
afraid of?" I could not answer my own question. But I thought I would
defer joining the Society pending further information.

A few minutes before eleven, I walked towards the bridge over the
Serpentine. No ladies appeared to be on it. There were only a couple of
smartly dressed youths there, one smoking a cigarette. I sauntered about
until one of the lads, the one who was not smoking, looked up and
beckoned to me. I approached leisurely, for it struck me that the boy
would have shown better breeding if he had come toward me, considering
my seniority.

"I am sorry I did not notice you sooner. Why did you not come on when
you saw us?" the smallest and slimmest youth called to me.

"In the name of--Miss--Miss--" I stammered.

"Brande; you haven't forgotten my name, I hope," Natalie Brande said
coolly. "This is my friend, Edith Metford. Metford, this is Arthur
Marcel."

"How do you do, Marcel? I am glad to meet you; I have heard 'favourable
mention' of you from the Brandes," the second figure in knickerbockers
said pleasantly.

"How do you do, sir--madam--I mean--Miss--" I blundered, and then in
despair I asked Miss Brande, "Is this a tableau vivant? What is the
meaning of these disguises?" My embarrassment was so great that my
discourteous question may be pardoned.

"Our dress! Surely you have seen women rationally dressed before!" Miss
Brande answered complacently, while the other girl watched my
astonishment with evident amusement.

This second girl, Edith Metford, was a frank, handsome young woman, but
unlike the spirituelle beauty of Natalie Brande. She was perceptibly
taller than her friend, and of fuller figure. In consequence, she
looked, in my opinion, to even less advantage in her eccentric costume,
or rational dress, than did Miss Brande.

"Rationally dressed! Oh, yes. I know the divided skirt, but--"

Miss Metford interrupted me. "Do you call the divided skirt atrocity
rational dress?" she asked pointedly.

"Upon my honour I do not," I answered.

These girls were too advanced in their ideas of dress for me. Nor did I
feel at all at my ease during this conversation, which did not, however,
appear to embarrass them. I proposed hastily to get a cab, but they
demurred. It was such a lovely day, they preferred to walk, part of the
way at least. I pointed out that there might be drawbacks to this
amendment of my proposal.

"What drawbacks?" Miss Metford asked.

"For instance, isn't it probable we shall all be arrested by the
police?" I replied.

"Rubbish! We are not in Russia," both exclaimed.

"Which is lucky for you," I reflected, as we commenced what was to me a
most disagreeable walk. I got them into a cab sooner than they wished.
At the railway station I did not offer to procure their tickets. To do
so, I felt, would only give offence. Critical glances followed us as we
went to our carriage. Londoners are becoming accustomed to varieties, if
not vagaries, in ladies' costumes, but the dress of my friends was
evidently a little out of the common even for them. Miss Metford was
just turning the handle of a carriage door, when I interposed, saying,
"This is a smoking compartment."

"So I see. I am going to smoke--if you don't object?"

"I don't suppose it would make any difference if I did," I said, with
unconscious asperity, for indeed this excess of free manners was jarring
upon me. The line dividing it from vulgarity was becoming so thin I was
losing sight of the divisor. Yet no one, even the most fastidious,
could associate vulgarity with Natalie Brande. There remained an air of
unassumed sincerity about herself and all her actions, including even
her dress, which absolutely excluded her from hostile criticism. I could
not, however, extend that lenient judgment to Miss Metford. The girls
spoke and acted--as they had dressed themselves--very much alike. Only,
what seemed to me in the one a natural eccentricity, seemed in the other
an unnatural affectation.

I saw the guard passing, and, calling him over, gave him half-a-crown to
have the compartment labelled, "Engaged."

Miss Brande, who had been looking out of the window, absently asked my
reason for this precaution. I replied that I wanted the compartment
reserved for ourselves. I certainly did not want any staring and
otherwise offensive fellow-passengers.

"We don't want all the seats," she persisted.

"No," I admitted. "We don't want the extra seats. But I thought you
might like the privacy."

"The desire for privacy is an archaic emotion," Miss Metford remarked
sententiously, as she struck a match.

"Besides, it is so selfish. We may be crowding others," Miss Brande said
quietly.

I was glad she did not smoke.

"I don't want that now," I said to a porter who was hurrying up with a
label. To the girls I remarked a little snappishly, "Of course you are
quite right. You must excuse my ignorance."

"No, it is not ignorance," Miss Brande demurred. "You have been away so
much. You have hardly been in England, you told me, for years, and--"

"And progress has been marching in my absence," I interrupted.

"So it seems," Miss Metford remarked so significantly that I really
could not help retorting with as much emphasis, compatible with
politeness, as I could command:

"You see I am therefore unable to appreciate the New Woman, of whom I
have heard so much since I came home."

"The conventional New Woman is a grandmotherly old fossil," Miss Metford
said quietly.

This disposed of me. I leant back in my seat, and was rigidly silent.

Miles of green fields stippled with daisies and bordered with long
lines of white and red hawthorn hedges flew past. The smell of new-mown
hay filled the carriage with its sweet perfume, redolent of old
associations. My long absence dwindled to a short holiday. The world's
wide highways were far off. I was back in the English fields. My slight
annoyance passed away. I fell into a pleasant day-dream, which was
broken by a soft voice, every undulation of which I already knew by
heart.

"I am afraid you think us very advanced," it murmured.

"Very," I agreed, "but I look to you to bring even me up to date."

"Oh, yes, we mean to do that, but we must proceed very gradually."

"You have made an excellent start," I put in.

"Otherwise you would only be shocked."

"It is quite possible." I said this with so much conviction that the two
burst out laughing at me. I could not think of anything more to add, and
I felt relieved when, with a warning shriek, the train dashed into a
tunnel. By the time we had emerged again into the sunlight and the
solitude of the open landscape I had ready an impromptu which I had
been working at in the darkness. I looked straight at Miss Metford and
said:

"After all, it is very pleasant to travel with girls like you."

"Thank you!"

"You did not show any hysterical fear of my kissing you in the tunnel."

"Why the deuce would you do that?" Miss Metford replied with great
composure, as she blew a smoke ring.

When we reached our destination I braced myself for another disagreeable
minute or two. For if the great Londoners thought us quaint, surely the
little country station idlers would swear we were demented. We crossed
the platform so quickly that the wonderment we created soon passed. Our
luggage was looked after by a servant, to whose care I confided it with
a very brief description. The loss of an item of it did not seem to me
of as much importance as our own immediate departure.

Brande met us at his hall door. His house was a pleasant one, covered
with flowering creeping plants, and surrounded by miniature forests. In
front there was a lake four hundred yards in width. Close-shaven lawns
bordered it. They were artificial products, no doubt, but they were
artificial successes--undulating, earth-scented, fresh rolled every
morning. Here there was an isolated shrub, there a thick bank of
rhododendrons. And the buds, bursting into floral carnival, promised
fine contrasts when their full splendour was come. The lake wavelets
tinkled musically on a pebbly beach.

Our host could not entertain us in person. He was busy. The plea was
evidently sincere, notwithstanding that the business of a country
gentleman--which he now seemed to be--is something less exacting than
busy people's leisure. After a short rest, and an admirably-served
lunch, we were dismissed to the woods for our better amusement.

Thereafter followed for me a strangely peaceful, idyllic day--all save
its ending. Looking back on it, I know that the sun which set that
evening went down on the last of my happiness. But it all seems trivial
now.

My companions were accomplished botanists, and here, for the first time,
I found myself on common ground with both. We discussed every familiar
wild flower as eagerly as if we had been professed field naturalists. In
walking or climbing my assistance was neither requisitioned nor
required. I did not offer, therefore, what must have been unwelcome when
it was superfluous.

We rested at last under the shade of a big beech, for the afternoon sun
was rather oppressive. It was a pleasant spot to while away an hour. A
purling brook went babbling by, singing to itself as it journeyed to the
sea. Insects droned about in busy flight. There was a perfume of
honeysuckle wafted to us on the summer wind, which stirred the
beech-tree and rustled its young leaves lazily, so that the sunlight
peeped through the green lattice-work and shone on the faces of these
two handsome girls, stretched in graceful postures on the cool sward
below--their white teeth sparkling in its brilliance, while their soft
laughter made music for me. In the fulness of my heart, I said aloud:

"It is a good thing to be alive."



CHAPTER IV.

GEORGE DELANY--DECEASED.


"It is a good thing to be alive," Natalie Brande repeated slowly,
gazing, as it were, far off through her half-closed eyelids. Then
turning to me and looking at me full, wide-eyed, she asked: "A good
thing for how many?"

"For all; for everything that is alive."

"Faugh! For few things that are alive. For hardly anything. You say it
is a good thing to be alive. How often have you said that in your life?"

"All my life through," I answered stoutly. My constitution was a good
one, and I had lived healthily, if hardily. I voiced the superfluous
vitality of a well nourished body.

"Then you do not know what it is to feel for others."

There was a scream in the underwood near us. It ended in a short,
choking squeak. The girl paled, but she went on with outward calm.

"That hawk or cat feels as you do. I wonder what that young rabbit
thinks of life's problem?"

"But we are neither hawks nor cats, nor even young rabbits," I answered
warmly. "We can not bear the burthens of the whole animal world. Our own
are sufficient for us."

"You are right. They are more than sufficient."

I had made a false move, and so tried to recover my lost ground. She
would not permit me. The conversation which had run in pleasant channels
for two happy hours was ended. Thenceforth, in spite of my obstructive
efforts, subjects were introduced which could not be conversed on but
must be discussed. On every one Miss Brande took the part of the weak
against the strong, oblivious of every consideration of policy and even
ethics, careful only that she championed the weak because of their
weakness. Miss Metford abetted her in this, and went further in their
joint revolt against common sense. Miss Brande was argumentative,
pleading. Miss Metford was defiant. Between the two I fared ill.

Of course the Woman question was soon introduced, and in this I made the
best defence of time-honoured customs of which I was capable. But my
outworks fell down as promptly before the voices of these young women as
did the walls of Jericho before the blast of a ram's horn. Nothing that
I had cherished was left to me. Woman no longer wanted man's protection.
("Enslavement" they called it.) Why should she, when in the evolution of
society there was not now, or presently would not be, anything from
which to protect her? ("Competing slaveowners" was what they said.) When
you wish to behold protectors you must postulate dangers. The first are
valueless save as a preventive of the second. Both evils will be
conveniently dispensed with. All this was new to me, most of my thinking
life having been passed in distant lands, where the science of ethics is
codified into a simple statute--the will of the strongest.

When my dialectical humiliation was within one point of completion, Miss
Metford came to my rescue. For some time she had looked on at my
discomfiture with a good-natured neutrality, and when I was
metaphorically in my last ditch, she arose, stretched her shapely
figure, flicked some clinging grass blades from her suit, and declared
it was time to return. Brande was a man of science, but as such he was
still amenable to punctuality in the matter of dinner.

On the way back I was discreetly silent. When we reached the house I
went to look for Herbert Brande. He was engaged in his study, and I
could not intrude upon him there. To do so would be to infringe the only
rigid rule in his household. Nor had I an opportunity of speaking to him
alone until after dinner, when I induced him to take a turn with me
round the lake. I smoked strong cigars, and made one of these my excuse.

The sun was setting when we started, and as we walked slowly the
twilight shadows were deepening fast by the time we reached the further
shore. Brande was in high spirits. Some new scientific experiment, I
assumed, had come off successfully. He was beside himself. His
conversation was volcanic. Now it rumbled and roared with suppressed
fires. Anon, it burst forth in scintillating flashes and shot out
streams of quickening wit. I have been his auditor in the three great
epochs of his life, but I do not think that anything that I have
recollected of his utterances equals the bold impromptus, the masterly
handling of his favourite subject, the Universe, which fell from him on
that evening. I could not answer him. I could not even follow him, much
less suppress him. But I had come forth with a specific object in view,
and I would not be gainsaid. And so, as my business had to be done
better that it should be done quickly. Taking advantage of a pause which
he made, literally for breath, I commenced abruptly:

"I want to speak to you about your sister."

He turned on me surprised. Then his look changed to one of such complete
contempt, and withal his bearing suggested so plainly that he knew
beforehand what I was going to say, that I blurted out defiantly, and
without stopping to choose my words:

"I think it an infernal shame that you, her brother, should allow her to
masquerade about with this good-natured but eccentric Metford girl--I
should say Miss Metford."

"Why so?" he asked coldly.

"Because it is absurd; and because it isn't decent."

"My dear Abraham," Brande said quietly, "or is your period so recent as
that of Isaac or Jacob? My sister pleases herself in these matters, and
has every right to do so."

"She has not. You are her brother."

"Very well, I am her brother. She has no right to think for herself; no
right to live save by my permission. Then I graciously permit her to
think, and I allow her to live."

"You'll be sorry for this nonsense sooner or later--and don't say I
didn't warn you." The absolute futility of my last clause struck me
painfully at the moment, but I could not think of any way to better it.
It was hard to reason with such a man, one who denied the fundamental
principles of family life. I was thinking over what to say next, when
Brande stopped and put his hand, in a kindly way, upon my shoulder.

"My good fellow," he said, "what does it matter? What do the actions of
my sister signify more than the actions of any other man's sister? And
what about the Society? Have you made up your mind about joining?"

"I have. I made it up twice to-day," I answered. "I made it up in the
morning that I would see yourself and your Society to the devil before I
would join it. Excuse my bluntness; but you are so extremely candid
yourself you will not mind."

"Certainly, I do not mind bluntness. Rudeness is superfluous."

"And I made it up this evening," I said, a little less aggressively,
"that I would join it if the devil himself were already in it, as I half
suspect he is."

"I like that," Brande said gravely. "That is the spirit I want in the
man who joins me."

To which I replied: "What under the sun is the object of this Society of
yours?"

"Proximately to complete our investigations--already far advanced--into
the origin of the Universe."

"And ultimately?"

"I cannot tell you now. You will not know that until you join us."

"And if your ultimate object does not suit me, I can withdraw?"

"No, it would then be too late."

"How so? I am not morally bound by an oath which I swear without full
knowledge of its consequences and responsibilities."

"Oath! The oath you swear! You swear no oath. Do you fancy you are
joining a society of Rechabites or Carmelites, or mediæval rubbish of
that kind. Don't keep so painstakingly behind the age."

I thought for a moment over what this mysterious man had said, over the
hidden dangers in which his mad chimeras might involve the most innocent
accomplice. Then I thought of that dark-eyed, sweet-voiced, young girl,
as she lay on the green grass under the beech-tree in the wood and
out-argued me on every point. Very suddenly, and, perhaps, in a manner
somewhat grandiose, I answered him:

"I will join your Society for my own purpose, and I will quit it when I
choose."

"You have every right," Brande said carelessly. "Many have done the same
before you."

"Can you introduce me to any one who has done so?" I asked, with an
eagerness that could not be dissembled.

"I am afraid I can not."

"Or give me an address?"

"Oh yes, that is simple." He turned over a note-book until he found a
blank page. Then he drew the pencil from its loop, put the point to his
lips, and paused. He was standing with his back to the failing light, so
I could not see the expression of his mobile face. When he paused, I
knew that no ordinary doubt beset him. He stood thus for nearly a
minute. While he waited, I watched a pair of swans flit ghost-like over
the silken surface of the lake. Between us and a dark bank of wood the
lights of the house flamed red. The melancholy even-song of a blackbird
wailed out from a shrubbery beside us. Then Herbert Brande wrote in his
note-book, and tearing out the page, he handed it to me, saying: "That
is the address of the last man who quitted us."

The light was now so dim I had to hold the paper close to my eyes in
order to read the lines. They were these--

    GEORGE DELANY,
      Near Saint Anne's Chapel,
            Woking Cemetery.



CHAPTER V.

THE MURDER CLUB.


"Delany was the last man who quitted us--you see I use your expression
again. I like it," Brande said quietly, watching me as he spoke.

I stood staring at the slip of paper which I held in my hand for some
moments before I could reply. When my voice came back, I asked hoarsely:

"Did this man, Delany, die suddenly after quitting the Society?"

"He died immediately. The second event was contemporaneous with the
first."

"And in consequence of it?"

"Certainly."

"Have all the members who retired from your list been equally
short-lived?"

"Without any exception whatever."

"Then your Society, after all your high-flown talk about it, is only a
vulgar murder club," I said bitterly.

"Wrong in fact, and impertinent in its expression. It is not a murder
club, and--well, you are the first to discover its vulgarity."

"I call things by their plain names. You may call your Society what you
please. As to my joining it in face of what you have told me--"

"Which is more than was ever told to any man before he joined--to any
man living or dead. And more, you need not join it yet unless you still
wish to do so. I presume what I have said will prevent you."

"On the contrary, if I had any doubt, or if there was any possibility of
my wavering before this interview, there is none now. I join at once."

He would have taken my hand, but that I could not permit. I left him
without another word, or any form of salute, and returned to the house.
I did not appear again in the domestic circle that evening, for I had
enough upon my mind without further burdening myself with social
pretences.

I sat in my room and tried once more to consider my position. It was
this: for the sake of a girl whom I had only met some score of times;
who sometimes acted, talked, dressed after a fashion suggestive of
insanity; who had glorious dark eyes, a perfect figure, and an
exquisitely beautiful face--but I interrupt myself. For the sake of this
girl, and for the manifestly impossible purpose of protecting her from
herself as well as others, I had surrendered myself to the probable
vengeance of a band of cut-throats if I betrayed them, and to the
certain vengeance of the law if I did not. Brande, notwithstanding his
constant scepticism, was scrupulously truthful. His statement of fact
must be relied upon. His opinions were another matter. As nothing
practical resulted from my reflections, I came to the conclusion that I
had got into a pretty mess for the sake of a handsome face. I regretted
this result, but was glad of the cause of it. On this I went to bed.

Next morning I was early astir, for I must see Natalie Brande without
delay, and I felt sure she would be no sluggard on that splendid summer
day. I tried the lawn between the house and the lake shore. I did not
find her there. I found her friend Miss Metford. The girl was sauntering
about, swinging a walking-cane carelessly. She was still rationally
dressed, but I observed with relief that the rational part of her
costume was more in the nature of the divided skirt than the plain
knickerbockers of the previous day. She accosted me cheerfully by my
surname, and not to be outdone by her, I said coolly:

"How d'ye do, Metford?"

"Very well, thanks. I suppose you expected Natalie? You see you have
only me."

"Delighted," I was commencing with a forced smile, when she stopped me.

"You look it. But that can't be helped. Natalie saw you going out, and
sent me to meet you. I am to look after you for an hour or so. You join
the Society this evening, I hear. You must be very pleased--and
flattered."

I could not assent to this, and so remained silent. The girl chattered
on in her own outspoken manner, which, now that I was growing accustomed
to it, I did not find as unpleasant as at first. One thing was evident
to me. She had no idea of the villainous nature of Brande's Society. She
could not have spoken so carelessly if she shared my knowledge of it.
While she talked to me, I wondered if it was fair to her--a likeable
girl, in spite of her undesirable affectations of advanced opinion,
emancipation or whatever she called it--was it fair to allow her to
associate with a band of murderers, and not so much as whisper a word of
warning? No doubt, I myself was associating with the band; but I was not
in ignorance of the responsibility thereby incurred.

"Miss Metford," I said, without heeding whether I interrupted her, "are
you in the secret of this Society?"

"I? Not at present. I shall be later on."

I stopped and faced her with so serious an expression that she listened
to me attentively.

"If you will take my earnest advice--and I beg you not to neglect
it--you will have nothing to do with it or any one belonging to it."

"Not even Brande--I mean Natalie? Is she dangerous?"

I disregarded her mischief and continued: "If you can get Miss Brande
away from her brother and his acquaintances," (I had nearly said
accomplices,) "and keep her away, you would be doing the best and
kindest thing you ever did in your life."

Miss Metford was evidently impressed by my seriousness, but, as she
herself said very truly, it was unlikely that she would be able to
interfere in the way I suggested. Besides, my mysterious warning was
altogether too vague to be of any use as a guide for her own action,
much less that of her friend. I dared not speak plainer. I could only
repeat, in the most emphatic words, my anxiety that she would think
carefully over what I had said. I then pretended to recollect an
engagement with Brande, for I was in such low spirits I had really
little taste for any company.

She was disappointed, and said so in her usual straightforward way. It
was not in the power of any gloomy prophecy to oppress her long. The
serious look which my words had brought on her face passed quickly, and
it was in her natural manner that she bade me good-morning, saying:

"It is rather a bore, for I looked forward to a pleasant hour or two
taking you about."

