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A Strange Experiment

From: The Crack Of Doom

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

"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

"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

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

"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

"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

"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!"

Next: It Is Good To Be Alive

Previous: The Universe A Mistake!

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