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The Woking Mystery







From: The Crack Of Doom

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.





Next: Cui Bono?

Previous: Guilty!



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