I postponed my breakfast for want of appetite, and, as Brande's house
was the best example of Liberty Hall I had ever met with, I offered no
apology for my absence during the entire day when I rejoined my host and
hostess in the evening. The interval I spent in the woods, thinking
much and deciding nothing.

After dinner, Brande introduced me to a man whom he called Edward Grey.
Natalie conducted me to the room in which they were engaged. From the
mass of correspondence in which this man Grey was absorbed, and the
litter of papers about him, it was evident that he must have been in the
house long before I made his acquaintance.

Grey handed me a book, which I found to be a register of the names of
the members of Brande's Society, and pointed out the place for my
signature.

When I had written my name on the list I said to Brande: "Now that I
have nominated myself, I suppose you'll second me?"

"It is not necessary," he answered; "you are already a member. Your
remark to Miss Metford this morning made you one of us. You advised her,
you recollect, to beware of us."

"That girl!" I exclaimed, horrified. "Then she is one of your spies? Is
it possible?"

"No, she is not one of our spies. We have none, and she knew nothing of
the purpose for which she was used."

"Then I beg to say that you have made a d--d shameful use of her."

In the passion of the moment I forgot my manners to my host, and formed
the resolution to denounce the Society to the police the moment I
returned to London. Brande was not offended by my violence. There was
not a trace of anger in his voice as he said:

"Miss Metford's information was telepathically conveyed to my sister."

"Then it was your sister--"

"My sister knows as little as the other. In turn, I received the
information telepathically from her, without the knowledge of either. I
was just telling Grey of it when you came into the room."

"And," said Grey, "your intention to go straight from this house to
Scotland Yard, there to denounce us to the police, has been
telepathically received by myself."

"My God!" I cried, "has a man no longer the right to his own thoughts?"

Grey went on without noticing my exclamation: "Any overt or covert
action on your part, toward carrying out your intention, will be
telepathically conveyed to us, and our executive--" He shrugged his
shoulders.

"I know," I said, "Woking Cemetery, near Saint Anne's Chapel. You have
ground there."

"Yes, we have to dispense with--"

"Say murder."

"Dispense with," Grey repeated sharply, "any member whose loyalty is
questionable. This is not our wish; it is our necessity. It is the only
means by which we can secure the absolute immunity of the Society
pending the achievement of its object. To dispense with any living man
we have only to will that he shall die."

"And now that I am a member, may I ask what is this object, the secret
of which you guard with such fiendish zeal?" I demanded angrily.

"The restoration of a local etheric tumour to its original formation."

"I am already weary of this jargon from Brande," I interrupted. "What do
you mean?"

"We mean to attempt the reduction of the solar system to its elemental
ether."

"And you will accomplish this triviality by means of Huxley's comet, I
suppose?"

I could scarcely control my indignation. This fooling, as I thought it,
struck me as insulting. Neither Brande nor Grey appeared to notice my
keen resentment. Grey answered me in a quiet, serious tone.

"We shall attempt it by destroying the earth. We may fail in the
complete achievement of our design, but in any case we shall at least be
certain of reducing this planet to the ether of which it is composed."

"Of course, of course," I agreed derisively. "You will at least make
sure of that. You have found out how to do it too, I have no doubt?"

"Yes," said Grey, "we have found out."



CHAPTER VI.

A TELEPATHIC TELEGRAM.


I left the room and hurried outside without any positive plan for my
movements. My brain was in such a whirl I could form no connected train
of thought. These men, whose conversation was a jargon fitting only for
lunatics, had proved that they could read my mind with the ease of a
telegraph operator taking a message off a wire. That they, further,
possessed marvellous, if not miraculous powers, over occult natural
forces could hardly be doubted. The net in which I had voluntarily
entangled myself was closing around me. An irresistible impulse to
fly--to desert Natalie and save myself--came over me. I put this aside
presently. It was both unworthy and unwise. For whither should I fly?
The ends of the earth would not be far enough to save me, the depths of
the sea would not be deep enough to hide me from those who killed by
willing that their victim should die.

On the other hand, if my senses had only been hocussed, and Messrs.
Brande and Grey were nothing better than clever tricksters, the park
gate was far enough, and the nearest policeman force enough, to save me
from their vengeance. But the girl--Natalie! She was clairvoyante. They
practised upon her. My diagnosis of the strange seeing-without-sight
expression of her eyes was then correct. And it was clear to me that
whatsoever or whomsoever Brande and Grey believed or disbelieved in,
they certainly believed in themselves. They might be relied on to spare
nothing and no one in their project, however ridiculous or mad their
purpose might be. What then availed my paltry protection when the girl
herself was a willing victim, and the men omnipotent? Nevertheless, if I
failed eventually to serve her, I could at least do my best.

It was clear that I must stand by Natalie Brande.

While I was thus reflecting, the following conversation took place
between Brande and Grey. I found a note of it in a diary which Brande
kept desultorily. He wrote this up so irregularly no continuous
information can be gleaned from it as to his life. How the diary came
into my hands will be seen later. The memorandum is written thus:--

_Grey_--Our new member? Why did you introduce him? You say he cannot
help with money. It is plain he cannot help with brains.

_Brande_--He interests Natalie. He is what the uneducated call
good-natured. He enjoys doing unselfish things, unaware that it is for
the selfish sake of the agreeable sensation thereby secured. Besides, I
like him myself. He amuses me. To make him a member was the only safe
way of keeping him so much about us. But Natalie is the main reason. I
am afraid of her wavering in spite of my hypnotic influence. In a girl
of her intensely emotional nature the sentiment of hopeless love will
create profound melancholy. Dominated by that she is safe. It seems
cruel at first sight. It is not really so. It is not cruel to reconcile
her to a fate she cannot escape. It is merciful. For the rest, what does
it matter? It will be all the same in--

_Grey_--This day six months.

_Brande_--I believe I shivered. Heredity has much to answer for.

That is the whole of the entry. I did not read the words until the hand
that wrote them was dust.

Natalie professed some disappointment when I announced my immediate
return to town. I was obliged to manufacture an excuse for such a hasty
departure, and so fell back on an old engagement which I had truly
overlooked, and which really called me away. But it would have called
long enough without an answer if it had not been for Brande himself, his
friend Grey, and their insanities. My mind was fixed on one salient
issue: how to get Natalie Brande out of her brother's evil influence.
This would be better compassed when I myself was outside the scope of
his extraordinary influence. And so I went without delay.

For some time after my return to London, I went about visiting old
haunts and friends. I soon tired of this. The haunts had lost their
interest. The friends were changed, or I was changed. I could not resume
the friendships which had been interrupted. The chain of connection had
been broken and the links would not weld easily. So, after some futile
efforts to return to the circle I had long deserted, I desisted and
accepted my exclusion with serenity. I am not sure that I desired the
old relationships re-established. And as my long absence had prevented
any fresh shoots of friendship being grafted, I found myself alone in
London. I need say no more.

One evening I was walking through the streets in a despondent mood, as
had become my habit. By chance I read the name of a street into which I
had turned to avoid a more crowded thoroughfare. It was that in which
Miss Metford lived. I knew that she had returned to town, for she had
briefly acquainted me with the fact on a postcard written some days
previously.

Here was a chance of distraction. This girl's spontaneous gaiety, which
I found at first displeasing, was what I wanted to help me to shake off
the gloomy incubus of thought oppressing me. It was hardly within the
proprieties to call upon her at such an hour, but it could not matter
very much, when the girl's own ideas were so unconventional. She had
independent means, and lived apart from her family in order to be rid of
domestic limitations. She had told me that she carried a
latch-key--indeed she had shown it to me with a flourish of triumph--and
that she delighted in free manners. Free manners, she was careful to
add, did not mean bad manners. To my mind the terms were synonymous.
When opposite her number I decided to call, and, having knocked at the
door, was told that Miss Metford was at home.

"Hallo, Marcel! Glad to see you," she called out, somewhat stridently
for my taste. Her dress was rather mannish, as usual. In lieu of her
out-door tunic she wore a smoking-jacket. When I entered she was sitting
in an arm-chair, with her feet on a music-stool. She arose so hastily
that the music-stool was overturned, and allowed to lie where it fell.

"What is the matter?" she asked, concerned. "Have you seen a ghost?"

"I think I have seen many ghosts of late," I said, "and they have not
been good company. I was passing your door, and I have come in for
comfort."

She crossed the room and poured out some whisky from a decanter which
was standing on a side-board. Then she opened a bottle of soda-water
with a facility which suggested practice. I was relieved to think that
it was not Natalie who was my hostess. Handing me the glass, she said
peremptorily:

"Drink that. That is right. Give me the glass. Now smoke. Do I allow
smoking here? Pah! I smoke here myself."

I lit a cigar and sat down beside her. The clouds began to lift from my
brain and float off in the blue smoke wreaths. We talked on ordinary
topics without my once noticing how deftly they had been introduced by
Miss Metford. I never thought of the flight of time until a chime from a
tiny clock on the mantelpiece--an exquisite sample of the tasteful
furniture of the whole room--warned me that my visit had lasted two
hours. I arose reluctantly.

She rallied me on my ingratitude. I had come in a sorry plight. I was
now restored. She was no longer useful, therefore I left her. And so on,
till I said with a solemnity no doubt lugubrious:

"I am most grateful, Miss Metford. I cannot tell you how grateful I am.
You would not understand--"

"Oh, please leave my poor understanding alone, and tell me what has
happened to you. I should like to hear it. And what is more, I like
you." She said this so carelessly, I did not feel embarrassed. "Now,
then, the whole story, please." Saying which, she sat down again.

"Do you really know nothing more of Brande's Society than you admitted
when I last spoke to you about it?" I asked, without taking the chair
she pushed over to me.

"This is all I know," she answered, in the rhyming voice of a young
pupil declaiming a piece of a little understood and less cared for
recitation. "The society has very interesting evenings. Brande shows one
beautiful experiments, which, I daresay, would be amazingly instructive
if one were inclined that way, which I am not. The men are mostly
long-haired creatures with spectacles. Some of them are rather
good-looking. All are wholly mad. And my friend--I mean the only girl I
could ever stand as a friend--Natalie Brande, is crazy about them."

"Nothing more than that?"

"Nothing more."

The clock now struck the hour of nine, the warning chime for which had
startled me.

"Is there anything more than that?" Miss Metford asked with some
impatience.

I thought for a moment. Unless my own senses had deceived me that
evening in Brande's house, I ran a great risk of sharing George Delany's
fate if I remained where I was much longer. And suppose I told her all
I knew, would not that bring the same danger upon her too? So I had to
answer:

"I cannot tell you. I am a member now."

"Then you must know more than any mere outsider like myself. I suppose
it would not be fair to ask you. Anyhow, you will come back and see me
soon. By the way, what is your address?"

I gave her my address. She wrote it down on a silver-cased tablet, and
remarked:

"That will be all right. I'll look you up some evening."

As I drove to my hotel, I felt that the mesmeric trick, or whatever
artifice had been practised upon me by Brande and Grey, had now assumed
its true proportion. I laughed at my fears, and was thankful that I had
not described them to the strong-minded young woman to whose kindly
society I owed so much. What an idiot she would have thought me!

A servant met me in the hall.

"Telegram, sir. Just arrived at this moment."

I took the telegram, and went upstairs with it unopened in my hand. A
strange fear overcame me. I dared not open the envelope. I knew
beforehand who the sender was, and what the drift of the message would
be. I was right. It was from Brande.

    "I beg you to be more cautious. Your discussion with Miss M. this
    evening might have been disastrous. I thought all was over at nine
    o'clock.

                                                             "BRANDE."

I sat down stupefied. When my senses returned, I looked at the table
where I had thrown the telegram. It was not there, nor in the room. I
rang for the man who had given it to me, and he came immediately.

"About that telegram you gave me just now, Phillips--"

"I beg your pardon, sir," the man interrupted, "I did not give you any
telegram this evening."

"I mean when you spoke to me in the hall."

"Yes, sir. I said 'good-night,' but you took no notice. Excuse me, sir,
I thought you looked strange."

"Oh, I was thinking of something else. And I remember now, it was
Johnson who gave me the telegram."

"Johnson left yesterday, sir."

"Then it was yesterday I was thinking of. You may go, Phillips."

So Brande's telepathic power was objective as well as subjective. My own
brain, unaccustomed to be impressed by another mind "otherwise than
through the recognised channels of sense," had supplied the likeliest
authority for its message. The message was duly delivered, but the
telegram was a delusion.



CHAPTER VII.

GUILTY!


As to protecting Natalie Brande from her brother and the fanatics with
whom he associated, it was now plain that I was powerless. And what
guarantee had I that she herself was unaware of his nefarious purpose;
that she did not sympathise with it? This last thought flashed upon me
one day, and the sting of pain that followed it was so intolerable, I
determined instantly to prove its falsity or truth.

I telegraphed to Brande that I was running down to spend a day or two
with him, and followed my message without waiting for a reply. I have
still a very distinct recollection of that journey, notwithstanding much
that might well have blotted it from my memory. Every mile sped over
seemed to mark one more barrier passed on my way to some strange fate;
every moment which brought me nearer this incomprehensible girl with
her magical eyes was an epoch of impossibility against my ever
voluntarily turning back. And now that it is all over, I am glad that I
went on steadfastly to the end.

Brande received me with the easy affability of a man to whom good
breeding had ceased to be a habit, and had become an instinct. Only once
did anything pass between us bearing on the extraordinary relationship
which he had established with me--the relation of victor and victim, I
considered it. We had been left together for a few moments, and I said
as soon as the others were out of hearing distance:

"I got your message."

"I know you did," he replied. That was all. There was an awkward pause.
It must be broken somehow. Any way out of the difficulty was better than
to continue in it.

"Have you seen this?" I asked, handing Brande a copy of a novel which I
had picked up at a railway bookstall. When I say that it was new and
popular, it will be understood that it was indecent.

He looked at the title, and said indifferently: "Yes, I have seen it,
and in order to appreciate this class of fiction fairly, I have even
tried to read it. Why do you ask?"

"Because I thought it would be in your line. It is very advanced." I
said this to gain time.

"Advanced--advanced? I am afraid I do not comprehend. What do you mean
by 'advanced'? And how could it be in my line. I presume you mean by
that, on my plane of thought?"

"By 'advanced,' I mean up-to-date. What do you mean by it?"

"If I used the word at all, I should mean educated, evolved. Is this
evolved? Is it even educated? It is not always grammatical. It has no
style. In motive, it ante-dates Boccaccio."

"You disapprove of it."

"Certainly not."

"Then you approve it, notwithstanding your immediate condemnation?"

"By no means. I neither approve nor disapprove. It only represents a
phase of humanity--the deliberate purpose of securing money or notoriety
to the individual, regardless of the welfare of the community. There is
nothing to admire in that. It would be invidious to blame it when the
whole social scheme is equally wrong and contemptible. By the way, what
interest do you think the wares of any literary pander, of either sex,
could possess for me, a student--even if a mistaken one--of science?"

"I did not think the book would possess the slightest interest for you,
and I suppose you are already aware of that?"

"Ah no! My telepathic power is reserved for more serious purposes. Its
exercise costs me too much to expend it on trifles. In consequence I do
not know why you mentioned the book."

To this I answered candidly, "I mentioned it in order to get myself out
of a conversational difficulty--without much success."

Natalie was reserved with me at first. She devoted herself unnecessarily
to a boy named Halley who was staying with them. Grey had gone to
London. His place was taken by a Mr. Rockingham, whom I did not like.
There was something sinister in his expression, and he rarely spoke save
to say something cynical, and in consequence disagreeable. He had "seen
life," that is, everything deleterious to and destructive of it. His
connection with Brande was clearly a rebound, the rebound of disgust.
There was nothing creditable to him in that. My first impression of him
was thus unfavourable. My last recollection of him is a fitting item in
the nightmare which contains it.

The youth Halley would have interested me under ordinary circumstances.
His face was as handsome and refined as that of a pretty girl. His
figure, too, was slight and his voice effeminate. But there my own
advantage, as I deemed it, over him ceased. Intellectually, he was a
pupil of Brande's who did his master credit. Having made this discovery
I did not pursue it. My mind was fixed too fast upon a definite issue to
be more than temporarily interested in the epigrams of a peachy-cheeked
man of science.

The afternoon was well advanced before I had an opportunity of speaking
to Natalie. When it came, I did not stop to puzzle over a choice of
phrases.

"I wish to speak to you alone on a subject of extreme importance to me,"
I said hurriedly. "Will you come with me to the sea-shore? Your time, I
know, is fully occupied. I would not ask this if my happiness did not
depend upon it."

The philosopher looked on me with grave, kind eyes. But the woman's
heart within her sent the red blood flaming to her cheeks. It was then
given to me to fathom the lowest depth of boorish stupidity I had ever
sounded.

"I don't mean that," I cried, "I would not dare--"

The blush on her cheek burnt deeper as she tossed her head proudly back,
and said straight out, without any show of fence or shadow of
concealment:

"It was my mistake. I am glad to know that I did you an injustice. You
are my friend, are you not?"

"I believe I have the right to claim that title," I answered.

"Then what you ask is granted. Come." She put her hand boldly into mine.
I grasped the slender fingers, saying:

"Yes, Natalie, some day I will prove to you that I am your friend."

"The proof is unnecessary," she replied, in a low sad voice.

We started for the sea. Not a word was spoken on the way. Nor did our
eyes meet. We were in a strange position. It was this: the man who had
vowed he was the woman's friend--who did not intend to shirk the proof
of his promise, and never did gainsay it--meant to ask the woman,
before the day was over, to clear herself of knowingly associating with
a gang of scientific murderers. The woman had vaguely divined his
purpose, and could not clear herself.

When we arrived at the shore we occupied ourselves inconsequently. We
hunted little fishes until Natalie's dainty boots were dripping. We
examined quaint denizens of the shallow water until her gloves were
spoilt. We sprang from rock to rock and evaded the onrush of the foaming
waves. We made aqueducts for inter-communication between deep pools. We
basked in the sunshine, and listened to the deep moan of the sounding
sea, and the solemn murmur of the shells. We drank in the deep breath of
the ocean, and for a brief space we were like happy children.

The end came soon to this ephemeral happiness. It was only one of those
bright coins snatched from the niggard hand of Time which must always be
paid back with usurious charges. We paid with cruel interest.

Standing on a flat rock side by side, I nerved myself to ask this girl
the same question I had asked her friend, Edith Metford, how much she
knew of the extraordinary and preposterous Society--as I still tried to
consider it--which Herbert Brande had founded. She looked so frank, so
refined, so kind, I hardly dared to put my brutal question to an
innocent girl, whom I had seen wince at the suffering of a maimed bird,
and pale to the lips at the death-cry of a rabbit. This time there was
no possibility of untoward consequence in the question save to
myself--for surely the girl was safe from her own brother. And I myself
preferred to risk the consequences rather than endure longer the thought
that she belonged voluntarily to a vile murder club. Yet the question
would not come. A simple thing brought it out. Natalie, after looking
seaward silently for some minutes, said simply:

"How long are we to stand here, I wonder?"

"Until you answer this question. How much do you know about your
brother's Society, which I have joined to my own intense regret?"

"I am sorry you regret having joined," she replied gravely.

"You would not be sorry," said I, "if you knew as much about it as I
do," forgetting that I had still no answer to my question, and that the
extent of her knowledge was unknown to me.

"I believe I do know as much as you." There was a tremor in her voice
and an anxious pleading look in her eyes. This look maddened me. Why
should she plead to me unless she was guilty? I stamped my foot upon the
rock without noticing that in so doing I kicked our whole collection of
shells into the water.

There was something more to ask, but I stood silent and sullen. The
woods above the beach were choral with bird-voices. They were hateful to
me. The sea song of the tumbling waves was hideous. I cursed the yellow
sunset light glaring on their snowy crests. A tiny hand was laid upon my
arm. I writhed under its deadly if delicious touch. But I could not put
it away, nor keep from turning to the sweet face beside me, to mark once
more its mute appeal--now more than mere appeal; it was supplication
that was in her eyes. Her red lips were parted as though they voiced an
unspoken prayer. At last a prayer did pass from them to me.

"Do not judge me until you know me better. Do not hate me without cause.
I am not wicked, as you think. I--I--I am trying to do what I think is
right. At least, I am not selfish or cruel. Trust me yet a little
while."

I looked at her one moment, and then with a sob I clasped her in my
arms, and cried aloud:

"My God! to name murder and that angel face in one breath! Child, you
have been befooled. You know nothing."

For a second she lingered in my embrace. Then she gently put away my
arms, and looking up at me, said fearlessly but sorrowfully:

"I cannot lie--even for your love. I know _all_."



