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This Earth Shall Die

From: The Crack Of Doom

My memory does not serve me well in the scenes which immediately
preceded the closing of the drama in which Brande was chief actor. It is
doubtless the transcendental interest of the final situation which
blunts my recollection of what occurred shortly before it. I did not
abate one jot of my determination to fight my venture out unflinching,
but my actions were probably more automatic than reasoned, as the time
of our last encounter approached. On the whole, the fight had been a
fair one. Brande had used his advantage over me for his own purpose as
long as it remained with him. I used the advantage as soon as it passed
to me for mine. The conditions had thus been equalised when, for the
third and last time, I was to hear him address his Society.

This time the man was weak in health. His vitality was ebbing fast, but
his marvellous inspiration was strong within him, and, supported by it,
he battled manfully with the disease which I had manufactured for him.
His lecture-room was the fairy glen; his canopy the heavens.

I cannot give the substance of this address, or any portion of it,
verbatim as on former occasions, for I have not the manuscript. I doubt
if Brande wrote out his last speech. Methodical as were his habits it is
probable that his final words were not premeditated. They burst from him
in a delirium that could hardly have been studied. His fine frenzy could
not well have originated from considered sentences, although his
language, regarded as mere oratory, was magnificent. It was appalling in
the light through which I read it.

He stood alone upon the rock which overtopped the dell. We arranged
ourselves in such groups as suited our inclinations, upon some rising
ground below. The great trees waved overhead, low murmuring. The
waterfall splashed drearily. Below, not a whisper was exchanged. Above,
the man poured out his triumphant death-song in sonorous periods.
Below, great fear was upon all. Above, the madman exulted wildly.

At first his voice was weak. As he went on it gained strength and depth.
He alluded to his first address, in which he had hinted that the
material Universe was not quite a success; to his second, in which he
had boldly declared it was an absolute failure. This, his third
declaration, was to tell us that the remedy as far as he, a mortal man,
could apply it, was ready. The end was at hand. That night should see
the consummation of his life-work. To-morrow's sun would rise--if it
rose at all--on the earth restored to space.

A shiver passed perceptibly over the people, prepared as they were for
this long foreseen announcement. Edith Metford, who stood by me on my
left, slipped her hand into mine and pressed my fingers hard. Natalie
Brande, on my right, did not move. Her eyes were dilated and fixed on
the speaker. The old clairvoyante look was on her face. Her dark pupils
were blinded save to their inward light. She was either unconscious or
only partly conscious. Now that the hour had come, they who had believed
their courage secure felt it wither. They, the people with us, begged
for a little longer time to brace themselves for the great crisis--the
plunge into an eternity from which there would be no resurrection,
neither of matter nor of mind.

Brande heeded them not.

"This night," said he, with culminating enthusiasm, "the cloud-capped
towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, shall dissolve. To
this great globe itself--this paltry speck of less account in space than
a dew-drop in an ocean--and all its sorrow and pain, its trials and
temptations, all the pathos and bathos of our tragic human farce, the
end is near. The way has been hard, and the journey overlong, and the
burden often beyond man's strength. But that long-drawn sorrow now shall
cease. The tears will be wiped away. The burden will fall from weary
shoulders. For the fulness of time has come. This earth shall die! And
death is peace.

"I stand," he cried out in a strident voice, raising his arm aloft, "I
may say, with one foot on sea and one on land, for I hold the elemental
secret of them both. And I swear by the living god--Science
incarnate--that the suffering of the centuries is over, that for this
earth and all that it contains, from this night and for ever, Time
will be no more!"

A great cry rose from the people. "Give us another day--only another

But Brande made answer: "It is now too late."

"Too late!" the people wailed.

"Yes, too late. I warned you long ago. Are you not yet ready? In two
hours the disintegrating agent will enter on its work. No human power
could stop it now. Not if every particle of the material I have
compounded were separated and scattered to the winds. Before I set my
foot upon this rock I applied the key which will release its inherent
energy. I myself am powerless."

"Powerless," sobbed the auditors.

"Powerless! And if I had ten thousand times the power which I have
called forth from the universal element, I would use it towards the
issue I have forecast."

Thereupon he turned away. Doom sounded in his words. The hand of Death
laid clammy fingers on us. Edith Metford's strength failed at last. It
had been sorely tested. She sank into my arms.

