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The Murder Club

From: The Crack Of Doom

"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

"And in consequence of it?"


"Have all the members who retired from your list been equally

"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

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

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

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

"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

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

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."

Next: A Telepathic Telegram

Previous: George Delany Deceased

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