CHAPTER VIII.

THE WOKING MYSTERY.


She knew all. Then she was a murderess--or in sympathy with murderers.
My arms fell from her. I drew back shuddering. I dared not look in her
lying eyes, which cried pity when her base heart knew no mercy. Surely
now I had solved the maddening puzzle which the character of this girl
had, so far, presented to me. Yet the true solution was as far from me
as ever. Indeed, I could not well have been further from it than at that
moment.

As we walked back, Natalie made two or three unsuccessful attempts to
lure me out of the silence which was certainly more eloquent on my part
than any words I could have used. Once she commenced:

"It is hard to explain--"

I interrupted her harshly. "No explanation is possible."

On that she put her handkerchief to her eyes, and a half-suppressed sob
shook her slight figure. Her grief distracted me. But what could I say
to assuage it?

At the hall door I stopped and said, "Good-bye."

"Are you not coming in?"

There was a directness and emphasis in the question which did not escape
me.

"I?" The horror in my own voice surprised myself, and assuredly did not
pass without her notice.

"Very well; good-bye. We are not exactly slaves of convention here, but
you are too far advanced in that direction even for me. This is your
second startling departure from us. I trust you will spare me the
humiliation entailed by the condescension of your further acquaintance."

"Give me an hour!" I exclaimed aghast. "You do not make allowance for
the enigma in which everything is wrapped up. I said I was your friend
when I thought you of good report. Give me an hour--only an hour--to say
whether I will stand by my promise, now that you yourself have claimed
that your report is not good but evil. For that is really what you have
protested. Do I ask too much? or is your generosity more limited even
than my own?"

"Ah, no! I would not have you think that. Take an hour, or a year--an
hour only if you care for my happiness."

"Agreed," said I. "I will take the hour. Discretion can have the year."

So I left her. I could not go indoors. A roof would smother me. Give me
the open lawns, the leafy woods, the breath of the summer wind. Away,
then, to the silence of the coming night. For an hour leave me to my
thoughts. Her unworthiness was now more than suspected. It was admitted.
My misery was complete. But I would not part with her; I could not.
Innocent or guilty, she was mine. I must suffer with her or for her. The
resolution by which I have abided was formed as I wandered lonely
through the woods.

When I reached my room that night I found a note from Brande. To receive
a letter from a man in whose house I was a guest did not surprise me. I
was past that stage. There was nothing mysterious in the letter, save
its conclusion. It was simply an invitation to a public meeting of the
Society, which was to be held on that day week in the hall in Hanover
Square, and the special feature in the letter--seeing that it did not
vanish like the telegram, but remained an ordinary sheet of paper--lay
in its concluding sentence. This urged me to allow nothing to prevent my
attendance. "You will perhaps understand thereafter that we are neither
political plotters nor lunatics, as you have thought."

Thought! The man's mysterious power was becoming wearisome. It was too
much for me. I wished that I had never seen his face.

As I lay sleepless in my bed, I recommenced that interminable
introspection which, heretofore, had been so barren of result. It was
easy to swear to myself that I would stand by Natalie Brande, that I
would never desert her. But how should my action be directed in order
that by its conduct I might prevail upon the girl herself to surrender
her evil associates? I knew that she regarded me with affection. And I
knew also that she would not leave her brother for my sake. Did she
sympathise with his nefarious schemes, or was she decoyed into them like
myself?

Decoyed! That was it!

I sprang from the bed, beside myself with delight. Now I had not merely
a loophole of escape from all these miseries; I had a royal highway.
Fool, idiot, blind mole that I was, not to perceive sooner that easy
solution of the problem! No wonder that she was wounded by my unworthy
doubts. And she had tried to explain, but I would not listen! I threw
myself back and commenced to weave all manner of pleasant fancies round
the salvation of this girl from her brother's baneful influence, and the
annihilation of his Society, despite its occult powers, by mine own
valour. The reaction was too great. Instead of constructing marvellous
counterplots, I fell sound asleep.

Next day I found Natalie in a pleasant morning-room to which I was
directed. She wore her most extreme--and, in consequence, most
exasperating--rational costume. When I entered the room she pushed a
chair towards me, in a way that suggested Miss Metford's worst manner,
and lit a cigarette, for the express purpose, I felt, of annoying me.

"I have come," I said somewhat shamefacedly, "to explain."

"And apologise?"

"Yes, to apologise. I made a hideous mistake. I have suffered for it as
much as you could wish."

"Wish you to suffer!" She flung away her cigarette. Her dark eyes opened
wide in unassumed surprise. And that curious light of pity, which I had
so often wondered at, came into them. "I am very sorry if you have
suffered," she said, with convincing earnestness.

"How could I doubt you? Senseless fool that I was to suppose for one
moment that you approved of what you could not choose but know--"

At this her face clouded.

"I am afraid you are still in error. What opinion have you formed which
alters your estimate of me?"

"The only opinion possible: that you have unwillingly learned the secret
of your brother's Society; but, like myself--you see no way to--to--"

"To what purpose?"

"To destroy it."

"I am not likely to attempt that."

"No, it would be impossible, and the effort would cost your life."

"That is not my reason." She arose and stood facing me. "I do not like
to lose your esteem. You know already that I will not lie to retain it.
I approve of the Society's purpose."

"And its actions?"

"They are inevitable. Therefore I approve also of its actions. I shall
not ask you to remain now, for I see that you are again horrified; as is
natural, considering your knowledge--or, pardon me for saying so, your
want of knowledge. I shall be glad to see you after the lecture to which
you are invited. You will know a little more then; not all, perhaps, but
enough to shake your time-dishonoured theories of life--and death."

I bowed, and left the room without a word. It was true, then, that she
was mad like the others, or worse than mad--a thousand times worse! I
said farewell to Brande, as his guest, for the last time. Thenceforward
I would meet him as his enemy--his secret enemy as far as I could
preserve my secrecy with such a man; his open enemy when the proper time
should come.

In the railway carriage I turned over some letters and papers which I
found in my pockets, not with deliberate intention, but to while away
the time. One scrap startled me. It was the sheet on which Brande had
written the Woking address, and on reading it over once more, a thought
occurred to me which I acted on as soon as possible. I could go to
Woking and find out something about the man Delany. So long as my
inquiries were kept within the limits of the strictest discretion,
neither Brande nor any of his executive could blame me for seeking
convincing evidence of the secret power they claimed.

On my arrival in London, I drove immediately to the London Necropolis
Company's station and caught the funeral train which runs to Brookwood
cemetery. With Saint Anne's Chapel as my base, I made short excursions
hither and thither, and stood before a tombstone erected to the memory
of George Delany, late of the Criminal Investigation Department,
Scotland Yard. This was a clue which I could follow, so I hurried back
to town and called on the superintendent of the department.

Yes, I was told, Delany had belonged to the department. He had been a
very successful officer in ferreting out foreign Anarchists and
evil-doers. His last movement was to join a Society of harmless cranks
who met in Hanover Square. No importance was attached to this in the
department. It could not have been done in the way of business, although
Delany pretended that it was. He had dropped dead in the street as he
was leaving his cab to enter the office with information which must have
appeared to him important--to judge from the cabman's evidence as to his
intense excitement and repeated directions for faster driving. There was
an inquest and a post-mortem, but "death from natural causes" was the
verdict. That was all. It was enough for me.

I had now sufficient evidence, and was finally convinced that the
Society was as dangerous as it was demented.



CHAPTER IX.

CUI BONO?


When I arrived at the Society's rooms on the evening for which I had an
invitation, I found them pleasantly lighted. The various scientific
diagrams and instruments had been removed, and comfortable arm-chairs
were arranged so that a free passage was available, not merely to each
row, but to each chair. The place was full when I entered, and soon
afterwards the door was closed and locked. Natalie Brande and Edith
Metford were seated beside each other. An empty chair was on Miss
Metford's right. She saw me standing at the door and nodded toward the
empty seat which she had reserved for me. When I reached it she made a
movement as if to forestall me and leave me the middle chair. I
deprecated this by a look which was intentionally so severe that she
described it later as a malignant scowl.

I could not at the moment seat myself voluntarily beside Natalie Brande
with the exact and final knowledge which I had learnt at Scotland Yard
only one week old. I could not do it just then, although I did not mean
to draw back from what I had undertaken--to stand by her, innocent or
guilty. But I must have time to become accustomed to the sensation which
followed this knowledge. Miss Metford's fugitive attempts at
conversation pending the commencement of the lecture were disagreeable
to me.

There was a little stir on the platform. The chairman, in a few words,
announced Herbert Brande. "This is the first public lecture," he said,
"which has been given since the formation of the Society, and in
consequence of the fact that a number of people not scientifically
educated are present, the lecturer will avoid the more esoteric phases
of his subject, which would otherwise present themselves in his
treatment of it, and confine himself to the commonplaces of scientific
insight. The title of the lecture is identical with that of our
Society--_Cui Bono?_"

Brande came forward unostentatiously and placed a roll of paper on the
reading-desk. I have copied the extracts which follow from this
manuscript. The whole essay, indeed, remains with me intact, but it is
too long--and it would be immaterial--to reproduce it all in this
narrative. I cannot hope either to reproduce the weird impressiveness of
the lecturer's personality, his hold over his audience, or my own
emotions in listening to this man--whom I had proved, not only from his
own confession, but by the strongest collateral evidence, to be a
callous and relentless murderer--to hear him glide with sonorous voice
and graceful gesture from point to point in his logical and terrible
indictment of suffering!--the futility of it, both in itself and that by
which it was administered! No one could know Brande without finding
interest, if not pleasure, in his many chance expressions full of
curious and mysterious thought. I had often listened to his
extemporaneous brain pictures, as the reader knows, but I had never
before heard him deliberately formulate a planned-out system of thought.
And such a system! This is the gospel according to Brande.

"In the verbiage of primitive optimism a misleading limitation is placed
on the significance of the word Nature and its inflections. And the
misconception of the meaning of an important word is as certain to lead
to an inaccurate concept as is the misstatement of a premise to precede
a false conclusion. For instance, in the aphorism, variously rendered,
'what is natural is right,' there is an excellent illustration of the
misapplication of the word 'natural.' If the saying means that what is
natural is just and wise, it might as well run 'what is natural is
wrong,' injustice and unwisdom being as natural, _i.e._, a part of
Nature, as justice and wisdom. Morbidity and immorality are as natural
as health and purity. Not more so, but not less so. That 'Nature is made
better by no mean but Nature makes that mean,' is true enough. It is
inevitably true. The question remains, in making that mean, has she
really made anything that tends toward the final achievement of
universal happiness? I say she has not.

"The misuse of a word, it may be argued, could not prove a serious
obstacle to the growth of knowledge, and might be even interesting to
the student of etymology. But behind the misuse of the word 'natural'
there is a serious confusion of thought which must be clarified before
the mass of human intelligence can arrive at a just appreciation of the
verities which surround human existence, and explain it. To this end it
is necessary to get rid of the archaic idea of Nature as a paternal,
providential, and beneficent protector, a successor to the 'special
providence,' and to know the true Nature, bond-slave as she is of her
own eternal persistence of force; that sole primary principle of which
all other principles are only correlatives; of which the existence of
matter is but a cognisable evidence.

"The optimist notion, therefore, that Nature is an all-wise designer, in
whose work order, system, wisdom, and beauty are prominent, does not
fare well when placed under the microscope of scientific research.

"Order?

"There is no order in Nature. Her armies are but seething mobs of
rioters, destroying everything they can lay hands on.

"System?

"She has no system, unless it be a _reductio ad absurdum_, which only
blunders on the right way after fruitlessly trying every other
conceivable path. She is not wise. She never fills a pail but she spills
a hogshead. All her works are not beautiful. She never makes a
masterpiece but she smashes a million 'wasters' without a care. The
theory of evolution--her gospel--reeks with ruffianism, nature-patented
and promoted. The whole scheme of the universe, all material existence
as it is popularly known, is founded upon and begotten of a system of
everlasting suffering as hideous as the fantastic nightmares of
religious maniacs. The Spanish Inquisitors have been regarded as the
most unnatural monsters who ever disgraced the history of mankind. Yet
the atrocities of the Inquisitors, like the battlefields of Napoleon and
other heroes, were not only natural, but they have their prototypes in
every cubic inch of stagnant water, or ounce of diseased tissue. And
stagnant water is as natural as sterilised water; and diseased tissue is
as natural as healthy tissue. Wholesale murder is Nature's first law.
She creates only to kill, and applies the rule as remorselessly to the
units in a star-drift as to the tadpoles in a horse-pond.

"It seems a far cry from a star-drift to a horse-pond. It is so in
distance and magnitude. It is not in the matter of constituents. In
ultimate composition they are identical. The great nebula in Andromeda
is an aggregation of atoms, and so is the river Thames. The only
difference between them is the difference in the arrangement and
incidence of these atoms and in the molecular motion of which they are
the first but not the final cause. In a pint of Thames water, we know
that there is bound up a latent force beside which steam and
electricity are powerless in comparison. To release that force it is
only necessary to apply the sympathetic key; just as the heated point of
a needle will explode a mine of gunpowder and lay a city in ashes. That
force is asleep. The atoms which could give it reality are at rest, or,
at least, in a condition of _quasi_-rest. But in the stupendous mass of
incandescent gas which constitutes the nebula of Andromeda, every atom
is madly seeking rest and finding none; whirling in raging haste,
battling with every other atom in its field of motion, impinging upon
others and influencing them, being impinged upon and influenced by them.
That awful cauldron exemplifies admirably the method of progress
stimulated by suffering. It is the embryo of a new Sun and his planets.
After many million years of molecular agony, when his season of fission
had come, he will rend huge fragments from his mass and hurl them
helpless into space, there to grow into his satellites. In their turn
they may reproduce themselves in like manner before their true planetary
life begins, in which they shall revolve around their parent as solid
spheres. Follow them further and learn how beneficent Nature deals with
them.

"After the lapse of time-periods which man may calculate in figures, but
of which his finite mind cannot form even a true symbolic conception,
the outer skin of the planet cools--rests. Internal troubles prevail for
longer periods still; and these, in their unsupportable agony, bend and
burst the solid strata overlying; vomit fire through their self-made
blow-holes, rear mountains from the depths of the sea, then dash them in
pieces.

"Time strides on austere.

"The globe still cools. Life appears upon it. Then begins anew the old
strife, but under conditions far more dreadful, for though it be founded
on atomic consciousness, the central consciousness of the heterogeneous
aggregation of atoms becomes immeasurably more sentient and susceptible
with every step it takes from homogenesis. This internecine war must
continue while any creature great or small shall remain alive upon the
world that bore it.

"By slow degrees the mighty milestones in the protoplasmic march are
passed. Plants and animals are now busy, murdering and devouring each
other--the strong everywhere destroying the weak. New types appear. Old
types disappear. Types possessing the greatest capacity for murder
progress most rapidly, and those with the least recede and determine.
The neolithic man succeeds the palæolithic man, and sharpens the stone
axe. Then to increase their power for destruction, men find it better to
hunt in packs. Communities appear. Soon each community discovers that
its own advantage is furthered by confining its killing, in the main, to
the members of neighbouring communities. Nations early make the same
discovery. And at last, as with ourselves, there is established a race
with conscience enough to know that it is vile, and intelligence enough
to know that it is insignificant.[1] But what profits this? In the
fulness of its time the race shall die. Man will go down into the pit,
and all his thoughts will perish. The uneasy consciousness which, in
this obscure corner, has for a brief space broken the silence of the
Universe, will be at rest. Matter will know itself no longer. Life and
death and love, stronger than death, will be as though they never had
been. Nor will anything that _is_ be better or be worse for all that
the labour, genius, devotion, and suffering of man have striven through
countless generations to effect.

    [1] From this sentence to the end of the paragraph Brande draws
    freely, for the purpose of his own argument, on Mr. Balfour's
    "Naturalism and Ethics."--_Ed._

"The roaring loom of Time weaves on. The globe cools out. Life
mercifully ceases from upon its surface. The atmosphere and water
disappear. It rests. It is dead.

"But for its vicarious service in influencing more youthful planets
within its reach, that dead world might as well be loosed at once from
its gravitation cable and be turned adrift into space. Its time has not
yet come. It will not come until the great central sun of the system to
which it belongs has passed laboriously through all his stages of
stellar life and died out also. Then when that dead sun, according to
the impact theory, blunders across the path of another sun, dead and
blind like himself, its time will come. The result of that impact will
be a new star nebula, with all its weary history before it; a history of
suffering, in which a million years will not be long enough to write a
single page.

"Here we have a scientific parallel to the hell of superstition which
may account for the instinctive origin of the smoking flax and the fire
which shall never be quenched. We know that the atoms of which the
human body is built up are atoms of matter. It follows that every atom
in every living body will be present in some form at that final impact
in which the solar system will be ended in a blazing whirlwind which
will melt the earth with its fervent heat. There is not a molecule or
cell in any creature alive this day which will not in its ultimate
constituents endure the long agony, lasting countless æons of centuries,
wherein the solid mass of this great globe will be represented by a rush
of incandescent gas, stupendous in itself, but trivial in comparison
with the hurricane of flame in which it will be swallowed up and lost.

"And when from that hell a new star emerges, and new planets in their
season are born of him, and he and they repeat, as they must repeat, the
ceaseless, changeless, remorseless story of the universe, every atom in
this earth will take its place, and fill again functions identical with
those which it, or its fellow, fills now. Life will reappear, develop,
determine, to be renewed again as before. And so on for ever.

"Nature has known no rest. From the beginning--which never was--she has
been building up only to tear down again. She has been fabricating
pretty toys and trinkets, that cost her many a thousand years to forge,
only to break them in pieces for her sport. With infinite painstaking
she has manufactured man only to torture him with mean miseries in the
embryonic stages of his race, and in his higher development to madden
him with intellectual puzzles. Thus it will be unto the end--which never
shall be. For there is neither beginning nor end to her unvarying
cycles. Whether the secular optimist be successful or unsuccessful in
realising his paltry span of terrestrial paradise, whether the pæans he
sings about it are prophetic dithyrambs or misleading myths, no
Christian man need fear for his own immortality. That is well assured.
In some form he will surely be raised from the dead. In some shape he
will live again. But, _Cui bono_?"



CHAPTER X.

FORCE--A REMEDY.


"Get me out of this, I am stifled--ill," Miss Metford said, in a low
voice to me.

As we were hurrying from the room, Brande and his sister, who had joined
him, met us. The fire had died out of his eyes. His voice had returned
to its ordinary key. His demeanour was imperturbable, sphinx-like. I
murmured some words about the eloquence of the lecture, but interrupted
myself when I observed his complete indifference to my remarks, and
said,

"Neither praise nor blame seems to affect you, Brande."

"Certainly not," he answered calmly. "You forget that there is nothing
deserving of either praise or blame."

I knew I could not argue with him, so we passed on. Outside, I offered
to find a cab for Miss Metford, and to my surprise she allowed me to do
so. Her self-assertive manner was visibly modified. She made no pretence
of resenting this slight attention, as was usual with her in similar
cases. Indeed, she asked me to accompany her as far as our ways lay
together. But I felt that my society at the time could hardly prove
enlivening. I excused myself by saying candidly that I wished to be
alone.

My own company soon became unendurable. In despair I turned into a music
hall. The contrast between my mental excitement and the inanities of the
stage was too acute, so this resource speedily failed me. Then I betook
myself to the streets again. Here I remembered a letter Brande had put
into my hand as I left the hall. It was short, and the tone was even
more peremptory than his usual arrogance. It directed me to meet the
members of the Society at Charing Cross station at two o'clock on the
following day. No information was given, save that we were all going on
a long journey; that I must set my affairs in such order that my absence
would not cause any trouble, and the letter ended, "Our experiments are
now complete. Our plans are matured. Do not fail to attend."

"Fail to attend!" I muttered. "If I am not the most abject coward on the
earth I will attend--with every available policeman in London." The
pent-up wrath and impotence of many days found voice at last. "Yes,
Brande," I shouted aloud, "I will attend, and you shall be sorry for
having invited me."

"But I will not be sorry," said Natalie Brande, touching my arm.

"You here!" I exclaimed, in great surprise, for it was fully an hour
since I left the hall, and my movements had been at haphazard since
then.

"Yes, I have followed you for your own sake. Are you really going to
draw back now?"

"I must."

"Then I must go on alone."

"You will not go on alone. You will remain, and your friends shall go on
without you--go to prison without you, I mean."

