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A Telepathic Telegram







From: The Crack Of Doom

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.





Next: Guilty!

Previous: The Murder Club



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