"When I am finished, Dale, I shall probably kill you."
The Murder Machine by Hugh B. Cave
Four lives lay helpless before the murder machine, the
uncanny device by which hypnotic thought-waves are filtered through
men's minds to mold them into murdering tools!
It was dusk, on the evening of December 7, 1906, when I first
encountered Sir John Harmon. At the moment of his entrance I was
standing over the table in my study, a lighted match in my cupped hands
and a pipe between my teeth. The pipe was never lit.
I heard the lower door slam shut with a violent clatter. The stairs
resounded to a series of unsteady footbeats, and the door of my study
was flung back. In the opening, staring at me with quiet dignity, stood
a young, careless fellow, about five feet ten in height and decidedly
dark of complexion. The swagger of his entrance branded him as an
adventurer. The ghastly pallor of his face, which was almost colorless,
branded him as a man who has found something more than mere adventure.
"Doctor Dale?" he demanded.
"I am Doctor Dale."
He closed the door of the room deliberately, advancing toward me with
"My name is John Harmon—Sir John Harmon. It is unusual, I suppose," he
said quietly, with a slight shrug, "coming at this late hour. I won't
keep you long."
He faced me silently. A single glance at those strained features
convinced me of the reason for his coming. Only one thing can bring such
a furtive, restless stare to a man's eyes. Only one thing—fear.
"I've come to you. Dale, because—" Sir John's fingers closed heavily
over the edge of the table—"because I am on the verge of going mad."
"From fear, yes. I suppose it is easy to discover. A single look at
"A single look at you," I said simply, "would convince any man that you
are deadly afraid of something. Do you mind telling me just what it is?"
He shook his head slowly. The swagger of the poise was gone; he stood
upright now with a positive effort, as if the realization of his
position had suddenly surged over him.
"I do not know," he said quietly. "It is a childish fear—fear of the
dark, you may call it. The cause does not matter; but if something does
not take this unholy terror away, the effect will be madness."
I watched him in silence for a moment, studying the shrunken outline of
his face and the unsteady gleam of his narrowed eyes. I had seen this
man before. All London had seen him. His face was constantly appearing
in the sporting pages, a swaggering member of the upper set—a man who
had been engaged to nearly every beautiful woman in the country—who
sought adventure in sport and in night life, merely for the sake of
living at top speed. And here he stood before me, whitened by fear, the
very thing he had so deliberately laughed at!
"Dale," he said slowly, "for the past week I have been thinking things
that I do not want to think and doing things completely against my will.
Some outside power—God knows what it is—is controlling my very
He stared at me, and leaned closer across the table.
"Last night, some time before midnight," he told me, "I was sitting
alone in my den. Alone, mind you—not a soul was in the house with me.
I was reading a novel; and suddenly, as if a living presence had stood
in the room and commanded me, I was forced to put the book down. I
fought against it, fought to remain in that room and go on reading. And
"Failed?" My reply was a single word of wonder.
I left my home: because I could not help myself. Have you ever been
under hypnotism, Dale? Yes? Well, the thing that gripped me was
something similar—except that no living person came near me in order to
work his hypnotic spell. I went alone, the whole way. Through back
streets, alleys, filthy dooryards—never once striking a main
thoroughfare—until I had crossed the entire city and reached the west
side of the square. And there, before a big gray town-house, I was
allowed to stop my mad wandering. The power, whatever it was, broke.
I—well, I went home."
Sir John got to his feet with an effort, and stood over me.
"Dale," he whispered hoarsely, "what was it?"
"You were conscious of every detail?" I asked. "Conscious of the time,
of the locality you went to? You are sure it was not some fantastic
"Dream! Is it a dream to have some damnable force move me about like a
"But.... You can think of no explanation?" I was a bit skeptical of his
He turned on me savagely.
"I have no explanation. Doctor," he said curtly. "I came to you for the
explanation. And while you are thinking over my case during the next few
hours, perhaps you can explain this: when I stood before that gray
mansion on After Street, alone in the dark, there was murder in my
heart. I should have killed the man who lived in that house, had I not
been suddenly released from the force that was driving me forward!"
Sir John turned from me in bitterness. Without offering any word of
departure, he pulled open the door and stepped across the sill. The door
closed, and I was alone.
That was my introduction to Sir John Harmon. I offer it in detail
because it was the first of a startling series of events that led to the
most terrible case of my career. In my records I have labeled the entire
case "The Affair of the Death Machine."