"Poor boy," she said softly, to herself. "I wonder if I would have
thought as I think now if I had known him sooner? I suppose I should
have been as other women, and their fools' paradise would have been
mine--for a little while."

The absolute hopelessness in her voice pierced my heart. I pleaded
passionately with her to give up her brother and all the maniacs who
followed him. For the time I forgot utterly that the girl, by her own
confession, was already with them in sympathy as well as in deed.

She said to me: "I cannot hold back now. And you? You know you are
powerless to interfere. If you will not come with me, I must go alone.
But you may remain. I have prevailed on Herbert and Grey to permit
that."

"Never," I answered. "Where you go, I go."

"It is not really necessary. In the end it will make no difference. And
remember, you still think me guilty."

"Even so, I am going with you--guilty."

Now this seemed to me a very ordinary speech, for who would have held
back, thinking her innocent? But Natalie stopped suddenly, and, looking
me in the face, said, almost with a sob:

"Arthur, I sometimes wish I had known you sooner. I might have been
different." She was silent for a moment. Then she said piteously to me:
"You will not fail me to-morrow?"

"No, I will not fail you to-morrow," I answered.

She pressed my hand gratefully, and left me without any explanation as
to her movements in the meantime.

I hurried to my hotel to set my affairs in order before joining Brande's
expedition. The time was short for this. Fortunately there was not much
to do. By midnight I had my arrangements nearly complete. At the time,
the greater part of my money was lying at call in a London bank. This I
determined to draw in gold the next day. I also had at my banker's some
scrip, and I knew I could raise money on that. My personal effects and
the mementos of my travels, which lay about my rooms in great confusion,
must remain where they were. As to the few friends who still remained to
me, I did not write to them. I could not well describe a project of
which I knew nothing, save that it was being carried out by dangerous
lunatics, or, at least, by men who were dangerous, whether their madness
was real or assumed. Nor could I think of any reasonable excuse for
leaving England after so long an absence without a personal visit to
them. It was best, then, to disappear without a word. Having finished my
dispositions, I changed my coat for a dressing-gown and sat down by the
window, which I threw open, for the summer night was warm. I sat long,
and did not leave my chair until the morning sun was shining on my face.

When I got to Charing Cross next day, a group of fifty or sixty people
were standing apart from the general crowd and conversing with
animation. Almost the whole strength of the Society was assembled to see
a few of us off, I thought. In fact, they were all going. About a dozen
women were in the party, and they were dressed in the most extravagant
rational costumes. Edith Metford was amongst them. I drew her aside, and
apologised for not having called to wish her farewell; but she stopped
me.

"Oh, it's all right; I am going too. Don't look so frightened."

This was more than I could tolerate. She was far too good a girl to be
allowed to walk blindfold into the pit I had digged for myself with full
knowledge. I said imperatively:

"Miss Metford, you shall not go. I warned you more than once--and warned
you, I firmly believe, at the risk of my life--against these people. You
have disregarded the advice which it may yet cost me dear to have given
you."

"To tell you the truth," she said candidly, "I would not go an inch if
it were not for yourself. I can't trust you with them. You'd get into
mischief. I don't mean with Natalie Brande, but the others; I don't like
them. So I am coming to look after you."

"Then I shall speak to Brande."

"That would be useless. I joined the Society this morning."

This she said seriously, and without anything of the spirit of bravado
which was one of her faults. That ended our dispute. We exchanged a
meaning look as our party took their seats. There was now, at any rate,
one human being in the Society to whom I could speak my mind.

We travelled by special train. Our ultimate destination was a fishing
village on the southern coast, near Brande's residence. Here we found a
steam yacht of about a thousand tons lying in the harbour with steam up.

The vessel was a beautiful model. Her lines promised great speed, but
the comfort of her passengers had been no less considered by her builder
when he gave her so much beam and so high a freeboard. The ship's
furniture was the finest I had ever seen, and I had crossed every great
ocean in the world. The library, especially, was more suggestive of a
room in the British Museum than the batch of books usually carried at
sea. But I have no mind to enter on a detailed description of a
beautiful pleasure ship while my story waits. I only mention the general
condition of the vessel in evidence of the fact which now struck me for
the first time--Brande must have unlimited money. His mode of life in
London and in the country, notwithstanding his pleasant house, was in
the simplest style. From the moment we entered his special train at
Charing Cross, he flung money about him with wanton recklessness.

As we made our way through the crowd which was hanging about the quay,
an unpleasant incident occurred. Miss Brande, with Halley and
Rockingham, became separated from Miss Metford and myself and went on in
front of us. We five had formed a sub-section of the main body, and were
keeping to ourselves when the unavoidable separation took place. A
slight scream in front caused Miss Metford and myself to hurry forward.
We found the others surrounded by a gang of drunken sailors, who had
stopped them. A red-bearded giant, frenzied with drink, had seized
Natalie in his arms. His abettor, a swarthy Italian, had drawn his
knife, and menaced Halley and Rockingham. The rest of the band looked
on, and cheered their chiefs. Halley was white to the lips; Rockingham
was perfectly calm, or, perhaps, indifferent. He called for a policeman.
Neither interfered. I did not blame Rockingham; he was a man of the
world, so nothing manly could be expected of him. But Halley's cowardice
disgusted me.

I rushed forward and caught the Italian from behind, for his knife was
dangerous. Seizing him by the collar and waist, I swung him twice, and
then flung him from me with all my strength. He spun round two or three
times, and then collided with a stack of timber. His head struck a beam,
and he fell in his tracks without a word. The red-haired giant instantly
released Natalie and put up his hands. The man's attitude showed that he
knew nothing of defence. I swept his guard aside, and struck him
violently on the neck close to the ear. I was a trained boxer; but I had
never before struck a blow in earnest, or in such earnest, and I hardly
knew my own strength. The man went down with a grunt like a pole-axed
ox, and lay where he fell. To a drunken sailor lad, who seemed anxious
to be included in this matter, I dealt a stinging smack on the face
with my open hand that satisfied him straightway. The others did not
molest me. Turning from the crowd, I found Edith Metford looking at me
with blazing eyes.

"Superb! Marcel, I am proud of you!" she cried.

"Oh! Edith, how can you say that?" Natalie Brande exclaimed, still
trembling. "Such dreadful violence! The poor men knew no better."

"Poor fiddlesticks! It is well for you that Marcel is a man of violence.
He's worth a dozen sheep like--"

"Like whom, Miss Metford?" Rockingham asked, glaring at her so viciously
that I interposed with a hasty entreaty that all should hurry to the
ship. I did not trust the man.

Miss Metford was not so easily suppressed. She said leisurely, "I meant
to say like you, and this over-nervous but otherwise admirable boy. If
you think 'sheep' derogatory, pray make it 'goats.'"

I hurried them on board. Brande welcomed us at the gangway. The vessel
was his own, so he was as much at home on the ship as in his country
house. I had an important letter to write, and very little time for the
task. It was not finished a moment too soon, for the moment the last
passenger and the last bale of luggage was on board, the captain's
telegraph rang from the bridge, and the _Esmeralda_ steamed out to sea.
My letter, however, was safe on shore. The land was low down upon the
horizon before the long summer twilight deepened slowly into night. Then
one by one the shadowy cliffs grew dim, dark, and disappeared. We saw no
more of England until after many days of gradually culminating horror.
The very night which was our first at sea did not pass without a strange
adventure, which happened, indeed, by an innocent oversight.



CHAPTER XI.

MORITURI TE SALUTANT.


We had been sitting on deck chairs smoking and talking for a couple of
hours after the late dinner, which was served as soon as the vessel was
well out to sea, when Brande came on deck. He was hailed with
enthusiasm. This did not move him, or even interest him. I was careful
not to join in the acclamations produced by his presence. He noticed
this, and lightly called me recalcitrant. I admitted the justice of the
epithet, and begged him to consider it one which would always apply to
me with equal force. He laughed at this, and contrasted my gloomy fears
with the excellent arrangements which he had made for my comfort. I
asked him what had become of Grey. I thought it strange that this man
should be amongst the absentees.

"Oh, Grey! He goes to Labrador."

"To Labrador! What takes him to Labrador?"

"The same purpose which takes us to the Arafura Sea," Brande answered,
and passed on.

Presently there was a slight stir amongst the people, and the word was
passed round that Brande was about to undertake some interesting
experiment for the amusement of his guests. I hurried aft along with
some other men with whom I had been talking, and found Miss Brande and
Miss Metford standing hand in hand. Natalie's face was very white, and
the only time I ever saw real fear upon it was at that moment. I thought
the incident on the quay had unnerved her more than was apparent at the
time, and that she was still upset by it. She beckoned to me, and when I
came to her she seized my hand. She was trembling so much her words were
hardly articulate. Miss Metford was concerned for her companion's
nervousness; but otherwise indifferent; while Natalie stood holding our
hands in hers like a frightened child awaiting the firing of a cannon.

"He's going to let off something, a rocket, I suppose," Miss Metford
said to me. "Natalie seems to think he means to sink the ship."

"He does not mean to do so. He might, if an accident occurred."

"Is he going to fire a mine?" I asked.

"No, he is going to etherize a drop of water." Natalie said this so
seriously, we had no thought of laughter, incongruous as the cause of
her fears might seem.

At that moment Brande addressed us from the top of the deckhouse, and
explained that, in order to illustrate on a large scale the most recent
discovery in natural science, he was about to disintegrate a drop of
water, at present encased in a hollow glass ball about the size of a
pea, which he held between his thumb and forefinger. An electric light
was turned upon him so that we could all see the thing quite plainly. He
explained that there was a division in the ball; one portion of it
containing the drop of water, and the other the agent by which, when the
dividing wall was eaten through by its action, the atoms of the water
would be resolved into the ultimate ether of which they were composed.
As the disintegrating agent was powerless in salt water, we might all
feel assured that no great catastrophe would ensue.

Before throwing the glass ball overboard, a careful search for the
lights of ships was made from east to west, and north to south.

There was not a light to be seen anywhere. Brande threw the ball over
the side. We were going under easy steam at the time, but the moment he
left the deckhouse "full speed ahead" was rung from the bridge, and the
_Esmeralda_ showed us her pace. She literally tore through the water
when the engines were got full on.

Before we had gone a hundred yards a great cry arose. A little fleet of
French fishing-boats with no lights up had been lying very close to us
on the starboard bow. There they were, boatfuls of men, who waved
careless adieus to us as we dashed past.

Brande was moved for a moment. Then he shrugged his shoulders and
muttered, "It can't be helped now." We all felt that these simple words
might mean much. To test their full portent I went over to him, Natalie
still holding my hand with trembling fingers.

"Can't you do anything for them?" I asked.

"You mean, go back and sink this ship to keep them company?"

"No; but warn them to fly."

"It would be useless. In this breeze they could not sail a hundred
yards in the time allowed, and three miles is the nearest point of
safety. I could not say definitely, as this is the first time I have
ever tried an experiment so tremendous; but I believe that if we even
slowed to half speed, it would be dangerous, and if we stopped, the
_Esmeralda_ would go to the bottom to-night, as certainly as the sun
will rise to-morrow."

Natalie moaned in anguish on hearing this. I said to her sternly:

"I thought you approved of all these actions?"

"This serves no purpose. These men may not even have a painless death,
and the reality is more awful than I thought."

Every face was turned to that point in the darkness toward which the
foaming wake of the _Esmeralda_ stretched back. Not a word more was
spoken until Brande, who was standing, watch in hand, beside the light
from the deckhouse, came aft and said:

"You will see the explosion in ten seconds."

He could not have spoken more indifferently if the catastrophe he had
planned was only the firing of a penny squib.

Then the sea behind us burst into a flame, followed by the sound of an
explosion so frightful that we were almost stunned by it. A huge mass
of water, torn up in a solid block, was hurled into the air, and there
it broke into a hundred roaring cataracts. These, in the brilliant
search light from the ship which was now turned upon them full, fell
like cataracts of liquid silver into the seething cauldron of water that
raged below. The instant the explosion was over, our engines were
reversed, and the _Esmeralda_ went full speed astern. The waves were
still rolling in tumultuous breakers when we got back. We might as well
have gone on.

The French fishing fleet had disappeared.

I could not help saying to Brande before we turned in:

"You expect us, I suppose, to believe that the explosion was really
caused by a drop of water?"

"Etherized," he interrupted. "Certainly I do. You don't believe it--on
what grounds?"

"That it is unbelievable."

"Pshaw! You deny a fact because you do not understand it. Ignorance is
not evidence."

"I say it is impossible."

"You do not wish to believe it possible. Wishes are not proofs."

Without pursuing the argument, I said to him:

"It is fortunate that the accident took place at sea. There will be no
inquests."

"Oh! I am sorry for the accident. As for the men, they might have had a
worse fate. It is better than living in life-long misery as they do.
Besides, both they and the fishes that will eat them will soon be
numbered amongst the things that have been."



CHAPTER XII.

"NO DEATH--SAVE IN LIFE."


For some days afterwards our voyage was uneventful, and the usual
shipboard amusements were requisitioned to while away the tedious hours.
The French fishing fleet was never mentioned. We got through the Bay
with very little knocking about, and passed the Rock without calling. I
was not disappointed, for there was slight inducement for going ashore,
oppressed as I was with the ever-present incubus of dread. At intervals
this feeling became less acute, but only to return, strengthened by its
short absences. After a time my danger sense became blunted. The nervous
system became torpid under continuous stress, and refused to pass on the
sensations with sufficient intensity to the brain; or the weary brain
was asleep at its post and did not heed the warnings. I could think no
more.

And this reminds me of something which I must tell about young Halley.
For several days after the voyage began, the boy avoided me. I knew his
reason for doing this. I myself did not blame him for his want of
physical courage, but I was glad that he himself was ashamed of it.

Halley came to me one morning and said:

"I wish to speak to you, Marcel. I _must_ speak to you. It is about that
miserable episode on the evening we left England. I acted like a cad.
Therefore I must be a cad. I only want to tell you that I despise myself
as much as you can. And that I envy you. I never thought that I should
envy a man simply because he had no nervous system."

"Who is this man without a nervous system of whom you speak?" I asked
coldly. I was not sorry that I had an opportunity of reading him a
lesson which might be placed opposite the many indignities which had
been put upon me, in the form mainly of shoulder shrugs, brow
elevations, and the like.

"You, of course. I mean no offence--you are magnificent. I am honest in
saying that I admire you. I wish I was like you in height, weight,
muscle--and absence of nervous system."

"You would keep your own brain, I suppose?" I asked.

"Yes, I would keep that."

"And I will keep my own nervous system," I replied. "And the difference
between mine and yours is this: that whereas my own danger sense is, or
was, as keen as your own, I have my reserve of nerve force--or had
it--which might be relied on to tide me over a sudden emergency. This
reserve you have expended on your brain. There are two kinds of cowards;
the selfish coward who cares for no interest save his own; the unselfish
coward who cares nothing for himself, but who cannot face a danger
because he dare not. And there are two kinds of brave men; the nerveless
man you spoke of, who simply faces danger because he does not appreciate
it, and the man who faces danger because, although he fears it he dares
it. I have no difficulty in placing you in this list."

"You place me--"

"A coward because you cannot help it. You are merely out of harmony with
your environment. You ought to bring a supply of 'environment' about
with you, seeing that you cannot manufacture it off-hand like myself. I
wish to be alone. Good-day."

"Before I go, Marcel, I will say this." There were tears in his eyes.
"These people do not really know you, with all their telepathic power.
You are not--not--"

"Not as great a fool as they think. Thank you. I mean to prove that to
them some day."

With that I turned away from him, although I felt that he would have
gladly stayed longer with me.

While the _Esmeralda_ was sweeping over the long swells of the
Mediterranean, I heard Brande lecture for the second time. It was a
fitting interlude between his first and third addresses. I might
classify them thus--the first, critical; the second, constructive; the
third, executive. His third speech was the last he made in the world.

We were assembled in the saloon. It would have been pleasanter on the
upper deck, owing to the heat, but the speaker could not then have been
easily heard in the noise of the wind and waves. I could scarcely
believe that it was Brande who arose to speak, so changed was his
expression. The frank scepticism, which had only recently degenerated
into a cynicism, still tempered with a half kindly air of easy
superiority, was gone. In its place there was a look of concentrated
and relentless purpose which dominated the man himself and all who saw
him. He began in forcible and direct sentences, with only a faintly
reminiscent eloquence which was part of himself, and from which he could
not without a conscious effort have freed his style. But the whole
bearing of the man had little trace in it of the dilettante academician
whom we all remembered.

"When I last addressed this Society," he began, "I laboured under a
difficulty in arriving at ultimate truth which was of my own
manufacture. I presupposed, as you will remember, the indestructibility
of the atom, and, in logical consequence I was bound to admit the
conservation of suffering, the eternity of misery. But on that evening
many of my audience were untaught in the rudiments of ultimate thought,
and some were still sceptical of the _bona fides_ of our purpose, and
our power to achieve its object. To them, in their then ineptitude, what
I shall say now would have been unintelligible. For in the same way that
the waves of light or sound exceeding a certain maximum can not be
transferred to the brain by dull eyes and ears, my thought pulsations
would have escaped those auditors by virtue of their own
irresponsiveness. To-night I am free from the limitation which I then
suffered, because there are none around me now who have not sufficient
knowledge to grasp what I shall present.

"You remember that I traced for you the story of evolution in its
journey from the atom to the star. And I showed you that the hypothesis
of the indestructibility of the atom was simply a creed of cruelty writ
large. I now proceed on the lines of true science to show you how that
hypothesis is false; that as the atom _is_ destructible--as you have
seen by our experiments (the last of which resulted in a climax not
intended by me)--the whole scheme of what is called creation falls to
pieces. As the atom was the first etheric blunder, so the material
Universe is the grand etheric mistake.

"In considering the marvellous and miserable succession of errors
resulting from the meretricious atomic remedy adopted by the ether to
cure its local sores, it must first be said of the ether itself that
there is too much of it. Space is not sufficient for it. Thus, the
particles of ether--those imponderable entities which vibrate through a
block of marble or a disc of hammered steel with only a dulled, not an
annihilated motion, are by their own tumultuous plenty packed closer
together than they wish. I say wish, for if all material consciousness
and sentiency be founded on atomic consciousness, then in its turn
atomic consciousness is founded upon, and dependent on, etheric
consciousness. These particles of ether, therefore, when too closely
impinged upon by their neighbours, resent the impact, and in doing so
initiate etheric whirlwinds, from whose vast perturbances stupendous
drifts set out. In their gigantic power these avalanches crush the
particles which impede them, force the resisting medium out of its
normal stage, destroy the homogeneity of its constituents, and mass them
into individualistic communities whose vibrations play with greater
freedom when they synchronise. The homogeneous etheric tendencies recede
and finally determine.

"Behold a miracle! An atom is born!

"By a similar process--which I may liken to that of putting off an evil
day which some time must be endured--the atoms group themselves into
molecules. In their turn the molecules go forth to war, capturing or
being captured; the vibrations of the slaves always being forced to
synchronise with those of their conquerors. The nucleus of the gas of a
primal metal is now complete, and the foundation of a solar
system--paltry molecule of the Universe as it is--is laid. Thereafter,
the rest is easily followed. It is described in your school books, and
must not occupy me now.

"But one word I will interpolate which may serve to explain a curious
and interesting human belief. You are aware of how, in times past, men
of absolutely no scientific insight held firmly to the idea that an
elixir of life and a philosopher's stone might be discovered, and that
these two objects were nearly always pursued contemporaneously. That is
to my mind an extraordinary example of the force of atomic
consciousness. The idea itself was absolutely correct; but the men who
followed it had slight knowledge of its unity, and none whatever of its
proper pursuit. They would have worked on their special lines to
eternity before advancing a single step toward their object. And this
because they did not know what life was, and death was, and what the
metals ultimately signified which they, blind fools, so unsuccessfully
tried to transmute. But we know more than they. We have climbed no doubt
in the footholds they have carved, and we have gained the summit they
only saw in the mirage of hope. For we know that there is no life, no
death, no metals, no matter, no emotions, no thoughts; but that all
that we call by these names is only the ether in various conditions.
Life! I could live as long as this earth will submit to human existence
if I had studied that paltry problem. Metals! The ship in which you sail
was bought with gold manufactured in my crucibles.