"Courage, true heart, our time has come," I whispered. "We start for the
steamer at once. The horses are ready." My arrangements had been already
made. My plan had been as carefully matured as any ever made by Brande

"How many horses?"

"Three. One for you; another for Natalie; the third for myself. The rest
must accept the fate they have selected."

The girl shuddered as she said, "But your interference with the formula?
You are sure it will destroy the effect?"

"I am certain that the particular result on which Brande calculates will
not take place. But short of that, he has still enough explosive matter
stored to cause an earthquake. We are not safe within a radius of fifty
miles. It will be a race against time."

"Natalie will not come."

"Not voluntarily. You must think of some plan. Your brain is quick. We
have not a moment to lose. Ah, there she is! Speak to her."

Natalie was crossing the open ground which led from the glen to Brande's
laboratory. She did not observe us till Edith called to her. Then she
approached hastily and embraced her friend with visible emotion. Even to
me she offered her cheek without reserve.

"Natalie," I said quickly, "there are three horses saddled and waiting
in the palm grove. The Esmeralda is still lying in the harbour where
we landed. You will come with us. Indeed, you have no choice. You must
come if I have to carry you to your horse and tie you to the saddle. You
will not force me to put that indignity upon you. To the horses, then!

For answer she called her brother loudly by his name. Brande immediately
appeared at the door of his laboratory, and when he perceived from whom
the call had come he joined us.

"Herbert," said Natalie, "our friend is deserting us. He must still
cling to the thought that your purpose may fail, and he expects to
escape on horseback from the fate of the earth. Reason with him yet a
little further."

"There is no time to reason," I interrupted. "The horses are ready. This
girl (pointing as I spoke to Edith Metford) takes one, I another, and
you the third--whether your brother agrees or not."

"Surely you have not lost your reason? Have you forgotten the drop of
water in the English Channel?" Brande said quietly.

"Brande," I answered, "the sooner you induce your sister to come with me
the better; and the sooner you induce these maniac friends of yours to
clear out the better, for your enterprise will fail."

"It is as certain as the law of gravitation. With my own hand I mixed
the ingredients according to the formula."

"And," said I, "with my own hand I altered your formula."

Had Brande's heart stopped beating, his face could not have become more
distorted and livid. He moved close to me, and, glaring into my eyes,
hissed out:

"You altered my formula?"

"I did," I answered recklessly. "I multiplied your figures by ten where
they struck me as insufficient."


I strode closer still to him and looked him straight in the eyes while I

"That night in the Red Sea, when Edith Metford, by accident, mixed
morphia in your medicine. The night I injected a subtle poison, which I
picked up in India once, into your blood while you slept, thereby
baffling some of the functions of your extraordinary brain. The night
when in your sleep you stirred once, and had you stirred twice, I would
have killed you, then and there, as ruthlessly as you would kill mankind
now. The night I did kill your lieutenant, Rockingham, and throw his
body overboard to the sharks."

Brande did not speak for a moment. Then he said in a gentle,
uncomplaining voice:

"So it now devolves on Grey. The end will be the same. The Labrador
expedition will succeed where I have failed." To Natalie: "You had
better go. There will only be an explosion. The island will probably
disappear. That will be all."

"Do you remain?" she asked.

"Yes. I perish with my failure."

"Then I perish with you. And you, Marcel, save yourself--you coward!"

I started as if struck in the face. Then I said to Edith: "Be careful to
keep to the track. Take the bay horse. I saddled him for myself, but you
can ride him safely. Lose no time, and ride hard for the coast."

"Arthur Marcel," she answered, so softly that the others did not hear,
"your work in the world is not yet over. There is the Labrador
expedition. Just now, when my strength failed, you whispered 'courage.'
Be true to yourself! Half an hour is gone."

At length some glimmer of human feeling awoke in Brande. He said in a
low, abstracted voice: "My life fittingly ends now. To keep you,
Natalie, would only be a vulgar murder." The old will power seemed to
come back to him. He looked into the girl's eyes, and said slowly and
sternly: "Go! I command it."

Without another word he turned away from us. When he had disappeared
into the laboratory, Natalie sighed, and said dreamily:

"I am ready. Let us go."

Next: The Flight

Previous: L5000 To Detain The Ship

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