Twelve hours after Sir John's departure—which will bring the time, to
the morning of December 8—the headlines of the Daily Mail stared up at
me from the table. They were black and heavy: those headlines, and
horribly significant. They were:
FRANKLIN WHITE Jr. FOUND
Midnight Marauder Strangles
Young Society Man in West-End
I turned the paper hurriedly, and read:
Between the hours of one and two o'clock this morning, an unknown
murderer entered the home of Franklin White, Jr., well known
West-End sportsman, and escaped, leaving behind his strangled
Young White, who is a favorite in London upper circles, was
discovered in his bed this morning, where he had evidently lain
dead for many hours. Police are seeking a motive for the crime,
which may have its origin in the fact that White only recently
announced his engagement to Margot Vernee, young and exceedingly
pretty French débutante.
Police say that the murderer was evidently an amateur, and that he
made no attempt to cover his crime. Inspector Thomas Drake of
Scotland Yard has the case.
There was more, much more. Young White had evidently been a decided
favorite, and the murder had been so unexpected, so deliberate, that the
Mail reporter had made the most of his opportunity for a story. But
aside from what I have reprinted, there was only a single short
paragraph which claimed my attention. It was this:
The White home is not a difficult one to enter. It is a huge gray
town-house, situated just off the square, in After Street. The
murderer entered by a low French window, leaving it open.
I have copied the words exactly as they were printed. The item does not
call for any comment.
But I had hardly dropped the paper before she stood before me. I say
"she"—it was Margot Vernee, of course—because for some peculiar reason
I had expected her. She stood quietly before me, her cameo face, set in
the black of mourning, staring straight into mine.
"You know why I have come?" she said quickly.
I glanced at the paper on the table before me, and nodded. Her eyes
followed my glance.
"That is only part of it, Doctor," she said. "I was in love with
Franklin—very much—but I have come to you for something more. Because
you are a famous psychologist, and can help me."
She sat down quietly, leaning forward so that her arms rested on the
table. Her face was white, almost as white as the face of that young
adventurer who had come to me on the previous evening. And when she
spoke, her voice was hardly more than a whisper.
"Doctor, for many days now I have been under some strange power.
Something frightful, that compels me to think and act against my will."
She glanced at me suddenly, as if to note the effect of her words. Then:
"I was engaged to Franklin for more than a month, Doctor: yet for a
week now I have been commanded—commanded—by some awful force, to
return to—to a man who knew me more than two years ago. I can't explain
it. I did not love this man; I hated him bitterly. Now comes this mad
desire, this hungering, to go to him. And last night—"
Margot Vernee hesitated suddenly. She stared at me searchingly. Then,
with renewed courage, she continued.
"Last night, Doctor, I was alone. I had retired for the night, and it
was late, nearly three o'clock. And then I was strangely commanded, by
this awful power that has suddenly taken possession, of my soul, to go
out. I tried to restrain myself, and in the end I found myself walking
through the square. I went straight to Franklin White's home. When I
reached there, it was half past three—I could hear Big Ben. I went
in—through the wide French window at the side of the house. I went
straight to Franklin's room—because I could not prevent myself from
A sob came from Margot's lips. She had half risen from her chair, and
was holding herself together with a brave effort. I went to her side and
stood over her. And she, with a half crazed laugh, stared up at me.
"He was dead when I saw him!" she cried. "Dead! Murdered! That infernal
force, what ever it was, had made me go straight to my lover's side, to
see him lying there, with those cruel finger marks on his throat—dead,
I tell you, I—oh, it is horrible!"
She turned suddenly.
"When I saw him," she said bitterly, "the sight of him—and the sight of
those marks—broke the spell that held me. I crept from the house as if
I had killed him. They—they will probably find out that I was there,
and they will accuse me of the murder. It does not matter. But this
power—this awful thing that has been controlling me—is there no way
to fight it?"
I nodded heavily. The memory, of that unfortunate fellow who had come to
me with the same complaint was still holding me. I was prepared to wash
my hands of the whole horrible affair. It was clearly not a medical
case, clearly out of my realm.
"There is a way to fight it," I said quietly. "I am a doctor, not a
master of hypnotism, or a man who can discover the reasons behind that
hypnotism. But London has its Scotland Yard, and Scotland Yard has a man
who is one of my greatest comrades...."