"The unintelligent--or I should say the grossly ignorant--have long held
over the heads of the pioneers of science these two great charges: No
man has ever yet transmuted a metal; no man has ever yet proved the
connecting link between organic and inorganic life. I say _life_, for I
take it that this company admits that a slab of granite is as much alive
as any man or woman I see before me. But I have manufactured gold, and I
could have manufactured protoplasm if I had devoted my life to that
object. My studies have been almost wholly on the inorganic plane. Hence
the 'philosopher's stone' came in my way, but not the 'elixir of life.'
The molecules of protoplasm are only a little more complex than the
molecules of hydrogen or nitrogen or iron or coal. You may fuse iron,
vaporise water, intermix the gases; but the molecules of all change
little in such metamorphosis. And you may slay twenty thousand men at
Waterloo or Sedan, or ten thousand generations may be numbered with the
dust, and not an ounce of protoplasm lies dead. All molecules are merely
arrangements of atoms made under different degrees of pressure and of
different ages. And all atoms are constructed of identical
constituents--the ether, as I have said. Therefore the ether, which was
from the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, which is the same
yesterday, to-day, and for ever, is the origin of force, of matter, of
life.

"_It is alive!_

"Its starry children are so many that the sands of the sea-shore may not
be used as a similitude for their multitude; and they extend so far that
distance may not be named in relation to them. They are so high above us
and so deep below us that there is neither height nor depth in them.
There is neither east nor west in them, nor north and south in them. Nor
is there beginning or end to them. Time drops his scythe and stands
appalled before that dreadful host. Number applies not to its eternal
multitudes. Distance is lost in boundless space. And from all the stars
that stud the caverns of the Universe, there swells this awful chorus:
Failure! failure and futility! And the ether is to blame!

"Heterogeneous suffering is more acute than homogeneous, because the
agony is intensified by being localised; because the comfort of the
comfortable is purchasable only by the multiplied misery of the
miserable; because aristocratic leisure requires that the poor should be
always with it. There is, therefore, no gladness without its
overbalancing sorrow. There is no good without intenser evil. There is
no death save in life.

"Back, then, from this ill-balanced and unfair long-suffering, this
insufficient existence. Back to Nirvana--the ether! And I will lead the
way.

"The agent I will employ has cost me all life to discover. It will
release the vast stores of etheric energy locked up in the huge atomic
warehouse of this planet. I shall remedy the grand mistake only to a
degree which it would be preposterous to call even microscopic; but when
I have done what I can, I am blameless for the rest. In due season the
whole blunder will be cured by the same means that I shall use, and all
the hideous experiment will be over, and everlasting rest or
_quasi_-rest will supersede the magnificent failure of material
existence. This earth, at least, and, I am encouraged to hope, the whole
solar system, will by my instrumentality be restored to the ether from
which it never should have emerged. Once before, in the history of our
system, an effort similar to mine was made, unhappily without success.

"This time we shall not fail!"

A low murmur rose from the audience as the lecturer concluded, and a
hushed whisper asked:

"Where was that other effort made?"

Brande faced round momentarily, and said quietly but distinctly:

"On the planet which was where the Asteroids are now."



CHAPTER XIII.

MISS METFORD'S PLAN.


We coaled at Port Said like any ordinary steamer. Although I had more
than once made the Red Sea voyage, I had never before taken the
slightest interest in the coaling of the vessel on which I was a
passenger. This time everything was different. That which interested me
before seemed trivial now. And that which had before seemed trivial was
now absorbing. I watched the coaling--commonplace as the spectacle
was--with vivid curiosity. The red lights, the sooty demons at work,
every bag of coals they carried, and all the coal dust clouds they
created, were fitting episodes in a voyage such as ours. We took an
enormous quantity of coal on board. I remained up most of the night in a
frame of mind which I thought none might envy. I myself would have made
light of it had I known what was still in store for the _Esmeralda_ and
her company. It was nearly morning when I turned in. When I awoke we
were nearing the Red Sea.

On deck, the conversation of our party was always eccentric, but this
must be said for it: there was sometimes a scintillating brilliance in
it that almost blinded one to its extreme absurdity. The show of high
spirits which was very general was, in the main, unaffected. For the
rest it was plainly assumed. But those who assumed their parts did so
with a histrionic power which was all the more surprising when it is
remembered that the origin of their excellent playing was centred in
their own fears. I preserved a neutral attitude. I did not venture on
any overt act of insubordination. That would have only meant my
destruction, without any counter-balancing advantage in the way of
baulking an enterprise in which I was a most unwilling participator. And
to pretend what I did not feel was a task which I had neither stomach to
undertake nor ability to carry out successfully. In consequence I kept
my own counsel--and that of Edith Metford.

Brande was the most easily approached maniac I had ever met. His
affability continued absolutely consistent. I took advantage of this to
say to him on a convenient opportunity: "Why did you bring these people
with you? They must all be useless, and many of them little better than
a nuisance!"

"Marcel, you are improving. Have you attained the telepathic power? You
have read my mind." This was said with a pleasant smile.

"I can not read your mind," I answered; "I only diagnose."

"Your diagnosis is correct. I answer you in a sentence. They are all
sympathetic, and human sympathy is necessary to me until my purpose is
fulfilled."

"You do not look to me for any measure of this sympathy, I trust?"

"I do not. You are antipathetic."

"I am."

"But necessary, all the same."

"So be it, until the proper time shall come."

"It will never come," Brande said firmly.

"We shall see," I replied as firmly as himself.

Next evening as we were steaming down the blue waters--deep blue they
always seemed to me--of the Red Sea, I was sitting on the foredeck
smoking and trying to think. I did not notice how the time passed. What
seemed to me an hour at most, must have been three or four. With the
exception of the men of the crew who were on duty, I was alone, for the
heat was intense, and most of our people were lying in their cabins
prostrated in spite of the wind-sails which were spread from every port
to catch the breeze. My meditations were as usual gloomy and despondent.
They were interrupted by Miss Metford. She joined me so noiselessly that
I was not aware of her presence until she laid her hand on my arm. I
started at her touch, but she whispered a sharp warning, so full of
suppressed emotion that I instantly recovered a semblance of unconcern.

The girl was very white and nervous. This contrast from her usual
equanimity was disquieting. She clung to me hysterically as she gasped:

"Marcel, it is a mercy I have found you alone, and that there is one
sane man in this shipful of lunatics."

"I am afraid you are not altogether right," I said, as I placed a seat
for her close to mine. "I can hardly be sane when I am a voluntary
passenger on board this vessel."

"Do you really think they mean what they say?" she asked hurriedly,
without noticing my remark.

"I really think they have discovered the secret of extraordinary natural
forces, so powerful and so terrible that no one can say what they may or
may not accomplish. And that is the reason I begged you not to come on
this voyage."

"What was the good of asking me not to come without giving me some
reason?"

"Had I done so, they might have killed you as they have done others
before."

"You might have chanced that, seeing that it will probably end that
way."

"And they would certainly have killed me."

"Ah!"

I wondered at the sudden intensity of the girl's sharp gasp when I said
this, and marvelled too, how she, who had always been so mannish,
nestled close to me and allowed her head to sink down on my shoulder. I
pitied the strong-willed, self-reliant nature which had given way under
some strain of which I had yet to be told. So I stooped and touched her
cheek with my lips in a friendly way, at which she looked up to me with
half-closed eyes, and whispered in a voice strangely soft and womanish
for her:

"If they must kill us, I wish they would kill us now."

I stroked her soft cheek gently, and urged a less hopeless view. "Even
if the worst come, we may as well live as long as we can."

Whereupon to my surprise she, having shot one quick glance into my eyes,
put my arm away and drew her chair apart from mine. Her head was turned
away from me, but I could not but notice that her bosom rose and fell
swiftly. Presently she faced round again, lit a cigarette, put her hands
in the pocket of her jacket, and her feet on another chair, and said
indifferently:

"You are right. Even if the worst must come, we may as well live as long
as we can."

This sudden change in her manner surprised me. I knew I had no art in
dealing with women, so I let it pass without comment, and looked out at
the glassy sea.

After some minutes of silence, the girl spoke to me again.

"Do you know anything of the actual plans of these maniacs?"

"No. I only know their preposterous purpose."

"Well, I know how it is to be done. Natalie was restless last night--you
know that we share the same cabin--and she raved a bit. I kept her in
her berth by sheer force, but I allowed her to talk."

This was serious. I drew my chair close to Miss Metford's and whispered,
"For heaven's sake, speak low." Then I remembered Brande's power, and
wrung my hands in helpless impotence. "You forget Brande. At this moment
he is taking down every word we say."

"He's doing nothing of the sort."

"But you forget--"

"I don't forget. By accident I put morphia in the tonic he takes, and he
is now past telepathy for some hours at least. He's sound asleep. I
suppose if I had not done it by accident he would have known what I was
doing, and so have refused the medicine. Anyhow, accident or no
accident, I have done it."

"Thank God!" I cried.

"And this precious disintegrating agent! They haven't it with them, it
seems. To manufacture it in sufficient quantity would be impossible in
any civilised country without fear of detection or interruption. Brande
has the prescription, formula--what do you call it?--and if you could
get the paper and--"

"Throw it overboard!"

"Rubbish! They would work it all out again."

"What then?" I whispered.

"Steal the paper and--wouldn't it do to put in an extra _x_ or _y_, or
stick a couple of additional figures into any suitable vacancy? Don't
you think they'd go on with the scheme and--"

"And?"

"And make a mess of it!"

"Miss Metford," I said, rising from my chair, "I mean Metford, I know
you like to be addressed as a man--or used to like it."

"Yes, I used to," she assented coldly.

"I am going to take you in my arms and kiss you."

"I'm hanged if you are!" she exclaimed, so sharply that I was suddenly
abashed. My intended familiarity and its expression appeared grotesque,
although a few minutes before she was so friendly. But I could not waste
precious time in studying a girl's caprices, so I asked at once:

"How can I get this paper?"

"I said _steal_ it, if you recollect." Her voice was now hard, almost
harsh. "You can get it in Brande's cabin, if you are neither afraid nor
jealous."

"I am not much afraid, and I will try it. What do you mean by jealous?"

"I mean, would you, to save Natalie Brande--for they will certainly
succeed in blowing themselves up, if nobody else--consent to her
marrying another man, say that young lunatic Halley, who is always
dangling after her when you are not?"

"Yes," I answered, after some thought. For Halley's attentions to
Natalie had been so marked, the plainly inconsequent mention of him in
this matter did not strike me. "If that is necessary to save her, of
course I would consent to it. Why do you ask? In my place you would do
the same."

"No. I'd see the ship and all its precious passengers at the bottom of
the sea first."

"Ah! but you are not a man."

"Right! and what's more, I'm glad of it." Then looking down at the
rational part of her costume, she added sharply, "I sha'n't wear these
things again."



CHAPTER XIV.

ROCKINGHAM TO THE SHARKS.


At one o'clock in the morning I arose, dressed hurriedly, drew on a pair
of felt slippers, and put a revolver in my pocket. It was then time to
put Edith Metford's proposal to the proof, and she would be waiting for
me on deck to hear whether I had succeeded in it. We had parted a couple
of hours before on somewhat chilling terms. I had agreed to follow her
suggestion, but I could not trouble my tired brain by guesses at the
cause of her moods.

It was very dark. There was only enough light to enable me to find my
way along the corridor, off which the state-rooms occupied by Brande and
his immediate lieutenants opened. All the sleepers were restless from
the terrible heat. As I stole along, a muffled word, a sigh, or a
movement in the berths, made me pause at every step with a beating
heart. Having listened till all was quiet, I moved on again noiselessly.
I was almost at the end of the corridor. So intent had I been on
preserving perfect silence, it did not sooner occur to me that I was
searching for any special door. I had forgotten Brande's number!

I could no more think of it than one can recall the name of a
half-forgotten acquaintance suddenly encountered in the street. It might
have been fourteen, or forty-one; or a hundred and fifty. Every number
was as likely as it was unlikely. I tried vainly to concentrate my mind.
The result was nothing. The missing number gave no clue. To enter the
wrong room in that ship at that hour meant death for me. Of that I was
certain. To leave the right room unentered gave away my first chance in
the unequal battle with Brande. Then, as I knew that my first chance
would probably be my last, if not availed of, I turned to the nearest
door and quietly tried the handle. The door was not locked. I entered
the state-room.

"What do you want?" It was Halley's voice that came from the berth.

"Pardon me," I whispered, "a mistake. The heat, you know. Went on deck,
and have blundered into your room."

"Oh, all right. Who are you?"

"Brande."

"Good-night. You did not blunder far;" this sleepily.

I went out and closed the door quietly. I had gained something. I was
within one door of my destination, for I knew that Halley was berthed
between Rockingham and Brande. But I did not know on which side Brande's
room was, and I dared not ask. I tried the next door going forward. It
opened like the other. I went in.

"Hallo there!" This time no sleepy or careless man challenged me. It was
Rockingham's voice.

"May I not enter my own room?" I whispered.

"This is not your room. You are?" Rockingham sprang up in his berth, but
before he could leave it I was upon him.

"I am Arthur Marcel. And this iron ring which I press against your left
ear is the muzzle of my revolver. Speak, move, breathe above your
natural breath and your brains go through that porthole. Now, loose your
hold of my arm and come with me."

"You fool!" hissed Rockingham. "You dare not fire. You know you dare
not."

He was about to call out, but my left hand closed on his throat, and a
gurgling gasp was all that issued from him.

I laid down the revolver and turned the ear of the strangling man close
to my mouth. I had little time to think; but thought flies fast when
such deadly peril menaces the thinker as that which I must face if I
failed to make terms with the man who was in my power. I knew that
notwithstanding his intensely disagreeable nature, if he gave his
promise either by spoken word or equivalent sign, I could depend upon
him. There were no liars in Brande's Society. But the word I could not
trust him to say. I must have his sign. I whispered:

"You know I do not wish to kill you. I shall never have another happy
day if you force me to it. I have no choice. You must yield or die. If
you will yield and stand by me rather than against me in what shall
follow, choose life by taking your right hand from my wrist and touching
my left shoulder. I will not hurt you meanwhile. If you choose death,
touch me with your left."

The sweat stood on my forehead in big beads as I waited for his choice.
It was soon made. He unlocked his left hand and placed it firmly on my
right shoulder.

He had chosen death.

So the man was only a physical coward--or perhaps he had only made a
choice of alternatives.

I said slowly and in great agony, "May God have mercy on your soul--and
mine!" on which the muscles in my left arm stiffened. The big biceps--an
heirloom of my athletic days--thickened up, and I turned my eyes away
from the dying face, half hidden by the darkness. His struggles were
very terrible, but with my weight upon his lower limbs, and my grasp
upon his windpipe, that death-throe was as silent as it was horrible.
The end came slowly. I could not bear the horror of it longer. I must
finish it and be done with it. I put my right arm under the man's
shoulders and raised the upper part of his body from the berth. Then a
desperate wrench with my left arm, and there was a dull crack like the
snapping of a dry stick. It was over. Rockingham's neck was broken.

I wiped away the bloody froth that oozed from the gaping mouth, and
tried to compose decently the contorted figure. I covered the face.
Then I started on my last mission, for now I knew the door. I had
bought the knowledge dearly, and I meant to use it for my own purpose,
careless of what violence might be necessary to accomplish my end.

When I entered Brande's state-room I found the electric light full on.
He was seated at a writing-table with his head resting on his arms,
which hung crossways over the desk. The sleeper breathed so deeply it
was evident that the effect of the morphia was still strong upon him.
One hand clutched a folded parchment. His fingers clasped it
nervelessly, and I had only to force them open one by one in order to
withdraw the manuscript. As I did this, he moaned and moved in his
chair. I had no fear of his awaking. My hand shook as I unfolded the
parchment which I unconsciously handled as carefully as though the thing
itself were as deadly as the destruction which might be wrought by its
direction.

To me the whole document was a mass of unintelligible formulæ. My rusty
university education could make nothing of it. But I could not waste
time in trying to solve the puzzle, for I did not know what moment some
other visitor might arrive to see how Brande fared. I first examined
with a pocket microscope the ink of the manuscript, and then making a
scratch with Brande's pen on a page of my note-book, I compared the two.
The colours were identical. It was the same ink.

In several places where a narrow space had been left vacant, I put 1 in
front of the figures which followed. I had no reason for making this
particular alteration, save that the figure 1 is more easily forged than
any other, and the forgery is consequently more difficult to detect. My
additions, when the ink was dry, could only have been discovered by one
who was informed that the document had been tampered with. It was
probable that a drawer which stood open with the keys in the lock was
the place where Brande kept this paper; where he would look for it on
awaking. I locked it in the drawer and put the keys into his pocket.

There was something still to do with the sleeping man, whose brain
compassed such marvellous powers. His telepathic faculty must be
destroyed. I must keep him seriously ill, without killing him. As long
as he remained alive his friends would never question his calculations,
and the fiasco which was possible under any circumstances would then be
assured. I had with me an Eastern drug, which I had bought from an
Indian fakir once in Murzapoor. The man was an impostor, whose tricks
did not impose on me. But the drug, however he came by it, was reliable.
It was a poison which produced a mild form of cerebritis that dulled but
did not deaden the mental powers. It acted almost identically whether
administered sub-cutaneously or, of course in a larger dose, internally.
I brought it home with the intention of giving it to a friend who was
interested in vivisection. I did not think that I myself should be the
first and last to experiment with it. It served my purpose well.

The moment I pricked his skin, Brande moved in his seat. My hand was on
his throat. He nestled his head down again upon his arms, and drew a
deep breath. Had he moved again that breath would have been his last. I
had been so wrought upon by what I had already done that night, I would
have taken his life without the slightest hesitation, if the sacrifice
seemed necessary.

When my operation was over, I left the room and moved silently along the
corridor till I came to the ladder leading to the deck. Edith Metford
was waiting for me as we had arranged. She was shivering in spite of the
awful heat.

"Have you done it?" she whispered.

"I have," I answered, without saying how much I had done. "Now you must
retire--and rest easy. The formula won't work. I have put both it and
Brande himself out of gear."

"Thank God!" she gasped, and then a sudden faintness came over her. It
passed quickly, and as soon as she was sufficiently restored, I begged
her to go below. She pleaded that she could not sleep, and asked me to
remain with her upon the deck. "It would be absurd to suppose that
either of us could sleep this night," she very truly said. On which I
was obliged to tell her plainly that she must go below. I had more to
do.

"Can I help?" she asked anxiously.

"No. If you could, I would ask you, for you are a brave girl. I have
something now to get through which is not woman's work."

"Your work is my work," she answered. "What is it?"

"I have to lower a body overboard without anyone observing me."

There was no time for discussion, so I told her at once, knowing that
she would not give way otherwise. She started at my words, but said
firmly:

"How will you do that unobserved by the 'watch'? Go down and bring up
your--bring it up. I will keep the men employed." She went forward, and
I turned again to the companion.

When I got back to Rockingham's cabin I took a sheet of paper and wrote,
"Heat--Mad!" making no attempt to imitate his writing. I simply scrawled
the words with a rough pen in the hope that they would pass as a message
from a man who was hysterical when he wrote them. Then I turned to the
berth and took up the body. It was not a pleasant thing to do. But it
must be done.

I was a long time reaching the deck, for the arms and legs swung to and
fro, and I had to move cautiously lest they should knock against the
woodwork I had to pass. I got it safely up and hurried aft with it.
Edith, I knew, would contrive to keep the men on watch engaged until I
had disposed of my burden. I picked up a coil of rope and made it fast
to the dead man's neck. Taking one turn of the rope round a boat-davit,
I pushed the thing over the rail. I intended to let go the rope the
moment the weight attached to it was safely in the sea, and so lowered
away silently, paying out the line without excessive strain owing to the
support of the davit round which I had wound it. I had not to wait so
long as that, for just as the body was dangling over the foaming wake of
the steamer, a little streak of moonlight shot out from behind a bank of
cloud and lighted the vessel with a sudden gleam. I was startled by
this, and held on, fearing that some watching eye might see my curious
movements. For a minute I leaned over the rail and watched the track of
the steamer as though I had come on deck for the air. There was a quick
rush near the vessel's quarter. Something dark leaped out of the water,
and there was a sharp snap--a crunch. The lower limbs were gone in the
jaws of a shark. I let go the rope in horror, and the body dropped
splashing into that hideous fishing-ground. Sick to death I turned
away.

"Get below quickly," Edith Metford said in my ear. "They heard the
splash, slight as it was, and are coming this way." Her warning was
nearly a sob.

We hurried down the companion as fast as we dared, and listened to the
comments of the watch above. They were soon satisfied that nothing of
importance had occurred, and resumed their stations.

Before we parted on that horrible night, Edith said in a trembling
voice, "You have done your work like a brave man."

"Say rather, like a forger and murderer," I answered.

