VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of www.fictionstories.ca Informational Site Network Informational
Privacy
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


Force A Remedy







From: The Crack Of Doom

"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.





Next: Morituri Te Salutant

Previous: Cui Bono?



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 438