She nodded her surrender. As I stepped to the telephone, I heard her
murmur, in a weary, troubled voice:
"Hypnotism? It is not that. God knows what it is. But it has always
happened when I have been alone. One cannot hypnotise through
And so, with Margot Vernee's consent, I sought the aid of Inspector
Thomas Drake, of Scotland Yard. In half an hour Drake stood beside me,
in the quiet of my study. When he had heard Margot's story, he asked a
single significant question. It was this:
"You say you have a desire to go back to a man who was once intimate
with you. Who is he?"
Margot looked at him dully.
"It is Michael Strange," she said slowly. "Michael Strange, of Paris. A
student of science."
Drake nodded. Without further questioning he dismissed my patient; and
when she had gone, he turned to me.
"She did not murder her sweetheart, Dale" he said. "That is evident.
Have you any idea who did?"
And so I told him of that other young man. Sir John Harmon, who had come
to me the night before. When I had finished. Drake stared at me—stared
through me—and suddenly turned on his heel.
"I shall be back, Dale," he said curtly. "Wait for me!"
Wait for him! Well, that was Drake's peculiar way of going about things.
Impetuous, sudden—until he faced some crisis. Then, in the face of
danger, he became a cold, indifferent officer of Scotland Yard.
And so I waited. During the twenty-four hours that elapsed before Drake
returned to my study, I did my best to diagnose the case before me.
First, Sir John Harmon—his visit to the home of Franklin White.
Then—the deliberate murder. And, finally, young Margot Vernee, and her
confession. It was like the revolving whirl of a pinwheel, this series
of events: continuous and mystifying, but without beginning or end.
Surely, somewhere in the procession of horrors, there would be a loose
end to cling to. Some loose end that would eventually unravel the
It was plainly not a medical affair, or at least only remotely so. The
thing was in proper hands, then, with Drake following it through. And I
had only to wait for his return.
He came at last, and closed the door of the room behind him. He stood
over me with something of a swagger.
"Dale, I have been looking into the records of this Michael Strange," he
said quietly. "They are interesting, those records. They go back some
ten years, when this fellow Strange was beginning his study of science.
And now Michael Strange is one of the greatest authorities in Paris on
the subject of mental telegraphy. He has gone into the study of human
thought with the same thoroughness that other scientists go into the
subject of radio telegraphy. He has written several books on the
Drake pulled a tiny black volume from the pocket of his coat and dropped
it on the table before me. With one hand he opened it to a place which
he had previously marked in pencil.
"Read it," he said significantly.
I looked at him in wonder, and then did as he ordered. What I read was
"Mental telegraphy is a science, not a myth. It is a very real fact, a
very real power which can be developed only by careful research. To most
people it is merely a curiosity. They sit, for instance, in a crowded
room at some uninteresting lecture, and stare continually at the back of
some unsuspecting companion until that companion, by the power of
suggestion, turns suddenly around. Or they think heavily of a certain
person nearby, perhaps commanding him mentally to hum a certain popular
tune, until the victim, by the power of their will, suddenly fulfills
the order. To such persons, the science of mental telegraphy is merely
"And so it will be, until science has brought it to such a perfection
that these waves of thought can be broadcast—that they can be
transmitted through the ether precisely as radio waves are transmitted.
In other words, mental telegraphy is at present merely a mild form of
hypnotism. Until it has been developed so that those hypnotic powers can
be directed through space, and directed accurately to those individuals
to whom they are intended, this science will have no significance. It
remains for scientists of to-day to bring about that development."
I closed the book. When I looked up, Drake was watching me intently, as
if expecting me to say something.
"Drake," I said slowly, more to myself than to him, "the pinwheel is
beginning to unravel. We have found the beginning thread. Perhaps, if we
follow that thread...."
"If you'll pick up your hat and coat, Dale," he interrupted, "I think we
have an appointment. This Michael Strange, whose book you have just
enjoyed so immensely, is now residing on a certain quiet little side
street about three miles from the square, in London!"
I followed Drake in silence, until we had left Cheney Lane in the gloom
behind us. At the entrance to the square my companion called a cab; and
from there on we rode slowly, through a heavy darkness which was
blanketed by a wet, penetrating fog. The cabby, evidently one who knew
my companion by sight (and what London cabby does not know his Scotland
Yard men!) chose a route that twisted through gloomy, uninhabited side
streets, seldom winding into the main route of traffic.