"No," she maintained. "Many men before you have done much worse in a
good cause. You are not a forger. You are a diplomat. You are not a
murderer. You are a hero."

But I, being new to this work of slaughter and deception, could only
deprecate her sympathy and draw away. I felt that my very presence near
her was pollution. I was unclean, and I told her that I was so.
Whereupon, without hesitation, she put her arms round my neck, and said
clinging closely to me:

"You are not unclean--you are free from guilt. And--Arthur--I will kiss
you now."



CHAPTER XV.

"IF NOT TOO LATE!"


When I came on deck next morning the coast of Arabia was rising, a thin
thread of hazy blue between the leaden grey of the sea and the soft grey
of the sky. The morning was cloudy, and the blazing sunlight was veiled
in atmospheric gauze. I had hardly put my foot on deck when Natalie
Brande ran to meet me. I hung back guiltily.

"I thought you would never come. There is dreadful news!" she cried.

I muttered some incoherent words, to which she did not attend, but went
on hurriedly:

"Rockingham has thrown himself overboard in a hysterical fit, brought on
by the heat. The sailors heard the splash--"

"I know they did." This escaped me unawares, and I instantly
prevaricated, "I have been told about that."

"Do you know that Herbert is ill?"

I could have conscientiously answered this question affirmatively also.
Her sudden sympathy for human misadventure jarred upon me, as it had
done once before, when I thought of the ostensible object of the cruise.
I said harshly:

"Then Rockingham is at rest, and your brother is on the road to it." It
was a brutal speech. It had a very different effect to that which I
intended.

"True," she said. "But think of the awful consequences if, now that
Rockingham is gone, Herbert should be seriously ill."

"I do think of it," I said stiffly. Indeed, I could hardly keep from
adding that I had provided for it.

"You must come to him at once. I have faith in you." This gave me a
twinge. "I have no faith in Percival" (the ship's doctor).

"You are nursing your brother?" I said with assumed carelessness.

"Of course."

"What is Percival giving him?"

She described the treatment, and as this was exactly what I myself would
have prescribed to put my own previous interference right, I promised to
come at once, saying:

"It is quite evident that Percival does not understand the case."

"That is exactly what I thought," Natalie agreed, leading me to Brande's
cabin. I found his vitality lower than I expected, and he was very
impatient. The whole purpose of his life was at stake, dependent on his
preserving a healthy body, on which, in turn, a vigorous mind depends.

"How soon can you get me up?" he asked sharply, when my pretended
examination was over.

"I should say a month at most."

"That would be too long," he cried. "You must do it in less."

"It does not depend on me--"

"It does depend on you. I know life itself. You know the paltry science
of organic life. I have had no time for such trivial study. Get me well
within three days, or--"

"I am attending."

"By the hold over my sister's imagination which I have gained, I will
kill her on the fourth morning from now."

"You will--_not_."

"I tell you I will," Brande shrieked, starting up in his berth. "I could
do it now."

"You could--_not_."

"Man, do you know what you are saying? You to bandy words with me! A
clod-brained fool to dare a man of science! Man of science forsooth!
Your men of science are to me as brain-benumbed, as brain-bereft, as
that fly which I crush--thus!"

The buzzing insect was indeed dead. But I was something more than a fly.
At last I was on a fair field with this scientific magician or madman.
And on a fair field I was not afraid of him.

"You are agitating yourself unnecessarily and injuriously," I said in my
best professional manner. "And if you persist in doing so you will make
my one month three."

In a voice of undisguised scorn, Brande exclaimed, without noticing my
interruption:

"Bearded by a creature whose little mind is to me like the open page of
a book to read when the humour seizes me." Then with a fierce glance at
me he cried:

"I have read your mind before. I can read it now."

"You can--_not_."

He threw himself back in his berth and strove to concentrate his mind.
For nearly five minutes he lay quite still, and then he said gently:

"You are right. Have you, then, a higher power than I?"

"No; a lower!"

"A lower! What do you mean?"

"I mean that I have merely paralysed your brain--that for many months to
come it will not be restored to its normal power--that it will never
reach its normal power again unless I choose."

"Then all is lost--lost--lost!" he wailed out. "The end is as far off,
and the journey as long, and the way as hard, as if I had never striven.
And the tribute of human tears will be exacted to the uttermost. My life
has been in vain!"

The absolute agony in his voice, the note of almost superhuman suffering
and despair, was so intense, that, without thinking of what it was this
man was grieving over, I found myself saying soothingly:

"No, no! Nothing is lost. It is only your own overstrained nervous
system which sends these fantastic nightmares to your brain. I will soon
make you all right if you will listen to reason."

He turned to me with the most appealing look which I had ever seen in
human eyes save once before--when Natalie pleaded with me.

"I had forgotten," he said, "the issue now lies in your hands. Choose
rightly. Choose mercy."

"I will," I answered shortly, for his request brought me back with a
jerk to his motive.

"Then you will get me well as soon as your skill can do it?"

"I will keep you in your present condition until I have your most solemn
assurance that you will neither go farther yourself nor instigate others
to go farther with this preposterous scheme of yours."

"Bah!" Brande ejaculated contemptuously, and lay back with a sudden
content. "My brain is certainly out of order, else I should not have
forgotten--until your words recalled it--the Labrador expedition."

"The Labrador expedition?"

"Yes. On the day we sailed for the Arafura Sea, Grey started with
another party for Labrador. If we fail to act before the 31st December,
in the year 1900, he will proceed. And the end of the century will be
the date of the end of the earth. I will signal to him now."

His face changed suddenly. For a moment I thought he was dead. Then the
dreadful fact came home to me. He was telegraphing telepathically to
Grey. So the murder that was upon my soul had been done in vain. Then
another life must be taken. Better a double crime than one resultless
tragedy. I was spared this.

Brande opened his eyes wearily, and sighed as if fatigued. The effort,
short as it was, must have been intense. He was prostrated. His voice
was low, almost a whisper, as he said:

"You have succeeded beyond belief. I cannot even signal him, much less
exchange ideas." With that he turned his face from me, and instantly
fell into a deep sleep.

I left the cabin and went on deck. As usual, it was fairly sprinkled
over with the passengers, but owing to the strong head-wind caused by
the speed of the steamer, there was a little nook in the bow where there
was no one to trouble me with unwelcome company.

I sat down on an arm of the starboard anchor and tried to think. The
game which seemed so nearly won had all to be played over again from the
first move. If I had killed Brande--which surely would have been
justifiable--the other expedition would go on from where he left off.
And how should I find them? And who would believe my story when I got
back to England?

Brande must go on. His attempt to wreck the earth, even if the power he
claimed were not overrated, would fail. For if the compounds of a common
explosive must be so nicely balanced as they require to be, surely the
addition of the figures which I had made in his formula would upset the
balance of constituents in an agent so delicate, though so powerful, as
that which he had invented. When the master failed, it was more than
probable that the pupil would distrust the invention, and return to
London for fresh experiments. Then a clean sweep must be made of the
whole party. Meantime, it was plain that Brande must be allowed the
opportunity of failing. And this it would be my hazardous duty to
superintend.

I returned to Brande's cabin with my mind made up. He was awake, and
looked at me eagerly, but waited for me to speak. Our conversation was
brief, for I had little sympathy with my patient, and the only anxiety I
experienced about his health was the hope that he would not die until
he had served my purpose.

"I have decided to get you up," I said curtly.

"You have decided well," he answered, with equal coldness.

That was the whole interview--on which so much depended.

After this I did not speak to Brande on any subject but that of his
symptoms, and before long he was able to come on deck. The month I spoke
of as the duration of his illness was an intentional exaggeration on my
part.

Rockingham was forgotten with a suddenness and completeness that was
almost ghastly. The Society claimed to have improved the old maxim to
speak nothing of the dead save what is good. Of the dead they spoke not
at all. It is a callous creed, but in this instance it pleased me well.

We did not touch at Aden, and I was glad of it. The few attractions of
the place, the diving boys and the like, may be a relief in ordinary sea
voyages, but I was too much absorbed in my experiment on Brande to bear
with patience any delay which served to postpone the crisis of my
scheme. I had treated him well, so far as his bodily health went, but I
deliberately continued to tamper with his brain, so that any return of
his telepathic power was thus prevented. Indeed, Brande himself was not
anxious for such return. The power was always exercised at an extreme
nervous strain, and it was now, he said, unnecessary to his purpose.

In consequence of this determination, I modified the already minute
doses of the drug I was giving him. This soon told with advantage on his
health. His physical improvement partly restored his confidence in me,
so that he followed my instructions faithfully. He evidently recognised
that he was in my power; that if I did not choose to restore him fully
no other man could.

Of the ship's officers, Anderson, who was in command, and Percival, the
doctor, were men of some individuality. The captain was a good sailor
and an excellent man of business. In the first capacity, he was firm,
exacting, and scrupulously conscientious. In the second, his conscience
was more elastic when he saw his way clear to his own advantage. He had
certain rigid rules of conduct which he prided himself on observing to
the letter, without for a moment suspecting that their _raison d'etre_
lay in his own interests. His commercial morality only required him to
keep within the law. His final contract with myself was, I admit,
faithfully carried out, but the terms of it would not have discredited
the most predatory business man in London town.

Percival was the opposite pole of such a character. He was a clever man,
who might have risen in his profession but for his easy-going indolence.
I spent many an hour in his cabin. He was a sportsman and a skilled
_raconteur_. His anecdotes helped to while the weary time away. He
exaggerated persistently, but this did not disturb me. Besides, if in
his narratives he lengthened out the hunt a dozen miles and increased
the weight of the fish to an impossible figure, made the brace a dozen
and the ten-ton boat a man-of-war, it was not because he was
deliberately untruthful. He looked back on his feats through the
telescope of a strongly magnifying memory. It was more agreeable to me
to hear him boast his prowess than have him inquire after the health and
treatment of my patient Brande. On this matter he was naturally very
curious, and I very reticent.

That Brande did not entirely trust me was evident from his confusion
when I surprised him once reading his formula. His anxiety to convince
me that it was only a commonplace memorandum was almost ludicrous. I was
glad to see him anxious about that document. The more carefully he
preserved it, and the more faithfully he adhered to its conditions, the
better for my experiment. A sense of security followed this incident. It
did not last long. It ended that evening.

After a day of almost unendurable heat, I went on deck for a breath of
air. We were well out in the Indian Ocean, and soundings were being
attempted by some of our naturalists. I sat alone and watched the sun
sink down into the glassy ocean on which our rushing vessel was the only
thing that moved. As the darkness of that hot, still night gathered,
weird gleams of phosphorus broke from the steamer's bows and streamed
away behind us in long lines of flashing spangles. Where the swell
caused by the passage of the ship rose in curling waves, these, as they
splashed into mimic breakers, burst into showers of flamboyant light.
The water from the discharge-pipe poured down in a cascade, that shone
like silver. Every turn of the screw dashed a thousand flashes on either
side, and the heaving of the lead was like the flight of a meteor, as it
plunged with a luminous trail far down into the dark unfathomable depths
below.

My name was spoken softly. Natalie Brande stood beside me. The spell was
complete. The unearthly glamour of the magical scene had been compassed
by her. She had called it forth and could disperse it by an effort of
her will. I wrenched my mind free from the foolish phantasmagoria.

"I have good news," Natalie said in a low voice. Her tones were soft,
musical; her manner caressing. Happiness was in her whole bearing,
tenderness in her eyes. Dread oppressed me. "Herbert is now well again."

"He has been well for some time," I said, my heart beating fast.

"He is not thoroughly restored even yet. But this evening he was able to
receive a message from me by the thought waves. He thinks you are
plotting injury to him. His brain is not yet sufficiently strong to show
how foolish this fugitive fancy is. Perhaps you would go to him. He is
troubling himself over this. You can set his mind at rest."

"I can--and will--if I am not too late," I answered.



CHAPTER XVI.

£5000 TO DETAIN THE SHIP.


Brande was asleep when I entered his cabin. His writing-table was
covered with scraps of paper on which he had been scribbling. My name
was on every scrap, preceded or followed by an unfinished sentence,
thus: "Marcel is thinking-- When I was ill, Marcel thought-- Marcel
means to--" All these I gathered up carefully and put in my pocket. Then
I inoculated him with as strong a solution of the drug I was using on
him as was compatible with the safety of his life. Immediate danger
being thus averted, I determined to run no similar risk again.

For many days after this our voyage was monotonous. The deadly secret
shared by Edith Metford and myself drew us gradually nearer to each
other as time passed. She understood me, or, at least, gave me the
impression that she understood me. Little by little that capricious mood
which I have heretofore described changed into one of enduring
sympathy. With one trivial exception, this lasted until the end. But for
her help my mind would hardly have stood the strain of events which were
now at hand, whose livid shadows were projected in the rising fire of
Brande's relentless eyes.

Brande appeared to lose interest gradually in his ship's company. He
became daily more and more absorbed in his own thoughts. Natalie was
ever gentle, even tender. But I chafed at the impalpable barrier which
was always between us. Sometimes I thought that she would willingly have
ranged herself on my side. Some hidden power held her back. As to the
others, I began to like the boy Halley. He was lovable, if not athletic.
His devotion to Natalie, which never waned, did not now trouble me. It
was only a friendship, and I welcomed it. Had it been anything more, it
was not likely that he would have prevailed against the will of a man
who had done murder for his mistress. We steamed through the Malay
Archipelago, steering north, south, east, west, as if at haphazard,
until only the navigating officers and the director of the Society knew
how our course lay. We were searching for an island about the bearings
of which, it transpired, some mistake had been made. I do not know
whether the great laureate ever sailed these seas. But I know that his
glorious islands of flowers and islands of fruit, with all their
luscious imagery, were here eclipsed by our own islands of foliage. The
long lagoons, the deep blue bays, the glittering parti-coloured fish
that swam in visible shoals deep down amidst the submerged coral groves
over which we passed, the rich-toned sea-weeds and brilliant anemones,
the yellow strands and the steep cliffs, the riotous foliage that swept
down from the sky to the blue of the sea; all these natural beauties
seemed to cry to me with living voices--to me bound on a cruise of
universal death.

After a long spell of apparently aimless but glorious steaming, a small
island was sighted on our port bow. The _Esmeralda_ was steered directly
for it, and we dropped anchor in a deep natural harbour on its southern
shore. Preparations for landing had been going on during the day, and
everything was ready for quitting the ship.

It was here that my first opportunity for making use of the gold I had
brought with me occurred. Anderson was called up by Brande, who made
him a short complimentary speech, and finished it by ordering his
officer to return to England, where further instructions would be given
him. This order was received in respectful silence. Captain Anderson had
been too liberally treated to demur if the _Esmeralda_ had been ordered
to the South Pole.

Brande went below for a few minutes, and as soon as he had disappeared I
went forward to Anderson and hailed him nervously, for there was not a
moment to spare.

"Anderson," I said hurriedly, "you must have noticed that Mr. Brande is
an eccentric--"

"Pardon me, sir; it is not my business to comment upon my owner."

"I did not ask you to comment upon him, sir," I said sharply. "It is I
who shall comment upon him, and it is for you to say whether you will
undertake to earn my money by waiting in this harbour till I am ready to
sail back with you to England."

"Have you anything more to say, sir?" Anderson asked stiffly.

"I presume I have said enough."

"If you have nothing more to say I must ask you to leave the bridge,
and if it were not that you are leaving the ship this moment, I would
caution you not to be impertinent to me again."

He blew his whistle, and a steward ran forward.

"Johnson, see Mr. Marcel's luggage over the side at once." To me he said
shortly: "Quit my ship, sir."

This trivial show of temper, which, indeed, had been provoked by my own
hasty speech, turned my impatience into fury.

"Before I quit your ship," I said, with emphasis, "I will tell you how
you yourself will quit it. You will do so between two policemen if you
land in England, and between two marines if you think of keeping on the
high seas. Before we started, I sent a detailed statement of this ship,
the nature of this nefarious voyage, and the names of the passengers--or
as many as I knew--to a friend who will put it in proper hands if
anything befalls me. Go back without me and explain the loss of that
French fishing fleet which was sunk the very night we sailed. It is an
awkward coincidence to be explained by a man who returns from an unknown
voyage having lost his entire list of passengers. You cannot be aware
of what this man Brande intends, or you would at least stand by us as
long as your own safety permitted. In any case you cannot safely return
without us."

Anderson, after reflecting for a moment, apologised for his peremptory
words, and agreed to stand by night and day, with fires banked, until I,
and all whom I could prevail upon to return with me, got back to his
vessel. There was no danger of his running short of coal. A ship that
was practically an ocean liner in coal ballast would be a considerable
time in burning out her own cargo. But he insisted on a large money
payment in advance. I had foolishly mentioned that I had a little over
£5000 in gold. This he claimed on the plea that "in duty to himself"--a
favourite phrase of his--he could not accept less. But I think his sense
of duty was limited only by the fact that I had hardly another penny in
the world. Under the circumstances he might have waived all
remuneration. As he was firm, and as I had no time to haggle, I agreed
to give him the money. Our bargain was only completed when Brande
returned to the deck.

It was strange that on an island like that on which we were landing
there should be a regular army of natives waiting to assist us with our
baggage, and the saddled horses which were in readiness were out of
place in a primeval wilderness. An Englishman came forward, and,
saluting Brande, said all was ready for the start to the hills. This
explained the puzzle. An advance agent had made everything comfortable.
For Brande, his sister, and Miss Metford the best appointed horses were
selected. I, as physician to the chief, had one. The main body had to
make the journey on foot, which they did by very easy stages, owing to
the heat and the primitive track which formed the only road. Their
journey was not very long--perhaps ten miles in a direct line.

Mounted as we were, it was often necessary to stoop to escape the dense
masses of parasitic growth which hung in green festoons from every
branch of the trees on either side. Under this thick shade all the
riotous vegetation of the tropics had fought for life and struggled for
light and air till the wealth of their luxuriant death had carpeted the
underwood with a thick deposit of steaming foliage. As we ascended the
height, every mile in distance brought changes in the botanical
growths, which might have passed unnoticed by the ordinary observer or
ignorant pioneer. All were noted and commented on by Brande, whose eye
was still as keen as his brain had once been brilliant. His usual staid
demeanour changed suddenly. He romped ahead of us like a schoolboy out
for a holiday. Unlike a schoolboy, however, he was always seeking new
items of knowledge and conveying them to us with unaffected pleasure. He
was more like a master who had found new ground and new material for his
class. Natalie gave herself up like him to this enjoyment of the moment.
Edith Metford and I partly caught the glamour of their infectious
good-humour. But with both of us it was tempered by the knowledge of
what was in store.

When we arrived at our destination we dismounted, at Brande's request,
and tied our horses to convenient branches. He went forward, and,
pushing aside the underwood with both hands, motioned to us to follow
him till he stopped on a ledge of rock which overtopped a hollow in the
mountain. The gorge below was the most beautiful glade I ever looked
upon.

It was a paradise of foliage. Here and there a fallen tree had formed a
picturesque bridge over the mountain stream which meandered through it.
Far down below there was a waterfall, where gorgeous tree-ferns rose in
natural bowers, while others further still leant over the lotus-covered
stream, their giant leaves trailing in the slow-moving current. Tangled
masses of bracken rioted in wild abundance over a velvety green sod,
overshadowed by waving magnolias. Through the trees bright-plumaged
birds were flitting from branch to branch in songless flight, flashing
their brilliant colours through the sunny leaves. In places the water
splashed over moss-grown rocks into deep pools. Every drifting spray of
cloud threw over the dell a new light, deepening the shadows under the
great ferns.

It was here in this glorious fairyland; here upon this island, where
before us no white foot had ever trod; whose nameless people represented
the simplest types of human existence, that Herbert Brande was to put
his devilish experiment to the proof. I marvelled that he should have
selected so fair a spot for so terrible a purpose. But the papers which
I found later amongst the man's effects on the _Esmeralda_ explain much
that was then incomprehensible to me.

Our camp was quickly formed, and our life was outwardly as happy as if
we had been an ordinary company of tourists. I say outwardly, because,
while we walked and climbed and collected specimens of botanical or
geological interest, there remained that latent dread which always
followed us, and dominated the most frivolous of our people, on all of
whom a new solemnity had fallen. For myself, the fact that the hour of
trial for my own experiment was daily drawing closer and more
inevitable, was sufficient to account for my constant and extreme
anxiety.