As for Drake, he sank back in the uncomfortable seat and made no attempt
at conversation. For the entire first part of our journey he said
nothing. Not until we had reached a black, unlighted section of the city
did he turn to me.
"Dale," he said at length, "have you ever hunted tiger?"
I looked at him and laughed.
"Why?" I replied. "Do you expect this hunt of ours will be something of
a blind chase?"
"It will be a blind chase, no doubt of it," he said. "And when we have
followed the trail to its end, I imagine we shall find something very
like a tiger to deal with. I have looked rather deeply into Michael
Strange's life, and unearthed a bit of the man's character. He has twice
been accused of murder—murder by hypnotism—and has twice cleared
himself by throwing scientific explanations at the police. That is the
nature of his entire history for the past ten years."
I nodded, without replying. As Drake turned away from me again, our cab
poked its laboring nose into a narrowing, gloomy street. I had a glimpse
of a single unsteady street lamp on the corner, and a dim sign, "Mate
Lane." And then we were dragging along the curb. The cab stopped with a
I had stepped down and was standing by the cab door when suddenly, from
the darkness in front of me, a strange figure advanced to my side. He
glanced at me intently; then, seeing that I was evidently not the man he
sought, he turned to Drake. I heard a whispered greeting and an
undertone of conversation. Then, quietly, Drake stepped toward me.
"Dale," he said. "I thought it best that I should not show myself here
to-night. No, there is no time for explanation now; you will understand
later. Perhaps"—significantly—"sooner than you anticipate. Inspector
Hartnett will go through the rest of this pantomime with you."
I shook hands with Drake's man, still rather bewildered at the sudden
substitution. Then, before I was aware of it, Drake had vanished and the
cab was gone. We were alone, Hartnett and I, in Mate Lane.
The home of Michael Strange—number seven—was hardly inviting. No light
was in evidence. The big house stood like a huge, unadorned vault set
back from the street, some distance from its adjoining buildings. The
heavy steps echoed to our footbeats as we mounted them in the darkness;
and the sound of the bell, as Hartnett pressed it came sharply to us
from the silence of the interior.
We stood there, waiting. In the short interval before the door opened,
Hartnett glanced at his watch (it was nearly ten o'clock), and said to
"I imagine, Doctor, we shall meet a blank wall. Let me do the talking,
That was all. In another moment the big door was pulled slowly open from
the inside, and in the entrance, glaring out at us, stood the man we had
come to see. It is not hard to remember that first impression of Michael
Strange. He was a huge man, gaunt and haggard, moulded with the hunched
shoulders and heavy arms of a gorilla. His face seemed to be
unconsciously twisted into a snarl. His greeting, which came only after
he had stared at us intently, for nearly a minute, was curt and
"Well, gentlemen? What is it?"
"I should like a word with Dr. Michael Strange," said my companion
"I am Michael Strange."
"And I," replied Hartnett, with a suggestion of a smile, "am Raoul
Hartnett, from Scotland Yard."
I did not see any sign of emotion on Strange's face. He stepped back in
silence to allow us to enter. Then closing the big door after us, he led
the way along a carpeted hall to a small, ill-lighted room just beyond.
Here he motioned us to be seated, he himself standing upright beside the
table, facing us.
"From Scotland Yard," he said, and the tone was heavy with dull sarcasm.
"I am at your service, Mr. Hartnett."
And now, for the first time, I wondered just why Drake had insisted on
my coming here to this gloomy house in Mate Lane. Why he had so
deliberately arranged a substitute so that Michael Strange should not
come face to face with him directly. Evidently Hartnett had been
carefully instructed as to his course of action—but why this seemingly
unnecessary caution on Drake's part? And now, after we had gained
admission, what excuse would Hartnett offer for the intrusion? Surely he
would not follow the bull-headed rôle of a common policeman!
There was no anger, no attempt at dramatics, in Hartnett's voice. He
looked quietly up at our host.
"Dr. Strange," he said at length, "I have come to you for your
assistance. Last night, some time after midnight, Franklin White was
strangled to death. He was murdered, according to substantial evidence,
by the girl he was going to marry—Margot Vernee. I come to you because
you know this girl rather well, and can perhaps help Scotland Yard in
finding her motive for killing White."