Brande joined none of our excursions. He was always at work in his
improvised laboratory. The boxes of material which had been brought from
the ship nearly filled it from floor to roof, and from the speed with
which these were emptied, it was evident that their contents had been
systematised before shipment. In place of the varied collection of
substances there grew up within the room a cone of compound matter in
which all were blended. This cone was smaller, Brande admitted, than
what he had intended. The supply of subordinate fulminates, though
several times greater than what was required, proved to be considerably
short. But as he had allowed himself a large margin--everything being
on a scale far exceeding the minimum which his calculations had pointed
to as sufficient--this deficiency did not cause him more than a
temporary annoyance. So he worked on.

When we had been three weeks on the island I found the suspense greater
than I could bear. The crisis was at hand, and my heart failed me. I
determined to make a last appeal to Natalie, to fly with me to the ship.
Edith Metford would accompany us. The rest might take the risk to which
they had consented.

I found Natalie standing on the high rock whence the most lovely view of
the dell could be obtained, and as I approached her silently she was not
aware of my presence until I laid my hand on her shoulder.

"Natalie," I said wistfully, for the girl's eyes were full of tears, "do
you mind if I withdraw now from this enterprise, in which I cannot be of
the slightest use, and of which I most heartily disapprove?"

"The Society would not allow you to withdraw. You cannot do so without
its permission, and hope to live within a thousand miles of it," she
answered gravely.

"I should not care to live within ten thousand miles of it. I should try
to get and keep the earth's diameter between myself and it."

She looked up with an expression of such pain that my heart smote me.
"How about me? I cannot live without you now," she said softly.

"Don't live without me. Come with me. Get rid of this infamous
association of lunatics, whose object they themselves cannot really
appreciate, and whose means are murder--"

But there she stopped me. "My brother could find me out at the uttermost
ends of the earth if I forsook him, and you know I do not mean to
forsake him. For yourself--do not try to desert. It would make no
difference. Do not believe that any consideration would cause me
willingly to give you a moment's pain, or that I should shrink from
sacrificing myself to save you." With one of her small white hands she
gently pressed my head towards her. Her lips touched my forehead, and
she whispered: "Do not leave me. It will soon be over now. I--I--need
you."

As I was returning dejected after my fruitless appeal to Natalie, I met
Edith Metford, to whom I had unhappily mentioned my proposal for an
escape.

"Is it arranged? When do we start?" she asked eagerly.

"It is not arranged, and we do not start," I answered in despair.

"You told me you would go with her or without her," she cried
passionately. "It is shameful--unmanly."

"It is certainly both if I really said what you tell me. I was not
myself at the moment, and my tongue must have slandered me. I stay to
the end. But you will go. Captain Anderson will receive you--"

"How am I to be certain of that?"

"I paid him for your passage, and have his receipt."

"And you really think I would go and leave--leave--"

"Natalie? I think you would be perfectly justified."

At this the girl stamped her foot passionately on the ground and burst
into tears. Nor would she permit any of the slight caresses I offered.
I thought her old caprices were returning. She flung my arm rudely from
her and left me bewildered.



CHAPTER XVII.

"THIS EARTH SHALL DIE."


My memory does not serve me well in the scenes which immediately
preceded the closing of the drama in which Brande was chief actor. It is
doubtless the transcendental interest of the final situation which
blunts my recollection of what occurred shortly before it. I did not
abate one jot of my determination to fight my venture out unflinching,
but my actions were probably more automatic than reasoned, as the time
of our last encounter approached. On the whole, the fight had been a
fair one. Brande had used his advantage over me for his own purpose as
long as it remained with him. I used the advantage as soon as it passed
to me for mine. The conditions had thus been equalised when, for the
third and last time, I was to hear him address his Society.

This time the man was weak in health. His vitality was ebbing fast, but
his marvellous inspiration was strong within him, and, supported by it,
he battled manfully with the disease which I had manufactured for him.
His lecture-room was the fairy glen; his canopy the heavens.

I cannot give the substance of this address, or any portion of it,
verbatim as on former occasions, for I have not the manuscript. I doubt
if Brande wrote out his last speech. Methodical as were his habits it is
probable that his final words were not premeditated. They burst from him
in a delirium that could hardly have been studied. His fine frenzy could
not well have originated from considered sentences, although his
language, regarded as mere oratory, was magnificent. It was appalling in
the light through which I read it.

He stood alone upon the rock which overtopped the dell. We arranged
ourselves in such groups as suited our inclinations, upon some rising
ground below. The great trees waved overhead, low murmuring. The
waterfall splashed drearily. Below, not a whisper was exchanged. Above,
the man poured out his triumphant death-song in sonorous periods.
Below, great fear was upon all. Above, the madman exulted wildly.

At first his voice was weak. As he went on it gained strength and depth.
He alluded to his first address, in which he had hinted that the
material Universe was not quite a success; to his second, in which he
had boldly declared it was an absolute failure. This, his third
declaration, was to tell us that the remedy as far as he, a mortal man,
could apply it, was ready. The end was at hand. That night should see
the consummation of his life-work. To-morrow's sun would rise--if it
rose at all--on the earth restored to space.

A shiver passed perceptibly over the people, prepared as they were for
this long foreseen announcement. Edith Metford, who stood by me on my
left, slipped her hand into mine and pressed my fingers hard. Natalie
Brande, on my right, did not move. Her eyes were dilated and fixed on
the speaker. The old clairvoyante look was on her face. Her dark pupils
were blinded save to their inward light. She was either unconscious or
only partly conscious. Now that the hour had come, they who had believed
their courage secure felt it wither. They, the people with us, begged
for a little longer time to brace themselves for the great crisis--the
plunge into an eternity from which there would be no resurrection,
neither of matter nor of mind.

Brande heeded them not.

"This night," said he, with culminating enthusiasm, "the cloud-capped
towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, shall dissolve. To
this great globe itself--this paltry speck of less account in space than
a dew-drop in an ocean--and all its sorrow and pain, its trials and
temptations, all the pathos and bathos of our tragic human farce, the
end is near. The way has been hard, and the journey overlong, and the
burden often beyond man's strength. But that long-drawn sorrow now shall
cease. The tears will be wiped away. The burden will fall from weary
shoulders. For the fulness of time has come. This earth shall die! And
death is peace.

"I stand," he cried out in a strident voice, raising his arm aloft, "I
may say, with one foot on sea and one on land, for I hold the elemental
secret of them both. And I swear by the living god--Science
incarnate--that the suffering of the centuries is over, that for this
earth and all that it contains, from this night and for ever, _Time
will be no more!_"

A great cry rose from the people. "Give us another day--only another
day!"

But Brande made answer: "It is now too late."

"Too late!" the people wailed.

"Yes, too late. I warned you long ago. Are you not yet ready? In two
hours the disintegrating agent will enter on its work. No human power
could stop it now. Not if every particle of the material I have
compounded were separated and scattered to the winds. Before I set my
foot upon this rock I applied the key which will release its inherent
energy. I myself am powerless."

"Powerless," sobbed the auditors.

"Powerless! And if I had ten thousand times the power which I have
called forth from the universal element, I would use it towards the
issue I have forecast."

Thereupon he turned away. Doom sounded in his words. The hand of Death
laid clammy fingers on us. Edith Metford's strength failed at last. It
had been sorely tested. She sank into my arms.

"Courage, true heart, our time has come," I whispered. "We start for the
steamer at once. The horses are ready." My arrangements had been already
made. My plan had been as carefully matured as any ever made by Brande
himself.

"How many horses?"

"Three. One for you; another for Natalie; the third for myself. The rest
must accept the fate they have selected."

The girl shuddered as she said, "But your interference with the formula?
You are sure it will destroy the effect?"

"I am certain that the particular result on which Brande calculates will
not take place. But short of that, he has still enough explosive matter
stored to cause an earthquake. We are not safe within a radius of fifty
miles. It will be a race against time."

"Natalie will not come."

"Not voluntarily. You must think of some plan. Your brain is quick. We
have not a moment to lose. Ah, there she is! Speak to her."

Natalie was crossing the open ground which led from the glen to Brande's
laboratory. She did not observe us till Edith called to her. Then she
approached hastily and embraced her friend with visible emotion. Even to
me she offered her cheek without reserve.

"Natalie," I said quickly, "there are three horses saddled and waiting
in the palm grove. The _Esmeralda_ is still lying in the harbour where
we landed. You will come with us. Indeed, you have no choice. You must
come if I have to carry you to your horse and tie you to the saddle. You
will not force me to put that indignity upon you. To the horses, then!
Come!"

For answer she called her brother loudly by his name. Brande immediately
appeared at the door of his laboratory, and when he perceived from whom
the call had come he joined us.

"Herbert," said Natalie, "our friend is deserting us. He must still
cling to the thought that your purpose may fail, and he expects to
escape on horseback from the fate of the earth. Reason with him yet a
little further."

"There is no time to reason," I interrupted. "The horses are ready. This
girl (pointing as I spoke to Edith Metford) takes one, I another, and
you the third--whether your brother agrees or not."

"Surely you have not lost your reason? Have you forgotten the drop of
water in the English Channel?" Brande said quietly.

"Brande," I answered, "the sooner you induce your sister to come with me
the better; and the sooner you induce these maniac friends of yours to
clear out the better, for your enterprise will fail."

"It is as certain as the law of gravitation. With my own hand I mixed
the ingredients according to the formula."

"And," said I, "with my own hand I altered your formula."

Had Brande's heart stopped beating, his face could not have become more
distorted and livid. He moved close to me, and, glaring into my eyes,
hissed out:

"You altered my formula?"

"I did," I answered recklessly. "I multiplied your figures by ten where
they struck me as insufficient."

"When?"

I strode closer still to him and looked him straight in the eyes while I
spoke.

"That night in the Red Sea, when Edith Metford, by accident, mixed
morphia in your medicine. The night I injected a subtle poison, which I
picked up in India once, into your blood while you slept, thereby
baffling some of the functions of your extraordinary brain. The night
when in your sleep you stirred once, and had you stirred twice, I would
have killed you, then and there, as ruthlessly as you would kill mankind
now. The night I did kill your lieutenant, Rockingham, and throw his
body overboard to the sharks."

Brande did not speak for a moment. Then he said in a gentle,
uncomplaining voice:

"So it now devolves on Grey. The end will be the same. The Labrador
expedition will succeed where I have failed." To Natalie: "You had
better go. There will only be an explosion. The island will probably
disappear. That will be all."

"Do you remain?" she asked.

"Yes. I perish with my failure."

"Then I perish with you. And you, Marcel, save yourself--you coward!"

I started as if struck in the face. Then I said to Edith: "Be careful to
keep to the track. Take the bay horse. I saddled him for myself, but you
can ride him safely. Lose no time, and ride hard for the coast."

"Arthur Marcel," she answered, so softly that the others did not hear,
"your work in the world is not yet over. There is the Labrador
expedition. Just now, when my strength failed, you whispered 'courage.'
Be true to yourself! Half an hour is gone."

At length some glimmer of human feeling awoke in Brande. He said in a
low, abstracted voice: "My life fittingly ends now. To keep you,
Natalie, would only be a vulgar murder." The old will power seemed to
come back to him. He looked into the girl's eyes, and said slowly and
sternly: "Go! I command it."

Without another word he turned away from us. When he had disappeared
into the laboratory, Natalie sighed, and said dreamily:

"I am ready. Let us go."



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE FLIGHT.


I led the girls hurriedly to the horses. When they were mounted on the
ponies, I gave the bridle-reins of the bay horse--whose size and
strength were necessary for my extra weight--to Edith Metford, and asked
her to wait for me until I announced Brande's probable failure to the
people, and advised a _sauve qui peut_.

Hard upon my warning there followed a strange metamorphosis in the
crowd, who, after the passing weakness at the lecture, had fallen back
into stoical indifference, or it may have been despair. The possibility
of escape galvanized them into the desire for life. Cries of distress,
and prayers for help, filled the air. Men and women rushed about like
frightened sheep without concert or any sensible effort to escape,
wasting in futile scrambles the short time remaining to them. For
another half hour had now passed, and in sixty minutes the earthquake
would take place.

"Follow us!" I shouted, as with my companions I rode slowly through the
camp. "Keep the track to the sea. I shall have the steamer's boats ready
for all who may reach the shore alive."

"The horses! Seize the horses!" rose in a loud shout, and the mob flung
themselves upon us, as though three animals could carry all.

When I saw the rush, I called out: "Sit firm, Natalie; I am going to
strike your horse." Saying which I struck the pony a sharp blow with my
riding-whip crossways on the flank. It bounded like a deer, and then
dashed forward down the rough pathway.

"Now you, Edith!" I struck her pony in the same way; but it only reared
and nearly threw her. It could not get away. Already hands were upon
both bridle-reins. There was no help for it. I pulled out my revolver
and fired once, twice, and thrice--for I missed the second shot--and
then the maddened animal sprang forward, released from the hands that
held it.

It was now time to look to myself. I was in the midst of a dozen maniacs
mad with fear. I kicked in my spurs desperately, and the bay lashed out
his hind feet. One hoof struck young Halley on the forehead. He fell
back dead, his skull in fragments. But the others refused to break the
circle. Then I emptied my weapon on them, and my horse plunged through
the opening, followed by despairing execrations. The moment I was clear,
I returned my revolver to its case, and settled myself in the saddle,
for, borne out of the proper path as I had been, there was a stiff bank
to leap before I could regain the track to the shore. Owing to the
darkness the horse refused to leap, and I nearly fell over his head.
With a little scrambling I managed to get back into my seat, and then
trotted along the bank for a hundred yards. At this point the bank
disappeared, and there was nothing between me now and the open track to
the sea.

Once upon the path, I put the bay to a gallop, and very soon overtook a
man and a woman hurrying on. They were running hand in hand, the man a
little in front dragging his companion on by force. It was plain to me
that the woman could not hold out much longer. The man, Claude Lureau,
hailed me as I passed.

"Help us, Marcel. Don't ride away from us."

"I cannot save both," I answered, pulling up.

"Then save Mademoiselle Véret. I'll take my chance."

This blunt speech moved me, the more especially as the man was French. I
could not allow him to point the way of duty to me--an Englishman.

"Assist her up, then. Now, Mademoiselle, put your arms round me and hold
hard for your life. Lureau, you may hold my stirrup if you agree to
loose it when you tire."

"I will do so," he promised.

Hampered thus, I but slowly gained on Natalie and Edith, whose ponies
had galloped a mile before they could be stopped.

"Forward, forward!" I shouted when within hail. "Don't wait for me. Ride
on at top speed. Lash your ponies with the bridle-reins."

We were all moving on now at an easy canter, for I could not go fast so
long as Lureau held my stirrup, and the girls in front did not seem
anxious to leave me far behind. Besides, the tangled underwood and
overhanging creepers rendered hard riding both difficult and dangerous.
The ponies were hard held, but notwithstanding this my horse fell back
gradually in the race, and the hammering of the hoofs in front grew
fainter. The breath of the runner at my stirrup came in great sobs. He
was suffocating, but he struggled on a little longer. Then he threw up
his hand and gasped:

"I am done. Go on, Marcel. You deserve to escape. Don't desert the
girl."

"May God desert me if I do," I answered. "And do you keep on as long as
you can. You may reach the shore after all."

"Go on--save her!" he gasped, and then from sheer exhaustion fell
forward on his face.

"Sit still, Mademoiselle," I cried, pulling the French girl's arms round
me in time to prevent her from throwing herself purposely from the
horse. Then I drove in my spurs hard, and, being now released from
Lureau's grasp, I overtook the ponies.

For five minutes we all rode on abreast. And then the darkness began to
break, and a strange dawn glimmered over the tree-tops, although the
hour of midnight was still to come. A wild, red light, like that of a
fiery sunset in a hazy summer evening, spread over the night sky. The
quivering stars grew pale. Constellation after constellation, they were
blotted out until the whole arc of heaven was a dull red glare. The
horses were dismayed by this strange phenomenon, and dashed the froth
from their foaming muzzles as they galloped now without stress of spur
at their best speed. Birds that could not sing found voice, and
chattered and shrieked as they dashed from tree to tree in aimless
flight. Enormous bats hurtled in the air, blinded by the unusual light.
From the dense undergrowth strange denizens of the woods, disturbed in
their nightly prowl, leaped forth and scurried squealing between the
galloping hoofs, reckless of anything save their own fear. Everything
that was alive upon the island was in motion, and fear was the motor of
them all.

So far, we saw no natives. Their absence did not surprise me, for I had
no time for thought. It was explained later.

Edith Metford's pony soon became unmanageable in its fright. I unbuckled
one spur and gave it to her, directing her to hold it in her hand, for
of course she could not strap it to her boot, and drive it into the
animal when he swerved. She took the spur, and as her pony, in one of
his side leaps, nearly bounded off the path, she struck him hard on the
ribs. He bolted and flew on far ahead of us.

The light grew stronger.

But that the rays were red, it would now have been as bright as day. We
were chasing our shadows, so the light must be directly behind us.
Mademoiselle Véret first noticed this, and drew my attention to it. I
looked back, and my heart sank at the sight. In the terror it inspired,
I regretted having burthened myself with the girl I had sworn to save.

The island was on fire!

"It is the end of the world," Mademoiselle Véret said with a shudder.
She clung closer to me. I could feel her warm breath upon my cheek. The
unmanly regret, which for a moment had touched me, passed.

The ponies now seemed to find out that their safety lay in galloping
straight on, rather than in scared leaps from side to side. They
stretched themselves like race horses, and gave my bay, with his double
burthen, a strong lead. The pace became terrible considering the nature
of the ground we covered.

At last the harbour came in view. But my horse, I knew, could not last
another mile, and the shore was still distant two or three. I spurred
him hard and drew nearly level with the ponies, so that my voice could
be heard by both their riders.

"Ride on," I shouted, "and hail the steamer, so that there may be no
delay when I come up. This horse is blown, and will not stand the pace.
I am going to ease him. You will go on board at once, and send the boat
back for us." Then I eased the bay, but in spite of this I immediately
overtook Edith Metford, who had pulled up.

My reproaches she cut short by saying, "If that horse does the distance
at all it will be by getting a lead all the way. And I am going to give
it to him." So we started together.

Natalie was waiting for us a little further on. I spoke to her, but she
did not answer. From the moment that Brande had commanded her to
accompany us, her manner had remained absolutely passive. What I
ordered, she obeyed. That was all. Instead of being alarmed by the
horrors of the ride, she did not seem to be even interested. I had not
leisure, however, to reflect on this. For the first time in the whole
race she spoke to us.

"Would it not be better if Edith rode on?" she said. "I can take her
place. It seems useless to sacrifice her. It does not matter to me. I
cannot now be afraid."

"I am afraid; but I remain," Edith said resolutely.

The ground under us began to heave. Whole acres of it swayed disjointed.
We were galloping on oscillating fragments, which trembled beneath us
like floating logs under boys at play. To jump these cracks--sometimes
an upward bank, sometimes a deep drop, in addition to the width of the
seam, had to be taken--pumped out the failing horses, and the hope that
was left to us disappeared utterly.

The glare of the red light behind waxed fiercer still, and a low
rumbling as of distant thunder began to mutter round us. The air became
difficult to breathe. It was no longer air, but a mephitic stench that
choked us with disgusting fumes. Then a great shock shook the land, and
right in front of us a seam opened that must have been fully fifteen
feet in width. Natalie was the first to see it. She observed it too late
to stop.

In the same mechanical way as she had acted before, she settled herself
in the saddle, struck the pony with her hand, and raced him at the
chasm. He cleared it with little to spare. Edith's took it next with
less. Then my turn came. Before I could shake up my tired horse,
Mademoiselle Véret said quickly:

"Monsieur has done enough. He will now permit me to alight. This time
the horse cannot jump over with both."

"He shall jump over with both, Mademoiselle, or he shall jump in," I
answered. "Don't look down when we are crossing."

The horse just got over, but he came to his knees, and we fell forward
over his shoulder. The girl's head struck full on a slab of rock, and a
faint moan was all that told me she was alive as I arose half stunned to
my feet. My first thought was for the horse, for on him all depended. He
was uninjured, apparently, but hardly able to stand from the shock and
the stress of fatigue.

Edith Metford had dismounted and caught him; she was holding the bridle
in her left hand, and winced as if in pain when I accidentally brushed
against her right shoulder. I tied the horse to a young palm, and
begged the girl to ride on. She obeyed me reluctantly. Natalie had to
assist her to remount, so she must have been injured. When I saw her
safely in her saddle, I ran back to Mademoiselle Véret.

The chasm was fast widening. From either side great fragments were
breaking off and falling in with a roar of loose rocks crashing
together, till far down the sound was dulled into a hollow boom. This
ended in low guttural, which growled up from an abysmal depth.
Mademoiselle Véret, or her dead body, lay now on the very edge of the
seam, and I had to harden my heart before I could bring myself to
venture close to it. But I had given my word, and there were no
conditions in the promise when I made it.

I was spared the ordeal. Just as I stepped forward, the slab of rock on
which the girl lay broke off in front of me, and, tipping up, overturned
itself into the chasm. Far below I could see the shimmer of the girl's
dress as her body went plunging down into that awful pit. And
remembering her generous courage and offer of self-sacrifice, I felt
tears rise in my eyes. But there was no time for tears.

I leaped on the bay, and got him into something approaching a gallop,
shouting at the others to keep on, for they were now returning. When I
came up with them, Edith Metford said with a shiver:

"The girl?"

"Is at the bottom of the pit. Ride on."

We gained the shore at last; and our presence there produced the
explanation of the absence of the natives on the pathway to the sea.
They were there before us. Lying prostrate on the beach in hundreds,
they raised their bodies partly from the sands, like a resurrection of
the already dead, and there then rang out upon the night air a sound
such as my ears had never before heard in my life, such as, I pray God,
they may never listen to again. I do not know what that dreadful
death-wail meant in words, only that it touched the lowest depths of
human horror. All along the beach that fearful chorus of the damned
wailed forth, and echoed back from rock and cliff. The cry for mercy
could not be mistaken--the supplication blended with despair. They were
praying to us--their evil spirits, for this wrong had been wrought them
by our advent, if not by ourselves.

I cannot dwell upon the scene. I could not describe it. I would not if I
could.

The steamer was still in her berth; her head was pointed seawards. Loud
orders rang over the water. The roar of the chain running out through
the hawse-hole and the heavy splash could not be mistaken. Anderson had
slipped his cable. Then the chime of the telegraph on the bridge was
followed almost instantly by the first smashing stroke of the propeller.

The _Esmeralda_ was under weigh!



CHAPTER XIX.

THE CATASTROPHE.


The _Esmeralda_ was putting out to sea when I thought of a last
expedient to draw the attention of her captain. Filling my revolver with
cartridges which I had loose in my pockets, I fired all the chambers as
fast as I could snap the trigger.

My signals were heard, and Anderson proved true to his bargain. He
immediately reversed his engines, and, when he had backed in as close as
he thought safe, sent a boat ashore for us. We got into it without any
obstruction from the cowering natives, who only shrank from us in
horror, now that their prayers had failed to move us. The moment our
boat was made fast to the steamer's davit ropes and we were pulled out
of the water, "full speed ahead" was rung from the bridge. We were
raised to the deck while the vessel was getting up speed.

I crawled up the ladder to the bridge feebly, for I was becoming stiff
from the bruises of the fall from my horse. Anderson received me coldly,
and listened indifferently to my thanks. An agreement such as ours
hardly prepared me for his loyalty.

"Oh, as to that," he interrupted, "when I make a bargain my word is my
bond. On this occasion I am inclined to think the indenture will be a
final one."

His bargain was a hard one, but, having made it, he abided faithfully by
its conditions. He was honest, therefore, in his own way.

"How far can you get out in fifteen minutes?" I asked.

"We may make six or seven knots. But what is the good of that? There
will be an earthquake on that island on a liberal scale--on such a scale
that this ship would have very little chance in the wave that will
follow us if we were fifty miles at sea."

"You have taken every precaution, of course--"

Anderson here looked at me contemptuously, and, with an air of sarcastic
admiration, he said:

"You have guessed it at the first try. That is precisely what I have
done."

"Pshaw! don't take offence at trifles at a time like this," I said
testily. "If you knew as much about that earthquake as I do, you would
be in no humour for bandying phrases."

"Might I ask how much you do know about it? You could not have foreseen
the trouble more clearly if you had made it yourself."

"I did not make it myself, but I know the means which the man who did
employed, and but for me that earthquake would have wrecked this earth."

Anderson made no direct answer to this, but he said earnestly:

"You will now go below, sir. You are done up. Roberts will take you to
the doctor."

"I am not done up, and I mean to see it out," I retorted doggedly. My
nervous system was completely unhinged, and a fit of stupid obstinacy
came on me which rendered any interference with my actions intolerable.

"Then you cannot see it out upon my bridge," Anderson said. The
determined tone in which he spoke only added to my impotent wrath.

"Very well, I will return to the deck, and if any of your men should
attempt to interfere with me he will do so at his peril." With that, I
slung my revolver round so as to have it ready to my hand. I was beside
myself. My conduct was already bad enough, but I made it worse before I
left the bridge.

"And if you, Anderson, disobey my orders--my orders, do you hear?--an
explosion such as took place in the middle of the English channel shall
take place in the middle of this ship."

"For God's sake leave the bridge. I want my wits about me, and I have no
intention of earning another exhibition of your devilries."

"Then be careful not to trouble me again." Thus after having passed
through much danger with a spirit not unbecoming--as I hope--an English
gentleman, I acted, when the worst was passed, like a peevish schoolboy.
I am ashamed of my conduct in this small matter, and trust it will pass
without much notice in the narrative of events of greater moment.

On deck, Natalie Brande, Edith Metford, and Percival were standing
together, their eyes fixed on the island. Edith's face was deathly
white, even in the ruddy glow which was now over land and sea. When I
saw her pallor, my evil temper passed away.

"It would be impossible for you to be quite well," I said to her
anxiously; "but has anything happened since I left you? You are very
pale."

"Oh no," she answered, "I'm all right; a little faint after that ride. I
shall be better soon."

Natalie turned her weird eyes on me and said in the hollow voice we had
heard once before--when she spoke to us on the island--"That is her way
of telling you that your horse broke her right arm when she caught him
for you. She held him, you remember, with her left hand. The doctor has
set the limb. She will not suffer long."

"Heaven help us, this awful night," Edith cried. "How do you know that,
Natalie?"

"I know much now, but I shall know more soon." After this she would not
speak again.

With every pound of steam on that the _Esmeralda's_ boilers would bear
without bursting, we were now plunging through the great rollers of the
Arafura Sea. Everything had indeed been done to put the vessel in trim.
She was cleared for action, so to speak. And a gallant fight she made
when the issue was knit. When the hour of midnight must be near at
hand, I looked at my watch. It was one minute to twelve o'clock.

Thirty seconds more!

The stupendous corona of flame which hung over the island was pierced by
long lines of smoke that stretched far above the glare and clutched with
sooty fingers at the stars, now fitfully coming back to view at our
distance. The rumbling of internal thunder waxed louder.

Fifteen seconds now!

Fearful peals rent the atmosphere. Vast tongues of flame protruded
heavenward. The elements must be melting in that fervent heat. The
blazing bowels of the earth were pouring forth.

Twelve, midnight!

A reverberation thundered out which shook the solid earth, and a roaring
hell-breath of flame and smoke belched up so awful in its dread
magnificence that every man who saw it and lived to tell his story might
justly have claimed to have seen perdition. In that hurricane of
incandescent matter the island was blotted out for ever from the map of
this world.

Notwithstanding the speed of the _Esmeralda_ she was a sloth when
compared with the speed of the wave from such an earthquake. From the
glare of the illumination to perfect darkness the contrast was sudden
and extreme. But the blackness of the ocean was soon whitened by the
snowy plumes of the avalanche of water which was now racing us, far
astern as yet, but gaining fast. I, who had no business about the ship
requiring my presence in any special part, decided to wait on deck and
lash myself to the forward, which would be practically the lee-side of a
deckhouse. Edith Metford we prevailed on to go below, that she might not
run the risk of further injury to her fractured arm. As she left us she
whispered to me, "So Natalie will be with you at the end, and I--" a sob
stopped her. And it came into my mind at that moment that this girl had
acted very nobly, and that I had hardly appreciated her and all that she
had done for me.

Natalie refused to leave the deck. I lashed her securely beside me.
Together we awaited the end. When the roar of the following wave came
close, so close that the voices of the officers of the ship could be no
longer heard, Natalie spoke. The hollow sound was no longer in her
voice. Her own soft sweet tones had come back.

"Arthur," she asked, "is this the end?"

"I fear it is," I answered, speaking close to her ear so that she might
hear.

"Then we have little time, and I have something which I must say, which
you must promise me to remember when--when--I am no longer with you."

"You will be always with me while we live. I think I deserve that at
last."

"Yes, you deserve that and more. I will be with you while I live, but
that will not be for long."

I was about to interrupt her when she put her soft little hand upon my
lips and said:

"Listen, there is very little time. It is all a mistake. I mean Herbert
was wrong. He might as well have let me have my earthly span of
happiness or folly--call it what you will."

"You see that now--thank God!"

"Yes, but I see it too late, I did not know it until--until I was dead.
Hush!" Again I tried to interrupt her, for I thought her mind was
wandering. "I died psychically with Herbert. That was when we first saw
the light on the island. Since then I have lived mechanically, but it
has only been life in so low a form that I do not now know what has
happened between that time and this. And I could not now speak as I am
speaking save by a will power which is costing me very dear. But it is
the only voice you could hear. I do not therefore count the cost. My
brother's brain so far overmatched my own that it first absorbed and
finally destroyed my mental vitality. This influence removed, I am a
rudderless ship at sea--bound to perish."

"May his torments endure for ever. May the nethermost pit of hell
receive him!" I said with a groan of agony.

But Natalie said: "Hush! I might have lingered on a little longer, but I
chose to concentrate the vital force which would have lasted me a few
more senile years into the minutes necessary for this message from me to
you--a message I could not have given you if he were not dead. And I am
dying so that you may hear it. Dying! My God! I am already dead."

She seemed to struggle against some force that battled with her, and the
roar of many waters was louder around us before she was able to speak
again.

"Bend lower, Arthur; my strength is failing, and I have not yet said
that for which I am here. Lower still.

"I said it is all a mistake--a hideous mistake. Existence as we know it
is ephemeral. Suffering is ephemeral. There is nothing everlasting but
love. There is nothing eternal but mind. Your mind is mine. Your love is
mine. Your human life may belong to whomsoever you will it. It ought to
belong to that brave girl below. I do not grudge it to her, for I have
_you_. We two shall be together through the ages--for ever and for ever.
Heart of my heart, you have striven manfully and well, and if you did
not altogether succeed in saving my flesh from premature corruption, be
satisfied in that you have my soul. Ah!"

She pressed her hands to her head as if in dreadful pain. When she spoke
again her voice came in short gasps.

"My brain is reeling. I do not know what I am saying," she cried,
distraught. "I do not know whether I am saying what is true or only what
I imagine to be true. I know nothing but this. I was mesmerised. I have
been so for two years. But for that I would have been happy in your
love--for I was a woman before this hideous influence benumbed me. They
told me it was only a fool's paradise that I missed. But I only know
that I have missed it. Missed it--and the darkness of death is upon me."

She ceased to speak. A shudder convulsed her, and then her head sank
gently on my shoulder.

At that moment the great wave broke over the vessel, whirling her
helpless like a cork on the ripples of a mill pond; lashing her with
mighty strokes; sweeping in giant cataracts from stern to stem;
smashing, tearing everything; deluging her with hissing torrents;
crushing her with avalanches of raging foam. Then the ocean tornado
passed on and left the _Esmeralda_ behind, with half the crew disabled
and many lost, her decks a mass of wreckage, her masts gone. The
crippled ship barely floated. When the last torrent of spray passed, and
I was able to look to Natalie, her head had drooped down on her breast.
I raised her face gently and looked into her wide open eyes.

She was dead.



CHAPTER XX.

CONCLUSION.


Taking up my girl's body in my arms, I stumbled over the
wreck-encumbered deck, and bore it to the state-room she had occupied on
the outward voyage. Percival was too busy attending to wounded sailors
to be interrupted. His services, I knew, were useless now, but I wanted
him to refute or corroborate a conviction which my own medical knowledge
had forced upon me. The thought was so repellent, I clung to any hope
which might lead to its dispersion. I waited alone with my dead.

Percival came after an hour, which seemed to me an eternity. He
stammered out some incoherent words of sympathy as soon as he looked in
my face. But this was not the purpose for which I had detached him from
his pressing duties elsewhere. I made a gesture towards the dead girl.
He attended to it immediately. I watched closely and took care that the
light should be on his face, so that I might read his eyes rather than
listen to his words.

"She has fainted!" he exclaimed, as he approached the rigid figure. I
said nothing until he turned and faced me. Then I read his eyes. He said
slowly: "You are aware, Marcel, that--that she is dead?"

"I am."

"That she has been dead--several hours?"

"I am."

"But let me think. It was only an hour--"

"No; do not think," I interrupted. "There are things in this voyage
which will not bear to be thought of. I thank you for coming so soon.
You will forgive me for troubling you when you have so much to do
elsewhere. And now leave us alone. I mean, leave me alone."

He pressed my hand, and went away without a word. I am that man's
friend.

They buried her at sea.

I was happily unconscious at the time, and so was spared that scene.
Edith Metford, weak and suffering as she was, went through it all. She
has told me nothing about it, save that it was done. More than that I
could not bear. And I have borne much.

The voyage home was a dreary episode. There is little more to tell, and
it must be told quickly. Percival was kind, but it distressed me to find
that he now plainly regarded me as weak-minded from the stress of my
trouble. Once, in the extremity of my misery, I began a relation of my
adventures to him, for I wanted his help. The look upon his face was
enough for me. I did not make the same mistake again.

To Anderson I made amends for my extravagant display of temper. He
received me more kindly than I expected. I no longer thought of the
money that had passed between us. And, to do him tardy justice, I do not
think he thought of it either. At least he did not offer any of it back.
His scruples, I presume, were conscientious. Indeed, I was no longer
worth a man's enmity. Sympathy was now the only indignity that could be
put upon me. And Anderson did not trespass in that direction. My misery
was, I thought, complete. One note must still be struck in that long
discord of despair.

We were steaming along the southern coast of Java. For many hours the
rugged cliffs and giant rocks which fence the island against the
onslaught of the Indian Ocean had passed before us as in review, and
we--Edith Metford and I--sat on the deck silently, with many thoughts in
common, but without the interchange of a spoken word. The stern,
forbidding aspect of that iron coast increased the gloom which had
settled on my brain. Its ramparts of lonely sea-drenched crags depressed
me below the mental zero that was now habitual with me. The sun went
down in a red glare, which moved me not. The short twilight passed
quickly, but I noticed nothing. Then night came. The restless sea
disappeared in darkness. The grand march past of the silent stars began.
But I neither knew nor cared.

A soft whisper stirred me.

"Arthur, for God's sake rouse yourself! You are brooding a great deal
too much. It will destroy you."

Listlessly I put my hand in hers, and clasped her fingers gently.

"Bear with me!" I pleaded.

"I will bear with you for ever. But you must fight on. You have not won
yet."

"No, nor ever shall. I have fought my last fight. The victory may go to
whosoever desires it."

On this she wept. I could not bear that she should suffer from my
misery, and so, guarding carefully her injured arm, I drew her close to
me. And then, out of the darkness of the night, far over the solitude of
the sea, there came to us the sound of a voice. That voice was a woman's
wail. The girl beside me shuddered and drew back. I did not ask her if
she had heard. I knew she had heard.

We arose and stood apart without any explanation. From that moment a
caress would have been a sacrilege. I did not hear that weird sound
again, nor aught else for an hour or more save the bursting of the
breakers on the crags of Java.

I kept no record of the commonplaces of our voyage thereafter. It only
remains for me to say that I arrived in England broken in health and
bankrupt in fortune. Brande left no money. His formula for the
transmutation of metals is unintelligible to me. I can make no use of
it.

Edith Metford remains my friend. To part utterly after what we have
undergone together is beyond our strength. But between us there is a
nameless shadow, reminiscent of that awful night in the Arafura Sea,
when death came very near to us. And in my ears there is always the echo
of that voice which I heard by the shores of Java when the misty
borderland between life and death seemed clear.

My story is told. I cannot prove its truth, for there is much in it to
which I am the only living witness. I cannot prove whether Herbert
Brande was a scientific magician possessed of _all_ the powers he
claimed, or merely a mad physicist in charge of a new and terrible
explosive; nor whether Edward Grey ever started for Labrador. The
burthen of the proof of this last must be borne by others--unless it be
left to Grey himself to show whether my evidence is false or true. If
it be left to him, a few years will decide the issue.

I am content to wait.


THE END.


LONDON: DIGBY, LONG AND CO., PUBLISHERS, 18 BOUVERIE STREET, FLEET
STREET, E.C.



ROBERT CROMIE'S BOOKS

_OPINIONS OF THE PRESS_


A PLUNGE INTO SPACE

WITH PREFACE BY JULES VERNE

_Times._--The story is written with considerable liveliness, the
scientific jargon is sufficiently perplexing, and the characters are
sketched with some humour.

_Chronicle._--A strange, weird, mysterious story that holds the reader
spell-bound, from the first page to the last.

_Athenæum._--Mr. Cromie's Utopia is charming, and the quasi-scientific
detail of the expedition is given with so much integrity that we hardly
wonder at the marvellous results accomplished.

_Truth._--A very clever description of a flight through space to Mars
... the book is extremely interesting and suggestive; especially,
perhaps, where it attacks the theories of Mr. George and "Looking
Backwards."

_Court Journal._--Mr. Robert Cromie's remarkably clever and entertaining
volume is told with much of the vivid fancy of a Jules Verne--with
remarkable picturesqueness, and the experiences of mortals in Mars are
described with considerable humour.

_Review of Reviews._--An unquestionably interesting story. The
adventures of the hero and his friends are in no small degree thrilling.

_Glasgow Herald._--The imagination is brilliant, the scientific details
are skilfully worked in, the dialogues and descriptions are lively and
interesting, and the pictures of Martian life and scenery are
remarkable--a decidedly clever book.


FOR ENGLAND'S SAKE

_Academy._--There is not a dull page in the story.

_Army and Navy Gazette._--A capital little story of military life, full
of bright word-painting.

_Literary World._--This exciting chapter in the history of the future is
written with a great deal of enthusiasm, and a great deal of common
sense to boot.

_Irish Times._--The plot is well conceived, and the interest throughout
is well maintained.

_Belfast Northern Whig._--The author displays much constructive and
descriptive power. He is most felicitous in his word pictures of
scenery, and imparts a fascinating dash to his military scenes.

_Belfast Morning News._--Deeply interesting without being sensational,
this charming story of love and war is sure to appeal with force to a
large circle of readers.

_Liverpool Daily Post._--A well-told story of life and love in troublous
times in India.


IN SOUTHERN SEAS

WRITTEN IN COLLABORATION WITH W. R. RINGLAND.

_Athenæum._--A bright, compact, and highly readable narrative, full of
incidents, and illustrated with clever little vignettes.

_Newcastle Chronicle._--A really charming book--deeply interesting, and
full of capital drawings.

_Scotsman._--A very well-written narrative of a trip, and as such, about
as good as it could be.

_Spectator._--A pleasant little book of travel.

_Leeds Mercury._--The author relies on vivid description, pointed and
racy pictures, and lively and striking incident for interest.

_Saturday Review._--Brightly written, and yet more brightly illustrated.


_The foregoing Books may be had through_ DIGBY, LONG & CO., 18 BOUVERIE
STREET, FLEET STREET, LONDON, E.C.



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   Translated with a Preface by ROSA NEWMARCH. With Portraits and
   Fac-similes.                                             [_Just out._

 FRAGMENTS FROM VICTOR HUGO'S LEGENDS AND LYRICS. By CECILIA ELIZABETH
   MEETKERKE. Crown 8vo, cloth, 7_s._ 6_d._

    The _WORLD_ says:--"The most admirable rendering of French poetry
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BY THE AUTHOR OF "SONG FAVOURS."

 MINUTIÆ. By CHARLES WILLIAM DALMON. Royal 16mo, cloth elegant, price
   2_s._ 6_d._

    The _ACADEMY_ says:--"His song has a rare and sweet note. The little
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       *       *       *       *       *

[***] _A complete Catalogue of Novels, Travels, Biographies, Poems,
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       *       *       *       *       *

 LONDON: DIGBY, LONG & CO., PUBLISHERS,
 _18 Bouverie Street, Fleet Street, E.C._



Transcriber's Note:

    Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note.
    Inconsistent hyphenation has been standardised. [***] has been used
    to represent an inverted asterism.

    Based on the text in the Preface and the concluding lines of the
    last chapter, the date in the sentence:

        "If we fail to act before the 31st December, in the year 2000,
        he will proceed." (p. 151)

    has been amended to the year 1900, bearing in mind the story takes
    place towards the end of the 19th century.





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