Michael Strange said nothing. He stood there, scowling down at my
companion in silence. And I, too, I must admit, turned upon Hartnett
with a stare of bewilderment. His accusation of Margot had brought a
sense of horror to me. I had expected almost anything from him, even to
a mad accusation of Strange himself. But I had hardly foreseen this cold
"You understand, Doctor," Hartnett went on, in that same ironical drawl,
"that we do not believe Margot Vernee did this thing herself. She had a
companion, undoubtedly, one who accompanied her to the house on After
Street, and assisted her in the crime. Who that companion was, we are
not sure; but there is decidedly a case of suspicion against a certain
young London sportsman. This fellow is known to have prowled about the
White mansion both on the night of the murder and the night before."
Hartnett glanced up casually. Strange's face was a total mask. When he
nodded, the nod was the most even and mechanical thing I have ever seen.
Certainly this man could control his emotions!
"Naturally, Doctor," Hartnett said, "we have gone rather deeply into the
past life of the lady in question. Your name appears, of course, in a
rather unimportant interval when Margot Vernee resided in Paris. And so
we come to you in the hope that you can perhaps give us some slight bit
of information—something that seems insignificant, perhaps, to you, but
which may put us on the right track."
It was a careful speech. Even as Hartnett spoke it, I could have sworn
that the words were Drake's, and had been memorized. But Michael Strange
merely stepped back to the table and faced us without a word. He was
probably, during that brief interlude, attempting to realize his
position, and to discover just how much Raoul Hartnett actually knew.
And then, after his interim of silence, he came forward sullenly and
stood over my comrade.
"I will tell you this much, Mr. Hartnett of Scotland Yard," he said
bitterly: "My relations with Margot Vernee are not an open book to be
passed through the clumsy fingers of ignorant police officers. As to
this murder, I know nothing. At the time of it, I was seated in this
room in company with a distinguished group of scientific friends. I will
tell you, on authority, that Margot did not murder her lover. Why?
Because she loved him!"
The last words were heavy with bitterness. Before they had died into
silence, Michael Strange had opened the door of his study.
"If you please, gentlemen," he said quietly.
Hartnett got to his feet. For an instant he stood facing the
gorilla-like form of our host; then he stepped over the sill, without a
word. We passed down the unlighted corridor in silence, while Strange
stood in the door of his study, watching us. I could not help but feel,
as we left that gloomy house, that Strange had suddenly focused his
entire attention upon me, and had ignored my companion. I could feel
those eyes upon me, and feel the force of the will behind them. A
decided feeling of uneasiness crept over me, and I shuddered.
A moment later the big outer door had closed shut after us, and we were
alone in Mate Lane. Alone, that is, until a third figure joined us in
the shadows, and Drake's hand closed over my arm.
"Capital, Dale," he said triumphantly. "For half an hour you entertained
him, you and Hartnett. And for half an hour I've had the unlimited
freedom of his inner rooms, with the aid of an unlocked window on the
lower floor. Those inner rooms, gentlemen, are significant—very!"
As we walked the length of Mate Lane, the gaunt, sinister home of
Michael Strange became an indistinct outline in the pitch behind us.
Drake said nothing more on the return trip, until we had nearly reached
my rooms. Then he turned to me with a smile.
"We are one up on our friend, Dale," he said. "He does not know, just
now, which is the bigger fool—you or Hartnett here. However, I imagine
Hartnett will be the victim of some very unusual events before many
hours have passed!"
That was all. At least, all of significance. I left the two Scotland
Yard men at the opening of Cheney Lane, and continued alone to my rooms.
I opened the door and let myself in quietly. And there some few hours
later, began the last and most horrible phase of the case of the murder
It began—or to be more accurate, I began to react to it—at three
o'clock in the morning. I was alone, and the rooms were dark. For hours
I had sat quietly by the table, considering the significant events of
the past few days. Sleep was impossible with so many unanswered
questions staring into me, and so I sat there wondering.
Did Drake actually believe that Margot Vernee's simple story had been a
ruse—that she had in truth killed her lover on that midnight intrusion
of his home? Did he believe that Michael Strange knew of that
intrusion—that he had possibly planned it himself, and aided her, in
order that Margot might be free to return to him? Did Strange know of
that other intrusion, and of the uncanny power which had driven Sir John
Harmon, and supposedly driven Margot to that house on After Street?
Those were the questions that still remained without answers: and it was
over those questions that I pondered, while my surroundings became
darker and more silent as the hour became more advanced. I heard the
clock strike three, and heard the answering drone of Big Ben from the
And then it began. At first it was little more than a sense of
nervousness. Before I had been content to sit in my chair and doze. Now,
in spite of myself, I found myself pacing the floor, back and forth like
a caged animal. I could have sworn, at the time, that some sinister
presence had found entrance to my room. Yet the room was empty. And I
could have sworn, too, that some silent power of will was commanding me,
with undeniable force, to go out—out into the darkness of Cheney Lane.
I fought it bitterly. I laughed at it, yet even through my laugh came
the memory of Sir John Harmon and Margot, and what they had told me. And
then, unable to resist that unspoken demand, I seized my hat and coat
and went out.
Cheney Lane was deserted, utterly still. At the end of it, the street
lamp glowed dully, throwing a patch of ghastly light over the side of
the adjoining building. I hurried through the shadows, and as I walked,
a single idea had possession of me. I must hurry, I thought, with all
possible speed, to that grim house in Mate Lane—number seven.
Where that deliberate desire came from I did not know. I did not stop to
reason. Something had commanded me to go at once to Michael Strange's
home. And though I stopped more than once, deliberately turning in my
tracks, inevitably I was forced to retrace my steps and continue.
I remember passing through the square, and prowling through the
unlightened side streets that lay beyond. Three miles separated Cheney
Lane from Mate Lane, and I had been over the route only once before, in
a cab. Yet I followed that route without a single false turn, followed
it instinctively. At every intersecting street I was dragged in a
certain direction and not once was I allowed to hesitate. It was as
though some unseen demon perched on my shoulders, as the demon of the
sea rode Sinbad, and pointed out the way.
Only one disturbing thing occurred on that night journey through London.
I had turned into a narrow street hardly more than a quarter mile from
my destination; and before me, in the shadows, I made out the form of a
shuffling old man. And here, as I watched him, I was conscious of a new,
mad desire. I crept upon him stealthily, without a sound. My hands were
outstretched, clutching, for his throat. At that moment I should have
I cannot explain it. During that brief interval I was a murderer at
heart. I wanted to kill. And now that I remember it, the desire had been
pregnant in me ever since the lights of Cheney Lane had died behind me.
All the time that I prowled through those black streets, murder lurked
in my heart. I should have killed the first man who crossed my path.
But I did not kill him. Thank God, as my fingers twisted toward the back
of his throat, that mad desire suddenly left me. I stood still, while
the old fellow, still unsuspecting, shuffled, away into the darkness.
Then, dropping my hands with a sob of helplessness, I went forward
And so I reached Mate Lane, and the huge gray house that awaited me.
This time, as I mounted the stone steps, the old house seemed even more
repulsive and horrible. I dreaded to see that door open, but I could not
I dropped the knocker heavily. A moment passed: and then, precisely as
before, the huge door swung inward. Michael Strange stood before me.
He did not speak. Perhaps, if he had spoken, that fiendish spell would
have been broken, and I should have returned, even then, to my own
peaceful little rooms in Cheney Lane. No—he merely held the door for
me to enter, and as I passed him he stood there, watching me with a
Straight to that familiar room at the end of the hall I went, with
Strange behind me. When we had entered, he closed the door cautiously.
For a moment he faced me without speaking.
"You came very close to committing a murder on your way here, did you
I stared at him. How, in God's name, could this man read my thoughts so
"You would have completed the murder," he said softly, "had I wished it.
I did not wish it!"
I did not answer. There was no reply to such a mad declaration. As for
my companion, he watched me for an instant and then laughed. He was not
mad. I am doctor enough to know that.
But the laugh was not long in duration. He stepped forward suddenly and
took my arm in a steel grip, dragging me toward the half hidden door at
the farther end of the room.
"I shall not keep you long, Dale," he said harshly. "I could have killed
you—could have made you kill yourself, and in fact, I intended to do
so—but after all, you are merely a poor stumbling fool who has meddled
in things too deep for you."
He pulled open the door and pushed me forward. The room was dark, and
not until he had closed the door again and switched on a dim light,
could I see its contents.
Even then I saw nothing. At least, nothing of importance to an
unscientific mind. There was a low table against the wall, with a
profusion of tiny wires emanating from it. I was aware that a cup shaped
microphone—or something very similar—hung over the table, about on a
level with my eyes, had I been sitting in the chair. Beyond that I saw
nothing, until Strange had moved forward and drawn aside a curtain that
hung beside the table.
"I made you come here to-night, Dale," he murmured, "because I was a bit
afraid of you. Your comrade, Hartnett, was an ignorant police officer.
He has not the intellect to connect the series of events of the past day
or two, and so I did not trouble myself with him. But you are an
educated man. You have made no demonstrations of your ability in the
field of science, but—"
He stopped speaking abruptly. From the room behind us came the sound of
a warning bell. Strange turned quickly and went to the door.
"You will wait here, Doctor," he said. "I have another caller to-night.
Another one who came the same way as you!"
He vanished. For a short interlude I was alone, with that peculiar
radio-like apparatus before me. It was, for all the world, like a
miniature control room in some small broadcasting station. Except for
the odd shape of the microphone, if it was such I could detect no
radical difference in equipment.
However, I had little time for conjecture. A patter of footsteps
interrupted me from the next room, and a frightened, feminine voice
broke the stillness of the outer study. Even before the owner of that
voice stepped in to my presence, I knew her.
And when she came, with white, fearful face and trembling body, I could
not withhold a shudder of apprehension. It was the young woman who had
come to my office—Margot Vernee. Evidently, at last, she had yielded to
the horrible impulse that had drawn her back to Michael Strange, an
impulse which, I now understood, had originated from the man himself.
He pressed her forward. There was nothing tender in his touch: it was
cruel and triumphant.
"So you have succeeded—at last," I said bitterly.
He turned to me with a sneer.
"I have brought her here, yes," he replied. "And now that she has come,
she shall hear what I have to tell you. It will perhaps give her a
respect for me, and this time she will not have the power to turn me
He pointed to the table, to the apparatus that lay there.
"I'm telling you this, Dale," he said, "because it gives me pleasure to
do so. You are enough of a scientist to appreciate and understand it.
And if, when I have finished, I have told you too much, there is a very
easy way to keep your tongue silent. You have heard of hypnotism, Dale?
You have heard also of radio? Have you ever thought of combining the
He faced me directly. I made no effort to reply.
"Radio," he said quietly, "is broadcast by means of sound waves. That
much you know. But hypnotism too, can be transmitted through distance,
if an instrument delicate enough to transmit thought waves can be
invented. For twenty years I have worked on that instrument, and for
twenty years I have studied hypnotism. You understand, of course, that
this instrument is worthless unless it is operated by a master mind.
Thought waves are useless; they will not control the actions of even a
cat. But hypnotic waves or concentrated thought waves—will control the
There was no denying him. He faced me with the savage triumph of a wild
beast. He was glorying in his power, and in my amazement.
"I wanted Franklin White to die!" he cried. "It was I who murdered him.
Why? Because he was about to take the girl I desired. Is that not reason
enough for murder? And so I killed him. It was not Margot Vernee who
strangled her lover: it was a complete stranger, a London sportsman, who
had no reason for committing the murder, except that I wished him to!
"He died on the night of December seventh, murdered by Sir John Harmon,
the sportsman. Why? Because, of all London, Sir John would be the last
man to be suspected. I have a keen appreciation for the irony of fate!
White would have died the night before, Dale, except that I lacked the
courage to kill him. His murderer was standing, under my power, outside
his very house—and then I suddenly thought it best that I should have
an alibi. Your Scotland Yard is clever, and it was best that I have
protection. And so, on the following night, I sent Sir John to the house
once again. This time, while I sat here and controlled the actions of my
puppet, a group of men sat here with me. They believed that I was
experimenting with a new type of radio receiver!"
Michael Strange laughed, laughed harshly, in utter triumph, as a cat
laughs at the antics of his mouse victims.
"When that murder was done," he said, "I sent Margot to the scene, so
that she might see her lover strangled, dead. I repeat, Dale, that I
enjoy the irony of fate, especially when I can control it. And as for
you—I brought you here to-night merely so that you would realize the
intensity of the powers that control you. When you leave here, you will
be unharmed—but after the exhibition I shall give you, I am sure that
you will make no further attempt to interfere with things out of your
realm of understanding."
I heard a sob from Margot. She had retreated to the door, and clung
there. For myself, I did not move. Strange's recital had revealed to me
the horrible lust that gripped him, and now I watched him in
fascination. He would not harm the girl; that much I was sure of. In his
distorted fashion he loved her. In his crazed, murderous way he would
attempt to win her love, even though she had once scorned him.
I saw him step toward the table. Saw him drop heavily into the chair,
and stare directly into that microphonic thing that hung before his
eyes. As he stared, he spoke to me.
"Science, in its intricate forms, is probably above the mind of a common
medical man, Dale," he said. "It would be useless to explain to you how
my thoughts—and my will—can be transmitted through space. Perhaps you
have sat in a theater and stared at a certain person until that person
turned to face you. You have? Then you will perhaps understand how I can
control the minds of any human creature within the radius of my power.
You see, Dale, this intricate little machine gives me the power to
transform London into a city of stark murder. I could bring about such a
horrible wave of crime that Scotland Yard would be scorned from one end
of the world to the other. I could make every man murder his neighbor,
until the streets of the city were running with blood!"
Strange turned quietly to look at me. He spoke deliberately.
"And now for the little exhibition of which I spoke, Dale," he murmured.
"Your detective friend, Hartnett, has been under my power for the past
three hours. You see, it was safer to control his movements, and be sure
of him. And now, to be doubly sure of him, perhaps you would like to see
him kill himself!"
I stepped forward with a sudden cry. Strange said nothing: his eyes
merely burned into mine. Once again I felt that strange, all-powerful
control forcing me back. I retreated, step by step, until the wall
stopped me. Yet even as I retreated, a childish hope filled me. How
could Strange, working his terrible murder machine, concentrate his
power on any individual, when the whole of London lay before him?
He answered my question. He must have read it as it came over me.
"Have you ever been in a crowd, Dale, and watched a certain individual
intently, until that particular individual turned to look at you? The
rest of the crowd pays no attention, of course, but that one man. And
now we shall make that one man murder himself!"
Strange turned slowly. I saw his fingers creep along the rim of the
table, touching certain wires that came together there. I heard a dull,
droning hum fill the room, and, over it, Strange's penetrating voice.
"When I am finished, Dale, I shall probably kill you. I brought you here
merely to frighten you, but I believe I have told you too much."
With that new horror upon me, I saw my captor's lips move slowly....
And then, from the shadows at the other end of the small room, came a
low, unemotional voice.
"Before you begin, Strange—"
Michael Strange whipped about in his chair like a tiger. His hand
dropped to his pocket, so swiftly that my eyes did not follow it. And as
it dropped, a single staccato shot split the darkness of the room. The
scientist slumped forward in his chair.
The dull, whirring sound of that hellish machine had stopped abruptly,
cut short by the sudden weight of Strange's lunging body as he fell upon
it. I saw the livid, fiery snake of white light twist suddenly upward
through that coil of wires: and in another moment the entire apparatus
shattered by a blinding crash of flame.
After that I turned away. Whether the bullet killed Strange or not, I do
not know: but the sight of his charred face, hanging over that table of
destruction, told its own story.
It was Inspector Drake who came across the room toward me, and took my
arm. The smoking revolver still lay in his hand, and as he led me into
the adjoining room, I saw that Margot had already found refuge there.
"You see now, Dale," Drake said quietly, "why I let Hartnett go with you
before? If Strange had suspected me, I should have been merely another
victim. As for Hartnett, he has been under constant guard down at
headquarters. He's safe. They've kept him there, at my instructions, in
spite of all his terrific efforts to leave them."
I was listening to my companion in admiration. Even then I did not quite
"I was wrong in just one thing, Dale. I left you alone, without
protection. I believed Strange would ignore you, because, after all, you
are not a Scotland Yard man. Thank God I had the sense to follow
Margot—to trail her here—and get here soon enough."
And so ended the horrible series of events that began with Sir John
Harmon's chance visit to my study. As for Harmon, he was later cleared
of all guilt, upon the charred evidence in Michael Strange's house in
Mate Lane. The girl, I believe, has left London, where she can be as far
as possible from memories that are all too terrible.
As for me, I am back once again in my quiet rooms in Cheney Lane, where
the routine of common medical practice has wiped out many of those vivid
horrors. In time, I believe, I shall forget, unless Inspector Drake, of
Scotland Yard, insists upon bringing the affair up again!